Pinnacles National Park

The Pinnacles National Park, home of the condor, was born some 23 million years ago when volcanoes erupted. The remains of it is a unique landscape through which you can hike; rare talus caves and towering rock spires.

Leave you can at the campground and take the shuttle to the main trailhead,  The Bear Glutch Trailhead. The Condor Gulch to High Peaks Loop allows you to walk through the heart of the Pinnacles rock formations, particularly along the Steep and Narrow section of the High Peaks trail. On the way back add the Balconies Cave trail to see the lake and the caves.

From the West end of the park, you can use the Chaparral trail to see the amazing Balconies Caves. Flashlight required and be ready to truly emerge in a cave. I really thought I’m going on an expedition.  You can loop it back to the parking lot on continuing the trail to the high peaks.

 

 

 

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The World from the above

Don’t we all have the obsession to see the world from the above?
Didn’t we start flying for that reason?
I love to discover each city from the above. I always search for the highest point; It can be a mountain, a tower or a building. You can tell a lot from seeing a city from the above. The roofs, the architecture, the city mapping tells a lot about the history of the city. I have a feeling that I did not “own” the city until I see it from the above.  Here are my favorite “from the above” views so far:

  1. Prague

Prague is famous for its traditional houses with the red roofs. The houses are white and all see is those red roofs pop up.

You can go on top of the towers at the end of Charles Bridge to have a view of the Prague Castle or Prague Old Town. It is worth the 200 stairs

Before entering the Castle or while walking in its garden, there are many different view points from where you get to admire the red roofs of Prague.

Prague From the above
Prague From the above
Prague From the above
Prague From the above
  1. Budapest

Climb up the St Stephen’s Basilica to have that view of the city . You can also admire the city from the above from the Buda Castle.

Budapest From the above
Budapest From the above
  1. Medellin City

Medellin is located in Aburra Valley in the Andes Mountain and it went from being an agricultural town to the second largest city in Colombia.

Take the famous cable cars to found yourself on top of the city.

Medellin From the above
Medellin From the above
  1. Guatape

The Penol of Guatape near Medellin offers a view of the paradise. When the first man was able to go all the way up the rock, he was so amazed by the view that he said he needs to share  that view with is everybody else. This is how the stairs along the rock were built. Now the 740 stairs still look rustic but they are well designed to allow people to get on top of the rock and admire the breathtaking view. What looks like paradise, is actually a view of the flooded villages and a huge reservoir of water.

From the above Guatape
Guatape From the above
  1. Bogota

Take a look at the Capital of Colombia, an urban Jungle.

Go up the Cerro de Monserrate to have the view of Bogota , Modern Capital.

  1. Los Angeles

The DTLA tall buildings are now part of the LA scenery famous postcards and it doesn’t seem the skyscrapers project is slowing down.

Go up the Skyspace LA from where you can have a view of the DTLA. You can also ride the glass slide, the latest LA Attraction.

  1. Paris

My favorite place in Paris is Montmartre. Beside the Sacre Coeur Church and the square with all the cafes and artists, you can also catch a great view of Paris.

Paris From the above
ParisFrom the above
  1. Seville

Seville stays a picturesque city even from the above. From the Giralda Tower, you can see the Alcazar Garden and the houses are so close that you can even spy on neighbors. Seville roofs are so famous that there is a “Rooftop Tour” https://www.getyourguide.com/seville-l48/seville-walking-tour-from-the-roof-tops-t35852/

Seville From the above
Seville From the above

 

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Cali Road Trip

Ready for a Cali Road Trip …. Take the classic Highway 1 from San Diego to San Francisco.

In San Diego County make a stop at La Jolla

La Jolla is a beautiful hilly seaside area by San Diego. It has the most scenic hike by the beach at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. The hikes are easy and it gives you an amazing view of the Pacific Coast. You also need to stop at the Sunny Jim Sea Cave. Take the 145 stairs down to admire the cave and the view of the ocean. Then head to La Jolla Cove beach to admire the Sea Lions.

