escaping to rancho banderas punta mita

escaping to rancho banderas punta mita

clifftop ocean views and uncrowded surf breaks

We spend a lot of time enjoying the beauty of the Baja desert from Cabo north to Rosarito. However, we also welcome the opportunity to enjoy the greener parts of Mexico. One of our favorite spots is Rancho Banderas Punta Mita. The lush and tropical green mountains of Punta de Mita make you realize how mainland Mexico is almost a different country than Baja.  

puerto vallarta le kliff punta mita
Punta de Mita is a beautiful coastal region about 40 minutes north of Puerto Vallarta. Its secluded green coastal cliffs run for several miles north until you reach the quiet little town on the bay. The road is quite narrow and windy though, and so I did have to take some peppermint essential oil to calm my stomach.

rancho banderas punta mita cliff

Rancho Banderas Punta Mita is a resort on the cliffs just outside of the small town. We chose this spot so we could enjoy the clifftop ocean views and uncrowded surf breaks. The sunsets there are also perfect every night!
 surfing sunset punta mita

Two of the breaks (Veneros and Paredon) were a short walk up the beach from Rancho Banderas Punta Mita. There’s nothing like being able to walk to the waves and surf the warm waters in a swimsuit. However, if you can’t handle intense heat and humidity, you may want to skip this region all together or visit in December.

rancho banderas punta mita peppers restaurant

peppers restaurant at rancho banderas punta mita

The Restaurant at Rancho Banderas Punta Mita had excellent food and gorgeous scenic views. We never had to wait to be seated or pay inflated resort prices like many other places. Meanwhile the infinity pool and 2 for 1 happy hour had a way of sneaking into our daily routine.      

rancho banderas punta mita infinity pool

w punta de mita

A new W hotel opened this year just a few minutes walk north on the beach. This gave us several more upscale restaurants (The Spice Market and Venazu) to explore without having to bother with driving.  We also caught some stunning sunsets by their gorgeous pool. 

w hotel punta mita

marietas island

You can even see tiny Marietas island which sits about 10 miles off the coast.  Marietas is famous for its hidden beach which rumor has it was created by explosions from government test bombs. At high tide, you have to swim under a rock arch and through a cave to get inside the “beach of love.”  At Low tide, an entrance opens up large enough that you could enter by kayak.

marietas punta mita boat trip

After you swim through the underwater cave, you reach a tiny beach where you can only see the sky through a large hole in the ceiling (or is it the ground?). It’s even more beautiful than Leonardo do Caprio’s secret beach in “The Beach.”  We didn’t have a waterproof camera but Manny J. Soto (@ohhh_itsmanny on Instagram) took this picture which does it justice. 

You can catch a boat to Marietas from Punta de Mita for about $70 (half the price that tour campanies charge from Puerto Vallarta). There is also excellent snorkeling around the island preserve. 

day trip to sayulita


sayulita punta mita

Another 30 minutes north of Rancho Banderas Punta Mita is Sayulita, a bustling little surf town with lots of energy.  It usually has a very gentle surf break reminiscent of Waikiki, which attracts both beginners and seasoned longboarders.  

sayulita street view punta mita
We spent a whole day in Sayulita walking around exploring the beaches, bars, restaurants and shops. We also stumbled upon Playa de Los Muertos, an interesting and beautiful secluded beach surrounded by a cemetery at the south end of town.  

sayulita view beach rancho banderas punta mita

If we ever stay the weekend in Sayulita, we will have to try Villa Amor. The boutique hotel nestled on a jungle hill next to Playa de Los Muertos is a popular scenic destination for weddings.  

villa amor boutique hotel sayulita

road tripping to puerto vallarta

When there were no waves, we rented a car for $50/day to explore. Just 10 minutes south of Rancho Banderas Punta Mita we found a beautiful marina called La Cruz de Huanacaxtle. There were two nice restaurants with great views of the marina but unfortunately they were closed for summer until November.  

marina view rancho banderas punta mita
We continued south to the crowded downtown area of Puerto Vallarta. We had heard about a new observation deck at the top of the hills surrounding the city. The steps up to the observation point begin at an excellent restaurant called Si Señor. After a delicious meal, the staff was kind of enough to give us directions up and around to Mirador La Cruz where we could see all of the Bay of Banderas and Puerto Vallarta.

mirador la cruz puerto vallarta
Although the observation deck was still under construction, the 360 degree hilltop views were amazing. The few hundred steps to the top only took about 15 minutes but made for an intense leg workout. My husband’s leg cramped on the first large step down, and I had to nurse it back to health with essential oils (deep blue rub). 

