A Long Weekend at the Iconic Hotel del Coronado

hotel del coronado activities

For Julian’s birthday, I wanted to do something really special. Julian always takes me on the most amazing trips — from my 26th birthday trip to Istanbul to our trip to Colorado and Costa Rica last winter — and I wanted to return the favor. San Diego had been on both of our bucket lists for a couple of reasons: 1) It’s proximity to Mexico City. 2) We have a few friends living there, and 3) We’d heard amazing things and wanted to experience it for ourselves. When we found out America (one of our favorite bands from the 70s) was playing there the weekend before Julian’s birthday, it seemed like a sign. That very night I booked our tickets and began planning our trip to sunny San Diego!

When researching where to stay in San Diego, I was confronted with an overwhelming number of options both in the city and surrounding county. While Julian and I wanted to see the city, we were most interested in a relaxing beach weekend. We also wanted to explore San Diego’s state parks and see our friends. The Hotel del Coronado, with its iconic reputation and oceanfront location, seemed like the ideal option to fit our needs.

DwD Tip: If you’re visiting San Diego for the first time, keep in mind that it is very spread out with many neighborhoods to choose from. Check out this neighborhood guide to help you decide what area is right for you. Then choose accommodations accordingly. If you’re just going for the weekend, accept that you won’t be able to do it all and focus on your must-dos.

hotel del coronado activities

Coronado Island

Coronado Island is located just across the bridge from San Diego and yet it feels like a whole different world. It has a laid back, family-friendly vibe with a charming main street, grand old homes, and wide sandy beaches. Staying at Hotel del Coronado allowed us to have the best of both worlds — easy access to the city with the peace and quiet of a beach town.

hotel del coronado activities san diego bridge

An aerial view of the San Diego-Coronado Bridge. The bridge connects Coronado and San Diego over the San Diego Bay. Photo credit: Frank McKenna

Getting There: Mexico City to San Diego

From Mexico City, San Diego is a great three-day weekend destination. At around $150 USD, flying to Tijuana International Airport was less than half the price of flying to San Diego International Airport. It was also much more convenient as there are many non-stop flights to Tijuana (whereas there aren’t any to San Diego).

hotel del coronado activities tijuana airport

Crossing the Border

Crossing the border into the US from Tijuana International Airport is an absolute breeze. In fact, you cross the border into the US while still in the airport. All you have to do is buy Cross Border Xpress (CBX) upon arrival. It costs $15 per crossing, regardless of nationality.

*Note to Americans without an FM2 or FM3: On the way back into Mexico, the immigration officer told me I’d need to buy a visa if I was staying longer than a week. I was initially confused because I’ve never needed a visa before when entering Mexico. The immigration officer explained that there are special regulations when crossing the border via land. If you travel beyond the 22 miles/35 km “free zone” after crossing into Mexico you will need to pay around $22 USD for a Mexico Visitor’s Permit (FMM).

When we exited the airport, we were officially on US territory. From there we ordered an Uber and in a little over 30 minutes we’d arrived at the Hotel del Coronado.

Hotel del Coronado

Rich Heritage

Hotel del Coronado, or “The Del” for short, is an American treasure and a California icon. When it opened in 1888, it was the largest resort hotel in the world. Today, it is the second largest wooden structure in the US and one of the few surviving examples of the Victorian beach resort. Over the years, it has hosted celebrities, royalty, US Presidents, and, now, Julian and I!

hotel del coronado activities

The dark wood lobby immediately transports you to the Victorian era

hotel del coronado activities

The Del is also a National Historic Landmark

Accommodations

The Del offers rooms and suites in the original Victorian building, the contemporary Ocean Towers, or beachfront cottages. If you want to get the authentic experience, I’d definitely recommend staying in the original Victorian building. After all, that’s half of the fun! 

hotel del coronado activities

While our room didn’t have an ocean view, we did have a lovely view of the interior courtyard. The courtyard has a perfectly maintained garden that’s ideal for strolls or lounging in the grass. I loved waking up to a view of the courtyard’s magnificent Ceiba trees from our balcony.

hotel del coronado activities

hotel del coronado activities

How stunning are these Ceiba trees??

Coronado Beach

One of the best things about The Del is its oceanfront location. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as warm as we had hoped but that didn’t stop us from enjoying the beach. Growing up on the East Coast, I’m used to much narrower (and ever shrinking) beaches. The beaches of Coronado go on for ages and, thanks to the mineral Mica, literally sparkle. 

hotel del coronado activities beach

Coronado is often named one of the country’s top beaches and I can definitely see why.

hotel del coronado activities beach

Coronado beach is teeming with activity from dusk to dawn.

