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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



Twelve Hacks for keeping skin and body heathy on the road

January 20, 2017 at 12:23 am


Summer beach set on swimming pool water background

Kathy Chin Leong is an award-winning travel writer who has endured  freezing temperatures  near the Arctic  as well as the scorching sands of Fiji.

On her travels, she  has suffered mosquito bites lasting for weeks, sunburns that have seared off the top layer of her skin,  stinging bladder infections, and cruise ship diarrhea, to name a few.

She shares twelve practical tips on how to keep skin and body healthy after learning the hard way.


1. Drink water, like ALL the time.   I know that you are  sick of hearing this, that  you are not 10 years old, and that I am not your mommy.

Why am I lecturing you? First off, dehydration causes weird headaches, and you will wonder why you are feeling dizzy and cranky. Second, your pee will turn bright yellow as an indicator, and the next thing you know, you have a urine infection. Eww! That burning sensation is NOT, I repeat, NOT fun.

Therefore, guzzle more H2o than usual.  The heaters in airplanes and hotel rooms suck the moisture out of your body like a vacuum cleaner gone amuck.

Always keep fresh bottle with you, and ask if it is safe to drink the tap water every place you trod. Do your homework! Buy bottled water in legit stores, too.  I have been told some tricksters will sell local water and slap a fake label on the bottle. Be wary.


Mosquito repellent. Woman spraying insect repellents on skin outdoor in nature using spray bottle in forest.

2. Moisturize, especially at night.

Take advantage of that hotel lotion to slather your bod and cheeks. Ask housekeeping for boatloads of those infinitesimal bottles without abandon. Bring lip balm to rub on both lips and cuticles. That stuff really works! Traveling a lot does age you as you find yourself running on different time zones and on different schedules while eating exotic foods.


3. Bring healthy snacks, organic teas, and powdered drinks your tummy  is familiar with rather than chancing it in the wild.

Nuts and dried fruit are good energizers, but do not over consume. On the airplane, your pocketbook will not have to get gouged when you whip out your favorite teabag and ask for hot water. I like to bring water enhancers to flavor my bottles when plain water gets boring.


4. If you have allergies, make sure to inquire about the ingredients in foods before consuming.

If going to a foreign country, have an index card  written out in that language so wait staff will understand your condition.  You always bring your meds and over-the-counter meds with you, right? If prone to illness, ask your doctor for an antibiotic prior to your departure. Believe me, having your stuff on hand is better than wasting half a day looking for a pharmacy.  And that foreign pharmacy’s products may or may not work on you!


Young woman applying Suntan Lotion at the beach.

5. Sunscreen yourself several times daily especially in tropical and sunbelt regions such as Hawaii or the Caribbean.

Use SPF 30 or higher.  I learned this on the beaches of Fiji when I forgot my precious tube of SPF, and I thought I was invincible since I never get sunburned in California.  Oh, the folly of that thinking! Lying on my bed to recover  from a toasted  back for the next three days did not make for a romantic  honeymoon.  Oh the pain I could have saved myself if I were not so proud.


6. Protect your scalp and your eyes with a hat and sunglasses.

In Fiji,  the sun is so bright tourists  feel  their pupils are being tasered if they fail to wear protection. Also , skin cancer is a reality, and you must do all you can to guard against it. I try to keep brimmed hats and sunglasses on travel packing list every time I hit the road.


7. Track your weight. Succumb  to  the evil machine – the bathroom scale.

You can weigh yourself before you depart and determine  to maintain that weight or tell yourself you will not go over a certain poundage. Only you can be the judge of how you manage your food intake. Hey, I am not the Diet Police, but note that most  hotels have a gym, and you can find a scale somewhere.


8. Maintain  a food diary.

Apps such as Lose It! will enable you to record your calories, foods, exercise regimen, and weight if you desire. Buffets are deadly, I know. Choose wisely, Young Grasshopper!


9. Integrate movement as much as possible.

On active vacations where you hike and ski,  but do not overdo the eating and drinking just because you think you earned it. When you embark on  an  inactive vacation, force yourself to walk faster, or incorporate exercises in the privacy of your hotel room. The free Move app offers exercise routines to get that blood flowing.


