Winter Shminter! For hiking and backpacking enthusiasts, colder temperatures can’t stand in the way of our desire to get out on the trails. But if you’re looking to do a long-distance hike or backcountry camping trip during the winter, it’s probably best to stick to an area that isn’t going to be snowed in.

In fact, some National Parks even close down partially in over winter since the snow and ice can make exploring near impossible. Luckily, there are still plenty of warm places in the US to do some backcountry hiking and overnight backpacking during the colder months of November through February. From California to Florida and other options in between, read on to see the best places to go backpacking in winter around the US.

Backpacking Treks in Winter

Carrying everything you need on your back, pitching a tent, and living 100% in the great outdoors is the call of the wild for many backpackers. But in winter, it’s important to have a high level of respect for the natural elements.

Below-freezing temperatures, snowed-in trails, and icy conditions can mean that some places are just not possible to hike in winter, even if you have the most advanced winter gear.

To make your life easier (and your pack lighter), stick to these places in the US where you can through-hike and camp overnight, even during the winter months of November, December, January, or February.

Santa Catalina, California

Catalina Island is a great place to go backpacking in winter

Most of California enjoys moderate weather year-round. Other than in the mountains, it rarely drops below freezing, so if you’re looking for the perfect place to go backpacking in winter, California is a perfect option. 

Santa Catalina is an island off the coast of southern California, which allows hikers year-round. The winter months are prime whale-watching season along the California Coast, so keep an eye out as you take in the sweeping views over the Pacific Ocean.

The Trans-Catalina hiking trail spans 38.5 miles and typically takes 4 days. You’ll hike across Catalina Island, explore its interior, and camp at stops along pristine beaches. Ferry tickets to Catalina Island are around $75 and camping fees vary by season.

Because Catalina is a fairly small island, you’ll get your bearings quickly, and it’s a great place to experience an overnight camping and winter backpacking trip in California once the colder weather sets in.

Henry Coe State Park, California

Backpacking in Henry Coe State Park

Henry Coe State Park is a vast wilderness in Northern California where you can easily do a multi-day winter backpacking trip. As the largest state park in Northern California, Henry Coe has 80,000 acres of wilderness areas.

Spring is the busy season, when many visitors come to hike the Henry Coe trails among an abundance of wildflowers. So if you’re looking for more solitude, try this California backpacking spot in the winter months. The hills surrounding Henry Coe experience mild weather year-round, and like many places in California, it rarely dips below freezing even in winter.

The Lost Coast Trail, California

Hiking the Lost Coast Trail in California

This region is called The Lost Coast because the rugged terrain made it impossible to build Highway 1 through here. The highway just… stops. Good news for backcountry hikers, there is a well-maintained network of trails along The Lost Coast.

Backpacking this California area in winter is completely doable, but keep in mind that you may face wet conditions. Be sure to bring waterproof gear and a resilient spirit.

Other places for backpacking in winter in California:

  • Skyline to the Sea Trail – located in the Big Basin National Park, which sadly was almost completely burned in the August 2020 lightning fire. Currently, the park is open again, but most of the pine tree foliage has been completely burned, with new growth starting to emerge. Check out the Big Basin page for more information current conditions.
  • Point Reyes National Seashore – A trail that hugs the coastline and provides stunning views. 

Kalalau Trail on the Na’Pali Coast, Kauai, Hawaii

Free Things to Do in Kauai

If you’re trying to beat the winter blues that set in around January, why not make the leap and head to the Hawaiian Islands? Hawaii is popular year-round, but you’ll be dealing with fewer tourists if you visit in winter. We recommend heading to Kauai (The Garden Isle) and doing one of the many hikes along the coast.

The Na’Pali Coast in particular is one of the most famous hikes in Hawaii. The Kalalau Trail takes you on a 3-day hike along rocky ridges with sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean. 

Big Bend National Park, Texas

Backpacking in Winter in Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park covers a large area in Southern Texas including the Chisos Mountains and Chihuahuan Desert. Winter is the ideal time to go backpacking in Big Bend since you’re likely to experience clear skies with daytime temperatures in the mid-70s or higher.

There are plenty of overnight hiking trails around Boot Canyon, Emory Peak, and the South Rim, but keep in mind that a backcountry use permit is required. There are also plenty of half-day and day hikes if you’re thinking of visiting Big Bend for a weekend. 

Pinhoti Trail, Alabama

Flagg Mountain on the Pinhoti Trail

Flagg Mountain on the Pinhoti Trail

The Pinhoti Trail spans 335-miles, which means you can go hiking for a few days or go backpacking for as long as you want. This Alabama region is a great option for backpacking in the winter for both beginners and experienced hikers.

The Pinhoti Trail can get snowy in winter, but considerably less so compared to the popular long-distance hiking trails like the Pacific Crest Trail or Appalachian Trail. It’s also very easy to break the Pinhoti Trail into sections so that you can go for as short or as long as you want.

The best time to hike the Pinhoti Trail is anytime between March and April, when some other popular backpacking spots are still thawing from the winter freeze.

Other places for backpacking in winter in Alabama:

  • Sipsey Wilderness Area, Alabama

The Florida Trail, Florida

Backpacking The Florida Trail in Winter

Florida’s prime hiking and backpacking season is from December through March. So when the rest of the country is facing snowstorms and below-freezing temperatures, you can head south when Florida experiences ideal weather.

