U.S.A.

Napa Valley is a place wine lovers would visit. On top of that, watching the movie Bottle Shock (2008), made it more meaningful to visit vineyard like Chateau Montelena. There are many vineyards to visit, and some with limited tours that require advance bookings. After having some wine tasting, we craved for a good steak. We were managed to get a reservation at PRESS Restaurant that served fantastic food amidst the great ambience. Perfect place to end the day.

Along with a long time buddy, we rented a Mustang and took a wonderful drive on the Pacific Coast Highway 1 (PCH1). Although it was overcast when we started the drive, the sun came out midway and reward us with endless gorgeous seascape. Bend after bend, our breathe was taken away while we stop to take in the views. My only regret was we did the drive from LA to SF in a single day because we should have stayed one night and visit Big Sur. A month or so after our trip, Big Sur was ravaged by fire. I hope the damage wasn’t too much as I would love to return someday.

News on Big Sur Fire : More campgrounds and hiking trails closed as Big Sur fire continues to burn

Below are some more shots to wrap up the trip. Enjoy!

 

LA city
Visit Griffith Observatory to get a breathtaking sight of L.A. city. They also have a cool museum which is FREE!

 

Valley of Fire of Moapa Valley is about an hour drive away from Las Vegas. If you prefer a shorter day trip instead of Grand Canyon or Death Valley, Valley of Fire is a good alternative. The place offers wonderful views of reddish rocks landscape. Many got their shapes and form from sand erosion, occasionally forming holes and archways. I love the beautiful sights when the reddish rocks confined to certain strips of the land, making multicolored landscape. Aside from the views, our tour guide was also very informative, and the tour included visits to museums.

Grand Canyon is one of the iconic landscape in USA, featuring beautiful canyons formed by the Colorado River. Most tourists will visit Grand Canyon as part of the attraction when in Las Vegas. A tour from Las Vegas will  take 12 to 14 hours to and fro, which usually include a stop at the Hoover Dam. Fortunately from Page to Las Vegas, Grand Canyon was along the way so I planned for a drive through the gorgeous National Park.

 
Grand Canyon Route
Image courtesy of National Park Service
 

I entered the South Rim of Grand Canyon from the East Entrance via route 64, stopping at 5 view points. The drive is easy and enjoyable. Do keep within the speed limit and watch for people. The first stop was Desert View which has a Watch Tower, a unique structure in Grand Canyon. You can climb the tower for a better view of the canyon and also purchase souvenirs at the shop located within. 
 

Grand Canyon
Desert View

 

Further down the road, we stopped at Lipan Point and Moran Point, before resting for lunch. Stopping at various points offered a different perspective of the canyon. Although somewhat similar, each scene still took my breathe away. If time and opportunity had permitted, I’d consider hiking and camping in the park to fully immerse myself in nature’s wonder. A simple pack lunch turned out to be a sumptuous spread, from sandwiches to fruits to assorted tidbits. The only disappointment was no view of the canyon was available at the picnic site.
 

Grand Canyon
Moran Point

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Picnic Lunch

 

The last two stops were Grandview Point and Mather Point Overlook, the latter is also the Visitor Center. The visitor center was packed with people and parking was tough to find. Since my family were tired and preferred to rest in the car, I double parked the vehicle and went on to capture a couple pictures by myself.
 

Grand Canyon
Grandview Point

Grand Canyon
Mather Point Overlook
 

Total time spent in Grand Canyon was about four and a half hour and loved every minute. Before planning to drive there yourself, do visit the National Park Service website to get more information. Area map, directions, advises are all readily available.

 

Other scenics taken in Grand Canyon:

Leaving my kids and wife back at the hotel, I continued to visit Lower Antelope Canyon. Geographically their entrances are a couple miles apart. Aside from the different views, Lower Antelope requires climbing of stairs which can be steep. Some passages are pretty tight, allowing only single person to scrape by.

 

Steep Stairs
Tight Passage

 
 

Lower Antelope Gorgeous Views

 
 
5-10 minutes drive from Page, the famous Horseshoe Bend is a must go place. Walking from the parking lot can take 10-15 minutes. Be there early if you want to get a good spot for the sunset as it will be crowded with tourists and photographers. Capturing the scene was pretty challenging for someone like me with acrophobia. I crawled on my belly to the edge and snapped blindly. In addition to the scary height, there was frequent strong gust of wind and free sand munchies to delight you. The sand is so irritating that even during dinner, I still had crunching sound on my steak!
 

Horseshoe Bend
 
 

On a side note, I was curious about the dangerous flash flood that goes through the canyon. I looked up Youtube and found an amazing video footage of the 2013 flood.
 

