Highlights of our 2015 California Adventure

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Advice, Grand Canyon, AZ, Itineraries, Lake Tahoe, Nevada, Las Vegas, Nevada, Los Angeles, CA, Monterey, CA, North America, San Francisco, CA, Story, USA

We went on typical road trip around California crossing over to Nevada.  We ticked off our Must Do’s and Must See’s from Los Angeles down to Grand Canyon before heading North to Lake Tahoe and finally San Francisco. The adventure has become a treat for each child as one turns 4 or 5yo.  It was Kristiana’s “rite of passage” this time.

Despite the usual ode to theme parks, outlet malls, outdoor family fun and pleasant discoveries on spontaneous stopovers along the route, our version never remains the same. As a family, we surmised some high points  noteworthy to share.  Such were the following that made our trip more enjoyable – may be useful in planning your similar itinerary:

Air China

Travel Expos have amazing deals but prepare to spend a whole day waiting in line to get your bargains.  We thought the exclusive BDO Travel Expo could cut through the stress and hassle but it was just the same as the main event.  In any case, this is what we discovered and saved.

Total Airfare for Family of 5Pax:
Air China USD4,000 (inc. Taxes & Surcharges) vs. PAL USD6,000 (exc. Taxes & Surcharges)

Flight Details:
May 8, 2015 Depart MNL – LAX   May 22, 2015 Arrive  SFO – MNL .

The planes were new and clean while the staff was accommodating and very efficient.  We left on time, refreshing compared to the horror of PAL flights getting delayed.  The only set back was the transit via Beijing (which extended our travel time by approx. 4hours).  PAL of course offered direct flights.  The airport was state of the art , but what was disappointing were the long, arduous queues to pass through immigration before proceeding to the shops and restaurants then heading to our gates.  Nevertheless, it was only a little suffering for the savings.

Pasadena

We generally prefer hotels over Air BNB due to comfort, convenience, location, security and price points.   But these two properties were the exception to our biases.

Olive, The Handsome Craftsman Home

What a lovely home away from home. Olive was a wonderful place to stay. It was close to shopping, restaurants and the highway but still in a nice residential area. Maggie thought of everything – cozy bedrooms, a well equipped kitchen, a quaint outdoor area, a welcome pack and easy check-in and out. I would recommend Olive to anybody wanting to stay in Pasadena and if given the chance we would definitely stay here again.

Lake Tahoe

Beautiful Lake View Home in N Tahoe

This was a beautiful cabin with plenty of space and an amazing view of Lake Tahoe from the dining room. There are three bedrooms upstairs with the main living room and two bedrooms downstairs with a living room. The 5th bedroom downstairs has two twin beds side by side. There is also a small room on the third floor with a hammock and a great view. We were 9 adults and 4 kids and it was perfect. Additionally, the location was ideal, about a 10 minute drive to Tahoe city with Savemart and all the restaurants nearby. We cooked two of the nights and the kitchen is stocked with all the utensils you may need. Overall a great experience!

Vdara Hotel & Spa

We absolutely loved the location and concept of this resort – right by the Las Vegas Strip: shopping, nightlife and entertainment just minutes away and Casino Free: ideal for families with young kids or those who prefer the serenity . Arriving at the lobby was refreshing sans the casinos, smoke and party scene.  It was also convenient to explore the city at our leisure as we could easily return to our suite to rest.

The modern suites include a kitchenette which made it simple for us to heat take out – either from the Market Cafe at the lobby or from the variety along the Strip. A rooftop pool surrounded by plunge pools was a tranquil spot for Mama to take a break from the kids while face timing with an old friend. I highly recommend this place!

Eats in Vegas

Gordon Ramsay’s BurGR

We were curious to critique what this Gordon Ramsay establishment was all about.  The BurGR menu takes the traditional burger, fries and milkshake comfort food combination to a diversion with selections like pork belly bao buns, sweet potato fries with vanilla powdered sugar and pudding shakes—a heavenly combination of thick milkshake and silky pudding.

Whether traditional or unique burger preparations, each dish is crafted using the freshest, quality ingredients. Paying special attention to not only the ingredients but the method, beef patties are cooked over an open flame fueled by hard woods. BurGR uses this technique to create a more complex and powerful flavor.

Everything we ordered was spot on!  We especially enjoyed the farm burger and truffle fries.  It is more pricey than the usual burger joints but the fusion in its menu elevates it to a more sophisticated level.

Boiling Crab

Be ready for a different dining experience. Like its name, food mostly of crabs in addition to other seafood & shellfish like shrimps, oysters, calamari, etc. They also serve chicken tenders, fries & rice. Food is good. Crabs & shrimps are prepared & served to your table in clear plastic bags immersed in different sauces of your choice from mild to hot & spicy. They do not serve plates or utensils, but you may ask for plastic forks & spoons. The tables have papers that serve as your plates where you place your food & eat off with your fingers. It can get messy, but they allow you to wear a plastic bib.

The service is generally friendly. There could be a wait for a table especially during dinner time. Prices are not cheap – because it’s a seafood restaurant, but not too expensive. It is worth a try!

Shake Shack

We’ve heard a lot about Shake Shack and it’s all true. The burgers are amazing and the shakes are a must-have! Put your diet to the side and indulge. No regrets. Oh and get the fries too.  We loaded up on Shake Shack as much as we could – we even went down in our Pjs for a midnight snack there.

