When Laguna Beach comes to mind, most people think of the gorgeous sandy shores, blue waters, sunny skies, and the relaxed beach town. I picked Laguna Beach as my destination for a quick weekend babymoon with all of those in mind, but also due to the abundance of breathtaking hiking trails in the surrounding area. The sheer number of hiking trails is crazy! The hardest part of planning my trip was choosing which trails to hike.
Since I think hiking in the hills is just about the best way to see Laguna Beach, I wanted to highlight some of my favorite trails with views of the trip. Keep in mind that these are more easygoing walking trails than true hikes, all the better for taking in the scenery!
Santiago is the perfect place for wine lovers to visit due to the proximity of so many wine regions to the city. Just an hour and a half west of Santiago toward the coast lie the Casablanca and San Antonio Valley wine regions. In October, I had the chance to visit both regions. Two wineries stood out not only with the quality of their wine and their idyllic settings but also because they proved convention wrong when it comes to cool climate wines.
About two hours south of Santiago, in between the massive Andes mountains and the cool central coastline, lies one of Chile’s best wine regions: the Colchagua Valley. Most famous for robust red wines, they also produce excellent sauvignon blanc. Visiting will give you a taste of the Chilean countryside and provide you with breathtaking valley and mountain views. Out of all four wine regions I visited in Chile, the Colchagua Valley stole my heart above the rest.
There are so many wineries in the area, I’d recommend spending at least three days in the Colchagua Valley alone. I wish I had stayed longer! Here are some of my picks for the best places to eat, drink, and stay -- starting with the most important: wine!
When I planned my recent trip to Chile, my heart was set on the wine country and the coast. I wasn’t too excited about visiting Santiago. But because I was paying for most of the trip using points, I decided to stay in Santiago for a few nights as the rates were lower and I could maximize my points. The city really surprised me and I left wanting to lure all fellow wine lovers south.
Here are a few of the reasons why wine lovers will fall hard for the city:
THE VIEW AT THIS WINERY WITHIN CITY LIMITS.
I’ve been to wineries all over the world, places as stunning as Santorini and the Douro Valley. My jaw dropped when I walked through the gates of Viña Aqutania. There is truly nothing quite like sitting among the wines and gazing up at the massive Andes mountains towering over the vineyards in the distance. I was surprised how close the mountains seemed, like you could just reach out and touch them, a glass of wine in hand.
The central coast of Chile is simply stunning. Only a two-hour drive from Santiago, two days is just the right amount of time to experience the best of what the coast has to offer. Spend one day exploring Viña del Mar and visiting the Concón sand dunes, and spend another day exploring Valparaíso. From the serene beaches to the bustling port city to the indescribable allure of the dunes, you'll feel like you have traveled across the country.
Tokyo is a city of coordinated chaos. It’s a sprawling, massive city full of people. Shinjuku is loud and full of flashing lights, much like Times Square, yet you can turn a corner and be on a quiet tree-lined street. It’s utterly confusing and so easy to get lost in. You can wander within one giant metro station for an hour just trying to find the right exit (we did!).
While there are many reasons tourist flock to Tokyo, my husband and I came for one primary reason: to eat! Tokyo is world renowned for incredible restaurants and top notch sushi. However, many of the places you read about in newspapers and magazines will set you back a pretty penny. High end sushi restaurants are generally $200 + a person, a price we were not willing to pay.
If you’re on a budget, I wouldn’t suggest Tokyo as a destination, but it is possible to eat well without spending your savings.
Below are a few tips on how to taste Tokyo’s culinary delights without breaking the bank.
While I loved exploring Bangkok, my favorite part of any overseas trip is always venturing beyond the city limits. Thailand was no different. We spent one day of our recent trip to Thailand out in Kanchanaburi Province, with a few stops along the way. Our ultimate destination was an elephant sanctuary on the River Kwai, where we bareback rode elephants through the forest and into the river where we bathed and played with them. It was an experience I’ll never forget!
Bangkok is a city of contrasts. Modern restaurants beside street food carts; cars at complete halts while motorbikes and people whiz by on sidewalks; English on all of the signs and menus but little spoken; expensive high-rise apartments rising over poverty-filled slums. It was one of the most interesting cities I’ve ever visited.
Many people only see Bangkok through the windows of the airport on the way to Chiang Mai or Phuket, but it’s worth stopping for a couple days to explore this sprawling capital city.
So what’s the best way to experience Bangkok?
As our Hanoi transfer van pulled up to the port, I was already awestruck by the view of Halong Bay in the distance. It’s a place so beautiful that it truly leaves you speechless. You have to see it in person to fully appreciate its beauty. Shortly after boarding our boat, lunch was served, and though we could see the magical landscape from our table’s window, it took every ounce of my patience not to leave lunch to go take pictures. I convinced myself that it would only get prettier, and it did. Halong Bay was on my bucket list ever since I saw a picture of it a few years back, and after seeing the photos in this post, I know it will be on yours too.
The first five minutes of our cab ride from the airport were a brief introduction into the chaos that defines Hanoi. Cars and motorbikes weaved back and forth, leaving inches of space between them, while our cab driver drove down the breakdown lane of the highway, inches from the concrete center barrier, as if it were meant for traffic. I knew immediately that Hanoi would live up to its reputation for being in a near constant state of pandemonium.
As we drove into the historic Old Quarter, the streets were engulfed with vast numbers of people walking in every which direction with seemingly little regard to the motorized traffic. Every few feet there were fires of what we thought was trash burning in the streets (we later found out the fires were offering to the gods). Stepping out of the cab we felt the thick, hot air and realized that even at 9 PM there was no break in the heat. Hot and tired, I went to bed that night glad we only had one full day in Hanoi, as I wasn’t sure I would enjoy the city.
