7 Tips for Visiting Yosemite National Park

Over the years, my wife and I have taken our two kids to Yosemite National Park more than any other park over the years. As much as I love city life and seeing new cities around the world, I am continually drawn to the natural beauty of our National Parks. Yosemite is no exception to this, and its awe-inducing beauty is one of the many reasons we continue to return.

Here are seven tips for planning a great trip to Yosemite National Park.

  1. America the Beautiful Pass

The cost of entering Yosemite is $35, which is good for seven days. If you plan to visit four National Parks in a calendar year, it’s worth buying this pass for $80. You can buy it in person at any National Park or online at Federal recreation site, or by calling 1-888-ASK-USGS, Ext. 3, or online. I bought my mom a lifetime senior pass for the same price of $80.

  1. Free Admission Days

Every year, there are about ten Free Entrance Days in the National Parks. If you want to avoid the crowd, it’s better to pick a different day. We’ve gone to Muir Woods National Park closer to home these days with other options in nearby San Francisco in case it gets too crowded.

  1. When to Visit

Yosemite is most accessible during the summer months, but it’s also when it’s most visited. For the rest of the year, the main concern is snow. The valley is open year-round, but Tioga Road and Glacier Point Road are closed from mid-November to May or early June. Check out Road Conditions to find out what roads are open and when they will open. We have gone in March, April, and May. It’s still a bit chilly, but the crowds are considerably smaller. Most likely, you will visit during the summer. Plan as early ahead as possible. Staying in the valley during the summer months requires early booking.

  1. Lodging

There are several options in the valley with the National Park Service. There are 13 campgrounds within the park. For mid-range stays, consider the canvas tent cabins at Half Dome Village. These have easy access to dining options and shuttle service around the valley. You can stay outside of Yosemite in the city of Merced at Hampton Inn and Suites Merced or in Fresno and take YARTS to any of the many stops inside Yosemite National Park

  1. Transportation In and Out of the Valley

The drive into Yosemite is as spectacular as any national park. The summer months, however, are the most popular. Traffic and parking can be an issue. The National Park Service offers excellent transportation options not only in the park but to Yosemite. You can take a for-fee shuttle bus called YARTS into Yosemite, and easily get around the valley with the free shuttle service.

  1. Hikes

We love Yosemite for hiking. There is a hike for every age group. Whether you are staying in the valley or driving in, you can take the free shuttle to the different starting points. We love the three-mile round trip hike on The Mist Trail to Vernal Falls. It is a moderately challenging hike and requires two to three hours, depending on your pace. Bring some rain gear because you will get wet hiking up the falls. Take the free shuttle to the trailhead near Happy Isles. For those who want more than Vernal Falls, you can continue further up to Nevada Falls. This hike is seven miles both ways. For the adventurous, Half Dome is a full day, 14-mile hike on The Mist Trail which now requires a permit.

  1. Dining Options

Whether you are camping or staying in a lodge, there are plenty of options. Campers who want to take a break from cooking can drive ten minutes and eat at a restaurant. There is also a grocery store to stock up on food. Our family has had dinner twice on Easter Sunday at The Ahwahnee Dining Room. Set in a large, open, and rustic space, this restaurant serves up contemporary dishes. We’ve enjoyed our special occasion dinner there multiple times, and it also has a great children’s menu. For a mid-range option, try the dining options at Half Dome Village. There is something for everyone at the Pizza Deck, Meadow Grill, or the Half Dome Village Pavilion.

Yosemite Conservancy: While traveling to major cities around the world, I’ve come to appreciate our city’s green spaces and our country’s national parks. They are unique places that remind us of our responsibility to take care of our environment and world. While it’s not likely we can completely eliminate carbon emissions, we can reduce our footprint. National Parks remind us that the air can be cleaner. Animals can thrive in natural habitats, and people can share space without destroying the environment. Consider donating to the Yosemite Conservancy and other efforts to educate and preserve our National Parks here.

Spend a Weekend in Portugal on a Budget

Portugal is a wonderful country with many places to visit, eat, and stay for a weekend on a budget, especially in Porto and Matosinhos. Portuguese is a beautiful language, and luckily, for Americans traveling in Portugal, many also speak English.

Matosinhos
Matosinhos has a great beach, and it is worth staying nearby. If you are booking in the winter season, rooms are a bit more inexpensive. If you’re visiting during the summer, plan early for the best rates.

Things to Do in Matosinhos
Castelo Do Queijo, “Castle of the Cheese,” is worth checking out. This beautiful castle is a popular destination for taking pictures near the sea or taking a bike tour around the beach.

Mercado Municipal de Matosinhos is a farmer’s market to explore for fresh fruits and vegetables. Go early in the morning to see the action.

Food in Matosinhos
The espresso is delicious, and it’s also inexpensive. An excellent place to have a coffee, espresso, or small appetizers is Vagas Bar. There are also many great bakeries and pastries around the Matosinhos area. Visit Trigueirinha for a small pastry.

For seafood, Marisqueria Majara is delicious. Rodizio Gauchos Restaurant is also a fun place to eat. Come with a big appetite! You can choose from 17 different types of meat while live music plays from their grand piano in the restaurant.

If you need a late dessert, check out some unique ice cream dishes or gelato at K Rico Lombo.

Porto
Porto, Portugal has many wonderful shops for souvenirs to take back home, restaurants with excellent food, and sidewalk cafes for an espresso. In all the excitement, do not forget to enjoy all the architecture of the buildings throughout the city.

There are many hotel options in Porto. Like in Matosinhos, hotel rooms are more affordable during the winter than in the summer.

