An Interview with Tim Dewart — Boston Tour Guide

California Tours introduces a new series of interviews with the tour guides who lead our tours around the US. They’ll share funny stories, travel tips, and details about the destinations that they visit so often.

This week, we speak with Tim Dewart, a professional tour guide based in Boston who switched from a life of performance and theatrical arts to the fine art of giving tours! Throughout the East Coast and all across the National Parks, Tim has spent years cultivating a passion for travel and adventure in the United States.

Tour Guide Series: Tim Dewart, Boston

Boston's high-end Beacon Hill district

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Miami, Florida: Outdoor Pleasures divine for the adventure seeker

Miami

If the thought of going to Miami conjures up images of hedonistic nightclubs and topless beaches, let me assure you there’s more to this Florida vacation spot than meets the naked eye. For the outdoor adventure seeker, sensational water action alone is worth the flight. Further, hiking and bicycling tours guarantee unforgettable day trips to scenic destinations other location can replicate.

Consider this: the region offers over 600 miles of pristine Florida coastline to explore with seafaring opportunities of every ilk. Miami is the largest city in Miami-Dade County, a major metropolitan area in southern Florida with 35 incorporated cities topping population charts at 2.5 million residents.

Other popular cities in the county include Miami Beach, Key Biscayne, and Coral Gables. Since the county is home to a vibrant Latin American community, tourists gain an eclectic appreciation for Miami’s ethnic foods, Latin culture, architecture, and language with every visit.

According to insiders, the best time of year to come if you want to escape the cold is the winter season, from January to March. That is when temperatures are mild, but crowds are heavy at this peak time. If you want to come during a slower season, the months of April and May are ideal after college and high school spring breaks, and hotel rooms may be cheaper.

What to do and where to go for that natural high? Consider these options:

1) Learn a new water sport. Outfitters will teach you to windsurf, kayak, stand-up paddle board, scuba dive in a few hours. Sailboards Miami of Key Biscayne is at your beck and call for these types of lessons.  See www.sailboardsmiami.com.

2) Take a bike tour or go off on your own. Local travel company dubbed City Discovery offers an Art Deco South Beach Bike Tour so you learn about the city’s architecture, history and culture while you ride. South Beach, trendy and hip with retail stores and restaurants,  is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Miami. Details can be found at www.city-discovery.com./miami.

3) Sign up for a boat ride, but not just any boat ride. Want to hire a yacht for a party with its own skipper? Is your idea of romance defined by sailing out on a glass-bottom catamaran?  How about a speed boat excursion with a glass of champagne a la Mission Impossible? Thriller Miami Speedboat Tours may suit you fine if an adrenaline boost is what it takes to get you grinning. Check out www.thrillermiami.com.

4) Visit one or both national parks. Miami is the only city in the United States that borders two national parks: Everglades and Biscayne. Both parks offer tours, hiking, biking, camping, and boating among unique foliage and wildlife.  See both national parks at www.nps.gov.

5) Dive into as many beaches as you can. Enjoy the variety of Greater Miami beaches which offer a myriad of landscapes and a variety of amenities. Key Biscayne, on the southern tip of the state, features a historic lighthouse, picnic tables, food and drink stands, and bicycling trails. Haulover Beach Park, however, boasts a 9-hole golf course, tennis courts, a kite flying area, and pedestrian tunnels.  Log onto www.miamiandbeaches.com

6) Fish, fish, fish. Embark on an unforgettable journey with Reel Adventure Charters. Experienced fishermen will transform you into a macho angler during  an all-day fishing trip or half-day excursion. The Florida waters are rife with marlin, mahi dolphin, barracuda, shark, and more. Reel Adventure Charters charges $650 for a half-day and $1250 for an all-day outing.  See www.reeladventurecharters.com for reservations.

This is only a sampling of what you can do in Miami while you are working on that gorgeous tan. You can also check out Florida Vacation Packages offered by California Tours. Surfs up, dude!

Award-winning writer Kathy Chin Leong hopes to visit Florida again to catch her first marlin. She is editor of www.bayareafamilytravel.com.

 

Hearst Castle: Opulence Along the California Coast

Hearst Castle: Opulence Along the California Coast

Hearst Castle: Opulence Along the California Coast

Most people have an idea of their dream home – a swimming pool, a spacious kitchen, maybe vaulted ceilings. Or, if you are William Randolph Hearst, a 115-room mansion surrounded by three guesthouses, with two swimming pools, a movie theater, tennis courts, and a 360 degree view of his land all the way down to the Pacific Ocean. And he had the money to build that dream.

Hearst’s reputation is well known as a ruthless newspaper baron who helped drive the sensationalism of yellow journalism in the early twentieth century. But his publishing accomplishments fade away when you stand before his grand estate in San Simeon where the enormous presence of the house overtakes any myth of the man.

To get there, it’s a bumpy 20-minute ride in a bus from the visitors center, climbing up the hills, catching a beautiful view of the coastline and, possibly, a zebra – a lasting legacy of the private zoo Hearst once had with more than 300 animals.  As the house comes into view, reality seems far away. You have the sense that you are stepping into someone’s else’s vision of what life can be.

