How to Stuff Three Days of Venice Into Just 24 Hours

Hotel Campiello. It took the fading sunlight at dusk to unmask its mysterious location.


Part Two: Sweet Anticipation. Getting There is Half the Fun, Right?!

“Is this it?” A little dazed and confused we all four traded frantic looks.

“No,” Jay exhaled, standing now.

Statue of Victor Emmanuel II in Venice at San Zaccaria Photo by Stephen Howard

Is this it?

None of us knew exactly what we were looking for.

We collectively lost our confidence in our ability to recognize our destination in time.

“No,” Jay said less sure than he let on.

But, then it was.

And as we feared, we almost missed our harbor stop struggling and lugging, well, luggage,  up the steps to the deck and then walking across the gang plank before the public boat pulled away.


Public Boat Alilaguna Line – 30 Euros for Two

Then the fishing began.

We fished through our notes, both printed and in my iPhone, for directions from the harbor to the Hotel Campiello.

We wandered around in crowds of tourists like us and in tour groups unlike us.

You know how it is when you rush around searching for something so urgently  that every other sense shuts down?

We almost missed the unique smells of salty air and ignored the clean ocean breezes on our skin.

Even back home in California there’s something unique about the mix of diesel fuel and vacation smells you notice when crossing the bay between Balboa Island and Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach.

Venice delivered its own brand, a type of pungent fragrance lingering lightly in the air.

Elle shot an apprehensive glance to Emma and whispered, “I don’t see any street names, do you?

No,” Emma replied looking uneasy now.

We approached an open air cafe.

I wandered down an alley next to it just at dusk with a few dark shadows beginning to linger.

Jay and I shared puzzled looks.  Shouldn’t it be here?

Up and down the harbor we strolled looking for clues, our rolling suitcases trailing us like a shadow.

Rolling suitcases trailing us like a shadow over pedestrian bridges. Photo by Stephen Howard

Something smelled fishy.

Emma looked doubtful. “Aren’t we staying just east of St. Mark’s Square?”

“I think so,” I said feeling confused and mildly annoyed.

It’s supposed to be near the Bridge of Sighs, where is that?” Jay asked scratching his head.

We’re supposed to see a half of dozen boutique hotels recommended by Rick Steves.” Elle said with a look that signaled her energy was draining.

Any more clues?” I wondered.

This is the Riva degli Schiavoni waterfront promenade, right?” Emma confirmed. Looking at her notes as she continued,

Entrance to Hotel Danieli on San Zaccaria harbor. Photo by Stephen Howard

Steves says to look for hotels, like ours, that rub drainpipes with five-star, palatial hotels where the wealthy stay in Venice.

Its 16 rooms lie just 50 yards off the waterfront in a tiny square.

And it used to be a convent in the 1800s.

Did Mark Twain Visit the Convent?

My mind drifted sideways from its purpose at the thought of the 19th century.

I wonder if Mark Twain strolled along this very water front?

I vaguely recalled he too traveled to Venice, Florence and Rome.

In the fall of 1878 Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) stayed in Venice with his family.

Mark Twain

According to his three volume Autobiography, “They arrived on the evening of 25 September after an exhausting day’s travel from Bellagio, on Lake Como.  They stayed at the Grand Hotel d’Italie, whose south side was on the Grand Canal.

Now what about us?

We too felt exhausted and frustrated.

Our own hotel shouldn’t be this difficult to find.

Shouldn’t we ask?” Emma and Elle offered.

C’mon, you’re kidding, right?” the two totally lost, cave-dwelling, hunter-gathering guys sheepishly snapped.

Finally, we returned in defeat to where we started, to the open air cafe.

The ladies politely asked for directions hoping the server would understand English and be willing to aid pathetic tourists yet again.

He pointed to “my alley” which served to shore up my fragile instincts.

We retraced my steps thirty minutes earlier on uneven cobblestones when I concluded we were nowhere close to the hotel supposedly yards away from the water front.

Great instincts, horrible observation skills.

But, there it was down one of the kinds of “alleys” we were destined to appreciate in every other Italian destination we visited.

A lit sign above a doorway.

“Hotel Campiello.”

Italian Speakeasy

It took the fading sunlight at dusk to unmask its mysterious location.

It felt like a scene out of a roaring twenties flick.

A hidden door.

A secret knock.

A buzz and we were in.

Lobby of Hotel Campiello. Photo by Stephen Howard

Once inside we became charmed by the hotel keeper, who quietly demurred when I asked if she were the owner – “Not yet,” she said, “but someday.

We instantly agreed with how Rick Steves described it as “lacy and bright” decor with the feeling of tranquility that fills you.

Two things were on our collective minds – dinner and bed.

We found our rooms and quickly returned to the lobby for a local restaurant recommendation, not too far away so we could find our way back by following Italian bread crumbs.

Wait Until 7, Never Leave

Di Foffani Francesca,” she said.

We discovered something new to us.

Most Italian restaurants don’t serve until after 7pm.

Di Foffani Francesca

And, while the good old truck stop rule of thumb applies in the US, it doesn’t here.

No crowd at seven means nothing about the quality of food.

Locals don’t seem to show up until 8 or 8:30 pm.

And that’s just the beginning of the trickle until the noise and fun begins later in the evening.

Oh, and Rick Steves was right when he said, in Italy you can order a meal and linger all evening.

No manager or restaurant owner expects to turn the table as many times as she can to boost her profits.

There was this small, intimate restaurant somewhere in LA or maybe Beverly Hills whose gimmick was to take your order, choose not to fill your water glass unless you insisted (during the multiyear drought and all) and then turn an hour glass over when your server returned with your order.

As the sands of time obeyed the physics of gravity and the last particle fell, she returned with your bill and shoed you out so someone else having waited an hour eagerly took your spot.

Patrons loved it.

Go figure.


Di Foffani Francesca, Castello 4687, Venezia : 82 Euros / 41 Couple

  • Coperto (Cover Charge) – 3 Euros each
  • Pizza Margherita Gourmet – 15 Euros
  • Calamarta Frutti Di Mare – 15 Euros
  • Lasagna Melanzane – 16 Euros
  • Cabernet – 21 Euros
  • Acqua Nat 1LT – 4 Euros

But, here in Venice at Di Foffani Francesca we couldn’t even get our server’s attention even when our patience wore out.

Nor for that matter after other meals in Venice, or later in Florence or Sienna or Cinque Terra or any of the Tuscany towns or at the end of our trip in Rome.

Even when we felt patient, relaxed and mellowed out (by American standards) we still couldn’t figure out the protocol for settling our bill.

But, here we were exhausted by the fourteen hour flight, jet lag, and we just wanted to pay.

But, enough about that now.

A Day Ahead

Was it Wednesday night or did I wait until Thursday morning?

We intended to stay a day ahead of our itinerary, so with a train trip coming up, our first in Italy, I went online using the hotel’s WIFI to book a train.

Which was an epic fail.

A no go with my iPhone, even after getting help from the new guy at the front desk who also lost his patience.

Let the Vacay Begin

1st full day in Venice, Italy at breakfast in the Hotel Campiello. Photo by Stephen Howard

At our prearranged time we huddled around a small table in the lobby to eat a version of what each of our other hotels offered free for breakfast.

Twelve months ago we debated where we would go, what we would see, which hotels we’d book, how much time we’d enjoy at each destination and how much we wanted to spend for the whole vacation.

We’d meet and discuss where we should go, why we were interested and how much time we wanted to devote – two to three days at the most – so we didn’t feel rushed.

Six months had gone by.

Our itinerary had been locked down.

Life Happened

We didn’t know much about Venice other than stories about Casanova and gondolas attracting us originally for a romantic celebration of our anniversary.

After the Delta – KLM – Air France – Customs – windshield-less beginnings, could we regain that feeling?

Or would this be more of a task?

Check it off your bucket list because, “they” told us we had to.

That was in our planning stage.

But here we were, day one in Venice.

We pulled out notes and began recalling bits and pieces between bites.

Elle and Emma fumbled through their separate, but well-worn pages of identical guide books to answer the question, “What did Rick Steves tell us we should know to fully appreciate and experience everything we could?

He wrote that Venice is the best preserved, medieval-to-Renaissance, big city in Europe.


I’m a fan of the Renaissance and Leonardo da Vinci.

So, I wedged in a little history into the conversation, “As the Second Italian War broke out in 1499, Leonardo da Vinci fled Milan for Venice, where he was employed as a military architect and engineer, devising methods to defend the city from naval attack.

Really?” Jay shrugged.

Portrait of Leonardo Da Vinci by Francesco Melzi

I missed his body language and continued to lecture everyone.

Leonardo had left Florence when his patron, Lorenzo de’ Medici, sent him on a mission of peace to his rival, the Duke of Milan.

But over the ensuing years Leonardo became a “hired gun” to Italy’s feuding powers, such as the Borgias and the Doges of Venice shoring up defenses and creating maps of their regions.

I concluded my exposition with, “His keen mind was very much in demand.

Who knew,” Jay said while reaching for a banana.

More about Leonardo when we reach our next destination, Florence I promised.

Arriving in Venice by boat tipped us off to some other facts.

Just the FAQs Ma’am

Elle and Emma brought Jay and me up-to-date according to their guide books.

We’re surrounded by hundreds of islands.

And over 400 bridges and 2000 alleys

The “reversed-S” Grand Canal, 2 miles long 150 feet wide in some places and about 15 feet deep. Photo by Stephen Howard

About 25 miles of canals drain Venice proper into the Grand Canal.

Those 45 small waterways are known as rivers to the locals, “Rio Novo”.

They reminded us that we chose to base our accommodations in San Marco, the heart of the city as a convenient way for our launching romantic adventures.

And, shopping.

A Little History for Context

We wanted to experience the Piazza San Marco, the Rialto Bridge and maybe the Accademia Bridge.

Oh, and the Campanile – the dramatic bell tower in St. Mark’s Square.

About 1500 years ago in 518 A.D. Venice provided refuge from marauding barbarians protected by its lagoon.

During the middle ages Venice managed a profitable East-West trading route and prospered.

About three hundred years later, the bones of San Marco (St. Mark) were smuggled to Venice in 828 A.D.

Marco Polo

If you were a fan of the Netflix’s series about Marco Polo like Jay and I were, aside from the airport’s name, we wanted to know what his connection to Venice was?

Jay said he remembered Netflix focused on the trade routes into Kublai Khan’s Asia, but didn’t remember anything about Venice.

Me either,” I said

I found out later that Marco Polo joined his father and uncle for almost two and half decades before returning to Venice.

Their epic journey ended in 1295.

Marco Polo returned with his fortune converted into gemstones.

By then the Republic of Venice had been embroiled in several wars with the Republic of Genoa for dominance in the Mediterranean Sea, each having established their claims on foreign lands.

Feeling patriotic, Marco funded a galley and went to war.

He was captured in 1296 and spent several months imprisoned.

