Lompoc – Flowers. Art. Wine. Dine

Lompoc – Flowers. Art. Wine. Dine

Author: Jill Weinlein (More Trip Reviews by Jill Weinlein)
Date of Trip: April 2017

Santa Barbara County is one of the most beautiful destinations in California. The city of Lompoc is just above the city of Santa Barbara and closer to the beach than the towns of Solvang or Los Olivos. It’s also one of the most affordable areas in the county for locals and visitors to get more “bang for their buck.”

Checking into the newly renovated three-story Embassy Suites, I soon realized it’s ideal for families or groups offering two-room suites. There is complimentary cook-to-order breakfast in the morning, and complimentary beverages and appetizers in the evening inside the Garden Room. Nearby is an outdoor pool and hot whirlpool in the center courtyard, ideal to sit and chill out after a day of exploring Lompoc from the beach to the hills.

Checking into room 211, I liked the size of my suite with a small kitchenette complete with a microwave, small refrigerator and sink. There were two 32-inch HDTVs with cable and high-speed Internet access. My room offered a sofa bed in one room, while the other room had a comfortable King size bed and bath. Even though my room looked out onto an alley, it was quite and peaceful all night.

FLOWERS
Driving off Highway 1 to Lompoc I noticed springtime wildflowers blooming on the hills along the country road. Rolling hills were filled of poppies, lupine, and mustard flowers among emerald green hills from late March until May. Since Lompoc was once the flower seed capital in the world, I was excited to meet Dan Vordale at the Lompoc headquarters of Ocean View California Flowers to learn more about the colorful flowers. I saw bouquets of colorful Stock, Larkspur, Delphinium and Bells of Ireland flowers, and learned from Vordale that Ocean View Flowers is one of the leading flower suppliers to Gelson’s, Whole Foods, Trader Joes and other supermarkets. They plant flowers for six months and vegetables afterwards to enrich the soil.

Most of the flower fields are located west of Old Town Lompoc, along Central Avenue and Union Sugar Avenue. But some are also located at the east entrance to town, near the La Purisima Mission State Historic Park.

ART
A fun activity in Lompoc is taking a Street Art Mural tour to learn more about the city. The first mural was painted in 1988 on the corner of Ocean and H Street, to show community pride and promote tourism. Visitors can pick up a self-guided map at the Lompoc Valley Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau across the street from Sissy’s Uptown Cafe. The walk is about one mile in distance to see almost 40 murals displayed on street corners, alleys, and on the sides of prominent buildings. The street art is one of the city’s top attractions, depicting historical scenes, the flower industry, and ethnic diversity. Most of the murals were painted in one full day by a lead artist and members of the Lompoc Mural Society. Some of my favorites include the Chumash Indians mural painted in 1992, and a giant life-like T-Rex titled “Feeding Time” by Moorpark artist Jeff Raum. This is a favorite photo spot for visitors to put their head next to the dinosaur’s giant teeth and open mouth. Similar to the beautiful flowers in Lompoc, the colorful murals are photo worthy mementos. After the one hour walk, stop inside Sissy’s Uptown Cafe for delicious fare and a slice of Norma’s sour cherry, blueberry cinnamon or pecan pie.

WINE
Lompoc is known as one of the best Pinot Noir grape growing regions in the world. Located in the Santa Rita Hills, this wine is recognized internationally for its award-winning red wines. In the summer cool maritime fog from the coast visits the valley and creates an ideal climate for growing exceptional Pinot Noir, cool climate Syrah and Chardonnay grapes.

A consortium of wine tasting venues is in the Lompoc Wine Ghetto. This unique collection of wineries, tasting rooms, and production facilities are located off Chestnut and 12th Street. The Wine Ghetto has about 20 boutique tasting rooms featuring exquisite Pinot Noirs at Pali Wine Co. and delightful sparkling wines at Flying Goat Cellars.

DINE
After wine tasting, there are three restaurants on H Street worthy of a visit. Stop in at Scratch Kitchen for innovative farm to table plates by Le Cordon Bleu Chef Augusto Caudillo. His bar manager Andrew makes a red and white wine exclusively for the restaurant. Feeling like Italian cuisine? Le Botta is a few blocks down is home to Momma Caterina’s finest lasagna, calamari, pizza and eggplant parmesan. Caterina and her husband Nick, opened this restaurant after moving to Lompoc in 1981. When Caterina is in the restaurant, she happily cooks, serves guests and serenades tables while shaking her tambourine. In the mood for beer? Solvang Brewing Company recently opened a restaurant inside an old iconic Ford dealership that used to roll out the new Ford Mustangs each year. The service garage is now a brewery making small batches of 20 different ales that include a Blonde-Blue Eyed Lager, Mango-Habanero Blonde Ale and a Golden Ale made with Blueberries. The food menu offers big burgers, large plates of nachos, salads, sandwiches, tacos and sausages.

Looking for a fun, interactive vacation in Central California? Spend a few days exploring the friendly city of Lompoc in-between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

California Trip Reviews
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Lompoc – Flowers. Art. Wine. Dine

Lompoc – Flowers. Art. Wine. Dine

Author: Jill Weinlein (More Trip Reviews by Jill Weinlein)
Date of Trip: April 2017

Santa Barbara County is one of the most beautiful destinations in California. The city of Lompoc is just above the city of Santa Barbara and closer to the beach than the towns of Solvang or Los Olivos. It’s also one of the most affordable areas in the county for locals and visitors to get more “bang for their buck.”

Checking into the newly renovated three-story Embassy Suites, I soon realized it’s ideal for families or groups offering two-room suites. There is complimentary cook-to-order breakfast in the morning, and complimentary beverages and appetizers in the evening inside the Garden Room. Nearby is an outdoor pool and hot whirlpool in the center courtyard, ideal to sit and chill out after a day of exploring Lompoc from the beach to the hills.

Checking into room 211, I liked the size of my suite with a small kitchenette complete with a microwave, small refrigerator and sink. There were two 32-inch HDTVs with cable and high-speed Internet access. My room offered a sofa bed in one room, while the other room had a comfortable King size bed and bath. Even though my room looked out onto an alley, it was quite and peaceful all night.

