Santa Catalina Island, California

By S.R.Schacht

Summer is coming to So Cal and what could sound better than a little island getaway to kick off the season; and maybe beat the heat? Santa Catalina Island sits just an hour away by shuttle (Catalina Flyer and Catalina Express offer daily voyages). With snorkeling, whale watching, hiking, eco-safaris, and more, Catalina Island offers it all when it comes to summer fun.

Avalon is the center for tourism on the island. Gift shops, restaurants, and beach front hotels line the shore. If you plan to head over for your birthday, many businesses offer great birthday deals and giveaways including a free round trip on the Catalina Express!

Garden to Sky Trail
Garden to Sky Trail


If your already familiar with the city or are looking to beat the crowds. Grab a spot of breakfast in the morning then skip town. The 26-mile island offers numerous hiking and biking trails. Stop in to the Conservancy office to grab a permit (free for hiking) and go explore. The most popular route, Garden to Sky trail, begins at the Wrigley Botanical Gardens and finishes about a mile up where panoramic views of the island reward your hard work.

Wrigley Memorial from Botanical Garden


Be sure to check out the Wrigley Botanical Gardens before setting off. The garden was started in 1935 as a desert plan collection and is now home to many rare and endangered species that are part of California’s island endemic plants. At the top of the Botanical Gardens sits the Wrigley memorial. This monument is almost entirely constructed of Catalina Island native materials. One of the primary embellishments of the memorial are the Catalina tiles.

Wrigley Memorial


From 1927 to 1937, the Catalina Pottery and Tile Company produced brick and tile to beautify the town of Avalon. The beach city became a prime vacation spot well known for its homemade tile works. Because of the plant’s brief operation time, these tiles are rare and very valuable today. If your budget doesn’t allow for an original Catalina Island tile, don’t be dismayed, these works of art can be found all through Avalon and the Wrigley Memorial. A few snapshots can be priceless mementos that last a lifetime.

On your back into town, beat the afternoon heat with some snorkeling or kayaking. The bright orange Garibaldi are a must see. Numerous rental shops can be found in Avalon and Two Harbors. Check here for a list of shops.

Round out your visit with some grub at the popular Luau Larry’s restaurant. Great for all ages, Luau Larry invites all to come “where the bar meets the bay!”

See ya sailor!


The Huntington Library, Art Galleries, & Botanical Gardens




By S.R. Schacht

Names like The Louvre and The Uffizi carry special meaning. They are known all over the world and the buildings themselves date back hundreds of years. The incredible history they hold seems to spill from the very walls in which they’re built. They’ve acquired their history and artwork over many years and with ease they tell their story to thousands of annual visitors. The Huntington Library located in San Marino, California is a unique institution. Founded in 1919, The Huntington boasts a rich history of the American West, an expansive collection of world renowned paintings like The Three Witches & Breakfast in Bed and 120 acres of themed gardens that rival England’s Kew Gardens!


The Huntington’s impressive spread of gardens makes for an ideal daytime stroll. As you work your way around, you may be fooled to thinking you’ve just walked the globe full round! The number of regions represented is nothing short of amazing! The Chinese Garden, also called the Garden of Flowing Fragrance, is built to the style of the ancient Ming dynasty. Chinese style architecture is featured along the pathway that winds about a central lake and concludes at the ever so posh Chinese Garden Tea House where one can enjoy authentic Chinese cuisine with a view that can’t be beat!



A seamless transition brings you then to the superb Japanese Garden. Featuring a large koi pond, a house, ceremonial teahouse (both built in Japan!), and more breathtaking views, the Japanese garden is claimed to be the most popular garden on the grounds. It is easy to believe as the sound of running water from the winding streams coupled with the rich colors of foliage make for a truly serene experience.



Climb the stairs from the Japanese Garden to discover the most romantic gardens of The Huntington! The Rose Garden and Shakespeare Garden each have unique wonders to share with visitors. The Rose Garden features three acres of flowers that stay in bloom for nearly a year due to the ideal Southern California climate! The Rose Garden also provides the main entertainment for anyone dining at the Rose Garden Tea Room. Such a lovely view makes any high tea time extra special! The Shakespeare Garden, also featuring dazzling roses, displays many of the flowers and herbs described in his legendary plays. See if you can match the flower to the story!



One of my personal botanical favorites was the Conservatory. With its rainforest climate, I couldn’t get enough of the vivid colors and varieties of plants! It is also home to the Huntington’s corpse plant which blooms once in blue moon (more like years!) The seemingly endless number of rooms make for new discovery and excitement at every turn!





My meager list does no justice to the gardens beyond these few favorites of mine. Further on lies the Australian, Palm, Herb, Jungle, Subtropical, Lily, and Desert Gardens!


The library is one of America’s top research centers of American West history. Much of the space is reserved for scholar research however there are several exhibits that offer visitors a peek into the vast collections held at The Huntington.

The library is known for its display of the Gutenberg Bible (the first Bible printed with movable type) and a folio edition of William Shakespeare’s earliest works. It is also the residence of the Ellesmere manuscript of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and various writings of Galileo Galilei and Abraham Lincoln! Lesser known but extremely remarkable manuscripts include a rare map of Tenochtitlan, the real home of the Aztecs! (sorry San Diego State) Altogether, the library houses a rough total of 6 million manuscripts pertaining to American and British history and literature! Be sure to check out the video section that allows a look into the conservation process of all these treasures!

