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Finding Adventure on O‘ahu’s North Shore

There’s a great variety of adventure sports on O‘ahu’s north shore covering land, sky, and sea, and most outfitters are equipped to handle first-time or experienced adventure seekers; some even have great options for children.

A red glider flies over the Oahu shoreline.
Glide over O‘ahu for a unique flightseeing experience. Photo courtesy of Honolulu Soaring.

Glider Flights

For those who would rather stay inside an aircraft, yet still partake of those North Shore views, Hana Hou Air (808/222-4235) offers 20-minute scenic glider flights above the Wai‘anae Mountains along the North Shore for $100. Reservations are required. Also accessing the Dillingham Airfield is Honolulu Soaring (808/637-0207). They have several planes in their fleet and offer scenic as well as acrobatic glider flights. The average visibility is 30 to 40 miles. One-passenger scenic flights start at $79 for 10 minutes and go to $215 for 60 minutes. Two-passenger scenic flights start at $128 for 10 minutes and go to $390 for 60 minutes. One-passenger acrobatic flights start at $165 for 15 minutes and go to $285 for 60 minutes. Combination scenic and acrobatic flights are also available.

Shark Diving

There are two shark diving tour operators out of Hale‘iwa Harbor. They travel three to four miles offshore and drop a metal shark cage in the water, where guests dive in to see Galapagos, tiger, hammerhead, and other sandbar sharks from a safe underwater vantage point. The tours are weather dependent, and no diving experience is required. If you’re lucky, you’ll see spinner dolphins, turtles, and even humpback whales during your time at sea. North Shore Shark Adventures (808/228-5900) offers two-hour tours throughout the day for $120 adult, $60 children 3-13 years old. If you require transportation from Waikiki, they charge $55. Hawaii Shark Encounters (808/351-9373) offers tours for $105 for adults and $75 for children under 12 years old.

Horseback Riding

The North Shore is a rural enclave from Kahuku to Mokule‘ia, and farms and ranches are common along the coast. Up on Pupukea, overlooking Waimea Valley and the North Shore is Happy Trails Hawaii (59-231 Pupukea Rd., 808/638-7433). Their trails meander through forest, ranch land, and tropical orchards, offering panoramic mountain and ocean views. Two-hour tours are $99, and one-hour tours are $79. Riders must be at least six years old. Gunstock Ranch (56-250 Kamehameha Hwy., 808/293-2026), just outside of Kahuku, is a family owned and operated working ranch at the base of the Ko‘olau Mountains. They have a network of trails and tours for all riding levels. The mountain terrain and beautiful ocean views stretch all the way down the windward coast to Kane‘ohe Bay. Their Scenic Ride is a 90-minute guided ride suitable for all skill levels for $89; the Keiki Experience is a 30-minute horse experience and ride for children ages 2-7 years old for $39; the Advanced Trail Ride is a one-hour ride with trotting and cantering during the ride for $109, and previous riding experience is required. They also offer a Moonlight Ride, a Picnic Ride, a Sweetheart Ride, a Sunset Ride, and a Dinner Sunset Ride.

A skydiver in the air above Oahu.
Get an unbeatable view of O‘ahu with Pacific Skydiving Hawaii. Photo © Ralph Turner.


What could be more exhilarating than seeing the entire island of O‘ahu, all at once, from 20,000 feet? Jumping out of the plane that took you that high and parachuting back to earth. Skydive Hawaii (68-760 Farrington Hwy., 808/637-9700 or 808/945-0222) operates from Dillingham Airfield in Mokule‘ia and specializes in tandem skydiving for first-time jumpers, but their services also extend to experienced skydivers and skydiving students. They make three jumps a day and offer a free shuttle service from several points in Honolulu. Tandem skydiving from 12,000 feet is $225, from 14,000 feet is $250, and from 20,000 feet (the highest tandem skydive in Hawaii) is $998. Skydivers must be at least 18 years old. You can also find similar rates and services literally right next door at Pacific Skydiving Hawaii (68-760 Farrington Hwy., 808/637-7472).

Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Hawaiian Islands.

Great Barrier Reef Facts and Figures

Fish around a cluster of coral in the Great Barrier Reef.
Approximately 400 species of coral are found in the Great Barrier Reef. Photo © Paola Giannoni/123rf.

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the most-visited, most talked about natural wonders of the world. While pictures of this beautiful place are worth a thousand words, experiencing it is worth a hundred thousand more, but even then it’s surprisingly easy to miss the true diversity of the reef and the impact is has on the global ecosystem. Here are some facts and figures about the Great Barrier Reef you probably didn’t know….

