Hiking in Hawaii

January 23, 2013 at 12:30 am


While there are many spectacular destinations to hike around the globe, the Hawaii islands offer its visitors a plethora of excellent hiking trails. There are nine island masses that make up Hawaii: Hawaii, also known as the Big Island, Maui, Oahu, Kauai, Molokai, Lanai, Niihau, and Kahoolawe. Each island has its own unique geography and history. Whether you are interested in a physically strenuous, but very fulfilling hike, or if you enjoy a less challenging scenic hike, the Hawaii Islands are the place to go.

Hiking Na Pali Coast in Kauai

If you are seasoned hiker, or even a beginner, there are numerous trails in Kauai to satisfy all your hiking needs. Much of Kauai is inaccessible by road, making it the perfect hiking destination. The Kalalau Trail along the Napali Coast is 11 miles long. While this trail is considered challenging, don’t let that stop you from exploring its beauty for at least 2 miles to see Hanakapi’ai Beach. The view of Kauai’s North Shore is breathtaking – with the lush green mountain terrain on one side and the steep cliff drop towards the powerful ocean below, the Kalalau trail is not one to miss.

There are also many famous hiking trails on the Big Island. King’s Trail, also known as Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail, is located on the Kona Coast. It is a 175-mile long trail that travels through numerous ancient Hawaiian settlements.  You will come across temples, petroglyphs, and even fishing shrines! In addition to the cultural and historical richness of the trail, the natural resources will be surrounding you in abundance. Look for the native sea turtle habitats – when the water is calm you may see turtles in small coves along the shore.

Pipiwai Trail waterfalls, Maui, Hawaii

The Pipiwai Trail in Haleakala National Park in Maui offers its visitors a glimpse of the island’s beautifully diverse scenery. Don’t forget to pick up some bamboo hiking poles at the trailhead. The hike has some steep slopes in the first half mile that can be difficult to maneuver, especially in the rainy season from November through March. Highlights on the trail include sights such as a majestic banyan tree, a bamboo forest, and cascading waterfalls. Waimoku Falls, located at the end of the trail, drops 400 feet off a sheer cliff of black lava rock.

View from Diamond Head

Have you even wanted to hike up a volcano? If you are planning a visit to Waikiki, the Diamond Head summit trail, or Le’ahi in Hawaiian, is not to be missed. Diamond Head received its name by British sailors in the 19th century who thought they saw diamonds on the volcano slopes. Although there were no diamonds to be found, the name stuck. This 560 foot climb can be done in about an hour and any able-bodied person can enjoy its spectacular 360° views. From Waikiki, to the Pacific Ocean, to Ko’olau Mountains, the views are absolutely stunning. Bring water and sunscreen with you on the hike to the Diamond Head crater, as it can get hot on the trail and a nice breeze and shade are sometimes hard to come by.

Always take precautions while hiking. Be sure to wear shoes that you don’t mind getting wet and/or muddy. It is also important to always bring water and food, as the hiking can work up an appetite. Even if you are a seasoned hiker, it is best to hike with a partner. Not only will you be able to share the sights with someone, but it’s always nice to have a helping hand on those steeper slopes. Hawaii is gorgeous with its pristine natural beauty and its magnificently breathtaking views. There are many well-tread trails that wind around the islands of Hawaii, don’t miss your opportunity to explore as many of them as you can. For information on Hawaii vacations, check out California Tours Hawaii Packages and book your flight and hotel today!

For more trail information check out the following links:
Kauai: http://www.hawaii-guide.com/kauai/hiking_trails
Hawaii: http://www.gohawaii.com/
Maui: http://www.gohawaii.com/maui/guidebook/topics/hiking-on-maui
Oahu: http://www.gohawaii.com/oahu

Napa Valley- Reservations Required

November 27, 2012 at 12:33 am

Appointment only wineries are worth it! They say wine is like a story and Napa Valley certainly has a lot. Don’t miss your opportunity to get all the juicy details from insiders. Wineries requiring reservations offer one-on-one time and often the chance to meet the winemakers themselves. Don’t deprive yourself of the true VIP experience by only sticking strictly with public tasting.  Make a reservation and finally find the time to relax, have a glass of wine, and take advantage of the intimate setting at these “exclusive” wineries.

