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.
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.
Moab, Utah is a bike rider's paradise. Those who brave the rough terrain, unbearable conditions (we're talkin the desert here, people), and seemingly endless trails, all for the love of it. I closed out the month of February by taking a road trip from Denver to Moab with a few girlfriends to celebrate one of my best friends as she turned another year wiser. We had the best time and found so much to do and explore in Moab in the winter, other than biking. If you've thought about going in the off-season but thought, "whatever will I do?!," look no further. Here's how to experience "life elevated" in one of Utah's best cities during the wintertime.
Explore the State and National Parks Near Moab
There are three main parks nearby, each of them perfect for hiking and exploring at whatever pace suits you. End of February this year #blessed us with absolutely beautiful weather - during the daytime, the sun was beaming and we enjoyed a comfortable 50-60 degrees. This was perfect for hiking through various short trails, taking photos, and just soaking it all in. I can't imagine what the same hikes would feel like in the blazing sun of summer. Visiting Moab in the winter could be your ticket to more comfortable and pleasant hiking! These are the must-experience parks:
Arches National Park // Y'ALL. This national park is just minutes away from downtown Moab and it's so wonderful. Learn about the way the arches form and get to see all kinds of examples for yourself. The best arches in Arches National Park? Delicate Arch, the Windows (North Window and South Window), and Turret Arch. Going in the winter meant being able to take photos without tons of people in the background, and getting some extra personal time with these incredible examples of nature.
Dead Horse Point State Park // This is a state park in Utah not far from Moab. If you're not in the mood to hike, or if the temp in winter is a bit too cold, this is a great place to drive through and take the short trails to the overlooks. The view from Dead Horse Point is the iconic image you'll want to capture, but be sure to also stop to get a view of the Monitor and Merrimac Buttes.
Canyonlands National Park // Canyonlands is a massive national park featuring amazing landscapes and views like no other. We made a point to get to Mesa Arch in Canyonlands for sunrise, and it was so, so beautiful. While there were some other fellow photographers and nature-appreciators, the area would be undoubtedly more crowded during the high season. While we watched the sun greet our piece of earth for the day, we basked in the complete silence of the morning. It was such a sweet moment to reflect, and I think everyone should have that experience if you can.
Enjoy the Local Eats
I've gotta be honest - there's not too much on the food scene in Moab. But, sometimes less options means an easier choice. Be warned that some cafes and shops aren't open in the off-season, but most are. On the plus side, during the winter season you have the chance to dine amongst locals instead of competing for a table with the other tourists in town.
Below are the restaurants in Moab that I had a chance to try:
Drive a Dune Buggy
While there are plenty of things to do besides biking in Moab, the list is much more limited in the wintertime. During the summer, you can do scenic boat tours on the Colorado River, river rafting, helicopter tours, hot air balloon rides, and more. During the winter, what stood out to us in terms of adventure travel opportunities was dune buggying with Moab Tour Company. We decided on a whim and they actually had to call someone in to be our guide!
Led by a local expert, we rented a 4-person dune buggy (officially called a UTV - utility task vehicle) and took turns riding through the Hell's Revenge trail. At first I was a little apprehensive, but it was so fun to do and exciting to get the hang of it. We made stops along the way to take photos, see where we'd been and where we were going, and our guide even pointed out a preserved dinosaur footprint along the way (another thing that Moab has a lot of - dinosaur artifacts!).
If you go to Moab in the winter, you won't regret having the chance to drive a dune buggy on this trail and catch some amazing views along the way - they even give you blankets if you get cold :)
Where to Stay in Moab
When you look for places to stay in Moab, you'll find a lot of options. We opted for an Airbnb called Moab Digs, which I really can't recommend enough. It's right off of the main street and so thoughtfully designed. It had everything we needed and made our stay extra enjoyable!
If you'd like to try somewhere a little more remote, you could glamp with Under Canvas Moab (but not in the winter) or splurge on a stay at Sorrel River Ranch Resort. We had dinner and drinks at Sorrel and though it's about 30 minutes from Moab proper, the drive is really wonderful and it is such a sweet spot right on the Colorado River. If you go, make sure to stay for the bonfire and have some s'mores.
No matter where you stay or what you do in Moab, you really can't go wrong. Life is simpler and nature is more grand. You have the chance to immerse yourself in a community of active people who conserve and appreciate the world around them. Moab was never a place I had thought about going, but I'm so glad that I did. I hope you will too. Embrace the beauty that our world has to offer. The history that's so visible and permanent. The lessons we can learn from it. Moab in the winter is the perfect opportunity to take it all in.
a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease.
