Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Santa Barbara

We went to Santa Barbara a couple of years ago, it was a really beautiful trip. By the time we left on a Friday night it was quite late, and all of us were tired after a busy week. The first 2-3 hours everyone was in a great mood, talking and listening to some great music. Just about 1 hour from our destination we started feeling really sleepy. Sis went to sleep, and I could barely keep my eyes open. K was driving half asleep, and just a couple of exits before our hotel we get pulled over by a cop. He stops us and comes to check if K was driving drunk since he was weaving a lot between lanes and driving at 50 mph on the freeway. He saw our faces and knew that we were really tired, gave us a warning and let us go. Great cop!

We reached our hotel around 1:00 am, and just wanted to crash. When I got out of the car and looked at the hotel it was so different than what I had expected. But the moment I stepped in the room, I was pleasantly surprised. It was very modern, clean and comfortable. After a good night's sleep, I got up a little earlier than the other two sleepy heads and went to get some coffee and breakfast. At the reception I met Frank, the most friendly hotel owner I have ever met. The reason I booked the place is because almost every person on Yelp said that it was a great place to stay, and raved about the owner. They were absolutely right! Frank helped me choose from the restaurants and activities I had planned for the trip. He knew most people who walked in through the door by name, and greeted everyone with such enthusiasm. I guess people who have stayed here decide to go back when they are in Santa Barbara. The place is called - Inn at East Beach, and is a cute boutique hotel just a minute walk to the Beach. It is very close to downtown ( State street) and the harbor. I have stayed in many hotels, many of them more decadent than this one; but have never met someone as friendly as this person. I recommend this hotel to anyone planning a trip to Santa Barbara.

Saturday morning we decided to walk to the beach, it was a gorgeous day. The temperature was a little over 80 degrees, and the beach was beautiful. After walking along the beach, playing in the water and taking some pictures we decided to head for lunch.

We went to this really authentic Mexican place called Los Agaves. It was a really small, but clean and colorful place. We ordered the Chicken Molcajetes, and it was very flavorful.

Chicken Molcajetes
After the satisfying lunch, we went Whale watching. I had booked online with Condor Cruises. What an awesome experience that was! We were the last ones to board the ferry and had we been a couple of minutes late we would have missed it. Glad we made it. We saw around 7- 8 humpback whales. The guide told us that the humpbacks were on their way from Costa Rica to feed in the nutrient rich waters on the coast along the Chanel Islands. We were supposed to see some Gray Whales as well, but probably they were already heading back up to the Alaskan waters. These whales stayed under the water for about 8-10 minutes, after which they would come up to breathe. We did not really see any breaching, but they would come up and swim close to us for about 3-4 minutes and then go back in again to look for food. I wish people would stop confining them to theme parks, and enjoy them in their natural habitats. They were swimming so fast, I cannot imagine how claustrophobic it must be inside a tiny pool.

After whale watching, we drove around the mission area.

In the evening we walked along State Street. It is lined with shops, restaurants, and nightclubs. At night we went to a Cajun and Creole place called The Palace Grill. It was really nice and very authentic.

Sunday morning we woke up late, checked out, and then went to the art festival along the beach. Awesome location and some great art. It was a really gorgeous day, warm and bright as I like it.

We went to an Italian place called Pallazio for lunch. It was pretty decent. We then drove about an hour and stopped at Goleta for horse riding. It was an amazing experience. We had  reservations at the Circle Bar B ranch. The horses were very well trained and our guide Adam was super friendly. I have done horse riding a couple of times in India, but it was the first time I was doing it all by myself, i.e. when no one was holding the horse. It would not have been scary if it was just flat ground all the way. Here we were crossing streams, and walking along a narrow path with the Santa Ynez mountains on one side and the Refugio canyon on the other side. Initially I was not able to control my horse and it would stop and eat plants along the way. Adam told me that it was not good for the horses to eat those plants, and that I should pull him away a couple of times and he would stop doing that again. I was scared that I would hurt him, and was unable to pull hard. Adam came back and pulled the horse once and he never did it again.

From the top of the mountain we could see the Pacific Ocean and the Chanel Islands. It was an amazing view. After about 15 minutes, I got so comfortable on my horse that I was holding the reins with one hand, and clicking pictures with the other. Everyone was making fun of me all along, since I was the one who was most scared initially. The guy told me to relax, and said that the horse could sense that I was not comfortable. Later, when the horse would walk too close to the cliff, I would gently pull the reins to move him towards to mountain and he started responding so well.

Our next and final stop after horse riding was the cute Danish village of Solvang. Its rich heritage goes all the way back to 1911, when Danish- Americans settled here. The authentic architecture, thatched roofs, traditional windmills; all have been beautifully preserved. There is tons of boutique shopping, and it is most famous for its Danish pastries. We had our pastry fix at Mortensen’s Danish bakery before heading back home.

On a different trip we stayed at Pismo Beach which is about an hour north of Santa Barbara. It is a great place for surfing and boogy boarding. You could also ride ATVs on sand dunes. I will leave it for Dee to write about that later:)

We have been meaning to take the Amtrak to Santa Barbara. Hopefully, we will get to it some day. Take the Coast Starlight which has daily service from Seattle to Los Angeles. It is considered one of the most scenic train rides in the world. With a view like this, it is the journey not the destination that matters:
Source: Google images
Hope we have been able to give you some tips to help plan your weekend getaway in Santa Barbara. Happy Travels!

