California Posts

Home Away from Home for the Holidays

Traveling for the holidays, but worried about missing out on all the festive décor, delicious food, and frosty snowflakes? Don’t worry. There are plenty hotels across the country — and around the world! –offering lots of lights, sights, treats, and sweets that will make you feel at home.

The Fairmont San Francisco

A 22-foot gingerbread house takes center stage at one of San Francisco’s most prestigious hotels. Take a stroll through the fragrant culinary concoction made from 650 pounds of candy, 12 gallons of chocolate, 7,500 pieces of gingerbread, and nearly a ton of icing. Be sure to peek through the windows at the train running through the house. After exiting this life-size Christmas staple, visit Laurel Court where guests can partake in traditional holiday foods and even a Christmas tea.

Camping in Pinnacles National Monument

Mu husband and I wanted to get out of town for my birthday… But we didn’t want to spend a lot of money. And we wanted to send some time outdoors before it got too cold (even in Southern California.) Inexpensive outdoor getaway? Sounds like a job for CAMPING!

We’re talking car camping, not backpack-and-powdered-food camping. We have a roomy tent, a big cooler, and a nice propane stove. Hubs made a reservation at Pinnacles National Monument (most major campgrounds take online reservations nowadays,) the site of a long-extinct volcano about 2 1/2 hours from San Francisco. Actually, it’s two-thirds of a volcano; Thanks to movement along the San Andreas Fault, the other third is still near Lancaster, where the volcano first came into being. But it felt more like being in a forest, the campground was beautiful and shady, nothing like the barren, rocky landscape we expected.

We didn’t rough it the whole time… We broke up the drive with stops in the charming Dutch town of Solvang, and did a little wine tasting in Paso Robles. We spent most of our camping time reading, cooking, and relaxing, though we did take a beautiful hike to the Bear Gulch Talus Cave. Talus caves are formed by big boulders falling such that they create spaces inside, where the temperature is blissfully cool, and visitors might run into a few Big-eared bats. (We didn’t, though. We also didn’t spy any California Condors, but 32 of the rare birds live within Pinnacles as part of the California Condor Recovery Program.)

We did get a little dirty, and discover we need to invest in a better air mattress… But Pinnacles National Monument was such a wonderful place to find some peace and tranquility, we’ll definitely be back.

Great Theme Park Ideas for Summer Vacation Memories

Wow, it’s May already.  I don’t know about you, but May was always my favorite month when I was still in school.  May meant the grinding down of the school year and the long awaited SUMMER VACATION.  Don’t get me wrong, I liked school.  But, the thought of having 3 months off…..  Summer Vacation also meant the old family trip.  My parents piled us all in the Ford and off we went to strange and exotic places (at least to me).

Some of my favorite memories of the family trips were when we ended up at least one day at an amusement or theme park.  I remember the first time we traveled to Florida and went to Disney World.  C’mon, we all remember the first time we visited Disney World or Disneyland, right?  Who still doesn’t get a little charge when they see Mickey?

I can still remember how my heart skipped a few beats when we were actually inside the park at Disney World, it was all a strange and magical place.  Everything that lived on celluloid was suddenly 3-D, walking and breathing.  Combine this excitement with the thrill of the rides, I was in kid heaven.  It certainly was a magical place for me and the memories live on even until today.

The thrill of amusement parks didn’t die after I became an adult.  Taking the kids to Disney World and watching them experience the thrill for the first time was like living it all over again.  For me, it was just as magical.  Though there are more characters now than when I was a kid, we tried to see all of them as we wandered around Disney World, taking in shows and just enjoying all the park had to offer.  Throw in time at Epcot and your wallet maybe thinner, but you have made some memories that will last a  lifetime.

If you have already done the “Disney thing,” perhaps Busch Gardens is more to your family’s liking.    Touted as the “World’s Most Beautiful Theme Park,” its hard not to give the thumbs up for that brag.  With locations in Williamsburg, VA and Tampa, there’s a ton of things to do around either area so make a week of it, if you can.  Both locations have beautiful gardens, thrilling rides and many animals and animal shows to view.  In other words, even if you took Grandma with you there’s something for everyone to enjoy. There are plenty of shows to attend while the kids are off riding the roller coasters.  Busch Gardens states that you won’t be able to find more exotic and endangered animals this side of Africa.  The location in Tampa is one of the largest zoos in the country, so be prepared to see over 2,000 animals during your visit!

One of my personal favorites has always been Sea World.  With three locations in the United States, it’s worth the time to travel and include this theme park in your vacation plans.  From killer whales to parrots, the shows are great!  If you have a budding marine biologist, or a daughter that is just in love with dolphins, you will score big points for the visit to Sea World.  At the Orlando location, it has the one of the largest interactive dolphin pools where you can watch the dolphins both from above and below the water. But, the park isn’t just about aquatic animals, you can get thrilled with some of the rides, too.

Sometimes, it’s just better for everyone’s sanity to go to a full out theme park like Six Flags or Six Flags Great America!  Let your kids go from ride to ride to ride. Six Flags as some of the tallest, wildest, and what I call “screamiest” rides.  Who doesn’t love to ride on a wooden roller coaster?  I love to ride any type of roller coaster, but wooden ones are my favorite.  So if you need a partner just let me know.  Even in the heat of Summer, there’s nothing better than hitting some rides then heading toward the water park.  From jaw dropping slides to a simulated ocean watch the kids get wet while you get some rays or rest under your personal cabana.

