Napa Valley is an iconic wine region in Northern California known for its dry Mediterranean climate and fertile soil. Its ideal conditions are perfect for growing wine grapes, harvested and produced into award-winning red and white wines, sparkling wines, and blends. Home to over 500 wineries, Napa Valley is also the first Agricultural Preserve in America.
I was lucky to have the chance to visit Napa Valley a few times while living in the Bay Area, each time discovering a new winery and experience. Here I'm rounding up my favorites, and while they're temporarily closed due to COVID-19, you can still enjoy their wines by ordering online with special deals and discounts!
These are my top 5 must-visit wineries in Napa Valley:
Ceja Vineyards is special to me because it's the first winery I visited in Napa! It's owned by a family of first-generation Mexican-American winegrowers and has a small and intimate family feel with super friendly service. The wine tasting at Ceja really encourages you to explore your own interpretation of the wine, which I thought was really interesting!
Current quarantine offers include 15% off when you mix and match 6 or more bottles, and $10 flat rate ground shipping on 6+ bottles. cejavineyards.com
My favorite: Dulce Beso Late Harvest White Wine
Domaine Carneros is the epic Napa winery you've imagined! The huge, gorgeous chateau is surrounded by vineyards and neatly maintained shrubbery of all shapes and sizes. You can't spend time here without feeling classy! Domaine Carneros is known for their sparkling wines, and you can spend time outside on the terrace or inside in the tasting room.
Right now Domaine Carneros is offering $5 shipping on any 6+ bottles sent to the same address. domainecarneros.com$5 shipping on any 6+ bottles to a single address
My favorite: Ultra Brut
Tank Garage Winery
Tank Garage isn't your typical winery, and that's what makes it so great! Opened in 2014 and located in a former mechanic's garage and gas station, the theme carries through with the garage doors and old gas pumps outside (no, they do not work). Tank Garage is located in northern Napa Valley in Calistoga. Here they focus on utilizing various grapes and blends from the region to create their own reimagined wines. The vibe is funky and cool, and the label designs on the bottles are super unique as well!
Tank Garage is offering a few specials, including a Quarantine 6-Pack Kit
My favorite: Too Much to Dream Red Wine
Artesa Estate Vineyards
I was really excited to visit Artesa because it's the U.S. counterpart to Codorníu winery in Barcelona - the oldest producer of cava and one of the oldest wineries in the world. The Raventós Codorníu family has built an empire in Spain, and planted roots in California in 1991. Artesa is known for its pinot noir and chardonnay. The winery is absolutely beautiful inside and out, designed to be a part of the natural landscape, and with hints of inspiration from Barcelona. Artesa was also featured in the movie Wine Country!
Fair warning: All Napa wines are on the expensive side, and Artesa is no exception. They're offering really fun (but pricey) tasting at home kits. Or, you can get 1 cent shipping on any 6+ bottles. Sign up for Artesa's mailing list and get 15% off your first online order! artesawinery.com
My favorite: Albariño - Los Carneros
Castello di Amorosa
Also located in the town of Calistoga, Castello di Amorosa will transport you out of California and into Tuscany! A true castle, it was built over a 14-year period to be as authentic to 13th century Italy as possible. Being there is an experience in itself, but Castello di Amorosa also offers a wide collection of wines and tasting and tour options.
Castello di Amorosa always offers sales on online purchases, and right now you can get 50% off shipping, plus a discount depending on the number of bottles you buy. castellodiamorosa.com
My favorites: Dolcino Gewürztraminer
Of course, there are what feels like a million more wineries to explore in Napa Valley - and there's Sonoma Valley right next door too!
I'm looking forward to the day when we can visit again, but until then, I'll be wine tasting from the comfort of home. Cheers!
We all know that if there's one iconic structure to represent San Francisco, California, it's the Golden Gate Bridge! It's a must-see on every tourist's trip, and it's in fact not golden, but a striking red color. The bridge is actually named for the Golden Gate Strait that connects the Pacific Ocean to the San Francisco Bay.
During the five months that Brandon and I lived in the Bay Area, we had the chance to see the Golden Gate Bridge from many angles - high, low, near, far, through trees, from being on the bridge itself, etc.! Here I'm rounding up what I think are the five best viewpoints of the Golden Gate Bridge:
Lands End Labyrinth
Location: Lands End Trail, San Francisco, CA 94121
This viewpoint takes a little bit of work to get to. Taking the Lands End Trail, you'll twist and turn through trees and sandy pathways to arrive at the Lands End Labyrinth - a labyrinth of rocks on a cliff overlooking the ocean. The labyrinth itself isn't incredibly impressive in real life, but it has the added benefit of far-away views of the Golden Gate Bridge. And of course, on a sunny day it's even more gorgeous, and there's something to see in every direction.
Important to note: Wear comfortable shoes for mild hiking. I didn't realize how involved the trail would be (not difficult, just complicated), and my sandals suffered!
Location: 1199 E Beach, San Francisco, CA 94129
This is a classic viewpoint bound to be on any "best views of the Golden Gate Bridge" list. Here you can find a green field and a sandy beach for plenty of angles and options. This is the one location on my list that provides an opportunity for more of an upward view - we took photos from further away, but there's plenty of space here to explore.
Location: Fort Winfield Scott, San Francisco, CA 94129
Here you can get a great view of the bridge itself and the cliffs overlooking the Golden Gate Strait. Be careful around this area, as the the terrain and the battery itself may not be well maintained. Use caution along the cliffside to snap your photos from a safe position.
