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I recently took a 2 week course in a very vibrant area of Los Angeles, Highland Park. I’m sad to say that I don’t know that much about the area, but from what I’ve seen of it, it’s amazing. I recently heard Trekking Los Angeles, an organization (spawn out of LA Commons and UCLA School of Urban Planning) that promotes the culture, food, and art of a few neighborhoods of Los Angeles via a walking tour. I haven’t done this yet, but I’m planning on attending the one in Highland Park! Check it out!

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We decided to get out of LA for a weekend of hiking at Grand Canyon. From LA, it took us roughly 6-7 hours to get to Williams, AZ on a Friday night. There, we spent the night at a motel and in the morning we got up early to go hiking! This was our first national park hike of the year so we were so excited! Looking back, we probably should’ve prepped our bodies just a little more because the hiking at Grand Canyon was NO EASY ADVENTURE. Different Hiking Trails in Grand Canyon include: Rim Trail, Bright Angel Trail, South Kaibab Trail, Hermit Trail, Grand View Trail. We decided on doing the South Kaibab Trail.

Tips on hiking the South Kaibab Trail (pdf):

1. Parking: While the park recommends that you park at the Visitor’s Center, there is a little parking lot at Yaki Point (the beginning of the trail). The plus side of parking there is that you don’t have to wait for the free shuttle. However, the upside of parking at the Visitor’s Center is there are clean restrooms there. Something to think about if you’re going to spend 6 hours hiking.

2. Steep: This hike is very steep! The first half was very easy seeing that you’re going downhill for most of it. But the second half is KILLER.

3.Points:

Ooh Ahh Point: This point comes up very quickly. On the day we went, the weather was beautiful and had mild temperatures. We were able to go past this point and continue on. However, the BF and his friends got to this point 3 summers ago on a very hot day and this was their turn around point. Consider the weather before you go on.

Cedar Ridge: Most day hikers seemed to stop at Cedar Ridge. There is a port-o-potty there and it’s a great place to rest. Lots of hikers stopped to eat and rest at this point. The view is gorgeous here. The return hike up is tough at this point, so consider that if you are hiking with small children.

Skeleton Point: This is our farthest point. The park does not recommend hiking from Rim to River in one day. We hiked for 6 hours round trip (including picnic lunch) and we barely saw a tiny section of the Colorado River from this point. I can only imagine how much farther it would have been. On the day we went, this section of the trail was pretty empty.

4. Bring Water and Salty Foods! I can’t stress this one enough. I saw a lot of new hikers with little tiny bottles of water. The park recommends 1/2 to 1 liter of water an hour per person. Between the 2 of us on a mild day, we brought 5 bottles of water and we drank it all! I can’t imagine what it’s like in the middle of summer. Also, it’s always good to carry some food. It makes for a nice picnic overlooking the view. But, most importantly, you need to recharge. Bring some trail mix or sandwiches. You’ll thank me later.

Additional Reading and Resources:
Hiking Tips- Grand Canyon National Park

The BF has been talking about Grand Canyon forEVER. For the longest time, I really was just not that interested in going at all. I mean everyone already has a picture of standing in front of a giant hole. How great can it be?
Let me tell you.

Great.

A few general tips on visiting Grand Canyon:

1. South Rim and North Rim: There are two major parts of Grand Canyon. The South Rim and the North Rim. The South Rim (the most popular area) is open all year round. The North Rim is at the southern end of the Kaibab Plateauonly and it is only open in the summer seasons (open May 15, 2010).

2. Hike: We love hiking! This trip was our first hike of the season and we were super excited. However, if you visit their website, they have a whole section on tips and warnings about hiking Grand Canyon in the summer. We’re pretty good hikers, but it was really good that we took a lot of their warnings seriously and brought a lot of water. Between 2 people, we brought 5 liters of water for one of the more moderate hikes. It was not a hot day and we still finished all 5 liters easily. Also, there are lots of people who think they can hike from rim to rim (South Rim and North Rim) in one day. Be very prepared with all the hiking necessities and be in very good shape. Read up on the warnings on the website. This is not easy.

3. Lodging: We tried to get lodging in the park, but it was sold out really fast! Do this early! We ended up staying in nearby towns,  Williams and Flagstaff. For some reason, we love staying at Super 8 hotels. For no other reason than that’s our budget road trip motel of choice.

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Last week, I surprised the BF with a trip to Joshua Tree National Park for his birthday. The day started off a little rocky when I picked up a little bit of a stomach ache, but the day turned out to be more perfect than I could have imagined.

