We spent our weekend exploring the grounds of the Huntington Library Botanical Garden. The botanical has 16 themed gardens spread out over 120 acres, a beautiful and well maintained area that we found ourselves getting lost in for hours looking at different types of plants and flowers.
The garden with sculptures and water fountains especially appealed to me due to its love theme. For a while, we walked around the area, admiring the sculptures with their own expressions and baroque influences. Each of these pieces has a description of what it’s about, a homage to the 17th and 18th centuries. The setting was incredibly romantic.
Other gardens that I liked was the Chinese Garden because of its unique Chinese inspired structures, bridges and rock formations. I felt like I teleported to a whole new country.
There’s also a room dedicated to Caligraphy that discussed many styles I had no idea existed. It was quite interesting to see the various strokes associated with the different styles. Definitely do not miss it.
Onsite there’s a coffee shop available for refreshments and snacks, galleries, restrooms and a library. There’s so much to see here that you may want to make it a whole day affair. It can also get very hot if you go in the middle of the afternoon so, bring a hat and make sure to wear sunscreen.
There is a price of $25 (weekdays) /$29 (weekends) per adult, with weekend reservations required. Visit their website for more information. You can also visit the gardens for free on the first Thursday of every month. Tickets for the free day are released a week before the date, so keep an eye out for the release. The website will show a link that takes you to an online ticket reservation site and they are in high demand, so make sure you register as soon as possible.
Huntington Botanical Garden is one of the LA attractions worth visiting. There is a lot more to see than what I can describe here, and of course, it is best to see it in person.
Within an hour of Mexico City, you can visit the Pyramids of the Sun, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The site was home to at least 25,000 people in pre-Columbian Mexico, and much of it remains unknown. I was intrigued.
Items to bring: Cash – for entrance, toll road, etc. Take Uber (+ Toll Road): 90 pesos Hat and Snacks
Enter Gate 2 Eat at La Gruta
There are a couple of things to note before visiting The Pyramids of the Sun in Teotihuacán. First, it is best to visit in the early morning, at least before 10am when tour buses start arriving and when the weather is generally cooler. The area where the pyramids are located is wide open, with little to no shade. While exploring in the sun, it’s difficult to not sweat when it’s hot outside, and the sun beaming down on your face makes you feel uncomfortable. As I walked from one pyramid to another in the middle of winter, I was already dying from the heat. In the summer, I can only imagine how hot it must be. So make sure you have an umbrella, a hat or some form of protection for your face.
Uber was our main mode of transportation. There was no problem getting one to and from our destination. However, you may need to pay for toll roads. In advance, our Uber driver told us that he did not have a toll road censor, so we paid him cash. Our travel time was reduced since we only had to cross one toll road, which cost 90 pesos. After returning to the city, we were never asked to pay the toll road, so I guess it depends on the driver.
When we arrived at the pyramids, I was surprised by how far apart they were. The fact that we were dropped off at gate 2 was great, since it led directly to the Pyramids of the Sun. This was convenient.
To enter the pyramids, there are three main entrances. Because the sun will be shining down on you, it is best to start with a pyramid you wish to see first. We started with The Pyramids of the Sun as it was the largest, followed by The Pyramids of the Moon, and ended with The Citadel.
Unfortunately, we discovered that none of the pyramids were accessible due to covid during our visit. Although we were disappointed, it was nice to see the pyramids in person. I had never seen any type of pyramid in my life, so this was very exciting for me.
Unexpectedly, climbing was allowed at the Citadel. As the steps up were very narrow, I found zigzagging up to the top made the climb easier.
We probably walked and explored the pyramids for about 2-3 hours altogether.
After we were done we worked up an appetite and walked over to La Gruta restaurant. It was very convenient that the restaurant was only a few steps over from where we were.
La Gruta Restaurant
The Gruta Restaurant is a unique cave dining experience. We enjoyed the food. To start, we ate the La Gruta salad and the Barbacoa as our main dish. This salad had a bit of sweetness to it that made it very tasty. The salad features Quelite greens, caramelized pecans, caramelized tomatoes, and farmer’s cheese tossed in a sour pear and agave syrup vinaigrette. Delicious!
The restaurant is nicely decorated, and the whole experience of dining in a cave was quite interesting. Make reservations as the place is quite popular and bring a small sweater since it does get cold after a while.
A weekend in Seattle is never a dull moment when you have plenty of food choices and attractions to see. For 2 days and 2 nights, my boyfriend and I made sure to waste no time in venturing out to the city. I’m not stranger to Seattle but, it was my boyfriend’s first time so, I made sure he had a good time. Having purchased the Seattle City Pass, we were able to plan our day’s activities.
The first day in Seattle was as clear as it could be. The weather was warm and sunny with temperatures averaging between 70-75F without any clouds. Considering how often it rains in Seattle, we were very very lucky with the weather.
The first thing we did in the morning was walk over to Pike Market from our hotel to grab fresh pastries at the Le Panier Seattle. Though there was a line outside, we didn’t have to wait too long (about 10-15 minutes) to get their chocolate and almond croissants with a latte and mocha. With our pastries in hand, we sat on one of the benches on the patio overlooking the waterfront area. Several other people shared the same idea and we found ourselves doing the same thing; enjoying the sun while eating.
Afterwards, we wandered around the Pike Market, where we saw the fish stands, craft stalls, produce stands, and small shops setting up for the day. The Pike Market is one of the oldest public farmer’s markets in the U.S. and is home to the first Starbucks. In a typically crowded area, it was nice to be there when it was still quiet. After an hour, we decided to head to the Space Needle and walk along the pier since it was a nice day.
