Posts Tagged ‘Historic hotels’


Here’s a great little trip you can take, especially to see the fall foliage in the Ozark Mountains, but also good in late spring or during the summer.  The Ozark Mountains in Arkansas beckon you.  I wrote once about Mountain View, a mountain music and crafts center mecca but this area is also great to visit.

Let me tell you a little about the Hot Springs area.  Everyone knows Bill Clinton was born in Hope but about 70 miles north nestled in the mountains is Hot Springs.  He moved there as a young man and I remember hearing stories of how his mother loved playing the ponies at the Hot Springs horse track.

But there are a lot of other things to do in this area known for its thermal springs and bath houses. The water that flows from the underground springs are believed to have healing abilities and were first discovered hundreds of years ago by Native Americans.

While here you may want to consider a sunset dinner cruise aboard the Belle of Hot Springs riverboat.   A visit through Hot Springs National Park is also a must. Then onto the opulently restored Fordyce Bathhouse on Bathhouse Row is a site to behold.  (this is also where the National Park has their Visitor Center).  Finally check out the Gangster Museum where you are transported back to the 20s, 30s and 40s when gambling and bootlegging coexisted with the warm mineral waters of this awesome little valley town.

Nestled in the foothills of the Ozarks, the quaint town of Van Buren offers a chance to step back in time by strolling through the beautifully restored Victorian Main Street.  Then you can climb aboard the Arkansas-Missouri Scenic Railroad. The turn of the century passenger cars with their elegant mahogany interior which was the norm in the golden age of rail travel, is fun to ride.

Since you are a hop skip and a jump away from Branson why not continue on to this music mecca.

An evening aboard the showboat Branson Belle with dinner and entertainment is a great end to a wonderful day.  This was the best tasting food I have ever had on a riverboat and the entertainment was good, too. Since you are in Branson, what else can you do?  Take in a show, of course.  There are morning shows, afternoon shows and evening shows.  Some of the shows you can take in are The Osmonds, The Million Dollar Quartet, Down Home Country, The Brett Family Show, the Clay Cooper Country Music Express, The Haygoods Show, and #1 Hits of the 60s and the 50s.

And if you enjoy these shows come back anytime in November and December to see their special Christmas shows.

So much to see and do in magical Arkansas.

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“Twenty-six miles across the sea, Santa Catalina is awaiting for me.  Santa Catalina, the island of romance, romance, romance.”   And so the song from the 1950’s begins.  However from what I can determine Catalina is only 22 miles from the mainland but still a fun or romantic place to visit.  The island is very Mediterranean in appearance and although you feel far away from the U.S., this island, part of the Channel Islands, belongs to California. So if you find yourself in Los Angeles sometime, think about a trip over to the island.

Catalina is a 76-square-mile island about 80% undeveloped.  This is partly due to the semi arid desert soil filled with cactus, especially prickly pear.  The temperatures are pretty steady year round with winter averages about 65 degrees and summer around 75 degrees with lows between 50-60 degrees.  The island gets about 14” of rain a year and this is crucial since the water supply is dependent on the rainfall.

The only town on the island is Avalon with a population of 3,800.  However weekends and summer the population swells to 10,000.  Avalon was named for an island paradise in the King Arthur legend.  There is also a rustic village called Two Harbors (with a population of
150) which has a B&B and a campground.

From Avalon, there are vehicles that can take you the eighteen miles to Two Harbors
on the only road that cuts through the island but your best option is to take a boat or helicopter from the “airport in the sky.”

Boats and helicopters are, of course, the main way you arrive on the island.  An occasional cruise ship stops but there is not a deep enough pier so you have to tender to get to shore.  There are four different places to catch the high speed ferries that will take you a little over an hour to reach Catalina.  They are San Pedro, Long Beach, Newport Beach, and Dana Point.  There are
also three airports that have helicopter service: Long Beach, San Pedro and Orange County.

