Sunday, July 22, 2012

The 5 Day Adventure

I just returned from five days on the road with my friend Katie. Last year, Katie and I went to Iowa for a few days to do a mini wine tour. She is not much of the road trip/driving type, but is willing to try anything and wants to visit new places. All I need is someone to go with and I'm willing to go anywhere! The thing about Katie, is that she's willing to try almost anything once, and she's willing to do things just because, and will talk to just about anyone if it means having a good time...and she likes to drink. (No, neither of us having a drinking problem...we just like to have a good time and make memories!) This year, she suggested Frankenmuth, MI...but wanted to stretch it out for four or five days, which is what lead us to Niagara Falls, Canada, and so on. So here it is...

Day 1: Frankenmuth, Michigan
Downtown Frankenmuth, MI
We drove from Chicago to Frankenmuth, which is known as "Little Bavaria". It is also known for Brommer's, the largest Christmas store in America. We arrived in Frankenmuth around 11am, checked into the hotel, and headed out for some trouble. Besides just the traveling, Katie and I like to go to wineries and frankly, but wine cabinet is empty right now! So we started with St. Julian's Winery. They have multiple locations in Michigan...and they have good wine at great prices! We did our tasting and then each bought a few bottles.

From there we headed to Brommer's to check out this Christmas madness. And it was just that...madness! Anything you couldn't possible think you need and ornaments for any fetish, this place was insane. I really thought that I was going to have a complex walking through there with everything making noise and twinkling lights, yikes! We each grabbed a couple of ornaments and after taking over an hour to see the whole store, we escaped into the heat of the day.

Brommer's Christmas World
We then walked around the small shopping centers, cheese shops, and finally made our way to a boat ride/river tour. They had wine here as well, so we did a wine and chocolate pairing, grabbed a bottle and headed to the boat. We had an hour long ride and shared it with a couple from Kentucky. It was a nice break in the day, but man was it hot! We were all stuck to the seats at the end and practically sweated through our clothes by then end. I felt bad for the kid driving the boat too, because I'm sure that there were many things that he wanted to tell us about along the river...but our conversation was so much more important at that point! Hot and sweaty, with no more wine...we hit up a couple more shots and then headed back to the hotel.

Our hotel had a happy hour with free drinks and hot food. Beyond fighting through the crowd of big hungry people, we ate and our fill and headed to the hot tub. It wasn't the most exciting thing to do, but for a Monday night in a small town, it would do.  Overall, it was a successful first day!

Day 2: Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada
Hello Canada!
We drove into Canada today, which Katie had never done. Always fun with firsts. Getting through customs was no big deal and we headed towards the falls. We didn't have much of a plan, but as we got closer, we noticed that there were a lot of signs for wineries popping up. We stopped at a welcome center to get some information and learned that there were over 70 wineries in the Niagara region. That's a lot...even for us! So as we drove along, getting closer to the falls, we stopped at 4 different places. They were all very unique, some of them very beautiful...but their wine was a little pricier than what we were looking for. So we paced ourselves, and eventually just knew that it was time to head towards town!
Colaneri Estate Winery
Cheateau des Charmes

Niagara Horseshoe Falls
Our hotel was sketchy, but it was cheap...not always a great thing, but it had a pool and the hotel was full, so it couldn't be that bad! We dropped our stuff and headed to the Falls. Niagara Falls is amazing. I've been there before, but it's something great to see again and again, like the Grand Canyon. (For those of you who are looking for something similar...check out Iguazu Falls in Argentina/Brazil....I can't even explain how breath taking they are. I can't wait to get back!) We took some pictures of the falls and then headed down to ride the Maid of the Mist, which is the boat that takes you into the horseshoe and the mist of the falls.
Niagara Falls

Maid of the Mist Ride
Everyone is in blue ponchos, that are sticking to you because it's so hot...and they cram you on pretty good...but riding into the falls is a bit bumpy, yet amazing. I didn't ride the Maid of the Mist the first time that I was there, but this was something that I think everyone should do at least once. It's almost funny to watch people and I got some cool pictures.

