Happy New Year, friends!
Wow, another year flew by – I say this every year (look at my past Year in Review posts if you don’t believe me, haha), but damn did 2023 go fast. I feel like I was just reflecting back on 2022 last month!
2023 was another year of living on my own terms, going against societal expectations, and truly enjoying my life. It was a year I heavily leaned into truly living in the present, indulging in extravagant trips and meals without regret, and working damn hard for it all. As I get older, I’m understanding there’s no time like the present, so I make it my mission to fill my year with fun experiences and try not to take life too seriously.
Overall, 2023 was pretty excellent.
I listened to a shit ton of audiobooks (over 50!), finally made it to Disneyland, and crossed a huge bucket list trip off my never ending list of adventures. I traveled with friends, with my sister, with my husband, found my way back to solo travel, got to see my parents twice (!), and had a whole slew of visitors as well!
Wild to think this is actually my 11th year writing detailed year in reviews on my blog. Sure, those 10-second overdone reels on IG are fun for a few minutes, but I honestly don’t even know how to make them, haha. Plus, I like being able to write 8k words and include over 100 photos (which is probably more like 200 knowing me).
It was the year of the Eras Tour (although I didn’t have any interest in participating, I opted for Beyonce instead), the horrific war in Israel, and deciding I want to visit all 50 states in the next few years (before I turn 40!).
So proud of this life I created for myself.
2023 by the Numbers
- Countries Traveled To: 8 (USA, Guatemala x2, Belize, Tanzania + Zanzibar, Mexico, England, Austria, Czech Republic)
- States Visited: 8 (California, Hawaii, New York, Rhode Island, Washington, Idaho, New Mexico, North Carolina)
- Days On The Road: ~105
- Days Traveling Solo: 8 (Caye Caulker, Belize and Flores, Guatemala!)
- Flights Taken: 34 (60,500 miles flown!)
- Books Read: 56 (favorites: Molokai, Pachinko, Into Thin Air, Remarkably Bright Creatures, The Day the World Came to Town, Fly Girl, The House in the Cerulean Sea, Nowhere for Very Long)
- Duolingo Streak: 576 days (primarily Spanish and math!)
- Candy Crush level: 3195
The year started off a bit crazy, getting home from Mexico a week later than expected after the airline canceled my flight. I made it home at 9:30pm on New Year’s Eve, just in time to celebrate my late arrival with my husband by indulging in a slice of our favorite cheesecake and some cuddles with Kona.
Just a week later we were off to Maui for Noah to run the Maui Oceanfront Marathon! He has a goal to run a full marathon on each Hawaiian island it’s offered, and although he already crossed Maui off his running list, he decided he wanted to run again! Fine by me; I’ll never say no to a trip to Hawaii (obviously).
He PRed AGAIN and subbed 4, finishing the full marathon in 3 hours, 59 minutes, and 34 seconds! Absolutely WILD — my husband is a beast! So, so proud of him and his dedication.
Besides his running escapades, we spent most of the long weekend in Kihei, kinda sorta feeling like a local, walking to the beach for sunset every night and eating/drinking nearby. I sometimes love revisiting places we’ve been to a bunch of times, so I can focus on simply enjoying our time together instead of feeling like I need to see and do everything. Something I’m clearly working on, haha.
The main focus of this Maui trip (besides Noah running the marathon of course) was WHALES! Since we were visiting during prime whale season, we saw SO many humpbacks. So, so magical. And besides taking an official whale watching tour, we saw so many whales right off the coast — all those breaches and whale tails never get old!
We left Maui with holes in our hearts, aching for permanent island life. The heartache was so bad we started semi-seriously talking about moving to Hawaii (complete with a pros/cons list and mile-long to-do list). We ultimately decided this isn’t the best time for our dream, but I think we’ll be back sooner than later.
I kicked off the month by taking myself out on a solo birthday date to see Mean Girls on Broadway! Scored myself a $40 rush ticket, which turned out to be an amazing seat all the way down in the orchestra! Such a fun show, and proud of myself for making the effort despite going solo.
Also — I celebrated TEN official years of A Passion and A Passport on February 9th — cannot believe I’ve stuck with my passion project turned side hustle for oh so long!
I always plan a birthday trip for myself (past years including Mexico City, Hawaii, and Todos Santos), and decided to do something low-key this year. We celebrated my belated bday with a weekend in SLO at the Madonna Inn, complete with pink champagne cake, a glitzy pink bathroom in our all pink room, and pink boozy drinks.
It was truly an instagrammers paradise, perfect for a quick birthday trip! Think whimsy gingerbread trim, bubblegum pink and fuschia accents, and eccentric and unconventional hotel rooms. The whole space is quirky, bizarre, and downright wacky — in the best kinda way! To say I loved it was a downright understatement, haha.
We saw some friends for lunch, took way too many photos, and checked out all the tacky decor at the hotel.
