Arches National Park


SATURDAY, August 4th.

While I strongly believe Utah deserves to be explored for more than two days we had to move on.
Day 8, and in only the third state off the West Coast… there had to be another border crossed by the end of the day.

We headed towards Provo to take Rt 6 E to connect us to Hwy 70.
The smaller routes offer quite a drastic contrast to the scenery we had enjoyed approaching Salt Lake City on Hwy 80.
Besides the changes in landscape, it felt like we had driven off the planet.
At one point I picked up a phone call from my sister in New York and not hearing her well had the audacity to ask her if she was in a place with a bad reception… For all the spoiled Verizon brats out there, if you ever find yourself at a location that looks like this:

Here’s a spot Verizon may… or may not cover you!


Route 6 runs right between Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National forest and Manti-La Sal National Forest. Needless to say, the views are quite enjoyable.

The view from the passenger’s side window…

and the view from the driver’s side window…

However, being surrounded by too much beauty may apparently impair your decision-making skills. Stopping in Price for gas we made a regrettable plan to stop for a lunch at the next inviting place down the road. Just in case you find yourself in Price, UT, there IS nothing “down the road”… For over 60 miles! If you are hungry, it feels like 160 miles… and if you keep talking about food… it feels like 260 miles.

Finding the Melon Vine food store and a little cafe in Green River will be remembered. Forever!

Now, if it wasn’t for the shot glasses with photos of Arches National Park staring at me at the coffee shop, we would have probably driven straight to Colorado.
But the pictures were so pretty and the park was kind of on the way…
We agreed to take a little detour. Most likely one of the best decisions we made on the trip!

The stairs to Arches Wonderland

Cove of Caves

Balanced Rock

Can you see the grumpy old chief?

There’s not enough superlative words to describe this place. Every step in this park is magical. Everything from the red sand you walk on to the top of the arches. The aura of time at Arches Park is indescribable. Knowing that American Indians used this area for thousands of years and being greeted in the parking lot by a raven, their symbol of metamorphosis, gave me chills.

Dare to disobey?

Being surrounded by the sculpted rock scenery and having the opportunity to observe it at the sunset was an unforgettable experience.

Arches “swirl”

Driving back to Route 70 via Scenic Byway US-128 added morespectacular views. The byway runs parallel to the Colorado River providing breathtaking views of the surrounding red sandstone cliffs
and passes a viewpoint for the red rock spires of the Fisher Towers set against the peaks of the La Sal Mountains. The scenery was picture perfect even at dusk.

A picture perfect landscape.

A few miles before intersecting with Hwy 70 the road proceeds across open desert toward the ghost town of Cisco. The dark narrow road does not look like it will take you anywhere…It seemed more like a perfect place to shoot a horror flick.
However, it did take us to Interstate 70.

We made it to Fruita, Colorado. Not far from the border, but we crossed it.


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Salt Lake Valley — “The valley that no one else wanted”


FRIDAY, August 3rd.

We woke up so late, we hardly made it to the breakfast buffet. Which
would have been a huge mistake.
Complimentary breakfast in this hotel means a breakfast playground
with make-your-own stations for fresh squeezed juice, waffles,
pancakes… cooked-to-order omelets and pretty much every
breakfast-related food you can think of. Trying to use our travel time
efficiently, breakfast had lately turned into an on-the-go meal. This
one was worth sitting down for.

The first Western experience on our agenda was Antelope Island State Park.

The spectacular views started before we reached the destination. The
blending of the blue sky and water made the mountains and their
reflections look like floating illusions. Add the white salt beach…
It looked surreal.

“Floating mountains”

The historic Fielding Garr Ranch on Antelope Island is the oldest Anglo-built house still
on its original foundation in Utah and holds a 150 years of Western
ranch history. The best part of touring Garr Ranch is the access to
everything that catches your interest. Nothing is roped off or hidden
behind plexiglass.

Sweet ride

If only this car would have had a full tank of gas…

Every horse at the ranch looked like a show horse.

The horses at the ranch were stunning.

As we were driving around the island, there were buffalo everywhere.

Moms and babies

They fit so perfectly into the scenery…

Lone traveler

…and sure looked like they owned the island.

These guys are massive!

