best west coast road trip! (part three)

In case you missed it, you can read part 1 and part 2 of this series to see our whole trip!


Across the Mountains to Salvation.

From San Diego, we went back east and backtracked on our trip a little bit.  Our first stop over the mountains was in a small old mining town called Julian.  They are now known for their apples and beautiful vistas in the autumn, but it was fun to visit in the summer.  We got some snacks, walked around the cute little downtown, and then continued on.

The mountains and views, of course, were gorgeous.  The photos really don’t do these wide expanses and mountains justice.  The roads and journeys to each destination were definitely a highlight of the trip.  I loved getting to take everything in and chat and joke with my love for many long hours.
The reason I really wanted to head east at this point was to visit Salvation Mountain!  I’ve been wanting to visit this beautifully painted masterpiece for so long and that dream finally came true this trip.


This beautiful masterpiece was primarily built and painted by one man, Leonard Knight.  While he has since passed, this serves as his legacy and gift to the world.  You can read more about him and Salvation Mountain here.

On our way out of the sparse town around Salvation Mountain, we came across this Danger Reality Ahead sign, and I felt like we were really about to enter the real world again after being in such a magical place.


Reaching Palm Springs & Joshua Tree.

I’ve never been to this part of California, but my parents went to Palm Springs when I was younger, and I remember looking at photos of their trip and thinking it was lovely!

We stayed at the Ace Hotel & Swim Club, which is now one of my favorite hotels, by far.  We went for a dip that night and had delicious cocktails by the pool.  We ended the night with a little fire in our room’s courtyard while listening to some great records on the record player in the room (!! love).227 220 221231

In the morning, we ate a King’s Highway in the hotel lobby and then headed off to Joshua Tree to explore for the day.

We stopped at the visitor’s center to get recommendations since we only had a few hours to spend in the park.  We entered at the west entrance and did a loop to exit at the north entrance.  Along the way we hopped out for a few short hikes, some great vistas, and, of course, photo ops!  It was a hot day, but we loved exploring and seeing a landscape like nothing we had seen before.

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After Joshua Tree, we headed back over to Palm Springs for a delicious pizza dinner at Birba.

Next Stop: LA!

Next, we headed back to the coast to the lovely city of Los Angeles.  This is the first time I’ve really spent time there, so we made sure to do the really touristy things.

We walked along Hollywood Boulevard and looked at all the stars.  It was actually pretty neat to see!  We also stopped at Venice Beach and took a nice stroll and then went off to the LACMA to take a look around.


We also happened to have some good connections in LA:  my cousin works at Warner Brothers and our friend works at Disney!  That meant we got to go visit their lots and check out things behind the scenes (including the set of Gilmore Girls!).


From here on out, it was all about driving back north along the coast to SF!  Sad that the trip was coming to an end, but there was still much more to see (!!).


The Way North

We stopped in Santa Barbara, which was so, so beautiful.  I would love to spend more time there soon!

We stopped into the Kotuku Elixer Bar and got a very refreshing cacao shake.  It was delish, and the shop was lovely.

Before continuing on our journey we went to the Old Mission and had a picnic near the rose garden.  It was such a beautiful day.


Next, we stopped in Solvang, a cute little Danish village.  We got some delicious baked goods (fresh Danish cookies!) and found a book store called Book Loft that also had a Hans Christian Andersen Museum inside!  The owner was very friendly and we chatted a bit before heading on our way again!


Our Final Stop: San Luis Obispo

And then we reached the Madonna Inn!  This is another one that’s been on my wish list for a long time.  We stayed in the rich-looking Dez room (part of Ren Dez Vous), with beautiful velvet wallpaper and gold details.  I adored the room and didn’t want to leave to do anything!


You really need to visit the Madonna Inn to truly take in all of the decor.  It’s impossible to describe, but it’s amazing and delightful!353

We did end up leaving the room (eventually) and went horseback riding on the grounds of the Madonna Inn!  While on the trail, we saw a coyote which I thought was pretty cool!

We also went to downtown San Luis Obispo to hunt down an herb shop I wanted to check out.  It was hidden in a beautiful area and had amazing teas.  If you’re in the area, check out the Secret Garden Herb Shop.

After that, we went down to Pismo beach to go ATVing on the dunes!  It was frightening, especially at the start, but I finally got the hand of it.  To top off the day, we went to a delicious chip-based restaurant called Chipwrecked.  A place that specializes in Gourmet Potato Chips is worth a stop in my book!


After our fun in San Luis Obispo and Pismo Beach, it was time to head back north to SF.  If we hadn’t stopped at places like Big Sur and Monterey many times in the past, these would definitely have been on our road trip list.  (So make sure to build these into your itinerary if you haven’t seen them before!!)


