6 must finds in the Mojave Desert

Let’s be honest, hearing the term “desert” does not usually follow with the thought “oh my gosh, let’s go explore there!”. To many, trips to the beach or mountains is much more desirable.

But hopefully this post will change your mind on that and put a new perspective on all the adventures you can actually have in the desert.

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And what better desert to hone in on than the Mojave Desert , which stretches throughout California, Nevada, Utah and Arizona. Now, when most people think of the desert, they mostly imagine empty land and scorching temperatures. But contrary to this belief, the Mojave Desert actually has nearly 2,000 different species of plants and an overwhelming abundance of life.   Furthermore, because it is a high desert, the temperatures range from 0 °F to 130°F—where else in the world can you experience such radical changes in temperature?

Still not convinced that the desert is not for you unless it has two “s”’s in it (dessert)?

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Well, did you know there are some must-see locations you don’t want to miss out on in the Mojave Desert? So grab a friend, grab lots of water (as you are at high elevation) and grab a car to take an epic road-trip through the desert.

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1. The Valley of Fire

Famous for its red sandstone formations, the Valley of Fire is an intense pop of colour amongst the endless stretch of sand. Located on the outskirts of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area (and less than an hour drive from the Vegas Strip!), this State Park has been home to a slue of famous movies, including Star Trek, Mars and Transformers.

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The park has a ten mile stretch of road that will allow you to see everything from within the comfort of your air-conditioned car, but the extreme adventurist can take on the hiking treks. I lasted less than ten minutes walking through the hot sand, so my hats go off to anyone who attempts to walk the whole thing!

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2. Hoover Dam

Continue straight on Nevada State Route 169 from the Valley of Fire to one of the most impressive engineering feats in American History—the Hoover Dam!

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Choose to walk across or drive across the dam and you will be instantly taken aback by the immense drop in water levels, which showcase the sheer grandness of this dam. Even with significant drops in water levels, the dam’s powerhouse generates enough hydro power for nearly 30% of Southern California, 20% of Nevada and 18% of Arizona. Damn, Hoover.

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3. Goodsprings

Less than 2 square miles in area, the tiny town of Goodsprings is full of history and quirky finds—with the most spectacular being the Pioneer Saloon. This saloon is the oldest in all of Nevada, raking in over 100 years of hospitality, booze, bar-fights and even shootings (in which you can still see the bullet holes through the walls!).

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Today, the Pioneer Saloon is also home to a memorial for Clark Gable (from Gone with the Wind, duh!) and Carole Lombard, as it was home to the search party operations after Carole’s plane crashed nearby. Make sure to also check out the evening ghost tours for some serious heebie-geebies.

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4. The World’s Tallest Thermometer

The main attraction to the town of Baker, this 134ft thermometer commemorates the hottest temperature ever recorded on earth—134°F in Death Valley during the summer of 1913. Make sure to check out the gift shop to see a display of currency from around the world from visitors who have also stopped to appreciate the modern advancements like technology that makes triple digit temperatures bearable.

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5. Zzyzx Road

Yes, that is the real name of a road. And yes, it has taken me two decades of driving past it to actually explore the road to find what is at the very end: an abandoned health spa/resort!

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And what is located at the end of this road most certainly doesn’t disappoint. The prehistoric quarry site turned health spa got it’s name Zzyzx from developer Curtis Springer, claiming that it was the last word in the English Language and therefore, would be easily found in anyone’s phone book.

The health spa only lasted until 1974, but has recently been converted to a Desert Studies Center by California State University. And while I struggle to find the proper adjective to describe exploring an abandoned health spa in the middle of nowhere, I can tell you that it is worth the extra effort to find it.

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6. Joshua Tree National Park

This is where the Mojave Desert and the Colorado Desert meet, and it is truly spectacular! The park itself is named after the Joshua tree, in which the park is absolutely abundant in! This park is perfect for rock climbing, camping, hiking, star-gazing or just a simple drive through. Make sure to keep an eye out for road-runners, tree frogs and golden eagles.

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The park may also be familiar to any Eagles fans out there, as their music album cover was shot in this park.

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Zion: the gem of the West Coast

Only a two hour drive from the Las Vegas Strip lies one of the most beautiful natural treasures in all of America: Zion National Park.

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And to think that this desert gem has basically been in my backyard for nearly the past two decades, and never once did I think to explore it, feels criminal.

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But after living in New Zealand for the past eight months, I have become surprisingly passionate about the tranquility a walk through nature gifts you with. So while back in America I was on a mission to appreciate what I had never taken the time to do before.