Firstly, I’d like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year! So did you behave and received a present from Santa?

 
Scattered Clouds and Rocks
Along the way to Page, Arizona, nature presented a gorgeous view. I had to stop the car to capture the moment.

 

I signed up for both Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon tours, the latter in the “Photography Tour”. Upper Antelope Canyon is more friendly for both young and elderly since the passage is flat with no climbing required. Enjoy the images from Upper Antelope Canyon below while I continue slugging through my images.

 

The USA trip had been the longest road trip I’d done. Using a borrowed GoPro Silver 3+, I set the gadget to take image every 2 seconds while driving. It was a painful chore to work on more than 65,000 still images, and compile them into videos clips. Every minute in the video clip is roughly an hour drive. To make the dull, fast forwarding and zigzagging images more interesting I added in some music in the background.

So if you want to have a taste of my 2405 miles journey, enjoy the videos below.

Pasadena to Palm Springs.

Palm Springs to Pheonix

Pheonix to Page, one of my favorite drive.

Page to Las Vegas, going through Grand Canyon, stopping at the various view points. Pardon the annoying bird poo.

Las Vegas to Los Angeles. Finally got rid of the bird poo.

Los Angeles to Fresno, stopping at Santa Barbara for lunch and Solvang for delightful pastries.

Fresno to Merced, driving through Yosemite. Yosemite scenes are really gorgeous. Honestly, this video doesn’t do enough justice.

The last leg was from Merced to San Francisco. We stopped at San Jose Flea Market midway, and I stopped recording after.

Thank you for watching!

New York City

After my family went home from San Francisco, I swung over to New York with a buddy to extend the trip for a few more days. Aside from visiting tourist sites in New York, we ate some great food and hung out at cigar bars.

Our first stop was to pay homage to Ground Zero at the World Trade Center Memorial. One World Trade Center and the 2 ponds served a great reminder of the tragedy in 2001 which caused so much grief and changes around the world.

World trade
Monument
Monument

Decided to pass on The Statue of Liberty and visited Wall Street and Times Square instead. Nothing spectacular really, just doing what a tourist supposed to do.  

 
Wall St
Cathedral
NYC
NYC

Just like Los Angeles, New York has plenty of good food. Sadly we could only try a few joints due to the limited time. They were all fantastic! Both Shake Shack and Burger Joint serve delicious and juicy burgers. Pizzarte is like an upscale restaurant with fully stocked bar that serves great pizzas. Lastly for morning bagel, one cannot miss Ess-a-Bagel. Be prepared to queue 30 minutes to taste their wonderful bagels.

Shake Shack
Shake Shack
Burger Joint
Burger Joint
Food
Food
Bagel
Bagel

The cigar bars in New York are lovely. Both Club Macanudo and Carnegie Club are great places to enjoy a cigar, but my favorite choice would be The Cigar Inn. The latter has a well stocked walk in humidor and a lively place to chill at.

 
Cigar Bars
Cigar Bars
Cigar Bars

My USA road trip totaled to 2405 miles (3870 km) ending in San Francisco. It was a truly amazing experience, albeit tiring, I enjoyed every minute with my family. There were some places I wished I had more time to explore, like Yosemite. Hopefully someday I can do another road trip across America in a RV.

Below is a 30 seconds time lapse video of the sunset of San Francisco taken from the window of my hotel. Enjoy!

For the last leg of our family trip, I drove up to San Francisco from Los Angeles. PCH 1 offers gorgeous scenic views of the coast passing by Malibu. Mid way, we stopped by a strawberry farm. The fresh strawberries were going for $3 a small basket. They were sweet and juicy. Wished there was whipped cream to top it off.
Fresh Strawberries

Stopped by for food at Santa Barbara and had delightful pastries at Solvang.

 
Seafood
Seafood
Solvang
Solvang

Made a drive by of Yosemite National Park. The zigzag mountainous road was a nice change from the flat dessert plain in Nevada and Arizona. Enjoying packed lunch in the park’s scenic views was priceless. Due to time constraint and tired kids, we did not do hiking nor biking to the waterfalls, so we simply moved along.

 
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park

Before reaching San Francisco, we visited The Flea Market in San Jose. There were plenty of things to look around from clothes to souvenirs to food. There were also rides and games for kids, albeit limited in choices. The flea market seem to offer mainly Hispanic related stuff including live bands.

 
Flea Market
Flea Market
Flea Market

San Francisco economy is booming and everything is more expensive, especially the hotels and parking. Nonetheless, from the hilly roads to the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco still offers the charm that no other cities has.

