Cape Town, South Africa

When I was a sophomore in college, I joined 500 other college students on the trip-of-a-lifetime aboard a ship circumnavigating the world in 110 days. On board the University of Virginia's Semester at Sea abroad program, we were immersed in each of the cultures of Hawaii, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Cambodia, India, Mauritius, South Africa, Ghana, and Brazil. Every day was an adventure, and as I explained in my very first post on this blog, my passion for travel was officially ignited. After I got back from abroad, everyone's very first inquiry into my trip was "So, what country did you like best?" Yes, I loved each and every country for different reasons. Yet, without any hesitation, I would answer, telling everyone all about how, in six short days, I fell completely and totally head-over-heels in love with 
Cape Town, South Africa

Maybe it was the incredible tip-of-the-world feeling you get from being in the southernmost city in Africa. Or maybe it was the unique combination of the bright African culture and the beautiful English colonial influence. Maybe it was the rich history. Maybe it was the nightlife and the delicious South African hard cider I had at every local pub, or possibly the gorgeous hikes to the top of Table Mountain. Maybe it was seeing the penguins on the beach, or tasting wines in the wine country, or maybe it was just the unparalleled views of the Indian Ocean meeting the Atlantic Ocean. Whatever the reason was, I fell in love with the city of Cape Town, and I know that you all will too. 
I took this photo of a sunset in Camp's Bay. This unedited picture doesn't even do the African sunsets justice. Incredible colors light up the sky like you have never seen before. It is magical. 
Table Mountain
My nana is the most traveled person you will ever meet. Her love for travel began when she was my age and has never died down. She is in the Centurian Club (you can only be a part of this exclusive bunch if you've been to over a hundred countries) and her and my 
grandfather spend much of their retired life aboard various around-the-world cruises that take them traveling the globe for four months at a time. When they're not out seeing the world, they are enjoying their gorgeous view of the Pacific Ocean from the deck of their charming oceanside home in La Jolla, California. What a life. Anyways, my nana is my guru when it comes to travel. She's been everywhere, she's done most everything, and she has great advice. Which is why I was so incredibly excited about getting the opportunity to go to Cape Town, South Africa while on my Semester at Sea. Nana had told me that it was easily among her top five places in the world, which is huge coming from someone so well-traveled. She also gave me the important advice to make sure that I was on deck when we were pulling into port aboard the ship, as it was one of the most beautiful cities to see from the water that she had ever seen. This was incredible advice, as I still remember being completely awestruck pulling into the Victoria & Alfred Harbor, stunned at the beauty of the majestic mountains, the bright red sunrise, and the colonial-inspired old-world-city-turned-modern-metropolis nestled beautifully on the most southern tip of Africa. I could see right in that moment that Cape Town has everything you could ever want in a destination. Views, beaches, hikes, wines, nightlife, history, culture, africa, wildlife, safaris, and of course those to-die-for South African accents. No wonder people rave about this place so much. 

For the tourist
Cape of Good Hope.
The Cape of Good Hope is where the Indian Ocean famously meets the Atlantic Ocean. It's absolutely gorgeous, and a must-see if you're in South Africa. I did a bike tour all the way to the cape, which was a great way to see it. But you can hike, drive, or bike your way there, and you can bring a picnic too! 

Stop at Boulder's Penguin Colony in Simonstown on your way and see thousands of penguins playing in the water and eating the mussels! You can get super close to them and it's sure to be a highlight of your trip! 

V&A Waterfront: Lively at all hours of the day and night, the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront is a great gathering place for Cape Town tourists and locals alike. Sprinkled with shops, restaurants, pubs, and outdoor entertainment, it's one of my favorite places in Cape Town! Go to breakfast at Melissa's Food Shoppe - so cute and delicious! And for dinner, choose one of the many delicious restaurants. I liked Sevruga so much that I went  to dinner there twice! Gorgeous outdoor seating on the water and I had the most delicious fresh South African seafood there, including southern hemisphere fish that I had never even heard of. The menu also had other delicacies such as ostrich, springbok, alligator, and more as well as a killer wine & cocktail list. One of my favorite things about Cape Town is that they don't hike the wine prices up in restaurants- so you can get a delicious bottle of wine under ten bucks at a fancy restaurant- CRAZY! Also, beers, even at nice restaurants like this one, will only run you about $1.50. Amazing. This restaurant also gave us free "springbok shooters" for dessert each time we were there since they were excited that it was our first time in South Africa (a mint chocolate shooter named after South Africa's famous springbok animals) -- how could I say no to that!?

Wine country
While studying international business on Semester at Sea, I got to learn a lot about each country's economics and business before visiting them. Yes, I loved learning about the Japanese electronics industry and the bullet trains, and of course the Chinese manufacturing, and the Indian textiles... but let's face it, when my professor told me we were going to study the South African wine industry for weeks, including touring vineyards, wine tasting and learning about the marketing of the wines across the world, I was pretty excited, to say the least.  Along with getting to taste delicious wines, especially the famous South African unique red wine, Pinotage, I also learned a ton about the industry. Including just how difficult it is to get good wine exported if you're not a French or Italian label. The South African global wine market is in its young stages but is rapidly growing, making a very exciting place to go wine tasting. South Africa not only has arguably one of the best regions for growing wine, it's also one of the only lucky wine regions around the world where the vintages match the views. 

