Take Amtrak to Santa Barbara and Leave the Car at Home

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02-13-13-13-P1010404We had not been on a train in years, so when invited to experience a weekend getaway on the rails that was “drive free,” we jumped at the opportunity. The adventure entailed making our way to the Diridon Train Station in San Jose, California, and boarding the southbound Amtrak Coast Starlight train bound for Santa Barbara. Here’s how it all went:

Checking baggage

01-01-01-01-P1010388Coast Starlight passengers are allowed to check two bags each, with similar baggage restrictions to those of the airlines. However, our visit was a short getaway so we planned to carry our two small bags to our compartment.

Off we go

03-14-14-14-P1010405Our Amtrak Coast Starlight train departed on time at 10:07am. We booked a “roomette” accommodation in what is called a Sleeping Car. The roomette amounted to a small compartment with two facing cushioned chairs that recline into a bed. There was also an upper drop-down bunk bed enclosed in the ceiling for the use of a second passenger. We had a nice window to enjoy the view, and there were curtains and a door to shut out the world if we so desired.

We found the biggest advantage of a roomette over a set of less expensive coach seats during a day trip is the privacy for conversation and making phone calls.

Travel comfort

Train travel can be bumpy, but the bouncing around is part of the fun and experience.

The Coast Starlight is one of the longest ocean-view train rides in America. There are a number of venues from which to watch the numerous passing landscapes between San Jose and Santa Barbara.

33-6-6-P1010477We spent most of the day in comfortable swivel chairs in the upper-level Pacific Parlour Car. Wide windows gave us first-class views of the abundant scenery.

This car also has a lower-level theater where first run films are featured.

Eating on the train

32-1-1-P1010471Sleeping Car passengers receive complementary meals and can reserve eating times in either the Pacific Parlour Car, or Dining Car. The train’s *menu* is more than adequate and includes sandwiches, fresh fish, salads, several daily entrées ­– including their famous steak in the Dining Car.

07-022-022-022-P1000402We tried a number of offerings from the menu, and highly recommend the Angus burger – it’s full-flavored and delicious.

Hello Santa Barbara

11-048-048-048-P1000435Our Amtrak train arrived at the Santa Barbara station on-time at 5:55 pm. The station is small, and was quiet upon our arrival.

It was a short distance to our downtown lodging at the Santa Barbara Hotel on State Street. It felt good to stretch our legs and walk the four blocks from the station to the hotel.

The Hotel Santa Barbara

15-42-42-42-IMG_4951Centrally located in downtown, the Hotel Santa Barbara is a quaint boutique style hotel with an interesting history. Originally built in the late 1800s, the hotel was destroyed in the 1925 Santa Barbara earthquake. It was quickly rebuilt and became a luxury accommodation for the likes of Clark Gable and Carol Lombard who were frequent guests.

16-49-49-49-IMG_4958Slowly losing traction over the years, the hotel was again revitalized in 1996 when the 75 room establishment became the elegant focal point for the renaissance of downtown Santa Barbara.

14-23-23-23-IMG_4932Today, the quietly sophisticated hotel offers small groups a place to stay and meet while visiting the many attractions of the city.

12-053-053-053-P1000440After settling into our comfortable and spacious guestroom, we took a walk along State Street and window shopped the many specialty retailers that line the cosmopolitan thoroughfare.

Our full day in Santa Barbara

13-06-06-06-IMG_4915It was a typically beautiful Santa Barbara morning, and after a filling Continental Breakfast provided by the hotel in their spacious Mediterranean lobby, we began to think about the best use of our day.

As part of the Car Free program, the hotel provides tickets for the scenic Santa Barbara Trolley Tour, but a friend had suggested the best way to see the downtown area of Santa Barbara, and to enjoy some of the local cuisine, is by foot on a food tour. It was a good suggestion.

The Santa Barbara Food Tour

We signed up for the Lower State Street and Funk Zone Food and Culture Tour offered by Savor Santa Barbara Food Tours. Our tour started in Rudy’s Mexican Restaurant on W. Montecito Street.

18-067-068-068-P1000456Claire Ihlendorf-Burke, our congenial guide, handed us a menu of delectable south-of-the-border treats. We chose the beef tacos.

19-072-073-073-P1000461Not expecting a large amount of food on a tour, and certainly not expecting the biggest and best ever tacos, we tucked away all of the plenty that was offered in short order. The only problem was that this was the first “tasting” on the tour, and we had no idea how we could possibly eat anything more that day – but, somehow we managed.

17-23-23-23-P1010415We were able to scrape the bowl of delectable lobster bisque at the Enterprise Fish Company,

20-28-28-28-P1010424and enjoy the grape’s bounty at the Santa Barbara Winery in the hip, but understated Funk Zone section of Santa Barbara.

28-141-142-142-P1000538What saved us from intake overload were the short walks between the seven sample foods and beverage stops. The entire tour takes a little over three hours and covers about two-miles.

23-115-116-116-P1000509Claire knows her city well, and she showed us the interesting back streets, urban wine trail, and fine examples of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, for which the city is famous.

22-46-46-46-P1010445Our tour ended at McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams, an artisan creamery with delicious sweets.

25-123-124-124-P1000518We highly recommend this tour as a great way to learn about Santa Barbara, sample some great food and wines, and get some non-threatening exercise.

Our final day in Santa Barbara

26-50-50-50-P1010450Before boarding our train to return to San Jose, we took a walk to see the Santa Barbara Courthouse and Sunken Gardens on Anacapa Street. It is worth a visit…

30-152-153-153-P1000550and the view from the clock tower is breathtaking.

29-65-65-65-P1010467We also enjoyed the colorful farmer’s market that literally took over State Street the morning of our departure. The market provides residents and visitors an opportunity to purchase farm fresh produce of the highest quality.

For the economy minded traveler

04-009-009-009-P1000389In terms of space and seats aboard the Coast Starlight, coach accommodations are akin to First Class space aboard most domestic airlines.

