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Glorious Bucket List: Big Sur

Big Sur California

Last April, I checked off one of my bucket list trips by driving from San Francisco to Los Angeles along the Pacific Coast Highway (you can read more about that trip over on Jetsetter). There are a number of gorgeous towns, parks and vistas along the way, but a highlight for me was definitely Big Sur. The region is known for the stunning scenery created as the Santa Lucia Mountains drop off dramatically to the Pacific, the rolling green hills jutting out into the stormy blue ocean. A particularly photogenic spot is the pull off just before the Bixby Creek Bridge, 13 miles south of Carmel.

Bixby Creek Bridge

To make the most of a day here, wake up early and hit Big Sur Bakery for breakfast, a charming little cafe where you can fuel up for a morning of hiking with strong coffee and their outstanding homemade granola (the bakery’s cookbook also makes a great souvenir).

Big Sur Bakery

If you haven’t hiked Big Sur before, your first stop shop be Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Named for the park’s former resident, John Pfeiffer, who sold the land to the state of California in 1933, the park covers a little over 1,000 acres and is best known for its giant redwood trees. Start off by hiking the Pfeiffer Falls Trail, an easy 1.4 miles roundtrip that takes you through one of the park’s best redwood groves and ends in a 60-foot high waterfall (the shot below is of our trip along this trail). Next, take the 2 mile Valley View trail, which leads hikers uphill for striking views of the Big Sur Valley and Point Sur.

Pfieffer Big Sur

For a casual lunch, head to Nepenthe Restaurant perched 800-feet above the ocean and order their signature “Ambrosia Burger” (a ground steak sandwich served on a French roll).

Nepenthe Big Sur

Or, if you’re in the mood for fancier fare, head to the Post Ranch Inn’s Sierra Mar restaurant for their five-course tasting menu staring locally-sourced ingredients like Monterey Red Abalone and paired with some of the best wines in the world. The view’s not bad either.

Post Ranch Inn

Post Ranch Inn Restaurant

Afterwards, head to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and take the McWay Waterfall Trail, an easy hike that’s under a mile and leads to an overlook facing McWay Falls, and 80-foot waterfall dropping onto a sandy beach. In December and January, this is also a prime spot for spotting gray whales as they migrate southward.



For Groups and Families: Big Sur River Inn, which has an expansive lawn that backs up against the redwood-lined Big Sur River. All rooms have private porches and suites work well for those traveling with kids thanks to trundle beds for little ones. There’s also a great little restaurant, with live music on Sundays.

For Couples On a Budget: Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn, a rustic little inn on the edge of the redwood forest, with a well-tended garden, cozy rooms and a restaurant focused on local, organic fare.

For Couples Up for a Splurge: Post Ranch Inn, a romantic, five-star sleep perched on the cliffs of Big Sur, with a spa and very cool “treehouse” rooms built nine feet off the forest floor.

Post Ranch Inn Treehouse Room

Post Ranch Inn Treehouse Room

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The Glorious Bucket List: Hiking Angel’s Landing

Zion Canyon from the top of Angel’s Landing


Where: Zion National Park in Southern Utah

Why: While Angel’s Landing is among the more harrowing hikes in the National Park system, the incredible view from the top makes the 5-mile trip along the steep, winding path well worth it for any nature lover.

How: Hikers begin with a free shuttle ride to the park’s Grotto stop, where you can fill up on water before crossing the bridge over the Virgin River at the trail’s base. From there it’s a two-hour trip to Scout Lookout at the top of the 1,488-foot rock formation. There’s plenty to take in along the way, particularly for birding enthusiasts who can expect to spot winged creatures like the black-chinned hummingbird, turkey vulture, and California condor.

The first few miles of the trail are well-groomed, with shady spots like Refrigerator Canyon offering breaks from the heat before hikers reach the last half mile, one of the toughest parts of the trek thanks to 21 pinball-like switchbacks known collectively as Walter’s Wiggles. Reaching the very top with the help of anchored support chains, visitors are rewarded with spectacular views of Zion Canyon that American geologist Clarence Dutton aptly described as, “…a scene never to be forgotten. In coming time it will, I believe, take rank with a very small number of spectacles each of which will, in its own way, be regarded as the most exquisite of its kind which the world discloses.”

More: Get an even better sense of what’s in store with Zion National Park’s Angel’s Landing eHike, featuring photos, videos, and more facts about the trail.

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Glorious Bucket List: Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

photo by Peter Cherry


Spring is here and nowhere is that more evident than the fields of Skagit Valley in Washington, which hosts its annual tulip festival from April 1-30th. Just look at the amazing colors of these flowers (millions in fact) spread across hundreds of acres just 60-miles north of Seattle, near Mount Vernon. One of the things I love about this event is its simplicity. There’s not a lot of formal to-dos or hokey events—Skagit Valley mostly just lets the tulips speak for themselves. The festival’s website does offer a handy Field Map visitors can use to navigate their way around (stop by the “Tulip Office” when you get to town and pick one up). I love the idea of renting a bike for the day, meandering down the country roads past farm after farm, awash with all the colors of the rainbow.

photo by Scott Lechner


photo by Washington Bulb Company


photo by Wade Clark

all photos via Skagit Valley Tulip Festival 


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The Glorious Bucket List: Rafting Through the Grand Canyon

What: An unforgettable journey through the belly of the Grand Canyon, one of the seven natural wonders of the world

Why: The rush of rafting through whitewater, majestic limestone cliffs, cactus gardens, visits to Native American ruins, canyon hikes.

How: Since 1969, rafting outfit O.A.R.S. has been operating guided, non-motorized trips down the Colorado River. Guests can choose from two types of vessels: an inflatable raft which offers a bit more give over rapids and travels more quickly through the water, or hard-hulled dories, which make for a more up-and-down experience through whitewater and go at a more leisurely pace through the canyon. Trips range in length from 4 days to 18-19 days, but on each visitors can expect to spend 3-5 hours aboard the boat, and the rest of the time hiking around the canyon, eating, or hanging out at camp. For first timers, we like the 5 day Whitmore Wash to Lake Mead trip, which also includes an afternoon of horseback riding, ATVing, of hiking at Bar 10 Ranch and a scenic helicopter ride into the Canyon.

all photos via O.A.R.S.


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