WHITE SANDS NATIONAL PARK

HISTORY

The 62nd official national park in the U.S, located in the Chihuahuan Desert in Southern New Mexico, is White Sands National Park. It’s filled with soft and white sand dunes comprised of gypsum making it the world’s largest gypsum dune field. The entire area used to be underwater 250 million years ago! The dunes were created from selenite crystals that formed during the Ice Age and over time, the selenite crystals eventually wore down into gypsum sand. The effects of wind and rain leaves the pure gypsum sand to blow around and create these incredible dunes.The dune fields cover about 275 square miles with 115 square miles located within White Sands National Park, and the rest is military land that is often used for missile testing (crazy right!)

WHERE IS WHITE SANDS NATIONAL PARK?

White Sands is a bit out of the way & kinda in the middle of nowhere. Located near the border of Mexico and Texas, the closest airport is located in El Paso, Texas (1.5 hours away) FYI The first first 5 miles of the road is paved and the last 3 miles are made of compact gypsum sand (might want to think about what kind of car you take) 

WHERE TO STAY

Alamogordo The closest town to White Sands National Park. I would recommend staying at a simple Holiday Inn or Motel 6 located in this small town. You will spend the majority of your time out and about exploring White Sands so all you really need is a clean bed and bathroom! However, if motels aren’t your thing (trust me, I get it) then there are a couple airbnb options!

Las Cruces A larger city with more options . Downside is the 1 hour drive to White Sands . This is where we chose to stay since the first leg of our trip was a direct drive from LA — Las Cruces (12 hour driving) If our driving day wasn’t that long, I would’ve much rather prefer staying in Alamogordo!

Airbnb Options
Las Cruces Charming Casita with Hot Tub & Patio
Wish we stayed here over motel 6… 100% booking this the next time we visit White Sands!
One Bedroom Apartment
AlamogordoTwo Story Guesthouse
Cozy Home

WHEN TO GO

Temperatures vary greatly throughout the seasons so make sure you research the weather patterns ahead of time. Spring is the best season to go with the most stable weather patterns or even September October in the Fall. Summer // Winter- You will deal with extreme weather that’s unbearable. The average weather during the summer is 95F and can spike to 110. Winter nights can get so cold to 20 F. In September, there is an annual White Sands Balloon Festival! How cool!

P.S Did you know w there are free national park days? Click here to find out what day is free to visit!

WHAT TO DO THERE

  • Camp

Campsite 5 is the gem with untouched sand dunes. Like the ones you see in movies without any footprints. Keep in mind you do have to hike 1 mile each way to get to the camp site. I would not recommend camping during the winter or summer time (due to the extreme temperatures) 

  • Chill & Picnic

Soooo much space to explore and spend the day just enjoying this incredible space. Bring a blanket, food and have yourself a dreamy little picnic!

  • Hike

The park has 5 established trails ranging from easy to strenuous:

  1. Interdune Boardwalk – easy stroll, 0.4 miles round trip, accessible to wheelchairs and strollers
  2. Playa Trail – easy trail, 0.5 miles round trip, at the end you have the opportunity to see what this area looked like 10,000 years ago and learn about the giants that once roamed this area!
  3. Dune Life Nature Trail – moderate hike, 1 mile loop, kit foxes, badgers, birds, rodents, and reptiles all live in this area and you can often either see them or their tracks
  4. Backcountry Camping Trail – moderate hike, 2 mile round-trip, hike through the heart of the dunes
  5. Alkali Flat Trail – strenuous hike, 5 mile round-trip, you’ll be hiking up and down dunes along the edge of the final remnant of Lake Otero

  • Photogenic Opportunities

I mean nowadays, we are all about instagrammable shots & hands down, you can’t go wrong with a photo here. The bright white sand pairs perfectly with any color outfits. Hopefully you witness an epic sunset on top of that. 

  • Sand Sledding

Embrace that inner child in you and get a work out in! Bring or buy a sled/ smooth saucer- they sell it at the park for a higher price, but if you plan ahead you can purchase one at a Walmart for an affordable deal 

  • Sunset Strolls 

The national park offers a 45 min- 60 min ranger guided sunset tour for FREE! You learn first hand about the geology, animals and plants. The hike is a leisurely 1 mile long. Bonus: pets are allowed to join! Meet near the sunset stroll sign parking area, a 5-mile (8.05 km) drive from the fee station. Click here for more information

THINGS TO BRING WITH YOU

  • Sunscreen: There is absolutely zero shade here, it might feel like you’re under the sun burning
  • Water: you never want to be dehydrated out in the middle of a desert so load up on a ton of water in the trunk for emergencies
  • Snacks: there aren’t any restaurants anywhere in the national park so bring your own so you don’t get hangry!

