Temple of the Golden Pavillion in Kyoto, Japan

Explore this centuries-old monument and other execeptional highlights in the ancient city of Kyoto.

Visit with Animal Friends

Find places around the world where you can interact with animals in their natural habitats and contribute to the preservation of wildlife.

Tulip Festival

I had the pleasure of photographing the Tulip Festival in Skagit, Washington, what gorgeous colors!

West Coast Road Trip

Explore fantastic gems across California, Oregon and Washington.

Lavender Fields in Napa, California

Find out how to explore Napa's Wine country for the best scenery, picnics, wine and budget.

The Relaxing Getaway You Crave

Visiting the Seattle area? This award winning luxury hotel is nestled directly on top of a 268-foot waterfall! Read about my visit and get a taste of the Pacific Northwest.

Amazing Snorkeling on Oahu


Oahu has some excellent snorkeling in spots such as Kuilima Cove, Kahe Beach, Shark's Cove and Kaena. But in my opinion, Hanauma Bay is the best snorkeling on the island and I'm certainly not the first person to suggest that this spot probably has the most fish in all of Hawaii.

Hanauma Bay is a Nature Preserve located just 30 minutes east of Waikiki. The bay is home to 400 species of extremely colorful fish and green sea turtles. This picturesque shoreline has been filmed for Elvis' Blue Hawaii, Hawaii Five-O and Magnum P.I.. It's calm shallow water, white sand beach and protected "living museum" make it a fantastic snorkel spot.


Due to overuse and damage to the bay some years ago, measures have been taken to protect it including banning commercial filming, limiting public visitor numbers and establishing an entrance fee for non-Hawaii residents. The most important conservation effort though, was the establishment of the Marine Education Center at the entrance to the bay where visitors are required to watch a short film about how to treat and protect the the reef.

Near the parking lot is a large, shaded grassy area with picnic tables in case you decide to bring lunch. Facilities are provided for public showers, renting lockers and of course restrooms. They will also rent you snorkel gear if you didn't bring your own. It's really a one-stop-shop!


Hanauma Bay is a fantastic spot to visit if you're on Oahu, and I recommend stopping by for the view even if you're not planning on snorkeling with the parrot fish and sea turtles!




Secret Garden on the Island of Kauai


The Hawaiian island of Kauai bears some of the most lush and vibrant surroundings in the world, which is the main reason I visit as often as possible. While the island's south shore is home to the popular and gorgeous McBride and Allerton Botanical GardensI wanted to share a secret about some lesser known gardens. Ones which I prefer because nobody else is there and I can make believe that they are my own secret gardens...

On the same piece of land as the McBride and Allerton Gardens is a separate garden with no entry fee, complete with vegetable garden, lush Hawaiian tropical plants and flowers, and a serene blooming lotus pond. Let me show it to you...
Do you love tropical surroundings? Share your favorite tropical destinations in the comment section below.
The Lotus Pond

When you park at the Allerton Gardens in Lawai, walk back toward the main road you came from (Lawai Road) and you can't miss the lotus pond and palm tree row on your left. It is a beautiful spot where you can can relax to the sound of the wind blowing through the trees and watch the tall lotus flowers blow in the wind.


The Visitor Center Gardens

The National Tropical Botanical Gardens (NTBG) non-profit organization took on an ambitious project on Kauai's south shore to remove all foreign invasive plants which had crowded out native plants and threatened the Hawaiian sea turtle's nesting areas. Through the study of fossils and historical records, the NTBG have replicated the tropical landscape that existed here a millennium ago.  

The gardens at the Visitor Center aren't something you'll have to search for. It's as simple as navigating to the Allerton Gardens. Once you've parked, make your way to the Visitor Center and just start strolling around. You'll pretty quickly find yourself in the midst of some shady, lush tropics that look something like this:


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Visiting the Elephants in Chicago


Despite having been to the city of Chicago several times before, this time I had a local guide so I could explore things you might only know about if you grew up there. What a fantastic city to explore gems off the beaten path! First stop was a very special place just outside the city: Showman's Rest Memorial.  

