Here's good news for all you Halley's comet watchers. You won't have to fly to the South Seas for a clear view of this celestial wonder. California Natural History Tours is doing trips out of LAX as well as to the Southern California desert and Baja. Clear skies. No lights. The cheapest flight ($129) is aboard a 727 (this is a two-hour flight with return to LAX). Other outings range from a two-day, one-night camp-out ($125) in the Joshua Tree area to a five-day trip to Loreto ($750 plus air) that includes accommodations at Hotel El Presidente, meals, etc. These trips (all with naturalist/astronomers) continue into April. There'll also be wildflower viewing. Contact California Natural History Tours, P.O. Box 3709, Beverly Hills 90212, or telephone (213) 274-3025.
If there is one destination on the other side of the Atlantic that will hold its own this year, Britain probably will. Americans feel secure with their distant cousins. Even with all that recent business of the gun-toting cops at Heathrow Airport. This is the word from ex-insurance broker Ralph R. Davis, who kicked off Country Inn Tours 11 years ago. Just don't be misled by his company's name. This isn't one of those hurry up back--on--the--bus--operations. Instead, Davis' flocks slumber in traditional inns, manor houses and country hotels in England, Scotland and Wales, spending three nights (instead of one) at each of seven destinations. Pack and relax, says Davis. The cost for three weeks comes to $2,400, including some meals, afternoon teas. A 50-passenger bus carries only 20 to 30 passengers (none of that business of feeling like you've been tossed into a Mixmaster). What it doesn't include is the air fare. So this is not a cheap trip. But if traveling at a relaxing pace is your style, contact Davis c/o Country Inn Tours, 2930 Camino Diablo, Walnut Creek, Calif. 94596, or telephone (415) 932-1391.
Davis also does garden tours of England, Holland and France as well as summer and fall foliage trips to New England. Once again, three nights at each destination. While it's inexcuseably early to mention this, one of his hottest items is Christmas in New England with a visit to the Trapp Family Lodge at Stowe, Vt. A peaceful, old-fashioned time. See your travel agent or contact Davis c/o Country Inn Tours.
If you're one of those travelers who considers France a second home, you'll get a boot out of a newsletter published by a couple of Francophiles in Charlottesville, Va. And, boy, are these guys opinionated! Example: They name the "best" hotel in France (Les Pres d'Eugenie at Eugenie les Bains), the two "best" restaurants in Paris (Taillevent and the Crillon) as well as Paris' "most over-rated restaurant" (Tour d'Argent). The best inexpensive hotel in Paris, according to these spirited sleuths, is Hotel des Saint-Teres.
The publishers base these and other decisions on information they picked up on a two-year tour of France. Said they spent $100,000 on restaurants and hotels doing their research. They have also introduced a restaurant rating system which they claim is "more timely than Michelin and more reliable than Gault Millau." The publishers say they grade restaurants according to "five crucial categories"--cuisine, decor, service, wine list, value. The gentlemen are Daniel Friedman, a graduate of Oxford, and Terence Sieg, winner of accolades from the Columbia School of Journalism. The newsletter, begun in 1984 and devoted exclusively to French travel, also gives details about the "worst of France." Write to Friedman and Sieg, c/o La Belle France, 1835 University Circle, Charlottesville, Va. 22903.
"Rent a dream home on the north shore of St. Thomas in Mahogany Bay (U.S. Virgin Islands) . . . one of the most breathtaking views you may ever experience . . . sleeps 10, seven baths . . . you'll be met at the airport." This is a property--one of hundreds--that's listed in the 120-page "Hideaways International," a guide that's aimed at "anyone tired of mass tours and packaged vacations." Tells about yachts, villas and apartments (for rent or exchange) in the Caribbean, the Bahamas, Europe and the United States, including Hawaii. Prices begin at about $400 a week (this for a studio apartment at the Mexican resort of Cancun) and run into the thousands of greenbacks. The guide is issued three times a year for members of Hideaways who are eligible for "travel planning services, low air fares, discounts on car rentals and a toll-free hot line for advice on vacation home renting." Details from Hideaways International, P.O. Box 1459, Concord, Mass. 01742.
A guide listing all ocean liners that call at the port of Los Angeles is free for the asking. Includes dates of arrival, names of ships, scheduled hours in ports. "We've found these listings to be helpful to people planning cruises from Los Angeles and for those who want to see the big ships come in," says Shawn Dake of Oceans Away Cruises & Travel, 3358 1/2 Los Coyotes Diagonal, Long Beach 90808. At the same time, Miss Dake tells of a three-night cruise to Vancouver and Expo '86 aboard the Rotterdam leaving Los Angeles May 25. Prices start at $284. The same company offers two- and three- night packages at Expo '86 for as little as $99. Details by calling (213) 425-7424.
Here's a new camp service. Call toll-free (800) 466-7275 to reserve campsites in the California State Park System beginning today. This same service is offered for tours of the Hearst San Simeon State Historic Monument. Callers can charge reservations to Visa or MasterCard. Office hours are 8 a.m.-9 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. weekends. Charges for most state park campsites come to $6 a night. Those with RV hookups figure out to $12 per night. The reservation people (Mistix) tack on $3.75 for the service.
Florida--Thomas S. Woodruff, San Diego: For reservations at Key West, Fla. (the southernmost city), call or write Island Properties, P.O. Box 1737, Key West, Fla. 33041-1737. "Accommodations ranging from private cottages with swimming pools to apartments with gingerbread front porches."
Holland--Annie Barbieri, Hollywood: "Old Dutch atmosphere in a wooden cellar-type surrounding, the Pancake Bakery is a must for any visitor to Amsterdam (address Prinsengracht 191). The menu is endless. Pancakes served with everything from your favorite fruit or vegetable to the most heavenly liqueurs. Prices reasonable. You'll love it!"
Italy--Robert Rosenthal, Woodland Hills: "One of the best-kept secrets in Europe is the Hotel Astoria, Lugo Lago, 28049 Stresa, Italy. Faces Lake Maggiore and the southern side of the Alps. Lake-front dining, private beach, swimming pool. It's been frequented by Dickens, Hemingway, the Queen of England. Across the lake (by steamer) is Locarno, Switzerland. The hotel is open March 25 until Oct. 25. Rates around $75 for a double, including a deluxe breakfast."
France--Dallas Holmes, Riverside: "A new, small inn in the Dordogne region--L'Auberge du Noyer, 24260 Le Bugue, France. Run by a young English couple, Paul and Jenny Dyer, so language is no problem. This is a 200-year-old reconditioned farmhouse. Delicious dinners. Price for a double room with bath and breakfast was $23. Dinner for two with wine never exceeded $29."
Sweden--Del Fischer, Imperial Beach: "My husband and I thoroughly enjoyed our stay with Alvar and Ingrid Radman in a book-lined room overlooking the Bay of Stockholm. Their large apartment is close to all bus lines and tourist attractions. Boats anchored in the bay will take visitors to Drotthingholm Castle. Ingrid speaks six languages fluently. Address: Norr Malarstrand 18, 112-20 Stockholm, Sweden. (Price is about $45 double.)"
England--Mr. and Mrs. Schoen, Woodland Hills: "Enjoyed the Headley House, 3 Bootham Terrace, York Y03 7DH, England. Within walking distance of tourist attractions. The hotel is a refurbished Victorian with modern baths, color TV, radio. Cost, 35 per night including breakfast and dinner for two."