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Travel Guides

Sequoia National Park: A Trip in Photos

I feel quite fortunate to live in a state that has nine National Parks, the most of any state! And I only live a couple hours from some of them so Sequoia National Park is the perfect weekend getaway for me. If I’m feeling really ambitious I can actually squeeze in a day trip but it’s necessary stay rather than driving home after hiking. Hopefully some of these pictures will inspire you to plan your own trip to Sequoia. Or to the National Park closest to you.

As with most of my posts, some links may be affiliate links. This means at no additional cost to you, I may make a small commission on anything you buy.

Sequoia National Park: The History

President Benjamin Harrison signed legislation on September 25, 1890 to create Sequoia, making it just the second US national park. He made this decision because he was trying to protect the trees from the logging industry. This reasoning made Sequoia a bit different from Yellowstone, the first national park, as it became a park with the purpose of protecting a particular living organism. This park is also home to the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states, Mt. Whitney, and more than 800 miles of trails.

I haven’t hiked all those trails so this is just a glimpse of the natural beauty found in Sequoia. Until you’re standing next to these trees, it’s difficult to fully grasp just how tall they are. Standing next to one of the trees I like quite small!! The General Sherman Tree is 275 feet tall and stands at the north end of Giant Forest.

If you’re planning your own trip to Sequoia National Park I highly recommend this Lonely Planet guide. In fact I’d recommend a Lonely Planet guide for almost any trip you take.

You can also check out my visit to Arches National Park in Utah.

California Missions: A California Challenge

Stretching more than 600 miles from San Diego, California up to Sonoma, California (just north of San Francisco), the Royal Road is an iconic California road trip. Known in Spanish as El Camino Real, this road connects all 21 of the California missions. Founded in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s it provided a way to connect the missions. Visiting all 21 of the California missions is perfect for history buffs, 4th grade Californian students, or anyone wanting to learn more about the history of California.

As with most of my posts, some links may be affiliate links. This means at no additional cost to you, I may make a small commission on anything you buy through the links.

In 2018 I decided that I wanted to do more travel in my home state of California. And so the California Challenges were born. In 2018 I decided to visit all 21 of the California missions. I headed south to San Diego and as far north as Sonoma to cross all 21 off my list. So let’s hit the road and go visiting the California missions. If you want a sneak peek without reading the whole post, you can see the highlights on my Instagram story.

San Diego De Alcala

Located in San Diego this became the first mission when it opened on July 16, 1769. The gardens are beautiful and the grounds are peaceful. Since this was the first mission you are able to learn more about the origins of the missions while visiting San Diego De Alcala.

San Luis Rey De Francia

Mission San Luis Rey De Francia was founded on June 13, 1798 as the 18th mission. Named after King Louis IX of France, this remains an active parish. Not only can the church and cemetery be explored but also the grounds beyond the church to see what life would have been like in the early 1800’s.

San Juan Capistrano

This mission is located just a bit north of the last one, in San Juan Capistrano. It was the 7th mission and it was founded on November 1, 1776. (History lovers will appreciate the timing as it provides context for what was happening several thousand miles away when the Declaration of Independence was being signed) This mission is considered the birth place of Orange County and is known as The Jewel of the Missions. This was the largest structure built by the Spanish during their 65 years in the west and offers many interactive exhibits today.

San Gabriel Arcangel

Home of the first orange and tangerine trees in California, the San Gabriel Arcangel mission was founded on September 8, 1771. This makes it the 4th mission and was the first to produce wine grapes in Southern California.

San Fernando Rey De Espana

Founded in 1797, San Fernando Rey De Espana is located in the Mission Hills community of Los Angeles. It was the 17th mission and is the final resting place of Bob Hope.

San Buenaventura

Located in downtown Ventura San Buenaventura was founded on March 31, 1782 making it the 9th mission. It is not a very big mission, but it has an absolutely gorgeous courtyard.  This was the last mission founded during Fray Serra’s lifetime.