Transportation in Porto
The Sao Bento Railway Station was built at the beginning of the 20th century on the site of the Sao Bento de Ave-Maria Convent. When you arrive at the station, you will be in awe of the 20,000 tiles of artwork on the walls.

At the end of the 19th century, trams were the main link for traveling between Porto and its suburbs. Today, many tourists travel on the tram throughout the city for a small fee.

For traveling around Portugal, utilize the Portuguese Railway. You can also travel outside of Portugal to main cities such as Madrid, Spain or Paris, France.

Things to Do in Porto
Rabelo Boats are the traditional Portuguese boats that were used for transporting barrels of wine from the inland vineyards down the River Douro to the storehouses of Porto. Take a tour on a Rabelo boat through the Douro River to see where the wine was made; it’s about a one-hour ride.

Get your comfortable shoes on to visit Clerigos Tower, the main Porto icon. The tower was built between 1754 and 1763. Visiting the Clerigos Tower and museum is about 6 Euros. The tour takes about 2 hours and involves a lot of walking.

If you are a book lover, you need to check out Livraria Lello. This fantastic bookstore has been open since 1906, and you can purchase an entry ticket online for around 5 Euros.

Food in Porto
Visit Nata Lisboa for a tart, small pastry, or even a sandwich. Food in Porto commonly has fresh olives, yummy Atlantic fish, and delicious fresh cheese from nearby farms. French Fries are standard fare with every meal. A Bolina restaurant offers an amazing view of the bridge. I recommend ordering the codfish salad for only 5 Euros.

Portugal is the oldest country in Europe, and it is full of quaint cities, nature, passionate people, and delicacies. You will fall in love with this country and want to come back each year.

Discover Toronto’s Central Neighborhoods

Canada’s largest city is a lively metropolis packed with parks, museums, restaurants, and much more. Sometimes overlooked, Toronto has become a cultural and social hub that rivals that of cities like New York, Chicago, and Boston, and it should be on every traveler’s must-visit destinations.

Toronto has many neighborhoods packed in the downtown area of the city. They are all unique and diverse, and they are all worth spending the time to explore. However, any first-time visitor to the city needs to start from the center and work their way out. Three areas form the main center of the city and hold some of the most popular attractions that Toronto has to offer: Downtown Yonge, Old Toronto, and the Entertainment District.

Downtown Yonge
The 3D Toronto Sign located in front of the Toronto City Hall in Nathan Phillips Square marks the center of the city and provides memorable pictures to start your exploration. The best time to visit is dusk when the sign lights up. The square often hosts many festivals and activities, so there is always something fun to see. On the other side of the Square is the Old City Hall building which is a beautiful nineteenth-century Romanesque structure used today as a courthouse. Adjacent to the City Hall complex is the Downtown Yonge area. The area is full of theaters, restaurants, stores, and the impressive Yonge Dundas Square anchors it. The square resembles Times Square in New York, covered with numerous large screens displaying advertisements for the nearby stores. If you are looking to do some shopping, there is no better place than the iconic CF Toronto Eaton Center. This urban mall has many upscale brands and is famous for its large glass ceiling.

Old Toronto
Taking Yonge Street south from Eaton Center will lead you straight into the heart of Old Toronto. While the area is still modern, you will notice many more historical buildings than in other central areas. For sports-lovers visiting the Hockey Hall of Fame and seeing the Stanley Cup in person is a must. A short walk from the museum is Berczy Park. The park is surrounded by numerous gorgeous nineteenth-century buildings and is famous for its Dog Fountain and the Trompe L’oeil Mural on the historic Gooderham Building overlooking the park. Down the street from the park is the iconic St. Lawrence Market. The market has stood and thrived since the early 1800s, and today is the anchor for the neighborhood. Vendors sell many farm-to-table products while cafes, bakeries and sandwich shops offer great options for lunch.

Entertainment District
For spectacular views and memorable experiences, find your way to the Entertainment District and Harbourfront. Sometimes popular attractions are crowded and not worth the wait. That can’t be said for Toronto’s CN Tower and Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada. The CN Tower is the most iconic building in the city as it rises over all other skyscrapers. The views on a clear day go on for miles, and the experience of looking down at the city is unforgettable. You can even take the edge-walk tour if you are looking to add some adrenaline to your day.

Immediately next to the tower is the Aquarium. Massive in size and with numerous exhibitions. Do not miss the Dangerous Lagoon shark exhibition that has the longest moving sidewalk in North America, gently ushering you through a glass tunnel while multiple species of sharks swim over your head. If the weather is pleasant, finish off your day exploring this neighborhood by taking a walk on the harbor front through the Toronto Music Garden and grab a beer and a bite at Amsterdam BrewHouse.

Historic Distillery District
One of the unique places to have a sit-down dinner and take a romantic walk is The Historic Distillery District. Founded in the 1800s, it was once the largest distillery in the world. The area today has kept most of the Victorian buildings and transformed into an arts district with numerous boutiques and galleries. Take a walk with a friend or a loved one on the cobblestones and add a lovelock to the script sculpture. Enjoy one of the many upscale restaurants in the district and catch a show at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts.

Kensington Market and Chinatown
If you are looking for something to do later in the night, you should make your way to the Kensington Market and Chinatown Areas. Chinatown is a great place to get authentic Chinese food. If you’re hungry late at night, many establishments are open well into the night (or next morning!). The adjacent Kensington Market area is a stronghold for the bohemian crowd. Local art and music are born here, and it thrives and grows in Kensington. It is common to find popup musical performances in a yard or an alley. Speaking of alleys, take a walk to the most famous of all, Graffiti Alley, near Queens Street. As the name suggests, it is covered in beautiful street art.