Set in Woodlawn cemetery at Forest Park, surrounded by five granite elephant statues with their trunks lowered in mourning, is a final resting place dedicated to the memory of the departed showmen who lie here. 

Showmen's Rest was created in 1917 by the Showmen's League of America. Their dedication reads, "The Showmen's League of America maintains this plot and has erected this monument in memory of the departed showmen who lie here." 

It would prove timely, because just one year later on the morning of 22 June 1918, disaster struck. There was a 26-car circus train heading from Illinois to Hammond, Indiana with over 400 circus employees and performers for the Hagenbeck-Wallace circus. Their train had stopped due to an overheated axle-box when another train appeared on the same tracks and didn't slow down. The Engineer at the helm of that train, which was traveling 35mph, had apparently dozed off. 

Four cars of the Indiana-bound circus company were destroyed in the crash before the entire thing went up in flames. The train accident resulted in over 85 perished circus employees and performers. Just four days after the accident they were able to lay to rest those who died in the crash. The identity of many victims was unknown; some of the headstones are marked, "Smiley", "Baldy", "4 Horse Driver" and "Unknown Female".

Rumors exist to this day of five elephants who used their trunks to help extinguish burning circus cars who also perished; and due to their extreme size were buried near the accident, here at Showmen's Rest.

May they all rest in peace. 



The Relaxing Getaway You Crave

 salish lodge hotel waterfall

An hour east of Seattle, Washington is the luxury hotel that I have dreamed of visiting for several years since I first saw a photo of it. I've recently been traveling in the Pacific Northwest and I decided to make it happen - my visit at the Salish Lodge was beyond everything I'd hoped for. Read on California residents.... you too Vancouverites!

The Salish Lodge

Located directly on top of a huge 268-foot waterfall, Snowqualmie Falls in fact, this hotel and spa boasts 84 guest rooms nestled right in the middle of nature.  It has generated lists of accolades each year; Travel & Leisure included it on the list of Best Hotels in the World, Evening Magazine's Best of Northwest Escapes called it the #1 Best Romantic Hotel.  Condé Nast Traveler has rated it #29 in "Top 50 Hotels and Spas in the United States" and #9 out of the Top Hotels in the Pacific Northwest.

Do you remember the 90's hit television drama Twin Peaks? This is the area where a lot of the show was filmed. It is also just a 3 hour drive from Vancouver, BC or Portland, Oregon. Winter activities bring a chance to ski or snowshoe at nearby Snowqualmie Pass, while spring and summer make it a great chance to go wine tasting, hiking, kayaking or fishing. For me, it was all about relaxing!!

salish lodge lobby fireplace

At the front desk, I felt like I was being greeted at a family lodge. There was nobody else around and the roaring fireplace, oversized chairs and cozy pillows were a nice change from the brisk, drizzly Washington air. The fragrance in the air is one I still can't forget; I believe it is cedar and lemongrass. The atmosphere immediately relaxed me, which is rare, because it usually takes me a day or two to wind down from months of intense work schedules. That really is what makes this place amazing - you're completely relaxed from the moment you arrive.

salish lodge flowers lounge

Other common areas are designed to make you truly comfortable.  The gift shop features locally produced honey products, natural candles made in the northwest and rustic charm.  The guest leisure room is where you can bring your coffee, hot chocolate or wine, snacks, whatever suits you, and relax in front of the fireplace. There you can read a book (many provided in case you forgot yours) or get silly with one of their board games.

Just a few short steps from the hotel's entrance is Snowqualmie State Park and two viewing platforms from which to see and photograph the majestic Snowqualmie Falls.  The falls are illuminated at night and are a particular treat for guests; a favorite of mine for sure. For a really unique view, check out this clip of the falls as filmed by drone pilot Andrew Davis, it's pretty amazing.

salish falls viewing platform

A Pillow Menu?!

My room had fantastic amenities including a gorgeous slate wood-burning fireplace, a ridiculously cozy bed, one wall of windows above an extended window seat. The fine details go beyond what you'd expect of a luxury hotel; custom built furniture, high speed wifi, his and hers bathrobes and slippers, gourmet coffees and teas, mini fridge, lavender and mint soothing toiletries, an oversized jacuzzi tub and rainfall shower.... but most importantly, they have a PILLOW MENU. Hold the show. WHAT? You heard me correctly. I called up room service and took advantage of this within mere seconds!