The bus stops at the base of Casa Grande – the main house – and you are led to the Neptune pool. It is outdoors, surrounded by Roman statues and marble arches through which you can see out to the ocean. The water is a clear, enticing blue, inviting you to grab a bathing suit from one of the pool houses and dive in as the guests used to do. If only!

Hearst Castle: Opulence Along the California Coast

At sunset, the colors of the sky give the pool a warm glow. It was the perfect time for a couple to slip away from an evening tour I was on. In front of the pool, he handed his girlfriend a rose with a diamond ring. Not surprisingly, she said yes.

The house is so big, it is broken up into three separate tours. Casa Grande is always a good place to start. In the heyday of his entertaining, Hearst regularly invited the most influential people of the 1920’s and 30’s – actors, artists, politicians and writers that stayed in the 84 bedrooms available on the estate. His guest list included Charlie Chaplin, Cary Grant, Clark Gable, Louis B. Meyer, Calvin Coolidge, George Bernard Shaw, and Howard Hughes.

He wanted to curry favors and glean scoops, but he also wanted to be entertained. Being a good storyteller was a good way to be invited back – and most people wanted to be invited back. Dinners were at a long table in a huge dining room modeled after a monastery. He seated the newest arrivals nearest to him, and they were moved farther down the line the longer they stayed.

Next to the dining room was a large sitting room with books and seating arranged to encourage conversation. But, a guide told me on a tour, it came with a rule – a two-drink maximum. After dinner, a movie was featured in his private, plush movie theater.

And then there are the bedrooms – opulent and unique, they spread down hallways and into turrets, anticipating every guest’s possible desire. Almost. Rule #2 was that unmarried men and women could not room together. He did not practice this himself -  he built an entire wing of the castle for his mistress, actress Marion Davis, while his wife lived in a different home.

During special evening tours, actors dress up in costumes from the 1920’s and act as guests – playing tennis on the court, lounging in the sitting room, chatting in the bedrooms as they pretend to get ready for dinner. It sounds cheesy, but it actually does make the house come alive. Touring with a group, it is so hard to imagine anyone actually living there, becoming accustomed to the surrounding splendor.

The final stop on the tour is the second swimming pool. It is all tile – with stars on the bottom as if when you are underwater, the bottom is up. And there’s a diving platform to dive into the stars.

After the tour is over, you are shuttled down the mountain to – lets face it – a less splendid reality.

Or, as I did last time, to get another ticket for a different tour and return to the castle.

Book your vacation along the California coast with California Tours today and don’t miss the history and decadence of Hearst Castle!

 

Drake Lucas is a former journalist based in Brooklyn, now working in communications for a non-profit organization. She loves a good travel adventure wherever it comes, whether it’s a spontaneous safari in India or stumbling onto a movie set during a hike in Yosemite. Follow her on Twitter: @drake_lucas.

Orlando, Florida

Orlando, Florida: Do the theme parks, but do it YOUR way

Orlando, Florida

So, going to Orlando anytime soon? If you are like zany thousands who parade into the mega theme parks annually, you can march in lockstep with the robotic throng and do the Same Old-Same Old, OR you can plan ahead, carving out a special experience you can call your own.  Ta da! At no extra charge I give you these activities for light bulb inspiration:Bird

1) Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom – What can you do in this Orlando Disney World Magic Kingdom Park that is unique to this locale? Be a pirate! When you pay the $29.95 online fee to join the Pirates League, you can become a First Mate (if you are a boy) or an Empress (if you’re a girl), get a real pirate name, a bunch of pirate costume stuff, and a shiver-me-timbers makeup makeover. Have your portrait taken and act out your sword welding fantasies in the Adventureland pirate parade with your newfound swashbuckling friends. Whoopee! See details at www.disneyworld.disney.go.com.

2) Holy Land Experience – This quieter theme park is based on the holy lands of the Bible. If you cannot afford Jerusalem this year, go to Orlando! The focus here is on experiencing the life and times of Jesus Christ, through re-enactments, show presentations, and historic areas that replicate markets and walking paths in the Middle East. There aren’t too many times or places where you can share and partake  in the Last Supper with Jesus and his disciples.  Pretty good for water cooler conversation back at the office, yes?  Find out more at www.holylandexperience.com.

3) Busch Gardens Orlando – Also dubbed Busch Gardens Africa, you can swing from a roller coaster and pet an animal in one day. With coasters and water rides, the park also boasts a section where you will see African animals and birds. Rhinos, cheetahs, elephants, chimpanzees will delight your inner zookeeper.  The $39.95 Sunset Safari takes you on a 45-minute tour of the 65-acre Serengeti plain where you can hand feed a giraffe and see zebras up close. The $199.95 elephant keeper experience takes you behind-the-scenes to meet the elephant trainers and interact with one of the largest animals on the planet. See www.buschgardensorlando.com.

Dolphins4) Discovery Cove – This tropical getaway fits in nicely after you have pummeled your feet around the Disney theme parks for several days. The manmade beaches with different water zones for snorkeling and swimming, and private cabanas (yes!) are the perfect antidote for relaxation. However, for bragging rights to make your friends jealous, do sign up early to go swimming with dolphins or to walk the tropical fish ocean floor in a Sea Venture dive helmet. Details are at www.discoverycove.com.

