Sedona: Where Nature Calls and Culture Buffs Find Paradise

July 6, 2018 at 1:12 am

On one hand you’ve got your nature and adrenalin junkies. And on the other, you have your art and culture mavens. Deciding where to go to satisfy cravings of the two extremes is easy:  Sedona, Arizona.  The red rock mountains and cliffs jumpstart inspiration for paintings and sculptures, and they define the southwestern culture along with iconic trading posts and historic architecture.  A journey fulfills a dream trip on that Bucket List leaving a satisfying impression.

When you arrive on that undulating ribbon of road known as Highway 179, what sneaks up on you are the giant mountains so aflame in red and orange you feel physically hot. As the sun lowers, fellow tourists race to capture photos of the rocks intensifying with color with every second ticking away.

near Bellrock

  It’s no surprise Sedona is a hiking mecca.  Even if you shudder at the thought of wearing hiking boots, the allure of these sandstone landscapes beckon you to explore the nooks and crannies where the early Navajo and Yavapai called home.  You will want to witness Sedona’s miraculous formations for yourself – namely Bell Rock, Cathedral Rock, the Snoopy rock, the battleship, the coffee pot, among others.

  To start, head to the Sedona Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center. The staff is well versed in recommending trails of various difficulty levels.  Popular ones include the not-for-the-faint-of-heart Cathedral Rock trail with dramatic views and the easy-to-do, one-mile Boynton Vista Trail hike.

near Bellrock

And while you can trek all day on foot and love it, you can encounter Sedona’s red dirt a different way. Via jeep. That’s when a professional 4×4 driver takes over the steering wheel and sends your pulse quickening and hair standing on end. Adventure guides at Pink Jeep Tours guarantee thrilling off-road journeys on bumpy, uncharted paths.  If you are still unfazed, join a hot air balloon ride with Northern Lights Balloon Expeditions.  Imagine floating above ancient red pinnacles and spires that reduce to a pin head the higher you go.

  Back on land, exercise your eyeballs perusing collections in art venues such as the Lanning Gallery for fine art and the Sedona Arts Center for local works where you can also take classes.  Meander the Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village, an outdoor plaza with boutiques and all things handmade and Southwestern.

  Also classic to Sedona are Native American trading posts. Need a lucky rabbit’s foot, mountain lion jawbones, or a pair of antlers?  Poke around Clear Creek Trading where you can snap up gemstones, unusual ornaments, and all sorts of quirky affordable trinkets.

  A must see in Sedona is the Chapel of the Holy Cross, a modern church painstakingly embedded onto a rock face. Every local knows where it is. Surrounded by jagged mountains, the structure was completed back in 1955. This beacon of hope represents one of the most hailed destinations in Sedona. The idea for the architectural landmark came to artist Marguerite Brundswig Staude when she saw an image of a cross superimposed on the Empire State Building.  Later on, she knew this exact location in Sedona was ideal for the church after she spied nearby rock formations that resembled a pair of praying nuns and another set of rocks that looked like the Madonna and the Christ child.  When you visit, go early. Parking fills up quickly.

  No one can leave Sedona without sampling Southwestern treats, so leave your prejudices at home and let your taste buds run free. For cactus tacos, head to Oaxaca Restaurant. Find the ultimate prickly pear margarita at the Enchantment Resort. And if you have always wanted to try rattlesnake meatballs and buffalo skewers, look no further than the Cowboy Club Grille and Spirits.

  So go ahead and conquer that steep rock and scarf up those chili cactus fries.  The happy intersection of nature, art, culture, and cuisine makes Sedona a storied destination memorable and approachable for everyone.

If you are interested in visiting Sedona, please check-out our Sedona Vacation Package and start planning your next getaway!

Airport vortex

 Kathy Chin Leong is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times,  Dallas Morning News, and many other publications. She is also the founder of, a website for families who love adventure.

New York City Art : Hop Into the Mix

September 26, 2017 at 9:23 pm


As one of the world’s great art centers, New York City has everything from old masters and renowned museums to storefront upstarts and ephemeral surprises. It’s the place to get a refresh on the artwork you love, and to be stimulated by the new and completely unexpected.

