Christmas in Byron Bay

When I told my Aussie friend Emily that we were coming to Australia for a few weeks, she immediately said we’d have to visit Byron Bay. (She said that anything further north at the end of December would be too hot and humid, so we appreciated her rec!) A quick flight from Sydney, Byron Bay is a very popular holiday destination for surfers, yogis, backpackers, and new-age hippies who want to pretend that it’s still the 1960s. It’s also just an overall wonderful place for families and couples as well. The area has actually modernized a lot since my last visit in 2005, but the gorgeous scenery and laid-back vibe are still there.


Main Beach


Lots of pretty street art in Byron Bay


Do you want to build a sandman?

To get to Byron Bay from Sydney, you can either drive up the coast for nine hours, or you can do what we did, which was a one hour flight into Ballina Airport, then the $16 Xcede shuttle bus into Byron. (The alternative is hiring a $95 taxi at the Ballina Airport for the 30 minute drive to Byron, or just renting your own car.)


Happy as a kid on Christmas morning!


Walk from Watego to The Pass

Byron Bay gets packed over the Christmas holidays, so we booked our hotel months in advance. We absolutely loved our stay at Aaron’s at Byron (can you guess who picked the hotel?). Its sister property (Aabi’s at Byron) is supposedly fabulous, too. Just a short walk from the center of town, Aaron’s had everything we needed: modern and spacious rooms, nice pool and spa, and even a communal kitchen and BBQ… that we never used. But we liked knowing that we could’ve cooked if we had wanted to!


The beautiful bay

Hello, wallaby!

Hello, wallaby!

We spent our four relaxing days in Byron visiting the various beaches, hiking up to the lighthouse, and trying the local restaurants. In the evenings we met friends from Sydney at the Beach Hotel (“the Beachie”) for drinks in the beer garden.

At the top of Cape Byron

At the top of Cape Byron


Eastern most point of Australia’s mainland

Cape Byron lighthouse

Cape Byron lighthouse

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Overnight Trip to Jervis Bay

When planning out the final days of our Australia itinerary, we were deciding between a few different options: an overnight trip to the Blue Mountains, wine tasting in Hunter Valley, or spending a night near Avalon and exploring Sydney’s northern beaches. They all seemed fine, but I thought we could find something else that was even more exciting.

Luckily, I somehow came across this blog post about Hyams Beach and immediately thought to myself, “Yes! I want to go to there!” I showed the gorgeous beach pics to Aaron, and he was on board right away as well. Jervis Bay was the perfect destination for our quick getaway from Sydney.

Biggest dilemma in Jervis Bay: which beach is the best?

Jervis Bay, where your biggest worry will be choosing a favorite beach

Since we got a bit of a late start on planning and it was right before Christmas, most of the accommodation in the area was already booked up. Had it been available we probably would have stayed at The Huskisson, but we settled for an Airbnb room in Sanctuary Point that worked out just fine.

Our Airbnb host told us to park there, I swear!

Our Airbnb host told us to park there, I swear!

The towns in the area are a bit spread out, so we were glad that we hired our own rental car in Sydney* rather than taking a shuttle from the airport. Without traffic, the drive between the Sydney airport and Jervis Bay should take about 2 1/2 hours, but we made stops in Gerringong and Berry along the way.

Quick stop in Gerringong

Quick stop in Gerringong

Jervis Bay is famous for dolphin and whale tours, beautiful camping sites, and sprawling national parks. Both nature-lovers and beach bums alike love it there, and for good reason. I actually did a day trip to Jervis Bay back in 2005 as well, but we had dreary weather and the only thing I remember about it was collecting shells on a pretty but gloomy beach. We may have done a dolphin boat tour as well, the memories are very blurry. Little did I know, Jervis Bay is home to some of the most stunning beaches I’ve ever seen anywhere. What a difference good weather makes!


