Dispatches from Darya Mead

As a rule I tend to avoid tourist hotspots, but sometimes it is fun to be a tourist in your own city. On a recent #OrangeFriday, (when San Francisco Giants players wear orange jerseys and fans do the same on Fridays during the season) I escorted two 10-year-old baseball fans on a Duck Boat Tour to McCovey Cove. The small cove next to the ballpark hosts a multitude of kayakers, paddle boarders and cocktail cruisers, and we were going to join them on a land- and sea-worthy Duck Boat.

We boarded the bus/boat at Fisherman’s Wharf all bundled up for the three-hour tour. I would recommend eating before or bringing a very portable picnic on the ride. The open air Duck Boat, based on the famous World War II amphibious design, was a fun way to travel and the kitschy mood on board was infectious. The driver was cheeky and cheesy but all in all he was quite entertaining.

We drove through North Beach and Chinatown, the Financial District and some of SOMA, till we plunged into the Bay, adding a Coast Guard trained guy to assist the one-man crew. It was a beautifully clear, warm night and as the sun set, the orange light twinkled on the Bay. The captain let the boys drive in the water and peppered the crowd with historical and amusing tidbits about the city. He was a one-man band, often cutting away to an appropriate tune: Otis Redding’s classic, Janis Joplin and other San Francisco inspired songs.

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Leave a Comment | Filed Under Cruises, Day Trips, Family Travel, San Francisco

This year marks the Centenary of the start of World War One, often called the “Great War” or the “War to End all Wars.” It’s a sobering occasion in Europe, where so many lives were lost and where so many enmities still exist or have been rekindled of late. With tensions ratcheting up in Ukraine and Eastern Europe once again, perhaps lessons learned from WWI can help de-escalate the situation.

The last surviving WWI veterans have passed, and a number of wars have come and gone in the wake of what was, at the time, just called “The World War.” Europe is gearing up to commemorate the deadly conflict, a tightrope walk for sure, without opening up new wounds. Lessons from such a devastating global event reverberate today.

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Leave a Comment | Filed Under Battlefields, England, Europe, France, Germany, United Kingdom, World War One

I have fond memories of dressing up to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC with my family or friends, and eating in the fancy cafe with marble statues and fountains. I stared at the coins in the water, thinking about how rich I would be if I could collect all the change. I can still look down and see my shiny black patent leather Mary Jane shoes scuffing along the marble. I don’t know what I ate but it was probably a tuna sandwich or BLT, something mundane, despite the posh surroundings.

Later, when I became a parent, I started packing lunches to save money, because I was unwilling to spend top dollar on crappy food, on top of the skyrocketing museum entrance fees. As my kids have grown, and museums have become more accessible again, I am pleasantly surprised by a renaissance in museum cafes. Gone are many of the gross cafeteria-style money pits and instead, some quite lovely cafes with Old World charm and even eateries with hip, family friendly fare have sprouted up. Continue reading »

1 Comment | Filed Under Budget Travel, Cafe, California, Family Travel, Food, Manhattan, Museum, New York, Restaurants

With the Sochi Winter Olympics just weeks away, interest is heating up for some of the lesser known winter sports. On a recent trip to Lake Tahoe, California for some winter fun, I was thrilled to find a cross country skiing venue with an Olympic pedigree.

Despite the disturbing lack of snow this year, Sugar Pine Point State Park, on Tahoe’s West Shore and home to the 1960 Squaw Valley Winter Olympic Nordic Ski courses, was a great option to find pristine trails. More than 50 years ago, when the Olympics were less of a circus, the land that is now Sugar Pine Point State Park welcomed athletes from around the world, promoting international goodwill and the majesty of the sport.

Athletes raced over 35.4 miles of trail through the General and McKinney Creek areas.  The stadium was a temporary facility and was removed soon after the closing ceremony, restoring the land to its natural state. But the Olympic sign still stands at the entrance to what is now a picnic area and campground.
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Leave a Comment | Filed Under Adventure Travel, California, California, Cross Country Skiing, Lake Tahoe, Northern California, Olympics, Skiing, State Parks, Winter Fun

As we careen towards Christmas, I was experiencing a bit of S-A-O, Seasonal-Autumnal-Overload. Having already relented to a trip to a giant pumpkin patch, harvest day for my son’s school, Halloween preparations and the omnipresent pumpkinification of October, from coffee flavoring, to muffins to candles…I was done.

Alas, we had a fall getaway planned to the California Gold Country in the Sierra Foothills and I was looking for some fun things to do with the family that might diverge a bit from the frolicsome fall activities I had been enjoying. We have driven past Sonora on our way to the mountains, often heading that way in summer or winter. It was exciting to think about a weekend trip that didn’t involve preparing food, camping or ski gear and with an open itinerary I could craft. I had a secret hope to see some changing leaves. Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Budget Travel, California, California, Driving Trips, Eco Friendly Travel, Fall Foliage Tours, Family Travel, Food, Gold Country, Northern California, State Parks, Theme Park, Wine Tours, wine tasting

Last month the Rim fire, Burning Man and the closing of the Bay Bridge meant our planned Labor Day backpacking trip to the Sierras was in question. Finally, after much discussion we opted to head for the Snow Mountain Wilderness Area about 110 miles north of San Francisco in California’s Lake County.

Armed with outdated maps and hopes of some lake swimming, we hit the road ready for our adventure. Stopping at a ranger station, we got the skinny on the trails and hoped to hike to some small waterfalls. We were told the driving was rough to get to the trailhead, and included fording a river, which sounded exciting till we got to it and panicked.