Background info: A battery refers to a location housing weapons for war. Because San Francisco was a major coastal city, it was equipped for seacoast defense. There are several batteries on either end of the Golden Gate Bridge, and now they make for great bridge-viewing and photo-taking locations!
Golden Gate Overlook Near Battery West
Address: Langdon Ct, San Francisco, CA 94129
Depending on where you park, just before getting to Battery Boutelle you may walk near this Golden Gate Overlook. It's a circular platform with park benches and a few stairs. You'll find the most perfect straight-on view of the Golden Gate Bridge framed by two trees.
Get the shot: The trick is for the photographer to get wayyyy down and to zoom! It doesn't look as close in real life, so you have to get a little creative.
Address: Conzelman Rd, Sausalito, CA 94965
Battery Spencer is one of the most iconic spots to see the Golden Gate Bridge, and we visited several times during our stay in the Bay Area! There are actually quite a few viewpoints and overlooks leading up to the battery, so you can stop as many times as you'd like. This was my favorite of all of the Golden Gate Bridge viewing locations we tried.
Pro tip: It gets v crowded here, so you may want to try to visit at a time when it's less likely to be busy, or be prepared to wait and/or try a few times for a parking spot. I never felt unsafe here, but there are signs posted warning about the possibility of theft from your vehicle, so don't leave any valuables inside.
While a trip to San Francisco may not be in your near future because of the coronavirus pandemic, I hope this post might be helpful for your next (or first!) trip to the Bay Area when it is safe to travel again. In the meantime, start planning your San Francisco itinerary on Google Maps and pin a few of these Golden Gate Bridge photo spots to save for later!
For now, stay safe + stay home <3
While living in the Bay Area, we had the opportunity to venture to South Lake Tahoe not once, but twice, all thanks to a crazy snow storm on our first go-around (but we had a redemptive second trip!). South Lake Tahoe is a popular destination for skiing and snowboarding, bordering the U.S. states of California and Nevada. It's about three and a half hours from Oakland, CA. I first learned to ski at Breckenridge in Colorado and had a pretty successful experience, so I was ready for my second attempt almost a year later at the Heavenly Resort on the Cali side of Tahoe.
Between our two trips to South Lake Tahoe (February and April), we found some great spots to eat, and fun things to do besides skiing and snowboarding. Check out my video below for a little overview from our April trip, and read on for my recommendations for where to stay, where to eat, and what to do in South Lake Tahoe in the wintertime.
Where to stay in South Lake Tahoe
For a cute ski-lodge-meets-upscale-motel vibe, check out Basecamp Tahoe South! We loved the style of the rooms, the games and fire pits outside, and the on-site brewery with live music! I'm a huge fan of Hotels.com and found Basecamp there. We were able to keep our car parked at the hotel and walked to the Heavenly gondola, as well as the main strip of shops and restaurants.
On our first trip to South Lake Tahoe, we stayed at the Heavenly Inn - which was also in a convenient location for walking to the gondola and the main boulevard, just not as cute or unique. That said, we were at the Heavenly Inn when we got snowed in for a few days on our February trip, and we appreciated the fact that the room had a small kitchen/dining area which helped us feel a little more at home while there. And they use a total American Horror Story style font, and I can't get over that.
Where to eat
These were our stops for vegan food in South Lake Tahoe:
Things to do in South Lake Tahoe besides skiing and snowboarding
Four words: Emerald Bay State Park! Emerald Bay is the most gorgeous part of South Lake Tahoe - besides seeing the lake from the slopes, of course! You can enjoy activities like hiking, biking, and swimming in the summertime, but in the winter it's just as beautiful to take a drive to the lookout point(s) and stare into the various shades of blue water. From the lookout, you can see Lake Tahoe's only island - Fannette Island.
A quick stop for a pretty sunset is Lakeside Beach. Again - more options in the summertime, but we braved the chilly weather during our April trip to South Lake Tahoe and were amongst a few groups of other people who came out to say goodbye to the daylight.
Other things to do in South Lake Tahoe:
Of course, the main thing I would recommend out of everything is taking the gondola ride up to catch the incredible views of Lake Tahoe - even if you just ride back down. I am absolutely terrified of gondolas in general, but I braved my fears and it was 100% worth it!
From our two winter trips, we got to see a lot of what South Lake Tahoe has to offer - incredible scenery, a lively dining scene, and endless opportunities to relax and re-connect.
Way back when I first started this lil bb blog, I wrote a post about my trip to Milford and New Haven, Connecticut to visit two friends who were completing their very first travel nursing assignment at Yale. Fast-forward three years, and we found ourselves living in New Haven as my husband completed a contract at Yale!
As per usual, we were eager to see and do as much as possible during our 13 weeks. We found Connecticut to be the perfect base location to visit all of New England - and beyond! Below I'm sharing our best day trips and weekend trips from New Haven:
Weekend Trip or Day Trip from New Haven to Boston
Distance from New Haven to Boston: 2.5 hours
Boston is an ideal destination for a day trip or overnight weekend trip - and we did both! You can choose to stay within Boston to do things like explore the North End, frolick through the Boston Public Garden, visit the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, or have afternoon tea at Abigail's Tea Room. Or you can venture out to explore Salem, Cambridge (check out the MIT Museum!), or another surrounding neighborhood. I've written about how to do Boston on a budget, but being able to drive back home to New Haven certainly helped us to save money on a hotel night!