It was a wonderful trip, and we got to see so much in this part of the country that we had never gotten to see. I am really thankful that we had this opportunity to explore and learn – and that we were able to do it together.  I love making memories.  I hope you enjoyed this little sneak peak into your trip and that it inspires you to take on a new adventure!


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best west coast road trip! (part two)

If you missed part 1, you can check it out here.   On to the next part of the journey:

From Jacumba to Tijuana.

After Jacumba, we continued along the border until we got to the crossing into Tijuana.  We decided we wanted to dedicate some time on our short trip to popping into Mexico because neither of us had been before.  While I know this is not necessarily the best or most authentic Mexico experience, I really enjoyed getting to explore and walk around for the day.

After we arrived, we went to Playas de Rosarito.  It’s a cute little beach town about 20 minutes driving from Tijuana.  It was recommended to us by our cab driver and we figured we might as well explore a bit.


We walked around the shops and then we ate at a cute little spot called El Nido.  I love their decor and the food was delish!

95skulls97restThere were so many great murals and paintings on buildings and in the streets.  I loved trying to capture them.  Their colors and textures were mesmerizing.

(There was a whale mural on the way to Rosarito that I loved, but unfortunately couldn’t catch on my camera.  Does anyone have a photo of it by chance?!)


Of course, we also went down to the beach and walked along the ocean.

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After visiting Rosarito, we headed back to Tijuana and walked down Avenida Revolucion.  We also visited Mercado Hidalgo and there were so many wonderful fruits, herbs, and goods.  It was really neat to visit!


Back to the States & North-bound!

After spending the day walking around the city, we were pretty worn out.  Unfortunately, then it took about 3 hours for us to get through the line to get back into the U.S. By the time we got back to our car it was already dark.   We had plans to stay on a sailboat in a marina in the San Diego harbor, so we went straight there and got cozy in the small boat for the night.

We woke up bright and early and went to San Diego’s Donut Bar for a yummy breakfast.  We also visited Balboa Park and walked around.  The Spreckels Organ Pavilion was gorgeous, and the area had such a nice vibe.  There were a lot of people out and about, enjoying the park and museums.  I wish we had more time there!

Then we headed to La Jolla to see the sea lions and beauty of the ocean.  It was so lovely and definitely a recommended stop!


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I love wildlife and there was so much to see and explore at La Jolla.  Beautiful stretch of the coast.  The California coast always amazes me.

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From La Jolla and San Diego, we headed back to the east to continue our journey.  Check back later this week for part 3!

For more photos from the trip (and lots more wildlife photos!), visit our Through the Lens section of the site.

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best west coast road trip! (part one)

A few weeks back, my love and I took the most wonderful road trip along the southwest and west coast of the good ‘ole USA.  I love seeing new places and taking it all in, and that’s exactly what we got to do.

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First, some good stuff:

Originally, we were going to drive up and back on Route 1 along the CA coast from SF.  Then we found an amazing deal from Hertz.  Car rental for $1 a day if we drove the car from Phoenix to SF.  That’s right, $1!  It was an amazing deal, and even with the cost of a one way ticket to Phoenix, it was less than we would have spent on the car rental had we not found this deal.  Summary:  always check Hertz (and other car rental companies) for their current deals!

Okay, now, let’s be real, this is the really good stuff:

Our trip started in Phoenix and ended in SF 8 days later.  It was one heck of a journey!  It looked something like this, although I’ll have to break it into parts since we had too many stops to add to one Google map:

Roadtrip Map

So Let’s Get Started: Phoenix & Beyond!

Things started a little rough.  We missed our flight for the first time in our lives!  Apparently we needed a little extra sleep, but it did damper some of our plans for Phoenix.  Since we were only traveling for a little over a week and wanted to hit up so many places, we didn’t have much time at each stop.

We didn’t let this ruin the trip, though.  One of the best things to remember when traveling either domestically or abroad is to stay flexible, and that we did!  We laughed it off, paid the change-flight fee (unfortunately), and went on our way.

In Phoenix, we drove around a bit, but honestly didn’t do anything too exciting.  We also knew we were taking the scenic drive to Tucson, so we didn’t have extra time on our hands.  I’ve been to Phoenix before and liked it, so I  have a feeling we’ll be back at some point.

We drove the Apache Trail (Highway 88) to Roosevelt Dam and then on to Globe, all through the Superstition Mountains.  It was incredibly breathtaking.  We drove along lakes and through fields of majestic saguaro cacti.  It’s a scene like no where else.  We stopped at many pull-offs to snap some photos and yell into the valleys below.  I highly recommend this drive to anyone who likes to see the beauty of the landscape and feel a little bit disconnected from the rest of the world (in an amazing way).


