Dole Pineapple Plantation

In addition to checking out all the pretty natural sights of Oahu, we also wanted to see the touristy stuff because, well, that stuff is fun. And also funny. And The Dole Pineapple Plantation did not disappoint!

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Admission to the plantation is free, and visitors can explore a small portion of the grounds, eat at the restaurant, or shop in the extensive gift shop that sells anything related to pineapples. For a fee, there are additional activities visitors can enjoy, such as tours, a maze, and a ride on the “Pineapple Express.”

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Here we go!

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This train ride is absolutely hilarious. It takes you on a tour of the plantation and you can see all the different fruit trees, which is interesting of course, but the real selling point of this ride is the ridiculously funny soundtrack playing throughout the tour. Not funny in the on-purpose way, but in the trying-to-be-serious-but-failed kind of way. Definitely a fun tour!

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We made it back to the station! Again, it was a super fun tour! And I can never resist posing in one of these cut outs….

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No stop at the Dole Pineapple Plantation is complete without getting a tasty pineapple dessert! My family adores Dole Whips, having eaten them for years at the Tiki Room in Disneyland. That is the only place we’d ever been able to get those, so it was pretty exciting to be able to get one at the source! So so so so good. I got a Dole Float, where they put the Dole Whip (which is pineapple soft serve ice cream) in pineapple juice. Yummy!! And it was served in this delightful souvenir cup.

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And they had a giant Dole Whip photo op?? Yes!!!!

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Shopping time!! There were so many fun pineapple souvenirs to look at, and fun pineapple snacks to sample. A lot of time was spent in this shop.

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I ended up with this fun Dole shirt. Cause sometimes it’s fun to just be a super tourist!

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Additional information regarding visiting the Dole Pineapple Plantation can be found here.

Nu’uanu Pali Lookout

My mom discovered this state park in a Hawaii travel magazine, and decided we had to go. Not because of the spectacular views it is said to have, but because it is supposedly so windy at the lookout that you can lean into the wind and it will support your body weight. Sounded intriguing…

The Nu’uanu Lookout is a short drive from downtown Honolulu and was easy to find. Entrance fee is $3 per car, and was cash only, payable via envelopes in a deposit box on the honor system. So I guess if you were feeling like being a bad person you could go for free, but why not just pay the $3 and support the parks system? Much better karma.

After getting out of the car we were greeted by chickens. Lots of chickens. I found the site to be particularly funny, since I had never seen chickens in a tree before. Actually, I had never even seen chickens outside of a farm before.

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This chicken was exceptionally glorious. I liked the way it draped over the branch hehe.

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No wind so far, but I did appreciate this cautionary sign:

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Views from the lookout:

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I am sad to report there was absolutely no wind while we were there, which was disappointing as it was our main reason for stopping here. However, the views really were quite nice, and we found out that this is a seriously important historical site from the time when King Kamehameha I fought to unify Hawaii under his rule, which you can read about here, as well as get additional information on visiting this state park.

Hiking Diamond Head

When looking at the skyline of Oahu, there is no sight more iconic than that of Diamond Head. Visible from the shores of Waikiki, the volcanic crater rises up among the skyscrapers, creating an image as quintessentially Hawaiian as luaus or SPAM. Upon further research, we learned there is a hiking trail leading to the top of Diamond Head, and so it became the first stop on our Oahu must-see list.

All ready to set out on our hike-

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The hike is 0.8 miles to the summit, so we didn’t feel the need to bring full daypacks with us. However, it is a strenuous (sort of…details later) ascent, and completely exposed, so water is a must! I would also recommend hats and sunscreen.

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A good deal of the hike is made up of unpaved, steadily inclining trail, as pictured below:

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All 0.8 miles of the ascent provide breathtaking panoramic views of Oahu’s coastline.

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Ok, so here’s why the hike is classified as strenuous: as you approach the top there are stairs…lots of stairs. And a tunnel. And a ladder with a narrow opening you have to squeeze through. On top of Diamond Head there is an old military fort, and the remains of the fort were incorporated into the trail. While this certainly adds to the difficulty of the hike, it also makes it more interesting, combining a journey through history with a hike through nature.

Stairs…

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Tunnel…

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More stairs…

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Even more stairs…

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Ladder with narrow opening…

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Finally! The view from the summit area:

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The short distance of this hike makes it easy for people to underestimate possible dangers associated with it. It is nearly a mile, completely uphill, and in direct sunlight. During our time there, we saw a man get airlifted off of the summit due to medical problems brought on by heat and exhaustion. So hike smart! Always bring enough water, and know your own abilities. This trail is not for those with medical issues or who experience difficulty with climbing stairs.

