**Disclaimer: This is not an endorsement of travel during the COVID-19 pandemic. Please use these blog references for when it's okay to safely travel again.
Puerto Vallarta is hands-down one of my favorite places on Earth, and it's also one of the top destinations in Mexico to visit. It’s got everything: beaches (both secluded and busy), a great jungle to hike in, nearby small towns to explore, beautiful resorts, boutique hotels and Airbnb's, exciting nightlife, incredible food, and more. Not only have I visited Puerto Vallarta regularly since I was a kid, I’ve also had the wonderful opportunity live and work there for a while during college. It’s definitely a slice of home for me. It just so happens that Puerto Vallarta is also a very beautiful, Instagram-worthy travel destination. Here are the best instagrammable places in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
This beach spot is located on the south end of the city - just a short bus ride and you’re there. Mismaloya is far less busy than the beach areas downtown, so if you're looking to avoid the tourist crowds, this is a great place to go. What makes Mismaloya so Instagram-worthy though is how it is enveloped by the jungle and mountains that surround it. I'd also argue that the water there is bluer too.
This is another great beach that also happens to be a hidden gem in Puerto Vallarta. To get to this secluded beach spot, you have to take a bus to Boca de Tomatlan, which is a little further south than Mismaloya. From Boca, you hike through the jungle until you reach the beach. It’ll be easy to spot since it’s the first beach you’ll get to. While it’s relatively small, the scenery is unbelievable and it’s untouched by tourism, which means you’re totally surrounded by just nature.
Old Town Puerto Vallarta – also known as the Romantic Zone – has more of an authentic charm to it as opposed to newer areas of downtown Puerto Vallarta. Photo ideas include a shot of the ocean looking down one of the neighborhood’s cobblestone streets or taking in the view from an Airbnb up in the hills to get a shot of Puerto Vallarta’s gorgeous skyline and bay.
This small town north of Puerto Vallarta has gotten very popular over the years. What was once an off-the-beaten path, quiet surfer town has transformed into a hipster destination perfect for more adventurous travelers who want a low-key experience outside of the city that still has a decent social scene. Sayulita has been built up nicely though and still has a surf culture to it. Parts of the town center are also decorated with Papel Picado, which is a type of colorful Mexican folk art and shows up beautifully in photos.
**Disclaimer: This is not an endorsement of travel during the COVID-19 pandemic. Please use these blog references for when it's okay to safely travel again.
If social media influencers had a Mecca, it would be Los Angeles, so it only makes sense that LA would have some incredible Instagram-worthy locations. However, you don’t have to be an influencer to want great Instagram pictures. Most people who travel to LA are also looking for those beautiful and/or iconic places to get that pic for the ‘gram. As someone who has lived in Los Angeles for 8 years and now just moved back, I’m going to break down some of the top Instagram spots in LA, along with the one you should totally avoid.
This is hands down my favorite place in LA, and it’s also one of the most iconic spots here. The Griffith Observatory is most famous for the James Dean film Rebel without a Cause, but it was also prominently featured in the Oscar-winning hit LA LA Land. Along with being a famous LA landmark, the observatory also has a beautiful view since it sits at the top of Griffith Park overlooking the city. If you do go to the Griffith Observatory, here are my two photo suggestions: 1.) Go at dusk and take photos walking along the back balcony or 2.) Go during the daytime and head to the exact spot from the famous knife scene in Rebel without a Cause. This is located outside in the back of the building on the far east side. Then, have a friend go to the higher level up top to take the photo of you. You’ll get a prime shot of you standing where James Dean stood in the movie along with a beautiful view of the city behind you.