We also stopped in Goldfield, a ‘ghost town’ that is very clearly now just a tourist trap, but it was fun to step into this bit of US history.  In the 1800s, it was a bustling gold mining town but closed down in the early 1900s.  There are still remnants of the mine, tools, and buildings from the original town.

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The scenic drive took 4-5 hours, and we ended up driving from Globe down to Tucson via 77 as the sun went down and into the night.  We arrived at our AirBnB and it was super unique.  It had lovely gardens and also had a temple inside!


We got some much-needed sleep and woke up early to depart for the next part of our journey.


A few hours in Tucson & on To Sells.

We grabbed a quick breakfast at Prep & Pastry and then drove to the Saguaro National Park to see more beautiful landscapes and lots of cacti!

We took a few hours to check out the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, and I’m so glad we did!  It was so much more than a typical museum.  They had many gardens, animals, great scenery, aquariums, and much more.  One of my favorite museums I’ve been to!  Plus, I love their mission and always love supporting places like this:  inspire people to live in harmony with the natural world by fostering love, appreciation, and understanding of the Sonoran Desert.
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After spending the morning+ at the museum, we knew we needed to get on the way to make it to our next destination before sunset.  Daylight goes so quickly on a road trip!


We, again, took a bit of the long way to get there because we wanted to check out the Tohono O’Odham Nation Reservation.  This is the first time I’ve ever been on a reservation and it was definitely interesting (and a bit sad and unsettling) to see.  I have many thoughts on the reservation, but I’ll save that for another time.  For now, I’ll just say, I’m glad I got to see a reservation for myself and meet some of the people that live on one.

We stopped in the reservation capital, Sells, and got a bite to eat from the supermarket and just drove around the community.

From Sells, we continued through the reservation to Why, AZ, and then up through Ajo (beautiful!) to Gila Bend on Highway 8.  Then we continued our journey west!

We stopped at Dateland and got delicious date shakes.  Dateland wasn’t quite what I expected (it was basically just a rest stop), but the shake was definitely delicious, so I recommend grabbing one to go!

After Dateland, it was starting to get dark, but we made it through Yuma and then to our destination of Jacumba Hot Springs, right on the Mexican border, by nightfall.  Along this drive we saw the Mexican border and the wall on the border as well as border patrol and patrol stops.  I have definitely never experienced that before in the US, and it was interesting, to say the least.

Jacumba was amazing, and I will definitely go back at some point.  It’s a simple hotel but has pools full of hot spring water.  It is so lovely and feels wonderful.  We went to bed and then went for another dip the next morning before heading out on the next part of our road trip!

Tune in later for part 2 (and 3) of this series.  For more images from this part of the trip, check out our Through the Lens section of the site for our photo portfolio.

Love to all!

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bay area hikes: huckleberry preserve.

We love hiking, so we’re lucky that there are so many great hikes around the Bay Area!  We’re still working on checking out as many as possible, and I thought it might be fun to showcase some of our favorites here!

Quick Tip:  We use Bay Area Hiker to find great hikes in the area.  It maps them out and gives directions to the start of the trail, as well as some tips for each hike.  It is really a great resource!

We recently went to Huckleberry Preserve to do a quick morning hike.  It’s been hot here in the last few weeks (by hot, I’m only talking ~85 degrees Fahrenheit, but to be fair, it’s usually only in the 70s this time of the year!) so we tried to beat the sun a bit.

Huckleberry Preserve has a short trail of about 2 miles and takes about an hour to complete (although we spent some time bird-watching by the huckleberry bushes!).  It’s fairly easy with only a few short climbs.  There are many different plants including manzanita trees, various berry bushes, beautiful ferns, and lots of poison oak (be careful!).

Here are a few snaps from the hike:


a peek down the trail.


a wasp checking out some thistles.



always love the texture & colors of tree bark.


a forest floor covered in ferns. (fun fact: did you know that ferns are among the oldest living organisms on earth?!)


a pop of color.


bird watching.


and the huckleberries!


beautiful lichen.


never forget to look up!

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If you visit this trail at the end of summer or early autumn, you might be lucky enough to find a few huckleberries to snack on.  Remember to make sure you can identify them correctly, though!  I’ve also heard that the spring is wonderful, too, with many wildflowers and new blooms.

We ended the morning at the farmer’s market where they had amazing pomegranates.  They’re definitely one of my favorite fruits.  But that means summer is really coming to a close, doesn’t it?

Have you been to the Huckleberry Preserve?  Or do you know of any other great hikes in the Bay Area?  We’d love to hear about your favorites!


A Garden is the Best Medicine.

