Monterey; history and majesty for wintertime exploration

Monterey offers history, ocean majesty for wintertime exploration

In recent years we’ve been up and down the California coast from Santa Cruz to the far end of Big Sur, but had not spent any serious time in Monterey. Last week we changed that, with a three day visit. Here, Monterey Bay is the star, with sandy beaches and rocky coastline, stunning views and upscale visitor attractions matched to the area’s historic underpinnings.

Cyclists along the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail in Pacific Grove.

Monterey was founded on June 3, 1770 and was capital of Alta California under both Spain and Mexico. During that time, the town boasted California’s first theater, public library, public school, public buildings and newspaper. 

In 1846 during the Mexican American war, the US flag was raised over the customs house, which you can visit today. Three years later, Monterey would host California’s first constitutional convention. Walk the Path of History (see website, below) where you will experience what life was like when the city was California’s capitol.

The old Custom’s House, adjacent to Old Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey.

We found a variety of inexpensive, older but nice motels in Seaside, just north of Monterey. From here, it was just a few minutes to drive into Monterey and its many attractions. 

On our first afternoon, we did a walking tour of the lively Cannery Row area, with shops and hotels lining the ocean front. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is the featured attraction; known world-wide for its breadth of sea life and kid-friendliness. After our tour, we retired to a favorite restaurant, Schooners in the Monterey Plaza Hotel, for a light dinner and drinks.

Old Fisherman’s Wharf, Monterey, decked out for the holidays.

Then we moved about a mile north for a short evening stroll of Old Fisherman‘s Wharf, lit brightly with a holiday theme and doing a lively business with restaurants and quaint shops. Most restaurants offer samples, so you can gauge where you might want to eat; several candy and ice-cream shops offer sweet treats and varied retailers sell wind-breakers, that can come in handy during this season.

The next day the cloudy morning morphed into a sunny afternoon and we drove through Monterey and into Pacific Grove, south along Ocean View Boulevard and Sunset Drive. Here the coast is rocky, featuring many places to pull off and explore tide pools and admire surf crashing into the rugged coastline (we elected to avoid the famed 17 Mile Drive due to the $10.50/car fee).

Ocean surf pounds Pacific Grove along Ocean View Blvd.

Doubling back, we took a walk, perfect for photo ops, along the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail, marvelous for hiking and biking. Monterey and surrounding communities are quite hike- and bike-friendly, and bike shops offer a variety of rentals.

That evening, we returned to Old Fisherman‘s Wharf, admired views of boats and a huge cruise ship in the harbor, and retired to dinner in Ablonetti’s, a fun restaurant on the pier, featuring “all day happy hour”; happily, their fish and chips and clam chowder were very good.

A cruise ship and private yachts in the Monterey Harbor.

Just south of Monterey, one of the world’s great road trips presents itself, following south along the California coast and through Big Sur, where tide pool exploration, elephant seal spotting and incredible scenery extends for 100 miles, culminating in San Simeon and theover-the-top Hearst Castle.

The Bixby Bridge, and a portion of the Coast Highway in Big Sur area.

For those into hiking and wildlife viewing, plenty of options present themselves. We drove 18 miles north to the Moss Landing harbor area, where we spotted a number of sea lions and several sea otters. We moved to the Moss Landing Wildlife Site, along Elkhorn Slough in an area that once functioned as commercial salt ponds. Alas, the highly recommended Elkhorn Slough Federal Estuarine Refuge was closed (on Mondays and Tuesdays), so we made a note to visit in the future with our kayaks.

Fort Ord, the old former Army fort, is now a national monument lying just east of Monterey. It offers miles and miles of hiking and biking trails in a very wild setting. Hikes, or cycling, into the Ord backcountry presents a pristine encounter with wild country and expansive, verdant views. Adjacent to the monument is Laguna Seca Raceway, active throughout the year with auto and motorcycle racing, bicycling and other events.

Cyclist on single track trail, Ft. Ord National Monument.

Monterey has birthed quite a brewpub scene and we made stops at Peter B’s Brew Pub in the Old Downtown Monterey area and the Dust Bowl Brewery, just off the Old Fisherman’s Wharf parking lot. Cannery Row Brewing and several more brew pubs can be found around town. In addition to Schooners Coastal Kitchen/Bar in the Monterey Plaza Hotel, we found two cute and good value restaurants, Abalonetti’s and the Crab House, both on Old Fisherman‘s Wharf.

For more information: Monterey Visitor’s Bureau, seemonterey.com.

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

Posted in Central California | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

European river cruising; Nazis leave sobering legacy over Germany and its neighbors (part 3 of 3 parts)

The sobering Nazi legacy over Germany and its neighbors

We recently returned from a 15 day cruise beginning in Switzerland, down the Rhine River, passing through part of France, a good portion of Germany, the southern portion of the Netherlands and into Belgium. A cruise a few years earlier took us from Vienna, Austria through the heart of Germany and into Amsterdam, Netherlands. These are reflections on the sobering legacy the Nazi regime left on this part of Europe.

It’s rare to find a city not touched somehow by the sadness and destruction rendered by World War II. Switzerland managed to stay neutral, and avoided the damage of other countries. But cruising the Rhine, Mozel, Danube and other waterways passes cities mostly demolished by the war, rebuilt with help from the Marshall Plan but still struggling to get past the ugly history of the war. And, residents who still remember the war, the loss of their family members or neighbors and the lasting devastation of the conflict.

Hitler, at the Luitpoldhein, a huge Zeppelin Field, addressing crowd
of 800,000 troops, Hitler youth and countrymen.

Here are just a few of the many examples that sear your mind touring these countries.

Luitpoldhein, a huge Zeppelin Field, today; the small parapet, with fence, right center, is where Hitler stood, addressing crowd, in the old photo, above.

Vienna, Austria, long home to the Habsburg Alliance, Strauss, music and majesty, was the start of our first river journey! We toured St. Stephan’s Cathedral and enjoyed the city, a marvel of old medieval structures, baroque classics, the Imperial Palace and many other mansions of colossal proportions. 

Our tour took us past the Heldenplatz (Square of Heroes), where in March, 1938 Hitler delivered the Anschluss, annexing Austria into Germany. Hitler was born in Braunau, Austria near the German border.  Cheering crowds of German/Austrian citizens welcomed the Wehrmacht’s invading troops; but no shots were fired. In the weeks before and just after the Anschluss, over 70,000 dissidents, and Austrian Jews were arrested and imprisoned.

The Neue Berg where Hitler delivered his the Anschluss, annexing Austria into Germany.

We entered Germany on the Main/Danube Canal (opened in 1992, crossing the European “continental divide”, at 1332’, where water flows north in the Main River to the North Sea, or south in the Danube to the Black Sea). We sailed through Germany past a number of towns devastated during the war; none more so than Nuremberg. This city was once the capital of the Roman Empire, and Hitler chose to make his mark on this area in particular.  The city was also a natural industrial complex, and had ability to help fund some of his heinous projects. 

