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San Francisco’s Art Scene: On and Off the Beaten Path

July 25, 2017 at 12:19 am

San Francisco’s creative soul has rocked the art world from one generation to the next – so where better to explore the delights of the visual imagination than on your California Tours vacation to the City By the Bay?  The art of the Beats and the Summer of Love; Bay Area figurative painting, abstraction, and photography; and the output of untold artists over time inform one of the most free-spirited and cutting-edge art communities on the planet.

As you dip your toes into the Bay area’s myriad inspirations, you’ll find a superb choice of major museums with internationally significant exhibits – San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (sfmoma.org), De Young Museum (deyoung.famsf.org), Legion of Honor Museum (legionofhonor.famsf.org), Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (bampfa.berkeley.edu), and Oakland Museum of California (museumca.org).

If your interests lie off the beaten path, there’s much happening locally, as well. All venues below are near transit lines and entry is free of charge.

A good starting place is one of the area’s renowned colleges of art. The San Francisco Art Institute (sfai.edu) (two blocks from Lombard Street’s curves), and California College of the Arts (cca.edu) (San Francisco and Oakland) have welcoming campuses showing fresh sculpture, painting, photography, performance, digital art, printmaking, film, and more. Both have curated galleries and informal areas exhibiting the work of established and up-and-coming pros, and hot-off-the-brushes student work.

If you want to remember your stay by purchasing a piece of art but are put off by high prices and slick galleries, head to Crown Point Press (crownpoint.com). In the heart of San Francisco’s tech-centric SoMa neighborhood, this old-world publisher of hand-pulled etchings, with a workshop, gallery and store in a lovely historic building, represents a wonderful variety of artists. And, you can snap up one of their prints at a nice price.

After you sample California cuisine at Berkeley’s gourmet ghetto on Shattuck Avenue, be sure to check out ACCI Gallery (accigallery.com), an artists’ cooperative with an appealing range of attainably-priced jewelry, ceramics, paintings, fabric arts, and more, by local craftspeople. Ship your purchase home from the post office only one block away.

Once a month, many downtown San Francisco galleries stay open after hours to host receptions and viewings on First Thursday (sfada.com/member-events/). If you’re in town, this lively art and people-watching experience is worth checking out. And if you’re not in town, the link takes you to a comprehensive calendar of art events.

And, as you head out on your California Tours vacation package to San Francisco and beyond, don’t forget to pack your sketchbook and watercolors or pencils. When inspiration comes, you’ll have the tools handy to jot down the day’s impressions, and return with your own take on a memorable area.

Regions of Kauai and Favorite Movie Moments

April 25, 2017 at 4:35 pm

Aerial landscape view of spectacular Na Pali coast, Kauai, Hawaii, USA


The island of Kauai is the fourth largest island in the Hawaiian chain, and is also known as the Garden Isle. It is home to such majestic beauty that over 60 movies have been shot on Kauai throughout its five distinct regions. I encourage you to be your own director or photographer as you visit Lihue, South Shore, the East side a.k.a. Coconut Coast, the West Side, and North Shore.

Jurassic trees in Allerton Garden

Lihue: Huleia River can be reached by air or accessed on kayak. It is where the Raiders of the Lost Ark was filmed when you see that initial temple scene. And if you travel to the Nawiliwili Harbor, some scenes will remind you of Jurassic Park: The Lost World. While you are in Lihue, take a peek inside the Kauai Museum where you will find some great local art and learn about the island’s history. And head to the Grove Farm Homestead Museum to see what life was like back in the farming days.

East Side (Coconut Coast): If you are a fan of Blue Hawaii, Lydgate State Park served as a key spot for this popular Elvis Presley movie. Meanwhile, get yourself good and wet at Wailua Falls, one of the tallest falls on the island. It is also where Fantasy Island, the TV show was filmed. Who can forget that famous line, “The plane! The plane! For the films Blue Hawaii and Islands in the Stream, the gorgeous Wailua River served as an idyllic back drop. Meanwhile, amazing Opaekaa Falls was the site for The Wackiest Ship in the Army, a 1960 flick starring Jack Lemmon. This 151-foot waterfall flows over volcanic eruptions and can be found at the Wailua River State Park. Opaekaa means “rolling shrimp” which were once found in its waters.

