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
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!
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!
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.
This is Arizona destination is not to be missed! If you have visitors coming to see you in the Valley, you have got to take the two hour drive up to this spot and show off your scenic state!
Tonto Natural Bridge is an incredible natural display of beauty in Payson, AZ. It is believed to be the world’s largest natural travertine bridge. It’s beautifully formed by erosion and you can even walk beneath the bridge to explore the stunning scenery within. The bridge is 400 feet long, 183 feet high and 150 feet wide.
Underneath the bridge, you’ll experience the erosion in action as water drips down the sides and ceiling of the bridge. It actually seems like it’s raining. There are green plants breaking through the rock and thriving. It is truly magical.
I recommend taking the Pine Creek Trail which is a ½ mile scenic route to get under the bridge. If you like an adventurous trek this is for you! You’ll be climbing big boulders, stepping through river rock, and hearing the sound of a waterfall as you get closer and closer to the bridge.
You do not have to hike to the bridge. What I love is that a whole family could enjoy this scenery whether they are a little one in a stroller or an adult with limited mobility. This state park provides viewing areas that are just a short distance from the parking lot and have ramps. You can go to one of those areas and look down at the bridge!
Adult (14+): $7.00
Youth (7–13): $4.00
Child (0–6): FREE
To get here from Phoenix you can take Highway 87 all the way to USFS Road 583 and you’ll see the signs to enter the park. Stop in at the gift shop to buy your permits on site (you can’t get them online) and then you’re all set.
The parks opens at 9:00 a.m. and closes at 4:00 p.m. HOLIDAY HOURS: 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve and CLOSED on Christmas.
Things to keep in mind:
- Dogs are allowed at the park but not on hiking trails.
- The gift shop does accept credit/ debit cards
- Travertine is very slippery so be careful underneath the bridge
When you see ‘Checking In’ before one of my blog entries, that’s mean this post will give you details on accommodations.
This time we’re talking about The Strawberry Inn in Strawberry, AZ. This boutique hotel is located near tons of hikes including the trails to Tonto Natural Bridge. It’s right off Highway 87 which is the main road through Strawberry-Pine.
The Strawberry Inn is unique in so many ways. It’s a non-hosted hotel meaning it’s a lot like an Air BnB. The day you are checking in, you will get a code to a lockbox emailed to you. That code will allow you to access the key to your room. You don’t have to talk to anyone at check in ,however, if something goes wrong there is a phone number in that email and in the rooms for a person to call if anything goes wrong.
Now let’s talk about the fun stuff. Each of the eight rooms at the Inn is decorated differently so each room has it’s own vibe. We’re talking farmhouse chic meets boho beauty. You’ll find comforting hues of grey, navy, white and beige and unique artwork in each room.
The beds are unbelievably comfortable and the comforter feels like you’re pulling a cloud over yourself. The sheets are so soft. It felt so good to get in this bad after a long day of driving of hiking.
The place is perfect for a romantic getaway and all rooms have one big bed, however, some rooms have pullout couches so you can bring the kids. Plus, the four bottom rooms are dog friendly.
When you make your reservation you can see each room and pick the one you want to stay in! You’ll also notice rates are surprisingly low for a boutique hotel. You get a lot of bang for your buck!
I enjoyed my stay so much and this hotel enhanced my experience in Rim Country. I loved that my stay had an authentic mountain feel…. But I had a comfy bed, a hot shower, a flat screen TV and wifi!
The entire Inn looks like it was made to be instagrammed. From the red barn doors, to the historic windmill and the lovable swings on the porch, you’ll find endless spots to snap a pic.
I absolutely loved The Strawberry Inn and I know you will too.
Not too far from Phoenix is a majestic place that looks like a scene straight out of a dream.
It’s called Fossil Creek. This is where you’ll find cool water, foliage and a waterfall within three hours of the Valley.
THIS IS IMPORTANT: You must have a permit to park and go to the trail BEFORE you get to the region if you are going between April 1st and October 1st. You have to reserve a parking spot and print two copies of your pass. You’ll keep one pass on you at all times and keep the other on your dashboard. Make your reservation here. On the left side of the page under location select “01 waterfall trailhead parking”. You must book in advance!!!
To get to the trail that takes you to the waterfall from Phoenix, plan for a 2 ½ hour ride if traffic is normal. You’ll want to head north on the I-17 until you get to the 260 East through Camp Verde. Once you’re on the 260 East you’ll look for Fossil Creek Road between Mile Marker 228 and 229. Turn right onto Fossil Creek. There will be a fork in the road. Select the path on the right.
Warning: once you are on Fossil Creek Road you have a 14 mile drive on a dirt road that is VERY bumpy. I highly recommend doing this drive in a truck or SUV. Bring snacks and don’t rely on cell service for music streaming because you will not have any reception. This ride feels like it lasts FOREVER.
Once you’ve driven almost the full 14 miles, you will have to stop for the ranger to sign off on you permit. Then, keep going to the end of the path and you’ll be at the parking lot for the trailhead.
The trail is only about ½ a mile in and ½ mile out and it’s a pretty simple path. The kids should be able to handle it and the waterfall is really a great family experience.
Keep in mind: you can swim in fossil creek so wear your swimsuit! Doggos are welcome on this trail as long as they are on a leash. Flash flooding is a concern especially during the Monsoon so check the forecast! There are restrooms for you to use in the parking lot for the waterfall trailhead.
- Recommended items to pack:
- Plastic baggy to protect your phone near the water
- Snacks and drinks to enjoy while at the waterfall
I always look forward to going to the zoo and seeing millions of glowing lights during the holidays. Zoo Lights is one of my favorite traditions. Phoenix Zoo’s Let it Glow is at it’s very best this year!
