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Sweet Sedona: Top Things to See and Do

Sedona, AZ harbors an energy that’s palpable. It’s home to four vortexes or intersections of electromagnetic earth energy that can be felt and also witnessed – just take a look at the twisting trees at one of the vortex sites.

Each year Sedona calls to the hearts of thousands drawn to its breathtaking rock formations, magnetic vortexes and spiritual experiences.

There’s plenty to do in Sedona, but there are three absolute must dos that any adventurous traveler needs to put on their bucket list.

Let’s check ’em out!

1. Boynton Canyon Vortex

The Boynton Canyon Vortex is said to carefully balance both masculine and feminine energy equally and is snuggled near a rock formation named Kachina Woman and another rock formation that supposedly harbors a more masculine type of energy.

Getting here is pretty accessible and there’s usually parking available at the Boynton Canyon Trailhead parking lot.

It’s easy to spot the trailhead from here, just follow signs to Boynton Canyon Trail. From here take the Boynton Canyon Vista Trail which drops you off in the middle of the vortex area.

If you’re lucky, there’s a super sweet local dude who hands out heart-shaped rocks encouraging others to “spread love”. Sit back, enjoy the views and take in the energy of the vortexes around you.

2. Climb a rock!

Spires, towers, trad oh my! You heard me Sedona is every sandstone Sally’s dream, just be careful out there folks! Here’s some wee advice from my favorites at https://www.mountainproject.com.

“While the rock is often soft and routes can be inconsistent in quality, there are many great adventures to be had. Many great cragging routes are also available, as well as bouldering and some basalt climbing at the higher elevations.”

Courtesy of Mountain Project.

Now, to be kind to the sport, I don’t really want to give away any specific climbing route locations (I know, I know!), but let’s just say that there’s a pretty epic two-pitch route out there with views that will take your breath away. We had our most experienced climber lead the first route and set a top rope for our friends to try out.

3. Mountain Bike Riding

There are plenty of bike shops that rent mountain bikes and also host tours if that’s your thing. Be sure to check trail conditions before getting out there as some trails flood during the Springtime. There are trails for people of all skill abilities – green (beginner), blue (intermediate) black diamond (advanced) – and can be found on Mountain Bike Project.

Mountain bike riding is exhilarating! Let me give you some tips that I learned AFTER falling off my bike and into a bush. I am a beginner so if you’ve been with the sport for a while try to not laugh. 😉

-When going uphill lean FORWARD.

-When going downhill lean BACKWARDS.

YOU’RE WELCOME.

And hey, this isn’t sponsored or anything, but the guys at Bike Bean hook it up! Grab a nice, strong cup of coffee and get yourself on a bike.

If you need any additional assistance finding out where to hike, climb or bike check out National Park Maps.

As they say, free maps period for when you just need to grab a map and carve out your own adventure.

Ensenada: Top Three Must- Visit Wineries in Valle De Guadalupe

It would be sinful to just go wine tasting in Valle de Guadalupe in Ensenada, Mexico, held fondly in the hearts of many as the Napa Valley of Mexico. One must not just taste wine here, but savor the entire experience. My advice to you would be: linger for as long as you can.

Rustic chic is one way to describe the “Valle”, but the overall vibe here is so much more than that. It’s colorful, local, proud, artistic with a tender touch. You feel at home here, relaxed, as if you were among your oldest and best of friends.

There are plenty of outstanding wineries – 100 to be exact – in the Valle, however, to make it easier on you, I’ve compiled a list of my absolute favorites. If you’re planning a trip to Mexico’s wine country, I highly recommend visiting each and every one of these spots.

1.Casa Frida de Guadalupe

A tribute to Frida, her artwork, life and husband, the provocative artist Diego Rivera, Frida de Guadalupe represents all we’ve known and loved about Frida Kahlo and her tragically beautiful life.

You have the choice of crafting your own wine tasting experience here. Options include renting some of the houses on the land via airbnb and wine tasting all weekend, spending time in the tasting room, having dinner at the Country Steakhouse, visiting the art gallery, or just ordering drinks and meandering around the property. You can view more information here.

Casa Frida’s slogan, “everything begins in art” is this place’s lifeblood and is embodied in all that they do. From vibrant paintings and sculptures to creative lounge areas to unique artwork on wine bottles, art lives and breathes here.

I’d recommend this winery for parties of all ages, but should note that it’s one of the only wineries in this area that stays open late (until 12 a.m.). If you’re looking for a place to visit later in the evening, this is your spot.

There are plenty of cocktails available here as well. I highly recommend doing a wine or tequila tasting and then trying one of their favored cocktails.

2. Finca La Carrodilla

If you’re looking for quality, organic wine Finca La Carrodilla is a must. Winemaker Gustavo González brings over 20 years of wine making experience to this winery, which makes him one of the most renowned winemakers in the American Union. Read more of their story here.

What’s so unique about this winery is that they are eco-friendly and extremely proud of their land. They have so much love and passion for what they do, the animals they care for, and the wine they produce. The owners here have chosen a slower making wine process to ensure they’re being as sustainable as possible. And this can be tasted and greatly appreciated in all of their wine and food.

There’s an orchard on the property too, which allows the owners to produce additional treats like seasonal vegetables, garlic, herbs, tomatoes, and their must-try fruit jam! A cafe completes this commitment to excellence where local fare like dessert, jams, cheese, and coffee can be purchased.

I highly recommend trying their wine Canto de Luna or Moon Song. This is a pretty dry, drinkable wine with a raspberry jam, tobacco, and vanilla nose. Pair that with a cheeseboard and some of the winery’s jam and enjoy the sunset.

