5 Places to Visit in South Florida

5 Places to Visit in South Florida

Southern Florida (mainland) is like visiting a different world where you don’t belong. Nature takes over, and you become an alien on Earth. You can’t imagine it until you experience it.

In early to mid-2022, we spent a few weeks exploring Florida. Particularly the Southern and wild parts of the state. Here is our list of places we will continue going back to.

Pond with RV sites at Midway Campground in Big Cypress National Preserve.
1. Midway Campground

This campground has both RV and tent sites. All the RV sites face a pond in the middle – in a horseshoe shape. Signs warn of alligators, and they aren’t lying. We saw multiple. One under our neighbor’s RV. This was our introduction to the area, and we loved it. We called this campground home base for about a week while we explored the area.

Little alligators on our bike ride along the tram trail at Shark Valley Visitor Center in Everglades NP.
2. Shark Valley Visitor Center

The visitor center is not the main attraction here. It’s the 15-mile tram trail that takes you into the wild. 1/2 way through is a tower you can walk to the top of and look out over the wilderness. We rode our bikes, which we thoroughly enjoyed. The trail is mainly flat, but it is hot and humid. There is also a tram you may buy tickets for. We were passed by many of those. We saw many different birds and had little alligators sitting on the trail. Such a neat experience.

Alligator seen from the boardwalk and next to the road.
3. Oasis Visitor Center

I am confused about whether or not the visitor center/gift shop is still open. We were told the day we were there was its last day, but Google Maps says it is open. Who knows! Either way, it is worth a stop. We saw wild alligators up close. Lots of alligators. It’s located on what they call alligator alley, and if you keep your eyes peeled while driving you will see why. There is a boardwalk above the canal full of alligators. We were there in dry season (April) and saw 20+ alligators along with gar and cichlids. That’s where we learned about cichlid farms and the displacement of fish into the wild in hurricanes.

M talking to Don, the Post Master, at the smallest Post Office in the United States.
4. Nathaniel P Reed Visitor Center & Smallest USPS Office in US

There’s a boardwalk behind this visitor center where you may see alligators. If you are lucky, you might see an alligator. When we were at the visitor center, they had a photo from a few months earlier when an alligator ate a giant python right behind the visitor center. We didn’t see a single alligator there. We did buy a postcard so we could send it from the smallest USPS office in the US. Don – whose name we discovered because we were reppin’ our favorite Don’s Country Kitchen in Oceanside, CA, and he said he liked our hat – has worked there for years, was super-friendly, and full of knowledge about the smallest post office.

2 Osprey in a nest. One of these 2 was the one who didn’t want to flee the nest.
5. Flamingo

This is the southernmost area of the Florida Mainland. You have the gorgeous Caribbean-colored water on one side and crocodile-infested canals on the other. We watched as an osprey family encouraged the last little to flee the nest. We even did a little cheering and uplifting ourselves. We kayaked in the canals, passing many crocodiles. We even came upon a mama and baby manatee who hung out with us for a bit before we moved on.

There is so much to see and do in Florida. It is hard to choose just 5 places to share because there are so many cool ones.

Where would you add to this list? We’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Welcome to Louisiana!

Welcome to Louisiana!

Not gonna lie. I was a little bit sad leaving the Galveston Island KOA Holiday on February 1, after a month. Especially in the winter. The only thing that made it better was knowing we would be boondocking on the beach in Bolivar after riding on the best free dolphin-watching tour we’ve experienced. Then it was off to explore the southeastern part of the United States. The Galveston-Port Bolivar ferry run by the Texas Department of Transportation is free, and out of the 6 or 8 times we’ve ridden it, there was only one time we didn’t see dolphins. Boarding in our 38′ class A motorhome gives us the best seats in the house. The ride is short. 15-20 minutes, and when we unloaded at Port Bolivar, we bee-lined for our beach spot from November/December. When we arrived, somewhere near barrel 28, the tide was higher than we remembered. After checking the tide charts, we determined my anxiety would be better suited for My Happy Place RV Camp. (side note: the barrel is a trash can. They exist hanging from a wooden stake at regular intervals and are numbered. Which is helpful for meeting your party on the beach.) Honestly, we probably would have been 100% fine on the beach, but sometimes my anxiety is not worth fighting. This was one of those times.