TIPS

  • $20 Entrance Fee // $40 annual pass // US Military members remains free
  • You can easily get lost in the sands… I know it sounds a bit ridiculous but pay attention to markers and where you’ve parked your car. Once you explore deep enough, the entire area blends in
  • Check for closure before you go. The national park closes for military uses aka missile testing.
  • Do NOT hike in the heat. Don’t even try it…. There is zero shade there and extremely unsafe to hike in the heat.
  • Cell service is a bit unstable there so if you are expecting an important call or need service, you might not be able to do that here
  • As a safety precaution, drop a pin on Google maps to wherever you need to get back to, whether that’s a tent, parking lot or start of the trail. 

BANDELIER NATIONAL MONUMENT GUIDE

As we headed back West on our cross country road trip, we stayed in Santa Fe for 2 nights and researched on what we could do around there, and damn, we were so pleasantly surprised with this destination.  

Today’s blog post is about a very sacred & special place… drumroll please…. Bandelier National Monument! Bandelier National Monument encompasses more than 30,000 acres of historial desert mesas and canyons and easily became one of my favorite USA national parks. It is only 1 hour West of Santa Fe- super feasible to do a day trip out here. The monument preserves Ancestral Puebloans structures that dates back to 1150- 1600 AD- almost 15,000 years ago! You will have the opportunity to discover cave dwellings, petroglyphs, and rock paintings. Today, the people of Chochiti Pueblo are considered to be the most direct descendents of the natives’ ancestral puebloans. 

As you drive into the park, you will come across some viewpoints where you can park and hop out to take some photos, which I don’t think its worth stopping. Keep in mind of your time here. Ultimately, you want to get down to the main Visitor Center area to start the adventurous hike so make sure you make your way down there to see the cave dwelling and archeological sites.

Parking is extremely limited once you get down to the Visitor Center area (where the start of the hike up to the cave dwellings are) In the summertime, you’ll have to park at the top and take a shuttle down, but in the winter time, you can pull in directly to the main lot. Once you get down to the main parking lot,  you will see a visitor center where you can learn about the early inhabitants that dates back thousands of years. From there, you can start your hiking adventure!

Main Ruins loop trail is 1.2 miles. You start the trail right by the visitor center and make your way through archeological sites and cave dwellings. It’s easily worth seeing even if you’re limited on time here- it requires very minimal hiking/short walk. I’d say average 30 min round trip. As you continue on the trail, you will see a sign that says “Long House,” which is another collection of Pueblo Ruins. They use to be 4 story houses built along side the cliffs. You can add on an extra mile & the trail will lead you on to see the Alcove House previously known as the Ceremonial Cave. The Alcove House is the tallest one, which served 25 people at one point and is 140 ft above ground…. so be prepared to do a lot of climbing (4 sections of long ladders )! P.S look into weather conditions before coming here. The ladders are closed off if there is abundant snowfall. If you have a fear of heights, you might want to skip out on the Alcove House.

Cave Dwellings

There are 3 short ladders to climb right at the beginning of this trail. Definitely give those a try and if you are up for an epic adventure, challenge yourself to the 140ft ladder by the Alcove House. You can tell the ancestral puebloans were much shorter based on how small these caves were. You are able to freely climb up, explore the space, observe the interior of the caves. The ancestral puebloans used these spaces to escape from the extreme weather changes. PLEASE only enter the caves that have ladders. Be respectful of the historical preservation here!  

THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO

  • Entrance Fee: $25 (you can use your national park pass for this too!)
  • Parking is LIMITED. It’s such a small lot and fills up quickly. My advice: head there early in the AM!
  • Check the weather conditions before you go. Ancient Pueblo sites have closures that are dependent on weather conditions so check before you go!
  • Pack your own food and drinks to have a lovely picnic there. There is a cafe on site, but the menu is small.

THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO NEW ORLEANS

New Orleans, most notably known for its epic Mardi Gra celebration, has earned quite a wild reputation, but it’s sooo much more than that. There’s alot to learn & experience- from the cultural traditions to the food & history. The city is a blend of Creole, French, Cajun all intertwined and represented throughout every inch of the city. Music flows down every street you turn, every dish is a work of art and you are left in awe from the historical architecture. 

We spent a couple days here and squeezed in as much as we could. You can definitely get a good sense of the city in 24 hours so it’s the perfect place for a weekend getaway. Below is my guide and recommendation for your next stop in New Orleans. Feel free to comment down below with any questions or find me on my Instagram where I post daily content!

GETTING HERE

Drive or fly? You choose! Louis Armstrong International Airport is very well connected with tons of flights daily and it is only 15 minutes away from the city center. Ubers are accessible & safe to take from there. Minimum airport fee to and from is around $35 each and dependent on high-demand periods. 

Since we were on our cross country road trip, we drove. I don’t think there is a single person out there that enjoys driving into and around busy cities. The annoying traffic, complicated parking signs, confusing one way streets, & worst of all, parking is a shitshow. I recommend going directly to your hotel parking lot or a reliable lot and pay up that awful price and just leave your car there for the entire duration of your trip.

GETTING AROUND

Riding St. Charles Street Car ( P.S always mask up! )

Driving your own vehicle around the city will give you a HEADACHE. Don’t even try it. I suggest using New Orleans public transport! Riding the street cars (only $3 per person for the whole day! You can hop on/off as you wish) adds to the whole experience and on top of that, you’d be supporting a local business. New Orleans is a small-scale city, so if you stay somewhere centrally located, it’s pretty accessible by foot!

Fun Fact: St. Charles street car is the oldest continuously operating street car line in the world!

WHEN TO VISIT

February- May is when the celebrations are in full swing and the weather is ideal. You’ll be visiting with thousands of other people so be mindful of the crowds. If you’re looking to save $$, travel here in the summer. The summer heat and humidity can feel oppressive, which is why hotel rates will be much lower. If you’re not interested in the celebrations, I recommend coming in December and January when the weather is chilly, but manageable. Way less tourists & you feel like you have the city to yourself. 

WHERE TO STAY

Magnolia Hotel

Magnolia Hotel

I did a ton of research on where to stay and debated on whether or not I wanted to be on Bourbon street… and thank god I didn’t. I recommend staying right on the edge of French Quarter so you get some peace and quiet at night. Magnolia Hotel was the perfect location. It’s steps away from the French Quarter so we were able to walk everywhere! It’s removed from the French Quarter craziness/sketchyness. Magnolia hotel is sophisticated, clean, cozy & modern. The bed was comfortable, staff was friendly & professional & covid protocol was implemented. The only downside is parking. There are ONLY 6 free parking spaces right in front of the hotel, but there is a lot you can park at across the street for $30 a night. I know.. so pricy, but that’s how it is in every city.

WHERE / / WHAT TO EAT

CAFE BEIGNET

 334 Royal St, New Orleans, LA 70130

Yes, we’ve all heard of Cafe Du Monde, but Cafe Beignet is where the locals go! Beignets are basically a French “donut”- deep fried pastry covered in powdered sugar. The beignets here are chewier (my preference, if you prefer airy, pillowy ones go to Cafe Du Monde!) and they serve more on the menu. IF you’re craving beignets late at night and it’s closed, know that Cafe Du Monde is open 24/7 and going there would be more of an experience. 

BRENNON’S

417 Royal St, French Quarter, New Orleans LA

Known for its iconic dish, THE banana fosters. Who doesn’t want bananas that are flambéed tableside with brown sugar, butter, cinnamon, rum and served with New Orleans Ice Cream Co. vanilla bean ice cream?? It’s the most ordered dish on the menu and for good reason. You can thank me later.

Mr. Ed’s Oyster Bar and Fish House 

512 Bienville St, New Orleans, LA 

The world is your oysters!! If you’re looking for an authentic “New Orleans” meal, this is the place to go. From the outside, it doesn’t look like much, but don’t let it fool you! The raw oysters were super plump & clean. The charbroiled oysters were soooo juicy (currently drooling as I’m thinking back to this meal). Man, now I’m wishing I ordered more! The best part is that it’s super affordable for quality seafood!