Start with NYC Hop-on Hop-off Pass, an included benefit that will bring you near your choice of 30+ museums throughout the City and beyond, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art (, the Guggenheim (, Whitney Museum of American Art (, and the Museum of Modern Art (

The Museum Mile ( is a lovely area along Fifth Avenue and Central Park that’s filled with museums and other fine arts institutions. At the northern end, El Museo del Barrio ( celebrates the art and artifacts of Caribbean and Latin American cultures.

Through October 29, 2017, the New York Botanical Garden (, north of Manhattan in the Bronx, features a magical garden exhibition of glass works by Dale Chihuly ( Even if you arrive after the exhibit has closed, there’s still much to enjoy at one of the world’s largest botanical gardens and gorgeous Victorian-era National Historic Landmark.

If fresh art is on your radar, you’ll find galleries galore in Chelsea and Brooklyn, as well as Manhattan. The Drawing Center ( exhibits historical and contemporary drawings. White Columns ( is an alternative exhibit space devoted to rising stars. MoMA PS1 ( on Long Island extends MoMA’s commitment to emerging artists.

Who says art is solely a visual experience? Explore the art of scent at Aedes Perfumery (, an intimate shop in the West Village carrying an intriguing line of fragrances.

Resources I: New York City’s own website provides a complete list of city museums and links at, including links to Free Night and Suggested Contribution museums at

Resources II: Cultural goings on around town are listed and reliably reviewed at the New Yorker (, the New York Times (, New York Magazine ( and The Village Voice (

Keep your eyes open as you stroll New York City and environs, because you never know when you’ll stumble upon great work. Keith Haring painted on empty subway signs and Jean-Michel Basquiat on the walls of broken-down buildings, and the creations of both NYC artists came to be loved by the world. Some creators working now also look to make something meaningful out of what others might pass by unawares…so do be open to the unexpected in artful New York City – on your California Tours vacation!


The Los Angeles Art Scene: A Splash as Big as L.A. Itself

August 1, 2017 at 9:06 pm

Downtown Los Angeles skyline during rush hour at sunset

On your California Tours vacation to fabulous Los Angeles, it’s easy to add an art destination or two. Just like the city, the art world of Los Angeles sprawls and surprises, with any medium on your radar screen accessible via the city’s web of freeways.

Every time of year, L.A. is rich with major exhibits and collections open to the public for free or a nominal charge. Downtown, next to the prehistoric La Brea Tar Pits and Museum (, Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s ( huge collection has something for everyone – including modern, Asian, Latin American, American, ancient art, and more. The J. Paul Getty Museum’s two campuses ( have exhibitions with depth and variety, in stunning settings. For contemporary art, consider the Museum of Contemporary Art (, the new Broad Museum (, and The Hammer Museum (

Off the beaten path, smaller galleries and museums reveal Los Angeles’ past and present – its vintage Hollywood glamour, mix of ethnicities, smooth surfer lines, and modernist chic. Here are a few favorites:

  • Eames House, the modern Pacific Palisades home and studio of husband-and-wife designers Charles and Ray Eames ( showcases the influential couple’s take on contemporary furniture, architecture, art, and living. You can combine this with a visit to the Getty Villa, also in Pacific Palisades, but please note that advance reservations (bookable from the website) are required.
  • For film buffs, The Hollywood Museum (, in the historic Max Factor Building in Hollywood, displays one of the largest troves of treasures from the silent screen, Hollywood’s golden era, film noir, feature films, and more.
  • At Santa Monica’s Bergamot Station (, an eclectic mix of more than 30 galleries and a café is just 15 minutes by car from Santa Monica Pier.
  • On the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, Watts Towers are towering sculptures built by Simon Rodia. The outsider artist worked with found materials such as rebar and colored glass from soda bottles, with hand tools alone, and no predetermined design. Guided tours are available for a nominal fee (
  • The Los Angeles Times’ Arts Reviews section provides a good look at what’s happening in L.A. art (
    And don’t forget to pack your camera and sketchbook to record your take on L.A.’s visual palette during your California Tours vacation. From the translucent waves at your beach destination, the skyscrapers of downtown Los Angeles and the hills beyond from your Griffith Observatory stop, or the colorful produce at your visit to the Farmers’ Market, each L.A. stop has its own unique, and memorable, visual splendor.


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 (, De Young Museum (, Legion of Honor Museum (, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (, and Oakland Museum of California (

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 ( (two blocks from Lombard Street’s curves), and California College of the Arts ( (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 ( 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 (, 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 ( 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.