Friday, December 31, 2010

California Dreamin' – Hearst Castle

A North Carolina Cottage

While today there is an emphasis on smaller, greener living spaces with mini-ecological footprints that appeal to more energy-conscious buyers, such concerns did not exist in William Randolph Hearst's day. It would take 1,407 of these 64-square foot North Carolina cabins to fill up Hearst's estate.

In fact, the media magnate, who was so obviously not in the forefront of the small-house-movement, spent decades overseeing construction of his gigantic 90,080 square foot estate with its four main buildings containing 56 bedrooms, 41 fireplaces, 61 bathrooms, 19 sitting rooms, and two libraries.

One of the many guest rooms.
So his guests would not tire of the accommodations, there were also extensive gardens planted with 6,000 rosebushes (Because Hearst couldn't stand watching them, the gardeners worked only at night.) and a 2,000-acre zoo—once the country's largest.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

California Dreamin' – Highway 1, Pacific Coast Highway

A passerby balanced the stones just-so in the photo above, but that's the only place you'll see mankind's touch along this wild road that clings to steep hillsides, whips around impossible curves, and sweeps down to the coastline every now and then so the driver can catch his breath and relax his grip on the steering wheel.

This ribbon of two-lane road that stretches along the California coast deserves a more descriptive name than Highway 1. The asphalt traverses a land of stunning beauty and rugged appeal where only the birds and the sea lions seem at home. It may not be The Most Beautiful Drive in the World (The Amalfi Coast and the French Riviera come to mind.), but it is truly one of the most impressive in North America.
Plan to drive slowly, about 35 mph (56 kilometers), to savor the landscape. You'll want to take photos at every pull-out spot along the road. You'll wonder about the engineers who created this highway and notice that even the bridges seem to float between the cliffs. And when you get to the end, you'll want to turn around and do it all over again.
Seals rest on the beach
Practicalities -
Do not plan to scurry down this road because it's impossible even if you're in a hurry—the traffic moves slowly. Set a leisurely pace to truly enjoy the ride.

The bakeshop/restaurant in Big Sur serves wonderful food and the rustic ambience is fitting for this remote, rugged land, but it's somewhat difficult to find. If you see the post office, though, you're close. Find a place to park and walk up the hill a little way to the restaurant complex.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Tightwad Travel Tip - TSA Search Engine

Will the TSA allow a container with more than 3.4 ounces of liquid in my 3-1-1 plastic bag if the liquid is contact lens fluid? What about carrying extra batteries in my camera case?  Is it okay to carry matches in my purse?

Click here for TSA search engine that answers the question, "Can I bring my____."  Enter the item in question and find out immediately whether it is allowable in carry-on, checked baggage, or not at all. 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

California Dreamin' - Point Lobos Natural Reserve

During our 17-Mile Drive, David and I admired the manicured lawns and showy gardens at the luxurious Pebble Beach Resort, but no amount of money could have produced what we saw just a few miles south at Point Lobos Reserve.
Nature, not man, has created a masterpiece. Unrelenting surf pounded the shores of these cliffs for thousands of years to create shallow, sheltered coves and tide pools that cormorants, pelicans, sea otters and sea lions call home. On land, 88 species of mammals, including mountain lions, bobcats, fox and coyote roam the 1,250 -acre reserve while hundreds of bird species fly overhead.
The wind-sculpted trees with their tatters of lacy lichen clinging to their nude branches create an eerie, almost surreal feeling as we walk the Cypress Grove Trail. We wouldn't have been surprised if leprechauns had jumped out from behind a boulder because this is a trail where you expect magic to happen.
While we never spotted the sea lions from the trail named for them (Sea Lion Point Trail), we enjoyed a completely opposite experience on this windswept plain where the ocean breezes fan this treeless expanse of garden. These meadows were as exposed as the cypress grove was secretive, and we're told that dozens of wild plants run rampant here during the summer.

A couple volunteers at the ranger station answered our questions about the animals, sea creatures, and the lichen growing on the trees. David and I felt the sea otter's pelt (Pelts were displayed from animals that had died naturally.) and learned that, unlike the sea lion and seal that are protected from the cold by a layer of blubber, the otter fends off the cold by having the densest fur of any animal on Earth.

As we drove away, we realized that even though Lobos Point was lacking some crucial funding at the moment, the park was wealthy beyond measure in its treasures. Pebble Beach Resort might have every amenity to please the body, but Lobos Point soothed the soul.