Solstice Canyon Hiking Trail
Angelenos are known for their love of hiking, yours truly included. And there are certainly plenty of great hikes here. One of the prettiest though is the Solstice Canyon Trail in Malibu. You can hike high in the mountains and get stunning views of the ocean – and I kid you not, the water in Malibu is way more blue. Not only will you get your Instagram picture with a gorgeous backdrop of the mountains and ocean, you’ll also fit in right with the locals. My advice is to try and go on a weekday and be there at least a half-hour before the park opens at 9am. That’s because parking is very limited. My boyfriend and I attempted to do this one time on a Sunday morning. We got there exactly at 9am and it was already full. That being said, if you have the money, you can always use a Lyft or Uber to get you there too and then parking is no problem.
Urban Light at LACMA
This is one of the coolest and most popular public artworks in LA. It’s located on Wilshire Blvd. in front the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It features columns of vintage street lamps and was created by artist Chris Burden. This place makes for Instagram-worthy pictures day or night, but my personal recommendation is to go at night.
The Last Bookstore
This spot is certainly one of the most unique used book stores you’ll find in LA thanks to how it displays the books there. It’s located in downtown Los Angeles and features displays of books that will go over your head like a tunnel or form a circle that you can put your face through for a picture. It’s also a local favorite. Tourists are usually flocking to places like Santa Monica, Venice, and Hollywood, so if you’re looking for something more off the beaten path then you’ll want to check this place out.
And finally, the Instagram spot to avoid….
The Paul Smith Store on Melrose
Even if you’ve never set foot in LA you may have seen this store if you follow any influencers. Literally every time I’ve driven past this building there’s a group of people trying to snap pictures here. It’s become a bit of running joke. You see, there’s nothing particularly special about this store; it’s just that the outside wall is pink, which influencers love to use for their photos. Sure, bright colors make for a great backdrop, but you’ll just have another photo like 50,000 other people do and it’s not even an iconic LA landmark either. Plus, more than likely you’ll have to wait for the 50 other people there to finish their pictures, and the type of people taking pictures here aren’t a 1-and-done kind of crowd. They’ll be attempting full-on photo shoots. In a city that thrives on trends, avoiding an Instagram picture here is at least one way to be a little original.
The last stop on our road trip out west also happened to be a pretty grand finale. I had never made it to the Grand Canyon, but it’s certainly one of those ‘bucket list’ places in the U.S. to visit.
This part of the journey brought us to Arizona, where we went to the Grand Canyon’s south rim. Despite the fact that it was October and we were in a pandemic, it was still somewhat busy at the Grand Canyon. I can only imagine what it must be like there under normal circumstances!
For the highly adventurous traveler, you can hike to the bottom of the canyon, but it takes quite a bit of time so instead we just walked along the canyon’s outlook trail with the other tourists. When you walk from the parking lot and are finally able to see the canyon at the trail it really does blow your mind just how massive it is and how many millions of years it’s been around – definitely one of those wonders of nature.
As you walk along the trail it’s inevitable that you’ll want to take pictures, and there are some spots where you can take some epic – albeit somewhat scary – adventure shots. Seriously, if you attempt this please be safe. Now, one of the rather annoying aspects of traveling to the most famous places in the world is that everyone is clamoring to get their photo, only it’s not just a photo – it’s a photoshoot. Not once, but twice, my dad and I had to wait for several groups as they took photo after photo, changing poses and holding up the line. And just when you think they’re done, boom now they’re taking a video. Eventually I just chimed in and asked if we could get in to take a picture. My advice to fellow travelers is to also be considerate of others when getting your travel pictures. If you see other folks waiting on you, then don’t take an endless amount of photos. It’s just common courtesy.
As far as lodging, visitors can stay in the nearby town of Williams, which is pretty cute and the famous Route 66 heads through there. For dinner, I recommend the local restaurant Pine Country. They have incredible food and even a bunch of delicious-looking homemade pies. To this day I regret not trying one of their pies...
I’m grateful for the sites I got to see along this trip – places I had never imagined I’d have the time or chance to get to. The road trip definitely had it's challenges, but we made it to California in one piece. And speaking of pie, finally seeing that sign that says "Welcome to California" is definitely the cherry on top of a great road trip.
