Sunset staffers are all about experiencing the West. Here, we share some of the most transformative, mesmerizing, and at times, hilarious trips we’re still thinking about

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Hiking the Great Sand Dunes with Dad

I was born in Colorado but grew up in California; on summer break of my 16th year, I took a trip with my folks to my grandparents’ vacation home in Salida, CO. I hiked up Great Sand Dunes National Park—which was a national monument at the time—with my dad. We watched an amazing sunset over the Rockies and then ran down the dunes together. Before this visit to Colorado, we’d hiked quite a bit in Sedona, AZ, and the Grand Canyon, but the Dunes were a particular challenge because for every step forward, you slide half a step back. The entire trip is a pretty great memory for me.

Clark Miller, creative director

A Cabin Getaway on the Sonoma Coast

Quite recently, a group of friends and I left San Francisco for a quiet, nature-filled weekend at The Sea Ranch. Designed by a group of Bay Area architects in the 1960s, The Sea Ranch was initially built to be a progressive, design-forward living space for artists, painters, and designers. It never fulfilled its destiny as a co-living utopia, but the original homes still exist and the land is a hidden gem in Northern California. As we drove further away from the city and up the coast, I felt the stress brought on by city life (headache-inducing traffic, BART delays, and never-ending emails) dwindle away. We arrived at our mid-century modern Airbnb two and a half hours later and immediately took advantage of the sprawling outdoor space. We packed a picnic and headed to Stornetta Public Lands, where we walked along the rocky coastline and admired the seascape all weekend long.

Kelsey Maloney, editorial assistant

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Living the Farm Life in Victoria, B.C.

In my late 20s and with a few years of urban farming under my belt, I decided to try my hand at growing food on a larger scale and found an apprenticeship at a more than ten-acre organic vegetable farm on Vancouver Island. I hopped in the car with my girlfriend (who flew back once we reached Canada—farming wasn’t an interest of hers!), and drove north from our home in Oakland. The drive itself was beautiful. We took our time and stopped in cities large and small, including Ashland, Portland, and Vancouver. The farm was located just outside of Cowichan Bay—a small village with a bar or two, a delicious bakery, and lots of fish and chips. I lived on the farm for an entire growing season. The work was hard but so rewarding, and on my days off when I wasn’t flattened by exhaustion, I explored the surrounding country roads, visited Victoria for delicious farm-to-table meals, and enjoyed ferry rides to Vancouver and the surrounding smaller islands. It was an incredible experience and I learned a valuable lesson—I’m not cut out to be a full-time farmer.

Mike Irvine, garden editor

An Epic National Parks Adventure

I bought my first car this year: a 1998 Jeep Cherokee from my aunt’s neighbor. She lives in Colorado, which made for the perfect excuse to take a road trip from Colorado to San Francisco, visiting and camping at every national park in between. We started at Rocky Mountain, which was the best place to kick off our adventure. The park already had beautiful fall color in mid-September, and elk mating was underway, leading to tons of sightings as the sun went down. Trail Ridge Road was only open for a few weeks more (until fall-to-spring closure), so we woke up bright and early to enjoy the gorgeous, alpine-level drive across the park. Hitting all five parks in southern Utah was the adventure of a lifetime, though. After breaking down in Moab between Arches and Canyonlands (look out for heat with old cars like mine!), we found the most stunning views in Bryce Canyon, and no hike will ever beat The Narrows of Zion.

Nena Farrell, associate digital editor

Thomas J. Story

Learning Spanish in Mexico

When I was 11, I traveled with my mom to San Miguel de Allende so that I could immerse myself in a morning language school and spend the rest of the day taking in Mexican culture. I remember hidden patios and gardens, skipping down the cobblestone streets, ordering a glass of limonada for lunch, tasting tortilla soup for the first time, and hearing the howls of dogs emanating from rooftops in the middle of the night. The newborn kittens meowing outside my language classroom door made it difficult to concentrate because all I wanted was to cuddle with them. For a few days, la plaza central shut down so that director Robert Rodriguez could film scenes starring Johnny Depp for Once Upon a Time in Mexico (no, don’t see it). I will never forget experiencing San Miguel from the perspective of my language teachers; U.S. expats who had opened a coffee shop; the parrot who lived with my ceramics teacher; a side trip to a brick-making village; and of course, the locals who gawked at a Hollywood movie set.

