Tomales Bay and Pt. Reyes National Seashore make a marvelous day or weekend trip!

Journey to Tomales Bay and Pt. Reyes National Seashore for an exciting day or weekend trip!

Huge bull elephant seal dozes on Drakes Bay in Pt. Reyes National Seashore.

Where can you see Elephant seals, Tule elk, watch whales, stroll the beach where Sir Francis Drake claimed California for Queen Elizabeth in 1579, tour a spectacular Pacific lighthouse and gorge on freshly shucked oysters – all just 2 1/2 hours from Stockton? It’s Tomales Bay and Pt. Reyes National Seashore!

Explorer Drake set sail in December, 1577 with a fleet of five small ships from Plymouth, England, sailing across the Atlantic and around the Horn of South America, turning north up the Pacific coast. Along the way he plundered riches of immense value; one captured ship, the Cacafuego, curried 26 tons of silver, a chest of silver coins and 80 pounds of gold – more value than Queen Elizabeth would earn in a full year of tax revenues. He lost all of his ships except the Golden Hind, which he sailed into the gorgeous, windswept bay named for him.

Drakes Bay, looking west, site of Sir Francis Drake's landing in 1579.

With his ship overloaded and leaking, Drake landed at Drake’s Bay on June 17, 1579, where he would remain for 36 days re-provisioning and repairing his ship.  After friendly interactions with the Coast Miwok Native Americans, Drake set sail for the two month trip across the Pacific, returning to England almost three years after the beginning of his world voyage.

To reach Drakes Bay, we first passed the lovely southern reaches of Tomales Bay, a long narrow estuary framed by Marin County and Hwy. 1 on the east and Point Reyes on the west. Drakes Bay lies along the southern shore of the long peninsula which is the Pt. Reyes National Seashore, with the final half-hour snaking along scenic roads lined with views of the ocean.  Stop first at the Drake’s Bay’s Visitor Center; just down the beach we happened upon a huge northern elephant seal, snoozing and paying no attention to our presence.  These animals reach a length of 12 feet and upwards of 2000 pounds!

Pt. Reyes Lighthouse, open for tours Friday through Monday.

Continuing further west along the Point Reyes Peninsula will take you to the Point Reyes Lighthouse at the very tip of the peninsula, open Fridays through Mondays, 10 AM to 4 PM.  The lighthouse offers incredible views over 270 degrees; looking southwest, one can see the Farallon Islands through the sea haze, about 20 miles away.  In February through March, whales can be spotted just off the lighthouse point.

For a late lunch, we backtracked to the town of Point Reyes Station, passing historic farms that date to 1859, set amidst green rolling hills and stunning shoreline views. The wind was howling that day, but sunshine and blue skies made for a tremendously rewarding trip. Bring binoculars – we saw numerous coastal deer and Tule elk along the drive on these bucolic roads.

In Point Reyes Station we made our way to the Pine Cone Diner, where fried oyster sandwich and shell fish dishes are highlights!  The Osteria Stellina, 11285 Hwy. 1, Pt. Reyes Station, is a highly-rated Italian restaurant for pastas, shell fish, salads and fine wines. This cute little town is just right for a four block walk along its historic streets with shops and galleries.

Fresh-shucked oysters from Tomales Bay!

Tomales Bay is one of the highlights of the trip; fishermen return to the bay in late morning to early afternoon loaded with freshly-farmed, live oysters, with diners eagerly awaiting a world-class feast. Several oyster farms offer a hands-on experience, and the little town of Marshall on Hwy. 1 offers more traditional indoor-dining experiences like next Nick’s Cove and the Marshall Store.

Tomales Bay Oyster Farm, 15479 Highway 1, Marshall, (415) 663–1243, allows visitors to tour the operation and buy oysters raised there. Take your fresh oysters to nearby parks like Tomales Bay State Park, a marvelous place to dine on raw or grilled oysters and admire the late afternoon sun’s hues on the waterfront. The Hog Island Oyster Farm, 20215 Shoreline Hwy., Marshall, (415) 663–9218, offers diners an outdoor oyster restaurant with raw and barbecued oysters along with snacks like bread and cheese and libation. Oysters and shellfish can be bought at the restaurant, and outdoor grills allow diners to barbecue their own dinner. It’s a popular place, reservations recommended.

Rugged shoreline off Pt. Reyes is photo-ready!

How to get there: From Stockton, we took I-5 North to Lodi and went west on Hwy 12; then west on I-80, then northwest on I-580 to San Rafael; south on Hwy 101 and west on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard.  Pt. Reyes Station is about 2.5 hours from Stockton.

Where to stay: Pt. Reyes National Seashore offers a host of year-round backcountry campsites; Tomales Bay State Park and Mt. Tamalpais State Park are close-by, offering campgrounds. The only lodging within the National Seashore is the Pt. Reyes Hostel, (415) 663-8811. The nearest campground for mobile campers is privately-owned Olema Campground, (415) 663-8106 and communities like San Rafael and Petaluma have a host of motel and bed and breakfast accommodations.

What to bring: Binoculars and camera, of course.  Since the wind frequently blows, bring warm clothing, a wind-breaker and a rain-coat should ocean squalls roll in!

For more information: Pt. Reyes National Seashore, the National Park Service’s web site offers a wealth of information on the park, hiking, camping, lodging and more:, (415) 464-5100; for Marin County,; (866) 925-2060.

Coast deer range freely through hills of Pt. Reyes; along with Tule elk.

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


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

8th annual Stockton Restaurant Week kicks off January 20th through 29th; eat out!

Travel and dine locally; that’s my suggestion as the 8th annual Stockton Restaurant Week kicks off January 20th and runs through January 29.

Restaurants across Stockton will come together for what has become one of Stockton’s most anticipated annual culinary events, Stockton Restaurant Week, January 20-29, 2017.

Stockton Restaurant Week gives local foodies and families the opportunity to explore fixed-price specialty menus from participating restaurants throughout Stockton. Participating locations will offer flavorful selections at a price that won’t break the budget.