The beach in Bolivar

If you’ve never been to Bolivar/Crystal Beach, you should stay away because it is horrible, and it sucks! You should never go there. Seriously. I wanna live there. Without ever spending time in Texas, I said I would never live there. I wanna live in Bolivar. It is island-y while still being rural-ish with a small-town feel. There was freezing weather while we were there. That kinda turned me off, but really, the place is fantastic.

Hangin’ out with our friend, Joe, at Buckstin Brewing in Nederland, TX

After three nights, we headed back to Nederland, and our friend’s driveway, for two nights. We have discovered that we really like breaking our trips up by visiting people we know. It gives us a chance to socialize outside strangers and the four of us. While in Nederland, we had to visit our favorite family-friendly brewery, Buckstin Brewing Co. The beer is fantastic, the food is pretty darn good, and the company can’t be beat. After a couple of days, it was time to continue on our travels. We pointed our home east, and away we went. Next stop: Lake Charles, LA.

We pulled into White Oak Park, a Parish park on the Calcasieu River with an RV park with 8 or 9 sites, and tried to figure out the best way to park. We had site #3, and it is a bit strange. Pulling in with the picnic table and fire pit outside our door meant we needed a longer hose than we had. Turning around put the picnic table and fire pit on the wrong side, and our door opened onto our neighbor’s door. We opted for backward. We parked, set up, and went to check out the Visitor Center. At the Visitor Center, we learned about the existence of the Creole Nature Trail, discovered that we had to eat at Beaux Dine’s, bought a couple of 1/2 price souvenirs the Visitor Center was trying to get rid of and tried to find the alligator that used to live in the park adjacent. After a bit more exploration of Lake Charles, we went home and planned the things we wanted to see.

We started out the following day with coffee and breakfast sandwiches (not in my gluten-free diet) on a croissant from Coffee:30. The coffee was good, the sandwiches were delicious, and we were ready for a day of adventures. First stop, Adventure Point in Sulphur, LA, before beginning our trek of the Creole Nature Trail. Tom was on the phone doing business, so the girls and I walked in to get some information. We had no idea we would walk away with so much knowledge. Once inside, we met Sharon and Will. When we walked in, we were the only visitors, so our conversation started with both. Moments later, a couple walked in, so Will walked over to help them while Sharon took the lead with us. As a born and raised local, she was a wealth of knowledge. We learned that Lake Charles was hit by Hurricane Laura in August 2020, Hurricane Delta in October 2020, the freeze of February 2021, and flash floods in May 2021. They lost 50-ish% of their population because of the storms and are a community rebuilding. There is still a lot of storm damage they are trying to recover from. It helped us see the community in a whole new light.

Sharon grabbed a map, her red sharpie, and proceeded to draw our route with Xs for restrooms, underlines for free crabbin’, circles for walks, and a square for the best jalapeno poppers she’s ever had. After absorbing as much knowledge as we could, learning and practicing crabbin’, posing for a picture as a Creole band, and petting Sharon’s Mallard duck puppet, she sent us on our way with lagniappe, a little something extra, that turned out to be some of the coolest “little something extra” we’ve ever received.

Intracoastal Park – Sulphur, LA

Leaving Adventure Point, we headed south toward Intracoastal Park. The RV park was closed, and we were the only visitors to the park. We wandered for a moment before getting back in the car and heading for our next destination. We cruised down to Blue Goose Walking Trail. There was a short trail open, and we ventured out on that. The land was scorched on our left as we walked toward Calcasieu Lake, but we still saw quite a few little birds. 30-ish minutes and we were back on our way. Next stop: Wetland Walkway. We were hoping to see some alligators, but all we found was a child’s sock. Holly Beach was a great place for shelling, and in Louisiana, you are free to take all the shells you want. We hopped on the Cameron Ferry, much smaller than the Galveston Ferry, and made our way to the Pintail Wildlife Drive. We missed the pink dolphin that hangs out near the Cameron Ferry. We’ll have to go back and try to catch a glimpse.

