Snapshot memories is a new weekly series, giving a visual glimpse into different destinations and unique ways to view them. It’s also a way for me to look back on travels that occurred before and after I started this blog, and to give each place I’ve traveled the attention it deserves.
This week my memories go back to San Diego.
San Diego is a hard place to represent just in snapshots. I spent 5 years living there, and often times didn’t take any pictures of the key aspects that meant the most to me.
It’s a place I went to college and received my degree in psychology and international studies, where I fell in love with my college boyfriend, where I joined a sorority (more on that later), and had countless sleepless nights going out on adventures with California burritos in hand and the beach within throwing distance.
There are many pictures I did capture, and that is what I bring you this week, but as I lived there for so long, I never viewed the place as a tourist.
I never made it to Sea World, never took pictures of the many suburbs I explored on my weekends, or the ornate and beautiful Balboa Park. I never took pictures of my favorite cafes and taquerias. I never captured on film how much I loved hanging out in Bird Rock on a hot summer’s day, iced green tea in hand, and how gorgeous the city looks at night while crossing the Coronado Bridge.
I never took photos of the many delicious craft beers I could find at any bar I went to, or how profound the friendships became that I made throughout college. How freeing it felt to go skinny dipping at Blacks Beach in the middle of the night in the dead of winter, how the best beach weather is in the dead of winter, and finally knowing the true meaning of hot and humid summer nights.
Instead, I have pictures that will do their best to convey to you a place that I can’t even begin to describe myself, a place I still get butterflies to go back to, I love it that much. I have pictures of sunsets/sunrises, beaches/cliffs, palm trees, and food/craft beer mainly (although I still don’t know how I never took a picture of a burrito, I consumed SO many while I was living there).
These four categories are how I would describe San Diego to an outsider, as well as maybe adding in an awesome live music scene, it’s a good introduction to one of my favorite cities in the world.
After what will be 2 years away, I look forward to starting off my West Coast USA Road Trip in San Diego, and finally taking the time to see it as a tourist.
I can’t tell you how many songs remind me of this place, and how much it means to me that I can share a piece of it with you here.
I never knew a place named after a whale’s vagina could be so cool.
I apologize in advance, this is going to be one of those long-winded posts, however, I wanted to give my first travelversary the time it deserves, so here it goes.
It’s funny, Australia was never at the top of my list of destinations I wanted to visit pronto. To be completely honest, it was always a place I wanted to see someday, but there was never anything that stuck out to me about the land down under.
That all changed when I traveled through Europe. In addition to just starting to get a taste for my endless wanderlust, I met countless Aussies through backpacking all over the continent. I was intrigued by the Aussie mindset of travel as such a big part of one’s life, of gap years, and the normality of traveling the world at any age.
It was a stark difference from the mindset I was inundated with growing up in the States.
This cultural difference and appreciation of the more worldly things in life convinced me that I needed to visit Australia soon.
Although inspired after my initial European adventures, once I arrived home, I soon fell back into the swing of things. Immersing myself even more in my sorority, getting excited about my new classes, rekindling a relationship I put on hold when I left the country. The passion I felt initially for Australia slowly began to fade away and it became less urgent, it became a trip to take someday when it was more convenient.
I became closest with two women in particular in my European travels, an English and an Aussie girl. We remained in contact even when we all made it back to our individual home countries, and that’s when my inspiration was sparked once again. My English friend casually mentioned that she would be backpacking through Southeast Asia in a year and a half after spending some time in Australia.
I immediately asked if she would be keen for a travel buddy and volunteered myself to be that companion to see Southeast Asia with her. She gladly accepted, and we started planning every now and then about what our trip would consist of. I realized during this planning that what I really wanted was something more than just a two month trip in Asia, I was after a bigger challenge.
When I did more research and found out how easy it is to get a working holiday visa in Australia, I knew now was the time to make a huge leap and do something I always said I would do in my life, move abroad for a solid amount of time.
I initially planned to move to Australia for just 5 months, and then backpack through Southeast Asia and head home in the Fall. Well, I still haven’t come home, and by the time I do, it will have been almost two years since I left.
It was a hard thing to accept, that this was really what I wanted to do with my life. I had a wonderful life built up in San Diego: I had just graduated from a top-notch university, I had a supportive and close-knit group of friends, and a boyfriend I loved very much. But in between the lines, there were flaws in that perfect picture, and I knew if I didn’t leave, at least for a little while, I would find myself unhappy in due time.
So, I booked a one-way ticket, watched my relationship disintegrate as the pressure of the departure date crept closer, and found comfort in my undoubtedly supportive friends and family, who encouraged me to do what I wanted, even if they maybe didn’t understand it themselves.
And when I finally arrived and started traveling around the unique and hauntingly beautiful landscape of Australia, I realized I never should have underestimated it.
I made avideoof my year abroad when I first left Australia, as I couldn’t put into words at the time what that year meant to me. I think I’m finally ready to try and put into words the highest highlights and some very disappointing lows, the many ways I fell in love, grew as a human being, and finally realized what it means to be completely free.
Here’s a recap of my first year abroad, a year I cherish and hold dear for how much it opened up my perspective and confidence in the world.
Bleary eyed and tired from the long haul flight from Los Angeles, I stumbled off the plane, quickly made it through customs, and hopped in a Taxi to find my new place for the next couple of months.
I lucked out in finding a sublet through a friend of a friend of a friend before I left. This 3rd degree friend was traveling to the States for a couple of months just when I was landing in Australia, and she was looking for someone to rent out her room in Port Melbourne. The timing worked out perfectly.
I lived with two Aussie dudes who were into music, house parties, and watching The Voice Australia almost every night. They were good blokes and we got along well. It was a great set-up for what I needed right when I arrived.
I met up with the Aussie girl I knew from my European travels, and who was based in Melbourne, for coffee or drinks at least once a week. And, I had the luck of having a pseudo big brother of sorts. My actual big brother back home had a good friend permanently living in Melbourne with his Kiwi partner. They ended up being my family away from home, inviting me to dinner parties and introducing me to their groups of friends.
My pseudo big brother, Eric, made my transition abroad so much easier. I am so grateful that I had him there my first week to show me the ins and outs of the tram system, how to open an Aussie bank account, the best places to find cheap and delicious food, and to answer any of my other million and one questions about the differences in culture.
After my two months was up, I still had another two months in Melbourne before Asia, so I found another sublet on the other side of town in Carlton North. I fell in love, not only with the coffee shop vibe and tree-lined neighborhood of Carlton, but with my new little apartment that had the best sunrise view in town, and found myself grateful for how well I got along with my housemate.
This is when I really started feeling like a local. I had my daily coffee shop, my neighborhood for local gigs, my weekly habits. I knew where to find the best street art around Melbourne, where to go on a rainy day, and how to get anywhere in the city via tram.
The people – The amount of open-minded people I met my first few months in Australia, they really helped make the transition abroad seamless.
