Surrounded by red rock and cowboy country, Sedona is a touristy town in the midst of some other-worldly scenery. One of the most popular activities involves off-road tours in pink jeeps.
Tuesday 29 August 2017
With striking red sandstone formations almost everywhere you look, Sedona is a memorable place to go for a drive or a cycle. Spiritualists have imbued this distinctive landscape with healing powers turning Sedona into something of a hotspot for health tourism.
If you can find a place to park on the right stretch of the A89, you scramble down to Oak Creek at the base of the canyon and have a dip in the water. The river is deep enough for teenagers to jump in and cool off. In August, you won't be alone.
Monday 28 August 2017
Labels: More walks
Although some sections of the South Rim can be mobbed in August and the heat can be intense, there are plenty of viewpoints where you can escape the crowds without hiking too far. With a bit of local knowledge, you may even locate the secluded, but spectacular Shoshone Point, which has been set-aside for booked functions. When this area hasn't been reserved, you can park your car at the start of the Shoshone trail (off Desert View Drive) and hike a kilometre or so through the woods to a rocky spur protruding out into the canyon. Although there may be a handful of fellow visitors, you'll find the experience quite different to the hustle and bustle near the visitor centre and the shuttle bus routes. If you suffer from vertigo, you might find the spur itself a bit scary, but it does offer sweeping 270 degree views of the awe-inspiring Arizona landscape.
About one hour drive from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, the Mountain Star is a holiday let in a very picturesque spot off the 180 Highway, at an altitude of 8,000 feet. A three bedroom property with a vast balcony, enormous windows and plenty of living space, the Mountain Star is one of a small cluster of houses in an open field with distant views of the San Francisco Peaks. However, the sense of space comes at a price - reaching the top floor bedroom, which isn't en-suite, involves scaling a ladder. The Mountain Star can also feel a little cluttered, but the contents are quirky and often useful. In fact, this charismatic property is equipped with telescopes for viewing the star-studded night sky, scores of DVDs, plenty of kitchenware and reasonable WiFi. An off-grid development made mostly of wood, the Mountain Star employs solar panels for power and water is delivered in tanks. Even so, it is a comfortable place to stay and the owner has plenty of good tips for making the most of your time at the Grand Canyon. A memorable rental property in a very memorable location. 8/10
Sunday 27 August 2017
Saturday 26 August 2017
Dating from the Depression era when America was emerging as a global power, the Hoover Dam took less than five years to build into the rugged and barren landscape south east of Las Vegas, where temperatures can soar into the forties in the summer. You can park your car for about ten bucks, but the one hour tour costs a further $15 a head. You can wander around parts of the creamy concrete structure without paying, but the best vantage points are off-limits without a tour ticket. Apparently the Hoover Dam has been rated by the American Society of Civil Engineers as one of America's Seven Modern Civil Engineering Wonders. And it still feels like something out of a 1970's sci-fi movie.
Friday 25 August 2017
Blessed with a warm climate, a south-facing coastline and views of rolling hills, Santa Barbara's waterfront is a picturesque and pleasant place for a stroll. The fine sands of the elongated East Beach and the shorter West Beach are separated by Stearns Wharf, a fairly uncommercial wooden pier jutting out into the ocean. Although you have to navigate some busy roads to get here from Santa Barba's downtown, it is well worth the walk - the sand can be almost empty even on sunny August days, leaving plenty of space for ball games and the like.
Built in 1929 in the Spanish colonial style, Santa Barbara's County Courthouse is freely open to the public. You can admire the atmospheric and spacious interior, which features elaborate frescos and tiling, and wrought-iron lamps, before climbing the clock tower for views across the rooftops of the city and down to the Pacific.
Thursday 24 August 2017
Dating from 1786, the Old Mission in Santa Barbara continues to house a small community of Franciscan friars, an atmospheric church and an evocative museum set in twelve acres of gardens, complete with some ancient trees. The museum recreates the threadbare living quarters of the eighteen century mission, while telling the story of the friars' partnership with the native Americans that lived in this region, the Chumash. Although you probably won't spend much more than an hour t the Old Mission, a visit is a good way to connect with Southern California's past, and is worth the $9 adult admission charge
Wednesday 23 August 2017
With the sardine canneries that used to line this waterfront long gone, Cannery Row is now firmly on the local tourist trail, which is anchored by the pricey, but prestigious, Monterey Bay Aquarium. Even so, this is a pleasant place to wander - many of the original buildings remain intact and now house boutiques and restaurants, and there are sweeping views across the bay. One focal point is the new bronze monument celebrating American writer John Steinbeck and other local heroes and entrepreneurs credited with reviving the locale following the collapse of the sardine industry. The street was renamed after Steinbeck's famous novel, Cannery Row, which is set in Monterey during the Great Depression in the thirties.
