New Look & Free California eBook!

Please allow us to reintroduce ourselves… When we started TravelCaffeine several years ago, it was mostly a photography showcase, much like our other blog (Disney Tourist Blog) at the time, except for travel photos. As we started to post more of substance on DTB, this blog sort of got left behind. We weren’t really sure how best to approach our non-Disney travels, and posts became less frequent.

Since the start of this year, we’ve increased the regularity of substantive posts here. We’ve also narrowed the focus. Instead of random photos from places we’d just visited without any helpful info, we began targeting destinations with which we had a greater comfort level–places we love, want to share with others, and encourage others to visit.

This has meant a lot of posts about California, Japan, France, and the U.S. National Parks. While we still don’t have the breadth of knowledge about any of those places as we do about Walt Disney World–even the 43 square miles of that sprawling resort pales in comparison to the 500+ square miles of Los Angeles or the 5,000+ square miles of Death Valley National Park–we are comfortable offering planning advice for these places.

With regard to California, specifically, this seems completely logical. We started writing about the Disney Parks because we loved them, and wanted to share our experiences, and in so doing, help others plan their vacations.

It’s pretty much the same situation with other destinations we’re focusing on here. Readers of Disney Tourist Blog know I’m a huge cheerleader of the Tokyo parks, but that extends well beyond the parks to all of Japan (but mostly Kyoto). Same goes for California.

People often assume that we moved to California to be closer to Disneyland, which is not the case. If our aim were to be closer to a Disney park, Orlando would be the obvious choice for relocation. We moved to California because we fell in love with the state, and found ourselves itching to return at every possible opportunity while living in the Midwest. That you could ski in the morning and surf in the afternoon really appealed to us.

Granted, we neither ski nor surf, but the notion that it was possible held a lot of allure. (For what it’s worth, I have photographed the sunrise in snow-covered Yosemite and sunset at the ocean in Malibu in the same day.) The geographic diversity meant that mountains, desert, forest, ocean, and urban landscapes were all within a 2 hour drive. California has more National Parks (nine!) than any other state, and a ton of other things to do outdoors.

Upon arriving in California, we immediately began exploring and photographing the state. Between day trips to Los Angeles to explore the city to long weekend road trips I’d take (shoutout to William McIntosh, who does the majority of driving on those crazy adventures), we were dead-set on seeing and photographing the entire state. Friends joked that we saw more of California in a year than they had in their entire lives.

Nobody knew it, but it turns out California is a pretty big state and seeing and photographing everything could be complicated. 😉 From a photography perspective, I’m also a bit of a perfectionist. There are many places we’ve visited–and revisited–because the photo conditions were not right the first time. Heck, I long ago lost count of the number of times we went to the beach and I didn’t take a single photo because the sky clouded over. (May Grey and June Gloom are cursed things, and they are not always confined to those months!)

Realizing that seeing all of California was going to take…forever, we shifted our immediate emphasis to Southern California, primarily the greater Los Angeles area. We started making regular trips into the city, leaving first thing in the morning and staying late to avoid traffic. You’ve already seen some of the fruits of these visits to L.A. in the form of blog posts about various points of interest.

Today, we’re introducing a couple more. First up is our Ultimate Guide to Los Angeles. While this is still a work in progress, we feel it offers a lot of helpful planning info for visiting. Getting that guide posted was a top priority for me, and I’ve been working on it for a while.

The big reason I’ve focused on this is because so much of the Los Angeles planning info online is atrocious. The best material and blogs are aimed at locals (and thankfully, there are some great ones for that), but most tourist-oriented info is severely lacking.

I guess that summarizes the ‘new vision’ for TravelCaffeine in a nutshell. Focus on non-Disney travel destinations we enjoy and are knowledgeable about, showcase some of my photos from those destinations, and offer tips for visiting from our perspective. Basically, it’s exactly what we’re doing with Disney Tourist Blog, except for non-Disney.

