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Steinbeck country is at its finest in springtime. The oak trees on the rolling hills around Salinas are surrounded by a haze of purplish blue lupin. March is probably the best time to see the wildflowers bloom. Take the Monterey-Salinas Highway, Route 68, which exits Route 1 and continues for 17 miles (27 km) to Salinas.  Get off the main road at Corral De Tierra or San Benancio, to get into the hills for sublime views. New golf courses and macmansions are invading the territory so enjoy while it lasts.

Fields of lupin near Salinas

Fields of lupin near Salinas

For local dining, several places come to mind. Contemporary American cuisine finds its home at Hullaballoo, on Main Street in Oldtown Salinas. A few doors away is Shogun Japanese Cuisine, always reliable for sushi. In hot, dry Salinas, it is easy to forget that fish is hauled in at Monterey Bay less than an hour away. For authentic Mexican, my favorite is Mi Tierra on E. Gabilan St. This family run restaurant serves a spicy, tender birria on Saturdays and Sundays. This traditional goat stew is made with dried chiles, tomatoes and oregano, ingredients that perfectly capture the essence of the local Mediterranean climate. Chips arrive at the table with 3 salsas. The horchata, a sweet and cold rice drink, is the perfect beverage for such a meal.

If spending the day at Kauai’s North Shore beaches like Lumaha’i, Ke’e or Ha’ena, you should get lunch in Hanalei or get provisioned for your own picnic. Kalypso Island Bar & Grill (Kuhio Highway at Aku Road) has a moderate priced-for Hawaii–menu. You can get decent fish and chips. This place is unavoidably touristy.

Basic fish and chips in Hanalei

Basic fish and chips in Hanalei

I prefer to get clever and delicious local inventions like Kalo Kooler (taro smoothie) and Taro Hummus at Hanalei Taro & Juice Company’s stand (on Kuhio between Aku and Ohiki Roads).

For fine dining, go to Postcards Café. It is only open for dinner so this casually elegant restaurant is a delightful choice for refueling after a day of swimming at the beach. They have a selection of fresh grilled fish and great taro fritters. Vegetarian and vegan choices are available. From their dessert offerings, the flavor of paradise is captured in their Lilikoi (passion fruit) mousse.

Bandelier has70 miles of trails across 33,000 acres of semi-arid canyons and mesa. Abundant and diverse wildlife can be observed in this spectacular region of the American South-west.

Cliffs with cave dwellings at Bandelier National Monument

Cliffs with cave dwellings at Bandelier National Monument

An added bonus is the excavated settlement of Ancestral Pueblo people at Frijoles Canyon. Some dwellings are created out of cavities in the ancient volcanic rock cliffs, and are reached by ladders. Other buildings are built of stones.

Excavated stone dwelling in Bandelier National Monument

Excavated stone dwelling in Bandelier National Monument

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