Seattle’s nearby western Washington gems…

Snoqualmie Falls thunders 270 feet into the gorge below in the Cascade Mountains.

Snoqualmie Falls and John Wayne Pioneer Trail, Mt. Rainier/Mt. St. Helens and Olympic Peninsula…

OK, you’re planning a vacation in the Seattle area.  Once you’ve seen the top tourist draws of this lovely city (Space Needle, Pike Place Market, Pioneer Square, the piers, aquarium and Ferris wheel along Elliott Bay, Queen Anne Hill, a ferry boat ride), what else might you want to include within a 100 miles or so?

Here are suggestions, based on our current visit and many previous tours of this emerald, aquatic empire:

Snoqualmie Falls and John Wayne Trail: With mountain bikes, we had to take a trip to the lovely Cascade Mountains. From Seattle, we toured to Snoqualmie Falls and continued further east to the John Wayne Pioneer Trail. Our initial destination was about 50 miles from Seattle – Snoqualmie Falls, the adjacent Salish Lodge for a delicious lunch, then into the little town of Snoqualmie, home to the Northwest Railway Museum, trainmuseum.org.

Cyclist rides on the gentle grade of the John Wayne Pioneer Trail, the former Milwaukie Railroad roadbed.

Iron Horse State Park is 14 miles further east along I-90, centered on the John Wayne Pioneer Trail. Once the Milwaukee Railroad, it’s the longest rail trail conversion in the US, at 285 miles (though, much of the Eastern Washington portion is undeveloped). We accessed the gravel trail near pretty Rattlesnake Lake – here the City of Seattle constructed a masonry dam to enhance the Cedar Falls hydroelectric plant in 1915, flooding the old town of Moncton and forcing its 200 residents to relocate.

Peddling southwest on the trail we quickly found the concrete foundation of the old Cedar Falls railroad substation, where hydroelectricity once powered electric engines used to push heavy freight trains up and over Snoqualmie Pass. Following the easy railroad grade through pristine cedar forests, it’s another 18 miles to Snoqualmie Tunnel – bring your headlamps!

Mt. St. Helens gigantic crater looms over Spirit Lake (view from Windy Ridge).

Mount St. Helens and Mt. Rainier, fiery volcanic monsters: From Seattle, you can visit both Mt. St. Helens Volcanic National Monument and Mt. Rainier National Park in one 250 mile scenic loop. Go south on Interstate 5, then east on WA 503.  This route runs south of Mt. St. Helens and up the east side.  Turn onto NF 99, the Windy Ridge spur road, where the might of the eruption becomes graphically apparent.

Mount St. Helens, just south of Mt. Rainier, had been menacing with volcanic activity for months prior to May 18, 1980.  The young volcano (compared to other volcanic peaks in the Cascades like Mt. Hood, Mt. Rainier) had released steam, sent plumes of ash miles into the atmosphere, the north side of the 9,677 foot asymmetrical peak had begun to bulge and small earthquakes were being felt.

On May 18, 8:32 AM, a 5.1 earthquake was prelude to Mt. St. Helens’s north slope erupting with cataclysmic force.  Almost one cubic mile of the mountain’s north and northeast side exploded, releasing a pyroclastic flow that reduced the once grand 9,677 foot peak to 8,365 feet, leaving a gaping, one-mile-wide horseshoe crater.  The explosion sent a 300 miles per hour surge of earth, rock, ice and gases, denuding an area about six miles wide and 20 miles in length.

The Miner's Car memorial commemorates the three miners who lost their lives when the volcanic eruption struck at 8:32 AM on May 18.

The eruption offered a lesson in volcanic studies; of the 57 people killed, 53 of them were in areas that experts believed were safe from danger. A monster ash cloud rose six miles skyward and dropped ¼” of volcanic ash on Spokane, 250 miles away (we were in our Spokane backyard at Noon, when the volcanic cloud turned the sky black for the next day).

From Hwy. 503, take NF 99 to the Miner’s Car memorial, where the miner’s rusted and flattened Pontiac remains mute testimony of the volcano’s fury.  Traveling nearer the base of St. Helens, most of the terrain remains much as it was 36 years ago, barren and devastated.  Varied turnoffs look down on Spirit Lake, its northeast end still littered with the floating trunks of giant fir trees blown into the lake.

NF 99 ends about two miles from the base of the volcano (a gated road is open to hikers who want to trek closer to the peak).  We chose to hike to the top of the Windy Ridge overlook: about 400 steps up one gains a true perspective of the explosion’s immensity, seeing the horseshoe crater, mile-upon-mile of devastated ridges and forest, Spirit Lake, and the Johnston Ridge Observatory, across the valley at the end of the Spirit Lake Highway.

Mt. Rainier, just 50 miles north of Mt. St. Helens, stands in icy splendor in the Cascade Mountains.

Mt. Rainier’s majestic 14,410 foot volcanic peak is 50 miles north; we reached it the same day as our tour of St. Helens, passed our favorite Rainier campground, Ohanepekosh and headed up to the stunning Paradise area, high on Rainier’s southern flank.  If you plan to do this eerie and scenic loop in one day, plan to leave early!

Olympic National Park and Peninsula: Another scenic destination is Olympic National Park, where we had tent-camped numerous times when our kids were much younger. On a recent visit, the day dawned hazy, becoming bright, and we reached Klalock Beach and Campground, with 170 camp sites right on the ocean (Klalock Lodge is nearby for a delicious lunch).  We walked along the gorgeous coastline, all the more wonderful because the sun was peeking through the clouds. Take the time to tour up to Hurricane Ridge, to admire the towering Olympics and resident glaciers; be warned that weather can be very changeable!

The Klalock Beach area in Olympic National Park, looking north on a hazy morning.

Also within the Park, both Lake Quinault Lodge and Lake Crescent Lodge exude history and cozy accommodations, prompting our plan to return soon.  From Port Angeles on the peninsula, you also have the option to take the ferry over to lovely and provincial Victoria, B.C. (bring your passports). We headed back by the Bainbridge Island Ferry, right into downtown Seattle!