After the boat ride, we grabbed some average italian food and then walked around downtown Niagara. It reminded us both of the Wisconsin Dells, a little run down with shit-shops on every corner and tons of attractions that have nothing to do with anything. Oh well, it was for a night and seeing the falls was worth the drive! We sat by the pool that evening and drank a bottle of wine...talking and relaxing, it was nice.
Horseshoe Falls from the boat
Day 3: Erie, Pa...NOPE! Hershey, Pennsylvania
We didn't really know where we wanted to go the next day. We knew that we didn't have to be home until Friday and it was only Wednesday. So we headed towards Erie initially...and when we stopped at a gas station, we decided to go the opposite direction and head to Hershey, PA. We didn't know what to expect except for chocolate. Oh well, it was an adventure and we didn't have anything set in stone, so here we go!

The drive was brutal. Simply because it was all back roads in PA, through small towns with changing speed limits, but we made it. And we found a great hotel at a great price. We checked in and headed to Hershey World...or Chocolate World, I guess...either way, we took a short ride to learn about how they make Hershey's candy, and then had the chance to buy anything and everything Hershey. Just what I needed!

From there we went to the Hollywood Casino, because frankly, there wasn't much else to do. Neither of us are really gamblers, but $20 in the slot machine wastes an hour and you never know if you'll win. It's worth a shot! It was a nice casino too, so a great detour.

The ceiling on the bar!
We were hoping to find a place to go hang out and see what happened...but there wasn't much to choose from. So we ended up at the Holiday Inn Express Bar, where they were having Wednesday Wing Night. This was going to be interesting. What it turned in to, was a bunch of country line dancing, and plenty of men with few teeth trying to hit on us. We kept our distance for a while, had a few beers and some wings..and eventually sat down at the bar. Shortly after, I started feeling drops on my arm and realized that the ceiling above me was leaking. On the down side, I was getting dripped on...on the up side, I was getting free drinking because this was happening. So I made a deal with the bartender, until the ceiling collapsed. Yes, three or four of the ceiling tiles came down right onto the bar! At this point, we had to move. It was getting late, so we were trying to finish our last drinks anyways...and then came defaults. I'm not going to really explain that...but Katie and I both had a great time at the bar and made it back to our hotel safe:)

Day 4: Cleveland, OH
Greendance Winery
We wanted to pick a place that would get us approximately half way home, and only leave a reasonable drive for Friday morning. Cleveland was the ticket. On the drive to Cleveland, we stopped at a couple wineries, which were both super cute. In PA, we stopped at Greendance, outside of Pittsburgh and had lunch. They have a berry farm there as well, but grounds and gardens big enough to host events or just have lunch with your friends. We then stopped at Candlelight in Ohio. This place was definitely off the beaten path, but also had a great outdoor area where they had light shows and family events. (Plus their wine was pretty good!).

Nothing crazy was planning for the night in Cleveland...just getting to the hotel, possibly going to the pool (but it was rainy),, and having a good meal. We did just that. Relaxed, had a good meal, and enjoyed the evening. Nothing fancy...but lots of driving will do that to you!

Day 5: Chicago, IL
We were heading home today, so nothing too exciting was happening, but we did stop at a winery in Indiana on the way home. We stopped at Satek Winery, which was a great find. The people there were so friendly and definitely loved their jobs! It was a nice break in the drive and Katie was able to fill her case of wine for the trip...I was a little beyond a case...but hey, this is wine to last me for the next year!

We finished the drive successfully and without incident. Another successful trip and we both saw things that we hadn't before. We didn't drive a really far distance, but there are some great things within a reasonable distance that everyone should see! Looking forward to the next.

End of the Road...for now

Jen and I drove from Laramie, WY home to Chicago the next day. It was a 15 hour drive, but we switched drivers every 150-200 miles and took our time. We arrived at her house in Chicago around 1:30am and I made it home around 2am. It was nice to be home instead of making one more stop, because I needed that extra time to regroup before my next adventure.