Additional information can be found here.

The hike left us famished, so we stopped for a quick and easy lunch at what we soon discovered was the oldest Taco Bell in Hawaii. We don’t have Taco Bells that look like this in LA anymore, so I thought it was interesting…

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And it had cute Hawaii cups!

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On to the next adventure!

Honolulu!

For as long as I can remember, taking our family to Hawaii was my dad’s dream vacation. But let’s face it- Hawaii is a freaking expensive place to visit, especially for a middle class family of five. So years went by with this trip being nothing more than a dream…until this past December (2014). All of us children are grown up now, and were able to help make this trip a reality for our dad. And so bright and early one December morning, we left Los Angeles and flew to Honolulu!!

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We decided to take this trip in December because it was just after the peak season, so prices were lower. Here was our itinerary: spend two nights in Honolulu, and then board a cruise ship that would spend the next week taking us to Maui, Hawaii (the big island), and Kauai, and then have another half day on Oahu before taking a red eye flight home. Several cruise lines offer Hawaiian cruises, but Norwegian Cruise Line is the only one that takes you to more than one island like that. And seriously, for first-time visitors to Hawaii, I absolutely recommend taking this cruise! It gives you a nice sampler of the most popular islands and ports, so you can see very diverse areas of this beautiful state. And then, you can always go back sometime in the future to spend more time on whichever island you liked best! It might surprise you… I was certain I would like Maui best, but it turns out, I liked the Big Island better. Go figure.

On with the trip! Upon landing in Honolulu, we were greeted with leis (this isn’t free anymore…we had to pay extra for that), picked up the rental car, and headed to find food! Of course, I had to drag us to the Hard Rock Cafe Honolulu!!

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And ordered the local burger.

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In fact, my whole family did.

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No joke- BEST BURGER OF MY ENTIRE LIFE!! And my whole family agreed. We spent the rest of the trip talking about these burgers, and months later, we are still talking about them. My sister and I even have framed photos of these burgers hanging up in our homes. We take our food seriously, haha.

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Lest anyone think Honolulu is the tropical paradise classic Elvis movies lead you to believe it is, let me be the first to break it to you: it isn’t. The whole area of Honolulu near Waikiki is as commercialized and developed as Los Angeles. Here is the magical view from our hotel:

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Nevertheless, Honolulu is still definitely worth experiencing. My dad, one of my sisters, and I (my other sister felt sick from the flight still, so our mom kept her company back in the room) set out to see the city on foot!

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Waikiki!! This was a private stretch of the beach… a little closer to the Waikiki of “Blue Hawaii” days.

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Yay! We were lucky enough to be exploring on the night of a local farmer’s market and craft fair.

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And we found this delightful booth selling natural popsicles ❤

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They were soooo good!! They are made in Hawaii, but apparently can be purchased back in LA at stores like Whole Foods. If you can find them anywhere, buy some!!! They were crazy delicious.

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Us southern Californians are babies when it comes to the temperature. I was glad to have a lightweight sweater cause I thought it was chilly from time to time, but most other people seemed fine in shorts and tank tops.

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I loved all the Hawaiian Christmas decor… festive lights in Palm trees!

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With our first day in Honolulu coming to an end, we returned to the hotel to prepare for a very full day ahead of us!

Saguaro National Park – Tucson Mountain District (West Side)

After a lunch stop in Tucson (one convenient aspect of having a city in the middle of a National Park) we headed into the West side of the park, the Tucson Mountain District. It was approximately 45-60 minutes between the two halves, but we were able to get some sightseeing in along way, including a stop at Old Tucson Studio, the place where most of the famous old western movies were filmed. We would’ve loved to go in and see all the old movie sets, but we were pressed for time and it cost $18 per adult to get in, which wasn’t worth it for how long we could stay. My whole family added it to our list of things we need to return to Arizona for though!

