Once again we spent a few days up north around John’s family reunion in July. My state park mania (thanks, National Geographic) took us to Connecticut and then we explored the Adirondacks with a book by Tim Starmer as our guide. Although we took a long walk or hiked every day, the trip was wonderfully relaxing and reviving.
Signing off with a wish for a similar trip next summer.
As a crazy list person:
38/213 parks in Guide to the State Parks of the United States
6/46 hikes in Adirondacks: Your Guide to 46 Spectacular Hikes
After San Diego and Los Angeles, we spent the next three nights in Palm Springs.
On our way east, we stopped at Aspen Mill Bread Company for sandwiches before an easy walk through the Coachella Valley Preserve.
Walking among the giant fan palms is a beautiful experience –their dried skirts whispering, the gentle perfume of honey mesquite. Such a gorgeous surprise to come upon a hospitable oasis in the midst of shifting sand and rock.
We rested our feet at the Coachella Valley Brewing Company, which had some excellent Belgian and sour styles. Then we checked into the Monkey Tree Hotel, a restored mid-century gem with a pool and a “Scandinavian spa” (hot tub, cold plunge, and sauna) that we made use of every day we were there.
In the evening, we walked around downtown Palm Springs with its mix of stores selling crystals, records, vintage clothes contrasted with new construction and an impossibly fancy Starbucks. It was Taco Tuesday at the Tonga Hut, so we looked no further and had Polynesian tacos with mai tais.
The next morning we watched the sunrise on the mountains and went for a desert drive before breakfast. Fortified by the best continental breakfast spread I’ve ever seen, we set out for Tahquitz Canyon, a sacred site for the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, located on the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation. The Reservation was established in 1876, and according to the tribal website — “On a combined basis, the Tribe and its members currently represent the largest single land owner in Palm Springs.” — which I think is great and I hope the Tribe can continue to preserve the unusual and fragile landscape around Palm Springs.
On that cool Wednesday morning in the shady canyon, I felt a strong sense of mystery and wonder as we stepped over rocks and worked our way along a small stream lined with deciduous trees. The air smelled sweet and we spotted a hummingbird. A short while later, we found ourselves on a muddy embankment and the gray rocks revealed a trickling waterfall.
Energized by the meditative walk through the canyon, we decided to fit in another hike before lunch. We headed north to Whitewater Preserve, a hard, dry landscape that had me baffled as to where the trail was leading us.
Eventually the trail vered off and began winding up a mountainside. After a long ascent, we found the Pacific Crest Trail!
The hardest part of the 3.5 mile loop was over! Now we could enjoy spectacular views and cruise along the mountain tops.
Happily tired, we returned to the car and went to the tiny vegan eatery, Tonya’s Kitchen. The rest of the afternoon we spent basking in the sun at the Monkey Tree. When sunset came, we sat by the firepit and watched the sky changed behind the palm trees.
We headed to the Draughtsman for an early dinner, followed by a drink a Blackbook, which to East Coasters like us sounded like a lush speakeasy, but turned out to be a bustling sleek bar with TVs and a digital fireplace. We wondered what everyone else was doing in Palm Springs. Visiting elderly relatives whose lucrative careers had rewarded them with a life of endless sunshine, golf, and gated communities? Hanging out at the casinos or clubbing at gay bars? Checking out the film festival? We never made it to Cathedral City, but Palm Springs had a sleepy, bougie vibe that I didn’t quite know what to make of. I suppose I’ll stick to tales of glorious hiking.
On Thursday, we woke up early and decided to ignore all of the horror stories about Joshua Tree NP during the government shutdown — the overflowing trash, the nasty bathrooms, the vandalism. The manager at Monkey Tree didn’t seem phased and knew people who had just been there and we figured this is might be our one chance to see these iconic, beloved trees. I’m so glad we did!
We found the park quiet and pristine. It turns out volunteers had courageously taken on the park’s upkeep. While some bathrooms were locked, others were in excellent condition. I’m so grateful to the anonymous volunteers for allowing me to have the wonderful experience I did that day!
In this massive national park, two desert systems meet: the Colorado (part of the Sonoran Desert) and the Mojave. We followed the park road and stopped a various moments, unable to control the urge to photograph every tree and rock. At Ryan Mountain, we parked to enjoy a proper hike.
The 1.5-mile trail (one-way) climbs up 1,000 feet and rewarded us with an unimpeded 360-degree view of the entire landscape. Though we saw people on the way up and the way down, we had the top of the windy mountain all to ourselves.