The Pintail Wildlife Drive made up for all the alligators we didn’t see at Wetland Walkway. First, we drove past ibis, herons, ducks, and egrets. Then we hit alligator alley, and there were gators every 10 feet or less. Most were sunning in the grass on the canal’s banks; some were floating. I think I took a photo of every alligator we saw and took our sweet time meandering through. With our first day of exploring the Creole Nature Trail complete, we headed for home.

The next day we drove back to Nederland for a couple of packages we had delivered to our friend who lives there, including a new lens to replace my camera lens that zoomed in and never zoomed back out. The lens didn’t show up, but since we were down in the area, not really, we decided to check out the Pintail Wildlife Drive again. It was later in the afternoon, and we hardly saw any birds or any alligators. My lens showed up the next day, and we drove back to Nederland to pick it up.

On Friday, we started our day at the Lacassine Wildlife Refuge. Well, where Apple Maps told us the Lacassine Wildlife Refuge was. We were stopped by a man on a tractor working in his rice field. He was not happy we were driving on private land. We had no idea. We apologized, and in conversation, he became a very lovely man, just frustrated with the people coming down the road. He gave us directions to the real Lacassine Wildlife Refuge, told us where we could turn around, and said goodbye. When we found the real Lacassine Wildlife Refuge, we were greeted by an otter swimming in the canal. We spotted a whole flock of Roseate Spoonbills flying around a stand of trees as though they’d been disturbed. We saw just how many spoonbills there were when we reached the trees. As I took pictures, a man named Frank from the local birding club stopped and started telling us about different birds. He pointed out a Vermillion Flycatcher and clapped to spook the spoonbills for a photo opportunity. We saw a couple of alligators, but the spoonbills stole the show. While watching the spoonbills, we were also treated to a ginormous flock of snow geese landing a little way in the distance.

Snow geese – Pintail Wildlife Drive – Creole Nature Trail

We stopped for lunch at Comier Creole Kitchen in Gueydan, LA, and I had some mighty delicious fried chicken. We made our way to Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge and found it closed, so we headed for the Pintail Wildlife Drive since we had to pass by on our way home anyway. There wasn’t a lot to be seen, and we headed home. Saturday fibromyalgia knocked me on my ass, so I rested while Tom and the girls ran errands and washed, dried, folded, and put away the laundry. Sunday, we decided to give our hand at crabbin’ a go. The family started while I stayed warm in the car, then I walked over, grabbed a line, pulled up a too-small crab and an eel, and I was done. Crabbin’ is like fishin’, and I don’t have the patience to sit and wait. The girls didn’t last much longer before we were off for one last ride on the Cameron Ferry and one last drive through the Pintail Wildlife Drive. As we came down the bridge, we saw a white sea where the drive loop was. We couldn’t figure out what it could be. When we pulled in, we discovered they were snow geese. Thousands of them. A sea of white. We parked, and I got out of the car to get a little closer for photos. I snapped a bunch, and while walking on the road, I spooked the ones closest to me, setting off hundreds of geese taking flight and squawking before landing a bit farther from the road. The experience was reminiscent of the dolphin stampede Tom and I witnessed in the Pacific Ocean. Monday, we packed up and headed for Baton Rouge.

The Red Stick Sculpture

Follow along for our Baton Rouge adventure!

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Island Living

Island Living

January on an island? Why not? We spent the entire month of January next to the cabin on stilts at the Galveston Island KOA Holiday. It was more windy and stormy than we thought it would be, but we enjoyed every minute.

Our first field trip was to a bike shop in League City, TX. Everyone had a bike except me so that was my Christmas present. The girls are always wanting to go on family bike rides and we couldn’t. After a drive along the five-mile dike in Texas City, we wandered over to League City where my new bicycle was waiting.

Intercom system inside Moody Mansion.