On our way to the Space Needle, we passed a park called Gas Works. While walking around, we saw a few outdoor art exhibits, a mini botanical garden, and a view of the Space Needle from quite a distance. It was a good way to start our way to the Space Needle on a positive note.
Known as the city’s icon, the Space Needle is a must-see in Seattle. If you have a clear day, the view from the top of the Space Needle is breathtaking. We were able to see the city to its core. However, it is quite a tourist attraction, so expect to share the view with others.
There is a rotating floor on the 2nd level of the observation deck. I enjoyed the view equally, and I was a little frightened looking down at my feet because I could see the entrance where we started and it seemed so far away. While others lay on the ground taking pictures of themselves, I stepped off and on to the side away from the glass bottom and watched from afar.
There’s also a small bar and a restaurant onsite if you’re feeling thirsty and hungry. The restaurant, however, is only available via reservations as far as I know. With the Seattle City Pass, you can return at night. In our experience, the crowds were much less hectic, perfect for a date night or a place to schmooze.
Chihuly Garden and Glass
After our Space Needle binge, we walked just a few steps to see the glass exhibition at Chihuly Garden and Glass. With his glasswork sculptures, Chihuly presented a breathtaking display of his work. Both the colors and shapes were stunning.
We ended the tour with a pizza and a rest in their garden. There was a small demonstration of how these beautiful sculptures are created using glass. I found it quite informative.
The day wasn’t complete without a boat tour of the city with Argosy Cruises Seattle. As the tour was originally scheduled for Sunday, we had to make sure we got as much done as possible on a sunny day. I am so glad we changed our reservations because our cruise had a fantastic view of the city’s skyline; a rare occurrence for Seattle since they tend to get a lot of rain. That day, there were so many vessels in the water, kayakers, tour boats, and container ships that it felt like a city all on its own.
After running around all day, we were hungry. We ate at the Dough Zone Dumpling House right around the corner from our hotel and ordered their House Specials, Q Bao, and Garlic Noodles. This is a good place to eat or simply if you like Chinese food.
The rain began to fall within hours. Our time had come to head home.
We began 2022 with a one-week vacation in Mexico City. There was so much to see that even a week felt insufficient. As North America’s most populated city, you definitely will need to know where to go. The city’s population alone is 21.9 million in compare to Los Angeles, CA. at 3.91 million. Luckily my boyfriend and I had friends who helped us navigate around the city during our trip. We couldn’t have done it without their assistance. Here are some things I learned.
Health & Safety
In any city, you must keep your wits about you, especially a big city like Mexico City. Whenever we were out and about, I rarely wore jewelry, and my purse was always inside my long cardigan or, at the very least, in front of me. Some areas, such as downtown Polanco and Condesa neighborhoods, I felt very safe walking around during the day and night.
Covid protocols are strictly followed in Mexico City. Every main attraction, restaurant, or Uber either took our temperatures, sprayed us down with sanitizer, had an extra layer of protection between passengers, wore masks inside and outside, or did all of the above. When it comes to Covid, I felt more secure in Mexico City than in California.
Further protecting our sanity, we purchased health insurance for the trip. IMG’s Patriot Platinum Group costs $40 for both of us, covering theft, natural disasters, and more. We didn’t have to use it, but it gave us peace of mind knowing we were covered abroad.
The last advice based on recommendations from our local friends is to avoid drinking tap water. Throughout our trip, we only drank filtered water (including washing our toothbrush). It may seem extreme to some, but I didn’t want to get sick.
Mexico City has an elevation of 7315.36 feet (or 2229.72 meters) in comparison to Los Angeles at 284.93 feet (or 86.85 meters). It was in the back of my mind before our trip that there was a possibility it could be a problem, however, I underestimated how much it would affect me.
On our first day, my night ended with a throbbing headache and vomiting whatever food I had left in me. The only thing I could do was go to the bathroom and then get back into bed. I was hurting.
Luckily, my boyfriend found a local app called Rappi and ordered Tylenol and food for me that night. Throughout the rest of our trip, we pretty much ordered all of our necessities through the app and had them delivered to us for a reasonable price.
I took Tylenol that night and immediately fell asleep. I felt completely back to normal the next day as if nothing had happened. Therefore, if you’re prone to altitude sickness like me, be sure to bring the right medications.
Airbnb offers a variety of options for finding accommodation at an affordable price. I suggest staying as close to downtown as possible in Condesa (near Parque Mexico) or Polanco (near Av. Pdte. Masaryk), especially if this is your first time exploring places to stay in Mexico City.
When we were looking for accommodation, we had no idea where was “safe” to stay, so we thought anywhere in Polanco would be fine. It wasn’t. Later, a local friend informed us (after we had booked everything) that we were in a sketchy part of Polanco, and that he had been robbed there once. We decided to stick with it, despite what he said, since our plans were pretty set. Despite the location not being the best, the airbnb experience was pretty good; we had extensive security in our building and had a decent view of the city from our apartment. While I wouldn’t stay there again since it was too far from the main attractions, for my first time being in the city, it was perfect.
It would be helpful to know a few Spanish terms so you can communicate with the locals. Our experience was that most restaurants and tourist areas spoke English. Apart from that, we had to speak Spanish.
There are a few ways to get around the city. You can take Uber, a taxi, or the metro.
Uber is the safest and most reliable form of transportation in Mexico City. We were informed by our friends that this is the best way to get around, and now I totally agree. Also, we find that it is affordable, as it costs us around $3-6 per ride in comparison with $16+ for an Uber in California.
Taxis are also available. However, avoid hailing one from the street because you might get scammed. To be sure, have a hotel staff member order one for you.
Metro is also available in Mexico City. It’s a gender-segregated area, so it’s safe for women, but I personally didn’t want to be separated from my boyfriend. Thus, we bypassed the metro altogether.