One of the meanings of the word ‘Zion’ is that it’s meant to describe a heavenly place – a Utopia if you will. I’m not exactly a very religious person, so I did look that up to confirm. That being said, it’s no wonder one of the most stunning national parks in the United States bears that name. I didn’t think it could get much prettier than Capitol Reef, but Zion National Park took my breath away. It’s absolutely stunning. You’ll find yourself taking more pictures than you can possibly imagine. That’s because you think you’ve seen the most beautiful spot, only to see one even more gorgeous just 10 minutes later.
The park was our second stop in Utah. It was significantly busier than Capitol Reef, but it’s understandable considering Zion is more well-known. Global pandemic or not, I’d definitely recommend trying to go here during the off-season. It was busier, but we were able to still find parking and the weather wasn’t unbearably hot.
Dad and I decided to hike the Watchmen Trail, which is one of the moderate ones. It seems a lot of other people chose to do this trail too. In the time of Covid, it can feel a little nerve-wracking since the width of the trail itself isn’t very big, but everyone was super courteous of one another. People would take turns going to the side so others could pass. It can feel like a long hike going up, but I honestly think it’s for several reasons: you’re going uphill and you’re regularly stopping to let others pass and to take pictures. The top of the trail was pretty but honestly there were so many incredible views on the way up as well. Going back down we even spotted some deer relaxing in the shade. Of course, it’s best to just leave the wildlife alone, which we did.
As far as lodging, visitors can camp at the park, but if a hotel is your thing, you can stay in the nearby town of Hurricane. I kid you not, that’s the name of it.
Next up, it’s the last big stop on our trip: The Grand Canyon
It seems the coronavirus pandemic has led to a resurgence in road trips, in particular to national parks, and that’s just what my dad and I set out to do as we made our way from Michigan to California in early October this year. For our road trip, we pretty much drove straight on through until we made it to Utah where the first national park on our list was located.
I hadn’t head of Capitol Reef National Park prior to this trip, but it certainly did not disappoint. Of the three we went to, this was the least crowded - a welcome environment in the middle of a global health crisis. Of course, driving into Utah alone will take your breath away. You’re instantly greeted by orange and red western landscapes that make you feel like you walked right into the Old West. Since we weren’t camping at the park, our main focus would be to hike and sight-see. For those who love hiking, I can’t recommend the parks out west enough. The weather is almost never a problem, though if you have a flexible schedule I’d recommend going in the Spring or Fall when it’s not quite so hot. If you’re not into camping outdoors, the nearby town we stayed in is called Green River. You can book a small hotel there if you choose to do so and then drive to the park.
When we got to Capitol Reef, the next step was deciding on which trail to take. Even for experienced hikers, the advanced ones can be difficult, so I’d recommend going with a moderate one. The great news is the parks usually provide a list of trails and how strenuous they are. If you’re worried a moderate one might not be challenging enough, trust me, you’ll still have a fantastic workout and not keel over in the process.
We choose to go with the Cohab Canyon Trail, one of the moderate ones. We were there around mid-day. It was warm, but not unbearably hot. That being said, be sure to pack some water. The first part of the trail was the most steep. After that is stayed pretty flat until we got to the part of the trail where we could climb to the top of the mountain for the view. I highly recommend doing this. It’s not hard to get further up there and the view is totally worth it. We even saw some prairie dogs and tiny green lizards running around up there as well. Very harmless. I promise, the lizards are actually kind of cute.
Coming back is pretty easy. The main thing you want to watch out for is loose dirt when going downhill. You can easily slip and possibly get hurt, so take it at a comfortable pace.
Unfortunately, my day had suddenly taken a turn for the worse after that hike. My dad and I had stopped to get outside the car and take pictures in another area of the park. I stupidly left my purse on the back of the car, only to forget about it as we drove off. 20 minutes later I realized my mistake and we hustled back as quickly as we could to the same spot but the purse was nowhere to be found. I was in a state of panic. The purse had my credit cards, license, extra set of car keys, and more. Thankfully, I had my phone with me, so that wasn’t also missing. We then went to the visitor center and asked the park rangers if anyone had turned it in. Nothing. I filled out a report in the event it was found, but the cynic in me figured all was lost. I called the bank immediately to cancel my credit cards.
