A Weekend in Miami

 

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Miami is like New York.  It is full of culture and history.

Miami is like Pattaya, Thailand.  Beautiful beaches lining its coast.

Miami is like Denver.  There are bars and restaurants on nearly every block.

Miami is a tourist dream paradise, it is a city well-connected by flights, the food is delicious and there is plenty to do no matter what time of day.

The city is dominant by Spanish language which wasn’t a huge surprise to me given the geographical location to Latin America.  I was surprised how many people spoke Spanish to us in Spanish and not English first.  The majority of the drivers and a few restaurant workers spoke to didn’t speak English which made it difficult at times to get around.

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Ocean Drive

Miami Beach is an entirely separate city from Miami proper.  To reach Miami Beach you travel over a bridge.

The heart of Miami is undoubtedly South Beach.  Home to clubs, restaurants, hotels, shopping and the occasional celebrity sighting, the community provides something for anyone visiting.

The southern tip of South Beach is home to Ocean Drive.  There you have the legendary Art Deco buildings, the late Gianni Versace’s mansion and multiple locations that were featured in Hollywood motion pictures.

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The Birdcage staring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane was filmed at The Carlyle.  Bad Boys and Scarface filmed scenes along the area.

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728 Ocean Drive was the location of the Sun Ray Apartments in Scarface.  Here the legendary chainsaw scene took place at the back of the property before Johnny Rockets occupied the location.  It is currently being remodeled into a new CVS.

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Expensive mixed drinks are available at bars and restaurants with views of the beach across the street.

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Espanola Way

Tucked in a palm tree lined pedestrian street, Espanola Way is a throwback to Old World Europe.  Take your pick from Cuban, Italian, Japanese and Mexican food.  Walking up the street, hosts from every restaurant greet you outside with menus readily in hand.

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Havana 1957

Transporting you to Havana in the 1950’s, Havana 1957 allows you to relive the glory and glamour of Cuba.  I was treated to my first and long overdue experience of Cuban food.  I ordered Vaca Frita, a dish  with grilled shredded beef, onions in Cuban mojo. Served with white rice and black beans.  I paired it with local fresh red Sangria that was the perfect compliment.  While I cannot recall the name of our server, he was a very classy and knowledgeable fellow who shared stories coming over from Cuba and his artwork created.

Hosteria Romana

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My last evening in Miami began with a return trip to Espanola Way at Hosteria Romana.  The interior of the restaurant held the essence of central Rome that provided you with a brief trip to Italy.  From traditional music to exquisite plates of Roman Jewish cuisine, Hosteria Romana brings South Beach the culture of Rome, Italy.

We ordered an appetizer of freshly sliced prosciutto ham and melon.  Unlike traditional meats found in delis, this was the freshest that I have come across.  For dinner I ordered Bucatini o Rigatoni Amatriciana.  The name is lengthy but the dish boasts robust flavors of tomato, romano cheese and an Italian bacon (pancetta) sauce.

I can be rather picky when it comes to quality Italian food.  Other than the restaurants that occupy Little Italy in New York, Hosteria Romana is the most authentic and appealing Italian restaurant I have come across during my travels.

Take Away

For my first experience in Miami, despite the humidity it truly lived up to its expectations of a party city and full of culture.  While I am not sure when I will return, it has earned a return someday..

 

 

Alaska: Braving the Arctic cold at Mendenhall Glacier

 

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The state of Alaska truly is “The Last Frontier” due to its geographical location from the U.S. mainland.  Accessible only by airplane or boat, Alaska fits the typical statement for being “off the grid” from civilization, with the exception of it’s largest cities Anchorage and Fairbanks.  Located on the panhandle in southern Alaska, the state capitol of Juneau is the only US capitol besides Hawaii that does connect to the rest of the state or the U.S. Mainland.

