Kauai North Shore

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I just got back from a little vaca in Hawaii, and it was AWESOME. Everyone who’s been to Hawaii already knows that, and if you haven’t been, everyone else has already told you that. I spent part of my time on the North Shore of Kauai and I’d highly recommend it. Below are some photos and quick suggestions of stuff to do.

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Hiking — When driving west on the North Shore, past Hanalei Bay, you’ll eventually get to the end of the road. Literally. There is no road going through Napali Coast State Park, but there’s plenty to do right there at the dead end. The Kalalau trail begins there, and even if you just hike for a couple of miles, it will take you up to a couple of beautiful viewpoints of the beach behind you and the cliffs ahead. Keep going for waterfalls and adventure.

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Beaches — All of the beaches in this area are good, too: Tunnels, Ke’e, and Ha’ena. There’s nice stretches of sand and some tree shade, with typically calm, crystal clear  waters and some great snorkeling. Parking can get crowded but you should be able to find a spot in one of the lots, and there’s a dry cave across the street from Tunnels Beach.

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Kayaking — The popular spot for kayaking in Kauai is Wailua, but if you want a far less crowded and more relaxed paddle, try the Hanalei River. It’s easy going, especially in the morning, and heading one way takes you into a nature reserve, while heading the other takes you to the ocean. No need to book ahead, and a rental is good for 24 hours, so come and go as you please.

This is only a snippet of fun stuff on the North Shore, let alone the rest of Kauai. Note that your chances of rain are higher in this region, but showers tend to be short and the landscape is ultra lush. Aloha!

 

Kauai North Shore

Channel Islands National Park

Last summer I went on a sea kayaking trip at Channel Islands National Park. It was superb! Here’s some info in case you’d like to go this summer (and you should):

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The Channel Islands are located about an hour’s boat ride from Ventura, CA. No one permanently lives there (you can camp) and there is no transportation on the island. All there is to do is kayak or snorkel or hike, and it’s pretty glorious.

You can only get to the islands via a couple of companies. If you want to kayak, you can book your passage to the island and kayak expedition all together. There are different excursions to different islands, including one-day trips and overnight trips with camping. There’s lots of info on the park website.

My husband and I chose Aquasport’s one-day trip to Santa Cruz Island with ocean kayaking. The boat left at about 8AM and we returned around 5PM. Once we arrived, our guide provided helmets, jackets, paddles, and kayaks, along with basic instructions. We spent the next 3 or 4 hours paddling in the sea, nudging into sea caves whenever possible. Our guide was fantastic and, even though it was unusually windy, he was a pro at making sure we saw as much as possible.

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I’d recommend wearing a bathing suit with some quick-drying layers over top and lots of sunscreen. Water socks are also highly recommended. Oh, and a baseball cap. It’ll keep the sun out of your eyes and make your helmet more comfy. You can bring some dry clothes, water, lunch, more sunscreen, etc. and keep it in your guide’s lockbox on land. Store in a waterproof, airtight bag and/or hard-sided cooler.

After kayaking, we had a couple of hours to eat lunch and explore the island. There’s a small museum of sorts displaying the history of the island, and there are a few hiking trails. I made my way up one and took in breathtaking views free of traffic noise.

Note that the dock at Santa Cruz has been out of commission for a few years now, and the crew ferries everyone back and forth from the big boat in groups of 8-10. It takes a while, but it’s kind of fun, and they are working real hard. Just be patient.

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Channel Islands National Park

Las Vegas Round-up, 3.7.14

I recently visited Vegas for the rugby Sevens tournament and it was super great. Here are a few other places I went that are also recommendable and off the beaten Strip:


Red Rock Canyon offers close to 20 hiking trails and a 13-mile scenic drive with plenty of spots to stop and stare. The rocks are colorful and the canyons are crisscrossed with streams. Note that there’s a $7 entrance fee per vehicle.


The Neon Museum rescues and restores classic neon signs and displays them in their “Boneyard.” Even the lobby comes from a now-closed Vegas hotel. Tours only, night tours and booking ahead are highly recommended.


Seven Magic Mountains is an art piece off the 15 freeway just west of Vegas. The neon towers of boulders are over 30 feet high and highly photogenic. The sculpture will be on view until May 2018.

 

Las Vegas Round-up, 3.7.14

Minneapolis

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I recently visited friends in Minneapolis over a long weekend. I had never been to Minnesota before, and really loved the Twin Cities and the fall weather (I’m aware of how terrible the winters are and you Minnesotans can keep them). Here’s a quick sum-up of places I went to that are worth visiting should you find yourself in Minneapolis.

Sights:

  • Walker Art Center – The crown jewel of the already bustling Minneapolis art scene, the Walker is worth a visit for the building alone. But it’s full of interesting art so go see that, too. Stop by the expansive gift shop.
  • Franconia Sculpture Park – Not exactly in Minneapolis, but an easy drive outside of town, Franconia is a little magical. The giant piece of land is covered in native grasses, a little forest, and dotted with dozens of large-scale sculptures. It’s free and open during daylight hours for endless wandering.
  • Stone Arch Bridge – In case you didn’t know, downtown Minneapolis is lined by the Mississippi River. This historic bridge spans the wide waterway, and is nice to look at and equally nice to walk over. While you’re in the area, check out the remains of an old mill and step out onto the Endless Bridge.
  • Chain of Lakes – Not only does Minneapolis have a river, it has a whole chain of lakes. All of them are lovely, and offer walking paths. If the weather is nice, take a kayak or pedal boat out for a spin.
  • Minnesota Center for Book Arts – A very cool, collaborative space that features a rotating gallery, shop, coffee shop, and book store.