For more information: John Wayne Pioneer Trail, trail’s website: johnwaynepioneertrail.org; Mt. St. Helens National Monument, fs.fed.us/pnw/mtsthelens/, (503) 808-2592; Mt. Rainier National Park, nps.gov/mora/, (360) 569-2211; Olympic National Park, ww.nps.gov/olym/, (800) 833-6388; Washington travel, experiencewa.com, (800) 544-1800.

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Happy travels in your world!

 

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Queen Anne Hill; the wonders of historic buildings and modern neighborhoods!

View of Space Needle on hazy day, from Kerry Park on Queen Anne Hill.

I have written earlier about our two week visit to Seattle, housesitting a nice condominium on 13th Ave., West near the base of Queen Anne Hill.

Queen Anne is loaded with tourism delights. When you visit, plan to walk or bike several miles, including Parsons Gardens and Kerry Park on Highland Drive, then north along Queen Anne Avenue for a quaint and delectable retail and restaurant dining area and admire stately homes dating to the 1890s. Finish your trek near sundown along 8th Avenue North, with stunning views west to the Olympic Mountains across Puget Sound.

The building at 10th West and Howe, with the 10th West Restaurant on right.

Along the walk up Queen Anne Hill, we found the 10th West building (we’ll call it that for now) at 10th and Howe. We noticed 10th West Restaurant in the building at the corner, open 8 AM to 2 PM for breakfast or lunch. We stopped in this morning for a delicious breakfast and had a nice chat with restaurant owner Linda Clegg, who pulled out about six black-and-white photos of the neighborhood from the 1930s.

Linda’s estimate is that the building went up in the late 1920-30s; you’ll see a picture of her building, about 1930, and the same building today – isn’t it delightful to see historic buildings reused for both retail on the street and apartments above? The restaurant anchors a neighborhood surrounded by several quaint shops and many homes of the same, or even older, vintage.

The building at 10th West and Howe, about 1930.

Just five blocks further east is the main Queen Anne retail district and a host of restaurants on Queen Anne Avenue North. From Highland Drive to Boston Street, south to north, we found Charleston, SC, 5 Spot, Domini’s Pizza and bar, Chocolopolis, El Diablo Coffee Company next to Queen Anne Bookstore, Samurai Sushi, Nana’s Mexican, Zeke’s Pizza, Paragon Bar and Grill, Queen Anne Cafe, Hilltop Ale House, Grappa Restaurant, Orrapan Thai, Bounty kitchen, Homegrown, How to Kill a Wolf (Italian), Storyville Coffee House, and yes, of course, Starbucks.

We have sampled Orrapan and Paragon, both delightful, and plan to check out a few more before we depart. Take a sunny morning or afternoon, or all day, and wander Queen Anne Hill; memorable in so many ways!

I was also noted earlier, the area adjacent to Queen Anne Hill that offers equal interest. To the north, the Lake Washington Ship Canal offers the Chittenden Locks and adjoining Carl English, Jr., Botanical Gardens. Stop and watch small to large ships navigate through the locks, take in the fish ladder and stroll through the adjoining botanical garden full of lovely blooms. To the east, Lake Union, and just south east, Seattle Center with the Space Needle and so much more! See my previous post, with a full run-down on the many delights of the Queen Anne Hill neighborhood!

An apartment building on 10th West, built 1928.

For more information: For Queen Anne Hill, queenannechamber.org; Pike Place Market, pikeplacemarket.org; the Space Needle, spaceneedle.com; Washington State tourism info, experiencewa.com.

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Happy travels in your world!

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Making Queen Anne Hill the center of Seattle exploration; water, boats, views, dining and more!

Water, boats, views, history, tasty dining and proximity to lots of tourist destinations make Queen Anne Hill the center for Seattle exploration!

Looking south from Queen Anne Hill's Kerry Park, the Space Needle, Mt. Rainier and Elliot Bay sparkle on sunny day!

We’re spending two weeks in Seattle, house-sitting a lovely condominium on the west side of Queen Anne Hill.  Our first several days were spent re-acquainting ourselves with the Seattle we knew from frequent visits when we lived in Spokane (1971-84) and occasional visits since.

Strangely enough, in about 40+ prior visits to this marvelous city, we had never toured Queen Anne Hill (the earliest homes were built in the Queen Anne style; find the most historic residences on 14th Avenue West, built between 1890 and 1910).

Another Queen Anne view, from 8th Avenue W, looking out over Puget Sound toward the Olympic Mountains.

So we’re exploring the Queen Anne area; lovely with mansions, shops, restaurants and views to die for, surrounded by the Ballard area, Lake Washington Ship Canal and Chittenden Locks, Lake Union, Seattle Center and more.

The Vashon Glacier sculpted Queen Anne Hill’s contours about 13,000 years ago; human habitation began with the Duwamish tribe about 3000 years ago. The Denny party arrived at Seattle’s Alki Point in November, 1851; David Denny would lay claim to hundreds of acres including lower Queen Anne just two years later.

Houses on Queen Anne Hill are resplendent in lots of colorful foliage.

Queen Anne Hill rises 456 feet above sea level at its highest (offering incredible views from Kerry Park on W. Highland Drive on the south, and 8th Avenue W on the west), and is home to about 28,000 Seattle residents in the area of 7 square miles. It’s just northwest of downtown and bordered by the Lake Washington Ship Canal on the north, Lake Union on the east, Belltown to the south and the Interbay area to the west.

Grilled shrimp tacos, lovely Ceasar salad at Paragon on Queen Anne Ave.

Queen Anne Hill is loaded with tourist delights. Plan to walk or bike several miles, including Parsons Gardens and Kerry Park (superb views of the Space Needle, Mt. Rainier, Elliot Bay) on W. Highland Drive, then north along Queen Anne Avenue for a quaint retail and delectable restaurant dining area and admire stately homes dating to the 1890s. Finish your trek near sundown along 8th Avenue W, with stunning views to the Olympic Mountains west across Puget Sound.

