Category Archives: Travels to USA

7 Places You May Want to See in Northern California

If you’ve wanted to visit Northern California, here are 7 spots you may want to visit:

  1. Sonoma and Napa Valley
  2. Bodega Bay
  3. Fort Ross
  4. Armstrong Redwoods
  5. Mount Shasta
  6. Muir Woods Redwoods
  7. Stinson Beach

Sonoma and Napa Valley

If you’re in the mood for wine tasting, consider making Sonoma your hub. Cheaper than staying in Napa, it has amazing wineries and is a short 25 minute drive to Napa. A couple of our favorite wineries in Sonoma were Jacuzzi and B. R. Cohen.

Jacuzzi Winery in Sonoma
B. R. Cohn — Owned by legendary manager of the Doobie Brothers band

Since we were staying 3 weeks, we rented a beautifully appointed rental home situated on a couple of acres surrounded by vineyards. We would wake up each morning to hot air balloons and jack rabbits scouting food among the vineyards.

This was the view we woke up to each day:

Notice the hot air balloon in the horizon

We also visited Napa. One of our favorite spots to visit is Frog’s Leap. Not for the wine so much, but for the farm surrounding the winery — it is beautifully done.

It also has some reasonably priced golfing — some built around vineyards. I golfed Eagle Vines Golf Course and the 2 pm tee time cost less than $30. Most tee boxes had views of vineyards that can be reached with your drive if not careful.

Bodega Bay

Just an hour drive from Sonoma is Bodega Bay — the iconic beach town where Alfred Hitchcock shot the 1963 movie “The Birds”. A coastal town, we rented a beach front house with amazing views.

Although it is about 20 degrees colder than Sonoma (in the 60’s), it was nice to wake up with these views.

The Links at Bodega Harbour offers spectacular views of the bay — this was a really fun golf course to play and if you play after noon, it’s not very expensive.

There are ample hiking opportunities in Bodega Bay, here was our view from one of our hikes.

Fort Ross

We decided to drive north along the coast from Bodega Bay and we stumbled on Fort Ross. This was a great find, an old fort built my the Russians who occupied this land from 1812 to 1841. If you are in this area, it is certainly worth a stop.

Armstrong Redwoods

In less than 45 minutes, you can drive from Bodega Bay to the Armstrong Redwoods. This impressive park has lots of huge redwoods and fun hikes.

Mount Shasta

If you’re feeling adventurous, take a 5 hour ride north to Mount Shasta. We dedicated a weekend to it. It is a beautiful mountain with great hiking but it also is a sacred site because it is a Chakra Center of Gaia. Just like our bodies, Earth reportedly has seven chakras, or energy processing centers and Mount Shasta is one.

While we were there, I was practicing creating long exposure shots with my iPhone and I took this picture on one of the hikes. Long exposure gives water a silky look. If you want to learn how to do this — shoot me an email.

Muir Woods Redwoods

Even more impressive than Armstrong Redwoods is Muir Woods Redwoods. This park is much bigger and you must purchase a ticket before you get there (you can do this online). It has miles of trails via boardwalk — if you are in the area, this is a must!

Stinson Beach

A short distance from Muir Woods is Stinson Beach — a beach with a bohemian vibe. If you are in the area, it’s worth hanging out here for a few days.

3 Fun Short Stay Activities in Lake Tahoe

Each summer we try to escape the heat and humidity of Florida. We first hung out in Denver, spending time with our youngest son, visiting old friends and playing a little golf. Lynn had never been to Lake Tahoe so we spent a few days enjoying lake views, golfing, and sampling a few wines.

Taking in Lake Views

We stayed in Squaw Valley — a 15 minute drive from northwest Lake Tahoe. This area is bike friendly so we rented bikes and cycled down the trail that goes from Squaw Valley to to Lake Tahoe. It was Sunday and there were lots of people floating down the river in tubes and rafts (you can rent these at the base of Lake Tahoe).

As you cycle along the river, you see scenic bridges, people enjoying the water, and families having picnics.