FLOWERS
Driving off Highway 1 to Lompoc I noticed springtime wildflowers blooming on the hills along the country road. Rolling hills were filled of poppies, lupine, and mustard flowers among emerald green hills from late March until May. Since Lompoc was once the flower seed capital in the world, I was excited to meet Dan Vordale at the Lompoc headquarters of Ocean View California Flowers to learn more about the colorful flowers. I saw bouquets of colorful Stock, Larkspur, Delphinium and Bells of Ireland flowers, and learned from Vordale that Ocean View Flowers is one of the leading flower suppliers to Gelson’s, Whole Foods, Trader Joes and other supermarkets. They plant flowers for six months and vegetables afterwards to enrich the soil.

Most of the flower fields are located west of Old Town Lompoc, along Central Avenue and Union Sugar Avenue. But some are also located at the east entrance to town, near the La Purisima Mission State Historic Park.

ART
A fun activity in Lompoc is taking a Street Art Mural tour to learn more about the city. The first mural was painted in 1988 on the corner of Ocean and H Street, to show community pride and promote tourism. Visitors can pick up a self-guided map at the Lompoc Valley Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau across the street from Sissy’s Uptown Cafe. The walk is about one mile in distance to see almost 40 murals displayed on street corners, alleys, and on the sides of prominent buildings. The street art is one of the city’s top attractions, depicting historical scenes, the flower industry, and ethnic diversity. Most of the murals were painted in one full day by a lead artist and members of the Lompoc Mural Society. Some of my favorites include the Chumash Indians mural painted in 1992, and a giant life-like T-Rex titled “Feeding Time” by Moorpark artist Jeff Raum. This is a favorite photo spot for visitors to put their head next to the dinosaur’s giant teeth and open mouth. Similar to the beautiful flowers in Lompoc, the colorful murals are photo worthy mementos. After the one hour walk, stop inside Sissy’s Uptown Cafe for delicious fare and a slice of Norma’s sour cherry, blueberry cinnamon or pecan pie.

WINE
Lompoc is known as one of the best Pinot Noir grape growing regions in the world. Located in the Santa Rita Hills, this wine is recognized internationally for its award-winning red wines. In the summer cool maritime fog from the coast visits the valley and creates an ideal climate for growing exceptional Pinot Noir, cool climate Syrah and Chardonnay grapes.

A consortium of wine tasting venues is in the Lompoc Wine Ghetto. This unique collection of wineries, tasting rooms, and production facilities are located off Chestnut and 12th Street. The Wine Ghetto has about 20 boutique tasting rooms featuring exquisite Pinot Noirs at Pali Wine Co. and delightful sparkling wines at Flying Goat Cellars.

DINE
After wine tasting, there are three restaurants on H Street worthy of a visit. Stop in at Scratch Kitchen for innovative farm to table plates by Le Cordon Bleu Chef Augusto Caudillo. His bar manager Andrew makes a red and white wine exclusively for the restaurant. Feeling like Italian cuisine? Le Botta is a few blocks down is home to Momma Caterina’s finest lasagna, calamari, pizza and eggplant parmesan. Caterina and her husband Nick, opened this restaurant after moving to Lompoc in 1981. When Caterina is in the restaurant, she happily cooks, serves guests and serenades tables while shaking her tambourine. In the mood for beer? Solvang Brewing Company recently opened a restaurant inside an old iconic Ford dealership that used to roll out the new Ford Mustangs each year. The service garage is now a brewery making small batches of 20 different ales that include a Blonde-Blue Eyed Lager, Mango-Habanero Blonde Ale and a Golden Ale made with Blueberries. The food menu offers big burgers, large plates of nachos, salads, sandwiches, tacos and sausages.

Looking for a fun, interactive vacation in Central California? Spend a few days exploring the friendly city of Lompoc in-between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

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6 Flight Booking Apps That Could Save You Money

Most travelers rely on only a handful of travel apps, with usage of less popular apps tending to trail off over time. So which flight apps are worth keeping right on your home screen? I tested a bunch of new or newly popular flight booking apps to see how they can make your next trip easier and more affordable.

smartphone home screen flight app

For my trial, I entered into each app a route that I will likely purchase in the next several months, and tracked the fares over 28 days. I used a route that I’ve flown in the past, as I already had some sense of pricing and scheduling, and therefore was able to recognize when the app was showing me things I didn’t already know.

I recommend giving any new flight app a trial a few weeks before you really need it, so you can experiment with its features and figure out whether you like the interface.

Hopper’s strength is tracking flight prices to tell you whether to buy now or wait, and it does so in near-real time. Hopper’s interface is clean and easy to understand at first glance, and you can get a good sense of the airfare pricescape for your desired route on the initial results screen.

Many websites and apps first ask you your airports, then your travel dates; Hopper instead asks you the airports, then immediately returns a calendar that is color-coded by price. I found the process of selecting travel dates a little bumpy at times, with the departure date changing when I was trying to select a return date, but it’s not a deal breaker.

An example result might say “You should wait for a better price, but book before June 21,” and then give you the range and timing of likely price changes. The best part of Hopper may be the Watch feature, which does not require an account or login, and will send you price changes and “buy now” notifications by punching through to your home screen in real time.

7 Mistakes to Avoid When Booking a Flight

Airfarewatchdog’s claim to a spot on your A list is twofold:

1. The company says it’s the only app to search every airline (some airlines do not release data to the main booking sites; Southwest is the most obvious example of these, which is why you often see a “check prices” option for Southwest when using booking sites and apps).

2. A feature that shows the best same-day airfares from your home airport is the ultimate “go anywhere right now” offering that I found.

Once you choose your departure airport, the interface isn’t particularly intuitive, a factor mentioned in heaps of reviews of this app — but if you want to go to Amsterdam this afternoon for $540, this is the app to check.

Skiplagged distinguishes itself by specializing in what are called “hidden city itineraries,” which are flights where a “layover” airport is actually your destination — that is, you land in a connecting airport and skip the rest of your trip. Skiplagged boasts that its app is “so good, United Airlines actually sued us for it.”

There are some risks involved; Skiplagged is best used for one-way flights, as your airline might cancel your return flight if you fail to board all legs of your outgoing flight. You also want to make sure you don’t check bags, which might go all the way to your supposed final destination. See Skiplagged’s FAQ for more.