Remnants of Nazi architecture are found throughout the city; the Luitpoldhein, a huge Zeppelin Field  and exhibition grounds, which hosted huge gatherings of 250,000 to 800,000 troops, members of the Hitler Youth and other party faithful.  Nearby is the Luitpold Arena, never finished, which was to have been an indoor, 50,000 seat, show-place arena!  It is now used as the Hall of Records for war data.  We toured the nearby huge red brick SS Barracks, with balcony for Hitler to welcome troops. 

Crowd of German citizens, youth and troops salute Hitler.

Our tour took us past the Grand Hotel, home to 300 journalists covering the Nuremberg Trials at the end of the war, then into the notorious Court Room 600, where the trials took place from November, 1945 to October, 1946.  Nazis on trial saw only the adjoining prison, elevator and courtroom for a year.  Hitler, Himmler and Goebbels were dead; but  Speer, Hess, Krupp and others were tried here; the onset of the Cold War ended the trials early.

Court Room 600, site of Nuremberg Trials.

Wurzburg, Frankfurt, Cologne, we visited them all – all devastated by Allied bombing and battles to drive Germans back.  In each case, the cities were rebuilt, with an eye to preserving the architectural structures that were destroyed in the war.

In many towns like Bernkastel, Germany, a visitor will find bronze insets in the streets in front of homes, commemorating Jewish citizenry who lived there, rounded up and murdered by the Germans.

These small brass plaques stand in front of homes in Bernkastel, memorializing Jews
who lived in the homes, taken and murdered by the Nazis.

In front of the Bonn, Germany, Town Hall where John Kennedy spoke in 1963, are bronze insets in the street’s cobblestones of book spines – mute testimony to Nazi book burning of authors they disagreed with like Hemingway and Helen Keller. 

Just blocks away on the Rhine River is a portion of a brick wall and a huge star of David, memorializing a former Jewish synagogue that sat on that site before being demolished by the Nazi regime.

Memorial to a Jewish synagogue in Bonn on the Rhine River.
Brass insets of book spines, in front of the historic Bonn Town Hall,
where Nazis burned books in the street.

Our in-home hosts included Edda, 80 years old in Dudenhoffen, Germany, who relateed as a six-year-old her memories of the British and American allies bombing her East Prussian hometown and the Russians rolling in to chase the Germans out, forcing her family to flee.  Or, Christina, our home host in Biberbach, Germany, who shared that, despite their country’s recent prosperity, her neighbors are ashamed to fly the German national flag, fearing that the return of overt nationalism will again lead to dire consequences.

Our home host Edda, an 80 year-old from East Prussia, recounted her memories as a six year-old, when the Allies bomber her hometown, Russians invaded and Hitler was overthrown (pictured with my spouse Susan).

In Nijmegen, Netherlands, we stop in silence in front of a bronze statue of a weeping Jewish mother across the street from a building with bronze plaques listing the names of 300 Jewish citizens taken and murdered by the Nazis. Huge sections of this old town feature streets with 60 and 70-year-old buildings, replacing entire blocks demolished in wartime bombing raids.

In Nijmegen, Netherlands, statue of weeping Jewish mother stands across street from bronze plaques listing names of 300 Jewish residents taken and murdered by Nazis.

Space precludes our visit to Ann Frank’s home in Amsterdam, where she and her family hid from the Nazis, just a few of the more than 100,000 Amsterdam residents rounded up and killed by the Nazi regime.

These countries are beautiful, with built history tracing back almost 2,000 years. Despite the excitement of exploration in these lovely cities and countries, the sad legacy of Nazi Germany is unavoidable.

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

Posted in Europe | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

European river cruising, Germany, Netherlands and Belgium, part 2 of 3

European river cruising, Germany, Netherlands and Belgium shine

This week’s installment reports on the second week of our Romance of the Rhine and Mosel River cruise, aboard the River Harmony, a 330 foot, three deck European river cruiser carrying 140 passengers and crew of 36. The cruise is a “last-minute deal“ on Grand Circle Cruise line, allowing us to stretch our travel dollars. More on that, below. 

We are in central Germany in the lovely Rhine River Valley, where we gaze on countless historic river towns, the forest changing from green to yellows and reds and centuries-old castles atop many of the precipices. We soon pass the imposing 440 foot rocky point where Germanic legend holds that an enticing siren – Lorelei – wooed sailors to destruction on the reef below the rocks. 

Our river cruise ship, the River Harmony, on the Rhine River.
Our route on this 15 day cruise begin in Basel, Switzerland, and cruised north down the Rhine River along France, through Germany, the Netherlands and into Belgium.

We soon made port in Boppard, the historic center of the Middle Rhine Region, a UNESCO World Heritage site, famous for its Rhine Promenade and the lofty white towers of the Church of Saint Severus. An optional tour took us to Marksburg Castle, a 13th century fortress unchanged by war or reconstruction.

The Boppard waterfront, lovely in November.

At Koblenz, we detour off the Rhine and head southwest up the Mosel River through a rugged valley, with vineyards planted in the most precarious locations, some on 65° slopes! We anchor in Bernkastel, one of the prettiest villages in the Mozel Valley with sister town, Kues, on the opposite bank. Here we’re hosted to a winery tour, deep in the wine caves cut into the side of the rocky valley. The wine makers note that the vineyards are neither irrigated nor fertilized and seasonal Romanian vineyard workers hand-pick grapes, climbing up the steep, rocky hills.

Tiny home in Bernkastel, built when taxes only took into
account the square footage of the first story of the house.

On day 9 of our 15 day cruise, we make port in Trier, where a walking tour of the city tours us by the Roman Emperor Constantine‘s massive Basilica, erected AD 310 and pass the imposing Porta Nigra (black gate), a huge gateway built AD 200, the largest surviving citygate from Roman times. 

Porte Nigra (Black Gate), built by the Romans in AD 200.

The next day we’re in Cochem, and our walking tour features a walk-through of Reichsburg Castle, originally constructed in the 11th century, burned during the 1689 War of Palatine Succession and rebuilt and converted into a summer home in the late 1800s. It’s an imposing, monolithic structure high above the Mosel River, offering a glimpse into life in a huge castle as well as lovely views of the river below.

We cruise to Bonn, where the tour features the Baroque city walls, Romanesque Basilica and Beethoven’s home, now a museum. The city was the provisional capital of West Germany from the years following World War II until Germany’s reunification in 1990. 

Looking down on the Mosel River from highlands above Cochem.

The Bonn Town Hall is where Kennedy spoke from the portico in 1963, pledging his support to Berlin and a unified Germany. As our tour guide Tim recites Kennedy’s speech from the portico, we realize amongst the cobblestones are 50 brass inlays, of book spines, memorializing where Nazis burned books in the square.