There are a growing number of through-hikers who spend their winters on The Florida Trail as an alternative to the Appalachian Trail. The entire Florida Trail is 1,500 miles, so take a look here at the different parts of the trail that are recommended for a multi-day hike.

Keep in mind that the conditions in Florida might be different from other places you’ve hiked. Think soggy feet, mosquitos, and tropical surroundings. Luckily these issues are less severe when the weather cools, so if you want to experience backcountry camping Florida’s unique ecosystem, the winter months are the best time to go backpacking.

We’ve all heard of the top wine destinations like Napa Valley, Bordeaux, and Tuscany, which are on the bucket list for many wine connoisseurs, but there are plenty of wine regions around the globe that are more off the beaten path. And where there is good wine, there is warm weather and great food pairings, a recipe for a perfect vacation. Here are the top romantic wine destination ideas suitable for a getaway on all budgets.

1. Napa Valley, California

Napa Valley California, one of the most romantic wine destinations in the world

Napa Valley, one of the most famous romantic wine destinations in the world, offers lush-green vineyards and stunning views. Napa Valley is home to hundreds of wineries along the hillsides and is home to famous wine varietals like California Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.

Some of the most famous vineyards in Napa Valley include Castello di Amorosa, Spottswoode, and Inglenook Winery, where you can sample your share of the Napa red blend wine and satiate the budding sommelier within. If you’re fond of robust red wines or crisp sparkling wines, you must book a wine tour in the Napa Valley region.

While visiting Napa, you can even hop on board the Napa Valley Wine Train, which allows you to make stops at the best Napa wineries without worrying about transportation.

2. Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico

Another one of the top wine destination ideas on North America’s West Coast is Valle De Guadalupe in Mexico. With over a hundred wineries and multiple wines to choose from, the wine region is quite popular among wine lovers.

You can book a wine tour in the area and learn about high-quality wine-making procedures. The diverse wine grape varieties to try in this region are Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Syrah, and Vermentino.

At famous wineries, you are likely to experience multi-course meals with farm-to-table serving methods. Be sure to pre-book your wine tours for the best experience on an affordable budget. 

3. Bordeaux, France

Bordeaux, France, one of the most romantic wine destinations in the world

Every amateur sommelier wishes to learn about the art of wine-making and the history behind every bottle. If you want to visit the heart of the French wine country, you may choose a wine tour in Bordeaux.

With romantic vineyards and calm surroundings, the place is a haven for wine enthusiasts. While visiting the famous wine region, you should save time to explore the popular attractions in Bordeaux city like Basilique Saint-Michel, Musée des Beaux-Arts, and Musée d’Aquitaine.

4. Tuscany, Italy

If your idea of perfection is a warm evening, a glass of wine, and a stunning sunset over rolling hills, you should plan a trip to the Tuscany wine region in Italy.

The grapevines in this region have been cultivated for over 3000 years, and the native varietals like Sangiovese and Chianti are still produced with a nod to ancient traditions. From day one, you’ll be immersed in the romantic Italian lifestyle with its vintage vibe and its focus on the small pleasures of day-to-day life.

Some popular wineries famous for authentic tasting experiences are Fattoria del Colle – Cantine, and Azienda Agricola Capanna di Cencioni. Once you’ve had your share of countryside life, you can head to nearby famous sights like Florence, Cinque Terre, and Pisa’s Leaning Tower. 

5. Piedmont, Virginia

Deep in the heart of Thomas Jefferson’s former home on the east coast, Piedmont, Virginia now offers the perfect wine getaway to the tourists. The region is home to more than 30 authentic wineries amid the river valleys and rolling foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

You can grab your share of local wines like Grignolino and Pelaverga and spend relaxing evenings with your loved ones. Some of the best wineries to explore in the region are Abellonio Cascina Piccaluga and Cinque Terre Wine. Make sure to enjoy a glass of Barolo at the majestic Isola Bella to round out your wine vacation in Virginia. 

6. Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina

The basic requirements for a top wine destination are authentic wine-tasting experiences and breath-taking surroundings. One such destination is Uco Valley in the famous Mendoza wine region in Argentina.

If you wish to taste the native wines like Malbec, then you must book a tour in the Uco Valley, which is known for producing the best Malbec in the world. Some famous wineries to consider are Andeluna and Salentein, where you can taste different styles of wine and take a tour of the facilities.

If you’re up for an outdoor adventure, you can embark on the hiking trail to the popular Aconcagua peak where you’ll enjoy stunning views of the entire Mendoza region.

7. Tenerife, Spain

Tenerife, Spain is famous for delicious wines and stunning views

Spain is well known for its stunning architecture, tapas, and vibrant culture. But if you’re looking for something more off the beaten path, you might consider a trip to the wine-making region on the island of Tenerife.

Tenerife is part of the Canary Islands located off the coast of Morocco, but as an official part of Spain, there are frequent flight connections from all major Spanish cities. Tenerife offers local wine varieties like Listán Blanco for the whites and Listán Negro and Tempranillo for the red wine lovers.

Also, you can enjoy your drink amidst the serene island locations like Costa Adeje and Puerto de la Cruz. For a vacation that’s out of the ordinary, plan your next wine getaway to this Spanish island famous for its wines and turquoise waters. 

