One night, two lakes and three meals in Prescott, Arizona

A one-night weekend getaway to Prescott, Arizona included short trail hikes around two area lakes, shopping at Courthouse Square, and a fantastic Sunday brunch.

When we only have a one-night trip and arrive in Prescott Saturday morning, we start the day with the locals, at the Prescott Farmer’s Market. Since we left the Valley about 8 a.m., we arrived in time to stroll around the market. It’s been quite a long time since we visited the Prescott Farmer’s Market, so the winter/spring location at 930 Division Street seemed smaller and compact. The summertime market location is at the much roomier Yavapai College parking lot. Still, we were able to find many farmers and crafts people on hand selling a variety of produce, handmade goods and ready to eat foods. We opted for some whole cacao chocolates for nibbling on later.

After working up an appetite at the Farmer’s Market, it was time for lunch. One of our favorite Prescott lunch spots is Bill’s Grill. Excellent sandwiches, tacos, burgers plus a solid selection of craft brews await the hungry Prescott visitor. We arrived a bit early so we waited on the chairs in front of the restaurant.

While we sat, we realized how far apart the worlds are between Prescott and the Phoenix metro area. We’re so used to the suburban sprawl of the big city; people rely on cars, buses, light rail, etc., while people in Prescott tend to walk and ride bicycles. Maybe it’s the climate: being 10-15 degrees cooler makes a difference? Maybe the close proximity to shops, grocers, workspaces? People in Prescott seem friendlier, more hospitable and neighborly as well. At least it seems that way. Maybe it’s for tourism. Small town America? My daydreaming was interrupted when I heard the unlocking of the Bill’s Grill doors and we went in to enjoy our lunch.

After lunch we strolled around the square, window shopping mostly; there’s often a few newer shops we’ve never visited and we’d like to explore. We love to spend time in the Bashford Courts stores and the Firehouse Coffee Company.

Making our way around Courthouse Square, we’re usually aware of any weekend events taking place and this particular weekend in late April, the Whiskey Off-Road Bike Race was in full swing. But with each event, even a bike race or marathon, comes the vendors lining the streets with their canopies and tents, this time selling bike apparel, accessories, of course, food. Plus there’s live music, a beer garden and a petting zoo. Yes, a petting zoo, too.

 

Time to check in to our lodging. On this particular night we were able to uncover a great deal on an upgraded suite with fireplace and Jacuzzi tub at the Forest Villas Resort not too far from downtown. About 2 p.m., we find many hotels are able to check us in, so we can unload our baggage, freshen up, change clothes and head out again for an afternoon. They were able to do that this time too.

It’s been many years we’ve stopped by Watson Lake. Seeing a lot of great photographs on Instagram lately whetted our appetite for Watson Lake, so we made the decision to swing by the park. and Watson Lake didn’t disappoint. The late Saturday afternoon panorama provided a backdrop for senior prom goers and large family picnickers having their pictures taken. A short stroll around the lake trail provided us with a few good photo ops and after enjoying the views, it was time for dinner.

Our original plans for dining out fell through, so we ended up at a strip mall sushi place called Fujiyama Japanese Restaurant and Sushi Bar. We saw several people standing outside the door, and immediately assumed, “this place must be good.” The inside was packed as well. We ordered several fairly basic rolls and were well satisfied.

Back at the room, we noticed the moon coming up over the mountains. Time to spend some time on the balcony, and enjoy a glass of wine and a few pieces of the Communal Uprising Chocolate from the Farmer’s Market for dessert. Although our room loomed over the busy highway, the view of the moon over the Bradshaw Mountains more than compensated for any traffic distraction.

Early Sunday morning a walk around Lynx Lake was on the agenda. But we took advantage of our hotel room’s amenities and decided to sleep in and take our time. Coffee and continental breakfast is free in the hotel lobby so we made use of that as well. Then we loaded up and drove literally just across the highway to Lynx Lake Recreation Area for a wonderful stroll around the lake. This is a popular place with local runners and dog walkers too, completing their daily workout. Quite a few folks fishing were spotted, as well as some unusual water birds.

