Category Archives: Travel

Drive Into the Night of Horror: Car Rental Deals around Halloween

What is scary for you, may not be scary for me. People searching for a substantial dose of adrenalin around Halloween, may find the good ol’ skeletons and bloody zombies to be a silly joke. Ghosts are overrated and so are witches.
There are 2,500 haunted attractions nationwide, and many of them are betting on the extreme for more business. No matter where you live, take advantage of the Indian summer and the car rental deals. Don’t be afraid to drive there – besides, the fall foliage is absolutely gorgeous.

Come Halloween, many haunted houses around the country get creative in order to attract more customers and offer quite unusual entertainment.  Some compare the terror that gives you goose bumps to a drug addiction. Once you’ve tasted that first high, you want more of the same. There are people who spend their lives chasing it, going after the extreme, and little can be done to satisfy it. Well, little, but not nothing! Brace yourself for lots of creepiness, but keep your eyes open, even in the pitch dark. You never know what might be lurking around the corner. It often does. And it could be downright horrific.

Enter the ScareHouse at your own risk

Named one of “America’s Scariest Halloween Attractions,” the ScareHouse in Etna, Pittsburgh can easily turn your nightmares into reality. The ScareHouse has prepared some pretty unorthodox scenarios to scare you. They even ask willing enthusiasts to sign a two-page waiver acknowledging the risks and declaring that they are healthy enough to participate. Meaning that if you suddenly get startled by being buffeted, or assaulted in any other way, you won’t sue.

Along with the traditional scares the ScareHouse offers, there’s the Basement. You crawl there through tight passages and, at some point, may have to submit to handcuffs. While handcuffed, you will suddenly see a syringe in your face and hear a whisper in the dark: “How do you feel about needles? Want to play with this for a while?” And stuff like that.

You can get physically and emotional “abused” in many different ways, mostly by the 60 actors who take turns to torture you for 30 minutes. The trip down the Basement is highly recommended.

Haunted Castle in Muskogee, Oklahoma

The place is a lot more family-friendly. During the day, a nice carnival enlivens Halloween land, where a theme park offers “spooktacular” events for guests of all ages. Along with the food and drink, a lot of ghost stories fill the air and you can have your fortune read by one of the Muskogee castle’s fortune tellers. Kids can stop by the pumpkin-carving station, go on pony rides and more. At nightfall though, before you know it, your favorite horror movie characters will come to life to scare the living hell out of you. The medieval castle has a labyrinth that leads to the cemetery and to the Casa Morte. Before you get there, you have to pass through the dungeons of the castle’s torture chamber. Many surprises await you along the way, you can be sure of it. If you muster the nerves, take a stroll through the surrounding haunted woods on the Trail of Blood; you won’t be disappointed.

Knott’s Scary Farm, Buena Park, California

The Scary Farm is a seasonal event at Knott’s Berry Farm, and sees a lot of after-dark action around Halloween. First inaugurated in 1973, this year the joint has added new features to its abundant scare collection, especially to the network of mazes that Buena Park Farm is famous for. Take the Skeleton Key where haunt fanatics can go down the “Fright Lane,” and enjoy the repeated haunting. Or try the Trapped maze. Attempt to exit through a new set of door-less rooms. Which one leads to safety is for you to decide, but watch your back. Many people enjoy the Mirror, Mirror maze, because of its confusion and unpredictability. Don’t trust any of the milling monsters inside, even if some of them offer nicely to get you out. Chances are, it will lead you in circles until your head begins to spin. Monsters disorient, misdirect and misinform by default. Keep your eyes open and follow your intuition.

Fright Town, Portland, Oregon

Traditionally, one of the Portland‘s best haunted houses, the Fright Town actually has three venues and presents the ever changing Museum of Horrors, the disturbing The Madness and The Contagion. The latter is an apartment building where zombies roam and demons want to possess your body and soul. To all of it there is a touch of humor, though no makeup or props have been spared for a “real” haunting experience. Not to say that the Town isn’t kids-friendly; there are no age restrictions, but I’d think twice before I take my kid to some of the scares. Remember what Baron Von Goolo, the curator of the Museum of Horrors, once said: “You can pay for a babysitter tonight or a therapist tomorrow.”

Eat, play, love in Delray Beach

This Palm Beach County coastal city used to be a quiet place back in the 1980s, dozing in its acres – a sleepy suburb of Miami. Since the building boom a decade ago, however, it’s become racy and trendy – brimming with art galleries, outdoor cafés, great restaurants, glitzy boutiques and beautiful people with seemingly deep pockets.

Colony Hotel, Delray Beach Jeff Cooney / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND

Go along Atlantic Avenue, for instance, the city’s jewel in the crown, and you will be dazzled by the magnificent homes and passing yachts in the ocean. So what’s the drill when you have driven to this palm-fringed paradise with your Delray Beach car rental?

Scampi, shrimps and Sundy

Boring people claim they eat to live. Wiser souls, however, live to eat sumptuous seafood in places like Delray. Try the lunch at 50 Ocean (50 South Ocean Boulevard) where the blue crab puffs, mussels and lobster will give you a taste of the Atlantic waters below. Or enjoy an authentic Italian dining experience in one of the city’s oldest restaurants, Caffe Luna Rosa (34 South Ocean Boulevard). Menus change but the pan-seared shrimp scampi has received a top recommendation in the past, alongside the cheesecake martini for dessert.

Sundy House, Delray Beach Ohad Ben-Yoseph / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND

One of Delray’s most famous landmarks is the Sundy House (106 S Swinton Avenue), just one block south of Atlantic Avenue, and built in 1902 in honor of John Sundy, the first mayor of Delray Beach. From the outside, you would never know about the breathtaking gardens, complete with swimming pool, within. The restaurant, which recently hired a new executive chef, has won plaudits for its grilled pork belly, among other delicacies. It’s an idyllic spot and particularly popular for Sunday Brunch or a romantic weekend …or even a wedding.

If you’re planning an imminent trip to Delray, then your timing is indeed exquisite. You can get there in time for the (second) Delray Beach Wine and Seafood Festival on the weekend of November 9 and 10. Around 50 booths usually decorate the east end of Atlantic Avenue with seafood ranging from 3 to 20 dollars.

Shopping, sipping, surfing

Atlantic Avenue, which offers excellent parking facilities on the street as well as a nearby garage, has great antique shops, galleries and clothing boutiques, and stores trading in everything from olive oil and vinegar, through to health and spiritual products. And, thankfully, not all the eateries are upscale; there’s even a Dunkin’ Donuts for those on modest means!

You can also venture north on 2nd Ave through Pineapple Grove where you will find more fabulous boutiques, restaurants, salons and other diversions. If the weather is stormy and wet, then the recently opened Delray Market Place (9025 W Atlantic Ave) has 258,000 square feet of shopping, dining and entertainment fixtures.

Intracoastal Waterway, Delray Beach Ohad Ben-Yoseph / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND

For evening entertainment, try Paddy McGee’s on 307 E Atlantic Avenue which has live music every night. But, hey, you’re truly spoiled for choice in Delray. Stroll down Atlantic Avenue after dark and music spills out onto the streets – everything from classic rock to cool island reggae.

Of course, you probably wouldn’t be visiting Delray unless you wanted to hit the surf. And, in Delray, you have two miles of public beach accessible from Florida State Road A1. There are great waves all year round but perhaps the weather is at its most comfortable in the winter when it’s not so humid but daytime highs still hit around 75 degrees. Winter is also the dry season in this part of the world, especially February – the month that sees the annual Delray Beach International Tennis Championships.

Hideaways in Delray

If you fancy a sleepover in Delray, try the Hyatt Place (104 NE 2nd Avenue), a hotel known for its very spacious rooms – including 42-inch TV and Cozy Corner Sofa Sleeper – great continental breakfasts and excellent business amenities. The Wright by The Sea Hotel (1901 S. Ocean Boulevard) has wonderful grounds that include a large tiki hut, grill and patio area, lawn area and pool as well as a croquet and ping pong area with shuffleboard courts and basketball hoop. There’s a private beach, an observation deck to watch the sun rise and plenty of shady, palm-sheltered spots where you can sit and contemplate life. Crane’s BeachHouse Hotel & Tiki Bar (82 Gleason Street) is another secluded retreat decorated in old Key West style, billed as “Delray’s hidden treasure”.

You are approaching a great time of year to visit Delray. You just need a good Delray Beach car rental to make the most of this, one of Florida’s most atmospheric resorts. We hope you enjoy your stay!

 

 

 

Wine and dine in style in Temecula Valley

If California were a country, it would be the world’s fourth largest wine producer. It is certainly the number one wine-producing region in the US, making 90 per cent of the country’s wine. Proof of its success is that a bottle of Californian wine – red or white ­– is no longer sniffed at disparagingly by top connoisseurs.

Movies like Sideways helped to make California even more feted as a wine-growing area. The film followed the flagging fortunes of two 40-something n’er-do-wells (Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church) who took a few days out of their disappointing lives to visit wine country. Who didn’t see the movie and want to take to the road?

Hot Rod Homepage / Foter / CC BY

 

Historic and nostalgic

Southern California has now acquired a reputation as an excellent wine-producing region, one to even rival the more famous Napa Valley to the north. The Temecula Valley, in particular, which has been growing grapes since the 1700s, has become very popular over the past decade.

The 35,000 acres of rolling hills of Temecula are a short drive away from San Diego, Orange County and Palm Springs. The valley is never really cold and – thanks to its proximity to the Pacific – benefits from cooling breezes in the summer. Its cool, condensation-filled early mornings and hot dry days create the perfect micro-climate for grape-growing.