A few weeks later I was off to Guatemala, a country I hadn’t been to for over 5 years and one I was super thrilled to be heading back to! The country is so misunderstood (and wildly underrated), but I’m glad it’s becoming a place travelers don’t overlook anymore. It’s actually getting pretty popular!
After scoring cheap $350 round trip tickets (and desperately missing all the color and culture), I couldn’t not go! Plus, I went with a friend I hadn’t seen in years (hey, Kris!). We ended up going with a bunch of really cool people, and met even more in Guatemala once there!
It really was the best travel crew and I loved and appreciated all our deep non-judgemental convos! Travel people really are the best kinds of people.
Our first stop in Guatemala was the famous Lake Atitlan. And despite the loooong 5 hour ride there (TONS and tons of traffic), we absolutely loved the lake and I’m aching to go back sooner than later.
We primarily spent our time at the lake zipping around on lanchas and visiting a whole bunch of different towns (which were all so, so different) — the colorful town of San Pedro (where we saw a chocolate demonstration, weaving demonstration, and learned about Mayan bees), super hippy San Marcos, the market street in Panajachel, traditional Santiago Atitlan, and the colorful blue village of Santa Catarina Palopo.
Volcano views EVERYWHERE!
We stayed at La Fortuna at Atitlan, an eco-hotel with a completely outdoor bathroom (toilet included). Lemme just say — such a unique experience showering outside completely naked. It was also crazy windy at some points; our entire shack would shake; but thankfully we saw no bugs or scorpions — something we were super worried about (we even shook out our entire bedding each and every night)
That pool with a perfect view of the volcano was something else, as was the old-school bus turned sauna.
In Antigua, we spent a glorious few days wandering the colonial town, admiring the volcano views, checking out all the cute cafes, and shopping at all the markets and boutiques (we wanted to buy so much).
I hopped on a photo shoot at the famous yellow arch, took a chocolate making class, relaxed on nets overlooking the highlands and volcanos (absolutely epic), and spent a morning at Hobbitenango walking on the trolls hand and hanging out in the hobbit houses.
Nights in town were absolutely epic — we could see the orangey glow of the erupting volcano from our hotel. Super wild and surreal! Definitely not something we see here in California.
We ended our whirlwind of a trip with the most impressive tasting menu at Sublime in Guatemala City — it even rivaled fine-dining meals I’ve had in Mexico City. There’s a reason why it’s on the list of the 50 Best Restaurants in Latin America! So unique and creative, and way cheaper at that, haha.
We had been aching for a winter trip, so were thrilled when our friends invited us to their new cozy cabin in the snowy mountains. And I swear, it legit felt like a boutique hotel – they did an amazing job with it, but no surprise there (Kris is kinda a master at home design and interiors).
It was a weekend full of homemade eats (thanks Taka!), puzzle competitions, bourbon hot chocolates (loaded with mini marshmallows), marmalade making, comedy specials, bubble-filled board games, and snowy winter walks.
We couldn’t even get in through the front door — completely covered in snow!
It was a weekend being fully present with fun people and hardly any phone time! Need more days like this!
BELIZE & GUATEMALA
Caye Caulker, Belize
Time for my first (and actually *only*) solo trip of the year! I spent a glorious few day taking it slow on Caye Caulker, and luckily met a great group of people my first morning and spent a decent chunk of my time on the island with them.
I’ve actually been to Belize before (over a decade ago), but primarily stayed in San Pedro on Ambergris Caye. After my new friend I met in Mexico started sending me photos from her trip to Caye Caulker, I instantly knew I needed to head back to Belize.
Two of the main reasons I came? The Blue Hole and snorkeling in the Hol Chan barrier reef!
Gazing out the window of a tiny 12-seater propeller plane flying over the Blue Hole was a major highlight and wildly impressive and the reef, wow, just wow! — crazy how many blues there are!
I spent a full day out on the water snorkeling in the Hol Chan Barrier Reef, and saw so much wildlife it was incredible! Manatees, spotted eagle rays, nurse sharks, sea turtles, sting rays, lots of coral, and tons of colorful tropical fish. Such a perfect day out on the dazzling water, besides getting the worst sunburn of my life!
Other highlights on Caye Caulker included watching sunset every single night at the beach (most likely with a mango juice in hand), spending a lazy day relaxing at a beach club on the north side, and eating and drinking my weight in fresh coconuts, iced cacao tea, bbq chicken and shrimp, and the creamiest key lime pie.
It’s impressive how many locals I had long conversations with. There’s such an amazing, positive energy here — hard to describe but Belizeans are just so helpful and actually care about their visitors. By far some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met.
I crossed the border and continued my solo spring break trip with a few days in Flores, Guatemala (loved the country so much I just couldn’t stay away!).
And what a moving few days it was. Swinging in a hammock at sunrise over the lake with sounds of hundreds of birds in the jungle, and then once the day was over, watching sunset over the lake every single night with watermelon juice in hand. Super idyllic; I just loved those slow nights/mornings.
