This year my husband and I celebrated our ten year wedding anniversary. Of course we’d have loved to jump in a plane and flown off to some exotic locale. But with time and financial restraints we had to be a little less lavish in our summer vacation planning. I wanted to go somewhere warm, on the ocean and far enough away that we’d feel like we really “went” on vacation.
I pulled up Google Maps and ticked off all the California coastal towns we’d visited together – Mendocino, Bodega Bay, Carmel, Monterey, Morro Bay – until I scanned down to the Santa Barbara area. The hotel prices seemed a little high to sustain us for a full week. I looked around at the nearby towns – Ventura sounded familiar which was next to Oxnard. “Hummm what’s going on in a place called Oxnard?” I thought as I compared hotel prices, beach access and ocean proximity. Between the two towns, I found a nice harbor front hotel for a medium price per night in Oxnard – all requirements met.
When I told my husband John where we were going for our ten year anniversary, he set down the laundry he was folding, looked at me with disgust on his face and asked, “Oxnard?” like I’d lost my mind.
“Hey, it’s really not as bad as it sounds,” I said defending my decision. It’s got to be the words “Ox” and “Nard” together that raise eyebrows. I mean if I said we were going to “Ventura” nobody would screw their face up over that.
So, I have to admit I became a little nervous I’d made the wrong decision after we got off Highway 1 heading into Oxnard. We’d passed up Santa Barbara’s blue ocean views, brown sandy beaches in the foreground, and outline of the distant Channel Islands breaking horizon sight lines. Acres of flat farmland then barren sand dunes surrounded the road as I thought to myself “this can’t be all there is out here.”
Breaking free from the rural and lonely landscape, we arrived at the vibrant Channel Islands Harbor alive with restaurants, yacht clubs and boaters. Our hotel was on the peninsula which divides the harbor into three prongs. It was dinner time when we arrived. The open late Toppers Pizza we’d eat at within the hour was all aglow in red and gold lights like a Broadway show. Checking in to our modern hotel, the evening breeze wafting through the remaining balmy warmth of the day, I felt reassured that Oxnard would provide everything I wanted in a vacation destination.
Over the next few weeks read about our Oxnard adventures. I’ll share stories about exploring Southern California right here in this blog. Don’t forget a hat, sunscreen and shades for a fun time under the sun!
Nob Hill, a San Francisco neighborhood that rises 376 feet in elevation at a 25 percent grade is not easy to get to. The top of Nob Hill is home to silver baron, James C. Flood’s 1886 mansion and properties of other San Francisco elites past and present. No moat or portcullis needed to keep the riff-raff away, mounting the hill itself is deterrent enough.
The past two years I’ve attended the San Francisco Writers Conference held at the InterContinental Mark Hopkins hotel perched at the top of Nob Hill. Reluctant to drive myself into the heart of the city I’ve experimented with different methods of transportation to the conference. Each method is a strenuous adventure.
Via MUNI Bus
Surfacing from the Powell Street BART station into a rainy cityscape, I attempted to track down the MUNI bus that would take me to the top of Nob Hill. With a bus number in mind from my review of the online bus schedule, I could not find where it stopped. I stuck my head inside the door of another bus loading passengers and asked that driver where to catch a bus that went up the hill. She directed me back across the street giving me another bus number to find.
Pouncing through puddles I arrived at a bus shelter where the rain continued to come down. After a ten minute wait, the bus came and I crowded into the back door. I slogged my way to the front to pay not wanting to get in trouble for fare dodging. Before I put my money in, however, I asked the driver if he was going to the top of Nob Hill. He said, nope. He let me off at a corner where another bus that did go up the hill would make its stop. I waited under the canvas awning of a storefront amongst other commuters. The awning became heavy with rainwater and unleashed a wave of water on top of our heads.
Soaked and impatient I decided to walk up the hill myself instead of waiting for the phantom bus. I was running late and needed to get to my post at the conference. One leg lunge after the other I slowly pulled myself up the incline. Huffing and puffing like I did hiking Lower Yosemite Falls, embarrassed by my out-of-shapeness. Claiming victory at a turtle’s pace, I made it to where the sidewalk plateaued. Out of breath, outerwear drenched, shirt soaked in sweat, I arrived at the conference.
