San Francisco: Palace of Fine Arts

Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco

The Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco was built for the 1915 World’s Fair.  Architect Bernard Maybeck designed it as “a Valentine for San Francisco”.  This beautiful building and its grounds are popular for family picnics and weddings.  More info is at:

Lick Observatory, Mount Hamilton, California

Lick Observatory Domes

Lick Observatory 36 inch Telescope

Lick Observatory Old Photograph

Lick Observatory Seismograph of 1906 San Francisco Earthquake

Lick Observatory Space Art on Display

Lick Observatory is located at the top of Mount Hamilton (south of San Francisco).  Lick was the first mountaintop observatory in the world in 1887.  All supplies (construction, food, telescopes, etc.) were carried up the mountain on the backs of burros.  The observatory was financed by James Lick, a wealthy San Franciscan who profited from the gold rush.  He is buried in the cement pier that supports one of the oldest telescopes.  On an ultra-clear day at Lick Observatory, the view is incredible:  the Pacific Ocean to the west; the snow-capped Sierra Mountains to the east; San Francisco to the north, and the Central Valley to the south.

Mission San Miguel

Mission San Miguel, California

Mission San Miguel Belltower

Mission San Miguel Altar

Mission San Miguel Cemetery Entrance

Mission San Miguel Cemetery Entrance

Mission San Miguel Tile

Mission San Miguel (east of Big Sur) was founded in 1797.  It is one of California’s most authentic and beautiful missions.  The colorful murals inside the church are the original ones painted by Indian artists.  Mission bells were central to life at the mission, and were blessed upon installation.  Bells were rung in a special way, and were used to call people to worship, meals, work, and gatherings. 

Eberle Winery

Eberle Vineyards

Bronze Boar at Entrance to Eberle Tasting Room

Bronze Boar's Shiny Nose (rub for good luck!)

Giant Hopper for Grape Crushing

Fermentation Vats

Wine Barrels Stored in Cave

Stained Glass Mural at Eberle Winery

Eberle Winery in Paso Robles, California (east of Big Sur) is one of the highest award-winning wineries in the United States.  Eberle means “wild boar” in German.  A bronze boar greets visitors at the entrance to the Tasting Room.  It is considered good luck to rub the boar’s shiny nose!  Grapes are picked by hand in the Fall and placed into giant hoppers for crushing.  The juice is then pumped into fermentation vats, before transfer to barrels for storage.  Aging time varies from months to years.   Finally the wine is tested and filtered before bottling for sale. Eberle’s vineyards and caves are very scenic!

Lost Movie Set of “The Ten Commandments”

Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes National Wildlife Refuge

1923 Silent Movie

Sphinx Head from “The Ten Commandments”

City of the Pharaoh from “The Ten Commandments”

Recovered Movie Set Pieces from “The Ten Commandments”

1930 Movie “Morocco” Filmed at Nipomo Dunes

Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes National Wildlife Refuge is located north of Santa Barbara.  The refuge has the largest and most extensive coastal sand dunes in California.  Cecil B. DeMille filmed his original The Ten Commandments at this location in 1923.  Before filming began, an entire Egyptian “City of the Pharaoh” was constructed on the dunes.  The scale of the production was amazing!  The elaborate movie set contained 300 chariots, 21 sphinxes weighing 5 tons each, and 4 statues of Ramses that were each 35 feet tall!   When filming ended, the set was secretly buried in the sand.  Now historians are using ground-penetrating radar to recover pieces of the set for display in the Dunes Center Museum.   A documentary on the film history of the area by Peter Brosnan is currently in production.   Past “Sahara” movies filmed on the dunes starred Rudolph Valentino, Douglas Fairbanks, Gary Cooper, and Marlene Dietrich.  A more recent movie filmed on the dunes was Pirates of the Caribbean starring Johnny Depp.

UPDATE October 2014:  Recent excavation has unearthed one of the giant sphinx heads buried in the sand.  It will be displayed at the Guadalupe Dunes Center Museum.  Articles are at:   and 

UPDATE December 2015/January 2016:  After 30 years, the documentary by Peter Brosnan is finally finished!  The movie “The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille” is now being submitted to film festivals.  An article is at:

A trailer about the new movie is at:

The official website for the movie is at:

Info about visiting the  display is at:

Filoli Gardens: Tulip Time

Filoli Tulips and Reflecting Pool

Filoli Red Tulips

Filoli Pink Tulips

Filoli Yellow/Orange Tulips

It’s tulip time at Filoli Gardens – enjoy the beauty of spring!

Pulgas Water Temple

Pulgas Water Temple and Reflecting Pool

Pulgas Water Temple Monument

The Pulgas Water Temple (south of San Francisco) was built in 1934 to celebrate the completion of a 160-mile-long aqueduct from the Sierra Mountains to the Bay Area.  This water monument on Crystal Springs Reservoir is a very scenic location for weddings and photography.