Wine has been in production here since 1652, but they're just beginning to get noticed by the top wine connoisseurs in the world. Which means not only great things for Cape Town and South Africa- but great things for all of us, as the prices of these wines are, for the time being, incredibly low compared to the hyped Bordeauxs and Napa Valleys of the world. If you find yourself in South Africa, wine tasting is a must, as you'll get to taste some of the most delicious and most affordable wines you'll never be able to get back in the States.

Stellenbosch Wine Route- along this wine route you'll find many vineyards (or as the locals call them winefarms) that host wine tasting, among the most famous are:
Waterford Estate- four words: Wine and chocolate tasting. Here, you'll sit at a gorgeous courtyard table and be greeted with fine Belgian chocolates specially crafted onsite to match each wine you'll taste from the estate. Talk about a perfect afternoon!
Warwick - Family-owned with many award winning wines and views you wish you could get back home! 
Morgenhof - This beautiful white estate situated among the Stellenbosch mountains has many fine wines, some of which are sold worldwide. 
Gettin up close and personal with these little guys at Boulder's Penguin Colony
Cabrière - Top notch sparkling wines. Prepare to be seduced by the amazing bubbly, the stunning views, and the winery's motto that "wine is bigger than one, it's the combination of four factors. Sun, Soil, Vine, and Man. Not to mention the underground cellar restaurant!
Dieu Donné - Famous for its signature South African pinotage red wine. Many award-winning wines and, of course, like all the stellenbosch winefarms, breathtaking views. 
Franschhoek Wine Route- Another wine route nearby the famed Stellenbosch with great winefarms.
Boekenhoutskloof -famous for it's Wine Spectator top-ranked reds. 
Stony Brook Vineyards - Go here for an open-air, family-run tasting. You'll taste delicious reds (their most famous is their 2003 cabernet sauvignon) and feel like you're welcomed into a local's home.
Boschendal - founded in 1685. One of the first vineyards in the area and a gorgeous example of the famous Cape Dutch architecture in Cape Town.

for the adventurer
Go on a Safari - How can you leave Africa without seeing the big 5? The 'Big Five' are Lions, Leopards, Elephants, Buffaloes and Rhinos, and you'll hear people referencing them all the time in Africa. Take a daytrip to a safari only hours outside Cape Town, or make it a longer trek to one of the bigger national game reserves in the northern part of South Africa. 
Gondwana Game Reserve- a three hour drive from Cape Town. Rave reviews, and good if you don't have time to fly out of Cape Town.

Wait, we can stay here instead of tents? Sign me up.

Kruger National Park- A more famous safari park, but you'll have to fly there. There are plenty of tour companies that will set everything up for you out of Cape Town, so why not do an overnight tented safari if you have the time! This park is also famed for this youtube video that went viral where safari-goers see a pack of lions kill a buffalo!

Great white shark diving- Yes, this is one of the most popular tourist activities in South Africa. Two hours outside of Cape Town, you can have the most daring adventure of your life and get right up close and personal with some humongous great white sharks. Not for my chicken self,  but I had plenty of friends who raved about the experience. An awesome experience if you've got some serious guts. 

Hiking Table Mountain- Table mountain serves as the dramatic backdrop to the seaside city of Cape Town. Just don't go on a day where the "Tablecloth is on the mountain" - meaning there's literally a tablecloth of fog covering the mountain. Beautiful- but not prime for the views. The hike up takes at least three hours, or you can choose to take the cableway up the mountain. At the top you'll find some of the most gorgeous views in the world, and some shops and restaurants. For the more adventurous souls, you can also hang glide over the mountain, getting incredible views from the air! 

Mama Africa's - A great place to take a group for a fun, authentic African meal. I'll admit, I was a little scared to try the warthog and the alligator, but they fry and sautee everything up with amazing African spices... you won't say no! I also remember delicious South African wine flowing at this meal. Take a group, enjoy the fun, African culture, and go home telling everyone you ate Pumba!

Go see a rugby or soccer game- both sports are held near and dear to most South Africans' hearts, and you will love the atmosphere. South Africa was the site of the 2010 Fifa World Cup, and Cape Town's Green Point Stadium lies right on the water. 
Rugby is to South Africa as football is to America. The Cape Town Tens  is the largest Rugby tens tournament in the world and is Africa's biggest rugby party. Think Germany's Oktoberfest meets the Super Bowl. If you happen to be in town, try to catch a game or at least go to a pub to watch! I had some of the best times watching rugby while in Cape Town- I had no idea what was going on at all so I'd be staring intently at the TV's in the pub trying to figure it out... I even had a South African guy come up to me and say "So, you must really like rugby?" Nope, just trying to figure this complicated sport out. Immediately he knew I was American, bought me and friends drinks, and tried to explain to us all about South Africa and rugby. It was awesome hanging out with the locals watching their favorite sport-- So find yourself a pub and some hardcore South African fans and try to figure out the game- It's really fun to watch! 

