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:

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.

LA LA Land – visiting its neighbourhoods

I just got back a week ago from a short, spur of the moment trip to Los Angeles (LA).  Poor LA can sometimes get a bad rap, especially from city planners (my profession) who complain about the excessive highways and regional sprawl.  But it’s really growing on me.   In fact, it’s on the cusp of blossoming into another, more interesting phase in its existence.   This is my fourth time in Los Angeles, now.  I find that the key to enjoying LA, and to connecting with real people who live there, is to stay in a residential neighbourhood (and yes, this typically means relying on a service like AirBnB). It can also involve my favourite hobby of riding a light rail/ subway line and getting off at different stops to explore on foot.  While In LA this time, I stayed in Silver Lake, and spent some time cruising the Gold Line.  A friend also introduced me to a well-kept secret, the  Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena.

Here, for your viewing pleasure, are some photos.


Silver Lake neighbourhood, Los Angeles Author photo, March 2017.


Silver Lake- lots of dining and coffee places filled with hipsters. March 2017, Author photo.


Whimsical art in Silver Lake. Author photo, March 2017


Sunset Boulevard in Silver Lake. March 2017, Author photo.


Mural in Silver Lake. Author photo, March 2017.


Historic Pasadena. Author photo, March 2017


Norton Simon Museum Sculpture Garden. Pasadena, March 2017, Author photo.


Pasadena, March 2017. Author photo.


Highland Park, Los Angeles. Updated bungalows. March, 2017, Author photo


Highland Park neighbourhood , March 2017. Author photo.


Heritage industrial building in the Lincoln Heights neighbourhood. Author photo, March 2017

via Daily Prompt: Cusp

Marking territory -Part 1

Authentic travel includes getting to know the people living in your destination. Talking to locals is a start. But with only a few days or weeks in a place, building understanding can be a challenge. That said, other telling details that can help. Among the most fascinating: how people mark out (in an attempt to claim or conquer) their territory.

What territory says

Architectural details, public art, fencing, murals, landscaping details, signs, hedgerows separating out farmers’ fields – these items say many things.  They speak of what people value; what they fear; their sense of humour and/ or curiosity.  Marked territory can tell you about how locals lead their lives, and who benefits (or fails to benefit) from flows of power.  The photos below are all examples of local territory marking.  They speak to me of who (at least some of) the locals are and how they relate to each other.


Bank of Hawaii building, Honolulu.  Author photo, February 2016

The above photo shows how a bank operating in a multi-cultural city like Honolulu celebrates the locals who descended from Chinese settlers roughly a century ago. In my  part of the world, which has attracted more contemporary Chinese migration, the  features shown above tend to speak less about current migrants and what appeals to them.

I love how, in the photos below, the business operator is surreptitiously and temporarily claiming territory, without making the same type of investment as someone in a conventional store.  Perhaps rents are far too prohibitive- or maybe the owner just prefers this transient approach.  You see her/him trying to legitimize the mobile business as it takes up a parking space for just hours at a time. Judging from the quality of the sign, it seems to have been working.

Silver Lake neighbourhood of Los Angeles. Author photos, February 2016

Claiming space doesn’t just happen with businesses.  Parking is a big focus of space-claiming.  While on-street parking is typically public, North American city dwellers often view the space in front of their homes as their personal (private) property- particularly when parking becomes a more scarce resource.  Unknown cars parked in those locations may be told about their transgressions through windshield notes- or even more aggressive acts.  But driveways are less clear, and are sometimes used or blocked by others, resulting in conflict and a need for the homeowner to mark that territory as his or her own.  The example below is also from Los Angeles:

marking territory2_LA_claiming parking
Silver Lake neighbourhood of Los Angeles.  Author photo, February 2016

And, of course walls and gates are obvious territory markers. They can be beautiful or whimsical. Sometimes the beauty is offered as an apology for space claiming. It may also be an indicator of some shared neighbourhood territoriality- a contribution to the larger public realm even as the individual space is claimed.