Anxiety is something that I have been struggling with for a long time. This time last year, I hit my breaking point. Just a few days before I was due to travel across the country from Pittsburgh to San Diego to visit one of my best friends for her birthday, I found myself at the hospital, hopeful that someone would finally tell me what was wrong with me - with my heart, my lungs, or some organ that was making me feel this way. I felt like I wanted to rip out of my own body. Like I was going to pass out at any moment. Like I couldn't shake the feeling. It was a feeling I felt every day. But it wasn't until that day that I finally accepted that the problem was in my brain. It was, quite literally, all in my head.
I went back to my apartment and I went to work the next day like nothing happened. I resumed the role of the upbeat, smart, attentive, savvy young woman I had been playing my entire life. I embraced a new realization to cope with behind the scenes. And the day after that, I got dropped off at the airport and I went on that trip.
If you're like me, you have this kind of internal battle with yourself every day. You constantly put things into perspective. But you know that no matter what, you won't let your anxiety run the show, or keep you from doing the things you love. When there is an opportunity to see and experience this world, ain't nobody got time for it. As I approach the anniversary of a low point in my life, I thought it might be cathartic for me and for you if I shared my travel anxiety tips and the ways in which I cope. Whether this is a daily challenge for you, or just one when you go to a new place, I hope my perspective will help.
I'm currently living in the same city as that best friend, and we're taking a trip together for her birthday this weekend. Time is a funny thing.
How to Cope with Airplane Anxiety
I get it. Whether I'm by myself or with a group of people, all the same thoughts go through my head on an airplane. What if the engine stops working? What was that sound? Why did the lights flicker like that? What if we crash into another plane in the sky? Did I pay enough attention to the safety video?
When I find myself thinking those thoughts, I turned to my dear old friend, probability. You know, I used to be really good at math. I like to remind myself about the very, extremely low probability that anything bad will actually happen. I take a moment to appreciate all of the flights that occur successfully every single day all around the world. I trust the technology, and the people. I think about if I were a flight attendant or a pilot, how casual a flight would be, and I try to adopt that attitude. And I basically try to fall asleep as quickly as possible to pass the time. No matter what, I know that statistics are on my side, and I'm on my way to a wonderful destination.
Try out this perspective the next time you're on a plane and that uneasy feeling starts to creep up. It may not go away completely, but "debunking" your anxious arguments to yourself can really help. And if the person next to you seems like the type, strike up a conversation with them. I remember totally random people and our conversations on airplanes more than I remember any of the anxiety I ever felt. Don't underestimate how powerful human connection is.
How to Cope with Anxiety About Traveling to New Places
When you really think about it, every place was new at some point. But you could find yourself going to a really different place from the places you've been used to. Maybe the people there speak a different language, or dress differently, or behave differently. If I find myself feeling anxious about something, I turn to my other old friend, research. Learning about a new culture or country in advance is the best way to calm any uneasy feeling you may be having. If you know the important things, you can't be taken off guard. You can still embrace new experiences and be surprised at how wonderful it is when you get there, all the while knowing left from right in your new environment. Learn the basics of the language. Study a city map to get your bearings. Your brain is racing through the "what if?"s and highlighting all the potential downfalls - a little research can go a long way in setting your mind at ease. Then you'll be able to make the most of your adventure and enjoy every moment along the way.
Another thing to practice, always, no matter where you are, is mindfulness. If you're worried about being pickpocketed, remain aware. Be mindful of your surroundings and your body language. Sometimes I feel like my anxiety is like a hyper mindfulness, so I spin it into a positive. There's a big difference between being a careless traveler and a carefree one. Practicing mindfulness can help you and your belongings remain safe and sound so you can feel that carefree travel high.
How to Cope with Anxiety About Being Away From Home
If it's your first time traveling somewhere by yourself, you may be faced with tasks you never had to handle before. You have to keep your important papers organized. You have to be on time and at the right place at the right time. You have to communicate with other people. You have to navigate buildings and transportation. It can be overwhelming, and it can seem so overwhelming that you may not even want to do it. But I urge you to take the leap. When I start to have those feelings of anxiety like I can't do something, I know that the only thing to do is the exact thing that I'm scared of - because it will be so worth it.
When I was in college, I studied abroad with Forum-Nexus as a solo traveler, hopping on a plane headed to Europe without knowing anyone and trusting that people would be there waiting for me, that I'd make friends, and that I'd have the summer of a lifetime. Here's the cliché - I did! I had the most amazing, exhilarating, life-changing experience that summer, and it set the tone for the rest of my life thus far. My family was absolutely terrified for me - I was the first person to leave the country since our ancestors came to the country. It was a big deal. I had traveled to Spain in high school and I knew what that feeling was like, and I knew that I wanted it again even if it meant going by myself. Sometimes all we need is to turn our anxiety for us instead of against us. What will you miss out on if you don't go? Get that FOMO on your side. You are strong. You are capable. And you are worthy. Being away from home is only temporary. And it can only become home when you leave it.
