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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Fly to Kona and Drive to the Luxurious Sheraton Kona Resort to Start Your Underwater Adventure

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Manta rays are amazing and curious creatures. People are fascinated by their opposing nature of ominous looks, and sweet dispositions.

Sheraton KonaThe Sheraton Kona Resort on the Big Island of Hawaii pays homage to these gentle giants by providing a viewing area for visitors at the resort’s Rays on the Bay restaurant.

05-22-110-IMG_9641From the restaurant’s lookout, the magnificent and mysterious creatures can be seen gliding in the night ocean far below.

03-20-108-IMG_9617Guests can also attend a complimentary lecture about the manta rays arranged through the resort’s front desk.

11-24-083-IMG_3752The resort can also organize a water adventure to view the manta rays up close from a local tour boat named the Hula Kai – an opportunity we eagerly welcomed.

Swimming with the manta rays

Like whales, manta rays eat plankton. The plankton are attracted to light and that is the secret to successful manta viewing from the Hula Kai. Our excursion went like this:

04-21-109-IMG_9621We boarded the nearby Hula Kai at sunset and moved just off shore of the Sheraton Kona.  We donned wetsuits, googles, and a snorkel provided by the concessionaire. We were given a quick course on manta watching, which is done from a horizontal position floating on one’s stomach and holding fast to a length of 3” diameter buoyant pipe – set out from the stern of the boat much like a floating rectangle.

08-15-IMG_3722Soon darkness was upon us, and the Hula Kai engaged underwater illumination used to attract plankton to the site. We entered the water by ladder and positioned ourselves around the floating pipe. We looked down into the clear bay water and breathed through our snorkels.

Our bodies were made buoyant by the wetsuits, so maintaining our balance was not difficult. It did not take long before the first of six manta rays appeared from out of the shadows – and the fun began.

01-12-IMG_6907Manta rays are big, but harmless to humans. They, like the whale, are filter feeders. Mantas are fish related to the shark, but have no bones, teeth, barbs, or stingers. However, they do have size – up to 2,000 pounds – which they use in a very good-natured way.

Manta rays are often given names by the crew of the Hula Kai. Each ray has distinctive “spots” that make identity possible.  The same rays tend to return for evening dining and playing with the snorkelers and divers.

For a period of about one-hour we watched these graceful giants do underwater summersaults just below us – performing like rolling acrobats with gray tops and white underbellies.

Although touching the mantas is not allowed, the creatures have no such restrictions. Frequently, one or more of the rays did a graceful roll just under a snorkeler and purposely pressed its sleek white underbelly along the length of the viewer’s body – an exciting encounter that will be remembered by anyone that experiences it.  The top of a ray feels like sandpaper, and the underside is as smooth as velvet.

Tempus fugit, so do it while you can

Sharkgroup1200For nature and adventure lovers, snorkeling with the manta rays in the back of the Hula Kai in Kailua, Kona is right up there with diving with the reef sharks in the Bahamas, and snorkeling or diving with the sting rays at Stingray City in the Caymans.

Click *here* to read our story and see pictures of the beautiful Sheraton Kona Resort on the Big Island, and *here* to check out the resort’s website. To read about all the services offered by the company that operates the Hula Kai Manta Snorkel, click *here.*

Happy travels!

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff, shark picture by Wayne Bayliff, Manta Ray pictures courtesy of Sheraton Kona.

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We flew to Hawaii on Hawaiian Airlines

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/