In a way, you are. It’s the western edge of the United States.
The 1885 lighthouse is still used today, so it’s open for only three hours a day three days a week: from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Mondays, Saturdays and Sundays. Visiting it is like being let in on a secret.
The U.S. Coast Guard maintains the lighthouse, which is on on the Marin Headlands and part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The National Park Service provides access to visitors.
Be prepared to walk a half mile to the site, through a rough rock tunnel (open only during visiting hours) and over a suspension bridge to the lighthouse, which sits on a small patch of land jutting into the Pacific Ocean. My National Park guide said it took 3.5 months to dig the tunnel by hand.
You’ll be rewarded with spectacular coastal views and seeing nature at its wildest and windiest best.
How it works
The 1885 lighthouse was the third one built on the West Coast to help lead ships through dangerous water and thick fog. The original lighthouse was 300 feet above sea level, but fog often obscured the light. It moved to Point Bonita in 1877.
The Point Bonita Lighthouse can shine its beam 18 miles across the ocean in clear conditions using a Fresnel lens, which is based on ground glass prisms arranged in rings around a light source.
In dense fog, sound is used. First, there was a cannon, then a fog bell and a steam siren. Today, an electric fog horn emits two blasts every 30 seconds.
To reach the Point Bonita, visitors must to drive up and down a narrow, steep, twisting road through the Marin Headlands. Parking is limited. A free Marin Headlands Shuttle operates on weekends through September along Bunker Road, Field Road and Fort Baker, stopping at the lighthouse.
If you don’t equate California’s Silicon Valley with nature, then you’ll be in for quite a surprise at Mount Umunhum, one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s newest open spaces.
The 3,486-foot summit provides stunning panoramic views (see my photo above) of San Jose, Santa Clara Valley and the Bay Area’s three other highest peaks — Mount Diablo and Mount Tamalpais to the North and Mount Hamilton (the tallest) in the South Bay. It was a clear day, so I also could see San Pablo Bay to the North and the Pacific Ocean to the West.
The Mount Umunhum (the ‘h’ is silent) summit and trails just opened to the public six months ago, but they’re already popular with Sunday drivers, hikers and bicyclists. Mountain bikers are allowed on most of the trails and you’ll see road bikers on the steep and winding, 12-mile paved road to the summit.
I didn’t know anything about Mount Umunhum, but learned that it’s steeped in history.
Originally, the Ohlone Indian tribe inhabited the area. The name “umunhum” comes from the Ohlone word for hummingbird. At the summit, a Ceremonial Circle honors the site’s American Indian heritage.
Mount Umunhum also was part of California’s first legal mining claim — the nearby New Almaden Quicksilver mine.
From 1957 to 1980, the summit was home to the Almaden Air Force Station. The early warning radar station was one of 23 in California and hundreds across the nation during the Cold War era. The radar tower still stands at the summit, but it’s closed.
You can download an audio tour app to your smartphone to learn about the site’s history.
The Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District bought the 36-acre site in 1986 and received $3.2 million in federal funds to help clean it up. The Bay Area Ridge Trail Council and the California Coastal Conservancy also provided funds, and helped develop and restore trails.
Today, 3.7 miles of trails from the Bald mountain parking lot to the summit traverse stately, moss-covered Coast Live Oak trees (see photo below), Foothill Pine, Mountain Mahogany, Manzanita and Madrone. On a recent walk there, I could smell the spicy sent of California Bay trees.
It may be the first day of spring today, but there’s still plenty of that white, fluffy stuff around to make skiers and snowboarders giddy with excitement.
Snow from late winter storms has piled up in California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range, making for some excellent spring shredding.
After last week’s storms, many Sierra ski resorts have accumulated hundreds of inches of snow. Last week, Tahoe’s Sugar Bowl resort and Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows received over 7 feet of snow at high altitude.
And there’s more snow coming to the mountains this week (rain at lower elevations).
Now is your chance to ski in the spring — and perhaps even into the summer. (See end.)
