Hear about travel to Calabria as the Amateur Traveler talks to expat Skyler Mapes from exauoliveoil.com who now lives in the region of southern Italy.
In answer to the question of why someone should go to Calabria, Skyler says “to explore a region of Italy that feels really undiscovered and is not overwhelmed with tourists.”
If Italy is shaped like a boot, then Calabria is the toe of the boot. In places, it is so close to Sicily that you can see the people walking around there. It is filled with old cities that go back to Magna Graecia, which were founded as colonies of Greece. It also has castles built to protect against pirates or the next invader to the area. It is also well-known among Italians for its beaches and its food.
Skyler starts us in Tropea, which was “named one of the like top places to visit by National Geographic”. It has a lot of hills. Driving down the highway from Naples, you’re going through a ton of tunnels. Try the sweet Tropean onions.
We then head to Scilla with its signature castle and further south to Reggio Calabria.
With 200,000 people, Reggio Calabria is the largest city in Calabria. It is across the Strait of Messina from Messina in Sicily. It is also the oldest city in the region. Regio is famous for the Riace Bronzes which are bronze statues from 460–450 BC. Regio is also famous for baccalà which is salted cod. If you have more of a sweet tooth instead check out the Gelato Cesare for the best gelateria which is just off the promenade.
Next, we go to Catanzaro which has two parts. The old city is on the hill and Catanzaro Lido is on the water and is a beach town.
La Castella is also known for its castle. Now we are in east Calabria. Skyler says that even the words used for different things are different between the east and west. With La Castella, we are now in the west. There is a castle in the middle of the water. It gets a lot of European tourists in the summer. “You come to this part of Calabria to eat seafood and go to the beach. These are huge beaches.”
In this part of Italy, you should eat food sott’oli, which is food cured under oil.
Next, go to Crotone which also has a castle. This is the city of Milo of Croton who was one of the first ancient Olympic athletes. Pathagoras also spent a lot of time in the city.
We then head inland to Sila National Park. This mountainous region looks more like Switzerland than Italy. It does snow and there are a few lakes. You come here to hike and to eat mushrooms and potatoes. There are lovely mountain-top towns in the area like San Giovani and Fiore and Santo Saborina.
The last destination is Cirò which is the wine region of Calabria. Skyler, who grew up in Northern California, says these wineries are huge and are worth visiting.
Come explore this less well-known region of Italy. Lounge on the beaches, hike to the mountain towns, and taste the local foods.
There are several reasons why beer lovers might want to visit Santa Cruz, California and in Santa Cruz County:
Variety: Santa Cruz has a thriving craft beer scene, with a number of breweries and taprooms offering a wide range of styles and flavors.
Quality: The breweries in Santa Cruz are known for producing high-quality, innovative beers. Many of them use locally-sourced ingredients and traditional brewing techniques to create unique, tasty brews.
Community: The craft beer community in Santa Cruz is strong and supportive, with many breweries hosting events and collaborations with other local businesses and charities.
Location: Santa Cruz is located in the heart of California’s central coast, making it a great destination for a road trip in general.
Overall, Santa Cruz is a great destination for beer lovers who are looking to try new, interesting beers and experience the local craft beer scene. Here are some of our favorite Santa Cruz breweries, brew pubs, and taprooms as well as ones nearby Santa Cruz.
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Santa Cruz Breweries and Taprooms
Humble Sea Brewing Company
Humble Sea Brewing Company is a craft brewery located in Santa Cruz, California. Founded in 2015 by three childhood friends, Humble Sea is dedicated to crafting unique, innovative beers and creating approachable experiences for every person on the planet. The brewery is known for its commitment to social and environmental causes and has raised thousands of dollars and awareness for local groups and non-profits.
Humble Sea’s beers are designed to be “a vehicle for change,” and the brewery is obsessed with creating the “best beery liquid known to humankind”. Humble Sea values “kooky, humble, innovative, righteous, and accepting attitudes”. The kooky is the most obvious in their bright and colorful design sense. They make a variety of beers but I need to give a nod to their stouts as that was one of the favorites when I visited with a group of friends.
The brewery has a taproom on the Westside of Santa Cruz, and also offers beer box subscriptions and private events. In addition to its beer offerings, Humble Sea also has food available featuring empanadas and food trucks.
Humble Sea is just across the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail from the Swift Street Courtyard which includes Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing, West End Tap and Kitchen, and Private Press Brewing as well as a number of restaurants. This west side of Santa Cruz was made for beer lovers.
Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing, located in the Swift Street Courtyard, is known for its sustainable brewing practices and use of locally sourced ingredients. They offer a variety of beers and have a taproom where you can try their beers and purchase growlers to go.
Private Press Brewing is a craft brewery located in Swift Street Courtyard, founded in 2015 by the owner and head brewer Ryan Aikens. The brewery focuses exclusively on imperial stouts and barleywines. Private Press Brewing is open to members only and is currently not taking new members.
Lupulo Craft Beer House is located in downtown Santa Cruz about a block off Pacific Ave. Lupulo has a collection of bottled beers as well as 18 beers on tap including IPAs, sours, dark and light ales, and at least one cider.
The menu features dishes inspired by Spanish tapas bars and Belgian beer cafés, using fresh, seasonal, and local ingredients. The dishes are meant to be enjoyed alone or shared with friends. They have some tasty vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options because… this is Santa Cruz.
Lupulo can be a great stop before a night out as there are many restaurants in the area as well as Lupulo’s own in-house menu. We enjoyed grilled cheese and a torta, but we also love other options in the area like Hulas which is 2 doors away, or Pizza My Heart on Pacific Ave.
Greater Purpose Brewing Company is a craft brewery focused on producing high-quality, innovative beers using locally-sourced ingredients whenever possible. Greater Purpose is known for its commitment to sustainability, with a focus on reducing waste and using eco-friendly practices in the brewing process.
In addition to its delicious beers, Greater Purpose is also known for its community-focused atmosphere. It started as a project of Greater Purpose Community Church. The brewery hosts events and collaborations with other local businesses and is a popular destination for people looking to socialize and enjoy a refreshing brew.
Greater Purpose Brewing Company has a wide range of beer styles on offer, from hoppy IPAs to smooth stouts, and is always experimenting with new flavors and techniques. Greater Purpose Brewing Company has an active events calendar including bingo, trivia nights, comedians, dog adoption events, and LGBTQ+ events. They offer no food menu but host food trucks on some weekends.
New Bohemia Brewing Company is a craft brewery inspired by the region of Bohemia in the Czech Republic, where a beer culture and tradition that dates back a thousand years has played a role in shaping modern brewing practices. New Bohemia sources its house yeast from Ceske Budejovice (the original Budweiser), in the heart of Bohemia, to create crisp yet rich flavors in its lagers.
New Bohemia’s beers are inspired by centuries of beer culture but are singular to the unique time and place of Santa Cruz. The brewery focuses on crafting craft lagers and other traditional European styles and aims to blend traditional and modern approaches to brewing. In addition to its beer offerings, New Bohemia also has a food menu and a welcoming atmosphere in its LEED Gold brewery and taproom, which is located in the Pleasure Point neighborhood on the east side of Santa Cruz and is just a few blocks from the beach. The taproom is a popular community gathering spot, with a beer garden and outdoor seating available.
Sante Adairius Rustic Ales (SARA) is a craft brewery with locations in both Santa Cruz and Capitola (and Oakland). Founded by Adair Paterno and Tim Clifford, Sante Adairius takes inspiration from the Belgian tradition and produces barrel-aged beers in wine barrels.
At SARA, the focus is on producing beers that are memorable and bring people together.
When I last visited the beers included IPAs, stouts, and saisons. A saison is a type of beer that originated in the French-speaking region of Belgium. It is a pale, highly carbonated beer that is traditionally brewed in the cooler months and served during the warmer months. Saison beers are typically light in body and have a dry finish, with a complex flavor profile that includes spicy, fruity, and earthy notes.
Woodhouse Blending & Brewing is a craft brewery founded by Mike Rodriguez, Tyler Johansen, William Moxham, and Ken Kieffer, who are dedicated to producing high-quality, inspired beers that will appeal to enthusiasts and aficionados. The brewery focuses on both classic beer styles and non-traditional, barrel-aged blends.