When you are considering where to travel for your next trip, do not forget Canada’s largest city. It has something unforgettable to offer to everyone!

A 3-Day Itinerary for Cologne and Dusseldorf

Germany’s hidden cosmopolitan gems, Cologne (Köln) and Dusseldorf, are the perfect destinations for experiencing authentic German life. Although often overlooked for the more well-known cities of Munich and Berlin, travelers “in the know” visit these two jewels of the North Rhine-Westphalia state, separated by an easy thirty-minute train ride.

These fierce rivals in sports and politics both boast fabulous food, unique architecture, world-class museums, quaint cobblestone streets, distinctive world-famous beer, and an immersive experience devoid of the hordes of tourists clogging other European cities.

Here are my tips on how to spend three action-packed days in Cologne and Dusseldorf.

Day 1: Welcome to Cologne
Your first stop must be the massive UNESCO World Heritage Site gothic Cologne Cathedral, Germany’s most visited attraction. Travel back to 1248 when the first stone was laid! Take in the crypt, chapels, works of art, and elaborate stained glass windows.

Next, add your love lock to the thousands hanging from the Hohenzollern Bridge, and then explore the pedestrian-friendly and colorful Old Town. Settle in at one of the traditional cafes to lunch among locals. For some laughs, check out the outrageous Carnival costumes in specialty stores all over! After this, visit the National Socialism Documentation Center, a former Nazi Gestapo prison. This emotional memorial moved our family.

Stroll Europe’s busiest shopping street, Schildergasse. Snack on an oversized pretzel from a local bakery (a fun photo-op), and pop into the House of 4711, a perfume house dating from 1792 to see (and smell) the original Eau De Cologne dripping from the fragrance fountain.

For dinner among locals, either head to the buzzing Belgian Quarter, or dine off-the-beaten-path at the well-priced Ristorante Toscanini. This stylish hotspot serves creative wood-fired pizzas and tasty Italian dishes. Save room for their to-die-for tiramisu!

Day 2: Dash to Dusseldorf
Hop a quick thirty-minute train ride to Dusseldorf, the uber-wealthy capital of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Kick-off your day with a thrill! Surprise your crew (like I did) by inviting them to climb into Tomás Saraceno’s art installation “In Orbit” at the K21 Modern Art Museum. K21 supplies overalls and shoes – you supply the nerves! Four stories off the floor, your gang will flip for this once in a lifetime experience!

Refuel at Curry, a neighborhood joint known for fries and flavorful sausages. Cross the street to stroll among Media Harbor’s ultra-modern buildings. Zip to the top of the city’s icon, the Rheinturm (Rhine Tower), and grab a coffee while admiring the spectacular views.

Next, either walk along the waterfront or hop a Rhine Boat sightseeing tour. Since we visited during wintertime, we meandered along the riverside promenade – an ideal spot to people-watch.

Be sure to take a spin on Dusseldorf’s Wheel of Vision, a mega Ferris Wheel with fabulous views, then shop ’til you drop on “Ko Street,” the nickname for upscale Königsallee Avenue.

End your action-packed day exploring Little Japan and dining among locals at Takumi. Be prepared to wait in line (it does move quickly) at this uber-popular spot! We delighted in Takumi’s delicious ramen, flavorful noodles, and tasty gyoza.

At some point during the day or night (even better), wander through the Aldstadt, the world’s longest bar with 200 separate establishments.

Day 3: Perfection – Sports, Chocolate, Art & Beer
Hit the ground running by playing soccer on the rooftop of the interactive Deutsches Sport & Olympia Museum. This fun-for-the-whole-family museum houses cool sports memorabilia. Step into a boxing ring, see torches from every Olympic game since 1936, slip into a bobsled, and so much more.

Next, head across the way to the Italian chain Vapiano for a quick freshly-cooked lunch, then follow your nose to the Chocolate Museum! Wander through a greenhouse, watch the assembly line in action, gobble up samples, and marvel at the towering chocolate fountain.

After this, have fun while being cultured at the chic Museum Ludwig. Take in 21st-century art including lots of big names like Warhol, Lichtenstein, and Picasso.

We found the perfect finale to our trip at Früh am Dom, an authentic brewhouse. Dining in an atmospheric cellar of this meat and Kölsch lover’s dream transports you back in time! (The menu has tasty vegetarian options as well).

Where to Stay
Steps away from the central train station and walking distance to most attractions, the welcoming Hilton Cologne makes navigating the city a breeze and hopping a train to Dusseldorf just as easy. This family-friendly hotel offers an expansive delicious breakfast buffet, helpful staff, and well-appointed spacious suites.

Our family loved our three days experiencing the varied culture, attractions, and cuisine of cosmopolitan Dusseldorf and Cologne! Pack your bags and get ready to experience the absolutely fabulous, authentic, and energetic neighboring German cities, Cologne and Dusseldorf.

The tourism offices provided Lisa’s family with some complimentary passes and one meal so that she could try them and review them for your information. Lisa chose the above attractions and restaurants based on their reviews.

Know Before You Go:

  • Save money on attractions and public transportation by purchasing a KolnCard (in Cologne) or a Dusseldorf Card.
  • Both the Cologne and Dusseldorf Tourism websites provide valuable practical trip planning advice.
  • Consider purchasing tickets for both cities’ convenient Hop-On Hop-Off Buses.

Top 3 Family-Friendly Places to Visit in Atlanta

Celebrate Leap Year 2020 by attending some of the exciting events planned in Atlanta! We first traveled to Atlanta several years ago as we made a driving loop from Texas through Tennessee, to Washington DC, down the Atlantic coast, through Atlanta, and back to Texas. We spent three days exploring the city and found that Atlanta is a perfect destination for a day trip or a week-long vacation! Atlanta offers a little bit for everyone – whether you are into events for history, art, family-friendly offerings, singles’ events, or adult beverages, there is something there for you.

