When our good friends from Las Vegas invited us to a MOD weekend in Palm Springs, we didn’t know what a MOD weekend was! Anyway this is why we travel, to experience something new, so of course we said yes and made reservations. Palm Springs is a desert city in California and is a Mecca for its mid-century modern architecture and design, or so we learnt. What is MOD you may be thinking, it is a weekend to celebrate all things mid century modern. The event runs from Thursday through to Sunday focusing on fashion, art, music, cocktails and architecture. The weekend featured special events with renowned artist SHAG (aka Josh Agle). Most people dress in the fashions of the period so we visited some thrift stores looking for suitable clothing for the event, which in itself was great fun.
The weekend consisted of great music, room parties, a fashion show, meeting new friends, a relaxed atmosphere and fun times. We would highly recommend MOD and we are thankful for the opportunity to experience something a little bit different, we are hoping to return in 2017.
San Diego has the perfect climate, but you may find the locals reaching for a sweater if the temperature gets down to 60 degrees. We have been to San Diego in January, during the summer months and in October, the weather has always been sunny and warm. San Diego is very spread out and it’s difficult to recommend one area to stay for your first visit so I will just list a few of our favourite places.
Downtown and the Gaslamp district is home to many hotels to suit every budget, numerous restaurants, bars and rooftop bars. It’s a great place to spend an evening, we enjoyed Shout House and Moonshine Flats but there are many more to try out. We have stayed downtown a few times over the years and always enjoy being close to the entertainment. Within a few minutes walk of the Gaslamp is the waterfront Embarcadero, this is a great place to go for a run or to walk around the bay. You can explore the former battle ship the USS Midway or spend an afternoon browsing the cute little shops at Seaport Village. Movie fans will love the Kanas City BBQ Grill which was used for some of the bar scenes in the movie Top Gun, sit in the corner at the same table where Meg Ryan and Tom Cruise sat. Balboa Park is also close by and is home to the San Diego Zoo, museums and beautiful gardens.
Just a few minutes from downtown are Mission Bay, Mission Beach and Pacific Beach. One of our favourite things to do is to run along the 3 mile boardwalk by Mission and Pacific Beaches; you might see dolphins playing in the waves. It’s also a great place to go for weekend brunch (try World Famous, good food and nice view of the ocean) or try one of the rooftop bars to watch the sunset. We would like to stay at Crystal Pier next time we visit, you have amazing ocean views but you have to make reservations at least 6 months ahead.
You have to spend at least one afternoon in La Jolla, the coastline is made up of small rocky coves and un-spoilt beaches and the area has been used as a backdrop for many weddings. It is also a good place to watch seals relaxing in the sun and swimming in the waves. La Jolla village is home to art galleries, shops, hotels and good restaurants. We would recommend Brockton Villa for breakfast and George’s for lunch/dinner or a sunset cocktail.
Coronado Island is situated across the bay from downtown; it is home to the famous Hotel del Coronado. The hotel was built in 1888 and designated a National Historic Landmark; the hotel was featured in the movie Some Like It Hot with Marilyn Monroe and has hosted a number of celebrities over the years. If this is out of your price range, you can still walk around and even go for brunch.
I don’t think that we need to tell you that we love San Diego, it is a destination that we will always return to in the future and I already have our next trip planned out in my mind. We never seem to have enough time here as we are always sad to leave this special place.
I Left my Heart in San Francisco and San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair) are just a couple of songs about the city. It’s one of our favourite cities on the west coast, the Golden Gate Bridge stands proudly across the bay connecting the Golden Gate National Recreation Area/Sausalito with San Francisco.
Here is a list of our top ten things to do in the city.
1) A trip to the once notorious Alcatraz prison which housed some of the most infamous criminals in history such as Al Capone, Machine Gun Kelly and Robert Stroud (The Birdman of Alcatraz) is a must. If you can, book your tickets in advance for the first boat of the day in order to avoid the crowds and experience the cell house with relative peace and quiet. You will want to allow at least 3-4 hours to take the cell house audio tour and to walk around the grounds. You also get great views back across to the city and of course the Golden Gate Bridge.
