Ha Long Bay Vietnam

We were headed to Thailand with some friends. My boyfriend wanted to check out Vietnam while we were in Southeast Asia. I said, if we’re going to Vietnam, I want to go to Ha Long Bay.

So, what is Ha Long Bay? It’s a bay in northern Vietnam that features thousands of little limestone islands. Because of this, Vietnam has the most islands in the world. It is a UNESCO World Herit age Site and popular among tourists. The best way to see Ha Long Bay is by boat, and you’ll see that’s how everyone visits the bay because it’s populated with tiny cruise boats everywhere. However, even with tons of other boats nearby, you still feel like your sailing in your own oasis.

Hanoi is the largest city to Ha Long Bay. Here you will find plenty of tour options that include transportation from the hotel to your ship. I recommend booking your tour through your hotel, it was such a seamless process and allowed us to enjoy our short time in Vietnam a little more. We even coordinated transportation from the airport to the hotel which was nice. We had a late flight, and I was glad I didn’t have to navigate the busy streets of Hanoi. And when I say busy, that is an under- exaggeration. I’ve never seen so much traffic. Scooters everywhere, sometimes on the sidewalk, and no pedestrian right away.

When we checked into our hotel, the Meracus, they gave us a guide to navigating Hanoi which included tips for crossing traffic – basically, don’t hesitate and be assertive. The scooters will swerve around you. Through the Meracus we booked a two-day, one-night cruise to Ha Long Bay. The bus picked us up bright and early, and we made our way east. Our bus probably had 50 or 60 people on it, but that was not everyone we would be cruising with. The Ha Long Bay cruise is quite intimate with about 12-15 people.

The boats are made of wood and beautifully designed. Our room had a balcony which I enjoyed, and there was plenty of outdoor seating on the top deck and inside the main cabin. After settling into our cabin, the boat set sail and we were off to our first destination. All Ha Long Bay two-day, one-night itineraries are the same, you just might do them in a different order.

Each boat comes with a tour guide that will also serve as your translator. Our first stop was a massive cave. We took a smaller boat to shore, and make our way through the cave with the other tourists. The cave was massive. We probably walked around for about an hour and only touched a fraction of it.

The other activities are kayaking and hiking or swimming. The weather wasn’t ideal during our cruise, overcast and cool, so it was a trip when the water was warmer than the air. The hike is a short yet steep one to a top of a lookout point with an amazing view of the bay below. If you are a fast hiker, you might be able to hike to the top and take a quick dip before getting back on the boat. The kayaking excursion takes you through a limestone tunnel and into a clearing surrounded by tall limestone cliffs. You can paddle to the edge, but beware of any monkeys!

You itinerary while on the cruise is basically booked, so it’s critical you head back to the boat at the time your guide gave you. Your meals are also planned. Everyone ate together in this gorgeous dining room with massive windows on all sides. And the food is fantastic. It was probably my favorite part, and you will not go hungry. It happened to be my birthday (and Thanksgiving back home) that first night on the cruise, and they made me a cake! My boyfriend made the reservation, so he must have told them about my birthday (swoon). After dinner, you can try squid fishing, just relax and enjoy the evening, or maybe you’ll find the crew downstairs and hang out with them as we did!

You can’t really go wrong with a Ha Long Bay cruise, and it really is an immersive experience. The cruises are intimate, the boats beautiful, the food is delicious and the scenery is amazing. Plus, you’ll learn more about the history of Vietnam and Ha Long Bay and the Vietnamese culture. So are you convinced? Ready to book a cruise to Ha Long Bay? Tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

Until next time….

Cheers!

Keelie

12 Hours in Vancouver

So clearly 12 hours in Vancouver is not enough time to see this beautiful city, but sometimes that’s all you have, so you have to make the most of it. For me, I was spending time with my sister who lives on Whidbey Island, Washington and we decided to take a day trip to Canada and explore the city. It was just over a two-hour drive from Oak Harbor, WA to Vancouver. We left just after the sun came up, and were home just after sunset. So here is how to make the most of your 12 hours in Vancouver

Rent a Bike

If the weather is awful, you might not want to rent a bike. But if the sun is shining, and the weather is good, there is no other way to see Vancouver than on two wheels. Also, the city was meant for biking. I’ll touch on Stanley Park later, but Vancouver has designated roads with protected bike paths – meaning the bike path is separate from the road. I felt completely safe on the bike, and I was glad I didn’t have to deal with traffic or parking. We paid for long term parking in one of the lots, and it was two wheels for the rest of the day. For full-day or hourly rentals, you can check out bike shops like Cycle City or Spokes Bicycle Rentals. The city of Vancouver also has a docked public bike share program called Mobi.

