Hiking the Rocky Mountains and the Southwest

May 19, 2020 at 5:35 pm

Sick and tired of sheltering-in-place? Me too! I want to bust out of these four walls and take in the fresh air, not just for an hour or two, but for an entire vacation. A trek to the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and to the big boy parks of Arizona, Nevada, and Utah is the panacea for the indoor “I-can’t-stand-it-anymore” blues. Once I asked a friend who relocated to Thailand what he missed most about the United States. He said, “The national parks and all the different types of beauty.” I never realized that America’s natural bounty had such a pull on people’s heartstrings. I suppose what we have is quite magical. This summer or fall, I want to touch, smell, and feel the textures of the earth. Everyone should before scenic landmarks erode (or close) and before certain plants and animals go extinct.

Snow covered Pikes Peak at the Garden of the Gods Park near Colorado Springs, Colorado

In the Rocky Mountains and Southwest, it’s all about hiking on the red dirt trails. I am smiling giddily in the summer sun and witnessing the daily miracle of brown mountains morphing into shades of pink and orange and scarlet at dusk. I love Colorado’s Garden of the Gods where you can scramble in and around ancient boulders balancing on a tiny point. And then there’s the challenge of bravely hoofing it across the Royal Gorge Bridge, the nation’s highest suspension bridge dangling above the Arkansas River. I want bragging rights when I come back home. Yes, I am shameless.
Over years of travelling with friends and family, I have learned that vacation styles are as different as individual thumbprints. For some reason that I cannot fathom, certain sojourners prefer to laze around, wake up late, take their time getting dressed, and sip their morning coffee in a leisurely fashion. Me? Nah! I cannot waste time like this. I set the alarm to rise early to take in as many adventures my mind and body can handle.
If I were at Pike’s Peak, for example, I would make darn sure to book that bicycle ride excursion where the outfitter drives clients to the top and lets them zip down this mountain measuring over 14,000-feet. But I prepare well so as not to be irresponsible. Colorado is the highest state in elevation, so that means drinking a gallon or more of water a day and lip balming often so my lips don’t crack from the dryness. I dress in layers knowing that at any moment, clouds can march in uninvited. A rainstorm can pounce while I am crossing a waterfall.
I cannot wait to stretch my palms on the slot canyons of Utah’s Zion National Park or the hoodoo spires of Bryce Canyon, marvels sharing the same state. Monument Valley, which rests on tribal land, blankets the sacred land with buttes and mesas, and promises one of the darkest skies mankind will ever see. I envision lying on my back atop my sleeping bag, dreamy-eyed at the galaxy of stars dancing above.
In Arizona, I will wave to the Snoopy rock made of red sandstone seen from one of Sedona’s many hiking trails. And from there I will shout an echo down Verde Canyon and ply through the Verde River via kayak.
At the tail end of my trip, the grime from these sweaty outdoor pilgrimages is going to get to me. And at this point, I trade in my hiking boots for my sandals. I luxuriate at one of the fabulous resorts at Lake Las Vegas. I plop on a clean white downy comforter, fuel up with a gourmet restaurant meal, and spoil myself with a spa treatment.
And the next day… well, I am flexible. I shall eat my critical words and become one of those travelers who likes to laze around, sleep in, and sip my morning coffee. Hey, don’t judge me – I’m on vacation!
If you need help with itineraries and want tips and assistance to curate the perfect vacation, please check out California Tours Road trip.


Kathy Chin Leong is an award-winning travel journalist who has trekked the world. As founder of Bay Area Family Travel, she is passionate about helping people step out of their comfort zones and challenge themselves to try new things and visit new places. Her work can be found in National Geographic Books and many others. 

