Warm up at these 7 Boise, Idaho, craft breweries

Boise brewery

Whether you’re planning to ski or visit family, winter provides an opportunity to warm up with some craft beer. And Idaho is the perfect place to do so.

Idaho’s brewery scene has seen heady growth over the last few years. Boise, the state capital and Idaho’s largest city, and the surrounding area are home to more than 20 breweries.

While Boise is known for Northwest IPAs made from hops grown in Oregon and Washington, local brewers like to experiment with new styles and flavors, so there promises to be something for everyone. On two recent visits, I found citrus-infused ales, chocolaty stouts and interesting flavor profiles using Hibiscus, Vanilla and tea.

Here are seven craft breweries I visited and liked, but there are many more to try:

Boise Brewing, 521 West Broad St., Boise

Founder Collin Rudeen sources ingredients sourced from local farmers. Its November beer list included 15 choices – from Golden Trout Pale Ale to Black Cliffs (Stout) to cider. Boise Brewing has received four medals from the Great American Beer Fest and Black Cliffs one a gold medal at the 2018 World Beer Cup.

Visitors will see large ceramic mugs lining the walls of the downtown Boise taproom. They belong to Idaho residents who are part owners of the brewery. I like that it’s one of a handful of community-owned breweries across the country.  In fact, 6-year-old Boise Brewery is in the midst of a third Idaho Public Offering to raise capital to make improvements to its downtown Boise taproom and possibly open a second taproom.

Boise Brewing collage
Boise Brewing manages to feel cozy even thought its inside a large warehouse. (Sheryl Jean and BeFunky)

Mad Swede Brewing Co., 2772 South Cole Road, #140, Boise

Owners Jerry and Susie Larson spent 30 years home-brewing and experimenting before deciding to open the brewery in 2016. Its early November tap list of 14 options includes Lollygagger Lager, Naked Sunbather Nut Brown Ale (winner of a 2018 silver medal from the North American Brewers Association) and Sunstone Hazy IPA (New England style). Located near the Boise Airport, the taproom has a laid-back vibe and features live music, trivia nights, games and Comedy Open Mic Nights on Mondays. You can order from a food truck.

Woodland Empire Ale Craft, 1114 West Front St., Boise

Is there a better combination than beer and pinball? That’s what you’ll find at Woodland Empire, which specializes in IPAs with its “Mixtape Series” and twists on classic styles like its current Thunder Chicken (smoked Porter) and Count Chocula (chocolate cereal milk Stout). Its Mixtape offering in November was Twined & Twisted (Kristall Haze IPA). Former Austin, Texas, musician and homebrewer Keely Landerman, her husband Rob, and Tom Dolan started making artisan beers in small batches in 2014. They started amassing medals in 2015: winning five medals through 2018. At the downtown Boise taproom, you can play on retro pinball machines order tasty food from Manfred’s Kitchen next door for delivery to your table.

Woodland Empire Craft Ale
Sip your beer while playing retro games at Woodland Empire Ale Craft. (Sheryl Jean)

Payette Brewing Co., 733 South Pioneer St., Boise

Founder Mike Francis left his Boeing engineering job to study brewing at Chicago’s Siebel Institute of Technology. He first worked at Seattle’s Schooner Exact Brewing before opening Payette Brewing in 2010. He named the brewery for French Canadian fur trader François Payette, whose moniker graces many Idaho landmarks. It offers many year-round and seasonal brews, such as Flyline Vienna Lager, Pistolero Porter and Sofa King Juicy Mango Hazy IPA. Its all-ages taproom allows well-behaved pets. Customers can order from rotating food trucks and take a free brewery tour on Saturdays.

Boise
Payette Brewing is located in an office/industrial area along the Boise River. (Sheryl Jean and BeFunky)

Barbarian Brewing, 5270 Chinden Boulevard, Garden City, and 1022 West Main St., Boise

Husband-and-wife team James Long and BreAnne Hovley started the brewery in the Boise suburb of Garden City with help from Kickstarter in 2015, Two years later, they opened a second taproom in downtown Boise, which draws a hip, youngish crowd. You won’t find its beers outside of the two taprooms, which adds to the allure. Using Old World-brewing styles, the brewery specializes in limited batch sours, Bourbon barrel stouts and barley wines, but it also makes traditional beers, Belgian ales and experimental styles such as Ice Cream Ales and a Candy Gose series. Boise customers can order food for delivery from Calle 75 Street Tacos. You won’t find this beer outside of its taprooms.

