Pacific Coast Highway

As interview season rolls on, Bae found herself with interviews in Sacramento and Santa Barbara that were perfectly split with a weekend between them. We decided it was a no-brainer to turn this into a mini weekend road trip!

I flew into the Sacramento airport Friday after work and Bae picked me up and we hit the road (she drove while I gave her a full on concert straight out of the early 2000’s, consisting of an infinite amount of R&B aka baby making music). We drove through the night (only a couple hours) and decided to stay in Santa Cruz. We grabbed some dinner at Soif where we split a burger and a charcuterie board, all which was very satisfying. You should definitely check out the little “downtown” area of Santa Cruz if you get the chance, there are a lot of little restaurants and shops to poke your head in and grab something tasty to eat.

In typical fashion, we woke up early the next day and went for a run! We ran down to the beach and checked out the wharf, boardwalk, and lighthouse. There were amazing views to get us started on our trip!

 

We also ran into some seals down on the wharf! It was entertaining watching them swim around and attempt to jump up on the boards and also to listen to the bigger ones barking, almost as a wake up call to all the slackers sleeping in! Seals aren’t something you see everyday in the Pacific Northwest, so we were excited to be able to see some new wildlife.

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After getting back to our room, we showered and hit the road for San Luis Obispo (SLO)! This was the bulk of our trip, and we wanted to make sure to take the scenic route along the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH)!

Our first pit stop came in the form of a major pitstop at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. We both love animals and it was perfectly on our route, so it was an obvious choice to make a stop in.

 

I would have to say that Bae’s favorite part was probably the Sea Otters. She definitely loves the Sea Otters. I think I enjoyed the jellyfish. Between the colors and slow, silky movements, they were mesmerizing to watch.

After our exploration of the aquarium, we popped into Cannery Row Brewery for some lunch. Food was nothing to write home about, except for the huge pretzel they had. Another one of Bae’s favorites is soft pretzels, so for that alone, it was worth stopping in.

After fueling up, we set forth for more driving! This was my favorite part of the trip. We really go into the bulk of the allure that the PCH has to offer. It was one beautiful view after another for the next couple hours. We decided to stop along Big Sur portion of the highway. There is a nice walkway (some may call it a mini-hike) that we ventured down.  And we coincidentally did so right around sunset. You can’t beat west coast sunsets in general, but these views were really something special. Bae likes to considers herself a lucky person (like usual), she just keeps being right!

Reluctantly, we decided we better continue our journey for SLO. We did however have to make one more noteworthy stop to check out the elephant seals. They were all over the place! The wildlife on this trip really did not disappoint!

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Check out the two on the right, neck to neck, fighting?

About an hour or so later, we finally arrived to our destination for the night in SLO. The next morning we backtracked a bit and headed to Moro Bay. Moro Bay is a cool little beach town, probably swarmed by tourists (like ourselves) in the summer months, but in December, it was quiet and a great town to check out. We parked our car and started running along the boardwalk, and to our surprise… Sea Otters! Bae was extremely excited and couldn’t stop counting them and pointing out the baby ones. It was extremely entertaining to see.

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After the excitement, we continued out to Moro Rock where we got to see some awesome crashing waves and more natural beauty.

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Finally, we decided it was time to reach our final destination, Santa Barbara. We hit the road and arrived into sunny Santa Barbara. We grabbed lunch at the delicious (and inexpensive) La Super-Rica Taqueria. HIGHLY recommend this little taco joint. Very, very good food. After lunch, we went down and walked along the beach to soak in some California sun rays. Coincidentally, Santa Barbara has their arts and crafts show along the beach every Sunday, so we got to check out some local art along the way.

After our walk along the beach (which I carried Bae across the finish line because she forgot her walking shoes), it was time to get me to the airport and for Bae to get to her pre-interview dinner. She dropped me off at the little Santa Barbara airport and just like that, our weekend in California had come to a close. If you have the time and resources, you’ve got to drive along State Route 1. It is full of breathtaking views, and is just overall very relaxing. It really makes you appreciate some of the natural beauty of the west coast!