My major adventure here?! Waking up at 2:30am for a sunrise mission to Tikal! While there wasn’t exactly a sunrise, walking through the jungle in the pitch black listening to howler monkeys is something I’ll never forget. I got a full tour of the park afterwards and loved all the temples — so impressive and hardly crowded. Also saw a bunch of animals in the jungle too — toucans, howler monkeys, spider monkeys, and cute coati! One of those pinch-me moments in life I’ll never forget.
I wandered around the colorful island town taking tons of pictures of all the decorative doors and buildings (which totally reminded me of Guatape in Colombia a bit)!
Strolling the malecon for the best lake views was my favorite, as was taking a lancha to a scenic mirador, hanging out at a locals beach, and watching my new friends jump off rope swings into the lake (I was too chicken for that of course).
Before the trip was over, I spent a full day swimming in the bluest, crystal clear waters I’ve ever seen at Crater Azul. Kinda crazy how this place is wildly unknown (and I kinda wanna keep it that way).
ANDREA VISITS SF
You read that right! My cousin came to visit — it was so fun having her in SF for a whole week (!!!) and showing her around our area.
And we really took advantage of our time together – I don’t think we had this much uninterrupted quality time in years. So, so special and I can’t wait for her to come visit again soon 🙂 Plus, Kona was obsessed with Ann from the first moment she got here at 2 in the morning, haha.
We did *all* the things — we took plenty of silly selfies at Battery Spencer, had dangerously delicious pizza in North Beach, wandered around Chinatown, drove down Lombard Street, played tourist at the Painted Ladies, had a picnic at the Aquatic Park, rode on a cable car (my very first time!), took the ferry and explored Alcatraz, had huge scoops of cookies n cream at Ghirardelli, gawked at all the cute sourdough shapes at Boudin, and spent a night cheering on the Giants at the game (although we never actually made it to our seats, haha).
There were also day trips to be had — a morning in Sausalito, dining al fresco in the sunshine and walking alongside the water, down to Monterey and Carmel for a day, wandering the cute storybook town, exploring the coastline on the 17 Mile Drive (my favorite), and just overall enjoying the sun!
We spent our last night together celebrating Ann’s early 40th birthday indulging in the most delicious over-stuffed lobster rolls while watching a gorgeous sunset over Half Moon Bay. Such a great visit and so thrilled she came to California!
Home in the Bay
After getting home from Central America, I spent most of the month at home here in the Bay Area; I really tried to take advantage of the wonderful weather we’d been having.
And after all this rain, I swear EVERYTHING looked SO incredibly green with tons and tons of WILDFLOWERS!
I tried doing all the spring things – searched for wildflowers in a nearby park (found lots!), finally visited the famous wisteria fence in SF, checked out the floral exhibit at the Westin St. Francis, took so many photos of the cherry blossoms on our block, had flowery beach walks in Half Moon Bay, and found tons of poppies on a verrry long walk/hike in the East Bay.
I also saw Come from Away on Broadway — what a heartfelt show and even based on a true story! We spent a few days in the city, trying a new bakery, walking by the bridge, and just enjoying SF.
May was the first month in forever that was super, super low key — I hardly left the Bay Area! We took a few day trips, but honestly just hung out and relaxed SO much. I tend to overdo it with trips (although always very much worth it), so I’m starting to appreciate the downtime I do have.
At home I checked out the mini yellow super bloom at Mori Point (with a sea of yellow flowers overlooking the beach), saw yet another musical (1776), and did some more city exploring: Coit tower, Mamas for brunch, and Japantown.
We took a spontaneous Sunday drive down to Monterey, and finally got down to see the pink magic carpet in Pacific Grove. It was just as stunning as I imagined! Always forget just how much we love it down here, and crazy that it’s less than 2 hours from us.
A quick day trip up north to Tiburon was another highlight of the month; I can’t believe after living in the Bay for almost 10 years we had never gone! We feasted on an amazing lunch right by the water at Sam’s, took long walks with the prettiest seaside views, and saw a colorful art installation.
The minute school was out (remember, I’m a SLP at a high school), we drove down to SoCal for the week, doing some research for a potential upcoming move, and seeing a bunch of good friends/hanging with their cute kiddos.
Besides bringing the gray SF weather down to OC (the sun only came out ONCE our entire week there), it was great to explore different areas and get a feel for what we’re looking for (decided close to the beach it is!)
We checked out Dana Point, San Clemente (which we already knew we loved), a whole bunch of towns a bit further inland (not our style), Laguna Beach, Santa Ana, Huntington Beach, Costa Mesa and Newport (LOVED!), and even a few towns in San Diego and in southern LA county. We even met with a realtor – yes, kinda prematurely, but wanted to see what’s out there!
June started a few months of basically nonstop travel, but first we celebrated a friend’s beautiful wedding up in Sonoma (Taylor you looked smashing as usual)!
After living in California for over 9 years, I *finally* made it to Disneyland to celebrate a friend’s birthday with some favorite friends.