2) Bike the Bridge, if you have enough time take the full day to do this. We picked up our bikes from Blazing Saddles near Union Square and biked all along the Embarcadero to Fisherman’s Wharf, through Aquatic Park, Fort Mason, the Marina and the Presidio. We stopped for a coffee at the base of the bridge and enjoyed a fantastic view of the bridge and the ocean. We biked across the bridge stopping to take pictures and taking time to appreciate our surroundings. We arrived in the small charming town of Sausalito, parked our bikes (our butts were sore) and picked up a sandwich and sat watchin’ the ships roll in, then I watch em roll away again yeah, I’m sittin’ on the dock of the bay (as Otis Redding sang). We caught the ferry back and had a glass of wine on board watching the sunset over the bay, a perfect day.
3) Rent a little Yellow ‘Go Car’ and do your own city tour, the car has a GPS guide that talks to you with over 200 points of interest loaded into it. You can decided which points of the city you want to visit, you can even drive down Lombard Street, the car can go where buses and cars can’t go and you can even park the car and take a break.
4) A San Francisco tradition, you must ride a cable car and stand on the footplate as you go up and down the crazy hills in this city. We took the car from the Powell & Hyde turnaround point all the way to Union Square, try to do this early in the morning as the lines are long later in the day and you can wait up to 40 minutes.
5) Go and have a picnic on Baker Beach, you can sip your wine while watching the waves hitting the shore and you have a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Just be aware that the northern part of the beach is considered a nudist beach!
6) Take a drive up to Twin Peaks for an unobstructed and panoramic view across the city.
7) Spend an afternoon walking around the North Beach neighbourhood, head to Coit Tower to watch the sunset over the bridge, then go for dinner at one of the many restaurants in the area.
8) Pier 39 is very touristy but you have to spend an hour here, check out some of the shops, grab a coffee and watch the Sealions sunbathing and sitting on each other to find the best spot in the sun, very funny to watch them.
9) Haight-Ashbury is known for the hippie culture back in the day, Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead lived here. It still has several vintage shops which are all worth a visit.
Bend wasn’t on our list of places to visit but we met a great couple from Bend on our rafting trip back in May and decided we had to catch up with them before we headed back to the UK. Well if you haven’t been to Bend you should add it to your list of places to visit, but ssshh we don’t want everyone going and spoilng this special place.
Bend is a picturesque city, the outdoor parks and areas are all maintained to a high standard. There are no high rises, which gives Bend a very laid back, homely, calming feel. The area is surrounded by great outdoor options including hiking, mountain biking, kayaking and many more.
Bend offers a good choice of restaurants and bars, if you like whiskey you have to stop by the Stihl Whiskey bar and try a cocktail, oh and the sweet potato fries are to die for!
Another unique thing about Bend that we were introduced to was a house concert, I don’t know if this happens in other places but we hadn’t heard of this before. It is exactly as it sounds, a host opened up her home to locals/neighbours on a Saturday night to hear some music and make some new friends. Everyone donates $20 and takes food and a bottle of wine (like a pot luck). After dinner everyone sits down to listen to an artist perform their music, what a fantastic idea, it was a lovely evening. It’s a great way to meet new people and to listen to some new music.
Goonies in Astoria and Cannon Beach – Goonies Never Say Die!
‘Hey you guys!’ doesn’t everyone love the Gooines? Well it’s one of my favourite movies and I couldn’t wait to get on the Goonie trail in Oregon. Our first stop was the old Clatsop County Jail (now the Oregon Film Museum) this is where the jail break scene was filmed at the beginning of the movie. The Museum wasn’t worth the $6 admission fee, there was only a couple of Goonie props and not much movie memorabilia, shame they haven’t got more exhibits from the movie. If you are on a budget save your money and just take your pictures outside the jail and by the Fratellis SUV parked outside complete with bullet holes. Across the road is the Flavel House museum where Mikey’s dad worked in the film.
Next stop the Goonie house, but unfortunately due to vandalism, trespassing and other issues visitors are now not allowed to walk up the driveway to the house, but you can still see the house from the riverwalk.
The highlight for me was a visit to Ecola State Park where the restaurant hideout set was built and you have an amazing view looking back at Haystack Rock and Cannon Beach. We then headed down the Hwy 101 to Cannon Beach to get a closer view on Haystack Rock and the beach where the Fratellis joined the beach race.
Our first stop in the US was Seattle, Washington, wow the hotels were expensive here, so we decided to stay outside the city and take advantage of the excellent public transport the ‘Link Light Rail’ which took us right into downtown and a day pass was only $6.
Seattle has a great history and a great way to learn about the city’s past is to take the Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour. The tour takes you underground to view the city’s old streets and store fronts, the tunnels are full of history and character, you feel like you have gone back in time.
