Travel: City Guide to Phoenix Arizona

We had the pleasure of having my brother and his girlfriend as city guides on our recent travel to Phoenix, Arizona this past weekend. They live in Glendale, which is just a stone’s throw away. Our lovely weekend was spent visiting a mixture of their favorite spots and a few new ones, too. We were not disappointed with what the area had to offer. While it is fresh in my mind, here is a travel guide for a weekend getaway in Phoenix, Arizona.


♦◊◊◊
Not worth the time.

♦♦◊◊
Good, but ordinary.

♦♦♦◊
Great. Worth a visit.

♦♦♦♦
Exceptional. A must-do experience.

$
Frugal friendly

$$
Reasonable

$$$
Pricey


Fourtillfour Coffee

♦♦
7105 E 1st Ave, Scottsdale, AZ 85251
$

Fourtillfour Coffee is a car-themed coffee shop housed in a garage space in Scottsdale, Arizona. An industrial roll-up door welcomes guests into a tiny shop housing merchandise and toy cars. Meanwhile, the coffee beans are packaged in containers that mimic vintage gas tanks, and the merchandise also imbibes a retro Grease-like vibe. Every Saturday, they host car meet-ups with different themes, which I think is pretty cool. People were gathering under the trees on tables and benches in the front lawn. I love that dogs were welcome, and there was a homey feel to the space.

Unfortunately, the coffee itself was more traditional in taste. I believe the beans were blends and not single-origin, so the drip isn’t exactly something out of this world. However, I think the traditionality of the coffee matches the vintage vibe of the shop, and I don’t necessarily consider the coffee bad. So I rate it good, but ordinary in terms of coffee. Regardless, it is still a really cool meet-up and hang-out spot, and you’re sure to see a few awesome cars parked on the street!

The Herb Box

The Herb Box Chicken Sando
The Herb Box

♦♦♦
7051 E 5th Ave J, Scottsdale, AZ 85251
$$

We had brunch at The Herb Box in Scottsdale, Arizona. The expansive patio has plenty of shaded seating. The indoor space is quite large as well. Good quality ingredients make up a wide array of brunch fare. They allowed us to bring our outside coffee in, which was pretty nice. And the service was excellent. Other than that, it was just a regular brunch on a regular Saturday.

Snakes and Lattes

♦♦♦♦
20 W 6th St, Tempe, AZ 85281
$$

We love board-games! So it may be biased to say that we loved this space. That being said, any game nerd who is going to travel to Phoenix, Arizona needs to stop at this place. Snakes and Lattes offers a great selection of food, alcohol, coffee, and coffee-alcohol (another plus). Their selection of games is incredible as well! And they have a board-game guru standing by the games, walking around, and teaching people how to play. He was great! Not all board-game cafes have a guru but now I am thinking they should.

The service was amazing and the play time is unlimited. It only costs $6 per person to play. The indoor space is large and there’s also an outdoor patio if you want to get some sun. We stayed a total of 4 hours and my brother has been there multiple times with groups as small as four people and as big as fourteen. We ordered beers and cocktails. Pro-tip: Happy Hour is from 2-4pm!

The Yard

The Yard Ping Pong Table

♦♦♦♦
5640 N 7th St, Phoenix, AZ 85014
$

In order to kill time between board-games and dinner, we swung by The Yard to grab a few beers and play ping-pong and cornhole. It has been a while since I had that much fun! The Yard is a great place to watch sports games on their many TV screens while eating eclectic bar bites and drinking cocktails or beer. It is situated in a college town, and a majority of the patrons there were in their 20’s and 30’s. There is an open space where one can play shuffleboard, ping-pong, and cornhole. It just takes an ID to rent the supplies. But don’t forget to get a stamp on your wrist if you give up your ID, so that you can still order drinks as you play. We surely worked up an appetite before going to dinner.

Ramen Dozo

Ramen Dozo

♦♦♦
Suite #107, 3415 S McClintock Dr, Tempe, AZ 85282
$

‘Welcome to Ramen Dozo, where the ramen is good, the broth is traditional, and the service isn’t so great.’ That was the introduction our server gave, which wasn’t completely far from the truth. The Ramen was good, but the space wasn’t ambient and the service was a bit off-kilter. Still, I really liked our waiter. Not because we got into a long conversation about our new Bitcoin card, but because he was honest, had a sarcastic humor, and was really trying his best to serve us as quickly as possible. The poor guy looked like he was waiting all the tables in the restaurant!

However, the ramen was really good. I ordered my typical tonkotsu ramen and it came with decent pork portions. I also ordered a side of extra noodles but I think the serving was big enough that I didn’t really need to. In fact, I didn’t finish them which NEVER happens. Mike got the spicy miso ramen and really liked his ramen as well! The price was awesome, coming in at around $10 a bowl. We are used to California $15-$20 ramens, so I was super happy with this one. I gave it a frugal rating! Definitely worth a visit if you are in the area. They do close early, though, so plan to eat by 7pm.

