Make your way to Monterey

Category: San Francisco   Published by

The Monterey Bay Aquarium south of San Francisco, California is one of the best Aquariums I have visited. The layout is beautiful and encourages you to explore. The views of Monterey Bay are spectacular and the outdoor and indoor spaces blend so well that you move easily from one to the other.

The exhibits are wonderful! (I’m a sucker for Jellyfish.) I enjoyed the Kelp Forest, the Splash Zone, Sharks and Rays and the Outer Bay. They have one of the best Kids areas I’ve seen with lots of chances to get close and touch sea creatures. You can spend a whole day exploring here. Lots of feedings and presentations, too.

The biggest challenge is parking. Be prepared to hunt for a spot and grab any space you see near Cannery Row. The walk is worth it. Check the website for parking suggestions to ease the search. They also run a free trolley during the summer.

The real attraction here is Monterey Bay itself and the great views from the decks at the Aquarium allow you to spot many local inhabitants. This Aquarium is a real delight. Don’t miss it.

Meet me at the Empire State Building

Category: New York   Published by

King Kong move over. Dangling 1050 feet above New York City at the top of the Empire State Building, I was King of the World. Astonishing views in every direction. Even though the thermometer was hovering around 6 degrees during my visit, I couldn’t feel the cold…much.

The ESB is such a New York City Icon that you must visit. Pick your times because it does get crowded. Since they are open from 8am until 2am, you have many choices but some of the least crowded times are 8am and between 3-5pm. Eveyone goes through security so be prepared. You can bypass the ticket line with advanced purchase but you will have to wait as needed. For an additional $15 you can visit the smaller enclosed 102 Floor observatory (tickets only on site) and gift shops and food are available upstairs.

Despite the cattle call feel at certain points, the experience is terrific and exciting. Bring a good camera and say hello to Kong for me! (If you like the view from above try the Top of the Rock , too.

The Heart of Philadelphia

Category: Philadelphia   Published by

The giant, walk-through heart at the Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia Pennsylvania is a blast! Where else can you explore massive aortas and walk around circulation systems?

This tribute to Benjamin Franklin includes many of his personal items and encourages hands-on science. Lots of buttons, levers and switches. While much of it is kid-friendly, there is plenty for adults and kids of all ages. They even have a very nice Food Cafe. Travelling exhibits and an IMAX Theater keep the museum fresh while old favorites, like the giant heart, still inspire.

The beautiful memorial statue of Ben Franklin in the rotunda is impressive and sets the tone for invention and exploration. One of my favorite areas is “Sir Isaacs Loft” on the third floor. Here you can discover scientific principles in action and really understand how things work in our world. There is so much to see and do at the Franklin Institute Science Museum that you don’t know where to start. Just dive right in. Ben would be pleased!

St. Augustine Map

Category: St. Augustine   Published by

Old Town Trolley St. Augustine

Stop Locator

  1. Old Jail
  2. Welcome Center
  3. Visitors Information Center
  4. Authentic Old Drugstore
  5. Oldest Wooden School House
  6. Colonial Quarter
  7. Matanzas Bayfront
  8. Hypolita & St. George Street

Hay Adams Hotel

Category: Washington DC   Published by

Just across 16th Street from St. John’s Church at the corner of H Street stands the Hay-Adams Hotel, a small, luxury, Italian Renaissance-style hotel built in 1927. Elegant, and with a distinguished address to match, it has spectacular views of the President’s House, Church of Presidents, and Lafayette Park.

The hotel is named for the men who resided in two massive adjoining Romanesque style homes designed by famed architect H. H. Richardson in 1885, which stood on this site until razed by the hotel developer.

The two men,  John Hay, the engaging Assistant Private Secretary to Abraham Lincoln and later Secretary of State under Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt; and writer Henry Adams, descendant of Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams, were key players in the capital’s social scene in the late 1800s.  Soirees in their fine homes were attended by Washington’s elite – politicians, writers, and artists.