Before we get on to the area’s magnificent wineries, we should point out that Temecula is also one of southern California’s most historic communities. The town has a museum that revives the feel of the Old West a century ago. The area is also known for its fine dining, weekly farmers’ markets, great golf courses, bustling shopping malls and antique shops as well as its year-round cultural calendar that includes many concerts and theatrical performances.

Temecula Valley is also ideal for hot air ballooning – a particularly enthralling way to experience the magnificent scenery. And, if you fancy a little fun after dark, then try the Pechanga Resort and Casino, the largest resort/casino in the western US with 10 restaurants, golf courses and 200,000 sq of gaming options. All these attractions, as well as the wonderful wineries we are about to explore, are available with a Temecula car rental.

ms4jah / Foter / CC BY-NC

 

Wine on the vine

Temecula Valley is now attracting top-notch chefs, great restaurants and boutique hotels. But the area is perhaps most famous for its grape. We will list several wineries – although all are recommended. The Leoness Cellars was primarily a citrus and avocado farm before it turned to wine. You are encouraged to walk right through the vineyards, to fully appreciate the agricultural experience. There’s a beautiful porch and tasting room as well as guided tours, wedding facilities and tasty weekend food. The most notable wine here is probably the Cabernet Sauvignon.

Villa de Amore / Foter / CC BY-NC

 

Nick Palumbo is a busy man. Not only is he father to four children, he has run one of the area’s most up-and-coming wineries – the Palumbo Family Vineyards – for the past eight years. Citing respect, not profit, as his key arbiter of success, his kick comes through mixing with legendary names in the wine business and finding that his own produce is now highly regarded. His 13 acres produce some particularly fine Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Sangiovese varietals.

Sustainable and green

California is becoming a world leader in sustainable viticulture, through technology like solar energy. Going green has been shown to benefit everyone – locals, employees and consumers as well as the region’s soil and water. One of the best role models is The Ponte Winery, a family-run vineyard spearheading the kind of sustainable practices that are proving popular state-wide. Theirs is the largest grape farm in Temecula, a place for great food, lavish events and particularly fine Cabernet and Merlot wines. Here, you can enjoy a meal prepared by chef Clay Blake who prides himself on producing locally sourced ingredients, complemented by a great vintage from winemaker Mark Schabel. Every tank of wine is individually climate-controlled; you are even encouraged to return your cork and empty bottle to get a discount on your next purchase.

We hope you enjoy the wonderful wineries of Temecula Valley and that you use a cheap car rental firm to explore the area.

 

 

 

Drive to the Dukes in Newport and Huntington Beach

Early autumn – with daytime highs still hitting the seventies – is a great time to hit the beach in southern California. The Pacific offers an endless expanse of wonderful coastline. Some of the wilder fringes to the north are too bracing at this time of year, such as the rugged coastline of Big Sur, but head below Los Angeles and you’re still in business. So let’s follow the sun…

nate2b / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

 

Endless surf

Have you thought of taking a Huntington Beach car rental? With its eight-and-a-half mile sandy beach, it’s an ideal place to take a long walk or just hit the surf. By the beginning of autumn, it’s fairly quiet and the beach is still dream-like because construction is, thankfully, prohibited without consent.

Huntington Beach has four different beaches: Northwest, West, Southwest, and South. Northwest is Bolsa Chica State Beach (3.3 miles), the West consists of “The Cliffs” or “Dog Beach”, Southwest consists of everything north of the pier, operated by the City of Huntington Beach.

The long walk…to the end of the pier

The resort is home to the fifth longest municipal pier in California (1850 feet), one that celebrated its centenary in 2004. It’s strewn with souvenir and fishing stores. Walk to the end of the pier and reward yourself with a tasty burger, shake or fries at Ruby’s Diner which also offers great ocean views. The pier is wheelchair-friendly, has excellent lookout points and is a wonderful photo opportunity. Just bear in mind that skateboarding, pets and skating are not allowed.

Huntingdon Beach is best known for its surfing and the consistency of its waves. Why not visit the Surfing Hall of Fame where legends of the foam are celebrated? Perhaps the most famous was Duke Kahanamoku (1890-1968), a Hawaiian surfer who was also a five-time Olympic medalist.

Tai Gray / Foter / CC BY-SA

 

Star- spotting

Feeling star-struck? Don’t go to Hollywood because you’re liable to find yourself staring at huge electronic gates and bougainvillea – unless you board a helicopter, that is! Why not visit nearby Newport Beach, hangout of many screen icons? Believe it or not, not all movie stars choose to live in Malibu or Beverly Hills.

Newport Beach is an upscale community with palatial homes lining the shore. Perhaps the city’s most famous resident was John Wayne (1907-1979). “The Duke” – as he was known to his legions of fans – lived in a house at the end of Bayshore Drive and apparently used to wave at the flotilla of passing boats from his terrace. He also owned a yacht – The Wild Goose – on which he would cruise around nearby Catalina Island.