After the descent, we continued driving through the park and particularly enjoyed the Jumbo Rocks area:
When we had our fill of rocks, we sought out lunch. It required a surprising amount of online searching in the car to find a place with outdoor seating. We ended up at Cino’s, a classic Italian joint (complimentary bread and salad) with a few wobbly tables off its parking lot. John’s sub and my manicotti were cheap and truly hit the spot.
After lunch I got a date shake in downtown Palm Springs and we wandered into the quirky shops and sat for a time in the nice open area in front of the Kimpton listening to a guitarist. Later we headed to the southern end of town to the fabulously hip hotel, The Saguaro, for dinner at El Jefe. It’s a small bar with excellent food and karaoke Thursdays! The host was a drag queen, whom I’ll call Ursula — she sang “Poor Unfortunate Souls” and said she always wanted to be a sea hag! We should have stayed there longer instead of seeking out jazz at Melvyn’s at the Ingelside Inn. Although Frank Sinatra may have been a recurring patron back in the day and his laughing face graced the bar napkins, I don’t think his ghost would go near the place now. The singing piano man there that night was pathetic. He had a terrible voice and not in the loveable Dylan or Waits way. He used backing tracks, which I absolutely loathe, and honestly I don’t know why he resorted to such a tactic when his piano playing seemed decent. Just get a bassist, for goodness sakes! The whole experience made me and John irritable and we left without finishing our drinks.
On Friday, we drove by Elvis’s Honeymoon Hideaway, a pink mid-century beauty with bay windows, before heading south to Anza-Borrego State Park. An impossibly bare landscape surrounded us with call boxes every few thousand feet in case a person should breakdown in this unforgiving land. Of course the “check tires” light of our rental came on, despite the fact that we’d topped up the tires the day before. And this was the day when we’d be in a park with unpaved roads!
Approaching Anza-Borrego from the east, we first explored the Elephant Trees trail. I’m always interested in checking out unusual flora, but I’m not sure that these scrawny trees offered much return on our investment in terms of getting ourselves far out into the middle of nowhere, driving on the deeply rutted, rocky dirt road, and then wandering about in the sand in search of this rare specimen.
Then we did another short trail to explore the geological peculiarities of the park — hey, a fault line! I thought the rock biter from The Neverending Story would appear at any minute.
Although we could have spent much more time in Anza-Borrego, we both had tired of rocks and wanted to seek out people. Maybe in another lifetime, I’ll get to see the park in spring when the wildflowers bloom. In Borrego Springs, we had lunch at Kesling’s Kitchen in the Borrego Art Institute. Sitting outside, we saw a hummingbird and butterflies, while we enjoyed sandwiches and cactus soup.
The drive from Borrego Springs to San Diego was a most spectacular journey. We headed through desert and jagged mountains, past Lake Cuyamaca, up to a higher elevation with evergreens. Then more mountains and, at last, the ocean!
After we parked and checked in at Ocean Park Inn, we went for a walk on the beach and joined the happy hour crowd at Baja Beach Cafe. We walked out on the pier and watched the after-work surfers and gazed at the sunset. Later we had dinner at the PB Ale House. Relaxed and happy, we went to bed early to be ready for a morning flight home.
I had such a wonderful time on this trip that it left me with a serious case of travel fever, itchy feet! I’m looking forward to future adventures filled with hikes, nature, good food, and a hot tub!
Expansive sky, crumbling rock, honey mesquite in the air, alien trees…after a conference in San Diego and a visit with a friend in Los Angeles, John and I had one of our best vacations while we explored the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts and luxuriated at the Monkey Tree Hotel in Palm Springs.
Here in part one, I recount our adventures in the two cities.
Although primarily confined to the conference hotel, I did make it out for a few good meals: a blueberry cornmeal waffle at Cafe 222, where the service is both efficient and friendly and you might hear Kansas blasting as they get set up for the morning; a delightful quinoa farro medley at Sally’s, right by the water; a hearty lentil soup at Cafe 21.
On Saturday night, John took me out for an early dinner at Kindred, a vegan cocktail bar with fantastic food and gorgeous decor, as though a Parisian bistro had been transported to San Diego’s South Park neighborhood. To counteract the elegant surroundings, heavy metal plays overhead and a sign in the bathroom entreats employees to carve the slayer sign into their arms before returning to the floor. The bathrooms also feature incredible artwork involving cats…you just have to go see for yourself. Since I was in the midst of a cold, I stuck to the enticing list of mocktails and chose “Miracle Cure” with pineapple and charcoal. John and I shared the palm tacos (a la fish tacos) and the BBQ jackfruit sandwich. So satisfying, so tasty. We loved this place and recommended it to our vegetarian friends who were also at the conference.