3. Deckman’s

Okay, so Deckman’s is technically a restaurant, however, with its world-class reputation, farm to table produce, locally produced wines, and commitment to slow food, it just has to be on this list.

Read their commitment to sustainability and quality here: “Our wine list is based on supporting and voting for small producers, wines that are 100% family operated, giving this valley the sustainable impulse to grow in community. That’s why we constantly rotate our selection of wines, since productions are limited. Remember, everyday you vote with your fork. Choose wisely.” Pretty incredible, right? You can check out more here.

Also, this place is easily one of the most beautifully crafted restaurants I’ve ever seen with an open concept kitchen smack dab in the middle of the farm, a dining room made out of hay barrels, and an open patio complete with twinkle lights and sunflowers that overlook the vineyard.

Here are some of the various awards this place has garnered:

  1. Gourmet Award By Travel and Leisure – Mejor cocina regional de México 2019
  2. Culinaria Mexicana 120 Best Restaurants by S. Pellegrino 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019
  3. Todos Santos REVISTA MEJOR RESTAURANTE Baja California 2017 to 2019
  4. Marco Beteta Guide 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019
  5. San Diego Magazine, Best of Baja 2016, 2017, 2018
  6. 100 Imperdibles México 2017
  7. Recognition Contest Pairing 2018

There are over 100 wineries in Valle de Guadalupe, which boasts some of the best winemakers in the world! Since the wineries are smaller you can expect higher quality wines that cater to a more refined palette/unique wine drinker. So, what are you waiting for? Get yourself to Ensenada before these secret spots get more attention!

Tips for Crossing the Border

  • If you’re driving from San Diego to Mexico (I highly recommend this option) and cross at the San Ysidro Border you should note this is the busiest border crossing in the world! Give yourself ample time to get back to San Diego!
  • This app can be a helpful resource to determine how long of a wait you have ahead of you at the border: U.S. Government’s app.
  • A SENTRI Pass is also an option so you can skip the long lines at the border crossing you choose.
  • Here’s a list of items you cannot bring back to the U.S. Please read up on this before your trip.

King’s Canyon National Park: Top Three Hikes to Do

King’s Canyon National Park, sister to Sequoia National Park, boasts some of the most beautiful canyons, rock formations, and giant trees in California, but is, surprisingly, one of the lesser known National Parks in the state. There’s so much to see and do in this section of the Eastern Sierras though, and the hiking trails should definitely not be overlooked. Luckily for you, I’ve compiled the three must-do hikes in King’s Canyon National Park in order of difficulty, including the skinny on what you should know about each.

1.General Grant Grove Trail (easy)

The General Grant Grove Trail is home to the General Grant tree, which is not to be missed. At 267 feet high, General Grant towers over every other tree in King’s Canyon National Park – and is famous for being one of the largest and oldest trees in the world! Here are some incredible facts you might not have known about it:

-General Grant is over 1,500 years old!
-The tree was named after Ulysses S. Grant in the 1860s.
-Later nicknamed the Nation’s Christmas tree by President Calvin Coolidge in 1926, and then declared a national shrine by President Dwight D. Eisenhower for those who sacrificed their lives in war, General Grant is one of the most notable trees in history.

The General Grant Grove trail is actually very easy to get to, and offers stunning views and a few other notable sights, including Gamlin Cabin, Fallen Monarch, and Centennial Stump.

Access this trail from the General Grant Grove parking lot. The entrance is easily marked with a park map at the head of the trail. You can wander in any direction along a very clearly marked path and create your own agenda. The trail is roughly 1/3 mile – unless you go off exploring – and is filled with beauty and an overwhelming silence that permeates to your very core.

General Grant

Note that pets are not allowed on this trail, and you will need to drive there yourself and park in the parking lot. This lot tends to fill up pretty quickly, so aim to get there early in the morning. Additionally, this trail is very popular (people come from all over the world to walk it!) so take note that there might be large groups of people around you at all times. If a quieter, less trafficked route is your cup of tea, read on!

Fallen Goliath

2. North Grove Trail (easy-moderate)

To skip the crowds at General Grant Grove, head to the left of the parking lot where the RVs and buses park to North Grove trail. This trail is fairly easy and heads downhill in the beginning with a slight incline greeting you as you head back out. The entrance to North Grove trail, sunset trail, and the short pit stop to Fallen Goliath or Dead Giant Loop can be accessed from here. North Grove trail is approximately 1.4 miles long and loops you back to the General Grant parking lot or on to Sunset Trail. You can also take a little detour to the giant fallen Sequoia tree known as Fallen Goliath along the way.

If you want a more moderate hike, take North Grove trail to Sunset trail which is a bit longer at roughly 4 miles. This trail also connects you to Sunset Campground if you’re staying there and want a moderate hike, this trail is definitely for you!

This trail is much quieter – I actually didn’t come across anyone on it – and wildlife thrives here. I witnessed deer, birds, squirrels, and more on this trail. You’ll also get a closer look at the giant Sequoias in this forest here. The trail is well marked, (there are arrows on trees to guide you) and there are signs at every section where the path diverges.

Be wary of the mosquitoes as they’re pretty hungry around these parts, however, that’s nothing a little homemade mosquito spray can’t battle. Here’s my favorite concoction:

Homemade mosquito repellant:

-10 drops lemon oil
-10 drops eucalyptus oil
-1/2 cup witch hazel
-1 cup water or vinegar

Mist Falls

3. Mist Falls (moderate)

Held in my heart as one of the most beautiful and rewarding hikes in King’s Canyon National Park, Mist Falls is the trail that has it all. You get a workout, stunning views of Paradise Valley below, pit stops at a lake and a waterfall, and access to a few bouldering problems to try at the beginning of the hike too! If you’re adventurous and love hiking, this is the hike for you! Also, since the trail winds in and around a river it’s pretty covered for most of the hike, so you don’t have to worry too much about the heat during the summer months.