However you get there, when you see the Green Pier, you know you have arrived.  And if you decide to stay overnight you have a choice of oceanfront hotels, usually three or four stories high, private condos, beach houses, B&Bs, or camp sites.  However, I suggest a reservation, especially on weekends and peak times.  And then there is the Inn on Mt. Ada.  In peak times it might take you up to a year to get a reservation in this Wrigley Mansion of yesteryear.  The Inn has won awards from Conde Nast, Fodor’s, Trip Advisor, and Forbes.  A complimentary golf cart (the main means of transportation on the island) is included in your stay as well as breakfast and lunch.  However no children under 14 years of age are allowed.

The island was inhabited by Native Americans for over 7,000 years but the first known European explorer came in 1542.  Sixty years later another explorer from Spain named the island after St. Catherine of Alexandria.

Modern day development did not begin until The Banning Brothers purchased the island
in 1894.  In 1898, the Avalon Tuna Club, the oldest fishing club in the U.S., was founded and begin attracting many famous men like Zane Grey, John Wayne, Cecil B. DeMille, Charlie Chaplin, and Winston Churchill.

After a devastating fire in 1915, the brothers never recovered their investment and
sold the island in 1919 to William Wrigley, the chewing gum magnate.  He used his wealth to develop Avalon into one of the most unique island resorts in the country.

In 1921, Wrigley started bringing the Chicago Cubs for spring training and this
continued for thirty years.  Fourteen buffalo were brought to the island to film a classic Zane Grey movie and still roam around today in the back country.

In 1928 Wrigley started construction of the famous Catalina Casino which
took a year to complete.  The building was designed with a ballroom over a 1200 seat movie theater in the Moorish Alhambra style with Art Deco fixtures.  In the 1940’s and 1950s all the famous Big Bands played at the Casino on weekends.  It is such a unique looking building; it,
along with the green Pier, is a symbol of Catalina.

Many Hollywood stars in the 1940s and 1950s came to play on the island.  Humphrey Bogart was often seen and Norma Jeane lived on the island before she became Marilyn Monroe.  This is also where Robert Wagner and Natalie Woopd’s boat was anchored when she drowned.

There are many events on the island from music to races to sports and something seems
to be going on every weekend.  There is no place like the casino for the JazzTrax Festival and every September the Catalina Film Festival takes place there.

Besides sitting back and relaxing what can the average tourist do on the island?  In addition to relaxing on the beaches, you can rent a golf cart for a two hour ride around the hills of Avalon—but watch out for all the tourist drivers.  For those who like water adventures there is a glass bottom boat, a semi-submersible submarine tour, kayaks and paddleboards, snorkeling, diving, jet skiing, fishing, or parasailing.  For land adventures there is hiking, biking, a climbing wall and a zipline.  You can also visit the Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden or the Nature Center in Avalon Canyon.

As the song continues, “water all around you everywhere” Catalina is a relaxed
friendly island easy to explore on foot or golf cart.  And while you are there, don’t forget to eat
some fresh seafood found in most restaurants.

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This last February my brother and I took the train to Yosemite National Park (well sort of…).  We got on the Pacific Surfliner
at 8:00 a.m. from Oceanside, California to L.A.   The ride from Oceanside to San Juan Capistrano was awesome.  We followed the Pacific Ocean sometimes high up on bluffs and other times right down next to the beach.  We saw a lot of surfers with pelicans circling around them

San Juan Capistrano was a mission established in 1776 and the swallows used to come back every year on March 19th on their migration from Argentina.   Unfortunately since 2009 the swallows now migrate a little further north.

After the train stopped at Capistrano, we headed inland towards L.A.   There we boarded our thruway bus to Bakersfield.  Then it was another train, the San Joaquin, up to Merced, the gateway to Yosemite.   We arrived at 4:30 p.m. and picked up our rent a car before going to our hotel for the next two nights.

