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.