We had an amazing adventure, saw some remarkable sights, hiked strenuous trails, and just had fun. I couldn't have had a better time with my best friend, than I had on this trip. Each city was amazing in it's own way and I think we made the best use of our time possible. I can't wait for the next trip!!!

Traveling is what I love to do and what motivates me to work hard so that I can afford to see all of these amazing things. There is so much to do and see in the United States that most people don't take the time to realize that getting out on the road is sometimes the best thing to do.

Please, please, please comment or ask questions about any of the places or things that I have written about...I have some great restaurant and hotel recommendations, and as far as hiking goes, I can give you some advice or tell you what the brochures don't!

Have fun, get out and TRAVEL!!!

Road Trip Day 15: Laramie, WY

The last stop on our journey was in Laramie, Wyoming. We had initially anticipated going all of the way to Cheyenne, but we found a good deal on a hotel in Laramie, so why not? We had no idea what to expect, but we knew that the University of Wyoming was there, so something else had to be...

The drive across Utah and Wyoming was beautiful. Both of these states are full of mountains and rolling hills. Utah is very lush and green through the mountains, whereas Wyoming is still rolling hills, but dry and colorful rock. I've driven most of Wyoming before, but had never been in the far southwest area. We passed the Flaming Gorge, which is amazing. I visited there a few years ago, and the colors in the gorge are just unbelievable.

Scenery by the hotel in Laramie
We arrived in Laramie in the late afternoon and didn't waste much time at the hotel. We headed into town to check out Altitude Chophouse and Brewery. They had a huge lineup on tap with some very unique beer choices. As usual, we went through the sampler and chatted up some of the locals. At one point, the brewer was sitting next to us, so we got some great information, but it was brief. They were preparing for a beer festival that was taking place two days from then. We were sad that we would miss it because it sounded like a lot of fun, but one night in Laramie was probably plenty!

From there we headed to The Library, which across the street from the campus of the University of Wyoming. It was a sports bar themed like a library, giant tv's everywhere and tons of sports on. We grabbed a couple more beers and had a filling dinner. There wasn't a lot going on, especially since it was a week night and school isn't in session, but this is probably a really popular place during the school year!

On the way back to the hotel, we took a drive through the campus, which was really nice and then headed back. We hung out at the hotel for the rest of the night, had a couple drinks, read...relaxed and went to sleep. Not overly exciting...but we'd had a long couple of weeks and we had a 15 hour drive the next day.

Road Trip Day 14: Salt Lake City, UT

Another long drive today. We knew that if we headed all of the way out to San Diego, it was going to mean some long days in the car on the way home. We had stayed in Carson City the night before and now we had to drive across Nevada and into Utah to make our next stop in Salt Lake City.

It was about an 8 hour day, but there was some landscapes to see? Maybe? Nevada is pretty flat and desert...but there were some hills and things. All of the towns along I-80 had their initial in a large letter on the side of hills, which was interesting. But there wasn't much going on.

As soon as we crossed the border into Utah, the land became a huge salt flat. It was so interesting how we literally drive between two giant rocks on the border and the whole landscape changes. This has been one of the most interesting things that I've noticed driving through all of these states across the country. So driving across Utah was interesting because the sun glittered off the road and made you see things. There was nothing there but a lot of flat salt, but it was almost mesmerizing. They also had signs up along the highway that said "No Drowsy Driving". This made us chuckle because New Mexico was very adamant about DWI's and keeping drunk drivers off the road (which is good), and Nevada was adamant about No Meth (also good)...and then we get to Utah, and they are focused on no drowsy driving. Better safe than sorry in all aspects I guess!

The Great Salt Lake
Arriving in Salt Lake, it was getting to be evening time, but we had a couple of stops that we wanted to make, because yes, there is beer in Utah...despite what you may think. Our first stop was at Desert Edge brewery, where we shared a sampler and learned about the crazy liquor laws in Utah. Maybe crazy is the wrong word...but they are very different from everywhere else that we had been. They had a nice restaurant there, but after our stop at Taco Time in Nevada, we were both still stuffed!

