Petaluma: The Cutest City North of San Francisco

Have you ever heard of a city called Petaluma? Neither had I… until I was about an hour outside of San Francisco and drove right into it. My first time there, it was a dark and rainy night, but the charm of the stores and restaurants lit up the city. It was not my intention to stop only an hour outside of San Francisco, but as I continued to pass stores with amazing window displays  and restaurants aglow with people and cheer, I simply had to get out and explore. In a matter of minutes, I fell in love.  Below are 4 reasons why Petaluma is the cutest city north of San Francisco, and why it is a place which should be on your bucket list to visit. Whether you live in NorCal or are just passing through, this city nestled in Sonoma County will delight you over and over and over again…

1. Window Shopping is as fun as Actual Shopping 

In a few walking blocks, you can find countless cute and unique stores in Petaluma. From paper products to consignment shops to boutiques and beyond, Petaluma has dozens of stores to get lost in. The best part about the stores? They are incredibly affordable, and totally unique. The second best part about the stores? The colorful and creative window displays make window shopping just as much fun as actually getting inside to shop around.

Red Umbrella Consignment Shop
Cathy Wayne handcrafted felt products
Paper White paper products store. This is the store which is the inspiration behind my yearly Valentine’s Day cards!
Splendid Little Shoppe clothing and accessories
Splendid Little Shoppe clothing and accessory store

2. Delicious Restaurants Line the Road

With delectable and award winning restaurants lining the streets, the options are endless when it comes to places to eat in Petaluma. My favorite restaurant is a charming place called Central Market, a farm to table restaurant with Californian-Mediterranean  inspired  cuisine. This restaurant is one of those places that is so good, it makes it hard to try someplace new.

3. Musical Performers Are Out and About on the Streets

Each and every time I have visited Petaluma, I have come into contact with wonderful musicians out and about on the streets. Whether it is a man rolling a full-sized piano along with him on the sidewalk, or a small hipster band singing “a dub a day keeps the doctor away” each and every one of the musicians brings a smile to your face and leaves a song stuck in your head as you continue to stroll through Petaluma.

Petaluma Pete
Petaluma Pete out on the streets

4. Artsy and Cozy Places to Rest Your Head

Petaluma is full of artistically inspired stores and restaurants, so it is only fitting that the hotels are unique and boutiquey as well. While there, I stayed at the Metro Hotel & Cafe and I was blown away by how charming it was. They describe themselves as “a little trip to Paris in Sonoma County” and that is exactly the ambiance that is portrayed when you enter this quaint and beautifully decorated hotel and cafe.

IMG_1397 IMG_1399 IMG_1400

10 Stops for a Perfect Drive Along the Pacific Coast Highway (Los Angeles to San Francisco edition)

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a lover of road trips. There is nothing quite like driving along with the freedom to stop and explore whatever may catch your interest along the way. Recently I was able to indulge on a quick drive up the beautiful California coastline, and the road trip did not disappoint. I had embarked on the same route 4 years earlier, and had encountered ancient painted caves, waterfalls cascading into the ocean, quaint bed and breakfasts tucked away into the redwoods, and so much more. This time around, I again enjoyed the amazing coastline scenery but discovered a few new treasures that I hadn’t encountered during my first drive. 

Let me recap my Top 10 favorite stops during a drive up and along the Pacific Coast Highway -the PCH- from SoCal to NorCal…

1. Ventura

Ventura is a coastal town, not too big and not too small. The first time I came across this quaint town it was a rainy December night, but my travel partner and I decided to get out and explore nonetheless. We came across tons of cute stores, but the one that sticks out in my memory the most is the Wet Sand Surf Shop. Decked out with artistic displays made from beach debri and surfboards, and loaded with tons of comfy t-shirts and sweatshirts and other fashionable beach apparel, this store is definitely worth a stop if you’re passing through Ventura. The town is also packed with fantastic restaurants, but during my time in Ventura I ended up eating at two different diners. One was a charming 50s style diner called the Busy Bee Diner- You can’t ever go wrong with an old fashioned American hamburger-Frenchfries-milkshake combo! There’s also a great breakfast place called Pete’s Breakfast House. Apparently this place can get so busy in the mornings that there is live music playing outside to entertain the hungry folk waiting for a table. When we got there, we beat the rush and sat right down in one of the booths alongside a full wall mural of all things USA. With items on the menu like the pancake roll, biscuits and gravy, and a wide assortment of egg-inspired creations, there is something for everyone.

