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Our family just returned from vacationing in Mammoth, California.  Although I’ve skiied Mammoth and camped in the area over the years, I haven’t really spent much time in Mammoth during the summer.  What a beautiful place … truly God’s country.  And, it’s a haven for those that love outdoor sports like hiking, biking and fishing.

We rented a home that we found on VRBO.com (Vacation Rentals by Owner).  We vacationed with another family and had 5 teenagers and 4 adults total … so it was nice to find a home that had a large game room for the teenagers to “hang”.

View of Lake Mamie

View of Twin Lakes from Lake Mamie

Friends of ours that have a place in Mammoth recommended that we drive up to Mammoth Lakes Basin on our first day — to get familiar with the area.  The first lakes you see are Twin Lakes. Lake Mary is the next lake, the largest in the area. When you get to Lake Mamie, there is a great view point on the right, looking down over the Twin Lakes. Horseshoe Lake is the last lake, reachable by road. It’s the only lake in the basin area that permits swimming.

If you’re in Mammoth for 3 to 5 days, here is my list of some favorite summertime activities.

Top things to do in Mammoth during the summer:

1)  Hike Little Lakes Valley trail in Rock Creek.   This is one of my most favorite hikes of all-time.  It’s about the most picturesque hike you’ll ever take!

To get to Rock Creek from Mammoth, you head South on 395 and take the Rock Creek exit at Tom’s Place.  It’s about 25 minutes from downtown Mammoth.  Rock Creek has many great campsites, places to fish and of course, many hiking trails.

Mosquito Flat & Rock Creek

The Trailhead is located at the end of Rock Creek Road.  Mosquito flat starts at an elevation of 10,300 feet.  The Little Lakes Valley trail is very easy and skirts the largest lakes in the basin, including Mack, Marsh, Heart, Box, Long and Chicken Foot lakes.

Marsh Lake

The trail stays fairly close to Rock Creek.  There are many great spots for photo ops along the way.

Trail with Heart Lake in background

We hiked to the end of Long Lake and then turned around.

Long Lake

2)  Eat homemade pie at “Pie in the Sky” after hiking in Rock Creek.  In the summer, they usually run out of pie by 1 or 2 pm.  So … hike early then go eat.  (They have great burgers, too.)

Pie in the Sky Cafe

3)  Ride mountain bikes in the Mammoth Lakes Basin area or Mammoth Mountain Bike Park.  Since most of our group hadn’t ridden in a while, we rented bikes at The Village.  You can take the free trolley (with bike trailer attached) up to Horseshoe Lake.  From there, the trail around Horseshoe is easy and pretty.  You can ride around the other lakes and when you’re ready to head back to town, there is a paved bike path through the trees.  You mostly coast down the path — which is a blast!

Bike Trail – Mammoth Lakes Basin

For the more serious rider, Mammoth Mountain Bike Park is the place to go.  There are trails for the serious down hillers and trails for all abilities.  You can get daily passes for access to the trails, gondola and shuttles.  Prices are between $15 – $45 daily.

4)  Picnic in the Mammoth Lakes Basin.   There are rocks and logs along the shores of most of the lakes – which make for great spots for picnics.  We parked on the road at Mamie Lake and hiked in several hundred yards and had a great picnic on rocks overlooking the lake.

Lake Mamie

5)  Take a day trip to June Lake.   This is great on a hot day when you’d like to find a place to play in the water.

  • Splash around in Rush Creek.  If the water levels are high, float down the creek in tubes.

Tubing on Rush Creek

  • Swing on the Rope Swing (into the water) at Gull Lake.

Rope Swing at Gull Lake

  • Eat lunch at the Silver Lake Cafe (closes at 2 pm).  Great burgers & sandwiches!

6)  Hike to Crystal Lake.  It’s a moderate hike with some of the most amazing views.  You climb 900 feet in elevation with quite a few switchbacks.  The trail head starts from the Lake George parking lot.

View from Crystal Lake Trail

The hike is well worth it!  It’s one of the lesser traveled trails in summer in the Mammoth Lakes Basin.