A nice accompaniment to the Amtrak Santa Barbara Car Free getaway is the many establishments that provide discounts to Amtrak ticket holders. Get a list of who is participating from www.SantaBarbaraCarFree.org. The website also provides insight into what is available to do while in Santa Barbara.

There is so much to do and see in Santa Barbara and we could only scratch the surface within the confines of this article. You will just have to check it all out for yourself. You will be glad you did.

If you go 

The Coast Starlight runs daily between Seattle and Los Angeles.

Airport connections are available from Seattle, Portland, and Los Angeles.

Amtrak offers free city guides and walking tours, which you can find *here*

For more information about what downtown Santa Barbara has to offer click *here*

Look *here* for information about the Hotel Santa Barbara.

Happy travels!

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/

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The “New” Long Beach, California is an Easy Drive from Los Angeles

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Recently, we had an opportunity to experience Long Beach, California, in depth – the transformation of this city over the decades is nothing less than astonishing.

17-35-066-182-IMG_4805What was an unremarkable middle class town has magically morphed into an exciting convention and vacation destination that rivals the best of what other Southern California beach towns have to offer.

Note: Everything you will read about our Long Beach holiday is available for your enjoyment. We have provided links to each topic. Just click on a link for more details about the subject.

We started out at SFO

49-87-035-137-P1010331Our Long Beach adventure began with a flight from San Francisco on Jet Blue airline. This was our first experience on the airline and it certainly will not be our last. We found that on our flight, the extra leg room in standard economy was enough to make Jet Blue our new coach-class favorite over the ever-shrinking, sardine-like seats we are all too familiar with on our United and American flights out of SFO.

Additionally, we liked the fact that there was no charge for our checked luggage.

As long as Jet Blue provides these benefits we will be “True Blue,” when it comes to flying coach.

LGB is a delightful airport

50-88-036-141-P1010335We relish flying into small town airports, and although Long Beach is certainly not a little town, the LGB airport has a small, open, easy-going vibe.

Stay at the Westin

47-85-033-126-P1010320Within minutes of our arrival at LGB we were relaxing in our room at the Westin on Ocean Boulevard.

01-01-084-028-FSCN0063The hotel is close to the Queen Mary and many of the other attractions on our itinerary.

02-07-090-083-DSCN0124After getting settled we were off for a tour of the Queen Mary led by Honorary Commodore Everette Hoard, followed by dinner aboard…

06-19-053-102-IMG_4721at the Sir Winston’s restaurant.

07-20-054-111-IMG_4733What delicious French Onion Soup!

08-22-056-117-IMG_4739Our main course was classic “Surf and Turf” that was cooked to perfection.

About the Queen

14-31-060-141-IMG_4763The city of Long Beach went into promotional overdrive in 1967 when it acquired the iconic RMS Queen Mary.  Like the city itself, the Queen has known good times and bad, and through it all has become a symbol of pride and enduring strength in America.

Highly visible in Long Beach Harbor, the Queen Mary humbly accepts daily accolades for her beauty and durability, and for those who know, for her valiant courage.

When launched in 1936, the Queen was the fastest ship afloat. During WW2, she made 72 wartime crossings of the treacherous Atlantic and was the prize never won by Nazi U-Boat captains determined to sink her for the Fatherland and Adolf Hitler.

During the war, Winston Churchill said he felt as safe aboard the Queen Mary as he did in Parliament.

IMG_1005Churchill’s comfortable suite on board the Queen is now part of the array of staterooms available by reservation at the Queen Mary hotel. A stay on this venerable ship is an extraordinary historical privilege.

A few years back, we stayed at the Queen Mary hotel. If you would like to read about that experience on the famous ship click here for the story.

Morning on the water

12-27-057-124-IMG_4746The following day we toured Long Beach Harbor on the Triumphant of Harbor Breeze Cruises.

18-36-067-189-IMG_4812This is an excellent way to see all that the waterfront of Long Beach has to offer. Harbor Breeze also offers whale watching cruises.

19-39-071-194-IMG_4817Next we strolled around Shoreline Village with its many interesting shops, boutiques, and attractions.

16-34-064-178-IMG_4801Our walk ended with a seafood lunch at the famous (and delicious) Parkers’ Lighthouse.

Afternoon at the Aquarium

21-41-073-209-IMG_4832Our afternoon at the Aquarium of the Pacific proved it to be a family attraction we could highly recommend.

22-42-074-210-IMG_4833Exhibits were both entertaining and educational.

23-44-075-216-IMG_4842Great fun for all ages.

Final day

The following morning we had breakfast at The Attic on Broadway. The cuisine was unique and tasty.

28-52-098-321-DSCN0392How about a Bloody Mary with bacon and a pickle?

Tour with Pedego

29-54-100-329-DSCN0400It was a beautiful Long Beach morning so we signed up for an electric bike tour along the ocean bike path. Our host was Pedego Electric Bikes.

55-95-043-BOBS BEACH BIKE 1This is an excellent way to view the 5.5 miles of manicured sand and shoreline residences along the beach.

33-63-008-043-P1010229The bikes were all in super shape, and depending on your shape, you can pedal or leave the pedaling to the Pedego.

53-92-040-Electric Bike GroupThe outing was great fun, and there was an enjoyable group of participants.

Time for culture

36-71-016-072-P1010260There are plenty of indoor activities in Long Beach and in the afternoon we left the sun to visit the Long Beach Museum of Art.

34-66-011-052-P1010238We were captivated by the exhibition Baroque Sensibilities by Sherrie Wolf.

35-67-012-056-P1010242The museum changes exhibits regularly, so keep an eye on their website.

Back in time

A quite unusual attraction that is not highly publicized is Long Beach’s 4th Street, a.k.a. the “Retro Row.” It is comprised of several blocks of funky little boutiques, antique, and pre-owned clothing shops that will take you back to mother’s time – or maybe your time, if you recognize lots of the habiliments. Locally owned restaurants and wine bars add to the joy of meandering.

39-74-020-081-P1010272The Rows landmark 1920’s Art Theatre hosts events such as contemporary and vintage films and live concerts.

