Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Exploring

Wandering through Old Town Sacramento

Having made numerous drives to the foothills of the Sierras to visit family, I’ve passed through Sacramento many times. However, I’ve never actually stopped and truly visited our state capital. My last pass through Sacramento involved arriving on a bus from Reno and catching a train to San Francisco after United canceled my flight. Not a very fun experience.

old town sacramento

It was definitely a lot more fun getting to see the historic section of Sacramento a few weekends ago with our older two kids. We spent some time wandering the streets during our first afternoon in the area, followed by a second visit the next day to see the California Railroad Museum and walk the area some more.

General info on Old Town Sacramento

Old town Sacramento is sandwiched between Interstate 5 and the Sacramento River. I wondered what impact the freeway would have on our experience, but it honestly wasn’t too bad. It is elevated and shielded well enough.

The main section of Old Town Sacramento is  roughly 4 blocks by 2 blocks. You can lazily walk the whole circuit in 20 minutes. There are plenty of neat old buildings and shops to browse, like in any historic downtown.

Parking is fairly easy, but you will have to pay. We spent $4.50 the first day at a metered spot in one of the lots on the south end of Old Town Sacramento. The second day I footed the full $10 at the garage that sits underneath the freeway, which is enough for as long as you’d like to visit. Parking is one of those things I hate paying for and try to avoid. But sometimes it’s not possible.

Walking the Tower Bridge

After wandering around for maybe fifteen minutes, I decided to take the kids to the bridge first before hitting some shops on our way back. The Tower Bridge across the Sacramento River is at the south end of old town, and it affords some pretty cool views of the area.

The bridge is over 80 years old and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is a vertical-lift bridge, and I believe it is still operational.

From the bridge we got great views of Old town. Everything right up on the river is significantly elevated due to the flooding sometimes experienced by the Sacramento River. If you want a fascinating read, check out this article on the California Megaflood, a disaster that no one every talks about.

There is actually a hotel right in the middle of Old Town Sacramento: the Delta King, located in the historic riverboat bearing the same name (which you can see in the photo above). If you have the money to shell out, consider booking a stateroom as part of your visit. Not sure you could get any cooler than that!

After a jaunt across the bridge and back, it was time to hit up a few of the shops.

First up: candy, of course

With these two kids addicted to sweets, it makes perfect sense that the first shop we visited was Candy Heaven. I made a point of telling the kids that we were “window shopping”, if that is possible with candy.

I’m not sure if it is typical for Candy Heaven, but they offered each of us two free samples from any of the bins with a certain color tag. To the kids chagrin, these were generally the smaller of the candies. I had to remind them that the store was giving them to us. For free. After probably 15 minutes of scouring every corner of the store and deliberating, they finally settled for a couple pieces of assorted hard candy.

Later, we ended up getting a couple caramels as a snack in a different store. This was after a visit to a toy store as well, that had a neat old arcade and some trains clattering above your head in different areas.

Food Old Town Sacramento

We didn’t eat in old town our first evening, although there were a good number of places to choose from. Our second day we hit up a pizza place called Slice of Old Sacramento. As far as pizza goes, it was good. Price was fair. Pizza is one of the few things that I’ll judge a bit harshly, so I’m sure most would enjoy it. We passed up another place called Annabelle’s Pizza and Pasta based on its poor reviews.

I made good on a promise to get the kids ice cream on our second day. There is a great little place that is part of Candy Land (not Candy Heaven) on complete other side of Old Town Sacramento. the kids promptly shared their ice cream with each other. No germaphobes in this house.

There are a number of other cafés, bars, and ice cream places to choose from, including a Mexican place and a Chinese establishment. So you really have your pick.

California Railroad Museum

The California Railroad Museum is located on the northern end of Old Town Sacramento in a large brick building. Part of it is actually an old roundhouse, which is extra cool. There are several locomotives and railcars on the first floor, a good number of which you can explore.

The museum is part of the State Parks, and admission is $12 for adults and half that for kids 6 to 17. Children under 5 are free. I’ll cover our experience at the railroad museum in its own post.


The state capital of California is definitely worth visiting for a couple hours. Make it a solid half day or more if you visit the California Railroad Museum. You could easily combine some time in Old Town Sacramento with a morning at the Sacramento Zoo, or maybe touring the state capital, if your kids are up for an completely full day of seeing the sights.

