La Jolla Sea Kayaking: Caves, Sea Lions, and Sharks

La Jolla is a coastal community about 12 miles north of downtown San Diego. One of La Jolla’s big draws is, of course, the beach. This family friendly 1 mile stretch of sand is adjacent to sea cliffs that house a series of caves. These caves are easy to access by sea kayak.Sea Caves in La Jolla

A sea cave adventure in La Jolla sounded too good to pass up! We decided to use a guide service rather than going it alone. Several local companies offer this service. We selected La Jolla Sea Cave Kayaks. In retrospect, I’m really glad we went with a guide! We saw and learned so much more from our guide, Luke, than we could have experienced on our own!

La Jolla Sea Kayaking

Our sea cave kayak tour was in the morning. We started  with a lesson on the beach in maneuvering the kayak. Fortunately, the water was like glass at launch time, so we had no trouble getting past the breakers.

Sea Kayaking in La Jolla

When we arrived at the cave, safety was the primary focus.  Our guide carefully explained the process of entering and exiting the cave. We were led in the cave 2 kayaks at a time. Instruction included how far into the cave to paddle and when to paddle out.  I was glad to be with a guide who knew the pattern of the waves as well as the location of the obstacles. I would not have felt comfortable doing this solo!

Sea Cave Kayaking in La Jolla

Mission accomplished – we kayaked in a sea cave! But, the fun was far from over! A colony of sea lions was lounging  on rocks near the cave. These marine mammals were entertaining and quite vocal! We had plenty of time to just sit and watch the sea lion soap opera unfold. Watching bulls jockey for position among the females was a hoot!

Sea Lions in La Jolla

On the return paddle along the cliffs, we stopped to watch sharks swimming below the surface. No need to sing the Jaws’ theme song – these were leopard sharks which are harmless to humans. It was such a treat to see these amazing predators in their natural habitat!

Leopard Shark in La Jolla

Kayaking in the sea cave and along the rocky La Jolla coastline was really fun! It wasn’t difficult or scary. A sea kayaking experience was an amazing way to spend a morning in La Jolla.  It far exceeded my expectations and was a highlight of our trip!

Tip & Tee: San Diego Bay

San Diego is home to a natural deep water harbor with a rich military and commercial history. San Diego Bay is at the heart of this coastal city. It is lined with hotels, shops, and restaurants, and there is no shortage of opportunities to stroll alongside this body of water.

Sailboat in San Diego Bay

San Diego Bay Trip Tip

There is so much to do in this Top Gun town that no trip is long enough to do it all! However, there is no better way to see San Diego than to get out on the bay. Whether you take a bay cruise or rent a boat and explore on your own, admiring San Diego from this incredible perspective is an experience you won’t soon forget.

San Diego TeeWhen it comes to shopping on a trip, I am a total tourist! My favorite souvenirs are travel tee shirts! Over the years, I’ve amassed quite a collection. In Tip & Tee, I share some of my treasures and a Trip Tip for that destination!

7 Tips for a Sensational Day at the San Diego Zoo

If you’re traveling to San Diego, you MUST explore the world famous San Diego Zoo! It is a remarkable place that certainly lives up to the hype. But be forewarned: There is so much to see and do that it is impossible to experience everything in one day!

As you plan your visit, consider these 7 tips to to make the most of your time at the unforgettable San Diego Zoo.

  1. Arrive early.  The San Diego Zoo is popular, so you may encounter crowds. Arriving early will give you some time to enjoy exhibits with less congestion. In the summer, morning is a great time to explore the zoo when the temperature is more moderate.San Diego Zoo Flamingo
  2. Don’t rush. Don’t make the mistake of creating a rigid itinerary for the day. Focus on quality, not quantity.  Being flexible allows you to enjoy the unexpected. During our recent visit, the leopards were active, and a volunteer was on hand to answer questions. We lingered longer at this exhibit just gazing at these magnificent creatures.  I never knew I could be so mesmerized by leopards!San Diego Zoo Leopard
  3. Wear appropriate footwear. Covering 100 acres, this animal wonderland is massive! You’ll have no trouble getting in your steps for the day when you tour the San Diego Zoo! Also, this acreage isn’t flat! Expect to trek up and down inclines throughout the day. I recommend wearing tennis shoes, hiking shoes, or a hearty adventure-style sandal. I’d avoid anything with thin soles or delicate straps. And, if you decide to wear a heel… well… don’t say I didn’t warn you!San Diego Zoo Koala
  4. Don’t stress about food. I found in my online research that several people suggested bringing a picnic to avoid the high cost and not-so-awesome food at the zoo. To save prep time, we opted to eat at the park. While it wasn’t the best food on our trip, the food was fine and prices weren’t outrageous. For us, this was just easier.San Diego Zoo Opaki
  5. Don’t wait too long to ride the Skyfari. The San Diego Zoo has a great old-school gondola that runs from the front of the park to the back. (Does anyone else besides me think it is a shame how many parks no longer have this type of ride?) Riding the Skyfari offers great views of the park. It can help you get your bearings while you rest your feet. But, lines can be long. We rode the gondola early in the day from the back of the park to the front. There was no line at the back station, but it was quite long at the front station. I would not wait more than 10 minutes to ride it even if it means skipping it all together.San Diego Zoo Skyfari
  6. Stay hydrated. As I mentioned, the San Diego Zoo is vast and can also be hot in the summer. A visit to this zoo means a lot of walking in the sun. Making sure everyone in your group drinks plenty of water will make for a more enjoyable day! Don’t worry, the bathrooms are fine!San Diego Zoo Turtle
  7. Consider a special experience. The San Diego Zoo offers a variety of different special experience tours for an additional fee. These tours aren’t cheap, so I debated whether or not it was worth the extra cost. We chose one of the Inside Look tours and absolutely loved it! It was a highlight of our visit. I would highly recommend it if you can make it work in your budget.San Diego Zoo Panda