Provisions Coffee

♦♦♦♦
4501 N 32nd St, Phoenix, AZ 85018
$$

Great space to match great 3rd wave coffee! This spot is actually serving coffee by day and cocktails and beer by night! They have two bars – one lined with espresso machines and the other lined with draft beer handles. They serve bread and pastry with your coffee, as well as house a number of great coffee merch items! In the evenings, they have a pizza menu to go with your beer. I really liked this coffee spot, and my brother already has plans to return for weekend study sessions! There is ample room in the air-conditioned indoors, as well as a patio with a number of tables and benches. And it seems the dogs love it, too! PS: If you live in OC, California like I do, Bad Coffee sells Provision coffee beans. So there isn’t necessarily a need to travel to Phoenix, Arizona to try them out.

Taco Chelo

♦♦♦♦
501 E Roosevelt St, Phoenix, AZ 85004
$

If anyone ever tells you there are no good taco places in Arizona, they’d be lying. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much, coming from Southern California. But the tacos at Taco Chelo really blew me away. It was after hiking Piestewa Peak and Freedom Loop Trail, a 4.5 mile endeavor in Arizona sun that had me questioning our visit. The peak portion of the trail was amazing, but by the time we started the loop, I was very tired and exhausted. Nothing that tacos can’t fix! I would highly recommend going here. The serving is decent, as I got full after two tacos and splitting an order of chips. The others ate 3-4 tacos, which was quite impressive. The green salsa that came with the chips was so delicious, I added it to everything. And the service was fast! Exactly what we needed as we were starving post-hike.

CiBo Pizzeria

♦♦♦♦
603 N 5th Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85003
$$

They really did save the best for last, as this was my favorite spot for the entire weekend. The restaurant is actually a home with a large front yard lined by a white picket fence and covered by mature trees. String lights create the perfect ambience as we dined al fresco. A few musicians were stationed in the corner of the lawn singing and playing string instruments. The vibe was laid-back, family style, but also, romantic enough for young couples on their first date.

The wine selection was decent but the pizza was amazing! I finished an entire pizza by myself, which is a great sign. Sourdough bakers always say that a dough is made right when you can eat an entire loaf by yourself in one sitting. Same goes for pizza! I ordered the Diavola (Tomato sauce – mozzarella and spicy salame) and Mikey ordered the Dolce Vita (Burrata – spek – arugula and balsamic glaze). Don’t let the simple ingredients fool you. This is just how pizzas were meant to be. Next time we travel to Phoenix, Arizona, we will be back at this joint!

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Monthly Goals: October 2021

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October has arrived in California, marked by gloomy mornings, cool evenings, and the darkened petals of my favorite tree outside our bedroom window. It’s unmistakable, the turn of the season. Within my own body, I feel an inward shift of my mental state, as I start to yearn for the smell of comfort foods, the soft glow of reading lamps, and the softness of cozy rugs and blanket forts.

There is still a bit of left-over unrest from the summer days – pent-up energy that is manifesting as anxiety. Anxiety worth sharing, in case you feel it too – over the upcoming resumption of student loans, over the holiday season around the bend, over the general lack of progress or feeling of stagnation now that we’ve finished our international travels for the year… I chalk the blend of emotions up to the changing of seasons.

I have noticed that my goals this month are extremely ambitious, with a number of productive goals intertwined with tasks to keep me creative, learning, and relaxing too. Sometimes, it can all seem a bit much, but I do tend to shoot for the stars, so that even if I fall short, I’ll still be somewhere up there. I know that it’s dangerous to pen so many expectations, but if I don’t, I wouldn’t necessarily feel like myself. I recognize that I fall to the cadence of cycles, with periods of lull and burnout, but I’ve come to accept my ways rather than resist of be ashamed of the roller coaster ride I call life.

Here is what I’ve got to look forward to in October.

Ways to Improve the Blog

  • Apply to 20 affiliates.
  • Publish 20 blog posts.
  • Make 50 Pinterest posts.
  • Add excerpts for past posts.
  • Internally link related posts.
  • Reach out to 10 collaborations and secure a few partnerships.
  • Review Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing (my favorite course).

Ways to Improve My Finances

Ways to Continue Learning

Ways to Have Fun and Relax

  • Commit to one digital sabbath a week.
  • Limit social media time to 30 minutes a day.
  • Practice turning off my phone wholly, whenever possible.
  • Enjoy our two trips this month – to Arizona and Norcal.
  • Bake a new recipe each week (four total) including participating in the PIEOMETRY challenge in our Bake Club.
  • Be more connected with Mikey by listening to the same podcasts, reading the same books, and learning new hobbies.
  • Time block relaxing activities every single day.

Ways to Stay Healthy

  • Exercise 5 days a week.
  • Less dairy, less processed foods.
  • Get 8 hours of sleep a night.

This photograph was taken by the amazing Chadwick Gantes! The scrubs are from Figs, and the shoes are from Clove.

