Thursday, May 4, 2017

Locke, California and Al's Place

This week my son and I had dinner at Al's Place also know as "Al The Wops" in Locke, California. Locke is a small town on the Sacramento River about 30 minutes south of Sacramento. The town was founded in 1915 by the Chinese who had lived in Walnut Grove and moved after a fire destroyed
their homes. In 1970 it was added to the national registry of historical places because it is the only town in the United States built by the Chinese for the Chinese. Today it looks pretty much the same as it did in 1915. It is not a tourist trap and is not a ghost town. there are currently about 70 to 80 people live there.

They have a Chinese Spring Festival every year.

Al's Place is a restaurant/bar in the center of town. When I say center of town, there is really only one street and Al's is in the middle of that street. The night we ate there they had a taco special and we had our fill. What I remember most is their steak special but it was the only night they didn't serve steak. The steak dinner as I remember included family style salad, french fries and pasta. We are going back because my mouth waters just thinking about their delicious steak dinner.

To get there from Sacramento take I 5 south to Twin Cities Rd and go west to the river. At the river turn left and Locke is about a mile away.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Amador Wine Country

My favorite times of the year to visit the wine country are Spring and Fall. In the Spring the temperatures are warming up and the vines are starting to bud. It's not too hot or cold and great for eating a lunch with a bottle of wine outside. In the fall the temperatures are cooling down and the harvest season is underway. If you want to see how wine is made that is the time as the crush is in full swing.

Last week my son and I went to the Amador Wine Country to pick up my wine club bottles and to also try a few wineries we hadn't been to before. There is a lot to be said for the foothill wineries. The rolling hills are beautiful and this time of year are still lush and green, the crowds are less than in Napa or Sonoma and most wineries don't charge to taste.

We picked up wines at Villa Toscano, iL Gioiello, Cooper and Dillian. If you want to picnic all have outdoor seating. If you want to buy a hot meal then I would suggest Villa Toscano. I would also suggest opening up a bottle of their wine to go with lunch.

We also stopped at the Scott Harvey tasting room. I have been going to Amador for over 30 years and Scott has been around well before that. When I first met Scott he was the wine maker at Santino Winery which is now Renwood. Scott was trained in Germany and produces great late harvest wines. He also makes great Zins and white varietals.  This time I purchased some late harvest Riesling.

If you are in the Sacramento area I would suggest making the short trip to either El Dorado or Amador county to taste their wines. This is a great time to go.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Lake Clementine Trail

This weekend my son and I hiked up to Lake Clementine just outside of Auburn, California. The trail is 2.3 miles to the dam with a slight elevation change which made for a nice 5 mile hike. Lake Clementine is along the American River just outside of Auburn and about 30 minutes from my house in Gold River.

We started the hike just as the sun was coming up and we were the only ones on the trail. The weather was nice and no jacket was needed. The hike is along the river and once we got to the dam it was spilling over this time of year making for a beautiful view. On the way back we started to see mountain bikers, joggers and groups of hikers. I'm glad we started when we did. It was nice and peaceful with just us on the trail.

Another cool thing is the trail goes under the Forrest Hill Bridge. It is the highest bridge by deck height in California, and the fourth highest in the United States at 730 feet above the river. The bridge can be seen in the beginning of the 2002 film XXX in which Vin Diesel's character Xander Cage is seen driving a stolen red Chevrolet Corvette off of it, then jumping from the car mid-flight and parachuting to his accomplices at the bottom of the American River Canyon.

One note: It is a state park and parking is $10 in the parking area. There are plenty of trails in the area and we plan on doing a lot more hiking. 

After the hike we drove to the Amador Wine Country for wine tasting but that's another story.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Pops Travel Guide, Disneyland

In Front of Castle

It pays to go to Disneyland with someone who knows what they are doing. Last week my daughter and I went to Disneyland on Thursday. I thought midweek the crowds would be light. I was wrong, the crowds were huge with lots of school age kids. If it wasn't for Jennifer I would have spent most of the day in line.

Jennifer is my Disney expert and with her knowledge we were able to ride most of the best rides before noon. Here is how she did it.

Jennifer uses the "Fast Pass" to the full extent which allowed us to avoid most lines. As we entered the park we went directly to the Indiana Jones ride and picked up a fast pass. Most people stopped there to get in line. We then went to the Pirates of the Caribbean ride and found no line. We were able to ride twice in a row with no lines. We then went to the Haunted House and again no line. After riding the Haunted  House it was time to use the fast pass for the Indiana Jones ride but before we went over there we picked up a fast pass for the Haunted House so we could ride it again. At the Indiana Jones ride we had a very short wait using the fast pass. We then went over to the Haunted House and rode that again. Jennifer didn't want to ride Splash Mountain so I was able to get into the single rider line and had a very short wait. Now it was time to get a fast pass for Space Mountain. As we walked over there we noticed the wait times for Pirates of the Caribbean and Indiana Jones were 70 minutes each however we were done with those rides. After getting the Space Mountain fast pass we went to It's a Small World and rode that, then the Jungle Cruise which was about 30 minutes and 20 minutes wait each. When we finished both it was time to use the Space Mountain fast pass. Before that we got a fast pass for the Buzz Lightyear ride.  Wait time for Space Mountain at that time without the fast pass was 60 minutes, we walked right up. When we finished the ride we still had to wait before we could use the Buzz Lightyear fast pass so we got in line and rode it that way which was about 20 minutes but as we got off the ride we went right back in with fast pass and were able to ride it twice within 30 minutes.  We wanted to get a fast pass for Thunder Mountain but the ride was down and fast pass was closed. Therefore we went to lunch.

