Cityscapes: San Jose

I had a little down time after BlogHer last month so I checked out the San Jose Museum of Art. A small museum, it took a little over an hour to cover all the galleries. I particularly enjoyed two exhibits, Initial Public Offering, a selection of recently acquired works, and Legacy, an exhibit of modern art donated by collector Emily Fisher Landau to the Whitney Museum of American Art.

You can take photos in the IPO gallery so here are two pieces that I loved.

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 Cityscapes: San Jose

You cannot take pictures in the Legacy gallery, so I will just tell you to be on the lookout for the lovely wall of works by Jasper Johns, and in the same room, a silver sculpture that screamed “Game of Thrones.” Just think raven and a head. Just a head.

The museum has a small but lovely gift shop. Definitely worth checking out if you are looking for a gift for someone who likes unique jewelry or modern art inspired household and tech gadgets.

In the San Jose area with more than a few hours, but not enough to make the trek to San Francisco? The Winchester Mystery House is well worth a visit if you have an afternoon, and is conveniently located near the Santana Row outdoor (and upscale) mall for shopping and restaurant choices. I’ve always had good luck at The Left Bank, but if Paris bistro isn’t your bag, there are many other dining choices.

Further afield, take the drive over the Santa Cruz mountains and check out the Santa Cruz boardwalk. If you have kids, you will probably be here all day, but if you can spring free, drive a little south to Capitola for interesting little boutiques and a lovely beach.

Hotels: the Dream Inn in Santa Cruz — right on the beach,  and still in Santa Cruz but further inland,  The Chaminade. In downtown San Jose, you can’t go wrong with any of the choices near the Convention Center – Hilton, Fairmont, Marriott, St. Clair, Hyatt.

Cityscapes: New York

IMG 0465 EFFECTS 300x300 Cityscapes: New YorkI write about our trips around New York City fairly often. Recently more often on Facebook but I am committed to being more diligent here. Here are some of the things that I highly recommend. Some we have done this year, others are from years past but all are worth your time.

Take a walking tour. We did a chocolate tasting tour of SOHO that I bought through Groupon, but there are many options — cupcakes, TV/film locations, gangsters (30s style), general epicurean, Central Park. Google “walking tours nyc,” but definitely check out Groupon, Amazon Deals and Living Social for options before you pay full price.

Get up high. I prefer Top of the Rock for its magnificent views of Central Park but the Empire State Building is nice too, and has the better view of Lower Manhattan. You cannot go wrong with either.

Get out on the water. You will find that is a common theme for me. I love the Circle Line tour that does the full circle of Manhattan. Doug took the Staten Island Ferry with his cousin this summer, and both reported it was a cheap and cheerful way to see the Statue of Liberty fairly close up. This fall, we are going to do the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island trip now that it’s open again. No way am I willing to brave the summer crowds for that.

A couple of things to do NOW in New York.

At the American Museum of Natural History, the Pterosaurs exhibit. Through January 4 2015. It amazes me how much scientists are able to extrapolate from the small number of actual fossils they have of these creatures. I think most of us glom onto the pterodactyl as the “flying dinosaur” but there were actually numerous variations in behavior, size and diet spanning millions of years.

Doug at Avengers 300x225 Cityscapes: New YorkAt Discovery Times Square — AVENGERS S.T.A.T.I.O.N.  Hands on exhibit that celebrates the Avengers characters, including costumes from the films and the opportunity to test yourself against Captain America and “fly” like Iron Man. Takes about an hour to go through first thing on a weekday. Probably way longer on a weekend. Pricey but for nerdy geeky Avengers fans like us, a must do!

Cityscapes: Chicago

Summer 2013 including Chicago 260 200x300 Cityscapes: ChicagoLast summer, Doug came with me to BlogHer and we spent a few days afterward seeing the sights of Chicago. I had the best intentions to write a recap of the trip way back then but life intervened.

This year I am determined to keep the Roadtrip rolling with reports from our stay- and va- cation trips. In my next few posts, I round up some recommendations for things to do in Chicago, New York, San Jose and Philadelphia.

Starting with Chicago.

Get out on the water. The river and the lake. From the river, you are able to see the amazing architectural heritage of Chicago, and the lake…. Well Lake Michigan just needs to be experienced.

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We took the Chicago Architecture Foundation tour on the recommendation of some friends, and it did not disappoint. Buy your tickets in advance; on weekends, the river tours do sell out. No time for a full-on boat tour? Take a water taxi. Shoreline and Chicago Water Taxi both stop at multiple points along the river, so you can get a little river flavor and to where you need to be at the same time.

For your lake experience, it all depends on your tastes. Lots of choices leaving from Navy Pier – dinner cruises, speedboats, tall ships. We chose the Tall Ship Windy I like schooners and part of the schtick of the Windy was a pirate story which I thought Doug would enjoy.

Other important stops on a Chicago tour, especially with a teen boy — The Field Museum and the Willis Tower.

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At Navy Pier, don’t miss the free Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows.