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I bought a tiny saguaro cactus in the gift shop…

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The view of the studios from outside – all you could see without paying the entrance fee:

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And then into the park! The visitor center in this half of the park was much larger and more developed. After popping inside for a minute to do some shopping and talk to the rangers about what we should do with our limited time in the park, we set out along the scenic drive. And honestly, I found it to be less impressive than the East side of the park. The cactuses were growing more densely in this half, but there wasn’t anywhere to stop along most of the drive, so we had to stay in the car and take pictures through the windows. In addition, I felt that the East side had more diverse scenery along its loop. However, one huge plus to the West side is that towards the end of the scenic drive, there is a picnic area where you can park your car and take a short hike to see some petroglyphs! And as I am mildly obsessed with ancient art and archaeology, this was very relevant to my interests!!

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The hike to get to the petroglyphs was short, but completely exposed and had some uphill parts to get to the top where the petroglyphs are located. Definitely not bad though, and anyone reasonably in shape could do it without a problem. From the petroglyphs, there are options to branch off onto other trails, so we hiked around for a bit.

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After a long day of exploring this amazing park, it was time to hit the road and head back to LA. And of course I had to get some snacks for the journey…

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I love desert sunsets… they are seriously some of the most beautiful skies in the world.

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Annnndd a photo of one of my favorite road signs along the 10 freeway… Gotta love whoever decided to build a prison and a rest stop on opposite sides of the freeway, off of the same off-ramp.

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Saguaro National Park was a really beautiful park to visit. I like to think I will return one day to do more hiking, but if I never do, I am also ok with that. Spending a full day there is more than enough to feel like you got to see the park and all its top sights.

Saguaro National Park – Rincon Mountain District (the East side)

The morning was cold and drizzly, but we were not deterred and set out early to head into Saguaro National Park! The park is divided into two parts, separated by the city of Tucson, so of course we had to visit both sides. Depending on who you ask, you will get different answers regarding which side is the better side to see. So we started out on the East side, called the Rincon Mountain District. We didn’t have a ton of time to spend there and weren’t able to do any hiking, but we drove the scenic loop, and the sites were beautiful! The loop itself isn’t very long, and you could probably do the whole thing in around 30 minutes if you drove straight through, but it took us a couple hours because we stopped at every scenic viewpoint and got out of the car and explored them all. I am glad we did that, so at least we were able to set foot on the ground in the park. Plus getting off the beaten path always provides some incredible scenery!

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It was surprisingly cold all morning, so I am glad I brought a jacket! Desert weather can be really unpredictable though, so I recommend dressing in layers. In the earlier part of the day, I was pretty cold wearing shorts, but by the afternoon, I was really glad, because it got hot! And I was also glad to be wearing a hat to protect my pale Celtic complexion.

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I found this park to be exceptionally beautiful. Maybe it’s my southern CA spirit, but there is something about deserts that just speaks to my soul. The combination of their vastness, their ability to persevere under the harshest climates, and their solitude makes desert landscapes one of the most awe-inspiring sights in our country.

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With my parents and my sister. It was such a nice little family trip!

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Highlights from the East side of the park: the scenic drive had lots of scenic viewpoints with parking areas so you could get out and walk around. There were also picnic areas, bathrooms, and hiking trails along the loop. In addition, the cactuses in this half of the park were really old, making them impressively large. They looked like every stereotypical cactus you have ever seen. Which was pretty cool to see in real life. Overall, I enjoyed this half of the park better than the West side, which will be covered in my next post!

Road trip to Arizona!

Back in May, I completed my Bachelor’s Degree online from Arizona State University. Yay! Lucky for me, I live close enough to the school that I was able to drive out there to participate in the graduation ceremony, so my family and I piled into the car on a Thursday night and headed to Arizona!

Anyone who has driven the 10 E through southern CA will be familiar with sight… no matter how many times I have seen them, I still always think the wind turbines across the desert look really cool!

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Just some light snacks for the road (yes, these are all mine)…

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And 6 hours later, we were in Phoenix! Spent the night, woke up early the next morning, and went to my graduation! (Pictures not included, cause frankly graduations are boring to everyone except the graduate). After the ceremony, we celebrated by grabbing lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe in Phoenix. Wooo another shot glass to add to my collection!

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Always gotta try the local burger! I mean, this one had bacon wrapped hot dogs on it!

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And then back on the road! Since we were already out there, we decided to stay an extra night and go check out Saguaro National Park near Tuscon. It was roughly 2 hours between Phoenix and Tuscon, and the drive goes fairly quickly. However, for the second half of that drive, there isn’t really anywhere to stop, so make sure you have gas, go to the bathroom, and have any snacks you might need before then! We stopped at this fun little souvenir/snack shop, and were amused by the all the fireworks you could buy (most fireworks are illegal throughout the majority of southern CA). For only $600, this whole box could be yours….

