Thursday, July 30, 2009

User Reviews

Ever wonder about those reviews you read for hotels and B & B's? User-review sites have changed the way some people plan their travel. This can be an enormously useful tool for evaluating hotels, restaurants, tourist attractions and the like. is the big kahuna, with more than 20 million reviews, mostly of hotels, but also less traditional lodging like B&Bs, villas and private homes, as well as restaurants and attractions. is another, owned collects reviews from various websites, such as, Yahoo! Travel and Check for locals' takes on restaurants, shops and other businesses, or, which guarantees that reviewers have actually eaten at the restaurants they rate.

User reviews are helpful but not foolproof, so keep in mind the following tips:

Read between the lines, asking yourself if the writer shares your mind-set, or if a negative review is the result of a persnickety traveler or a singular bad experience. As a rule of thumb, the more people have contributed, the more valuable overall ratings become.

• Always see how recent the post was. Establishments are quick to change, move or close.

• Always look at photos posted by users; you may find them more telling than words could ever hope to be.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Pigeon Point Lighthouse

Lighthouses along northern California's coast warned mariners of the dangers lurking in the rock laden waters. When you drive along the coast, take some time to stop and look at them. All are slightly different and all are impressive in their own way.

Perched on a cliff on the central California coast, 50 miles south of San Francisco, the 115-foot Pigeon Point Lighthouse, one of the tallest lighthouses in America, has been guiding mariners since 1872. Its five-wick lard oil lamp, and first-order Fresnel lens, comprised of 1,008 prisms, was first lit at sunset, November 15, 1872. The lens stands 16 feet tall, 6 feet in diameter, and weighs 8,000 pounds. It sits in a lantern room that had been constructed at the Lighthouse Service's general depot in New York before being shipped around the Horn. Although the original Fresnel lens is no longer in use, the lighthouse is still an active U.S. Coast Guard aid to navigation using a 24 inch Aero Beacon.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Surf's Up

Those are not seals nor are they California Sea Lions...those are surfers at Santa Cruz.

Waiting for the next perfect wave...

And they didn't have to wait long...

Wave after big wave kept on coming...

The good ones rode for a long time...

Some stood up...some crouched low...but all enjoyed the big waves...

Monday, July 27, 2009

Waves Along California Highway 1

With the shear drop off it's a wonder they even have to put up signs. And yet...we saw people climbing right past these signs.

Surf's Up

Straight down into foamy waters...

Sunday, July 26, 2009

California Coast

There is just something magical about driving along California Highway 1.

What's not to like about beautiful sky blue water, crashing waves, and endless sky? Throw in some gigantic rocks...and it's California Dreamin

Rocky shores are why lighthouses were created.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Items to Pack

Think about packing these items next time you get ready to travel somewhere:

Mesh laundry bags: They come in handy in your suitcase for keeping smaller items, like socks all together. Plus it's easy to see what's in them. You don't need to spend a fortune on them, either. Go to a dollar store where they often come in packs of three sizes.

Calculators: While you're at the dollar store, pick up a couple of cheap calculators. Use them to figure everything from your tips to the exchange rate.

Plastic table cloth: These inexpensive items are great with kids. Use them on the beach when you're having lunch and really don't want sand in your food. Or cover a not-so-clean picnic table or use one on a bedspread to keep it clean.

Glow in the dark key chains: Again, these work for kids as well as adults. They give off just enough light to find your way to the bathroom.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Cowgirl Creamery

If you are visiting Point Reyes, are in for a treat when you stop by the Cowgirl Creamery.

Not only will you get to see cheese being made...they give samples.

Like the sign it is Red Hawk. This interesting cheese tastes similar to an intense tangy Brie.

What kind are you looking for? I' m sure it's there somewhere.
In 1997, Sue Conley and Peggy Smith opened Cowgirl Creamery in Pt. Reyes Station, a picturesque postage-stamp-of-a-town on the coast about an hour north of San Francisco. They started with an old barn, made it beautiful, put in a small plant for making hand-crafted cheese, bought organic milk from the neighbor, Straus Family Creamery... and before long the world found them! From the beginning, they wanted to make delicious, artisan cheese, to be environmentally responsible, and they also wanted to support their cheesemaking friends in being sustainable land stewards. Today, Cowgirl Creamery continues to make just a small collection of cheese -- four, soft aged and three fresh, totaling about 3,000 pounds per week. However, their circle of cheesemaking friends has grown like wildfire and they now distribute extraordinary artisan cheeses from over 200 of America's and Europe's most prized producers.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Point Reyes Lighthouse

In 1595 the Spanish galleon San Agustin ran aground at Point Reyes. They thought this was an island, not a dangerous point amid stormy seas and numerous rocks. Seeking shelter from a storm this was the first recorded shipwreck on the west coast.

Point Reyes was named by Sebastian Vizcaino. He sailed along the California coast in December 1603 and called it Punto de los Reyes or Feast of Three Kings.

