Well, I got lazy and never blogged on our New England trip in the Spring, but now I’m back with our story about how a three day conference in Denver led to a California Adventure. Strangely enough I wasn’t sure about finding healthy choices in Denver, but thought California would be a snap. As always with traveling there were some surprises in those assumptions but follow along if you want to find what we learned or just enjoy the story of our adventure.
Included in this blog are some links to not only great places but some great money saving tips we learned for travel, which hopefully will allow us to travel even more!
When work asked me to attend a September conference in Denver, Steve and I decided it would be a great jumping off point for our Fall vacation. We thought about renting a car and driving to Yellowstone and other Southwest areas, but found that to stay in Yellowstone you need to reserve further ahead then we planned, that lodging and food choices are greatly limited, so decided to save that adventure for another time when we can plan and maybe even RV.
Denver is a hub for Southwest Airlines, so we decided a trip to see both family and the California Coast would be our next choice. Why we fly Southwest anytime we can. We have gotten lots of free air miles from their credit cards over the years. Currently, our youngest son flies the most, so he is the only one with a credit card, since there is a small yearly fee. Southwest has two bags flying free on all the flights. There are a lot of online sales, which meant our flights from Denver to and from California were under $90.00 each. I flew American because it’s what my company booked, but Steve flew Southwest in and out of Denver. His flight was overbooked and he volunteered to get on a later flight and wound up with 550.00 in air credit good for a year. This happens more they you would think on Southwest. We actually bought our tickets with credit the boys had from flights they were delayed or bumped on. So travel tip number one.
We also found another money saving tip which was specifically for Denver. There is a new train that goes from the Airport right the main downtown area. It is 9.00 one way. Our hotel was on the main pedestrian mall downtown, so right outside the train station we boarded the free buses that run literally minutes apart up and down the mall and saved on both shuttle/cab costs and dealing with traffic.
We did also get our first taste of the homelessness and drug problem that legalizing marijuana has brought to Denver, but that’s not a subject I want to brooch. Look it up if you are interested.
Checked into our hotel, one of my supervisors who was also at the conference, scoped
out the local Indian restaurant. It was just a few blocks away, not fancy but very good. Lots of choices for gluten free and vegetarian. We all wound up stuffing ourselves and bringing some back to the hotel for later.
The conference started in the morning, so Steve explored the city and we took in lots of good information. There were some great lunch places, a favorite right across the street called Duck Soup, lots of fresh soups, many with gluten free/vegan options, the same with salads and not on my radar but also wraps and maybe a few other items. If you eat poultry the smoked duck salad is super.
Another day we tried Mad Greens, like Saladworks, but more and better choices.
Steve’s daytime and our evening wanderings let us see some of unique highlights of Denver. Public art, both just for arts sake and some for art/function seems big. Steve got to check out the Zoo among other things.
On the day the conference ended we wanted to see a little more of Colorado before flying out to the West Coast.
So as I said we learned some saving tips. The consseire
at the hotel gave us a coupon or $20 off our first Uber Ride. I since learned that it is easy to get that $20.00 in many ways. The best is to use a referral link from someone else’s account, so here is one of ours.
That way they get credits too. More about ride services in a bit. We took a ride with a very friendly Uber Driver out to Red Rocks Amphitheater. It is supposedly one of the premier music venues in the Country. They have a wall of Fame and famous musicians and groups in an unending list have performed there. We climbed to the top of the Amphitheater, not an easy feat, we learned that we could have been dropped off by the top and then just walked down, so plan your adventure. For those that like to hike/climb at high altitudes there are other trails in the park as well. Or you can do what the locals do to train and run/walk up and down the rows of benches.
Back in Denver to pick up our bags, grab a quick lunch and check in for our LA flight. Then on to a visit with some family before starting our whirlwind tour of the California Coast. Had a lovely lunch in Tarzana at Pozi’s Fresh Grill, lots of great vegetarian and gluten free choices. We could have had dairy free gelato for dessert but had no room after the great food.
Monday Morning we left for San Diego. With the length of our trip we should have skipped San Diego, but I’m glad we didn’t. I really liked the highlights we got and would definitely visit again to see more of the sights and enjoy more of the culture. The main hub of things to see in San Diego is Balboa Park. It houses museum after museum, as well as the famed San Diego Zoo. It is also the home of beautiful garden, landscaping and all types of sports facilities. The Zoo is pricey unless you can spend a full day, so we passed on that as well as most of the Museums. One of the workers at the tourist information, recommended we definitely see the botanical building, which has free admission and the film about the park and it’s history in one of the museums that hi-lights local history.
The botanical building itself was worth visiting the park, it’s amazing how much diversity of plant life was crammed into one small building. Having said that, I’ll let the pictures speak the rest.