Boise

Barbarian Brewing has an extensive selection of brews. (Sheryl Jean and BeFunky)

10 Barrel Brewing, 830 West Bannock St., Boise

Technically, this is a brewpub opened in 2013 by the Bend, Ore.-based brewery, but Boise brewmaster Shawn Kelso (aka Big Daddy) does make beer on site. Its known for big IPAs – like Idahop and Freak Alley – but its menu of 22 beers on top in early November also includes Swill (American Radler), Apricot Crush (Sour), Cream Ale and the seasonal Pray for Snow (Winter Ale). The open, industrial-style brewpub is a popular spot to watch sports on big-screen televisions. 10 Barrel Brewing operates five other locations in California, Colorado and Oregon.

Boise
10 Barrel Brewing in downtown Boise is part brewpub and part sports bar. The bar is open to the sidewalk during nice weather. (Sheryl Jean)

Sockeye Brewing, 12542 West Fairview Ave., Boise, and 3019 North Cole Road, Boise.

Sockeye is Boise’s largest brewery. Founded in 1996, it now has two Boise locations with full-service restaurants. Along with its flagship Dagger Falls IPA, you’ll find Woolybugger Wheat, Angel’s Peach Amber and seasonal brews like Winterfest. This award-winning brewery doesn’t take itself too seriously with its motto “Drink like a fish!”

Portland, Maine, knows how to celebrate Christmas

The quintessential New England coastal town of Portland, Maine, really comes alive for the winter holidays.

Many special Christmas decorations and festivities dress up Portland’s historic buildings and cobblestone streets. It all creates a cozy atmosphere to warm up visitors on even the coldest days.

Many of Portland’s annual traditions include lights, such as the Monument Square tree lighting in the heart of downtown. It will take place from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Nov. 29. It also features live music and Santa Claus.

Also from Monument Square, the city offers free horse-drawn carriage rides through downtown on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from Nov. 29 through Dec. 22.

You can’t miss the Harbor Christmas Boat Parade of Lights in Portland Harbor on Dec. 14. You can watch the festivities from Fort Allen Park or elsewhere along the Portland waterfront as decorated boats sail by. You also can be amid the boats, with a specialty cruise with Casco Bay Lines for $12.50.

Portland Maine
Portland’s Longfellow Square, which is home to the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Monument, is lit up with holiday lights all winter. (Sheryl Jean)

In addition, much of downtown is lit up all winter. Stroll along the bustling streets and vote for your favorite window display as part of the city’s Holiday Window Display Contest from Nov. 29 through Dec. 25.

On Shop for a Cause Day on Nov. 30 – the day after Black Friday — purchases made at participating outlets will benefit a local charity. On Dec. 5, stores participating in Merry Madness will remain open until 10 p.m. for holiday shopping.

Visitors who tour the Wadsworth Longfellow House this holiday season will learn about the friendship between poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Charles Dickens, author of A Christmas Carol. Dickens reportedly performed a public reading of his holiday ghost story at Portland City Hall in 1868. The Maine Historical Society will offer tours of the house where Longfellow grew up on Dec. 16-23.

During Christmas at Victoria Mansion, its 19th-century interior is filled with decorations from local artists, designers and florists over six weeks from Dec. 22 to Jan. 5, 2020. Visitors can take a tour or attend one of several holiday programs and events. Built in the mid-1800s, the mansion boasted hot and cold running water, flush toilets, central heat, gas lights, wall-to-wall carpeting and a 25-foot long stained-glass skylight. Admission prices vary.

Holiday not required

There’s more to Portland than Christmas. Dating to 1632, the city was once Maine’s capital. Its compact size makes it easy to walk to museums, performing arts, quaint shops and plenty of good restaurants, cafes and craft breweries any time of year.

Maine
It’s easy to walk around Portland’s compact downtown, which is rich with historical buildings and colonial architecture. (Sheryl Jean)

Many of those sights are downtown or in the Old Port District, which also offers beautiful water views. The Arts District west of downtown is home to the Portland Museum of Art (designed by I.M. Pei, its collection includes works by Monet, Renoir and Winslow Homer) and the free downtown Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art. Here is where you’ll also find Portland Stage and the State Theatre.

Maine has more than 100 craft breweries, and more than a few call Portland home. There’s Allagash Brewing Co., Liquid Riot Bottling Co., Rising Tide Brewing Co. and Shipyard Brewing Co. to name a few. Don’t want to drink and drive? Hop on The Maine Brew Bus to tour some of the local watering holes.

Portland, Maine
Family owned Shipyard Brewing Co. offers 20 beers and soda at its Portland taproom and brewery. (Sheryl Jean)

Note: The featured photo at top is by Kristel Hayes on Unsplash.

Welcome back: The Point Reyes Lighthouse in Northern California reopens

California Journal

The historic Point Reyes Lighthouse in Northern California reopens today to the public after being closed for 15 months for restoration.

Jutting 10 miles into the Pacific Ocean, the oft fog-enshrouded lighthouse starred in 1980 cult-classic movie The Fog. Decommissioned in 1975, the lighthouse contains the nation’s only brass clockwork mechanism and first-order Fresnel lens in their original place.

In addition to the 148-year-old lighthouse, the visitor center, observation deck and other areas also will be open, according to the National Park Service. In August 2018, I wrote about the temporary closing of the lighthouse.

The $5 million restoration project began on Aug. 6 and was scheduled to be completed this October, but was delayed. Cicely Muldoon, superintendent of Point Reyes National Seashore, said in a July 2018 news release that the lighthouse was “showing its age” and “long-deferred maintenance” needed to be undertaken.

Restoration included new concrete walkways, restoration and replacement of the 1,032 crystal pieces that comprise the Fresnel lens and updating indoor and outdoor exhibit panels.

Credit of featured photograph at top: Rshao via Wikimedia Commons

6 questions to help you plan a top-flight visit to Northern California wine country

Autumn in California means wine harvest and the release of previous year’s new vintages.

Wonderful weather also means it’s a great time to visit the northern part of the state for wine tastings and vineyard tours.

Newbies and dedicated wine lovers will find long lists of wineries to visit, so I won’t duplicate that here.

When choosing where you want to visit, ask yourself these questions:

  • What type of wine do you want to taste? Red, white, rose or sparkling wine. Some wineries also offer port wine or other spirits made by affiliates.
  • Do you have a particular wine region you want to explore? Northern California alone has several, including dozens of designated appellations, in Alexander Valley, Napa Valley and Russian River Valley in Lake, Napa, Sonoma and other counties. I wrote an article on one of the region’s newest wine appellations, the Petaluma Gap, in April for The Dallas Morning News.
  • Do you want to visit a winery at its vineyard or a tasting room? Many wineries offer tastings and tours of their vineyards on site. Others only have tasting rooms, which also can be at the vineyard or in a town. The town of Healdsburg, which is about 70 miles north of San Francisco, boasts more than two dozen winery tasting rooms, including Hartford Family Winery, La Crema, Seghesio and Portalupi Wines. Tastings and tours can range from $10 to over $100. (See the last bullet item.) During fall harvest, you may be enveloped by the heady aroma of grapes at vineyards.

Joe and Margaret Valenzuela outsource much of the work for their young Rubia Wines label, including their wine aging in barrels at their winemaker Julien Fayard’s property in Napa. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

  • Do you want to visit a large or small winery? A new label or a well-established brand? Family owned? Napa Valley alone has more than 500 wineries. In July, I wrote an article about how a Texas couple started a boutique Rubia Wines in Napa Valley. Its tasting room is at the industrial park office of its winemaker. It offers small bites with tastings. I also wrote an article last year about Hall Wines in Napa Valley, which offers tours and tastings (from $30 to $250 a person) at three locations: vineyards in St. Helena and Rutherford in Napa Valley and a tasting room in the nearby historic town of Sonoma.