And omg what a blast it was — we spent over 15 hours in the park, from 9am to almost 1 in the morning (and I was still ready to go!), haha. Of course there were lots of lines during peak hours (to be expected), but filled the time with lots of singing, dancing, stretching, mustache-making, etc.
The morning/early afternoon was spent at Disneyland, then headed to DCA until they closed — then back to Disney for more rides until they closed! A super long and tiring day, but I already can’t wait to go back!
Some Disney stats:
- Rides rode: Big Thunder Railroad (twice!), Pirate of the Caribbean, Star Tours RITR, Hyperspace Mountain, the tea cups, Runaway Railway, the Incredicoaster, Buzz’s Astro Blasters, and Millennium Falcon
- Ate: giant Mickey macaron, Mickey pretzel, popcorn crack, Mickey ice cream sandwich, lobster nachos, churro
- Saw: World of Color Show
Would I go again? 1000% – I can confirm Disney truly is the happiest place on Earth. Yes, despite the high price tag. I kinda wanna see it all decorated for Halloween or Christmas next time!
Newport, Rhode Island
A few days later I flew to NY bound for Rhode Island for a sister trip to Newport! Such a great start to summer, and love that we were able to have a few bonding days just for us! Think I wanna make this a tradition. 😊
Ali’s been to Newport a bunch of times prior, so I was lucky she took me around to her favorite spots! We took a trolley tour learning about the history of Newport, went on an afternoon sail on an old lobster boat admiring all the fancy yachts, sipped Del’s frozen lemonade, and toured the ornate and opulent Breakers Mansion — so much gold everywhere!
I’ll never forget our last dinner overlooking the water with seafood pasta and the most amazing mashed potatoes, all the trips to Bowen’s and Bannister’s wharf, shopping on Thames street, and fresh lobster rolls!
We also spent a morning walking along the stunning cliff walk, cruising on Ocean Drive, and admiring the stunning Castle Hill Inn. Such an underrated state — if you have the opportunity to visit RI, go!
All in all it was a fantastic few days — even the long drive home was so fun (tons of singing and dancing, haha).
Trips to NY are primarily about seeing those I love, and that’s exactly what I did, with some NYC exploring thrown in. Plus, I got to hug my 99 year old grandma, which, I didn’t know at the time, would be our very last one. 🙁
Once we were back in NY, I spent an afternoon in Astoria with my cousin, indulging in overpriced ice cream, thrift store shopping, and wandering around downtown.
I always love exploring spots I haven’t been to in a while, so I ferried it over to Brooklyn for a few hours, spent the morning wandering around DUMBO, and watched the sunset on the ferry with some old friends for some stunning skyline views.
My sister and I took a day trip to Greenport, strawberry picking and pizza winery included! Sunset overlooking the water with boozy lemonades in hand was the perfect way to end the night.
And I *finally* crossed the TWA Hotel off my bucket list! Highly recommended if you’ve got a few spare hours between flights or get to the airport extra early — so fun and nostalgic with tons of photo ops, a bar IN an old airplane, and a rooftop pool where you can watch planes take off.
Tanzania: African Safari
After 3 long years (getting a puppy and of course international travel stopping due to we-all-know-what), we FINALLY made it on our long-awaited safari in Tanzania!
Was it everything we dreamed of and more? Yup, 1000%.
We spent a week doing game drives in several parks in Tanzania, including Tarangire, Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro Crater, and of course Serengeti National Park! What an absolute dream come true.
Just 30 seconds into Day 1 we saw a huge herd of zebras, and throughout the week saw tons of giraffe (so stately and majestic), more elephants than we could ever imagine (with some walking right in front of our jeep – so special each and every time), and *so many cats* (over a dozen lions). Such a surreal experience and honestly hard to put into words.
We also saw tons of warthogs (pumbas are such funny little creatures), hyenas (we even heard them laugh!), cheetahs, wildebeest and buffalo and gazelles (oh my!), tiny little dik diks, kori bastards, baboons and black-faced monkeys, flamingos, ostrich, and so many hippos! Plus an endangered black rhino on our last day in the crater, and a huge pride of lions on our night drive.
Unfortunately we only saw 4/5 of the Big 5 – the leopards were definitely hiding from us despite our patient guide looking for them for over 3 hours!
We woke up bright and early one morning for an unforgettable hot air balloon safari in the Serengeti – such an amazing experience and champagne-toasting in the bush afterwards was so epic (along with the loo with a view – I literally watched zebras grazing along as I used the bathroom, haha).
Another main highlight was spending two nights at Lemala Nmpingo Ridge in Tarangire – such a splurge but oh so worth it for the sundowners each night, immaculate tent with outdoor tub overlooking the park, and the safari chic atmosphere. We were obsessed; I could easily live there, haha.
Once we begrudgingly said goodbye to all the animals on our Tanzania safari, we spent the next week relaxing by the beach in Zanzibar. Such a wildly different culture and feel than mainland Tanzania, and I’m glad we got to experience both.