10. Nourish and cleanse  your face and skin by maintaining your schedule.

Bring samples of the face products you use at home to keep your skin fresh and pristine. Do not cut your skin routine short on the road.


young beautiful woman sleeping in bed with eye mask

11. Sleep well.

Get quality sleep so you are not prone to illness. Once I stayed up in my cabin until 2 a.m. on a cruise ship, and I got so worn out I got a fever and chills the next day. It ruined my only sightseeing day in Italy.


12. Destress and relax! Determine that nothing will destroy your good mood.

Your mental state has much to do with your health and quality of life. When you are anxious, angry, worried, or fearful, your body will tebel.  Want fewer wrinkles? Smile more! So what if that waiter in Monaco was a jerk? Prepare yourself mentally with a positive state of mind and refuse to let mishaps or rude waiters upset you. Get over it, forgive quickly, and move on. Life and vacations are way too short to hold a grudge!


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. 

Must-See Sonoma County Itinerary

May 13, 2016 at 5:32 pm

Sonoma County is home to almost 60,000 acres of vineyards, and more than 450 wineries. The food-centric region boasts hundreds of restaurants, from historic roadhouses, to contemporary locavore pubs, to many Michelin-starred destinations. Like any great region, there are numerous natural landmarks here, as well, including historic state parks, and beautiful ranches dating back to the 1800s.

Adding to the pleasure, each geographical area within Sonoma County’s million-plus acres offers its own distinctive treasures, as diverse as coastal ocean cliffs to inland mountain ranges. Indeed, you could easily spend two or three days in each area, and only scratch the surface.

With so many wonderful choices, a first-time visit might seem overwhelming. But take a dip with our highlights guide, and discover a taste of the most celebrated experiences. Follow along as we explore the “must-sees” of Sonoma Valley, the town of Sonoma, and the Carneros area just south of it all.

Day 1

The birthplace of the California’s commercial wine industry in the 1850s, Sonoma Valley now covers more than 14,000 acres of vineyards, dotted with more than 50 wineries and tasting rooms. Rich with bucolic farms and some 13,000 acres of open parkland, Sonoma Valley also boasts some of the County’s best outdoor recreational activities.

So prime yourself for a busy day with a hearty breakfast at El Molino Central. It doesn’t look like much from the outside of its small white stucco frame, but inside, there are organic heirloom corn kernels being painstakingly hand-ground on a stone wheel for tortillas and tamales. Dig into the mouthwatering chilaquiles topped in soft-scrambled Field of Greens eggs, roasted tomato and Alma’s salsa verde, and be sure to add a side of refried Rancho Gordo heritage beans.

El Molino Central

El Molino Central

Other options:

  • Community Café, a Mad Men-like retro diner with modern dishes like Truffled Eggs & Toast, a sumptuous soufflé of thick-sliced toasted English muffin stuffed with egg yolks, draped in fontina cheese, broiled, then smothered in sautéed wild mushrooms, asparagus and a drizzle of truffle oil.
  • Sunflower Caffe Espresso & Wine Bar, where the specialty is sweet or spicy chai latte “dirty” style, with a shot of espresso added (great with the Peruvian spiced chicken omelet with cilantro lime cream, sweet-spicy aji chile crema and black bean chili).

A visit to Buena Vista Winery is next, to see the oldest commercial winery in California.  Founded in 1857, it’s complete with caves that are now historical landmarks. The buildings and cave have recently been renovated for modern safety measures, but remain elegantly dark and mysterious, with a new attraction: an interactive museum of ancient winemaking tools.

Buena Vista Winery

Buena Vista Winery

Now head to the 400-acre Bartholomew Memorial Park just over the hillside, which is also home to Bartholomew Park Winery. The on-site museum shares the long history of Sonoma winemaking, including a display of primitive agricultural tools used since the park’s original villa was built in 1861.

Other options:

You’re ready to catch your breath for a few minutes, so dig your toes into the grass beneath the shade trees in the eight-acre Sonoma Plaza (the largest such plaza in California). When you’re ready to get up, lunch is just steps away, at the famous The Girl & the Fig. The French-country restaurant has built its reputation on stellar, seasonal plates like duck egg ravioli with spring mushrooms, onion crema, green garlic, spring peas and baby carrots sprinkled in smoked paprika.

