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Posts Tagged ‘beach vacations’

Last summer I did a tour of the Pacific coast from California to Tillamook, Oregon.  We stopped at two lighthouses but if you are traveling by auto it would be fun to see all nine of the surviving lighthouse stations since they have been added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Seven of the lighthouses are available to visit during the summer months, many manned by volunteers.  Over two and one half million people stop each year at these extraordinary links to the past.
All of the structures have been unoccupied since modern technology took over in the 1960s which allowed for installing automated beacons.  The lighthouses are built on prominent headlands near major rivers where commercial fishing and shipping is prominent.
I will tell you a little about each one so if you cannot see them all, you can at least pick and choose which ones sound the most interesting.

Staring from just north of the California border the first one is Cape Blanco.

This lighthouse stands 256 feet above the ocean and is located nine miles north of Port Orford off of Highway 101.  It is the oldest standing lighthouse on the Oregon Coast.  It was commissioned in 1870 because of the gold discoveries and lumbering going on in the area.
Two miles north of Bandon in Bullards Beach State Park is the Coquilee River Lighthouse.  It was commissioned in 1896 to guide mariners across a dangerous bar.  It was decommissioned in 1939 but restored as an interpretive center in 1979.
Cape Arago Lighthouse is twelve miles south of Coos Bay and North Bend.  It stands 100 feet above the ocean on an inlet.  It is the newest of the lighthouses, illuminated in 1934 but is not opened to the public.  However if you visit, there is a very unique foghorn you might hear.
Next up is the Umpqua River Lighthouse located three miles south of Reedsport  above the entrance to Winchester Bay.  This is the second lighthouse on this spot.  The first one fell into the river four years after it was built in 1861.  This one sits sixty five feet above the ocean overlooking sand dunes.  It took 240,000 bricks to construct the lighthouse tower and if you mention this you will get a discount on the tour cost.
Heceta Head Lighthouse located twelve miles north of Florence has a sixty five foot tower that sits 205 feet above the ocean.  It was first illuminated in 1894 but today the beacon can be seen for twenty one miles, making it the brightest light on the Oregon Coast.  The lightkeepers house built in 1893 now operates as a bed and breakfast.

This lighthouse has been undergoing renovation since 2012 and is closed to the public but just below it is a wonderful beach with parking.  This is where I stop on the motor coach so everyone gets a chance to wade in the Pacific Ocean if so desired. Also it is very near the Sea Lion caves.  There is a charge to see the caves but it is a pretty awesome sight and worth the visit.
You can find two more lighthouses near the Newport area.  One is the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse and the other is the Yaquina Head Lighthouse.  The one on the bay is the second oldest lighthouse in the state.  It has a ninety three foot tower and stands 162 feet above sea level.  There are a lot of seabird nesting sites around this lighthouse and I also like to stop here when I can.
As you continue driving the Cape Meares Lighthouse is ten miles west of Tillamook and US Highway 101.  It stands 217 feet above sea level. This structure was first illuminated in 1890 and automated in 1963.  There is a trail that leads from the parking lot to the lighthouse and there are viewpoints people like to stand on to see sea lions or also for whale watching.
Finally the last one is the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse just south of Seaside.  It stands 133 feet above sea level on a rock islet.  Because it is exposed to fierce storm waves it was given the name “Terrible Tilly.”  There is no public access and was placed here just south of the Columbia River.  However it is visible in a nearby state park.
Even if you don’t get to one of the lighthouses, which would be a shame, just driving the Oregon Coast is an awesome experience.  At any turn in the road you can see waves pounding the shore or the giant monolith rocks that stand like sentinels in the water close to the shore.  It is a truly amazing sight to behold. To me this should be another great area to add to your bucket list.

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Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall–anytime is a good time to visit Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

My company has a bus tour out of Chicago to Myrtle Beach in the spring and fall.  Did you know that Myrtle Beach is referred to as the “Branson of the East Coast”?    Although the population is low at under 30,000, because of the way it is situated on the coastline of the Atlantic Ocean, the area known as “The Grand Strand” tends to not get direct hits from hurricanes.  It also helps that the Gulf Stream is about 40 miles offshore which contributes to the temperate climate.

The Grand Strand runs along the ocean in a crescent shape for over 60 miles.  To say it is a major tourist area is an understatement.  The German word for Strand means beach and that is why the area is called that.  Myrtle Beach is the biggest city along the Grand Strand area.    The city began as a year round golfing resort in 1927 and by the 1970’s it had become a premier golfing destination.  And they are also known to have more minature golf courses than anywhere else.

There are many resort hotels and high rise condos along the beach with a Boardwalk and Promenade that runs a little over a mile.  This has truly become a family destination (or you may want to take the grandkids) with many restaurants serving a smorgasbord of buffets with lots of fish, including crab legs and shrimp and everything in between.  For breakfast or lunch you can try the food at one of the many pancake houses in the area.