Simple enough idea…not sure why it took so long to think of it.

Free Southern California eBook!

As part of this relaunch, we are giving away a new (FREE!) eBook, 101 Things to Do in Southern California. This has been a work in progress since the beginning of the year when I put together two lists in the “Notes” app on my phone: one of things we really liked that we’d already done, and another of things we needed to do.

I’ve put off the release of this eBook a few times already, wanting to take “just one more” visit to Los Angeles to hit X or Y point of interest, which I suspected might belong on the list. Unfortunately, that list of things we need to do has not gotten any shorter since I’ve created it. Every time I cross one thing off, it seems I learn about two new things and add those.

However, I’m pretty pleased with the finished eBook, even if I have to add the caveat that it’s not completely comprehensive. I’m not sure that something like that ever could be comprehensive, though. We could probably spend the rest of our lives exploring L.A. and not do it all. (We “only” have 11 years until the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, so we better get to work!)

The eBook is 51 pages long, featuring 75 photos, and (obviously) 101 things to do in Southern California. These things are broken down into regions, with the largest chapter (and sections) devoted to Los Angeles, and subsequent chapters covering the Beach Cities, the Valley, San Diego, and beyond. There are plenty of places near-ish to Disneyland, for those of you who are emphasizing those parks on your SoCal vacation.

If you want a copy of this totally free 101 Things to Do in Southern California eBook, all you need to do is subscribe to our newsletter and you will receive a link to download the eBook. You probably already saw the signup form on the top left sidebar, but if not, you can subscribe via the form below:

101 Things to Do in Southern California
The eBook is 51 pages long, featuring 75 photos, and (obviously) 101 things to do in Southern California. If you want a copy of this totally free 101 Things to Do in Southern California eBook, all you need to do is subscribe to our newsletter and you will receive a link to download the eBook.
We respect your privacy.

If you enjoy the eBook or our posts here on TravelCaffeine, we are hoping you’ll help spread the word, and share this site with your friends. We’ve put a ton of time into this all, and really appreciate your support. It would mean the world to us.

Likewise, we’d love it if you’d follow TravelCaffeine on Twitter or Like the TravelCaffeine Facebook page. We mostly just post landscape photos I’ve taken from our non-Disney travels. Even if you’re not planning a trip, beautiful landscapes are probably better than the political hot takes and other spam your ‘friends’ post on social media! 😉

We still have some pretty big ambitions for what the future holds in our California adventure. I’m not quite ready to share those right now…not because I’m superstitious and don’t want to jinx them…but because I have the attention span of a gnat. I’m not sure if today’s plans will end up coming to fruition, or if some shiny object will distract me and I’ll focus on something different.

As for the here and now, we’re going to focus on providing more practical planning advice and recaps of our experiences for the places we love, with our thinly-veiled goal being to convince you to visit…while also providing objective critique, so you know what’s worth your time and money, and what is not. We hope that’s something that interests you, and that you’ll follow our travels here on the blog!

Site Redesign

One of the things we’ve been working on (well, technically our web-designer Adam Hansen has been working on while we’ve been providing marginally-helpful feedback) is a complete site redesign. This has been ongoing for the last couple months, as we try to find a mix of an aesthetic style that fits with the new direction of the site as well as something functional for visitors on mobile. We think Adam has done a great job with this.

If you’re used to the old layout, and like the familiar most-recent-post-first look, click the “Latest Post” tab on the top menu bar. The idea with the new layout is to highlight our best and most helpful posts on the main page. Another new addition is the “Destinations” tab on the top menu bar. This page is still a bit of a work in progress, but it’ll make navigating to posts about top destinations easier.

One thing I did do is cobbled together the logo. Our old one–a coffee bean as a suitcase–was literal to the name of the site, but we felt that a more vibrant color scheme along with an energetic logo would better capture the spirit of our posts. With a lot of content on TravelCaffeine about California and Japan, and a surplus of sunrise and sunset photos, I felt a retro-inspired sun logo made sense.

