Seattle to San Diego Road Trip (part 4/4): California

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Carmel (photo courtesy of CarmelCalifornia.com)

Santa Cruz to Carmel (45 miles)

The drive along California’s coast from Santa Cruz to Carmel-by-the-Sea is about an hour. Stay at La Playa Carmel, a beautiful hotel whose elevated terrace overlooks its sumptuous gardens, pool and giant chess board.

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La Playa’s elevated terrace: Note the Pacific Ocean in the background

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La Playa

Daisies, fuchsia, nasturtiums, geraniums, Mexican salvia and many more flowers fill La Playa’s gardens.

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La Playa’s garden (note chessboard on the left)

Bike around Carmel’s peaceful streets, filled with charming houses with distinctive architecture in a variety of styles and gorgeous gardens. Click here for the story behind Carmel’s fairytale cottages, like those in the two photos, below. Such an interesting story!

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Someone actually lives in this storybook cottage! (photo courtesy of CarmelCalifornia.com)

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Carmel’s main street (photo courtesy of CarmelCalifornia.com)

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Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house in Carmel (photo courtesy of CarmelCalifornia.com)

Click here to read the interesting history of Carmel Mission (below).

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Carmel Mission, circa 1771 (photo courtesy of CarmelCalifornia.com)

Finished the day with a delicious dinner at fun and pretty Grasing’s

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Our best meal in Carmel (photo courtesy of Grasing’s)

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Grasing’s bar is warm, friendly & filled with casually stylish locals.

Returned to our cheerful, big room with a fireplace at La Playa.

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room at La Playa Carmel (note the Pacific Ocean view)

Carmel to Montecito (245 miles)

The drive along the Pacific Ocean from Carmel to Montecito is five hours along Highway 1. Such a DRAMATIC and BEAUTIFUL coast!

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You will drive over the much-photographed Bixby Bridge near Big Sur.

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Bixby Bridge

Montecito is a beautiful and rich town with big and diverse houses. Oprah has a house here; in fact, she is the largest land owner in the area. Montecito is the next town south of Santa Barbara, which is pretty but not particularly interesting.

Checked into the San Ysidro Ranch, which was stupidly expensive (cheapest room=$700=ours; no meals included; while pretty, our room was half the size of our $440 room in Carmel) but gorgeous gardens, including an extensive kitchen garden, and nice staff. Jack and Jackie honeymoon-ed at San Ysidro Ranch.

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San Ysidro Ranch’s charming main building

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gardens at San Ysidro Ranch

We lay by the pool alone here for three flawless hours…ahhh!

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Old Mission (founded 1786) in Santa Barbara

Drive into nearby Santa Barbara, visited its historic Mission, drive down State Street (its main street), and have a little cocktail at the Four Seasons Biltmore.

Montecito to La Jolla (210 miles)

The drive from Montecito to La Jolla is approx. 4 hours down Highway 1. The water is a blue/green and doted with surfers and some paddle boarders…SO California!

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(photo courtesy of CarmelCalifornia.com)

The water and beach are beautiful until you get to Malibu…famous Malibu, where the beach-side houses completely block the water views. Seriously claustrophobic. Let’s hope the rich and famous flock to Malibu because there is an enclave of fab houses somewhere there, though they were not evident to us. Plus,we encountered no traffic on our entire drive from Seattle through California…until we got to Malibu. From then on, the roads were more congested.

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the beach at Crystal Cove (photo courtesy of the Crystal Cove Conservancy)

We stopped by Crystal Cove along the way. Ever heard of it? Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, CC is a step back in time…to the time of luau parties with CEO’s mixing with beach bums and artists beginning in the 1920’s.

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(photo courtesy of the Crystal Cove Conservancy)

Think sunset cocktails in the 46 quirky cottages pieced together in the 1920’s out of salvaged materials…

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(photo courtesy of the Crystal Cove Conservancy)

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(photo courtesy of the Crystal Cove Conservancy)

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(photo courtesy of the Crystal Cove Conservancy)

…in 2001 when the California State Parks department evicted the residents, a proposal for a beach resort met with protests, at which point the parks department restored the cottages to their kitschy 1930’s and 40’s glory, and open 13 of them for overnight stays. Now referred to as the Crystal Cove State Park Historic District you can rent a beach cottage and pretend you are back in its luau party days (click here). Don’t you think this would be fun!?!

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(photo courtesy of the Crystal Cove Conservancy)

On the drive into La Jolla, you will see a reconstructed Middle Eastern desert village (low, one-story huts) up from the beach on the Pacific. It was built for training purposes by one a number of big military bases in and around San Diego, which is 14 miles from La Jolla. We drove through one of these bases (hundreds of acres, on the outskirts of SD) on either side of Highway 1.

We stayed at La Valencia in La Jolla, a peach-colored stucco grand dame. Built in the 1920’s, it hugs a hill in front of the park on the beach. Palm trees, Bougainvillea, flowering hedges, & pots of roses dot the grounds. Lovely, retro-glam pool!

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La Valencia in La Jolla

La Jolla is easy to see on foot and nice enough, although its abundance of tacky, tourist-town art galleries detract. Drive to the Hotel del Coronado (where “Some Like it Hot” was filmed) for lunch. The architecture is exaggerated and wonderful, and its location is very pretty but it is too big (600 + rooms). There are lines for the ladies’ room! However, we had a very nice lunch there, looking at the white sand, sparkling blue water, palm trees and people walking by.

San Diego is 15 miles from Mexico and the second largest city in CA.

End-of-Trip Observations

  • The trip from Seattle, WA to La Jolla, CA is 2,165 miles, traveling on Highways 101 and 1. We did the entire trip without interstates, except for a short part where we had no alternative. Most of this drive is on two lanes and uncrowded = a pleasure and probably did not add much to the travel time.
  • The people on the West Coast were way nicer and more laid back than those on the East Coast–consistently.
  • Surfers are everywhere along California’s coast…true to stereotype!
  • Washington, Oregon and northern California (north of San Francisco) have small populations.
  • The green of the NW coast is in stark contrast to the brown of the SW coast.
  • I can see why the NWesterners are “crunchy.” The natural landscape is so exaggeratedly beautiful (redwoods, mountains, beaches) that their focus is outdoors.
  • The most beautiful, polished art we saw on our entire trip was in Western Art & Architecture magazine in our room at Tu Tu T’un Lodge in Oregon. Well-executed “cowboy art” of landscapes and men on horseback and animals. Beautiful, sophisticated horses made of polished redwoods, river rocks and stones, lots of glass.
  • For most of our drive north of Malibu, the drivers were much more considerate than those on the East Coast.
  • In southern CA, we saw many fields of workers picking crops by hand—back-breaking!
  • We encountered little evidence of the history of the West Coast, except for the pretty Spanish missions (churches attached to monasteries) and not many of those.

Hang ten!

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(photo courtesy of the Crystal Cove Conservancy)

Seattle to San Diego Road Trip: California (part 3/4)

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(photo courtesy of Redwood National Park)

The sun came out the second we drove across the boarder from Oregon into California. No wonder they call it “sunny California!” Washington and Oregon are gloriously green because it rains a lot but, I have to admit, California’s sunshine was a relief.

Gold Beach, OR to Eureka, CA (136 miles)

Redwood National Park starts at the Oregon/California boarder and is 50 miles long. RNP looks exactly like the travel photos you have seen in magazines: picture perfect, awe-inspiring and peaceful.

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RNP has it all: beach, mountains, woods & lakes. (photo courtesy of Redwoods National Park)

Drive the Avenue of the Giants in Humbolt Redwoods State Park, a 31-mile country road that parallels and intersects Highway 101 with 51,222 acres of mighty redwood groves!