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Mission Santa Barbara

Mission Santa Barbara is said to be founded on December 16, 1786 as the 10th mission. However this is the only mission that has potentially two founding dates because Father Serra died before being able to confirm the founding date. This is also the only mission with twin bell towers.

Mission Santa Ines

I spent 24 hours in Solvang when I visited the mission, which was founded on September 15, 1804. It was the 19th mission and is located within walking distance of downtown Solvang.

La Purisima Concepcion

La Purisima is probably the most well visited of the missions as it is incredibly visitor friendly. The mission was founded on December 8, 1787 and is the 11th mission. There are quite a few interactive exhibits available at the mission and you can see various animals and workshops in action.

San Luis Obispo de Tolosa

Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa was the 5th of the missions and founded on September 1, 1772. It is worth visiting if you would like to see all 21 of the missions, but due to its location in downtown San Luis Obispo there is less to see than many of the other missions.

Mission San Miguel Arcangel

San Miguel Arcangel was founded on July 25, 1797 as the 16th mission. After being closed for nearly three decades in the mid-1800’s it was reopened in 1878. Today the mission is known for it its well preserved murals.

Mission San Antonio de Padua

Most of the missions are located along Highway 101 but this one will take you off the beaten path…and on to a military base. This was the 3rd mission and was founded on July 14, 1771. It is located in Jolon and be warned that because of its location, if you go in the summer it will likely be quite hot! You are able to book overnight stays if you would like to experience more of what mission life was like in the late 1700’s/early 1800’s.

Nuestra Senora de la Soledad

In its present-day surroundings Nuestra Senora de la Soledad gives you one of the best visuals of what the missions would have been liked when they were founded. It is out in the middle of rolling vineyards so you get an idea of what it would have been like when it was founded on October 9, 1791 as the 13th mission.

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San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo

Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo is located in Carmel and was just the 2nd mission, founded on June 3, 1770. This was said to be Father Serra’s favorite mission and it is where he passed away.

San Juan Bautista

Mission San Juan Bautista was the 15th mission and has been serving daily mass since June 24, 1797. This mission is uniquely positioned right on the San Andreas fault so it is quite a feat that this mission has never been abandoned.

Mission Santa Cruz

In its present day form there is a church located where Mission Santa Cruz was founded on September 28, 1791 as the 12th mission. Across the street there is a historical site where some of the mission activities would have taken place but very little is left of the original mission.

Santa Clara de Asis

Of all the missions I had the most difficult time finding this one because it is located on the campus of Santa Clara University. So it’s not as easy to plug into Google Maps. The mission was founded on January 12, 1777 as the 8th mission.

Mission San Jose

Mission San Jose is located in present-day Fremont and was the 14th of the missions, founded on June 11, 1797. It became known as the “Queen of the Missions.”

San Francisco de Asis

San Francisco de Asis was founded on June 29,1776 as the 6th mission. Located in the heart of San Francisco none of the surrounding land remains, but it is still a gorgeous church.

San Rafael Arcangel

Mission San Rafael was founded for different reasons than many of the other missions. Located further inland from San Francisco it was founded on December 14, 1817 as the 20th mission. Since it was located further inland it had much less fog and so was founded to be a place of medical respite.

San Francisco Solano

San Francisco Solano is located in Sonoma and is the furthest north of all the missions. The mission was founded on July 4, 1823 making it the last of the missions to be founded.

You can find more suggestions of things to do in California HERE. Or head here to see more of my California Challenges.

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Palm Springs Botanical Garden: A Secret Treasure

Palm Springs brings to mind mid-century modern architecture and the desert. So it’s only fitting to include a visit to a Palm Springs Botanical Garden. This is your chance to explore the wide variety of cacti and plants that call the desert home. You might think that one cactus is about the same as next but with about 2,000 different varieties of cacti around the world, Palm Springs is home to quite a variety.

As with most of my posts, some links may be affiliate links. This means at no additional cost to you, I may make a small commission on anything you buy.