Our second field trip of the month was a tour of Moody Mansion. We started with a stop at Seawall Coffee and were highly disappointed with our experience. The coffee was the hottest coffee I’ve ever been handed. I couldn’t hold onto the cup even with a sleeve. Forget trying to take a sip. I tried a sip before walking into Moody Mansion, and it still burned my tongue. When we got back to the car after our tour, the coffee was finally at a temperature I could drink it. After two sips, I was getting sick in the parking lot. Our friend has had great experiences. Maybe it was just a one-off. I won’t go back to find out, though. I have a severe dairy allergy and believe they forgot to use the fake milk we ordered. Now, onto a little Moody family history. William Lewis Moody, Sr. moved his family to Galveston in 1866 and founded Galveston Cotton Exchange. A company that compresses cotton into bales making shipping easier. It appears to still be operating downtown today. He founded the Gulf, Colorado, and Santa Fe Railroad and served as chairman of the Galveston Committee that persuaded Congress to dredge, making Galveston a deep water harbor. His son, W.L. Moody, Jr., purchased the mansion weeks after the Great Storm of 1900.

Moody Mansion selfie

The mansion was opened as a museum by W.L. Moody, Jr.’s daughter, Mary Moody Northen, after her death in 1991. Many of the family’s belongings are on display, and the self-guided audio tour shares much information about the family. The home, art, and architecture are all beautiful, and I always find it interesting to peek into the past. Liv liked how it had a lot of history and separately decorated rooms. She found it interesting that the youngest kid got a balcony off his room. Her favorite room was where the parents greeted the guests. M thought it was cool because they owned so many businesses, and it seems like they started the financial industry in Galveston.

Ocean Star Rig & Drilling Museum

Our field trip to the Ocean Star Drilling Rig & Museum was a fascinating peek into the oil world. Having spent time living on the beach in Bolivar, we watched what looked like floating cities. Being able to see up-close what those oil rigs look like is informative. Who knew a boat could be an oil rig?!? Not me! We were all hungry when we finished, so we walked over to The Strand.

The Strand – Galveston, TX

“Have you been here before? No? This is how it works. Here’s our menu, here’s our restaurant week. You order at the bar and sit anywhere you like.” The employee said as we walked into The Hubcap Grill on The Strand, downtown Galveston. We had some of the most delicious burgers we’ve ever had and had to try the pink champagne cake, our favorite from Madonna Inn. After lunch, we strolled up and down The Strand entering different shops to browse. “The little girl who haunts our shop likes to play with Jack Sparrow,” the shop owner tells my family as they were picking out a pirate figurine for our friend.

Family selfie on South Padre Island

We took a couple of days and ventured over to South Padre Island. We’d never been to South Padre Island and figured we needed to check it out since we were in the area-ish. And since we were going that direction, we might as well cruise through Corpus Christi and check that out too. It didn’t take us long to determine we were not fans of Corpus Christi. It was very city-like with tall buildings and a lot of people. We did stop for a delicious lunch at Catfish Charlies. Hushpuppies, fried shrimp, and fried catfish were all delicious. We would definitely stop back in if we were ever traveling through again. We had a room booked at La Copa Inn, which turned out to be an okay hotel. We checked in, and I was pretty toast. I love traveling and exploring, but my body that is affected by fibromyalgia isn’t always as accommodating. Often, my body will decide when we are done with our plans, which was the case after check-in. We ordered to-go food that was indescribable and went to bed.

Brunch view on South Padre Island

Tuesday was our day to explore, and Wednesday was our day to head home. We woke up Tuesday morning and found a delicious breakfast on the water at Lobo del Mar. Our server was convivial, and the atmosphere was very island-y. After breakfast, we strolled along the big beach Tom describes best, “expanse is incredible.” M pointed out the shells were old, weathered, and thick, while Liv noticed the sand was like a fine powder. After a stroll, we took a drive along the beach. We went a long way, discovering that the police were serious about speeding on the beach. We watched one officer pull over 8 cars and one electric bike. After our beach experience, we headed over to the Sea Turtle, Inc. A sea turtle sanctuary where we saw sea turtles and learned a lot. One thing that stood out to all of us was the video they had playing on repeat regarding the storm in February of 2021. Sea turtles are cold-blooded animals, and when the water temperature falls below 50 degrees, they suffer cold-stun. They become catatonic and cannot swim. Eventually, they will float on the surface, and that is where the sanctuary comes in. Of the 12,155 cold-stunned turtles rescued on the third coast, the Sea Turtle Sanctuary in South Padre Island rescued 5,300 of them. Of the 12,155 turtles rescued, only 35% of them survived. The most interesting turtle was born without a flipper who now has a prosthetic flipper that allows her to swim. Definitely worth a visit every time we are in the area. Bonus: it’s pet-friendly, and Coco could walk through with us.

