Focus on parks: San Luis Obispo County

Summer is a great time to be outdoors, and to visit local public parks and beaches.  Some of my fondest childhood memories involve beaches, enveloped by the aroma of suntan oil.  Public open spaces still allow kids and adults alike to enjoy themselves, regardless of age or income.  They can also help us to connect with nature.  (For more on this, check out an earlier post on Forest Bathing).

Today I pay tribute to parks and beaches I enjoyed during the ten months that I spent in California –specifically in San Luis Obispo County.  Here are four of my favourites, in no particular order.

1. Avila Beach and the Bob Jones Trail


From left to right: Main pier at Avila Beach, plus two views from along the Bob Jones Trail.  Photos by L. Tate, 2018

Where else can you combine a south-facing ocean beach, a beautiful walk, and the chance to visit a few wine-tasting venues?  If you park your car at the eastern end  of the trail, you can access all of the above and get some exercise at the same time.  The main part of the beach is now quite upscale, but it wasn’t always this way.  Since the 1920s, through to the 1990s, Avila Beach was an important petroleum port, which meant that much of its harbour was highly contaminated.  It also didn’t help matters that it was (and still is) located close to the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant.  Still, an extensive clean-up process helped redevelop and reclaim the beach for the public.  While the main commercial street is quite manicured, the beach is still relaxed and beautiful.  There is an even more relaxed beach further to the west, where dogs and families with kids seem to be running endlessly.

2. Lopez Lake Recreation Area

Lopez Lake

Lopez Lake, June 2018. Photo by L. Tate

This lake is not far from the small town of Arroyo Grande.  The Lake itself provides much of the drinking water for nearby residents, and is accessible to boaters and campers.  When we visited in early June we saw a pack of turkey vultures strutting around, taking a drink and a rest break.  Equally pleasant is the drive out there, through some of the less travelled back roads of the county.  Here is a link for more information and another for camping reservations .

3. Stadium Park

Stadium park view

One of the views from Stadium Park. Photo by L. Tate, 2018.

Stadium Park is an alpine hiking area located in Atascadero, one of the more northern, non-coastal cities in San Luis Obispo county.  Having hiked here several times, I can attest to the lovely views within the oak meadows, and of the larger region.  It is a peaceful spot, and a great spot to de-stress.  To learn more, check out this newspaper article  giving more information plus directions.

4. Morro Bay Beach


Morro Bay at sunset.  Photo by L. Tate, 2018

I lied a little bit when I said that there was no order to this listing of parks and beaches.  I have saved the best for last with Morro Bay, and confess that it was my favourite place to go on the Central Coast.  While not as warm as Avila Beach, it was peaceful, friendly, and scenic thanks to a large rock created by tectonic activity millenia ago.  On my many visits here, I noticed that locals always loved to gather here around sunset: to jog, play with their kids, or just witness the spectacular sunset that would inevitably arrive.  And not far from the main beach, closer to dusk you can watch otters raft up together in the kelp before they go to sleep.  Learn more at this website.

Whether you plan to visit during the summer, or to extend your sense of summer by visiting California in the Fall, the four parks and beaches described above are wonderful places for enjoying time outdoors in a relaxed and beautiful setting.  Of course there are more, and I would love to hear of other Central Coast favourites from those of you who have spent time there.


Theatre en “plein air”

Feature image courtesy of, Creative Commons license.

Last week we went to the outdoor performance of a lesser-known Shakespeare play- “Pericles”.  It reminded me how wonderful both live theatre and a summer evening spent outside can be.  Combining the two is magical.  Towards the end of the performance, a lone deer bounded through the rear of the outdoor stage area (a rocky meadow).  I felt a deeper connection than I’d felt in a long time to the place where I live- to both its physical beauty and the creativity of its residents.

The event also reminded me that travellers everywhere have a chance to access the enchantment of outdoor theatre.  To illustrate, here are listings for just five of the many cities where you can still see it this July and August:

1. Bath, UK

Bath is a gem of a small city, and was once where writer Jane Austen and her family spent their winters.  How fitting, then, that this August (August 25th to be exact) there is an outdoor performance of a play based on her novel Sense and Sensibility, sponsored by the American Museum in Britain.  More detail is available here. And if Austen is not to your taste, or you simply want more,  click here for other outdoor theatre offerings in Bath.