The Skiplagged search results look very different from most apps, showing results simultaneously by price and flight duration, which will appeal to folks willing to undergo some hassle, but not too much hassle.

plane taking off

Jetradar is a solid app that I include here for one primary reason: the Price Map. This feature takes your home airport and shows you available fares to a heap of destinations on a map, allowing you to choose where to go based purely on cost. This means that the search is independent of travel dates, but that’s what I find most useful about it — it shows you just how cheap a cheap flight on a particular route can get.

For example, Jetradar tells me I can get to Rotterdam from New York for $379 in September — so now I know that $379 is rock-bottom for that itinerary. The app also showed me that the lowest price it could find to nearby Amsterdam was $557, so I also know I can save almost $200 by flying to Rotterdam instead.

18 Best Airport Hacks

Hitlist is more of an idea finder or bucket list airfare search app than a booking engine; you put in your preferred departure airport, and then Hitlist shows you a heap of cool places you might want to go, plus when it is cheapest to go there.

Hitlist also has useful graphic elements to help visualize pricing and other factors, including color-coded pricing lists (red for Average, orange for Good, yellow for Great, green for Spectacular), and displays an annual calendar with price trends in bar graph format for each destination, which helps you figure out the most affordable time of year to travel.

I had a few crashes while using the app, but it seemed to stabilize the more I used it.

The Skyscanner app looks a lot like standard booking engines — a list of sample itineraries by airline and fare, with options to filter — and then often enough you simply end up on a booking site like Expedia or JustFly. That said, Skyscanner searches a heap of sites for you all at once, and the results it returns have been pretty solid in my experience.

Skyscanner is in the process of overhauling its website to permit booking pages on the Skyscanner site to mimic the website of the airline from which you are buying, which Skyscanner believes is the next wave in booking tech. The intention is to offer a purchasing environment that not only offers fares for purchase, but also presents the airline’s “entire range of products, including upsells and ancillaries” — meaning that you can buy an upgrade or pay for a checked bag through Skyscanner’s own interface.

I found Skyscanner’s flight search function a little tricky to use, especially the quick hand-off to outside sites, and its Price Alert feature requires you to log in (unlike some other apps), but I’m going to leave it on my phone to watch as its new approach gets rolled out.

10 Ways to Survive a Long-Haul Flight

Some of the apps prompt you to sign up and log in on the first screen, but not all require you to do so actually to use the app; you may want to skip that step while you are testing.

The best and newest features are sometimes buried in the interface due to mobile space constraints, so poke around to discover what you may find useful.

Some apps allow you to book right in the app, while others open an embedded browser, so be ready for a variable final booking experience.

These apps update fairly regularly, but the new versions aren’t always improvements and can be buggy. You might want to check the most recent reviews before downloading and wiping out the version already on your phone.

Which flight apps do you count on for great airfares? Let us know in the comments.

Go Anyway,

Ed Hewitt

Features Editor
IndependentTraveler.com

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Editor’s Note: IndependentTraveler.com is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a subsidiary of TripAdvisor, Inc., which also owns Airfarewatchdog.

11 Things Not to Do When Booking a Hotel

Your hotel choice may be the most important decision you make when planning a trip. Unless you’re upgraded, a flight is generally a flight no matter which airline you’re on, and the same goes for rental cars. But a small/ugly/smelly/poorly located hotel room, or a room with no internet, a lousy view and/or a broken TV, can easily ruin a trip.

hotel front desk bell

And you have pay for that hotel room every day. Especially if you are choosing your hotel based at least in part on price, sussing out any unstated costs before you book is critical. A hotel that has a low base rate but doesn’t include any amenities can often end up costing you more than a hotel that includes complimentary everything.

Follow these hotel booking tips to get the best room in the best location at the best price.

I once stayed in a great hotel that seemed to be in an ideal location, except that it was surrounded by busy roads, including an on-ramp and off-ramp to a highway on either side of the hotel. It felt like I was staying in an interstate rest stop. I couldn’t really walk anywhere, and stepping outside was not just annoying but borderline dangerous.

There were fine restaurants a block away, and a running trail a half-mile away, and a great riverwalk another half-mile from there. When I booked the hotel, I knew it was close to all those cool things, but did not check closely enough to realize that the hotel was pretty much on a highway median, and that you couldn’t get to any of them without risking life and limb. Yeesh.

The easiest way to prevent this sort of problem is to see the site for yourself. Most booking websites include a map view of some kind, and you might also take a look at Google Street View or Bing’s Bird’s Eye view to get a good look at the lay of the land.

Knowing as much as possible about any given property is your best strategy for getting a hotel and room that you actually enjoy staying in. I often switch my preferred hotel after a bit of research, as there is always something you would never know without the help of folks who have already stayed at a property. These might include noise, lousy food, iffy Wi-Fi, dated rooms and more — even the fact that the hotel is pretty much on a highway median.

And you might find out a lot of good things as well. Before a recent stay, I learned about an affordable bike rental program at one hotel I was researching that tipped the balance toward staying there. We had some great bike rides around the area, saw a lot of things we would not have seen otherwise and saved money on public transportation and car rentals.

10 Hidden Ways to Save at Hotels

I am a big fan of using public transportation when zooming around at your destination, as it puts you among the locals in a simple, straightforward way.

I’m not a huge fan of public transportation to and from the airport, however. Starting and (especially) ending a trip by hauling massive bags through an unfamiliar subway system can be a grueling experience, especially when you are trying to get some rare R&R.

But getting to and from your hotel in a taxi (or even an Uber) can be expensive, especially since most airports are quite a distance from the nearest city center. When considering the cost of one hotel vs. another, you will want to know whether the airport offers a complimentary hotel shuttle.

If you will have your own car, check both availability and pricing on parking at the hotel. Even if the hotel has parking available, it often comes with a price tag, and can add anywhere from $10 to $35 or more to your daily hotel cost (the last two hotels I stayed at with a rental car cost $31 and $36 per day, respectively). If a hotel doesn’t have its own parking, the cost can be even higher in some places where you are forced to use private lots, and you have to worry about the car getting dinged or broken into — not to mention the hassle of having to find a spot every day.