A little touch of Venice 

Our next Long Beach adventure had us back on the water.

41-77-024-087-P1010279Gliding along the waterways of Venice, Italy is one of our fondest memories, and we had an opportunity to reminisce in Long Beach on a romantic gondola ride thru Naples Island with Gondola Getaway.

43-79-026-102-P1010295We watched the sun surrender to the Pacific – a perfect ending to an exceptional day.

Last supper

Our last dinner on this getaway was at the Boathouse on the Bay. The water oriented restaurant was busy on a balmy Long Beach evening, and the service and food were as advertised i.e., excellent.

44-81-028-108-P1010301Our entrees consisted of the biggest-ever and perfectly prepared King Crab Legs accompanied by a chopped cucumber sprinkled with dill and drizzled with a light vinegar – a brilliant pairing of tastes.

45-83-030-113-P1010307We can also recommend the tasty sea bass on potato mash amidst a savory sassy mix of carrots, peas and green beans. Delicious!

Things to know before you go

Long Beach boasts 345 days of sunshine and it is cold at 50 degrees in January, and hot when it’s 83 degrees in August and September. How great is that!

The outdoor activities in Long Beach are numerous and include fishing, harbor cruises, kayaking, rollerblading, biking, horseback riding, tennis and of course, golf. If that weren’t enough, windsurfing, scuba diving, parasailing, water skiing, whale watching, and sailing are also available. Whew!

There are over 5,000 hotel rooms in Long Beach, and 17 hotels that have complete meeting facilities. The public transportation is unsurpassed, and with all the available activities, Long Beach is a spectacular convention town.

As evidenced by its many nightspots and hip restaurants, the city has become an exciting destination for younger tourists.

There’s a lot to do and see in Long Beach. We recommend a visit. You will not be disappointed.

For additional information check out www.longbeachcvb.org

If you go

48-86-034-134-P1010328Long Beach is 22-miles south of downtown Los Angeles and is well serviced by the airlines and the California Freeway System.

Happy travels.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/

Take a Short Drive from San Francisco and Visit Exciting Cannery Row on Monterey Bay

Cannery Row on Monterey Bay is an easy 2-hour drive south of San Francisco. Two good reasons to add Monterey to your northern California holiday are that it is a breathtakingly beautiful part of the Golden State, and it is far less commercial than San Francisco. It’s a great place to enjoy some quality down-time during your vacation.

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A brief history of Cannery Row

csr7Oil made whales the Monterey prey of choice for fisherman until Kerosene was introduced in the late 1800s. At that time, the local fishing industry made a quick turn to sardines, and the first cannery opened in 1902 along Ocean View Avenue – now Cannery Row.

From that date until the 1960s the fishermen and businessmen of the “Row” didn’t realize it, but they were systematically fishing themselves into oblivion by overtaxing the schools of mature sardines needed to reproduce and replenish the early abundant harvests.

IMG_0727The last sardine catch and pack on Cannery Row took place in 1964 on the site of the now famous Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Inspired by John Steinbeck’s celebrated story, Cannery Row is visited annually by scores of vacationers from around the world, and it is well worth a prominent place on your vacation schedule.

It’s fun to share the planet

IMG_0927Cannery Row is not only a tourist’s mecca, it has also become a conservationist’s Disneyland. There’s the spectacular Aquarium, and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, which can be enjoyed by tour boat, sail boat, kayak, or row boat.

crb4On land, tourists can comb the waterfront, whale watch, otter watch, seal watch, bird watch, and people watch. Cold water SCUBA divers also get to fish watch. There are a whopping 26 species of marine mammals, and 345 species of fish residing in the Monterey Bay Sanctuary.

Also in the area

pg1Golfing and touring at Pebble Beach, Carmel, and Pacific Grove are minutes away,

l1and the Point Pinos Lighthouse in Pacific Grove is open to the public and is a great place to get a feel for a lighthouse keeper’s life in earlier times.

pl9Point Lobos State Reserve with its fantastic views of the Pacific is also in the neighborhood.

t IMG_0464In the area, we also visited the fabulous Holman Ranch and Winery, and *here* is that story.

Where to stay

h2IMG_0777There is no shortage of great places to stay on and near Cannery Row. We chose the Monterey Bay Inn right on the “Row.” It is the first hotel on the water when driving east.

IMG_0737The Inn’s appeal includes being slightly away from the center of the hub-bub, where most of the tourists congregate. Yet, it is just a short walk to all the interesting shops that line the Row.

IMG_0621The views from the Monterey Bay Inn are impressive – especially if you are lucky enough to reserve an end room with a balcony over the water. We recommend room 320 if it is available. (that’s 320 just under the roof canopy above)

pa1The Inn is adjacent to San Carlos Beach Park, where visitors can picnic and stroll the beach. The park is also an excellent entry point for kayaks and SCUBA divers heading for a swim with the fishes among the ever-swaying orange and brown kelp beds.

Cannery Row eateries

sf4The area is awash in excellent restaurants, but there is one in particular that deserves a feature story, and that is what we plan for the legendary Sardine Factory on Wave Street.

The Sardine Factory is a world-class restaurant that is also an uplifting All-American success story. It’s about two ordinary guys that started with nothing almost 40-years ago, and today are recognized by presidents, the movers and shakers of industry, and scores of celebrities in the restaurant and entertainment world.

It’s also a tale of tradition, values, honesty and integrity – subjects that are too often forgotten in our confused times.

sssf3So look for our story about the Sardine Factory in the near future. It is good press that will inspire you – it did us.

IMG_0720The Monterey coast and Cannery Row are California treasures that should be explored and enjoyed by all lovers of the sea,nature, and fine food – definitely worth putting on your getaway list.

Happy travels.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff
Photos © Judy Bayliff
You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com

It’s Just a Short Drive from San Francisco to Pacifica and Well Worth the Time

Interesting little towns located very near big vacation destinations like San Francisco often go missing from the holiday planner’s radar. In the case of Pacifica, California, that would be most unfortunate.

