The Best Weekend Adventures in Southern California

The Best Weekend Adventures in Southern California

Another great post by my husband Mike. A geologist by day, adventure writer by night.



Do you ever go on a trip or an adventure and afterward think “wow, I can’t wait to do that again” but then never do? Yeah, we do that at least once a month. When we moved back to California earlier this year we put together a list of places and things that we have done once and have been dying to experience it again. 

Adventures by Mike

Whether you have lived in California for years or are just visiting Southern California and are looking for a few untraditional things to do; this list is sure to please all types of adventurers.

Malibu Winery, Malibu, CA

Malibu Winery

For  Heather’s  25th birthday we went with friends up to Malibu Wines, a winery and tasting room in the hills between Malibu and Thousand Oaks in Southern California.  The wines are from the Saddle Rock Winery, just next to the tasting room at Malibu Wines. The views in and around the tasting room are excellent, the wine is also pretty great.  They have some add-ons now including a wine safari that we really need to adventure back to enjoy.

Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort and Spa, San Luis Obispo, CA

Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort on top of Avila Hot Springs

This resort sits on top of the Avila Hot Springs, in a quiet, hidden, woodsy area.  Out the back of every room is a hot tub that is piped into the hot springs. You turn a valve and 100+ degree spring water flows directly to you.  Luckily the Sycamore Resort is located conveniently to the Edna Valley, a low key wine region in Central California. The Edna is a cooler wine region and produces lovely Pinot Noirs and Syrahs.  After a day of wine tasting, there is nothing better than unwinding with a bottle of wine, soaking up the ocean breeze, and hanging out in your own private hot tub.

Skiing/ snowboarding in the mountains and golfing in shorts the same weekend

California is one of the few places I know where you can legitimately accomplish this. for the overachievers, you can technically, do both in one day. I played golf on Friday in LA and snowboarded in Big Bear on Saturday.  Pick your favorite summer and winter activity, come to southern California, and accomplish both in the same weekend! (Best to plan in January or February).

Take a random Las Vegas road trip

Las Vegas at night

Mostly a rite of passage (at least in my opinion), Las Vegas is so close but yet so far from the cities in Southern California.  Although we have been to Vegas dozens of times (literally dozens) this trip was one of my favorites. Heather and I planned the trip with another couple on a Friday night, left on a Saturday morning, and came home on a Sunday.  Next time you got a free weekend, head to Vegas for a spontaneous weekend of fun.

San Diego Zoo Safari Park – Behind the Scenes Safari

Visit this cutie at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Heather likes zoos, has a serious affinity for large, wild animals. This safari park has special excursions that take you right up to the animals and give you a much different experience than a traditional zoo. The Safari Park is experienced via tram so its a great activity for all ages and all abilities.

What are some adventures that we need to add to our Southern California list?

Happy Adventuring!




Cook Islands: These Exotic Islands Are Calling Your Name.

Cook Islands: These Exotic Islands Are Calling Your Name.

We just returned home from the Cook Islands and let me say, these islands far surpassed our expectations. I felt like real life Moana and I am here for that.

We flew on the direct flight from LAX to Rarotonga, the plane landed an hour early so YAY! When we arrived at the airport they had a musician playing, immediately I was in love.

Views flying into The Cook Islands

Transportation: On Rarotonga, our plan was to just use the public bus and for the first two days we stuck to that plan but on day three I convinced my husband that we needed a scooter and our lives were changed. Apparently, Lizzie McGuire was right, Scooters are the best!

Who doesn’t love a scooter on an island?

Tourists: about 80% of the tourist on the islands this time of year are from New Zealand, its winter for them so it makes so much sense to escape

Cuisine: We ate very well while visiting the island. We ate freshly caught fish at least once a day and delicious exotic fruits multiple times a day.

Sunsets that will take your breath away.


While staying on the island of Rarotonga we stayed at the Castaway Resort. This small hotel was exactly what we wanted, about 15 rooms and a beach bar with the most beautiful sunset views. Our hotel room had a back porch that the roosters, hens, and chicks loved to visit.

Castaway Resort on Rarotonga

One day while feeding the baby chicks at the hotel I met a little girl from the island, she immediately asked me why I was feeding the chicks because she has never seen anyone do that before. I felt like such a basic American girl at that point, but I couldn’t help it they were the cutest!

We attended the Highland Paradise Island Night and absolutely enjoyed every second of it. It’s a great opportunity to learn so much about Cook Island Maoris.

Island night at Highland Paradise was a success.

We visited the Matutu Brewery, while I absolutely recommend paying it a visit it is only open to the public during the tour hours, so if you plan on showing up at any time you will just be greeted by an empty building. During our brewery tour, the entire group was American and all booked their flights during the Air New Zealand Cyber Monday sale, so if you are listening Air New Zealand that sale REALLY worked.