Beauty and the Beast

So, we were able to ride Indiana Jones, Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted House, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Buzz Lightyear, Jungle Cruise, some of them twice all before lunch.

After lunch Thunder Mountain was open and we were able to pick up a fast pass. Normal wait time was 70 minutes. We then rode some of the rides in Fantasy Land and walk through Tarzan's Treehouse.  After seeing the Roger Rabbit area we rode Thunder Mountain with the fast pass and by then we had been on every ride we wanted to go on and it was only 4:30 pm.

The rest of the day was walking around, shopping, drinks in Napa Rose in the Grand Californian Hotel and dinner at Storytellers Cafe in the same hotel. We then walked Downtown Disney and did more shopping before calling it a day.

Napa Rose for Drinks

It was a lot of walking, my phone app said over 30,000 steps, but next to no lines. I figured we saved over 4 hours of waiting in lines. 

If you plan your visit take advantage of the fast pass and talk to someone that has been there before.

A note on fast pass. When you get your fast pass it is good for a window of time. You cannot get another fast pass until that window starts. So you can have 2 fast passes but the first fast pass window must be active.

Space Mountain

Winnie the Pooh

It's a Small World

Buzz Lightyear

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Pops Travel Guide, Universal Studios Hollywood

View from our room.

Last week I took my daughter on a father/daughter trip to Los Angeles to see Universal Studios and Disneyland. For Universal Studios I booked a VIP tour which turned out to be the best thing I could have done.

We started out with the first tour of the day. You arrive about 20 minutes early so you can check in and enjoy a continental breakfast and meet your guide and other members of the tour. Each tour size is about 12 people. After filling up on food you board a smaller bus that takes you on the back lot tour. Universal offers the back lot tour to everyone but you are on a larger trolley and you are not allowed to get off the trolley. We made a few stops along the tour and were allowed to get off and walk around. We stopped at the property room, which is a multi-story building, where props can be rented for any movie. Some of the props we saw dated back to movies like the original Spartacus. We also stopped at what they now call Wisteria Lane where they filmed Desperate Housewives. Some of the houses had been used in TV shows like Leave it to Beaver and The Munsters. Another stop was a scene from War of the Worlds with Tom Cruise. The movie purchased a retired 747 in which they cut up and used in the scene where the 747 crashed into a neighborhood. We were able to walk around the wreckage.

After the back lot tour our guide took us into the park to take advantage of the attractions. The VIP experience gave us front of line access. My favorite was the Special Effects Show where they showed us fight scenes using stuntmen, how they set someone on fire and all the precautions taken to ensure safety in a stunt. They also showed sound effects and some of the technology used in film making.

Part of the VIP experience included a lunch. Now this wasn't the theme park food you would expect but was a full sit-down buffet. We had the option of crab legs, shrimp, prime rib and a great dessert bar. It was all you can eat and was well worth it.

After lunch they saved the best for last. We were taken into the Harry Potter area where we tried Butter Beer, and watched someone purchase a wand where the wand picks you. We were also able to do all the rides and at the end our guide left us but we were still free to go anywhere in the park and still take advantage of the front of line pass.

We went back to a few attractions we wanted to see again and then finished the day with the animal actor show which was very entertaining.

The VIP Experience is on the expensive side but if you have one day in the park, want to see as much as possible and get the most for your dollar then the VIP Experience is the way to go.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Beijing Airport Layover Great Wall Tour

My son and I booked a trip to Japan with a layover in Beijing last spring. We had a 21 hour layover which had us landing a 6 pm in Beijing and leaving the next day at 3 pm. First thing I did was to talk to the airline about a hotel for the night. If you have a long enough layover some airlines will provide a transit hotel at no charge. That gave us a place to stay for the night. 

I booked the Airport Layover Tour with Tony as we had enough time to see The Great Wall before our flight. Tony was right on time (8 am) and drove to The Great Wall.  Along the way we talked about the area and history as well as how the area had transformed lately. At The Great Wall Tony got us on the cable car and rode with us to the wall. Tony also walked with us for a way explaining the history and the view of the valley below. He then let us go ahead on our own and waited there for us to get back. We then took the cable car back down and Tony drove us to the airport. One thing I didn't expect was when we got to the airport Tony didn't just drop us off. He went inside with us and made sure we knew which gate to go to. This was going well above and beyond our expectations. I would highly recommend using Tony next time you are in Beijing.
Kevin Messing Around at the Top

That's Tony in the Middle

If you want to book the tour I would contact Tony directly at .

My tips for the layover tour:

  1. If you have an overnight layover, talk to the airline about a transit hotel.
  2. In Beijing you can get a free 72 hour transit visa. Otherwise you can spend over $400.
  3. Ask which is the correct line to get the 72 hour visa. It will save you a lot of time.
  4. Give yourself at least 5 hours to tour The Great Wall.
  5. Book with Tony.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Still the Best Sunset in the World

Every time I go to Costa Rica I have dinner at Villa Caletas and watch the best sunset in the world. They have an amphitheater in the bar area where most people come to watch the sunset but I prefer to watch from a table before dinner.