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California Cruzin’

Let me start this post with a public apology to my mother. If you have or haven’t been following my travels over the last few years, you will have come to know that a lot of my trips have been father-daughter trips. And somehow, over the past 22 years of my life the mother-daughter trip never came to fruition…until now! A little bit of sun, hiking, good food and conversation, this long overdue Mother’s Day/girls weekend/Memorial Day/mother-daughter trip landed us in the stunning Big Sur and Point Reyes.

Big Sur

Type ‘Big Sur’ in Google and you’ll be bombarded with postcard-esque photos of California’s central coast; rugged cliffs, blue waters, and surging waves flowing together in seamless harmony. I’ve heard recommendations from friends and family who went there, but had never gotten the chance to go down myself. In the least clichè way possible, it was everything I could have dreamed of and more.

Important Info:

You definitely need a car to experience Big Sur. Apart from the physical distances between each location, the best part about driving down the coast is the feeling of the ocean breeze playfully blowing across your skin, music blasting out the windows while the sun shines down through the open rooftop as the sun kisses your skin; pure bliss.

You can go one of two ways; north to south or south to north. Highway 1, California’s longest state route is just over 655 miles, but Big Sur is the roughly 90 miles stretching from Carmel to San Simeon. Either way you go, plan ahead as there is limited service throughout and as you get deeper into Big Sur, accommodation can be spendy during peak times so it’s best to stay at one end or the other.

Our Trip:

Since we only had four days, we decided to go north to south, spending two days and one night in the Big Sur area. We arrived in San Jose late afternoon, rented a car, and headed straight to Carmel. Our Airbnb in the Carmel Highlands was so lovely, and is a terrific option for staying in Big Sur without breaking your bank account. There’s a reason it’s called Carmel-by-the-Sea, point in case that the city is literally blocks from the Carolina blue blanket of calm and serenity. After a sunset beachside stroll, La Bicyclette is a romantic, European bistro to grab dinner and settle in to town’s modern charm.

The next morning we woke up bright and early, had a hearty breakfast at Katy’s Place, jumped in the car and started our journey south down Highway 1. In addition to all the stops on the previously mentioned map, some of our favorite hikes/stops were the Valley View Overlook trail at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, which gives you a great sweeping scape of the luscious valley and the Beach Trail at Andrew Molera State Park, a sweet walk (through a creek) leading to a secluded sanctuary of beach. Due to the recent California floods and fires, be sure to check on the California Parks and Recreation website to know ahead of time which trails are open and closed.

Back in town after a long day’s excursion, we decided to treat ourselves at L’Escargot that served country fresh French cuisine in a quaint and intimate setting, to note the frog legs, warm homemade bread and butter, and soup du jour were fantastic. To end the most perfect of days, we watched the sun set along the stunning 17 Mile Drive, which proves an equally stunning sunrise to run in the morning (half marathon training or not). The cost to drive it is about $10 and is completely worth it. Apart from the sea otters, tide pools, and beautiful seascapes, 17 Mile makes it on my list as one of the most scenic coastal drives I’d do over and over again.

Santa Cruz

To me, Santa Cruz is personified in a bronzed, Californian that rides gnarly waves on the beach and says ‘dude’ every 3rd word. In other words, it’s a laid-back, local-loving coastal town with beautiful sandy beaches bordering the Pacific Ocean juxtaposed with the cozy, damp redwoods huddled together in the cool of the mountains. It’s a small city with a lot of character that all can enjoy.

One of the iconic spots in Santa Cruz is the more than 100-year-old boardwalk that is the classic seaside attraction. Founded in 1907, it is California’s oldest surviving amusement park that offers a variety of games, rides, attractions set alongside neighboring volleyball courts, a sandy beach stretch and ocean waves to swim in.

If you’re in the city, downtown Santa Cruz offers a wide range of shopping and events, highlights including watching an independent film at one of the cinemas, listening to some jazz music on the street or learning to salsa dance at Palomar Ballroom. For the nature lover, definitely visit the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park to walk through the acres of giant old-growth redwood trees. The Henry Cowell Redwoods are located in the Santa Cruz Mountains, a little less than 15 minutes away from downtown Santa Cruz and engulf you with forested beauty perfect for fishing, hiking, and camping. Another fantastic option for getting into the woods and exploring nature is the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park, also just a few minutes past the outskirts of Santa Cruz.

My brief time in Santa Cruz has left me with two eats to put on one’s checklist: Taqueria Santa Cruz and West End Tap & Kitchen. Taqueria Santa Cruz is a complete hole-in-the-wall, mostly fit for late nights and cheap eats, but their carne en su jugo is like the pho of Mexican gods. I don’t know what made it so good, but I would travel back just for it. Just as lively with equally delicious food, West End Tap & Kitchen is a Californian gastropub and tap that serves up yummy eats *cough the burger cough* to grab with friends and family in a fun, local setting.

San Jose

My only memories of this town are when I used to pass through for skating trips. Then after, there were a few trips around the area touring colleges and not much else. Nonetheless, there are a few recommendations that I thought I should throw in even if one is passing through. As it deems fit, the seasonal outdoor Toyota Ice Rink is fun activity for everyone with an exciting rink layout. For kids under the age of 10 (or adults that act younger), the San Jose Happy Hollow Park & Zoo is a fun is a small 16-acre zoo and amusement park to play on miniature sized toys or watch an animal show. On a sunny day stroll around the small yet charming Municipal Rose Garden for a sit, chat with friends or even picnic. If you’ve got money to spend, have dinner at incredible, three Michelin-starred restaurant Manresa hidden within the quaint streets of Los Gatos.