The corner of Boston Street and Queen Anne Avenue might best be described as restaurant row!

Stroll the retail district and unique restaurants on Queen Anne Avenue N., from W. Highland Drive to Boston Street, south to north:  Charleston, SC, 5 Spot: Domini’s Pizza and bar, Chocolopolis, El Diablo Coffee Company next to Queen Anne Bookstore, Samurai Sushi, Nana’s Mexican, Zeke’s Pizza, Paragon Bar and Grill, Queen Anne Cafe, Hilltop Ale House, Grappa Restaurant, Orrapan Thai, Homegrown, How to Kill a Wolf (Italian), Bounty Kitchen, Storyville Coffee House, and yes, of course, Starbucks.

Interspersed among the restaurants are shops and boutiques offering the latest in trendy fashions. And, stop at 10th West Restaurant (10th and Howe) for a tasty breakfast or lunch. The restaurant anchors a small neighborhood retail oasis surrounded by a half dozen fashionable shops.

A big ship in one of two of the Hiram Chittenden Locks always makes for interesting (and free) viewing!

The areas adjacent to Queen Anne Hill offer equal interest. To the north, the Lake Washington Ship Canal offers the Hiram Chittenden Locks and adjoining Carl English, Jr., Botanical Gardens. Stop and watch small to large ships navigate through the locks, take in the fish ladder and wander through the adjoining botanical garden full of lovely blooms (take a picnic lunch); best of all, the locks and gardens are free.

A cyclist, eastbound on the Burke Gilman Trail in Fremont area, passes a kayaker on the ship canal.

Ballard is home to a serious gathering of micro-breweries and related eateries.  Check out acclaimed Rueben’s Brews and to eat, try Ballard Pizza or Frelard Pizza (another outlet of Ballard Pizza) for seriously good pizza and suds (they also have a location in South Lake Union). West of Ballard is Shilshole Bay area, with the Olympic Mountains looming in the distance (long a favorite, Ray’s Boathouse, with wonderful fish dishes, right on Shilshole Bay with the most glorious of sunsets – chose the second floor for the bistro menu and lower prices).

Don’t miss walking or biking the Burke Gilman Trail, an urban delight that winds its way from Shilshole Bay on the west, through Ballard along the ship canal, past Lake Union, through the University of Washington campus and on to Woodinville. The coolness factor of this trail helps make Seattle residents some of the more active folks in the west!

Houseboats on Lake Union's east side were part of the filming of 'Sleepless in Seattle'.

Lake Union (home of Sam/Tom Hanks in the hit movie Sleepless in Seattle) teems with nifty houseboats, pleasure boats big and small and a host of waterfront restaurants with lovely views of downtown. Well worth a stop is the Center for Wooden Boats, with 100-plus historically-significant boats (you can rent boats and kayaks here); next door is the Museum of History and Industry.

Plan to walk through the 74 acre Seattle Center, built for the 1962 World’s Fair and right on the southeast edge of Queen Anne.  Packed into the grounds are the Bill and Melinda Gates Center, Chihuly Garden and Glass, Key Arena, Pacific Science Center, the Seattle Monorail, Seattle Children’s Museum and, of course, the Space Needle. If you want to dine or take the elevator up to the lofty top of the Space Needle over 500 feet above the city, book in advance!

Pkie Place Market is 'the place' to purchase fresh fish, flowers, crafts and also is home to trendy restaurants.

Just south is downtown Seattle.  Don’t miss the US’s best known public market, Pike Place Market, to purchase fresh fish, flowers, goods by scores of artisans and home to a number of cool restaurants. From the market, you can walk down to the Elliot Bay waterfront, with piers lined with shops and restaurants, the Seattle Aquarium and ferry access to Bainbridge Island, Bremerton or Victoria, BC. The views from the WA State Ferries are superlative and make for a sea adventure!

Where to stay: The Queen Anne area offers a host of Airbnb options, many at very reasonable prices! A number of bed and breakfasts and moderate motels are in surrounding areas.

How to get to Seattle, WA: From Stockton, take I-5 north; it’s about 810 miles and 12.5 hours from Stockton.

For more information: For Queen Anne Hill, queenannechamber.org; Pike Place Market, pikeplacemarket.org; the Space Needle, spaceneedle.com; Washington State tourism info, experiencewa.com.

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Happy travels in your world!

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Exploring the Washington Cascades; waterfalls, old towns, mountain biking on John Wayne Trail

We’re spending two weeks in Seattle, house-sitting a lovely condominium on the west side of Queen Anne Hill.  Our first several days were spent re-acquainting ourselves with the Seattle we knew from frequent visits when we lived in Spokane (1971-84) and occasional visits since.  So we have toured the Queen Anne Hill area; lovely with mansions and views to die for, the Ballard area, the Lake Union Ship Canal and Chittenden Locks, Alki Point, a quick lool at Pioneer Square and more.

Snoqualmie Falls' water thunders into the canyon below; it's on the way to the John Wayne Pioneer Trail.

We brought our mountain bikes, so it was inevitable that I would suggest a trip to the lovely Cascade Mountains: from Seattle, we elected to take a tour to Snoqualmie Falls and then continue further east to the John Wayne Pioneer Trail. Our destination was about 50 miles from Seattle – Snoqualmie Falls, the adjacent Salish Lodge for a delicious lunch, then into the little town of Snoqualmie (with two Ferraris parked on the street, testimony to the money of surrounding residents, I guess); across the street, an old railroad yard, now the Northwest Railway Museum, trainmuseum.org.

