Small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.



My blogging has been a little MIA lately due to the fact that we've moved into our apartment, we've had TWO vistors, and I've started back to work. Womp, womp. But that's real life and although I am still completely smitten with San Francisco, the world still continues operate in the same fashion which means work all week, play on the weekend. And despite the lack of gushing, we've still made time for plenty of fun. Our new kind of weekly fun is fun in the sun at a few of the local beaches.
Now granted, we haven't even begun to visit all of the area beaches. We've found a few that we really like and so far have just kept going back to them. That's not say that we won't visit others (I have a list a mile long and I know that no two beaches in this area are the same) but for now, we've really had a great time at Pacifica, Muir, and Marshall Beach.

Even though no two beaches are the same, they all have one thing in common...cold pacific waters.

That doesn't stop people from getting in the water, but most people have wet suits on. I've seen a number of kids in the water in just their bathing suits, but we all know kids are tiny little super humans with amazing amounts of energy and the ability to endure just about anything in the name of fun. All the adults and people with sense are either walking around at the shore line or wearing a wet suit.

The first beach we visited when we got here was Pacifica. Not only is it the closest to us, but it's very accessible. You do have to pay to park, but we've never found the parking lot full. When you first pull in, you will think that the beach is going to be overcrowded. There are always a ton of cars in the parking lot (seriously ALWAYS), but once you get out, you realize that most of the people are actually in the water. Trying to surf. I wouldn't even say trying, it's more like waiting for a wave to come. And it never does. Of the number of times we've been to the beach, I'd say we've seen a handful of people actually stand up on their boards to surf and it's only been for a split second or two. Most of them just sit out in the water splashing around and hanging out. 

Another thing we like about Pacifica is that it's a dog friendly beach, but dogs have to be kept on leashes. The beach area is pretty nice with hiking trails just off to on side, houses lining the other and a taco bell right on the water. I just had to take a picture to share. 

Not your typical Taco Bell. Beyond Taco Bell, there are a number places to eat nearby including a Peruvian restaurant just across the street. I have it on the wait list until my Peruvian expert comes to visit. If you want a quick trip to the beach near the city, this is your place. Given its location, it gets a lot of sun during the day and it's a great beach to come and play or layout, and watch the surfers...hanging out. That's what we do.

Moving on, Muir beach is not nearly as accessible, but definitely worth the drive! Located next to Muir Woods, it is only 12 miles outside of San Francisco in Marin County. Although the curvy one lane road makes for a slow drive, it is very enjoyable (unless you are prone to car sickness...). A great day could be made going to Muir Woods in the morning then spending the afternoon at Muir Beach. Heck, you could spend the entire day at this beach, because it is WONDERFUL! The parking at Muir is free, but I wouldn't be surprised if there are times when the lot is full. All around the beach are hiking trails so just because the parking lot may seem crowded it doesn't mean the beach is. Once you park, it's a short walk to this hidden gem. From what I understand, the hikes just off the beach are really great and lead to spectacular views of the beach. We've yet to hike the area, but like everything else, it's on our to do list. The beach is not only dog friendly, but they allow dogs off leash so at any given time there are a number of dogs running around having the time of their lives splashing in the water and chasing balls. We took Kaiser there this weekend and he did just that. 

As a dog lover, seeing dogs having a ball makes me love Muir all that much more. Kaiser could spend hours there catching his frisbee and Landon has no problem making some fun of his own playing in the sand right at the waters edge. He also enjoys climbing on the rocks. Always with the rocks.

And how about that house in the far left corner? I'd love to live there! Unlike Pacifica Beach, you won't find any surfers at Muir, because this beach has large boulders just off shore. On the bright side, it makes for gorgeous scenery and a great place for some photography as Adam can prove.