5)Walt Disney World Resort Hollywood Studios- Everyone’s heard of American Idol, but did you know you can be on the American Idol stage or in the audience at no extra cost?  By preparing your own audition song, you can come to the park and sign up early to audition for a chance to sing in front of a live audience that will vote accordingly.  If you win, you can compete at a higher level. The stage has all the bells and whistles of the original American Idol set. See www.disneyworld.disney.go.com.

 

Kathy Chin Leong, editor of www.bayareafamilytravel.com, isn’t brave enough to sing on the American Idol stage, but she successfully mastered a Sea Venture dive under the water in a giant fish tank.

Lake Tahoe Skier

Winter Advisory Alert: Lake Tahoe is in Perfect Condition for Your Ski Trip Vacation

Lake Tahoe Skier       

       Lake Tahoe is one of the most sought after ski vacation destinations in the US, and once you’ve seen it with your own eyes, you need not wonder why. As the largest alpine lake in North America, there are 72 miles of shoreline spilling into California and Nevada. The cold lake waters are crystal clear mirrors to the endless azure sky, creating an awe-inspiring effect of immeasurable blue. As if that wasn’t enough, the lake is surrounded by the famous Sierra Nevada Mountains covered in sparkling snow and pines.

       The vastness of the area is separated into two main areas: the North and South Shores.  Both are equally as scenic, but different in their offerings. The North Shore has the majority of the ski resorts, but the South shore has the largest and most popular ones.  The South Shore is also bumping with a myriad of entertainment some within walking distance or just a short cab ride away.

I suggest planning your trip to the South Shore instead of the North, especially if it’s your first time, just to get a good feel of all that Lake Tahoe has to offer in a more condensed and navigable way. The following list is comprised of options for South Lake Tahoe you can take into consideration when planning your ski trip.

 1. Getting there:

  • Driving – It is definitely the most straightforward way, but it doesn’t go without its hassles.  Weather alerts and tire chain requirements can add impediments and headaches and should be considered in advance.
  • Flying – The closest commercial airport is the Reno-Tahoe International Airport (about 1 hr away from South Shore). Continental and United Airlines offer direct flights to Reno from San Francisco International Airport. South Tahoe Express offers 10 shuttles daily from the Reno airport to South Lake Tahoe resorts or you can rent a car.
  • Train/Amtrak – The California Zephyr Amtrak combined bus/train service picks up in San Francisco Union Square (bus) and Emeryville, CA (train) and travels to the Truckee, CA station.
  • Bus – There are bus services and rideshares from San Francisco Bay area with varying schedules and pick-up times. AlterNetRides is a website that coordinates rideshares, and California Tours offers an inclusive Lake Tahoe Bus Tour Package. Additionally, you can also call your resort in advance to see what shuttles they offer from Sacramento, Truckee, and Reno.

2. Staying there:  You really have your pick when it comes to choosing accommodations in South Lake Tahoe. They range from cream of the crop luxury hotels to salt-of-the-Earth rustic cabins. There are campgrounds, RV parks, bed and breakfasts, hotels, resorts, and even vacation homes fully equipped with additional amenities such as kitchens and laundry. Visit the South Lake Tahoe Official Site for detailed lists of accommodations.

3. Skiing there: With 40ft falling per year, the snow in Tahoe is the main winter attraction.  There are three major ski resorts in the South Shore. Heavenly Ski Resort has the largest ski area and according to Ski Report’s Site it is the 2nd mosSkiert popular one in the US.  The other two resorts are Kirkwood and Sierra-at-Tahoe.  All three offer diverse slopes to fit skill levels of beginners, intermediate, advanced, and extreme terrain. If you are showing up sans equipment, no need to fret. You can rent skiing and snowboarding equipment on site (or offsite if more convenient) and even take instructional lessons if needed. For a complete listing of ski resorts, please visit Tahoe.com to see which resort is most appealing.

4. What else to do there:  South Lake Tahoe is a large community filled with food, nightlife, and entertainment. Gone are the days of hunt and gather, you can fill up at 4 star restaurants, buffets, chains, diners, and more. After replenishing over a meal, you could head to one of the many casinos on the Nevada side to test your luck. Once you’re rolling in the gambling winnings, you can move onto a ritzy nightclub for VIP treatment, a hipster dive bar for some low-key fun, or even a pub or dance club.

         South Lake Tahoe is a bustling destination that offers an amazing balance of natural beauty and endless entertainment for a full sensory experience. You will not be disappointed by all the variety in store for you when planning your next ski trip vacation.

For any additional information, please visit the Official Lake Tahoe Visitor Bureau Website. Also, don’t forget to check out California Tours’ Lake Tahoe with Heavenly Ski Resort package that includes transportation, accommodations, ski lift passes, ski rental, and more!

 

April Reed calls San Francisco home but radiates out as far as a weekend can take her. She has a penchant for the great outdoors, preferring snow and sun in equal parts, but is always willing to bask in the pulchritude of the world.