Visitors to Hall Wines in St. Helena, Calif., enjoy the view of the Mayacamas Mountains from one of the outdoor seating areas. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

  • Do you want to eat as you taste wine? Nowadays, a winery experience is almost as much about food pairings as it is wine. Some tastings come with small bites or palate cleansers, but more often a winery will charge extra for a “culinary experience” that’s often with fruit and vegetables grown on site and noshes or meals prepared by a well-known chef. That also drives up the cost of a visit, usually starting around $35 and rising into triple figures. Some wineries also feature restaurants where you can order a la carte from a limited menu.
  • Do you want a winery visit with a touch of the unusual At Hall Wines, for example, visitors can wander through 38 large pieces of artwork. At the Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville, you can reserve a spot at its large pool, which quite the scene when weather permits. Several wineries, including Schramsberg Vineyards in Calistoga and Bella Vineyards in Healdsburg, boast historic caves that visitors can tour. You can play a game of croquet at Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards in Windsor.
This 35-foot-long, stainless-steel leaping rabbit by artist Lawrence Argent greets visitors as they enter Hall Wines’ showcase winery in Napa Valley. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

Wanna fly cheap? It’s not impossible

As the travel season prepares to heat up, people may wonder what kind of prices await them.

Don’t fret. The global airline market remains competitive, especially if you’re willing to book early, fly at off-peak times and try one of the many young low-cost carriers out there.

Europe always has much cheaper flights, and that’s still true despite the demise earlier this year of  Icelandic budget darling Wow Air. International carriers, including England’s EasyJet, Hungary’s Wizz Air and Ireland’s RyanAir offer cheap international flights, including from the United States.

Not all budget airlines are startups. Several large, international airlines also operate budget brands to compete with their low-cost peers. Australia’s JetStar is a subsidiary of Qantas Airways, Australia’s Tigerair is a unit of Virgin Australia, Spain’s Level Airline is part of Iberia Airway and Spain’s Vueling Airlines is a sister company to British Airways.

Level Airline
Some European low cost-carriers, such as Spain’s Level Airline, shuttle passengers to their plans on the tarmac. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

There are low-cost U.S. options, too. Condor Airlines, a German carrier, flies to 10 U.S. cities and many international destinations, Minnesota-based Sun Country Airlines started as a vacation charter, but now offers scheduled passenger service to over 50 destinations in the United States, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.

Critics say budget carriers nickle and dime consumers, have poor on-time records and don’t offer the same service or quality. But there increasingly is little difference between the big and small airlines besides price — unless you’re flying business or first class.

It comes down to what what you are willing to pay vs. what you are willing to put up with within your schedule. Your destination also makes a difference.

I can’t complain about recent cheap, economy-class flights I took on Level, JetStar and TigerAir. One airline was delayed and one had narrow,, basic seats. On the other hand, I thought the food was rather good.

thumb_IMG_E5328_1024
Spanish low-cost carrier, Level Airline, provided seat-back entertainment systems and a USB charger on a transatlantic flight I flew nearly a year ago. Its movie selection impressed me. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

Follow these tips to help find affordable airfare no matter what type of airline you fly:

  • Book your tickets on a Tuesday or Wednesday, the cheapest days of the week to fly. An average fare on a Tuesday will cost nearly $85 less than Sunday, which is the most expensive day to travel, according to the CheapAir.com 2019 Annual Airfare Study.
  • Last year, the “best day” to book a flight within the continental United States was 76 days — or 2.5 months — in advance, according to CheapAir, which analyzed 917 million airfares. That falls in the middle of what it calls the “prime booking window” — four months to three weeks before your departure date, when fares are at their lowest.
  • Don’t wait until 20 days or less before your target departure. That’s when your chances of getting a bargain or an aisle seat are the worst.
  • Typically, flights during the winter (excluding around the holidays) tend to be less expensive than in summer. It’s simple supply and demand.
  • Based on that premise, flying to Iceland or Germany in winter will probably cost less than going to a warmer climate.

Note: I took the featured photo of Tigerair at top.

5 ways to make college tours more fun

Some people view college tours as a chore — an obligatory part of sending a child into adulthood — but they don’t have to be.

Here are five things to do to make them more fun — during the heat of summer or any time of year.

This is an update to a blog post I wrote last year, after visiting five California universities with my niece. This post focuses on my observations from five recent university tours (in Colorado, Idaho and Washington) with my nephew.

1. Local food: Some universities, especially land grant schools with large agricultural programs, may offer products made on campus and/or made with ingredients grown by students. A visit to Washington State University in Pullman, Wash., is not complete without a stop at Ferdinand’s Ice Cream Shoppe on campus. Ice cream flavors, including Caramel Cashew, Huckleberry Twist and Cougar Tracks, are made with campus products.