Practicalities -
The park opens at 8 A.M. and closes a half hour after sunset. It is wise to get there early as only 450 visitors are allowed in the park at one time. Admission is $10 per car. Click for more information about the park.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

California Dreamin' - Monterey's 17-Mile Drive

If there's an ugly spot on the Monterey Peninsula, David and I never saw it. One breathtaking view is followed by another, and that's especially true on the 17-Mile Drive.

We almost didn't take the route. It cost $9.50 per car, and we weren't sure it was worth the money since we were fairly certain we'd seen most of the beauty already. We were wrong. It took us four hours to drive the short circuit because we stopped so often for photographs.

By late afternoon, when we were ravenous, we discovered the Pebble Beach Resort where the Pebble Beach Market offers deli sandwiches for reasonable rates. We shared one of their hefty sandwiches, sat on the benches in the lodge area, and read about the Monterey Cypress which is native to only two areas along the drive—Point Lobos and Cypress Point. We're glad we didn't miss it!

The Lone Cypress
Practicalities - It's easy to find the entrances to the Drive which runs from Carmel to Pacific Grove.  For more information, including free scenic alternatives, click here.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

California Dreamin' - Santa Cruzin'

 San Francisco's Siren song kept David and me enthralled for days, but we had a birthday to celebrate in Santa Cruz and more scenic delights waiting down the road.  It was time to move on.
Our friend, Bonnie, is a textile artist who is currently on display at the Museum of Art & History in Santa Cruz.  She gave us a tour of her charming beach-cottage-turned-permanent-residence just a block from the sea, led us on a tour of the beaches and the eclectic downtown area, and showed us her work on display in the museum. 

If only we'd had more time, we would have loved to explore some of the county's fourteen state parks or the boardwalk bordering the sea, but we wanted to celebrate Bonnie's birthday, so we headed to an oceanfront restaurant.

It was a good choice. There's nothing better than excellent food, good companionship, and a perfect sunset to end the day.

Practicalities -
Click for more information about Santa Cruz or the Museum of Art & History.

Monday, November 1, 2010

California Dreamin' - On to Monterey

MSNBC says Monterey Bay Aquarium is, “one of the most enchanting aquariums in the world;” Coastal Living lists it number two on their USA list; and the Parents website ranks it number one for children, so David and I were anxious to see what all the fuss was about.

View through aquarium window
We love our Birch Aquarium in San Diego, but after four hours in Monterey's gem, we can understand why Monterey Bay Aquarium received such effusive reviews and high rankings.

Vacation Rental Apartment Advantages

David's and my casa rental in San Miguel de Allende
Steven James Snyder describes his experience renting a vacation apartment in Paris in this Time magazine piece.
For most travelers, hotels mean security and reliability—a standard level of service when sleeping away from home. But they can also be dull or cheesy, as far removed from an authentic local experience as your house is from the nearest tourist trap. They tend to be expensive too, all of which explains why my wife and I steered clear of hotels near the Louvre or the Champs Elysées when we planned our September trip to Paris. We didn't want to be surrounded by American chain restaurants, souvenir vendors and a constant parade of tour buses.

Instead, we searched the Web for vacation rentals, eventually zeroing in on a ground-floor apartment in the Marais neighborhood that charged half as much as a boutique hotel two blocks away. We asked questions about the property via e-mail and used PayPal to make a deposit. Two months later, at 10 p.m. on a misty Monday, we emerged from the Breguet-Sabin Métro stop and started wheeling our luggage down empty streets. With no cell-phone coverage and only a street map to guide us, we were more than a little nervous: Would the owner be there to hand off the keys? Would the apartment look as advertised? Would the address even exist?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

California Dreamin' - Haight-Ashbury

Did you miss the psychedelic 60s, the era when the American Way of Life that focused on greedy materialism and hypocrisy (especially sexual hypocrisy) was rejected by disenchanted young people in America? When hundreds thronged to the Haight-Ashbury section of San Francisco to experiment with sex, drugs and rock and roll in an attempt to reform the prevailing culture. The place where Flower Power was thought to be the antidote to war, and love-ins promoting sexual freedom played out against a background of peace symbols, water pipes, and love beads.

If you missed that exciting era which revolutionized the world and gave us women's (and men's) liberation, civil rights, sexual freedom and the end of the Vietnam War, reminders of that provocative period in America's history are still very much in evidence. You won't hear “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” any more as you walk down the streets in Haight-Ashbury, but the Hippie Generation is still there. Alive and well.

Smoke shops are plentiful

The Original Frugal Traveler?

