[Wander Washington] The Magic + Majesty of Mount Rainier

Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity.”

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Whether you’re coming into Seattle or exiting the city stage left, there’s one piece of nature that simply towers over the rest, sitting pristine and pretty at 14.1 thousand feet above sea level. We know it now as Mount Rainier, but past indigenous tribes proudly remember and revere it was Tahoma, or Tacoma.

Located about sixty miles southeast of Seattle, the spectacular – and active! – stratovolcano has become a larger than life icon of the Pacific Northwest landscape. Made of alternating layers of lava, ash and pyroclastic ejecta flows, Mount Rainier effortlessly towers over the rest of the Cascade Mountain Range with 26 major glaciers and 36 square miles of permanent sparkling snowfields, earning its status as the most glaciated mountain peak in the contiguous United States. At the top of the summit, the geothermic heat spewing from a duo of volcanic craters prevents the rims from getting snowed in or iced over, forming the world’s largest glacial cave network of ice-filled craters.

While the current top formation of Mount Rainier is estimated to be approximately 500,000 years old, the mountain and the entire Cascade Volcanic Arc is considered part of the ‘Lily Formation’ and spans from roughly 840,000 years old to a whopping 2.6 Million years old. Many eons and moons ago, it’s purported that Rainier was around 16k feet high – but with increased volcanic activity around 5,600 years ago around 3600 B.C., the volcano erupted, removing the top 2k feet and causing the northeast side of the mountain to collapse. Now known as the Osecola Lahar – or mudflow, a wall of mud, rock and debris over 100′ high cascaded over land and into the waters of the Puget Sound, nearly 50 miles away. Though small eruptions have happened since with a frequency of every few hundred years, the last major eruption of Rainier was about 1000 years ago – to which many geologists say, we could be due for a ‘big’ one, and it could be absolutely disastrous to the whole planet.


“Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.”


Home to dozens of roaring rivers, reflection ponds and lavish lakes, the spectacle of the park shimmers and sparkles in full color from every which direction. Boasting assorted entrances, a plethora of unique micro-climates, and dozens of viewpoints and over 130 interpretive trail descriptions – you can essentially guarantee a completely new trip with each visit. I happened to fall in love with the park in a little under six hours, but with multiple lodges and camping spots on site, not to mention the vast amount of hotels around the base of the park, you can completely make a weekend of your visit while you marinate in every last inch of wildlife.


“Of all the fire-mountains which, like beacons, once blazed along the Pacific Coast, Mount Rainier is the noblest.”


With the velocity and veracity of shifting weather patterns, not to mention changes in altitude as you traverse the mountain – it’s also entirely possible to experience every season within a full days adventure. During our stay the other weekend, we were greeted by ambient low level clouds, only to peter out into gloriously clear sunshine at Sunrise Ridge, then a hail storm as we etched our way around the mountain, followed by an intense game of hide and seek with a bog of fog, and finally one of the most glorious lightning storms I’ve ever had the pleasure of sitting under. That said – word to the wise, pack enough extra clothing that you can be warm and dry if the rain starts in, or have a tank top and shorts for when the sun finally manages to break through the day.


For more on Mount Rainier, head to their website or social channels – or simply pack a bag, and plan a visit!

Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | YouTube

[Seattle Sights] Wildlife and Wanderlust in Union Bay

All good things are wild, and free.

Thoreau, Walden

Hiding around every corner of Seattle, from the coastline into the heart of the city in all directions are glorious amounts of open, public green space. The Trust for Public Land ranked Seattle as the 11th best city for parks, and fourth on the West Coast – and I wholeheartedly agree. Boasting over 485 natural areas and parks – and growing, city parks come in at around 6,400 acres, with a whopping 96% of Seattle residents able to walk to a local park in ten minutes or less.


Befit with sports fields swimming pools, marshes, rivers and beaches, BBQ pits, boat launches, a plethora of winding paths and a menagerie of wildlife, the local lore at the parks just keeps me coming back for more, and more. With a new sense of childlike wonder and amazement since moving up to Seattle in February, I’ve made it a goal to explore and enjoy as many of the open spaces as possible; and I can’t wait to share my favorites with y’all – of course!