Steerburger Grill in Rockport, TX – near Aransas Pass

We ended the day back at the hotel in the hot tub that was nice and hot, where we made conversation with a gentleman from Michigan. Dinner was a night of burgers to-go and early to bed. We were headed home the next morning. On our way home, we drove through Port Aransas and had the bestest, most delicious burger I have had in a long time at Steerburger in Rockport, TX. We ordered outside at the food trailer went inside the building to the right for drinks and restrooms. There were a few tables inside, but we opted to eat on the porch.

Art studio in Bishop’s Palace

Our field trip to Bishop’s Palace was the most informative tour. We opted for the Basement-to-Attic tour and were not disappointed. We learned that the home was built in 1892 by the Gresham family at the cost of $250,000. In 1923, it was sold by the Gresham family to the Catholic Church for $34,700. The Catholic Church turned it into a home for the Bishop. It served as a home for the Bishop then the Catholic Church turned it into a museum. In 2008, the Catholic Church sold the house to the Galveston Historical Foundation for $3.4 million. Roughly.

Rainforest Pyramid at Moody Gardens

One of our last field trips was to Moody Gardens. Moody Gardens seems to include many things. Like a hotel, restaurant, and other things we didn’t explore. We started with the aquarium pyramid. Tom called it an amazing aquarium and a must-see in Galveston. M thought it was super cool, and we all thought there could be more information on the fish. (We are sign readers.) After the aquarium, we walked over to the hotel for the coffee shop located in the lobby. We enjoyed our drinks as we leisurely walked back toward the rainforest pyramid. We were hit with a wall of heavy air as we entered the rainforest pyramid. The humid rainforest is almost a shock and takes a moment to adjust. Glasses fog, and breathing warm, wet air is weird. There are a ton of birds, plants, and animals. We were not lucky enough to see the sloth or monkeys, but we did get to see many birds and even some bats. Our last stop was the Discovery Center. Holy sensory overload. And there weren’t even that many people in there. It was cool because there were instruments to play, pipe rooms to communicate through pipes, many different hands-on activities. They even have the giant floor piano from the movie Big. There were a bunch of littles running around, everyone was playing instruments, talking, singing, screaming, and it quickly became too much. We had purchased a day pass that allowed us to watch a couple of the movies, also, but we decided we weren’t interested in those and skipped them.

Our last Sunday on the island, Tom and the girls went to Pleasure Pier while I rested/fought a bad fibromyalgia day. Liv says it was entertaining, 10 out of 10 would go again. She loved that all the rides had an ocean view and the lines weren’t long in the off-season. M said the rides were twisty-turny, there were not a lot of them, but it was fun. Tom said it was a great way to spend an afternoon having fun with the kids.

Overall, we enjoyed our month on Galveston Island. We didn’t explore as much as we would have liked because of the cool weather, but nothing was disappointing. We’re already planning future trips back to Galveston. Who knows maybe we’ll settle in the area.

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Gulf Coast Living

Gulf Coast Living

35,000 active duty, veterans, and their families served. 500,000 diapers were given out. 90% of the people who benefitted from VANC’s monthly food drive were active-duty. When COVID-19 shut the world down in 2020, 92% of active-duty spouses were furloughed. VANC (Veterans Association of North County) and American Legion 760 started a monthly food distribution as a response to COVID-19. After serving for 21 months, December was our last one. While I will not miss driving back to Oceanside, CA, each month for my volunteer problem, I am a little sad to not see these people monthly anymore. Not only did we volunteer alongside some incredible people, but we also got to know the beautiful families driving through each month. The day after our last food distribution, Tom and I attended the Army/Navy game at VANC. A rib cook-off fundraiser benefitting Walk for the Fallen. Wednesday, December 15th, we attended VANC’s Volunteer Christmas Party, our final commitment to VANC until June 2022. Leaving on December 20th was a little bittersweet. Not enough that we didn’t hit the road bright and early, but returning every month was a little like slowly peeling off a bandage. We are a part of a community in Oceanside and built really great friendships. It will be hard not seeing them, or having the opportunity to see them, every month.