  • Lavender Pillow is filled with aromatic dried lavender flowers and promotes relaxation and, of course, sleep. (It was miles above my little lavender neck pillow from home.)
  • Buckwheat Pillow has therapeutic qualities recognized for centuries in Japan and the Far East. Buckwheat hulls mold to your neckline to allow complete relaxation of your head, neck and shoulder areas.
  • Body Pillow is 50% goose down and 50% goose feather, some find very comfortable to curl up with.
  • Memory Foam Pillow is non-allergenic and molds to your head.
  • Pregnancy Pillow has a wedge design to lift and support the abdomen area.
  • 100% Synthetic Pillow which is hypoallergenic for guests with allergies.
Did I mention yet that they have a "Salish Bath Menu"? They have a menu of Butler created baths in your own room, which you chose from their menu! For example, sandalwood bath crystals with Salish honey scrub and sandalwood body butter, or choose from a bath of milk and honey, lavender, rosemary and mint, fresh rose petals to soak in and chocolate truffles and nibble on...

Some other nice touches are the evening turndown service where they light your wood-burning fireplace for a cozy evening and the newspaper just outside your door every morning.

This is also a dog friendly hotel with specific rooms for guests traveling with four-legged friends.

salish lodge hotel room bed

The Award Winning Spa

The spa is extensive with a gift shop, massage rooms, full service salon, cozy relaxation lounge with a fireplace and a eucalyptus steam room. Condé Nast Awarded this spa the #11 spot on a list of the Top Hotel Spas in the US. The highlight for me was the two therapeutic soaking pools. The top pool is serene and the lower pool has a waterfall of it's own. Folks, this right here is where your tense neck and shoulders are going to be relieved. Yeah, those sore shoulders from sitting in front of a computer for hours... this is going to help ease the tension.

salish lodge spa relaxation pool

Dining the Salish Way

All dining at this hotel features what they call Northwest Cuisine and features seasonal ingredients and unique cooking techniques. I had dinner at the more casual of their two dining facilities, The Attic Restaurant. The Attic's prized showpiece is their new Washington applewood fired pizza oven, fresh cheeses from nearby River Valley Cheese and an extensive happy hour menu, including the Salish Honey Ale.

salish lodge attic restaurant

The Salish Lodge invited me to breakfast at The Dining Room where I was given arguably the best seat in the place (photo below). I was dining directly above the waterfalls as rainbows came and went.... truly mesmerizing. The menu offered omelets with fresh vegetables and unique dishes such as Belgian Waffles with warm apple butter, cinnamon whipped cream and maple syrup, or Lavender Brioche French Toast with candied hazelnuts, maple syrup and orange marmalade.

salish lodge dining room waterfall view

They take great pride in their locally produced honey and it is a staple ingredient in their cuisine. You can also try it with your tea or in their locally brewed Salish Beer Honey Ale, made with raw pure honey and a hint of orange. I loved it in my tea, on my bicsuits, in my Honey Ale Beer...

salish honey
Salish honey for sale in the gift shop; looks like jewels!
eggs benedict
Eggs benedict with lemon hollandaise, toasted english muffin, tomatoes, spinach, mushrooms and crispy hashed potatoes. 
biscuits sweet butter and jam
Biscuits and jam at breakfast, with sweet butter served on rustic stone slate. 
cappuccino and salish honey
Breakfast cappuccino and Salish honey. 
salish honey
Some of that great Salish honey goes perfect with the buttermilk biscuits.
salish lodge lobby and gift shop
Seating area in the lobby with the gift shop just behind.
salish lodge hotel room window seat
Window seat in my hotel room at Salish Lodge. Big window seat!
salish spa waterfall jaccuzi
Relaxation pool in the Salish Spa - the waterfall was the perfect massage on my tense shoulders!
salish spa lounge fireplace
Lounge at the Salish Spa. Yeah, I could curl up there.

I hope you get a chance to unwind at the Salish Lodge; it could be the getaway you've needed. Check Expedia for the lowest rates.

