Wheels Up, Southwest Florida Scenic Flight Tour

Earlier this month I had the chance to go on a private scenic flight tour of Southwest Florida. This was my first ever flight tour. In fact it was my introduction to flying in a small airplane. I was nervous beforehand and initially upon take off, but my nerves quickly calmed as all the scenic views presented themselves.

Captiva Island and Buck Key Preserve

The car bridge from Sanibel to Captiva Island and Buck Eye Preserve. That blue gulf water!

The tour originated and ended at Punta Gorda Airport (PGD). I checked another airport off the list score! We went up on a recent early April morning to blue skies and light winds. Ideal conditions to be sure. There was a little turbulence over land, but while we were over the gulf, harbor and other large bodies of water, I just sat back and enjoyed the calm ride.

Punta Gorda, Florida

Just after take off the heart of Punta Gorda and Charlotte Harbor lay off in the distance.

Immediately after takeoff you could see the heart of Punta Gorda off in the distance as we turned and began the journey south.

Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park in Punta Gorda, Florida

The marsh, wildlife and beauty of Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park.

Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park in Punta Gorda, Florida

Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park, the third largest Florida state park.

The beginning of the route took us past Burnt Store Harbor. Pine Island, Matlacha and down to Sanibel awaited next. Cape Coral and Ft. Myers sat to the east on the pilot’s side of the plane. I was glad to see Charlotte Harbor, the Gulf of Mexico and countless islands and beaches on mine.

Burnt Store Marina, Southwest Florida

Looking down at the expansive Burnt Store Marina, the biggest marina on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

Burnt Store Marina, Southwest Florida

Burnt Store Marina, a boaters paradise between Punta Gorda and Cape Coral.

I’ll let the photos and their captions tell a lot of the story. Well without further ado.

Charlotte Harbor, Florida

Out over the open Charlotte Harbor waters.

Southwest Florida scenic flight tour

Southwest Florida scenic flight tour is what was on the agenda for this day.

Matlacha, Florida, Pine Island beyond

Matlacha Island, sitting between the heart of Pine Island and the Florida mainland.

Matlacha Island, colorful shops and seafood shops.

Hello Matlacha Island and your wonderful seafood eateries and colorful shops.

St. James City in Southwest Florida

St. James City located on the southern end of Pine Island. Random if you are into blue crab, visit Island Crab Company. Take home some that are still moving, as they were captured that day.

Pine Island near Bokeelia, Florida

The top of Pine Island and the town of Bokeelia, the largest island on Florida’s west coast.

Heart of Pine Island, Florida

The middle of Pine Island. Pine Island Sound awaits on the other side.

Cape Coral, Florida

Looking off to the east and a residential heavy part of Cape Coral.

Once we reached Sanibel it was time to make a 180 degree turn and start heading north. We’d now be flying over the Gulf of Mexico alongside the rest of Sanibel, up-to Captiva, Boca Grande and beyond.

Northern part of Sanbiel Island, Florida.

The northern part of Sanibel Island, Bowman’s Beach is below. Flying over the Gulf of Mexico!

Bowman's Beach, Sanibel Island, Florida

Zooming in on Bowman’s Beach. Golf courses, Gulf coast homes and waterways everywhere you look.

Bridge connecting Sanibel Island and Captiva Island

Captiva Island is the furthest north you can get by car in this Southwest Florida island chain.

North Captiva Island and Captiva, Pine Island Sound sits beyond, Florida

Hurricane Charley blew out the bridge between Captiva and North Captiva Island. They never rebuilt.

North Captiva Island, Southwest Florida

You can get to North Captiva Island by boat and plane. See the thin grass strip runway?!

Grassy runway, North Captiva Island, Florida

North Captiva Island. Who wants to land their plane here?!

Cayo Costa Island, Florida along Gulf of Mexico.

The beach and state park of Cayo Costa along the Gulf of Mexico only accessible by charter boat.

