Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Laguna Beach, California

On our recent vacation in Southern California, we spent three days and two nights in beautiful Laguna Beach.  I’ve been to Laguna Beach a number of times - on business trips or to visit my sister, Nancy, who used to live there – and I always enjoy going back.  The town of Laguna Beach is a quaint little village filled with many art galleries, specialty shops, and restaurants sitting right on the Pacific Ocean.  The town is adjacent to Main Beach – a wide, beautiful beach with surfing, volleyball, basketball, and a small boardwalk for strolling.  The most famous structure on the beach is the landmark lifeguard tower, which has become the symbol of Laguna Beach.

What I like most about the area are the spectacular views from the hills overlooking the beach and ocean.  Heisler Park runs along the top of the cliff behind the Las Brisas restaurant and has the best views of Main Beach and the rugged coastline to the north.  The park is also a popular place for locals – jogging, dog walking, picnics and barbecues, or just spending the day.  Unfortunately for us it was cloudy and overcast most of the time we were there, so I wasn’t able to get too many good pictures.  I guess we’ll have to go back again soon when the sun is shining.

While in Laguna Beach we stayed two nights at the Casa Laguna Inn & Spa, a wonderful bed & breakfast.  The inn is located on the side of a hill right on the Pacific Coast Highway overlooking the ocean in South Laguna Beach.  I was impressed by the online recommendation given by TripAdvisor and the great reviews from those who have stayed there in the past, and we weren’t disappointed.  Once inside the confines of the inn you’re in a different world.  The grounds contain a pool and a number of peaceful courtyards, featuring lush vegetation and palm trees.  The rooms are nice but a little on the small side - we stayed in a deluxe room with an ocean view patio - but the highlight of the stay has to be the gourmet breakfasts served in the beautiful Palm Court.  Besides the usual coffee, tea, juices, and fruit, you can order from a menu of lavish gourmet entrees and side dishes.  My favorite dish was the “Just Peachy Waffles”. The inn also has a daily wine, cheese, and appetizer reception in the evening. 


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

San Diego Zoo

Click to Enlarge
A couple of weeks ago we spent eight days vacationing in Southern California.  One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to the San Diego Zoo. This was our second visit to the zoo – the first was back in 2006 – so we knew what to expect this time.  One thing we didn’t expect on our first visit was the terrain of the zoo – we thought it would be very flat.  There are a lot of uphill and downhill slopes, which is fine if you need a good workout, but if you’re older, like us, you may want to plan a route through the zoo that includes many more downhill walks than uphill.  Using the express buses and Skyfari Aerial Tram can be a big help in getting around the park.

We got to the zoo shortly after it opened in the morning and headed directly to the guided bus tour, which is included with a regular admission ticket.  It’s best to take the tour as early as possible for two reasons:  there are much shorter waiting times in the morning; and, the animals tend to be out and about more in the cooler morning air, especially on a cloudy morning like we had. The tour is 35-40 minutes long on a double-decker bus and gives you a great overview of about 70% of the zoo to help your planning for the day.

With 100 acres to cover, we knew we couldn’t see everything on our one-day visit, but the two exhibits we definitely wanted to see were the Polar Bear Plunge and the Pandas.  So after the bus tour we visited a few exhibits near the zoo entrance, like the koalas, the flamingos, and the hummingbird house, and then hopped on the aerial tram to go up to the top of the hill at the far end of the park.  From there we could head downhill and see the Polar Rim, Panda Canyon, the Asian Passage, Elephant Odyssey, Africa Rocks, the Urban Jungle, and the Outback.

The polar bears put on quite a show while we were there.  At first one of the large bears was having a good time playing in the water with one of his toys. Then one of the smaller polar bears came over and they spent a lot of time roughhousing in the water.  Sometimes it was hard to tell if they were fighting or just playing.

On our visit to the zoo five years ago the pandas weren’t active at all – they spent the whole time sleeping up in the trees. This time they were very active and I was able to get a few good photos.

The new Elephant Odyssey is amazing – eight elephants roaming in a vast 2½-acre exhibit. Pretty remarkable considering our famous Philadelphia Zoo no longer has any elephants due to lack of space and lack of funding.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Lancaster Central Market

Lancaster, Pennsylvania’s Central Market is a true American treasure. As the country’s oldest farmers’ market, it is housed in an 1889 "Romanesque Revival" building designed by James H. Warner. The 60+ Market stand holders offer a wide variety of foods during the three market days-Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The Market also includes non-food gift items.