The salon legacy of the Hay and Adams homes continues to this day. The Hay Adams, within sight of the White House, continues to be a favorite of the political connected, literati and glitterati.

Telephone: 202-638-6600


Address: 800 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC

Directions from Current Location

Decatur House

Category: Washington DC   Published by

Jackson Place, on the west side of Lafayette Park south of H Street is a charming street lined with several 19th century row houses, restored treasures from the capital’s early years. They add a delightful and historic quaintness to the monumental grandness of the President’s neighborhood and have colorful presidential connections.

The Decatur House is one of these. Located at 748 Jackson Place, it’s yet another of Henry Latrobe signature, flat front, elegantly restrained, Federal-style gems.

Built in 1818, it was the first private home on Lafayette Square – and the last. The first owner was Commodore Stephen Decatur, daring naval officer who served with distinction from 1798-1820.  He is best known for his rout of the Barbary pirates in Tripoli harbor in 1804, and for his untimely death by duel.

The last owner, Edward Fitzgerald Beale, from a prominent Washington naval family and a naval officer in his early years, purchased the townhouse in 1872. His service took him to California where he served several presidents as explorer, surveyor and Indian commissioner of the western frontier during the years of the gold rush and the building of the transcontinental railroad.

The residence remained in the Beale family until 1956, when Edward’s daughter-in-law bequeathed the house to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

In the years between the Decatur and the Beale ownership, political figures and foreign diplomats lived in the townhouse.  Between 1827 and 1833, it was the residence of several Secretaries of State, including Martin Van Buren, Secretary of State under Andrew Jackson, and later 8th president of the United States.

Throughout its history, the Decatur House has undergone architectural changes, namely during the Beale’s renovation of 1876, the Gilded Age in America. They embellished the reserved Federal interior with ornate Victorian elements, in vogue at the time, and gave lavish parties in the newly added 2nd floor ballroom.  It was the place to be and be seen. Notably, President Ulysses Grant, their neighbor across the park, was a frequent guest.

The historic house is now museum open to the public Tuesday – Saturday from 10 am to 5pm.  The visitor’s entrance is at 1610 H Street.  The interior documents both periods: the Decatur Federal period on the 1st floor; the Beale high Victorian on the 2nd.

Telephone: 202-842-0915


Address: 748 Jackson Pl NW, Washington, DC

Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum

Category: Washington DC   Published by

From the Blair-Lee House, walk west on  Pennsylvania Ave. to the corner of 17th Street NW.   The ornate red brick building with intricately carved sandstone trim and distinctive slate 2nd Empire style mansard roof can’t be missed. 

It’s the Renwick Gallery, the Smithsonian museum dedicated to American decorative arts.

It’s fabulous, inside and out.  Plan to go in.  Admission is free and it’s open daily, 10-5:30.

Designed by New York architect James Renwick, whose work includes St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the Smithsonian Castle on the Mall (See East Mall/Washington Mall App), it was designed in 1859 for William Wilson Corcoran, wealthy banker and art collector. The 2nd Empire style building, popular in Paris at the time, was to house a museum for Corcoran’s private collection.

There are multiple 2nd Empire sculptural details carved on the façade – garlands and wreaths of foliage; a bronze medallion bearing the likeness of William Corcoran on the pediment under the center roof. Carved beneath it: “Dedicated to Art.”  Hard to miss: the unusually large lion head keystone over the front door.

Interestingly, the architecture is not all pure 2nd Empire. Renwick paid homage to American architectural style in the red brick exterior and column capitals carved in tobacco and corn.

The museum is intimate inside. Its changing exhibits of American craft objects and decorative arts highlight the work of artists from the 19th century through the present.  Walk up the grand staircase to the elegant rose-hued 2nd floor Grand Salon – hanging on the walls floor to ceiling is a spectacular collection of paintings.

It’s unusual for a museum to be named for its architect – a choice with an interesting story.

By all rights, the house should be named the Corcoran House as it was designed for William Wilson Corcoran to house his personal art collection of painting and sculpture.  The outbreak of the Civil War disrupted his plans.