San Francisco

This city deserves a post of it’s own, but for time’s sake, here’s a short recap of what I know and love.

Biggest tourist draws but also must-sees include the Fisherman’s Wharf, the Painted Ladies, Haight-Ashbury, Nob Hill, Botanical Garden, Chinatown, Mission District and of course the San Francisco Bridge (whose best viewpoint is on the north side). Whenever I win the lottery and move to San Francisco, I plan on living in Hayes Valley. It’s the hotspot for healthy eats, hipster boutiques, and one of my favorite ice cream places so that’s really all I need. Since we didn’t spend too much time in San Francisco this trip, dinner was the main event before our trip ended and until I make it to Saison, The Progress is where I will be going to in SF.

I have been to a lot of restaurants around the country and world, and asking me to pick one restaurant for one night in San Francisco is like asking me to find a needle in a haystack, near impossible for a foodie like me. After deliberation and filtration, I decided on The Progress for a local, yet semi-gourmet dining experience. The Progress comes from the James Beard Award-winning State Bird Provisions team and chefs Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski that know what they are doing. With a fun write-in menu, everything from the grilled abalone with yuzu-seaweed butter, to the coal-roasted mushrooms and puffed black rice-crusted trout, are dishes I dream (and still dream) about.

Point Reyes

One question: How have I lived my whole life thus far without having visited Point Reyes?

In all ways topographically and geographically different from Big Sur, yet equally breathtaking and radiant, my skin and soul were glowing while visiting this area of Northern California. Point Reyes National Seashore is a large protected cape abundant with rolling hills, peaceful meadows and jaw-dropping seaside cliffs that is a haven for hiking, exploring and wildlife. Whether you want to learn about its bountiful history, indulge in wholesome, organic, good-for-you food, relax among stunning flora and fauna, or just immerse yourself in the most majestic scenery, Point Reyes is sure to leave you in complete awe.

Our first meal was at Saltwater Oyster Depot, a farm-to-table neighborhood restaurant focused on sustainable farmland and seafood, local foragers and thoughtful food that highlights the simplicity and realness of the surrounding community. If there is one restaurant you should go to in Point Reyes, both my mom and I highly recommend Saltwater.

Per recommendations of our lovely Airbnb cottage, we woke up the next morning and headed into town for our West Marin Food and Farm Tour. West Marin is a region known for some of the country’s best artisanal and organic food, and our tour gave us an authentic look and taste into what is being done there. There are few different tour options you can choose on depending on their schedule, from which we chose the Flavors of West Marin Tour. Cheese-tasting, bread-making, honey wine-tasting and more, our tour guide Alex was a jewel and extremely knowledgeable about the local agriculture and food practices. Again, this is the one activity that lets you truly experience the culture and community of food in West Marin that I would recommend to all. When you are finished with the tour, take the time to walk around the shops in the center of Point Reyes Station, like Ink.Paper.Plate, Coyuchi and Palace Market.

In the afternoon, we hiked out to the end of Tomales Bluff from the Historic Pierce Point Ranch. Follow the trail through the Elk Reserve (and see elk!) though be careful as in recent years parts of the end of Tomales Bluff have collapsed. There are so many amazing hikes in this area that I could spend a whole week here and still not do them all. If you have the extra time and you love the outdoors, there are hikes and bike paths galore to spend additional days exploring. Though a little bit pricier and reservations are necessary, dinner at the highly-rated Sir and Star was a delightful meal to end the day with.

The next morning, we stopped by the adorable Inverness Park Market, combined our goodies from the day before and had a lovely brunch before heading out to the Point Reyes Lighthouse. Operating hours vary so check ahead of time and visit when the stairs down to the lighthouse are open. If you get there early enough, there is a cute picnic table at the top of the stairway to bring your brunch and munch on while at the isolated tip of beauty.

Every Thanksgiving and Memorial Day weekend, there is an event called Open Studios, whereby the name describes the event itself; a couple dozen of local artists open their houses and studios to the public for viewing and purchasing art. Anything from wooden sculptures to watercolors to jewelry can be found among these studios and it’s nice to see and support the local art community.

After a magical trip with my mom, if there’s anything I learned from this trip is that one; simplicity and rest make a heart full, and two, my mom’s the best! So thank you mom, for being a person of humility and comfort, and yes, another trip is in session, by no means excluding California.

 

Not Entirely A New York Native

Sixth time’s a charm? Or is it seven? In the least pretentious way, I have lost count of how many times I have been to N.Y.C. And yet, there’s still SO MUCH I have left to see and do. I have done a lot of tourist things, and a lot of non-tourist things; my little 8 year-old self marking the first of many trips east for a variety of occasions. Whether it was to celebrate birthdays, judge wine competitions, or visit family members living in N.Y.C., my travels east have been more frequent than far and few between. And every time, I have a completely different experience, complete with new sights, adventures and food of course. With that said, I felt it was time that I made a mini guide to N.Y.C.

Important to note: one, New York is not just New York City. There is actually a state outside this city ( though I have yet to venture there). And two, the city is constantly changing, therefore some parts of this post may be relevant for a year, max. Nonetheless, some of the activities and sights continue to stand the test of time. With that said, in respect to length and time, here is a somewhat short and condensed guide to N.Y.C. Hope you enjoy!