I was presented with the opportunity of a lifetime to visit Juneau with a friend.  Early in the morning we boarded a flight in Seattle for a 2 1/2 hour direct flight to Juneau International Airport.  Well aware that the weather for November in Juneau averages in the mid-30’s, packing warmer clothes was the only option.  Growing up I spent many weekends each year camping in cold weather and the occasional snow while I was in Scouts.  Upon departing the aircraft and into the airport terminal, the weather was colder than I had originally anticipated requiring adding additional layers of clothing.  Being a native to California we experience all of the seasons through-out the year but nothing near the drop in temperature that Alaska experiences.  65 degrees in California is extreme cold to a select hand full of locals.

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A 10-minute taxi ride North of the airport you will discover Juneau’s most coveted natural landmark, the Mendenhall Glacier.  The 13-mile glacier ends in Mendenhall Lake providing guests picturesque views of the glacier and floating icebergs.  Immediately after stepping foot outside of the taxi, you arrive at the visitor center that provides an introduction to the Mendenhall Valley with a brief history of the area.  It’s common to experience a bear sighting or two while in the area, especially in the Spring season.  What stood out to me were posted signs along the 1.5 mile hike to the glacier regarding bears and what do should you come across one.  The rangers strongly suggested that flavored gum and beverages be disregarded and to speak to the bear in a calm tone.  Never knew that. Anyone see Yogi Bear around or Boo Boo?

The Mendenhall Valley lies within a secluded area of Juneau that blends lush green vegetation and massive trees that could be utilized properly come Christmas time.  During the Winter months, the lake reaches freezing temperatures with build up of ice along land.  As we learned, the ice can be very thing that should be used with extreme caution if walked on.

Before arriving at the glacier Nugget Falls resides a short distance away.  The natural waterfall created from the gradual decline of the glacier is a good opportunity to get in a quick break.  The view from Nugget Falls is the closest and best you will have of the glacier unless you decide to take the hike into the ice caves into the glacier.  Overall this is the best experience to pay a visit to while in Juneau.

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New York City – An Empire State of Mind

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There is no question that New York City is the center of the world.  It is a place unlike any other.  The “Big Apple” tops many personal travel bucket lists continually drawing millions of tourists across the globe annually.

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Know what to expect before you arrive:  New York City can be very intimidating and a bit overwhelming to anyone who has never set foot in any the 5 Boroughs.  Manhattan: The smallest borough geographically that contains the historic, cultural and economic heart of the city.  Queens: The most diversified economy of the 5 Boroughs that includes JFK International and LaGuardia Airports and Flushing Meadows home to the US Open Tennis tournament and Citi Field, home to the New York Mets.  Brooklyn: Once an independent incorporated city until 1898, this borough was the original home of the Brooklyn Dodgers before they relocated to Los Angeles.  The Bronx:  The only borough located primarily on the US mainland and home to the legendary New York Yankees franchise.  Staten Island:  The least populous borough that is the southernmost part of the city and the state of New York.

Before arriving put together a shortlist of everything you want to do.  Not everything can be accomplished in a short trip so plan to shorten the list along the way.  Many locations such as Times Square and the Statue of Liberty are the frequently visited compared to the other tourist locations where time can be critical unless you arrive early in the day.

Plan your budget:  New York is known to be expensive, after booking your flight and accommodations I would save as much money as you can rather than trying to make it work.  Everything from museums to observation decks can be expensive but can work with creating a certain budget.

Observation Deck View:  The popular options are One World Trade Center, Rockefeller Center and the Empire State Building.  Each location provides unique views of Manhattan, the remaining boroughs and nearby New Jersey.  If you’re looking for the best option, Top of The Rock at Rockefeller Center provides it all.  During the day, guests are treated to panoramic views of Central Park and the Hudson River.  At night, the perfect location to take in the skyline above the lights.

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Avoid the tourist traps:  Times Square is the center of the city that is or consistently crowded full of tourists.  From nightly live entertainers on the sidewalks to yellow taxi cabs lined on both sides of the street, Times Square is a brief visit to quickly take in and leave.  In my previous trips to the city I have often discovered that the off-the-path locations throughout the city are worth visiting.  Local comedy clubs, Battery Park in Lower Manhattan and the legendary Trinity Church that miraculously survived 9/11.

