One of my favorite things about living in Los Angeles, California is how many roadtrip opportunities are out there for us Angelenos! A spot on my bucket list that I had always wanted to visit was none other than the infamous Big Sur. A spot beloved by both California locals and tourists from afar, you just can’t beat the views on one of the world’s most special stretches of coastline (all 90 miles of it!). Where the lush green, flowered-covered cliffs meet the sea, Big Sur is a magical location that all Angelenos and non-Angelenos need to add to their travel bucket lists.
My friends and I made the trek up to Big Sur in May 2019 for a good friend’s 30th birthday camping party - how fun is that? Via one of the most famous drives on the West Coast, Highway 1, Big Sur is roughly only a 6-hour drive from LA. There are plenty of spots along the way to make the drive seem a little shorter, and a lot more fun. And trust me, plenty (!) of snacks and a great playlist makes every road trip that much more enjoyable. Below I’ll share tips on things we did and where we stayed, to hopefully help you (and your pals!) plan the most spectacular weekend #GetawayfromLA here.
When planning any road trip or #getawayfromLA trip, my first step is to secure accommodations, especially in a place as popular and well-visited as Big Sur. My friend found this beautiful campsite online, and I am so glad that she did! Riverside Campground & Cabins are in the heart of Big Sur, has the Big Sur River running through it (it would be perfect for summer when the water is warmer), and is so serene and peaceful. Riverside has a mix of campsites for tent campers and small cabins for glampers, and the community shares showers and bathrooms (all were clean and never crowded, in my opinion). My fiance and I opted for the least expensive cabin option, and it was basically just a bed and 4 walls, but that’s all we really needed! Just a cozy place to rest our heads at the end of the day (and one that required very little set-up and break-down). We stayed in cabin #9 which had a comfortable queen bed, electricity, heat/AC, and an outdoor table area. I would absolutely love to come back here, and would rate it 5/5 stars!
Riverside Campground & Cabins are located here: 47020 Highway 1, Big Sur, CA 93920. They have 34 campsites and 12 cabins available.
For more information on their accommodations, visit their website here: https://www.riversidecampground.com/
The view point for the McWay Waterfall is a gorgeous stop along Highway 1 and also one that’s super easy to get to. Typically, visitors are directed to the paid-parking lot directly across the street ($10), but when we visited the park was closed, so we parked along the street for free. This probably isn’t recommended for all visitors since cars come up and down Highway 1 super fast, but you can decide how comfortable you feel to cross the street (or if you get lucky, there are a few, free designated parking spots right at the top of the viewpoint for the waterfall, which is ideal and much safer!). This is a great spot to take a few pictures and enjoy the golden coastline views.
This address into Google Maps: McWay Waterfall Parking, Big Sur, CA 93920 OR 52801 California State Route 1, Big Sur, CA 93920.
Chances are you’ve seen pictures of one of the US’s most iconic bridges before - the beautiful Bixby Bridge! The bridge first opened on November 27, 1932 and today remains one of the tallest single-span bridges in the world. To snag a gorgeous picture of yourself with the bridge, pull over at the viewpoint on the northern end of the bridge. A small parking lot with free parking is available, and some people were also parked directly along Highway 1. If you type “Bixby Bridge” into Google Maps, you’ll easily be able to get driving directions here! Snap away, my friends.
Overall, our trip to Big Sur was short, but oh-so-sweet. We were only here from Friday afternoon - Sunday morning, and much time was just spent chillin’ at the campsite with our friends, BBQ-ing, listening to music, and making s'mores. It was such a refreshing mini-getaway, and the drive there and back from L.A. was beautiful! I would highly recommend you plan a road trip to Big Sur sooner rather than later. Here are some more resources to get you started on planning an awesome trip here:
In early October, my fiance and I enjoyed a visit to New Orleans, a city both of us have always wanted to visit and explore. We listened to live jazz all over Frenchman St. and the oldest jazz venue in the United States Preservation Hall, indulged on delicious Southern foods & beignets (#stillfull), walked all over the Garden District and Bourbon Street/French Quarter, and drove out to the Whitney Plantation for an eye-opening and memorable experience - it’s the only museum in Louisiana (and few in the country) with a focus on slavery in the South. Read on for more details about our long weekend getaway to NOLA!
Any trip to NOLA should come with a visit to Jackson Square, a historic park and location of where the Louisiana Purchase was signed in 1803, doubling the size of the United States. Jackson Square is located in the heart of the French Quarter and along the bank of the Mississippi River, where you can sit and watch the steamboats pass on by. It’s also a short walk to the French Market, where you can browse through local art vendors, listen to live music performances, get your fortune told, grab delicious food (we loved Alberto’s sandwiches!), and walk around with your adult beverages in plastic cups.
Although this popular tourist destination is beautiful to the eye, it has a troubled past, as NOLA was once the largest slave market in the United States. In 1860 there were more than 300,000 slaves living in Louisiana, many of which were sold through this very square. While I didn’t see many recognitions or mentions of this dark and painful time in our country’s history in the touristy locations of NOLA, the Whitney Plantation is devoted entirely to learning about slavery in the South (more on this below).
Y. U. M. We were recommended to order beignets from both Cafe Du Monde and Cafe Beignet, but opted for just visiting Cafe Beignet because the Cafe Du Monde line was always too long for our patience and attention spans. The breakfast here was so-so, but the beignets were mouth-watering! Beignets are small pieces of dough, gently fried, and then drenched in powdered sugar. Click here to read more about some of the top spots for beignets in the city.
Strolling around the Lafayette Cemetery #1 in the month of October was a pretty eerie, but cool, experience. This cemetery, or “city of the dead” as some call it, was built in 1833, apparently right after a huge Yellow Fever outbreak hit the city. Since the city of New Orleans is below sea level, they can’t bury any remains underground. All tombs are buried over ground and you’ll see many cemeteries around the city as you are out and about. Today, Lafayette Cemetery #1 is one of the most popular to visit, as it’s free and open to the public. It’s also the most filmed cemetery in New Orleans (including one of my favorite movies of all time - Double Jeopardy!).
Anyone watch American Horror Story: Coven? If so, you may recognize the first home pictured above! The Buckner Mansion was built in 1856 and is located in New Orleans' glitzy Garden District. The entire neighborhood is full of mansions with lush gardens and colorful Victorian architecture. After you stop by Lafayette Cemetery #1, you can stroll through the neighborhood at your leisure or join one of the many walking tours in the city.
The most meaningful part of our NOLA trip was renting a car and driving about an hour outside of the city to the Whitney Plantation. During our 90 minute walking tour, we entered the world of a Louisiana sugar plantation in the 1800’s. While we read that many plantations you can visit today romanticize this period of time and focus on the beautiful homes in the plantations and gloss over the slave trade, the Whitney Plantation is dedicated to sharing what life was like for the enslaved...the ones who built these plantations from the ground up. We walked through the slave cabins, the plantation church, the owner’s grandiose house, and memorials that have since been built to honor the enslaved. At the end of the Civil War, there were nearly 400,000 enslaved people in Louisiana alone.
Our tour guide Ali shared examples of misconceptions about slavery in the US and broke down the history for us in a way that was incredibly powerful and eye-opening. He explained that he’s noticed on his tours that Americans know less about our country’s dark history with slavery than folks who visit from any other nation. He also talked about the parallels from slavery in the early 1800’s to unjust mass incarceration of African Americans today. Overall, he was incredible to listen to. The history and stories we absorbed on this day will stay close to us, and my reading list has significantly grown thanks to their bookstore.
One of the most heart-breaking aspects of the tour was hearing about the stories of the children who were enslaved. “The Children of Whitney” is a series of sculptures that represent 40 enslaved children as they were at the time of emancipation. The artist purposely did not give the children eyes, which represent the lack of hope these children had at the time. Each visitor to Whitney Plantation gets a lanyard with a card showing one of the statues you will see while you’re on the plantation. Mine was Carlyle Stewart who was 7 years old when set free in 1860.
For more information, I’d highly recommend visiting www.WhitneyPlantation.com.
