Food,  Travel Musings

My Favorite Food and Travel Experiences of 2020

While I think that most of us would like to put 2020 far behind, the end of the year is always a good time for reflection. My travel year certainly didn’t pan out as planned, but like most everyone I found myself adapting to new opportunities. Trips to Portugal and Spain were cancelled, but local road trips to explore Utah’s beauty were taken instead. And I will always try to find good food to eat – pandemic or not. Here are my favorite food and travel experiences of 2020.

Favorite Site of 2020

The Bryce Canyon Amphitheater

The Bryce Canyon Amphitheater from Inspiration Point

My favorite single site of 2020 was the Amphitheater in Bryce Canyon National Park. It’s simply spectacular! Somehow I had never before visited Bryce, even though it takes less than 4 hours to drive there from my house. I’m always getting on a plane to experience the world outside of my home state. The pandemic forced us to stay close to home, and our first pandemic road trip was to Bryce Canyon.

I’ve seen many pictures of the Bryce Canyon Amphitheater over the years, but nothing quite prepares you for the grandeur of seeing it for the first time in person. And…I never before knew that you could actually hike down into it! Hiking the Queen’s/Navajo Loop Trail through the Amphitheater hoodoos was also my favorite hike of the year. You can read more about how to spend your time in Bryce Canyon National Park by clicking here

Near the bottom of the Navajo Loop switchbacks in the Bryce Canyon Amphitheater
An isolated Hoodoo while hiking in the Bryce Canyon amphitheater

Favorite Travel Experience

Driving the Cathedral Valley Loop

The Cathedral Valley Loop road passing through the Bentonite Hills. Driving this road was my favorite travel experience of 2020

While tripping for our second pandemic road trip to Capitol Reef National Park, I learned about the remote Cathedral Valley within the Park’s boundaries. I immediately recognized that I absolutely needed to rent a Jeep and spend a day driving the Cathedral Valley Loop. Because the road is difficult and requires a high-clearance 4×4, only about 1% of the Park’s visitors ever see Cathedral Valley. I believe that if the road was paved, it would be one of Utah’s most visited spots due to its beauty.

Driving the Cathedral Valley Loop road ended up being my favorite travel experience of 2020. A day exploring this part of Capitol Reef NP starts with fording a river. The difficult slow-going washboard dirt road then takes you 58 miles through the otherworldly Bentonite Hills (bentonite is a multi-colored volcanic clay), past unspoiled vistas like the breathtaking Upper South Desert Overlook, and ultimately down into the sandstone monoliths and walls of Cathedral Valley. You can read everything about our day driving the Cathedral Valley Loop by clicking here.

Preparing to ford the river at the start of the Cathedral Loop Road
The Bentonite Hills near Capitol Reef National Park
The Upper South Desert Overlook along the Cathedral Loop Road
Sandstone monoliths in Cathedral Valley
The Cathedral Walls of Cathedral Valley in Utah

Favorite National Park

Capitol Reef

The Waterpocket Fold along Capitol Reef's Scenic Drive

During this year of local road trips, we managed to visit 4 of Utah’s Mighty 5 National Parks – Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands. I had hoped to get to Zion NP before the end of the year, but that trip will have to wait a few more months. Shamefully, I had never been to three of those parks until the pandemic forced me to travel local. Of the four visited this year, Capitol Reef ended up being my favorite.

While Bryce has my favorite site of the year, the features of the Park are limited compared to Capitol Reef. Hoodoos, hoodoos, hoodoos…. and great viewpoints.

I haven’t had a chance to write about our visits to Arches and Canyonlands yet, but they were crowded!!! Even in October, during the middle of a pandemic. Downtown Moab seemed busier than downtown Salt Lake City (OK that’s not saying a lot, but still….) Our hike to Delicate Arch was shared with a hundred other people. We waited in a line of cars for over 30 minutes just to enter Canyonlands, while people were being turned away from Arches (visitor numbers were capped due to the pandemic).

But Capitol Reef…. It was the least crowded of the four by far. It had the widest variety of sites – the eroded colored cliffs of the Waterpocket Fold, the sandstone domes for which the Park is named, hikes to natural arches, hikes through narrow high-walled washes, and the aforementioned Cathedral Valley. And since food is such an important part of my travels, the food in surrounding Torrey, Bicknell, and Boulder was the best of our National Park road trips.

You can click here to read My Thorough Guide to Capitol Reef National Park

The white sandstone domes for which Capitol Reef National Park is named. Visiting Capitol Reef was one of my favorite travel experiences of 2020.
Historic Fruita within the boundaries of Capitol Reef National Park
The narrow walls along the Grand Wash hike in Capitol Reef National Park
Steep sandstone steps along the Cassidy Arch Trail in Capitol Reef National Park
Cassidy Arch in Capitol Reef National Park

Favorite State Park

Dead Horse Point

Looking out across Dead Horse Point.  Visiting this Utah State Park is one of my favorite travel experiences of 2020

We also were able to visit a few of Utah’s State Parks this year. My favorite was Dead Horse Point State Park – one of a trifecta of Parks located near Moab that also includes Arches NP and Canyonlands NP. The view from Dead Horse Point may be the most spectacular in the Moab area. Plus the 1-mile hike around the Point gives you a great chance to really soak in all the views from this 2000 foot high mesa. Click here to read my post on Dead Horse Point.