We promptly set up camp and found a swell swimming hole, as we were to wait till the next morning when the other half of our party was to arrive. Once our big group was assembled,  we decided to spend the day at a big lake before attempting to ford the river again.

The driving was dusty, long and we made a few bad choices. Desperate to swim in a lake, we headed for Lake Pillsbury, which sounded enchanting, but was, alas, quite a depressing scene. Lake Pillsbury is a man-made lake in Northern California, situated an arduous 33 miles east of Ukiah in the Mendocino National Forest. Reviews were mixed, but as the the temperature climbed, we just wanted to cool off. What we found was a dried up, somewhat scungy car-camping scene, with campers and giant garbage bags full of empty beer and soda containers all smooshed together in the seedy campgrounds. The bathrooms, cute store and expensive gas were welcome, but this was not what we had in mind for our backpacking adventure; we didn’t even want to swim in the lake.

Finally we decided to return to the small menacing river and attempt to get past it with an all wheel drive Subaru Outback.
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Leave a Comment | Filed Under Adventure Travel, Budget Travel, California, Camping, Driving Trips, Eco Friendly Travel, Family Travel, Hike/Backpack, Northern California, wildlife

Have you ever stumbled upon a cultural gem while traveling? It’s such a great feeling of discovery and often, some of the best vacation experiences happen without planning.

We drove from my in-laws in Sequim to Bainbridge Island, Washington this summer, to catch the ferry to Seattle. We have done this trip a number of times, and although Bainbridge Island is adorable and full of lovely shops and art galleries, we’ve never stopped, except to have lunch or grab some food at the chic local market.

This time, we had planned a lunch downtown, but were nervous about leaving our car too far out of sight, packed to the gills with travel gear. As we drove down the main drag, clogged with tourists, we saw a new eco-building with a Grand Opening sign saying it was the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art. After much protest from my two boys and with the promise of a Mexican meal after, we decided to check it out. Brand spankin’ new, the pristine green building in itself had appeal with its recycled materials, solar power, denim insulation, Zero Waste, living wall and environmentally friendly carpets and paint. It was FREE, thanks to sponsorships, memberships, and donations! Continue reading »

2 Comments | Filed Under Culture, Museum, Pacific Northwest, Photography, Washington

A man jumped off the dock into the crystal blue, glacially carved waters of Lake Crescent and when asked how the water was, he replied: “Like butter.”

Like butter on a croissant, Lake Crescent in the Olympic National Park, just 17 miles from Port Angeles, on the Olympic Peninsula, is one of my most favorite spots on earth. Perhaps because of its brilliant blue waters and extraordinary clarity (caused by a lack of nitrogen in the water, which stunts the algae growth), perhaps because we make the ritual pilgrimage each time we visit my in-laws in Sequim, Washington. When we round the bend to the lake, my husband says in his best Inspector Clouseau accent “Lake Croissant!” Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Adventure Travel, Canoe/Kayak, Family Travel, Hike/Backpack, Olympic Peninsula, Pacific Northwest, Sequim, Washington, wildlife

On a day when the courageous Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai addressed the United Nations as an advocate for women’s education rights, I am once again reminded of the potential of the United Nations, despite all it’s quirks, to unite the world.

I have a long relationship with the UN and graduated from the General Assembly, an honor I hold dear. On a recent trip to New York for my high school reunion I finally took my younger son on a private tour of the United Nations, thanks to an old friend who works there. It was a walk down memory lane for me, and an educational experience for my son who had just completed a Global Village unit in his 3rd grade class.

A quick hot dog out front staved off impending hunger from my nine-year-old hobbit, and we made our way through the intense security system. The building is going through a much-needed retrofit. The passé style played into my fond memories of UN conferences and multiple visits as a student at a school connected to the organization. Once inside, you do feel as though you are no longer in NYC and really in an international zone as the lobby buzzes with international languages and national dress.

More than one million visitors take the public tours annually during weekdays and tickets can be purchased in advance online. Tickets are less than $20 and well worth it! There are also weekly children’s tours @ 4:15 every Thursday, this is a relatively new offering and tailored to the 5-12 set. Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Adventure Travel, Culture, Family Travel, Films, Food, Manhattan, New York, art

The effects of climate change are everywhere. I just visited my beloved Coney Island only to find famous Nathan’s (among many other businesses and communities) still not back on their feet post Hurricane Sandy. Monster tornadoes in Oklahoma have swept through entire towns. The twister that hit near Oklahoma City May 31 was the widest ever recorded. Clearly we need to do what we can to make our lives more sustainable.

Solar power is perceived by some as a drop in the bucket, but it can really make a difference, particularly in remote places where sun is plentiful and power is expensive to import.

Turtle Island, set in the Yasawa Islands in the Republic of Fiji, and scene of the 1980 Blue Lagoon movie starring Brooke Shields, is an all-inclusive private island, a high-end resort with a long history of sustainability. This spring, the installation of 968 solar panels rendered the island nearly 100 percent self-sufficient, using the sun’s energy to power not only the resort but the surrounding community. The new solar project will save an estimated 85,000 liters of diesel fuel per year, or an estimated 220 tons of carbon emissions, significantly reducing the island’s carbon footprint and thus becoming one of the world’s most prestigious and socially conscious getaways for the pampered set. Continue reading »

1 Comment | Filed Under Culture, Eco Friendly Travel, Fiji, Luxury Travel, Romance, South Pacific, Spa/ Resort