Central Grocery Company

923 Decatur St, New Orleans, LA 70116-3381

We came here because of alllll the hype on the muffuletta sandwich. The muffuletta recipe is over 100 years and the store dates back to 1906. The muffuletta is pretty much an italian sandwich packed with meat (salami, ham), cheese (swiss, provolone), & olive salad. My advice: get a half sandwich. The portion size is huge and a half will fill up 2 people! It’s the perfect place for a quick to-go meal and you can easily bring it over to Jackson Square & and enjoy it outdoors.

Being raised in Santa Monica, I am spoiled with a shop called Bay Cities with the same Italian deli like supermarket so the flavors tasted oddly familiar and I have to say it did not beat it. Bay Cities trumps this place.. BUT if you’ve never had something similar, then it’s a pretty darn good sandwich!

Leah’s Pralines 

714 St Louis St, New Orleans, LA 70130

Did you know New Orlean’s signature candy started out as one of America’s earliest street food? It also emancipated black women to make a living during a time when civil rights weren’t even in the picture. The candy is a symbol of a rich black culinary heritage and city tradition. Leah’s Praline is a family owned business since 1944. They use locally sourced ingredients such as Alabama pecans and Louisiana sugar. New Orleans praline has origins that can be traced back to its French heritage, however Louisianians adjusted the traditional recipe to include almonds and cream. There is a wide variety of toppings to choose from and let me tell you, pralines are not cheap! To be honest, I don’t have too biggest sweet tooth so it tasted a bit tooooo sweet for my liking. But definitely go here for the experience, treat yourself to a sweet treat & support a local business!

NOLA POBOY

908 Bourbon St, New Orleans, LA 70116

Legend has it, that the name poor boy, also referred to as po’ boy, comes from the Great Depression era when a sandwich was created to be given free of charge to transit strikers. It’s a must whenever you visit the South. Po’ Boys use French bread and dress it up with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and your choice of meat- shrimp, roast beef, etc. I can’t ever say no to oysters so I go with the fried oyster poboys & it hits the spot every time.

GALATOIRE’S

209 Bourbon St New Orleans, LA 70130

Established in 1905, this family owned restaurant has the best traditional Creole/Cajun dishes. Come here for a nice wholesome bowl of gumbo. P.S did you know the word gumbo originated from the African word okra? Suggesting gumbo was originally made with okras! It’s a melting pot of Louisiana cooking & its one of my favorites!  Other dishes I would recommend to try are jambalaya (comparable to Spanish Paella), etouffe, & red beans and rice. 

FRENCH TRUCK COFFEE

1200 Magazine St, New Orleans, LA 70130

Chicory, the root of a blue flowered plant is a widely used as an ingredient in NOLA coffee. During the Civil War, Louisianians used chicory coffee as a substitute when the naval cut off the port- leaving people with a coffee shortages. Chicory coffee is commonly used during economic crisis and New Orlean continues this tradition.

WHAT TO DO // SEE

FRENCH QUARTER

The oldest neighborhood in the city of New Orleans. The French claimed Louisiana in the 1690’s. The streets are named after French Royal houses and Catholic saints to pay homage to France’s ruling family. You can spend all afternoon wandering through the streets and I’d say THE most instagrammable spot in the French Quarter is at the corner of Royal and St. Peter. (location of the photo above!)

BOURBON STREET

TBH, Bourbon street brings out the binge drinker in all of us… HA jk.. This historic street is located in the heart of French Quarters. The entire street embodies the life of the party with neon lights bursting, loud lit music blasting, and beads decorated/ thrown everywhere. At night, it’s packed with Bachelor/ Bachelorette parties, sketchy looking people. Now, it’s certainly not my type of scene, but still fun to observe every once in a while. It’s a VERY entertaining place to people watch 😉 trust me on that.

For solo female travelers, I DO NOT recommend coming here at night by yourself. Always have a buddy or come here in the daytime.


LOUIS ARMSTRONG PARK // CONGO SQUARE

If you need to get out of the French Quarters and go for a nice stroll to work out all the delicious food you’re having in NOLA, this is a great option to walk to. This park is filled with a historical oak trees dripping in lush Spanish moss, a pond filled with adorable ducklings, & lots of benches for you to sit back and relax.

