9 National Parks To Visit in 2021 (Pictures and Tips)

Here are some of the best national parks in the USA that I visited during the pandemic. I have included some tips on how best to avoid crowds, be safe and have a memorable experience.

One good thing that came out of 2020 was a desire to get outdoors, and having all the time in the world to do so. Once all my travels got cancelled, I started doing road trips and discovering some of the most beautiful national parks in the USA that I never had the time to go to before. National Parks are often packed with families and international visitors through the summer, so the idea of waiting in long lines at parking lots and restrooms dissuaded me from going to some of these places. But in 2020, crowds were thinner as most facilities remained closed. Some of the parks limited the number of vehicles coming in. They suspended tour groups and shuttle buses. Others reduced capacity at campgrounds and hotels. So all of this made visiting national parks even more enjoyable past year.

Having a strategy for visiting the park definitely came in handy. With the pandemic still looming, I had to account for carrying food, water, PPE equipment, maintaining social distancing, and planning restroom breaks.

Here are the National Parks I visited and some of the insider tips I can offer from my firsthand experience. Following these will make your trip safer and more pleasurable.

Most of the parks are open year-round, but you must check for wildfires, snowy weather and road closures daily, as mountain weather changes very often.

elks
Elk sighting at Rocky Mountain National Park.

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Fly in to Denver, Colorado and drive to Rocky Mountain National Park (about 90 minutes). It is best to start your journey at Grand Lake in the west of the park, and end at Estes Park on the east. Grand Lake is a lot less crowded and has a few Swiss style chalets located along the magnificent blue waters.

When you enter Rocky Mountain National Park through Grand Lake, you will see wooded forests, lush meadows, wildlife and rivers. The trails here will be less crowded too, so I highly recommend doing your hiking and picnicking in this area. Continue along the 49 miles long Trail Ridge Road, which is the highest continues paved road in the United States, reaching an elevation of 12,183 feet. Cross the Continental Divide at Milner Pass, see glaciers, mountain peaks and snowfields, grasslands covered with elk and much more.

Note that driving Trail Ridge Road is not for the faint hearted. The roads are narrow, with high elevations, and no barriers. Get a stable car or SUV and keep your eyes on the road. Also, the road closes at the higher elevations from mid October until Memorial weekend.

Loop around Bear Lake for an easy hike with this view.

Toward the east entrance of the park, you will see glacier lakes that are very popular. If you plan to walk the trails around Bear Lake, do so in the late afternoon. If you are lucky, you may even spot double rainbows like I did!

Exit the park at Estes Park, which is a bustling mountain town with motels, cabins, restaurants and souvenir shops. There is a wide variety of cuisines in this small town but it’s best to make reservations in advance. Stay at Tiny Town Cabins at Trout Haven Resorts for a typical Colorado cabin experience. The small but functional 19 individual cabins are located alongside the Big Thompson River, just minutes away from Rocky Mountain National Park.

Yellowstone National Park
Sulphur springs in blue, gold, white and black colors can be seen all over Yellowstone.

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Yellowstone was the first national park in the U.S. and perhaps the first national park in the world. The park spans an area of 3,468.4 sq miles comprising lakes, canyons, rivers, and mountain ranges. Yellowstone Lake is one of the largest high-elevation lakes in North America. It is centered over the Yellowstone Caldera, the largest super volcano on the continent. There are numerous recreational opportunities, including hiking, camping, boating, fishing, and sightseeing. Lava flows and geothermal pools are spread across the mountains and forests at Yellowstone. So you have to be very careful when hiking and should always stay on marked trails.

Yellowstone is quite large spanning into Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. You can access it from either of these states, but the nearest big airport is Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Here you can take a break for couple of days to visit Grand Tetons National Park, Teton Village’s ski lifts, and then continue on to Yellowstone (1.5 hours). Downtown Jackson Hole is also really hip, filled with gourmet restaurants, art galleries and jewelry stores.

I highly recommend staying at least a couple of nights inside Yellowstone, so you don’t spend a lot of time driving in and out everyday. The lodges inside are more expensive though, without many frills, and are sold out months in advance. However, you are paying for the great location and will have the park all to yourself in the late evening and early morning, when most of the visitors have left.

Grand Prismatic Spring
The natural colors at Grand Prismatic Spring look surreal.

If you take the Loop Road starting in the South, you won’t get lost and most of the attractions will fall along this road. Account for a full day to see West Thumb golden hot spring, the Continental Divide over Craig Pass, famous Old Faithful geyser, colorful Grand Prismatic Spring, and Artist Paint Pods. You will need to do some walking/ light hiking to get to some of these up close, but they also have handicap accesses.

Mammoth Hot Spring Terrace
Visit Mammoth at sunrise for a mystical experience.

The next day, go to Hayden Valley for wildlife spotting, Sulphur Caldron and Yellowstone Lake. If the weather cooperates, take a boat ride or enjoy some of the water sports on the lake. On the third day, head north to see valleys along Gibbon River and raggedy rocks at Sheepeater Cliff. The Mammoth Hotel is a good place to stay near Mammoth Hot Spring Terraces. Access the Terraces early in the morning when the sun reflects on the foggy white, gold and black rocks.

Note there is no cell reception inside the park (even at the hotels), and road closures are quite frequent (due to accidents, fires, wildlife, repairs, etc) with no alternate route options. Check the notice board at your hotel reception and at all the visitors centers, gas stations and gift shops thought the day to get latest updates.