Zoe Gutterman, associate digital producer

Ron Sanford/Getty Images

A Wilderness Cruise through Alaska

This past summer, my husband and I, self-described non-cruisers, spent two incredible weeks in Alaska on Princess Cruises. We decided on the Connoisseur Tour, which includes five days on land and seven days at sea. We flew into Fairbanks, home of the 24-hour day, and spent our first evening drinking wine next to the river as we were determined to wait for the impossibly late sunset. The next several days flew by—we visited Denali National Park (pictured), rode four-wheel drives through the forest, and fished for salmon (we caught seven!) on the Talkeetna River. And that was just the beginning of the trip. Our days aboard the ship were just as breathtaking—we watched glaciers crumble into the aquamarine ocean, ate king crab pulled right out of the water, and spent countless hours in the sauna. It was the trip of a lifetime, thanks to both Alaska’s endless beauty and the cruise experience. Now, we can honestly say we are converted cruisers.

Kendra Poppy, audience growth editor

Thomas J. Story

An Eventful Oregon Coast Road Trip

When I was in my early 20s, I flew from San Francisco to Portland to meet my dad for a road trip down the Oregon Coast. We cut west toward the ocean and started our drive south at Lincoln City, stopping to admire rugged, wind-swept beaches along the way until we enjoyed a low-key dinner in Newport. On our way out of town, my dad unfortunately got caught in a speed trap; to add insult to injury, he hadn’t realized his driver’s license was expired, and the police impounded our rental car. I was under 25, so I wasn’t allowed to rent us a new vehicle. We were stranded on the side of the road and it was dark. I was irritated to say the least, but my dad—determined to salvage our weekend together—decided to risk it and rented a car through another company. We completed the remaining portion of our coastal trip, navigating hairpin curves, peering over dramatic cliffs to see the ocean rough up the shoreline, and taking in one of the most stunning sunsets I’ve ever seen, culminating in an overnight stay in the quaint town of Florence. Could things have gone more smoothly? Certainly. But I wouldn’t trade in the experience for anything. Our car hijinks made an already highly memorable destination all the more indelible.

Jessica Mordo, deputy digital editor

Erin Kunkel

Discovering the Lesser-Known Side of Hawaii

A lot of people associate Oahu with Waikiki Beach and mai tais topped with kitschy cocktail umbrellas, but there’s so much more to the island. I got to know its non-touristy side when I interned on the island for a summer. Those months were a hands-on crash course on Hawaiian culture, nature, and food (poke, Spam musubi, fresh guava!). Breakfast was usually a bunch of homegrown apple bananas that a neighbor gave me because they had extra growing in their backyard, or fresh mangoes and lychee from the farmers’ market. Summer weekends were either spent camping in the North Shore area or wandering some hidden slice of land on the east side of the island, where you can run into farmers, agriculturalists, and locals “talking story.” Everyone has a sense of kuleana—a Hawaiian value that roughly translates to: If the land takes care of you, then you’re responsible for taking care of the land.

Maya Wong, editorial assistant

John Clifton/Getty Images

A Cross-Country Road Trip of “Firsts”

In 2012, I drove cross-country with my dog Beijoca to realize a new start in the Seattle area. The pace and temperatures were grueling—never again will I drive seven (or sometimes more) hours per day in 95-degree heat with a double-coated dog. I blasted the air-conditioning on high the entire drive out. In that week, I became a Toyota fan for life. Since the radio put forth static for huge stretches, it was the changing lay of the land and Beijoca’s face in the rearview mirror that kept me entertained. Two hours from our new home, we hit the Columbia River Crossing in Washington. I definitely shed a few tears along the way for all the “firsts” I was experiencing—my first time in certain states, starting the first job after the passing of my mom, completing the first road trip with my beloved dog. The trip was simultaneously a blur and unforgettable.

Christine Bobbish, photo editor