travel reviews

(Note: I originally wrote this in 2001. Rescued from the Internet Archive, reposting for posterity)

Catalina IslandNovember, 2001
Catalina Island is located 22 miles (1 hour by boat) off the coast of Los Angeles.  The island was originally inhabited by Native Americans over 7,000 years ago.  More recently, it was owned by James Lick and the Wrigley family (as in the gum).  The Wrigley's still have a large and powerful presence on the island.
The island is accessible by air (helicopter) or water.  The boat trip departs from Long Beach, where the Queen Mary is harbored.  They have parking at the dock for vehicles (about $8 a day), and you can leave your car parked there for as long as you are on the island.  The boat trip takes about an hour.
There are no Marriotts or Hiltons on Catalina Island.  Only smaller hotels.  I stayed at El Terado Terrace in Avalon Bay, which has both individual hotel rooms and three bedroom condo's.  Frankly, I can't recommend El Terado, because we had tremendous difficulty with the management.  But the rooms were nice, and the hotel is centrally located.
In terms of things to do, there is no shortage.  Kayaking, shopping, hiking, star-gazing, and visiting the museum and movie theater are all popular activities on the island.  There is only a small part of the island that is actually developed, and that "town" can be criss-crossed in a 15 minute walk.  The town is so small that there are no private vehicles allowed other than electric cars (golf carts).  There are taxi vans to move visitors and their luggage between the boat dock and the hotel (ask your hotel to comp the taxi rides).  Most of the activity is down near the ocean, where there are one or two main streets that have most of the stores and restaurants.  The hotels and residences are further up (vertically) in the town.

San FranciscoCrater Lake
July, 2001
Crater Lake is a pristine national parklocated in south-central Oregon.  The lake was formed when a volcano erupted and collapsed in on itself, forming a crater.  Rain filled the basin with water.  The lake is the deepest in the U.S., and the 7th deepest in the world.  Located in the lake is Wizard Island, which looks like a miniature volcano.  The lake is a national park, but run by a private company, called the Crater Lake Company.
As for activities, hiking is the main activity around the lake.  There are plenty of trailsof varying degrees of difficulty.  There is even a trail on Wizard Island, which is located in the lake.  A boat tour of the lake is another fun activity.  The tour lasts about one hour and forty-five minutes, and is narrated.  The boat stops at Wizard Island, for those who want to hike there (it is a strenuous hike).  The only way to get to and from the boat launch is a strenuous trail that goes down the side of Crater Lake.  The hike takes about 45 minutes, and while the trip down is easy, the trip up is very difficult, and not at all advisable for those who are out of shape.  Another activity available is white-water rafting, just south of Crater Lake along the nearby rivers.
I drove up from San Jose, taking I-5, and stayed overnight in Redding, which is about half-way to Crater Lake.  At Crater Lake, I stayed for two nights at the Mazama Village Motor Inn, which consists of a forty cabins nestled in the woods, each of which has four rooms.  The rooms are nicely furnished, but they have no telephones or televisions.  Apart from Mazama Village, the only other accommodations are theCrater Lake Lodge, which is often booked far in advance, or two campgrounds.  I had dinner one night at the buffet located above the store and cafeteria at the Lodge, which served decent but not gourmet food.  The second night I had dinner at the Lodge itself.  The food was excellent, and the view of the lake from the Lodge was remarkable.  Advance reservations are highly suggested.
For the return trip, I went south along Highway 101, which turned out to be a bad route because the road curves so much.  The only redeeming quality about this route was being able to visit Trees of Mystery in Klamath CA, a somewhat hokey museum / gift shop / sky trail (think Disneyland ride through trees) that somehow attracts hundreds of people every day.  If you're in the area, don't pass this up, if for no other reason than to see the anatomically correct 35-foot tall wooden replica ofBabe, Paul Bunyan's blue ox, who stands next to a 49-foot Paul Bunyan who moves his head and talks.