Planning your Next Romantic Wine Destination

If you’re a wine lover, you may want to plan your next getaway to one of the many top wine destination ideas around the world. Lucky for wine-lovers, the best vines are found in sunny locations with great weather, making them a perfect place for a long vacation.

Whether you choose a world-famous wine destination like Tuscany, Mendoza, or Napa Valley, or want to get more off the beaten path in Valle De Guadalupe or Piedmont, there are countless places on earth where you can sample top-notch wines amidst stunning landscapes.

The romantic charm of rolling vineyards and the luxury of fine wines make a wine vacation a great option, whether you’re traveling with a partner or a group of friends. Cheers!

Looking for pandemic-friendly weekend road trips from NYC? While there are endless things to do in NYC, sometimes all you need is a good weekend away. Luckily, NYC enjoys an amazing location with countless East Coast getaways a close driving distance away. You don’t need to travel far to feel like you’re a world away. So during this pandemic, why not hit the road, head out of the Big Apple for one of these short weekend road trips from NYC?

1.  Brandywine Valley, Delaware

2 hours from NYC

Brandywine Valley - a perfect road trip from NYC

Brandywine Valley

Just over 2 hours away from New York City lies the charming Brandywine Valley, with plenty of options to recharge your batteries. While there you should visit Longwood Gardens, Winterthur, and the Hagley Museum.

Read more about how to plan the perfect Brandywine Valley Road Trip, or the New York Times piece on how to spend 36 hours in the Brandywine Valley.

2. Hudson Valley, New York

2 hours from NYC

If you’ve lived in NYC long enough, chances are you’ve visited the Hudson Valley for a cozy weekend away. With orchards, vineyards, charming towns, and a plethora of lodging options ranging from upscale spas to glamping tents, it feels a world away from the hustle of the big city. If you haven’t been yet, add it to your list ASAP.

3. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

2 hours from NYC

It’s easy to forget that another large metropolitan area is just a stone’s throw away from NYC. If you’re hankering for a change of scene, Philadelphia is a convenient distance away to take a city break.

Early American history is front and center in Philadelphia, and you will enjoy a laid-back vibe during your weekend trip. If it’s your first time here and you want to check out the typical sightseeing locations, get a Philly sightseeing pass which includes entrance fees for 35 attractions throughout the city.

4. Mystic, Connecticut

2.5 hours from NYC

If you’re looking to escape the heat and humidity of a New York City summer, head down the coast to the seaside town of Mystic, Connecticut. You can either hop in your car or take a train for an easy connection between Manhattan and downtown Mystic.

For where to stay, what to eat, and what to do, check out this guide to a Weekend in Mystic. written by a fellow New Yorker.

5. Baltimore, Maryland

3 hours from NYC

Also known as Charm City, Baltimore Maryland is the perfect foodie destination with its rooftop bars, restaurants, and tons of food markets. If you’re looking to sample all the Baltimore specialties in one location, head to the R. House Food Hall, a massive space with different cuisines.

Naturally, seafood and the famous Maryland Blue Crabs are prominently featured. You can either take this short road trip from NYC or take a convenient bus from New York to Baltimore so that you can really kick back and enjoy the trip.

6. Saratoga Springs, New York

3 hours from NYC

Saratoga Springs isn’t far from the city, but there is a multitude of pit stops from NYC to Saratogo Springs to turn this into one of the best short weekend road trips from NYC. Once you arrive in Saratoga Springs, be sure to check out the landmarks centered around the famous naturally carbonated springs.

7. Lancaster, Pennsylvania

3 hours from NYC

The Lancaster area is deep in the heart of Amish country for those who want to see a complete contrast to the hustle of NYC. The Mennonite Information Center can help organize a tour to a few local farms, or you can visit some of the Amish-run shops like Riehl Quilts or the Countryside Road Stand where you can browse a variety of goods like quilts, baked goods, and crafts.

8. Newport, Rhode Island

3 hours from NYC

The Breakers Mansion in Newport Rhode Island

The Breakers Mansion in Newport Rhode Island

Thanks to the developments of the early American railroad tycoons, Newport has some of the most stunning residential architecture on the East Coast. Be sure to drive by the famous Newport Mansions and do the Cliff Walk for stunning views over the Atlantic Ocean. To get an introduction to the main sights related to the Gilded Age you can take a Trolley Tour with optional entry into Breakers, the most ornate mansion in Newport.

9. The Berkshires, Massachusetts

3 hours from NYC

The Berkshires Mountain range north of NYC is a charming area that feels a world away. The town of Stockbridge is a popular hub with its Norman Rockwell museum and cute shops in town.

10. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

3.5 hours from NYC

With all the museums and historically significant locations, you can easily spend a short weekend near Gettysburg. To get the most out of visiting the historic battlegrounds, you can do a private tour, or a self-guided driving tour to explore the wider region. Once you’ve paid your respects to the Civil War soldiers who are still buried here, there is still lots more to discover in this stunning area of Pennsylvania.

11. Lake George, New York

3.5 hours from NYC

Nestled within the Adirondacks is Lake George, a location that deserves an entire weekend all to itself. This area is bursting with New England charm, in fact, Georgia O’Keefe created many of her famous paintings in the area around Lake George.

Whether you want to lounge lakeside, explore hiking trails with epic viewpoints, or spend the weekend window shopping, Lake George is the perfect getaway from NYC.