Beer at Red Rock Brew Pub
We then headed to Squatter's Pub, where we had another great sampler and met a new friend from Canada. He was taking a road trip by himself and just meeting up with friends along the way. So we sat there and chatted with him for a while and then headed to our last stop, Red Rock Brew Pub, where we planned on grabbing dinner.  Red Rock has great food and average beer...but was a fun place to people watch and enjoy the night. From there it was time for bed, with another long drive ahead...

Salt Lake City is a nice town. I've been there a few times before, spring and had a beautiful setting, basically surrounded by mountains, with the Great Salt Lake on the west side. It's a small city, so it's easy to get around, and the night life is better than what you would imagine. Definitely someplace for everyone to visit, especially if you take time to hike, bike, or ski. Check it out!

Road Trip Day 13: Yosemite National Park--Half Dome

Today is the day. We are hiking Half Dome. Half Dome is one of the most popular hikes at Yosemite National Park, so much so, that you have to get a permit to actually hike up the last mile or so of the trail, from Subdome on up. They give out about 100 permits to backpackers, and 300 more via lottery before the hiking season begins. They also do a daily lottery, which you have to enter two days before you hike, to hand out the remaining permits. We were lucky enough to get permits, so it was on from there. You can't turn them down!

Vernal Falls
We got up at 4:30am, cleared our campsite quickly and headed to the trail head which took us about 45 minutes to reach. We hit the trail shortly before 6am and began our climb. This hike is known to take 10-12 hours and is supposedly 14-18 miles round trip, depending on which turns in the trail you choose. The first mile is rough. It's uphill, switch backs that never end. The reward though, is a fresh water filling station at the top. From there you ascend close to 1,000 stairs that climb upwards next to Vernal Falls. Slow and steady...we just keep going. You then walk a short distance until you get to the bottom of Nevada Falls. You then ascend another 1,000 stairs, give or take, to get to the top of the falls. We passed a few people who were on their way back from Half Dome, but who had backpacked and camped  that night. They said that it was worth the reward at the top, so that was encouraging...

Nevada Falls
At the top of Nevada Falls, you are only about 2.5 miles in. The next mile or two was winding, slight uphill, but mostly flat hiking. It was a good break from the constant uphill, so we trekked on, making good time and passing many groups. The number of hikers also thinned out at this point, which was nice and made things a little easier. The next section of the trek was back into the trees, switch-backing uphill. It was starting to get warmer out, but we were drinking regularly and taking short breaks when needed. And just when you thought that you were making headway, there was a sign that read 2 miles to Half Dome. Awesome...

Hiking towards Half Dome
That was a little deflating, but we pushed on, just getting excited about getting to Subdome and beginning the final climb. We finally reached this point and realized that Subdome was another 1,000 stairs built into the rock and there was no shade cover in the now blistering hot sun. As we neared the top, a man called "Mr. Half Dome" passed us on his way up to the top for the 100th time. WOW! I was pushing myself to make it once, I couldn't even fathom hiking this 100 times! We also heard that there was a rattle snake waiting for hikers in the saddle between Subdome and Half Dome. Wonderful!
Hike up Subdome

Cables on Half Dome
After making it to the top of SubDome, you could clearly see the cables that help hikes safely make it to the top of Half Dome. In all of my research and fantastical thinking, I thought that the cables were a steady incline up and over the rounded side of Half Dome. I was wrong. And now, I was scared! I had the proper footwear, and I had my biking gloves...but I was not expecting such a steep climb in which there were railroad ties to steady you on the smooth granite surface of this cliff side. We studied from below for a few minutes and decided it was now or never. Gloves on and boots tied tight, we got on the cables and started the ascent. It was an upper-body workout if I've ever had one! It took a solid 25 minutes to ascend the cables, maneuvering around people coming down from the top and trying to hold on to the cables for dear life! What a climb!

El Cap from Half Dome
Once up top, the view was magnificent. You had a 360* view of Yosemite National Park. Blue skies above and gorgeous landscapes below. It was worth the climb and was definitely a success in my book.