Grand Tetons National Park
Hike to the Hidden Falls inside Grand Tetons National Park for a great view.

Grand Tetons National Park, Wyoming

Grand Teton National Park is only 10 miles (16 km) south of Yellowstone National Park, connected by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway. Along with surrounding national forests, the protected areas constitute the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, one of the world’s largest intact mid-latitude temperate ecosystems.

Grand Teton National Park is named for Grand Teton, the tallest mountain in the Teton Range. The park includes the major peaks of the 40-mile-long (64 km) Teton Range, numerous lakes, including 15-mile-long (24 km) Jackson Lake, as well as the upper main stem of the Snake River.

Grand Tetons
The Grand Tetons tower over Jackson Hole & surrounding areas.

Stay at Jackson Hole, a year-round destination for outdoor adventures, from hiking, biking and rafting in the summer, to skiing in the winter. The Fireside Cabins provide easy access to Grand Teton, where you can spot glaciers, rivers, wildflowers and bisons! The best way to explore Grand Teton National Park is via their well networked paved biking trails. But if that’s not your thing, drive the Moose-Wilson road (partially gravel) that links Moose, Wyoming (the southern entrance) to Teton Village. This road is great for viewing wildlife, stopping at outlooks and going for long or short hikes. One of the must ones is at Jenny Lake. Here, you need to take the water ferry to cross the lake and do a loop back.

Glacier National Park
Hairpin turns, narrow roads & tunnels in Glacier.

Glacier National Park, Montana

With over 700 miles of trails, Glacier National Park is a hiker’s paradise for adventurous visitors seeking wilderness and solitude. Getting to Glacier requires flying into the small airport of Kalispell, MT and driving a short distance to the park. Stay in the town of Whitefish, where you can explore the downtown with lots of coffee shops, bars, and a lake.

Timing is everything when going to Glacier. The famous Going-to-the-Sun Road is only open from June – September. This is when you will find hikers from Canada (northern part of Glacier), U.S., and all over the world flocking to the park. However, I went to Glacier in the first week of October, after the season was over. Luckily, the temperature was around 70F, Fall colors in full bloom, and the crowds had left.

St Mary's Lake Glacier
Take a break at St Mary’s Lake near Rising Sun.

Enter the park at West Glacier early in the morning and see the mist rising above Lake McDonald. The 50-mile Going To The Sun Road loop takes you through narrow passes, mountain overlooks, rising glaciers and alpine villages. Again, this is no easy drive with hair bending turns, so rent an all wheel drive.

Exit the park at Rising Sun, on the western side of the park. However, this was closed due to COVID-19, so I had to turn around and do the loop again. Thats not necessarily a bad thing, as you get to see the Going To The Sun Road from another perspective. The afternoon is a good time to get some hikes in too. Make sure to explore the less visited western side of the park, where the gorgeous Bowman Lake is located. On your way back, grab fresh and warm huckleberry bear claws at Polebridge Mercantile and Bakery, located inside the park.

Drive in Zion
If you’re lucky, drive your own car in Zion National Park.

Zion National Park, Utah

Zion National Park is located in southern Utah near the city of Springdale. I drove from Moab to the east entrance of Zion, and exited at the south entrance in Springdale. From here I drove to the town of St George (1 hour), where I stayed at Red Mountain Resort. The resort is located away from the touristy areas, and offers guided tours to Zion as well as other parks in southwest Utah. From there, I flew out of Las Vegas (2 hrs). You can also fly to Salt Lake City and drive to Zion.

Zion National Park
Perfect fall sunset at Zion National Park

Now, Zion National Park is one of the most visited parks in the whole country. So you can imagine how hard it is to navigate and enjoy driving through its narrow roads. During peak times, you will be required to leave your car (if you can find a spot) in the parking lot, and ride the free shuttle to your hiking trails. But if you go between November – March, like I did, you can breeze through the park in your own vehicle. Remember Zion is beautiful year-round, but some of the trails are closed depending on weather conditions.

You definitely don’t want to miss the sunset over the towering red mountains and the Virgin River.

Congaree National Park
The 2 mile boardwalk is an easy walk in nature.

Congaree National Park, SC

Congaree National Park near Columbia, SC is not as well known, but worth a visit. It preserves the largest old-growth floodplain forest forming one of the highest temperate deciduous forest canopies remaining in the world. You can walk on paved paths and boardwalks surrounded by swamps, oaks, national and state champion trees. Some of it looks like scenes from Lord of the Rings!

Large animals possibly seen in the park include bobcats, deer, feral pigs, feral dogs, coyotes, armadillos, turkeys, and otters. Its waters contain interesting creatures like amphibians, turtles, snakes, and many types of fish, including bowfin, alligator gar, and catfish.

There is over 20 miles of backcountry hiking trails, canoe tours, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, birding, nature study and talks. You can visit Congaree in a day, or spend a few if you want to do all the activities.

view of Arches National Park
Red, white and blue at Arches National Park.