Just a hop, skip and a little run from our home, the University of Washington sits in pristine location – and features multiple parks on site, each with a stellar view of Mt. Rainer and the waterfront. From the North East, you’ll first meet Yesler Swamp which is managed by the Center for Urban Horticulture. Back at the turn of the last century, the area used to be known as the Yesler Sawmill, until it was bought by the University. After the sawmill burnt down in the 1920’s, the area went unchanged for almost seventy years until a graduate student project revitalized the area and turned it back into a nature preserve.

The swamp is full of critters, including plenty of ducks, geese, egrets, blue herons and even beavers!

Winding across the walkways and into the heart of campus, you’ll get dumped out at the Center for Urban Horticulture’s Soset Garden and Fragrance Garden; and yes, it is indeed a delectable smell!

University of Washington, Center for Urban Horticulture

If you’re willing to take the path less traveled, there are some neat graduate projects standing in the woods – you’ll just have to go out on a limb and find them! My favorite is this little stained glass booth, perfect for meditation or journaling in the midst of the woods.

And now, you’re well on your way into Union Bay on a variety of different foot and bike paths. From there, you’ll get a fantastic view of Mt. Rainer and Bellevue, not to mention the UW Football Stadium and Lake Washington. The paths are lined with native plants, and as Spring keeps making headway – there have been so many more blooms, including these wild roses which are abundant with all sorts of bees.

As I dive deeper into nature and wildlife photography, I’ve been depending more on my telephoto lens, and believe you me – animal are fucking difficult to capture, let alone for a crisp snap.

It’s curated my patience, knowing that I will definitely not get the photo I want in one shot; it’s made me slow down and listen to the sounds of the world, which happen to be an excellent giveaway if you’re tracking down an animals. With the beaver above: if I hadn’t heard branches crash into the water, I would have never known he was around. Lastly, it’s inspired me to grow, mentally, emotionally and physically – to carry around a Canon 6D and four lenses at all times, to know when to use which lens and which settings to find quickly. I have an infinite amount of respect for others in the same field.

Last but certainly not least, for all the ornithophiles out there; these photos are for the birds! How many can you identify for yourselves?

Falcon chased by a smaller bird
Hummingbird
Song Sparrow
Blue Heron + Duck
Red Winged Blackbird

Do you have any tips or tricks to getting stellar nature photography? Is there one centralized location near you that you can literally find all the flora, fauna and furry friends? Let me know in the comments below!

For more on Union Bay and Yesler Swamp, peep these links:

Yesler Swamp | Union Bay Natural Area
University of Washington Center for Urban Horticulture

[Seattle Sights] An Afternoon Immersed in the Aquarium

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“The sea is emotion incarnate. It loves, hates, and weeps. It defies all attempts to capture it with words and rejects all shackles. No matter what you say about it, there is always that which you can’t.”

Big city life – there’s simply nothing like it! Between the hustle and bustle to the personalities that fill the room, museums of some sort or other around each turn, and enough live entertainment to submerse yourself in a different type of extrasensory experience every single night; one can lose and discover themselves, often multiple times in a day. Moving to Los Angeles a decade ago, I was immediately enamored with the neon lights and vibrant personalities. And now, moving up to Seattle, I’ve reawakened the wanderlust spirit inside me, and she’s been hungry for adventure. For as many museums, art galleries, botanical gardens, parks and music venues that Los Angeles has to offer – the one thing I always wished was a mere stones throw away: an aquarium. Well, low and behold – Seattle has an incredible one and I literally jumped at my chance to go as fast as I could.

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From the second you enter the Aquarium, you’re greeted with an expansive view thanks to the ‘Window on Washington Waters’. Boasting a 120,000 gallon tank, the Window encompasses the entire 20′ by 40′ wall and includes over 800 different types of fish, and ecological features created to replicate the seascape around Neah Bay, which sits directly across from the US-Canadian border of British Columbia in Northern Washington.