Also right downtown is the Family Kingdom Amusement Park which is reminiscent of old time amusement parks with a wooden roller coaster, ferris wheel and carousel.

And, the shopping…. There are 2 Tanger outlets very close to each other as well as my favorite place, Broadway at the Beach.  This is a fun place to stroll around with over 100 shops and 30 restaurants.  You can follow the Boardwalk through several different themed villages and
there are 3 bridges you can use to walk across the man made lake.   Besides shopping for the adults, there is plenty for the kids to do, too, including the Ripley’s Aquarium.  We took our travelers there and you walk through a tube with sharks swimming all around you.  Truly awesome.  And if you get tired out from all the walking, there is an IMAX theater so you can sit and recharge while watching a movie.

And, did I mention theaters?   There is a variety theater called, The Carolina Opry, Legends in Concert, featuring Elvis, of course, Medevial Theater, Good Vibrations, Big Laughs Theater, Alabama Theater, The House of Blues, Pirates Voyage Dinner Attraction, and The Palace Theater where you can see anything from magicians to Irish dancers.  I heard a couple of years ago that Pat Boone was looking at building a theater in the area, but then I guess that is still on the back burner   However there is certainly no scarcity of shows and music for you to choose from.

If you want to take in some other attractions outside the city, to the north is another shopping area called Barefoot Landing.  To the south is Brookgreen Gardens, a National Historic Landmark with a large outside collection of fugurative sculptures by American artists.  Not far from Brookgreen Gardens is Pawley’s Island, one of the oldest summer resorts on the East Coast.  The rice plantation owners brought their familes here to escape inland heat in the summer. You can still buy the rope hammocks hand made by the locals.  The island has been termed “arrogantly shabby” with its shoeless laid back lifestyle.

On our tour we also took a day trip up to Wilmington, North Carolina.  This town along the Cape Fear River was the last Atlantic port opened to blockade runners during the Civil War.  It has one of the largest historic districts listed in the National Register of Historic Places and was founded more than 250 years ago.  Great pine plantations lined the river and produced rice, indigo and cotton which contributed to its wealth.  The battleship North Carolina resides here and the city has been refered to as Hollywood East for the many movies made as well as the television shows, “Dawson Creek” and “Matlock”.

If you do nothing more than take advantage of the beaches it is worth the trip.  And if you come from the Midwest, you get to travel through the Smoky Mountains–one of my favorite drives in the U.S.   Meanwhile back in Myrtle Beach, I hear “Crabby Mike’s” calling me for dinner and after that a little rock n roll at the Legends Theater!!!!!!!