Must Visit Restaurant: The Mooring; we had our very first meal there but I probably could have eaten all of my meals there. It was the place I was first introduced to Ika Mata, and really I don’t know how I lived my life without Ika Mata EVERY DAY.




Air New Zealand has one American flight in and out a week, I really appreciate this direct flight but gosh I wish I had a Saturday on Roratonga to experience the Pananga Nui Cultural Market.

Before we left back to America we went to the Hula Bar on Roratonga, this cheap bar was crawling with local residents and so much fun!!


WOOOOWWWEEEE! The most magical island I could ever have imagined. If we were to do it over again, we would spend two days on Roratonga and 5 days on Aitutaki. I really really really loved my experience there. It felt like a truly exotic island, beautiful scenery, sparsely populated and little connection to the outside world. We arrived on Wednesday afternoon and were back off the island by Friday morning, just not enough time. There were so many more beaches to explore and cats to meet.

Aitutaki Cats; my favorite subject matter

A major difference that I noticed right away was the absence of dogs, Roratonga is crawling with very friendly dogs everywhere and I didn’t see one dog on the island of Aitutaki.

I mean, this beautiful beach looks fake, right?

It’s a small island so if you are looking for a vacation with tons of restaurant and bar options, probably not the best location but if you are looking to disconnect from the world and connect with the most perfect turquoise lagoon, then look no further.

The Aitutaki airport looks like its straight off a movie screen.

During our visit to Aitutaki, we stayed at the Kuru Club, an off the grid hotel on the lagoon near the airport. The host was so great and really made sure we were enjoying our experience.

Our favorite thing we did while on vacation was The Vaka Cruise on Aitutaki. A MUST DO. This 6-hour cruise was absolute perfection. Lunch included freshly caught fish, local fruits and vegetables and other island favorites. The boat took you to multiple islands including an extended stay at one-foot island. My favorite stop was a few hours of snorkeling in the middle of the lagoon; beautiful clear waters crawling with schools of fish.

Dreamy One Foot Island.

The people of Aitutaki were just amazing, friendly and gracious and so inclusive. We would be riding our scooters down dirt roads and everyone would wave at us with a big smile on their face.

Aitutaki has many over the water bungalows, that are calling my name. I really want to plan someone’s honeymoon to The Cook Islands, specifically Aitutaki so if anyone is reading this that is planning a wedding, lets chat!

Book your ticket from LA to Rarotonga now, you wont regret it.

Overall: I give my experience a 10/10 absolutely would recommend. I really don’t understand how these perfect islands have stayed off my radar for all these years.

I’m going to The Cook Islands!

I’m going to The Cook Islands!

I’m going to The Cook Islands, it really is an island. Okay, I know I’m not the only one who thinks Jersey Shore quotes are hilarious.

In a few days, we are heading off to the Cook Islands to celebrate my husbands 30th birthday! I’m obsessed with the Maori culture, food, and music so this trip really is a dream come true.

Let’s rewind to how we decided on the Cook Islands. Last fall, we were on a boat tour throughout the Marlborough Sounds in New Zealand and the 9 other women also on the boat all worked for Air New Zealand. These nine Australian women talked nonstop about the airline and it was that afternoon that I became obsessed with booking a long haul Air New Zealand flight. The rest of the trip I couldn’t stop talking about our future trip on Air New Zealand to Tahiti, well turns out Tahiti is EXPENSIVE! So that dream was crushed.

We returned home from New Zealand on Black Friday and on Cyber Monday Air New Zealand was having a great sale on flights to the Cook Islands, our flights to The Cook Islands were booked that evening.

There is one flight a week from the United States to the Cook Islands, so the island already feels pretty dang exotic. I have a sneaking suspicion that I will want to pack my cat up and call this island home, but we shall see.

Do I plan on spending the whole time at the beach resort like this? duh.

We will be splitting our time on the islands between Rarotonga and Aitutaki. I can’t wait to swim in the ocean all day and enjoy an Island Night in the evening. I am excited to eat exotic fruits and a seafood and pork, is there any other south pacific delicacy that we must try while visiting?

Am I going to be singing the entire Moana soundtrack on the plane over? Sure. Have I ever been this excited for a vacation? Unsure.

My Cook Island recap will be posted soon and I know it will surpass all of my expectations, I just can’t wait!

Hiking Half Dome in Yosemite National Park

Hiking Half Dome in Yosemite National Park

Growing up my family went to  Yosemite National Park every year on vacation and some of my best childhood memories were exploring this beautiful national park. To increase the love I have for this place, this past year I got married at the Yosemite Chapel in the Yosemite Valley and it was the most magical location and day. So when deciding on the topic of my first official blog post there was no other option than Yosemite.

