When Californian’s think of the desert, they usually imagine Palm Springs, Joshua Tree, or Coachella Valley. These trendy spots are clumped relatively close together in a quick hour and a half of each other. The Courts is not in this clump. The Courts demands an adventurous additional hour deep into the desert. Past palm tree forests, date farms, expansive desert scenes, reservation land, and the Salton Sea, The Courts is a destination in itself. The drive from Palm Desert takes you through bumpy Anzo Borrego State Park to the small town of Borrego Springs which with its 50s style diners and mid-century modern gas station, feels like it is out of the movie Cars. When you finally arrive at The Courts, you are in need of a refreshment and a snack, which they will be happy to serve you at their eclectic desert modern styled bar and lobby. They have an all yellow room for relaxing and reading a book, several tennis courts, a pool with views of the mountains, a tiled hot tub, and a basketball court. Every space is cooler than the next. Here is a visual guide to this Mojave desert oasis.
I first heard about Ojai when I was living in San Luis Obispo, hearing rumors of a hippie enclave nestled in the hills near Ventura where celebrities go to escape LA. When travel restrictions had me wanting to explore more of my own backyard, I decided it was time to pay this little town a visit. I mapped my route and excitedly realized that Highway 33 connects Ojai to Carrizo Plains National Monument, an incredible area known for its technicolor superblooms. Here’s my Highway 33 Road Trip Guide!
Day 1 – Morning – LA to Ojai
I started my journey from LA, up to Ojai which is quick and beautiful hour and half journey. I first had to stop at my new favorite coffee shop in Culver City, Sachi.LA. I then took the long way and curved up the coastline of Malibu but you do you!
Day 1 – Mid Afternoon – Exploring Ojai
Ojai is right off of Highway 33 and only 14 miles from Ventura. Its nestled in a valley protected by lush mountains on all sides. Ojai is known for its “pink moment,” the time of day when the valley turns pink at sunset, for its incredible views, and for its vegetarian/vegan restaurants. When I arrived, I went straight to Hip Vegan Cafe for a cacao date smoothie on the patio. I then walked around the shops in the main strip area and made my way over to Ojai Tortilla House for a taco (cash only, bring a $20! You might want to take some tortillas home with you!).
Hop back in your car and drive up the road to Summer Camp, a clothing + home wear store with major Wes Anderson vibes. The store is cute and can be and carries local goods, as well as, some vintage items. Everything is curated to perfection!
Make your way to Meditation Mount. Meditation Mount is a Tibetan inspired area that invites prayer and reflection while taking in the views of Ojai Valley. It is currently closed for COVID 19, but check their website for updates. On your way out of Ojai, grab some snacks and a bottle of wine and some face masks for later at Rainbow Bridge Natural Foods. Also, make sure you have a full tank of gas because there aren’t many if any stops between Ojai and New Cuyama.
Day 1 – Late Afternoon – Ojai to New Cuyama
This is where Highway 33 gets crazy pretty! The highway curves through the mountains with lots of scenic pull-offs to take in the beauty! You will pass by creeks, mountains, rock formations, all while smelling the fragrant sage brush. Big fan. Don’t forget a road trip playlist. This is when it comes in handy! Highway 33 will meet with Highway 166, keep going!
You’ve arrived in New Cuyama! This town is way out there! With scenic views over Carrizo Plains, and not much of a town to speak of, the Cuyama Buckhorn hotel is your roadside hero! A trendy oasis in one of the most isolated parts of California. This area is known for crazy wildflowers in the spring and for amazing stargazing year round.
Order your dinner from Buckhorn Restaurant and Grill – I suggest their burger! Right now, because of COVID19, dinner can be ordered ahead and delivered to your room with breakfast for the following morning. Enjoy the campfire at night with your complimentary s’mores kit and make sure to look up at the stars!
Day 2 – New Cuyama to San Luis Obispo
Start the morning off with complimentary Verve coffee and enjoy your breakfast that was delivered to your room the night before. If you visit in the spring, make sure to go explore Carrizo Plains! Head towards Santa Maria to the final leg of your trip, San Luis Obispo!
This cabin sleeps 10 and is 16 miles to Yosemite National Park and a block away from Bass Lake. It is only $70 per night with a 2 night minimum stay. Click here for the link.