12. Ithaca, New York

3.5 hours from NYC

If you haven’t been to Ithaca yet, just go! There are amazing hiking trails in the area with gorgeous views and beautiful stone gorges with cascading waterfalls.

13. Boston, Massachusetts

3.5 hours from NYC

For city lovers who just want a change of scene, Boston is one of the best short weekend road trips from NYC. It’s a very walkable city, with charming neighborhoods like the North End and Beacon Hill with their Victorian brownstone homes.

Also, the city has one of the best ratios of Craft Breweries on the East Coast. Even if you’ve visited Boston before, there are plenty of hidden gems for a perfect weekend trip.

14. Delaware Beaches

3.5 hours from NYC

Take a weekend to explore the beach communities in Delaware. The most popular beaches are Rehoboth and Bethany. Rehoboth is more developed, with a beach boardwalk full of hotels, eateries, and shops, and Bethany is on the more quiet side if you’re looking to feel more off the beaten path. 

15. Washington DC

4 hours from NYC

People come from far and wide to visit Washington DC and at just 4 hours away, it’s one of the best short weekend road trips from NYC! Plus, you can take a direct Megabus from Central Station right to Union Station in DC. Even if you’ve been to DC before, you can explore some off the beaten path suggestions and get the most out of your trip to the US Capitol.

16. Adirondacks, New York

4.5 hours from NYC

The famous Adirondacks Mountain range in upstate New York is just beautiful. The best time to visit the Adirondacks is sometime in the late spring or early summer when you can enjoy the great outdoors and get the most out of your trip.

17. Lake Champlain, New York/Vermont

4.5 hours from NYC

The largest lake in New York State, you can spend a weekend exploring different stops along the shores, or stay in one of the many guesthouses that overlook the lake. While you’re in the area, be sure to swing by Fort Ticonderoga, an 18th-century star fort built by the French.

18. Cape Cod, Massachusetts

4.5 hours from NYC

Take a road trip from NYC and enjoy sunset on Cape Cod Bay

Sunset on Cape Cod Bay

The classic East Coast summer destination draws people year after year because of its unique beauty. Postcard-perfect views of sand dunes meeting the rocky shore make Cape Cod worth a visit at least once if you’re living in New York. Enjoy the beach and spend your weekend eating the freshest seafood around.

19. Vermont’s Route 7

4.5 hours from NYC

Vermont’s Route 7 is a mini version of a Great American Road Trip.  Along the way, you’ll pass by several covered bridges near Pittsford. This article from Huffington Post describes a perfect weekend road trip itinerary from NYC to Vermont.

20. Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia

4.5 hours from NYC

Harper's Ferry at Dawn

Harper’s Ferry at Dawn

With Harper’s Ferry as a home base, you can spend a weekend exploring West Virginia, a complete contrast to New York City. Harper’s Ferry is located where the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers meet at the intersection of West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland. The nearby Blue Ridge Mountains are full of walking trails where you just might encounter long-haul hikers taking on the famous Appalachian Trail.

21. Finger Lakes, New York

5 hours from NYC

The Finger Lakes is one of the classic weekend road trips for NYC dwellers, but with so much to discover, you can keep coming back again and again. Highlights in the region are the many wineries and slot canyons like Watkins Glen. Or maybe try going off the beaten path and exploring the Corning Museum of Glass.

22. Shenandoah Valley, West Virginia

5.5 hours from NYC

With countless things to do, the Shenandoah Valley makes one of the best weekend road trips from NYC. Visit Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia Caves, and plenty of awesome wineries in the region.

23. Burlington, Vermont

5.5 hours from NYC

Head to Burlington, Vermont during summer and you may not want to leave. The whole city feels like a giant block party, where everyone knows each other and you’re always greeted with a smile.

Live music, outdoor dining, and charming shopping streets make Burlington the perfect place to spend a long weekend away from NYC. There is also a thriving Craft Beer scene to discover, which is a great way to spend an afternoon.

24. Montreal, Canada

6 hours from NYC

Montreal, Canada is just a 6 hour road trip from NYC

Montreal, Canada

For a completely different cultural experience, head to Montreal in the french-speaking Canadian province of Quebec. You will feel a world away as you stroll through the cobblestone parts of the old city, take in the soaring European-style cathedral and interact with its proud French-speaking residents. Nightlife in Montreal is world-famous, and the citywide Jazz Festival during the summer draws people from far and wide.

25. Buffalo, New York

6.5 hours from NYC

Buffalo, New York is having a moment. They have some beautiful architecture, and they’ve got a new park along the Erie Canal where you can take in the views of the skyline and harbor. Everyone is well aware of the city’s namesake chicken wings, but the Buffalo food scene has so much more to offer.

26. Erie, Pennsylvania

6.5 hours from NYC

Especially during the summer, Lake Erie is one of the best weekend road trips from NYC. There are miles of beaches near the Presque Isle State Park, plus wineries, microbreweries, and museums. There is a great Americana vibe with live music happening almost every day of the week over summer.

27. Niagara Falls

6.5 hours from NYC

This stunning bucket-list location is perfect for a weekend getaway from NYC. If you’re making the long trip, it’s worth visiting both the American and Canadian sides of the falls. The Canadian side boasts the best panoramic views of the enormous falls, while the American side allows you to get up close and personal with the falls.