As far as nightlife in NOLA goes, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve heard of Bourbon Street! Bourbon is lined with bars and loud clubs and is definitely a big party scene. It’s fun to walk around and people watch, but we preferred Frenchman St. over Bourbon St. because that’s where you'll find most of the (awesome) live jazz. Apparently, Frenchman St. is what Bourbon St. USED to be like, before it got super touristy and rowdy. Frenchman St. is just a short 1-2 miles from the French Quarter and is the hub of live music for the city. I’d highly recommend eating tapas and grabbing drinks at Three Muses and listening to the live music there, and then walking around to see what spots peak your interest next.
Our final night in New Orleans was spent at our hotel’s Carousel Bar before seeing a concert at Preservation Hall (which we would 100% recommend!). This bar was named by Vogue Australia as one of the top 20 bars in the world. The seats rotates as you sit and the cocktails were some of the best we enjoyed in the city. No matter where you stay in NOLA, I’d definitely recommend planning to enjoy a drink or snack at this magical bar!
Until my next Getaway from LA trip - happy adventuring, my friends! xoxo
Appropriately dubbed “a museum like no other,” Hearst Castle sits among 127 lush acres of land in the city of San Simeon, near the gorgeous, glistening coast of Central California. The history of this grandiose piece of architecture began way back in the 1860’s, when George Hearst bought more than 40,000 acres of land where the castle now resides. When George and his wife Phoebe died, their only son, William, inherited the land, and even purchased more - totalling to roughly 250,000 acres. In 1919, nearly 100 years ago, Hearst Castle began its construction. Built with over 100 hundred rooms, more than 40 bathrooms, a theatre, and plenty of extravagant spaces to host parties and social events, this is a mega mansion you have to see to believe. William Hearst died in 1951 and just a few years later, the Castle and surrounding lands became a California State Park. In 1958, the Castle was officially open for public tours.
Today, Hearst Castle has become known as one of California’s most beloved monuments, attracting over one million visitors each year. Tours are now offered here on most days, and you must purchase a tour ticket to visit the Castle. My fiance and I decided on the Grand Rooms Tour, since we read that this was recommended for first-time visitors. The Grand Rooms Tour runs $25 per person and is about 1.5 hours long. The tour covers a good portion of the first floor of the Castle, where you will walk through the main “social rooms,” making you feel as if you were a guest here in the roaring 20’s. You’ll start your tour on the beautiful and well-maintained grounds, make your way inside the Castle starting in the Assembly Room, stroll through the dining hall and billiard room, and end your tour in the stunning theatre. After the tour, you are free to explore the grounds at your leisure. As you make your way toward the exit of the grounds, you will walk by the gorgeous blue-tiled Roman Pool, which for me, was definitely a highlight of visiting the Castle.
For more information on the tour offerings at Hearst Castle, visit this link: http://hearstcastle.org/tour-hearst-castle/daily-tours/. For more information about the tour we decided on, the Grand Rooms Tour, visit this link directly: http://hearstcastle.org/tour-hearst-castle/daily-tours/grand-rooms-tour/.
We visited Hearst Castle on Memorial Day weekend, so as you can imagine, it was pretty crowded and hectic. As such, the tour felt a little rushed. This was the main downside in my opinion. The Castle itself was beautifully and impeccably designed - inside and out - and I enjoyed hearing more about the history of the property. If you’re in the Central California area and are looking for something to do, this may be the right adventure for you!
I’d highly recommend you visit their official website here for planning your own trip here: http://hearstcastle.org/
Heart Castle is located at: 750 Hearst Castle Rd, San Simeon, CA 93452
Hi everyone! Jordan here. Typically, I don’t introduce myself in the beginning of my blog posts. But for this one, I have to, since this is the first post on my blog that was not written by me! I asked my fiance Diego, a first-generation American and son of Mexican immigrants, to guest blog on my site and share the experience of our recent trip to Valle de Guadalupe from his perspective. He has spent much of his life traveling between the United States and Mexico, and I hope you enjoy reading his travel tips and thoughts about this weekend getaway. Check it out below!
"Hey everyone, Diego here! Like many families, my parents crossed the border to come in to the United States through Tijuana. Fortunately for them (and our family), they crossed in a much simpler time. As a kid, I knew Tijuana (TJ) as a combination of weekend vacations, doctor visits when the American doctors are too expensive, shopping trips for my mom's planters, and the mandatory visit to Puerto Nuevo for some fire seafood. As a late teen and college student, I became much more familiar with Rosarito (no further explanation necessary). In those years, my friends and I made the transition of being driven back and forth to Baja Cali, to now driving ourselves. The first time crossing the border may with all the negative stories (fact or fiction) you hear about people who have had bad experiences in Mexico. Don't get me wrong, we have had some "not so great" experiences with police down there, but by large, we always have fun and make it back in one piece. Every year that I go back, Baja Cali feels, and is, safer and more modern." - Diego
"This was my first visit to Ensenada and Valle de Guadalupe. I had heard of random family members that have gone over the past few years, and it has exponentially grown more popular. I hadn't driven down the toll roads along the coast in such a long time! Seeing the Papas n' Beer sign on the road made me want to take a hard right, check into the Festival Hotel, and cruise down Benito Juarez Blvd. for old times sake. Valle de Guadalupe was only 90 minutes from the border - a very quick drive. The directions are fairly simple, and the toll road is truly one of the smoothest drives in the western coast of North America. A couple miles before the exit to Ensenada, we made a left into the valley. Within 20 minutes, we were in wine country!" - Diego
"Our first stop was Cremeria Los Globos. I have to say, there are certain smells that are simply unique to Mexico. That when you smell it, you just know. One of them, perhaps the greatest, is the smell of queso blanco. You know, the one that smells like feet. The one that when any family member travels to Mexico, it's mandatory that they buy enough queso to be able to give all the tias at least one slice wrapped in foil and two slices for the matriarch of the family. That cheese then lasts 6 months in your fridge and is the perfect topping to frijoles de la hoya.
That's exactly what we smelled when we walked in, except instead of one type of cheese, there was like 30! It was artisan cheese for Mexicans. And it was delicious! On top of that, they also had olive oils, syrups, and candies. If you're looking to get your mom or any aunts a present, this is the place to go." - Diego
"Don Tomas was our first winery visit. You travel down the dirt road until you get to the large hacienda gates that let you into the vineyard. This winery, like the others, has an authentic Mexico feel to it. As you are driving down the driveway, you’ll see the fence made out of tree branches tied with barbed wire, lining the entire vineyard areas. That is a staple of the Mexican farm. The kind that no matter what, every time you have to move it or open the gate section, you get stuck with a barbed wire piece in your hand! The wine was delicious and we had the Mexican pizza, which was more like a huge double sided quesadilla. I highly recommend it!" - Diego
"La Esparanza Baja Med, like all the wineries, had a long dirt road that led you to the main buildings. There are only a handful of paved roads in the Valle, so you should expect some dirt to get kicked up. Once you have the winery in sight, you realize that this isn't some downgraded winery with just bare minimums. This winery easily competes with Temecula’s or Paso Robles’ wineries. There are vineyards as far as the eye can see over the rolling hills. The food was delicious and high quality. A lot of gourmet items. The menu was inspired between Japanese and Mexican cuisines. A perfect blend of taste and spice. It definitely set the tone for the rest of the weekend." - Diego
"Clos de Tres Cantos had to be the most impressive winery we went to. We drove up a steep, winding road (definitely not a road that would be approved for use in the USA), but our guide Manuel had no problem maneuvering. Once you get to the top, it's simply bliss. This entire place was designed to look like a monastery and they pulled it off. It is an awesome combination of modern architecture with brick and mortar buildings. There are a bunch of areas to hang out and just be relax for a bit. From the hilltop you can see most of the valley and vineyards around the area." - Diego
"Sol Y Barro was my favorite spot. The center buildings are made from using using clay, sand, straw, and water, known as cob. The owner is a Swiss American immigrant that started off as a winemaker in the Valle. It is surrounded by patio areas, vineyards, and beautiful succulents all around. We had the best white wine here of all the places we visited. Dogs all over the place chillin', friendly staff, and just a relaxing vibe all around. The architecture reminded me of my mom's hometown in Jalisco where they still have adobe houses, cobblestone streets, and greenery all over." - Diego
"Our guide, Manuel, promised us a unique experience and he certainly delivered with this place. We drove into a random neighborhood area and parked in the driveway of a house. We all got off and we were told that this is where the best bread in the entire valley is made. We walked into the front part of the home where all of their bread is baked. They have 2 ovens, a few shelfs, and a big wooden table in the center. It smelled delicious. The first thing we tried was pan dulce, conchitas to be exact. I have never tasted something so delicious in my life. I have eaten pan dulce my entire life, maybe a little too much, but this was on another level. The warm sugary crust was just slightly crunchy before it completely melted in your mouth. The bread was thin and fluffy all the way through. This was as fresh as it could possibly be. We tried samples of all the other breads, and everything was on point. I highly recommend going here." - Diego
"In preparing for this trip, I didn't quite know what to expect. I thought it would be similar to Rosarito or Puerto Nuevo, but this was definitely different. The Valle is away enough from the ocean that it doesn't feel like a party beach town. It gives you more of a sense of the countryside of Mexico. For me, it most resembled Colima, where my dad is from. You can feel the ocean nearby but it is still out of sight. The buildings and towns are humble, and uniquely charming. The drive is smooth, directions are easy, and the people are welcoming. I definitely plan to go back, and I encourage anyone else to try it out!" - Diego
Hey everyone, Jordan here again! I’d like to give major thanks to my witty, charming, and adventurous fiance Diego who shared our weekend #getawayfromLA to Valle de Guadalupe so perfectly (who else thinks he should start his own travel blog?!). I echo what Diego has shared, and would highly encourage all So Cal & L.A. residents to take the short road trip down to Valle de Guadalupe, in Baja Cali, Mexico. Happy adventuring, my friends!