Mist Falls Trail is a 9-mile trail that takes you out to the waterfall and then back to the parking lot. Park at Road’s End parking lot (I know this sounds confusing, but this is actually the name of the road) which is located at the bottom of King’s Canyon National Park. This scenic drive takes you down into the canyon and is stunning with picturesque views of waterfalls, rivers, lakes, colorful rock formations, and lush foliage. Give yourself plenty of time for this drive as it takes about 40 minutes to get all the way down to the bottom.

The first two hours of the hike are on sand and there aren’t that many trees along this part. Be mindful of this and wear a hat and/or lots of sunscreen. You’re also going to want to bring plenty of bug spray. This section also has boulders perfect for scrambling or climbing on. I only recommend bouldering if you know what to look for as these boulders have yet to be rated.

You’ll pass a forest shortly after and large granite walls, which were formed by glaciers long ago! As you get closer to the waterfall, you will start to climb up, with the steepest part leading you to the falls. Mist Falls actually gets its name from the incredible mist that douses all who come close to it in a cold cloak of water. It feels exhilarating to be so close to so much power. Plus, it’s an amazing way to cool off before hiking back down! Be careful of the mist when you take photographs.

Note: Please be safe on this hike and don’t swim in areas where the river water is rushing quickly past you. Opt for swimming in calmer waters. Rattlesnakes have been seen on this trail too, so watch where you step. Also, this trail gets quite hot during mid-day, so aim for an early morning hike – thank me later.

King’s Canyon National Park reminds me of Yosemite’s attractive, lesser known brother, with its vast landscape, epic walls of granite, and incredible hikes. There’s a lot of history in this park, and its trails are definitely worth a visit. John Muir once shared that the Sierras were his favorite place to visit, and its no shocker to me why he said that. If you’re looking to plan your next adventurous vacation, I highly recommend King’s Canyon. There’s a trail here for everyone.

First Time Backpacking: 8 Tips to Know Beforehand

Backpacking takes adventuring to a whole new level. It’s just you and nature out there as you hike, one step at a time, to some unknown destination (and what a victory that is once you reach it). It feels downright poetic at the best of times, beyond difficult and exhausting at the worst of times, and, somehow, magically isolating through all those peaks and valleys.

Backpacking is for sure transformational, but with that comes some responsibility. You should definitely know what you’re doing when you venture out into nature. Luckily for you, I’m going to share my top 8 tips on how to best prepare for your first backpacking trip.

1.Get Your Wilderness Permit in Advance

You can typically reserve wilderness permits online at https://recreation.gov, and I highly suggest doing so. The last thing you want to have to worry about is needing to re-plan and/or re-map out your backpacking trip because you couldn’t get a permit.

According to the National Park Service, wilderness permit reservations are available up to 24 weeks (168 days) in advance. You can still get permits in person of course too at the Visitor Center in the park you’re visiting. Aim to get there early in the morning if you’re planning on doing this approach.

Elevation gains along the switchbacks hiking through Duck Pass in Mammoth.

2. Research Altitude and Elevation Gain

My backpacking trip to Duck Lake brought us from sea level (we’re all from Southern California) up to 10,000 feet. Needless to say we weren’t prepared for this. You will naturally hike slower with a pack on (this baby is usually around 25 pounds) and a change in altitude and elevation will slow your pace down significantly unless you’ve been training for this. Keep in mind you will hike slower and may get to your destination later than expected.

Make sure you understand the trail you will be hiking as well. I suggest mapping out its inclines so you can give yourself a sense of where you should be right before night fall when you set up camp for the night. Aim to get to your camping spot a couple hours before sunset so you can watch the sun go down, eat, and set up camp before it gets too dark.

3. Know How to Pack Your Backpack

You heard me, know how to pack that thing properly – trust me on this. It’s a huge time saver and stress reducer for everyone involved if you know how to pack your backpack. Nothing spoils a backpacking trip more than constantly having to unload and then reload the thing when you can’t find something.

REI actually hosts classes on this unique skill. You can read more and actually sign up for them here. You can also ask a well-seasoned friend too! Take it from someone who was stubborn and thought she knew how to pack a backpack: it’s so much better to ask for help. You’re going to be hiking with that pack on your back for a long time, so make sure you get fitted for the right backpack and understand what you’re doing.

4. Pack More Food and Water Than You Think You Need

I burned through almost 2,000 calories a day hiking in Mammoth! You will burn thousands of calories and get really hungry while backpacking. I highly recommend taking dehydrated meals, snacks like Cliff bars, nuts, and trail mix, and plenty of water.

Don’t know which dehydrated meals to try? Here are my favorites:

  • Mountain House mac n’ cheese
  • Good to Go mushroom risotto
  • Backpacker’s pantry pad thai (note: be careful with the peanut butter application with this one)

Ditch the heavy water bottles (byeeee Hydroflask) and look for water bottles you can attach to your pack. You can read more about how to attach your water bottle to your backpack here. You might also want to add electrolytes to you water as well, which you can do with Nuun.

I’d also recommend bringing extra water and leaving it in the car for when you get back.

5. Research the Weather and Dress Appropriately

Know what the weather is like during the day and in the evening in the area you will be in. You will need base layers if it cools off in the evenings and may even need to bring a warmer sleeping bag.