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04-04-50-IMG_2398Just 15-minutes south of San Francisco on famous California Hwy 1, Pacifica is a great place to enjoy a change of pace from the hustle and bustle of a City vacation. It’s a place to stretch out and watch the waves, and experience the community life of a small Bohemian style California coastal town that marches to a decidedly different drummer.

Gaspar discovers the Bay

A 1200 foot ridge high above Pacifica was the place from which Gaspar de Portola discovered the San Francisco Bay in 1769.

We discover Pacifica

SEG ocean x590Being a short distance from our home, we have driven past Pacifica on many occasions, but only stopped once to research a story about the town’s amiable Segway tour operators.

IMG_2165Our Segway experience proved to be a pleasant day’s outing along Pacifica’s rocky coastline known for great scenery, and we told ourselves that we must return. Recently, we decided to explore what this charming town below San Francisco had to offer by way of other activities, accommodations, and restaurants.

Finding a hotel

05-05-60-IMG_2408The first thing we looked for was a hotel room where we could hear the pounding surf on the sand. We found the perfect room at the Pacifica Best Western Plus Lighthouse Hotel, which happens to be the only full service hotel on the beach.

09-09-82-IMG_2430Marty Cerles, the cordial hotel manager suggested mini-suite number 127, and that is the specific room that we recommend if you want the best up-front seat for the smashing surf show.

32-35-315-IMG_1754We left our window open all night and reveled in the relaxing sounds of the churning ocean and sea birds.

18-IMG_1926-001If you are in budget mode, try the nearby Point Montara Lighthouse Hostel operated by Hostelling International.

17-IMG_1922You can stay in former Coast Guard quarters on this historic lighthouse property that boasts panoramic views that a major brand hotel would die for.

Check out the great video below. It pictures the hostel campus and its extraordinary views, and includes many things-to-do while in the area.


More about things-to-do

36-40-348-IMG_1790Pacifica features everything from world-class surfing, mountain biking, hiking, fishing, scuba diving and hang gliding. This beachy-peach is an ideal getaway for anyone interested in just relaxing or enjoying an invigorating outdoor vacation.

11-IMG_1821There are a bevy of quaint shops in Pacifica ranging from specialty shops to service establishments – it’s a great town to meander about and window shop.

19-IMG_1938Check with the Pacifica Chamber of Commerce to see when the next outdoor Farmer’s Market will set up shop.

Best restaurants

Our research led us to three restaurants.

12-14-063-IMG_1500Nick’s Seashore Restaurant at Rockaway Beach was recommended for ocean front breakfast dining.

08-IMG_1800Nick’s has been family owned since 1927. As soon as we entered we knew we had found the local favorite for dining and dancing.

07-IMG_1802Our home-style breakfast at Nick’s was a great start to our day.

07-07-72-IMG_2420Puerto 27, has a relaxed beach community atmosphere. It was a particular delight for our first dinner in Pacifica. It offers something we had never experienced –Peruvian cuisine.

27-30-299-IMG_1738We took a taste adventure recommended by Head Chef, Jorge Tupac.

22-25-272-IMG_1711We ordered the Pescado a lo Macho, a whole fish marinated with Aji Amarillo and crispy fried. It was served with a Seafood Cream Panka Parmesan Sauce with mussels, clams, scallops, and calamari. Not something we would have chosen without Chef Jorge’s suggestion. Turns out, it is off this planet scrumptious. We recommend it highly!

20-23-257-IMG_1696By the way, be sure to try one of their Pisco Sour Cocktails. We had the Clasico made with 3 ounces of pisco quebranta, 1 ounce of key lime, 1 ounce simple syrup, ½ ounce of egg whites, and a touch of angostura bitters – for novelty, a “27” is neatly frosted on the surface. Yum!

IMG_1497The Moonraker Restaurant is immediately adjacent to the Best Western Lighthouse Hotel and shares superb views of the Pacific just a few yards away.

21-IMG_1959For a dinner entrée, we recommend the Coriander Seared Scallops covered in a sweet corn sauce and served with mashed potatoes and baby carrots.

31-34-311-IMG_1750After a delightful meal, we enjoyed a savory cup of robust decaf coffee and watched the far away sun slowly slip into the sea. Soon it was dark, and the end of a beautiful day in Pacifica.

Pacifica Pier

06-IMG_1468Located at Sharp Park Beach, the 1,140 foot Pacifica Pier opened to the public in 1973.

01-01-20-IMG_2368It has provided decades of family fishing fun with annual summer runs of salmon and striped bass, and crabbing for delectable Dungeness crabs is allowed during the winter season. The pier is also a good place for spotting whales during their biannual migration.

05-IMG_1450The pier is open all year from 4am to 10pm except during stormy weather. AND – no fishing license is required!

Fit in Pacifica beaches

13-IMG_1873Pacifica boasts seven miles of multifarious surfing quality beaches in plain view of the dramatic Pacific headlands where hiking and biking trails lead to scenic overlooks of the crashing surf.

17-20-172-IMG_1609These same cliffs are coveted by experienced para-gliders who ride the thermals like so many raptors spiraling in the gentle currents.

34-38-343-IMG_1785There’s also an Alister Mackenzie designed golf course, public tennis courts, an archery range, horseback riding, biking, bowling, and a free skateboard park with ocean views. Phew!

If Pacifica reads like a great place to prepare for your next marathon, decathlon, or for just getting into better shape, it’s all true.

If you go

18-21-202-IMG_1639Before you complete your plan, be sure to check out www.visitpacifica.com. The website will provide you with up to date information about what is happening in Pacifica along with a simple map.

Happy travels!

©Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

© Photos by Judy Bayliff

A Brief Roadtrip: Then a 28-Day Cruise in a Princess Suite

Our goal in taking a month-long cruise around Hawaii and Tahiti on the Golden Princess was to experience – and then write about – how a major cruise line like Princess caters to its suite passengers. It was one of our most enjoyable projects.