During his jail time he dictated his adventures to his cellmate, Rustichello da Pisa, which became “The Travels of Marco Polo.”

While some of the tales may have been embellished, exaggerated or supplemented by da Pisa’s own accounts, Christopher Columbus found enough inspiration in the Far East descriptions that he wrote annotations in his copy planning to visit China, India and Japan himself.

Time is of the Essence

Footbridge with Emma posing and Bridge of Sighs over the canal in the background. Photo by Stephen Howard

Facts are facts and history is history, but we didn’t have much time allotted for Venice as it was.

So, we quickly grabbed our maps and tour books off the table and struck out for St Mark’s Square which was almost around the corner from Hotel Campiello.

Back to the wide stone promenade, the Riva degli Schiavoni, along the water’s edge.

Okay, one more fact.

In the ninth century the promenade was constructed from the silt dredged from the lagoon, with enough to cover the distance between the Old Arenal and St. Mark’s Square.

In the 21st century, we marched with purpose up and over bridges with ramps.

We dodged in and out of the flows and globs of bunched up tour groups taking selfies.

A Day and a Half’s Worth of Exploring St. Mark’s Square by Noon

Standing in front of the Basilica, eyeing the heavy door of wrought iron and glass, Emma and I popped in our ear buds to take Rick Steves tour from his app.

In our rush, Jay and Elle forgot their earphones back at the Campiello and tried to share one set with a left in Jay’s and a right in Elle’s ear.

First day with St. Mark’s Basilica under construction in the background

We saw the line forming at the Basilica, but decided to follow Rick’s numbered itinerary full of descriptions of museums, cafes, and sights to take in within the square.

But, our tour didn’t sync with Elle’s and Jay’s.

And it became more difficult to follow the clues to where Rick was taking us.

So, Jay pointed to the opposite corner and we followed his lead. 

We employed the Disneyland strategy.  Board the train at Main Street station.  Circle the park checking out where shortest lines prevailed. Disembark and head to that attraction.

We circled the square without a train, but with lines of people all around us.

Exploring the shops and alley ways by Osteria Enoteca San Marco. Photo by Stephen Howard

We found some shops.

Or I should say Minnie and Daisy did.

We guys, Mickey and Donald, focused on where all four of us needed to be with enough time to tour the Grand Canal by boat, as if there was any other way.

And take a Gondola ride.

Oh, and tour the Basilica.

Which Emma and I did by ourselves, since Elle had met her stamina limit walking all four sides of the square and in alley way offshoots during our morning exploration.

Elle and Jay returned to a cafe near our hotel for rest.

Emma and I quickly moved through the line.

Entrance to St. Mark’s Basilica (Basilica di San Marco) built in 11th century replacing earlier church. Bones of St. Mark have been in the church since around A.D. 830. Photo by Stephen Howard

We couldn’t believe our luck as we caught a break when various groups thinned out.

Inside small clusters of tourists clogged the way, but we found room to maneuver weaving in and out of the throngs.

Rick Steves whispered highlights in our ears and sometimes Emma and I were synched to the “same page.”

He told us about how the basilica had been constructed less like the elongated St. Peter’s cathedral that we were yet to see at the end of our itinerary in Rome. 

We glanced in amazement with each other listening intently.

Not having anything else as a comparison, we moved on with the flow of tourists, and barely noted that the sanctuary epitomized a Greek Cross.

I recall in Dan Brown’s “Inferno” he writes a lengthy passage describing a critical plot point about St. Marks.

Brown’s main character, Robert Langdon, waxes poetically or better yet scholarly about, “St. Mark’s was so eastern in style that guidebooks often suggested it as a viable alternative to visiting Turkish mosques, many of which were Byzantine cathedrals … one’s passion for Byzantine art could be satisfied with a visit to the secret suite of rooms just off the right transept in this church, in which was hidden the so-called Treasure of St. Mark—a glittering collection of 283 precious icons, jewels, and chalices acquired during the looting of Constantinople.

Nearly completing the tour within the flow of other tourists, we paused momentarily to admire the splendor of the Pala d’Oro — the Basilica’s altar — a “fused tapestry of previous works” like Byzantine enamel in a Gothic frame.

And, according to Langdon aka Brown it is, “adorned with some thirteen hundred pearls, four hundred garnets, three hundred sapphires, as well as emeralds, amethysts, and rubies ….

With its interior lined in solid gold tiles, it’s no wonder that St. Mark’s was known locally for centuries as the Church of Gold.

Doge’s Palace

Emerging from the dark interior of St. Mark’s Basilica into the bright sunlight signaled it was time to return to the harbor and meet up with Jay and Elle for the second half of the days activities – returning to the lagoon and adventuring into the Grand Canal.

Doge’s Palace in Venice Photo: Wikimedia Commons

What Emma and I hadn’t realized as we passed the massive, sprawling complex of buildings on our left towards the harbor where tourists queued in wrap-around-the-block lines was the Doge’s Palace.

Where did we go wrong?

Someone once said that St. Mark’s Basilica and the Doge’s Palace were built by the doges for the doges.

Like dukes who controlled the territories in places we hadn’t yet visited on our itinerary, Doges ruled Venice — possibly numbering as many as 100 over the ten centuries which first began in 697 A.D.

While their dynasty came to an abrupt end in the late 1700s when Napoleon conquered Venice, historians (and clued in travelers) find their story of power and glory riveting.

  • We missed visiting the huge museum in the palace for one, and the opportunity to experience its chambers, living quarters, courtyards and prison network.
  • We missed making the connection to the Doge’s Palace while taking one of our first scenic photos, behind Emma in a tight canal bridged by an enclosed tunnel — the Bridge of Sighs.

Apparently those sighs weren’t passionate sighs from couples in love, but from misery, as the walkway connected the palace with the prison.

Prisoners died in their cells and others cried out in anguish and moans which echoed out into the canal.

Casanova and Campanile

Casanova Museum of Experience

One prisoner held for over 15 months, but who escaped with the help of his keeper was the great lover, Casanova.

We had been so intent on finding our way to St. Mark’s Square that we paid little attention to anything else.

And that included the towering redbrick bell tower, Campanile di San Marco, which served as a beacon so lost travelers navigating the maze of canals could instantly find their way back to St. Mark’s Square.

Demonstrating that one cat had exhausted eight lives previously, it became the only victim in 1902 when the entire 300-foot tall tower collapsed including with the golden Archangel Gabriel previously perched at the top.

The Basilica and 325-foot-tall Campanile in the square almost two foot fields long. Photo by Stephen Howard

Hours later the line to tour St. Mark’s Basilica itself had started and stopped differently.

This time tourists lined up on raised platforms.

Yes, I was right.

The others hadn’t believed me when first puddles began appearing in the square.

And eventually deeper water followed.

So the line needed to be elevated to keep their shoes and socks high and dry.

Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon character supposedly had visited St. Mark’s Square on a research trip.

In the novel he had made an off handed comment, “No worse than Venice in flood season.  (The square) had been under a foot of water, and he had walked from the Hotel Danieli to the basilica on wooden planks propped between cinder blocks and inverted buckets.

Part Four: 


Sweet Anticipation. Getting There is Half the Fun, Right?!

Marco? Polo! Marco? Polo! Prego

Part One: Last Ones on Earth to Check Italy off our Bucket List

Our dream vacation!!!!

Casino Di Venezia where German composer Richard Wagner died in 1883. Photo by Stephen Howard

One we’ve been planning for ten months.

Diligently checking off the first 31 tasks on our timeline.

Now we’re down to the last nine!!

Two Days Ahead

32. Make Sure Your Lights Are on a Timer

33. Prepare Family Car Entertainment and Emergency Supplies (N/A)

34. Double Check Shuttle Reservation

35. Pack Appropriate Clothing After Checking Weather Forecast

36. Weigh Check-Ins to Prevent Baggage Charges

37. Pack Carry-On Just-In-Case Checked Baggage is Lost

38. With Contact Info, Pack Itinerary in Your Suitcase

One Day Ahead

39. Print, Charge Electronics, Water, and Turn to Vacation Settings

40. Check Flight Status

In twenty-four hours it would finally be here!!!

Oh, the joy of anticipation!

Oh, the …

We’re sorry for the inconvenience and we’re actively trying to rebook you on the best available flight. We will notify you again once your rebooking is completed. For more immediate action, visit My Trips or use the Fly Delta app for self-rebooking.


It’s 7:33 am!!!!



 My Delta app turned out to be useless.

We couldn’t find out what happened.  

Emma called the airlines.  

We got rerouted via Paris-CDG airport instead on Air France. 

Right off the bat we had to rearrange the Supper Shuttle Business Express pick up for an hour and half earlier since our new flight departed at 3:15 pm instead of 4:50 pm.

I figured out that I needed to download the Air France app from the Apple store in order to confirm our reservations, check in and boarding pass on my phone.  

Jay and Elle didn’t and had to go to the ticket window and wait for a long time at LAX.  

Jay motioned us over.  

Turns out not only was there a size dimension for carry on bags, but a weight requirement too.  (How did we skip: 36. Weigh Check-Ins to Prevent Baggage Charges?)

Our two black bags weighed too much, like theirs, so we checked them through to Venice, Italy.

Hours later.

French Pecking Birds

While waiting at the gate in France at Charles de Gaulle airport for a four hour layover not quite awake, not quite rested, but in a sleep deprived zone, Elle and I noticed birds sitting on top of a display sign behind us.  

We sat inside a building with glass windows revealing planes parked loading and unloading passengers and baggage.

Another three birds pecked at something on the carpet a few feet away from us.

Or did I dream the scene?

I can’t say we were at the top our game.  

Questions flooded my feeble mind.

“What else could go wrong?”  

“The luggage gets lost?” 

“They don’t honor our reserved seats?”


We booked all four of our seats next to each other on our flight to Amsterdam on the original KLM Delta Partner flight after a Delta flight attendant walked us through how to identify the plane and guided our seat reservations.

That was KLM.

This was Air France.

Air France boarding passes to Marco Polo Venice International Airport from Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport. Photo by Stephen Howard

Not the same seats, but at least each couple sat together.

Finally on the flight I struck up a conversation with the flight attendant who inquired about the reason for choosing them.

Our original flight was canceled due to technical problems we were told, but this is a vacation celebrating our birthdays and our wedding anniversary.

She looked a Emma but said she wasn’t as lucky saying, “I’m a failure.

Emma replied, “No you aren’t.

Later she returned and asked us if we’d like to visit the cockpit after the meal service since this was such a special occasion?

Seemed a little odd to me, but we both agreed.

Still later she returned saying because we’re flying from the U.S. she couldn’t arrange it.

Of course, we figured, it’s got to be against every security protocol put in place since 9/11.

Champagne, Monsieur?

Then she asked,  Do you like champagne?


So just before we started our landing descent, she returned again with a gift wrapped with a little ribbon around the neck and sealed inside a plastic bag.

We thanked her and thanked her and felt maybe the vacation we planned almost a year ago, actually did get off to a better start.