Robben Island- A great tour of the island where Nelson Mandela spent 18 years of his life in imprisonment. You'll leave feeling very somber but cultured about apartheid and the relentless struggle that this beautiful country has been through just in the last twenty years.

Clifton Beach- A gorgeous beach town area of Cape Town. Fancy, expensive houses (would be an awesome place to rent a house with your family or friends for a week and stay!) and gorgeous beaches. Definitely a beautiful place to spend the day.

Camp's Bay- About a five minute drive from Clifton beach, on the other side of Table Mountain from the V&A Waterfront, lies Camp's Bay- A South Beach-esque favorite. With first class nightclubs, luxe hotels and beautiful people, Camp's Bay is your place if you're into the luxe mixture of beaches, cocktails, and elegant nightlife. 

where to stay

Victoria & Alfred Hotel
A prime location in the V&A Waterfront, this contemporary and elegant hotel is a great choice for your stay.

Mount Nelson
Named after Nelson Mandela, the luxurious Mount Nelson is consistently ranked amongst the nicest hotels in the world. It's elegant colonial architecture and outstanding facilities earn it five stars. It has the old world charm you want in a city like Cape Town, but with modern sophistication you'll love. Definitely a splurge, but at least stop by for brunch (that's what I did)!

Twelve Apostles Hotel in Camp's Bay
Often ranked the Best Hotel in Cape Town, this five star boutique hotel in Camp's Bay is your place if you want to be near the beautiful beaches.

The Bay Hotel. For value and a beautiful setting on the beach in Camp's Bay, the Bay Hotel is your place.

Long Street
If you're looking for cheap hostels and a whole lotta nightlife- Long Street is your destination. Tons of bars and a really fun, young scene. It gets pretty crazy at night, definitely one of the wildest streets I've ever been to, and is tons of fun!

know before you go:
The summer months are December-February, and it's hot but not humid- beautiful beach weather. The water is cold (you're pretty far down south!), so don't plan on swimming if you're not there in the summer. I thought the climate was similar to California when I was there in April, as it was pretty mild, around 75, but sunny. 

When I left Cape Town, I couldn't help but feel like I could live there. It has many similarities to my home city of San Francisco, but with an African flavor and an amazingly fun culture all it's own. I would say Cape Town is like a mix of Australia, with it's fun-loving, carefree lifestyle and beautiful beaches, and San Francisco, with it's mild weather, fog, wine country, and charming architecture. San Francisco + Australia? Now if that isn't perfection, I don't know what is. 

Hope you're all enjoying whatever paradise you're exploring this holiday season! Until next time, 

Lake Tahoe

I may be biased, but goodness I love California. I love our weather, I love our cities, and I love our beaches. But one of the things I love the most about this beautiful golden state is that we prove that it is, indeed, possible to have it all. Beaches? Sure, take your pick.  Big cities? Check. National parks? All over the place. Mountains? You betcha. There are so few states that can boast the amazing ability to get from the beach to the mountains in a short few-hour drive, and I think that it's what makes the Golden State so great. Every Christmas break, the cities and the suburbs flee, all taking refuge from our warm winter days in exchange for lots of layers, cozy fireplaces, hot cocoa, and something magical we just can't get at home: SNOW.  We spend our days skiing all morning, sledding all afternoon, hibernating by the fireplace all night, and always planning our next snowball fight.... Welcome to Tahoe

I just got back from a ski weekend up in Tahoe, and I already have another 5 day weekend trip in the works for over New  Years, so obviously I can't wait to tell you all about this gorgeous mountain destination. Orbitz has named Tahoe its #1 Ski Destination for three consecutive years, and after one visit, you won't question why.  Tahoe is a little elitist, but in the best way. People come from all over the world to ski the miles and miles of terrain that make this destination the snowcapped paradise it is. So, whether you're flying in from across the world, or you're a lucky California local vacationing to your backyard winter oasis, Tahoe has absolutely everything you need for the perfect winter getaway. So, grab your hot cocoa (or your irish coffee) and get comfy... I'm here to make sure you take this winter wonderland by storm!

fast facts 
Did you know? Tahoe has the largest concentration of ski resorts in the country with 12 ski resorts in the gorgeous Sierra Nevada mountains! It's also the highest alpine lake in the US and the second highest in the world!