Sympathetic to the southern cause, Corcoran lived in Europe throughout the war.  In his absence, the federal government seized the empty building for the Union Army for offices and for storing records and uniforms. In 1869 the damaged building was returned to Corcoran who spent five years repairing it to exhibit his collection. It opened to the public in 1873 as the Corcoran Gallery of Art.

In 1897, when its collection outgrew the building, the Corcoran moved to a new building on 17th Street (Site #37), and the lovely 2nd Empire building was sold to the federal government for use as the U.S. Court of Claims, which remained there for 60 years.

In the 1960s, the dark days of the Lafayette Square, the Renwick, along with other historic structures in the neighborhood, was scheduled for demolition.  Looking at the exquisite building today, it’s hard to believe that would happen. But, it almost did.  It was rescued by the Smithsonian.

After extensive restoration of the once spectacular interior, it re-opened in 1972 as a museum focusing on American craft, part of the Smithsonian’s larger American Art Museum on the Mall. (See East Mall/Washington Mall App).

Naming the museum posed a dilemma.  There was already one Corcoran Gallery of Art (Site #37).  The Smithsonian chose to honor the building’s architect, James Renwick, for yet another of his masterpieces.

Telephone: 202-633-7970


Address: 1661 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest, Washington D.C

Directions from Current Location

The above image of the Renwick Gallery is courtesy of AgnosticPreachersKid and is partially provided by Wikipedia available under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License. Click here for original source.

Eisenhower Executive Office Building

Category: Washington DC   Published by

Just across Pennsylvania Avenue from the Renwick is a beauty – the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.  Now regarded by many as one of the loveliest structures in Washington, the huge, frilly, frothy 2nd Empire building has not always been appreciated.

When it was first designed by Alfred B. Mullet in 1871 as the State, War and Navy Building, the ornate 2nd Empire style was in vogue. However, during the 17 years it took to complete it,  architectural styles changed. The over-the-top, Gilded Age grandness Mark Twain called the “ugliest building in America” was considered over-done and out of style. Even President Herbert Hoover weighed in, calling it an “architectural orgy.”

Both Mullett and his building were ridiculed, and several attempts were made to cover it up. Many wanted to raze it.  A distraught Mullett committed suicide.

Five stories consuming 300,000 square feet, with columns everywhere – 900 of them – separating a multitude of projecting bays, all topped by a large mansard roof seemingly growing chimneys, is admittedly over the top.

Time has redeemed Mr. Mullet. Today it’s appreciated as a wonderful architectural treasure, a nice change from the austere, classical sameness of the city’s institutional architecture.

Many of Washington’s powerful have walked the halls. While holding other positions before becoming president,  both Roosevelts, Taft, Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson, Ford, and George H.W. Bush had offices here, as have multiple Secretaries of the Navy, War, and State.

Today the magnificent structure houses various agencies of the Executive Office, including the Office of the Vice-President, the Office of Management and Budget, and the National Security Council.


The Corcoran Gallery of Art

Category: Washington DC   Published by

After Octagon House detour, backtrack east on New York Avenue to State Place to 17th Street NW. Turn right on 17th and walk south. The impressive Beaux Arts building hugging the street on the right is The Corcoran Gallery of Art.

Pink Millford granite covers the basement level; brick faced with white Georgia Cherokee marble covers the upper levels.  It exudes elegance, inside and out.

Walk midway down 17th Street NW to the entrance. Make your way past the 8 foot bronze Canova Lions lounging in the sun to experience the rotating exhibits inside – of one of the finest collections of 18th, 19th and 20th century American art anywhere, as well as an impressive collection of European art – plus the Salon Doré, an entire gilded Louis XVI salon transported here from Paris by way of the home of donor, Senator William Andrews Clark of Montana.

The American exhibits include fine 18th century portraiture; Remington’s action-packed bronzes; distinctive paintings of Whistler, Sargent and Homer; landscapes from the Hudson River School; and the contemporary art of Warhol and Rothko.

