Category: Budget Travel

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

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

Katniss from The Hunger Games, Hawkeye from The Avengers and London’s 2012 Olympic Archery Competition have all given the ancient sport of archery a jolt. Kids and adults across the country are smitten with the idea of using a bow to shoot an arrow.

A recent New York Times Fashion & Style article explores the trajectory of the sport given the cultural craze. From Staten Island to San Francisco, sales of kid-size recurve bows have more than quadrupled this year!

Whether you have a Robin Hood fan, a small Cossack (a kid into ancient weaponry) or you just love fun, free, urban family activities, you’ve got to check out the Golden Gate Park Archery Range in San Francisco when you’re visiting the city. It’s a beautiful and well-maintained piece of park real estate, near the beach. It’s easy to park and accessible by public transportation. It’s always open for folks with their own archery equipment. If you’re looking to try it out as an activity, you can swing by the nearby Archery Pro Shop, where you can sign up for lessons, rent or buy bows or investigate other equipment. You can also buy bows and arrows on-line. Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Books, Budget Travel, California, Camping, Family Travel, Olympic Peninsula, Olympics, San Francisco, Urban Parks, Yosemite

San Francisco is known world wide for stunning views and hilly terrain. Some streets are so steep that more than 300 stairways exist throughout the city, providing access and shortcuts to areas difficult to reach otherwise.

There are the famous routes to Coit Tower where one can catch a glimpse of the Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, and the now famous Mosaic Stairs in Golden Gate Heights. Although not as crowded as say, Lombard (the crookedest street in the west), these top stairwalks can be bustling.

Instead, grab Adah Bakalinsky’s stairwalk bible, now in it’s 20th edition, and explore some of the more quirky areas. The book offers up the popular routes, but many of the stairways highlighted are tranquil spots, used only by locals and known only to a handful of people. Most walks take no more than an hour and string a number of staircases in a neighborhood together, with informative descriptions of the history, architecture and flora and fauna of the area.

Together, families can explore the nooks and crannies of this great city. My family often decides on a route and picks a restaurant or café in the area to make our ultimate destination. Avid hikers, we love to take our boys on treks outside the city, often inspiring them with treats or the prospect of counting banana slugs. Some days however, we just can’t get out of town, but want an outdoor activity that feels like a hike. Then we reach for our stairwalk book and pack a few snacks and layers of clothing. Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Books, Budget Travel, California, Family Travel, Hike/Backpack, San Francisco, Urban Parks, wildlife

Are social media and the Internet responsible for the demise of the picture postcard? An article in a Scottish newspaper says just one in six Britons send a postcard while on their vacation, according to online and market research company One Poll.

Granted, Americans, in general, partake in way less “holiday time” than our European counterparts, but is it really true that smartphones and instant gratification through technology are wiping out such a colorful and beloved tradition?

On a recent trip to Bodie State Historic Park, my camera battery died. Such a picturesque place, I was kicking myself, but luckily I had gotten a few shots and still had my non-smartphone, phone camera.

We went into the gift shop and postcards were 45 cents. I decided to get a few, I usually have my kids send them to grandparents and perhaps their own friends, part writing exercise, part ritual. This time I wanted to send one to a family whose dog, (named Bodie, after a ’90s trip together to Bodie) had just passed away. We had created a laminated memorial to leave at the cemetery as a tribute. I thought it would be nice to also send them a postcard. Continue reading »

5 Comments | Filed Under Budget Travel, California, California, Desert Travel, Driving Trips, Family Travel, Gold Country, Northern California, State Parks

As a kid in NYC in the ’80s, the soundtrack to my youth was varied and evolving, but the Beastie Boys were marquee. The three band members were my peers, and as Rap and Hip Hop filled the clubs and airwaves, they were riding the wave of a whole new genre and creating their own sound, combining street rhythms and rhymes with punk ethos and energy.  Disco was waning, the punk scene morphing and it was pioneering for three white boys to be doing what they were doing.