After a slow start to winter, this month’s unusually heavy snowfall in the Sierra mountains has spawned the label “March Miracle.” Tahoe Basin has received about half of its normal snowpack, up from 3 percent in January.
The National Weather Service expects another storm system to dump up to 4 feet of snow in the Sierra Nevada, possibly starting today through the weekend.
If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, take off a mid-week day to hit the slopes. If you’re visiting from out of town, grab a rare chance to ski or snowboard in spring or summer.
The OntheSnow website lists the amount of snow at dozens of ski resorts in California. Many ski resorts also put their webcams online so you can see the weather, the snow pack and trail conditions in real time.
You can buy discounted lift tickets online to several Sierra ski resorts at Liftopia and REI. And many ski resorts offer specials to attract customers, especially on weekdays. For example, Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows is offering two free lift tickets for each midweek night you stay in its lodging.
If you don’t want the hassle of a long drive or dealing with tire chains and closed roads, consider taking a ski bus. The price of transportation on the Bay Area Ski Bus or the Sports Basement ski bus includes breakfast as well as snacks and après-ski drinks on the way home. Both buses leave early in the morning to account for the four-hour drive.
Sports Basement’s ski bus has schedule trips to Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows through March 31 for pick up at its San Francisco Bryant Street and Sunnyvale athletic stores. It costs $75. Discounted lift tickets and rental gear packages are available.
The Bay Area Ski Bus, operated by Recreation Connection Inc., will pick you up at one of six Bay area locations and take you to one of six Tahoe ski resorts through April 8. A ride costs $69 or $159 with lift tickets. Equipment rentals and lessons are available.
Skiing in June
So far, five Sierra ski resorts in California have extended this year’s season because of the mountains of snow, according to Liftopia. Here they are:
Mammoth Mountain in the southern Sierras will stay open at least through July 4.
Heavenly Resort, Northstar California and Sierra-at-Tahoe will stay open through April 23. Heavenly also will open for the weekend of April 28-30. Sierra-At-Tahoe will throw a customer appreciation day April 24, with the proceeds from $35 lift tickets going toward local youth recreation and education.
Credit for the featured photo at top: Skiiers at Heavenly Resort get a view of Lake Tahoe about half way down from the 10,000-foot summit. (Hilton via Wikimedia Commons)
I recently found myself back at college, ferrying my niece around five California universities in five days.
Yes, it’s that time of year — when parents and others take kids to visit schools they might want to attend.
Driving more than 1,200 miles, we didn’t have a lot of free time, but we managed to squeeze in a few unplanned diversions. Those activitieshelped balance the stress of a packed schedule, information overload and endless alphabet soup (GPAs, SATs, ACTs, FAFSA) with some fun and exercise. Here are some highlights with tips at the end on how to make your college visits fun for everyone:
University of California, Berkeley
We were an hour early for our scheduled tour, so we walked through campus. We stumbled upon Sather Tower (see featured photo at top) — also known as the Campanile for its resemblance to the Campanile di San Marco in Venice, Italy. Opened in 1914, the 307-foot tower is one of Cal’s most well-known symbols and can be seen from miles away. We were lucky it was noon, when one of the students plays the carillon, a set of bells at the top of the tower, using complicated-looking mechanism. The panoramic views from the top of the San Francisco Bay Area are a nice reward after climbing 38 steps from where the elevator drops you off.
University of California at Davis
After 90 minutes of walking around UC Davis, we stopped by the new Manetti Shrem Museum on the edge of campus adjacent to the university welcome center. The small gem, which opened in late 2016, is free. Its wonderful Wayne Thiebaud 1958-68 exhibit, which runs through May 13, focuses on the California artist’s colorful paintings of common objects, such as pies, delis and cans of paint. He teaches at UC Davis as professor emeritus.
We also took an easy stroll along the Putah Creek trail into the city of Davis for lunch, passing through a lovely Redwood tree grove. Most parts of the 267-acre Putah Creek Riparian Reserve through campus are open to the public.