You can get a good view of some stars’ homes by taking one of the local harbor tours. The bay, nestled between Balboa Peninsula and Balboa Island, is lined with yachts and celebrity mansions. Recent famous residents of Newport include sex sirens Bo Derek and Michelle Pfeiffer.

Many homes have summer vacation rentals (during the peak summer period) or, alternatively, you can just rent a little cottage. If you really want to enjoy a stylish overnight stay, you could consider the Balboa Inn (pictured), where you almost have your foot in the water, or Doryman’s Newport Beach Hotel & Inn.

gcmenezes / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

The beach itself is always abuzz with volleyball and water sports and boasts a nice boardwalk. If you’re bringing the kids, they will have a ball at the nearby Balboa Fun Zone where they can enjoy the Great Ferris wheel and the bunjee jumping. (And if they really haven’t had their fill of fun, you can always take them to nearby Knott’s Berry Farm where there are even more attractions!)

You can take the morning ferry ride to Catalina Island or charter your own boat if you like. And you can watch fishermen bringing in sea trout and crab at the famous Dory Fleet Fish Market every morning between 7am and 9am.

Southern California has so many wonderful beaches. All you need to enjoy the sites in Huntington or Newport is a cheap car rental. But don’t think this is a reason to avoid walking to the end of Huntington Pier. You can’t spend all your time behind the wheel no matter how good your car is!

 

 

The Bronx: A neighborhood reborn

New York is a great city to visit. It seems to have enjoyed a renaissance since the late 1980s onwards and, to be honest, a walk around New York now feels safer than a stroll in many parts of London. The Big Apple has always been a crowd-puller, of course, even in its darker days. People have always enjoyed THE great sites: Radio City, Times Square, Central Park, Broadway, the Empire State building and the Statue of Liberty.

kevin dooley / Foter / CC BY

But for a while, especially between the late 1960s and about 1980, the city had a rather seamy air. Movies picked up on this too. Take Midnight Cowboy, for example, the story of a naive Texas hustler who comes to New York and ends up in a freezing tenement. Or Death Wish, which seemed to depict the city as a den of sadistic, violent gangs. Both films seemed to indicate how quickly “the American dream” can turn into a nightmare.

When things were a little rougher…

As for the Bronx, just the mention of the name conjured up images of poverty, drug-filled alleyways, rocketing crime, spiraling unemployment and a powerless police department. Perhaps the area’s reputation reached its nadir around 1980. Around that time I remember seeing a Paul Newman movie called Fort Apache – the Bronx, which really played up the image of a neighborhood under siege. Inner city groups complained about the film. But it was simply reflecting the times, in particular the depressed mood after a spate of arson attacks committed by slum landlords eager to pick up insurance rather than attempt to refurbish or sell.

 

Inner city resurgence

Thankfully, it’s all in the past and the area has been transformed. Rejuvenation in the form of significant construction started in the 1980s and crime rates started to fall. The area also got a boost from the “Ten-Year Housing Plan” whereby community members worked to rebuild the social, economic and environmental infrastructure by creating affordable housing.

The reputation of New York as a whole also improved dramatically. Perhaps Mayor Giuliani played a part too with his policy of zero tolerance and better local policing. 911, although a horrific event, showed New Yorkers coming together in a show of unity that few other cities can match.

wallyg / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

And the Bronx has experienced substantial new building construction in the new millennium. Between 2002 and June 2007, 33,687 new units of housing were built or were under way, and $4.8 billion has been invested in new housing.

Attractions galore

The area also has a great many sites which a Bronx car rental will enable you to enjoy. The neighborhood is home to the New York Yankees, one of the leading baseball franchises. The original Yankee Stadium opened in 1923 on 161st Street and River Avenue, a year that saw the Yankees bring home their first of 27 World Series Championships. The stadium has seen some of baseball’s greatest players, including Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio.

Other places well worth a visit include the Bronx Zoo, the largest in New York, and numerous off-Broadway theaters. There are also many great parks and open spaces, like Pelham Bay Park and Crotona Park. And, unlike Manhattan, for example, it’s easy to get a parking space and it’s also less congested.

Mark Morgan Trinidad A / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

 

The area also has an action-packed cultural program to entertain you in the fall. You could watch the Bronx River Upper River Run on Saturday September 14, between 9.30am and 1pm. If you have a child with special needs – and you are thinking of relocating to the city – you could try Finding Your Inner Sherlock – a reference to the famous London detective. This workshop will help you identify your child’s specific educational and emotional needs, and find the support you deserve. This event – on September 16 between 5.30pm and 7pm at 7 West Burnside Avenue, Bronx – will help you to find and access NYC services and programs to help your child reach their full potential.

All in all, the Bronx is now a great place to be. You just need to use a reliable car rental firm to get you there.