Arches National Park, Utah

Moab is the adventure capital of southern Utah, with access to hiking, rafting, canyoning and more. Moab is a city in eastern Utah. It’s a gateway to massive red rock formations in Arches National Park, mesas and buttes at Canyonlands National Park, Native American rock art, and dinosaur tracks at sites like Bull Canyon Overlook and Copper Ridge. The town itself has tons of cafes, restaurants, shops and a motels. Stay at Moab Springs Ranch, a locally-owned, eco friendly resort with individual cabins and townhouses that are well equipped with kitchen and parking spaces. There is a walking trail, biking trail, hammocks and relaxing garden on site so you can relax with a backdrop of red rocks and cottonwood trees.

Delicate Arch
Delicate Arch is the most famous arch in the park, but requires a vigorous hike to get to.

Bordered by the Colorado River in the southeast, Arches has over 2,000 natural sandstone arches. Start your day early at sunrise at Arches National Park, so you have the entire day to explore and watch the rock colors change with the sun. Sunrise and sunrise give the best photo opps. The park itself is not too big if you drive through the loop road, though you will do injustice if you didn’t get out of your car. Many of the arches can be seen from the road, but offer a better view with a short hike.

There are no restaurants or stores inside the park, but it is only minutes away from downtown Moab, so you can pack food for the day or return to the city for dinner.

canyonlands
The vast expanse of Canyonlands with no other being in sight.

Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Also a few minutes drive from Moab, Canyonlands National Park is the largest national park in Utah and requires 2-3 days to explore, especially if you plan to do any backcountry or overnight hiking. However, if you only have one day, plan to drive the paved Island in the Sky road atop a massive 1500 foot mesa. Here you can stop at different pullouts to see panoramic overlooks, dramatic desert landscape carved by the Colorado River, towering rock pinnacles known as the Needles, the remote canyons of the Maze and the Native American rock paintings in Horseshoe Canyon. There are many hiking trails too, so combine some physical exercise with driving time.

The bookstore and gift shop inside Canyonlands offers some sodas and packaged foods only, so plan to bring your picnic basket and lots of water from Moab. Also, it is much colder and windier at higher altitudes inside the park, so make sure to bring additional warm layers.

Virgin Islands National Park
Relax at secluded beaches in the US Virgin Islands.

Virgin Islands National Park, USVI

Virgin Islands National Park is more than just beautiful beaches. Here you can hike to plantation ruins to learn about a time when sugar dominated the island, visit the ancient petroglyphs carved by the Taino Indians, and snorkel the coral reefs to discover hidden marine life.  The park covers 60% of St John, 9 sq mi of adjacent ocean, and nearly all of Hassel Island, just off the Charlotte Amalie, Saint Thomas harbor.

You can fly in to St Thomas or St John islands and spend a few days exploring the beaches, towns and beautiful waters. St Thomas is much bigger and well connected to major airports, while St John is more pristine. You can combine your trip and move between the islands by passenger and vehicle ferry, so you can take your rental car with you too.

The best way to explore St John many pristine white sand beaches and hiking trails that make up US Virgin Islands National Park is by car. There are taxis, open air jeeps and shuttle tours, however, having your own vehicle allows you to stop wherever you want and safely distance. Note, most facilities are still closed at St John, not because of COVID, but they never fully recovered from hurricanes Irma and and Maria in 2017.

beach at St Johns USVI national park
Discover some of the best natural sites at St Johns.

Virgin Islands Eco Tour is a local company that offers kayaking, snorkeling, hiking and boat tours around the National Park. Start at Cruz Bay and spend a half or full day with a knowledgeable guide to learn about marine life, geology and flora of the islands.

Typically, entrance to each national park ranges between $20-50/ day. Save money by purchasing America The Beautiful annual pass. For only $80, you can visit over 80 national parks and over 2,000 Federal recreation sites across the USA.

How To Spend a Weekend in Chattanooga

Are you ready to travel again? Even as international travel still remains restricted, you can still explore destinations in your own backyard. If you want to get away for a weekend or even a day trip, Chattanooga, TN offers a perfect blend of nature, history, food, and culture. Conveniently located less than 2 hours drive from Atlanta, there are several attractions for families and travelers of all ages in Chattanooga. Businesses around the city are taking several measures to ensure the safety and health of travelers, that you can read about below. Here’s where to go on your summer getaway for a weekend in Chattanooga…

Exterior of RiverView Inn in Chattanooga
RiverView Inn offers proximity to attractions and views of the river

Stay at a Charming Inn

Lookout Mountain, the highest point in Chattanooga, has a number of family-run B&Bs, many of which are historic homes. Though the mountain is part of Georgia and part in Tennessee, you have to drive through the city of Chattanooga to get to the boutique RiverView Inn. This cozy inn is well-spaced out, with clean suites, and balconies offering stunning views of the city and the river. Due to current COVID Hotel Standards, they offer a to-go breakfast bag and coffee only, while the heated and salted swimming pool is open to guests.

Rock City Walking Path in Chattanooga
Pristine walking paths in Rock City

Stroll Through Historic Gardens

One of the biggest attractions on Lookout Mountain is Rock City – a geological garden with waterfalls, wildflowers and art. Here you can walk through quiet woodland gardens, ancient rock formations, and a suspended bridge; breathe in fresh cool mountain air, and get a view of 7 states. There’s a cafe and restaurant onsite where you can enjoy a lunch break, before you make your way underground to a colorful displays of classic childhood fairy tales at Fairyland Caverns and Mother Goose Village.