N.Y.C. Travel Guide

For the Tourist:

Time Square
Grand Central Station
Statue of Liberty
Central Park
Top of the Rock (less expensive and crowded than the Empire State Building)
9/11 Memorial Museum
Walk the Brooklyn Bridge
Shop in Soho
Rockefeller Center
Highline

For the Foodie:

Get a real N.Y.C. bagel (Russ & Daughters, Black Seed, Sadelle’s, Tompkins Square Bagels, Ess-a-Bagel)
Eat pizza in Brooklyn (Roberta’s) or really anywhere good (Prince St. Pizza, Rubirosa, Lombardi’s, Paulie Gee’s)
Splurge at some of the top (Contra, Momofuku Ko, Per Se, Le Bernadin, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Daniel, Gramercy Tavern) and world’s best restaurant (Eleven Madison Park)
Try weird N.Y.C. desserts (cronut at Dominque Ansel Bakery, crack pie from Milk Bar, avocado ice cream toast, etc. )
Check out award-winning food trucks (Wafels & Dinges, Korilla BBQ, The Cinnamon Snail, Luke’s Lobster, The Halal Guys, Van Leeuwen Ice Cream Truck, etc.)
Dig your fork into a real New York steak at a classic steakhouse (Keen’s Steakhouse, Delmonico’s, Peter Luger)
If it’s summer, head on over to Smorgasburg in Brooklyn
Eat your way through a food hall like Urbanspace Vanderbilt, Gotham West Market, The Plaza or my absolute favorite Chelsea Market
Travel to Italy in Eataly or to France in Le District

*If I HAD to name 5 restaurants at the top of my list in the current moment, they would be Banter NYC, Blue Ribbon Brasserie, Seamore’s, Keen’s Steakhouse, and Roberta’s

For the Family: 

Central Park Zoo (or Bronx Zoo)
Coney Island boardwalk
Children’s Museum of Manhattan
People watch at Washington Square Park
Walk the Highline or Brooklyn Bridge
Bundle up and spend your Thanksgiving at the Macy’s Day Parade

For the Millennial

Shop at all the cute boutiques in Williamsburg
Artists and Fleas (one in Chelsea Market, Soho and Williamsburg)
Snap a photo in front of the Friend’s apartment
Take in the view from a rooftop bar
Wake up for an early morning concert hosted by the GMA or Today show summer series
Sit on the steps of Constance from Gossip Girl at the Museum of the City of New York
Get an Instagram-worthy shot at the Oculus, Dumbo (intersection of Washington Street and Front Street) or the Flatiron building
Think in Pink at Pietro Nolita or Cafe Henrie

For the Health Nut:

Run the west highway/Hudson River park
Grab a colorful acai bowl with all the toppings (Agavi, Pure Green)
Visit niche health food stores/restaurants (Brodo, Hu Kitchen, Dig Inn, Chalait, Westside Market)
Get your toast on from an Aussie cafe (Banter NYC, Two Hands Cafe, Bluestone Lane)
Take a fun fitness class (305 Fitness, SoulCycle, Barry’s Bootcamp, SLT, Phitting Room, etc.)
Check out the Union Square farmer’s market
Brunch it up (Banter NYC, De Maria, Jack’s Wife Freda, Friedman’s, Seamore’s)
Or grab a delicious farm-to-table dinner (Forager’s Table, The Little Beet Kitchen)

For the Artist:

Take in the bohemian vibes of Greenwich Village
People watch at a coffee shop like Devoción
All of the amazing museums like MoMa, Guggenheim, American Museum of Natural History, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art
Stock your dream home at ABC Kitchen
Get lost in a bookstore (Housing Works Bookstore Cafe, Strand Bookstore)
Bushwick Collective in Brooklyn
Visit the Cloisters

For the Explorer/Adventure Seeker:

Take the Staten Island ferry
Head up to Queens or Brooklyn
Hammock on over to the Hammock Grove in Governor’s Island
Kayak the Hudson River
Go on a hike outside the city
Zipline in the Bronx Zoo
Ride the Cyclone at Coney Island

For the Culture Afficionado:

Be entertained by the million magnificent Broadway shows (Mamma Mia, Wicked, Phantom of the Opera, Lion King, Hamilton, etc.)
Catch a sporting event (Knicks, Yankees)
Explore Chinatown and Little Italy
Listen to the sounds of the NYC Philharmonic
Kick it with the Rockettes

Other great references for what to do in N.Y.C. : NYCgo, TimeOutHarper’s Bazaar , Thrillist

New York City is definitely the city that never sleeps and the city that never runs of out things to do! From the fashion to the food, New York City’s culture is ironically no culture, as there are so many diverse yet distinct parts that make it up. I, myself, will never turn down a trip to New York… but will always know deep down that there’s a reason they say the west coast is the best coast. 🙂 If you have any other ideas, recommendations or advice on some of your favorite things to do in N.Y.C, let me know!

Hiking Guide: Washington Edition

Spring is finally here, which means summer is nearing, which really means hiking season is starting! While crossing seas can be exhilarating, sometimes the best adventures are within a 100-mile radius of the city I call home. Living in the PNW (Pacific Northwest, for those of you living in the stone age or those of you not from OR, ID or WA), our topography is abundant with opulent mountains, alpine meadows, and jaw-dropping landscapes; arguably, but unarguably, the best hiking in the U.S. The way the crisp, clean air fills your lungs, the way the evergreens engulf you in a never-ending hug, the way each step takes you further away from the noise and closer to semi-silent bliss.

