Top Pick: Farm Provisions, Prescott AZ – this foodie’s delight.

Over the 4 days I was in Prescott, I went to this restaurant not 1ce, not 2ce, but 3 times. Once you find perfection, it’s difficult to stray. (Also, it’s one of the few spots with outside seating and I like eating and being al fresco – in case you haven’t figured that out by now.)

I ordered a simple Caesar salad topped with salmon. Just realized that this farm to table restaurant’s tagline is “Simple Food Elevated”. Well yes, I’d say so. I’ve eaten a fishload of salmon in my life, and this was by far the most perfectly cooked salmon I’ve ever had. (You see, I’m using that word perfect again, and it’s not for lack of imagination.)  I took my friend from Phoenix to lunch here, and starting salivating over his scallop beet salad. He was nice enough to give me a bite, which of course, only made me salivate more.

salmon saladscallop beet salad

Farmer Provisions is one of the best restaurants in the area and, as such, they are also one of the busiest so reservations are advised.

It appears that I have a discriminating palate; it turns out that Chef & Co-owner Ryan Peters graduated from the Scottsdale Culinary Institute/ Le Cordon Bleu rand his impressive resume includes working and managing restaurants in three different 5 star, 5 diamond resorts.

I had the pleasure of meeting co-owner, Brittany Peters, on 2 of my 3 visits. She made me feel welcome  as a “party of 1”, went out of her way to accommodate me despite a full house, and gave me some tips about things to do in the area. If it weren’t for her, I might not have had that lovely afternoon in Jerome.

And guess what? If I ever make it Prescott again, one of my first stops will be Farmer Provisions , and I highly recommend that you make it one of yours too.

Hours          11:00 AM – 9:00 PM Wednesday – Sunday   Closed Monday & Tuesday

Location     148 N. Montezuma St.  Prescott, AZ 86301

Reservations            Lunch reservations for groups of 6 or more. Dinner reservations                                              begin at 4:00  for groups of any size.

Phone                          (928) 776-3001

Top pick for dog-friendly dining and imbibing:Barley Hound Gastropub, Prescott, AZ

To say this place is dog friendly is an understatement. You could say the aptly named, Barley Hound, caters to canines.

Harley Hound dog menue

In fact, the dog menu looked quite enticing—steak & rice, chicken & rice served on a Frisbee. How cool is that?

I stopped in for some afternoon refreshments after a full day on the trails (Goldwater Lake MTB and Granite Basin hike). It seems they take care of their human patrons too—the salmon lavash and margie did not disappoint. I’ll have to return with a canine companion for a full meal sometime soon.

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The Barley Hound Gastropub is near courthouse square at 234 S. Cortez Street, Prescott, AZ. Check it out when you’re out and about in Prescott.

Stay tuned for my top picks of places to stay and eat and for more of my active escapades in and around Prescott.

Hiking : Thumb Butte

Granite Basin

Mountain Biking: Prescott Valley to Prescott via the Iron King & Peavine Trails

Goldwater Lake

 

For Prescott Hospitality at Its Best: Stop in at Gas Plus and Let Betty Fill Your Tank

So I pull up to Gas Plus in Prescott and am rummaging through my pockets for some cash when a sprightly woman approaches, wearing a sunhat and sporting a long, blonde braid down her back. She asks me, how much, and I hand her a 20 as I get out of my car to pump my gas. Well, she’s having none of that, and she insists that I get right back in my car while she pumps my gas for me.

Betty Pumping Gas

And when Betty insists, the only polite thing to do is to concede, and so I did, albeit feeling a bit sheepish. We chatted after she finished.

With her welcoming smile, twinkle in her eye, and lively step, Betty is the proprietress of Gas Plus and she pumps gas for her customers all day long. Did I mention that Betty is 83 years old? Quite an inspiration, I’d say.

Betty is a people person and a retired flight attendant from the Bay Area. She purchased Gas Plus when she retired. She’s a mother of a veteran and wounded warriors and veteran causes are near and dear to her heart. She finds the music of Johann Strauss, especially Vienna Woods, enchanting. Betty, herself, is quite enchanting.

Fill your tank with a dose of inspiration on living an active, engaged life into your eighties and experience some down-home Prescott hospitality, visit Betty at Gas Plus and fill up.  