I'm proud to say that the person I am today is not the same person I was a year ago. Don't get me wrong - I still have that same brain. I still feel hyper mindful sometimes and I still get overwhelmed by things that wouldn't be overwhelming to someone else. I think - a lot. But I can recognize when I'm psyching myself out. I've learned to trust in myself and in my faith. I'm caring for my physical and mental health in ways I wasn't before. I'm opening up to you, who has read this all the way to the end - thank you for doing that, by the way. This space to express myself is never taken for granted.
I want you to know that you are fully you and your anxiety is a part of you that you can control. Use all that thinkin' to create your own strategies for how to cope with travel anxiety. You are able to make things better for yourself. You can travel near and far and live the full life you desire. I'm rooting for you.
Just like that, our time living in Baltimore, Maryland was up. My husband Brandon completed his very first travel nursing assignment and we were back home in Pittsburgh for belated holiday celebrations and lots and lots of family time. Up next was Denver, Colorado. No matter how much we tried to set aside the items we were going to pack throughout the two weeks we were home, nothing could prepare us to fully pack up and move across the country until we were just a day away. Not to mention Brandon took a long weekend trip to Salt Lake City, I had a ton of work going on, and we bought a new car! But hey, how can we really complain? We made it work and packed up everything we thought we needed and started our journey. Keep reading for a recap of our trip to Denver and our first impressions after almost two weeks in the Mile High City.
Day 1: Man, I wish you could have seen us. We scrambled to finish packing, wash the car, pack the car, visit Brandon's grandma, and run back to my mom's house to grab a few things we forgot. We finally left Pittsburgh around noon but we weren't in too much of a rush, thankfully. There are two main routes from Pittsburgh to Denver, one north and one south. The north route goes right near Jackson, Michigan, where two of our friends just recently moved. We had the opportunity to stay the night at their home and experience a local favorite: Klavon's. The highlights were a veggie stuffed pizza and local wine.
Day 2: We hit the road early driving south to get into Indiana and sort of merge into the southern route, eventually. We knew a snow storm was coming through, but we didn't realize that we'd find ourselves right in the middle of it on a highway that hadn't been plowed/salted/touched yet. It was one of those moments where you have to admit that you made the wrong decision and leave your pride out in the cold (literally) to make the rest of the experience better. As Brandon drove through the still-dark, snow flurrying sky, I found an alternate route that, if we just backtracked about 30 minutes, would put us on the right track for smooth sailing out of that snow storm. So, we turned ourselves around and escaped the storm that plummeted the East Coast that day. 15 hours later, including a stop in Pontiac, IL, we had made it to our goal destination of day 2: Topeka, KS. I used Hotels.com to set us up in the Hyatt Place and everything was groovy.
Day 3: Kansas. That's really all there is to say about this day. The journey was barren and beautiful and boring, too. But about 8 hours later we finally arrived to our new home: Denver. Reflecting back on our trip, the drive really wasn't that bad and frequent stops helped break up the monotony. Brandon and I took turns driving and we took a few naps when passenger to pass the time. My two favorite travel accessories that I brought along for the ride were my plane hat from Serengetee and my inflatable neck pillow from Sleeper Scarf. My hat helped shield my face from the sun and my Sleeper Scarf helped make my snoozes so much more comfortable - seriously! It's an infinity scarf with a secret neck pillow inside. All you have to do is unzip, inflate, and deflate when you're done. I'm definitely taking my Sleeper Scarf with me for my next flight, too - I'll be out like nobody's business before the plane even leaves the ground.
Favorites - So Far
We've now only been in Denver a little over a week and a half, but I feel like we've seen and done so much already. As far as first impressions go, this city is pretty cool. It's outdoorsy, casual, liberal, and fun! Not to mention there's a brewery on every corner. The people are friendly and really my only complaint is that the roads are a little funny - sometimes you have stop signs, and other times you don't. But that's just a matter of something to get used to. I'll be sure to do a round-up of my all-time favorite Denver do's and eats, but for now, here's what we've had a chance to experience so far:
There you have it, folks. Do you think we'll make it through the winter? A common misconception about Denver is that it's the most winter-y place on earth. While we've been here less than two weeks, it's quite the contrary. We've had several days in the 40's, 50's, and 60's. And every day is always better because the sun is shining. I'm so excited for the rest of our time in Denver and to share our favorite experiences and memories with you. Thank you for reading, and I hope you find something new to explore today!
