The Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve.

It is that time of the year for a Sunday Drive!!!

Here is a good one!

The Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve and Ecological Reserve is quite the tongue twister but what the locals call it today and I what I called it when I was a kid is simply, the Back Bay.

Many, many years ago it was designated as an area for speed boats and water skiing.  It was far away from the mansions and homes in the main bay so the noise and wakes never affected any residents.

Back then, I remember seeing my first water-skier riding high behind the boat, holding on to the rope as if for dear life.    I couldn’t figure out how they stayed up without sinking.   I guess I was too young to understand physics.  Still it was fun to watch as this part of the bay was filled with life.

Today, the drone of speedboat motors is long gone only to be replaced by the much quieter kayaks, stand up paddleboards , and outriggers.

The quietude is interrupted once in awhile when a low flying airline from John Wayne Airport takes off to who knows where.  I was thinking what a bummer that these million dollar homes are right under a flight path.

Have Kayak will Travel
The Upper Newport Bay is a coastal wetland that encompasses 1,000 acres of small water-ways, a larger channel, reeds, and marsh.  It is also home to hundreds of different species of birds.

A bird flies by with the Newport Aquatic Center in the background

On land, there is a ten mile loop for joggers, bicyclists, hikers, roller bladders, and for about 3 miles of it motor cars can join in on the road.  On water, there are plenty of nooks and crannies for you to explore via kayak or SUP.  If you don’t have your own, across the bay the Newport Aquatic Center has plenty of rentals.

Continue reading “The Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve.”

Santa Monica Pier

California is coming off of it’s lock down and we will start doing some new trips and activities.  Until then please enjoy some of our old favorites.

First up: Santa Monica Pier.  A great summer escape.

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Santa Monica Pier

People, people, and more people.  A few weeks back I did a story on the Belmont Shore Veterans Memorial Pier.  In that story I mentioned that when I was strolling on that pier, it was if I had gone back in time.   The design of the pier seemed reminiscent of a time long ago with old lanterns that subtly lit the walkway and an unusual lack of crowds.    It felt like something from the 1950’s.

SM-Sign FB

Two weeks later it was feeling more like the  21st century as we stepped on to the Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles County, California.  Unlike the Belmont Pier, we were now sharing it not with a handful of people, but with thousands!!    It was bumper to bumper people as far as you can see.

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So what attracts so many to the Santa Monica Pier and not the Belmont Pier?

The Belmont Pier has a snack bar, fishing, plenty of bathrooms and a great view, what more could you ask?   In comparison, the Santa Monica Pier also has those features but with a few wee minor additions, such as,  a roller coaster, a Ferris wheel,  a carousel, a two story restaurant, a flying trapeze,  shops,  carnival games and rides,  vendors, music,  and much more.  It is an amusement park sitting on top of a pier and that is why it is so crowded!

SM-Long distance roller coaster ferris wheel FB

The Santa Monica pier is where you go to play, eat, drink, and have fun.   We went on the Saturday after the Thanksgiving holiday so I am sure it was more crowded than normal, although I can’t be sure of that fact.  Summer is probably even more crowded and I also overheard someone say it was busier at night.   So with that in mind, plan to to spend the day here as you would any amusement park or fair.

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The Santa Monica Pier was built in 1909 and strangely its purpose at the time was to carry sewage out to sea,via pipes.  Obviously through the years it has been re-built to house and to hold the weight of the amusement park type rides and structures.     I stood in awe as I watched the waves crash against the pilings wondering how they could possibly hold up all of those rides.

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Looking north you can see Malibu in the distance and Venice Beach to the south. With its close proximity to Hollywood, the pier has been used in many films and TV shows.   Some scenes from Forrest Gump were filmed at the pier and not surprisingly a Bubba Gump’s restaurant still sits at the entrance.  I’m  told it is owned by some of the producers of the film.

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Standing tall like a beacon for Margarita lovers, the two stories of the Marisol Mexican restaurant are positioned at the end of the pier for your dining and drinking pleasure.    Directly behind it you will find a set of bleachers perfect for relaxing and viewing the stunning Pacific Ocean to the west.   At the absolute end of the pier there is a second level for anglers to reel in their prizes without contending with the crowds.

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Scattered about are small street vendors as well as the sweet sounds of performing local musicians.   Bathrooms are aplenty much to my relief after guzzling two large iced teas.

Santa Monica Pier is a floating party, a carnival, a street fair, and an amusement park all wrapped up in one.    Staycations California recommends it as a fun place to visit for the day and enjoy the rides, games, food, and shops.   Or people watch, there are plenty of them.

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However, if you want mellow there is always the San Simeon Pier some 200 miles up the coast or the peace and quiet of above mentioned Belmont Pier.

Wherever your mood takes you, nothing beats taking a stroll on a pier, even if it means sharing it with a thousand of your closest friends.