San Francisco
San Francisco
San Francisco

Los Angeles is well known for the diversity of people from different cultures. Along with that, the food scene offers a wide selection of choices. From gourmet to street food, they will hold a special place in your stomach. We have Carl’s Jr in Asia too, but the burger are no where as good. It all boils down to the freshness and the ingredients used that makes the food delicious. Running out of choices in Los Angeles is near impossible!

Another famous site to visit near Page would be the Horse Shoe Bend. It is located 10 minutes drive from town. From the parking lot to the site is a good 10 to 15 minutes walk. Plenty of tourists and photographers were vying to take pictures, so positioning yourself to get a good image of the place can be challenging. The sight may be breathtaking, but going near the edge is also nerve wrecking. My legs turned wobbly with every inch closer to the edge, and the gusty winds made it worse. Due to the time constrain, we were unable to visit Lake Powell. Maybe next time.

 
Horseshoe Bend

Next stop was Las Vegas and I planned a drive by of Grand Canyon. From Page to Vegas is a long drive from 8am to 7pm. The drive include many stops at the Grand Canyon viewing points and simple packed lunch at the designated picnic area. The Dessert Watch Tower was my favorite spot where one may climb up to get a 360 degree view of Grand Canyon.

 

Watch Tower
Grand Canyon
Picnic

In Vegas, we signed up for a tour to the Valley of Fire. There are plenty of colorful landscape that are distinctively reddish due to the high iron content. I was told many movies were shot in here including Star Trek. The tour is very educational as our guides shared many geological knowledge. The tour also include a stop over at Visitor Center and Lost City Museum which displayed information on the local animals and tribal Indian ways of life. The tour was done within 7 hours so we were back in the hotel before 3pm, giving us ample time to rest before dinner.

 
Valley of Fire
Valley of Fire

Las Vegas is a city for the adults. Bringing a toddler and kid below 5 years old will restrict on the kind of activities you can do. Fortunately, the Tournament of the Kings is a show cum dinner that is enjoyable for all ages. The food they serve aren’t exactly gourmet, but still edible.

 
Dolphins
Dolphin Jump

Visiting Arizona was an unforgettable experience. Being a dessert area, summer goes well beyond 40 degree celsius, where your skin seem to burn under the sun. Am pretty sure some hair had zinged or curled up. Luckily the climate is dry, unlike South East Asia where the humidity is unbearable.

 
Arizona

The drive from Phoenix to Page was roughly 4 hrs 30 mins and thoroughly enjoyable. It offered a variety of scenic from barren dessert to colorful mountains. Every hour or so, we seem seem to have entered a different world with interesting sights as though from a painting or movie.

 

At Page, one cannot miss the famous Antelope Canyons. Seeing the awe inspiring images online does not give enough credit for the actual landscape. You may have seen thousands of images but still be humbled by the indisputable beauty of the canyons. What struck me was the difficulty in capturing the essense of the canyons because the whole place is like an abstract art that need to be evaluated and composed. Turn the angle a little and you get a whole different image.

 
Antelope Canyon

Both Upper and Lower Antelope Canyons should be visited if your schedule permits. The Upper Antelope is flat passageway for easy walking, suitable for young and old, while the Lower Antelope requires a little climbing of stairs which can be pretty steep at certain locations. Both offers wonderful views and are packed with people. The 2 guides I had from both Canyons were knowledgeable and provides wonderful tips on taking good pictures.

 
Antelope Canyon

A decade had passed since my graduation in 2005. There will always be an affection to the place where you experienced college life. Re-visiting each corner you once hung out or lived by brought back many fond memories. Whilst it is fun to visit USA, having 2 young kids in tow can be tiring.

Made a mistake renting a 12 seaters Ford Transit. This monstrous vehicle was way too big to continue on my road trip, so I switched to a mini van. Avis exchanged a Kia Sedona without any fuss, and I was happy. I’m quite impressed with Kia’s interior design and the handling.

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Had to show my wife and kids my beautiful university campus. Maybe my kids will be a second generation Trojans!

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What is can be more magical to a 4 years old than Disneyland? Luckily, being a weekday the crowd was manageable. Most ride queues were within 10-30 minutes, so we got through majority of the attractions by 3pm.

Disneyland

 

 

For the past 6 months, I’ve been planning for a road trip in the USA. The drive will be more than 2000 miles (3200 km). The screen capture of google map shows the rough routes to be taken over 16 days, not including small detours or side trips. I look forward to this trip in particular because it would be a big family trip, something I did not have the luxury to enjoy for more than a decade.

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