Deep thoughts in Jervis Bay

We only spent one night in Jervis Bay, but we made the most of our time there and attempted to visit as many beaches as possible. One of the best ways to accomplish that is by doing the beautiful White Sands Walk. Although it was impossible to choose a favorite, our top five beaches in Jervis Bay were:

  1. Hyams Beach
  2. Hole in the Wall
  3. Cave Beach
  4. Greenfield Beach
  5. Blenheim Beach

Hole in the Wall


Hole in the Wall


Blenheim Beach


“Hi, Mom!” at Hyams Beach


Cave Beach

Selfie at Greenfield Beach

Selfie at Greenfield Beach

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Weekend in Coogee Beach

I’m dismayed to report that we are back from our three-week Australia trip, but I’m going to try to hang on to the Aussie spirit for as long as possible with several upcoming blog posts starting with this one about our weekend in Coogee Beach.

The gorgeous Coogee coastline

The gorgeous Coogee coastline

Coogee holds an especially important place in my heart because it’s where I lived when I studied abroad at UNSW several many years ago. Historically a quiet beach suburb in Eastern Sydney, Coogee has transformed into a lively neighborhood full of locals and travelers alike.

In front of my old house

In front of my old house

The main strip, Coogee Bay Road, is full of cafes and shops, and the local beach is fantastic. Below are my top Coogee recommendations:

Where to stay: accommodations in Coogee aren’t terribly cheap, but we felt like our money was very well spent at Dive Hotel. The location next to the CBH and across the street from the beach can’t be beat, the owners and other guests were incredibly nice, and they have really cute dogs – Lucas and Ruby! If you get doggie withdrawal when you go on vacation, this place will be perfect for you.


Outside of Dive Hotel


Bonding with Lucas

What to do: go to the beach, of course! Coogee is not a surfing beach, but it’s good for swimming and sunning. You should also do the beach walk north all the way to Bondi (approx 1 1/2 hours), or south to Maroubra. Either way you’ll love the gorgeous scenery. *Pro tip: the beach walk toward Maroubra is much easier for runners.*


Panoramic view of Coogee Beach


Beach walk toward Maroubra


Love the concept of this beach library!


Crowded day in Coogee


Coogee pools


Gordon’s Bay (north of Coogee)

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Five Days in Bondi

Our time in Bondi Beach, one of Australia’s most iconic places, is winding down quickly. We’ve had our ups and downs here over the past five days (downs specifically referring to the internet*), but overall it’s been a really great week.

Bondi Beach time!

Bondi Beach time!

We originally wanted to stay in an apartment for our five nights in Bondi, but everyone we contacted through Airbnb said that they had already rented their places out. I think there’s just a very large demand for short term rentals in the area, so property owners cross-list their places on multiple rental sites and then forget to update all of the various availability calendars once an apartment is taken.


Since the apartment option was out, we booked a room at Hotel Bondi, directly across the street from the beach. Our original room was large and airy with an updated bathroom, but since it had zero internet connection we were moved to a tiny room with a gorgeous beach view. Although we felt cramped, it was hard to say no to a view like this:

Room with a view!

Room with a view!

It was another work-week for us, so we had to spend most of our time in front of our computers, but when we could get away we explored the village, hiked and ran the coastal walkways, tried a bunch of different restaurants, and worked on our tans. Below are some of our favorite bits.

– If there’s only one thing that you do during a visit to Sydney, it should be the coastal walk between Coogee and Bondi (or vice versa). I used to do it every Sunday when I lived in Coogee, and this past week I did at least a chunk of it every day. The scenery is unbelievable, the exercise is good for you, and the people-watching is top notch. Do it, do it, do it!

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Waverly Cemetery

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Weekend in Melbourne: CBD & Fitzroy

While the first part of our Melbourne weekend was spent driving the Great Ocean Road, we devoted our Sunday to exploring Melbourne itself.

Flinders Street Railway Station

Flinders Street Railway Station

A friend who recently lived in Melbourne highly suggested that we stay either in the CBD or Fitzroy, and gave us a list of bars and restaurants that we needed to check out. You can see her entire list of Melbourne food recs here, but below are the places that we personally visited (and loved):

– Manchester Press: we started our day with coffee and bagels from Manchester press. I knew we’d have a lot of eating ahead of us that day so I *thought* that it would be a light brunch, but boy was I wrong. We ordered a lox bagel and a avo-feta bagel, and when the plates arrived I couldn’t believe my eyes. There must have been half a salmon on one bagel, and at least three whole avocados on the other – the portions were huge! Aaron sure didn’t complain, and both bagels tasted great. The place was quite crowded, but the waiting list moved pretty quickly.