Sea Rim State Park – Gulf of Mexico in background on right

With all of our commitments completed, it was time to head East while staying below the snow line. Which seems to be getting farther South each year. Anyway, we booked it over to our friend’s in Nederland, TX. Rest areas became sleep areas on the road, and we made it to SETX. (Southeast Texas for all y’all who aren’t locals HAHAHA) Thursday, December 23rd. We slept one night in Joe’s driveway, then headed for Sea Rim State Park on Christmas Eve Day. “No wrestling the alligators,” we were told at check-in. Do people really try to wrestle alligators? Is that a thing? Sea Rim introduced us to the Texas state bird, the mosquito. I’m not sure we’ve ever killed so many mosquitoes in our home, just from entering and exiting. They feasted on us while we slept and bit us in places we didn’t realize they would go. M and Liv will forever remember getting eaten alive in Sea Rim State Park. Tips: remember to apply bug spray. It doesn’t work while sitting in your cabinet. Apply bug spray before bed.

Our Christmas morning gingerbread house creations

We spent Christmas morning creating gingerbread houses, then took a stroll along the beach where we had our first experience with Portuguese man-of-war. Their transparent bodies look like soap bubbles lying on the beach. Soap bubbles with bright blue fringe, and you want to scoop them up and put them back in the water. Those soap bubbles with the coolest blue fringe I’ve ever seen will also cause you the most pain you’ve likely ever experienced. I’m glad M had read up on these creatures, and we knew to keep our skin out of contact. After seeing these things, I had to Google them. I discovered that many genetically identical zooids all work together and create this fantastic creature. It has no control over where it is going, it just floats along on the surface because of the soap bubble, and its tentacles can be 165 feet long. The soap bubble is really gas-filled to help it float. Many people think it is a jellyfish, but it isn’t. It’s a whole different species. We also saw a beached ray and various shells. Tom called it a mini-seashell paradise. The day after Christmas, we wandered into McFaddin Wildlife Refuge. We were able to check seeing an alligator off our Christmas list.

Junk food extravaganza

It was time to move the day after Christmas, and we back-tracked to Bolivar Peninsula. When we spent time in the area in November, we ended up making so many side trips we didn’t feel like we’d really explored as much as we would have liked. We booked the week at My Happy Place RV Camp and pulled in. We love Bolivar; so much the girls have already moved there. They want to settle down in January and have chosen Bolivar as that place. So far. We have more Earth to explore before a decision is made. We were scheduled to leave Bolivar on New Year’s Eve day, but the owners of the RV camp talked us into staying for their beach bonfire. We started the day with a junk-food extravaganza. While visiting a friend, we realized the girls had never been introduced to Hostess treats aside from the cupcakes. We bought one package of cupcakes, one package Twinkies, one package Ding Dongs, and Ho Hos. We are typically a plant-based, gluten-free, dairy-free family at home, and processed foods are not usually purchased. The girls determined they only liked the cupcakes but didn’t need to eat them ever again, either. Later, we mingled with a few other guests at the beach bonfire and supervised the children lighting fireworks. At midnight, the entire 27-mile stretch of beach lit up with fireworks. It was a magical moment of celebration. Not that I claim to understand why we must blow things up to celebrate. It looks cool, though. We are glad we stayed for the celebration.

Aboard the Galveston-Port Bolivar Ferry

On January 1, 2022, we waited in a long ass line to board the ferry on our way to Galveston Island KOA Holiday, where we were booked until February 1st. If you’ve never taken the Galveston/Port Bolivar ferry, you need to take it next time you are in the area. We travel in our 38′ class A with an Equinox tow vehicle, and we drive right on. I prefer riding in the RV because we sit so much higher, and there is typically an abundance of dolphins as you make your way across the bay. Walk-on passengers are also allowed. Work and school always come first, then we get to explore. On our list for January:

  • Moody Mansion
  • South Padre Island
  • Ocean Star Rig & Drilling Museum
  • Bishop’s Palace
  • Moody Gardens
  • Pleasure Pier

Unbeknownst to us at the time, painting the interior of our home was on the list for January, also. 

Portuguese Man-of-War

Follow our journey for January’s adventures!