California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo
After more than four hours of tours, we took a short hike up to the famous Poly “P,” one of the oldest hillside initials in the West, for impressive views of the entire campus, the city of San Luis Obispo, Bishop Peak and other hills. The dirt trail starts behind Parking Lot K. The 50-by-35-foot concrete P that overlooks campus today was built by the Delta Sigma Phi fraternity in 1957. The original, rock-and-lime letter was slightly smaller.
The first mention of the P was in the Cal Poly student newspaper in 1919. The story goes that the letter emerged from an intense rivalry between the original California Polytechnic School and San Luis Obispo High School. The high school students arranged large stones in H letters on the nearby foothills; Cal Poly students changed the Hs to Ps; and so on. Students and school rally groups have lit the P before football games — first by bonfire and later by dragging a generator up the hill. They’ve replaced the P with a V for football victories and used the P to spell marriage proposals and other messages, such as GOP in 1964, POT in the 1970s and SPRINGSTEEN in the 1980s.
The next morning in San Luis Obispo, we rose before dawn to watch a SpaceX rocket streak into the sky with a flaming tail and expanding aura of gas on its way into orbit from the nearby Vandenberg Air Force base. The Falcon 9 rocket carried with Spain’s PAZ radar satellite and a pair of SpaceX prototype broadband satellites.
4 tips to make college tours fun
Eat on campus — either at one of the dining halls or a private eatery.
Stroll through the city or town closest to campus. Check out the shops. Stop for an ice cream or catch a movie.
If your child or family has a special interest, such as amusement parks, look ahead to see if there’s one along your route or not too far out of the way.
Stay overnight near the college at someone’s house through a home-booking website like Airbnb or HomeAway. You can see a neighborhood and your hosts may be a fountain of information about the school and region.
Sometimes it’s the small things that make a difference. While on the road, I initiated my niece to the joys of In-N-Out Burger, a giant California burrito and a Slurpee.
Walking down the dirt path, I heard a cacophony of what sounded like children squealing in delight. The more steps I took, the louder the sounds. It was clear when I saw the creatures that they were not children.
These were the famed Elephant Seals at Point Reyes National Seashore.
They alternately sounded like kids, a tuba and someone make very loud belching. On a recent visit, my companions and I thought we had heard just about every sound possible, when a new screech was emitted by a large group of sunbathing seals.
March is a good time to see elephant seals at Point Reyes during their mating and pupping seasons. You also may see gray whales migrating north in the Pacific Ocean.
You can view the males (bulls), females (cows), juveniles and babies (pups) at Point Reyes at different times throughout the year.
From December through March, you can see many elephant seals from Elephant Seal Overlook at Drakes Bay and at the boathouse, both near Chimney Rock. The breeding colony numbers nearly 900.
The males are the first to arrive in December to stake a claim on the beach. Then pregnant females begin to arrive to give birth to one pup. This month and in March, cows who have mated start to leave local beaches. Their fat, weaned pups, however, will stay behind on beaches for as long as 12 weeks.
You also can see seals at Point Reyes when they come ashore to molt in April through July or juveniles in the fall. (See wheel chart at end.)
In January at Drakes Bay near Chimney Rock, I saw many cows, pups and bulls from the Elephant Seal Overlook and some rather rambunctious bulls near the boathouse. The bulls were competing in male dominance contests. I posted this video I took of some bulls in an Alpha male contest on Twitter today.
The park, which has monitored the seals for 30 years, posts weekly elephant seal updates online. On weekends and holidays, docents at Elephant Seal Overlook are armed with binoculars, spotting scopes and information.
Point Reyes is one of about a dozen worldwide sites where northern elephant seals breed. It wasn’t always that way. The seals returned to Point Reyes in the early 1970s after being absent for over 150 years.
On the same day in January, I also spied a few California gray whale spouts looking from the Point Reyes lighthouse. There and the area around Chimney Rock are great whale viewing spots.