North Shore: Daniel K. Inouye Kilauea Lighthouse represents one of the famed sites included in the Disney animation, Lilo & Stitch. It is also a coveted locale for bird watching. Pay a nominal fee at the Kilauea National Wildlife Refuge (on the same property) and see if you can spy a red-footed boobie! The same film features Anini Beach Park and Hanalei Bay. And do you recall the musical South Pacific? Key shooting locations included the Lumahai Beach and the Makua Tunnels Beach which is particularly known for great snorkeling and scuba diving. And when you take a speed boat or hike out to Na Pali Coast, note to yourself that this familiar scenery was featured in Jurassic Park: The Lost World and Six Days/Seven Nights.

West Side: Waimea Canyon is known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. Do come here for hiking and plenty of picture taking. This deep green canyon is featured in films such as Donovan’s Reef, Honeymoon in Vegas, Lilo & Stitch. Hanapepe Town, sighted for Flight of the Intruder, Lilo & Stitch, and Thornbirds, is also the art capital of Kauai. You’ll have to come here to take home an art treasure and discover your new favorite artist.

South Shore: Manawaiopuna Falls, seen only by air, can also be seen in the first Jurassic Park. And when you see the movie, it will also give you a great glimpse of the National Tropical Botanical Garden’s Allerton Garden. You will have to make a day trip to come out. Other tourist sites include the Spouting Horn blowhole for photo opportunities and Poipu Beach Park for picnics and swimming. Old Koloa Town is where you will get your shopping fix as you meander through restored plantation buildings.

The list of movies continues to grow as YouTube videographers and Hollywood directors continue to draw inspiration from the Garden Isle. Have a movie you have seen shot in Kauai not listed here? Give me a holler! Aloha for now.



Kathy Chin Leong is an award-winning travel journalist who has trekked the world. As founder of www.bayareafamilytravel.com, she is passionate about helping people step out of their comfort zones and challenge themselves to try new things and visit new places. Her work can be found in National Geographic Books, Sunset Magazine, and many others. 



Cultural Stirrings in Maui

March 17, 2017 at 8:21 pm

Landscape view of bamboo forest and rugged path on Pipiwai trail, Maui, Hawaii

You’ve visited Maui umpteen times. You do the same thing- you relax, you eat out, you read a book, and maybe work up the energy to embark on a hike or two. Now, listen up: on your next trip to this fair island, tackle your tropical vacation by incorporating culture into your daily happenings. By tapping the authentic side of Maui, your week will be enriched, and you’ll expand your appreciation for the traditions of Hawaii, and you’ll be a better person for it. Trust me!

Art Galleries- For a fascinating way to explore the island, bop around the different sections of Maui to find small galleries along the way. There seems to be a fantastic crop of artists in Hawaii, and you will find phenomenal sculpture, paintings, fabric art, and mixed media that echo the Maui soul. The website, www.prideofmaui.com has a listing of what it considers as the top ten art galleries of the island.

Heritage Sites-Two designated Hawaii Heritage Sites have been selected in Maui for their distinct impact on culture and history and the environment. First up is the lush Iao Valley State Park where King Kamehameha conquered the Maui Army in a forceful battle in 1790. The other is the Haleakala National Park, home to a mammoth-sized volcanic crater. Popular activities are riding a van to the top to see the sunrise and biking back down or taking a bus to see the sunset.

Music and Entertainment– The comforting, breezy music classic to Hawaii can be heard in public places including the Whalers Village shopping mall, downtown Lahaina, and many restaurants, bars, and lounges throughout the island. Of note is the slack key guitar music of George Kahumoku Jr., a four-time Grammy award winning artist. You can find him and his entourage playing at the Napili Kai Beach Resort Pavilion on Wednesdays and Thursdays. This casual concert is welcoming and fun for the entire family.

And do not leave Maui without attending the irrepressible Ulalena show at the Maui Theater. This $9.5 million production combines dance, music, multimedia, and acrobatics to illustrate Hawaii’s history. And no, it’s not cheesy. Ethereally elegant, professionally-crafted with high-end sets, this is an unforgettable performance that touches the heart.

Art and Culture – A trek to the Maui Arts and Cultural Center is worth the drive. Each time you visit it will be different for programs change all the time. Here, you can book a ticket to see a high-quality concert or dance exhibition. The art gallery also showcases regional and international artwork.

And at the Hui No’eau Visual Arts Center, you can wander the grounds of the famous Kaluanui Estate, where it is located, and visit its history room. You can watch sculptors, glass blowers, painters, and other visual artists in action. If you plan ahead, you can register to take a one day or half day workshop to learn a Hawaiian craft.
Cowboy History- Wander into Makawao to hear stories about the panoilo, or Hawaiian cowboys where they have their own culture. Located “up island”, this low-key town has also become an artist enclave. Be a cowpoke at Piiholo Ranch, and saddle up for horseback riding. If you want to experience ranch life, reserve a spot at Piiholo to be a Maui cowboy for a day. By five or six o’clock you’ll be famished, so stay in town for a juicy steak dinner at the Makawao Steak House and talk story with a local.