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I’ve spent a combined 9 days in New York City between three trips experiencing everything that I could in a short amount of time.  Take a trip to the legendary Katz’s Deli.  Visit Yankees Stadium and see Monument Park.  Discover why New York Pizza is the greatest in the world.  View the New York skyline on the free Staten Island ferry to and from the city.  Purchase a Metro Card for the most convenient access across the boroughs.  More importantly, experience New York as you most see it.  The city that never sleeps.

Welcome to The Rock

 

Sean Connery penned the legendary line, “Welcome to The Rock” in the 1996 action film The Rock.  Filmed on Alcatraz Island off the coast San Francisco, CA, the former maximum high-security prison introduced the island to a new generation of people which would eventually become operated by the United States National Park Service.

Alcatraz’s rich history and dark past housed some of America’s most notorious criminals including Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, Bumpy Johnson and Robert Stroud the”Birdman of Alcatraz.” Since its closure in 1963, the island has been restored and maintained in recent years as Alcatraz hosts millions of visitors each year.

Those who have the opportunity to visit Alcatraz are provided an experience to tour the 3-story cell block building and the island with an audio narration by former prisoners, guards and rangers.

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Lafitte’s Backsmith Shop – The Oldest Bar in the U.S.

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The New Orleans nightlife bar scene is commonly associated by the hundreds of tourists that flock to Bourbon Street on a nightly base.  The search for cheap liquor, jazz music and inhibitions makes this location of the French Quarter one of the most visited places in the country.  It also makes the less commonly visited bars unique to the crescent city.

A “New Orleans institution” constructed in 1722 on Bourbon Street, Lafitte’s Blacksmith 
Shop blends pirate history with culture blended into the perfect recipe only found in the city.  Considered the oldest operating bar in the country, Lafitte’s originally operated as a blacksmith shop that served as a front for Jean and Pierre’s smuggling operation until 1791.

Lured by its rich history and haunted tales from the past, there have been allegedly multiple sightings of Lafitte sitting near the piano bar with a drink in hand.   The candlelit tables provide an intimate experience for patrons indulging on its history or sipping on the signature purple voodoo drink or a hurricane.  Use your best judgement while ordering drinks as they can be stronger than normal.

Location: 941 Bourbon Street, New Orleans, LA 70116

The Bright Lights of Los Angeles

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High above the bustling streets of downtown Los Angeles, Sky Space offers its guests an opportunity to experience the city 69-stories from above.  Panoramic views of nearby Hollywood and legendary Dodgers Stadium, this is the must-see attraction that is gaining popularity among locals and tourists on vacation.  Located on the 54th, 69th and 70th floor of the US Bank tower, visitors enter the building from the 2nd story and proceed through a security check point prior to boarding the high speed elevator.

Once you reach the 54th floor, guests exit into an interactive lobby showcased by a continuous video and a photo opportunity with a stationed photographer.  Once you have taken the elevator up to the 70th floor, guests who purchased the combo Sky Space LA and slide ticket have the option to proceed to the enclosed slide over the city and onto the 69th floor observation deck.

Much similar to the observation decks in Las Vegas, New York City and Seattle, Sky Space LA provides panoramic views of the city, Dodger Stadium, Hollywood and the LA basin.  For those who may experience vertigo, there are multiple couches located along the observation for ample views.  I’ve had the opportunity to experience this location during the day and late at night.  Each experience was very unique and provided a different perspective of Los Angeles.

How To Plan A Weekend Adventure To New Mexico

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There’s no question, I love to travel and quite often.  Traveling every month, whether it’s a day trip or the neighboring state is a natural high.  Born and raised in Southern California has provided me the opportunity to visit the beach, desert and mountains within the same day due to their geographic location between each other.  There is a common saying that living in Southern California, you can hit the winter slopes at sunrise and enjoy the sunrise later that very day.

The consistent question that I am asked is how I am able to afford to travel as frequently as I do.  For starters, it is not easy and it takes a lot of planning and budgeting.  Each time before I hit the road with my friends I make sure that I have the necessary items before stepping out of my front door. Backpack full of clothes, toiletries, camera gear with fully charged batteries, cell phone charger and most importantly, a great attitude because the drives can become very long and tiresome.