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while and to be honest, this post is more for my aging memory than for you all, but I do love sharing how beautiful this state is and the nature that makes it up. Hiking is more than a hobby for me, it’s a relief and escape, a way to get closer to God, to others, and to myself. So, I’ve compiled a list of all the hikes I have been on thus far, in hopes that I can convince you to get out hiking this season, or better yet, join me in crossing off a list of new ones!

Lake 22 

Distance: 5.4 mi RT

Elevation Gain: 1350 ft.

Location: North Cascades

Company: Greta + friends

Notes: For Greta’s 22nd birthday, we hiked Lake 22 (complete with Taylor Swift’s “22” on repeat). I wasn’t expecting to like this hike as much as I did. I mean I knew it would be great, but this was GREAT. Forewarning, we went during May and it turned into more snowshoeing than hiking as we were sliding on ice and trekking through snow at the top. Nonetheless, the glass reflection of the mountains on the lake make you want to do it 22 times more.

Colchuck Lake

Distance: 8.0 mi RT

Elevation Gain: 2280 ft.

Location: Central Cascades

Company: Derek

Notes: This is by far one of my favorite, if not favorite hikes. Though it started off with the wrong hike (to be featured later), it was beyond worth it to turn that last corner and step into a meeting between heaven and earth. Being in such close proximity of the fabled Enchantments, it only makes sense these views captivate one’s eyes and soul to the deepest parts. The last leg of the trip is pretty tough, but just when you think you’re about to give up, you are greeted by crystal turquoise waters set below grand spires and the overwhelming peace of nature. Bring lunch (you’ve earned it!) and plan to spend a couple hours enjoying the breathtaking views.

Diablo Lake

Distance: 7.6 mi RT

Elevation Gain: 1400 ft.

Location: North Cascades

Company: Sarah

Notes: If you look up pictures of Diablo Lake on the internet,  you’ll see what looks like overly-filtered photos of an incredibly blue lake. Do not be mistaken, as these are what the actually lake looks like; UNREAL. The day we went the clouds shaded the sun a bit, but on a bright sunny day, the almost see-through sea green blue takes your breath away and it is encouraged to take at least 1000 pictures to prove it is real.

There are two parts to this lake, the hike and the lookout. After reading reviews, we came to the conclusion that the entire hike was not worth it, as the best views were about halfway into the hike. The trailhead is in an inconspicuous location, after crossing a dam and past some boat docks, but right before you enter the North Cascades National Park. When you come to a fork in the road, the trail heads right, not left, as we found ourselves lost the first 20 minutes by going left. Nonetheless, about an hour down the right trail, we found an open space to enjoy lunch and sit in the swaying silence. If you aren’t up for the hike and just want to admire the views from a far, there is an incredible panoramic vista point on the east end of the lake, accessible by following Highway 20.

Eightmile Lake

Distance: 6.6. mi RT

Elevation Gain: 1300 ft.

Location: Central Cascades

Company: Derek

Notes: This hike was not intentionally planned, but due to the misguidance of Derek’s directions, we ended up starting this hike thinking it was Colchuck Lake. About 2.8 miles into the hike with cranky attitudes, we turned around, realizing only after the fact that we stopped 0.2 miles short of the actual lakes. I don’t even know if this photo was from that hike. Plus, who names a six mile hike Eightmile Lake? Despite my shortcomings with this, the part that we did hike was pleasant and I’m sure the lakes are as lovely as others (not us of course) say they are.

Glacier Basin

Distance: 6.5 mi RT

Elevation Gain: 1600 ft.

Location: Mt. Rainier- NE

Company: Derek

Notes: WOW WOW WOW. I seriously loved this hike. This was not your typical uphill hike, as a lot of was traversing over rock and dirt to, well, a big ol’ basin. Playing in fields of flowers and cold, clear glacier water made this hike the epitome of a summer hike in Washington. The wide open meadows to the little details of picking flowers and feeding chipmunks made this hike one I just felt complete happiness while hiking. If you want to enjoy this site for more than a day, be sure to check out the Glacier Basin wilderness camp to stay overnight or make a loop trip out of it.

Heybrook Lookout 

Distance: 2.6 miles RT

Elevation Gain: 850 ft.

Location: Central Cascades

Company: Kiersten, Sarah, Tyler, Dakota

Notes: This hike was cold and wet and rainy, and I was tired and cranky, but good company and portable hot chocolate can save any day. If you want a short hike with great views, this is a good hike for all skill levels. Bring some extra snacks for when you reach the top of the lookout to feed birds right out of your hands. Feel free to explore the surrounding areas for some different scenery and discovery.

Kendall Katwalk

Distance: 12 mi RT

Elevation Gain: 2600 ft.

Location: Snoqualmie

Company: Mark + Sarah

Notes: This one was a long one that I thought I was prepared for, but I don’t think I actually was…but oh was it worth it. THE VIEWSSS. I actually think it was closer to 14.5 mi, if you include the walk from the road to the trailhead. Plan for an early start to a full day and don’t forget your water, as even the strongest and fittest will get a fair workout by hiking this. With a long hike like this, it’s definitely recommended to take your time stopping at different viewpoints and not rush to the top, as part of the beauty is in the journey. Beyond the stunning mountain views, you’ll know you’re at the katwalk, a narrow pathway with jaw-dropping views of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and Gold Creek Valley on either side. If you want, you can continue an extra 1.25 miles past Kendall peak to a pair of lakes.

