Wildlife

Why The Beaches of Ft. Myers & Sanibel are a Nature-Lover's Paradise

Living in California, we often get the question "Why vacation in Florida? You live by the beach!", and our response is always  "It's just different!" And really, it is. One of the main reasons: Nature. There's no pollution, no high-rises, no congested roads... it's pure, it's unspoiled, and it's absolutely beautiful. Fort Myers and Sanibel is a nature-lover's paradise, not only because it's untouched, but because of the wildlife and a plethora of greenery! (Great use of the word plethora, huh?) 

Let's start with the wildlife, because this trip blew us away with just how much wildlife this area has! Our focus on our first visit to Fort Myers & Sanibel was sea shelling, and we didn't really explore beyond the coastlines (although, we did see some adorable dolphins)... That first trip our main focus was combing the sand for shells - which took the majority of our time. Bobby was (and still is) obsessed with sea shelling!

This time, however, we made it a priority to see more nature. We spent one day kayaking the Estero River, where we saw both alligators and manatees (Neither of which are found in our neck of the woods!). We'll be honest - the gator was quite terrifying, but the manatee was absolutely adorable. If you haven't seen one yet, add that to your bucket list.

Kayaking along the river, you're able to get eerily close to these majestic creatures (maybe a little too close to the gator)! The manatees can hold their breath for up to 20 minutes (crazy!!), so they float along the bottom of the river and you can easily miss them while you kayak. The giant "sea cows" look really playful - basically the opposite of the gators. While kayaking, we also saw colorful birds and lush, green trees. It was a really relaxing way to spend an afternoon, and get a taste of Florida's incredible wildlife. 

If kayaking is your jam, like us, there's a ton of epic spots to kayak all around the Fort Myers/Sanibel area! A few of our favorites are: Tarpon Bay, the Estero River, the Estero Bay, and of course, the ocean.  Many of the areas are National Wildlife Preserves, so the landscapes are beautiful and well taken care of. 

We'd also recommend getting on a boat for at least one afternoon. We hired a motorboat one day, and it was by far the highlight of our trip - starting with the dolphins! Our guide for the day, Captain Ryan, let us in on a little secret - dolphins love to play in the wake of your boat. So naturally, we encouraged him to drive at just the right speed that me might attract some friendly flippers... and it worked almost instantly! We saw more dolphins than we could count that day, and had a blast watching them play in the white water behind our boat. While we missed out on seeing any whales, they're also super common to see in this area!

Renting a boat allowed us to experience some of the surrounding islands and their unique natural beauty. North Captiva has some of the most stunning sandbars you can imagine. You could easily mistake the sandbars and turquoise water for the Bahamas, Tahiti, or Hawaii. It was as close to paradise as you can get, as the beaches on North Captiva were picture-perfect and very uncrowded. At some spots we were all alone! Absolutely dreamy!

Cayo Costa is another island we visited with Captain Brian that left us in awe. With the tidal shifts and moving sand, a giant natural salt water pool had been formed right on the beach. There was a spectacular flock of white Ibis flying around the pool, which luckily we were able to see from the boat and from above (via drone). 

Once back on land, we'd also recommend renting a bike when in the Fort Myers & Sanibel area. We biked around Sanibel and loved the tropical vibes. Cruising on a bike, the salty air in your face, and the beautiful ocean blues and lush green - it's what warm weather vacation is all about. 

While we're at it, there are also a ton of parks to explore on foot. We spent an afternoon in Caloosahatchee Regional Park and were wowed by the trees, wildflowers, and trails. There are stunning paths to meander through, and even some for mountain biking. We enjoyed sitting on the park benches and taking in the views of the water.

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Lastly, we'd be amiss if we didn't talk about the beaches. There is no shortage of them in the area, and we found some new ones that we are particularly fond of. First, Blind Pass. Some say this is one of the best kept secrets in Southwest Florida. The soft sand, the fishing, and the shells (an AMAZING spot to look for seashells), Blind Pass is a great spot to spend an afternoon.

Lover's Key is another epic stretch of sand. It's called Lover's Key because it used to only be accessible by boat, so it is said lovers would head there to find a remote beach. Now accessible by car it is less remote, but still a breathtaking two-mile long beach that is a haven for wildlife - manatees, marsh rabbits, bottlenose dolphins, roseate spoonbills, and bald eagles!

Lastly, North Captiva which we discussed above - please just stop what you're doing, get on a boat, and go there. It'll live up to the hype. 

After our first visit, we would have described Fort Myers & Sanibel as a great place to look for shells, relax on the beach, and eat some good seafood. We would now say all of that is definitely true, but we'd add that there are incredible tropical hideaways and up-close wildlife encounters. Next time we're excited to go whale-watching, hop around some islands we've yet to explore, search for more manatees, and get lost on the labyrinth of trails in Caloosahatchee Regional Park. We may pass on the alligators... but that could just be us. ;)

Thank you to The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel for sponsoring this post!