We explored the historic Stone Town (felt so much like a medina in Morocco), fed the tortoise on Prison Island, and learned all about the exotic fruits and spices on a spice tour. We had a delicious meal at Emerson with cocktails at sunset, with one of the comfiest atmospheres around – pillows upon pillows barefoot!
A main highlight in Zanzibar was spending the day on Nakupenda Bis – a blip of a sandbar in the Indian Ocean a few miles away from land. Hardly anyone was there, and we played in the sparkling shallow waters, I found tons of beautiful, untouched shells, and indulged in a seafood feast cooked by our guide right on the sand (complete with lobster, tuna, octopus, calamari, and homemade fries!)
Our day at Mnemba Island was my favorite day – the sun finally came out and we spent loads of time wading through the waters of yet another sandbar, ate so much passion fruit and avocado, and snorkeled in some of the healthiest reef I ever swam in — and I was the only one in the water (even more impressive than snorkeling in Maui and Belize, surprisingly!). Who knew?!
Our other days on Zanzibar were spent watching sunsets from our fave rooftop bar, taking long walks on the beach, witnessing the crazy tides, relaxing poolside, dodging the rain (yup, ugh!), and drinking tons of passion fruit mojitos.
Such an impressive country and makes me eager to explore more of Africa! Although the flight was just shy of about 25 hours…
After a week at home, I was off again – this time to Mexico with some friends! I can’t seem to stay away from this colorful country, haha. At least the flight is way shorter than heading to Africa.
I spent a fun few days exploring the city semi-solo (before my other friends arrived), staying with a friend I met in Bacalar last year (hey hey Dani!). I loved getting a more locals’ perspective (bars! friends! People to help me translate/understand the nitty gritty. The best rooftop in the city.), and of course the cutest dog in the whole city, Iggy.
During my almost-week in Guanajuato, I took the funicular up and admired the iconic views from the Pipila viewpoint (twice!), wandered around the plazas and squares with elote and churros in hand, drank so many lemonadas and passionfruit concoctions, loved the colorful buildings and Callejon del Beso, explored the outdoor and indoor markets (mmm fresh jugo de fresa y sandia), watched sunset every night (rooftop bars, university steps, swinging in Dani’s hammock, etc), drank way too many chocolate frios from popular cafes, and loved practicing mi espanol.
I also went on a sticky hot day trip to Dolores Hidalgo to see the famous rainbow tomb, try allll the weird and wacky ice cream flavors, and check out the iconic pottery.
After five full days in the small city, I kinda started to feel like a local! Such a fun feeling!
San Miguel de Allende
Next up — SMA! I *loved* revisiting this colorful little city — we spent lots of time admiring the most beautiful library, took tons of photos along the colorful streets, wandered the Fabrica la Aurora art center, listened to mariachi music and people watched at Jardin Allende every night, ventured into way too many colorful shops, and checked out the views from the mirador.
But our favorite? Just wandering the town; I swear every street is a postcard and more beautiful than the last.
Plus all the eating! We had more amazing meals in SMA than I thought possible, complete with rooftop views of the iconic Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel (including late-night taco carts, breakfast chilaquiles, famous chocolate churros, enmoladas, and our favorite meals at Toastevere and Garambullo).
I always love heading back to CDMX (it’s such an eclectic and vibrant city with tons of colorful culture). Even with just two full days, we squeezed in oh so much!
We wandered around the gorgeous leafy green Parque Mexico, drank at some fun bars and speakeasies (like GinGin and Handshake), checked out the views from Chapultepec Castle, learned all about Luis Barragan at Casa Gilardi (my second time visiting!), and spent some time in ritzy Polanco.
We also spent a hectic morning downtown, heading to Biblioteca Vasconcelos (my first time!), the House of Tiles (always a must), Palacio Postal, Palacio de Bellas Artes, and the iconic CDMX sign in the Zocalo. Plus the ceiling at Gran Hotel, a wild time grabbing pastries at Pasteleria Ideal, and finishing at the indoor artisan market.
Of course the food was a major highlight – and we ate way too much (featuring ricotta stuffed squash blossoms at Lardo, al pastor tacos at Orinoco, ricotta cacao rolls and guava rolls at Rosetta, churro ice cream sandwiches at El Moro, and everything delicioso at Expendio de Maiz).
Getting stuck in crazy thunderstorms a few too many times (including that night we camped out in an ATM for far too long and hid under umbrellas at Frida Khalo’s house) will forever be a core memory of the trip.
Once August rolled around, I said my sad goodbyes to summer as work started up again (and I took Kona on a field trip to school and everyone loved him).
I saw some Broadway shows and went to a few concerts (Aladdin!, Cirque du Soleil!, SAM HUNT, BEYONCÉ!) and decided I wanna accomplish a new travel goal — visiting all 50 states by age 40!
Ali and Kevin come visit!
As soon as I got home from Mexico (less than 12 hours later!), my sister and her husband Kevin flew in! I had just spent a week with her in NY/Newport earlier this summer, but won’t say no to more sister time!
I was SO thrilled for their visit – and I loved showing them where we’ve been living the past 9 years!