Mike Rodriguez is the head brewer at Woodhouse Blending & Brewing and has a long history in the brewing industry. He has worked at a number of well-respected breweries, including Boulevard Brewing Co., Port/The Lost Abbey, and Mason Ale Works, and has won numerous awards for his beers, including three Gold medals and four Silver medals at the Great American Beer Festival.
Tyler Johansen is responsible for overseeing brewing production and business operations at Woodhouse Blending & Brewing. He has a background in accounting and is currently working as an HR and Recruiting specialist for Driscoll’s in Watsonville.
William Moxham is the sales and marketing strategist at Woodhouse Blending & Brewing and is responsible for creating and overseeing the brand, advertising campaigns, and atmosphere of the tasting room. He has a degree in graphic design and illustration and has worked as a freelance web and graphic designer, musician, visual artist, and photographer.
Ken Kieffer is a technology professional with over 20 years of experience, primarily in the telecom sector. He has a background in computer science and has worked at Sprint as a telecom design engineer. He handles the company’s IT needs and takes on various other tasks.
Steel Bonnet Brewing Company is a craft brewery located in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. Founded in 2015 by husband & wife team, Donald & Susan Cramb, Steel Bonnet Brewing is dedicated to producing high-quality, small-batch craft beers using traditional brewing techniques and locally sourced ingredients.
The brewery’s taproom is located in the town of Scotts Valley, specializes in English, Scottish & American ales, and features a range of beers on tap, including IPAs, stouts, cream ales, and more. In addition to their regular rotating tap list, Steel Bonnet Brewing also offers a variety of seasonal and limited-edition beers throughout the year.
In addition to its beer offerings, Steel Bonnet Brewing also hosts a variety of events and activities at its taproom, including live music, food truck pop-ups, and one-off parties of all kinds.
Steel Bonnet Brewing is known for its commitment to sustainability and community involvement. The brewery sources its ingredients locally whenever possible, and has implemented a number of environmentally-friendly practices, including the use of recycled materials in the taproom. The brewery is also involved in various charitable and community organizations, such as the Scotts Valley Education Foundation and the Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Cruz County, working to give back to the community in which it operates.
Beer Thirty Bottle Shop & Pour House is a popular destination for craft beer lovers. The shop offers a wide selection of beers from local breweries as well as national and international brands. Customers can purchase beer to take home or enjoy a cold one on-site at the pour house. The atmosphere is laid back and welcoming, making it a great spot to relax and unwind with friends. In addition to the extensive beer selection, Beer Thirty also serves a menu of pub-style food and features regular events such as trivia nights and live music.
Beer Thirty Bottle Shop & Pour House is a popular destination for craft beer enthusiasts. The shop offers a wide selection of bottles and cans from breweries around the world, as well as a taproom with rotating draft beers.
One of the standout features of Beer Thirty is its welcoming atmosphere. The shop also frequently hosts events and tastings, giving customers the opportunity to try new and exciting brews.
In addition to the extensive selection of beers, Beer Thirty also offers a menu of pub-style food. From burgers and sandwiches to pizzas and wings, there’s something to satisfy every appetite. With a cozy and inviting atmosphere, Beer Thirty is the perfect spot to grab a drink and relax with friends.
Parking is very limited at Beer Thirty (9 spaces) with overflow parking at 2590 S Main Street.
Bottleshop and Taproom hours: Friday – Saturday 11 am – 11 pm Sunday – Thursday 11 am – 10 pm
Discretion Brewing is a family-owned brewery located in Soquel, California. They are dedicated to producing handcrafted, exquisite beer using high-quality ingredients that are sustainably sourced to support sustainable farming. They also prioritize environmental sustainability, using solar power to brew their beer and reducing water usage. They have both indoor and outdoor seating. In addition to their taproom, they also offer delivery services in California.
Discretion hosts local festivals and fundraisers and is active in the community. They offer a variety of beers, with a focus on producing consistent, balanced, and flavorful beers. They also divert their spent grain to local farms, which helps to reduce landfill waste.
Discretion has 16 beers on tap available in 16-oz, 10-oz, or 3-oz pours. Beer Flight (choose six 3-oz pours) costs $11. Their beer menu includes IPA, stouts, pilsners, lagers, ales, and some funky beers like Pineapple Cruzerweisse.
Beer Mule is a popular craft beer bar located near the Watsonville Airport. The bar is known for its extensive selection of local and international craft beers with 40 rotating craft beer taps, as well as its lively atmosphere and friendly staff.
In addition to serving a wide variety of beers, Beer Mule also offers a menu of pub-style food, including burgers, salads, and nacho fries. There are also a few other restaurants in the same area including Aloha Hola Hawaiian Tacos, Zameen at the Hanger (Falafels and Gyros), and Mr Z’s Crêpes & Teas.
Visitors to Beer Mule can choose to sit at the bar or grab a table in the spacious and rustic-chic interior or enjoy their beers on the outdoor patio. Whether you’re a beer aficionado or just looking for a fun place to hang out, Beer Mule is a great spot to visit in the area.
Taproom + Bottleshop hours:
Daily 11 am – 10 pm
Sunday-Thursday 11 am – 9 pm Friday-Saturday 11 am – 10 pm
45 Aviation Way, Watsonville, CA 95076
Fruition is dedicated to producing high-quality, balanced beers using local and sustainable ingredients. The brewery’s 10-barrel system is built using repurposed wine and dairy tanks, as well as a custom-built direct-fire kettle, and the team sources ingredients from a variety of local farms and businesses.
In addition to the brewing facilities, Fruition also has a tasting room, partner kitchen (Hindsight Cafe), and dog-friendly patio, all located in the East Lake Village shopping center in Watsonville. The tasting room is family-friendly and provides a welcoming atmosphere for people to come together and enjoy fresh beer and food.
Fruition Brewing was founded by David Purgason and Tallula Preston, who met through mutual friends at Seven Bridges Organic Brewing Supply and shared a love of beer and a desire to create a community gathering space. It is great to see that Fruition is supporting local farmers and businesses by sourcing ingredients from a variety of local farms and using spent grain to feed the herd at Garden Variety Cheese.
Corralitos Brewing Company in Santa Cruz serves up some of the best craft beer in the area. Whether you prefer lagers or ales, Corralitos has a variety of beers available on tap or in bottles. Corralitos is known for its expansive tasting room where guests can sample dozens of continental and interesting rotating seasonals and specialties. If one’s appetite calls, Corralitos offers popular pub food options as a companion to their wide selection of craft breweries, ciders, and kombuchas from across the state. Corralitos Brewing Company is truly a unique experience; it’s an excellent place to visit for anyone looking for something new and exciting to enjoy.
Corralitos Brewing Company is a craft brewery located in the small town of Corralitos, California. Founded in 2012 by a group of friends who shared a passion for brewing and the local community, the brewery has quickly become a popular destination for beer lovers in the area.
At Corralitos Brewing Company, the focus is on producing high-quality, innovative beers using locally sourced ingredients. The brewery’s taproom is a welcoming space where visitors can sample a wide range of beers, including hoppy IPAs, refreshing lagers, and rich stouts. In addition to their core lineup, the brewery also releases a number of limited edition and seasonal beers throughout the year.
In addition to their commitment to crafting delicious beers, Corralitos Brewing Company is also dedicated to being a positive force in the community. The brewery frequently hosts events and fundraisers for local organizations and works with local farms to source ingredients for their beers. Whether you’re a fan of craft beer or just looking for a fun place to spend an afternoon, Corralitos Brewing Company is definitely worth a visit.
Are you ready to embark on an adventurous, memorable cross-country road trip? From the glitz and glamour of Hollywood to the world-renowned Las Vegas Strip, Los Angeles to Las Vegas is a classic American excursion that can’t be missed. As you drive across California and southern Nevada, there are countless sights and attractions worth stopping for — but where should you start?
Here, I’ll give you the rundown on everything from must-see places like Calico Ghost Town to lesser-known trails like Lake Mead so that when it comes time for your next trip down south, all that’s left for you to do is hit the open road.
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Is it cheaper to fly or drive to Las Vegas from Los Angeles?