 

Newport Beach

  • Start your day at Crystal Cove State Park where you can hike and relax at the beach. The Palm Shaded Path at Heisler Park is the perfect hiking trail during hot summer days. You should grab breakfast or have Fish Taco at lunch at the beachcombers, the beachfront restaurant.
  • Spend a day at Balboa Island. Take the Ferry to Balboa Island. Wander around, enjoy the scenery and don’t forget to have a chocolate covered banana at Dad’s.
  • Walk on Balboa Pier located at Balboa Peninsula. Have Lunch at The Landing Restaurant; they have a great waterfront dining balcony.
  • At night, try one of those Bars:
  • Make a detour and go to Laguna Beach. The great beach and the small old town full of cafes, restaurants, and bars make it one of the best places to celebrate special occasions.
  • Stop by Long Beach. The Main Street, with its cafes and small stores, mixes shopping and relaxing.

 

Los Angeles

In Los Angeles, stop at Venice Beach and Santa Monica. Venice Beach is a must people watch stop with its muscle beach gym, skate park and its beachside walk full of shops and artists. The Venice sign on Pacific Ave and Windward Ave marks the separation between the beach and the streets that are full of, mostly French, restaurants; especially on Abbot Kinney Ave. Santa Monica Pier is a great family-friendly place with its wheel that stands at the end of the Pier. You can also do some serious shopping on 3rd street.

Between LA and Carmel, stop at Santa Barbara, Hearst Castle, and Big Sur

Santa Barbara is the perfect combination of beach, shopping, and wine tasting

Hearst Castle, William Randolph’s Castle is a must stop. The highlight of the tour is the amazing outdoor pool.

Big Sur is one of the most romantic cities in the US.

Monterey Peninsula: Carmel and the 17-mile drive 

Carmel-by-the-Sea is a small beach city in northern California on the Monterrey Peninsula.  It is known to be one of the most beautiful small towns in the US with its small shops and art galleries. It is also the closest town to the 17-Mile Drive. The 17- Mile Drive route with its many lookout stops will show you amazing scenic natural treasures. This leisurely road winds its way through some famous beauty stops like the luxurious Pebble Beach, The Lone Cypress, The Point Lobos State Reserve or Point Joe.

 

 

San Mateo County: Half Moon Bay 

Small beach town to enjoy the beach and a walk along that beautiful Pacific Coast.Be Aware, you will encounter a witch house on your walk along the Coast!

 

 

Santa Cruz 

It has a beautiful Pier for some paddling or just relax.

Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz

 

San Francisco: Top 10 things to do 

  1. Union Square for Shopping and China Town
  2. Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39, and Ghirardelli Square
  3. Golden Gate Bridge and Park
  4. Alcatraz
  5. Lombard Street
  6. Sausalito for Lunch
  7. Haight & Ashbury for Vintage Shops
  8. Mission District and Dolores Park
  9. Ride the Cable Cars
  10. Admire the Colorful Buildings: The Painted Ladies

 

Which beach is for you ?

Los Angeles and California are full of beaches back to back. You can go to different ones depending on what you want to do.

For biking: Hermosa Beach 

There is a bike rental right by the pier called Hermosa Cyclery and a biking path that will take you all the way to LAX.

Hermosa Beach
Biking by Hermosa Beach

For Volley Ball: Redondo Beach

Redondo Beach has a lot of beach volleyball nets and they have tournaments and MeetUps every weekend.

For tourists: Venice Beach 

Venice is the touristy beach. Beside the beach,  you need to walk down Venice busy Boardwalk. If you like to skate there is a skate park. If you want to work out, there is the famous muscle park. After the beach, head towards Pacific Ave to see the famous Venice sign and get some amazing food and drinks.

Venice Beach
Venice Beach
Venice Muscle Park
Venice Beach Muscle park

The most emblematic: Malibu 

If you want to feel like you are in a Baywatch episode and look at some of the famous stars beach houses head to Malibu. The Malibu area along the PCH is full of great ( and mostlt expensive) restaurants.

Baywatch Malibu
Baywatch

For hiking: Zuma Beach 

There are numerous hikes that start on PCH in Zuma. After the effort, head down to the Beach for some relaxing time.

Zuma Beach
Zuma Beach

On the way to the South: Laguna Beach 

Laguna town is a small,  cute and happening town between LA and San Diego. You can walk through the small streets, go to the beach and play beach volleyball.

