Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Resolutions

Well, the new year is almost upon us, so I guess it's time to make some resolutions. Now, generally I don't make resolutions, because I know I'm very unlikely to keep them. However, in the case of this blog, I will certainly make an effort to follow through.

I think my very first resolution would be to write more blog posts. California is a very large and diverse state and I have been there many times. I should be able to write more posts about places I have been, places I will be going, and places I'd like to go. I have a lot of pictures that I've taken, so should be able to post a lot of new photos, as well. After all, if a picture is worth a thousand words, then my thousands of pictures could tell an epic tale.

My second resolution will be one that I will try to keep as much as possible, but is dependent on vacation time from work and $$$. I would like to take more trips to California, or at least more than one this year. I will be going on another trip in less than three weeks. I am so looking forward to it for a variety of reasons (time away from work, time away from home, and my birthday.) So, if I have both the time and money available, I will certainly try to keep this resolution. After all, there is so much more I have to explore in California.

My third resolution will be to go to new places and see and do new things on my trip (or trips) to California. I've tended to go to the same places and do the same things on my various trips. I mean, if you find something you like to do or places you like to go, then why not go there and do those things? However, I know that there are so many other places I can go, so I should definitely start exploring them.

Well, there you have it, my New Year's resolutions for myself and my blog. Let's see how well I do at keeping them.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Sea Lions are Missing in San Francisco

Just a month or two ago there were record numbers of sea lions at Pier 39 in San Francisco. Now it seems they are all gone. I've been to Pier 39 when there have been lots of sea lions, as well as when there have been not so many. It's my understanding that the numbers are seasonal as the sea lions migrate for food or mating. However, the current situation seems to be unusual, since there don't appear to be any sea lions.

Pier 39's website has a live sea lion cam, however it is currently not operational as there are no sea lions to view. When you go to the sea lion cam page you get a couple photos of the sea lions and the following message:
Thanks for checking out PIER 39’s live sea lion web cam! Our sea lion friends are temporarily seeking out alternative food sources, but we expect them to return very soon. In the meantime, check out some photos we took of them over the past few months, and make sure to check back as we await their arrival back to PIER 39!
The sea lions were fun to watch and quite the tourist attraction. Pier 39 is home to the Sea Lion Cafe which is adjacent to the docks the sea lions normally habituate. I hope the sea lions return to Pier 39, because they are certainly not a sight to miss and one that will be missed if they don't return.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Countdown is On...20 Days to Go!

Well, in only 20 more days, I will be back in California. I'm looking forward to the visit for a variety of reasons, not least of which is that the weather will be somewhat better than in Ohio. Today, the temperature is going to be barely 30 for a high...well below the low for the day in San Francisco. So, whether it rains or shines for my vacation...I know it will always be better than home.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Researching Mendocino

Based on the recommendations of @PreppyDude on Twitter, I am planning to visit Mendocino County on my next vacation to California. So, I am currently doing some research on what Mendocino is all about. Mendocino is a Northern California coastal county in the heart of wine country. Besides wine, Mendocino is also known for crabs, whales, and mushrooms. Both wine and crabs are celebrated every January during the Mendocino Crab & Wine Festival. Mendocino is home to Ft. Bragg and has also been the home to legendary racehorse Seabiscuit and Jessica Fletcher--the main character on TV's "Murder She Wrote" (which was filmed in Mendocino.) One of the sights I am hopeful of seeing is the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, which is a 47-acre public garden located with direct ocean frontage. While I will be in California during the time-frame of the Crab & Wine Festival, I am doubtful that I will partake of the festivities as I don't really care for wine, nor do I eat crab. However, there are plenty of other things to see and do in Mendocino, so that I won't be missing out if I don't go to the festival. I look forward to exploring this new area and reporting back on what I see and do. Most of all, I look forward to capturing some of the wildly beautiful scenery and sharing it with you.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

California's On the Horizon...Where Should I Go?