But the icing on the weekend was a great lunch at the Lynx Lake Cafe. Everything we’ve eaten in our past two visits here has been delicious, whether its breakfast, lunch or dinner. But the best things about the cafe have to be the sweeping views of the lake, watching hummingbirds eat their lunch outside your window and overhearing families excitedly discussing their camping, hiking and fishing experiences from their weekend. In order to prepare for the coming work week, sometimes one needs a little attitude adjustment and you can get that in Prescott.

 

 

Perfect Prescott Holiday Weekend

One suggestion for a December weekend getaway: Take a drive to Prescott. We enjoy the quaint antique shops, craft breweries, locally owned restaurants, interesting holiday events just to name a few of the attractions.

The second weekend of December we traveled up on a Saturday morning. After checking in at the Forest Villas, we shopped for unique Christmas gifts along Courthouse Plaza in downtown Prescott. Looking for something different for gift exchanges? You’ll find a great selection in the Bashford Court shops, gift shops, antique stores in downtown Prescott.

Our favorite lunch stop is Bill’s Grill. You’ll find the juiciest burgers, and best fries, soups, sandwiches there! Everything is good. We explored more businesses and worked up a thirst for some craft brew. Since we hadn’t yet tried Coppertop Alehouse, we decided to sample their beers.

Back at Forest Villas, we relaxed in the lobby, which we found to be not only inviting, but welcoming with the late afternoon sun streaming in, beautiful fireplace hearth, its holiday decorations and coffee and tea bar.

We met our friends from nearby Prescott Valley for dinner. They suggested Lynx Lake Cafe for German food. At first I thought Lynx Lake’s facilities were no more than a bait store and marina, but I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of food, service and atmosphere. It was the perfect end to the day – an excellent dinner watching the sunset over Lynx Lake in a country lodge type dining room setting.

The next morning before leaving, we stopped by the Prescott Resort to see the gingerbread village. This is a fun activity to cap off the weekend and get into the Christmas holiday mood. The Prescott Resort is always beautifully decorated for the season.

October day excursion to Sycamore Creek Canyon

Fall in Arizona means desert dwellers and out-of-state visitors swarming to the north and east parts of the state to the mountains to see aspen, oak and maple leaves changing color. They often overlook a visit to the Verde Valley for the cottonwoods, willows and sycamores. Along the Verde River, Oak Creek and Sycamore Creek they’ll find a wide array of spectacular scenery and fall color changes. One Sunday in early October, we opted to make a way to Sycamore Creek Canyon to hike the Parsons Springs Trail. Although it was a bit early for the most dramatic colors below the Mogollon Rim, we were still able to spot a few splashes of yellow, splashed against a canvas of azure blue.

Parsons Springs Trail is a beautiful 7-mile out and back walk along the creek, crossing about six times and before reaching Parsons Springs. Unfortunately, due to some tire issues on the way into Cottonwood, we had to cut short our hike on this particular outing.

Sycamore Creek serves as swimming hole for some brave, hot souls during the summer. On this particular fall day, water flows were slow. The creek appeared stagnant, buggy and muddy in spots. No wading or swimming this time!

We loved the 360-degree views of the canyon at the trailhead. The parking lot has plenty of space for a tailgate picnic after hiking. The trail was quiet; we only encountered a few hikers on the way in, a few more coming back. A few had overnight packs, indicating they likely had set up camp in the wilderness area north of Parson Springs.

A clear, sunny and relatively cool day in Sycamore Canyon reminds one of a creekside landscape in an eastern or midwestern state: Shady with lush, thick growth along the path. But you only need to look up to the red rock walls and your thoughts will be transported back to Arizona. Watch out for poison ivy; we spotted several patches.

The trail is relatively level, with only a slight incline heading back to the parking lot. Molly was getting hot and tired toward the end of the afternoon, and after a couple of hours, we had our appetite worked up for a bite to eat at one of our favorite cafes in Old Town Cottonwood.

It was too bad to see our shiny, new Subaru Forester so dusty, but that’s why we bought it, to award it with a little dirt and dust while exploring Arizona and western states. We didn’t need to use the 4WD for this trip, but it was nice to know we had it, plus we easily cleared any high spots on the road.

Late September through November is prime time for fall foliage excursions around Arizona. Get out and explore!