You could easily spend couple of days exploring this island without
getting bored, but since we had other plans, we had to cut our visit

Of course,we weren’t going to leave before swimming in Great Salt
Lake. I had heard about floating in Salt Lake, but it’s one these
things you need to experience yourself to actually believe it.
Well, I am now a believer.

As we got out of the car at Bridger Bay Beach, the sun was blazing.
The sand was HOT. We couldn’t wait to get to the water. And once we
did… it was all worth it! Swimming in Salt Lake feels exactly like
floating around on an inflatable lounge chair, without actually having
one. It’s weird and so much fun.

We floated around long enough for me to know that in just a matter of
days my nice and even California tan will resemble a pattern of a
fawn’s butt.

The water in Salt Lake is five times saltier than the ocean. As it
dries in the sun, you can feel the film of salt cracking on your skin.
By the time we reached the showers I felt like I was ready to be
served well seasoned and cooked medium rare. Definitely an experience
not to be missed.

We headed back to the hotel to get ready for the Rodeo.

The Deseret Peak Stampede Pro-Rodeo

The Rodeo seemed to be a highly anticipated event among locals. I’ve
never been to a gathering of so many pairs of cool cowboy boots.

Happy crowd, cold beer, gorgeous stallions… everything was exactly
how it was supposed to be.

Classic yeehaw!

As the setting sun colored the whole arena with soft golden light, it
looked like a scene from a Western.

But quite frankly, the two of us were not there for the hunky cowboys…

Sunset at the arena

or daring bull riders…

The fearless ones…

We were there, cheering for the little calves… the ones that got away!

Thankfully, it happened a lot. It almost looked like the word spread
fast once the first little escape artist got back to the holding area.
Every calf after that looked faster and smarter.

Maybe next time…

The cowboys didn’t look happy, but hey, maybe you shouldn’t wrestle with babies?! I’m
sure tie-down roping takes some serious skills, but I’m just left
wondering what are these skills supposed to compensate for…

With the Bellamy Brothers entertaining the fairgoers, we called it a night.

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Great Basin


THURSDAY, August 2nd.

If Reno taught us anything, it was to get out of there as soon as possible!

We got a relatively early start hoping to reach Utah by  dinner time.

Route 80 gave us a nice break from admiring the landscape. Sure, desert has it’s own beauty, but it gets dull real fast.

We made an “emergency stop” just to document our “scenic” route

For the next few hours the view was pretty much the same…

If I had to come up with a theme song for northern Nevada, it would be Chris Isaak’s “I wonder”…


Miles later. Still nothing.

Once in a while we spotted something extraordinary… like this little bridge! You might not find it that exciting, but that’s only because you are not on Rt 80 in Nevada…

Look, look, look, a bridge!

Not being able to rely on the scenery for our entertainment, we had to turn to our gadgets. Special thanks to Apple, Verizon, Pandora and YouTube!

Listening to Robin Williams’ “Weapons of Self Destruction” I would have been happy driving through a tunnel for the next 100 miles. Not only did he make the ride more fun, but he made the distance shrink. Before we knew it, we had crossed the Utah border.

Bonneville Salt Flats, Tooele County, UT

Dramatic change of scenery…

Salt Flats are fascinating! To look at… and to walk on. Bonneville Salt Flats is just a remnant of the Pleistocene Lake Bonneville and is the largest of many salt flats located west of the Great Salt Lake.

Total salt crust volume has been estimated at 147 million tons.

For miles all we saw was a sea of white touching the blue skies on the horizon.

The landscape that followed looked like a photographic wallpaper.

Now we like Rt 80!

Utah surprised me. I knew about their red rock wonderland, but this state has more to offer than one would expect.

The landscape was always changing and full of surprises.

See the baby dust devils?

It was getting late and we were starving. Siri found us a Thai restaurant in Tooele with exceptional reviews which pretty much decided our overnight destination.

Thai House, Tooele, UT — two thumbs up! Four thumbs up… Two carnivore and two vegetarian thumbs.

Surprisingly, finding a room ended up being more of a challenge than we had anticipated. We couldn’t believe Tooele County Fair going on this weekend, could bring in such crowds!? And we were right… the real reason was the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in Salt Lake City… Ugh! We couldn’t let something that boring to let us drive out of Tooele. Following the principle to never give up, we finally found a room at American Inn and Suites. A hidden treasure. Clean and comfortable. Amazingly friendly staff. We had already planned ahead a full day of sightseeing, so we checked in for two nights.