This single-serving bowl of two flavors — Huckleberry Twist and Caramel Cashew — cost $2.20 at Ferdinand’s. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

Ferdinand’s also sells WSU’s cheese in a can, with the most popular being Cougar Gold. That stemmed from WSU research in the 1940s to find a way to store cheese in tins. At least 10 years later, the creamery began making milk and ice cream products for students. Today, Ferdinand’s is open to the public.

Off college campuses, try regional products at restaurants, such as a lentil burger (Paradise Creek Brewery) in Pullman, Wash., or dried garbanzo beans (Nectar and Lodgepole) in Moscow, Idaho (home of the University of Idaho). Lentils and garbanzos are grown in the surrounding beautiful Palouse area.

2. Local activities: Find out what a town or area is known for and do it. Look for activities that interest you. Is there a bicycle trail, such as the Bill Chipman Palouse Trail between the University of Idaho in Moscow and Washington State University in Pullman, a climbing wall or community theater? Research can be done beforehand or on the fly via an Internet search, a stop at the local visitor center or asking a local.

Cyclists ride by golden fields of wheat on the 8-mile (one way) Bill Chipman Palouse Trail between Moscow, Idaho, and Pullman, Wash. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

3. Bookstores: College towns still have quirky brick-and-mortar bookstores. Boulder, Colo., has at least a half dozen. Not only are they cool places to hang out, but they usually have a local or regional section to learn about the area and culture or find local authors.

Don’t forget to check out campus bookstores, too. Some schools include a coupon in their information packet (it was 20% off at the University of Idaho and Washington State University). It might be a good opportunity to load up on gear from your favorite school or sports team. They also have a good selection of new books, including books by their professors.

4. Museums: Still on my list from last year is to find campus museums, a trend in recent decades helped by alumni funding. When I recently visited Washington State University’s small and manageable Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, it offered engaging works by Louise Bourgeois, Jacob Lawrence and Robert Rauschenberg. In Golden, Colo., the Colorado School of Mines’ Geology Museum is a find for gem and rock lovers; it has two moon rocks. The University of Colorado Boulder has the Museum of Natural History and the University of Oregon in Eugene, Ore., has the Museum of Natural and Cultural History.

These are just some of the minerals, gems and fossils displayed at the Geology Museum at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colo. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

5. Explore the town or city. Some college campuses dominate their small host towns, others are located in or near big cities, such as Boston or Seattle. Take the time to walk, bicycle or drive around the town or city closest to campus to see what it has to offer. Eat, shop or watch a movie. Stay overnight if you can to get a true cultural immersion.

Here’s a related tweet from Wednesday, Aug. 7, about five college trends I’ve noticed while on 10 university tours in four states in the last year:

The featured photo at top by me is art by Louise Bourgeois at Washington State University’s Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art.

Did you know Australia offers hiking from historic hut to hut?

When you think of the hut-to-hut hikes, places like the U.S. Appalachian Trail, Switzerland and Ireland probably come to mind.

Add Australia to that list. The country offers several hut networks for hikers (and skiers).

Among Australia’s huts are some 200 historic huts, with some being more than 150 years old. Cattlemen, gold miners, lumberjacks, skiers and bushwalkers built the huts for shelter in often harsh and isolated conditions. Aboriginal Australians even used some huts as camp sites.

The historic huts, which have been restored and preserved, are for temporary use — to be slept in only during emergencies. But you can hang out, get warm and cook in the huts, which typically come with a set of rules and etiquette. (See some basic hut rules at the end of this post.) In Victoria, some huts are not available for public use.

Huts are typically made of wood or iron sheeting and always are unlocked and stocked with matches and some firewood. Here’s a sampling of Australia’s historic huts:

Inside Wallace Hut (Sheryl Jean)
Peek inside historic Wallace Hut to see the names of cattlemen and others who first used it burnt into the roof beams. (Sheryl Jean)

Wallace Hut, Alpine National Park, Victoria

Many huts have burned during wildfires, but Wallace Hut survived. Overall, Alpine National Park has 106 huts, including nearly 60 historic huts.

