Friday, January 29, 2016

San Francisco's Bay Aquarium brings out the kid in the curious of all ages

These jellyfish -- as graceful as ballerinas -- attract viewers from all over the world, and of all ages at Aquarium of the Bay.
A wondrous, eye-popping time awaits in the undersea tunnels.



IT DOESN'T TAKE much to bring out the kid in me.
An aquarium takes a few decades off my age and behavior immediately.  From the get-go, I'm a kid again.
Seals sun and nap in their own area, just outside the aquarium.
The aquarium's Sea Lion Center is free, with presentations,too.
Fish of all colors abound in the Bay.
I love watching the marine life that lives beneath the surface of the waters.    The Aquarium of the Bay at San Francisco's Pier 39 is a wondrous, compact way to get up close and personal with the ambassadors of the waters.
ON A ROLL from our happy day at San Francisco Zoo, we brought our nature explorations to the underwater tunnels and byways of this small but beautifully arranged aquarium.
A little mermaid enjoys an insider's view of marine life from a clever "bubble."
We kidnapped my niece and her two budding naturalists, and set off for another day communing with other species.
The aquarium's conveniently located at Embarcadero and Beach Street, at the edge of the famed Pier 39.  Its specialty is local aquatic animals from the San Francisco Bay and neighboring waters.
Behind the scenes tours offer a chance to climb a catwalk above the tanks and learn about dive operations.
And you can feed the sharks if you dare!
IF I WERE a kid, I'd convince my teacher to book the Sleepover at the Aquarium of the Bay. (It's available for enterprising school outings.)
The graceful bat rays in one of the exhibits are able to be gently touched 
with a single finger. They know when mealtime is near, and surface playfully.
HELPFUL GUIDES love to chat with visitors about the various displays.  One pointed out the octopus between the two tunnels -- a beautiful, reddish orange guy who seemed a bit shy and was nicely hidden by the coral and plantlife.
Contented aquarium goers leave Pier 39, until next time.
As we strolled through the exhibits, we listened for announcements, but didn't time things right to catch a presentation.  When we return, we hope to watch the sevengill shark feeding, then wander to the tidepool area to see what crabs, sea anemone, worms and small fish like for lunch! We did enjoy a stroll to the free seal haunt just out the door.
Check out the latest on our book tour 
A "Sharks of Alcatraz" talk is scheduled daily, along with "Otter Chat" near the home of these delightful, fast-moving river divers.  And "8 Arms, 9 Brains," near the octopus gallery sounds fascinating (see it daily at high noon.) 
THE AQUARIUM'S thrust is on education, grooming the next generation of young marine-life lovers to be proper sea stewards. What a bittersweet thrill to leave, having spent the day with 20,000 other creatures -- and that's just the ones in the tanks and tunnels!
Actors Manny Fernandes and Carla Harting are delightful playing two old
friends and sparring neighbors who eventually yield to their attraction. 
UP NEXT: A love story with a brogue. "Outside Mullingar" is playing southern California at the renowned San Diego Repertory Theatre. It's a charming love story with a bite, featuring four gifted actors, a talented musical trio to get your toes tapping, deft direction, and the lyrical writing of Oscar and Pulitzer-Prize-winner John Patrick Shanley ("Doubt" and "Moonstruck.") Preview it here at, then book tickets to put you in a Valentine's Day frame of mind and heart. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us late Friday, when we post our weekend piece.

Friday, January 22, 2016

The lion's share! Las Vegas animal park provides thrills a casino can't



The Lion Habitat Ranch is a wonderfully run operation where you can get up close and personal with these gorgeous lions. 


Families and nature lovers take a break from Las Vegas action to enjoy
the Lion Habitat Ranch not far from the famous Strip, and a relaxing break.