Stockton Restaurant Week was created in 2009 to highlight Stockton as a diverse dining destination and give the growing number of local foodies, families, and food fans an opportunity to enjoy fixed-price menus from a wide selection of participating Stockton restaurants.

This delicious 10-day event allows diners to discover new restaurants and support their favorites while enjoying meals at reduced prices. Wes Rhea, CEO at Visit Stockton explains, “Stockton is stocked full of amazing restaurants. As a foodie myself, I enjoy seeing food lovers united with incredible eateries year after year. This year we have an even better variety of breakfast, lunch, and dinner options thanks to the record number of local businesses participating.” Visit Stockton is partnering once again with Visit California to present Stockton Restaurant Week during California Restaurant Month.

Participating Restaurants for 2016 (as of 1/18/17): America Waffles, Angelina’s Spaghetti House, Ave on the Mile, BellaVista Cucina Italiana, Bud’s Seafood Grille, Cast Iron Trading Co., Centrale Kitchen & Bar, Cocoro Bistro, De Vega Brothers, Delta Bistro at University Plaza, Finnegan’s Pub and Grill, Gusty’s Wings, La Palma Mexican Cuisine, Market Tavern, Mezzo, Michael’s New York Style Pizza, Midgley’s Public House, Midtown Creperie, Mile Wine Company, Misaki Sushi & Bar, Papa Urbs, Red Orchids Restaurant, Seoul Soon Dubu, Smitty’s Wings & Things, Squeeze Burger, Thai Me Up, The Abbey Trappist Pub, The Creamery, The Reserve at Spanos Park, and The Shadows Steakhouse.

For more information: The official Stockton Restaurant Week website,, is being updated with participating restaurants and menus daily. Find additional promotions and giveaways on the Stockton Restaurant Week Facebook page.

So, travel locally, dine locally between January 20-29.  Connect your dining experience with a Stockton Heat hockey game, a visit to the downtown Cineplex, or a visit to the Haggin Museum or San Joaquin Historical Museum in Micke Grove Park. Yummmm!

On the final day, Sunday, January 29, go to breakfast or brunch, and take in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the classic film with Audrey Hepburn, showing that day at downtown Stockton’s Fox California/Bob Hope Theatre (doors open at 1, movie at 2 PM).

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

Posted in Central California, Stockton/San Joaquin County | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Ashland, Oregon, home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Quaint, affordable and just five hours up Interstate 5: Ashland, Oregon, home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

The Allen Elizabethan Theatre at night, with full house.

A quaint, historic downtown with a plethora of unique shops and galleries, a variety of fine restaurants and places to stay, world-class theatre and just a mile off Interstate 5. That’s Ashland, Oregon, home to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF), just five hours up I-5 from Stockton, a penultimate destination for a long weekend!

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival is a non-profit professional theatre company active since 1935. It’s grown to a major western USA destination, drawing over 400,000 theater-goers, centered in lovely Ashland, Oregon.

The OSF offers three theatres, the indoor Angus Bowmer Theatre and Thomas Theatre, and their “throwback to old England” outdoor theater, the Allen Elizabethan Theatre (which opens in June).

The theatre season runs February through November. Beginning  February, these plays kick off: Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare runs February 17 – October 29, Shakespeare in Love, based on a screen play by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, February 18 – October 29 and Mojada; a Madea in Los Angeles by Luis Alfaro, February 19 – July 6. A number of other Shakespearean and contemporary productions open in April and July and with the opening of the outdoor Allen Elizabethan Theatre in June.

The Ashland Springs Hotel, built 1925.

Later in the season, the world premiere of Jiehae Park’s Hannah and the Dread Gazebo opens April 2, and April 23 a new musical by OSF ensemble-in-residence UNIVERSES—August Wilson’s poetry in UniSon—will have its world premiere. The outdoor Allen Elizabethan Theatre opens the weekend of June 16-18 with Shakespeare’s, The Odyssey (adapted and directed by Mary Zimmerman, from the translation by Robert Fitzgerald) and an innovative take on Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Opening Saturday, July 9 is Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part Two and the final show to join the 2017 rep is the world premiere of Randy Reinholz’s Off the Rails on July 30.

In its initial years, the OSF produced only Shakespearean productions in one theatre, the Elizabethan Stage (which had three different locations). With the opening of additional theatres (Angus Bowmer in 1970, the Black Swan, 1977, replaced by the Thomas Theatre in 2002), the production company expanded their offerings to include other mainstream playwrights as well as contemporary and new productions and lengthened the season.

We’ve seen a half dozen plays in recent years and take delight in that many of the Shakespearean productions are made more contemporary, such as Two Gentlemen from Verona, set in the 1950s complete with pink Cadillac that we saw a few seasons ago.

The Ashland Springs Hotel stately Beaux-arts interior.

But it’s not just live theatre that make Ashland special. It’s an historic, quaint downtown, anchored by Main street running a dozen blocks, featuring restaurants, shops, galleries, the theaters and anchored by the historic Ashland Springs Hotel. On the north edge of town is Lithia Park which meanders alongside Ashland Creek, a gorgeous spot for morning strolls and wildlife photography.

The old Ashland Springs Hotel and a number of motels and B and Bs are within walking distance of the theaters, such as the Best Western Bard’s Inn, The Windsor Inn, Plaza Inn and Suites and the Stratford Motel. We’ve found it particularly pleasant at some of the hostelries along Main Street, where one can stroll to the theatres and out to dinner.

Epicureans will delight in the choices of restaurants in the city. Restaurants receiving rave reviews include Morning Glory (a quaint American café, try their varied French toast options), Smithfield’s (steakhouse), Liquid Assets (contemporary American) and the dining room at the Ashland Springs Hotel. The old Beaux-arts style hotel, dating to 1925, is worth the visit and recently underwent a considerable renovation.

Pleasant mini-park on Main Street in downtown Ashland.

What’s nearby: Southern Oregon University, a public, liberal arts university, is located at southern end of Ashland.  Skiers will enjoy nearby Mount Ashland, just south of the city, and the wonderful Bear Creek jogging and biking trail running from Ashland north through the pleasant valley along the creek. The historic gold rush town of Jacksonville, Oregon, site of gold discovery in the 1850s, is just a 15 minute drive north. And, inveterate travelers can swing east into the Cascade Mountains and visit iconic Crater Lake National Park.

