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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A few favorite sun and sky photos

While recently sorting through some old vacation photos, I came across an abundance of snapshots of skies and sunsets. Several dozen photos of the same scene make up hundreds of files, taking up precious space on disks, thumb drives and memory sticks. Before these get buried back into the depths of storage, I wanted to publish just a few of the most recent photos:

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Sunset view from Princeville Resort, on Kauai’s north shore.

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Late afternoon sky at The Windmill Winery, near Florence, Ariz.

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Sunset over a choppy Sea of Cortez near San Carlos, Sonora, Mexico.

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Dusk at Ashurst Lake near Flagstaff

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Setting sun near San Carlos, Sonora, Mexico

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Sun peaks through huge cottonwood tree at San Pedro House near Sierra Vista

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Nightfall on the Pacific Ocean near Jaco, Costa Rica

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Brilliant sun prepares to sink over Isla Venado near San Carlos.

 

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UK travel: Punting along the River Cam

In the U.S., punting means kicking the football downfield to the opposing team. In the U.K., punting means riding in or operating a flat-bottom boat using a long wooden pole. And punting on the River Cam is a great way to see some of the best sights in Cambridge, England. You can hire a chauffeured punt, then sit back and enjoy your journey on the river or you can rent one for yourself and test your skills of balance and dexterity. If you hire a chauffeur, you will likely have the chance to learn some of the history of Cambridge, the University of Cambridge, the River Cam, as well as hear colorful stories of some of Cambridge’s famous residents.

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A view from the river of King’s College Chapel is iconic Cambridge. As soon as the sun peaks out in spring, punts and punters are out in full force on the river. Sometimes a traffic jam may slow down the punting trip. The trick is to not let the boats collide, but when you’re watching the sights and scenery; it’s much easier said than done.

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The Mathematical Bridge is a reconstruction of a bridge built in 1749. Legend has it that Sir Isaac Newton designed the bridge without nails or bolts, and that after the bridge was taken down for repairs, no one could figure out how to put it back together again. That’s just a myth. Newton had already been dead 22 years before the original bridge was built. It’s ‘mathematical’ because of the series of tangents that form the arc.

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Wildlife along the River Cam includes varieties of ducks, swans and other waterfowl. In the spring, cygnets (baby swans) can be spotted along the shore. Some punters have seen the occasional fox or badger.

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One of the many fascinating older buildings along the River Cam is the Old Library of St. John’s College. Cambridge University’s college chapels, libraries, common areas and interesting bridges make up the scenery along the river.

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Cambridge Chauffeur Punts is just one of several punt-for-hire enterprises along the River Cam. Some tourists aren’t as successful with their own punting skills, resulting in some accidental dips in the not-too-clean water. Handling that long, heavy pole of spruce can prove to be quite a challenge. Other rental and guided tour options: GoPuntingCambridge, Scudamore’s and Let’sGoPunting.  A basic 45-minute, chauffeured punting trip will cost about 14 pounds or 21 dollars. Tour prices vary with combination package type, length of trips and group size, of course.

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Take some time before or after your punting tour for a pint of ale and fish and chips at The Anchor PubSit in the upstairs bar area for great views of the river and street activity. The Granta is another very popular riverside pub. In summertime, ice cream vendors draw the crowds.

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Keeping knees slightly bent and feet apart, the best way to propel the punt forward is to push off with the pole in back of the punt, not to the side. Allow the pole to trail behind, to keep moving straight. Experience punters recommend twisting the pole slightly after pushing off from the soft river bed to prevent the pole from getting stuck. Otherwise you may find yourself circling back using auxiliary paddles to retrieve your pole. Punting against the current can be a exhilarating whole-body workout.

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Students members of the Darwin College Punt Club can sign out punts then embark from this punt house, located at one end of the River Cam in Cambridge.

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The Bridge of Sighs is part of St. John’s College. Named after the Bridge of Sighs in Venice, it’s reported to have been one of Queen Victoria’s favorite sights in Cambridge.

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Twenty-three bridges span the River Cam through Cambridge, including several footbridges, such as this one.

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Punts come in a variety of sizes. All are flat bottom to accommodate the shallow river waters. Look for seats with backs and cushions. This sign specifies the maximum capacity of our vessel. Punting is probably one of the top tourist activities in Cambridge. If you’re considering a trip to anywhere in the United Kingdom, you should investigate the punting opportunities at your destination. Punting also is popular in other towns such as Oxford, Bath, Sunbury and Stratford-on-Avon.

 

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Unforgettable helicopter tour over Kauai

Chuck and I celebrated another wedding anniversary in June. Often this time of year, we reminisce about past anniversaries and the many ways in which we have celebrated over the years. For our 10th anniversary in 2007, we spent a memorable vacation in Hawaii. Our itinerary was so jam-packed with places to go and things to see over two weeks on two islands that some vacation memories have gotten a bit ‘fuzzy’ with time. But our helicopter trip over Kauai is one anniversary trip activity we won’t soon forget.

Who could forget the breathtaking scenery over the Garden Isle?  We soared high above Kauai’s spectacular beauty — each sight made us imagine we were dropped onto a page of a Hawaii photography coffee table book, a flashy, souvenir calendar or a colorful tourism website.

Inter-Island Helicopters was recommended by friends and also came highly rated in the tour guide known as the “blue bible” — The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook. We opted for a deluxe tour which landed us at a private waterfall where we enjoyed a break from the loud whirring of blades. Some of us even took a quick dip in a crystal clear pool at the base of the falls. As I understand it, the waterfall landing tour is no longer available, so we feel really fortunate to have been able to go when we did.

Inter-Island is one of a few Kauai helicopters companies to offer tourists door-free rides. It’s one thing to fly a couple thousand feet above the azure blue waters of the Pacific and the lush Hawaiian tropical canopy; think about riding in a helicopter without doors!  After a few minutes getting our heads (and stomachs) adjusted to the motion and height of the take-off, we felt much more at ease. The pilot’s narration and humor helped us to relax a bit more.

Yet as we looked down over the landscape, we were quickly reminded that the only thing holding us in was a combination seat belt/shoulder strap. Our white-knuckled fists stayed firmly wrapped around the nearest grab bar — aka the “Oh-(insert expletive)! handle.”  At one point when the helicopter climbed up out and over the island’s northern cliffs, we glanced back and forth in both directions — we could see up and down the Kauai’s iconic Na Pali Coast. These overwhelming views kept the exclamations rolling off our tongues: “Wow!” “I can’t believe this!” “Incredible!”

Gorgeous landscapes, infinite coastal beaches and dazzling canyons were not the only sights from our Kauai helicopter tour. We also were able to spot wildlife — mountain goats, wild boars and of course, those famous Kauai chickens.

Here are some of our favorite photos and a short video from that unforgettable anniversary helicopter tour.

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Hills of southwest Kauai

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Waimea Canyon

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Along Kauai’s Na Pali Coast

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Monowaiopuna Falls

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North coast near Tunnels Beach

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We landed in a clearing in north central Kauai

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Multiple waterfall sights on Kauai helicopter tour

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Patchwork farmland of south central Kauai