How to Visit Charleston, South Carolina

best things to do in charleston south carolina

Wedding season is upon us. (Though honestly, does it ever really end?). One of my favorite parts of this blessed time, besides the celebration of love, obviously, is being able to travel to different cities and destinations to join in the festivities of marriage. Needless to say, I was more than ecstatic to head to Charleston, south Carolina for a family wedding in early June. Not a totally original concept, we later learned that there are dozens of weddings scheduled in the city every weekend, not to mention the number of engagement photo shoots and bachelor/bachelorette parties scattered throughout. It might be that Charleston just sparks the feeling of love…or that it’s the fourth largest drinking city in the U.S. Either one. Regardless the reason, the draping Spanish moss over the giant live oak trees covering historic cobbled alleyways sure does make for a pretty backdrop.

Sunset at Mount Pleasant
Mount Pleasant Sunset

Mount Pleasant
After flying in from D.C. Thursday night (and a quick outfit change in the Charleston airport), we were lucky enough to be picked up by Dan’s parents to head directly over to the rehearsal dinner in Mount Pleasant. This gorgeous, quaint suburb outside of Charleston is the home to numerous restaurants, The Boone Hall Plantation and stunning lakeside mansions. Just across the infamous Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, Mount Pleasant is the perfect place to park your car to enjoy the sunset on top of the bridge itself. We indulged in real southern bbq, and took in all the sweet tea we could while catching up with friends and family.

Magnolia Plantations and Gardens in Charleston, South Carolina
Magnolia Plantations and Gardens

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens
Since the wedding wasn’t until later in the evening, we rented a car for the day to head out to Magnolia Plantation and Gardens. Founded in 1676 by the Drayton family, this historic home is surrounded with vibrant gardens, enchanting bridges and feisty peacocks, among the many other animals that roam the grounds freely.

peacock at Magnolia Plantations and Gardens in Charleston, South Carolina
Peacock at Magnolia

We opted to purchase the day pass as well as a ticket for the tram that takes your around the greenery while providing useful knowledge for when exploring on your own later on. Plus, it was much more enjoyable to see the gators from behind the vehicle. Give yourself a few hours to roam the unique petting zoo, and stroll along the picturesque bridges.

Charleston Wedding
Charleston Wedding

After cleaning up from a day at the Magnolia, we attended the wedding ceremony as a church in Mount Pleasant and then headed over to the Cigar Factory in Downtown Charleston for the reception. Starting with delicious appetizers and ending with a night full of dancing and sparklers, it was full of the southern charm Charleston is known for. The following morning the celebration continued with a delightful brunch at the bride’s parents’ home. Views of the water channels and plenty of biscuits to go around is the only way to start a day in South Carolina.

View from Mount Pleasant Brunch
Mount Pleasant, SC

Downtown Charleston
After parting ways with family and friends, we checked into our hotel downtown and got ready to explore the city. A leisurely walk to the south end led us through charming homes, ornately decorated buildings and delicious restaurants on every corner.

Spoleto Festival in charleston SC
Spoleto Festival

Spoleto Festival USA
On our walk, we stumbled though the Spoleto Festival, which includes live music, art tents and exhibits along with and food trucks galore. We wondered in and out of the booths until the heat began to get to us.

The Historic Charleston City Market
Seeking out some air conditioning, we walked down to the Historic Charleston City Market before our scheduled afternoon tour. Neatly four blocks long, this urban icon is filled with homemade gifts and souvenirs for anyone and everyone. We loved watched the sweetgrass baskets being made (a highly sought after art form only made in a few places!) as well as trying on the oversized hats and bowties. It wasn’t long until we took part in a local favorite, sweet tea, and headed over for our carriage tour a block over.