After seeing as much as we could at the park and being starved for some dinner we decided to use Uber again. We left our car at the Bed and Breakfast, we choose in one of the San Diego neighborhoods so we didn’t have to deal with downtown parking. We found later that parking in San Diego is not the hassle and big expense it is in other California major cities, but it was freeing not to have to move the car around. We took the short ride to the waterfront to see Seaside Village, which some told us was cool and others said was too touristy. The second proved to be the case, reminded me of a cruise port in Mexico or the Caribbean. So we strolled along the lovely waterfront path until we found a restaurant that caught our interest and meet our needs. We ate outside at ROYS . It was good and interesting food, which they made to fit our needs.
We walked a little further along the water front and then headed over into the downtown area and historic gaslight district. There wasn’t much to see at night except a lot of restaurants and some interesting old architecture. The heart of the historic district reminded us of New Orleans and the open to the street clubs, restaurants and bars. A little Yelp search found that we could get dairy free ice cream with a bit of a walk to “Little Italy”. Cafe Gratitude wound up being a vegan restaurant with a full menu and amazing desserts. It is fun when I can have a hard time choosing a treat. I finally settled on a black bean brownie with almond milk ice cream. Now the way they name their food is like this, my brownie was called “Surrendering”, while Steve’s cobbler was called “Lovely”, so when they serve it to you they say, “you are surrendering”, “you are lovely”, etc. Check out their menu for the fun of it! I haven’t had such a rich dessert in years and had a bit of a headache from the sugar the next day, but it was worth it. I would have like to have had a meal, but now that I know they have locations in LA, we’ll definitively try again on our next West Coast trip. It says they deliver on their site, but I’m guessing not to New Jersey.
The next morning we decided we wanted to see a little more of San Diego before heading North. One of the money saving tips we learned was to use the Groupon App to see what local deals there were, since you can now use them instantly. I also use a program called Ebates to shop Groupon which gives you an extra percentage back. We were able to get a North and South Harbor tour for less then the price of one or the other. The North tour has more seals and other wildlife, these are on the dock where the bait ships load and unload. The South tour has more of the Navy’s Pacific Fleet but supposedly these three seals are regulars.
We decided to check out “Old Town San Diego” for lunch. It’s a touristy Mexican area with lots of shops and restaurants. Usually I find Mexican pretty easy to navigate but the restaurants there were less authentic and a little less forgiving with food restrictions, but all and all still a nice lunch.
Then we headed North on the main highway for a small while to bypass some traffic before hopping back on Route 1 through all the small beach towns. Our goal was to meet up with some old friends for dinner in the Long Beach area so we mostly just drove and enjoyed the scenery. We had a lovely dinner at “Good Stuff”.
After dinner we drove to Santa Barbara where we had reservations for the night. In the morning we drove to see the highlights of Santa Barbara since there was still much to see up the Coast, again, we tried to pack to much in and I wouldn’t recommend it. We went down to the lovely beach and had a look. Then we drove up though the downtown to the Monastery on the hill to see the view. The outside was lovely, but we decided not to do the tour. Each town along the Coast has at least one old Monastery and I’m sure if you had the interest you could make a tour of just those.
Our sister-in-law told us one of the must do things was to stop at Split Pea Anderson’s for a bowl of their famous vegetarian soup. So besides some fruit and tea at our hotel that was our breakfast. It was yummy!
We wanted to see the town of Solvang, which was founded by the Swedes since the tour book made it sound interesting. It was pretty, but we decided only to stop at a nice health food store on the edge of town and pick up picnic goodies for lunch. By the time we got back on Route 1 we were concerned about getting to Hearst Castle, where we had tour reservations late, so we mostly drove. We did find a lovely spot along the water to stop for a few minutes to start our lunch, ie. wash our fruit and open the amazing hummus we bought so we could snack while driving.
Shortly before Hearst Castle we noticed animals grazing in a field, not to unusual since we had seen a lot of fields of cows and some horses, until we took a separate look and realized that most of these were Zebras! Once we toured the Castle we understood that these were part the animals that were imported by Hearst as part of his menagerie and they are some of the few decedents of his personal zoo. Hearst Castle was interesting, it seems Hearst built it as a playground while he was alive but with the intention of it being a Museum to house great art and architecture when he was gone. Steve was not as impressed, feeling the show of wealth was unnecessary and the Socialist in me agrees that the money could have done a lot of good else where but since we live in a World that allows for some to have so much and many to have so little, it still was worth a look. They have a number of tours, so it is only possible to see a small part of the property in a visit unless you want to spend a whole day and lots of your money. We did the basic tour of the ground floor rooms and the gardens. I enjoyed learning about the art and the history. A movie is included in the tour but really there wasn’t much in the film that wasn’t in the tour, so if you are short for time you won’t miss much by skipping it. I have to say, the indoor pool alone was worth the tour price, WOW!