Hotel del Coronado Activities

Our weekend in San Diego was so packed that we weren’t able to take advantage of all of the fun activities at the Hotel del Coronado. However, we made sure to schedule in time for their famous brunch and a bike ride around Coronado Island.

*Disclosure: The Del generously treated us to the brunch and bike rentals but all opinions expressed are my own.

The Del’s Famous Brunch

If you know me, you know I’m a huge fan of brunch. The concept of brunch doesn’t really exist in Mexico (shocking, I know). So whenever I’m in the states I make it a point to treat myself to a stellar brunch. I couldn’t believe my luck when I heard The Del has a legendary brunch.

hotel del coronado activities The Crown Room brunch

The Crown Room

The Del’s lavish Sunday brunch takes place in the Crown Room and features a chilled seafood bar, Bloody Mary bar, omelette and carving stations, and tables upon tables of decadent desserts. It’s also bottomless, meaning that all drinks are included and the waiters keep them coming. Needless to say, I was in absolute heaven.

hotel del coronado activities crown room brunch

Started with my favorites — a Belgian waffle and an omelette

hotel del coronado activities crown room brunch

And ended by sampling almost every dessert!

Biking around Coronado

Unsurprisingly, Julian and I left brunch in a full-on food coma. Luckily, a bike ride around Coronado was the perfect remedy. There’s a little bike rental shop on the boardwalk with a variety of bikes to choose from. Julian and I chose two beach cruisers and set off to explore the island. 

hotel del coronado activities biking

We biked along the boardwalk and, when it ended, began cruising through the neighborhoods of Coronado. I loved the different styles of houses, from Victorian-style mansions, to modern residences, and quaint beach cottages. At one point, we stopped at a park on the bay to enjoy the spectacular view of the city.

san diego skyline

Must-Do Activities

If you stay in Coronado, I guarantee you won’t get bored. There are countless things to do on the island itself, across the bridge in San Diego, and in the surrounding county. Three days wasn’t nearly enough time to see everything we wanted to, but we did get to check two things off our list: hiking Torrey Pines State Reserve and experiencing the nightlife in the Gaslamp District.

Torrey Pines State Reserve

Torrey Pines State Reserve is a 1,750 acre reserve dedicated to preserving its namesake, the Torrey Pine tree and other indigenous wildlife. It’s about a 30 minute drive from Coronado so I would recommend renting a car for the day. DwD Tip: Reserve a car at least a few days in advance. We rented one the day of and got the last car in San Diego!

torrey pines state reserve torrey pines state reserve torrey pines state reserve

As far as parking at Torrey Pines, there are spots available right before the park entrance which are free of charge. However, these are hard to come by, especially during weekends. If you can’t find a spot, you’ll have to park in one of the parking lots of the reserve. This will set you back $10-25, depending on the day and time of year.

If you’re feeling lazy, you can drive to the top. But, if you’re physically able to, I’d definitely recommend hiking up. It’s a rather easy, and very enjoyable, hike to the top. Once you reach the summit, take some time to breathe in the fragrance of the pines and soak up the gorgeous views of the Pacific.

torrey pines state reserve

San Diego’s Gaslamp District

The Gaslamp District is a historic neighborhood in downtown San Diego. It’s the epicenter of San Diego’s nightlife with numerous nightclubs, bars, and restaurants. It’s also the cultural heart of the city with theaters, art galleries, symphony halls, concert venues and museums. 

gaslamp district san diego

Photo credit: Hotel Indigo

I was determined to experience this vibrant part of town and what better way than on the weekend? Friday night, our local friends took us to Vin de Syrah, a whimsical, hidden cocktail lounge in the center of the Gaslamp District. It becomes a club on the weekends and we had a great time dancing the night away in this quirky, Alice & Wonderland themed bar.

Vin de Syrah san diego

Photo credit: Andrew Jorgen

Saturday night, I booked dinner for us at Rustic Root, a restaurant and rooftop bar in the center of the action. If you want to get a taste of San Diego’s nightlife without actually going out, have a late dinner or drinks at Rustic Root. We sat at the high-top tables near the street and watched the hoards of partygoers pass by as we dined. It was truly first-rate entertainment.

rustic root san diego

Photo credit: Open Table

Lowriders

The highlight of the night, however, was when the San Diego lowriders came cruising through town. It was towards the end of our dinner when brightly-painted cars driven extremely low to the ground began bouncing down San Diego’s 5th Avenue. A crowd quickly gathered to watch them and snap videos with their phones. The drivers put on a show, driving to the side with their wheels in the air and using special hydraulics to bounce up and down the street. I had never seen anything like it!

lowriders san diego

I later found out that lowrider culture began in California in the 1950s and 60s. Young Chicanos created the lowrider car style to express the pride and playfulness of Mexican American culture. The guiding principle here was bajito y suavecito: low and slow. It’s awesome that lowrider culture is still thriving today and was so fun to have found ourselves right in the midst of it all.

