Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Falling for Old Vegas magic

Can you believe that in all the times I’ve been to Vegas I had never been to old Vegas? That is…until now! And I was totally missing out.

For those of you who haven’t been to Vegas or are strip-mongers like me, old Vegas is a different world. Yeah, there are still lights and music everywhere, but the decadence has a different feel to it. It's like being thrown back to the time when Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin lived the casino life.

I admit when I drove up to the Golden Nugget I was worried about what I was going to get for my $89 a night room, but I was pleasantly surprised. It was nice. Really nice. I mean I’ve stayed at the Hooter’s Hotel on the strip for the same amount of money and that hotel did have the $89 feel to it. Of course, when you’re on a budget, you’ll stay anywhere and Hooter’s is directly across the street from the MGM so you can’t go wrong with that.

The Golden Nugget is also in the heart of things, but not the things I’m used to seeing in Vegas. You’re not going to see the dancing fountains of the Bellagio , nor will you see the Eiffel Tower at the Paris Hotel. Instead you’ve got a whole new set of attractions.

There’s the waving cowboy – known as Vegas Vic, Binion’s horseshoe and the famous lights of the Plaza Hotel. And when you are there, you have to take in the Fremont Street experience. It’s crowded, crazy and completely wonderful in a way that is only cool in Vegas.

Don’t worry if you are not sure where this is. If you’re in old Vegas, you ARE part of the attraction. That’s because it’s right outside your hotel. Fremont is a covered street that becomes a canopy of lights after the sun goes down, and they literally rock out to Kiss’s "Rock n' Roll All Night Long."

Nope, you’re not going to hear Celine Dion in Old Vegas. It’s sex, drugs and…maybe a little bit of whiskey on the rocks – just the way the Rat Pack liked it.

Then there’s the Nugget. Built in 1946, it’s one of the oldest casinos in the area. But don’t be fooled by its age. It has a four diamond rating and is still classy. When you walk around the lobby, it's not hard to imagine Sean Connery there during the shooting of “Diamonds are Forever.”

Attractions in the hotel include the world’s largest gold nugget (naturally) and a shark tank, but honestly, I was just impressed with the service and lushness of the hotel. It had the Wynn feel without paying the Wynn price.

I must say, staying in Old Vegas was a gamble that paid off.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Cruising in Santa Cruz

Ever since I bought my bike and discovered I can ride 65 miles without dying, I’m all about challenging myself with long rides. But not just any old rides. I’m looking for scenic rides because, hey, if they aren’t scenic, I might as well be sweating away in the gym.

So when I heard about this Coastal biking daytrip, I instantly signed up. First of all, it was free through Sactown Active Xplorers (just the cost of gas) and secondly, it was in Santa Cruz and I had been dying to check that place out. Of course, there one just one problem…the night before I had dinner plans in San Francisco so I knew I would not be getting my full 8 hours of beauty sleep. But what’s life if you don’t have a few little challenges along the way?


My alarm went off at 7 a.m. on Saturday and I would like to say I bounded out of bed – but that doesn’t happen even on a good day, let alone one where you only had four hours of sleep.

I swear, I looked like poop, but that didn’t matter. My bike and I were going to Santa Cruz. Whoohoo!!

Our little group of three (yes, even I couldn’t believe only three of us signed up for this amazing free adventure) arrived at the Natural Bridges Regional Beach Park around 11 a.m. and I knew it was going to be good day. The weather was a balmy 80 degrees which is nearly unheard of in that area, the water was blue and the air …well, the air smelled like the beach. I know – it’s very Kramer-esque (Seinfeld reference), but the smell of the beach is amazing.

Unloading our bikes, I couldn’t wait to begin our biking excursion. We would begin by biking uphill to the top of the UC Santa Cruz Campus making our way through the beach town streets and then riding through the Redwood forest, and finally cruising along the beach taking in the incredible view of the ocean.

Our goal was to cover 25 to 30 miles and then stop and have lunch at a little Mexican place in the downtown area at the end.

I must say the journey and the scenery were incredible.

We didn’t quite make it to oldest wooden rollercoaster, which I’m told survived the Loma Prieta Earthquake, nor did I get to bike over the old railroad tracks used in the film “The Lost Boys”, but that just means I’ll have to back again – because the beauty of Santa Cruz really is worth a second trip.