The next morning we were up early because we had a lot of miles to cover.   The area we stayed in is referred to as the Valley and many of
California’s fruits and vegetables are raised in this area.  The land is very flat and we drove the long way south to Madera before cutting over towards the Sierra Nevada Mountains where Yosemite is located.

Our plan, in order to see as much of the park as possible, was to drive in the south entrance and drive out the west entrance.  Yosemite’s elevations start at just under 3,000 feet and are as high as 13,000 feet so we had a steep climb from the valley floor to get there.

First protected in 1864, Yosemite National Park is best known for its waterfalls, but within its nearly 1,200 square miles, you can find deep valleys, beautiful meadows, ancient giant sequoias, and a vast wilderness area.   Over 95% of the park is wilderness with the main part of the action in Yosemite Valley where hotels and campsites are located.

Designated a World Heritage Site in 1984, Yosemite is known for its geographic and biological diversity.  Most of the trees are the Western Red Cedars (the Sequoias) and Ponderosa Pines.  The Ponderosas were so round and tall I thought they were 200 years old (since they tend to grow a foot a year in most areas) but a ranger told me they were 300 hundred years old.  There are not many places left in the U.S. today that you can see old growth forests like we saw in Yosemite.  There are also two rivers, the Tuolumne and Merced rivers, that begin in the park and flow west to the Central Valley.

For tens of thousands of years humans have lived in this area. The Ahwahneechee lived here for generations, followed by the arrival of Europeans in the mid-1800s. The rugged terrain challenged many of these early travelers who came by horseback or stagecoach.   By 1907, construction of the Yosemite Valley Railroad from Merced to El Portal eased the journey, thereby, increasing visitation.  Historic mining sites remain from miners who came to the Sierra to seek their fortune in gold.  And, today 3.5 million people enter the park every year to explore.

John Muir helped spark the creation of Yosemite National Park in 1890.  He was also instrumental in getting Sequoia and the Grand Canyon named as National Parks.   In 1869, Muir landed a job as a shepherd which gave him the opportunity to study the flora and fauna.  When he saw that the grazing sheep were destroying the area, he lobbied for a National Park.

Yosemite was also a favorite place for photos by Ansel Adams and you may want to read more about both Adams and Muir since space here is limited.  A third person important to the area if you would like to read more is Stephen Mather, the first director of the National Park Service. He used his wealth and political connections to take the national park idea in important new directions when he saw how poorly the parks looked in 1914.  He even hired staff to help him and paid them out of his own pocket.

When you arrive in the valley area you see El Capitan, the 3,000 foot monolith and it is one of the world’s favorite challenges for rock climbers.   You can only climb up because it is way too dangerous to go back down so the trail must be taken.  And right by El Capitan you can gaze upon the 2,425-foot Yosemite Falls, the tallest waterfall in North America.  Across from El Capitan there are some other granite monolith rocks, like Half Dome.  These rocks were carved out by the glaciers that came through the area.   But I am getting a little ahead of myself.

We drove for almost an hour after we entered the south entrance and it truly was wilderness.  The only bad thing was it was February and we were over 5,000 feet and there was no snow!  That does not bode well for this summer’s fire season.  Finally we entered a tunnel.  The tunnel was constructed by the WPA in 1933 but as people came out of the tunnel there were so many accidents and the Overlook was a very dangerous place to pull over.  So the Tunnel View Overlook was renovated and re-dedicated in 2008.

The Tunnel View scenic overlook is a historic site, and has beautiful views of Yosemite Valley, El Capitan, Bridalveil Falls, and Half Dome. Both the Wawona Tunnel and Tunnel View were determined eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986 because of their exemplary designs.  The overlook is such a popular site that there is an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 people who visit every day during the
height of the tourist season.  But even more special to us when we pulled off onto the Overlook was the sun was positioned in such a way it created a huge rainbow on the distant Bridalveil Falls that was an incredible site to behold.