Iron Horse State Park is 15 miles further east along I-90, centered on the John Wayne Pioneer Trail, once the Milwaukee Railroad – the longest rail trail conversion in the US, at 285 miles. We entered the gravel trail with our mountain bikes near Rattlesnake Lake – here the City of Seattle constructed a masonry dam to enhance the Cedar Falls hydroelectric plant in 1915. The dam flooded the old town of Moncton, forcing its 200 residents to relocate as the town flooded.

Rattlesnake Lake, the beginning of our bike ride on the John Wayne Pioneer Trail.

Pedaling south west on the trail we quickly found the concrete foundation of the old Cedar Falls railroad substation, where hydroelectricity once powered electric engines used to push heavy freight trains up and over Snoqualmie Pass. Following the easy railroad grade through pristine cedar forests, it’s another 18 miles to Snoqualmie Tunnel – bring your headlamps! Failing to do that, we doubled back to our starting point – all gently downhill on the ride back!

These notes, below, come from the trail’s website: johnwaynepioneertrail.org

The John Wayne Pioneer Trail is the longest rail-trail conversion in the United States. The trail follows the former railway roadbed of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad (Milwaukee Road) for an estimated 285 miles across two-thirds of the state of Washington, from the western slopes of the Cascade Mountains to the Idaho border. 

 

The John Wayne Trail is well maintained and posted with directional signs.

The State of Washington bought the former Milwaukee Road corridor for $3,000,000 via a quitclaim deed after the railroad filed for bankruptcy in 1977. State legislation “railbanked” the corridor with provisions that allow for the reversion to railroad usage in the future. The trail was named in honor of the John Wayne Pioneer Wagons and Riders Association for their vision and assistance in creating the trail.

Today the John Wayne Pioneer Trail is a National Recreational Trail, enjoyed by hikers, horse riders, bikers, Boy Scouts, rail historians, scientists, and trail enthusiasts of all sorts. The trail highlights Washington’s diverse and scenic landscape, traveling through evergreen forests and dark tunnels, over high trestles and spectacular rivers, and across open farmland and high desert. In 2006, the 110 mile section from the western terminus near Cedar Falls/Rattlesnake Lake to the Columbia River south of Vantage was developed as Iron Horse State Park. Washington State Parks continues to work on development and improvement of the JWPT through eastern Washington. (Author’s note: in 2015, two WA State lawmakers tried an “end-around” to vacate the eastern portion of the trail and give the old rail property to adjacent land-owners - the attempt failed – but the trail on the eastern end is not yet fully developed).

What’s nearby: Snoqualmie Falls, Snoqualmie Pass, the quaint town of Snoqualmie and its Northwest Railway Museum.

How to get to Snoqualmie, WA: From Stockton, take I-5 north; in Seattle, go east on I-90; it’s about 850 miles and fifteen hours from Stockton.

Susan pedaling along the trail near Cedar Falls.

For more information: John Wayne Pioneer Trail, the trail’s website: johnwaynepioneertrail.org; for Washington State tourism, info, experiencewa.com.

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Happy travels in your world!

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Santa Barbara, Santa Rita Hills and making of the movie Sideways makes for memorable tour

The lovely Santa Rita Hills wine country is a great place for Pinor Noir and Chardonnay wine grapes.

We’ve been traveling the country extensively in recent years, with much of our time spent in a little teardrop travel trailer. When the weather’s bad, we retreat inside to watch favorite movies – with the 2004 hit Sideways high on our rainy day list.

We recently were trekking up the California coast to Santa Barbara, planning to take a boat over to Channel Islands National Park. When ocean storms raised complications – we reconsidered our plan and decided, instead, to tour the lovely Santa Rita Hills wine country just northwest of Santa Barbara.

From there, it was also easy to elect to retrace the film locations of the 2004 movie, filmed in multiple locations in Solvang, Los Olivos, Buellton and Santa Maria.

Miles and Jack at the bar at the Hitching Post Restaurant.

Released in October, 2004, Sideways is the story of two men in their late 40s who take a week long road trip to Santa Barbara County/Santa Rita wine country to celebrate the upcoming wedding of serial philanderer Jack (Thomas Hayden Church). Best man Miles (Paul Giamatti), wine snob and would-be writer, continually denigrates Merlot and extols his love of local Pinot Noir.

My spouse, Susan, at left, bellies up to the Hitching Post bar beside a newly made friend.

During the week, the men meet Stephanie and Maya, partake in local wines and their relationships frame the film.  In the months following the movie, Pinot Noir sales jumped 16% on the West Coast and Merlot sales dropped several percent – tied to the movie’s impact.

The movie received a host of major awards: it garnered an Academy Award Oscar for best adapted screenplay and was nominated for best picture, best director, best supporting actor (Church) and best supporting actress (Virginia Madsen). It won a Golden Globe for best picture/comedy and best screenplay. The Screen Actors Guild awarded it ‘best performance by cast in a motion picture’.

This is a land of lovely coastal mountains and flowing valleys, yielding world-class wine country – shown off beautifully in the film. Even if you have no interest in the area’s film credits, it’s world-class and immensely scenic wine country. The area specializes in Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc and counts more than 100 wineries in the immediate area.

Solvang has a cute, Scandinavian design and feel.

So, take the tour with us, most of it filmed in the pastoral Santa Rita Hills. We started in Buellton, right on Highway 1, site of several of the film’s scenes, including Sanford Winery, 7250 Santa Rose Rd., Days Inn Buellton, 114 E. Highway 246 and three blocks away, the Hitching Post II Restaurant, 406 E. Highway 246.

Sanford Winery in nearby Lompoc is relatively small and homey; here Miles imparts to Jack the fine points of wine tasting, noting one tasting has “just a flutter of Edam cheese” (while Jack chews gum). They return to the Windmill Motel to spend the night (the Days Inn) and walk a few blocks to the Hitching Post, where Maya (Virginia Madsen) waits tables; Miles recommends the ostrich steak. We stumbled upon the ostrich farm, by accident, 610 E. Hwy. 246.

Horse-drawn wagon ferries tourists in Solvang.