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South Dakota Adventures: Badlands, Wind Cave, Rushmore and so much more

Since I’m currently living in Omaha but may be moving in May PC and I feel like we need to make as many road trips to surrounding areas while we can. One of the places we felt like we needed to go before I move is Badlands National Park. And while we were in the area we figured we might as well do Wind Caves National Park since it’s not too far away. And then we decided we might as well throw in Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse since PC had never been to those before. Plus we had to do Custer State park in hopes of seeing some wildlife. And we threw in some other stops along the way. Thats do-able in two days right??

So we started on the road on Thursday evening after I picked PC up from Epply airport and we headed to Sioux City to see PC’s friend who’s on the Wichita Wingnuts play the Sioux City Explorers. We shared some cold beers and a hot dog. We really felt like we were in small town USA.

On the way out of town we stopped at Culver’s, my favorite fast food place because it reminds me of my grandparents and got a tasty sourdough melt and deep fried cheese curds and shared a concrete mixer for the drive to Sioux Falls.

We didn’t arrive in Sioux falls until around 10PM. We stayed at a Marriott in town that was actually very nice but we weren’t there for long because we woke up the next morning at 4:30AM since we had a very full day ahead of us.

First stop – coffee and bagels from a combined Caribou Coffee and Einstein Bagels. Got my first pumpkin-y drink of the season! PC went with something more manly.

Next we stopped at the Corn Palace in Mitchell. I had very high expectations because this place is pretty famous. Every year they do new murals made of corn with a different theme on the side of the palace. I expected intricate murals made kernel by kernel to create a beautiful elaborate masterpiece.

To my disappointment the palace just had a giant Willy Nelson mural that was made more out of dead grass than corn cobs. And the corn murals only covered less than two sides of the building! We were there to early to go inside but apparently they have basketball games and concerts in there sometimes. The only redeeming them about the Corn Palace was the statue of the giant cheerful corn cob. Plus it was nice to be able to get out and stretch our legs a little bit. Corn Palace grade: D-

Then we were back on the road. There was a pretty crazy lightening storm but it cleared up eventually and we got to see the sunrise. Next stop was Wall Drug, which is famous for its billboards all along I-90 through the entire state of South Dakota.

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We aren’t the type for touristy junk but we stopped in to check it out and get a second breakfast. The doughnuts were good and the coffee was cheap. Plus it was nice to stretch our legs again because we had been on the road for several hours at this point.

Next, it was onto Mount Rushmore, which was still a few miles away. As you get closer and closer to Mt. Rushmore there is a ton of touristy activities on the side of the road. Most of them look like a dump and we didn’t stop at any but I wish we would have stopped at Bear Country USA to see some bears! By the time we got there skies were still gray and sprinkly. There isn’t a ton to do at Mt. Rushmore aside from a little mile long trail around the base of the hill and a small museum about the making of the sculpture.

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This was my second time at Mt. Rushmore and PC’s first. We agree we don’t feel like we need to go back but its good to see at least once.

Crazy horse is just 30 minutes away so we headed there next. Crazy horse absolutely dwarfs Mt. Rushmore in size but not much progress has been made since I was last there three years ago. There are quite a few things to look at in the museum there.

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There is a bus ride that leaves from the museum and costs on a few dollars which takes you closer to the sculpture but we didn’t have time to do that since we were on a very tight schedule.

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Then on to Needles Highway which is a tortuous two lane (sometimes one lane) road through Custer State Park.

We saw a family of mountain goats along the way 🙂

Then we got on the Wildlife loop. Custer State Park has the largest buffalo herd in America and we were really hoping to see some wildlife. Luckily our dream came true!

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We actually came across a group of 30-40 buffalo meandering across the road. We saw some pronghorn deer (antelope) as well.

We had to high-tail it after we saw the buffalo to make it to Wind Caves National Park in time to get tickets for one of the cave tours. I wasn’t so convinced we needed to do one of the tours but PC insisted and I’m glad he did. We got lucky and happened to get there around 3PM, just in time to get tickets for the Garden of Eden tour. This particular tour is 1hr 15min but there are ones that are even 4hrs long. The remaining tickets for the remaining tours were sold out pretty soon after we go there, around 2:30, and visitors who were not able to get tickets were not pleased! So moral of the story is get there early to get tickets because the tour is amazing and they do sell out.

