Spanning the width of United States – East coast to West coast – Part II

Click here for Part I

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Day 10 – Atlanta to Las Vegas

We took the afternoon flight from Atlanta to Las Vegas on Southwest Airlines. I would highly recommend this airline for the great in-flight attendants along their witty boarding announcements which I will replicate for my Toastmasters roast :-), did not experience any delays and thoroughly enjoyed the awesome service on board.

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Landing into Vegas

Las Vegas, also known as “Sin City”,  famous for its countless casinos, open container laws (aka public drinking). The largest city in the state of Nevada where vice is a right 😉

It is not surprising to hear the old saying: What happens in Las Vegas, stays in Las Vegas.

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Slot machines all over the airport

As soon as we collected our luggage we booked an Uber which arrived within 5 mins.

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We were booked at the Venetian hotel on the strip.  After all, Vegas is all about the glamour, about the illusion, about The Strip.  The Venetian hotel had everything you could want in one single location – from luxurious swimming pools to sumptuous buffets to live entertainment. 

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Driving into Venetian Hotel

The room was massive and a combination of Vegas glamour with the elegant touch of Italian inspiration. Furnishings were plush, a pillow-top king-size bed, sunken living room (where our boys made the sofa bed their home), and floor-to-ceiling marble-clad bathroom with vanity. Egyptian cotton sheets were the icing on the cake, super comfortable beds. 

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View from the room

When you think of Las Vegas images of incredible casinos and vast hotels spring to mind. However, as well as boasting incredible nightlife, Vegas is also home to many award winning restaurants. There were loads of interesting restaurants on the Strip to choose from.  We decided to try out the world famous ‘Benihana’.  We were seated at a communal teppanyaki table along with 2 other families.  

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Our witty chef entertained our boys while cooking up a feast right in front of our eyes.  He did all kinds of tricks, like creating an onion volcano and a heart out of fried rice. 

All meals, including the kids meals, are served with Japanese onion soup, shrimp appetizer, hibachi vegetables (corn, zucchini, and onion), homemade dipping sauces, and steamed rice.  Adult entrees also include Benihana salad and Japanese hot green tea.

Food is cooked in a certain order (shrimp first, then steak, then chicken) and those who ordered a combination of all this got their dinner items based on which cooked first, so if you ordered only chicken, you’d have to wait for a while.  Thankfully, the soup, salad, and appetizers were more than enough to tide us over until our main entree was completed.

Overall service was great, and so was the food which dazzled our eyes since it was a mini performance as well as appeased our taste buds, from mouth-watering steaks, tender chicken and succulent seafood.

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Day 11 – Las Vegas

The Venetian Hotel is one of those colossal hotels you can’t miss on The Strip. This lavish, Italian-themed hotel is adorned with its own replica Rialto Bridge, gondola canals, Italian restaurants and stunning intricate ceilings. We explored the area starting with breakfast at Grand Lux Cafe.

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Lobby water feature
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Picked up tickets for Matt Franco’s show that evening from Tix4Tonight which was located across the hotel.

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Visited the stores at Neiman Marcus and picked up a pair of Versace sunglasses 😉

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Went for lunch at Guy Fieri’s Vegas Kitchen. The food was really good and the menu had lots to choose from.  The staff were very friendly and welcoming.  We decided to sit outdoors since the weather was really nice. Would definitely recommend this place.

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Went to the Avengers store thereafter and did a mini tour of the hotel. 

The Venetian gives you plenty of excuses to never leave – luxurious accommodation, oodles of pools, delicious food, world-class entertainment, ultimate relaxation and retail therapy. It’s easy to spend an entire vacation here without walking out into the bright lights of The Strip.

And if you prefer effortless done-for-you style vacations, I can’t think of anywhere else in Las Vegas I’d rather be trapped. Forget the cheap hotels, go for the full glitz and glamour. 

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The Grand Canal Shoppes are covered by a magical blue sky painted ceiling, complete with vanilla fluffy clouds. You have to look pretty closely to work out if its real or not. Can you tell?

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The Venetian Resort offers a little taste of Italy right on the Las Vegas Strip recreating the sites, sounds, architecture and landmarks of Venice, Italy (combined with the thrills of Las Vegas, of course). We went for a 15-minute indoor ride through the hotel, underneath bridges, alongside cafes, and past balconies, the whole time under the glorious Venetian blue sky. Our lovely gondolier sang beautifully. From the Italian songs to genuine outfits, this was about as authentic as anything you could find anywhere in the world, without being in Venice.

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She sang beautifully!!!
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We had our planner marked with all the activities that the boys wanted to do so we decided on Matt Franco – Magic reinvented nightly show that evening.  This guy is just I-N-C-R-E-D-I-B-L-E!!! Becoming “obsessed” with magic before he could even read, the decades of practice this magic man has dedicated towards perfecting his craft is possibly the only certainty the audience can actually wrap their minds around during his show. He is mind bogglingly awesome!!!  