Top of Half Dome
Now for the climb down. We were quickly running out of water and the sun was getting hotter...we needed to head back ASAP. The climb down was vicious. The only traction you have on the rock was the railroad ties, and those are only every 10-15 feet or so. With so many people coming up Half Dome,  you only had the one cable to really work with. By this point, my fingers were starting to blister from the cables. I took a stance of sliding down sideways, slowing, making my way from board to board. About half way down, my arms were getting tired...and I slipped. People have died on Half Dome (mostly because they tried hiking up without cables or in high winds or rainy weather) when I slipped the first time, I grabbed onto the cable with everything I had and slid my way to the next board. I took a short break and continued down. It was getting harder with more people coming upwards, but I managed to slip two more times, one time swinging outside of the cables and a guy coming up grabbed my backpack and pulled me back in. At the time, I didn't think too much of it, but looking back, I could have been seriously injured or worse. Needless to say, we made it down alive, but my hands looked like they were dying. Final count, 14 blisters that were all ripped wide open. YUM!

On top of Subdome
Top of Half Dome
We decided to get a head start on our drive for the next day and head towards Carsen City, NV so that we could get some decent food and sleep in a hotel. We needed showers and comfy beds BAD! After approximately 18 miles of hiking, we deserved it!
That was the hard part, so we started the hike back down Subdome and finally back down the trail. Within an hour, we were out of water and the temperature was over 90*. It was a long hike back down. We stopped a few times to rest in the shade, but this is not someplace you want to be without water. A few hours later, we finally got back to the watering station and drank like camels! We willed up all of our water bottles and camelbacks, and made the last mile of hiking down the trail.

The damage from the cables, GROSS!
By the time we got back to the car, we had met the 12 hour hiking time and felt dead to the world! Half Dome is feat and is not to be taken lightly. Not only the cables to the top, but the whole round-trip hike it tough. I had 4 liters or water, and that wasn't enough. You also need heavy-duty gloves for the cables. I would also recommend a harness for the cables, especially if you are afraid of heights.

Road Trip Day 12: Yosemite National Park

El Capitan
We had a long drive today, as we made our way north towards Yosemite National Park. It was hot out, so probably a good day to be in the air conditioned car driving to the next destination. We decided to go to Yosemite because I had never been there and Jen had only been there briefly when she was younger. There is a famous hike called Half Dome that we were planning to conquer the following day, so the goal for today was to get to the park, find a campsite, and check out where we had to go within the park to complete our hike.

East entrance of Yosemite National Park
Yosemite N. P.
It took us about 6 hours on a state highway that was positioned between Death Valley and the Sierra Nevadas. It was an interesting drive, but uneventful, which is always a plus when driving so far. We entered Yosemite on the east side of the park and it was beautiful. It is a huge park, with lots of wilderness area. The fire bans weren't as strict here, so it was definitely more green than the Grand Canyon or Zion had been. It took us about an hour to drive across the park and find a campsite that was still available. We ended up staying in the Tamarack Flats Campground. It was three miles off the main road, down a winding, one land road, way back in the trees. It was actually kind of creepy, but the campground was filling up quickly, so we grabbed a spot, set up camp, and headed to the Yosemite Visitors Center to check out everything.

Half Dome
Lower Yosemite Falls
The Visitors Center was another half hour or so through the park, but we got there, took a short hike to Lower Yosemite Falls, and got some great pictures. We also had some great views of Half Dome, which just got us even more excited for the following day. We stopped into the lodge to ask about the hike and figure out where the trail head was...and we met one of the national park workers. Many of them have hiked Half Dome multiple times, so it was a good was to find out what we were in for. After hearing his explanation of the hike to Half Dome, I was scared. I know I'm not in top physical form, but I also know what I'm capable of...this made me really nervous! Oh well, we were that was that!

From there, it was getting later in the evening, so we decided to head back to camp, have some dinner and get our packs ready for the next morning. Knowing that the hike would take us 10-12 hours, we wanted to get an early start, so it was an even earlier bedtime. Good night!