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As you wind your way around the corridors, you’re greeted with touch tide pools galore and exquisite views of Moon Jellies glowing under a color-changing black light. And then, a coup de grâce of the waters – the Giant Pacific Octopus. Clocking in around 150 lbs with a tentacles that span over 20′, they can change color and texture in a heartbeat; along with having eight arms that can act independently of each other and the main brain these blue blooded beauties have nine brains and three hearts. Last but not least for the main hall, you’ll reach the Pacific Coral Reef and Tropical Pacific viewing stations with an array of luminescent biodiversity, including varieties of fluorescent coral and fish with vivid colors to match!

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As you exit the double doors and head outside towards the pier and a stellar view of Elliot Bay, Puget Sound and the mountains of Olympic National Park, you’ll be greeted another one of my favorite exhibits, that I unfortunately for you but great for me spent too much time enjoying to take photos of, the marine mammals! Featuring a full menagerie of river otters, sea otters, harbor seals and northern fur seals – come on and get your fill of adorable animals dashing and diving through the water from the outside – and then shimmy your way indoors for an underwater view; and, a visit to the fabled underwater dome, boasting an inspired 360º  view of Puget Sound marine life in a 400,000 gallon tank.

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One of my favorite things about the Seattle Aquarium – how incredibly knowledgeable and helpful every single docent and volunteer was! There’s nearly no signage throughout the venue, which means interaction (or, improvisation!) is necessary to figure out how to get around, or simply what gorgeous creatures you were spying on.

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If you’re not on the spontaneous side and are planning your visit to the aquarium, snag your tickets online and save yourself a little bit of money. Or if you’re ocean obsessed like me and already have the intention of returning – make sure you get a year long pass; it can pay for itself in two visits – and it comes with a ton of snazzy perks, like early admission, special members only (read: 21+) nights, and discounts in the gift shop as well as the restaurant.

Open daily from 9:30 to 5pm, there are plenty of exhibits to get lost in and plenty of sea creatures to discover. Whether it’s for an afternoon outing, or an all day adventure – the Seattle Aquarium is a perfect way to spend some time under the sea.

For more on the Seattle Aquarium and their humanitarian ecological efforts, head to their social media channels; or just dive on in for an afternoon under the sea!

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

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[Wander Washington] Bounding Through Bellevue Botanical Garden

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Moving up to Seattle, one thing that I wasn’t prepared for is the mammoth amount of biodiversity that the entire state has to offer. On a Macro Level, Washington State has an incredibly unique and diverse ecological footprint. The West Coast oscillates between a Mediterranean Climate over the Summer and a blustery, Marine West Coast Climate over the Winter. Nestled on the top North West corner, the Olympic National Forest is home to 4 distinct rain forests, the Hoh, Queets, Bobchiel and Quinault; the Hoh Rain Forest ranks as one of the largest temperate rain forests in the United States, let alone the North West. On the flip side of the Cascade Mountains, which act as a rainshadow, Eastern Washington boasts a vast high desert featuring a dry, arid climate that includes the Juniper Dunes Wilderness and Channeled Scablands, both carved out of land that acted as a flood basin during the last Ice Age until multiple cataclysmic floods washed through the region. All things this girl is excited to explore!

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Dropping into a micro level, Seattle proper is an oceanic seaport city that sits comfortably between Elliot Bay, Lake Washington and the Puget Sound which provide some sanctity from extreme heat and cold, while the geoclimate features a wonderful range of local flora and fauna. Moving at the end of the Winter Season means that we’re prepping for the glorious weeks of Spring then Summer, and you best believe this California Kitten is ready to frolic in the succulent sunshine. But, rain, shine or clouds – every second I can, I’ve been exploring nooks and crannies of the area with a sense of childlike wonder and amazement: the weather has ensured everything is lush and lavish, with parks on literally every corner. Not to mention, the myriad of bays, cuts, rivers, sounds and lakes give way to infinite amounts of waterway views. Every day, you could explore a new partition of the area – and lookup parks, or gardens, and find you’re surrounded by enough to have to make a game time decision; and that’s exactly how we happened upon the Bellevue Botanical Garden.