Wallace Hut is the oldest in Alpine National Park, which has 106 huts, including nearly 60 historic ones. Three brothers — Arthur, William and Stewart Wallace built Wallace Hut by hand from snow gum slabs in 1889. The Wallaces grazed their cattle on the High Plains from 1869 to 1914.

You can’t enter the cattleman’s hut, but you can peek through a window and see its rustic interior. (See photo above.)

The walking track to Wallace Hut starts along the Bogong High Plains Road. The walk to the hut is nearly 1 mile round trip. A longer, but pretty walk from Wallace Hut to Cope Hut — called Wallaces Heritage Trail — is 3.5 miles round trip.

Map of Wallaces Heritage Trail
Here’s a map, provided by Alpine National Park, of the Wallaces Heritage Trail and shorter options. (Sheryl Jean)

Cope Hut, Alpine National Park, Victoria

This historic hut offers panoramic views of the High Plains and the Great Dividing Range.

Cattlemen built most of the huts in the Victorian Alps for their use, but Cope Hut was the first hut built specifically for tourists on the Bogong High Plains. It was built in 1929, largely due to lobbying efforts by the Ski Club of Victoria to have skier accommodations on the High Plains.

It’s a short walk (15 minutes round trip) to Cope Hut from the car park on the Bogong High Plains Road. Near the car park are some lovely picnic spots with fantastic vistas of the High Plains and distant mountains.

Cope Hut, Alpine National Park, Australia
Cope Hut sits on a hillside, offering spectacular views of the High Plains in Alpine National Park. (Sheryl Jean)

Green Gully Track, New South Wales

This 40-mile, hut-to-hut hike is one of Australia’s best. The remote track in Oxley Wild Rivers National Park, which is about an eight-hour drive from Sydney, boasts the Apsley-Macleay gorges, one of Australia’s largest gorge systems, as well as mountain streams, forests and wildlife.

Hikers will stay in five restored stockman huts over four days: Cedar Creek Cottage, Birds Nest Hut, Green Gully Hut, Colwells Hut and Cedar Creek Lodge. The huts include fireplaces, cots, solar lights, non-flush toilets and cooking equipment facilities; one hut  has a solar-powered outdoor hot shower.

White’s River Hut, New South Wales

Surrounded by Snow Gum slopes, this cozy hut in the Kosciuszko’s Main Range has a fireplace, dining room, bunk rooms and toilet. The hut is accessible only by hiking, biking or skiing. The Kosciusko Alpine Club has run the hut since 1938 and restored it in 2011. It charges an overnight fee.

The Overland Track, Tasmania

This may be Australia’s most iconic alpine trek: 40 miles over six days through the stunning Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park. Hikers will see moorlands, swamps, rainforests, eucalyptus forests and alpine meadows.

Anyone can stay overnight, cook and rest in six huts along the Overland Track. Each hut has sleeping platforms, tables and benches, coal or gas heaters, composting toilets and rainwater tanks, but the don’t have lighting or cooking facilities. Huts cannot be pre-booked, so still carry a tent and sleeping bags.

Three historic huts on the Overland Track — Du Cane, Kitchen and Old Pelion — can only be slept in during emergencies.

Kia Ora Hut on Tasmania's Overland Track
Hikers on Tasmania’s Overland Track can stay in the rustic Kia Ora Hut. (Tatters @ Flickr)

Basic hut rules

  • Leave the hut as you found it.
  • If you use the fireplace, make sure the fire is completely out when you leave.
  • Close all doors and windows.
  • Don’t leave food in the hut. It clutters it up and attracts possums or other animals.

Hello again: Delta’s free food in economy class on long domestic flights is a welcome change to constant fees

I recently ate my first free meal in years on a domestic flight in coach class. On Delta Air Lines. And it was pretty good.

Most U.S. airlines cut complimentary meals on domestic flights in the main cabin more than a decade ago. Delta did so in 2001 to cut costs. (Airlines still offer free meals and drinks to all passengers on long-haul international flights.)

Since then, however, in-flight food has been making a bit of a comeback. First came the paid meals, but now some airlines, like Delta, are once again offering free meals in economy class.