Little Si

Distance: 4.7 mi RT

Elevation Gain: 1300 ft.

Location: Snoqualmie

Company: Michaelle, Kate, Kara, Trinity, Allie

Notes: I first hiked this with my core group from The INN at UPC, such a wonderful group of girls and great bonding experience on an easy and fun hike. Little brother to neighboring Mt. Si, Little Si proves most of it’s difficulty in just the last bit, making the rest of the hike popular among family and crows alike. I would suggest this hike along with Rattlesnake Ledge and Teneriffe Falls as easy half-day hikes that everyone will enjoy.  While the hike itself doesn’t have the wow factor as others, the grand finale is a surprise as you are rewarded with phenomenal portraits of the valley and nearby Mt. Si and Mt. Washington.

Melakwa Lake

Distance: 8.5 mi RT

Elevation Gain: 2500 ft.

Location: Snoqualmie

Company: David

Notes: Melakwa is Chinook for “mosquito”. So yes, bring the bug spray, but don’t let that deter you from taking on this hike. It starts out wide and easy, then gets rocky and steep at the end, which leads you to a quite pleasant view. This lake plus mountain combination was a bit on the smaller scale in comparison to other mountaintops I have been to, but I wouldn’t disregard it as any less. The feeling of snugness and safety is a well-kept secret within this mysterious and magical space.

Rattlesnake Ledge

Distance: 4.0 mi RT

Elevation Gain: 1160 ft.

Location: Snoqualmie

Company: A lot of people

Notes: This is the classic Seattle hike. Moderately easy hike, well-maintained, very popular with people of all ages and ability.  I’ve been three times and would say it is a good “bang-for-your-buck” hike. Sweeping views of the lake below, I love taking friends who have never been to Seattle on this one, though due to its popularity can easily become overcrowded. Nonetheless, it seems to be the hike with the longest hike-able season so that’s always a plus.

Mt. Rainier

Distance: ?

Location: Mt. Rainier

Company: Makayla

Notes: I don’t even know what this hike was called. A few years ago in July, my family, Makayla and I lodged in Paradise at the top of Mt. Rainier for a mountain getaway. Of course, the one day we decided to go hiking, it is pouring rain (dully noted, Seattle) so we stopped short. If you have the time, I am a huge advocate for staying a couple of days or even a long weekend to explore all the amazing hikes Mt. Rainier has to offer.

Lake Serene

Distance: 8.2 mi RT

Elevation Gain: 2000 ft.

Location: Central Cascades

Company: Bekah, Lauren, Jason, Kirk, Andi, Tate, Spencer

Notes: The reason you are seeing a picture of us standing on a big flat rock is because that is the only thing we could see when we finally made it up this hike huffing and puffing. From what pictures say about Lake Serene, it seems to be a beautiful expanse of aqua blue covering the base of ascending, snow-tipped peaks. As of now, I cannot say I have seen that same lake, or any lake at all, as my back-to-school hike mid-October with eager friends ended up in an opaque blanket of fog. Halfway up, you can take a side detour to see Bridal Veil Falls, something I recommend visiting on the way up while you still have energy, in case the same fate awaits you. Pack snacks, be prepared for the adventure, and remember it’s about the journey and not the destination (unless the destination is super rad then yes, it’s about the destination.)

IMPORTANT: As of 3/21/18, this trail is closed until 7/1/18.

Teneriffe Falls

Distance: 5.4 RT

Elevation Gain: 1585 ft.

Location: Snoqualmie

Company: Chelsea

Notes: This was a sweet hike perfect for a sunny day. A neighbor to Little Si, it’s got the ease of Little Si with less tourists and equally stunning and simple views. Not too far from Seattle, it’s the perfect hike for the whole family, or best of friends. Go in the spring so that the falls are full and flowing.

Tolmie Peak

Distance: 7.5 RT

Elevation Gain: 1100 ft.

Location: Mount Rainier- NW

Company: Jackie

Notes: It was mostly a miracle by God that the weather at the beginning of October made this hike absolutely magical. I’ve wanted to do this hike for so long and as you should know, one of the first rules is hiking is go with good company, so early in Jackie and I’s forever friendship we headed south to what I would say is one of my favorite hikes in terms of views. The first 0.5 mile and we knew it was off to a great start as we passed the crystal blue Mowich Lake whose calmness and vibrant color easily reeled us in for a return. All you need to know is that Tolmie Peak has the most EPIC views of Mt. Rainier, it doesn’t even look real. There is also a fire lookout at the top, I felt so close to Mt. Rainier that I could have touched it!

To-Do Hikes 

Mailbox Peak

Mt. Pilchuck

Ice Caves

Olympics

Blanca Lake

Skyline Trail

Summit Lake

If you have any other recommendations, let me know!