Once you reach Lake Tahoe, continue the trial south to enjoy beautiful views along the lake. A good place to stop for brunch is Sunnyside Restaurant. Located right on the lake, it has great food and lake views.

Another way to take in the views is to drive the perimeter of the lake. There are hiking spots along the way if you want to stretch your legs. The drive around the lake will take you about 3 hours but you will want to make some stops along the way. We spent about 5 or 6 hours, stopping to eat and and take short hikes.

One of our favorite stops was Sand Harbor on the Nevada side. It has a Bar and Grill but also has a few beaches with beautiful views of the lake. It gets crowded so its best to hit this place early.

If you’re into hiking, consider taking the gondola at Olympic Village in Squaw Valley. This is where the Olympics were held in 1960. Once you reach the top, there are tons of hikes for all skill levels. There is also a small museum with memorabilia from the 1960 Olympics.

You will also get views of the lake from up top.

Taking in Olympic Village

Olympic Village normally has something going on each weekend. When we were there, California wineries were hosting a wine tasting. This was ideal because we were visiting Sonoma soon and wanted some suggestions for wineries to visit. There were also musicians playing and people out enjoying the weekend.

Golfing Squaw Valley

I played The Links at Squaw Creek in Olympic Village — it is a course surrounded by 6 majestic Sierra peaks. The course was designed by Robert Trent Jones and offers a challenging round due to its narrow fairways, hidden greens and thick grass bordering every fairway.

I played alone towards the end of the day and it was a challenge to know where to hit the ball because of the hidden greens and dangers on both sides of the fairway. I lost about 6 golf balls because I just was not sure where to aim. If I had played with someone that knew the course, I would carded a much better score than 94! But this was a really fun course.

I’ll leave you with a final picture from the course. You traverse most of the holes along a boardwalk that keeps you out of the high grass along the fairway. Challenging. Beautiful. Incredibly Fun!

Amazing Snow in Telluride, Colorado

Although I had just skied in Breckenridge a few weeks earlier, some friends (Bob Swainhart and Diane Caroll) graciously invited us to visit Telluride.

On the day we were traveling, there were travel advisories for Denver, Colorado because of the Bomb Cyclone. Most flights were canceled in and out of Denver but luckily we were flying into Montrose — but we had amazing snow and incredible beauty.

Unlike my recent ski trip to Breckenridge, temperatures were moderate (upper 30’s) so it allowed us to hike, snowshoe and ski.

The day after we arrived, the sun came out and we took advantage of hiking around town.

Sking was also amazing — big snow and blue skies. It was so great that Lynn decided to bring her skis out of retirement and give it a whirl.

I had just boasted about not falling from skiing in the past 3 years. As always happens when I boast about anything — karma bits me in the keister. On my first run down a double blue mogul, my right ski snagged the top of the mogul and I came tumbling down. However, Bob and I got vindication when we slew this steep mogul:

This snow was some of the best I’ve skied in for a long time.

On our last few days, we decided to snowshoe. I’ve only done this a few times, but I really enjoyed it. We hiked from the top of Mountain Village down into Telluride Valley.

On our final night in Telluride, we experienced the worm moon. What a great way to cap off a great week in Telluride.

Thanks to Bob and Diane for inviting us!

3rd Annual Ski Trip: Breckenridge/Vail/Keystone

In February 2019, we had our 3rd annual ski trip — this year we decided to take on Breckenridge, Vail, and Keystone. All 3 resorts received around 300 inches of snowfall this season so the snow was immense and fluffy.

With the extra snow came cold weather. Most days it was in the teens so riding the chairlifts up was a bit frigid.

We decided to stay in Breckenridge because we could quickly ski Breck — Keystone and Vail are a short drive away. Our rental had a great view of the slopes and a nice hot tub to rest the sore muscles at the end of the day.

Here’s Tom Helderle getting ready to shred the mountain:

Summary

Skiing Vail was on our coldest day but we still shredded the back bowls. Breckenridge’s ski day was a bit warmer so we took advantage of some fast runs. Keystone has the steepest blue runs of all 3 resorts, we really enjoyed the barrelling down the mountain.