Classic Cable Car
The next day I decided to try catching the cable car up Powell Street which runs directly to my destination. The rain clouds had dispersed to reveal a sunny blue-sky Saturday morning. I bought my seven dollar ticket to ride and got in line with hundreds of tourists. The day before, (when it was raining) nobody was in line to ride the cable car. That was when I should have taken it. I wound up watching ten cars be turned around at the end of the track to take brimming loads of people up the street. As I waited I began to strategize. I was running out of time, I was going to be late for the conference, again. I noticed that people were hopping on the cable car further down the street. But only a few people were being let on at a time. It seemed that I had a greater chance of getting on sooner if I just stayed where I was. Finally, I had my turn to ride the wooden antique cable car clanging up the hill.
By Car – Hired or Self Drive
Okay, technically I didn’t hire a car to take me to Nob Hill for this year’s conference. I asked my husband to drive me there. Luckily he felt sorry for me and dropped me off across the street from the hotel. I would say by far this is the best way to get to Nob Hill, stress-free (for me) and super direct (no puffing up any hills.) I had some time to watch cars start the descent down Mason Street. Kids in back seats screamed as parents lifted their feet off the break downhill. Remember that? Hands in the air like you’re in a roller coaster, and WEEEEEE, the car goes sharply downhill? Yeah, that was fun.
If you do drive yourself to Nob Hill time-limited street parking and pricy garage parking are available. Also, consider using Uber or taxi to arrive at your swanky destination.
Hoofing it aka Walking
I really really really don’t recommend walking to the top of Nob Hill. It can be done but if you’re going up there for a fancy dinner or want to impress anyone with your appearance do – not – walk. I watched as other people struggled to get to the top of the hill. A woman who appeared to live in the area replaced a trip to the gym with a hike up Nob Hill. Wearing workout clothes and clinching a bottle of water, she slowly made it up the street. Her face was pink and sweaty, she gulped for air. An old man plodded up the Mark Hopkins block and paused to hold a trunk of a tree to steady himself. A young woman walked her Labrador up the same block, the dog’s haunches visibly swayed as he climbed.
The most comfortable and direct method to surmount Nob Hill is to have someone drop you off. But this can be cost prohibitive if the person taking you isn’t related. The second best way is taking the cable car during an off-peak time. Otherwise, you’ll have to drive yourself mentally prepared to pay for a parking garage.
Looking for a quick escape from the daily grind? A local garden may be just the place to breathe deep and collect your thoughts. There’s a number of in bloom historical garden get-a-ways throughout the San Francisco Peninsula. Grab your sun hat and check out these relaxing respites.
Gamble Garden, Palo Alto CA
Gamble Garden is tucked away in Old Palo Alto, a neighborhood of older homes with architectural variety. The garden surrounds the 1902 home of Elizabeth Frances Gamble descendant of Procter & Gamble’s co-founder. The garden is close to the Stanford Shopping Center and University Avenue, a perfect spot for a mid-day retreat.
An edible herb garden with sun faded scarecrow greets visitors entering the gardens from the back of the property. Sunshine fills the gravel lined walkways off the central gazebo. A bush trimmed into the Easter Bunny patiently awaits the seasons to change back to spring.
At the far side of the property a tranquil water fountain trickles, its sound mingles with that of the breeze flowing through the tops of surrounding trees. A circular rose garden, encompassed by a 6-foot tall hedge, offers droopy white blooms shedding petals to the ground.
Benches dot the property situated under shade trees invite guests to stay awhile. Watch birds, bees and squirrels move about their daily garden life.
Filoli, Woodside CA
The Peninsula is home to an English country estate museum house and extensive gardens. The home at Filoli estate was completed in 1917 with the gardens following soon after. Filoli is a site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Prepare to meander and contemplate in Filoli’s many gardens. Soak up the sun’s piercing warmth with clear blue sky overhead framed by a variety of swaying tree tops. Eye catching lush green lawns complement red brick footpaths. The fountains and reflecting pools produce the soothing sounds of water.
As the afternoon progresses, watch the fog push over the coastal redwood hills at the foot of the property. The seeping dry ice effect of the cascading fog creates a feeling of magic.
Wonder further back into the gardens, passing through archways in ten-foot tall hedge walls. Discover a variety of vegetation throughout the property: rose garden, herb garden, and squash gardens to name a few.
Find activities enjoyed by the inhabitants of the estate placed throughout the garden. A relaxing spa like pool house offers seating for visitors steps away from the sparkling swimming pool. Tennis courts are a short walk from the home and placed at the outskirts of the garden. Walk all of the way to the back of the gardens and find the “High Place” a great place to look out over the estate.
Central Park Rose Garden and Japanese Garden, San Mateo CA
San Mateo’s Central Park was once the site of a mansion estate. The ornate brick and iron fence lining El Camino and the cast iron dog statue guarding the rose garden are remnants from that time. The rose garden with trellis gazebo and the many tree varieties throughout the park are cared for by the San Mateo Arboretum Society.