Zoom Into New Memories on a West Coast Driving Vacation

May 11, 2020 at 5:06 pm

Summer 1971. I am 12 years old. Dad packs us up on a cross-country adventure in our Rambler station wagon. My siblings and I are hypnotized by endless ribbons of highway and occasionally snapped out of our stupor by natural wonders and man-made monuments. Cheap souvenir stands give us an excuse to stop and purchase state decals to stick to the car’s back window.
In 2020, the quintessential road trip beckons. Such a sojourn up the West Coast is timely: gas prices are reasonable, beaches are reopened, lodgings of every ilk welcome customers. What are you waiting for? Hug the open road with loved ones by your side or the back seat. Nourish your soul with pink-orange sunsets and regional foods sure to lock in lifetime memories. Launch from San Diego with your first glimpse at the beaches in the elite town of La Jolla. If you have never seen the endangered Torrey pine, here’s your chance at Torrey Pines State Reserve. As you drive up Highway One, you can emulate the cartwheelin’ energy of Southern California at Newport Beach, at the Santa Monica pier, and at Venice Beach laced with hippie street performers.  Within a couple of hours, you touch the hemline of the Central Coast where the vibe is dialed way down. You know that San Luis Obispo’s nickname is SLO, right? Meander Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone with artsy boutiques. Be awestruck by the 24-carat gold mosiac pool inside Hearst Castle in San Simeon. Explore the Highway One Discovery Route website for details on more regional activities.
Okay. Let’s take a breath. I don’t want you to hurtle from one town to the next. It’s not a race. Savor the journey and pull off the road when you see something that piques your interest. Turn around if you need to. Believe me, it will be worth it.
Northward, you stumble upon Big Sur and grin at the ocean’s palette of aquamarine, indigo blue, and emerald green. And you start to wonder, “Do mermaids exist?” Turn into the fairytale town of Carmel to prance past gnomish Lord of the Rings-like homes. In Monterey, watch divers float into the three-story glass kelp forest at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, dubbed one of the world’s greatest fishbowls.
After three hours, you land in San Francisco. While you cannot swim safely at Ocean Beach, you can admire it from above, dining at the elegant Cliff House. Hint: its Terrace Room offers outstanding, gigantic complimentary popovers at breakfast.
On another day, slurp clam chowder from a sourdough bowl at Fisherman’s Wharf or practice your Cantonese ordering dim sum in Chinatown, the nation’s original Chinatown, circa 1849. Check out the gorgeous pictures and Chinatown history in the new book San Francisco’s Chinatown  to get your bearings.
Have extra time? Fuel up to drive to the perennially green Pacific Northwest, filled with a bastion of scenic treasures. In Oregon, highly recommended is Multnomah Falls at the Columbia River George. You must hike it, even if you hate hiking! The powerful rush of the falls is absolutely invigorating.
Meanwhile, wine aficionados can graze vineyards throughout the Willamette Valley. Several wineries run their own cafes, so be on the lookout for these: Brooks Winery, King Estate, and Left Coast Cellars. And in Southern Oregon and the Applegate region, you can raise a glass and nosh on homemade pizza at Dancin Vineyards outside of Jacksonville, Red Lily Vineyards, famous for carrot ginger soup, and Wooldridge Creek Winery where you can order homemade charcuterie goods and cheese from a goat creamery (of all places) with personalized service.
In Washington, coffee is king and so are cute coffee places resembling cozy living rooms. But you are on the run to scope out nature, so bring your java (drawn with artistic foam at the top) to visually soak in the sea stacks and rainforests of Olympic National Park, the wildflowers of Mt. Rainier, or the vista at Mt. St. Helens. Head to Seattle to play tourist at Pike Place Market and the Space Needle. If you’re like me, you’ll want to take in specimens only found here: the Underground Tour through secret tunnels, the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum, and the Museum of Pop Culture.
Whew! Anyone completing such a gutsy journey from the Golden State to the Beaver State to the Evergreen State deserves a medal of endurance. The sights, sounds, tastes, and textures gleaned from such a trip is unlike any other. If you need help with itineraries and want tips and assistance to curate the perfect vacation, please check out California Tours Road trip.



Kathy Chin Leong is an award-winning travel journalist who has trekked the world. As founder of Bay Area Family Travel, she is passionate about helping people step out of their comfort zones and challenge themselves to try new things and visit new places. Her work can be found in National Geographic Books and many others. 

Nashville – Music City

October 10, 2019 at 7:34 pm

There’s only one Music City!

Take in Nashville’s colorful sounds

Among all the places across the vast United States, there’s only one named Music City. Nashville lives up to its nickname with a dazzling array of musical delights for all tastes and ages. Whatever you seek – old country, new country, jazz, rock, hip hop, classical, folk and more – you can find it here.

Nashville, Tennessee, USA- June 14, 2013: Honky-tonks on Lower Broadway. The district is famous for the numerous country music entertainment establishments.

Country Music

Nashville and country music have danced arm in arm for decades. Home to many of the world’s finest country stars, session musicians and songwriters, Nashville’s the place to find this popular Southern-style genre. Here are a few of many fine options:

The place to hear country legends and today’s chart-toppers, the Grand Ole Opry has showcased the best of country music since beginning as a radio show in 1925.

This historic venue holds a special place in hearts and music, and visitors can see it first-hand with tours during the day and music in the evenings.



The Bluebird’s 90-seat listening room, a quiet and intimate place to hear top songwriting talent, has a “Shhh policy” meaning it’s only for those who come to listen.

  • Music Tours

Nashville, TN, USA November 7, 2010 Legends Corner is one of several live country music venues on Broadway in Nashville, Tennessee

A thriving variety of walking and riding tours celebrate Nashville’s musical history – its recording studios, music row, and the history behind some of music’s hottest legends.

Nashville Studio Experiences puts you front and center ; join a star in the studio and return home with your own recording!

And Much, Much More!

Opening in downtown Nashville in 2020, this museum encourages visitors to explore the myriad ways African Americans have contributed to more than 50 musical genres and subgenres.

Music and art are a great pairing, and the Frist Art Museum features a rich calendar of musical programs in many genres.