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Yay for popsicles! The weather may have been bad and rainy all weekend, but it was still warm.

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We stayed at this hilarious hotel about 10-20 minutes from the park. It was located inside a senior citizen mobile home community, and upon arrival, we seriously doubted whether we were in the right place. But we were… weird. However, this place ended up being totally awesome! There was a delicious and reasonably priced restaurant on site, and three pools! Maybe it was because of the weather, or perhaps because of the odd location of the hotel, but my sister and I were the only people using any of the pools. Yay for not having to share! Arizona Tea in hand (I felt like I kinda had to) we hit the pools!

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All refreshed and relaxed, we were ready to adventure into Saguaro National Park in the morning! To be continued…

Hike to Eaton Canyon Falls

My friends and I love to hit the trails as often as we can, and love trying out new hikes! But this weekend we were short on time so we had to go with a local tried and true trail. The hike to Eaton Canyon Falls is very easy- mostly flat, and only around 3 miles round trip. Once you get closer to the falls there is shade, but the whole first half of the trail is completely exposed, so be sure to bring plenty of water and sunscreen.

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The falls themselves are nice. Right now (due to the CA drought) there wasn’t much water, but it was still pretty and there was a little pool at the bottom of the falls. Major downside to this trail: because it is so easy to get to, it is a very popular hike. The area surrounding the falls and the pool at the bottom is constantly swarmed with people and their dogs. The sounds of nature are drowned out by screaming children, barking dogs, and boomboxes (yes- actually boomboxes. Throwback to the 90’s!!) playing a wide variety of music. And playing it loudly. And, to quote my friend Chris, the whole area smells like “dog crap and contact high.” So much for a tranquil escape into nature.

Here is a pic of my awesome friends upon arrival at the falls:

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And here is what you see at the falls:

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Basically, it’s a nice hike if you just want to get some exercise outside of an urban setting (or work on your tan), but if you’re hoping to get back in touch with nature, choose another hike.

San Jose, Costa Rica!

Costa Rica is a beautiful country, filled with diverse areas to visit, but almost all trips start at San Jose. San Jose is the capitol of Costa Rica, and more importantly to tourists, where their international airport is located. Because we didn’t have a ton of time to spend in Costa Rica, we decided to make San Jose our home base for the next 9 days and book day excursions to see the other parts of the country. This ended up working out perfectly for us! It provided a good sampling of the country, and gave us a good idea of which parts we would like to visit again someday. But between our tours, we spent our free time walking around this fascinating city! There was a lot to see and do in San Jose, but a day or two is more than enough to see pretty much everything you would want to see. Here are some highlights of our adventures (Fair warning: this will be a somewhat lengthy post, with lots and lots of pictures)-

We took a red eye flight out of LAX to San Jose… which always seems like a good idea at the time, until you arrive at your destination at 6:00 A.M., exhausted due to the struggles of sleeping on a plane.

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Our hotel! Hotel Colonial, in downtown San Jose. The room was nothing to write home about, but the front desk staff was amazing, it was within walking distance of all the cool stuff to see in the city, and felt clean and safe. Plus the price was a total bargain!

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Hotel courtyard

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and pool.

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Oh, and the hotel also came with free breakfast. Which was delicious even after 9 days of being served the same thing everyday. Seriously… my sister even looked up a recipe to make it back at home after the trip.

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After a quick nap, it was time to wander the city! Stop #1: Mercado Central. A man we met on the plane told us about an ice cream shop in this market, so we began the hunt to find it!

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Oh my… this market is a labyrinth of souvenir shops, restaurants, grocery stands, and everything other type of shop you can possibly think of. Finding that one particular ice cream shop proved tricksy…

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But we found it!!

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And it did not disappoint. This shop has been making ice cream by hand since, well, a long time ago, and it is ridiculously tasty!! So if you’re ever in San Jose, make sure to seek out this ice cream place. It is the only one, and it is delicious. Plus the mercado is just worth exploring anyways.

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It started raining really hard while we were in there, so we just kept exploring!

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I mean, they even sold live chickens…

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More culinary tips for San Jose: ask any local, and they will tell you to try chifrijos. Don’t ask me what’s in it, cause I sure couldn’t tell you, but it was good! I hear it is popular to eat paired with a beer.