 

C’est La Vietnam

My first time in Asia! (Apart from being born in China, that is.) Still, I consider it my first as it was my first time flying west versus east for a trip. Anyways, I should give some background to how it all started…

You remember that time in whatever class it was that you were forced to learn about a subject that you had absolutely no care about and convinced yourself there was no need for that kind of knowledge outside of that class in the “real world”? Well sometimes, you actually do need that knowledge and you secretly have to thank whoever it was that made you learn about it. Take myself for example; saving the easiest international business course for my last quarter of college. Halfway through the quarter, we are split into groups and each assigned a random country to do a in-depth country analysis and report on. What country do we get? Vietnam. Up until that point, I knew about one word in Vietnamese and it was pho (which I also had not actually ever had.) Other than that, my knowledge of Vietnam was minimal, if exaggerating. Fast forward an A+, a few friends taking graduation trips to southeast Asia and some time off work, the slight mention of Vietnam paired with the annual father daughter trip kicking in early this year had my dad and I heading out New Year’s Day for my first trip to Asia.

Tips Before Traveling to Vietnam:

Bring a long skirt/pant/something to cover knees and shoulders at temples/pagodas.

Research and plan for travel time between locations, i.e. Sapa is a beautiful trip from Hanoi, but 9 hours one way.

Be prepared for humid temp. i.e. mosquitoes.

If you’re going to be in the jungle or remote areas, you may need shots, minimum a month out.

Don’t forget to apply for a Vietnam visa, which you can do here.

Lonely Planet’s Best of Vietnam guide is really helpful to hit all the hotspots in a short amount of time.

Hoi An:

This quaint lantern-lit city was my favorite city out of our trip. Even though people say Hoi An is a bit touristy, if you go outside the busy main street, there is a humility and gentle placidness to this coastal town. Situated on the Thu Bon River, the “Yellow City” of Vietnam mixes Vietnamese, Chinese, and Japanese culture through colonial style. The sound of brooms sweeping storefronts at six in the morning sets the backdrop for a charming day within the hustle and bustle of Old Town. For us, the most perfect of mornings was spent waking up in our lovely hotel at The Quin Riverside Villa and renting bikes for a pedal around the sleepy town yet to rise. Stop for a Vietnamese coffee (the best kind of coffee) before walking through the market or riding across bridges and through the little streets lined with small shops and local boutiques.

Our very first meal in Vietnam was at Bale Well and well… it was dang good. There is only one option; a wrap-your-own-roll banh xeo with shrimp spring rolls, grilled pork satay, fresh herbs, some amazing sauce, and rice paper so need to worry about what to order, just order a drink, sit back, and stuff your face to your heart’s desire. It’s a bit hard to find, but once found you’ll find yourself amidst many locals and foreigners alike all enjoying a yummy meal.

Hoi An food culture is as colorful and lively as the buildings that make it up. Skip Anthony Bourdain’s banh mi recommendation and save your hunger for the ultimate feast in the form of a cooking class. To experience and taste the best of Hoi An food (and honestly some of our favorite food the whole trip), we more than recommend Golden Lotus Cooking School for a once-in-a-lifetime cooking experience. Probably my favorite meal of the whole trip was cao lau, Hoi An’s noodle specialty, which your very own chose and cooked for our whole cooking class. Our first choice for the Green Bamboo Cooking School had no more available spots, but Golden Lotus and Linh’s intelligence, kindness, and leadership went beyond our expectations. Though we did not do them, other Hoi An activities include taking advantage of the fantastic (and cheap) tailoring services, visiting the My Son ruins or the Tra Que vegetable village. Take note there is no airport or train station in Hoi An, it is only accessible by road. The closest main city is Danang from which you can taxi or bus to Hoi An.

Hue:

Since we travelled south to north, there were a few ways to get between Hue and Hoi An. If you have the time and funds, without a doubt I would say a motorbike tour is the preferred and most fun way to travel. The best motorbike tour from Hoi An to Hue (or vis versa) is Le Family Riders, which gives you the opportunity to ride a motorbike, solo or with a personal driver, to travel across the Hai Van Pass to Hue. I cannot express how much fun we had doing this, along with all the fun stops and top sights in between.

Having been the country’s capital up until 1945, Hue is still known as the Imperial City. A lot of present day Hue is shaped by its past, as history continues to treasure the numerous pagodas, monuments, and temples spread across the small city. The most notable royal structure is the Forbidden Purple City; enclosed by the high stoned-wall Citadel and home of the  Nguyen Emperors until 1945. Other top sights include the Tombs of the Emperors and Thien Mu Pagoda, of which you can visit from a wonderful and relaxing Perfume River boat tour as well. The influence of the imperial dynasty is reflected in it’s cuisine, as many dishes are the same dishes that were served to the Emperor. Hanh restaurant is a good one stop shop to try all of Hue specialities, such as nem lui and banh beo. For those with a little more spine, visit the Dong Ba Market where amidst hassling vendors you can find a tiny stall complete with tiny chairs to sit down and have some of the best Hue beef noodle soup, bun bo Hue. 

We stayed at the Scarlett Boutique Hotel, which was a fantastic location for visiting sights in the day and experiencing the nightlife around the city center. If you need a slower afternoon, take an off the beaten path excursion to unwind at the riverside Cafe Tre Nga for a Vietnamese coffee then dip back to the hotel for a nice, relaxing massage. Had we planned a second day in Hanoi, we would have definitely done a day trip to Paradise Caves.

Ninh Binh/Tam Coc:

Since Vietnam is so big, it can be difficult to make it to those smaller, lesser known gems in the countryside, but the minute I saw pictures of Tam Coc I knew I had to go no matter how difficult.