The culture – Immersing myself in the ridiculous amount of culture to be found in Melbourne, and realizing how many free museums there are around the city. Score.
Walking around the city any day – And realizing my love of street art.
Dating –Finding the fun in dating again. After a two year relationship, I wasn’t planning on dating anytime soon when I got to Australia, but somehow in the short span of four or so months, I ended up going on a multitude of dates with all different types of nationalities. It was a great way to see the touristy attractions around Melbourne, and enjoy good company at the same time.
The coffee – I didn’t really know what a good latte was until l I arrived in Melbourne.
Footy– Going to my first footy game with a local, and getting into footy mania while I was living there. I even bought my own pair of Carlton Blues socks. Yes, I’m that cool.
Being surrounded by creativity – Melbourne is one of the most art forward and creative cities I’ve ever been to. There’s live music to be seen any night of the week, street artists can be found in any odd spot painting a new mural, and there’s an overall appreciation of the arts.
A visit from a best friend – Having my best friend from back home visit me my last couple weeks in Melbourne, and showing her the life I had created for myself abroad. This was the only person to visit me from home during my whole time abroad. Major props.
Finding my job at Deja Vu Bar – It was my saving grace in the casual job market that can be hell in Australia. It didn’t take long for my coworkers to become some of my best friends in Melbourne.
Craft beer – Learning about Australian beer for the first time, and immersing myself in the craft beer culture down under.
Rooftop bars – Melbourne is hip like that.
Trying meat pies for the first time – I know I’ll miss these HEAPS when I go home.
Casual employment in hospitality (bars/cafes/restaurants) can be a complete horror in Australia. With the exception of Deja Vu Bar, I had never been treated worse by employers than I was when I was working in Melbourne. Not only is it hard to find full-time work, but if you’re a “casual” worker you can be dropped by your employer with no forewarning or reason.
I never realized how good I had it working at the jobs I did back home. People may give Americans a hard time about their health care system, but when it comes to the work force, the States is better at protecting an employee from unfair treatment by an employer, no matter if they’re part-time, full-time, or a casual worker. This was something I constantly struggled with, the cold side of casual employment.
I was screwed over twice by two separate employers that both put me into a dire financial situation, it was to the point of feeling like they didn’t actually see me as a human being, and it was a major negative I took away from my time in Australia.
The logic board on my MacBook Pro failed when I was half way through my time in Melbourne. As a travel blogger, you can imagine this created a bit of a freak out at the time. I had nowhere near the money I thought I would have saved for Asia at this point, and now I had the additional expense of buying a new computer on top of it.
I remember calling my mom, on the verge of tears, asking her if there was anyway I could borrow some money or else I would need to buy an emergency plane ticket home. She graciously gave me what I needed, and I was still able to go travel Asia, but it was never something I wanted to have to do, asking my parents to bail me out of a hard financial situation.
Being constantly worried about money
Due to the above two disappointments I was almost always worried about money and my lack of savings. Australia is an expensive place, and I was exhausted working two jobs and trying to still have a social life with new friends.
I also had two months of unemployment backpacking through Asia to think about, and I knew towards the end of my time in Melbourne that I would want to come back to Australia instead of going home. Clearly, it all worked out in the end, but at the time I had no idea how things were going to turn out.
The pretentiousness of the city
The one disappointing aspect I found about Melbourne was the “hipster” attitude I found around the city. Although I loved the art and creativity to be found, it also came with a pretentious side that made outsiders feel unwelcome at times.
The 18-year-old drinking age
Not to be ageist, but there’s a 21-and-over drinking age for a reason back home, and I quite like it. I don’t think 18-year-olds in bars is something I’ll ever get used to. I can’t tell you how many times I came across drunk-off-their-face young-uns puking in public, yelling at each other from across the road, breaking glass, running out into the street in front of moving traffic, and hitting taxis with their fists or purses in a drunken stupor as to why they didn’t get picked up.
I’m not saying the 18-year-olds around America don’t partake in that kind of behavior as well, but it’s not quite as noticed to the public eye, because most underage drinking happens at house parties or at home. Australia also has a very different drinking culture than the States though, so that is something to keep in mind.
My savings were’t too good during this time. Despite working more than one job, moving abroad is always going to be more expensive than you first think, and I don’t think I quite realized just how much more expensive Australia is compared to the States.
My computer failing was a big chunk of my savings out the window, but thanks to my mom, I got it up to just enough again before I left for Asia. Even still, Asia was much more of a tight budget than I originally imagined it would be, and I had to adjust to my lack of funds as best I could.
I didn’t travel the amount I wanted to with my lack of funds and working two jobs, but I managed to take a few day trips away when I could, these were my favorite trips and the travel posts to go with them.
The waterfront at night – Melbourne is a very pretty city lit up at night. Don’t miss out on having a drink on the waterfront under the reflections of the big city lights, or above them at one of the many rooftop bars.
Southeast Asia was whirlwind two months. It was the first time I started traveling with another person again after being a solo traveler for awhile, and it was also the first time I traveled to multiple developing countries since my backpacking trip in 2008 to Costa Rica.
Although traveling with one of my closest friends from Europe, we both realized how hard it is to travel in a pair after getting used to solo travel, and therefore had a few struggles along the way.
I became used to long bus rides where I had no comfort, definitely no leg room, and usually no room to breathe. I became used to sweltering humidity and the stark differences between countries even when just a few feet over the next border.
I also became used to the kindness and cheekiness of smiling locals, especially in the faces of the Khmer people in Cambodia. I became used to US$0.75 beer in Thailand, and a meal of the most delicious bowl of steaming Phở in Vietnam for the equivalent for US$1.
I loved Asia. With its vibrancy, colorfulness, and unique cultures. It was so much different than the States or Australia, and I only wish I had more time to explore each individual country. I’m already convinced that I’ll be back soon, both to revisit some of the countries I loved, and to take on some new cultures as well. China, Japan, and the Philippines are high on my list of what to see next.
It was my own fault for traveling to some of the most touristy spots in Bali, but I was less than impressed by the lascivious taxi drivers and hawkers, and the complete lack of respect found along the popular beaches and unknowing tourist traps I walked into.
Getting groped in Kuala Lumpur
It was my first time traveling to a Muslim country, so I made sure to dress accordingly in more conservative wear. Unfortunately, I still managed to get groped by a passing motorcyclist in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It was not fun, not fun at all.
The uncomfortable bus rides
I don’t know if I’d classify this as a disappointment as I knew pretty much what to expect with Asian cross-country bus rides, but still, they were the bane of my long-legged existence. Every bus we traveled on was different, and you never knew what to expect until you stepped on.
The worst one by far was a 10-hour bus in Cambodia, where we didn’t have seats, just a tiny compartment to lay down and share with another person. I had to curl up into a ball to be able to fit inside the compartment with my travel partner, and it was one of the only times I’ve felt extremely claustrophobic in my life.