I am so excited to share that last weekend I visited a California National Park that has been on my bucket list for the past few years - Death Valley! Growing up in So Cal, Death Valley always seemed like a somewhat eerie place that you wouldn’t necessarily plan to visit for leisure - probably both due to its daunting name and the fact that in the summertime, it’s known as the hottest place in North America. In fact, on July 10, 1913, a record 134 degree F was measured by a weather observation station at Furnace Creek Ranch in Death Valley. Wowza.
Luckily, my partner and I visited right at the end of winter/official beginning of spring, and the weather during this time of the year couldn’t have been more perfect. We were met with temps ranging from the low 60’s in the morning/evening, to the high 70’s during the afternoon. The weather when we visited was absolutely lovely, but I’m not quite sure I could brave this Nat’l Park in the hot summer heat.
In case you were wondering about how Death Valley got its name, like I was before visiting, here’s some info from NPS.gov: “Death Valley was given its forbidding name by a group of pioneers lost here in the winter of 1849-1850. Even though, as far as we know, only one of the group died here, they all assumed that this valley would be their grave. They were rescued by two of their young men, William Lewis Manly and John Rogers, who had learned to be scouts. As the party climbed out of the valley over the Panamint Mountains, one of the men turned, looked back, and said "goodbye, Death Valley." This name, and the story of The Lost '49ers have become part of our western history.”
In addition to the history behind its name, I was also surprised to learn that Death Valley is home to the lowest point in our continent (at 282 feet below sea level), and is the United States’ largest national park, at over 3.4 million acres/5,300 square miles. Basically, it’s H-U-G-E. Not only is it the largest, but after visiting, I’m convinced it’s one of the most unique and beautiful as well. Throughout the duration of this blog post, I’ll include information on tips for visiting, where to stay, and some of the top sights to see in the park. I hope you will consider visiting this incredible gem right in LA’s own backyard (well, roughly a 4 hour drive -- but totally worth it!).
How much does it cost to visit Death Valley?
The entrance fee for Death Valley is $25 for 7 days, and you can pay for the fee at any visitor center in the park. The main service center in the park is centrally located in Furnace Creek, with the official visitor center (open daily, 8 am to 5 pm), as well as campgrounds, restaurants, a convenience store, and a gas station.
Where should you stay?
My partner and I had planned to spend 2 days total in the park, which was just the right amount of time for us. When researching where to stay in the park, I was kind of stumped. The hotels were all out of our budget (some were up to $400/night), and I’m not a fan of tent camping (full disclosure: after staying in an RV during our trip to Yellowstone, I now can’t camp any other way…#noshame #glampingonly). After spending time online looking at all potential lodging options, I came across Pahrump, NV, a small town about an hour outside of the park, where other Death Valley tourists & vacationers frequently stay and easily drive into the park each day. We ended up booking an AirBnb here for just under $100/night, and it was so worth it! Our AirBnB was one of our favorites that we have stayed in so far - from the overall comfortability and having more space than a traditional hotel room, to the overall ease and convenience of its location, to the desert-inspired decor (the gas fireplace was my favorite part of the casita). I’ve included the link to where we stayed below, as well as other lodging options for you to browse to make your own decision on where to stay that best fits your needs.
-Our AirBnb in Pahrump - about an hour or so drive into Death Valley each day that you visit (would highly recommend! Pictures included below) https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/13079307
-Death Valley hotels: https://www.nps.gov/deva/planyourvisit/lodging.htm
-Death Valley camping: https://www.nps.gov/deva/planyourvisit/camping.htm
The Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes are one of the most visited locations in Death Valley Nat’l Park, and one of the spots that I was most excited to visit. Located roughly 30 minutes outside of Furnace Creek, this is the largest area of sand dunes in the park. There is a large, easily accessible parking lot directly next to the dunes, and a short walk out onto the sand will allow you to explore this area at your leisure. While you could easily spend hours here exploring, I’d highly recommend checking the weather before visiting and avoid coming here if wind is at all in the forecast. We happened to visit on a VERY windy day, and let’s just say I needed to watch my face multiple times to get all of the sand and grime off of my face and body afterward (ick). Even with the uncomfortable winds, the dunes were still awesome to explore and photograph. We were here for about an hour or so in the late afternoon, took a break for a drink nearby at the Stovepipe Wells Saloon (pro tip: try the buffalo bourbon), and then came back for another hour or so around sunset. I’d highly recommend spending sunset here (and bringing a blanket or chairs to soak up the desert scenery). As the sun slowly descended upon the horizon, the sand dunes shimmered and the sunset-colored clouds made for an incredible backdrop. It was simply picturesque.
Another heavily visited location in the park is Zabriskie Point. At Zabriskie Point you’ll find incredible canyon and colorful mountain-side views, also known as Death Valley’s “bandlands.” Zabriskie Point is just a short drive from Furnace Creek, and a short walk up a paved hill is all that it takes to soak up these impressive, 360 degree views.
Is that snow covering the ground in these pictures? Nope - it’s a whole lot of salt! Here, my friends, is the lowest elevation in North America, at a staggering 282 feet below sea level. Badwater Basin is home to miles and miles (200 square miles, to be exact) of salt flats, and they are one of the largest protected salt flats in the entire world. Salt flats are very fragile, so no cars are allowed on the flats - folks are only allowed to walk (and hopefully, do so in a gentle manner) onto the flats. A fun fact is that Badwater Basin got its name from a traveler coming through, many years ago, and saw that there was water here for his mule to drink. But, because the water was so salty, the animal refused to drink it and it was considered “bad water.” Badwater Basin is roughly a 30 minute drive from the Furnace Creek area, and there’s a large, easily accessible parking lot for visitors.
Natural Bridge is just what the name describes… a natural bridge! This 50-foot-tall bridge has been created naturally from “differential erosion” over the course of thousands of years. The parking area for the Natural Bridge is located 1.5 miles along a dirt road directly off the main road (and get ready for a pretty bumpy ride on this completely unpaved road!). Once you reach the parking area, you will hike only about 0.5 miles until you reach the Natural Bridge. You can continue on for about another 0.5 miles until the trail ends, if you choose, and will see more tall, colorful canyon walls. Enjoy, and remember to bring water and sunscreen (as shade is very limited) on your trek.
Welcome to the Devil's Golf Course! Rock salts in Death Valley have been eroded by wind and rain over the years into a large stretch of jagged, salt-covered rocks. In the hot summer temperatures, visitors will apparently hear pops coming from the rocks, which grow louder and louder the closer you get to the ground. These sounds are billions of tiny salt crystals bursting apart as they expand and contract in the super high temperatures. How’s that for fascinating? From the main road (located in between Natural Bridge and Artist's Drive), a short paved road will take you to the parking area. Once you park, you can walk onto the field at your leisure. Make sure you wear sturdy, closed-toed shoes, and be careful about where you walk here - a fall on this jagged terrain can’t feel good!