2. Rustic Cottage in Sonoma redwoods
This cottage is equipped with a sauna and a hot tub all in the beautiful redwoods just outside of wine country. It is listed for $95 per night and has a two night minimum stay. Click here for the link.
3. Rustic A-Frame Cabin with Spa
This cabin is in the heart of Big Bear and is the perfect place to snuggle up with a cup of hot cocoa after a day of skiing. It is $138 per night with a 2 night minimum stay. Click here for the link
4. LOVIN’ LIFE LODGE…A-Frame of mind
This cabin is in Running Springs, California near Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear. This A Frame cabin is listed for $125 per night and only requires a 1 night stay. Click here for the link.
5. SPIRIT OF 1870s IN GOLD RUSH CABIN
Stay in a cabin from the 1870s in the heart of Big Bear. The cabin has an old timey feel, access to a hot tub, and has a fireplace to transport you back in time. It is listed for $135 per night and requires a 2 night minimum stay.Click here for the link.
6. Quiet A frame cabin in the Twain Harte woods
This next listing is a peaceful A frame cabin in the woods outside of Sonora, near Yosemite. It is priced at $129 per night with a minimum of a 3 night stay. Click here for the link.
7. Cozy Log Cabin on 3 acres by Lassen National Park
The cabin has breathtaking views, a porch, and is surrounded by pines. Get cozy in this cabin for $132 per night with a minimum of a 2 night stay. Click here for the link.
8. Mineral King Guesthouse
Stay in a rustic cabin only 4 miles away from the Sequioa National Park entrance for $135 per night with a minimum of a 2 night stay. This listing is a guesthouse on a ranch with horses, making it even more inviting! Click here for the link.
9. Pine Cone the Awesome
Stay in Lake Tahoe in this cute A frame home with classic plaid cabin decorations! This cabin is a short drive from Tahoe’s many attractions and is only $125 per night with a minimum of a 2 night stay. Click here for the link.
10. Peaceful Pioneer Cabin
This Airbnb is a destination in itself. It is located in the heart of gold country in a small mining town. For only $85 per night with a 1 night minimum stay, it is a perfect getaway. Click here for the link.
11. Alpenglow #1
I had to add a #11 because gosh this one is cute! On the outskirts of Yosemite National Park, this cabin is the most expensive one I listed, but for a reason! This modern cabin comes with a huge kitchen, a luxurious bath tub, and sleeps 8. It is listed for $200 per night. Click here for the link.
Rome is known for the obvious attractions – The Colloseam, Trevi Fountain, the Vatican to name a few – but we found the most character in the unperturbed corners of the city. Here is a list of 7 underrated stops in Rome.
1. Walk the Streets of Trastevere
The Trastevere neighborhood is lined in ivy with cafes and bars lining the narrow streets. The area is known for being more bohemian, attracting hostel-goers and young travelers on a budget. While Rome known for being an ancient city, this neighborhood is vivacious and fresh.
2. Gelateria Del Teatro
This is the best gelato you will ever have in my life, I swear on dairy itself. If you have ever dreamt of enjoying this classic Italian treat in the place where it comes from, then this is the spot for you. They have all of the classics and a few unique flavors. I highly suggest the stracciatella (similar to chocolate chip) or the sage raspberry. Everything is homemade each day. OMG. Click here to visit their website.
3. History in the little places!
There is so much history all around you in Rome that it can be overwhelming. For me, some of the most impactful historical points of interest were the ones that I would have never expected. Check out this who-knows-how-old “graffiti” carved into marble at the idyllic Piazza di Santa Maria in the Trastevere neighborhood.
4. Antica Salumeria
Eat a cheap sandwich and sample salume di tartufo (truffle salami) with a view of the Pantheon. Trust me. It is delicious.
5. Grab a Snack at Obicà Mozzarella Bar
Obicà Mozzarella Bar is nearby the Trevi Fountain and offers classic Italian style espresso drinks, croissants (brioche in Italian), as well as the obvious, mozzarella. A cappuccino and a brioche will put you back only 3 euros.
6. Listen to Live Music in an Off-the-Beaten-Path Piazza
Rome has many large piazzas with tourists, but it also has several smaller ones a short walk away from the city center. Our favorites were Piazza di Santa Maria in Trastevere and Piazza Navona.
