Bicycle Tour – Santa Barbara to San Diego (September 2022)

I live in San Diego and often bike in the local area – Mount Helix, Bayshore Bikeway, Mount Soledad are some frequent rides – but had been wanting to venture a bit further. My friend Dylan and I decided to bike from Santa Barbara back to San Diego to take in part of the California coastline. It was a very fun weekend and I wanted to share some photos and notes from the trip for others interested in biking in Southern California.

Just south of Carpinteria, CA near the Rincon surf break and Mussel Shoals

Trip Overview

We took the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner from San Diego to Santa Barbara leaving San Diego (Old Town) at 4:10 PM on a Friday. It was scheduled for about 6 hours and ended up about 15 minutes longer than that. It cost $44.20 a person and bicycles were included in the cost. The train was pretty full and standing room only in basic class for about half the trip. We ended up sitting in the dining car which was awesome as it had tables and couches facing the ocean. It also had overhead windows so there was a lot of light.

We arrived in Santa Barbara at 10:25 PM and biked about 10 miles South to Carpinteria. Although we would have liked to have a morning in beautiful Santa Barbara the hotel rates were huge and we could get a small start on our estimated 230 mile trip ahead. The ride from Santa Barbara to Carpinteria was really chill – very little traffic and riding on a frontage road along Highway 1.

We stayed overnight in Carpinteria and our next hotel stays were in Torrance and Oceanside. We had considered camping but couldn’t locate solid information on campgrounds that offered hike / bike sites we could bank on. Hopefully we can do that in future at the many state parks along the coastline. It was nice staying in hotels for an evening pool and hot tub, as well as a nice shower and comfortable bed.

Highlights

  • Los Angeles Bike Paths – From Santa Monica to Redondo Beach in Los Angeles was awesome. Really wide bike path right on the beach and has recently been doubled in size on the north end. Awesome.
  • Seal Beach to Newport Beach – another great section of bike paths right on the water. Very low stress and enjoyable. Tons of people walking, biking, etc.
  • Lots of good coffee and pastries – a must for any morning bike ride. Prospect Coffee in Ventura was really good.
  • Century Club – I ride a decent amount but had never done 100 miles in a day. Got that done on day one. Nice accomplishment.

Lowlights

  • Malibu – just really not fun. North of Malibu is low traffic Highway 1 with a wide shoulder / bike lane. Lots of other bikers too which was fun to chat a bit. One group was going from San Francisco to Los Angeles and camping along the way, sounded really fun. When you hit Malibu you go to 5 + lanes and lose the shoulder, plus have a lot of sports cars zooming around. 25 miles or so of gritting teeth and intensity. Not recommended but not a good way around it if you want to stay coastal.

Suggestions and Tips

  • North to South – we originally planned on going from San Diego to Santa Barbara and train home, but on input from others took the train first and rode South. Good for two main reasons – less headwind typically as you are going South and East, and you are also on the coastal side of the road going South so have a bit better view and more breezes.
  • Backup gear – as with any longer bike ride having spare tubes, pump, multi-tool, etc. is a must. We had two flats on the trip but not a big deal with supplies in hand.
  • Early starts – We left about 6:30 AM each morning which was nice, cool weather and also quieter on the roadways. We ended most days about 4 PM so had some time to relax and enjoy a good dinner.

Montreal 2022

Montreal – half Canada (hella nice) and half France (hella chic). Amazing old town buildings, a fantastically clean Metro, and lots of great little restaurants. (I didn’t get to try to many of said restaurants with 4 kids on the visit but it’s all good.)