I recommend the following clothing for a mid-summer, two-day backpacking trip in Inyo National Forest:

  • sunglasses + hat
  • two t-shirts
  • two pairs hiking pants
  • bathing suit
  • long sleeve shirt
  • sweatpants or base layer pants
  • two comfortable, breathable sports bras (women)
  • three pairs breathable underwear
  • two pairs wool socks
  • light down jacket
  • hiking boots

6. Learn About the Wildlife in the Area

Black bear that tore through our packs when we sat down for a snack.

Research what kind of wildlife you might come into contact with on your trip. If bears are prevalent in the area you will need to buy or rent a bear box and carry bear spray with you.

You can read more information about how to deal with a bear here, but I can break it down for you pretty simply.

  • Avoid bears if you can.
  • Try to keep your distance.
  • Never put yourself between a cub and a mother bear.
  • Try to give the bear a path to escape if it’s nearby so it doesn’t feel threatened.
  • Don’t run from the bear, walk away slowly keeping an eye on it so you can determine how to react next.
  • If the bear comes towards you and you feel threatened use your bear spray – spray above it’s head so the spray gets in its eyes.
  • Try to read the situation as best as you can. In this instance above, the bear just wanted some food from our packs and wasn’t threatening, so we let him take what he wanted and then he left.

7. Keep Important Items Close to You

In case you have to avoid a bear, get away from bad weather, or help someone who fell and injured themselves, you’re going to want to have your keys and wallet close to you or on you.

We, unfortunately, had one of our packs taken by a bear which happened to be the pack with the car keys in it!

8. Enjoy Yourself

There are so many beautiful backpacking trips to be had – and plenty of them are right here in California. Make sure you’re prepared, but also know that you sometimes aren’t going to be fully prepped for everything that might come your way. As is with life, things happen – you might get lost, you will most definitely tire out at times, but you will also witness so much beauty with every single step you take. It’s worth it!

What to do in Joshua Tree National Park During the Summer

Held favorably in the hearts of many Southern Californian residents for its vastness, playfully iconic Joshua trees, and funky high bohemian desert vibes, it’s no wonder this place is on many a traveler’s to-do list.

Plus there’s a certain allure to Joshua Tree National Park in the summertime. It’s the soft, colorful sunrises, the warm breeze that hits you on an evening hike, or the relaxed, at-ease locals looking to share a cool drink or a nice, long conversation under the shade of a tree with you, that makes the summer season worth the heat.

While high temperatures mean not every activity is accessible at this park in summer, there’s still plenty to see and do. Also, a less crowded Joshua Tree opens up more activities you might not have had the ability to do before, including night photography, sunrise/sunset hikes, and rock climbing high above the valley with not another human being in sight for miles.

Read along as I share my best tips for navigating Joshua Tree during the summer season.

1. Sunrise Hike at Ryan Mountain

What to Expect

Length: heavily trafficked 3-mile roundtrip hike
Height: 5,456-foot-high 
Elevation gain: 1,069 feet
Rating: easy to moderate (there’s an incline in the beginning but if you’re in average shape you will be fine)
What to bring: water, a camera, light sweater
Entrance: Off Park Blvd (put trail name into Google maps) in the parking lot to the left of the restrooms

A sunrise hike up to Ryan Mountain should be on everyone’s must-do list in Joshua Tree. The soft, light pink hues and vibrant blues and purples light up the sky around you as you ascend illuminating panoramic views of Queen Valley, Pinto Basin, Lost Horse Valley, and Pleasant Valley below.

I went with a group of friends in mid-July and recommend setting out on the trail around 530 a.m. PST. The trail starts off on an incline right away so be aware of that if you’re a little sleepy as you step on the path. From there it weaves in and around the mountain gifting you with a full 360 degree view of the valley beneath you at the summit. There’s a sign waiting for you at the top, which is how you know you’ve made it.

2. Sunrise/Sunset Climbing

Joshua Tree is famous for its climbing routes. In fact, many people travel far distances to try out its world-class crack, slab, and high, steep face climbing. That being said, climbing here is HARD. I’ve been climbing for four years now and got shut down on a lot of bouldering problems and sport routes, so be prepared to climb hard.

If you’re a beginner, I highly recommend going out with a climbing school such as Uprising Adventure Guides. If you consider yourself a little bit more intermediate, then I have just the route for you!

Sport/Trad Climbing: Loose Lady

5. 10a Loose Lady

A short walk from the Hidden Valley picnic area this 5.10a route seems do-able a first, but with the crux hitting you down low, you will have to work hard to get to the middle of the route. This style of climbing requires you to use a lot of friction and carefully crafted foot placement to navigate to the top. You have to, have to, have to trust your feet on this one or it will be ridiculously difficult.

This route got its name for loose flakes that used to fly off it when it was first climbed, allegedly. Aim to climb this face towards 5 p.m. PST when the sun isn’t so high up in the valley.

You can learn more about the specifics of this route and what to bring on Mountain Project here. There is a bolted anchor at the top of this climb

Note: This is a very popular route and can get rather crowded, but if you’re here in the summer you might find you and your buddies are the only ones around!

Fun fact: Joshua Tree boasts more than 8,000 climbing routes!

Bouldering: Outback Boulders

Located north of the Hidden Valley Campground, the Outback boasts bouldering problems of all levels. Here are some of the most popular bouldering problems from Mountain Project:

I recommend starting off on Hobbit Hole Offwidth, an easy warm-up and then tackling the False Hueco problems. There’s another great V1 I found that I named Honeycomb located in the middle of the Outback north of White Rastafarian.

V1, Honeycomb

If you’re feeling brave afterwards, have crash pads and two or more spotters, go for the R rated V2 boulder White Rastafarian. Do be careful though as this problem is pretty high and does contain a pretty sketchy move that requires full commitment towards the very top.