7. Have a Picnic on Palatine Hill
Palatine Hill in Rome overlooks the ruins of the Roman Forum and the Colosseum. Admission is included with tickets to the Colosseum, so make sure you stick around before or after your tour to make the most of the views.
Sixt rental cars will rent to you if you are under the age of 25 (like us), making this road trip possible!
Fly a budget airline because a few hours of an uncomfortable seat is well worth the $500+ you will save. We flew WOW Air, which is now baknkrupt but other cheap options exist! They have cheap flights because they charge a base fare price that does not include anything other than your seat. If you pack light, you won’t have many add on fees.
Pack light! To avoid luggage fees, Connor and I each packed a school sized backpack and we shared a carry on. We were able to fit 10 days of clothes for each of us, my camera and equipment, and snacks in just those bags.
Day 1 & 2: Dublin
Connor and I arrived in Dublin – excited and exhausted – at 10 AM after being awake since 2 AM. But being in a country we both have dreamed about visiting for years, we went straight to town. We took a bus from the airport to our Airbnb in Camden. We did not know this at the time, but Camden is the neighborhood on the outskirts of Dublin’s city center that has all of the new restaurants, coffee shops, and pubs. We were in our heaven. Here are some restaurants that we loved!
The Brazen Head The Brazen Head claims to be the oldest pub in Ireland, which my history major husband points out is not the case (Sean’s Bar in Westmeath most likely is), but it definitely is the oldest pub in Dublin. It dates back to 1198 and it is rumored that Robin Hood himself with there. The pub has several cozy rooms, each with its own bar, and serves traditional Irish food. The staff were so friendly and served us our first glass of Irish Guiness. BIG FANS! http://www.brazenhead.com/
The Boxty House Boxty is a traditional Irish potato pancake, similar to crepe, filled with meat and veggies and let me tell you, you need to try it. You need to. The Boxty House is in the heart of Temple Bar, so make sure you grab a window seat for some people watching! http://boxtyhouse.ie/
The Fumbally I am obsessed with this coffee shop and I wish I could go back a million times. It is in the heart of Camden in a bit of a residential area, which means you will most likely be the only tourist there. The walls are lined with shelves of homemade pickled goods, canned fruits, fresh produce, jams, and flour and sugar in jars. It has eclectic art in fames and tons of natural light. They serve a delicious cappachino and their drip coffee comes with a tiny pitcher of half and half. Go there. https://www.yelp.com/biz/the-fumbally-dublin?osq=coffee
Connor is a history nerd and as our last name declares, he is very Irish, so being in the center of all things Irish history was very much up his ally. Here are some must see sights!
Dublin Castle It is gorgeous, it is huge, it is in the middle of the city.
EPIC – The Irish Emigration Museum in Dublin This museum details the plight of the Irish people and the mass emigrations that define their people. At the end of the tour, you can speak with a genealogist to trace back your Irish roots.
Guinness Store House Everyone recommends the Guinness Store House, the huge Guiness factory and museum, and it might be for you, but it wasn’t our favorite. I enjoyed learning how to pour the perfect pint, but I think we could have learned that from a local bartender. It seemed like a long commercial for the brand, which I found a little boring. If you have to skip it, don’t feel bad. If you choose to do it, enjoy the pint and the excellent view from the sky deck!
Day 3 – Castle sight seeing! Dublin – County Cork
On Day 3, we rented a car through Sixt Rental Company. We drove south with the goal of making as many stops along the way as possible and eventually ending up in the small town of Castlemartyr. It took as a little bit to figure out the whole driving on the other side of the road thing and we made a few wrong turns, but we eventually made it to Dunamaise. Dunamaise is beautiful castle ruins that you can walk right up to and walk through. There were at most 5 other people there the whole time we visited.
Our next stop was the Rock of Cashel. Surrounded by a cute tiny town, the Rock of Cashel, a giant cathedral on a hill, protrudes against the quaint landscape. We grabbed a scone with fresh butter and jam from a local breakfast shop, then hiked up the hill to see the view. The Rock of Cashel offers a guided tour, but we opted for exploring by ourselves.
We finally made it to our Airbnb castle in Castlemartyr to finish up our day. The rental is a 3-story towerhouse complete with a narrow flight of stairs, roof access overlooking the pastures, slats in the wall for arrows, a suit of armor, and creaky floors.