view puerto vallarta essential oils deep blue rub

los arcos preserve

About 15 minutes south of Puerto Vallarta we found excellent views of the famous Los Arcos marine park near Mismaloya. Like the Marietas, this is a protected area popular for its excellent snorkeling and unusual rock arch formations.  

los arcos puerto vallarta view rancho banderas punta mita 

If you haven’t tried chocolate coffee tequila, stop at Mama Lucia tequila distillery not far from the Los Arcos lookout. After the free tour and tasting, we decided to bring home a bottle to enjoy at home. Yes, Chocolate coffee tequila! It’s our new favorite decadent desert drink!

mama lucia tequila

dinner with a view in mismaloya

We rarely treat ourselves to “fancy” dinners, preferring to spend our money on more vacations. However, if you are going to treat yourself to the best restaurant in town, you can do it for 1/4 of the price in Mexico versus California. The 19 peso to one dollar exchange rate is extremely favorable for us tourists. We remember when it was 10 to 1 just fifteen years ago! We treated ourselves to an amazing meal at Le Kliff in Mismaloya, known for its incredible views.  

le kliff mismaloya view restaurant

You can see all of Bahia de Banderas from Le Kliff, and it really helped us put the area in perspective like a map.  From here we could see that all of these little towns and bays are part of one very large bay (Banderas) with Rancho Banderas Punta Mita directly across from Mismaloya, and Puerto Vallarta at the middle of the C shape. 

view from le cliff restaurant

After a lot of sightseeing, the waves picked up for the second half of our week. Finally, my husband was in heaven surfing, and I was able to get back to my Jodi Piccult book!

surfing rancho banderas punta mita

sunset rancho banderas punta mita
punta mita

punta mita

rancho banderas punta mita

remembering hurricane sandy: front row seats

remembering hurricane sandy: front row seats

frankenstorm: the surreal aftermath


Four years ago, October 29, 2012, we encountered one of our most surreal experiences.  We ignored evacuation orders and stayed in our home in Monmouth Beach, New Jersey as Hurricane Sandy made landfall.

hurricane sandy waves

A 15-20 foot tall sea wall stretched along the coast in front of our house, protecting it from storm tides.  Pillars elevated the main living space above the garage. In front of the garage, we put about 50 sand bags.

sandbags hurricane sandy

The forecast only called for about 65mph winds, and so we figured we would be fine. We had recently installed automatic aluminum shutters on all windows except the backside of our house.  We believed the shutters could withstand at least 100mph winds.  As long as the storm was within the forecasted range, we felt we were safe.  However, just before landfall, the storm strengthened and made a turn for the worse.   This brought a larger than expected sea level surge and wind speeds up to 110mph (45mph faster than forecasted).

hurricane sandy view from deck shutters waves

By about 7pm when the forecasts got dramatically worse, we were beginning to regret our decision.  However, we knew it was too late to leave at that point.  The town was already flooding from the backside bay at high tide before the storm even made landfall.

The shutters blocked our view of the ocean, but we could peak our head out the side door to get a view of the rising ocean.  We began to worry as we watched the entire ocean level rise to nearly the height of the sea wall.  With the ocean level that high, the 10-15 foot waves rolling in poured right over the sea wall. The video below shows the waves crashing over the wall early in the storm.  It got much worse later in the night, but we lost the footage.

Fortunately, the shutters kept us safe.  However, it was a very long and loud night.  The wind rattled the shutters, even bending the windows as it forced its way through the slats. We slept in the basement next to the garage to escape the noise. This was probably the least safest spot in the house, but the quietest as there were no windows facing the ocean.  With no electric power, we did our best to ignore the hurricane.  Eventually, we fell asleep.


We awoke the next morning to our most surreal morning ever. The side door by the garage had gravel from the front yard piled up against it.  Ironically, the gravel probably added to the protection provided by the sand bags.

sandbags 2 hurricane sandy

We stepped over the gravel and looked at the road at the end of our driveway. Normally, cars were driving up and down the shore.  Instead, sand and debris covered the road.  The unreality of it all began to sink in. With that much sand covering the road to our town, we were going to be on our own for a while.

monmouth beach hurricane sandy

The waves knocked down the fence to our backyard. The water also dragged all of the rocks, sand and pavers from our front landscaping to our backyard and pool.  We had no power, and our cell phones didn’t work.


We began trudging through the sand covered road through town trying to make sense of it all.  Houses were partially collapsed.  Boats that had been in the bay were strewn across front yards all over town.  When we reached Sea Bright by foot, the neighboring town a mile north, we were directed to turn back due to a gas leak.

hurricane sandy boat in yard

We were without power for about the next 12 days.  After a few days, we secured a generator, and a friend wired it to run some basics for our house.  The roads were cleared within a few days and emergency supplies followed.