Pushcarts: A Small Space WFH Desk Solution

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Small Space Living: Tip #17: Find Versatility in Carts

I am starting to like how my work-from-home space is coming together. It’s looking so good that I can almost call it official. For a year I’ve just been a migratory worker, finding space on the dining table, on the couch, in a corner of our living room, and occasionally, escaping on the tiny balcony. It’s nice to reclaim a dedicated work-from-home space and decorate it more permanently, the way I have always wanted.

I have decided to keep my Herman Miller Aeron Chair (affiliate link) because it is such a classic and have recently upgraded my desk to String Furniture’s Work Desk (affiliate link) in Beige/White. I wrote about my excitable desk upgrade here. However, in making the transition, I did lose drawer space, exchanging it for less clutter and a slimmer desk profile. I debated about buying a minimalist filing cabinet (this one from Branch furniture was my favorite) but decided against it when my frugal side won over my need to be esthetically pleasing.

Instead, I opted for a pushcart from Ikea that was equally pleasing to me, extremely affordable ($28!), and insanely more versatile. Hence, the tip for this post. To be fair, I am partial to pushcarts, having worked as a librarian at USC while going to dental school. While my classmates were studying or relaxing at home, I spent evenings after school in the dark aisles of my favorite, Harry-Potter-esque library on campus, organizing books and tidying shelves. I was left to my own, listening to podcasts whilst I pushed my push cart around. Some nights, the library would be so deserted that I would scare myself in the silence, especially when the vents turned on or the lights of the old building flickered. To say that pushcarts lend a bit of nostalgia would be an understatement for this bookworm, who also spent 200+ volunteer hours at the local library in high-school.

The idea of using a shopping cart in lieu of a filing cabinet for a WFH space actually first came to me when I was perusing Yamazaki Home’s website. Yamazaki Home is my favorite source for all minimalist household products. They mix a Japanese esthetic with modern minimalism and use materials such as ceramic, wood, and metals. I saw this rolling kitchen island cart (affiliate link) and the rest was history! They actually have a number of cart options, all of which can be viewable here (affiliate link).

The reason why the cart was a great solution for me was because of our tiny space. There is only approximately 14 inches between the wall and the desk where I needed to squeeze a filing cabinet through. The Nissafors cart from Ikea is less than a foot wide. It has three levels, with the bottom shelf being deeper. I use an organizer that I talked about in this post to keep my camera and unsightly chargers and cords hidden on the deeper shelf. I use the top shelf to hold a candle, a jug of water, a water glass, my phone, plus other things that I am currently using for that workday. The middle shelf holds paperwork, my planner, my TBC Eyewear Blue Light blockers, and other things that I may not be using for the day but I would like to use in the near future.

I love the wheels on the cart, which took me only fifteen minutes to assemble. I sometimes push the cart to the living room when I want to collect other desk supplies that are hidden in our media console. I sometimes push the cart to the kitchen, when I want to refill my jug of water, or pick up a cup of tea or coffee. When working at my desk, I can slide the cart out slightly so that it is right next to me, like an open drawer. At the end of the day, I tuck the cart back into the nook by the wall.

Apart from being a comrade for my work station, the Nissafors cart can double as a planter stand. I can place multiple plants on its three shelves and trolley them over to the sunniest of windows. If a plant is wanting of sunlight, this cart can easily bring them there for the afternoon, and then bring them home to their resting places in the evening.

The cart also doubles as a serving tray for gloomy weekend mornings at home, when scones and coffee need to be transported to the bed or by the couch. And on days when we host dinners at home, the cart can double as a bar cart, holding bottles of wine on the bottom shelf, stocking cans on the middle tier, and serving cocktails up top. I told you this girl has a penchant for pushcarts.

Anywho, chalk this post up to a simple desk solution for small spaces. Or an absolute nerd talking up storage carts. Whatever the case may be, this is a way for me to be more frugal, minimalist, and creative in making my WFH space a bit more me. Take it or leave it, but please do leave your own solutions to small spaces, in case other readers need ideas.

How to Use Storage Boxes for Organizing the Living Room

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A tidy home equals a tidy mind, or so the saying goes. It’s no wonder most people would assume that I have an already tidy mind by looking at my home. Quite the contrary. The reason why I work so hard at keeping my home minimal is because I have a tendency to be cluttered. It becomes obvious when one analyzes my lifestyle. I am always doing something. I am always trying to be better. I have multiple jobs, and do twenty different things in a day. In order to focus on all of that madness, I need a space that is completely barebones and highly organized.

I have shared before that the best way to stay tidy for me is to keep everything behind closed doors. But things aren’t just thrown willy-nilly into cabinets and drawers all the time. I shared last week how TokoDesign (gifted) helps us keep our kitchen drawer neat. I employ a similar tactic in our living room, where we have one media console. I employ storage boxes and cabinetry to organize my stuff. Inside the media cabinets, we hide a number of things, but keep it fashionably clean.