Monterey Beyond the Aquarium: Whales, Wine, and More!

One thing we love about travel is the ability to visit familiar spots and experience something new. We recently spent a weekend in Monterey, somewhere we have visited several times, and decided to change it up a bit (we normally head to the aquarium). We ended up having the BEST time and discovered a newfound love and appreciation for this part of the California Coast. Here's some of the new things we did that we would HIGHLY recommend!

Whale Watching

This area is a mecca for whale watchers, no matter what time of year! (mid December - April for blue whales, mid April through mid December for Humpbacks) We went with Discovery Whale Watch Tour and they took us on a two-hour tour that brought us close to 6 different whales! It was AMAZING!! We also saw tons of sea otters, seals, and jellyfish (the jellies were a bit terrifying). The boat can be rocky, so if you get seasick definitely prepare yourself. But the experience is 100% worth it!

John Steinbeck Center

John Steinbeck fans? This is something you DEFINITELY don't want to miss! Located in Salinas, just outside of Monterey, you can visit the center that is dedicated to John and his literature. The museum is incredibly well-done (and fun!), and you could easily spend a whole day learning about the man behind all the classics. Whether you're taking a quick break or wrapping up your time at the center, just a mile away Steinbeck's home that's now a restaurant! While we didn't have time to eat there, we heard the food is awesome! And how cute is his home?

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Wine Tasting in Monterey Wine Country

Did you know they made wine in the Monterey area? We didn't. Apparently the warm sun, cool fog, good soil, and the topography of the surrounding land and sea have combined to create a vintner's paradise. With over 60 tasting rooms, it's a fantastic spot to spend your day (or just a couple of hours)! Known for their Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Riesling, each winery has an amazing selection. We drove along the River Road Wine Trail one afternoon, where we indulged in the Odonata, Scheid, and Hahn wineries. Go out and explore for yourself, as Monterey County has some great wines!

Exploring Cannery Row and Nearby Treasures

While we've been to Monterey several times, we've never actually just walked around the surrounding area! Weird, right? Our favorite walk was from the wharf to Cannery Row, and here's what we recommend that you do. Park at the wharf, and turn left. Take the trail along the water and you'll walk past fun shops, restaurants, along the historic Cannery Row, and even the aquarium (You can easily spend a whole day there - it's incredible)! We walked to First Awakenings for breakfast and back, and it was the perfect way to start the day! If you have a bike, this would be an AWESOME spot to bike ride!

These are just a few of our favorites activities that took our trip to Monterey to the next level. If you have anything to add, let us know! We're looking for new spots to visit next time!

This post was sponsored by Monterey CountyAll opinions expressed here are our own. 

Unforgettable Experience on Safari in Uganda - Photo Blog!

An African safari should be high on every bucket list. Seeing the sprawling, colorful landscapes along with the wildlife makes for an unforgettable adventure. When we were in Uganda in 2016, we had the opportunity to go on a safari in Murchison Falls National Park that we will never forget. While we did forget to post photos on our blog until now, we're thinking better late than never :) During our two day excursion, our good friend Eric took us on two game drives and also a day cruise on the Nile. We saw elephants, giraffes, warthogs, buffalo, hartebeests (antelope), hippos, nile crocodiles (terrifying), and bald eagles!

While all we had was our phones to take photos, we got some fun shots that we wanted to share. If you have a safari to recommend, we would love to hear about it! We're ready for another one!

Dude, We Survived a Dude Ranch!

One of our favorite things about traveling is the random bucket-list experiences we get to share together. Sometimes we don't even know how bucket-list they are until we actually experience them!!

Anyway, a dude ranch is one of those experiences. We didn't really know what to expect or what we were in for, and man... was it epic. Have you seen the show, "Hey Dude" on Nickelodeon? It's pretty on point... 

 

Ghost Canyon Ranch is in the heart of the Black Hills of South Dakota, minutes from Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park, and the Crazy Horse Memorial. The ranch was established in 1878, and recently was taken over by Trevor and Laura Bryan and their family. They are passionate about family, nature, and horses and will definitely show you a great time. Ghost Canyon Ranch is a PERFECT place for a group gathering (family reunions!), as it has a capacity for 20 and offers an all-inclusive Western experience. You'll enjoy refreshing mountain air, gorgeous evenings, horseback riding, fishing, and relaxing. All this to say, or stay at Ghost Canyon Ranch was far to short. We basically got a taste of what a vacation on the ranch could be, and we can't wait to be back. 

We arrived in the afternoon and were greeted warmly by Trevor and Laura. We had a pretty long day of travel and we were tired, hungry, and pretty wiped out from the drive. They welcomed us with a big hug, showed us our room (more like a house!), and led us to the dining room where they had a full steak dinner waiting for us. And it was SO GOOD! 

