Author: waitingforrain28 (Page 2 of 27)

A Local’s Guide to Visiting Estrella Mountain Regional Park in Arizona, USA

Estrella Mountain Regional Park is in the southwestern corner of the Phoenix-metro area in Arizona, USA. It is an expansive area that connects people to and protects the Sonoran Desert of the Estrella Mountain Foothills. While this does not include the challenging and massive Quartz Peak, this park has beautiful trails for all skill levels. There are also amazing amenities for families, and horseback riders, as well as a beautiful nature center and green park. Overall, this is a great Sonoran Desert park that is near Phoenix-metro, developed for access, and has a little something for everyone.

Why Visit Estrella Mountain Regional Park

estrella mountain regional park

Estrella Mountain Regional Park, despite being a part of the very impressive Estrella Mountain range, is a fairly tame park in terms of elevation gain. So, I think that this is an ideal park for people looking to get started hiking. Alternatively, if you want to get in some miles without needing to scale mountains, this regional park is a great option.

Furthermore, if you are looking for a park that is on the west-side of Phoenix-metro and is a little less busy than the White Tanks, Estrella Regional Park is a great option.

Estrella Mountain Regional Park also has a lot of amenities, which makes it a great place for families. This includes a nature center, very large green park area, and horse-back riding facilities.

That all being said, you should note that Quartz Peak IS NOT located in this park and cannot be accessed from here.

Need to Know Information

estrella mountain regional park

Official Website

Address: 14805 W. Vineyard Ave., Goodyear, AZ 85338

Contact: (602) 506-2930 ext. 6

Entry Fees: $7.00 per vehicle

Bathroom facilities: Yes

4WD necessary? No

*Reminder: This is a Maricopa County park, so national and state annual passes are not valid here. If you live in  Maricopa and your hike a lot, you might consider purchasing the Maricopa annual pass which is $88.

Baseline Trail

The Baseline Loop is your Estrella Mountain Regional Park option for a shorter, easier loop. This trail is a lollipop that is about 2.6 miles (depending on where you start). The elevation gain is also minimal at 370 ft (for reference, the summit trail for Piestewa Peak has 1,100+ ft elevation gain).

Basically, you can park on the south side of the green park, and then take the trails from there up to the loop. After climbing up from where you park, you will circle a small mountain for some wonderful views of the Sonoran Desert and the city in the distance.

If you are in the park with some kids, this is a great option, because it isn’t too long, but offers things for adults to enjoy and adventurous elements for the kids.

Rainbow Valley Trail and Butterfield Trail

estrella mountain regional park

While the Rainbow Valley Trail and Butterfield Trail loop does not have a ton of elevation gain overall, it is far harder than the Baseline Trail. That is primarily because this loop ends up being nearly 10 miles in length. For reference, this took me about 3.5 hours to complete, hiking as fast as I generally can go (a little under 3 mph). Consider that I hiked 500 miles in 2021, and you might get a sense for how your time might compare. If you aren’t used to hiking, I would generally plan for 2 miles per hour, just to be safe.

In any case, that may give you an idea for the kind of challenge that this hike will provide based on its length. There is a little bit of elevation gain in three places, but I don’t think any of these instances was more challenging than the length itself.

I would not suggest this trail in the summer, it is too long, and in the winter, I would still advocate for an early start just to make sure you have time to complete it before it gets dark.

On the Trail

estrella mountain regional park

Bring a map with you so you can track your progress. Maricopa County parks have very good signage. So you can figure out exactly where you are based on the other trails that you run into on your way. Further, if you decide that you need to head back early, the map will help you figure out the right trails to turn down.

I followed this loop in a counter clockwise direction. With this, you will start by walking through or around the rodeo area. From there, you will start climbing up a bit, heading west. The first leg of the trail will give you views of the White Tank Mountains and the city of Buckeye. For the most part, this is the most that you will see of civilization while on this trail.

estrella mountain regional park

After this, you will start losing elevation and heading south, into the wilderness. For a while, you will travel through some washes, along the bottom of the valley floor. Then you will find the trail starts heading east, and you will start climbing into the hills again. When you get to the top of the saddles here, be sure to take in exceptional views of the larger Estrella Mountains in the distance.

Take a final trip down, through more washes, and then make a last short climb when the trail turns north again.

Park Facilities

As mentioned above, there are a lot of great facilities at Estrella Mountain Regional Park besides the lovely trails here.

Nature Center

If you would like to stop in to chat with someone about the right trail for you, and learn more about the nature of the park, of course, the Nature Center should be your first stop. Maricopa County staffs its nature centers with volunteers and rangers, so there are experts to chat with about the park. There are also flushing bathrooms here. Most of the rest of the bathrooms near the trailheads are out-house style.

Green Space

For fans of picnics and ball games with friends and family, this is the park for you. There is a big, green field in the middle of the regional park, with picnic tables ringing the grass. There are also bathrooms and trees for shade. It’s a great place to retire after a nice hike or for non-hikers to enjoy while other group members explore the desert.

Rodeo Grounds

There is a small rodeo stadium in Estrella Mountain Regional Park, and plenty of room for horse staging. I can’t say that I have experience with either. But this is one of the few places that I have seen people riding horses near the city in recent memory. So, I do think this is a great park for people looking to take their horses out.

Trail running and Mountain Biking

I am a hiker, not a trail runner or mountain biker, however, I can tell from other people that I have seen on the trail, that Estrella Mountain Regional Park is a good place for both. The trails aren’t horrifically difficult for mountain bikers, and there is just enough elevation change to make for some challenging ascents and fun descents. Likewise, with such long and relatively level trails, the park offers trail runners a nice mix of challenges and training opportunities.

There are also events at Estrella Regional Mountain Park for both of these sports. So, keep your eyes peeled on the calendar if you enjoy these kinds of things.

Safety

Remember, your safety is your responsibility. This guide does not guarantee your safety and I always advocate that you avoid the trail if you have any hesitations. Further, the above list is not exhaustive. Be prepared, and put your own safety first.

Explore More of Arizona

Want to see more of Arizona? We have guides to different trails and towns all across the state from two locals.

We also have a growing guide to the Phoenix-metro area which includes hikes, food, and attractions.

