This post is long overdue, but better late than never right? So here it is! Florida, yet another tropical wonderland. Unlike many other beach places, this truly is a Sunshine state! I think whoever said Bang for the buck had Florida in mind for sure! It ‘s got everything from exotic downtowns & vibrant night life to serene, calm private beaches. From theme parks to action packed water activities, from awesome cuban food to fresh fish food, and did I forget to say palm trees?

Cause my idea of a paradise is palm trees and 80 degrees! Fun fact: Did you know Florida has 230 days of sunshine! Woah, right?  So it’s never a bad time to go there, but I’d recommend avoiding June-August when the temperatures go above 100 degrees!  Your skin will thank you 😀 and you can thank me later 😉

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Here’s a quick teaser:


ORLANDO

Orlando is synonymous with Theme parks. It offers everything from fairytale places you’ve only read in the books to adrenaline rush roller coasters. There are just too many parks to choose from and naturally you will be overwhelmed. Here are some tips to save you the hassle and make the most of it.

  • Pick your theme. There are so many to choose from, like Epcot for world cultures, Seaworld for water borne animals and shows, Hollywood studio for movie lovers, Universal for animations & action heroes, Disney cove, Animal kingdom, Magic Kingdom, Gatorland, legoland and I can just keep going on..
  • Choose the most overcast day of your vacation to go to any theme park . It’s less crowded and also you won’t be too exhausted roaming around. We never planned on it but universe kinda worked it out for us I guess 😉
  • Book your theme park tickets online to save $$ as well as time. Most parks also offer free apps so download ahead of time to mentally make a note of each ride you are planning to go.DSC_0238.JPG
  • Every Disney ticket offers 3 fast-track rides but you should pick a specific time-slot, so make a list of those famous rides and get there first thing in the morning to pick a slot.
  • At Universal rides like Harry Potter, Thor, Spider-Man and Transformers have the longest of lines. Be there as soon as the park opens to make the most of it and cut the lines.
  • There are hidden gems and often missed spots throughout these parks, for instance did you know there is a moaning Myrtle in the Harry Potter restrooms. Find more here: https://www.buzzfeed.com/ariellecalderon/hidden-gems-at-universal-studios-and-islands-of-adventure?utm_term=.lbGOm9KGl#.bldDKkrv8
  • As a rule of thumb, I always carry a 2$ rainproof jacket and a ziplock bag. It comes to rescue during those water rides so you can go as many times without getting wet.
  • Squeeze in those last minute for fireworks in the parks nearby even if your park closes; most often than not, all parks don’t close at the same time.DSC_0179.JPG
  • Carry your own food and drinks and save $$$ for overpriced items at the park. Most hotels offer shuttles to these parks, so do inquire.. parking takes forever sometimes. Book your hotel keeping this in mind and yeah the lots are huge; definitely remember your parking spot!

FORT LAURDERDALE

  • Hollywood Beach Broadwalk, Fort Lauderdale beach

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  • Beachwalk Resort: I highly recommend this hotel for breathtaking views the most comfortable bed! You can also take a water taxi ride from this resort to explore different historic places in the city.
  • For art lovers, don’t forget to check out the Fat village art.IMG_3831.JPEG

Meal ideas:

  • Dosha Ayurveda cafe & juice is my personal favorite Mexican-Indian fusion food. I really hope some day they start a food chain across US.

MIAMI

Accommodation: Miami strip near south beach offers a wide range of hotels and is definitely one of the most happening places in the city to hangout. You could go shopping at the malls in a stone throw away distance or  head to beach for a more leisure and relaxed evening.  Ask for a beach towel at the reception, most hotels offer them in their complimentary package.

Some of the attractions here are :

  • South beach

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  • Design district, Wynwood walls a.k.a the famous instagram walls.
  • Havana 1957 is one the best night club.IMG_3832.JPEG
  • Venetian pool in Coral Gables.
  • Vizcaya museum and gardens.IMG_3829.JPEG
For a day trip, you could also visit Key Biscayne, which is another small island from miami.
Meal ideas:
  • Cuba food in Little Havana (avoid if you are vegan, absolutely no restaurants for vegetarians.)

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  • South beach strip has numerous bar & food options!

KEYWEST

One of my favorite parts in Florida.

  • Sunset at Mallory Point and how to get the most of it: Pick your favorite drink , hold onto your best spot and just watch as the clouds & sun put up a glorious show while the waves slowly cuddle your feet.

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  • Roam around lazily after a drink and explore the local artisans at the Duvel street. This street undoubtedly best bars in the entire Florida.

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  • West Martello Tower.