Tired, hungry, and feeling helpless, I was in need of a fantastic dinner to ease the pain. That evening we stopped in a tiny town for dinner on the way to the next park. The town was so small that we didn’t even know what it was when we pulled in. Our goal for the week was to eat at local restaurants if we dined out, and we came upon a restaurant called Butch Cassidy’s Hideout. Thanks to the help of Google though, I was able to discover later on that this hidden gem is located in the town of Circle, Utah. My dad and I both had the roast beef dinner and oh my goodness it was so good! In addition to the roast beef, you get mashed potatoes, green beans, and a side salad (or soup if you opt for that instead). The salad alone was fantastic.
Coming up: Part 2 at Zion National Park and the good Samaritan who saved the day
They say you can’t go home again, but what about to the big city you had moved to from your home? I’m typing this blog post as I sit in a hotel room in Williams, Arizona about to return to Los Angeles – this time to stay. Well, that’s the plan at least. If there’s anything life has taught me is that you never know where it takes you.
Tomorrow I’ll arrive in LA. I first made the move there 10 years ago. I was a terrified recent college graduate who had big acting dreams. Now, I’m in my early 30s, grown, and to my own disliking, a bit more pragmatic. I’m not scared, but I also don’t yet know what to expect this time around. You see, the coronavirus pandemic has practically shut down LA. Sure, there are some productions, but as if things weren’t competitive enough before, the work isn’t nearly as frequent as it once was. It begs the question then: is Los Angeles as desirable without an abundant entertainment industry?
There’s much to love about LA: the ocean, beautiful sunny days, city life. There’s also a lot to hate about it: a severe homeless problem, pollution, heavy traffic. But for many, myself included, acting dreams always outweighed any negatives. So, as I make my way west once again, I’m curious to see if LA still holds that magic. The truth is I’ve had LA on a pedestal after two years back in the Midwest, but who’s to say if I’ll be in for a pleasant surprise or a rude awakening? I’ve visited LA several times since leaving, but living there, especially now, will likely prove to be more challenging than ever.
So while I may be more pragmatic these days, the doe-eyed actor with the big dreams is still in me and I’d like to think that LA still has some magic left.
Michigan is hands-down a beautiful state – well, except for that whole pesky winter thing (sorry snow bunnies!). There’s certainly plenty of great trails to go hiking on, and even though gyms are open, there are many of us still more comfortable exercising outside or at home.
Now, as someone who’s hiked in both California and Michigan, it’s no secret that California does have a leg up on that whole elevation thing. That’s not to say Michigan’s trails are any less awesome, but hiking up a mountain is a much more strenuous workout than a relatively flat trail. The good news is that I found a trail that actually kicked my butt – quite literally.
The Walk-a-Mile trail at Hoffmaster State Park was a great find. It starts you at the parking lot and takes you to the beach. If it’s a hot day, I totally recommend packing a swimsuit and going for a jump in the lake while you’re there. Once you are at the beach you’ll then hang a left where you’ll keeping walking until you see an opening to head back up to the trail in the forest. This is the part that was actually a really solid workout. The hill going back up is pretty steep and it’s all sand, so the combination really worked my legs and butt. Then, once you’re at the top it’s kind of fun because you sort of glide down with the sand through the trees and come out at the parking lot.
So, even though the trail itself is a little shorter, if you’re looking for a hike in West Michigan with a little more elevation, I definitely recommend this one. Plus, you get a great view of Lake Michigan while you’re there!