Highlights:

  • Jean Talon Market – our Airbnb was really close to this market (and the Metro stop of same name). Very cool daily market with tons of produce, stands with processed foods like salami, pickles, etc.
  • Airbnb – we stayed in a second floor apartment in a three story building. It had an enormous patio, about 625 square feet, and 3 bedrooms. I love Airbnb when we travel as hotels are pretty darn difficult for a big family – although we miss having swimming pools, breakfast, etc.
  • Metro – so clean, so fast, and great pricing. A 3 day pass was about $21 and up to 4 children were free with an adult. I really like family / kid friendly policies like this. Most of the Metro stops did not have elevators and often had many steps which was a challenge for strollers and toddlers and I’m sure would make a challenge for handicapped people. The Metro does not go to the airport, but they have a frequent bus connection that worked well for us, about half the distance on the freeway was in a bus / taxi only lane which is a great idea for other places like San Diego to utilize.
  • Lachine Canal / bicycles – Bicycles are awesome and we got to rent for a day and ride about 20 miles on the Lachine Canal. Beautiful weather and water views of the canal on the way out, and the St Lawrence River on the way back. Massive amounts of park space along the way with playgrounds, trees and grass, sculptures, and more. Highly recommended. (We missed the Verdun public beach which would have been great and had tons of people enjoying the water.)
  • Summertime – we don’t get a lot of weather changes in San Diego but being in an area with lots of water, lots of trees, and long summer days was great. Long days were also amazing in Minnesota, for a farm visit after Montreal.

Iceland 2022

I had a chance to take a trip to Iceland this summer with my significant other (SE) and another couple (AC). I knew little about the country beforehand, and know not much more now other than an idea of the climate and topography.

Reykjavik – A lot of rainbows across Iceland. This is a pedestrian (aka people) only street in central Reykjavik. It was cool because of lots of people and place for people to do fun things.

We spent a few days in the capital city, Reykjavik, which houses approximately 2/3 of the country’s population – 220K out of 330K. Reykjavik central area was quite lively – lots of restaurants, shops, and such. Bakeries were top notch for sure. Coffee across the country was very good but as across Europe little in the way of drip coffee.

We took a clockwise trip around the island from Reykjavik to Akureyri then to Seydisfjordur, Hofn, and Vik. We visited in July and I was surprised how green the hills and plains were. A lot of hot springs / geothermal activity across the island which was very cool. From the Ring Road (Road 1) much of the view was flat / water to the coast and mountainous to the center area.

I was surprised at the low cost to get to Iceland – about $450 round trip from Minneapolis. It was comparable in cost for hotels, food, drink, etc. to Western Europe – about the same as a major U.S. metro or a bit higher than U.S. average.

We drove around the island (approx. 4 hours drive per day) and did a variety of hot springs and pools, short hikes, vista points, and dinner + beerskis at stops along the way. We had little in the way of rain and temperatures were around 60 degrees F high and 43 degrees F low. Everyone had their windows open / cracked the entire time across the island. Maybe due to geothermal heating? Not sure.

Various photos I enjoyed follow.

5 Peak Challenge – Kid’s Winter Break Edition (2021)

San Diego schools are closed for the end of 2021, so I’m taking our children to Mission Trails Regional Park to do the 5 Peak Challenge next week. Although the official challenge – including a printed certificate and official pin – ended 6/26/2020 the peaks, trails, and park remain open. The official website has some great stories of the various individuals and groups that did the 5 Peak Challenge.

To complete the 5 Peak Challenge with kids, I’m breaking it up into 3 separate sections, each with a different starting point. If you are looking to get out of the house next week and would like to join – with or without kids – please do! Following is the game plan and all are welcome to join.

Mission Trails Park Map

  • General Notes
    • Each day we’ll start hiking at 8:45 AM, arrive around 8:30 AM
    • Bring water, snacks, hiking shoes, etc.
    • Check out the approximate hike lengths, times, and elevation gains below
  • Monday, 12/20/2021 – North Fortuna and South Fortuna
    • Starting Point: Portobelo Entrance (West Side of MTRP, just south of 52)
    • Hike details: 5.5 miles, 1,204 feet of elevation gain
  • Tuesday, 12/21/2021 – Cowles Mountain and Pyles Peak
    • Starting point: Cowles Mountain Trailhead (7001 Golfcrest Drive)
    • Hike details: 5.7 miles, 1,736 feet of elevation gain
  • Wednesday, 12/22/2021 – Kwaay Paay
    • Starting point: Parking lot on Father Junipero Serra Trail near Old Mission Dam
    • Hike details: 3.0 miles, 892 feet of elevation gain

Hope to see you and if not, enjoy the Winter Break!