Light brekkie

Light brekkie

Everyone loves bagels

Everyone loves bagels

– Queen Victoria Market: after brunch we walked over to Queen Victoria Market to work off our bagels. A lot of the stalls were pretty generic and looked like a Sunday market anywhere in the world, but the indoor food and drink stalls were truly impressive. We especially loved the coffee at Market Lane Coffee in the dairy produce hall.


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Weekend in Melbourne: Great Ocean Road

Simply put, 48 hours in Melbourne is not enough, but Aaron wanted to make a go of it anyway so we did just that. And even though we weren’t there for very long, we had a pretty fantastic time.

The airport is situated about 22 km from the CBD, so rather than taking a pricey taxi (~$65) we opted for the SkyBus ($30 for two people) to Southern Cross station then walked over to our hotel from there. We decided to stay at the Citadines on Bourke because of its central location and reasonable price tag, and we were very appreciative when they told us we’d been upgraded to a room on their top (25th) floor. We had a delicious Indian meal at Red Pepper, then called it an early night. We had a big day ahead of us, after all.

Saturday was the main event: the Great Ocean Road! When I first went to Melbourne in 2005, everyone told us to drive on the Great Ocean Road but I was naively skeptical about doing so. Being the native Californian that I am, a drive along the ocean sounded rather ordinary and I wasn’t convinced that I should devote an entire day to doing that when there were so many other things to see within the city of Melbourne.

But, and you can already guess where I’m going here, I was totally wrong. My friends and I rented a car, listened to Fine Young Cannibals’ “She Drives Me Crazy” on the radio far more often than anyone our age ought to, and had an amazing day. I knew that I wanted to recreate those memories with Aaron.

Renting a car in Melbourne’s CBD is super easy. We used Redspot, which had a location right around the corner from our hotel, and headed off toward Geelong.

Beep beep!

Beep beep!

Our first stop was Torquay, home to some of the best surfing in the world as well as to a couple of the most famous surf companies (Rip Curl and Quiksilver). We picked up some takeaway coffee from Sticks and Stones Cafe and headed over to Bells Beach to watch the surfers do their thing.


Candidate for “Greatest Dog Ever,” Louis patiently watched his owner go for a surf

IMG_2899 IMG_2854 IMG_2808 After a quick photo break in breathtaking Anglesea, we drove on toward Lorne. I remember a lot about my previous Great Ocean Road experience, but I have no recollection of Lorne whatsoever! I don’t understand how that’s possible as it was my absolute favorite stop this time around. *Shakes head*

Anyway, Lorne is a major stop along the Great Ocean Road, and time permitting we would have happily spent an entire weekend there. The beaches were gorgeous, there were plenty of interesting shops along the main road, and a huge variety of different restaurants. We grabbed a milkshake at The Bottle of Milk (though they are famous for their burgers), tried Australian-Mexican food for the first time at Mexican Republic, and actually came back to Lorne at the end of the day for dinner at Chopstix.


Windy in Anglesea

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Five Days in Manly

Sadly it’s our last day in Manly, and it is scary how fast the first part of our Australia trip has flown by. It’s been a work-week for both of us – Aaron has been going to his firm’s office in the CBD while I’ve been working in our apartment and a coffee shop next door every day. And even though we’ve needed to spend most of each day in front of our computers, we’ve still managed to see quite a lot around this part of Sydney. Below are some of our favorite things in Manly:

– The main Manly Beach (Queenscliff, North Steyne, and South Steyne) is fantastic, but there are other less crowded and equally beautiful beaches nearby. Take an easy walk or jog to tranquil Shelly Beach, or hike on over to the gorgeous Freshwater (“Freshie”) and Curl Curl Beaches.

The walk to Shelly Beach

The walk to Shelly Beach


Freshie from above

Boardwalk to Curl Curl

Boardwalk to Curl Curl

– Living next door to Foundry FiftyThree this week has been quite fortunate for me and my budding coffee snobbery. The ambience reminds me of a super cool coffee shop in Silverlake or the Mission, but because it’s full of Australians it’s obviously so much better. I can only speak to their cold drip coffee, but it’s served in a beaker and tastes wonderful. I highly recommend their avo toast, as well.