Whether it is your first visit or your 10th, chances are you’ll experience something new and delightful at the San Diego Zoo. With 3,500 animals to see, you’re likely to want to go back again and again to this San Diego landmark!San Diego Zoo Giraffe

5 Must-See Sights in Sunny San Diego

There is no shortage of activities and sights to see in San Diego.  In fact, you’ll likely have trouble narrowing down all the great options! Few destinations offer so many choices for family fun!

During our recent trip, our time was limited.  We only had 3 days! I’m not sure 2 weeks would be enough time to experience everything this city has to offer. I did quite a bit of research before the trip to decide the best way to use our time.  Fortunately, we were able to squeeze a lot into this relatively short trip.

Here are what I consider to be 5 must-see sights in sunny San Diego:

  1. The San Diego Zoo:  The San Diego Zoo is amazing, so it is no surprise that this world famous zoo is one of the top rated attractions in San Diego. Of course, the pandas are a highlight, but the polar bear exhibit is probably my favorite! This zoo is massive, so I’d suggest allowing at minimum 6 or 7 hours for your visit.Polar Bear at the San Diego Zoo
  2. Coronado Island: The Coronado Island community is a great place to relax and play. It is a quick car trip or ferry ride from downtown San Diego, yet it feels like it is worlds away. Enjoy the beautiful beach or a bike or surrey ride around the island. As you might expect, there are plenty of local restaurants where one can grab a tasty meal. Spending a half or whole day on this island is time well spent!Coronado Island
  3. San Diego Bay:  San Diego Bay is the heart of this city.  Of course, various water craft rentals are available in the bay as well as shopping and dining bay side.  One of the best ways to experience San Diego Bay is to take a bay cruise which is offered by several tour companies.  A 1 or 2 hour bay cruise provides a great perspective on this city and a view of its many military installations.View of San Diego Bay from Point Loma
  4. The USS Midway: The USS Midway Museum is also ranked as one of the top attractions in San Diego.  The reason for this is clear – it provides a fascinating look into life on an aircraft carrier.  This museum also highlights the important role these floating cities play in the freedom of our nation.  Be prepared – this museum is one in which you’ll wish you had more time.  We were there for about 3 hours, and it was not enough!USS MidwaySan Diego USS Midway-3 trip
  5. Cabrillo National Monument:  Cabrillo National Monument is located on Point Loma, and I can’t imagine a more spectacular view of San Diego Bay.  This National Monument offers family friendly hiking trails as well as a historic lighthouse to explore. In certain times of the year, this is a great destination for tide pooling and whale watching.  Regardless of when you visit, you won’t be disappointed.Cabrillo Monument

Whatever you decide to do during your trip to San Diego, its likely that you’ll find more to do than time allows.  Of course, that just means you’ll have to plan another trip to this Southern California vacation wonderland!

7 Budget Friendly Vacation Ideas for Summer

If you’re trying to decide where to take the family on summer vacation but are worried about your budget, don’t stress! It is possible to have an awesome trip without breaking the bank!

To find that destination that fits your family’s budget, consider places that are a little different.  By this I mean avoiding the headliner destinations like Disney, major cities like San Diego or Chicago, or the super popular beaches.  While I love all of those places, they aren’t always the most budget friendly.  Also, look for places that are either off the beaten path or have plenty of capacity in terms of lodging.  This can often mean lower prices!

While budget friendly means different things to different people, here are some ideas with enough options to fit your family’s budget.