Weekend Trip or Day Trip from New Haven to New York City
Distance from New Haven to NYC: 2 hours
One of the most convenient weekend destinations from New Haven is New York City, as you can take an Amtrak train to avoid driving/parking. While in New Haven, we did a day trip to NYC, and I also did a weekend trip with my family. There's no shortage of things to do in the Big Apple, and New Haven's convenient location makes it easy to see and do as much as you desire.
Weekend Trip from New Haven to Woodstock, Vermont
Distance from New Haven to Woodstock: 3 hours
We lived in New Haven during prime leaf-peeping season, so I was stoked to make a visit to Vermont! I found that Woodstock was my favorite place that we visited, but we made it all the way up to Stowe on a two-day trip from New Haven. We started our drive heading north on 91, crossing through Massachusetts, and eventually cutting just west to Woodstock, followed by a stop in Montpelier and finally, Stowe. From Woodstock to Stowe it was another hour and a half-ish drive. In Woodstock I recommend walking around the town itself, then visiting Sugarbush Farm. We didn't stay long in Montpelier, but really liked the cute downtown area and quirky shops. And if you make it all the way to Stowe, check out Cold Hollow Cider Mill, Ben and Jerry's, and of course, the mountain resorts!
Weekend Trip from New Haven to Dublin
Distance from New Haven to Hartford Airport: 1 hour / Flight from Hartford to Dublin: 6 hours
YEP! Aer Lingus offers a nonstop flight from Hartford's BDL airport to Dublin. We found a great deal to visit in the fall, and made a long weekend trip to Ireland! Check out our fast travel 4-day itinerary for Ireland here.
Weekend Trip from New Haven to Portland, Maine
Distance from New Haven to Portland: 4 hours
I had previously visited Portland for a work conference, so I was delighted to go back to this sweet coastal town. Before Portland, we spent a night in Newport, Rhode Island, which is also a great weekend trip from New Haven in itself. Portland to me just seems so accessible and fun! I love the shops, restaurants, and hidden streets, live music and of course, the Portland Head Light! While in Portland, we opted to make the journey out to Acadia National Park for the day, which was a long day trip, but well worth it to check another U.S. National Park off of our list. From Portland to Bar Harbor/Acadia NP it's about 3 hours - a day trip within a weekend trip!
Best Weekend Things to do in New Haven
I would be remiss if I didn't share some of my favorite things that we did while living in New Haven! We really did enjoy our time in the city in addition to the day and weekend trips. If you have some time in the area, these are my top to-do's:
Other notable mentions for weekend trips would be Providence, Rhode Island, or anywhere in New Hampshire.
If you're planning a New England getaway, or finding a new home in New Haven, I hope this list of potential weekend day or overnight trips has been helpful for you! Happy exploring :)
Getaway is all about disconnecting to connect and enjoying time in nature with those close to you. Brandon and I had the chance to take a Getaway from Pittsburgh this fall, to the new Getaway Beaver Creek location (convenient to both Cleveland and Pittsburgh). Read on for the details of our experience, and why you should have a Getaway of your own!
What is Getaway?
A Getaway house is a modern vacation cabin for a modern lifestyle. With all of the noise/tech in our world, having an escape into nature while maintaining the conveniences we humans love is perfect for anyone. Getaway cabins come equipped with a bathroom, including a shower, bed(s), mini kitchen with cooking supplies, AC/heat, and outdoor fire pit, table, and chairs.
You can find a Getaway outpost within 2 hours of major U.S. cities, such as New York, Boston, Atlanta, D.C., Portland, L.A., and Dallas. You don't know the exact address until you've booked your stay, leaving a little mystery to your adventure.
Getaway Beaver Creek Review
I had been following Getaway for a while on Instagram, so I was so excited to find out about the new outpost, Getaway Beaver Creek, located in Lisbon, Ohio. This location is marketed to Pittsburgh and Cleveland, and is about two hours from each city center.
We booked our Getaway to celebrate our two year anniversary in September. After booking and before our arrival, we received a few emails with helpful info and tips, as well as a playlist curated for our drive there (cute!). These thoughtful touches continued throughout our experience, and I lurrrve that kind of attention to detail.
Upon arriving to Getaway Beaver Creek, we realized that the site used to be a campground, but the cabins were staggered and had enough trees in between so that each one felt private and secluded. We were assigned the cabin called "Albert"- each cabin is named for a grandparent of a team member. So sweet! Checking out the inside of the cabin, we found a welcome note, books and games, food items to purchase in case you forgot anything, and a cell phone lock box to encourage a distraction-free experience.
The best part about a Getaway cabin is THE BIG WINDOW! Whether you have one or two beds in your cabin, you'll always have a giant square window for a gorgeous view of nature and earth - no lights, no people, no buildings, just peace.
Once we got to know the outpost, we explore a little bit of the local area before the sun went down. We visited downtown Lisbon and had dinner at the Courthouse Inn & Restaurant - a super eclectic spot that had a few vegan options. It started to rain, so the rest of the night was spent inside the cabin, and we didn't end up having the chance to use the fire pit.
No problem though! We played a game of cards, read some of the astronomy book that was on the shelf, and answered question prompts from the Getaway Guide that was provided to us inside the cabin. Questions about our past, present, and future selves, designed for developing connections with one another. Through all of this, I didn't think about checking my phone, or even what time it was. The environment and all of the details made for such a peaceful evening and real, quality time together.