The best part of Muir beach, the part that makes me love it the most, is also something we haven't participated in yet, which is that they allow bonfires on the beach!!! It is seriously a bucket list item for me. They have a small number of fire rings set up that make fires and cookouts really easy. When we were there this weekend, a huge group of people seemed to be having an all day party there with a buffet line set up for a large group of all ages. And who can blame them? I'm saving our first bonfire for a special upcoming visitor. All I know is, laying in the sand basking in the sun by day, popping a bottle of wine as the sun sets, and then enjoying s'mores alongside a warm fire after dusk is the absolute perfect day to me. But despite our lack of bonfires, we've still enjoyed many perfect days here. It's my favorite beach in my favorite area. The only single complaint about Muir beach is that there is no wash station back at the parking lot you're forced to do like the locals and bring a few bottles of water to wash off before getting back in your car. Or take the sand home with you.

Muir Beach is pretty hard to beat, but if you want a quintessential San Francisco beach experience then a short hike to Marshall Beach is the place to go. Back into the city, Marshall Beach is easily accessed through the Battery Buff Trail. Although, getting back to the car leaves you a little breathless. The trail leads the way down to this hidden city beach through a maze of beautiful wildflowers.

 But, if the hike looks pretty, believe me when I say it has nothing on the view once you can see the beach.

There it is, the most beautiful sigh in all of San Francisco. And the lower you go, the better it gets.

Marshall Beach has a witching hour, sunset. If you are looking for a place to be to watch the sunset, this is your place. It's absolutely magical. And quintessential San Francisco.

The beautiful blues, purples, and yellows against the back drop of the Golden Gate bridge, water, and rocks is unbeatable. Every sunset is different too and no matter how many time we visit, this view always impresses.

Magical. Of course, you won't be the only enjoying this view as many people come down to watch the sunset from here. It's never overly crowded, but you'll no-doubt come across a number of photographers. Photographers taking pictures of the scenery, engagement shoots against the backdrop, and portraits. The first time we visited, a young pregnant woman was there to have some pregnancy pictures taken...nude ones. That's right, it is San Francisco after all. The view is completely worth having to divert your eyes (or not if that's what you are into), but this isn't a beach where I would recommend spending the day with the family. There are also a number of strange rock huts that have been built where people seem to hang out. I'm not sure if they are living there or doing something else. Anyone's guess is as good as mine, but we made sure to keep our distance. It was obvious they were built for privacy within the beach.

So instead of exploring too much, I convinced Landon to do a little photo shoot of our own. Here's my idea of a portrait on Marshall Beach.

And then his...

Boys and rocks!

So basically, San Francisco has great beaches just like everything else. The water isn't warm enough to swim in, but that doesn't take away from the day at the beach. The best part is, there is so much more to do and explore at each of these places. Hanging out at the beach is fun enough, but I'm excited to hike the surrounding areas, have a bonfire, and eventually explore a few water activities. We might even have to bust out our wetsuits. I doubt there will be any "surfing" in our future, but paddle boarding or boogie boarding would be fun for us to explore.


My ABC's of Travel

My favorite travel blogger (Casey at "We Took the Road Less Traveled") shared this fun personal ABC's of travel on her blog last week and I couldn't help, but do one myself. See her's HERE. While mine doesn't include nearly as many places, it was a fun little look back for me.

A) Age you went on your first international trip:
Besides Canada, my first international trip was just after I turned 16. My Dad took me, my step-brother, and step-mom to Italy and Croatia for two weeks. Growing up, I had heard a million stories about Italy and Croatia, but all of those years of anticipation didn't begin to prepare me. It was one of those pivotal events that changed my life. Visiting my Grandmother's house and great-grandmother's grave in Croatia completely changed how I perceived the world. 

B) Best foreign beer you've had and where:
Sorry to disappoint, but I'm not a beer drinker.

C) Cuisine (favorite): Probably fresh ramen in Japan. We stumbled into a little noodle shop where Adam ordered something he could pronounce and actually knew what it meant. We had no idea just how good it would be. Also, Japan's shaved ice (called kakigori ) which is made with condensed milk. Even Hawaiian Shaved Ice has nothing on it. The shops had ticket machines outside that you selected from and then received a ticket which you would then hand to the attendant for your selection. I would go back to Japan for these two things alone.