Palm Springs Botanical Garden

Established more than 80 years ago, Moorten Botanical Garden, is family owned and specializes in cacti and other desert plants. The botanical garden is also home to the world’s first cactarium. Admission is just $5.00 making this an affordable way to spend a morning or afternoon in Palm Springs. It is worth noting that the winter and summer hours are quite different. During the summer temperatures often climb into the triple-digits so during this time Moorten’s is only open in the mornings.

As you enter the garden there is a stone with the following inscription…

Take your time like a turtle…and you will see more.

I would encourage you to take time to enjoy these photos from this stunning botanical garden, head over to their site to see even more, and schedule a visit on your next trip to Palm Springs.

If you are planning a trip to Southern California be sure to check out these other things to do including a day trip to Ventura, the piers of Orange County, San Jacinto Valley and more. Also be sure to take some time in Palm Springs to check out all of the unique front doors!

Zaanse Schans & More Dutch Villages

There are a few things that come to mind when I think of Amsterdam and The Netherlands…windmills, cheese, canals and tulips. The Zaanse Schans windmills are some of the most well known, so when it’s time to plan your trip you will want to be sure to include those on your tour. Add in cheese, canals and tulips and you will have a truly remarkable visit.

As with most of my posts, some links may be affiliate links. This means at no additional cost to you, I may make a small commission on anything you buy.

Visiting the windmills at Zaanse Schans and the surrounding Dutch villages is an excellent day trip from Amsterdam. Hop On Hop Off Holland provided a great tour because they take care of the logistics so you can focus on the exploring! To buy tickets and board the bus you can take the free ferry from Amsterdam Central Station. Then it is just a short walk (about five minutes) to This Is Holland where you can first purchase tickets and the board the bus.

Zaanse Schans

If you want to see windmills, this is the stop for you! You can explore the windmills and the surrounding quaint village. My recommendation is to hop on the first tour of the day so you can get to Zaanse Schans before the crowds. I would also highly recommend taking the boat tour to see unobstructed views of the windmills. The boat tour has a stop along the way which allows you to hop off and see how an active windmill operates. Be sure to leave time to stroll through the shops before heading back to the Hop On Hop Off bus. Bonus tip: The Hop On Hop Off bus stop at Zaanse Schans is right in front of a chocolate shop. Be sure to pop into Smells Like Chocolate for a delicious treat.

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Edam

The next stop is Edam where you will be able to experience the famous Edam cheese. You can taste this Dutch treat and explore 18th-century cheese warehouses. During the Middle Ages these cheese markets were the heart of the city and it is worth seeing how where they brought their cheese to be weighed, sold and exported. Now there are several stores in the village where you can taste, and buy, quite a variety of cheeses including cheese in nearly all the colors of the rainbow.

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Volendam

Located on Lake IJsselmeer, Volendam this fishing village is the perfect place to have fresh fish and walk alongside the harbor. The Hop On Hop Off bus stop is a short walk away from the harbor but I would first recommend a stop at the Volendam Museum. Here you can explore the rich history of Volendam and learn more about the local culture. Then you can venture down to the harbor to explore this seaside town. Enjoy a snack while you stroll along the water, stop in the local shops and see the traditional costumes of Volendam.

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Monnickendam

Monnickendam is located on Lake Markermeer and if you are looking for an old Dutch city, this is a stop you will love. Granted city charter in 1355, only one building remains from this time. As it is a small village you can walk through the town and experience the history and culture.

Taking a tour on the Hop On Hop Off is an excellent way to explore Zaanse Schans and the surrounding Dutch villages. Book a tour and let them handle all the transportation so you can soak up the history and culture of the Netherlands.

If you’re looking for more ideas of what to do in Amsterdam, I’d recommend this Bike Tour of the countryside.

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See the Countryside with a Bike Tour of Amsterdam

Cycling through the city and countryside on a bike tour of Amsterdam was one of the highlights of my trip to the Netherlands. As we cycled along canals and windmills I simply absorbed all the things to see in Amsterdam.