All in all, we loved our time at Getaway Beaver Creek and wish we could have stayed longer! The cabin was comfortable with just enough space, and had everything we could have needed. I'd love to return again to experience better weather and the chance to sit outside at the fire, to do a local hike, and to spend more intentional time listening to the earth and to each other.
Book your own Getaway here or check out these tips for getting away.
When Tennessee became the destination for our vacation with Brandon's family, I really didn't know what to expect. He and I had suggested it because of a deal we had for a few condos for us to stay in, and we thought, "Why not?" None of us had been there before and we all loved the outdoors.
During our week-long stay, we experienced a little bit of everything, but here I'm recapping what stood out to me as the best tips to share if you're thinking about visiting Gatlinburg and/or Great Smoky Mountains NP!
Avoid the Crowds + Disconnect
Wow. Gatlinburg is B U S Y. I don't think any of us expected the Disney-eque nature of this town, or how many signs and attractions would be in our faces non-stop. While we did make a few trips in (shout out to Mellow Mushroom), I think we all felt relieved to return to our condos about 25 minutes away in Sevierville on the top of a hill with literally no service, wifi, anything. That in itself also sounds nerve-wracking, but it actually helped us to communicate in different ways (as in, face-to-face) and step away from the outside world in order to focus only on family for a week. And it helped us to have a nice balance of rowdy and relaxed environments throughout the week. If you're planning to be in the general area with a purpose of visiting the national park, I highly recommend staying outside of Gatlinburg.
Get Out on the Water
We decided to spend a day out on Douglas Lake and rented a pontoon boat and water tube. The 8 of us spent time tubing, sunbathing, fishing, and enjoying the beauty of the lake together! It was also a great way to stay cool in the summertime! I have to give a shout out to H2O Sports because our day got cut short due to a thunderstorm, and they allowed us to finish out our rental the following day. If you're feeling lost amongst the tourist traps or are looking for something to do outside of the national park, getting out on the lake is a great option!
Go to Clingmans Dome
Clingmans Dome is the highest point in GSMNP and the highest point in Tennessee! This was my favorite part of what we had the chance to experience in terms of the national park. We were lucky enough to have a clear June day and could see for miles!
You can reach the parking lot by driving through the park, and it's a 0.5-mile trek to the observation area. Though steep, the trail is totally doable and you can take your time! The observation tower allows you to experience a 360-degree view of the Great Smoky Mountains.
Overall, we had a nice time in Tennessee. I've since traveled to Memphis for work, but I'd like to explore other cities like Nashville and Knoxville. Our family trip, though with some unexpected twists and turns, turned out to be a great way to connect and disconnect and experience an incredible part of the natural landscape of our country.
The Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo (SLO), California is ICONIC. Why? Because it's colorful and gaudy and quirky and everything you'd want in a unique and fun place to stay. We stopped for the night on our Pacific Coast Highway road trip > read more about that here, but read on for more about the Madonna!
About the Madonna Inn
What we know now as the Madonna Inn began in 1958 with just 12 guest rooms. Over the years, the Inn went from 12 to 110 rooms and became a multi-purpose resort. Each and every room at the Madonna is unique - that's 110 completely different rooms! I'm talking color schemes, wallpaper, furniture, etc.
We stayed in the Marquerite, which is classified as a King economy room. According to the Madonna Inn, "The colorful blooms of the marguerite daisy are symbolic of innocence and joy." The bold yellow and blue complimentary colors made for a fun and whimsical experience, and the best part is that if we are able to return to the Madonna one day, we can stay in a completely different room inspired by different elements of the world around us.
More about the history of the Inn can be found on their website.
How to Enjoy Your Stay at the Madonna Inn in SLO
Relax at the Pool or Spa - The definition of treat-yo-self, Madonna Inn style!
Have Dinner at Alex Madonna’s Gold Rush Steak House - Being vegan, our options were a little limited here, but we made it work just to be in this pink paradise! Pink chairs, pink booths, pink tables, pink napkins - you get the idea. We enjoyed live music and each tasted a glass of one of the Madonna Inn private label wines!
Enjoy drinks at the Silver Bar Cocktail Lounge - After dinner you can stop by the bar here for a drink and to admire the hand-carved wood archways, and maybe people-watch a little bit too!
Make Your Own Photo Shoot - Did someone say, teal and pink basketball and tennis courts?! Yes, girl. They're real, they're at the Madonna, and I'm not actually sure if they're really used for basketball or tennis. But they're so fun for a quick photo shoot.
The Madonna Inn also has a variety of shops to explore, plus a famous bakery!
So there you have it! If you're planning a Highway 1 road trip with a stop in SLO, you've gotta stay at the Madonna Inn! Brace yourself for bright colors, including LOTS of pink, and an eclectic style not found at your average hotel.
One of the things at the very top of our California bucket list was a road trip down the Pacific Coast Highway, also known as PCH or Highway 1. This highway runs the length of California on the western side, towering above the Pacific Ocean and connecting various beaches and towns along the way. With one of the only long stretches of days that Brandon had off in January, we took to the coast to experience everything it had to offer.
Check out my first YouTube video recapping this trip, shot on my iPhone: (no judgement, still learning!)