In case you plan to rent a car, be aware that drivers here are very aggressive. LA drivers seem aggressive, but they are nothing compared to those in Mexico City. It’s a totally different story.
During January, the temperature rose to the 70s in the day and dropped to the 40s at night. We experienced a drizzle once while there, but it was mostly pleasant. I wore long sleeves everyday with jeans and a light sweater that I could easily take off and put back on.
Foods & Restaurants
A trip to Mexico City would not have been complete without food, and we dined at plenty of top-notch restaurants. Reservations were required at most restaurants. There are also Michelin-starred restaurants like Pujol that require reservations two months in advance. While I was disappointed that we couldn’t go, I will keep it in mind for when we return to town.
Here are a few restaurants I recommend:
Lardo El Mayor Galanga Thai House Pujol
Rosa Negra El Japonese Tori Tori Rosetta Galia La Condesa
I’ve been to other islands in Hawaii, but nothing beats Kauai. From all Hawaiian islands, it is by far my favorite due to its lushness, remoteness, and beauty. We planned our 5-day trip a month in advance in order to minimize expenses as Kauai is not cheap. However, my boyfriend had points to use for our hotel stay, which helped shape our Kauai itinerary. Here is a short overview of our trip.
Traveling during these times one should include looking into COVID restrictions no matter your destination. Our trip took place immediately after Thanksgiving weekend, so Hawaii had removed covid restrictions. We did not have to quarantine or submit any covid tests other than uploading our vaccination cards on the Hawaii government visitor site. Be sure to check before you travel of any Covid restrictions as the mandates are constantly changing.
Kauai Island Breakdown and Accommodation
With the expanded access to media today, I was able to gather enough information to give me a better sense of the island and compile an itinerary based on what we wanted to do. You can choose from four areas on the island where you can stay. Here’s how it’s broken down below:
North: Princeville, Hanalei Great spots for surfing & snorkeling.
South: Poipu, Koloa Known as the “sunnier side” of the island where most resorts are located. Good sandy beaches and plenty of restaurants to choose from.
East: Lihue, Kapaa The main airport and helicopter tours are located here.
West: Waimea, Hanapepe More local with family owned stores.
We chose to stay at the Sheraton Kauai Resort in the south of the island. It was largely based on the fact that it was our first time in Kauai, and we wanted to be able to walk to the beach from our hotel room. The resort also had other amenities we needed including restaurants, free parking, it was within walking distance to a nearby promenade, and ultimately, it was centrally located to most things.
Whenever I return to Kauai, I would stay in the Northshore and in an Airbnb accommodation (if possible) near Hanalei Bay. It rains a lot more in the northern part of the island but, there are a lot of things to see that we didn’t get to do during this trip. A trip to Kauai is likely to have the largest accommodation expense, with prices starting from $190+/day. If you saved enough points for travel, now would be a good time to use them.
Transportation and Airport
From LAX, we flew into Lihue airport. We used Uber to get to and from the airport although there aren’t many Uber drivers on the island, but we were fortunate.
People who come to the island typically rent a car. At the time when we were looking to rent a car, we found it to be expensive and there weren’t many options. Luckily, we stumbled across an app called TURO. We never heard of it before until now and I highly recommend it. Like any other app, you can choose the type of car you want to use, its pricing points and what not. The company we chose had good ratings, was affordable and had the ability to deliver the car to our hotel and pick it up on our last day. In the end, we saved at least $100 per day on transportation alone.
There were plenty of restaurants and food trucks on the island. We lived off of açai bowls during our entire trip because they were so delicious. You don’t have to eat Açai bowls since they have other food types as well. Here are a few of my recommendations:
Japanese Grandmas Coffee – West We made reservations ahead of time for dinner here. Dinner was served at their outdoor patio so, make sure to bring warm jackets as it could get very cold at night. For the food, we tried the Eel Bomb rolls, Ramen and Grandma’s Chicken Karaage with Spicy Yuzu Kosho Eel sauce. They were all very good.
Little Fish Poipu (Açai bowls) – South This is located right next to the Poipu Shopping Village and a few minutes walk from the Sheraton hotel. They are known for their Açai bowls and having been there twice I can vouch that their Açai bowls are pretty good. Their small bowl is a good portion with all of the fresh fruits you’ll need. Make sure to head over early to avoid the long lines.
G’s Juicebar (Açai bowls) – East A fantastic local spot that we stopped by on the way to Waimea Canyon. We saw one guy behind the counter taking orders and making the bowls. He was very patient with us since we couldn’t decide what to order but, we ended up getting the Kauai and Rambla Açai bowls that were both equally delicious.
Hanalei Bread Company (Coffee & Sandwiches) – North This was the first coffee house we went to when we drove up to Northshore early in the morning. They had good reviews and they were one of the few places that opened early (at 7am). Their menu includes a variety of options from toasts to sandwiches. We ordered the Avocado and Fancy Toasts. Both were a good size portion for us and healthy too.
If you’re into hiking, swimming, snorkeling or surfing this island is meant for you. Kauai has plenty of hiking trails from moderate to extreme and beautiful beach that you can choose from. We opted for easy to moderate hikes due to time but, there are other trails you can find that have better views of the island.
Hoopii Falls – East Easy to moderate hike. One of Jurassic Park’s filming locations and an absolutely beautiful forests that you walk through on the way to the falls. It is one of my favorite hike on this trip and I highly suggest that you at least see it once if you do go to Kauai. A few things to note is that one, the entrance of this area is located through a neighborhood street. We attempted to come here the first time and a local in the neighborhood turned tourists away because someone was badly hurt. Be aware that there are times the area will be inaccessible.