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WEDNESDAY, August 1st.

Day 5 on the road.

We got our Americanos at the sassy espresso place and hit the road.

Wide selection of “caffeinated specials”

Staying another night in California was out of the question. But so was missing Yosemite. This was going to be our goodbye to California.

The Ahwahnee in Yosemite Village welcomed us with a unique greeting…

Welcome to Ahwahnee!

As we were hiking up the Mist Trail, I was wondering if carrying food in your backpack was the smartest idea. Was our next point of interest a picnic with bears? Last supper? Maybe we should get back on the road?

Passing Olmsted Point the views changed dramatically. Sierra Nevada mountain range is a magical place! Granite domes, waterfalls…

Tioga Rd.

The weather was calling for a nice refreshing swim.

This looked like a nice place to take a dip…

The view from Lake Tenaya wasn’t bad.

Approaching Tioga Pass through Tuolumne Meadows, with elevation around 8600 ft., it felt like you could almost touch the clouds.

A highlight of Tioga Rd beyond Yosemite

Ellery Lake, elevation 9538 ft

If you are planning a cross country trip, do not start in California. You will never get out of there.

Driving through Lee Vining Canyon to Mono Valley I thought the best landscape was behind us and tried to prepare myself for entering Nevada. Mono Lake proved me wrong. The collaboration between Mono lake and the clouds was breathtaking! Goodbye  California.

Mono Lake

Uh oh, we weren’t quite ready for that.

To make the transition a little smoother, we agreed on a little detour… Lake Tahoe. We stayed on Nevada side.

I am assuming you have seen plenty of gorgeous photos of Lake Tahoe, but you might not know the following.

Quite amazing!

And the size of California is 158,706 sq miles…

May the memories of the High Sierra help us survive Reno…



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The Redemption of San Francisco


TUESDAY, July 31st

San Francisco deserved another chance. I had idolized it way too long to leave this city associated in my memory with wind burns and frost bites.

To restock our food supply for the rest of the trip we visited the European Market on Clement Street.  I found a box of “Tallinn” chocolates that come from my hometown! Right off the bat San Francisco started to redeem itself. We walked out with a bag full of goodies. Dark bread, Gouda, smoked trout… and tons of treats we didn’t need at all.

I love San Francisco!

We drove straight to Haight Ashbury… or what’s left from it. Someone better get working on inventing the time machine. I want to see this place in the 70s.

Although, there’s still some Peace and Love…

Riding the cable car from Fisherman’s Wharf to Market street was a great way to see the town. We took a stroll downtown, walked up Grant Street through Chinatown and caught another ride on a cable car back to where we started.

At the top of Lombard, the “Crookedest Street in the World”

I know I used the words walked and drove, but these are really not the right words for describing getting around in San Francisco.

Most of the streets there are actually hills. Driving a car is pretty much the same as riding a small roller coaster. Do not drive behind a student driver going up the street and remember to chew gum when “landing”.

A very modest version of the incline.

Walking aka climbing around is best done in a decent pair of mountaineering boots. If you like heels or flip flops stay in the downtown area. Or… good luck. I love walking, so this was all fun for me. Based on the expressions on the faces of other tourists, not everyone agrees. Of course there’s plenty of other ways to get around. San Francisco has great public transportation and there are bike lanes everywhere.

Public Transportation

Before leaving town and finally heading east, there was one place left to visit. The Buena Vista. I don’t know what they put into their Irish Coffee, but I do know why their are world famous for them!

The REAL Irish Coffee

However, if you do want to know how it’s done, I was told there is a recipe on their website…

Crossing the Bay Bridge felt like the official start of the cross county trip.

Passing through the East Bay I was once again reminded of the incredible variety of natural beauty of Northern California. The constant change of amazing scenery is indescribable.

Classic view of the East Bay

Beautiful lake on the way to the Sierra Nevada

As if the gorgeous views weren’t enough, stopping at Ride Aid in Escalon, I walked out of the store with a $5 bottle of good Pinot Grigio! Rite Aid. Wine. What?! At this moment leaving the West Coast seemed a questionable choice altogether…

We planned to spend the next day in Yosemite National Park, so we were thinking of staying the night somewhere nearby. Groveland looked like a sensible place distancewise and what a perfect choice it ended up to be!

