3 Days in Key West

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It has taken me too long to pull this blog post together. It kept getting put on the back burner for weddings and I’m so happy to finally have a few minutes to sit down and write out this post about our trip to Key West!

For my mom’s 50th birthday I took her on a short three night trip to Key West I knew there wasn’t a single material gift that would stack up to the amazing mom she is but also like… be worth it. We thrive off of travel. If I’m going to spent buttloads of money, it’s going to be on plane tickets.

She turned 50 on May 1st, I celebrated 28 on May 4th and then the first week in June (when I finally had a weekend off) we flew to Florida to celebrate! HBD MOM!

There were chickens, lots of margaritas and a whole lot of sweat. The “feels like temps” were in the 101 - 109 range for the entirety of our trip but it was so worth it.

Keep scrollin’ for more Key West goodness!

There is so much to do in Key West. Because most of the waters around Key West are reef, it’s not known for long sandy white beaches but there are some beautiful spots to visit the beach if that’s what you’re hoping for!

We opted to just walk the (very walkable and accessible) old town end to end while gawking at the amazing homes, having a few walking-around-drinks from the small bars along the streets (Hooray for no open container laws!) and popping into local shops.

The entire Mallory Square area and Duval Street are beautiful and fun but if you’re looking for different things to see and do in Key West, step off of those beaten paths and explore some of the quieter, lesser known streets! I enjoyed walking through the area around the Truman Little White House, shopping at some of the boutiques like Antica Sartoria and seeing all of the sailboats and huge yachts at the Galleon Marina.

There’s really not a bad place to get a drink or something to eat and almost every restaurant has outdoor seating (WIN!!) but we highly recommend Garbo’s Grill for really badass tacos, Blue Heaven for breakfast or really just anything because WOW and Sunset Pier for the perfect place to grab a drink with a million dollar view.

The Ernest Hemingway Home is obviously another popular attraction in Key West. We were happy to learn more about the home and the famous residents during the short guided tour but honestly, we were just there for the cats. We learned that the famous six-toed cats are cared for by a veterinarian who is dedicated exclusively to them along with an entire team of volunteers and staff. Their breeding is very carefully planned out, they never leave the property and they are protected by Federal law. There are literally just cats everywhere. My heart was happy and my allergies were NOT.

One of the biggest highlights of this trip was our time visiting the Dry Tortugas. It exceeded every single expectation that I had. Even for my mom, who gets very sea sick/motion sick quite easily, it was an amazing day and a MUST SEE when in Key West!

Drop everything, shift around your itinerary and block off a day to visit one of the most remote US National Parks.

You can visit the Dry Tortugas by boat or seaplane but the NPS’ partnership with Yankee Freedom is the best way to visit. It is a day trip and be warned, you should allot an entire day. Camping is also available and I cannot even imagine how incredible the night sky must be because when you’re located 70 miles west of an island that’s 150 miles south of the mainland, you’re pretty darn remote.

Learn more about how to get to the Dry Tortugas HERE.

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Two Days at Zion National Park

10 Days in Ireland

4 Days in Iceland

One Day at the Grand Canyon and Sedona

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If you tuned in to my first blog post from this trip, you’ll know that we were completely swept off of our feet by Zion National Park. I hope that I can convey how beautiful the Grand Canyon is in this post while explaining why we have very different feelings about the GC vs. Zion.

I want to just share that I think we would have felt totally differently had we done this trip backwards. It was cheaper to fly into Vegas and home from Phoenix (plus the flight schedules fit our needs better) which is why we did this the way that we did. However, our recommendation would be to do this trip backwards. Go to the Grand Canyon FIRST.

Simply put (and a sentiment borrowed from a friend), by visiting Zion first, we think we peaked too early.

While the Grand Canyon’s vast horizons and sheer drop offs were absolutely incredible, visually, they weren’t impressive after spending two days at Zion. This might sound really, really harsh but these are our honest feelings.

The little bit of hiking that we did at the Grand Canyon was very different than at Zion and I was very thrilled to make sure we did go below the rim, even just a little bit. We chose to hike South Kaibab Trail rather than the busier Bright Angel Trail. I think if we were the type to hike rim-to-rim or rim-to-river, I’d feel TOTALLY differently!

The Grand Canyon is definitely, obviously, without-a-doubt more of a tourist spot than the other National Parks that we have been to. There are families who will come to camp or stay in cabins for a week at a time, there are large groups and school trips, there are are just generally a lot more people and since it’s a much more popular and accessible park, it attracts a different crowd than Zion. So, it can be unfair to compare the two but we found the Grand Canyon village to be more like an outdated, sort of dirty, busy amusement park.

Oh gosh please don’t judge me… but… we called it the Walmart of National Parks.

Oof. I realize how unflattering that sounds but I also would hate to lie in these posts.

For our one night here, we booked a room at El Tovar, the historic, original hotel that sits right on the rim and opened in 1905. It was well maintained, cute, quiet at night and definitely nicer than the hotels we usually choose. It was a little bit of a treat for our trip.

I am very glad that we experienced this magnificent wonder of nature but we don’t have any plans to ever go back. I think one of the best things to come out of this trip was Kyle suggesting that we make seeing all of the U.S. National Parks one of our travel goals! I’m already scheming to see which ones we can swing during a weekend trip this summer or fall.

I call this short compilation… “the reason people are falling off of cliffs and dying at the Grand Canyon”. In that third photo from the left, I was behind a fence… a very deliberately placed fence. The falling deaths at the Grand Canyon have been all over the news and I kept thinking “how… HOW is this happening so much?” and then we spent a day exploring the Grand Canyon and it made so much sense. We repeatedly watched unsupervised kids walking on top of waist high walls that were meant to be barriers, people going around fences to look down or get a better picture, people being reckless and climbing up or down to unsteady rocks to get the best shot for the ‘gram and just generally people not watching their very small children who would wander towards the edge.

Yes. We did get close(r) to the edges in some areas. However, I’ll say we were very careful to do it in areas where if you fell, there was a gentle slope and you’d maybe stumble a few feet. And a large portion of the photos of me in this post where I LOOK close to the edge, are sort of an optical allusion - I was NOT! They recommend you stay at least 6’ back from the edge at all times in areas where there is not a chest-high fence.

So, if you’re seeing the news about the falling deaths at the Grand Canyon and also wondering “HOW?”, let me be the person to tell you… it’s because people are THOUGHTLESS. It only takes one slip of your foot, one loose rock or one dizzy spell to send you hundreds or even thousands of feet down to your death.

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Our flight left Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International at around 3 PM local time so we woke up early, checked out and left El Tovar before sunrise and got on the road to Sedona. On the way down, we got some amazing views of Humphrey’s Peak (San Francisco Peak) in Flagstaff covered in snow and glowing in the first rays of the morning sun. The photos of it however, weren’t totally blog worthy. I took them through a dirty car windshield with my cell phone. Don’t judge!

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We ended up having more time in Sedona than I had planned so we could have taken a full two(ish) hours to explore Red Rock State Park but we ended up driving to a collection of scenic vistas instead - at this point it was just all about the photos!

We stopped at Airport Vista, Courthouse Vista and a few other fairly obvious car-pull-off spots along our way plus some cute downtown shopping areas.

We heard a lot of wonderful things about Sedona but we did choose just to pass through for a variety of reasons. I wish that I had carved out a bit more time in Phoenix before we needed to head to the airport to photograph saguaros because it was on my “must shoot” list for this trip but it didn’t happen.