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We also wanted to check out the Shedd Aquarium but the lines were super super long by the time we got there so my best advice is to make it your first stop of the day right at opening if a visit with the fishes is tops on your list.

New York Staycation – It’s all happening at the zoo

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Lemurs, Bronx Zoo, July 2014

Living in the tri-state area, we are lucky to be close to many world class tourist attractions. Recently, Doug and I spent the day at one of my favorites, the Bronx Zoo.

Along with the American Museum of Natural History, the Bronx Zoo is one of my earliest “tourist” memories. When I was in first through third grade, my father was stationed at West Point and I distinctly recall a visit to the zoo with one of his academic advisees and his (the cadet’s) girlfriend. I couldn’t tell you how old I was, and don’t remember much of the visit, but obviously we had a good time since a faint memory of it still rambles around in my brain.

In the intervening, many, years, I have become something of a zoo aficionado. If a city or town I am visiting has a zoo, I try to squeeze in a visit. Small or large, it doesn’t matter. Some people like to walk around a golf course hitting a little white ball. I like to walk around the zoo enjoying animals and learning about the conservation and preservation efforts of the zoo.

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Butterfly Garden Bronx Zoo July 2014

On this trip, we hit most of the exhibits including the seasonal Butterfly Garden and the Asian Monorail, both of which are well worth the additional cost. The best value is to buy the Total Experience ticket, available online, but all the attractions are available a la carte with a general admission ticket purchased at the zoo.

If you only have time for one special exhibit, though, it has to be the Congo Gorilla Forest. It is just about the best view of these magnificent animals most of us will ever get.

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Mama and Baby Bronx Zoo Gorilla Habitat July 2014

Set well in from the main traffic flow of the zoo, the exhibit works so well because it brings you into the gorilla habitat — as though we are in the cage and the gorillas are watching us. Which may not be far from the truth in the end.

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Gorilla Bronx Zoo July 2014

On this visit, we also were lucky enough to witness a lovely moment between a momma and baby sea lion.

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Momma and Baby

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Nose to Nose

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Saying Hi?

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Or maybe

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it’s lunchtime!

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The Bronx Zoo is open 10-5 weekdays, 10-5:30 weekends (April 5-November 5). The Zoo is open year round but the hours are a bit shorter in the winter and early spring. If you get an early start you can cover most of the main attractions in a single day, assuming you don’t linger forever.  You can easily extract the full value of the Total Experience ticket. We are members, so we are a little more relaxed about things since we know we will go back 2-3 times over the year.

Food options are decent if a bit pricey, but you can bring your own boxed lunch so no one should go hungry. If you are in the market for souvenirs, the best selection is at the main Bronx Zoo Store in the Dancing Crane Plaza. Unlike most theme parks and yes, zoos, not all exits have a gift shop. We found ourselves wending our way back to the main store to get something Doug really wanted before we left because we had forgotten there was no shop at the Bronx River Gate where we parked. Learn from our mistake!

New York City Day Trip: American Museum of Natural History

350px American Museum of Natural History New York City New York City Day Trip: American Museum of Natural History

Frontview of American Museum of Natural History (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Once of our favorite day trips in New York is the American Museum of Natural History, and yesterday was the perfect day for it. The showers and sprinkles throughout the day didn’t bother us in the least.

On yesterday’s itinerary:

  • the new exhibit honoring Theodore Roosevelt. I knew about his role in establishing our national parks, and that he was a staunch conservationist, but had not been aware that he was originally planning to become a natural scientist, and switched to law in college. Other interesting nuggets from the exhibit: Roosevelt’s father was one of the founders of the Museum and there has always been a Roosevelt on the board, to this day.
  • the special exhibit, The Power of Poison, running through August
  • Dark Universe, the new Hayden Planetarium space show narrated by Neil DeGrasse Tyson

We skipped the Butterfly Conservatory this time but we’ve done it in past and it’s a nice breathe of Spring (ends late May) and saved the new exhibit on Pterosaurs (through January 2015) for another time.

Instead, we spent a bit of time in the Hall of North American Mammals on the recommendation of a delightful volunteer who had kindly guided us from Poisons to the Hayden Planetarium theater because we were tight on time and she thought the turns might be a tad confusing. She told us that the Mammals exhibit was recently refurbished — down to the bison getting a blow out – so we thought we’d check it out. We also wandered a bit in the Hall of Asian Peoples.

We wrapped up our day with a jaunt over to the Nintendo Store in Rockefeller Center so Doug could pick out a new game for his birthday, grabbing a pick-me-up at Bouchon on the way, and finished up with dinner at Cafe Un Deux Trois on West 44th.

Here’s a short video from our day. It’s pretty sucktastic, as my iPhone photos weren’t oriented properly for the video format:

Here are some of the photos straight from the phone:

 TIP: Give yourself 90 minutes for the Poisons exhibit. We only had a an hour, so had to skip the live presentation.

 New York City Day Trip: American Museum of Natural History