Crystal Lake

7)  Eat lunch or dinner at Toomey’s — located in The Village.  The food’s just as great as Matt’s food was at the Mobil Mart (Lee Vining).  There’s not much seating, so make a reservation for dinner.  Check out the menu here.  Beware … they serve large portions — even the appetizers make a meal by themselves!

Matt Toomey (chef) at Toomey’s

8)  Eat homemade ice cream at Looney Bean Coffee & Roasting Co (corner of Main Street & Old Mammoth Road).  During the summer, they have 6 to 8 different flavors daily.  So creamy & delicious!  Our groups’ favorite flavors were Peaches n Cream, Blueberry and Mud Pie.  Their coffee and tea is great as well.

Barista at Looney Bean

If you’re in Mammoth for a longer stay, there are some great day trips:

  • Drive into Yosemite via Tioga Pass.  It’s about a 2 hour drive from Mammoth Lakes.
  • Take the shuttle bus to Devil’s Postpile & Rainbow Falls.  Due to the crowds in summer, the shuttle bus is the only way to visit this area.
  • Drive down to Bishop and float on the Owens River.
  • Visit the Hot Creek Fish Hatchery (off the 395 at the Mammoth Airport exit).  It’s a very interesting self-guided tour of one of the largest trout producers (the fish are then stocked in the nearby lakes).  This is a short trip and can easily be added on your way home from Mammoth.

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Over spring break, we rented an apartment in North Beach, San Francisco.  We were a few blocks up the hill from Washington Square Park (pictured below).  On nice days, the park is often filled with locals hanging out, practicing tai chai or displaying their artwork.  We even saw a guy flipping pizza dough!   The Saints Peter and Paul Church is located at the square.  This is the church where Marilyn Monroe & Joe DiMaggio had their wedding photos taken.  (They weren’t permitted to wed in the church because Marilyn was divorced).

All over North Beach (and SF for that matter), you see beautiful old Victorian buildings.  But you can always tell that you’re in North Beach because the telephone poles are painted in the colors of the Italian flag (red, green & white).  These painted poles delineate the boundaries of North Beach.

North Beach is one of the most popular neighborhoods in San Francisco.  I now know why … they have the best cafes, bakeries, delis, and boutiques!   I want to go back and live there for a month or so!!

Here are our favorite picks of North Beach ….

North Beach Restaurants:

Best Italian Restaurant:  Tony’s Pizza

Tony’s Pizza is located on Stockton Street at the corner of Washington Square Park.  It was our favorite pizza joint.  As you can tell by the crowds, it’s many others’ favorite, too.  Be prepared to wait a while for a table.  The nice thing is that they take down your cell phone and give you a call when your table is ready – great for those that like to browse in the nearby boutiques.

Tony’s offers 9 different styles of pizza — ranging from Napolean wood-fired pizza at 900 degrees to Classic American at 550 degree gas ovens to Coal Fired pizza at 1000 degrees.

We ended up getting a coal fired pizza called the New Yorker with natural casing pepperoni, sliced Italian fennel sausage, ricotta and fresh garlic and oregano.  It was one of the BEST pizzas we’ve ever had.  You may recall, my husband LOVES pizza.  He believes it’s a food group all on it’s own — so we have tried many a pizza!

I loved how they served bread slices in tomato cans along with a tray of dipping sauces:  a garlic honey sauce, olive oil and a roasted red pepper sauce.  Great idea for our home pizza parties!

Best Italian Restaurant:  Sotto Mare

Sotto Mare Oysteria & Seafood at 552 Green Street was my favorite restaurant.  They have daily seafood specials that are listed on the board outside.  The evening we were there, they had sand dabs – which I love!  But, Sotto Mare’s claim to fame is “the best damn Cioppino.”

There is always a wait at Sotto Mare.  The man that greeted us was a feisty, older gentleman.  He asked us if we wanted lobster and handed us this lobster.  He told us to go two doors down for a drink while we waited for a table.