Betty

Betty is waiting for you at Gas Plus, 421 E Sheldon St, Prescott, AZ 86301

1 Day. 2 Epic Bike Rides: Monterey Bay’s Coastal Recreational Trail & Pebble Beach’s 17-Miler

I’m crushing big on Monterey right now. Got back last night from a magnificent adventure, which included cycling two of Monterey’s top 10 rides – the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreational Trail and Pebble Beach’s famous 17 Mile Drive. (In 1 day.) I did both routes in one day because I was running out of days. Wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, because these views are made for savoring, stopping, having lunch and general leisure enjoyment. But if you’re into distance and running out of vaca time, just do it. If you only have time for one, take the 17 Mile Drive / Ride.

The Monterey Bay Coastal Recreational Trail (paved bike path) runs from Pacific Grove to Castroville, the artichoke capital of the world, following the route of the old Southern Pacific Railway. Except for a few minor exceptions in Marina –it’s nearly 100% car free, which means absolutely carefree cycling with spectacular dunes and coastline views along the way. And, when you head north to Castroville, you practically have it all to yourself.  Biker’s bliss for sure. (Except for the couple mile section between Marina & Castrovile where you share a frontage road with some 18-wheelers…) Easy to cut out this section, but then you’ll miss out on the “Choke Coach” – see below.

Length: 18 miles, 1 way  (36 miles total) – or any distance you like (many just do the a short ride 2.8 miles from Fisherman’s Wharf, Monterey to Lovers Point, Pacific Grove).

Difficulty: This is a beginner to intermediate ride – mostly due to length. It’s flat for the most part, rolling for the other part with really only 1 “hill” of note.

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Looking up the Coast Near Sand City

 

 

 

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Never let them see you sweat? No, lol, windy day, holding my hair out of my face.
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Old Fort Ord, Firing Range
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Views of Monterey From the Highest Point on the Bike Path

 

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Rolling Farmland, Near Marina
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River View in Marina

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Artichoke Food Truck in Castroville  – good spot for a bite at the 18 mile turn around. I passed it up in the interest of getting both rides done.

 

 

 

 

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Start or end point in Pacific Grove, unless you’re doing 17 Mile Drive too

 

Pebble Beach’s 17 Mile Drive

It’s just a couple miles to get to the start of the 17 Mile Drive  from Lover’s Cove in Pacific Grove. You’ll cruise through beautiful Asilomar State Beach and follow the signs to stunning 17-Mile Drive – view spectacular seascapes and mansions, along one of the most beautiful golf courses in the world. By Cypress point, the bike lane ends so you have to share the road for a bit. The driver’s here are very respectful of bikers. How refreshing!

Difficulty: Beginner to intermediate ride – mostly due to length. It’s mostly flat with a couple climbs.

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Pebble Beach’s Iconic Lone Cypress
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Still smiling despite going up a hill I didn’t need to at mile 50ish.

(I didn’t have my Garmin with me so I’m guessing my day’s total was between 60-70 miles, counting taking the local “bike route” up to Spyglass Hill and back down instead of staying on the 17 mile drive bike lane. I was getting a little giddy at that point. The bad news is, I ran out of battery on my phone so my pictures are limited. The good news is you get to discover it for yourself.

I worked up quite an appetite and thirst on my back-to-back bike adventure, which I sated at Domenicos on the Wharf. I was a little skeptical of heading into the tourist zone here, but it proved to be the right call and the perfect finale to my day. Great happy hour, service and food. I slurped down a refreshing margie and devoured a splendid house salad (best I’ve seen) and grilled artichoke – all of which were wonderful. Cheers to a beautiful day in Monterey. (No pics because my phone was charging.)

Bike Rental: Adventures by the Sea

Hybrid bikes are $25 half day, $35 whole day. Road bikes, $35 half day, $65 whole day.  (If you’re going further than 20 miles, I’d recommend going with the road bike.) They also have kayak rentals and SUP for more fun in the sun.

 

 

Hike & Soak in Serenity, Kibune to Kurama, Northeastern Kyoto

I’ve always been captivated by the idea of hiking from village to village – anywhere. When I was researching things to do near Kyoto before my trip, I learned of the short hike from Kibune village to Kurama village and decided it was a must do.

It was so much of a “must do” squeezed into my tight itinerary that I went ahead with my plans despite the downpour that day. Who knows when, if ever, I’ll return to Japan. (I was prepared with rain gear and warm clothes and no doubt the conditions would make the reward of the soaking in the Kurama Onsen even more decadent – it did.) Perhaps the title of this post should be : “Hike, get soaked and then soak.”