Dibner Hall
Dibner Hall

The Dibner Hall of the History of Science is a permanent display of the evolution of scientific study. The exhibit hosts four galleries dedicated to astronomy, natural history, medicine, and light all developed from sources dating from the 1500s!


Dive into the American and European histories of art and culture! The Virginia Steel Scott (American art) and the Huntington Galleries (European art) are home to the world renown works of Thomas Gainsborough (Blue Boy), Thomas Lawrence (Pinkie), Renaissance sculptor Giambologna, and many more!

Huntington Gallery
Huntington Gallery

Currently on display for a limited time is the famed Three Witches painting by Fuseli. The witches represent those of Shakespeare’s masterwork Macbeth. Also on limited time display is Samuel Morse’s painting Gallery of the Louvre.  Known for his invention of the telegraph and Morse code, this painting represents the pre-inventor chapter of Morse’s life.


  • Chinese Garden Tea House
  • Rose Garden Tea room (reservations required) (Tea & Tour package)
  • Café. Help yourself, grab a premade snack or order a hot meal!
  • NEW Coffee Shop! Located at the entrance.


Henry Huntington was very much a businessman. He had a career in real estate and railway development, the latter of which helped the population of Southern California to grow exponentially. In 1892 he purchased the current property on which The Huntington stands and developed it according to his interests in books, artwork, and gardening. In 1913 he married Arabella Duvall Huntington who herself was an avid collector of the arts and in 1919 they transferred their property to a non-profit education trust and it became what is today The Huntington Library, Art Gallery, and Botanical Gardens.


  • The Huntington welcomes 500,000 visitors every year!
  • The Huntington offers a Free Day the first Thursday of every month! Tickets are available one month prior.
  • The new Huntington Store and Coffee Shop made their grand openings Jan. 2015
  • New editions to the visitor and education center are currently under construction
  • Change in leadership: Laura Skandera Trombley, the first ever woman president of The Huntington, will follow Steve Koblik.
  • Website: Find them on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Tumblr, Instagram, plus video on YouTube, Vimeo, and iTunes.
  • Check out The Huntington’s very own blog VƎRSO!
  • Admission: $20 adults weekday               $25 adults weekends
  •                       $12 students w/ ID                 $13 students w/ ID



Big Bear Lake

photo by srschacht
photo by srschacht

Touring the Town – Big Bear Lake, California                                                            by: S.R. Schacht

Nestled away in the San Bernardino National Forest lies a gem that marks the center of a beautiful mountain town whose legacy has lived on for generations. Big Bear Lake and its surrounding mountain valley are a vacation hub for winter and summer mountaineers alike; whether you’re seeking thrilling adventure or a quiet, forest retreat, Big Bear Lake is the it place for mountain splendor!

So just what is there to do in this nestled, mountain heaven? Well let me give you a few winter ideas from my holiday week away in the place I’m so lucky enough to call home:

photo by srschacht
photo by srschacht
photo by srschacht
photo by srschacht


Hitting the Slopes!

Now technically Mammoth territory, the newly purchased Big Bear Mountain Resorts is in full swing! With its powerful snow making capabilities, BBMR can make a winter wonderland of the dried out So Cal region. Open for both daytime and nighttime skiing, Snow Summit and Bear Mountain offer skiers and snowboarders a variety of terrain for beginners and experts, jibbers and jumpers, and mogul and corduroy seekers. With new ownership comes neat new opportunity, Mammoth now offers a Cali4nia Pass which is valid at all four Mammoth Resorts: Mammoth Mountain, June Mountain, Snow Summit, and Bear Mountain.

As a former employee and avid skier of Snow Summit, I can accurately say that a weekend ski trip at BBMR is the perfect family vacation with a laid back and cozy small town feel! Drop on in!


photo by srschacht
photo by srschacht
photo by srschacht
photo by srschacht

Friendly ski/snowboard instructors teach both kid and adult classes!

photo by srschacht
photo by srschacht
photo by srschacht
photo by srschacht

Shred the slopes then stop in for some cocoa and grub at one of Summit’s four lodges!

Hiking/Snowshoeing Paradise!

Extensive trails for hiking and biking wind their way through the San Bernardino National Forest. Pack a picnic basket and make a day of hiking through the beautiful forest. Towne Trail and Grout Bay are perfect for the less experienced mountaineers. For those challenge seekers, Sugarloaf and San Gorgonio trails provide a perfect endeavor and cardio workout!

photo by srschacht
photo by srschacht

  Alpine Pedal Path

photo by srschacht
photo by srschacht

Sugarloaf Mtn. (far peak)

The Alpine Pedal Path is perfect for a daytime stroll or bike cruise. Paved from start to finish, the route extends along the most picturesque lengths of Big Bear Lake and finishes at the Discovery Center where visitors and residents alike can explore and observe the wildlife of the San Bernardino mountains!

Delightful Dining!

From fast food to fancy feasting Big Bear has an extensive variety of restaurants and bars that offer a little something for everyone. My personal favorites include The Cowboy Steakhouse and Sandy’s Sports Bar Restaurant. For a more upscale experience, the Captain’s Anchorage is open exclusively for evening diners and The Himalayan features exotic cuisines of India and Nepal.