 

We shared stories of our travels, learned about how they met, and got the scoop on what a "Dude Ranch" really is - a working ranch that accepts guests. So you can come to relax, or get to work! These past few years since they took over Ghost Canyon Ranch has been really busy for them, as word has traveled about how amazing their ranch really is. We went to bed feeling full, excited, and really honored for the opportunity to be there.

 

The next morning we woke up to picture-perfect views of the ranch, and the smells of breakfast calling us to the dining room. Laura greeted us with another home cooked meal, and told us to get our sneakers on. It was time to feed the horses!!

Laura and Trevor told us all about each horse, where they came from, their temperament, and how they daily care for each of their animals - they even let us help brush them! Odie the goat was the highlight of our morning, as he followed us around and ate from our hands - of course we HAD to get a picture with him!

As we said above, our time at Ghost Canyon Ranch was too short. We had some amazing home cooked meals, got to enjoy a beautiful evening, a lazy morning, and the peaceful silence you can only find in nature. We didn't have time to go on a horseback riding trip through the mountains, watch the sunset from their jacuzzi, or get get to work as a couple of ranch-hands... but we'll be back. 

 

We'll definitely be back.

Thank you to South Dakota Tourism for sponsoring this post!

South Dakota MUST-DO: SUNRISE Buffalo Safari Jeep Tour

For us "city folk", South Dakota is the ULTIMATE escape. It has gorgeous blue skies, majestic landscapes, and diverse wildlife (something we don't have in LA!!). It is here, away from the hustle and bustle, that you can enjoy silence, nature, and an epic bison burger (another thing we don't have!). While you may desire to avoid your alarm clock in favor of rest, we STRONGLY advise that you spend one of your mornings in Custer State Park on the Sunrise Buffalo Safari Jeep Tour. You can do this tour throughout the day, but the sunrise (or possibly sunset) tours are the best for seeing wildlife - and totally worth the 5am wake up call!

During our time in Custer State Park, we stayed at the Custer State Park Game Lodge. It is a beautiful stone and wood lodge built in 1920 that served as the “Summer White House” for President Calvin Coolidge! It's recently been updated and is a truly stunning property. (While we're at it - we highly recommend having a glass of wine on the porch before dinner!) The Jeep tours originate here at the lodge, and for the sunrise tour you have to get there quite early. 

We found our guide waiting for us outside of an awesome open-air jeep. If you go at sunrise like we did, be sure to bring a jacket because it was definitely chilly until the sun came up. While the tour is called “Buffalo Safari”, we really were in search of a LARGE assortment of critters: buffalo, deer, elk, pronghorn, wild turkey, pronghorns, prairie dogs... and more!

 

When everyone arrived, we set off. The air was brisk, but our coffee in hand definitely helped. Within about two minutes we saw our first elk and deer, as well as a beautiful Mountain Bluebird.

Shortly after, as the sun was just peaking over the Black Hills, we saw our first herd of buffalo. You never know how many buffalo you are going to see, so every opportunity is a great time to take a photo... but little did we know, we were about to see a LOT of buffalo. The first herd we saw was a little farther away, and at our closest point we were maybe 50 feet from the nearest buffalo. 

We continued on, and came upon another big herd of buffalo. This is where we want to pause and mention our #1 reason for taking this tour. The Buffalo Safari Jeeps ARE THE ONLY VEHICLES ALLOWED TO GO OFF THE MAIN ROADS. That being said, this next herd was maybe 300 feet off of the main road. There was a couple sitting in their truck looking at the buffalo, and we went right past them, off the road, and headed in for a closer look. We preceded to drive THROUGH the herd.... So close that we could have touched them! It was INCREDIBLE (and mildly terrifying)! At one point we just stopped the Jeep and sat in the middle of this herd. Many of the buffalo were staring at us, while others were just doing their thing, not bothered by us at all! This was probably one of the coolest moments of our trip. No joke.

Following this unforgettable buffalo encounter, we came upon our first prairie dog “town”, which we learned is what you call a prairie dog community. Apparently prairie dogs are highly social animals, and they live in towns full of extensive underground burrows, tunnels, and chambers. They’re cute little critters, but according to the locals, highly annoying!

Throughout the tour our guide shared tons of fun facts and details about the animals and parks. Like, how did the “Black Hills” get their name? The Lakota Sioux Native Americans named this area “Hills that are black” because of their dark appearance from a distance, since they are covered in trees.   

The Sunrise Buffalo Safari was truly the highlight of our trip to South Dakota... it was a morning we'll never forget! (And we have about 2,000+ photos to make sure we never do!!) ;) So get over to South Dakota, sign up for the sunrise tour, and make sure to have a warm jacket and charged camera. It will be an epic adventure!

Thank you to South Dakota Tourism for sponsoring this post!