I will be making a return visit to the Bay Area in January and am looking for some new places to go. I've been told that I should go to Mendocino, so I definitely plan to check it out as I have not been that far north yet. I am, as always, looking forward to my trip (especially since California will be nicer than Ohio in January). This time, I'm especially excited, because I plan to visit the deYoung's exhibit: Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs. I'm also excited, because I scored a ticket with frequent flyer miles, making my trip more affordable. I plan to spend the next month or so before my trip researching new places to go and new things to see. If you have any suggestions, let me know. I also plan to visit my favorite Taco Bell in Pacifica since I haven't been there for a while.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Help Keep California Parks Open

As reported in an earlier post the California State Park system, like the rest of California, is in a budget crisis. On November 3, Save the Redwoods League and partners filed language to put a measure on the 2010 ballot that would ensure stable funding and protect wildlife in the chronically underfunded California state parks.

As part of state-wide budget cuts, nearly 60 state parks will be shut down part-time or will have reduced hours of operation. It is expected that more budget cuts (thus reducing operations even more) will occur next year. It is extremely unfortunate that at a time when usage of state parks has increased, funding has decreased. Due to personal budget constraints people are staying closer to home for vacations, thus using the natural resources available to them at home...such as the California State Parks. It is extremely important, not only for California residents, but for future tourism in the state, that the parks are kept open and available for use by the public.

In response to this major issue, Save the Redwoods League, California State Parks Foundation and The Nature Conservancy prepared the statewide ballot measure called "California State Parks and Wildlife Conservation Trust Fund Act of 2010." If the measure is passed by voters it will provide funding for the state park system and wildlife conservation through an annual State Park Access Pass which will cost only $18.

So, if you are a California resident, get involved and help save your state parks. You can visit the websites of the various organizations supporting the ballot measure to find out how you can help. If you don't live in California, but respect the natural resource that is the California State Parks, then donate to one of the organizations supporting the ballot measure. These organizations work to preserve our natural resources and conserve wildlife. As a traveler to California, I appreciate the natural beauty of the California landscape and look forward to having the opportunity to enjoy these resources. If funding is not reinstated to the California State Parks, then the opportunity for anyone to enjoy these natural resources will be severely limited, if not eliminated.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Gavin Newsom Withdraws as Candidate for California Governor

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has withdrawn from the race for governor of California. His official statement follows:

It is with great regret I announce today that I am withdrawing from the race for governor of California. With a young family and responsibilities at city hall, I have found it impossible to commit the time required to complete this effort the way it needs to — and should be — done.

This is not an easy decision. But it is one made with the best intentions for my wife, my daughter, the residents of the city and county of San Francisco, and California Democrats.

When I embarked on this campaign in April, my goal was to engage thousands and thousands of Californians dedicated to reforming our broken system and bringing change to Sacramento.

I would like to thank those supporters, volunteers, and donors who have worked so hard on my behalf. I have been humbled by their support and am indebted to their efforts. They represent the spirit of change and determination essential to putting California back on the right track.

I will continue to fight for change and the causes and issues for which I care deeply — universal health care, a cleaner environment and a green economy for our families, better education for our children, and, of course, equal rights under the law for all citizens.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Happy 25th Birthday to the Monterey Bay Aquarium

The Monterey Bay Aquarium turns 25 today. The aquarium ha welcomed over 46 million visitors in their 25 years of operation. They have also distributed over 32 million Seafood Watch guides in the ten years since it was created. The aquarium is routinely ranked as the No. 1 aquarium in the country.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is the only institution to successfully exhibit great white sharks and has also been a pioneer of jellyfish exhibits inspiring other similar exhibits around the world. In fact, the new jellyfish exhibit at the Newport Aquarium (KY) in the Greater Cincinnati area looks quite like the Monterey Bay Aquarium's past exhibit "Jellies: Living Art" (now an online only exhibit.)

The aquarium website features an interactive timeline of major milestones from inspiration, to construction to the present day.

