A look at the family-owned Hofsas House located at Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Peace by the Ocean: Hofsas House

A look at the family-owned Hofsas House located at Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Every year, I head somewhere for my birthday. Or at least try to. It all started in 2009 when I was in Atlanta and working in PR. I took the first trip of my adult life — a two week excursion to Croatia — seven years after my first foray into solo travel, which netted me about one month of backpacking with a far-too-heavy backpack around Europe.

If you’ve been reading this site since its infancy, then you know Croatia was the catalyst for all things d travels ’round.

I digress.

Birthday.

Americas California Hotel Reviews Reviews Featured

#CityLove: The Best Beaches in Santa Cruz

The best beaches to check out in Santa Cruz, California via http://www.dtravelsround.com/2015/06/23/citylove-beaches-santa-cruz/

Photo via Flickr Creative Commons: River and Sky Ramirez

Santa Cruz, located 75 miles south of San Francisco, is an ideal spot for a holiday. An abundance of gorgeous hotels in Santa Cruz, along with its beautiful weather, stunning coastline, towering redwood forests, and more make it a year-round travel destination.

A burgeoning beach resort town, there are certainly no shortage of beaches to explore while vacationing here. But, which beach should you go to you on your trip?

Featured

Let’s Get Lost

Let's get lost
“What do you want to do now?” he asks as we stand in the parking lot of the foot massage spa somewhere in the Valley.

“I don’t care,” I respond. Because, really, I don’t. All that matters is that I am spending time with my friend in his home.

We stand there, in the early summer evening, wondering what to do. We’d already been biking in Santa Monica, wandered around the impressive Fairfax Flea Market …

“We could go on a drive and just get lost,” I suggest.

Americas Blog California

Adventures in Biking from Santa Monica to Venice Beach

Biking in LA
It’s a little green monster, that bike in front of me.

“Where’s the brake?” I ask, scanning the handlebars for the metal clutch to prevent me from bashing into people, or giving me the ability to slow down.

“You back pedal,” the man says, tossing me a look of ‘you’ve got to be kidding me, lady.’

I stand there, surveying the bicycle as my friends begin to climb on their own set of two wheels.

It’s only been two weeks since I re-learned how to ride a bike, and the biking I have done has been through the rural roads in Delaware, not bustling California beach cities. For nearly 15 years, I’ve had a fear of bikes. A  totally rational feel, I assure you.

Americas Blog Blog Featured California

When travel sucks

Flight One: Chatty Seatmate Suck

“We’ve just had two days from hell,” an older woman says, hovering over my seat in the bulkhead as I fumble (too late) to get my headphones in my ears. “You just wouldn’t believe what happened to us. First, our flight has issues, then we get stuck on the tarmac, then we get out and have to wait in line, then we get to a hotel, then we have to wake up early and get back to the airport and now …”

Damnit. Damnit. Damnit. I clearly pulled the short straw in seat assignments.

I smile feebly and silently curse the woman standing over me.

“So now, we are on this plane and we don’t even get to sit together. I mean, really!”

Don’t look at me lady. I paid good money for this Economy Plus seat.

“My husband? He has had a hell of a time the past month. See, we thought he had a problem with his testes …”

Whoa. Chatty Seatmate crosses over into TMI Seatmate in a matter of seconds. 

“Oh goodness,” I feign interest as I struggle to hear the announcement from the pilot about our plans to take off from Dulles and head to San Francisco. But Annoying Seatmate continues her diarrhea of the mouth, sparing me no detail of her husband’s examinations (“thank goodness it wasn’t anything terrible”), family troubles (“my annoying bitch of cousin”) and travel complaints (“I hate United”).

By the grace of god, her daughter comes and sits in between us, giving me the perfect chance to put my headphones in my ears and turn my head to look out the window, letting me enjoy my last sunrise on American soil (or above American soil).

Thankfully, she continues her bitchfest to her daughter instead and I tune out, watching out the cabin window as the plane picks up speed and eventually is airborne, flying over America.

I take it all in, trying to imagine what we are flying over and reliving my road trip adventure from two weeks earlier that brought me from west to east.

Funny I am going backwards to go forward.

Sleep grabs me, but I wake up in time to see the brown of the desert below. I’ve flown to Las Vegas enough times to recognize what is below, and I know it’s not the Vegas desert I am looking at, but it is Nevada. Then, we’re over the mountains, then we are descending into San Francisco.

“Glad you made it home safe,” I mutter to the woman in my aisle as we exit the aircraft, then I head to my next gate.

A delayed flight from San Francisco to Beijing

Flight Two: Delayed Flight Suck and Plane Suck

I look at the departures board, squinting to see my Air China flight from SFO to Beijing. Delayed. By an hour. I do a quick calculation in my head: that leaves me (maybe) one hour catch my connection to Bangkok in China. If I miss that flight, I can’t get to Bangkok until the next day, which leaves me missing my other flight on Air Asia getting me into Chiang Mai.

Shit.

So, I go into Fix This Mode. I message Air Asia. I get on the phone with Air China. I call my parents and bitch, bitch, bitch.