I Traveled During the Coronavirus Pandemic: Here’s Why the U.S. Is Losing the Fight Against COVID-19
When it comes to pet peeves, my biggest one is people who are inconsiderate of others. Whatever happened to manners? People taking selfies in locker rooms, men who don’t pay on a first date, neighbors who play loud music, anyone who doesn’t say “thank you” when you hold a door open for them. The list goes on! Somewhere along the lines we’ve gotten so focused on ourselves that we can disregard the other people around us. Sure, other countries aren’t immune to bad manners, but when it comes to the ‘Me, Myself, and I’ mentality, no one does it better than Americans. Think about how we treat our citizens when it comes to education and healthcare. It’s no surprise that chivalry is going out the door faster than the next celebrity cancellation.
We’re in a pandemic. This is a time of science and healthcare, yet here in the United States, something as simple as wearing mask has somehow morphed into a political issue. I’m not sure if I’m in America 2020 or Thunderdome. When did we stop listening to doctors? And no, I’m not talking about those people in YouTube conspiracy videos. The same folks who’ll gladly listen to their doctor when it comes to any other health-related issue now shun wearing a mask despite the nation’s top disease experts saying we should. The point of the mask is protect to each other – to be considerate of one another – and we’re failing miserably.
I just recently traveled to California and while my trip going home was fine, the journey out there was a rude awakening that even in the most vulnerable situations, some people just don’t care. Now, before you criticize me for traveling in the first place, I had booked this birthday trip a while back and it was a break that I desperately needed. Time away from home and work is part of self-care as well, and Lord knows I was feeling burnt out. And because I understand the risks, I was going to make sure I did everything in my power to be safe while I traveled.
Oddly enough, I nearly didn’t make it out to California in the first place. I was traveling on American Airlines and had booked my flight through Cheap Tickets. I had used this booking site a dozen times, but somehow this time around they failed to notify me that my flight time had changed. So, upon arriving at the airport in Grand Rapids, I was shocked to find out my flight already took off. I was put on standby, and if there’s one silver lining of traveling in a pandemic, it’s that your odds of making it on the plane if you’re standby are greatly improved. Instead of having a layover in Chicago, I’d be stopping over in Dallas, Texas. It was this second flight out of Dallas, however, that made me a nervous wreck.
I got onto the plane, relieved to find that the middle seat between myself and a male passenger was empty. After wiping down my seat, handles, and tray table though, I began to notice one by one the people sitting around me not wearing their masks. The mother across the aisle in my row took hers off as she gazed at her phone. The guy in the window seat beside me moved his below his mouth – seriously dude, at that point why even have it on your face. Then the guy across the aisle in the row in front of me removed his. And don’t even get me started on the young woman directly in front of me who waltzed onto the plane not wearing a mask at all! Not only that, she never wore it for the entire flight – only putting it on once it was time to de-board the plane after we landed. I watched as multiple flight attendants walked by and said nothing. Mind you, these people were physically capable of wearing masks to get onboard and they weren’t eating or drinking. If I was ever going to have an anxiety attack, this would be the time. My in-flight wifi purchase simply became a Facebook and Twitter vent on how poor this experience was. It’s easy to roll our eyes at people we see on social media bash wearing masks, but when that lack of consideration directly puts your own health at risk, yeah, you become angry. Gone are the days of just being bothered by people who lean their seat back or put their bare feet up. Simpler times…
I don’t envy the job of a flight attendant right now, and while I do think it was their responsibility to enforce the mask policy that American Air has adopted, more than that I believe it was the responsibility of those passengers to be considerate to the well-being of others – even strangers.
So, when we ask ourselves why the U.S. is seeing such spikes in Coronavirus cases, the answer may very well lie in the fact that some of us still need a good hard lesson in manners.
The coronavirus pandemic has forced us to take our indoor workouts at the gym and bring them outside, to our homes, or both. In a silver lining of sorts, the gym shutdown also coincided with Spring, which meant the weather in Michigan was final warming up - making working out at the park much more feasible than in mid-January.