You often can see spouts (to breathe) and flukes (tails) of some of the 20,000 gray whales as they migrate past the Point Reyes Peninsula. A gray whale can grow to about 50 feet long and weigh up to 40 tons. Each year, the whales swim up to 13,000 miles — from the cold, deep waters near Alaska to the warm, shallow lagoons of Baja California, Mexico and back — the longest migration of any mammal.
Mid-March is when the whales’ northern migration peaks at Point Reyes and when you can see mothers and calves traveling closer to shore for protection. (Their southern migration peaks around mid-January.)
You can also view gray whales in late April and early May. Instead of returning to Alaska, some whales hang out at places like Point Reyes to feed during the summer.
If you go
The elephant seals have become so popular that during busy winter weekends (usually Jan. 1 to Easter) and holidays, the park operates a shuttle bus ($7) from the Drakes Beach parking lot to the lighthouse and Chimney Rock areas. When the shuttle is operating, Sir Francis Drake Boulevard from South Beach to the lighthouse and Chimney Rock areas is closed. Go online or call 415-464-5100 for a recording of shuttle information.
Keep in mind that part of Drakes Beach is temporarily closed (from the southern edge of the cove in front of the Ken Patrick Visitor Center to the Elephant Seal Overlook) through March 15 to protect elephant seals during pupping season.
In addition, part of the Chimney Rock Fish Dock area (from the gate at the end of Chimney Rock Road to the fish dock area, including adjacent beaches) is closed through March 31 due to nursing elephant seal pups.
Whales and seals are just some of the 1,500 species of plants and animals that can be found on Point Reyes’ 71,000 acres.
Focusing on millennials means baby boomers become an oft overlooked, large slice of the U.S. travel pie, according to Phocuswright research analyst Mark Blutstein.
Although the 75.4 million millennials (people age 20-37) outnumber boomers, there are still 74.9 million boomers (age 54-72). Each year more boomers will retire, providing many of them with the time and money to travel.
Boomers also make up a larger share of the traveler population: about 30 percent of U.S. leisure travelers were boomers in 2016, up from 24 percent in 2015, according to Blutstein. That compares with overall U.S. leisure travel declining somewhat in the same period.
While millennial travelers are adventurous and seek authentic experiences, they’re price-sensitive and brand-agnostic, Blutstein says.
Boomers may take fewer leisure trips each year, but they take longer trips – often seven nights or more – and spend more money than millennials, Blutstein said. Boomers are the only age group that increased travel spending from 2015 to 2016.
Boomers expect to take four or five leisure trips this year, spending about $6,400 ― the same or more than in 2017, according to a national survey conducted by AARP.
About half of those survey respondents expect to travel within the United States, with Florida and California being the most popular destinations. The other half plan to travel domestically and internationally. Top choices for those going abroad are the Caribbean/Latin America and Europe.
In 2016, 30 million Americans traveled internationally for leisure, according to the International Trade Administration. Here are some characteristics about U.S. leisure travelers who visited another country that year:
The average age was 45.
54 percent were women
58 percent traveled alone
91 percent were adults
63 percent were on vacation and 32 percent visited family or friends
The top three international destinations were: Europe (36 percent); the Caribbean (25 percent); and Asia (18 percent).
The average trip cost $2,398 per person.
The average household income of travelers was $119,779.
Each year, many of us add more destinations to our bucket list and new experiences we want as part of those trips. That’s partly why travel is up and expected to grow even faster this year, according to the US Travel Association. Another reason is the strong economy and high unemployment giving people the means to travel.
Here are six trends that may reshape the way we travel this year and beyond:
More travelers want to refresh themselves and escape their busy lives. They’re prioritizing mental health over fun and thrills, according to the ATTA-Outside study.
This trend, however, varies by age, according to AARP. Nearly half of boomers say they travel to relax and rejuvenate or as a getaway from everyday life. But nearly three-quarters of millennials expect to bring work along on a trip.