Road Trip Day 11: Escondido, CA

Stone Garden
This morning we drove from San Diego to Escondido, California, where we had tickets for the Stone Sour Beer Festival. We easily made our way out of town, waving goodbye to the beautiful city with magnificent weather. Escondido was about 45 minutes north of San Diego and we made our first stop at the Hotel Mediteran. I had seen this hotel online, but wasn't really sure about staying there until it was recommended by someone we met at one of the breweries the day before. So we reserved a room and headed out to the beer fest.

Stone Brewery is located just outside of the downtown area. It is a huge production facility with a large restaurant, and even more inviting, was their large outside garden area. Stone uses this garden for a number of events, including movie nights, book clubs, and corporate events. The brewery is normally very busy because of the great beer that they produce, but the sour beer fest brought out so many more. It was crowded and very hot out, but definitely a great place to enjoy the California sun and some great drinks.

Restaurant at Stone Brewery
Stone production facility
The fest was huge. It was spread out all over the garden, so we covered all of the grounds throughout the day, grabbing a drink and running for any shade we could fine. Did I mention that it was HOT??  We ran into our friends that we had met the day before and made small talk, and then quickly moved on to try some more brews. A couple of hours in, we decided to head inside and try to get on a tour of the brewing facilities. They have an enormous production area and the host was very entertaining. The best part was that there were more free samples with the tour. Good stuff!

After the tour, which took about an hour, we headed into the restaurant area to grab a snack. After relaxing in the air conditioning for a while longer, we headed back out to try the rest of the beers at the fest. We met some more fun people and spent the rest of the afternoon chatting and sipping from our samplers.

Stone Beer Garden
After taking in everything that we could, we decided to head back to the hotel for some R&R. We stopped through Carl's Jr., another food place that we don't have in the midwest, and a quick fix for our hunger pains! We then checked into the hotel, went to our room (which was very clean and newly remodeled), and relaxed in to cool, quiet place.

It was late afternoon at this point, and after another day of drinking...we needed to just sleep. So it was an early night, but we were ready for some much needed rest. Nothing overly exciting, but Stone was amazing and the sour beer fest was an event to remember!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Road Trip Day 10: San Diego, CA

View from the pier at breakfast
Today was our day to explore the city a little bit and get into the beer scene. We started off with breakfast at Mitch' Seafood on the pier, which was great because the sun was warm with a cool breeze, we could eat outside and watch the sea lion (or harbor seal?) swim around amongst the boats, and see the birds hunt for their breakfast. It was peaceful and a great way to start the day.

From there, we walked back to the hotel where our car was and headed to the north side of the city. We had a few stops planned, but figured that we would ask around as we went. Jen was excited because we were driving by Miramar again, which is pretty cool. Sometimes you can see the pilots practicing and the sound of the jets as they pass is crazy!

We started at Ballast Point Brewery. They had way more on tap than we were expecting, but lots of great beers. It was a simple tap room, with a good size bar and servers who knew their beer. They also had brewery tours for the "beer bus" people. We then went to AleSmith, which is a newer brewery. They had a smaller taproom, but it had a more sophisticated feel. We tried a few beers there, said hello to the beautiful huskies that were enjoying the afternoon with their owners and moved on.

Rough Draft Brewery
Inside Rough Draft Brewery
The next stop was Rough Draft. This place was a little tricky to find because it's located in a office building/warehouse type of area (as many of the breweries here are), and only has a small storefront. Inside however, it's fairly large. They have only been open for a few months, but seem to be doing well and are looking forward to bottling and distributing soon. The beer was solid and the place started to pick-up as we were leaving. We then headed to Hess Brewing, which was tiny and literally had a garage door as a door. It was like a storage space that they opened up each day and served beer from. There were a lot of people there and like many of the breweries, they had a food truck outside for people to snack from. The brewer was the server and they only had 5 beers, but it looks like they have a dream and they are going for it full force. Great place to check out.