The European exhibits include the works of Dutch and Flemish artists and French Impressionists gifted over the years by Senator Clark and other generous benefactors.

Since The Corcoran Gallery of Art began exhibiting its wonderful collection, first in 1871 in the 2nd Empire gem, now the Renwick (Site #33) , and later in 1897 in this magnificent building, it has remained true to the objectives of its founder, 19th century banker and philanthropist William Wilson Corcoran: to have a public gallery “for the purposes of encouraging America Genius.”

Allow about 1 hour to enjoy the gallery. It’s open Wed-Sunday 10-5. Plan to lunch at the Café des Artistes inside, open 11-2 Wed-Sat.  For a real treat, try it for brunch on Sundays – and tour the gallery before or after.

Telephone: 202-639-1700


Address: 500 Seventeenth Street NW, Washington, DC

Directions from Current Location

Lafayette Park

Category: Washington DC   Published by

Lafayette Park, interchangeably referred to by its old name, Lafayette Square, is a 7-acre green space north of the White House across Pennsylvania Avenue.  It’s a nice place to walk, with five historically interesting, dramatically unique and artistically complex statues to see.

Enter the park from the center of the south side (Pennsylvania Ave.)  You can’t miss the two large 5 feet high, 4 feet wide fronze urns on top of tall pedestals.  These are the Navy Yard Urns, named for the place they were cast in 1872, the U.S. Navy Yard in Washington.

Of interest – the urns were cast in the same furnaces used during the Civil War to cast the Navy’s brass cannons.  Some speculate Civil War cannons were melted and used to cast the urns, but there is no documentation.  Speculation also surrounds their origins.  Circumstances link them their creation to landscape architecte Andrew Jackson Downing. They were in his 1852 plan for the park, but not placed here until 20 tears later.

With the exception of the prominent equestrian statue in the center – a memorial to Major General Andrew Jackson – the statues in Lafayette Park are in keeping with the federal-era neighborhood.  In each of the four corners, dramatic groupings memorialize Revolutionary War heroes, foreigners who came to the timely aide of a struggling Continental Army – a Pole, a Prussian, two Frenchmen.

An inscription on the north side of the pedestal of the de Rochambeau statue in the southwest corner of the park explains this unique bond:

“We have been contemporaries and fellow laborers in the cause of liberty and have lived together as brothers do in harmonious friendship – Washington to Rochambeau, February 1, 1784.”

Lafayette Park was first intended to be the grand front lawn of the President’s House.  L’Enfant’s original 1791 city plan called for a grand park extending north from the President’s House. President Jefferson, finding this too aristocratic for his taste, cut off the Executive Mansion from the green space to its north by an extension of Pennsylvania Avenue.

In 1821, Charles Bulfinch (see Bulfinch Gatehouse, Site #3) designed a plan for the separate square which was named for the Marquis de Lafayette, Revolutionary War hero and first foreign guest to stay at the White House.

Throughout the first half of the 1800s, the neighborhood around Lafayette Square was the fashionable place to be.  It was home to vice-presidents, members of Congress and diplomats.

Then, during the chaotic Civil War era until the end of the 19th century, the neighborhood began to be developed haphazardly.  It lost its luster. The park deteriorated.  It was at times a zoo, a graveyard, a military encampment, slave market, and a place for protests.  Protesters still gather here, within sight of the White House.

By the turn of the 20th century, the entire federal city was experiencing uncontrolled growth. In an effort to bring architectural cohesion, the McMillan Senate Park Commission was formed in 1901 to develop a plan to ensure the future growth of a classically beautiful federal city closely aligned with L’Enfant’s original plan and George Washington’s vision.  While they succeeded in many areas, their plan for a group of classical government buildings in the Lafayette Square area never materialized.  That proved to be a good thing in the long run..

It was through the efforts of Jacqueline Kennedy in the early 1960s that this treasured federal-era enclave wa saved.  Because of her intervention,  the historic townhouses around the square were spared from demolition and the park was once again re-designed.