But that was months ago, and while I’ve been enjoying getting in my exercise outside, running on my own at a park can get rather boring after a while. I miss the energy of being around other people. As someone who taught Zumba for practically a decade, I love group exercise classes, so perhaps it was divine intervention that when I googled “outdoor workouts in Grand Rapids” this past week, I was met with an entire list of free outdoor workouts that were beginning the same week!
I immediately made time in my schedule to go to the next upcoming class, which is called SoulfulMOTION. This one involved a lot of squat exercises, so if you’re looking for that, you’ll definitely want to hit up their class. The class began at 9:30am on Saturday morning at the North Monroe Lot in Downtown Grand Rapids and lasted for 45 minutes. There were a lot of people there and yes, everyone was still practicing social distancing. Of course, weather in Michigan can be unpredictable but thankfully it was a nice sunny day for us. The energy was awesome. The music they use is workout remixes of Christian songs, but it's such a positive environment that it didn’t make me feel uncomfortable by any means if perhaps I don’t share the same personal views. At the end of the day, it’s a workout class, not Sunday School. And I genuinely had a great time!
That’s just the tip of the iceberg though. The free outdoor workout classes in Grand Rapids include things like Zumba, Yoga, Kickboxing, and more. The city of Grand Rapids has provided a list of the workouts including times and locations on their website, which you can find here.
So, while we may have to wait a little while longer for those gyms to reopen, free outdoor workouts sound like a pretty fantastic option right now. It's a wonderful way to lift your spirits and connect with the community.
Hopefully we’ll see each other there. In the meantime, hope you are staying healthy and well!
Right now the world is coming together in solidarity with the black community. Speaking up, protesting, making calls to local leaders, donating, getting educated - these are just some of the ways we all should be helping. When it came to this travel blog, however, I had to ask myself ‘how can I address the current social climate and continue to write about travel and things to do?’. My answer was that I wanted to support black-owned businesses and black voices in the travel community by sharing them on here with all of you. And while it's one way to show support, I want to emphasize it doesn't replace all those other active steps that I will continue to do and that I hope anyone else reading this will do as well.
The first black-owned business I’d like to share is Malamiah Juice Bar, which is located in the Studio Park Plaza in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan. I have to give a shout out to my awesome comedy group, Funny Girls, for letting me know about this place. They have all sorts of healthy juice and smoothie options, as well as several different acai bowls to choose from. During my visit, I ordered the Berry Bowl. It costs $10.50 and then with a tip it’s about $13-$14. I’m a sucker for an acai bowl and this one did not disappoint. It was so good! It had acai blended with coconut milk, bananas, and strawberries. Then it’s topped off with gluten-free/vegan granola, banana and strawberry pieces, and honey. Plus, it’s really filling too. One of those and you’re set for breakfast or lunch. Because of the coronavirus pandemic right now, you can order online ahead of time at malamiah.square.site and they’ll bring it out to you once it’s ready. I ordered out front when I got there and it was a quick wait. I definitely want to go back soon and try their Peanut Butter Bowl next!
Now, something else really cool about this place is that they also give back to the local community. On their Instagram they recently shared that they’ll be donating part of their proceeds from their Justice Juice to GR’s Pride Center. I think that’s pretty awesome. And that’s just one example of how Malamiah gives back.
You can read more on that at their website, www.malamiahjuicebar.com.
I would encourage anyone reading this to stop by Malamiah Juice Bar ASAP for a healthy treat, and if you need some company, I am definitely ready to try that Peanut Butter Bowl!
About the author
Jill Zwarensteyn is a writer, comedian, and television producer who has been featured on Amazon, truTV, The New York Times, Matador Network, BUST Magazine, Tiplr, ARTRPRNR Magazine, YourTango, Thought Catalog, GoMad Nomad, Mashable, The Daily Mail UK, the Cannes Film Festival, LaughFest, Women's Lifestyle Magazine, and the Funny Women Festival LA. For more info visit: http://www.jillzwarensteyn.weebly.com