JUST A HALF-HOUR from the glitter of the Las Vegas strip, a fascinating haven for lions exists.
Call it a proud pride!
Far from the happy noise and chaos of Sin City, another kind of jackpot awaits the Vegas visitor.
This heavenly enterprise is Lion Habitat Ranch, a non-profit endeavor spawned by Keith Evans and his wife Beverly.  They fell in love with the lions and share them with visitors in a wonderful quiet environment minutes from Las Vegas.
A guinea fowl poses for the photographer.
This beautifully cared for lion has a look at his viewers at the habitat.
He was one of the MGM Grand exhibit lions before that closed.
Our visit was a calming balance to the slots, lights and high-speed city life -- the essential but exhausting pace that draws us all to Las Vegas.
THESE CONTENTED CATS are safe and sound at their 8.5-acre ranch, located about 12 miles from the Las Vegas Strip. On weekends, you can watch the lions romp, play, have lunch and rest. (They sleep more than 14 or 15 hours a day!)
If some of the faces look familiar, that's because they were stars at their former habitat inside MGM Grand Hotel. For 11 years, the devoted Evans brought his big cats from the ranch to the hotel each day, carefully rotating them so visitors could enjoy the species every day without taxing any individual lion.
THE LION, of course, has long been the symbol of MGM Studios in Hollywood.  We all remember the mighty roar at the beginnings and ends of movies.
Bev Evans has spent
years caring for lions.
The lions, Evans was proud to say, never spent the night at the hotel, because he always returned them to his Ranch for shut-eye. And although the old location closed in January 2012, visitors can still enjoy these exquisite creatures at the non-profit Ranch.
A giraffe who paints?  You betcha.  Here, a worker readies the brush.
The gift shop sells Ozzie's beautiful, bold, one-of-a-kind paintings.
(The Mirage, up the Strip, still hosts Siegfried and Roy's Secret Garden, a zoo-like animal sanctuary hosting tigers, lions, panthers and bottle nose dolphins.) Ranch workers said that MGM curtailed its lion exhibit because two lion shows in close proximity was too much to sustain.)
PERHAPS THAT was a good thing for Evans' enterprise. Now the lions don't have to be schlepped back and forth, and they live in a relaxed, clean, well organized operation.   Workers interact with ease -- on a three-fold basis: with one another, with the audience and with the critters.
THE HABITAT offers a learning experience, too.  As one strolls and pauses outside the expansive cages and runs, a subtle schooling is taking place.   Workers answer questions, sharing fascinating facts about the lions with which they've formed strong attachments.
Ozzie's paintings are a big hit at the habitat gift shop.  The giraffe
is not afraid of bold strokes, and seems to enjoy his creative bent.
I hadn't realized that "the girls" do the hunting, along with caring for newborns. And African lions are social, too -- they take dinner together -- eating as a group, just as we humans do. They sleep well over 15 hours -- sometimes as much as 20 hours daily -- usually together in a big slumber party.
WE WATCHED them romp -- and run a bit.  In the wild, they can reach speeds of 40 miles per hour and jump as high as 13 feet. We saw several jumps on the cleverly arranged ramps and levels that Evans designed, to approximate the ledges and drop-offs the lions might have in their own environment.
Mama lion, second from right, plays with her cubs after everyone has lunch.
We also joined a group of other tourists to watch the lions eat.  Three trainers hand-fed them, each receiving several pounds of horse meat.
The staff know the lions by name -- one group of siblings look similar to the novices among us, but one of the trainers tells them apart by the spots around the eyes -- one has two, one has three, etc. Fascinating.
CARETAKERS also spend hours each day keeping the lions
looking spiffy --  free of burrs and grass -- beauty-shop gorgeous. To assure the lions look good, trainers shampoo them with baby shampoo, then blow-dry their fur. Evans calls it "the mane attraction."
We were lucky in our timing to spend an hour with three trainers as they hand-fed the lions.  Then, frisky from a full tummy, they romped. It was thrilling to witness the cubs jump over mum and swat one another playfully.
If you feel flush,  join other visitors for private three- or four-hour private lion sessions. Prices begin at $800, all to help keep the place open.
A unique viewing "bubble" afford kids the opportunity to be under the sea.
THE PAINTING giraffe, Ozzie, is another delight.  He has been trained to connect his paintbrush to the canvas, and the results are charming, splashy works of art, for sale at the preserve, along with tastefully made hand jewelry.  Wonderful souvenirs.
Don't miss an opportunity to journey out to this close-by Las Vegas wonder.
You'll hit the jackpot.

UP NEXT: Come with us to a ring-side seat!  We'll dive under the sea, at the Bay Aquarium in San Francisco, where kids of all ages enjoy close-up views of marine life, in a small and user-friendly space.  Our "back to nature" series continues.  Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekends and as the adventures take us, at


Friday, January 15, 2016

Yahoo! San Francisco's Zoo lets you walk, talk, learn from the animals

  Gauhati is one of many happy headliners at San Francisco Zoo. He wears down his horn by rubbing it on rocks in his enclosure. The zoo's attentive keepers and vet staff help him file and trim his horn to keep it growing and healthy.
Giraffes play and romp on a spacious preserve. This one
stretches to tree tops for food as a zebra grazes behind. 