The second thing to note is that the pathways of this hike are not well marked. However, since it is a popular area you’ll likely see other people around. We got lost on the way there and had to ask a few hikers who were kind enough to direct us the right way. There are two falls in the area and the first one is about a 10 minute walk from the entrance; while the second fall is another 15-20 minutes further down from the first fall.
The third and last thing to note is that it rains a lot in Kauai so, expect hiking trails to be muddy. Luckily, our hikes were on a dry day and we didn’t have issues dealing with mud but, having the experience going through the trails I can see how slippery it could get. Also, people have been known to twist their ankles from hiking in Kauai so, be very careful!
Queens Bath – North The hike to Queens Bath is very similar to Hoopii Falls. It has a beautiful scenery, lots of vines, lush trees, accessible through a neighborhood street but, a bit more rugged in the beginning of the path. Also, there’s only see one fall in this location and it’s not as close as the falls at Hoopii Falls.
On this hike, be prepared to get ready to use your hands and knees because the beginning of the hike has several dips through rocks and if you go on a muddy day this could be very slippery. After you go through the hike you’ll eventually reach Queen’s bath. Sadly, we did not get to see Queen’s Bath in all its glory because the tide was rough and pretty high. I was actually re-thinking about our decision of being there because it looked dangerous!
Tunnels Beach – North This is one of the most beautiful beach I’ve seen. The beach is known for its protected reefs, which make it an excellent spot for snorkeling. It has public parking, but get here early to find a spot since the beach can get crowded.
Hanalei Bay – North This is a large cove with benches and beach space, plenty of parking, the calmest water I saw on the island, and a place to take surfing lessons. There is a food truck nearby that serves the best tacos, but they only accept cash or Venmo. It was quite busy here so be prepared.
Wailua Falls – Lihue It was worth stopping by to take a quick look and snap a photo of the 173 foot falls. I would’ve loved to hike to it but, the entrance was closed. There’s also parking available that goes all the way down to the dead-end with about 7-10 spots. It wasn’t busy at all when we got there.
Helicopter Tours – Lihue Taking a helicopter tour was one of the most unique things I’ve ever done on any trips. It was my first time being on a helicopter and seeing the island from above makes the trip all worth it. On this tour, we were able to see several waterfalls that can only be seen by air. It also takes you along the Napali Coastline, and with some luck, we saw a full rainbow appear. It was a memorable moment for us.
For more recommendations see my full itinerary here.
St. Croix wouldn’t be a trip without checking out the entire island. We rented a car for the day and mapped out our route ahead of time to make sure we used our time wisely. Our first stop was Frederiksted, one of the two towns on the island (Christiansted & Frederiksted). I enjoyed driving there and back because it was quite scenic. We saw lots of farms with horses, chickens, lizards appearing every now and then on the road. Our route was a combination of hilly, windy and remote which, eventually lead us towards the coast that overlooked the Caribbean Sea. It was a nice site and I remembered not seeing a lot of cars on the road at the time. At times, it felt like we were on the island by ourselves.
Coming from California, we’re used to crowds on a daily basis and arriving at Frederiksted was a surprise in that it was very quiet. We walked around the boardwalk and rarely saw anybody around (except the chickens). There were a few colorful buildings near the pier that probably was once a cool place, sadly, a lot of them are closed now and dilapidated. By about 11am, there were a few scuba divers and snorkelers who started making their way into the water. Apparently, there’s a ton to see near the pier area that appeals to scuba divers and snorkelers. We decided not to do either one because we had other places we wanted to see.
We stayed for about an hour at Frederiksted, had breakfast at Ci Bo Ne and contemplated after eating whether we should go to Sandy Point or not. We knew ahead of time that there’s a potential for that beach being closed due to turtle nesting. Since it was nearby we decided to check it out anyway and came to find out that it was, indeed, closed. I was sad as I read that there’s really only two nice beach spots on the island with ultra clear turquoise water, non-rocky and provides plenty of beach space. Those two are the Buck Island and Sandy Point.
Fun Fact: There’s a movie called “The Shawshank Redemption” that shows the main characters running away to an island somewhere in Mexico when it was actually filmed in St. Croix at Sandy Point! Several people on the island had mentioned the movie to us and we finally saw it once we came back home. After seeing the movie, it made our trip all the more special.
After driving to Sandy Point we made our way to Rainbow Beach. I guess this was the spot to be in because it was crowded. We hit traffic as soon as we arrived and there were cars already piled up on the side of the road. Luckily, we found parking right away.
The beach onsite has a restaurant and a rental store for snorkeling and jet skiing. I can’t comment about either one since we didn’t buy any food and we had our own snorkeling equipment. However, we tried to jet skii and we weren’t successful since we didn’t have any reservation and they didn’t have any time slot we wanted. We ended up snorkeling instead. One thing to be careful on this beach were the rocks. When you first get in the water there’s a ton of them at the beginning then it spreads out as you further get in. I saw a few fish here in compare to snorkeling in Protestant Cay and there’s an area on the beach where jet skiers are coming in and out which, creates small waves every now and then. We stayed here for an hour before we made our way to the next beach spot.
Notes: Make sure to pack sunscreen and a hat as the sun can get pretty hot.
Cane Bay was a 20 minute drive from Rainbow Beach. It is also situated right by the road but, unlike Rainbow Beach the water was calmer in Cane Bay and it hardly had any rocks (except the big chunk of reef right by the shore). The beach has a few shades and a gorgeous backdrop of the tip of the island that you can see from far away. There was also a restaurant right by the entrance to the beach and a dj was playing various types of music. Although, I could’ve done without it to be honest.