Here is a video of this year’s fun:

Bet you’ve never heard of Georgia’s Little Grand Canyon!

Born and raised in Georgia, I never once heard of Georgia’s Little Grand Canyon. I learned about it from Roadtrippers.com — a website that points out cool places to visit along your road trip route.

In fact, it is in Lumpkin, Georgia — only about an hour and 15 minutes from the town I grew up in (Donalsonville, Georgia). After learning that, I found out my Dad had never visited either so we knew we had to take a road trip!

This little gem is considered one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Georgia. It was formed due to erosion — created by poor farming practices in the 1800’s.

The canyon is made of clay and other marine sediments and the contrasting white coloration is caused by water seeping over the clay. Throughout the canyon are crevasses worn away by erosion. You can explore these crevasses and will immediately notice a 10 to 20-degree cold temperature change.

The hike down is about three-quarters of a mile. They also have a 3 and 7 mile loop trail. Since my Dad is 82 years old, we figured the 1.5 mile round trip was plenty. We knew if you took the 7 mile loop, we would be rewarded with views of about a dozen rusty 1950s-era automobiles. Due to the environmental damage that removing the vehicles would cause, park officials have decided to leave them alone.

We decided not to do the long hike (we did not want to do that to my Dad), but here are some pictures I found that show them (thanks to Trover for these pictures):

Bruce Springsteen, Hamilton and more in NY City

For about a year, we talked about visiting New York City with our good friends Bob and Diane. Lynn and Diane were longing  for the big city —  culture, shows, fine dining, museums, shopping and miles of daily walks.

Bob made it happen – he gave Diane tickets to see Hamilton on Broadway for their anniversary so we were all in for taking a bite out of the Big Apple.

Broadway Shows

Hamilton on Broadway

The impetus for our visit was to see Hamilton on Broadway. Bob researched the musical, listened to the soundtrack and educated us about the show before we even left for our trip.

The musical is about the life of Alexander Hamilton — one of the founding fathers of the United States. Hamilton was the founder of the nation’s financial system and the first secretary of the Treasury.  But his life was full of interesting happenings and was ended tragically in a duel.

What makes the show iconic is that it’s not an ordinary musical. No operatic singing — all songs are rapped bringing a hipness to stage that is unique, interesting and incredibly cool.

If you haven’t seen Hamilton — see it! I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Bruce Springsteen on Broadway

About a year ago, I read the auto-biography of Bruce Springsteen (Born to Run) and became an even bigger fan of his music as I listened to older albums that I hadn’t known about before. 

I really got wrapped up in his music and it became one of the top artists on my personal playlist.When we decided to go to NY, I knew we had to see the Bruce Springsteen musical. It’s been on Broadway for almost 2 years and will be ending at the end of 2018. 

Imagine having Bruce Springsteen over for dinner, sitting in your living room and telling you his life story.  How he started out, the struggles he faced, the rejections, the depression, the meteoric rise to stardom, and the relationships he made along the way. And as he starts telling you his story, he belts out songs you know and love that represent that time in his life.

That’s what the show was like. Set in a small intimate venue, there were no pyrotechnics, no props, and no backup singers. Just Bruce, his story, and his incredible gift of music shared with you.

Wicked on Broadway

We also saw Wicked on Broadway. This is a musical about the Wizard of Oz but told from the story of the Wicked Witch of the West. We saw this before seeing Hamilton and Bruce Springsteen and thought it was one of the best musicals we had seen. Then we saw Hamilton — even better! Then we saw Bruce — the best!

Fine Dining

New York City offers pretty much any cuisine you desire and on almost every block. 

We even found the famous restaurant that was on the Jerry Seinfeld show — you remember the Soup Nazi, right? Here is the restaurant from that episode. I had soup there — it’s actually very good!

Museums

There are so many great museums in New York. We started by visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art (called the MET).

