Friday, March 31, 2017

Seattle based Candere offers delightfully different day on the waterways

Seattle's lovely bays and inlets provide picturesque harbor for hundreds of boats, photographed near sunset from Candere.


Cookie takes notes as Candere glides into Lake Union.


Born and raised near Seattle's waters,
Captain Dylan knows his boat and town.

Among the houses you'll see is the "Sleepless in Seattle" one, at far right.

A DAY ON the waters with Candere offers a pleasant, friendly, welcoming way to enjoy an insider's look at Seattle's water pleasures.
In this day of mass production and "take a number" tours, Candere provides that rare opportunity to customize your own outing, to see what you want, drink what you like and enjoy literate, engaging commentary about a region beloved by the boat's captain.
WE CHOSE Candere after scouring dozens of brochures....... looking for a unique Seattle outing.  Having visited many times in all seasons, we wanted something fresh to photograph and write about.  We found it in spades. Or shall we say, "in a native son's waters."
Candere means "to glow or shine" and your trip does both.
A family endeavor and small, hands on enterprise, the operation is an entrepreneurial dare for a father-son team.
"We wanted to come up with something unusual," says Dylan McCoy, "so we devised the idea of a private cocktail cruise." He knows Seattle better than most, and told its lively history from the water's point of view -- from logging shacks and Depression era slums to millionaire hideaways and state-of-the-art technological creations.
THE COCKTAILS are indeed part of the attraction, but for us not the main event.  (I drink a bit of white wine and my partner-photographer Bruce Keller drinks non-alcoholic beer.)  Those with tastes for stronger spirits will not be disappointed as Dylan will ask your favorite beverage before you meet your custom tour.
Candere cruising will take you inside Seattle's lesser known waterways,
as well as into the more familiar parts of the city's vast water networks.

With his expert hand at the helm, we cruised Lake Union, viewing Seattle's wonders close-up: seaplane take-offs and landings and Seattle's much photographed Space Needle.  We checked out Gas Works Park, the Fremont Bridge and St. Marks Cathedral, with interesting trivia about the floating homes for which Seattle is known.
Candere is just the right size for a small party, with
a cover that can come down in case of rains.
While on the lake, we asked to see the house boat made famous by Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks in the classic romantic comedy, "Sleepless in Seattle." It sold for two million bucks three years ago and sits at the end of a story-book dock with a flower-lined entry off Westlake Avenue North on the lake, probably one of the most iconic properties in Seattle -- right up there with the Space Needle.
Cruising along, we perused the city's modestly maintained and oldest floating home.  Then there were the yachts -- nothing modest about them. Over the top, elegant, sleek.
Dylan regaled us with stories of the classic cruisers and multi-million-dollar vessels docked all along the waterways.

OUR TRIP offered a delightful way to enjoy Seattle's varied waterways and learn something about this fertile, interesting part of the Pacific Northwest. Our young entrepreneur, Captain Dylan, helped restore his beloved sailboat with his dad, and the two intend to keep their small, personable enterprise hands on.   You can book the motor boat or Dylan's sailing vessel, for a few couples, a single couple wanting privacy and romance or a family having a reunion or birthday party. Prices vary and are based on what you want to see and how long you will be out.
My husband is a sailor and helped with minor logistical sailing details but Dylan doesn't need help.  Recently, he began a partnership with another small charter company. "Our goal is to involve a variety of independent charter boats in the area to offer a mix of experiences and adventures on the water," Dylan says. "As we build, we hope to give back to our community. We're thinking 'Adventures with a purpose,' using profits to fund environmental projects and support worthy causes."


Architect Cesar Manrique gave the island its unique 
stamp.  His creative genius marks many of Lanzarote's buildings.

UP NEXT: We visit Lanzarote, in the Canary Islands, our favorite of this quiet and diverse grouping of islands south of Spain. A remarkable man, the late Cesar Manrique is responsible for giving the island a unique architectural character with splendid buildings merging land and sea, creature comforts and the wonders of nature. Explore, learn and live and catch us each weekend for a novel approach to nature, travel and the arts.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Birch Aquarium: San Diego treasure - imaginative homage to the sea

Delicate seahorses are one of the stars at Birch Aquarium in La Jolla, California, and a major San Diego attraction.


Beautifully kept tanks and carefully planned exhibits give up-close viewing.
Here, a 30-pound grouper glides through the waters.