On day 13, the Rhine winds its way into the Netherlands, where we stop in Nijmegen. We are now at sea level and the Rhine’s hills are just a memory. On a walking tour of the 2000 year old city, we pass a sobering memorial to the town’s almost 300 Jews, murdered in the holocaust during World War II. Aboard the ship in the afternoon, a local offers a program on Operation Market Garden, the daring World War II military maneuver that helped drive the Nazis out of the Netherlands; our speaker notes, with gratitude, the contributions of Americans.

Susan, with a 17th century windmill in the Netherlands.

A day later our ship moves on to Willemsted, where a walking and boating tour shows off 19 famous windmills built along the river in the 1740s. We see part of the Delta Works Flood Control Project, known worldwide for its hydro-engineering to compensate for the flooding that long devastated Holland. We see, up close, giant pumps with screws 15 feet in diameter that lift water out of the reclaimed area and back up into the river. But it’s the 270-year-old windmills that catch our attention, still functioning and built with huge, ancient timbers.

Four more historic windmills in Netherlands.

Day 15 takes us to Antwerp, Belgium where a walking tour of the old town shows off the Grote Markt (town square), graced by the old town hall and beautiful timbered houses and shops, framed by the elegant spires of the Cathedral of Our Lady. It’s also home to artist Peter Paul Rubens; his16th century residence serves as a museum. The next morning, it’s  a bus to the airport for a long flight home.

Huge pumps turn these giant screws, 15 feet in diameter,
to lift water out of Netherlands lowlands.

We’re fans of Grand Circle Cruises for their sparkling customer service, quality of their cruise ships and ability to stretch our travel dollar by booking “last minute deals”. Our deal, booked just six weeks before departure, included the four-day pre-tour and hotel in Lucerne, the 15 day Romance of the Rhine and Mozel cruise, daily guided walking tours, three lovely meals each day plus choice of wine or beer and airfare, $8000 for the two of us. We’re ready to do another, perhaps the “Paris to Normandy” cruise – with another last-minute deal!

For more info: Grand Circle Cruises, gct.com, (800) 221-2610.  For best prices, search “Ways to Save” on their web site.

Contact Tim at tviall@msn.com, follow him at recordnet.com/travelblogHappy travels in your world!

Posted in Europe | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

River cruising through Europe, Switzerland to Belgium, part 1 of 3

Cruising through Europe, Switzerland into the heart of Germany, on the Rhine River!

We have visited Europe three times in the last 20 years, starting with a free-wheeling “on our own“ nine day trip to Paris for our 30th wedding anniversary, then a Great Rivers of Europe cruise six years ago, and a small ship ocean cruise from Slovenia three years ago, down the coast of Croatia to Bosnia/Herzegovina and Montenegro.

The latter two trips were with Grand Circle Cruise lines, and we’ve learned how to best stretch our travel buck – typically taking trips near the end of the high season, and, searching for “last minute deals“ on the company’s website.

Our ship, the River Harmony, moored on the Mosel River in Germany.

A few months ago, we decided to celebrate another anniversary with a land tour of Italy. Alas, seeking a last-minute deal, we waited too long and the tour booked out. So, primed to travel, we found another last-minute option, the “Romance of the Rhine and Mosel Rivers” cruise, beginning in Switzerland, descending the Rhine through part of France, a large part of Germany, the southern Netherlands and finishing in Belgium. Since we departed on November 2, we packed clothing for cool and perhaps wet weather; happily, though chilly, very little rain would dampen our days.

Our flight took us from Sacramento to Dulles Airport, Washington DC, connecting to a flight into Zürich, Switzerland, where Grand Circle met us at the airport and shuttled us to our pre-trip destination, Luzerne, Switzerland. It’s a town of 80,000 people; our Ameron Hotel Flora was just a block from the historic Kapelbrucke (Chapel Covered Bridge), circa 1333, an lovely bridge linking the Alstadt (old town) to the Reuss River’s right bank, lined with waterfront restaurants. The town is bordered on the north by a half-mile long fortified Medieval wall, the Museggmauer, from the 14th century.

Susan and Tim, beside the Reuss River and 600 year-old covered bridge in Luzerne, Switzerland.

The Reuss River flows out of beautiful Lake Luzerne, with Mt. Pilitus towering over the city to the southwest and the Swiss Alps extending south. The next day, we and our dozen new tour-mates boated down the lake about 15 miles to Vitznau, where we boarded the oldest mountain train in Europe to climb Mt. Rigi to a lovely resort above the lake and dinner at the Hotel Rigi Kaltbad. The sunset over the lake and the Alps was a fitting close to a spectacular day.

On our third day we attended a concert in the Jesuitenkirche Catholic Church, (a 17th century church with baroque architecture, classic murals and a huge pipe organ). The noon concert featured five women singing a-cappella, enchanting with their beautiful voices, an acoustically-perfect hall and a marvelously photogenic place. On our final day, we took the funicular up to the Château Gutsch, an upscale hotel and restaurant high above the city, once again admiring the high mountain views of the Alps and thinking we must return someday.

The view from our boat ride down Lake Luzerne, with Swiss Alps in the distance portending a grand ski season in the offing!

After four days touring Luzerne, we bussed to our cruise ship, the River Harmony (140 passengers, 36 crew, with 65 cabins, our home for the next 15 days) in Basel, Switzerland. Basel, the country’s second largest city, has a split personality – on one hand, giant, modern pharmaceutical and chemical research companies, on the other, a medieval city crisscrossed by narrow alleys and centuries-old architecture.

The lovely Chapel Bridge, circa 1333, in Luzerne, Switzerland.

Our tour guide, a tall, animated Netherlander, Tim Sommen, led us on a walking tour of the old city, including the Marketplatz, being decorated for Christmas, the colorful Town Hall and the red sandstone, 12th century Munster, the town’s cathedral. With extra time we toured over to the Museum of Fine Arts, dating to 1662, the oldest public art museum in Europe featuring masters such as Hans Holbein and 20th century abstract expressionist Jasper Johns.

Overnight, we cruised down the Rhine, docking in Strasbourg, France. A walking tour took us through the city’s narrow cobblestone streets split by winding canals. It’s the capital of the Alsace Region, featuring the charm of the centuries-old half-timbered houses, a unique city with both German and French influence. Over the past 750 years, Strasburg was a free imperial city of the German empire from 1262, taken by France in 1681, then Germany in 1871; France recovered the city in 1919 after World War I. The towering Strasbourg Cathedral dominates the city’s skyline; additionally, the valley of the Rhine features towering hills/mountains channeling the river, with old castles and quaint towns around every corner, and forests and vineyards boasting seasonal yellows and oranges.