No matter where you are planning to travel to Florida, California, or somewhere in the middle, start your trip off right.  You are going to be one on one with the kids for a week.  When was the last time that happened?  Oh yea, last summer when you submitted your family photo to the show “When Vacations Attack.”  You want to start your tip off right. Load the kids up in the car the night before your flight and get a great night’s sleep at a airport hotel.  With the airport parking package, you get a night’s stay at a hotel near the airport, parking for your trip, and transportation to and from the terminal.  Some hotels even offer continental breakfasts or free WiFi.

With a good night’s sleep before your flight, you may just enjoy the trip to your destination instead of yelling at your kids or threatening to leave them home next time.  And, although it’s hard to do sometimes, these are the memories that will last a lifetime and you want both you and your kids to remember your trip fondly.  So, relax, have fun, and feel the magic again through your kids’ eyes. What a better memory that to relive it 20 years later when your kid says “Remember when you took us to (Fill in the blank)?  That was a great time!”



Cinco De Mayo! The U.S. Holiday that isn’t.

Cinco de Mayo – a day here in the United States that we tip the margarita glass to our south of the border neighbor, Mexico.  However, did you know that this holiday isn’t universally celebrated in Mexico?  It is regionally celebrated in the state of Puebla, as El Dia de la Batalla de Puebla (The day of the Battle of Puebla).  It commemorates the Mexican Army’s victory over French forces on May 5, 1862.  It’s NOT (as some Americans believe) the celebration of Mexico’s Independence Day.  That day is actually September 16.

However, Cinco de Mayo in the United States has evolved into a celebration of Mexican heritage and culture with many parades, mariachi music, Mexican folk dancing and delicious food.  The observations in the United States began primarily by the Mexicans and Latinos living in California during the Civil War.  Upon hearing of the victory in Puebla, the Mexican miners in the gold country of California were so happy that they fired off rifle shots, fireworks, sang patriotic songs, etc.  Since then, Cinco de Mayo was celebrated continually in the United States, specifically California, and not as much in Mexico.

The holiday didn’t gain much popularity outside of California until the 1940s when the Chicano movement started to rise.  It continued to gain popularity in the 1950s and 1960s, but really gained acceptance in the 1980s when beer marketers began to promote Cinco de Mayo as a holiday.

Now, there are hundreds of celebrations ranging from huge music festivals to smaller observations.  Some of the best, and most authentic Cinco de Mayo celebrations are where the highest concentration of Mexican people live.  One of the very best is located in Denver, Colorado.  The festival, which lasts for two days attracts over 400,000 people and is full of Mexican music with regional, salsa, Christian, Tex-Mex, and ranchero.

Chicago, Illinois puts on a great celebration.  The festival includes a 5 mile race, the Cinco de Miler, music, food booths, cultural information, and a recently added “Cinco de Snoots” where pets and their owners can both partake the festivities.  There’s a huge listing for all the events for Chicago’s celebration here.

In San Francisco, CA, the Mission district goes all in for its celebration.  Cultural activities, Lucha Libre wrestlers, and a Mission Dolores tour top the list of things to do.

But, where better to celebrate Cinco de Mayo but in  Texas? Along the infamous San Antonio Riverwalk, Luminaria 2012 has been added which honors San Antonio’s artist communities. Be prepared for Mariachis, Tejano and Conjunto music plus cultural dances and food at the historic Market Square.  In San Marcos, TX, located in the Hill Country,  hosts the 38th annual festival known for its parade, Little Miss and Miss Cinco de Mayo pageants, music, and Folklorico dancers. There is also the state-wide Menudo Cook-Off which features a soup of tripe, hominy and chili which is cooked for hours and thought by many to be the elusive hangover cure!

Whether you are traveling to Cinco De Mayo festivities, or celebrating closer to home, choose for the start of your next adventure.  You can opt to stay the night before (or after) your flight.  You’ll receive airport parking for the duration of your trip, transportation to and from the airport terminal, as well as a night’s stay at an airport hotel.  You’ll arrive relaxed, refreshed and ready for the fiesta. After all, haven’t you always wanted to play the castanets in a Mariachi band?


Airport Jail or the Case of the Forlorned Traveler


Recently, I read a story on a travel website about a California woman who wanted to start a new life in another state.  She packed up what she could in a couple suitcases and spent her last bit of money on a one-way ticket to Idaho.

I’m sure she was looking forward to leaving the past behind and thought in just a few hours she could turn over a new leaf and start anew.  I bet her heart was fluttering when she made her way to the airline desk and handed over her ticket.  I can only imagine the horror that filled her heart when the attendant told her it would be an additional $60 for her luggage.  Remember, she spent the little money she had to purchase the ticket and  perhaps didn’t know many airlines charge for bags, or it didn’t occur to her there may be such a large additional baggage charge.  Needless to say, this led to events that left her stranded in the airport for eight days.

According to the article, she spent the time wandering the airport, stuck.  She was sentenced by the airline fees to stay in her pseudo- jail until she could pay $60 bail to be released.  She existed on packets of trail mix until members of the Airport Church of Christ paid her baggage fees and flight change fees so she could leave her “Terminal Hell.”

If you are thinking that life imitates art, you are correct.  “The Terminal” starred Tom Hanks and Catherine Zeta-Jones.  Hanks was an immigrant who lived at JFK for months when he was denied entry to the United States.  The movie was loosely based on a man who lived for 18 years in the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris.

The moral of this story is, you need to plan for trips so you won’t get blindsided by unforeseen fees or travel surprises.   At you can stay the night with one of our partner hotels before or after your trip.  Parking and shuttle service is include in the park, sleep, and fly rate.  Packages can include anywhere from 3 to 14 days of parking with the night’s stay, often at a lower price than parking at the airport alone.

Don’t be left out in the cold.  Have your plans include