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By Ann Ronan

With the New Year coming up, what new travel experiences do you crave? Local gems you’ve missed, family vacations not too far from home, or an adventure to an exotic destination you’ve never visited? The best trips are transformational experiences—you come back from them informed and changed.

Right in your backyard

Put on fresh eyes and be a tourist right in your own town. Take a walking tour and be surprised at the juicy bits of information you’ll pick up. Did you know there once was a jail in the basement of the El Adobe Restaurant in San Juan Capistrano? Take an Architectural Walking Tour any Saturday or a Historical Walking Tour on Sunday from the train station and be entertained by stories about the colorful characters who made San Juan Capistrano such a quirky town.

Wander a bit further by creating a train adventure to San Diego—it’s a walkable city and there’s plenty of ride share options for tired feet. Hop on the Old Town Trolley to get an overview of the city while experiencing “transportainment,” a fun combination of transportation and entertainment. The New Children’s Museum in downtown connects kids to the arts and creativity. It’s filled with bubbles, blocks, clay, paints and interactive games that tempt kids to indulge their imagination.

Grownups (21+) can eat and drink their way through downtown San Diego with a “Bite Tour.” The tour starts in the historic Gaslamp Quarter and is sprinkled with local gossip about celebrities and politicians who lived here. Pizza, gourmet Indian, handmade desserts and a rooftop view will delight all of your senses.

Get out of California and into nature

Bundle up and head northeast to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming for a magical, winter wonderland experience. Your car will wait for you outside the park—you’ll be picked up by a snowcoach at the entrance. Getting around the park is half the fun with skis, snowshoes and snowmobiles. You’ll feel like you’re on safari as you spot bison, elk, mule deer, moose, wolves, coyotes and owls. They hang out in the lower elevations in the winter, offering far better viewing than in the summer. Active kids will enjoy ice skating, dogsledding and snowboarding while couples will bask in the romantic landscape under bountiful stars with toasty fires and nightcaps at the end of the day.

Two lodges are open in the winter: Old Faithful Snow Lodge & Cabins from Dec. 16 to March 4, and Mammoth Hot Springs & Cabins from Dec. 15 to March 5.

Experience a new culture

Winter is the best time to visit Thailand with great weather, affordable, yet luxurious, accommodations and airfare under $1,000 from LAX. All this has made Thailand the number one international destination for the second year in a row.

Good natured, friendly people give Thailand the nickname “Land of Smiles.” You’ll immediately find yourself relaxing and smiling along with them.

Pristine white beaches beckon you to dive in and snorkel or, for the more adventurous, Thailand has some of the most beautiful rock climbing routes. When you are ready to reluctantly climb out of the turquoise sea, fill up on the endless options of mouth-watering cuisine, including beautifully blended spices in curries, noodles and stir-fried meats.

Your trip will be filled with mind opening experiences of an exotic culture centered on Buddhism with magnificent temples and palaces, a long history and fascinating archaeological sites. You’ll come home with a new appreciation for cultures far different than ours.

Ann Ronan is a San Juan Capistrano travel consultant with a passion for making memorable travel simple. She offers her clients a unique combination of specialized knowledge, firsthand experience and strong personal contacts in the travel industry. She can be reached at ann@sjctravel.com or at 949.702.3977. Visit her website at www.sjctravel.com.

Find out more

  • San Juan Capistrano Architectural Walking tours: Saturday from 10:00-11:30 a.m. weekly. Donation $5. Group tours available by appointment at 949.489.0736.
  • San Juan Capistrano Historical Society Walking tours: Sunday from 10:00-11:30 a.m. weekly. Donation $2. Group tours available by appointment. 949.483.8444.
  • The New Children’s Museum: 200 West Island Ave, San Diego. Monday-Saturday 9:30 a.m.-4:00 p.m. Sunday noon-4:00 p.m. Cost is $13 per person.
  • Bite Downtown San Diego Tour: Saturday and Sunday at noon. Lasts three hours over a two-mile route with visits to five or more restaurants. $47 per person. bitesandiego.com
  • Yellowstone National Park Lodging: Old Faithful Snow Lodge and Cabins and Mammoth Hot Springs and Cabins. Book online at yellowstonenationalparklodges.com or call 307.344.7311.
  • Thailand: Travel agents can quickly put together the best priced packages for you and suggest activities depending on your interests. Visit tourismthailand.org.

To read more of the 2017-2018 “Go.See.Do” special section, read here:

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