Our next port was Speyer, a city founded by the Romans in 50 AD that flourished during the Middle Ages. Much of the city was destroyed in the 17th century during the Palatine War of Succession, though the Romanesque Cathedral, built between 1030 and 1125, remains as testimony to architecture of the era. A feature of Grand Circle Cruises is a home-hosted visit by a local resident. Our team of eight was bussed to nearby Dudenhofen, Germany, where Edda, 80 years old, a native of East Prussia, shared her memories as a 6-year-old of the bombing by British and Americans and the Russian takeover, which caused her family to flee. Edda was happy Hitler was defeated, and shared that her country remains ashamed of the Nazis, seldom flies the nation’s flag and remains leery of overt nationalism.

The Boppard waterfront on the Rhine River; a lovely time of year.
This was the route of our river cruise, beginning in Basel, heading north, down the Rhine, splitting France and Germany, bound ultimately for Belgium.

Next week we’ll continue our cruise down the Rhine and up the Mosel.  

For more info: Grand Circle Cruises, gct.com, (800) 221-2610.  For best prices, search “Ways to Save” on their web site.

Contact Tim at tviall@msn.com, follow at recordnet.com/travelblogHappy travels in your world!

Posted in Europe | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Dodge Ridge, Bear Valley ski resorts ready for ski season

Snow’s a-comin’; Dodge Ridge, Bear Valley ski resorts prep for ski season

With the first winter snow a few days ago now closing Ebbetts and Sonora passes, and heavier winter storms forecast for the central Sierra over Thanksgiving, the two closest resorts to San Joaquin County are gearing up for another fun ski and boarding season.

Bear Valley and Dodge Ridge are closer than other options in the Lake Tahoe area, as well as family-friendly, less expensive and each offers marvelous terrain for any experience level. Trips to these two resorts don’t require summiting a mountain pass to reach the ski areas, so less chance of chain controls. From central Stockton, Dodge Ridge is just 98 miles, on Highway 108 above Sonora; Bear Valley, just over 100 miles, on Highway 4 above Murphys – each only about two hours distant! Here are updates:

Dodge Ridge, family-owned and family-loved since 1950: Dodge Ridge awaits another storm before announcing opening day. What’s noteworthy about this resort is that throughout its long history the resort remains family-owned and treasured by generations of families since its opening in 1950. If you’ve followed the ski industry lately, you know this is becoming a rarity in the ski industry.

Family takes in the view in Boulder Creek Canyon at Dodge Ridge
A young guest gets full attention of the Dodge Ridge Snowsports School.

The resort focuses on its relationship with their guests and the way staff is trained, with many people who work here growing up skiing and riding here; their families come here and their children come here. There’s a huge multi-generational segment of the resort’s guests.

The resort features an expansive Family Lodge, with ski/board rentals and the nearby Creekside Lodge offers a compact, walkable and family-friendly base area.

Owners Sally and Frank Helm pose in front of the Dodge Ridge Family Lodge.

Dodge Ridge lift ticket pricing (the resort offers the lowest day pass pricing this season among comparably sized Sierra resorts):
Adults, 20-64, $79
Teen, 13-19, $64
Youth, 6-12, $29
Kids, 5-under, Free
Senior, 65-81, $64
Golden Age, 82+, Free
Military Discount for active military and veterans.
Discounted Senior Tuesdays starting in January 2020.
SaveMart/Lucky Stores offer discounted vouchers.

Dodge Ridge is widely known as the place where people learned to ski. That reflects upon the caliber of the resort’s lesson programs, honed and perfected over the years. New skiers and boarders as young as 2 years old, up to any age, get their start here.
The resort focuses upon development of a lifelong love of the sport through daily lesson programs, progression through all lesson levels along with care devoted to instructor training. Dodge Ridge offers a wide array of lesson programs:

Intro To Snow: One on one private lessons for kids as young as 2 years old
• Progression Pass (Levels 1 – 3 / Ages 13+)

● Race Team and DASH All-Mountain Team (Ages 7 to 13, levels 5 to expert)

Led by Jim Phillips, who has years of experience in leading groups of athletes in multiple sports including skiing, skateboarding, BMX riding and GoKart racing. Many of the athletes he coached accomplished National and World recognition.

As a former professional skateboarder, nationally ranked BMX rider, professional freestyle skier, alpine climber, surfer and rock climber, Jim’s experiences have led him to a unique perspective of what it means to ski the terrain of a mountain.

Accomplished all mountain skiers understand that their skiing changes based upon the terrain and conditions and can seamlessly connect these into a flow.

Through cooperative coaching methods, the Team’s coaches work with each individual to build a set of tools for skiing different terrain and conditions while being positive ambassadors of Dodge Ridge

● Master’s Clinics (Specialized techniques for intermediate to advanced skiers, ages 50+)

Led by Jon Mahanna, PSIA Alpine Level 3 Instructor and past Examiner,  this exciting program for intermediate to advanced skiers over the age of 50 will be geared towards the technical elements necessary for their success.  

Our specialized Master’s Instructors will guide everyone through efficient progressions for establishing a strong body position on skis while allowing for the least amount of resistance on our muscles and skeletal frame.

The Masters Program is a must for those anxious to improve in a relaxed atmosphere, meet new friends and develop the skills and techniques to keep current.

Dodge Ridge’s skiable 862 acres extend far off to the east, to Chair 8 terrain with remarkable variety and scenic Sierra views into Boulder Creek Canyon. With 1,600 vertical feet serviced by 8 chairlifts, a T-bar, rope tow and two Magic Carpet lifts, Dodge Ridge has something to offer beginners all the way to adrenaline-fueled skiers and riders. Cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and sledding options can be found in the nearby Stanislaus National Forest. Lodging can be found just below the mountain in Pinecrest, Long Barn, Twain Harte and Sonora. For Dodge Ridge information, dodgeridge.com, (209) 965-3474.

Bear Valley touts snow-making, lodge improvements and recently installed high-speed six-pack chairlift: Bear Valley Resorts have not yet announced an opening date, but await the coming storms. A spokesperson shared that lodge and snow making improvements will add to a positive snow experience this season.

Family that boards and skis enjoys Bear Valley on snowy day.

Ticket prices at the window are:
Adult, 20-64, $105.00
Teen, 13-19, $84.00
Child, 6-12, $42.00
Kinder, 5-under, $15.00
Active military and dependents with ID, price TBA, and free on Sundays
Senior, 65-74, $54.00
Super senior, 75-up, $15.00
Bear notes that tickets bought in advance, on-line receive discounts.

Bear’s high-speed six-pack lift unloading terminal extends further uphill than the previous lift, providing improved access to intermediate and advanced terrain, along with providing service to Bear West, the Village Side and all areas in the Upper and Lower Mountain bowls.

Guests enjoy Bear Valley on a sunny day.

