Santa Cruz: Summer Days Drifting Away to Oh, Oh Those Summer Nights!

Birdsong Boardwalk Sunset

I travel quite a bit. And my daughter does not accompany me when I do. So when I returned home from one journey, I suggested we get away together to celebrate her upcoming 14th birthday and her 8th grade graduation. The only stipulation: it had to be somewhere we could fly to on my Alaska Airlines miles, and I didn’t have a whole lot to begin with.

Kenzie’s eyes lit up and she said, “Oh yeah! We are going to Santa Cruz!!!”

I totally understand my daughter’s allure. Santa Cruz, CA., is a beach community in the Central Valley. I used to go there from the Bay Area often during the summer months while I was in high school. I have lots of fond memories of yelling “Road Trip!” with my friends Sally and Heather and climbing into my convertible red ’63 Valiant, twisting and turning through the redwoods of Highway 17 to go body surfing in the cold Pacific with an occasional harbor seal, dance at reggae and goth concerts, and get kissed by the sun and salt spray on the beach.

It’s not upscale, like Monterey or Carmel, both of which I absolutely adore. It’s a bit rough around the edges. Peppered with aging surfers, skateboarders, assorted tattooed hooligans, hippies still tripping on LSD from the 70’s, and lots of beachgoers, but beautiful coastline, picturesque architecture and great food.

And you need to understand, my daughter is a rollercoaster aficionado. She has been a thrill seeker for as long as I can remember. As a baby, she readily scaled the sides of her crib to escape its confines and climbed chairs and counters. She used her feisty strength to push the boys out of the way to get to the top of slides as a toddler. So when she went to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk on a class trip last year, and the teacher wouldn’t let the kids ride any rides because she didn’t get waivers ahead of time, I think that ignited the stubborn streak in Mackenzie to return one day and conquer the Big Dipper and the Typhoon. And that day had arrived.

I easily booked tickets for July 4th for 5k miles each way, which is a screaming deal. Especially since I have status and got us into premium seating for free.

Rather than stay in a hotel, I thought it would be fun for her to choose a VRBO for our stay. Mackenzie scoured the site, and narrowed the massive list down to two properties. After developing a pro’s and con’s list, she selected a pretty eclectic choice: The Birdsong Cottage.

This Westside two-bedroom cottage, only a 20-minute walk to the Boardwalk, is owned by an artist and a master gardener. Small, but whimsically decorated, the cottage is surrounded by pops of color from plants like wisteria, roses, trumpet vines and honeysuckle. It was so pretty, and different, and I think it appealed to Mackenize’s artistic side. She loves talented interior decorating and truly appreciates an eye for design.

I told my boyfriend Kenz and I were going to hit the road in the summer and he asked if he could tag along. Mackenzie gave the nod of approval, but I only thought it fair she invite a friend, so her good friend Emma would join us as well.

On July 4th, we were all bumped up to first class for the flight. Such a great way to start our trip! We rented a car at SJO and drove an easy 40 minutes down Highway 17 to Santa Cruz. I’ve never seen that road so empty, but I guess July 4th is the day to stay home and bbq.

We arrived at the cottage and walked up to the front gate, the pathway lined with fragrant jasmine. The gate opened up to a small garden patio and side yard stretching the length of the house. The girls burst through the backdoor to start exploring.

What a beautiful space! Each room was designed with so much care, and finesse. It’s as if the owner took into account every view, from every vantage point. Green, and yellow, and red, stripes and flowers, hardwood floors, and tiles, and small details like whimsical lamps, decorative plates, and curtains with a Van Morrison lyric. The girls and I were in awe and full of positive exclamations. Brad said, “This place is weird.” I said, “You have to view it with an artist’s eye.” “Not my eye,” he retorted. Well, we loved it anyway. Mackenzie and Emma ran through the house, continuing to discover its treasures and nuances, and laid claim to the comfy living room furniture, huge TV, bedroom and private patio.