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  • Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park has got some boho relaxed vibe to it. There ends the route 1 at the Southern most point of the USA, just about 90 miles to CUBA.

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Activities
Get that all inclusive Key West Tour: There are many companies who offer packages that include snorkeling, parasailing, sunset cruise, kayaking, jet skiing & banana boat ride for as low as 125$ per person! Can you believe that?
We went with sebago, and had a ball of a time except for one bitter experience with a crew member who seemed downright racist! But, once we complained about him, the crew apologized and offered to refund our money if we weren’t satisfied. We went ahead and warned fellow readers on yelp about that person and surprised to learn so many others had a similar experience. At this point I want to remind discrimination against race is still a REAL thing. We should all have the courage to stand up and say something about it.
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Another #1 tour company on yelp is: Fury Water Adventures.
If you want a more laid back vibe, along the keys, there are many small islands that offer private beaches with dreamy romantic dinner dates, adorned with roses and fairy lights!
Meal Ideas: 
  • Garbo’s Grill
  • Blue Heaven
  • Better than sex
  • Vegan option: The cafe
  • Holy guacamole is a good snack-truck place at the mallory point.
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I have been to almost 20 something states in the USA and I can confidently say Alaska is unlike any other…and for a good reason – Glaciers! Having survived 2 crazy winters in Boston, I am not a snow person as such, but if there are as many glaciers as this one, sign me up!

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Follow me to nature’s paradise when we are on an Alaskan adventure.

Summer and Fall are definitely one of the best times to visit .There is about 21-24 hours of Daylight depending on which place of Alaska you are headed to. If you want to see the northern lights, try Fall instead and go to more remote places away from city lights to make the most of it. The darker the sky, the better the views. There are many apps for aurora forecast, just google them 🙂

This is a sample 5 day itinerary to get you started with. You will probably need 7-10 days to cover most of what Alaska offers. Some heads up on planning your trip – Alaska has become more touristy now, so you might want to book everything months ahead. For a reference, we booked hotels and flights around the month of march to get there over the July long weekend and trust me when I say we booked the very last rooms and the prices obviously sky rocketed.

First things first, as soon as you land, buy an insect repellent spray right there, if you are carrying it from home remember they are not just as strong. It is highly recommended for the hikes.

Coincidently, last long weekend I was in the southern most point of USA and now the northern most! 😀 I love how diverse this country is sometimes.


Day 1: Portage / Chugach National Park / Whittier .

FullSizeRender 23.jpgThere are three options to go to Seward – Shuttle, Car or the Train. Heard the rail route is very scenic and you don’t need a car in either Seward or Downtown anchorage to explore. Everything is in walkable distance. You could get down at any station and explore it by yourself and hop back on to the next destination. Anyways, we went with the car (there’s a good reason you’ll read below). The drive is calming and relaxing. If you want a deal on Rental cars, shoot me an email. I can get you a code what costs like 600$ otherwise to a mere 250$ for 5 days! FullSizeRender 16.jpgSpencer Glacier – Only accessible through the train, no road connection to it. Little did I know about it, otherwise this would top my list. Just go for it! Glacier cave hikes and kayaking. Uh-so-mazing!FullSizeRender 3.jpgWhittier This is a toll road, around 12$ I guess to go to the town, it’s about a 2.5 miles long tunnel and every half-an-hour only one way is open, so check the to-fro schedule and plan your activities accordingly. When we went there, the weather was rather dull and it looked like a sleepy little town, didn’t dig into it much. Heard there are many day cruises to explore the Whittier glacier, again totally depends on the weather. FullSizeRender 5.jpgChugach National Park I vaguely remember looking at picture of lupines somewhere in Alaska’s Chugach national park but failed to find the exact spot anywhere on Google. So here are the details for it: It’s at the Kenai mountains – Turnagain arm National Heritage Area. It is 0.7 miles away from Mile post 13 (the little green board). Going from Anchorage, it is on the left side and looks like a truck rest-area. Yup, this is the reason we drove 🙂FullSizeRender 22.jpgIMG_3592.JPGHad to stop again on our way back 🙂FullSizeRender 2.jpg

If you are heading in Autumn, this is the place for the colors of the fall season as well.  If you have time, other places worth checking are skilak lake & fox island.


Day 2: SewardFullSizeRender 24.jpg
Cruise through  Kenai fjords  and Resurrection bay. This is definitely one of the highlights of our trip, we spotted so many wild animals along the way from hump back whales & orca whales to dolphins, puffins, bald eagles, seals , sea otters and so many I can’t even name now. Definitely a treat for your eyes and soul! I’ll let the pictures and video do rest of the talking.FullSizeRender 18.jpg

FullSizeRender 14.jpgMost cruises offer a complimentary Binoculars, so don’t forget to grab one to get a glimpse of those creatures enjoying themselves. What a happy place, indeed! IMG_3119.JPGHikes: We wanted to explore more of what Seward offers, and what better than hiking right?