The biggest thing we hide are our white Sonos 5 speakers. (affiliate link) I despise tech for its wires and unsightly bulkiness, even though I love tech for all the things it allows us to do. It’s a necessary but ugly thing – so my one requirement for speakers was to be able to hide them. The small size fits perfectly in our Ikea Besta media console (we have the combination with white doors/Stelsviken/Stubbarp/High-Gloss/Beige combination with a glass top and without the legs on). The sleek appearance of Sonos displays beautifully, making it okay for me to leave the doors open when it is in use. I love how the white color option really matches our home’s Scandinavian style. My husband enjoys the sound quality of Sonos speakers, and it has been so nice adjusting the volume and playing music from Spotify using our cell-phones. I love playing music from the kitchen island while we cook meals together on the weekends. It also easily connects to our record player and projector via Wifi.

The second thing I hide are all of my notebooks and binders. I use Ikea’s White Tjena Magazine Files to keep non-white colored books hidden. I first saw this tactic used in the Kinfolk Home book. I loved the way you could keep cabinets and open shelving clean, while having my most-used recipe books at-hand at all times. The file boxes are very sturdy and have a notch at the end for easy movement and grabbing. These boxes are sold in beige and black as well, in case white doesn’t match your style. As for the collection of books that have white or black bindings, I display those openly within the cabinet. These books include our Kinfolk collection and Drift magazines.

In this console, we also hold some Ikea boxes from Ikea’s Kuggis collection. This collection has a number of white boxes in different sizes. I use them both in the living room and in the bathroom. One larger box holds my desk supplies, including pens, hard-drives, envelopes, stamps, and paintbrushes. A smaller box holds Mike’s cables and other tiny trinkets. These boxes come with lids and have a circular cut-out akin to the Magazine files, which makes grabbing and moving them quite convenient.

We placed the record player in the center of the console and hide the records in the middle cabinet. I specifically chose the middle cabinet because using the speakers require the left and right cabinets to be open. I couldn’t find a white container that was big enough to hold the records, so I did what I could and hid it where it can stay hidden. Along with it are the main power plug, the cables that power the speakers, Mike’s Switch console and charger, and his gaming controller. The unsightly things go in the cabinet that stays mostly closed.

I make it a point to keep the doors to our media console closed unless we are using our Sonos speakers. This makes it easy for me to “tidy” the space. In photographs, it makes the living room look polished at all times. When guests are over, the clutter stays out of the way. Even if we play music for dinner parties, the white boxes and magazine files give the living room a cohesive look. I know not everyone shares my neatnik tendencies, but for those who do, these are some of the ways I’ve learned to cope with messiness. I’d love to hear your own tips and tricks!

50 Analog Activities that Resist the Attention Economy

One of the most influential books that I’ve read in 2021 was How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell. Big companies spend a lot of money to gain our attention. Before the digital age, companies were focused on capturing our hard-earned dollars through consumption of their products. Today, companies seek to capture our attention by consuming their advertisements. Our attention, rather than our money, has become the commodity that big companies compete for. Looking at it from this perspective, our attention is what we must protect. Our attention is the resource that companies seek. Our attention is what we run out of all the time, because sneakily, companies are trying to buy them from us.

The attention economy is what drives us to social media. It’s what makes us pick up our phone and unknowingly click on Instagram. Addictive apps are creating social behaviors that keep us coming back to these companies. The companies that have the ability to bring your attention back to them has the most influence, and influence is power. If they can make the behavior a habit, any future influence they want to have on you in the future will become easier. They can essentially make you do whatever they want you to do, without you ever being aware of it. Because of this, we must resist, to the best of our ability, the attention economy.

In the book How to Do Nothing, Jenny Odell articulates how doing ‘nothing’ (according to our society’s definition of what gives life purpose and meaning) is actually a way for us to ‘fight’ these companies from taking control – which really means that by doing ‘nothing’, we are doing something about the way in which large companies are subverting the general public. That really struck home, as I prefer to see my choices in life as its own form of silent rebellion against the current institutions that I don’t agree with.

Plus, as a frugal-wanna-be who has spent the last five years resisting consumerism as best I can, I have gained plenty of experience in finding analog activities that do not succumb to companies vying for my attention. In general, just being out there doing things for others around you and for yourself is the best way to resist the attention economy. But in case you need a few ideas on how to separate yourself from those Instagram advertisements, here are a few of our favorite activities to engage in.

