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Absolutely to die for "smash fries" - seasoned with rosemary and other herbs. They're way better than your average fry. The sandwiches are a bit pricey, but worth it since they're freshly made to order and pretty much just unarguably delicious.
Delicious Greek style cuisine, with everything from hearty pita bread to succulent gyros and grilled kabobs. The seasoned rice pilaf and chicken spears were my favorite, and of course everything tastes better with a subtle spread of tzatziki sauce.
An incredible day trek through New Zealand's oldest national park (and the site of Mordor in Lord of the Rings.) The volcanic landscape is craggy, breathtaking, and unlike anything many people have ever seen: you'll pass through black rock-littered wastelands, intense hills and cliffs that look like they belong on another planet, ridgelines with stunning sweeping views, and three different active volcanoes. The weather out there can change on a dime, so be prepared for all elements and climates just in case. At this time, you can only do half of the crossing because of lingering eruption hazards on the north side of the park (Mt. Tongariro erupted late last year.) My advice: take advantage of the shorter route to tackle Mt. Nguarahoe (Mount Doom.)
Known to Lord of the Rings fans as Mount Doom (for its portrayal in the movies), this formidable volcano almost dares hikers to climb it. Loose gravel, slip and silt, tumbling volcanic rocks, and a steep incline has you going up two feet and down one (and that's just the climb up - coming down is worse.) But once you get to the top, the views are heart-stoppingly spectacular. Climb it if you can: it's one of the most difficult, nerve-wracking, and rewarding things I've ever done.
Absolutely, hands down the best hotel experience I've ever had. It's a hidden jewel, and even I had never heard about it until a week before my boyfriend and I went for our 2-year anniversary (he found it online). Nestled in the hills surrounding the mountain town of Julian, it is the most relaxing, beautiful, and endearing retreat I could ask for. It is classic mountain lodge style with more than a touch of luxury - and you can choose between the main cabin rooms or a separate cottage. We had a main cabin room and LOVED it. It was cozy, romantic, and when we arrived, chocolates and a personalized card sat on the pillow, welcoming us to our stay. There was a double white iron-cast bed with little plaid pillow accents, a little desk with a clock, notebook, and chair, an armoire with room for clothes and a TV with DVD/VHS player, two wineglasses and a jar of homemade cookies on the table, live plants to brighten up the corners, and an enchanting view of the mountains out our window. Can you say "romantic"?!
There is a small brook on the property, as well as hiking trails that lead to the view summit or an old mine - we did both, and couldn't decide which was more fun. You can eat meals inside or out on the back deck, which has a gorgeous view of the mountain backdrop behind Julian. The inn is set up on a hill above the town, and yet even though it's only a 5-minute walk, it is still somehow secluded enough to feel like it's hours away.
The lobby has a warm decor and a fireplace, which was a very popular spot among the guests in the evenings (we stayed in December). The beauty of Julian is that since it is still San Diego/Southern California, there's a good chance you'll get good weather days even in winter, like we did - but since it's in the mountains, the nights will still be cold (near or below freezing). (Two days after we left, it snowed heavily - which makes Julian almost inaccessible, but Orchard Hill Country Inn even more picturesque.) It was absolutely worth our time and money, and we will definitely go again!
It was a whole new world: blues and pinks and purples and yellows spread out in every direction, lying just feet below me. Bright blue and red fish darted in and out of the coral’s fingers, while anemones waved in the current. Here and there, a clam opened its mouth, releasing a bubble. It was silent beneath the water’s surface, but a whole coral city of life bustled.
I was enthralled and in speechless awe of this great king of nature, and it still remains as the most memorable highlight of my six weeks in Australia and New Zealand. There are a myriad of ways to see the reef, but I recommend pairing it with a cruise along the Whitsunday Islands to best soak up the entire experience. And go with a smaller company like Ocean Rafting -- large catamarans are impersonal and commercial; you want an intimate experience when on the reef.
Land of pristine nature, untouched paradises, and impeccable beauty. New Zealand seems like the last corner of earth that hasn't been ravaged and compromised - it's modern, firmly set in the 21st century, and yet manages to maintain an old world feel, especially in the country. The land is sparsely populated (indeed, there are more sheep than people!) and one can drive for days through rolling meadows, craggy mountains, roaring rapids, plunging gorges, and gentle sloping plains dotted with hay bales, sheep, and grazing cows. As if to reflect its stunning scenery, the people - or "kiwis" - are arguably the friendliest and most hospitable people on the planet.