Redwoods in fog and sun

Be sure to chat with your hiking partner as you walk these trails because bears like them, too, and they don’t like to be surprised! Needless to say, I chatted up a storm. (photo courtesy of Redwoods National Park)

Our first overnight stop in CA was in Eureka at the Carter House Inns. Eureka is a Greek word and a mining term meaning, “I found it!” (you needed to know that). The town is unattractive except for a few short blocks, where the Carter House Inns are located.

Eureka to Healdsburg (202 miles)

Departing Eureka, we continued our drive down the stunning California coast through Mendocino (Did you know that “Murder, She Wrote” was filmed here?). Mendocino is a beautiful, small (pop. 900) town, perched on a rocky cliff. Visit the Mendocino Headlands State Park and the lovely Point Cabrillo Light, built in 1909.

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(photo by Alison de Grassi, courtesy of Mendocino County Tourism Commission)

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(photo by Alison de Grassi, courtesy of Mendocino County Tourism Commission)

We tore ourselves away from beauty queen Mendocino to drive inland two hours to Healdsburg in Sonoma County. As we drove, the scenery changed rapidly from craggy beaches to rolling hill-after-hill of vineyards, similar to Burgundy, France.

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near Healdsburg (photo courtesy of the Wine Road)

Three million TONS of wine grapes are grown in CA each year! Sonoma County is all vineyards and conveniently located just one hour north of San Francisco.

Stayed at the Hotel Healdsburg. It’s fun, nice and well-located.

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Hotel Healdsburg’s pool with main building in the background. Beam me up!

Ride bikes along the pretty, rolling hills of Dry Creek Valley near the hotel. Then, spend the day wandering around Healdsburg, tasting wines (including sparkling ūüôā and exploring the little boutiques. Healdsburg is the only town I have ever been to that has multiple blocks of small tasting room/stores, each representing a different vineyard.

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near Healdsburg (photo courtesy of the Wine Road)

Drive the Wine Road, which includes six of Sonoma County’s 14 wine growing regions: Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Russian River Valley (very attractive, well-tended vineyards and wineries, with fancy signs and gardens at their entrances), Green Valley, Chalk Hill and Rockpile. Taste the wines, eat oysters and loose yourself in the views of the vineyard-covered countryside.

Healdsburg to Pt. Reyes (67 miles)

Next stop south along Highway 101 to Highway 1: Point Reyes National Seashore, 71,000 acres of nature reserve on a peninsula sticking out into the Pacific Ocean.

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Chimney Rock Trail at Pt. Reyes National Seashore Park (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Point Reyes is made up of low, sand-colored mountains surrounded by water. Soft, pretty light at dusk. Very undeveloped with enough small towns to give it interest. PR is only an hour by car from San Francisco. We spent a day driving around the peninsula, with big views of scrub-covered low mountains dotted with cows and occasional ranches. Had a fun lunch on Tomales Bay, sitting outside by the water while imbibing just-plucked-from-the-water oysters at Marshall Store Oyster Bar & Smokehouse.  Delish clam chowder and simple, wonderful ambience!

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Pt. Reyes (NPS photo/Dan Wells)

Tiny Pt. Reyes Station is a boho town near the park and a bit of a foodie destination. We had a sophisticated and mmm, mmm, good dinner at The Olema’s ground floor restaurant called Sir and Star. Located in tiny Olema, two miles from Pt. Reyes Station, The Olema is also an inn and has been so since 1876. Read this NYT article for more. We stayed at Manka’s Inverness Lodge whose rooms were each in converted campers. Stylish idea, charming furnishings but our camper/room was stub-your-toe crowded. Would not recommend it because of management’s “we can do no wrong” attitude. If I went back to Pt. Reyes Peninsula again, I would stay in Nick’s Cove and Cottages, whose rooms are converted fishermen’s shacks on the water. Kitsch appeal!

Next stop: Santa Cruz, three hours south down Highway 1.