Fairyland Caverns of Rock City
Storybooks of your childhood come alive at Fairyland Caverns

Explore the Sites, Safely

You need to make reservations online to visit Rock City, as only a limited number of people are allowed in at any given time (pets are allowed too). This actually makes it a great time to visit Rock City, as you can avoid crowds and take amazing photos! There are hand sanitizing stations throughout the garden as well as reminders for visiting gnomes to maintain social distance.

Covid Safety Gnomes
Be safe and healthy while visiting Rock City

Near Rock City, also checkout the famous Ruby Falls, Point Park, and Incline Railway.

Views of Rock City Chattanooga Tennessee
Waterfalls and Lovers Leap at Rock City

Explore the Urban Areas

Chattanooga has a cool urban vibe, while being close to nature. The downtown area is pedestrian and bike friendly. You can walk or bike on Walnut Street Bridge, or along the waterfront, where you will see families, street artists, musicians and food trucks. Kayak or rent a boat on the Tennessee river and check out the scene from the water.

Parks of Chattanooga
Stroll through the waterfront trails, parks and bridges around Chattanooga

Stroll around the Chattanooga Choo Choo hotel area (access to interior is currently closed), which comes alive on weeknights and weekends. Here you can see several bars offering outdoor seating, live music and lots of people watching.

Songbirds Restaurant Exterior
Grab a drink and listen to music in downtown

Get a Taste of the South

During your weekend in Chattanooga there are several good restaurants that are open for dine-in, with spaced out tables, masked employees, and advance reservations. On weekends, grab a pitcher of mimosa for only $10, and sit outside overlooking Main St at STIR. Latin-inspired State of Confusion has some of the best Peruvian ceviche and traditional margaritas, paired with excellent service.

For dessert, get a scoop of some of the creamiest salted caramel and  coffee toffee at Clumpies Ice Cream. If you’re there on Sunday, check out the Chattanooga Market at First Horizon Pavilion, to purchase goods from local farmers and artisans.


How To Celebrate Christmas in Innsbruck

When you think of Christmas, you probably picture brilliantly white snow falling on fir trees; people wearing woolen mittens holding steaming cups of hot chocolate, and little kids screaming with excitement as they watch Santa bring a bag full of surprises. You can see their little faces light up as they open up their presents and discover something awesome. They might be getting a new toy for Christmas like a fluffy teddy, or for the more older child, they might be getting a cooler gadget type toy. If you are stuck on what to get your son, then take a look at this page here for more inspiration (you can check this out here). Hopefully, your kid will be able to tell you what they want, although it probably doesn’t matter, as they’ll just be happy to see Santa! This is the very Christmasy feeling you get when you travel to Innsbruck, Austria – the capital of the Alps.

The small city located near the border of Germany and Italy transforms into a winter wonderland through the month of December. There are lots of events taking place so make sure to check the calendar and plan your trip accordingly. Starting mid November, there are advent and Christmas concerts, a Christmas flea market, brass music on the tower. The best part is, most of these are free and open to public.

Here are some ways you can get into the Christmas spirit in Innsbruck…

Shop at The Christmas Markets

This was my first time at a Christmas market in Europe and I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of families (mostly Italians) in town enjoying simple pleasures. While we in US focus mostly on shopping for presents at big name brands during the holiday season, the people at the Christmas market at Marktplatz were strolling through the decorated squares, sipping on gluhwein (mulled wine), eating cheesy raclette toast, roasted chestnuts and kiachl (fried donuts).

The market in Maria-Theresien-Strasse sold unique Christmas ornaments, little village scenes, handmade woolens, candles, statues, woodwork, candy, cards and so much more. I felt a gift bought here would be a lot more meaningful than from the mall!

Watch The Krampus Parade

Prior to visiting Innsbruck, I did not know much about the tradition of krampus – which apparently has been around for a couple of hundred years in western Europe. In olden times, the Catholic church used the mythological figure (half goat, half demon) to scare kids so they behave well. Men would dress up as krampus and beat up the naughty kids while Santa would bring gifts to the nice ones (naughty or nice, get it?).

Little did I know that I had been a bad girl this year because I was beaten up by many devils in the town of Igls this year! I arrived at the annual krampus parade as an innocent spectator taking videos of the masked devils riding their chariots lit with fire. But then some of these devils pulled adults and kids from the crowd and whipped them with their brooms and sticks. Yes it hurt, and by the time the fourth guy headed my way, I ran for the bus back to my hotel.

Though scary, it was an experience hanging out with locals who brought their little kids to watch the parade. Even the young ones went along with the whippings as it is just a part of tradition.

Stroll Through Swarovski Crystal Worlds

Located just outside the city is a magical Christmas themed garden with lighted figures. Also, the new poetic garden features a unique Crystal Cloud made from 800,000 hand-mounted and enchanted floating crystals – pictures don’t do justice to the glistening reflections!

Being a Swarovski fan, I also enjoyed visiting the museum that tells the story of the family (who was from Bohemia which is now in Czech Republic), and displays some of the most famous gowns and jewels that bestowed celebrities on red carpets. Also, there is the largest Swarovski store I have ever seen selling crystals ranging from $50-50,000. There’s no way you can walk out empty handed from here.

Brunch with a View

If you are dreaming of a white Christmas, you will definitely get it in Innsbruck. Just take the Nordketten cable car to Seegrube, where you will find some of the best ski slopes in the Alps. I couldn’t stop taking pictures of the majestic Stubai glacier as I enjoyed my first snowfall of the season. Many locals hike up the mountain, grab a delicious lunch at Seegrube Restaurant, and then take the cable car back down.

