California Dreamin’

Not sure if you got the memo, but California was BIG this year! I had easily half a dozen clients ask for California coast road trips this summer, and I was more than happy to oblige:) There’s so much to see and do in that stretch of coast from San Francisco to L.A. that it can be tailored to anyone’s specific tastes and interests. Here’s a trip report from Kevin and Sue, whose trip happened to coincide with the August earthquake in Napa:

Hi Ann.  We had a terrific time on our California vacation!  

We did experience the earthquake, but it luckily ended up being—exactly as you put it—just a good travel story.  The “funny” part of it was my wife Sue’s initial reaction.  We were in bed, as the quake happened just before 3:30 in the morning. Sue’s first words as the bed started shaking moderately were, “Kevin, what are you doing?”—said in a slightly annoyed tone!  I sat up and said, in a surprisingly calm voice, “I’m not doing anything, and I’m pretty sure this is an earthquake.”  The shaking lasted for what seemed like about 15-20 seconds.  I do feel bad for the folks up in Napa who experienced the brunt of it, but as far as we could tell, San Francisco itself suffered no damage at all.

The Jet Blue flights were good both ways.  I think they are my favorite domestic airline at this point.  We also enjoyed excellent weather during the trip.  It seemed like every day was a mix of sun and clouds, temperatures during the day in the low 70s, cooling to about 59/60 at night, and no rain.

Kevin Grady 2

The Prescott Hotel in San Francisco was fine for our purposes—good central location, clean accommodations, friendly and helpful staff, comfortable bed, plus continental breakfast and a daily cocktail hour included.  (We only took advantage of the cocktail hour one day because we were out and about so much).  It is an older building and some of the furnishings are a little dated, but we were content there. I would rate it overall as about a 3.8 or 3.9 out of 5 stars.  Sue and I both loved the city of San Francisco.  It felt a lot like Boston to us, except for all the steep hills there!  One thing we learned is that the famed cable cars are not at all useful on summer weekends.  Lines to get on a cable car during the weekend ranged from about 30 minutes to 2 hours!   

Kevin Grady 1

We enjoyed Fisherman’s Wharf; Alcatraz was great; we took an enjoyable Segway tour; walked down Lombard Street (it was not as pretty as it apparently is in the Spring, but it was still cool), went across the Golden Gate Bridge a couple of times, had lunch one day in Sausalito; and walked through Muir Woods.  We absolutely would go back!  Here are a few restaurants we liked—Scoma’s (seafood at Fisherman’s Wharf), Jeanne D’arc (good reasonably priced prix fixe French food including a soufflé—but it’s a small and very quirky setting–located in  the basement of a hotel and decorated like a cross between a castle and a church); and Ristorante Milano (very small neighborhood Italian restaurant, with excellent homemade pastas including lasagna and gnocchi).

We very much enjoyed the drive south to Monterey!  The Jeep worked out fine.  We loved our accommodations at the Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa.  The room and bed were very comfortable; we had a great view of the ocean right below (including sea otters frolicking); and the staff were all friendly and helpful!  The spa there was excellent—we took advantage of the two rooftop hot tubs each day and each of us had a massage on the last day!  The restaurant in the hotel had good food and a first class ocean view.  I would rate the hotel overall about a 4.3 or 4.4 out of 5. 

Kevin Grady 3

We enjoyed the Monterey Aquarium; we went horseback riding on the beach; we walked around Carmel and had a drink at Clint Eastwood’s Mission Ranch (he apparently shows up a lot and plays the piano there, but we did not see him that day); we loved the 17-mile drive at Pebble Beach and then the drive down to Big Sur (had lunch on the way at a restaurant called Rocky Point—good food (not exceptional but good) and just an outstanding/fantastic view, where we saw a number of whales from our table!)


Kevin Grady 4

Bottom line—our trip was an unqualified success!  We are very glad we went; we would do it again; and we would recommend it to anyone!

Thanks again for your help putting it together, Ann!!

Maybe it’s time to think about planning the NEXT vacation!!!





Seals, Crab, and the Stanley Cup!

The best road trips include a scenic stretch of highway, some fun and funky hotels, delicious local food, and some “bucket list” sights and attractions that you’ve always wanted to see. This California “escape” had it all….and then some:


The trip went great. To not have to worry about all of the details in the pre-planning and to have someone with the knowledge and experience that you have, it took away any anxiety we had.  Because of this, the trip (and planning) went well.

The flights went very well.  (Only one minor delay on the way back.) We got our boarding passes early like you suggested, always sat together and were always in the A or B boarding line.

The car rental worked out fine. No problems with the process. We got a roomy auto with a sun roof and Satellite Radio, which we LOVED! (E-Street Radio made my husband very happy)

The Marriott Courtyard in Oakland was a nice hotel. It was comfortable and clean and not far from the car rental location.

Monterey was very pretty. It was fun to see the seals and we loved the scenic harbor. Very charming area… went to Carmel also. It had unique galleries and shops. The Mariposa Inn was also really nice. It was comfortable and roomy with a nice pool. (Wish we could have stayed there longer!) After leaving Monterey, we drove all the way to Big Sur. It was breathtaking. What a beautiful coastline!!!