Pt. Reyes to Santa Cruz (140 miles)

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(photo courtesy of the Dream Inn)

What a glorious drive! On our left, we passed siren-scented Eucalyptus trees, pumpkin patches and lush fields of crops; and on our right, the mighty Pacific Ocean. The farther south we drove, the higher the hills climbed. We drove through few towns and then, suddenly, Santa Cruz (pop. 65,000). Where’s Gidget, I wondered, because SC is a well-polished throw back to the 1960’s.

By now, you may be tired of nature shots so here’s a photo tour of the cheery, ’60’s-chic interiors of our hotel, the Dream Inn

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(photo courtesy of the Dream Inn)

From your balcony, you will see the long 1904-built pier to your left and Cliff Walk to your right. Have a cocktail or two at the old-timey bar on the municipal pier looking onto Monterey Bay, watching the surfers catch waves.

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Does this not take you back to 1962?! Get a room overlooking the pool on the top floor. Saunter along Cliff Walk (in the background of this photo) to see its pretty houses. (photo courtesy of Dream Inn)

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(photo courtesy of Dream Inn)

Surfing was introduced to the US in 1885 at Santa Cruz when three Hawaiian princes who were attending military school nearby commissioned a woodworker to make three planks (surfboards) out of local Redwood. They spent their school vacation in Santa Cruz surfing. And that was how the craze began!

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Hallway at the Dream Inn—love it!!! (photo courtesy of the Dream Inn)

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The Dream Inn’s hotel lobby: They are really working the surfing theme. Love it!

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Dream Inn’s fire pit overlooking the pier (left), beach, and cliff walk (right): Nightcap, anyone???

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Even the Dream Inn’s coffee shop is cute! It’s name is Verve, as in the record label

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Santa Cruz’s amusement park was built in the early 1900’s & is in mint condition. Really fun to explore! (photo courtesy of the Dream Inn)

Whew! California is a big state. We are going to have to finish up our CA coastal drive in the next post. Stay tuned!

San Francisco Treats

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(photo courtesy of San Francisco Travel Association)

Why has everyone left their hearts in San Francisco? Because SF has it all: water, great food, inspiring architecture, world-class museums, and—most important—style, glamor, romance!

San Francisco at dusk

(photo courtesy of San Francisco Travel Association by Can Balcioglu)

SEE THE SIGHTS

  • Bike across the Golden Gate Bridge–It’s¬†a THRILL!
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Golden Gate Bridge (photo courtesy of San Francisco Travel Association)

Afterwards, bike through the Presidio, a park and former military base that’s hilly and gorgeous.¬†Next, bike or walk along the San Francisco Bay through¬†Crissy Field in the Golden Gate Recreation area. You will see people romping with their dogs and children, playing softball, watching the windsurfers, with the water¬†on one side and the dense neighborhoods of San Francisco rising up its hills on the other side of this Bay-side park.

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The Presidio (courtesy of San Francisco Travel Association/photo by Scott Chernis)

  • California Academy of Sciences¬†(Golden Gate Park)–Near the Presidio, the CAS is a great museum! Walk on its rooftop to see the undulating meadow of flowers and native California plants. Its aquarium is a tunnel that you walk through, surrounded by beautiful fish and corals. The CAS is a combination planetarium, aquarium, natural-history museum and a research center designed by star-chitect Renzo Piano to be the planet’s greenest museum.
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California Academy of Sciences (courtesy of San Francisco Travel Association): Check out that roof!