If you ever get to a National Park there is a book about the great lodges of the West.  I have written about the lodges at both Yellowstone and Glacier.  Whenever I get to a new Park, I always try to visit the famous lodge built there.

The lodge in Yosemite is called the Ahwahnee and is quite unique since it was Mather who lobbied for it to be developed.  Many of the
other famous lodges were built with materials found in their areas.  But all natural resources in National Parks are protected now and building materials cannot be used from the parks any more.  Since the lodge was not built until 1926, trucks had to haul all the building materials in over primitive roads seven days a week.  The lodges in Glacier and Yellowstone used existing timber and stone but that can no longer happen.  The primary building materials were steel, granite and concrete and then the outside of the granite and concrete was stained to look like redwood.

There is a central tower several stories tall and three separate wings with huge fireplaces.  The west wing has a dining room that seats 350 people.  The room is 130 feet long, over 51 feet wide and the ceiling reaches 34 feet.    It is a massive room and very beautiful.   During World War II, the Ahwahnee was a rest and relaxation hospital for the Navy.  Over 90,000 troops rested there and almost 7,000 patients were treated at the lodge.

Not too far from the Ahwahnee is Curry Village where you can rents tents and Yosemite Lodge where you can also stay.  There are also little towns just outside the park with lots of hotels and motels so you have a lot of choices when visiting the park.

As the sun was setting we drove down out of the park and back to our hotel in the Valley.  The next day we headed home and that also turned into an adventure.  Our Amtrak train was late; almost an hour by the time we got to Bakersfield.  We were rushed onto out thruway bus to LA.  Our driver was excellent and took several back roads in LA to avoid rush hour.  We actually made our train back to Oceanside with ten minutes to spare!


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Summer is almost upon us and with the brutal winter many had to endure, the thoughts of vacations, can’t be too far away.

Do you know the most visited National Park? … Great Smoky National Park.  Why is this true?  50% of the U.S. population lives within a 500 mile radius of that park so it is easy to get to and there are no entrance fees. But the granddaddy of them all and America’s first National Park (1872), Yellowstone has to be on many bucket lists.

If you have read my previous articles you know how much I love Glacier National Park.  I have written articles about that Park including about the lodges there.  Realistically, since it is so remote, most travelers will go to Yellowstone before Glacier.  Therefore an article about the accommodations you will encounter there should be useful.  

There are several towns around Yellowstone and if you don’t want to overnight in the Park, you may want to read my previous articles about the area for other ideas. 

Remember, however, when you are in Yellowstone you do not realize how remote you are.  There are five areas for hotel and camping accommodations and the road makes a big loop to get to these regions.
Even though that is where all the action is, the areas surrounding the road and villages only comprises 10% of the park.  So if you are not into hiking the back country, you will miss 90% of this vast wilderness.  It is a huge area that stays untouched by humans for the most part, which adds to its mystique. 

Before we begin–a tip: always make an advanced reservation.  However for your informtion all the big tour companies reserve a certain amount of rooms every year in advance so if  you are told they are sold out and you can wait, you might still get a room.  Tour companies have to release their unsold rooms at least two weeks in advance or pay for them.  And some even give them up earlier than that.  So it doesn’t hurt to call once or twice a week ahead of time and see if any vacancies have come up. 

Yellowstone is divided into five regions for hotel accommodations.  Most people want to stay in the Geyser Country by Old Faithful and that is a great area with several  choices but those rooms fill up the fastest.  There is, of course, the Old Faithful Inn, a national historic landmark built in the early 1900’s.  If something happens to this place (fire almost took it out in the 1980’s), it could never be replaced with the environmental laws we have today.  They would not be able to cut down the trees to rebuild.  It would have to be constructed with other materials. 

Even if you don’t stay at the Inn, go and see the structure and if you have time take the tour that runs twice daily and is free.  Dinner is reservation only but you can always eat lunch there. There are also cabins available.  Next is Snow Lodge and cabins.  Snow Lodge is a favorite place of mine to stay and one of the few places where dinner is first come, first serve with no reservation required.