Nearby Solvang is definitely worth a visit, built to look like a quaint Scandinavian village. Here, as horse-drawn wagons ferry visitors through the city, the Solvang Restaurant is where Miles and Jack begin to see their relationship fracture (try the waffles!). Stop at Ingeborg’s Danish Chocolate Shop, across the street, for world-class chocolates and sweets.

The Solvang Restaurant is featured in the Sideways movie; here cracks appear in Mile's and Jack's relationship.

Fess Parker Winery, 6200 Foxon Canyon Rd., Santa Maria, passes as the low-brow winery under the fake name ‘Frass Canyon”, where a distraught Miles, learning his novel won’t be published, attempts to drink the spit-bucket. It’s big, modern and crowded, likely connected to the Davy Crockett character who founded the establishment.

But it’s Los Olivos that really struck our fancy, with a bucolic downtown surrounded by stunning wine country. Firestone Winery, 5000 Zaca Station Rd., is where Jack, Stephanie, Maya and Miles sneak into the barrel room.

The wine rack in Los Olivos Restaurant and Wine Merchant.

After wine-tasting we had a late delicious dinner at the Los Olivos Café and Wine Merchant, 2879 Grand Ave., where the couples dine, sample 4+ bottles of wine and Miles phones his ex-wife. My spouse, Susan, of course, sampled a local Pinot Noir, hooked on the varietal by the movie!

Afterwards, we strolled the quaint downtown, with several bed-and-breakfast inns and the nifty Los Olivos General Store – vowing to come back.

The Los Olivos downtown is anchored by the Los Olivos General Store.

What’s nearby: the Santa Ynez Mission, circa 1804, the lovely coastal city of Santa Barbara and Channel Islands National Park (reachable by ferry from Oxnard and Ventura).

How to get to Santa Rita Hills/Buellton, CA: From Stockton, take I-5 south, go southwest on Hwy. 41, then south on Hwy. 101 to Buellton. It’s about 310 miles and five hours from Stockton.

For more information: the Santa Barbara Conference and Visitors Bureau, offers a free map of the movie tour, santabarbaraca.com.  For insight into the Santa Rita Hills Wine Trail, santaritahillswinetrail.com/.

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Happy travels in your world!

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Santa Monica and Muscle Beach; old Route 66 brings us to the sunny Pacific

Santa Monica Pier, Pacific Ocean and the end of historic Route 66 come together in one pretty picture (photo courtesy of Santa Monica Travel & Tourism).

After more than two-dozen trips to the LA area in several decades, one of our “must stops” is always Santa Monica on the Pacific Ocean, due west of central Los Angeles. I originally discovered the town, at age 14, on a trip with my parents from Ohio – following Route 66 from Chicago all the way to its terminus in Santa Monica.

Explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrilio dropped anchor in 1542 in Santa Monica Bay. In the early 1800s, Mexico divided the area into three land grants covering Santa Monica and surrounding areas. Colonel Robert Baker purchased 38,400 acres in 1872 for $54,000 while his spouse purchased nearby Pacific Palisades for $40,000. Two years later, Nevada Senator John Jones purchased control of the rancho for $462,000, and began to develop the town.

Santa Monica Beach, with Pier in background, is a favorite of both sunworshipers and surfers (photo by Tom Garing).

Our nation’s first ‘interstate’ added to the growth of Santa Monica. The 1946 hit “Get your kicks on Route 66” celebrated historic Route 66 which began in 1926 when the Bureau of Public Roads created the first Federal Highway by linking existing local, state and national roads.  The result was a winding 2,400 mile highway that began in Chicago, IL and crossed Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and ended in Santa Monica, CA.

About the same time, Hollywood stars discovered Santa Monica’s charms; Will Rogers purchased 342 acres in 1922 for a horse farm and polo fields for pals Spencer Tracy, Robert Montgomery and Walt Disney.  William Randolph Hurst built a palatial mansion for Marion Davies and Greta Garbo made the city her first US residence. With more families headed west on Route 66; California, with 5.68 million people in 1930, mushroomed to 20 million by 1970; many of the new residents taking the “Mother Road” to Santa Monica!

Ocean Lodge on Ocean Avenue, just blocks from the Santa Monica Pier, is a throwback to the glory days of Route 66.

Old Route 66 ended at the Santa Monica Pier; Ocean Avenue still sports historic motels, like the Ocean Lodge, just a block from the Pier, where new arrivals, could, indeed, “get their kicks on Route 66”! Head east up Santa Monica Boulevard past classy old theaters, the stately Mayfair Residences; here the city’s popular Third Street Promenade crossed the old Mother Road and it retains the character of the city in the 1930s.

Today’s Santa Monica retains its historic and beachfront charm and has stayed current with the times with numerous city upgrades in the last 20-some years. It’s a city with distinct neighborhoods and tourist hot-spots. Here are our favorites:

Santa Monica Pier, Beach and Muscle Beach: Route 66, which brought millions of people to California beginning in the 1920s, ended at the Santa Monica Pier and oceanfront. The pier celebrated its hundredth anniversary in 2009 and remains popular with amusement rides, theme park and Ferris wheel and offers the Pacific ocean, sandy beaches, bike path extending both north and south and sunsets to sooth the soul.

Just south down the bike path from the pier is Muscle Beach and the neighboring town of Venice, where you can watch LA’s weightlifters practice their craft right on the beach. Plenty of funky retailers and interesting, reasonable restaurants line the bike and walking trail. You can also drive south on Ocean Avenue, lined with top-level to more economical hotels along the waterfront to reach Venice. Just north, the town of Malibu is home to many of Hollywood’s favorites.

Crowds of locals and visitors begin to gather on the Third Street Promenade, a shopping Mecca (Tom Garing photo).

Downtown Santa Monica and the Third Street Promenade: Just a few blocks to the east of the pier, across Ocean Avenue, you’re in the heart of shopping and dining options anyone will love. Stop for a snack or dinner at Ocean Avenue Seafood, one of our favorites.