While planning our September nuptials we decided that we had to hike half dome prior to the big day, major mistake. The day of our wedding, I could barely walk my body was not having it but I was so thankful that I had conquered one of the most majestic mountains (rocks?) I had ever seen.

The day of the hike:

It was the last week of August so we knew the weather was going to be hot, what we didn’t know is it was going to rain; I mean, shoot, its California. We had our bags all packed the night before, we were doing this hike in one day so our packs were relatively light. We were in the third car in the parking lot promptly at 6 AM.  Prior to the hike, I drank a sugary coffee drink, and by mile three I felt so sick, not my best nutrition choice. We made it to the top of the peak by 10:30 AM, I still have no idea how we did the hike so fast. I wasn’t prepared for how scared I was going to be climbing the cables but turns out it’s pretty scary. Once we made it to the top we had very little time to enjoy the view because a storm was rolling in and we would be stuck on top if we didn’t get off the peak before it hit. On our way down back to the valley the trails were packed with hikers, we were tired and it took us the same amount of time to hike up to half dome as it did to hike back down. The parking lot is .5 miles from the trailhead, after that hike it was longest, slowest half mile of my life.

The top of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, I’m not sure if I have ever been that happy in my life.

Items I packed for the hike:

  • 1 gallon of water, the hydration pack I used can be found here. Note: this pack only carries 2L so make sure to bring additional water bottles.
  • Snacks- packages of tuna, beef jerky, baked apples, gum and trail mix.
  • Sunscreen. Sun protection is no joke, my sensitive skin reacts best to this Aveeno Sunscreen.
  • A long sleeve shirt
  • Hiking Socks (Columbia makes a great pair) Extra socks are always a great idea as well.
  • My phone and headphones (Big shout out to My Favorite Murder and Juicy Scoop with Heather McDonald because I think I would have quit if I didn’t have entertaining podcast content in my ears.)
  • Gloves, there are always more expensive options but these will do a great job on the cables.
About to start half dome cables. That smile is not a proper indication of how my body felt.

Tricks to help you start planning your half dome trek today.

  1. Take tons of water! There are very few places to fill up water bottles, the last potable water station is on the other side of the bridge at the bottom of vernal falls, less than a mile into the hike!
  2. Hike at least 20 miles in your boots prior to the hike. I bought new hiking boots just a few weeks prior to the hike but I made sure that I hiked/ walked 20 miles in them.
  3. Don’t forget your Half Dome permit. To climb the cables you must have a permit that is awarded through a lottery system starting at the end of March, permits can be obtained here.
  4. Gloves are a necessity. The cables are really tough and you want to have the best grip possible so an investment in a decent pair of gloves is recommended. At the bottom of the cables, there is a huge stack of discarded gloves for use in case hikers forgot theirs but don’t bank of that stash being available.
  5. Don’t sleep on the intensity of sub dome. I read and I researched this hike intensely and I never stumbled across anything detailing how this portion of the hike would exhaust me before I even hit the cables.
  6. Start Early. This seems like it should be common knowledge but still feel like its worth mentioning.
  7. Repeatedly check Yosemite weather and fire conditions. The day before our hike we were discouraged by Yosemite employees to do the hike because of the nearby fire would restrict the views at the top. We kept a close eye on the fire reports but ultimately decided that it was worth it.
  8. Are you acrophobic? If you are scared of heights or steep slippery surfaces this hike probably isn’t the right one for you. The cables are there for a reason, the last stretch of this hike is slippery and steep!

Do not take this hike lightly, I hike all of the time and at the time of the hike I felt like I was in some of the best shape of my life and this hike was tough!! 

If you have not visited the majestic Yosemite National Park, its a must!

Welcome to Hat on the Map.

Welcome to Hat on the Map.

The time has come, I’m so excited to finally be sharing my own, unique thoughts on my travel blog, Hat on the Map. This is all my wonderful experiences, tips and tricks in one place. Let’s rewind to how I got here:

I quit my comfortable marketing job to move back home to California and begin a life as a freelance marketer. I now spend my days writing content for dozens of brands. As I am writing blogs day in and day out, researching keywords and installing SEO tools, I realized I wanted to get my own unique thoughts and ideas out into the world as well.

There are very few things I love more than my kitty, Penny, but one of those things is traveling. As much as I love to travel abroad and experience new cultures, I find just as much joy traveling within the United States. I have spent at least one night in 45 out 50 of the United States; I’m coming for you Missouri, Ohio, Deleware, Iowa, and Alaska.

Luckily for me, I married someone who loves to travel as much as I do. My husband, Mike, and I have very similar interests when it comes to travel; we love to explore as much as possible while the sun is out and enjoy local wine or bourbon when the sun sets.

As I embark on this journey of sharing all my thoughts with the world I hope I am able to inspire other millennials to explore more.

Let’s travel together!