Artist’s Drive is a one-way, 9-mile road that takes about 30 minutes-1 hour total to drive through. The main stop on Artist’s Drive is Artist’s Palette, a section of pastel-colored hillsides. Colors found here range from orange, pink, green, red, and turquoise, which are created naturally from metals and elements in the clay. Artist’s Palette couldn’t really be a more perfect name for it, and honestly, have you ever seen mountains so pretty? About 10 minutes or so into Artist’s Drive, you’ll pull over to the parking lot on your right hand side of the road as soon as you see the sign for Artist’s Palette (you can’t miss it). Once you park, you’ll be able to get out and explore these colorful views at your leisure.
From sprawling canyons and mountain-sides of the most gorgeous and rich colors, to sand dunes for as far as the eye can see, to miles and miles of salt crystals and salt flats - I’ve truly never experienced a place as vast, and a terrain as unique, as Death Valley National Park. Death Valley is home to some of the most dramatic and incredible scenery, and it felt like there was something interesting to see at each and every turn. It’s an easy 4 hour drive from Los Angeles, it’s relatively low-cost to visit compared to other national parks in our country, and it’s accessible for all levels of activity (as in, there are many more things to do/see here than long hikes or other more intense adventures). For these reasons, I’d recommend all So Cal-ers to consider planning a trip to the United States’ largest national park for your next #GetawayFromLA adventure.
Happy adventuring in LA and beyond, folks! As always, feel free to comment if you have any questions, and I’ll respond to you as soon as I can.
To escape the harsh winter of Los Angeles this year (lol), my boyfriend and I departed on a weekend getaway to the lovely, beautiful Temecula. Just an easy, breezy two hour drive south of L.A., Temecula is known for its robust wine country filled with hillside vineyards and wineries, as well as outdoor activities like golfing and hot air ballooning. I hadn’t been to Temecula since my 24th birthday (4 years ago), so I was overdue for a trip to this special city. On my 24th birthday I went on a hot air balloon ride with my dad which was SO much fun, and that I would highly recommend for you adventure seekers out there. This trip, though, we kept it simple with good food, good wine, and a cute bed & breakfast -- and we had a blast! Read on below for the top things to do and see during a weekend getaway to Temecula.
Temecula is known as the wine country in Southern California. With more than 30 wineries making a variety of award-winning wines, you could spend a whole day stopping by different wineries and vineyards - trying wines (and check out Groupon for tasting deals before you go!), enjoying a quiet picnic lunch, and reveling in the beautiful scenery at each and every turn. And since the wineries are all close in distance, it takes just a few minutes to drive from one to the next - making the day fun, easy, and enjoyable.
To search for wineries in Temecula, visit https://www.visittemeculavalley.com/things-to-do/old-town/wine-tasting/
You can also check out this winery map here: http://www.temeculawines.org/taste/winery-map.php
The hospitality of Temecula's wine country definitely does not disappoint. There are a range of comfortable places for you to call “home” during your stay here - from adorable, countryside bed and breakfasts (what we opted for), to rustic and charming inns, larger resorts among Temecula’s golf courses, or your more-typical hotel in the bustling Old Town.
We stayed at the Inn at Churon, which is situated beautifully among 11 acres of estate vineyards. From each suite’s vineyard-facing balcony made perfectly for picnics with rolling hillside views, a marble bathroom with large jacuzzi tub, fireplace in-room, free “wine hour” for guests, gorgeous grounds to stroll through, and a delicious breakfast included in your stay - I would highly recommend this Inn to you and yours.
Browse this link for the best places to stay in Temecula: https://www.visittemeculavalley.com/hotels/where-to-stay/
For more information about the Inn at Churon Winery, visit this link: https://www.visittemeculavalley.com/listing/inn-at-churon-winery/56/
Whether you’re a lover of California’s history or a fan of old-time architecture (Old Town dates all the way back to the 1880’s!) or just a seeker of good food, beer/wine, and cute shops - Old Town Temecula has something for just about everyone. It blends an old-time feel (think wooden boardwalks, antique shops, western-style architecture), with a modern twist (farm-to-table, restaurants, insta-worthy wine bars, craft breweries), and an overall good time with live music, the occasional outdoor festival or farmers market, and endless good vibes.
Visit this link for planning your outing to Old Town Temecula:
As I mentioned above, my dad and I went on a hot air balloon ride for my birthday a few years ago, and we l-o-v-e-d the adventure of it! If you’re willing to wake up before the sun rises on your vacay and aren’t afraid of heights, I bet you’ll absolutely love it. The 360 degree scenery at each elevation is beautiful, so make sure to bring a camera or phone to snap pics on. Hot air balloon rides depart from various wineries and locations around Temecula, and you can schedule a ride year-round - weather permitting.
Visit this link for more information on planning your hot air balloon adventure:
Overall, I would recommend all Angelenos who enjoy wine and a beautiful change of scenery to visit the area of Temecula. It’s just a two hour drive down here, but I can almost guarantee that you will feel like you’re a world away. Bumper-to-bumper traffic is replaced with rolling grape-filled hillsides, smog is replaced with clean, fresh air and blue, sunny skies, and the concrete jungle we’re so used to is replaced with adorable hillside inns and mom-and-pop style restaurants and family-owned wineries.
To help you plan your weekend getaway here, I’d recommend you visit the Official Visitor Guide for Temecula here: https://www.visittemeculavalley.com/ and this link specifically for the top things to do and see in Temecula: https://www.visittemeculavalley.com/things-to-do/.
Until my next Getaway From LA blog post, cheers to you and yours!
Please note: while most of my Getaway from LA trip posts like Peru, Banff, and Cancun (and definitely scroll for more!) are lengthy and include many details/tips for visiting both local/global destinations, I’m going to keep this travel blog post short and sweet. :) I didn’t bring my DSLR camera on this getaway (it can be a lot to carry around, and I wanted to not have to lug around a bag everywhere I went), so I opted to take pictures on my phone instead throughout the weekend. I was also on this trip with my family, so I intentionally wanted to be more in-the-moment with them, and less worried about getting “perfect blog shots” everywhere I went!
My family and I ventured up north to the beautiful Portland, Oregon for Thanksgiving weekend 2017. Portland is Oregon’s largest city, home to about 650,000 locals. It sits on the Columbia and Willamette rivers, and is one of the greenest and prettiest cities I’ve experienced in the US. Portland is both an adored and very eclectic city, best known for it’s green parks, bridges, outdoor activities, delicious food and dining options, breweries, coffee houses, and ever-growing art/music scene. And good news for us Angelenos looking to explore an amazing new city: Portland is only a 2 hour flight from Los Angeles/Burbank airports, and you can typically find flights for under $150 round-trip.
I’ve been to Portland twice now – both times in the fall – and I have to say that this must be the most beautiful time to visit the city. We don’t get much of a traditional fall season in LA (case in point: when I was heading to the Burbank airport to fly up here the day before Thanksgiving, it was over 90 degrees outside…), so I soaked up every fall-filled moment in Portland. From the red, orange, and yellow leaves falling gently off the trees and coating the streets in blankets of color, to the gloomy skies and romantic hot cocoa weather, to the clean and crisp feeling in the air every time you step outside – I couldn’t quite get enough of what a true autumn feels like.
I hope to go back to Portland someday soon and do a full, detailed Getaway from LA post, but in the meantime, here is a short list of recommendations on what to do/see if you’re planning a visit to PDX:
Here are some additional helpful Portland travel links:
Google’s Portland Travel Guide
AirBnB’s Top 30 Things to do in Portland
Trip Advisor’s Top 10 Things to Do in Portland
Travel Portland’s Activity Guide
Happy adventuring, my friends!
While most of my Getaway from LA trip posts like Peru, Yellowstone National Park, and Cancun (scroll for more) are lengthy and include many details/tips for visiting both local/global destinations, I’m going to keep this blog post short and sweet. :) I didn’t bring my DSLR camera on this getaway (it can be a lot to carry around, and I wanted to not have to lug around a bag everywhere I went), so opted to take a few pictures on my phone instead throughout the weekend.