Groveland is a super groovy little town! In search for a cold beer and entertainment we accidentally walked into the oldest saloon in California. The place had a cool western vibe AND live music.

Had a beer and listened to live music…

at the oldest saloon in California

Everyone we ran into was very friendly and nice…

Got acquainted with some locals

On the way to “The White House” we booked for the night, we came across this little cafe that dared us to come back the next day… That’s where we were going to get out morning fix!

Sounded great for the morning!


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The Bay Area


MONDAY, July 30th.

Third day on the road. And we have not yet moved an inch closer to the East Coast. Maybe it’s the San Andreas Fault pulling us north?! Of course, this close to San Francisco, it made no sense to change direction…

Driving north on Skyline Drive we stopped at Thornton Beach and Fort Funston. The weather demanded some Uggs and a winter coat, which I had somehow neglected to pack for a summer vacation. The hang-gliders and soaring birds often seen at Fort Funston had probably migrated south. It was freezing! Although, I must say the iceplant covered coastline sure looked beautiful!

Red iceplant. Thornton Beach, CA

Quick visit to the Cliff house and the ruins of the Sutro Baths.

The ruins of the Sutro Baths

Driving up Hwy 1 towards San Francisco I couldn’t wait to see the Golden Gate Bridge. And there it was –a tiny speck of orange in a giant bank of fog! Oh well. We agreed to have lunch at the Presidio and wait for the weather to clear up. Sitting at the pier watching sea lions we had an excellent view of Alcatraz… and a few more parts of Golden Gate Bridge.

Can’t really see it? Oh well, it’s there.Trust me!

I gave up! Marin County on the other side of the bridge looked so sunny and inviting, it was time to cross over.

Leaving San Francisco…

Arriving in Marin County.

One last look at the wintery San Francisco…

San Fogcisco!

and off to a summery Sausalito!

The Sausalito houseboats are so worth a closer look. It’s all about detail and creativity.

Hand-carved gates

Every houseboat has its unique charm and personality. One of my favorites was this unusually shaped houseboat my friend had lived in as a teenager.

Twisted design.

Any object capable of holding dirt has been transformed into gardens of flowers, herbs, vegetables or fruit trees. A floating orchard on The Bay.

Sausalito houseboat gardens

Continuing north we spent some time in my friend’s hometown, Mill Valley. We drove by her childhood home and had a coffee at the old bus depot turned into a bookstore-cafe.

Dinner in Larkspur and back to Mill Valley where we spent the night with dear old friends.



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From Carmel Valley To Los Gatos


SUNDAY, July 29th.

We woke up with the sunrise to scenery that looked like a painting on someone’s wall. The fog rolling in over the mountains with a clear blue sky in the background looked absolutely magical. The air was surprisingly crisp, but the promise of more amazing views and a craving for a hot cup of coffee made us crawl out of our sleeping bags.

We took a walk around the ranch…

A happy native of Cachagua.

Sourdough toast with apricot jam (made the day before!) and a cup of coffee at the ranch was a perfect jumpstart for the day. To be able to squeeze in a second breakfast strongly recommended by locals as the best Eggs Benedict on the planet, we decided to take a  hike to Los Padres dam.

California Spanish moss on oak trees.

We were ready for our breakfast…

Toast in Carmel Valley does serve the best Eggs Benedict on the planet!

The best Eggs Benedict on the planet!

The goal for the day was to drive up to Los Gatos to stay over with my friend’s sister and visit a few landmarks on the way.

Our first point of interest was Carmel-By-The-Sea. We drove along the beach admiring the cypress trees and cute little cottages that looked like hobbit houses. With its undeniable European charm, it’s no wonder this small town was rated as a top-ten destination in the U.S. by Condé Nast Traveler.

Next stop, Carmel Mission. San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo is one of California’s most historic buildings. The church, museums and courtyard are incredibly well preserved, restored and cared for.

Carmel Mission Courtyard

Lovingly tended gardens.