My sister-in-law introduced our family to cioppino a few years ago.  Since, it’s been a family favorite – so we all ordered cioppino.  Sotto Mare’s Cioppino is enough for two — with crab, shrimp, mussels, calamari and clams.  The broth is a thick, flavorful, tomato base … that is so delicious you want to soak every inch of it up with the crusty bread.

It’s a messy dish, but everyone gets a red and white bib and they bring you a roll of paper towels.  Can’t wait to enjoy Sotto Mare’s again!

Best Coffee Shop:  Caffe Greco

Caffe Greco was our favorite spot for coffee in the mornings.  It’s located on Columbus Avenue and they only take cash.  They serve the best cappucino and espresso!  It’s the place the locals go — as so many of the customers knew each other.

We tried several other places … Cafe Roma and Cafe Trieste, which had great coffee, but our preference is Greco.

Best Pastries:  Stella Pastry & Cafe

Across the street from Caffe Greco is Stella Pastry & Cafe.  We bought fresh pastries most mornings to take back to the kids.  They have a wonderful assortment.  They also have great coffee.

Best Boutiques:

Our home was located a few blocks up from Grant Avenue.  Grant Avenue has many cute boutiques — offering unique items.  The hours vary by store — and you often need to ring or knock, as store owners can be in the back.  Here are my favorite finds on Grant …

1)  Mashka Jewelry was a great find (at the corner of Grant and Green Street).  Natalie and I spent quite a bit of time browsing and talking to the owner (who is the designer of the jewelry).  We purchased some beautiful jewelry.  It’s worth browsing the store just to see how creatively the jewelry is displayed (on old books, in glass domes, in bird cages).

2)  Schein & Schein at 1435 Grant Avenue is another lovely find.  They sell antique maps, prints and books.  The store hours are a bit sketchy – it’s best to call and confirm hours.

3) Paparazzi at 1424 Grant had beautiful, unique clothes in the window.  I never got to go in the store, as it was always closed when we walked by.  It’s definitely a must on the next visit.  They also have stores in Cow Hollow and Tiburon.

4)  City Lights Booksellers and Publishers is located on Columbus at Broadway (not Grant Avenue, but worth a mention).  City Lights is one of the few remaining large independent book stores — and has become a world-famous experience for book lovers.

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Over spring break, we took a road trip with the kids to San Francisco.  We had booked an apartment in Telegraph Hill / North Beach (SF’s Little Italy) via VRBO.com (Vacation Rentals by Owner).  VRBO is a great alternative to staying in hotels.  It’s especially nice to come back to a home where you can spread out (vs. tiny hotel rooms) — when traveling as a family.

Our apartment was at the top of Telegraph Hill (quite a hike up the hill) – but had AMAZING views from all of the windows.

This was the view from our bedrooms!  I could get used to waking up every morning to a view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

And this was the view from our living room — looking out at the Financial District.  Did I mention that the living room had a pool table?  Very handy when traveling with teenagers.

Telegraph Hill / North Beach is the Northeast part of San Francisco.  It’s a great place to stay, as you can easily walk to Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39, Pier 33 (Alcatrez Tours), the Ferry Market Building, and Chinatown.  Plus, you have the benefit of being in the “best food area” of San Fran!!!  I’ll do a separate post on our great restaurants and boutique finds in North Beach.

We did hit all of the major tourist attractions, but here’s what our teenagers enjoyed the most.

1) The Sea Lions at Pier 39

We all could have watched the sea lions for hours.  They are quite entertaining … how they climb over each other and bark, some of them, non-stop.  While I personally think Pier 39 is a tourist trap … it’s definitely worth the visit to see the sea lions.  (They are located on the Northwest side of Pier 39).

2) Eating in North Beach

The kids loved eating pizza and gelato in North Beach.  It reminded Natalie of being in Italy.  We had some wonderful meals in SF.  (Jeff and I loved getting cappuccinos in the mornings and bringing back pastries for the kids).

3) Tour of Alcatraz

We took the tour of Alcatraz (Alcatraz Cruises) — which was very interesting.  It’s a short boat ride over to the island.  Once on the island, there is an audio tour – which is very thorough.  I would recommend booking tours in advance, especially if you want to take the evening tours, as those always sell out in advance.