Delta’s decision is not brand new, but this was my first chance to sample it on a cross-country flight from Boston to San Francisco. In early 2017, Delta re-introduced free meals in the main cabin on some of its longest domestic flights. The service now is offered on more than a dozen routes, including:

  • New York (JFK) to/from Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Seattle and Portland, Ore.
  • Washington D.C. (DCA) to/from Los Angeles
  • Seattle to/from Boston; Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; Orlando, Fla.; and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
  • Boston to/from San Francisco and Los Angeles
  • Atlanta to/from Honolulu
  • New York (JFK) to/from Honolulu
  • Minneapolis to/from Honolulu

Like other airlines, Delta is focused on serving healthier food and drinks. Options on its free main cabin meal menu vary depending on the time of a flight. Recent options included a Turkey and Swiss Bagel or Protein Pack in the morning; a beef pastrami sandwich or veggie wrap for lunch; a Greek Mezze Plate or Sesame Noodle Salad for dinner on overnight flights. Fruit and cheese plates are offered at all times.

Delta's complimentary menu cover
Delta’s main cabin passengers get their own menu of complimentary food and drink options. This is the menu cover. (Sheryl Jean)

On my recent flight, I ate the Sesame Noodle Salad. The dish included four types of vegetables, the noodles weren’t overcooked, the sauce wasn’t overly sweet or salty, and the portion size was just about right for me. (See featured photo at top.) All in all, I was happy with the meal.

I also received free snack (a small Kind bar) among options including Cheez-It crackers and cookies. Delta offers free snacks to main cabin passengers on flights over 250 miles. In addition, passengers travelling in Delta Comfort Plus domestic routes (on flights over 900 miles) will receive free snacks.

Delta main cabin complimentary menu
These were Delta’s complimentary food and drink options on my recent cross-country flight. (Sheryl Jean)

Delta also offers 17 different special meals, such as diabetic, gluten-free and vegetarian to all passengers on flights that offer complimentary meals. Passengers can pre-order these meals.

Other U.S. airlines also have upgraded their food menus and other services to make flying easier and more comfortable, though most charge for food.

As of December, American Airlines began offering a new inflight healthy menu to main cabin passengers on most U.S. flights longer than three hours — in collaboration with Zoës Kitchen. I wrote a blog post about it.

Will such moves be enough to attract new customers? Who knows. But they’re sure to please existing customers who’ve been nickeled-and-dimed by airlines for everything from headphones to extra leg room.

More travelers want to be active on vacation: 5 free ways

What do you do on vacation?

Some people just want to lie on the beach and read a book while sipping a piña colada to decompress from their busy work lives.

But more people want to be active, explore and have a bit of an adventure. In fact, more than 90% of travelers participated in an activity during their last trip, according to travel research firm Phocuswright (see its tweet below).

Phocuswright defines “activities” as tours, attractions, events, activities (excluding dining and shopping) and transportation that travelers spend time and money on while traveling.

The global travel activities market represented 10% of the global travel market in 2016 — more than the rail, car rental and cruise segments, according to Phocuswright.

Phocuswright chart of activities share of travel

And the global travel activities market is growing fast — faster than the overall travel industry — and Phocuswright expects it to reach $183 billion in bookings by 2020.

Phocuswright global activities bookings

So, what do people most like to do when they travel?

Hiking is a top activity, according to the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA). Travelers also like trips with an “environmentally sustainable” element and family or multigenerational travel. I wrote an article on multigenerational travel in January for The Dallas Morning News.

Being active on your vacation doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. Here are five free or inexpensive ways to explore and stay active:

Free tours: Many U.S. cities offer free walking tours — either guided or self-guided with brochures made available at a library or visitor center. Many organizations, such as San Francisco’s nonprofit City Guides, are led by volunteers who accept donations. FreeTour and Free Tours by Foot offer free or low-cost guided walking tours of many U.S. and European cities. These tours are a good way to meet locals of a new city or country as well as fellow travelers.

Universities: Many universities offer campus tours to the public, not just prospective students. Stanford University, for instance, offers a free 70-minute, volunteer-led walk daily at 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. In addition, some colleges have free offerings, such as campaniles, nature trails and art museums. I wrote a blog post “How to make college tours fun” last year about some of these offerings at California universities.

Mobile apps: Many apps will act as your tour guide just about anywhere. The free Field Trip app uses your phone’s GPS to find cool things wherever you are worldwide — from temples and museums to restaurants and shops. The Historypin app (all free) offers planned excursions and vintage photos of your location with information and an interactive map — all through crowdsourcing.