From numerous visits, Bear Valley is known for its welcoming staff, affordable ticket prices, terrain variety, and a commitment to providing the ultimate mountain experience. The mountain offers 1,680 acres of varied terrain, 8 chairs (2 high-speed) and 2 surface lifts, more than 70 trails (and access to “side country” adventure terrain), two terrain parks and 1,900 vertical feet when fully opened.

Bear Valley Village is home to a variety of services, shops, restaurants and a wide range of accommodations. Winters provide skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, sledding, snowshoeing and snowmobiling. Additional lodging can be found in Arnolds and Murphys. For Bear Valley info, bearvalley.com, (209) 753-2301.

Kids enjoy a lesson at Bear Valley.

For those seeking immediate skiing/boarding gratification, resorts like Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows, Mt. Rose and Mammoth Mountain have all opened with limited skiing/boarding on runs serviced by snow-making. Kirkwood, Boreal and Sugar Bowl all hope to open around Thanksgiving. As you enjoy that holiday meal, “think snow”!

Contact Tim at tviall@msn.com, follow him at recordnet.com/travelblog. Happy skiing in the Sierra!

Posted in Central California, Northern California, Sierra Nevada | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Road trip: in search of California’s covered bridges

Road trip: searching for some of California’s historic covered bridges

As an 11 or 12-year-old, I remember my dad saying, on weekend drives, “let’s see where this road takes us”. Off we would go in a 1950’s stationwagon down an unknown country road to reveal its intrigue. And, one of my early memories of his discoveries was the historic covered bridge about three miles east of our house, in Bath, Ohio. Early bridges were built entirely out of wood, so more substantial bridges were enclosed and roofed, to weather the elements and last for decades.

I have continued that back roads legacy all of our married lives, occasionally irritating my spouse on these exploratory sojourns. But, we’ve discovered some wonderful treasures by doing that, including the longest historic covered bridge in the US, the Medora covered bridge, circa 1875, 461 feet long near Medora, IN, and just a few miles off US Highway 50.

The Medora Covered Bridge, near Medora, Indiana, is longest historic covered bridge in the US, at over 460 feet, dating to 1875.

Talking recently with my brother, Ned, we reminisced about the old covered bridge near our house in Ohio. That got me thinking of California’s Knights Ferry covered bridge, which I hadn’t been to in years, and wondering about other covered bridges in California. As I would discover, historic covered bridges come with interesting history, are usually close to an old town of consequence and spectacular scenery.

The Knights Ferry Covered Bridge, circa 1864, at 330 feet longest in California.

Hence, what better reason for a couple of road trips? On two separate day trips, off we went. First, to the Knights Ferry covered bridge, touring down the gold Rush Highway, State Highway 49 and then following south along the Stanislaus River to Knights Ferry. The town itself sprang up when gold was discovered; in 1849, Dr. William Knight (a member of the 1844 Fremont party) returned to a favorable river crossing, establishing a ferry there. Within a few years, a toll bridge was built, but washed away in the huge flood of 1862. The new bridge took its place in 1864, higher and more stout, the longest covered bridge in the state at 333 feet. Now part of a lovely state park, it’s perfect for exploring and swimming on summer or early fall days.

The Knights Ferry interior is open only to foot traffic today.

Adjacent to the bridge is the old Mill House, circa 1854, and the Tulloch Mill, a gristmill built after the big flood and converted to a hydroelectric plant in the late 1800s. The town grew to include several taverns, several hotels (one of which still stands dating to 1856), the International Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) two-story hall, circa 1870, still in use today for community dinners and events.

The Mill House, circa 1854, at Knights Ferry, CA.

A few days later, after searching on-line for “covered bridges in California“ and finding a list of about 50 in California (both historic and more recently built), we headed north to the quaint gold rush town of Nevada City to find two nearby covered bridges. On the way to the first, the Bridgeport covered bridge, we passed by the Nevada County Museum.

Even though closed, the museum grounds were covered with old mining machinery and paraphernalia, indicating the huge impact that the gold rush had on this part of California. Imagine a cast iron waterwheel, standing 14 feet tall and weighing 26,000 pounds, or a “portable stamp mill”, 12 feet tall and weighing several tons, for crushing granite ore to free up the gold – both available to see, touch and “ooh and ahh” over.

The Nevada County Historical Society features lots of
gold mining machinery and mining goods.

When we arrived at the Bridgeport covered bridge, stretching across the South Yuba River at what was formerly Nye’s Crossing (another early ferry), we found its roof and siding removed, with the exoskeleton undergoing repair by the state of California. This bridge, connecting the two towns of Penn Valley and North San Juan, provided for an active trade route in the gold rush boom days. In its current state of exposure, the timber trusses and arch span are impressive, particularly realizing they were built in 1862, early in the Civil War days.

Bridgeport’s exoskeleton is exposed due to renovation of the 1862 covered bridge.

We then proceeded about 15 miles northeast, to the Freeman’s Crossing covered bridge over Oregon Creek on a very quiet road, an ideal place for picture taking and staging a few classic car pictures with the bridge as backdrop. The bridge dates to 1860 and, but for the original huge support timbers inside the bridge, is mostly new lumber due to recent reconstruction.

Freeman’s Crossing Covered Bridge over Oregon Creek lies about 15 miles north of the historic mining town of Nevada City.

We made our way to Nevada City, established in 1849 and soon becoming the most important mining town in the state, with Nevada County being the leading gold-mining county by the early 1850s. Today, it’s one of the more memorable of northern Gold Rush cities with buildings dating to the 1850s, quaint shops, nifty restaurants and (after asking several locals for a pub recommendation), the Three Forks Pub. Not only did the pub offer a number of tasty craft-made beers, but the place featured some of the best handmade pizza we’ve had in years.

Nevada City’s Main Street (checkout the Three Forks Brew Pub!).

Fun road trips, and, another dozen historic covered bridges in California to seek out. After that, what? One idea, tracking down some of the almost 10,000 historic IOOF halls sprinkled throughout the US!

For more info: California covered bridges, dalejtravis.com/cblist/cbca.htm; Knights Ferry, knightsferry.com; Nevada City, nevadacityca.gov.

Contact Tim at tviall@msn.com or follow him at recordnet.com/travelblog. Happy travels in the west!

Posted in Central California, Northern California, Sierra Nevada | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

New York City; The ultimate people watching trip

Visit New York City; the city never sleeps, providing the ultimate people watching trip

We had not been to New York City for several years; armed  with air miles and Marriott points we booked a laid-back one week vacation for our wedding anniversary. Planning the ultimate people watching trip, we decided to focus on Times Square, the south end of Manhattan/Battery Park and the Staten Island Ferry, the 911 Memorial, High Line park, Brooklyn Heights Promenade, Central Park, Little Italy and splurge on a couple of luxury evenings. Those included the performance of Madame Butterfly by the Metropolitan Opera and the Broadway show Tootsie, along with several fancy dinners out.

