Sunday, July 22, 2007

Parasailing in Florida

Disney Orlando and Universal Studios aren't the only reasons to go to Florida.

Next time you visit one of the Florida beaches you might want to give parasailing a try. Not exactly sure what parasailing is? Parasailing gives you the kind of feeling that birds must feel when swooping down over beautiful beaches.

Basically, in parasailing, you just need to attach your chute to a moving high speed vehicle which will pull you up the air. In the case of beach parasailing, that would be a boat. Of course, you will have to go through some training to be able to operate the parasail properly.

Still not sure it's for you? Here's a little YouTube video of parasailing at Cocoa Beach, Florida.



Florida beaches are wonderful spots to parasail. In addition to Cocoa Beach, some of the other more popular parasailing spots include:

Brandenton beach in Anna Maria Island
Daytona Beach
Clearwater Beach
Sunny Isle Beach
Sirata Beach
Saint Pete Beach
Beaches on Marco Island
Key West



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Friday, July 20, 2007

Go Caving on your Next Vacation

Yes, there are great vacations you can have above ground. But, if you want something really unique to do on your next outing, try caving. You'd be amazed how many caves there are in the U.S. you can take tours of. Some people really get hooked on them.

There's just something magical about entering a cave. The feel of the cave air, the smells, the quite, the utter darkness when the lamps are turned off.

In caving you will discover the beauty of nature and marvel at rock formations and crystals that took thousands, and even millions, of years to shape and develop. Caves come in different shapes and sizes. There are caves that are horizontal, dry, hot, humid and sandy, while others are vertical, cold, flooded and muddy. There are even caves that are located under rivers and seas.

Here are a few caves which offer guided and self-guided tours perfect for the whole family:

Kartchner Caverns State Park - Benson, Arizona

Located in the southern part of Arizona, Kartchner Caverns was discovered in 1974 by cavers and purchased as an Arizona State Park in 1988. What's cool about Kartchner is that it's a "living cave," in that the formations inside are still growing. It also contains 13,000 feet of passages, boasts one of the world's longest soda straw stalactites - 21 feet 2 inches, and is in near-pristine condition. Typical of most caves, Kartchner Caverns has its share of bats. In fact, during the summer the Cave's Big Room becomes a nursery roost with over 1,000 female bats.

Jewel Cave National Monument - South Dakota

Located just east of the Wyoming border, Jewel Cave is considered one of the best caves in the National Park system, and number three on the list of longest caves in the world!

Jewel Cave offers three different tour packages, each requiring a different level of experience. The easiest tour is the Basic Tour, which most people should be able to manage. Of course, you have to remember this is a cave, so there will be some steps to climb. On the Basic Tour there are 723 steps to manage, but you don't have to climb them all at once, they are interspersed throughout the 1/2 mile tour.

The next tour in difficulty is the Historic Tour which enters and leaves the cave through an historic entrance and views the cave from an unpaved trail. You will carry lanterns on this tour, which is considered strenuous. Children under 6 are not allowed on the Historic Tour.

For the experienced cavers, Jewel Caves offers a Spelunking Tour, a 4- to 5-hour tour which snakes through 2/3 of a mile of the Cave. You are provided a headlamp by the park service, but you must provide all your other equipment. In addition, you must be over 16 and pass a number of tests before being allowed on the Spelunking Tour, including proving the ability to wriggle through an 18" X 24" passageway. Reservations are required for the Spelunking tour.

Meramec Caverns - Stanton, Missouri

Like your caves on the commercial side? Then you'll love Meramec Caverns, which has a gift shop inside the entrance of the cave. In fact, Meramec Caverns is the largest commercial cave in Missouri, which is known as the "Cave State" due to it containing over 6,000 surveyed caves. In addition to its natural history, Meramec Caverns has some interesting recent history, as legend has it that the cave was used as a part of the "Underground Railroad" to aid escaping slaves. Legend also has it that Jesse James and his gang hid out in the caves after committing train and bank robberies.

Meramec Caverns also has the distinction of having a ballroom inside the caves which hosts many private and public events, such as an Easter Sunrise Service. The ballroom is an interesting combination of chairs, sound system, lighting and, yes, limestone and stalagmites.