Work work work

Work work work

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Oh, Sydney, I’ve Missed You!

It’s only been about 24 hours since we arrived in Sydney, but it took me no time at all to fall back in love with the laidback Aussie lifestyle. Nearly 10 years have passed since my semester abroad at the University of New South Wales, but my love for Australia has remained as strong and steady as ever over the years.  So when my husband was offered an opportunity to work there for a few weeks, I immediately looked into how I could come along, too.

This view will do just nicely, thank you

Despite this being a working vacation for both of us, we’re planning on seeing quite a lot over the next three weeks. The fact that we have to spend 10 of those days working has actually made us do a lot of planning in advance and we’ve put a lot of thought into where we’re going to stay and what we’ll do in our time off.


Shot taken during my morning run


Just a prop… probably

This work week we are staying in a lovely Airbnb apartment near the beach in Manly. After we landed at the airport, we took the train to Circular Quay, purchased some Opal cards, then hopped on the first ferry to Manly. Whether it’s your first or fifth time in Sydney, the ferry ride to Manly is absolutely breathtaking with picture-perfect views of the Harbour Bridge, Sydney Opera House, and all of the multi-million dollar homes and yachts throughout the harbor.


Not a throwback!

Harbour Bridge

Harbour Bridge

Home sweet home

Home sweet home

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Our Next Adventure Awaits…

Whenever I see a “Where I’ve Been” post on social media, I am always way too giddy to update my own map.


ilana’s Travel Map

Ilana has been to: Anguilla, Argentina, Aruba, Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Croatia, Curacao, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, French Polynesia, Germany, Greece, Haiti, Hungary, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Mexico, Monaco, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Panama, Peru, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Sint Maarten, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, U.S. Virgin Islands, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Vatican, Vietnam. Get your own travel map from Matador Network.

I love thinking back on all of the adventures I’ve gone on so far, but it might be even more fun to think about all of the trips I’d like to take in the future. Fortunately, our next one starts tomorrow night and I couldn’t be more excited.

Stay tuned for posts about my triumphant return to the land down under.

How to Deal With Travel-FOMO

FOMO, the “fear of missing out,” pops up in all types of situations, but it can be especially stressful when you’re in the end-stages of planning a trip. No matter where you’re going, how long you’ll be there, and what your travel budget may be, you’re going to miss out on seeing or doing something great, and you’re going to come across someone who will be happy to bring this to your attention. If you’re lucky, that person might just say something like, “It’s too bad you can’t make it to _____, because it’s my favorite restaurant in the entire world.” But other times, like last Sunday, for example, it comes across like this:

Family Member: So tell me about your upcoming Australia trip! What does your itinerary look like?

Me: We’re so excited! We’re spending five nights in Manly Beach, then flying to Melbourne for a weekend, then flying back to Sydney for five nights in Bondi Beach, then we have four nights that haven’t been planned yet, then we’re flying up to Ballina for three nights in Byron Bay, and then we’ll have just one more night in Sydney before we fly back home.

FM: You’re not going to the Great Barrier Reef?

Me: No, unfortunately not on this trip. I asked an Aussie friend to help with our itinerary and she said that Queensland is unbearably hot and humid in December so the furthest north we should go is Byron Bay.

FM: I went to Cairns in December [20+ years ago] and it was fine. The Great Barrier Reef is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. You’re going to go all the way to Australia and miss it because it’s just a little hot?

Me: I agree, the Great Barrier Reef is incredible, but my friend felt strongly that we shouldn’t go this time of year. Plus it’s 1500 miles from Sydney and I don’t know if we can budget another flight on this trip. We also have to spend at least 10 days of our trip working in Sydney, so it’s not like we have three full weeks to purely devote to traveling.

FM: But what’s in Byron Bay? Your friend said you should go there over the Great Barrier Reef? Are you sure you thought this through?

I’ll spare you the rest of the convo, but it was a lot more of the same thing over and over: we were making a huge mistake by not going to the Great Barrier Reef. I know that this family member was just wanted to make sure we’re seeing the very best things on our upcoming trip, but it really made me feel lousy nonetheless. And the silliest part about the whole thing is that I’ve already been to the Great Barrier Reef! Why did I feel so bad about missing a destination that I’ve already experienced?

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