While there, you should of course take the famous Maid of the Mist boat ride that gets you up close and personal with the falls. For something different, we would recommend splurging on a scenic helicopter flight, one of the most exhilarating ways to see the falls.

28. Virginia Beach, Virginia

6.5 hours from NYC

Best for a 3-day weekend, Virginia Beach has long been a favorite getaway for the city-dwellers along the East Coast because of its stunning beaches and casual atmosphere. Virginia Beach can get crazy during official 3-days holiday weekends, so to beat the crowds, just take a Friday off and head down. There are plenty of unique things to do in Virginia Beach, like biking the boardwalk or taking a sunset Craft Beer Cruise.

29. Coastal Maine

7 hours from NYC

The coast of Maine is one of the best weekend road trips from NYC.  Condé Nast Traveler has a great itinerary for 4 days along the Maine Coast. You will love the rugged New England feel.

30. Quebec City, Canada

8.5 hours from NYC

If you have a long weekend, drive up to the French-speaking capital of Canada to Quebec City. In just 8 hours you’ll be transported to a completely different aesthetic, with timbered houses, French-inspired food, and the French language all around you.

Visit Quebec City, Canada as a road trip from NYC

Quebec City, Canada

San Diego is one of the most beautiful places in the world with an endless amount of things worthy of a bucket list. This city seems to have it all — lovely beaches, a thriving city center and a lot of history. If you’re looking for things to add to your San Diego bucket list, keep in mind that on average, you can enjoy the sunshine during almost every season. 

San Diego is a city with something for everyone. San Diego has things to do for people interested in history, architecture, wildlife, and more. A vacation in San Diego can mean many things to different people, whether you’re looking for a city escape or a beach vacation.

1. Visit Old Town San Diego

Old Town San Diego

Image by Peter Thomas from Pixabay

San Diego’s Old Town is the historic center where the first settlement in San Diego was developed. Spanish missionaries established the Mission San Diego de Alcala in 1769. San Diego became a city long before California became part of America, and the old town still has a lot of Spanish influences in its restaurants, shops, and architecture.

Many original buildings from the early days are still standing, and the city even relocated additional historic buildings here to preserve the look and feel of Old San Diego. One of the best ways to see Old Town is by taking the Hop-on Hop-off trolley. There are more than 100 points of interest and the narrated tour is the perfect way to take it all in.

Nowadays, visiting the old town is a fun thing to add your San Diego bucket list as it is full of specialty shops, museums, and restaurants. Old Town is well known as the perfect place to celebrate traditional Mexican holidays. If your vacation in San Diego takes place during Dia de Los Muertos or Cinco de Mayo, you should head to the old city.

It would be a great idea to check the events calendar for San Diego’s old town to check whether there are any festive things to do during your trip.

2. Spend a delightful and educational day in the San Diego Zoo Safari Park

San Diego Zoo Safari Park is less like a Zoo, and more like an outdoor animal preserve. This is unlike any zoo that you might have seen before. Animals live outdoors, grouped together depending on their natural habitats in the wild. The Safari Park also includes predators like tigers and lions, although their enclosures are separate from other animals for quite obvious reasons!

In order to explore the Park, visitors can take different types of safari by car. However, it is possible to even zip line over the animal habitats. Imagine seeing these majestic animals from a bird’s eye view!

One of the most unique things to do at San Diego’s Wildlife Safari Park is to spend the night at the grounds. Doing so allows you to go on safari trips to see the animals after the day’s crowds go home. You can even spend the night in tents just outside the animal enclosures of the antelope, giraffes, rhinos, and much more.

One of the reasons we love the Safari Park is that the ultimate goal of the Safari Park is species conservation. One of the proudest achievements of the Safari Park was its role in renewing California’s critically endangered Condor population. In 1987, there were only 22 Condors found in the wild. Thanks to the breeding program, the San Diego Safari park introduced 191 Condors into the wild, and there are now 369 Condors found in the California wilderness.

3. Spend a Day Exploring Balboa Park

Balboa Park in San Diego

Photo by Zachary Sawchuk from Pexels

Balboa Park is the largest city park in North America, larger in fact than Central Park in New York. Most buildings in Balboa Park were built in 1915 for the Panama-California World’s Fair. The city later added more to the Park in 1935.

Balboa Park boasts an impressive botanical garden with many tropical plants. It’s an excellent opportunity to see a diverse array of plants in one place. Other popular destinations for visitors are the outdoor cactus garden and the Japanese Friendship Garden.

Locals enjoy roaming throughout the historic buildings of the Spanish colonial era. Walking in Balboa Park is like walking in a completely different country! You can also find seventeen museums in Balboa Park.

Take a look at the Balboa Park events calendar to find fun things to do in San Diego. There are regular events and art exhibitions in public, like symphony concerts and free concerts at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion. Balboa Park even has a replica of Shakespeare’s Globe theater, where you can see live performances year-round.

4. Visit the San Diego Zoo

San Diego Zoo

Image by Curtis Yancey from Pixabay

Not to be confused with the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, the San Diego Zoo was initially built as part of the California Exhibition in Balboa Park. It is the most visited zoo in America, with over 4 million visitors a year.