That left Brad and me with the master bedroom, or what he laughingly referred to as the “passion pit.” The bedroom was deep crimson in color, with a high, soft king-sized bed you literally melt into. The bed faced a gas fireplace and a TV. A small office was off to the side; the perfect place for Brad to do his 5am conference calls without waking any of us up. The bedroom also has huge French doors that open up to the side yard. We opened them up, closed the screens, sank into the bed and drifted into a much-needed afternoon nap, with the cool sea breezes carrying the songs of the birds through the garden.

I remember lying there, amazed at how successfully the owners had blocked out the sounds and the views of the surrounding homes from the courtyard. I felt like I could have been anywhere, but somewhere remote, and peaceful, and so content.

The days that followed were filled with trips to the Boardwalk so the girls could fulfill their need for fun. And there were discount coupons too, so they could ride all day for less than $15. The Boardwalk is not like Disneyland or Great America; it’s a mixture of a high-end carnival with great rides, fun games, novelties and outdoor movies on the beach. We saw Grease one night; the beach packed with hundreds of people in fold up chairs, eating garlic fries and smoking pot. (ugh). They also have a really fun mini golf course to play and arcade to explore.

We went to Seabright Beach to get some sun on our Washington state-translucent skin and frolic in the waves, and we also went to Capitola for the day. The Capitola Beach Company was a great find with rentals on the beach. The girls wanted to do stand up paddleboarding (SUP) and they had the option of exploring the river rather than the ocean. The guys walked their boards down to the river for them and offered to bring them back. They spent an hour leisurely exploring the river under the warm California summer sunshine. When we returned to pay (only $20 each per hour) I asked about surf lessons. They explained Capitola is the best place to learn how to surf and most of their instructors started there. Mackenzie is excited to come back and try during a future trip.

Each night at Birdsong we made dinner. The kitchen was well appointed and they have an excellent barbeque in back, too. We saved a ton by making spaghetti, and grilling sausages and preparing halibut. Brad and I had fun cooking for the girls and it was a healthier option than Mackenzie’s original plan to survive for three days off of Dippin’ Dots.

I think overall, Santa Cruz was a great place to bring a couple of teens for a few days. And it was certainly a good destination for me. I bought a sweatshirt that says, “Salt Water Heals Everything,” and that is exactly how I feel. There is something so restorative about the beach. The cry of the gulls, the salty breezes, the pastel sunsets reflecting off the cool blue, liquid horizon.

Maybe someday I’ll live by the beach again. Until then I’ll suffice with oceanside injections now and then. I think there was everything the girls could have wanted out of vacation here. And we loved the cottage. Truth be told I’d love to stay right on the beach. But if my ideal place isn’t available next time, I hope Birdsong is. One bathroom with two teenage girls was slightly challenging, but nevertheless, the cottage had a bit of a Bali Ha’i quality to it, which made me feel like we had found a bit of a mystical garden. I hope we come back someday.

14 Airline Travel Hacks to Benefit the Frequent Flier

As a traveler who flies often for business and pleasure, I have learned a thing or two about air travel. I thought I would share my findings with you in hopes that they help you take advantage of a few things. If you are a seasoned traveler, you are likely aware of these tips, but you never know, there could be a nugget in here for you, too.