There is an area inside the park called the Congo Square that holds a lot of historical significance. During the 18th century, enslaved Africans were only allowed to congregate and gather in remote public squares on Sundays. This particular square (located right outside the French Quarters) was a place where they could celebrate their African roots and dance together during the oppression.

GARDEN DISTRICT

Take the St. Charles street car for $3 per person and go on a scenic ride to the Garden District. It’s a fun 15 minute “Disneyland” trolley ride! Sometimes the French Quarter can feel a bit overwhelming, so it’s nice to spend an afternoon away from it admiring the charming historical homes in the residential area. P.S if you’re into American Horror Story: Coven, Miss Robicheaux’s Academy filming location is actually at one of the homes in this area, the Buckner Mansion. You can even stay there for a night!

LAFAYETTE CEMETARY NO.1

While you’re visiting the Garden District area, take a moment to step back in time and check out this cemetery. Walking around a cemetery can feel eerily and creepy, but it can also be quite interesting. If you’re someone who is intrigued by ghosts and spirits, this is the place to go and see if you can encounter some of the ghostly energy. Each cemetery has its own “charm and personality” so do your own free walking tours at the various cemeteries in NOLA to observe the different tombs & styles.

JACKSON SQUARE // CATHEDRAL ST. LOUIS

Centrally located in the French Quarters, this is an iconic spot to visit in NOLA. Admire the beauty of the Cathedral sSt. Louis while you soak in some vitamin D at Jackson Square. Aside from the beauty, its a great place to wander around, sit in the courtyard and people watch. Grab some beignets, muffuletta and have a picnic at the square! 

TIPS ON AVOIDING TOURIST TRAPS

With over 10 million tourists a year, you are bound to be bombarded with tourist traps and scams here. My best advice is to NOT engage ever or politely decline. Don’t pause when someone approaches you- just keep on walking! 

  1. The Infamous Shoes

This scam makes me laugh! You will 10000% have someone approach you and say “I bet I can tell you where you got your shoes” or “Where did you get your shoes?” Once you respond to their question, you’ve just participated in the bet… So be prepared to pay up! The answer? Buddy you got dem on your feet on Bourbon street (or whatever street you’re on) in New Orleans! HA! 

David and I knew about this going into the city, so the moment a man approached him about it David walked away. He actually followed us for a bit and even started to BEND DOWN to touch David’s shoe. Totally crossing the boundary, so be careful!

  1.  Tell me your first name and I bet I can spell your last name!

Someone will most likely come up to you and say, “Bet you $10 if you tell me your first name, I can spell your last name.” So you give them your first name, and then they will LITERALLY spell out “L-A-S-T  N-A-M-E” hahah! If you want to play along, go ahead! But remember, you’ll have to pay up at the end! 

  1. Can I borrow your cell phone?

Someone will come up with a fake storyline, “my cell phone ran out of battery, can I borrow your phone?” or “I left my phone at home and need to make an urgent call.” What do you think happens when you hand it over? Hmm.. They run away with it and you’re left phoneless. Nowadays, theres a good excuse to not hand your phone over, um COVID-19, so politely decline and say you’re in a rush. 

SOLVANG GUIDE

Ladies and gentlemen, introducing the Danish Capital of the USA…. California’s Little Denmark… SOLVANG!

I’ve been yearning for a little European love, but thankfully, this little European delight brought out all the feels for a perfect weekend getaway.

Solvang gives you enough of a taste of Denmark! You feel like you’re in a fairytale movie and that any second Snow White & the 7 dwarfs will start marching on by. It’s a popular tourist destination with over 1 million visitors a year! This quaint little town has architecture, food, and culture that reflects traditional Danish style.

I’ve included all the details that was on our itinerary. It is about a 2 hour drive from LA–>Solvang. You can take PCH to enjoy the scenery or the freeway for a faster drive.

Our first stop

SUMMERSET FARM

Pre-Covid19, our plan was to head to the south of France and roam the flower fields. Unfortunately, that had to be pushed back and I was about to find a farm with a bit of flowers. This little farm had sunflowers, lavender, pumpkins, etc. It was already past sunflower season so they were all super tall and wilted… But the lavender was still thriving! I even spotted a little weasel enjoying the scenery along with us haha! This is about 10 minutes away from Solvang so depending on when you visit, this is a great spot to enjoy some nature, smell the flowers, and take floral shots! If you do stop by, please purchase a product from the farm to support them! There is no entry fee so it’s always nice to support by buying their produce. We picked out some yummy homemade raspberry jam!