Visiting the San Diego Zoo should be at the top of your San Diego bucket list, because it is the largest zoo in North America. It is home to over 3,500 animals from 650 unique species. The zoo pioneered the concept of natural enclosures, in which cageless barriers such as moats keep animals safe in their habitats. The zoo is also unique in how its efforts to recreate the habitats like they would be seen in the wild.

Its claim to fame is that it is one of the only zoos with a breeding program for giant pandas. At the heart of the zoo’s mission is its dedication to conservation and a focus on protecting endangered species. The zoo invests considerable time and money in conservation endeavors in 45 countries around the world. In fact, they have returned more than 44 species to the wild, including the endangered California condor. Don’t forget to get your skip the line tickets ahead of time online.

5. Board the USS Midway Museum

The USS Midway Museum offers visitors the opportunity to board a retired aircraft carrier in San Diego Embarcadero. This ship was built shortly after World War II and was the largest aircraft carrier in the world until 1955. The vessel was used in the Vietnam War and Operation Desert Storm during the 1990s.

The museum now houses military aviation vehicles and other exhibitions. Visitors can see what life was like for an airforce soldier. You can visit bedrooms, engine rooms, control rooms and more.

Guests love the interactive displays at the USS Midway Museum, including a flight simulator. It is even possible to climb aboard some of the airplanes on display at the museum.

6. Stroll along the Embarcadero

Embarcadero means “landing place” in Spanish, which is why it is San Diego’s main port. The largest cruise ships arrive at the port in San Diego Embarcadero.

Not merely a harbor, the Embarcadero is an area along the water where visitors can see San Diego’s historic boats and museums dedicated to maritime history. The area also includes a public park with shopping, a fountain, and a sprawling waterfront lawn. If you’d like to see the Embarcardero from a different angle, a special activity to add to your San Diego bucket list is to take a Harbor Cruise at sunset. We have found great discount on fun activities on the on Tiqets website, like their 1-hour Harbor Cruise and Sea Lion Adventure.

Be sure to check out the events at Embarcadero during your vacation to find out about things to do in San Diego. The district hosts a food and wine festival, symphony concerts, and a Big Bay Boom celebration on The Fourth of July. The most famous festival held at Embarcadero is the U.S. Sand Sculpting Challenge and Art Expo.

7. Explore the Caves of La Jolla

La Jolla Caves in San Diego

Image by jpjenn26 from Pixabay

Unlike the sandy beaches in southern San Diego, the north coast consists of rocky cliffs, rocky shores, and numerous caves. La Jolla Caves is one of the more unique things on your bucket list for San Diego. Located near La Jolla Bay, most of the caves are only accessible from the water.

One of the fun things to do in San Diego is to take a guided kayak tour into the largest of the seven La Jolla Caves, the Clam Cave. Or, take a footpath to the only cave reachable by foot, the  Sunny Jim Gate. There are 145 steps, but the views at the end are worth it!

8. Get acquainted with the island lifestyle of Coronado Beach

Hotel Coronado in San Diego

Image by nathanhill0070 from Pixabay

Coronado Beach is located on Coronado Island near San Diego Bay. To get there, you must drive over the Coronado Bridge, which rises 200 feet above the Bay. Another fun way to get to Coronado is to use a Coronado ferry or a water taxi directly from the city center.

You will soon see that Coronado Island is like a mini-community in San Diego. The main street, Orange Avenue, is full of quirky shops. Don’t miss the Hotel del Coronado, a chic hotel that offers a beautiful setting at sunset. Fans of beer will enjoy visiting Coronado Brewing Company, an award-winning craft brewery on the west coast.

9. Breathtaking views at Cabrillo National Monument

A historical thing to add to your San Diego bucket list is to visit the Cabrillo National Monument. The memorial is where the first Europeans encountered the west coast of America. Named after Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, who landed here in 1542. If you’re visiting San Diego in October, you can even witness a reenactment of the historical events.

You can also visit the old army camps and the lighthouse, which has been in place since 1855. Even if you’re not drawn to the historical significance, the area is well worth a visit to take in San Diego’s gorgeous coastline.

Top things to do in San Diego

This amazing country has so much to offer and you will not be able to see all of India in just 2 weeks. However, this is a great introduction to the best of India, especially if this is your first trip.

To sum up, one has to experience both the northern state of Rajasthan, home to iconic royal palaces, as well as the southern state of Kerala, the hub of the Indian spice route with the wellness and jungle ecosystem you’ve been dreaming of. And no trip to India would be complete with seeing the Taj Mahal. You’ve surely seen pictures of this impressive structure from every possible angle, but there’s a good chance you too will fall under its spell when you see it in person and walk around the grounds.

First, a word about transportation in India

When backpacking your India route, driving is best left to the locals. The traffic is seemingly chaotic but there is actually a method to the madness, which takes expertise only earned by years of navigating the streets. We can’t stress it enough – do not even think about renting a car.

Hiring a driver

One option that we found well worth the time vs. cost tradeoff was hiring local drivers– it’s a great way to save on time, is a welcome escape from the chaotic streets, and is affordable. For multiple days with the same driver, the average rate is about $50 dollars a day which includes everything– gas, tolls, accommodation and meals for your driver, and of course their salary. Otherwise, many people use Uber for drives up to 2 hours. For the below itinerary, we would recommend having a dedicated driver for your first few days in the North until you fly to Udaipur, and then later booking as-needed in Kerala using Uber or Ola. For longer drives (3-4 hours) you can book ahead with Ola or goibibo.