Another popular option for Sunday brunch is Restaurant Bergisel SKY (make reservations in advance) overlooking the famous Olympic Bergisel Ski Jump. Perched above the city, the glass enclosed restaurant has some of the best views of Innsbruck and the surrounding mountains.

In the mood for Christmas already? Then head to Innsbruck, Austria and enjoy the special season! I would recommend staying at least two days to enjoy the festivities, and longer if you like winter sports like skiing, snowboarding, tobogganing, or winter hiking.

11 Fun Things To Do in Myrtle Beach

“Are you going to play a lot of mini golf?” smirked my boyfriend, as I told him about my planned trip to Myrtle Beach, sponsored by the tourism board.

And hey, it’s not a bad question. Actually, Myrtle Beach is known as the “Miniature Golf Capital of the World,” with over 50 courses to choose from.

But that’s not what I would be focusing on for my trip. Instead, my goal was to go beyond the guidebook to discover Myrtle Beach activities beyond the green. And while I did spend time around the “Grand Strand” — Myrtle Beach’s waterfront strip showcasing 60+ miles of beaches — I added other atypical experiences to my itinerary.

Stay: North Beach Plantation

This luxury resort sits on the Atlantic Ocean in North Myrtle Beach. Onsite you’ll find pretty much everything you could need: beach access, free Wi-Fi, restaurants, a 2.5-acre waterpark, multiple indoor and outdoor pools, a hot tub, a fitness center and incredible spa (tip: get the Fijian Ritual!) and more.

myrtle beach

Along with two towers full of various sized condos, they have standalone villas and vacation rentals with shops dotting the blocks, giving it a suburban neighborhood feel. It’s large, and there’s a free shuttle that can help you get around if needed.

Tip: Spring for the waterfront views, especially as even the one-bedroom condos have balconies. They’re actually pretty budget-friendly for what you get, especially if you go in September (about $200 or less per night!).

Airbnb also offers a slew of great Myrtle Beach options! Click here to snag $40 off your first Airbnb stay!

So what kinds of Myrtle Beach activities exist beyond mini golf? Check out the video above. Then, scroll down to read my trip highlights (so you can add them to your itinerary, too!).

1. Savor Local Wine Culture

While typically vineyards in the US grow grapes like chardonnay, merlot and pinot grigio, in South Carolina there’s only one variety that flourishes: the muscadine. There are over 300 varieties of muscadine, many of which you can try at La Belle Amie Vineyard in Myrtle Beach.

I never expected Myrtle Beach to have a vineyard and winery. A tasting room maybe, but actual rows of grape vines next to olive bushes? I felt like I was in Italy.

Or France, as they also sell wine from their family vineyard in the South of France. You can read the full (and inspiring) story of how that partnership came to be here.

Vicki Weigle, La Belle Amie Vineyard’s owner, believes you only need to know two things about wine: if you like it or if you don’t. This fun philosophy can be felt throughout the property, including Wine Wednesday’s live outdoor music and the creative wines with fun names offered at the tasting bar. How about a glass of “What Was I Thinking?” or an “Ice Queen” ice wine made without freezing the grapes?

By the way, it’s just $5 for six tastings + surprises like mulled wine and wine slushies. Yum!

2. Learn A New Water Sport

There are so many water sports to choose from in Myrtle Beach! Two on my itinerary were new to me: wakeboarding and surfing.

While inclement weather cancelled the wakeboarding, I did visit Shark Wake Park to see what the course looked like. It’s a controlled pool with ramps if you’re up for doing tricks. Cables pull you as you try to stand on what looks like a snowboard. Sitting back and watching the advanced wakeboarders is also an option.

I did get to try surfing near Springmade Pier at the softest beach I’ve ever stepped on with Jack’s Surf Lessons.

Wow, was surfing hard! The waves were pretty high — about three feet — so it definitely presented a fun and exciting challenge for a newbie.

Actually, here’s me (below) standing for 0.3 seconds until I came crashing down so hard I lost my GoPro to the Atlantic Ocean despite it being on a headstrap tied into my hair. I just hope a school of fish has found it and is putting it to good use. Sigh.

myrtle beach

Despite the technical issues, I had a lot of fun trying something new. Plus, Jack is such a cool, laid-back dude he had the group laughing the whole time.

Just leave the GoPro on the beach unless it’s really affixed.

3. Indulge In Some Boozy Brunch

You know those beautiful wood accented spaces with high ceilings and lots of natural light flowing in? And maybe a case of colorful macarons beckoning you to stay a while? That’s Croissants Bistro & Bakery.

And while they do make some incredible baked goods (salted caramel brownie, anyone?), you also won’t want to miss their savory fare. Of course, shrimp and grits is a local favorite, especially as these grits are laced with pimento cheese. Make it a boozy brunch by adding on a mimosa or Bloody Mary with your choice of vodka!

4. Get High (Literally)

Myrtle Beach’s boardwalk stretches for 1.2 miles along the waterfront, showcasing quirky restaurants (some jokingly claiming to be the “8th Wonder of the World”), arcades, various Ripley’s Believe It Or Not attractions, rides and more.

While a walk down this wooden stretch is a must on a list of Myrtle Beach activities, another way to take it all in is with a ride on the Myrtle Beach SkyWheel.