Laguna Beach
Laguna Beach

On the way to the North: Carmel

It won’t be as hot as the LA Beaches but it has that romantic feeling. You can head to the little town for some shopping or venture along the famous 17-mile drive.

carmel beach
Carmel Beach

What is your favorite beach?

Norton Simon Museum

Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena is one of the most remarkable private art collections ever assembled. Approximately 1,000 works from the permanent collection of 12,000 objects are on view in the Norton Simon Museum’s galleries and sculpture garden throughout the year. How can you not fall in love with the Van Gogh Portrait of a Peasant in the middle of that green room. As a traveler I love The Traveler by Liubov Popova; I can see the frenzy of a person who is traveling in this oil on canvas painting. The small back room reserved to Sam Francis’ Basel Mural is majestic; the large mural is imposing and relaxing at the same time. The sculpture garden is perfect for taking a break, grab coffee or lunch but still be immerse in an art environment with those sculptures.

There is a temporary exhibition until August 29th called Duchamp to Pop where you can see artist Marcel Duchamp Pop Art and art work from similar artists, especially Andy Warhol, Jim Dine. The exhibition is for all the Duchamp Addicts like me and the ones that want to see the ones that want to discover Pop Art. You can see Duchamp’s famous L.H.O.O.Q Mona Lisa ( Mona Lisa with a mustache) as well as Brillo Boxes by Warhol or Half Dollar by Robert Dowd.

The Museum has an astonishing collection of European and Asian Art pieces from 14th to 20th Century. They consistently have amazing exhibitions whether it was Van Gohg Self-Portrait few years ago or Duchamp’s Pop Art Today. The Norton Simon Museum is the perfect museum to learn about the classic paintings as well discover modern art.

Sonoma

Sonoma is the other famous wine county in the California North Bay next to Napa. You can spend a day in Sonoma and enjoy few wineries.

I started with Bella. You enter the barrel cave under the vineyards and you get to see the cave and taste some wine. For lunch, we headed to Chateau St Jean where you can have an amazing and affordable lunch with wine pairing in front of their vineyards. The scenery is breathtaking. Their charcuterie, cheese, and wine pairing were perfect. You can then walk around the castle, no tour needed. We then went to the must go Winery in Sonoma, Benziger where we took the Biodynamic Vineyard Tram Tour that took us around the  Biodynamic vineyard, did a lot of wine tasting and got to visit the amazing barrel cave.  One of the best tours.

Winery tours are all about taking time and enjoy the wine so I don’t recommend going to more than 2 or 3 wineries a day. See below some other great wineries suggestion

 

winery website
Bella http://www.bellawinery.com/home/
St Francis http://www.stfranciswinery.com/
Kunde http://www.kunde.com/vineyards
Ravenswood http://www.ravenswoodwinery.com/#about_us
Gundlach Bunschu http://www.gunbun.com/map

 

Napa Valley

How to spend a day in Napa… The first rule, don’t be too ambitious; wine tasting is about taking your time and enjoy. Don’t try to hit as many wineries as possible.

I picked two wineries for my day trip: Sterling Vineyard because it offers s great view of the vineyards and Castello di Amorosa for its castle.

Napa wineries are situated in different regions; you have Calistoga, St Helen, Rutherford, Oakville, Yountville. I started my day ay Sterling Vineyard, in St Helen. You have to take a Cable car to get to the winery hence the amazing view of the vineyards that you will have one up there. The tour of the Domaine will walk you through different tasting tables as well as a quick look at their cave. They offer a great wine and lunch pairing that I recommend taking advantage of.

From there, get back to the main road and go toward Castello Di Amoroso. You will found a castle in the middle of the vineyards. You can tour the castle and enjoy wine in the cave tunnels of the castle.

On the way back to the Bay area, you can stop at a final winery. I stopped at Domaine Carneros. It was nice to sit down outside in front of the vineyards and enjoy some wines. Their wines were amazing

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Temecula Valley Wine and Balloon Festival

The Temecula Valley Wine and Balloon Festival is held every year in May for 3 days and it is the perfect occasion to enjoy and discover good wine, listen to great music and be wowed by the Balloon Launch show.