Most domestic flights will be between 20-60 dollars and take an hour or two. Especially for journeys that would take 6+ hours overland, the flights are worth it. Air India is the major provider and has a mixed reputation. They are notorious for delays and unfriendly service, but their safety record is world-class and they serve some of the best Indian food you’ll have on your trip!

Backpacking in India Route via Train

You can’t talk about India without mentioning the iconic experience of train travel– if you want to experience this, it is best suited for a 3-4 hour journey between large cities. Trains travel about 50 km/hour, which means you won’t be faster than a car. If you are determined to travel by train in India, you may have to add a day or two onto the below itinerary.


India has the full spectrum of accommodation, from hostels, to guesthouses, to 5-star hotels. It’s worth researching ahead of time and reading recent reviews from other travellers. Be careful about going purely based on star ratings because some hostels and even hotels pay for fake reviews. Luckily, these are fairly easy to spot. We always had luck finding a great place to stay on, which allows you to filter by ratings, budget, and amenities.

Backpacking in India Route Week 1 – Northern India

Sites: Agra, Jaipur, Udaipur

Day 1 – Arrival and travel to Agra

If you’re flying internationally to India, it’s best to fly into New Delhi for this itinerary. The 22 million inhabitants of the country’s capital might say otherwise, but we actually recommend heading directly to Agra, site of the world-famous Taj Mahal. It’s about 3 hours away by car.

Sleep Agra

Day 2 – Taj Mahal, Agra, and Fatehpur Sikri

Start your day early and visit the Taj Mahal at sunrise. There are fewer tourists and the soft light of sunrise looks absolutely amazing on the Taj. The ticket booth opens at 5 am and you’ll receive a free water bottle and shoe coverings to use later in certain parts of the Taj.

Take your time, enjoy wandering around the surrounding gardens where you’ll be sure to spot a few monkeys and parrots. The ‘backyard’ of the Taj looks out over the river Ganges and is in itself breathtaking.

Taj Mahal at Sunrise

Taj Mahal at Sunrise

After the Taj, head to the Agra Fort. This was the longtime residence of Emperor Akbar and is an impressive example of Mughal architecture.

It’s time to leave Agra and head west. About an hour outside of Agra, visit Fatehpur Sikri, known as the abandoned city. This was the original residence of the Mughal Emperor Akbar, but was later abandoned due to the lack of a natural water source, which made the palace unliveable. We recommend getting a guide here to help explain the abandoned structures. The original tactics used for air-conditioning will amaze you.

Fatehpur Sikri Agra India

Fatehpur Sikri Agra India

Hit the road or the rails to Jaipur, it will be about a 3-hour journey by car or a 6-hour journey by train. Arrive Jaipur by nightfall and get a good night’s sleep.

Side note: If you somehow have daylight to spare, you can make a stop at the Chand Bawri Step Well in Abhaneri on your drive between Fatehpur Sikri and Jaipur. It’s open daily from 8:30am-6pm.

Sleep Jaipur

Day 3 – Jaipur

Jaipur has so much to offer. All of the buildings were painted a sandstone pink in preparation for the Prince of Wales’ visit back in 1876, and the residents have kept the tradition. You can do everything in India’s Pink City in one day especially if you have a driver. Of course, you can spend a couple of days in Jaipur and have a more relaxed itinerary.


  • Amber Fort – start your day here because it will get hot later. This impressive palace is located up on a hill and many of the original features are still in excellent shape. You’ll see many offers for elephant rides and Elephant Villages happening here, but please don’t support this controversial industry.
Amber Fort Jaipur India

Amber Fort Jaipur India

  • Jal Mahal (Water Palace) – on your way back to old Jaipur, stop by Man Sagar Lake to see the Water Palace. It isn’t open to visitors, but the palace that seemingly floats on the water is an amazing sight to behold.


  • Hawa Mahal (Air Palace) – The rest of your day will be spent walking around old Jaipur which is the heart of the Pink City. You should start at the Hawa Mahal. The facade was originally built so that the queens and ladies of the court could watch the street festivals without being seen by ordinary citizens. Open daily from 9am-5pm.
Hawa Mahal Jaipur India

Hawa Mahal Jaipur India

  • City Palace – gorgeous Mughal architecture and a lavish royal palace.


  • Wander the Jaipur Markets – spend the rest of your afternoon and evening just wandering the alleyways and streets of Jaipur. There are districts for different goods like flowers, spices, shoes, jewellery, and even household tools so just plan to get lost in the mesmerising maze. The street food scene is also world-famous in Jaipur and you may want to circle back to see the Hawa Mahal at night.

Sleep Jaipur

Days 5 & 6 – Udaipur

We recommend taking an early 45-minute flight to Udaipur, which you can find for about 30 dollars if you book ahead of time. You can also travel this distance by car (7 hours) or train (7-8 hours).

Many people call Udaipur the most romantic city in India. Romance or not, we think Udaipur is downright gorgeous and a can’t-miss. (By the way, it’s the setting for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and the oddly named 1983 James Bond movie, Octopussy).

Udaipur is a small, walkable city with so much to offer. We recommend at least 2 days here. It’s also at this point of your trip that you’ll welcome a slower pace and you’ll enjoy not having to rely on auto rickshaw or Taxi to take you everywhere.