Our Top 50 Analog Activities

  1. Play vinyl records.
  2. Go bird-watching at an estuary.
  3. Skim stones on a glass lake.
  4. Learn how to walk a tight-rope.
  5. Cook meals together.
  6. Read books by candlelight, or aloud.
  7. Wash the car.
  8. Go on a hike.
  9. Have a social interaction without social media.
  10. Plant a tree or garden.
  11. Visit a farm.
  12. Bake something challenging (like a croquembouche).
  13. Make a sandcastle at the beach.
  14. Go for a bike ride.
  15. Organize the home.
  16. Walk other people’s dogs.
  17. Do a puzzle.
  18. Go stargazing.
  19. Visit a museum.
  20. Play board games.
  21. Enjoy a picnic, even if it’s on your balcony.
  22. Play a sport outdoors. Think tennis, or kick a soccer ball around.
  23. Visit friends or family.
  24. Have a bonfire at the beach.
  25. Take afternoon naps.
  26. Pick up an instrument and practice, practice, practice.
  27. Take a long, hot bath.
  28. Volunteer.
  29. Finish a home improvement project.
  30. People watch on a park bench.
  31. Give your pet all the cuddles they deserve.
  32. Do a nature walk and photograph all the different plants and animals you encounter.
  33. Make lists of the things you want to do.
  34. Draw, paint, or do some sort of art project.
  35. Try your best to master chess.
  36. Perfect magic tricks.
  37. Go camping.
  38. Pick up pottery.
  39. Learn how to make sourdough bread.
  40. Do your own car maintenance.
  41. Try to become a mixologist.
  42. Pull out those rollerskates.
  43. Complete an adult coloring book.
  44. Practice flower arrangements.
  45. Make plans for the future.
  46. Go swimming at the community pool.
  47. Declutter your things.
  48. Start a journal and process all the feels and thoughts.
  49. Do a workout routine.
  50. Stare into space and let your mind wander.

These are a collection of our personal favorites and we pull from this list quite regularly. Of course, you’ll want to find activities that align with your own personal hobbies! It seems the younger generation will have a tougher time finding things that they can relate to but as the adults, we need to show them how to slow down enough to disengage from the RA-RA-RA, GO-GO-GO mentality, lest they develop a strong sense of FOMO in their early youth that will make resisting the attention economy quite difficult for them in the future. Enjoy your silent rebellion.

Photo by Sarah Dorweiler on Unsplash

Play Pretend: A Morning At Your Work Desk

After writing about my new String work desk yesterday, I started to daydream about ideal mornings at my new ”office space”. When I first quit dentistry, I was very unhappy with where I was working. I spent an entire month brainstorming why things did not work out. I read books on how to organize your work space, how to make your work line up with your dharma, how to create a good work-life-balance, and how to create an environment that increases the chance of happiness at work. Books I read included Joy at Work by Marie Kondo, The Kinfolk Entrepreneur, and Think Like a Monk by Jay Shetty. I learned that my previous job did not align with my dharma. The environment I was placed in was not conducive to my personality.

I spent days writing lists of what items I imagined would be in my ideal workspace. Some of my requirements included a carafe of water, a beautiful everyday coffee mug, a minimalist laptop, a few plants, a scent diffuser or candle and a beautiful pen. I also jotted down activities I would like to do each morning. I thought about how items could help me to achieve things I wanted to do.

For example, a beautiful carafe of water be a great reminder to drink 8 glasses of water each day. A beautiful coffee mug will make fueling my energy more enjoyable or meaningful. A minimalist laptop will allow me to work on blog posts without distractions. A big work desk will help facilitate multiple tasks. A few plants will keep me joyful and breathing quality air. Meanwhile, a scent diffuser could help emit aromas that create a calm atmosphere. Lastly, a beautiful pen would inspire me to plan wonderfully productive days.

On the flipside, I also wrote down items I did not want in my space. I did not want a clock anywhere in my office, because I believe that creative work should not have a time frame. I also find the ticking sound distracting and stressful. Plus I would be ever-conscious of my progress, or lack-there-of.

I did not want a lot of drawers as I knew I have the habit of stock-piling paper. I did not want an insane number of pens (do you know I use one at a time and own no more than three?), as I get frustrated by clutter. And I did not want to face the inside of my home, because it would cause me to get up from my desk and do chores and errands. This is why my desk used to face the dark corner of the living room, and now faces out onto the street.

This isn’t to say that our work depends solely on the stuff we own, but it does make a difference. I find that having the right items really make or break my productivity level. Also, surrounding myself with special items make work more enjoyable. So in today’s play pretend post, I imagine all the things that I would love to eventually surround myself with in my future work space.

A Morning At My Work Desk

  1. A water carafe (affiliate link) as a reminder to drink plenty of water.
  2. A daily coffee mug that’s beautiful to use.
  3. A thick throw (affiliate link) for colder mornings.
  4. An accessory tray (affiliate link) that works as a pen holder as well as a coaster.
  5. A candleholder to write by firelight.
  6. A diffuser (affiliate link) to create a calm environment.
  7. A narrow filing cabinet to organize paperwork by.
  8. A plant baby for reviving the space.
  9. A desk lamp (affiliate link) that’s adjustable but doesn’t get in the way of work.
  10. A laptop dock (affiliate link) when it’s time to clock out.