Le Cafe Ile St. Louis, Paris – Las Vegas

IMG_1776If you visit the Paris Hotel, you must go to Le Cafe Ile St. Louis!! We stumbled upon it for brunch.  The ambiance of the bistro style restaurant was great with “outdoor” seating overlooking the casino floor. Just like being at a Parisian Sidewalk Cafe.   We ended up ordering a variety of european dishes – kids with their pizzas, while I tried a special which was Salmon, Asparagus and Mashed Potatoes. It was very tasty – cooked to perfection.  It came with a salad, dessert and complimentary bread, all of which was delicious! The prices were very reasonable for the amount of food we got and well worth every penny.

Michael Jackson ONE by Cirque De Soleil

This was truly a mesmerizing show! The music was great and the light effects were a delight to the eyes! The dancing and acrobatics were amazing and it was inspiring to see a very talented one-legged dancer too! Really loved the trampoline act! The whole theatre was their stage – the aerial performance was on top of us.

Grand Canyon West Rim

Grand Canyon West is famous for its Skywalk -A horseshoe glass bridge that juts-out 70 feet into open space from the canyon’s edge.  It is also a comfortable day trip from Vegas as it is only about 118 miles away versus almost 350 miles to the Grand Canyon South Rim. Most visitors to the West Rim only need about 3-4 hours to spend there.

IMG_1826

Grand Canyon West is owned by the Hualapai Indian Tribe (pronounced “Wall-uh-pie”). The Hualapai Reservation, established in 1883 comprises about 1 million acres that extends from the west corridor of the Grand Canyon to the small town of Peach Springs, Arizona located on Historic Route 66.

Skywalk is by far the premier attraction. The horseshoe walk is a glass bridge that juts-out 70 feet into open space from the canyon’s edge. Visitors have nothing but reinforced glass under their feet suspended 4,000 feet above the canyon floor. The bridge is 10 feet wide with 6 foot high glass railing walls. If you are afraid of heights, this is not the attraction for you.

IMG_1910Skywalk is engineered to carry a weight of 71 million pounds. That would be sturdy enough to to hold the weight of 12 fully-loaded 747 commercial jets. It can sustain winds of over 100 miles per hour from eight different directions.

It is designed to withstand an 8.0 magnitude earthquake within 50 miles of the epicenter. There are over a millions pounds of steel that reinforce the entire structure. The bottom tempered glass is several inches thick with five-foot tall glass railings. The cost to engineer, design, and build Skywalk was over $30 Million.

Hualapai Ranch

IMG_2077Hualapai Ranch is an entertaining setting in old west style. The kids learned how to rope, quick-draw the six-gun and enjoy cowboy entertainment. There is a 30-minute horse back ride to the rim or a 1.5 hour ride along the rim. Tourists also have the option of staying overnight in a cabin that faces the rim. If you do, enjoy cowboy stories around a campfire.

IMG_1861.JPGVisited Guano Point and remnants of a tram that once stretched 8,800 feet to a guano mine. We took the short, easy “Highpoint Hike” to admire the breathtaking views.

Click for more information on the West Rim vs. North & South Rims

A Night in Monterey

Monterey is a city on California’s rugged central coast. Its Cannery Row, one-time center of the sardine-packing industry, was immortalized by novelist John Steinbeck. Today, it is a popular strip of gift shops, seafood restaurants and bars in converted factories. Equally famous is Monterey Bay Aquarium, showcasing several marine animals and plants.

Breakfast in Carmel

Located south of Monterey and Pebble Beach, Carmel-by-the-Sea is a humble seaside village with a few small shops and cafes — at least that’s the cover story. In truth, this pricey town has plenty of designer stores, gourmet eateries and upscale art galleries that cater to its wealthy residents (like Clint Eastwood). You’ll find most shoppers and diners around picturesque Ocean Avenue, which leads to Carmel Beach.

Katy’s Place

We stopped here for breakfast before heading to SFO. It was a fabulous choice. Super friendly staff. Quick service. Extensive menu options… The Eggs Benedict variations and waffles we ordered were heavenly.  We can see why this place is an institution… We will definitely come back here on our next trip to the area.  Take note:  Cash Only.

17 Mile Drive

17-Mile Drive is often said to be one of the most scenic drives in the world offering some of the best views of Monterey Bay and many scenic lookouts with designated stopping points.

The drive runs along a winding road, through upscale neighbourhoods from Pacific Grove to Pebble Beach and goes past forested areas, along the oceanfront and past several golf courses. Some of the best places to stop are at Cypress Point Lookout, where you can see harbor seals basking on sand and rocks; Spanish Bay where you can follow a paved coastal trail to Asilomar State Beach, and the iconic Lone Cypress, which has stood on its wave-lashed, wind-beaten rocky perch for more than 250 years.

Facebook Headquarters

It is practically a city of its own!  I could live and work here!

Thanks to a friend who works in FB, we had an awesome opportunity to spend a day in this this vital community. Tech geniuses are well taken cared of here – a row of restaurants serving quality meals throughout the day, a bike store and repair shop, spa and wellness services even a video game arcade to name a few that is complimentary.  It is a happy environment with all the comforts and conveniences provided to nurture the creativity and intellect of every employee.

With so much invested on its people, the company aspires for global sharing, connection and openness via the Facebook Platform.

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