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Zion National Park became a hotspot tourist destination after paintings of the area by Frederick Dellenbaugh were displayed at the 1904 World Fair in St. Louis.

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Today, the park is bustling with eager hikers, both young and old, keen to explore these magnificent canyons.

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And while I would encourage anyone and everyone who finds themselves on the West Coast to visit Zion, here are some helpful tips before you map out your trip.

Transportation

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Unless you snag yourself a special permit, you won’t be able to park your car within the national park. However there are buses to take you throughout the park free of charge. Take advantage of the early bus starts (6:15am) and beat the crowds/heat for those sunrise hikes.

Accommodation

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There is a slue of accommodation options on either side of the entrance to the park. But to make sure you have the most authentic wildlife experience, I would highly recommend staying in a log cabin (and lucky for you, the majority of accommodation by the park are log cabin styled lodging)!

Emerald Pools

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This hike is fairly easy in terms of difficulty level, but it is quite challenging to make your way around the herds of people on this particular hike! Because of the non-strenuous trail, many visitors of all ages and fitness take on the Emerald Pools. Named after the green algae that formed in these pools, there are three different levels of pools to explore. Personally, it was a little underwhelming in terms of the “end result” of the hike and if you have limited time in the park, this trek shouldn’t be your first pick. But if you are looking for a casual stroll through the park, this is the place to do it!

Angels Landing

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Angels Landing was the main motivation for visiting Zion. The incredible views and chain-guided path captivated my interest. The walk itself is rather strenuous, with the first half of the walk being on an extremely high incline. Once you approach the top of the climb, the path suddenly switched to a chain-led path in which you get a case of vertigo walking along slanted cliff edges.

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And just when you think you’ve made it to the top, you still have another huge climb ahead! While I didn’t have the guts to go all the way to the top, the view from 3/4 the way up is just as stunning and much, much safer. It is also extremely entertaining/nerve wracking watching the daredevils (shout out to Will and Mer) make it to the tippy top of Angels Landing.

The Narrows

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image courtesy of anthony_pecchi

The only disappointment of my trip to Zion was that I didn’t have a permit to explore The Narrows. This famous gorge offers a unique trekking experience as you must walk through cold, and sometimes raging, waters to explore this natural phenomenon.

But hey, at least I know for next time and I now have another excuse to go back to Zion.

Happy hiking!

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Finding the beauty of the Vegas Strip

Clubbing, gambling and drinking are the most common verbs used to describe the most common occurrences on the Vegas strip. Known as the adult Disneyland, Vegas is a place for many adults to escape their everyday realities and enjoy a care-free and let-loose vacation.