Cave Creek Regional Park: Fire and Wild Places

Anyone living in Phoenix-metro area who loves hiking is really lucky, because there is a desert park for every week of the year in the city. One of my favorites in Cave Creek Regional Park, which is part of Maricopa County’s park network. There are loop trails for every hiking ability, as well as stellar views of the mountains north of the city. The park is also home to some very unique landmarks, like the Michelin Man, a quartz ridge, and historic mines. To top it all off, the county has put amenities here for everyone, from the nature center to a playground, and miles and miles of trails.

It’s a wonderful place to explore the Sonoran Desert for visitors, and a must-hike for local trail-lovers. This guide will walk you through why you might consider visiting, need to know information, and explore some of the best trails in the parks.

 

Top Reasons to Consider Visiting Cave Creek Regional Park

cave creek regional park

(1) Get a healthy dose of the Sonoran Desert.

If you are from out of town and are in the northern part of Phoenix, Cave Creek Regional Park has everything you will need. They’ve got saguaros, beautiful views, mining history, unique rock formations, and a nature center.

(2) See a new part of the many desert preserves in the Phoenix-metro area.

If you are from Phoenix, Cave Creek Regional Park is a really high-quality preserve that shouldn’t be missed. Whether you like hiking, mountain biking, horse-back riding, camping, or just picnicking with friends and family, there is something for everyone here.

(3) Support Maricopa County Regional Parks with your fees.

Maricopa County does a lot to increase access to nature for the county with a huge network of parks. They work with national and state agencies to protect land and connect people to it. They also have staff members working exclusively on conservation efforts. So, your fees make a huge difference when you visit their parks and enjoy the beautiful desert.

(4) Bring your family to a park with something for everyone.

Horses, playgrounds, desert tortoises and more – oh my! This regional park has a little something for a whole family so it is a great get-away for everyone. On a cooler day in the winter, you might consider staying for the day to hike, picnic, horseback ride and relaxation. Not every desert park has quite so many amenities for all tastes.

(5) Learn more about the ecology of the Sonoran Desert.

A great place to start is in the nature center, but the trails have much to teach as well. As I explore below, Cave Creek Regional Park had a wildfire burn across some of its most iconic trails in 2020. Now, you can observe the damage that these fires do the plants that aren’t adapted for those kinds of natural disasters. You can also see the healing of the desert as well.

Need to Know Information

cave creek regional park

Official Website

Address: 37019 N. Lava Lane, Cave Creek, AZ 85331

Contact: (602) 506-2930 ext 8

Entry Fees: $7.00 per vehicle

*Reminder: This is a Maricopa County park, so national and state annual passes are not valid here. If you live in  Maricopa and your hike a lot, you might consider purchasing the Maricopa annual pass which is $88.

Nature Center

The Nature Center at Cave Creek Regional Park is a really neat little stop, especially if you have kids. My favorite thing is that they have built a little pond area with all kinds of plants and itty-bitty wildlife, and they have a desert tortoise.

Besides that, the Nature Center is where you go to chat with the park staff, plan out your trip, and learn more about the ecosystem here.

There are also a variety of planned events that leave from the Nature Center – so be sure to check out their website. These include educational events and volunteer gatherings that give back to the park.

The Go John Trail 

(c) ABR 2021

The Go John Trail is the main hiking attraction of Cave Creek Regional Park. I had a friend-of-a-friend say this was the most beautiful trail she’s ever done (debatable) and this trail shows up in several guide books. So, while I wouldn’t agree that it’s one of the most beautiful trails in Arizona (we’ve got way too many), it’s definitely exceptional. And I have an entire guide devoted to it.

If you are really interested in doing this trail, I would definitely suggest that you read through my more comprehensive guide. I wouldn’t say that this is a difficult trail, but it is on the longer side. And people have died trying to hike it in the summer.

It’s a nearly 6 mile loop with 1,260 feet elevation gain.

The Overton Trail

cave creek regional park

The Overton Trail is a great loop option for a variety of hikers. If you are interested in Go John, but it seems little too long for you, Overton is a great alternative. If you want to see more of Cave Creek Regional Park, and you’ve already done Go John, this trail is a very nice experience to round out your exploration of the park. And if you are a go-getter, and you are looking for something longer than Go John, you can link the two trails for a mega-loop.

If you are interested in seeing the recovering burn area for yourself, Overton will also take you through a small section of it, up in the mountain pass. This is also the loop that is closest to the off-shoot trail that features the historic mine.

Needless to say, this is a must-see trail for the park.

On the Trail

cave creek regional park

It is a 3.5 mile loop with only about 524 ft elevation gain.

You can start the hike from the nature center or the Go John Trailhead. From the nature center, going clockwise, you will have a more gradual climb, although the elevation gain is near the beginning. If you’d like more of a warm-up, consider parking at the nature center and then going counter-clockwise, as this will have you walking on relatively flat ground for a while, before you make the steeper climb to the mountain pass. The opposite is true if you park at Go John.

While on this trail, you will round the smaller of the two mountains in the heart of the park. You also maintain a higher elevation for longer than the Go John trail, so the views of the surrounding desert are impressive for much of the trek.

The Quartz Trail

cave creek regional park

The Quartz trail is the easier of the three listed here. It is relatively flat, and not quite as long as Overton or Go John. However, it does offer lots of route options as it is connected to several other trails. Furthermore, it offers some really unique attractions from among the Cave Creek Regional Trails and Phoenix Trails in general.

First, this loop works well if you want to visit the “Michelin Man.” This is a saguaro that has taken on a very rare appearance. It has become big and puffy, making it look like its namesake. It’s a bit of a strange thing to see, but since you will get to acquaint yourself with regular saguaros while visiting (if you aren’t already). It’s cool to see something so unique.

Second, as its name suggestions, Quartz trail abuts a ridge of massive quartz boulders. There are a couple other places to see this in the city, but it really isn’t all that common. I can also say that no matter how many times I see these giant, white formations, I never get bored of them. There is just something magical about giant quartz rocks (not giant crystals, sorry).

If you want to do this whole loop, it is about 3.5 miles.

Other Interesting Tidbits

The burn scar (c) ABR 2021

If you don’t feel like hiking, and/or you really love horseback riding, there are horseback riding tours provided in this park!

Cave Creek Regional Park is also home to several mines. One is featured on a trail, so you can take a peek. Be aware that the mine is barred off for safety. So, you will literally be taking a peek, not going in. Mines are a part of Phoenix’s history, from actual miners to people looking to bring investors to the area pre-A/C. But they are dangerous. Look but don’t touch, my friends.