Marvel Cave - Branson, Missouri

If you like your caves on the commercial side, then Marvel Cave is for you. Marvel Cave is another "living cave" with formations that are still growing, and is now part of Silver Dollar City, an amusement park with over 30 rides and attractions, the cave being one of them

Mammoth Cave National Park – Kentucky

Since 1816, visitors have toured Mammoth Cave, one of the world’s longest and most famous cave systems. The name Mammoth was coined not from the prehistoric wooly mammoth, but because the cave system is so huge - more than 365 miles of it has been explored so far.

Cave tour prices range from $4 to $45 and include tours for all levels of experience, from a 30-minute, self-guided discovery tour to a 6-1/2 hour "Wild Cave Tour" for more advanced cavers which involves free-climbing cave walls and crawling through areas as low as 9 inches high. Temperature inside the cave usually stays around 54° Fahrenheit year-round.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Visiting Seattle? Check out Some State Parks

If you're visiting Seattle, and are into outdoor beauty and activity, you might want to check out some of the State Parks in the area. Some of my favorites?

Lime Kiln Point State Park

Lime Kiln Point State Park is a 36-acre park that is only for day use. Located on the western side of San Juan Island, the largest island of the archipelago, Lime Kiln State Park is considered the best spot in the world for spotting Orca whales cruising Haro Strait, in addition to viewing bald eagles and more than 200 species of birds. June and July are the best for whale watching, but really any time during the months of May throughout September you'll find the possibility of spotting a whale quite good. In addition to whale watching you can go hiking and tour the Lime Kiln lighthouse, which still serves as a navigational aid for ships in the Haro Strait. Diving is possible here but very dangerous as the currents are pretty strong.

Fort Worden State Park

Along with Fort Flagler and Fort Casey, Fort Worden formed a "triangle of fire" to protect the entrance to Puget Sound at Admiralty Inlet, and became a state park in 1955. Fort Worden, on the Quimper Peninsula at the extreme northeastern tip of the Olympic Peninsula, sits on a bluff near Port Townsend, and anchors the northwest side of the triangle. Fort Worden State Park is a 433-acre multi-use park offering 12 miles of hiking and biking trails, as well as 2 miles of saltwater shoreline. Convention and camping facilities are open year round and there is plenty to do to keep you busy. In addition to the traditional hiking, biking, diving, water skiing, swimming, boating, and animal watching, Fort Worden offers baseball, basketball, softball, and volleyball facilities. And, if you're a photographer, or someone who just enjoys a great view, you definitely need to pay a visit, as the park offers incredible views to keep your shutter-finger happy.

Fort Flagler State Park

One of the anchors in the "triangle of fire," Fort Flagler State Park is now a 784-acre marine camping park surrounded on three sides by 19,100 feet of saltwater shoreline, as well as some of the original military structures that tell the history of this island. Unlike Fort Worden, which allows camping year round, Fort Flagler State Park is only open for campers for part of the year. Day visitors are allowed year round, however. It is the stunning view of the Sound and the surrounding mountains, however that makes this park so spectacular.

Deception Pass State Park

Deception Pass is a narrow body of water separating Whidbey Island from Fidalgo Island, in the northwest corner of Washington State, and is surrounded by Deception Pass State Park, the most-visited park in Washington. Though not officially part of the San Juan Islands, the park shares a geologic history: The cliffs of Deception Pass are made of the same rock that underlies Orcas Island. This park has salt water, fresh water, camping, hiking, boating, spectacular views, and a few areas with playground equipment for the kids. There are many activities available: hiking, horseback riding, boating, fishing, swimming, white water kayaking, diving, clamming, crabbing, bird watching, mountain biking, and simply taking in the beautiful scenery. Again, take a camera.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Best Hotels in La Jolla, California

If you love beach sunsets, you're going to love La Jolla, California, located near San Diego. It's a great place if you want to feel like a million bucks. Yes, you're around the well-heeled, but you don't have to spend like it.