Planning
When I plan a trip, sometimes I know exactly where I want to go (or at least, I think I do!). I always combine my prior knowledge and perceptions with specific research and friend-sourcing. I suggest starting with the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau because it has one of the best city websites I’ve used in our travels. With specific information about activities, dining, hotels, and events, the information is indexed and includes details you need to know to be prepared. Don’t forget other information sources such as AAA to plan road trips, find pet-friendly hotels, locate good gas prices, and access roadside services. It’s easy to add your AAA member number to your Hilton Honors profile so that those discount prices appear in your booking options.

World of Coca-Cola
Once you’ve made it to Atlanta, there are three must-see spots to put on your list. The first is the World of Coca-Cola located very near Centennial Park. As a family who loves their Cokes, we found the tour and exhibits both informational and fun. There were activities and exhibits for all ages, including games and hugs from a very special polar bear! We each received our choice of an aluminum bottled drink as we entered and a lanyard made from a recycled soda bottle as we left. The lanyard is surprisingly soft and durable. Each day as I carry my work keys, I’m reminded of our trip to Atlanta. Don’t miss out on the gift store with a huge selection of novelties, home décor, clothing, and games.

Centennial Park
As long as you are in Centennial Park, I recommend booking your own scavenger hunt through Let’s Roam. An app-based scavenger hunt on your own time is a perfect family activity. Tighten up your laces because you’ll be walking just less than a mile and a half. Everyone can be involved in the tasks, even your littlest members, because there are opportunities to solve puzzles, take photos, and explore the city. A little bit competitive? Kick it into high gear to compete with other finishers for the fastest time in Atlanta!

Civil Rights History
Finally, you cannot leave Atlanta without spending time learning about the Civil Rights history in Atlanta and Georgia. There are multiple options to engage, but the most important thing you must remember is that while many of the events and tours are free, they require a ticket or reservation and sell out quickly. The National Center for Civil and Human Rights is informative and touching. The Center provides thoughtful discourse, touching storytelling, and a continuing history told through photos, artifacts, and first-person stories. Follow up your time at the center with our favorite stops – a tour through historic Oakland Cemetery (offered on selected Tuesdays and Saturdays in February) and a visit to the birthplace of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ebenezer Baptist Church.

No matter how you choose to spend your days in Atlanta – and there are so many more options available – you will enjoy the vibrant community-centered near Centennial Park and the history available within a 20-minute drive. Head to Atlanta, where adventure and history await you!

Top 5 Must-See Arts & Culture Attractions in San Diego

During a visit to San Diego, you will find loads of outdoor activities, miles of beaches, hundreds of breweries, and a well-known dining scene. Some visitors might not know about the extensive arts and culture scene that should not be missed. There are over 40 museums throughout San Diego County from Oceanside in North County all the way south to the border of the USA and Mexico, blending many passion points from art, music, history, and science. Below are five must-see arts and cultural attractions to check out during your next visit.

#1: USS Midway Museum
A great place to start your arts and culture experience in San Diego is downtown near Broadway Pier at the USS Midway Museum. If you have never stepped foot on an aircraft carrier, you will be in awe once you step on board of the floating city. The USS Midway is one of the city’s top attractions, providing a great understanding of life at sea aboard an aircraft carrier. The USS Midway was the Navy’s longest-serving aircraft carrier of the 20th century. An easy way to experience the USS Midway is to take a self-guided tour around the ship, but be sure to chat with the docents during your visit. Many are Navy veterans and, sometimes, you will be lucky to speak with someone who spent time on the ship. Allow anywhere from one to four hours aboard.

#2: The Natural History Museum
As you enter Balboa Park, home to The San Diego Natural History Museum, you will discover the scenery in the park alone is a great reason to visit. Step inside “The Nat” to discover a fascinating array of artifacts. The Nat holds 8 million specimens in storage, many of which are on display at the current exhibition: Unshelved: Cool Stuff from Storage. Check the website’s event calendar before you visit – often there are special events at night, on the weekends, or even in other parts of town waiting to be discovered.

#3: Cabrillo National Monument
On the far western peninsula of Point Loma, you will find a hidden gem with one of the oldest stories in San Diego history, Cabrillo National Monument. It is named after Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, who led the first European to explore what is now the West Coast back in the 1500s. The monument, also part of the National Park Service, dates back to the 1850s and is well-preserved. It provides a fantastic view from the southernmost tip of San Diego.

#4: Birch Aquarium at Scripps
Just north of famed La Jolla Cove, Birch Aquarium at Scripps on the University of California San Diego campus showcases over 5,000 with hands-on experiences for kids of all ages (and adults too). If you are interested in marine life, this is a must-visit museum during your San Diego stay. As an added treat, the tide pool plaza has one of the best backdrops in San Diego overlooking the La Jolla coastline with panoramic ocean views.

#5: San Diego Botanic Garden
About 20 minutes north of downtown, you will find a serene 37-acres where you can connect with nature and learn about different plant species from around the world at San Diego Botanic Garden. No matter what level of interest you have in plants, the garden is sure to please. Wind around scenic trails and take in the majestic beauty of the garden. For visitors with children, head to the treehouse or join one of the various educational programs to learn about what fruits and vegetables are in season during your visit. Check out the ocean views from the garden and then head to nearby Encinitas to catch the sunset if you are visiting at the end of the day.