Beautiful, fun September day in Julian, California

The town of Julian is a small mountain hamlet (can I say hamlet?) about 40 miles east of Escondido. The geography surrounding Julian is simply gorgeous. It’s a picture of pine- and oak-covered rolling hills, curving two-lane highways, unique shops, cool eateries and colorful characters with many stories to tell.

 

We had the chance to pick our own apples, taste a sampling of specialty hard ciders at Julian Hard Cider, shop for homemade goods, dine at a country cafe for lunch.

We made the trip to Julian on a Monday which allowed for much less tourists, but also some businesses seemed to be closed. Something to check on before you go.

Apple picking? Sure! I guess just about anything grows in California, right? The apple trees in Julian are just right for the picking. No tall ladders needed at this orchard.

 

The apple pie at Julian Pie Company was unbelievably good! Take it from a non-pie-eater. I thought I would sample a fork-full of my husband’s piece, and I think I finished most of it, much to his dismay.

Don’t miss the chance to pick your own apples at one of the area’s orchards. We gathered a couple of bags at Volcan Valley Apple Farm. The apple picking is finished for this season but if you’re planning a trip to the San Diego area, make a point to save some apple-picking time for next September!

 

A memorable evening at Cordiano Winery in Escondido, Calif.

As we drove into the San Diego area from Arizona, I texted a friend living in Escondido we were arriving that evening. She suggested we meet for pizza and wine at the Cordiano Winery. She jokingly mentioned the wine was passable but the pizza is good. Well, I’d have to correct her on her remarks. After our dinner there, I thought the wine was good, and the pizza was excellent. 😀 But what made our visit to Cordiano Winery special was the total package experience.

Cordiano Winery sits nestled in the hills overlooking the San Pasqual Valley. Highland Valley Road takes you on a meandering journey up to the winery and surrounding vineyards. Cool June breezes at the top of the hill greeted us as we exited the car. We almost felt too chilly, but it was welcomed after a 119-degree week in Arizona.

As we entered the dining area, I imagined how one must feel at a family gathering at a vineyard in the coastal regions of Italy. There were large groups of families and friends, sipping their wine and laughing. Couples stood arm-in-arm gazing out to the West while the sun beginning its descent. Children were running between the tables, dodging both diners and servers. This dining area had the atmosphere of a rural family estate; the true ambiance of vineyard dining.


After the hostess showed us to our table, we were given menus to select a pizza and wine. We chose three different pizzas for our group, a veggie with tomatoes, zucchini, mushrooms and roasted bell peppers; a supreme with sausage, pepperoni, Canadian bacon, zucchini, mushrooms and peppers; and a Margherita pizza. Our wine choice was the Duetto, a blend of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. My husband volunteered to put in the order for our group up at the counter and he soon returned with the wine and glasses.

The Duetto wine was light and easy drinking; and our conversations kept us occupied while the sun continued its disappearing performance and we were served our pizzas. These pizzas were delicious. Their crusts were flavorful and well-seasoned without being overly done and the toppings were fresh and plentiful. And we tried keeping up the discussion while eating but our appetites and the tasty pies won the battle, and we soon found ourselves with short stints of silence between bites.

Without warning, we glanced around and found ourselves in the middle of empty tables. The staff had begun their closing routine, folding up umbrellas, tablecloths and napkins and we knew it was time to end the evening. Good food, good wine, great conversation between friends and family, but most of all — the delightful environment truly made this evening more than simply memorable. It was perfect. We’ll be back in Escondido soon and we’ll most assuredly make it a point to return to Cordiano Winery.

Short hike to Annie’s Canyon near San Diego

Annie’s Canyon Trail is more a destination than a trail. Or perhaps it’s best described as a “trail within a trail” – part of the San Elijo Lagoon Reserve trails. Our short 1.5 mile round trip trek started at the north end of North Rios Avenue. (Find parking information, maps and a trail guide online.) We parked at the cul-de-sac and followed the trail easterly along the San Elijo Lagoon. You’ll quickly see it really is an interpretive nature trail complete with park benches and label posts for trees, bushes and other flora. Look up ahead you’ll see Interstate 5; look back over your shoulder, you’ll see the lagoon and a glimpse of the ocean.

