Tag Archives: travel

Kahalu’u Beach Park; Great beginner snorkeling



Paradise would not be complete without warm, tropical, blue-green water. The water is one of the main reasons I am drawn to Hawaii or anywhere tropical for that matter. As we planned our trip to Kona this year, I did a fair amount of research on where the best places would be to go snorkeling with a 6-year-old and 34-month-old.


What we stumbled across was a fabulous little beach just south of Kailua-Kona, called Kahalu’u Beach Park. This turned out to be the perfect beach for my little family. We ended up coming here on several occasions and used it as our goto spot aka, our backup plan.


Kahalu’u is a protected cove, meaning that the water is fairly calm and easy to navigate. The beach has a coarser salt and pepper colored sand, and the beach area is rather small. The facilities here are very nice and every time we came here, there were classes and activities for the youth, and volunteers on standby to teach about the fish, corals, and sea turtles in Kahalu’u bay.

GOPR0422 GOPR0259


One of the best things about this park is that it is completely free.

The parking is free, and access to the beach is free (as it should be). A catering truck shows up daily offering food, shave ice, iced coffee, and even locker rentals for $5 for the day so you can store your valuables safely while you are in the water.


As far as being kid friendly we could not ask for anything more. The water was calm and the fish population is pretty dense. This trip was an opportunity to introduce our kids to the ocean undersea life, and we wanted to do so in a positive way.


For the nearly 3-year-old, we purchased a Sea Window snorkeling raft. This is a raft that is made for adults up to 300 lbs. It has a viewing window that magnifies the underwater view by 25x. The size made it perfect for our youngest to lay on and feel completely safe while being able to enjoy the fish and corals along with the rest of us. (it was well worth the $59 price tag). For the 6-year-old, we purchased a $3 donut raft. This gave him some security and confidence as he braved the open waters with us.


This little bay is amazing. The corals are abundant and beautiful, as well as the fish. We found that closer in to shore, the water was a little murky, however, this seemed to be where most of the snorkelers were hanging out. We made our way a little further out and found the water to be exceedingly clear and the scenery and wild life to be quite stunning, with hardly any other snorkelers around. We saw sea turtles on every visit here. We also spotted a moray eel as well as a zebra eel. The concentration and variety of fish was incredible. We spent many hours in the water here and always tried to squeeze in a trip to this beach whenever we had a some spare time in our day.


The kids would lose interest in snorkeling after a while, but they would stay entertained for hours playing on the beach. My wife and I took turns snorkeling while the other one sunbathed and kept an eye on the kids. The volunteers at this beach have a true love for the sea life and are very knowledgeable. They are an asset to the park and were there to educate the public and to protect the reefs and stop the tourist from trying to feed or harass the fish and sea turtles.


Go to Kahalu’u if:


  1. You have small kids
  2. you are a beginning snorkeler or want to learn how to snorkel.
  3. you want to see and possibly swim next to sea turtles
  4. you are on a budget and want a fun, low-cost adventure
  5. you are staying in Kailua-Kona and you have an hour or two to spare

Don’t go if:

  1. You like challenging intermediate to advanced snorkeling (or scuba diving)
  2. you are looking for a quiet beech to lay in the sun
  3. you don’t want to be around children (mainly on the beach or close in)
  4. you can’t keep from standing on the corals.

Snorkeling can work up your appetite. Fortunately, just a short trip up the road from Kahalu’u, we discovered one of the best places to eat ahi poke (pronounced POH-kay) in Kailua-kona; Da Poke Shack. If you are a fan of poke, don’t pass this place up. If you are not a fan, they offer some awesome Huli Huli Chicken and Kailua Pork that will satisfy even the most discerning palate.  To compliment the perfect Hawaiian meal, keep your eyes open for a roadside coconut vendor. For about $5, they slice off the top of a fresh, young, green coconut and stick a straw in it, and serve you the freshest coconut water available.

Snorkeling with the family at Kahalu’u, lunch at Da Poke Shack, and a fresh green coconut to drink = the perfect Hawaiian experience.



Doran Beach

At the edge of a town made famous in Alfred Hitchcocks’ classic, “The Birds”, and at the foot of a would be nuclear power plant, there is one of Sonoma counties best beaches: Doran beach aka Doran Regional Park.


