Entries in ‘California’ Journal

Ride The Ducks San Francisco: San Francisco Duck Tours

Wednesday September 3, 2014 at 7:07 AM | 0 Comments

The bus/boat of the San Francisco Ridte the Ducks tour.

The bus/boat of San Francisco Ride the Ducks tour.

If you live in the city of San Francisco or Boston or Philadelphia or Seattle, you’ve probably noticed them. It’s hard not to. Amphibious vehicles tooling around the neighborhoods with the music cranked up and the passengers blasting kazoos shaped like duck bills.

My family and I took the San Francisco ‘Splashtastic Sunset’ Ride the Ducks land and water tour on a recent Friday night. When we boarded, we were each handed  a “quacker” (the duck-shaped kazoo). I tucked mine away, sure that I wouldn’t be joining that party. But it wasn’t long before Captain Jeff rallied the half-full bus of revelers (including myself) into humming along with Sinatra, the Village People and Tony Bennett as we traversed Fisherman’s Wharf and the neighborhoods of North Beach and Chinatown.

Quacking up on the San Francisco Ride the Duck Tour

Quacking up on the San Francisco Ride the Duck Tour

Corny, scripted jokes aside, Jeff was an entertaining and informative host, bus driver and boat captain. We cruised through Union Square, the Fi Di and SOMA and entered the water just south of AT&T Park. By then it was dark, and the bay cruise was definitely “splashtastic” as we watched the light show on the Bay Bridge twinkle, creating psychedelic patterns.

We dipped into McCovey Cove, next to the Giants ballpark and the Captain turned over the reigns to anyone who wanted to drive the boat. My kids (and I) jumped at the opportunity.

We emerged from the water via the same boat ramp and returned to Jefferson and Taylor Sts. in Fisherman’s Wharf via the Embarcadero where we quacked and waved at pedestrians along the way.

 

The nightly  light show on the Bay Bridge.

Nightly light show on San Francisco Bay Bridge

Ride the Ducks San Francisco
450 Bay St, San Francisco, California 94133
(415) 922-2425

This post was contributed by Lisa Crovo Dion of Friscomama.com. Photos by Dan Dion. We were guests of the Ride the Ducks tour.

Houseboating Shasta Lake, CA: What to Expect

Friday August 15, 2014 at 7:07 AM | 2 Comments

A three hour drive from the San Francisco bay area to Lake Shasta, we arrived at our destination, Shasta Marina Resort, in the early afternoon. The summer sun was already beating down on us; we were happy to be greeted at Shasta Marina with misters spraying fine curtains of water overhead. Our hosts and owners of Shasta Marina Resort, Anna & John Harkrader, had fled the bay area in 1999, after successful careers and raising a family, to begin a new life on Lake Shasta. Today, their job was to teach a family of two baby boomers with two young adults, along with a yellow Labrador retriever, how to survive and thrive houseboating on Shasta Lake for three days and three nights.

"Shasta Lake" sunset

Shasta Lake Sunset

Our floating paradise

As this was our first attempt houseboating Shasta Lake, we decided on the luxurious 16 Sleeper Thoroughbred houseboat – our motto for this family vacation ‘go big or go home’. Additionally, Shasta Marina Resort offers the 16 or 14 Sleeper Mirage. Manufactured in Kentucky, the Thoroughbred is a 15 x 56 foot, full-wide cabin houseboat with a hull design, offering state rooms below deck. Two private sleeping areas with 2 queen beds, a mirror and sink, are below deck. On the main deck there were 3 state rooms, two with double beds and one with bunk beds. Naturally, “the kids” claimed the double bed rooms and we bunked in the queen stateroom below. The dining table and sofa both convert to double beds if you need the extra space.

The kitchen came equipped with stainless steel appliances, including a 28 cubic foot refrigerator with freezer and ice maker, as well as a kitchen island with bar stools, dishwasher and trash compactor. Our kitchen was stocked with Pottery Barn dishes, silverware, pots, pans, utensils and the ever important coffee maker and wine opener. The dinner plates were huge – large enough to serve Big Foot.

Failed houseboat mooring attempt

After motoring down the Sacramento River arm, we had a failed mooring attempt between Slaughterhouse Island and Thunderbolt Island on day one. “Don’t you remember the fellow saying to ‘stay away from the red clay?’” our 18-year-old questioned the patriarch and newbie houseboater who had selected what looked to be a prime spot surrounded by ankle sucking, muddy, red clay soils. The two men sunk 3 foot, wrought iron stakes into the ground, along with rope attached, to moor our houseboat for the night, only to watch them slide down the hillside like a slow moving lava flow. Sweating and cursing, my husband admitted defeat and we abandoned ship in search of solid ground.

"Shasta Marina Resort" houseboat

Our houseboat from Shasta Marina Resort

Houseboat home in Dolly Cove

With our ski boat bobbing merrily behind us like a baby duckling following mama, we found success at Dolly Cove. After high fives all around, we celebrated our mooring victory with a round of wake boarding with Shasta Dam looming in the distance. Shasta Lake was as smooth as glass that evening and offered a gorgeous mountain sunset as we grilled fresh wild Alaskan Sockeye salmon and munched on Brentwood, California sugar sweet corn on the cob, followed by a relaxing soak in the rooftop hot tub. Eureka, we had discovered California gold on Lake Shasta!

wake boarding "Shasta Lake"

Wake boarding on Shasta Lake

Lake Shasta electronic free zone

The kids liked the large flat screen tv, but quickly learned that this trip would be an electronic free zone. As we left Shasta Marina behind us, we cut loose our ties to our smartphones and television, instead turning to books, card games and remembering how to kick back and go with the flow of the lake. The entertainment center offered DVD and stereo with iPod hookup, enabling us to blast tunes while we splashed into the lake via the water slide on the top deck. Thankfully, music could be piped directly into each deck, so both the baby boomers and young adults could enjoy their own music selections.