It’s hard to take in The Met in a day — it is the largest museum in the USA and gets over 7 million visitors a year. It boasts art from America, Europe, Egypt, Greece and Islam.  

Diane being creative

We also visited the Museum of Modern Art, it has a great collection as well. It houses the iconic Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh — you know – the guy that cut off his ear and mailed it to his lover to show her how much he loved her

Starry Night prompted Don McLean to write a song about it (Starry Starry Night), listen to it here. Van Gogh also had a similar painting that I like even better:

We also visited the American Museum of Natural History. Similar to The Met — you could spend all day here. It had the biggest dinosaur bones I’ve ever seen. I wish we had more time to experience it all.

Finally, we visited the 9/11 Museum at One World Trade Center. The new One World Trade Center is beautifully designed and inspiring.

Local graffiti artists painted this building

Before entering the museum, you see a memorial called Reflecting Absence that honors the victims of the September 11 attacks and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

The memorial, designed by Peter Walker and Israeli-American architect Michael Arad, consists of a field of trees interrupted by the footprints of the twin towers. It contains the names of everyone that tragically died that day.

You can spend hours in the museum and learn all about the backstories of heartbreak and experience stories of people that suffered  that day. You also learn about the heroes of the day. Below is a firetruck that was devastated from falling debris.

If you get a chance to visit the museum, please do. It is sad yet empowering — highlighting the resilience of Americans.

Shopping

Shopping in New York is like no other place, they have just about anything you need.  Lynn and Diane had a field day visiting all the shops and I enjoyed the 24 hour Apple store.

Miles of Walking

We stayed in Manhattan and took advantage of Central Park.  You can walk or cycle it. Citibank offers low cost bicycles you can use all day long for $12.

Here are a few pictures from our walking adventures around town.

Annual Skip Trip – Breckenridge Colorado

Last year a few friends and I started an annual ski trip tradition, beginning in Lake Tahoe. This year we decided on Breckenridge, Colorado and it did not disappoint.  If you haven’t been to Breckenridge before, it is one of the coolest mountain towns around. It has a quaint yet hip vibe and incredible slopes.

This year one of our buddies brought along a GO PRO so we captured video of the trip. We were lucky to get about 8 to 10 inches of fresh powder the first night we arrived.

We stayed in a ski-in / ski-out home we found on AirBnB. It was well appointed and very convenient. We would wake up, have breakfast, put our skis on and hit the slopes without carrying skis to lifts — it was awesome.

The first day of skiing was fresh powder, I really enjoy that. The next day they groomed the slopes so we were able to play in both environments — how cool is that?

We skied all day both days only taking a small break for lunch.

As mentioned earlier, Breckenridge is a really cool mountain town. We found a great breakfast place and an incredible Italian restaurant. We also stumbled onto this shop that had precious gems — they had the largest selection of gems and fossils I’ve ever seen!

I’ll leave you with one last picture — of people taking pictures of people taking pictures…

 

 

Fall in New England

After a hot Florida summer, we headed north for a month to enjoy the change of seasons: Fall in New England is spectacular.  We spent most of our time in New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts.

New England Map

Portsmouth New Hampshire

Portsmouth is one of the oldest cities in America, incorporated in 1653. This area is the cradle of the American Revolution. We’ve all heard the story of Paul Revere riding into town shouting “The British are coming” or “The Red Coats are coming” — to warn the Revolutionists that the British were on their way to attack. Portsmouth is where this took place in 1774.

Portsmouth is a coastal city and was an important trade route for the early Europeans and a fishing mecca.

Portsmouth shoreline

There are lots to do in Portsmouth. Portsmouth is a funky city with small cafes, coffee shops, and breweries but its much more. Portsmouth has done a great job of preserving its rich history by restoring and renovating its pre-revolutionary homes and the visitors center is a great place to sign up for walking and biking tours. Portsmouth’s oldest house (Jackson House) dates back to 1664 and is currently being restored.

Jackson House

We toured several houses as well as the iconic Strawbery Banke – a separate neighborhood of Portsmouth featuring over a dozen restored historic homes in Colonial, Georgian and Federal styles of architecture.