Old South Carriage Tour in Charleston, SC
Old South Carriage Tour

Carriage Tour
We opted to book a tour with Old South Carriage Tours, one of the most highly rated companies in the city. A step back into history, this is the best way to get an overview of the city before deciding on where you’d like to spend the rest of your stay. If you’re concerned about the treatment of these horses pulling the carriages (like me!), make sure you check out my instagram here explaining the humane treatment of these businesses. Learning more about the history and settlement of this city made the culture even richer. We also passes a few mansions that we jotted down to visit later on. Despite being only an hour, we were able to see all sides of Charleston and the stories behind the old homes and notable buildings.

Rainbow Row in Charleston, SC
Rainbow Row

Rainbow Row
Despite having strolled passed here on our carriage tour, I wanted to stop back around to Rainbow Row for a few more pictures. As you might expect, this streets consists of brightly colored homes that emulate, you guessed it, a rainbow.

After the amount of walking we had accomplished thus far, our stomachs were growling for some seafood. The Charleston Crab House was an obvious choice for their fried crab claws and chilled crab dip. Go big or go home, right?

Theater 99
To cap our night off, we checked last minute for a comedy show downtown. A quick google search led us to Charleston for Morons at Theater 99. This hilarious show definitely gave us the background we were looking for, with a lot of laughter along the way. The schedule changes weekly but definitely make time to fit this into your itinerary. Only being an hour long, we were out of the 6pm show in time for dinner.

While we wondered in and out of a few restaurants for dinner, nothing was striking our fancy. That is, until we were recommend Kaminsky’s, a dessert bar (don’t tell me mom!). Instead of dinner, we decided to split a slice of key lime pie and a chocolate chip cookie sundae. No pictures because we inhaled this way too quickly. Feeling an extra pound of two heavier, we took the long walk back to our hotel to prepare for last day.

Calhoun Mansion Gardens in charleston SC
Calhoun Mansion Gardens

Calhoun Mansion
After sleeping in, we had a leisurely start to the day. since Sunday morning is typically reserved for church, most businesses don’t open until the afternoon. After striking out with a few mansions that didn’t open their doors until 2pm, we settled on the Calhoun Mansion to step inside one of the homes we’d been eyeing on from the sidewalks. Known for it’s numerous movie appearances (Hi, The Notebook!), we purchased a house tour which ended up being more of an unorganized museum. Although the mansion was beautiful, it now just seemed to be a holding place for the art collection of the current wealthy owner. Although the objects were interesting and the rooms were breath-taking, it wasn’t exactly home to the history we were looking for. Like my favorite Yelp review said, it would be on hoarders if it were anywhere else. If your schedule allow,s I would highly recommend visiting the Nathaniel Russell or Edmondston-Alston House which have high ratings and positive recommendations. Luckily, the Calhoun Mansion was near Battery park and we were able to enjoy a walk along the water back up the the market center.

Second Sunday on King Street in charleston SC
Second Sunday on King Street

Second Sunday on King Street
Despite a less than stellar house tour, we unintentionally were in town for the Second Sunday on King Street, a festival that shuts down King Street for pedestrian traffic. Restaurants bring tables and umbrellas out onto the road and musicians stake claim on every street corner. This was the perfect place to soak in as much Charleston as we could before our evening flight. Another round of cold beverages and ice cream and Jeni’s was just the pick me up before we said good bye to another wonderful weekend getaway.

rainbow row 1

Have you ever been to Charleston? Are you more a southerner or a northerner?


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Top Ten Insanely Cheap Places to Visit This Summer

cheap places to travel this summer

It’s something about the steamy hot weather and longer days that have me yearning for a vacation more than usual. Being cooped up inside a windowless room ten months out of the year doesn’t help. As a teacher in my other life, I often restrict my big travel plans for the months of July and August…falling right into the trap of airlines jacking up flights prices for when kids are out of school. Tricky tricky. However, this doesn’t guarantee that you can’t have a magnificent vacation on a budget. It’s easy to see the world no matter what your wallet says if you narrow down your priorities and are willing to make some compromises. Here are the top ten places to book if you’re looking to stretch your dollar.