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The boys were hungry so had dinner at IN AND OUT (their favorite fast food resto in the US)

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Since the boys were tired they went off to the hotel while we took a taxi to check the night life on Freeman Street.  It is free to simply walk the full length of this glass ceilinged long street. There are acts everywhere – dancing, bands, conjurers, stage shows and the ceiling/glass arched roof is lit with colourful holograms swirling constantly. That is when I spotted the people zip wiring across the ceiling! There are countless Casinos of course and places to eat. Constant noise and music. You have to lose yourself in the atmosphere. 

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Day 12 –  Historic Route 66, Hoover Dam and Grand Canyon

We booked this excursion through the hotel the night before. Our driver was on time, around 7 am to take us to our destination in this mini van.

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The driver stopped at Seligman, a small town of Arizona and birthplace of the Historic “Route 66”.  Seligman is located around 165,7 km from the Grand Canyon village.  You actually feel like in a Western film, in a arid land, with hot and dry wind blowing in your face. Moreover it is really quiet and very few tourists. The city is decorated in a typical “fifties’” style: there are old cars parked on the side of the road, old storefronts such as barbershops, and other traditional shops. You can even find the same car as in the Pixar film “Cars” which has been inspired from this town.

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Spanning the Colorado River and the Black Canyon (which separates Nevada and Arizona), about 30 miles southeast of Las Vegas, sits the Hoover Dam. The immense concrete structure – which confines Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the United States by volume – has helped provide power to Nevada, Arizona and California since 1935

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We did a quick stop to take a few pics at Hoover Dam before proceeding to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

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A sturdy pair of walking shoes, plenty of water and a sense of adventure is all you need to explore one of the world’s most iconic natural wonders on foot. The Grand Canyon can be experienced at four general destinations: the South Rim, Grand Canyon West, Grand Canyon East, and the North Rim

A five-million-year-old canyon bursting with magnificent views and scenic trails, exploring the Grand Canyon South Rim is like walking through an outdoor museum. We did the South Rim only because it is the most accessible and a popular section of the canyon, most often seen in magazines, websites, Facebook and on TV.

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Map of the South Rim Trail

There are dozens of viewpoints along the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Each one of these viewpoints offers a spectacular view, but some viewpoints are just better than others. Some offer panoramic vistas, some are less crowded, and some make fantastic sunrise and sunset destinations. 

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The Rim Trail never strays far from the canyon edge and provides views at every turn
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Creating quite the scene, the Grand Canyon’s South Rim offers numerous vantage points and trails that are suitable for a variety of skill levels. An awestruck experience even for the most intrepid traveller, the Grand Canyon is a natural wonder that you simply have to see in order to believe.

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We enjoyed a geology lesson along this 1.3-mile section of the Rim Trail. It stretches from Yavapai Geology Museum to Verkamp’s Visitor Center. Posted signs and samples of rocks help explain the formation of Grand Canyon.

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The Trail of Time is an interpretive walking trail that focuses on Grand Canyon’s history and geology
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Our incredible driver who had such lovely stories to tell… never a dull moment!
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We had booked a table for dinner at the Tao restaurant, Asian fusion restaurant located in the Venetian Resort.  It is  supposedly the #1 grossing restaurant in the United States focusing on Hong Kong Chinese, Japanese, and Thai cuisines. Very nice Asian decor with a massive 16 foot tall Buddha, lots of Asian paintings and sculpture. Tao was packed to the rafters with lots of people in town.

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Day 13 – Las Vegas

There are lots of fun things to do in Las Vegas but nothing else quite gives off a rush like going to an indoor shooting range. We booked this activity too via the hotel concierge who highly recommended the The Range 702.   Located just few minutes from the Las Vegas Strip, The Range 702 is Nevada’s premier gun range. Offering different packages and experiences, they have sixteen different shooting lanes as well as 4 unique V.I.P. lanes that are specially engineered. The Range 702 proudly offers the “Ultimate Shooting Experience” specializing in education and safety.  The boys had a time of their life!!

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Oh shoot!
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With all that shooting we built a decent appetite and went to Luxor for lunch and to collect tickets for the Blueman show that evening.

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We took an Uber to the iconic Vegas Sign to take a pic!  Since 1959 people have been coming here to take there picture and throw up some peace signs. ✌🏽

Tip: go early!  You’ll avoid high temperatures and big crowds. However, you can expect a line almost anytime of day. It does move fast so don’t fret!