Lines at the gas stations near the shore were hours long when they eventually opened.  It was a long two weeks waiting for power and for things to get somewhat back to normal.  We were very fortunate that our house had minimal damage other than the landscaping and pool.  Many were not so fortunate and would spend years dealing with rebuilding their home or business.


We survived hurricane Sandy.  Our daughter soon went to work painting New Jersey maps with the slogan “I survived hurricane Sandy” to raise money for relief efforts. She donated all proceeds to Monmouth Beach School, our public school that was closed for six months to rebuild.  She did the same for the Calaveras, CA fires in 2015.  Her website (still under construction, will provide a new platform for her to continue to paint to raise money for other causes in the future.

we survived hurricane sandy

Hurricane sandy was the second costliest hurricane to ever strike the United States.  It resulted in the death of over 200 people in 8 countries.  Rebuilding was very hard on many families and businesses.

A few years later, after most of the shore had recovered, we said good  bye to our New Jersey home and friends.  We made the drive cross-country to our new condo in Encinitas, California (this time a few miles inland from the shore).






12 day cruise: norway and iceland

12 day cruise: norway and iceland

exploring the norwegian fjords, iceland and more.

When we think of vacation, we typically imagine a tropical beach with waves and a nice pool. However, once every year or two, we travel with our extended family on a cruise that is more geared towards sightseeing. Last year, we cruised the beautiful Norwegian Fjords and Iceland.

Cruising suits us just fine. For most of our family, cruising means casino time. A family that gambles together, stays together. We single-handedly kept the casino in business on this ship.  Europeans just don’t seem to like to gamble like Americans. The casino on a Caribbean cruise out of Florida is packed liked a Ricky Martin concert. The Casino on a Norwegian cruise out of London is just the room that people pass through on their way to or from the dining hall or the entertainment theatre.

Cruising the Norwegian Fjords is a fascinating and beautiful exploration of Norway’s unique coastline. The Fjords are deep and narrow inlets along much of the coast of Norway that increase the coastline by about 10 times. There are over 1000 Fjords.  Most are very sparsely populated with just a few clusters of houses here and there. Although there are a few fjords that are more populated and attract most of the tourism from the cruise ships.

For the short time you have at each Fjord, you will likely be hiking up a small mountain to reach an amazing view from the top. If you don’t like hiking, Bergen has a chair lift to the top of Mt. Fløyen if you’re willing to buy tickets and wait in a long line (we chose to hike).

Bergen, Norway





Ålesund, Norway

alesund norway cruise 1

alesund norway cruise 2


Geiranger, Norway







Klaksvik, Faroe Islands

faroe islands 1 cruise fjords

faroe islands 2 cruise

faroe islands royal caribbean cruise

Reykjavik, Iceland

Reykjavik, Iceland Cruise Church
Reykjavik, Iceland Cruise
Reykjavik, Iceland Cruise Blue Lagoon

Our ship also stopped in Reykjavik, the capital and largest city in Iceland. It’s a modern city of 130k people that has been growing rapidly despite experiencing a financial crisis and depression in 2008-2010. We were able to explore the small city on foot. However, we took a taxi to the famous Blue Lagoon Hot springs just outside the city.

Exploring the Norwegian Fjords, Iceland & more. When we think of vacation, we typically imagine a tropical beach with waves and a nice pool. However, once every year or two, we travel with our extended family on a cruise that is more geared towards sightseeing. Last year, we cruised the beautiful Norwegian Fjords and Iceland.

loco for LoCa: lodi delivers wind and wine.

loco for LoCa: lodi delivers wind and wine.

There’s so much to see and do within driving distance of our home in Southern California, so we decided to take a road trip to Northern California to check out Lodi’s wineries.

lodia - 1
In 2015, Lodi was named wine region of the year by The Wine Enthusiast.  While Lodi has been home to many vineyards since 1850, it only had about 8 wineries in 1993.  Today, there are over 85 wineries in Lodi as the vineyards increasingly integrate downstream to make their own wine rather than sell their grapes to third parties.  Lodi is best known for its red Zinfandels because those vines can handle the intense summer heat in the area.  However, the wind that rips through the region in the summer cools the temperature dramatically at night allowing a wide variety of grapes and wines to be produced.

Lodi Grapes - 1
With wine tasting fees averaging just $5 at the vineyards or $10 downtown (usually waved with bottle purchase), it’s becoming a popular alternative to $15-$20 wine tasting fees in Napa and Sonoma.  Lodi is not as scenic as Napa or Sonoma, but after your first hearty tasting pour you’ll begin to appreciate the charm of Lodi’s wineries and the Sacramento River delta that winds all around the area a few miles west of Lodi.