“This is such a pain in the ass … I am going to have to rebook tickets if I can’t connect.”

“Then, that’s what will happen,” my mom says into the phone.

“Got to love travel,” my dad jokes.

Air Asia tells me if I miss my flight, even with a certificate saying it was Air China’s fault, I still have to pay to book a new flight. And, Air China tells me they can’t do anything to get me to Chiang Mai should I miss my connection.

As a last resort, I approach the gate agent to ask what they can do since my connection will now be cutting it very close.

“Guess you will just have to run,” the woman shrugs.

Thanks.

Almost two hours late, we finally board the plane.

I sink into the seat. Or attempt to sink into the seat. It’s hard as a rock.

At least there is entertainment on long-haul flights.

Then, I look at the seatback in front of me.

Something is missing on this Air China flight!

There is nothing there. A tray to pull down. No cute little television. Nothing.

You’ve got to be kidding me.

Instead of getting pissed I forked out more than a grand for the flight — because that isn’t going to solve anything at the moment — I pull out some little blue Tylenol PMs and pop them. Goodbye, AmericaTwelve hours later (and with 45 minutes to catch my connection), we land.

The man next to me sits and waits as people from behind us go.

“Sorry,” I say, tapping him lightly on the shoulder and fighting the racing heart pounding in my ears. “I have to catch a flight.”

Flight Three: Security Suck and the Should-Have-Bought-Two-Seats Suck 

Groggy, but awake, I bolt off the plane and am greeted by a shuttle to take us through immigration.

Oh please. Please. Drive. Drive. Drive.

I glance at my phone nervously. 30 minutes. 30 minutes. 30 minutes.

When the doors open, I race through the halls, rounding corners with astonishing speed for someone weighted down not only with a carry on, but also a completely full Pac Safe tote.

I race through an arch that takes my temperature, head to immigration where I am directed to another immigration. When I am finally allowed to pass, I am the first one to get to security.

20 minutes.

I’ve traveled a lot. I know what can stay in my bag and what needs to be taken out. I start to pull out my laptops.

“You have camera?” The security agent asks.

“Yeah,” I say, getting antsy.

“You take it out.”

OK. Fine.

I remove my camera and put it into a bin, along with my laptops, then wait for everything on the other side of security.

The bags move through the belt and stop. Then move a little. Then stop. Then, they come out. Along with a security agent.

“You have chords in here?”

“Yeah,” I say, heat rising in my face.

“No chords.”

What the hell?

I go to open up my bag to take them out, but the agent reaches for it, too. He opens my bag and dumps out my charger for my laptop and my phone. Then, he opens my carry-on and begins to rummage through that. Then, its back through the X-Ray machine.

Anxiety sweeps over my body.

15 minutes.

The bags come out again.

“You have battery?”

“Yeah.”

Again, the agent goes into my carry-on, this time basically dumping the entirety of its contents into bins. Business cards. Make up bag. Journal.

You’ve got to be kidding me.

“Please, please,” I beg. “My flight. I have 10 minutes.”

Four bins go back through the X-Ray machine. I break into a sweat as I watch them examine the screens, looking for who-knows-what. Finally, after what seems like an eternity, four bins come out. My four bins.

“OK,” security tells me as I fight tears, looking at both of my bags, entirely unpacked, sitting in front of me.

I toss everything into them without caring what is where, and run to my gate.

With two minutes to spare, I get onto the plane and sink into my seat. My aisle seat because, even though I had spoken on the phone with Air China and was insured I would have a window, the ticket said otherwise. This time my seatmate takes up nearly my seat and hers.

I pop another Tylenol PM, blow up my neck pillow, arrange myself to fit into a corner of my seat and pray the carts don’t run over my toes, and close my eyes.

The Intermission Suck

I stand, scanning the luggage on the belt once we arrive in Bangkok.

Where’s my bag?

Fortunately, I’m with a few other girls I met in San Francisco who are headed to Elephant Nature Park, too. And, there bags aren’t here.

We survey the carousel a few more times, then look to find a representative from Air China to help us. Of course, there aren’t any. Instead, we are directed to Thai Airlines customer service.

“Try Carousel 7.”

We head there. Nothing.

“Try Carousel 9.”

Again, nothing.

Finally, we are brought into a room where they track our bags.

“Your bag is still in Beijing,” the rep explains to me. “It said it got on an earlier flight, but it did not.”

“How would it get on an earlier flight? Did it get scanned when I landed in San Francisco?”

“Yes.”

“And it was scanned again when I got to China?”

“Yes.”

“Then, how did it get on an earlier flight to Bangkok or how did it say it got on an earlier flight to Bangkok when I arrived with 30 minutes to board my connection?”

“It will be here in a few days.”

“I need it here sooner than that,” I sigh.

I fill out the paperwork and head into the airport to get some food, some wifi and some rest.

As I lay down, at 2 a.m., people begin to crowd around me, talking loudly.

Finally, I decide sleep isn’t going to happen and, when I can, I head over to Air Asia to check in to my final flight.