Airports: Reno (closest at 40 min away) or Sacramento (about an hour and half drive)

ski resorts

Squaw Valley Once site of the winter olympics, Squaw has some of the most beautiful and most challenging ski slopes in Tahoe. It is the biggest, and one of the best, but beginners beware- a Squaw beginner's green is more like a blue intermediate anywhere else. Squaw is definitely one of my very favorites, and where I skied all last weekend. One of my favorite things is the Olympic Village at the base of the mountain, complete with tons of restaurants, shops, bars & coffee houses-- definitely tourist-friendly. Also, up toward the top of one of Squaw's runs, Gold Coast, you can find the world's first and only ski-in-ski-out Starbucks. Super cool (see pic).
Ski-in-ski-out Starbucks @ Squaw
Best runs: Red Dog (Black Diamond), Shirley (Blue), and Mountain Run (Blue)
Alpine Meadows
Alpine and Squaw have a great deal where you can ski at both resorts for the price of one lift ticket. Since the resorts are so close, you can use their complimentary shuttle and get a two-for-one ski day. Alpine is  another regular favorite, and has a great mix of beginner slopes and high-difficulty terrain. The back of the mountain is also great for the adventurous skiers and boarders. Apres-skiing, definitely check out the Last Chair Bar for food & drinks.

Northstar is another of my favorite ski resorts. The smart layout of the slopes, complete with tons of runs for all different skill levels, provides you with a prime mountain playground. 
Like Squaw, Northstar also has a village at the base, which is great if you feel like relaxing in one of the lodges, bars, or restaurants, or doing a little shopping in between ski days. If you do reach the top at Northstar (8,610 feet), stop for lunch at the Summit Deck and Grill. The chili and cornbread will be just what you need in the middle of your exhilerating ski day!  After skiing, kick back at Overlook bar, next to the ice skating rink in the middle of Northstar's base village. Sit on some cushioned chairs by the firepit and take in the beautiful snowy scene. Live bands and $2 happy hour beers don't hurt much either.

View from Heavenly
Boreal A beginner's dream-come-true! With all the intense expert-oriented resorts out there in Tahoe, Boreal is what many beginnners are looking for. Low lift ticket prices, and easy to access for a day trip. Perfect for kids learning to ski. A smaller resort, but it's the closest from Sacramento, about 45 minutes before you hit the other North Tahoe resorts. 

Heavenly With some of the best views of the deep blue Lake as you ski down the mountain, this is a resort that lives up to its name. Lots of terrain variety. Heavenly is consistently ranked in the top Tahoe ski resorts. Go with the whole family as there's something for everyone, and the scenery is tough to beat!

Kirkwood In South Tahoe, Kirkwood boasts tons of open bowls, 65 total runs, the highest base elevation in Tahoe, as well as the deepest annual snowfall.  A great choice if you're in South Tahoe. 

Homewood Like it's name implies, Homewood is a ski haven for many locals and mountain home-owners. A smaller sized mountain, but with some great skiing. Lower prices and less crowds make this resort a favorite. 64 runs, all with incredible lake views!! Homewood has mostly intermediate runs, so it's best for the casual-yet-daring skiier, though they still have enough beginner and expert runs to keep everyone happy! The longest run, Rainbow Ridge, is a whole 2 miles long!

Where to stay

Resort at Squaw Creek
This past weekend, my boyfriend and I stayed here in the Olympic Valley and had an amazing time.  Seeing the rave reviews, I knew we were in for a mountain lodge oasis, but it exceeded all of my expectations.  Located at the base of the Squaw Valley mountains, Squaw Creek is one of the few hotels that has a private ski lift right outside of your door. With rentals right on the property, they make everything simple and easy for you to get right on the slopes. You can even ski back down to the same spot at the end of your day- pretty amazing! Another one of my favorite parts of this resort is the open-year-round outdoor heated pool and hot tubs (pictured). There is nothing, and I mean nothing, like the feeling of hot tubbing at night surrounded by snow after a full day of skiing. Your soreness and tiredness from taking on the mountain melt into the hot tub.  The combination of the brisk cold, the gorgeous snow, the lit up resort, and the heavenly hot tub will be sure to be one of the highlights of your trip. It definitely was mine. 
The service at the resort was also top-notch. They even upgraded us upon arrival to a fireplace suite with a gorgeous marble fireplace, our own living room and kitchen, and stunning views of the mountains. We ate our meals at the awesome hotel restaurants and rented equipment and bought our lift tickets steps away from our room. With icey roads, snowy weather, and heavy ski equipment, you really don't need to go anywhere once you get to this resort- it's definitely an experience worth the cost, as the Resort at Squaw Creek makes your trip simply amazing.

Cedar House Sport Hotel. This family run hotel in Truckee is your home away-from-home in Tahoe. Modern and eco-friendly, the 40-room Cedar House is a fantastic choice for lodging in Tahoe. It also hosts one of Tahoe's most famous (and expensive) restaurants, Stella, for all you foodies.  Rooms start from $170, including full breakfast! 10918 Brockway Rd, Truckee, CA, 96161

Ritz Carlton Lake Tahoe
This five star resort is for those looking the luxe lodge. It is a stunning property tucked away in the mountains, so if you can afford it, this is definitely your place for an intimate and amazing Tahoe getaway.  13031 Ritz Carlton Highland Court, TruckeeCA

for the adventurer

Me & the bf skiing last weekend at Squaw
I have been a lifelong skiier since about five or six and am personally a huge fan of the sport.  I highly recommend trying it and taking a lesson even if you never have before.  As far as gear goes, you can choose to bring up your own gear and equipment, or rent from your resort. Most people rent, making it easier to not have to carry all the heavy skis and ski boots everywhere. Make sure you bundle up, pack your ski goggles, gloves, pants, warm socks and a big waterproof ski jacket as it gets chilly up in the mountain peaks and layers are key. 

