11 Bucket List Travel Destinations

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Travel is 2nd on my list of favorites, immediately following “puppers” and preceding “snack-a-roos.”

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What I’m trying to say is: I L-O-V-E traveling. There’s something incredibly exciting about exploring new places, visiting old friends, and crafting a beautiful adventurous life along the way.

I’ve knocked off 38 states, 4 countries, 3 oceans, and a ridiculous number of ice cream stands during my travels. Here are my all-time favorite destination spots that you need to add to your to-go list ASAP.

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BEST BEACHES

Turks & Caicos – $$$

This place is straight out of a story book. The beaches are soft, delicate white sand juxtaposed against bright, crystal blue water and lush green plant life.

Wake up in paradise and start your day with fresh squeezed OJ by the beach before you grab your friends and head down to the warm water for a mid-day swim, or rent a paddle board and test your abilities.

Before evening hits, be sure to visit Potcake Place and adopt a dog for the day. My furry friend’s name was Curley and we had the best afternoon exploring the beach and the adorable town square.

Dinner options vary depending on which part of the island you’re on. We stayed at The Palms on Grace Bay and our resort had a few different dining options (BEST BEEF TENDERLOIN OF MY ENTIRE LIFE). My favorite dinner spot was Grace’s Cottage and I 10/10 recommend the lava cake.

Turks & Caicos is pricey, but if you ever have the opportunity to visit, I can’t speak highly enough of the people, the beaches, the views, the food, and the atmosphere.

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Whitsundays Islands – $$$

I had the privilege of sailing these beautiful islands when I studied abroad in Australia. Our gnarly spring break trip led us up the east coast and all along these gorgeous 74 islands. Nestled right in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef, the Whitsundays Islands are known for white swirling sands and vibrant coral reefs.

My favorite part of the island hopping adventure was definitely stopping to scuba dive. I’d never done anything other than snorkeling, so getting that close to the reef and all the marine life was so cool! There are plenty of scuba schools that will take beginners out and show them the ropes, so don’t miss out!!!!

If you’re going to sail the islands, I suggest doing so with a pear cider in your hand. There’s nothing quite like kicking your feet up, letting your hair fall, and sipping on cider while sailing through paradise. If you’re lucky, and brave enough to take a swim (do it!) you might even see sea turtles. Pro tip: if the guide says wear a stinger suit… wear a stinger suit.

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BEST VIEWS

Estes Park, Colorado – $$

I first visited Estes Park when I was 16. I remember waking up at 4:30 AM to climb Halletts Peak and thinking to myself, “I could do this every day for the rest of my life.”

This year when my 23rd birthday rolled around, I knew exactly where I wanted to spend it — atop a mountain with my favorite humans.

I booked an Airbnb right on a mountain side; 15 minutes down the road from Rocky Mountain National Park. It was basically an entire apartment right below a couple’s home. His name was Terry and he had an Australian shepherd that’d run down to greet us in the mornings. I can’t suggest this spot enough, and if you’d like to stay here too I can send you Terry’s info!

Visiting Estes Park involves a ton of hiking and outdoor adventures. My favorite hikes were Emerald Lake and Deer Mountain — both were amazing, but Deer Mountain’s view takes the cake (see 2nd & 3rd photo). If the weather isn’t ideal, you can also drive up the mountains and skip the hike altogether, although I only suggest this if absolutely necessary! When it comes to climbing one of the larger mountains, like Halletts or Longs, you’re going to need to plan: wake up early, dress accordingly, have food & snacks, etc.

When you’re not hiking, make sure to  stop downtown and browse the local shops. You’ll find a little bit of everything, but the majority of shops are tourist-y. However, there are some great dessert options, *cough* ice cream shops *cough*.

From the second you drive into Estes till the moment you leave, you’ll be in awe of the beauty around you. The sights are breathtaking, as cliche as that sounds. Honestly, I could spend 100 hours writing this section and not give Estes the credit it deserves. My advice is: GO.