In less than half a mile, you’ll reach a fork to the right. Continue walking, as this only is another neighborhood access point, not the direction to Annie’s Canyon. However, if you want to make a side trip you can, but there’s not really much to see along this section, except for a very large tree. On a warm day, you may want to enjoy the shade of this old twisted trunk and limbs of what may be a eucalyptus tree (I’m not sure). It reminded me of the “tree of life” from Game of Thrones or other fantasy fiction.

Back to the main trail, continue heading east until you see the Annie’s Canyon sign. Now here’s where we were a bit confused. We knew this was a loop canyon hike, but didn’t realize it was a one-way loop. The recommendation is to stay to the right and climb up through the slot canyon up to the viewpoint and complete the loop on the other side. We took the left trail, which indicated a more moderate ascent. When we reached the viewpoint, we realized we should have taken the other direction.

At the top, looking west are sweeping views of the lagoon, the ocean, and the occasional water birds surveying the landscape. Looking east, the fast moving freeway traffic between Solana Beach and Encinitas is a reminder you’re still in the city.

Once at the top, we enjoyed our views, snapped a few photos and backtracked down, and around, headed up the canyon slot section for a little ways. But the afternoon was slipping away, and we wanted to enjoy some beach time at Fletcher’s Cove so we cut our short hike even shorter, and headed back to the car.

The San Diego area is one of our perfect getaway destinations, because it has everything we enjoy — taking a morning hike through the canyons and lagoon parks, followed by a few hours at the beach, then topping it off with a dinner of pizza and local craft brews.

Coachella Valley-Rancho Mirage-Palm Springs Getaway

Often our trips to the Palm Springs, Calif. area involve little more than dining, shopping, relaxing poolside with an icy drink and a good book. We wanted to do a bit more this visit; we planned a couple of hikes, a tramway trip to the top of San Jacinto Mountains followed by the inevitable dining, shopping and relaxing poolside. But we found ourselves in the first week of this month with temperatures well below the average, accompanied by strong winds, rain, and at the top of the mountain: snow. Which brings us to the number one travel tip: Always have a “plan b.”

The first morning we started out with a short hike. The winds were whipping around the desert at 30 mph, so we located a short hike that was somewhat protected by nearby hills and a thousand or so palms: the easy 1.7 miles to McCallum Pond at Coachella Valley Preserve.

Our second hike on this getaway weekend was also fairly short. We made the 1.8-mile climb up to Tahquitz Canyon Falls.

Both hikes are excellent for all ages and abilities. Both offer great views, geographic variety and photographic possibilities. Both can be prime activities for those looking for one to two hour excursions to supplement a day of shopping, sightseeing, a round of golf or lounging poolside.

In the case of inclement weather, always have a few indoor activities lined up. Several museums, shopping malls, galleries in the area provide indoor things-to-do. Because both my husband and I enjoy craft beer, we opted to visit two of several craft beer breweries. One is La Quinta Brewing in La Quinta, a 15-20 minute drive from Palm Springs. Old Town La Quinta is a picturesque and pleasant array of shops, galleries and eateries.

Beers sampled at La Quinta included the Poolside Blonde, an easy-drinking, light blonde ale, the Bloody Hot Summer, a refreshing, fruity beer, the Even Par 7.2 IPA, a smooth, perfectly balanced IPA, the Heatwave Amber Ale, a tasty brew with malt and caramel, and the Koffi Porter, with rich coffee, chocolate and malt.

 

The second brewery we visited was Coachella Valley Brewing Company, located about two miles north of our resort Westin Mission Hills.

Coachella Valley Brewing (or CVB) has many types of brews with a wide variety of flavors and blends, something for almost everyone, except the amber, red or brown ale drinker.  Beers we enjoyed were the I-10 IPA, a lower alcohol session IPA, the Kolschella, a refreshing Kolsch-style German ale, the Harvester, an imperial IPA with grapefruit, and the Palms to Pines, a triple IPA at 13 percent APV!