San Diego’s climate makes it a year-round destination, but if you are interested in the arts and culture mentioned above, February is a great time to make the trip. In 2020, February not only brings an extra day with the leap year, but it also brings San Diego Museum Month. Guests can grab a free San Diego Museum Month pass and receive half-off at admission to over 40 museums around San Diego County.

No matter what month you visit, I would advise visitors to pack comfortable shoes.  San Diego is a very walkable city with spacious sidewalks and scenic beachside boardwalks. If you are like me and enjoy viewing the stunning scenery by foot, lace up your athletic shoes as this a great option to get around. Our city is casual – you do not need to prioritize comfort over style when sightseeing. But do not worry, Lyft rideshares are also plentiful in all areas of San Diego to help get around the different neighborhoods if your feet get a bit tired.

Make San Diego your destination for miles of coastline and outdoor activities. Whether it is your first trip or your tenth, check out the arts and culture scene. It is sure not to disappoint with a variety of activities from science to art to even the history of surfing. Hope to see you in San Diego soon!

Enjoy a Vacation to Kuala Lumpur

Why not get away from it all and enjoy a few days in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia? The city is a melting pot of cultures: Malay, Chinese, and Indian, with mosques, temples, skyscrapers, street markets, shopping malls, and more.

Arrive at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, with an easy train connection to the city. You will be awestruck by the landscape – it’s very green and buzzing with activity. The buildings and the city seem to be living in harmony within a canopy of shrubs, palm trees, and exotic plants; the city was built on a jungle.

Start with a visit to the Petronas Twin Towers; for a small fee, you can go up to visit the connecting bridge with great views!

Afterward, visit the nearby AquariaKLCC and catch a glimpse of the piranha feeding! Don’t miss the Living Ocean exhibit through a 90 meter transparent tunnel, where you will find sand tiger sharks, tawny nurse sharks, green sea and olive ridley turtles, shovelnose rays, and honeycomb stingrays in their element. Plan at least an hour for this activity.

Next, head over to Kuala Lumpur Chinatown (Chee Cheong Kai), which is known for its flea market along Petaling Street. There are stalls full of items for purchase. You will see the streets lined with hanging red lanterns, which give it a fun ambiance. Feel free to barter!

A short walk away is Central Market (Pasar Seni), built in 1888. I found it was the best place for authentic Chinese-style clothes. You can find beautiful, traditional cotton shirts known as cheongsam or qipao. The market is separated into a few areas, and there are a few restaurants on the top floor. You will find a variety of crafts that reflect the local culture. It’s open from 10 AM till 10 PM.

Towards the end of the day, visit Jalan Alor Street Food Market for some local food, open from 7 PM to midnight. You will notice the strong smell of a fruit called Durian, lovingly known as the “king of fruits” due to its large size, smell, and its thorns.

A visit to the Batu Caves will take up the whole morning, and commuting there is accessible on the train from KL Sentral. It’s a limestone hill with caves and temples, dedicated to Kartikeya, a Hindu deity. His statue stands 42.7m high. Enjoy a cold coconut while observing the playful monkeys as you go up the 272 steps that are painted in fun colors. Be mindful as the monkeys tend to grab things off your backpacks or pockets!

There are also several shopping malls you can visit; Nu Sentral is perfect because it’s connected to the train station KL Sentral. For lunch or dinner, find the Japanese restaurant Sushi Zanmai. From the drink menu, try the Ryokucha and Milky Green Tea, and from the food menu, try a selection of sushi and the Chicken Katsu Curry.

Another shopping mall worth visiting is Sunway Pyramid. It is enormous, and you can even find a store to practice archery. Try the Oolong bubble tea from Yi Fang here. Bubble Tea is a Taiwanese drink made of black, green, or oolong tea with a wide variety of options, and the well-known “pearls” made of tapioca or jelly.

Kuala Lumpur is a beautiful destination for a getaway, and there are so many things to do. From the delicious food and the tropical weather to the friendly locals, you will feel wholly refreshed on your return home!

Know Before You Go:

  • Try the local street food at night markets.
  • Use Grab or the many trains for transportation. Beware of the traffic!
  • The climate is tropical, so bring loose, comfortable clothing suitable for warm weather.

Explore the Colors of Morocco through Marrakesh

My long-cherished dream has always been a trip to Morocco; I wanted to enjoy its colors, flavors, and get lost within its beautiful desert’s dunes. My trip lived up to my expectations! Once you land, Morocco welcomes you with a breath of fresh air, shining sun, and warm weather!

Day One
On your first day, experience the Jemaa el Fna square, the pulsating heart of Marrakesh. There’s nothing you can’t find here: fruit kiosks, snake charmers, street dancers, people moving on scooters, bicycles, and donkeys. It is an authentic Moroccan experience. Here in the square, you can get a traditional henna tattoo on your hand – how long they last depends on the color, from two days for red henna and up to a month for black henna.

After exploring the square, try the Moroccan hammam spa experience. The hammam ritual involves several steps, including a steam bath, exfoliation, and unique soaps. You can decide to finish the treatment with a massage, followed by a cup of delicious Moroccan tea. Check out these hammams and choose a treatment that best suits you: Hammam de la Rose, Les Bains D’Orient, and Heritage Spa.

To finish the day, try the delicious restaurant in the heart of the medina, Nomad; be sure to reserve a table on the rooftop, since the view is breathtaking and the atmosphere is magical. Enjoy the last hours of the day before going to bed and recharging your battery for the next one.

Day Two
On the second day, get up early to experience the first hours in the morning when it’s not too hot and crowded. Visit Bahia Palace and the Saadian tombs; they are very close to each other and a marvelous example of Moroccan architecture that will leave you speechless. Take a break at the vegan piece of heaven in the middle of the chaotic little streets of the medina called La Familie, with lovely staff and fresh food (be aware that this restaurant only serves lunch and closes at 4 PM).

