Falling for Niagara Falls

One of the 7 natural wonders of the world, The Niagara Falls, are about 2 hours drive from Toronto.

It is said the falls from the Canadian side are more majestic than the American side. Maybe because the highest drop occurs on Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side at 173 feet (53 m).

The Falls are breathtaking. Watching close to 750,000 gallons of water a second hurtle down the curved cliffs is very very impressive.

Hear the crashing waves. See the breathtaking views. Soak up every drop of powerful spray. Take the boat, maid of the mist, to go on the Niagara River and found yourself almost in the middle of the falls.  The falls are so powerful that you will get wet even when you ride away from them. That boat ride is so much fun and a must do.

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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.

 

 

 

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?

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

Kutná Hora Day Tour by Sandeman’s

During your stay in Prague make sure to go to the UNESCO world heritage site of  Kutná Hora, a few hours away from the capital.

You don’t necessarily need to take a tour for it since it’s easily accessible by train, but I think you get a lot more with a tour as the guide will explain the history of the city and you will also get a tour of the churches.

I chose Sandeman’s New Europe Tour. It is the best tour out there, you will see everything and the price is unbeatable.  The tour guides are students that are passionate about the history of Prague and they are eager to make you discover the amazing cultural sites that it offers. We met by the Clock in Old Town Square and went from there to the Train Station. The Tour includes the train transportation ticket.  A few hours later we were at Kutná Hora.

We started to discover that beautiful city by walking through the medieval Ruthardska Street. As the tour guide was pointing out some interesting architecture embedded in some buildings, we started to hear the rich history of that old town that was the economic power-house of the Kingdom of Bohemia and played a crucial role in the 15th century Hussite Wars. We then visited the Splendid Italian Court. Our next stop was the restaurant for lunch. We went to Dacicky and had the best Czech food and of course beer. Again lunch is included in the tour price. In the afternoon, we headed to Saint Barbara’s Church, a Gothic masterpiece. The guide gave us a tour of the Church that is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Church is breathtaking from outside and inside.  The Baroque style, the Vault of the Church, the Stained Glasses are all are beautiful. Keeping the best for last, we went to the famous Bone Chapel, The Sedlec Ossuary. The Chapel, located in the middle of a small cemetery is filled with bones. In the middle of the Chapel, you will be attracted to that sort of art installation with bones. Very impressive and unique.

We were back to Prague around 5pm-6pm.

You can take the train and go to that town by yourself but it can be a bit confusing as you have to change train. Also, with the tour, you get a full explanation of the history of the city, the Church and Bone Chapel. For that price, it is more than worth taking the tour.

Duration : All Day

Price: 30 Euros

Website : Sandeman’s New Europe Tour

Rating: 5-star-rating

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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.

 

Badlands National Park , South Dakota

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 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.