WE DRIVE past Birch Aquarium several times a week, so last weekend was the time to check it out.  We had curious and photogenic guests -- our niece and her young precocious three-year-old.
Anemone, abalone, sea urchins and kelp make a fine, natural display.
So the four of us stepped into the wonderland of this small, beautifully curated aquarium.
Our great-niece, Peny Ganner, enjoys Birch's water-driven play.
From the moment you enter the door, you'll feel the privilege of keeping company with the exotic sea creatures that make their home along the Pacific Coast of southern California.
The kelp forest attracts a stunning variety of life that gives this part of the country its diversity of fishes and invertebrates.
YOU CAN mingle with this appealing diversity: sharks, starfish, anemone and sea horses, sharing the learning and the appreciation with kids, grandchildren, neighbors, friends. It's a wonderful family outing. We took our niece, Amarylla,  and her youngster, our great-niece Peny, and had a marvelous afternoon, both indoors and outside.
Hands on exhibits include this shark
display for fun photo possibilities. Here
three generations of ocean lovers: from
left, Peny and Amarylla Ganner and their
 "Auntie Cookie," Christene Meyers 
The aquarium is located on a pretty perch on the bluffs of La Jolla, where the world famous University of California San Diego does its
Graceful jellyfish float and flit about, to the delight of visitors.
groundbreaking research through Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego.
Birch Aquarium is all about public outreach, education and creating a savvy "next generation" of conservationists and aware consumers.
A continuing list of creative programs both inside the aquarium and around the city is offered for schools and kids of all ages attracts hundreds of ocean lovers. Next week, observe grunion spawn on La Jolla beaches, and watch them hatch during a special presentation.
An exhibit, "Feeling the Heat," teaches about climate science and global warming.
OUR NIECE, Peny, was fascinated by the interactive tide pools and exhibitions for all things under the sea in an oceanside building.
We spent a leisurely two hours walking through the exhibits, returning to enjoy the whales, jellyfish and gorgeous seahorses, all among the most popular exhibits.
A tank of sardines greets you in the lobby of Birch Aquarium at Scripps
Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego. 
San Francisco aquarium charms, too
Our time there was particularly fun because we represented three generations and the age range of  our fellow ocean admirers followed suit.
at play inside he aquarium.
We've also appreciated and enjoyed Birch Aquarium's participation in the wonderful Flagship whale watching adventures from downtown.
Each year, we join Flagship's daily gathering of tourists and locals to embark on a thrilling journey to watch migrating whales. The experts are always knowledgeable and enthusiastic and Birch Aquarium at Scripps provides the experts.
IF YOU ARE lucky, you can also watch the whales from Birch Aquarium's ringside viewing area. Right outside the aquarium, Birch has designed a lovely area to watch the longest mammal migration in the world, when approximately 20,000 gray whales pass San Diego on their annual 10,000-mile round-trip journey from the Bering Sea to the lagoons of Baja ...

Penelope Margaret Ganner enjoys the whale sculptures and pools near
the entrance to Birch Aquarium, 2300 Expedition Way, La Jolla, Calif. 
Candere Cruising of Seattle provides unique water experience
with Captain Dylan designing a custom made day at sea.

UP NEXT:  If you're planning a visit to the other end of the
west coast, the Pacific Northwest, Candere Cruising can provide
a spectacular, tailor-made tour of Seattle.  From cocktails,
to browsing the neighborhoods of Seattle's waterways,
Captain Dylan can design an unforgetable day on the water.
Remember to enjoy, explore and learn and catch us each
weekend for a unique approach to nature and the arts.

Friday, March 17, 2017

'Tis a bloomin' bonanza in Borrego as flower frenzy takes the town

Mother Nature makes artful bouquets by the thousands on the desert floor of Anza Borrego State Park.
Here, the white blooms of the desert chicory poke up through the lavender of the sand verbena. 
Bruce Keller takes a photographer's aim at Anza Borrego's wildflower mecca.

Wildflowers appear in record numbers bringing flower frenzy to southern California's Anza Borrego desert


A veritable sea of yellow awaits as the desert dandelions
blanket the Anza Borrego desert in southern California.



heads up.

Grab your camera, hitch up your hiking shoes and head for the desert near Borrego Springs, California.

Prepare to be showered with the most spectacular showing of spring flowers seen in the Anza Borrego Desert State Park since the early 1990s.
We based at the lovely Casa del Zorro resort in Borrego (a stunning oasis on the desert with fabulous food, gorgeous views and splendid accommodations, to be featured later.
It deserves its own separate illustrated story, not to be overshadowed by flower power).
THE MANAGER at La Casa, Patrick Sampson, is an amiable Brit, fond of flowers and in love with the power of what he calls "flower frenzy." 
Arizona lupine, foreground, stretches toward the sky.
Crowds in this normally quiet and peaceful little town bear witness to the allure of this unusual bloom, beautiful in any year, extraordinary this spring.
 His popular and classy property has been running at full. Grocery stores are hustling to keep product on the shelves and you may not get your first-choice time at the restaurants. It's all well worth it.
Said Teresa, our amiable waitress at Zorros' fun dining venue, Fox Den, "We haven't seen anything like this in years."
At the small but adequate downtown market, shelf supplies were sparse as tourists queued up for crackers, sodas and sweets to keep them nourished for the viewing.
WHEN YOU first set eyes on nature's showy displays, it's as if a top-notch florist has visited before you, so artfully are the flowers arranged.
Hiker's proof: shoes are covered in pollen;
 we call it fairy dust, a pleasant trophy.

In a completely natural setting, mesmerized flocks stand in wonder to gaze at the complementary colors, lovely groupings of sand verbena, dune evening primroses with their  wide white petals, splashy yellow desert sunflowers, the dimunitive desert star bloom, delicate rock daisy, showy hedghog, happy monkey flower, sprawling onyx and checker fiddleneck -- which resembles the neck of a violin, thus the moniker.
DESERT LILIES beckon for closer inspection and the queen of the desert is the prolific bright yellow desert dandelion.
Roadsides are lined with the beauty, and Anza Borrego's 630,000 acres are filled with tourists.
Although the town boasts only 1,300 full-time residents, more than 20,000 of us visited last weekend. Restaurants, bars and shops overflow so it's a giant boost for the economy.
We joined the frenzy of camera-toting flower fans as we hit the trails, heads bowed. We had a good day, logging 23 varieties of blooms. The park's excellent complimentary wildflower guide is a huge help.
More lupine, in a lovely deep pink shade, and a hitchhiking butterfly.
Below right, a biker gets up close with excellent viewing.
The park's excellent complimentary wildflower guide is a huge help. Weekends are of course more crowded, so we came on a Wednesday-Thursday.
If you can get there early next week, viewing is expected to be at its zenith. Early in the week promises better access, so you can find lodging and parking spots in the lots.
Do make a lodging reservation and if you can't find a space in the hotels or air bnbs, consider staying in Chula Vista or San Diego, only 58 miles away.
You might also consider the charming town of Julian,
a charming town, then driving the 20 miles to Borrego. Go to

Portable bathrooms are also the only option once into the desert, and the parking lot spaces are farther from viewing spots as the day commences.
 The park has a wildflower hotline for information: 760 767-4684. Ask for maps and specific information about the status of the blooming season.
WE HOPE we don't have to wait another two decades for this splendid
wonder of nature to recur.
What a marvelous few days we had.  If you miss the Borrego blooms check out this website for spring flowers near you, including those on the Mojave, Joshua Tree and other deserts and venues:

The Birch Aquarium in San Diego has a world class series of exhibits.
NEXT UP: Fans of aquariums, we have a great one for you. Birch Aquarium in San Diego is a user-friendly find suitable for all ages. In it, discovery, interaction and education are the bywords. This gem of undersea treasures sparkles with the natural wonders of our oceans, giving special attention to sea life right out the window. The Aquarium also offers a splendid vantage point for viewing the mighty grey whales, now finishing its migration south from
Alaska to warmer Baja waters. Remember to explore, learn and live. Catch us each weekend for a novel approach to travel, nature and the lively arts.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Clifton's in Los Angeles -- an eccentric wonder world of food, art, kitsch, tradition

The entrance to Clifton's, a Los Angeles tradition, is a preview to the lights, glitz, old-fashioned fare and displays inside.
While you enjoy old-fashioned cafeteria food, you may
be entertained by a juggler, gymnast or musicians.



YOU WILL feel as if you're an extra in "Alice in Wonderland" at Clifton's where you'll happily travel down the rabbit hole to discovery -- critters in full taxidermy glory, gymnasts, partiers, gourmands, history buffs and families gathering in what feels like a real forest.
Our Los Angeles friends suggested we stop by Clifton's Cafeteria for a beverage and snack after a recent play at the Ahmanson Theater.

Deer, bears and here a handsome lion await. 
"It's unlike anything you might imagine," said our friend Sue, a native Angelina. She grew up as a Clifton's patron, coming to the cafeteria with her family and still enjoying the occasional Clifton's foray today. She was right. Nothing like it.

The vintage nature of Clifton's includes
lovely appointments, even in the men's room.
Clifton's Cafeteria is a Los Angeles landmark.
No, you are not seeing things.  It's a massive fake tree,
 cut into the floors above you. All part of Clifton's decor.  

CALIFORNIA'S lone survivor from the Golden Age of cafeterias gives new meaning to "dining experience" with stuffed animals, a giant faux tree "growing" artfully through several of the restaurant's five stories and more. It's crammed with artifacts, antiques and kitsch, a “Cabinet of Curiosities” and a variety of other eccentric attractions to celebrate California’s diverse natural and cultural legacy. The cafeteria is known for its forest themed environment, the star of which is the fake tree installed in a cut-away ceiling.
The charming but wacky place has no doubt survived because of both its fine food and word-of-mouth reputation, as well as five generations of family support and innovation. It is named after Clifford Clinton, who combined his names for the "Clifton" handle. 
It began as a modest eatery in 1888 when his ancestor, David Harrison Clinton, a 45-year-old Confederate veteran from Missouri, traveled to Los Angeles with a teenage son.
HE BOUGHT the Southern Hotel on Main Street and opened a restaurant and dining room. Its reputation grew and it was proudly passed on through the generations, evolving in 1931 into Clifton's which grew to a chain of eight.  The Brookdale eatery is the lone survivor.
Many believe its restored and historic dining hall and fantasy environment, "Forest Glen," helped inspire Walt Disney to create Disneyland nearly two decades later.   Makes sense because a trip to Clifton's is a trip to fantasyland, from its "Crystal Caverns" filled with rare minerals to artful terraces, a stone chapel, impressive murals and vintage artwork.
IN A CITY known for excess, the cafeteria provides a stunning albeit over-the-top experience dedicated to both tasty food, and to the celebration of California's colorful past.  Entrepreneur Clinton held value, quality, innovation and contemporary twists as his goals. 
A plaque about the state's beloved redwoods pays tribute.
Old fashioned home cooking is the byword
at Clifton's, from jello to beef and potatoes. 

WE TRIED several items -- from thick sandwiches to soups and snacks.  We settled at a table on the second floor and were soon entertained by a limber gymnast performing on ropes hung from the ceiling. Sue headed downstairs to order small plates and sandwiches while I queued up for beverages.  One may go through the cafeteria line or buffet and make it a quick meal or a leisurely one with old-fashioned cafeteria entrees or tasty small plates. Be sure to wander through the exhibits. "We're about good food and visual entertainment," the bartender told me. "We're into pleasing people."
NorthCoast Repertory Theatre's "The Illusion" is a beautifully rendered
 play for play lovers -- by Tony Kushner, of "Angels in America" fame. Pictured
are actors John Herzog as the father, and Kandi Chappell as the sorceress.
BEST BETS: San Diego is experiencing a happy glut of theatrical riches. Not to miss is "The Illusion," a fantastical tale with elements of magic, about a father-son estrangement, the bonds of love and the power of regret. The Rep's gifted artistic director David Ellenstein is at the helm, so expect precision, artful staging and top acting. It runs through March 19: Go to
Also up through March 19, at the Lyceum in downtown San Diego, "Sex With Strangers" is a smart, acerbic two-person comedy about high-powered seduction, technology's effect on relationships, the competitive publishing world and physical attraction. Terrific acting, a gorgeous set, clever writing and fast-paced direction draw the audience in for a clever-twist ending. Go to  Check out Cygnet Theatre and San Diego Musical Theatre for fun musicals.

Bruce Keller takes aim as the day dawns at Anza Borrego's wildflower frenzy.
NEXT UP:  Up for a road trip to some of the most spectacular wildflowers you'll see this lifetime? The Anza Borrego Desert near San Diego is experiencing record blooms through mid-April, due to recent rains and just the right temperature and sunshine to make the seeds happy. We're on the trail of the blooming wonder and will share on the next posting, coming soon. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us each weekend for a lively approach to travel, nature and the lively arts.  

Friday, March 3, 2017

Grey whale watch: wondrous creatures of the deep visit our 'back yard'

When the grey whale "breathes," it's through his blowhole, the equivalent of a nostril, a magnificent sound and sight.  



Barnacles on the grey whale are kind of hitchhikers, using the whale
for free transport while they hunt for food. Whale lice are also found
on this whale, and they pick off pieces of dead skin and flesh.
WHAT COULD be more exciting than looking a grey whale in his gorgeous eye, being so close you can hear the sounds of his blow, marveling at the barnacles encrusted on his hide.
Yes, if you're quiet, you can really hear the sound of his blowhole -- a mighty whosh of air expulsion. Thus the expression, "thar she blows."
Flagship departs daily from mid-December into April for whale watching
from San Diego Bay. Scripps Aquarium naturalists enhance the experience. 
Around the blowhole are both lice
and barnacles. Neither does harm.
Keller and  Cookie on the whale trail -- spotting seven whales.
Each year, more than 20,000 gray whales make an impressive 10,000 mile round-trip journey from Alaskan waters to the lagoons of Baja California, where the females give birth to their calves. We lucky San Diegans may watch the journey
close-up, so this time of year, look for us on the water -- on the several boats offered by Hornblower, Flagship and a couple smaller venues. Sailor Keller has even piloted our own craft. But it's more fun for him to let someone else do the driving so he can take photos.
WE CAN CATCH the grey whales multiple times during their coming and going -- because after spending time in warm Baja California waters so their young can grow strong, they make the journey north again later in spring. This remarkable trip represents the longest known distance any mammal migrates on an annual basis and for this Montana girl and my San Diego born partner, it is an extraordinary spectacle to observe.
This year, we've been out a seven times, exploring the 70 miles of coastline in the migration path.  We've seen whales every time -- now nearly 40 outings in the near decade I've been a grateful part-time San Diegan.
Michael, a knowledgeable Hornblower volunteer, instructs kids on baleen,
made of the same karatin as our finger nails.  Gentle touching is allowed.
While we've observed the aquatic parade of gentle giants from land -- at the Torrey Pines Glider Port, Cabrillo National Monument, the lovely Birch Aquarium and from our favorite picnic spot in the La Jolla hills, we prefer spotting them on the water.  Then we can see the rainbow in the spray from the blow and hear them breathing.  We can even see the barnacles that grip their skin for a free ride -- and we can admire the baleen which acts as a food filter as they suck in the water and its contents, straining the protein rich fish and shrimp for nutrition.
WHILE HORNBLOWER has a delightful arsenal of knowledgeable volunteers and naturalists, all the whale watching ships have articulate, passionate friends of the whale aboard. Flagship's are from Birch Aquarium.
Flagship's Patriot also offers a high-speed chance to view the whales.
We always chat with the naturalists, and learn something each time. We've delighted in our study of the greys, who usually travel alone or in pods of two or three. We've seen more -- in peak migration season -- each one about the width of a basketball court.  They always know we're nearby and don't seem to mind. They travel at about five knots (about six miles per hour), so when a boat captain or passenger spots one, we slow down -- usually from about five or six miles out, although we've seen them at closer range.
Playful dolphins are a bonus on a whale watch. 
Check out Hornblower, Flagship and San Diego Whale Watch websites if you've got company coming -- for an experience unique to San Diego: or  You'll board either one on North Harbor Drive just south of Broadway Pier.
Please don't overlook San Diego Whale Watch, which boards from "the other bay," much smaller Mission Bay near SeaWorld. Both spirited and knowledgeable, naturalist Dani adds immensely to the pleasure and education of the day.
The whale experts from all three operations enhance the outings, and you'll be amazed that each venture is different from all others -- sometimes hundreds of dolphins escort the ship. Occasionally, whales are spotted just a mile or so out. Other times, particularly with the more illusive northbound whales, they might not appear until near the end of the three-hour venture.
You may be able to get a close-up view of a whale. Perhaps
 even a turtle.  Connecting with another species: priceless.
We've NEVER failed to see at least a couple whales whenever we go, morning or afternoon, December or April.
FOOD AND DRINK are available on all the vessels.  But the best "food" is the mental and emotional nourishment you'll enjoy.

BEST BETS: If you're a theater buff anywhere on the North American continent, head to San Diego for a fabulous array of quality productions as this lively community celebrates Theatre Week. Behold and buy tickets for  a variety of riches from comedy to tragedy and musicals: 

Clifton's is downtown Los Angeles is a splendid survivor of the cafeteria age.

NEXT UP: Climb down the rabbit hole when you visit Clifton's in Los Angeles. California’s lone survivor from the Golden Age of cafeterias gives new meaning to 
"dining experience" with stuffed animals, a giant tree growing  through a couple floors, a “Cabinet of Curiosities” and more to celebrate California’s diverse natural and cultural legacy in a forest themed environment. Remember to explore, learn and live, and catch us weekends for a twist on the arts, nature and travel.