Day 1: Connecting to Highway 1, exploring Big Sur, and walking on purple sand
Oakland > Carmel > Big Sur > San Simeon > San Luis Obispo
The first step in any PCH road trip is actually getting onto Highway 1. We opted to connect in the town of Carmel, also known as Carmel-by-the-Sea. IT. WAS. CUTE. Somehow balancing both upscale and down-to-earth vibes, Carmel was so pleasant to experience. We walked around a farmer's market and grabbed a coffee to go, catching just a glimpse of the water in order to continue on with our drive. Carmel is a popular day trip from San Francisco and we look forward to returning again for more of its gorgeous charm.
One of the most iconic sights on Highway 1 is the Bixby Creek Bridge in Big Sur, south of Carmel. The Bixby Creek Bridge is a favorite photography spot for anyone traveling on the Pacific Coast Highway, and rightly so! You can capture both the bridge and the waves crashing on the cliffs and beach below. We decided to stop here to eat our packed lunch and take in the views. Maybe it's the way you get a preview of the incredible drive you're about to have, or maybe it's the concept of a man-made creation connecting pieces of nature and giving us a path to see more. Whatever makes it so special, I would drive just to see it again! It's something you just can't miss.
Next on our list was Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, and specifically, Pfeiffer Beach. I'm not sure that we would have actually found the turn for the beach had we not stopped at the park ranger station first. A random right turn off of Highway 1 will lead you down a curved road to the beach area. Luckily we had cash on us to enter - it was around $10 or $12 to access the beach parking lot. From there it was a short walk to the beach and before we knew it, we were traipsing around on the most lovely and subtly purple-hued sand. I really loved watching the waves crash against the rocks and feeling the sun shining down on us and all of the other friendly beachgoers.
Another quick detour in this state park is McWay Falls, a gorgeous waterfall spilling into the ocean. There is a short path that you can take to a viewpoint - some of it was closed for construction when we visited, but we still got the perfect view. There is also a longer hike that you can take if you want to see the waterfall at a different angle.
Our final stop on day 1 was the elephant seal vista point in San Simeon. I hadn't seen an elephant seal in real life up until this point, and I had to of seen over 100 seals in about 1 minute. There were adults and pups all just hanging out on the sand - some louder than others. It was really something!
We ended the night at the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo (SLO), a super unique hotel that has a different bold, colorful theme for each room - literally 110 completely different rooms!
There were about a million other things that we could have stopped to see, but we felt satisfied with a day well spent on the California coast.
Day 2: Dune Buggy-ing on Pismo Beach, being surrounded by butterflies, a random Danish town, and Santa Barbara
San Luis Obispo > Pismo Beach > Solvang > Santa Barbara > Ventura
While reading up on things to do off of Highway 1, I learned that Pismo Beach is one of the only California beaches on which driving is permissible. So, I knew what I had to do - reserve a dune buggy! Brandon and I wanted to do a dune buggy tour in Moab like I had done last year, but everything was booked when we visited. So this was our chance, and on a beach no less! We almost had the entire beach and dunes to ourselves, and it was a really fun experience (even though we got stuck a few times). The company we chose was Sun Buggy, but there are quite a few others.
Also in Pismo Beach is the Monarch Butterfly Grove. Every year, thousands of monarch butterflies come here for the winter, from October through February. We visited in late January and it was absolutely amazing. From far away, it just looked like a bunch of big trees. But as we got closer, we saw a few butterflies around us (and you have to watch out for them on the ground, too!), and once we were at the base of the trees, we could look up to see hundreds of butterflies flying around and/or chilling on branches and leaves. In a few key spots there were small telescopes fixed on certain points that you could look through to see them more closely. They were stunning, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention how endangered they are, too. According to the National Wildlife Federation, "The monarch population has declined by approximately 90 percent since the 1990s." Monarchs are facing habitat loss and the effects of climate change. Sanctuaries like the grove in Pismo Beach are wonderful, but it's important to care for monarchs not just for an hour, but always. You can help by planting native milkweed (what monarchs need to eat and live), donating to supporting programs, limiting your personal impact on the environment, and raising awareness about the monarchs. I had so wished I had my "Monarch Mama" tee from Educated Earthling with me to wear here!
After spending some time with the butterflies, we drove to the city of Solvang. Situated in the Santa Ynez Valley, Solvang is something out of a storybook. Founded by immigrants from Denmark in 1911, Solvang is brimming with Danish bakeries, cute shops, and wine tasting rooms. The architecture is so distinct and different from anything else on the California coast! It's worth it to make a quick stop and briefly transport yourself to Europe.
Next, we headed to Santa Barbara for lunch and sightseeing. We ate at Green Table (vegan + amazing!) then walked around State Street and the Paseo Nuevo shopping area. There were street performers and just about every kind of store you could wish for. Before leaving Santa Barbara, we visited the Chromatic Gate, a colorful art installation near the beach. That golden hour glow!
Our evening ended in Ventura, California. We stayed at Waypoint Ventura (booked on Hotels.com!), which is a really fun collection of vintage airstreams, and grabbed dinner and drinks at VenTiki downtown.
Day 3: SoCal - Exploring the LA area beach towns
Ventura > Malibu > Santa Monica > Venice Beach
As guests at Waypoint Ventura, we had access to bicycles to rent for free in the morning before we continued with our drive. We took a ride to the Ventura promenade, which was bustling with morning walkers, cleanup volunteers, surfers, and beachgoers.
After our bike ride, we continued down PCH, passing through Malibu. We noted several signs thanking the firefighters who worked tirelessly to put out fires in the area, and we could still see burnt trees, plants, and grass in the front yards of homes that we passed during our drive. I always thought of Malibu as such a glamorous destination - and it still was - but we also saw the reality of what residents there had gone through just a few months prior.