But, that feeling didn’t last.

Venice on the Adriatic Sea in Northern Italy near Austria, Slovenia and Croatia. Photo by Stephen Howard

In Italy, of course we needed to go through customs and security.

Still groggy I juggled a water bottle, the champaign, my carry-on while desperately searching for my passport.

All the while a little voice reminds me not to put my iPhone in my jeans back pocket, right,  like I have always done. 

Since 7am I’d conditioned myself with that internal dialog, “Wait, no you can’t do that. Stop. Put it in your money belt instead, stupid.

And without my wallet I felt odd.  

I fumbled for my money belt holding my passport and phone around my waist.

We placed our bags on the conveyor belt and crossed our fingers that we could pass through the security arch without sounding an alarm.

That was the least of our worries. 

The security agent flagged my half empty water bottle and the champaign.  

He kept asking for the champaign’s receipt.

We told him it was a gift.

He said too bad, but without a receipt we couldn’t keep our gift.

Emma retold our story.

He didn’t budge, like a referee who made his call and it was absolute and it was final.

No amount of instant replay would overturn his ruling.

Bubbly Bottleneck

Besides fellow Air France passengers were backed up because of the “bottleneck” we were causing.

During the confusion I grabbed my water bottle and forced it into my back pocket where my iPhone or wallet would normally be found under the jacket wrapped around my waste.

I’d much rather it had been the champaign.

But c’est la vie.

Venice – an hour and 45 minutes by boat admiring hundreds of islands, bridges and alleys. Photo by Stephen Howard

Exiting the Marco Polo International Airport confused us.

We could have taken a train, but chose instead to take the public boat, Alilaguna Blue Line, for the 1 hour and 10 min trip.

Of the hundreds of decisions facing us, that one had been made and checked off our list ten months earlier.

I think I was the one who spotted the logo for water taxies pointing the way out of the baggage claims area and to our left.

Following the trail sign-by-sign led us back inside then outside, along a conveyor belt and long walk overlooking a parking lot to our right (huh?), but eventually to water off in the distance.

Alilaguna Blue Line ferry connecting Marco Polo Intl. Airport to San Zaccaria. Photo by Stephen Howard

A good sign.

Romantic Setting Sun

The sun began to set, so we felt this could be another good sign as we boated into Venice.

However, comma. 

The water taxi windows were covered with dried sea water splashed on them as every fast boat sped by.

We followed a channel of brown wooden posts sticking out of the water vertically.  

Paranoid about letting our luggage out of our sight we climbed below only to discover an almost full group of passengers with their bags taking up seats.  

So we made do, figuring it couldn’t be any more uncomfortable than the knee banging leg room we endured from LAX to Paris and from Paris to Venice.

Wrong again.

We didn’t know much about Venice

It was romantic, right?

Casanova and gondolas attracted us for our romantic anniversary.

When you go on holiday to Italy you have to check Venice off your bucket list, right? 

Yes, the sun was setting, but we sat so low in the sea of luggage we couldn’t see much.  

Even if they paid someone to hold on for dear life on the outer starboard rail and cleaned the glass.

Or installed windshield wipers.

Conversations or Better Seats?

So we struck up conversations, but I didn’t listen.

Half of my attention filled with anticipated dream snippets of what we’d see — the beauty of the canals, wondering if we’d see the home of the Venice Film Festival, being awed by the cathedral in San Marco ….

Using the other half, I tracked open benches as some people got off and others joined us at each stop.

I wasn’t ever sure whether we’d find or miss San Zaccaria the email instructions from the Hotel Campiello said to find.

Cruise Ships, Tall Ships, Yachts on the Adriatic Sea. Photo by Stephen Howard

Besides the conversations usually followed the same sequence. 

Oh, how long have you been in Italy? 

First night?

Where were you before this?

Where are you going?

Where are you from?

Nearly everyone burst with tips and “be-sure-you-see this or that.”

One guy in his sixties had been coming to Venice almost every six months for years. 

He’d rent out his other home in Great Britain and take this longer public water taxi trip each time. 

Since he wasn’t a virgin Venice tourist like us, “Why?” we asked him. 

He never had to be anywhere at any particular time, so he didn’t have to take the quicker bus or faster train to his destination.

Johnny Depp Meets Angelina Jolie

I don’t know why maybe talk of the train reminded me of the opening scenes in “The Tourist” when Johnny Depp meets Angelina Jolie zipping towards Venice. 

They end up staying at the Hotel Danieli next to the Bridge of Sighs steps from St Mark’s Square.

The romantic thriller stimulates my sense of anticipation, until I’m drawn back in to the conversations.

A baby boomer couple from the states had been in Naples.

All four of us Emma, Jay, Elle and I exchanged knowing glances.

We hadn’t heard great reasons to visit Naples and had eliminated it from our itinerary during the first week of planning.

We were on the front end of our vacation adventures and they were heading back home now at the end of their trip.

Sitting immediately in front of me a millennial guy with backpack, a floppy hat and iPhone at the ready – the kind who I’m guessing stretches every Euro as far as he can, stays at youth hostels, and fills his Instagram with selfies – chatted up the older, long blonde-haired women to his right.

They got off two stops before us.  

Were they mother and son?

Or just traveling companions who hooked up?


From the water taxi. San Marco. St. Mark’s Square, San Giorgio Maggiore Photo by Stephen Howard

When they and the Naples couple disembarked and the other family with all the bags stepped off, we stood up.

Not out of respect, but more out of aiding their exit.

Awkwardly, we squeezed between our suitcases and backpacks, now pulled up from the boat floor on to our seats, and waited for them to pass before finding room to spread ourselves and our stuff out in the hull. 

Breathing room.

Roaming Brexit Connections

I picked an open bench next to another Millennial couple with British accents, both comparing maps on their iPhones.  

The Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana (National Library of St Mark’s) designed by Jacopo Sansovino. Photo by Stephen Howard

Excuse me, do you both have WIFI connections on the boat?

No, they’ve got what sounded like a perk from being from countries in the European Union – celluar data plans that seamlessly transfer from country-to-country roaming across three plans for no extra charge or inconvenience.


Then they both looked out the glazed over window at the setting sun as they contemplated how Brexit might disrupt their key tool for wandering around the continent.

Part Three: How to Stuff Three Days of Venice Into Just 24 Hours

Vacation Planning Timeline (Source LA Times, 2011)

One Month Ahead

18.  Set Up Internet-Accessible E-Mail Account

19. Verify With Your Bank Cash, ATM, Credit Card Transactions

20. Evaluate Your Bags

21. Arrange for Pet Care

22. Arrange Final Air, Hotel, or Car Maintenance Logistics

23. Assess Appropriate Clothing Needs

24. For International Travel Register With Smart Traveler Program

25. Confirm Healthcare Coverage and Prescription Refills

One Week Ahead

26. Notify Post Office and Newspaper

27. Make Multiple Copies and Give Out Itineraries For Emergencies

28. Include Copies of Prescriptions With Critical Information

29. Arrange for Trash Take Out and Shuttle Service

30. Organize Trip Documentation in Carry-On Bag

31. Pick Up Local Currency, List What You Need to Pack; Contacts in Smartphone

Two Days Ahead

32. Make Sure Your Lights Are on a Timer

33. Prepare Family Car Entertainment and Emergency Supplies

34. Double Check Shuttle Reservation

35. Pack Appropriate Clothing After Checking Weather Forecast

36. Weigh Check-Ins to Prevent Baggage Charges

37. Pack Carry-On Just-In-Case Checked Baggage is Lost

38. With Contact Info, Pack Itinerary in Your Suitcase

One Day Ahead

39. Print, Charge Electronics, Water, and Turn to Vacation Settings

Day of Travel

40. Check Flight Status


Celebrate Leonardo da Vinci Life on the 500th Anniversary of his Death

Timing is everything.

Just in case you haven’t heard Italian towns and European museums have scheduled events in 2019 celebrating Leonardo da Vinci’s art and amazing genius marking the 500th anniversary of his death.

Travel is the best  way to gain worldly experience learning about other cultures, languages and cuisines.

And we all know how wonderful it is to travel to Italy anyway.

But this year is special. If you had a chance to ask Leonardo, he would have told you to never go too long without a sunset.

You are never too old, and it is never too late. But, you’d better book the flight.

Planning and Timing

Is there any bad time to visit Italy?

Italy’s fall, which runs from September through November, is one of the shoulder seasons, though September can still be quite busy in some areas. Nevertheless, the weather cools off in these months, making it far more pleasant than the sweltering summer. However, beaches may be less alluring once the sea temps drop. By late October, a huge chunk of hotels — especially those around the coast or on islands — close for the winter season. 

What can go wrong?

“Over 70% of Venice  in late October 2018 was underwater. People in the lagoon city were trying to deal with the water damage, while wading through over knee-high water. Spread across dozens of islands and known as “the floating city” for its ubiquitous canals and bridges, Venice has grappled with inundation for centuries. But due to natural subsidence and the higher tides caused by global warming.

Packing and Unpacking

One bag or two?

“Where I live, it’s just cobblestone, and that’s very annoying with the rolling suitcase. A lighter bag can make your next trip less stressful and more joyful — sometimes in unexpected ways. Because they don’t check bags, they also don’t need to pay checked-bag fees when flying, which typically run about $25 per bag.”

Legends and Geniuses 

Curated by Steve Howard for the “Western Skies and Island Currents” digital magazine.

Mark Twain visited Italy four times in four decades: the initial foray took place in the summer of 1867, the last stay in 1903-04. In 1867 he visited Genoa, Italy. From there, Twain and two companions went to Milan and Lake Como and visited Bellagio, moving on toward Venice and continuing to Florence and Rome before rejoining the ship in Naples.

Leonardo da Vinci’s 500th Anniversary

“In Florence: Events at the Museo Galileo include a spotlight on Leonardo’s library (June to late September 2019) and the quest for perpetual motion (mid-October 2019 to mid-January 2020). The Palazzo Vecchio explores Leonardo’s relationship with Florence (late March to late June 2019) and probes the mystery of his lost painting The Battle of Anghiari (late February 2019 to mid-January 2020).”

Two-Week Bucket List Itinerary

Trip of a Lifetime.

“If you are planning your first trip to Italy, this itinerary is a great place to start. With two weeks in Italy, you can visit the highlights…Rome, Florence, Venice, the Amalfi Coast, Tuscany, and the Cinque Terre. Visit ancient historical sites, cruise the canals in Venice, dine on Italian food, go wine tasting in Tuscany, relax on the beach, walk through the heart of Rome, and watch the sunset from the Cinque Terre. It’s the trip of a lifetime.”