Entering The Cryptoverse (BlockFi)

I’m fairly skeptical about cryptocurrencies, but as the market continues to grow (Bitcoin total market cap is approaching $1 trillion) I feel that I need to have some exposure and a better understanding of the potential and pitfalls.

Market cap of 10 biggest cryptocurrencies, as of 12-10-2021 from coinmarketcap.com

I’ve listened to a few episodes of Animal Spirits with the head of BlockFi and found the premise of the platform interesting. [Here’s one of the episodes from 2020.] So I decided to dip my toe in the cryptoverse with some small weekly investments in Bitcoin, Ethereum, and DAI on BlockFi.

You purchase cryptocurrencies on the platform, and then earn a yield / interest rate on the holdings. The rates vary but currently range from 3.25% for Pax Gold to 9% for DAI. (I don’t even know what those coins are.) Bitcoin is the largest cryptocurrency and earns 4.5%. So by putting money in BlockFi you have exposure to the ups and downs of the value of the crypto you own, and also earn interest on the holdings. Additionally, they have a credit card with Bitcoin rewards which looks really cool but I probably won’t generally use since the reward rate is 1.5% – not bad but I mostly use my Capital One Spark cards at 2% cash back.

slick card image from blockfi.com

There’s a referral bonus of $10 if you’re interested in trying out the platform.

We’ll see how investing in crypto works out over the next few years.

California Student at Home? Check Your Mail for $738 Per Student

During the pandemic there have been a number of programs created to support workers, families, and students. In California P-EBT 2.0 is currently being distributed – funds for many California students. (P-EBT is a SNAP / food stamps program providing money for grocery purchases.) The cards are being mailed out to California families from early August 2021 through November 2021. I recently received two of the P-EBT cards for my elementary school children, with a value of $738 each.

The California Department of Social Services has a good summary of the current P-EBT program and who qualifies. The program covers a broad swath of students and schools and there is no application process – you may be sent a card without expecting it, as our family did.

I wanted to write up a brief post on this program specifically because the program doesn’t seem to be widely known, applies to families that likely haven’t received this sort of benefit in the past, and because the cards come in very non-descript envelopes that I imagine are being thrown away as junk mail by many.

Here’s the envelope our card arrived in – it came from South Dakota and no mention of P-EBT, schools, or even the state of California. When I picked it up I thought it was a credit card solicitation.

The letter inside has quite a bit of information and the process to register and activate the card is pretty simple, as long as you have the personal information for the student receiving the card.

The San Diego Hunger Coalition has a helpful post with information about the distribution timing for the P-EBT cards, phone numbers you can call for help, and more.

I had not used a food stamp / P-EBT program in the past and was surprised at how easy the card is to use. You simply swipe it like a debit card, enter the PIN, and payment is processed for any grocery items on your bill, with non-grocery items needing separate payment. I’ve used the card at Vons, Target, and even on Amazon. If you receive P-EBT but don’t want to use the funds personally, I’ve found a few websites where you can donate P-EBT funds online, but none in California. (Perhaps there are ways to do this locally in San Diego – if you can drop a Comment on this I’d appreciate it.) Or, as this Chicago story notes, you can purchase items to donate if you like.

I hope if you live in California and have school-aged children you’ll keep an eye out for these benefit cards, and that yours doesn’t end up in the rubbish bin. The money is a significant amount and can be a great help for many children.

So excited to be back in school!

Creating an LLC – Quick Guide

Over the years I’ve been asked a number of times about how to set up and operate an LLC. This is typically in regard to “running a business” and coming from someone that is buying an investment property or in a similar situation. This post is a quick guide to getting an LLC set up (and as the disclaimer at bottom notes, not legal, business, or tax advice).

After completing a renovation, consider protecting your investment with an entity like an LLC.