On this beach, it felt like there were more families who came here in compare to Rainbow Beach that appealed more towards a younger crowd. I liked this beach more than Rainbow Beach because it felt calmer. We swam here for a few minutes before deciding to leave in time to make it to Point Udall.
The eastern most point of the United States, Point Udall is worth the drive. From Cane Bay it took us 40 minutes to get there since it was on the opposite side of the island. We made this our last stop on our day trip as it is located closer from where we rented our car and hotel. The view from here is one of the best on the island. There’s a monument onsite, a path that leads down to a beach with limited parking spaces. When we arrived we did not find parking and decided to drive all the way up to the top where the monument was located and got out there to take photos. They say it is a perfect spot to watch the sunset or sunrise and seeing the view from here I can see why.
Parking: Even though we didn’t have issues there’s warning about car break ins in the area. On Tripadvisor, a few people mentioned that in order to avoid your car from being broken into they suggested to (obviously) do not leave valuables in your car and to keep your windows down. When we visited Point Udall we saw most cars parked did exactly what was suggested and we also followed suit. Also, keep in mind that there’s no service in the area so, getting help would be difficult. Make sure you have a car insurance that will cover car break ins in case you are the unlucky few.
I saved the best for last! Buck Island is a paradise haven. It’s an island off the coast of St. Croix on Christiansted side that can only be reached through an approved vessel with a permit from the city or tour boats. It’s government protected with one of the most pristine beaches I’ve ever seen in my life! We booked our tour half a month prior to our trip and let me tell you that it was every bit worth it.
Part of the tour is a guided snorkeling through coral reefs. The experience of seeing the coral reefs is unbelievable. I saw a few that were much bigger than I imagined and towards the end of our snorkel was this huge swordfish swimming nearby. He didn’t seem to be scared of us one bit. I imagine that the fish here are probably used to seeing people everyday.
After snorkeling, our group made our way to the beach of the island and we had a chance to roam around for the rest of our tour. My bf and I walked from one end of the beach and to the other where we ended our time swimming. The sand here is as white and pure as it gets. There’s not a lot of things to do on this island except swim and picnic. There’s also shades near the restroom and a few benches around however, with the water being warm and clear what else do you need?
We ate our way around the island tasting Caribbean dish after another. From Yuca Fries to Rum Cake, I expanded my flavors that I never knew would be possible. The island time typically starts at 11am with shops and restaurants closing at 5 or 6pm (due to covid restrictions). It is important to make reservations ahead of time during peak hours if you want to make sure you have a table. There are a few restaurants that require reservations but, I think it also helps you to know that you have a guaranteed spot.
Base on my experience, a typical dish we ate on the island consisted with some sort of seafood and a side salad or veggies. It was definitely a healthy meal, one that I enjoyed and considered to be similar to how I eat at home. My favorite dish was the Cruzan breakfast, Grilled Salmon and Mahi Plate. There was something about the sauces and the whole combination of it all that I found intriguing.
One of the things to budget for this trip is spending money on food. A standard plate will cost around $15 and can go up to $30+. You can reduce food expense by buying food at a grocery store that will last you a few days. However, we stayed in Christiansted area where a grocery or liquor store was not within walking distance from us and we did not have a car. Therefore, we were left to eat at restaurants which was fine with us too.
I’ve outlined the restaurants below with links that we tried on this trip and places we recommend (or not).
Keep your eyes open and don’t miss this place. It’s one of those restaurants that only the locals know about. Although, base on our experience I’m sure it’ll take off in no time.
The restaurant is in downtown Christiansted. It is a small establishment with two dining tables inside and is found by going up a staircase. I only knew about this place through a Youtube clip while I was doing my research on St. Croix. The restaurant is vegetarian friendly with vegan and gluten free options.
The owner was the one who helped us when we visited the restaurant. He was very welcoming and gave us a rundown on the menu and drinks. I saw different types of salads on the menu and various drinks such as ice teas. My bf and I ordered the Monday Special. It was a Grilled Salmon plate that consisted of salad, quinoa, spinach and lentil balls. Our plates was a sizable portion and hands down, it was one of the best meals we had on the island. One thing to keep in mind is that it’s a cash only place and they do accept Venmo as another payment option. We payed through Venmo and we did not have issues.
We came here for brunch on our last day of our trip and we did not make any reservations but, we were seated right away. The cafe was located inside an area that shares the space with other businesses around. Our waitress was friendly and attentive. She sat us in the courtyard where we ordered The Cooper 15 consisting of scrambled eggs, toast, bacon with Yuca fries and a latte to drink. This was my first time hearing and trying Yuca fries. I thought it tasted like potatoes and the sauce the restaurant gave us paired well with it. Yet, since it was made in house there was no way of finding out how to replicate that sauce. That was one thing we forgot to ask. Also, my latte order came in a bigger glass than I anticipated. For some reason I thought it would come in a small cup. Nonetheless, I was pretty satisfied with the food and drink. Their menu does have plenty to choose from and the portions were quite big. In another time, I would come back and try other items on their menu.
This restaurant was recently featured on Departure Magazine. I saw it, read about it and tried it.
While on the island, we made reservations ahead of time to dine in their courtyard. As soon as we walked in we immediately loved it. The dining room had a romantic ambiance with low lighting and interesting decors. We started off with Chicken Lollipops as an appetizer. It is a fried pulled chicken breast with Gorgonzola cream wrapped in crispy wontons. It was so good! As for our main dish, I ordered the local Mahi served with herbed rice and broccoli and my bf got the Half Duck Two Ways. We both tried each other’s plate and were pretty satisfied with our meal.