In the words of my dad, for a “rustic and authentic” experience, booking tickets for the overnight sleeper train is a cheap and somewhat efficient way of traveling around the country. Ninh Binh is not much more than a city, but is the closest major station to get where you really want to stay in Tam Coc, which is about 4 km away. Tam Coc is also known as the Halong Bay of Land, with limestone rock formations towering over serene rice paddies and rivers running through caves. Though we didn’t get to visit Halong Bay, this natural paradise is arguably a more accessible and more authentic experience than the tourist-filled latter.

Our stay at the Mountain Lake Homestay was a dream. It is a family run homestay, the lodges are extremely clean and spacious, and the hospitality is impeccable. The family is so sweet, they treat you like one of their own and are truly happy to help you in any and all ways. From our homestay, we were able to enjoy all the main activities like biking to Bich Dong Pagoda, hiking the 500 steps to the top of Mua Cave, and my favorite, taking a boat tour through the Trang An Grottoes. To partake in the local food, Ninh Binh/Tam Coc is known for their delicious goat dishes which can found at both Thuy Linh and Father Cooking restaurant.

Hanoi:

Otherwise known as the capital of Vietnam, Hanoi is the city of in northern Vietnam. Though I have yet to visit Ho Chi Minh City, myself and many others share the notion that Hanoi has a more original, distinctive culture and history than compared to its more modernized and populated southern counterpart. Hanoi is dynamic and ancient, with handicraft traditional villages like the ceramics and pottery of Bat Trang or the silver-making street Hang Bac intertwined with cultural relics and picturesque scenery. There are many things to do and see in Hanoi such as visiting the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (he’s literally in there) or walking around Hoan Kiem Lake, but most of the action lives within in the Old Quarter, a chaotic maze of energy and life. The best way to see the Old Quarter is just walking around on foot, exploring each nook and cranny for yourself.

And within Old Quarter is food. Lots of food. Lots of good food. And lots of amazing food. In Hanoi, street food is king. Like the architecture, Vietnam is still heavily influenced by the French, which can also be seen in Vietnamese food. Weaved within narrow alleyways and busy sidewalks, the best food is found across a range of family-owned restaurants and local vendors. For newbies, you can go on a street food tour, but since you’re reading a total foodie’s blog, I’ve compiled a short and sweet beginner’s guide of must-try foods in Hanoi and the best place to get them. You’re welcome.

Soleil’s Mini Food Guide to Hanoi

Pho: Anywhere. But it’s pretty popular here.

Pho Gia Truyen Bat Dan: 49 Bat Dan

Cha ca: I love fish and so do the Vietnamese. This dish is where they fry a delicate, fatty white fish in turmeric with dill and green onion and it’s really freaking delicious. We went here twice. The original place is at Cha Ca La Vong, but this is much much much better.

Cha Ca Thang Long: 19-21-31 Duong Thanh, Hoan Kiem

Egg coffee: Vietnamese coffee + egg + piece of heaven. It tastes like a liquid creme brulee.

Giang Cafe: 39 Nguyễn Hữu Huân, Hàng Bạc, Hoàn Kiếm

Banh mi: Vietnamese subway sandwich. This is tricky as each person has their personal preference, but I’d have to say my favorite was at Bami Bread. Finding the ‘perfect’ banh mi can be tricky as different regions of Vietnam prepare it differently, but can also be fun as each individual seeks out their own.

Bami Bread: 98 Hang Bac 

Bun cha: Pork noodle soup with fresh herbs. You cannot, I repeat not, leave Hanoi with eating it. And this is absolutely the best place to get it. Alleyway, inconspicuous, unassuming, the flavors of gods.

Bun Cha Hang Quat: 74 Hang Quat

You definitely want to stay in the middle of Old Quarter for all the action, and there is no better place to stay than the Diamond King Hotel. Of all however many countries I’ve travelled to so far, the hospitality and service at The Diamond King Hotel is at the top. Their genuine kindness welcomes you in and their sincerity is overwhelming. We came in as guests and left as friends, I would stay there again and again.

Beyond Old Quarter, Hanoi also has a French Quarter on the southern end of Hoan Kiem Lake, which is home to many wide-open streets, high-end shopping, and grand government buildings. Head west for a little thrill at Hanoi’s “Train Street”, a street where locals going about their daily life with a train whizzing by a couple inches from their front door. Two trains run a day, at 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., so you want to get there about a half hour early to get a lay of the land and choose your prime photo-taking point. There are a few spots you can watch the train from, but the main train street lies on a small street between Kham Tien and Le Duan, the exact lane called Ngo 224 Le Duan. If you have time to venture outside of the city center, head on over to The Hanoi Bicycle Collective to rent a bike and spend a half, or full, day biking around West Lake, stopping for coffee, feeling the cool lake breeze, and exploring the many pleasant attractions.

Main Takeaways:

There’s more to Vietnamese food than pho and banh mis.

Prior to this trip, other than Peruvian food, my favorite food was Vietnamese food, but now I know my view was very limited and I now have a whole new belief system in what and how delicious Vietnamese food is. At home, I don’t usually eat soup, noodles, or pork, and yet dishes like cao lau and bun cha I still have dreams about. Oh and fresh spring rolls. Never forget the fresh spring rolls.

I look Vietnamese.

I kid you not, I had at least 8 Vietnamese people tell me I look Vietnamese. I disagree and have no idea what to do with this information.

The Vietnamese people are extremely hard-working.