First – why create an LLC? Primarily for liability protection. You do not need an LLC to conduct business. You can operate a business as a sole proprietor without any legal form or as a partnership (formal or informal) or any other entity structure. An LLC provides liability protection if a suit or claim impacts the assets that the LLC holds. In the case of real estate this would typically mean the LLC holds the title to the property, and any debts, and if the property had a loss or claim the LLC entity would help to protect the other assets of the LLC owner(s). The loss or claim could be a discrimination suit, property damage that exceeds insurance coverage, or a personal injury on the property. In addition to creating an LLC there are a variety of other tools you can use to reduce liability exposure, which I call the “The Protection Pyramid“.

If you do want to create an LLC the steps to do so are pretty straight-forward, but can be a bit intimidating if you aren’t already familiar with the registration and creation processes. An attorney can be a great help if you don’t want to do the paperwork yourself and will typically run in the range of $500 – $2,000 in my experience.

If you want to create an LLC yourself the basic steps are:

  1. State registration – An LLC is created at the state level, by filing the formation documents with the Secretary of State. You’ll need to complete an LLC Operating Agreement and/or Articles of Organization to create the LLC, which are then provided to the state. You can hire an attorney to create these documents, use an online provider like LegalZoom, or download a free template like this one. I would generally opt for the attorney option, at least for your first LLC to ensure it’s done properly. The state will then provide you with a state ID number and the LLC is officially created. There will typically be a small fee to register, and an annual form and filing fee for future years. (For an example, here is the Nevada website to register a new LLC.)
  2. Federal registration – After creating the LLC at the state level you will want to register with the IRS to get a Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN). You can do this online on the IRS website. This process is free.
  3. Bank account – For any business entity like an LLC make sure to keep business transactions separate from personal transactions. This goes for any income and any expenses. It will also make it easier to report the business activity at tax time. You can set up this account at any bank but should consider monthly fees, ATM access, and other banking offerings you may want. I also highly recommend a business credit card so you can conveniently make purchases in addition to the checking account. I personally like the Capital One Spark Business Card which offers 2% cash back on all purchases. Credit cards also offer better fraud protection than bank accounts, and reward programs like cash or travel miles.
  4. Financial software – This is not a required step, but one I highly recommend. Financial software organizes all the transactions for the business more easily and can create an income statement, balance sheet, or other reports. I use Quickbooks but you can also use NetSuite, Freshbooks, or a variety of other options. Whichever you pick, having online access and bank account syncing are critical tools to consider.

If you are the sole owner of the LLC you will include the business activity directly on your personal tax return each year and not likely have additional income tax filings required. If you have more than one owner you will likely need to file an annual income tax return on Form 1065 for Federal purposes and a state specific LLC return as well. The LLC does not pay income taxes, but will provide a Schedule K-1 to each LLC owner with their share of the business activity, which is incorporated into their individual tax return (Form 1040).

I hope this quick summary of the process to create an LLC is helpful to you. An LLC can be a great tool to give yourself additional liability protection at fairly low annual cost.

An LLC can help avoid the prick of claims on your assets. Ouch!

Note: The content of this post is for informational and discussion purposes and is not financial or tax advice. Consult with an advisor before relying on this or any information.

Hiking Cowles Mountain – Big Rock Trail (NE Trail)

I’ve hiked Cowles Mountain many times with my son since he was a baby, but until today had only used the Golfcrest Trailhead, the south-west and most popular starting point. Today we headed to Big Rock Trailhead, the north-east starting point.

The distance was about 2.1 miles from the trailhead to the peak and the ascent took us an hour with the return trip taking about 40 minutes. It certainly felt longer and more strenuous than the Golfcrest trail we’ve typically done. (Might be my post-Covid weaker body, or actually is a harder trail.) There was a great breeze going and this eastern trail had more shrub shade than the western side, to my surprise. Not a lot of shade, but some portions had a bit. We sat at the top and had a picnic lunch, which is a great way to take a nice break and enjoy a chat and views at the peak.

Guest content from my hiking partner, Ambrose:
“My favorite part was eating lunch. I want to do another hike sometime – one with a waterfall at the end.”

Cowles Mountain is one of 5 peaks in Mission Trails Regional Park that make up the “5 Peak Challenge“. The map below highlights the location of the peaks and it’s fun to do them all whether solo, with a friend, or with your family. I did the 5 Peak Challenge a few years ago solo and it was a great, challenging day.