First things first: fly into Kennedy Airport, buy the five dollar Air Train ticket to reach the Jamaica Station of the New York subway and buy a week-long subway pass. No need for a rental car; the subway will get you anywhere in the city within about four blocks. Subway stations are a treat by themselves, full of New Yorkers from all walks of life, talented street performers and a few decidedly-eccentric people. One of our early experiences included a subway singer with a good Frank Sinatra-type voice, who crooned a tune and then proceeded to cuss out nearby passersby for not giving him a donation. Seldom a  dull moment.

Spouse Susan, on New York Subway, heading home from dinner in Little Italy.
New York City Subway map; with a bit of practice, you can find a subway line that will take you anywhere in Manhattan or Brooklyn, within about 4-5 blocks.

On our first full day, we took the subway in the direction of the financial district and the 911 Memorial, found a nifty place for lunch, Nancy’s Whiskey Pub (neighborhood pubs with good food are found On almost every block), then walked to the 9-11 Memorial. As it has been on previous visits, always a sobering and heartfelt experience.

The 9-11 Memorial, at base of the North Tower.

We then walked south to the Battery, one of the four original forts surrounding Manhattan Island for security from invasion, and then took the Staten Island Ferry (it’s free) across to Staten Island, spent a little time and returned on the same craft. The views of the Statue of Liberty, adjacent Ellis Island and Freedom Tower are spectacular, making for great photo ops, as well as interesting people watching on the boat itself.

The Statue of Liberty, with a passing Staten Island Ferry,
shot from deck of another Staten Island Ferry (free rides)

We spent the next day shopping in the Times Square area, with towering bright lights and always packed with people from early morning right up to 11 o’clock at night. We checked out the TKTS ticket booth just before 3 o’clock, where many Broadway shows go on sale for that night, at 30 to 50% off. We would come back a few days later and buy tickets to Tootsie, a delightful show.

Susan, in Times Square, about to check the TKTS booth for discounts on that night’s Broadway shows.

In our seven days we dined at a number of restaurants, but the one you arguably shouldn’t miss is Carmines on 44th Street near Times Square, a boisterous, large Italian stalwart where the orders are huge – our plate of linguine and clams would feed four people. We took about 2/3 of the food with us to our hotel suite for lunch later in the week.

Another day we took an early afternoon subway over to Brooklyn and walked about five blocks to near the Brooklyn Bridge, then south to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. This elevated, 10 block-long Park looks west across the East River for stunning views of the Manhattan skyline. We dined at a nice restaurant on Montague Street, the Custom House, then walked back to the Promenade after dark and reveled in an absolutely spectacular night view of Manhattan. A 9 PM ride on the subway was packed with both tourists and workers returning from their jobs.

Manhattan skyline, taken from Brooklyn Heights Promenade.

Central Park was on our destinations list, and we spent a half-day wandering through the woodsy trails, rock climbers climbing on the crags, enjoying street musicians, admiring horse drawn carriages, boaters enjoying The Lake, then headed west and walked a mile south along Columbus Avenue, lined with shops and eateries, where we dined in Guyer’s, a most interesting neighborhood bar, complete with a talkative Russian bartender doing her hair with a curling iron between pouring drinks.

Because it was our wedding anniversary, we splurged on tickets to Madam Butterfly staged by the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center. It was a stunning production, full of pomp and majesty, though opera glasses would have improved our view from this huge, 4100 seat theater. Prior to the production, we dined at the Atlantic Grill, an intimate and impressive restaurant just a few blocks away from the opera.

Lincoln Center fountain, outside the showing of Madam Butterfly by the Metropolitan Opera.

Our week included several other adventures, including a morning hike along the High Line Trail, a marvelous city park converted from an elevated freight-train line, running from the Meatpacking District 1.5 miles north to Hudson Yards. Here the new art installation, The Vessel, draws huge crowds to admire its multi-tiered structure, and (for those who get a free online ticket), the chance to climb it’s hundreds of cantilevered steps for one of the best views on the west side. Alas, we had not ordered tickets in advance and they were sold out for the day.

Other options included a walking tour to the New York Public Library at 42nd St., with marvelous ceiling frescoes in its stately halls, nearby Grand Central Station and it’s cavernous food court complete with Oyster Bar and nearby Bryant Park where people congregate (the carousel will delight children). Or, do a subway ride/walking tour of the Brooklyn Bridge, then head north to the United Nations building along the East River. And with a host of sports teams, including baseball, basketball, hockey, soccer and football, never a dull moment!

The carousel in Bryant Park is a favorite for kids!
Crowd on the High Line Trail.

For more info: New York City, nycgo.com.

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

Posted in East Coast US | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

California coastal road-trippin’ offers fall delights

Big Sur or North California coastal road-trippin’ offers fall delights

Fall road-tripping along the California coast; weather is often beautiful, summer crowds are gone, the ocean, rugged coast and adventure beckons. Here are two suggested road-trips, one south, one north of San Joaquin County. Each includes a one-way drive of three-plus hours, so, best to plan an over-night trip in a choice of several stunning locations.

The Big Sur coast, three hours southwest of Stockton, has long been a favorite of both explorers and romantics. This section of the rugged California coast offers secluded getaways, rocky coastline around every corner, photogenic historic bridges, lovely resorts, marvelous restaurants and spectacular campgrounds.

Bixby Bridge, circa 1932, on the Big Sur coast.

The Spanish called it “El Sur Grande”, the Big South, for the vast reach of rugged and treacherous coastline. Mexico offered land grants in the early 1800s, but settlers in numbers would not arrive until just 85 years ago. Highway 1 was completed in 1937, only then opening the coast to growing tourist visitation. We recently toured south of Monterey and Carmel, passing several spectacular state parks (with a Mediterranean climate – camping is possible and often sunny this time of year).

Special campgrounds are found here; Andrew Molera State Park is just 20 miles south of Carmel; 4800 acres with a variety of exploring opportunities from beaches to the Big Sur River, as well as Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and Lime Kiln State Park. Kirk Creek Campground is a bit further south, a US Forest Service gem perched on the bluff overlooking the Pacific – first come, first served.

Elephant seas crowding the beach, just a few miles north of San Simeon.

Ragged Point Inn on a bluff high above the ocean is a favorite overnight and dining retreat, with ocean views spreading in several directions.  Offering motel, cabins and restaurant surrounded by gorgeous gardens, grandeur and solitude is a feature. Another favorite restaurant is the Big Sur Roadhouse, open just a few years and getting rave reviews for breakfasts or lunch, a bit less expensive than some of their competitors.

Ragged Point Resort on the Big Sur coast.

Journey just north and see elephant seals at Ano Neuvo State Park (reservations for Ranger-led tours required) and at the six-mile long Piedras Blancas rookery, just north of San Simeon, with parking right off Highway 1, a short walk and no reservations required to view these massive animals. San Simeon’s Hearst Castle is certainly worth the tour, if you have not been to this great palace in the coastal mountain range.