Exploring cities in the early morning, eating on the street, and getting away from the crowds gave me an incredibly clear and honest look into the discipline that the Vietnamese have for every task they do. The vegetables that we so easily pick up at the grocery store are brought into the market balanced on the backs of old women from miles away. The reconstruction of villages are built off of determination for improving and positive change in their communities. Most importantly, I see the perseverance deep in their souls from the pain and trauma of the Vietnam War that has been turned into a beautiful glory of hope in their people that shows in their work and daily life.

The Vietnamese people are incredibly kind, sincere, and hospitable.

Especially since I work in the service industry, my whole perspective on service and hospitality has been rewired due to the overwhelming kindness of the Vietnamese people. Where I work, we have a very high standard for saying the right thing and being precise at every single moment. This all has a place and time, and I am thankful for those standards, but I have also been reminded that you don’t always have to know everything or say everything perfect, parallel to the Vietnamese speaking English or lack thereof, but that one feels most welcomed by the intention of the host. I felt the excitement from the Vietnamese every time I walked in the door and their silly grins of happiness made me smile. Not only were they genuinely happy to serve me, but they were also proud of what they were doing. They were proud of their country. It was such an honor to be on the receiving end of the pride that welcomed me to their country.

Family is not taken for granted.

In a country like Vietnam, rural and even metropolitan areas are not as  with material things. Whether it be social media or large houses, the Vietnamese people don’t have much space physically or egotistically to waste effort on, so with the little space they do have, they use it for family. Gathering for dinner all together on the street at the end of the night to running full businesses together, the way they do life together and for each other is gracious and inspiring. Not to mention, it made me that much more grateful for the awesome family I do have, like my dad!

Go to Vietnam!

It’s super duper cheap, the natural beauty is incredible, the people are one-of-a-kind and the food is out of this world! I don’t know how much more convincing you need; seriously I’m planning my return as I type this. In all honesty, I would say it’s in the top 5 places I’ve travelled. The culture and food and community and food and scenery and food… oh and did I mention food? One of my New Year’s resolutions was to ‘travel somewhere new’ and I’d say 2018 is off to one hell of a start. Here’s to the next 350 days of adventures and crossing off more of those resolutions…maybe multiple times.

 

2018, Here I Am

So remember that whole ‘December Detox’ thing I was going for? Well in complete honesty, it failed. Not every part of it, but a lot of it. Things I did accomplish: No social media, sleeping more, treating myself once a week to something relaxing. Wooo! The others on the list, no so much. But that doesn’t mean I am a failure. Rather, I am human.

Here’s a fun fact: as humans, our brain has a negativity bias (!). This means our brains are wired to be more tuned into negative news than positive. From the earliest era of our existence, this podcast explains it well in that when presented with positive versus negative news, our brains latch onto the negative, and casually dismiss the positive. This way of thinking in times of danger has helped us survive, but in today’s world, it is extremely destructive. This last year has had many lows, both publicly and personally, but that is all the more reason to celebrate and reflect on the positive.

My 2017 Highlights

I travelled out of the country! With the best people ever.

I crossed off new hikes! In the most beautiful places ever. Including best people ever.

I graduated from college! From the best place ever. Extra best people ever. ( I almost forgot this one!)

I got my first job! At the best place ever. Even more best people ever.

I got my first apartment! In the best place ever. Add to list of best people ever.

I spent high quality time with my friends (old and new) and family. Legit best people ever.

Okay, I’m seeing a theme here. I get to do life with THE BEST PEOPLE EVER. Not until I sat here writing this, did I realize how much of my life is based on the people I am surrounded by. So to you my co-workers, housemates, family, friends near and far, you are responsible for my energy, happiness, fulfillment, joy, and all around wellbeing. I hope our time together and relationships only continue to grow and develop because I really do love ya’ll so much.

Now comes the negativity bias. While the people around me are all there and well, if I am being completely honest, I am not. Long story short, I have been struggling with body image, mental health and other evils I am still fighting. I have come to the hard realization but also beautiful truth of the false lie that has been ever present throughout my life; that is:

I believe being imperfect messes things up.

It’s something so deeply rooted in me that it would take years to explain, and unfortunately, has led to many vicious thoughts and behaviors upon myself over time. Yet on the flip side, this year I have leaned into vulnerability more than ever, which has most definitely involved a crap ton of tears, both privately and publicly (like in front of all 100 coworkers publicly), but there is something so invigorating  about the release of holding onto something that you have been holding on to for so long and letting your heart flood out only for the support of your family and friends to put new life and love in.

According to my horoscope (thanks Greta), apparently this year’s theme for me is taking hold of the reigns of the “wellness wagon”. As silly as that sounds, I’m taking it to heart and putting my own health and wellness first and foremost. My health and wellbeing has always been important to me growing up and this last year, while I may have seemed okay on the outside, the insides were far from it. Not just this year, but from here on forever more, I am committing to taking the steps that I need to take to make me feel like my best self, inside and out. Along the way, I will fail and I’m accepting the fact that that’s alright, because I am human. 

Nonetheless, to be open and honest with you all, here are not my resolutions, but rather…

MY 2018 INTENTIONS:

Meditate in the morning

Travel somewhere new

Eat less red meat and more vegetables

Practice mindfulness

Sit with emotions

Talk with Jesus more

Talk about Jesus more

Get my creative juices flowing

Do some drastic change in appearance

Embrace imperfection

Be a badass

I’m not quite entirely sure what all these will look like, but I have a feeling I will do them as imperfectly and humanly as possible with probably the best people ever.