It didn’t take me long to explore the quaint, tiny hamlet of Kibune. In the heavy rain, few people were out and all the buildings seemed sealed tight against the elements. The only exception was the Kibune-jinja Shrine on the left hillside near the road.

I believe a wedding was taking place…

 

Apparently there are some amazing restaurants in Kibune with open dining platforms that extend over the rushing river below. Sadly, not today. After I checked the shrine out, I walked down steps, crossed the street, and walked over the river on the vermilion bridge to the trail head.

After paying the ~$3 entrance fee to the attendant in the little gate house and being warned of treacherous, muddy trail conditions, I cinched up my rain jacket hood and set out. (The attendant did not stop me or tell me that the trail was closed so I figured it would just be a muddy, slippery slog that would make me appreciate the onsen at the end even more – it did.) The hike is a mere 3.9km / 2.4 miles, but the mud and slippery conditions made what would have been a 40 min walk, much longer. It’s single track through the forest with Shinto shrines to discover along the way. You’ll know you’ve reached Kurama when you encounter picturesque Kurama dera, Buddhist temple.

Kurama dera, Buddhist Temple

Unfortunately, I have no pictures on the trail as it was raining so hard, I didn’t dare take my camera out. At the trails end, you have just 1 kilometer to go to reach Kurama Onsen.

At the Onsen, you have the option of soaking in an indoor spa or outdoor pool. I’m sure you can guess which one I chose. (For scoop on Onsen etiquette, see my previous post on the Fukuzumiro Ryokan.)

I soaked in the serene, lush mountain scenery, listening to the pitter patter of the rain drops on the leaves, watching the mist rise from the hot pool as the cool rain kissed my face and shoulders. I was transported to a different time, a different place, a different life. (Calgon eat your heart out.) And no, I don’t have pictures of this incredible setting – no cameras allowed for obvious reasons, but there are a couple of pictures on TripAdvisor

Reluctantly leaving this scene behind, I enjoyed a sumptuous feast at the inn’s restaurant before returning by train to Kyoto.

Delightful Tempura Appetizers

Notes: You can hike the trail in either direction, but Kurama is a preferable end destination because it has more restaurants and is home to the Kurama Ryokan (traditional Japanese Inn) and Onsen (hot spring/ bath house). Apparently, this is the easier direction as well. Highly recommend this as a half day , full day or over-nighter out of Kyoto.

I imagine these villages are even more scenic in the fall with the red maple leaves and in the summer, when everything is green and glimmering.

Festivals:

On October 22, Kurama has a Fire Festival is that involves men and children carrying torches. It is a rite of passage for the town’s youth. I’ve read this is so overrun with tourist now that it’s difficult to see anything due to crowds.

Held in November at various Inari shrines on different days, including Kibune, the Ohitaki rice harvest festival is a thanksgiving event.

Distance: Relatively easy 3.9km / 2.4 miles – not quite as easy when muddy & slippery.

Getting there: It’s just a 30 minute train ride to Kibune via the Eizan Electric Railway from Demachiyanagi Station in northeastern Kyoto (each ~$4 one way).  You can catch the Eizan Electric Railway train back in Kurama.

Top Pick: While I didn’t stay overnight at Kurama Ryokan, I can speak to my Onsen and restaurant experience, both of which were superb.

 

Top Pick: Fukuzumiro Ryokan & Onsen, Traditional Culture & Zen Views in Hakone

When in Japan, I suggest that you “go traditional” and stay in a ryokan (traditional inn) for at least 1 night or more.  Featuring tatami-matted rooms, futons for beds, ofuro (communal baths), usually fed by onsens (hot springs), and large entrance halls where guests can relax and socialize, these traditional inns have existed since the 8th century AD. It’s a memorable cultural experience you won’t want to miss.

The Hakone Tonosawa Spa is said to have been discovered by a Buddhist priest in 1604. The Fukuzumiro Ryokan was established in 1890 by Sawamura Takatoshi, a former samurai from Kumamoto province on Kyushu. (It was destroyed by a flood in 1910 and rebuilt shortly after.) The 3-story, wood building is nestled along the Hayakawa river bank and is a 5-10 minute walk from Hakone-Yumoto Station.