 

 

 

 

 

White House Down? Only in the movies…

 

The Big Apple may be the most vibrant city in the US – the city that never sleeps, the city where “if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere” – but, personally, I think Washington is a more beautiful city. Not only do you have, naturally enough, the White House (home to the most powerful leader in the world and, no, I don’t mean Vladimir Putin!) but you also have such monuments as the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam Memorial and The Washington Monument. So choose the best Washington D.C. car rental and let’s start our tour of this great capital.

 

Justin in SD / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

 

I well remember my first trip to the east coast. I saw the Statue of Liberty and got all gooey about that. But it’s nothing compared to the White House and the other historic buildings of Washington, not to mention the magnificence of The National Air and Space Museum which took me a whole day to tour.

I visited Washington in 1987 when Ronald Reagan was besieged by the Iran Contra affair. Somehow seeing the White House in the flesh is different from seeing it on TV. Those grand speeches over the years suddenly echo in your mind. LBJ in 1968: “I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President.” Or Richard Nixon’s farewell speech to the White House press corps in 1974. “Only when you have been in the deepest valley can you know how magnificent it is to be on the highest mountain. Always remember: Others may hate you. Those who hate you do not win unless you hate them. Then, you destroy yourself.

Perhaps the most awe inspiring monument is the Lincoln Memorial. Unlike The White House, you can get up close and personal.  The building contains a large seated sculpture of Abraham Lincoln and inscriptions of two well-known speeches by Lincoln – The Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address. In fact, the memorial has been the site of many iconic addresses, most notably Martin Luther King‘s “I Have a Dream” speech of August 28, 1963. A visit here on the 50th anniversary of the speech would be really appropriate.

The most poignant monument, however, one that really stops you in your tracks, is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Located to the north of the Lincoln Memorial, it is free to visit and open 24 hours a day. The memorial includes the names of more than 58,000 servicemen and women who died in the Vietnam Conflict, the event that divided America like no other and one that is carved forever on the country’ national consciousness. The memorial also includes “The Three Servicemen” statue and the Vietnam Women’s Memorial. Another place to pay your respects to the fallen is the Arlington National Cemetery, visited by more than four million people each year. Special graveside services and ceremonies commemorate veterans and historical figures. Among the famous people buried here are war heroes Lee Marvin (1924-1987) and Audie Murphy (1924-1971).

Washington is a beautiful city to look at any time of the year. In the spring it looks picture-postcard perfect thanks to the magnificent cherry blossom trees. Once the intense heat of the summer has evaporated, it’s a great time to explore. You can take a nice ride around Georgetown, one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods and one that served as a major port and commercial center during colonial times. Now it’s a vibrant community teeming with upscale shops, bars and restaurants.

terratrekking / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

 

If you’re a film fan, then this year’s AFI Latin America film festival, between September 19 and October 9 and just a short drive from downtown Washington, is for you. Highlights this year include: Viola, an Argentine spin on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night; The Future (Il futuro), Chilean filmmaker Alicia Scherson’s adaptation of a novel by celebrated author Roberto Bolaño, set in Rome and starring blast from the past Dutch screen star Rutger Hauer. Remember him as the creepy psycho from The Hitcher? Then there’s The Dead Man and Being Happy (El Muerto y Ser Feliz), a road movie across the Argentine countryside.

 

Il Fatto Quotidiano / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

 

You can see the whole program here.

Any visit to Washington will provide you with some unforgettable memories. Just remember to use the best Washington car rental firm.

 

 

The dwarfes and the dinosaurs of California’s National Parks

 

It’s time to hit the road as the summer heat gives way to the gentle September sun and the leaves start to turn. We have selected four national parks in the Golden State that will leave you awestruck at the towering expanse of nature. We have also chosen Los Angeles as the starting point for your California car rental.

When you see the magnificent trees, waterfalls and scenery of these Californian treasures, you will come away rejuvenated, humbled and reinvigorated.

Redwood National Park

Crescent City, CA 95531

Redwood National Park – all 4 billion hectares of it – lies in the far northwest of California, home to some of the state’s wildest yet most enchanting terrain.

OK, it’s a bit of a trek if you have taken a Los Angeles car rental – at more than 1100 km away and a 10-hour drive from the airport – but you can always break up the journey and the drive is truly breathtaking. Just imagine you’re in an open top, dovetailing Highway One. You look down on the magnificent Pacific. At times you feel you are dipping into the ocean itself as you pass lagoons, secluded beaches and twisting turns that take you almost to the southern border of Oregon. It’s just you and the love of your life against the world!

The Park itself – as the name implies – houses several groves of massive Redwood trees. Some of them can live for 2000 years. They can grow to a height of up to 367 feet and measure up to 22 feet at the base of the trunk. The Redwoods are evergreens, blessed by heavy rains in the winter and thick fog in the summer.