Gasparilla Island, Boca Grande, Florida

The southern end of Gasparilla Island State Park, part of Boca Grande. You can reach by car via the Boca Grande Swing Bridge.

Gasparilla Island, Boca Grande, Florida

The heart of Gasparilla Island separated from the Florida mainland by Charlotte Harbor and Pine Island Sound.

It was amazing to see a lot of the same places I’d been to on foot from a different perspective. I loved seeing all the greens and blues of the water and how quickly it transitions from one color to another. The pilot was very thorough both pre-flight and while in the air. It helped put my mind at ease. He pointed out spots of interest with lots of stories to go with along the way.

Aaron, the elATLboy, the Southwest Florida explorer by air.

Hello Everyone! It’s Aaron, the Southwest Florida explorer by air.

Oddly enough I experienced my first helicopter ride in Florida as well. I have found the Sunshine State to not be a bad place to take in the views airborne. ☀☀☀

The trip did not end at Boca Grande. Stay tuned as I will soon do a follow-up post covering the rest of my Southwest Florida scenic flight tour. More views await.

Have you ever been on a scenic flight tour? In Florida?

Chicago’s Sawada Coffee and Its Military Latte

Chicago and its coffee scene has been on the mind a lot lately. Its been a minute since I last experienced. A coffee drink that is near the forefront of my thoughts is the Instagram friendly and visually appealing Military Latte.

Sawada Coffee, Chicago, West Loop, Military Latte

The Military Latte is the creation of Sawada Coffee. I got my first experience of the West Loop neighborhood coffee gem on my most recent personal Chicago coffee crawl.

On an early morning I entered Sawada Coffee off North Green Street. I headed up a darken set of stairs that sat in the back of Hogsalt Hospitality’s Green Street Smoked Meats, for which this coffee shop is a part of. It’s kind of ironic that green is in the name of the restaurant.

Sawada Coffee, Chicago, West Loop

Sawada Coffee, Chicago, West Loop

Sawada Coffee, Chicago, West Loop

Sawada Coffee, Chicago, West Loop

It was a happening West Loop scene as I waited my time to order from the true Americana themed counter. Sawada offers a variety of pour overs, other lattes, chais and espresso drinks. Those things hardly registered with me at the time though as it was going to be the Military Latte all the way.

Sawada Coffee, Chicago, West Loop

Sawada Coffee, Chicago, West Loop

Tea-based latte? Coffee-based latte? How about both. Espresso and matcha working together. Add some vanilla syrup for sweetness, cocoa powder and with the green tea sitting amongst the foam you had a coffee presentation unmatched in the city. Back to the word green it is!

Sawada Coffee, Chicago, West Loop, Military Latte

Sawada Coffee, Chicago, West Loop, Military Latte

Sawada Coffee, Chicago, West Loop, Military Latte

I enjoyed the unique goodness amongst all the twinkling lights hanging from the ceiling in the aesthetically pleasing coffee shop.

Sawada is named after its founder Hiroshi Sawada who also owns five coffee chops in Japan (making note) and is a World Champion Latte artist. I can easily see why. The Military Latte is not all looks though. It has all the substance and the unique flavor one could only want in a latte. I sipped slowly after my photo shoot. No worries I did drink it hot!

Sawada Coffee, Chicago, West Loop

Sawada Coffee, Chicago, West Loop, Military Latte

I look forward to getting back to Sawada Coffee, other favorite spots and exploring more of the Chicago coffee scene again soon. Military Latte cheers to all!

Sawada Coffee, Chicago, West Loop, Military Latte

You can find Sawada Coffee on Instagram.

Which Chicago coffee shops do you have fond memories of and would recommend checking out?

Hiking Battle Mountain off the San Diego Beaten Path

During a visit to San Diego I stayed in Rancho Bernardo on the north end of town and looked for ways to spend some time outdoors, while also venturing off the beaten path.