Seth Kugel, the New York Times new frugal traveler columnist, spoke to John Wilcock, one of the very first frugal travelers, about the practicalities of traveling on a limited budget.  This is the article from the New York Times.

A Budget Travel Pioneer on a Time When $5 a Day Was Real (Frugal) Money                                By SETH KUGEL

It was the first handwritten letter I’d received in 5 years. Or maybe 10. Signed by John Wilcock, a man I’d never heard of, and postmarked Ojai, Calif., it was waiting for me when I returned from my São Paulo-to-New York summer trip. Mr. Wilcock wrote that he had been an assistant editor at The Times Travel section back in the 1950s, and had written the first editions of “Mexico on $5 a Day,” “Greece on $5 a Day” and “Japan on $5 a Day” for Arthur Frommer in the 1960s.

By George, I thought. This man was the original Frugal Traveler.

Sure Mr. Frommer himself, author of the seminal “Europe on $5 a Day,” could lay legitimate claim to that title as well. But Europe was one thing. The first-ever budget guidebooks to places like Mexico and Japan? That was some real trailblazing.

Mr. Wilcock, it turned out, did a lot more than scribble about travel: he co-founded The Village Voice in 1955 and wrote a column in it for 10 years; he also edited or wrote for or otherwise assisted countless other alternative and underground newspapers. His “Autobiography and Sex Life of Andy Warhol” was published in 1971 (and re-released in March), and he also was co-founder of Interview Magazine with Warhol.

Now 83 and living in Ojai, Mr. Wilcock is still traveling, and still writing a weekly column on the site he calls his “personal journal,” the Ojai Orange. (It’s also an occasional print publication, with all the archives online.) His autobiography, Manhattan Memories, also came out this year. I spoke with him about frugal travel in the days before there were even backpackers, let alone Internet cafes and Doritos to be found worldwide.

What do you remember best about researching “Mexico on $5 a Day”?

Friday, October 29, 2010

California Dreamin' – Fabulous Freebies in 'Frisco

Books fly near City Lights Bookstore
San Francisco is one of the few cities that charges admission (If you access the city via the Golden Gate Bridge, the charge is $6.), but the admission price is worth it because there are so many fascinating, free things to see all over town.
Take time traveling for example. David and I traveled back to the 1950s Beat Generation by going to the City Lights Booksellers and Publishers at 261 Columbus Avenue. Founded by one of the early Beat poets, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, in 1953, the bookstore originally served as a meeting place for intellectuals and writers.
One frequent visitor, Jack Kerouac, author of On the Road, is now on the sidewalk in a dedication to the iconoclastic writer. If Kerouac visited the store today, the man who is considered by many to be the inspiration for the Hippie movement of the '60s, would be delighted that the character of his old haunt remains intact.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

California Dreamin' - Alcatraz

Break the rules and you go to prison; break the prison rules and you go to Alcatraz.

Alcatraz. The very word sends a shiver up the spine. Men who were sent here felt they'd landed on a devil's island, a stony hilltop surrounded by a cold, treacherous sea.
Although only one and a half miles from San Francisco, the tantalizing city might as well have been a million miles away because no one ever escaped from The Rock. Over a 29-year period, from 1934-1963, 36 prisoners tried and only three were never found. (The story of those three became a movie, Escape from Alcatraz, with Clint Eastwood.) As a ranger explained to David and me, if the cold water didn't kill you, the current would make it impossible for you to reach land. Floyd Hamilton successfully escaped and eluded guards by hiding in a cave. Still, since he could not figure out how to get off the island, he finally gave up and broke back into prison. Guards found him huddled on the floor near the same window that, just 24 hours ago, had provided his escape.

Monday, October 25, 2010

California Dreamin' – San Francisco's Golden Bridge

Some call San Francisco the City by the Bay, the Golden Gate City, or simply 'Frisco, but no one has ever called the city Cheap. It's not cheap to visit and even getting to the city is pricey. If you take the bridge into town, the admission charge is $6.

Still, San Francisco's charms can be accessed on a tightwad's budget. David and I enjoyed the city, saw every site we could cram into three days, and still stayed within a strict budget.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

California Dreamin' - California's Cachet

David and I caught the last rays of the sun today. Although we'd started the morning in 80 degree heat, which climbed to 105 later in the day, now that we were at the ocean's edge, a chill was in the air. We were glad we'd grabbed our jackets before heading for the beach.