A Day Exploring Orlando

Last weekend I flew to Orlando on a whirlwind trip to attend the Family Travel 4 Real Life conference. The event is held twice a year, and it was my first time going. More on that later.

I gave myself an extra day to get to the conference since you never know what United is going to pull when you fly out of Arcata (SEE: Our First United Horror Story). The ticket was booked using Merrill Lynch “miles” (actually flexible points worth up to 2.0 cents each toward travel), so I wasn’t beholden to United award availability.

My connection time at SFO was 35 minutes, which is asking for trouble. Amazingly, I made the flight no problem, literally walking off one plane and onto the next. If I hadn’t, I had a back up plan in place.

Waking up in Florida

I arrived late and got to my hotel after 10:00 p.m., but didn’t get to sleep until after midnight (still on California time). I didn’t set my alarm, so I slept in until 8:37, which is ridiculous. Until you realize that is only 6:37 back home.

It was late enough that I missed breakfast, however, at the Staybridge Suites. I guess I could have headed downstairs un-showered, but I wasn’t going to do that to everyone. An hour later I checked out and hit up Starbucks, and then figured out what I wanted to do for the day.

Looking at my options

Orlando is home to a TON of stuff to do. They have Disney World, of course, as well as Universal Studios, water parks, and other attractions. Without my wife (or future kids), though, I saw no point in heading to Disney for the day. It would be pretty costly, and I doubt I could make the day worth it since I had to be back at 5:00. Plus, I am finding more and more that I dislike crowds, and Disney parks are the epitome of crowds.

Another option was the Kennedy Space Center. But at $50, I didn’t really want to spring for it, even though I was extremely interested. It would be pushing noon by the time I got there, and I wanted to be checking into my hotel around 4:30 in time to meet up with the group  and head to dinner.

Settling on a cheap easygoing day

So, I figured I would instead split the day between the beach and a quick visit to downtown. I was already paying for a rental car, and this seemed like a fine way to both enjoy Florida and save money. Unfortunately the car ended up costing me much more than I anticipated (SEE: The ONE rental car mistake I often make).

The beach at Cape Canaveral was the closest, at about a 45 minute drive. The weather was glorious. A cold front had passed through during the night, and the temperature had dropped an easy 15 degrees since the time I landed the night before. I’m not sure how long it rained, but I slept through all of it.

My time at the beach consisted mainly of walking through the surf, taking pictures, and trying to relax and let my mind rest. I’d had a long chunk of work sandwiched between two trips, which meant I worked over the weekend.

The Atlantic Ocean in Florida is *so* nice compared to the ocean at home. The water is actually pleasant instead off frigid. This may start changing my mind when it comes to destinations.

Back into the “city”

Lunch was Cold Stone (yes, lunch), and then I headed back toward the city. Orlando has a good amount of sprawl, and it took longer to get to downtown than I anticipated.

Orlando isn’t really a “city” per se. I mean…it is, but it is nothing like New York, Los Angeles, Denver or even Calgary or Montreal. It has a totally different feel to it. I’m not sure what I can compare it to from my previous experiences.

I parked in a garage and took a walk to Lake Eola. There wasn’t much in particular I wanted to do, but I try to find parks in a new city as the first place to explore, as long as they are close to the urban area.

My remaining time consisted of a leisurely walk around the lake. I snapped some photos of both the city and the huge geese at the lake.

Off to the pre-conference dinner

I headed back to the other airport hotel (a Club Carlson hotel booked on points) directly across the street from the Hyatt Place where the conference was located. I met up with some of the other attendees and we headed out to dinner at a barbecue place.

Dinner was a good distance away in Winter Park, but we’d been told the barbecue place was good. Turned out it was Cinco de Mayo, so we ended up getting some fusion cuisine. A brisket taco and conversation with fellow travel hackers was just the beginning of a great experience.

Sydney, Australia in 13 photos

Two days of my little trip down under were spent enjoying Sydney. As Australia’s largest city (20% of the Aussie population lives in Sydney or its suburbs), there is a lot to see. I barely scratched the surface. Here are my favorite photos:

Circular Quay

Opera House from Royal Botanic Garden

Eastern Sydney Harbour from the Sydney Tower Eye

Sydney Harbour Bridge

St. Mary’s Cathedral

Manly Beach

Sydney CBD from the Opera House steps

Entry to the NSW State Library

The iconic Sydney Opera House

Royal Botanic Garden

Western Sydney Harbour from the Sydney Tower Eye

Coastal cliffs east of Watson’s Bay

Flying in to Sydney Kingsford Smith airport

Hiking Monaco To La Turbie

High on the hill above the glitz and glamour of Monaco is the tiny town of La Turbie. Initially, it was just a name on a map, and somewhere from which I thought we could enjoy a great view of Monaco. Now I know it is a gem in it’s own right. The idea for the hike came from a blog tip.