Besides its historic significance, this county park is also the site of an extensive wildfire that happened in 2020. If you are interested in seeing what the desert looks like as it recovers from fires that it isn’t adapted for, hike Go John clockwise to see the landscape just over the mountain pass. There is also science being carried out on this park on the impact of fires on saguaros.

Did you know that saguaros (the iconic cactus that you see in cartoon form everywhere) are highly threatened by fire? They aren’t adapted for it and will die if they are burnt by only 30%. But it can take years for them to die, so many people don’t realize the harm the fire does to these sacred plants.

Safety First!

In speaking to the rangers at this park, I have learned that yes, sadly, people have died hiking here at Cave Creek Regional Park. They were unprepared for the heat and the rugged terrain. What is so tragic, besides that this was preventable, is that they were within eyesight of the parking lot when one of them passed.

So, please, do not underestimate the Sonoran Desert – even in the winter. People joke that it is a dry heat, but friends, this heat kills many people every year. The ground can get up to 150 degrees F.

What can you do to safely visit? First, DO NOT hike in the middle of the day on days when it will be more than 95 degrees. Second, bring more than the amount of water that you think you will need. 1 liter per hour is the common suggestion; so those little 8 oz. water bottles won’t cut it. It is also good to bring a salty snack for electrolytes and something sugary for energy.

See the above graphic for some more tips. But remember that your safety is always your responsibility on the trail. Protect yourself and do not hike if there is anything making it dangerous for you.

More About Phoenix-Metro

what to do in litchfield park

(c) ABR 2021

Whether you are visiting Phoenix-metro or live in-town, there is probably tons more to explore. I know, I’ve lived here my whole life (30+ years) and I am still discovering more and more in the city.

So, after you visit Cave Creek Regional Park, consider what your next adventure in Phoenix is going to be. I have a whole guide on the city and I am adding more information regularly.

And if you are just looking for more hikes after some of these, consider Pinnacle Peak.

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What to Do In Payson, Arizona

Payson, Arizona may not be at the top of everyone’s list for visiting this particular part of the United States. However, it is a hub for travel north in the summer, and there is a lot that this little town has to offer to the respectful and mindful traveler. When considering what to do in Payson, and whether or not you’d like to visit, if you are a hiker or history-lover, there is something for you here. This guide will walk you through a few of my favorite things to do in and around town, and discuss what the key to being a polite visitor is while here.

What to Do In Payson: In Town

Most people just pass through Payson on their way up north in the summer. (And the traffic in town can become very stressful due to this.) However, it is well worth stopping in to learn more about the history of the area and support local businesses.

Rim County Museum

what to do in payson

The Rim County Museum is a small, locally run institution that has two sections. The first is the museum itself, and the other is the historic house of famous Western author, Zane Grey. When considering what to do in Payson, I’d suggest giving this place a stop regardless of whether you are a history buff or not. They have done a very nice job with the museum, it’s located in a beautiful park, and the story of this little town is unique.

They are only open Fridays and Saturdays, however, with limited hours. So, check the website for hours and tours.

The cost to enter is $5 for either the museum or house tour or $10 for both, and you can find the museum at: 700 S Green Valley Parkway, Payson AZ

Museum Sections

The main museum has artifacts and stories from Payson’s past and the many people who have called it home. In 2020-2021, they did somewhat of a renovation and remodel. So, this little place is well cared for and features some new exhibits if you had visited previously.

If you want to visit Zane Grey’s house, you will be required to take a tour. While not all of us enjoy taking tours, this is a good thing in regards to this little home. There is really only one room, and I quite think that it wouldn’t be interesting to those of us unfamiliar with the works and life of Zane Grey without someone to teach us more about him. On the tour you will get to sit down in the house and listen to stories from the author’s life and how he fell in love with the Payson of yester-year. It certainly was another time, and I think taking the time to learn more about this historic building is a great way to immerse yourself in the culture of Payson.

Park Lake

what to do in payson

Just outside the museum, there is a beautiful town park, Green Valley Park. While I wouldn’t normally list a park on one of these guides, this little spot is really picturesque and it is very lively on weekends. If you want to take an easy stroll or enjoy people watching, this is the perfect little spot.

Furthermore, people come to fish, exercise and more. In the summer in particular, it is a beautiful, green place to relax and unwind.

Tasty Treats

Good food is always a must no matter where you go, and Payson is no exception. While some of my favorite restaurants have come and gone, there are a couple places I would still suggest you stop by for a taste of something good.

Coffee

what to do in payson

Common Grounds – This little coffee shop is nestled next to a church and serves up very good coffee, tea, and pastries. They even do some inspired holiday-themed drinks. If you have some time, consider skipping Starbucks for this little spot. 219 S Colcord Rd, Payson, Az, 85541.

Sweets

Sweet Country Charm Fudge and Gifts – A staple of the drive north in Payson, the Sweet Country Charm is part of a vibrant shopping center. They’ve got a huge assortment of candies and goodies, along with their fudge. If you have a sweet tooth, this is a great spot to indulge at, and you can pick up some treats to go if you are just passing through town. Find them at: 618 N Beeline Hwy, Payson, AZ 85541.

Danzeisen Creamery – This is a newer spot in town, but its home to one of Arizona’s homegrown dairy companies. You can get some very very good milkshakes at this spot; they’ve got fancy ones and more straight forward flavors. If you want to stop by – 500 S. Beeline Hwy., Payson, AZ 85541 Suite B

Dinner

what to do in payson

When it comes to dinner food, my favorite places have either closed in the past couple years or undergone some changes of the chefs, but if you are looking for higher end food, you might consider Duza’s Kitchen. And there is also fairly good BBQ to be had at Rim Country BBQ.

Are any of your favorites missing from this list? Let me know! We’d love to try some new spots and add to our list of what to do in Payson. We also love to spread the news about other great small businesses.

What to Do Around Payson

When it comes to planning a getaway to Payson, some kind of outdoor adventure is almost always in the cards. There are some great options right in town, as well as some really cool spots not all that far away.

Loads of Hiking

In Town
boulders loop trail

(c) ABR 2020

I have several posts on in-town hiking, because I think the town’s trails are super high quality and should be included on any “what to do in Payson list.”