There’s always something playing at the Nashville Symphony, whether jazz, pop, children-themed and yes, even classical!

Take in some authentic jazz while enjoying a prohibition-era cocktail and New Orleans cuisine at this late-night jazz club, which also features a Sunday jazz brunch.

Have some fun learning about iconic musical entertainers from all across the U.S. with interactive exhibits, instruments on display, and more.



Planning ahead

Check out the Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau’s concert calendar to see who’s performing during your stay.

Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns’ Country Music series, released in 2019, is a wonderful way to become familiar with country music –its history, its greats, and why its heart-filled songs are popular and enduring. View the series before you leave on your trip to hear the sounds and stories of Nashville’s finest.

If you want to see America’s south, check out our Nashville & Memphis Vacation Package and start planning your getaway!

Nashville Food and Music

October 7, 2019 at 1:32 am

Music City’s Food Destinations Filled With Southern Fun and Flavors

Nashville’s culinary scene is as sophisticated and diverse as the city itself, with an influx of restaurants created by star chefs, and the soulful southern culinary culture that elevates a visit. There’s a destination to find every type of food – fun, fried, fiery, and fancy – and the perfect beverage to go along with it.

Nashville: Nashville is the capital of the U.S. state of Tennessee and home to Vanderbilt University. Legendary country music venues include the Grand Ole Opry House, home of the famous “Grand Ole Opry” stage and radio show. The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and historic Ryman Auditorium are Downtown, as is the District, featuring honky-tonks with live music. Nashvill is known as Music City.

Southern Favorites

As part of America’s south, Nashville’s excellent southern-focused restaurants serve rich cooking, soulful flavors and deep-fried comforts. Fluffy, warm biscuits, grits, hot chicken and waffles, hush puppies, mustard greens, fried chicken, and mashed potatoes and gravy, served with a cold glass of sweet tea, are among the staples of the southern menu. Seek out these favorites at breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner to get the true taste of Americana, often at affordable prices, as well.

Homemade Nashville Hot Chicken with Bread and PIckles

Hot chicken

Take a stroll on the spicy side with one of Nashville’s most famous dishes – Hot Chicken – classic fried chicken served with a side of heat. You can find Hot Chicken places in most neighborhoods, and may even have the opportunity to put your request in for reasoning ranging from “mild” to “turn on the A/C it’s gonna be HOT”!

  • With three Nashville locations, you’re never too far from a great source for Hot Chicken – Hattie B’s . And, many Nashville restaurants carry this signature dish.


A little live music with your food?

When in Music City, why not enjoy some live music as you dine, and maybe a little dancing? A great selection of restaurants feature live music.

  • In the Printer’s Alley district, Skull’s Rainbow Room  serves a special mix of live jazz, craft cocktails, an award-winning menu, and more.
  • Robert’s Western World is a honky tonk and dive bar with live traditional country, western, and rock-a-billy music 7 days a week, 16 hours a day.
  • With two locations perfect for relaxing, The Stillery offers burgers, signature mason jar drinks, and a second floor music space featuring local up and coming acts on Friday and Saturday nights.
  • B.B. King’s Blues Club & Restaurant in “the District,” has live music, hearty fare, signature drinks, and dancing.

Nashville, Tennessee – October 8, 2017: Neon signs light the strip along Broadway in Nashville

Party wagons

Nashville’s cuisine isn’t just about the food. It’s also about the warm atmosphere, and of course, the beverages, adult and otherwise. Whether on a tractor, wagon, bus or carriage, Nashville’s parties on wheels invite you to hop on for some outdoor sightseeing while sipping an adult drink.

These BYOB (bring your own booze) party bikes are a great way to be outdoors, get a little exercise, see the sights, and party, drink in hand!

A tractor, a wagon, and moonshine make for a one-of-a-kind tour of Nashville!

  • Horse and Carriage Rides

Countless horse and carriage rides start from the vicinity of Second and Broad streets. No reservations are required – just walk up and ask “how much,” and if the price is right, step in and see the city at a horse-drawn pace.

Nashville, Tennessee, USA – April 5, 2013: A bachelorette party rides down Broadway in a pedal tavern in Nashville, Tennessee

Chef-driven venues

Nashville is an exciting place for food, with lots happening on the food scene all around the city. Restaurants run by world-class chefs offer a cutting-edge culinary scene on par with the best of New York City and beyond.

In 2019, The James Beard Foundation honored several Nashville restaurants as semifinalists:

  • Folk, semifinalist, Best New Restaurant
  • Margot Café & Bar, chef Margot McCormack, semifinalist, Outstanding Chef
  • The Catbird Seat, The Patterson House, Henrietta Red, and others run (Strategic Hospitality, semifinalist, Outstanding Restaurateur)
  • Bastion’s Josh Habiger, semifinalist, Best Chef: Southeast

For more information, visit the Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau.

If you want to see America’s south, check out our  Nashville & Memphis Vacation Package