We were hesitant to travel the Coastal road from there as the fire at Big Sur had been burning for weeks and all the National Parks along the road were closed, but we were told the visibility should be good on such a clear day and that it would still be worth it instead of taking the long inland way around, where we thought about checking out some wineries. I am glad we followed the advice and wish we had gotten an earlier start because it got dark about three quarters of the way through our drive. We stopped a lot to take pictures and take in as much as we could see as the sun set over the Pacific.
Right past Hearst Castle on the other side of the road is a beach where the elephant seals come. There is a wide viewing area and they are just fascinating and some are SO big.
And here are the coastal pictures from various spots.
After it got dark we powered through to Carmel by the Sea, just a town short of Monterey where we would be staying. Yelp led us to a really interesting sounding restaurant that sadly did not exist, but in looking for it we found Flying Fish Grill . They said they could accommodate us and it smelled really good. Since they offered Shabu Shabu like we heard about from our son’s last Japan visit I encouraged Steve that we try something different. They offered some options we couldn’t do but they were willing to give us just fish and veggies instead of the shellfish they usually served with it. Sake was a perfect accompaniment. A fun and tasty evening.
Then to the hotel in Monterey to get some sleep before an early morning whale watch. The whale watch was great with Monterey Bay Whale Watch . We saw lots of humpback whales. Lots of cool seabirds and some other sealife too, including a pelican that thought flying above our boat was a lot of fun.
Afterward we were really ready for some lunch since we didn’t actually have a real breakfast, just some snacks. We found a little Lebanese Restaurant, just outside of the main town. The food including excellent gluten free falafel was made by the owner who was also the server and it seems the only ones there except the customers. We had a good nap and then went to check out Cannery Row. It was interesting with it’s historical buildings and plaques, though most of the remaining buildings have been converted into typical resort side shops.
Next we went to see the 17 mile scenic drive along the Pebble Beach Resort. Not only were there an abundance of seals but there was a large sea mammal, which we assume was some sort of whale jumping out of the water over and over.
Back in town for dinner, we found a Thai restaurant. Their gluten free offerings were okay but when it came to grain free I was very limited to just a few items from the menu, but they were tasty.
In the morning we headed out with the intention of stopping at the “Mystery Spot”, another recommendation from our sister-in-law. We got there and it wasn’t opening for another 20 minutes or so and then when they did open we would have had to wait longer for the first tour, so we decided to head on to San Francisco since our time was already limited. We had already opted not to stay over night in San Francisco as they hotel prices were high and then they charge another $50 a night for parking your car there. In the end we were glad of our choice. I particularly was not impressed with San Francisco. It reminded me of NYC, my least favorite city. Very touristy, not clean and too hard to navigate with all the hills. Now I’m sure if you live there, know where to go, avoid the tourist areas, etc. it has wonderful features, charms and places to go, but I can say I saw it and was glad to move on. We found a $20 parking place with a little effort. We walked through the touristy areas near the Wharves a bit, found some lunch, looked at the trolley’s (way to crowded to ride), L. street and then decided to head over to our hotel in Marin County to get a shower before dinner with some family. We got great pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge and the areas back toward San Francisco from across the bay. It is a lovely area. The next day we explored the Coastal areas of Marian County before heading to the airport and that gave us a much better last impression of California.
On the way to the Coast we drove through beautiful redwood forests. Breakfast was at the lovely little town of Point Reyes Station, where they had wonderful options for healthy food. Our niece told us that Marian County has higher organic standards then even the rest of California, they take real food seriously. There was a small farm market setting up as we came out from breakfast. Everything looked and smelled so good.
At Point Reyes, we only had time for a short walk to one of the beaches, but if you had time you could spend days exploring the wild coastal terrain. We drove back along the Coast route which took us through lovely mountains, past beautiful marshes and past lots of bikers who ride up and down these steep roads with what appears to be ease. We didn’t have time to stop in Sac but drove the downtown to see, it looks like it would be a nice place to spend a few hours. One of these days we will start a West Coast Tour in Marian County and then head up the Coast to see the rest of California and the other Coastal States.
We had to fly back through Denver and spend one night due to travel arrangements. I learned a few things from this. If you ever need to spend a night in Denver and want to do anything but sleep, stay in the city and take the train to and from the airport. We had booked at one of the “airport” hotels, which are in nowhere land. Getting a decent dinner was a challenge. We finally went to a chain restaurant with decent food, after our one bad experience with Lyft. The next day airport and home.
This post got a little shortchanged as I had difficulty adding pictures when I started, then life got busy and stressful. Now as I get ready to post pictures from our trip in May of 2017 I decided it was time to wrap this up. The May trip was finally some unwind time after a stressful Fall and Winter. Anyway, I hope this gives you some insight into Denver and the California Coast.