They also have the log cabin style of rooms (like the Inn) that have that wonderful rustic look.  Finally, there is the Old Faithful Lodge and cafeteria where you can eat sandwiches, salads and regular entrees.   Don’t confuse the Old Faithful Lodge with the Old Faithful Inn.  These are two separate places and Snow Lodge makes three.  All are situated around the Old Faithful geyser.

If you are traveling and come into Yellowstone on the Northern route, you enter the Mammoth area.  The elevation is not as high here so the weather is warmer.  This is the park headquarters because the weather is not as severe in the winter.  The Hot Springs Hotel and cabins can be found here and the hotel is opened year round.  There is both a dining room and a grill and no reservations needed.  And most of the time, the elk are lounging about the grassy areas during the warm summer months.

Continuing south from Mammoth along the east side of the park are two more areas with lodging.  The Roosevelt area has cabins some with baths and some without.  In the summer this area has cookouts that you travel to either by horse or by wagon.  Or you can continue south to the Canyon area. When here, you are close to the lower falls of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.  There are both lodge rooms and cabins with a dining room, cafeteria and deli.

Finally you come to the Lake area.  The easiest way to get to this areas is from Cody to the East or Jackson Hole from the South.  You will come to Grant Village first coming from Jackson Hole.  There are 6 two story buildings with fifty rooms in each building.  

Grant Village is situated on the Southwestern shore of Yellowstone Lake about twenty miles from Old Faithful.  There is a gift shop, general store, and a lounge located in the dining room. The dining room overlooks the lake, and the Lake House with pub style dining, can be found down on the shore of the lake.  If you want dinner in the dining room you definitely need reservations.

Lastly, a place I hope to stay at some day is Lake Yellowstone Hotel and cabins.  This classic hotel is painted a bright yellow and sits right next to the lake on its northern side.  It has been restored to its 1920’s grandeur.  I could sit in the lobby half the day watching the world go by with the awesome views.  There is a dining room where reservations are definitely recommended.  The whole place has the feel of The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island or the Greenbriar in West Virginia but on a smaller scale.  Maybe, just maybe someday I will get a chance to stay there.

As for winter only Snow Lodge at Old Faithful and the hotel at Mammoth Hot Springs are opened. Since the roads are closed you can only get in by the big Snow Coaches– reservation only– or snowmobile.

Hopefully, you are now well informed and realize you have several choices where to stay in the Park.  As long as you make reservations in advance, you should be able to find accommodations.

And don’t think you can get in without reservations in the fall.  That is when the tour buses roll in with all the seniors traveling since the kids are back in school.  And, weather wise, early to mid September can be very nice in the Park.