I can’t imagine living in a 5′ by 9′ cell.  The winters would have been unbearable!  We visited on a 65 degree day and those cells were chilly and you could hear the wind howling.

4) Lombard Street

Natalie thought Lombard Street was very cool.  We did get Nick to look up from his phone a couple of times.  It’s fun to drive it and walk it.

5) Coit Tower

Our apartment was just a few hundred yards from the steps to Coit Tower.  There were great views from the tower (very similar to those from our apartment).

On the walk over (on Montgomery Street), we saw this statue of a man on someone’s deck.  Natalie and I thought it was quite creepy … as it looked like the eyes followed you as you walked by.

6) Chinatown

We took the less-touristy route through Chinatown.  Our kids were grossed out by the smells and food that was sold on the streets.  We did have a great Dim Sum lunch and enjoyed seeing how fortune cookies are made.  I will do a separate post on our tour through Chinatown.

We also drove through the Presido, Golden Gate Park and the Palace of the Arts.  The kids slept through most of the drive so they thought it was uneventful.  We saw cable cars, walked through the Financial District, shopped the Ferry Market Building and walked through Fisherman’s Wharf, too.

Overall, it was a great trip to the city!

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I just returned from a “girls’ trip” to Park City/Deer Valley, Utah.  This was our 18th year of getting together at a ski destination for a few days of skiing, catching up, eating & shopping.  We started out as a bunch of single gals, most of us working in the tech industry.  Now years later, we’re all married or with significant others, have kids, pets and very different lives.

We live all over the U.S., but we still make time to come together for a great few days of “girlfriend time”.  As I explain to my husband each year, it’s much cheaper than therapy and oh, so much better!!!

This year, we went back to a favorite destination … Park City.  We were there during the first weekend of the Sundance Film Festival.  I’ve never seen Park City so crowded!!!  While it’s fun to see a few celebs, we did decide it’s best to go to Park City at the end of Sundance or avoid the festival all together.

During the festival, there is no parking on Main Street (and what limited parking you can find is expensive).   You have to get dinner reservations at least a month in advance.  And, most of the nicer restaurants only offer pre-fix meals.  Many of the hotels and rentals jack up the lodging prices.

Utah hadn’t received much snow this year.  The first day of the festival it started to snow.  And, I believe it is still snowing in Park City.   Beautiful!

We do love Park City because of the great restaurants & shopping.  But our big draw is really the Deer Valley Ski Resort.  In 30 years of skiing, it’s my all-time favorite ski mountain.  It’s well-groomed, limited crowds, no snow boarders and has amazing services & ammenities.  And, there are many great lodging options near Deer Valley.  We always love to rent a condo or home — which makes for an affordable place when split among friends — and also provides a great place to hang out after skiing.

Here’s my “best of” list if  you’re considering a trip to Park City …

Favorite Restaurants:

  • Purple Sage – 434 Main Street.  A long time favorite of ours.  It’s known as an American Western Bistro.  The food will not disappoint.  Order the Butterscotch Pudding.  It’s amazing.
  • Reef’s – also on Main Street.  We tried Reef’s for the first time this trip.  It was a delicious Mediterranean meal.  And, the service was exceptional!
  • Cafe Terigo – Italian meets French at 424 Main Street.  Great for lunch or dinner.
  • Chimayo – at 368 Main (look for the orange hanging lights).  Great Southwestern food.
  • Empire Canyon Grill at Deer Valley – the best food on the Deer Valley ski mountain.  It’s become our destination of choice for lunch when skiing.

Restaurants we wanted to try, but couldn’t get in (due to Sundance crowds) …

  • J&G Grill at the St. Regis.  J&G gets great reviews both on food and service.  Reservations are a must (and you need to get them well in advance for Sundance).
  • Talisker on Main.  I tried to get reservations 2 weeks in advance of our trip.  They only had seatings at 10 pm.  The restaurant is small, but looks wonderful.  Next trip!