The Boulders Loop Trail – is one of my absolute favorites. If one does the entire lollipop, it’s about 5 miles. But it is very easy to just take a stroll through the woods in this area. There are beautiful stone formations, giant boulders, and often flowing water.

Monument Peak Loop – This trail is down a dirt road, so it offers a little bit of solitude. It will take you around the very small Monument Peak.

Peach Orchard – Best served on a quiet weekday (if you are on foot), the Peach Orchard loop takes advantage of OHV roads through the open countryside. There are beautiful views of the rolling hills from here.

Just Out of Town 

hiking trails in payson

Waterwheel Falls – You can either take a rugged trail to the falls, or walk along a forest road, but either way, Waterwheel Falls is one of my favorite places to visit when I am in Payson. It can get busy, but the flowing creek alone is well worth seeing. This is a fee area for the Tonto National Forest- but there are kiosks at the trailhead where you can pay.

Fossil Springs – This is a pretty popular hike, that I have an entire guide on. It’s about 8 miles RT, so definitely no joke (and not a trail to wear flip flops for). But it follows an old dirt road down into a beautiful canyon with running water and verdant riparian areas. You do need to snag a permit to go, so check out the guide for more information.

Barnhardt Trail – This is the longest trail on this list, but it is a short 20-30 min out of town, and it is spectacular. The trail will take you up into the Mazatzal mountains, where you can see beautiful rock formations in a rainbow of colors. When the season is right, there are also waterfalls to be seen at the top. That all being said, this hike ranges from 6-12 miles depending on how far up you hike, it is entirely uphill on the way out, and a dirt road is the only access to the trailhead.

Mogollon Rim

what to do in payson

The Mogollon Rim can be seen from just about anywhere around Payson. At a first glance, it looks like a massive cliff that splits the lowlands from Arizona from the higher, colder forests. In fact, if you are coming from Payson and travelling up, you will notice that the temperature is much cooler on the top and the forest is more robust.

Needless to say, this beautiful and unique geological feature is popular place to visit. There is a 50+ mile trail that follows its length, perfect for backpackers. There is also a dirt road that can be driven along its upper edge. I’ve made a day out of driving this in the past, and many people car camp off this road as well. And there is also a large lake at the eastern end of the rim where people recreate in all kinds of ways from boating to fishing to hiking.

Whether you just want to stop for some pictures, or spend days in this area, the Mogollon Rim is one of the most unique stops on this “what to do in Payson” list.

Tonto Natural Bridge State Park

I have an entire post on Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, so you can imagine that I enjoy this place. There are some very cool trails here, if not particularly long, and the formation for which the park is named is outstandingly beautiful. If you are not comfortable with hiking steep and sometimes slippery-wet trails, there are plenty of places on the rim to look down on the bridge.

But if you are comfortable hiking (and it is very steep and wild) you can walk under the bridge. There is a little waterfall and some very cool formations here, so it’s definitely worth the experience if you can safely handle the conditions (and the park has the trail open).

Please note that this is another fee area, and the trails may be closed when unsafe. Do not disregard rangers and signage when trails are closed.

Respectful and Sustainable Travel

McDowell Mountain Regional Park Hiking

(c) ABR 2020

While the United States has become a cultural staple in movies and pop culture globally, it is important to remember that the people of the United States have varied cultures and need the same peace in their homes as anyone else. So, whether you are a domestic traveler or visiting from out of the country, please practice culturally respectful travel practices. (Which can honestly be applied just about anywhere).

Avoid renting full-sized short-term rentals (Airbnb/VRBO/etc). These take up precious living space in both small towns and cities, and undermine local communities by replacing neighbors with investors and rotations of strangers. If you do rent a home, do not hold parties there.

While driving and being out and about in the town, please be extra polite. Many people have the perception that they can do whatever they want while on vacation, but culturally respectful travel principles would tell us that the opposite is true. You are a guest is someone else’s home. Take care of that place and the people who live there.

Remember, without thriving local communities, tourism can’t exist.

It is also important to practice Leave No Trace on the trails, and please do not park blocking roads, drive-ways, or in no-parking zones. If a location is full when you arrive, try visiting later in the day, or visit an alternative spot.

Learn More About Arizona 

tonto natural bridge

The waterfall from the top (c) ABR 2019

If you are interested in exploring more of Arizona, we have a load of posts on hiking across the state as well as discussions of Arizona’s coolest destinations in our Guide to Arizona.

If you love the idea of Payson, but will be limited to the Phoenix metro-area, there are some great places to check out. For a small town feel within the city, Litchfield Park is a unique place that harkens back to the 50-60s. There are also loads of hiking in Phoenix – Butcher Jones is a short trail just outside of Fountain Hills (on the way to Payson) that has beautiful views of the Saguaro Lake.

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Hiking Trails In Payson, Arizona, USA

Sometimes, when I am staying somewhere, whether I am a regular visitor or just have one opportunity to pass through, I want to know about hiking opportunities right in town. I look for these kinds of trails when I have limited time, or I just lack the ability to drive more than 30 min out of town. These trails are often lesser known, and it can be hard to find good information on online. So, I wanted to provide you with a list of five hiking trails in Payson that I have enjoyed.

My goal is to give you a sense for which trail will be right for your needs, but these will not be comprehensive guides to each one. Expect this post to equip you with some great ideas for where to hike in Payson, Arizona, and point you in the direction of more information (should more be needed). I’ve also organized these so that my favorites come first.

hiking trails in payson

Five Amazing Hiking Trails in Payson, AZ

#1 Water Wheel Falls 

hiking trails in payson

The Water Wheel Falls trail is my favorite of the hiking trails in Payson, Az, because it leads to a beautiful waterfall. This is a popular spot, however, so if you want to enjoy any solitude, come early. People love swimming in the creek that comes down from the waterfall. The falls themselves are a popular Instagram photo spot due to the log ladder at the bottom. This is also a short trail, being about 1.6 miles out and back. And it is beautiful from start to finish.

However, there are some things to consider when deciding whether or not you want to visit this spot. First, about half way down the trail, you will need to cross the creek to the right, and this is not easy. I have done a lot of creek crossings in my life, but here I have been (1) flat out stopped from crossing when the water is too high, and (2) hurt myself trying to cross when the water wasn’t too high. There are huge, slippery boulders that you kind of have to shimmy between, and scale. It can definitely be dangerous. If that sounds like a little too much for you, or if you get there and have doubts, you can easily enjoy the exceptional beauty of the lower creek area on the trail. There are waterfalls in both directions even without getting to the end. (There is also a forest road that you can take that avoid the creek crossing).