Before it became a national protected park, 80 per cent of Redwoods in the vicinity had been destroyed. So the park has been a lifesaver. One of the Redwoods in the park was once believed to be the tallest in the world.  Now scientists say that the tallest is hidden away in the forest, its location kept secret to protect it.

The lush growth in the area has appeared in the movies Star Wars and Jurassic Park. Be sure to visit Fern Canyon, home to Elk Prairie, and the Roosevelt Elk, the largest of the four surviving subspecies of elk in North America. The whole area is also a pure heaven for hikers, birdwatchers and campers.

Redwood National Park

 

Joshua Tree National Park

74485 National Park Drive, Twentynine Palms, CA 92277

Perhaps, if you’re coming out of LAX, you don’t fancy driving so far north. In that case you would do well to opt for three parks a bit closer to the airport. Let’s begin with the Joshua Tree National Park, a distance of just 237 kilometers, or a two-and-a-half-hour drive away.

The park’s name derives from the distinctive Joshua Tree, a tall-growing variety of the yucca genus that litters the area. Joshua Park encompasses nearly 800,000 acres of the Mojave – the hottest desert on the North American continent – and the Colorado Desert, two separate deserts that collide to produce a remarkable ecosystem.

The area within the park was once populated by ranchers, rustlers and gold prospectors. Top attractions include the decayed ruins at Wonderland Ranch, a huge rock resembling a human skull, and the Wall Street Mill – a preserved gold ore crushing mill featuring late-19th Century two-stamp mill machinery.

Don’t miss the Oasis of Mara, a desert-like oasis attracting birds rarely seen elsewhere, such as the energetic roadrunner, which travels up to 15 miles an hour. Climbers will also appreciate the rocks, some of which geologists claim were formed millions of years ago.

Joshua Tree National Park

 

 

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Three Rivers, CA

Although technically they are two separate national parks, Sequoia and Kings Canyon –357 km from LA, a distance of about four and a quarter hours – are thought of as one park. The combined area embraces 865,952 acres, mostly wilderness.

Sequoia is home to the largest tree in the world – the General Sherman – and, altogether, 5 of the 10 largest trees in the world. It’s only when you see people walking past these trees, like dwarves at the feet of dinosaurs, that you get an idea of their incredible size. Even the branches are like large trees. You’ll spot some bears too if you’re lucky!

Sequoia-National-Park-32

 

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite Village, CA 95389

Yosemite National Park in the Sierra Nevada Mountain, 454 km from Los Angeles, a four-and-a-half-hour drive away, is renowned for its spectacular granite cliffs, waterfalls, clear streams, giant Sequoia groves, and biological diversity. It’s also the home of the Grizzly Giant – 2700 years old – one of the oldest giant Sequoia in the world.

Climbers will appreciate the Half Dome Cables Section. Pit your will against the imposing North Face; all you need is a firm step, a propensity to look up rather than down, a determined mindset and fair weather! The park is also home to some of the most magnificent waterfalls, including Bridle Vale and Upper Yosemite Fall.

Yosemite National Park, California, USA - summer 2000 - Patrick Nouhailler  ©

 

We hope you enjoy your trips to the California National Parks and that you choose a company that offers you the lowest car rental rates!

 

Five fun sites in and around Phoenix

 

Thinking about a Phoenix car rental service? You’ll find some of the lowest car rental rates at Rentacarnow.

There are some great places to see in the sun-baked state of Arizona, including one or two sites that you won’t find in the guide books. We start and end with a couple of attractions that are essential for movie fans.

1. Jefferson Hotel – Phoenix

109 South Central, Phoenix, AZ

Everyone knows the class Hitchcock movie Psycho from 1960. But I guess your first thought would be the Bates motel, the creepy building where that nice, nervous Norman looked after his mother. But, if you remember, the opening shot of Psycho featured a panoramic shot of downtown Phoenix and then homed in on Janet Leigh and John Gavin enjoying a lunchtime tryst in a steamy hotel – the Jefferson.

It was a pivotal scene because it explained Marion’s (Leigh’s) motivations to steal $40,000 and drive to California before her doomed meeting with Bates.

Today, the Jefferson is no longer a hotel and is now called the Barrister Place Building. But, never mind, the building now houses the Phoenix police museum. Set in only one suite (Suite 100), the museum holds tons of pictures, facts/figures, memorabilia and antique finds like handcuffs from the 1880s, a one-room jail, a police motorcycle, and much more.

So in a sense – and excuse the pun – because Norman Bates was a taxidermist, you’re killing two birds with one stone by visiting this site!

 

2. Arizona Science Center

600 E Washington St  Phoenix, AZ

This is well worth a visit and, thankfully, just in time to celebrate a general free admission weekend over September 14-15.

This is a great place to find the answers to those life-altering questions you have always wanted to ask. Like, why do sidewalks have seams or why we get red-eye in photographs?