Another good way to get your bearings of the city is to take the free walking tour, this will give a good overview and you can decide where you would like to go back and spent some more time. You can spend hours walking around Pike Place public market, this is home to the very first Starbucks and there are great restaurants, so many stores offering everything you can think of from Cheese to souvenirs.
We have visited Las Vegas many times over the years but never on a budget, we have enjoyed the expensive restaurants, the $20 cocktails in one of the many exotic lounges in Wynn and Bellagio. Could we go to Vegas and not blow the family nest egg?
This was the challenge for us, we would always book a nice hotel and of course the room had to have a strip view, this is Vegas after all. The first challenge is to find a hotel that isn’t charging you the resort fee, which is the biggest con in the history of Vegas! When the mob ran Vegas they didn’t charge a resort fee (Resort fee is a charge for wi-fi, gym, local calls) Translation ripping off the customer.
A hidden gem is the Royal Resort hotel, the hotel is just off strip, has a great restaurant, no resort fee and it doesn’t have a casino, which also helps if you are on a budget.
Now food and drink can be expensive in Vegas, we had a cool box so we were able to buy some food from Walgreens and stock up. Now me being me I just happened to have a blender with us to make Suzy’s special cocktails, he he. Instead of buying a Fat Tuesday slushy, make your own in the hotel room and wander around the strip with your frozen concoction in your red solo cup!! Also if you have a vehicle you can drive off the strip to a cheaper restaurant, places to try are Ellis Island Brewery and Lotus of Siam. If you fancy trying one of the buffets, I would head to the buffet 30 minutes before they stop serving Breakfast, pay for breakfast and wait for them to put the lunch out, or have breakfast and lunch. I would also recommend Earl of Sandwich in Planet Hollywood and Stripburger at Fashion Show mall.
If you like to gamble make sure you sign up to the players club in whichever resort you like to gamble in, it’s free to sign up and you will earn points on slots, table games, retail and food purchases. Your points can go towards free night’s accommodation or a free meal. You will also then receive email offers with discounted rates for future stays.
Now we always spend at least one night downtown, everything is cheaper down there from the drinks to the gambling. The Fremont Street Experience is a free light show and there is normally a good band playing. We used Uber to get around instead of paying for taxis, Uber was cheaper and each hotel has a designated pick up/drop off point for Uber so it’s hassle free.
Here’s a list of some websites I would use for discounts on meals, trips etc.
Jackcolton.com will tell you everything you need to know if you want to go clubbing, pool parties etc while you are in Vegas.
If you are a little crazy like us you may want to watch a Vegas movie before you head out to throw the dice, here’s a few of our favourites.
Honeymoon in Vegas
We started in Calgary and headed to Banff and the Icefields Parkway which has been referred to as “the back bone of the Canadian Rockies”. There are too many points of interest along this magnificent drive for us to list, but here are some of our favourites. Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, Maligne Lake, Peyto Lake, Athabasca Falls, Mount Edith Cavell and Columbia Icefields. Mount Edith Cavell was my favourite, it was a short hike from the parking lot and you arrive at the lake where icebergs are floating (yes icebergs in August) they have fallen from Cavell and Angel glacier high above the lake. We used GyPSy guide while driving the parkway which is a talking GPS guided tour app of the area, it was like having your own tour guide in the car with you. The guide gave you history on the area and points of interest.
If you happen to visit in the peak season like we did be prepared for expensive accommodation and a lot of tourists all visiting the same areas, don’t let this put you off going in peak season just bring your patience with you. Banff and Jasper are cute little towns, great to spend an afternoon walking around the quaint shops and grabbing some lunch. If you have time take a look inside the iconic Fairmount Hotels at Lake Louise and Banff, they are grand hotels. If you can I would suggest you camp, it gives you a chance to feel immersed in the beauty of the Rockies. There are plenty places on route to stop and have a picnic too.
To escape the crowds try one of the many provincial parks on offer, Wells Gray Provincial Park near Clearwater B.C. is home to several waterfalls, lakes and hiking trails. Another great area was around Lillooet B.C. we had 3 bear sightings (didn’t see Goldie Locks though) in the area, and it was very exciting to watch a bear cross the road in front of our car! In Lillooet we camped at a free campground which was provided by B.C.Hydro, one of 7 free campgrounds that they have set up in the province. Anyway back to the parks, Joffre Lakes Provincial Park is 70km from Lillooet and the highlight is the trail leading to lower, middle and upper lakes. All 3 lakes are turquoise blue and have a backdrop of a glacier, great hike.