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The tour started with an introduction by a cheerful park ranger and then we took an elevator several stories down into the cave. This is the manmade entrance, the original entrance is very tiny; I’m not sure how people got in originally.

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The natural entrance to the cave.

Anyhow, our tour group was composed of people from ages 3yo to 80-ish yo so this adventure is good for all ages as there is a paved trail, as well as some stairs, all along the route. Our tour guide was absolutely fantastic! She was so cheerful and knowledgeable about the science behind the cave and the history of the place.

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Some thing unique about wind cave is that it has a ton of a rock pattern called “box work” which comes about when sheets of calcite crystals form around softer limestone and then the limestone gets worn away, leaving behind a spider web-like pattern. There may be no other cave in the world that has so much box work.

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Box work formations

Back in the day, a young boy explored the cave with just a candle and ball of string and discovered up to seven miles. I would be way to scared to do that! The cave actually has over a hundred miles of passages. The ranger ended the tour with a with speech that made me understand why I love national parks so much. In a world that can seem pretty depressing at times, national parks are an example of something good that people did. Generations ago, people had the foresight to set aside some of the most beautiful places in the country and preserve them for future generations and people continue to preserve and care for these amazing places. ❤

After our cave tour we decided to do something above ground. We chose to do the Rankin Ridge Trail because it has 360 degree views of the park. We didn’t see another soul on the trail.

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The hike was only about a mile long and we didn’t seen another soul on the trail. There is an old fire tower at the top of the hill but unfortunately it is gated off so you can’t climb to the top. The view were pretty spectacular regardless.

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View from the top of Rankin Ridge Trail

Once we got to the bottom of the trail we hopped in the car and drove back to Rapid City for dinner. We ran into a few more friends along the way.

Wind Cave National Park rating: A++

We went to Firehouse Brewing for dinner. Its a very popular brewery in town that is in an old firehouse (hence the name).  We had a bit of a wait so we walked around the downtown area. There was a statue on very street corner, literally! Most of them were of presidents but there were some others as well. Dinner was good – good burgers and beer.  Then we had a several hour drive out to Badlands to get to our hotel, The Badlands Inn, which was a bit of a struggle at the late hour after our very full day.

We got a few hours of sleep at the Badlands Inn and then woke up around 5AM because sunrise is a MUST at badlands park. Something to keep in mind is that you should actually be out there around 30-40min before sunrise to catch “the golden hour”. We started out at Big Badlands Overlook to catch the rays of the rise sun. Also, of note, be sure to bring an extra jacket and gloves, I was struggling with just my sweatshirt on.

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Big Badlands Overlook

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After taking the lovely sunrise from Big Badlands Overlook we drove a few miles deeper into the park to explore the Door, Wind and Notch Trails, which all leave from the same parking lot.

 

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Notch Trail – Not good for those who are afraid of heights!

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By this time we were very hungry so we went to the Cedar Pass lodge for breakfast. We got some bacon, hash browns, eggs and some type of deep fried.

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Then it was off to the visitor’s center which was right next door. We actually got a few souvenir’s which is unlike us but we just love these vintage national park posters.

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Then we started back along the Badlands Loop and a did a few more short hikes.

We also stopped saw some bighorn sheep! We stopped at one last look out and then we were back on I-90 East, heading home.

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Badlands National Park rating: A

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It would have been great to have another day to do this trip but we had to work with the time we had and it turned out to be a fantastic adventure.

Chuckanut Drive

To start off Bae’s month of working in Seattle, we decided we would spend the first Sunday going for a day adventure we’d read quite bit about and needed to go on. Per our M.O., we were up and on the road before sunrise. After a pit stop for coffee, we were on our way North to checkout the locally famous Chuckanut Drive.

Located just off of Interstate 5 around Burlington, Chuckanut Drive is located on Highway 11 and is a 2o mile drive curving through the cliff of Chuckanut Mountain. It is known for it’s breathtaking views of the Puget Sound and leads you on an alternate route to Bellingham. It’s highly recommended if you have some spare time, or are making the drive around sunset.