As we perched on the picnic table, using the bench seat to rest our feet, we thought back over the day's drive. We wondered if there were another state as diverse as California. One where you'd find helicopters spraying lush farmland in the morning.
A state where you could stop at noon at pristine hacienda-style buildings, part of the rest area system maintained by the state to provide travelers with water, maps, and toilet facilities, and feel as though you were in Mexico.
Take a side trip in the afternoon to see Pinnacles National Monument, a place where the endangered California condor soars above the rugged canyon walls, and caves. Where the result of millions of years of volcanic, water, wind and earthquake activity makes you catch your breath at the resulting rock spires and ramparts that dominate the landscape.
Is there another state in America as diverse and beautiful as California? A state where we could take a leisurely drive for a few hours beginning in rich farmland, climbing through stone monoliths, and ending at the Pacific Ocean?

We don't think so either.

Practicalities -
The road to Pinnacles National Monument is approximately 18 miles of slow, sinuous, mostly single-lane driving. Allow at least forty-five minutes to reach the park.

Monday, October 18, 2010

California Dreamin' – Detours

David and I traveled the four-lane highway 101 to get to our main goals, San Francisco and highway 1 along the coast, as quickly as possible, but we took a little detour on the way.
Cachuma Lake, off highway 154, is nestled in the Santa Ynez and San Rafael Mountains in Santa Barbara County. This recreational area offers boating, fishing, hiking and accommodations—camping, cabins and yurts—yet this mountainous preserve is just a short drive from the ocean and the charming town of Santa Barbara. If it hadn't been 105 degrees (Yes, we went looking for summer and definitely found it!), we would have spent more time exploring this area.
Also off highway 154 is Solvang, the town dedicated to everything Danish. I'm not sure what one does there except buy Danish products, eat in Danish restaurants, and gawk at Danish architecture.  Since the Danes are the happiest people in the world, at least according to two studies reported by ABC news, I suppose the residents of Solvang are pleased simply to revel in their Danish-ness. 

David and I left the little town smiling.  Was it because we finally discovered summer or was it the ambience of Solvang?  Probably both.
Practicalities -
Click for more information about Cachuma Lake or Solvang.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

California Dreamin' – California Motel Prices and Perks

While David and I didn't explore a cave or experience Mardi Gras in our motel rooms (See the article below about the Madonna Inn.), we did have comfortable, quiet accommodations and some great, “free” (included-in-the-motel-rate) breakfasts.

Using all the resources on the Internet, we made choices based on reviews, ratings, and the hotel websites themselves. Since we were only disappointed once, we finally concluded, after sampling seven different motels sprinkled throughout the central coast, that California offers excellent value in the $70-90 rate range.

So, what can you expect from a hotel that charges $70-90?

California Dreamin' - Motels for Our Coast Trip

Here's an annotated list of the motels we chose for our California trip.

Days Inn - Lompoc

Days Inn, 1122 North H Street, Lompoc Happy hour with wine, beer, and goodies; extensive breakfast; lovely room; gym, pool and computer available.

Ramada-Marina, 323 Reservation Rd., Marina One of the loveliest rooms for the lowest price of all - $76. Great breakfast, computer, and a convenient location.

Lombard Motor Inn - San Francisco

Lombard Motor Inn, 1475 Lombard Street, San Francisco There was no free breakfast and we had to pay $5 for a refrigerator, but the free parking, excellent location and charming room more than compensated. We highly recommend the Lombard but be sure to ask for a quiet room in the back. The rooms in front have balconies (with no view) which makes them quite noisy.

Knights Inn, 1374 Munras Ave., Monterey This was the only disappointment of the trip. There were holes in the sheets and towels, no stopper in the bathroom sink, and no sound-proofing. There was either a Sumo wrestler or a man wearing ten-pound shoes in the room above us. We would never stay here again.

Sands by the Sea, 9355 Hearst Drive, San Simeon Close to restaurants and a short walk to benches overlooking the sea, this place was a winner even though the breakfast was minimal.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

California Dreamin' – The Madonna Inn

You don't have to be a spelunker to spend a night in a cave. Just rent the Caveman room at the Madonna Inn. If the animal prints and stone pond in the bedroom with solid rock walls, ceiling, and floor don't make you feel like one of the Jetsons, step into the bathroom where the waterfall shower tumbling over rock will convince you.
One of the Shell and Stone Sinks

Monday, October 11, 2010

California Dreamin' – The Search for Summer

Highway 1 - California Coast
My shiny new love affair with this state lost its luster during the summer-that-never-was in Southern California. I found it disorienting to wake up on a July morning that felt like January, pulling on sweat pants and socks before venturing downstairs for a glass of iced tea. Where were the slap of the screen door, the salty scent of bathing suits drying in the sun, and the sound of birdsong drifting in through open windows? Not in San Diego. Not this year.