2. Santa Barbara

My first time in Santa Barbara, I went directly to the Mission. I will never forget watching some young kids skim-boarding on the beautiful grassy rose garden area outside the mission and seeing one of them get tasered by an officer! Presumably he was being a cocky kid and not listening to the cop, but still- I was shocked!!  After witnessing a little police brutality I explored inside the peaceful grounds of the mission, walking the gardens within and learning that the Mission was established on December 4, 1786 and represents the longest continuous presence of the Fransicans in the US. They still live, pray, and practice there today.

My second time visiting Santa Barbara I made my way down to the pier at Stearns Warf. The quantity of marine animals there was incredible- there were dolphin spottings, seals swimming alongside the pier, stealing fish from the nets of the fishermen, and pelicans galore. A quick walk along the beachfront is a delightful way to stretch your legs after a bit of a drive.

3. Painted Caves Road 

Somewhere in between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo there is a road, on your right hand side, as you’re driving up an incline. The road’s name is Painted Caves Road, and I am happy to say I let my curiosity be my guide, and I took a turn onto this side street. A few minutes of driving the winding road up into the woods and there they were- caves with walls full of ancient human paintings! The caves are barred off to the public to prevent vandalism, but you can still get up close and see everything. This place was a lucky find and is definitely worth a pit stop.

4. San Luis Obispo (SLO)

San Luis Obispo is a college town, but it’s such a fun town to walk around! There are tons of shops and restaurants, and from what I could see, there is always a lot going on. All store fronts were loaded with posters advertising concerts, fundraising walks, dance parties, potlucks…the list goes on. We stopped in SLO to grab a bite to eat at the cute Sidecar restaurant (the tater tots were amazing) and then we continued on to walk through a gum-covered alleyway, with the smell of gum still lingering in the air… San Luis Obispo, is also home to the delightfully tacky Madonna Inn. There are so many patterns and colors in this place that at first you don’t know where to look, but after your senses adjust it is fun to walk around and take in the restaurant, cafe, and wine tasting room. While there, make sure to take a break in the cafe and try a slice of the German chocolate cake. Our slice was the size of my face, and it was out-of-this-world delicious. 100% recommended.

5. Hearst Castle in San Simeon

This amazing feat of art and architecture cannot be missed if you are driving along the PCH. Designed back in the early 1900s by architect Julia Morgan and owner William Randolph Hearst, this mansion atop the hilltops in San Simeon is absolutely magical. Inside the “castle” there are art pieces and artifacts from countless countries (think Spain, Italy,

France, Egypt, China) and throughout the whole property there is a special Mediterranean feel. Outside, there is the spectacular Neptune pool with ancient roman columns and statues surrounding it’s entirety, and indoors there is another  pool with gold leaf tiles covering the ground you walk on. There are over 165 rooms in the main house and side cottages, as well as gardens that used to be home to a private exotic zoo. If you’re lucky (as I was upon my second visit) you may be able to see the zebras which still roam freely upon the ranch’s land.

6. Elephant Seal Beach

I don’t think this is officially the name of this beach, but it may as well be. Only a few miles up the road from Hearst Castle in San Simeon, you can find this Elephant Seal Beach full of the massive creatures. Elephant seals are a strange combination of walrus-proportioned mammals, with an elephant trunk-like nose. They grunt and bellow and play with each other in the waves…or they just sit like lard along the beach.

7. Deetjan’s Big Sur Inn

Deetjan’s Big Sur Inn is absolutely magical! Nestled into the redwoods, and across the road from the cliffs and crashing waves of the ocean, you will find Deetjan’s Big Sur Inn. All rooms are within the same few houses, but are decorated differently and exquisitely. While at Deetjan’s, we stayed in the Fireplace Room, complete with a personal fireplace, and there was a cool journal for people to write and draw in. To top it off, the restaurant is incredible and serves unique recipes making up some of the best food you will ever put in your mouth. I can’t say enough good things about this place- you absolutely must make a stop here if you’re driving the Pacific Coast Highway.

8. Each and every State Park along the coast – specifically Big Basin Redwoods and Pfeiffer State Parks

These state parks along this Pacific Coast Highway drive are breathtaking. Take each one as an opportunity to get out of the car and stretch your legs. Walk through the green, misty, moss-covered woods and emerge in front of the ocean. Breathe in the salty air and explore the coastline up-close and personal.

9. Carmel by the Sea

Carmel by the Sea is absolutely gorgeous. This town is a bit more ritzy than some of the others along the coast, with the prestigious Pebble Beach golf course attracting golf enthusiasts from around the world, but there is an undeniable charm throughout the area. My favorite place was a restaurant called Casanova. The ambiance of this place is wonderful, with the feeling of an open-air Italian garden inside, complete with beautiful tiles in the walls and a retractable rooftop. The French-Italian inspired cuisine is a little bit of heaven in every delicious bite…After a meal here, make your way down to the beach and take a walk along the water. I remember seeing one of the most spectacular sunsets my eyes have ever had the pleasure of viewing when I was relaxing along this beach.