Home to the most thrilling roller coasters in the world, Six Flags is every adrenaline junkie's paradise. Twist, spin, corkscrew, loop, and fly your way around insane tracks as the G forces steal your screams and free falls send your stomach into your throat. Mt favorite: Tatsu, which turns you horizontal and has you Peter Panning your way around the track, several hundred feet above the ground. The only downside is the park's location in the SoCal valley. Translation: it gets HOT up in hurr.
I expected something different when I heard my friend booked a suite at this all-suite resort, so when we arrived at what looked like a higher level motel, I wasn't impressed. I'm glad to say, however, that my initial disappointment was short-lived. The living and kitchen area was rather large, with plenty of room to sleep even more than the four who could fit on the queen beds in the bedroom, and the fridge was large enough for the ridiculous amount of alcohol we brought. The shower was large and nicely designed, but the water pressure was poor - and with long hair, it took me a good 20 minutes to fully rinse. Still, having a separate bedroom turned out to be a blessing since our next hotel's "suite" was simply a larger-than-normal room with no separated living area. It's not a party hotel by any means, though, so it's a good option if you just want a quiet retreat from the strip (which is within walking distance).
As a San Diego native, I've been to concerts at Humphrey's music venue, but I had never been to the hotel side before. Entirely secluded from the outside world on Shelter Island, the resort feels like a slice of Hawaiian paradise. Palm trees wave in the fresh breeze off the marina, quiet walkways snake their way around little waterfalls and ponds filled with giant fish, and in the center of the resort, like a centerpiece, is the giant swimming pool lined by beach recliners and oversized umbrellas. It's a bit of a walk to the restaurant, which is unattached to the rest of the hotel, but the sumptuous Mediterranean and Pacific-inspired menu, the bar's nightly live music (free cover for hotel guests), and the views over the sparkling marina are to die for. Just keep in mind that if you won't be attending that night's main event at the outdoor venue (big names play here!), expect some noise until about 11pm. With a suite the size of my apartment, though, you can easily while away the evening inside: watch a movie on the flatscreen TV, or soak in a bubble bath with their complimentary Terra Green toiletries. They smell like sweet spring rainwater.
Downtown San Diego, despite the city's reputation for being laid-back and "chill" (we all say "awesome" and "sweet, dude"), can be a bit intense with all the one-way streets, hordes of pedestrians, and heavy traffic. So when I arrived at the Horton Grand after circling for ten minutes trying to find parking and not run anybody over, I was rather frazzled. And yet when I stepped into the lobby, my nerves were set instantly back at ease. The sun streamed through the glass-paned ceiling, sending beams that dazzled on what looked like an old Victorian parlor: complete with clawed-foot furniture, large baskets full of colorful flowers, and an old grandfather clock. The manager smiled warmly at me from the desk, welcomed me to his historic pride and joy, and showed me the equally as enchanting room. A four poster bed, gas fireplace, and gorgeous mahogany armoire waited for me, while a tiny bathroom managed to delight me with the old-fashioned toilet pull chain. Excitedly, I meandered through the rest of the hotel to explore, and found another parlor complete with antique armchairs, a delicately curved stairwell, water paintings, and an old handcrafted papier-mache horse (appropriately named Sunshine). The courtyard outside was a charming place to read a book, amidst the tinkle of the water fountain and the twinkle of the string lights overhead. And if total nostalgia isn't your thing, this whimsical and elegant retreat to the 1880s manages to inject some modern-day amenities: enjoy free Wifi, in-room coffee makers, and large flatscreen televisions in the Grand rooms.
When I travel, I generally stay in hostels. And when I look for a hostel, I generally scour reviews for three things: location, atmosphere, and Wi-Fi. OB's International Hostel fits the bill for all three: young visitors to hip San Diego want the beach, and they can walk to it in five minutes from here. In the funky hipster town of Ocean Beach, a quiet oasis isn't in high demand, but the street performers, sidewalk artists, antique and craft shops, and food stalls provide plenty for guests to do if they need a reprieve from the ocean. Finally, the hostel has free Wi-Fi - and free breakfast, and free dinners twice a week, and free BBQs, and free transportation from the airport...