Except for the outing to Kindred, my explorations were all on foot. I walked along the water and dodged the endless scooters zooming around the Gaslamp Quarter. I bought crazy socks at Find Your Feet and tights at CVS. I felt so cold all the time — perhaps because I had a cold.
John saw much more by taking the light rail and bus to different parts of the city. Of course, he also checked out farmers’ markets, breweries, and donut shops like Devil’s Dozen (yes, he brought some back to share).
By Sunday at noon, we were all packed up and took a taxi back to the airport to pick up our rental car. About 30 minutes later, we pulled off the highway in Del Mar for lunch at Panini Kabob Grill in an attractive shopping center. Sitting in a wonderful sunroom, I had a fantastic tofu kabob and John had a steak panini. John had been in charge of picking out places for us to eat and he was killing it!
We arrived at Rena and Aaron’s, close to Koreatown, around 4pm, and left the car parked until Tuesday morning. Via Lyft, we made targeted stops for our sightseeing since parking is as elusive as stardom. It would a lifetime for me to get the slightest grasp on the geography of LA. It’s just s o B I G.
On Sunday evening, the four of us headed out to West Hollywood. We wandered into the amazing vintage shops on Melrose — Rena and I tried on matching sequin bodysuits. Not a good look, it turns out. From American Vintage, I bought a blue blazer with white piping. Then we had ramen at EAK, before Lyfting our way to the Sunset Strip. Rena had gotten us tickets for the Comedy Store and while she waited in line (seating is first-come, first-serve), Aaron took me and John up to Chauteau Marmont, but we couldn’t figure out how to get in, probably because we lacked the confidence to walk in what was the front (plus, it was the Golden Globes and camera people were stationed out front).
The show at the Comedy Store started at 9pm. We could have stayed until 2am for the full 5 hours — an endless conveyor belt of comics doing 15-20 minute sets. By 11pm, my face ached from laughing so hard, so long, and I was emotionally drained. In two hours we’d seen such an array, including Kevin Nealon and Joe Rogan. The night started to take a cruel, sardonic turn and a heckler came on strong, so we left with the comic shouting at the herd of people who all decided to make their exit at the same time. An impossible business. Who stays for the 5-hour show? How cringingly uncomfortable does it get? I hope never to find out.
On Monday, we fortified ourselves with Bob’s Donuts, which John picked up early that morning. Aaron and Rena both had the day off, so we took a Lyft downtown and began by touring Union Station, remarkable for its Mission Moderne architecture. Our building walk continued with a look inside the ornate Bradbury Building, notable for its ironwork and a cameo appearance in Blade Runner.
The donuts didn’t keep us full for long, so we walked to Grand Central Market and all picked out different things to eat. I had a pupusa and a turmeric latte, while John got a sausage. We wandered over to The Last Bookstore, an incredible shop–practically a warehouse–with a separate room for art books and a little vault for old books. Though my cold was improving, I felt a bit woozy and was glad to get back out into the crisp air. That’s when a woman ran up to Rena and handed her a New Year’s tiara!
We walked through a district of various wholesalers — you name, it’s there — eventually finding our way to Little Tokyo, which is like an outdoor mall with only Japanese shops. Aaron bought a bag of sweet potato rolls, which came in handy later, and I got a bottle of water with the idea that dehydration might be the source of my foggy head. In search of food and a good sit-down, we continued on to Angel City Brewery. It was closed, but we could still marvel at the artwork in the outdoor beer garden.
Luckily, a different brewery was open, and we took a Lyft to Modern Times with its brewpub, The Dankness Dojo. Filled with quirky art, the bathrooms covered in comic book pages, booths made from church pews, and a vegan menu, here was a place to rest one’s feet for a time.
We made a quick stop at Cecil Hotel — infamous for the number of suspicious deaths which happened here, all conveniently catalogued on Wikipedia — before taking a car up to Griffith Observatory to watch the sunset.
Be still, my heart. From here, the city with its green hills and palm trees is stunning. We took our time looking around the observatory and then followed the dirt path down to the main road. I ate a pillowy sweet potato roll on the way.
We all piled into a Lyft again and went back to the house to relax. Before too long, we decided to head out for dinner at 6th and La Brea Brewery. Rena and I shared the LA fav, cauliflower wings, which I haven’t seen on the East Coast at all! I had a rice bowl and John had a kimchi burger. So tasty! Next time we go to LA, we will just eat and hike — forget about touring studios and whatever else people do: the killer food scene and hiking all the canyons is enough to keep a tourist busy.