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New York City, New York – $$

NYC is iconic for it’s skyscrapers, pizza, Lady Liberty, and of course — the people. I haven’t set foot in this city for nearly 6 years (too long!), but what I remember most is Times Square at night and just thinking to myself, “Wow, there are so many people here just living their own lives and carrying out their own stories and that’s so cool.” I was also weirdly enamored with the subway system and trying to stand in the middle of the train aisle without holding onto the pole, which I called “surfing.” (I was young and weird, OKAY.)

Food 10/10 — stop into the sketchiest pizza place you can find and I promise you won’t be disappointed. Views from the sky 12/10 — climb the Empire State Building and you’ll never look at the city the same. Tips: always have walking shoes on because NYC people seriously SPRINT everywhere. Speaking of NYC people, I asked one of my favorite New Yorkers what he loves most about the city and here’s what he said:

1. The energy. Everyone here has a dream and is working hard for it, and you can feel it in the air. It’s like being a part of a sports team, we all have a different story but we are all on the line grinding together. It feels good. People recognize it and the relationships you build are strong.
2. The culture. So much culture everywhere and it’s all mixed together. Not like a melting pot where everyone acts the same, but where everyone is unique and no one’s light diminishes another’s.
3. Endless amounts of things to do. You couldn’t eat everything there is to eat in 3 lifetimes.

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BEST HIKES

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah – $

Down in southwestern Utah, not really in any town in particular, you’ll find Bryce Canyon National Park. Weirdly enough, Bryce canyon isn’t a “canyon” at all — it’s a collection of giant natural amphitheaters (see first photo). Let me say this: if you think you’ve seen red rocks before, you haven’t seen anything as spectacularly vibrant as the “hoodoos” in Bryce Canyon. Their bright red and orange colors will leave you staring in awe, mouth gaping wide, wondering if what you’re seeing is real.

Hikes through Bryce are more like trails than anything else. It’s almost always clear where you need to go and there are thousands of visitors hiking at the same time, so you’ll never get lost alone. Go early if you want a little more peace and quiet. Or late, like really late, because the exceptional air quality in the park makes for incredible star gazing.

Trails I’d 10/10 recommend include: Queen’s Garden, Sunset Point to Sunrise Point, Fairyland Loop, and Navajo Trail. There are lots of steep inclines on a few of these hikes, so be prepared to lose your breath.

The one kind of bummer about Bryce is that it’s super secluded. This means your dining and lodging options are limited. However, I look at that more as a challenge than anything else. Camp! Picnic! Live the wilderness dream! I’m not saying you CAN’T stay near the park, I’m just saying you won’t have a boat load of options to choose from and there certainly aren’t any 5-star hotels down the road.

I’ve been to plenty of national parks and I’ve hiked every single one I’ve been to, but I can hands down say Bryce Canyon is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. If there was one park I could hike for the rest of my life, it’d be Bryce.

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Moab, Utah – $

When you pull into Moab, all you’ll see are red rocks and motels. However, you don’t come to Moab for luxury, you come to Moab for adventure, thrill seeking, soul searching, and smoothies from Peace Tree Juice Café.

Pack your hiking shoes and a small backpack because you’ll be spending long hours exploring Arches National Park. My favorite hikes were: Fiery Furnace, Tower Arch, Double O Arch, and Broken Arch. The neat thing about this park is that you can tackle tons of different hikes/destinations in one. Another crowd favorite is Delicate Arch, which I unfortunately didn’t have the chance to see.

When you’re not hiking, I suggest taking the jump of your life with SkyDive Moab. They are THE COOLEST dudes ever and made my first experience skydiving absolutely perfect. When you’re hurtling through the sky toward Earth, you’ll see Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park, along with a few other smaller parks, displayed neatly beneath you. You can hike the tallest mountain around and nothing beats this view.