Having my money stolen on a bus to the Thai islands
On my way to the southern Thai islands for the Full Moon Party I had money stolen from my wallet on an overnight bus. We were warned ahead of time about the notorious bus thieves that are found on the overnight buses in Thailand, so I knew to watch my stuff.
I don’t sleep on buses, so I didn’t think it would be that hard to prevent a thief from stealing from me. However, we made the mistake of putting our bags on the floor at our feet, thinking they were safe because they were covered by our blankets. Even though I was wide awake, a thief was able to take my wallet out and steal almost all of my cash.
On the next overnight bus I was on, I actually caught a thief in action stealing from my neighbor and woke him up to tell him to check his wallet as the thief ran into the darkness at the back of the bus.
If there’s any advice I can give, it’s to watch your belongings on buses in Thailand, thieving is a huge problem and plight of many tourists, especially those traveling to and from the islands for the Full Moon Party.
Not working obviously meant no income during this period, but I was still astounded with how affordable it is to travel Asia. Especially compared to Australian prices, traveling two months in Asia was the equivalent of a few weeks up the East Coast of Australia.
I still had to be careful with how I spent my money with the financial troubles I had in Melbourne before I left. I hardly went out drinking most nights, I chose to save my money for big ticket items instead, like the Full Moon Party and getting my PADI certification. I saved on the hangovers so I could still partake in early tours and walks around the city I happened to be in that day.
I realized during my time in Asia that I had changed my travel style a lot from my 21 year-old party days in Florence, Italy, where I would go out every single night to a new discoteca and sleep until noon the next day. That kind of travel, or lack thereof, didn’t appeal to me as much anymore.
Buying visas in each individual country, apart from a couple countries that didn’t require one, was probably one of the more expensive spends.
We hit 6 countries in total: Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand. I wanted to see as much as possible in Asia during this trip to get an overview of where I’d want to go back to, but I think I finally came to the conclusion once and for all how partial I am to slow travel and taking my time in places.
All my preconceptions were challenged once I started traveling Asia. The countries I thought would be my favorites, Indonesia and Thailand, ended up only making me weary and disillusioned (note: I believe this is due to the areas we visited in these two countries, and when I go back I’d want to do it differently).
Instead, Cambodia and Vietnam moved in to take my favorite spots in Southeast Asia.
I wasn’t expecting to like Sydney. It’s probably due to the bias I heard time and time again against Sydney from Melbournites, and although I wanted to see the Opera House, I too thought it would just be a vapid city with looks, but no culture.
I wasn’t expecting to like Sydney, but I fell in love with Sydney. It is one of the prettiest cities I’ve been to and it’s a city that has the added benefit of being surrounded by beautiful beaches. I didn’t realized how much I missed a big city beach culture (à la San Diego), until I started living in Sydney again and started smelling the salty sea air.
In terms of vapidness, there were a high number of bleach blonde, plastic surgery types compared to Melbourne, but probably the same amount you’d find around Los Angeles. I even saw a woman carrying her lap dog in a doggy backpack once, because she didn’t want his feet to get dirty. Um, what?
But there was still a vividness and culture beneath the beauty that was seen in the many festivals I went to or heard about throughout the summer. There’s always something going on in Sydney, and it’s really hard to find yourself bored, in fact, you’d have to try pretty hard.
Sydney, dare I say, was probably my favorite 5 months out of my year abroad.
Being in Sydney for the summer
After shivering through a cold Melbourne winter and sweating through two months of humidity in Asia, Sydney was a perfect place to settle down for the summer.
Most days were absolutely perfect in terms of weather, and there was always a festival or event going on every weekend in different parts of the city. I spent so many of my days off hiking or going to the beach because the weather was just too damn good. A Sydney summer was just what I needed to end my time in Australia.
My job at the Local Taphouse and Cookie Cafe
I lucked out in finding a job at the Local Taphouse my first full day in Sydney. Between the staff, the type of bar it was and the clientele, and my job as a bartender, it became one of my favorite places to work of all time, It was also a great place to learn even more about Aussie craft beer – it was even voted the number one craft beer bar in all of Australia at one point.
I also had a job at an adorable cookie cafe in the artsy neighborhood of Newtown. It’s where I spent every Saturday morning and where I devoured some of the best cookies of my life. And I’ve tried a lot of cookies, believe me.
Volunteering at multiple music festivals
I’ve thought on and off about going into music event planning for festivals, and last summer I was actually able to see a start to that dream come true. I went to three separate festivals, which all had very different vibes and experiences. It made my summer in Sydney that much better, and all the friends and memories I met from those musical days I’m not soon to forget.
If you want to check out my experiences via my festival series go ahead and click onPart I, Part II, andPart III.
New Year’s Eve
Mainly because I went with my best friend in Sydney, camped in beautiful Byron Bay for a week, and saw some amazing live music at the Falls Fest. It was by far my favorite New Year’s Eve to date, and there are so many good memories I brought back from it.
On one of my last days in Sydney, after feeling a bit melancholy one day, I decided to finally treat myself to a show at the famous Opera House in Sydney. It did not disappoint. I saw the band, Yo La Tengo, and had a wonderful and classy evening on my own listening to beautiful music. It was my way of saying goodbye to a place I had started to call home for the last few months.
I don’t think I had ever seen a live cockroach before I left California, actually, before I arrived in Sydney. Cockroaches are EVERYWHERE. You have been warned!
Besides being a lovely seaside city, Sydney has a major cockroach problem. I stayed in all different types of houses (when I was couchsurfing), and all different neighborhoods, and it didn’t matter. There were cockroaches, no matter if you lived in a nice house or a dump.
I mean, there were cockroaches that would scurry across the street on any given Saturday night while I was walking home. Seriously, there’s no hiding from them.
It was definitely something to get used to, but after finding 3 or 4 cockroaches in my room during the first month I moved in, I got pretty used to them as well, and disposed of them as best I could.
My living situation
As opposed to the awesome living situations I had in Melbourne, the one I had in Sydney was less than stellar. It was in a really good location (Double Bay) and cheap for Sydney. I was even able to afford having my own room, which I wasn’t expecting for pricey Sydney.
However, the building itself was so old, one of my Aussie friends commented on the fact that he wouldn’t be surprised if convicts still lived in the top floors. From the outside, hands down, it looked like a haunted house out of a horror movie.
Inside was only slightly better, but every night I would come home finding the kitchen counter littered with at least a few cockroaches. See, my house was even worse than the rest of Sydney with having a cockroach problem.
My housemates were nice enough, but mostly kept to themselves and didn’t come out of their rooms, the only exception being my one housemate, Ashleigh, who was actually incredibly friendly. It all went down hill when Ashleigh moved out and one of the guys in the house had one of his friends move in.
I’m fairly certain this new housemate would go into my room at night while I was at work and do god knows what, because I came home a few times with my door wide open and my light on. And I was almost certain he was a psychopath at one point, but it thankfully all turned out okay. Needless to say, I wasn’t sad to say goodbye to that place and move on to a better living situation.