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 I wrote a previous article about a tour I take to Glacier National Park but since this is one of my top favorite parks in the US, I wanted to give a little more information about the lodges in the park.
Glacier is in Montana right next to Alberta, Canada, so it is not the easiest place to get to.  It is called the “Crown Jewel of the Continent” and the native Blackfeet called the area, the backbone of the world.  If you saw the mountains rising up out of the plains, you can easily understand why the Native Americans used this expression.
It wasn’t until 1889 that a pass was found over the mountains in this area that was not too steep for a train.  Once J.J. Hill and later his son, Louis, began building the track for the Great Northern Railroad, both Hill and the US Government began an attempt to promote tourism in the West.  The slogan the railroad used was “See America First” and the massive log and stone lodges were built to lure the wealthy to this area.
Two camps were set up at what we now call East Glacier and West Glacier and the railroad was built.  From 1911-1913 Glacier Park Lodge was constructed in what is now called East Glacier so tourists had a place to stay when they arrived by train, which they still do to this day.
A crew of 75 men basically took two years constructing the building by hand.  When the travelers walked across the grass from the train station to the lodge, they could see the cedar trees that were used in the outside construction.  But it is the inside that is even more spectacular. A total of 60 logs 36-42” in diameter that had been cut from Douglas Fir stands that were from 500-800 years old, line both sides of the lobby.
Meanwhile roughly 90 miles to the west on Hwy 2, is Lake McDonald which is located in the area we now call West Glacier.  A lodge did not need to be constructed there.  In 1895 George Snyder built the small Snyder Hotel. Ownership passed to John Lewis and he built cabins in 1910 (the year Glacier was named a National Park) and added the present lodge structure in 1913 operating as Lewis’ Glacier hotel.
Mr. Lewis was a furrier and furnished all the hunting trophies still in display in the lobby.  He wanted the mounted animals to give the place a “hunting lodge” atmosphere.  The huge fireplace adds to the hominess of the lobby and legend has it that Charles Russell scratched the pictographs that you see in the base of the fireplace, although this has never been proved.  There is a beautiful log dining room and both the dining room and bar look out at Lake McDonald, the largest lake in the park.(FYI: Anywhere there is a decent sized lake in the park, you may also find the old 1920’s era wooden boats to tour on).
Hill also built several chalets throughout the park. The idea was that after you came into East or West Glacier, every chalet would be a day’s horse ride away.  In those days the rich would come for a month to tour the park and they would stay at each lodge or chalet for several days.

Today only two chalets remain but both you have to hike into to get to and they aren’t real big.  One is the Granite Park Chalet which is a 7 mile hike to get to and the other is the Sperry Chalet that you also hike to that is half way between Lake McDonald and Logan Pass on the “Going To The Sun Road.”
There are two more great lodges in the park but I do want to mention one other place first.  Half way between East and West Glacier on Hwy 2, just outside the park, is the Izaak Walton Inn.  The Inn was built in 1939 as a residence for the railroad workers and is opened year round.  And, Amtrak stops right in the front yard here if you come by train.  The rooms are charming and cozy and there are even caboose cottages.  There is a full service restaurant and this is a popular place for fishing in the summer and cross country skiing in the winter. You can even catch the famous “Red Bus” tours from the Inn during the tourist season.  I have never stayed here but many people tell me it is a fun place, especially staying in a caboose.
The next lodge which was started in 1914 & finished in 1915 (although the annex wasn’t completed until 1917) took 400 men to build.  It is called Many Glacier and looks like a Swiss style building sitting on the banks of Swift Current Lake.  This place is so remote, they needed their own sawmill and kiln.  The hotel and the hot water are steam heated and sometimes you can hear the clanging in the pipes as the water heats or cools from the boiler.   But once again, that is part of the charm of these lodges that have all been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The last lodge is in Waterton, in Canada with a year round population of only about 50 people. This is a very unique looking building although the rooms are similar to the other two lodges, Glacier Park and Many Glacier, since Louis Hill and his railroad men built all of them.The building sits “high on a windy hill” in front of Waterton Lake and the building is known to sway in high winds.  But what a gorgeous place and you can even get afternoon tea at the Prince of Wales Hotel (the POW to locals).
The hotel has 86 rooms and only took a year to build starting in 1926.However, it took Hill 13 years to get the land leased from the Canadian government, which he started working on in 1913.  Much of the original furniture was built on site from British Columbia cedar. The hotel stands at the North end of Waterton Lake surrounded by mountains and the beauty will take your breath away.
Waterton/Glacier National Peace Park.The first peace park in the world shows how two countries can work together in peace to preserve so much of nature’s beauty that can be experienced in this favorite park of mine.
Wouldn’t it be great to have the time and money to spend a month there exploring this wonderful area.

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Two of the most beautiful and historic southern cities in America, Charleston and Savannah, could be calling you.