The giant enclosed Ferris wheel takes you 200 feet high for an aerial perspective of the beach and boardwalk.

While I rode the SkyWheel during the day, I was told by many locals it’s actually best at night when it’s all lit up.

Tickets are $14 per person.

5. Stretch It Out (On The Beach)

A true highlight of my trip was doing a morning yoga class on the beach with Dawn Yager, owner of Shanti Yoga. I love yoga anywhere, anytime; but there’s something truly therapeutic about going through Sun Salutations while actually being washed in the sun’s loving glow.

myrtle beach

I must have felt inspired, because I held Crow Pose for my longest time ever! Just a few simple shifts like moving my gaze beyond my hands and digging my fingers into the ground helped so much.

Tip: If you’re visiting during September, Shanti Yoga offers discounts on classes at their Myrtle Beach studio for National Yoga Month.

6. Photograph The Gorgeous Live Oaks

You can see Live Oaks draped in Spanish Moss all over Myrtle Beach; however, in historic Conway — a city founded in 1732 located about 25 minutes from the coast — you can take a tour of them.

They’re so whimsical; the gnarled branches adding a gothic beauty to the area. In Myrtle Beach they’re prevalent and protected. You can wander the very walkable neighborhood yourself using the free Historic Trail guide (pick it up free at the Conway Visitor Center). Additionally, here is a link to a self-guided Conway tour using a map and/or QR codes.

Tip: After seeing the gorgeous trees, take a walk along the Waccamaw River on the 1.5-mile River Walk.

7. Savor The Local Craft Beer

While Myrtle Beach isn’t a craft beer hub, it does have some quality beer offerings. Hop heads can check out New South Brewing, featuring a large tasting room with plenty of space to chill with some board games and a nut brown ale, or talk suds with the brewmasters.

While they don’t have flights, 6-ounce pours are only $3. Also, there are tastings included when you book a tour in advance ($7).

If you try one beer only, make it their famous “White Ale.” The brew is a take on a classic Belgian wheat ale, with notes of coriander and citrus.

They’re also known for their canned beers; in fact, their slogan is “The beer from here. Hand crafted. Hand canned. Hands on.” You can purchase a 6-pack to-go ($9) or create a mixed case ($30).

Tip: The local grocery chain, Lowes Foods, features a Beer Den with craft beers on tap and a growler program!

8. Wander Brookgreen Gardens

I love wandering without a plan, especially when that wandering involves being immersed in lovely live oaks, inspiring sculptures and gorgeous gardens. Brookgreen Gardens is that place, a sculpture garden (the country’s largest) and wildlife preserve featuring thousands of acres of nature.

Take a pontoon ride on the onsite creek to see alligators and osprey while learning about the property’s rice farming heritage (cultivated by past African and Indian slaves). Made up of four former plantations, one pre-Brookgreen Gardens homestead was actually home to Aaron Burr’s daughter, Theodosia.

While the tour was interesting, my favorite part of the visit was just wandering the gardens without a plan, taking moments to regroup and admire Mother Nature.

9. Bird Watch In Huntington Beach State Park

Nearby is another natural beauty: Huntington Beach State Park. The two main attractions in this 2500-acre park are the beach and the trails, including a nature walk and a boardwalk over the marsh.

myrtle beach

Oh, the Marsh Boardwalk! One of the most peaceful places I’ve ever seen and one of my favorite Myrtle Beach activities. I spotted so many birds — egrets, herons, cormorants — as well as a variety of crabs dancing in the mud. I stood in silence and awe for a good 30 minutes just taking it all in.

Here’s a printable birding checklist for the park if you want to create a fun challenge for yourself! According to the park, a full day of bird watching could very well get you 100 different species sightings.

10. Try Hook-To-Plate At Wicked Tuna

You’ve probably heard of farm-to-table; but what about hook-to-plate?

Murrells Inlet is where many locals — especially local restaurants — claim the freshest seafood in South Carolina comes from. At The Wicked Tuna they make use of their uber fresh location, employing their own fleet of fishing boats to head out each day and catch what’s served on your plate.

Fresh catch, lobster tails and sushi rolls are all part of the fun, typically with a twist. While the pan-seared scallops might be dressed in a cauliflower puree and tamarind brown butter, a soft shell crab might be topped with cilantro oil and sweet potato flakes.

I was obsessed with my “Dragon Egg” appetizer: a halvedavocado filled with cream cheese, smoked salmon, blue crab, king crab and spicy crab and gowned in tempura sweet potato, spicy mayo and sweet glaze. Paired with my wasabi- and basil-laced “Wicked Lemonade” (pictured above), my taste buds were certainly dancing.

Everything was superb, complimented by a prime waterfront view from the patio!

11. Indulge Your Inner Carnivore

The name River City Cafe may sound simple; but actually, this meat-focused eatery has a dizzying list of delicious burgers you must try.

While I was tempted to try their Short Rib Cheeseburger featuring short rib meat mixed with prime beef, I had to savor the “Kitchen Sink Burger.” This enormous sandwich showcases two patties topped with chili, hickory-smoked bacon, grilled onions, spicy jalapeños, mushrooms, Swiss and cheddar cheeses, lettuce, tomato, pickles, mustard and mayo. And that’s not all. That setup is then placed neatly (yea right) between two grilled cheeses, accompanied by fries, onion rings and coleslaw.

Luckily this was a trip full of active Myrtle Beach activities!