Several factors come into play when deciding which mode of transportation to get from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. While driving can take up to five hours, depending on traffic, a quick search shows that direct flights from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) could get you to Sin City within the hour. Various companies, like Southwest Airlines, Alaska Airlines, and American Airlines, offer nonstop flights.
Flying is undoubtedly more convenient and can also be more cost-effective with cheap flights along the route. It’s worth researching and weighing all of your options, as sometimes you can find nonstop flights for less than the cost of gas for your car.
However, although you can opt for the las vegas flight route and find the cheapest flights available, the most fun and exciting alternative is a round-trip drive. I always opt for road trips when the distance is not painfully long (less than 3000 miles) and countries are not separated by the ocean (like when I had to fly to Guam from Korea, for example).
How long is the Los Angeles to Las Vegas drive?
Embarking on the round-trip drive between Los Angeles and Las Vegas is exciting. Not only do you get to soak up all of the beautiful scenery, but it’s also a relatively cheap way to travel (make sure you remember to fill up the tank of your rental car).
The round trip distance between Los Angeles and Las Vegas is roughly 422 miles – making it just over 5 hours of driving without traffic – which may be off-putting for some unless you decide to break your journey with some pit stops on route – which is precisely what I did back in 2019.
Renting a car from Los Angeles is easy; you can drop it at Harry Reid international airport or Mccarran international airport if you decide to fly from Las Vegas, either back to LA or elsewhere.
What are the ten best road-trip stops between Los Angeles and Las Vegas?
Mountain San Antonio (Mount Baldy)
Towering majestically at a staggering 10,064 feet, Mountain San Antonio in California (commonly known as Mount Baldy) is an inspiring sight that’s visible for dozens of miles. Its unique presence brings light to the otherwise vast landscape as it sits surrounded by clouds and wild winds on the horizon. On clear days, visitors will find themselves in awe of its dazzling color alpine setting and seemingly ageless massifs that stand above all else. Framed with breathtaking lakes and rivers, San Antonio is sure to leave adventurers feeling like they are standing at the edge of the world as they take in its raw beauty.
California Route 66 Museum
Located in the beautiful city of Victorville, California, the Route 66 Museum is the perfect place to explore the iconic adventures of America’s cross-country Highway. The museum showcases an extensive collection of artifacts, memorabilia, and photographs documenting life on and along the Route. From vintage signs to a restored Deuce Coupe from 1934, this amazing repository tells a story of fun and discovery along the open road. Stop by for a captivating history lesson about one of the most famous roads in American highways as you explore its many exhibits, displays, and activities; you’re sure to come away feeling inspired.
Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch
The one-of-a-kind quirky roadside attraction as unique as Las Vegas itself is Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch. Located along Highway 66 south of Barstow, California, the ranch covers 5 acres. It is full of 10’ tall metal sculptures framed with discarded glass bottles collecting the ever-changing desert colors created by the sun’s reflection.
The entire property is an art gallery covered in various large colorful creations made from recycled materials like car hoods and ribbons created from flattened aluminum cans giving it a whimsical atmosphere attracting both locals and tourists. Elmer, who is the caretaker of this unique ranch, has made every effort to preserve his masterpiece for current and future generations to appreciate its eccentric charm.
Peggy Sue’s 50’s Diner
Peggy Sues 50’s Diner is a must-see stop for anyone driving along Route 66. Since it opened its doors in 1967, the diner has been a beloved destination for hungry road trippers and vintage enthusiasts alike.
Not only does Peggy Sue’s offer classic American fast food dishes like juicy burgers and crunchy fries, even extraordinary milkshakes- they also bring back an era of old-style motor culture with a 50s jukebox right in the middle of their eatery.
For those looking to experience a slice of nostalgia while taking a break from the winding highways, there’s no better place than Peggy Sue’s Old-Fashioned 50’s Diner.
Calico Ghost Town Campground
Located 32 miles north of Barstow train station, Calico Ghost Town is completely abandoned and provides a unique glimpse into the mining culture that defined the Wild West. In 1881, silver was discovered in Calico, sending droves of prospective miners to the deserted foothills. The town quickly grew to a population of 1,200 and boasted over 500 mines in operation – but its boom was short-lived. Within 15 years, a drop in metal prices caused the miners to pack up and move away from Calico, leaving behind many artifacts from this era.
Today, visitors can explore these old structures and step back in time to savor what life must have been like during a time when those seeking fortunes flocked from all over. Afterward, check out the local gift shop where you can buy souvenirs such as custom saddles and leather belts that are handmade by real cowboys.
Whether you’re looking for a fun visit with the family or an educational experience about American history, Calico Ghost Town is sure to provide something memorable.
Zzyzx road: An Oasis in the desert
Traversing the desert and winding through the mountains of California lies a road that is much more mysterious than it appears. Zzyzx Road, located in the Mojave Desert near the California–Nevada border, was named after a spa retreat founded by Curtis Howe Springer, who hoped to use it for natural healing. Notoriously known for its lack of businesses along its 10-mile length and having been previously owned by the federal government before being transferred to the State of California.
In recent years, Kings College has made efforts to bring life back into this desert locale – from developing a music resort and recording studio at the old spa site to enhancing academic opportunities with plans for a research center and greenhouses. Visiting this place is an unforgettable and pleasant experience that will make for great stories for years yet to come.
If you’re on the hunt for a short but unforgettable detour as part of your California road trip, look no further than the Kelso Dunes in the Mojave desert. With their golden sand and magnificent view (votes for sunset time) of the mountains in the distance, these dunes transcend from simply being a touristy attraction – instead, this experience will stay with you long after you’ve packed up and gone home.
As a bonus, those who take time to explore can even try out their singing voice – Kelso Dunes’ exceptional acoustics that makes noise resonate to amazing lengths. A moment inside this awe-inspiring landscape is an absolute must-see.
Mojave National Preserve
The Mojave National Preserve, located in Southern California, is an expansive desert that offers a wide range of exciting and awe-inspiring activities for all ages. This National Preserve has some of the most diverse wildlife, scenery, and plants found anywhere in America. Visitors can enjoy star-gazing away from the light pollution of larger cities or take advantage of the miles upon miles of desert trails ripe with outdoor recreation and sightseeing opportunities.
Not only do visitors get to experience a vast array of biological intricate ecosystems, but they also get to witness the rich cultural history embedded in this region, like Route 66. With plenty of places to explore, like canyons, mountains, and sand dunes, The Mojave National Preserve gives you a chance to reconnect with nature while giving you plenty of adventurous activities as well.
Seven Magic Mountains
Ready for the most instagrammable spot of your road trip? Seven Magic Mountains is an outdoor art installation located near Las Vegas, Nevada. It consists of seven thirty-two-foot towers of multi-colored balanced boulders ranging between two and three stories high.
Each tower is encircled with up to seven rocks in various hues of blue, orange, yellow, and beige, creating an eye-catching display of color against the desolate desert landscape. Located in Jean Dry Lake, these man-made surrealist rock formations are designed to blend into the surrounding terrain and interact with the area’s natural geography.
Visitors to Seven Magic Mountains can admire this unique sculpture from a distance or explore its rock formations up close. The art piece offers a breathtaking visual experience and encourages viewers to contemplate their relationship with nature in unexpected ways.
River Mountains Loop Trail
The River Mountains Loop Trail is an excellent spot for outdoor recreation in the Las Vegas area. Spanning close to forty miles, this beautiful trail follows a loop path around the namesake River Mountains.
There are a lot of options for outdoor activities, like hiking, biking, and even horseback riding. The trails are clearly marked and well maintained, making them suitable for all levels, from beginners to experienced outdoors people.
I craved to explore that area by bike, so we stopped to rent our bicycles at a place called “All Mountain Cyclery” and biked along Hoover Dum. The route is quite hardcore if you’re not fit enough -my body was sore and sunburnt the next day, but the experience was so worth it. With stunning views of lake Mead and plenty of places to rest and manifest calmness in the beauty of nature, the River Mountains Loop Trail is a fantastic spot for anyone looking to escape the hustle and bustle of city life.
Traveling from Los Angeles to Las Vegas by car is a great way to see some fantastic scenery. The spots mentioned between these two cities are definitely worth stopping at.
