Find Serenity at Saguaro National Park
Just south of Phoenix is a pristine national park covered in a sea of saguaros.
It’s a hiker’s paradise with a wide range of trail options. Instead of seeking a strenuous hike like usual, I opted to hike at a slower pace and soak in the serenity.
The drive from Phoenix took us two hours. After paying the $15.00 park fee, we went on a scenic 3.5 mile drive through Saguaro West. Acura of Peoria hooked me up with their gorgeous MDX SUV so we had a smooth ride on the otherwise bumpy road. While an SUV is highly recommended, there were a number of people finding their way through the park with small cars.
We stopped at the Valley View Outlook Trail. This trail is super easy but comes with a heck of a view. It’s only .08 miles out and back. This is friendly for the whole family regardless of their skill level….. or the length of their attention span. It’s only a 36 foot elevation gain!
My sister and I brought our niece and her best friend. They’re 11 years old and enjoyed the hike. They even stopped at the top to take in the sights while commenting on the beauty and the quietness of the spot. At one point they even pulled out one of our blankets and laid down to take a nap. Talk about relaxation!!
While the Valley View Outlook Trail is short and sweet, near the start/end point it does connect to another short hike called the Wild Dog Trail. If you do both you’ll get two different views, with a total of hiking 1.7 miles and spending about an hour to 90 minutes walking with minimal elevation gains. The Wild Dog Trail has an elevation gain of 177 feet. Ironically, dogs are not allowed on these trails.
Our favorite part of this trip was setting up camp in the back of the MDX and just staring at the saguaros blanketing the desert. I grew up in Arizona and I’ve seen a lot of cacti but there’s something extra special about the views at Saguaro National Park.
While I only had time to explore the west side of the park, I plan to go back and check out the eastern region as soon as I can!
TIP: If you go between April and June you can catch the saguaro flowers in bloom!
BE AWARE: Temperatures can reach 100+ degrees in the summer. The monsoon brings the threat of dangerous thunderstorms, blowing dust and flash flooding from June 15th to September 30th.
Address to Visitor’s Center (West side of park): 2700 N. Kinney Road, Tucson, Arizona 85743
Permit Price: $15 per vehicle (credit cards accepted)
Bring: sunblock, water, snacks, hat, sunglasses, a jacket because temps drop quickly in the desert.
For those of you wanting more info on my ride, the MDX is a 3-row luxury SUV that drives like a dream! While it is a full-size SUV, it’s easy to handle and doesn’t feel bulky like some other big SUVs. The car has beautiful leather seats, a sleek interior, tons of space for friends plus all the gear I needed for our journey. The MDX makes me feel safe and comfortable! Here are my absolute favorite features on the Acura MDX and why I believe it’s the perfect vehicle for a road trip:
- Adaptive Cruise Control. This feature is incredible. I couldn’t believe how smart this car is! All I had to do was set the cruise control and the car did the rest. If traffic slows, the brakes automatically apply to keep you a safe distance from the cars around you. In stop-and-go traffic it even braked when cars in front of me stopped then accelerated on its own when traffic starting flowing again! This is a dream feature for a road trip!
- Lane keep assist: If for any reason you start to drift from your lane, you will be automatically guided back to safety. You don’t lose your ability to steer, but if you don’t signal and move out of your lane it will gently steer you on course without jerking the car. It’s amazing! When you do signal, it checks for other cars in your blind spot. A light will come on inside the car near your side mirror if there is another vehicle and you’ll also hear a beep so you know not to move into the other lane yet.
- Collision Mitigation Braking System: The MDX has technology that uses a radar system and cameras to figure out the speed and distance of cars or objects in the vicinity. If it detects that you got cut off, traffic is slowing or there is anything you could hit it will apply the brakes for you. At this point it also starts alerting you that there is threat of a crash so that you are paying attention and take the steps necessary to avoid an accident!
To take it for a test drive, call my friends at Acura of Peoria: (623) 385-1478 or visit at 9190 W Bell Rd, Peoria, AZ 85382.
For more incredible pics from my photographer Zach, check him out on Instagram @Stackary
The Dole Pineapple Plantation!
I think one of the best parts of a Hawaiian getaway is the delicious fruit. I seriously look forward to eating ridiculous amounts of pineapple whenever I head to the islands.
There is one thing that’s even better than pineapple fruit and that is pineapple ice cream. If you’ve never had Dole Whip, you’re missing out. You can get the treat in many forms at the Dole Plantation on the island of Oahu. I highly recommend adding caramel sauce. The combo of pineapple and caramel does not disappoint.
Beyond the dreamy desserts, there are a handful of fun, family-friendly activities you can enjoy at the plantation. There is the world’s largest maze, a train tour, and my personal favorite, a garden tour.
The maze is a great family activity. I personally am not too into mazes but I saw families having a great time during this activity. It’s also great for getting some cute pictures. There is a giant pineapple formed by the landscaping at the start of the maze… it’s so impressive to see up close!
- Adults – $8.00
- Children (4-12) – $6.00
- Kama’aina/Military – $7.00
- Group Tours (25 or more) – $7.00
- Children under 4 are free
Plantation Garden Tour:
This was hands down my favorite activity. The foliage in Hawaii is so stunning and this self-guided tour gives you the chance to see amazing plants up close, take pictures and even sit on the benches and take in all the beauty surrounding you. We spent 30-40 minutes looking at the plants and I felt like I could stay all day! There is even a waterfall that adds to the serenity of this experience.
Check out my video of the tour!
