Big City Tales

A Summer’s Tale of Two Desert Cities

November 2, 2017
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As anyone who lives in a desert climate can attest, summer typically isn’t the best time to visit. Oppressive heat, turbulent winds and crowded pools top the list of reasons to stay away, but there are just as many compelling reasons to go. In 2014, I threw caution to said heat, winds and crowds and headed to Palm Springs, California in July and Phoenix, Arizona in August. Here is my summer’s tale of these two desert cities…

PALM SPRINGS – It’s Hip to Be Cool 

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Palm Springs has long been a weekend get-away and/or permanent residence for the rich and famous, but the city also holds a special appeal for the ever-growing breed of ‘snowbirds’ from Canada longing to escape the doldrums of winter or, in my case, a rainy spring/summer. With 350+ days of sunshine and very little annual precipitation, I eagerly soaked up the dry, warm air that hits you immediately like opening an oven door. Upon landing at Palm Springs International and strolling through the Sonny Bono Concourse, I was also reminded of the city’s show business/Hollywood playground notoriety first made popular by iconic stars such as Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope and Dinah Shore dating back to the 1940s and onward. It was hip then for the “Chairman of the Board” and his “Rat Pack” friends to hang out in Palm Springs, and it’s still cool in the 21st century to venture to this desert oasis.

Soak Up the Sun, Bask in the Color

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In the summer, traditional desert plants bloom in a frenzy of bright, bold colors and grow in a variety of interesting shapes and sizes, such as the Golden Barrel Cactus above.

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Surprisingly, flower beds and shrubbery also flourish. I was delighted to discover that the grounds of Indian Wells Tennis Garden were ablaze in shades of burgundy, fuschia, pink and purple with hints of white. Even though the facility is more active earlier in the year when it hosts the annual BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament, it would appear that the grounds are immaculately maintained year-round making for prime picture-taking no matter what month you visit.

Find the Fun in Funky Public Art

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While window shopping at The Gardens on El Paseo, my eyes happily landed on a painted big horn sheep fittingly named ‘Spring Time’ owing to its floral motif and bright/cheery color scheme. As I subsequently discovered, the statue is not just a random, funky art piece; it’s part of an initiative that was sponsored by the Bighorn Institute back in 2002 to bring attention to the plight of the Peninsular desert bighorn sheep that are endangered in the Coachella Valley. There are 33 other sculptures found throughout the region and the project known as ‘Path of the Bighorn’ continues to attract positive attention for a good cause.

PHOENIX – The Valley of the Sun Heats Up BIG TIME in the Summer

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With the temperature soaring well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit and barely a breath of wind to offer any cool relief, it did not surprise me to find the streets of downtown Phoenix pretty much empty during my mid-August visit. Even shaded benches and inviting water features in the city’s core could only entice a few people to venture outside the comfort of air-conditioned buildings. As I quickly discovered, the blazing sun (as depicted above in the decorative copper sculpture at City Hall) really heats up in the summer and taking cover is a must in order to keep from feeling like a wilted flower or fried egg!

Taking Cover in the Arts

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As luck would have it, West Side Story happened to be playing at the Herberger Theater Center and last minute tickets were available. Although it was a local high school theater group putting on the show, the teens gave it their all and it had the look and feel of a full Broadway production. Tonight, tonight, I was feeling all right in the comfort of a cooled room and a bunch of cool cat Jets and Sharks singing and dancing up a storm.

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With its permanent collection ranging from Western American to Asian and European, as well as Contemporary and Modern holdings, another great spot to escape the heat was at the Phoenix Art Museum. I thoroughly enjoyed wandering around this expansive space, the largest museum in the US southwest, and admiring some of its more than 18,000 objects. The Nude Man sculpture below was gifted to the museum on the occasion of its 50th anniversary, and the Thorne Miniature Rooms feature many historically accurate and highly detailed interiors, the one shown being an Italian dining room circa 1500.

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Taking Cover in the US Airways Center

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Having never attended a WNBA game, I was excited to learn that the Phoenix Mercury were in town and that the team was playoff bound boasting the best record in the league. On a steaming hot Saturday night outside, the temperature-controlled stands were a nice reprieve but the mercury would soon be rising.  Indeed, the Mercury Train inside was in full motion and the action quickly heated up with one roaring rally cry after another! The players were pumped, the fans were vocal and their boisterous support helped the home team come away with another win. Go Mercury! Turn It Up! NOISE!

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Taking Cover in the Cool-ish Morning Air

Not wanting to completely shy away from the desert heat, I figured an early morning walk was the best way to enjoy the outdoors. I was rewarded with crystal clear, electric blue skies, a slight breeze and just the right amount of warmth to make my stroll around the downtown campus of Arizona State University absolutely delightful (and, by the way, perspiration free!).

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The Moral of the Tale of Two Desert Cities Story

Truth be told, I do like warm, dry air but I have to admit that visiting the desert in the heart of the summer was too much even for this self-professed sun seeker. I’ll be back, but it will be in another season when it’s not so scorching hot out…all the better to appreciate and admire the beauty of the desert city landscape!

 

 

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Far More than Fine: San Diego is Truly Divine

March 6, 2013
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Ahh San Diego…birthplace of California, home of the world-famous San Diego Zoo, land of beautiful beaches and copious amounts of sun – this is truly a city that lives up to (and surpasses!) its nickname. Yes, ‘America’s Finest City’ is no misnomer, San Diego is truly divine!

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The lily pond is one of many lovely sights at Balboa Park.