On the Trail

hiking trails in payson

This is where you have to cross… so yeah, sometimes that is just a hard – no.

If you do cross, you will roughly follow the creek. The trail after this point is vastly different than the well-defined, sandy path of the first half of the trek. Now you will be navigating along spider trails, through the riparian plant life of the area. Enjoy the beautiful oasis as you go. You will know the waterfall when you find it. It is the most sheer of the falls you have seen thus far and has the ladder log.

There is not really much point to climbing up above the falls- there is private land not far from the top. So, please respect the signage.

hiking trails in payson

Crossing when the water is lower and more cross-able.

If you need to take the alternate route, which is safer but not as pretty and misses most of the creek, park in one of the paid lots (and pay the fee). Then follow the highway (VERY CAREFULLY!) to a spot on the east side of the road where a small dirt road connects with the tarmac. The road will take you up and over a hill, and then you will need to keep your eyes open for a right-hand branch that leads from the dirt road towards the creek. There is often a little ad hoc sign here, but it isn’t always noticeable. Just note that the turn off is a pretty established path at the bottom of the hill. Make it out to the creek and then head left towards the waterfall.

If you are wondering about the water wheel itself… well, it isn’t at the waterfall. The water wheel is actually towards the beginning of the trail. It is tucked away in the foliage on the left-hand side of the trail.

Safety and Fees

hiking trails in payson

The trail is on US Forest Service land within the Tonto National Forest, so please pay the fee to park. If you have an America the Beautiful Pass, bring that along; it works for US National Forest fee areas (unless otherwise specified).

ALSO, PRACTICE SUPREME WATER SAFETY HERE! I got hurt on this trail trying to cross, and people have died in flash floods here. Seriously, do not take the water for granted. It is fun, but can kill people. So, stay safe and make sure that your kids and animals are safe too.

#2 Boulders Loop Trail

boulders loop trail

(c) ABR 2020

After the Water Wheel Falls trail, the Boulders Loop Trail is one of my top favorite hiking trails in Payson, AZ. So much so, that I have an entire post about this trail. Check out my Guide to the Boulders Loop Trail for all the details.

Basically, this is a great trail if you are looking for a relatively level trek that is family friendly, and has some really variable landscapes. It’s also long enough for a challenging training hike if you time how long it takes to do the full 5+ mile loop.

This trail is on US Forest Service land, but it is also managed as part of the Payson Area Trail System, so it is free.

#3 Monument Peak

hiking trails in payson

The Monument Peak loop is a 3.5 mile loop that is also part of the Payson Area Trail System. In terms of this list of hiking trails in Payson, it is the hardest to get to if you have a tiny car. The trailhead is down a dirt road, which is normally navigable with a car, but it might make some nervous. However, when thinking about where to hike in Payson, this trail always comes to my mind because of the convenient length of the trail, and its relatively less crowded nature.

The trail itself circles Monument Peak, which isn’t quite as impressive as its name might suggest. But I enjoyed the verdant forest that the trail weaves its way through, and if you come when snowmelt is starting to melt into the spring and summer, you will find some very beautiful flows on the trail.

On The Trail

hiking trails in payson

When I visited, I found this to be a very peaceful place. There were other people parked at the trailhead, but I didn’t run into anyone on the trail. If you are looking for a trail that’s close by, but feels more removed, this is good one.

My only suggestion in regards to safety is that many parts of the trail double as OHV trails. So, as I always say when it comes to multi-use trails, watch out for other users, and make sure to walk towards the outside of the trail. This will allow people to pass safely.

In order to get to the trailhead, follow Granite Dells east until the road turns from blacktop to dirt. Down the dirt road, on the left-hand side of the track, you will find the trailhead, with a small US Forest Service sign.

#4 Peach Orchard Trail Loop

The Peach Orchard Loop Trail is another one of the PATS hiking trails in Payson, however, it isn’t on their official list of trails. So, I’m including this here because I had an enjoyable experience on the track, but it isn’t the easiest hiking trail to navigate. I think this trail is best for those who have explored other spots in their quest to uncover where to hike in Payson.

The trailhead is right across from the Payson Golf Course, and starts behind a gate that connects to a small, residential cul de sac. I found it pretty confusing when I was trying to park. But the intention seems to be that you open the gate for yourself and then park on the other side, so you are off the road and not bothering any of the neighbors.

On the Trail

The trail that leads off from there is more like a small, OHV road than anything. And it definitely is used by OHVers. I went on a weekday, so there wasn’t much traffic. Although, even then, I did see people on the road. So, I think for the best experience, it’s nice to go when there might be less people driving the road.

That, and I would also suggest referring to AllTrails or a similar map while hiking here. There are a lot of branching trails and it can be hard to follow the loop. There isn’t much signage to speak of. That, and there is a steep part of the trail that a lot of hikers have noted. I didn’t find it too hard, but I think it’s best to go up the steep part, so hiking the loop clockwise is ideal.

With all of that out of the way, there were some really special moments that I had on this trail. It wasn’t as forested as the other options on this list, so it was a view into a different side of Payson’s landscape. I loved the open spaces. I loved the evidence of ranching on the land – cows off in the distance. Moments of dramatic trees. It’s a beautiful place and I felt so removed from the city, even close by.

#5 Shoefly Ruins

hiking trails in payson

Unless you are an archeologist, I don’t think you could make a day out of Shoefly, and it is too short of a trail for a workout at only 0.25 miles. That being said, I think this is a good place to stop by, especially if you visit the Water Wheel Falls trail. Shoefly is on the way in to the waterfall trailhead out of Payson.

These ruins are evidence of the indigenous communities that have thrived on these lands for hundreds and thousands of years, and I always think it is good to visit and contemplate. What’s left might not feel spectacular, but the fact that this place has survived everything it has speaks to the ingenuity of its creators. Celebrating indigenous culture is a must, and this is one easily accessible site to do that.

Safety on the Trail

Safety while hiking should always be your number one concern, and then after that, caring for the environment and the community that you are visiting.