We’ve eaten at most of the restaurants on Main Street.  Some of the ones that have been around for ages (Grappa, Wahso) are no longer favorites.  And, if you’re in Park City during Sundance, you need to get reservations weeks in advance.

Favorite Shopping Spots:

  • Silver Lake Village Shops at Deer Valley (on Royal Street) — it’s great to browse these clothing and ski shops, to see what the “beautiful, wealthy skiiers” wear.
  • rootd — Cute home accessories and jewelry store at 577 Main.
  • Butera Home — off Main Street on Herber.  Barclay Butera’s original home & design store is in Newport Beach.  It’s an all-time favorite store of mine.  His store in Park City is perfect for the mountain cabins and homes!
  • Fatali Gallery at 556 Main St.  This gallery features the landscape photography of Michael Fatali.  You’ll see some of the most amazing photographs of Southwestern U.S. scenery.  It’s best to go to the gallery at night, when you can see the impact of lighting on the photographs.
  • Olive & Tweed – fun fashion and jewelry on Main.

Lodging Tips:

  • Some of the most beautiful homes and condos to rent are in the Deer Valley area.  We’ve used VRBO(Vacation Rentals by Owner) and some specific Deer Valley lodging websites to locate lodging.  If you are there to ski Deer Valley, here are the great areas (many ski-in/ski-out):
    • If you are there to ski Deer Valley, Silver Lake and Black Bear are great locations (many ski-in/ski-out).
    • If money is no object, the St. Regis is at the base of Deer Valley.  And, the Montage is between the Deer Valley and Park City ski resorts.
  • If you are renting a home or condo, it’s great to stock up on food at Whole Foods Market (Redstone Center) or Fresh Market (closer to downtown Main Street).
  • If you enjoy wine and beer, remember that the grocery stores don’t sell alcohol (with the exception of 3.2% beer).  Snow Creek Plaza has the best wine selection in Park City.

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If you’re looking for a fun outing in the Santa Monica – Malibu area, the Getty Villa is a great choice!  My cousin was visiting this week (from Kansas).  He’s really into architecture, so we spent a few hours at the Getty property in Malibu.  Admission is free; however, you do need to get online tickets in advance for a timed entry to the property.

The villa is modeled after a first-century Roman country house called Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum, Italy.  The villa dei Papiri was buried by the Mount Vesuvius eruption in 79 A.D.  Much like most of Pompei, the real villa is still mostly unexcavated.

The villa building houses Greek, Roman and Entruscan antiquities.  Many of the exhibits are permanent and are quite interesting.

The grounds of the Getty property (60 some acres) are beautiful.  There are reflecting ponds, benches, statues and interesting plant life everywhere you look.

Walking through the gardens is probably my favorite part of the Getty Villa.

On the north side of the Outer Peristyle (formal gardens and pool), there is an Herb Garden planted with species from the Mediterranean.  Fruit trees, flowering shrubs and herbs were planted that would have been used for cooking and medicine.

There are many fountains and water features throughout the property.


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So it’s probably clear that I am a big fan of Durango, CO.  I’ve been there in summer, fall and winter … and have always had a great time.

While I love the winters and skiing in Durango, summertime is my favorite.  Here’s my list of the top things to do in Durango during the summer months …

1)  Ride the Rapids

There are several rafting companies in Durango that offer river rafting on the Animas River.  If you’re brave and early enough in the summer (when there is a lot of water), you can raft the Upper Animas and get to experience class 4 and 5 rapids.  For the rest of us, the lower Animas is quite fun — especially after a winter with a lot of snow.

2)  Horseback Riding in the San Juan Mountains

We’ve used two different horseback riding outfits:  Rapp Coral and Buck’s Livery.   I like the trails best with Buck’s Livery (they are close to DMR and have some beautiful trails among the aspen trees and pretty lakes.  But Rapp Coral has the option to take the trails back to a cave — which is a fun experience.

3) Go jeeping in Ouray

Ouray is often called the “Little Switzerland of America”.  It’s a charming town located about 70 miles north of Durango.  You drive the “Million Dollar Highway” to get there — a beautiful drive, but many sharp turns and sheer dropoffs.