Chilnualna Falls Trail hike
Chilnualna Falls Trail

Yosemite National Park, California
Although we opted to travel to Yosemite National Park in the spring, it’s just as easy to curb your spending in the summer time. If you book far enough in advance (like a year, seriously) campsites are inexpensive and a functional choice for you stay. As with most national parks, it’s best to grocery shop ahead of time and bring all your meals and snacks with you. Without going out for meals or stopping in shopping boutiques (cause you’re in a forest…) it’s easy to stop any extra spending. We realized that after five days in a park, we had spent zero dollars. Pay the housing and food bill up front and you’re good to go, the trails don’t take credit cards.

Portland, Maine
Since most people head south for beachy vacays, Maine tends to fall off the radar unless you’re in the 80+ age group. Turns out, Portland is one of the most diverse places to visit with a multitude of activities to suit everyone’s preferences, all at a low cost to you. Whether it’s biking around the city to view the lighthouses or enjoying a crab roll and blueberry pie, it’s easy to keep an eye on your cash flow while not missing out on everything the city has to offer.

Sea Kayak Tours, Bar Harbor
Sea Kayak Tours, Bar Harbor

Acadia National Park, Maine
If you’re in Maine, it’s essential to drive up north to Acadia National Park. Similar to Yosemite, you can cut costs drastically by camping nearby. Beyond the entrance fee into the region, you can hike, swim, and climb to your heart’s content without spending a dime.

Havana, Cuba
Recently added as an option for travelers, Havana is perfect for those interested in the history of the country and its dynamic culture…or even just the cigar industry. Flights here are extra cheap, less than a $100 out of Miami or Fort Lauderdale, which allows you more cash to spend on your actual experiences. Because Cuba is trying to build up their tourist economy, they have a myriad of options to fit varying price points, from AirBnB’s to hostels and five star hotels, pick and choose what’s right for you.

Toronto, Canada
Again, as everyone heads down south, opt to travel up north where you can still soak up in the nice weather but at a much lower cost. Toronto is a bustling city with so much more to offer beyond Niagara Falls (although you should make sure you stop there, too!) With one of the best currency exchange rates now, it’s almost like you’re saving money when you cross the border.

Williamsburg, Virginia
History buffs will go crazy for a week in Williamsburg, VA. Accessible by car for anywhere on the east coast, you can save big avoiding airports. from Colonial Williamsburg to Busch Gardens, there are numerous activities to keep an entire family occupied for the summer.

Second Sunday on King Street in charleston SC
Second Sunday on King Street

Charleston, South Carolina
Despite being the biggest city in South Carolina, Charleston still maintains the small town feel. With a lower cost of living than most major metropolitan areas, it’s an easy choice if you want to soak up the urban atmosphere but still have access to a beach. Many of the highlights of Charleston, such as a carriage tour through the cobbled streets or a visit into one of the many historical mansions, nothing will cost you more than a few dollars. better year, the city is entirely walkable so no unexpectedly high uber fares to weight down your travels.

Adirondacks, New York
Originally from New York, I have a soft spot for the Adirondacks. Whether you’re looking for lakes or mountains, upstate has it all. Opt to rent out a cabin in the woods with a group of friends to cut down on costs as well as having the ability to cook meals at home in a kitchen. Swimming and hiking are free!

Gothic Quarter in Barcelona Spain
Bakery in the Gothic Quarter

Madrid, Spain
Although Madrid is known for a higher cost of living, parts of the city close up shop for August as a universal vacation month. Which, in turn, means the places that remain open lower prices to encourage people to still visit. If you’re willing to miss out of smaller family-owned businesses that shut down for these thirty days, you can still absorb Madrid’s diverse culture and delicious sangria without going broke.

Paris, France
Like Madrid, Paris also claims August to be a vacation for most city dwellers. We stumbled upon this happenstance when we scored $400 round trip tickets into Paris that we couldn’t pass up. although many of the small businesses temporarily close down, you can still meander the quaint neighborhoods, visit the Louvre and Eiffel Tower, etc. in the City of Lights.

