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Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Here are some tips I've learned...sometimes the hard way.
Bring your confirmation - If you get a confirmation via e-mail, print it. If you make a phone reservation, make sure they send you a printed confirmation. BRING IT WITH YOU. I always do this...and end up not needing it. That is until the one time I forgot.
Recently, I had a reservation for a suite for $90 a night, Thursday through Sunday. With taxes and one room service charge, the bill came to just over $300, or it should have. I was presented with a $550 bill at check out and when I complained, I was told that the special rate wast just for a regular room, the suite was more, and, on top of that, only good for midweek so the weekend rate was charge at the rack rate of $230 a night.
I didn't have my confirmation. I didn't have a way to retrieve it (it was on my work e-mail). I didn't have a prayer.
Tip the maid...everyday! Leave a couple of dollars on the pillow. Don't wait until you check out. Appreciative maids clean rooms better and leave you better toiletries. If you can't tip...you shouldn't be staying there anyway.
Compare total cost - Paying an extra twenty dollars for a suite with a full, hot breakfast will beat a room at the Motel 6, such is the case at many destinations.
As an example, I can get a very nice, large room for around $80 or a two-room suite for around $100 at most Drury Inns. Sounds a bit expensive until you include an expansive hot breakfast buffet for everyone in the room; a light dinner; three cocktails; unlimited popcorn and soda from afternoon to the evening; free wired or wireless Internet; free use of their Internet terminals; free long distance calls; free local calls; pool, spa, and fitness room.
How much extra would all that cost at a cheap, motel?
Any tips you want to share?
-DarrylCopyright 2011 - Darryl Musick
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Thursday, September 22, 2011
We've been covering our home state of California with a summer long series of reports up and down the Golden State. That summer long tour concludes today with the finale of our trip to the Monterey Peninsula and the cities of Carmel, Pacific Grove, and Monterey. Hope you had fun on this trip, be sure to let us know via the comment link at the end of the report.
In Part One of our Monterey Peninsula trip, we dodged poison oak to get breathtaking ocean views, had breakfast in a patio across the street from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and walked the streets of Carmel. Now on to part two...
The next morning we have an even better breakfast at Toasties, a comfortable and cozy diner parked in an old house in downtown Pacific Grove on Lighthouse Avenue.
Omelets filled with chorizo and avocado accompanied with silver dollar pancakes, along with French toast for Letty, make a great start to the day.
Monterey Peninsula Video
Watch the Video!
Passionfish…our favorite area dinner house…is across the street. Tim, having heard us rave about it for years, says he wouldn’t mind giving it a try.
This is a surprise as Tim would not usually volunteer to eat at a mainly seafood restaurant.
Our plan today was to go to the fair and load up on the fair food as our lunch and dinner. This throws a happy kink into our plans as I was lamenting not being able to eat there this trip.
“If I can get a reservation, we’ll go for dinner,” I tell Tim and Letty.
Walking across the street, I see there’s no one inside. There’s not a phone number printed on the sign or the menu posted on the door. Should we just try our luck later…on a Saturday night…to see if they have a table available? Sounds very iffy to me.
Letty goes to a stand of newspaper machines nearby and pulls out one of the local freebie flyers. We’re in luck…Passionfish has an ad in it with their phone number.
Driving off to the fair, I call the number and leave a reservation request on their voice mail.
We get to the fairgrounds about a half hour before opening at noon. Even now, there is no parking available at all. Probably due to the fact that this facility has no parking lot…it’s all adjacent street parking.
Remote parking is available…with a wheelchair accessible shuttle too…but we could not find any confirmation at the time that the shuttle was available. We end up parking about a quarter mile away on a side street and walk in.
The fairgrounds here are small, a long narrow strip about two blocks long. There are exhibit buildings and a kids carnival at one end, a lot of food and drink booths clustered around the entrance in the middle, and the animal exhibits, the main carnival, and an arena at the other end.
The arena, quiet while we’re there, is also home of the historic Monterey Jazz Festival which has featured some great performances over the years including Jimi Hendrix’s historic performance back in the 60’s.
After watching a local dance troupe perform, we wander around a few exhibit buildings ending up at the Agriculture building where, in addition to seeing blue ribbon winning produce, there’s a farmers market stand where you can actually buy the produce…pretty cheaply too!