Hong KongHong KongJune-August, 1998
In the summer of 1998, I spent two months living in Hong Kong on a study/internship abroad program.  Without a doubt it was the best trip I have ever taken, and one of the best experiences I have ever had.
I flew, or more appropriately, dropped, in to Kai Tak Airport in late May of 1998, about a month before the airport was decommissioned and the HKG designation was moved to the Hong Kong International Airport at Chek Lap Kok
My first view of Hong Kong was at night, in the taxi from the airport on Kowloon to my lodging on the Island at Robert Black College.  It was late at night, hot, humid, and raining, and all I could see out the window was neon signs and cramped living quarters stacked up to the clouds.  It was very scary, but I soon got over my initial fear and came to love Hong Kong.
Over the next few weeks, I learned about the laws in Hong Kong and China at my classes at Hong Kong University, while I spent plenty of time familiarizing myself with the city using the incredible public transportation system of Hong Kong, including the double decker busses and the subway (MTR).  During the day I would go out on my own or with classmates and go to the enormous shopping centers, tourist attractions, and movie theaters.
A month into my stay, I moved to Kowloon side at the 5-star Regal Kowloon Hotel, where, because of the economic slump, I was able to afford an extremely nice private room, complete with fresh fruit and a daily newspaper.  While interning at the international law firm of Deacons, Graham and James in Ocean Centre, I had plenty of time for entertaining myself and meeting local friends at Propaganda and on theinternet.  They were kind enough to take me to karaoke several times, on my first (and last) roller coaster at the Ocean Park amusement park, on a boat trip with one of their families, and out to dinner many times. 
When I had extra time on my hands, I would go to the tourist spots that Fodor's recommended, including a day trip to Macau, and spent a lot of time wandering around and exploring the incredible city (including an afternoon swimming in the magnificent pool at Kowloon Park).
Eventually my two months were up, and it was time to leave through the new Chek Lap Kok airport do some brief traveling to Tokyo, Beijing, Bangkok, and Singapore before returning home to San Jose.
I wish I could provide a more thorough discussion of things to do in Hong Kong, but alas, the region changes so frequently that much of it would be irrelevant by now.  I recommend visitors arm themselves with a recent Fodors guide, and spend quite a bit of time reading it.   I also recommend the following references:  Hong Kong StandardHong Kong Tourist AssociationPassportsSouth China Morning PostTips.
A word of caution for those thinking about traveling to Hong Kong who have physical disabilities:  Hong Kong is not generally wheelchair accessible.  The buildings have elevators and wheelchair ramps, but the sidewalks are a maze of steps, difficult to navigate, and impossible to roll on.