Food and Beverage Options

Food options on the road are not the best since the majority of the towns have limited fast food options and truck stops.  In other words, junk food that will slow you down for the trip.  I have quickly learned that Trader Joe’s, The Vitaminn Shoppe and Walmart have become my go-to locations every time for food, healthy options and the necessary items needed to make it to and from the destination. Trader Joe’s can be pricey at times but there are plenty of food options available from your basic pre-packaged trail mixes, dried fruits and their expansive selection of produce that can fit in your basic cooler in the car.  I tend to leave the store with peanut butter, jelly and a loaf of bread that are used for a quick go-to meal.  If you’re priority is to buy items in bulk, the neighborhood Walmart or if available, the local super market have inexpensive items.  About 2-hours East of Tucson, AZ there is a local place that sells fresh jerky of all types and flavors.  I highly recommend this to anyone reading this article.  Never knew Antelope and other forms of animals could be jerky.

Planning

Choosing the location can be the easiest, but on occasion extremely difficult.  I have recently spent a lot of time traveling to Arizona and New Mexico for the weekend.  At the beginning of planning for these trips I wrote down a list of destinations that I wanted to visit with time permitting.  The trip to White Sands National Monument and Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico were over 13-hours away from my house by car.  There was the option to leave early afternoon and arrive in the middle of the night or leave after 9:00 PM and drive through the night.  We selected the second option after packing up the car and filling up the gas tank.  Unfortunately we did not know that there was a high demand for White Sands camping permits.  Offered on a daily basis for first-come first-serve, the $3.00 permit allows visitors to spend the evening sleeping on the dunes after the park closes for the day at sunset.  If this is something that you really want to do, plan on arriving early in the day to secure your permit.  Most National Parks provide a designated campground but please confirm before leaving to make sure they are available at your destination.  Each time I travel I make sure that at least one of the nights is spent in a hotel nearby to allow proper time to recharge your batteries before continuing the trip back home.

With any trip whether it’s in a car or aboard a plane, do your research ahead of time and plan efficiently to save!

Quick Bite: Karl Strauss Brewery in Anaheim

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The 2017 MLB season has arrived in 30 cities in the U.S. and Canada.  Over the next 6-months, the die hard fans and those new to the game will experience what makes baseball what it is, the greatest game ever played.  A tradition that millions of people experience yearly beginning the first Sunday in April has become one that every generation alike will experience.

Rapidly becoming a new tradition to the game is the desire for quality food and drinks hours leading up to the game and afterwards.  Teams around the league have been hard at work creating their take on new and innovative stadium food yearly.  These new items have come at a steep price for those willing to pay for them.  The growing prices for stadium food and drinks has seen an increase in craft breweries opening new locations across the street from the stadiums.

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Following its successful opening in Summer 2016, San Diego, CA longest surviving brewery, Karl Strauss is destined for a successful 2017. Located directly across the street from Angels Stadium in Anaheim, the breweries spacious size provides its guests the perfect alternative to Happy Hour Specials and reasonably priced food for those attending the game.

Happy Hour Specials:

Monday – Friday: 3:00 PM – 6:00 PM

Pints and Flights: $5

House Wine: $5

“Shorty” Beers (9 oz): $3

Karl Strauss Brewery

2390 E Orangewood Ave, Ste 100
Anaheim, CA 92806

Brewery Hours:

  • Sunday 11:00 AM – 10:00 PM
  • Monday 11:00 AM – 10:00 PM
  • Tuesday 11:00 AM – 10:00 PM
  • Wednesday 11:00 AM – 10:00 PM
  • Thursday 11:00 AM – 10:00 PM
  • Friday 11:00 AM – 11:00 PM
  • Saturday 11:00 AM – 11:00 PM

 

The Beauty of Anacapa Island

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April 4, 2017

When I first learned of Anacapa Island earlier this year, the only thing I knew about it was that it was part of the Channel Islands National Park.  It’s accessible only by boat by reserving your trip through Islandpackers.com.  The 1-hour boat trip departs at 9:30 am from their Oxnard, CA harbor location and arrives at East Anacapa Island.  On a clear day you may experience a whale sighting.  To reach the top of the island, you must climb up over 130 steps up a winding set of stairs from the dock.