Hess Brewery
Green Flash Brewery
Next stop was Green Flashing Brewing, which is a larger brewery that distributes across the country. They just moved into a new, large warehouse space, where you can see their entire production line while drinking your beer. Like Ballast Point, they had too many on tap to try them all, but we did what we could:) Great place and more friendly people.

The last stop was Wet n' Reckless Brewing, another brand new, brewer run place. It had the same style atmosphere as Hess, but a few more beers to try. There were a lot of beer fanatics there checking this place out...and it was worth the stop! We also met some people who are going to the Stone Sour Beer Fest, which is the reason we drove all the way down to San Diego. So we chatted a few people up and then decided to head back to the hotel and relax a little bit...we'd had A LOT of beer and needing something to eat.

San Diego at Sunset
On the way back, we decided to stop at In-n-Out Burger. Jen had been looking forward to this since before we even left, so this was the chance....Double-Double animal style with animal style fries and a drink. YUM! Makes you feel a little gross later...but good at the time! After refreshing and eating, we headed to the lounge at our hotel, grabbed a couple drinks, talked to some new people, and then took a walk down by the bay. It was a beautiful night and we needed to walk off some of the booze. Lots of people were out and about as well, waiting for the sun to set. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped back by Mitch's and grabbed some fish tacos, which were awesome! I'm not a huge fish/seafood person, but these were great. When in Rome...

All in all, a very productive day and I like San Diego even more now! Check it out sometime...great place.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Road Trip Day 9: San Diego, CA

We left good as time as it was, it was time to move on. We headed towards San Diego via I-15. There was a lot more traffic today and as many times as I have bashed Indiana drivers as a chicagoland driver, I'm ready to go after California drivers. Holy crap they are horrible! When it says "slow traffic keep right", they stay left. They all pass from the right, try to mush themselves into spots where there is NO ROOM for them to merge, all because they think that they are going to get through the traffic if they pass two cars. UGH! After having a near death experience and almost putting my car in the ditch because these people have no sense of driving skills or how to properly use their breaks, I cruised in the right lane, letting them pass at will, and taking my time. The best part was that when we got to agriculture control, they were all stuck (dead stop) in the left lane, while those of us in the right lane sailed on by and had multiple lanes to go through the check in. It was awesome.

So, now that I have that out of the way, we made the rest of the drive to San Diego without incident and checked into our hotel near Mission Beach called The Pearl. It's a quaint, boutique hotel that only has 23 rooms. It's great though because there is a small pool in the courtyard that is surrounded by the rooms, and a bar/restaurant area opens up to the pool, so there are nightly events, great drink specials, and good food. We threw our bags in our room, said hello to Barnaby (a beta fish lives in every room, and he's ours), and headed down for happy hour. The weather is gorgeous here and a welcome break from the heat that we've been in for the past 9 days. We chatted with a couple of the servers to get the lay of the land and then headed out to Ocean Beach.
Barnaby, our fishmate

I've never been to San Diego before, so this was a welcome surprise. People are very laid back and the city isn't hard to get around. Traffic is pretty minor, so you can get to most places in less than 15 minutes. Plus, did I mention the weather?!

Sunset at Ocean Beach
We headed to Pizza Port, located in the Ocean Beach area, grabbed a parking spot and went in. It wasn't what we were expecting, but not in a bad way. There are a bunch of long tables, you order your food, grab a seat where ever, and they call your name when your pizza is ready. Easy, simple, and a good way to meet new people. We were lucky enough to snag a couple seats at the small we sampled a bunch of beer, had an amazing pizza and some garlic bread...all for $20. AMAZING! Who knew you could eat in California for those prices. This place might actually be okay! Feeling full, but happy with our first successful stop, we walked a couple blocks to check out Ocean Beach as the sun was setting. There were lots of surfers and the breeze off the water was rather cool, but it was peaceful. Good way to start the trip in SoCal.