Skiing not your thing? No worries, there is so much to do in Tahoe whether you're sledding, ice skating, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, or just sitting by the fire and taking in the gorgeous mountains...

Adventure Mountain. Who doesn't love sledding? This transformed ski resort is now a very popular area for tubing down the snowcapped hills. With 40 pristine acres, it's the perfect place to take your family for a fun-packed snowday. Along with tons of tube runs, they also have snowshoeing! (hiking with special shoes meant for snow). Echo Summit Sno-Park. Hwy. 50 at Echo Summit, South side of roadway 

Kingvale Tubing and Sledding Center. This place has 5 lift-served tubing lanes for the serious tubers. They even have night tubing and snow mobiling. So much fun.  I-80 Kingvale exit, 18 miles west of Truckee, Kingvale

Ice skating. 
Squaw Valley Olympic Ice Pavilion.
1960 Squaw Valley Road Olympic Valley High Camp – Squaw Valley USA

Northstar Ice Skating Rink. Located in the heart of the Village at Northstar, this huge ice skating rink is free for everyone! $10 for ice skate rentals, and open until 9pm.

Heavenly Village Ice Rink
Heavenly Village Way South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150

Snow mobiling
Kind of like jetskiing in the snow, snowmobiling provides an awesome exhilerating experience. Rent one at one of the aforementioned sledding parks or check out snowmobile tours in Tahoe!

for the gamblers  Skiing may just be the most expensive sport ever. Between the cost of all the intense clothing and accessories, the hotels and houses, the lift tickets and rental fees, things add up fast. So, why not lose more money win back your money across the Nevada state line?  Reno is hopping with Casinos if you're staying in South Lake Tahoe,  but closer to the North Tahoe resorts is the Grand Lodge Casino (in the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe, 111 Country Club Drive; 775-832-1234 ; open 24 hours, with a full array of slots, blackjack, roulette and craps tables, and live entertainment on Friday and Saturday nights. 

for breakfast  It's always smart to load up on breakfast before your long day on the slopes! Here are a few of my Tahoe faves

Old Post Office CafeGreat homestyle breakfast and a local fave. Can get super popular on weekends, though, so be sure to get there early! 5245 N Lake Blvd, Carnelian Bay, CA 

Driftwood Cafe - Located steps away from Heavenly Ski Resort, this breakfast place is a skiier's favorite. Loaded omelettes, pancakes, waffles, breakfast burritos, and more. 
1001 Heavenly Village Way. South Lake Tahoe, CA 

Fire Sign Cafe - This place is so good! Gets really crowded, but worth the wait. Omelettes, scrambles, french toast, benedicts, buttermilk waffles... OK my mouth is watering.  1785 W Lake Blvd Tahoe City, CA

Poppy's Yogurt & Waffle Shoppe- My favorite grab-and-go breakfast place. Located right in Tahoe City on the main road. Grab yourself a delicious waffle, a breakfast sandwich, an avocado, egg, and cheese breakfast burrito, or one of their amazing smoothies. Bonus! Sometimes in the summer, they'll have MIMOSA flavored sorbet.. made with real champagne, which is incredible. First time I've been I.D.ed getting ice cream! 521 N Lake Blvd, Tahoe City  

Summer in Tahoe
Which do you like better in Tahoe, Winter or Summer? Most people have gotten this question at some point, and I've known very few who could choose. Winter in Tahoe, as you can tell from the first half of this post, is full of snow-packed adventure. Summer, on the other hand, is full of boating, swimming, beaches, sunshine, and gorgeous hikes. With so many pros to every season at Tahoe, I dare you to try to choose.

favorite spots

There's no way you can leave a trip to Tahoe without visiting this staple. With it's gorgeous lakeside dining, delicious food and even better drinks, Sunnyside is the place to be in the summer. The best part about Sunnyside in the summer is the ability to boat right in to the dock outside the restaurant. Talk about the perfect spot to go in the middle of your day out boating. Take a break from waterskiing, tubing, or just sunning, and kick back with some of their famous fried zucchini sticks and ranch and one of their many delish cocktails and enjoy the gorgeous view. 