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Beach Camping

Beach Camping

We pointed our home East on I-10 and left San Antonio behind. Next stop, Nederland, TX. (pronounced nee-der-land by the locals) We moochdocked with our friend Joe who showed us some of the coolest spots in town. Our first experience was a great local brewery he found, Buckstin Brewing. The people treat everyone like family when they walk in, the beer was delicious, and the food was pretty darn good too. We spent almost the entire next day exploring the area including Port Arthur and Pleasure Island. On Pleasure Island, we found the coolest playground I have ever seen in my life. It was huge, built like a castle, and meandered on forever. The girls and I took a break to explore the castle before moving along and finding the golf ball water tower I’d read about on Atlas Obscura (Thank you, Tom, for introducing me to Atlas Obscura). I had to get a picture of course.

Walking on the beach in Bolivar

After three days in Joe’s 70′ driveway, (he measured shortly after we pulled out) we made our way back to beach camping in Bolivar. I cannot even begin to describe how amazing beach camping in Bolivar in the winter is. We watched the sunrise from bed every morning. Some mornings we had a great blue heron join us on the shore. We were the only campers for a long way. It was peaceful, relaxing, perfect. Plus, we had service and I was able to get my work done without having to go anywhere. The only downside to beach camping is the sand. It gets EVERYWHERE. Including your food while cooking outdoors. A little sand never hurt anyone, though. My friend, Lauri and her girlfriend were able to get a beach house within eyesight of our beach spot for the last weekend we were in town. It was enjoyable to have the time to relax while enjoying the company and the scenery.

Great-blue heron that joined us for sunrise

We booked the Galveston Island KOA for our last night in town hoping the weather would be nice enough for the lazy river. It wasn’t. We all showered, filled the water tanks, and dumped the other tanks before our journey back to Oceanside for our final volunteer commitment. Til June.

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Volunteer. Work. Play. Volunteer.

Volunteer. Work. Play. Volunteer.

We arrived back in Oceanside on Wednesday, September 8th, and checked in to Woods Valley Kampground in Valley Center, CA. Not our first choice but sometimes our only option. Our arrival was the start of 2-ish months in Southern California. My volunteer commitments were spaced with a week between each. The week we arrived, I had a golf committee meeting; the next day, we had food distribution. The following week, we had no commitments, and the week after, we were volunteering for Sicily in September. A dinner fundraiser where the winner of the 8th season of the TV show MasterChef, Dino Luciano, and 15-ish active duty Navy/Marines cook dinner for the guests. The second week of October held my last golf committee meeting, the online auction piece of the golf tournament I was in charge of, food distribution, and the golf tournament on the 22nd. November was another golf tournament we were volunteering for but had nothing to do with putting together.

Mural on the side of Don’s Country Kitchen in Oceanside, CA

We started our visit at Don’s Country Kitchen in Oceanside, our go-to breakfast and lunch spot whenever we are in town. The food is delicious, the servers are fantastic, and the owners became friends. While eating breakfast one morning, we learned that one of the owners was playing percussions for a play at the Moonlight Amphitheatre. They invited us to Friends and Family Night for the dress rehearsal. We met them there and enjoyed a lovely evening with lovely people while tapping our feet to the beats of On Your Feet: The Story of Emilio & Gloria Estefan. The show was toe-tappingly good.

Sunset outside our hotel in Channel Islands Harbor

With time to spare, we visited Channel Islands National Park. We booked a room at the Hampton Inn at Channel Islands Harbor for a night and set off for an adventure. We had tickets to the islands for the 21st, so on Monday, September 20th, we moseyed over to Ventura Harbor to visit the Channel Islands Visitor Center and a stroll through the harbor after checking in to the hotel. While strolling the harbor, we found Top This Chocolate, and Liv exclaimed, “It’s like a real-life Charlie and the Chocolate Factory!” as we entered. The girls made their own candy bars, then we set out in search of real food. We climbed the stairs for a late lunch at Margarita Villa and enjoyed a meal overlooking the harbor. I also received a call from the Executive Director at VANC with the news that we had to postpone MasterChef.