A lighthouse was assigned to Point Reyes in 1855 but construction was delayed for fifteen years. Fourteen more shipwrecks occurred during that delay.

The lighthouse is a 16 sided, 37 foot tower anchored to the carved solid rock terraces with large bolts. The lens, 24 bulls eye panels, produced a white flash for mariners once every five seconds.

Point Reyes was not an envied lightkeeper assignment as regular winds of 40 mph, gusts of up to 133 mph, and as much as 2,100 hours of fog annually are common here. Point Reyes is now maintained by the National Park Service and is part of the Point Reyes National Seashore.

Yes, you can climb ALL the way to the lighthouse...all 308 steps with several sloped concrete areas mixed in. A sign at the top reminds you of these 308 steps and equates it to climbing a 30 story building. Okay...that puts it in perspective.

And yes, it is worth the effort.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Point Reyes, CA

Considered to be one of the foggiest and windiest lighthouse stations in the US is Point Reyes. This view is from the hike down to the lighthouse.

Rugged coastline and numerous rocks have presented problems for fishermen and boaters for centuries.

Windswept, trees don't grow upright along this coastline.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Budget Ideas

Leaving on vacation for a few days or a few weeks?

Think about the environment and your budget before you leave the house. Your house can actually save you money if you unplug all those appliances that say in "ready mode" and suck electricity while you're gone.

Lower the hot water heater temperature to "vacation." Make sure the heater or the air-conditioner is at money saving settings. The house doesn't need to be heated or cooled as much while you're gone.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Traveling Pets

Traveling with your pet this summer? Here are some things to think about...

Get a clean bill of health
Schedule a veterinary exam shortly before your trip. Most airlines require a health certificate and proof of vaccinations issued no more than 10 days before your flight, says Paul Mann, the founder of national pet service Fetch! Pet Care.

Pick up airline miles
JetBlue adds frequent-flier miles for pets traveling in the cabin to their human companion’s account, and Continental offers them for animals riding in the cargo hold.

Look for fee-free hotels
There’s no need to pay extra to keep your pet with you once you arrive, Mann says. Some properties charge a security deposit, but chains including Best Western and Marriott allow most pets to stay for free. Kimpton Hotels throws in freebies like fresh dog treats baked on site.

Leaving Your Pet at Home

The American Pet Supply Association projects that spending on pet-care services such as boarding and day care could climb 6% to $3.4 billion in 2009. Here’s how to get the most for your money:

Start with a sitter
Kennels and other boarding facilities can offer social dogs a great vacation, but most pets will be happier staying in familiar surroundings, most veterinarians say. Leaving pets at home with a sitter can put them more at ease in your absence and is more economical, too. For example, Petaholics, a New York-based pet-care firm, offers both sitter and kennel services. The company charges $40 a night to board a cat, but a 30-minute daily visit from a sitter costs half that, and includes feeding, litter box maintenance and cat playtime. (The sitter also picks up the mail, waters plants and takes out the trash.)

Check references
Choose a caregiver that’s insured and has a good reputation, Mann says. Ask other pet owners and your veterinarian for recommendations. Also schedule a visit -- in-home for sitters, on-site for boarders -- before traveling, so you can make sure your pet will be safe and comfortable.

Break down charges
Whether you opt for a kennel or a sitter, have the company spell out what’s included in the rate, Saunders says. You may be able to negotiate a lower rate if you forego extras like mail pickup or daily grooming. Negotiating can also clarify which option best suits your needs, she says. A kennel that includes a full day of activities might be a better deal for an active dog than a sitter who charges extra for taking hour-long walks and playtimes instead of half-hour ones.

Dig for discounts
Sitters and boarding facilities offer reduced rates. AAA members save 10% on the services at Fetch! Pet Care. Beverly’s Pet Campus outside Indianapolis offers a print-out coupon good for a discount of $4 per night (an 18% discount) when you book a stay of five nights or longer.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Visiting Museums

Check out special offerings by museums or zoos. You may come across a special evening event or program, such as lectures, socials, exhibit openings or films.

Quite a few major museums extend their usual opening times by two or three hours one night a week. Same is true of major zoos.

This can be a great time to visit a museum or zoo, perhaps combining your tour with dinner afterward at a nearby restaurant.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Pelicans hang around most fishing spots hoping for a hand out or the opportunity to steal some freshly caught fish. In this case they were just starting to gather for the afternoon catch. How do they know when the boats are coming in?
This guy is off in the distance...zooming in to join his friends.

The glide path is getting full.
He's a little closer, followed by another friend.

Touch down...time to look for fish.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Half Moon Bay

Sunny skies, California coastline, and gentle breezes accompanied us in Half Moon Bay Saturday.

Boats, boats, and boats...

Flowers of all colors grow in this climate.

Anyone for fresh fish? Halibut was the "catch of the day".