Check Out Other Unique Hotels Here

Salish Lodge official Website
Salish Lodge on Expedia
Salish Lodge on TripAdvisor

We Saw Five Blue Whales!

best_whale_watching_california_blue_whale_tail

It's no secret that I love animals. This summer I found a fantastic outing with Captain Dave's Dolphin and Whale Watching Safari. I love the idea of this trip for several reasons; they have been recognized for their whale rescue efforts and have produced an award winning documentary and a great book on the subject, the tours are small in size and they take daily trips off the coast of Dana Point, California, where there are more blue whales and dolphins than anywhere else on Earth.

As a side note, for you animal lovers there are a couple really great DVD box-sets you will probably enjoy: National Geographic: Wildlife and BBC's Blue Planet. This is the closest you can possibly get to many animals in the wild and learn all about them.

Important Facts About Blue Whales

Blue Whales are the largest animal ever to live on the planet. At nearly 100 feet in length and weighing over 200 tons, they are larger than any dinosaur (by two to three times!) or any other animal you can think of. Due to boating accidents and aggressive hunting from 1900 to the mid-1960's, their species was driven to near extinction. Today, studies show that their population numbers have been on the rise and are nearly back to the numbers of the early 1900's. This is really great news.

I ventured out on Captain Dave's boat trip this week (they offered me a 2-for-1 discount) and it was fantastic!  I heard that just two days prior, the tour had spotted over 1,500 dolphins and a dozen blue whales. What we saw was stunning - FIVE BLUE WHALES, 1 swordfish, 2 Mola Mola Fish and a couple dozen sea lions. We were so close to them! The blue whales elegantly swam by and two of them showed their tails as they dove into the deep waters. I was so stunned that I'm not surprised that dozens of my photos are just of the sky... If you go on this tour, I suggest you situate yourself on the front left of the boat which was where most of the action happened.

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Things to Know About Dave's Dolphin & Whale Safari
  • This is the highest rated whale watching excursion on Trip Advisor, Yelp and Google+. See video below!
  • The size of the catamaran is such that it will never be crowded and you will have a chance to see the wildlife VERY close up. 
  • Their high-tech catamaran is equipped with some special amenities: two underwater viewing pods, cameras that are live streaming your trip via their website, and a Hydrophone which allows you to listen to the dolphins underwater.
  • Dana Point Harbor is just an hour south of Los Angeles or an hour north of San Diego. The boat trips last 2 1/2 hours and they usually have two trips a day.
  • Grey Whales are usually spotted here between December and mid-May, and Blue Whales are seen between May and October/November. Year round you can typically see Fin Whales and Minke Whales.
  • Tickets are $59 for Adults and $39 for kids.

blue_whale_dorsel_fin
Dorsel fin of a Blue Whale we encountered on our boat tour. 
blue_whale_footprint
Blue Whale's 'footprint' just after he dove into the deep sea.
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Pack of a dozen sea lions swimming in a row together as if they were racing.
mola_mola_fish
Huge Mola Mola fish came right up to us and literally stuck his fin out waving at us!
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Dana Point Harbor.
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Captain Dave's dolphin & Whale Safari boat, Manute'a.

Another option is to take advantage of 
Groupon's discount of $28 for Two People at 
Newport Beach Whale Watching 

Los Angeles Foodie Favorites - I'll Have The Usual

While Los Angeles is a major hub for food lovers and new restaurants regularly open all over the city, I stand by my long-term favorites. These are the places where I always order the same mouth-watering dishes when I visit. I day dream about them.... You know exactly what I'm talking about. 

Tell me in the comment section below what your favorite restaurants and dishes are. I would love to try them and expand my list  


Cha Cha Chicken
1906 Ocean Ave, Santa Monica
This colorful, Caribbean beach shack with outdoor garden patio is located just a block from the beach. Their Jerk Chicken Enchiladas are award winning and they don't disappoint. In my opinion, nothing else on the menu is as good as those. Photos by Cha Cha Chicken and Mustafa Sayed.