Where do you plan to travel this summer? How do you cut down on costs?


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Is AirBnB Safe? The Signs to Look For

how to be safe with airbnb

I first stumbled across AirBnB (<– click here for more info!) when I was weighing my options for hospitality on a past trip to Europe. In between hotels, hostels and farm stays (it's a thing, really), it can be a bit tricky to determine which place is the most conducive for your trip. However, ever since my first AirBnB visit in a cabin tucked away in Bar Harbor, Maine, I've been hooked. After having stayed in dozens of AirBnB's along the way, I've realized these opportunities offer so much more than a place to take your shoes off. It has allowed me to stay in a condo over looking Millennium Park in Chicago, make a studio apartment on Las Ramblas in Barcelona feel like home, and even sleep in a trailer-turned-bedroom underneath a volcano in Iceland (seriously). Places that were formerly off limits are now accessible to those looking for a better way to immerse themselves in their new surroundings. More than a roof over your head, the ability to interact with locals is priceless. I've spent evenings enjoying dried fish, a local delicacy, with my AirBnB host trading stories about our native cultures. While traveling to new places will always be exciting, it's interacting with the people that allow you to truly understand a different way of life. So how do you know who's worth a visit? It's still a scary thought, randomly showing up to someone's basement apartment to hole up for the night. Nevertheless, there are ways to make sure you're safe while not abandoning your adventurous soul.

AirBnB in Akureyri, Iceland

The first thing to look for when scoping out places on AirBnB are the reviews noted by stars on each location. I aim to look for at least 10-15 reviews depending on the place (smaller, less touristy areas will logistically just have less visitors). While a large number of reviews are a good sign, it’s just as vital to take the time to read through a range of scores as well as the host’s reply to any criticism. Some of the one star reviews can be passed off as a fluke (no shampoo in the shower doesn’t totally merit one star for me), but keep an eye out for difficulty with checking in and checking out, surprising fees, and environmental issues. Is there a club downstairs that means little sleep? Make sure that’s something you’re willing to deal with. This is also a good time to scan the details to ensure there’s WiFi and parking available if needed. These are biggies that can’t be fixed once you arrive!

View from AirBnB in Chicago, Illinois
View from AirBnB in Chicago, Illinois

Message the Host
If you’ve found the rental that meets your requirements, message the host to let them know of your interest before booking. AirBnB’s policy enforces an open communication line so you can get to know your host, vice versa, before your stay. Make use of this time to inquire about house rules, number of guests, cell service, and ability to reach them. Also ask about the security of the room for rent. If it’s a shared home, does the door have it’s own lock? Is it a key pad, or an actual key? Knowing this ahead of time will save you the headache when you arrive. It’s important to note that while AirBnB does ‘verify’ their hosts as well as users, it means little more than connecting your account with another account or your ID. This mostly ensures that this person is ‘real’ but doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve passed a background check.

Background Search
How many rooms do they have for rent? Is this their actual home, or do they own multiple rooms they’re renting out? While it doesn’t make it safe or unsafe either way, it can change the experience. Double check that if it appears that a bunch of rooms for rent have a single host, double check that they actually all exist and are not a scam but following the process above.

AirBnB in Madrid, Spain
AirBnB in Madrid, Spain

Your Role
The concerns with AirBnB are on level with those of any hotel. Except with AirBnB, you at least have a direct line of communication if an issue were to arise as well as specific and target reviews to prepare for your experience (unlike a hotel where it’s for the whole building and the staff as a unit). Still, that doesn’t mean you can throw caution to the wind. Always check your nearby surroundings and let others know where you’ll be staying.

If you’re interested in checking it out, click here to get $20 off your first visit! (Full disclosure it’ll help contribute to my next AirBnB stay as well!)