The USS Iowa

The USS Iowa

If you like history and you love battleships this is the tour for you. Even if you don’t like either of those things, this is still the tour for you.  Why?, because it is reasonably priced and super interesting.

Just admiring the ship from the shore, you can tell that before you is the epitome of a battleship with its impressive array of guns perched high on the deck.  You will stand in astonishment at the cannons, high speed machine guns, and rocket launchers.

The USS Iowa is moored at the LA Waterfront area in one of the busiest ports in Southern California, Port of Los Angeles.  Nearby, the booming business of commerce can be seen with its cargo ships and cranes, while the USS Iowa sits gallantly alone.  This distinct battle ship is from a time long ago and has seen the battles of World War II, The Cold War, as well as the Korean War.

Across the bay, LA’s busy port of commerce can be seen.

Commissioned in 1943, it has hosted U.S. presidents while also earning 11 battle stars before it was finally decommissioned and sent to Suisan Bay, California.  Suisan Bay was once known as the home of the mothball fleet, where all old battleships go to rest.

Luckily it was saved from that graveyard and sent off to get a refurbishment at the nearby Port of Richmond, California. Once it was freshly painted, it made its voyage to Los Angeles in 2012 and has remained there ever since.

I have driven by it many times but finally made the decision to stop to take the tour and I am glad I did.

The Tour
There are daily tours for fewer than twenty dollars that allow you to wonder around guideless while following easy instructions on where to go.  You can stay on deck as long as you want or go below to visit the inner workings of the ship.

We chose to stroll around the deck first as the huge and mighty guns were something we just had to see.

The barrels of the enormous 16”/50 calibers were enough to make you stand in awe. Bygone footage of the huge guns being fired could be seen in videos placed about on TV screens.

You could only imagine the how loud they must have been when they were fired.  My brother said that in Vietnam, battleships like this shot their huge caliber guns and the ammo would soar above his smaller destroyer.  Just from that alone, he said it would violently shake his whole ship

Besides the TV’s, there was written information provided on all of the other missile launchers and machine guns scattered about the ship.

As we stood looking at the machine guns, a passerby gave us some information on how it could shoot off 1,000 rounds in one minute, wow… that is quite impressive.

Everywhere you looked there was a gun, cannon, or rocket launcher and in every size imaginable. Yes, this was truly an impressive battle ship.

The huge chains for the anchors

More Strolling around the ship.
The self guided tour is relaxing and allows you to go where you want while staying on the well marked paths.

Actually, I don’t know if relaxing is the word to use as there is quite a bit of climbing ladders and stairways. Some are pretty steep which is no problem going up, it is coming down that is a tad more difficult.   I chose to climb down facing in, like you would a normal ladder. Others, I noticed descended facing out.

Regardless, of your body position, it was pretty cool and gave you the experience of what it might have been like.  I could picture back in the day an alarm going off with the crew moving frantically up and down these steps on their way to their stations.

In fact, another snippet of information my brother told me was that most of the sailors on his ship could fly down the ladders at a super high speed.  He said most never hit the steps and skid down with their feet as if on a kids playground slide.

As I’m descending one of the ladders, carefully making sure each foot hits the step, I giggled on how slow I was.  If they depended on someone like me, the ship would be doomed!

Please note that ship is not wheelchair accessible for the whole tour.  I believe you can go on deck but I would check first.   There is uneven decking, low doorways,  and of course steep stairs.

Row after row of doors. Could you imagine being in a hurry?

Below Deck
Below deck, we visited the living spaces where cots were stacked three high to accommodate the thousands if men on the ship.  Sleeping in small cramped spaces, I could only imagine what it was like.    Luckily, each bed had a tie down to keep them from falling out during rough seas.

On one of the TV screens a video showed an older Naval office telling about how these new ships have it easy as his older vessel had cots stacked six high.  He felt these new whippersnappers had it easy.   Can you imagine being on the top bunk of six high?

Some of the officers received their own private rooms with the size dependent on their rank. None were as impressive as the captains, where he had his own mattress bed, bathroom,  shower, and a large sitting area.   All were on display for you to view.

Captains sitting area andpart of bedroom.

We saw the mess hall where a recording made sounds of dishes clanking as if it was in the middle of lunch service. We visited the laundry area, the radio

On board they also have a museum and a gift shop as well as a few interactive exhibits.

It is just a super interesting tour that takes about two hours, maybe three if you descend the ladders as slow as I did.

The videos along the way add interesting facts making this educational as well.

The USS Iowa is truly an impressive ship and well worth the money for the tour.

Bring your imagination, comfortable shoes, and take back some history.

Story and Photos: Debbie Colwell


The Queen Mary

The Queen Mary

The Thanksgiving holiday weekend was quickly approaching and we had no plans in mind for the four days off from work.

The fires in central California were keeping us from planning ahead because they were in the areas we wanted to visit.  Then as time drew closer, the weather forecast called for pouring down rain throughout Southern California.   This was good for the fires, not so great for vacation plans.