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“Galveston, oh Galveston.  I can hear your sea winds blowing…” as the words of Glen Campbell’s song goes… “on the beach where we used to roam.”
And the beach has been tied totally to Galveston’s history.  You may not know this but Galveston is an island, actually a barrier island, about 45 miles southeast of Houston, TX. 
Galveston is part Southern, park Texas blooming with towering oleanders of every color and has more history and stories than cities 20 times its size. Part of the charm of Galveston is that it is so much a town in its own right, and it always has been. Even today, many residents refer to the city as “The Republic of Galveston Island” because it is so unlike the rest of Texas.
In 1528, the Spanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca was shipwrecked on the Island and lived among the Indians for several years as a medicine man and slave. In the late 1600’s, the French explorer Robert Cavelier La Salle claimed this area for King Louis.  However, the island was named for Bernardo de Gálvez, a Spanish colonial governor and general.  Gálvez sent Jose de Evia to chart the Gulf of Mexico from the Texas coast to New Orleans, and on July 23, 1786, de Evia named the waters Galveston Bay. Later, the island and city took the same name.  Bernardo de Gálvez died the same year, never setting foot on his namesake island.
How can you resist the charm of this 32 mile island (only 2 miles wide at its widest) whose first known European settler was a pirate? The cultured and debonair pirate Jean Lafitte established the colony of Campeche on Galveston Island in 1817, numbering about 1,000 people at its peak. Lafitte was eventually forced to leave by the US Navy who didn’t appreciate his pirateering.  As he was forced off the island, Lafitte burned his town behind him and literally sailed into history. No one knows what happened to him and if interested in learning more look into joining the Lafitte society. Many theories abound, including settling in Alton, IL and continuing his dynasty.  Personally I think a storm overtook him and sank his ship somewhere off the Yucutan Peninsula.
However, Galveston, as we know it, was officially founded by Michel Menard and Samuel May Williams, among others in the 1830’s. The homes of these early island pioneers are still standing and tours are offered.
Everything is bigger in Texas and in the nineteenth century, everything in Texas was done first in Galveston. Incorporated in 1839, Galveston quickly became the most active port west of New Orleans and the largest city in the state. This exciting and sophisticated city built the state’s first post office, first opera house, first hospital, first golf course, first country club…the list goes on and on.
But everything changed on September 8, 1900.  Back then hurricanes had no names but this one was so bad it was dubbed “The Great Storm.” Most estimates put the deaths at 6,000 and some say there were another 6,000 people who went missing.  Over 1/3rdof the city’s population was wiped out by that tragedy.  The problem was the next spring, 1901 the first gusher came in at Spindletop, not far from the island.  But since the city was so devastated from the hurricane, the money went to Houston, since people deemed that area safer in hurricanes.  Consequently, Galveston never again attained the glory it had before the hurricane.
Although devastated, the citizens were strong and rallied.  They built a 16 foot seawall.  It took 60 years to complete all 10.4 miles of it.  Then the remaining structures were jacked up and sand pumped in raising the island 6-8 feet.  But it was definitely worth the effort.  In 1915 another hurricane with the same intensity as the Great Storm hit.  90% of the structures outside the seawall were destroyed but only 8 people died (and another 300 not behind the seawall).
In the 1920’s, Galveston found a new source of income.  There had always been prostitution and gambling due to all the sailors stationed there, but with Prohibition, bootlegging was added to the list. Eventually 2 brothers, the Maceo’s, took controlIn the swinging 40’s & 50’s, the Balinese Room was legendary along the Gulf Coast.  Some of the famous performers were Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee, Sophie Tucker, the Marx Brothers, Guy Lombardo, Harry James, Mel Torme and so many others. Frank Sinatra sang there in 1950 (he was in decline at the time & didn’t get back on top until his role in From here To Eternity got him an Oscar nod) and he asked for his meals to be included as part of his pay.
The Texas Rangers tried to raid the place several times, but a call was always placed to Maceo and by the time they walked the long pier, the gaming tables had been converted to backgammon and the slot machines folded into the walls. The chips were stashed in the kitchen and one suitcase full was inadvertently roasted in the oven once. One time the sheriff was asked why he didn’t close the place down.  He replied, “Shucks, I am not a member so I can’t get in.” In the late 1950’s, after the brothers died, someone in a boat under the pier saw the machines folded into the walls and after reporting this to the law, the Texas Rangers were able to close gambling down then.   
There are two historic hotels in Galveston.  The Tremont House is down on the Strand.  The owner, George Mitchell, brought Mardi Gras to the island in the 1980’s and it continues as a big 10 day celebration to this day.  The other hotel is the Hotel Galvez across from the seawall.    Phil Harris married Alice Faye in 1940 and spent his honeymoon in the penthouse.  And, Dan Rather gained national fame sitting in the Galvez reporting as Hurricane Carla came to Galveston in 1960.  From this recognition he got a news job reporting in the Kennedy White House and the rest they say is history. 
The Galvez was known as the “Queen of the Gulf” on the day she opened in 1911. For nearly a century, this charming hotel built in a Spanish Mission style, has been the choice for guests as  diverse as Franklin Roosevelt and Howard Hughes, as well as the famous stars mentioned above.  Palm trees line a stretch of grass in front of the property’s double doors.  Mahogany beams cross the ceiling of the expansive lobby and down a long hallway known as the Loggia, the veranda (where Dan Rather reported from), overlooks the formal gardens and the hotel’s outdoor tropical pool.  And, of course, the famed Balinese Room used to be right across the street.
Currently more than 2,000 buildings in town are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The Strand, once known as the Wall Street of the Southwest, has dozens of Victorian Office Buildings with antique stores, art galleries and gift shops.  It’s a fun place to roam around and the cruise ship terminal is only a block away.  Several ships now call Galveston home which has definitely stimulated the economy.
There are so many things to do on the island.  There are several Victorian homes and churches you can tour.  Climb aboard the tall sailing ship The Elissa, check out the Railroad Museum,or take in the movie, The Great Storm, at the Seaport Museum.  The downtown area (which many people don’t realize is there because they only go to the beaches and seawall area) is known as the Strand.  It was once called “the Wall Street of the South” and has many wonderful Victorian buildings that have been converted into shops and restaurants and is a fun place to explore.  This area is the heart of Mardi Gras in the spring as well as the Christmas festival, “Dickens on the Strand.”
Naturally the biggest attraction is the sandy beaches but besides that you can gorge yourself on freshly caught seafood, especially shrimp, at a number of restaurants all over the island.
Tragedy struck once again September 13, 2008, as Hurricane Ike made landfall on the east end of Galveston Island, leaving behind the damage of 100 mph winds and a storm surge estimated between 17 and 20 feet. Today the Island continues its journey of recovery and rediscovery since the hurricane. 
I am not sure what it is about this island but it constantly calls to me.  I try and visit at least once a year.  I used to live there awhile back and maybe I will be able to again sometime. Hopefully the sea breeze will call you to this wonderful romantic Victorian Island.

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