How to get there: From San Joaquin County, head north on Interstate 5; Ashland is 340 miles and five hours north.

For more information: Oregon Shakespeare Festival,; Ashland,

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

A couple strolls through Ashland's Lithia Park alongside Ashland Creek.

Posted in Pacific Northwest USA (Oregon, Washington, Idaho) | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Dodge Ridge, Bear Valley celebrate five feet of snow in last four days, highlighting start to 2017 ski season

Five feet of snow in last four days highlight start to 2017 ski season for Bear Valley and Dodge Ridge Ski Areas!

Boarder launches off escarpment on chair 5 at Dodge Ridge on Tuesday!

With the recent Sierra storms unloading over five feet of snow on both Bear Valley and Dodge Ridge, the resorts are digging out for a fun Martin Luther King weekend!

Both resorts are open seven days a week – providing the closest skiing to Stockton and San Joaquin County.

Here is the latest from Dodge Ridge, from Jeff Hauph:  “Like the forecast called for, we’re looking at just over 5 feet at this point with the storm breaking up (Wednesday) afternoon and turning to clear bluebird skies all weekend long. We’ll have miles and miles of groomed runs with all lifts scheduled to operate and fresh powder throughout the mountain all weekend long. We’ll have all services available, from lessons, rentals, ski demos, tech shop, sport shop and all dining”.


Deep powder welcomes skier at Dodge Ridge earlier in week.

As of this writing, Dodge was hopeful to open Granite Bowl with the new snow depths; watch the resort’s web site for full  information.

Bear Valley is also reveling in ideal snow conditions heading into the big weekend.  Notes Marc Gendron, “Join us for winter excitement at Bear Valley on Saturday, January 14th. Come join us for an evening of fun for everyone! There will be fireworks, torch light parade, special dinner for the whole family and live music”. Find more insight  at

Bear Valley's Winter Explosion is this Saturday!

Bear Valley Winter Explosion torchlight parade from last season.

The three day weekend is forecast to be sunny and pleasant, but with winter coming earlier in the week with a vengeance, check the resort’s web site before you head out.  And, as always wise in winter, be sure your vehicle is fully gassed up, pack your chains, a blanket and some food and drink, just to be safe.

Happy skiing or sliding; enjoy some of the best ski conditions of the last 4-5 years!

How to get there: From Stockton the start is the same for both destinations; take Highway 4 east to Copperopolis.  To reach Dodge Ridge, go south on O’Byrne’s Ferry Road and then east on Highway 108 to the ski area. For Bear Valley, continue on Hwy. 4 all the way to the ski area.

For more information: Bear Valley Ski Resort,, 209.753.2301; Dodge Ridge Ski Resort,, 209.965.3474.

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook or Twitter; or, email him at

Happy skiing, sliding and travels in the west!

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

Bucket list updates; gems from eastern US and Canada include the Old South and Canadian Maritimes!

Updating your travel bucket list; gems from eastern US and Canada include the Old South and Canadian Maritimes…

St. George Island Lighthouse, FL, headed eventually to Georgia and South Carolina.

Over the last two weeks, my wife and I have shared our favorite travel destinations in the western United States. This week, our top suggestions for the eastern US and Canada.

In February and March, 2015, we took a 30 day trip across the southwestern US to Florida, then north into Georgia and South Carolina. Despite memorable stops in San Antonio (The Alamo and nearby Riverwalk), New Orleans (Bourbon Street, gumbo, nearby historic plantations), Florida (the Everglades, Key West and historic Saint Augustine), it was the antebellum old south of Georgia and South Carolina that struck us the most deeply.

In advance of the trip, I had read up on General Sherman’s March to the Sea from Atlanta to Savannah, which cut the Confederacy in half and helped hasten the end of the Civil War. Hence, we camped with our teardrop trailer at Fort McAllister State Park, the last Confederate fortified stronghold protecting Savannah from Union ships and the blockade on the Ogeechee River.

Lovely Forsythe Fountain and Plaza in Savannah, GA.

From the park, we drove in for two days of exploring Savannah. The old city has a lovely historic district more than a mile square, bordered on the north by the Savannah River. With 22 parks spread liberally throughout the city, graced by stately oaks draped in Spanish moss, we toured to the lively City Market, past the old Cotton Exchange and had lunch at Fiddlers Crab House on the waterfront, as we watched tugboats, paddlewheelers and large container ships sail past while dining on oysters from Apalachicola, local crawfish and crab chowder.

Our leisurely walking tour of the city continued, past the historic Mercer Williams House (family of composer Johnny Mercer), the stately Forsyth Fountain in Forsyth Park and scores of elegant homes and grand mansions lining the city’s shady streets.

We continued north into South Carolina’s “Low Country”, crossing rivers, bayous and low tidal marshes, then headed towards Charleston. It was once the very hub of the early Confederacy, with historic Fort Sumter guarding the harbor off the city. The town features the HS Hunley submarine (a Confederate sub, first to sink another ship) and a huge historic district, tied both to the Revolutionary War and the Civil War.

The Williams Mercer House, home to composer Johnny Mercer, Savannah.

Take time to tour the Charleston museum, the Confederate Museum, the Dock Street Theater, the old Cotton Exchange, Provost Dungeon, South Carolina Historical Society and the quarters of the Washington Light Infantry. Sobering is the old Slave Market Museum, representing the ugly side of the Confederacy.

Don’t miss the boat tour out to Fort Sumter nor a stop at iconic Hyman’s Seafood where delicious specials include Low Country Boil (spicy bowl of shrimp, fish, crab legs, potatoes and veggies), Cajun fish and shrimp and southern fried pork chops.

The Ashley River historic plantation district 20 miles southwest of Charleston offers gems like the Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, a 17th-century estate acquired 1676 by the Drayton family, featuring America’s oldest gardens, circa 1680, which bloom year-round. The tour features a pre-Revolutionary War plantation house, huge gardens, antebellum slave-quarter cabins and more.