What to do?  What to do?  Because of the rain, it was decided that an indoor venue would be best.  Where could we go that was interesting and we could do things inside?

An indoor tour of the Queen Mary sounded like a good plan for at least one day, so we perused the internet for information.  The next thing I know, a room was booked for a two night stay in one of the staterooms of this historical ocean liner.

Before I talk about how our stay went, it is important to know the history behind this amazing ship.

The History:
The RMS Queen Mary is a retired British passenger liner that now has its home docked in Long Beach harbor.

Built by Cunard Line, this impressive vessel started its maiden voyage on May 27,, 1936, from Southhampton, England.

It was glamorous at its time with five dining areas, lounges, two cocktail bars, swimming pools, a grand ballroom, a squash court, and a doctor’s office.

It had class and style and even as you walk its floors today, you can tell that this interior was once the epitome of elegance.

While watching one of the 4D films in the theater about its history, we were amazed that at one time it was actually used in war time to ferry soldiers from port to port.  Photos in the movie show over 16,000 men aboard with a good part of them lounging on the deck.

There was actual footage of the inaugural voyage and christening, then subsequently the celebrated launching.    This massive bucket of metal amazingly slipped into the water without any trouble and was soon on its way to many trans-Atlantic voyages.  On screen as it splashed into the waterway, the seat ahead of us squirted us with water, all a part of the 4D experience.

After hundreds of voyages, the Queen Mary ended her illustrious career by making her final journey to the port at Long Beach, California.  In 1967 she officially became a hotel and a tourist attraction.

Looking at the ship from the other side of the harbor

 The Quirkiness of the Queen Mary:
To access the ship, you walk over a gangway to the check-in desk. Your first sight is an old piano next to a lounge featuring a couple of large port holes. There you can look out over the Long Beach harbor.

We were told that our room had no portholes and was situated in the inner part of the boat. We knew from seeing the staterooms online that this would be a very small space.  We also were told that we could pay a nominal fee to get portholes but there would be no heat.   It was a cold weekend and picturing me freezing while trying to sleep, didn’t hold up much appeal.  So warm it would be.  I left the negotiations to look out the large portholes onto the harbor and resigned myself that I will be spending a few days in a little cubby hole.

As I walked down the hallways there were small sub halls leading to a room on one side and one on the other. In some cases there were four doors in one section.  I thought, “Oh, this is going to be small.”

When we reached our room, there was only one door,  so this looked promising.  Sure enough it opened into a long hall that led in to a space with two single beds and surprise, surprise, there were portholes!

They were actually very large portholes and there were two of them!!  The accommodations were pretty spacious and the bathroom was a normal size, I was very, very happy.

The lady at the desk must have given us an upgrade as she saw we were worried about the heat.  As it turned out, this room had plenty of heat and there begins the quirkiness part of staying on the Queen Mary.

There were two open ‘spout’ like apparatuses on the wall where one side said colder and the other warmer. We fiddled with them until we saw the actual thermostat on the wall.  Those must have been just for show although we never knew for sure.

There were also faucet handles near the shower that said hot salt, hot fresh, cold salt, or cold fresh.  We knew these didn’t work but they gave us pause to wonder why anyone would want salt water for a shower, especially cold.    Oh, well that’s what you get on a ship built in the 1930’s.

The toilet flusher was a handle that you pushed in, unlike anything I have ever seen, but it DID work.

The funniest part was the bathtub.  The shape of it made it very hard to balance yourself while taking a shower.   It wasn’t flat and was angled like a really deep scoop so you were very unstable standing straight up facing the shower head.   Luckily there was a hand rail to hold on to which I used the whole duration of the shower.   I thought, if I am having a hard time and the ship isn’t moving, how did they shower during rough seas?  Maybe baths were the order of the day back then?

I laughed the whole time I was in there because I was literally holding on for dear life.  This was a funny experience making me wonder what it was like actually taking a trip across the ocean back in those days.

The stateroom had two small twin beds that weren’t comfortable nor uncomfortable.  Luckily, they catered to us in the year 2019, as the TV was a sizeable flat screen.

Another funny thing about the interior and is something they do warn you about.  It is how thin the walls are in the passenger areas.    I heard someone talking and laughing, so I thought maybe a walkway was just outside of the portholes.   When I looked out, it was just the side of the boat, nowhere for anyone to walk.  It turned out to be the people in the next room that you could hear almost as plain as day.   Although laughter and indiscernible conversations went on just feet away, we were happy they stopped around 11:00pm.

Overall the stateroom is exactly what you would expect, with wood panels, décor, and ambiance of that era.

You have to embrace the history and go with the flow.   Imagine what it was like back then, when they were sailing across the Atlantic Ocean.   This hotel is not like any you have ever stayed; take it for what it is.

One final note, in winter the ship is cold.  In certain parts and in particular where they leave the doors open, it can be downright chilly. So bring plenty of warm wear.

Continue reading “The Queen Mary”