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

Travel: An Overview of Snaefellnes National Park on the West Coast of Iceland

Snaefellsnes National Park is a beautiful, secluded area on the western coast of Iceland, only two and a half hours away from Reykjavik. It was voted one of the most romantic areas to get away in Iceland, and is the perfect place for both hiking in the summer and Northern light viewing in the winter. We stayed two days in this area and I absolutely fell in love. I wish we could have stayed an extra day in order to explore more of this region, but we were short on time in general. There are many things to see in this national park, and some of the most iconic images come from this area. The experience is unparalleled by other national parks we have visited, coupled with the seclusion and moody weather (even mid-summer!). Here, I will highlight a few sights but to be honest, none of these photographs do it justice and you really have to go for yourself to believe it.

Note: the sights are listed in order if you drive around the national park counter-clockwise, which is the direction that you approach it from Reykjavik (the south). The best way to get to the Snaefellsnes area (and all around Iceland) is by renting a car or campervan. We rented a car from Hertz which had the best deal at the time. Just a side note, there is plenty of gravel roads and F-roads in Iceland so you want to rent an F-road approved car if you want to reach the most remote of places. Also, we got car insurance for peace of mind since flying gravel is a common occurrence and we weren’t willing to risk car dents and broken windshields.

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Gerduberg Cliffs

A wall of columns make up this famous cliff.

These cliffs are encountered on the way to Snaefellsness National Park via a tiny road splitting from the main highway to the right. Parking wasn’t an issue as this place is usually deserted, allowing you to revel peacefully at its glory. Evenly spaced, dark grey basalt columns made from lava rock line the cliff walls and have baffled scientists for many years. It isn’t so much the fact that the columns extend for miles but rather, the fact that the evenness in width of each column makes it seem as if this natural beauty was carved by hand. The explanation comes from the way in which the lave rock must have cooled evenly. Small indentations in the grass show a path by which you can climb to the top of the cliffs to get a better view of the valley below.

Ytri Tunga Beach

This beach is comically famous in island as it is the only yellow sand beach present. To which Mike replied, “So like every beach in California?!” I suppose to an islander who is used to black sand beaches, this is a sight to be seen. It is still worth a visit as this is the stomping grounds for different breeds of seals. We visited during golden hour and the seals were playing in the water, bobbing their heads along as Mike and I climbed rocks to see them. Although we were originally unsure whether the “sameness” of this beach to one you would find in sunny San Diego is worth the drive, I was pleasantly surprised at how much we enjoyed our sunset there. We must have watched the seals for an hour, before heading off to dinner.

Budakirkja

Budakirkja set against the mountains in Snaefellsnes National Park.

This black church is similar to many churches in island, so if you’ve already seen one, there is no need to pull off the side of the road to see this one. However, it does mark the start of an eight-hour hiking trail that I wish I was able to do. It is hardly mentioned in the blogs online or in travel books, but it travels from Hotel Budhir to Hellnar. We did end up doing a portion of it, hiking from Anastarpi to Hellnar, but when we return to this region (which we surely will!), I would like to set aside the proper time to do the hike that starts from this church.

A bit of a ways at the beginning of the hidden trail. You can see the worn in grass which marks the path for the hike. All you need to do is walk away from the church towards the ocean.

Bjarnafoss

Such a beautiful waterfall. I can only imagine how much stronger it would be in the Spring.

This grand waterfall is so close to the road that you can see it on the road. The sign to the right of the road is small and easy to miss, but it is definitely turning back around for. There is a short hike that gets you closer to the falls, but not right up to the tippy top. Pro advice: a tiny picnic area hidden among the trees at the base of the waterfall makes this a great place to eat lunch.

The trail Mike is standing on leads to a hidden picnic table behind the trees.

Anastarpi

Bird-watching from the Cliff Viewpoint.

I’ve written about what can be found in Anastarpi in my previous post highlighting the hike from Anastarpi to Hellnar. This tiny town is a great place for bird-watching from the Cliff Viewpoint. It also has the famous Bdar Saga Statue that was built from rocks and towers over the town. You can climb the stone bridge and take a photograph that makes you look like you are high-up in the air, too. And I wrote in that post about the pizza we had for lunch, which I totally recommend. If you have a few days in the national park, I would really recommend hiking from here to Hellnar, as it is a short 1-hour trek and would break up the site-seeing quite nicely.

Bdar Saga Statue looking over the town.

Londrangar Viewpoint

Snaefellsnes is a bird-watcher’s paradise. There is no shortage of cliff areas to watch birds from.

There are many viewpoints along the highway running around Snaefellsness National Park. This one is just a few steps from the lot. It isn’t much different from the bird-watching that can be found in Anastarpi, but the rock formation was sure worth the two-minute detour.

Vatnshellir Cave

The entrance to the cave, although you must take a tour to see inside.