The Third Street Promenade opened in 1989 with an open-air, pedestrian-friendly mall featuring scores of retailers, boutiques, nightclubs, street entertainers, outdoor events and farmers market options. Check neighborhood landmarks like the Fairmont Miramar Hotel and Georgian Hotel to see lively reuses of venerable old buildings.

Don’t miss other districts like Montana Avenue, known as a more laid-back option to Rodeo Drive. It offers upscale retailers, chi-chi restaurants, an historic movie theater and people-watching opportunities on the high end.

Cafe 50's, on Santa Monica Blvd., serves up breakfast and lunch in the Route 66 tradition.

A mile long stretch of Main Street offers old town charm and nearby Pico Boulevard and Wilshire Boulevard are also worthy of touring by foot or by auto. For lodging, Pico offers both upscale and economy choices galore, as does Ocean Avenue.

If you want to tour the historic Route 66, snap a picture of the historical Route 66 sign at the Santa Monica Pier and retrace the venerable highway heading eastward up Santa Monica Blvd., then onto nearby LA-area towns.

Discover Santa Monica’s Café 50’s, 11623 Santa Monica Blvd., offering a great selection of old Americana breakfast and lunch specials. Moving further east, reach Pasadena where the old route now follows Colorado Boulevard. Find the Angels Theater, repurposed to a new retail use, the nearby historic Pasadena Playhouse, built 1925, still boasts an active local arts and theater scene and many other buildings dating to the 1920s.

Santa Monica Pier on a hazy, perfect Pacific Ocean morning.

Monrovia, with the old Mayan Revival Aztec Hotel, circa 1924, and Azusa, with the old Foothills Drive-in Theater sign (now part of Azusa Pacific University) offer tantalizing tidbits of the former highway route. Route 66 continued into Glendora and exited California into Arizona at Needles, which has captured much of their historical essence. The Needles Chamber of Commerce offers a brochure, highlighting the grand old El Garces Hotel (an old Harvey House Hotel built in 1906) and other notable remnants of the ancient highway’s heyday.

How to get to Santa Monica: From Stockton, take I-5 south, continue south on I-405, then head west on I-10; it’s about 340 miles and five hours.

For more information: Santa Monica Travel and Tourism, SantaMonica.com or call (800) 544–5319. For historic Route 66: nps.gov/nr/travel/route66/; the California portion, route66ca.org.

A Santa Monica sunset ends another day in surfer's paradise.

Contact Tim Viall at tviall@msn.com; follow him at recordnet.com/travelblog. Happy travels in your world!

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Calaveras County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee, May 19-22, is great reason to head for Angels Camp!

Frog handler sends his charge off a recent Frog Jumping Jubilee (photo courtesy of Calaveras County Visitor's Bureau).

With Calaveras County celebrating the 30-year anniversary of the world’s longest frog jump, plan to take in the Calaveras County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee in Angels Camp, CA, May 19–22.

It was just 30 years ago that ‘Rosie the Ribeter’ uncorked the best-ever frog leap, 21 feet, 5 3/4 inches – a record that has stood the test of time. And, with a wet winter and continuing damp spring, the Sierra foothills are alive with color and creeks and rivers are running strong. What better reason do you need to visit this beautiful section of California, just an hour east of Stockton?

So, you get days of fun at a wonderful, old-style county fair and the world-class Jumping Frog Jubilee – what are you waiting for?

How to get there: Angels Camp is about 60 miles east and an hour from Stockton. Take Hwy. 4 east to Hwy. 49, then south to Angels Camp.

For more insight: Calaveras Frog Jump Jubilee, frogtown.org; for Calaveras County, gocalaveras.com.

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Happy travels in your world!

 

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Orange County; endless summer lives on in Huntington Beach, Newport Beach and south to San Clemente

Corona Del Mar State Beach and Newport Harbor entrance.

Forty miles of sunny beaches and coves, exotic cars, entertainment, sporting and dining options galore and a lovely Mediterranean climate make California’s Riviera (the Orange County coast) a favorite of vacationers!

Orange County, famed for its agricultural history, is home to Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim baseball team and Anaheim Mighty Ducks hockey team and many cultural attractions – but it’s the beachfront towns which appeal to us. After a dozen years visiting in late spring, here are our favorites, from north to south:

Huntington Beach: Surf City USA features a string of three beaches, Huntington City Beach, Huntington State Beach, and Bolsa Chica state beach, all popular for surfing, volleyball and firings making for campfires at night. Just east of Hwy. 1 are Bolsa Chica’s 1449 acres of wetlands – the largest saltwater marsh between the Tijuana River Estuary and Monterey Bay. Featuring 300 species of birds sighted in the last 10 years and 80 species of fish, this stunning parkland features 5 miles of hiking trails above the waterways. Huntington Beach features an 8 mile long bike trail, running south into Newport beach – ideal for cruising and admiring the beach scene.

Balboa Island Ferry connects Balboa Peninsula with Balboa Island in Newport Beach.

The city’s Main Street also features the Surfing Walk of Fame, and the Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum, with option to camp right on the beach in several locations.

Newport Beach: just south is Newport Beach, possibly the most upscale of these ocean-front cities. Newport Beach boasts the world’s largest small boat harbor and includes two piers, Newport and Balboa Piers, along sandy beach-front and one of the more colorful bike paths.

Be sure to take the three-car Balboa Island ferry (pedestrians and bikes welcomed) between Balboa Peninsula and Balboa Island, a quaint community of charming homes, cottages, boutiques and restaurants. On the peninsula side of the ferry, take the time to tour the 1905 Balboa Pavilion, gabled and cupola-topped and home to harbor tours, boat excursions, whale watching and Santa Catalina Island cruises (The town of Avalon is only 26 miles and 75 minutes via ferry to Santa Catalina Island). A favorite, funky restaurant just right for families is the Crab Cooker on Newport Bay.