Gar Woods
Gar Woods is similar to Sunnyside, with it's gorgeous lakeside property and outdoor pier dining. We all love it for the pitchers of their famous "Wet Woodys"- a signature Gar Woods drink that you'll just have to try to see what all the hype is about! There's even a whole page on their site dedicated to the "World Famous Wet Woody".
With friends at Gar Woods July 2012
Chambers on the 4th

Chamber's Landing
I don't know about you all, but on a hot summer day, give me a lake, a dock, and an ice cold blended drink and life couldn't get any more perfect. If you agree, Chamber's is your place. Anyone who has been to Tahoe in the summer knows about Chamber's Landing. It's a stretch of beach complete with a bar on the pier that is always crowded with tons and tons of people, all having a great time with chambers' famous rum punches in hand. If you happen to be in Tahoe for the 4th of July, you're definitely going to want to stop by! It is always so much fun. 

summer activities for everyone
Rafting down Truckee River
Less of a "white water river raft" and more of a "river float", but still a really fun day activity, especially if you have a big group! The cruise down the river takes about 2-3 hours and you're encouraged to bring along a cooler in your raft. Lots of fun in the summer.

Boating Boats and tahoe are synonymous in the summer. With your choice of waterskiing, tubing, wakeboarding, or just speeding around the lake, boat days are the best days. If you don't know someone with their own boat, there are plenty places to rent one around the lake!

Hiking There are tons of hikes all around Tahoe. Tahoe Backcountry has some great ones. I love Emerald Bay, so if you can get there via hiking, biking, or by boat, it is a great trip-Gorgeous!

Whatever the season, Tahoe is one of my favorite places, and I hope it will be yours too. See you in the mountains!
follow my travel tweets on twitter @jetsetchristina


What do you think of when you think of paradise? I'm willing to bet that it's some combination of white sand beaches, swaying palm trees, sunny rays and lazy beach days. Well, throw in snorkeling, surfing, volcanoes & leis and say alooooha to the beautiful islands of Hawaii. 

Growing up in California, we have always gone to Hawaii at least once a year on a family vacation, and thinking about it, I think I've been to Hawaii more than I've been to any other destination in the world! This is because it is simply the perfect spot for families, for beach-lovers, and for everyone. Some of my best memories as a kid are sliding down the hotel water slides, dancing with hula girls during a luau on Ka'anapali beach, and seeing my first sea turtle while snorkeling. I treasure all of our family trips to Hawaii, which is why I continue to get the can't-fight-it urge to keep coming back year after year, and why I know that all of you will love it.
Hawaii is made up of eight main islands, all that cater to a different traveler... 
so, let's break this up by island: 
My personal favorite. 
Stretches of beautiful beaches, luxe hotels, and great snorkeling make this island the top Hawaiian destination. There's a reason Conde Nast readers have voted Maui the best island in the world again this year -- for 17 years and counting!!!!

where to stay
Sheraton Maui. 
This has been one of my favorite resorts my whole life.  Located at the end of Ka'anapali beach at Black Rock, the hotel boasts some of the best snorkeling on the island right outside of your hotel room.  The pool is to die for, winding around most of the property, and the hotel staff does everything they can to make your stay memorable, from their luaus and activities to their nightly sunset jumps off of Black Rock (daring hawaiian men jump off of the famous rock and into the ocean for the sunset show!). It's also a Starwood Preferred Guest ( ) resort (look into becoming a member if you travel a lot, great discounts and earn points for luxury hotel stays). 

Westin Maui. 
Located a couple miles down Kaanapali beach from the Sheraton is the Westin. Another one of my personal favorites. It has five pools, complete with slides and waterfalls, a golf course, and great oceanfront restaurants. It is a top notch family resort with tons of activities that will definitely make your trip. Another Starwood Preferred Guest resort!

Grand Wailea- A Waldorf Astoria Hotel.
It's expensive, but you won't find a more perfect hotel for the family. With countless waterslides, beautiful coastal views, and more activities than you can imagine, this hotel is gorgeous and, as its name implies, grand. Although there is a little more going on in the area of Kaanapali, (where the Westin & Sheraton are located) the Grand Wailea has enough activities at the hotel to keep you and your family more than occupied during your stay. They also have a gorgeous seaside chapel that is always booked with beautiful coastal destination weddings.

for the foodie
Mama's Fish House
Located pretty far away from where I usually stay in Maui (Ka'anapali), I always find this restaurant worth the drive. The fish is incredible. Without a doubt the best, freshest fish I have ever tasted. The menu is contemporary Polynesian, putting a modern twist on Hawaii's culinary history, and it is delicious. Do not miss out on this restaurant. Take one look at the menu and you'll see why. Fresh caught swordfish sauteed in coconut milk over coconut rice? Crispy kahlua duck? Taha'a Island vanilla seared ahi? Take a sip of Mama's famous Mai Tai, watch the sunset over the Pacific, feel your fresh caught mahi-mahi melt in your mouth and boom. You're in paradise.

For something closer to your hotel, you can't go wrong with Duke's. And, as hard as it is for a UNC grad to be recommending you to go to a restaurant called "Duke's",  this place is pretty awesome. Duke's has expanded across Hawaii, so you can find one on pretty much any island you go to. The Maui Duke's is right on Ka'anapali beach, a perfect beach walk from your hotel away. Great fish and hawaii faves! A great drink list as well, so if you're not feelin' a full meal, go for drinks and pupus (pupus is hawaiian for appetizers!)