Strawbery Banke

Moffatt House

One of the best ways to soak in the history of Portsmouth is on a bicycle tour. In about 3 hours and 13 miles, you take in the best of Portsmouth.

Portsmouth Bicycle Tour

Portsmouth Bicycle Tour 03

Portsmouth Bicycle Tour

Portsmouth Bicycle Tour

Portsmouth Bicycle Tour

If you are a leaf peeper, a 1-hour trip north to the White Mountains rewards you with beautiful fall foliage.

White Mountains

White Mountains

White Mountains

White Mountains

White Mountains

White Mountains

If you travel north of New Hampshire into Maine, you will find the towns of Kennebunk and Kennebunkport, where the Bush family spends a lot of vacation time. On the way to Kennebunk is a home that’s referred to as the “wedding cake house”. Can you tell why?

Wedding Cake House

Kennebunk and Kennebunkport sport some of the nicest beaches in New England.

Kennebunkport

Kennebunkport

Kennebunk is a short drive from Old Orchard Beach, a quaint beach town where a lot of New Englanders spend their weekends and summers. Friends of ours (Derek and Susan Langone) own a place here and we were able to have dinner with them in their Danvers home during our stay.

Old Orchard Beach

Since we were so close to Boston, we spent a couple of weekends in Boston. A fun way to explore Boston is through a Duck tour. This is an amphibious vehicle that first takes you through a tour of Boston on land then pops into the bay to show you Boston from the water.

Boston Duck Tour

Boston Duck Tour

Boston Duck Tour

Boston Duck Tour

I also took some time to golf in New England. The courses here are a bit easier than ours in Florida but offer incredible views of the fall foliage.

Golfing New England

Golfing New England

Our final stop was in Bar Harbor, Maine and Acadia National park. It was off season and a bit sleepy but offered beautiful scenery.

Bar Harbor 1

Bar Harbor 2

Bar Harbor 3

Bar Harbor 5

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed this post on our trip to New England.  If you are not subscribed to our blog and would like to subscribe so that new posts come directly to your email, scroll up to the right top section of this page and type in your email address.

I’ll leave you with a picture of Thunder Hole, a coastal area of Arcadia National Park that thunders loudly as waves come in from the sea.

Bar Harbor 6

Crazy Powder in Tahoe

Three friends and I decided to take a boy’s ski trip to Lake Tahoe in March and it was a blast. By early March 2017, Tahoe had received 443 inches of snow and the powder was fantastic. Spending 15 years in Denver skiing the western slopes, this was the first time I had skied Tahoe and it did not disappoint.

Lake Tahoe

If you’ve never been to Tahoe, it’s right on the border of California and Nevada. In fact, the ski resort we visited is partly in California and Nevada.

Lake_Tahoe_Map

Lake Tahoe is the 2nd deepest freshwater lake in the USA, created over 2 million years ago and forged by the ice age. The area around Lake Tahoe was previously inhabited by the Washoe Native American tribe.  Tahoe was the epicenter of their territory. Here are some fun facts about the lake:

  • If you were to pour Lake Tahoe out onto an area the size of California, the water would still be 14 inches deep.
  • The amount of water in Lake Tahoe (39 trillion gallons) is enough to supply each person in the U.S. with 50 gallons of water per day for 5 years.
  • The amount of water that evaporates from the Lake each day (330 million gallons) could supply a city the size of Los Angeles for 5 years.
  • The water is 99.994% pure, making it one of the purest large lakes in the world. For comparison, commercially distilled water is 99.998% pure.

Reno, Nevada

We stayed in Reno because it was less than an hour from the ski resorts, lodging was less expensive and it offered lots of casinos. This gave us a chance to ski during the day and visit the casinos at night. We all came out pretty well in the casinos, I came back $40 richer and one of my other friends (Tom) won over $700 in 3 pulls of a slot machine! In hindsight, South Lake Tahoe may have been a more convenient place to stay and much closer to the ski resorts.