The Battle Mountain hike I went on checked off both those boxes. You’ll find Battle Mountain just off I-15 with its entrance oddly enough between two houses in a highly residential area. I initially discovered and captured this hill on another walk.

San Diego hiking, Battle Mountain, Rancho Bernardo

San Diego hiking, Battle Mountain, Rancho Bernardo

I wound up doing this climb just after dawn on an overcast morning.

San Diego hiking, Battle Mountain, Rancho Bernardo

The short 15-20 minute hike was peaceful. It was a little steep and rocky at times but all-in-all not too bad. I noticed a lot of erosion along the way. My legs definitely got a workout. The climb is roughly 800 feet.

San Diego hiking, Battle Mountain, Rancho Bernardo

San Diego hiking, Battle Mountain, Rancho Bernardo

San Diego hiking, Battle Mountain, Rancho Bernardo

San Diego hiking, Battle Mountain, Rancho Bernardo

San Diego hiking, Battle Mountain, Rancho Bernardo

San Diego hiking, Battle Mountain, Rancho Bernardo

San Diego hiking, Battle Mountain, Rancho Bernardo

San Diego hiking, Battle Mountain, Rancho Bernardo

San Diego hiking, Battle Mountain, Rancho Bernardo

San Diego hiking, Battle Mountain, Rancho Bernardo

San Diego hiking, Battle Mountain, Rancho Bernardo

San Diego hiking, Battle Mountain, Rancho Bernardo

San Diego hiking, Battle Mountain, Rancho Bernardo

San Diego hiking, Battle Mountain, Rancho Bernardo

San Diego hiking, Battle Mountain, Rancho Bernardo

Once at the top, you will see up-close the 20 foot white cross that has stood since 1966. Battle Mountain got its name from a battle that was held nearby in San Pasqual Valley in the 1800’s. This spot was originally called Mule Hill as soldiers from those battles had to kill mules in order to have food to eat.

San Diego hiking, Battle Mountain, Rancho Bernardo

San Diego hiking, Battle Mountain, Rancho Bernardo

Expansive panoramic views awaited me at the top. I saw all the residential housing of northern San Diego County, along with Starvation and Iron Mountains, Lake Hodges and more.

San Diego hiking, Battle Mountain, Rancho Bernardo

San Diego California hiking, Battle Mountain, Rancho Bernardo

San Diego hiking, Battle Mountain, Rancho Bernardo

San Diego hiking, Battle Mountain, Rancho Bernardo

Lake Hodges, San Diego, California

San Diego hiking, Battle Mountain, Rancho Bernardo

San Diego hiking, Battle Mountain, Rancho Bernardo

The hike, well almost run, down the hill took only a matter of minutes. It was a great morning in the Rancho Bernardo part of San Diego walking/hiking up Battle Mountain and taking in the views. For anyone looking for a quick hike and something off the radar in northern San Diego County, this is your spot.

Tip: For a longer hiking adventure I highly recommend the San Dieguito River Park Trail, in which there is an entrance literally right across the street from Battle Mountain.

San Diego hiking, Battle Mountain, Rancho Bernardo

What other off the radar outdoor spots would you recommend checking out in San Diego?

San Diego: A Million Skyline Looks

Back to sharing skylines I go which leads me back to the A Million Skyline Looks series.

The latest edition comes from Southern California and a city known for its mild climate all year long, beautiful San Diego.

San Diego: A Million Skyline Looks

Downtown scene from the San Diego–Coronado Bridge.

I was excited to get a first taste of what San Diego has to offer. Most of my shots are from Coronado Island and along San Diego Bay as well as from random spots on the interstate. Always have that camera ready in the car, especially if you are a passenger! Palm trees make me happy so a lot of the skyline views made me smile even more. Well without further ado.

San Diego: A Million Skyline Looks

Beautiful Downtown San Diego from northbound I-5.