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Food: 

  • Kyatchi – A modern Japanese restaurant that strives to use sustainable (and sometimes local) seafood. They offer a surprisingly extensive menu with lots of opportunity for sharing.
  • Izzy’s – This local ice cream stop has a couple of locations including downtown. An “izzy” is a tiny extra scoop on top of your order so you can have a bite of another flavor. Get the “dizzy izzy” for five little scoops (if you are indecisive like me).
  • Kramarczuk’s – I’ve only eaten their classic sausages at Target field, but they were soooo much better than your standard ballgame hot dog with a nice snap.
  • Brasa – Probably my favorite meal I had in Minneapolis. Great chicken, pork, and lots of sides like yucca, collard greens, beans and rice, and plantains. Nice atmosphere but casual. There can be a wait!
Minneapolis

It’s-It

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I’ve been an It’s-It fan since I found one by chance at a market in Brooklyn years ago. The ice cream sandwiches didn’t appear many places outside of the Bay Area at the time, and I bought it not really knowing what it was. The discovery of this magical mix of oatmeal cookies, ice cream, and chocolate led to years of actively seeking out It’s-Its with mixed results. Then I moved to Los Angeles. Lucky for me, the It’s-It home base is at least on the same coast, making them slightly easier to find (but still not plentiful).

During a recent trip to San Francisco, I happened to glance to the right while on the freeway. “WHAT!?” I yelled, and told my alarmed husband that we needed to get off at the next exit. A few turns later, and there we were: the It’s-It factory. They have a small shop attached selling all of their ice cream goods as well as a few bits of merchandise. There were more It’s-Its than I had ever imagined—six different flavors to be exact—as well as a couple of It’s-It creations that I hadn’t heard of, including the “Big Daddy.” I grabbed one along with a sweatshirt and ate it (the ice cream, not the sweatshirt) on the sidewalk outside. It was a fat, square ice cream sandwich, but the cookies stayed crunchy and the ice cream was super fluffy. I have no idea how they do it, but it’s totally great. If we weren’t on the road for a few more days we would have packed up a whole cooler-full.

If you’re in the San Fran area, definitely stop by and sample some treats. They even have dry ice if you’re saving some for later.

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this post is not sponsored, I just really love It’s-Its.

It’s-It

New Orleans

I recently visited New Orleans for the first time (I know I know. What took so long?), and of course had a wonderful time. I ate and drank and saw lots of fantastic stuff. Mostly I ate.

Below are some restaurants I’d recommend trying out, along with a few places we went that are worth specifically mentioning. Above all, I’d recommend wandering. Wander the French Quarter, Bywater, the Garden District. Wander and take in the beautiful, colorful homes, the river, the parks, the sights and sounds.

Food!

  • Oxalis — Chill bar/restaurant with a delicious burger and well-mixed cocktails in the Bywater.
  • Satsuma Cafe — An earthy cafe with fresh juices, vegan and not-so-vegan breakfast and lunch, and coffee in the Bywater.
  • Cafe Du Monde — You already know about this one. Totally worth a trip for beignets and coffee, especially at a random time on a weekday. Seat yourself in the cafe area or grab to-go at the window. Don’t wear black (see photo).
  • Parkway — A classic po’ boy joint with every kind of sandwich. Go for the fried shrimp.
  • Cane & Table — A good balance of high-class food in a jovial setting. Try the whole grilled fish and cocktails.
  • Sylvain — A nice dinner in the French Quarter that won’t totally blow your budget. New spins on Southern and NOLA cuisine. Romantic.
  • Elizabeth’s — A down-home restaurant in the Bywater where everyone will feel at home. Serves NOLA classics and has brunch.
  • Cochon Butcher — Lots of people talk about Cochon, but the sandwich shop next door is pretty great. Delicious lunch fare and a meat and cheese counter to boot. Where the Warehouse/Lower Garden/Central Business District collide.
  • Bacchanal — A homey wine and cheese store + restaurant and venue in Bywater. Pick out your wine (with the help of an expert) and cheese downstairs and they’ll deliver it to you with accompaniments on the patio or upstairs.

Other!

  • Carousel Bar — Located in Hotel Monteleone in the French Quarter. It’s historic and fun. Go at an off time for a chance to sit at the rotating bar.
  • Frenchman Street — Wander this street any night of the week and see live jazz of all kinds. Follow your ears.
  • WWII Museum — A huge and engaging museum with lots to see and do. Don’t skip the 4D movie.
  • Jean Laffite National Preserve — It’s a couple of hours drive from New Orleans, but if the weather’s right it’s worth it. Take a supremely peaceful walk through the swamp and see snakes, turtles, gators, and lots of hanging moss.
  • Preservation Hall — Top-notch NOLA history and jazz. Go to an early show on a Sunday or weekday and line up at least 30 minutes beforehand. Be prepared to cram into the tiny, magical venue.
  • Magazine Street/Lower Garden District — Wander in and out of shops and ogle at the beautiful homes.
New Orleans

Asheville Pinball Museum

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While traveling the South for the holidays, we stopped for a couple of nights in lovely Asheville, NC. We drank a lot of delicious craft beer, ate good food, saw some nice scenery, and played pinball.

Asheville has its own “pinball museum,” which charges you about $13 to poke around and play as much pinball as your heart desires. They have machines from the dawn of time—many of the oldest ones not turned on for play, but still displayed—all the way up through present day. It’s hard to say how many machines they have, but its a lot, and some of them pretty rare. They’re all kept in good working order, and the staff is friendly. There’s a bar for good measure, and some classic arcade games in back room that are also set to free play. Plus, your wrist band is good for the entire day, so come and go as you please.

My personal favorite was Upper Deck, the two-player baseball game. Stop by and get your game on the next time you’re in Asheville. Great for all ages (unless you’re those squirts who hogged Capcom vs Marvel the entire time we were there. You stink).

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Asheville Pinball Museum