Things to do at Joshua Tree

1. Key’s View: This very short .2 mile walk up the side of a ridge gave us an opportunity to see a panoramic view of the San Andreas fault, Cochella, Palm Springs, and Mexico. How’s that for seeing all the sights? We ended up bringing our packed lunch and parking ourselves on a bench.

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2. Ryan Mountain: The park ranger at the West Entrance suggested that we check out a short hike at Ryan Mountain. From there, you can see the Colorado desert and the Mojave (?) desert on the other side. It wasn’t the most beautiful hike I’ve seen, but I think that perhaps I’m just not as into desert hikes. However, since it’s a short hike (3 miles ), it’ll still be worth your time.

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2. Skull Rock/ Jumbo Rocks: The rock formations are beautiful here. It’s amazing to see how rocks can form into these large round shapes. Nothing you’d expect in the middle of a desert. You almost feel like you’re in a movie with the way you’re surrounded by these globs of rock.

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3. Cholla Cactus Garden: We hit this place by sunset and it was definitely the best way to end our day trip. A rather strange looking cactus garden seemingly just pops out of no where! It really made you wonder how Mother Nature plans these things. There’s a warning sign on the front warning visitors not to touch the cactus b/c they’re poisonous. From the looks of it, it’s a pretty good idea.

There were so many other places to see that I’m certain I’ll be back especially since it’s only 2.5 hours from Los Angeles. On our way there, we stopped by Cabazon Outlets for a quick shopping trip and on our way back we hit the prime rib buffet at Morongo Indian Casino. It was definitely a fun-filled day trip!

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ferry building

(Ferry Building @ Embarcadero)

When I first moved to San Francisco, I really had no idea where and what all the neighborhoods were. So as a tourist, it’s really helpful to have a sense of the different types of neighborhoods so you can customize your visit.

1. Fisherman’s Wharf: This is obviously where the famous Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39, Ghiradelli Square and Boudin’s Bakery is. With that said, this is a huge tourist trap! The parking is atrocious and expensive (i once paid $25 for 3 hours in a lot!). Is it worth visiting? If you’re a first time visitor, always. Jump on the SF’s Muni F line and sit back on one of their historic street cars. Walkable.

2. Financial District: This busy neighborhood houses a lot of big financial companies on the west coast. It’s fun to get caught up in the hustle and bustle on the week day, but it’ll be a ghost town on the weekends. Walkable.

3. Union Square: Another popular tourist and shopper’s destination. Hands down, this area is the best shopping area. If you can think of a store you like, there’s probably a 3 leveled one here in the neighborhood. After a tough day of shopping, head over to the Westfield food court and get some fresh cream puffs from Beard Papa. Walkable.

3. SOMA: An acronym for SOuth of MArtket, SOMA is a youngish area filled with lofts, furniture stores, art spaces, tech companies, and warehouses. The Museum of Modern Art housed here near the Yerba Buena Gardens. Personally, I don’t think there’s much to see after 4th street, unless you’re going to the famous Folsom Street Fair… which… well… you’ll probably see more than you want to see.

4. Civic Center/Tenderloin: As Dave Chappelle puts it: “There’s nothing tender about the Tenderloin”. There are a few bars, art galleries, and Vietnamese restaurants that are worth going to, but it’s definitely a tough neighborhood. The Civic Center also houses city hall, the SF opera, and the Asian Art Museum. Is it the best area to walk around in? Probably not.

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5. Nob Hill: Be prepared with your good walking shoes! Nob Hill is one of the hilliest neighborhoods in San Francisco, but it houses a lot of SF landmarks. You can still see a lot of the old buildings from SF’s early gold rush history.

dolores

6. The Mission: Personally, this is my absolute favorite neighborhood in SF. A slightly down and out neighborhood, this quickly gentrifying area has a lot of great (and cheap!) dive bars and restaurants. Grab an ice cream cone from Bi-Rite Creamery and head over to Dolores Park and people watch. If the day is nice, you’ll be able to catch a great view of SF from the top of the hill. Walkable.