The journey can be more rewarding than last-minute flights, especially when you can explore around and not rush between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. From Barstow to Hoover Dam, the places mentioned in this article are worth visiting, So, the next time you plan a road trip, add them to your itinerary. You won’t regret it.
I recently visited Hollister and San Benito County. I grew up one county over in Salinas so I have been to the area many times but it was fun seeing it again. Here are some fun things to do in San Benito County that I have known about since I was a kid or recently discovered.
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Where is San Benito County?
San Benito County is just inland from Monterey County in the Coast Range Mountains. In this part of California, one set of hills further inland can be another 10 or 20 degrees warmer in the summer. The two best-known cities in San Benito County are San Juan Bautista and Hollister. Hollister should not be confused with the Hollister brand clothing which comes from some mythical surf town in California, but why they used the same name as a very much real and very much not a surf town, I have no idea.
There is only one main highway that touches San Benito County and that is Highway 101 which passes by San Juan Bautista on the way between San Francisco and Southern California. The spine of the county is Highway 25 which heads from Hollister down past the east entrance of Pinnacles National Park.
When I grew up in Salinas I was told that San Benito County used to be part of Monterey County and became independent (1874) as part of the same political deal that made Salinas the county seat of Monterey County (1872).
San Juan Bautista
The town of San Juan Bautista is built around the mission of the same name. Mission San Juan Bautista is a treasure for history buffs like me. The mission was built in 1797 as part of a string of missions that stretched from Baja California to San Francisco. San Juan Bautista is the largest mission in the chain of missions. The missions were built a day’s ride apart on the El Camino Real, the King’s Highway (Highway 101 follows this route in this area of California).
The missions were started by Spanish Franciscan friar Father Junipero Serra. In more recent years there has been a lot of controversy around the history of the missions and of Father Serra. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II on September 25, 1988 and canonized by Pope Francis on September 23, 2015. To others, Serra was a villain because he or perhaps the soldiers associated with the mission oppressed the native people of the region. San Juan Bautista was founded by Father Lasuen who took over the project after Father Serra.
The original name of the mission was La Misión del Glorios Precursor de Jesu Cristo, Nuestro Señor San Juan Bautista (The Mission of the Glorious Precursor of Jesus Christ, Our Lord Saint John the Baptist).
Most of the missions have been surrounded now by urban life but the town square around San Juan Bautista was preserved in addition to the mission. In the town plaza you will find a hotel, livery stable, old jail, and plaza hall. The livery stable holds of collection of old carriages and wagons.
If the mission looks familiar it might be because you, like me, came here on a field trip as a kid. But more likely you recognize it from the 1958 Hitchcock film Vertigo.
If you take your kids to see the mission make sure to look to your right as you face the mission. The steep slope immediately to the mission’s right is the San Andreas Fault. Needless to say, the mission has been damaged by earthquakes over the years but its thick adobe walls still stand.
Fremont Peak State Park
Fremont Peak State Park is a great place to visit in California. Whether you’re a nature enthusiast or one who prefers a peaceful day hike, Fremont Peak will not disappoint. From the 3800-foot peak, you can take in stunning views of the Salinas Valley as far as the eye can see. Fremont Peak offers some great trails for easy-to-moderate levels of hiking with plenty of sights along the way. The peak is named after “The Pathfinder” John C. Frémont who was an American explorer and also the first Republican who ran for the president.
If you happen to like astronomy, Fremont Peak has its own astronomical observatory. The observatory has a program each Saturday night from April 1 to October 31 when the sky has a moon that is 50% full or less.
I remember camping at the Valley View Campground with Boy Scouts quite a few years ago. It is common for the Salinas Valley to fill up with fog at night and when we awoke we were above the clouds with a sea of clouds in every direction. Of course, that fog keeps helps insulate the valley and up on the peak, it was quite cold in the morning.
Pinnacles National Park
Pinnacles National Park offers a ton of amazing outdoor activities within its 26,606 acres. Hikers will find breathtaking views, explore caves, or enjoy the wildflowers (Spring).
To reach the east entrance of Pinnacles National Park you will need to access it through Hollister. But be sure to plan your Pinnacles excursion carefully, since there’s no road connecting the east and west entrances of Pinnacles National Park.
My favorite hike in the eastern half of the park, both now and when I was a child, is the hike to Bear Gulch Reservoir. There are two routes. The Bear Gulch Cave Trail is a short, interesting hike with beautiful boulder-filled narrow gorges where the boulders have formed a cave. You will need to bring a flashlight to navigate through the caves. This 1.5-mile hike has a 275 elevation change.
The other route is the Moses Spring Trail provides which avoids the caves and might be better for those with a fear of the dark or small spaces or with mobility issues. I recommend doing both trails, hiking the Bear Gulch Cave Trail up and taking the easier Moses Spring Trail back. There are other hikes that can be joined at the Bear Gulch Reservoir for the more ambitious.
Pinnacles has one campground located at its East entrance, with tent-only and RV hook-up sites for those who want to stay awhile.
Hollister Hills State Vehicular Recreation Area
I don’t remember knowing about the Hollister Hills State Vehicular Recreation Area when I was growing up in the area but it was created in 1975. Hollister Hills State Vehicular Recreation Area is a getaway for all types of adrenaline seekers located 5 miles south of Hollister in the Gabilan Mountains. Hollister Hills spans over 3,200 acres with 200 miles of trails. You can drive on open course areas and have the freedom to explore off-road as long as you abide by the laws and regulations set forth.
There are 4 main areas of the park. The Mudstone Ranch area is 850 acres and 13 miles of trails set aside for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. The area does have grazing cattle so give them some space and watch for electric fences.
The Lower Ranch allows ATVs and motorcycles. This is the area where the park offers safety training, nature hikes, and school programs. This area of the park is 3,300 acres and includes a Grand Prix Track.
The Upper Ranch has 24 miles of trails for 4×4 vehicles including a 4×4 obstacle course. The 3rd area is Hudner Ranch which is on the other side of the San Andreas Fault from the Upper Ranch. It has 30 miles of trails. Some of these trails are narrow and are recommended for shorter vehicles. This area has rolling hills with beautiful views. There are 2 remote campsites in Hudner Ranch.
South of Hollister is an area that is known as the Cienega Valley. It is sheltered from the cool fog of the coast by the Gabalan Range of mountains and the hot Central Valley by the Diablo Mountains. While Cienega does not have the name recognition of some of California’s other wine regions, this small valley has had grapes grown here since the 1800s. When you are in Downtown Hollister you are only 15 minutes from the nearest vineyard.
DeRose Vineyards has 100 acres of vineyards, including 40 planted before 1900, and boasts one of California’s longest growing seasons. French immigrant Theophile Vaché first planted grapes on the property in 1854. The property’s combination of old vines, topography, geology, and cultural practices helps define its terroir, the site-specific growing conditions that impart unique characteristics to a wine.
Winemaker Pat DeRose works year-round to achieve optimum vine balance, beginning with winter pruning and later with careful leaf removal throughout the growing season. The property’s principal grape varieties include Zinfandel, Negrette, Viognier, and Cabernet Franc. The Zinfandel vines were originally planted in the late 1890s and grow in a variety of soil types, including a rocky mixture created by the San Andreas Fault. The Negrette vines are 115 years old and are even rare in their native France. The Viognier vines were planted before 1900 and are dry-farmed on terraced hillsides. The Cabernet franc vines, which thrive on the DeRose estate, are trained on bilateral trellising and average 3.5 tons per acre.
DeRose has a lovely outside tasting area and a more industrial interior tasting room. We visited on a rainy day when the outside tasting area was closed. The tasting cost $15 for 3 wines from a list of 9 available. DeRose is making their reds available for tasting a year or two earlier than the other local wineries that I usually visit so if you buy a bottle I would recommend keeping it in your wine fridge for a bit before drinking it.
DeRose has a Nostalgia Car Museum including the only permanent display of Graham-Paiges in the World. The museum closed during Covid and has not yet reopened. One would assume that the cars in the museum are in better shape than a couple of the rusted cars on the vineyard grounds.