After a weekend of wind and rain, we wrapped up our getaway with a day of abundant sunshine next to the Westin Mission Hills pool. We like to recommend: Allow ample time on the last day to let the events of your vacation soak in. Let the intermittent bursts of kids splashing and laughing blended with faint sounds of different styles of music and low rumble of adult chatter lull you into relaxation as you turn the page of your book or magazine or swipe your Kindle. Gaze up at the sun through the palms, take a deep breath and know: no matter what the weather or other environmental factors; you’ve had the time to unwind.

Don’t Miss This in Arizona: Sedona/Cottonwood

Most travel writers will inform readers about all the highlights, most iconic things to do and see in a particular part of Arizona. Sedona Arizona is a prime example. Guidebooks and information centers are plentiful, offering the most popular (and most populated) sights. They steer people to such sights as Red Rock Crossing, Cathedral Rock, Slide Rock and Bell Rock… all those rocks! But so many excellent activities and sights are not given enough due in other websites. Here are a few:

Many folks travel to nearby wineries for tasting. Most will sample the vintages at Page Springs Vineyards and Oak Creek Vineyards. We suggest also including a stop and spending a bit more time at Javelina Leap. Step behind the winery’s original main tasting room into the new “Arizona Room” and you’ll find a larger gathering spot for trying out the best vintages from Javelina Leap. There’s even a airy patio for nibbling and noshing when the weather’s right. We not only sampled wines, but some excellent appetizers — tapas —  to cleanse our palate.

Javelina Leap’s Arizona Room

 

Stuffed mushrooms at Javelina Leap Winery

 

Before you spend an afternoon instagramming rock cairns at Red Rock Crossing, which by the way will now cost you $10 to park, visit Red Rock State Park. for a short stroll along Oak Creek or a moderate climb to Eagle’s Nest. It’s amazing what you may see along the way.

Oak Creek weaves through Red Rock State Patk

Doe and fawn mule deer spotted near the visitors center

Gorgeous views at Red Rock State Park

Many Sedona/Cottonwood visitors may have Montezuma’s Castle on their itinerary, but Montezuma’s Well — maybe not so much. Stop at Montezuma Well and follow the trail to the end. You’ll see the native inhabitants’ cliff dwellings and natural springs which feed the well. Roaming rangers and docents will provide the history of the well and its original water users.

Dwelling ruins

US Calvary troops left their names on these ruins

Montezuma Well overlook

Treasure Loop Trail View

Start off a Sunday morning with a hike along the Treasure Loop Trail at Lost Dutchman State Park, in the Superstition Mountains, near Apache Junction, Arizona. Sun is starting to show its glaze between the crags near the Praying Hands formation.

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Sunglow Ranch offers Digital Detox Package

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Are you a gadget junkie? Anyone with smartphones or tablets knows how addicting they can be. At Sunglow Ranch, in the Chiricahua Mountains south of Willcox, Ariz., guests now can opt for the new Digital Detox package. They will have the chance to put away — or leave at home — those frustrating electronic devices that seem to distract us from the more important things in life.

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Relaxing in the swimming pool from March to October, unwinding in the hydrospa and strolling along the nature trails at Sunglow Ranch will “put your life back in balance” according to owners, Brooks and Susan Bradbury. You see, there’s no telephone or television in the suites.

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The three-night Digital Detox Package includes lodging, all meals, house wine, two private, two-hour guided horseback trail rides, and a one-hour massage. The cost is: $1,500 for two-room casita or $1,250 for one-room casita (plus tax and ranch fee, for one or two guests, double occupancy. Based on advance reservation & availability. Excludes holidays & blackout periods.)

And Sunglow Ranch has added a new suite to its collection: The Blue Heron Suite, a 530 sq. ft. king bed room with views of the spectacular Chiricahuas and the nearby pond, stopover location for the occasional blue heron. The suite’s private porch is the ideal spot to enjoy morning coffee or a glass of wine. Like all of the Sunglow Ranch rooms, the Blue Heron Suite includes coffeemaker, microwave, refrigerator, hairdryer and comfy waffle robes — for that porch time.

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Of course, WiFi is available for those who are not detoxing digitally or others who can no longer withstand the peace and quiet of Sunglow Ranch and all its surrounding natural beauty — and absolutely find it necessary to check the latest Twitter trends.

For other packages and information including spectacular photos of Sunglow Ranch, please visit its website.

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