Ditch the Hotel: 10 Cheaper Ways to Stay

The actual per-night difference between a hotel that offers a solid continental (or even full) breakfast included in the rate compared to one that offers a 23-euro buffet can be significant, to say the least.

You can usually find out this information on the hotel website or by calling the front desk directly. Since most folks prefer to breakfast at their hotel, this is an important question if you are concerned about your budget. Sure, you can always try to find an affordable cafe nearby, but you can’t beat a free hotel breakfast for convenience.

woman on laptop at hotel

As with breakfast, parking and a shuttle, if you absolutely need internet access, you also need to consider it part of your nightly hotel budget when comparing prices. A hotel where you save $10/night but then pay $19.95 a day for internet is no savings at all.

This is a tricky one, though, so make sure you check this closely; internet access may be free for loyalty members but not other guests, for instance.

Additionally, some hotels have started charging for access per device, or sometimes allowing only two devices per paying customer. If more than one person is staying in the room, this can become a problem very quickly, as most folks connect with at least two devices these days (e.g., a laptop and a smartphone). Check the fine print.

This applies mainly if you belong to a loyalty club and hope to have hotel points awarded to your account — because if you book through pretty much any third party, hotels won’t pony up the points. This includes well-known booking sites, group bookings, bookings by your travel agent, bookings by the hotel’s own vacation club and even bookings at conference rates. Read more in The Trouble with Hotel Reward Programs.

It is often free to sign up for a hotel’s loyalty program, and in some cases significant rewards kick in almost immediately. These can include complimentary Wi-Fi, as mentioned above, but also many “soft” benefits that you might not even be aware of; front desk agents might give you a slightly better room, for example.

One of the simplest but most effective tactics for getting a better rate is to ask for one. I usually recommend an open-ended approach, something like “are there any better special rates available?” This usually prompts the reservations person to ask if you are a member of a travel or other association (AAA or AARP), a member of a loyalty program, etc. From there they will often offer a better rate one way or another, simply for the asking.

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If you have a hotel that is showing no rooms available, or really high rates, or lack of availability of certain special needs rooms (pet-friendly, accessible, kid-friendly, etc.), you should call the hotel and ask directly. The front desk often has information about cancellations, additional rooms and more that may not immediately show up on hotel or booking sites.

Even if you have a simple question, such as “How much does internet access cost?” or “Is breakfast included?” a quick call to the hotel can settle pretty much any doubts you might have.

You would be surprised what a hotel can and will do for you if you simply ask politely. Many front desk folks will lend common toiletries, make restaurant recommendations and reservations, call for taxis, give directions, help with public transportation and handle other logistical items without even flinching.

Additionally, you can often request a room on a certain side of the hotel, on an upper floor, away from the main road, closer to the elevator if you are disabled and more. Simply ask, and ye may receive.

What hotel booking tips would you add? Let us know in the comments!

Go Anyway,

Ed Hewitt

Features Editor
IndependentTraveler.com

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Technicolor at La Costa and Carlsbad

Technicolor at La Costa and Carlsbad

Author: Jill Weinlein (More Trip Reviews by Jill Weinlein)
Date of Trip: March 2017

While receiving a kale and citrus facial from Grace inside the The Spa at the Omni La Costa Resort, she told me that she has been working at the property for 35 years. “There have been four owners in 52 years,” Grace told me.

In 1963, La Costa founder Merv Adelson found the land in Carlsbad and dreamed of building a resort two hours from Hollywood for stars to receive a “glimmer of luxury” from their hectic movie studio life. Architect Edward H. Pickett was selected to design a Spanish style clubhouse, and by 1965, 40 units were built for couples and families at $22 a night. The getaway included a 72-par golf, designed by renowned architect Dick Wilson. Professional golfers Sam Snead, Ray Floyd, Arnold Palmer, Bobby Nichols, and Jack Nicklaus gave their approval. Celebrities Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Bob Hope played on the greens. There were tennis courts that attracted famed Pancho Segura as the resident pro, and a stable and pool privileges built for guests.

Then a Spa led by Dr. R. Phillip Smith, a professor of medicine was built. It became the first spa in the country to earn an endorsement from the American Medical Association.

In 2003, La Costa received a $140 million restoration with a newly designed 28,000 square foot spa with over 40 treatment rooms, fragrant gardens, pools and courtyards. Also a new partnerships was forged with Deepak Chopra and The Chopra Center, separate from the La Costa Spa. Omni Hotels purchased La Costa to continue attracting golfers, spa-goers, celebrities, and families from across the world.

My family and I recently stayed at the Omni La Costa while visiting Carlsbad. We used it as a home base while exploring the nearby rainbow colored Flower Fields. Staying in room 836, our elegant suites offered a spacious sitting area with a queen-size sofa bed, television, coffee center and connection to a separate bedroom with a luxury king bed and the marble bathroom featuring a separate shower and oversized soaking tub. Robes and slippers are provided in the closet with a safe. There is a balcony looking out to eucalyptus trees and rolling lawns.

First, we had to see the once a year rainbow colored sloping hill between LEGOLAND and the Pacific Ocean. It becomes ablaze with vibrant colorful ranunculus each Spring. Colors of merlot, purple, salmon, pink, picotee (a mixture of colors) orange, gold, yellow and white can be seen from the highway. Hundreds of visitors stop to take a tour of the fields above Armstrong Garden Center to appreciate the beautiful ranunculus flowers planted in the rich soil.

Another beautiful sight along the side of the field, near a overflow parking lot, is an large planted area of red, white and blue petunias shaped as the American flag, however ranunculus are the stars of the farm.

Other plants including colorful and fragrant sweet peas planted in an interactive maze, a display of poinsettias, and a large greenhouse showcasing cymbidium orchids.

These ranunculus were originally planted by farmer Edward Frazee from seeds at another location in San Diego County. For over 25 years, on-site growers Mellano and Company of San Luis Rey plant millions of Frazee’s giant Tecolote ranunculus seeds in the current 50 acres of coastal farmland. The Tecolote ranunculus is the finest strain of ranunculus plants in the world. They are originally from Asia Minor, located at the top of Turkey. What makes these flowers unique, is that they grow from seeds and develop into a tuber producing a buttercup shaped flower that is 14″ to 24″ tall.