Have you ever rented through AirBnB? What’s the most unique place you’ve stayed in?


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How to Visit Yosemite in the Spring, Part 2

how to visit yosemite in march, april and may

If you haven’t checked out part one of our trip, head here first!

After covering many miles in our first couple days in the park, we decided to switch it up and view the valley from the river. We were eager to find Zephyr Rafting in El Portal along the Merced River as we drove along highway 140, the main entrance into the park. We opted for an early morning whitewater rafting session so we’d have the afternoon to recuperate. After arriving around 8am for our time slot, we were introduced to three of the tour guides as well as the other participants. We were split up into three rafts and would be riding with our tour guide, Jake through class three and four rapids. Rapids are rated on a scale of 1-6, six being non-raftable (it’s a word, swear). So, I was a bit eager/anxious to make my way through rapids being such an amateur paddler. After the necessary safety lesson, we dressed up in wet suits, wool sweaters and rain jackets, all included in our tour package. I ended up using a pair of water shoes left over from a previous trip so I could spare my sneakers, though gym shoes were fine to use. Given it was an overcast 43 degrees out (brrr!), we were only expecting to get chillier as the day wore on due to the water melting straight of the snow covered mountains. We would soon find out it was impossible not to get wet on this adventure.

whitewater Rafting Cranberry Hole at Merced River in Yosemite
Rafting Cranberry Hole

After splitting up into our rafts, we had a brief practice run on the nearby rapid. Emphasis on the brief, we were about to hit Cranberry Run, our first rapid, in less than a minute.

whitewater Rafting at Merced River in Yosemitewith Zephyr Rafting
Getting a little wet at Ned’s Gulch Rapid

The rapids each had their own unique names which made it all the more fun. Although we were soaked, we managed to stay warm as long as we kept paddling. On the most difficult turn at Ned’s Gulch, a boy felt out of the raft behind us, followed by an entire boat behind them turning on its side, dumping everyone out. Luckily, our mini-rescue lesson allowed us to save the swimmers near us.

whitewater Rafting at Merced River in Yosemite with Zephyr Rafting
Rescuing a swimmer at Ned’s Gulch

Although this was the biggest fear I had (uh, no thanks to the ice bath, please), it wasn’t that rare of an occurrence. Given the life jackets and helmets, the swimmers just rode down the currents until a boat was near them. It almost looked like fun. *Almost*.

whitewater Rafting at Merced River in Yosemite with Zephyr Rafting
Trying our luck with class 3 rapids

After about two hours of rafting, we exited the river where a bus took us back to the start. At this point, I began losing feeling in my toes and was ready to dry off and warm up. We thanked Zephyr Rafting for an awesome experience, and headed back to our condo to spend the rest of the day warming up by the fire. A huge pot of tomato soup hit the spot, and we had a kick out of laughing at the pictures from the day’s event.

For our last morning in Yosemite, we didn’t want to miss a beat and were up at 5:30 am. Luckily, we were staying in West Yosemite close to Tunnel View, an easy access point to witness the sunrise over the valley.

sunrise at tunnel view in yosemite national park
Sunrise at Tunnel View

Apparently we weren’t the only ones with this fantastic idea. We unknowingly inserted ourselves into a photography class already staked out, and got to pick up a few pointers!

sunrise at tunnel view in yosemite national park
Photography class at Tunnel View circa 6am

Having been so early in the morning, we took this time to hit up some of the trails that had been mobbed the last few afternoons.

Bridalveil is a gorgeous walk to the bottom of a powerful waterfall that’s viewed afar from Tunnel View. It took only seven minutes to reach the end of the trail to take a few pictures of the mist flowing off the rocks like a veil (thus, the accurate name).