Along with the pointers above, for visitors, please remember that Payson is a small community that has been impacted heavily by tourism in recent years. For some people, this is great and supports their livelihood, and for others it can be stressful. Traffic can be bad, stores and restaurants crowded, and sometimes tourist behavior hurts local people. So, please, remember to be a polite guest. Drive carefully and kindly, and rather than throwing inhibitions to the wind while traveling, be extra considerate when visiting.

More on Payson and Travel in Arizona

If you are interested in learning a little bit more about visiting Payson, and want to know more about the hiking trails in Payson, AZ, I have guides to each for you.

(1) Boulders Loop Trail

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Boulders Loop Trail in Payson, Arizona

When considering where to hike in Payson, Arizona, there is no lack of amazing options. One of my favorites, however, is a family-friendly lollipop route from Cypress Trail to the Boulders Loop Trail. This is a great place to explore the forest, and enjoy some seasonal creeks. It’s also perfect for wildflowers when the weather is right, and the boulders are an all-year attraction. No matter your hiking abilities, this is a great place to give a try, you might just take a shorter out-and-back route depending on your stamina and gear.

boulders loop trail

(c) ABR 2019

Is Boulders Loop Trail Right for You?

Probably!

I’ve done this trail so many times, and it is beautiful whether you finish the whole thing or not. You can experience all the seasons in this area, including winter in Arizona. It’s very nice as a stroll, and you can turn around at any point. I’ve also done this as a trail to train for harder hikes, by seeing how quickly I can finish the 5+ miles. Besides my solo hikes, I also see families and dogs on this trail almost every time I go out. So, I think it is safe to say that when considering where to hike in Payson, the Boulders Loop Trail is a great stop for most people.

boulders loop trail

(c) ABR 2020

That all being said, there are a few things to consider. First, there is often a little bit of water on the trail. That means anyone with kids should keep an extra eye on their little ones. This trail is also in the National Forest, so while it feels like a neighborhood walk, it is fairly wild. Don’t let it fool you into not going prepared. Better safe than sorry.

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The Classic Attractions of San Diego for Nature Lovers and Culture Buffs

San Diego is one of my favorite cities in California, and I have loved just about every city that I have visited in Cali. For SoCal, I think it is something about that warm, ocean air. In the case of San Diego, however, I love its unique character and history. It has a lot to offer any visitor, from major attractions like San Diego Zoo, to cultural landmarks like Balboa Park, and natural parks like Cabrillo National Monument and Torrey Pines State Park, and huge cultural events like San Diego Comicon. While I couldn’t fit all of the San Diego Attractions into a single guide, here is a great place to start; these belong on your bucketlist for sure.

San Diego Zoo

san diego attractions

(c) ABR

The San Diego Zoo is located in Balboa Park, and I make it a point to visit this zoo almost every time that I am in San Diego. It is one of the most famous zoos in the world, and it is home to over 4,000 animals. While it isn’t the largest zoo on Earth, the sheer size of this place can be daunting for any animal lover. It feels like there is just no way that you can visit every part of the park in one day, especially if you have little kids with you. Besides being large, half the time that you are in San Diego Zoo you feel like you are either hiking down a steep hill or hiking back up.

On the bright side, you get a good work out while you’re there, but it can make seeing everything even more difficult. This sounds like a bit of a struggle, but it is something that I love about San Diego Zoo. You could literally spend all day here and still have new things to see, and there are so many animals there that I almost always end up seeing something new. Also, as a conservation scientist, I really enjoy seeing all of the interactive, educational materials at this zoo. Not only that, but the San Diego Zoo has done a wonderful job with immersive enclosures, and they have recreated a bunch of different environments that can be explored throughout the park. Really, I can’t sing the praises of this place enough. It is definite must for anyone that enjoys zoos and will be in the area.

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Experience the Living History of San Diego

The cities of the United States’ west coast aren’t known for their long histories- not like those of the East coast or Europe, Asia, and Africa. Despite that, each and every place has a long history of human habitation, culture, art, and exploration. For San Diego, that story stretches back to the first human explorers to trek across the pacific coast, and then the era of stewardship by the Kumeyaay people. The city we know today, surprisingly, began to take shape as soon as the Spaniards arrived, and then American colonists.

Coast of La Jolla (c) ABR 2013

The living stories of all these people remain on the land, and can be experienced in various ways by interested travelers. If you want to have a unique experience of San Diego, see if you can plan a trip that includes spots from throughout the city’s history. We will take you through some of our favorites, from pre-colonial times, to the emergence of tiki pop in the 1950s.

 

Pre-Colonial Times

Indigenous peoples of the San Diego Area (c) Wikicommons.

San Diego is currently a bustling metropolis known for its beautiful beaches, theme parks, and exceptional cultural attractions. But none of this would be possible without the stewardship of the indigenous people who call this land home. In particular, I will focus on the Kumeyaay people here. Although the pre-colonial history of California is full of many cultures and peoples who shaped and cared for its lands for thousands of years and who continue to do so today.

So, while my focus in this post is on history, please note that the Kumeyaay people still live in California. You can learn more about them on their website Kumeyaay.com, which includes an event calendar. One of the cool things that I learned while visiting, was that they had a historic surf zone event in August 2020 for the InterTribal Youth. I always love learning about shared loves among people, and riding the waves has long been one!

Kumeyaay basket (c) Wikicommons.

Now, for learning more about the history of the Kumeyaay people, there are a couple very good options.

First, the Barona Cultural Center and Museum focuses on the people of San Diego County, and it is located on the reservation. So, visiting is not only a great opportunity to learn. It also supports the reservation’s work to preserve and protect the history of its people. It is free to visit as well.

Second, if you are planning to visit Balboa Park (which you should), the Museum of Us has a permanent exhibit on the Kumeyaay people. It is $20 for an adult ticket to this museum, and this includes their other exhibits. They are all fascinating and well-done. Museum of Us is one of my favorite museums, and I am quite picky when it comes to this kind of attraction.

The Mission Era

san diego hikes

(c) ABR 2020

Cabrillo National Monument has a statue commemorating the landing of the Spanish on the California coast. But as with much of the Southwest, Spanish explorers were only a small part of the historic influence that Spain had on the Americas. In the case of San Diego, the area was also home to many missions which were built in the 1700s to the early 1800s.

Many can still be visited today, but some are still used as places of worship. Be sure to do a bit of research before you go so that you know the visiting hours. If you do join a mass, please note that pictures should never be taken during services.