On a beautiful July morning, we arrived at the Monaco train station at 10:00 a.m. to begin our hike. There weren’t any good signs that directed us immediately toward La Turbie, so my wife and I simply started toward the hills and away from Monaco. After winding our way up a couple streets, we came across a sign that told us we were on the right track.


Found the first sign for the “Path of La Turbie”

This was exactly what I was looking for. The simple directions I had noted down included walking ‘Chemin de La Turbie’ and ‘Chemin Romain’. The middle part between the two was kinda fuzzy. But I was sure we would manage just fine.

After the sign the path began to steepen and alternate between street and pedestrian path. A couple hundred yards later we arrived at a busy road. The Chemin de La Turbie (Path of La Turbie) continued up some stairs, straight across from us. We caught our breath and waited for a break in the traffic.


Sign pointing us up the stairs across the Route de la Moyenne Corniche

Then it was onward and upward. The view got better and better the higher we climbed. My wife and I were soon dripping sweat just a few hundred more yards up the hill, so we began to stop in every patch of shade we found that offered a view of Monaco (and some that didn’t).


The path between Chemin Romain and Chemin de Sotto Baou

The only point at which we got confused was an intersection of four different roads. There were no signs, and we had two uphill options. We look the left fork, which seemed more direct, along Chemin de Sotto Baou. Looking at Google maps later, we could have easily taken either, although it would have been a bit longer if we had taken the other fork along Chemin des Révoires.


Which way to La Turbie?

Overheated and winded, we finally reached the top. The climb took about an hour, but the view from the top was entirely worth it. We headed over to the lookout point. The view is exquisite.


Monaco in the center right, and the coast toward Italy on the left

Just next to the lookout area is the entrance to the Trophée Auguste à La Turbie. For those who are completely hopeless in French like myself, that equates to the Augustus Trophy in La Turbie. Besides the clues that the signs had given us along the way, I really had no idea what the Trophy was, and I assumed Augustus referred to the famous Roman emperor. My latter assumption was correct. The new revelation was that a spectacular monument once existed on the site commemorating Augustus’ victories in the Maritime Alps. It has been partially restored.


Medieval gate into old La Turbie

Instead of heading up to the monument, however, my wife and I spent some time exploring the streets of old La Turbie. The old section of town is very small, but it is incredibly interesting. The gates and a few of the buildings date from the Medieval period.


We spent about 20 minutes wandering around before heading back to the monument. The Trophée Auguste costs €5.50 per person, but it is entirely worth it. The first stop was the overlook to get some more panoramic shots of Monaco.



Our next stop was the tiny museum. Along the way we stumbled upon a random foosball table near the Trophy.


Maybe Augustus was a big fan of table soccer?

The museum was a single room. In the middle is an artist’s model of what the Trophy probably looked like when Emperor Augustus had it built to commemorate his victories in the Maritime Alps. Around the rest of the building are details on the history of the monument and details on its partial restoration in the early to mid 1900s.


The best part was getting to climb up on the Trophy itself, accompanied by a guide. Most of the monument was torn down by locals through the centuries to use as building materials for homes and fortifications, but the restoration gives a glimpse of what it may have originally looked like.



After exploring the trophy, we headed back to the main road through La Turbie.


Lunch was in order, and we treated ourselves at the Hôtel Restaurant Napoleon, not far from the tourist info office and the old town.


My wife had fish with veggies and potatoes, and I had pasta with smoked salmon. Everything was excellent.


After lunch it was time to return to Monaco. We considered returning by the way we came, but it was already later than I had anticipated, and we still wanted to see some of Monaco. The quickest way down was by bus, and we caught it at the stop just off the main road. Twenty minutes later we were back in the tiny principality and off on our next adventure.

Looking back, I am extremely glad that we stumbled upon the idea of hiking to La Turbie. It turned into one of the best days of our entire trip. If Monaco is on your list of places to visit, make sure you don’t overlook the lovely little town sitting on the hill above.