The romantic side
Now, don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of Aussie guy friends who I get along with famously, and I don’t want to say I’d never date an Aussie guy again…but really, I don’t think I’d date an Aussie guy again.
Sydney was the first time I actually started dating Aussie blokes, and I don’t know what it is exactly, but me and Aussies, we don’t mix romantically. Maybe it’s a cultural thing, or simply my own personality, but let’s just say by the time I left Australia, I was very content to be doing my own thing.
I was paid so much better in Sydney than in Melbourne, and watched gleefully as my savings slowly started to build up again. Sydney is slightly more expensive than Melbourne, but honestly not by much.
Sydney was great for pay. If you worked past 11pm, you made extra. (Um, a bartenders dream). If you worked weekends, you made extra. If you worked Sundays, you’d make even more than you did on Saturday. If you worked public holidays, you basically just paid off a flight to Fiji.
The only reason I didn’t save more was because of the festivals I volunteered at throughout the summer. Not only did I lose money on those weekends I could’ve been working at the bar, but the cost of getting to the festivals which were quite far away, took a big chunk of my savings. They were definitely still worth it, and I was still able to travel up the East Coast for 3 weeks, and have a bit of a buffer saved up when I moved to New Zealand.
I don’t know if it was due to the good weather or the increase in wages, but I spent almost every day off to its fullest while I was in Sydney. I’d take day trips of all sorts, go hiking to a new lookout, or go on another one of the many coastal walks to be found around the city.
I was bummed I didn’t get to see more of Australia, it’s so big! But I know I’ll be back again someday to see all that I missed. Here are a few of my favorite travels from my time in Sydney and the blog posts to go with them:
Backpacking up the East Coast of Australia for 3 weeks at the end of my visa
My happy places in Sydney
The Bondi to Coogee walk – I seriously don’t know how a place can be so breathtakingly beautiful
Circular Quay – no matter how touristy it may be, it still takes my breath away when I’m standing in front of the Opera House and looking out at the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Newtown – the artsy, kind of hipster suburb of Sydney. They had the coolest cafes, op-shops, and street art.
There were a lot of ups and downs to my first year abroad as was to be expected. The year turned out better than I could’ve imagined, and made me believe even more whole heartedly in the philosophy that everything happens for a reason. There were so many times throughout the year where one thing different could’ve meant me coming home earlier than expected, but I’m so happy I was able to continue out my year and do it the way I wanted, for the most part.
My year abroad also opened up a lot of thought patterns on what I really want out of my life and how free I feel while I’m on the road. It made me seriously think about music event planning, but also about taking this blog to a new level and new perspectives.
Instead of satisfying my wanderlust, I’m afraid to say, it has only made me realize how easy it is to keep on traveling if I want to. And that’s a very dangerous realization.
Did I ever tell you how when I was 12, I once spent a good couple of hours writing down every single country in the world, and what order I would want to visit them in? I have a feeling my journey is just beginning.
I’ve been living in Wellington, New Zealand for the last 5 months or so, and I can’t help but be surprised at how very different my life is here from the life I led in Australia.
I finally bought a plane ticket home this week. I’ll be flying to Hawaii for a week at the end of March, and heading into San Diego, California after my tropical getaway. From San Diego, I’ll be attending my favorite Coachella music festival, and taking an epic road trip up the coast of California, and all the way through to Portland, Oregon.
From there, I’ll just have to see what happens, but there are a lot of travel plans on the horizon, which I look forward to sharing with all you lovely readers as soon as they become more concrete.
And of course, there will be plenty more travels around New Zealand before I leave.
As always, thank you from the bottom of my atlas heart for taking the time to read my blog. It means the world to me, literally.
It seems like everyone is talking about craft beer, hops, and malts these days. Or is that just me? I first got into craft beer in college, a friend introduced me to big hop American IPAs via Stone Brewery and I was sold from my first sip. My Coors Light party days from freshman year were long gone by the time I started working as a bartender at the craft beer pub on campus my senior year.
I was blessed to go to school in San Diego, California. Not only does it have some of the best year around weather in the world, beaches, and people, but one of the best microbrewery scenes in the nation.
Stone Brewery was the first brewery I ever visited, and it still holds dear memories for me of birthday drinks, getting lost in conversations in the rock gardens, and munching on the beer mac & cheese.
In Melbourne, I worked in a craft beer bar hidden away in the lawyer district of the CBD, and started my education of the best craft beers in Victoria and all of Australia.
In Sydney, again, I worked at a craft beer pub, one that was voted the best craft beer venue in all of Australia in 2013. A 3-story bar, with plenty of staff, and beer nerds galore, I fell even more in love with the craft beer scene in Australia.
As much as Kiwis like to say Australia has no good craft beer, I’d beg to differ. Although the craft beer scene in Australia isn’t as developed as what I’ve found in New Zealand, I found some of the most unique beers I’ve tried in my life in Australia, including one brewed with a whole chicken. Just look up Bacchus Brewing in Queensland and you’ll see what I mean.
Currently, I’m working as a manager at another great craft beer bar in New Zealand, and I couldn’t be happier to be progressing my knowledge in the never ending field of beer.
I’ve become quite comfortable in American, Australian, and New Zealand beers, and can recommend and describe pretty much any style now and how it differs by country. For instance, the one thing I’m not a big fan of in terms of New Zealand beer is the big hop characteristics found in NZ Pale Ales. For me, if I want big hops, I’ll turn to an IPA, but that’s because I grew up with American style pale ales, which tend to be more subtle than their Kiwi counterpart.
My beer journey in the past few years led me to take a Craft Beer 101 class last Saturday. I was able to attend the class for free in the name of “work”, and I loved it so much that I thought I would share what I learned. Although I know a lot about beer, I’m also lacking on a lot of the history behind how styles originated, this class taught me heaps about the background of beer culture.
The class was held at a bar called Hashigo Zake, a place that calls itself a “cult beer bar”, and one of the best bars to get to know New Zealand craft beer if you happen to be in Wellington. The class was taught by Steph and Phil, who were friendly, knowledgable, and hilarious instructors that work at the bar. They have a whole series of classes about beer, including one on hops, yeast, and an advanced beer course. I would highly recommend even taking one of their classes if you have an interest in craft beer.
Maybe you’re a beer nerd to the core, maybe just a casual beer drinker, or perhaps you just want to show your smarts at a party of hipsters. Here are a few basic facts to know and share about styles:
Essentially the birth of pale ales. The English bitter style came about through a change in malting techniques, which shied away from the intense roasting that used to be a part of brewing any beer. Beer used to be a sludgy, dirt black, thick liquid before a change in malting styles came along. This change allowed for a lighter beer in color to be produced. A more unique aroma and a better color boded well for the growing popularity of beer.
A style that usually has more protein and yeast that is oftentimes left in the beer, especially for traditional German Hefeweizens, which is where wheat beers get their cloudy appearance. Wheat beers have a very unique aroma compared to most other styles because of the type of yeast used. The aromas you usually find are banana, clove, and even bubblegum. A Belgian style wit (wheat in Dutch) usually has less banana flavors and instead more spices of coriander, citrus and cloves. Wheat beer tends to be described as being the most refreshing, although the same can be said for Pilsners.