1. La Jolla Village Lodge The La Jolla Village Lodge is a three stories, and offers quite a bargain in price. With 30 rooms,free parking and a free continental breakfast, the La Jolla Village Lodge is a great addition to the La Jolla area.

2. Travelodge La Jolla Beach Located close to the Windandsea Beach, this hotel is in a quiet area. There are 44 rooms here, with a fitness center less than a block away. Travelodge also offers free wireless and internet service, which is great for those who like computers.

3. Redwood Hollow The Redwood Hollow is more of a studio or one and two bedroom cottages, offering full kitchens on 1/2 acre of gardens. Close to the beach, this lodge offers 11 rooms and plenty of views. Located at 256 Prospect Street, you'll be close to what you want to do in La Jolla.

4. Radisson Hotel La Jolla This hotel offers landscaped grounds with waterfalls, gardens, and it's convenient to UCSD and the La Jolla Village Square. The hotel has 252 rooms, with a complimentary airport shuttle. Located at 3299 Holiday Court, this hotel is an excellent choice to stay.

5. Empress Hotel Located in the heart of the town, the Empress Hotel is a well known local favorite. Manhattan's restaurant is located off from the lobby, with a fitness center and sauna onsite as well. The hotel also offers 73 rooms, free local calls, breakfast, and high speed internet. Located at 7766 Fay Avenue, the Empress Hotel is the place to be for those who want to be in the middle of La Jolla.

6. Grande Colonial Located on La Jolla's main street, the Grande Colonial is one of the oldest hotels in the city. With 75 rooms and a European style, Grande Colonial also offers you free ADSL internet and valet parking.

7. Hyatt Regency The Hyatt Regency in La Jolla offers modern design with all the comforts, although it's better for travelers than family vacationers. The Regency is located at 3777 La Jolla Village Drive, offers 394 rooms, and plenty of other perks to keep you entertained and interested.


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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Best Birding Sites Outside U.S.

Where are some of the best places around the globe to go birdwatching?

South America - the jungles of South America are home to thousands of beautiful birds. Bird watching hot spots in South America include the Itatiaia National Park in Brazil, which is home to around 350 different species of birds native to the Amazon. The Iguazu National Park is the leading natural reserve in Argentina, with over 400 types of indigenous birds. Other good places to check in South America are the Hato Pinero and Hato Cedral ranches in Venezuela, which are especially popular for birdwatching.

The Caribbean - the Caribbean Islands, while normally associated with vacations of a different sort, are actually another good place to visit on a bird watching world trip. In the Bahamas, Grand Bahama Island is the most popular place to go for bird watching. Bermuda is another good place to visit, as there are seven major natural reserves there sponsored by the Audubon Society. In Jamaica, the Rocklands Bird Sanctuary is popular because the birds there are so tame they literally perch on the bird watchers and eat out of their hands.

Europe - there are tons of popular spots in Europe for birdwatching. In Britain alone there are actually hundreds of birdwatching spots. If you're considering Britain, one thing to look out for are the annual bird fairs and conventions held in various local districts. Scotland and Ireland are also popular bird watching places, as they have little lakes and isles around these two countries are home to many different forms of bird life that are unique solely to these islands.

Asia - if you're willing to range far afield, Asia is a wonderful place to go for bird watching as a lot of different species live there that have no equivalent counterparts in the west. Japan alone is home to around 600 species of birds. The Lake Utonai and Tateyama Bird sanctuaries in Japan are the most prominent wildlife preserves where you can see them. China's main attraction is not only its indigenous species of birds, but the fact that certain places like Beidaihe are a migratory hub for far-ranging birds from all across Asia. Another good place to visit for bird watching is Thailand's Doi inthanon International Park, which boasts 382 resident species.


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Ocracoke Island - North Carolina Getaway

What makes Ocracoke Island in North Carolina a great getaway? Perhaps because it's one of the few places on the East Coast where the sun sets over the water year-round. Or perhaps because over three quarters of the island is protected Cape Hatteras National Seashore property. Accessible only ferry, private boat, or by air, Ocracoke Island seems to make time stand still on it's 16 mile island.

Within Ocracoke Island North Carolina, there are many different houses, schools, parks, and numerous boat ramps and places for beach access. The community is very friendly here, making it a perfect beach vacation spot for the entire family.