 Doran Regional Park is on a peninsula separating Bodega Bay from the pacific ocean. If I could use one word to describe this beach, it would be “Windy.”


Cold and windy might be a bit more accurate, however, I really don’t want to come off sounding like I am putting this place down, after all, I bring the family to Doran beach quite often. Kite borders and kite fliers both take advantage of this wind, and celebrate it.  Doran Regional Park, is a crescent shaped sand bar, for all intents and purposes, consisting of a campground, boat launch, and day use beach areas.


The Bodega Bay side of the peninsula, is where most of the campsites are located, tucked in between sand dunes, ice plant and a few windswept trees. The campsites are all equipped with fire rings and picnic benches, but do not offer any onsite electric or water hook ups for RV’ers. The downside to this is the constant background drone of RV generators running so their occupants can sit inside and watch TV…isn’t the point of camping to escape all that? Apparently not for everyone! There are restrooms and shower facilities available throughout the campground and along the beach day use areas which makes it enjoyable for tent campers, RV’ers, and day trippers alike. 


There are several things that keep us coming back to Doran Beach year round: The crescent shape of the sandy beach, the proximity to our home, dungeoness crab, and fishing (Notice how I did not mention warm weather).You may question what the shape of the beach has to do with anything. Let me explain: The ocean along the northern California coast, tends to be rough, choppy, and prone to rip tides and dangerous conditions. The beach at Doran offers protection from the onslaught of waves and currents depending on where you are along the beach. The further out that you go along the peninsula, the more protected and calmer the water is. As of this writing, I have a 3-year-old and a 6-year-old. We tend to go all the way to end of the beach right next to the jetty, if we are only going for the day. The water is calm enough here that we can let our kids play as much as they would like (in the frigid water), without concern that they are going to be knocked over by a rouge wave.


When we feel like freezing our butts off along with the kids, we will move further down the beach where the waves are a little more prevalent and take the boys out into the water and let the waves chase us back to the shore…until we are completely numb from the cold. The kids will do this until they are blue and their teeth are chattering. They love this game. If we happen to be camping, we have the option to retreat to our campground and warm up by the fire. If we are using the day use area, we will wrap the kids in blankets, and curl up next to them in sand and soak up the warmth of the sun.


A little aside here: When leaving the beach for the day, we always drive around to the opposite side of the Bodega Bay to warm our bones with the BEST clam chowder anywhere: Spud Point Crab Company. This is a tiny little place that is standing room only and there is almost always a line out the door. It is well worth the wait!

Although I am not big on fishing, our older boys are. The jetty at Doran offers some decent fishing and poke pole fishing, as well as crabbing. When camping here, we often enjoy a meal of fresh dungeoness crab, rock crab, and monkey faced eel. When feeling ambitious, we will sometimes travel around the bay to Bodega Head and harvest some fresh mussels from the rocks at low tide, and then steam them in white wine for an extra tasty treat.

There is so much to do at this beach that we never get bored coming here. Bring your bikes, kayaks, stand-up paddle board, kite board, kites, binoculars (bird watching), fishing gear, poke poles, crab pots… there is something for everyone. Doran is a great place for families. The facilities are well maintained, the campsites are spacious, the beaches clean, and you can always count on the wind, so bring a kite. But most importantly, bring warm clothing and dress in layers. Fog is a staple here, second only to the wind.


I consider myself tropical so I complain about the “cold” at Doran, but many people come here in the summer to escape the inland heat. I can speak from experience when I tell you that we left our home just 24 miles away and a temperature of 102° and arrived at Doran and 66° just 40 minutes later. This natural air-conditioning also makes this park fill up quickly on hot days, so plan on arriving early or you wont be allowed in. Camping reservations need to be made a minimum of 10 days in advance, and most weekends it is hard to find an open spot when reserving a campsite less than a month out.

Doran is a popular site for all that it offers but due to the way the beach and campground is laid out, It never feels really all that crowded. There are some notable days here that are worth mentioning: Castles and Kites, is an annual castle building and kite flying celebration, usually in May, and Fireworks on the Bay, which usually takes place on the 5th of July. Doran beach will be booked up far in advance for both of these celebrations, so planning ahead is essential. 

