Travel News & Deals
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Web Buzz: Hotel comparison shopping a snap at smartdepart.com

Here's a website that makes choosing a hotel a snap.

Name: smartdepart.com

What it does: Allows you to drag two hotels onto the page so you can do side-by-side comparisons of price, ratings and reviews as well as night life, dining, shopping and tourism.

What's hot: I've never seen a comparison feature like this on other hotel booking sites — it's the key to making your decisions easier. You can use additional tools at the top of the page to fine-tune your search by price, amenities, star ratings and more. If you're not familiar with the area, you can easily open and close a map to see where the hotels are located. If you want to know why one hotel was recommended over the other for dining, click on that topic to read the Yelp reviews.

What's not: Double-check the prices. I found inconsistencies between search results and prices on the final booking page.

 

travel@latimes.com

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Letters: He set off to see Junípero Serra's birthplace in Spain

Thank you, Father Serra

Christopher Reynolds' wonderful coverage of the California missions ["21 Journeys," Sept. 7] evoked memories of being both a project-making fourth-grader (in the '40s) and an inquisitive traveler (all my life).

While serving in the military in Germany during the mid-1950s, I took a leave with friends to France and Spain. From Barcelona, we flew to Majorca, where I rented a motor scooter in Palma and navigated the 28-mile partially paved road to the town of Petra, Father Junípero Serra's birthplace.

With a limited command of Spanish, I was able to convey to a young local that I was from California and wanted to see Serra's birthplace and church. I was successful in doing both.

This first adventure resulted in my having the good fortune to travel to all seven continents and more than 100 countries. I'm still at it and always looking for a new experience in travel.

Jim Morrow

Culver City

 

Off to see the bears — or not

Huge thanks for the exciting, informative...

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Travel-related events in the L.A. area the week of Sept. 14, 2014

NEPAL

Presentation

Jeff Greenwald will give a reading from the 25th anniversary edition of his travel book "Shopping for Buddhas."

When, where: 7:30 p.m. Monday at Distant Lands, 20 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena

Admission, info: Free. RSVP to (626) 449-3220.

 

CALIFORNIA

Presentation

Tom Courtney will introduce multi-day hiking adventures featured in his new guidebook, "Walkabout Malibu to Mexico: Hiking Inn to Inn on the Southern California Coast."

When, where: 7 p.m. Wednesday at the REI store in Tustin, 2962 El Camino Real, and Thursday at the Rancho Cucamonga store, 12218 Foothill Blvd.

Admission, info: Free. (714) 505-0205 for Tustin; (909) 646-8360 for Rancho Cucamonga.

 

JOSHUA TREE

Photography

This weekend workshop will focus on the mechanics of photography as well as personal interpretation and expression, enhanced by camping in Lost Horse Campground.

When, where: 7 p.m. Friday through 4 p.m. Sept. 21

Admission, info: $170; (760) 367-5535. Must bring own camera and camping...

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Hotel Monna Lisa made stay in Florence, Italy, memorable

We recently returned from Florence, Italy, where we spent five nights at the lovely Hotel Monna Lisa, near the city's wonderful attractions. The building goes back many centuries, with original stone floors and wooden ceilings. The excellent staff is willing to help in any way they can. When you need a taxi and they say, "Here in four minutes," you can expect it in four. Wonderful, spacious breakfast room with a fine array of items. For the money and convenience, it made Florence more memorable.

Hotel Monna Lisa, 27 Borgo Pinti; 011-39-055-2479751, www.monnalisa.it

Ed J. Mizrahi

Woodland Hills

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LAX: Sneak peek at $300-million renovation of airport's Terminal 2

Restaurant Barney's Beanery and shape-wear store Spanx will be two of the newcomers to a renovated Terminal 2 at Los Angeles International Airport.

The $300-million makeover will include new eating areas and shops, which are expected to be finished in 2015.

The airport this week released renderings of the terminal's new look and a lineup of hip restaurants and shops slated to open next year on a rolling basis. No specific date was given for completion of the project.

In the post-airport security area, new eateries will include SeaLegs Wine Bar and Slapfish from Huntington Beach, pie-and-coffee stop the Pie Hole, Pepita Cantina, Asian food Pick Up Stix, Fresh Brothers Pizza, organic fare from Ciabatta Bar and Built Custom Burgers

Westfield Group, responsible for designing the shopping area at LAX's new Tom Bradley International Terminal, describes Terminal 2's design theme as one that reflects "the energy, and echo the innovative, modern and always 'on-the-go' culture of Los Angeles."

...

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A cooling dip with the bears at Alaska's Katmai National Park

Today’s “A Minute Away” video -- “Bathing bears, falling man, Naknek Lake, Alaska” -- comes from Katmai National Park, where bears spend the long days catching and gobbling salmon every July.

To reach one of the best spots to see these marvels, you need to catch a float plane to Naknek Lake, the star of this little video. You get some epic Alaska scenery, a brief look at bears strolling and frolicking in the water (watch a bear's head pop up from the water at 0:27), and a chance to join me as I fall on my face in the tall grass on Dumpling Mountain (0:43).

You’ll find more about this rare place in our article on Katmai, Brooks Camp and coastal brown bears -- along with dozens of great photos and a video by Los Angeles Times photographer Mark Boster.