The Beachcomber Restaurant and Crystal Cove cabins (refurbished and for rent) are part of Crystal Cove State Park.

Headed South, explore the three-mile expanse of ocean-front Crystal Cove State Park. With miles of pristine beaches, rocky coves and tide pools and the former oceanfront town of Crystal Cove, scene of several dozen movies and television shows. The old town provided a tropical setting for Beaches, Son of Tarzan, Treasure Island, films featuring Bogart and Bacall, Barrymore, and Herbie the Love Bug. About 20 of the 40 old cabins have been renovated and are available for rent per night in the $200-$250 range; it’s also home to Beachcombers Restaurant, a favorite for good food and sultry sunsets!

Laguna Beach is the next city south, offering more rugged coastline, sandy beaches and attractions such as the Laguna Art Museum and Laguna Playhouse. Main Beach offers volleyball and basketball courts, a grassy kid’s play area and a quaint downtown right across the street. A favorite restaurant is Nick’s in Laguna – sample the asparagus fries!

The brig Pilsgrim is part ot the Ocean Institute in Dana Point Harbor.

Dana Point and Harbor: Richard Henry Dana, who wrote the 1840s ‘Two Years Before the Mast’, noted the grandeur of the California coast and called it “the only romantic spot on the coast”. Just south is Doheney State Beach, a very popular State Park with Campground, public beaches and walking access to Dana Point Harbor. The harbor offers 2500 slips and is home to the Ocean Institute. The Institute features a replica of the Pilgrim, the brig on which Dana sailed, and the Maddie James Seaside Learning Center with the Spirit of Dana Point, a traditionally-built replica of a 1770s privateer used during the American Revolution.

Mission San Jaun Capistrano's courtyard garden takes one back to 1776.

Just east of Dana Point is beautiful San Juan Capistrano.  It’s built around Mission San Juan Capistrano, founded by Father Junipero Serra in 1776 (tour through the old mission courtyard with flora dating back some 200 years). Just across the rail tracks from the mission is the Los Rios Historic District, with 31 homes dating to 1794, a truly magical and historical walking experience. The oldest residential neighborhood in California, three of the original 30 mission adobes still remain including one that is home to the 10th generation of the family that built it 200 years ago.

San Clemente: Years ago we found beachfront San Clemente by accident; its pier, anchored by Fisherman’s Restaurant, is one of our must-stops. Beautiful scenery, a meandering bike path, the Amtrak Surfliner paralleling the beach, a great restaurant and jaw-dropping sunsets make a hard combination to overlook. San Clemente was also President Richard Nixon’s “western White House”. Up the bluff in San Clemente’s quaint shopping district on Del Mar are boutiques, restaurants and the old Cabrillo Playhouse, featuring community theater always a delight.

What’s nearby: Just east of Newport Beach is the Upper Newport Beach Estuary, with walking trails and a variety of wildlife and bird-watching opportunities!  Other attractions include Anaheim’s Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (baseball) Stadium, the Honda Center, home of Anaheim Mighty Ducks (hockey) and Santa Catalina Island, a 26 mile ferry boat ride from Newport Beach.

San Clemente Pier, with Fisherman's Restaurant; the San Clemente Bike Trail runs both north and south of this location.

Cycling, running/walking: An 8 mile beach-front trail extends the length of Huntington Beach, connecting to a variety of trail and quiet street rides in Newport Beach, with ferry from the Newport Beach Peninsula over to Balboa Island.  From the border of Huntington Beach and Newport Beach, cyclists, walkers and runners can also head east up the Santa Ana River Trail for over 25 miles, through urban, suburban and wild LA. The San Clemente Bike Trail (narrow, dirt, mountain bikes suggested) is another favorite, following the beaches and bluffs below San Clemente.

How to get there: Go south on I-5 to the LA area, then follow I-605 south, then I-405 to Newport Beach; it’s about 385 miles and six hours from Stockton.

For more insight: Orange County Visitors Association, visittheoc.com,

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Happy travels in your world!

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Fort Tejon State Historical Park; historical and scenic stop on I-5

How many times have you cruised I-5 to Southern California, climbed the Grapevine and passed the Fort Tejon turn off? But, have you ever stopped to admire the old fort?

Fort Tejon's restored adobe buildings look out on old parade ground.

The fort is located near the top of the Grapevine, just west of I-5. It was the main route between Southern California and the great California Central Valley. It was established in 1854 to protect both Indians who were living on the Sebastian Indian Reservation and white settlers and their cattle from raids from Paiutes and other Indian tribes from the south eastern deserts. It was garrisoned in August, 1854 and abandoned in September, 1864.

Today the fort features restored Adobe buildings from the original fort and a museum featuring exhibits on the local history and army life of the times. It’s located in a pretty valley with many stately, 400-year-old valley oak trees.

Park details: the park is located on I-5, about 70 miles from Los Angeles, near the top of Grapevine Canyon; take the Ft. Tejon exit. It’s about 310 miles, five hours south of Stockton. The park is open sunrise to sunset, with interpretive center open 9 to 4 daily. The historical Park also features a campground.

Docents dressed as 1860's army soldiers stand ready to answer questions on army life (CA State Parks photo)

For more information: www.parks.ca.gov/? page_id=585, or call (661) 248-6692.

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Happy travels in your world!

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Fort Ord National Monument; spectacular reuse of the old World War I and II Army base!

Oaks adorned with California lace lichen are found throughout the national monument.

If you are a hiker, bicyclist, mountain biker or camper, one of your best destinations within two hours of San Joaquin County is the Fort Ord National Monument, located between Salinas and Monterey, CA. And with those two nearby towns – you have a host of additional options to make your trip an overnighter, or longer!

The Fort Ord National Monument offers world-class recreation for residents and visitors to the Central California Coast. Lands of the former Fort Ord offer 86 miles of trail on approximately 7,200 acres – open every day from dawn to dusk for hikers, cyclists, mountain bikers, horseback riders, wildlife/wildflower photographers and nature enthusiasts. Visitors can choose to walk or ride the narrow single track trails atop the grassland hills or the shady winding trails through oak woodlands and maritime chaparral.