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I was feeling a bit under the weather this morning so I decided to take a day at home to rest and relax.  I am not great at sitting still, or letting my mind be still, so I went for a short walk to the community garden near my apartment where we have a small plot.


“And the secret garden bloomed and bloomed and every morning revealed new miracles.” -Frances Hodgson Burnett in ‘The Secret Garden’ (one of my favorite books of all time!)

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the bee & the borage!

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chamomile flowers from our plot.

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“There’s naught as nice as th’ smell o’ good clean earth, except th’ smell o’ fresh growin’ things when th’ rain falls on ’em.” from ‘The Secret Garden’

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lemon blooms and fruits.

It is so healing to be among the plants.  To pull up some weeds.  To listen to the hummingbirds buzz and chirp and watch the blue jays fly by.  To hear the leaves rustle and the morning dew disappear, lifting back into the sky.  To look closely at blooming flowers.  So closely that you can see their little hairs and pollen, almost as if it’s oozing out of the center.

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look at the colors, that detail, and that pollen!!

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some feverfew in our plot.

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succulents on the path.

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amazing details.

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curly-q beans!

When we lived in Michigan, we had an 800 square foot garden where we grew so much food!  I was canning and making jams nonstop just to keep up.  Now, that garden is bigger than our current little San Francisco apartment.  We waited two years on a waitlist to get our garden plot here, and it is much, much smaller than what we were accustomed to, but it’s been so nice to finally have our little piece of land to tend and grow beautiful, delicious plants.

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the ladybug & the fennel.

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This garden is also adjacent to a day-care center, so as I worked and watched in the garden, I could also hear songs about flowers and gardens floating through the air in high sing-songy, beautiful voices.  Garden and earth-lovers in training!

This is what I would call a perfect morning.

(for more photos from this beautiful garden, please visit tsoana’s through the lens section of the site!)

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delicious strawberries from our plot!

what’s in a name?

tsoana.  It’s a simple word that has a lot of meaning for me.

but it’s Possible you haven’t heard of it before (and perhaps haven’t heard about its country of origin either!).

Several years ago, I had an incredible opportunity to travel to the Kingdom of Lesotho, a mountain kingdom completely surrounded by the country of South Africa.

Me, on Thaba-Bosiu, taking it all in. Below is the Qiloane Mountain. Many say that the shape of the mountain is the origin of the iconic Basotho hat.

Me, on Thaba-Bosiu, taking it all in. Below is the Qiloane Mountain. Many say that the shape of the mountain is the origin of the iconic Basotho hat.

One of my former professors had done the Peace Corps and was stationed in Lesotho, and he often brought small groups of students back to the country he called home for two years.  During our time there, we lived in a small village and spent our days building community centers and orphanages, assisting in an HIV clinic, building playgrounds, and creating and planting garden plots.  Throughout each of the projects we worked on, we were not alone.  We worked side-by-side with the Basotho people.  We worked hard, we shared stories, we laughed, we cried.  All together.  Life in Lesotho is hard, but the people are inspiring and full of life.  They know what it means to share, to love, and to be in community.


Lots of work to be done!


A woman in the village of Roma stands by her home.


An orphanage we painted after building a new playground.


Seed beds we dug and planted.

Small helpers coming over to the site of the new community center/orphanage.

Small helpers coming over to the site of the new community center/orphanage.

Throughout the trip, one phrase kept coming up during discussions and interactions with the Basotho people around us.  That phrase was this:

Kao Fela Rea Tsoana.  We are all the Same.


Kao Fela Rea Tsoana. We Are All the Same.

This has resonated with me ever since.  Whenever I’m upset or frustrated, happy or elated, I realize that we all share in our experiences.  My happiness is your happiness, and vice versa.  We live in this together.  We truly are one.

I took the final part of the phrase, and hold it close to my heart.  It translates to ‘sameness’ on its own.

I know some people may simply read this and think, ‘Look how naive she is.  She thinks we are all the same.’  Quite the contrary.  What’s beautiful is that we are all the same in so many ways, including that we are all different (confusing, right?).  Our uniqueness is just as incredible as the fact that we all have the same color blood running through our veins, we breathe the same air, see the same stars and moon, and can feel the same heat on our face from the shining sun.

Amazing.  We all have a sameness, and that’s what this is all about.


One of the most beautiful places.

Soon, you can check out my ‘Through the Lens’ tab for more glimpses at my Lesotho trip and other adventures.  And if you’re feeling adventurous yourself, go visit Lesotho!  You won’t be disappointed.

Finally, if you’re feeling generous, SOS Children’s Villages, is a great organization for donations to this beautiful kingdom in the sky.

Walking softly and xox,