Straight from the vine, freshly picked Napa Valley Grapes

Pros-Not the most experienced wine connoisseurs-fear not. Surprisingly the appointment only wineries are not as exclusive and highbrow as many may think. The wineries we experienced were down to earth and most importantly not phased by our sometimes-remedial questions.  The value of tasting are largely better, by limiting the number of patron wineries can focus on quality control rather than surviving the bum rush at the tasting bar. Savor the moment, no one is rushing you and you have the wine host all to your self. With private tasting you have a captive audience, the pourer has no reason to move on to bigger wallets- don’t be shy to ask for seconds.

Cons– yes you do have to pay a tasting fee that is on average more expensive than the public wineries. Keep in mind you are also paying for the opportunity to taste some superior quality wines available nowhere else. Why not bring home a Souvenir; often tasting fees are waived when you decide take a bottle home.

Wanting to try the experience for ourselves we called ahead and made appointments with two of Napa’s hidden gems: Fleury Estate and Schweiger Vineyard & Winery.

Front patio view from Fluery Estate Winery, Napa Valley

Appointment only Fleury Estate Winery lives up to its motto: 100% Good Juice. Their wine BDX is featured exclusively on French Laundry’s Tasting Menu- an honor that is not overlooked in the valley. Owners’ son, Eric, admits that they have no plans of making their wine available in stores anytime soon. Despite their upscale following Fleury’s atmosphere is surprising casual and fun. Eric was charming and candidly shared some of the family stories behind the wines. We spent most of our appointment with him and his passion for the family business was obvious.  Tasting highlights include: Reserve Howell Mountain BDX and the Port.

Schweiger Vineyard & Winery, Napa Valley

Historically Napa Wineries have been family owned. Boutique appointment only wineries, like Schweiger, are keeping this tradition alive, keeping both grape growing and wine making in the family. Upon arrival at this mountaintop vineyard we observed owner Fred Schweiger running a tractor through the rows. Erin our hostess sat on the balcony and chatted with us like an old friend. She told us about the wine, family history and even doted on her favorite vineyard dog.  We learned that every year wine-maker and son Andrew releases his Dedication Wine, of which he honors someone important in his life. We easily could have spent our entire day there our day was that enjoyable; at Schweiger Vineyards & Winery, “…what’s important is family and friends”.  Highlights: cheese plate with tasting & cellar and “wine blending tour”.

Interested in visiting similar appointment only wineries in Napa Valley? For a complete listing of appointment only wineries in Napa Valley please see www.napavintners.com. Check out California Tours’ Napa Valley Packages and book your private wine country get-away today!

LA Shopping: Fashion District

October 5, 2012 at 5:14 pm

Los Angeles is known as the fashion capital of the west coast.  There are a variety of different prestigious shopping locations, such as Rodeo drive, but the Fashion District is where the deals are. While you might spot a celebrity on Rodeo Drive, you will most certainly spot discount prices and unique fashions in the Fashion District. With over 1,000 stores in a 90 block radius, the Fashion District is the perfect hunting ground for the die-hard shopper.

The Fashion District can be a bit overwhelming if you have never been there. So before you race over to the Fashion District for those amazing shopping deals and discounts, here are a few things to keep in mind:

In order to efficiently navigate without wasting valuable shopping time, be sure to take a map of the district with you – trying to explore the 90 blocks without some direction can be a bit daunting. You can download a map here.

Entrance to Santee Alley

Unless you know exactly the type of merchandise you are looking for, it can be difficult deciding where to begin your shopping extravaganza. Santee Alley, yes it really is an alley, is a great place to start your shopping excursion.  Commonly referred to as ‘The Alley,” it is widely known for its great bargains and lively atmosphere. Although only two blocks long, the Alley offers shoppers a taste of the different types of stores and merchandise available in the Fashion District.

Dress comfortably!

You will be doing a lot of walking in crowded areas, so be sure to wear comfortable clothes and shoes. There is no need to dress like you are shopping on Rodeo Drive. Bargaining and haggling are both expected and encouraged in the district. Dressing to impress implies you have money to spend. If you want to receive the amazing bargains the Fashion District is known for, dress accordingly. Take advantage – dress comfortable and haggle for great deals!

Bring cash. Many stores do not accept credit cards. If you get to the Fashion District without any cash, don’t worry. There are many ATMs sprinkled throughout the district.

Size and fit on clothing is not consistent from store to store or even from garment to garment. So before you buy any clothing articles, try it on first! The majority of the shops do not have conventional dressing rooms. Wear thin, non-bulky clothes so you can easily try things on over your clothes.