At the opposite corner of the country, flanked by Maine, lie the Canadian Maritime provinces of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick.

Spouse Susan in front of Dalvay by the Sea in Prince Edward Island Provincial Park.

On a recent trip we crossed from Quebec province into New Brunswick, with quiet fishing villages and historic lighthouses dotting the rugged coastline. We crossed the 13 km Confederation Bridge to Prince Edward Island (PEI). A lovely isle, with rolling hills and rocky coast, we stopped first in Victoria Harbour, featuring an historic coastal town on a small harbor with a half-dozen lobster boats, had lunch and headed for Charlottetown, the old port city that was the site in 1864 of the Canadian gathering that would lead to the formation of Canada three years later.

Once back on the mainland we toured much of the coast of Nova Scotia, impressed by the low tides of the Bay of Fundy, where tides drop as much as 25 feet, leaving 80 miles of the bay high and dry and fishing boats marooned until the tide returns. I don’t have the space to adequately describe the marvelous vistas and lovely towns that line the Atlantic shores, with Maine’s Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park just a bit further south. You can find my full travel features on-line.

Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia on bright sunny day.

Other “most favorite tours” of the eastern US include Boston and its moving Freedom Trail history, upstate New York’s Adirondack Mountains featuring Lake Placid and Cooperstown (home of Baseball Hall of Fame) and the unexpected beauty of the beaches of the Delaware and Maryland shore, centered on Ocean City, MD (eastern terminus of US Hwy. 50, it’s just 3,000 miles from Sacramento).

Finally, old US Rte. 66 offers wonderful touring opportunities, starting anywhere on the old “mother road” from Santa Monica to Chicago.  Of all the states, Arizona, Oklahoma and Missouri seem to recreate and preserve the old highway the best, with marvelous brochures listing all the historic and unique attractions (like the world’s tallest rocking chair in Missouri)!

Giant rocking chair graces olf Rte. 66 in Cuba, Missouri.

Update that travel bucket list! For more information: Georgia,; South Carolina,, Canadian Maritime provinces,, or see my features on these tours archived on the Record web site.

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook or Twitter; or, email him at Happy travels in the west!

Posted in East Coast US, Midwest US, Southeast US, Teardrop and tiny travel trailers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bucket List updates: N. California, Pacific Northwest and Western states!

Update your travel Bucket List: Suggestions for N. California, Pacific Northwest and Western states…

View of the rugged Oregon coast, looking north.

Last week, we urged updating your travel bucket list for 2017, with suggestions for S. California and the US Southwest; this week we present N. California, Pacific Northwest and Western States ideas.

Plan now for a coastal tour of California, Oregon and Washington. Each state offers marvelous scenery and quaint towns, complete with unique lodging options and campgrounds aplenty.  To cruise all the way up N. California to the Washington coast, a minimum week-plus would be wise.  With options including additional time exploring the Olympic Peninsula, Seattle and Vancouver or Victoria in British Columbia, two weeks would is advisable.

Two falls ago, we toured north up the California coast, and spent several extra days in Redwoods National Park. On the way north, admire the well preserved company logging town of Scotia, CA, on Hwy. 101, another company mill town, Samoa, further north and the quaint town of Ferndale (preserving scores of Victorian homes, making the town a favorite of shutterbugs!), three miles west off Hwy. 101.  Stop for a meal at the Samoa Cookhouse, which has been continuously serving meals, first to resident mill workers, then to the public, for over 120 years!

Coast redwoods on foggy morning, Redwoods National Park.

As you approach Redwood National Park and California’s “Lost Coast”, keep your eyes open for Roosevelt elk, deer, skunks and coyotes!  While the park offers no lodging services (hotels or motels) nor food service, you’ll find plenty of each in nearby towns.  Within the park are four campgrounds and many backcountry camps.

We headed for the legendary Oregon coast; Oregon had the wisdom to set aside most of its coast in public trust, so access is unbeatable. Our first stop was Harris Beach State Park on the northern edge of Brookings, OR (a town with an active fishing harbor, tourist amenities and great seafood).  Harris Beach was the first of many Oregon state campgrounds to receive an A rating from us, with electric, water, cable, free showers, and, right on the ocean (also, motels a-plenty).

Travelers will see Umpqua Lighthouse State Park (the historic lighthouse now part of a Coast Guard station), where gray whales, up to 53 feet in length, migrate 10,000 miles just off-shore each year, from December to January, returning February through March.

View of Haceta Head Lighthouse, perched high above the Oregon Pacific coast.

Headed north, admire scenic Haceta Head Lighthouse, high on a bluff above the Pacific, and stop at Cape Perpetua Visitor Center, which explains the history of the coast and provides telescopes from the deck – popular with whale watchers.

Newport is, arguably, the quintessential Oregon coastal town, with a dynamic fishing fleet, scores of shops and restaurants, and, home to the original Mo’s and Mo’s Annex Restaurants (on the harbor). Entering town, you cross the graceful Newport Harbor Bridge and turn right to the active fishing harbor.

We crossed the Columbia River into Washington on Hwy. 101 at Astoria, and soon passed Fort Columbia State Park, home of the Chinook nation and their chief Concomly.  Captain Robert Gray dropped anchor nearby in 1792 after his discovery of the mighty Columbia. Nearby is the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, offering insights into the camp where Lewis and Clark’s expeditionary force wintered after their cross-country expedition.

Touring north we skirted Willapa Bay, where the quaint town of Oysterville preserves the area’s past as supplier of Washington oysters to the state and all the way south to San Francisco. Our final coastal destination was the Olympic Peninsula, where we had tent-camped numerous times when our kids were much younger.

Clouds lie low over Klalock Beach in Olympic National Park.

Our first day dawned hazy, becoming bright, and we reached Klalock Lodge on the ocean for a delicious lunch.  It’s just a few miles south of Klalock Campground, with 170 camp sites right on the ocean. With nearby Seattle, Victoria and/or Vancouver, Canada, you have fun-filled options!