Eagle Castle Winery

Eagle Castle Winery at Paso Robles

Eagle Castle Winery Entrance

Eagle Castle Winery Door

Eagle Castle Winery Awards

Eagle Castle Winery Coat-of-Arms

Paso Robles Scenery in Spring

Eagle Castle Winery in Paso Robles is one of our favorite California wineries.  This award winning building has a moat and full coat-of-arms.  The scenery is fantastic, and the wine is delicious!

UPDATE November 2014:  Eagle Castle has been replaced by the Tooth and Nail Winery.  The name changed, but the building is the same:  and

Palm Springs: Aerial Tramway

Palm Springs Aerial Tram Car

View at Top of San Jacinto Mountain

Mount San Jacinto State Park Sign

Mount San Jacinto Trail

Snow at the Top of San Jacinto Mountain

The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway transports the world’s largest rotating tram cars up the steepest mountain in North America.  The tram cars are attached to steel cables that carry them over 2 1/2 miles from the desert floor to Mountain Station at 8,516 feet.  The cars pass through 5 plant and animal life zones – the equivalent of traveling from Mexico to Alaska in 15 minutes!  The tram was such a challenge to build that it is considered an historic civil engineering landmark.  Popular TV shows filmed at the tram include Columbo (1972 episode “Short Fuse”); Mission Impossible (1971 episode, “The Tram”); and Dirty Jobs (2008, season 4, episode 12, “Aerial Tram Greaser”).  The view from the top of San Jacinto Mountain is spectacular!   A 2014 post is at:

The World’s Only Sea Glass Museum

Colored Sea Glass Display at Museum

Ceramics and Pottery Display at Museum

At Fort Bragg in northern California is the world’s only Sea Glass Museum (  Fort Bragg has the highest concentration of sea glass in the world!  In the past sea glass was called “Mermaid’s Tears”. Folklore said that mermaids cried every time a sailor was lost at sea, and their tears washed ashore as sea glass. When we visited the museum, we received sea glass collecting tips from the owner, Captain Cass Forrington.  What a treat!

Decorator Crab with Pom-Poms at Seymour Marine Discovery Center

Decorator Crab at Bottom of Picture

Decorator Crab with Pom-Pom Camouflage

This decorator crab lives at the Seymour Marine Discovery Center in Santa Cruz, California.  Scientists performed an interesting experiment to see if the crab would use unusual materials (such as colored pom-pom balls) to decorate his shell. The crab did use the balls for decoration.  In the wild he would use natural items for camouflage such as seaweed and shells.  What a cool crab!

“Ms. Blue” Whale at Seymour Marine Discovery Center

Ms. Blue Whale Skeleton

Ms. Blue Side View

Ms. Blue View from Tail

Sunflower Stars in Aquarium Inside

Sunflower Stars in Aquarium Inside

The Seymour Marine Discovery Center at Long Marine Laboratory in Santa Cruz is a really interesting place to visit.   The facility has working labs with behind-the-scene tours, and a separate building for the public displays.  “Ms. Blue” is the skeleton of a blue whale that washed ashore near the lab in 1979.  Blue whales feed in the waters off the California coast in summer.  They are the largest animal to ever live on Earth, and their underwater songs can travel thousands of miles across the ocean.  Ms. Blue was recently named one of the top 10 family roadside attractions in America:

See’s Candy Valentine

See's Candy Valentine Heart

Enjoy lots of sweet treats on Valentine’s Day!

See’s Candies is one of the most popular candy stores in California.  It is a happy place where you are always greeted with a smile and a piece of chocolate.

One of the funniest scenes in television history was filmed at a See’s facility.  It was the I Love Lucy episode showing Lucy and Ethel working on a candy factory production line (see clip below):

Monterey Bay Aquarium Giant Plumed Anemones

Giant Plumed Anemones

This picture shows giant plumed anemones at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  These 3-foot-tall anemones can live over 100 years!

MBARI Deep Sea Squid Video

Here is a stunning video by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) on deep sea squid.   My favorite squid is the one that looks like a cockatoo!

Monterey Bay Aquarium Sea Pens

Monterey Bay Aquarium Sea Pens

Sea pens anchor themselves onto the sea floor and use their feathery plumes to catch food drifting by on the ocean currents.  They glow blue-green when disturbed!  Sea pens are related to corals and anemones, and live in the Monterey Canyon.

Monterey Bay Aquarium Weedy Sea Dragon


Weedy Sea Dragon

This weedy sea dragon at the Monterey Bay Aquarium is beautiful!  Sea dragons are native to Australia, and are famous for elaborate mating dances.