I recently attended a destination wedding in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and decided to make a 4-day weekend trip out of it. Cabo San Lucas, most commonly referred to as just, “Cabo,” sits at the most southern part of Baja California, on the Pacific Ocean side of Mexico. Cabo, attracting visitors mostly from the United States and Canada, is best known for its beaches, scuba diving and water activities, resorts, and nightlife. Most of the weekend was spent at our resort, Sandos Finisterra, with a large group for wedding activities, but we were able to spend an afternoon at the hotel’s spa (which was lovely!) and went on a gorgeous sunset cruise to Cabo’s iconic arches. The arches are one of the most iconic tourist attractions here, and at certain times of the year, the sea level falls low enough here that visitors can walk on the beach underneath the arch. I’d love to go back here again one day to explore more of the city. Until then, thanks for the good times & good views this time, Cabo! Destination weddings are the best and so full of love and fun.
To read about another trip of mine to Mexico – specifically to Cancun – visit this link:
To read more about Cabo if you’re planning a trip there, visit these links:
For all of the things to do and see in Cabo, visit these links:
Happy adventuring, my friends!
Last week my boyfriend and I flew from LAX to the gorgeous and woodsy Missoula, Montana for our good friends Jake & Jill’s wedding. Their wedding was one of the most beautiful and fun weddings we’ve been to, and they sure know how to throw a party! Their entire event from start to finish was Pinterest board worthy, and you can tell how truly adored they are by how many wonderful people attended (and how many new friends we made!). If you’re interested, check out the hashtag #jakeandjillwedupthehill on Instagram for some snaps of their wedding.
I would give you an overview about what we did in Missoula but we mostly just did fun wedding-related festivities with our friends, and I would give you an overview of where we stayed in Missoula, but we stayed at an RV park, which brings me to…
When we began planning our trip to Missoula for the wedding, I quickly realized that Montana was right next to Wyoming which is where Yellowstone National Park (YNP) is located (well, a 5 hour drive/300 miles to be exact from Missoula, so not super close, but close enough for a doable road trip!). YNP has been on my travel bucket list for years, and it was pretty easy to convince my boyfriend (he’s the *best* and always up for an adventure) to tack on a few extra days to our trip to explore one of America’s most beloved National Parks.
Instead of renting a car and staying in hotels/camping through this trip, we decided to turn up the adventure notch a bit and rented a 25-foot RV from Cruise America, which we stayed in for the entire duration of the trip: 6 adventurous days and 5 cozy nights. As it was both of our first times renting an RV, we didn’t quite know what to expect, but we ended up absolutely L-O-V-I-N-G it all (and this is coming from the girl who is not a fan of tent camping - at all). I loved it because I truly love the great outdoors and fresh air, especially in a National Park setting as beautiful as this was, but I also like being cozy and comfortable. And overall, the RV was a very convenient and comfortable little home on wheels for us.
Some of the RV’s amenities included a shower (and water heater so our showers were nice and warm), kitchen area (microwave, stove top, fridge, freezer, cabinet areas to hold food and supplies, and full sink with warm water for washing dishes), plenty of space for dining/lounging, and a comfortable bed. The RV we rented sleeps 5, but since it was just the 2 of us, it felt very spacious and comfortable throughout the entire trip. Since we only brought carry-on suitcases with us (we are strictly carry-on-er’s only whenever we travel), we were able to rent kitchen and personal kits from Cruise America (more info here: https://www.cruiseamerica.com/rent/renters_resources/kits.aspx), which was super convenient and contained the main kitchen/personal necessities (cooking ware, dishes, towels, bedding, etc.).
From setting up campfires feet away from our home, waking up and making coffee together in the brisk mornings, stopping on the side of the beautiful roads to comfortably use the restroom or whip up some delicious turkey sandwiches for a lunch break - being in an RV made road tripping fun, enjoyable, convenient, and one huge adventure. I truly could not recommend the RV life more!
Below you will find a quick overview on some tid-bits of information to keep in mind when renting your first RV and special items to pack.
Important things to know before your first epic RV adventure (and also some things I wish we would have known beforehand):
Items to pack (or buy when you arrive at your nearest grocery store) for first-time RV’ers:
I hope that information above is helpful! For any additional information about renting an RV, I’d highly recommend you peruse Cruise America’s website here: https://www.cruiseamerica.com/
Keep reading below for my overview of all that we did and saw in Yellowstone National Park and details to help you plan an epic trip to America’s oldest National Park.
History shows that Native Americans have lived in the Yellowstone National Park area for at least 11,000 years, using the park as their home and hunting grounds prior to the arrival of European Americans in the late 1800’s. Yellowstone National Park was established by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872, making it the oldest National Park in the United States.
Yellowstone is 2,219,789 acres/3,468.420 sq mi in area, larger than the states of Rhode Island or Delaware. What amazed me so much about this National Park was all of the different terrains it’s home to. From geothermal geysers and volcanic activity, to woodsy mountainsides and huge valleys filled with wildlife, to gigantic lakes and heavily flowing rivers - it was like discovering a new world at each and every turn. Below I’ll take you step-by-step through each of the 3 days we spent in Yellowstone, including what we did during each day, where we stopped, and where we stayed.
Our day #1 in Yellowstone was limited, since on this day we drove from Missoula, MT to the West Entrance (roughly 300 miles/5 hours driving). Once we entered through the West Entrance, we drove about 15 miles to the Madison Campground. We stayed in an RV space that did not have electric/septic tank hook-ups, but one night without hook-ups wasn’t a big deal for us since our RV had a built-in generator. The Madison Campground was located just a few minute walk from the Madison River which was absolutely stunning! As soon as we parked our RV, we poured some glasses of wine and walked down to the river to watch the sunset, which did not disappoint. Golden hour (the time just before the sun sets) was stunning, and it was such a beautiful start to our Yellowstone explorations.
Below you'll find where Madison Campground is on the map (where the little tent icon is), and for more information on booking a stay at Madison Campground visit: http://www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com/lodgings/campground/madison-campground/
On day #2 in Yellowstone, we woke up early, made coffee in our easy breezy pour-over coffee maker, ate some granola and a banana, and hit the road for a geyser-filled day of adventures. Yellowstone, as a whole, possesses close to 60 percent of the world's geysers, and there are more geysers in Yellowstone than in any other location on earth. If you’re wondering “what exactly is a geyser?” like we were, read below for a brief introduction from the Yellowstone National Park Service website:
“Geysers are hot springs with constrictions in their plumbing, usually near the surface, that prevent water from circulating freely to the surface where heat would escape. The deepest circulating water can exceed the surface boiling point (199°F/93°C). Surrounding pressure also increases with depth, much as it does with depth in the ocean. Increased pressure exerted by the enormous weight of the overlying water prevents the water from boiling. As the water rises, steam forms (watch video exploring Old Faithful's vent). Bubbling upward, the steam expands as it nears the top of the water column. At a critical point, the confined bubbles actually lift the water above, causing the geyser to splash or overflow. This decreases pressure on the system, and violent boiling results. Tremendous amounts of steam force water out of the vent, and an eruption begins. Water is expelled faster than it can enter the geyser's plumbing system, and the heat and pressure gradually decrease. The eruption stops when the water reservoir is depleted or when the system cools.”
I’ve been fascinated about this natural phenomenon for as long as I can remember, and we were determined to see some of the most noteworthy geysers in the park on this day.
Our first stop of the day was the Midway Geyser Basin. This area is located about half-way between the Madison and Old Faithful areas of the park and is home to the incredible Excelsior Geyser (a crater geyser with crystal blue waters) and the infamous Grand Prismatic Spring (the large, vibrantly colored one).
To get here: Drive 10.5 miles south of Madison Junction on Grand Loop Road. Turn right into the Midway Geyser Basin parking lot (you can’t miss the signs). The parking lot is small-ish, so I’d recommend getting here early. We arrived at about 8:30am and had no issues parking our RV at all. From the parking lot, you will cross the bridge over the Firehole River (you can’t miss it), to enter the beginning of the boardwalk trail.
To do/see here: There’s a 0.8 mile flat boardwalk that will take you about 30 minutes total to walk through. The boardwalk goes directly over the bubbling geothermal waters/volcanic area, so you definitely want to make sure you stay on the boardwalk at all times! During this easy stroll you’ll see both the Excelsior Geyser and the Grand Prismatic Spring.
The Excelsior Crater Geyser’s bubbling waters reach a sweltering 199 degrees, and it was once the largest geyser in the world, according to Carl Schreier’s “A Field Guide to Yellowstone's Geysers, Hot Springs and Fumaroles.” The last recorded major eruption of this geyser occurred during the 1880;s, with scorching hot waters exploding up to 300 feet in the air. Fortunately for visitors, today it’s “effectively dormant.” Its beautiful and vibrant blue waters are mesmerizing, and it’s one of Yellowstone’s most popular attractions.