As I mentioned earlier, Bae and I like to get an early start on our day, 1) because we both wake up pretty early anyway, and 2) we don’t always have the most time together, so there’s no point in spending it sleeping! We got our iced coffees courtesy of Big Foot Java and we were on our way! Our first stop was the Oyster Dome hike. Located around mile marker 10, the hike is about 6.5 miles. It contains more switchbacks and elevation than the alternate entrance off of I5. Bae was a bit skeptical that this was the proper entrance because it wasn’t too well marked, but I did my job to assure her that we were in the right spot (after quickly double checking with our good friends at wta.org).

Since we were already on the trail before 7:30 am, it wasn’t quite sunny out yet and not hot either (which was actually not a totally bad thing). We saw yellow, brown, and black slugs on our way and that was pretty cool if you’re into those slimy guys. Other than that, there wasn’t much to see on the trail. Regardless, it was nice to get out and enjoy some crisp morning air. At the top the fog was rolling quite a bit so we didn’t get to take in the view of Samish Bay and the Olympics Mountains as we had hoped, but getting to the top and taking time to relax and eat our protein bars was still nice. On our way down, Bae took off running and so naturally I followed. We made it down in world record time. They will be etching our names in that stone at the trailhead in the near future!

 

Our next stop was Bellingham! We continued up Chuckanut Drive and found ourselves in Bellingham. We contemplated and ultimately decided to stop for some coffee and doughnuts at Rocket Donuts and Acme Ice Cream. It ended up being a great decision. We ordered their daily special which had berries and icing and a regular maple. We also had Moka Joe’s cold brew coffee which was new to both us of and not too bad. Overall, it was a great decision to stop in and grab some fuel to give us a little boost after our morning hike!

On our way back home, we decided to stop at Larrabee State Park. It wasn’t part of the original plan, but because the fog from our hike subsided and sun was shining, we had to stop at the beach for some rays and whatever else it had to offer.

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Larrabee State Park

We got there, walked down the walkway toward the beach, and we got to the beach and Bae started going bananas! She couldn’t even speak just pointing and ‘ooh-ing’ and ‘ahh-ing.’ I thought there was a whale or something. Turns out it was even better… A little family of sea otters! They were perched on some drift wood and were taking turns diving in, very  majestic and smooth! I’ve never seen her so excited! PC knows the way to Bae’s heart, and it includes a pet sea otter in the future!

After the excitement died down, we combed the beach and found a handful of starfish clinging to rocks, crab shells, and various other marine life (namely hermit crabs) in the tide pools. I highly recommend taking the time to check out tide pools if you’ve got the free time and beach accessibility, you never know what you’re going to find!

Our last big stop on the way home was the village of Bow, WA. We drove down a small little one lane road that looped through the main shops, parked our car and got out ready to explore. We saved room from our stop at Rocket Donuts for an actual meal, so we decided now was the perfect time to eat! We heard quite a bit about Breadfarm. Breadfarm is a local bakery that is known for it’s decadent treats. We went with a handful of shortbread and fig cookies and a loaf of their Sour Cherry Lemon bread (that was delicious!).

Baked goods in hand, we went next door to Slough Food. Slough Food is an extremely cool little spot that you need to check out. The owner is passionate about wine and cheese and a real cool dude. We went out back and sat at a nice picnic table and got to eat in solitude. We ordered a meat and cheese plate that was frickin delicious! We brought our bread and cookies with us and had quite the meal. It was our own charcuterie plate with dessert! Bow was a 10/10 and a must stop for anybody who is in the area, or even not in the area, but looking for some good food and good people!

Our final stop was Samish Bay Cheese. Samish Bay does a lot of organic cheeses and has 100% grass fed beef as well. The folks in there are very kind and are willing to let you try whatever you’d like to make sure you enjoy the cheese. Being a smaller operation, they are also the ones who make the cheese and are very knowledgeable with any questions you may have. Bae and I went with the Aged Ladysmith, a Gouda, and the Mount Blanchard Cheddar. You really can’t go wrong with any of their cheeses (except maybe the Aged Ladysmith), and they have so many options, they have something for everyone. They can also be found at local Farmer’s Markets ranging from Lake Forest Park to West Seattle if you’re not able to make it all the way up north.

Overall, Bae and I had a great Sunday day trip exploring Chuckanut drive. We may have gotten a bit too early of a start and experienced more fog than we would have liked, but all in all a great day.

Overall Grade: Bae: B-, PC: B