Ask JPA – When do you choose to sell a rental property?

Ask JPA is an irregularly scheduled question-and-answer series of posts. Have a question for JPA? Send it to john.patrick.anderson@gmail.com. Cheers!

Hi John,
I know this is not a one-size fits all question / answer. When do you choose to sell a rental property? Let’s assume that I own property that is a good area that is appreciating in value, it’s also easy to rent (positive cash flow), and say that I’ve paid it off. When do I choose to sell it? I know that depends on a lot of factors: what would I reinvest etc? Just wondering what some of the models that you use for exit strategy? Maybe never sell – just C/O refi and reinvest in another unit? 

Dear Thinking of Selling,

Deciding when to sell a property will depend on many factors – current market values, current interest rates, needs or plans for the equity in a property, among others. If you generally think you want to sell or tap the equity in a property there are a few major options that I would associate with various motivations:

  1. Sell the property, pay capital gains taxes, and have the funds free and clear for anything. Probably the best bet if you’re tired of owning property and being a landlord or want the money to be liquid and available for travel, spending, or non-real estate investments. Paying taxes isn’t fun, but capital gains rates are lower than ordinary income tax rates which is a benefit.
  2. Do a cash out refinance and use the proceeds to invest in additional real estate, or for other uses. In the current mortgage environment interest rates are very low and you can both lock in very low rates for decades to come and access the equity in the property (up to 70% or 80% loan-to-value) and take the funds to do anything – pay off credit card debt, go shopping, or buy another property. The cash out refinance will increase the monthly mortgage payment so you may want to look at the current property performance and if the property will still cash flow well for you.
  3. Sell the property and do a 1031 exchange. A 1031 has some specific rules to it but basically you sell the property as normal but the funds go to a 3rd party administrator and have to be reinvested into another property within a relatively short time period. A 1031 exchange defers any capital gains taxes, so you don’t have a tax bill until the new replacement property is sold. 1031 exchanges are popular with real estate investors for the tax deferment, and as a tool to scale up in size. If your property has had good appreciation you can take that appreciation and lever it up with a new investment property mortgage. (For example a typical investment property will require 25% down payment so if you have had $100K of appreciation that will allow you to buy $400K of property.)

If you want to continue being a real estate investor I’d highly recommend Option 2 or 3 above. If you don’t, then Option 1 is probably your best bet. Option 3 will be best if you want to grow your real estate investments and Option 2 is better if you’re not sure if you want to invest in real estate or other areas.

I personally plan to keep investing in real estate consistently for many years to come so I would likely do the cash out refinance if there is a good amount of equity in the property, and given the current low mortgage rate environment. I’m not sure where your property is located, but that may also play into the picture as some places like California can have substantial tax benefits to holding a property long term rather than selling and reinvesting in another property.

Hope this helps and thanks for asking!

. – JPA

Some current multi-unit properties for sale in San Antonio, TX (from Redfin website). Scaling up from a single-family home to a four-unit building would be an option for a 1031 exchange.

COVID-19 Antibody Testing – Now Included with SD Blood Bank Donations

The San Diego Blood Bank recently started testing all blood donations for SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) antibodies. I gave blood last month and received the antibody results about 7 days after my donation via the Blood Bank donor portal, a personal site that gives a donor history, blood type, and now COVID-19 antibody results.

Per the Blood Bank, the antibody test “detects if your immune system has developed antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Results of SARS-CoV-2 testing is intended for qualification of COVID-19 convalescent plasma and may NOT be used for diagnostic purposes.  As this is NOT a diagnostic test, it will not detect active COVID-19 infections or recent exposure.” More information on the antibody test can be found on the Blood Bank related FAQ page here.

If you are wondering if you may have already had COVID-19 donating blood may be a free, convenient way to find out while also providing a blood donation to help others in the community.

You can schedule an appointment to donate blood with the San Diego Blood Bank at:
https://www.mysdbb.org/donor/schedules/zip

Sunrise over Americas Cup Harbor on November 28, 2020. (Not a blood donation center, but was a pretty morning.)