Our last stop before getting back on the road was the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Sea otters are so chill and funny, I could watch them all day. Unfortunately, our schedule was not set up for that and we couldn’t miss The Jellies Experience everyone talks about…
The sign at the entrance of the jellyfish tanks says Prepare To Be Amazed. I was! I was especially amazed how jellyfish can trick you into thinking you have nowhere else to go and nothing else to see. They are mesmerizing!! And there are so many different species… fascinating colors and patterns… and the way they move… We had to get out of there!

Driving up the Pacific Coast Highway through Santa Cruz mountains was a great scenic ride. Although I think the jellyfish had done some damage to my sense of beauty… The mountains had lost some of their magic.

It wasn’t until we drove up the winding roads to the cabin near Los Gatos, that nature caught my full attention again. Our directions told us to take a right after dead man’s curve… The road up to the cabin was all curves and we started to wonder if we might miss the right one until we came to a curve that couldn’t have been called anything else! If you have driven a car up a spiral staircase, you know what I’m talking about. There’s no other way to describe it. This road must have been designed by coyotes and mountain lions!

We found the cabin. All you could see, feel and hear around you was nature. My friend’s sister with her tiny frame, flowing white hair and beatific smile fit right into the scenery! After a delicious and simple dinner in serene surroundings I was convinced this angelic and mysterious creature was the Goddess of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

We took a walk up the road lined with redwoods. In the dark, we couldn’t see much more than the silhouettes of the trees, but you could feel the beauty. I always thought I was pretty brave, but walking around in the pitch black forest, hearing stories about mountain lions and banana slugs, I found myself secretly hoping, if we have to encounter one of them tonight, please let it be a banana slug! We didn’t see either one. Bummer!

Enough adventures for the day. Bedtime.


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Leaving L.A.

SATURDAY, July 28th

We got out of Los Angeles by noon.
Our first planned stop being the Santa Barbara Pistachio Farm in Ventucopa. We had bought their incredible pistachios at the Santa Monica farmers market and started to run out… If you haven’t tried their pistachios, you have no idea what a terrifying feeling that was! Well, not really, but we figured it would be fun to see where these tasty treats come from… Specially since the location promised some great scenery.

On the road to Ventucopa we stopped at a beach in Malibu to say goodbye to the Pacific Ocean. I can tell you with no hesitation, that’s where the West Coast beats the East Coast. The beaches… And there’s nothing you could say to change my mind.


Broad Beach, Malibu

Driving up the winding roads through the Los Padres mountains, the definition of the word “breathtaking” started to make more sense. The ever changing views of layers of mountains literally makes you forget to breathe.

Farmlands along Rt 33

Los Padres National Forest

A view through the car window

Reaching the pistachio farm was like the icing on the cake. Sampling every flavor they offer, we ended up with few more bags of pistachios for the road.

“Santa Barbara Pistachios”

I have a feeling, by the end of this road trip I will need help fighting pistachio addiction or hate pistachios. I will let you know…

We continued our trip towards San Luis Obispo, our next designated stop.

Rt 166, along Cuyama River

Driving along the road by Cuyama River towards Santa Maria, the mountain range slowly turned into farmlands and wineries.
We reached our destination right in time for dinner. Siri suggested F.McLintocks Saloon. For once, she was right!
After mixing us a delicious Cucumber Martini and a Jalapeno Margarita, our bartender tried to warn us about the size of the salads we ordered. We didn’t listen and ordered two. The salads arrived… She wasn’t kidding. One could have fed a family of four! For a week!
Great times.
Back on the road…
The plan was to reach Carmel Valley by the nightfall… which we did.

We spent our first night at the ranch sleeping under the stars. Literally.

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L.A. recap

The last week flew by at the speed of light! I was trying to enjoy as much of L.A. as possible before hitting the road and once we did, we just happened to stop at locations with very limited phone and internet service.  Here’s a quick recap of Los Angeles, before moving on to the real road trip adventures.


My second day in Los Angeles started with a wake up call by a minor earthquake at 3:18 in the morning. While for native Californians an earthquake with a magnitude of 3.7 may be an event not worth mentioning… For the rest of us… Earthquake is an earthquake. You will hear it, you will feel it, and you WILL remember it! Perhaps it felt more significant because of the epicenter being close by. It sure didn’t help adjusting my inner clock to Pacific time!

In the process of preparing for our road trip, we headed to the Farmer’s Market first thing in the morning…
As the largest grower-only Certified Farmers Market in Southern California, Santa Monica Farmer’s Market is an herbivores paradise.