Being a Vegas local I never paid that much attention to the Vegas strip and rather saw it as a place to avoid at all possible costs. But as I have grown older and have spent time away from the bright lights of the strip, I have gained a new perspective on my hometown.
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The twinkling-lights, eclectic food-selection and over-abundant shopping are reasons alone to fall in love with Vegas. So while the casinos and clubs might take up most of your time on the strip, don’t miss out on experiencing these Vegas gems as well!
What to see:
The Venetian Canals:
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Bringing Italy to the desert, you don’t have to be a hotel guest to wander the streets of Venice. An impressive imitation of the canals wind throughout the inside and outside of the hotel, with authentic gondolas that are from the same manufacturer of those in Venice float throughout the water available for anyone to ride.
The Bellagio Gardens:
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The Bellagio gardens are one of the many aspects that make the Bellagio hotel so grand. Changing once every three months, thousands upon thousands of flowers are used to create a themed garden that consistently impresses dwellers. Currently the gardens are  “under-the-sea” themed and even fully equipped with a walk-through aquarium.
The Bellagio Fountains:
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A trip to Vegas is not complete without watching the Bellagio Fountains at dusk. Never using the same song or choreography more than once, each Fountain experience is unique and memorable.
Where to shop:
The Caesar Forum Shops:
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Walk into a combination of ancient Roman times and high-class shopping at the forum shops in Caesars Palace. The shops are full of unique fountains and spiral escalators that will make you feel as if you are a Roman Empress (or Emperor). Don’t forget to through a penny into the Trevi Fountain outside for good luck as well!
The World’s Biggest Gift Shop:
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If you are in need of a tacky memento from your trip to Vegas, the place to do so is at the World’s Largest Gift Shop right near the Stratosphere. From shot glasses, playing cards, t-shirts, key chains, and even a selection of disturbing and erotic gifts, prepare to be overwhelmed by gifts galore that are probably the best bargain on the Strip.
Where to swim: 
The Forum Pools:
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Okay, so it may seem like I am a little biased towards Caesars. But thanks to the fandom of the hotel thanks to The Hangover trilogy,  Caesars Palace literally has it all!  Caesars Palace is home to the Forum Pools, which is a collection of seven pools at the hotel that are Roman styled. If you aren’t a guest at the hotel, you can still have access to these pools for $20. Make sure to also go to the adult pool and play card games in the water. That’s right, you can gamble in their pool, so why wouldn’t you go?!
Where to eat:
The Buffet:
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Vegas is known for their all-you-can-eat buffets and The Wynn has the absolute best one in town! With an average wait of around an hour, this Buffett offers anything your taste-buds desire, from cooked-to-order pancakes, omelettes and crepes, in addition to your choice of seafood, sushi, pasta, pizza, salads, and steak. Don’t forget to leave room for the extensive dessert selections as well!
Golden Steer Steakhouse:
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To experience old school Vegas class, go to Golden Steer for a fine-dining experience that Elvis Presley, James Dean, Frank Sinatra and many others have once enjoyed as well. Golden Steer is known for their world class steaks (hence the name) and unique Caesar Salads. The Caesar Salads are made by your waiter right in front of your table using eleven ingredients that will make any salad you have from that point on taste sub-par. Take note of the eclectic memorabilia at each of the dedicated booths and enjoy the romantic atmosphere that can often get lost in the bright lights of the Vegas Strip.
Where to drink: 
The Chandelier Bar:
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A personal favorite of mine, the Chandelier bar at the Cosmopolitan Hotel is literally a bar inside a chandelier that hangs from the ceiling. Drinks don’t get any classier than this.
Skyfall Bar:
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At the top of the Delano Hotel is the new “best view” of the strip. Access to the bar is free and you will be treated to a view of the entire strip and lights galore.
So enjoy the lights, enjoy the booze, enjoy the shops, enjoy the food, enjoy the shows and Viva Las Vegas!

Discovering DC

Washington DC is the hub of American History. With endless museums and monuments to choose from, it is impossible to see it all in just one visit. So the best plan of attack is to select an area of focus and go for it the best you can.

 

During my visit to DC, a constant drizzle of rain seemed to takeover downtown; but nonetheless, the historical importance of every street, building and monument still shined bright. So even when the clouds are out, grab a raincoat and walk down some of the most important streets in all of America (and on a sunny day, renting a bike is the most efficient way to see the sites!)

The White House:
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Obviously the most important home in all of America, you can get an up close view of the President’s house on Pennsylvania Ave. But because of recent issues with trespassers, expect massive amounts of security and to have to view it from quite a ways back.
A Smithsonian museum:
There are eleven Smithsonian museums to choose from, so make sure to explore at least one while in town. I was personally quite impressed with the Aerospace museum, as it has everything from authentic and used spaceships, fighter jets and passenger planes. There are also numerous 3D films you can view at the museums. Just keep in mind when planning your trip that most museums in DC are closed on Mondays and that nearly half a day is needed to simply grasp the surface of just one of these impressive museums.
The Pentagon:
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Getting a glimpse into where some of the most crucial national and international security decisions are made will be a highlight of any trip to DC. Find time to also walk through the memorial to the victims of 9-11 and
The Marine Memorial:
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Only a five minute drive from the Pentagon is the most iconic military memorial in America today. Not only does this monument represent a key victory in Iwa Jima during WWII, but it also captures the essence of being for the Marines. Surrounding the statue of the soldiers is a long list of every war the American Marines have fought in.
Arlington Cemetery:
Some of America’s greatest heroes are buried in this cemetery dating back to the American Civil War. Formerly part of Robert E. Lee’s massive estate, the government once confiscated this land only to return it to his wife after a Supreme Court hearing in 1882. Make sure to also pay respects to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Lincoln Memorial:
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The grandness of President Lincoln and the large impact he had for the US is adequately captured in this monument. Make sure while inside to read the entire Gettysburg address that is engraved on the inside of the monument. Also make sure to absorb the beautiful vantage point this monument offers of both the National Mall and the Washington Memorial.
Korean War:
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A surprising personal favorite of mine was the Korean memorial. The combination of unique garden landscape with the harsh stone replicas of the soldiers gives insight into the realities of this war. Take note of the endless faces of soldiers placed in the surrounding wall.

How to spend 24 hours in NYC

Oh, what an exhilarating, exuberant and exhausting city New York City is. One of the most iconic global destinations in the world, NYC is a magical place to be from dawn to dusk and in both sun and snow.