Not far from Malibu was our next destination of the day: Santa Monica. We parked in a garage near the Third Street Promenade, a busy shopping area. All these shopping areas and we didn't buy a thing! #minimalism :) We walked the promenade and to the Santa Monica Pier. This iconic destination was jam-packed with people and we didn't feel the need to stay long. Our favorite part was the carousel, built in the 1920's and on the oldest part of the pier.
Another interesting and less-frequented attraction off of the pier is the Camera Obscura Art Lab. Here you can step inside the body of a camera - really! You enter into a completely dark room and the mechanisms of mirror and light project images from outside onto a large disc in the middle, which you can adjust to see different angles and scenes. It's free to enter and an interesting and unique experience. Plus you feel like you are secretly spying on everyone outside.
Our final stop of the day was Venice Beach. We booked an Airbnb not far from the boardwalk and walked to the beach for sunset. It was magical! Colors of pink, purple, and blue danced in the sky and I wiggled my toes in the cold sand. We had been driving for the other sunsets of the trip so it was nice to just relax and take it all in.
We had dinner at Café Gratitude and I was *shook* by the sweet sweet concept of this vegan restaurant. Each menu item is named with an adjective and when you order, you can start with, "I am..." and then state your selected choice. For example, "I am Magical" would be how to order the black bean burger. Our waiter was helpful and kind and after taking our orders, left us with a question to discuss: "What are you creating with your life?" Wow. Feels!
Day 4: The *other* Venice canals + LA
Venice > Los Angeles
Before leaving Venice, I wanted to check two things off of our list: the Venice sign (classic) and the Venice canals. It's funny how your perspective of a place changes once you actually visit. I imagined Venice to be so chic based on all the photos I had seen of the sign, but in reality it's quite your average beach boardwalk. That said, there were still some lovely areas, and what actually surprised me most was how lovely the canals were - which isn't always what you think of when you think of the Venice in California. If I ever return, I will definitely want to stay in a home along the water in the canal area. It was like we had traveled to a completely different town in a matter of minutes. Quiet and charming, versus the row of shops offering neon screen-printed clothing and/or weed paraphernalia on the boardwalk. All in all though, Venice was v nice - c'mon, you know I had to.
Next up was big, bad Los Angeles, the final destination of our Pacific Coast Highway road trip. If we had more time, we would have kept going all the way to San Diego, but we will save that for another trip someday. In LA, we started by visiting the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, or LACMA, to see the Urban Light exhibit outside of the museum. Urban Light was created by Chris Burden in 2008 and consists of 202 restored street lamps from throughout the LA area. I was thrilled to get to see this in person!
Afterwards, it was time for lunch and we had *thee* most ideal place: Vegan Sunday, a weekly market featuring 100% vegan food trucks and vendors. We had been blessed, y'all. We ate so many yummy, cruelty-free things and it was energizing to be surrounded by so many other people living the same lifestyle and sharing similar values.
One outfit change later (bc I was hot and sweaty and done looking cute) and we sought out to explore downtown LA. We stopped at the Bradbury Building (where JT filmed the "Say Something" video), The Last Bookstore (a huge collection of books and fun displays), and the Angels Flight Railway (the world's shortest railway). We closed the night with happy hour drinks and sunset views at Perch and dinner at a totally random vegan sushi restaurant.
We stayed in Koreatown at The Line, which is a boutique hotel that we couldn't/wouldn't normally afford, but found an incredible deal on HotelTonight. I'm a big fan of Hotels.com, but HotelTonight hooked us up with the best deal!
My one regret of our evening in LA is that we didn't have a chance to make it to the Griffith Observatory. As much as I wanted my very own La La Land moment, there just wasn't enough time to get there and have a chance to see it all at night. Next time!
Day 5: Warner Brothers Studio tour, Hollywood views, and returning back to NorCal
Our final to-do in LA was a studio tour, and we chose the Warner Brothers tour bc 1. Friends and 2. Harry Potter. We didn't care to see the walk of fame or the touristy spots in Hollywood, but we did want to learn more about movie-making magic! We booked spots on the 10:30 AM tour but ended up squeezing in on an earlier one. The tour is a combination of riding around in a golf cart (we got first row with our guide *just in case* we saw any celebrities. Spoiler: we didn't.) plus walking around different sets and backlots.
We learned about and saw the differences between a façade set (just the outside and not a real, full building) and the full building sets that are furnished for indoor and outdoor use. We saw the locations of so many iconic scenes in film and television and it truly is amazing what a little editing can do. Not to mention full-out games that filmmakers play with us viewers, like the way a small group of extras can look like a giant crowd just by entering and exiting a building and changing clothes in between.
Our tour guide took us to the sound stages and explained how they worked - it was pilot season so most were in use at the time. We had the chance to see costumes from films like Harry Potter, Fantastic Beasts, Crazy Rich Asians, and A Star is Born up close. It's so interesting to see how low quality some of the pieces seemed in real life (though they had gone through a lot while filming) versus how they look on film. And last but not least, one of my favorite parts - getting to sit on the Central Perk set from Friends and grab a coffee. V authentic.
After our studio tour, we made a quick visit to Griffith Park. Griffith Observatory was closed for the day, but we still made a stop just to see it from the outside and check out the views of Los Angeles and of the Hollywood sign. 'Twas a lovely sight and a great way to end our time in LA.