SOLVANG


WHERE TO EAT

FIRST AND OAK

This is a Michelin recognized restaurant located at Mirabelle Inn. It was our first meal out since MARCH… Can you believe it? 5 months of not dining out and it was DEFINITELY worth the wait. Go online, make a reservation, get dolled up and enjoy a fancy night out with your babe! I recommend ordering the Roasted Truffle Cauliflower- the flavors are exquisite. Every element of the dish was cooked to perfection and who doesn’t love truffle? For the main course, I thoroughly loved every bite of my scallops with black linguini & yuzu emulsion. Keep in mind the menu is seasonal! 

THE BREAD SHOP

Delicious freshly baked goods with a huge variety to choose from. Pastries are pricy, but it’s soooo worth it & why not support a small business! Plus, the entrance is extremely instagrammable!

COPENHAGEN SAUSAGE GARDEN

If you’re all about the sausages and beers, this is the place to check out! They have a whole range of options! It’s basically sausage heaven with killer sauces. It’s a very casual dining option if you need something quick. It does get pretty crowded- reminded me of a frat house HA!

MORTENSEN BAKERY

Fill your tummy up with some good ol’ Danish pastries! They’ve got bear claws, streudals, kringles, and all the the sweets! It’s flaky and buttery- my favs are the classic apple or cream cheese flavor. 

SUCCULENT CAFE

Head over here for a delightful charcuterie plate, cocktails, and relaxing outdoor seating. It’s a cute cafe on the main street and you can people watch while you eat. 

VIN AND MAD

Go for bites and drinks (aka happy hour) from 4-6pm! Order Duck Fat Fries, Ceviche, and a delicious cocktail! Withered Passion and Den-Mark My Words are the two drinks that stand out to me. 

WHAT TO SEE

WINDMILLS

There are a total of 6 windmills… question is, can you find them all? 😉

MISSION SANTA INEZ

Location: 1760 Mission Dr, Solvang, CA 93463

It’s a historic spanish mission founded by Father Estévan Tapís on 1804. Today, it serves as a museum and a church! Tip: If the town center is looking crowded, head here. There’s peaceful benches with beautiful scenery for you to take an hour or two break. 

LITTLE MERMAID FOUNTAIN

Location: 1693 Mission Dr, Solvang, CA 93463 Corner of Mission Drive & Alisal Road

It’s the replica from the original one in Coppenhagen. Based on Hans Christen Andersen, it’s the storyline of the mermaid giving up everything for hopeless love of a prince.

OSTRICHLAND USA

Ah I even feel guilty mentioning this… I’ve been here twice…. And this time, I did a bit more research and realized it was a meat farm. If you’re okay with supporting an organization then by all means. I personally didn’t feel comfortable 

SOLVANG FESTIVAL THEATER

When it’s not covid times, come here to watch a play!

WINE TASTING

If ya like wine, there’s plenty of vineyards here for you to get shwasted. Rusack Vineyard, Rideau Vineyard, Los Olivos Wine Tasting, Sanger Family of Wines, etc.

Grape Stomp (Annual)

Only in October, you can join the harvest celebration by stomping and making your own wine 

Julefest (Annual)

This happens in December and it’s a cozy month of lights, celebration and holiday cheer! There’s Santa’s Village, Tree Lighting, parades, Christmas Light Shows, and many more! 

WHERE TO STAY

THE LANDSBY

A modern, contemporary, luxury hotel. Located smackdab right in the center of town, we had the most lovely stay here. Service was impeccable, bed was comfortable, shower was clean, and everything was tidy! We stayed in the Luxury King that was a corner room so it had allllll the windows for perfect lighting! We had a separate staircase for entry/exit and the windows looked out onto the main street. I loved people watching from the comfort of my room (cuz covid) and at night, the twinkle lights shine through making it feel like Christmas. It was such a cozy and fabulous stay and I would definitely book another stay here for another getaway.

I’d love to hear about your thoughts on Solvang and if there are any places I missed! You can find my daily updates on my Instagram!

Xo,

Soph