In addition to all fruits and veggies grown in California, there’s an extensive variety of nuts, seeds and sprouts, most of us would not be able to identify.

Sampling your way through 70 plus farm stands you become an expert on at least one fruit. Oranges! The winner for me was Malibu Gold.
Although there were so many others that could easily share the second place, this gnarly looking orange falls out of its peel and it holds about a gallon juice! Eh, maybe a little less…
We stocked up on all sorts of fresh fruit and picked the theme for our savory car snacks “anything pistachio”. Which really wanted to make me get on the road straight from the market.

After some shopping and “drive by sight seeing’ we ended the day with a heavenly home cooked dinner by our dear friends and played a game of Gin Rummy. A tradition established on my first trip to Santa Monica.
Life couldn’t get any better 🙂

THURSDAY, July 26th.

In an attempt to mix some touristy fun into my trip, my friend an I attended a taping of Jeff Probst talk show that should start airing in September.
“The Party Room” (as they called it) for the audience  was pretty impressive. Music, snacks, hair and make-up stations, photo booth, massage chairs… Not too shabby! If you are planning to attend a taping in Los Angeles, I’d strongly suggest this one… at least don’t expect getting spoiled on that level at any other taping.
The show itself was pretty entertaining as well. Of course after mini makeover and massage one shall not complain…
A little advice… If you are camera shy and the only thought in your head is how to stay invisible and hoping to get a seat somewhere in the back of the studio… This crew can smell the fear!! And they will seat you right in front of the stage! Fortunately, there will always be people who are dying to be on camera, so you won’t be bothered if you show no interest to participate. Although, if you would like to, they will give you plenty of chances!

My other tradition while visiting Los Angeles, is to visit a store called “It’s a Wrap”.
They claim to be the only company on the planet that offers the general public the opportunity to purchase actual wardrobe and props from movie and TV sets.
I choose to believe them.
The code on each price tag lets you know which studio, TV show or movie the items are from, and kind of turns a shopping trip into a treasure hunt.
It’s almost impossible for you to walk out with nothing, but even if you do, you will go back on your next L.A. visit!
So… think twice before you Google it for location 😉

FRIDAY, July 27th.

Out of respect for the Pacific Ocean I decided to spend my last day in Southern California at the beach.
I divided my day between Venice and Santa Monica.
Venice beach boardwalk comes across as a judgement free zone of creative freedom.
Scattered between the regular tourist traps, you will always find some very unusual artwork, crafts and performers.
It is also one of the very few places where doctors are always eager to help you… whether you have insurance or not!

Trust me, you would qualify…

As the boardwalk runs along the beach, you might want to step away from it to check out the Art Walls. The exceptional graffiti is frequently updated by local artists with a valid permit.

Venice Public Art Walls

Just a few blocks from the boardwalk, Venice Canals offers you quite a different view of Venice.
It’s so peaceful, quiet and beautiful, it’s hard to believe you are still in the same town. I suppose that’s what Abbot Kinney would have wanted you to think…


Man-made canals built in 1905…

…by developer Abbot Kinney…

…as part of his Venice of America plan.


I started and ended my day at Santa Monica beach.
The views of Santa Monica mountains, sounds of the waves… The solar powered Ferris Wheel and street artists on the pier.
It’s all just picture perfect!

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Arriving in L.A.

I arrived at the origin point of the road trip late yesterday afternoon.  Welcomed by blue skies and absolutely perfect weather. Of course, I expected nothing less from Los Angeles…

After picking up my loaner bike, my friend and I took a quick ride around Venice and Santa Monica beach. I couldn’t miss the Santa Monica Food Truck Tuesdays.
And neither should you, if you ever happen to be in the area!
You know you are in California when at the entrance of the parking lot you are greeted by “Bike Valet”. That’s right! It’s not an easy job to pick your favorite dish with so many trucks offering some seriously unique and delicious food! Who in their right mind would want to waste time parking their bike themselves?! 🙂

We quickly located a truck with a mouth watering menu and a line long enough to confirm this truck was one of the favorites on the lot.
I swear their Spicy Chicken Tacos were the the best I’ve ever had!
A bike ride and dinner at the beach with a great friend was all I could ask for on the first night back in L.A….

Gourmet Food Trucks at the Victorian.

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