Trust me when I say you’ll be starving after your fall…I mean JUMP, so you’ll definitely want to hit up Love Muffin Café for some local produce and the occasional free dessert sample. Then hit the sheets early, because you’re going to want to do it all again tomorrow.

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BEST VIBES

San Diego, California – $$

3 things I absolutely love about San Diego: The weather, the food, the VIBES.

It’s almost always sunny and warm with salt water scents wafting through the air. If that’s not enough to make you say, “Sign me up!” the water is warm, the people are crazy friendly, and there are loads of beaches to visit.

When you first arrive, hungry from the plane ride or road trip, you’ll want to drive immediately to Crack Shack and scarf down a Señor Croque sandwich. You’ll definitely want to wash it down with a stiff drink and a nice walk through Little Italy.

Throw your suit and shades on and head to Coronado Beach or Pacific Beach (“PB” in local talk), for some afternoon sun. Once evening hits, head to Sunset Cliffs Natural Park to watch the sunset over the water. Bring blankets, chairs, and snacks for the ultimate chill evening. If you have time before or after, drive around the local neighborhood and dream about one day owning a home (*mansion*) on the beach.

If you’re looking to explore a little bit, head to La Jolla Cove and hang with the seals. Heads up — they stink… really bad. For an escape from the stench, walk on over to Duke’s and order the best Korean Steak Tacos you’ll ever have – that’s a promise. They also serve up delicious cocktails.

Other SD must-dos: beach bonfire, San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park, and Gaslamp Quarter for food and drinks.

Wherever you go in San Diego, you’ll feel alive, rejuvenated, and ridiculously happy.

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BEST GIRL’S WEEKEND

Los Angeles, California – $$

A weekend in The City of Angels with your best gal pals won’t be angelic, but it’ll be a taste of Heaven on Earth for those who like great drinks, late nights, and potential celebrity sightings.

LA is massive. Like, really really really expansive. The city seems to go on forever, as do the events, restaurants, nightclubs, and weirdly enough — epic hikes.

If you’re in LA with your favorite ladies, odds are you’re looking to check a few things off the list. First off, the hike to the Hollywood sign. Which is actually really hot and really steep and REALLY TRULY worth it. This video was incredibly helpful since the trail isn’t exactly clear cut and you can easily get lost on the way up. Sorry girls, if your goal is to arrive at the top looking cute for the perfect Instagram pic, you’re in for a rude awakening. When they say hike to the Hollywood sign, they mean it.

Next up, Santa Monica Pier. The ferris wheel is pricey (like $18 or something crazy), but it’s actually kind of fun and a great way to start the beach visit. After your ride on the wheel, take your flip flops off and walk down to the beach. Step 1: toss your towel on the ground. Step 2: slather on SPF. Step 3: lay down, blare music, and get your tan on.

If you’re looking for something a little more eclectic, Venice Beach is the spot for you. You’ll see vendors of all kinds, “performers,” and some other questionable things. However, there’s always a million dogs just begging to be pet. #worthit

At night, grab your girls and head to Hollywood to check out the Walk of Fame and snag pics with your favorite celeb’s stars. Don’t expect this to take all night — it’s actually pretty quick. Call in reservations early to a cute dinner spot either on the beach or a rooftop, and just chillax. You’re in Cali baby, what’s there to worry about?

The best part about LA is that there are endless entertainment options. Go to a local comedy club if you’re looking for a good laugh. Tour Warner Bros or Paramount Studios if you’re into film and TV. If music is your thing, odds are multiple concerts will be playing from big names to newcomers. If you want a weekend full of trendy spots, unforgettable memories, and tons of girl time — LA is calling.

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BEST COUPLE’S GETAWAY

Park City, Utah – $$

Park City is just a short drive from Salt Lake (which means easy airport access!) but it feels like a whole different whimsical world. The city is super touristy, with a small “year-round population,” but there’s something mystically magical about it.