10. Monterey

While driving up the coast, just before you arrive to San Francisco, stop off in Monterey and enjoy the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The jellyfish are massive and mesmerizingly enchanting. They alone will make this stop worthwhile.

Costa Rica: A Waterfall Lover’s Paradise

I am a waterfall lover!! Nothing gets me more excited than coming upon a waterfall while hiking. I love watching the water cascade down and splash, crystal clean, into a pool below. I love even more when I am able to swim and refresh in the waterfalls. There is nothing better than closing your eyes, feeling the mist on your body, and getting lost in the sounds of nature…

While living in Costa Rica, I often joked, “Another weekend, another waterfall.” In this land of eternal summer there are hundreds upon hundreds of magnificent waterfalls of all shapes and sizes. Being a freshwater and forest gal, I set out to see as many as possible during my two years living the Pura Vida in Costa Rica.

In this post, I will highlight my top ten favorite waterfalls where you can also swim… The list is in no particular order, because they are all incredible…

Nauyaca, Baru

You can ride in via horseback, but I would recommend to instead take the 4km hike, so you can stay by the falls for as long as you like. This two layer waterfall offers rocky exploration at the top (we spotted quite a few “blue jeans” dart frogs) and a swimming hole at the bottom. Beware of the time of the year. During the rainy season (especially September and October) the river will be strong and flowing fast, so swimming and crossing can be dangerous down below.

(Upper Falls)

(Lower Falls)

Llanos de Cortez, Bagaces

It took me over a year to have the right timing to stop at these massive falls, but when I finally did, it was completely worth the effort. It’s a steep, yet short, hike down to these waterfalls. Once there, you can swim at the base, relax along the water’s edge, walk and sit beneath the falls, or even hike a trail off to the left and look down from the top! On weekends, this is a popular destination for locals, so get there early to enjoy the falls with less people.

Montezuma Falls, Montezuma

I went to these falls with my family when I was about 11 years old, and returned here with my friends when I was 25. It was incredible to have memories flash back as I was taking the hike the second time around. Not much had changed, which is awesome! It’s a short 20 minute hike up the river to the first falls, where you can lay on sun-warmed rocks, swim in the deep pool, climb up underneath the cascading waterfalls, and even watch locals jump into the depths. If you’re in shape and extra adventurous, there is another trail to the right where you can hike up to the higher falls. There, you can again swim, use rope swings, and even jump yourself…if you dare. I did it once, and it was exhilarating, but I don’t have the need to do it again…

(Lower Falls)

Ready to jump!

Bijagua Falls, on the way to Jaco

As you drive south towards Jaco, you will start to pass signs that say “WATERFALLS 8KM” written in blue on a white piece of board. You will turn to the left towards Villa Lapas (coolest place ever) and after 15 minutes driving up and down steep hills on a dirt road you will come to an entrance, on the right, to the Bijagua waterfalls. Foreigners pay $20, locals $10, and then you set off on a steep 2km hike down to the river below. This waterfall is incredibly tall- I’ve been told it’s the tallest on Costa Rica’s Pacific side. What I really like about this area is that it is remote. I always see green and black dart frogs, and oftentimes have other wildlife sitings like toucans, pizotes, snakes and lizards.

Bridal Veil Falls in the Karen Mogensen Reserve

It is quite an adventure to get to the Karen Mogensen Reserve, but this magnificent place in the wilderness holds a special place in my memories. The falls are especially spectacular because there is a layer of water cascading down the wide cliffside, creating a white water “veil” effect when the season is right. There is not much of a swimming hole at the base, but the river has many places to hop in and refresh during the hour-long walk to the falls. Do yourself a favor and stay at the Cerro Escondido Lodge.

Los Chorros, Grecia

This waterfall location is fantastic! I remember when I first visited, I couldn’t believe that there was a waterfall paradise like this only 45 minutes from San Jose! In Los Chorros, there are 2 massive waterfalls, and in between these two falls there is a whole row of small waterfalls shooting out of the walls of the canyon. It is phenomenal. The rocks over which the water flows reminds me of the cool column-like rocks you find at Giant’s Causeway in Ireland. These falls are on private land, but the owner welcomes visitors in for $5-10 entrance fee. The hike is easy and takes less than 20 minutes to get down to the falls. At the base there is even a designated picnic area for people gather and grill.