Monday-Friday 11:00 am–5:00 pm Saturday and Sunday 11:00 am–4:00 pm
Eden Rift Vineyards is a well-known and highly regarded winery located in the Cienega Valley of California. The 120-acre estate was established in 1849 by Theophile Vache, making it the oldest continuously producing vineyard in the state. The winery is located in an area with rich, limestone-filled soils that have proved ideal for the cultivation of a variety of grape varieties, particularly Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. In recent years, the winery has been revitalized by Christian Pillsbury, who brought on a team of young industry professionals, including winemaker Cory Waller, to create some of California’s most vibrant and energetic Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
The vineyards at Eden Rift are situated on the San Andreas Fault and are characterized by their extreme terraces and diverse terroir. The winery currently has 89.71 acres of Pinot Noir under cultivation. The winery also has 22.5 acres of Chardonnay under cultivation and has a small number of acres under cultivation for Zinfandel and Pinot Gris.
Eden Rift is a beautiful vineyard and is popular for group events. They have the unusual offerings of an ATV tour and tasting and a helicopter tour and tasting that you can book through their website. Reservations are recommended for tastings.
Running Rooster offers a wide range of menu items to suit all tastes. The restaurant started as a take-out only restaurant in 2003. Their award-winning burger is a customer favorite, and they also have a selection of wood-oven pizzas on offer. For those looking for something a little lighter, there are a number of savory salads to choose from. I would recommend getting something with chicken. I had the Chipotle Chicken Sandwich and my wife had the pear and apple salad with grilled chicken. If you like spicey, get the outlaw fries instead of the regular fries, yum.
In addition to the delicious food, the Running Rooster also offers a range of cocktails, draft beers, and local wines to pair with your meal.
The restaurant has a comfortable and casual atmosphere and great service. If you want to come and watch the game they have a bar set up for just that. They have an outdoor dining space but it was closed the day we were there because of rain.
Mangia Restaurant in Hollister, California has been serving up genuine Italian dishes since 2016. Don’t let its strip mall location and vibe put you off. Owner Raul Escareno puts his own spin on classic Italian recipes handed down from his Grandma. His menu features tender homemade pastas, freshly made sauces and salads, and flavorful appetizers. Dine with the comforting atmosphere at Mangia’s for a delightful experience that helps you and your family feel right at home. Whether you’re looking for an authentic Italian meal or their unique Mexican fusion like chile verde pasta, you won’t be disappointed with a visit to Mangia.
I ordered Mama’s Favorite which is sauteed onions, peppers, and sausage in a spicy marinara tossed over penne pasta. My wife had her usual pasta carbonara. Both dishes were unusually good.
Our recent trip to Hollister in San Benito County was fairly spontaneous. We had some Marriott points that we used for a free night at the Fairfield by Marriott. But like so many other areas in my home state I enjoyed revisiting this area and exploring this less visited part of California. I think you will as well.
Hear about travel to the San Juan Islands and Whidbey Island as the Amateur Traveler talks to Seattle local Alex Shoemann about these beautiful islands in the Puget Sound.
Alex says: “I think when people think of the San Juan Islands, the first thing they often think of is the wildlife. It’s a world-class destination for wildlife. The southern resident orcas, which we’ll definitely talk about on the are a group of orcas that are in the San Juans year round. There’s also quite a bit of great birding. It’s the, I think, highest concentration of bald eagles in the lower 48 as well. So the wildlife is pretty astounding.”
“And then it’s a really beautiful natural setting. It’s a chain of islands in this inlet that is the Puget Sound. And then to your west and your east, you’re surrounded by big snowy peaks. The islands themselves are covered with Douglas Fur Forest. It’s a beautiful setting for a vacation. And then, the part that people may not know about as much, is the sensibility of the islands is very relaxed and laid back.”
Alex starts us with the ferry from Anacortes to Orcas Island. If we take the first ferry of the day there should be time for a meal and then we are off to the Turtleback Mountain Preserve and later to Moran State Park. There are waterfalls to see and great views of Orcas Island and of the entire San Juans on a clear day. Visit a local art coop, and then grab a good meal to finish the day.
The next day, Alex recommends heading out for an encounter with the resident Orcas or in the right season with whales migrating up and down the west coast.
On the third day, we head over to Friday Harbor and San Juan Island. San Juan Island is flatter than Orcas Island so it could be a good opportunity to rent a bike to explore the island. There is a winery and a cidery on the island as well as an unusual park in the National Park system that remembers a war that the United States and Great Britain almost fought over the loss of a pig and a very unclear border. Stop by the Whaling museum in Friday Harbor to learn more about local sea life.
Alex encourages us to get in a kayak to explore the area on the 4th day, perhaps with a trip to Point Doughty or to one of the other local reserves.
If you want an add-on to this trip or a shorter trip from Seattle then Alex recommends a couple of days exploring Whidbey Island. Whidbey Island has great hikes like Ebey’s Landing, cute inns like Captain Whidbey, and another winery.
Come explore the outdoors near Seattle in the San Juan Islands or Whidbey Island.
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A statue based on Emmanuel Leutze’s famous painting of George Washington crossing the Delaware River near the historic park.
On both sides of the Delaware River are two state parks dedicated to an event that occurred on Christmas Day in 1776. On that date, General George Washington led about 2400 tired and poorly equipped soldiers in a surprise attack on a garrison of 1500 Hessian mercenary soldiers who were wintering in Trenton, New Jersey. Washington’s Army began their journey in McConkey’s Ferry, Pennsylvania, and crossed the ice-choked Delaware River to eventually surprise the Hessian soldiers and score a critical morale-building victory.
As an elementary school teacher, I enjoyed telling that story over twenty-five times to students in the location where it occurred. It’s a moving story of overcoming hardship and risking all to keep a floundering movement alive. Inevitably at the end of my presentation, there was always one student who would put up a hand, point to a nearby steel bridge, and ask, “Why didn’t they just use the bridge over there?” Of course, McConkey’s Ferry was a very different place two hundred forty years ago.
Emmanuel Leutze’s famous painting of George Washington crossing the Delaware River
The History of Washington’s Crossing
The American War for Independence was not going well for the American forces back in December of 1776. They had lost critical battles in and around New York City and were chased by the better-equipped British through the colony of New Jersey. Eventually, General Washington decided to seek safe territory by crossing over the Delaware River into the colony of Pennsylvania. In a brilliant move of forethought, he commandeered all the boats up and down the river for many miles. Back in 1776, there were no bridges crossing the Delaware River, only a series of small independently run ferry crossings. Securing all the boats provided Washington’s Army with the safety they needed to avoid an imminent British attack.
During December, Washington’s army was in poor shape and conditions were getting worse. By the new year, the enlistments for many of his soldiers would end. Poor equipment, disease, humiliating losses, and dwindling spirits did not make for a promising future. Washington knew he needed a morale-boosting victory. Along with his advisors, he developed a plan to make a daring nighttime crossing of the Delaware River and capture the Hessian forces in Trenton, New Jersey. It was a risky scheme, but it had the potential to give him the critical victory he needed to keep his troops dedicated to the cause.
Washington decided to make his move on Christmas day knowing that the Hessians were celebrating and most likely would not be ready for a major fight. Facing poor weather and an icy river, Washington counted on the element of surprise to give him an advantage. His troops made the crossing, surprised the Hessians, and gained a critical victory. Thus began one of America’s most famous independence stories.
Washington Crossing State Park – Pennsylvania
Today, that event is commemorated by state parks in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Together, both parks form the Washington Crossing, U.S. National Historic Landmark area. The parks are well maintained and offer visitors great insight into what happened before, during, and after Washington’s famous midnight maneuver.
Pennsylvania’s 500-acre Washington Crossing Historic Park was created in 1917 and is currently operated by a partnership between the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Friends of Washington Crossing Park. The park is divided into two sections about 4 miles from each other. Pennsylvania’s park is most famous for its yearly recreation of Washington and his army crossing the Delaware River by re-enactors each Christmas Day.
The lower park, located in the community of Washington Crossing, features a Visitor’s Center and 13 historic buildings. The most famous structure is the McConkey’s Ferry Inn where General Washington and his aides made plans before the crossing.
Another popular building is a 20th Century barn that houses 5 replicas of the sturdy Durham boats that were designed to transport pig iron. These and other watercraft were used to transport soldiers, artillery, and horses during the famous crossing.