The default conception of what beer is. When most people think of the definition of a beer, they think of pilsners because that’s usually what they grow up with or what they’re first introduced to. The style itself is actually rather new, in fact, newer than the country of New Zealand. The style was created in the small town of Plzeň in the Czech Republic. The town wanted its own thing to bring the community together and make them stand out from other towns, so they decided to create their own beer style. My kind of town.
It’s a very deliberate style that was engineered to make the “perfect” beer in a lot of different ways. It’s a clean, focused beer, and a great step up from the murky dark beers that were popular at the time. It’s more pale than an English style, but much more aromatic and tends to have more hops.
Pilsners sometimes get a bad rap in the craft beer world, because a lot of big corporate beer companies use the style loosely to produce watered down beer that doesn’t have much of a flavor. Granted, pilsners can be seen as boring because they don’t have all the crazy flavors, malts, and hops that some of the other styles have, but it’s a great introductory style to get someone into craft beer, or if you just want a lighter style to drink for the night.
India Pale Ales are big and bold. America has mastered the big hop IPA, and it has become popular again in New Zealand, especially in the last decade. There has been a lot of theories behind how the style began, but it’s safe to say that the style acquired its name from its beginning popularity with the East India Company traders.
Some theories say the brewers in England added extra hops so the beer would withstand the long voyage to India, others say that Indians and the traders simply had a fondness for the taste of new found big hops. Whatever theory is right, I’m glad that the IPA came about because it had a great impact in the craft beer world, and is probably my favorite style to date.
Fun fact: If you smell certain IPAs you may get a whiff of something you used to smoke in college (or maybe still do), because hops are closely related to Cannabis. The beer that has smelled the most like weed to me is Le Freak by Green Flash Brewing Company, you know those Californians…..
Stouts & Porters
A black ale that doesn’t have a massive hop presence. Although a lot of people like to condone stouts and porters to all tasting like Guinness, there is just as wide a variety of black beers as there are of lighter ones.
The name for porters came about from the porters in London drinking a lot of black beers, which they would oftentimes drink instead of water. Stouts were generally thought of as a porter with higher alcohol, called stout porters. Guinness technically was the first stout because they were the first brewery to drop the name porter in the style.
Now the important part is the different between porters and stouts, which a lot of people get confused. Stouts have roasted barley, are generally more robust, slightly dryer, and tend to have a coffee bitterness in the aftertaste. Porters are slightly sweeter, and produce more of a chocolate flavor.
As my coworkers can vouch, it’s hard (for me) to drink a whole night on only Belgian beers, they’re called strong ales for a reason! And ridiculousness seems to ensue after a few too many of these babies.
Belgian strong ales are brewed with live yeast that eat up all the sugars and create a high in alcohol beer. The style started with monks and the popular Belgian brewery, Trappist, which was originally just a monastery. The Trappist monks would sell beer to rebuild monasteries after World War I. The monks quickly became very good brewers when they discovered the wealth they could gain for the monastery through beer.
Chimay Blue was originally brewed by a monk for a Christmas dinner. Clearly, they were serious about their good beer.
Not all that common, but definitely a style that is incredibly unique and an adventure for the tastebuds. It’s usually very alcoholic, falling around 10-12%, the one we tried in the course was 18.9%. Wowza.
It was originally created by the English to compete with French wine. As with any ever present competition with the French and the English, barley wine was brewed to be bigger in everything compared to the French.
A generous amount of hops and sweetness (and ahem, ethanol) are considered to be the characteristics for this style. The Mikkeler Big Worster we tried in the course just tasted like straight alcoholic butter to me. I’m not a huge fan of barley wine, but to each his own.
Here’s the list of beers we tasted in the course:
Feel free to try these and let me know what you think, and if you think they follow the general guidelines of their style. I always love hearing another’s thoughts on interesting beer.
1. Fitzpatrick’s Fitzy’s Special – English Bitter – 4.0%
2. Mike’s Taranaki Hefeweizen – Wheat – 5.5%
3. Mata Hip Hop – Pilsner – 5.5%
4. Parrot Dog Bitter Bitch – IPA – 5.8&
5. Tuatara Black Stout: Toasted Malt – Stout – 7.0%
6. Chimay Blue – Belgian Strong – 9%
7. Mikkeller Big Worster – Barley Wine – 18.9%
These styles, of course, only brush the surface, but it’s a good place to start for classic beer styles that initiated the whole she-bang. Other favorites of mine include amber ales, American pale ales, and the odd Italian red ale.
Have you ever been beer tasting? What’s your favorite style of beer?
If you’d like to take one of Steph and Phil’s Craft Beer College courses in Wellington, head to www.craftbeercollege.co.nz.
“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.” – Miriam Adeney
My favorite quote from 2013, and one that I find pretty relevant to my life these days as a hopeless wanderer. 2013 was a year of change, new beginnings, and a lot of falling headfirst outside of my comfort zone. I traveled to 7 new countries, attended 4 festivals, moved to two different cities, said more goodbyes than I’d like to remember, yet have made countless more friends and opened a variety of new doors in the process. 2013 was in a word, epic. I don’t think I’ve grown more in a year previously than I did in 2013, I have a feeling 2014 is going to be even better and more adventurous. Here’s a glance at what my year of travel and spontaneity included.
January – New York, Oregon, California
I started this travel blog just before the New Year, my first posts consisted of my travels around the States for the holidays and reminiscent anecdotes from my summer in Tuscany. I started the New Year off with a bang partying under the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City for New Year’s Eve.
“Last June, I walked across the stage at my college graduation with the words “the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams“ glued to my cap. I found the quote appropriate, not only because my college at UC San Diego is called Eleanor Roosevelt, but because those words are what I hope to live by as a recent graduate.” – The Future Belongs to those who Believe in the Beauty of their Dreams
February – California
The month of the most change for me in 2013, this was one of my final months in San Diego before moving to Oz. I pierced my belly button, donated most of my belongings, cut off a foot of my hair, and broke things off with my longterm boyfriend.
“There has been a lot to think about with my departure date coming up so soon, and my whole trip itself becoming more real than it has ever felt before. I’m proud of myself for embarking on such an endeavor, one which I wouldn’t of had the confidence or the bravery to pull off as little as four years ago when I first started college. On the other hand, I can’t help feeling selfish and even guilty sometimes for leaving certain people behind to chase my own dreams of traveling, knowing that I’ll miss out on so much in the process of fulfilling what I want to do with my life.” – Walkabout: La Jolla Edition
March – California
My final month in San Diego, I left two jobs and an internship behind and said my final goodbyes to my friends and my life in the beloved place I called home. Even though bittersweet, I was also extremely excited to take on my Aussie adventure, knowing how much it would benefit me in the long run. I lived in the moment, appreciating all those who had touched my time in San Diego, and enjoyed all that the seaside city had to offer. I also made sure to eat as much Mexican food as possible, I even had a burrito on the way to the airport.
“I’ve realized the only way to love the life I live is through passion, optimism, and spontaneity. So, this year my travel resolutions will revolve around just those things, letting go of the negative aspects in my life in the process.” – Travel Resolutions 2013
April – California, Melbourne
My big move to Melbourne and my first month in Australia was a whirlwind of new experiences, tram rides, footy games, new friends, the best coffee, and learning how to live like an Aussie and adapt to colder weather.
“The sun is gleaming through the palm trees, I’m riding alongside the ocean, the orange sky as my canopy. What a way to say goodbye to this cherished place I’ve taken for my own, a place I call home even with these restless bones.” – On leaving everything behind to follow you dreams
May – Melbourne
I celebrated my 23rd birthday and bundled up to settle in for the long hall for my first Aussie winter and my second consecutive winter coming from California with opposite seasons. I explored what Melba had to offer during the winter months… it was heaps. From museums, to hidden coffee shops, to live gigs and warm dumplings, I loved spending winter in Melbourne.
“There are few things I love more than layering up in a warm sweater, finding a cozy cafe, and getting lost in a good book while sipping on my daily caffeine intake. Especially, when the coffee is as good as it is in Melbourne, and the cafe atmosphere just as phenomenal. I try and hit a different cafe every day because there are too many good ones to choose from.” – 7 ways to spend the winter months in the city
June – Melbourne
In June, I moved across the city to a new apartment and met my new roommate, someone who would become one of my best friends in Australia. I found a second job to help save for Southeast Asia, started volunteering at a yoga studio, and used my rusty culinary skills from my time in Florence to improve my cooking. I basically lived at the Queen Vic Market and the Carlton Gardens, my two favorite spots in the city.
“Moving abroad is something I’ve always dreamed of doing, and I’m actually doing exactly what I want to do with my life right now, which is a feeling I’ve never completely felt before with all the pressures of adolescence, and the “correct” path of going to a 4 year university instilled in my American mindset since I was little. It’s the first time I’ve broken off the path of what society deems to be the ‘American Dream’, expanded my perspective of what my life could encompass, besides just worrying about hitting all the generic milestones at the appropriate ages. That in itself is an invigorating realization. And as long as I keep living a balanced life, no matter where I might call home today or tomorrow, I’m going to be just fine.” – Be Free
July – Melbourne
My favorite month in Melbourne. I had been there long enough that it finally felt like home, I loved my job as a bartender in the city, one of my best friends from back home came to visit, I had a solid group of friends, and a couple winter romances as the cherry on top. Perhaps it’s proof that the most fleeting moments in life are usually the most beautiful as my departure to Southeast Asia in August was coming up soon.
“Comparing where I was when I arrived and only had two friends in the city, to where I am today just a few months later, the changes are extraordinary. I’ve somehow built up my own friend base, a support system from scratch in a completely foreign place. I must say, that is one of the most reassuring realizations you can make in life; that you can start over anywhere and be more than okay, you can be genuinely happy.” – Life is a journey, not a destination
August – Melbourne, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam
My last couple weeks in Melbourne before heading over to Southeast Asia. I drove the Great Ocean Road, went wine tasting in the Yarra Valley, said my round of goodbyes for the second time this year to a city that I had begun to call home, and visited Sydney for the first time. In Southeast Asia, I traveled around to Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Vietnam with my British friend I met in Europe a couple summers ago. We had our feet cleaned by fish in Malaysia, laid on the beaches of Bali for a week, explored modern Singapore, and fell into the hectic pace of Ho Chi Minh City.
“It was one of those surprisingly sunny days in Winter that Melbourne is fond of having every now and then. My friend and I decided to spend the day exploring more of the Royal Botanic Gardens in the city, because it was just one of those days you had to be outside for. We had a picnic at a place I deemed my own ‘500 Days of Summer’ spot, it was truly a perfect day in Aussie land.” – The Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne, a way to spend an afternoon
September – Cambodia, Thailand
In September I fell in love with Cambodia and the Khmer way of life, went through scuba certification on a deserted island in Cambodia, ate some bugs in Bangkok, rode an elephant, played with baby tigers, learned how to cook authentic Thai food, and had an amazing time in the southern Thai Islands at the Full Moon Party.
“It’s the people I meet on my travels that keep me trekking on and grounded when I feel lost, disillusioned with what I find in certain places. A chance connection on a night bus with a Welsh guy, having an enlightening conversation at midnight about our lives on the opposite sides of the world we grew up on. A friendly English girl who became our roommate in Chiang Mai. The fun groups of guys we met at the Full Moon Party. And of course my travel companion and partner in crime who has been with me since the beginning of Asia.” – Moments from the road
October – Vietnam, Melbourne, Sydney
The last stretch of Southeast Asia consisted of traveling down the coast of Vietnam. I loved the old way of life in Hanoi, immersed myself in the beauty of the limestone cliffs in Halong Bay, traveled to Hue, and lovely Hoi An, and found myself in Ho Chi Minh city again before flying back to Melbourne.
I spent a bittersweet week in Melbourne, doing all of my favorite things in the city and seeing all the friends I had missed for the past two months, before I moved for the 2nd time to a new city. My first couple weeks in Sydney weren’t the easiest and I didn’t feel quite at home as quickly as I did when I first arrived in Melbourne, but I found a job my first day, made heaps of new friends, and have since meshed much better into the Sydneysider way of life.
“There’s no magic place where all the bad aspects of life go away, but, of course, there can’t be the good without the bad as comparison. That’s what makes life so complex and interesting, the hurdles you come across, make your best days just that much sweeter. There is no such thing as a new beginning. Even when you start over in a new place, you’re still going to be you, you’re still going to have the same baggage that has made you into the person you are today, there is no escaping who you are to your core. I’m finally understanding who I am as a person, and what I want out of my life now, and even that alone has made my time in Australia worth it.” – Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy
November – Sydney
I took this month to explore Sydney as much as possible on my days off, going to a lot of festivals and art exhibits around the city, and simply enjoying the raw beauty Sydney has to offer on any given day.
“There are two things I’ve noticed about Sydney since moving here: There are a lot of people jogging everywhere and doing group exercises in one of the many parks, and there’s always some sort of festival or event going on in the city. In other words, it’s basically LA without the famous people. I’ve particularly been enjoying the latter – although I’m hoping to join the former with the communal exercise (yoga!) as I’m settling into my life here and now have a more manageable work schedule.” – Celebrating inspiration at Sculpture by the Sea
December – Sydney, Byron Bay
December whizzed by in a matter of minutes it seems. Between countless out-of-town music festivals I was volunteering at, to the realization that my time in Australia may be coming to a close in April, sooner than I’d like to think, I kept myself overly busy with work, creativity, and hanging out with as many friends as possible. It was perfect to end the month disconnecting from all things social media and camping in Byron Bay to ring in the New Year at Falls Fest.
“When I was walking across the Sydney Harbour Bridge, I thought back to when I was 13 and walking across the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time with my dad at one of my many basketball tournaments in San Francisco. When I think back to where I was at that age, a decade ago now, it’s remarkable the changes I have gone through. From an anxious, hesitant little girl who had no idea what was ahead of her, to where I am today, I hardly recognize that person anymore.” – Walkabout across the Sydney Harbour Bridge
I’m still brewing up some solid goals for 2014, but I do know that I want to travel to at least 3 new countries: New Zealand, Fiji, and probably either Canada, Japan or Mexico…(suggestions welcome). I also want to see Hawaii this year to sleep on the beach, hike a volcano, and surf at sunrise.
Happy 2014, I’m ready for you.
Watch me –> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pDSazU1fvsg
I have been to 3 (soon to be 4) of the 7 continents, 15 countries, I’ve lived in 3 of those countries, and I’ve seen so many beautiful places in the last 23 years. I’m sure this list will continually change as I add more countries to the list, but as of now, these are my top 5 places in the world to get lost.
Jungles, waterfalls, blue sand beaches, and nighttime vespa rides. What better place to get lost than the tropical paradise that is Costa Rica? There is so much beauty, fauna, different types of species at every turn, you really can’t go wrong with finding yourself completely immersed in this country. The Pacific Coast is a bit more developed and touristy, although still incredibly gorgeous. However, to get truly lost in this country, I would recommend heading over to the Caribbean side, where things are just a little more overgrown, untouched, and serene at times.
You may not think of Texas as a glorious place to get lost, there’s a lot of dust and a great amount of nothingness for hours on end, and to be fair I haven’t traveled anywhere else in Texas yet, but Austin is one of my favorite cities in the world. Whether it’s checking out the live music capital of the world based on Sixth Street in downtown, heading to retro South Congress to go back in time and support local boutiques and the numerous amount of food trucks, or venturing to the Congress Avenue Bridge to see the 750,000 bats that live underneath it in the spring and summer, you won’t be disappointed with the versatility of this Southern city.
My favorite place to get lost in Austin is the Zilker Botanical Garden, also known as “the jewel in the heart of Austin”. You can spend a whole day exploring the well-planned gardens, learning about the local fauna, and simply taking it all in. Although a bit colder in winter, when I went here with my boyfriend at the time in the off-season, we were pretty much the only ones in the garden, leaving us to get lost in our own secret paradise for the day.
Melbourne, Australia is the perfect place to get lost. There are so many alleyways, secret bars and cafes where you’d least expect, it’s actually one of those places where it’s better to find yourself lost because you usually find the best that the city has to offer. When I first arrived, my friend, a Melbourne native, told me that the best places in Melbourne are the hidden ones. And when you venture outside the city, you find even more adventures to be had of losing your way, my favorites being the Royal Botanic Gardens, and the oasis that is the Carlton Gardens. I’m sure by now you can tell that I have a penchant for getting lost in beautiful gardens.
Florence, probably my favorite place in the whole world (so far), and a lot of that has to do with my memories of getting lost in this Tuscan gem. My style when I get to a new place is to just start walking and to center myself through walking the city streets. There are so many cobblestone streets to explore in Florence, just allowing myself to get lost by following the smell of garlic, the sound of an accordion player, avoiding the crazy men on vespas, I found myself having a different experience as I got lost and found my way again on my daily expeditions.
At night, going out with the roommates, looking for secret bakeries and the mouthwatering Nutella croissants that follow, trusting Italian locals to lead us to the “best” places to go out, and even indulging in my own whirlwind Tuscan summer romance. Florence is a gorgeous place to get lost at night, devoid of the usual herds of tourists and crowded streets.
Santa Cruz, California
I may have a bias since Santa Cruz is my hometown, but I think it’s says something that I can still get lost in the place I’ve spent 18 years of my life. What I love about Santa Cruz is the proximity to so many different terrains that you can go explore, whether that be the beaches, the mountains, the giant Redwood trails, the town itself, or even the city of San Jose and San Francisco just a stone’s throw away. I owe my adventurous and outdoor-prone spirit to growing up in this wonderful small beach town, where so much natural beauty is constantly at my fingertips. For a detailed list of my favorite places to get lost in my hometown, check out my 6 Free Things to do in Santa Cruz, CA.
No matter where I end up, I always find a way to get intentionally (or not so intentionally) lost. Getting lost is my favorite way to travel and to see the world, discovering new and unique experiences along the way that I never would’ve found in a guidebook.
In under a week of being here, I can already feel myself acclimating to the city, the people, the life down under. I wake up every morning with calves that are more sore than the day before, I’ve walked for hours every day to get a feel for the layout especially in the CBD, Fitzroy, and St. Kilda because those are the neighborhoods I’ll most likely end up working in. Yesterday, I had an Aussie come up and ask me directions, and I actually gave him the right ones to get to his desired destination! That was when I realized how much I’ve internalized about the city since arriving at the beginning of the week.
Last night, I was able to hang out with a local, someone who I’ve traveled around Europe with, and she showed me the quintessential night out in Melbourne: Drinks at a rooftop bar with views that overlook the skyscrapers and Victorian churches sprinkled around the city, and ending the night at a hectic restaurant in Chinatown with hidden staircases that throw you into rooms you didn’t know existed and eating deliciously cheap dumplings. As my friend says, most of the best spots in Melbourne are the hidden ones.
I can already feel myself falling in love with this eclectic city, and so before I’m completely transformed into a pseudo-Aussie, I wanted to write a post about all the things that have intrigued me about the differences in Melbourne with my fading American mindset.
Extremely Friendly People
Aussies are known to be very welcoming and nice people, but they seriously go over and beyond in terms of friendliness. I’ve noticed this especially in the customer service realm. The other day I walked into a cafe in Fitzroy to grab breakfast, and the owner came out and spent the whole time talking to me and giving me recommendations about what to see while I’m here in Australia. Not only this, but when I mentioned I was spending most of my day looking for work, he recommended his friend’s cafe in St. Kilda, and told me to tell the owner in St. Kilda that he sent me. Clearly, connections are an easy thing to come by in Australia.
Next, I walked into a record store, and the guy spent the whole 20 minutes or so I was in the shop chatting with me and learning about my life story, seeming to be genuinely interested in it. These instances go on, from librarians to people on the tram, it’s incredible how friendly people are, especially in as big of a city as Melbourne. I love this about Australia.
I’ve already mentioned the difference between American and Aussie coffee, and since then I’ve ordered a different coffee every day (or twice a day) to decide on which one is “my drink”. I’ve ordered a long black (espresso and hot water), cappuccino (chocolate is powdered on top), skinny flat white (a skim latte put in a cappuccino cup), latte (these are still much smaller than American sized lattes), and an iced latte (the only drink exactly the same as its American counterpart). The weirdest one I’ve come across is the Aussie iced coffee. It’s espresso, milk, ice cream, whipped cream, and chocolate powder on top. Wow.
The thing I didn’t mention before is that the coffee in Melbourne is the best coffee I’ve tasted in my life, and I’ve tried a lot of coffee from working in a coffee shop for 2 years. It is pure caffeinated deliciousness that I look forward to every day.
Everything is Expensive
I knew this would be the case, it’s what everyone says when they travel over to Australia, but I guess I didn’t realize just how expensive is expensive. Hence, why I printed out 20 resumes yesterday. Thankfully, the minimum wage here ranges form $15-$20 an hour depending on what job you do.
Here’s a little insight into the prices I’ve come across so far:
Myki Monthly pass $120
“Cheap” Meal $13-$15
Regularly priced meal $18-$20
The one upside is that tipping is less of a big deal here. Basically the only time you tip is if you go to a more upscale restaurant or if you take a taxi. They don’t expect you to tip at bars or cafes, so that at least is a relief on my bank account.
I never know if someone is just saying hello to me, or how are you, or what’s up. Don’t even get me started on goodbyes. The key to understanding Aussie lingo is to understand that they shorten everything, literally everything.
Pie Face and other Take Away Places
Pie Face is on almost every corner, kind of like the Starbucks of Melbourne. They specialize in meat pies, and I still have yet to go there, or to try a true meat pie. Maybe today will be the day. There are some of the same chains as there are in the States, I’ve seen a Subway and a KFC. But then there are places called “Hungry Jacks” (the knock off Burger King), or “Taco Bill”. It’s quite hilarious.
This is an aspect of the city that I’m absolutely in love with. Almost every alleyway I look down, there is some sort of creative and beautiful street art to look at. Hosier Lane is the famous alleyway to see a lot of the best creations, but you can basically find street art everywhere. Something I wish there was more of in Southern California, where things are just a little too pristine sometimes.
I visited my hometown this past weekend for the last time before my travels, and to say a temporary goodbye to my family and friends. In order to celebrate my last views of Santa Cruz and to serve as a reminder to why I love this place so much, here are a few photos of what home means to me.
“What a life I lead when the sun breaks free, as a giant torn from the clouds. What a life indeed when that ancient seed is a-buried, watered, and plowed.” – Fleet Foxes
Okay, so maybe Santa Cruz doesn’t have as much going on as Los Angeles, San Francisco, or San Diego, and maybe I’m a little biased being that I was born and raised here, but I do believe that Santa Cruz is a place that you should visit at least once in your life. Sure, it’s a small beach town like many that exist on the West Coast, but Santa Cruz has its own little unique charm that I have yet to come across anywhere else.
I love that there are plenty of beaches within walking distance, yet also hiking trails through the beautiful redwoods right there as well. I love that there are so many locally owned stores and coffee shops, organic produce, hippies and street musicians. I love that I can get decent food in pretty much any cuisine even though it’s a relatively small town. I love that we’re so close to the big cities in the Bay Area for concerts or weekend getaways, but still tucked away in our own little community. I love that I grew up going on field trips to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. As much as I sometimes resent the fact that everything closes up by 9, I really do love Santa Cruz. As a local, here are some of my favorite free things to do, other than spending your money at the Beach Boardwalk (my first job at 16!) or the Mystery Spot, which is what most tourists do.
1. Watch the surfers from West Cliff and drive along East Cliff
West Cliff is one of my favorite places to go in Santa Cruz, it’s an absolutely gorgeous place to walk or just sit and watch the ocean. In my opinion, this is the best place to watch the sunset and the surfers down below the cliffs. It’s also a pretty drive at night, listening to good music with the windows rolled down (or heater full blast depending on the season) with the twinkling lights across the bay as your background. East cliff is also worth checking out, it’s less popular than West Cliff and thus less touristy, but it has beautiful views of the ocean as well.
2. Window Shop on Pacific Avenue
I love just walking down Pacific Avenue, basically the street that makes up most of our downtown. There are so many locally owned boutiques and coffee shops that I spend whole afternoons browsing through Bookshop Santa Cruz, finding eclectic pieces of jewelry at Bunny’s, or sipping a cappuccino at Santa Cruz Coffee Roasters. The coffee in Santa Cruz is some of the best I’ve tasted in my life, try as many of the locally owned coffee shops as you can, they all have their own vibe and delicious coffee.
Best places to grab food on Pacific Avenue: El Palomar, Chocolate, Taqueria Vallarta, Hoffman’s Bistro
3. Hike the DeLaveaga trails
A great place to go on a light or strenuous hike, there are so many different trails you can go on. Also, a great place to walk your dog or have a nice morning jog with just you and the beautiful redwoods. Some of the trails overlook the disc golf course if you want to check out the game and maybe find some frisbees. Find a spot called “The Top of the World”, if you can, the view will be worth the hike, but you’ll probably come across some of the local stoners at the top since it’s a popular spot to smoke. Every time I explore more of the DeLaveaga trails, I fall a little more in love with the beauty of my hometown. For more hiking spots, check out the UC Santa Cruz trails. They offer some of the best views of Santa Cruz, and you may even come across the famous limestone kilns. Henry Cowell State Park is great place to come up and close with the giant redwood trees, but it also has a $10 entrance fee.
4. Sunny Cove Beach
One of the local secret spots that the tourists haven’t taken over yet. It’s a small beach and a little hidden and hard to get to, but it’s one of only beaches that isn’t overrun in the summer, and it’s a perfect place to lay on the beach and feel like a local. If you’re traveling with a dog, 20th Ave beach is a great dog beach with friendly owners that will strike up an easy conversation with you.
5. Walk along the Santa Cruz Wharf
Compared to a lot of wharfs I’ve visited in California, the Santa Cruz Wharf doesn’t have much to it, but if you walk to the end you get a great view of the skyline of the Beach Boardwalk and you get to see and hear the seals up close. If you’re feeling like a nice seafood dinner, go to Rivas on the Wharf, it’s one of my favorite restaurants in Santa Cruz and allows you to sit alongside huge windows overlooking the ocean.
6. Natural Bridges and the Monarch Butterflies
If you want to see the beautiful Monarch butterflies up close, visit the Natural Bridges State Park. If you don’t park your car in their lot, there’s free parking on the street and free butterfly tours. The butterflies arrive in October and migrate in February. The best time to come is in November when thousands of butterflies call the Eucalyptus trees at Natural Bridges their home.
Other notable places to visit:
For live music, go to a concert at the Kuumbwa Jazz center
Attend a Shakespeare Santa Cruz production. The season occurs at the end of summer, from July to August, and you get to watch Shakespeare plays in the middle of the forest up at UC Santa Cruz. It’s beautiful, the acting is phenomenal, and it’s definitely worth the $20-$40 ticket price. Make sure to bring warm clothes, blankets and a picnic since it’s outside.
And if you’re in the area, make the short drive to Monterey to check out the world famous aquarium and a beautiful city on the bay.