Vacation Planning Timeline (Source LA Times, 2011)

One Year Ahead

1.    Research Websites, Guidebooks and Travel Agents

2.    Budget Room, Food, Sightseeing and Entertainment Per Day

3.    Refer to Per Diem Allocations for Estimates

4.    Open a Savings Account

5.    Find Calendars of Events for Timing Better Deals

Six Months Ahead

6.    Optional for Traveling Abroad  — Passport

7.    Shop for Appropriate Shoes and Break Them In

8.    Schedule Medical Appointments for Shots

9.    Get Information and Maps from Tourism Offices

10.  Inspect Camera Gear and Use New Equipment Twice

11.   Request Vacation Dates from Work


Last Ones on Earth to Check Italy off our Bucket List

We projected the map of Italy on our big screen and thanks to Google maps focused our attention at the same time to potential towns.


Venice in St. Mark’s Basin showing the Grand Canal, San Zaccaria and our destination “Photo by Stephen Howard”
Venice and Rome – everyone we talked to said you have to see if you never go back.

Keeping up can be just so confusing.

Every day I’m bombarded with “24 of these travel tips” and “12 of these epic awesome travel apps you absolutely need now!”

Do I really?

And “29 hacks the pros miss.”

Oh, and don’t forget those “11 critical last-minute things you’d better take care of the day before you leave.”

Or else … What?

The list goes on and on.

  • There’s stuff you don’t know about exchanging money. 
  • About your passports. 
  • And cruising through airport customs. 
  • And you’d better not mess up with Global Entry and TSA Precheck.


Take a deep breath.

Let it out slowly.

Focus on something pleasant.

Something other than the constant noise and dust circulating in the air.

Like, our visit to Italy for the first time this past year with our friends.

Italy destinations – Venice, Florence, Cinque Terre, Siena, Tuscany and Rome. Photo by Stephen Howard

It was a blast.

All the anticipation and preparation.

We felt less stressed once we passed the panic phase of not knowing exactly what to do or where to turn for the best advice.

Enduring our months-long kitchen remodel fed our panic as months of planning turned into weeks.

Which turned into days.

“How will they lower the microwave without scratching the cabinets surrounding it or dropping it on the stove in time for us to leave?”

But it was almost as much fun as traveling through Italy with our traveling companions as getting together nine months ahead of our trip, drinking some dark red Tuscany “Brunello di Montalcino” paired with a new pasta recipe,  and discussing where in Italy we should go.

I said almost.

One tip that helped us enormously is for all of you other Apple TV owners.

Venice to Florence

We projected the map of Italy on our big screen and thanks to Google maps focused our attention at the same time on potential towns.

We’d pour a little more wine.

We’d discuss what each of us was eager to see and do.

Then, we could walk up to the big screen and find each town and region on the Italian map.

And right there in front of us  we could assess how long and by which transportation options we should consider.

That turned out to be a real eye opener.

Traveling time to and from all the potential destinations adds up quickly.

The group map projection technique showed us quickly and dramatically how adding too much time in transit subtracts from time allotted for another must-visit destination.

Another power hack (tip) cut through the barrage of travel articles pinging me constantly on my Flipboard and Apple News feeds.

Plan your activities over a time line like you would at work for a project.

  • 1-year ahead,
  • 6-months,
  • 3-months,
  • 1-month,
  • 1-week,
  • 2-days,
  • 1-day and
  • day of travel.
Venice in St. Mark’s Basin showing the Grand Canal, San Zaccaria and our destination “Photo by Stephen Howard”

Read some articles, do more research, and maybe more importantly talk to everyone else who had been there.

We were, it turns out, the last ones on earth who hadn’t already checked off Italy from their bucket list.

We delegated an interview with owners of an Italian restaurant along the Southern California coast in Dana Point to our traveling companions.

They thought for sure the owners maintained a family owned B&B in the heart of Tuscany which fizzled, but only after they enjoyed their dinner and a few glasses of vino.

One Year Ahead:

  • Research Websites, Guidebooks and Travel Agents
  • Budget Room, Food, Sightseeing and Entertainment Per Day
  • Refer to Per Diem Allocations for Estimates
  • Open a Savings Account
  • Find Calendars of Events for Timing Better Deals

Two pieces of advice proved pretty valuable over the first few months of research.

To sort through the hundreds of possibilities, consider this trip to be your once in a lifetime adventure.

Make certain that, if you never returned, you’d visit and do the most important activities to you.

Divide the amount of vacation time you can afford to take by three.

The result dictates how many areas you can visit without wearing yourself out.

Returning tourists in a gondola as more line up for their turn across from the Hotel Cavalletto. Photo by Stephen Howard

The last thing you want to do is feel so rushed that you can’t enjoy your holiday.

Venice and Rome – everyone we talked to said you have to see if you never go back.

Tuscany each of us agreed appealed to all of us as a change of pace, especially if a cooking class can be squeezed in.

The five towns on the western coast in Cinque Terre was an easy sell.

And time in Florence to fully appreciate the Renaissance made the cut.

Even by eliminating Milan and Lake Como we exceeded our allotment of enjoyable time per region.

Oh, I take back any snarky comment I made earlier – “11 critical last-minute things you’d better take care of the day before you leave.”

As we found out, they can be a show stopper and can ruin your vacation at the last-minute.

We’re looking at you Delta!

Part Two:  Sweet Anticipation. Getting There is Half the Fun, Right?!

Vacation Planning Timeline (Source LA Times, 2011)

One Year Ahead

1.    Research Websites, Guidebooks and Travel Agents

2.    Budget Room, Food, Sightseeing and Entertainment Per Day

3.    Refer to Per Diem Allocations for Estimates

4.    Open a Savings Account

5.    Find Calendars of Events for Timing Better Deals

Six Months Ahead

6.    Optional for Traveling Abroad  — Passport

7.    Shop for Appropriate Shoes and Break Them In

8.    Schedule Medical Appointments for Shots

9.    Get Information and Maps from Tourism Offices

10.  Inspect Camera Gear and Use New Equipment Twice

11.   Request Vacation Dates from Work

Three Months Ahead

12.   Book Tickets and Hotel, Including Travel Insurance

13.   Guard Against Pre-Existing Conditions Timeframes

14.   Prepare Tips and References for Your Work Replacement

15.   Apply for a Visa and Rough Out a Daily Itinerary

16.   Begin Filing Critical Trip Information; Use Smartphone and Thumb Drive

17.    Arrange With Cell Provider for International Calls, Data Plans

In Search of Oprah – at the Bacara, San Yisidro Ranch or in Montecito?

It’s a popular destination for politicians, celebrities, and royalty, and was recently named “World’s #1 Resort” by Forbes Traveller.


Scorpio (Oct. 24 – Nov. 21)  “You’ll do what millions of others do and still feel like you’re contributing something different.  It’s because you really are.”


Final installment of Steve and Emma’s Empty-Nest Adventures in Santa Barbara..

Part One:  Quick Getaway to Santa Barbara

Part Two:  Hotel Santa Barbara’s Grand Tradition

Part Three:  Night TRAPs – Walk. Drink. Eat. Groove.

Part Four:  Morning for the East Beach Grille in Paradise

Part Five:  Authentic Lifestyles and Cozy Couches

On Sunday, the final day of our long Veterans Day Weekend we made arrangements to meet our fellow Scorpios for a quick sight-seeing tour of the Greater Santa Barbara highlights –

  • The Ritz-Carlton Bacara,
  • The El Enchanto Hotel, the 
  • San Ysidro Ranch and finally
  • Montecito for dinner at the Honor Bar .

Scorpio (Oct. 24 – Nov. 21)  “You want your work to be artful and useful, or you’d rather not turn it in at all.  The thing is, you’re not the best judge of this today.”

Today was Sunday.

Dave dropped by the Hotel Santa Barbara  for a leisurely continental breakfast in the lobby before heading down the coast near Ventura to catch his fill of waves. 

After leaving our luggage with the Valet and making arrangements for picking up our car after our Montecito dinner we were picked up by our friends and headed north towards San Luis Obispo in search of the Ritz-Carlton Bacara.

Here’s how The Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Santa Barbara’s website describes their 80 acre property:

“Low-rise villas with wrought-iron balconies.

Beaches that glow under the sun.

The water at your doorstep.

Vibrant blues and intricate patterns.

Food that is meant to be savored with the sunset.”

The Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Santa Barbara embodies the charm, beauty and energy of the Mediterranean

in the heart of Santa Barbara, offering ocean-view accommodations,

an indulgent spa and dining that celebrates local ingredients.”


We agree on almost every point except for that part about being in the heart of Santa Barbara, right?

I’d argue that the Hotel Santa Barbara on State Street is in the heart of Santa Barbara, but I’m not a copy writer.

It’s Zip Code belongs to Goleta and expands to Gaviota and another section north of Solvang and Los Olivos.

Zip Code: 93117

Profile At-A-Glance (Fall 2017)

Life Stage: Singles, Couples, Midlife, Baby Boomers, Seniors

Ages: 25-54, 30-44, 55+, 65+

Community Neighbors: 

Wealthy Influentials

Exurb Society -WIES

08Y1S2, Executive Suites, 30-44,  Couples, Midlife Success, Affluentials (Mission Viejo, CA)

Digitally Mobiles – WIDM

12Y1C1, Brite Lites, Li’l City, 30-44, Couple, Midlife Success, Second City Society (Santa Fe, NM)

Community Neighbors: 

Permanent Temporaries

Interim Middle Managers – PTIMM 

22Y2S3, Young Influentials, 25-54, Mainstream Singles, Suburbs, Middleburbs (Tempe, AZ)

Community Neighbors:

High Country Eagles

Satellite Cityzens— HCESC

24Y2C2, Up-and-Comers, 25-54 Single, Mainstream Singles, City Centers (Napa, CA)

35Y2C2, Boomtown Singles, 25-54, Mainstream Singles, City Centers, (San Marcos, TX)

Even as the neighborhoods become more remote as you fan out from Santa Barbara the degree of affluence and status falls within the upper 15% to 50% of all lifestyles.

Residents in the Wealthy Influential neighborhoods tend to be midlife successful couples also living in Mission Viejo, California and Santa Fe, New Mexico.

The remaining lifestyles fall closer to the midpoint of affluence, are classified by Claritas as “Mainstream Singles” falling in the broad 25-54 year old age range – also calling Tempe, Arizona or Napa, California or San Marcos, Texas home.

Next up?  

We back tracked and drove about 25 minutes on winding foothill roads until we arrived at the Belmond El Enchanto for drinks and an appetizer as we overlooked the Santa Barbara harbor

According to their website the resort was popular with the Plein Air School of artists.

Belmond El Encanto’s former 1920s glory has been lovingly restored to become one of the most celebrated resorts on the West Coast.

The restoration process helped to highlight the original Spanish-colonial and Californian craftsman styles, with modern additions including a zero-edge outdoor pool and sumptuous boutique spa. Here, every sense is heightened.

The Belmond El Encanto joins Stearns Wharf, The Santa Barbara Zoo, The Santa Barbara Bowl and tony streets with exclusive homes tucked away from sight.