Day 1 – (half day because of travel time from Jaipur)

  • The Rose Garden – This is a European style city park but with tropical plants and Indian monuments scattered throughout. It’s a welcome escape from the hectic experience of the alleyways and streets of the city.
  • Sunset at Karni Mata Temple – take an auto rickshaw, hike, or (our personal recommendation) take the cable car up to the hilltop temple. Udaipur is so incredibly beautiful from above and from here you’ll have a perfect view of Lake Pichola with its 2 island palaces, Udaipur oldtown and the Royal Palace, and the distant Monsoon Palace.
  • Dinner at Charcoal. Indian fusion food with an amazing view. Portions are huge and the view is to die for. Did we mention Udaipur is simply stunning at night?
  • Jagdish Temple to end your day – you’ll probably hear chanting and singing at various times of the day, but the evening prayers and songs intensify around 10 pm. Visitors are completely welcome to enter the temple and be a part of the experience, just be sure to remove your shoes and practice basic respectful behaviour. Far from solemn, this is a joyous atmosphere that will be sure to end your day with a smile.

Day 2

  • The Royal Palace – best if you arrive first thing in the morning before the school groups show up. An Audio guide will suffice because the tourist path is well-marked and laid out. The palace has rooms showing what the royal life was like.
Udaipur City Palace

Udaipur City Palace

  • Afternoon Boat Ride on Lake Pichola – your palace ticket includes a discount for the boat ride. It’s a touristy thing to do, but still delightful. The boat will make a stop at the Jagmandir Island Palace, and we recommend disembarking for a quick picnic and a beautiful view of Udaipur. Bring snacks with you, or you can have some refreshments at the island hotel.
  • The Dharohar Folk Dance Cultural Show at the Bagore ki Haveli museum. This show has been running for decades and is always a party. Reservations can only be day-of in person starting at 6, so just head to the Museum around 6 to get tickets. While you wait you can get a coffee at Jheel, a short walking distance away.

Sleep 2 nights Udaipur

Backpacking in India Route Week 2 – Southern India

Sites: Munnar, Alleppey, Fort Kochi

At this point, you might find it difficult to leave colourful and rich Rajasthan behind, but it’s time to migrate south for the jungle experience in the Indian state of Kerala.

Day 8 – Travel Day from Udaipur to Fort Kochi to Munnar

Take an early flight from Udaipur to Fort Kochi in Kerala. Unfortunately, there aren’t usually direct flights so you’ll likely connect through Mumbai. Once you land in Fort Kochi, our recommendation is to keep the travel day going and head straight to Munnar by car.

Sleep Munnar

Day 9-12 – Munnar and its environs

It’s time to choose your own adventure in the Munnar region

Option A: Relaxation and unwinding in Munnar

We think it’s worth slowing your pace in the rolling hills of Munnar. You should book ahead at an eco-lodge, treehouse, or yoga retreat. After the stimulation of the North, you will welcome taking the time to soak in the natural beauty of India. Activities in Munnar include seeing a traditional Kathakali show, wellness treatments, spice walks, tea plantation tours, hikes and jeep rides to see the national parks.

Munnar India Tea Fields

Munnar India Tea Fields

Option A: sleep 3 more nights in Munnar

Option B: Munnar + Thekkady

Periyar National Park near the town of Thekkady is not far from Munnar. This is a good chance to visit a wildlife reserve in India and see some native species. There is a popular boat cruise through the reserve where you can spot water buffalo, Indian deer, some other small mammals, and many birds. There are also 40 Tigers and about 500 Elephants in the park, but it is extremely rare to spot them. If you do the lake cruise, be sure to be on the first boat in the morning to have the highest chance of seeing the animals come down to the waterfront to quench their thirst after the long night. There are other activities organized through the park such as bamboo rafting trips, Nature Walks, and jeep excursions.

Option B: sleep 1 more night in Munnar and 2 nights Thekkady/Periyar

Day 12 – Alleppey Backwater Cruise

Take an early car from either Munnar or Thekkady to Alleppey for your backwater houseboat cruise. Most houseboats depart at noon and will drop you back off at 9 am the next morning. We think one night is perfect to experience the backwaters. We had a great experience using Alleppey Houseboat Club to find a houseboat– they have detailed pictures of the boats and offer a reasonable price.

Houseboat Kerala in Alleppey India

Houseboat Kerala in Alleppey India

Sleep 1 night on the houseboat

Day 13 and 14 – Fort Kochi

After your houseboat docks in the morning, take an Uber to Fort Kochi. We recommend 2 nights here as your grand finale of the trip. The town is very walkable and you can see the Chinese fishing nets, the Dutch Museum which presents the history of Fort Kochi and the Spice Trade, shopping along Princess Street, and the Jewish Quarter with tons of antiques and cool artist factory spaces. Since 2016, Kerala has been a dry state so you won’t find a thriving nightlife, only certain 4-star hotels are allowed to serve alcohol.

Chinese Fishing Nets Fort Kochi India

Chinese Fishing Nets Fort Kochi India

Sleep 2 nights Fort Kochi

Day 15 – Fly home or on to your next stop!

Now, you may be asking, what about Darjeeling, Goa, and Amritsar? Those are for your next trip!

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Ultimate 2 Week Guide to India

Ultimate 2 Week Guide to India