Day 4-6 – Dingle Penninsula
We woke up that morning and ate scones with tea and cream, from our Airbnb host’s husband who is a dairy farmer, on the roof. We packed up the car and headed towards the Dingle Peninsula, again making several stops along the way.
While researching our trip to Ireland, my husband stumbled upon the Rick Steves Ireland Travel Podcast. That is where we learned that the Ring of Kerry is equal parts beautiful and hectic, with tourists flocking to the coast in the summer months. Since our trip was in the peak of travel season, we wanted to stay away from cramped roads and tour busses as much as possible, but didn’t want to skimp out on the views.
The Dingle Peninsula is a perfect trade-off to see those beautiful views without the crowds. We soon learned that the Dingle Peninsula is well worth the drive and just as beautiful as the Ring Of Kerry without the traffic! The Dingle Peninsula is home to farms with grazing sheep, stone wall lined roads, the friendliest locals who speak Irish, amazing dairy products, and most notably, Slea Head Drive. We loved every second of it and our visit here turned out to be the best part of the trip!
Our first stop on the way to Dingle was in the cutest city Cobh. We wish we had more time here! It reminded me of a Mediterranean oasis because of its pastel apartment complexes and bakeries.
We stopped in the coastal town of Ventry for a dip in the water! The orangish red lifeguard tower contrasted the green hills that rolled in every direction.
We then headed to Dingle and were greeted by rows of colorful storefronts and people scattered throughout the streets. By this time, we were starving and ordered two plates of fish and chips and of course a Murphy’s Ice Cream for dessert.
Murphy’s Ice Cream – Everyone on planet earth deserves a bite of this stuff. All of the ingredients are local and they are all delicious. I highly suggest a scoop of buttercream with a scoop of a seasonal fruit flavor. Do it. You can find Murphy’s all around Ireland, but originated in Dingle.
Slea Head Drive – The second day we woke up bright and early, scrambled eggs from a local farm that our Airbnb host left for us in the fridge, made Irish breakfast tea, and started on our way! Slea Head drive is a circular route that most people start and end in the town of Dingle. The route is almost entirely along the coast which makes for amazing views the whole way. The road, which is part of the Wild Atlantic Way, is known for dramatic cliffs, historic sights, light blue ocean water, and quaint, isolated towns with locals that speak primarily in Irish. Historic sights are marked with signs visible from the road and usually cost between 2 and 3 Euro for entry. Connor and I stopped to see beehive huts from the 1400s, a maze created by monasteries in the year 800, and one of the first churches in Ireland.
The nature was equally as impressive. The cliffs towered high above the sea and sheep grazed with real estate far better than I will ever be able to afford. A note for the wise: definitely bring snacks! We did not pack nearly enough and since the towns are few and far between, we were hungry! I recommend stopping to talk to locals whenever you can because they know great hidden gems and are most knowledgeable about the area. We completed the drive in about 8 hours but could have spent the whole day there if we weren’t eager to get back to hear an Irish music session at a local pub in Dingle.
We spent the next morning hanging out at the beach near our cute Airbnb that overlooked Skellig Michael, the island that the most recent Star Wars was filmed on, before driving to Galway.
Day 6-8 – Cliffs of Moher and Galway
Sometimes places are touristy and obnoxious and sometimes places are touristy because they are so breathtaking that a trip without going would be incomplete. The Cliffs of Moher is the latter. We left the Dingle Peninsula en route to the cliffs, with the hopes of a clear day and a unhindered view of the expansive beauty beneath us. When we arrived, the overcast sky laid a blanket of clouds above us and the fog lifted beneath us, opening up to a perfect view of the cliffs. Words can’t do this place justice. Also, I saw puffins. Were they far away? Yes. Does it still count? Definitely.
Galway – We arrived in Galway and were immediately welcomed with the reality of our Airbnb being far from expectations. The listing had bright airy photos, but we were met with a dingy smoky house with a drunk host. My first thought was to find somewhere else to stay, but remembering how much we paid for it, we decided to stay. That turned out to be the best decision! Our host gave us great recommendations and we had an amazing view from our room. We ended up staying up until the early morning talking to our hosts and their friend. All in all, a great time.