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Two lakes – 2 miles hike to the lakes in Seward. FullSizeRender 12.jpgExit Glacier : 1.8 mile hike up to the Glacier. This also gives you an insight into how drastically global warming is effecting our planet. An eye-opener for sure.FullSizeRender 8.jpgA Glimpse of exit glacier.FullSizeRender 6.jpgI would recommend driving back to Anchorage in the night, so the drive is not very exhausting the next day to Denali.


Day 3: Talkeetna / Denali
Drive Anchorage to Talkeetna and then Denali (5hrs)

The Drive is long enough through the road and almost double through the Railroad. Not so connected to roam around, recommend renting a car instead.

There are many places which offer Airtaxi tours around the highest mountain of the USA – Denali along with few packages that land you on a glacier. Certainly one of the best is:
Talkeetna airtaxi , Kahiltna glacier: http://www.talkeetnaair.com/

FullSizeRender 15.jpgFullSizeRender 13.jpgHow cute is this hobbit cabin? Quite often than not, 70% of the times, the skies are overcast and you won’t be able to see the peak. If you are in Anchorage and it’s a clear day, you can see Denali from there, so that’s the day you want to go. The flight seeing is quite expensive, so you choose!


Day 4: Denali

Explore Denali with the shuttle. This is the only way to see Denali. After mile 15 it is closed to private vehicles. Shuttle passes are based on how far into the park you want to go (where the bus turns around).  It makes a few stops along the way; you also can get off and walk around and catch the next bus. Our turnaround point is Tolkat – turn around 53 miles in; $36.50 per person;

FullSizeRender 25.jpgRandom rest areas and a sight to behold!

Although we ended up taking the Tolkat River, I heard Wonder Lake and Kantishna are really popular ones to explore Denali.  Neverthless, we were in awe of the panoramic views of the polychrome pass.FullSizeRender 14.jpgFullSizeRender 26.jpgBook them well in advance, cause this is very popular in Summer and Fall seasons.  We didn’t get to see any wildlife except for sheep and birds with the shuttle tours. I was really looking forward to encounter a Bear or even a moose, you see! 😀 Discovery hikes are pretty awesome. Sled dog demos are some touristy stuff, but as a pet lover it didn’t excite me! FullSizeRender 9.jpgOur view from the cottage at the Denali grizzly bear. If you follow me on instagram, I have already shared a view of my room in the stories 🙂 It’s a super cozy room and well, beautiful!FullSizeRender 7.jpgRoad stretching over the Nenana river.

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Apart from the cabins, this place is very popular for camping. You don’t have to carry them with you from home.  As soon as you land at Anchorage, you could buy/rent the camping gear from stores like REI to beat exuberant cabin prices.

Meal ideas:

  • Moose Aka’s, Healy.
  • Denali Grizzly bear resort has rooms and cabins overlooking Nenana river and amazing Thai food truck!

Day 5: Matanuska & Anchorage

Have loads of sunblock ready to explore Matanuska at your own pace (30$ per person) or through a guider tour(90$ per person). If you ever walked through snow and think it’s a piece of cake, then this is a cherry on the top 😉 It’s quite simple to hike and you could go as far as you want to.  There are ice climbing options as well, be sure to go on an indoor rock climbing class before you sign up for this.

FullSizeRender 27.jpgAlmost forgot to mention, I witnessed a huge chunk of glacier breaking right at my foot, it’s common so don’t freak out (:FullSizeRender 17.jpghttps://micaguides.com

  • Anchorage museum.
  • Eagle hike

If time permits you should also check out the Valdez glacier, Fairbanks and Santa Claus!


Budget Planning

Budget can vary on the activities and the place you are flying from, but this is what a sample looks like for a couple for 5 days. Activities can go above 1000$ if you are planning to do the Talkeetna air taxi(250$ per person) , River rafting at Denali (150$ per person) or ATV rides(100$ per person). If you are trying the train route, add another 125$ per person. Accommodation is kinda on the expensive side here, but that’s that, you can always camp to cut some of it!

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Tips:

  • COUPONS BOOK http://www.alaska-discounts.com/coupon-offers/ You might want to call and check availability before buying the book.
  • Dress in layers. The climate changes from really cold through the coast to warm enough to remove your jackets through the hikes.
  • Carry leg warmers and thermals on the Cruise.
  • When Sun is out from the clouds, it really is harsh – Carry a sunblock.
  • Eye sleeping mask, most hotels don’t have the blinds covered enough to make your room dark.