V2 R, White Rastafarian

3. Night Photography

Perhaps the best part of the summer season in Joshua Tree is taking night photographs in the evening while the air is still warm. Depending on the time of the year you can get a pretty decent view of the Milky Way considering how dark the park is in the evenings. It has even been honored with Dark Park Sky status by the International Dark-Sky Association.

There are plenty of stops along the main road in the national park to visit where you can get a clear shot of the stars, however, my favorite is the Indian Cove Boy Scout Trail. Here are a few other popular spots to go star gazing or take night photographs:

Skull rock
-The Ocotillo Patch
-Cap Rock
-Campgrounds

Pro tip: the Milky Way is best seen during the summertime. I loved the juxtaposition of the headlights lighting up the Joshua trees against the backdrop of our galaxy.

There’s still plenty to see and do during the summer season in Joshua Tree. With its stunning vistas, world-class climbing, and exciting hikes it’s no question this desert wonderland is full of magic.

Three Sisters Waterfall: One of Southern California’s Favorite Hiking Destinations

The name Three Sisters carries a special allure to those familiar with its symbolism – it represents the three fates in mythology, three seeds that work harmoniously together to yield a good harvest within the Native American community, and to me, sisterhood, luck and harmony. And the waterfalls at Three Sisters Waterfall in San Diego, CA do flow quite harmoniously, like that of a strong bond between three beloved sisters.

Three Sisters Waterfall is for anyone looking for an easy to moderate hike (easier if you’re pretty active and hike regularly) with a treat mid-way. You actually get to hike to the waterfall, hang there for a while, and then trek back up! Read along as I take you through the “how to” guide to one of Southern California’s favorite hiking destinations.

How to Get There

Take the 8 East from San Diego out to the 79 North and head to Boulder Creek road out to Descanso. The trailhead is at the end of a dirt road and ends with a parking lot area. There’s additional parking along the dirt road but this is limited and there are some areas close by where parking is not allowed. Read the signs.

Hike Difficulty

The hike is 4.2 miles round-trip with the first leg of the trek down to the waterfall leading you downhill most of the way. There are some areas that require a little rock scrambling, and the rocks near the waterfall are slippery so do be careful. The hike back up does have a little bit of an incline, with the hardest part coming in at the end of the hike.

Due to the heat it’s recommended that you hike this trail either early in the morning or later in the afternoon.

Secret Tips

There are not only waterfalls in this area but also various pools to swim in and explore as well. You can splash around in the lower pools where the water is a bit warmer, try your luck at sliding down the second waterfall’s natural waterslide or venture to the highest point where the largest waterfall sits above a giant natural-made pool deep enough to dive into.

1. Cliff jump off the top waterfall.

There are plenty of rocks to climb in order to get in an ideal position to jump off of. Please do be careful and don’t jump off the very top of the waterfall as that’s rather dangerous. Use your best judgment and swim around in the water beforehand to get a sense of the pool’s depth. The best spot I noticed was off to the right on a little ledge that juts out like a diving board.

2. Use the natural-made water slide.

Yes, you heard me right there is a natural-made waterslide you can use. This slide is located on the second waterfall on the right-hand side (if you’re looking down over the second waterfall). Also exercise caution here as you don’t want to hurt your butt by bouncing too much. Minimize the bounce by taking the slide that veers you off to the right (this view is again the right view if you’re above the second waterfall looking down).

3. Explore the area behind the top waterfall.

Southern California’s favorite hiking trail delivers in areas not chartered and this includes the area above the top waterfall. There’s actually a pool up here you can access and wildlife in abundance, including dragonflies, butterflies, hummingbirds and even salamanders!

Please be respectful of this area as it holds a very special place in my heart and do be careful navigating to the top. I recommend that you have some experience bouldering and/or rock climbing if you’re going to come up to this spot as there are some areas that require some bouldering techniques.

Remember to dress appropriately and don’t you dare forget your bathing suit and hiking shoes! This hike is well worth the occasional inclines it throws at you and the Three Sisters really do deliver. You’re in for a fun treat with this hike! And remember to find creative ways to cool off afterwards. We recommend showering off your friends with a hose, but if that’s not an option don’t worry, Julian and Descanso are about 15-20 minutes away so you can always cool down with a beer or two!

Italy: Local’s Guide on What To Do in Rome

Italy drives you mad. Mad with hunger, passion and exploration. It’s the country that calls out to the wanderlust in us all, satiates our inner foodie and caters to even the most poetic of souls. I fell in love with Rome, Italy when I lived here at age 19 and continue to keep coming back.

Today, the country reminds me of an old, well-traveled friend, face a bit freckled and wrinkled by the sun, worn from the sea breeze, yet full of life and experience. Italy is at it’s core pure magic, a country you just want to slip into as one does a luxurious bath.

Whether you’re looking to plan your first trip to Italy or have been its faithful companion for years, take a look at my guide below on how to roam Rome, Italy like a local. Having been a local myself, I will give you insight into some of my favorite to-dos.

Life in Rome is the beautiful life. It’s the central hub that calls to backpackers, food and wine enthusiasts, romantics and solo travelers alike. There’s quite a mix meandering the streets of Rome and the local language follows suit: a mix of Italian, Spanish and English. As you’d expect with a major city, many locals here speak English although it’s very polite and encouraged to learn Italian while in Rome. And why not? The language practically twirls off your tongue.

Now, while you could probably spend months wandering around Rome (and I highly encourage this) let me provide you with some seasoned tips I wish I had before doing so.

1. Walk the Streets of Trastevere

Meaning “across the river” the neighborhood of Trastevere stretches West hugging the Tiber River. Quaint with small cobblestone streets that wind in and around the Piazzas, museums and restaurants, Trastevere holds a certain charm. She’s the well traveled bohemian Aunt of the family, if you will. Here’s what I don’t want you to miss.