History comes alive in Charleston as you tour along cobblestone streets lined with antebellum homes with beautiful gardens that can be seen from behind 300 year old iron gates.
As you travel along the“Battery at the Harbor” you’ll see the “pig” house owned by the owner of the Piggly Wiggly grocery chain, as well as the house where JFK stayed with his“German” girlfriend (obviously dad, Joe, put a stop to that relationship). As you travel the park along the harbor, you can see Fort Sumter off in the distance (or you can take a narrated cruise to the fort), which was the catalyst for the Civil War.  Turning the corner, all the beautiful “painted ladies” pass by as you continue towards downtown.
The Citadel is a must see, as well as, the Old Market and Exchange. There are so many wonderful places to eat in this area, it will be hard to choose. And, you can find some unique and wonderful buys in the market, including the famed sweetwater baskets.
Charleston is also a cruise port now so the city may call to you for that reason.  Another fun visit is to a plantation like Middleton Place or Boone Plantation with acres of beautiful gardens as well as beautifully decorated homes.  Henry Middleton, who owned Middleton Plantation, was President of the First Continental Congress and both of these homes look just what you expect a plantation to look like.
From Charleston, the next stop on your journey is Savannah. This is a fun city which I enjoy travelling to.  It is inland on the Savannah River and you can take a ride on a riverboat, which gives you a history of the buildings and stores that line the riverfront.  And, don’t forget to sample the seafood in the restaurants there…..yummy!  Once again, too many choices.
General Sherman found this city “too beautiful to burn” during the Civil War and it has been well preserved.  The town is lined with live oak trees (thus named because they are always green—as the old leaves fall off, new ones push out) and many squares contained in an historic area 2.5 square miles.
The historic area contains more than 2,300 colonial and Victorian buildings and homes, and most of them are beautifully restored. You can hop a trolley for a tour through this historic district where you’ll pass the birthplace of Juliette Gordon Low, founder of the Girl Scouts.  You’ll also learn about the area where such movies such as Forrest Gump and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil were filmed.
Paula Deen has her restaurant in Savannah, but to me, even better is Mrs. Wilkes Boarding House for lunch, where you can line up as early as 10:45 a.m.  The bell is rung at 11:30 a.m. as you stand out on the street, waiting to get into the house to a table.  And then, piled high dishes of southern cooking, including fried chicken, are served family style.  The food keeps coming until you don’t think you can eat another bite.  But unbelievably you don’t burst and even dessert goes down somehow.  Mrs. Wilkes started her home based restaurant in 1943, and although she died in 2002, her family continues the tradition.
From Savannah there are other side trips you can take.  A tour to Tybee Island is not far, where you can visit the museum at the Tybee Island Lighthouse. The lighthouse has guarded the Savannah River since 1736.  You can even walk up the 154 foot tall lighthouse if you feel adventure calling you and if you make it to the top, the museum will give you a certificate that says you did it. Or you may want to spend some beach time on the Atlantic.
Georgia is known for its Golden Isles, like St. Simon’s, Hilton Head or Beaufort, but one you should visit, if not stay at, is Jekyll Island.  The Jekyll Island Club was once home to America’s wealthiest families.  You can take a tram tour around the island to hear the history and there is even a stop at a small chapel which has an original Tiffany window.  You’ll see huge live oaks lined with Spanish moss and palmettos (the state tree).  If you are not staying over, perhaps you can fit in lunch at the famed Victorian style Jekyll Island Club hotel, where the Rockefeller and Vanderbilt families once dined.
So much to see and do, this southern area should be a must on your “to visit”list.  However, you might want to diet ahead of time, because part of the enjoyment is all the seafood and southern cuisine that beckons you.
A note to Chicagoland residents:  Mayflower Tours has their new 2013 Value tour which goes to Beaufort as well as Savannah and Charleston.  If you are interested, check it out.
Another note:  I write these travel blogs to sell my travel/romance books for boomers.  You can check out my webpage: www.kileenprather.com or buy kindle or book editions at Amazon.  Christmas is coming.  If you are or know a boomer, please consider supporting me by buying my books.

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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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