Another tour of the three states can be had by following the “Pacific Ring of fire”: Mt. Lassen National park and Mount Shasta, CA, Crater Lake Park, OR, and Mount St. Helens National Monument, WA. These destinations tell the story of the earth’s sometimes violent volcanic activity; though, again, you’ll need some time to travel a route about 2,000 miles long for all four destinations.

Montana and Wyoming national parks have to be on your list: Yellowstone and adjoining Teton National Parks, and Glacier Park offer some of the west’s most jaw-dropping scenery and wildlife-viewing.  A trip to Glacier can include an extension into Canada to Waterton Glacier National Park, up to Jasper National Park. For those not into long drives, fly into West Yellowstone or Whitefish, MT, and rent a car to see these parks.

Wildflowers frame a receding glacier a mile off Logan Pass, Glacier National Park.

A few other ideas: Follow the trail of explorers Lewis and Clark; from Montana through Idaho by way of beautiful Lolo Pass, west to the Columbia Gorge and end at Fort Clatsop in Oregon, south of Astoria. Or, bicycle portions of seven rail-trails in Oregon, Idaho and Washington (

Tour the famed Inland Empire: centered on Spokane, WA, with side trips into either the “scenic, channeled scablands” to the west, including Grand Cooley Dam and Dry Falls State Park, or, east into the Idaho Panhandle, taking in Lake Coeur d’Alene and north up to Priest Lake, ID.

Bison graze in meadow below the Tetons, in Grand Teton National Park.

So, update that list; next week, we’ll offer more distant US suggestions! For more information: our national parks,; California,; Montana,; Oregon,; Washington,

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook or Twitter; or, email him at Happy travels in the west!

Posted in Central California, Mountain West (Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado), Northern California, Pacific Northwest USA (Oregon, Washington, Idaho), Sierra Nevada | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Updating your travel bucket list; S. California and Southwestern US destinations

Update your travel bucket list with Southern California and Southwestern US destinations!

Californians are blessed by close proximity to our state’s and the American Southwest’s incredible spaces, all within a two day drive or closer. With so many spectacular destinations nearby and a New Year, take the time to update your list of western destinations.

San Clemente's public pier, with the fine and reasonable priced Fisherman's Restaurant, always a "must stop".

For a winter sojourn, let’s start with Southern California. A trip to the area from Huntington Beach to San Diego almost always offers shirt-sleeve weather, and in winter the crowds are reduced from summertime multitudes. Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, San Clemente  and other towns offer both campgrounds on or near the ocean, as well as plentiful motels, including classic older properties with reasonable rates. San Clemente’s Pier, with Fisherman’s Restaurant, offers quintessential old California vibes!

San Diego, blessed by over 260 days of sunshine each year, offers surfing, swimming, biking and hiking opportunities throughout the city. The city’s revitalized waterfront includes traditional favorites like Balboa Park, including the San Diego Zoo and 15 museums, Petco Park (home to the Padres baseball team) and the nearby Gaslamp District with a host of classy restaurants and night-spots and the recent opening of Waterfront Park, a new greenway complete with fountains, wading pools and family-friendly picnic areas.

Corona Del Mar State Beach, and Newport Beach Harbor entrance to right top.

Don’t miss other attractions like the Hotel del Coronado, Little Italy and Liberty Station, a former naval base on the northern edge of San Diego Bay. The old base offers restaurants, shops and galleries in the repurposed Officer’s Club and barracks, museum and the Liberty Public Market.

Other winter destinations include the California desert, from Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks to Anza Borrego State Park. From either Joshua Tree or Anza Borrego, take a side trip to the ghost resorts along the Salton Sea, formed in the early 1900s when the Colorado river overflowed its banks and filled the Salton Sink with water 55 feet deep, creating an inland sea 35 miles long and 20 miles wide.

Joshua Trees in Joshua Tree National Park, with San Gregorio Mountains in the distance.

The Salton Sea become an ecological disaster; the former resorts and towns which prospered in the 50s and 60s are nearly abandoned, creating ghostly reminders of the sea’s former glory.

For you baseball fans, plan a March tour to the greater Phoenix area, home to 16 major-league baseball spring training sites including the Giants, As, Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs. Phoenix, Scottsdale, Mesa and Tempe offer urbane amenities; nearby attractions like the Sonoran Desert National Monument to the south, or Sedona and the Grand Canyon’s South Rim to the north present extended options.

Machete Ridge in Pinnacles National Park, just 2.5 hours southwest of San Joaquin County.

Always a good place to update your list, our national parks: California leads the nation with nine parks, Alaska has eight, Utah, five, Colorado, four, Arizona and Washington, three each. With the exception of Alaska, all are within a two-day drive of central California. Our state’s nearby national parks include Pinnacles, Lassen, Yosemite (don’t miss hidden portions like Hetch Hetchy Valley) and Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks.

Our short list of favorites in the Southwest are the five Utah national parks, Great Basin in Nevada and the Grand Canyon. Inveterate travelers can string all seven together in one epic two week trip. Utah’s parks are strung like a necklace through noble canyons south of Salt Lake City.  Zion, closest to California, was our starting point with its towering red and yellow rock canyons. Take time to hike the Lower and Middle Emerald Pools Trail, and the Grotto Trail above the Virgin River.  The short trail to Weeping Wall offers a misty waterfall cascading over a cliff above visitor’s heads.

Viewing (and hiking in) Bryce Canyon National Park's eerie HooDoos is always an other-worldly experience!

Nearby Bryce Canyon offers more dramatic rock formations. Here, traverse the Queens Garden/Navajo combination loop trail starting at Sunset Point, a 2.9 mile trek descending 600 feet from the Rim Trail down into the canyon, where you’ll be amongst hundreds of Hoodoos (strangely-shaped pillars of rock in multi-hued colors of white, red, yellow and blue, standing after millennia of erosion).

Capital Reef, Canyonlands and Arches National Parks followed, each with their own allure and memorable scenery. Our favorite of these was Arches, with 2000 wind- and water-eroded natural bridges, many accessible within a short walk of the park’s main road.  Landscape Arch, spanning over 330’ was a favorite, though it has lots of competition. After our tour of the five Utah national parks, we added a 200 mile detour southwest to the Grand Canyon’s north rim, a special place and much less visited than the tourist-jammed south rim.