Continue the tour by visiting Dar Si Said, the Moroccan art museum with its beautiful gazebo, the Jardin Majorelle, an impressive complex of botanic gardens commissioned in 1931, and the Koutoubia Mosque. Now that you are back in the Medina, get lost (but not too much!) in the Souk.

For dinner, book a table at the enchanted restaurant Comptoir Darna; enjoy a mesmerizing ambiance while belly dancers and live music perform during dinner. Try the hummus, the couscous with seasonable vegetables, and to conclude your meal, the ginger sorbet. If you stay late, they also play music on the first floor.

Day Three
On the third day, book a one-day excursion that includes a visit to the Berber villages, the Atlas Mountains with its waterfalls, and a sunset camel or quad ride in the desert. The full description of the day trip can be found online, but I will leave you some tips that were useful to my experience.

  • Wear comfy shoes since you will spend most of the day walking around desert roads and Berber villages.
  • Bring sun protection, as you will have to face the desert sunlight, and even in winter, this can be harmful to your skin.
  • Ask your guide as many questions as you can: they love to share their culture, and they usually come from these small villages; therefore, they are a wealth of information.

To conclude your Moroccan experience, book a table at Le Salama restaurant, close to Jamaa el Fna square. I strongly recommend asking for a table on the rooftop for one last breathtaking view of Marrakesh. Try the traditional tagine plate (it can be meat, fish, or vegetables), and finish your night with the mixed fruit shisha, also known as hookah, while belly dancers float around the tables.

Marrakesh is a city full of history, things to see, and outdoor activities. If you have the time, I suggest spending a few extra days to keep exploring the beautiful gems this incredible city has to offer and booking food and cultural tours with locals to discover every aspect of their rich culture. As for now, I leave you with a foretaste of a country that enchanted me, and I hope it will help to make the most of your time in Morocco!

A Guide to Hawaii’s Volcanoes

The Big Island of Hawaii is known for its iconic landscape of waterfalls, pristine beaches, and natural wonders from volcanic eruptions. While it may be hard to leave the beaches, its top attractions are the volcanoes. Here are some tips to see the island’s volcanoes and volcanic-related attractions.

Volcanoes National Park is the best place to see new land formations and geologic wonders as it’s home to two active volcanoes. We’ve visited twice and loved it. Kilauea is dubbed as the “world’s only drive-in volcano” and makes for a great DIY tour. There are 150 miles of hiking trails volcanic craters, dried up lava beds, rainforest, coastal scenes, and lava tubes.

Start at Kilauea Visitor Center to speak to the park rangers for hike suggestions, plan itineraries, get volcanic updates, and join ranger-guided talks and tours. The Crater Rim Drive is a 10.6-mile trip around the Kilauea Caldera with several overlooks, trails, sulfur banks, and steam vents. We also enjoyed walking through the Thurston Lava Tube, which was an awe-inspiring experience.

The 38-mile round-trip drive along the Chain of Craters Road is worth it if you have time. This scenic drive started at lush rainforest through dried lava fields and descended to the coastline. Stop at Kealakomo Overlook to see beautiful panoramic ocean views. Visitors can stop and see the surreal landscape of the lava fields and explore petroglyph sites.

This scenic road ends at the coastline, where dried lava flowed into the ocean and has some incredible rock formations. Stay and hike only in marked trails. The park is open 24 hours a day. Visiting at night offers opportunities for seeing glowing lava flow and stargazing. Stay in Hilo, which is 40 minutes away, to maximize your trip. Kona, about 2.5 hours away, made for a long day trip.

If you want to visit a dormant volcano, Mauna Kea’s summit, at 13,796 feet above sea level, has an observatory and sometimes snow. The Visitor Information Station (VIS) offers guided summit tours. Mauna Kea Summit Adventures and Adventure in Hawaii have sunrise/sunset viewing and stargazing tours.

We made it as far as the VIS at 9,200 feet since we didn’t have warm clothing for the cold temperature. Children under 16, pregnant women, and visitors in poor health are recommended not to go up the summit due to the high altitude and less oxygen, but it was a beautiful drive that took us above the clouds.

Where to See Lava Flow
Many visitors expect to see lava flows as part of visiting volcanoes. Unfortunately, lava flow is dependent on current volcanic activity and eruption. If you’re visiting during active lava flow, there are various ways to see this natural wonder.

Several companies, like Lava Ocean Tours and Kalapana Cultural Tours, offer ocean tours. Most are three-hour guided tours along 30+ miles of the coastline that also include seeing black sand beaches, sea cliffs, and arches. It provides a different perspective on seeing molten lava enter the ocean and seeing new land formations.

There are also guided lava hikes or hike/bike options with trained experts who know the best places to see lava flow while educating visitors about volcanoes. It’s highly recommended not to do a DIY version of these trips. If there is an active lava flow, there will be some designated lookout areas.

For those with a bigger budget, various helicopter tours like Blue Hawaiian Helicopters or Hawaii Volcano Expeditions offer a unique viewpoint of the volcanic activity from above. Tours range from 50 minutes to several hours. This also includes a bird’s eye view of forests, waterfalls, and impressive coastline. Tours departing from Hilo airport are closer and cheaper.

Hawaii offers plenty of volcanic-related attractions to enjoy with the active and dormant on the island. Volcanoes National Park is the best place to start any visit. Whether you see active lava flow or not on your visit, the stunning and unique landscape is unforgettable.

Romantic Weekend Getaways in the USA

Romantic getaways are great for new loves and long-term relationships alike. A couple’s trip is needed from time to time to get away from everyday life and reconnect, with a lot of alone time.