LondonMarch, 2000
I spent spring break of 2000 in London with two of my friends.  We stayed at theScala House, which was very conveniently located near the Goodge StreetUnderground station.  Our flat was great: 2 bedrooms, 1.5 bath, full kitchen, a nice living room/dining room - and very economical.  It was also right around the corner from an internet cafe, which was wonderful.  London is smaller than the maps would make it seem ... we were often able to walk from place to place, but used the Underground when the distance was too far to walk.
    Transportation
We flew into London Heathrow (LHR) and took the Underground to our hotel.  That was a bit difficult with our luggage, so next time I will use the Heathrow Express, or a taxi (see Getting From LHR to London).  For traveling on the Underground, we had a $32 Visitor Travelcard for a 7-day "Central Zone" (1 & 2) pass online.  Also see thisFAQ.  To get to or from outside of zones 1 and 2, we had to use a zone extension ticket at the station.  The Travelcard has to be purchased from the states prior to departure.  One word of caution: If you get a Travelcard, do not let it get bent - that breaks the magnetic strip, and you can only get them replaced at the Underground Info Centres (e.g. Piccadilly Circus).  I wish they would upgrade to the plastic "Octopus" card the MTR uses in Hong Kong.
A word of caution for those thinking about traveling to London who have physical disabilities:  London is not, by any stretch of the imagination, wheelchair accessible.  There are steps everywhere, no elevators, ramps do not yet exist, and doorways are narrow.
    Activities
All of these activities are described in detail in Frommer's guidebook, which I recommend for people planning a trip to London.
Within walking distance from our hotel was the British Museum (where the Rosetta Stone is displayed) and Dicken's House.  I was amazed at how old a lot of the things were in the British Museum - there were artifacts dating back to 2000 B.C.
We took the Big Bus Company "Red Tour" to visit Buckingham Palace, the HMS Belfast, Hyde Park Speaker's Corner, the London Transport Museum, the Tower of London, and the Tower Bridge Experience.  One word of caution on bus tours:  Traffic is really bad in London, and our tour bus was going so slowly due to traffic that we finally got off and just walked.  We couldn't really see much of Buckingham Palace - just the front (or is it the back?).  The rest of the Palace is hidden by trees and the grounds surrounding the Palace.  The Tower of London houses the Crown Jewels, which were more impressive on my first trip to London.  The history of the Tower itself is fascinating, as told by the beefeater tour guides, and it's amazing to stand in the same place as countless historical events happened.
Northwest of our flat was Madame Tussaud's, the Sherlock Holmes Museum, and theFreud Museum.  Madame Tussaud's is a little pricy, and not all of the wax figures look like the people they are supposed to represent, but the majority do.
To the west was the BBCHMVSotheby'sChristie'sKensington Palace (there were still flowers there for Diana), and Earl's Court Road (nice scenery, but pretty dead). 
To the south was Piccadilly Circus and Leicester ("Lester") Square, home of theBritain Visitor Centre, Chinatown (Gerrard and Lisle streets), Old Compton Street, and Tower Records.  The Charing Cross area is site of the National Gallery (lots of art), Theatre Museum (more interesting than it may sound), and Trafalgar Square.  The Westminster Tube is near 10 Downing Street, Big Ben, the Cabinet War Rooms,Parliament, and of course, Westminster Abbey.  The Waterloo Tube is near theImperial War Museum and the South Bank Arts Centre.  I wanted to go in to Parliament and see the chambers, but the line was very long.
To the East is St. Paul's Tube, where one finds the Courts of Old Bailey, the Museum of London, the Royal Shakespeare Company, St. Paul's Cathedral, and Shakespeare's Globe Theatre.  The Bank Tube is convenient to Lloyd's of London.
We also visited Harrods, where there is a memorial to Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayad, and the Millennium Dome.  The Dome is about 50 feet away from the Prime Meridian, which I was excited to stand on.
Some other links which might be useful when visiting London:  British Tourist Authority (or USA office); Digital City: LondonTheatre GuideTime Out LondonThe Times.