Final Thoughts

Our three-day weekend in San Diego passed all too quickly and there was so much we didn’t get to do. But by staying at The Del we feel we got a taste of it all — the laidback beach town of Coronado,  the vibrant city of San Diego, and the beautiful California coast. Now that San Diego is on our radar, we’re already planning another trip in the New Year.

Until next time… Stay classy, San Diego!

hotel del coronado activities

P.S. The Del is celebrating their 130th Anniversary this year and is offering a $130 resort credit with any two-night stay in 2018. So now is the time to go!


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One Day in Palma de Mallorca

one-day-in-palma-de-mallorca-Parroquia-de-Santa-Eulalia

The beautiful city of Palma de Mallorca was the third stop on our sailing trip around the Balearic Islands. If you don’t know, the Balearic Islands are an archipelago off eastern Spain in the Mediterranean. The four largest islands are Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza, and Formentera and we visited them all except for Menorca. Though I had visited Ibiza last year (click here to discover why Ibiza is more than just a party destination), it was my first time in Formentera and Mallorca. The moment we pulled into Palma de Mallorca’s harbor and I got a glimpse of its majestic cathedral, I had a good feeling about this city. From strolling through palm-lined avenues to discovering its fascinating history and browsing its charming boutiques, there’s much to see and do in Mallorca’s capital. If you only have one day in Palma de Mallorca, here’s how to make the most of it…

Morning

Begin your day with breakfast at the city’s oldest cafe, Can Joan de S’Aigo in Palma’s Sa Gerreria neighborhood. You’ll feel transported to the 17th century as you feast on its famous ensaïmadas (a pastry from Mallorca) and delicious homemade ice cream. Afterwards, walk off your breakfast by exploring the narrow cobblestone streets on your way to Plaza de Santa Eulália.

one-day-in-palma-de-mallorca-old-town

Take a minute to admire the lovely church on Plaza de Santa Eulália before continuing to the nearby Plaza de Cort. Here you will find the Baroque-style City Hall, colorfully painted buildings, and a spectacular, ancient olive tree.

one-day-in-palma-de-mallorca-plaza-de-cort

Plaza de Cort

one-day-in-palma-de-mallorca-olive-tree

This olive tree is believed to be about 800 years old and is one of Palma’s most popular icons.

Palau March

After a five-minute walk along the street Palau Reial, you’ll arrive at Palau March. Once the residence of the phenomenally wealthy March family, today it is open to the public as a museum. Its beautiful courtyard offers a stunning view of Palma’s Cathedral as well as an impressive collection of modern and contemporary sculpture. Inside, you’ll find an extensive nativity scene collection and medieval navigational maps displayed in the stately rooms. In the Middle Ages, Mallorcans were among the most renowned mapmakers in the world so this is well worth checking out.

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one-day-in-palma-de-mallorca-palau-march-courtyard

La Seu, Cathedral of Palma

Just steps away from Palau March is La Seu, Palma’s grand cathedral. First a bit of history: Palma was originally founded as a Roman camp, then conquered by the Byzantine Empire, colonized by the Moors, and, in the 13th century, reconquered by James I of Aragon. Soon after his victory over the Moors, King James commissioned a massive cathedral to be built on the site of a former mosque. Construction began in 1229 and it took almost 400 years to complete.

one-day-in-palma-de-mallorca-cathedral

In the early 20th century, La Seu underwent some changes at the hands of the Modernist architect Antoni Gaudí. One of his most dramatic additions was the enormous crown-of-thorns illuminated canopy hanging over the altar. Gaudi’s unexpected Modernist intervention in a classic Gothic cathedral makes Le Seu all the more memorable. Today, Le Seu is by far the most emblematic monument on the island.

one-day-in-palma-de-mallorca-cathedral-le-seu

La Almudaina

Next door to Le Seu, you’ll happen upon yet another impressive sight – the Royal Palace of La Almudaina. Originally a Muslim fortress, Mallorca’s Christian rulers rebuilt it into a palace in the 14th century. The result is a beautiful, and very interesting, conflux of architectural styles. Over the centuries, various Iberian monarchs held court there. In modern times, it is the official summer residence of the Spanish Royal Family.

one-day-in-palma-de-mallorca-la-almudaina

Afternoon

After a morning spent soaking up Palma’s rich history, you’re bound to be hungry. If you want traditional Spanish food, go to Bar España. This local’s-favorite is known for their delicious tapas and is located right in the center of Palma.