And don’t forget to smile! 🙂

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We went to the hotel, rested, showered and returned to the Luxor for the “Blue Man Group” show which left us  speechless

It’s loud from the beginning when this blue trio enters onstage and pull a gong out of the bag to bang. With each strike, lights on the back wall sparkle along the chaotic floor to ceiling.  Every time the audience applauds, hoots and hollers, the blue performers onstage look out into the theatre bewildered. Without one word, they convey their intentions with their movements and eyes.

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And just when we thought it couldn’t get any more incredible… we got to hang out with a Blue Man after the show!

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We then went to  Denny’s for dinner, dropped off the boys to the hotel and went for the capsule ride – our usual night out exploring the area 🙂

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Day 14 – Flight from Las Vegas to Oakland

Next morning we took a flight from Vegas to Oakland to spend the next two weeks with our cousins in San Ramon.  Oakland to Chancery Way, San Ramon was around a 40 min car journey.

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Gorgeous area and cousin’s villa
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Our 82 year old Aunt, a true inspiration to all of us!
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Raja, sooo adorable!!

Day 15 – Next day we were up bright and early to take a walk around the area

Numerous parks and open spaces can be found throughout this gorgeous city and surrounding hills, making this area a haven for sports and outdoor enthusiasts.

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Followed by my niece’s awesome graduation party at San Ramon Golf Club

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My boy enjoying some Bollywood moves!!
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Day 16 and Day 17 – San Ramon sightseeing and chilling out with fam bam!

The boys decided to visit the Blackhawk museum and sent us pics of these gorgeous classic cars…

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… while the girls enjoyed the outdoor walk and shopping at the Outlet Mall

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Day 18 – San Ramon to San Francisco

Since we were a group of 14, we took out all the cars and drove from San Ramon to San Fransisco (around 40 mins drive to explore the area).

San Francisco, one of the most eclectic cities in the United States. Home to liberals, hippies, hipsters, techies, immigrants, yuppies, one of the oldest gay scenes in the States, that big red bridge, Alcatraz, delicious Chinese food, seafood, well, food in general (this is a great city to be hungry in), and so much more. It’s a magical place and as we gathered there’s always something new and exciting going on in SF.

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The Golden Gate Bridge, one of San Francisco’s most famous landmarks and such a piece of engineering art!

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Daddy’s little girl!!
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We drove around the area and spotted some celebrity homes..

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Then met up with the remaining gang at Union Square 

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Lunch at one of the stalls in Fishermans Wharf.  This area covers numerous blocks along the waterfront and is one of the most popular (touristy) things to do in the city. There are street performers, souvenir shops, and tons of restaurants. 

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Then headed to Boudini to binge on some freshly baked breads and hot chocolate… yummilicious!!!

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Walked around the pier, chatting, pranking… having fun until sunset

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Pier 39  has some amazing views, shopping & dining, a colony of sea lions, and chowder bread bowls, there is no shortage of things to do and see here. And because of its location, Pier 39 offers a picture-perfect backdrop for postcard views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and Angel Island, complete with the city’s skyline.

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Riding the cable cars is an excellent way to tour the city and experience various neighborhoods in San Francisco. Catch the cable cars from Market Street. They’re fun to ride and will save you lots of time walking up and down those hills. 

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We got off at Lombard Street (located south of Russian Hill Park) to see one of the world’s windiest streets. The history of Lombard Street is worth knowing. During the 1920s, people in San Francisco were beginning to drive around in automobiles, but many of the hills were too steep to navigate. A local man named Carl Henry came up with the idea of using a curved street to help vehicles move downhill, although it would mean several sharp turns. An engineer named Clyde Healy created the design, and overall the hill’s slope went from 27% to 16%. Now you can watch the cars and bikers navigate the sharp turns as tourists gawk at them.

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Lombard street
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Day 19 – San Ramon to Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz has the state’s oldest amusement park and boasts an idyllic seaside locale keeping kids young and old entertained for hoursif not the entire day

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We then headed to the Tesla showroom at San Jose to check out the new models followed by birthday celebrations.

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Behave like you own it!!! The attitude matters 😉
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Catwalk on the streets of San Jose, sheer madness 🙂

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Day 20 – San Ramon to Yosemite National Park

We hired a mini bus owing to the size of the group and had the time of our life in Yosemite and LA with this fun gang over the next few days!!! How we miss these guys!

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Stopped enroute to pick up some gigantic fruits and juices for the  kids.

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Yosemite National Park, located in the Sierra Nevada mountains in California is remarkable for two of the most important climbing sites in the United States and the world: the big granite walls of El Capitan and the Half Dome. In addition, we can find the American Giant Sequoia, one of the largest trees in the world, as well as extensive fauna that includes raccoons and black bears in this park.

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We booked a couple of tents at Curry Village (briefly named Half Dome Village) wood floored, canvas sided/roofed tent cabins. The tent cabins have various double bed and single bed combinations, electric lighting, restroom/showers nearby, lounge with free guest WiFi, but no phones/TV/fridge in the units.