Bottom of Bridalveil Falls in yosemite national park
Bottom of Bridalveil Falls

As we continued our drive around the valley, we captured a few last moments of the sun peaking over El Capitan before we headed on our way.

sunrise at yosemite national park
Sunrise reaching El Capitan

Although we were limited to open areas in the park because of the heavy snow fall, we has zero issues filling our days. In fact, we would have easily run out of time if we had tried to reach every corner of this incredible region. This way, we were able to fully enjoy all Yosemite had to offer, minus the suffocating crowds and long wait times to reach the summits. If you haven’t made the time to visit this national treasure yet, now is the time to experience the world as it was hundreds of years ago.

Do you like hiking in the snow? How do you stay outdoors when the weather gets chilly?


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How To Visit Yosemite in The Spring

how to visit yosemite in march, april and may

I’ve always referred to myself as a ‘park person’. I’m most comfortable in hiking boots with unwashed hair and only the slightest idea as to my exact location at any given point in time. I find comfort in falling off the grid and only interacting with those I meet on the trail or at the general store.

Upper yosemite falls hike
Upper Yosemite Falls

Visiting national parks is an unparalleled experience, so much so that you are going to meet people who are just like you, other *park people*. Folks who abide by a different clock than the outside world. No morning is too early, no mountain is too steep, no person is a stranger. We’re all here for very similar things: fresh air, peace of mind, adrenaline rushes…and distance from anything and everything that hinders all of the above. Nothing brings people together quite like the desire to escape from daily routines, albeit how different those routines might be.

Chilnualna falls hike in wawona
Chilnualna Falls hike in Wawona

Which is how we decided on visiting Yosemite in April. Although peak season isn’t until June since many of the park areas are closed due to snowfall this early in the year, we wanted to immerse ourselves in nature, not tourists. Visiting Yosemite in the off-season allowed us to venture from trail to trail uninfluenced by mass crowds trying to sneak a peak of this waterfall or that overlook. There’s something magical about this time in-between, the empty roads, the chill in the air, the determination to overcome obstacles that cease to exist in the summer sun. The secluded cabins up in the woods where it’s just you and the bears. And the other park people. The people who live there year round and are so eager to suggest where to go during this down time. The travelers who come every April to witness the gushing waterfall flow that is all but a trickle in August. This is the best way to spend four days in Yosemite in April, and how to prepare for any obstacle that comes your way.

Deer in Yosemite Valley
Deer in Yosemite Valley

After landing in San Francisco, we rented a 4WD SUV to take us the four hour drive into Yosemite. While chains are needed in the thick of winter, we kept our fingers crossed that we would avoid this hassle. The scenic drive into the park is only a small taste as to what you’ll witness once in the valley. We made a quick stop near Livermore to pick up groceries to last the week. With limited access in the park, we wanted to be sure we’d have enough food for all three meals, plus hiking snacks, each day. Luckily, the studio condo we rented out came equipped with a tiny kitchen which made soup and pasta nightly favorites for us.

Driving into the park feels like you’ve entered into a different world. The towering cliffs framed with strikingly tall evergreen trees is the only preview needed for what’s to come.

driving through yosemite national park
Entering Yosemite National Park

The winding roads with snow banks on either side led us to our condo in a small neighborhood in Yosemite West. Fitted with a living space, kitchen area, large bed and fireplace, we were excited to call this home for the next few nights. While there were many people who opted to camp, I wasn’t yet ready to give up my hot shower each morning. After settling in, we prepared for a long day ahead of us.

Road to West Yosemite national park
Road to West Yosemite

After an early meal of oatmeal and bananas, we headed down towards the village to plan out our adventures for the day. However, the park had other plans. Since it was the off season, many of the roads were in the process of being repaved, causing an unbelievable amount of detours. After failing to find the Visitors’ Center, we got hike suggestions from a hotel lobby we stumbled on and headed on our way.