The flowers are planted in stages with the first to blossom on March 1 and the last in full glory until mid May, around Mother’s Day. Some flowers are cut, while others stay in the field for farmers to collect their seeds and replant in the same field for the next season. Flowers and bulbs are harvested and packaged to sell at the onsite Armstrongs Garden Store for the public to plant at take home.

Guests visiting the Flower Fields can ride in an antique tractor driven wagon to view and learn about the beauty of the fields. The 15-minute scenic ride includes an audio commentary of the history of this one-of-a-kind farm.

After our visit, we drove into Carlsbad Village for dinner at the newly opened Campfire. Over 90% of the fare is cooked on a live fire in the glass enclosed kitchen, even the cocktails. They roast beets and add a little gin, honey, lemon and crisp thyme. There is a charred cactus cocktail that arrives as black liquid with large ice cubes. A little tequila, charcoal, white peach, sorrel and lime juice is added.

Dishes include charred octopus, Kobe beef tartare, a Caesar asparagus, grilled halibut and pork chop char sui. We finished with a plank of do-it-yourself s’mores that included a little kettle of piping hot charcoals. Housemade marshmallow, chocolate squares and snickerdoodle cookies are heated to the right temperature, to create one of the best s’mores ever.

The next day we rented cruiser bikes at Pedego Electric Bike Rental along Carlsbad Village Drive. Staff members gave us a map of paved bicycle paths along the railroad tracks to the beach. We rode along the Pacific Coast to the Cape Rey Carlsbad’s onsite restaurant Chandler’s for lunch.

Executive Chef and Culinary Director Teri McIllwain creates the quintessential “petal to table” menu with a floral mimosa with sparkling wine and Elderflower to pair with a cheese plate filled with local cheese, honeycomb, nuts and variety of artisan bread. Heirloom tomatoes adorn the grilled turkey burger, and McIllwain makes a coconut tomato bisque with a grilled cheese sandwich. Be sure to order the hibiscus sorbet with fresh flowers, berries and meringue stars filled into a chocolate glazed waffle bowl.

Spring in Carlsbad is the optimal time to see the Flower Fields, however any time of year is an ideal time to visit this So Cal beach town filled with unique shops, activities and dining opportunities.

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9 Things You Shouldn't Bring on Your Next Trip

There’s a huge marketplace out there for items designed to make travel easier and more comfortable, from gear stores in airports to the wacky online catalog from SkyMall. But the reality is that many of these items won’t actually improve the way you travel, and instead will lead to more distractions, more unpleasant encounters with others and, well, just more stuff. Here are nine things you almost certainly don’t need on your next trip.

Some folks love their selfie sticks, while others consider them a modern scourge. I can see both sides of the argument. On the one hand, selfies are fun, and a stick helps you get a better angle; on the other, it’s bad enough to compete with crowds at popular attractions without adding dozens of poles to the pileup.

We could debate this issue to the end of the Earth — and people have brought selfie sticks to the end of the Earth — but I think Morgan Freeman makes this point better than I ever could:

Over the years I have read a lot of packing advice that recommended folks travel with an iron, and it seems to me among the worst ideas I have ever encountered. First, it is a large, heavy item that you will use for perhaps 10 minutes on any trip. More importantly, many hotels have an iron right in the room, making bringing one akin to packing a television or clock radio.

Sure, some accommodations don’t have irons — youth hostels or some Airbnb rentals, for example — but the truth is that if you’re staying in the type of place with no iron in the building, you probably don’t need pressed clothes on that trip.

Unless you want to be booted off a plane and dumped at O’Hare — or just be the most disliked person on the internet for a few days — don’t bring a gadget like the Knee Defender that will prevent the person in front of you from reclining his or her seat.

There are other devices that create partitions between seats (such as My Plane Space and the EZ Sleep Travel Pillow), all of which clearly seem not only to protect the space of the person deploying the device, but also to invade his or her neighbor’s space. Anything that makes your comfort another person’s misery is a deal-breaker.

Many hotels offer bathrobes for guest use during their stay, so packing one is often unnecessary. But even if your hotel doesn’t offer this perk, a bathrobe will take up half your suitcase; it’s not worth it. Pack some comfy PJs instead.

I get that giant headphones are fashion accessories at present, but they make little sense as a travel accessory. Some travelers swear by noise-canceling headphones, but these are often slimline enough, whereas large fashion headphones are not. Most super-efficient travelers stick with earbuds, which are low-weight and low-profile, and less likely to mark you as a rich tourist.

This is the primary evidential item in the “How much crap do you need on a flight?” debate, geesh. Seatback organizers (like this one from Amazon) are designed for cars, but some folks bring them on planes too.

If you have kids you need to entertain on a long flight, this might help — although even then it seems likely to cause kids to pick at and whack the seatback in front of them, so I can’t entirely recommend it.

My take? If you feel the need to purchase and pack one of these, you are definitely bringing too much stuff. Rethink and repack.

There are some fads that are fun to join, and others best left to fade away. Certainly an example of the latter is the Facekini, which is just scary. Pack sunscreen instead.

Neck pillows seem to me to be the great still-to-be-perfected travel item — why, oh, why can’t someone make a really good one?! — but with this someone is clearly trying too hard. Just look at it.

Despite my considerable reliance on a smartphone (and to a lesser extent a tablet) while traveling, I am not a full convert to e-readers. First, the decreased ease of peeking ahead or going back a few pages adds friction to the overall reading experience; and second, books don’t need charging, or careful handling, or any number of other things that can be tricky on the road.

That said, even a small paperback weighs almost a pound. Magazines are slightly lesser offenders (unless you’re taking along a giant stack of New Yorkers), but if you’re a voracious reader or you need enough books for a lengthy trip, the weight of your reading material can add up quickly. Unless you donate or discard things along the way as you finish with them, you should probably ax books from your packing list in favor of an e-reader.

There are other don’t-pack items out there, for sure, such as air-conditioned clothes and sand-resistant beach towels and a luggage-dragging belt hook, but do you consider any of the above to be useful or even essential? Are there any gadgets or items we missed? Let us know in the comments.