The Visitor’s Center features a film about the crossing along with a digital full-size replica of Emanuel Leutze’s 1851 painting of Washington Crossing the Delaware that is currently displayed in New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. There is also a small museum that features artifacts from the time of the crossing along with exhibits about the different people who served in Washington’s Army.
Driving about 4 miles north along the Delaware River accesses another section of the park. It features a scenic lookout called Bowman’s Tower along with a wildflower grove. Here visitors can also see the Thompson-Neely Farmstead, which was used as a military hospital during Washington’s encampment.
The historical marker indicating the location where General George Washington and his army made their historic crossing of the Delaware River
The Delaware River where General George Washington and his army made their historic crossing of the Delaware River
Washington Crossing State Park – New Jersey
New Jersey’s 3,575-acre Washington Crossing State Park focuses on telling the story of what happened once Washington’s Army arrived on the other side of the river. It was created in 1912 and is maintained by the New Jersey Division of Parks and Forestry and supported by the Washing Crossing Park Association citizen’s group. On the New Jersey side, the corresponding ferry operation was known as Johnson’s Ferry.
The gardens at the Johnson Ferry House in New Jersey’s Washington Crossing State Park
The entrance to the Johnson Ferry House and Tavern in New Jersey’s Washington Crossing State Park
The stone barn by the Johnson Ferry House in New Jersey’s Washington Crossing State Park
Visitors can experience a living history presentation at the Johnson Ferry House which features a colonial garden, farmhouse, and an 18th Century tavern complete with a bar and protective grill. Another historic building along the Delaware River is the Alexander Nelson Tavern, which features a replica of a flat-bottom ferry boat that was used at this location.
The historic Taylorsville district of Washington Crossing Historic Park, Pennsylvania
The historic marker at the beginning of the Continental Trail which follows the path Washington’s Army took to Trenton, NJ
On the New Jersey side of the Delaware River is a hiking pathway called the Continental Trail that marks the route Washington’s Army marched on their way to attack the Hessians in the city of Trenton. Hikers can follow that same route today. The park also has a Visitor’s Center that features a historical movie called “Ten Crucial Days” and a museum that contains the 700-piece Harry Kels Swan Collection of Revolutionary War artifacts. On select days, the park staff also presents living history demonstrations that include uniformed soldiers and musket firing demonstrations.
The Mahlon K. Taylor house in the Taylorsville district of Washington Crossing Historic Park, Pennsylvania
The Thompson-Neely Farmstead in the northern section of Pennsylvania’s Washington Crossing Historic Park
On both sides of the Delaware River are canals that were used for shipping raw materials and goods from northern Pennsylvania to major cities in both states. On the Pennsylvania side is the 60-mile-long Delaware Canal. New Jersey features the Delaware and Raritan feeder canal that runs from Lambertville to Bordentown. Both canals can be used for canoeing, kayaking, and fishing. Along each canal are towpaths that are excellent for bicycling, hiking, jogging, and horseback riding.
When to Visit Washington Crossing State Parks
Both parks are open every day of the year, from sunrise to sunset, and feature various history-related events, demonstrations, and encampments. Pennsylvania’s park offers ticketed daily tours of the historic area. Summers are the most active and weekends are the busiest with visitors. The parks have limited events throughout the winter months.
When I visited on a weekday during the second week of October, I experienced only a handful of people. Visitors can reach both parks by driving about an hour north of Philadelphia or two hours west of New York City. They are close to Interstate 95 and make for a scenic day trip. The quaint and picturesque riverside towns of New Hope and Lambertville are north of both parks. Connected by a walkable bridge, both communities feature numerous restaurants and eclectic shopping opportunities.
A replica of a flat-bottom ferry boat that was used at this location next to the Alexander Nelson Tavern
Other Revolutionary War Sites Nearby
There are numerous Revolutionary War attractions within an hour’s drive of Washington Crossing. Less than an hour away is Valley Forge, Washington’s famous winter camp. In New Jersey is the Old Barrack’s Museum, often awarded as New Jersey’s best museum based on its living history presentation on the people and events associated with Washington’s march on Trenton. Outside of Trenton is the Princeton Battlefield, the site of another American victory by General Washington. On the campus of Princeton University, New Jersey, is Old Nassau Hall where skirmishes occurred and British troops surrendered to General Washington.
New Jersey has also preserved two more of Washington’s winter camps. In Somerville are the Wallace House and Old Dutch Parsonage State Historic Site and Morristown features Jockey Hollow and the Ford Mansion. The Schuyler-Hamilton House where Eliza Schuyler met and was courted by Alexander Hamilton is also in Morristown. About 90 minutes away is the Monmouth Battlefield State Park famous for a major battle between the British and Washington’s army as well as the legend of Molly Pitcher.
The Visitor’s Center at New Jersey’s Washington Crossing State Park
I found it exciting to stand at the actual location where the crossing began and look across the Delaware River. The two state parks of the Washington Crossing Historic Landmark helped me understand the full story of Washington’s famous crossing by presenting the factual details of what occurred. They are excellent places to experience American history and see actual sites that were significant in the battle for American Independence. Even though they are in two different states, today you can easily make your own crossing by simply taking the bridge.
Hear about cruising the islands of Melanesia (Papua New Guinea, The Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu) as the Amateur Traveler talks to Sherry Ott from OttsWorld.com about an unusual expedition cruise.
In response to the question “Why should someone go to Melanesia?”, Sherry says:
“There’s a few reasons. One is culture by far. If you are into visiting places with culture that is vastly different than our own that is very remote and untouched. But yet open to tourism that right there is for me, number one, and why I went.”
“It’s also a part of what they call the coral triangle. It’s where all the coral grows. I think they said 75% of the world’s shallow water reef building. Coral is located there. So that means really great snorkeling, like beautiful snorkeling as well as diving. We stuck to snorkeling though, so if you are an underwater enthusiast, this is a great place to go.”
“If you are a birder, This is a wonderful place to go. I am not a birder, but there were a lot of birders with me, and I find them fascinating. That’s an interesting culture in and of itself. But they’ve got hundreds and thousands of unique bird varieties there, and they are hard to find because of the dense jungles on remote islands. So very rare birds to be found there.”
“And then finally, you go there if you wanna learn more about World War II history.”
Sherry was traveling on an expedition class ship with Heritage Expeditions from New Zealand and they were stopping at small remote islands, some of which had not seen tourists in years. Their visit would often start with a ceremonial “welcome” of people running out to their boats with spears and war chants. Of course, not too long ago, this would have been more than ceremonial.
Then the people of the island would usually put on a cultural presentation of song and dance known in the region as a sing sing. Each village had its own unique costumes, dances, and even musical instruments. One village had an electric bass while many had drums and bamboo instruments. One village used the ocean itself as an instrument. A village tour would usually follow the sing sing.
The villages don’t do this sort of elaborate presentation every day so sometimes hundreds of other locals would trek for a day or so to come and see or to present their crafts to these strange-looking visitors.
Along the way, Sherry learned more about WWII history including the siege of Rabaul, JFK and PT 109, and Admiral Yamamoto. They snorkeled where you could see shot-down fighter planes and went to Million Dollar Point where the U.S. sunk millions of dollars of equipment out of spite.
They say rare birds including one whose feathers were used for currency on these islands that had no access to metals for coins.
This episode is a dive into the deep end of cultural tourism. Even if you never go to a sing sing, I think you will find it fascinating.
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Hear about a road trip in Nebraska from Omaha to Scott’s Bluff along the Oregon Trail as the Amateur Traveler talks to Olivia Wieseler about her home state.
Olivia says, “I feel Nebraska is very underestimated. It’s very beautiful. People always think it’s flat and boring, and nothing’s there, but what many people don’t realize is there’s actually four different environments. There’s the Rolling Hills from where I’m from along the Missouri River. I’m from Northeastern Nebraska. It’s very hilly, very not flat.”
“And then there’s the flat prairie that everyone knows about. And then there is the Sandhills, which is also very hilly and everything. And then you get out super far to western Nebraska. The panhandle where most people forget about it it’s actually super beautiful, lots of bluffs, rock formations, starts to get drier, more desert-like. So there’s four different things. And if you drive straight across Nebraska in the middle of the state, you’ll hit all four of ’em and it’s beautiful.”