  • BONUS: The world-renowned¬†De Young Art Museum¬†(paintings, sculpture) is within easy walking distance of the CAS, and the Conservatory of Flowers is also nearby in Golden Gate Park. I haven’t been to the CoF but is sounds intriguing and was recommended by Travel + Leisure (2013).
  • Exploratorium (located near the Embarcadero)–One of the most fun and interesting museums to which I have ever been! This is an interactive science museum that is neither dusty nor dry. Go.
  • Museum of Modern Art¬†(SoMa neighborhood)–I am in love with SF MOMA’s¬†GORGEOUS big, new expansion¬†designed by Snohetta, the architects¬†who designed the stunning National September 11 Memorial Museum Pavilion in Manhattan.¬†Feast your eyes on their creation here…
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SFMOMA (photo courtesy of SFMOMA)

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close-up of SFMOMA facade was inspired by the water and fog SF Bay (courtesy of SFMOMA)

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Note the wall of green plants in the outside sculpture space (photo courtesy of SFMOMA)

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gallery at SFMOMA (courtesy of SFMOMA)

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SFMOMA’s expanded space¬†is so big that it allows room for this wonderful indoor maze! (courtesy of SFMOMA)

BONUS: One of SFMOMA’s three restaurants is called In Situ and overseen by a Michelin 3-star chef, who recreates the signature dishes of the best chefs from around the world!

  • Seasonal Sight: If you happen to be in San Francisco the last week in June, check out the Gay Pride Parade. Coincidentally, we were there at that time and it is a sight to behold. Everyone goes around saying, “Happy Gay Day!” The¬†SF Pride Celebration and Parade has been around for over 46 years. There is a fair amount of bare skin, so no wonder it takes place in June!
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The 40th Annual San Francisco Gay Pride Parade where the theme was “Forty and Fabulous” (Photo by Nader Khouri)

EAT, DRINK & BE MERRY!

San Francisco restaurants are especially good because so much fresh food is grown year-round locally. For your eating pleasure, I have¬†thoughtfully organized the best SF restaurants by neighborhood in this spreadsheet (san-fran-restaus). These¬†restaurants¬†are Michelin-starred and/or were mentioned in articles in various travel magazines stashed in¬† Mimi’s Travel File. The following are my favorites from our trip in September 2016.

Breakfast

  • Forget $50+ room service! Instead, wander down to the Ferry Building and have a delicious¬†breakfast at one of its several restaurants. “This is what foodie heaven looks like: dozens of local purveyors, hawking everything from cheese to chocolate to cupcakes line the arcades of this historic, waterfront building,” per Travel+Leisure (2013). Sit outside and watch the boats bob around the bay. It’s cheaper, better, faster than awaiting room service. If it’s chilly, the FB’s interior is also nice.
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Ferry Building (photo courtesy of San Francisco Travel Association)

We went to Boulettes Larder in the Ferry Building¬†twice in three days! Sit outside at Boulettes Larder‘s informal cafe tables & soak up the sun.

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Boulettes Larder’s small dining room, facing San Francisco¬†Bay (photo courtesy of Mariko Reed)

Lunch

  • Wayfare Tavern¬†(Financial District)–good food, fun ambience, lively
  • Tadich Grill (Financial District)–is the oldest restaurant in CA (est. 1849) and memorable for its ambience. Reservations not accepted.

Cocktails: SF is a cocktail-ing kind of town!

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(photo courtesy of Stookey’s Club Moderne)

  • Stookey’s Club Moderne–This small, intimate Nob Hill bar is quietly elegant and oh-so transporting back, back, back to the 1930’s via its decor and music. The lighting is darkish with a hint of blue up lighting, the cocktails are period and knowledgeably made, and service is great. Woody Allen could film a movie set in 1930’s San Francisco here. Stookey’s CB is one of my top five fav bars in the world! It’s that good. Thank you, Travel + Leisure (2015), for recommending it to me.
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This photo doesn’t begin to capture Stookey’s wonderfulness (photo courtesy of Stokey’s Club Moderne)

Dinner

  • ¬†Leo’s Oyster Bar: for FUN ambience and buzz! LOB’s designer described its look to Architectural Digest (2016): “Think 1950s Beverly Hills meets Manhattan club.” My husband took me here for my birthday and I was quite happy. Dress is city sophisticate.
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Leo’s Oyster Bar

  • Central Kitchen: for EXCELLENT food¬†and¬†relaxing ambience with low-key style…or as Travel+Leisure described it, “Confidently unfussy California cuisine in a canopied, elegantly industrial space.” Have a pre-dinn drink at Trick Dog (a T+L 2013 recommendation), the bar next door. Dress is casual.