Food is hard to find at the vineyards, and so we recommend picking up sandwiches in town and enjoying a picnic over some wine at a vineyard.  Michael David winery is probably the only winery there with a restaurant and market on site.  They also have a beautiful pond, bocci ball courts, and plenty of outdoor seating to enjoy a picnic.

Michael David Winery
Several of the wineries also have tasting rooms downtown if you prefer the bar atmosphere.  Jeremy’s and Van Ruitten are local favorites for their delicious reds, and Weibel is known for its affordable but tasty sparkling white wines.   There’s also a cute farmer’s market downtown on Thursdays that starts around five, just as the wine tasting there ends.

abundance - 2
We enjoyed the convenience of the downtown wineries, but we prefer to visit the wineries at their vineyards where it’s typically less crowded, more scenic, and the owners often share their stories and give special pours.  Several of the wineries host live music concerts on the summer weekend nights for $10-$35.  Bring some food, buy a bottle of wine on site, and enjoy great music.  Jessie’s Grove hosted 900 people at their last summer concert and bonfire.  Jessie’s also allows patrons to park their RV or tent camp in their grass field overnight during concerts.  They also have a rich history with some old zin vines dating back to 1888.

Jessie's Grove Winery
We missed Jessie’s last summer concert and Michael David’s annual summer reggae show but had a blast listening to live country music at Abundance Vineyards for just $10 (kids were free and welcome).  We also were charmed by the wine, people, and architecture at Abundance.

abundance winery 1

abundance - 3

Abundance Winery Flowers
The most popular place to taste wine in the area is probably The Old Sugar Mill, a renovated sugar refinery from 1934 that hosts about 11 wineries from Northern California and is a local favorite for weddings and events.  It’s actually in Clarksburg, about 45 minutes from Lodi, but it’s worth the visit if you are looking for a very social atmosphere.

lodi - 2

Old Sugar Mill - 1
Lodi’s wineries are also centrally located from other popular Northern California destinations – about a 2 hour drive from San Francisco, Yosemite Valley, Santa Cruz, or Tahoe and just 30 minutes from wind and water sports at Sherman Island.  So next time your wine rack is running low, go LoCa.

lodi - 3(Sherman Island Kiteboarding: Photo Credit AllenKingPhoto)

Capitola - 1
San Francisco - 1


natures traveling secret.

natures traveling secret.

My husband stumbled upon a beautiful melaleuca tree while traveling and hiking in Maui earlier this year and it got us thinking.  Did you ever wonder what it is that makes people love to travel so much?  When you can’t travel, do you find yourself gawking at colorful photos of beautiful beaches, trees, valleys and streams?

Traveling isn’t exactly comfortable.  In fact it’s often very tiring and a lot of hard work, however at the same time it rejuvenates the spirit and seems to give meaning to life as you begin to realize that everything in nature is connected.  Simply meeting new people in new places and empathizing with them strengthens those connections and improves health.  Even western doctors encourage human contact to speed recovery in hospitals.

img_5001When you are stuck at home, have you ever noticed how much better you feel if you just go for a walk outside and get those endorphins flowing through your body, eliminating pain and stress almost instantly as you awe at the beauty of a tree or sky or smile at a family passing you on their bikes.  Even just standing outside in the sun, your body begins to produce the vitamin D that it needs for healthy living.

Swimming or surfing in the salty ocean water full of minerals also has so many health benefits.  It took me a while to understand why my husband would spend hours paddling on his surfboard to catch just 3 waves that lasted only seconds.  However, I always knew he would come home happy.

We also recently began to appreciate the benefits of drinking pure natural water without contaminants.  Water is the source of life, and the largest component of your body.  Perhaps that is one reason we have always felt compelled to live by the water or why waterfront properties hold such premium value.

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The beautiful trees, flowers, and plants that we stare at also have tremendous nutritional and healing powers.   They provide the foundation of a healthy diet and are the source of many remedies used in both traditional eastern and modern western medicine.

The melaleuca tree is only one of hundreds or thousands of nature’s gifts.  Oil Derived from melaleuca trees can be used to support healthy skin and nails, bolster the immune system, and for its natural cleansing properties.  Many essential oils such as frankincense, lavender, eucalyptus, peppermint, myrrh, fennel, basil, cilantro, and oregano, derived from plants and trees have been used for thousands of years to support the body and mind.
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People surround themselves in their homes with plants and flowers that look beautiful and emit odors that instantly bring peace and calm and purify the air.  When we wake up and have our coffee, we also diffuse essential oils to elevate our mood and energy levels.  People plant gardens outside their home for organic food nutrients as well as the mental peace that comes with bringing new life into the world simply by adding water to seeds and soil.

Perhaps this is why we love to travel so much and stare at beautiful photos.  Nature gives in many ways, and traveling is a gateway to soak in nature’s gifts that foster a healthy life.

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