The Vatnshellir Cave is an 8,000 year old lava tube created during a nearby crater’s volcanic eruption. As the lava flowed down a hill onto the lava river, it cooled on the surface as the lava river continued to drain out, thus creating a roof-top over the existing cave. One company does tour guides for the cave and they are the only ones with a permit to enter. That means that you need to do a tour with a guide to see the cave. We decided not to join the tour as we had many other sites on our list. It doesn’t seemed to be booked in advance, which is good, as we saw cars pulling up and signing up for the next tour. You do need to wear proper gear which they provide (such as a helmet), and they ran 45-minute tours every hour at the price of 3500 ISK per adult.

Djupalonssandur Beach

The view of the beach from the top. If you look closely, you can see the ship-wreck remains – bright orange bits of rusting copper.

This beach was another area in which I sadly did not set aside enough time for. I was expecting nothing more than a black sand beach, but to my surprise, there were multiple hiking trails to take from the car park and this beach actually spans a large area. We did do one of the shorter hikes which took us down to the black rock beach, where the remains of a ship wreck can still be seen. To the right of the beach are steps that leads one to a small pool where previous settlers (mostly sea people) had to walk to to get access to drinkable water. There were two other hikes that I really wanted to see, each of which took 1-2 and 3-4 hours respectively. I will definitely be back here to explore! I think it would be best to set aside a half-day to see this beach at leisure.

The hike to the left of the beach took us to this secluded pool where sea travelers had to go to get drinking water.

Saxholar Crater

The Saxholar Crater is nothing but a huge hole in the ground that is viewable after climbing a surmountable number of steps. The cardio work was fun, don’t get me wrong, but the view was anti-climactic and honestly not worth the climb (unless you’ve never seen a crater before?). It is a five-minute detour from the road, if you just want to see it. But Iceland had so many other things to see!

Svortuloft Lighthouse

This was definitely not worth driving to as it required a 1 hour driving detour from the main road on a gravelly path (which meant a 2 hour detour total) just to see a lighthouse. There was, however, cool signs at the end that gave a bit of history about how the sea travelers who landed in this part of Iceland survived. Some of the old dwellings are still visible as mounds in the soil, and there is a scary looking well that you can look at. Mike was brave enough to walk into it, but it was too claustrophobic for me to even try. To be fair, we were coming to the end of our very long day of sight-seeing and I was getting cantankerous from the hunger pains signaling the need for dinner, and soon … so there’s that.

Mike bravely entering the under-ground well.

Kirkjufellsfoss

This waterfall and the background mountain reminds me of Mount Crumpit from Who-ville where The Grinch lived. It is so fairytale like that I wouldn’t believe it was a real place if I didn’t see it myself. The fall itself isn’t as grand as it seems from the photographs but the background can’t be beat on a clear day (luckily, it did clear up in the latter half of the afternoon). There is a lot on the side of the road and it is a minute’s walk from the car park to the fall itself. I had to open this entire post with this photograph, although here is another view of it without the mountain in the background from the base of the fall. Not as grand, right? It is one of the most famous sites for Google stock photos, and looks even prettier (or so it appears in other people’s pictures) with the Northern Lights in the background.

Sights we did not see:

  • Skarsdvik Beach
  • Berserkjahraun
  • Ondverdarnesviti
  • As mentioned at the beginning of the post, a few days was not enough time to see it all. Here are sights we did not see but will make the list on our second go around. Also, the hikes mentioned in today’s post are also going on the list for our return trip! These photographs are only a sneak peak of what there is to see in this area of Iceland. The pictures do not do the beauty justice. ‘Til next time!

    Travel: Hiking Reykjadalur Valley in Iceland and Bathing in its Geothermal Hot Spring River

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    Of all the day hikes we did while visiting Iceland, the hike in Reykjadalur Valley was by far our favorite. Just a stone’s throw away from Reykjavik, this valley is full of beautiful scenery, geothermal hot springs, mud pools, and best of all, a hot river that you can bathe in at the center of the valley mid-hike. I would highly recommend relaxing your muscles in the running river, as it is a serene and beautiful spot. We almost skipped it but after high praises from my sister, who dipped into the river a few days prior, we rolled up our leggings and shorts and waded in. We had a great time and call it one of the best experiences on our Iceland trip.

    You can hire a tour guide to explore this area on horse (Iceland does have the cutest horses around, with their squat legs and beautiful flowing hair) but I prefer hiking on foot. My sister did the tour with the horses and it was an all-day trip, whereas my husband and I hiked Reykjadalur Valley on foot and it took about 3-4 hours. If you’d like to learn more about the hike to Reykjadalur Hot Springs, feel free to read on.

    Spoiler alert: There’s a number of photographs in this post that may spoil the views. This may not be the best post for hikers who prefer to be surprised by the scenery. I, for one, like to know ahead of time.

    This is a view of the valley on the main freeway as you approach from Reykjavik. From far away, you can see the geothermal activity of the area in the form of smoke rising from the hills.