Once you’ve visited a few of these historic buildings, you will begin to take note of how the Spanish mission-style of architecture still influences Californian buildings to this day.

Colonial Old Town San Diego

Old Town San Diego (c) ABR 2021

Of course, Spanish colonists didn’t just build missions when they settled on Kumeyaay lands in what we now know as San Diego. They built places to live, stores to serve the needs of their growing community, and everything in between. Old Town San Diego preserves both Spanish and American colonial structures in a state park.

Old Town San Diego (c) ABR 2021

Nowadays, when you visit, you can do a variety of things. First, be sure to explore the whole site on foot to take pictures of the historic buildings. Then, you might consider eating at one of the many restaurants within and surrounding the park. There is also shopping and museums to be explored. And finally, the Whaley House is also on site, and is considered one of the most haunted houses in the United States. So, ghosts tours are also something that you might consider if you enjoy those kinds of stories, and the sometimes goofy experiences that come with group tours about them.

1888 – The Hotel Del Coronado

Hotel Del Coronado (c) ABR 2013.

The Hotel Del Coronado is a San Diego icon, and its unique architecture stems from the late 1800s. At that time, the beachside town of Coronado was already popular with travelers from across the country, and beyond. The picturesque beaches, and beauty of the island have not waned, and it remains a playground for the rich in many ways. (Check the cost of housing on Coronado Island).

(c) ABR 2013

Nonetheless, I have always enjoyed visiting Coronado, to see the hotel, relax on the beach, and walk the town. Luckily, if you aren’t staying at the Hotel del Coronado, you can still explore its beautiful and historic interior. There are restaurants to be sampled, shops to be peeked in, and the lobby is a very cool space that is welcoming to all. Be sure to take in the majesty of this historic space. When I checked in late 2021, the prices for rooms at the hotel were up there at $600+ a night. So, if you are lucky enough to have the scratch to stay there, consider it. However, I’ve never been able to spend the night here, and nonetheless, I never regret visiting.

(c) ABR 2013

Luckily, there is more to do on Coronado Island than just check out the historic hotel. There is a beach that you can access past the Del Coronado. It’s pretty popular, but maintains its quality as a place to hang with family and friends.

You can also take a stroll down the town’s main street. There is a lot of good food places to try and plenty of window (and actual) shopping to do. Be sure to enjoy the other historic buildings as you go.

You can also make a loop drive out of your day and visit some other beachside areas as you go.

1902 – La Jolla Sea Cave

La Jolla Cave (c) ABR 2013

I was being a goofball the first time that I went into the La Jolla Sea Cave. And while I would still say that this particular location has the quality of a roadside attraction, if you are in La Jolla and can afford the visit ($10 for adults), it is pretty unique.

The cave is really a tunnel that has been built in the earth, connecting a sea cave to the lively street above. It was constructed in 1902 to facilitate a smuggling business, and survives today as a tourist attraction.

Tunnel to the sea cave (c) ABR 2013

If you visit, you will walk down many steps in a narrow tunnel, down from the Cave Shop to the sea cave. Knowing that it was constructed for smuggling purposes, the structure of the tunnel makes a lot of sense, and I would bet you can imagine the sneaky activities that went on there when you visit (I sure did!). If you want a little more adventure, there are also kayaking tours of La Jolla’s sea caves.

La Jolla is also a shopping and restaurant district near the ocean. So, it is a nice place for some higher-end gifts and apparel, dining, and window shopping. Parking can be a bit of a struggle on busy weekends, though, so if you want to avoid some stress, come a little earlier in the day.

1915-1916 – Balboa Park 

what to do in Balboa Park

The Lily Pond (c) ABR

I have an entire post on Balboa Park, so needless to say, I think this place is well worth a visit. The area was technically turned into a city park in 1868, but it took a form similar to what we know now in 1915-1916 for the Panama-California Exposition. The intricate, Spanish-inspired buildings, nestled among gardens and massive eucalyptus trees, definitely speak of another time.

However, in our modern day, you can also experience cultures from all over the world, and learn about fascinating history and science. Like all of the locations in this list, Balboa is a gift from the past, a place that we continue to thoroughly enjoy today.

1930 – Crystal Pier and Pacific Beach

Crystal Pier (c) ABR 2021

Crystal Pier is a uniquely built hotel that includes several sizeable cottages that were constructed over the water in 1930. Unsurprisingly, with upkeep and renovations, Crystal Pier remains an extremely popular place to stay. And luckily, the pier can be enjoyed by anyone (although the gates gave me pause when I visited). In conjunction with enjoying a long-lived dream from the 30s by walking the pier, there is plenty to do in the Pacific Beach neighborhood that surrounds Crystal Pier.

(c) ABR 2021

First, there is a beautiful beach (with bathrooms). And second, there is TONS of good food in Pacific Beach. In particular, I fell in love with the tiki speakeasy, Grass Skirt, and Afters Ice Cream. Although, admittedly, neither are from the 1930s.

1954 – Bali Hai 

For dinner, drinks, and a nice, evening walk, Bali Hai is the place to go. I included this restaurant in my guide to tiki in San Diego. It is part of the living history of San Diego, as this restaurant opened its doors in 1954, and is a famed tiki destination. While I would personally say that it isn’t the picture of modern tiki experiences due to the lack of themeing, this is still a very cool destination in the city.

The Bali Hai is a classic place for date night or a classy dinner, and its round shape, second floor dining area, and sweeping wall of windows, makes it a beautiful place to dine as well. They are famed for their mai tais, and I very much enjoyed their dinner, although it was a bit expensive.

Although the restaurant has been kept up and remains a classy hang out, there are elements of the 50s that remain with it. If you visit, particularly as a tiki fan, you will enjoy the moment in history that this place represents.

I would suggest getting a reservation before you visit, and potentially request a table near the windows.

Practical Tips

(c) ABR 2021

  • Please note that San Diego does get hot in the summer, and that electricity and wildfires can be an issue. If you are visiting, please help the community conserve resources and protect the land.
  • The best way to get around San Diego is via car. Although they have a more robust public transportation system than Phoenix, it will be very time consuming to take the bus everywhere and the train has limited reach.
  • While American culture is pervasive due to movies and tv shows, if you are from out of the country and haven’t been before, please help us by remembering that the Hollywood portrayal of American life isn’t a reflection of our actual experience. Life is difficult, particularly for communities entrenched in the tourism industry. One way you can help is by giving local manners a try– being polite to local people while traveling is always important.