Tuesday 22 August 2017
The extensive fine white sand and tree-lined dunes on the crescent-shaped beach is one of the best reasons to visit Carmel. Although the golf course overlooks one stretch of the sand, the shoreline is pleasingly undeveloped and, even in August, there is plenty of space to sunbathe. When the kids get restless, they can climb a gnarled old cypress tree for a commanding view across the mile-long beach or play volleyball on one of the marked out courts.
A toll road that hugs the coastline between suburban Monterey and twee Carmel, the 17 Mile Drive is supposed to be a scenic delight. But when the sun isn't shining, it isn't that special. You can park your car at various vantage points and survey the Lone Cypress, Bird Rock and other low-key landmarks. Rather than paying the 10 dollar toll to take your car, consider riding it on a bike - the traffic moves slowly enough to make cycling the smooth tarmac reasonably safe.
Monday 21 August 2017
One of the cheaper whale watching tours operating out of Monterey, Chris's expeditions tend to employ a fairly compact boat with a single deck and limited seating. When the whales appear, you'll find yourself jostling for elbow room with your fellow passengers. And be warned it can be pretty chilly out in the bay, even in August, while some passengers can struggle with sea sickness. Yet the seasoned crew members are genuinely enthusiastic about the sea life out here and they get pretty animated when describing the habits of the whales that frequent the bountiful waters above the two mile deep Monterey Canyon. Although one of the skippers can trail off mid-sentence, they are a knowledgeable team and are in contact with other tours out in the bay. You are pretty likely to glimpse humpback whales, which are fairly common on this stretch of coastline, while some tours also encounter the massive blue whale and spot the sinister fin of a killer whale cutting through the sea. The boats have to keep a respectful distance, so bring along a pair of binoculars or a good zoom lens. The tour, which costs $39 for adults, takes about three hours and is good value by the standards of California's tourist industry. 8/10
Sunday 20 August 2017
A touristy town on California's central coast, Monterey has a broad sandy beach sheltered by handsome trees and a built-up bustling pier, known as Fisherman's Wharf. The waters around the pier can be thick with jellyfish, as well as being home to scores of sea lions, yachts and fishing trawlers. When the sun is out, a tour of the Municipal Beach and Wharf makes for a fine early evening stroll.
Saturday 19 August 2017
To get to Glacier Point, you either have to embark on a very tough hike up the Four Mile Trail (a gain of 975 metres) from Yosemite Valley or you drive a 16 mile cul-de-sac off the road down to Wawona. Although this vantage point can be busy even at 7pm in the evening, the views across this exceptional national park are wide-ranging, jaw-dropping and captivating. If you want to escape the crowds, Washburn Point, about a mile down the road, also offers some spectacular vistas, but has far less parking and is much, much quieter.
There are a handful of giant sequoia trees surviving in Tuolumne Grove in Yosemite National Park. You can reach the sequoias by strolling a mile or so down an old road into the valley. When you first see one of these ancient wonders, it will take your breath away - they are huge across every dimension. In the grove, you'll also find a couple of dead sequoias - one you can walk through and one lying prone, which you can climb on. The hike back up the road is physically demanding, but you will be glad you made the effort.