  1. Colorado Springs, Colorado: Colorado Springs combines the best of city amenities and outdoor adventure.  Because Colorado Springs is a good size city, there are plenty of lodging options to fit your needs and budget.  There is LOTS to do in Colorado Springs much of which costs little or no money. You’ll have no problem finding plenty of activities your family will love.

    Garden of the Gods park in Colorado Springs, CO.
    Garden of the Gods park in Colorado Springs, CO
  2. Branson, Missouri: This vacation town is nestled in southern Missouri and has a variety of lodging options that won’t break the bank.  This town has family oriented shows and activities galore.  Branson even has a theme park, Silver Dollar City, which is actually pleasant as far as theme parks go. Silver Dollar City is a cozy park with much to please the kids and adults. And, a season pass is very reasonable making a multi-day visit a great bang for your buck!  Trust me, your kids won’t want to leave!

    Ride at Silver Dollar City in Branson, MO
    One of the many family friendly rides and attractions at Silver Dollar City, a theme park in Branson, MO
  3. Big Sky, Montana. Yes, I admit I am partial to summertime in the mountains! Big Sky, Montana is the nation’s largest ski resort.  That means there is a large supply of lodging available at significantly reduced rates during the off season.  Trust me, a ski in/ski out cabin is an awesome place to spend a summer vacation! Big Sky is beautiful during the summer and there are so many family friendly outdoor activities to enjoy. And, Yellowstone is only a short drive away!

    Ski Lift in Big Sky, Montana
    Ski Lift in Big Sky, Montana
  4. Northern California.  You may wonder how California could possibly be budget friendly. Northern California is home to the Redwood State and National Parks. This natural beauty is spread out over a large area, so you will find a variety of small communities along the coast which makes a great base for exploring this national treasure.

    Redwood National and State Parks located in Northern California.
    Redwood National and State Parks located in Northern California
  5. Coastal Maine. Why not consider a different kind of coastal getaway rather than a traditional beach vacation? Maine has 3,478 miles of coastline – that’s more coastline than California! There are charming communities all along the Maine coastline which means there are lots of lodging options. You can get that quintessential Maine experience in so many different places, so you aren’t limited to the more well known (and pricier) resort towns.

    East Boothbay Ocean Point near Boothbay Harbor, Maine
    East Boothbay Ocean Point near Boothbay Harbor, Maine
  6. Arkansas. The Natural State offers the best of both worlds for your summer vacation. Arkansas is a small state, so you can enjoy the amenities of a small city or town such as the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock or Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville but still be close to nature. Opportunities for outdoor adventures are as abundant as they are diverse.  From the State’s beautiful lakes to its scenic mountains, options for outdoor fun include water sports, hiking, climbing, caving, floating, digging for diamonds, biking, birding, and much more! Visit the first National River, the Buffalo National River, or America’s first lands to be set aside for natural features, Hot Springs National Park. If you love the outdoors, you’ll find something to suit your fancy in Arkansas! And best of all, your vacation dollars will go along way in this budget friendly state!
    Float the Buffalo National River in Arkansas
    Float the Buffalo National River in Arkansas

    Bridge over the Arkansas River on the Arkansas River Trail in Little Rock.
    The Arkansas River Trail near the Clinton Presidential Center in Downtown Little Rock is a great place for cycling
  7. The 4 Corners. This area of the country where New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado converge offers a variety of adventures! Explore Mesa Verde National Park and Hovenweep National Monument to experience the rich Native American history of the area.  Take a day trip to Monument Valley and try to name all of the movies filmed in this area of the Wild West.  Trek the mountains of the San Juan National Forest.  There is so much to do here, you’ll probably just need to plan to go more than once!

    The 4 Corners
    The 4 Corners marker, Hovenweep National Monument, and Mesa Verde National Park near Cortez, CO

Don’t let a limited budget keep you from enjoying a family vacation. For tips on stretching your budget, check out 7 Secrets to Stretch Your Vacation Budget Without Sacrificing Fun!

There are so many awesome places to visit in this great country! So, hop in the car and explore someplace new!

3 Tips for An Awesome Trip to the Redwoods

The Redwood National and State Parks are home to some of the oldest and largest living things on the planet.  These giant trees can grow to heights of over 350 feet!  And, talk about old, there are trees here that were likely alive during the the time of the Roman Empire!