Californians will likely recognize the font in the logo…and perhaps will curse it as a sight frequently seen when sitting in traffic. It was actually one of two California license plate fonts I tested, with this look narrowly being my favorite. I have zero graphic design experience, and those who do might cringe, but I like it.

Any Feedback?

The current layout and design of the blog is mostly final, but there are still some tweaks that we’ll be rolling out over the coming weeks to spice up its character. As the ones who will (hopefully!) be staring at this site for hours each week, we’re also hoping you can offer some feedback as to what you like about the design, and potential tweaks you might like to see. We can’t promise we’ll implement all of them, but we would love to hear your feedback!

21 replies
  1. Roberto
    Roberto says:

    Tom, another comment that I hope you take as constructive criticism.
    The layout is clean and easy on the eyes, helps the images pop.

    However, the logo bothers me. I know it is Southern California and it captures the colors, but is seems too retro, too 80’s.
    I understand the horizontal lines to show the sunset, but combined with a thin vertical text font that is almost the same color as the sunset, makes the text hard to read.

    Following what another commenter said about Nagel, for example, the Hawaii artwork has a wider text than the sun art and they are not on top of each other,

    If there is another element on top of horizontal lines, the artwork is also “fatter” and a different color, helping it to pop,

    Again, I hope you take this as constructive criticism. Love your work, I’ve learned so much from your posts on photography, I find myself trying to recreate your images at the parks paying attention to composition. Thank you!

    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      I always appreciate construction criticism!

      Unfortunately, I agree with you with regard to the larger/fatter text helping to visually offset the vertical lines of the sunset. I’m not really sure what to do: I love the sunset, and I love the text–separately–but I have to admit that maybe they don’t work perfectly with one another.

      I’ll tinker with it some more and see if I can come up with a solution. Thanks for the feedback! 🙂

  2. Jon
    Jon says:

    Great redesign! We were just talking about planning an Acadia trip when I noticed your most recent update in my RSS reader. Will definitely take your recommendations and experiences into account as you’ve not steered us wrong yet. 😉

    I still look forward to the day we see your photography skills paired with the beauty of Yellowstone….

  3. Debbie Hogshead
    Debbie Hogshead says:

    Great overview of So Cal. I’ve lived here my entire life and you have some great places to visit. Some places I’ve been numerous times and others not at all. I can’t wait to show my hubby and we can start planning some more adventures together in our own backyard.

  4. Jamie Hecker
    Jamie Hecker says:

    Really enjoy the website, your photos (of course) and the corresponding detail you go into in your blogs. Have you written about your workflow process? I’m relatively new to Lightroom and enjoying all the potential it’s bringing out of my older work. I’d like to hear about your experiences with Lightroom, Photoshop, etc. and how you handle your photos afterwards.

    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      I have not done a comprehensive workflow post, but I don’t use Lightroom, so it probably wouldn’t help you even if I did. I use Adobe Camera Raw -> Photoshop, and save my raw files and final edits using a normal folder structure. Nothing fancy!

  5. George Dibble
    George Dibble says:

    First off, thanks as always for all your work on this blog, as well as DTB. They’ve both become some of my go-to resources for planning vacation travel, as well as seemingly never-ending sources of inspiration for photography.

    This redesign is nice. Speaking as someone who generally abhors change, I really did like the old format and interface. But I appreciate the fact that you’ve provided the ability to “sort” by both most recent and topical options, because I think both will be useful at different times. Most recent is great for when someone wants to simply see what the latest is (which is often), while the topical (or is it locational?) option is obviously helpful for when you have a particular place in mind, but don’t want to mess around looking for the meta tag.

    Anyway, the site looks great, and thanks again!

    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:


      The Destinations page still needs a bit of work, but I think this look will make it easier for people–both regular readers and those who stumble upon it looking to plan a trip–to navigate.