For nearly 12 continuous miles, the dunes and marsh lands of the island are untouched, providing a home for birds, deer, muskrats, rabbits, and other wild animals. The several beaches on the island are some of the last pristine beaches left in America. Fishermen and anglers are allowed to drive on the beach, with surf fishing being truly great here.

If you visit Ocracoke Island in the summer, you'll find that there is always something to do. The island has a happening nightlife as well, which is perfect for those who want more than just the beach on their vacation.

If you live close to North Carolina, Ocracoke Island is possibly closer than you may realize, making it a great weekend vacation getaway.

Attractions on Ocracoke Island

A few attractions not to miss while you're on the island are the 1823 Ocracoke Lighthouse, the British Cemetery and Banker Ponies (descendants from the ponies which came with the Raleigh expeditions) and the quaint village of Ocracoke.

Accommodations

Lodging can be had at Edwards of Ocracoke, located in the heart of Ocracoke Village. Choose from 8 motel rooms, 3 efficiencies, 6 cottage apartments and 2 private cottages. Rates start at $48 in the Spring and Fall and $60 and $69 in the summer and peak seasons (peak season is June 1 to August 20). They offer weekly rental rates as well. Call 252-928-4801 for more information.

Another place for lodging is the Anchorage Inn & Marina, a 35-room, four-story hotel overlooking Ocracoke's scenic harbor, offering sunset views as the sun sinks into the waters of the Pamlico Sound. Choose from smoking or non-smoking rooms, with pet-friendly rooms on the first floor. Off season rates are from $79.00 a night to $209.00 a night. In-season rates are from $125.00 a night to $239.00 a night. For more information call 252-928-1101.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Cheap San Francisco Weekend Getaway

If you’ve ever visited San Francisco, you know it can be a very expensive city. Hotel costs, restaurant tabs, valet fees and cab fares can add up quite quickly. But, if you know where the values are, that weekend getaway to San Francisco can actually fit into your budget quite nicely.

First, let’s start with lodging. Yes, it’s nice to stay at the Grand Hyatt on Union Square or the Mark Hopkins. But, let’s face it, they’re expensive. For budget considerations, I suggest you consider Lombard Street. No, not the crooked part of Lombard Street, but the section of Lombard Street which runs through the Cow Hollow and Marina districts in the northern part of San Francisco, near the Golden Gate Bridge.

You can find a nice room on Lombard Street for just under $100 a night, which is a far cry from the hotels on Union Square. But, what kind of room will your $100 get you? Of course, you’re not going to get the luxury of a fancy hotel, but you’re not paying for luxury. You’re paying to enjoy San Francisco. Your $100 will buy you a comfortable, clean room. Also, you will generally receive free parking. If you drive to San Francisco or rent a car in San Francisco, free parking is a big deal. The luxury hotels usually charge for parking, as well as a in & out fees when you retrieve your car for a day trip or night out.

Lombard Street is also a great location. Just north of Lombard Street is Chestnut Street, with a movie theater, shops and wonderful food. To the south a few blocks you’ll find Union Street, with upscale shops and, again, wonderful food. Lombard Street is also a good location for bus service to all parts of San Francisco, eliminating the need for expensive taxi rides.

You have numerous choices for lodging along Lombard Street. I’ve stayed at the Cow Hollow Motor Inn (415-921-5800) and find it to be good, inexpensive choice, with free parking, with a nice, inexpensive Italian restaurant located just north on Steiner Street (Ristorante Parma). One caveat I have about Cow Hollow, which can probably be applied to any of the motels on Lombard Street, is that you will probably want to request an inside room off the main streets, as they can get quite loud. Another motel you might consider would be La Luna Inn (415-346-4664), a recently renovated inn with some luxuries you wouldn’t expect from a budget motel, such as pillow-top mattresses, flat screen TVs, wireless internet access and complimentary muffins, breads, coffee, tea and juices served every morning. All that for just under $100 per night for a single king or queen bed.