I first explored the Visitor Center and saw the original light that was used when the lighthouse was fully functional.  The Visitor Center provides plenty of history about the islands and brochures for those wanting to take information to their friends and family.

Anacapa Island may be remote off the California Coast, however you are truly not alone.  Hundreds of birds live on the island.  So in reality, you are their guest for the day, or night if you decide to camp.  Don’t be surprised if one, two or many more squawk at you a few times.

Use caution along Inspiration Point.  There’s no railing along the cliff and part of the island runs along a fault line that can drop off.  The island volunteer pointed this out to me as I was in an are that was considered not safe.  The views of the other two islands that make up Anacapa Island’s are incredible.  The Lighthouse at the opposite side of the island is a short hike from Inspiration Point.  You are allowed to get within 50 yars of the lighthouse due to the consistent fog horn.  Make sure you bring your camera and comfortable hiking shoes because this island is worth the money!  Lastly, you may have an encounter with a pod of dolphins on your return trip!

Exploring Carlsbad Caverns National Park

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Carlsbad Caverns National Park in Carlsbad, New Mexico has always been a must-see location ever since I began traveling.

I remember when I was a teenager how I always thought Carlsbad Caverns was located in Carlsbad, CA a little over a 1-hour drive from where I live.  Not 1-hour north of Texas as I came to realize.  I thought it was your typical cave to briefly explore and be wowed.

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After spending the previous day exploring the well-known White Sands National Park 4-hours away, my crew and I began our drive as the sun set over the New Mexico desert.  We had originally planned to camp at White Sands before learning that all of the camping sites had been reserved earlier in the day.  For those who asking if you can camp at Carlsbad Caverns National Park the answer is no.  Most National Parks have the nearby campground where you can set-up your home for the night, however not here so you are better staying at the nearby RV Park if spots are available. Don’t forget to see the nearby staff buildings that were completed around the 1930’s.

The park opens daily at 8:00 AM with varying closing hours depending on the time of the year you visit.  The Visitor Center prepares you for what to see and what to expect on your hike down to the bottom of the cavern.  Did I mention that the bottom of the cavern is 75-stories below the surface?  Be prepared.  Bring water, light snacks and comfortable shoes for the hike. If you’re not able to physically do the 1.25 mile hike there is an elevator in the Visitor Center that takes you to the bottom.  This is your last opportunity to use the restrooms before reaching the bottom of the caverns, so please take note.

Natural Entrance

Entering through the natural entrance is a steep and narrow walkway that passes through the bat cave into the beginning of the caverns.  Depending on the time of the day, you will have the opportunity to witness the bats fly in and out of the cave directly above you.  No need to worry, it’s quite safe!

Exploring the caverns 

Ascending into the caverns, the route is highlighted with the Devil’s Spring, Green Lake Overlook and The Boneyard.  The cavern at anytime can be filled with tourists, so please allow for extra time if you’re like me and looking to capture images.

There is nothing like the Big Room once you reach it!  One of the largest chambers in the world, the Big Room is the must-see while at Carlsbad Caverns. Roughly the size of 6 football fields, the circular-route passes through multiple famous formations including the Bottomless Pit, Rock of Ages and Painted Grotto.  Due to its lengthy size, there is a shortcut midway into the Big Room to take you break to the break room/restrooms/elevators.

Photography Tips

If you’re looking to capture lasting images of the caverns, make sure that you bring with a suitable camera with the proper lens(s).  The caverns are very dark with not a great selection of natural light.  I had to use a high ISO with a 15-20 second exposure in some locations of the caverns to really bring out all the colors.  I recommend bringing with you a wide angle lens, please leave expensive zoom glass in your car it will not be needed.  I use a camera that is nowhere near new anymore but have learned how to set-up to produce the images below.

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