  • The Great Barrier Reef (GBR) was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1981.
  • Extending over some 2,000 kilometers and covering around 348,000 square kilometers, it is the world’s largest World Heritage property.
  • The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is larger than the entire area of the United Kingdom and Ireland combined.
  • It is so large it can be seen from outer space.
  • The GBR is the world’s biggest single structure made by living organisms, containing the world’s largest collection of coral reefs, with approximately 400 species of coral.
  • The GBR is not one continuous reef, but around 2,900 individual reefs, 760 of which are fringing reefs along the mainland or around islands.
  • The GBR is not “just” a reef; it also includes over 900 islands, all within the jurisdiction of Queensland, and about half have been declared national parks.
  • There are some 32,000 described species of fish worldwide; 4,400 of those species are found in Australian waters, and 1,500 along the GBR alone.
  • There are 4,000 types of mollusk, 1,500 species of sponges, and about 800 species of echinoderms (starfish, sea urchins).
  • Then there are also around 125 species of shark, stingray, skates, or chimera, along with 17 species of sea snake.
  • The GBR is home to over 30 species of mammal, including the dugong, which is listed as vulnerable, and six of the world’s seven species of threatened marine turtle.
  • The reef is a breeding area for humpback whales that come from the Antarctic to give birth in the warm waters.
  • The islands and sand cays support around 215 bird species, many of which have breeding colonies there. Most nesting sites are on islands in the northern and southern regions of the GBR, with more than 1.5 million birds using the sites to breed.
  • In addition to the fauna the reef supports, it is also home to 2,195 known plant species; three of these are found only on the Great Barrier Reef.
  • The GBR is of great cultural importance and has been for some 50,000 years and more, containing many archaeological sites of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin, including fish traps, rock quarries, story sites, and rock art.
  • The fishing industry throughout the reef is strictly controlled by the Queensland government, making sure the reef can sustain both human and fish life alike, with the industry being worth around $1 billion annually and employing approximately 2,000 people.
  • Tourism is the region’s largest commercial activity; the Great Barrier Reef and associated activities generate over $4 billion annually.
  • More than 1.6 million people visit the reef every year.

Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Sydney & the Great Barrier Reef.

Planning Your Time in Istanbul

Tulips blooming in the gardens outside Topkapı Palace in Istanbul.
Springtime tulips in Topkapı Palace. Photo © Mikhail Markovskiy/123rf.

In three whirlwind days you can check out the charm of the city, learn to feast the Turkish way, motor along the Bosphorus, and click heels with Istanbullus at shopping and partying meccas around town.

[pullquote align=right]The best time to visit Istanbul is April, when the city’s tulip commemoration is in full bloom.[/pullquote]To get a real grasp of the city in all its contrasting beauty, plan to spend at least five days. This will allow for a couple of side trips: a cruise to the nearby Princes’ Islands and a hop to the city’s various Asian draws. With five days there’s also time to explore the city at night, including its boisterous cabarets and posh waterside nightclubs near Ortaköy and Kuruçeşme.

The Best Times of Year to Visit Istanbul

The best time to visit Istanbul is April, when the city’s tulip commemoration is in full bloom and the entire city is covered with the spectacular indigenous flower. Spring also announces the beginning of Istanbul’s popular arts festival season. Summer is still the busiest tourist season countrywide.

Istanbul’s late spring and early fall now constitute shoulder seasons with lower prices than June-September. For some, winter is the best time of year, and the occasional snow flurry kisses historical sites, transforming the city into a winter wonderland.

Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon Istanbul & the Turkish Coast.

Safety Tips: Mountain Lion Encounters in Utah’s Parks

Imagine hiking down a trail and suddenly noticing fresh large paw prints. Mountain lion or Labrador retriever? Here’s the way to tell the difference: Mountain lions usually retract their claws when they walk. Dogs, of course, can’t do this. So if close inspection of the print reveals toenails, it’s most likely from a canine’s paw.

[pullquote align=right]When hiking or camping with children in mountain lion territory—potentially all of Utah’s national parks—it is important to keep them close to the rest of the family.[/pullquote]But about those mountain lions: In recent years, incidents of mountain lion-human confrontations have increased markedly and received much publicity. These ambush hunters usually prey on sick or weak animals but will occasionally attack people, especially children and small adults. When hiking or camping with children in mountain lion territory—potentially all of Utah’s national parks—it is important to keep them close to the rest of the family.