Temecula is only a few hours away from Los Angeles. I decided to only go on Saturday but I recommend going for the whole 3-day festival to fully enjoy the event and have a chance to see the Balloon Launch Show.

I went on Saturday and started with the wine tasting part. A lot of Temecula wineries were there to share their wine. I had the occasion to discover some amazing wines like the wine from Monte de Oro Winery and Vineyards . There are also many Beer Stations for some beer tasting. I felt in love with the Stella Artois Beer Truck.

They are 2 stages with different bands and singers playing all day. Grab your glass of wine or beer and maybe some amazing food and enjoy the music. The festival has the best BBQ Food Trucks like the Mill Greek BBQ . If you are a meat lover you will not be disappointed.

The Balloons are launched one time in the morning where you can enjoy a free ride and at sunset, there is a balloon glow show. Unfortunately, this year, it was very windy and they were no balloon launched on Saturday night. This is why I’m recommending going for the whole weekend so you get to see the balloon launch if not at night, at least in the morning. And sure enough, on Sunday, when the wind finally died down, they were able to launch off the balloons.

The Festival is a great weekend getaway occasion. Stay at a Temecula Winery, enjoy the romantic wine county and the breathtaking balloon show.

 

Temecula Valley Wine and Balloon Festival
Temecula Valley Wine and Balloon Festival
Temecula Valley Wine and Balloon Festival
Temecula Valley Wine and Balloon Festival
Temecula Valley Wine and Balloon Festival
Temecula Valley Wine and Balloon Festival

Wind Cave and Jewel Cave, SD

Wind Cave National Park, SD

Wind Cave is one of the South Dakota’s National Park, a few hours away from Rapid City. As you can guess, the park is known for its cave. It’s called the wind cave because somehow the wind is always blowing in the cave. It has over 100 miles of know passages and you can tour few miles of it as the Park offers different tours from the regular hour-long tour to the candlelight one. The cave ceiling is covered by box work calcite and the walls with white popcorn! The National Park has also some trails and is known for its wildlife, especially bison.  From the Visitor center drive towards Custer Park and Mt Rushmore, you will see a lot of prairie dogs, deer, and bison on that scenic drive.

 

Jewel Cave National Monument, SD

Jewel Cave is as the name indicates known for its jewel cave. You can take a tour inside of the cave to see the jewels in the rocks. It’s so beautiful. The cave has over 180 miles of passages and is still expanding with many adventurers volunteering to go into the cave and discover new passages. It is one of the top 10 largest cave passages in the world.

The Park has only a few small trails that you can take to discover the surface of the cave.

South Dakota, exploring new lands

Mt Rushmore is one of the must-see US Monument. I used that as an excuse to go to South Dakota and explore the region around Mt Rushmore. What scenery.

Day1: Wall, Badlands, and Deadwood

I land in the small regional airport of Rapid City rented a car from there and start my South Dakota Road Trip. 1st stop to refresh myself, the Wall Drugstore on the I90. During the whole drive on the I90, you will see signs for the famous Drugstore situated in Wall. The place was a famous stop for travelers that needed water while going through that deserted region.  The big Drugstore offers great souvenir shops and a restaurant with famous Buffalo Burgers.

After a good lunch and some shopping, I was back on the road to go to Badlands National Park.  Wall is a few miles away from one of the parks’ entrance.

Badlands, named that way by the French that had a hard time to cross that new deserted land, is one of the National Parks in South Dakota. Enter from the Pinnacles Entrance and take the scenic byway (SD240) to cross the park. The Park, like all National Parks, has a bunch of small trails that will allow you to discover the unique mountains recognizable by their red and yellow horizontal lines. Stop at few viewpoints to admire the breathtaking view of those mountains. Be aware, the viewpoints will be most likely very windy.

The must stop trails:

  • Fossil Exhibit trail to discover the fossils
  • The Door Trail: you can get inside of those mountains. It’s an amazing feeling. You will realize that the park and those mountains are mostly mud and not rock. It’s not possible to climb them like in Joshua Tree
  • The Window Trail: it’s a small trail that ends with a window to the mountains

The longest trail is the Castle Trail that is 10 miles. It’s a good trail to take if you are spending the whole day in the park. It is said that at night you can see the stars but this is less and less true with the pollution.  Make sure to stop at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center to get your National Park stamp.