Stanley Park

You’ll forget you’re in the city. Bike or walk the 8.8km seawall located along the perimeter of the park for views of the Pacific and Vancouver Harbor, and then venture inside the park for dining, off-road riding and the Vancouver Aquarium. Since my sister and I were short on time, we biked the seawall and then explore just a fraction of the 400-acre park. The aquarium is definitely on my list for my return trip.

Granville Island Public Market

Ride your bike along the coastline and make your way to Granville Island. You can either ride your bike across Burrard Street or take the Aquabus (bikes are allowed). We took the Aquabus there and rode our bikes back. The public market sits right along the water and is a huge indoor area filled with endless fresh baked goods, produce, seafood, candy and gourmet food. I highly recommend you grab some lunch while you are here and a few macarons. Souvenir shops are also plentiful on the island. Since you are in Canada, I recommend Maple Crème cookies. There is a brewery on the island, but I’ll touch on that later. After refueling yourself, grab your libation of choice and relax in the harbor while you watch the buskers perform.

Lululemon Flagship Store

People flock to the original Starbucks in Seattle, so I wanted to visit the Lululemon Flagship store in Vancouver. It isn’t really any different than the other Lululemon stores, but I was still jazzed to check it out and buy a pair of what are now my favorite exercise shorts. The flagship store is located on the corner of Robson and Burrard, so an easy ride down from Granville Island. Plus, this is the shopping district of Vancouver. Just remember you’re on a bike!

Brewery Hopping

Think of it as a pedal powered self-guided pub crawl, or you can join a brewery tour with Vancouver Brewery Tours. I mentioned the brewery on Granville Island before, so hopefully, you were able to check that out before heading back downtown. I recommend heading to Gastown, especially if you are looking to visit more than one brewery. If you don’t mind back tracking a bit, hit up Yaletown Brewing Company before heading back to the water. At this point, my sister and I had to bike back to the shop to return our bikes before they closed and moved the car closer to Gastown. Grab some dinner at Steamworks. They are a brewpub with a huge two-story location right on the water. The beer was delicious and definitely order some poutine fries.

This was the last stop for my sister and I in Vancouver. We still had a two-hour drive back to Oak Harbor and stopped for gas and coffee on our way out of town. Even though we only had a short time in Vancouver, it was so fun exploring the downtown area. At one point in the day, the clouds moved away and I could see the massive mountains in the short distance. I know where I’ll be going during my next visit to Vancouver. Have you been to Vancouver? What was your favorite activity? Tell me in the comments below!

Until next time…..

Cheers!

Keelie

Seven Reasons Why You Should Travel Solo (At Least Once)

You love traveling with your friends. The jokes, the memories. It’s those times wandering through Time Square or getting lost in Barcelona that you’ll remember for a lifetime. But you will also remember the first time you successfully navigated the London underground by yourself or sat on the Spanish steps eating some delicious gelato pondering the meaning of life. Traveling Solo is an incredible experience and one that everyone should try at least once.

Build Self Confidence

If anything is going to help you build some self-confidence it’s traveling solo. You have to make all your own travel plans and ensure they are carried out. If you want to talk to someone, you’ll have to break the ice. If you get lost, you will be the one to find your way. There is something empowering about traveling solo – especially in a foreign country. I will always remember my first solo journey in New Zealand and my first adventure in the country. I took a ferry from Auckland to Waiheke Island. I ventured around the island visiting wineries, finding hidden beaches, and devouring the most delicious burger I’ve ever had.

Mt Cook NZ

What You Want

This is a big one. No more agreeing on what sites you want to see or what hikes you want to do. You don’t have to worry if one friend wants to go rafting, but the other wants to zip line. If you are on a road trip, you create the itinerary and even better you are in control of the playlist. When you travel solo, you can do whatever you want, no questions asked.

Quad Ride Peru

When You Want

What you want, when you want. I was on a water taxi crossing Lake Te Anau getting ready to hike the Kepler Track. There were two other guys in the water taxi and we were all traveling solo. The driver asked if we liked traveling solo and in unison, we said, Yes! We can do what we want when we want. If your alarm goes off, and you want to hit snooze (for a few more hours) you can do it. You set your own schedule and you choose if it changes. There is truly something liberating about traveling solo.