2. London, UK

Of all the world’s cities, none has a stronger association with theatre than London (New York is a close second, mind you).  If you are visiting this summer, you still have plenty of opportunities to check out a range of outdoor theatre performances, described lovingly by another fan out outdoor theatre on the Culture Whisper website.

3. Toronto, Ontario

For Canadians living east of Winnipeg, Toronto sometimes gets a bad rap, as the economic heartland which is often oblivious to the rest of the country.  Still, Toronto is an exciting and livable place to spend time in and has a lot to offer.  Live outdoor theatre is one of its many assets, and there are several venues and genres to choose from.  Here is  more information on what you might be able to see.

4. Boston, Massachusetts

Boston is a popular summer destination, and gets even better when you add live theatre to the mix.  If Boston figures in your holiday plans this summer, why not see Shakespeare on the Commons while you are there?  Details are available here.

5. Rome, Italy

You might be surprised to learn that you can also enjoy high quality outdoor entertainment here.  This includes spectacular live opera outdoors, from June through September at the outdoor theatre at Terme di Caracalla.  And, it’s cheating a bit, but the city has many outdoor cinema events that appeal to travellers and locals alike, described here. 

Watching outdoor theatre and participating in outdoor entertainment events is a great way to get out of the tourist rut, and to rub shoulders with locals.  Why not make a point of taking in an outdoor play, either on your travels or at home?

Blurring the lines

Many of us who seek authentic travel are growing concerned about the impact of tourism on neighbourhoods.  It’s clear that neighbourhoods need to be protected- something that many cities are trying to do.  At the same time, the line between tourist and local can be very blurry.  For example, some people live in different places at different times of the year for non-tourist reasons, for work or to stay in touch with family.  Today’s blog celebrates this blurriness, by highlighting three West Coast places where the tourist/resident line is blurry—and where that blurriness can create a certain richness.

1. The Los Angeles Arts District

LA Arts district_Tate2018
LA Arts District. Photo by L. Tate, May 2018

Located on the subway line, and on the edge of LA’s downtown, this district has plenty of tourist appeal with its gorgeous galleries and striking murals.  Even the food here is curated.  Fortunately, it has also become an attractive place for young locals to live, thanks to a range of purpose-built rental apartment buildings springing up.  Of course, there will always be more work to do in fostering affordability.  And LA is currently in the throes of a significant homelessness crisis.  Still, both the City of Los Angeles and the California state government have been setting ground rules, and launching projects, to ensure local working people can find affordable places to live.  Because of this, the district so far counts as one of those places that appeals, and is accessible to, travelers and residents alike.  For more information on this exciting Los Angeles destination, visit this web-based guide

rental housing in LA Arts District_Tate May2018
Example of rental housing available in the LA Arts District.  Photo by L. Tate, May 2018

2. Portland’s Albina Neighbourhood

For over a half century –since World War II—working class Black residents have made this neighbourhood their home, buying houses and shopping at local businesses.   Lately it’s become hipster central (see header for this blog post)—and a gentrification hot spot.

Albina 2nd image_Tate_June2018

Albina, Portland. Photo by L. Tate, June 2018.

When this happens, the tourists aren’t far behind.  The City of Portland has made efforts to stem the loss of old timers who helped build the neighbourhood.  It has partnered with the community to help old timers and newcomers understand each other through dialogue and to co-exist.  Portland has also taken some baby steps to help people with longstanding connections make their way back to the neighbourhood, through several subsidy programmes, discussed in this article in the Guardian newspaper. For this reason, Albina is a hopeful example of where the blurring between old timer and newcomer, traveller and resident, does not have to destroy what is valuable about a neighbourhood.  Again, there is always more work to do in protecting neighbourhoods like this, but it is important to call attention to, and celebrate, those efforts which cities like Portland are making.

3. Paso Robles – Wine Country in the Central Coast of California

Paso Robles, or “Paso” to many locals, is a beautiful small town along US Highway 101, surrounded and supported by several hundred wineries.  In fact, the wine industry is so important to this community that it has helped revive Paso’s historic downtown core by opening tasting rooms in some of the heritage buildings, attracting other restaurants and shops in the process.  While the wineries have strong tourist appeal, they play an equally important role in local resident life, hosting entertainment events ranging from live music to movie nights under the stars, and offering winery memberships linked to purchases throughout the year, and providing social events as a membership benefit.  For more information on Paso Robles, its wineries, and their events, check out the Chamber of Commerce visitor center website as well as the wine industry website here: .