A romantic vacation can mean different things for different couples – it could be relaxing at the spa, taking a hike in beautiful nature, enjoying a nice candlelit meal, or experiencing a new city.

These destinations are some favorite romantic weekend getaways in the USA for an unforgettable time alone with a loved one.

Denver, Colorado 
The Mile High City is an ideal destination for couples looking for outdoor activities, fantastic food, some of the best breweries in the country, and fun day trips.

Couples should experience the 16th Street Mall, a mile-long pedestrian-friendly street that runs through downtown and showcases a variety of restaurants, terraces, and shops. A must-visit restaurant in Denver is Mercantile Dining & Provision, which offers a romantic chef’s counter and award-winning food.

During warm months, Denver Botanic Gardens hosts a concert series that can be experienced under the stars from a blanket with a bottle of wine and a picnic. Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater is also popular with a variety of shows and is used during the day by folks looking for a great workout in a breathtaking venue.

A short drive from Denver is Rocky Mountain National Park, with over 400 square miles of natural beauty and hundreds of miles of hiking trails, picturesque lakes, and a variety of wildlife. On the edge of the park is Estes Park, a resort town with inviting shops and restaurants. Beer fans should head over to Boulder or Fort Collins, which collectively boast over 20 breweries.

Portland, Maine
Situated on Casco Bay, Portland is the largest city in Maine and a year-round destination for vacationers. One of the most beloved sections of the city is Old Port, which dates back to the 1800s. Old Port offers excellent dining, first-class shopping, and cobbled streets perfect for romantic walks.

Portland is known for its food scene, and it is rumored that the city has more dining options per capita than any other city in the USA. Some must-visit restaurants are Fore Street, where any oven-roasted seafood is outstanding, and Central Provisions, where one can dine at a cozy chef’s counter. Don’t miss the bone marrow toast and the cod cheek tempura! For one of the best lobster rolls in New England, eat at Portland Lobster Company. Allagash Brewing Company is nearby and features an array of food trucks to pair with the prized beer.

Take a romantic drive to Portland Head Light in nearby Cape Elizabeth, one of the most photographed lighthouses in America. Popular Old Orchard Beach is a few miles away and boasts a wide beach, a fun pier with restaurants and shops, and a boardwalk with arcades and thrill rides.

Scottsdale, Arizona
According to Experience Scottsdale, the Sonoran Desert city has over 50 resorts and day spas, making it one of the country’s most relaxing places to visit. When a couple’s massage is needed, Scottsdale is the place to visit with amazing spas like Well & Being Spa and The Spa at The Boulders.

Before heading to dinner, catch a glorious sunset while sipping a glass of Champagne at nearby Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort. Some restaurant favorites are Lon’s Restaurant with romantic outdoor tables, Virtu Honest Craft with an inventive seasonal menu, and James Beard Award Winner FnB Restaurant. For delicious pizza, head to one of the Pizzeria Bianco locations.

The Scottsdale area is an excellent base for extraordinary nature adventures. Take a day trip to the Sonoran Desert with stops at Lost Dutchman State Park and Apache Junction for breathtaking desert views; head to Sedona for a drive through impressive towering red rock formations; or, visit Cave Creek for a fun meal at a variety of restaurants ranging from delicious Mexican at El Encanto to pub food and country music at Harold’s Cave Creek Corral. Golf is also a favorite activity for couples.

Setting time aside to vacation with a loved one shouldn’t be disregarded. It’s important to get away, enjoy new surroundings, and reconnect as a couple periodically.

Whether your idea of romance is doing an outdoor activity in the pristine nature near Denver, enjoying a food and beer tour through Portland, Maine, or reaping the benefits of a spa holiday in Scottsdale, remember that the goal of a romantic weekend getaway in the USA should be about spending quality time with the one you love.

A Romantic Escape to Anguilla

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner! Whether you’re traveling with someone special or simply looking to go somewhere beautiful and relaxing, you may want to consider visiting Anguilla.

Anguilla is a British territory in the Caribbean. With just 14,000 residents and no major airports on the island, its most prominent attraction is the crystal turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea that surround it. As soon as you arrive in Anguilla, the island’s chill vibe and lack of commercialization put the brakes on the busy rhythm you may be accustomed to back home. It is the perfect place to slow down, de-stress, and reconnect with your travel companion(s).

Where to Stay
In December 2019, Hilton opened its first hotel on the island, Zemi Beach House, a member of Hilton’s LXR Collection. Zemi is in Shoal Bay on one of the island’s most beautiful beaches, according to locals. Home to 76 luxurious rooms, it has two pools, two restaurants, a rum-tasting bar, fitness center, clothing boutique, and a world-class Thai spa renowned as one of the top spas in the Caribbean. Twice per week, the hotel offers complimentary yoga classes in its spa’s meditation courtyard. It also hosts themed events, such as a Caribbean BBQ night with live local singers serenading guests tableside. Zemi has everything you need to relax, take in some sun, dine exquisitely, and reconnect- with yourself or with your loved ones.

Things to Do
If, and when, you are finally ready to venture off this paradise-like property, you have several exciting options in the area:

Access to any beach on the island is complimentary. To catch the most beautiful sunsets over the Caribbean Sea, consider visiting the Four Seasons Resort or Malliouhana Hotel. Both are located on the opposite end of Anguilla from Zemi, known as the West End, and offer jaw-dropping views. The Four Seasons’ Sunset Lounge allows guests and non-guests alike to enjoy a drink or bite to eat while watching the sunset atop the cliff where the hotel sits.