A mountain lion stands looking to the side with its ears up.
Mountain lions are famously elusive. Photo © Deron Rodehaver.

If you are stalked by a mountain lion, make yourself look big by raising your arms, waving a big stick, or spreading your coat. Maintain direct eye contact with the animal, and do not turn your back to it. If the mountain lion begins to approach, throw rocks and sticks, and continue to look large and menacing as you slowly back away. In the case of an attack, fight back; do not “play dead.”

To put things in perspective, it’s important to remember that mountain lions are famously elusive. If you do see one, it will probably be a quick glimpse of the cat running away from you.

Excerpted from the Sixth Edition of Moon Zion & Bryce.

Where to Eat in Waimea, Kaua‘i

With no shortage on types of cuisine, dining styles from on-the-go casual to a nice sit-down meal, and plenty of local specialties, waiting until you’re hungry to pick where to eat in Waimea, Kaua‘i is only going to make it a tougher choice. Here’s a round up of local favorites and options to satisfy everyone’s tastes.


The decor stays true to the name at Wrangler’s Steakhouse (9852 Kaumuali‘i Hwy., 808/338-1218, for lunch 11am-4pm Mon.-Fri., for dinner 4pm-9pm Mon.-Sat., $17-28), where the restaurant is decorated with cowboy trinkets and gear. Indoor and outdoor seating are offered, and I’ve learned that with little ones who have a hard time sitting still, the outdoor seating in the back is a good idea. Wrangler’s is known for their great steaks, and they offer a salad and soup bar with each meal. A full bar is stocked with a variety of liquors, wines, and beers to please any palate. The menu offers a hefty assortment of red meats, poultry, and seafood, but surprisingly, vegetarians can enjoy a sufficient and tasty meat-free meal. Service is friendly and there is also a small paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) museum as well as shell jewelry for sale.

To peel, or not to peel, that is the question at The Shrimp Station (9652 Kaumuali‘i Hwy., 808/338-1242, $11-12), where shrimp is served up in a number of ways. At this very laid-back eatery, seating is on picnic tables under a tent right on the side of the main road. The menu includes shrimp entrées, drinks, desserts, and ice cream. Kama‘aina discounts are available and service is friendly but to the point. It’s across from Island Tacos.


Obsessions (9875 Waimea Rd., 808/338-1110, 6am-2pm Wed.-Sun.) is a homestyle breakfast café with absolutely no frills. Eggs, sausage, pancakes, coffee and other usual breakfast dishes are served. The food is decent, simple, and perfectly satisfying. The atmosphere is very homey, with artwork and letters from the town’s schoolchildren on the wall. Food is served on disposable plates.


In the same building as Wrangler’s is Pacific Pizza and Deli (808/338-1020, 11am-9pm Mon.-Sat.). They serve really good pizza, calzones, deli sandwiches, drinks, and ice cream. The small shop puts a twist on traditional pizza with options such as Thai, Filipino, Portuguese, and Mexican tastes, reflecting the flavors of each country. Smoothies, coffee, and ice tea are offered to refresh you in the west-side heat.

A young woman eats a cone of shave ice on the beach.
Shave ice is a favorite Hawaiian treat. Photo © maridav/123rf.

Local Treats

[pullquote align=right]What’s commonly known as a snow cone in the Mainland is called shave ice in Hawaii.[/pullquote]Finely shaved ice and 60 flavors can be found at Jo-Jo’s Clubhouse (9734 Kaumuali‘i Hwy. across from mile marker 23). What’s commonly known as a snow cone in the Mainland is called shave ice in Hawaii. The line can be long, but it’s a testimony to their great shave ice. Try some local flavor combos like lychee and coconut or liliko‘i and melona.

An easy and healthy breakfast or snack in the hotel room or while camping can be found at Kaua‘i Granola (9633 Kaumuali‘i Hwy., 808/338-0121, 10am-5pm Mon.-Sat., 10am-3pm Sun.). Unique flavors like pina colada, Hawaiian zest, and guava crunch are available and sold along with Waimea-made chocolate-dipped coconut macaroons, dried fruit, cookies, and pastries. Nestled in a small shop next to Island Tacos, it’s another option to bring home a taste of paradise.