Then it was back home to Northern California! We had driven down the coast, taking our time throughout our road trip, but it's much faster to take highway 5 in the middle of the state, so we drove on that highway to get home faster. This trip was such an exciting and spontaneous adventure and it's been one of our most favorite things that we've done so far while living in California. Hopefully my reflection has given you ideas about how to plan your own Highway 1 / PCH road trip!
During our time living in California, we're hoping to see and do as much as possible. And we sure did close out April with a bang! Brandon and I had the opportunity to take a 4-day road trip through Northern California and Southern Oregon in a JUCY campervan, visiting 3 US National Parks and exploring countless incredible landscapes. While it was an ambitious trip, it was 100% worth it. Read on for the deets!
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Renting a JUCY Campervan in the US
JUCY began in New Zealand and Australia and has expanded to the United States and Canada. You can pick up / drop off a JUCY campervan in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and San Francisco (really, San Leandro near the Oakland airport).
JUCY vans are unique in that they are fully equipped for a camping adventure, complete with a full-size bed and kitchen setup. And yet, it's all packed into a Dodge Caravan, so it's still easy to maneuver and has decent gas mileage. Each JUCY van also comes with a separate battery to keep the refrigerator running (really!) and offers additional 12v DC accessory and USB ports for charging your devices without using up the car battery.
Other fun features include blinds for the car windows to provide privacy if you're sleeping inside the vehicle, and of course, the "penthouse" AKA the bed on top of the car. If you're thinking about renting a JUCY USA van, go for the "Trailblazer" model which has the penthouse. It was too cold for us to sleep in the penthouse for our first two nights, but we did sleep there on the third night. It's also helpful to have the penthouse if you're traveling with more people, as a group of 4 can enjoy a JUCY adventure together. There are a few different types of models depending on the van that you are assigned - we had the "push up" model, so all we had to do was open the latches and push up on the edges and voilà - our penthouse tent appeared!
Tips for Renting a JUCY Campervan in the US
While renting a JUCY van is a super unique and exciting way to travel, it does come at a price. There are many additional charges and add-ons to be aware of before booking. Which leads me to my tips for renting a JUCY van in the US:
Our JUCY USA Route: Northern California and Southern Oregon, and 3 US National Parks in 3 Days
When it came to planning our driving route and trip itinerary, we got a little too ambitious. So, there were things that we had to adjust and be flexible with, in order to keep our arrival times at the campgrounds on schedule. And this was mostly because we are terrible at waking up early. Below I'm sharing what we actually did fit in each day, which was still amazing! We were also limited on time, only having 4 days to do this trip, so there is so much that we had to skip but will hopefully get to see someday.
Day 1: Driving the Pacific Coast Highway in Northern California
San Leandro > Mendocino > Eureka > Trinidad
While we had already experienced the PCH going south towards LA, this time we had a chance to drive north on Highway 1. Starting in San Leandro where we picked up our JUCY, we made our way to the town of Mendocino. It was quiet, quaint, and sweet. We grabbed lunch at Good Life Cafe & Bakery. On the way to Mendocino, we also stopped at the Philo Apple Farm. It's a quick detour on highway 128 and there are only a few signs when you get close to it, but it was such a charming farm with a self-service store showcasing their handmade products. We picked up an apple juice and strawberry jam.
After lunch in Mendocino, we drove to Eureka, California. We really wanted to explore more, but unfortunately had to make our stop a short one due to timing and it taking a little longer than expected to get our JUCY out on the road that morning. It wasn't all bad though - we had incredible views all along the coast, stopping for photos and to admire our surroundings. The Pacific Coast is just so powerful and beautiful, and we felt lucky to experience it again.
Our final stop for the day was the Agate Campground at Patrick's Point State Park in Trinidad, California. Patrick's Point is part of the Redwood National and State Parks and our campsite was secluded in the forest yet just a short walk from a stunning view of the coastline (photo above!). We had arrived just before sundown, so we fixed a quick dinner of Beyond Meat burgers and set up our JUCY van for the night.
Day 2: Visiting Redwood National and State Parks, plus Oregon!
Trinidad > Redwood NP > Klamath River Overlook > Brookings > Bandon > Idleyld Park
After an oatmeal + fruit breakfast at our campsite, we packed up and headed towards the Redwood National Park Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center. I always love entering a visitor center for the informational displays, friendly and knowledgable staff, and quirky gift shops. There we were advised to continue on to the Prairie Creek Visitor Center and to do the Big Tree Hike. And that we did!
Starting just outside of the Prairie Creek Visitor Center, the Big Tree Hike takes you through a variety of redwoods both big and bigger until you reach the biggest one, aptly named "Big Tree." There is a parking lot and short pathway to Big Tree if you don't feel like hiking, but we really enjoyed the 2.2-mile roundtrip hike to get better acquainted with the redwoods. Big Tree itself is 286 feet tall, 23.7 feet in diameter, and is estimated to be over 1,500 years old.
After our hike, we drove to the Klamath River Overlook to have lunch (avocado and chickpea sammies!) and enjoy the view. Next, we headed up into Oregon, first stopping in Brookings at the Natural Bridges Viewpoint in the Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor. The Oregon coast was just as beautiful as in California, though we noticed that the highway had more of a diverse route, not sticking as close to the actual coast as its southern section did.
Continuing up the Oregon coast, we made our way to the town of Bandon, which was really on my list for the sheer similarity to my husband's name, so I could take photos of him next to every sign we saw. We arrived in the early evening on a Sunday, so much of the town was closed, but we had a chance to enjoy a drink at the Bandon Brewing Company and walk around the sweet Old Town.