Shopping

Palma de Mallorca is not all cathedrals and museums – it’s also a vibrant, cosmopolitan, Mediterranean city with a wealth of trendy boutiques to explore. While you can find designer brands and high-street stores in Palma, shopping in the local boutiques is more fun. Luckily, the area surrounding Bar España is a great place to discover them.

one-day-in-palma-de-mallorca-shopping

A few of my favorite shops in Old Town Palma are:

La Principal– A brand built around Mallorca’s laid-back Mediterranean vibe. Offers mostly menswear but also has a small selection of womenswear. I took home one of their staples, a chic, gray raincoat.

0039 Italy– A German womenswear brand that plays with colors, patterns and shapes. Fun, print blouses are at the centerpiece of every collection.

Braez– An Amsterdam fashion label that blends comfort, convenience and style into all of their designs. You’ll find simple, easy-to-wear pieces for both men and women in various soft colors. I left with a soft-as-butter white hoodie dress with the perfect amount of stretch.

Óptica Toscana– Among the numerous sunglass shops in Palma, Óptica Toscana stands out. It offers a unique selection of young brands and caters to people who care about their vision just as much as their look.

Carmina– Founded in Mallorca in 1866, Carmina has been crafting tailor-made shoes for the past six generations. Today, you can find this fabled shoemaker in major cities around the world. Nevertheless, Carmina continues to use traditional shoemaking techniques, resulting in extremely comfortable and durable leather footwear.

Rialto Living- If you only go to one store while in Palma, go to Rialto Living. Located in a sprawling 15th century building, Rialto Living is pure heaven for those who love fashion, decoration, and design. Wandering through this spacious, luxurious store, you’ll discover everything you never knew you needed from clothing to furniture, books, gifts, accessories, and art. There’s even a charming café where you can rest and enjoy your surroundings.

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Interior of Rialto Living

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Second floor of Rialto Living

Hotel Mamá

After an afternoon of shopping, head to Hotel Mamá on Plaza de Cort for coffee or cocktail break. Designed by renowned Parisian designer Jacques Grange, this five-star hotel is a feast for the eyes. With its flamboyant and colorful décor, you’ll feel as though you just walked into a Wes Anderson film.

Evening

Palma is full of excellent dining options so I’d recommend using this carefully curated list of best restaurants to choose wisely. We dined at Italian restaurant Ribello in an area known as La Lonja. Located in Old Town Palma, La Lonja is the best place to go after dark, with a great selection of restaurants, bars and clubs.

Before or after dinner, save time to wander down Passeig des Born. This pleasant boulevard is lined by beautiful plane trees (similar to the American sycamore tree) and is surrounded by restaurants, cafés, and designer boutiques. Sit on a bench and enjoy the warm Mediterranean evening while you let your wonderful day in Palma sink in.

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one-day-in-palma-de-mallorca-passeig-des-born

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24 Hours in Palma de Mallorca

24 Hours in Palma de Mallorca

 

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How to Spend 2 Days in Istanbul

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Istanbul: The City where East meets West

For years now I’ve been dying to go to Istanbul, the city where East meets West. Its cultural heritage spans from an ancient Greek civilization through Persian, Greek, Byzantine, and Ottoman empires to the modern nation-state. This convergence of civilizations has shaped Istanbul into one of the world’s most culturally rich cities and I was eager to experience it first-hand. Although we only had one weekend to explore Istanbul, we were able to see most of the city’s highlights with the help of our Turkish friend. If you only have two days in Istanbul and want to make the best of your time there, this guide is for you…

hagia sophia two days in instanbul itinerary

Getting to Istanbul

Istanbul has two airports, the Ataturk Airport on the European side of the city and the Sabiha Gokcen Airport on the Asian side of the city. Though we were staying on the European side (where the main tourist attractions are), we flew into Sabiha Gokcen Airport because the tickets were much cheaper. The only downside was the long cab ride to our hotel which took over an hour in traffic. Weigh the pros and cons before choosing which airport to fly into.

DwD Tip: Before going, make sure to check whether or not your country requires a visa to visit Turkey. For Americans, a visa is required but it’s just a matter of paying $30 upon arrival.

airport map two days in instanbul itinerary

How to Spend 2 Days (and 2 nights) in Istanbul

Night 1:

Check in to hotel

If you want to stay somewhere special while in Istanbul, choose a hotel along the beautiful Bosphorus Strait. With the recent turndown in tourism, hotels are cheaper than ever and rooms that normally would’ve been out of our price range were surprisingly affordable.

We stayed at the Shangri-La Bosphorus largely because of its great location and view of the Bosphorus. The Shangri-La is conveniently located in the financial and entertainment district of Besiktas. This was the perfect area for us because it’s very close to the trendy neighborhood of Bebek and only a tram ride away to the historic Old City.