Merrimans. Whether you're celebrating a birthday, an anniversary, or just need an excuse to eat some amazing food and pop some champagne over the Hawaiian coast, Merriman's is your place.  Amazing sunset dining! The food is fantastic. A little pricey, but so fun for a special occasion. My favorite pupu? The warm crusted goat cheese with strawberries salad. Ah-mazing. You also can't go wrong with a little tasting of the kalua pig and maui sweet onion quesadilla- yum. For your entree, you'll have your choice of fresh seafood or impeccable meats, and don't forget to save room for their delicious desserts. Merriman's. One Bay Club Place, Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii.

Enjoy my breakfast overlooking the white sandy beaches of Hawaii in a beautiful gazebo? Why thank you, I shall. This breakfast place is soooo cute, has the best view, and is delicious! A little out of the way, overlooking Napili bay, but it's worth it for the stunning setting.  Gazebo 5315 Lower Honoapiilani Road, Lahaina, HI 

Longhi's in Lahaina is a great place to go! I love their breakfasts (especially the french toast) but they serve lunch and dinner as well. In old town Lahaina, so go for a sunny breakfast and of course a pretty oceanside view :) 888 Front Street, Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii 
for the tourist
Go to a Luau.
Hawaiian luaus, a big dinner/dancing/drinking cultural celebration complete with a pig roasting, are definitely a must-do on your trip to Hawaii. Throw on your hawaiian party shirt and go out and have a great time. Your hotel will most likely host their own, and they don't differ too much luau-to-luau, so my recommendation is to sign up for your hotel's and enjoy your celebratory evening on the beach!  Sometimes, hotels will also offer hula lessons for the kids. I did this at the Sheraton when I was little and they brought me and a few other girls, dressed up in hula skirts they gave us, up on stage during the nighttime luau to dance with the beautiful hawaiian girls- definitely memorable for my all-too-excited seven-year-old self. 

Old town Lahaina is definitely a fun activity to do while in Maui. It's a separate, less resortey area of Maui with great shops and restaurants. 

Sit back with a tropical drink and watch the sunset. 
Maui is all about relaxation. So don't worry about planning your trip out too much and realize your most memorable moments in Maui will be doing a whole lot of nothing. All while seeing some of the most spectacular sights & sunsets you'll ever get to see. Take it all in and enjoy the island life.

The island farthest away, Kauai, is one of the most scenic islands. It is more of a rainforest climate, with gorgeous, lush topography and absolutely stunning hikes and beaches. 

where to stay
St. Regis Princeville 
Although this is the only place I have ever stayed in Kauai, I have to say it is THE only place I ever want to say. This property is stunning and ranks among Starwood Preferred Guests elite "level seven" resorts, with a picture-perfect pool and an even more idyllic beach, not to mention world-class service that will have you feeling more relaxed than ever before. And, with the volcanic mountains as your backdrop, it's hard to imagine a better view in the world. 

for the views

The Napili Coast Hike -
This hike is TOUGH, but it is the most popular hike in Napili, and trust me, the views are worth the workout. If you go all the way to the waterfall, you're looking at an all day hike, but we chose to do the "half hike" just to the beach, which was absoultely breathtaking. 

Oahu is not only the island with the biggest population, it is home to the capital city of Honolulu. I love Honolulu. It's one of the few true beach cities in the world (how many can you think of? Miami....Sydney....Rio) and it is bustling and beautiful. A completely different experience from Maui, but you don't miss out on the stunning Hawaiian beaches (see my pictures from my last trip!) If you want the perfect combination of a relaxing beach vacation with the excitement of an urban city- Oahu is your island.

where to stay

Moana Surfrider. 
Oh, the Moana Surfrider. Let me just start by emphasizing love this hotel. First of all, the architecture is to-die-for. Secondly, the beach is to-die-for. Thirdly, it is just perfect. It's definitely a luxury hotel, located right in the heart of the downtown strip of beach in Honolulu-- the famous & beautiful Waikiki Beach. Built as the first hotel in Waikiki, it is within walking distance of everything. If you feel like splurging a little, or if you get lucky and get a good deal on a rate, the Surfrider is your place. 

Royal Hawaiian
A luxury resort also known as the Pink Palace of the Pacificthe Royal Hawaiian has long been known as one of Hawaii's flagship hotels. Its iconic pink architecture has brought in celebrities and royal guests for decades, originally known as a getaway for classic Hollywood stars. Today, with multi-million dollar renovations and its prime Waikiki beach real estate (right near the Moana), the Pink Palace continues to be a traveler favorite on Oahu.

Want to get out of the city? You can also choose to stay on Oahu outside of Waikiki, as you can find more secluded beach resorts lining the beaches up the coast, as well as hotels on the North Shore, a stretch of Oahu famous for it's huge surfing waves.