Mantee Cafe
10962 Ventura Blvd, Studio City
This charming Mediterranean Cafe has a sweet outdoor patio covered with plants, flowers and twinkle lights; it's cool even on hot summer days. Free parking in the back, BYOB and no corkage fee. It is family owned and I feel like I'm family when I eat there. I always get the refreshing, lemony Fattoush Salad and the traditional 'Mantee' dish. Mantee is baked handmade boat shaped ravioli filled with seasoned Angus ground meat, served with fresh garlic yogurt sauce, topped with sumac spice and red pepper. They also have a veggie version made with spinach. Get both and share! Detailed descriptions of their other deliciousness is here. Photos by Karen Young. 


Amandine Cafe
12225 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles
This is my go-to breakfast spot. They make a wide variety of french pastries and an excellent cappuccino. I splurge here with one of their 13 excellent omelets and French Toast topped with fresh whipped cream and strawberries.... dreamy. No joke, this french toast is heavenly. They have a covered patio with picnic-style seating in the back.




Cantalini's Salerno Beach
193 Culver Blvd, Playa Del Rey
Italian food has never been so good. My favorite is the homemade Portobello Mushroom Ravioli with porcini cream sauce; it's very rich so I save it for special occasions. They've mastered the ambience of a special night out: intimate candle lighting, old jazz tunes, murals of Italy and twinkle lights.... 


Kaya Sushi
13400 Washington Blvd, Marina Del Rey 
Go ahead and laugh at this one, because I don't eat seafood. Kaya Sushi have a huge selection of vegetarian and non-seafood options such as vegetable rolls, tempuras, salads, Bi Bim Bap, teriyaki and sukiyaki (soups with veggies, tofu, noodles and meat). They have a big variety of traditional sushi, sashimi and low carb rolls with no rice. My favorite is the Diane's Roll - tempuras of asparagus, sweet potato and zucchini, with mango wrapped in soy paper with sesame seeds. Similarly they serve Soomi's Spring Roll with mango, avocado, sweet potato, pineapple, red onion tempura with asian pear in rice paper with wasabi vinaigrette. Their intimate lighting, big indoor waterfall and small private booths make it a great date spot. 


The Smoke House
4420 Lakeside Drive, Burbank
Located across the street from Warner Bros studios, this restaurant has been frequented by movie industry folk and locals since it opened in 1946. The decor and red leather booths are all original; I like that this place hasn't changed in so many years. Try going on a Friday or Saturday night when they have live music. The Smokehouse is my choice for any special occasion. Favorites are the Cheesy Garlic Bread (like no other) and the Tournedos of Beef sautéed in Cabernet wine, topped with mushroom caps, tomatoes and béarnaise sauce. The steaks, sides and desserts are all fantastic. 


Don Cuco
3911 Riverside Drive, Toluca Lake
They have four locations in LA, this one is the original (since 1969) and my favorite. I like everything I've ever eaten there and they have excellent margaritas. I have a deep love for mexican food and while I enjoy many mexican restaurants in LA, Don Cuco's welcomes me and makes me feel at home. 


Tandoor-A-India
8406 Pershing Drive, Playa Del Rey
I never enjoyed Indian food until I tried the Chicken Tikka Masala here. I'm truly addicted to it and would eat it every day if I could. Everyone I know also swears by it. Also try their Daal and Saag Paneer, dishes of lentils and spinach with Indian spices. Last but not least, make sure you order one of their seven kinds of Naan bread; my favorite is a sweet naan called Peshwari made with almonds, pistachios, raisins and coconut. Word on the street is that this is where owners of other Indian restaurants come to eat. Check Groupon.com because they regularly offer 40% off.


Thai East Wind
2928 Washington Blvd, Marina Del Rey
I only go to their Marina Del Rey location and my regular menu choices are much better than everything else in my opinion. My experience has always been fresh food, fast service, and their decor is great. Such a cute place to bring friends and family (some have said it's their favorite Thai restaurant now). I can't get enough of the Thom Kah Kai soup with chicken, mushrooms, tomatoes, lemongrass in coconut milk. I also love their Chicken in Yellow Curry with potatoes and coconut milk. 

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Check out the LA Restaurants below -- the most romantic spots to eat, best views, and the best Happy Hours: