An Alaska Cruise from San Francisco: 5 Reasons to Take One

An Alaska Cruise from San Francisco: 5 Reasons to Take One

It is now possible top take an Alaska cruise from San Francisco, rather than flying into Seattle, Vancouver, or Anchorage.

These are five reasons why you might want to consider starting your Alaskan cruise from the Bay Area rather than from ports further to the north.

1. The airfare can be much cheaper

Flying into San Francisco can be cheaper than flights into Vancouver, Anchorage, or even Seattle — especially if you live on the West Coast. In fact, many people in California can save even more by driving and avoiding airfare altogether.

2. You get three more days of cruising

Cruises out of San Francisco are generally ten days long, as opposed to the seven day cruises out of Seattle and Vancouver. There is simply so much to do on a modern cruise ship that you can never fit even a fraction of it into a week-long cruise. The extra three days extends your vacation, allowing you to enjoy even more of the ship’s facilities, activities, and entertainment.

3. You can add on some great side trips

There are simply dozens of great side trips to take from San Francisco, ranging from day trips to week-long excursions. You can choose from the towering redwoods, beautiful Napa Valley, picture-perfect Lake Tahoe, the coastline of Big Sur, Monterrey, Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia National Parks, and the stunning Mendocino coastline – all within several hours of the San Francisco Bay Area. Slightly further afield (within a day’s drive) are Los Angeles, San Diego, the Grand Canyon, and the casinos and excitement of Las Vegas. In fact, San Francisco is easily accessible to the greatest variety of attractions of any of the Alaska cruise ports.

4. You can see more of the coastline

When sailing from San Francisco, you get to view far more of the amazing Pacific coastline, starting with the Golden Gate Bridge, the stunning Northern California Coast, and coastal Oregon and Washington.

5. You can explore San Francisco

Of course maybe the best part of taking an Alaskan cruise from San Francisco is that you can visit the city of San Francisco itself. One of the most beautiful cities in North America — or anywhere — San Francisco is built on steep hills, allowing you breathtaking views from seemingly every block. The city has wonderful restaurants, hotels, nightlife, museums, and cultural life. If you’ve never been, you’re in for a treat, and if you’ve visited before, you know just how special this city is. Of course, no trip to San Francisco is complete without a ride on the cable cars and a trip to Ghirardelli’s chocolates at Fisherman’s wharf. Throw in a tour of Alcatraz and an afternoon in Golden Gate Park, and you’re sure to have a fantastic time.

Scott Russell is a writer, consultant, frequent traveler, and editor of the Alaskan Cruise Advisor, a guide to Alaska cruise vacations and inland Alaska tours.

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Hitchcock Has Left Indelible Imprint on Bodega

Hitchcock Has Left Indelible Imprint on Bodega

There is a scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” near the start of the movie, where Tippy Hedren is speeding her sports car through the rolling green countryside. Suddenly the camera pulls back to show a bay and seaside village that are so pristine and picturesque they would do justice to any fine painting.

The movie then proceeds to allow thousands of birds to terrorize this idyllic little place and run Tippy and boyfriend Rod Taylor completely out of town. Fortunately, it was all just a movie and we’re happy to report that the movie’s little village – Bodega Bay – has survived to become an even more popular getaway than it was before Hitchcock chose it for his movie.

In fact, birds are big business in Bodega. You can’t cross the street without some reminder that the movie was filmed there. The Tides Restaurant – featured prominently in the movie – now has a gift shop that has become a near-museum with its shelves and shelves of stuffed birds, Hitchcock posters, location photos and just about any kind of clothing you want emblazoned with some variation of Bodega Bay or “The Birds.” Of course, no matter that the “real” restaurant burned down long ago and the replacement buildings bear no resemblance to those used in the movie.

What does remain is the same sleepy seaside village that appeared in the movie. While there certainly have been many new buildings added since the movie’s release in 1963, the town retains the same character so evident in the movie.

Our suggestion would be to rent “The Birds” before taking your trip to Bodega Bay. It will be fun comparing the many locations in the movie with how they look now, 40 years later, and the movie will also give you a good idea of what to expect when you get there – as long as you disregard the birds.

You might also disregard a few geographic inconsistencies. For example, one of the most memorable scenes from the movie is when the birds attack the children at the country school and the kids try an orderly retreat from the school only to be forced running and screaming down to the waterfront. In the town of Bodega, you can visit Potter School which you’ll remember from the movie.

Another great place to match scenery with the movie is to take Bay Hill Road from the village area a little more than a mile up into the rolling hills above Bodega Bay. Soon you’ll be able to look back at Bodega and see exactly the same “establishing shot” of the bay that Hitchcock used in those early scenes of the movie.

Back down at the Tides Restaurant, there still is a bit of the waterfront flavor seen in the movie. Fishing trawlers bring their fresh catch to a seafood company on the dock, and there are always plenty of barking sea lions hoping to dine on leftovers. In the movie, Tippy rented a small motorboat at this dock before motoring across the bay to her new boyfriend’s house.

Now for those who could care less about movie-making, Bodega Bay was an established getaway long before “The Birds” came out. The countryside along this scenic stretch of the California Coast is like an ocean-lover’s paradise. It also helps that the area is relatively easy to get to from the San Francisco Bay area – less than two hours from almost any Bay area location, most of that by freeway.

We stayed the night at the Bodega Bay Lodge and Spa, the area’s only four-diamond resort. The property is located on the Bodega Bay’s southeastern shore and it provides a big area for you to go exploring the bay. The sights, sounds and smells of the bay are right there – most notably the foghorns heard faintly in the distance, guiding ships away from the hazardous coastline.

The lodge is spread out in a series of buildings that have been updated with Cape Cod styling. Our tastefully appointed suite was like a high-end studio apartment with a complete living room area adjacent to the bed and a small desk arrangement. Of special note was the oversize Jacuzzi tub, which got some good use during our stay. At the other end of the unit, sliding glass doors opened out to the bayshore, and a patio offered a relaxing place to observe the surroundings.

The Bodega Bay Lodge also features a resort-style ocean-view pool and large hot tub, which seemed quite popular with a group of business people who were staying at the lodge as part of a corporate retreat. Then of course we must not forget the spa – not on our list of activities, but popular with guests who come to Bodega Bay for rest, relaxation and rejuvenation.

Bodoga Bay offers trails to help guide you to beaches such as Shorttail Gulch Beach. The trail to Shorttail is fairly new and allows access to a beach that was previously difficult to reach. There is a whole network of such trails in the area, making for endless hours of exploration and discovery.

If you’re up for a short drive, the coastline near Bodega offers many spectacular seaside viewpoints as well as beaches to explore. Driving this part of Highway 1, it seems that just about every bend in the road reveals another picture-perfect view of the rocky shoreline, spectacular bluffs or Robinson Crusoe beaches.

Just south of Bodega Bay you’ll find Tomales Bay, a popular destination for kayakers and others who want to enjoy upclose-and-personal contact with the area’s marine life. At the Bodega Marine Laboratory, each Friday from 2 to 4 p.m. you can explore a number of aquarium displays featuring colorful local fish, a kelp forest and other marine life.

Hitchcock really was looking for great scenery rather than the birds he ultimately added to the movie through special effects and mechanical devices. But, ironically, Bodega Bay is known as a “hot spot” on the Northern Coast for finding rare birds. More rare birds have been spotted in Bodega than any other place in Sonoma County – and, fortunately, not one of them has instigated an attack on the thousands of tourists brought to this area each year by “The Birds.”


WHERE: Bodega Bay is about 60 miles north of San Francisco and, barring a lot of rush hour traffic, can be reached quickly and easily from the Bay area.

WHAT: Bodega Bay, a town of just 1,400 full time residents, has long been known as a quiet seaside destination for Californians who want to explore the Northern Coast. Even thought the area was made more popular by the movie, which came out in 1963, it’s still quiet and charming.

WHEN: A visit to Bodega Bay can be made any time of the year, although winter months are cloudier and cooler. The area has a moderate climate so temperatures range from highs in the 40s during winter to highs in the 60s during the summer months.

WHY: The Bodega area has great ocean scenery and it’s fun to see where “The Birds” was filmed. It’s a great weekend trip from the Bay area, or an excellent stop to include on a travel itinerary through Northern California.