MauiMauiAugust, 1999
    The Package
I purchased an 8 day, 7 night package deal from Lawrence at www.hawaii4less.com (800-967-6687), who I highly recommend.  The $825 per-person package included the condo, a compact rental car (upgraded at the airport to standard size), and round trip airfare onSkyServiceUSA.  The airplane was packed, but I didn't experience any delays or inconveniences.
    Where I Stayed
After comparing about fifteen condos, I choose theNohonani in Kaanapali, at 3723 Lower Honoapiilani Road, just off Hwy 30.  The condo was one bedroom, one bath, with an oceanfront patio, fully equipped kitchen, and a nice family room with cable TV.  The building had laundry facilities, a pool, and nice beachfront access.  There was no air conditioning, and that was the largest drawback, but the ceiling fans helped keep air circulating.  The condo was located about 7 minutes down the highway from Lahaina.  I don't recommend an oceanfront bedroom unless you are prepared for the late-night noise of the ocean, and the people playing in the ocean.
    Activities I Recommend
The Sugar Cane Train (or here) runs between Lahaina and Kaanapali, and gives you a nice view of the ocean, albeit at a bit expensive $12.  The drive to Hana is a must-do.  The road is very windy, and you should be sure and stop at attractions on the way, otherwise the drive isn't really worth it.  Stops include: Hookipa Park surfers, Piilanihale Temple, Waianapanapa State Park (black sand beach), Hana cultural center and museum, Ka'eleku Caverns (a must-do), Ohleo Gulch, Makahiku Falls, Charles Lindberg's Grave (Kipahulu, at Palapala Hoomau Church).  Optional return via southern part of island, but the roads aren't paved.  This is a day-long trip.
For snorkeling, rent top of the line equipment for the entire week from Snorkel Bob's (661-4421).  Excellent snorkeling is available for free north of Kaanapali near Honolua Bay, Kapalua, and in southern Maui at Wailea.  While you're in Wailea, walk around the Grand Wailea hotel.  It's absolutely breathtaking.  Most people say that a boat trip to Molokini is a must do, and I really enjoyed this half-day boat trip to the crater, although I was able to see many of the same fish for free at other snorkel spots.  Book the AM trip, because it's too hot in the evening.  Lahaina Princess (www.mauionabudget.com - 808-281-5866).
Visit the blowhole, near Napili Bay.  It's worth the walk down to the ocean to actually see the hole, but be careful - don't fall in!  Most tour books don't have this listed, or if they do, the mile marker may not exist any more.  Ask a local, or someone who has been there before, for specific directions.
For a luau, there is a free hula show at Kaanapali Beach Hotel, 6:30pm (661-0011), but I highly recommend the Old Lahaina Luau, purchased fromwww.mauionabudget.com, 808-281-5866.  This luau show and banquet is fabulous, and in high demand.
Museums & Tours:  Puunene A&B Sugar Museum 808-871-8058; Lahaina Balwin House Museum (Front Street); Maui Pineapple Company Tour (north on Hwy 30 - 669-8088); Maui Tropical Plantation and Tram Tour; Bailey House; Hale Kohola Humpback Whale Museum; Maui Ocean Center; Walking tour of Lahaina, including Balwin house, Bayan Tree, Brig Carthagian Ship, Whaling Museum, Wo Hing Temple.
Some miscellaneous things to do:  Iao Valley and the Iao Needle; Haleaka crater (bring warm clothes - this is a half-day trip); sunset dinner cruise; parasailing.
Tom Barefoot also has some good deals on activities, although I foundwww.mauionabidget.com to be superb:  The owner of the company hand delivered my tickets to my condo.