D) Destinations--favorite, least favorite, and why:
This is an impossible question. Favorites include Croatia for my heritage (not to mention it's AWESOME). Switzerland for the shear beauty of the the mountains. Italy for all the diversity inside one country. There is no way to narrow it down to just one. Least favorite, is almost just as hard. I guess Belize (our honeymoon) even though I loved A LOT about the trip, I did get attacked my mosquitoes our very first night which kind of kept me on edge the rest of the trip. Also, we picked it for the scuba diving, but were disappointed and thought the reefs in Cozumel were so much better.

E) Event you've experienced abroad that made you say "wow":
So many to choose from. Our hot Air Balloon ride in Aosta, Italy. We were traveling up through the clouds, literally amazed that we could feel them, and the next thing I knew, I looked up and the Alps were suddenly in full view, in all directions, as far the eye could see covered with snow and glistening in the morning light. We were speechless, including the balloon captain. Another was our first time scuba diving in Cozumel at Palancar Reef. I was viewing all these amazing corals, sea turtles and other animals and realized that I was 90 feet underwater. I looked up and it looked like the top of the water was just a few feet away. It was then that I really realized that there is another world under the water.

F) Favorite mode of transportation:
Boat! I've never been on a cruise, so I don't know how much it really counts, but I love being on the water and being on a catamaran, speed boat, or even kayak. Car is second mainly because Adam LOVES driving. He gets giddy like a school boy on the curvy roads in Europe and that makes me happy.

G) Greatest feeling while traveling:
That moment that leaves you stunned and speechless. When you don't want to talk or take pictures or even move as to not interrupt that perfect moment in time. For just a brief second, you become completely consumed with the place or experience and the rest of the world just fades away. Sometimes it's a structure, or a beautiful sight of nature, or even just an amazing moment with the person you are with.

H) Hottest place you've ever traveled to:
Japan in August. It was so hot and humid that at times it was just miserable. Second would be the jungles of Belize in July.

I) Incredible service you've experienced and where:
I'm really drawing a blank on this one. Can I count our current corporate housing that ends next week? One month of a free apartment in downtown San Francisco right on the water with an amazing view and house cleaning. Can't really beat that! 

J) Journey that took the longest:
Our plane ride home from Japan. We took a six hour flight to Honolulu, had a twelve hour layover before taking another six hour flight to Minneapolis, and then had another 4 hour layover before going on to Louisville. We were traveling for well over 2 days with time changes and such, but we planned it that way so we could skydive in Hawaii. It was totally worth it!

K) Keepsake from your travels:
Adam's pictures is the most obvious, but I also like to get some local artwork when I visit a place. I started trying to find Christmas ornaments as well as I would like to eventually have a travel tree. My most coveted piece is a blown glass statue I bought in Murano in 2001 (before it became just a bunch of glass from China). I saved all my money from my job at Long John Silvers to go on that trip and blow it on the statue, but I don't regret it one bit. Needless to say, it now sits in a box wrapped up waiting for Landon to grow up a little before we have it back on display.

L) Let-down sight, where and why:
Palace of Versailles in France. We wasted over half a day of our preciously short time in Paris just for all of the fountains to be turned off and 90% of the Hall of Mirrors to be covered.  I had such high expectations.

M) Moment where you fell in love with traveling:
The first moment I laid eyes on Rome. I stepped off the train and walked outside of the station into the middle of the city. I was completely in awe. After seeing Rome, I had an unquenchable thirst for traveling and seeing the world.

N) Nicest hotel you've stayed in:
Probably our hotel in Verona, Italy. It wasn't anything crazy nice, but we had originally booked a horrible room on a different floor in an effort to save a few dollars. When we decided to upgrade, our new room felt like a palace. It was pretty awesome with multiple shower heads and a light show in the bathroom. And speaking of bathrooms, Adam might say our hotel in Tokyo, because the toilet had all kinds of extras. You'd have to ask him about that one though, I did not partake.