Grand Prismatic Spring is large enough to be a lap pool, about 375 feet across and 125 feet deep, and the water temperature is a sweltering 160 degrees. Yellowstone’s website shares, “Deep beneath us, magma from an underground active volcano heats water that rises to the surface through fissures in the rocks. The result is a hot spring that pours almost 500 gallons of hot water each minute into the Firehole River. Minerals dissolved in the hot water are deposited and gradually build the gracefully terraced shoulders of this feature.” The colors in this hot spring are absolutely incredible! The red and orange colors in particular were so vibrant and fun to photograph, and we were in awe of the continuous steam gently rolling off the center of the geyser.
For more information about planning your stop at Midway Geyser Basin, visit this website: http://www.yellowstonenationalpark.com/midway.htm
Just this past July 2017, the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook trail opened, giving Yellowstone visitors an incredible bird's-eye view of one of the most incredible geysers in the park. To get the views like the ones above, you will want to park at the Fairy Falls trailhead (just a couple of miles south from Midway Geyser Spring, and just a few miles north of the Old Faithful area - you can’t miss the “Fairy Falls” signs for parking). Once you park at the Fairy Falls trailhead, you’ll want to cross over the river and follow the signs to the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook. The total distance of this hike is just 2 miles roundtrip, with a descent ascent.
You’ll want to make sure you do this hike in the early-mid afternoon so that there’s less steam coming off the center of the geyser and you can see it in its entirety (if we did this hike at around 9am we probably wouldn’t have seen the entire blue center of the spring due to the heavy steam rolling off of it in the early morning hours. We did this hike later on in the afternoon when the temperature outside had warmed up a bit, and we were met with picture-perfect views). This detour is 100% worth it, and I’d highly recommend any Yellowstone visitors to pay it a visit!
Roughly a 6-mile drive south of Midway Geyser Basin is probably the most popular attraction in all of Yellowstone - the infamous and beloved Old Faithful! It’s one of the biggest and “most regular” erupting geysers in the park, attracting flocks of tourists to sit on the surrounding benches and wait patiently for it to erupt. Old Faithful erupts every 70-90 minutes for typically 1.5-5 minutes total, and the eruption of water and steam ranges anywhere from 90 – 184 feet high. Watching Old Faithful erupt was a pretty cool experience, but I guess I was somewhat underwhelmed because our eruption only lasted about 30 seconds. Plus, with so many tourists around, it was hard to get a really great view of it (I’ve heard the best place to view the eruption is from the hill right behind it and not where we were near the benches). It’s definitely worth seeing, though, while you’re in the park, and it’s popular for a reason! There is easy parking with a large lot, but keep in mind you may have to walk a decent distance from where you parked. Also, make sure to remember exactly where you parked since the lot is so large. :) There is also a lodge, general store, souvenir shop, restaurants, and a gas station here.
Either before/after you sit back and watch Old Faithful do it’s thang, I’d highly recommend you do the 3-mile roundtrip Upper Geyser Basin Boardwalk Loop. Upper Geyser Basin is home to the largest concentration of geysers in the world. You will start this walk at Old Faithful, and it’ll take you about an hour or so (depending on your speed) to walk through a large variety of fascinating, bubbling (some even erupting), colorful geysers and hot springs on your stroll. The Morning Glory Pool was my favorite geyser we saw in this area (the colorful pool is in the picture above with me in it), and since this is the last stop on the walk, you’ll definitely want to make sure you make it to the end of the loop. If you get lucky, like we did, you may even see some bison grazing just meters away from you, as you leisurely stroll along the boardwalks here. :)
You can find more information about visiting the Midway Geyser Basin here: http://www.yellowstonenationalpark.com/uppergeyser.htm
At the end of our geyser-filled day, and after checking into Fishing Bridge RV park (more on this below), we walked over to the gorgeous Yellowstone Lake just in time to enjoy the sunset. Sitting back, relaxing, and enjoying the sun fall behind pink skies and mountains could not have been a better way to end our adventurous day #2 in Yellowstone!
For more information on Yellowstone Lake, you can visit: http://yellowstone.net/intro/yellowstone-lake/
On night #2 in Yellowstone, I was very thankful that we were staying at an RV campsite with full hook-ups. We were able to easily hook up fresh water for showers and washing dishes (so we didn’t have to use water from our limited tank), our septic tank (it was getting near full after a couple of days), and full electric (it costs $ to run the generator). Overall, we thought the Fishing Bridge Campground was pretty much perfect. Our campsite was surrounded by trees and felt so woodsy and cozy. There’s also a General Store and Visitor Center nearby, and as I mentioned above, we were easily able to stroll over to Yellowstone Lake (it was only about a 15 minute walk). As we walked over to the lake, we were also greeted with a herd of bison in an open nearby field, which absolutely made our evening! We ended day #2 in Yellowstone drinking wine, playing card games (I may or may not be unbeatable at speed, btw), and loving our time together under the stars and incredible Milky Way.
For more information about the Fishing Bridge RV Park and to book your stay, visit: http://www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com/lodgings/campground/fishing-bridge-rv-park/
Day #3 was our final day in Yellowstone before making the drive back to Missoula, MT, and we decided to sleep in a little later this morning and have a slower start to our day. As we woke up to a brisk, peaceful morning and made our coffee, I couldn’t stop chatting about how much I loved the RV life - and I really meant it! Everything about RV-ing for us was so comfortable, fun, and easy. Neither of us had ever rented an RV before, but we knew we were hooked after this first-time adventure, we were already starting to talk about the next time we’d rent one. @Cruise America - want to hire us to travel around the country and write/photograph our experiences? Hit a girl up, if you do!
Anyways, on to day #3 adventures - To get from Fishing Bridge to the Grand Canyon (our last Yellowstone stop of the trip), there’s only one way - and it’s a gorgeous one at that! - which is driving through Hayden Valley. As you drive through the winding roads, you will be greeted with miles and miles of gorgeous valley floor, a lazy stretch of the Yellowstone River, and most likely (multiple) animal sightings. This lush, green valley is know as the place to see wildlife in the park. We only saw bison and a fox during our drive through this area, but there are commonly both elk and bear sightings here. The only downside about Hayden Valley is that we drove through it pretty quickly it seemed, and I craved more of it. Coming from the bustling city of LA, the terrain here was such a different experience for us, and we truly loved it.
The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is estimated to be about 10,000-14,000 years old and is roughly 20 miles long. It’s one of the most “geologic” features in the park, and the Lower Falls of the Grand Canyon (pictured above), which is just over 300 feet in height, is one of the most photographed spots in Yellowstone. When researching for our trip, I saw online that Artist’s Point at the Grand Canyon was one of the best - and easiest to get to - views in the park, so I added it to our agenda. We knew we’d have a long drive ahead of us after this (which was our final stop in the park), so we didn’t want to commit to too big of a hike or energy-consuming adventure.
To get to Artist's Point at the Grand Canyon from Hayden Valley, you’ll continue North on Grand Loop Road and then take a right onto South Rim Drive. After you drive about 1.5 miles on South Rim Drive, you’ll meet the end of the road and find a big parking lot. Snag a parking spot when you can (my boyfriend didn’t really have a choice but to parallel park our RV - is that skills or what?!), and then you’ll head out to the overlook. It’s only a 1/10th mile walk from start to finish, and you will be greeted with incredible, picturesque views of the Grand Canyon and Lower Falls. We hung around for a bit, took some pictures, and enjoyed the sights before returning to our little home on wheels. We then left the park through the North Entrance (there are 6 entrances total to the park that you’ll need to keep in mind when planning your trip here) and drove back to Missoula, MT to return our RV (sad day!) and fly back to good ol’ Los Angeles.