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19-28-29-04-P1000964We started our adventure by renting a car in San Francisco and dropping it off in Lomita, just south of Los Angeles. We caught a taxi to San Pedro; it was there we boarded the Golden Princess.

Suites for two

Over the past ten years, we have photographed and written about suites in B&Bs, hotels, resorts, and on cruise ships. It is our writing practice to always consider our subjects from a “couples” perspective. In that light, we have found many suites to be overly expensive or disproportionately large for two people. However, on the Golden Princess, we found a group of full-size suites that were not only luxurious, but the perfect size for two people on a cruise of any duration.

16-24-30-042-IMG_359631-25-42-29-IMG_4498After boarding the Golden Princess, an elevator whisked us up eight levels to the Sun Deck where we were escorted along an elegant wood-toned hallway to the Palermo Suite – our home for the next 28 days.

A suite life

38-2-31-IMG_4500The Palermo Suite, was one of ten new suites added to the Sun Deck of the Princess during a 2009 revitalization.

27-03-13-22-15-P1010074There are two entry doors to the Palermo Suite, with a small barrier foyer between. The second door acts as a noise and privacy baffle. Upon entering the living room we were immediately impressed by the polished marble floors and shinning granite counter surfaces.

The walls and ceilings in the Palermo are a mixture of delicately textured golden earth-tone material and light natural woods. Light fixtures and other suite features are of brushed stainless, and the suites well-chosen art is framed in a soft muted gold – perfect for the elegant and airy setting.

33-10-03-IMG_4545The living area can be separated from the sleeping room by floor to ceiling privacy drapes, and there are large flat panel TVs in both chambers. The living area TV also has a DVD player. Guests can select from a library of recently released or vintage movies, and they are delivered right to your door.

35-11-02-7-IMG_4582The bedroom has an ever-so-comfortable Queen sized bed, which can be made into two twins, and the wooden ceiling vault houses a handsome alabaster dome that illuminates the room in a warm and subtle glow.

26-07-04-298-20140423_101158Bathrooms on cruise ships are not noted for their spaciousness. However, this style of suite on the Golden Princess offers a sink and toilet room, and another room for a large marble shower and a separate full size soaking tub.

A spacious walk-in closet and an electronic safe are also nice amenities for a long cruise.

28-08-14-23-22-P1010081Most couples are not working on computers while on a cruise, but we particularly liked having two granite-topped work spaces for the purpose.

24-18-40-15-IMG_4441Handily, one space was also a well-lighted vanity with multiple mirrors – such a help when preparing for an evening of exquisite dining and entertainment aboard the Golden Princess.

37-4-41-IMG_441430-09-15-27-27-IMG_4496Two sets of floor to ceiling sliding doors provide extraordinary changing views of the islands, and two finished teak deck lounges make for excellent conversation, private reading, and contemplation at sea. 

Other in-room distinctions

The first mini-bar setup is complimentary, and the premium upgrades include fresh flowers, delicious canapés, and special bath amenities. Also, one small, big thing – electrical outlets. Plugs for your electric devices are as rare as Indian Head Pennies aboard cruise ships. Being able to plug in only two devices in a stateroom is normal. In the Palermo suite we had eight outlets. Electric Valhalla!

25-19-41-18-IMG_4444The Palermo Suite, along with its nine siblings (Corsica, Florence, Grenada, Malta, Pisa, Provence, Sardinia, Seville, and Tuscany) are not the largest suites on the Golden Princess, but we found them to be a perfect accommodation of size, layout, and comfortable décor for a vacationing party of two.

All in all, the full-size Palermo Suite has about 600 square feet of living space, including the balcony. As a comparison, a mini-suite aboard the Golden has approximately 323 sq. ft., and a balcony stateroom about 250.

Suite privileges

Those that occupy the luxurious full-size suites on Princess ships enjoy amenities and privileges not afforded other passengers. After completely reading this article, you may decide that the roominess of a suite along with the following additional niceties, are sufficient reasons to consider reserving the best accommodations your budget will allow.

Breakfast at Sabatini’s

12-21-36-31-P1000726One of our favorite Princess full-suite perks is the exclusive and private dining breakfast at the Sabatini’s restaurant.

Every morning, the Sabatini’s is transformed from an elegant Italian dinner eatery into an exclusive breakfast retreat for the passengers that occupy the 30+ full-suites aboard the Golden Princess.

34-1-28-P1010115However, not all suite guests take advantage of the Sabatini’s privilege; some prefer the ultimate personal option of suite room service, while still others choose one of the conventional dining forums like the Horizon Court Buffet above.

03-15-26-20-P1000685The limited number of tables in the Sabatini’s provides an intimate setting for a quiet breakfast.

36-31-11-29-P1010178An exemplary staff of four waiters is orchestrated by a congenial Head Waiter who greets and seats each arriving guest. Food is prepared by three cooks supervised by a Chef de Cuisine.

06-30-35-28-P1000723The Sabatini’s Breakfast Menu includes everything imaginable for the morning meal, carefully prepared and skillfully presented.

07-29-10-22-P1010170The artistic presentation may change with the muse of the chef – but is always to the highest culinary standards.

05-33-33-25-P1000720We generally started out with a wake-me-up Mimosa and freshly squeezed orange juice.

04-32-34-20-P1000715That was usually followed by a delicious decaf Cappuccino and a warm-to-the-touch baked mini-pastry and a chilled stemmed glass of hand selected berries.

02-13-27-16-IMG_325810-5-06-P1000880For our main course we picked from a unique assortment of waffles and French toasts, and the usual varieties of fresh eggs, such as Benedict, omelets, scrambles, etc.

11-26-09-44-P1000806Even simple cereals are brilliantly presented in Sabatini’s. 

Sabatini’s by night 

Found only on Princess ships, the Sabatini’s restaurant is a specialty Italian restaurant that is open every night to all passengers. There is an additional charge for dinner dining in the stylish and intimate Sabatini’s, but well worth it to celebrate a special occasion – or simply to enjoy truly outstanding Italian cuisine.