The popular and steep Mist Trail up to Nevada Fall makes for a memorable hike, taking in some majestic scenery. On route, you'll pass massive boulders strewn across the mountainside, clamber up spray-soaked steps and gape at the ever-present rainbows. Taking in two spectacular waterfalls, as well as various picturesque pools and footbridges, the Mist Trail is aptly named. Although the initial path to Venal Fall can get crowded, particularly in the afternoons, the numbers thin out as you embark on the second stage up to the crest of Nevada Fall. There are broad sweeping views from the top and plenty of stone slabs on which to sit and rest your weary legs. You can take the gentler, but longer, John Muir Trail back to the valley floor. After offering fresh vantage points of Nevada Fall and the mighty granite cliffs, this quieter trail follows a series of switch-backs down through the forest. Although the Mist Trail to the top of Nevada Falls is about 2.5 miles, the John Muir Trail back is four miles. During the course of the hike, you'll ascend and then descend 610 metres, so carry plenty of water and allow plenty of hours. But you'll enjoy almost every minute. 9/10
Friday 18 August 2017
Thursday 17 August 2017
A buzzy eatery swarming with twentysomethings, the Italian Homemade Company sells a selection of stock pasta dishes, salads and hot sandwiches for between 10 and 13 bucks. You place your order via an iPad, which asks you for a tip before you have even been served, and then hope you can find a place to sit. If you can secure a table, you'll find the pasta is fresh and tasty, while the sauces and accompaniments are generous, if a tad salty. You shouldn't go away hungry. The meatballs with Piadina flatbread ($13), for example, is a big plate of food. This isn't fine dining, but the Italian Homemade Company works well for families with ravenous teenagers. 7/10
Alamo Square Park is famous for its view of the Painted Ladies - an elegant row of pastel coloured nineteenth century houses that contrast with the twentieth century backdrop behind. But the lofty green space in the middle of the square offers fine vistas in nearly every direction. It makes for a memorable stop on any tour of San Francisco.
|With 46 million scientific specimens, the California Academy of Sciences claims to be the only place in the world to house an aquarium, planetarium, and natural history museum, all under one living roof. |
A bohemian American eatery offering a wide range of lunch and breakfast options, the 1428 Haight Patio Cafe & Crepery serves tasty fare in big portions at reasonable prices for San Fran. The menu features burgers, sandwiches, omelettes, crepes, salads, pancakes and more, with most dishes costing around 13 bucks, while tap water is available for free in big jugs. It also has a sunny patio at the back of the building where you can chill. All good. 8/10
Historically the beating heart of San Francisco's counter-culture, the Haight-Ashbury neighbourhood still draws hippies and bohemians to its quirky shops and restaurants. Squeezed between Golden Gate Park, Buena Vista Park and the Panhandle, this vibrant district is also in one of the greenest areas of the city. Awash with colour and full of character, Haight-Ashbury is a vibrant antidote to the soul-less malls of Middle America.
Wednesday 16 August 2017
The famous zig-zags of Lombard Street now thread through a luscious garden planted with flowers and shrubs. Although some high-tempo car chases have been filmed on this remarkable stretch of road, in reality this end of Lombard Street is much more tranquil than the western end of this lengthy thoroughfare, which runs right across San Francisco.
The largest Chinatown outside of Asia dates from California's Gold Rush in the mid-nineteenth century and feels deeply entrenched in the city. Right in the heart of San Francisco, Chinatown's alleyways and thoroughfares are an eclectic mix of Asian and American architecture. Although it is a major tourist destination, the district feels authentic and many of the shops and restaurants are aimed at locals, as much as visitors.
Seemingly one of the most popular tourist outings in San Francisco, biking the bridge involves hiring a hybrid from one of the many Blazing Saddles outlets in the centre of the city at considerable expense and then following a coastal trail from Fisherman's Wharf up to the Golden Gate Bridge. Although there is one section where you are supposed to walk and a couple of short climbs, it is an easy ride with fine views of the bay and the iconic landmark itself, mist permitting. Once you are on the bridge, you may have to share an enclosed path with pedestrians, while the traffic hurtles noisily past just beyond the barriers. Thankfully, you can stop in the sheltered sections underneath the towers and take in the distant view back to the city and contemplate the vertiginous drop into the waters below. On the other side, most people seem to ride down into the prosperous coastal town of Sausalito, get refreshments and then catch the ferry back. Beware, Sausalito has strict rules on where you can leave your bike and tries to charge you for parking, but there are some free berths next to some of the coffee shops and restaurants. If you choose to cycle back, the climb up to the bridge from Sausalito is quite tough, particularly if it is windy. If you can, bike the bridge in the morning because the bike/pedestrian path seems to get busier and busier as the day progresses.
A pricey and stylish coffee shop-cum-bakery, Cibo is a handy pit stop for tourists biking the Golden Gate bridge. Cycle parking is free and the coffee and sandwiches are pretty tasty, but the portions are small and you'll need to spend quite a few dollars to refuel properly.
Tuesday 15 August 2017
Barking, jostling and sleeping sea lions congregate around Pier 39 in San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf district. Some of the incumbents on the jetties go to great lengths to ensure their rivals can't join them, making for a captivating turf war.
Monday 7 August 2017
|The stretch between Burniston and Cloughton is one of the most open sections of the Cleveland Way, affording wide views of the landscape and Scarborough's castle and sea front in the distance.|