Tate photo_California2018

The Los Angeles Arts District, Portland’s Albina neighbourhood, and Paso Robles wine country are not without their challenges or problems.  Still, all three places have managed to blur the distinction between residential place and tourist destination in ways that (so far) make both locals and travellers feel welcome.

It’s been a while…

The second half of 2017 and 2018 so far have been a whirlwind.  I had the chance to live in California for ten months, and to teach at a university there.  But I am back- and ready to resume blogging.  For fun, I created a video on an older blog post – “Travelling on the Cheap”.    Here is a link to the video on YouTube:

The Skygarden in Seoul

This is a re-post from the PriceTags blog, contributed by Sandy James.  If you’re planning on visiting Korea, this sounds like a wonderful place to visit.

Price Tag readers made some very good comments about how New York City’s High Line is markedly different from Vancouver’s Georgia Viaducts which are scheduled for demolition if the funding can be found. The High Line was an unused railway between a few kilometers of warehouse buildings. But a better parallel is the newly opened […]

via Seoul’s Skygarden, a Portent for the Georgia Viaducts? — Price Tags

Authentic urban festivals- a tale of one city

We all love a festival, right?  We do–except when it feels as though the same event gets trotted out year after year, with the same displays and activities, just reinvented for a different theme.  My shorthand for this type of festival has become the grocery store tent festival- where the same small group of corporate sponsors has their flimsy set of tents and single staff person on hand to buoy up the proceedings.  And because the rest of the event is so thin, the grocery store tents seem all the more prominent (hence my label).

Of course, even when a festival is slicker, and has more going on, it doesn’t always make the event any more authentic.  I was reminded of this dilemma last weekend when we had a chance to experience two festival events: The Victoria Busker’s Festival and the Moss Street Paint-In, sponsored by the Art Gallery of Victoria.  Both events had been held in prior years, and both acted as a magnet for large crowds.  We left the car at home, and cycled to both.  While neither felt “perfectly” authentic, I felt that the Moss-Street Paint-In had far more of the right ingredients than the Busker’s Festival.  Why was that?  Especially since there were ways for people with little or no income to participate in both (buskers and the gallery asked for, but did not require, donations).

Pets were invited to get into the act of making art (fortunately a kiddie pool was around for clean-up). Photo by Laura Tate, July 2017

In sum, the paint-in felt more real because it was:

  • in a residential area, further aware from the city’s more overtly touristy district, and thus felt more like an event attended by, and catering to, locals (even though there still may have been a number of tourists there too);
  • quite varied, and yet far more laid-back, allowing people to drift in and out of displays, without being on a schedule, and without being urged to clap and cheer every five minutes to buoy up the buskers’ spirits;
  • trying hard to be participatory (full of happy volunteers, and complete with events for kids and dogs);
  • a place where people with a range of art budgets could find something to take home (lots of art cards from $2-$5 were on sale at most of the booths- a nice way to take home a memento of the larger art work if you couldn’t afford it);
  • directly linked to raising awareness of the gallery as a civic resource; and
  • physically linked to a weekly farmer’s market, that brought some of the same people, but also a few others who might not have otherwise attended the art event.
Some artists took advantage of the festival’s residential setting.  Photo by Laura Tate, July 2017

Where I was disappointed with the paint-in related mainly to the mainstream nature of the art displayed (and the fact that fewer than 10% of the artists seemed to be under age 50).  While I felt that all of the art was beautiful and took talent to produce, I didn’t feel particularly challenged by most of the art, even though the gallery itself is not shy about pushing the envelope.  Still, this event has been a staple of Victoria’s art calendar for several decades, and I hope it continues.  I have gone in past years, and this year’s felt like the most fun and diverse yet.  Click  here  for more detail.

One of several participatory features of the Paint-in. Photo by Laura Tate, July 2017

Interestingly, the Buskers festival was also anchored by another event – the market at Ship’s Point which sells arts and crafts, but of the variety one sees in a tourist attraction gift shop.  This market overtly caters to Cruise Ship passengers who typically get to spend no more than 24 or 32 hours in the city, tops.