Go Anyway,

Ed Hewitt

Features Editor
IndependentTraveler.com

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My first awesome Sahara adventure in Morocco

My first awesome Sahara adventure in Morocco

Author: Kathy Petite
Date of Trip: January 2017

Like most of travellers think towards the end of their trip, I wish I could spend more time in Morocco. But hey, for a first timer in this breathtaking land in North Africa, I got to see the desert, mountains and beach. Not bad.
One first piece of advice for you who are thinking of seeing this place: Morocco is a country of culture and contrast. It’s incredibly huge. And it takes time traveling from one place to another. So if you have less than almost 2 weeks like I did, don’t be ridiculously ambitious trying to cram in 127 things to see or do in your list. Either you make a good priority and come back another time, or make your stay longer.
Believe me, you want to suck it all in and have a nice lasting memory rather than end up having blurred glimpse of scattered things in your head.
We are a mixed Swiss couple. Of those 10 days we had, we chose to spend 3 nights/4 days exploring the desert. No, don’t even think of doing it shorter than that. Because you could end up having a sore ass sitting in the car for 7-10 hours from Marrakech to the desert and back for the same hell of torture.
So no, my husband and I decided to save our poor one and only butts for our camel rides. Also, we chose to sit and relax in the car instead of renting one and have a stress of concentrating reading the road signs, or asking people and getting lost (as well as fighting over me not being able to read the map). As much as him excelling in driving and directions, nothing beats than chilling, enjoying the views in the hand of someone you trust.
That’s why the next important advice is if you want to explore Morocco, choose the right guy that shows the country. We felt like we hit the jackpot with Mustapha of Enchanted Morocco. With 5 language skills in his hand, he is so easy, communicative, helpful and flexible in any ways. Growing up in the desert and experienced in driving around there, he made us feel safe and comfortable in his cozy 4WD car.
Embarking our journey from the “Ochre City” of Marrakech, Mustapha was taking us away from the hustle and bustle of the that city, driving over 600 kilometres towards the desert, spoiling our eyes with spectacular views of valleys, cliffs, roads of the Atlas range.
You know what fascinating thing is about the journey to the mountain in Morocco? How vast the changes in landscape as you make your way from the city to the desert. How the dusty, crowded city streets of Marrakech make way for flat, open highways; these gradually transform into red, clay-colored gorges and valleys as you approach and ascend the Atlas range; and finally to the grey, slate-like cliffs at the highest point of this journey — before starting your descent on the other side of the mountain range into the desert. Simply, amazing.
By the time we had our third or fourth stop at the Argan Oil shop, the temperature plunged so low I almost grinded my teeth. My Jackwolf skin jacket felt suddenly so thin like I was just wearing Victoria Secret babydoll.
We had interesting stops along the way before finally spending our first night in splendid hotel in Ourzazate. What a day. I can’t imagine if we didn’t split the trip into 3 nights.
After a lovely Mint Tea and a small Moroccan breakfast of those thin-layered pastries, hopped into the car to continue. After (freezing ourselves) in the windy yet breathtaking cliff of Todra Gorges, we headed to Erfoud.
¨Where are we heading now?’ I asked.
Mustapha, warmly wrapped in his Jelaba (Moroccan traditional dress), just grinned in his wicked mysterious way and calmly replied.
‘It won’t be a surprise anymore if I tell you.’ He flicked a tip of his 16 metre-long turban and turned on the engine. With such long hours of trips, having a driver who does not only speak your language but also a great sense of humor really makes a difference, I tell you.
Half and hour later we were blown by what he secretly planned for us. A truly local experience, a lovely afternoon that is carved in our memory forever.
Like a couple of hours to the sunset, we finally arrived in Merzouga and hopped slowly on our camels. Riding camels in the middle of this orange sand and dunes, in a tranquil serenity, where you could only hear the camel steps is something no words can describe. Simply, surreal.
We were heading close to our camp when the sun was sinking. We hopped off our camels quickly, just to soak into this glorious glow of ray of red-orange that hypnotized us for a few minutes before it finally disappeared.

Slowly, the night fell in Erg Chebbi, the magic took your breath even more like nobody else. The stars came out countlessly, like sparkling beads sprinkled on a black flawless satin sheet. Stunning but surreal.
Of all the camping nights I had in my life, this is absolutely the most amazing one. The next whole day was absolutely fun, where we explored the desert, village, the Berber family, had Berber pizza and a lot more.
We then had amazing time in our next destination in the busy Fez, quiet Oasis town of Chefchaoen and Tangier before finally flying home to Zurich. We can’t thank Mustapha enough for this wonderful experience.
So tips for you who want to explore Morocco, choose the right operator (having found Enchanted Morocco out of pure luck and couldn’t be happier) and don’t rush your trip days, and try to pack as light as possible as most of those riads/dars (Moroccan accomodations) don’t have elevators.
And of course, eat their delicious Tajine. Surely, it is a sin to miss.

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Overall, nice trip, but never to return.

Overall, nice trip, but never to return.

Author: Francis (not a traveler by nature)
Date of Trip: February 2017

This was my first trip to NYC as an adult (50+). I was very, very reluctant to go, but my fiance wanted to see a concert there and I wasn’t going to turn her down. The trip from the airport was so long (relatively) and traffic-filled. The airport was generally kind of nasty compared to my hometown (Atl.) I got into the long drive, however. The traffic, all the cabs, all the horn-honking, etc. I made a conscious decision to just take it all in for what it was.

Our Hotel, the New Yorker, was awesome. The rooms, however, don’t have much sound blocking and you can hear other people flushing toilets, talking, etc. However, it gives you the whole NYC experience. That’s what it’d be like to live there, I guess. My first experience there after checking in was food. We wanted a slice of pizza as NYC is so famous for. We were not disappointed. We picked any restaurant that had a name other than a chain restaurant, ordered a slice each, and were blown away! Every meal we ate in that city was incredible with the exception of the hotdog and papaya beverage (Papaya Dog or similar name of restaurant). That kept me at the toilet for at least a few hours, but hey, we were following a network TV star’s recommendation (what would you expect?). The food and atmosphere in Little Italy was incredible. I’m Sicilian American and know good food, believe me.