  • Pay a visit to Ponte Sisto – This bridge spans the entire neighborhood and fills the area with light, life and laughter come nighttime once street vendors and musicians venture out. Delicious treats include elote and homemade donuts.
  • Shop at Porta Portese – This popular flea market happens on Sundays around 10 a.m. and is a great place to visit if you’re looking for gifts. Scarves, jewelry, clothing, pasta and various other homemade goods can be purchased here. Just make sure you barter!
  • Take a walk in the Botanical Gardens – Orto Botanico di Roma houses 7,000 different types of plants from all over the globe.
  • Visit La Boca Della Verita (the mouth of truth) – According to the legend, if one where to stick his hand into the mouth of this marble sculpture and tell a lie it would bite his hand off.

2. Take a Tour of the Colosseum After Sunset

If you’re visiting Rome you must, must, must see the Colosseum as it’s been a part of the Eternal City since 80AD! Skip the lines and opt for a different experience by coming to visit once the sun has set.

  • Book a night tour – you skip the crowds and you get to see the Colosseum alive against the night sky!
  • Rent a vespa to get there – traveling throughout the city on foot can get tiring. If you’re an experienced driver and feel comfortable navigating the city by scooter, I recommend renting a vespa for the day. Please be careful as traffic can be difficult to navigate through though!

    Note: There are free tours on the first Sunday of the month, however due to heavy tourism it’s best to avoid these days and purchase a ticket that allows you to skip the lines.

3. Indulge in the Local Cuisine

A meal in Italy is a commitment. We’re talking cocktails, appetizers, wine, bread, pasta, meat, dessert, dessert wine and quite possibly more wine. There are many must-try traditional foods both rich in flavor and tradition that Rome is famous for. Here are my favorites:

Restaurant Guide

Roma Sparita – A little off the beaten path this cozy restaurant cooks up some of the best cacio e pepe around and has impressed food connoisseurs like Anthony Bourdain.

Ristorante Carlo Menta – One of the most satisfying and inexpensive places to eat in all of Rome. Try the pizza, carbonara pasta, minestrone soup and their desserts!

La Botticella – My absolute favorite! Located in Trastevere, this place makes mouth-watering lasagna, pizza, pasta, artichokes and tiramisu. You honestly can’t go wrong with anything on this menu.

Supplizio – Rome’s beloved street food, the suppli, aka a fried ball of cheese, rice, tomato sauce and other assorted meats and/or vegetables, takes center stage at this rustic restaurant.

Dar Poeta – Phenomenal pizzas, delicious appetizers and right in the heart of Rome. Just go.

No local’s guide would be complete without mentioning the following: get lost in this city. I mean it. Rome holds 28 centuries of history on its shoulders and new sights, cafes, parks, quaint corners, Piazzas and more are constantly being rediscovered by travelers like yourself. Wander down cobblestone streets, run your fingers through vines stretching themselves across buildings and hop in and out of cafes for an afternoon espresso or slice of pizza.

There’s magic in these streets after all. What will you find?

Red Rock Canyon: What to Do in Nevada’s Hidden Gem

Home to stunning patterned red sandstone boulders and peaks, Native American petroglyphs, waterfalls, and impressive views that span the 13-mile national park, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is, to put it simply, striking. And it’s this stark beauty so close to Las Vegas, NV that may just pull you away from the Strip and down one of its many trails. There’s a certain allure to Red Rocks as it’s intimately called by the climbing community that sparks adventure.

Curious to know what adventures called to me? I’ll share it all with you below, but promise me you’ll also carve out your own adventure as well as there’s so much to see and do in this area!

White Rock Mountain Loop

Distance: 6 miles
Difficulty level: moderate to difficult
Elevation: over 1,000 feet
Entrance: Willow Spring Picnic area
What to bring: sunscreen, hat, plenty of water, sunglasses and comfortably worn hiking boots and thick socks

This trail winds in and out of multiple habitats and encompasses pretty much everything you’d expect on a good hike: a waterfall, solid elevation gain leading to panoramic views, various mountain ranges and rock formations, canyons and the occasional wildlife encounter. According to the park’s map, this area is also the most popular for bighorn sheep sightings!

The trail starts at the Willow Spring Picnic area. Snuggled into vast mountains, the area is easily accessible and offers decent parking – depending on the season. Get up early to avoid having to park down the road.

Add on a visit to the Native American pictographs, which are located just a short walk away from the picnic entrance, and you’re in for another treat! There are signs that will guide you there so keep an eye out for those.

From there, be sure to hop over to Lost Creek Canyon Trail after, a must-do for families with little ones as there’s a discovery area for youngsters. After meandering around this area connect to the actual White Rock trailhead by following a path back to the picnic area and crossing the road.

The White Rock trail takes you up and around the most northwestern part of the National Park with picturesque views of the Lime Canyon and Mount Wilson Wildernesses. Climb up through spotted sandstone boulders, cottonwood trees and mountain ranges splashed with color. Along the way back to the picnic area, stop by La Madre Spring for a quick dip before finishing your trek.

Bouldering

Red Rocks brings the boulders, and boy do I mean that. It’s known in the bouldering community as the “nice place to boulder” and there are many reasons why. There are thousands of bouldering problems here for climbers of any skill level from V0 to V10. Here’s what you should know:

  • Pack it out: Please understand that these climbing areas are precious to everyone and should definitely be seen and played on by anyone wishing to do so. Therefore, it’s extremely important that we do our part by maintaining these areas. Please pick up and pack out your trash and treat the boulders like you would a close family member: with respect.
  • Consult Mountain Project: It’s honestly the best resource to determine which boulders are suitable for your skill level and desire. See more here.
  • Practice safety: Climbing outside is a lot more difficult than it is indoors at the gym. Ensure you have a crash pad and remember that once you reach the top you also need to come back down.
  • Be mindful of weather: Remember sandstone can get damaged when wet and makes for unsafe bouldering conditions.
  • Scope out bouldering problems for beginners: poker chips, plumber’s crack and perfect poser are great V0-V1 problems to either start with or warm up on – make sure you climb up the correct side!