The Redwoods are a great vacation destination for all ages.   A trip to these coastal forests provides a unique opportunity to walk among giants and learn about the ecosystem in which they thrive.  Here are 3 tips to help you make the most out of your visit:

  1. Understand the Structure of the Park:  The Redwood National and State Parks are a unique arrangement. It is more like a coalition of state and federally managed lands rather than a single park.  You will see references to the parks as a whole as well as individually.  For example, the Jedediah Smith State Park is part of the Redwood National and State Parks.  While these lands are all in the same region of Northern California, they aren’t all connected to each other.  I highly recommend spending time reviewing the park map before your trip!  Otherwise, the layout can feel a bit overwhelming.Redwood National and State Parks
  2. Focus on Quality vs Quantity:  The Redwood National and State Parks are in the same general region, but it is spread out.  The parklands stretch about 50 miles from north to south.  There are 5 visitor centers as well as many groves and points of interest, so it is tempting to try to see as much as possible.  However, I recommend spending quality time in 2 or 3 areas of the park than trying to rush and see it all.  Plan to spend more time on foot rather than in the car, so you can stop and stare up!redwoods-4
  3. Don’t Miss the Other Magic:  Of course, the trees are the main event at the Redwood State and National Parks, but there is so much more to enjoy in this area.  These groves are located in a beautiful area right on the coast.  The ocean is a huge part of Redwood ecosystems, so watching the fog roll in off the ocean is a real treat!  I love the fact that there are miles and miles of uncrowded beaches. This beach experience is much different than the typical trip to the beach as you’ll likely be wearing a jacket!  The Roosevelt Elk herds as well as a hike through Fern Canyon are other highlights!

Visiting the Redwood National and State Parks is an incredible experience! A stroll through these forests will no doubt leave you with a sense of awe and possibly a crick in the neck! While it is impossible to capture the immense scale of these trees in photos, you will certainly have a delightful time trying!

Alcatraz Rocks! (Pun Intended)

Touring Alcatraz should be a priority when in San Francisco – it’s up there with riding a cable car.  Yet, when I talk to people who visit, many don’t make it to Alcatraz.

Alcatraz is absolutely, hands down, my favorite San Francisco attraction!  (Yes, I realize this is a bold statement!)

There are so many things to see and do in the Bay Area.  Touring Alcatraz is a time commitment, and it takes advanced planning as tickets often sell out.  So, is it worth the time, effort, and money?  YES!  Here are 3 things that ROCK at Alcatraz:

  1. The Tour ROCKS:  A tour is a great way to learn more about a destination without having to do a bunch of work.  It is fun to hear all those extra little details one might miss just reading a brochure or guide.  The Alcatraz tour is no exception. This tour is actually an audio tour.  Oddly enough, I think it feels more personal – like they are talking just to me.   The tour guides visitors throughout various parts of the prison explaining the daily life of prisoners.  It is an immersive experience.
  2. The Boat Ride ROCKS:  The tour of the notorious Alcatraz includes a boat ride across infamous San Francisco Bay.  From the boat, you’ll see the Golden Gate Bridge which is still amazing even when it is shrouded in fog!  From the boat, you can also enjoy a nice view of the city.  I see this as a 2 for 1 deal in that you get to tour Alcatraz AND enjoy a boat ride in San Francisco Bay.
    The Golden Gate Bridge
    The Golden Gate Bridge

    alcatraz-san-francisco-trip
    View of San Francisco
  3. The Stories ROCK: There is certainly no shortage of captivating stories involving Alcatraz.  Of course, there are many movies which feature The Rock as a central character.  However, given its rich history, the true stories are even better!  (This is NOT a time to skip the park movie as it recaps many of these stories!)  Alcatraz’s long history as a prison dates back to the 1850’s.  Although, most of us are more familiar with the prison’s more recent guests including Al Capone and The Birdman.  The Alcatraz Occupation from 1969 to 1971 is an often forgotten but historically significant period when Alcatraz Island was occupied by a group of Native American protesters.  In 1972, it became a National Recreation Area which is now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area managed by the National Park Service.  Perhaps this island’s biggest mystery is the Great Escape – when 3 inmates escaped by chiseling a hole the back of the cell.  They fooled the guards by placing fake heads in their beds and fled in the dark of night.  It is not known for certain if they made it across the treacherous bay.
    Chiseled hole.
    The Chiseled Hole

    alcatraz-escape-trip
    Diagram of the Escape

San Francisco is not a cheap place to visit which makes it even more important to strategically plan your itinerary in order to make the most out of your time there. Despite all of the incredible sights in and around San Francisco, I highly recommend making time for a visit to The Rock!

Trip Tip:  Don’t book a late afternoon tour for Alcatraz if you can avoid it.  It is best to have plenty of time to explore and participate in any Ranger led programs which may be offered.  Your visit will be much more enjoyable if you don’t feel worried about catching the last boat back!

View of Alcatraz
View of Alcatraz from San Francisco