Mendocino
October, 2001
Mendocino is a beautiful, romantic artist village located on a rugged coast.  It is located about four and a half hours north of San Jose along Highway 1.  To drive there, take either 280 or 880 north to 101, and then take 101 north to Highway 128 west, to Highway 1 north to Highway Mendocino.
Downtown Mendocino, Photo by Martin Fung
Recommended lodging:
  • Frogs Leap:  Ocean view, fits around 8 people.  Rustic cabin, with one bedroom/bathroom downstairs and two bedrooms and one bathroom in the main upstairs.  Wood-burning fireplace heats the main house, which is surrounded by a deck.  Beautiful ocean view.  Fall asleep to the sound of the ocean waves.  House is fully furnished with a rustic look.  Kitchen is well stocked.  Really a beautiful place to visit.
  • Allen House:  The main house has 3 bedrooms and 2 baths, the detached studio has its own bath, and another separate cabin.  Fits 11 people.  The house sits on over a dozen acres of woods, with hiking trails, a fish pond, several wonderful swings, a treehouse, and many other features too numerous to list.  The house is modern, with a large kitchen, dining area, living room and piano.  The main bathroom has a large tub, and a shower with walls made of rocks.  The advertised outdoor "redwood shower" is nothing to get excited about.  The house is about 7 miles off of Highway 1, so the location is a bit inconvenient, but of the three recommended places to stay, this is probably the best.
There are many things to do around the Mendocino area:
Activities include horseback riding, sport fishing, scuba diving (the ocean offers salmon, rockcod, lingcod, and albacore), bike rentals, golf and tennis, hiking at Van Demme State Park and other local parks, visiting Mendocino, watching the sunset from Fort Bragg, visiting the Pigmy Forest (an inland area where the mature trees only grow to 2-3 feet tall).
There is a 40 acre botanical garden, in addition to the many nurseries around the Mendo area carrying items not available in the Bay Area.  Many flowers adorn the shops and surrounding area.
  • Big River Canoeing:  The canoe trip goes along Big River, home to all sorts of wildlife, sea creatures and mother nature.  The trip lasts a minimum of two hours, but can last all day if you wish.  The cost is $10 per person, per hour.  Catch A Canoe & Bicycles, Too! is located at 44850 Comptche Ukiah Road, near Highway 1, phone 707-937-0273.  Reservations are recommended.  Canoes can fit between two and six people, or you can rent kayaks.  This business also rents bikes. 
  • Sea Cave Kayaking:  The trip starts with a 15 minute lesson about kayaking, and then you're off for two hours in the water.  There are between three and ten caves available for exploration, and plenty of marine life to observe.  Cost is $45 per person, and includes wet suits, kayacks, and life jackets.  They are located at the Van Demme State Park, 3 miles south of Mendocino.  Group visits require 3 days advance reservation.
  • Skunk Train:  The train runs between Fort Bragg and Willits, with a stop in the middle at Northspur.  The train is an open observation car which travels along a river near the coast through the shadows of the redwood trees.   Along the way, the tracks cross 30 bridges and trestles, and pass through two deep mountain tunnels.  Passengers can bring food on the train.  There are restrooms on the train. The full-day trip goes all the way to Willits, and the half day trip goes to Northspur.  The full-day trip departs Fort Bragg at 9:45am, and lasts 8.5 hours.  The half-day trip departs Fort Bragg at 9:45am and 2:30pm, and returns 3.5 hours later.  The cost is between $31 and $39 per person, depending on which engine is running (diesel is cheaper and usually runs at 9:45am, steam is more expensive and usually runs at 2:30pm).  The full day trip is $39.  In Fort Bragg, they are located along Highway 1 (Main Street) at Laurel Street.  Phone (707)937-6371 or 800-77-SKUNK.  Reservations are recommended.
Three state parks for hiking:  Van Damme State Park, Mendocino Headlands State Park, Russian Gulch State Park.

New York CityMay, 2001
This was my first visit to New York City, other than a quick bus tour when I was in the eighth grade.  I flew on Southwest Airlines to the airport in Islip, NY, located on northern Long Island.  From there, I took a $5 shuttle to the Long Island Rail Roadstation in Ronkonkoma (six minutes away), and then took the LIRR ($7 ticket) south to Penn Station in the heart of New York City.  I stayed for four nights in the Aladdin Hotel, a hostel with private rooms.  I really don't recommend this hotel unless you are traveling on a tight budget.
On the first day of my visit, I went to the Times Square Information Center in the heart of Times Square.  There I was able to check e-mail for free courtesy of Yahoo!, and buy an all-day unlimited ride pass for the MTA (subway).  On my way to the MTA station, I passed by the Good Morning America studios, where Diane Sawyer and Charlie Gibson were out on the sidewalk doing an interview.  I took the MTA south ("downtown") to Battery Park, where for $6 I bought a ticket for the ferry to theStatue of Liberty and Ellis Island.  If you get to the ferry early, i.e. by 10am, you can do both the Statue and Ellis Island by noon.  The Statute was very nice.  There wasn't a long wait to go to the top of the pedestal, which was as far as I wanted to go.  An hour later, I was at Ellis Island.  Despite recent renovations, there is very little to see there.  They really have not done much with the immigration center.
After the ferry dropped me off back at Battery Park, I walked to Wall Street, and went on the free tour of the New York Stock Exchange where I saw the trading floor.  After that, I walked over to the World Trade Center, but opted to skip going up to the observation decks.  Continuing uptown, I stopped at the Museum of Television and Radio, which is not interesting unless you want to watch an archived TV or radio show.  I then walked around Rockefeller Center, NBC studios and Radio City Music Hall.  That evenings, I walked around Times Square, marveling at the neon lights and big-screen TV's.
On the second day of my trip, I bought another MTA unlimited rides pass, and headed up to Central Park, exiting the MTA where John Lennon was shot.  The Park is beautiful, and a peaceful oasis in the chaotic city.  I took the bus to the Guggenheim Museum and then the Witney Museum, but didn't go in either due to construction and closures.  I took the bus down 5th Avenue to the Empire State Building for a trip up to the observation deck.  The queue's at the ESB were not bad, and the views from the top were really extraordinary.
On the third day of my trip I took the bus to Grand Central Terminal, and marveled in how enormous and beautiful the building was.  I then continued to the United Nations buildings, where I briefly left the country for a one-hour tour of the assembly halls.  That evening, I took in a Broadway play near by hotel and prepared to go home.
A few final comments on New York City:  I thought the city was amazingly clean, given the population and tourists, and I felt very safe there, with police officers on nearly every block and street corner.