The Girl and the Fig

The Girl and the Fig

Other options:

The Plaza is great for shopping in the many boutiques, art galleries and gourmet food stores lining its sidewalks. You’ll also want to tour the National Historic Landmark adobe buildings right along the walkway, designed in 1834 by the Mexican Governor Mariano Vallejo. Stop, too, at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, designated as the largest visual arts organization in the San Francisco North Bay region.

Sonoma Valley Museum of Art

Sonoma Valley Museum of Art

That evening, stay at El Dorado, a 27-room luxury boutique hotel dating to the 1840s but completely modernized and charming with four poster beds and French doors leading to private balconies overlooking the Plaza and gardens.

El Dorado Hotel

El Dorado Hotel

Other options:

For dinner, the AAA Four Diamond Award Santé  restaurant at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa is a worthy, and most memorable indulgence in upscale California cuisine. Treat yourself to the 7-course chef’s tasting menu including amuse and cheese plate — sweet butter poached lobster is an entree signature. Sip, too, since the wine list features more than 500 Sonoma and Napa wines.

Day 2

Carneros spans 8,000 vineyard acres with more than 20 wineries, tucked atop San Pablos Bay just south of the town of Sonoma. There’s lots to see, so fuel yourself with a big breakfast at The Fremont Diner, where chef-owner Chad Harris fills our bellies with Sunset magazine award-winning comfort food like fried chicken and waffles, fried fruit pie, chicory coffee, fluffy biscuits and creamy gravy.

Schug Carneros Estate Winery is another nearby treasure, internationally renowned for its Pinot Noirs. The place is classic, set on a hillside of vineyards bordered by rose bushes, a German chalet-style winery, and stone caves lined with wine barrels.

Zip over to another icon, Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards, to toast your adventures with the signature sparkling wine at just around the Hwy. 121 bend. Established nearly 30 years ago, this winery was the first sparkling wine house in the Carneros area, though you’ll learn on your entertaining, educational tour through the caves and vista terrace that the Ferrer family has been making sparkling wines for more than 150 years.

Gloria Ferrer

Gloria Ferrer

Other options:

In December of 2013, St. Francis Winery & Vineyards in Santa Rosa was named the No. 1 restaurant in all of America, courtesy of Open Table. So what better place for a star-studded lunch, featuring a six-course tasting menu prepared by executive chef David Bush paired with wines from St. Francis’ artisan collection? You might have bouillabaisse of fresh fish and shellfish, fingerling potatoes, fennel fronds and grilled crostini topped in rouille with a glass Cabernet Franc, for example, plus grilled bavette of beef with Bloomsdale spinach in sesame-miso vinaigrette, baby turnips, garlic chips and truffled ponzu alongside a glass of Merlot.

Other options:

  • Madrone Vineyards Estate, originally built in 1887, but recently remodeled with a new small bites pairing
  • Hamel Family Wines with breathtaking glass and wood architecture; try the Reserve Experience with a cheese-charcuterie board and small bites

Soak up even more beauty at Jack London Historic State Park just minutes away, which the renowned 19th Century author himself called “Beauty Ranch.” You can easily spend at least three hours here, strolling around the House of Happy Walls museum, London’s famous writing cottage, the Wolf House ruins, the delightful and innovative Pig Palace, barns, the lake and bathhouse. Hikers and horseback riders share the 26-mile trails, too, marked by a 2,000 year-old redwood tree.

Other options:

All this exercise means you can reward yourself with an extra fine dinner, and there is little finer than Glen Ellen Star, where former French Laundry talent Ari Weiswasser draws crowds nightly for his award-winning California-Mediterranean cuisine. The menu changes frequently with the seasons, but always celebrates a fire-fed wood oven for favorites like wood roasted heirloom baby carrots smoothed in Oaxacan mole and topped in sesame seed brittle; and wood oven roasted lamb meatballs atop couscous, red charmoula and preserved lemon. Save room for a sweet finish of homemade salted peanut butter ice cream.

Glen Ellen Star

Glen Ellen Star

Other options:

Need more information, please visit sonomacounty.com.

If you need help in planning your getaway, check out our Napa and Sonoma Valley vacation package.

Carey Sweet is a food, wine and travel journalist based in Sonoma County. You can read her work in the San Francisco Chronicle, USA Today, Time Inc. publications, airline travel magazines, Gannett newspapers and numerous travel magazines and websites. Follow her on careysweet.com.