So wish the Monterey Bay Aquarium a Happy 25th Birthday, and, if you are a Monterey County resident, you can come and celebrate free of charge (you'll just need to bring proof of residence.) The aquarium will also have a special feeding at the Kelp Forest exhibit at 11:30 a.m. According to the aquarium's Sea Notes blog: "rumor has it, the fish are getting a special birthday cake, and there’s definitely human cake for the first 2,500 guests. We hope you can join us, in person or online."

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Destination Deviation: Charleston, South Carolina - Part V

Like both Monterey and San Francisco, Charleston is home to restaurants serving fresh local seafood. Just as in both of those cities there are good places to go and bad places to go. One of the places I would not recommend is the Noisy Oyster on Market at East Bay. While the restaurant looked enticing, with its large open windows and kitschy fishing decor, the food was not as good. All of the fish served on the menu was on the Seafood Watch "avoid" list. I guess the local catches are not necessarily the best option. Also, the restaurant didn't really have any vegetarian choices.

The Noisy Oyster interior.

On the other hand, I definitely recommend Slightly North of Broad (SNOB). This restaurant is on of Charleston's best. It was so good, I ate there twice. They had the best vegetable plate I've ever had and the items on the plate were all prepared perfectly. The restaurant is located on East Bay just down from Market Street and is one of many dining choices in that area. The SNOB building has a nice ambiance as it is located in a 19th century brick warehouse. The restaurant features an open kitchen with a large chef's table located right outside of the kitchen Slightly North of Broad uses fresh local ingredients and is a modern twist on traditional Low Country cooking. The BF had the prime rib dinner special on Tuesday and said it was the best prime rib he'd ever had. The second time we ate there he had the rack of lamb and, once again, said it was the best ever.

The BEST veggie plate ever!

One of the other restaurants I ate at was T-Bonz Gill & Grill on N. Market Street. It is part of a small regional chain, which I didn't know at the time. The food was decent, but the building it was located in was even better, being an old brick building with open beams.

The East Bay Deli (on East Bay) is in a little strip mall, so is definitely away from the typical tourist stops in Charleston; however, it is definitely worth the visit. I had a fantastic veggie wrap sandwich as they have a very vegetarian-friendly menu. Judging by the lunch crowd, it is a popular spot with the locals.

Unfortunately, I did not have enough time to try any of the other great restaurants in Charleston, but two locals recommended Basil as the best Thai restaurant in Charleston. I only wish I had been able to eat there.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Destination Deviation: Charleston, South Carolina - Part IV

Charleston, like Monterey, has an aquarium. While nothing can compare to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the South Carolina Aquarium is a nice aquarium to visit and has a lot of activities for kids. After all, what aquarium isn't nice that contains otters? The South Carolina is home to a couple of super cute river otters.

There is a salt marsh exhibit with free roaming birds. The little duck in the picture below was trooping around on the exhibit walkway. I was attacked by her from behind. She came up and nipped my leg...I was quite startled. So, if you're going to the South Carolina Aquarium, make sure you watch out for the attack duck. ;-)

I was luck enough to see feeding time in the octopus tank. When the octopus gets food, he turns a red color. It was quite interesting to see. What was even more interesting was to see the flounders in the same tank and what voracious eaters they were.

I always enjoy the jellies. There was a small jelly display at the aquarium, but it can't compare to the exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. However, I always enjoy watching jellies as there is something very peaceful in their motions.

The South Carolina Aquarium is home to a turtle hospital as part of its Sea Turtle Rescue Program. There was a tank in one of the exhibits which had some adorable baby sea turtles, but they moved so quickly it was difficult to get a picture of them that wasn't blurry. In the Great Ocean Tank you can see an adult see turtle. The Aquarium's Great Ocean Tank is the largest exhibit in the aquarium and can be seen on both floors; it is the tallest tank in North America at 42 feet high.