The final flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, Thailand

Flight Four: The No Refund Suck

I stand at the Air Asia counter, trying to explain Air China has misplaced my bag, trying to explain I wanted on refund on the $100 I spent to check a phantom bag.

“Sorry,” the ticketing agent says. “You need to cancel at least four hours before to get a refund.”

“But, you just opened and this only happened five hours ago.”

“Sorry.”

It’s just not worth the fight.

I head to my gate and board the plane.

As we fly over the emerald green mountains of Thailand and begin to descend into Chiang Mai, all of the Suck from the past 30-something hours of traveling dissipates.

I look out onto the land and feel warm. Glowing. Thrilled.

This … this is my new home.

Then, the smile doesn’t leave my face.

When has travel sucked for you?

 

Asia Blog Thailand Travel

Daily Wanderlust: Napa Valley

Funny thing — nearly a year to the day I found myself once again at San Francisco’s airport. In July 2011, I was there because Abby and I were meeting Kristin and heading out for a girlie weekend in Napa; in July 2012, I was there because I was taking a flight across the Pacific and heading to my new home and life as an expat in Thailand.

It is wild to believe an entire year has passed since we were drinking wine and enjoying a girl’s-only weekend in California’s beautiful Napa Valley.

During our trip, we were fortunate enough to stay at my friend’s hotel, the charming Chardonnay Lodge.

This shot is from the garden in front of our hotel. The owner, Karin Patel, not only has gorgeous roses in bloom, but even a little vineyard with a table and chairs. So quaint and charming!

The Chardonnay Lodge in Napa Valley

Destinations

Escape of the Week: Pioneertown, California

It’s a fiercely windy morning in the Inland Empire’s high desert. Desert sand crunches underfoot and the icy gusts ripping through the barren area make tears race down my cheeks. Nearby, shrubs polka-dot their way up the snow-covered Big Bear Mountain. Backed up against the cloudless blue sky, the scene unfolding is the perfect display of the sublime beauty of the Southwest desert.

For a Friday morning, there’s no action here. Nothing at all. Unless you count a student film project parked on an open expanse of land, getting ready to jerry-rig a camera to a motorcycle for something their group is working on.

“The winter is slow,” says Stacie Samuels, who owns Pioneertown Motel, along with her husband. Right now, it’s just my room being rented.

On this morning, slow is an understatement.

We’re the only ones here. And, the area we have come to tour, a Hollywood lot fashioned after a 1870s frontier town, Pioneertown, is closed.

A relic of the Wild West.

Ground first broke in late 1946 with Roy Rogers flinging the first shovel of desert sand. Dreamed up by Hollywood investors, Pioneertown is a lot like Bonnie Springs. It’s got gun fights. It’s got the old western motif. But, there’s more to it. There’s a history here that unites Hollywood and the magic of film with the desert.

Today, Pioneertown is more tourist attraction that movie set, although the soundstage still stands at the far end of the little town.

It’s had the likes of Roy Rogers crunch down the same desert sand road as I walk. It’s been the on-location spot for shows like “Cisco Kid.” Hundreds of films have used the old west façade as a backdrop for stories, along with a handful of television shows.

The beauty of Pioneertown isn’t just the recreation of an old west town – it’s the interaction people get in exchange for a four-mile, windy jaunt up a mountain road from Yucca Valley, California.

On weekends, especially from February through autumn, Pioneertown is alive. There are two groups that stage gun fights and old west re-enactments– the Pioneertown Posse and the Gunfighters for Hire.

But, there’s more. The buildings, which on other sets are merely facades, have meat to them. There’s a throw-back bowling alley, which, according to the Morongo Basin Historical Society, is the oldest in the state still in use. A general store. A pottery gallery and more.

“People that come here either get it … or they don’t,” remarks Samuels.

It’s easy to see what she means. Not everyone is impressed with an old west town that was a part of the Hollywood western film heyday. Or the rustic – and darling – inn Samuels operates.

Pioneertown Inn is old. About as old as the town itself. With 17 rooms, it’s not posh. Or luxurious. But, it is comfortable and homey.

One wing of the rustic Pioneertown Inn.

The rooms offer the basics – a little front patio, a country-quilt covered bed, bathroom (complete with books for reading materials), big closets, windows that let sun spill in and a wall with kitchen necessities that include a sink, stove and microwave. For the ones who believe, stay in room 13. Rumor has it, it’s haunted. Don’t worry — according to Samuels’ the ghost is reportedly friendly.

Travel Tip: While you’re there, be sure to swing by the famous Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, adjacent to the main drag of Pioneertown.

A band performs at Pappy & Harriet's.

Originally a cantina for the town, today, it’s a restaurant/bar/music venue that ropes in renowned musicians including Lucinda Williams and Robert Plant, celeb guests (Ryan Gosling has been counted among the crowd), and a general crowd of laid-back hipsters, marines and families.

Make sure you swing by the bar and then the restrooms.

The men's restroom at the popular venue.

The women's restroom.

For the fascinating backstory on this desert hotspot, check out the story I did for Vegas Seven, In the Shadow of the Old West, an Unlikely Music Venue.”

Have you ever visited a Wild West town?

Destinations