*Click here to see current prices at the Shangri-La Bosphorus.

Shangri-La Bosphorus hotel two days in instanbul itinerary

Luxe lobby of the Shangri-La Bosphorus

Experience the city’s nightlife in Bebek

Begin your night with dinner at Lucca, a local hotspot in the hip neighborhood of Bebek. The cool thing about Lucca is it’s a cafe by day and one of the hottest bars in Istanbul by night. Around midnight the last plates are cleared and the party starts. The music is fantastic with a DJ who has everyone singing and dancing. It’s the perfect way to kick off your trip and dive straight into the local culture.

lucca cafe and bar two days in instanbul itinerary

Day 1 Itinerary:

  • Blue Mosque
  • Hagia Sophia
  • Topkapi Palace

Touring the Old City

The Blue Mosque

The beautiful Blue Mosque is an absolute must-do while in Istanbul. Today, the Blue Mosque still functions as a place of worship and Muslims from around the world come here to pray. I was struck by the serenity and beauty of this grand mosque. I especially loved the stained glass windows and immense, intricately tiled domes.

two days in instanbul itinerary blue mosque

DwD Tip: When visiting mosques in Istanbul make sure to dress somewhat conservatively out of respect. The Blue Mosque asks that both men and women cover their legs and shoulders and that women cover their hair. However, a long robe and an attached headscarf are provided for those who, like me, did not bring their own. Also, all visitors must take off their shoes upon entrance in keeping with Islamic tradition. 

istanbul blue mosque two days in instanbul itinerary

Admiring the mosque’s stained glass windows in the robe and head scarf provided for visitors

istanbul blue mosque two days in instanbul itinerary

two days in instanbul itinerary blue mosque

Photo of the Blue Mosque taken from a window in the Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia

Directly across from the Blue Mosque is the great Hagia Sophia. The history of Hagia Sophia (whose name means “holy wisdom” in Greek) is extremely interesting and reflects the many drastic changes Istanbul has undergone over the last millennia. If you have some time, read up on it! If not, here’s the short version: Built in 537 by a Byzantine emperor, it served as the focal point of the Greek Orthodox Church for nearly one thousand years. In 1453, the city was conquered by the Ottomans and it was converted into a mosque. Then in 1935, Ataturk, the first Turkish President and founder of the Republic of Turkey, transformed the it into a museum.

hagia sophia two days in instanbul itinerary

Today, Arabic calligraphic panes hang next to 6th century murals of Mary, Christ, and the Saints, resulting in a fascinating confluence of Christian and Islamic iconography. Although it’s currently undergoing extensive repairs, don’t let this deter you from visiting. Standing under Hagia Sophia’s 55 meter dome is a humbling experience unlike any other.

hagia sophia two days in instanbul itinerary

Topkapi Palace

Our final site for the day was Topkapi Palace, the residence of the Ottoman sultans for almost 400 years. Perched on a hill overlooking the Golden Horn, Topkapi Palace was strategically built to have the best view of the Bosphorus and surrounding city. Allow some time here because there are four courtyards, a harem, mosques, a hospital, bakeries, a mint, and beautiful gardens to see. There are also several museums where you will find elaborate Ottoman weaponry, an extensive collection of Japanese, Chinese, and European porcelain, and many other imperial treasures.

topkapi palace two days in instanbul itinerary

Entrance to the palace

topkapi palace two days in instanbul itinerary

For a blue and white lover like me, Topkapi Palace was a dream. The palace is covered in blue and white Iznik tiles with the most beautiful designs and I left with major design inspiration!

We visited Topkapi  in late afternoon and stayed until sunset. At golden hour, the palace was bathed in the most magnificent light, illuminating its tiled walls and the city below. Watching the sunset from the palace balcony, I couldn’t help but feel like an Ottoman princess. 😀

Night 2:

Dinner at Sunset

Saturday night have dinner at Sunset Grill & Bar in the posh neighborhood of Ulus. This classy restaurant sits on a hill with a fantastic view of the Bosphorus. In addition to Turkish dishes, Sunset serves international and Japanese cuisine and everything is delicious.

sunset restaurant two days in instanbul itinerary

Day 2 Itinerary: 

  • Brunch along the Bosphorus 
  • Dolmabahce Palace
  • Spice Bazaar
  • The Golden Horn
  • Galata Tower

Brunch along the Bosphorus 

Begin your second day in Istanbul with brunch at Lokma, a local favorite along the Bosphorus. Request a window table in order to enjoy the view. Then settle in for a knock-your-socks-off traditional Turkish breakfast. Feast on countless varieties of cheese, eggs, savory Turkish pastries, fresh vegetables and juices. Make sure to try simit (the Turkish equivalent to a bagel) with honey, kaymak (Turkish clotted cream), and jam. I could eat that all day!

two days in instanbul itinerary bosphorus

View of the Bosphorus from our table

Dolmabahce Palace

After a stroll along the Bosphorus, set off for Dolmabahce Palace. In 1856, the Ottomans abandoned Topkaki for Dolmabahce, a palace modeled after the great palaces of Europe. Dolmabahce is a clear example of the confluence of East and West in Istanbul. While the palace contains Baroque, Rococo and Neoclassical elements, it also retains elements of traditional Ottoman palace life such as having separate living quarters for the men and women.

