This small county park is a bit more than an hour’s drive south of San Francisco. It is hidden in the Santa Cruz mountain redwoods but can be easily reached from either Interstate 280 or Highway 1.  You will encounter very few people on the trails even on a weekend. I like the mix of shady forest and open sunlit meadows that provide views of redwood covered mountains in the distance.

Mountain and forest view from Sam McDonald Park

Mountain and forest view from Sam McDonald Park

As it is spring, the meadows are a lush green and it is very pleasant to lie on the soft grass and contemplate the view. By summer, the grass will dry to a brittle golden brown. A small cluster of old-growth redwoods can be seen at Heritage Grove.

Jack Brook Horse Camp is nestled in the hillside

Jack Brook Horse Camp is nestled in the hillside

An ideal spot to picnic in solitude is up at the Jack Brook Horse Camp with three small sites equipped with picnic tables. This location is much more attractive than the heavily shaded and noisy picnic areas around the Ranger Station’s parking lot. Apparently the horse camp is only operational from May 1st until November 15th so springtime is great for taking advantage of this space.

Overall the views at this park are pretty, but not jaw-dropping spectacular. This is simply a restful place to escape to when you need a quick getaway from urban life.

Drake's Bay from Elephant Seal Lookout at Chimney Rock

Drake's Bay from Elephant Seal Lookout at Chimney Rock

On the long road to the Point Reyes lighthouse, is a trail worth making into a side trip. Chimney Rock is a short trail high on a bluff with views of spring wildflowers and of Drake’s Bay with its elephant seals. The seals are visible from a lookout; access to the beach where the seals rest is prohibited.

An old US Coast Guard Lifeboat Station can be seen on this string of coves.

US Coastguard Lifeboat Station at Chimney Rock

Old US Coastguard Lifeboat Station in Drake's Bay

Springtime is a good time to visit as migrating whales can be seen off the coast. And the hillsides are colorfully blanketed with a variety of wildflowers.

Wild iris at Chimney Rock, Point Reyes

Wild iris at Chimney Rock, Point Reyes

When visiting Point Reyes north of San Francisco, I always yearn for fresh oysters. A convenient place to stop and indulge in such as fancy is the Farm House Restaurant in the hamlet-sized town of Olema. This restaurant is now part of small resort Point Reyes Seashore Lodge which also operates a conference center. As it was a mild spring afternoon, we sat outdoors on a terrace at the back of the restaurant. The terrace overlooks a well-kept garden with a creek, and the adjoining carpark.

Oysters by half or full dozen at this restaurant are offered raw with a cucumber mignonette sauce, fried with tartare sauce, and grilled as Oyster Sartains with a garlic butter heavily flavored by the Sartain’s chipotle barbeque sauce. I only tried the last two options. The fried oysters was the more successful dish as the batter was a crispy envelope that held each oyster moist inside with its juices. While I like barbeque flavors, the Sartain based sauce was a bit strong, overwhelming the delicate flavor of the oysters.

Grilled oysters with a barbeque sauce

Grilled oysters with a barbeque sauce

The oysters were described by the waiter as medium sized, but they were quite large. Drake’s Bay Family Farms where the oysters are harvested is nearby and is open to visitors.

Golden Gate Bridge from Marin Headlands, Marin County

Golden Gate Bridge from Marin Headlands, Marin County

This video was taken on Sunday, March 8, 2009.

It shows the trip from Marin County in the North, into San Francisco. The San Francisco skyline is visible for a few moments just above the railings on the left hand side of this Art Deco style bridge completed in 1937. The color is not really gold but a paint color called International Orange.

When you need a restful day by the seashore, Kauapea Beach, better known as Secret Beach, on Kaua’i fits the bill.

As access to the beach is not easy, it is relatively unpopulated compared to other local beaches. Between Kilauea and Princeville, this beach is reached from the dead-end of a dirt road with a very small parking lot. The trail down the cliff to the beach can be slippery after rain. And when does it not rain in Kaua’i? Hikers are rewarded with a long stretch of beautiful soft sand punctuated by a few outcroppings of black lava rock. Kilauea lighthouse can be seen in the distance on the right (east) and the condos of Princeville, on the left (west).

Secret Beach also known as Kauapea Beach

Secret Beach also known as Kauapea Beach

Grand vacation homes line the cliff edge along the beach. Thankfully, most of these are hidden behind the luxuriant screen of trees and shrubs growing on the steep hillside.

The spring rains stopped few days ago to let sunshine warm up San Francisco to 60°F (16°C) this Sunday. Cyclists, hikers, and motorists were out to enjoy the fine weather and scenery north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Wildflowers, especially California poppies, are starting to bloom on the hillsides.

The steep winding road along the Marin Headlands with view of Pacific Ocean

The steep winding road along the Marin Headlands with view of Pacific Ocean

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

Asheville offers beautiful scenery. The nearby Southern Appalachians can be hiked even in winter. The Biltmore Estate on the edge of town features America’s largest home, built in the Gilded Age by George Vanderbilt.

The Biltmore Estate has 8,000 beautiful acres of land to explore

The Biltmore Estate has 8,000 beautiful acres of land to explore


The 8,000 acres of perfectly groomed grounds are a pleasure to explore. A large glass-roofed Conservatory with heated rooms provides Biltmore House with both exotic and native flowers and plants in all seasons. Horseback riding, biking and fly-fishing are among the many outdoor activities available on the estate.

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