Malliouhana, on the other hand, invites non-guests to obtain a day-pass for a small fee, granting access to their cliff-top infinity pools, cabanas, and lush gardens. The beach is just below the hotel, and while you wander around the pool and gardens, you can hear the waves crashing against the cliffs. Multiple locals rave that the best sunsets in Anguilla are at Malliouhana. I loved that its décor tells a unique story, with fun elements like the “Curiosity Cabinet” and “Living Room” filled with colorful paintings from a Haitian artist.

Nearby you can also visit the neighboring islands of Saint Martin and Sint Maarten.  Saint Martin is an overseas collectivity of France, whereas Sint Maarten is a Dutch constituent country.

Saint Martin is like setting foot on a Caribbean St. Tropez – idyllic beaches, mansions belonging to celebrities from around the world, and hand-painted signage in French marking the way as you navigate the island.

Sint Maarten hosts an array of restaurants, shopping, and casinos. One of its most well-known beaches is Maho Beach, where beachgoers can enjoy Caribbean music, drinks, and planes arriving and departing the airport. Landing planes seemingly appear from thin air out of the clouds over the ocean, flying towards beachgoers and descending just barely overhead onto the SXM runway. Adrenaline-seekers enjoy the planes taking off the most, as the force of the takeoff can knock you right off your feet! All beaches on these islands are open to the public, but be sure to check ahead of time which beaches are “clothing-optional.” There are multiple, regular transportation options to get to either island from Anguilla.

Before you conclude your Caribbean getaway in Anguilla, stop by the Zemi Thai House. Before your treatment, the spa’s leaders from Thailand and Bali invite you to detoxify in the Hammam and Vitality Pool. From there, you will be led to one of the spa cabins available for individual or couples’ treatments that will make you feel as if you’ve teleported to Asia. Afterward, you may relax in one of their large hammocks or lounge chairs in the meditation space and nourish your body with one of their organic, raw, pressed juices.

Anguilla truly is the perfect destination to enjoy some of the best beaches in the world and escape the hustle and bustle of daily life.

Affordable Things to Do in Anaheim

Traveling through California is an adventure – seeing new and exciting things, meeting new people, and learning about the culture of the local community. If you’re not careful, though, it can also drain your wallet. But fear not! We have tips on how to enjoy an affordable yet incredible trip to Anaheim, California. Read on for our favorite things to see and do while staying in this lovely Orange County city on a budget.

Anaheim GardenWalk
Known as Anaheim’s entertainment hub, the GardenWalk is a free destination that has everything that you’d need to enjoy your day or night out, all in the center of the Anaheim Resort Area. With palm trees lining the entire outdoor shopping area, it’ll feel like summer all year long, even in the chillier months. Here, you’ll find several well-known restaurants, shops, two dance clubs, and dozens of gorgeous murals from local artists. Don’t forget your cameras so you can capture the unique art throughout the shopping center, and make sure to tag the artists! GardenWalk is best accessed by car, and you can find directions here.

Santa Ana Zoo
Meet exotic furry friends at the Santa Ana Zoo (SAZOO) at Prentice Park. Located a short 10-minute drive from Anaheim, SAZOO boasts 20 acres of nature, animals, and exotic plants from all over Central and South America. Spend the day exploring the park and getting up close and personal with the 120 different species and 350 individual animals at the zoo. While you’re here, bring your snacks and enjoy a picnic in the park among the wildlife. The zoo hosts affordable events year-round, so be sure to check out the website to stay up-to-date on all the exciting news and events. At the time of publishing, ticket prices are $12 for adults, and $9 for children and seniors.

The Rinks Anaheim ICE
Grab your gloves and put on your favorite sweater as you get ready to have some fun on the ice. The Rinks at Anaheim ICE is an indoor ice-skating rink that is open for public skating and hosts events all year round, rain or shine. Whether you’re a pro skater or just starting out, the Rinks has sessions for everyone. Stop by the snack shop for a cozy cup of hot cocoa before heading out on the ice. Don’t have skates? Not to worry – the rink has over 1,000 pairs of professionally maintained hockey and figure skates available for rent at very affordable prices. At the time of publishing, admission costs are $12 for general 16-54 years, $10 for youth 5-15 years, $8 for under 5 with skates, and $8 for seniors 55+. Skate rentals are $5. View their public skating calendar here.

Aquarium of the Pacific
Take a journey through the mysterious ocean and meet all kinds of sea creatures at the Aquarium of the Pacific. You won’t believe how many different types of species there are to discover, and there is no better way to learn about them than in the state-of-the-art facilities just outside of Anaheim, in Long Beach, California. At the time of publishing, general admission cost starts at $34.95 for adults and $24.95 for children. However, the aquarium has special discounted hours in the evening on specific dates, so check out their calendar of events to find out when to visit (and save some money!).

How to get around Anaheim on a Budget
The city of Anaheim has partnered with the Anaheim Resort Transit, also known as the ART Shuttle. The shuttle takes you all over the city of Anaheim, including Disneyland®, the Anaheim Convention Center, the GardenWalk, and so much more. Round trip adult tickets are only $6.50 and $2 for children and seniors. You can view their routes and schedule here.

If you find yourself in the Center City of Downtown Anaheim, request FRAN – Free Rides Around the Neighborhood. This free micro-transit system takes you around the city in electric cars and is available with just a few taps on your phone. All you need to do is download the app. Instead of searching for a place to park, take FRAN and travel for free!

Having fun in Anaheim doesn’t mean spending your savings away, as the city offers an array of entertainment for everyone in your family at reasonable prices. Boredom doesn’t exist in SoCal, so you’re sure to find activities that will inspire and excite, while still saving money for souvenirs to remember your unforgettable trip!