O) Obsession--what are you obsessed with taking pictures of while traveling:
Now a days, I leave all the picture taking to Adam. I'm currently obsessed with getting a picture that I can turn into a large triptych and hang up in our house. I'm trying to convince Adam to get a Panoramic mount for his tripod and take a trip to Banff. 

P) Passport stamps-how many and from where:
I'm on my third passport now as one expired and one had my maiden name. I've only been to 11 countries although most of them at least twice. There are another 50 on my waiting list.  All in due time. 

Q) Quirkiest attraction you've visited and where:
Can I just say all of Japan? Especially our week in Tokyo. That entire place is quirky. One day we went to Harajuku just to see them dressed up. Talk about interesting. 

R) Really Frightening: where's one place you've visited where you felt unsafe or uneasy:
I've never felt really frightened while traveling, but I did feel a little uneasy last year in Lisbon, Portugal by myself at night. I was already a little on edge with the city as I witness a number of drug deals going on around me and the fact that I was alone made me feel uncomfortable. 

S) Splurge-something you have no problem spending money on while traveling:
Every trip needs one thing that is somewhat of an adrenaline rush that you can't do just anywhere. For example, I went hang gliding in Interlaken, Switzerland, took a sunrise hot air balloon ride in Aosta, Italy, an 8 hour horseback ride through the Rockies in Colorado, and  a night dive in Cozumel, Mexico.  It usually ends up costing, but it is always worth it.

T) Touristy thing you've done:
Sticking my hand in the Mouth of Truth...and getting a picture... Also hopping on a bus with a bunch of other people to go see Stonehenge. I don't normally do bus tours, but I'd do that one again. Stonehenge is neat, even if you just go see it and leave.

U) Unforgettable travel memory:
Just one? Impossible! Of recent, the Via Ferrata in Murren, Switzerland tops the list. Let's just say it was the most scared I've ever been. But, I will never forgot the first time I saw St. Peter's and the Sistine Chapel. 

V) Visas-how many and for where:
None thus far. Countries that require visas are not on the top of our list.

W) Wine--best glass while traveling:
I remember sharing a glass of wine with my Dad in Italy in 2010. I don't remember what type or what city we were in, but I just wanted to enjoy that moment forever. .

X) eXcellent view and from where:
So many in so many places. All of Switzerland, especially Riflesee Lake in Zermatt. Walking the trails from town to town in Cinque Terre, Italy. Vidova Gora looking down on Brac, Croatia. Tokyo Tower looking at the never ending city of Tokyo.

Y) Years spent traveling: 
When I was little it was road trips to visit my Grandparents in California, then family beach trips, and when I got older and discovered Europe it was over from there. Adam and I have managed to take a trip almost every year since we started dating (11 years ago) with few exceptions. 

Z) Zealous sports fans and where?:
In Rome when Rome beat Italy in a football game. We had no idea what was going on, but the streets became empty, the Italian police started to surround all the monuments in riot gear and then chaos ensued. When we woke up the next morning people were still driving around honking their horn draping flags out their cars.


A Walk in Muir Woods

I'm tempted to say that Muir Woods is my favorite place we've visited thus far, but that is a hefty title in a place with so many awesome things to do. On the other hand, I've been there twice now and I absolutely love it! It is the most peaceful place that we've been and my favorite place for a leisurely stroll.

Muir Woods isn't just any wooded area, but home to Redwoods. Redwoods are the tallest trees on record and in the same family as the giant Sequoias. Let me preface this post by saying that it is impossible to explain their height. It is impossible to take a picture that captures their stature. So like most other things, it is just something you have to see for yourself.

The first time Adam, Landon and I visited, we made our way over the Golden Gate Bridge and into Sausalito in the afternoon. Only 12 miles north of San Francisco, we figured it would be a good afternoon trip. We completely underestimated the amount of time we would want to spend there. You park wherever you can and walk into the park through the visitors center entrance. The path along the floor is paved with a wooden fence to keep people from disturbing the natural landscape. The entire path seems to blend right in as if it is part of the landscape. Maybe that is because all your time is spent looking up at the gigantic skyscrapers of trees.