Some of my own neighbours in Vic West achieve this by offering of floral bursts beside or through their fences:

claiming territory_Vic West fence_LTate photo
Victoria, British Columbia.  Author photo, June 2016
claiming territory_Vic West fence2_LTate photo
Victoria, British Columbia.  Author photo, March 2017

And here are some other examples of fence appeal, one by a business, and another by an art gallery/ centre:

Houston, Texas.  Author photo, November 2015
Mendocino, California.  Author photo, June 2016

So here is my challenge to you: on your next trip, try to find and photograph as many interesting or appealing territory markers as you can. I guarantee that it will get you thinking about your destination, and the relationships between inhabitants, in new ways. Territory markers are a rich topic for exploring further. Watch for another posting on this topic, and please suggest your own in the comments section of this blog.


Enchantment, Part 2.5

Enchantment is such an   important ingredient of authentic travel.  Besides visits to spaces that are themselves enchanting, how else can we encounter the lush joys of enchantment?  Here are three quick ideas for your next trip.

1. Take something beautiful home with you as a memento

Obtain a beautiful object, and treasure it in your daily life.  It could be an attractive pebble you keep in your pocket to remind you of the wonderful day you spent at the beach with your family.  It might be a piece of art for your home, a hand-made journal, or a piece of jewellery.  But it should be something that will ground, or re-ground you to the place that you visited- far into the future.

Here’s what I mean.

I lived and studied in Montréal  for three years, at a really pivotal time in my life in my twenties, in the late 1980s.  (Yes, I am that old.)  My experiences there were life-changing.  But after moving back to British Columbia (on the opposite side of my country), it took several decades before I would eventually return.  When I finally did go back, I felt an incredibly strong mix of joy and nostalgia.  I can even recall one day, standing in the streets of Vieux Montréal (the city’s historic district), when I felt a wave of anguish about having absented myself from that place for so long.  And, later in the day while in that very district, I bought some ornate silver earrings with the city’s symbol-an abstract flower.  Something about that felt very right- I knew on the spot that the earrings would be an important memento of my earlier life there as well as of my return.  Whenever I wear them now, I re-live my love for Montréal, with fond memories of all my times there.  I also get ideas about my next trip back.

My Montreal earrings! Worn while writing this post. Author photo, March 2017

2. Do something that scares you but that others enjoy 

I’m not talking about taking crazy, unsafe risks.  Think of this as a prompt for a micro-risk.  We all have irrational fears that hold us back.  Is yours a fear of heights?  Of looking foolish?  Of certain animals or reptiles?  Of boating?  A holiday is the best time to try one of these things, because you typically have fewer stresses on vacation.  Go for that hot air balloon ride, that jungle excursion, or that silent meditation retreat.  (Note that I have listed that as a scary thing to do, because the idea of not talking for three days frightens me.)  I am slightly afraid of heights, and so whenever my mountain goat of a husband wants to climb up an historic tower to get a better view of the city below, I gulp a few times, agree, and then feel exhilarated once I’ve climbed back down.

Tower in the Czech republic that I had to climb. Author photo, July 2015.

3.  Be generous

Everything your parents told you about being kind, and how generosity ultimately makes the giver feel incredible is true.  We all know how to be generous- the one thing I would add is that generosity is about ensuring that what you give will be helpful (rather) than harmful to the recipient.  This means thinking about the cultural context and, sometimes, about where the need is greatest.  While travelling in Mexico recently, we certainly ran into many people with low incomes, whose daily lives contained a lot of struggle.  But we also knew that we weren’t sufficiently grounded in the community to know who best to help, or in what way.  And so, we did not give to anyone begging for money on our trip, but on our return home made a donation (much larger than what we would have given in aggregate to the individuals in need who we met—and yes, we did follow through!) to a charity whose work we had learned about while in the community.  The key thing here is that the charity was directly linked with local people who knew best what their community needed.

This post has suggested three active ways that might help you achieve a sense of enchantment on your next holiday.  It is certainly not the last word on this topic, as there are many more ways that you can do this.  Please feel free to suggest your ideas as well!


On the cheap

Saving money

If you crave authentic travel experiences, chances are, you’re  often thinking about that next trip.  This also means reflecting on how to pay for it -and how to save money during the experience.  Here are nine ways to save money while travelling, that also bring you closer to the local lifestyle.