Turkey, chicken and veggie burgers are also available for those seeking a healthier meal.

What are your favorite Myrtle Beach activities beyond golf? Have a travel question? Please share in the comments below!

~ By New York city based award-winning travel blogger, Jessica Festa. Find her at Jessie on a JourneyFacebookTwitterGoogle+ and Pinterest. This post originally appeared on her blog

11 Ideas for Multi Generational Family Getaways

1. Galapagos being so close to these animals and birds thrills people of all ages. The elder members of the family can also enjoy it as its quite a light and slow paced holiday. Trips like this can be especially enticing to families who are caring for elderly members whilst on vacation.

And there are great opportunities to charter small boats for large families (10-16 people). In addition to the Galapagos, staying on an Estancia in the highlands or going to an Amazon Lodge is a great add on to the Galapagos trip and fun for the whole family. While ordinarily children may be happy at home watching songs for kids on YouTube, an experience like this will be invaluable and unforgettable.

2. Patagonia – Thrilling beauty!

Tours can be as active as possible for the adventure folks, while the family members who like a more relaxed pace, can do more cultural or soft adventure activities. Everyone then meets back up for dinner for some great food, and great wine.

3. Safari South Africa


Explore great parks where you can see the big 5 – lion, elephant, cape buffalo, rhino and leopard. Many of these parks are Malaria free, so if taking malaria medication is a concern, we can pick a safari lodge in a Malaria Free zone.

In addition, some of the concessions we work with have small properties that a family can take over, with private guides and staff just for your family. In addition, Cape Town, Victoria Falls, and the Wine Route are great additions for the whole family.

4. Costa Rica

Just about everyone would be thrilled to see a Toucan or a Macaw from their outdoor shower, or find squirrel monkeys in the trees right outside their rooms. You could arrange for a bird photography tour from www.costaricafocus.com, or make your own way through the tropical location on mini adventures. During a small hike through a rain forest you might stumble upon a scorpion being devoured by an army of ants, and if you slow down, the adults will be thrilled to see the excitement of the kids in the group. From relaxing in the hot springs from Arenal Volcano, to walking along the sea, to dolphin watching in the Gulfo Dulce, the whole family will be happy here.

If time permits, we can plan a trip to a wildlife rescue center where you can get up close with the animals and see how these organizations are working hard to save the lives of these animals and working with communities to educate them on saving the environment.

5. Uruguay

Stay on an Estancia or at the beach.

There are activities aplenty to choose from, and they can be tailored based on the different needs for each member of the group. Try cooking classes, Stand Up Paddle Boarding, canoeing, kite surfing, and horseback riding. Or for very active families we can do a biking tour for 4-5 days.

6. Cambodia and Thailand

One of Yampu’s favorite family itineraries combines Siem Reap in Cambodia with Chiang Mai and Phuket in Thailand. Go “Tomb Raider” style to the Angkor Archaeological Park. Depending on the interests of the younger members of the group choose to tour by bike, ATV, elephant, or van. Visit a school and a history museum as well as artisans. Then off to Chiang Mai, where we offer a flight of the Gibbons, giving alms with the monks, visiting local villages, and best of all cooking lessons.

In Bangkok and in Phuket, follow in James Bond’s footsteps to the floating villages of Bangkok, a tuktuk tour to temples, then to James Bond’s Island in Phang Nga Bay (except instead of hurling across a zip line like James Bond, we will take a long boat and a kayak).

Luxurize this trip with special experiences like a VIP picnic breakfast set up just in front of Sras Srang “Pool of Ablutions,” outside of Angkor Wat, once reserved for the King and his wives. Or take a Thai cooking class where a local well-known chef shares cooking secrets in a family atmosphere.

7. Peru Educational Trip

This may be our best family trip because it has everything. The bucket list Machu Picchu, learning Spanish, lots of activities like biking, hiking, pottery, weaving, a cultural visit to a family, and rafting (not very strenuous so okay for most family members)and finally a giving back day working in a school. Remember all of our tours can be customized so if any of this does not work for any members, we can change it.

8. Cruises! Our top cruises for families:

The Amazon River in Peru or Ecuador; the Mekong River, the lifeblood of South-East Asia; Halong Bay in Vietnam; or around Cape Horn of Chile and Argentina (penguins without the expense of Antarctica).

Glide through rainforests and wonder at the wildlife of the Amazon: hundreds of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and thousands of freshwater fish. Explore the floating villages and markets of the Mekong Delta or navigate the fantastical topography of Halong Bay in Vietnam.

9. Rainforest and Snorkeling Belize

Tropical forests rich with wildlife, majestic mountains, mysterious Mayan temples, and snorkeling in the longest barrier reef in the western hemisphere await you in Belize.

Take an unforgettable cave-tubing excursion in the “River of Caves” – seven miles long, and all of it underground. Go swimming in jungle-clad rivers, canoeing or crawling through mysterious caves, observing the birds, butterflies and other wildlife.

10. Tanzania and Zanzibar

There is something about game drives, lazy afternoons at the pool, sundowners and the cell phones and wifi either not working or very slow that brings families together. This can be done at different budgets, from amazing basic tented camps to luxury camps. While the options are limitless in Africa, Tanzania offers something for every age group. However, Botswana, Zambia, and Uganda, can also be amazing, depending on the ages and interests of the family.