We always rent jeeps at Switzerland of America Jeeps.  They have amazing customer service and have the nicest jeeps in town.  They also are one of the few jeeping outfits that have 4-door jeeps for rent.

One of our favorite jeeping trails is Yankee Basin.  In early summer, the wildflowers are in full bloom and after a great winter, there are many waterfalls.

4) Eat outside at Ken & Sue’s in downtown Durango

Ken & Sue’s has the best food in town.  A while back they opened up the back for outdoor seating — which is perfect for a summer lunch or dinner.  While there are quite a few good restaurants in downtown Durango — Ken & Sue’s seems to be the locals’ favorite, too.

5)  Swim, Tube or Jump in the Rivers

While the rivers and lakes are quite cool, on a hot summer day, it’s great to tube, swim or even jump from the rocks into the crystal blue waters.  On the Animas River, there are several great places to get in and out of the river in town.  Outside of town, it’s a little more challenging to find public access to the river.

6)  Go for a hike and enjoy nature (and maybe even a picnic)

There are so many great hiking trails in the Durango area.  You ccan download trail maps off the Internet, depending on where you’re headed.

We always take a picnic lunch with us on our day of jeeping.  There are several great sandwich shops in Durango and Ouray.  And on most day trips, we do encounter some incredible wildlife.

7)  Enjoy Durango Mountain Resort (DMR) — the Alpine Slides, Zipline & Music in the Mountains.

At the Purgatory ski resort (now called DMR), there is an Alpine Slide, Zipline and Bungy Jump.  It can be a fun afternoon for the kids.  During the summer months, they also have Music in the Mountains — evening musical performances under the stars.

8)  Cool off at the Hot Springs

There are hot springs and swimming pools in both Durango and Ouray.  It’s nice to spend an afternoon at Trimble Natural Hot Springs — a few miles north of Durango.  You can also get spa treatments in addition to soaking in the pools or swimming in the Olympic-size pool.

There are many more things to do and see, depending on the length of your stay.  Here are a few other things on the list:

  • Farmer’s Market on Saturdays
  • Take a Glider Ride at the Durango Soaring Club
  • Zip through the Trees with Soaring Treetop Adventures
  • Ride the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Train
  • Visit Mesa Verde

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Can you say “WOW!?”  This is the home we rented for our Durango vacation.  Pictures surely won’t do it justice — as it was incredible!  It’s a 6000 sq. ft. home that had a great layout for the 15 of us (yes … 15 people.  8 adults and 7 kids).

The home (called Stone Creek) is located on a county road about 20 minutes north of downtown Durango.  There is a small stream in the front of the home (along with a pond) and a river in the back yard.

We found the home on vrbo (vacationrentalsbyowner.com).  It’s a great website that we’ve used many times to find vacation rentals.

This is the entry to the home.  The rooms were large and had great spaces for a large group.  When we first arrived, the kids ran through the entire house — screaming with excitement — as it was a very cool home for vacation.

This is the great room.  All 15 of us were able to hang out here while playing games like CatchPhrase and HiYaa.

Off the great room, there is a media room (with surround).  This is where the kids hung out in the mornings and evenings — watching movies and playing games.


The kitchen was huge, which made it great for meal prep for 15.  And, there was enough seating at the dining table and bar to fit all of us for dinner.

And now for the yard …


This is the back yard, looking at the back of the house.  There is a deck the follows the entire back half of the house … with a hot tub, a fireplace, a fire pit, a BBQ grill and large outdoor seating area.

One afternoon, we had a herd of elk come through the backyard.  There were at least 24 elk … all staring at us as we took pictures from the deck.

Can you believe that we had a zip line in the side yard?  Fun, fun, fun!!!!

And a trampoline, hammock, teepee and basketball court.

We could have “hung out” at the house — with plenty to do — our entire stay.  But, we did venture out each day.  Stay tuned for the “Best of Durango”.

A classic picture … the kids shoes in the entry hall!

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