    Reykjadalur is located fairly close to the main city of Iceland, Reykjavik. You just hop onto the 1 Freeway (also known as Ring Road) and head southeast for 40 minutes. You can see the valley on the freeway and before you reach Hveragerdi (the closest town), there is a turnout with a map of southwest Iceland. From this turnout, you will see smoke rising from the hills. Know that you are not far away. You must turn left towards the mountains when you reach Hveragerdi. The roads are well paved and there are no F-roads to encounter along the way (meaning you can reach the trailhead with a regular car). A large parking lot with a cute coffee shop marks the trailhead. There was plenty of parking space when we went, despite the late start to our day.

    The beginning of the trail.

    From the parking lot, you will see a well-kept gravel trail that begins the journey into the valley. If I had a do-over, I would start this hike earlier in the morning, so as to return for lunch at the cute cafe near the parking lot. In reality, we slept in after some major jet-lag, and started our hike at noon. As you can tell from the photograph, Iceland stays relatively overcast, even in July. That doesn’t mean you should skip the sun-screen. I would pack a light rain jacket if you have a problem getting wet, or a light fleece jacket over a tanktop. I like to wear layers when I hike for easy shedding. It was fairly warm that day, so I didn’t need both. For us, hiking boots are a must, although this trail is doable in regular running shoes as well. To get an idea, these are the things I wore on this day.

    What to Wear When Hiking Reykjavik Hot Springs

    Things to Bring

    When we went, there were no crowds. People were spaced out enough and as you get deeper into the valley, you see fewer and fewer hikers.

    On the day that we went, there were few crowds. I was happy to be hiking with less people around. As you get deeper into the valley, you will notice that the hikers spread out even more. The winding trail allows for bouts of isolation, so that you can enjoy the scenery without a bother. Mike and I prefer to hike fairly alone, and do most of our deepest talks during the most strenuous of hikes, which also happens to be the lesser crowded ones. Check out the photo below to see what I mean.

    A lone hiker in front of us, and nature all around.

    I would rate this hike as easy to moderate. Don’t let the steep looking inclines dissuade you from trying this one out. There is a steep hill at the very beginning but it is fairly flat towards the middle. Plus, you know what steep hills mean – easy descents! We hiked this trail without walking sticks, and the path was not so gravelly that we were slipping and sliding. Of course, our hiking boots really helped with the solid footing. To give you an idea of the difficulty level, we saw 3-5 year olds doing the hike with their parents. And there is only one patch of the hike that still had ice in July. It was fairly short (twenty steps total?) and was on a flat surface.

    A word of caution: Don’t stray too far from the trail. This place is teeming with geothermal activity. Mud pools could create soft pockets of dirt, which a boot can easily depress into. The last thing you want is a burned leg. Stay away from the steaming areas, and I would think twice about touching running water. The hot spring river is good to swim in, but I can’t speak for other areas. Other than that, enjoy the views!

    Don’t get too close to these hot vents. They’ve turned black for good reason!
    A happy giant looking down on us from the rocks.
    Sheep grazing in the grass, unperturbed.
    The views undulated between grassy knolls, black lava rock, and bright blue running streams. The overcast day and the white smoke rising from the brown mountains was really a sight to see!
    You can see the steaming river just around the bend.
    When you get to this bridge and a horse pen, you know that you aren’t too far away.

    A bridge and horse pen demarcates your proximity to the running river. You cannot miss it, as people are most likely wading in the waters. There are changing stalls without any doors. If we knew we were going to get into the water, we would have brought a towel and swim suit to switch into. As is customary in Europe, nudity is never a problem and you’ll see a number of people changing without the typical modesty you would see in America. You can always hide behind a stall and wrap your towel around you if that makes you uncomfortable. On either side of the river are stairs by which to enter the water. We spontaneously did it and are so glad we did. We stayed for an hour, and never wanted to leave. It was the perfect break before hiking back down to the parking lot.

    Side note: The river is not the end-all-be-all, even though it is where we turned around. The trail continues past the river and into the mountains. It is a loop that starts just past the river and returns to the river. Continuing on would add an hour to your hike. Then you return the way you came.

    It is worth stopping by the shop and cafe when you reach the car park. There were delightful cakes in the case, and sandwiches and coffee to be had. They also have clean restrooms and you can refill your water bottles at the restroom sinks. Lastly, there is a tiny shop where you can buy souvenirs or hiking necessities (such as a tiny towel, or a swimsuit).

    The valley and all it’s pretty terrain.

    This was our favorite hike in Iceland. It was also our favorite geothermal spot (better than the touristy Blue Lagoon!). We are introverted travelers and we prefer the romantic views and more isolated spots where we can hear our inner thoughts, and discuss them too! Even when we were in the river, there was enough space for everyone to get a stairwell to themselves. This place never felt crowded or overwhelming, but rather peaceful and serene, something we like over the tourist scene. I don’t think it’s worth getting a tour guide, as that would require you to see this place on their time. I recommend doing this hike on your own, and taking it in without rushing through it. It would probably take a half day to do.