Olivia starts us in the east just as those who traveled on the Oregon Trail would have done. In Omaha, she recommends we see the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium which is one of the best zoos in the USA. There is also a mural project in Omaha.
On the way to Lincoln, she recommends stops at the Holy Family Shrine and at the Lee G. Simmons Wildlife Safari Park which features animals from the plains.
In Lincoln, you should try to get to a “Huskers” game but tickets are very hard to get. Olivia also recommends the Haymarket District downtown and the Sunken Gardens. There are also two unusual museums. One is dedicated to quilts and one to rollerskating. Head out of town to James Arthur Vineyards which is the largest vineyard in Nebraska and to Roca Berry Farm. In the fall, Roca Berry Farm turns into Roca Scary Farm. Under the city of Lincoln, you can tour the Robber’s Cave.
We then head further west to Grand Island where you could pick up the Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway. Olivia recommends a visit to see the 500,000 Sand Hill Cranes that visit the state every year. South of Grand Island you can take a side trip to the home of Kool-Aid in Hastings. If you time your trip you can be there for Kool-Aid Days.
At Kearney, you can’t miss the Archway Museum which talks about the trails and highways that cross Nebraska. This museum spans Interstate 80.
In North Platte, we leave Highway I80 and head up towards Scott’s Bluff on the old Oregon Trail. Some of the best landmarks that the pioneers would have used are Chimney Rock and Scott’s Bluff. We start to head into a landscape of bluffs, badlands, brush, and rattlesnakes. You can still see wagon wheel tracks at a few places along the route. You should hike Scott’s bluff… or run up it in the Scott’s Bluff marathon.
Western Nebraska includes public lands like Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area, and Ash Hollow State Historical Park, but one of the most unusual sites is Carhenge. Carhenge is a recreation of Stonehenge… made from old cars.
Along the way we eat at steakhouses, learn where the tin roof sundae was invented, and dip our cinnamon rolls into chile.
Pack the car, load up the kids and head out on a road trip through Nebraska.
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Opposite the tip of the boot that is the country Italy, in the heart of the Mediterranean, lies the beautiful island of Sicily. Characterized by pristine beaches, vociferous locals, and a deep love for both baroque churches and, interestingly enough, fried food. Four days in Sicily will allow you to unveil the tip of the cultural iceberg that is Sicily.
This little island is in fact, not so little. Measuring two-thirds the size of the Kingdom of Belgium, seeing all the highlights in a mere four days is simply not possible. Therefore this guide will focus mainly on the eastern part of the island within its folds the wonderful Mount Etna, Taormina, and Catania. Here you will also find the gateway to the pristine Aeolian islands. For the curious few, western Sicily is less touched by tourism meaning it is a smidge more authentic and budget-friendly but equally it has little to no tourism infrastructure making it harder to navigate around.
Getting around Sicily on public transportation is quite simply a heroic task. If the infrastructure is available (in many places it is sadly not), time schedules are treated as a suggestion rather than a fact. Making getting from point a to point b is needlessly arduous, especially on a muggy day in summer with temperatures soaring upwards of 40°C (104°F). Therefore, to ensure the holiday remains carefree the number one recommendation is to rent a car to explore around. Do be aware that Sicilian driving skills tend to veer towards the aggressive side in larger cities. Be proactive, make sure to always triple-check for scooters and learn to enjoy the ever-present symphony of honking horns that are typical of Sicilian cities.
As your 4-day Sicily itinerary is going to be rather packed, the best area to stay in Sicily is without a doubt the city of Catania. The city has an abundance of places to accommodations (for every price range) and is within a few hours drive from all the must-see attractions of eastern Sicily.
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Is Sicily safe?
One of the most researched questions about Sicily is concerning safety. Let’s nip that in the bud once and for all, yes Sicily is perfectly safe and no the mafia is not going to come and get you.
While it is true Sicily has a rather bloody history when it comes to the mafia, the local law enforcement and governing bodies have cracked down on these nefarious practices hard in the recent decade. In practice, this means that walking the streets of the larger cities of Palermo and Catania is now equally safe as Rome, Firenze, or Venice. The same rules apply: Be mindful of your valuables; do not leave your cell phone on the table when you are at the restaurant and never carry your wallet in your back pocket.
If you want to learn a bit more about the history of the mafia, there is an informative anti-mafia museum in Palermo (No Mafia Memorial, Via Vittorio Emanuele, 353). Alternatively, check out the dedicated mafia tours that are run across the island, these have not been included in this article.
Day 1: Catania
Catania has the largest airport on the island and therefore sees the highest amount of both national and international flights whizz in and out. Tickets to fly into Catania are usually cheaper than to Palermo due to the large number of flights. To ease yourself into your 4-days in Sicily, start off by exploring this magnificent city that lies in the shadow of Mount Etna.
Discover the historic center of Catania
There is no better way to explore a city than by strolling through its streets and alleys uncovering the many secrets it holds. Start off in the central square, Piazza del Duomo which holds some of the most emblematic attractions in Catania: The Catania Duomo, the Catania city hall, and a fountain in the shape of an elephant. This is not just an ordinary elephant mind you, it is the very representation of Catania. Carved out of black lava and carrying the weight of an Egyptian obelisk, it is said this statue is the antidote to the eruptions of nearby Mount Etna. Next stroll towards Piazza dell’Universita, home to the exquisite Palazzo San Giuliano which can be visited.
Two streets stand out when visiting Catania, Via Etnea which runs through the city and ends with the most superb view of Mount Etna in the background. This is most likely the view you have seen in the major guidebooks. The second street is Via Crociferi, which is known not so much for the views but rather for its number of churches. If church hopping is your thing, get here early in the morning as most churches close right before lunchtime (1:00 pm). Should time be of the essence, skip the smaller churches and head straight for the former Benedictine Monastery of San Nicolò l’Arena, which is now a university building but can be visited (with or without a guide).
Tip: Unlike Palermo, Google Maps does tend to work when walking around Catania. Although the city is laid out in a relatively easy grid pattern making getting lost virtually impossible.
Immerse yourself in local life at the markets
Depending on which day of the week you happen to be in Catania, a different market is available. The most typical is without a doubt the fish market, where local vendors yell for dear life selling their goods. This market is only open in the morning when droves of locals come to purchase their daily fruits, vegetables, and of course fish. When the clock strikes 1:00 pm, the market magically transforms into a bubbling market square filled with little restaurants and bars. An alternative to the fish market is the Monday market (Fera ‘o Luni Market). What was originally a market held only on Monday has become so popular in recent years that it is held every day (except Sunday) from 09.00 to 13.00. Come here for typical fruits and vegetables but also handmade jewelry and a variety of clothing.
Alternatively, get out of Catania and head for Ortigia
One of the best day-trips from Catania is to the beautiful baroque islet of Ortigia which is connected to Syracuse by two sets of bridges. Rated as one of the most beautiful places in all of Sicily, it is not hard to see why. The tightly knit maze of alleys crisscrossing this tiny island is filled why 3-story buildings that have the most ornate baroque façades imaginable. When walking through this storybook part of the island, keep your eyes up to spot the intricately carved balconies and the colorful ceramic pinecones (placed for good luck). An absolute highlight of Ortigia is the Syracuse Duomo on the Piazza Duomo. What was once a 5th-century BC temple of Athena was quite literally covered up by a cathedral in the 7th century. Remnants of the temple are still visible, especially on the inside.
Tip: If you come by car, do not park it on the island itself. There are a select few parking lots that are available for non-residence and they tend to fill up quickly with holiday goers who have rented a room on the island. Avoid the risk of getting your rental towed or being heavily fined and simply park on one of the many, many parking spots around Santa Lucia bridge.
Day 2: A day in Palermo
Palermo is the capital of Sicily and well worth spending at least a day in. It might appear a little run down on the edges, but don’t let appearances fool you. Behind slightly shabby doors, with peeling paint, lie spacious palazzi and remnants of the once wealthy southern Italian aristocracy that used to roam these very streets. There are a lot of things to do in Palermo, here is a snippet of activities to choose from during your 4-day trip.