Make New Friends

Either someone will see that you are by yourself and approach you or you’ll be craving for a conversation that isn’t on your phone and you’ll strike up the conversation. I believe it’s almost easier to make new friends when you are traveling solo vs with a group, and especially with other people also on their own. While traveling through New Zealand, I sat down for breakfast at a table with two girls and we started a conversation. I mentioned how I would be traveling to Ireland soon, and one of the girls said she lived in Ireland, and I should hit her up when I was there. Not only did I see her in Ireland, but I was headed to Scotland in a few weekends and she also had plans to go to Scotland with some friends, and we met up again! It was so much fun!

Rose and Keelie Ireland

Learn About Yourself

When you only have yourself to rely on, you tend to learn a lot about yourself. Like if you are good at directions, what type of activities you like the most and how you want to spend your time. You learn your limits like how long you want to spend exploring a city or how adventurous you are willing to get with the local food. There is no one there to persuade you in a direction and every choice in one you made.

No Expectations

Timon and Pumbaa said it best – “It means no worries.” When it’s just you, you are forever on island time living the island lifestyle. You might have some bad days, but no one but you will know. And tomorrow will be a brand-new day filled with brand new adventures. Create your own schedule and go with the flow. It’s relaxing when the only needs to service are your own and there aren’t any expectations to meet.

New York Skyline

Step Out of Your Comfort Zone

I always thought of myself as a shy person. The new people I would meet were through friends or we would be paired together somehow whether it was school, work or a sporting team etc. And I usually took the safe route. I went to the safe school, took a safe job. But when I was in a foreign country all on my own, I had to broaden my horizons a little. Eat foods I wasn’t used to eating, jump off rocks I thought were a little high, and strike up a conversation with countless strangers. I love traveling with my group of friends, but I think we tend to be complacent when we are around people we know. When it’s just you, the limits tend to get pushed and you step out of your comfort zone.

Vatican Rome

So what do you think? Have you traveled solo before and it changed your life? Do you have an reservations about a solo trip? Tell me in the comments below or tweet me at @keeliec5 and let’s get the conversation started!

Until next time….

Cheers!

Keelie

That Highway 20 Ride

There is something magical about the Northern California Coast. Its rugged coastline, windy roads, crisp air, and that golden sunshine. North of San Francisco you have fewer tourists. The coastline starts to look more like something you would find in Oregon, but you can still have gorgeous sun rays and that vibe only found in California.

My parents were invited to join some family friends in Fort Bragg for the weekend. Everyone would have their fancy camper and the campground had full electricity, flushing toilets, showers and even WiFi. Basically glamping. I decided to tag along because I can’t pass up an opportunity to explore a new place.

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Puppy Kisses ❤

I had only been to Fort Bragg once before. I was in the 8th grade, and it was for a friend’s birthday. However, Fort Bragg is an extremely popular travel destination for everyone in my hometown. I’m sure most of our town folk consider the coastal town a second home. The family friends we were joining have been spending their weekends on Hwy 1 since the early 70s. Obviously, I like to travel (hence my travel blog), and I really like to explore and see new things. So as soon as I found out I would be spending time in Mendocino County, I began researching what to do and see.

My journey started by taking Hwy 20 in California from beginning to end. I pick it up off the 80 just passed Donner Summit and got off at Hwy 1. I journeyed through the mountains of Gold Country and made my way to the valley floor. From there it is farmland as far as the eye can see until Clear Lake. It is slow going around the lake, but it provides nice scenery. You cross paths with the 101 and enter Willits. The quaint little town situated on the crossing of Hwy 20 and 101. This is the start of Mendocino County and the beautifully rugged Northern California Coast. The drive from Willits to Fort Bragg is windy, steep at some parts and exceptionally picturesque. The whole drive was scenic. And it truly shows you how diverse the state of Califonia really is.

