Category: Budget Travel

It was a hot summer day and I had promised my youngest son I would take him and his best friend, one of my best friend’s daughters, canoeing on the Russian River. We left early and drove up to Guerneville, a small town along the river in Sonoma County. I wasn’t sure what two almost six year olds would make of the adventure, but I was excited. I have fond memories of canoeing on the East Coast from my childhood and did it a few times on the Russian River in the early nineties. Visions of swimming and frolicking in the river, picnicking on a sandbar and most of all enjoying the day with my husband and the two kidlets got me revved for the escapade. We did some research and found a company named Burke’s Canoe Trips that does half day adventures. This sounded great, but not with the wee ones; maybe with my ten year old and a buddy though.  We found Johnson’s Beach, a really quaint spot, where you could rent canoes by the hour; perfect for our questionable passengers. When we arrived we found a sweet little beach spot which reminded me of spots in NY I visited as a kid in the 70’s; really low tech, really friendly and family run. It wasn’t fancy but I liked it like that. You could rent an umbrella and a buff dude would come over and pound it into the sand for you. The snack bar served soft serve for a dollar and you could rent inner tubes to float along if you didn’t want to paddle. The changing room was a wooden structure with hand-made curtains; loved it! Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Budget Travel, California, Canoe/Kayak, Day Trips, Family Travel, Feature, Northern California

When I first heard about Camp Mather, a city run family camp near Yosemite, for San Francisco residents, I thought it sounded like a bad cross between the Catskills and a low-rent Club Med.  In theory, I hate organized activities and en masse vacationing. It didn’t help that our close friends who I adore, who are British (cue Monty Python accent) raved about it saying how one can bring rugs, flags and ‘fairy lights’ and decorate your cabin; it sounded dismal to me. Yet, many of our close friends, people we love and admire, cool families with kids our age, said it was fantastic. So we took the plunge last year, did the lottery in January and got a spot.  We had a lot of fun and although we felt we hadn’t drunk the Kool-Aid we decided to re-apply this year.  I decided if it weren’t my ‘only’ vacation it was a great thing to do as a family and the kids loved the autonomy.  Continue reading »

8 Comments | Filed Under Budget Travel, Camping, Family Travel, Feature, Hike/Backpack, Yoga

It was my son’s 10th birthday and we always try to celebrate with a super summery adventure. One year we went to Disneyland. Last year, The Police Reunion Concert (my choice) and this year I deftly averted a trip to Vacaville, CA and Scandia; a nightmarish Scandinavian themed,  mini-golf/ arcade experience, in 100 plus degree heat (thanks to a colleague who did a weather check for me). We settled on Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, a West Coast Coney Island if you will, kinda lost in time;  totally manageable.  So off we went ready for rides, perhaps swimming, lots of sugary treats and maybe a skeeball game or two (my grandma Viola was the queen of skeeball in Hollywood, Florida and I have taken up the passion).  We had a blast on the flume, roller coasters and my favorite, a hang gliding twirly thing; although the chin rest smelled super funky sweaty. I even did some body surfing and a sea lion joined me about 30 yards away. But the highlight o the day was the FREE circus performance on the beach. CIRQUE MAGNIFIQUE has performances July 12th- August 20th. There are two free shows daily; Monday –Thursday: noon & 3:00 and Sunday: noon & 6:00. It is no Cirque du Soleil, but we knew immediately the performers were Quebecois (what’s in the water there?). It was so adorable, I would venture… enchanting. It wasn’t jaw dropping feats but completely entertaining and so lovely to enjoy in the sun, rubbing your feet in the sand; don’t miss it!

2 Comments | Filed Under Amusement Park, Budget Travel, California, Culture, Driving Trips, Family Travel, Feature, Northern California, Santa Cruz

Who doesn’t love a good cupcake, those perfect hand held mini/maxi treats. Growing up in New York, in winter, my best friend and I used to wear earmuffs. I’ll never forget when one, somewhat inebriated “bum” (as we used to call them) asked me “What’s up cupcake?” I knew I looked like a cupcake wearing the big furry cupcake-like muffs. I also liked the reference.

Now, as a mom I have become somewhat of a cupcake connoisseur, both as a baker and a consumer. My older son was such a cupcake fan I would make them for each birthday. We have a picture of him just about to bite one at his party for practically each year of his life. They are displayed in frames on our fridge to this day.

Every time I go home to visit my mom in NYC, I have to hit Magnolia Bakery on Bleecker Street in the West Village. I often claim the kids really would LOVE to go, but in truth, I look forward to the pilgrimage and I am not alone. Usually there is a line around the block. Since it opened in 1996, Magnolia has been featured in Sex in the City, The Devil Wears Prada and Saturday Night Live mock rap which is hilarious, among other shows and films shot in the Village. Continue reading »

1 Comment | Filed Under Budget Travel, Family Travel, Food, Greenwich Village, New York

I’m sure I am not alone in “not getting” why gas prices are so high when oil is selling so much lower than last year. The San Francisco Bay Area is particularly bad; this photo is from last summer. I remember visiting Hawaii and realizing we paid more for gas in San Francisco than an island in the South Pacific, but go figure…

I also don’t get why it’s more to pick your own fruit at an orchard than to buy it at Farmer’s Market. Anyway, I do get that as summer is around the corner we are going to get hit with even higher prices to fill up. I thought this Rand McNally list was very helpful. I particularly like the bit about open sunroofs causing a significant decrease in gas mileage. So buckle up, gas up, close your sunroof and get ready for a lot of summer driving OR DON’T. Let’s hope we don’t see these prices again. Even though I think it’s a good thing to decrease driving, I can’t stomach these prices.