Island Tacos (9643 Kaumualii Hwy., 808/338.9895, 11am-5pm Mon.-Sun., $12) in Waimea is a simple order-at-the-counter taco stand with seating, reminiscent of roadside taco stands in Mexico. The large menu offers local fish, pork, chicken, and even a wide variety of satisfying vegetarian and vegan options. Portions here are large, with unique toppings like a wasabi-spiked aioli sauce and the option of fat-free dishes. Perfect for a quick stop on a drive through Waimea or to satisfy a craving after camping at Polihale, this place is really good. As locals would say, ’nuff said.

Mostly Vegetarian

Organic, vegetarian, vegan, and natural breakfasts, lunches, smoothies, and desserts can be found at the new family-run Happy Mangos Healthy Hale (Alawai Rd., 808/338-0055, store 6:30am-5pm, café till 4pm Mon.-Fri., 7am-3pm, café till 2pm Sat., $8). The local owners serve freshly made food along with natural and organic groceries and produce. Located in a small plantation-style building across from Lucy Wright Beach Park, the health food store is the only natural and organic choice in Waimea. They serve non-vegetarian sandwiches too.

Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Hawaiian Islands.

An Excerpt from The Doll Maker by Richard Montanari

The Doll Maker by Richard MontanariDetectives Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balzano are back to take on Richard Montanari’s most frightening creations yet: the debonair Mr. Marseille and Anabelle. Mr. Marseille and Anabelle have a macabre mission, one that belies their refined appearance. Below is their first appearance in Montanari’s new novel, The Doll Maker, which is on sale today.

Chapter 1

At just after six a.m., as every other day, Mr Marseille and I opened our eyes, dark lashes counterweighted to the light.

It was mid-November, and although the frost had not yet touched the windows—this usually comes to our eaves in late December—there was a mist on the glass that gave the early morning light a delicate quality, as if we were looking at the world through a Lalique figurine.

Before we dressed for the day we drew our names in the condensation on the windowpane, the double l in Mr Marseille’s name and the double l in mine slanting toward one another like tiny Doric columns, as has been our monogram for as long as we both could remember.

Continue reading “An Excerpt from The Doll Maker by Richard Montanari”

Road Trip Route: San Francisco, Yosemite, and Los Angeles

Road Trip Route - San Francisco, Yosemite, and Los Angeles

In just six days, you can experience California’s most famous cities and its biggest natural attraction. But you’ll be doing a lot of driving. Make it a full seven days and you have enough time for the state’s best coastal drive along Big Sur. If you have more time than that, it’s well worth adding another day to each of the main stops. Mileage and driving times are approximate and can vary based on traffic and weather.

Day 1: San Francisco

Spend your San Francisco day in Golden Gate Park. Indulge your artistic side at the de Young Museum or learn more about our world at the nearby California Academy of Sciences. Unwind with a walk through the park’s Japanese Tea Garden. Then make your way to the Golden Gate Bridge, one of the world’s most famous photo-ops. End your day with a meal at one of the city’s culinary stars—or grab an authentic burrito at a local taqueria, which may be just as tasty. You won’t have as many dining options once you make it to Yosemite.

View of the Golden Gate Bridge at dusk.
The iconic Golden Gate Bridge. Photo © Somchai Jongmeesuk/123rf.

Day 2: Drive from San Francisco to Yosemite (200 miles/5 hours)

With a head full of art and science and a belly full of gourmet food, head to Yosemite. Leave San Francisco at 8am to reach Yosemite by noon. The drive to the Big Oak Flat entrance takes at least four hours; however, traffic, especially in summer and on weekends, can make it much longer.

Day 3: Yosemite

Spend a day touring around Yosemite Valley, seeing Half Dome, El Capitan, and Yosemite Falls. If you want to break a sweat, hike the 5.4-mile round-trip Mist Trail. Spend a night under the stars at one of the park’s campgrounds or enjoy a night indoors at the classic Ahwahnee Hotel (just be sure to make reservations well in advance).

Maps - Yosemite 6e - Yosemite National Park
Travel map of Yosemite National Park

Day 4: Drive from Yosemite to Los Angeles (300 miles/6 hours)

Exit the park via its southern entrance and go south on CA-41. The majority of the trip will be spent on CA-99 South before using I-5 South, CA-170 South, and US-101 South as you get closer to the city.

Day 5: Los Angeles

You’ve been to the mountains; now it’s time for the beach! Experience the best of Southern California beach culture at the chaotic but entertaining Venice Boardwalk or the Santa Monica Pier. If time allows, head inland a few miles to stroll the Hollywood Walk of Fame and snap a pic at TCL Chinese Theatre. Of course, some people would give all of that up for a day at Disneyland (you know who you are).