After few trails and a lot of viewpoint stop, I was back on the road to go to Lead and the historic town of Deadwood. 2 hours later, after a drive through the Black Hills Forest, I found myself in that little cowboy town ready to immerse myself in one of those old cowboy movies. Deadwood Main Street is full of souvenir shops, casinos and old saloons. Make sure to check out the Saloon #10. You will see Wild Bill, Calamity Janes, Preacher Smith, Potato Creek Johnny and Seth Bullock heads over the bar. Every night, the saloon offers a show around 8pm.

For the night, I drove to the Hotel near Mt Rushmore called the K Bar S Lounge Lodge in Keystone. This lodge is very cozy and you can actually see the president’s head from the backyard.

 

Day2: Mt Rushmore

Start your day by going to Mt. Rushmore. What an impressive monument. 2016 is the 75th anniversary of the completion of Mt Rushmore, what a better occasion to go and discover this majestic monument. The Sculptor Created by Gutzon Borglum is a must stop on a US Road Trip. The Mount is overlooking the whole Black Hills, SD area. It took Gutzon and his 400 workers 14 years to crave those 4 presidents, Jefferson, Washington, Roosevelt and Lincoln in the mountain. First, discover the heads by walking through the Avenue of Flags that has all the state flags and then you will have a full clear view from the Grand View Terrace. If the weather is nice, take the 1-mile Presidential Trail to have a close-up view of the monument.

The weather is foggy, I decided to not go to Crazy Horse and drove instead to my next National Monument, the Jewel Cave. Jewel Cave is as the name indicates known for its jewel cave. You can take a tour inside of the cave to see the jewels in the rocks. It’s so beautiful. The cave has over 180 miles of passages and is still expanding with many adventurers volunteering to go into the cave and discover new passages. The Park has only a few small trails that you can take to discover the surface of the cave.

For the night I stayed at the best lodge in the middle of Custer State Park called the Sylvan Lake Lodge. That Authentic lodge is right above the majestic Sylvan Lake and if you are a hiker like you will enjoy all the trails nearby. I personally did the Sunday Glutch 4.5 miles trails that offered a great view of the mountains and the lake.  The Lounge, with a fireplace, offers you a great relaxing area after a day of hiking and exploring.

 

Day 3: Wind Cave, Crazy Horse Memorial

From the hotel, the Crazy Horse Memorial is only 30 min away. That monument is one of the lesser known monuments in the area but it’s worth stopping by. It is the worlds’ largest mountain craving still in progress. The monument represents the brave Indian Crazy Horse. For now, the head is finished and for the next 10 years, they will be working on the hand. There is a small scale version of the monument in the visitor’s center so you can see how the monument will look.

From there take the more scenic longer Iron Mountain Road to get to Wind Cave National Park. Wind Cave is one of the South Dakota’s National Parks, a few hours away from Rapid City. As you can guess, the park is known for its cave. It’s called the wind cave because somehow the wind is always blowing in the cave. It has over 100 miles of know passages and you can tour few miles of it as the Park offers different tours from the regular hour-long tour to the candlelight one. The cave ceiling is covered by boxwork calcite and the walls by white popcorn! The National Park has also some trails and is known for its wildlife, especially bisons.  From the Visitor center drive take the ) Wildlife Loop Road towards Custer Park and Mt Rushmore, you will see a lot of prairie dogs, deers and bisons on that scenic drive.

For lunch or Happy Hour stop at the Blue Bell Lodge right by Wind Cave National Park and Custer State Park. Their Saddle Bar is to fall in love with. A little bit further down, if Mt. Coolidge Lookout Tower is open, check out the view at 6,023 feet and on a clear day, you can even see the Badlands, which is almost 90 miles away. To go back to the hotel, I took the Needle Highway which curves and winds through 14 miles of rock formations called “Needles”. It was truly a scenic drive.

 

Day 4: Rapid City

It took me 1 hour to get back to Rapid City and before catching my flight I had enough time to explore the city. Downtown Rapid City is famous for its presidential walk. The sidewalk has a statue of each president every few feet. The neighborhood offers many shops and restaurants. Stop at the graffiti art alley and grab lunch at the famous Firehouse Brewery.