While I’m glad that Victoria hosts both events, I would love to see more emphasis on the types of event that interest locals and more discerning tourists.  In fact, had cruise ship visitors been aware of the paint-in, they might have enjoyed it as much as the rest of us.


Poetic Landscapes


I decided to write this posting when the camellias on the bushes outside my house just started shedding their blooms.  They were still at what I call the “poetic stage”, meaning that the dying blooms on the grass looked both beautiful and tragic at the same time.

Looking at the camellias gave me a sense of enchantment, and regular followers may recall some of my past writings on the link between authenticity and enchantment  .  Following in that vein, this post looks at three sources of enchantment found in poetic landscapes -landscapes that combine beauty with a thread of tragedy.

1.  Giardini di Ninfa, just outside Rome

I visited these secret gardens when visiting friends in Rome, and was lucky enough to see them in May when the roses had just peaked.  The gardens are built on the ruins of an papal estate, which was itself taken over by the Caetani family in the 14th c.   By the 16th c. its castle was no longer habitable; but a Caetani family member commissioned creation of a garden on site, which also fell into ruin, until 1921.  At that time, another  family descendant initiated garden restorations.  The last living descendant, Leila Caetani died in the 1970s.   Upon her death, the garden became an Italian National monument.  For more information on this amazing spot, a New York Times article from 2002 fills in some wonderful details.

Photo by Turismo Italiano

I love these gardens for their beauty, tranquility, and spirit of reinvention.  Of course, there is something poetic for me about the various incarnations this garden has had -and the fact that it belonged to a powerful family whose direct descendants died out.  Its relatively reclusive nature adds to the poetry.  The garden is only accessible 2-3 times per month to the general public.  More information on when and how to get there is available from turismoroma .

2.New York’s High Line Park

This park was created from an abandoned elevated rail corridor in the heart of downtown Manhattan, beginning in what was once the city’s meat packing district.  While heavily gentrified now, and starting to be a bit of a tourist attraction, this park still brings me enchantment (I’ve visited twice).


The Highline. Author photo, February 2012

So many wonderful intimate spaces along this park:

 Author photo, February 2012.

For me three things make this a poetic, enchanting landscape.First, its origin story, which was a highly engaged and activist-led approach that began as a very uphill battle to save the elevated structure (it had fallen into disrepair, and was seen by many as an eyesore).  From my perspective- the languishing structure itself is what gives the park its element of tragedy.  Fortunately, the new park into which it has evolved adds so much beauty, while honouring its origins.  Second, I love the God’s Eye view that you get of the city when you walk above the streets for a stretch of this many blocks.  Third, it always has some sort of surprise in store for you, and this brings out something new in everyone who walks along it- either for the first time, or as a regular park user.

3. Olsany Cemetery, Prague

This lovely historic cemetery got its start with the Plague, as a burial place in what was at the time the outer edges of town.  Today it has become a large and yet beautiful burial site, accommodating the remains of many famous writers and politicians.

Olsany Cemetery, Prague. Author photo, July 2015

We visited in the Summer with friends, and found it beautiful and humbling to walk through.  Perhaps the most tragic of the graves we saw belonged to Jan Palatch, who set himself on fire to protest the invasion of his country in 1968.  Prague does cemeteries with just the right amount of poetry.  There is also an amazing Jewish cemetery there (which we only viewed from a distance).  For more information on the site and why you might want to visit, Wikipedia has a great overview.

Landscapes are a rich source of poetry and enchantment, and these three spots are just the tip of the iceberg.  This topic is one that I could write scores of posts on (so be forewarned).  And it’s always wonderful when other bloggers alert us to other examples of these authentic places.

Vancouver’s Yaletown- a debate on authenticity

Just for something different- I also publish a monthly planning blog on authentic communities (distinct from, but related to, authentic travel).  The latest looks at Yaletown, a gentrifying neighbourhood in Vancouver, rooted in a past of brick warehouses, extended loading docks (now converted into patios- you can see part of one in the header of this post), and an old railway roundhouse now used as a community centre.  To get your urban planning geek on, check out this posting here.