The service was good in that our waiter checked in with us. They also followed covid protocols with tables spaced out across the room. Lastly, we ended our night with a Vanilla Rum Cake. If you stayed long enough on the island, you’ll know that it is a signature dessert of the Virgin Islands. Various places sell them and yes, it contains rum.
We came here for brunch and sat outside next to a hotel. They also have indoor seating but, we preferred seating outdoors. When we arrived they were already busy but, we never had issues with the service. I ordered the Healthy Banana Split while my bf got the Vodoo Shrimp & Grits. Both orders were pretty good. They had a wide variety of options on their menu and I’d definitely go back again if I get another chance. On a random note, I loved watching the chickens roam around while we ate.
Hours: Call to make reservations ahead of time for either lunch or dinner. Reservations Required
We came to The Mermaid during lunch hour. Even though we had reservations they weren’t busy at all. We got seated right away next to the beach. Their menu had plenty of options to choose from salads, sandwiches to burgers. Since I wasn’t too hungry I ordered the Conch Friters appetizer with a Mango Smoothie. The Friters are radish sprouts with cilantro aioli. It was ok.
My bf ordered a burger with fries and the portion was quite big. He didn’t end up finishing everything, although, he looked content. I thought the food and service was ok. Our waitress came by a few times but, it didn’t feel welcoming nor did the food taste in the same level as the other restaurants we’ve been to on the island.
Address: Frederiksted, St. Croix 00840 Phone: 340.719.2663 Hours: Tues.-Sat. 6-10pm, Sun. 10am-3pm, Mon. CLOSED Reservations is highly recommended
I think we got lucky on this one. We arrived too early for breakfast according to island time. We were greeted by a woman at the door who told us to come back at 11am as they do not start serving until 11:30am. I appreciated her courtesy and we did return to the restaurant at 11 on the dot. We came to find a different woman at the door who told us that they were still not open. Luckily, the first woman we spoke to intercepted and graciously let us in. It turns out she was the owner and had explained to us that their restaurant had been closed for a few months due to construction and that was their first day of re-opening. She went further to explain that they had a new cook who’s prepping now and that the waitress will take our order but, it will take a few minutes for the food to be served. I appreciated that the owner provided us such an extensive detail and I have great respect for it.
For breakfast, I ended up ordering The Cruzan Style that had Cucumber Salad, Avocado, Smoked Herring, Bread and Spinach. The fish had a salty taste combined with veggies made this breakfast refreshing. My boyfriend got a simple Fried French Toast that was a portion too small for him. I liked my dish but, my bf was left hungry. As for drinks, we had mimosas and that was good. We’d go back again and try their dinner menu.
We came to The Courtyard many times during our trip and ordered their smoothies. It’s a spot located at a fitness center and they offer smoothies, açai bowls, juices and chia seed puddings. I loved coming here when it got too hot outside and the Peanut Butter Smoothie sure helped me cool down every time.
This was the first restaurant we went to when we arrived in St. Croix. It’s located on the boardwalk with a nice view of the water as well as a good spot to people watch. Due to the location they draw a big crowd and most people do make reservations ahead of time to get good seats. As far as the food goes, we ordered the chicken wings, coconut curry muscles and tried the painkiller drink that a few people on Tripadvisor suggested. It did not disappoint. We didn’t stay long but, this is a good place to come for drinks and enjoy a good view.
Other restaurants on our list that we did not make it to:
Idyllic warm turquoise waters of the Caribbean left me wanting more. For the longest time, I’ve always seen beautiful images of the Caribbean islands from Bahamas to St. Lucia and remembered thinking of wanting to go there at some point in my life. If, only the Caribbeans wasn’t so far away from California I most likely would’ve been there by now. Well, dreams do come true!
St. Croix fulfilled everything we hoped for on this trip. We swam in warm clear waters, watched the varying colors of the sunset from our beach chairs, and enjoyed the fact of how easy it was to hop out of bed everyday and head to the beach. After being on the island for full 4 days I can say it was enough for us to see what we wanted and fulfill our first experience of being on a Caribbean Island.
Since I’ve returned from our trip, I’ve had a chance to reflect on our island adventures. Like any other first time trips I always do some form of research prior to jetting off somewhere new. There were a few things I discovered along the way that were quite worth noting.
St. Croix is by far much better in following the Covid restrictions in compare to the mainland. Prior to our departure we needed to submit a negative test result 5 days before our flight and uploaded it on the USVI Travel Screening Portal for an approval that takes 24-48 hours. I waited 24 hours before my nerves started kicking in. We literally had a day left before our departure and I couldn’t wait any longer to find out my status of approval. I decided to call the hotline phone number but, I was not successful. I also sent out an email directed to: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org and that went through. It took about 10 minutes to receive my approval status which, you can probably imagine I was overjoyed in receiving this message.
Before our trip, we had several documents we printed and one of them was our approval status message. This is probably one of the most important documents to print out and bring with you as the airline requested when we checked and again we had to present the same document at the airport in St. Croix. Recently, USVI has been cracking down on fake covid test results being submitted through the screening portal. Please, make sure you have a legit approved test results from a trusted resource and that you have the approved letter from USVI that showed the barcode and the message that said “APPROVED”. You will have to present this upon arriving to the island.
St. Croix Airport: Baggage Claim, Car Rentals & Taxi
After we landed in St. Croix, everyone went through screening at the airport. You’re basically entering a room (limited amount of people at a time) where there are people behind desks with computers and the people behind those desks are wearing hospital gears with gloves on, masks and all. They asked for our IDs and the barcodes that I mentioned earlier. Base on our experience, I would assume that the barcode pulled up our approval status on their end. It took about 5 minutes before we were cleared. We exited through another door that lead us outside of the airport where you’ll find baggage claim, car rentals, parking, restrooms, etc.