A Minute Away” is a video series in which nothing much happens -- except you see the world, and hear it, and get a minute’s respite from workaday life. (Actually, some are as long as 1:40.) These are casual moments without talking heads or...

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Napa Valley plans four-day event to raise funds for quake victims

How can you help Napa Valley recover from the recent earthquake? Come out and play.

That's the message from chefs, winemakers, vineyards and business owners in California's wine country who have banded together to organize food and wine events and other activities in September to raise money for quake victims.

Napa Valley Rocks! is a four-day event designed to raise money and spirits in the community that was struck by the 6.0-magnitude  earthquake Aug. 24. One person died and many homes and buildings were damaged in a quake that produced the worst shaking the area has seen in recent history.

Events begin Sept. 25 with Nourish Napa at the Napa Valley Marriott. Chefs Ken Frank of La Toque, Tyler Rodde of Oenotri, Masaharu Morimoto and others will create novel menu items to pair with local wines. Tickets cost $200 per person.

Runners can do their part by knocking out the Napa Half Marathon at 7 a.m. Sept. 28. The route starts and ends at Skyline Wilderness Park in Napa and winds through...

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Yosemite: Half Dome cables to reopen Saturday; fire 23% contained

The Meadow fire in Yosemite National Park that earlier forced the evacuation of hikers and climbers on Half Dome is 23% contained as of Thursday morning (today). With firefighting continuing on the blaze near Little Yosemite Valley, park officials say they'll reopen the popular Half Dome hiking cables Saturday.

The ladder-like metal cables that hikers use to reach the top of the 8,800-foot granite peak have been closed since Sunday after the fire that started July 19 suddenly took off. It forced the helicopter evacuation of about 85 people.

The trail to the base of Half Dome reopened Thursday to day hikers only. Other trails — Echo Creek and Sunrise Creek drainages to Little Yosemite Valley and the Sunrise Trail to Clouds Rest — are still closed.

The daily lottery for Half Dome cable permits resumes at Recreation.gov. [Permits are required through Oct. 12; for more information, visit the website or call (209) 372-0826 between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. PDT.]

Though park roads and Yosemite...

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Astronaut recalls 9/11 attacks, whose aftermath he saw from space

Astronaut Frank Culbertson was the sole American in outer space at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He was aboard the International Space Station and had no access to TV or information about what was happening other than what NASA told him.

"Frank, we're not having a good day here on Earth," Culbertson recalls the space agency telling him early that day.

He shares his memories of all he did and saw that day in a video, above, titled "9/11 A Perspective From Space" that was recently posted on the

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Grand Canyon Christmas train prepped

Christmas, anyone? Book a holiday-themed trip aboard the Grand Canyon Railway’s Polar Express. Tickets are on sale now for evening or overnight excursions, running Nov. 7 through Jan. 3, out of Williams, Ariz., to a destination dressed like the North Pole. Williams is about 30 miles west of Flagstaff along Interstate 40

Based on storylines from Chris Van Allsburg’s classic Christmas book, evening trips depart at 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. for a star-filled ride that takes a little more than an hour. Prices for most departures are $25 for ages 2 to 15 and $39 for adults. Matinee tickets are also offered on select dates at 3:30 p.m. ($20 for children and $34 for adults).

A special Christmas Eve trip costs $69 for adults and $49 for children and includes special mementos.

The Grand Canyon Railway also offers an “overnight package,” including the round-trip train excursion, a one-night stay at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel and breakfast and dinner at the Grand Depot Café. The starting...

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Mammoth Mountain to open Nov. 13, extends early-bird ticket sale

Thinking wintry thoughts during this end-of-summer heat wave? Mammoth Mountain hopes so. The California ski resort plans to open Nov. 13. Until then, it has extended its early-bird sale of discounted lift tickets as low as $67 a day for the upcoming winter season.

Skiers and boarders at Mammoth can lock in dates now and save money when they hit the slopes later. No guarantee what conditions will be like (more on that later), but the buy-now, ski-later tickets can be bought and used through the season's end.

Here are some examples of early-bird adult ticket prices compared with last year's. (Mammoth hasn't yet set ticket prices for 2014-15.)

--Single day ticket costs $76, $23 less;
--Two-day ticket costs $151, $47 less; and
--Three-of-four-day ticket costs $200, $63 less.

The resort also has discounted rates for youth (13 to 18 years old) and seniors (65 to 79 years old).

Now, back to the weather forecast. Scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have scaled back...

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Farm-proud Iowa opens historic barns during Sept. 28 and 29 tour

Loie Hayward's labor of love sits outside her home in Dysart, Iowa. The 1917 round brick barn that once held horses and hogs has been transformed into a historic showpiece. This month it will be one of about 90 barns featured on the 14th All-State Barn Tours on Sept. 28 and 29.

"I lived here as a kid," the retired legal assistant says of the farm she returned to after years of living in San Francisco.

Hayward says the restoration was difficult and time-consuming (think of redoing your kitchen or bathroom, but on a much larger scale). The barn's bricks were intact but the roof needed a lot of work and things such as rotting corn cobs in the hayloft needed to be cleared out.

The tour is a self-guided route of the state's spectacular barns, which come in all shapes and sizes. They've been restored with the help of the nonprofit Iowa Barn Foundation, which sponsors the tour.

Travelers may choose their own itinerary to see different barns -- round, square, bright red or white, made of...

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