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Family Photo Opt

I spent 3 nights there, and during that time we ate a lot of seafood, drank a lot of beer, and walked on a lot of beaches. We ate at North Coast Brewing Company, Sea Pal Cove, and Cafe Del Mar. All were great and unique in their own way. I am also an avid hiker, and I found quite a few hikes I would one day like to try. I suggested we go to Russian Gulch State Park and look around. We found a secluded beach to let the dogs run wild on, and I looked for this hike to a waterfall on the park map. I was alone on the ‘hiking business’ which is why I said I would like to one day try them. We continued down Hwy 1 and stopped in Mendocino. You can walk around the town in probably half hour. The area offers some great coastal views, pathways for short strolls, shopping, eating, and of course a few watering holes. There is a river inlet that was perfect for the dogs and looked like a great place to catch some summer rays.

After learning I would be visiting Fort Brag, and starting my research, I came across a place called Bowling Ball beach. The beach is covered with small round boulders that well look like bowling balls. Some photos had the water just covering the bottom of the boulders, and the place looked magical. It was an hour from where we were staying, and on our last full day in Fort Bragg, I convinced my company to go on a road trip. I will be upfront with you. We made it to Bowling Ball Beach. It was beautiful, but I did not see the bowling ball boulders. Pretty sure you have to go during low tide. See I am just destined to return to Mendocino. Even though our initial goal was not met, the day was not wasted. Our road trip down there provided some of the most secluded and untouched coastline the West Coast has to offer. We made a pit stop at the Point Arena Lighthouse, and of course, the second I climbed to the top, the cloud cover rolled in and I couldn’t see a thing. We had ‘linner’ at the Pier Chowder House and Tap Room in Point Arena. Everyone loved it. The restaurant was situated in a harbor, and we could watch people surf from the window. Overall Fort Bragg was outstanding. I recommend exploring the surrounding area. Glass Beach is a popular town attraction, but it was under construction when I was there.

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Where are the bowling balls?!

 I will definitely be going back to that part of the California coast. I must see Bowling Ball Beach! There is so much to explore in that area, you just have to get in your car and go!

Cruise to Alaska

In early September, I embarked on an Alaskan Cruise with some of my closest friends, and we had one heck of a time. From the minute I stepped onto the boat I thought I was on the Titanic. This was going to be an epic 7 days.

Our Cruise Line

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View of our ship in Glacier Bay

We chose to travel with Princess Cruises to Alaska. The coordinators of our group chose to book through Costco. We had a group of 9, and I was the sole cruise newbie. But to be fair, a few hadn’t been on a cruise since they were like 10 or something. The ship’s decor was incredible. It was very elegant, everything looked fairly new, and the staff was very friendly. My favorite room was the Piazza. It had two spiral marble staircases, a piano where they would play music daily, a cafe and a wine bar. All the employees were foreign which I thought was interesting. They all spoke English well but did carry thick accents. Your key card also served as your credit card. It was nice because I didn’t have to carry my purse or cash around the boat, but dangerous at the same time. Anything that wasn’t included in your cruise package you could just charge it to your room. WiFi on the ship is very expensive, and there is no cell service in international waters. Princess offers a messenger service. I’m not going to lie, the app needs some work, but it gets the job done. So it works similar to Facebook messenger and uses the ship’s WiFi (for free) so you can message other people on the boat. The negatives are, the app doesn’t alert you that you have a message, and it’s quite slow and cumbersome to use. They need someone to make a few adjustments to their coding, and it will be a great feature for cruise passengers.

The Food

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The full group in Juneau

Let me tell you about the food. You could eat at the buffet for breakfast, lunch or dinner. They also had 2 dining halls that were available for breakfast, lunch or dinner. They had a pizza and ice cream bar, a burger bar, and a cafe that served various salads, soups or paninis. Room service was included in your food package, and they had 3 restaurants that you had to pay extra to eat at. One was a bistro, there was an Italian joint, and a steakhouse. We mostly ate breakfast at the buffet, lunch was kind of all over the place, and dinner was at the dining hall. Dinner was at least four courses. Some items would rotate daily, others were on the menu every night, and they usually had a theme. There were a few dishes no one cared for, but overall the food was amazing. It is impossible to go hungry while on a cruise. There is so much food available to you 24/7. However, drinks are not included in your package. And not just alcoholic drinks. You had to pay extra for anything that wasn’t water, black coffee, tea, or juice at breakfast. Outside of the extra money for basic drinks, I thought the dining experience on our Princess Alaskan Cruise was outstanding.

On the Boat Activities

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Rare sunny day in Ketchikan

One of my companions who was on his 3rd cruise I believe said he never spent too much time in his room because there was so much to do. He was right. If I was in my room it was because I didn’t feel good (probably a combination of too much liquor the night before and the swaying boat), or I was exhausted. I mentioned the live music in the Piazza, and they would also have live dancing performances and magic shows. Each evening there was something to see from musicals, comedy shows, and even “The Voice of the Ocean.” I was surprised how popular karaoke was on the cruise ship. They had a late night club that would feature a DJ some nights. There were bars around every corner. The boat had a workout facility, a spa, at least 3 pools, and like 8 hot tubs. There was definitely quite a bit to keep you busy. Plus, the scenery on the Alaskan Cruise is so gorgeous you can just walk around the ship and sightsee.

On Shore

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Hiking around Dewey Lake in Skagway

The cruise I was on was round trip from Seattle. Our port calls were in Juneau, Skagway, sightseeing in Glacier Bay, Ketchikan, and Victoria. You were given ample time in Juneau and Skagway and only a few hours in Ketchikan and Victoria. I was on a 7-day cruise, and I felt like I spent a lot of time on the boat. However, what I did see of Southeast Alaska was absolutely amazing. I visited the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau. My friends then took a tour to the Alaskan Brewery, but I chose to stay behind and check out downtown a bit more. In Skagway, we each sort of did our own thing. I found a few hikes I wanted to do, one friend went rock climbing, another went biking, a few went zip lining, and some took the train ride. I thoroughly enjoyed my hikes, but it sounds like the zip lining was pretty amazing. I was trying to limit myself on excursions because they are excruciatingly expensive, and I had been living on a non-working travelers budget for a while now. Skagway was by far my favorite port. I like the terrain, the town, and the people. I could have easily spent multiple days there. We bar hopped a bit in Skagway to get to know the community and it was great. I recommend the Spruce Tip Ale at Skagway Brewery, the habanero infused tequila, and of course a duck fart. It’s simple Alaskan tradition. In Ketchikan, a majority of our group decided to go kayaking and that ate up all our time there. It was a beautiful bay, and it did get us out of the main tourist town which was nice. And in Victoria we didn’t arrive til 6pm and only had a few hours, so we bar hopped mostly, visited a Tim Horton’s and tried to get a feel of Canadian after dark.

Weather

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John Hopkins Inlet Glacier Bay

I think we were fairly lucky with the weather. It poured almost the whole time we were in Juneau, but we made do. Otherwise, there were periods of cloud cover and periods of sun. It was definitely cooler so dress appropriately. Where we lucked out the most was in Ketchikan. This place receives about 300 days of rain which equates to about 13 feet of rainfall. It was sunny when we arrived. Incredible.

Bottom line

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Glacier Bay, Alaska

I’m definitely going back to Alaska. I want to go on a fishing expedition and explore around Denali National Park. The cruise is nice because you get to explore a part of Alaska really only accessible by boat. I am very thankful I was invited to join this cruise because I had a blast. If you are looking for less boat time, and to hit the larger mainland part of Alaska, I would recommend a one-way cruise. I know Princess has a 7-day cruise from Vancouver to Anchorage. It’s incredible how big Alaska is because even Anchorage is only a small piece of it. If you get the opportunity to go on an Alaskan Cruise take it. It’ll get you hooked on Alaska and you’ll want to go back for more.

Chico and Oroville Area Hikes

As a Northern California native and an avid hiker, I like to get out and explore. Most of these hikes are available year-round and are a great way to get outside and explore your surrounding area.

Table Mountain

Table Mountain is a great place to take the family and let your dogs run loose. It is located in Oroville, CA near Oregon City just off of Cherokee Rd (Google Maps provides excellent directions). In the springtime, you can find the field blooming with wildflowers and the waterfall roaring at its peak. There is a creek that runs through a vast canyon which makes this a site to see year round. There are various trails you can take and make this hike as short or as long as you want. Just a forewarning, this area can get very wet and very muddy so be prepared. To locate the waterfall just follow the creek from the parking lot. The pasture is also home to some free grazing cattle. Located just 40 mins from Chico, North Table Mountain Ecological Preserve is one trail not to miss.

Side note: Waterfall not pictured so not to ruin the surprise. For best water flow visit in Spring.