Lower Yosemite Falls hike
Lower Yosemite Falls

Our first walk was to Lower Yosemite Falls. A short one mile hike with close-up views of the bottom falls. The ice that clung to the rocks before it had a chance to melt only added to the pristine view. Looking for more of a challenge, we trekked towards Upper Yosemite Falls which is made up of 6-7 miles of steep inclines and snow-covered trails. After passing a family of deer, we headed into the most challenging hike of our trip. Yet, with spectacular views of the entire valley, it was easy to get lost in the hike rather than focused on how many miles we had left.

Upper Yosemite Falls hike
Upper Yosemite Falls

The ice had frozen onto the tree branches and would drop off in solid chunks whenever the wind blew, knocking us with hail-like balls of ice periodically. Luckily the day warmed up quickly and the ice *almost* felt refreshing. We made it to the top fall and stopped for lunch. Peanut butter sandwiches and trail mix (which will reappear each afternoon) were easy to travel with and fueled the long days. It took us about four hours in total and with just a little steam left, we had one stop left for the day.

Mist Trail to Vernal Falls hike rainbow
Mist Trail to Vernal Falls

The free Yosemite Valley bus took up to Happy Isle for us to check out the most popular Yosemite hike. The Mist Trail is heavily-trafficked, even during the spring, for good reason. It’s a quick hour hike to cover 3 miles if you stick to the Vernal Falls. Another four miles if you want to head all the way up to Nevada Falls. The waterfalls are at full force and colorful rainbows spread across the wet stones. With limited daylight left, we headed back to warm up with soup and sandwiches and to plan the next day.

Chilnualna Falls Trail hike
Chilnualna Falls Trail

Having spent the previous day in the valley, we headed south to the Wawona region of the park. Chilnualna Falls, a lengthy 8 mile hike up a mountain along side a powerful creek, was one of the highlights of our trip. After driving through the small town of Wawona and prepping our whistles and flashlights in case we encountered any mountains lions (a real concern in these parts), we set off around 9am.

Chilnualna Falls trail
Chilnualna Falls trail

The trail varied from rocky hills to flat fields to staircases dipping below the waterfalls. We didn’t pass another hiker for four miles, and only then saw a few groups of people on our way back. The summit opened up to the top of Chilnualna Falls, large boulders overlooking the valley. We ate our packed lunch on top of the falls and soaked in the warm afternoon sun until we made our way back down the mountain.

Overlooking the top of Chilnualna Falls trail hike
Overlooking the top of Chilnualna Falls

Since we were in the area, we had one final stop for the day at Nelder Grove. Although Mariposa is closed for the next few months for restoration, we were set on seeing some Giant Sequoias, trees so large that the diameter of their trunks are twice my height. After stopping at the Wawona General Store for directions, we made our way down the series of dirt roads to the park entrance. Sadly, the park was filled with giant stumps, very few live sequoias to be found. Fittingly, the trail was named “Graveyard of the Giants”. We only walked a mile of so into the park and actually found the walk to be more depressing than we anticipated. It was devastating to see the impact humans have had on nature, the dead trees a symbol of the irreversible damage done to these woods. We stuck to the trails so as not to destroy anymore of the treasured area, and made our way back to Yosemite West before the second half of our trip.

Giant Sequoia in Nelder Grove hike
Giant Sequoia in Nelder Grove

Although Yosemite is a beautiful learning environment for all who visit, it’s also a reminder of the carelessness of mankind and its impact on the land. Black trees stick out along the highway like burnt toothpicks from past forest fires, and constant warnings to stay away from the endangered animal life are posted everywhere. It’s with optimism and subtle confidence that one hopes that the more people visit national parks, the more knowledge and power they’ll have to protect them.

View from Yosemite Valley
View from Yosemite Valley

Stay tuned for the second half of our trip, including a view of the park from the river and an early sunrise over Half Dome! Make sure to visit part 2 here!

Have you ever been to Yosemite? What is your favorite national park?


If you’re interested in learning more about our rental, check it out here!