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Just a hop, skip and a jump over the freeway from Seattle proper by bridge sits an urban oasis sprawling over 53 acres of gorgeous landscaping; complete with both restored and natural wetlands and woodlands, alongside expertly cultivated and curated gardens. We came across it quite by accident and in the middle of Winter, the landscape gave way to vibrant flowers, and buds just itching for the right amount of sunlight to get their bloom on; and I can’t wait to visit again on purpose and revel in the flowers’ maturation.

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Back in 1981, a couple by the name of Cal and Harriet Shorts deeded over seven acres of land, as well as their home, to the city of Bellevue in hopes of creating an arboretum and public park in the heart of the city. A little over three years later, the Jewett family were inspired to create a Botanical Garden on the property; with the city, and the Shorts, approval, the Bellevue Botanical Garden Society was launched to create the Garden itself, while the city added ten additional acres to the already blossoming landscape. Fast forward to 1989, and Bellevue managed to incorporate 19 more acres of land surrounding the Shorts estate – bringing the acreage up to 36; and finally, in 2006, the Botanical Gardens reached their current 56 acres with assistance of the city.

Now one of Bellevue’s most popular destinations, the Botanical Gardens has a menagerie of habitats, from woodlands and meadows, to natural wetlands and gorgeous display gardens, like the Japanese inspired Yao Garden, the Lost Meadow Trail and fuchsia, dahlia and rock gardens. With ample space to stroll, and lose yourself in this delicious slice of nature.

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This garden is such a hidden gem, that even though we were there to gallivant through it on a Sunday, it felt like we were the only ones there; it was glorious! What are your favorite hidden gems in your city?

For more on the Bellevue Botanical Garden, head to their social channels or simply pay them a visit – I promise, it’s a worthy afternoon and you will not be disappointed.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Yelp | Instagram

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[Seattle Sights] A Pleasant Post-Apocalyptic Walk Through Gas Works Park

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“All of us humans have myriad other species to thank. Without them, we couldn’t exist. It’s that simple, and we can’t afford to ignore them, anymore than I can afford to neglect my precious wife–nor the sweet mother Earth that births and holds us all. Without us, Earth will abide and endure; without her, however, we could not even be.” 
― Alan Weisman, The World Without Us

Ever since moving to Seattle just a few weeks ago, it’s as if someone has toggled a switch in my personality; or maybe, it’s simply been unswitched. Much like a piece of electronics that you have to turn off to get working again, it feels as though my brain, soul and heart desperately needed the peace and quiet of Corvallis to get back into a roaring, working mode. After ten years of a go-go-go lifestyle in Los Angeles, it felt not just good – but necessary – to get back to basics; to remove the external noise and exorbitant amount of influences and return to my personal baseline. It’s a baseline that’s devoid of self-doubt and low-esteem, yet eager for adventure with an open mind and wide eyes, ready to swallow scenery and waft in wanderlust from each and every corner of this beautiful, new state – both figuratively and literally.

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After falling head over heels for the city during the week of new years eve, it took us less than two months to get a job in the city and find a new place to call home. And now after two weeks of living here, it truly feels like home. There’s a natural ebb and flow to the world around, and instead of fighting against the current we’re giving into the ride; so far, it’s been a beautiful one. The weather has been in our favor with the sun shining down and barely any clouds in the sky; it’s a brisk Spring, but it’s clear and lovely. Now that I’ve gotten to know the area a bit better, I’ve made a point of gallivanting around and exploring the greenery the city has to offer; one of my first stops – the post-apocalyptic looking Gas Works Park located in near the Fremont area, on the North Shore of Lake Union.

Image result for gas works park 10 things i hate about you

A former coal gasification plant from Seattle’s Gas Light Company from 1906-56, Gas Works Park has seen a splendid second life as a refurbished public play area – and is possibly best known as the location of the glorious paintball fight with Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger in 10 Things I Hate About You (because, childhood). Both a Seattle and Washington State landmark, Gas Works Park spans well over 20 acres, the park boasts a stunning landscape featuring f rolling, green hills – culminating in Kite Hill, which – you guessed it – is great for flying kites, ample shoreline and a panoramic view of Downtown Seattle.