I wrote an article about spa travel for the Chicago Tribune in late 2016. Spa spending has grown steadily over the last decade.
2. Higher prices
That relaxation may come at a higher cost this year — a reflection of the stronger U.S. economy and growing travel demand, according to a report by Carlson Wagonlit Travel and the GBTA Foundation. They expect global airfares to rise 3.5 percent, hotel prices to increase 3.7 percent and ground transportation, such as taxis, trains and buses, to remain more or less flat.
“If 2017 was the rise of the airline carriers’ “basic economy/no frills” concept, 2018 will be the hotel industry’s big year for ancillary charges,” according to a report by American Express. More lodgings are charging higher rates for a refundable room and fees for services that used to be free, such as Wi-Fi service, holding luggage, parking, early departures or a room safe, it said.
This may affect older travelers more because Baby Boomers (people age 54-72) prefer to stay in hotels or motels for amenities such as the concierge and room service, according to AARP. Millennials (age 13-36) are more open to staying in private home rentals, citing better prices, more space and amenities like a kitchen or washer/dryer.
3. Travel restrictions
Cheap regional airfares, home rentals and social media hype has contributed to overtourism in many popular places worldwide. Italy’s Cinque Terre is trying to control large tour groups that visit the five small, hillside towns linked by a trail along the Ligurian coast. Peru’s Machu Picchu restricts the number of visitors and how and when they access its ruins. Norway has introduced safety digital marketing to help deal with increased tourism and rescue calls.
The ATTA expects more places to restrict visitor access as governments and local residents protest the impact of overtourism on historical sites, pollution, traffic and the cost of living.
4. Customized travel
More people traveling to more places means there are fewer hidden gems and untrammeled areas. Research by Deloitte and the ATTA show that more travelers want personalized itineraries in their quest to experience something truly different.
5. Go local
Travelers also want more authentic interactions with local residents and communities, according to a study by the ATTA, East Carolina University and Outside magazine. This may include immersive experiences, such as staying overnight in a villager’s home or visiting a farm to learn about their sustainability efforts.
AARP found similar trends among international travelers: 49 percent want to “tour with a local” vs. 40 percent in 2017.
6. Virtual travel
Simulated travel experiences based on virtual and augmented reality technology provide access for people who can’t travel, enhance travel with behind-the-scene looks at damaged or hard-to-reach sites and create new marketing opportunities, according to the ATTA. Discovery Communications’ Discovery TRVLR project takes people to the seven continents using VR headsets. Go Under the Canopy takes people into the Amazon rainforest in an educational VR tour by Conservation International and Jaunt. You can take an interactive kayak tour of the Grand Canyon with Immersive Entertainment.
Virtual travel still can’t replace the real thing.
Alaska Airlines today will end its year-old daily flight between Los Angeles and Cuba due to low demand and changes in the Trump administration’s policy toward Cuba.
It’s just one of many changes occurring since Alaska merged with Virgin America in December 2016 and have been gradually integrating their operations, staff and policies. Earlier this month, Alaska received a single operating certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration for it and Virgin America to fly as one airline, which will enable some of the biggest changes.
Here are some examples of what Alaska has in store this year and beyond:
Paint the first Airbus plane in Alaska’s colors this month.
Add high-speed, satellite Wi-Fi to its entire fleet of Boeing and Airbus aircraft starting in March.
Upgrade its in-flight menus by adding fresh meal options in the First Class and Main cabins, and West Coast-inspired beer and wine choices.
Install blue mood lighting on more Boeing planes. Virgin America is famous for its cabin “mood lighting,” which changes color and brightness throughout a flight depending on the time of day and conditions outside the plane. The largely pink and purple hues were supposed to create a calm environment.
Install new modern interiors in all Airbus planes, such as new seats, carpeting and lighting. Alaska will increase the number of First Class seats and introduce Premium Class seats.