View of the rocky coastline of Big Sur.
The stunning coastline of Big Sur. Photo © Mariusz Jurgielewicz/123rf.

Days 6-7: Drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco (500 miles/8 hours)

You can make this drive in one long day if you make only a few stops (such as getting lunch midway in San Luis Obispo), but it’s better to break it up over two days and enjoy the coast. On the first day, stop in Santa Barbara for lunch at one of the great restaurants off State Street. Continue on to San Luis Obispo to spend the night.

On the second day, plan on stopping for a tour of Hearst Castle in San Simeon, then driving up PCH through Big Sur on the way back to San Francisco. (If you really need to get from Los Angeles to San Francisco in one day, it’s quicker to take I-5, which takes around six hours.)

Northern California travel map
Northern California
Southern California travel map
Southern California
Maps - Northern California 7e - San Francisco Bay Area
San Francisco Bay Area

Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon California Road Trip.

Volunteer with Iracambi in Minas Gerais, Brazil

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Iracambi works to protect the Atlantic Forest through “a program of research, education and hands-on practical actions.” They are based in Minas Gerais, the second-most populous and fourth-largest state in Brazil, just inland from the Atlantic coast. Their office is in the town of Rosário da Limeira, and their research center is 12 kilometers/7 miles (30 minutes) away. It is very close to Serra do Brigadeiro State Park, part of a UN Biosphere Reserve.

[pullquote align=right]The Atlantic Forest is different than its more famous sibling, the Amazon.[/pullquote]Volunteers typically join ongoing projects, and responsibilities may include monitoring forest cover and growth, water, fauna, and weather; caring for the forest nursery and planting trees; constructing new facilities for community-based tourism; helping with social media, IT, or graphics; fundraising and marketing; or creating photography and videos. If volunteers have special expertise and ideas for other ways to help, Iracambi would like to hear about that as well. Volunteers should be self-motivated and be able to work independently. The workday is 8am-5pm, with a break for lunch.

A dirt road cuts through lush, rolling green hills in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil.
The beautiful green hills of Minas Gerais. Photo © mar2rocha/123rf.

The research center is located on a working farm, with “rivers to swim in, mountains to climb, forest trails to hike, fruits to pick, and a welcoming local community to explore.” Weekends offer a chance to visit nearby colonial towns.

The Atlantic Forest is different than its more famous sibling, the Amazon. It is humid, but cooler, with an average temperature range of 14-21°C (57-70°F). Winter (Apr.-Oct.) is typically dry and can get downright cold at night, while summer (November-March) is hot and wet. Iracambi is located in a drier part of the forest, which is not technically considered rainforest.

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Minas Gerais, Brazil
tel. 55/32-3723-1297

Application Process: Set up a Skype call to discuss. Volunteers must be age 18 or older.

Cost: US$625 for the first month, including accommodations in the guesthouse and meals. Staying in a semiprivate cabin is an additional US$100. There is a slight discount for subsequent months.

Placement Length: Minimum one month recommended, but exceptions may be made.

Language Requirements: None, but basic Portuguese is highly recommended. Portuguese is required for those wishing to volunteer in the community-based research work.

Housing: Volunteers stay in one of the center’s six houses, in rooms shared with members of the same sex. There is 24-hour electricity, wireless Internet, and hot water. Fresh, organic meals are provided (vegetarians always have an option), and volunteers must buy their own beverages. Volunteers can also ask to move into a homestay after an initial stay at the center.

Operating Since: 1999

Number of Volunteers: 32 in 2012

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Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Volunteer Vacations in Latin America.


Saving Money with Discount Cards in Istanbul

You won’t always have to rely on your wit, charm, and bargaining power to save money in Istanbul. The passes explained below are designed for savings on museum admission and public transportation.

Museum Pass

[pullquote align=right]One card can be used by up to five people, and it conveniently fits in your wallet like a credit card.[/pullquote]Skip queues and gain “free” entry to major museums, including the Ayasofya and Topkapı Sarayı (Topkapı Palace), for a 72-hour period with the 85TL Museum Pass. The card also gives discounts on some tours, as well as discounts on entry to Pera Müzesi (Pera Museum) and Kız Kulesi (Maiden’s Tower), to name a few. Purchase the card from the ticket booths of the Ayasofya, Topkapı Palace, and other locations listed at Before purchase, check the entry fees in Moon Istanbul and the Turkish Coast against your itinerary and confirm that the pass is worth your while.