The view while walking the East Rim Trail at Dead Horse Point
The Colorado River Gooseneck at Dead Horse Point
The view from the West Rim Trail at Dead Horse Point

Favorite Lodging

Atenas Costa Rica House Rental

Our VRBO Rental House in Mercedes Costa Rica.  Staying here was one of my top travel experiences of 2020

We did make it to Costa Rica in late January just before all the madness hit. Costa Rica has long been my favorite winter destination and when there, I often stay in the town of Atenas. Atenas is very popular with the expat community due to its fantastic year-round climate. Consequently, beautiful rental houses dot its foothills.

This 2-bedroom house, which I found on VRBO, was located on several acres of private land, featured an infinity pool, and a large covered patio. The patio offered views out across the nearby hills and sat next to a giant guanacaste tree – home to multiple species of birds (including toucans) and a couple of iguanas. And it only cost $170 per night!! Costa Rica is much less expensive than other winter getaways like Hawaii. You can learn more about Atenas Costa Rica by clicking here.

My favorite lodging of 2020.  A VRBO rental near Atenas Costa Rica
The pool and patio at our Costa Rica vacation rental

Favorite Travel Meal

Capitol Burger – Torrey Utah

The mushroom burger from Capitol Burger.  My favorite travel food of 2020

I ate some great food while traveling this year. Hell’s Backbone Grill and Farm in Boulder Utah, Antica Forma in Moab Utah, and Cevichitos in Alajuela Costa Rica, all deserve specific mention. But the single best thing I ate while traveling in 2020 was this mushroom burger from Capitol Burger in Torrey Utah. It only took two bites for me to realize that it was the best burger I’ve ever eaten, and it haunts me more than any other travel meal this year.

Torrey is located on the edge of Capitol Reef National Park and this burger-only food truck parks at a few locations around the small town. The owner sources all his beef from local ranchers and grinds it fresh daily. The brioche buns come from Salt Lake’s popular Stoneground bakery and are lightly toasted. The fresh juicy flavorful burger is topped with garlic cremini mushrooms, caramelized onions and blue cheese dressing.  Plus, a garlic aioli is spread across the bottom bun. Perfection!

The Capitol Burger food truck parked in Torrey Utah

Favorite Local Meal

Cucina – Salt Lake City

While the pandemic did limit our local dining this year, we found opportunities to eat outside on the patios of a few local restaurants. My favorite local meal of 2020 was at Cucina, located in Salt Lake City’s Avenues neighborhood. Cucina is ranked as Salt Lake City’s #1 restaurant on Open Table, but I’d never been. Mrs. Thorough Tripper booked us a reservation for our anniversary in September. And it absolutely lived up to the hype! Here’s what we ate:

Fried Avocado stuffed with candied cashews from Cucina in Salt Lake City.
Deep Fried Avocado stuffed with Candied Cashews
Crab Cakes from Cucina in Salt Lake City. Cucina served some of my favorite food of 2020.
Crab Cakes with Chipotle Aioli and Cilantro Paint
Lobster Gnocchi from Cucina in Salt Lake City. More of my favorite food of 2020
Lobster Gnocchi with Wood Ear Mushrooms, Dandelion Pesto, and Saffron Beurre Blanc
The best ahi tuna dish I have ever eaten - from Cucina in Salt Lake City
Ahi with Hot & Sour Cabbage and Sambal-Coconut Cream – this is the best tuna dish I’ve ever eaten

Favorite New Local Restaurant

Localz Bistro – Sandy Utah

I also found a new restaurant a little closer to home that’s quickly become our favorite local place for great food. I love it when I can eat locally and it feels like travel eating – especially during a no-travel pandemic. Localz Bistro in Sandy Utah does that for me. The chef at Localz Bistro hails from New Orleans and his food is most definitely on par with some of the great food that I have eaten there. The staff is exceptionally friendly. The gumbo is a regular take-out item for me this winter, and the bread pudding should not be missed.

The gumbo at Localz Bistro in Sandy Utah.  Localz Bistro is one my new favorite places to get food in 2020
The Gumbo at Localz Bistro – dark roux, chicken, sausage, shrimp
The Chef's Chicken Sandwich from Localz Bistro in Sandy Utah
Crispy Fried Chicken Sandwich
Low Country Shrimp and Grits from Localz Bistro in Sandy Utah.  This is one of my favorite food dishes of 2020
Low Country Shrimp and Grits – bacon, mushrooms, onions peppers, gravy. Yum!

So there you have it. My 2020 favorite food and travel experiences. Can’t wait to see what 2021 brings! Europe please???!!!!!

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