On our last morning, John and I drove to Hollywood Forever and nearly went nuts looking for parking as the street cleaner was due to come through. Once in the cemetery, though, we found peace and — surprise — cats and peacocks! We looked for the graves of famous people and spotted Hattie McDaniel, Johnny Ramone, a memorial to Toto, and Mickey Rooney’s cinerary urn. (Is that right? I’m not up on my mortuary terms.)
It seemed late enough to hit the road and avoid the traffic. We made a U-turn on Santa Monica and headed east on 10, straight towards the sun, into the desert.
At the end of September, we took another trip up north. John’s mom couldn’t attend the reunion, so we decided we’d go to her. Throw in a stop at a donut shop, a few breweries, and a couple state parks — it’s a trip!
John and I love road trips. The cramped hamstrings, grimy rest stops, burnt coffee, sticky protein bars. No seriously, we do! For our seven-day tour of the northeast back in July, we applied our patented travel method: focus on state parks, breweries, and a food item (usually donuts, but here we spontaneously found ourselves on the North Country Taco Trail).
Instead of coaxing the 26-year-old Mercedes to ramble on, I rented a car from a very small Avis office. Despite having a reservation, the two men on duty didn’t have any vehicles in stock when I arrived, although it sounded like there was a suspicious amount of vacuuming going on in the adjoining garage. Perhaps they never have cars in stock and just wait for someone who was going to the airport to change their minds and drop off here instead. Well, I was in no hurry to go back out in the pouring rain, so I looked through the stack of car auction catalogs for an hour. Finally, two women returned a Chevy Malibu and I got in. John and I set out the next day, after cleaning up a minor overflow from our toilet. What fun!
The trip through photos:
Friday evening and Saturday we spent around Binghamton for the annual family reunion — catching up with everyone over lasagna and s’mores on Friday and at a cookout on Saturday at a local park. The perfect conclusion to relaxing week visiting beautiful places and wonderful friends.
In the past nine months, I’ve found myself in New York State three times for the best kind of getaway — easygoing, full of good food and drinks, time with friends and family. At last I’m taking the time to record our adventures.
Back in October, I went for two nights to meet up with a college roommate. She’s a busy mama, living in California, and we correspond only through handwritten letters so her presence was a special occasion. Over the course of the two day trip, I experienced the wonders of Zabar’s and drank my first turmeric latte. I stayed in an intentional living community (the modern commune) in Brooklyn for the first night, followed by a night at a work friend’s Upper East Side art-filled apartment. A tale of two cities!
Then in April, John and I drove to Brooklyn with Frankie, our cat. We prepared him by going for car rides about once a week. I can’t say he ever enjoyed the car, but he resigned himself and would alternately sleep on my lap and meow piteously. We stayed with cousin Deanna and her rat terrier, who excels at ignoring cats. Everyone cohabitated remarkably harmoniously.
I managed to lose my notes about the trip, but I can reconstruct a fair amount from the pile of receipts I just found in a shopping bag from the Strand bookstore.
Tuesday – After the drive, we headed into lower Manhattan to revisit our favorite Irish bar, the Dead Rabbit. Their food is reliably excellent and their Irish coffees reliably delicious. Then to Le District for some shopping.
Wednesday – We began the day at the Brooklyn Art Museum for the thrilling David Bowie exhibit. I loved seeing his costumes and could have spent hours in the dark theater watching videos of his performances. John and I took a long ramble through Prospect Heights and loved our slices at Brooklyn Pizza Crew. We checked out vintage shops like Harold and Maude, and eventually made our way to Manhattan. I’m not sure what all we did other than go to the Strand (I have a receipt!) to buy a pair of novelty socks (Do-nut Stop Believing) and a book about painting landscapes in watercolor.
That evening, we explored Williamsburg: marvelous, tasty vegan comfort food at Modern Love (perfect as a follow up to the Bowie exhibit) and gypsy jazz at the atmospheric St. Mazie with its convincingly retro decor.
Thursday – We visited the Smithsonian’s Cooper Hewitt, a progressive museum in the elegant Carnegie Mansion. Almost every exhibit is interactive (design wallpaper! play a piano that produces images!) and visitors receive a big pen that allows them to save objects to an online account (here’s what I saved). I feel certain we stopped at one of our faves on the way downtown: Plaza Food Hall, for a snack and the bathroom. Later in the afternoon we had lunch at the very art deco-Miami-esque Lalito. We wandered through Canal Street Market, bought chocolate at Stick with Me, checked out one of the Housing Works Thrift Stores, and bought green tea at T-2. We met Deanna at Rosa Mexicano and went with her to a fabulous paper store. It’s possible this wasn’t all one day.