Come for the Weather, Stay for the Fun

With an average daily mean temperature of 64 degrees Fahrenheit, San Diego is one of the world’s warmest climates and the city also enjoys over 200 sunny days, making it a popular year-round travel destination.

The temperate climate facilitates plenty of outdoor activities, including sailing, golfing, surfing, and cycling–to name just a few–and San Diego’s public beaches and parks are the perfect spots to enjoy the great outdoors.

Whether it’s taking in a baseball game, sailing along the harbor, walking around Balboa Park, or admiring the city’s naval fleet and historic hotels, San Diego is a city that offers up plenty of fun!

A Who’s Who of Wildlife in the San Diego Zoo

Renowned for its conservation efforts and progressive animal care, the San Diego Zoo also boasts a highly diverse range of species – much to the delight of visitors of all ages.

Frolic with flamingos, trek with pandas, monkey around with gorillas, or engage with elephants in wide-open spaces that allow you to observe animals in carefully crafted habitats intended to create as natural an experience as possible.

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The San Diego Zoo is home to more than 4,000 animals, covering 100 acres in Balboa Park.

Soar with Shamu at SeaWorld

If creatures of the sea are more your cup of tea, SeaWorld San Diego is the place for you to be!

Open year-round, SeaWorld offers its patrons such unique experiences as diving with sea turtles, feeding and petting dolphins, snuggling up with belugas, and watching killer whales soar through the air in the ever-popular Shamu show.

There are also a host of amusement park rides that add another level of thrills and chills for guests to experience, including Journey to Atlantis, Shipwreck Rapids, Wild Arctic, and Manta, a multi-media roller coaster that mimics the motions of a manta ray in full flight.

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The Shamu show at SeaWorld thrills viewers with high-flying killer whales displaying their amazing moves!

Soak Up Spanish History at Old Town

Thirsty for a margarita? Hungry for a fresh tortilla? Longing for a mariachi serenade? The best place to satisfy your cravings for all things Mexican is at Old Town.

After you’ve had your fill of Mexican fare, you can work off your calorie intake with a jaunt through no less than 17 museums and historical sites, a haunted house, as well as art galleries and boutiques.  If you’re just too stuffed to walk around, hop on the Old Town Trolley for one of San Diego’s best sight-seeing experiences.

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Enjoy some Spanish fare at Old Town, one of San Diego’s quaintest historic districts.

More Blasts from the Past in Gaslamp Quarter

The Victorian era is on full display in the Gaslamp Quarter, where historic buildings hold their own against modern skyscrapers and the multi-level outdoor mall, Horton Plaza.

You can see the sights and shop by day, or grab a meal and see a show at night. The Gaslamp Quarter combines the best of the past with the best of the present in a true cosmopolitan experience that should not be missed.

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History meets the present in the Gaslamp Quarter.

 


One Golden Memory After Another

March 5, 2013
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An early morning fog blankets the expanse of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California.

The City by the Bay

For a city known more for its fog than clear blue skies, it may come as a surprise that San Francisco ranks amongst the most popular tourist destinations in ‘sunny’ California, and the world for that matter!

Indeed, despite being tagged with ‘Fog City’ as one of its nicknames, there are plenty of other aspects about San Francisco that keep people coming in droves to experience the city’s charm. And, like me, wanting to come back to experience one golden memory after another all over again…

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The City by the Bay basks in the glow of evening light.

Take a Ride on the ‘Wild’ Cable Car Side

San Francisco’s cable car system has the distinction of being a national historic landmark that is still operational. The three lines that run intersect with the city’s other mass transit options and are adjacent to neighbourhoods such as Fisherman’s Wharf, Nob Hill and Union Square. Propelled by cables underneath the city streets, the cars chug along at a whopping nine miles per hour, making for a very different kind of ‘wild’ ride!

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Nearly 10 million people ride San Francisco’s historic cable car system every year.

Wind Your Way Down Lombard Street

If a series of hairpin turns on a steep one-block stretch of road is your idea of a fun driving experience, Lombard Street is calling your name.

Designed by city planners to make the road more navigable for cars through the Russian Hill district, Lombard is one of the world’s most crooked streets and is also noted for being paved in red bricks and elaborately landscaped.

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The long and winding road of Lombard Street.

While the Day Away at Fisherman’s Wharf

Eat your fill of fresh seafood, frolic with the seal lions, hop on a cable car or board an old-fashioned ship…so much to cram into a day at the wharf! And don’t forget about the bounty that lies offshore in the bay. Alcatraz Prison and Angel Island are just a short boat ride away, offering some of the most panoramic views of the San Francisco skyline.

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So many fun memories waiting to be created at Fisherman’s Wharf of San Francisco.

Take a Ghost Tour at Night in Chinatown

San Francisco’s Chinatown is the oldest and largest in North America, and is one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions. Amble through the streets and alleys, sample delectable delights, or find the perfect Chinese herb to cure what ails you. Meanwhile, keep a lookout for the spirits that are known to haunt the area at night – Boo!

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San Francisco’s charming Chinatown district is festive by day, frightful by night!

Where the Golden Sun Shines for Everyone

As Tony Bennett crooned in the closing lines of his classic 1962 hit song “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” there is a lot to love about this city and “coming home” is all the more sweeter when greeted with a golden sun.  True, the sun may not shine as much as some would like, but when it does it there’s no denying the magic it casts across the glorious city by the bay!

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“When I come home to you, San Francisco, your golden sun will shine for me.”