Garden Tour Prices:
- Adults – $7.00
- Children (4-12) – $6.25
- Kama’aina/Military – $6.50
- Group Tours (25 or more) – $6.50
- Children under 4 are free
Plantation Train Tour:
The train is sure to be fun for everyone. It’s only two miles long and lasts twenty minutes so if the little ones get restless, it’s not too lengthy of a ride. You’ll see amazing scenery and learn about the history of the Dole Plantation.
- Adults – $10.50
- Children (4-12) – $8.50
- Kama’aina/Military – $9.75
- Group Tours (25 or more) – $9.00
- Children under 4 are free
You can save by bundling your activities and make sure you check Groupon because Dole Plantation often posts discounts. Have a great time!
To check out the best places to stay in Oahu head here!
For my favorite Oahu hike head here!
The Crazy Climb up Koko Head
It will only take you 1,048 steps to get this view. Here’s the catch, those steps are going to be steep. Really steep.
Koko Head Crater Trail gives you an 800+ foot elevation gain in less than a mile. A guy on our hike pulled out a level app and measured the grade at 81 degrees. Godspeed.
This was honestly one of the toughest physical challenges of my life and you all know I am an avid hiker. It was just so continuous, so daunting. It was also hot and humid as heck! I took a handful of breaks and made it to the top in about 30-40 minutes.
The tricky thing is the steps are pretty sketchy. They’re actually railroad ties that create this staircase. They’re what’s left of the railway the military built to send supplies to the top of Koko Head. Up there they had lookouts set up during World War II. The history buffs will definitely enjoy checking out the structures that are still intact.
When you make it to the top of the steps you could go left or right but you will immediately see those old pillbox bunker buildings. We first went right so we could check out amazing views of the ocean and Hanauma Bay. If you head to the left you’ll get incredible views of the whole island and Waikiki.
This is a very straightforward little adventure. Here’s a video I made on the journey.
Your knees will not be happy on the way down. There is one particular section that’s even trickier while descending. There is a part where the staircase isn’t just laying on dirt. It’s actually dozens of feet above ground so if you fall, you’re going to hurt yourself. I took my sweet time in that spot.
The most important things I can say about this hike are bring lots of water, take as many breaks as you need, and wear shoes with good traction. I would not recommended taking young children or small dogs on this hike.
Distance: 1.8 miles out and back
Address: 7604 Koko Head Park Rd, Honolulu, HI 96825
Parking: Free lot
Permits: None Required
You can do it!
Checking In: Where to stay in Oahu
The Hawaiian Island of Oahu is packed with places to make unforgettable memories. There are different regions of the island that will give you totally different vibes and overall experiences during your stay.
I’m going to break down the different places for your vacation but I’ll start with telling you where we stayed and you might be surprised because we stayed at an Airbnb rental!
To be honest, I’ve always opted to stay at the Westin when I vacay in Hawaii. However, my boyfriend is a professional golfer and on this trip we needed to stay near the course where there were no hotels nearby. So we stayed at an Airbnb which felt like a home away from home. Plus, I learned from this experience that it costs WAY less than a hotel and it can come with a lot of perks hotels don’t offer.
Ewa Beach (pronounced Ev-uh) is a residential community that is very safe and filled with beautiful new development. We absolutely loved it. In fact, I was checking out Zillow to see if maybe we should just move there!
This is the exact Airbnb we stayed in. It is $80 a night!!!
We had everything we needed and more. The place looked even better than in the pictures. It was clean, quiet and cozy. The shower was amazing and the bed was super comfy.
Our host Tina provided bottled water, wine, snacks, and coffee. Plus she let us use everything we could possibly need when out having fun. She loaned us beach chairs, towels, sunblock, beach mats, snorkeling gear, beach bags, everything! That saved us so much money not needing to rent that stuff!
In my opinion, Ko Olina is the most family friendly of all of the regions on Oahu.
There are four man made lagoons where kids can play without giant waves crashing down on them and it’s a very relaxing experience to spend a day at the lagoons.
Ko Olina is also home to Disney’s Aulani Resort. I am a huge fan of all things Disney so I loved checking out this hotel. Although I was not a guest, the staff let me hang out at their beachfront coffee shop and rented a paddleboard out to me.
If you’ve never tried paddleboarding before, this is a great place to learn because the water in the lagoon is so calm. It was $40 per hour to rent the paddleboard from Aulani.
There is also a great shopping center near the resorts. I loved the store called Plantation. I got local beer, a great happy hour dinner and delicious banana cream pie at a restaurant called Monkeypod.
When most people think Oahu, they think Waikiki. It is the island’s hot spot. I stayed in Waikiki a few years ago and since, I have described it as “Vegas on a beach”. If you like Vegas, you’re going to love Waikiki. If you’re looking for a calm vacation away from a ton of tourists and lots of action, see options 1 and 4.
I stayed at the Westin Moana Surfrider and the hotel is absolutely gorgeous. There’s an incredible pool and great beach access with beautiful views and pretty good snorkeling. The rooms are about $300 per night.
Perks of staying in Waikiki include that you’re very close to some scenic spots like Diamond Head, Koko Head, Hanauma Bay, shopping and amazing dining!
This area is known for big waves and the filming location of the movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
Honestly, I’ve never stayed here but we checked out the whole island and the beaches up north are stunning.
The vibe in North Shore is very relaxing unlike Waikiki and while kids are of course welcome there, it truly seems like the perfect spot for a couple’s getaway.
The hot hotel in North Shore is Turtle Bay Resort. You’ve seen this resort if you’ve watched Forgetting Sarah Marshall. While, Mila Kunis will NOT be checking you into your hotel, you’re still going to love the views you find at Turtle Bay. This hotel often offers package deals and right now they have some Valentine’s Day promotions.