Luckily, our full day in Hanoi changed my opinion of the city for the better.
While there is plenty to see in Tokyo, the largest city in the world can be overwhelming at times. An escape is essential. Luckily for visitors, thanks to Japan’s extensive rail network, day trips from Tokyo are easy and most are affordable. When my husband and I visited Tokyo this summer, I knew I wanted to spend at least one day outside of the bustling city in order to get a more authentic feel for Japan. I considered going to Kamakura, a seaside town so full of temples that some call it a mini-Kyoto, or Hakone for a close-up view of Mt. Fuji and day in the mountains and onsens. But, ultimately, my love for visiting wine regions all over the world won out and I chose to visit Katsunuma.
The Katsunuma wine region is only a 90-minute train ride from Tokyo but feels worlds away. About halfway into the train ride the buildings suddenly disappear as you enter the gorgeous countryside full of lush green hills and mountains. When you arrive at the train station, you’ll immediately see vineyards ahead and will be in awe of the landscape.
It’s no secret that tourists flock to Switzerland for the country’s majestic scenery. When people picture the country, most conjure up images of rugged snow-capped mountains, crystal blue lakes, and towering waterfalls. The five towns below certainly meet those standards, but the natural beauty captured in these photos is beyond even the dreamiest imagination.
About an hour north of Vienna and two hours south of Prague lies one of the Czech Republic’s best-kept secrets. The Moravian wine region is relatively unknown outside of Austria and the Czech Republic by anyone other than sommeliers. It’s directly on the driving route between the two famous capitals, yet most travelers opt to fly and miss out on this remarkable place full of historic charm, authentic culture, gorgeous vistas, and spectacular wine. It’s the perfect breath of fresh air between the bustling cities.
Christmas in July! It might seem like an odd time of year to be talking about Christmas, but the best-planned trips are done months in advance. If you’re thinking about traveling to Europe in December, it’s best to start planning now.
Why visit Europe when it’s cold and dreary? Because nothing will put you in the holiday spirit more than a Christmas market and historical city aglow! Christmas markets are open air street markets that sell delicious treats, drinks, and seasonal items and often feature musical performances. They originated in Germany and date back to the fourteenth century.
Lisbon has everything you could want in a European city: history, delicious food, vibrant culture, and cobblestone streets to get lost on. What takes it over the top is the friendliness of the people and the city's sheer beauty. I love Paris and Rome, but there's something about Lisbon that pulls you in and makes you never want to leave. It's hard to put a finger on all of the reasons that Lisbon is one of my favorite European cities, but below you will find a few!
Burgundy is a mecca for foodies. It’s tough to describe how rich and flavorful the dishes are. The secret ingredients in most of the famous dishes? Wine and butter. What could be better than that?
The only problem with dining out in Burgundy is that three-course meals (and sometimes four!) are the norm for both lunch and dinner. While you generally have the option of ordering “a la carte,” it’s often only a few more euros to order from the three-course menu. Our meals progressed like this:
First course: Every bite was eaten. Delicious!
Second course: This is so good. But so rich. Must. Finish.
Third course: I almost forgot we had dessert coming. I can make room…
Food coma. How do people eat like this twice a day every day? And sometimes add a cheese course before dessert?!
And that was twice a day. Plus a baguette and cheese plate for breakfast each morning. It’s safe to say we ended each day in Burgundy satiated and full!
While all of the food we ate was delicious, I wanted to highlight a few stellar restaurants with incredibly memorable meals.
These are the best dishes I had in Burgundy.
The Monticello wine region is one of the first wine regions I fell in love with (second to the Mosel Valley in Germany). Located in the Charlottesville area, it’s a gorgeous region of rolling hills and mountains. I first visited at age 21 and it lured me back for a few return trips during my senior year of college in DC. When I moved to North Carolina, I knew I had to go back to see how the region had changed. Seven years and many wine tastings later I returned to find that the wine has only improved and the beauty of the landscape and charm of Charlottesville are still intact.
Whether you’re traveling with a significant other or group of friends, the Monticello Wine Region makes for a perfect weekend escape. Here’s why:
The breathtaking village of Reine, Norway is located on the island of Moskenesøya, part of northern Norway’s Lofoten archipelago. When visiting Norway to see the famous arctic fjords, many people opt to do a fjord cruise out of the city of Bergen (which is also insanely gorgeous and deserves a separate post), but venturing to Reine in the northern fjords will reward you with an authentic taste of traditional Nordic fishing culture coupled with unparalleled natural beauty.
My husband and I checking off three bucket list destinations this summer: Japan, Thailand, and Vietnam. We will spend two glorious weeks in Asia paying only $95 per person for all flights and hotel stays. Granted, once we get there we will still have to pay for food and activities, but our final bill will be drastically lower than the out of pocket dollar cost we would have paid without points. I know that the points game can be confusing, especially when you factor in credit card bonuses, so I wanted to share a few tips on how we made this trip happen so that you can do the same!
South Africa has long been at the top of my bucket list. Whether you dream of seeing the “big five” (lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino, & leopard), basking on the beach with penguins gazing at the mountains surrounding the water, sipping wine at one of the many vineyards within an hour of Cape Town, or simply exploring the rich culture of the city – South Africa has something to lure in every traveler.
The scenery, wildlife, vineyards, and beautiful city of Cape Town are a feast for the eyes. Below are ten photographs that will ignite your wanderlust for this majestic country.