Sunday, September 23, 2012


Las Vegas is one of those places you have to visit at least once.  I try and get here once a year.  It can be enjoyed at various levels, depending on what you are into. And that's why I like it - there's something for everyone. I wish "old Vegas" was still around, the Vegas that the Rat Pack enjoyed when they were playing out here in the 60s - it seemed very chic and classy.  You can find bits and pieces of that downtown, but for the most part, Vegas is now about the huge new casinos that keep raising the bar with the gorgeous swimming pools, outrageous buffets, and over-the-top lobbies.

You'll find web sites for everything connected to Vegas, even a rating of the lobbies.

Yes, it is silly - no doubt about it, with The Venetian featuring a replica of the canals of Venice, and Paris showcasing a mockup of the Eiffel Tower.  So you have to keep a kind of tongue-in-cheek attitude about all of it.  I can enjoy walking The Strip for hours, checking out the sights, the people, and the energy of the place.  Keep in mind it can get a little dicey with some of the advertising and handouts you will be subjected to as you stroll.  So by day two, I have to get out of town and explore some of the incredible nearby scenery ... like Death Valley, the Grand Canyon or Lake Mead.  All of these are only about three hours from The Strip and make for a world-class outdoor playground.

Exploring Lake Mead

You don't need to drop a fortune when visiting here.  In fact, you could get some screaming deals the past few years when Vegas was doing everything they could to attract visitors during the recession.  The city overbuilt, and they needed to fill the seats somehow.  Rooms for $29 were not uncommon.  So shop around before you come, and see what kind of deals you can get.  A good place to start is right here at  I just wish I had registered that web site years ago.

Vegas is always a whole bunch of fun.  With all the attractions, the hotel lobbies, the buffets, the shows, the free things to do on The Strip ... I give Vegas a Road Stew rating of 8.  Now, when you toss in Death Valley (two hours to the west), The Grand Canyon (three hours to the east), and Lake Mead (an hour to the south), well then ... you've got yourself a solid 10!

Monday, September 17, 2012


We all need to find our go-to place to find a little peace and quiet. I found mine years ago on the bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica.  This little piece of paradise contains 25 acres of lush vegetation, crushed rock walking paths, wooden benches and tables, rose gardens, and views of the oc
ean that make everything OK. I come here frequently to clear my head, and just feel the perfect combination of nature and California hip, if you know what I mean.

The reviews in Tripadvisor say it all … “If you haven’t walked this, you haven’t seen California.” And also, “Paradise Found.”

If you like dogs, you will love the mix of people and their canines that visit here every day. The Santa Monica Pier is at the far end of the park, and is yet another reason to visit here. The park has a European feel to it, and you will hear French, German and a smattering of Italian as you walk the paths and take it all in. It seems to attract visitors from around the world – maybe because it is so uniquely California, and everyone wants to experience this little slice of paradise for a few hours.  And some decide to stay!

Street parking is available, but that can be in short supply and the meters are enforced - so make sure you bring some quarters. Watching the sunset over the ocean is a highlight so make it a point to get here in the late afternoon.  Here's a web site for more info.

Because of the peaceful nature of the place, the gardens, the perfect walking paths, the amazing sunsets, and the polite company that frequents the spot ... I give Palisades Park a 9 Road Stew rating out of 10.

Monday, September 3, 2012


I'm a huge fan of the Old West.  I was a "cowboy wannabe" growing up in the Midwest watching all the old westerns and couldn't wait to head west to see the landscape. Those wide open spaces stretching for miles give me wanderlust, and make me think about those hearty pioneers who came out here to start a new life.  Among them, the tough miners who set up makeshift camps and picked at the ground in search of gold or silver.  Many of those settlements, called boomtowns, rose up quickly, and then disappeared ... slowly decaying into ghost towns.

Those old towns are scattered throughout the West, and are some of my favorite places to explore.  You can feel the presence of the people - the miners, the shop owners, the blacksmiths, the barbers ... as you walk through the dusty streets.  I set out for Calico, an old ghost town located along I-15 just outside of Barstow, CA.  It's an easy stop on the way to Vegas.

I am a bit of a purist when it comes to my ghost towns, so I have to be honest ... Calico is a little on the touristy side.  The place has been restored to make it family-friendly - that includes the typical souvenir shops where you can pick up t-shirts, cowboy hats, replica guns and holsters, and yes, there is even a Starbucks.  I know, that just about killed the experience for me.

Everything considered, it's definitely worth the four-mile detour off I-15 if you are in the mood for a taste of the Old West.  (Your kids will love it, if you have kids.)  It will set you back $7 for adults, $4 for youth (6-15), and free for those under 5.  There is plenty of parking, and sandwiches and ice cream. I was looking for BBQ, but came up empty.  Here's their web site for more info.

Overall, I would give Calico a Road Stew rating of 7 on my 1-10 scale.