The Aquarium recently opened the Penguin Planet exhibit, but I was not very impressed by it. I only saw three penguins (there's apparently four) and the display and the penguins appeared quite filthy.

All-in-all the the South Carolina Aquarium was a pretty nice aquarium...not as large, of course, as the aquarium in Monterey, but definitely worth going to.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Destination Deviation: Charleston, South Carolina - Part III

Middleton Place's remaining structure was restored and used as a home.

There are many interesting places to visit in the Charleston area. Choosing what to do is only a matter or interests, time, and money. The Charleston area is home to many plantations and historic homes. Some of the places you can visit in the historic district are the Aiken-Rhett House and the Nathaniel Russell House, both of these houses are run by the Historic Charleston Foundation. You can purchase tickets individually or you can purchase a combo ticket for a discount. Also in the historic district are the Heyward-Washington House and the Joseph Manigault House, which are operated by the Charleston Museum. For these places, you can purchase individual tickets or combo tickets to two or all three sites. I have been to all of these places in the past and they are definitely worth visiting. Another historic home in Charleston that you can visit is the Edmonston-Alston House, which is run by the Middleton Place Foundation.

The dining room at Middleton Place

Middleton Place bedroom dressed for summer usage.

Charleston being in the South, there are penty of former plantations in the area to visit. Some of those are Boone Hall Plantation located in Mt. Pleasant and Cypress Gardens in Moncks Corner. There are also the plantations located inthe West Ashley area along Ashley River Road: Drayton Hall, Magnolia Plantation, and Middleton Place. Each of these historic plantations have something different to offer the visitor. I've been to all of them at some point, except for Drayton Hall. Drayton Hall is run by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and is an original structure that has been preserved, but not restored. On this visit to Charleston, I chose to go to the Middleton Place Plantation. There are several activities and tours that you can take, each coming with a cost, but you can purchase a combo ticket for a discount. The rather hefty $25 admission fee only gets you into the grounds, which are quite extensive with 65 acres of formal landscaped gardens; there is a Garden Overview Tour and an African American Focus tour which is included. You need to purchase a ticket for the guided house tour and there is also a carriage tour (separate cost) which takes you through the area where rice used to be planted, as well as a bamboo forest. The carriage tour is a good starting point for your exploration of Middleton Place as you get an overview of the plantation's history and the history of the Middleton family. The house tour provides you a glimpse into the various Middleton family generations, as well as a taste of the opulence in which the wealthy plantation owners lived. You can spend a couple of hours or all day at Middleton Place. They even have a restaurant on site which is open for lunch or dinner.

The Ravenal Bridge opened in 2005

Dolphins rule Charleston Harbor

Also in the Charleston area is the USS Yorktown, a decommissioned naval aircraft carrier located at Patriot's Point in Mt. Pleasant. Mt. Pleasant is located across the Cooper River from Charleston and Patriot's Point is the first exit off of the Arthur Ravenal Jr. Bridge. At Patriot's Point you can visit the USS Yorktown; the Congressional Medal of Honor Museum, located on the Yorktown; and the USS Clamagore, a decommissioned submarine used during the Cold War. At Patriot's Point you can also board a boat for a tour of Charleston Harbor or for the ride over to Ft. Sumter. SpiritLine Cruises is the official concessionaire of Ft. Sumter for public transportation to the historic fort located in Charleston Harbor. They also have a boarding point for both tours at the Aquarium Wharf. The Charleston Harbor tour is about an hour and a half long round trip from either departure point. I happened to get on at Patriot's Point, which is a good place to go from as they have a $3 flat rate for parking with the lot being open from 8:30
AM to 7 PM.

The last official duty of the USS Yorktown was to bring in the Apollo 8 astronauts and capsule.

Ft. Sumter sits at the opening of Charleston Harbor

Besides visiting Ft. Sumter, which is only accessible by boat, you can also visit Ft. Moultrie, which is located on Sullivan's Island and accessible from Mt. Pleasant. Ft. Moultrie was used in both the American Revolutionary and Civil wars. It was "modernized" in the late 1800's and was lastly an important part of coastal defence during World War II. The fort was used by the Army for 171 years as an important part of the coastal defence system. It was turned over to the National Park Service in 1960.