11. Comfortable Trekking

For families with adult kids we offer luxury trekking in many of our destinations. This is exciting because you can hike and see some fantastic scenery in the daytime and at night have a comfortable bed and a gourmet meal. Luxury options are available in Peru (enjoy a luxurious trek staying at unique Mountain Lodges as you follow paths from Cusco to Machu Picchu), Zambia, Chile, and Bhutan. Basic Options are available in Peru, Chile (trekking in Torres del Paine), Costa Rica, Tanzania (Kilimanjaro trekking), Nepal (Kathmandu valley), and Thailand.

~ Guest contribution by Yampu Tours, specializing in custom family tours around the world. Reach them at Toll-free at 888-YAMPU-01(926-7801) or info@yampu.com

7 trips that put families in close contact with local wildlife

Snorkel with Whale Sharks in Cancun

Fulfill your family’s ultimate once-in-a-lifetime bucket list adventure by taking a dip with whale sharks – the biggest (and most friendly) fish in the world! From May to September, families staying at sister properties CasaMagna Marriott Cancun Resort and JW Marriott Cancun Resort & Spa can embark by boat to snorkel alongside these magnificent gentle giants where the Caribbean Sea meets the Gulf of Mexico. Though they measure up to 40 feet long and weigh in at 15 tons, whale sharks feed exclusively on plankton and are totally harmless to humans. Added perk: guests at the Cancun Marriott Resorts can check out a GoPro HER04 for the day to capture unbelievable underwater family photo ops.

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Explore the Costa Rican rainforest

For an unforgettable nature-filled vacation, families should head to Tabacón Grand Spa Thermal Resort, spread across 900 acres of natural rainforest reserve in Costa Rica’s northern region — an area responsible for 6% of the entire world’s biodiversity. With more than 500 species of local plant and wildlife on property, kiddos just might spot a coatimundis, toucans or howler monkeys. Families can have nearby animal encounters with activities like horseback riding, ziplining through the trees, rainforest tours and more. As an added bonus, the carbon neutral resort offers an eco-friendly environment that teaches kids about sustainability and how to protect the area’s natural resources.

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Swim with sea turtles in Barbados

SUP dude? For an unforgettable animal encounter, families will love Colony Club‘s stand-up paddle board (SUP) and turtle swim excursion. Starting out on the white, warm sands of Barbados’ renowned beach, families will paddle out to The Lone Star Restaurant, one of the local, turtle hangouts, and dive into the crystal blue waters to get up-close-and-personal with the island’s friendliest marine animals – the once-endangered population of hawksbill and leatherback turtles.

 

Hangout with reptiles in Curacao

Situated on a 27 acre plantation of rare natural preserve, the Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort in Curacao offers an island-within-an-island feel with some of the most varied and exotic flora and fauna in the Caribbean. Through the resort’s eco-friendly, locally inspired Camp Arawak program, kids will love the chance to feed the resort’s resident iguanas. Plus, in between watersport adventures like snorkeling and paddleboarding, families can observe hawksbill turtles nesting along the resort’s private beach every July through September.

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TripAdvisor

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Paddleboard with Dolphins in Jupiter, Florida

Hotel guests staying at the oceanfront resort can head to the nearby Blueline Surf & Paddle Co., and work up a sweat navigating the mangroves of the Intracoastal Waterways on a 90-minute paddleboard eco tour, where you might see manatees, dolphins and sea turtles. Complimentary beach cruisers are also available for resort guests to get the heart pumping as they explore the charming, seaside town’s iconic landmarks, including the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse and the Loggerhead Marine Life Center.  

Encounter sea lions, blue footed boobies and penguins galore in The Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos Islands are home to some of the most unique species in the world, and Ecoventura’s fleet of eco-friendly cruises brings families face to face with daily excursions through the archipelago’s diverse islands. From swimming alongside sea lions (and plenty of curious sea lion pups) to watching the Blue Footed Boobies shake their feet in a mating dance, snorkeling with penguins off the islands of Santa Cruz and Isabella. In a destination as pristine and protected as the Galapagos, wildlife wanders freely and fearlessly in the islands, meaning parents and kids are in for the trip of a lifetime.

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Kayak through a bioluminescent bay in Puerto Rico

A kayaking tour through the mangrove forrest of the Laguna Grande takes families to a secret hideaway — Fajardo’s bioluminescent bay. A short drive from San Juan, the magical waters are filled with millions of prehistoric organisms that when touched, leave a breathtaking glow in the moonlight. The excursion, organized by the family friendly San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino, invites families to learn the history and science behind the twinkling trail in the bio bay while enjoying a ride under the stars.

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Feed alpacas and llamas in Cusco

The colorful city of Cusco and the surrounding Sacred Valley of the Incas is the perfect destination for adventurous families looking for a rich dose of culture. A short drive from the city center, Awana Kancha – a llama, alpaca and vicuña farm — brings families face to face with the region’s most loved furry animals in all shapes and colors. Upon arrival, guests are greeted by the resident animals eagerly awaiting to be fed giant handfuls of grass. The interactive feedings are followed by textile weaving demonstrations by the local women keeping the tradition alive. After a day long day of adventure, families can relax in  the historic JW Marriott El Convento Cusco, a 16th century convent turned hotel whose lobby is frequented by alpacas and llamas.
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~ Contributed by Julia Cavalieri, account coordinator at Diamond PR. Follow Julia on Twitter @diamondpr