Permanent exhibits include one that enables you to learn how your body works and functions from the inside out! Walk through an enormous “working” stomach, complete with sights, sounds and smells of the digestive process. Explore the systems of the human body – from defense and immunity to cardio and pulmonary, digestive and skeletal. You can also hear your actual heartbeat as it is translated into sound on a bass drum. A truly great place for children – of all ages!

Heading to Arizona Science Center

 

3. Desert Botanical Gardens

1201 N. Galvin Parkway, Phoenix, AZ

Arizona is a great, endless arid state where giant cacti bestride the sun-baked desert and summer temperatures easily top 100 degrees in the shade. But the early autumn is a much more comfortable time to visit.

The Desert Botanical Garden is a 140 acres botanical garden, established in 1939, that showcases some of the state’s top vegetation. It now has more than 21,000 plants, one-third of which are native to the area, including 139 species which are rare, threatened or endangered.

Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden

 

4. Arizona Capitol Museum

1700 W Washington St  Phoenix, AZ

There’s no better way to learn about the history of Arizona, from territorial days and into the current century. Visit the first Governor’s Office, the original Congressional chamber and other great places. This museum lies in the government complex near downtown Phoenix. Nearby are memorials to various historical figures, individuals and organizations, as well as a 9/11 memorial.

Arizona Capitol Museum

 

5. Old Tucson

201 S Kinney Rd ,Tucson, AZ

In Old Tucson, just an hour-long drive from Phoenix, and 15 minutes from the city of Tucson itself at the base of the Tucson Mountains, is a preserved slice of Americana. Passing through the gates of a western frontier town, you find yourself in the center of streets right from those old cowboy movies. And, of course, it was a theme that resonated with the public because it was the setting for more than 300 movies and television productions filmed in the area since 1939.

John Wayne’s last collaboration with director Howard Hawks, Rio Lobo was, largely shot in old Tuscon. Lee Marvin, the great tough-guy actor, lived nearby and filmed several movies here, notably Monte Walsh – a gentle authentic Western with Jack Palance. An absolute must for movie-lovers!

We hope you enjoy all these wonderful sites! And the good news is that the best car rental rates are within easy reach.

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4 Scenic Drives You Can Take This Very Same Weekend

Summer is soon coming to an end and I am busy thinking of ways to enjoy these long days. Okay, perhaps the middle of August is too early for summer nostalgia, but it’s still good to plan ahead and make the most of this season. Road trips across America have always been a dream of mine and one day I will fulfill it, but for now I am at the planning stage and I want to share my favorite picks with you. Here are 4 scenic roads that I would travel in a heartbeat.

Maine’s coastline

Maine’s rocky coastline is just 228 miles, which could easily be traveled in a day or two. Yet if you have a few days on your hands and you wish to fully appreciate this state’s beauty, I would suggest paying a visit to some of its picturesque towns. If you are flying from out of state, the best place to start will be Portland. Portland is Maine’s largest city, but it counts less than 70,000 citizens and it summarizes what I love about the whole state – small towns full of history. Its most popular destination is the Old Port district which takes you back to the 19th century with its brick buildings, fishing docks and cobblestone streets. Other popular towns include Brunswick with its numerous historic districts, combining different architectural styles and Ben Harbor, which albeit small, once attracted affluent people such as John D. Rockefeller, Jr., J. P. Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt and President William Taft. If you have time to go south of Portland, don’t forget to pay a visit to the beautiful Portland Head Light, Maine’s first lighthouse, dating back to 1791.

metimbers2000 / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Historic Route 66

Route 66 played a very important part in U.S. History. Often called the Main Street of America or the Mother Road, Route 66 was originally a highway when it was finalized in November 1926. Back in the 1930s with the Great Depression looming high, it was the most popular route for migrating west, helping the economic recovery of the place it ran through. It spanned over 8 states or a total of 2,448 miles. Its decline started 30 years later when the Insterstate Highway Act was signed and the route officially lost its highway status in 1985. It is now off most major maps, but that shouldn’t stop you from exploring its beauty. In fact, its charm was preserved precisely for the reason that it became a secondary road. With its numerous side-road cafes, gas stations and motels, all reminiscent of a long-gone era, Route 66 is perfect for the nostalgic traveler, wishing to get a taste of a truly authentic American experience.

vladeb / Foter / CC BY-ND

Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway is another iconic American drive that’s not only picturesque, but perfect for outdoorsy people who can do frequent stops and enjoy its numerous hiking trails, picnic spots and breathtaking mountaintop views. Connecting Shenandoah National Park and the Great Smoky Mountains, the Blue Ridge Parkway runs for 469 miles, mostly along the Appalachian Blue Ridge mountain chain from which it gets its name. Even though it’s a popular destination, the road is never crowded and it doesn’t intersect major roads or interstate highways, so you can enjoy the view undisturbed. Yet Blue Ridge Parkway is hardly an isolated road. Numerous side roads spin off the main road and lead to local communities with unique history, such as those of Little Switzerland and Blowing Rock. If you need an escape from the summer heat, now is the best time to go. In fact, due to its mountainous terrain, portions of the road are closed in the wintertime.