We had the most amazing meal at House of Prime Rib, complete with late-night donuts from Bob’s afterwards (drool). And after they got back from Napa, we spent the next few days driving down the coast, laughing non stop on rides in Santa Cruz, indulging in delicious fish tacos, somehow making it down to the beach at Shark Fin Cove (practically hanging onto Kevin), and taking foggy walks in Pacifica and Half Moon Bay.
We also spent an afternoon wandering Sausalito, checked out a few downtown areas on the Peninsula, admired the bridge views at Battery Spencer, did some San Francisco city exploring (Ghirardelli! Fisherman’s Wharf! Calacademy! The most amazing North Beach food tour! Dancing on the streets in Chinatown and getting yelled at for asking for a lime wedge, haha – inside joke I don’t wanna forget lol!).
Lots of fun family time and I wouldn’t have it any other way!
Because she totally deserves her own section, haha. I super spontaneously bought tickets to see Beyonce… less than 48 hours before the show. It was easily the most expensive concert ticket I’ve ever bought, but the experience of seeing her live was so worth it!
Was a scramble for sure figuring out a sparkly silver outfit (crazy last minute) and transportation, but we did it!
And what a Queen she was!!! Even from up high in the nose bleeds! We LOVED seeing everyone’s over the top outfits, and her daughter even came out for a few songs!!!
I didn’t make it home until after 2am… and went to work the next day… but I managed to power through, somehow!
The fall season started off with lots of busy weekends, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. We also saw New Found Glory and All American Rejects in concert, and got a surprise upgrade to box seats!
Labor Day trip to Napa
We hadn’t been to Napa Valley in forever (we typically head to Sonoma instead) so we decided to go for a night over the long weekend. Most of our time was spent in Calistoga, and we loved the chill vibes (felt way more laid-back than the typically pretentious towns of Napa Valley).
We went wine tasting at Tank (so cool!), checked out a few vineyards, spent too much time at Dr. Wilkinsons (with total Palm Springs vibes), had s’mores by the fire, and just overall relaxed. Kona loved the hula hoop in our hotel room and playing corn hole, haha. Next time we’re really hoping to get a mud bath!
Other highlights included wandering around downtown Napa for a morning, perusing Oxbow Market, walking by the river, and having a delicious meal of fresh pasta for lunch. It’s always a good time in wine country!
Laguna Seca in Monterey
Another weekend in September was spent down in Monterey with friends, celebrating Noah’s (very) belated bday! We walked around the charming town of Carmel-by-the-Sea, had some delicious pizzas at La Bicyclette, took a short hike at Point Lobos, and had cocktails while playing some golf (so incredibly fun!).
But the real reason we were down there?! To see the last Indycar race of the season!
After following Formula 1 for so long, it was about time we saw a race in action! Felt like we were in a real-life video game! So crazy and insane! Such a fun weekend with some of our favorite people!
Weekend Trip to Seattle
We ended out the month with a long weekend trip to Seattle to visit some good friends of ours that recently moved there.
Our friends showed us around and we all played tourist — went to the top of the Space Needle, sipped cocktails at so many fun bars (plus pie at Pie Bar!), watched a perfectly pastel sunset at Kerry Park, spent lots of time on their rooftop admiring the views, took a long walk at Discovery Park, checked out the vendors at the Ballard Farmers Market, stuffed our faces with tons of good food (pizza! Malaysian!, brunch!), and wandered inside the Amazon Spheres.
My #1 highlight?! Taking the ferry over to Bainbridge Island – probably my favorite thing we did during our 3 days in Seattle! Had some delicious fish n chips, ice cream, walked around the local shops, and meandered by the waterfront. Seattle truly shines in the sun!
I also spent some time solo, eating as much as I could at Pike Place Market, exploring Pioneer Square and taking the popular Underground Tour, and loving the striking architecture at Seattle Central Library.
So grateful to have such great friends who opened their home to us and shared their new life in Seattle with us! We even contemplated a potential move afterwards… (sense a theme for 2023?) 🤔
October was another busy month at home, with my parents visiting towards the end of the month and some concerts sprinkled in. We saw Neyo (he wore that famous red suit we loved at the Lovers and Friends festival in Vegas last year), and I reached a 500 day streak learning Spanish on Duolingo!
We had some fall fun in SF — had a sticky picnic to watch the airshow with friends, admired the fall decorations at The Westin (always amazing), and got Halloween themed cocktails at The Summer Place! I even made an apple pie, almost from scratch!
I sadly canceled a dream New England fall foliage road trip, but hey, maybe I’ll go next year instead! Apparently the colors weren’t as bright and bold as normal, so maybe it was a blessing in disguise.
Glamping in Russian River
We started off the busy month with a night glamping at AutoCamp. I’ve been wanting to go glamping in the redwoods for oh so long – it feels like such a Northern California experience right?! So I’m thrilled we finally made it happen!
We are *so* not camping people, and couldn’t even get our fire to start (true story), but we managed!