The Comfort Inn Yosemite Gateway was our only disappointment in hotels. It did not look that clean, it was not updated and the fixtures in the bathroom did not work properly. (also, no elevators… only stairs which is a pain when you have heavy luggage going to the second floor.)  I would not recommend this one to other folks. But, on the plus side, it did not take us long to get to Yosemite from this location and the town itself was charming in its own way. (We found a great Mexican restaurant!)

While we were there, we did a few easy hikes & walks in the park, took the Yosemite bus to various locations throughout the park to take LOTS of photos and explore, did an evening star viewing tour and a Tram tour of the park which was narrated by a very animated, energetic park ranger.  It was really hot the first day (and too crowded) but was a bit cooler (and less crowded) on Monday. So, Monday was a nicer day at the park for us! On Tuesday, we drove out of the park, saw Mariposa Grove, and headed towards gold country. 

One other highlight: My husband got to kiss the Stanley Cup.  The owner of the Bruins owns a company called Delaware North, which owns the concession stands at the National Parks. So, he brought the cup to Yosemite. My husband was thrilled! He (and a bunch of other folks) got photos with the cup in a huge field in back of the Ahwahnee.

As far as our stay at the Ahwahnee, at first, Darren was disappointed. They gave us a cottage in the back of the hotel instead of a room IN the hotel. He really wanted to stay inside the hotel. But, the hotel is amazing. The architecture is so beautiful.  We took advantage of any any extras they offer. They advised us on tours to take in Yosemite, so were very helpful in that way. The cottage was surrounded by trees and was still very nice. The night’s stay included free breakfast in the formal dining room, which is quite amazing! (The food was really good.) We also dined at other restaurants in Yosemite that are not part of the hotel. We did not bring formal clothing, so did not have dinner at the Ahwahnee.

The Hotel Rex in San Francisco was really nice. The location was perfect. Close to the bus and trolley routes. The place was clean and charming. They gave us a bottle of wine and chocolates for our anniversary. (The only place to do that!)

On the first day in San Francisco (Wed.), Darren and I walked a lot. We tried to figure out how to navigate the bus system. It took us a while (by Thursday) to know what we were doing. The trolley system was fun, but crowded. Too many tourists on them! That is why we took the bus most times. During our stay, we walked the Fisherman’s Wharf area, Lombard St., Haight Ashbury (great record shop called Amoeba Records), toured the Cartoon Museum, visited SoMA bookstore for art books, did a double decker bus tour so that we could see the Golden Gate bridge and other sites that we may have missed. Friday night, the baseball game was fun (but cold!)  Darren and I did not realize how cool it gets in the evening!

We loved Lori’s Diner for breakfast and lunch. It is filled with Retro-charm: Old radios, a vintage car, old Coke machines, juke boxes, Elizabeth Taylor’s dress, etc. We love that kind of stuff! (it was down the street from Hotel Rex). We also ate at the Tee Off Bar & Grill. Guy Fieri showed it on Diners, Drive Ins & Dives. Darren got the pork chop dinner that Guy raved about. It was in the Richmond part of town. We also had crab on Fisherman’s Wharf at a place called Alioto’s. It was good, but I do not know if it is anything too special. It was hard to choose one. There are so many places there. I saw a write up in a tourist pub, so picked this place. We also ate at the Ball Park Friday night. A great selection of food types there.

Here are my tips for anyone considering a similar trip:

Coastal CA:  Drive the coast!  (no need to say anymore!)

Yosemite: Prepare to walk a lot (comfortable shoes) and dress in cotton…but layer for cool nights.  If you can stay in the park the whole time, do so.  It will cut down on travel time and give you more time to enjoy your time in the park. Bring a back pack and plastic water bottle that you can refill. You can save money on bottled water. Be prepared to take LOTS of photos!  Every spot is amazing.

San Francisco: Again, dress for cool weather. Layers of clothing… bring a sweater or fleece jacket or two!  Get to know the transportation system BEFORE you go. Then, when you get there, you will not waste time trying to figure it all out. Avoid taking public transportation in the wharf area in the summer. Walk a few blocks toward downtown and the crowds will be smaller.

Escape to Alcatraz

Just posted a travelogue about my trip to San Francisco and Monterey.

My family had a great time exploring Fisherman’s Wharf, Alcatraz, Muir Woods, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and more. We packed a lot into four short days (including cross-country flights) and it left me wanting more!

For the full story click here. For just the photos click here.

You provided excellent guidance for us. I appreciated that you really had us think about what was most important to us when we were selecting the right cruise – and not to totally focus on what other people had to say. THANK YOU for helping to make this a memorable trip for our family! It really was a trip of a lifetime!

Clare and Mark (family cruise to Alaska)

The level of service we experienced was out of this world (and we did NOT make it easy on Ann). We weren’t quite sure where we wanted to go, when we would be able to go, or what “vibe” we were going for. After asking us some key questions (what we liked, didn’t like, why, etc.) Ann helped us narrow down our trip details and planned the honeymoon of our dreams. She helped book some of our excursions, answered some emergency questions while abroad and was always available/willing to help. I think it’s safe to say we won’t be using anyone else for future travel planning – Ann is a rockstar!

Carli (Italy and Spain)