Do you have other Hawaiian cultural activities not listed here? Respond to this post with your ideas and share with the California-Tour.com community!






Kathy Chin Leong is an award-winning travel journalist who has trekked the world. As founder of www.bayareafamilytravel.com, she is passionate about helping people step out of their comfort zones and challenge themselves to try new things and visit new places. Her work can be found in National Geographic Books, Sunset Magazine, and many others. 

SAVANNAH: Insiders’ Guide

February 3, 2017 at 12:55 am


Forsyth Park in downtown Savannah, GA

Forsyth Park in downtown Savannah, GA

No one told me about the moving buildings.

The first time I visited Savannah, I was at a downtown park where George Washington had made a post-Revolutionary War speech. Suddenly I noticed what appeared to be a colorful building moving behind the brickwork and wrought iron of Factor’s Walk. I followed the unusual site until I came to on opening between the brown and red buildings. That’s when I realize the “moving building” was actually shipping containers stacked several stories high and being ferried down the Savannah River. While freight ships pulling their towering cargo into the Port of Savannah (busiest on the East Coast) are a frequent sight, the illusion of moving yellow and orange buildings continues to surprise me when I see it.

That’s the special thing about Savannah: I’ve been there many times over the last 25 years, and there’s always something there to surprise me.

Leopold's ice cream_sLast time, it was Leopold’s Ice Cream, which started business in 1919. Unless you have a local showing you around (as I did), the casual visitor is unlikely to come across this unique destination. Leopold’s claims to have created Tutti Fruitti ice cream. If that sounds too sweet, check out a Guinness float made from – yes, Guinness ice cream. Leopold’s looks like a traditional small-town ice cream shop, but with a twist. One of the three family members who owns Leopold’s is also a movie producer for such films as “Mission Impossible 3,” so film lovers will love the cinema posters.


Another great destination for both atmosphere and food is The Pirate’s House Restaurant. Originally opened in 1753 as an inn for sailors, it quickly became a meeting place for pirates and scalawags who made port in Savannah. The inn was even mentioned in the Robert Louis Stevenson classic, “Treasure Island.” Today it’s a large rambling restaurant with 15 dining rooms, a gift shop, and its own resident ghost.

Another “haunted” destination is the Olde Pink House Restaurant and Tavern is located in the only 18th Century mansion remaining in the city. It is located in a Georgian mansion built in 1771 of pink stucco that gives the restaurant its name. The Old Pink House is located next to the antique-filled Planters’ Inn B&B on Reynold’s Square.

Family Bike Ride Historic District - visit Savannah_s

Photo by visitsavannah.com

Savannah is famous for its network of some two dozen public squares in the historic district. Each has its own claim to fame, but perhaps the most unique is Rousakis Plaza. Stand on the “X” in the center, speak, and experience an unusual “echo chamber” effect that can only be heard that those within the square.


The city is also dotted with boutique shops along River Street, Factor’s Walk and Broughton (where you can browse with drink in hand). City Market offers bistros, galleries, and live music in the evenings. Paris Market offers curios of all types. For antiques, the Noble Hardee Mansion offers hard-to-find treasures. Locals favor the Downtown Design District, with such shops as French Knot, Custard Boutique, and One Fish Two Fish.


If you want to see the famous “Bird Girl” statue from the cover of the book “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” she no longer resides at Bonaventure Cemetery. In 2014, the statue was added to the Telfair Museums collection to protect her from possible vandalism.


There’s so much more to do in Savannah it’s almost impossible to list it all. Take afternoon tea at The Tea Room. Taste the honey at Savannah Bee Company. Buy student artwork at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), one of the top creative schools in North America. Visit Jen’s & Friends for a Moon Pie Martini. Stroll down Jones Street, voted among the most beautiful streets by “Southern Living” magazine. Take a pedicab ride on the cobblestones of River Street. Segway through a historic cemetery. Or drive beneath the spreading canopy of Spanish moss that drapes the live oaks approaching the Wormsloe Historic Site. Take a haunted tour in an old hearse, or go scuba diving with whales off Sapelo Island.

The more you see, the more you’ll want to see. Savannah is beautiful, charming, friendly – and never boring.


Bobby L. Hickman is an Atlanta-based freelance travel and business journalist. His work has appeared in such publications as Southern Living, Georgia Trend, and TravelMuse.com. Learn more at www.blhickman.com