View for the Grand Canyon's North Rim Point Imperial is awe-inspiring - and the crowds are slight compared to the South Rim.

Each Grand Canyon visit comes with the jaw-dropping, catch-your-breath amazement that accompanies the first look into that huge, colorful abyss, some 5,000 feet deep in the Arizona high desert.

In September, 2015, my wife and I approached the park’s north rim at midday to find aspens changing stunning shades of yellow and part of a 400 head herd of bison outside the park entrance (the original small band brought to the park from Yellowstone a hundred years ago) and the canyon bathed in stunning hues – incredible!

So, update that list; next week, we’ll offer more western US suggestions!

For more information: our national parks,; Visit California,; Visit Arizona,; Visit Utah,

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook or Twitter; or, email him at Happy travels in the west!

Posted in Central California, Southern California, Southwest USA (Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bear Valley and Dodge Ridge are open and celebrating the holidays with new snow!

Dodge Ridge, Bear Valley are open for the 2016-17 ski season!

With the recent cold Sierra storm, both Bear Valley and Dodge Ridge received about a foot of new snow or more at higher elevations. This is an update from an earlier feature on our two nearest ski areas.

Family of five poses at Dodge Ridge's Boulder Creek Canyon area off chair 8.

With the opening on Christmas Day of Dodge Ridge, both resorts are now open seven days a week – providing the closest skiing to Stockton and San Joaquin County.

Here is the latest from Dodge Ridge: We will have 6 chair lifts ready to go for Opening Day tomorrow. Chair lifts 3, 5, 6, and 7 will be opening at 9:00 am. Chair 3 will be open accessing limited terrain and Chair 8 will be on a delayed opening.

The Children’s Learning Area will be open so be sure to make your reservations today. Other lifts will open as conditions allow. Early season conditions do exist so ski + ride with care.

From Bear Valley: Snow is falling! This should set up for some pure mountain fun in the coming days. On Christmas Day, catch Santa on the slopes of Bear Valley Mountain from 12:00 – 2:00pm. If you missed EcoBikeADVentures on the mountain last week, they will be returning December 26th – January 1st from 3:00 – 7:00pm at the Bear Valley Lodge.

Both resorts are closer than other options in the Lake Tahoe area, family-friendly, less expensive than more distant ski hills and don’t require summiting a mountain pass to reach the ski areas. From my north Stockton home, Dodge Ridge is just 98 miles, Bear Valley, 106 miles – each only about two hours distant!

Dodge Ridge is celebrating its 66th year, one of the Sierra’s granddaddy resorts. Notes the resort’s Adam Fox, “we have focused on continued improvements to learning programs and rental and demo equipment for the new season. The family friendly atmosphere is perfect for one-of-a-kind lessons, customized for every age and level of skier and snowboarder”.

Crowds enjoy the slopes at Bear Valley Ski Resort.

Adds Fox, “The resort’s Intro to Snow program provides one-on-one introduction to skiing or snowboarding for kids as young as two years old, a two-hour program available daily. Kinder Club is another program tailored for beginner skiers and riders aged 4 and 5; the Kid’s Club offers full day and half day lessons for ages 5 to 12. Last season, our six year-old grandson Jack took to snowboarding immediately, assisted by friendly Dodge Ridge instructors and benefitting from two carpet lifts.

All lesson packages include lift ticket, equipment rental, and helmet. The Dodge Ridge Rental Shop is stocked with specialized ski and snowboard equipment specifically designed to fit kids as young as two years old. Reservations are highly recommended.

Dodge’s Progression Pass is a gateway to a lifetime’s enjoyment of skiing and riding for guests ages 13 and over. The Dodge Ridge Progression Pass offers a season’s worth of unlimited beginner lessons, rentals and a lower-mountain season pass. Skiers and snowboarders are able to progress all the way up to intermediate levels with new Elan gear”.

Master’s Clinics, for veteran skiers 50 and older, allow fine tuning of skiing skills in a relaxed, social atmosphere. These workshops are offered twice weekly throughout the 2016-17 season, starting mid-January. Save Mart or Lucky Supermarkets offer discounted lift tickets.

Dodge Ridge offers a variety of cross-country ski trails emanating from the base area, as well as other choices on the access road and in Pinecrest.  The area features a number of dining options at the ski area, including the Creekside Lodge and Café; on weekends and holidays, the North Fork Bistro in the Family Lodge is a fine place for families to dine and slopeside dining is offered at Local’s Café, bottom of Chair 7.

Other reliable dining options nearby: The Steam Donkey (steaks, seafood, pasta), in Pinecrest and Mia’s Italian, Cold Springs, are favorites. Overnight lodging is offered at Pinecrest Lake Lodge or Pinecrest Chalet, the Christmas Tree Inn, Mi Wuk Village or the Long Barn Lodge in Long Barn.

Bear Valley continues to evolve under new ownership, and is celebrating both expanded snow making and new ski runs down to the Bear Valley Village area. Bear Valley has installed more than $300,000 of improvements in its snowmaking and grooming operations in anticipation of the 2016-17 season. The enhancements include a better and more efficient snowmaking system along with new snowcats to groom increased production of snow.

“An upgraded pumping capacity will allow us to operate continuously during optimum temperatures for snow making,” says Bear Valley’s snow product manager, Tim Schimke. “This important improvement will allow uninterrupted operation of our snowmaking system for weeks at a time, translating into more snow production.”

Bear Valley has installed a full automation snowmaking control system along with the addition of automated snowmaking towers on the mountain. “Automation will provide the ability for our system to respond to optimal temperatures for more efficient snowmaking,” added Schimke. “We have also started the process of adding fixed emplacement towers for more efficient snowmaking in trouble areas on the mountain. To accompany the improved snowmaking system, Bear Valley has upgraded it snowcat fleet to process the snow and make it skiable with newer models”.

Bear Valley’s Rosie Sundell adds, “We have added new intermediate trails, a major project approved by the forest service in 2012.  These are beautiful trails that originate at the top of Koala Chair and will give guests that enjoy long groomed trails a scenic ride almost two miles long down to Bear Valley Village. These trails reside in what is known as “Sunrise Bowl”, historically only available to expert snow enthusiasts.  Intermediate skiers and riders will can enjoy this amazing terrain that offers a spectacular view of the Dardanelles known as Cape Horn Vista”.