7. Chinatown: Aside from NYC’s Chinatown, SF’s Chinatown is actually really interesting and full of Chinese people (I’m looking at you DC Chinatown. Where are all the Chinese people there?)! I personally don’t think that the Chinese food is very good here, but Golden Gate Bakery (nob hill?) makes the best egg tarts in the city. It’s shockingly good. Walkable.

castro

8. The Castro: Surprisingly, this neighborhood isn’t very big, but it’s definitely a lot of fun and great people watching.  This vibrant area is  SF’s LGBT neighborhood. It is also the place that Harvey Milk got his start and where the historic Castro Theater is housed. The restaurants are good and the bars are plentiful. Walkable

9. North Beach: Adjacent to Chinatown, this area is the little Italy of San Francisco. A very cute neighborhood has lots of cute restaurants and bars. After a long brunch at Mama’s On Washington Square, head over to City Lights Bookstore and soak up all of it’s literary goodness. Walkable

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10. Embarcadero: On a sunny day, this waterfront area has a gorgeous view of the Bay Bridge and the water. Locals and tourists alike head to the Ferry Building every Sat morning for the best farmer’s market EVER. Things might be a little expensive, but you can graze from stall to stall for free samples. After, head over to Hog Island for fresh oysters and a grill cheese. Walkable

haight

11. Haight-Ashbury: The famous Haight is what people always think about when they think about SF in the 60s. Today, it’s still fun walking from boutique to boutique (although a little more touristy). Walkable

12. Japantown: A small Japanese neighborhood, Japantown is a good place to get some mochi, ramen, and little Japanese knicknacks. Tired from a long day? Head to Kubuki bathhouse and soak in their same-sex communal bathhouse for the rest of the day. There are also free walking tours starting at Japantown’s pagoda.  Walkable.

11. Sunset/Richmond: Both Sunset and Richmond district has a lot to offer, but it is mainly a residential area. I’ve combined these two neighborhoods because the beautiful Golden Gate Park separates the two districts. GG Park is a great place to walk through and is even home to buffaloes (seriously!). After visiting the DeYoung Museum and the California Science Museum, head over to either of these two neighborhoods and grab a bite to eat.

12. Hayes Valley: This neighborhood is ridiculously cute. It has lots of great brunch places and small boutiques.Walkable

painted ladies

So many more neighborhoods! (Marina, Noe Valley, Pacific Heights, Potero Hill, Alamo Square, etc etc) There’s tons of other neighborhoods I didn’t cover, but if I did this post would be huge! Have fun and explore SF’s many many diverse neighborhoods.

(all photos courtesy of Kevin W: thanks!!)

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On our way back from SF to LA (post on that soon), the BF and I decided to make a quick one day trip to Sequoia National Park. We’ve always wanted to go and it was such a beautiful day for hiking. Unfortunately for us, we left a little too late and only had time to hike a short trail. So, we picked Moro Rock, which is an easy and windy 2 mile hike (from Generals Highway) through giant sequoia trees and to the top of a mountain for a 360 view of the park.

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(on the trail to Moro Rock)

11(view from the top of Moro Rock)

I really wish we had more time to see other stuff, but I’m sure we’ll be visiting Sequoia again. Next time, here are some other things I’d like to do:

crystalcavepic1(source)

1. Crystal Cave: This was the first thing we wanted to do, but by the time we got there it was sold out. So go early in the day to buy tickets! You can only get tickets at Foothills or Lodgepole Visitor Center.  It’s a 45 minute tour through different rooms in the cave. Adults are $11, children are $6.

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2. Cedar Grove Day Hike: One of the most popular trees here is General Grant’s Tree. From the Visitor’s center it’s about a 1 mile hike. Fairly easy for new hikers. The hike ends at General Grant’s Tree which is one of the largest living trees.

3. Mineral King Valley: Monarch Lakes and Crystal Lakes are both approximately a 4 mile hike.  These look a lot flatter than mountain hikes, but the views must be incredible between two mountains.

14(It’s a good thing the BF loves it too…)

On a side note: It’s bizarre to me how much I really love hiking. I was commenting to my friends the other day how one day you wake up and you realize…. I’m not hungover… what is this crazy feeling… how come my head isn’t in the toilet… why am I getting up at 7am to trek up a mountain? Oh my god. I’m old and I’d rather hike than get blasted at a bar.

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needle

The BF and I recently went to Seattle, WA to attend a wedding. Since I’ve never been there before, I made sure that we saw as much as I could in the one free day we had. It turns out that the very chill Seattle is a great city! We hit a lot of must see tourist sites and ate at a lot of local places.

Tips for Seattle in One Day:

breakfast

1. Breakfast at Macrina Bakery & Cafe: We had to wait 40 minutes to eat at this little breakfast/brunch spot, but we figured that it must be worth it if the locals are waiting for it. The savory egg sandwich served with roasted potatoes is surprisingly tasty! We also had the French toast which is served with a side of chicken sausage. Definitely a popular item on the menu.