Photomatt28 / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Historic Columbia River Highway

Perhaps I should have just named this post 5 Historical Scenic Drives to Enjoy This Summer, as this one has a lot of historical value as well. Historic Columbia River Highway was not only the first planned scenic highway in the States, but also the Northwest’s first paved road. It spans 75 miles along Columbia River Gorge, making it a perfect location for a day trip or a family picnic. The initial idea behind the construction of the road was to mimic European scenic roads and to boost America’s growing automotive industry. And to top it off, it’s the last stretch of Lewis & Clark’s expedition. So much history in just 75 miles. But don’t be fooled by how short the road is – you could spend days here if you wanted to as the place offers wonderful opportunities for cycling, hiking, sailing, photography and other outdoors adventures.

gmeador / Foter / CC BY-NC

If you are wondering which one of these four routes to pick for your next trip – don’t. You will not regret any of them. So hit the road and drive safely!

Ghost towns from a dream machine

Summer is slipping through our fingers but this is a trip that you can embark on at any time of the year – explore the wild American West. It breathes the air of old times drenched in whiskey, lust for gold and money, bloody violence and awesome ill repute. And much of it IS haunted.

Dennis Larson / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Many ghost towns stand as silent witnesses to that era when America was trying to get rich quickly.

Catapult yourself back to the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, and get immersed in a long lost spirit. Fly in to Arizona; it is a good starting point. Then rent a car and cruise to some of the neighboring states. Indulge. Get the wheels you have always wanted to test – a luxurious SUV, or something more elegant; or better yet – a convertible BMW hooligan.

Make your first stop at Vulture Mine City, Arizona. This settlement sprang to life when a prospector named Henry Wickenburg arrived in New York from Prussia in 1847. He went to San Francisco but one time, during his travels to the “interior,” he noticed a quartz ledge not too far from the camp where he was staying in Arizona. Later he returned alone, and gradually began to work the mine.

Vulture Mine turned into the most important gold mine in Arizona, and would eventually spark the development of the city of Phoenix. But back then it wasn’t all golden nuggets and heavenly bliss, for the city did manage to live up to its eerie name. Today, a testament to the brutal violence there is an ironwood tree. It is said that, over time, 18 men were hanged on it for murder and rape or even stealing high-grade ore. The names of the men and their crimes are hardly remembered today because nobody kept a record. Yet witnesses have reported ghost sightings and strange knockings as proof that nothing is ever lost or forgotten.

Goldfield, Nevada

Dubbed “one of the seven portals to the Other side,” Goldfield was founded in 1902. In only six short years, its population exploded to 20 000 people and produced $11 million in gold. “Money was flowing like wine,” wrote one of the notorious Earp brothers who lived there briefly. So was blood.

Today, two of the early buildings are well preserved – the local high school and the Goldfield Hotel at Crook Avenue. It is said that the hotel is filled with ghosts. Legend has it that its owner, George Wingfield, frequented a prostitute called Elizabeth. She became pregnant and claimed that the child was his. When her pregnancy began to show, Wingfield worried that a possible scandal could affect his business affairs. Allegedly, he tied Elizabeth to a radiator in room 109; after she gave birth, Wingfield murdered her and threw the baby in a mine shaft.

On the brighter side, the Goldfield had the longest bar in the history of American mining towns for whatever that’s worth.

odonata98 / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

 

Frisco, Utah

And here you have it – the Wild Wild West at its finest. The story of Frisco started in 1875 with lots of silver. Yet somehow, the town’s fabulous past is widely associated with ramblers, gamblers, gunners and tramps. Records show that at some point the dusty streets were so littered with corpses that city officials had a wagon collect them in the morning. The solution came in the face of a tough marshal who had no intention of building a jail or making any arrests for that matter. He just gave the outlaws two options – either flee or die. He reportedly killed six people on his first night in town. After that shooting spree, things in Frisco seemed to cool down.

Tony Frates / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

 

Bodie, California

People say this old mining town is cursed. Its history began in 1859 with a great promise of abundant gold supplies. Its development was so rapid that in no time the town boasted a Wells Fargo Bank, four fire brigades, several daily newspapers, a railroad and even a jail. About 65 bars along Main Street encouraged midnight brawls and shootouts. Bodie even had its own Chinatown. However, by 1880, most of its inhabitants were lured by other prospects and many began to leave. The population declined.

By 1915, Bodie was already labeled a “ghost town.” Homes, churches and other once important buildings were deserted. Most of the furniture was left exactly where townspeople had left it more than a century ago. Rumor has it that if a visitor is ever tempted to take something from Bodie, he or she quickly return it once they find that the object is cursed. Stuff such as old bottles, rusty nails and parts of a clock have found their way back. They belong to the past.