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Puppies and Wild Flowers

Paradise Flumes

The Flumes are great in the summer because of the numerous swimming holes located along the Feather River. However, just hiking along the Flumes and soaking in the beautiful scenery is a treat in itself and can be experienced year round. You can access the Flumes from a few different locations. The two most popular starting locations are Feather River Hospital and Dean Road. After turning into the hospital, you can follow the road to the very back where you will find a parking lot and a trail. Dean Road can be found off of Pentz Road in Paradise. Once you turn onto Dean, follow the road until it ends. There you will find another section of the Flumes Trail (again google maps provides excellent directions). Dean Road may be a better option for dog owners. If you chose to walk on the actual flume (which I recommend) your dog might not appreciate it because it’s like walking on a railroad track. Paradise Flumes is located just 30 minutes from Chico and is a local favorite not to be missed. Take one of the many deer trails down to the river and find your perfect swimming hole. Whether you are looking to sunbathe or cliff jump, this trail is perfect for everyone.

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Hiking along the Flumes

Upper Bidwell

If you are looking to get outside but don’t want to stray too far from home Upper Bidwell is the ultimate classic. The park is accessible year round to bikers, joggers, hikers, and dog owners. During the summer, Upper Park offers excellent swimming holes for everyone to enjoy. The north side of the park is the “off leash” area for dogs while the south side (where the water is) asks you keep your dog on a leash. The north side is out in the open and without shade so it can get very warm in the summer. There are quite a few different trails to explore, but one of the more popular trails is Monkey Face. It is a short but steep hike up that offers panoramic views of the valley. The entrance to the park is located on the corner of East Ave and Manzanita Ave in Chico, CA. From there you can follow the road until you see a large parking lot on the left. There is a gate there that closes the road to any further traffic, so some days you are forced to park in that lot, but on days that the gate is open you can follow the dirt road up to popular swimming holes like Bear Hole. Upper Bidwell is located in the city and is very popular with the locals. Don’t be surprised if you show up on an April afternoon and find the parking lot full.

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Big Chico Creek

Feather Falls

Feather Falls might be the best hike on this list. It’s also the most traditional. The others offered multiple trails and the freedom to make your hike as long or short as you want. Feather Falls is a loop, and the magnificent waterfall (located about 1/2 way) is the highlight. My recommendation is to do this hike in the spring. The waterfall is at its peak and the heat isn’t so treacherous. I have completed this hike in July before and it was a little too hot for my liking. Maybe a mile after you start the hike, you will reach a trail split. This starts the loop. I usually take the trail to the right first. It is longer, but the inclines and declines are more gradual and easier on my knees. Once you reach the tip of the loop, you will see the turn off for Feather Falls. You climb for about a mile before reaching the overlook. The overlook is out above the canyon and the river giving you the perfect view of the falls, but there is no shade. After making the climb back down, you can continue on the loop. This section is shorter, but it is a steep incline. The hikers I meet going the opposite way aren’t a fan of the continuous downhill. That much downhill hurts my knees which is why I choose to climb it, but it is totally a personal preference. This is a popular hike, so I usually try to get there early. The trailhead is about an hour from Chico. To get there you take Hwy 162 E in Oroville and drive past Gold Country Casino. You turn right on Forbestown Rd which will eventually turn into Lumpkin Road. You will periodically see signs for Feather Falls to reassure you that you are going in the right direction. From Lumpkin, you will turn left onto Bryant Ravine Rd which will take you to the trailhead parking lot. The trail is about 8 miles long and is in a remote area, so pack whatever you might need for the day. Dogs are welcome. This is probably one of my favorite hikes in the area that I continue to do year after year. Again, I don’t want to ruin the surprise of the falls, so I chose not to include a picture.

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The trail to the falls was flooded

I wanted to keep this post local, so I chose some of my favorite hikes that are at most an hour drive away one way. I am always looking for new places to hike and explore, so if you have a favorite place you’d like to share feel free to leave a comment!

San Antonio

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I had a few long yet successful days in Corpus Christi celebrating my sister getting her Naval Wings, and now it was time to move on to San Antonio. Rather than giving a detailed reenactment of my time there, I thought I would share the places I visited, what I liked, and what I wasn’t a fan of.

The weather

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It was early July, and it was hot and humid. We spent most of our first day walking around the Downtown and Riverwalk area while we waited for hotel check in. We eventually retreated to the mall to escape the heat. Air conditioning is a must down there, pools are a plus, bring lots of water, and don’t worry…everyone has the same sweat marks you do.

