Saturday, July 28, 2007

Downtown L.A.

I've lived in New York City long enough to think that it should be possible to get around any city worth its salt by foot and public transportation. I haven't owned a car in 40 years and rarely drive because in New York, I don't need to. So Los Angeles with its freeways and non-stop traffic jams bewildered me.

I was very pleased, therefore, to find that L.A. really DOES have a downtown — one where I could walk or take a bus if need be and find many of the things that for me define a city: interesting architecture, neighborhoods, street life, ethnic restaurants, markets, museums, concert halls and theaters.

I've written about some of this in an article in this weekend's Austin-Alerican Statesman travel section.

If you visit downtown L.A., be sure to see Frank Gehry's wonderful Walt Disney Concert Hall, and while you're there, walk around to the back where the Redcat Theater is ensconced. The Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (hence Redcat) specializes in cutting-edge performances and art, and has a cozy lounge where you can rest your feet and get something to eat before (perhaps) walking back to your hotel.

For more information on L.A., go to For information on downtown L.A., try


Monday, July 23, 2007

More on Sandy Hook

The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), Columbia University and the Van Alen Institute have invited designers worldwide to submit ideas for making the Gateway National Recreation Area (of which Sandy Hook is a part) "an iconic national park that would also be a significant regional resource and environmental treasure."

Several design entries have been anointed finalists. Between now and Sept. 15, the public can vote on their favorite at The winning entries will be presented later in the fall to the National Park Service.

In my opinion, Gateway already IS "a significant regional resource and environmental treasure" but heaven knows, it could use some help — not only a new design — but an infusion of money to keep the historic structures from deteriorating and to add staff.

Kurt Repanshek, a contributor to the Travel Arts Syndicate and an expert on national parks, has commented on Gateway (and on the design competition) on his blog, National Parks Traveler,

If you want to see more of Sandy Hook, check out my sound/slide show:


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Sandy Hook

If you're in New York City and the heat gets too much for you on summer weekends, consider taking a 40-minute ferry ride to Sandy Hook, N.J. The peninsula at the northern tip of the New Jersey Shore is part of the Gateway National Recreation Area under the auspices of the National Park Service.

Sandy Hook has five luxuriously wide beaches plus six miles of biking trails, fishing, wind surfing and a maritime forest with more American holly than anywhere else on the East Coast. The oldest lighthouse in America still in use is in Sandy Hook, with tours available on weekend afternoons. Birders love Sandy Hook, particularly during the spring and fall migrations. The New Jersey Audubon Society maintains a bird observatory there, with exhibits, bird walks, workshops, field trips and a bookstore (

Because of its strategic location overlooking New York harbor, Sandy Hook was a military base for more than 200 years. The U.S. Army moved out permanently in 1974, but many of the old batteries remain — including fascinating Battery Potter, with its 20-foot-thick walls and steam-powered gun lift. The guns were supposed to pop up through the roof, fire and then disappear to safety. Battery Potter, completed in 1894, was obsolete even before it was finished — but the edifice is still something to behold.

The Fort Hancock Historic District is also interesting. The first of the yellow brick buildings went up in 1898, bordering a parade ground. The row of 18 officers' houses facing Sandy Hook Bay is particularly handsome. One of them is open as "History House," furnished as it would have looked in 1941. The details are perfect, from the "Victory Cookbook — Wartime Edition" lying on the kitchen counter to the copy of Modern Screen with a picture of Ingrid Bergman on the cover, on the living room coffee table.

The round-trip ferry ride leaving from the South Street Seaport in Manhattan costs $32 for adults on the Circle Line Downtown ( or $33 on Seastreak (, with discounted prices for children. The Circle Line Downtown offers three round trips a day on Saturdays and Sundays, Seastreak, two. You can buy food and water at Sandy Hook, but they are expensive and the food is just OK — so bring your own, plus plenty of sunscreen. Free shuttle buses circle the park at intervals, but bicycles would be even more convenient. There's no charge to bring your bike on the Circle Line Downtown ferry. On Seastreak, bikes cost $6 to transport, round-trip.

For more information: