Hawaii, United States

Lava Lava Beach Club

If ever on the Big Island, Lava Lava Beach Club at Waikoloa is a great spot for dinner on the beach. Dinner service begins at 4:30, and they don’t accept reservations, so you need to get there EARLY!! We arrived at 4:45 or so, and we still had to wait for over an hour to be seated. But at this location, you might not mind the wait since it allows you time to enjoy all the beauty of Anaeho’omalu Bay.

At Lava Lava Beach Club, they are no strangers to long wait times; they are prepared to keep their patrons happy while they wait. They have plenty of lawn games on site, as well as a trendy, mobile bar to serve cocktails while you wait. So grab a drink 🍹 and take a stroll along the beach of Anaeho’omalu Bay.

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Destinations, Hawaii, United States

‘Akaka Falls State Park

If you ever find yourself on the Big Island, ‘Akaka Falls State Park is definitely worth a visit! ‘Akaka Falls is one of the most beautiful waterfalls on Hawaii, and it is also one of the most accessible. Typically, waterfalls of this grandeur can only be seen after long, arduous hikes, or very expensive helicopter tours. But to reach ‘Akaka Falls, there is an easy, 0.4 mile loop footpath that will get you in and out in no time. The cost to enter the park is $5 per person. We stopped at this state park prior to visiting Volcanoes National Park, and it was a nice add-on to our outing for the day.

The self-guided path will actually take you to scenic points overlooking TWO waterfalls! ‘Akaka Falls plunges 442 feet into a gorge below. Kahuna Falls is almost as tall, but unfortunately the view of that waterfall is partially obstructed. So while we did get to see Kahuna Falls, I didn’t even bother taking a picture.

Hawaii, United States

The Ground is Lava! – Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Do you remember the childhood game where we pretended the floor was lava? Of course you do; it was the best! Jumping from the coffee table to the couch, trying your best not to fall into the “fiery pit” below. Have today’s kids even heard of this game? Probably not. In our digitally dominated world, this game may be obsolete. Nonetheless, it was the inspiration for the following photos. Because in the Kīlauea Caldera, the ground is actually lava!

But in order to get down to the Kīlauea Caldera, we first had to hike the Halema‘uma‘u Trail. The trail is about 0.8 miles downhill through lush rainforest. (Keep in mind the return hike will be all uphill!)

Photo by NPS

When the trail ends and you enter the caldera, it’s otherworldly. Nothing but a vast expanse of black lava rock and you are actually standing in the caldera of a very active volcano. So active in fact, Kīlauea ranks among the world’s most active volcanoes and may even top the list. Since 1952, Kīlauea has erupted 34 times. Coincidentally, when we first visited Hawai’i in 2018, Kīlauea was actively erupting and the national park was closed to visitors.

If you don’t have time for the hike, you can also view the caldera from above. Crater Rim Drive offers observation points right off the road where you can view the volcano’s broad, shallow depression measuring nearly 3 miles long and 2 miles wide.

Note: Before you visit, make sure to check the NPS website for updates on current closures. Several parts of the park were still closed during our most recent visit.


Sunset Paddle Tour – Ka Napoo Ana O Hoe

We went back to Puako Bay for an evening adventure with LightSUP Hawaii. We had reservations for the Signature Sunset Tour, which combines the views of snorkeling with the experience of paddle boarding…in the dark! 😱 I’m not going to lie peeps…I had some pretty intense anxiety about this activity. I was terrified to fall into the water at night, mostly because that seems to be when sharks are likely hunting, but also because I didn’t want to step on any of the sea urchins (mentioned in my earlier post). But seriously, it was mostly the shark thing. 🦈

The tour begins with dinner on the beach as you watch the sunset.

Sunset on Puako Bay

After dinner, Kelly and her crew teach us newbies the basics of paddle boarding and give us our safety briefing. She advises us not to stand up on the paddle boards until we are given the thumbs up that the water is deep enough, so that if you do fall off there won’t be a chance of landing on the giant sea urchins.

After the sun has set, its time to light up the paddle boards! Each paddle board has a large viewing window like a glass bottom boat. The viewing window has under-mounted lights; 4500 lumens lighting up the reef below you. The lights allow you to see what is swimming below, but the lights are also designed to attract plankton, which in turn will attract more sea life for viewing.

Rob stands up as soon as he is given the thumbs up. I decided to keep my arse firmly planted on the paddle board. 🐔

Ella shared a paddle board with Rob – which allowed her to lay down right in front of the viewing window. Best seat in the house! We saw lots of minnows and needle fish mostly. But towards the very end of the tour I did see a puffer fish which was pretty cool.

Notes – Kelly and her crew were AMAZING! They definitely tailor this experience to a wide range of skill levels, so it doesn’t matter if you are an experienced paddle boarder, or a first-timer like me. Additionally, dinner and sunset on the beach was both tasty and beautiful! This was definitely a unique experience and I am glad that we tried it. However, I definitely expected to see a wider variety of sea life, so that was a bit disappointing. But, I likely missed quite a lot of what was going on below while I was so focused on navigating the paddle board. Finally, even though the water was very calm, I was beginning to feel a tinge of motion sickness coming on. The slight water movement combined with looking down through the window was not a good mixture for me since I am very prone to getting sea sick. It was similar to how I feel when I try to read in a car. So I found myself not looking through the window continuously so as to ease those side effects.


Puako Bay Tide Pools

One of the very first things we did on the Big Island, was visit Puako Bay during low tide. There isn’t much sand there, but the natural formations in the lava rock create amazing tide pools! During low tide, small pools dot the entire coastline and it is a great place to explore and observe small sea creatures throughout an extensive reef. We saw a ton of sea urchins and they were the biggest sea urchins I had ever seen! The creature in the top right photo is a sea cucumber. I just learned that sea cucumbers excrete a toxic venom and can cause permanent blindness in humans if it gets in your eyes! Great…adding more to the list of things I’m terrified of in the ocean. 🤦🏼‍♀️

Ella had had enough exploring and she was ready to leave because she had fallen down a couple times. The tide pool terrain was a bit tricky to navigate. Particularly when there was the possibility of slipping and landing on giant sea urchins!

As Rob and Ella were heading back to the access point we entered from, I spotted a sea turtle! He was enjoying a morning snack and I thoroughly enjoyed watching him nibble.

And then I realized there were SO many more turtles in nearby tide pools. It was definitely the highlight of this little adventure!

If you are ever in this area of the Big Island, I would definitely recommend this as a fun excursion. There are six separate access points to this stretch of beach. And you’ll need sturdy shoes to navigate around the lava rock.

Destinations, United States, Virginia

Apple Picking for Acrophobics


Just down the road from Monticello is Carter Mountain Orchard. Their sign advertising fresh peaches reeled me right in! I had never gone peach picking before and it sounded like a really fun thing to do. Only problem was all the peaches had already been picked off the trees. We were too late for peach picking, unless picking them from here counts?


But we were just in time for apple picking and that was something else I had never done before.


Apple picking was fun, but it was not quite the adventure I had envisioned. I had always pictured myself climbing a ladder (funny, I hate ladders!) to pick the perfect apples. Isn’t that how they always do it in the movies? Anyway, there were no ladders here. Just plenty of apples well within reach. Damn you easily accessible apples, ruining my dreams of movie-style apple picking! : )


Once our apple selections were complete, we headed to the barn where they have lots of delicious treats. A bakery full of pies and cider donuts. And the country store full of preserves and other fruity goodness. We indulged in some peach cider donuts and they were worth it!


There are many orchards in Charlottesville, and while this one is the only one I have ever been to, I would highly recommend it based on the beautiful scenery alone! And the cider donuts don’t hurt either!


Destinations, United States, Virginia

A Glimpse into Jefferson’s Garden


When Jefferson referenced his “garden” in written records, he was usually referring to his vegetable garden. While the flower gardens of the West Lawn are lovely, they are miniscule in comparison to Jefferson’s vegetable garden. Monticello’s terraced vegetable garden is 1,000 feet long and the 19th century garden has been restored by referencing the meticulous notes of Jefferson’s Garden Book. Jefferson grew about 330 varieties of vegetables and herbs and today the garden serves as a seed bank to preserve 19th century vegetable varieties.



Today, the vegetables in the garden are labeled according to the notes found in Jefferson’s Garden Book. The stake marking this squash variety is marked “TJ 1812” which means it was first referenced in Thomas Jefferson’s Garden Book in 1812.


The stake marking this bean variety is labeled in a similar manner, but also shows “L&C” below the year. This means that this vegetable was brought back from the Lewis and Clark Expedition and planted in Jefferson’s garden in 1807. Jefferson’s presidency is most known for the Louisiana Purchase as well as the Lewis & Clark Expedition. In addition to adding vegetables to his garden, Jefferson also had many expedition “souvenirs” throughout his home that were brought back by Lewis & Clark.


There are also other vegetables currently growing at Monticello that were never recorded in Jefferson’s Garden Book. This tomato plant for example, does not have his initials and/or a year marked on the stake, but it is believed that it was likely planted in Jefferson’s garden based on what vegetables were commonly planted in the region at that time.


The garden pavilion sits in the middle of the garden and overlooks the eight-acre orchard, vineyard and berry plots. Jefferson used the pavilion as an evening reading location.


Thomas Jefferson was one of America’s original wine enthusiasts after serving as Minister to France. He was committed to growing European varieties of grapes at Monticello with the hopes of making his own wine. He never succeeded. Before the development of modern pesticides, these European varieties were extremely susceptible to local pests that killed the crop. However, Jefferson’s vision did lead to a successful wine market in Virginia. Today, Virginia ranks 5th in the country for the number of wineries and production of wine. And while it didn’t happen in Jefferson’s lifetime, Monticello successfully bottles about 1,000 bottles of wine every year.


Today, the vegetables and fruit grown at Monticello are used at their tasting events, served at the Café at Monticello, or distributed to employees.

Destinations, United States, Virginia

Exploring Monticello

A visit to Monticello should be at the top of everyone’s list when visiting Charlottesville. The grounds are extensive and you could easily spend an entire day there. Tickets cost $24 each which includes a guided tour of the first floor of the house and then you are welcome to spend as much time as you like exploring the grounds. There are two optional guided tours included in the regular admission price: Gardens & Grounds and Slavery at Monticello. Or you can just opt to explore the grounds on your own, which is what Rob and I chose to do. Additionally, they offer tours of the upper floors of Monticello, but those tickets are $42 each, they only do a limited number each day, and they sell out quickly. So, maybe next time we will see the rest of the house…

Thomas Jefferson spent much of his life involved in a variety of public service positions and his life was full of notable achievements. Undeniably, Jefferson’s greatest achievement was drafting the Declaration of Independence. To see a brief timeline of his life and other achievements, click here. Despite his very full schedule, Jefferson managed to find the time to design every aspect of Monticello; a project that he continuously updated and modified over a period of 40 years. He was a self-taught architect and began building Monticello when he was 26 years old after inheriting the land from his father. The house is situated on the summit of an 850 foot high peak in the Southwest Mountains. The name Monticello derives from Italian meaning “little mount.” Visitors are shuttled to the front entrance at the top of the mountain.


No pictures were allowed to be taken inside the home, but if you would like to get a glimpse of the interior rooms, click here. The view of Monticello from the West Lawn (rear of the house) is more famous than the view of the front of the home. The West Lawn is vibrant with beautiful gardens and butterflies galore. There is also a fish pond that was more function, than decoration. Fish were caught in nearby bodies of water and then “stored” in the fish pond until needed. A fabulous idea for an era before refrigerators!



Jefferson was always very outspoken about his views against slavery. However, he owned more than 600 slaves in his lifetime. He inherited about 175 slaves and the numbers naturally increased by the procreation of enslaved families. Jefferson purchased fewer than 30 slaves during his lifetime, which still seems like a lot to me for someone so outspoken about the abolition of slavery. But it is reported that he purchased these “few” based on labor needs and also to unite spouses. A fascinating aspect of Jefferson’s design of Monticello was the incorporation of hidden “dependencies.” Dependencies were necessary service rooms that remained accessible to the family and the slaves that worked there, but they were not visible to the public or even guests visiting the home. Two wings connected by an underground passageway provided the work spaces for the slaves that maintained the household. The kitchen, smokehouse, carriage bays, ice house, etc. were all connected to the home for easy access, but remained well out of public view. Did Jefferson have a guilty conscience for owning slaves, thereby designing his home in such a way to mask his contradiction?