Bike share: Many cities offer bike (or scooter) share programs that are inexpensive. It’s an easy way to see a city, but stay active.

Airbnb Experiences: In addition to home rentals, Airbnb a few years ago began offering activities offered by locals of a destination. Recent top-rated experiences ranged from snorkeling in Merida, Mexico, for $41 per person to a traditional Thai Yantra tattoo in Chiang Mai, Thailand, for $82. Since 2016, Airbnb has expanded its Experiences to more than 1,000 destinations.

Record rain and snow makes for wonderful waterfalls: Multnomah Falls in Oregon

This spring not only brought May flowers, but it produced wonderful waterfalls thanks to record rainfall and snowfall across the country, including California, Oregon and Washington.

All of that water makes for roaring waterfalls. It’s amazing to hear the awesome power of Mother Nature as water cascades down a cliff or hits rocks below with a thunderous crash.

The Columbia River Gorge

I recently drove along the stunning 70-mile Historic Columbia River Highway, which is a tourist destination in itself. I decided to check out Multnomah Falls, the most visited natural site in Oregon with some 2.5 million visitors a year.

Historic Columbia River Highway

The Columbia River Gorge is made for waterfall lovers (see map above), with Multnomah Falls being the most famous of several that are free to visit. Multnomah Falls is the nation’s second highest year-round waterfall at 620 feet tall: The upper fall plunges 542 feet and the lower fall plummets 69 feet with a 9-foot elevation drop in between.

Eons ago, lava and mudflows from volcanoes in the Cascade Mountain Range formed the Columba River Gorge. Remnants of these flows can be seen today in the gorge, including the cliff of Multnomah Falls.

Waterfalls are just part of the Columbia River area’s rich history — from American Indians and explorers Lewis and Clark to French Canadian trappers and missionaries. The Oregon Trail ended at The Dalles at the eastern end of the steep gorge, which was impassable.

Multnomah Falls

Multnomah Falls is a 45-minute drive east of Portland, Ore., on the stunning Columbia River Gorge Scenic Highway. It takes about 15 minutes less if you stay on Interstate 84 the whole way.

From I-84, you can see the top part of Multnomah Falls, but it’s worth the 5-minute walk from the parking lot to the base of the falls for a stunning view. Tilt back your head in a vertigo-inducing move to see the clifftop from which the waterfall drops in two tiers. Picturesque Benson Bridge spans the falls in the middle of the two tiers.

Multnomah Falls' upper and lower tiers
Benson Bridge spans the middle of Multnomah Falls’ two tiers: The upper tier is on the left and the lower tier is on the right. (Photos by Sheryl Jean with BeFunky)

Built in 1914, Benson Bridge is named for Simon Benson, a wealthy Portland lumberman who owned the falls in the early 1900s. He gave Multnomah Falls to the City of Portland, which later gave ownership to the U.S. Forest Service.

For a closer view, walk a quarter mile on a paved trail to the 45-foot reinforced-concrete arched bridge 105 feet above the lower Multnomah Falls. As I stood there last month, spray from the falls covered my face.

A U.S. Forest Service ranger told me that Multnomah Falls and other nearby falls were as powerful as she had ever seen them. Unlike many other falls, Multnomah Falls doesn’t dry up in the late summer because it’s fed by an underground spring augmented by spring snowmelt, she said.

If you want to hike further, a steep paved trail leads to a fenced platform above Multnomah Falls. A section of Larch Mountain Trail from Benson Bridge to the top of Multnomah Falls is closed indefinitely because of falling rocks and a dangerous overhang.

Another interesting feature is the historic Multnomah Falls Lodge, a Cascadian style stone-and-wood building built in 1925 and designed by Portland, Ore., architect Albert E. Doyle. Today, it houses the U.S. Forest Service Information Center, a restaurant, café and gift shop.

Visitors at Multnomah Falls, Oregon
Visitors vie for the best view of two-tiered Multnomah Falls. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

Continue reading for more waterfalls along the Columbia River Gorge and a list of the top 10 national parks with splendid waterfalls.

Continue reading Record rain and snow makes for wonderful waterfalls: Multnomah Falls in Oregon