Scenic Loop Drive

The last must-do in Red Rocks that I’m going to suggest is taking a drive into the park and cruising in and out of the landscape taking pictures whenever you see fit.

And if you get the chance and have the ability, I also highly recommend long boarding down this road as it just looks BADASS. Adventure well, my friend!

Big Sur: Secret Spots, Timeless Tips and More

Ah, the iconic “Follow the Way of the Love Dog” sans comma sign at McWay Falls, a true gem in Big Sur. Set against the backdrop of the vibrantly indigo Pacific Ocean, the sign serves as a gentle prompting to listen to your heart. And listen one does as Big Sur has a way of tugging heavily at your heart strings.

Perhaps it’s the hug of the fog and the way it hides the coastline enveloping some of the most majestic and inspirational views California boasts behind a mysterious and cloudy curtain. Or perhaps its the ever changing weather and tides along the shore that remind us too of the fleeting nature of our lives.

Whatever it may be, a visit to Big Sur will take ahold of your heart and never let go, and I highly recommend that you let it.

Meander with me here as I go through some of Big Sur’s secret spots, what I love about it and how you too can learn about the magic of this beloved and cherished spot.

McWay Falls

McWay Outlook, accessible by a well-marked path along the 1, is the most well known and visited trail and for a good reason. The trail leads to McWay Falls, an 80-foot waterfall set against a backdrop of Maple, Pine, Cypress and Eucalyptus trees and a sandy beach.

It’s best to avoid McWay Outlook during the rainy season since parts of the path are in the process of being restored due to coastal erosion (note: this was written in May of 2019 so rehabilitation plans may have been updated).

McWay Outlook Guide: What You Should Know

  • Tens of thousands of visitors come here each month to witness the waterfall and take photographs. If you want to skip the crowds aim to visit the spot very early in the morning or during a less crowded time of the year. Avoid summertime if you can.
  • No, you cannot climb down to the sandy beach. You will get fined and/or arrested.
  • Slow your pace and really take in the scenery when visiting. This spot is home to a wide variety of vegetation, animals and insects, so get to know the area.

Limekiln State Park

Spoiler Alert: did you know that Big Sur is home to four lime kilns from an old lime-calcining operation from the 1880s? Easily accessible after entering Limekiln State Park, the trail winds you through lush redwood forests, running creeks and an active waterfall.

Tips

  • Park across the street from the park’s entrance along the 1 to avoid paying the parking fee.
  • There are 3 paths that offshoot from the entrance and take you to different destinations each under 1 mile and easily hike-able.

    1. Hare Creek – Home to some of the oldest and tallest Redwood trees in Big Sur.

    2. Limekilns – The Rockland Lime and Lumber Company used these kilns to create lime and the structures are still very much intact.

    3. Limekilns falls – Path involves some rock scrambling and leaves you at the base of a 100-foot waterfall!

If you want to be a bit more adventurous, keep on trekking once you pass the lime kilns and you’ll find secret pools along the path. Please be mindful though stick to the trail, try not to harm any plants and/or wildlife and take your trash with you.

Andrew Molera State Park: Ridge Trail

This at times a little strenuous 8.8 mile loop hike doesn’t appeal to that many Big Sur visitors and for a couple good reasons: it starts with an incline and is favored by poison oak vines. If you can get past this though the path, which takes you up and above the ocean, promises breathtaking views of the water, Redwood forests and hidden beaches. Here’s what you should know so you don’t miss anything!

Ridge Trail: My Favorite Secrets

  • Incredible coastal views. This trail weaves you in and out along the coastline and the results are just spectacular. Honestly, my photographs do not do this hike justice.
  • Redwood, oak groves and a pigmy redwood forest. The belly of the trail will take you through peaceful redwood and oak forests and the end of the trail presents you with the option of exploring a pigmy redwood grove, which turned out to be quite an adventure. The creaking of the little trees was actually really scary!
  • Access to secret beaches. Where Panorama and Bluffs trail meet there’s a path that leads you down to a stretch of the beach which is rarely visited. Please keep it that way.
  • The change in sand tone colors. On the way back around the Ridge Loop once you’ve reached the beach take advantage of the bold color changes in the sand. Dark brown, soft reddish beige, yellow, light purple and burnt orange can all be seen here.

Now that you’ve learned a little bit more about why Big Sur holds a special place in my heart, I hope you’re inspired to plan a trip to see it for yourself. Just remember to treat this place with love and respect as its beauty needs to be preserved for generations to come. Safe travels!

Antelope Canyon: Navigating Arizona’s Natural Wonder

Antelope Canyon has always held a sensual allure to me. The contrast of colors, soft oranges muddled with darker browns and deep, cool blues paired with the ever elusive but beautiful light beams held onto my heart and wouldn’t let go.

And then there’s the crimson phantom photograph by Peter Lik (did you know that gorgeous print actually sold for $6.5 million?!). One look at that piece and I immediately added Antelope Canyon to my bucket list.

As beautiful and mysterious as this slot canyon is, unfortunately, due to heavy tourism, its difficult to know what experience you’ll get. Sometimes the canyon is overrun with people, often tours sell out and then there’s the fact that, depending on the tour you sign up for, you might not be able to get the photographs you really wanted.