Bear is also remodeling several guest areas including tickets, season passes, and major improvements at our Kid’s Learning Center; in the Village, the Bear Valley Lodge is being remodeled and expected to complete half the rooms before winter season. Bear Valley Cross-country Ski Center, with 38 trails over 3,000 acres, adjoins Bear Valley Village.

Bear Valley offers a variety of food and drink choices at its mid-slope Day Lodge; in Bear Valley Village, the Lodge offers light fare in the Grizzly Lounge, steaks and seafood in the classy Creekside Dining Room and pizza and pasta in the Trattoria, for families with big appetites!

Closer to the Valley, one can find numerous dining options in Arnold, and even more good eats in Murphys, including the highly rated Alchemy Restaurant and the historic Murphys Hotel.  Arnold and Murphys both offer a variety of hotels and motels for overnighting.

How to get there: From Stockton the start is the same for both destinations; take Highway 4 east to Copperopolis.  To reach Dodge Ridge, go south on O Bryrne’s Ferry Road and east on Highway 108 to the ski area. For Bear Valley, continue on Hwy. 4 all the way to the ski area.

For more information: Dodge Ridge Ski Resort,, 209.965.3474; Bear Valley Ski Resort,, 209.753.2301;

Contact Tim Viall at Follow him at Think snow, and happy travels in the West!

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

European cruising; all the luxuries, but on the thrifty side!

European cruising; all the luxuries, but options to save about 35% off regular pricing!

Melk Abbey, Austria, circa 1089, from Danube River, on the Wehrs' trip

This is the story of thrifty European cruising by Ellen and George Wehrs of Stockton and Diana and Bob Boehme of Spokane, WA. The Wehrs are new friends who read my earlier features about travel on Grand Circle Cruises in Europe and the Boehmes are long-time friends who turned us onto frugal travel a number of years ago.

The Wehrs followed our advice (we have done two lovely cruises with Grand Circle); they booked through Grand Circle Travel, ranked top European river cruise company by Conde Nast Traveler in 2015. Starting with the website, they clicked on “Ways to Save” and then “Last Minute Deals”, saving about 35% over regular fares (they had six weeks to ready for departure).

Their journey began October 19, with a flight into Prague; the ship-board trip began in Linz, then onto Melk, Austria; they were aboard the ship River Aria (three decks, only 140 passengers) for 13 days. They sailed through the Wachau Valley, Salzburg, Bratislava (where they found cheap beer) in Slovakia, and into Budapest. The currency exchange caused them some angst in Hungary, a country not on the Euro monetary system.

Ornate Melk Abbey church, with historic frescos and gold gilt.

The river Aria on the Danube, with 140 passengers and crew of about 40.

They loved the ornate Melk Abbey, Austria, a Benedictine monastery founded in 1089, now partially used as a school for the town. The abbey is perched high on a bluff overlooking the Danube River adjoining the Wachau Valley. Its ornate church offers frescos by Johann Michael Rottmayr and a library with thousands of medieval manuscripts.

George found all these old river towns deep in history and delightful for each morning’s walking tour. In Bratislava, they had coffee and snacks with a local family, a 30-something jewelry maker, her husband a news/PR person for the government, which provided them a wealth of insight into how locals live and feel about their country. The tour of Budapest, including Hungary’s Parliament Building, was a tour highlight.

Their shipboard program director was a hit, beginning every morning by guiding a walking tour through the historic river towns, with each tour member getting an electronic listening device. On these small-ship river cruises, all the walking tours are included in the basic cruise package.

In Prague, a local guide met them in the park and offered details on the “Prague spring” and history of the country. Overall, they had lovely fall weather, with only a bit of rain. They took three side-trips for moderate additional cost, to Melk Abbey, the musical Vienna tour and Schonbrunn Palace tour in Vienna, featuring the staterooms and apartments of Franz Joseph and the imperial monarchy.

The Hungarian Parliament Building in Budapest, part of the day's walking tour.

Ellen, a principal in Lincoln Unified, retired three years ago; George, with his own mailing business, retired January this year. They were delighted to meet two Lodi couples on the trip, made new friends with folks out of Minnesota and are contemplating a return trip to Europe’s historic rivers. This was their first international trip; Ellen notes “the only downside to the trip were the long airline flights and the long wait at customs in Los Angeles”.

Bob and Diana Boehme, of Spokane, WA, sailed on their third trip booked through Travel with Alan, a company that purchases blocs of cabins on luxury liners and offers substantial discounts for those who act quickly. They spotted a sweet deal, then flew Spokane to Denver, to Dulles, then to Barcelona, Spain. Travel with Alan staff met them at the airport, delivered them to their ship and arranged connections and hotel stays. Bob adds, “you have to work about 6-8 weeks out, and react quickly because their deals are snapped up within a few days of posting”.

The Sagrada Familia, church by architect Gaudi, in Barcelona, Spain.

They did a three day advance trip to Barcelona and 24 days on a Holland America ship, sailing from Barcelona to Sardinia, Sicily, up the Italian coast to the port outside Rome, then to Luca and Pisa, on to Monte Carlo and back to Barcelona. The cruise continued along the Spanish coast to a Portuguese Island, then eight days at sea to Fort Lauderdale, FL.

The Boehmes enjoyed the trip, “our favorite part was seeing the Gaudi Cathedral (Sagrada Familia) in Barcelona”. The Roman Catholic Church, designed by architect Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926) is a lofty design combining Gothic and curvilinear Art Nouveau forms. Construction began in 1882 and still is underway.

The Boehmes add that their ship, with 2100 people aboard (300 folks were from Travel with Alan) and 900 crew is not as intimate as Grand Circle cruises, which typically carry a max of 150 passengers per ship. Additionally, the big cruise liners offer excursions to shore destinations for about $100 per person extra, so it’s easy to run up your bill.  The Boehmes made happy-hour purchases of on-board liquor; on Grand Circle cruises, wine and beer are included at both lunch and dinner.