In the evening, John and I went to Barbes in Park Slope, where Daria Grace and the Pre-War Ponies serenaded us with ukulele, bass, drums…and vibes. The sound was so dreamy and I loved her repertoire of lost gems revived from thrift store sheet music. At some point, John and I stopped by 7th Ave Donuts for classic cake donuts. I think our dinner was at Smiling Pizzeria.
Friday – We saw the Grant Wood exhibit at the Whitney. We loved how the show presented his development as an artist. What a stylist! The new Whitney is simply gorgeous. We walked on the High Line and were lucky to snatch up some lounge chairs and relax in the sun. Lunch at busy Gansevoort Market. In the afternoon we made our way uptown to the Ginger Man, the ultimate beer bar. Dinner with Deanna at Pondicheri for thalis, which are wonderful platters with all kinds of deliciousness. We moved on to Sid Gold’s Request Room for piano bar karaoke. What a fabulous time! Deanna is a seasoned karaoke enthusiast and the crowd here was dynamite — like a big singalong when I got up to do “Don’t Stop Me Now.” We’ll definitely be back. Unfortunately subway construction had started up, so it took a long long long long time to get back to Brooklyn.
Saturday – A gorgeous morning in Coney Island. Feel the air! Hear Russian! John had a breakfast hot dog at Nathan’s. For lunch, we went to Superiority Burger and ate our delicious veggie burgers in Tompkins Square Park while a saxophonist provided a lilting groove. Why not walk over the Brooklyn Bridge? It was so very crowded — a battle between pedestrians and bicyclists. Too impatient to wait in long lines for ice cream, we dropped in Mia’s instead for coffee and peanut butter mousse pie. In the evening, Deanna and a friend took us to the House of Wax bar (like drinking in the Mütter Museum) before we went to see Isle of Dogs at the Alamo Drafthouse.
So there you have it. Manhattan…an isle of joy!
I’ll recap our recent trip through MD, PA, NJ, VT, and NY in an upcoming post.
After the annual family reunion, John and I took an extra day to explore the Finger Lakes region of New York State. We started Sunday morning at Watkins Glen, where a 3-mile round trip hike follows cascading waters through a narrow gorge. The paved trail even goes behind two waterfalls!
Driving north along Seneca Lake, we gazed at sloping hills covered with vineyards. We stopped at Rock Stream, where we tried wine produced with grape varietals unfamiliar to us, for example, dry Niagara (white) and DeChaunac (red), two delicious dry wines. The winery also makes grappa, brandy, and port. Next time!
A short drive took us to our lunch destination: the Wienery. Sausages galore and roasted carrot dogs for vegetarians.
Inspired by a recent Food and Wine article, we spent the rest of our time in the small town of Geneva at the top of Seneca Lake. Here is the opera house:
I got a scoop of gelato from a coffee shop and then we sidled up to Lake Drum Brewing for samples of their delicious beers and ciders: sour brett, sour red ale, ginger cider, and brown ale.
At 3pm, we checked into the bed and breakfast, which had originally been the home of William Smith, who founded the eponymous college in Geneva. Thunderstorms passed through and we had a chance to relax for a few hours before walking back to town for dinner.
Lake Drum was still the only thing open, so we went back for another round and listened to Creedence Clearwater Revival on their record player.
Up the street at Wicked Water, we sampled lovely wines produced by a Brazilian couple — well, the husband is an engineer who helps out his wife and we had a great time talking with him.
We ate dinner at Halsey’s, a place focused on well-prepared Italian food in a relaxed setting. We shared the house salad with goat cheese, nuts, and cranberries. Then, I had an awesome vegetable pizza covered in caramelized onions, cooked in Halsey’s wood-burning oven. John had the truffle burger with sweet potato fries and amazing crispy brussels sprouts petals. Stuffed and happy, we needed a walk.
Down by the lake, we sat to watch the lightning flash far off over the water. A view of the lake from earlier in the day:
Having explored most of the open establishments on that quiet Sunday night, we made one last stop before walking back to the B&B. At the Linden, karaoke night was just starting and though we considered each doing a number, the spirit didn’t move us.
The next morning after a tasty breakfast — eggs baked in bell pepper halves with cheese — in the high-ceiled dining room of the B&B, we drove to the Corning Museum of Glass, part art museum, part science center. We skipped the demos and hands-on sections to enjoy the historical glass and contemporary art collections. What an amazing place with so very much to see.
And then the long drive home! The new fan clutch in our 25-year-old car kept the old girl from overheating. Hurrah!