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Three Days in South Beach, Florida

how to spend a long weekend in south beach miami florida

Although I’m much more a lake lady than a beach bum, I wasn’t about to miss a weekend escaping D.C.’s chilly winter for a weekend in South Beach, Miami. Although South Beach is known for it’s gorgeous sand beaches and aqua waters, Florida’s elite ‘hood has so much more to offer beyond string bikinis and roller blades (but trust me, there was plenty of those too). Since sunbathing for a few hours only sounds good in theory (to me), I stumbled across some unique experiences that let me absorb the culture of southern Florida. Having been one of my first weekends traveling solo, I made sure to get all the deets ahead of time for which streets and landmarks I should stick by #safetyfirst.

I stayed at Hyatt Centric right on the main drag of South Beach. It’s two blocks from the beach and a few blocks from Lincoln Road, the main shopping strip. This is a great place to get oriented with the South Beach culture. When I arrived in town that night, I stopped at one of the many open air restaurants to take in the sights and sounds of eager shoppers and noisy parrots before getting to bed. The next morning, I woke up to spectacular views of the early sun rays coming over the city. Not one to miss a photo op, I snuck out in the early morning with the committed joggers and gold diggers to hang our near Lummus Park before the crowds rushed in. The sunrise illuminates the hotels and condos in a golden glow, it was definitely worth the missed hour of sleep. While I might not be one for sun tanning at noon, I can rock 6am with the best of them.

sunrise beach birds

After some morning stretches on the beach, I headed over to Exhale Spa to fit in a work out. Bonus perk, I was able to get a discount for my yoga-based cardio class due to the hotel I was staying at. Apparently these folk are used to the southern humidity because I clearly the sweatiest (and palest) person in the room. Nevertheless, a sweat was a good way to prepare for an active day ahead of me.

I won’t totally blame my recent obsession with Narcos for my obsession with Miami culture, but I was absolutely thrilled to stumble across a tour that talked about the history of South Beach (including the infamous drug trade) rooted in its architecture and notable art deco style throughout the beach. My tour guide, James, was clearly knowledgeable on the subject and got us secret access inside distinguished hotels and celebrity homes. I won’t spoil too much, but I came into South Beach thinking there was little behind the tan lines and recognizable diet plan, man was I wrong. All you need is a camera and your walking shoes for a seriously unique perspective on how this exclusive shore culture came to be.

Art Deco Style in South Beach
Art Deco Style in South Beach

To round out the evening, I indulged in some new-to-me cuban food. Morenos Cuba was the spunkiest hidden gem tucked behind a quaint row of condos. Decorated with colored lights and colorful murals, Morenos offered an escape from the hustling of downtown. Since I was in a mission to avoid the spring break party scene, it was nice to enjoy a delicious local meal with the locals. After my second mojito, a local band came out to play on what I can only assume was a ukulele. Although this might differ than the traditional electro clubs and laser Miami is known for, the restaurant goers who were brave enough to salsa across the floor provided ample entertainment. While I knew I was missing out on the quintessential nightlife experience, this was more my style. My night ended with an empty glass and in bed by 11.

beach house

My final morning in South Beach could only be spent at one place. The Front Porch Cafe has glowing reviews on almost every rating system so I was excited to try out their fresh dishes. I filled up on a veggie omelet, fresh fruit and a cold iced tea while sitting underneath the awnings on their, fittingly, front porch. Make sure you take a trip through the hotel it’s stationed under, a giant checker board, instagram pictures stops and glass ceilings to the pool above make it an overall worthy experience.

hotel pool

Since I had filled up on sand time to last through the rest of this cold spell, I walked the boardwalk back to my hotel and hung around the pool until it was time for my flight. I have often thought it was impossible to fit in everything there is to see on the road in a single weekend. Yet, albeit slowly, I am learning that’s not actually the point. Instead of following other’s must-dos in Miami, I designed my own, tailored to what brings me joy while still venturing out of my comfort zone. Balance isn’t found in the place you are, it’s created within you wherever you go.

Have you been to South Beach? What’s your favorite way to spend time on the beach?


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