I will cover Bodega Bay, and the town of Bodega more extensively on a future post.The town and the bay have their own small town charm and are worthy of exploration even if you don’t like the beach or camping. As for Doran Beach, I may complain about the cold, but we come here year round, and have camped here regularly around New Years. So please, take my rantings about the cold with a grain of salt. Everyone has their kryptonite, the cold just happens to be mine.

Punalu’u: Black Sand Beach, Hawaii

IMG_1013Hawaii…its all about the beaches. One of the allures of a Hawaiian vacation is the ocean and a nice, warm, sandy beach.  The thing is that the big island seems to be lacking in big, sweeping expanses of sandy beaches, at least compared to some of the other islands such as Oahu or Maui. On the big island, you have to seek them out as many of the beaches are rocky.

My wife and I are explores at heart, so when we planned a trip to the big island with our 6-year-old and 2-year-old sons, we tried to select some places that we could go that would minimize our time in the car, satisfy our need for an adventure, and offer up a memorable experience for our boys as well as for ourselves.

Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, seemed to fit that bill. It is about an hour and a half drive south from Kailua-Kona.  The key to making the most out of any trip with kids in tow, which entails being in the car for more than an hour or so, is to plan other activities around your main destination.  The black sand beach is perfect to add in to a day trip to the volcano which was our original plan, however, we changed things up regularly, never wanting to have a set agenda. For us, we strategically planned our day with our kids in mind but also included some activities that we enjoyed as well.


We started our day early, hitting the Kona Farmers Market to grab a bunch of apple bananas (our boys ate a bunch a day!) and a couple strawberry papayas, then headed to Kahalu’u Beach (which I will cover in a later post) for some morning snorkeling. The snorkeling is a bit self-indulgent for my wife and I, but the point is that it gets some of the boys’ wiggles out. They get to swim, snorkel, and play on the beach, and feel like the morning was all for them. Top it off with a Hawaiian shave ice, and the kids are ready to get back in the car.

For a bit more self-indulgence along the way, we stopped off at one of the many coffee plantations south of Kailua-Kona. Most of them offer tours, some of them have a cafe’ serving, you guessed it, coffee drinks, and in some cases, even food.  Kona Joe’s, for example, is a great little pit stop. We grabbed some ice coffee’s for the road, and a MacNut chocolate chip brownie with ice-cream for the boys.  Everyone was happy (read; no complaining!)

A little aside here; I am not a coffee drinker. I have never, nor do I now, like coffee. That said, the coffee in Kona is exceptional. I had several iced coffee’s on our vacation and really enjoyed them. I have had a few ice coffee’s since returning  to the mainland, hoping to recapture a taste of Kona, and have been disappointed every time: Proof — everything just tastes better in Hawaii.

About the time I finished my ice coffee, we found the sign on the highway pointing to the turn off at Punalu’u.  Follow this road to the end as the signs are not very clear; the road dead ends into the parking lot for the beach.


There are a few things that makes this beach special. First would be the black sand of course. The sand itself is slightly on the coarse side but feels soft and almost therapeutic as you walk on it. We were concerned that the black sand would be very hot, too hot to walk on, however, we purposely planned to arrive early afternoon, knowing that the clouds would roll in by then and the sun might not be beating down directly on the sand making it too hot to walk on. Our gamble paid off and we found the sand to be pleasantly warm.


The second, and one of the best reasons to visit Punalu’u is the sea turtles. This is a favorite beach for the Honu — Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles and apparently they frequent this beach, so much so that they have a resting area sectioned off for the turtles, a sign asking you not to touch them and to stay 10 feet away, and a person standing by to enforce the rules and answer questions about the turtles.


The contrast of the black sand against the surrounding greenery of coconut palms and green undergrowth on one side and the blue ocean on the other, is stunning. The turtles were an amazing sight as well. There were always three to five resting on the beach during our 4 hour visit, with another few turtles playing in the surf and eating moss from the rocks along the shore.


The water was a bit rough but there were a handful of brave souls swimming and snorkeling off the beach. It was fairly breeze during our visit but it was pleasant. Our boys were perfectly content building sand castles in the black sand, watching the turtles, and playing in the surf.


Punalu’u is a must do when on the big island if you like sea turtles and want to experience the black sand.  There are facilities here, but not any places near by that offer food, or at least any that we saw. Pack a lunch, bring some drinks, and plan another adventure to fill the day.