James Ganner, right, and sister, Penelope, enjoy the San Francisco
Zoo for its "user friendly" aspects, here they take five on the lively playground.  

Penguins dive, splash and swim about in an open-air exhibit.

ZOOS HAVE always been a relaxing place for our family.  The natural world offers insight and escape, drawing us together to study similarities and differences of the species -- to feel connected to other life and to cultivate appreciation for the planet's precious animal resource.
Going to the zoo with kids is an enhancing way to gild the zoo lily.
We did that recently with our niece, Amarylla, and her two little ones, James and Penelope Ganner.
Zoo staff encourage children to gently touch the hide of the deer,
 and explain that the antlers fall off each year. The zoo stresses education.
At age five, James is already a regular, a fan of the zoo's charming steam train, "Little Puffer," and a natural tour guide and unabashed ambassador.
WE'D SPENT time at the San Francisco Zoo, but not for years.
So it was wonderful to revisit this treasure in a treasured city.
From the hills of its gorilla park, to attractive penguin display and regal peacocks who strut and preen, the zoo is a reminder that we share this fragile planet, a jewel to be cherished, visited, touted and supported.
Amarylla Ganner with young Peny take photos of James at play, while
 "Auntie Cookie" takes aim. San Francisco Zoo is a photographer's delight.
As part-time San Diego residents, we know a good zoo. San Francisco's is one of the west coast's oldest, most varied and best loved.
Founded in 1929, the lovely San Francisco Zoo sits on 100 well tended acres in the southwestern corner of the city, between Lake Merced and the nearby Pacific.
MORE THAN 1,000 contented animals representing 250 species -- some endangered -- inhabit the user-friendly place, with wide paths, gorgeous mature trees and pretty landscaping, mostly native vegetation.
James takes to the zoo's nicely arranged playground.
Here kids learn socializing skills and get exercise.
James has his favorite exhibits.  Besides the train -- which begins to attract a line at about 11 a.m. -- he loves the black rhino and hippo, the gorillas, the giraffes and ostrich roaming the attractive African Region. He delights in graceful lions, and yes, tigers, and bears.  As native Montanans, we enjoyed the grizzly, then watched the polar bear scratch her back on the ice.
San Francisco inspires several chapters in novel
WE DIDN'T GET to every exhibit. My family -- loyal zoo members -- often visit the Children's Zoo, and gives it "user friendly" thumbs up.
We spent an engaging half hour watching giraffes romp with ostrich, zebra and kudu.  Then James led us to the gorilla preserve, where we studied these animated and intelligent animals scratching, munching, tending their young and checking us out.
Zoos can be controversial. But having traveled to Africa and the Amazon many times, and watched critter numbers decline from poaching, illegal logging and over-population, we commend zoos for the opportunity to study, learn from and save imperiled animals.
THE SAN FRANCISCO ZOO has made national news through the years. In early 2006, the zoo announced its offer to name a soon-to-hatch American bald eagle after comedian Stephen Colbert.  Publicity and goodwill garnered from coverage on the Colbert Report was a windfall for the zoo and the city of San Francisco. Stephen Jr. was born on April 17, 2006. We hope he's flying high -- he's been introduced back to the wild.
Birds abound at the San Francisco Zoo, where nicely arranged exhibits
and displays allow for close-up study and enjoyment.
Another beautiful bald eagle, perhaps a flightless relative of Stephen, gazed at us from his tree perch on Eagle Island, a restful avian sanctuary.
WHEN WE asked about him, a zoo worker gave a detailed background on his flightless condition (he has only one wing and is a rescue, saved after being shot by a bow and arrow.)  How thrilling to see this magnificent creature close-up, as he sat in his tree, watching us watch him.  And lest you think, "How sad -- he should be flying" -- well, he can't.  And he would be dead without the San Francisco Zoo. So why not show what a beauty he is, and help groom environmental activism.
                                                                                           Amarylla P. Ganner Photo
THE SAN FRANCISCO Zoo is not pretentious, and that is one of its charms and strong suits.
It wants people to learn something while enjoying the animals. There are guided tours and lectures throughout the day and feeding times with commentary.  Amiable, informed zoo workers mingle and are happy to answer questions. 
The SF Zoo's Little Puffer scoots around
the zoo, making a couple loops. Right,
James and "Uncle Keller" enjoy the ride
Strolling through a unique insect display and colorful collection of reptiles and amphibians, you peruse at your own pace in the company of like minded nature lovers. There's plenty of room, too, thanks to nicely arranged and groomed pathways, special features such as the train and lovely carousel, a welcoming and large cafe, the Leaping Lemur, and impressive variety of side shows and lectures.
ZOO LIGHTS  at holiday time, is a delightful, eye-catching treat.
The zoo's ambitious hours are every day, including holidays, so you can enjoy pandas, penguins, sea lions, tigers, flamingos, and even consider adopting one through the zoo's enlightened program.
415 753-7173;
Bev Evans and her
husband Keith are
devoted to lions.

UP NEXT: Who knew? Not far from the glitter of the Las Vegas Strip, a fantastic lion preserve awaits. Have you heard of Lion Habitat Ranch? Or the painting giraffe? Visit a unique exhibit of well tended critters.  The lions, formerly from the MGM lion exhibit, which closed a few years ago, are a proud pride.  Owner Keith Evans works with his wife Bev to encourage appreciation and love of lions. Well trained staff offer a close-up look at these regal creatures -- plus a giraffe who paints.  You can buy one of his masterpieces! Remember to explore, learn and live and visit us weekends, and as the spirit moves.

Friday, January 8, 2016

San Francisco off season retains its elegance, beauty, sense of fun

The "Painted Ladies" near Alamo Square, San Francisco, California, represent an architecture used for Victorian
and Edwardian houses and buildings painted in distinctive pastel hues. The term is over a century old.


"One day if I go to heaven ... I'll look around and say, 'It ain't bad, but it ain't San Francisco.'"      Herb Caen, noted San Francisco columnist who died in 1997.

  The late Herb Caen, a symbol of elegance, smiling
and raising a glass to his beloved San Francisco.
THE LATE Herb Caen loved his town like no one else and waxed about it in his colorful newspaper columns for 60 years.
Boats on Fisherman's Wharf await tourists, residents, an international crowd.
Tourists from all over the world have
 their photos taken on Union Square.
 "A city is not gauged by its length and width, but by the broadness of its vision and the height of its dreams," he proudly said, of his city, San Francisco. I happened to be in one of my favorite cities when he passed.  San Francisco was Caen's home for most of his life (April 3, 1916 – February 2, 1997) and he was honored by San Francisco Chronicle writers and thousands of readers in the next few days. It was wonderful and touching to follow the tributes.
SAN FRANCISCO truly has vision, and she has always dreamed. Her whimsical cable cars, "crookedest street," unusual architecture (Trans-America Pyramid, one of many), bridges, the bay, the parks, landmark sites such as Fisherman's Wharf, Pier 39 and Union Square, unique art and gardens, bistros, bars and theaters all speak to what Caen meant when he joked that heaven might be nice, but it wouldn't be San Francisco. Much of the city's charm came from the "rebuilding" after the 1906 earthquake and fire. It re-invented itself in an imaginative, eye-catching way.
In my many visits to San Francisco, I understand Caen's pride in the town he called home.
Nick and Nora join us for sun and people-and-dog watching,
while we enjoy coffee and pastry on Union Square. 
Writer's novel takes place partly in San Francisco, click here
EVEN Off-SEASON, in winter, San Francisco has an elegance about her. And it's dog friendly. My family loves San Francisco.  My sister Peny and brother-in-law Jim settled in northern California in the 1970s, and now a nephew and his partner ranch there. Plus a niece and her family live in Redwood City, so we often visit, always making discoveries. The "Bard of the Bay," Mr. Caen, loved his city for its vibrancy, beauty, variety.  He loved its enthusiasm, daring and fearless embrace of the new, while honoring the old.
Tony Bennett made his name,
with a song about San Francisco.
The Trans-America Pyramid
is one of San Francisco's many
unique, eye-catching structures.
Caen loved the city's famous "Painted Ladies," by Alamo Square, those picturesque, expensive pastel Victorian and Edwardian houses.
HE DOTED ON the fabulous food -- from Indian to Asian to Greek, Italian, French and barbecue -- all befitting the
Pier 35 on the center of the action near Fisherman's Wharf.
culinary mix prepared by and for the town's ethnic melting pot. To gourmands, that makes San Francisco appealing. The clam chowder in sourdough bread bowl withstands time's test.
CAEN WROTE about the city's grand hotels. We love the Hyatt on Union Square, the stately St. Francis, the Fairmont where we heard Duke Ellington years ago, and the "Top of the Mark" Hopkins, now owned by InterContinental. We love Diva for its spirit and recently tried a fun new one, the Zephyr. It thinks big -- like San Francisco -- rising from the old Raddison on Beach Street, to cover an entire city block, all in a nautical theme (some of the rooms look out on the bay through portholes.)
Thumbs up: Bruce Keller and great-nephew James Ganner
enjoy the San Francisco Zoo train. Wee James is a regular.
Caen wrote about that bay -- the ships which sail it, the people who work in the port, the prison on Alcatraz and its long-gone denizens and wardens. He wrote proudly about the many films made in hilly, distinctive San Francisco.
Whoever said "less is more" didn't understand San Francisco's big, bold approach to life where, happily, anything goes.
CHECK OUT CityPASS for San Francisco highlights -- the trolley, cable car, aquarium and other "must see" attractions, at a significant savings. We love CityPASS!
CityPASS info