Zip Code: 93103 

Profile At-A-Glance (Fall 2017)

Life Stage: Singles, Couples, Midlife, Baby Boomers 

Ages: 25-54, 30-44, 45+ 55+

Community Neighbors: 

Wealthy Influentials

Affluently Elite – WIAE 

01M1S1, Upper Crust, 45+, Couple, Affluent Empty-Nests, Elite Suburbs (Half Moon Bay, CA)

Digitally Mobiles – WIDM

10M1C1, Second City Elite, 45+, Couples, Affluent Empty Nests, Second City Society (Ft. Myers, FL)

12Y1C1, Brite Lites, Li’l City, 30-44, Couple, Midlife Success, Second City Society (Santa Fe, NM)

Community Neighbors: 

High Country Eagles

Satellite Cityzens— HCESC

24Y2C2, Up-and-Comers, 25-54 Single, Mainstream Singles, City Centers (Napa, CA)

27M2C2, Middleburg Managers, 55+ Couples,  Conservative Classics, City Centers (South Lake Tahoe, CA)

You’ll find very few 25-54 Mainstream Singles in these neighborhoods.  Instead you’ll see wealthy couples at midlife, in their empty nest years or nearing retirement, if they haven’t already.

The most affluent, upper crust lifestyle calls this part of Santa Barbara home, like they do farther up the coast in Half Moon Bay, California.

Watching the sun set over the channel almost lulled us into bliss.  Until we collectively realized we had one more stop to make before dinner.

Higher up on more twisty canyon roads took us to San Ysidro Ranch in the Santa Ynez Mountains overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

We peeked into an original 1825 Old Adobe Cottage as sunset light was beginning to fade.

Santa Barbara Independent writer,  Tyler Hayden, put it this way.

The ranch was originally part of a 1769 land grant by Charles III of Spain, served as a sanctuary for Franciscan monks before becoming a citrus operation and then eventually a hotel.

Spanning 500 manicured acres with broad views of the Pacific Ocean, the San Ysidro Ranch ― currently owned by Beanie Baby mogul Ty Warner ― consists of 41 cottages and suites, multiple wedding venues, and award-winning restaurants.

“It’s a popular destination for politicians, celebrities, and royalty, and was recently named “World’s #1 Resort” by Forbes Traveller.”

As the sunset, we were glad we at least got to see it while we strolled around the grounds and imagined staying here on some future trip.

The ranch shares the same zip code with Montecito and Summerland and includes the most affluent lifestyles – Wealthy Influentials and Wireless Resorters.

Zip Code: 93108

Profile At-A-Glance (Fall 2017)

Life Stage: Singles, Couples, Midlife, Baby Boomers, Seniors

Ages: 25-54, 30-44, 55+, 65+

Community Neighbors: 

Wealthy Influentials

Affluently Elite – WIAE

01M1S1, Upper Crust, 45+, Couple, Affluent Empty-Nests, Elite Suburbs (Half Moon Bay, CA)

Exurb Society -WIES

08Y1S2, Executive Suites, 30-44,  Couples, Midlife Success, Affluentials (Mission Viejo, CA)

14M2S2, New Empty Nests, 55+, Couples, Conservative Classics, Affluentials (Indian Wells, CA)

Community Neighbors:

Wireless Resorters

Premier Resorts – WRPR

09M1T1, Big Fish Small Pond, 45+, Couples, Affluent Empty Nests, Accumulated Wealth, Landed Gentry (Mammoth Lakes, CA)

Maturing Resorts – WRMR

11Y1T1, God’s Country, 30-44, Couples, Midlife Success, Landed Gentry (Boulder, CO)

Historic Montecito Inn

Even more exclusive estates behind walls and private, gated driveways hide affluent celebrities and the rich and famous.

Could that be Oprah’s or Ellen’s compound over there?

We’ve always enjoyed spending weekends in Santa Barbara, especially at the Montecito Inn once owned by Charlie Chaplin.

On those getaways we’ve strolled along Coast Village Road to the Honor Market next to the restaurant for coffee  and we ordered artisanal  pizza to eat back in our room at the inn.

This was the first time we ate dinner in one of the booths surrounding the wooden bar in the center.

It’s not the biggest restaurant, which is maybe why we’ve ate and drank cocktails outdoors at their patio tables before.

Or maybe why our Scorpio friends warned us and then gave us a demonstration.

They told us there’s a rule that if you’ve finished serving a table on your way back to the kitchen, pick something up from a table.



And  with that a server came by and started clearing our table of half eaten salad plates and rolls while we were still enjoying our conversation.

Scorpio stingers were at the ready when a half empty (or half full) beer glass became a table-passing- server target.

Hold on there.  I’m not finished. We’re not finished and we’re in no hurry.”

Especially, when it came to end-of-a-long weekend traffic flowing through Los Angeles and into South Orange County.

We joined other vacationers on Highway 101 heading south after 7pm.

As we neared Ventura for some reason my mind wondered to La Conchita.

We passed it on the way up.

I remembered it was prone to large landslides that have wiped out homes and even killed local residents.

The worse of these was the tragic slide on January 10th, 2005 when a huge rain-caused side killed 10 residents.


Enough about natural disasters.

I didn’t want to spoil the good vibrations.

Closer to Ventura and the beach and waves breaking on the shore I wondered how long Dave would want to work remotely?

If he’d want to pick one of the zip codes that included neighbors closer to his age and interests?

But, that was a conversation we’d take up again at Thanksgiving, only a couple of weeks away.


21) Spend the time to find the best place to live and invest. It will be worth your while. The great thing about living where others spend their vacation is the year round quality-of-life. 

32) Plan extended seasonal vacations during summer and winter months. Group destination locations together in regional trips to explore what several bucket list towns have to offer in the general vicinity – with only a week or two vacation time to spend, we recommend organizing your itinerary by travel regions.

33) When you move, will your established neighbors share your same values? Does your new home have potential over the long-term to develop into a high appreciation real estate investment while being affordable for mid-life or empty nesters? Do the weather patterns in winter or summer make you want to live there year round, or only on a seasonal basis. Does  your new community offer a variety of outdoor recreational opportunities?


Authentic Lifestyles and Cozy Couches

“Keep an open mind, because your first idea isn’t always your best.  Don’t worry, your aha! moment is coming.”


The early adulthood Millennials were in full spirits at the wine and beer bar sitting on cozy couches.


Part Five of Steve and Emma’s Empty-Nest Adventures in Santa Barbara.

Scorpio (Oct. 24 – Nov. 21) “You’ll find yourself cobbling together new theories based on new information that has come to light.”

While we explored the East and West Beaches, David caught some Ventura waves.

He confirmed what we heard before that Santa Barbara, while offering everything else you could possibly want in a coastal resort town, didn’t generate the kind of surf diehards craved.

Wave Break at Rincon

For that you had to travel north up the coast, or south past Carpinteria to Rincon or Ventura.

Driving 25 minutes or so, really isn’t too much to ask, right.

But after a morning of surfing and the drive back, well, he was tired.

So Emma and I hung out in the late afternoon at the Hotel Santa Barbara on State Street while he returned to his bedroom and tried to take a nap.

Turns out, he’s renting a place minutes from the hotel while working remotely from his Irvine employer.

And, turns out that he couldn’t drift off to slumberland.

So he decides to walk over to join us since everything we had considered for the night on the town was just a few short blocks away.

We walk together near the original Presidio, the second red rectangular box of the three on the map.

We’re always craving authentic Mexican food and found it,  the top right hand red rectangle.

La Playa Azul Cafe didn’t disappoint

Maybe it started with the ice-cold blue margaritas.


By the time we showed up the large outdoor patio had filled.

So we dined inside.

And got caught up.

We pepper him with parental variations of how are you doing, what are you doing, where are you staying?

He and I discuss books and music and podcasts we think the other might find intriguing.

Orange County’s Beach Towns

His Scorpio Mom wanted to indirectly get a reading on how he was feeling and if he was still reeling from his break up.

He traded one coastal town (Huntington Beach) for another (Santa Barbara) and his Mom wanted to know if he was happy.

And, I began the cobbling some Scorpio theories as Mom’s questioning shed new light.

Like, how much of a fit will it be for him to live here compared to Coastal Orange County?

First – Huntington Beach.

Where it is.

The mix of lifestyle profiles you’d find mingling in his former neighborhood defined by its zip code.

And, if not in one of Santa Barbara’s neighborhoods where else can you find that lifestyle?

Location At-A-Glance 

Region: Western United States 

State: California 

Travel Region: South Coast Region

County: Orange County

Patchwork Nation: Monied ‘Burbs

Town: Huntington Beach

Population Density: Second Tier Cities

Zip Codes: 92646

Profile At-A-Glance 

Life Stage: Singles, Couples, Families, Empty Nests, Baby Boomers, Seniors

Ages: 25-54, 35-54, 55+, 65+

Community Neighbors

Wealthy Influentials

Portfolio Locals – WIPL

04Y2U1 25-54 Mainstream Singles  Young Digerati  (Chandler, AZ)

29F2U1 35-54 Young Accumulators  American Dreams  (Naples, CA)

Affluently Elite – WIAE

07M1U1 45+Boomer Affluent Empty Nests  Money & Brains  (Seal Beach, CA)

Digitally Mobiles – WIDM

26M2U1 55+Boomer Conservative Classics The Cosmopolitans   (Lakewood, CO)

Community Neighbors


UrbanTrapped – PTUT

61M4U3 65+Sustaining Seniors  City Roots  (Seal Beach, CA)

You might say Huntington Beach is a lifestyle mix of Seal Beach and Naples, just minutes away without traffic to the north  on Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), with a dollop of Arizona (Chandler)  and Colorado (Lakewood).

Where Wealthy Influentials and Permanent Temporaries call home.

It attracts side-preneurs and artists and surfers and, well Portfolio Locals and Digitally Mobiles.

So if Kym, from the night before at Jamie Slone Wines Tasting Room, who told us she was a newly transplanted stay at home mom from Arizona until her nest emptied, ever grew tired of Santa Barbara, then she could elevate Huntington Beach to the top of her bucket list.

So then, what about Santa Barbara At-a-Glance.

Where it is.

The mix of lifestyle profiles you’d find mingling along the State Street neighborhood defined by its zip code.

And, where else can you find that lifestyle?

Location At-A-Glance 

Region: Western United States 

State: California 

Travel Region: Central Coast Region

County: Santa Barbara County

Patchwork Nation: Monied ‘Burbs

Town: Santa Barbara

Population Density: Second Tier Cities

Real Estate Phase: Late-Maturity

Zip Codes: 93101

Profile At-A-Glance (Fall 2017)

Life Stage: Singles, Couples, Midlife, Baby Boomers, Seniors

Ages: 25-54, 30-44, 55+, 65+

Community Neighbors: 

Wealthy Influentials

Digitally Mobiles – WIDM

12Y1C1, Brite Lites, Li’l City, 30-44, Couple, Midlife Success, Second City Society (Santa Fe, NM)

Community Neighbors: 

High Country Eagles

Satellite Cityzens— HCESC

24Y2C2, Up-and-Comers, 25-54 Single, Mainstream Singles, City Centers (Napa, CA)

27M2C2, Middleburg Managers, 55+ Couples,  Conservative Classics, City Centers (South Lake Tahoe, CA)

35Y2C2, Boomtown Singles, 25-54, Single, Mainstream Singles, City Centers (San Marcos, TX)

Small Town Borders- HCSTB

60M4C3, Park Bench Seniors, 65+ Singles, Park Bench Seniors, Micro-City Blues (Palm Desert, CA)

Awesome View of Emerald Bay

So the State Street lifestyle community recipe includes the quality-of-life attraction of Palm Desert, Napa and Lake Tahoe (California desert, vineyards and an awesome mountain lake) with an out-of-state blend of San Marcos, Texas (historic river town) and artistic Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Digitally Mobiles, like in Huntington Beach?


But, only one Wealthy Influential lifestyle vs. four in Huntington Beach.

And with the other four falling within the High Country Eagle communities.

But, still two mainstream single lifestyles, 25-54 that loosely fit.

Oh, ok.

Cobbling this theory together has become a little too complicated, right?

That’s why before heading back to our hotel, we returned to State Street and mingled with all the 20-29 year olds, the transitional 28 – 32 year olds overlapping with 25 -54 year old singles and couples out on the town.

Oh, and we stopped in for some wine and entertainment and  games and, did I say wine?

Santa Barbara Wine Therapy

With a catch tagline: “Less Whine, More Wine”

While walking to the bar, Scorpio Mom tells me later, her number one son said he  just wanted his life back.

She feels he had looked forward to his next stage of development, “rooting and extending”, which we all usually embark on  between the ages of 30-38.

In Erik Erikson’s theory, you’ll recall, “rooting and extenders” embark on full adulthood near the end of his early adulthood .

Approximate Age: Early adulthood ( 20 – 39)

Significant Relationship: Friends, partners

Existential Question:  Can I love

Examples: Romantic relationships

Psychosocial Crisis: Intimacy vs. Isolation

Virtues: Love

The early adulthood Millennials were in full spirits at the wine and beer bar sitting on cozy couches.

We staked our spot out while listening to the solo singer near the entrance.

Not quite the caliber we saw the night before, but you have to start somewhere.

Another couple joined us at the edge of the glass coffee table after grabbing a board game and inviting us to join them.

We politely declined, soaking in the vibe where:

“Friends are therapists you can drink with, and therapy is in session.”

Scorpio Mom leaned in to conduct her own version of therapy, an intimate conversation I couldn’t make out.

She was busy cobbling her own theory.

Less complicated and more about love, romantic relationships and isolation vs. intimacy.

Maybe our other horoscope summarized an important message for me instead.

Scorpio (Oct. 24 – Nov. 21) “Keep an open mind, because your first idea isn’t always your best.  Don’t worry, your aha! moment is coming.”

Part One:  Quick Getaway to Santa Barbara

Part Two:  Hotel Santa Barbara’s Grand Tradition

Part Three:  Night TRAPs – Walk. Drink. Eat. Groove.

Part Four:  Morning for the East Beach Grille in Paradise

Morning for the East Beach Grille in Paradise

It’s THE spot for enjoying breakfast after playing volleyball, cycling, skating and every kind of outdoor activity you can do at the beach.

Enjoying another day in Paradise without having to die,” Salty replies.

Scorpio (Oct. 24 – Nov. 21)  “Pay attention to the things you do when you’re supposed to be doing something else.  Those activities are more than mere distractions.  They are pulling you for a reason.”

Three empty-nest couples converge on the “American Riviera.”

One couple lives in Santa Barbara year round.

The lucky ones.

After an evening of walking, drinking, eating and grooving we’re eager to  experience things and explore places we haven’t been to for years.

Or at all.

Lobby of the Santa Barbara Hotel

So the next morning I quickly, oh ok, groggily drag myself down to the first floor lobby where you serve yourself a continental breakfast

I’m just there for coffee for both of us to take back to our room at the Historic Hotel Santa Barbara

Why bulk up when we’ll be rendezvousing with the lucky ones

First Scorpio distraction.

I notice the Hotel Santa Barbara’s Zip Code is 93101.


Back to what we’re supposed to be doing on this staycation.

Drive from the hotel down Lower State Street  to the harbor and turn left on E. Cabrillo Blvd which hugs the beach and the sunbathers and picnickers on the greenbelt while  looking for a parking spot near the East Beach Grille.

Wait, second distraction.

Somehow we pass through an invisible boundary without realizing it.

We travel through a hidden portal into a different Zip Code (93103) as we search for a parking space on Cabrillo Boulevard.

But, we feel fortunate.

Not only because we’re meeting our retired-teachers-empty-nest friends, but for eating breakfast where the Santa Barbara locals hang out.

It’s THE spot for enjoying breakfast after playing volleyball, cycling, skating and every kind of outdoor activity you can do at the beach.

Or, was.

We were told the grille would be closing for renovation.

But, maybe what our friends actually told us, looking back now on our conversation, was that all the long time weekend hanger-outers like them were pissed that it could actually close.

Months later they began their grieving process when the beach tradition closed their doors for good.

When they were forced to say goodbye to the grille, “Just steps from the famous Santa Barbara East Beach enjoy breathtaking views with your breakfast or lunch sandwich.”


“Have the pancakes.”

So, we followed them into the grille, gave our orders and returned to sip coffee.

And watch the parade of cyclists, skaters, strollers and power walkers pass by.

Oh, and observe how the locals and tourists flit the sea gulls, pigeons and other winged creatures away from their breakfast dishes.

What, maybe three or four minutes elapsed before the moms took out their smartphones and showed off photos.

“Wait, so you’re saying neither boys (Millennials) have kids or are married?”


So we didn’t have adorable newborn iPhotos to flaunt.

“Wait, you’ll love this one.”

Swipe. Stop. Nope. Swipe. Swipe. Swipe. Nope. Oh, here. See?

But, we brought them up to speed.

Orange County’s Beach Towns

David left Huntington Beach working remotely from his Irvine company a few blocks from our hotel.

Jeff switched jobs but still lives in Newport Beach a block from the ocean.

Pretty soon an alarm triggered.

It was time.

They have a lunch engagement, we don’t.

Like all hosts showing off their resort home towns, there’s a routine you follow.

Walk, walk, walk.

Back along Cabrillo Boulevard from East Beach past Stearns Wharf to West Beach.

The women converse.

We guys do too.

Mostly about travel tips and local insider tips.

Our friend says “Hi, how’s it going?” to a salty local parked on Cabrillo sitting on his tailgate as he wiggles out of the remaining part of his wetsuit.

There’s a dog in his, well,  dog cage.

Enjoying another day in Paradise without having to die,” Salty replies.

I figured they knew each other.

Nope, our friend whispers he thinks he’s homeless as we walk on our way west.

A third distraction.

What the heck is that over there on the greenbelt near enough to the sidewalk to catch my eye like a dog who spies a squirrel.

Kinda a rock of ages.

Something with a tacky plaque.

Dedicated to Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo who paved the boulevard we drove on roughly 475 years ago.

Or paved the way for a few hundred years of exploration along the California coast.

One of the two.

According to Wikipedia Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo sailed through,

… what is now called the Santa Barbara Channel in 1542, anchoring briefly in the area. In 1602, Spanish maritime explorer Sebastián Vizcaíno gave the name “Santa Barbara” to the channel and also to one of the Channel Islands.

So where’s Vizcaíno’s plaque?

Closer to West Beach?


Sail By?

Channel Islands National Park; map courtesy of Lencer

In 1542 Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo sailed up the Santa Barbara Channel, and made first contact with the Chumash inhabitants of the area in October.

Cabrillo was the first European to navigate the coast of present-day California.

He died the following year and was buried on San Miguel Island.

Following the squirrel-like historical distraction a bit longer, The City of Santa Barbara lists seven historical timelines beginning with Cabrillo through the present.

Walking to West Beach on West Cabrillo Boulevard we passed more familiar scenery – restaurants, hotels and harbor sites.

Returning to East Beach Grille we parted ways.

We notice many of the other hotels we had considered and drove around to check them out.


Getty Images

No buyer’s remorse.

Talking about buying we return to Lower State Street.

On a tip from our friends, we drive around looking for Chip and Joanne’s store off State Street.

No luck.

We return to the Hotel Santa Barbara on State Street, but we two Scorpios part ways.

Emma with shopping on her mind hoofs it a while.

And I head upstairs to our room with other distractions weighing on my mind.

Like comparing 93101 to 93203 zip codes.

And a little more history to consider as we look forward to dinner and a night out on the town.

While musing over today’s horoscope.

Scorpio (Oct. 24 – Nov. 21)  “They’ll ask for your opinion when they want something else entirely— for instance, your attention.  Be wise to this.”

Tell me about it!

Part One:  Quick Getaway to Santa Barbara

Part Two:  Hotel Santa Barbara’s Grand Tradition

Part Three:  Night TRAPs – Walk. Drink. Eat. Groove.

Hotel Santa Barbara’s Grand Tradition

Hotel Santa Barbara continues a grand tradition which began in 1876 when the City of Santa Barbara was still a sleepy pueblo. 


Owner Neal Callahan’s Name on the Building
Neal Callahan constructed the earthquake-destroyed hotel.  If you look at the front of the building you can see his name above the awning.


Part One: Quick Getaway to Santa Barbara

The Valet attendant asked if we live in Telluride, Colorado.


Oh, yeah I wore a black hat bought on our Awesome Empty-Nest Adventures in Colorado.

He said his dad loves Telluride and may have a vacation home there.

I didn’t really listen as I did the mental calculation about how to park our car and cart our clothes in without tipping.

Self-Serve Room Cart in Lobby Near Elevator


Yup, plus we’re on the hook for paying $15 a day already for parking.

We chatted for a couple of minutes.

“If not Telluride, where are you from?” he asked.

Of course, I told him Orange County and then  launched into the traffic and accident and …

“Where abouts?” he asked.

Rooms at the Santa Barbara Hotel

Turns out his dad was in Ventura, so he called him to  warn him and to find out more about flipped car accident.

Then he leaves to check out when we can check in.

Emma joins our valet to see if we can be upgraded to a nicer room, since we have to kill some time.

But, no.

When we get the green light signaling our room is available, we carry our stuff into the lobby.

Classic Otis Elevator at Santa Barbara Hotel

The Ventura valet-son instructed us how to operate the old-time, double door elevator which took us to our fourth floor room that overlooked the hustle and bustle on State Street.

“The modern Otis elevator contains antique design elements including the original spring-loaded scissor gate.  Hop on board to enjoy the remaining  historic details.”


The lobby and ambiance so reminded us of the Montecito Inn, so we felt right at home again in Santa Barbara.

My wife inspected every nuance of our room.