The rose garden is full of colorful flowers abuzz with honey bee activity. Sniff the buds of pink, yellow, white and red roses. Check the names on the plates next to each rose variety because they can be pretty funny like “Hot Cocoa” or “Barbra Streisand.” A row of benches line the garden under shade trees, a perfect place for visitors to sit and smell the roses.
Don’t miss the Japanese Garden in Central Park. It’s walled off by a traditional Japanese wood wall with a large gated entrance. Step inside to experience a peaceful escape in the middle of downtown San Mateo. The garden is built around a central koi pond with tons of large and playful koi pushing around tree debris at the water’s surface and splashing in water spouts.
Walk around the pond on a slim pathway, under dangling trees or cross the water on stone bridges. Several pagoda temples and statues made of stone or bamboo are placed throughout the grounds. Relax on the tea house benches to take in the colorful fish and idyllic scenery.
Visiting the Gardens:
Gamble Garden https://www.gamblegarden.org/
1431 Waverley Street, Palo Alto CA 94301
Garden open daily during daylight hours
Main House open Monday through Friday 9 am-2 pm
Filoli Estate https://filoli.org/
86 Cañada Road, Woodside, California 94062
Tuesday through Sunday 10 am to 5 pm
General Admission $20 adults
Join me in welcoming guest blogger Katherine Forster as she shows us around her home in Ottawa, Canada! – Eva
For us Canadians, it feels like the advertising is everywhere. Canada is celebrating 150 years since the signing of the confederation. Our country is sending out an invitation world-wide, extending its hospitality to anyone who wants to visit. There will be special events and activities in most major cities and support for various cultural, scientific, artistic, historic projects that promise to showcase the diversity of this vast land. Canada 150 is a big year for us!
I live in Ottawa and here in the capital of the country, we are finding that the hype is huge. And with this being the last year that the Centre Block of Parliament Hill will be open for up to a decade (a major renovation is planned to start after this special year) and our Canada Day festivities promising to be the biggest in years, there is no doubt that many will flock to visit our lovely city. Ottawa offers so much in terms of history and cultural experiences and now with the extra celebrations, it will be hard to choose among so many things to do and see.
My suggestion for those who want to plan a trip to Ottawa this year, is to add a couple of nature stops to your itinerary. Canada is blessed with incredible scenery and that includes the nation’s capital – some of which is not to be missed! And adding a few nature stops to a weekend of sightseeing is a great way to break up hours of indoor museum visits, walking around busy downtown corridors and the crush of crowded line ups. Here are some suggestions:
Hog’s Back Falls and Rideau Falls – Visitors can walk along paths beside Hog’s Back Falls and see it from different angles (located in Vincent Massey Park by Mooney’s Bay) whereas Rideau Falls can be appreciated from above (on Green Island) or from one of the boat tours that brings visitors to the bottom of the falls as it empties into the Ottawa-Outaouais River.
Dominion Arboretum – while a popular tourist spot, the Arboretum is worth braving the crowds on the weekend to appreciate the huge old oaks that can be found along Prince of Wales Drive, a smaller, “wilder” garden, appropriately named Fletcher Wildlife Garden and the ornamental gardens that have perennials blooming for the full summer season.
Ottawa-Outaouais River – This large river that designates the border between Ontario and Quebec boasts winding multi-use paths on both sides, which provides scenic views of both city skylines and also some fantastic sunsets. Don’t be discouraged if there are some clouds at twilight as they can reflect and augment the colourful end of day show.
South March Highlands – Canada’s Capital is situated in the transition zone between the southern Mixedwood Plains and the Boreal Shield and this becomes very apparent when you visit the South March Highlands. Exposed bedrock, provincially significant wetland and old growth forest provide the conditions for a richly biodiverse area and the opportunity to experience the Canadian shield topography.
Mer Bleue – this 7,700 year old bog in the Greenbelt showcases a northern boreal landscape which is a unique habitat for Southern Ontario. It has many regionally rare and significant plants and provides a 1.2 kilometer boardwalk that lets nature lovers experience this habitat in an immersive way in all seasons.
So come on up to visit this great Canadian city this year and take in the festivities, see some sights and enjoy the iconic Canadian nature experience at the same time!
Guest Blogger Katherine Forster works in the burgeoning field of urban ecology as an entrepreneur through her business Wild. Here. She lives with her partner Viliam Glazduri, photographer extraordinaire, who shares her passion for nature, and their indoor cat Max in an older central neighborhood of Ottawa close to many natural features including a swimming pond, a small marsh and other green spaces that they can explore.