My favorite part was the wine cellar fully equipped with a dumbwaiter that lifted wine directly to a hidden compartment in the fire place of the dining room! While Jefferson was hosting a dinner with guests he would simply send the empty bottle down in the dumbwaiter and that was the signal for the slave in the wine cellar to promptly replace it. Now of course I am NOT an advocate of slavery. But I AM an advocate of speedy wine replenishment! Pure genius.


Thomas Jefferson chose his grave site at Monticello and he also wrote the epitaph for his tombstone. “Author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statue of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and Father of the University of Virginia.” It is said that these are the accomplishments that Jefferson was most proud of and what he wanted to be remembered for. Some might wonder why becoming a U.S. President didn’t make the cut. But Jefferson wanted to be remembered for what he gave to the people, not what the people gave to him. Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, exactly 50 years after signing the Declaration of Independence.


Destinations, United States, Virginia

Dinsmore House Hospitality

Rob and I wanted to stay at a cozy B&B during our stay in Charlottesville. We chose to stay at the historic Dinsmore House Inn in the heart of Charlottesville. This charming B&B is conveniently located one block from the University of Virginia and only 5 miles from Monticello. The home was built by James Dinsmore in 1817. Dinsmore was Thomas Jefferson’s master builder and his monumental construction achievements include Monticello, Montpelier, and the University of Virginia.


The inn was absolutely beautiful and I couldn’t have been more pleased with our accommodations. There are 8 guestrooms available and we stayed in the Dinsmore Room. The room was gorgeous and I couldn’t believe how large it was. Despite having a four-poster king-size bed, there was still an incredible amount of space in the room. The bathroom was also very nice with a large claw foot tub as well as a separate shower.



Every morning they serve a full complimentary breakfast. The meals we had were fabulous! Delicious dishes with fresh, local fruit, homemade English muffins, and even their very own homemade preserves. The preserves were actually the BEST I had ever had! S.E.R.I.O.U.S.L.Y.!! A delicious concoction of figs, apple and pear, oh my! The owner was very accommodating about dietary restrictions and made sure that everything was to our liking. In addition to the breakfast, the inn also hosts an afternoon social every day in the parlor offering light refreshments and a complimentary glass of wine or tea. I think it goes without saying here that I skipped the tea and went straight for the wine! As if that wasn’t hospitality enough, the inn always keeps a stocked refreshment station on the breakfast porch where guests can help themselves to free snacks, soft drinks and water. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at the Dinsmore House Inn. If you ever find yourself in the Charlottesville area and in need of a good B&B, I would definitely recommend this location.


Destinations, United States, Virginia

Discovering Charlottesville

Rob and I recently planned a little getaway to Charlottesville, VA. Charlottesville is a charming little city about 100 miles south of Washington, DC. The area is rich in history and offers tourists a wide variety of things to do and see. Charlottesville and neighboring Albemarle County were home to three of our founding fathers that later became our 3rd, 4th and 5th Presidents (Jefferson, Madison, & Monroe – to save you the effort of having to Google it!). Of those 3, Thomas Jefferson definitely had the greatest impact on our nation and his spirit remains very much alive in Charlottesville! Everywhere you turn in this region, you are reminded of one of the world’s most important historical figures.


Charlottesville is home to Monticello (Jefferson’s residence) as well as the University of Virginia, both of which were designed by Thomas Jefferson himself (both have also been designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites). Not far from Monticello is Ash Lawn-Highland, home to President James Monroe (they were practically neighbors and apparently very good friends). In addition to its historical sites, Charlottesville also has an active entertainment scene, plenty of outdoor activities around the Blue Ridge Mountains, and more than 20 vineyards along the Monticello Wine Trail. What more could you ask for in a charming little city? We only stayed in Charlottesville for two nights, so we knew we wouldn’t have time to see all that the city had to offer. But to get a good feel of the area, our plan was to stay at a cozy B&B, visit a local winery, and tour Monticello. I will cover the details of our trip in subsequent posts. Stay tuned…