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My personal favorite from Costa Rica: yuca frita! They taste like weird french fries, and these were dripping with garlic butter. Yum!!

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Surprisingly enough, we could not find a single Starbucks. Apparently they are not that common in Costa Rica. We asked the front desk at our hotel where to go for delicious coffee beverages, and they directed us to El Tostador. Just a couple blocks from the hotel, but once again, it was pouring rain, so we donned the rain gear and set out for coffee!

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We made it just in time- when it isn’t peak tourist season, everything closes super early, like by 7 P.M, 8 at the latest.

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More city exploring!

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There were So. Many. Pigeons.

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I loved all the street art throughout the city!!

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Visiting the National Museum, which is housed inside an old fort. Pretty cool.

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The museum entrance leads into a butterfly garden… they were so pretty!

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Looking for invaders through the old fort watchtower windows

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Inside the fort prison cells

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Some of my favorites from the museum’s collections:

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Haha I can never pass up a fun photo op

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Hahaha

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The only places open late at night: pastry shops!!

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We bought this bountiful feast…

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Shopping at another mercado. This one is all souvenir stands, but they have some seriously cool stuff here

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We stumbled upon this awesome jewelry shop where this guy hand makes very cool jewelry… we may or may not have spent a small fortune here. But his pieces were just so cool and reasonably priced! It couldn’t be helped.

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He even gave us these free rings, and told us anytime we receive unwanted male attention, flip them off and say “Pura Vida”!!

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The culinary adventures continued, as we found some Costa Rican style tamales-

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Totally not like the tamales we are used to in CA.

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And then as I do on all travels, I dragged everyone to the local Hard Rock Cafe!

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Another shot glass for my collection, woo!!

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Trying the local liquor, guaro… I don’t know how it tastes by itself, but it sure was good in a cocktail!

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Trying the local burger… another must-do when at the Hard Rock Cafe.

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Whew. Long post! There was just so much to see and eat in San Jose!!

Manuel Antonio National Park

Our last day in Costa Rica had its ups and downs, but ended up being my favorite location we visited. The tour to Manuel Antonio National Park started out beautiful… the weather was nice, the guide was awesome, and they served us a tasty breakfast on the way to the park (which was roughly 2 hours or so from San Jose). Cars are not allowed in Manuel Antonio, so we had to park in the little town and enter on foot. It was an easy walk, but by the time we reached the park entrance, it started to rain. And rain hard. Everyone sought shelter wherever they could find it…

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But sadly the rain showed no signs of stopping, and since we didn’t want to waste away our day at a guard shack, we decided to venture out into the rain. Always ill-prepared for the weather, I had forgotten my rain jacket on the bus (good thing I remembered to pack it…sigh). There were no ponchos or coats available to purchase in the immediate area, so the guards offered me a garbage bag. I was able to put my crafty fashion skills to use, and turned it into a poncho!

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I was none too pleased to have to wear a trash bag though, so if you ever visit this park, regardless of the time of year, throw a poncho or rain jacket into your day pack! Better to have it and not need it than to end up looking like this-

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Part way through the hike into the park, the rain finally did stop, and I was able to actually enjoy the rest of the walk through the rainforest.

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The park has tons of hiking trails, but our time was limited so we only did this one and then headed to the beach! Our guides had warned us about the monkeys, and we quickly learned they weren’t kidding. There were monkeys and raccoons everywhere!!! And they are bold little critters. The had no problems being around people and seemed fairly aggressive, running straight up to people and stealing their bags and food. So listen to the guides… be careful and watch your stuff!

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They sure are cute though…

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We made it to the beach! We bought these cute colones towels at a mercado in San Jose

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The current at this beach was really strong… I am joking around in this picture and am a strong swimmer, but if you’re not, maybe don’t venture too far out from shore.

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We were trying to take cute beach pics, but at this moment, my bestie caught a raccoon trying to run off with my snorkel gear (I didn’t even have food in that bag!), and a chase ensued. We were able to save the snorkel gear, but let this serve as another reminder: keep an eye on your stuff.

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And then some more monkey photos as we were leaving the park, cause they are just too darn cute!

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On the drive back to San Jose, we saw one of the most breathtaking sunsets I have ever seen… It was nearly impossible to capture it from the back of a moving bus, but believe me, it was incredible.

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Of all the places we visited in Costa Rica, this one was my favorite and I really hope to be able to return someday. Till next time, Manuel Antonio!