Did I mention pictures really don't do these giants justice? I tried to take a few paanoramics with my phone, but even then it's hard to comprehend.

I figure this is what an apple tree looks like to an ant. The tops of the trees are so high that you really can't even make them out. And while the height is what makes your mouth gape open, the circumference is equally impressive. 

When we arrived, the park was pretty full. It was hard to find parking and we saw multiple tour buses, but despite the numbers of people it never once felt crowded. Our whole time in the park was peaceful and the only reason we even knew other people were around is because Landon insists on talking to everyone. There are multiple signs asking visitors to be quiet and while that may seem out of place in the middle of the woods, here it just feels right. It's as if quietness is a sign of respect for these beautiful giants. The path, the hush, the creek that runs right down the middle all seem to be a way to keep the giants from waking. The park is so peaceful that we came across deer in multiple places just grazing away a few feet away.

A creek runs right through the middle of the floor and there are a number of bridges that melt into the landscape. If the trees were not enough, the water and bridges along side of them make for the most picturesque scenery.

The forest floor is lush, with giant ferns, moss that appears fluorescent, and clovers the size of tennis balls. 

We spent our afternoon walking the main path and learning a little more about the trees. Here are a few amazing facts about redwoods. They can grow to a height of 379 ft. They can live to 2,000 years. Their diameter can be up to 22 ft and the bark alone is 12 inches thick.  By studying the rings on this redwood it was discovered that it started growing before the 10th century, the same time Vikings ruled the seas and England became a unified state. 

And when you are there, it isn't so hard to imagine what these woods were like when this tree was just beginning life.

Adam, Landon and I stayed in the forest floor and walked around the Main Trail seeing the Bohemian and Cathedral Grove. We knew this was a place we would be coming to again so when when the sun set and the woods became chilly we decided to call it day with a number of hikes and trails on our future to-do list.

Last week, while Adam was in Dallas at training, Landon and I had our first visitor! We knew Muir Woods was a must see for Marty and a place we really wanted to visit again so Friday morning, bright and early, we packed into the car and headed for the Woods. Adam had mentioned the light would be better in the morning so we arrived at 8:30am. Not only did we have the park almost completely to ourselves, but the visitors center didn't open until 9 which meant admission was free! Best of all, Adam was right, the light was PERFECT!

Marty and Landon quickly got to taking pictures of the breathtaking light.

This time, we decided to do a little more hiking so we hiked 3 miles starting with the Canopy View Trail, connecting to the Lost Trail and ending back on the main trail from the Fern Creek Trail. Since the first visit was spent on the forest floor it was really neat to climb up and see some of the redwoods closer to the top.

We climbed up for over a mile and spent almost another mile walking between the trees. While this walk didn't seem to be among the biggest of the redwoods, it was a much more personal tour with the trees.

So personal in fact, we actually got to reach out and touch hug them. 

We spent over three hours walking the trail and admiring the everything that irWs had to offer. This hike seemed to be about the farthest/steepest we could push Landon and multiple people commented along the way that it was a lot for such a young kid to do. The last mile was spent bribing him to continue on with the promise of chips at the cafe. The kid loves his chips! And we all really love Muir Woods!

But even if you can't walk three miles, these woods can be enjoyed by a short 5 minute walk into the park and an hour spent sitting on one of the benches. Adults and children seem to appreciate everything this area has to offer even though it really doesn't offer anything, but itself.

It's a place I've gotten to enjoy twice already and plan on visiting many more. And a place I would most definitely recommend to anyone visiting the bay area. In an area with over 7 million people there is no other place I can think of so close where you can feel so far away. The peacefulness of these woods is the by far, the most beautiful part. One that can never be described in a series of pictures or words, but must be felt for yourself.  

As John Muir said "Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul". A walk in Muir Woods is food for the soul.