So, David and I went off in search of summer. Surely ten days and 1300 miles would enable us to discover where the season was hiding. We packed socks in our bags, just in case, but we didn't need them. In a bit of extraordinary serendipity, we not only routed out summer but fell back in love with this incredibly diverse state.

Actually, judging by everyone we spoke to during the trip, the very best time to visit the California coast is during the fall. September and October are similar, weather-wise, to June and July back East. It was a bit over 100 the day we set off for Lompoc and a friend in Santa Cruz swears we had the only four-day-stretch in San Francisco that was in the upper 80s. Most San Franciscans don't leave the house without a sweater and an umbrella, but during the time we were there, folks wandered about, somewhat dazedly, in short-sleeved shirts!

We didn't have too much trouble with fog either. That's another of the curves weather throws at the California coast. It's maddening to know that the scene you're straining to glimpse through the mist would probably win you a photography award if only it were visible. On our trip, we encountered little fog or fog that “burned off” by the afternoon.

So, since the weather was practically perfect and the scenery some of the best in the world, David and I enjoyed one of our best trips yet for very little money. I'll tell you all about it in the next few entries.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Is it Legal to Rent a Short-Term Vacation Property?

Latin Quarter, Paris

Today, Budget Travel published an article by Brad Tuttle that calms any fears you may have about short-term vacation rentals.

Bans on vacation rentals have made headlines in Paris, San Francisco, and New York. Here's why the confusing "bans" are mostly bunk—and why you shouldn't cancel your vacation-rental reservation anytime soon.
By Brad Tuttle (with reporting by Meg Zimbeck)

For years, we've been advising our readers to rent short-term apartments whenever they plan to spend more than a few days in expensive cities like Paris and New York. Short-term apartment rentals can help travelers save money on both lodging and meals, while providing a more authentic experience.

Regardless of recent headlines concerning new rules—or supposed new efforts to enforce old rules—for short-term rentals, we still endorse the option as a smart, fun, and safe way to stay. While there may be new implications for owners seeking to rent out their properties in these cities, renters themselves face no possibility of fines or problems of any kind with the local authorities. "There's nothing illegal that the traveler is doing when staying in a vacation rental," says Carl Shepherd, chief development officer of direct-from-owner rental specialist HomeAway. "None of these cities have any penalties for renters."

The announcements of lawmakers and housing officials seem to imply otherwise, hinting that because some home owners may technically be violating unenforced local ordinances by renting out their properties, renters are somehow guilty by association. The truth is that based on years of precedent—and the fact that restrictions are vaguely worded and that the municipalities involved are uninterested or incapable of enforcing them—the risks encountered by renters are extremely minimal. So fear not. Arm yourself with our 6 Tips for Safer, Smarter Rentals, and read on for specific advice about Paris, San Francisco, and New York.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Tightwad Tips from Billionaires

Jean Folger, Investopedia, discusses some billionaires' spending habits in "7 Spending Tips from Frugal Billionaires."  Although this article doesn't mention their vacation styles, I'll bet these frugal billionaires are tightwad travelers! 

Carlos Slim Helu (Carlos Slim), a telecom tycoon and billionaire with well-known frugal tendencies, has a net worth of $60.6 billion according to Forbes. Assuming no changes in his net worth, he could spend $1,150 a minute for the next 100 years before he ran out of money. To put this in perspective, he could spend in 13 minutes what a minimum-wage earner brings home after an entire year of the daily grind.

Granted, the world's billionaires (all 1,011 of them) are in the debatably enviable position of having, quite literally, more money than they can possibly spend, yet some are still living well below their means, and save money in surprising places. Even non-billionaires (currently 6,864,605,142 of us) can partake in these seven spending tips from frugal billionaires.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

One Letter on a Plane Ticket Says a Lot About You

Ever wonder which fares are upgradeable or which fares mean you're more likely to be bumped off if the flight is full?  This article by Samantha Bomkamp answers those questions.

By Samantha Bomkamp, AP Airlines Writer

NEW YORK – There are a few bits of information to pay close attention to on an airline ticket: the flight number, gate number and boarding time. Fare basis code? Not a common concern.

But the single-letter code can make a big difference in some parts of the travel experience, even though most passengers don't pay any attention. A fare basis code further divides passengers into classes based on how much they paid and how far out they booked. There are about a dozen in coach class alone.

When you're on the plane, there's no difference in service between a passenger who has a "Y" or "Q" — a full-fare and a discounted ticket — if you're both in coach. But the codes are still important: Some indicate your trip isn't eligible for frequent-flier miles or an upgrade; others tell a ticket agent where to rank you on a standby list.

Monday, August 30, 2010

California Dreamin' – Choosing Accommodations in the USA

Jacksonville, Florida motel
While I prefer to stay in short-term apartment rentals when traveling, trips involving many brief stops in several cities make that impossible. Since David and I are facing that scenario on this California trip, we've followed our tried-and-never-found-wanting approach to getting a good room at the best price.

The first step is to check the Trip Advisor site. It is loaded with helpful information.

Hotels are ranked by popularity based on readers' reviews, and the reviews themselves supply invaluable information, even an occasional photo. David and I usually spend hours poring over the reviews because it is in this section that we learn vital information that is never available on a hotel's website. If we want to know if the noise from a busy street will keep us awake all night or if breakfast is worth the sacrifice of sleeping late, the reviews will tell us. If you prefer, however, to use your own criteria, rather than rely on readers' reviews, you can re-sort the listings according to a set of filters. Choosing a price range, room style, traveler ratings, hotel rating, location (Close to city center or train station?), and amenities allows you to customize your search.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

California Dreamin' - A Room with a View...Still Looking

Calle Colon - Ajijic, Mexico
After four years living in a small Mexican village, I experienced a number of culture shocks when I returned to the United States.

I had many embarrassing conversations with complete strangers because I thought the friendly, “Hello, how are you?” comments were directed at me. It took me weeks to realize people were talking into their cell phones, not to me.

Then there was the time I met a friend at a restaurant located in a popular mall. A restaurant with valet parking. In a mall! Whatever happened to the idea that the mall was an ideal place to go because there was ample, free parking?

I've adjusted to most of the changes I've encountered, but the final shock still bothers me the most—having to pay for parking at motels and hotels. Since the hotel industry exists to serve the needs of a transient population that frequently arrives by car, adding a surcharge to the bill to accommodate the car is an insult.

But insults in the travel business seem widespread these days. I have to pay extra to take my clothes along with me on a flight, and I've often got to pay extra to house my car for the night at a hotel.

All these extra charges do severe damage to a tightwad traveler's budget. Since David and I are committed to making our California driving trip a frugal one, we've abandoned AirBnB accommodations; most of the offerings in San Francisco require paying a meter or a parking garage. We're going to look for rooms that will allow us, and our car, to rest easy for the night without any extra charges. It might not be easy, but we'll persevere and tell you how we made out in the next installment.

Monday, August 23, 2010

AARP Says Mexico One of Five Best Places to Live Abroad

Puerto Vallarta - photo by Courtney Zimmerman

The September/October issue of AARP magazine, a magazine geared to Americans over 50 years old, lists Mexico as one of the five best places to live abroad.  An excerpt from Barry Golson's AARP article is printed below; see additional material in the Practicalities section regarding cost of living.  The entire article can be found by clicking here.

With its profoundly rich Indian and Spanish culture, its spectacular beaches and charming colonial hill towns, its real estate bargains and its proximity to the United States, Mexico is the undisputed number one destination for American retirees. It boasts thriving expat communities in Lake Chapala, near Guadalajara; San Miguel de Allende, in Guanajuato; Baja California; and Cancún, in the Yucatan. They all have their attractions, including a low-cost, laid-back lifestyle, but our choice in Mexico is the Puerto Vallarta region, located on the Pacific Coast in the state of Nayarit. Its combination of first-class urban amenities and charming palm-fringed villages have made it an appealing retiree draw as well as a popular tourist destination, without the serious crime that blights some other parts of the country.

(A quick word about crime and safety in Mexico: Yes, it's extremely dangerous in the cities bordering the United States and a few places elsewhere. Mexico, however, is also nearly three times the size of Texas, and most of the country is reasonably safe and secure, especially resort areas and tourist destinations.)

Puerto Vallarta's handsome beachfront promenade can be overcrowded with tourists, but venture a few blocks back from the bars and curio shops, and the town's Mexican charms are on display—whitewashed houses bedecked with flowers, and plazas where locals and expats alike greet, eat, and seat themselves on benches to watch the passing parade. In Nuevo Vallarta, the newer luxury area, you’ll find U.S.-style condo complexes and even a mall. You’d think you're back in the States, but at a steep discount.