Cyclist descends on Ft. Ord singletrack through shady oaks and manzanita.

The national monument’s spectacular backcountry is noted for its beauty and rich biodiversity – offering one of the largest remaining expanses of maritime chaparral with wild lilac, manzanitas and chamise supporting diverse plant and animal species.

Your visit might coincide with those of black-tailed deer, turkeys, bobcats, golden eagles, coyotes, red-tailed hawks, California quail and mountain lions.  Watch out for rattlesnakes and poison oak, as well!

The Fort dates back to 1917 when the U.S. Army purchased land near Monterey Bay as a training base for field artillery and cavalry troops (the old horsebarn for Army horses is now an equestrian center for the local community). Named Camp Ord it was re-designated in 1940  Fort Ord and made home for the 7th Infantry Division.

Wildflowers of many hues recently blanketed the hills of the Fort Ord National Monument.

For the following 50 years it served as a primary facility for basic training in the US Army and, at one time, was home to 50,000 troops. During the Vietnam War it served as a major training center and deployment staging ground – as many as 1.5 million American troops trained at the old fort. It was slated for closure in 1990, and decommissioned in 1994.

On a recent outing, we camped in the Monterey County campgrounds that surround Laguna Seca Raceway (bordering the monument); from there, we could bike out the back of Laguna Seca, on nicely paved Barloy Canyon Road for miles into the Ft. Ord Monument’s backcountry.

Within the monument, we had a choice of both paved cycling routes and miles of scenic singletrack that wound through stately oaks covered with California lace lichen; and onto hills layered with carpets of lupine and many other wildflowers. Be forewarned, you better like hills, for the monument offers scores of hills, valleys and ridges with spectacular views!

Two road bikers ascend the paved, car-free Barloy Canyon Road in Fort Ord National Monument.

Another option for a cycling or hiking day-trip, make for the Badger Hills trailhead, right off Hwy. 68; from there, follow Guidotti Road up to Skyline Road for a wide variety of trails and stunning scenery with views of the entire monument and the mighty Pacific just to the west.

Old army roads are now fire roads, and interspersed with scenic singletrack trails leading into wonderous forests of oak and lichen, manzanita and with wildflowers carpeting the hills.  Occasionally you’ll find evidence of the former war-time use with sandy fire trails named Machine Gun Flat, or Engineer’s Canyon – elsewhere the fort’s old history is hard to spot.

On the west side of the monument, a portion of the 1200 mile Juan Baustista De Anza National Historic Trail roughly parallels Hwy. 68. In 1775-76, Bautista de Anza set off from Nogales, Mexico with 240 friars and soldiers, 695 horses and mules and 385 Longhorn cattle, ending in San Francisco and starting the horse and cattle business in California.

The photos were taken in the last week, as I was performing course marshal and first-aid service at the Sea Otter Classic as part of a 50+ member National Ski Patrol first-aid contingent.  I also attempted the 22 mile Mountain Tour at the Sea Otter Classic, proving to myself that my skills and conditioning were a bit sub-par; but, I garnered about 12 miles of riding in beautiful country before opting to cut my adventure short.

Seeking a hill workout? Here mountain bikers labor up steep, scenic Skyline Road.

If you are a cyclist and want to immerse yourself in the USA’s largest bicycling event, the huge and very cool Sea Otter Bike Classic takes over Laguna Seca Raceway, utilizing adjoining Ft. Ord backcountry trails (April 13-16, 2017; see: seaotterclassic.com).

Ft. Ord offers some of the best scenery for hiking, cycling and sight-seeing in California; plan a day trip or longer. It’s easy to extend your stay by exploring Salinas and the Steinbeck Center, or the stunning coast along Monterey and Pacific Grove. If you arrive early or mid-day, across Hwy. 68 from the Badger Hills trailhead is a fine breakfast or lunch option, the Toro Place Café. At the end of the day, a cocktail and fish and chips tastes ever so good on the Monterey Pier!

What’s nearby: Salinas is just north of the monument, featuring the National John Steinbeck Center (the Steinbeck Festival is May 6-8, for detail: Steinbeck.com) as well as a host of nice motels and restaurants (cheaper than options in Monterey).  Monterey is just a few miles west of Fort Ord, with Fisherman’s Wharf, Cannery Row and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, restaurants on the water and wonderful biking/walking trails right along the Pacific, extending north to the new Fort Ord Dunes State Park with spectacular views along the Pacific.

Camping: Campers can find nice campgrounds (with free showers!) surrounding Laguna Seca Raceway; contact Monterey County Parks, (888) 588-2267; at Fort Ord Dunes State Park, a campground is in the works for future campers, http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=28340. Pinnacles National Park, 30 miles south of Hollister, CA, is another fine camping and exploration option, about an hour from Fort Ord.

How to get there: Go south on Interstate 5 to Santa Nella, take Hwy 33 south, then go west on Hwy 152, then Hwy 156 to connect with Hwy 101.  Go south on Hwy 101 to Salinas, then take Hwy 68 to the Ft. Ord National Monument (the Badger Hills trailhead is on the highway; continue on Hwy. 68 for a few more miles if you are bound for Laguna Seca.  It’s about 2.4 hours and 140 miles from Stockton.

For more insight: Ft. Ord National Monument: http://www.blm.gov/ca/st/en/prog/nlcs/Fort_Ord_NM/recreation.html. For a cycling/hiking trails map: Ft. Ord 2014 Map 508

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Happy travels in your world!

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    Tim Viall

    Viall is a local travel writer who retired in late 2012 after 10 years as executive director of Stockton, CA's, Emergency Food Bank and six years with the Downtown Stockton Alliance. Previously, a 21-year career in daily newspapers helped shape his ... Read Full
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