Maui

As long as I remember Hawaii has always been on my list of dream vacations. Those surreal sunsets and enchanting tropical landscapes are just postcard perfect! No wonder it’s called a drop from the heaven. Although there were five amazing islands to choose from, MAUI was our obvious choice for it’s diverse landscapes and activities.

To put it in the words of locals  Maui no ka oi literally translates to Maui is the best!

For your convenience, I have mapped out all the places, restaurants and of course happy hours 😉

ACCOMODATION:

Maui offers two prime locations where most vacationers prefer staying. South and West maui. While west maui is more developed and easily accessible from shopping malls and dining places around Lahaina, south maui is full of luxury resorts and vacation rentals. It’s called Beverly hills by the sea for a reason.


SOUTH MAUI

I love me some sunsets and infinity pool, so we chose to stay at Wailea Beach Resort – Marriott, South Maui. The rooms are kinda on the expensive side, starting from 300-350 $ per night for a ocean view room, including breakfast. Just for this trip, forget about your budget and treat yourself 😉 There is a small shopping complex right next to it if you ever want to over indulge yourself 😀

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WEST MAUI

In the kaanapali region, I can vouch for Hyatt Kaanapali Beach, and Marriott’s Maui Ocean Club. They are amazing places to relax with private stocked up beaches.

North of maui offers budget friendly and some of the less explored enchanting places. Check out Airbnb for some more pocket friendly options.

If you plan to visit the Road to Hana and Haleakela summit, driving from south maui is far more easier than it’s western counterpart.

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THINGS TO DO:

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NORTH MAUI

Lahaina is a small tourist town with cute little stores decked up along the shore. There are quite good beaches along the coast which aren’t too crowded. Enjoy a stroll on an evening and visit the most famous Ululani’s shave ice at the Front Street Lahaina & Banyan Tree Park. If I may also suggest the best flavor – Macademia nut Icecream topped with sunset hues shaved ice! *slurp*. Other places to explore are : Heart near Nakalele Blowhole and the dragon teeth, they are on the far north along the west coast.

 


EAST MAUI

  • Haleakala summit

If you see the top 10 things to do in maui, this would top the list- Sunrise at the Haleakala summit, be sure to be there by 4 am in the morning to experience one of the most magical sunrises ever. The summit is located 10,000 ft above sea level and you would literally be on cloud 9 if not more but man is it cold. Temperatures are extremely chilly than normal, so be prepared with the gear and bring along your hiking shoes if possible 🙂 To top it off with a cherry, you could also do a bike ride downhill for that adrenaline rush!

Lavendar Farms : The  bloom season is usually through late June to early July. It’s on the way to the summit.

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It’s one of the most appealing place you ought to visit when you are in Maui. It’s all about the journey, with a blend of lush green vegetation, beaches, waterfalls..you name them, just about anything alluring!  Be warned though, the roads are extremely narrow and curvy with hairpin turns. It would make you nauseatic if you have motion sickness, take all the precautions necessary well in advance.

Start early in the morning if you don’t plan to stay there. Hana is a sleepy town, so don’t overdo it by more than a couple of days. Book your hotel well in advance and plan it thoroughly, as there aren’t many places to eat or stay, brownie points if you stock up from a grocery store at south/ west maui.

I’ll list some of the best places with mile markers to visit along the way here, click on them to take you to the google pictures.

  • Mile Marker 2.1 Twin Falls
  • Mile Marker 10.6  Garden of EdenFullSizeRender 31.jpg
  • Mile Marker 17 1/3 Halfway to Hana, Hana Farms : try their awesome warm banana bread, it’s the best in town or at least I think so 😉

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CENTRAL MAUI

  • Maui Tropical Plantation : Above picture does all the justice than me writing a whole bunch of adjectives.
  • Paia Town
  • Maui Ocean Center
  • Kapalua Coastal Trail : Be sure to check out the timings, when we went, it was closed for  restoration as it was not accessible due to heavy rains.

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BEACHES:

Scroll over the names to take you to the google images for more pictures 🙂
Wailea Beach
Baldwin Beach
Wai’anapanapa Beach (Black sand)

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Hamoa Beach
Napili Beach
Honolua Bay
Big Beach

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Kamaole 1, 2, or 3
Ho’okipa Beach
Kapalua Beach
Black Rock
Makena beach

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The only thing that disappointed me with the beaches were, they aren’t as pristine and serene as I wanted them to be. I’d probably blame Caribbean for setting me those high expectations. Neverthless, being the water babies that we are, we swam till our heart’s content. For those who prefer to find an aloof corner by the beach or infinity pool, watch the mesmerizing sunsets glory from a distance, maui is for you.

