What a great year 2013 was for travel! One thing I learned was that going back to a favorite destination a second or even a third time can still reveal new adventures, and that was certainly the case for me as we made our third journey to the island of Kauai last year.

Pristine beaches and a tropical paradise await you on Kauai’s northern coast.

But no matter how many times you visit a particular place, there are always signature moments that define each trip. And in 2013, my travels brought me very special moments that I’ll never forget — including witnessing a dramatic ocean rescue, feeling the impact of a tragic fire and enjoying the quiet solitude of nature.

Read on to find out about these unforgettable moments…

1. Kauai, Hawaii: On this third visit to Kauai, we confined our stay to the northern end of this small island, and much to our delight, there was plenty to do to keep us busy without straying more than 20 miles from our condo. We went kayaking on the Hanelei River for the first time, enjoyed the lush beauty and history of the Limahuli Garden & Preserve, made the trek down to Queen’s Bath (a naturally formed ocean pool), and took in the splendor of Bali Hai as much as possible.

An unforgettable catamaran trip up the Na Pali Coast was the highlight of our trip.
An unforgettable catamaran trip up the Na Pali Coast was the highlight of our trip.

The highlight was a catamaran excursion along the Na Pali Coast, which offers incredible views of the majestic pinnacles that tower above the sparkling blue-green water on Kauai’s north shore. With high waves breaking against the cliffs, we came across three stranded swimmers who were in a life or death situation as they tried to get back to the beach. Luckily for them, we had a lifeguard on board who swam out and brought each of them to safety. I’ll never forget his bravery.

2. Santa Fe, New Mexico: For anyone traveling across the U.S., a visit to Santa Fe is a must. This was our third time staying in this gem of a town. Beyond the usual fascination with Santa Fe’s iconic Pueblo architecture and historic charm, the highlights of this year’s visit included the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum — a special treat if you love her unique work — and of course, the spicy Santa Fe cuisine, which I can’t seem to get out of my mind.

The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum is a must-see stop on any trip to Santa Fe.
The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum is a must-see stop on any trip to Santa Fe.

We are not ashamed to say we ate at the same restaurant two nights in a row (The Shed), we loved it so much. But it’s what I learned about Georgia O’Keeffe that really stood out for me this time. She carved her own path in the art world, and the beauty and tranquility of the Southwest inspired her work. In addition to displaying a collection of her spectacular pieces, the museum offers a fascinating video of her life. It takes you back in time to see the emotions and events that shaped this groundbreaking female artist who captured the imagination of people around the world. That video and what it taught me will always be linked to my memories of Santa Fe and last year’s visit, specifically.

Downtown Prescott, Arizona

3. Prescott, Arizona: We made our way to Prescott from California through the stunning deserts of the Southwest, never tiring of the cactus trees, spectacular sunsets and starry nights. Our first evening was spent strolling around the historic town square, where a carefree summer celebration was going on. As we headed out of town at the end of our trip, we saw fire on a nearby mountainside overlooking the town of Yarnell. We noticed fire personnel keeping an eye on it, but it looked dangerous — like something that could get out of control. The next day we learned of the 19 firefighters who sadly lost their lives in that fire and we will never forget their sacrifice. The tragedy, for us, will always be in our minds whenever we think of Prescott.

4. Santa Barbara and California’s Central Coast: The Central Coast is one of my favorite all-time destinations. Each time we go, we stay at a different ocean front inn, and we are rarely disappointed. This relatively quiet part of California is fairly affordable, and many of the beachfront hotels in Pismo Beach and Shell Beach charge anywhere from $99 to $200 a night, depending on when you go and where you stay. This year we went twice and were blessed with clear, sunny weather — perfect for long walks on the beach. But the highlight of the Central Coast for me, at least in recent years, is always the wine. This year we got to explore several new wineries as we made our way further through the wine region known as the Santa Rita Hills Wine Trail. There, we encountered the vineyards of Foley, Alma Rosa, Mosby and Sanford — all of them different and well worth a visit.

Vineyards for miles in the Santa Rita Valley, just west of Highway 101.
Vineyards for miles in the Santa Rita Valley, just west of Highway 101.

In the Central Coast city of San Luis Obispo, where downtown charm mixes with excellent dining, we found new places to eat including Luna Red, a tapas-themed restaurant with a stunning location near the historic Mission Plaza. And we picked up where we left off in the region with more wine tasting, including a visit to the area’s magnificent centerpiece, Edna Valley Vineyards, along with Baileyana and Chamisal. In Santa Barbara’s rolling hills, we also stopped off at an old favorite of ours, Zaca Mesa, nestled beneath the shade of venerable oak trees. On one warm fall afternoon, we sat on the grounds of the beautiful Foley Estates winery, enjoying a glass of wine as we gazed out upon a vast expanse of vineyards — such a peaceful memory. I’m already planning my next visit!

Creatures are abundant in the Everglades.
Creatures are abundant in the Everglades.

5. Florida: It’s no secret that Florida is a huge land mass, but even after multiple visits, the state’s diversity, from north to south, continues to surprise me. In May we traveled from Jacksonville to Miami, visiting family while contending with the torrential rains that marked our trip. But when the sun broke through the clouds, we found time to enjoy such landmarks as Everglades National Park and the Suwannee River. The most memorable moment came when we ventured out on the Everglades’ Gumbo Limbo foot trail (named for the Gumbo Limbo trees that dominate the jungle-like landscape). In spite of the millions of visitors that the National Park attracts each year, we didn’t spot a single soul on the entire track. It really gave us a feeling of being at one with nature, and we were thrilled to spot a caiman and lost track of the number of alligators quietly lurking alongside us on this shaded loop path.

La Jolla — one of many coastal gems in San Diego County.

6. San Diego: My life is a travel destination. I live in one of the most beautiful areas of the world. Maybe I’m partial, but San Diego is pure paradise, and its year-round excellent weather makes me feel like I’m on vacation almost every day. From the city’s happening Gaslamp district in the downtown area, to the majestic architecture and landscape of Balboa Park, to the stunning bridge that takes you to gorgeous Coronado Island, there is so much to do and see. As a “North County” resident, I live in the coastal suburbs of the region, and take full advantage of its beautiful beaches and trails on a regular basis, creating new memories every day. Life is good!

How about you? What are your favorite travel memories of 2013? More importantly, where do you plan to go in the year ahead?