Lake Tahoe Boys

While in Reno, we found an incredible breakfast place called Peg’s Glorified Ham N Eggs. The plates were huge, prices were reasonable, and the taste was amazing. If you’re ever in Reno, check that place out!

Heavenly Ski Resort

On our first day, we skied Heavenly Ski Resort. The snow was soft, powdery and easy to carve through. Once you get to the top of Heavenly, you are rewarded with incredible views of Lake Tahoe in the background.

Lake Tahoe from Heavenly

Joey was definitely the best dressed. Check out his Rasta hat.

Joey at Lake Tahoe

Pat at Lake Tahoe

Tom at Lake Tahoe

Squaw Valley Ski Resort

We also skied Squaw Valley. Heavenly is a bit bigger than Squaw Valley but Squaw offers some more technical and challenging runs. The snow at Squaw was a bit icy and the winds were brutal on some of the upper ski lifts.

Squaw Valley

As you can see from the snowy trees, Squaw creates lots of snow drifts but the view is spectacular.

Squaw Valley Trees

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed this post on our trip to Lake Tahoe, we are already talking about making the ski outing an annual event. If you are not subscribed to our blog and would like to subscribe so that new posts come directly to your email, scroll up to the right top section of this page and type in your email address.

I’ll leave you with a final picture of me getting ready to slay the mountain.

Steve in Tahoe

Dolphins and More in the Big Island Hawaii

This is another post from past travels our family took prior to me starting this blog. It was 2005 and our boys were 10 and 12 years old at the time.  Since we had already gone to a couple of Hawaii Islands (Oahu and Maui), it was time for something a bit different – The Big Island.

The Big Island is the biggest of all Hawaii islands and the first to be occupied. The Big Island was believed to be the first island Polynesian voyagers from the Marquesas Islands set foot on 1,500 years ago.

HawaiiMap.jpg

When we first stepped off the plane, we knew this island was like no other. Many of the areas of the island are volcanic rock.

bigislandrocks

bigislandrocks

Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park

One of first excursions was to visit Kaloko-Honokohau, a site early Hawaiians settled. They built sacred temples here and created fishponds that trapped fish.

kaloko-honokohau-1

kaloko-honokohau-2

You can see old artifacts that illustrate what life may have been like many years ago. The carving below was interesting enough to entice Ryan to stop using his Gameboy for a few minutes.

kaloko-honokohau-3

kaloko-honokohau-4

kaloko-honokohau-5

Here is a fishpond that would be used to trap fish to feed the locals.

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kaloko-honokohau-7

Swimming with Dolphins

We arranged for the boys to swim with dolphins through Dolphin Quest at the Hilton Hawaiian Village and they loved it.  The dolphins are well trained and really put on a show.

swimwithdolphins

swimwithdolphins-2

swimwithdolphins-3

The Green Sand Beach (Papakolea)

The locals kept talking about the Green Sand Beach and how beautiful it was. So we took the 2.5 hour drive along the Kohola Coast to find the trailhead.

greensandbeach

What we didn’t realize was that it was another 2.5 mile hike just to get to the beach. Ryan was about to have a melt down by the time we made it there, as evidenced in the picture below.

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But it was definitely worth the hike, it is beautiful.

greensandbeach-3

The green sand gets its color from olivine crystals created from eruptions to a dormant volcano years ago. Nestled in Mahana Bay, this is truly a unique place and one of only two green sand beaches in the world.

Traveling around the Island

We saw most of the island and even took a helicopter ride to see the volcanic ash create new land along the ocean coast. I would love to show you those pictures but I accidentally deleted all of those pictures right after we returned. But I did save some of our pictures as we traveled around the island.

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bigisland-2

bigisland-3

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed this little blast-from-the-past of our trip to the Big Island. If you are not subscribed to our blog and would like to subscribe so that new posts come directly to your email, scroll up to the right top section of this page and type in your email address.

I’ll leave you with a final picture of Cameron and Ryan.

bigisland-4