Gahhh. Honestly, where do I begin here? Overall, I think this was my most favorite and enjoyable Getaway from L.A. trip to date. There was something about being out on the open roads, soaking up SO much nature, clean air, and wildlife, being without much cell phone and internet reception, and exploring such a truly incredible location with one of my favorite people on earth - that made me feel so happy and grateful this entire trip. As a first time RV-er, I didn’t know quite know what to expect, but I will most definitely be renting one again (hopefully sooner rather than later). Out of both Yosemite and Joshua Tree National Parks which I’ve visited in the past year or so, I’d say Yellowstone takes the cake, because there was so much to see and do here. I was constantly in awe of the stunning sceneries, volcanic activity, and those cute, big ol’ furry bison wandering around. If you get a chance to visit Yellowstone, I’d absolutely say DO IT! And if you get the chance to rent an RV and hit the road with a friend or romantic partner, you betcha I’d say DO IT! to that as well. Adventure is out there, my friends, but it’s up to us to take advantage of it.
To the RV life & Yellowstone: I love you dearly - thank you for an inspiring, unforgettable, and fun trip! And now to start planning for the next #GetawayfromLA...
Peru was the 13th country I have visited, and the first country that I've been to in South America. Overall, it was a magical, surreal, overwhelming, inspiring, fun, and incredibly memorable experience. The food, the people (and the sweet and furry alpacas!), each special place we visited, the history, the art, the music, the culture, and the architecture - ahhhh...I truly have so many amazing memories from this one-of-a-kind country! This was my most memorable Getaway from LA to date, and I had so much fun composing this blog post and choosing which pictures to share on social media (not an easy task, I might add, since everything was so beautiful).
But, although there were many beautiful and picturesque moments (much, much more to come below!) - there were also some more unfortunate ones... Let me get the icky stuff out of the way first here -- When traveling to Cusco (the second city we visited - more on this later), I experienced a nauseating mix of altitude sickness (Cusco is at almost 12,000 ft. elevation, and altitude sickness typically effects people starting at about 9,000 ft.) and food poisoning/a bad stomach bug. Later in the trip, I had a bad (and apparently, very rare) reaction to the altitude medication and woke up one morning unable to see anything clearly - it was like I was underwater and my eyes were unable to focus on anything. It was terrifying! I ended up going to a hospital in Cusco, and they couldn't find anything wrong with me (my very blurry vision was my only symptom, and it was bizarre since I have almost 20/20 vision normally). I then took an "ambulance" (more of a transportation van) from the hospital to an eye specialist who said my vision was fine but that I was having a reaction to the medicine I was taking and to stop taking it immediately. It took me about 48 hours to get the majority of my vision back, and about a full week to recover completely. I am so thankful that it wasn't more serious and that I was able to make a full recovery. I will truly never take my eyesight for granted! An interesting side note: my total health fees were about $130 US. It definitely makes you think about healthcare in the US vs. healthcare in other countries...
Anyways, throughout this blog post I'll be sharing plenty of travel tips, background information & history, and many pictures from the three incredible places I visited in Peru: Lima, Cusco, and Aguascalientes/Machu Picchu. If you have any questions about any of the information in this Getaway from LA travel guide, feel free to comment on this blog post and I'll make sure to respond to you!
Lima, founded in 1535 by Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro, is the capitol and the largest city in Peru. Many folks agree that Lima is one of the most interesting cities to visit in South America, and it's rich in agriculture, architecture, history, and culture. While Lima was officially founded in 1535, the first inhabitants settled here roughly 10,000 years ago and were fishermen and hunter and gatherers. Today, the most commonly spoken language in Lima (and most of Peru) is Spanish (83.9% of the population), followed by Quechua (13.2%) and Aymara (1.8%) - both indigenous languages.
Lima is located in the central coastal part of the country of Peru, on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. Lima has a population of almost 9 million, making it the third-most-populated city in the Americas. The weather here is just about perfect - warm, comfortable, and dry throughout the year - and it's actually one of the driest capitol cities in the world. Now that you've gotten a quick glimpse into the history and current conditions of Lima, below you will find an overview of the "must see" areas in this sprawling city.
The Miraflores neighborhood and beach is one of the first things you'll want to check out when you are visiting Lima. It's one of Lima's nicest "suburbs" and has a lot to offer both visitors and locals alike. Here you will want to kick back and relax, go shopping, people watch, hit the beach, and of course - eat delicious foods and have a cocktail or two (the Pisco Sour is "Peru's drink" - you'll be able to get them just about everywhere!).
Right next to the area of Miraflores is the beautiful Barranco neighborhood. Barranco in Lima reminded me of Los Angeles's Arts District or New York's SoHo neighborhood. It's colorful, eclectic, edgy, and artsy, and it's no surprise to me that it's dubbed Lima's "hippest neighborhood." It's full of coffee shops, art galleries and museums, historic buildings, and delicious, locally-owned restaurants. All of the buildings in Barranco were once colonial mansions of Lima's most elite residents. The streets are FULL of incredible street art - colorful murals and detailed paintings - and brightly colored buildings line its cobble-stoned streets. You'll want to have your camera ready at each and every turn in this neighborhood.
The Plaza Mayor, or Plaza de Armas, is the birthplace of the city of Lima, as well as the core of the city. This is located in the well-known and heavily-visited Historic District, which is home to the beautiful Cathedral De Lima and Basilica De San Fransisco. The Playa de Armas is the most visited location in all of Lima. This buildings that line this beautiful plaza were built in the 17th century and have been the backdrop of many of Lima's most historical moments. The Historic District has survived a few massive earthquakes, and even with the challenges the city has been through, city officials in Lima have done a fantastic job at preserving the culture, beauty, and architecture of this historic area. UNESCO even declared the Historic Center of Lima as a "World Heritage Site" a few years ago! The architecture is absolutely gorgeous and picturesque - and there is so much to beauty to see and history to experience in this must-visit area of Lima.
Huaca Pucllana was built in 5th century Lima out of many, small adobe bricks. This was built to be both an administrative (trade, activities, political and community matters), and ceremonial (religious expression and religious ceremonies) center for the inhabitants of Lima. There were also many houses built in this archaeological complex, and modern archaeologists have discovered many remains of life here - from textiles, ceramics, bones, mummies, tools, weapons, and more - which help historians study what daily life of the inhabitants may have been like all of those many years ago. Today this is one of the most significant ancient monuments in Lima. You can take a tour of the ruins during the day or at night, or you can dine at the restaurant here (what we did), and walk around a bit afterward/stop into the small museum on-site. The restaurant is absolutely delicious (they serve all local products and very tasty Peruvian specialty dishes) and the ruin views from your dinner table are simply unbeatable.
For more information about the restaurant looking over the ruins at Huaca Pucllana and to make a reservation, visit this website:
For more information about booking a tour here, visit this website:
We stayed at the Arawi Lima Miraflores Hotel. For more information about this hotel, visit:
To fly from Lima to Cusco, we booked a flight on Peruvian Airlines. It was only about an hour flight, and the views from the plane windows were gorgeous.
Cusco (sometimes spelled Cuzco) is a 1-hour flight from the capital city of Peru, Lima. It's located in the midst of the Andes Mountain in the south of Peru and has a striking altitude of 11,152 feet above sea level. Altitude sickness generally starts affecting people at 8,000 feet or higher, so I'd recommend going to your doctor and discuss whether to get altitude sickness meds before you go - but be careful, and read my story above (beginning of this blog post) on my reaction from Diamox. You can also rely on coco tea and coco candies when you arrive in Cusco to help you acclimate - which many people do, including my whole family - but I'd discuss this with a medical expert before you go.
Cusco is today known for its Spanish colonial architecture and Inca archaeological remains, but it was once the capital of the Inca Empire under the ruler Pachacutec. The Spaniards conquered the city in the 16th century and built churches and palaces all over most of the Inca ruins here (although you can still experience the original ruins in the following areas: Choquequirao, Saysayhuamán, Kenko, Tambomachay, Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu). It is very-well known by visitors and tourists as being the gateway city to the infamous Macchu Pichu (although you still have to take a 4-hour train ride there from Cusco), and you should plan for a full few days here to be able to acclimate to the high altitude and explore some of the most note-worthy sights.
The city of Cusco was so different than the capitol city of Lima. Instead of large crowds, horns honking, dense traffic, and large buildings of vibrant colors, Cusco had quiet cobblestone streets, adorable alleyways, and constant alpaca-crossings. It's an incredibly breath-taking city - with its stunning architecture, special hidden gems, and breath-taking views. Cusco's Inca and Spanish culture and history lives in each and every nook and cranny of the city, and it truly has a magical, small-town feel to it all.