If you plan on heading to Vancouver, Whistler is a nice little town to visit and the Sea to Summit highway is a scenic drive.
Another town in B.C. we liked was Hope, it is surrounded by hills and the Fraser River runs through the town. It is also where the movie ‘First Blood’ was filmed back in 1981 and the local visitor guide has a map with the filming location used round the town, Richard had to visit every one of them and then watch the movie to compare his photos.
Yellowstone National Park was the first National Park in the USA and you can see why. The park is huge; it spans an area of 3,468.4 square miles. Yellowstone is famous for the geysers, with Old Faithful and the Upper Geyser Basin being the most popular feature of the park. The park is full of wildlife from Elk to Bears; the park is truly a special place. You need at least a week to explore the different areas of the park and then you have the hundreds of hiking trails to get out on. We camped at Lewis Lake campground which is one of the first come first serve campsites. Yellowstone is a very busy park; it was like feeding time at the zoo in the cafes, I was happy to get back to our campsite at night to enjoy the quiet. Try to visit the park outside the busy summer months to get down on some of the crowds.
Our last stop in the US was Glacier National Park, now you might be thinking another National Park aren’t they all the same? Well I was thinking the same, after Yellowstone what else can Glacier offer? Glacier is absolutely stunning, the mountains still have snow on them, there are waterfalls streaming down the hills everywhere you look. The lakes are a turquoise colour and shimmer in the sunshine. You must travel on the Going-to-the- Sun Road, the views are stunning in every direction, but you will need to drive slowly the road twists and turns around the mountains. We did the Iceberg Lake hike, which is 9.8 miles round trip; the lake still has icebergs in July. We saw a grizzly bear and her cubs on the hike, amazing to watch them and a little scary too. Make sure you carry bear spray and send the husband first, he he. We loved Glacier National Park, what a great way to end our 3 months in the USA. Wow the USA has so much to offer if you like the outdoors.
Havasupai means people of the blue-green waters. The waterfalls have been named in several magazines as one of the must see places in world and we would definitely agree with this statement but they forget to mention how remote this area is. Just to obtain a reservation for the campground is a tough task, you have to start ringing at the beginning of February, we had to enlist the help of my mother-in-law Barbara to call for us as we were in Brazil at the time, Barbara called 15-20 times a day for at least 1 week until she finally secured us a reservation. Calling from the UK also racked up an expensive phone bill!!!
From Peach Springs the trailhead is 66 miles away at the end of highway 18; it’s just a car park with restrooms and no water supply. We spent the night before the hike at the trailhead trying to sleep in the car, now when we first arrived we were worried that we were going to be the only crazy people sleeping in the car but over the next few hours several other cars pulled up. I was sat in the car in my penguin pj’s trying to go to sleep, madness! We didn’t get much sleep as people were coming and going till midnight then they start to get up from 3.30am to start their hike. We were up at 4am, a little grumpy from the lack of sleep but ready for the hike down.
The hike is 10 miles to the campground through Havasu Canyon which is subject to flash flooding. The hike down is an easy but long hike although you don’t get the vistas to entertain you like you do on the trails in Grand Canyon National Park. To be honest it was a boring hike, the only excitement was when the mules coming running by you or looking at some of the very unprepared hikers struggling along the trail. We arrived in the Supai village at 9am and checked in to the tourist office to obtain our camping pass and wristbands.
Your first views of the blue-green waters blow your mind, it really does look like you see in the pictures, they haven’t been enhanced. We passed Little/New Navajo Falls which were remodelled by the flash flooding in 2008 and then you are rewarded with Havasu falls, you have to see them to believe them; it’s like something out of a fairytale.
The hike down to Mooney falls is like an obstacle from the Tough Mudder course but it’s worth the effort, just take your time and focus on where you put your feet and hold on to the chains. We enjoyed swimming and cooling off in the waters, some people had inflatables to play on in the waters.
The time went by far too quickly and it was time for the 10 mile hike out, I can tell you it was a tough hike out, I could have done with checking in to a spa for a couple of days after this one! You can arrange for a mule to carry you and/or your pack in and out and there is an helicopter that will bring you out in 4 minutes which is a little quicker than the 5 hours it took us to hike out, but we are travelling on a budget so our poor legs had to carry us out, packs and all.
Was it worth the effort? Oh yes, this is one of most beautiful and remote places we have visited over the last 6 months. If you have this on your bucket list then start planning early and enjoy every second. Please show respect to the Havasupai Tribe, this is their land and they don’t have to let tourists visit.