More Suite Privileges

VIP boarding

In many ways, Preferred Boarding can be equated to waiting for an airline flight in a private lounge instead of the communal terminal. Preferred boarding means you are the first passengers to board the ship at embarkation, therefore among the first guests to be settled into their stateroom and afforded early access to the delicious buffet that awaits oncoming passengers. There’s always plenty of food for all, but it is a comfort to be at the front of a line, is it not? 

Priority ship to shore tender passes

18-17-32-107-IMG_3668Three of the nine ports we visited on our cruise required being tendered to shore. For those not familiar, this is a procedure where the cruise ship does not dock, but rather anchors offshore, or remains stationery away from the land.

21-06-08-14-IMG_3703Passengers wishing to go ashore are shuttled by means of motorized launches called “tenders.” The process is called “tendering.”

The act of tendering is very organized, and within a short time a few thousand people can be transferred to the shore with relative ease.

17-16-31-066-IMG_3623While general passengers are issued group numbers on a first come first served basis, and comfortably wait for their group to be called to “tender,” suite passengers are afforded a privilege that allows them to board the next available tender, therefore getting them to shore a bit earlier to enjoy the port.

Complimentary laundry and dry cleaning

Although laundry and dry cleaning services are available to all passengers for a reasonable charge, full-suite guests are provided the service as part of their complementary privileges. Should it be your preference, there are also self-service laundry facilities throughout the ship for all passengers.

Internet Café

1-1-14-IMG_4366For those suite customers who want to keep in contact with the world while at sea, there is a suite internet program for use either in the Internet Café or from any part of the ship when a personal wireless device is used.

Our recommendation

13-8-15-IMG_3918During our month long cruise on Princess we noted a consistent level of excellent service for every category of passenger aboard. But, the additional perks afforded suite occupants, made a most pleasant journey that much more elegant and enjoyable. Our recommendation – do it if you can. You only live once, and how suite it is!

Happy travels!

20-05-07-09-IMG_3696More stories about our 28-day cruise to the South Pacific on the Golden Princess will be forthcoming. For more information about the Golden Princess check out the PDF file *here* For additional information about booking a cruise on Princess look at their website at www.princess.com or call your favorite travel agent.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

32-3-35-IMG_4504Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff

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Redondo Beach is just a short drive from downtown Los Angeles

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There are towns that are great for living, and there are towns that are great for vacations. We discovered one of those rare places that is great for both. Redondo Beach, is on the sunny southern California coast just seven miles south of the Los Angeles International Airport. It is a “happy-happening-hideaway” by the sea.

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When it’s hot downtown and inland, LA folks head for the beach towns, which are frequently 10 to 15 degrees cooler. There’s a series of three beach towns north of the beautiful Palos Verdes Peninsula that are great places to enjoy the sea and sand. Making it even better, there’s a paved beach walk called the “Strand” that connects tony Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach with our personal favorite, historic Redondo Beach.

Places to stay in Redondo Beach

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We always prefer waterfront hotels, and the boutique Portofino Hotel and Marina in Redondo Beach is one of our favorites. It is close to King Harbor and the Redondo Beach Pier, both excellent places for a fun date, or family outing.

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Our suite at the Portofino had elegant seashore décor, and it overlooked the breakwater and open Pacific beyond. It was perfect.

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We left our windows open and enjoyed waking to the sound of harbor seals, sea lions, and the call of seagulls. If you relish that kind of ambiance, this is the place for you.

Rather not hear the local wildlife? Ask for a room overlooking the marina where it is quiet except for the occasional gentle tapping of halyards against sailboat masts.

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We had our first breakfast in Redondo at the outdoor patio at the Portofino’s BALEEN kitchen restaurant adjacent to the marina.

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What a splendid way to slowly wake to another day in this little slice of paradise.

The BALEEN is also one of our favorite southern California dinner restaurants. The menu is superb and the restaurant features some unusual and exciting dishes like a BLT Salad of sugar-braised bacon, jalapeno ranch and sherry/bacon vinaigrette dressings. Then there’s their famous Lobster Mac and Cheese (really).

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A great main for REAL meat and potatoes aficionados is the Roquefort Crusted Filet of Beef with whipped potatoes, grilled asparagus, crispy onions, and natural jus. The taste factor on this entrée is off the wow chart! We have eaten at the BALEEN on several occasions and have yet to be disappointed.

A more traditional hotel

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The Crowne Plaza Redondo Beach and Marina is a modern hotel that is a stone’s throw from the Portofino.

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It is also just across North Harbor Drive from the city’s popular Seaside Lagoon Park, a fabulous place for the kids to play safely in the sand and the gigantic salt-water pool. At the time of our visit, the parents looked to be having at least as much fun as the kiddies.

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The Plaza is also near Captain Kid’s Seafood Restaurant and Market – a rustic landmark eatery that serves up a dynamite chowder, and sells the freshest ocean bounty in their market.

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The rooms at the Redondo Crowne Plaza are very spacious with a contemporary flair. Most of the recently renovated 342 rooms and suites have private balconies with water views.

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We tried a 75-minute Swedish massage at the hotel’s Body ETC European Day Spa. Marvelous, and a great way to loosen up for an evening of “clubbing” or dinner at one of the more than 15 local restaurants within walking distance. Redondo Beach offers a total of 200 restaurants and entertainment locations.

By the way

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If you are an event planner, Redondo Beach, and the Crowne Plaza hotel in particular, is the perfect meeting venue. We toured 25,000 sq. ft. of newly designed meeting space at the Plaza that includes three ballrooms, and 12 break-out rooms.

There’s also a spectacular outdoor terrace with a swimming pool and a tennis court that overlooks the Pacific Ocean – a brilliant place for a large social or business event.

Time for lunch

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We were invited to a media luncheon at the H.T. Grill on Catalina Avenue to meet some local business owners who are justly excited about what Redondo Beach has to offer tourists. The Chamber of Commerce did an excellent job of providing us with plenty of subjects that would be of interest to people planning vacations.

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The H.T. Grill proved to be a great place for lunch and we can recommend it.