The 911 memorial and museum was so awesome! We spent 2.5 hours there and loved every minute of it, sad as that sounds. So well done. Didn’t do much cheezy, tourist attractions, but did walk through times sq. at night just to see it in person. The hordes of people walking everywhere all over NYC were amazing. So was all the horn-honking (almost non-stop, 24-7). It’s best described as ordered chaos. The pedestrians know when to cross the street and the cars know when to stop. I was so amused by it all. There seemed to be so may females walking the streets. Not as many males. It appears NYC is a very popular destination for women. I didn’t see many male businessmen. That was such a surprise. Lots and lots of homeless everywhere! So sad to see. Everyone walks right past them and ignores them. They even slept in sub-freezing temperatures. So, so tragic to see in 2017.

The absolute highlite of the trip was seeing a concert at Lincoln Center near Central Park. It was in the Appel room at night. Behind the stage is a 50 x 80 foot window background. The view is of the Manhattan skyline in the center and right and Central Park off to the left. So very incredible mere words cannot do it justice. When we had problems finding our way anywhere in NYC, and we did several times, I asked random people, obviously locals, and every one was so very nice. I wasn’t too wild about the subway, however. It’s kind of frightening to me and I’m 6’4 240 pounds. It was so dirty under ground and I was so concerned, perhaps wrongly, that something bad just had to happen, especially at night. Nothing did, but it still was so nasty. We took three cabs one day and that was enjoyable but the traffic was horrendous. Overall, it was an awesome trip. However, if you’re not into millions of people, homeless everywhere, trash all over the street in bags, stay away. I’ll end on this: Been there, done that. I’ll never go back, thank you.

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From Spontaneous to Safe: Does Travel Change as You Age?

In a close circle of my friends, a tradition has arisen to take a hardcore surf trip to celebrate important occasions — weddings, major birthdays, that kind of thing. The group has surfed in France the day before running with the bulls in Pamplona (and slept in the car overnight, with one guy in the trunk). We’ve also gone out on sailboats for a week, trekked through jungles in Central America, hacked new trails with machetes on the Olympic Peninsula to get to secret breaks and plucked sea urchin spines out of our feet in Mexico.

older couple on beach

So when one of the group hit a milestone birthday recently, the youngest among us asked immediately, “Where are we going?!” He had to ask again and again, and eventually someone came up with this as a tentative plan: a week on the water in Maine, in a large house that allows kids and dogs.

Running with the bulls it ain’t, and we won’t come close to needing machetes. Is this what happens to adventurous travelers as they get older — the most uncertain part of the trip is finding a vacation rental in Maine that allows dogs?

It’s not just our group; a friend who spent a few years fishing in Alaska and then working in Asia now has frequent guest credentials on Disney cruises. A family member that left on an around-the-world trip and then vowed never to leave New Zealand now lives in the house where he grew up in small-town New Jersey. The list goes on.

A horse doesn’t change its stripes — or something like that — so what is it that made these former intrepid souls slow down, some almost to a stop? And what is travel like for them many miles along? Let’s have a look.

In her mid-20s, Kristen O’Brien of Minnesota bobbed around Europe like many college graduates still getting their bearings. During her travels, however, she was turned from the rugged life forever.

“[On] a trip to visit a friend in England, I swore, like Scarlett O’Hara, to never sleep on the floor again,” she recalls. “I was about 25.”

But that is not to say that she has lost all sense of adventure — she is happy to rough it in a tent, but really means it when she says she needs something comfortable to sleep on. “All camping must include a fat air-filled pad. My back won’t take too much abuse anymore.”

Celia Cole, a classmate of O’Brien’s back in college, also points to the ascendance of a comfortable bed as time marches on.

“On a tight budget, I used to eat in good restaurants and stay in dumps,” she says. “Now I stay in nice hotels and order room service. As you get older you get wealthier and lazier?”

Gillian Williams, president of the Rensselaerville Institute – School Turnaround, is thankful for the upgrades that come with the years … and the miles: “At this age I travel so much that I’m always upgraded. Except once or twice a year — and then I’m spitting indignance. The torn rotator cuff, the wrecked hip flexors, the degenerated discs all have a sense of entitlement.”

First Class for Free: How to Get an Airline Upgrade

Buying yourself extra hours at your destination by booking tight connections and red-eye flights may become less attractive as you get older — or, I would contest, as you accumulate airport experiences.

After years of sprinting through airports I would argue that getting burned a few times trying these tricks is the real reason many travelers start choosing less demanding itineraries. If you travel regularly over several years, it is inevitable that you will fail to make a tight connection, or end up in a broken seat on a red-eye that makes it impossible to sleep — and after a few of these you’ll likely decide that it’s just not worth the extra half-day at your destination to risk an overnight on an airport floor.

Williams concurs: “I used to love red-eyes because they compressed time for me. Now I avoid them like the plague.”

10 Ways to Survive a Long-Haul Flight

Frequent traveler Mike Sullivan has done his share of hard, unpredictable miles — on an Ireland bike trip years ago, he recounts,”I closed my eyes and picked a direction out of Galway into [County] Connemara,” and off he went. Now, his daughter has picked up some of the same traits, but Mike is planning out his hours. As Mike tells it:

“My daughter is 24. She flew into Lisbon last fall with her bicycle, a tent and a swim fin for bodysurfing. Took bus into Lisbon from the airport, found a hostel and assembled her gear. Cruised around Lisbon for a day then headed south. No clear idea where she’d stop, camp, eat, surf, anything. Just headed south along coast, and went around Iberian peninsula like that to Italy. …

new zealand backpacker

“Same thing in [New Zealand] a year ago, biked both islands by herself, other than a stay with a couple of family friends, just nosed her bike out and went. Had a map. Yes, Mom and Dad were very worried.

“I did this in Europe/Ireland as a younger guy. At that age, the last resort of sleeping under a bridge after pubbing it up with locals was a good thing. I couldn’t do that now; when I went to Portugal this winter I knew every night where I was going to sleep, and didn’t have any time for a bike trip, only had five days. One of the consequences of having a job, I think.”

Japan-based teacher and U.S. expat Dan McLaughlin lays the blame more on increased responsibilities than on advancing years.

