The months of December and January rocked the communities of northern Ventura and southern Santa Barbara counties. A wildfire raged through the hills and communities, tearing through areas that hadn't burned in almost a hundred years. It burned 281,893 acres, making it the largest fire in modern California history, and its seventh most destructive, destroying over a thousand structures, including a large apartment complex several blocks from my home, and two people lost their lives. You'll still find signs around the cities declaring "Ventura Strong", "Santa Barbara Strong", and "805 Strong."
Earlier this month we spent a week on the big island of Hawaii. We spent most of our time on the sunny Kona side of the island, but that does not mean we ignored the wetter Hilo side. Larger than all the other Hawaiian islands combined, Hawaii offers plenty for the casual and adventurous travelers alike.
There are the typical tourist activities like Pike's Place Market and the Space Needle, which you can read more about here. But together those won't take more than half a day. There's food tours, underground city tours focusing on the seedy underbelly and dark past of Seattle, and the colorful Chihuly exhibit right in the shadow of the Space Needle. Here are my recommendations for what to do in Seattle.
Milwaukee most likely does not come up in your mind as a hot, trending destination, but it has a lot to offer. Walkable, full of great Ethiopian and Hmong food, and a fantastic collection of art both inside and outside of museums.
I visited Milwaukee in April of 2017 for the Women in Travel Summit. While I wasn't attending conference sessions, I wandered around the city with my camera. I found old brick buildings, plenty of artwork, and a scenic river.
I discovered that Milwaukee is pretty cool.
In the travel industry, the word "tourist" has become synonymous with the image of the red-faced American traveler wearing a fanny pack and Bermuda shorts wandering cluelessly looking for the closest burger joint. Many travelers in my age range are quick to point out they are not tourists but travelers. They want to distance themselves from the negative connotations of ignorance, lack of adventure, and all around terrible taste in clothing. They claim they get to know the "real" side of a place. Maybe they do, and maybe they don't. Yes, it is good for people to get out of their comfort zones and try things they would not normally experience in their home. Yes, it would be wonderful people to get out of the tourist district and see what everyday life is like for the people living there.
I have a confession to make: travel fills me with dread. No matter how many times I get on a plane, I'm still worried that I will be late (even if I'm two or three hours early), I forgot something important like my visa, or I will be the victim of a terrible disaster. One of the reasons why I travel is to overcome these anxieties and prove to myself they're unfounded. Normally, things go smoothly.
But sometimes things don't go the way we expect them. I would say that this is where we have our best moments when traveling but as I sit here with a wrist wrapped in a brace and a couple hundred dollars in medical bills from my most recent trip, I would say that's a bald-faced lie. Some mistakes and mishaps turn into adventures. Others turn into trips to the urgent care.
I tend to shy away from list posts and best this and best that. I normally find it trite. However, I would like to do a wrap up of 2015. 2013 led me to Mexico, 2014 had me in London, and in 2016 I'll be making my way to Vietnam, but in 2015 I never even left the state of California. In spite of that, I discovered new places and had great experiences even if they weren't the most exotic locales. To make the grade: had to be in 2015 and had to be a place I'd never been before.
5. Mother Lode/Calaveras Big Trees State Park
Riding antique steam locomotives, hotels that smell like corn chips, mysterious domes, and REALLY big trees. While it was a little hokey and homegrown, the Mother Lode has enough local California lore to give Huell Howser a permanent boner.
Skip Angels Camp when it's not jumping frog season, only go to Columbia State Historic Park if you've got kids or a real hankering for gold panning, and definitely check out the steam locomotives Railtown 1897.
4. Henry W. Coe State Park
Henry W. Coe makes it onto the list not only because of it's spectacular fall foliage, but how surprisingly nice it was. I had quite low expectations for this enormous state park, but was presently surprised by the trees, views, and how nice the rangers were.
About an hour drive south of my San Jose apartment, Henry W. Coe State Park provides great recreation opportunities for hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians. Just avoid it during the summer months.
3. McWay Falls
It's almost unbelievable, quite possibly sacrilegious that after living in Santa Cruz for a decade I never visited McWay Falls. Waterfall on a beach with water the color of Listerine. Yeah! It is a definite must stop for any road trip on the Big Sur coast.
So why is it not number one? Because while this 80 foot waterfall located in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is incredibly special, it is overcrowded with selfie taking tourists and you're not allowed on the beach.
2. Fort Ross Historic State Park
Did you know about the history of Russians in California? Well, I only knew vaguely; Russian River kind of gave me a hint. We did not initially plan to visit Fort Ross Historic State Park on our trip to Salt Point State Park, which does not make this list, but thought we might as well see it on our way back to the bay area. Things did not initially bode well with the pouring rain and complete lack of other visitors at the park. However, we were pleasantly surprised by the informed docents and how well preserved the buildings were. Frankly, it was just kind of a chance for me to nerd out on a piece of California history that I was ignorant of.
Fort Ross is close to a number of other noteworthy places: Jenner, Salt Point, Bodega Bay and the Russian River.
1. Channel Islands National Park
My visit to Channel Islands National Park was special for a number of reasons: it was my final national park to visit in California, it's in my home county, and endemic foxes. You have to take an hour long ferry to get to the islands, and no a trip to the mainland visitor's center is not enough. Do you want to see a place that has more endemic species than the Galapagos? Then fork out the sixty dollars and spend a day or two on the islands.
I grew up seeing the islands from the coast and being able to finally see the coast from islands made me feel all giddy inside. I had mixed feelings about the experience when I was on the island, but looking back it was my best travel moment of 2015.