The Leaning tower of Pisa, Pisa, Italy, part of the Boehme's trip.

Thrifty cruising in Europe with all the luxuries at about 2/3 the cost – have your passports ready, and be prepared to act fairly quickly when you find that “last minute deal” from Grand Circle or Travel with Alan! If you are like my spouse and me – if we can stretch our travel dollars by 30 to 40 percent, that’s a big deal!

For more information: Grand Circle Travel,; Travel with Alan,

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook or Twitter; or, email him at Happy travels in the west!

Michelangelo's Pieta at St. Peter's Basilica, Rome.

Posted in Europe, United States beyond! | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Holiday kid’s activities in Stockton and San Joaquin County!

Toy soldiers guard entrance to Stockton's Children's Museum.

With holiday school break coming, you may wonder where to take the kids and/or grandkids on these first days of winter. Here are a handful of “activity-destinations”, kid-tested with our three grandchildren over the last year. You and the kids will find them interesting, relatively inexpensive (or free) and true memory-makers.

The Stockton Children’s Museum offers scores of hands-on exhibits and activities that kids cannot resist. On a recent visit, our first stop – a number of reptile exhibits, with grandson Jack locking onto the lizards and snakes and me trying not to imagine future nightmares (mine, not Jack).  Then onto the race car track, where Jack built race cars with Legos, then raced them down a long, four-abreast track.

We moved on to a climbing tour of a real fire engine, a police car (Jack quickly found delight in turning on the flashing lights), ambulance and Regional Transit bus; with Jack quickly acclimating himself to being a real bus driver.

The Haggin Museum in Victory Parkis one of Stockton’s iconic destinations, and offers appeal for kids and young adults. Early Stockton is profiled, along with the city’s dramatic growth from gold rush to development of our agricultural empire and manufacturing base that made this one of California’s great cities. For musically-inclined young adults, the museum features ‘Medieval to Metal: the Art and Evolution of the Guitar’ exhibit, with upcoming events including a Holiday Hootenanny, December 15, and Guitar and vocal duo Mark and Cindy Lemaire, January 5.

The iconic Haggin Museum is a fixture in lovely Victory Park.

Additional Stockton activities include ice skating at Oak Park Ice Arena or taking in the Stockton Heat hockey games at Stockton Arena.

Micke Grove Park just south of Lodi offers two destinations: Micke Grove Zoo is a wonderland for kids.  The zoo offers Zoo Tots, offering toddlers a WILD adventure, learning through doing.  Tots are engaged in a variety of hands-on activities such as an art project; games; crafts; stories and possible live animal encounter depending on the topic, most Tuesdays at 10 AM.  Take in Winter Zoo Day Camp for kids 5-10 years, from 10 AM to 3 PM. Highlights include Animal Antics, December 21 and 22; Winter Wildlife Warriors on December 23 and Crazy Critters, December 27 and 28. Register by calling (209) 331-2138.

Docent Bonnie Cassel welcomes kids to the old Calaveras School House.

The San Joaquin Historical Museum, also located in the park, offers youngsters the old Calaveras School House, Blacksmith Shop and the Tractor Building full of huge and historic farm tractors. The Native Peoples Gallery, offering insight into the Native Americans, San Joaquin County residents for more than 13,000 years, is a great way to introduce young adults to the Miwok- and Yokuts-speaking people that predated American settlers.

“These exhibits work perfectly with our other exhibits,” notes Dave Stuart, Museum Director. “Visitors can follow the Native people’s history, to early trappers and founding of French Camp, the first non-Indian community. Kids can follow the early American settlers, then to exhibits on the Gold Rush and the adjacent Captain Weber Gallery”.

The World of Wonders Science Museum, downtown Lodi, offers hands-on activities for kids from 2-19. Creative science exhibits will energize and amaze the minds of all ages. Check the special events option on the museum’s website, including special activities almost every day; or factor in Free Fridays (bring a friend on the last Friday each month, and your friend gets in free).

Kids experiment with a vertical windtunnel at the WOW Science Museum in Lodi.

For older kids, inspect 40+ classic cars for sale at the Vintage Reserve Garage on Cherokee Lane, Lodi; start with breakfast at Richmaid, a classic family-style restaurant across the street.

For hiking, biking and exploration when valley weather is nice, take in downtown Stockton’s waterfront (from the old Waterfront Warehouse at 445 W. Weber, then east along the Promenade to Weber Point, and west along the water out to the Stockton Arena and Ballpark). Or, opt for a 4 mile or 8 mile route around Shima Tract at the west end of Hammer Lane, Lodi Lake Park, on Turner Road in Lodi or the Cosumnes River Preserve, two miles north of Thornton. Each destination offers miles of trails to explore, birds and critters to watch (take binoculars).

Author's grandkids Hunter, Jessica and Jack hiking on Shima Tract in Stockton.

On assumption that new snow will come soon to the central Sierra, take the kids up to the snow line for sledding, tubing, snowball fights or making a snowman. Two popular destinations only about an hour from Stockton include Calaveras Big Trees State Park on Hwy. 4 and the area known as Little Sweden on Highway 108 (about four miles east of Long Barn). The state park charges $10 per carload entry, but offers hiking among the sequoias and other big trees, several sledding and tubing areas and a cozy warming hut with roaring fire and free hot chocolate for kids and adults.

Sledders enjoy sliding amongst Giant Sequoias in Calaveras Big Trees State Park (photo from last season).

The Little Sweden area (until a few years ago, an old lodge by that name stood here, now removed) is free and you can park on both sides of this four-lane stretch of 108, though heed the “no parking” section of the highway – the Highway Patrol will ticket violators.

To plan your visit: Haggin Museum,; Children’s Museum,; Micke Grove Zoo,; San Joaquin Historical Society,; Calaveras Big Trees State Park, For a map of Stockton bike and hike trails,

Contact Tim at or follow him at Happy travels in your world!

Posted in Central California, Northern California, Sierra Nevada, Stockton/San Joaquin County | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
  • Blog Authors

    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
  • Categories

  • Archives