“Younger people tend to have more time,” he says. “Twenty years ago I flew to Tucson, AZ, hopped the Greyhound to Nogales and walked over the border into Mexico. I spent the next two months riding buses here and there with nothing more than [a] guidebook and a Spanish-English dictionary. I learned heaps of Spanish and had many adventures. But I was able to go without any sort of plan because I had two months. Usually, my first day in town would involve several hours of looking at various hotel rooms in order to find a place to stay. And while this was fun, it was also bit of a time-consuming chore. But time is what I had.

“Flash forward 20 years and now I’m off to Spain, but this time for just two weeks. I won’t have the luxury to burn off a whole day thinking of where to go, how to get there and where to stay.”

The 5 Worst Trip Planning Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them)

One important consideration as you seek out more comfort is that your prospects for the chance encounters at the heart of travel can shrink dramatically. As Mike Sullivan notes, the biggest difference now is that his approach to travel “now focuses more on ‘avoidance of disaster’ rather than ‘seeking adventure.’ I still try to travel on the cheap, and am pretty good at it. But interestingly, as my means have grown, my choices have shrunk. Example: In my younger days, while in Venezuela I got invited to a guy’s home I’d met over some Polar beers. I stayed almost two weeks, got to know his family really well, and my espanol improved immensely. I doubt that I’d do that now even if offered.”

Adventurousness aside, within our surfing group the determining factor is limited vacation time weighed against time with our children. Like a lot of Americans, many of us had kids a bit later in life, so now as our traveling ambitions cool down, our parenting obligations fire up. If you only get a couple of weeks off each year, you’re not going to bail on your kids in order to surf with your buddies.

That doesn’t mean you have to go find yourself a big Maine rental — just take a slightly less rugged road. Washington D.C.-based policy analyst Linda Miller says that “it’s all about how kid-friendly the destination is,” but she is not talking about a theme park with gift shops at the exit of every ride. She has to put her kids first, but her family is just going to take a slightly less insane rafting trip than they might otherwise.

“This summer we are going on a five-day white-water rafting trip on the Green River in Utah with several other families with kids,” she explains. “My husband did an 18-day trip with these people 20 years ago down the Colorado through the Grand Canyon. Now it’s a calmer, more kid-friendly section as we all have little ones in tow. The times, they are a changin’.”

Well, they’re not changing that much, Linda; a rafting trip in the Grand Canyon with kids sounds like a heroic enough effort. And in defense of our group, we’re not giving up totally ourselves — it was a high priority that to make sure there would be a surf break out front of the house in Maine, and we’ll bring some kids’ boards to teach the youngsters.

Sometimes veteran travelers eventually fall for a bit of luxury on the road. Filmmaker Mary Mazzio simply had this to say about traveling as she gets older: “It’s all about the thread count, baby.” Add to this Cole’s previous comment about getting wealthier and lazier as you age, and you have a trend that you might trace to years of doing your own laundry and scrubbing your own bathtub; travel becomes no less an adventure for being an escape from years of routine.

5 Affordable Ways to Upgrade Your Vacation

Of course, there is one thing that tends to become even more fixed as you age: your value system. Frequent traveler Michael Steuermann has never cared for what he considers the false luxury of many hotel chains, where he feels like he is paying for decor and brand names rather than actual added value.

“I still prefer cheap motels and cheap restaurants,” he says. “I hate to pay up just to walk 400 yards through a maze to a brunch I don’t like, while my car doors get dented in some huge parking garage. As for the service, if you have to pay money for people to kiss your behind, it doesn’t really count.”

Registered investment advisor Kathryn Schwartz concurs, noting that the hotel room ranks very low on her priority list. “I have stayed at some of the nicest hotels around, and I have also stayed at some of the dumpiest,” she says. “At this point, as long as it is clean I would rather not spend the extra money (at least until the next milestone!). Less time in the hotel room = more time exploring.”

New Jersey-based father of two Steve Marchel takes a different approach to similar ends — he decided to rent local houses to save money, and found his personal paradise.

“I started renting houses in the Caribbean mostly due to value,” he says. “That evolved into renting without the kids, seeking more privacy and avoidance of obnoxious and entitled travelers, nothing I want when traveling. I still like the occasional boutique hotel; as a thread-count fan, I do sacrifice some comforts for the autonomy offered in a villa rental, but room service, concierge — not important. Peace, autonomy, kitchen, privacy, noise control, space, etc. — important.”

Vacation Rentals: A Traveler’s Guide

1. Get comfortable lodgings, but make them as convenient as possible. So if you are traveling to a city, put some of your travel budget toward getting a hotel room right in the thick of it — whether that means overlooking Central Park in New York, or in Bloomsbury in London, or at the foot of a ski slope. Do more with less energy and time by eliminating travel time to and from the sweet spots.

2. Do the same stuff, but tone it down. By now, you’ve likely accumulated so many intense travel experiences that you don’t need constant thrills and novelty. Take inspiration from Linda Miller, and do the kiddie section of the Grand Canyon. For myself, I have surfed so many places that I don’t need to hack trails with a machete to have a good time. On a recent trip I was content to surf a lesser break that just happened to be right out front of our lodging. In the end I caught more waves with less hassle than I have in a long time, all while watching my kid play on the beach. It was a good trade.

3. Book sensible itineraries. Every bit of energy and enthusiasm you burn running through an airport or suffering through a red-eye is energy you won’t be able to call up when you really need it. If you make sure the to-and-from part of your travels is easier, the being-there part will get better.

4. Know what you care about. Mary Mazzio wants nice sheets; Mike O’Gorman couldn’t care less. If there is nothing else the years have to offer, it is knowing thyself.

couple with globe dreaming of travel

5. If you haven’t done it yet, do it now. Many travelers I know put off their dream trip when they were younger and now can’t see any way of actually making it happen — at least until they retire. But listening to all the folks above, it becomes clear that as the years pass, it doesn’t get easier, you don’t find the time, your family obligations don’t evaporate and your other responsibilities only increase. If you don’t make it happen, no one else will. See How to Make Your Dream Trip a Reality for advice.

Has your travel style changed over the years?

Go Anyway,

Ed Hewitt

Features Editor
IndependentTraveler.com

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