San Diego: A Million Skyline Looks from across San Diego Bay

Skyline straight ahead, opposite San Diego Bay.

San Diego: A Million Skyline Looks

Heading onto I-5 northbound. San Diego, California front-and-center.

San Diego: A Million Skyline Looks from Tidelands Park on Coronado Island

Palms trees guarding the skyline in Tidelands Park on Coronado Island.

San Diego: A Million Skyline Looks from Coronado Island

San Diego, California cityscape straight ahead!

Sailboats guarding the San Diego skyline

Who is ready to set sail in Downtown San Diego, California?!

San Diego: A Million Skyline Looks

What a harbor and city view these palm trees get to experience every day. Looking southward.

Beautiful Downtown San Diego, California amongst the palm trees

Capturing the San Diego skyline and palm trees every chance I get.

San Diego: A Million Skyline Looks, California

Heading off California State Route 75 and the San Diego-Coronado Bridge into town.

San Diego: A Million Skyline Looks, from the San Diego-Coronado Bridge

Looking straight down Harbor Drive from up-top the San Diego–Coronado Bridge.

San Diego: A Million Skyline Looks

Always have that camera ready as a passenger. You never know when a skyline will present itself.

San Diego: A Million Skyline Looks, from the friendly skies

Skyline peaking through the window upon descent into San Diego International Airport.

San Diego: A Million Skyline Looks

Coronado Island greenery amongst the San Diego, California cityscape.

San Diego: A Million Skyline Looks

Out on the open Tidelands Park trail.

San Diego: A Million Skyline Looks

Just a typical clear, warm day in San Diego from Coronado Island.

San Diego: A Million Skyline Looks

Out on the open road capturing the San Diego skyline amongst palm trees.

What other spots would you recommend capturing the San Diego skyline from?

Out on the Open Road Ann Arbor Winter Style

Being “Out on the Open Road” can be a challenge in Ann Arbor, Michigan and the Midwest during the winter months. Road conditions and the resulting slow times in the car can get on my nerves like many at times. It is was worth it though when I’m able to see the beautiful snow scenes that this time of year produces. This was especially true on some recent drives on and around Huron River Drive in Ann Arbor. Well without further ado.

Huron River Drive in winter, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Out on the open road, Ann Arbor winter style.

Huron River Drive in winter, Ann Arbor, Michigan

The early morning brings with it the same scenic feeling.

Huron River Drive in winter, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Playing on the wintry road, to capture the scenes of winter.

Huron River Drive in winter, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Rinse, repeat. More Ann Arbor Huron River Drive beauty.

Huron River Drive in winter, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Huron River is a must Ann Arbor drive no matter the time of the year.

Huron River Drive in winter, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Blue winter skies. The warmer temperatures causing all the heavy snow and branches to start falling onto the road.

Pedestrian bridge over Huron River, Barton Nature Area, Ann Arbor

Out on the open Barton Nature Area pedestrian bridge.

Pedestrian bridge over Huron River, Barton Nature Area, Ann Arbor

Out on the open Barton Nature Area snow-covered trail.

Pedestrian bridge over Huron River, Barton Nature Area, Ann Arbor

The wet and heavy snow clings on to everything on the pedestrian bridge over the Huron River.

Pedestrian bridge over Huron River, Barton Nature Area, Ann Arbor

The wet and heavy snow clings on to everything on the pedestrian bridge over the Huron River.

Pedestrian bridge over Huron River, Barton Nature Area, Ann Arbor

The wet and heavy snow clings on to everything in the Barton Nature Area.

Huron River and snow covered hills of Ann Arbor, Michigan

Looking out at the Huron River and wintry hills of Ann Arbor.

Huron River Drive in winter, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Out on the open road true Ann Arbor winter style.

Bird Rd. - Ann Arbor winter scene

A new dirt road find, the hilly Bird Road in Ann Arbor.

Do you have a favorite drive you like to road trip on over-and-over again during the winter months?