As 2017 comes to an end, I'm reflecting on all of the trips and memories I've been lucky enough to have this year. It was by far the year of my life with the biggest trips, the most adventures, and the best photos. It never seemed so crazy in the moment, but I'm feeling really thankful as I think back to each experience and the people I've shared them with. Here's a recap of some of my favorite moments with a brief lil ditty about each place. Cheers!
January 2017 - Killington, Vermont
I'm really, honestly, truly not one for winter weather. But when my then-fiance, now-husband was planning a snowboarding trip to one of the top winter sport destinations in the height of the season, I said, "why not?!" Though I didn't hit the slopes myself, I had the opportunity to work from the lodge and catch views like this one. I loved being able to ride the cable car all the way up and gaze at the snow-covered, well, everything.
February 2017 - San Diego, California
Ahh, that's more like it. Feeling the warm sunshine in San Diego was such a treat compared to the freezing cold back home in Pittsburgh. I visited one of my best friends and got to explore Pacific Beach, watch the day's end at Sunset Cliffs, shop in Old Town, and brewery hop in North Park. We even made a little trip to Temecula for one thing and one thing only - wine! My favorite part of the trip (besides the wine) was salsa dancing at Tango Del Ray. I absolutely LOVE any Latin style of dance, and we had the best time there.
April 2017 - Chicago, Illinois
My sister and I took my dad to Chicago to go to a Cub's game, since he's a huge baseball fan. We also incorporated some touristy activities into our trip, like visiting the Bean. The weather was mild and I enjoyed wandering about the city. In all our wandering, we stumbled across the theatre district and took a chance at getting Hamilton tickets for that night. As luck would have it, we got there right on time (which was about 4 pm if I remember correctly), the gentleman in front of us took just 1 ticket, and we got the remaining 3 available for that night's performance. We were giddy. And not only that, but when you buy tickets day-of and get basically the unclaimed tickets for that night, they are all the same price and can be anywhere in the theatre. Ours were in the fourth row. It was UNREAL. Honestly, if you have the chance to see Hamilton, do it. The soundtrack may be stuck in your head for the rest of your life, but it's so worth it.
May 2017 - Berlin, Maryland
The next month, we went with my mom on vacation to Berlin, Maryland, just outside of Ocean City. This was a familiar place for us - it was the place almost two years prior where Brandon and I got engaged, when we went on vacation with both of our families together. This time, the weather was not in our favor, but we made the best of it and had a great time relaxing in our little cottage, walking the deserted beach, and checking out the antique shops in the town of Berlin. Brandon and I took a few moments to sneak away to the spot on the bay where he proposed. We may or may not have re-carved our initials into the wood while taking time to reflect on our engagement and re-ignite our excitement for our wedding in just a few months.
July 2017 - Rome, Italy
This summer, I had the opportunity to travel to the Eternal City for the first time through my work with Forum-Nexus Study Abroad. (There were actually a ton of people all around us at this moment, but with a little angling we were able to get a clear shot!) Each year with Forum-Nexus, we take about 60 students to cities across 5 countries in Europe as they take a variety of different courses and participate in visits to international companies and organizations. Studying abroad with Forum-Nexus was the best decision I've ever made, and I'm lucky to have continued to be a part of the organization ever since. Traveling is such a huge part of my life and I feel like I'm really fulfilling my purpose by helping other students have the experience!
August 2017 - Miami, Florida
By the time we returned home from Europe our wedding was right around the corner, which meant only one thing: my bachelorette party! I had always wanted to return to Miami after only traveling there briefly once before. We spent most of our time in South Beach, soaking in the sun, eating good food, and most importantly, DANCING. There are only a few things that I love more than salsa (see February in San Diego). But I think our favorite night of the trip was a Sunday night when we went to Tapas y Tintos for tapas, sangrias, and a flamenco show. We were there all night and had the BEST time - shout out to Patricia our waitress and the entire staff for being so amazing! Unfortunately the next day I did not feel so amazing, but we had to check out of our hotel and we had planned to visit Wynwood before flying back home. When I look back on my photos at the Wynwood Walls, I laugh at how awful I felt on the inside, while trying to play it cool on the outside. Now you know and can LOL with me!