Bodega Bay north to Mendocino offers spectacular highlights of the north California coast.From Stockton, it’s both easy to reach (about three hours) and offers some of the most stunning waterfront in the United States! Fall weather makes it a go-to destination, for either a long day trip, or better, several days.

Granddaughter Jessica, spouse Susan in front of Bodega’s old church,
site of filming of the classic movie, ‘The Birds’ in 1963.

This portion of California offers impressive vistas, spectacular food, access to numerous Sonoma vineyards, wonderful places to stop for the night and great camping options.  Make Bodega your first destination (the town is different than Bodega Bay), just off Highway  116, site of the old school where part of the 1963 Hitchcock movie classic ‘The Birds’ was filmed.

Just six miles beyond is Bodega Bay, on the water, offering additional ‘Birds’ movie locations and home to a variety of fine restaurants, motels and several nearby beautiful campgrounds. Stop at the Tides Restaurant for delicious breakfasts or lunches, and check out a myriad of state parks for tenting or trailering options. A favorite, Wright’s Beach State Park, between Bodega Bay and Jenner, is right on the ocean!

Scenic California coast, just north of Jenner.

Heading north on Highway 1, cross the languid Russian River to reach the town of Jenner, where the Russian spills into the Pacific. Stop at River’s End Restaurant for great food and stunning views; looking down from their deck above the river, a cadre of harbor seals usually is visible sunning themselves on a sandy spit near river’s end (the restaurant offers a telescope for a closer view).

Just north is Ft. Ross, the old Russian outpost from the early 1800’s and worthy of a stop for an early history lesson, then pass through a host of cute coastal towns like Sea Ranch (the Sea Ranch Lodge offers lodging and meals), Gualala (St. Orres, a unique restaurant built in Russian style, featuring American dishes and seafood, and Gualala County Regional Park just south of town, with secluded campsites) and Point Arena (check out the Point Arena lighthouse, for stunning coastal views).

Point Arena Lighthouse on the California coast.

Further north, one passes through Manchester, Elk, Albion, then Mendocino. Mendocino is the quintessential California coastal town, with trendy shops and several restaurants – but don’t miss Mendocino Headwaters State Park, just west of town for superb ocean views and rocky bluffs. If you are camping, Van Damme State Park is just south of the city, with secluded campsites in deep riparian forest, and Ocean Beach just steps away, including kayak rentals!  Ft. Bragg is just north, if you have time to extend your journey on the gorgeous California coast!

Ocean Cove, site of a private campground north of Jenner, one of our favorite places – particularly if you can snag a campsite right above the ocean!

For more information: Big Sur coast, bigsurcalifornia.org; Camping, recreation.gov; Sonoma Coast, sonomacounty.com.

Contact Tim at tviall@msn.com or follow him at recordnet.com/travelblog. Happy travels in the west!

Posted in Central California, Northern California | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

San Francisco’s undiscovered gems, on the cheap

San Francisco’s undiscovered gems, on the cheap (best breakfasts, crookedist street, wave organ, and much more)

San Francisco, that grand city by the Bay, is not known as an inexpensive destination. With hotels and motels going for $300/night and up, parking almost non-existent and pricey restaurants on almost every corner – the question comes, can you still enjoy it, on the cheap?

Answer, is, yes, you can. There are plenty of both free and low-cost options for families to enjoy this world-class City.

Let’s consider, first, how you arrive and get around. The city is a great place to enjoy, on foot, by bicycle or by using public transportation. It even begs the question do you need to take your car into the city? One option is to park in the parking deck at Jack London Square in Oakland, and ride the ferry across the bay to the grand Ferry Building on the Embarcadero at the foot of Market Street.

San Francisco ferry boats coming, going to the Ferry Building.

The Ferry Building is home to a variety of interesting shops, restaurants and the constant commotion that comes with ferry boats, trolleys, peddle cabs and taxis coming and going. To cruise the Embarcadero, either north to Pier 39 and Fisherman‘s Wharf, or south to AT&T Park or the new Chase Center, use the historic trolleys to navigate the Embarcadero.

The historic San Francisco Ferry Building, home to shops, restaurants and the city’s major ferry terminal. Photo take from the Embarcadero, looking north.

Or, walk the Embarcadero, headed south (you’ll pass grand public art pieces and Fireboat #1) towards AT&T ballpark, and another mile south, the new Chase Center, home to the Golden State Warriors basketball team. Just beyond the new arena, our favorite restaurant, The Ramp, occupies a spot between a large boat yard full of yachts, and a commercial shipyard with two huge drydocks (an old cruiseship lying in one of them).

The new Chase Center arena, home to the Golden State Warriors.

Or, follow the Embarcadero north, passing the waterfront Exploratoreum (offering delightful discoveries for young and old), to Pier 39, Fisherman‘s Wharf, Fort Mason, the Marina District, Crissy Field (an early World War I airfield, complete with museum explaining its history) and all the way out to the Golden Gate bridge.

Next to Fisherman’s Wharf is Pier 45, where the USS Pampanito, a World War II submarine, and the SS Jeremiah O’Brian, last of over 5,000 liberty ships, both lie at anchor. Again, to walk along the pier and see these huge World War II era ships is free, though a fee is charged to tour the individual ships. Next door, the Franciscan Restaurant is always a favorite, with a great view looking out towards Alcatraz and the Bay, lively with ship traffic passing by.

USS Pamponito, World War II submarine (in foreground) with Liberty Ship Jeremiah O’Brien, both tied up on Pier 41 next to Fisherman’s Wharf area.

On the West End of Fisherman’s Wharf, spend some time on the Hyde Street Pier, lined with a variety of historic sailing and motor ships like the huge Balclutha. Walking the length of the pier is free, though a number of the ships require an admission fee.

The historic Balclutha, at Hyde Street Pier.

In the Marina District, find the Wave Organ, at the eastern end of Yacht Road, on a peninsula that includes the St. Francis and Golden Gate Yacht Clubs. Here, wave action plays an interesting melody on the world-acclaimed Wave Organ.

Fort Point, the old Civil War-era fort, anchors the south end of the Golden Gate bridge; it’s worth the time to tour the old fort (built in the same style as Fort Sumter, and designed to protect the bay from foreign invasion) and watch surfers navigate short but stout waves underneath the bridge.

Fort Point, the historic Civil War-era fort, lies directly under the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge. Part of the National Park Service, it’s free to enter!

If you’re looking for a healthy hike, tackle the Filbert Street steps, going down from Coit Tower (with a return on the Greenwich Street steps, a block to the north). Coit Tower itself is a fine destination with one of the city’s best views from the top – the steps make it even more interesting.