Locate an Airbus operations control center with one for Boeing aircraft at its Seattle-based flight operations center in March.
Offer travelers one mobile app, website and airport check-in counter when Alaska moves to a single reservations system in late April. For now, customers will continue to use separate Alaska and Virgin America platforms.
Update and expand airport lounges, including a new New York JFK lounge in April and a flagship lounge at Seattle next year.
See new uniforms designed by Seattle designer Luly Yang in 2019. Flight and ground crews will start testing new uniforms soon.
A new business coalition hopes to work with the Trump administration to reverse declining international travel to the United States.
The Visit U.S. Coalition, which launched today, consists of trade groups that represent many travel-related businesses and workers.
As global travel increased 8 percent over the last two years, the U.S. share of that travel fell — from 13.6 percent in 2015 to 11.9 percent in 2017, according to data cited by the coalition.
International travelers spent $246 billion in 2016, according to the U.S. Travel Association (USTA), which is member of the coalition. About half of the 75.6 million foreign visitors that year were from Mexico and Canada.
In the coming weeks, Visit U.S. said it will propose policy recommendations. In addition to USTA, the coalition’s founding members include the American Gaming Association, American Hotel & Lodging Association, Asian American Hotel Owners Association, National Restaurant Association, National Retail Federation and U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
What better way to warm frozen fingers with frigid temperatures across much of the country than a hot drink.
Try hot Dr. Pepper. Yup, I said hot soda.
It sounds weird, but it’s tasty — and I don’t even like cold Dr Pepper. It was offered when I visited the Dr Pepper Museum in Waco, Texas, so I had to try it. When heated, the distinctive flavor of Dr Pepper becomes a delicious herbal tea.
Today, you can still get hot Dr Pepper Frosty’s Soda Shop at the Dr Pepper Museum in Waco, Texas, even though it’s not on the menu. You’ll have to hurry because the seasonal drink is served only from November to February, according to Lauren Schlee, the museum’s visitor services coordinator. It costs 99 cents a cup (plus tax), she said.
If you want to try hot Dr Pepper at home, the Dr Pepper Snapple Group website suggests heating the soda to 180 degrees in a stovetop pot, then pouring it over a thin slice of lemon in a mug. Look for Dr Pepper in glass bottles that’s made with real sugar.
It turns out the drink has been around longer than I have. A former president of Dr Pepper Co. invented HOT Dr Pepper in 1958 to offer a drink that would warm up people during the winter. It was a popular holiday drink through the 1970s and the company continued to promote HOT Dr Pepper sporadically after the 1980s.
HOT Dr Pepper harkens back to the roots of the nation’s oldest major soda as a curative.
“It’s important to note that when we think of a health drink today, it is much different than what would have been considered healthy more than 100 years ago,” said Rachael Nadeau Johnson, collections manager at the museum. “Back in the 1800s and early 1900s, sodas of all kinds were used for their supposed health benefits.”
Back then, the Dr Pepper company used slogans like “Just What the Doctor Ordered” and “Vim, Vigor, and Vitality.” It also created the “Old Doc” logo — a country doctor with a monocle and top hat, in the 1920s and 1930s.
Dr. Charles Alderton, a young pharmacist at Morrison’s Old Corner Drug Store in Waco, is credited with inventing the recipe for Dr Pepper in 1885, according to the museum. The formula, according to Johnson, is a secret.
The Dr Pepper Museum is about 90 minutes from Dallas by car. (GoogleMaps)[/caption]Dr Pepper’s recipe reportedly contains 23 natural and artificial fruit flavors that provide its unique flavor, according to the Dr Pepper Snapple Group website. The company and the museum are not connected.
The museum, which opened in 1991, is home to one of the world’s largest collections of soft drink memorabilia, including less-known names like Kickapoo Joy Juice and Vernors. The museum entrance fee is $10 for adults; less for students and seniors. It’s free for children age four and younger.
You can visit Frosty’s without entering the museum, but both are worth a stop if you’re in the area.