Lancaster residents have long recognized Central Market as one of the City’s great places.  The historic market recently received national recognition from the American Planning Association (APA) as one of 10 Great Public Spaces in America.  In an October announcement, the APA noted, “This historic market with its rich architectural details is the crown jewel of downtown Lancaster.” 

Central Market’s history dates back to 1730 when Andrew Hamilton laid out the original town plan for Lancaster.  Hamilton designated a lot adjacent to the town square as a public marketplace in perpetuity, making our historic Central Market the oldest continuously operating public marketplace in the United States.  Central Market’s long operating history combined with its architectural design provides our historic Market local, regional and national significance.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Baltimore Inner Harbor

We wanted to get away for a few days, so this past weekend we decided to spend two nights in Baltimore, Maryland.  We always enjoyed taking day-trips with the kids to the Inner Harbor, but haven’t been there for a number of years, so this was a good opportunity to get back, enjoy the harbor, and take some pictures.

The main selling point for the Inner Harbor is that there is plenty to do for every member of the family.  If you’re into shopping you can browse the shops at Harborplace right on the water, or take in the Gallery Mall just across the street.  When it’s time to eat, there are no shortage of dining spots.  The main cuisine of the area is seafood at restaurants like Phillips, McCormick & Schmick’s, and the Rusty Scupper, but you can find any type of food at any price level within walking distance, since every restaurant chain is represented.

Gallery Mall
Phillips Seafood (Express)

There are also many activities to keep the whole family occupied.  The main attraction of the Inner Harbor is the National Aquarium.  We spent most of the day on Saturday exploring the many exhibits – I’ll concentrate on the aquarium in my next blog entry.

National Aquarium

In addition to the aquarium, there are many other things to do:  visit the Maryland Science Center; tour the Civil War era USS Constellation tall ship as well as other ships and a submarine; plus tour the harbor area on various types of vessels and dining cruises.  If you’re into baseball and football, the Orioles and Ravens stadiums are just a couple of blocks from the Inner Harbor.

USS Constellation
Seadog Harbor Cruiser

Since our anniversary was last weekend, we wanted to stay at a nice hotel, so we stayed at the Intercontinental, directly across the street from the harbor.  The hotel was very elegant, the rooms large, and the breakfasts were very well prepared.  On Saturday night we dined at McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood restaurant.  The seafood was outstanding.

Intercontinental Hotel
McCormick & Schmick's Seafood Restaurant

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Old City - Philadelphia

A few weeks ago I decided to hop on the train at Thorndale and head to downtown Philadelphia with my camera. My main goal was to walk around the Old City section and capture a few shots of the beautifully restored colonial townhomes in the area. Old City (sometimes spelled “Olde City”) is the area of Philadelphia along the Delaware River where William Penn and the Quakers first settled. The Old City district is loosely defined as the area between Front and Sixth Streets, Vine Street to the north and Walnut Street to the south.

I also wanted to see some of the usual historic sites, other than Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. The tower at Independence Hall is undergoing renovations; the scaffolding around the tower is covered with a picture of the tower, so, needless to say, I took no shots of Independence Hall this time. What I did see was the Betsy Ross House, Elfreths Alley, Christ Church, and Franklin Court. All of the sites were teeming with school classes, so I wasn’t able to get any inside shots, just outside.

Franklin Court

Betsy Ross House

Christ Church

Elfreths Alley

The rest of the day I spent strolling around Washington Square and the streets to the west. Washington Square is one of the five original planned squares laid out on the city grid by William Penn's surveyor, Thomas Holme. It contains the Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier and, as you can imagine, is a popular place to take the kids to play, walk the dog, or just sit and relax.

Many of the streets in the Washington Square West section are throwbacks to the colonial days of the city - Manning, Delancey, Clinton, Panama, Pine, Quince, and Camac, to name a few. Some of the streets are so narrow that I saw a workman in a pickup truck driving down the street with wheels on both curbs.

On my way back to Suburban Station to catch the train home, I also managed the capture a few shots of City Hall and Love Park. The two pictures included here were obviously altered in Photoshop to gain the desired effect.