Recommendations for Galway:
Quay Street is where its at! Home of T.D. Original jewelers, the first jeweler to make Claddaugh rings, the main street with bars, lined with flags criss-crossing the street, you can’t miss it!
The Pie Maker
Our Airbnb host helps clean up the shop in exchange for the best damn hand pies you will ever have! These aren’t your All-American pies, these are savory and just one hand pie will fill you up! https://www.yelp.com/biz/the-pie-maker-galway
On our way back to Dublin, we took a detour up to Enniskillen in Northern Ireland to see the town that Connor’s grandpa lived in. Once you cross over into Northern Ireland, the pubs, restaurants, and currency, all become very British. We only stayed for a few hours before heading back down to Dublin before our flight the next morning.
Big Sur is the most beautiful place on the planet. Hands down. I went to college at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo which is about 1 hour south of Big Sur. My friend who is from the area planned a group trip to Big Sur and I had no idea what I was in for. We drove past quaint beach towns, had the windows rolled down, and made several stops at isolated, yet iconic beaches. The road began to wind up steep and magestic cliffs until we turned a corner that gave a birds eye view of the pacific for as far as you can see, with low, whispy clouds hugging the water. I cried a few real tears because of the sheer beauty of it.
The emphasis of Big Sur is not on the frills, but on the breathtaking beauty of the nature around you, making camping the perfect experience for taking it all in. Connor and I have experienced both the luxurious and the not-so luxurious (read: sharing a 3 person tent with 5 friends) sides of Big Sur and both are equally as special to me. So without further ado, here are the most underrated stops in Big Sur.
To get there: The road down to the actual beach is pretty obscure. From Big Sur Bakery, head north for about 1.5 miles. There is a turn on the left with mailboxes where the road drops down, turn there! I highly suggest routing directions from the bakery because without it, its hard to find the first time! The beach is gorgeous and has purple sand, a rock arch, and makes for a perfect beach day.
Prewitt Ridge Rd
My husband and I just camped off of Prewitt Ridge Rd. for our one year wedding anniversary. The views were astonishing and we were the only people in sight!
To get there from the coast: Turn onto Nacimiento-Fergusunn Rd. and drive for about 5 miles until you see a sign that says “Prewitt Ridge Rd.” Turn right.
Once you are on Prewitt Ridge Rd. it is legal to camp anywhere on the side of the road. There are a few pull outs with tree cover and benches that overlook the valley (which is beautiful in its own) but you have to drive for about 1.5-2 miles to get a view of the ocean. This is where my husband and I stopped to camp the first time and it was amazing! The second time, we continued for about 3 more miles to experience wide open hills on a cliff overlooking the ocean. Either way, the views are gorgeous!
Limekiln State Park
Limekiln is in south Big Sur and has all the stops… beach, a campground, forest, a historic point of interest, and a double waterfall. The hike to the waterfalls is only about a half mile. You cross a river a few times, so make sure to bring shoes that could potentially get wet.
Sand Dollar Beach
Sand Dollar Beach gets its name from its half circle shape. To get an incredible view, park in the Sand Dollar parking lot, but instead of going left to the beach, go right on a small trail to the cliffs above.
My family lives a short 25 minutes away from some of California’s cutest and most well preserved gold rush towns. Walking the oak lined streets of Sutter Creek makes you feel like going back in time. Although, the food scene takes notes from its Farm to Fork Capitol neighbor with updated, bright restaurants with local produce, specialty coffee, and brunch menus.
Shopping at Made in Amador
The tiny storefront has only been open for two months and has artfully curated goods that are handmade by the owner or scouted from other local creators. My sister left with a California poppy print and I snagged a fruits and veggie calendar for my kitchen.
Lunch at Buffalo Chips
Buffalo Chips is a mix of all things good and right in this world. I’m talkin’ equal parts updated and antique, homemade and out-of-town specialties, and all around perfect. The space is soaked in natural light and adorned in framed vintage California themed aprons, candy jars, and stained glass. They serve Verve coffee from Santa Cruz, McConnell’s ice cream from Santa Barbara, and just about everything else is homemade. You have to try their focaccia bread!
Browsing Bell Home & Flower Garden
If you’re looking for truly one of a kind decor, Bell Home and Flower Garden is a must-do! They have three neighboring storefronts with everything from garden decor, birdcages, giant mirrors, and tiny cheese markers for a charcuterie board.