We made a top 20 list of things to do while in Hawaii, and this was near the top of the list. We reevaluated our list on a daily basis, and eliminated several items as the week unfolded. After all was said and done, we were happy that we spent the time in the car to experience this beach.

Parking is free, entering the beach is free, and our only cost was fuel for the car, iced coffee for the adults, and a few treats for the kids. — Aloha!



Hamel Family Wines


Welcome to Hamel Family Wines. This truly is a family owned and operated winery, run by Pam and George Hamel, and I believe 3 of their children. The Hamel’s are fairly new to the game and have just completed building a state of the art wine making facility and tasting room on their 124 acre estate, just outside of Sonoma. 


  The wine tasting building is very modern in design and the interior offers a nice blend of wood, stone, and concrete, all tastefully furnished. The windows and doors are strategically placed to take advantage of the sweeping view of the estate and neighboring wineries like B.R. Cohn, whom by the way, has awesome live music throughout the summer and fall.


The genuine personalities of the Hamel family, beautiful tasting room, and panoramic views are in and of themselves enough to warrant a visit, however, the real gem to me is their exquisitely designed Reserve Room that just happens to be tucked away inside their incredible hillside wine caves. I have seen my share of wine caves, both in residential properties and at wineries, and I have to confess, these are possibly my favorite caves.



The air temperature stays fairly consistent within the caves, making it an ideal area to store and age the wine in oak barrels.  The caves smell earthy and oaken with hints of red wine. Impressive seeing as how the caves are only a few months old. On hot days, these caves are the perfect place to retreat to for some vintner spelunking to keep cool.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         IMG_1751


 Shortly after entering the caves, you will find the Reserve Room. The walls and floors are clad in stone. The craftsmanship of the stone work impressively covers two storage room doors making them nearly unnoticeable while the 3 display niches within the room have intricately cut pieces of stone wrapping into them. It gives the feel of old world meets Lord of the Rings‘ middle earth; The dwarves of middle earth would be envious of the stone work in this room. The craftsmanship lends to the alluring intimate setting in here.





 My favorite part of the caves, are the exposed earth walls at the end of the three tunnels. This is the natural dirt found while digging out the caves. Each layer of soil offering a different color and texture, looking as though it was painted or plastered to look like the planet Jupiter. They have deliberately placed special fermentation tanks in the alcove of each of these exposed earth walls, giving them the look of time machines off of a movie set.



It would seem that every winery in Napa and Sonoma has something special about it, or at least from my perspective they do. I love design and architecture, and honestly, it is what endears me to a place like this. I look for that bit of eye-candy that gives me pause to contemplate the how and why. This certainly does it for me at Hamel.

I will leave the wine reviews to the wine bloggers as that is really not my thing. From me you will get the exposed earth behind the scenes…or underground as it were, in this case.

Tangible Views

I live a charmed life I suppose. Maybe not what many would consider “charmed”  however, I have had my fair share of adventures and travels and when I look back on them, I feel pretty lucky.

I live in wine country, that is to say, the original wine country of California seeing as how most of the state is growing wine grapes now. My job allows me the opportunity to see some pretty amazing places here locally. Some of them in plain sight, others off the beaten path.

fall vine

I see things for what they are, not the marketed, over-hyped version, but the real, behind the scenes, down to earth people and places that make a particular place magical. In this blog, I will attempt to convey some of that magic the best that I can. It may be a winery, a campground, hiking trail, bike path, oversea adventure, or possibly just someplace that I find interesting.

Many of my posts will have to do with places in and around Sonoma county as this has been my home for the past 5 years, but I will also share stories of past and present adventures that have taken me away from here.

I am an adventurer at heart, and I enjoy the simple pleasures in life. I will take a rustic hotel or bungalow over 4 star resort any day. I want to explore the roads less traveled, find the secret beaches, and discover the local flavor. I will take the corner taco cart in Baja over an overpriced restaurant with a wine list and a view.

My experiences are always tangible. To put it another way, I won’t be rushing out to French Laundry anytime soon to review their world class food (that will break your budget), but I will definitely be telling you about my favorite produce stands like Mike’s Truck Garden.

I may not offer up any wisdom on this blog, but I will be keeping it real.

Enjoy my tangible view!