Palatine Chapel Palermo
Explore the Arab Norman Architecture in Palermo
The island of Sicily is peppered with UNESCO-designated Arab Norman Architecture. The Normans ruled over Sicily from the 10th to the 13th century, making Palermo their capital. Two of the most interesting places to visit in Palermo just happen to be remnants of this time period. At the entrance of the historic center lies the Norman Palace, unassuming from the outside and the current seat of the Sicilian parliament and thus the oldest still-used parliamentary building in Europe. While this is fascinating as such, the real gem is nestled need inside the folds of the Norman Palace, the Palatine Chapel. Built in the 12th century by the Norman King Roger II of Sicily as his private chapel. Covered in an estimated 6000 hand-painted golden mosaics, depicting various biblical scenes.
Tip: The ticket booth for the Norman palace is not at the entrance itself, rather cross the open square and head to the forested patch opposite the entrance. Here you will find a little wooden chalet-type building where tickets are sold.
Eat your way through one of the three historic markets of Palermo
Palermo has four historic markets which have been running for decades: La Vucciria, il Capo, and Ballaro are the most frequented and the safest. The markets are a great place to indulge in some good old people-watching and eat the most typical Palermitan street food (including the spleen sandwich which is grilled right in front of you at the Ballaro market). Fifteen years ago these markets, hidden deep inside the historic center, were an absolute no-go zone. Nowadays they are brimming with little eateries and tour guides showing around eager visitors. Visiting is an absolute must when visiting Palermo.
Walk around the beautifully restored historic center
Via Vittorio Emmanuele crosses Via Maqueda at the baroque Quatro Canti, thus splitting the historic center into four distinct sections. While once these avenues were filled with cars, now they have been closed off and are safe havens for pedestrians. Though you need to be mindful of the horse-drawn carriages and their modern-day variant, the electric scooter, as they come galloping around the corner. As much as it might seem tempting to take either, both are not well regulated and the former is most likely to cause harm to the horse while the latter might see you getting awkwardly close to the pavement due to failing brakes.
Back to the historic center. Check out the Cathedral of Palermo, the inside is decidedly less impressive than the outside but a visit to the rooftop more than makes up for that as it provides the very best views over Palermo. This activity is not suitable for those suffering from vertigo or claustrophobia as the stairway up can be slightly narrow.
Tip: Google maps is very spotty and tends to get a little confused when you head into the maze of alleys that is Historic Palermo. Let this be a sign to put the phone away and enjoy a leisurely stroll. Every little street will eventually lead you to a tiny square which, in true Sicilian style, is lined with bars & restaurants. One will never go wanting for food in the capital of this marvelous island.
Check out the beach near Palermo
If your visit happens to coincide with the sweltering summer months, make a beeline for Mondello, the nearest beach in Palermo. Technically Mondello is part of the bustling city, yet it feels like a different part of the world altogether. Tightly packed, multi-tier houses filled with colorful washing, make way for beautiful Liberty villa’s on large swathes of land. Alleys are transformed into forested boulevards and the uninterrupted beachfront replaces the busy Vittorio Emanuele. The only slight downside is that due to its proximity to the heart of the city, everyone and their cat moves to Mondello in the summer months. If you want to nab yourself a lounge chair (€25 for the day) you will need to be there before 10:00 am.
Day Three: Climb Mount Etna and check out Taormina
A visit to Sicily is not complete without a climb up the jaw-dropping, active volcano Mount Etna. At over 3,357 meters (11,013 feet), the volcano dominates the eastern Sicily landscape. The last eruption of Mount Etna dates back to 2021, therefore before planning any arduous hikes, always double-check if it is safe to hike/visit. The slopes of Mount Etna contain various checkpoints: Rifugio Sapienza (starting point 1900 meters), mountain hut (2500 meters), Torre del Filosofo (2900 meters), top (3350 meters). The route between Torre del Filosofo and the top is only accessible with a guide for safety reasons.
There are a variety of different ways to conquer this majestic mountain, let’s delve into them.
Guided Tour from a-z: Many tour operators offer decently priced tours with pick-up and drop-off at the hotel. When you book, make sure to double-check everything is included (e.g. ticket for the cable car, jeep ride to the top of the mountain if relevant)
Guided, with own transportation: Park your car at Rifugio Sapienza from here take a guided tour to the top.
Semi-Guided: Park your car at Rifugio Sapienza and make your own way up to the Torre del Filosofo (either hike or take the cable car). From here you can opt to take a jeep ride or a guided hike to the top of the crater.
Clambering up and down Mount Etna will take a good 6-8 hours if you decided to hike, tours are anywhere between 4 and 6 hours depending on your preferred mode of transport. This leaves ample time to check out the nearby village of Taormina, with its wonderfully preserved 3rd-century BC Greek theater that just happens to have the most spectacular views over Mount Etna at sunset. During the summer months, this ancient theater is used and ancient Greek tragedies are played during sunset. These tickets tend to sell out like hotcakes, therefore if it is on your bucket list make sure to book tickets in advance.
Vulcano Island, Sicily
Day Four: Go island hopping to the Aeolian islands
Due to its size, the island of Sicily does not have that distinct island feel. If you are looking for rest and relaxation, whitewashed houses, and a laid-back atmosphere the Aeolian Islands surrounding the northwestern coast of Sicily will do the trick.
There are seven islets in total to choose from: Lipari, Vulcano, Salina, Stromboli, Filicudi, Alicudi, and Panarea. Each one is very distinct and attracts different types of crowds. The most visited islands are Lipari, Vulcano, and Stromboli (which houses the eponymous active volcano). These islands have some of the best sandy beaches in the region, all of which are accessible on foot.
The tiny islet of Panarea is a more exclusive getaway, although perfectly accessible to anyone, prices for accommodation tend to be significantly higher. Due to its small size, purchasing a house on this islet is reserved for nobility and the ultra-wealthy with very good connections. If you are considering visiting Panarea and want to spend time at the beach, you will need to rent a little boat (daily hire available at the docking port of the ferry) to navigate around the island in search of a beach.
Tip: You will not need a car on the Aeolian islands. In high season ferries run hourly from the port of Palermo or the port of Messina. Booking in advance is required for the ferries and can be done online.
Hear about travel to Tanzania on a luxury safari as the Amateur Traveler talks to Jane Horlings about her recent trip to 3 of Tanzania’s National Parks.
In answer to the question, “why should someone go to Tanzania?” Jane says, “Oh my. It’s the animals. I’m a biology professor, retired now. So for me, vacations are often about the wildlife and the scenery, and this never disappoints. There’s animals big and small that you see all of the day when you’re out on safari.”
Jane and her husband timed their trip to see the Great Migration of wildebeests and zebra in Serengeti National Park but also visited the more remote Ruaha National Park and Nyerere National Park (Selous Game Reserve).
The great migration is the slow migration of large herds of grazing animals, particularly wildebeests and zebra, from north to south and then back again annually. As Jane describes, it is not really a one-way trip so much as a meandering of animals north… until one gets the idea to cross back over the crocodile-infested rivers to the south for a taste at that grazing land, then back again across the same obstacle.
Serengeti National Park is an amazing park but was much more crowded with both safari vehicles and with animals than were the other two parks. To save time and Jane’s back, they flew between these parks instead of making the long drives that would be needed to see all on the same trip.
Jane describes camp life and the safari experience, including a close encounter with lions… and I mean really close. Fortunately, when seated in a safari vehicle, people don’t look like something on the menu.
While the rules in Serengeti National Park are that you need to be in the park at night, they had some nighttime safari experiences in Ruaha National Park, including using infrared cameras so they could see the animals without the spotlight that is traditionally used. They also had the ability to set up camera traps on paths to see what animals passed by when they were elsewhere.
Ruaha National Park is a dry landscape where the animals are not as plentiful, but the tourists were even less plentiful. Nyerere National Park gets day trippers from Zanzibar who fly over to visit. It is a lush green park with a great variety of animals.
Learn what questions to ask when you plan your next or maybe your first safari in Tanzania.
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This episode is sponsored by the About the Journey Podcast. In Season 2, travel journalist Oneika Raymond takes us on a journey around North America to find out. This time around, she’s picked six cities and six entirely unique experiences. From a Black-owned bookstore in Washington, D.C., to the birthplace of the largest queer film festival.