I get a quartered navel orange in a plastic bag for a quarter. Nearby is a table giving away samples of berries. Strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries…all very delicious and, even better, free.
Back in the mid section, the local high school wrestling team sells fried calamari. It’s sort of a famous tradition here at this fair. I’m not a seafood lover but I buy some for Tim and Letty, who seem to really like it. I try a piece, just to shut them up. It’s good…really good. I want more. It’s some of the best fair food I’ve ever had.
We get to the other end of the fair to check out the animals. Cows lick our hands, goats climb up the side of their pens hoping for a neck scratch, and lambs want to see what we smell like.
It’s all a lot of fun…just wish they had better parking.
After a fun-filled day at the fair, we head over to Passionfish for dinner. We’d gotten a call while at the fair saying the only time they could seat us was 5:30 so off we went.
Dinner was excellent and it’s nice to see how this place has taken off over the years. I see we’re not the only ones who think it’s the best the area has to offer.
With plates of scallops, braised lamb, and duck confit preceded by an appetizer of prosciutto wrapped dates, we were overwhelmed with the deep flavors and fun atmosphere of Passionfish.
Copyright 2011 – Darryl MusickAll Rights Reserved
Thursday, September 15, 2011
We live in beach country. No, we don’t live on the water or even particularly close but a half hour drive down the freeway and there we are.
So what are our favorite beaches in Southern California? Not too many that tourists come to see. Santa Monica is OK, Venice is a bit too weird for us, Malibu’s just too hard to get to…especially in a wheelchair.
Watch the Video!
Some of you are scratching your heads and wondering just what’s left. Plenty. Read on, watch the video above, and you’ll find our choices for the best beaches in Southern California.
Starting at the south end of Orange County, one very well-known and popular beach starts us off. Laguna Beach is an artsy town full of coves popular with snorkelers and scuba divers. The main beach is a people watcher’s paradise.
Nearby, artist Robert Wyland…the famous painter of whale murals around the world…lives on the waterfront. On the lower floor of the house is his office, a shop, and a hallway leading out to his terrace on the sand. You’re welcome to spend some time relaxing there, looking through his telescope, and just drinking in the view.
As with most area beaches, parking is tough but you should be able to find something.
Up the coast is ritzy Newport Beach. Waterfront mansions abut expensive shopping malls and high end restaurants. In the middle of all this is Balboa Peninsula which protects Newport’s harbor.
In from the peninsula is tiny Balboa Island reachable by bridge from Pacific Coast Highway. That’s the boring way. Instead we launch from the Fun Zone amusement park on the little Balboa Island Auto Ferry, a barge-like boat that has been floating cars…three at a time…across the channel for almost a century.
Huntington Beach, incorporated in 1909, struck oil…literally. Pumps are sprinkled through the town, which has now grown into a city with a population approaching 200,000. World renowned for its surf, it is not uncommon for major surfing championships to draw over 100,000 spectators.
The wheelchair friendly concrete pier allows good, close-up views of the local surfers tackling the swells.
Beginning surfers find the gentler swells and small town atmosphere of Seal Beach more welcoming than its big neighbor to the south. We like it for the number of great restaurants and laid-back ambiance. A winter’s night dinner by the fireplace at O’Malley’s Pub on Main Street, followed by an evening stroll to the pier is about as good as it gets.
Across the county line from Seal Beach, Long Beach is the largest waterfront city in California except for San Francisco. It’s also the 7th largest city in the state, just ahead of Oakland and just behind Sacramento with around half a million people living there.
There truly is a long beach here but the port’s breakwater kills any ideas of waves. While not popular with the surf culture, families with kids flock here for uncrowded beaches with safe waters. At the sailing center in Alamitos Bay, the sand on the beach is packed hard enough for wheelchairs to roll on.
We like to take in a dinner in Belmont Shore or Naples Island and stroll along the waterfront mansions nearby.
Palos Verdes Peninsula is one of the last wild stretches of coastline here. From San Pedro to Torrance, the road hugs the coastal cliffs as it winds through cove after cove. In the middle, the Point Vicente visitor’s center provides a nice place to whale watch, have a picnic, and even access to a small beach nearby.
The views of Catalina and the neighboring lighthouse are spectacular on clear days.
Our tour ends just to the north at Tim’s favorite beach, Redondo. Along with a nice stretch of sand, we like it for the pier which is loaded with shops, restaurants, bars, and attractions.