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Saturday, April 20, 2013

National parks- America's Crown Jewels

It is said that the National Parks in America are one of her best preserved Crown Jewels. Yellowstone was the first National Park, and was established in 1872. Since then a number of National Parks have been established, and we have been privileged to visit a few of them. Each one of them is unique in term of its natural beauty and geological features.

Some of the parks we have visited are:

• Arches – Location: Utah

• Canyonlands – Location: Utah

• Channel Islands – Location: California

• Everglades – Location: Florida

• Grand Canyon – Location: Arizona

• Hawaii Volcanoes – Location: Hawaii

• Lassen Volcanic – Location: California

• Mount Rainier – Location: Washington

• Redwood – Location: California

• Rocky Mountain – Location: Colorado

• Yellowstone – Location: Wyoming, Montana, Idaho

• Yosemite – Location: California

·   Zion National Park - Location: Utah

Photo courtesy:

I found this list online, and I am excited that there are so many more to explore :

• Acadia: Maine

• American Samoa: American Samoa

• Badlands: South Dakota

• Big Bend: Texas
• Biscayne: Florida
• Black Canyon of the Gunnison: Colorado

• Bryce Canyon: Utah

• Capitol Reef: Utah

• Carlsbad Caverns : New Mexico

• Congaree: South Carolina

• Crater Lake: Oregon

• Cuyahoga Valley: Ohio

• Death Valley: California, Nevada

• Denali: Alaska

• Dry Tortugas: Florida
• Gates of the Arctic: Alaska

• Glacier: Montana

• Glacier Bay: Alaska

• Gand Teton: Wyoming

• Great Basin: Nevada

• Great Sand Dunes: Colorado

• Great Smoky Mountains: North Carolina, Tennessee

• Guadalupe Mountains: Texas

• Haleakalā: Hawaii

• Hot Springs: Arkansas

• Isle Royale: Michigan

• Joshua Tree: California

• Katmai: Alaska

• Kenai Fjords: Alaska

• Kings Canyon: California

• Kobuk Valley: Alaska

• Lake Clark: Alaska

• Mammoth Cave: Kentucky

• Mesa Verde: Colorado

• North Cascades: Washington

• Olympic: Washington

• Petrified Forest: Arizona

• Saguaro : Arizona

• Sequoia: California

• Shenandoah: Virginia

• Theodore Roosevelt: North Dakota

• Virgin Islands: United States Virgin Islands

• Voyageurs: Minnesota

• Wind Cave: South Dakota

• Wrangell – St. Elias: Alaska

Happy Travels!!
- Dee

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Magical Wine Country weekend

There are a number of cute little town such as Bodega Bay, Jenner, Gualala, Guerneville, and Healdsburg along the Russian River. Just a couple of hours north of San Francisco all along one of the most scenic routes in the world, these towns are ideal for a weekend getaway. This is the perfect vacation for wine and nature lovers.

We stopped at Bodega Bay (pictured in Alfred Hickok’s movie –‘Birds’) on the way to Healdsburg where were we stayed. 

We were planning to drive up to Jenner to see the sunset. On the way, we found this beautiful beach:

In Healdsburg we had an amazing seafood dinner at Willis restaurant.  The ambience is great and the food is fresh and delicious. The fish was buttery and the lobster roll was out of this world.

At night we had fun playing Monopoly. Of course it ended in a mini war over who won, and after no consensus was reached, we went to bed!
The next day we headed to Guerneville, and loved the brunch at Boon Eat and Drink.  Restaurants here take their food very seriously, and the ingredients are very fresh and organic. I am still dreaming of the flash fried brussel spouts and the beet & goat cheese salad!

We headed out to the Russian Gulch State Park where we strolled for a few minutes and returned because Yam was scared of the many dogs that were running around and playing.

We were driving back to the bay area, and stopped at a vista point. From here we could see Blind Beach and Goat Rock. It is very easy to miss these as they are not visible from Hwy1. We decided to turn around as we saw a lot of cars in that area.

Blind beach is one of the most amazing beaches I have seen. Here, the Russian River meets the Pacific Ocean and the different shades of green and blue water looked so beautiful on this sunny day. There are beautiful rock formations in the water as well as on the coast. This is part of Sonoma Coast State Beach – a 13 mile coastline stretching from Russian River to Bodega Bay. It is easy to miss these beaches that are tucked away in rocky coves, and hidden by steep bluffs. The ocean is very rough, and there is a rip current that is generated due to a steep gradient along the shore. It is extremely dangerous to enter the water. However, we did see some daredevil surfers.

We stood on the coast and watched the huge waves crashing on the shore and the rocks. The beach is a regular nesting ground for seagulls, otters, sea lions, and elephant seals. It was so nice to watch them in their natural habitat.

After spending a few wonderful hours sinking in all this beauty we left with some pictures and lots of amazing memories. Happy Travels Everyone!!