She revisited a map handed to her by the registration hostess.

She declared each of our Friday evening events were all within walking distance.

And, then calculated just how long we could enjoy our non-driving relaxations before dressing for dinner and a concert.

Meanwhile, I conducted my deep, background research.

Oh, okay I got the history from a card on our desk next to the other card telling us how to log into WiFi.

Historical Society Shows Hotel Santa Barbara’s Earlier Days

“Past and Present

Hotel Santa Barbara continues a grand tradition which began in 1876 when the City of Santa Barbara was still a sleepy pueblo. 

Since the early days, a hotel has always been located on the site now occupied by Hotel Santa Barbara. 

Southern California Earthquake Data Center at Caltech

In 1925, a major earthquake destroyed much of downtown Santa Barbara, including what was then called the Santa Barbara Hotel. 

Vowing never to lose another building to an earthquake, the owner constructed a new hotel, the Saint Barbara, to specifications far exceeding those required at the time. 

Owner Neal Callahan’s Name on the Building

(Neal Callahan constructed the earthquake-destroyed hotel. 

If you look at the front of the building you can see his name above the awning.)

Apparently the Saint Barbara was not always quite a saint. 

Local legend has it that liquor was always available in the hotel during Prohibition, and that for years, a “secret’ gaming room flourished somewhere near the lobby. 

Clark Gable (Wikipedia)

The Saint Barbara eventually became The Barbara Hotel and a getaway for many of Hollywood’s brightest stars. 

“After the rebuild the hotel became a celebrity getaway. 

Clark Gable and Carol Lombard were frequent guests, and eyewitnesses claim Leo Carrillo rode his horse around the lobby on several occasions.”

Leo Carrillo (Wikipedia)

Following World War II, the area and hotel’s popularity gradually declined and eventually the doors closed to Hollywood’s celebrities and travelers from around the world. 

The hotel wasn’t reopened until the late 1960s, and in 1975 was purchased by Rolland and Venetia Jacks. 

With the help of their children they revitalized the hotel and for many years served both residential and leisure guests. 

By the mid 1990’s the Old Town area in which the hotel is located had improved so dramatically that the Jacks concluded it was time for a major renovation. 

The hotel close for renovation in November 1966. Nine months and $ million  later it emerged as a reborn classic … Hotel Santa Barbara.”

But, enough about that.

That was then.

Time to join the bustling parade buzzing on State Street below our window for our night out on the town.

Part Three:  Night TRAPs – Walk. Drink. Eat. Groove.

Quick Getaway to Santa Barbara

We’ve always enjoyed spending weekends in Santa Barbara, especially at the Montecito Inn once owned by Charlie Chaplin.

Magic of The American Riviera
Emma gets the best deal at the Santa Barbara Hotel, evaluates many weighing price, location and reviews.


Road Trip!

A three-day getaway.

Kind of a staycation.

Santa Barbara. It just doesn’t get any better.

Another of Emma and Steve’s awesome empty-nest adventures searching for reunion destinations.


This time a celebration of three Scorpio birthdays.

Santa Barbara, California

Three empty-nest couples converge on the “American Riviera.”

  • One couple visits twice a month staying Thursday through Monday each time.
  • One couple lives in Santa Barbara year round.
  • And, we visit our son, post-breakup and move-out-of-Huntington Beach rental.
Orange County’s Beach Towns

In Santa Barbara he’s renting a room  while working remotely from an Orange County technology company headquartered in Irvine, California.


Three of us have “Scorpio” birthdays. And, only the good stuff applies.

“Beneath a controlled, cool exterior beats the heart of the deeply intense Scorpio.

Scorpios On the Loose in Santa Barbara

Passionate, penetrating, and determined, this sign will probe until they reach the truth.

The Scorpio may not speak volumes or show emotions readily, yet rest assured there’s an enormous amount of activity happening beneath the surface.

Excellent leaders, Scorpions are always aware. When it comes to resourcefulness, this sign comes out ahead.

Strengths – Passionate, stubborn, resourceful, brave, a true friend.

Likes – Truth, facts, being right, teasing, longtime friends, a grand passion, a worthy adversary. 

Dislikes – –Dishonesty, passive people, revealing secrets.”


Emma and not-a-Scorpio Carol plan the trip.

Santa Barbara Hotel

Emma gets the best deal at the Santa Barbara Hotel, evaluates many weighing price, location and reviews.

She quickly eliminated eight profiled on John Dickson’s Santa Barbara Hotel Lodging Guide.

  • Avania In – One block from the oceanfront, beaches and harbor.
  • Inn By The Harbor -Spanish Colonial Tradition near the beaches and yacht harbor.
  • Lavender Inn by the Sea – lavender gardens and two blocks Stearns Wharf and bike path
  • La Quinta Inn & Suites – Boutique hotel on historic State Street
  • Harbor View Inn – Boutique resort hotel across street from West Beach
  • Brisas del Mar, Inn at the Beach – Santa Barbara classic villa two blocks from harbor
  • Pepper Tree Inn – on 5 acres of tropical gardens
  • Hyatt Santa Barbara – Historic resort, built in 1931

Not-a-Scorpio Carol and her Newport Beach husband stay in Montecito, at a cottage they rent on an estate, twice a month to be near their married daughter and their grandchildren.

The only thing we Empty Nesters live for.


They leave from Newport Beach traveling on the Interstate 405 and US Route 101 on Thursdays after 7 pm and don’t return to Orange County until Mondays after 10 am to miss the majority of traffic.


Google shows us details about our 148 mile road trip which if all goes well lasts for 2 hours and 33 minutes.

Give or take, don’t you know?

On the road to the American Riviera.

Feeling Willie Nelson in our bones.

We can’t wait to hit the road.



Top two highway driving songs on my playlist.

One of America’s hits, “Ventura Highway”

About a month earlier we weren’t able to attend an “America” concert at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano with our friends. And we missed a visit to the Newport Beach house they’re currently renting after building and selling a spec home in Shady Canyon.

“Ventura Highway” theme for the Road Trip (vs. “Horse With No Name” about which decades earlier my mother grilled me about the meaning of the lyrics.)

Dewey Bunnell from back in the day

Dewey Bunnell, according to Wikipedia, explains:

“I remember vividly having this mental picture of the stretch of the coastline traveling with my family when I was younger. Ventura Highway itself, there is no such beast, what I was really trying to depict was the Pacific Coast Highway, Highway 1, which goes up to the town of Ventura.”[

Next up?  Jackson Browne’s “Running On Empty.”

Jackson Browne’s Open Road Anthem

Looking out at the road rushing under my wheels —

Looking back at the years gone by like so many summer fields.

In ’65 I was seventeen and running up 101

I don’t know where I’m running now, I’m just running on …


Great.  Just great I need to crank back on Jackson’s song.

We’ve planning a trip to Italy in a year with another couple.

Emma updates Elle on what she learned from other friends about recommended tips and ideas

Typical South Coast Regional Traffic

Traffic defines the boundaries of every day bubbles- traffic to and from Orange, Los Angeles, Ventura and finally Santa Barbara counties

Expected traffic traveling north in Los Angeles on the 405.

Mulholland Drive
  • LAX airport congestion.
  • Up the incline past Westwood, the Getty Center, and Skirball Cultural Center to the crest at our old exit Mulholland Drive to Emma’s parents former home on Tobin Way,
  • The 10 to Santa Monica

    View from the Getty

Emma gets an update from her younger brother. We admired their refrigerator on our epic, awesome empty-nest adventure in Dillon, Colorado.  And trekked to Cathedral Rock while swatting mosquitoes away.

They recently returned from a trip to Australia having briefly met David for a quick lunch and stopover before moving on to New Zealand.

David had been in Australia and left the same day to Bali

Wait, what, not on this section of the freeway.

Smooth sailing turns into unexpected parking lot bumper-to-bumper as we turn into the Ventura Freeway (101) from the 405.

Exit signs we expect to miss in a blink of an eye

The irritating kind at exit signs for Moorpark around Thousand Oakes.

We normally expect traffic when the Ventura Freeway drops  into the valley at Camarillo and Oxnard on its way to Ventura.

The kind of traffic that encourages In-and-out slalom lane-switch drivers

The kind of traffic that encourages your driver to space out and lose track of just exactly where you are.

Isn’t this the two-lane just south of Santa Barbara?

“Wait, have we already driven through Ventura or are we still on the way to Ventura?”

And, wait what’s that up there ahead?

Lights flashing.

Traffic moving shrinking from two lanes down to one lane – actually half in the slow right hand lane and half on its shoulder.


  • Two fire trucks.
  • An ambulance.
  • Two California Highway Patrol cruisers and maybe a motorcycle cop.
  • One small car crunched like an accordion.

Another flipped up and balancing on its side with the bottom blackened where everyone can see the drive train and muffler and motor.


Karma caught up to a slalom lane-switcher?

“How long, maybe 5 minutes or 15 minutes, will it take before drivers resort back to their bad old habits of trying to get ahead of everyone else?”

Earlier I had fantasized the two-lane portion of the 101 was actually that section leading into Carpinteria and maybe Summerland and maybe Montecito – near the Olive Mill Road exit – at the southern border of Santa Barbara.

Ventura, California

Rincon is tucked slightly off Highway 101 between La Conchita and Carpinteria.

The neighborhood of La Conchita has suffered from large landslides in the recent past that have wiped out homes and even killed local residents.

Rincon County Beach

The worse of these was the tragic slide on January 10th 2005 when a huge rain-caused side killed 10 residents.

Carpinteria’s home to ten beaches alone.

But, no.

Turns out we were just south of where the 101 grows multiple lanes – maybe 3 or 4 – but who’s counting.

More waves. More lanes. Less Traffic.

It’s that section where everyone can drive 70 miles per hour while spreading out and while looking out the drivers side window to absorb the surf pounding the beaches bordering the Pacific Ocean.

Wave Break at Rincon

Later, we discovered that’s exactly where our son drives to surf.

There and north of Santa Barbara is where he can more consistently find surf-able waves.

Surf’s Up?

So, over the years we’ve driven through Santa Barbara many times on our way up the Central Coast to Cambria and less frequently to Big Sur.

Historic Montecito Inn

We’ve always enjoyed spending weekends in Santa Barbara, especially at the Montecito Inn once owned by Charlie Chaplin.

Stearns Wharf

Usually we spend time at Stearns Wharf or the Funk Zone, but not a lot of time on State Street.

Which is what triggered an argument.

About directions.

As the driver usually, I’m involved.

Not this time.

Time to reconsider arguing with Siri.

Emma kept telling Siri, “No.”

That’s not the exit we should take.

I’d drive on to the next exit.




And, then this.

“Oops” the apology to Siri.

“Yes, ok you were right all along.”

We arrived at 2pm a little too late to stop on the way for lunch and a little too early to check in.

Santa Barbara Hotel

Santa Barbara Hotel

We’re cheap travelers.