Dolmabahce Palace two days in instanbul itinerary

Dolmabahce Palace two days in instanbul itinerary

One of the palace’s ornate gates to the Bosphorus

Both Topkaki and Dolmabahce Palace are worth seeing because they are completely different stylistically and reflect very different eras. With 285 rooms, 46 halls, 6 baths, and 68 toilets, Dolmabahce is extravagance personified. In fact, the exorbitant expense incurred by its construction contributed to the deteriorating financial situation of the Ottoman Empire and eventually its demise.

Dolmabahce Palace two days in instanbul itinerary

You’re not allowed to take photos in the palace but I managed to snag a few 😉 But to get a real sense of the opulence of this palace you must see it for yourself!

Dolmabahce Palace two days in instanbul itinerary

The Ceremonial Hall with a 36 m (118 ft) high dome and a chandelier weighing 4.5 tons!!

Spice Bazaar

From Dolmabahce, hop on the tram and head to the famous Spice Bazaar in the Old City. The Spice Market was once the last stop for the camel caravans that travelled the Silk Road from China. Stepping into the covered market, you’ll feel as though you’ve walked into Ottoman-era Istanbul. There are hundreds of vendors selling fragrant, vividly colored spices alongside countless varieties of lokum, or Turkish Delight, and dried fruits. 

two days in instanbul itinerary spice market

Warning: The Spice Bazaar can be a bit overwhelming with countless vendors competing for your attention.

two days in instanbul itinerary spice market

DwD Tip: The vendors are happy to give you a pinch of their spices or a piece of lokum so don’t be shy to ask! 

two days in instanbul itinerary spice market

The Spice Bazaar is the perfect place to pick up treats for your friends and family.

two days in instanbul itinerary spice market

two days in instanbul itinerary turkish towel shop

I bought two bright-colored Turkish towels here which I absolutely love.

The Golden Horn

From the Spice Market, walk along the Golden Horn, the primary inlet of the Bosphorus. In the early evening, the docks are teeming with activity. Stop for a few minutes to watch the fisherman and enjoy the warm, salty air. Afterwards, make your way across Galata Bridge to Galata Tower.

two days in instanbul itinerary fishing golden horn

Galata Tower

Built by a Byzantine emperor in 528, Galata Tower is one of the oldest surviving towers in the world. Over the years, the tower has served many purposes and has witnessed even more changes. Originally built as a lighthouse, the tower later became a military stronghold, an astronomical observation point, and prison. An early aviator even used it as his launching pad to fly over the Bosphorus! Today, Galata Tower offers visitors a spectacular 360 degree view of the city and is definitely a tourist trap worth going to. To grasp Istanbul’s immense size and beauty, you really must see it from the sky.

two days in instanbul itinerary galata tower

*If you have one more day to spend in Istanbul, check out this super informative guide for what you should do on day 3 as well as where to go after Istanbul.

Hope you enjoyed this two-day Istanbul itinerary! If you found it useful, please let me know in the comments below!

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Top Things to do in Baja California

balandra Things to do in Baja California

If you want to see a wild and virtually untouched part of Mexico, explore the Sea of Cortez in Baja California. The Sea of Cortez is one of the richest and most extraordinary marine environments on earth. It is a dazzling sea in the midst of the desert, surrounded by staggering mountains covered with enormous cacti. As you sail from one cove to another, the sea changes from shades of crystal clear blue, to aquamarine, turquoise, and emerald green. I’ve now visited Baja three times and each time I have fallen more in love with this magical part of Mexico. Below you will find my favorite things to do in Baja California:

map Things to do in Baja California

Also known as the Gulf of California, the Sea of Cortez separates the Baja California peninsula from the Mexican mainland.

Things to do in Baja California

Swim with Whale Sharks

From early winter until late spring whale sharks can be found feeding in the Sea of Cortez. Whale sharks are as big as some species of whale and, like whales, are filter feeders. They are the largest species of fish, growing up to 40 feet (12 meters) and weighing as much as 47,000 pounds (21.5 tons). In Baja, you can swim alongside these gentle giants in the presence of an authorized tour operator. It is a humbling and truly unforgettable experience. 