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With over 8 million people currently living in NYC and hundreds of iconic places to sleep, dine and visit, it can be overwhelming trying to figure out where to start your day.

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If you are in New York City for less than 24 hours (like I recently was), it is extremely helpful to have a plan of attack before taking on one of the most stimulating cities in the world.

Getting there:

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Bus: A one way ticket from the surrounding DC area to NYC will cost around $20 and be around a five hour journey.

Car: Taking a car to NYC allows you to be flexible with your time in the city, but is an expensive option. Prepare to pay numerous tolls on before entering the city. To avoid paying around $50 a day for parking in the city, either park on a neighborhood street for free or park outside the city and train in.

Plane: If you arrive by plane, you can take a bus, subway or cab into the city. Just allow for around 40 minutes-1 hour before you can expect to be in Manhattan.

Where to stay:

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Accommodation is expensive in New York City. And the rooms will most likely be smaller than you’d expect. If you are looking to save a buck, look to rent an apartment in Brooklyn or the outskirts of Manhattan on AirBNB. But for a shorter stay, splurge on a more luxurious and conveniently located hotel to make the most out of your visit and give you the proper nights sleep to tackle the concrete jungle.

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The Jane: I discovered this hotel recently while researching for unique NYC accommodation that wouldn’t completely break my wallet. Located in Chelsea, this historic hotel opened its doors to the Titanic survivors who arrived in New York. The old school charm is still apparent today, as bellman in traditional uniforms greet you upon your arrival. The rooms themselves are quaint in size but large in character: with bookshelves full of antique reads, quail fabric of walls and the captains rooms equipped with an outdoor terrace and marble stone bath tub, a stay in this hotel will give you an authentic New York experience.

How to get around:

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Subway: Its not a trip to New York unless you have experienced the madness of a subway ride. While logical to residents of the Big Apple, first timers may find navigating the system a little overwhelming. But give it a go and you might discover a hidden gem on NYC.

Biking: If you are planning on exploring anywhere from Chelsea to the Brooklyn Bridge, there are bike paths set up along the Hudson River. It is also a great way to find unexpected places in the city and you will most likely beat the time it would take you in a car! And if you are brave enough, you can also take on the chaotic Manhattan streets with your bike, just beware of those aggressive cab drivers.

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What to see:
NYC is one of those places where you can spend years exploring and still not have time to see everything! If you are in the city for only a short amount of time, make sure to check out these iconic locations:

9/11 memorial: One of the most tasteful memorials I have ever seen, the tribute to the victims and heroes of this day is an absolute must-do for anyone in the city. You can even make a day out of it by going to the World Tower observatory for a unique view of the city and exploring the memorial museum.

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Federal Hall: Located on Wall Street across from the New York Stock Exchange is an important piece of American history. It was on the balcony of the federal hall that the first President of the U.S. -George Washington-took the first oath to office. The original bible the oath occurred on can be found inside the building.

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The Brooklyn Bridge: Whether you decide to walk across it or admire from afar, make sure to check out the stone bridge that has become an essential part to New York’s culture.

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The Met: Whether you decide to explore inside (admission cost is a donation of your choice) or just have lunch on the steps (xoxo gossip girl), this museum offers a combination of ancient culture and city culture.

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Rockerfeller Center: Home to some of the most iconic television production studios in the US (SNL and the Today Show to name a few), you can keep an eye out for celebrities and admire the bustling center.

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Grand Central Station: The location of the romantic climax in hundreds of movies, this train station is to be experienced for the architectural beauty, chaotic rush hours and emotional reunions/goodbyes.

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The Empire State Building: A trip to New York is not complete unless you have seen the Big Apple from a birds eye view and The Empire State Building is the best place to do it. Avoid the lines by ordering your tickets online or going either first thing in the morning. However, the best time to get a view of the city is at sunset, just be prepared to share the view with hundreds of other people.

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It is important to remember that NYC is a city where it can really take months, even years, to see and experience everything. So remember to just enjoy the moment and be willing to also get lost while there because you will probably end up finding some incredible NYC magic.

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A guide to the new “it” city: San Fransisco

From its constant sunshine, stellar beaches, ground-breaking architecture and a vibrant and forward thinking population, San Fransisco has always been a city that has captivated the world. And in recent years, San Fransisco has seem to have become the new “it city”.

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With the tech-bubble popping over this timeless classic, the steep streets of SF are full of young and bright entrepreneurs who are in a rat race to create the next best start-up.