As an adult, it’s tough to have a holiday experience that truly makes you feel like a kid again. At the zoo, I found myself dancing along with the music-themed light show. I took silly photos and did not care what strangers thought. I found myself truly in the moment staring at the details of the lighted displays.
That’s exactly why I like this event for the whole family. Everyone in your crew is going to feel entertained. The little ones will be mesmerized by the three-story lighted tree and the chance to meet Santa! Teens will love taking selfies and Snapchatting the whole experience. The whole family will genuinely enjoy the musical light show. Plus, you get to experience a nightly snowfall at 7:30pm. Let’s be honest, every Arizonan at any age is ecstatic of snow!
Fun fact: Phoenix Zoo created and were the first to use net lighting on plants!
Zoo lights is a great spot for date night and since you’re leaving the kids at home go ahead and grab a beer or glass of wine. YES, the zoo serves beer and wine! The most convenient spot I found to grab a drink it the concession stand just west of the carousel at the base of The Neely Center. If this appeals to you, you’ll be eager to learn more about Roars & Pours happening in March. I’ll keep you posted on that.
I highly recommend paying a few bucks more and upgrading your tickets to include the Dinosaurs in the Desert experience. This is a self-guided adventure through incredibly lifelike animatronic dinos! I’m not really a huge dinosaur person, but I love science and this exhibit taught me facts about our planet/ animals I did not know. Seriously, I’m still thinking about the fact dinosaurs had feathers and that their was a dino with a 30+ foot wingspan flying over the Southwest once! Little kids were squealing in amazement all around me and I chatted with a grandpa who couldn’t believe how real the dinos looked… so there ya go, entertainment for anyone of any age.
I think this experience is worth every penny because there are so many forms of entertainment packed into the experience. However, you know I found you some ways to save! There are value nights or you can even find tickets on Groupon!
ZooLights Value Tickets are valid on the following dates: Dec 12, 13, Jan 2, 3, 4, 8 – 14, 2018
- ZooLights Value Ticket with Dinos in the Desert | $16.95
- ZooLights Value Ticket | $12.95
- Children 2 and under are free for ZooLights
Any night tickets are valid for single admission Nov 22, 2017thru Jan 14, 2018
- ZooLights Any Night Ticket with Dinos in the Desert | $21.95
- ZooLights Any Night Ticket | $17.95
- Children 2 and under are free for ZooLights
Here’s an interesting tidbit from the Zoo’s website about how important raising money through events like this is: “It’s also the Zoo’s largest special event fundraiser which is vital to our success as a private non-profit zoological park. We receive no outside funding and rely on revenue from events, admission, donations, private events, educational programs, camps and memberships, food and gift shop sales.”
Parking is FREE and you can experience zoo lights until January 14th! Have fun!
Happy holidays! Given my love for the outdoors, I am bringing the outdoors in this Christmas! Laurel Stavros, also known as the blogger behind A Bubbly Life, taught me some quick and super cute ways to decorate our state’s signature plant: cactus!
Check out this video to see how to turn desert plants into a perfect centerpiece or gift.
For all of the details on this project and for more inspiration, check out the A Bubbly Life Blog.
Make sure to follow Laurel for more amazing ideas!
Instagram: @abubblylife & Facebook: Facebook.com/abubblylifeblog
All photos by: @abubblylife
I am going to admit something to you. I don’t like planning and I actually enjoy NOT knowing what I’m getting myself into. So when I went to Zion National Park I hardly did any research of the trails. When I have the time, I like to get to a destination and just do what I feel guided to.
Everyone kept talking about Angel’s Landing. They say the summit is so high ‘only an angel could land there’. There are thousand foot drop offs on each side and you have to hold onto chains to safely make it to the top. Well, that sounded terrifying so of course I had to try it.
The view at the beginning of the path is breathtaking. I stopped to take it all in and I recommend you do as well. You’ll never forget this spot.
This is a 4.4 miles hike in and out with a 2073 foot elevation gain. The hike is rated at the difficult level but I felt it was physically not too hard, but mentally it was a challenge because I’m a little afraid of heights!
The first mile or so is very steep but it’s a paved path. The payoff is great too. After the first major climb, you’ll arrive at refrigerator canyon. It’s shady, cooler path in between walls of rock. The incline calms at that point and you can just relax before the next great challenge.
Walter’s Wiggles will rock your world! We’re talking about a series of 21 steep switchbacks that will have you panting. Okay maybe you’re more in shape and you that’s not true for you but I was definitely panting!
Tip: There are restrooms for emergencies right after Walter’s Wiggles. I have a bladder disease called Interstitial Cystitis so these restrooms saved me!
After Walter’s Wiggles, you’ll come to the first set of chains. That stint is short lived before you arrive at a great lookout called Scout’s Landing. Many people stop there trek here. You’re pretty high up, the view is fantastic… but you can get an even better experience if you dare to face the danger that lies past Scout’s Lookout.
The last ¼ of the hike is the tricky part. The path is narrow and if you’re like me you will be holding onto the chains! The path can get crowded so you may need to make room for someone coming down the trail, which was the scariest part for me.
While terrifying at times, this part of the hike is THRILLING! I forgot I was afraid of heights!
The view at the top really is heavenly. There is a lot of space to spread out, snap pics and enjoy snacks. It’s truly astonishing how high up you are and how much beauty surrounds you in every direction.
For me, the scariest part was coming down the trail because I was forced to look into the canyon.
I highly recommend you at least try this hike if you head to Zion. If you’re nervous, make your goal to reach Scout’s Landing and see how you feel before venturing further. It’s worth testing your limits!