A few hours later and we had finally arrived at our campsite for the night at Umpqua's Last Resort in Idleyld Park, Oregon. The campground is found in the middle of the Umpqua National Forest and along the North Umpqua River. The drive was absolutely lovely and we enjoyed a campfire in the evening, roasting (vegan) s'mores and gazing at the stars. No cell service = no problem.
Day 3: Exploring Oregon: Toketee Falls and Crater Lake National Park
Idleyld > Toketee Falls > Crater Lake NP > Weed > Lakehead, CA
Just 15 minutes down the road from Umpqua's Last Resort is Toketee Falls, a beautiful waterfall accessible via a short 0.4-mile hike to a suspended platform for the ultimate waterfall viewing. Some visitors hike all the way to the bottom of the falls, but we settled for the trail view in the interest of time.
One thing on our list that we had to skip was the Umpqua Hot Springs just down the road from Toketee Falls. The hot springs are a popular attraction, but in the winter the road leading up to the springs is closed, leaving visitors with the option of parking at the gate and walking 2 miles to reach the springs. With limited time, we couldn't fit in the 2-mile hike, spring time, and 2-mile hike back. But, maybe next time!
After Toketee Falls we set our sights on Crater Lake National Park. The only NP in Oregon, Crater Lake does not disappoint - even in the winter! Due to the insane amount of snow, we had to enter through the Southern entrance and could only get to Rim Village, as other roads and activities were still closed. The views were absolutely incredible and I still can't stop thinking about it. Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States and the 9th deepest in the world. It's fed by rain and snow only, and is thought to be one of the clearest and cleanest lakes in the world. That blue. That snow. That island. It was all so gorgeous, and we're so thankful that we were able to see it. Definitely a highlight of the trip for both of us!
After Crater Lake (and a quick lunch in the car), we drove back into California. Some of the drive was boring, but just until we came upon the most beautiful views of snow-covered Mount Shasta in the distance. After a pit stop in Weed (tiny lil town with a big touristy store for people who need an "I <3 WEED" shirt), we arrived at our final campground, Antlers RV Park & Campground in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest near Lakehead, California. We were two of about 5 people in the campground and had a sweet secluded campsite overlooking Shasta Lake. Because we had to arrive early to register before the office closed, we had time to set up our hammock, relax in the sunshine, and crack open a beer (for me, a fancy canned rosé). For dinner, we ate vegan hot dogs with sauerkraut and roasted a few more s'mores.
Day 4: Lassen Volcanic National Park and returning our JUCY van
Lakehead > Lassen Volcanic NP > San Leandro
Waking up along Shasta Lake felt like a camping paradise. It was a beautiful morning and we enjoyed another quick oatmeal + fruit breakfast before packing everything up to make our trek back home to return our beloved JUCY van, but not before stopping at Lassen Volcanic National Park.
As expected, most of Lassen was closed for the winter season. In fact, all of the visitor centers were closed on the day we visited, too. So, while short and sweet, we did enjoy a 10-mile drive through the park from the Loomis Museum Visitor Center to the Devastated Area. We could observe the volcanic structures and rock covering the land around the trees, broken up by Manzanita Lake. If we have the chance to visit again, we'll go in the summertime when we can see the hydrothermal areas.
Next it was a hustle to get our JUCY van back to the San Leandro facility on time, as our car had been parked there while we were renting the van and we needed it back before they closed! Another thing to be aware of is the late return fees - which was really anytime after 11 am so we were bound to have to pay it, and we knew in advance. Fees and all, it was a totally worthwhile experience and we had so much fun! It made me fonder of camping and #vanlife and I hope to do a similar trip again in the future.
So there you have it! Our jam-packed 4-day JUCY USA campervan itinerary in Northern California and Southern Oregon. Have you rented a JUCY van before? Tell me about it! Have more questions about our experience? Ask away.
PS - Check out a video recap of our trip below!
Santa Fe - truly a place that had been on my bucket list after hearing songs from the Newsies and RENT. And for my birthday this year I thought, yeah, sunny Santa Fe would be...nice. So we packed our things and made the road trip from Denver to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Here I'm rounding up my favorite things that we enjoyed during our weekend trip, and I already can't wait to go back!
Where to stay
For our getaway in Santa Fe, we went the Airbnb route. There are countless places to stay that are all comfortable, convenient, and well accommodated, but for my birthday this year I wanted a unique experience and something kind of remote. So we went with Suzanne's vintage airstream. It was the sweetest, most stylish "glamping" experience I've ever had - thoughtfully decorated and just so dang cute! At night you could see what seemed like a million stars, and in the morning we enjoyed a peaceful breakfast outside.
Where to eat
We had the chance to sample a few of the must-go places while in Santa Fe, and all while sticking to our vegan diet! Below are the eats you can't miss:
What to do
Santa Fe has so much in store for you between shopping, food & drink, ART, music, culture, nature, and architecture. These are just a few of the things we got to do during our weekend in Santa Fe:
And there you have it! A quick roundup of all that Santa Fe had to offer us for my birthday weekend. I can definitely say that I'd like to go back someday. Known as being the oldest capital city in the country, Santa Fe is low key yet has so much to offer! There are several museums that I would like to make time for during another trip.
Every time I look at my silver rings from the railyard market I think of how nice sunny Santa Fe was as I celebrated another trip around the sun.