Natural water slide :)

Oropendola Waterfall, Rincon de la Vieja, Guanacaste

I discovered this waterfall when my friends came to visit and stayed at Hacienda Guachipelin in Rincon de la Vieja. The hotel has several waterfalls on its property, but this one was my favorite. It has one strong and steady fall, which plummets heavily into the swimming area below. To get to the waterfall, you must climb over all sorts of boulders, and once there you can jump off into the crisp and cool turquoise water below, or you can wade in at a lower level. There are also many bats in the cave behind the waterfall which is cool because you can see them hanging in clusters.

La Fortuna Falls, La Fortuna

This waterfall is probably the strongest and most popular on my list. It is located in La Fortuna, near the famous Arenal Volcano, which makes it an easy stop for tourists. The entrance fee is $15 and there are probably a good 200 steep steps down to the waterfall, but it definitely is impressive.

The Secret Waterfall near Lake Arenal

I actually found directions to this waterfall at a pitstop at the old Volcano Brewing beer brewery (which has since moved to the beach town of Tamarindo). I visited this waterfall twice, and both times it was free from other visitors. There is wildlife galore and while there I spotted howler monkeys, toucans, toads and even an armadillo!

Viento Fresco Waterfalls, Tilaran

This privately owned land was a fantastic reprieve after hours of being in the car driving from La Fortuna to Monteverde. Gringo entrance price was around $15-20 a person, but it was worth it. There are 5 waterfalls on this property, some with swimming holes, and others which are only a delight for the eyes. To get to the falls you hike down trails with gorgeous green mountains all around you. There are cows climbing up and down the steep hillsides, and while on the property I even came across more than one hummingbird nest, some with eggs and others with babies!

As you can see, Costa Rica has no shortage of spectacular waterfalls. These ten simply stand out in my memory as some of the coolest I encountered during my time there.

The waterfall lover in me would like to hear from you… Where are some of the most spectacular places where you have been able to swim with the waterfalls?? Leave me a comment through the link by the title, or send me a message!

Taking off the Golden Handcuffs and Traveling With Joy

I have been a traveler all my life. I have learned that it’s not always about the destination – it’s about the journey, complete with all the road bumps along the way. The things you encounter and the lessons you learn through travel make you richer than anything money can buy. Growing up, I was lucky to be exposed to travel in the form of family road trips, but it was a summer study abroad program in Rome, Italy, which really ignited my passion to explore the world. Over the course of a six-week semester of living in a foreign land, my eyes were opened, my world shifted, and I developed the desire to see as much of this planet as possible.

After finishing up with college I was fortunate to land a job with a big multinational corporation. I was hired as part of a “development program” which combined continuous learning with professional development and also came with the perk of a new location every six months. It was perfect for me! I love to meet new people, learn new skills, and explore new places, and I could do all of this and get paid at the same time!  While working as part of this program I made my way from Southern California to Northern California to Chicago and on to Columbus, Ohio. In between each location there were many unforgettable cross-country road trips with my favorite travel partner, my mom. We would pack my little yellow Mazda Protege from window to window and set off, armed with our GPS, into the great unknown.

As my final rotation in Columbus, Ohio came to a close, I got wind of an opportunity to take on a short term assignment working in Alajuela, Costa Rica. I had always wanted to live in a foreign country and learn another language, so I raised my hand for the opportunity, and off to Costa Rica I went. What was supposed to be a one year assignment stretched on past two years, and could have easily continued for a lifetime… I loved Costa Rica!  I loved the food, the culture, the people, the countryside and the language.

However, as time went on, I knew that there was still a dream deep within me that I must pursue. A dream of world travel. Like my shadow, this desire to unabashedly explore the world followed me everywhere. I had been lucky to be able to travel and work at the same time for 4 years, but the whole time I was working I was never satisfied. I always knew that being another cog in the wheel was not my calling. I knew that a time would come where I would throw caution to the wind and set out on my own terms, at my own pace, and without the golden handcuffs of security that come with a corporate job.

I am now spreading my wings and taking flight with this dream. I have always been passionate about flowers, so I am heading over to Croatia, to participate in a World Flower Convention. This group’s mission is “World Peace through flowers” and I cannot wait to get on board. After the convention ends, I will continue on through Eastern Europe, getting to know the globe one country at a time.

I don’t have an exact timeline or schedule. I have a vague idea of where I will start and where I will go, but I am completely open to the winds of the world and the opportunities that may open up. I know it’s about the journey and I hope that perhaps you will want to come along for the ride and see the world too, traveling with me, Traveling with Joy.