HOW: For more information on the Bodega Bay Lodge and Spa call (800) 368-2468, ext. 5 or email Rates range from 0 for a guest room to 5 for a suite midweek, slightly more for weekends. You can also rent a vacation home in the area through Vacation Rentals USA, 800-548-7631. For Bodega Bay visitor information, phone 707-875-3866.

Cary Ordway is president of Getaway Media Corp which publishes websites focused on regional travel. Among the sites offered by GMC are, featuring California travel and, focusing on Northwest travel, as well as travel in Oregon, Idaho, Montana and British Columbia.

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Wildflowers, Recreation Beckon Travelers To Anza-Borrego

Wildflowers, Recreation Beckon Travelers To Anza-Borrego

There are so many reasons people visit the Anza-Borrego Desert, east of San Diego: Springtime wildflowers, geologic history and the mysterious Salton Sea.

Wildflower season is expected to be better than usual this year because of the heavy Southern California rains. This desert is area about 90 miles east of San Diego is known for a colorful wildflower display that usually gets under way in late February as well as many nearby points of interest.

How about an inland “sea” that was once promoted as a major water recreational area only to fall into near oblivion because of the water’s increased salinity and a major die-off of fish and birds? The Salton Sea is just one of the interesting sights in this area, and worth going an extra 30 miles east of Borrego Springs to see what remains.

Anyone flying over the desert east of San Diego will remember this vast body of water that stands out in stark contrast to the surrounding California desert. Drive up-close and it seems almost like a Great Lake – in fact it is the largest lake in the state measured at 376 square miles. Unfortunately, the water here is even saltier than the ocean and is so toxic that most species of fish have died. High levels of selenium also have been found in the sea which is thought to have contributed to the mortality of the local bird populations.

While this may not sound like the recipe for a fun vacation experience, the area is fascinating to explore as you walk on beaches made of barnacles and see where major beach developments of the 1960’s have rotted away, giving portions of the small waterfront community of Salton City almost a ghost town look and feel. One sign we saw was advertising a three-bedroom home for ,000 and conversation with locals revealed that, while a dying sea may not seem all that attractive for recreation, it sure reduces the local cost of living.

Our visit was just a quick look at the sea along the Salton City shoreline – the closest point to Borrego Springs — but there are in fact several recreational opportunities on the northern and eastern shorelines of the sea. Some state park beaches have been closed for budgetary reasons, but there still are good access points for kayaking, boating and other forms of water recreation.

Visiting on a weekend, we also were struck by the enormous influx of off-roaders who set up virtual cities of RV’s on many open camping areas on the outskirts of Salton City and on the way back to Borrego Springs. Visit the local AM/PM on a weekend and you’ll be completely immersed in this culture with 75 percent of the customers dressed in protective riding gear.

About 30 miles back toward San Diego is Borrego Springs, an area that looks a lot like Palm Springs did before it was fully developed. A couple of resorts and a handful of lodgings cater to warm-weather lovers and golfers but, for all intents and purposes, Borrego Springs still seems like a backwater town with more acreage devoted to golf courses than commercial buildings. The area attracts seniors who have found affordable winter homes as well as boomers who want an inexpensive vacation.

When you think about it, this really is Palm Springs – minus, of course, the fancy resorts and upscale shopping. But the views are the same, the blue skies are the same, and the sizzling summer weather is the same. The prices, however, are lower.

The Borrego Springs area is loaded with things to do. Many people will choose just to stay close to the resort, especially during summer, but others will find there is a myriad of trails and sights to see in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. The town of Borrego Springs is, in fact, surrounded by this 600,000-acre state park, the largest in the state system. In fact, about one-fifth of San Diego County’s land is within the park’s boundaries.

As you drive to various locations within the park, you’ll marvel at the desert vistas and enjoy observing the plant and animal life so prevalent in the park. Colorful wildflowers are in bloom in early spring; at other times, plants like the Ocotillo plant or the Cholla cactus fill in the desert landscape to create an other-worldly feel. Roadrunners skip across roads, black-tailed jackrabbits hop along golf greens as well as the desert and, up on the craggy rock mountain ledges you may even spot some bighorn sheep.

Bits of history are around every corner. The Anza Borrego Park includes geography where stagecoaches drove the first intercontinental mail. It’s interesting to sp;ot the old wagon roads and places where stagecoaches stopped to take on supplies. Hiking trails take you to these and other sites such as waterfalls (which can be dry depending on the season), historic monuments and old settler houses such as the hike up to Ghost Mountain where you can enjoy great views and poke around a house once occupied by a family that seemed to be living alone on top of the world.