Hotels: A Quick Word

SF hotels are EXPENSIVE, possibly more so than those in NYC or London. They’re also elusive: I found very few good recommendations among my many travel magazines and online sources. By good, I mean those that are smallish (under 75 rooms), nice and in convenient and attractive neighborhoods…and don’t cost $1,000 per night. Reasonable parameters. Here’s what I found:

  • Hotel Drisco¬†(Pacific Heights):¬†Expensive but warm ambience and talented staff,¬†atop a hill in¬†SF’s pretty Pacific Heights neighborhood, far from tourists; This is the place to¬†stay if you’ve been to SF a few times and want to experience¬†an upscale,¬†quiet, urban¬†neighborhood versus the business district’s/Embarcadero’s hubbub. The Hotel Drisco feels homey in an upscale way.
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Hotel Drisco

  • The Palace¬†(Financial District)–Normally, I shy away from hotels that are huge, landmark, historic hotels with atriums because usually they are resting on old laurels and packed with conventioneers. BUT The Palace is an exception. It’s beautiful and stylishly decorated, having been renovated in 2015. When we¬†entered the lobby¬†and I saw the stantions with velvet cords in front of the check-in desk, I winced: stantions usually mean long lines to check in and out. However, the service was fast. Our room was really comfortable and decorated with panache. Located in the heart of SF’s Financial District, the Palace is a short walk from the SF Museum of Modern Art, cable cars, and the Ferry Building on lovely SF Bay. Check out the lovely Maxfield Parish painting in the bar (too bad about the tv’s that flank it)! (556 rooms)
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The Palace’s entrance: Beautiful!

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A Palace bedroom: Love those 11′ ceilings and city view!

SHOP

Sure, you can go to Gump’s at Union Square (definitely a good get) or wander into the little independent home decorating shops on Sacramento Street between Pacific Heights and Presidio Heights (Rachel Ashwell Shabby Chic, Anthem, The Future Perfect, March, Sue Fisher King, to name a few good ones), BUT Chinatown is way more memorable and intriguing…

Chinatown–the largest outside of Asia. Be sure to visit an herbalist’s shop! An herbalist uses plants for medicinal purposes; like a Chinese drug store filled with plant-based remedies and charm (not a marijuana shop, FYI).

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Chinatown in San Francisco, California September 11, 2014. (Photo Copyright Nader Khouri 2014)

Neighborhoods: The Lowdown 

Travel + Leisure’s 2013 article provided the following descriptions of SF’s various neighborhoods:

  • Union Square: Big-name luxury boutiques border this central plaza downtown. MTF likes this neighborhood.
  • Mission District: The fast-gentrifying neighborhood is known for its Latino culture and standout restaurants and bars.
  • Hayes Valley:¬†A stone’s throw from the opera and symphony hall, Hayes Street is chock-a-block with chic shops and cafes.
  • Pacific Heights: Come to this mansion-filled hilltop for postcard-worthy views of the city. MTF thinks it’s lovely!
  • SoMa: This sprawling area includes a plethora of museums, destination restaurants, and the ballpark, all amid a sea of parking lots and highway ramps.

TIP: Gotta take a cable car!¬†They are San Francisco institutions, fun and an efficient way to get around the three neighborhoods they serve: Financial district/Embarcadero, Fisherman’s Wharf area, and Nob Hill.

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(photo courtesy of San Francisco Travel Association/Scott Chernis)

Traveling Companions: To get into a San Francisco frame of mind, read Dashiell Hammett’s “Maltese Falcon” and Amy Tan’s “The Joy Luck Club.” For more suggestions, go to Longitude Books’s website.