So once Siri directed us on what seemed like a convoluted route involving a maze of one way streets we first drove past and then returned to Valet Parking on a side street.

The Valet attendant asked if we live in Telluride, Colorado.


Part Two:  Hotel Santa Barbara’s Grand Tradition

Part Three:  Night TRAPs – Walk. Drink. Eat. Groove.




“Attention, humans! You are entering black bear habitat!” Since when did the Sierra Nevada bears hire a PR firm?


Gateway to the Wilderness
Names: Mosquito Flats, Little Lakes Valley, John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest, Morgan Pass, Mono Pass. And the lakes: Mack, Marsh, Heart, Box, Gem and Chickenfoot.


Mosquito Flats Trailhead and the hike into Little Lakes Valley.

At the trailhead I catch up on my reading.

Welcome to the Muir Wilderness

Four posts filled with warnings, maps, hiking etiquette and a plea from the California Department of Fish & Game.

“Know the risk … this place is wild.” 

Framed in light brown wood.

Directly behind the light blue poster you see the deep blue sky with white cotton clouds and a fir tree forest giving way to a dirt trail.

Are  you prepared?

Always carry a map and a compass and know how to use them.

Carry water, food and weather protection.

Know your health and physical limitations.

You may encounter wildlife – know how to protect your food and yourself.

I try to focus on the vertical dark purple side bar instructing me to “Practice Wildlands Ethics” by leaving no trace followed by six bullet reminders.

But I can’t.

Just like the time I concentrated on what to do when you encounter a moose in Summit County, Colorado, I’m riveted by the horizontal tan boxed in message.


What to do if you see a moose — listed four bullet points followed by six more under the heading of Physical Appearance.

A bear was on the loose years ago on our camping trip to Sugar Pine.

Wilderness Means Wild

After we left Fallen Leaf Lake camping not that long ago a bear incident was reported there.

Oh, and more recently all those headlines about the Lake Tahoe bears.

Remember those?

They freaked me out just like they did newbie homeowners.

No One Told Her About The Bears, Had A Break In

Some callers are head-scratchingly clueless, such as the woman who reported she was “mad, angry about buying a house in Tahoe. No one told her about the bears. Had a break in. Not happy.”

Bear Leveled A Garage Door And Cleaned Out A Refrigerator

Others are clearly fed up, such as the man who reported that he tried to secure his home but it “didn’t work” — a bear leveled a garage door and cleaned out a refrigerator.

Gun For Next Time He Comes Back

“Has gun for next time he comes back,” the report reads.

Wilderness. Wildlife. Break Ins. Midnight Snacks.

Now a word from the opposing party.

“Attention, humans! You are entering black bear habitat!

This area is our home, where we have survived for many years by eating natural food sources.

Lately we’ve been tempted by human food sources.

Did you know that we can smell anything with an odor, including your food, garbage and toiletries?

When you don’t store these items properly, we are tempted to rip into your tent, packs and panniers and eat anything available.

Since when did the Sierra Nevada bears hire a PR firm?

Bears Represented by PR Firm

Soon, after the females learned how to grab spawning salmon out of thin air with their bare paws at Tahoe?

Only The Female Bears Are Successful At Catching

Interestingly, only the female bears are successful at catching the salmon, and they teach their cubs to fish. 

It is funny to watch a male bear in the creek splashing around trying to catch a fish, finally giving up in disgust.

Did females migrate through a mountain pass from the western to the eastern side of the Sierras?

Are these the same bears waiting to ambush unsuspecting suburbanites?

Or, could this be the next generation of cubs spreading the gospel?

Just above the drawing of an imposing female black bear guarding her cub trail-side the warnings continued.

This is a risk to our health and your safety.  

Once we’ve gotten into your food and garbage we are no longer wild bears; we become aggressive and seek your food sources, and may have to be killed.  

Please, do us both a favor — store your food properly. — A message from the bears.

With ambushing bears do I really want keep the area wild?

The next nearby sign tried to convince me.

And, We’re Not Talking Parties.

Practices that keep it WILD. 

Where the imprint of humans is substantially unnoticeable …

OK these messages tell us all about selecting campsites, especially away from water which had always been my inclination in years past and finally all about campfires.

Use of campfires for cooking and warmth was vital in the past.  

However, use of wood for campfires at popular destinations has denuded areas of dead and down wood.  

These areas are at risk of losing their natural conditions due to heavy wood-gathering activity.


Why stay away from water sources in the mountains?

Good Reasons to Camp Away from Water:

It’s warmer – cold air sinks into drainages.  Lake basins and meadows.

There are fewer mosquitoes!

We had our fill of mosquitoes in Colorado when we paused on our climb to Cathedral Rock.

We sat on fallen logs to snack on sandwiches, string cheese and water – but only momentarily, because we became bait for swarms of mosquitoes. 

The last two reasons?

You are less likely to disturb wildlife.

And more importantly, depending on your activities the night before –

The sun will be up earlier!

Now, how about those sheep?

Fish, Game and Bighorn Sheep

Don’t they have an an agency like the black bears?

Apparently, they’re missing in action.

At least they’ve got a poster, kinda purple-ish.

In their group shot showing four standing looking to the right, one almost out of the picture looking to the left and the head honcho looking stage right also, but posing all regal like on the boulder behind the others.

“Please report bighorn sheep sightings and their locations to: CA Dept of Fish & Game”

The poster gave two phone numbers and two website links.

I looked around.

Nope, none.

Wondered what they had done?

Breaking and entering like the Lake Tahoe bears?

A mere misdemeanor like a butt-and-run?

I also wondered after a few hours on the trail with physical exhaustion setting in if I would remember or even look up from my hiking boots, one foot in front of the other?

Wait, There’s One. Right?

But, while still fresh, and waiting for the last family member to finish their restroom business I scanned another wood framed sign titled “Little Lakes Valley Trailhead.”

It reminded me the trailhead took us into the John Muir Wilderness, Inyo National Forest.

A small black and white thumbnail portrait of the bearded John Muir included a quote.

Frankly I didn’t catch its significance.

“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out I found was really going in.”

I had time to read the reminders to be responsible and leave no trace behind.

Next a bunch of wilderness use restrictions to keep it wild.

One of those three dimension geological maps showing the mountains in light green and mountains in light brown drew me in until everyone was ready.

Ready for a group photo, just about as scruffy as the bighorn sheep poster.

But, including nine of us and three dogs – two hyper dogs already entangled themselves in their leashes.

Ready to go, oh wait we have to rotate photographers to catch everybody with their backs to a hill of dark fir trees, a meadow across the creek, and the slow moving creek where fishermen cast but didn’t catch.

Photos with people in them for family slideshows that nobody but family members want to see after the first one hundred slide by?

I’m not that guy.

Landscape nature photos?

I’m that guy.

Like herding sheep in the same direction, the parade began.

One after another including three dogs took off in single file.

Morgan Pass

Finding a blonde wood sign showing Morgan Pass?

With an arrow pointing to the left and Mono Pass with a second arrow pointing to the right?

Right up my alley.

The trick?

Taking the time to frame the photo against the background – a gnarly wind-swept juvenile and bushy green pine tree — to shelter the subject matter in too sunny a time of day?



Not too much sun, not too little.

I’m that guy.

We trudged on skipping the climb up another 1600 feet in elevation over five miles to Morgan Pass.

As well as, the steeper 2000 feet up hill climb to Mono Pass, even though it was a mile closer.

Place One Foot in Front of the Other

In hindsight, they should have given me about a mile head start instead of looking back to see where I was.

My knee had recovered from surgery and I felt confident the hike wouldn’t hurt it.

My wife lagged behind for the first part.

And, then … I was on my own.

Back to the Rock Creek Lodge’s website:

Although the trailhead is just over 10,000 ft., the hiking is relatively easy, climbing 600 vertical feet in about 3 miles to long lake. 

The most strenuous section is the 1st hill about a 1/4 mile from the trailhead, and each lake is about 20 to 30 minutes of hiking apart. 

Hiking in Little Lakes Valley is awesome.

Into Little Lakes Valley

Stopping high up on a tan boulder turnout from the trail we – after they waited for me – take in the classic Sierra view.

Off in the distance dark gray foreboding clouds touch the 3,000 foot granite peaks that surround the glacially-carved canyon.

It’s easy to spot the edge of the trees.

The top border doesn’t fill more than 50% of the shadowed mountains with their jagged edges.

A little white light peeks through the clouds in a naturally random pattern.

Little patches of tan boulders peek through the dark green pine trees across the way.

Directly below you see Mack Lake.

Which if I’m being honest looks more like a wide dark green river from this vantage point.

Mack Lake

Except it isn’t flowing.

Is there a pattern or nemonic device that helps you remember the names and sequence of the little lakes in the Little Lakes Valley like the alphabet for the Owens Valley towns on US 395?

Let’s check back with the Rock Creek site:

Each lake is beautiful and unique, as suggested by their names: 

Mack Lake, 

Marsh Lake, 

Heart Lake, 

Box Lake, 

Long Lake, 

Gem Lake and 

Chickenfoot Lake.

If you figure it out, let me know.

So the narrow rock-strewn trail widens as it slopes down and turns towards the left.

It opens into lighter tan dirt and fewer piles of rocks.

Marsh Lake in the Distance?

Off in the distance ahead you notice a darker brown pattern with bushy clusters in the foreground and a beginning of greener vegetation in the background.

Right in front of a band of fir trees that connect the right with the left sides to the trail.

We hopped across a small, narrow creek with dark brown water flowing downhill into the marsh.

My nephew took the opportunity to strip off his hiking boots and socks to sit on a rock and soak his feet.

Hidden behind the bend and off to the left are more marsh-like wild plants.

It’s easy to imagine that this whole flat area had been under water in non-drought years.

And, it’s easy to imagine this must be Marsh Lake.

Number two on the random list of lake names.

Continuing on, a gigantic boulder, maybe 12 to 15 feet tall, snatches my attention.


Huge Boulder with Red Accents

Well, it seems to lean a little to the right.

While it is all in one tan and gray speckled piece you can see the grooves etched into it vertically.

From ancient glacial activity or incremental erosion?

At any rate it was the dark copper red coloring filling in two cracks that provoked me into taking yet another hike-delayed photo.

Was it at Heart Lake or Box Lake?

The trail forced me to reconsider continuing.

About a half a dozen rustic steps up a steep section pulled at my knee in a way that signaled I should pace myself more than I planned.

The rest of the flock continued on.

They’re not even sure which lake they finally stopped at and frolicked in — splashing and swimming and throwing rocks in.

Possibly Gem or even Chickenfoot Lake.


(32) Plan extended seasonal vacations during summer and winter months. Group destination locations together in regional trips to explore what several bucket list towns have to offer in the general vicinity – with only a week or two vacation time to spend, we recommend organizing your itinerary by travel regions.

An excerpt from Book Five in “The Knowledge Path Series” dedicated to helping you find the place of your dreams in the Sierra Mountain resorts.