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Now that the coal aspect is defunct, the industrial pieces have been preserved, as well as “taken back”, by nature. Once you can look past the chain-link fence, pieces of metal that once roared into animate life all their own now feature vines, shrubs and trees weaving and winding their way through what’s left of the plant, and various amounts of graffiti art tagged around every corner. As the sunlight shifts and shines through the complex, the air breathes life into a scene that at one time was anything but truly living; making it easy to fathom that plenty of post-apocalyptic entertainment, ranging from TV shows like Incorporated and movies ranging from Divergent  to The Hunger Games, garnered their inspiration from scenes such as this. With ample room for roaming, running and recreation, Gas Works Park is a wonderful romp of urban decay sprawled in the midst of a booming tech economy.

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Though the water’s chemical makeup doesn’t bode well for swimmers, you can kayak or paddle board your way through Lake Union and take the area in, in all it’s splendor.

What are some of your favorite haunts in Seattle? Let me know in the comments below! For more on Gas Works Park, head to their website and socials:

Website | Facebook | Instagram | Yelp

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[Local Lore] Wild and Free at the William L. Finley Wildlife Refuge

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Tucked deep in the heart of Corvallis sits a whimsical wildlife habitat; a home to many seasonal creatures as they make their semi-annual migratory routes. Created back in 1964, the William L Finley National Wildlife Refuge is a preserved natural land area in the Oregon’s greater Willamette Valley and is notorious for the flocks of dusky Canada geese that frequent the landscape. Unlike typical Canadian geese, their dusky cousins nest and mate along the Copper River Delta in Alaska over the Summer and visit the vast acreage of wetlands of the Finley Wildlife Refuge during the colder, Winter months.

One of the last intact wet prairies in the area, the refuge was a reaction to the Great Alaskan Earthquake of 1964 which diminished the available natural land for dusky Canadian geese. Fast forward almost forty years and in 2006 the Snag Boat Bend Unit was acquired as a partition of the reserve, adding almost 350 acres of unique, historic habitat to the already sprawling 5,300 acres of wetlands covered by the Finley Reserve.

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Beyond the dusky Canadian goose, the William L Finley Wildlife Refuge also plays homebase for a variety of flora, fauna and fowl throughout the year with a handful of habitat regions on site, ranging from wet prairies on the East End to sprawling wetlands off of Muddy Creek, or to the upland Oregon white oak savannas and forests. On any given day, you could run into a menagerie of birds and waterfowl from migratory raptors like the rough-legged hawk to turkey vultures, peregrine falcons, golden and bald eagles, to great horned owls and geese, great blue herons, wood ducks and swans, woodpecker colonies and meadowlarks; not to mention the herds of Roosevelt Elk, blacktailed deer, coyotes and bobcats, alongside pond turtles, red legged frogs and the endangered yet recently re-introduced Fender’s blue butterfly.

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For a full spectrum of the Refuge, I highly suggest returning throughout the year. Even though Winter is wonderful to observe the migratory patterns of waterfowl, November marks the beginning of ‘Sanctuary Season’ which closes off the interior or the park for resting animals; the season end on April 1st, and all interior trails are opened once again.

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Whether you’re hiking, cycling or simply just observing the world at large, the refuge boasts a menagerie of looping trails and rolling hills throughout the grounds, offering over a handful unique hiking paths that cover over a dozen miles of land. For those looking to stay lazy, fret not – there’s an auto tour route with ample roads for roaming. Posted every now and again, you’ll find neat tidbits and educational facts on the nature and ancient nurture of the area.

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Originally, the land was settled by the Kalapuya tribe – a conglomeration of thirteen related tribal groups speaking three distinct languages among themselves; each tribal group inhabited a specific area along and around the Willamette River. With the volcanic Cascade Mountains nearby, tribes around the river effectively fashioned obsidian  arrowheads and spears; if you look hard enough, you can still find obsidian artifacts and minerals in the area to this day – including in the grounds of the Wildlife Refuge. On the other end of history, is the Willamette Valley segment of the Applegate Trail, first used in the 1840’s – it’s a more southerly trail than the Oregon Trail sauntered through by European Settlers.