Poolside paradise at the Moana Surfrider

for the foodie
Eggs n' Things.
If you love a great breakfast like me, you know the value of finding the perfect breakfast or brunch place while on vacation. Look no further. Yes, there will be a line. Yes, you will have the best breakfast you've ever had in your life. Too much to promise? Maybe, but I'm confident you won't be disappointed. Located a short walk away from where the hotels are in Waikiki. The pancakes are incredible, and the world knows about it! Their breakfasts became so popular that customers convinced them to start selling their pancake mix online! Just in case you're still craving those perfectly fluffy pancakes on your plane ride home-- which you will be.  343 Saratoga Road Honolulu, HI

Waikiki Beach view from Moana Surfrider Hotel
Cheeseburger in Paradise. Yes, I know what you're thinking... so touristy. But this is one of my favorite places in Honolulu. Open air patios right across the street from Waikiki Beach, delicious pina coladas and most importantly- GREAT burgers and fries. Trust me and get a grilled pineapple burger... so island-ey and SO delicious. 2500 Kalakaua Ave, Honolulu, HI 

for the tourist
Pearl Harbor. A must if you like American history and are staying in Honolulu. The Pearl Harbor site is incredible. When I went, they even had one of the survivors there talking to visitors, answering questions and taking pictures. I still remember him and how every picture he took he threw up the typical hawaiian hand gesture for "hang loose". He was awesome, and told me and a group of friends stories about that day that will forever live in infamy. 

Sunset sail. Catamaran sail boats depart right out of Waikiki. Talk about a beautiful and romantic setting. Definitely look into taking one if you're staying on Waikiki Beach!

The Big Island
The Big Island gets its name because it is Hawaii's biggest island (duh). The best beaches and weather are on the Kona side of the island, rather than the Hilo side. So, if you're a beach and snorkel lover, you're going to want to fly in and book a hotel on the Kona side or the Kohala Coast. Kona (also famous for its coffee) has some of the biggest and best hotels ever. Here are my top picks: 

Hilton Waikoloa Village. A resort so huge you take a boat to get around. The Waikoloa Village prides itself on being "a destination in itself". It boasts it's own snorkeling lagoon, huge pools with slides and waterfalls, it's own Swim With Dolphins facility, a gigantic top-notch spa, and more all on 62 gorgeous oceanfront acres. This is the Atlantis of Hawaii.  I love big hotels, especially for family trips (so much to do!), and I've always found this hotel to be awesome. Between snorkeling, swimming with dolphins, the spa, the award-winning dining, first class shopping, golf and tennis, how could you not love this place? 

Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. Founded by the Rockefeller family, this luxury hotel boasts one of the top beaches in all of Hawaii. With golf, tennis, and picture-perfect beachfront property, you're all set for a perfect vacation in paradise in a low key luxe resort. Mauna Kea is consistently ranked among the World's Best Hotels, and, from what I've heard, it deserves to be.  I haven't stayed here yet, but one of my best friends' family goes year after year over Christmas and they absolutely love it.

for the tourist

When it comes to Hawaii, I'm admittedly more of a "drop me on a beach with a bikini and some magazines and pick me up in 7 days" kind of vacationer. I mean, cut me some slack, with beaches as gorgeous as these, sunny days as beautiful, and snorkeling for when I need to cool off in the water, I think I've got all I need. 
Luckily, I have a dad who managed to convince me, my mom and brother on a recent trip to get out of our 'tan, rinse, repeat' routine and go see the majestic Hawaiian volcanoes. Quite a drive away, but how many times in your life can you say you've seen HOT LAVA?! It is so, so cool. The Hawaiian islands were actually created from volcanic activity millions of years ago, meaning that they were originally just supposed to be the peaks of an underwater mountain range... Luckily for us and thanks to volcanic activity and plate tectonics, we now have the islands of Hawaii. 
Ask your hotel about tours or how to drive to the Volcanoes National Park. Definitely an amazing experience.

Scuba/snorkel Trips. 

Daily scuba and snorkel trips depart out of Kona, and it's some of the best! They'll take you many places only accessible by boat, so it's great to do these boat trips if you love to snorkel or scuba.

Whale watching. 
From late December to early May, whales make their way migrating from Alaska all the way to the warm waters of Hawaii, keep an eye out for their beautiful breeches! Take a whale watching tour or just keep an eye out from the shore. It sure is a gorgeous sight to see them in the wild.

Swim with dolphins. 
Definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. If you're staying at the Hilton Waikoloa, they have it right there. If you're willing to splurge for the experience, do it. Dolphins are my favorite animals, and I had the best time getting to swim with them :)

I've yet to find a more perfect beach vacation than Hawaii, and like I said it's that place that you just keep wanting to come back to year after year. I love it for the sunsets, the ocean, the relaxation, the unique island culture, the one-of-a-kind beaches, and, yes, for the beautiful luxe resorts... I can't help it- I'm a sucker for a great hotel. But, mostly I love Hawaii because of all the memories I have there. (Check out little me & my brother alex with our leis cerca '97!). 

Here's to all of you guys creating your own island memories in Hawaii...
until next time, ALOHA!

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