Monterey Bay Aquarium Sea Otters Kit and Mae

Sea Otters Kit (left) and Mae (right)

Baby Sea Otter Kit

In January 2010, a 5-week-old baby sea otter was seen crying and trying to climb on mother sea otters at Morro Bay.  The abandoned baby sea otter was rescued by staff at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  In February 2010, baby Kit became the youngest sea otter every put on display at the aquarium. 

Kit was paired with a foster mother named Mae.  Although Mae had never been a mother before, she instantly bonded with the pup.  Mae slept, ate, and played with her new companion.  Kit mimicked everything Mae did, including sucking her left paw while she sleeps!  Now Kit is grown up and has joined Mae in being a companion for other rescued sea otters.

Here is a link to a livecam view of the sea otter exhibit:

Here is a link to Kit and other sea otter stories at the aquarium:

UPDATE:  Mae passed away in November 2012.  A news story is at:

Monterey Bay Aquarium Cuttlefish

Monterey Bay Aquarium Cuttlefish

Cuttlefish are on display at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  Cuttlefish are very intelligent, have excellent eye sight, and are related to the octopus. They are known as chameleons of the sea, and can instantly change color and pattern.   Cuttlefish can pulse patterns of color to hypnotize their prey! 

Monterey Bay Aquarium Sanderling

Monterey Bay Aquarium Sanderling

This sanderling lives in the aviary at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  Most sanderlings live 5 years in the wild, but this happy bird is 22 years old!  Sanderlings can be seen running on the beach hunting for food as the tide goes in and out.

Monterey Bay Aquarium Oystercatcher

Monterey Bay Aquarium Oystercatcher

This oystercatcher is on display in the aviary at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  Oystercatchers live along the rocky coast and eat oysters, clams, and snails.  Their call is a high pitched whistle that can be heard above the ocean waves.

Monterey Bay Aquarium Sand Dollars

Monterey Bay Aquarium Sand Dollars

Sand dollars are on display at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  They are covered in purple spines.  During a storm, they swallow sand to weigh themselves down onto the sea floor.

Monterey Bay Aquarium Colorful Clams

Monterey Bay Aquarium Blue Clam

Monterey Bay Aquarium Green and Yellow Clams

Clams at the Monterey Bay Aquarium are very colorful.  Giant clams of the South Pacific can reach up to 4 feet long and weigh up to 500 pounds!

Monterey Bay Aquarium Burrowing Anemones

Monterey Bay Aquarium Burrowing Anemones

Burrowing anemones at the Monterey Bay Aquarium are very colorful.  Their arms capture food drifting by on the ocean currents, and their tube-like bodies extend two feet down into the sand.

Monterey Bay Aquarium Seahorse Exhibit

Monterey Bay Aquarium Leafy Sea Dragon

The seahorse exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium is spectacular!  Over 15 species of seahorse are displayed – one of the nation’s largest collections. Seahorses have heads like horses, tails like monkeys, and pouches like kangaroos. The male seahorse carries eggs in his pouch.  After the eggs hatch, the babies stay in his pouch until they are old enough to swim away.  This picture shows a leafy sea dragon (closely related to seahorses and in the same family Synganthidae).  Male sea dragons carry eggs under their tails.  Everything in this picture is sea dragon, not seaweed!

Monterey Bay Aquarium Kiss

Monterey Bay Aquarium Kiss

This picture shows a silhouette of a couple kissing in front of the orange jellyfish tank at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  In this romantic scene, he gave her a ring and asked her to marry him.  She said yes, and they kissed!

Monterey Bay Aquarium Moon Jellies

Round Moon Jelly Tank

Round Moon Jelly Tank

Moon Jellies

Moon Jellies

Behind the Scenes Tanks for Growing Jellyfish

Behind the Scenes Tanks for Growing Jellyfish

Moon jellies are on display at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Since jellyfish are so sensitive and delicate, the aquarium had to design special round tanks to hold them. Water currents must be extra gentle, so the jellies don’t get trapped in the corners or at the bottom of the tank. Moon jellies went into orbit on the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1991 as part of a study on weightlessness.

Monterey Bay Aquarium Outer Bay/Open Sea Exhibit


Monterey Bay Aquarium Outer Bay Exhibit

This picture shows the Outer Bay/Open Sea Exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  It is one of the largest tanks in the world!  The main viewing window is 56.5 feet long, 17 feet tall, and 13 inches thick.  The window weighs 78,000 pounds, and was lowered into place by a specially built crane.  Fresh ocean water from the Pacific is constantly circulated throughout the 1.3 million gallon exhibit.  The Outer Bay animals eat half a ton of food per week! 

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