My favorite beach in Charleston is Folly Beach. There is plenty of public access to this beautiful beach at the "Edge of America." The Folly Beach Fishing Pier is very popular with fisherman and is the second longest pier on the east coast.

Mercer-Williams House

Fountain in Forsythe Park

Charleston is within easy driving distance of Savannah, Georgia. If you have the time, definitely take a day trip (or even half a day, since it's so close) down to Savannah. Savannah is a beautiful old Southern city and quite similar to Charleston. Savannah was a planned city and is proliferated by 21 public squares (there were originally 24), which are surrounded by gorgeous old homes. Among the historic home you can visit are the Juliette Gordon Low birthplace (founder of the Girl Scouts) and the Mercer-Williams House (built for the great-grandfather of songwriter Johnny Mercer made famous by the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Savannah is situated on a river and cobblestoned River Street is home to many souvenir shops, hotels, restaurants, and more. I ate dinner at Huey's Southern Cafe on River Street which serves authentic New Orleans Creole and Cajun food. Huey's actually serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner and is situated as part of the River Street Inn. My meal at Huey's was the first time that I ever ate grits (a favorite dish in the South) and they were excellent!

Salmon, spinach and Parmesan garlic grits. Yum!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Destination Deviation: Charleston, South Carolina - Part II

In Charleston one of the best ways to get a little bit of history and a lay of the land is to take a carriage ride. There are a number of carriage tour companies to choose from. I went on the the Olde Towne Carriage Company tour. The carriage companies are located on streets surrounding the market. Olde Towne is located on Anson Street.

Larry the Belgian Draft Horse

The carriage companies in Charleston employ a lottery system for tour routes, so you never know which of the three tour routes you may go on. This system is in place so that the number of carriages on any given route is controlled so as to not interfere with auto traffic nor to endanger the horses and their cargo. The guides provide a general history of Charleston, as well as specific information about the buildings and other sights along your tour route.

The Old City Jail is said to be the most haunted building in Charleston.

The carriage companies are located on the streets near the market. While in the vicinity, definitely visit the old market. The market is filled on a daily basis with vendors selling a variety of wares. You can find sweetgrass baskets throughtout the market, as well as typical tourist souveniers, photography and other artwork, food items, and those items typically found in a flea market (pashminas, sunglasses, and more).

The area below the white paint in the above photo shows the high water mark from Hurricane Hugo in 1989. The coastal South Carolina area near Charleston is called the Low Country due to much of it being near or below sea level. The nearby tidal areas can often be under water at high tide. Due to the low land level, the market area is prone to flooding.

Besides carriage tours, there are a variety of companies that offer walking tours of Charleston. If you don't want to take a walking tour during the day, these same tour companies offer ghost tours in the evening as Charleston is supposed to be one of the most haunted cities in the U.S. I've been on ghost walks in Charleston twice, on this most recent visit I went on the Bulldog Tours' Charleston Ghost & Graveyard Tour. The tour guide takes you to some of the most haunted spots in Charleston, including a graveyard or two. Our guide, Anna, told some of the history of Charleston, as well as the stories behind the alleged hauntings on our tour stops. The tours are conducted in small groups and advance reservations are definitely recommended. While it was kind of creepy walking through a graveyard at night (after 9 PM), we did not see any ghosts, nor did I capture any with my camera.

Bulldog Tours is the only company that actually takes you on a tour of the Old City Jail. The Old City Jail is said to be the most haunted location in Charleston. Apparently there are only three tour guides who actually conduct this tour. I did not go on the jail tour (I'm kind of a wimp in that regard), but a couple who was on the graveyard tour with me said that the jail tour was much better and seemed to have some activity. They caught a number of orbs on their tour, especially around the gallows.