Large selections!

There is a high turnover of merchandise, so if you see something you cannot live without, it is best to buy it while it is still available.  Be aware that much of the merchandise is sold “as is,” so make sure you are comfortable with the condition of your choices before you purchase. Checking the condition of the merchandise can be helpful during the bargaining process. Merchants want you to purchase their product – make certain you want to purchase it too.

Use the restroom before going to district. There are restrooms located sporadically throughout the district, but if you do not know where you are going they can be very difficult to find. In addition, the majority of the restrooms you will find will not be ones you want to use.

The Fashion District offers its visitors a chance to shop unique trends at affordable prices. As the creative center for the fashion industry, any fashion craze can be at your fingertips. So explore the abundant selection of stores and merchandise – who knows what you may find!

Endless shopping possibilities!

For more information on shopping tips for LA’s Fashion District check out this blog: One Truth for All

Miami, Florida: Outdoor Pleasures divine for the adventure seeker

February 8, 2012 at 5:00 am


If the thought of going to Miami conjures up images of hedonistic nightclubs and topless beaches, let me assure you there’s more to this Florida vacation spot than meets the naked eye. For the outdoor adventure seeker, sensational water action alone is worth the flight. Further, hiking and bicycling tours guarantee unforgettable day trips to scenic destinations other location can replicate.

Consider this: the region offers over 600 miles of pristine Florida coastline to explore with seafaring opportunities of every ilk. Miami is the largest city in Miami-Dade County, a major metropolitan area in southern Florida with 35 incorporated cities topping population charts at 2.5 million residents.

Other popular cities in the county include Miami Beach, Key Biscayne, and Coral Gables. Since the county is home to a vibrant Latin American community, tourists gain an eclectic appreciation for Miami’s ethnic foods, Latin culture, architecture, and language with every visit.

According to insiders, the best time of year to come if you want to escape the cold is the winter season, from January to March. That is when temperatures are mild, but crowds are heavy at this peak time. If you want to come during a slower season, the months of April and May are ideal after college and high school spring breaks, and hotel rooms may be cheaper.

What to do and where to go for that natural high? Consider these options:

1) Learn a new water sport. Outfitters will teach you to windsurf, kayak, stand-up paddle board, scuba dive in a few hours. Sailboards Miami of Key Biscayne is at your beck and call for these types of lessons.  See www.sailboardsmiami.com.

2) Take a bike tour or go off on your own. Local travel company dubbed City Discovery offers an Art Deco South Beach Bike Tour so you learn about the city’s architecture, history and culture while you ride. South Beach, trendy and hip with retail stores and restaurants,  is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Miami. Details can be found at www.city-discovery.com./miami.

3) Sign up for a boat ride, but not just any boat ride. Want to hire a yacht for a party with its own skipper? Is your idea of romance defined by sailing out on a glass-bottom catamaran?  How about a speed boat excursion with a glass of champagne a la Mission Impossible? Thriller Miami Speedboat Tours may suit you fine if an adrenaline boost is what it takes to get you grinning. Check out www.thrillermiami.com.

4) Visit one or both national parks. Miami is the only city in the United States that borders two national parks: Everglades and Biscayne. Both parks offer tours, hiking, biking, camping, and boating among unique foliage and wildlife.  See both national parks at www.nps.gov.

5) Dive into as many beaches as you can. Enjoy the variety of Greater Miami beaches which offer a myriad of landscapes and a variety of amenities. Key Biscayne, on the southern tip of the state, features a historic lighthouse, picnic tables, food and drink stands, and bicycling trails. Haulover Beach Park, however, boasts a 9-hole golf course, tennis courts, a kite flying area, and pedestrian tunnels.  Log onto www.miamiandbeaches.com

6) Fish, fish, fish. Embark on an unforgettable journey with Reel Adventure Charters. Experienced fishermen will transform you into a macho angler during  an all-day fishing trip or half-day excursion. The Florida waters are rife with marlin, mahi dolphin, barracuda, shark, and more. Reel Adventure Charters charges $650 for a half-day and $1250 for an all-day outing.  See www.reeladventurecharters.com for reservations.

This is only a sampling of what you can do in Miami while you are working on that gorgeous tan. You can also check out Florida Vacation Packages offered by California Tours. Surfs up, dude!

Award-winning writer Kathy Chin Leong hopes to visit Florida again to catch her first marlin. She is editor of www.bayareafamilytravel.com.