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Try the Prime Dip of shaved prime rib with a side of horseradish cream and French fries, served on a Milano roll with au jus. Delicious.

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The Grill is located in an area of Redondo known as Riviera Village. During the Golden Age of Hollywood, it was called “Hollywood Riviera” because of the stars who visited the village’s many quaint boutique shops and great restaurants.

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The village is easy-going, charming, and a fine place to walk and shop.

The farmer’s market

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Just outside the Grill they were setting up the Riviera Village Farmers Market – what a treat.

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A great place to browse delectable fresh fruits and veggies, along with local artisan crafts, and finger treats – too soon after lunch, we wish we were at least a little hungry!

Tour the easy way

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Having had previous experience on Segways in Pacifica, California, and Reno, Nevada, we were happy to find South Bay Mobile Tours  just around the corner from the Farmer’s Market. A few minutes of refresher lessons and we were off to see the Strand and oceanfront. This is a quick and easy way to view five or six miles of Redondo Beach attractions.

The Redondo Beach Pier and Boardwalk

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With King Harbor on one side, and miles of beach on the other, the Redondo Beach Pier is the natural epicenter of fun beach activity such as the annual Kite Festival, Sunset Concerts, Classic Car Show, and Winter Holiday Concerts.

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There’s always a wide variety of dining, amusement, and entertainment opportunities.

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We were in town just in time to catch the Pier’s annual Chalk Art Festival.

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Who would have thought that a chalk festival could be so much fun! Folks of all ages sprawled on their hands and knees showing their talents in clever chalk art drawings with dreams of becoming one of this year’s category winners.

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Meanwhile, just behind the artists, the fishing on the pier was proving to be excellent on the slightly overcast day.

After the chalk art

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It was time to eat again. This time we were at Old Tony’s, the iconic pier restaurant that has been operated by the same family for generations. This is the premier historic eatery in Redondo Beach for lovers of fresh food from the sea.

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We filled up on a medley of delicacies from local waters – all delicious.

King Harbor is for lovers of water sports

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Our following day was spent enjoying King Harbor, one of the largest small boat marinas on the west coast, and a favorite “Baywatch” filming location.

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First up was a nature cruise on the Voyager where we had great views of the South Coast shore while navigating through a large school of playful dolphins.

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Next we were on the Looking Glass for an opportunity to see the fishes beneath the waves.

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If we had the time, we would have enjoyed more boating opportunities in the harbor. Friends rented paddle boats and kayaks, and some signed up for sport fishing. Still others took sailing lessons. This place has it all!

Lest we forget 

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The actual beach at Redondo Beach is one of its greatest assets.

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Miles of pristine sand for beach volleyball, and a warm sunny spot to relax after a plunge in the waves. Did you know Redondo Beach was where Hawaiian George Freeth first introduced surfing to the mainland?

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The city keeps the beaches spotless. When visitors are not sunning, the city is cleaning – and they do a superb job.

There is always something going on 

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Whether it’s sport fishing, boating, getting ready for the Super Bowl Sunday 10K Run, or just relaxing in the sand as you wait for the annual Lobster Festival, Redondo Beach is a true tourist mecca.

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For more information about happenings at Redondo Beach, be sure to check out their website at  http://www.VisitRedondo.com

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We love visiting Redondo Beach and its many attractions, and we think you will too! Plan a vacation that includes this wonderful beach community in southern California – you won’t be sorry.

Happy travels!

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/

Carmel by the Sea is a Short and Pleasant Drive from San Francisco

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Carmel-by-the-Sea in California, was designed and described by its early settlers as a “Village in a forest.”

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This is a town devoted to the aesthetic arts, and a place where there are few residential sidewalks, street names are painted on vertical wooden posts, and the houses do not bear street numbers.

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Many homes and cottages in Carmel-by-the-Sea are storybook Hansel and Gretel cutesy with sloping roofs, prominent chimneys, and irregular shapes.

Carmel-by-the-Sea, or just plain “Carmel” is a few hours’ drive from our home near San Francisco, so we make it a point to do an annual pilgrimage to the tony-little-town to soak up a few days of sun and mellow sophistication.

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It’s great fun to stroll the streets of Carmel and window shop, and good exercise if you decide to walk down the Ocean Avenue hill to the beach. Fortunately, the temperature in fairytale Carmel is usually like Camelot in May – and that’s important if you are not interested in working up a “glisten” on the return uphill trek from the ocean to downtown.

It is different and everyone loves it

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Carmelians take great pride in the uniqueness of their village, and that includes the uneven sidewalks adorned with twisted tree roots and irregular cracks.

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Because of the risk, it is against the law to wear high-heels in the city limits. However, in deference to California’s political logic, a permit is readily available, free of charge, from City Hall.

Another unusual law was overturned during Clint Eastwood’s one-term stretch as mayor of Carmel in 1986, and that was the ordinance prohibiting the consumption of ice cream on the streets of the village. Free at last – thanks to Dirty Harry.

Carmel is pet friendly

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Dogs have the run of the beach in Carmel, but they behave. It’s as if all the canines know the acceptable limits of frolic in the powdery white sand on the village shore.

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Storefronts provide watering bowls for four-legged residents and guests. Fashionable canines – escorted by their caretakers – readily mix with everyday dogs and their owners at Yappy Hour from 4 to 6 at the legendary Cypress Inn.

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Co-owned by Doris Day, the Cypress Inn is arguably the pet friendliest luxury hotel in America.

Dining in Carmel

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Staci Giovino of The Carmel Food Tour

A very nice way to eat and drink your way through a first-class introduction to Carmel is to contact Staci Giovino of The Carmel Food Tour.

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Staci guided us to and through wine tasting rooms, unique eateries, as well as a lovely cheese fromagerie, and a delicious chocolate shop. Staci did an outstanding job of indulging us with superb selections of comestibles, wines, and sweets. Here are some of the stops on our tour.

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The Cheese Shop in the Carmel Plaza at Ocean and Junipero offers abundant U.S. and international farm and artisan cheeses with an outstanding variety of textures and tastes – each at the peak of development and at the perfect stage to be consumed.