To prove your San Francisco roots, when you get near lovely Lombard Street, purportedly “the crookedest street in the world”, you can mention to casual visitors that just a few miles to the southeast, on Potrero Hill, is truly the crookedest street in the world, Vermont Street, which has more curves and is much less traveled than Lombard Street (check it out for yourself).
For a lovely no-cost destination, stop at the San Francisco Art Institute, 800 Chestnut Street – a favorite building in the city, open even at 10:00 at night, full of art like a museum, and, free.

The Vermont Street “crookedest street in the world”, on Potrero Hill.

A favorite breakfast place, in addition to The Ramp, is Boogaloo’s, on the corner of Valencia and 22nd Street. If you go on the weekend, you have to be there at eight sharp, when it opens; during the week, you have a little more slack.

Take the time to tour a portion of Golden Gate Park, featuring a small herd of bison, lovely grounds and walking trails and old Kesar Stadium, once the original home to the 49ers. Literally across the street is our favorite stately hotel, the Stanyan Park Hotel, reconditioned a few years ago and worth the price to spend the night.

From Golden Gate Park, walk the blocks of Haight Street, bustling with people, eclectic shops and food from around the world. It features several huge record stores selling, yes, vinyl records, eight track tapes, CDs and much more.

Haight Street, lined with eclectic shops and restaurants featuring fare from around the world, is also home to dramatic old facades like that of the Wasteland.

Take the time to explore San Francisco’s lovely free or low-cost attractions! For more info, sftravel.com.

Write Tim at tviall@msn.com; or follow him at blogs.esanjoaquin.com/valleytravel/. Happy travels in your world!

Posted in Central California, Northern California, San Francisco Bay Area | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Road tripping: fall foliage, wine-tasting and Sierra scenery

Road tripping: fall foliage, wine-tasting and Sierra scenery with a side of history.

Here’s a day-long road trip just outside of San Joaquin County for fall foliage viewing, several wine-tasting options, spectacular Sierra scenery and several segues into history. As to planning, if you really want to get serious about fall foliage exploration, consult one of several foliage change predictor maps, like smokymountain.com/fall-foliage-map/ to help plan best timing.

This road trip, if followed all the way to Hope Valley, is about 250 miles round-trip, so leave early, and check weather forecasts in case snow is predicted at high Sierra elevations.

Carson River, fall foliage in the Hope Valley area, just off Hwy. 88, in mid-October.

Start by heading northeast out of Stockton on California Highway 88, winding into the Sierra foothills. When you hit Highway 49 go left and then take the turn into a favorite Gold Rush city, Sutter Creek. Along its 10 block Main Street, venerable buildings dating back to the 1860s line the streets, interspersed with about 10 winetasting rooms.

The old Hotel Sutter (oldest continuously operated hotel in the state) offers both lodging and good food (as do nearby Cavana’s Pub and Grub and Gold Dust Pizza), and where a several block side trip on Eureka Street will take you to Knight Foundry, established in 1873 and the last water-powered foundry in California. Today, it is usually open weekends and staffed with docents to show how early mining equipment, water wheels and huge valves were cast.

The Knight Foundry in Sutter Creek is open most weekends for tours.

After a stop in Sutter Creek, follow the old Highway 49 north to Amador City, home to a variety of mines which made many instant millionaires during the Gold Rush (here, Andrae’s Bakery and the Imperial Hotel are noteworthy stops) and then follow 49 northeast to Plymouth. This town has a small historic district, and is anchored by the regionally renowned Taste restaurant, one of the finest eateries in the region (reservations a good idea).

From Plymouth, Shenandoah Road leads into the Shenandoah Valley, with 40-some wineries dotted through this scenic California valley. Favorite stops include Sobon Estate Vineyards in Plymouth (longest running winery in the area and their Shenandoah Valley Museum, with displays of historic winemaking equipment and techniques), and, in the valley, Karmere, Helwig and Shenandoah Vineyards. Young adults will enjoy a stop at Amador Flower Farm, 22001 Shenandoah School Rd., Plymouth, for both the corn maze for older kids and the hay-bale maze for younger children.

Fountain, Bella Piatza, in Shenandoah Valley.

Shenandoah Road continues through the valley, heading higher into the Sierra foothills. Just beyond River Pines the road becomes Mount Aukum Road; watch for Omo Ranch Road, and turn right/east on a meandering, scenic tour, eventually reconnecting with Highway 88. Throughout the journey, keep your eyes peeled for wild turkeys, deer and leaves changing color.

Cooler weather and elevation change generally influence the landscape; watch for aspens, cottonwoods, dogwood and other trees and shrubs yielding muted to bright yellow, oranges and reds. Caution: poison oak changes from green to bright red and can look beautiful climbing up tree trunks – avoid contact!

Heading for the high Sierra on Highway 88, both Cooks Station and Hams Station offer good food in their old roadhouse settings, and as you climb closer to the 8,000 foot elevation, look for the turn off to Mormon Emigrant Trail. This trail was one of the primary routes down out of the Sierra for settlers headed to California back in the 1850s and 60s (it’s now a nicely paved shortcut over to Pollock Pines on Highway 50).

Changing colors near the Carson Pass area of Hwy. 88.

Just off the intersection is what remains of the old Iron Mountain Ski Resort. A several block walk north from the intersection will take you to the top of the ski area, where you’ll find all of its buildings but one burned to the ground, with three of the abandoned ski lifts still offering mute testimony to the once busy, midsized Sierra resort (it last operated in 1994).

Back on highway 88, you’ll soon reach your first pass (with a lovely overlook into the granite Sierra to the north and drop down into the Kirkwood area, where the Kirkwood Inn, typically open Fridays to Sundays this time of year, offers great food from an old stage coach stop and log-cabin building. Head further up 88, past scenic Caples Lake, crest Carson Pass and shortly thereafter descend into the Hope Valley where some of central California‘s best scenery, fishing and fall foliage viewing Is found. Here Sorenson’s Resort is a favorite stop-over, for either meals or overnight lodging.

The Kirkwood Inn, open weekends, is a dependable lunch stop on Hwy. 88.

From Hope Valley, you have several choices: Returning to San Joaquin County on Highway 88, with stops in historic Pioneer and Jackson, or, follow Highway 88 back, then take the old Mormon Immigrant Trail to Pollock Pines and Highway 50, or, out of the Hope Valley, take Highway 89 north to connect with Highway 50 for a return through Sacramento.

For more info: Amador Flower Farm, amadorflowerfarm.com; Plymouth, historichwy49.com/amador/plymouth.html; Shenandoah Valley and Amador County wines, amadorwine.com; Sobon Estate Winery and Shenandoah Valley Museum, sobonwine.com; Sutter Creek, suttercreek.org.

Contact Tim at tviall@msn.com, follow him at recordnet.com/travelblog. Happy travels in the west!

Karmere Vineyards, Sierra foothills, in Shenandoah Valley.

Posted in Central California, Northern California, Sierra Nevada | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment
  • Categories

  • Archives