I’m no music expert, most of my response to music is visceral and associative, but I do know that if the Beastie Boys had been a fad, they wouldn’t have lasted as long as they have.

As I blasted their latest album with car windows open,  to pay homage to the fallen Beastie (Adam MCA Yauch) who passed away from cancer earlier this month, my kids cringed as Mom reminisced semi-publicly. I tend to hate when I pass another car with thumping music blaring, always muttering, “Yeah, I like that music so much” to myself. OK, so forgive me… Continue reading »

1 Comment | Filed Under Brooklyn, Budget Travel, Concert, Culture, Greenwich Village, Manhattan, Music, New York, Nightlife

We drove through Yosemite a few weekends ago. It was packed with summer travelers and waterfall gawkers. The major falls are glorious, and fuller than they have been in years. New, smaller falls have even appeared much to the delight of park goers.

As we drove through the park, out past Mono Lake, we were stunned by the high water levels and snowy peaks in early July. We laughed, thinking that we could even cross-country ski in some spots above 7000 feet.

Record snowfalls this winter and heavy unseasonable rain in summer have made conditions epic for nature lovers but also hazardous.

Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Adventure Travel, Budget Travel, California, Canoe/Kayak, Cross Country Skiing, Cruises, Eco Friendly Travel, Family Travel, Food, Hike/Backpack, Lake Tahoe, Mountain Biking, Northern California, Travel Safety, Yosemite, wildlife

Summer is finally and officially here!

Sand between my toes, melting popsicles, chlorine-y or salty hair, ripe tomatoes, fresh corn, eating outdoors, thunderstorms and fireflies—a few of my East Coast childhood summer memories. The idea of fireflies, or lightning bugs, as they are sometimes called, is just so charming, and in some ways a symbol of a simpler time. No iPhones or email, no TiVo or Internet, just a bug catcher and a jar….

Fireflies are everywhere this June. My kids listen to about 10 songs, as much as I try to curate their musical tastes, they’ll have to discover their own style. One of their favorites right now is Fireflies by Owl City. It’s a sweet song and the lyrics are very uncontroversial. My husband is also hooked on an old TV series called Firefly dubbed an America Space Western, by those in the know. Add to that, a great little restaurant, Firefly, in San Francisco, that we love…and then I came across this New York Times article about fireflies drawing hordes of tourists in Tennessee. This was the antidote to fast-paced modern life I needed to read about.

Apparently, there is a light show every night at this time of year in Elkmont, Tennessee near Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Folks gather at a trail head with camping chairs and wait for the Mother Nature’s ritual performance. Called “mind-blowing,” “a silent symphony” and likened to the aurora borealis or a solar eclipse, this is no small show. Continue reading »

2 Comments | Filed Under Budget Travel, Eco Friendly Travel, Family Travel, Hike/Backpack, wildlife

If you’re tired of the March mud or a winter that just won’t quit, maybe a trip to Tahiti is the fix you need. Moon Handbooks has just released the 7th edition of David Stanley’s guidebook to Tahiti, and you can just about feel the sea breezes wafting out of the book.

Triporati’s South Pacific expert, Stanley has spent much of the last 30 years traveling, crossing six continents overland and visiting 212 of the world’s 245 countries and territories. That puts him right up there as one of the world’s most traveled people.

As much as he’s traveled, he returns to the South Pacific again and again and considers it his favorite area, which says a lot about the appeal of the place. His book is full of the practical advice you’d expect from any good guidebook, but Stanley’s decades of experience in the region give this volume a special appeal. He knows the people, he knows the territory, and he knows how to share it with his readers. This make him the ideal guide to get you started on your journey.

Me? I can’t make it to Tahiti this year, but next month I’m going to Fiji. And I’ll be carrying Stanley’s new Moon Fiji Handbook with me when I go. This one is in its ninth edition, and I’m getting started in my pre-trip preparation.

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Adventure Travel, Books, Budget Travel, South Pacific, Spa/ Resort, Student Travel, Tahiti