…and while you are there , why not enjoy a Mai tai or two right? Don’t forget to keep this handy for those happiest hours:

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  • Central maui – Mill House bar (3-5)
    808 on main wailuku (4-7)
  • North maui – Cafe des Amis – Paia (4-6)
    Cafe Mambo – Paia (3-6)
  • South maui Monkeypod kitchen wailea (3-5:30 and 9-11) – excellent sunset views
  • West maui – sea house restaurant (2-5)
    sangria grill + cantina (4-6)
  • Upcountry maui – casanova italian (5-6)
  • East maui – hana ranch restaurant (4-6)

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ACTIVITIES

  • Ziplining
1. Kapalua Zipline 178 $ ( 7 line ) [mauiactivities.com] [North-most West point]
2. Kaanapali zipline 158 $ ( 8 line ) skylineecoadventures.com [West coast]
3. http://www.flyinhawaiianzipline.com/  192 $ (8 ziplines)  [Central maui]
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  • Snorkeling

Hands down the best place in maui for snorkeling – Molokini Bay and we went with sailtrilogy for the sail boat experience. Molokini is a  beautiful crescent shaped extinct volcano, now also a bird sanctuary. Take an early trip to avoid over crowding, which apparently scares the marine life around. If you love your Nemo’s and Dory’s , you will find it’s entire colony here and be rest assured, you will have a ball of time. Also, look out for humpback whales along the way!

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  • Luau

Luau is a Hawaiian feast accompanied by traditional dances. Maui offers them in a lot of places, and most often you can get a discount with the hotels you check in with. Old Lahaina Luau and Feast at Lele are two of the most famous ones.

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Budget planning

We booked everything just two weeks before the travel, so it’s kinda on the expensive side, but plan well , average flights tickets cost you around 400$. Accommodation is definitely on the pricier side for all the private beaches they offer. This is what a sample looks like for a couple over 4 days!

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TIPS

Some things to consider while planning out your trip :

  • Stick to a coast while you are planning any activities, cause you don’t want to waste time driving all day long and having too less to see cause you really , I insist REALLY need to soak up all that beauty!
  • In the map below, the roads in red are not well paved/constructed, so it’s advised not to travel along these roads after dark or just avoid them completely. If you plan to do Road to Hana in a day, make a list well in advance to go there and back.

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  • Be sure to bring a map with you while driving on the road to Hana, since there is no cellular signal there and look out for the mile markers, they are easy to miss and impossible to re-route on the narrow roads.
  • Get the Gypsy app $5 if you don’t carry a GPS. Also, an extra portable phone charger.
  • Get your own snorkeling gear and lots and lots of sunblock. The sun is very harsh at this part of the world.

I hope this post will help you plan a visit to this little paradise on earth!

Beautiful Picture credits: Apurva Rallabhandi

Aloha!

P.S  Keep checking this post for more updates & tips. I will be constantly updating, since this is going to be really a big post(state)

Where should I get started! Saving best for the last and of course my most favorite state, that’s why I live here! No Denying  about high taxes and how unaffordable living gets here and the silicon valley competition is REAL. But apart from that, California has the dream weather, no matter how hot it gets in the day, evening are always cool & breezy. Snow-less winter and end-less places to visit over the weekend. Don’t even get me started on why you should move here! 😉

After living here for 2.5 years, it’s almost about time to get started on some of the most beautiful places to get around. Get you favorite drink to sip and get comfortable on your chair, this post will is going to take some of your time.

Here are some day trips, weekend and long weekend ideas along the west coast.

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA

  • Redwood National Park & Klamath National Forest
  • Mt Shasta, Sundial bridge& Mendacino
  • Napa & Sonama, Clear lake , Point reyes
  • Sausalito & San Francisco
  • Livermore & SF Bay area
  • Lake Tahoe & Yosemite National Park
  • 17 mile drive, SantaCruz & Davenport : Bonny doon beach
  • Carmel-by-the-sea
  • Big Sur – Pfeiffer big state park, Morro bay

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

  • San Luis Obispo – opulent hearst castle , Pismo beach, Solvang
  • Santa Barbara, Santa Monica & Malibu
  • Los Angeles
  • Sequoia National Park & Death valley
  • Channels island national park
  • Anaheim , Long beach & Santa Catalina Island
  • Mojave desert, Palm springs, San Diego