A one-time lighthouse known as Kız Kulesi (Maiden’s Tower) in the  southern entrance of the Bosphorus strait.
Kız Kulesi (Maiden’s Tower). Photo © silverjohn/123rf.


Boarding the tram, ferry, or metro requires a 4TL pp jeton. Do what the locals do and purchase an IstanbulKart swipe card, which reduces the fare to 2.15TL pp per journey. These are sold at confectionery kiosks near public transportation stations for a non-refundable 10TL, and you can add value to the card at these kiosks as well. If you travel within a two-hour period, the subsequent fare is only 1.25TL. One card can be used by up to five people, and it conveniently fits in your wallet like a credit card.

Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon Istanbul & the Turkish Coast.

Best California Road Trip Stops

Quick roadside pullovers recharge your batteries and fight road weariness. The California Road Trip loop is flush with worthwhile roadside attractions, from stunning waterfalls to an alien-themed convenience store.

San Francisco to Yosemite

The Knights Ferry Covered Bridge is the longest covered bridge west of the Mississippi. Built in 1864 to span the Stanislaus River, the Knights Ferry Covered Bridge was considered state-of-the-art at the time as a minor engineering marvel stretching 330 feet. To reach the bridge, head out of Oakdale east on CA-108/120 for 11 miles. Take a left on Kennedy Road, and then after 0 .5 miles, take a left on Sonora Road. After 0 .5 miles, take a right on Covered Bridge Road, and the bridge will appear soon.

A long covered bridge over the Stanislaus River in California.
Knights Ferry Covered Bridge is the longest covered bridge west of the Mississippi. Photo © Tom Hilton, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Yosemite to Las Vegas

Ever wonder what it would be like to live upside down? Satisfy your curiosity at the Upside-Down House. Just a block off US-395 outside of Yosemite National Park, this classic road trip stop is inspired by the children’s stories “Upside Down Land” and “The Upsidedownians.” The small wooden cabin features a bed, a rug, and furniture all on the ceiling.

If otherworldly experiences sound like a good time, let your conspiracy theories run wild at the Area 51 Alien Travel Center. Capitalizing on its location just south of the secret military installation, this travel center focuses on UFO conspiracy theories and sells all sorts of extraterrestrial-influenced merchandise. Painted fluorescent yellow, it’s hard to miss.

Last Stop Arizona also celebrates life on other planets. Pose for a photo in an alien cutout display and fill up your tank with “Uranus” gas. There’s also a diner and a quirky gift shop.

Los Angeles to Grand Canyon

Located in Kingman, a town that proudly preserves and displays its heritage of training ground for World War II heroes and playground for the postwar middle class, the well-curated Historic Route 66 Museum tells the story of the celebrated roadway and Kingman’s role in it.

Grand Canyon to Los Angeles

You’re not hallucinating: The giant golf ball teed up in the desert is called the Golf Ball House. 40 feet in diameter, this orb was intended to be the Dinesphere, a nightclub and restaurant. That development failed, so today it’s a private residence and surreal photo-op. Find it east of the Alamo Rd I-40 exit.

The colorful kitschy interior of the Madonna Inn with carved wood and brightly-colored vinyl chairs.
The delightfully kitschy Madonna Inn. Photo © Omar Bárcena, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Los Angeles to San Francisco

The kitschy Madonna Inn is the mothership of roadside motels. Truly one of a kind, it’s considered a pilgrimage site for lovers of all-American kitsch. Each guest room is decorated wildly differently to suit the diverse tastes of the road trippers who converge on the area. The creative names given to each over the years suggest what you will find inside: The Yahoo, Love Nest, Old Mill, Kona Rock, Irish Hills, Cloud Nine, Caveman Room and on and on. Then there is the famous men’s restroom downstairs, where the urinal is built out of rock and a water-fall flushes it. If you don’t have time for an overnight stay, still plan a stop for the copper-plated Copper Café & Pastry Shop, which is exactly what it sounds like, and the garish explosion of giant fake flowers and rose-colored furniture in the Gold Rush Steak House.

If kitsch isn’t your speed, the appeal of McWay Falls is far more sublime. Viewable any time of year, this waterfall plunges 80 feet down into the Pacific off the edge of a sheer cliff and onto the beach of a remote cove, where the water wets the sand and trickles out into the sea. The water of the cove gleams bright cerulean blue against the just off-white sand of the beach. You’ll want to build a hut beside it and stay awhile, but there’s no way down to the cove that’s even remotely safe. Enjoy the view from the top.

Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon California Road Trip.

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