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Gorgeous and immaculate entrance. The floor glimmers like gold. First order of business was swapping out my hiking shoes for a pair of slippers at the front door.
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An active koi pond in the downstairs hallway of the inn.
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Sleeping on the futon and tatami mats was quite comfortable. They are laid out for you in the evening.
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Traditional breakfast impeccably served in the comfort of your room – definitely worth trying.

There are 17 rooms. If you have an upstairs room like mine, you will be navigating a short staircase to reach a downstairs shared bathroom…(Not sure if they have rooms with private baths – this is a historic building.)

Ask for a room with a river view. (They have garden view too, but I can’t imagine that they top the river view.)

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The splendid view of the Hayakawa River from my room. The sound of the rushing water below. Ahh, the beauty framed in these 3 windows.

The communal bath has specific hours split between male & female visitors (not the most convenient aspect). It’s pleasant, but indoors. Note: Be sure to follow proper Japanese etiquette when visiting an communal bath house. Wash yourself thoroughly first, using the bucket and the ladle or cup. Once clean, you may proceed to immerse yourself. (Also, it’s not for the shy – it’s nude soaking. No cameras  or cell phones allowed. And, as with all of Japan, be mindful that this is a quiet and respectful culture.)

(Visited an outdoor onsen later in Kurama and enjoyed a hot soak surrounded by green vegetation with the refreshing rain drizzle cooling my face and shoulders.) And no, I don’t have pictures of that – see the no cameras rule above.)

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I highly recommend when in Japan do as the Japanese have done for centuries and go to a Ryokan and Onsen. Immerse yourself in the cultural experience.

Suffice to say that I enjoyed my total immersion at the Fukuzumiro – Ryokan. It’s conveniently close-by (scenic train ride you catch in walking distance from the inn) to the Hakone Open Air Museum – an absolute “must do” if you’re in the area.

 

 

 

Top Pick: Banning House Lodge, Two Harbors, Catalina

Want a wonderful romantic or solo getaway where you can unplug for a couple days, enjoy spectacular views (of the Isthmus on one side and Catalina Harbor on the other), and top off your full day of activity or relaxation with a sunset  wine & cheese social? Look no further than the Banning House Lodge in lovely, remote Two Harbors.

Located at the West End of Catalina Island, Two Harbors is more of a boaters’ and campers’ paradise compared to the Avalon, which I’d classify as a tourist meca…If you’re into nature, beauty  and outdoor and ocean activities, this is the spot. And it’s especially relaxing in   the off season…

Built in 1910 as a summer home for the Banning brothers, this 12 room lodge features 20th century charm and character, while delivering some fine contemporary Two Harbors hospitality.
It feels like a bed a breakfast, but each room has its own private bath.
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And I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to arrive just in time to take a quick shower and enjoy the warm welcome of the wine & cheese social hour.
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If you’re lucky, you might see a Catalina Fox trying to slip by unnoticed while you sip your wine in the sunset on the veranda…

The complimentary continental breakfast was delightful. Fresh fruit, yogurt, pastries, bagels, muffins, etc. A whole bowlful of blueberries, oh my.
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And there are plenty of splendid spots on the patio to enjoy your coffee, expresso, or wine al fresco.
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There’s also a gorgeous Common Room and cozy Sun Room with incredible island and ocean views and fireplaces. They even decked it out for the holidays.
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Did you know, Catalina has a birthday promotion?  The trick is in order to take advantage of the spiffs and discounts, you have to be traveling on your b-day. Unfortunately, I was a day shy of mine, but much to my delight, I found this surprise in my room.
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A gorgeous hand-painted and inked bday card!

What a wonderful stay in a magical setting! Even in the off season, the service, hospitality and accommodations were superb and it was a special treat to have the place nearly all to ourselves. (We met a great couple from the same town we’re from while there.)

Do they have wifi? I don’t even know or care, I came to unplug.

The Lodge offers free shuttle service to and from Two Harbors “village” where you will find Harbor Sands, the 1 restaurant and bar and “activity hub”. The Lodge is located on top of a hill so it requires a mini-hike of less than a half mile to go to & fro or a shuttle ride.
 Contact  Info
(I should mention that getting to Two Harbors can be a bit more challenging than just going to Avalon. Since Avalon is the more popular destination, most ferries go there, not so with Two Harbors. You have to depart from San Pedro to go direct, or take the safari bus from Avalon, or if you’re a bit nuts like me, you can mt. bike from Avalon to Two Harbors…It’s only 21 miles or so, but it’s a bit fierce with all the climbs.)