Cusco's main square - Plaza de Armas - is the center of the city of Cusco. It's a bustling square full of both locals and visitors paying a visit to the historic buildings, dining at restaurants, perusing shops, grabbing drinks at local coffee shops and bars, people watching, and more. Most of the big events and festivals that take place in Cusco are located in the Plaza de Armas. The square is full of gorgeous Spanish-style architecture, with bits and pieces of Inca designs still standing from before the city was conquered.
I would highly recommend taking the 15 minute taxi ride from the city center up to Cristo Blanco de Sacsayhuaman. Cristo Blanco (which translates to "white Christ") is a large, white statue of Jesus Christ and can be seen from almost any point in Cusco. The statue closely resembles Rio de Janeiro's Christ the Redeemer statue, but is a much smaller version. The statue lights up brightly at night, and we had a beautiful view of it from our hotel, Rumi Punku. When you visit Cristo Blanco, you will also be greeted with breath-taking 360 degree views of Cusco - this is definitely the best view in the city! Each day, the clouds in Cusco were large and fluffy, which made for a beautiful backdrop as they floated gently above the Andes Mountains.
Just a 10 minute walk from Cristo Blanco is the Inca archaeological site of Saqsayhuman. I was too tired/naseaus from the high altitude to make the walk over there, but some of my family members were able to visit, and they really enjoyed exploring the ruins (even though it started pouring rain on them!). Saqsayhuman covers 400 square meters and features impressive stonework from when the Inca's inhabited this area, before they were conquered by the Spanish. I'd recommend you check out both of these impressive sights, since they are so close together, and it's an easy 10-15 minute taxi ride here from the city center of Cusco.
The San Pedro Market is just a short walk from the main square/Plaza de Armas. This is a very large, traditional Peruvian marketplace with many items for both locals and visitors to purchase. You can find everything here from fresh juice, vegetables, fruit, grains, meat, tapestries, linens, dolls, jewelry, scarves, purses, knick-knacks of all types, and so much more!
During our first few days in Cusco, we stayed at the beautiful Hotel Rumi Punku. For more information on this hotel, visit:
When we returned to Cusco after visiting Machu Picchu, we stayed at the Ninos Hotel Meloc (pictured above). This is an incredibly special hotel because all profits from the rooms, food (which was some of the most delicious we had in Cusco), and the gift shop, benefit local children in great need. Their website shares, "By choosing Niños Hotel for your accommodation in Cusco, you support the Niños Unidos Peruanos Foundation, as your support helps provide, for 600 underprivileged children of Cusco and in other villages, one to two healthy meals a day, medical and dental care, homework support, and a pleasant, caring environment in which not only to fulfill basic needs such as a shower, but a place to express their creativity." For more information about this hotel, visit:
To get from Cusco to Aguascalientes/Machu Picchu, we took a 4-hour train ride (this is the easiest way to get there - or it's a 3 day bus ride from Lima - yikes!). The train rides both there and back were absolutely lovely, enjoyable, and even relaxing! For more information about booking your train ride from Cusco to Aguascalientes and back, visit either of these two websites: http://www.perurail.com/ or http://incarail.com/
And, now... the moment I was most excited for when visiting Peru: visiting the infamous Inca archaeological site of Machu Picchu! As I explained previously, to get to Machu Picchu, we took a 4-hour train ride from Cusco to Aguascalientes. Aguascalientes & Machu Picchu are at an altitude of about 8,000 ft., and we were all pretty acclimated to the high altitude thanks to our few days spent in Cusco, so this part of the trip I felt the most well (thank goodness, since I was most excited about this).
Aguascalientes is a very small town at the base of Machu Picchu, and this was by far my favorite town that I visited in Peru. Train tracks run down the middle of the town, and the little kids are so brave and carefree here - they play and play until a train comes roaring into town and they run off of the train tracks giggling at the very last second. The town also has a large running river that flows through it, and you can hear the calming sound of rushing water as you walk along the dirt roads and cobblestone alleyways. The families that live here were so warm and welcoming, and each night we were there, the entire community came together in the center of the city to play music, dance, and sing. I was taking cell phone video of teenagers dancing in their traditional Peruvian wear, and one of the young men grabbed my hand and pulled me into the circle to dance! I was trying to keep up with the steps, my heart was racing, and I was smiling bigger than I had all trip - this was a moment I will never forget! This town was nothing short of magical, and it felt like we were on the set of a movie. Aguascalientes is also home to delicious restaurants and a large marketplace to peruse and buy hand-made, local souvenirs from.
From Aguascalientes, there are only to ways to enter Machu Picchu: 1) to hike in (it takes about an hour to hike up the many stairs), or 2) take the bus up the steep, winding road. I opted for the bus each day (more details on the bus ride are below in the Travel & Accommodations section). Once you enter the site (you need a ticket for each day you enter - more details below), you will need to walk/climb stairs for about 20 minutes before you reach the base/top of Machu Picchu.
The first time I climbed up the stairs and opened my eyes to see Machu Picchu I could almost feel my heart stop. It was emotional, powerful, awe-inspiring... and so much more beautiful in person than in pictures. Even the best pictures do not do Machu Picchu justice, and it is something you physically need to see and experience to believe. Machu Picchu is surrounded 360 degrees by the grandiose Andes Mountains, many of which are covered by thick clouds since they are so tall in height. On our first day here, a thick fog rolled in and out of the surrounding mountains, which made for beautiful pictures. On our second day we had bright, sunny skies, with large clouds lingering in the far away distance.
We hired a guide once we were in Machu Picchu on day #2 to show us around the Inca ruins and explain Machu Picchu's fascinating history to us (I would highly recommend everyone to go on a tour here - it does not take long and there is no better way to learn about the site than from someone who knows the history very well). Exploring the Incan ruins, that historians believe date back to roughly 1450 AD, was absolutely incredible. Machu Picchu is believed to have been a royal estate or sacred religious site for elite leaders. Our tour guide shared with us that the Incas built this empire in a very secret location (on the top of a mountain, surrounded by huge cliffs, and with only one main entrance), to impress the gods. The site is made up of more than 150 stone buildings (including residential houses and temples), a farming area, a royal district, and a sacred area. It was fascinating to hear how the Inca’s built this village from the ground up and the challenges they faced while doing so in this location. The site was abandoned in the 16th century, and historians believe it was either due to a smallpox epidemic or due to the Inca's leaving the site on their own from fear of being conquered by the Spanish (who had recently invaded Cusco nearby).
American archaeologist Hiram Bingham "rediscovered" Machu Picchu in 1911, although local Peruvian’s already knew about the site and were using it for farming and other purposes. But, when the rest of the world learned about this note-worthy sight due to Bingham’s best-selling book, “The Lost City of the Incas,” tourists began to flock here. Unfortunately, Bingham illegally smuggled many artifacts from Machu Picchu back to Yale University in the United States to study them. This led to a 100-year old legal battle between Peru and the US, until the Peruvian government filed a lawsuit and lobbied President Obama for the return of all of the stolen items.
Machu Picchu certainly has an interesting history behind it, and today, hundreds of thousands of travelers pay it a visit. It is no surprise to me that this sight was named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007 and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the 80's. This ancient sight is simply incredible to visit and explore, and I'd recommend everyone to visit at least once in their lifetime if you have the opportunity!
We stayed at the lovely Tierra Viva Machu Picchu hotel in Aguascalientes. For more information, visit
You will need to purchase a separate ticket for each day that you want to visit Machu Picchu. Visit this link for more information on purchasing your tickets:
You will also need to purchase bus tickets for each way (there and back), and you can do this near the main bus stop in Aguascalientes (you can't miss it - the town is very small - and you can easily ask someone if you for any reason can't find it!). The bus ride from Aguascalientes to Machu Picchu is only about 15-20 minutes, but it's on a very windy and steep road, so be ready!
Overall, Peru was the most memorable Getaway from LA I've experienced to date! I will cherish the memories I made here for as long as I live. Even with the minor unfortunate moments and being sick a few days during the trip, I am so grateful to have had the experience of visiting and exploring this country, and I can't wait to go back again some day. If you have any questions about my trip to Peru, feel free to comment and I will reply to you. Until my next Getaway from LA - bon voyage and happy exploring, my friends!
WANDER BEYOND THE CITY LINES...
As much as I love to explore L.A., it's good for the soul to getaway every now & then. Join me as I escape from the city to explore new locations, both locally and globally!
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