The airport itself is small. You check in the same area where you arrive and it is outdoors. You’ll find car rentals onsite as well as a taxi stand next to the baggage claim. Uber, Lyft or any other form of car rideshare doesn’t exist on the island. Typically, people rent a car or use a taxi to get around. Originally, we had scheduled with our hotel ahead of time for a taxi pick up. Sadly, there was a mix up with our taxi that left us stranded at the airport leaving us fetching one from the taxi stand. It wasn’t a good way to start our way into the island but, we made it.
The cost to get to our hotel from the airport was $30 (not including tip). Make sure to ask the cost of the ride with the taxi driver upfront before leaving the airport in order to avoid any mix-up. Our ride was shared with a family of 3 who also just flew in. They were dropped off before us at a rental car spot and paid the same rate.
As far as downtown Christiansted, covid restrictions were also implemented. We found that every restaurant seemed to require reservations ahead of time as seats are currently limited. The only time you will find it easier to “dine-in” (typically it’s in a courtyard, patio or balcony) is during downtime like late afternoon. The shops, hotels, stores and gas stations around the island typically have signs that says “No Mask” “No Service” and also tour operators will require you to wear masks. If that’s not enough, they will re-iterate this verbally prior to starting any activity. So, no Karen’s allowed on the island 😉
There are 3 main languages spoken on the island. English, Spanish and Creole. We never had issues speaking in English and the locals are one of the friendliest people I’ve met. They’re laid back, respectful and welcoming.
I think a resort is ideal for this type of trip because everything is within reach. You don’t need to worry about transportation, security, food, activities (i.e. beach access) etc. Otherwise, you can see the island in a day by renting a car to see other beach areas, see Frederiksted (the other major town) and go to Pt. Udall and find other activities (like ziplining) that may not be available at your resort. This is exactly what we did, we stayed in Christiansted during our trip but, we rented a car which allowed us to see Frederiksted and stopped along the way to see other beach areas. Also, since there weren’t any grocery or liquor stores near where we stayed in Christiansted this limited us to strictly eat at restaurants. Luckily, our hotel had a small convenient store where we were able to buy a gallon of water for $2 while it cost $2 for a bottle at the boardwalk; definitely, something to keep in mind.
The food on the island were pretty good. I will do a separate post regarding what we ate, the restaurants we went to and so forth. Anyway, since mostly everything is imported from the mainland, the prices are a bit high depending on how you look at it. A standard plate per person is around $15 not including tax and tip. On Christiansted side, you’ll find restaurants along the boardwalk and a few others within walking distance.
The sun in St. Croix was hot. It went up to 82F. I’m happy that I brought my bucket hat with me because I wore it everyday. We tried to stay under a shade if it was available. In the Buck Island, there’s no shade (except by the bathroom) and a few other beach spots rarely had any either.
The flight was rough! There’s no direct flight from Southern California. It was around 9-10hrs. long each way. Here’s the breakdown:
To St. Croix (4.5hrs.) LAX – Fort Lauderdale (6 hrs. layover) in Fort Lauderdale (2.5 hrs.) Fort Lauderdale – St. Croix
To LAX (2.5 hrs.) St. Croix – Fort Lauderdale (2 hrs. layover) in Fort Lauderdale (4.5hrs.) Fort Lauderdale – LAX
Other airlines flew to St. Croix such as American, Delta, Cape Air and Spirit. Checking in at LAX via Spirit was a hot mess but, had nothing to do with the island except for the fact that the person who checked us in was confused about what documents was required to get in to USVI (U.S. Virgin Islands). We explained what we submitted and showed our approved status with the barcode. She seemed confused at first but, eventually was ok with what we presented. Our return was a breeze without issues whatsoever.
A few things we did on the island was see the Port Christvaied, go on a Buck Island Tour, window shop in downtown Christiansted, eat at various places, visit The Bucaneer Resort, rent a car for the day and visit Fredriksted and beach hopped. One thing St. Croix is known for is snorkeling and scuba diving. I highly suggest doing one of the two (or both) to see one of the best coral reefs around.
They drive on the left lane of the road. It took us a few tries before we mentally accepted it. The right turns on a 4 way stop light or signs is a bit of a “I can’t believe this” moment but, we eventually got the hang of it.
Personally, we never had issues with safety in St. Croix. However, like anywhere else I would keep your wits about you especially when you’re visiting somewhere new. I read the local news in St. Croix before our trip as part of my research and they also have their own issues relating to drugs, poverty, corruptions, etc. Tripadvisor also has a few old reviews from travelers to St. Croix you can read here, here or here to gauge safety. Again, everyones experience will be different.
If you want to read up on the U.S. Virgin Islands local sources check out here, here, here and here.
After a long work week and flipping through movies after another, Netflix finally got the best of me. I knew I had stayed home far too long as I was starting to feel a bit crazy. I had to get out of the house so, I drove to Rancho Santa Margarita Lake for a dose of sunshine and nature.
Rancho Santa Margarita Lake is probably one of the best lakes around in Orange County. It has an easy 1.1 mile loop trail with outdoor fitness stations, free parking, benches, a recreation center with a pool and is within walking distance to restaurants (yes, they have Starbucks too!). My favorite part of the lake is the backdrop view of the Santiago Peak or Saddleback Mountain while strolling through the paved pathways.
After my 2nd loop of the lake I sat down in one of the benches and watched the birds and turtles swim in the water. It was a much needed break from the daily routine.
Surprisingly, I’m not a fan of celebrating Valentine’s Day but, my bf likes it and had made plans for us to go to Julian for the day. He thought I would actually like the town and since I’ve never been before it was a perfect getaway for both of us.