Point Reyes South BeachPoint Reyes
September, 2001
Point Reyes is a beautiful community that doesn't look like it has been affected whatsoever by the advent of the internet.  There are no dot-com's here, and that is really quite amazing for a place just hours away from Silicon Valley.  Point Reyes consists of the town of Point Reyes, which is no larger than one main street a few blocks long, a beautiful beach, and a national park which includes the Point Reyes Lighthouse on the peninsula.
Point Reyes is located 80 miles north of San Jose along Highway 1.   From 101 north, take the Central San Rafael exit.  In downtown San Rafael, get on 3rd Street until it turns into Red Hill Avenue, which becomes Sir Frances Drake Blvd, which is the main road leading to Point Reyes.  Print out a Yahoo! map, because even though there aren't many roads in this neck of the woods, it's easy to get lost.
Allow half a day for touring the Point Reyes Lighthouse (and the 300 steps it takes to get to there) and the nearby South or North Beach, all of which is part of the Point Reyes National Seashore.  The path to the lighthouse takes you through fog which flows over the path and condenses on the trees, making for a very eerie effect.  The beach is beautiful, but the waves are dangerous.  It can get cold on the peninsula, so take warm clothes.
The Five Brooks Ranch offers horseback riding tours.  I took the two hour tour ($50), which is basically a long six or seven mile loop through the woods.  The horses are tame, and the people are very friendly.  If you aren't used to riding horses, a two hour tour is probably too much - go for the one hour tour ($30).  Reservations required.
There aren't many hotels and motels in the Point Reyes area, but Petaluma is only about 30 minutes away, and accessible from Hwy 101.  On the way back from Point Reyes, stop off at the Sausalito exit (the last exit before entering the Golden Gate Bridge) to look at the bridge and the city from the north bay.  It's a beautiful view.
PointReyes.net has a lot of useful information about hiking, trails, kayaking, camping, etc.

San Luis ObispoAnnual
Every year since 1998, a friend and I have gone on an annual retreat to San Luis Obispo, where my friend went to college.  In April of each year, Cal Poly SLO has their Open House weekend (also called Poly Royal).  The official purpose of Open House is for newly admitted students and their parents to come to the university to see the school.  But a lot of alum return to see the sights.  Most of the clubs on campus have booths set up to raise money, usually by selling food.  Other organizations have set up event booths where you can smash a car, or try various skill games.  Some of my favorite things to do include the chemistry presentation, strawberry and ice cream dessert from the agriculture club, the RoboRodentia robot competition, and walking around looking at the booths.
Outside of the university there are a lot of places to see, including downtown San Luis Obispo, the nearby beaches, including Morro Bay and Avila Beach.  Hearst Castle is a short drive away, along Highway 1.  Madonna Inn is a fun place to stay, where each room has a different theme.  I also always visit Sycamore Mineral Springs, where the hot tubs are filled with hot mineral water that makes you feel wonderful.  All of the guest rooms have private hot tubs with the mineral water, but I think the guest rooms are overpriced.  A better plan is to stay at a less expensive hotel and visit the springs in the evening.

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