"Shasta Lake" vacation

Shasta Lake vacation

Shasta Lake recreation

I quickly learned the boating concept of Shasta Lake. Whoever has the most water toys wins! We had our bases covered at Shasta Marina Resort as we rented a ski boat loaded with water skis, wake board and tube for towing behind the boat, in addition to our Thoroughbred houseboat. Our kids loved wake boarding and water skiing, followed with a soak in the hot tub – good for restoring tired muscles. Everyone loved splashing into Lake Shasta from the upper deck slide! Shasta Marina Resort also rents jet skis – customers must rent accompanying ski boats or jet skis for the same amount of time as the houseboat rental.

Rates vary depending on off season, mid season and high season – check the website for current pricing. High season pricing for 3 nights on the 16 Sleeper Thoroughbred was $4,620, 3 night ski boat rental was $900 for a V6 19 foot boat.

"Shasta Marina Resort" houseboat

Shasta Lake Houseboat Vacation

Houseboating insider tips

Don’t forget your sunscreen! The houseboat roofs are mostly covered, but floating in the 80+ degree lake water was how we spent much of our time.

Plan on packing all necessary food. There is a large cooler on the deck of the houseboat. The marina store sells items such as ice and basic foods, but not produce.

Bring your own bedding & towels – bed sets are available for an additional fee. Check the Shasta Marina Resort website for a complete houseboat inventory list.

Make time for star-gazing – Lake Shasta by moon light will not disappoint!

Pets are allowed for an additional fee.

Expect to pay about $400-$500 to gas the houseboat and $100-$200 for the ski boat gas; depending on usage – ours was a three day trip.

Bring several good books and plenty of bottled water. While the houseboat has clearly marked spigots – lake water and drinking water – I prefer byob (bring your own beverages.)

Keep all windows and hatch to upper deck closed when running air conditioning. In our experience, the air conditioner couldn’t keep up with the demands when cruising the lake. We found it best to moor the houseboat and explore Lake Shasta by ski boat for better fuel economy and maintaining the air conditioning inside the houseboat.

For additional insider tips follow Luxury Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown on Twitter @Nancydbrown and follow @ShastaMR on Twitter.

"Shasta Marina Resort"Check-In Time: 3:00pm

Check-Out Time: 9:00am

If You Go:

Shasta Marina Resort – Shasta Lake Houseboat Rentals
(530) 238-2284 or (800) 959-3359
18390 O’Brien Inlet Rd.

Lakehead, California 96051

Article written by, video and photos courtesy of Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown of What a Trip, Travels from Northern California. I was a guest of Shasta Marina Resort. All opinions are my own.

Spa Review: Portola Hotel & Spa, Monterey

Friday August 8, 2014 at 7:07 AM | 2 Comments

"Spa on the Plaza" monterey

Spa on the Plaza in Monterey

If you read this blog often, you know that I have never met a spa that I didn’t like. As a travel writer, I’ve been fortunate to slip in a spa visit whenever I write a luxury hotel or resort review. I’ve experienced a massage on a water table in Switzerland, an in-room massage in Yountville, California, a Birch Stick massage in Portugal and  a Essence in Balance massage at Ojai Valley Inn & Spa where guests create their custom blended aromatherapy scent at the on-site Apothecary. There’s not a massage treatment I won’t try, but sometimes time is not on a travel writers side. This was the case with my Spa on the Plaza review at Portola Hotel & Spa, Monterey.

 

Monterey Bay’s Spa on the Plaza

After a day of hiking Point Lobos and a trip to Big Sur on the Monterey coast, I had hoped to squeeze in a massage at Spa on the Plaza at Portola Hotel & Spa. I was only able to  reserve a 25 minute “Heaven Express” massage, but the therapist made the most of those 25 minutes with a sideline massage, focusing on my computer-weary shoulders.

 

"Spa on the Plaza" relaxation room

Spa on the Plaza relaxation room

 
Spa owners Camille and Roy Malcolm offer their person guarantee to provide guests with authentic spa therapies in a beautiful coastal setting. Spa on the Plaza offers a full-service salon, a relaxation lounge and locker rooms with steam rooms. Housed within the Portola Hotel, Spa on the Plaza guests have access to the fitness center, outdoor pool and whirlpool, as well as poolside dining service.

 

"Spa on the Plaza" monterey, california

Spa on the Plaza Oasis Suite, Monterey Bay


 
To stretch my spa treatment, I added an Oasis Suite Bubble massage therapy to my spa time. Priced at $50 (check website for current pricing) the Toto Hydrotherapy tub experience relaxed my tired muscles and the steaming hot water prepared my body to maximize the mini-massage treatment.
 

"Portola Hotel & Spa" seashells

Monterey Bay theme promotes tranquility at Portola Hotel & Spa

 
Insider Tip:
If time is not an issue for you, plan to arrive early for your spa appointment and hang out at the Portola Hotel, one of the few hotels with a swimming pool in Monterey. For additional insider tips follow Northern California Travel Writer @Nancydbrown on Twitter and Spa on the Plaza on Twitter @Spaontheplaza20.

If You Go:

Spa on the Plaza at Portola Hotel & Spa (831) 647-9000

Two Portola Plaza

Monterey, California 93940

Article and photos (excluding top photo) by Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown. I was a guest of Spa on the Plaza in conjunction with Monterey County Convention & Visitors Bureau. All opinions are my own.