Things to do in Baja California whale shark

Photo courtesy of The Telegraph

*P.S. This experience reinforced my belief that sharks are misunderstood creatures who often get an undeserved bad rep. If you’re still skeptical, check out the Misunderstood Predators episode of the Netflix show “Tales by Light.” I guarantee you it will change the way you think about sharks.

Go Whale Watching

Baja California is one of the best places in the world to see whales. Grey whales travel more than 10,000 miles from their summer feeding grounds in the Arctic to the southern Baja peninsula. They spend the months of December to April mating in the warm waters, giving birth and feeding their calves. If you’re in Baja during these months, book a marine safari. If you’re lucky, you might see mothers with their young spouting and splashing right next to your boat.

Things to do in Baja California whale tail

Interact with Sea Lions

25 miles from the shores of La Paz is a cluster of small isles home to hundreds of sea lions. Arrange an expedition to Los Islotes to interact with these playful creatures in their natural environment. Above the sea you can watch them engage in their favorite activities–defending their personal rock, playing in the water with their friends, and sunbathing their hefty bodies. But below the surface it’s a whole other world. With snorkeling or diving equipment you can spend a few hours playing with the curious pups and living as the sea lions do.

Things to do in Baja California sea lions

They swam in circles around us and our instructor even put his hand out for them to playfully nibble on; they’re just like puppies!

Dive

If you are scuba-dive certified, don’t skip the chance to explore the depths of the Sea of Cortez. Depending on the time of year, you could encounter groups of giant manta rays, humpback and sperm whales, hammerheads, sea lions, or whale sharks, not to mention colorful starfish, corals, and fish. Near the beautiful Isla Espiritu Santo is the Fang Ming Wreck, a ship sunk to create an artificial reef. Today it is a flourishing underwater ecosystem and a diver’s dream.

Things to do in Baja California diving

Excited to explore the Fang Ming Wreck

Hike Isla San Francisco

The hike up Isla San Francisco is not too strenuous and the view from the top is unbeatable. On one side, you have the calm aquamarine waters of the inlet and on the other, the rough waves of the open sea. The terrain looks almost extraterrestrial with its red, jagged rocks, hundreds of different species of cactus, and arid soil. After your hike, cool off in the refreshing sea.

Things to do in Baja California Sur isla san francisco

baja california sur isla san francisco

Kayak or Stand-Up Paddle Board

Rent a kayak or stand-up paddle board and get up close and personal with the creatures who call the Sea of Cortez home. You may encounter a pod of dolphins with their young, manta rays jumping through the air, playful sea lions, or even a grey whale. It is also a great workout and a wonderful way to explore the coves throughout Baja California.

Things to do in Baja California kayaking

Things to do in Baja California manta ray

Explore Isla San Jose

Out of all of the starkly beautiful islands in Baja California Sur, San Jose may be my favorite. Isla San Jose is a nature-lover’s paradise swarming with life. It is an incredibly diverse island with everything from giant cactus covered beaches to mangroves and salt flats. At one point in the cove, there is a salt-water river accessible by kayak or small boat. After a short ride, the canal opens to a large bay with a narrow strip of beach. Walking the shell-strewn beach you’ll feel as though you’ve stumbled upon an untouched utopia.

san jose Things to do in Baja California Sur

Things to do in Baja California Sur saguaro cactus

Things to do in Baja California Sur san jose

Visit Coyote Island

Not far from Isla San Jose is a tiny fishing village called Isla Coyote. This island is home to a grand total of 15 inhabitants and they are literally in the middle of nowhere. They make weekly trips to La Paz, over 2 hours away by boat, for fresh water, food and other necessities. I was blown away by the friendly fishermen’s decision to live in a nearly inhospitable environment disconnected from the rest of the world. It served as an important reminder that many live with far, far less, and without the modern conveniences we take for granted, and yet are happy with what they have.

coyote island Things to do in Baja California Sur

coyote island Things to do in Baja California Sur

For more helpful information for your trip to Baja, visit:

Baja California in Photos:

balandra Things to do in Baja California Sur

Things to do in Baja California Sur balandra

Things to do in Baja California Sur isla san francisco

Things to do in Baja California Sur isla san francisco

Things to do in Baja California Sur saguaro cactus

Things to do in Baja California sur salt flats

Things to do in Baja California Sur explorer girl

Things to do in Baja California Sur mangroves

Things to do in Baja California Sur san jose

Things to do in Baja California Sur isla espiritu santo

Things to do in Baja California Sur jet ski

Things to do in Baja California Sur isla san francisco isla san francisco Things to do in Baja California Sur

Things to do in Baja California Sur balandra  Things to do in Baja California Sur balandra

Things to do in Baja California Sur seashells  Things to do in Baja California Sur sunset


For more of my favorite places in Mexico click here.