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All the canvas tent cabins have bearboxes (food storage lockers)

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Day 19 – Yosemite National Park tour

The Yosemite Valley free shuttle bus has many stops at Curry Village, most of which can be found on their website (map below)

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We rented bikes from Half Dome Village bike rental, located directly across the street from Yosemite Mountaineering School, to explore the park from a laid back beach cruiser to a downhill beast.

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Yosemite conjures up cloud-crowned heights with crested waterfalls tumbling over granite monoliths; of deep valleys with quiet streams following their own path through western pines; of meadows with vast views. It can be simply described as Iconic Grandeur.

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We dined at one of the outlets in curry village surrounded by squirrels

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Trees like Skyscrapers

The Mariposa Grove is the largest sequoia grove in Yosemite and home to some of the most quintessentially recognizable sequoias in the world.  The Fallen Monarch and the California Tunnel Tree are a few examples.

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Mirror Lake is one of the more spectacular hikes in Yosemite Valley. It is situated towards the end of Yosemite Valley mostly below  Half Dome.

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Yosemite is a park of wonders. From the deep forests and wildflower-strewn meadows of the valley to the solitude of its granite domes.  The pic below depicts how we felt.. sheer bliss!!

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Day 20 – Lower waterfall trail, Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is is a great hiking destination. It is absolutely beautiful and has some of the most breathtaking scenery on Earth.  The hike to the lower waterfalls is a scenery sandwiched with dramatic views of the falls at the beginning and the end.

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Some people say ‘if you’ve seen one waterfall, you’ve seen them all’. Because we were a big group and not all of them adventurous,  we decided to walk to the Lower Yosemite Falls.

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We rented a rafted and floated through the Merced river

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Day 21 – Yosemite National Park to Los Angeles

Packing all our belongings, we left around noon and drove from Yosemite to LA.

We reached LA by late evening and checked into The LA Hotel Downtown. With all that activity at the Yosemite, all we wanted to do was snuggle into the comfort of the warm quilt, a cozy bed and get a good night’s sleep.

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Day 22 – Los Angeles city tour

The group all well rested decided to be up early to explore this lovely city starting with breakfast at Crepe Express which was close to the hotel.

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The Walk of Fame and the Hollywood sign are probably the main tourist attractions of the city along with all the awesome street performers.

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Day 23 – Solvang also know as Little Denmark

Sometimes, a speedy jaunt out of town is exactly what your system needs to recharge, to rejuvenate. And Solvang just did that for us.  A quaint village with activities galore, just a 2 1/2 hr drive from Los Angeles.  I just fell in love with this little Danish village.

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Founded in 1911, Solvang means “sunny field”, and while it is no longer much of a ‘field’, the sunny description remains. Originally established as a town for Danish immigrants, its unique history, authentic architecture, and prime location (not to mention gorgeous weather) in the fertile Santa Ynez Valley has turned it into an enticing destination for eating, wine tasting, and shopping.

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Stopped for lunch at Copenhagen Sausage Garden.  Now this was a little gem in a super touristy town where you can sit down, have a freaking awesome sausage, and just enjoy the atmosphere.  Meat eaters like us were in sausage heaven, with a great list of sausages to try. They get their tasty bread from the local Solvang Bakery.

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The huge star of the show here is really the sauce bar. Sausages are nice, of course, but I really think it’s the toppings that really make them shine. On top of the sauerkraut, jalapenos, pepperoncini, onion, and relish, they have like 15 different house-made sauces to try (mostly mustard)

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We then drove for an hour from Solvang to San Luis Obispo… can you believe for what!  the kids wanted to check out the Bubblegum alley.. they thought it was a chewing gum factory or something.  To their utter disappointment check what this long drive led us to…. hahaha…. it’s an entire alley covered with chewed up bubble gum.  Eeeks!!

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artwork or destruction of property?
fascinating or disgusting??

Day 24 – Santa Monica

We drove for around 20 mins from the hotel to visit Santa Monica and walked around The Pier which is a staple of this picturesque seaside community, jutting into the inviting waters of the Pacific Ocean. It’s packed with family-friendly activities, restaurants and shops, with stunning views and over a century’s worth of history.

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We were so excited to come across a desi restaurant in downtown LA – Badmaash (which means mischievous in Hindi). Located in that weird stretch of downtown, this restaurant isn’t exactly a place you casually stumble upon. Nor is it even all that easy to find even when you’re looking for it. But once you do, you’ll be glad.

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Cutting chai!!

IMG_5133IMG_5124While the kids ate at some pizza joint since they believe while in the US, eat what the locals do – pizzas, fries and burgers i.e. 🙂

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Another beginning, never the end
Another journey just around the bend
Jump for Joy, every now and then

God bless… until we will meet again

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