These Borrego adventures are all outlined in maps and materials available at the Anza-Borrego Park Visitor Center, just a couple miles from downtown Borrego Springs. Inside, dioramas depict the park’s various types of vegetation and wildlife, while naturalists stand by to answer your questions. Interpretive trails will take you into a nearby section of the desert where you can see up-close the various species of desert plants. (But one note of caution: plan your bathroom stops elsewhere because the day we visited, four of six bathrooms were not open, and the other two were plugged to the point they were not useable).


WHERE: The Anza-Borrego desert area is about 90 miles northeast of San Diego and about 150 miles from Los Angeles. The Salton Sea is another 30 miles east.

WHAT: Spring wildflowers are a big attraction and Borrego Springs looks a lot like Palm Springs without the glitter. There are a couple of resorts and some other lodgings and golf courses, but the valley is mostly open and surrounded by the Borrego-Anza State Park.

WHEN: Any time of year. Especially in summer, be sure to bring lots of water, sunscreen and a hat, and time your outdoor adventures for early morning or early evening.

WHY: Lots of natural beauty and interesting attractions.

HOW: For more information on Anza-Borrego State Park, phone 760-767-5311.

Cary Ordway is a syndicated travel writer and president of Getaway Media Corp, which publishes websites focused on regional getaway travel. Among the sites currently offered by GMC are , covering California spa vacations and other Golden State destinations, and , covering Washington vacation ideas as well as other Pacific Northwest travel destinations.

The American dream can still be found in California. Beautiful scenery, great climate, wonderful people…this is the America you should get to know. Before anyone says anything, is it perfect? No. But the living and lifestyle are better than can be found in most places of the world.

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Top 3 Ways to Stay Connected to the Outdoor

Top 3 Ways to Stay Connected to the Outdoor

Love the great outdoors? If you’re the type who would rather be hiking up a mountain or rafting down a river that controlling the remote, you know exactly what I mean. I’m always amazed when someone tells me their ideal vacation requires a hotel room with 100 channels on the remote. Give me a mountain view, or the sound of a rushing river and I’m in bliss.

The challenge is to stay connected to the calm and joy of nature when you can’t be in that ideal location. What if your life requires a city address, too-close neighbors, and daily chores that threaten to suck the energy right out of you?

Over the years, I’ve found some simple ways to sneak a little bit of the outdoors into my life, no matter where I am. OK- I can’t transplant a Redwood into my den, or afford a home next to the crashing waves. What I can do is to figure out what it is about nature and the outdoors I love most, and find some small ways to incorporate that into my daily life.

1. Plants and foliage. Maybe watching leaving gently swaying out your window allows you to breathe more deeply. Maybe cacti and sand is therapeutic. Or maybe the scent of hydrangeas lights up your brain cells. Even in the tiniest city apartment you can find ways to use container plants, an indoor potted plant, or a line of small cacti along your window sill to help connect you with nature.

2. Seating for one. OK, you might want some cozy space for two people to enjoy whatever bit of nature is visible from your current venue. If the only thing you’ve got going on is a breathtaking sunrise, place a porch swing in the best viewing place. Maybe your porch or back yard offers a view of some woods or simply a bit of solitude. Try those beach inspired, wooden, Adirondack chairs. The low seating and optional footrests almost insist on relaxation and bring thought of ocean side enjoyment.

3. Bird and Bees. No, I mean the real birds and bees! Try setting out a bird feeder to invite some of nature’s ambassadors to your home. If you really are against trying to attract bees, how about some butterflies? Certain plants are very attractive to these winged beauties.

At the end of the day, your ability to function in the real work is directly connected to how well you are able to unwind, relax and put things in perspective. So, go ahead and plan for a trek along the Long Trail of the Northeast. Gear up for a cross country bike riding expedition in the western mountain trails. Or maybe make plans to visit the wild horses on Georgia’s Cumberland Island.

Until you get there, make sure to find some way to stay connected to the outdoor life. For many of us, it’s what makes the rest of life shine.

Find the best adirondack chairs and teak patio furniture online at this cool store. From patio chairs to beautiful garden benches, you can find it all.

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