1.  Do lots of walking and transit vs taxis

This seems obvious, but it’s surprisingly easy to forget.  It’s comforting to fall into a taxi when you’re unsure of your route.  So instead, make the alternatives easier.  Prepare well, by downloading maps in advance.  And consider downloading an app that allows you to navigate offline.  While it still has some glitches,  the Navmii app is one example.  Finally, don’t be afraid to ask friendly locals for advice. Most people do like to be helpful.

2. Spend less on food

We often try to have at least one meal a day on the cheap.  Often this involves buying street food from a local vendor (see upcoming blog for more tips on this topic).  It can also mean buying fresh produce, cheese, and bread for an outdoor picnic, whether from a farmer’s market or local shop.  And, save costs by eating your main meal at lunch -many restaurants charge less at lunch and more for dinner.  Then have dinner in your room/apartment, freeing up funds for entertainment -or a future trip.

 3. Avoid the guided tour, but if you do one, choose a walking over bus or trolley tour.

We’ve come to love walking tours, both because they are less costly than bus tours, and because they provide a more interactive and immediate way of learning about the local history and current lifestyle.  Walking tours are often more amenable to creative touches, including story-telling and personal anecdotes.  Also, they tend to be smaller.

4. Go to a local sporting event -especially if it’s minor league or amateur.

While travelling in Granada, we stumbled on a local cricket game, which gave us fascinating insights into the local community.  Cricket is the slowest game imaginable (you can tell I’m not a fan).  But an hour watching people just hanging with each other, having a laugh, catching up, was worth the entry fee.

And in Mexico City we took a walking tour that culminated in going to a Lucha Libre match.   Definitely one of our trip highlights.

Lucha Libre. Author photo, January 31, 2017


5.  Use your own steam at local viewpoints

Try to walk up and down on your own steam -or at least walk on the way down.  It’s an antidote to any over-indulgences , and you may get to see some overlooked sites.  We paid to go up in the funicular in scenic Guanajuato, but enjoyed the walk down.  The photo  below is of one of the new friends we made in that process.

A new friend we made when we decided to walk down the hill, instead of taking the funicular
A new friend we made when we decided to walk down the hill, instead of taking the funicular

6.  Research local liquor laws

I can remember taking a picnic to a free summer concert in Florence, complete with wine.  Buying your own bottle is way cheaper, when local liquor laws allow it.  Unfortunately most Canadian provinces don’t, but a blind eye is often turned in Quebec cities like Montreal.  It helps if you’re discrete.

7. Check out the local parks and their programming

At least in summer, many North American and European cities often have free festivals, or free events linked to those festivals that charge admission.  Also, look for buskers.  I do believe in paying buskers, but do so according to what you can afford.  It will still be cheaper than attending a more formal event.

8. Use your social network.

If a friend, relative, or a friend of a friend lives in the spot you’re visiting, buy them lunch or dinner in exchange for a half-day tour.  They may lack the in-depth historical knowledge of a paid guide, but they are more likely to point out sites, features, and customs that will interest you personally.

9.  Learn the language

Or arm yourself with at least enough words/phrases plus Google translate to be comfortable reading basic text in the local language.  How will this save you money?  Any restaurant in a non-English speaking country that offers English menus is at higher risk of charging tourist prices.  Conversely, local hangouts will be more ŕeasonable.

When we stayed in an up-and-coming suburb in Prague, the local bar /restaurant had prices 1/3 the cost of those in tourist areas. We had taught ourselves just eight words in Czech, but using them on Day#1 as foreigners must have endeared us to the locals.  One man with a bit more English than my Czech helped translate a few items so we could order.  And so this helped me, as a vegetarian,  quickly learn to say -and spot Greek Salad on menus exclusively in Czech.  (In case you wanted to know -it’s recky (pronounced “retzky”) salat.)

These are just a few tips which could help you save money while travelling, while also putting you in more direct contact with locals and local experiences.  By saving money you’ll be able to extend your travel budget further, giving yourself room for more authentic travel experiences on your next trip, and others in the future.