Santa Cruz Island – Channel Islands National Park

Tuesday morning, we made our way back to Ventura Harbor to ride to the Channel Islands. We would have a few hours at Santa Cruz and a few hours at Anacapa. First stop, Santa Cruz Island. On the way, we enjoyed a ton of dolphins around the boat. When we arrived, we were met by a park ranger who went over the rules. The National Park is only about a quarter of the island, and The Nature Conservancy owns a large portion. We chose to hike toward Pelican Bay, knowing we were not likely to make it in the time we had. Part of this hike is on The Nature Conservancy land and typically requires a guide. Due to COVID-19, they allowed the guides to stay on the trail but allowed each party to travel at their own pace to keep social distance. We made it through many uphills, switchbacks, rock scrambling, and beautiful views before needing to turn around to meet our ride. We stopped for a snack on the island’s shore while waiting for the boat to board.

Birds on Anacapa Island – Channel Islands National Park | The lighthouse sits atop the island shrouded in fog

When everyone boarded, we set off for Anacapa Island. When we made it to the cove with the dock, a concrete platform with short ladders we would be required to climb. The Captain wasn’t sure he would allow us to get off the boat. I don’t know anything about boating, but I know that cove seems really small for that big boat. He was afraid that he would let us off, but we wouldn’t be able to get back on to go home. In the end, he let us off. Getting off required climbing that short ladder I mentioned while the boat rocked in the waves. Not a slight rocking. More like hurry up if you don’t want to get caught between the boat and the ladder. Then, we had to climb the 150 stairs to get to the island’s top and begin our hike. There was a heavy fog surrounding the island, and we couldn’t even see the ocean over the cliffs. We could hear the foghorn and see a few birds when they were close enough. Boarding the boat was a little more exciting than disembarking. About half of us made it on the boat, and the Captain had to back out and take another go at it before boarding the rest of the passengers. Dolphins joined us for part of the trip back to the harbor, then we drove back to our home in Valley Center.

Volcan Mountain Trailhead

October was an event-filled month. It started with a hike at Volcan Mountain in Julian, CA, with our friend David. As we neared our car at the end, the apple orchard owners were out taking care of their trees and tossed each of us the most delicious, freshest apple I’ve ever had. After a long hike, we refueled with food and a flight at Julian Hard Cider. As we ate, David raved about the apple pie and vanilla ice cream at Julian Apple Pie Company, so of course, we had to stop for dessert. The next day, we installed our new 21-foot awning to replace the one we lost to the wind. If you’re reading this, thank you for your help, Richard. Three girls and Tom aren’t always tall enough and/or strong enough to complete what we think we can. We couldn’t have completed it without your help. It was tall, long, and heavy. We had a hard time holding it against the RV while Tom screwed it in. We went from manual to electric, and I’m glad we upgraded.

Marine Memorial Golf Course – Camp Pendleton

October was also the biggest month for our monthly volunteer commitment. The golf tournament we had been planning all year occurred on October 22nd. The online auction was my responsibility, and that ran from October 8th through the afternoon of our tournament. The entire event was a huge success raising around $43,000 for the Veterans Association of North County. With the golf tournament behind us and relaxing on our minds, we ventured over to Rancho Guajome Adobe for Tierra Caliente Academy of Arts’ Dia de Los Muertos event. We watched many talented dancers and viewed altars created in the adobe.

Yosemite National Park

When moving between campgrounds, we discovered an issue with our airbags and made an appointment to have them looked at/fixed. Since we had to find a hotel room anyway, why not find one in a fun place? So I booked us a yurt just outside Yosemite National Park for 2 nights. We arrived at the shop to drop off our home; the manager came out to look and determined he couldn’t fix it. He got on the phone with another local shop, and they could work us in. It might take an extra day, so we would need to find sleeping accommodations for one more night. With our home finally dropped off, we took off for Yosemite. We arrived later than we were hoping, checked in, and set off for The Rush Creek Tavern to enjoy a delicious dinner. The next day, we discovered we didn’t miss fall. The colors were all over. The waterfalls were flowing, and we got to explore a beautiful park. On our way home, we stopped overnight in Santa Clarita.

MasterChef Season 8 Winner Dino Luciano with guests and an active-duty who helped cook at VANC’s MasterChef fundraiser

November brought our MasterChef fundraiser with VANC and an end to our 8-month road trip to Galveston, TX.

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