COMING UP: The San Francisco Zoo is a wonderful place, for kids of all ages.  From giraffes to lions and a fun steam train, it's popular year round. What makes a zoo appealing, and how does the San Francisco zoo rank for our two worldwide zoo watchers? High ratings and a fun ride coming up next at whereiscookie. We look for adventure as we travel the world for food, family, frolic, the arts and the natural world. Enjoy, learn and live!

Friday, January 1, 2016

Happy New Year! Make it an adventuresome one!

Kick hell out of your bucket list in 2016.  Have you always wanted to see Egypt?  Don't let fear of travel stop you.
Here, Cookie and Keller make a return trip to the Great Pyramid of Giza.  They continued throughout the Middle East.
The sky's the limit, when planning your new year.
Put yourself as high as your plans and adventure can stretch.
 The High Roller in Las Vegas will give you a bird's eye view!




WHATEVER MAGIC the holiday has held, now's the time to grab your dreams before the luster fades.
Make 2016 the year you
try out for "Jeopardy."
If you've always wanted to see the Pyramids, book a trip to Egypt.
Cookie returns to Paris -- for a night or ten on the town.
If you've yearned  to spend a weekend in Las Vegas and take a spin on The High Roller, what are you waiting for?
If you've dreamed about a cruise but haven't called a travel agent, do it. Sail away.
Always wanted to see Glacier, Yellowstone or Yosemite? Our national parks are a great treasure.  Now's the time.
Learn a new language, or
instrument this new year.
Missing a far-away niece, nephew, sister, aging auntie? Give a call, plan a reunion, make that visit. Book that Elton John or Lady Gaga concert.
Have you admired a friend's tattoo, toyed with getting your own? Cowboy up, friend. (Start with a temporary one, as I did in Maori land.)
Is a special must-see city on your list? Seattle, Paris, Rio? Carpe diem.
HAVE YOU wanted to try out for "Jeopardy" because your friends insist you'd win?  Make it happen. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Go for it!
How about learning a new language or returning to school -- I'm working on an advanced degree in poetry and playwriting, and learning Italian, loving the classes and challenge.
I'm playing my saxophone again -- even doing gigs with Montana bands.
A FEW THOUGHTS on traveling in these times of terrorism, suicide bombings and random crack-pot acts.
Plan a visit to a favorite relative --we're
off to San Francisco to see niece Amarylla.
Glacier National Park beckons on your bucket list? Do it. 
I've traveled since I was a little kid, and I never board a plane or ship without thanking the gods for safety thus far and wishing to return home in one piece. Yes, these are frightening times, but when it comes to terrorism, the threat is "overhyped."
My pilot father always said our chances of being killed in a plane were far less than as a passenger in an auto. Likewise, the likelihood of being killed by terrorism while traveling abroad is slim.
Cookie and Keller kick hell out of their bucket list, which
includes a yearly trek to San Francisco and a sail to Alcatraz.
BE VIGILANT, look around, assess each environment, use good old "common sense" as you move about. 
Above all, don't cancel a long-planned trip or dream. Grab some gusto. Happy planning!

COMING LATER TODAY: Whereiscookie follows the fun, putting a fresh spin on travel and the arts.  At 5 p.m. today, we return to a favorite city, San Francisco. Join us, with quotes from the late columnist Herb Caen to pay tribute.  We post Fridays for the weekend, and as the spirit and adventures move. We've posted more than 350 blogs now. You can find specific cities, venues, parks, hotels, cruises by filling in the tab at the right-hand of each blog. Explore, learn and live!