For more on the William L Finley Wildlife Refuge, head to their social channels – or simply go pay them a wonderful visit; I promise, it’s worth it!

What are your favorite spots to observe the wistful, wonderous wildlife in your town? Let me know in the comments below!

Website | Friends of the WLF Refuge | Facebook | Twitter

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[Self Discovery] The Serenity of the Sea

 “My life is like a stroll upon the beach, as near to the ocean’s edge as I can go”
— 
Henry David Thoreau —

Summer in SD

Ever just feel the need to get away? Not to necessarily escape from life, but to take a midweek vacation from all the humdrum stress of your vocation and whatever else might be plaguing or mentally exhausting you.  Lately, there’s been this large itch to jump in the car and not be home – maybe it’s the incredible heat waves we’ve been having in Los Angeles proper, maybe it’s the fact I’ve formally lived in Los Angeles for a decade now; irregardless, lately I’ve had this distant itch that I’ve needed to scratch from sandier locations.

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I work from home and have been working from home for the last five or so years.  It’s a wonderful life, but at the same time – it can make for some stir crazy mornings and cabin fever-esque afternoons.  Thankfully, for the last few weeks, I’ve been blessed enough to tag along while my dad goes on a few work trips down to gorgeous and sunny San Diego, and every now and again I’ve also been jumping in the car with Danny and working from anywhere that cell phone service exists along the Southern California coast.  From Santa Monica, to Long Beach, San Pedro down to Orange County and San Diego – the California Coastline down here has a bevvy of beautiful beaches, ripe and ready for adventures.

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With seventeen miles of coastline and nearly 5000 acres of land, San Diego boasts an incredible amount of beaches per capita, each with their own unique charm, from Ocean Beach to Encinatas and back to Moonlight Beach – you simply can’t go wrong as you bounce from one sandy piece of heaven to the next.  Yes, of course beaches will be crowded – have you met Summer in SoCal?! – so be sure to head there with plenty of time to spare and plenty of sun and sand to be had.

Travel up the coast a bit and you’ll hit the beautiful beaches of Orange County and Newport, including the stunning 1000 Steps Beach.  But I’ll be honest, the only version of the OC I like is the show – and it’s primarily because I can put it on mute. Anyhow, just a hop, skip and a jump up and you’ll reach shores of San Pedro and Angels Gate Park, where notorious scenes from my all time favorite movie were played out in the 90’s.  Can you name the movie? I won’t give it away!  Nestled between two coastlines in a sprawling green park that overlooks the coast, you’ll find the fabled ‘Koren Friendship Bell‘ in all of its vibrant glory and impeccable hand crafted detail.

Los Angeles itself is known as much for the glitz and glamour of Hollywood as it is the menagerie of beaches against its coast.  Venice, Santa Monica, Malibu, Point Dume – you simply can’t go wrong.  Now, it’s definitely a personal decision, but Danny and I typically off for the off the beaten path locations with less people – the more of a tourist trap it is, the less peace, quiet and space you’ll have, you know – if you’re into that sort of thing.

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“Don’t underestimate the healing power of these three things:
music, the ocean, and the stars.” 

Hypnotically beautiful with brooding turbulence underneath, the Ocean water mimics the human condition: meeting new highs and pulsing lows, bringing rocky baggage ashore and washing herself clean of the past, pulling new ideas back undertow and ingraining them in her personality. Summer in SD

It’s as if the waters have found themselves in the midst of mindful meditation that you can’t help but immulate: with this wave – I’m breathing in, with this wave – I’m breathing out.

 

No matter the mood or emotion I bring to the water’s edge with me, it’s always washed away and I’m left feeling rooted, as the soles of my feet and tips of my toes edge their way in and around millions of grains of sand that each have thousands of years of stories to tell.  Twisting my head to and fro to see as far as the eyes can see, I’m inexplicably drawn to the cascading of blues that measure where the sky and sea are drawn together in an almost hand painted gradient.  It’s here, that I shed my snakeskin of the past to the salt and air and become again.

Where do you go when your soul needs to refresh?