September 2017 - Split, Croatia
My favorite memory from September (and ever) was getting married, but my favorite travel memory from this month is from our Heritage Honeymoon! We traveled to Wales, Croatia, and Italy to explore some of the countries our ancestors have come from. In Croatia we spent 24 hours in Zagreb on our way to Split. In Split we really felt like locals, staying in an apartment, shopping at the markets, strolling along the water, and relaxing out at sea. We got a taste of what it would be like to live there, and honestly I really loved it. I could see us living there or somewhere similar for a time. It was a low-key lifestyle that felt just right, and when I look at this photo I smile thinking about how wonderful it felt to be there.
November 2017 - Boston, Massachusetts
We moved to Baltimore at the very end of September and had the opportunity to explore nearby areas like Frederick and Washington, D.C., and also travel to Boston in November. I had never been there before but really wanted to go! We planned it at the last minute, and it was really nice to have the freedom to do that. I was able to use my Hotels.com rewards for our stay at The Verb Hotel, right near Fenway Park. This hotel is amazing! It has a retro vibe with music inspirations from the lobby to the hallways to the guest rooms, and there is so much attention to detail. Each room has a record player and there is a selection of records in the lobby to choose from. Even though it was freezing cold, we took some photos out by the pool. I loved the way the retro windows matched the bright closed umbrellas, and Fenway looks like an extension of the hotel in the background. The staff were super friendly and it was overall such a fun experience.
Whew! 2017 was so amazing - I hope yours was, too. But the best part about today is the excitement of what's to come in the new year. I love New Year's Eve and I can't wait to celebrate! Time passes and years change no matter what, but we have to be HERE for it. I feel so ready to do more, feel better, and live harder in 2018. What are you looking forward to most?
Buongiorno! Here we are at the very last stop on our Heritage Honeymoon - Benevento, Italy. This is the city where my husband's family originated, and it's not far from Potenza, where my maternal grandfather came from. Benevento is inland from Naples, and it is by no means a tourist destination - which made it both exciting and complicated to travel to. But honestly, we were up for the challenge, and the opportunity to visit someplace so meaningful outweighed any complication.
We ended our trip to Split, Croatia and flew to Rome, Italy. There are several SPU>FCO flights, which made that route most convenient. From Rome, we took a Trenitalia train from the Roma Termini station to Benevento. This required a lot of planning in finding the best train times that would work with the flight times, but we were able to create an itinerary that worked. Trains in Europe and Italy in particular are frequent, fairly reliable, affordable, and safe. We opted for first class (which wasn't expensive at all!) on the way to Benevento and it was a very pleasant 3-hour trip.
The fact that Benevento is not made for tourists made it the most authentic travel experience I've ever had. We really felt like locals by the time our stay was complete! What was so charming about the city was that it was modern only in the necessary ways. Otherwise it was like we stepped back into a simpler time, between the ancient ruins, tight cobblestone streets, hanging clotheslines, and the silence and absence that occurs during siesta time mid-day. If you ever find yourself in this Italian city, I hope you'll reference my recommended to-dos and to-eats below!
All in all, our mini trip to Benevento was a relaxing way to end a whirlwind Heritage Honeymoon, and it brought us even closer to our roots, which was the core goal that we wanted to achieve. This city may be unknown to tourists and travelers but it will always hold a special place in our hearts.
Where will you go where no one else does? What can you discover about yourself through travel? If you are interested in planning your own Heritage Honeymoon or Heritage Holiday, I would love to help. Click here to learn more.
And if you're interested in reading about the other stops on our Heritage Honeymoon, please check out the links below!
Stop 1: Cardiff, Wales
Stop 2: Zagreb, Croatia
Stop 3: Split, Croatia
Thank you so much for following along in our journey.
Ahh, Split, Croatia. This was a stop added onto our Heritage Honeymoon purely out of the desire to go somewhere coastal in one of the countries that our ancestors had come from. I had been hearing more and more about Croatia and we decided that it would be the perfect country to explore, both inland with a quick trip to Zagreb, and on the coast with a visit to Split. We found the perfect tour that began in the capital city, traveled through the country with a stop at Plitvice Lakes National Park, and concluded in Split.
We fell in love with Split and I now think of it as one of my favorite places. Most of why it's so charming to me can't be explained; it needs to be felt. But I'll share about our favorite experiences here in the hopes to inspire you to one day visit and feel it, too!
Another tip: Avoid the restaurants along the Riva promenade - they're more touristy and less authentic.
Spending a few days in Split was relaxing yet exciting, and while we felt like we were on vacation, we also got a chance to feel like a local, staying in an apartment and going to the supermarket, cooking meals, doing laundry, etc. The ability to walk to so much was so welcomed, and not once did the city feel unsafe or uncomfortable. If you have the chance, get yourself there. And soak in all the sunshine for your soul that you can find in Split.