Restaurants can also add up to the cost of a vacation. San Francisco has a large amount of wonderful restaurants at inexpensive prices. Of course, you have to know which ones they are. Those would usually be the ones the locals frequent, so if you want to avoid over-priced restaurants, you’d stay away from restaurants in tourist traps like Fisherman’s Wharf and go for neighborhood restaurants, such as those found in Cow Hollow and the Marina District, 24th Street in Noe Valley, or Potrero Hill. One very inexpensive restaurant I’d recommend in Potrero Hill is San Francisco Bar B Que, 1328 18th St., a wonderful little Thai BBQ restaurant that serves great food at cheap prices. If there’s a wait, just put your name on the list and bop into Bloom’s Saloon a couple doors down for a drink and great views of the downtown skyline.

As for inexpensive things to do in San Francisco, check out the free walking tours offered by San Francisco City Guides, a non-profit organization of more than 200 trained volunteers who lead free walking tours in San Francisco. Their website at sfcityguides.org lists all the many different walking tours of such sites as Chinatown, Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower, and even ghost walks of supposedly haunted locations.

San Francisco is truly a great city to visit. It’s even better when you know you can visit and experience all the city has to offer without breaking the bank.



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Friday, July 06, 2007

Southern California Beach Ideas

You cannot visit Southern California without stopping at one of its many wonderful beaches and dipping your toes in the Pacific Ocean. However, if you have a limited time on your visit and can only visit one beach, you may have a difficult time choosing. Which Southern California beach should top your list? Well, it depends on what you're looking for:

Sunbathing and Relaxing:

Zuma/Point Dume: Of course, you can sit in the sand and relax at all the beaches in Southern California, but Point Dume and Zuma beaches, approximately 19 miles west of Malibu on Pacific Coast Highway, are the beaches to go to escape the crowded Los Angeles beaches. When driving west on PCH you'll come to Point Dume first, then Zuma. Point Dume is a little quieter than Zuma, so if you want to lie in the sand and sleep, or read a good book, Point Dume is it. Of course, just because Point Dume and Zuma beaches are great for relaxing, that's not all there is to do. Some consider Zuma beach one of the finest surfing beaches as well.

Surfing:

Huntington Beach: With over 50 surfing competitions held each year in Huntington Beach, plus a Surfing Walk of Fame, Surfers' Hall of Fame and International Surfing Museum, Huntington Beach, or "Surf City" as some call it, is the place you'll want to visit to surf and watch surfers in action. Forget your surfboard or boogie board? No problem, you can also rent one in Huntington Beach. You'll want to visit the pier at Huntington City Beach where you can watch the surfers as well as take in the views, which include Catalina Island, 22 miles away (check out the pay scopes for closer views).

Another reason to go to Huntington Beach is that all three of their beaches (Huntington City Beach, Huntington State Beach and Bolsa Chica State Beach) have concrete fire rings which allow you to have nightly bonfires and cookouts.

Swami's Beach: Located in Encinitas below Seacliff Roadside Park, Swami's Beach is also a great place to watch the surfers, as it is considered one of the best surfing spots along the San Diego County coastline.

Fun Out of the Water:

Santa Monica State Beach: If you get tired of sunbathing or playing in the ocean, Santa Monica State Beach is great because you have Pacific Park at Santa Monica Pier with rides, games and restaurants. You have to really try hard to be bored at Santa Monica State Beach. Rides include a carousel, roller coaster, bumper cars, motion simulator and a nine-story Ferris wheel with spectacular views. You can also roller blade and ride bikes on the bike bath along the beach.

People Watching:

Venice City Beach: Want a quirky beach experience? Then you'll have to visit Venice Beach, at the end of Washington Street in Venice. There you'll find skaters, performers and those you're not quite sure if they're performing or not. On any given weekend you can be treated to musicians, acrobats, mimes, magicians and other assorted entertainers. You'll also find restaurants and all sorts of shops along Ocean Front Walk, as well as Muscle Beach, where you can find bodybuilders pumping iron. If you like crowds, you'll love Venice Beach on the weekend.

These are just a sampling of the great beach experiences you can have in Southern California. Just remember to bring and apply your sunscreen, drink plenty of water throughout the day, and enjoy your visit.


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