Whether you visit in summer or winter (I suggest the latter), you’ll have no shortage of things to do. You and your sweetie can take a stroll down Main Street and stop into adorable shops and 5-star restaurants along the way. Feeling extra romantic? Take a gondola tour and soak up all the quaint views the city has to offer.

You’ll want to spend plenty of time at the Olympic Park where you can tube and bobsled down the Olympic tracks. After an afternoon of thrill-seeking, you’ll surely want to relax. You can hit the links for an evening of golf or grab a delicious steak dinner… or both. And of course, you’ll want to hit the slopes for some skiing or snowboarding at some of the nation’s best resorts.

My favorite part of my Park City experience was driving up the mountain to Montage Hotel, where we received a tour of the luxury resort and were blessed with the most beautiful view.

If you plan your trip just right, you’ll be around for the iconic Sundance Film Festival – which I’d 10/10 recommend.

If you weren’t absolutely in love before this trip, you will be after. And if you’re anything like me, Park City will hold a special place in your heart for years to come.

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HIDDEN GEM

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma – $

OKC probably isn’t high on your list of go-to destinations, but if you’ve never been, you’re missing out. If you like food (lots of it), country bars (or bars in general), loud music, and the outdoors, you’ll fall in love with Oklahoma City.

Start your OKC experience with a visit to The Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, which tells the story of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and aims to, “remember those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever.” Though it’s genuinely a shocking and dismal museum, you’ll leave feeling extremely grateful for your loved ones and a little more knowledgable about the city you’re about to explore.

After your museum visit, check out the botanical gardens or catch an Oklahoma City Thunder game. Not a sports fan? Visit Frontier City and White Water Bay — OKC’s amusement park. Or, do what I’ve always wanted to and take a water taxi along the Bricktown canal. Your options are endless. If you get bored in OKC, that’s on you.

At night, Bricktown is the place to be. It’s right near the riverwalk and it’s always bustling with people. Bars, clubs, and restaurants line the river. If you’re a country guy/gal and love live music, Coyote Ugly and Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar are where you’ll want to be. Don’t care about the country as long as there’s a stiff drink in your hand? Skinny Slims, Michael Murphy’s, and Hudsons Public House will fill your cup. Want a little taste of everything? Spend the night bar hopping and ask locals where the next best stop is.

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Most Relaxing

Marco Island, Florida – $$$

Sun, sand, and sip in paradise, right here in the USA. Marco Island is a small island on the southwestern side of Florida, and the only developed land in Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands. Since it sits on the Gulf of Mexico, the water and weather are generally warm 356 days a year.

Unlike other popular destination spots in Florida (*cough* Panama City *cough*), Marco isn’t flooded with drunk college students and rowdy kids looking to forget their entire Spring Break. In fact, the majority of people you’ll run into down on Marco are adults and families, but that doesn’t mean you won’t have fun. It just means you’ll have the kind of fun you remember the next day.

There are 2 things you’ll want to bring with you to the beach: sunscreen and water. Take it from me, a dehydrated burnt lobster after 2 hours on the sand. But much like the Zac Brown Band, you’ll want to spend all day with your toes in the water, a** in the sand, not a worry in the world a cold beer in your hand. That about sums up the best way to spend a weekend in Marco — not doing a dang thing but relaxing, soaking up the sun, and sipping a little.

When your tummy starts to grumble, head to Doreens Cup of Joe for brunch, Joey’s for lunch, and Marco Prime for dinner and drinks. Most of Marco is walkable, so after stuffing yourself full you can walk it off on a long stroll home. Better yet — take your stroll to the beach for some added resistance. #health

At night, head back to the beach to watch the sunset and gaze up at the stars. Nothing beats the serene feeling that’ll wash over you as you realize, “This is my life, and I don’t have a single worry right now.” 

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Where will you go next? Let me know in the comments!  

 

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