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top things to do in baja california sur

top things to do in baja california sur

top things to do in baja california sur

What are your favorite things to do in Baja California? Let me know in the comments below!

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Puerto Rico’s West Coast: The Beaches of Isabela and Aguadilla

In the 80s, my dad and his friends discovered Porta del Sol, the west coast of Puerto Rico, and fell in love with the area’s great waves and beautiful uncrowded beaches. Over the years, they returned time and time again to this little slice of paradise. Though west coast beaches such as Isabela and nearby Aguadilla have become more well known over the years, they remain one of the island’s best kept secrets.

wilderness surf puerto rico west coast

Waves at famous surf spot Wilderness

coconut puerto rico flag west coast

The best place for cold, fresh coconuts!

I have been going to Isabela and Aguadilla for as long as I can remember. Unfortunately, I’ve either been working or in school for the past three years and wasn’t able to make my favorite family vacation. This year, however, the stars aligned and I made my much-anticipated return to this enchanting island.

puerto rico west coast beach

surf puerto rico west coast

Family surf session

Puerto Rico’s West Coast: A Hassle-Free Destination

If you’re coming from the East Coast of the US, the trip to Puerto Rico’s west coast is quick, easy, and nearly hassle-free. We leave from Newark Airport and fly directly into Rafael Hernández Airport in Aguadilla. Then we rent a car and drive about 10 minutes to Shacks Beach, our favorite place to stay in Isabela.

puerto rico west coast beach

Enjoying the crystal clear water at Shacks Beach

puerto rico west coast shacks beach

Where to Stay

Shacks is our favorite place to stay on Puerto Rico’s west coast because it’s an absolutely gorgeous beach and on any given day you’ll find, at most, a handful of people on it. Contrary to its name, there are some first-rate houses for rent and oceanfront apartments. This year, we stayed at Casa Bonita and it truly lived up to its name. I’d also highly recommend Villa Montaña, a romantic boutique resort on the beach with a fantastic restaurant.

puerto rico west coast shacks beach

Shacks Beach (notice no one’s on it!)

puerto rico west coast shacks beach

Walking the wall at Shacks

puerto rico west coast casa bonita

Soaking up life between the palms at Casa Bonita

For additional accommodations in Isabela, click here. And for accommodations in Aguadilla, click here.

The Beaches of Isabela and Aguadilla

The adjacent towns of Isabela and Aguadilla are home to some of the west coast’s best beaches. Whether you’re a surfer or a sunbather, the beaches of Isabela and Aguadilla have something for everyone. At Playa Crash Boat, hang with the friendly pelicans, snorkel, and jump off the pier. On the way to famous surf spot Wilderness, stop by the ruins for the perfect photo op. Then watch (or join!) seriously skilled surfers ride world-class waves. At Shacks Beach, explore the Blue Hole coral reef and enjoy horseback riding on the beach. On windy days, watch the kitesurfers zip through the surf and fly through the air. Local favorite Jobos is a busier scene with multiple restaurants to choose from and a powerful blowholeMiddles Beach has a long, walkable beach and tide pools that are fun for the whole family. Visit them all and find out which you like best!

wilderness ruins puerto rico west coast

The picturesque ruins at Wilderness

surfer girl wilderness puerto rico west coast

Catching a wave at Wilderness

surfer girl puerto rico west coast

Heading out at Surfers Beach

jobos blowhole puerto rico west coast

Blowhole at Jobos

puerto rico west coast beach middles

Wading through the tide pools at Middles

Once you’ve hit all the beaches listed above, just drive around and you’ll stumble upon more tranquil, sandy beaches up and down Puerto Rico’s west coast. Many of them won’t have a soul on them! We discovered the beaches below by doing just that. After all, every vacation needs a little adventure!

puerto rico west coast beach

puerto rico west coast beach

Sunset on the West Coast

When it’s time for sunset, make sure you’re beachfront as you won’t want to miss it. And if it rains, don’t fret because there just may be a rainbow!

puerto rico west coast sunset

sunset puerto rico west coast

puerto rico west coast beach rainbow

Day Trips from the West Coast

After all of that beach time, you may want a change of scenery. If so, do a day trip to colorful Old San Juan, the Camuy caverns, or the Gozalandia Waterfalls in the rainforest. But if you don’t feel like leaving the blissful beaches of Puerto Rico’s west coast, I certainly won’t blame you!

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puerto rico west coast beaches isabela aguadilla

Have you been to the beaches of Puerto Rico?? Comment below!

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