Luckily for you I’ve been through all of this and am offering my tips on how to best navigate the ins and outs of all things Antelope Canyon.

Prepare: What You Should Know

Canyon Options: There are two options Upper Antelope Canyon and Lower Antelope Canyon.

Upper Antelope Canyon:

Length: 200 meters long
Shape: A-shaped (top is very narrow; base is wider)
Tour details: Must sign up for a tour
Options: Options for photography tour (more expensive, less people, more time for photographs – requires certain skill level)
Colors: darker, deeper oranges, reds, blues due to less light
Secret Tip: Go here mid-day if you want to capture light beams

Lower Antelope Canyon:

Length: 400 meters long
Shape: V-shaped (top is wide; bottom is very narrow)
Tour details: Must sign up for a tour
Options: Options for regular, private or photography tour
Colors: mix of both light and dark oranges, yellows and purples due to more more light
Secret Tip: Aim for just before noon for optimal light

Rules and Regulations

Ensure you’re all prepped before venturing into your canyon of choice.

  • Drink water beforehand as you can’t take water bottles of any kind into the canyons.
  • Go to the restroom before as well. There are public restrooms available for use at the start of the trail too if needed.
  • Leave your gear/backpack at home – you can’t take these with you into the canyon.

How Do I Capture the Canyon in Photographs?

I know you’re thinking it: wait, how do I capture those gorgeous color hues, the lines of the rock, and all that warm light? Don’t worry, I got you covered.

Here’s the skinny on what you need to know about taking photographs in Lower Antelope Canyon based off of what gear my boyfriend and I used.

  • Camera: Nikon D500
  • Lens: Tokina AT-X116 Pro DX II 11-16
  • Settings (ex. used on image above ): ISO500 11mm F/6.3; exposure 1/50 sec
  1. Prep your camera beforehand as you will need to snap pictures fast since large tour groups will be filtering in and out alongside yours. You will probably only have 10-20 seconds in each section of the canyon to get a shot so get ready!
  2. If you’re using a DSLR make sure that you’re capturing raw photographs.
  3. Aim up! The regular tours are crowded so do your best to shoot upwards to avoid getting random people in your pictures.
  4. If you’re doing the regular Lower Antelope Canyon tour ask your guide for help on which settings to use for your phone/camera. They’re super knowledgable so tell them exactly what you want in your photograph and viola!

Angels Landing: How to Best Prepare to Reach the Top

Holy views!

Angels Landing in Zion, UT has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember and for a good reason: breathtakingly beautiful 360 degree views of Zion National Park! Sign me up, right? These views call to thousands of people from all over the globe and each year kids and grandparents alike make their way to Zion to touch the summit.

The Danger Factor

But, isn’t it a bit dangerous? Well, yes, it can be if you aren’t smart about it. According to the National Park’s website, 7 people have died attempting this hike, so by all means do be careful when hiking this trail. However, the hike isn’t too dangerous as long as you’re diligent and prepared. I’ve made it easier for you too! Take a look at my 4 tips on how to hike Angels Landing right.

4 Tips for Angels Landing Hikers

1. Set Expectations

That’s right, know what you’re getting into before you start hiking. Here’s the skinny on what you should know before attempting this hike:

Distance: 5.2 miles (round-trip)
Difficulty level: Hard (this is what the Park states however if you’re in decent shape and aren’t too afraid of heights you will be fine).
Elevation gain: 15,000 feet
Trail Length: 2-5 hours (depending on your hiking pace and how crowded it is at that time of the year).
Best time to visit: Early spring, late fall (aim for early morning).
Trailhead: The Grotto (#6 stop on the Zion shuttle).
Secret Tip: You can also do this hike at night when no one is around for some epic night photos.

Now, if you’re a pretty active human this hike isn’t as difficult as you’d expect. The hard bit is the fact that the last leg of the trek requires you to scramble over rocks using only a chain for assistance, well, and your arms and legs – it’s actually not too bad if you focus on what you’re doing. One step at a time right? Remember thousands of people of all ages complete this hike each year. You got this!

Also, remember that this hike is quite popular and you will see hundreds of people along the hike. You will need to stop at some points to let other hikers hike down while you’re hiking up and vice versa.

2. Come prepared

Here’s what I recommend bringing on this hike:

  • Camera (keep in mind you will be scrambling over rocks so maybe leave all that extra camera gear at the campsite unless you’re fine carrying it on your back for 5 miles).
  • Sunscreen with high spf
  • Hat
  • CamelBak (you need both hands to hike/climb/hold the chains so leave your Hydro Flask at your campsite).
  • Sunglasses
  • Hand Sanitizer (thousands of people have touched the chains you will be holding on to – that’s a lot of germs).
  • Head lamp and/or flashlight (if going night hiking please be extra careful!).

3. Get Up Early

Trust me on this you’re going to want to wake up with the sun – close to 6 a.m. – and get to the earliest shuttle. The first shuttle leaves the Visitor’s Center at 7 a.m. on the dot. This hike can get super crowded if you’re not up early, which can be a bit frustrating as you’re going to have to wait on people trying to come down on the chains as you’re hiking up on them. Avoid the crowds and set that alarm.

The sun is pretty full on in Spring as well – especially the longer you wait – so try to get to the summit around 11 a.m. before it beats down and you get grumpy. 😉

4. Know Where to Eat Once You’re Done

There’s nothing quite like a long hike to work up an appetite. And after that trek you’ve definitely earned yourself a treat! Stay local and save money by eating at Cafe Soleil.

The cafe harbors local artwork and mugs and the workers have a great way of making you feel right at home.

I recommend ordering a panini and an iced dirty chai latte – they do it right.