A Day at the National Mall in Washington DC

My wife and I had to visit DC to turn in some travel documents and wanted to spend the rest of that day exploring the National Mall. I’d been there before as a teenager, but I don’t remember my parents and I walking around the whole thing. This is the route we took this time, which covers all of the essential monuments:

Starting at the Washington Monument in the center, we headed west towards the World War II memorial, then cut northwest past the Constitution Garden pond towards the Albert Einstein memorial. His statue isn’t actually part of the National Mall; it’s across the street at the National Academy of Sciences. But it’s worth the detour, because it ended up being one of my favorite stops:

A sitting statue of Albert Einstein

From there, we headed south through the Vietnam Veterans memorial, the Lincoln memorial, and the Korean War Veterans memorial. At that point, you have to backtrack east a little bit to see the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial, which marks my second highlight:

Split rocks at the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial

This is where the tour starts to dry up a little bit, since there’s not a whole lot to see as you wrap around the Tidal Basin. Make sure you go through the FDR memorial, though. It rounds out my top three favorite things here:

Statue of FDR sitting amongst the trees

The George Mason memorial is also interesting, which is the last memorial you’ll see before ending at the Thomas Jefferson memorial on the other side of the water from the Washington monument. Unfortunately, going out that far does kind of put you in the middle of nowhere. That’s why we decided to append a visit to the nearby ARTECHOUSE digital art exhibit so it didn’t feel like we walked the whole thing for nothing. But it’s not that much farther to complete the loop, anyway.

Four Days in Maui, Hawaii

My wife and I went to Kauai two years ago, loved it, and have been wanting to explore another island ever since. Of course, COVID has made that difficult, but with vaccines rolling out and Hawaii travel restrictions easing, we finally made a 4-day, 5-night trip to Maui. This isn’t necessarily an ideal itinerary, just what we were able to put together given available reservations:

Day 1: Road to Hana

Highway 360 is a notoriously narrow and windy but beautiful road trip that wraps around the southeastern part of the island. There are a number of highlights along the way, though we chose to drive straight to Aunt Sandy’s for a banana bread breakfast, then on to Wai’anapanapa State Park. This park does require making reservations ahead of time but is well worth the visit. While the famous black sand beach is a little underwhelming, the lava rock coast is absolutely amazing to walk along.

A black sand beach in Wai'anapanapa State Park

Wai’anapanapa is probably the best turnaround point, though many people (ourselves included) choose to drive on to the Kipahulu District of Haleakala National Park. There are only two trails to hike in this section of the park, though: a small loop that takes you past the Pools of ‘Ohe’o and a longer hike to Waimoku Falls. We were pressed for time and only hiked the Pipiwai Trail to the first Makahiku Falls overlook:

The Makahiku waterfall surrounded by green vegetation

In retrospect, I think the Kipahulu District is only worth visiting if you’ll be in the area for two days. If the plan is to drive the road to Hana and back in one day, going out that far is just too much to take on.

Day 2: Southwest Snorkeling

Maui has a ton of snorkeling, so we split this up into two days, with the first day being in the southwest near Kihei. We went to Ulua Beach first and then to Maluaka Beach. Maluaka is touted as the unofficial “Turtle Town,” though we didn’t actually see any turtles there. Part of the problem is that Maui gets really windy in the afternoon. If you get to the beach too late, conditions aren’t going to be good for snorkeling anymore.

To round out the day, we also visited Makena State Park. As a state park, entry isn’t free for non-residents. Makena has three beaches, though: Big Beach (pictured below), Little Beach (where nudists hang out!), and a more isolated black sand beach. The black sand beach isn’t as pronounced as the one in Wai’anapanapa, but it’s still fun to watch the crabs digging holes along the shore.

Looking down at Big Beach in Makena State Park

Day 3: Northwest Snorkeling

For our second day of snorkeling, we headed northwest. Black Rock Beach behind the Sheraton Hotel ended up being our favorite spot of the entire trip. We saw four separate turtles and a huge school of fish there. We’d been told that Honolua Bay farther north was actually the best place to snorkel, though, so we hurried there next.

Unfortunately, water conditions at Honolua Bay were terrible. The water was really murky. Only later did I find out that the city had issued a brown water advisory three days earlier. This makes resources like The Snorkel Report somewhat misleading, because they don’t take into account unsafe bacteria levels, only unsafe weather. So, yeah, I don’t feel particularly great about having jumped into semi-brown water…

Day 4: Haleakala Summit

Watching the sunrise at the top of Haleakala National Park is another popular activity that also requires a reservation. That’s why this ended up being our last day instead of the more preferable first day, when we were still jet-lagged and already awake at 3:00am.

Honestly, the sunrise on its own isn’t actually worth getting up that early for (the road up to the summit is kind of scary in the dark), but you want to be in the park early, anyway. Clouds will roll in by noon and cover up a lot of the overlooks. Check out the difference between our first stop and fourth stop:

Looking down into the Haleakala crater

A mountain peak standing among the clouds

For what it’s worth, we basically followed Shaka Guide’s advice on what to do after watching the sunrise. There are several overlooks that offer different viewing angles into the crater and a couple of hikes you only need to go partway into.

Bonus: ‘Iao Valley

Our flight back home didn’t leave until the afternoon, so we used that morning to visit the ‘Iao Valley State Monument near Wailuku. Like Makena, entry isn’t free, and there’s only about 30 minutes worth of walking to do there. But the iconic “Iao Needle” is fun to see, and the surrounding area is beautiful. It’s a great way to round out just how naturally diverse Maui is.

Looking up at the Iao Needle and surrounding green mountains

A Day in Balboa Park, San Diego

Looking across the lily pond outside the Balboa Park botanical building

Balboa Park in San Diego has 17 museums, and there’s no way you can see them all in a day. If you buy their one-day Limited Pass, though, you can at least see four museums of your choice. And if four isn’t enough, you can always buy tickets separately as needed. These are the venues that my family and I were able to see on a Saturday:

Japanese Friendship Garden

As far as Japanese gardens go, it’s okay. There’s a nice stream that runs through most of it, though the way the park is structured requires a fair amount of backtracking to get out.

San Diego Model Railroad Museum

I’ve seen better model train exhibits, particularly the one at the Living Desert Zoo of all places. The trains in this museum are pretty tame, though I did appreciate the scavenger hunt sheets that encourage you to look more closely at the miniatures.

The San Diego Museum of Art

Your enjoyment of this one will largely depend on which special exhibits are currently on display. I really liked the photorealistic colored pencil drawings by Ana de Alvear, but the rest of the museum was pretty standard art museum material.

Museum of Us

My family and I all agreed that this was our favorite venue. The bottom floor was a bit of a letdown, but the second floor had some interesting displays on animals, race, and personal secrets. The bonus exhibit on cannibalism across the road was also much more informative than you might think.