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

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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.