It ended up being so fun (despite the rainy weather) – we took a long walk amongst the towering redwoods in Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve, had ice cream and a chocolate biscuit for lunch (whoops – that pistachio baklava flavor was LIFE), and a delicious dinner in downtown Guerneville.
We ended the night hanging by the fire (making s’mores) in the lodge and enjoying our tent! It was a pretty low key weekend but loved being able to relax a bit and of course that we could take Kona along with us!
After my canceled New England trip, I decided to visit a new state — Idaho it was for state #30!
We spent the weekend in Boise wandering around town, hitting up all the hip coffee shops, checking out some fun speakeasies (yes, they have those in Boise, I was surprised!), taking photos at the murals downtown, doing a sunset hike above the fall foliage, and walking down the Boise River Greenbelt.
And oh so much food — finger steaks with fry sauce, an ice cream potato (probably the highlight of the trip for me, lol), DIY fries (I mean, we were in Idaho!), potato pizza, and the most creative, memorable meal at KIN (I’d go back to Boise just for that, haha).
It was such a relaxing weekend together, and I cannot believe we’ve never been to Idaho before despite being less than a 2 hour flight from us! Boise kinda felt like an outdoorsy Denver/Portland hybrid, and I can see why people love it so much (heck, tons of Californians are moving there).
Mom and Dad visit!!
We closed out October with a visit from my parents. We spent so much quality time together – I forgot how much I love hanging out with them!
Our days were spent exploring the Bay Area and beyond. We went to Santa Cruz for a day, riding the steam train along the redwoods (such a cool experience), finding new species at the UCSC Arboretum (my moms favorite!), and walking along the water watching the surfers.
Another day was spent in the city exploring Golden Gate Park, including a visit to the Japanese Tea Gardens (such great mochi!), the observatory at the de Young Museum, and taking a walk around the lake.
We also spent some time local as well, wandering some downtown areas on the Peninsula, getting a great brunch, going to a street fair, checking out the insanely decorated Halloween houses, and lots of yummy take out! Love visits from family. <3
It *finally* started feeling like fall in San Francisco, and after I unfortunately had to cancel my epic New England fall foliage road trip, we booked a weekend in Apple Hill as my consolation prize, haha. Not exactly the same, but still super fun!
We bounced around from farm to farm and orchard to orchard, sipping apple cider shakes and hard apple ciders, indulging in alllll the things (apple crisp a la mode, HUGE apple fritters, smooth pear cider, a super cute hot chocolate flight, apple dumplings, and more), and admiring all the fall colors.
And of course the most orgasmic apple cider donuts that ever existed – oh so fluffy and soft, and perfectly covered in tons of sugar – a donut I’ll remember for the rest of my life, haha.
We got so lucky and visited during peak foliage – I couldn’t believe the colors of the leaves (including that perfectly peak red tree I found).
Sometimes it’s the small moments I love the most, like having a super low key night eating cheeseburgers in bed and watching Elf together with Kona – which is exactly what we did that night, haha.
New Mexico Road Trip for Thanksgiving!
New Mexico was my 31st state of my 50 states challenge! We road tripped almost the entire length of the state, starting in Albuquerque and heading to Santa Fe, Truth or Consequences (what a fun name!), Las Cruces, Bandelier National Monument, and White Sands National Park.
And New Mexico was exactly what I thought it’d be — lots of Pueblo-style architecture, green chile cheeseburgers, and stunning natural landscapes. It was such a fun and varied road trip, and it makes me excited to explore other new-to-me states!
In Santa Fe we went shopping at the Plaza, ate our weight in blue corn pancakes, donuts, and enchiladas, sipped margaritas on the margarita trail, climbed up ladders and saw petroglyphs at Bandelier National Monument, and I learned about and admired Georgia O’Keeffe and all her artwork.
Our short time in Albuquerque was spent wandering around Old Town (loved it!) and heading up 10,300 feet on the tram for sunset (absolutely spectacular despite the freezing temps).
We soaked in hot springs along the Rio Grande River in Truth or Consequences (what a colorful tiny town) and ran around like little kids on the white gypsum sand at White Sands National Park outside of Las Cruces.
The trip was super bittersweet because my sweet, sweet 99.5 year old grandma passed away just as we were getting on the plane, and I spent the next 48 hours in a frenzy trying to figure out if we could get to New York.
Logistics got the better of me so we decided to celebrate her life down in North Carolina with my parents later in the month. Lots of tears were shed, but I found peace knowing my grandma wouldn’t want me in a state of intense stress.
Plus, Noah’s parents visited for a few days, so we got to spend some time with them before and after our trip to New Mexico.
After a few weeks at home, we were off again, this time to North Carolina to see my parents! It was a low-key few days, spending lots of quality time with them, and reminiscing tons about my grandparents – we even found my grandpa’s GED and lots of old photos! Some of my favorites!