Sunset at Ocean Beach
Our next stop, since it was still pretty early, was Mission Brewery, which is located downtown near Petco Stadium, where the Padres play. There was a game, so getting around the streets with closures and whatnot was a bit of a hassle, but with literally no traffic, we found a parking spot and walked a couple blocks to the brewery. It's located in an old warehouse, so as you can imagine, cement floor, high ceiling, big open space. It was great! They had a ridiculously huge bar area, some high-top tables, you could see all of their brewing equipment, and there were games for entertainment. The bartenders were super nice and helpful and the beer was great. Some of the beers even kicked our ass on the hop factor, yikes! We just split a sampler, got some ideas for the next day, and bid adieu to our new friends.
The Pearl, our boutique hotel

It was a successful night, and we'd had a long day with the drive and all, so we headed back to the hotel, driving along the bay, which was really pretty at night. Our hotel was party central when we got back, living up to it's nightspot label, but we were so tired that the thumping music and screaming people couldn't keep us up! Good night San Diego...until tomorrow!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Road Trip Day 8: Las Vegas, NV

Today, we got up bright and early (well maybe not bright, it actually looked like it might rain at Zion) to make our drive to Las Vegas. We hadn’t showered in almost 5 days, so we were excited to get on the road and have hot water and soap!

We took route 9 to I-15, which leads straight to Vegas in a short period of time. I have to say, that of all the roads that I have driven (and that’s been many), the section of I-15 that goes through the Virgin River Gorge is probably the best driving scenery I’ve ever witnessed. High canyon walls, colored rock, winding roads, and hills…it was awesome! It only lasted for about 11 of the 29 miles that you are in Arizona at that point, but it’s worth checking out if you like scenic drives.

Blu Pool at Bally's
With the time change, we rolled into Vegas a little before 9:00am. We went straight to Bally’s checked-in and got a room. The lady probably looked at us and realized how bad we needed to shower, so there was no hesitation in giving us a room right away! We headed upstairs and proceeded to take the longest showers of our lives. We had dirt in places that you definitely shouldn’t and our hair…should I really mention that it could stay in ponytail form on it’s own, with no hair tie? Gross…but the showers were amazing and it was time to head to the pool. Yay! Fun in the sun and no timetable to keep.

The “Blu Pool” at Bally’s was cool. Not huge, but enough space to spread out, good service, and not too many kids. It was easy to find chairs in the sun and we plopped ourselves next to a smaller pool so that we could jump in easily when necessary. And it was necessary within 30 minutes. That sun was hot! Overall, we hung out for about 4 hours, had a couple drinks, and headed in to shower again and get ready to go out for the night.

Jen at Sin City Brewing
Me at Sin City Brewing
We wanted to check out Sin City Brewing, which was at the Flamingo. There are a couple of locations, but this was the closest. We also wanted to grab a snack since we had only shared a sandwich for lunch. We met some new friends at the bar, but there was no food…and when it came time to leave because we had bought tickets for a show, we were a little hungry…oh well.

We headed to Paris to see a comedy show with Aisha Tyler. It was awesome! Her opener was a guy named Ari who has performed on Logo before. (Sorry I can’t remember his last name!) The show was great and so were the buckets of beer that we went through…but by then end, we were starving, and a little beyond tipsy. But we’re in Vegas right?!

At Paris with Aisha Tyler and Ari
Bally's bc I'm a dork
We then headed to Harrah’s where there is a restaurant Jen wanted to check out called KGB (Kerry’s Great Burgers). We got there and there weren’t too many people in the restaurant, but there was a wait. This was a little annoying. We finally get seated and service was slow. It was hard to get a refill on your water (yes, we changed our drinks at that point), and you couldn’t ever find a server when you wanted one. The food was solid. We had mac n’ cheese sticks and then each ordered a burger. The burger was great, big and juicy, lots of toppings, but the service sucked and people who came in after us were being served way ahead of us. For a good burger, yes…for everything else with the service from the hostess to the servers, absolutely NOT!
My new friend Tonto
The strip, kind of...after a few drinks?

At this point, we were both a little irritated, full, but irritated, so we headed back to the hotel and called it a night. Probably good at this point because we are heading to San Diego tomorrow!! Viva Las Vegas!