After buying Letty a pearl at the oyster shop, we’ll have dinner at one of our favorite restaurants…either Kincaid’s on the pier or Gambrinus in the neighboring marina. Our food is digested with a lingering stroll around the pier before going home.
Next time you’re in the area, take some time to explore one of these great ocean side destinations away from the usual tourist trail…maybe we’ll see you there.
Copyright 2011 – Darryl Musick
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Monday, September 12, 2011
While we're waiting for all the stars to align for our next big new post, we went ahead and made another one for you...
Most people come to Los Angeles and head for the beach, specifically they head in vast numbers to Venice and the great, old pier at the end of Route 66 in Santa Monica.
Take a quick lap around the pier with our video "One Lap of the Redondo Pier"!
Admittedly, it is a great pier but there's one a little farther south that we enjoy more.
Go south on the 405 or 110. Get off at Torrance Boulevard and head west. Six and a half miles later, the road will end at the parking lot of Redondo Beach Pier. Go right in...parking rates are reasonable and, if you have a disabled placard, it's free on the weekends (show your placard to the attendant at the exit, they will have you sign a statement that you're not trying to cheat them).
Originally built in the 1890's, the pier developed its unique horsehoe shape when two neighboring wharves merged. It became very popular in the 1970's due to the large number of shops, restaurants, nightclubs, and bars perched over the water. In 1988, a large part of the pier burned to the waterline. A newly rebuild pier opened up in 1995. Only one business, Kincaid's restaurant, was built on the new section. The empty, concrete pier beyond Kincaids is the portion that burned down.
Still, it's quite a place to visit with a cluster of shops, eateries, and bars at one end and another section in the decidedly lower rent section officially know as the International Boardwalk surrounding the marina.
Two of our favorite restaurants are here. Tonight we're dining at Gambrinus.
Gambrinus is a very reasonably priced Russian restaurant named after a popular Czech beer. They have a number of beers available. The taps are a mostly American selection with a few premiums, with a couple of very good Czech selections. The bottled beer selection is a vast collection of European beers with special emphasis on Eastern European brews.
It's a tiny place, just 4 booths that will handle a wheelchair with another few tall bar tables and stools. It's right on the water in the marina and offers some good sea views. Tonight, there was also a very good jazz duo playing.
We like to start off with their dark Russian bread appetizer that's deep-fried and infused with garlic. It's wonderful.
For dinner, we'll each get an entree and pick from all of them, kind of like tapas. Tonight it's a tasty and delicately flavored fish and chips dish. Very tasty, I even liked it and I can't stand fish. Also, we had this pork kebab dish that featured pieces of pork cooked with what tasted like pickled tomatoes. It was also very good, especially the roasted potatoes that came on the side.
Our third dish was Pirozki, meated cooked in a puff pastry that was incredibly light and flaky.
After dinner, we walked around the pier checking out the various seafood stands.
For the kids, there is a large arcade featuring a Tilt-A-Whirl. Hollywood loves this location and films frequently here...it was featured prominently in Season 4 of Dexter.
A little further along, we get to the new part of the pier.
Here is our other favorite restaurant here, Kincaid's. Known for there melt-in-your-mouth prime rib, the food and service here is excellent. The prime rib is a bit on the pricey side though. Fortunately, they also have a chef who's a master at Southern cooking. The etoufee here is outstanding as is their version of chicken and waffles...which is better than Roscoe's in my opinion...and is only $21.
Further along is the old part of the pier.
It is dominated by Tony's, an old tiki bar that is popular with the tourists, especially the crow's nest bar on top. Unfortunately, the crow's nest is not wheelchair accessible.
Here is where you go into Tony's.
The beach is to the south ending at the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
Seafood is very popular here. You can see that this area is very well-liked by the local Asian population.
Here is a peek into their kitchen.
There are a number of bars and nightclubs featuring live entertainment here but don't overdo it or you could end up here.
And that's our look at the Redondo Beach Pier, named by Tim as his favorite Southern California beach destination.
Redondo Beach Pier is at the western end of Torrance Bl. in Redondo Beach, California. It is also accessible by wheelchair accessible bus transportation via Metro line 130 (from the Artesia Transit Center end of the Silver Line), Beach Cities Transit line 102 (from the Green Line Redondo Beach Station), and Torrance Transit lines 3 & 7.
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