Pike

2. Pike Place Market: Of course, no first-time visit to Seattle can go without a trip to Pike Public Market. A lively market place with fresh seafood (to be eaten or tossed in the air), it’s a great place to do some light grazing. Hit Piroshky’s Piroshky for a potato and mushroom stuffed bun and then meander your way to the first original Starbucks for a latte (it’s the one that’s crowded with tourist!).  Afterwards, with a cup o’ joe in hand, strike up a conversation with the local artist selling their craft or smell bouquet after bouquet of freshly cut pink peonies. It’s a great place to spend a few hours by the water.

underground

3. Underground Tour: Full? Walk off it off in a 90 minute underground tour of Seattle’s past.   The tour guide spiels out a very informative history of Seattle’s past when the city burnt down and the city decided to just built a new city right on top. Was it the most amazing tour ever? Probably not. There’s only a few ghost stories and a few deteriorating store signs, but we all agreed it was interesting to learn a little bit of history and see a unique piece of Seattle’s past., especially for $15.

harvest vine

4. The Harvest Vine: After a long day of walking around, we ended the day with a lovely dinner at The Harvest Vine. This Spanish/Basque restuarant dishes organic/ free-range/no-antibiotic/no-hormones tapas. Just take a look at the picture. Pork belly doesn’t get any sexier than that.

Additional Reading and Resources:

Travel and Outdoors- Seattle Times

36 Hours in Seattle- NYTimes

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Arches

At the last minute, we decided to skip Monument Valley and drive out to Arches National Park. Afterall, how can we leave Utah without seeing the Arch??

Hiking Trails at Arches National Park:

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1. Delicate Arch (Long): This really isn’t a tough hike at all. However, I venture to guess that on a hot day, this could be very difficult since there’s no shade anywhere on the way up! Personally, I would’ve considered this an easy-moderate hike since a good deal of it was flat. Other recommended long hikes: Fiery Furnace, Double Os, Devil’s Garden

2. Moderate Hikes: We actually drove through Park Avenue. I’m not sure what this hike is like on foot, but I’m sure it would be gorgeous in the morning and at sunset.

3. Balanced Rock: See below… you’ve got to see this in person.

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Zion National Park is relatively close to Bryce Canyon National Park, but it couldn’t be any more different. While Bryce had its beautiful hoodoos, Zion had magnificent mountains. I would randomly snap pictures on the camera while the car was moving and this is what I’d get:

DSC00203FREAKEN AMAZING!!!!

Anyhow, we only spent half a day at Zion, so we did one hike and moved on. It was a gorgeous day for hiking! We huffed and puffed up Angel’s Landing, a 5-mile strenuous hike takes about 4 hours to complete.

angelslanding

Tips for Hiking Angel’s Landing

1. Strenuous– Angel’s Landing is mostly paved but can be difficult for people who are new to hiking. It can be very difficult on a hot day since it’s all uphill (duh). A lot of people stop at the landing right before the last half mile. It looks like a very daunting and slightly frightening vertical hike, but it really isn’t that bad. The most difficult part of it is navigating your way up in a single person pathway. Don’t be scared! The view is well worth it!

2. Water- Bring water. Bring lots of water. You’ll need it!

3. Bring a light lunch- The weather was so gorgeous and the view so breathtaking! I packed a very light lunch and we had a picnic on top of the mountain. Highly recommended.

One last picture: DSC00172

SO AMAZING!!!!!!

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When we were first driving to Bryce Canyon, I was pretty skeptical. It was a rainy and cloudy day and the drive near the park wasn’t particularly interesting. But when we got to Fairyland Loop, I was BLOWN AWAY. Bryce Canyon is definitely a must see! It’s a great place for hiking! Unfortunately, since it was so wet and muddy, it made hiking very difficult, but I’m certain that on a beautiful day these trails would have blown my pants off.

Hikes in Bryce Canyon:

fairyland loop

1. Fairyland Loop: A strenuous hike, this 8-mile hike is about 4-5 hours that circles the hoodoos. We really wanted to do this hike, but the wet rain made it a muddy mess! Our shoes were caked solid and the trail was too slippery to walk on. We tried though! The hoodoos here were so spectacular, I had no doubt that it would’ve been great. Other strenuous hikes: Peek-a-boo Loop Trail, Riggs Spring Loop Trail

Navajo Trail

2. Navajo Trail: This moderate hike was a lot easier to navigate through in rainy/muddy weather. It started with a crisscrossing trail down to the bottom of a valley. There, we were literally right next to the hoodoos! The vibrant orange/red sand surrounded us everywhere. It was amazing! Other moderate hikes: Tower Bridge, Hat Shop Trail, Swamp Canyon Loop Trail, Queens Garden & Navajo Combo

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