As with most of my posts, some links may be affiliate links. This means at no additional cost to you, I may make a small commission on anything you buy.

Taking recommendations from a few friends who had taken bike tours in Amsterdam, I decided to go with Mike’s Bike Tours. And I did not regret this decision! They had several different tour options for you to consider while you are in Amsterdam. As there are so many bikes in Amsterdam, biking is not for the faint of heart. So, I went with the Countryside tour because I just wasn’t sure I was ready to brave the chaos. The staff was incredibly helpful and our guide was excellent.

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Bike Tour of Amsterdam: The Tour

The tour begins at Mike’s Bike Tour shop, which is quite centrally located in Amsterdam. After a quick briefing on how to bike as a group we set off on our tour. There are important etiquette guidelines to follow as you bike so be sure to pay attention to the briefing. The first part of the tour is in the city but we fairly quickly reached more open paths.

Heading out to the countryside along the Amstel River provided excellent scenery as we biked! We saw people fishing, other bicyclists, and even a few windmills along the way. Our turnaround point was a cheese farm/clog factory where we stopped for a short tour. We were treated to a demonstration of how clogs (wooden shoes) are made, some tasty Gouda cheese samples and the opportunity to do some shopping. As a bonus, you’ll get to meet these guys! Then you’ll begin the return trip back to the city.

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Bike Tour of Amsterdam: The Details

Since the tour is about 40 km, or 25 miles, a decent level of fitness is recommended. I would also highly recommend bringing snacks and water along for your bike ride. I didn’t bring enough water and was a bit thirsty! While usually I like to book tours like this ahead of time, because of the weather in Amsterdam I would suggest booking once you can see a weather forecast. I had a gorgeous sunny day for my tour, but that is not always the case! As you are shopping remember that if you are traveling back to the United States you are permitted to bring back a wheel of cheese, provided it has not been opened!

If you’re looking for bike tours in other cities on your European adventure, I’d highly recommend this one in Salzburg. You’ll sing along as you discover the hills are alive with the sound of music.

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London Helicopter Tour: A Bird’s-Eye-View

There are countless tours you can take while you’re in London. Harry Potter tours, pub tours, walking tours, royal tours and just about every other kind of tour you can imagine. But the one that just might take the cake, is a London helicopter tour. Being able to see the iconic sights of London from a bird’s-eye-view is difficult to beat.

As with most of my posts, some links may be affiliate links. This means at no additional cost to you, I may make a small commission on anything you buy.

After doing extensive research for a London helicopter tour I decided to go with Heli Air, and I was not disappointed! I first took a 35-minute train from London Marylebone out to High Wycombe. Then I would recommend calling an Uber or cab to get from the train station to the airfield. I decided I would walk to save a bit of money and while it’s doable, I don’t recommend it! It would have been really inexpensive to grab an Uber or cab so I will definitely do that next time.

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A Bird’s Eye View of London

In contrast to the city, the beginning of the flight gives you a look at the English countryside. And I secretly got to imagine what it would be like to be the Duchess of Cambridge and travel to Kensington Palace via helicopter. As you pass by the Palace you can see Round Pond and Hyde Park with the London skyline off in the distance.

After passing by Kensington Palace we headed towards the city along the River Thames. And if I felt like the Duchess by the Palace, I felt just like Mary Poppins as we traveled above the river. Passing by Battersea Power Station, the London Eye, Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park, and Tower Bridge from up in the air was a tour like no other!

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My travel advice to people when they visit a new city is to take a walking tour and then climb to the highest point. This gives you an overview of the city and helps you really get the lay of the land. After my London helicopter tour I decided there’s an even better way to see the whole city than climbing to the highest point. Jump in a helicopter and fly over the city!

If you want to see my video of the tour, head over to Instagram!

If you want to explore London on foot I’d recommend visiting a few of my favorite London bookshops. If you’re visiting London at Christmas, be sure to visit my London at Christmas Bucket List. Or you can narrow down the list with my Top Five Things to do in London at Christmas.