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It makes us wish we could clone this exquisite little cheesery for our very own neighborhood.

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The Casanova Restaurant has the justified reputation of being “Carmel’s Most Romantic Restaurant.” This hidden gem is located on 5th Avenue, between Mission and San Carlos. An old, but lovingly restored house that now bears the trappings of a quaint Belgian farmhouse. Each dining room is like a scene from a play.

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The Van Gogh Room is of special interest because the Casanova owners acquired the authentic dining table from the boarding house where Vincent van Gogh ate his meals while working in Auvers Sur-Oise, France in 1890. Did you know that Van Gogh created 77 paintings between May 1890, and the time of his death in July of the same year? The Auvers Sur-Oise Period is considered by many to be the Master’s finest.

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We sampled some Spinach Gnocchi “Casanova” in Parmesan Creáme Sauce “au gratin” that was off-the-planet – the best we can remember.

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We ate our tasty treat in a room that could have been 200-years in adaption – exquisitely done.

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La Bicyclette Restaurant on Dolores at 7th looks genuinely old country French, and they serve a dynamite pizza lunch that we found entirely memorable and delicious.

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The Mundaka Restaurant on San Carlos between Ocean and 7th features Spanish style Tapas in a Bohemian atmosphere reminiscent of Greenwich Village circa 1960. Very artsy –”cool daddy-o” – and serving the best white sangria we have tasted.

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At the Wrath Vineyard tasting room in the Carmel Plaza at Ocean Avenue and Mission Street we were poured a taste of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and Syrah. We found their handcrafted crisp wines to be quite exceptional.

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Caraccioli Cellars tasting room, on Dolores between Ocean and 7th delighted us with a Brut Cuvee that yields a smooth, but exciting finish. Their Brut Rosé sparkling wine has a touch more Pinot Noir than the Brut Cuvee to gain a truly elegant blush with a full fruit flavor. Really, really, excellent sparkling wines. We were sorry to move on, but we will be back.

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Lula’s Chocolate Shop on Mission between Ocean and 7th was our last stop on the tour and came just in time to allay a gnawing chocolate attack.

We sampled the famous Lula Sea Salt Caramels and Nut Clusters loaded with crunchy almonds, cashews, macadamia nuts, and pecans – all lovingly dipped in milk or dark chocolate – delectable sweets and treats from recipes that date back to 1945. What a perfect ending to an absolutely delicious day.

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We highly recommend the Carmel Food Tour as an excellent way to familiarize yourself with Carmel history while enjoying the fruit of the grape and foodie pleasures of the village. You walk a little, talk a little, drink a little, eat a little, and start again. It is not a strenuous endeavor.

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Trio Carmel is a specialty Olive Oil & Vinegar Shop

The tour takes about three-hours to cover the 1.5 mile journey through the village’s historic back alleys and gastronomical delights. The Carmel Food Tour website is *here*.

Carmel has upwards of 50 dining venues – we intend to write about all of them, eventually.

Where we stayed

On this particular occasion we lodged at the Hofsas House on San Carlos Street, north of Fourth Avenue. It has the feel of a family owned property, and so it should – owner/manager Carrie Theis proudly declared, “My family has owned and operated the Hofsas House for over 60-years.”

There is an old-world European charm about the place, right down to the Bavarian architecture, and Dutch entry doors in every guestroom.

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The themed art at the House is by Maxine Albro, best known for her 10’x42’ mural on the inside wall of Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill in San Francisco. That famous fresco depicts agricultural life in California during the Great Depression.

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Although it is called the Hofsas House Hotel, it is difficult for us to internalize this property as a “hotel,” because its character is so much more like a cozy “inn” with 38 distinctly different guestrooms to choose from.

Hofsas amenities

Our large second-story room featured a “horizon ocean view,” which means you can see the ocean above the treetops. Note: That is as close to an ocean view with waves as you will find in Carmel – there are no hotels on the beach. Near or far, the sunsets from our guestroom window were spectacular.

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The room also had an ample kitchenette had we decided to “eat in.” The complimentary Wi-Fi signal was strong, and the wood burning stove was appreciated during the cool evenings.

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We enjoyed having our Dutch-door open to the fresh air during the day. It just felt, well nice, and it is an unusual amenity.

If you go, ask Carrie about the Hofsas’ Special Offerings. We enjoyed the Champagne and Cheese Pairing presented with engraved keepsake flutes.

Something a bit more unique is their Beach Fire Special, which includes a fire set up on the beach, flowers, s’mores, blanket, flashlight, and a message in the sand – very romantic for that special occasion.

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If you are a golfer, the Hofsas has partnerships with six area golf courses. Many local links have stunning views.

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Every morning there is a continental breakfast with great coffee, local fresh pastries, and fruit – all included in the price of a room – and last, but never least, the Hofsas is pet friendly.

For more information about the Hofsas House visit their website *here*

If you go

Carmel-by-the-Sea is on California Highway 1 about 300 miles north of Los Angeles, and a little over 100 miles south of San Francisco – close to the natural beauty of Big Sur, Pebble Beach, and all the fun activities in Monterey.

There are approximately 45 lodgings, and a total of 1,000 guestrooms in Carmel. Most are within easy walking distance to everything important in the village – like the beach, the downtown establishment of chic shops, and the many heterogeneous restaurants.

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Carmel is a delightful community from every perspective and a nice respite from anyone’s hectic life. We love it.

After you have seen Carmel-by-the-Sea

Just up the road from Carmel in Monterey, you can lose yourself in the fascinating history of the Cannery Row made famous by John Steinbeck. The “Row” is now home to the famous Monterey Aquarium, and just blocks away from the iconic Sardine Factory Restaurant – a great place for lunch or dinner. In future articles we will explore each of these delightful points of interest.

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Planning a big function in the Carmel area? Read our article about the Holman Ranch. It would be hard to surpass this immense and beautiful property for a wedding or other grand event.

Happy travels!

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/