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Budget Travel, Driving Trips, Eco Friendly Travel, Family Travel, Farmer's Markets, Hawaii, Northern California, San Francisco, Travel, Travel Tips

Local Bay Area residents or visitors from out of town will love taking the family tide pooling at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve on a sunny day down the coast from San Francisco near Montara in San Mateo County. It is about a half hour drive from the city just a few miles north of Half Moon Bay. It can be crowded but the excitement in finding star fish, or sea stars as my five-year-old says they are now called, is immense.

Bring your water sandals and be prepared for some slippery rocks. Check the tides so you can be sure to have the best conditions for viewing. Harbor seals bask in the sun out on the rocks and kids and adults alike enjoy an up close and personal look at the sea life. You can see barnacles, sea stars, limpets, crabs, anemones, sponges and nudibranchs in the area sometimes called the Splash Zone. Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Adventure Travel, Budget Travel, California, Family Travel, Feature, Hike/Backpack, Tide Pools, United States

Have you ever had Mandarin Islamic Chinese food? Did you know there are an estimated 20 million Muslims who live in China? These questions percolated as my taste buds marveled at the unusual combinations of lamb, cumin and other spice mixtures that seemed so new to me. I was first taken to Old Mandarin Islamic by a mom on my son’s soccer team. It was a rainy fall day and the boys and spectators were soaked and chilled. The hot pot beckoned, and I was up for an adventure. Way out in the Sunset district in San Francisco near the beach, this small hole in the wall offers not only a unique culinary experience but a geography and culture lesson in Chinese history. I returned this Sunday to pick up takeout and once again I was blown away. Signs in Arabic welcome the diners as well as the Chinese Sabado Gigante-esque/ quasi American idol show playing in the corner on the big screen TV. Familiar was the standard Chinese restaurant decorations, but unusual were the plaques with sayings from the Koran (I assume). Of course there is no pork on the menu and the lamb is Halal. It seems like the whole family is cooking in the back kitchen and you can see them in action as you traipse through to go to the restroom. The hot pot is a fun diner participation dish, much like fondue or Korean BBQ. Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Asia, Budget Travel, China, Culture, Food, Restaurants, San Francisco is closing in on one million couches surfed; no small feat since this free, internet based hospitality service launched in 2004. With more than 230 countries represented and almost 55-thousand cities with couches to crash on, one can travel the globe on a budget, meet cool people and even get some insider travel tips. The mission of the innovative site is: Participate in Creating a Better World, One Couch at a Time. For a small fee, that includes a personal vouching system, (much like E-Bay) members can coordinate their free accommodations with like-minded folks from Brazil to Belgium, Israel to Indonesia.  I haven’t officially joined but I do recall staying in a lady’s home in Prague soon after the Velvet Revolution. The sheets were the whitest and crispest I’d ever seen and the generosity immense. Tea bags were still precious and used numerous times. Breakfast was a homemade, simple type of pound cake… I’ll never forget that experience. In broken sign language and French, we learned that our hostess was a ‘peepee lady’ at an Opera House. Continue reading »

1 Comment | Filed Under Budget Travel, Culture, Feature, Hostels, Student Travel, Travel, Travel Tips

Maybe I am feeling like a fish with the rain pouring down or maybe I am just having my monthly fish taco frenzy, whatever the reason I am fast becoming a connoisseur of the tasty Mexican treat.

I love Mexican food, but sometimes all the rice and beans and heavy meat can weigh you down. Don’t get me wrong, I love burritos, but I have a hard time not finishing a whole one in a sitting, as much as I’d like to take half home for lunch the next day.

As an East Coast friend said when she first visited me in San Francisco in the early ’90s when our burritos arrived: “That looks like an infant.” She proceeded to place the wrapped burrito by her toned dancer’s belly and question how all that would fit in there. Miraculously it all fit!

Years later in New York City I saw advertisements for “San Francisco Mission Style” Burritos, which of course made me laugh having lived in or near the Mission for more than 15 years. So, my answer to the burrito baby syndrome was to order fish tacos; it seemed like a lighter choice. One of the first places, and to my mind one of the best in the city, is Papalote, a Mexican Grill on 24th street. When my first son was little we ate there once a week because I knew he would get a nutritious meal. The owner knows us well and has seen my son grown on his cooking. Now, my rice and bean aficionado goes to school a block away and we joke that it is because of his favorite restaurant. Don’t miss the fabulous house salsa; it’s a secret but I think it is made with pumpkin. Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Budget Travel, Family Travel, Food, Mexico, Nightlife, Restaurants, San Francisco, Student Travel

My husband just returned from a business trip to Vegas. Given the economy, according to his report, Sin City was not buzzing. I jokingly asked him if he hit any buffets and his eyes rolled. He said it had been a while since he had seen such a crop of obese people and consequently he ate very little while away.

Since I was cloistered at home with two boys sick with a stomach bug, it seemed like our entire family was on a peculiar diet.  This discussion and my secret obsession with a somewhat trashy/voyeuristic reality show called The Biggest Loser got me to thinking about the obesity epidemic once again. Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Budget Travel, Family Travel, Feature, Food, Las Vegas, Overweight travelers, Restaurants, Travel Tips