Next Steps

For more San Diego, be sure to look through our guide to the city. We live a short drive away, so while we aren’t local, we have visited many times.

If you are planning a more comprehensive California trip, you will also like our posts on natural, history, and culture across Southern California and the Channel Islands.

And if you’d like to save this particular post for later, consider pinning it! It is a huge help to our little, grassroots business.

san diego hikes

Two Amazing San Diego Hikes: A National Monument and a Summit

There is a lot of great hiking in San Diego. So frankly, it can be hard to choose just one or two trails if you don’t have a ton of time. I’ve got you covered though with these two amazing San Diego hikes. The family-friendly Cabrillo National Monument trails cater to hikers of all levels. They offer history, seasonal whale watching, and a visitor center as well. For those of you looking for a workout, the Cowles Summit Trail is the place for you. The following guide will help you pick which trail is the best fit for you (or maybe you want to do both). And it will fill you in on what to expect and how to plan for each.

Read on to fit some nature into your San Diego vacation. Or if you are a local and haven’t been, maybe consider checking these spots out!

Cabrillo National Monument

A Brief History of the Park

san diego hikes

(c) ABR 2020

Cabrillo National Monument is home to several San Diego hikes. It has tide pools, land-based whale watching, as well as a wealth of historic heritage. The site was originally protected as the site of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo first stepped foot onto the west coast of what we now call the United States. This made him the first European to visit this part of the world. And it signaled a wave of change that would come to the many indigenous peoples who called and still call this land home and have been stewarding it for thousands of years.

Cabrillo National Monument as it is now, is a wonderful attraction for families, but also has spaces for quiet contemplation of what these changes meant for the original Californians. If you would like to learn more about the historic and modern indigenous people associated with the land, I would suggest heading over to the Native Land Digital Map to learn more. You can also support tribes by donating, supporting their work with volunteer hours, and/or elevating their voices and stories.

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What to Do in Balboa Park on a Weekend Away in San Diego

Balboa park is really a cultural gem of San Diego, and no trip to this seaside city would be complete without a visit to this premier location. If you want to know about what to do in Balboa Park, here is a short list of what will be explored below. There are a variety of gardens, and museums of all kinds (some of them free). And on top of all that, Balboa is right next door to the San Diego Zoo, and walking distance from downtown. You could spend an entire weekend exploring this beautiful park, or you could visit different parts over time. Whatever the case, if you’ve never been and you are planning a visit to San Diego, don’t miss this special place. As I always say, it has a little bit of something for everybody.

what to do in Balboa Park

History of Balboa Park

what to do in Balboa Park

The land that Balboa Park now sits on is in the ancestral home of the Kumeyaay people, who have lived in the San Diego region for more than 10,000 years.

In 1868, post-colonization of the area, the land was designated a city park, but was not tended until Kate Sessions entered the scene in 1892. This amazing woman began planting 100 trees a year, and donating other plants in exchange for the use of some land as a nursery. Due to her tireless work and lasting impact on the place we know and love today, Kate is known as the “Mother of Balboa Park.”

More attention and investment was put to Balboa in preparation for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, at which time the park received the name it goes by today (replacing “City Park”). While much has changed in the park over time, many of the thematic ideas that we can still enjoy today were envisioned and developed at this time.

You can read more about the history of the park in Balboa Park History. 

What to Do in Balboa Park for a Weekend

what to do in Balboa Park

Inside the Botanical Building (c) ABR

If you really want to experience the park, you will need to spend at least an entire day, if not two. You could certainly spend more time in Balboa if you wanted to visit all the museums, and many elements of the park are fun to revisit.

On a nice fall or spring day, I would suggest spending the morning walking through the gardens (see below for some good options). Eat lunch at one of the park cafes or surrounding restaurants, and then go to one of the park’s many amazing museums for the afternoon.

When it is really hot in San Diego, you can also escape the heat in one of the many museums, while also getting some amazing views of the architecture and park.

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San Diego Tiki Bars and An Honest Review of Tiki Oasis

As the tiki folks who read my guide to Phoenix tiki bars know, I still have a lot to learn about the world of tiki. But we have really gotten into the scene (in my introverted way) since our first tiki bar out in Las Vegas. I’ve been to all the tiki bars in Arizona, visited tiki bars across the Midwest, started collecting signature tiki mugs… And we started our home bar with tiki recipe books. Needless to say, I really enjoy this corner of Americana. So, when we got vaccinated in the year of our Lord 2021, we wanted to celebrate with tickets to Tiki Oasis. It seemed like the biggest tiki celebration we’d probably ever have the chance to attend, and it was nestled among some of the amazing modern San Diego tiki bars. So, we made a weekend of it.

Whether you are considering Tiki Oasis in what I hope to be less strange years post-2021, or will be visiting San Diego in general and want to see the tiki sights, this little, honest guide is for you.

san diego tiki bars

The Wonderful World of San Diego Tiki Bars

San Diego is home to one of the oldest tiki restaurants still in operation in the US. It’s got the sun and sea for tiki. And its modern tiki bars are exceptionally fun.

For anyone looking to get into tiki or cross a few special places off of their tiki bucketlist, San Diego is a must-visit location. There is a tiki bar for everyone here.

Bali Hai

san diego tiki bars

(c) ABR 2021

The Bali Hai is a tiki classic, which opened all the way back in 1954. You can delve into the story of this historic restaurant on their website, but no tiki trip to San Diego tiki bars would be complete without a visit. At least, not if you’ve never been.

For as special as it is, the Bali Hai isn’t really what I would consider my jam when it comes to tiki. The restaurant is beautiful, and the views are unmatched, with its huge glass walls. But it’s really more of a classy place for date night than it is a fun-loving tiki place. The prices are higher, and the food is fancier. But it also lacks the immersion of other tiki restaurants/bars on this list. Also, while I think it is inarguable that tiki has questionable roots, there are some strong… inappropriate vibes when it comes to the Bali Hai signature tiki mug and the giant head that adorns the top of the building. I know it’s historic, but we didn’t even bother buying a mug because it just felt… a little too on the nose. I know people will have differing opinions than me on this in both directions when it comes to tiki, and I think all perspectives are legit. But for me, it was an additional element that just made Bali Hai one of my less favorite tiki spots in San Diego.

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