And while this recent influx of people has made the housing market surpass that of New York, the new energy to city has also made San Fransisco one of the most exiting places to visit in the US.

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Because San Fransisco is one of those cities where there will never be enough time to see everything in one trip, here is a guide to make sure you don’t miss the Bay Area classics.

How to get around:

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San Fransisco is home to companies that have changed the way we live in the modern world. So it is only fitting that when visiting you take full advantage of these apps to help you get around the city!
Uber: Uber has quickly become the new cost/time efficient way to get around the city. After downloading the app and quickly taking a picture of your credit card, Uber will track your location to show you the cars nearest you. Never having to wait for more than 5 minutes for a car and costing half as much as a normal taxi, Uber is the most convenient way to get around the city. Have your choice of Uber with UberPool (share with other riders), UberXL(cars that can hold large groups) or UberBlack (luxury town cars).

GetAround: There is so much to see just outside of the city and the best way to explore is through GetAround, an app that lets you hire other people’s car for the day. After selecting a car near your location, all you need is your phone to unlock the car to retrieve the keys to your hired vehicle!

However, apps are not the only way to get around the city. If you are without a smart phone or want a more traditional mode of transportation, you can select from the following:

Bart: The underground subway will connect you to most districts within the city, as well as across the Bay to Oakland and Berkeley.

CalTrain: Leaving every thirty minutes to an hour from the SF station, CalTrain will allow you to travel to outer suburbs and all the way to Silicon Valley.

The Cable Car: The classic way to get around SF is via a cable car. Known for pulling up the cars on some of the steepest roads in the city with cables that you can still hear under the roads, this mode of transportation draws long queues so best to take it when you are not in a rush.

Iconic sights:
The Golden Gate Bridge: The most photographed bridge in the world offers a jaw-dropping spectacle. Choose to walk it, bike it, drive it, or admire it from the hilltop.

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Alcatraz: You can explore the old prison during the day or at night. Giving you the best views of the city and a memorable ferry ride, this is a place you don’t want to miss. Just make sure to reserve tickets ahead of time as they sell out weeks in advance.

City Hall: Not only a must-do for the architecture, City Hall is perfect to go an watch all the newlyweds get their wedding photos captured in the iconic building.

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Mission District: One of the most colorful districts in the city, you will find quirky shops and vibrant alleyways around every corner. Make sure to explore at least one alleyway as talented artists paint their propaganda in the most tasteful of ways. Make sure to also bring a blanket for a picnic in Dolores Park, which has quickly become a local’s favorite hangout and guaranteed entertaining people-watching hot-spot.

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Lombard Street: Home to the windiest road in the world, you can choose to walk it or drive it. Enjoy the beautiful vantage points and top-notch gardening along this short, but ever-so-windy road.

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Where to eat:

San Fransisco is a foodie-city, so you are in for a treat when it comes to indulging in mouthwatering cuisine.

The Grove: Start your day off right by treating yourself to brunch at one of the hippest places in the financial district (and make sure to try their fresh squeezed OJ).

Taqueria La Cumbre: Home of the original Mission style burrito and authentic (yet quirky) Mexican dining experience.

The Barbary Coast: Nestled in the North Beach is one of the coolest restaurants in the city, with menu options that include Kale Caesar Salad, The Chizzle pizza and Irish donut holes.

Chinatown: If you are craving a late-night snack, head to China town for some midnight fried rice.

Ghiradelli Square: An absolute must-do for any chocolate/ice cream lover (like myself)! Indulge in a massive brownie sundae and watch them make chocolate from scratch at the same time!

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Bi-Rite ice cream: Right next to Dolores Park, make sure to grab a uniquely flavored ice cream treat. Options include strawberry balsamic, vegan coconut and salted caramel. Need I say more?

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Day trips:

San Fransisco is an unbeatable city, but make sure to save time to explore more of the Bay Area as well.

Sausalito: On the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge is the quaint and calm town of Sausalito. Enjoy an afternoon of kayaking, art gallery hopping and kraft beer by the beach.

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Carmel: In my opinion, one of the most underrated places in all of Northern California is the adorable beach town of Carmel. An hour and a half drive will bring you to magnificent beaches lined with fairytale cottages, as well as an exquisite valley full of vineyards and wine tastings. They also own bragging rights to having Clint Eastwood as their mayor, which is an excuse within itself to go and visit!

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Monterey: Thirty minutes from Carmel you will find the world’s best aquarium (and the only one to successfully breed a great white shark), the fisherman’s wharf and endless whale-watching opportunities.

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