  6. Melody
    Melody says:

    If this is an ebook, why is there a picture of a real book? Very misleading. I was actually thinking that I could purchase this as a real book off Amazon. I bet your pictures would look great in print. But I’ll take what I can get, seeing as it’s free. 😉

    Thanks for all the travel tips, Disney and non-Disney. I love the National Parks recommendations.

  7. Cynthia
    Cynthia says:

    Hi Tom and Sarah, I need to preface my comment on the design, with- I am addicted to your Disney tourist blog and probably log on almost daily. And I absolutely hate snarky comments from readers

    I have never been to this site till I clicked the link sent from your email today so I have no point of reference with the old logo. With that said I didn’t care for this logo, but couldn’t figure out why. Then I saw the comment above regarding “the 80’s cool”, and I figured out that is why I don’t care for it. There is probably only one era of time where I didn’t care for the hair styles, clothes or home décor, and yep that is the 80’s. (Give me older or newer, but not the 80″s)!

    I am sorry to post anything negative, but you did ask for our opinions above.

    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      You don’t need to apologize! I am a strong proponent of constructive criticism. As long as it’s respectfully presented, *that* is how positive change happens. If the only feedback people ever received was positive, that’d be awful.

      You are not alone in your sentiment. A couple others said the same thing on social media, and even Sarah was not a huge fan of the logo. Me, on the other hand…I love it. Retro-inspired was exactly what I was going for. There are elements of 70s and 80s design in it, and I guess you could argue that since the font is currently used on California license plates, it’s a modern design. 😉

  8. George Potter
    George Potter says:

    I dig the redesign. It’s clean, it’s vibrant…it’s spiffy!
    The new logo puts me to mind of like Nagel art. The graduated bands on the sunset and neon look of the type scream “’80s cool” in a very good way. Well done!

  9. Steve
    Steve says:

    Tom and Sarah,
    Nice job on the redesign and thanks for all the hard work you guys put into DTB and TravelCaffeine! I’ve always enjoyed reading this blog as it’s one of the first places I come back to check while planning a trip. I’ve found a lot of great places through here from your advice, including lesser known places, such as Cuyahoga, McArthur Burney Falls (btw, if your ever up here again, be sure and go to Alpine Inn for great burgers and shakes!), Pinnacles, Banff and many more! Even though your going to be focusing posts more on certain areas, I hope you continue to provide posts/photos/feedback on random travel spots as well as I think they can, and do, make a difference to some. In particular, National Parks and other areas of Cali’. Thanks again and keep up the great work!

    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      Having a comprehensive guide for every National Park in California (and Utah) is actually high on my list of things to do. Pinnacles is actually one of the next stops for that (since I didn’t see all of the park last time there), and we’ll probably Monterey/Big Sur again while over there.

      Thanks for the tip on Alpine Inn!

  10. sydney
    sydney says:

    Love the redesign! The bright colours and new layout are very aesthetically pleasing. Also, I’m excited to see more California resources over the last couple weeks! I am finally getting around to planning my fall break trip to Southern California (driving out from the midwest for 10 days) and your posts have been a valuable resource – both for our Disneyland and non-Disneyland parts of our trip. Thanks for all of your hard work!! 🙂

  11. Valerie
    Valerie says:

    Tom! I like the redesign and I’m excited to get some more specific non-Disney travel advice from you guys, as I’m a daily reader of your site and also an avid Disney and non-Disney traveler. Keep up the good work, I’m definitely a fan! P.S. I would love to see an “Ultimate Japan” or “Ultimate Kyoto (Tokyo, Osaka, etc.)” guide-style post in the future as well.

    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      I would love to see an “Ultimate Japan” or “Ultimate Kyoto (Tokyo, Osaka, etc.)” guide-style post in the future as well.

      We will have an Ultimate Kyoto Guide in December. Tokyo and Osaka are also very likely in January 2018.

      Expect a lot more Japan content starting towards the end of this year. 🙂

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