Our hotel

We stayed at the Red Roof Inn. It had a pool, which we didn’t end up using, but the thought of it was nice. The A/C worked great, and the location was pretty good. The hotel was located just outside of downtown so you could walk everywhere. The room was nice, but I was not a fan of the check in process and the bathroom. Since we booked last minute, I’m assuming that is why we given the room with the handicap bathroom. I don’t have an issue with that, but the bathroom was gross. We wore our sandals in the bathroom and shower because the floor looked dirty. There was a sink but no counter. The bathroom needs a remodel. I stayed in a roll in handicap bathroom in New York, and it was clean and chic. The one at the Red Roof Inn needs a makeover. Check in was awful because it was painfully long. And after over 20 minutes of what felt like torture, they put us in the wrong room. If I were to stay in San Antonio again I would look to stay somewhere else first.

Downtown and the River Walk

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Both were great. The highlight of downtown I would say is the Alamo. It’s an amazing historic site which I was surprised was free to enter. They have a lot of tourist things like Ripley’s Believe it or Not, souvenir shops, pubs, and the mall in their downtown area. The mall is huge. The Riverwalk is something different entirely. It is below the city, and I think about 10 degrees cooler. It’s filled mostly with restaurants, pubs, night clubs, and some shops, but it is still a site to see. The river you can tell is man made. It is funneled off of the main river into this large canal that runs right down the middle of everything. The landscaping is done well, and it is a very popular place. Very busy. I definitely recommend it for lunch, dinner, and a night out on the town. At night, the streets are lined with glowing carriages like from Cinderella that you can hire to take you around.

The Pearl

This is another “area” of San Antonio just outside of downtown. It is less crowded and to me had a more hipster vibe. More cafes, and boutique kind of shops. There is also a large brewery there, but I did not get to see it. We showed up on Sunday, and a lot of the places were closed. I couldn’t really tell if the Pearl had much of a nightlife, but it definitely looked like a place you could spend the day, have lunch and get out of the downtown area. We visited a macaroon shop there and all the flavors were delicious.

The Safari Park and Six Flags

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San Antonio reminded me of Southern California in a sense of all their amusement parks. You have Schlitterbahn, Six Flags, Sea World, Aquatica to name a few. They also have a Safari Park. Most of these parks are a little bit out of town and are accessed best by car. While I was there I visited the Safari Park and Six Flags. Both were great. I went on a safari in Africa about 6 months ago, so I found it a little funny to be seeing the same animals planted here in States. The difference though is you could feed them and pet them. Just don’t get out of your car. The animals at the park include goats, deer, a variety of antelope, buffalo, longhorns, zebras, and ostrich just to name a few. It was really a fun experience, if you have a car to get there I highly recommend it. I also spent a day at six flags. Again, the weather was boiling, so the water rides were heaven. It wasn’t too crowded when we were there, and there is a water park attached to it. So with the price of one ticket, you get access to both parks. I also recommend Six Flags if you ever find yourself in San Antonio.

Last but not least….the food!

I definitely had to detox myself when I returned to the west coast after a week in Texas. I wanted to enjoy all the good Texas food and then some. After getting off the airplane, I went to a Cracker Barrel. I had Chic-Fil-A for dinner that night, and again for lunch the next morning. (The only two times I’ve ever had Chick-Fli-A in my life, we don’t have one where I live). I ate at Whataburger and consumed a lot of Mexican food and BBQ. My taste buds were surely satisfied. I drank a Big Red soda and tried out some local Texas beer. The beer was okay, they can leave the craft brew to the west coast. At one bar we asked for something local and they suggested Lagunitas. I grew up in California, so I stood there scratching my head for a bit trying to figure out how that was local. One of my best food finds was J  & I cafe. It’s a small hole in the wall on the other side of downtown. I was a bit weary walking to it from my hotel in the morning. It’s a Mexican restaurant that serves the most bomb breakfast tacos and horchata. It was super cheap too. I had never had a breakfast taco before then, and I might be ruined for them now because it was delicious. I definitely ate my way through Texas, so it’s probably a good thing I walked so much in the heat because I sweated everything out.

Bottom line

Go to San Antonio. I did not make it to Austin (before you slap me, I ran out of time!) But I know it’s about an hour from San Antonio, so you can easily take a drive down, or even a mega bus, and check out San Antonio. It’s a city full of a lot of history, activities, and some really neat niche areas to check out. I will make it to Austin soon, and if I have time I’ll for sure swing back down to SA and get myself another breakfast taco.