  1. Coffee and Tea On Board: I don’t drink coffee on flights, and now I’m going to add tea to that list. Apparently flight attendants won’t drink it either. According to a recent article by Food & Wine: “As NBC 5 noted, the water for tea and coffee comes from the tap, not from a bottle, while in flight. And that water could be downright disgusting. According to a 2004 EPA sample of 158 planes, 13 percent contained coliform. Two of the airplanes were found to have dangerous E.coli in the water. And as Business Insider reported, an additional EPA study found that one in every eight planes fails the agency’s standards for water safety.” No thanks…
  2. Booking Tickets: I fly on several different airlines. Not only should you check their websites when purchasing tickets but you can also check travel sites for deals. I often use and Travelocity. I prefer these as you can purchase each way of your journey separately, i.e. you can book one way on Delta and return on Alaska, if you so choose. Combining flights like this will often give you the best price. I have also read multiple articles that if you are looking for the best price, shop Tuesday or Wednesday morning, 5-6 weeks out for regional U.S. travel. I have found that prices can differ by almost $300 if you wait for the sweet spot for long, regional hauls, but you have to be pretty diligent about checking.
  3. Airports: I find that most airports are adequate enough, but there are some that I will avoid like the plague. (LAX) Los Angeles (poorly organized and packed), (CDG) Paris (has anyone ever been here when there hasn’t been a labor strike?), and (KEF) Reykjavik (the island has outgrown this airport) should all be avoided in my opinion. I do have some favorites hubs though, including (DTW) Detroit, (MSP) Minneapolis, (AMS) Amsterdam, (SLC) Salt Lake City and my own (SEA) Seattle. These five have great amenities and are extremely efficient and well organized. And if you need to fly into the San Francisco Bay Area, try flying into Oakland (OAK) instead of SF. Same if you are heading to LA, fly into Ontario (ONT). These are smaller, under-utilized airports and so much easier to exit. But when I’m choosing a layover location, I always take the time of year into consideration. I genuinely haven’t had many cancelled flights due to weather even in the winter, but it does indeed happen. I also always opt for a layover longer than an hour. Having a shorter layover stresses me out because sometimes planes have slight delays, but that throws your connection into chaos, and I am no sprinter. So instead, I’ll catch up on email and grab a bite.
  4. Apps: GateGuru is a great free app to help you get around airports throughout the world. It provides terminal maps, tips and a list of amenities and where to find them. I am also very fond of the Delta app, which now includes a map feature as well as directions to places and walking time. Super useful!
  5. Matching Status: Having status with an airline really helps as it gives you the choice of better seats and the possibility of upgrades, of course. I think it also helps with the level of customer service you receive. One thing I discovered this year is that many airlines will match the status of their competitors. For example, my boyfriend is at Diamond level with Delta. Alaska has a program where they will match a status for one year. So he is now a Gold 75k with Alaska too, their highest level, for one year. Delta also offers this program, and I wouldn’t be surprised if others offer it as well. It’s only for one year, but it’s free. You just need to fill out the paperwork.
  6. Premium Class: I’m not sure I would pay for this class of service but it certainly is nice to be upgraded into it. Delta Comfort, for example, offers more comfortable seats and legroom, a basket of free snacks generally presented a couple of times each flight, and free alcoholic beverages. One thing I have found lately is that I will often book a seat in the main cabin – typically in the first row. Delta Comfort sometimes sells out, leading me to sigh sadly and say “oh well.” And then I get on the plane and the online seating map did not show the correct configuration of the plane. It turns out that my first row main cabin seat is actually in Delta Comfort. Nice surprise! This has happened multiple times, so I recommend booking the main cabin seat as far forward as you can.
  7. Airline Credit Cards: I’m not one to collect credit cards, but I did recently apply for a Delta Reserve American Express. It’s $450 a year (ack…) but it includes an annual companion fare ticket for $99 good for anywhere in the U.S., individual membership into the Delta Sky Club, and other benefits. I can expense half the cost for my home business, so it’s completely worth it to me. Plus, with the card I received 10,000 miles – which were applied both to my status for next year, and to my overall miles I can use for ticket purchases. That was a very nice surprise.
  8. Companion Fare Tickets: As long as you don’t mind paying the annual fee, many airlines include a $99 companion ticket with their credit card promos. I have gone to Hawaii with someone twice now, and round trip for two has come to a total of $800 each time. If you are planning on a long, expensive vacation flight like this, it’s completely worth it. You have to use it yourself though, you cannot give the benefit to someone else.
  9. Airline Lounges: The expense (via my Delta credit card) of a membership to a lounge is completely worth it to me. I typically eat 2-4 meals in airport restaurants per trip and they are pricey. The Delta Sky Club is a little haven to me. I can charge my phone, access free wifi, sit comfortably, have unlimited beverages, including alcohol (although I don’t recommend tying one on while flying – it’s dehydrating), a cappuccino or latte, and a buffet of food. Ok, the plates are basically the size of saucers, and there is typically not real hearty food to choose from, but for me, veggies, hummus, cheese, fruit, snack items, soup – I can easily make a meal of that. And, it will typically be healthier than what I buy in at a Chili’s or a pub. And, some Sky Clubs have showers. The thought of coming back from Europe and hitting a shower during a layover sounds pretty good to me. Oh, and by the way, you can also book a massage in Seattle and JFK, and do yoga at JFK some Saturday mornings. I’m not kidding. You are also in the lounge with other business people typically, so you never know who you will be networking with.
  10. Medallion Benefits: Some Delta frequent fliers aren’t aware, or they just don’t take advantage of it, but the higher levels of status with Delta offer some pretty cool benefit choices, such as gifting status to someone, free global and regional upgrade certificates, a Delta gift card, a Tiffany’s gift card, membership to the Sky Club. This is all in addition to the automatic upgrades one typically receives. Most people reach status through business travel, so it’s simply free stuff! And next year, Delta’s highest level will receive three benefits to choose from, and their second highest will get two.
  11. Flying on Miles: I think most people know to take advantage of this, but what I didn’t realize is that Delta and Alaska, for example, will upgrade their customers flying on mileage tickets. I recently flew to London on miles, and I was upgraded to first class on Delta for the leg from Seattle to New York. That’s a long flight and the plane’s first class seats reclined to a vertical position. Oh, thank you! You might be surprised by the relatively low mileage requirements for global trips. A friend recently traveled from Seattle to Sydney, Australia round trip for 82.5k miles through Alaska. Her husband went for business, she met him afterwards, and they had a couple weeks of vacation out of it. Plus, Alaska recently lowered their miles requirement for short trips. Three of us are traveling from Seattle to San Jose, for 5k miles each way. And we are traveling on my boyfriend’s Gold 75k itinerary, which he got on promotion without ever flying Alaska, so we are likely to be upgraded to first class. Pretty cool.
  12. Surveys: Most airlines will send you a survey at the completion of your flight. I’m a nerd, I usually respond. And they do read them. I have received credits for future flights when I have had a valid complaint. Ok, I’ll take it!
  13. Airlines: Over the years I have developed my preferences. Everyone is different of course, but here are my thoughts on this:

–          Delta. Delta is my first choice nowadays, and I cannot say enough nice things about them. They also have great customer service, they are reliably on time, they fly everywhere, I get upgraded to Delta Comfort almost every flight, and often to first class, plus they offer free movies which Alaska does not. Great mileage program, too.

–          Alaska Airlines. This is an awesome airline, especially if you are based on the West Coast. Great customer service, good selection of code share partners, possibly the best food, generally on time. I adore Alaska but they do not fly the route I need the most often.

–          American: Good God, avoid at all costs. Yes, they are cheap but UGH. Almost always late and I’m not a fan of their customer service.

–          KLM: I’m a huge fan of KLM for trans-atlantic flights. Last time I flew to The Netherlands I was able to automatically upgrade to premium because of my status with Delta. My boyfriend and I were hoping we could be automatically upgraded into first class but because of the code share rules that wasn’t possible. However, on the day of the flight, we were offered first class upgrades for an 80% discount. Their service in first class was stellar and full of special nuances. I highly recommend flying KLM if you have the choice.

–          IcelandAir: It’s an affordable option when you are flying from the States to Europe, but that but that Reykjavik airport…what a nightmare. Personally I think it’s worth spending the extra money so you don’t have to deal with that place. I have heard that they are expanding it though, so maybe improvement is on the way. I found it too small and frustratingly inefficient.

14. BYOH: Reddit user ichigo29 says “I used to work for warehouse that supplied a certain airline with items. The headsets that are given to you are not new, despite being wrapped up. They are taken off the flight, “cleaned”, and then packaged again.” Uhhhhh….gross!

The more you travel, the better your perks will be. But even if you can reach the lowest level of status I highly recommend it. The premium seating with the opportunity for upgrade, free baggage and great customer service makes it really worth it. Plus airlines have partners and many of the benefits will cross over to their code share airlines. Choose an airline and stay brand loyal. And if you travel a lot, choose two if you can.Air Travel

Do you have a useful airline tip? Please comment below!