Wild. Here. provides resources, tools and stories to help those living in cities connect with nature in their neighbourhood. The newest resource is an online social media initiative called 52 Weeks of Nearby Nature.
I stood on tiptoes peering out through the shutter-covered unusually high-placed hotel room window to see what eating establishments existed across the busy and dark Ventura Boulevard of Studio City, CA. My husband’s Fitbit had declared long ago that we’d put in ten thousand steps by midday and we had many more steps to go on our site seeing day.
Squinting through the window at the place straight across the street from us I tried to figure out if it was a viable option for dinner. I had a feeling that the place was fancy because the restaurant name was in script lettering and climbing ivy was all over the front of the building.
I took my smart phone out of my purse and brought up Google Maps. I dove into the map and found that I was looking at Bistro Garden, “Continental eatery for upscale dining” with three dollar signs next to it. Yes, that would be an expensive place to eat at.
My husband suddenly hovered next to me to see what I was up to. My head bowed over the phone, “There’s supposed to be a Five Guys over there,” I said continuing to look over Maps.
He glanced out the window and said, “Yeah its right there.” I shifted slightly to the right and there it was! Red block lettering indicating a very affordable burger joint that we’d had the pleasure of experiencing in our own neighborhood.
I was a little embarrassed at my restaurant hunt method. Usually we’d walk around a new place, peer in windows and read over menus. I told my hubby that I just wanted to find a decent place for us to have dinner. I wanted to know what was out there…without having to go out there.
Taking a virtual walk down the street with Google Maps, I found it! Four doors down and on the same side of the street as our hotel was Hyperion Public, “Rustic-chic American gastropub & lounge” with only two dollar signs. That is where we’d go for our night on the town. We grabbed our coats and walked briskly down the street.
Becoming temporary inhabitants of the candlelit and fireplace warmed dining room, we finally relaxed. When the food came, there wasn’t enough light to see the details of it so we had to rely solely on our taste buds to report back.
Despite my husband’s blatant tourist “Oceanside” blaring sweatshirt, the Los Angeles swanky diners and waitstaff couldn’t judge us as outsiders because there wasn’t enough light to make out what his shirt said. I knew we had succeeded in posing as Angelenos when our waiter asked if we’d like to take our leftovers home.
Google Maps was a quick way to get familiar with an unfamiliar neighborhood. Maps helped us make an informed decision to the always pressing question, “Where are we going to eat?”
Have you ever started out on a short hike, a romantic picnic at the beach, or overnight stay at a campground, realizing only after embarking on the outing that nature could ruin the experience at any time? This has happened to me on several occasions.
This is me at Hawaii’s Lyon Arboretum on Oahu. I thought it was safe enough to explore the rainforest in cut off pants, short sleeves and a light dousing of OFF! bug repellant. I was dressed for the tropics but not for protection against blood sucking mosquitos. I literally spent two minutes in a shady spot of the forest to take pictures and dozens of mosquitos descended upon me, leaving a red map of Hawaii on my skin.
Solution: I went back to Hawaii a few years after and suited up with long pants and Sawyer Premium Maxi Deet Insect Repellent which contains 98.11% Deet. I have no idea what ill effects such strong repellent has on the human body but I managed to get around two bites instead of what you see here.
When I was about twelve years old I went on a camp trip with my Girl Scout troop and we had set out a lunch of cold cuts at a picnic table. Soon there were several yellow jackets buzzing around us and landing on our food. This is when I was most terrified of the critters so I ran away from the table and witnessed one take a hunk out of the bologna.
Not so long ago I was at my husband’s work picnic for an exterminator company and ironically, a yellow jacket was assigned to each participant’s paper plate throughout the function. One hardened exterminator grabbed a yellow jacket’s midsection and flung it away from the table. I was in awe of this action but that didn’t take care of my personal yellow jacket problem. Solution: Eat inside. Sorry folks but if you’re being followed by hungry yellow jackets, its best to give them the steak.
“Here Eva,” my Dad would say pointing to some plants around the base of a tree when we were out on a family nature walk. “That’s poison oak. See the red leaf there, the wavy edge and the shine?”
“Um. Yeah?” I’d say looking at the spot where five different plants intermingled. I figure I’m never going to be able to identify poison oak on my own. So I’ve just stayed out of the foliage all together. I can tell when I see a black berry or a Christmas tree but that’s about it. Luckily I haven’t fallen into poison oak or if it’s rubbed against my pants by accident there’s been no issue.
Solution: If you’re concerned about poison oak, stay on the path. Don’t frolic in the bushes.