Julian is about a 2 hour drive from Orange County. It is a gold mining town, with approximately 1,000+ population, and 1 hour east of San Diego. The town is famous for its apples which explains the amount of options to find apple pies and apple ciders in town varies.
We arrived by noon in downtown and the traffic was already visible. Even though there were a ton of street parking, our luck was not on our side and opted for a paid parking lot for $5 (not too bad). After we parked, we walked through downtown perusing through stores and restaurants. I was surprised of how busy it was in town. I saw people crossing the streets everywhere, lines formed outside the restaurants and car jams on the streets. It seemed that everyone had the same idea in coming to Julian that day.
The downtown area itself had a ton of restaurants to choose from. We saw various types of shops that sold soaps, guns, clothes, jams and food. If you want a quick order of an Apple Pie go to Julian Cafe. There’s a to-go order section where you can buy a whole Apple Pie or slice (they have other flavors too), drinks and other types of food. I am not a big fan of pies in general so I can’t speak for the taste of their pie. However, this was the only place we saw that didn’t have a very long line in compare to other places nearby.
Finding a restaurant in town was tricky because everyone was busy and had a wait of 30 min. to an hour long. Also, I was picky in wanting an outdoor dining with a quieter scene, good food and with a shorter wait. We looked at a few places and decided on Julian Grille. They seemed to have the shortest wait, definitely an outdoor dining option and had great reviews online. As it turned out, we were not disappointed.
Julian Grille is a mix of French, Italian and American classics with a bungalow style restaurant. I enjoyed the ambiance there and the food was pretty good! We ordered their Trout special with mushrooms and caper sauce, a starter with a Butternut Squash Soup and an Apple Cider to drink. I definitely enjoyed our meal and I can’t seem to stop thinking about how good the hot apple cider was.
Eagle Mining and Co.
After lunch we decided to do the mining tour. It was located a few minutes away from downtown, through narrow streets and hidden behind a few residential areas. The overall tour took about 40 minutes long that started with a bit of history, followed by a walk through mining tunnels and finally the tour ending outside showcasing how they used to dig for gold. The mining tunnels were cool and probably the best part of the tour.
One thing to note is to double check the admission fees prior to visiting the site as the website may not reflect the current rate. We were lead to believe that it would cost $10 (as promoted on their website) but, once we got there it was actually $15 pp. That part was disappointing, although, not the end of the world.
Our last stop was Lake Cuyamaca. We decided to do a mini picnic here for the rest of the day and we were well prepared for it with a basket full of foods and drinks. The lake was quite a beautiful scene. The water was serene, birds were chirping, kids were playing, the trees all around us reflected in the water and there were fishermen at the small dock waiting to catch fish. We were ready to relax ignoring the fact that there was still snow and the weather was very cold. A few minutes into our snacking we started shivering under our sweaters and tried to brush off the cold except it was unbearable. Sadly, our picnic outside ended and had to move everything back in our car. We finished off our picnic in warmth of the car heater and eventually headed home. All in all, I’d come back again to Julian on a different day and try out a few other restaurants. I think the town is not enough to explore in one day.
Miami in December is like a bite out of summer. It’s sunny and warm when it’s freezing cold almost anywhere in the world (an exception to Southern California and Baja California too). Besides the weather, Miami has more to see than just another place for tanning. Here are a few places that I thought was worth the visit.
The EvergladesNational Park Price: $29.00 Visiting one of America’s largest subtropical wilderness was definitely on my list. The beauty of the natural landscapes I saw and the unforgettable experience of seeing wild alligators in their natural habitat was an awesome experience. We took an airboat ride that lasted 40 min. followed by a short show explaining about alligators in the park. The park alone offers other activities you may be interested in such as hiking, biking, wildlife viewing, camping, boating and much more. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can try their alligator bites. It tasted like chicken but, something about it felt wrong. One thing to note is to bring cash for tips if you decide to do the airboat ride. I did not see any atm machines around.
Miami Design District Price: varies This is a neighborhood with high end shopping area, design, architecture and dining experiences. It reminded me of Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, CA. where you can find luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Céline or Dior. Currently, Louis Vuitton is holding an installation there for Men’s Spring-Summer Collections and we thought the fitting rooms turned to storage containers was pretty darn cool. There are a ton of restaurants in the area and even though we didn’t get to go to Dior Pop Up Café, I think it would be good to try at least once. Yes, this is a busy area so, make sure to plan ahead to find parking.
Viscaya Museum & Gardens Price: $18.00 (weekdays & weekend rates vary) A former villa and estate of a businessman James Deering which includes Italian Renaissance Gardens, more than 70 rooms of architectural interiors with antiques, decorative art and furnishings. It felt like I was in Europe for a hot min. The garden area was my favorite part which, you can literally spend an entire afternoon here walking aimlessly.
Wynwood Murals Price: FREE (as of 2021, there’s a new entrance fee of $10/person) This outdoor spot features colorful murals by artists from all over the world. I love art, and I think anyone who visits this place must see it in Miami. Walking through the area will lead you to discover more murals that are inspiring with details that moved me. The Wynwood neighborhood, in general, has lots of bars, restaurants, interesting art concepts, street arts that you can easily get lost in while wondering around. We found a juice spot there called OOH Raw! and ended up coming back again for their smoothies.
Key Biscayne: No Name Harbor One of my memorable experience on this trip was driving out on a whim to catch the sunset in Key Biscayne and ended up on a harbor called No Name Harbor. I don’t know much about this area except it hit all of my checklist. There weren’t a lot of people at this time, we had a great view and it felt remote. While walking around, we saw a few sailboats passed by or docked. There’s also a restaurant onsite which, we bypassed and ended up staying in a corner of a dock until the sun went down.