Besides the trip down memory lane, we did lots of puzzling (worked on a 2000 piece puzzle!), explored the Battleship North Carolina (so interesting!), saw dozens of decorated Christmas trees at the Fort Fisher Aquarium Festival of Trees, wandered along Wrightsville beach in the winter sun looking for seashells, and walked on the Wilmington Riverwalk and caught a gorgeous sunset.
My dad also gave us a golf cart ride around their new development which was definitely a fun highlight as well!
Christmas in Europe!
After planning (and re-planning) this trip for months, it was finally here! Our first time to Europe in the winter, and we chose to start our 2-week Christmas Market trip in London. I could not believe just how festive the city gets for the holidays (after finally getting there – our flight was canceled and we spent an unexpected night/day in Salt Lake City).
We primarily explored the SoHo/Mayfair and Covent Garden areas, and wow, just wow! London really goes all out!
Of course we saw all the over-the-top decorations in the city — including all the windows at the big name brands on Bond Street (loved Cartier the most), a festive high tea, lunch at Sketch (oh those bathrooms!), the Regent Street angels, wandered Harrods (don’t miss the fish n chips) and Fortnum and Mason, devoured festive cupcakes at Peggy Porschein, and more. Basically all the festive things in London. I was obsessed with it all to say the least.
In all honesty, the Christmas markets were nothing special, but we kinda expected that (and ohhh that cheese wheel pasta, drool).
I kinda forgot how much I love London (it’s such an eclectic city with so much personality and fun), and now I’m scheming how we can maybeee live there someday, at least for a little while 😜
We also got in a few of our favorites toward the end of our trip, like Indian at Dishoom, salt beef bagels at Beigel Bake, wandering the markets in Shoreditch, and a new favorite — the famous chocolate strawberries at Borough Market (which I’ll gladly pay £8.5 for over and over).
After our few days in London, we flew over to Prague, and what an unexpected good time it was (and great to revisit after almost 8 years).
The Christmas Markets were by far the best ones on our trip, despite the insane crowds on our first night (it was Christmas Day and all…). We stuffed our faces with so much market food, like paprika sausages, savarak wine (admittedly not our favorite), so many trdelniks with Nutella, fried cheese, old Prague ham, mini potato dumplings, and more. Honestly, it was hard to keep track!
Besides all the market gorging, we crossed the Charles Bridge at sunrise, explored the Prague Castle (before all the crowds came), sipped savarak on a river cruise, gawked at some great views from a few medieval towers, saw the wild architecture of the famous Dancing House, took pics at the Lennon Wall, saw the crazy old astronomical clock, watched some insane performances and ate massive pork knees at a medieval dinner, and tried (and loved) kolaches, a traditional Czech dessert.
Cesky Krumlov, Czechia
Next up – Cesky Krumlov, a small South Bohemian town that’s known for its super cute storybook little village! And little it was, haha. We quite literally walked every block a few times.
During our few days, we got great views of the tiny town from the Cloak Bridge and other viewpoints, stepped into the St. Vitus Church, got lost in the UNESCO Heritage Historic Town Center, and strolled along the peaceful riverbank.
We got so lucky with food, considering we made zero reservations – lucking out with a table at Krčma Šatlava (where we had dinner in a cave with candlelight), and having a classic Czech meal at Svejk (where I ate the most delicious vareniki of my life).
The Christmas markets right in Svornosti Square were small, but of course we managed to eat even more trdelniks, sausages, fresh potato chips, crepes, spiced nuts, and a delicious apple rum drink we were both obsessed with.
We admittedly devoted too much time in Cesky, but it was nice to relax for a bit in the middle of our very-busy trip.
Hallstatt, Austria for New Years!
Our last stop of 2023 – Hallstatt, Austria; a place that’s been on my Pinterest board for oh so many years. It wasn’t the snowy winter wonderland we had hoped for, but still so idyllic with its dramatic landscapes and frozen fairytale village.
In town, we wandered around finding all the best viewpoints, eating so many Austrian pastries and more schnitzel and potato salad than imaginable (so much potato salad, haha). We stayed at the most beautiful hotel of our trip, super modern with unobstructed views of the lake and even heated floors! It was marvelous!
A huge highlight of our entire Euro winter trip was taking the gondola up to Dachstein Krippenstein and doing the short snowy hike to 5 Fingers. To say I was enamored by the views is a massive understatement – I legit almost cried it was so beautiful.
We watched the sunset from the top of the mountain and breathed in that crisp mountain air; definitely one of those moments you can’t believe life is real. Those snowy peaks were something else – Austria you officially have my heart.
We rang in the New Year eating soft pretzels in bed and watching loads of fireworks over the lake – exactly how we wanted it. Calm and cozy with full bellies stuffed with schnitzel and apple strudel.
We also went to Bruges, Belgium for a few days and had another wintery day in London – but that’ll have to wait for next year’s Year in Review since it was technically already 2024!
Thanks 2023 for a beautiful year, filled with tons of family time, puppy cuddles, good food, and of course lots of travels and adventures. I’ve got a few things in the works for 2024, but it’s always so exciting to see how the next year pans out! Happy New Year, friends!