Palm Springs is a kaleidoscope of spectacle plopped between the highways and wind farms. It’s a place where pool parties kick off at 8am, drag brunch margaritas are a breakfast staple, and colorful art installations peacock on every corner. If you haven’t made your way to Robolights, here’s why it’s a must-see.
Robolights is a sprawling residential plot that’s about as eye-popping as they come. And each year, artist Kenny Irwin Jr. tears down his masterpiece and starts anew. Using scavenged and gifted trash items, he constructs a mental wonderland of robots, tunnels, bridges, trolls, whosits and whatsits, giant chairs, aliens, creatures from the deep, interactive arcades – whatever comes to mind.
It’s the definition of controlled chaos. It’s 4 acres of upcycled paint cans, phone chords, plastic bottles, tires, hubcaps, cages, garden hoes, 8 million Christmas lights, disco balls, giant Christmas blow-ups, busted electronics, patched up bouncy houses, car parts, unwanted toys … imagine the Wall-E junkyard then blasted with paint. It’s kinda like that.
To visit this fun house (it’s actually the artist’s residence), check the website first – it’s closed during parts of the year so the Irwin can work on his masterpiece. Bring a few bucks for a suggested donation (it takes money to keep those lights on!) and your walking shoes – it takes about 45 minutes to walk through the whole thing.
2020 just sounds like a year for epic trips. While we adjust back to office life, we’re slowly re-entering with a healthy dose of wanderlust and electrolytes (because you have to prep that immune system for international travel). According to the Toads, here’s what tops our list for the best places to visit in 2020.
“I’m taking the little groms to the snow! My youngest hasn’t been yet so we’re getting her on some mini skis. It’s the best place in the world to learn to ski because when you fall at least you got a million dollar view!” – Neil, Operations
“I took a DNA test last year and turns out I’m 91% Vietnamese, so I’m headed back to the Motherland! I’m doing an epic solo motorcycle trip through the countryside. I’ve never been to Vietnam. I’m so pumped.” – Anthony, Graphic Design
“I’m going on my honeymoon this year and I think we settled on Turkey! I want that balance of adventure and relaxing, but we also like amazing food and coffee and culture…Turkey seemed like the perfect place. I hear Cappadocia is where the hot air balloons float over these ancient cities built around rock formations. Sounds pretty amazing.” – Tessa, Production
“Amsterdam has some incredible art museums. The Van Gogh, the Foam, the Moco, and of course the Rijksmusuem that’s been closed for years and just re-opened after a mega remodel – I hear it’s spectacular. I just want to go to all of the museums and eat all of the snacks and go biking through the tulips!” – Helena, Women’s Design
“My buddy just came back from a surf trip in Senegal and now I’m frothin’. There are some great breaks just outside of Dakar like the legendary point break, Ngor Right (the one they surfed in Endless Summer!), and apparently down the coast is a little town called Ouakam where you’re just supposed to barrel all. day. long.” – Dr. Drew, Customer Service
CAMINO DE SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA
“I’ve always wanted to walk the Camino. It’s a beautiful, historic pilgrimage route that winds through the hills of France and ends at this beautiful city, Santiago de Compostela, in Northwest Spain. After you’ve made your trek (I’d start in Léon so it wasn’t too long…), you end at the Cathedral where all the pilgrims pack in for a church service (all in Latin, of course). It just sounds divine.” – Lucinda, Production
“This summer we’re taking a road trip all throughout the Western US with the goal to hit as many National Parks as we can. Last fall we took my 5 year old, Lily, to her first national park and she loved it. She asked for a park pass for Christmas. So we’re going to put it to work! Our goal is to do a big circle – Yellowstone, Arches, Canyonlands, Mesa Verde, Saguaro, Joshua Tree, Grand Canyon, Zion, Great Basin… ok, if we make it to half it would be amazing. But Yellowstone is at the TOP of the must-see list!” – Lucas, Brand & Marketing
“I really want to go to Japan and hit some links! People are shocked when I tell them that Japan has great golf courses, but why wouldn’t they? It’s a country known for epic views and beautiful gardens. Makes sense to me!” – Guin, Women’s Design
“We’re going to visit my mother-in-law in Switzerland, but then after that we’re going to check out Southern Spain (or Andalucia). It’s been on our bucket list for years. We’re thinking Sevilla, Cordoba, Granada…just give me all the tapas and Moorish architecture. I hear the Alhambra is mind blowing.” – Steve, Marketing
VOLCANO NATIONAL PARK
“I am SO excited to go to Volcano National Park on Hawaii’s Big Island! Kīlauea and Mauna Loa are active volcanoes so you can actually watch the lava flow, AND you can go see the Thurston lava tube that’s so big you can walk through it….AHHHH NATURE IS SO COOL!” – SARAH, Culture & Giving (and our resident geologist)
“Seeing the Northern lights is HIGH on my list of things to see with my own eyes. I hear Iceland is just the coolest and my dream is to surf off the coast of a glacier, while the Northern Lights are above, then get into the natural hot springs. Can you make that happen, Iceland?” – Natalie, Materials
“Give me mountains and jungle and ocean and sky and I’m a happy camper. Usually I love to explore cities, but I’ve heard nothing but good things about the vibe and the people and the food…. I know I haven’t been there, but I think Costa Rica is a place you find your soul. Sounds like a good place to clock some hours.” – Daisy, Brand & Marketing
Blame it on the weather, but the holidays can be stressful (like when you plan a dinner for 10 and it turns into 16…or your flight gets delayed AGAIN…or you have to make 60 cookies for the holiday class party). But remember: every day (even the trying ones) is an adventure! Here are 7 tips for how to stay sane during the holidays—and beyond.
Staying hydrated will do wonders for your mind and body. Keep a reusable bottle on hand and never forget the party rule: for every libation, chug a glass of water.
Stuck at the airport or standing in the longest check-out line of your life? Avoid the temptation to look at your phone and watch your fellow human beings. It’ll restore your faith in humanity…or at least be entertaining.
You’ve heard it before, but it’s worth repeating. When you’ve just about had it to HERE, close your eyes and take 3 or 4 deep, slow breaths. The rush of oxygen triggers a dopamine release in your brain which makes you calmer.
FORGET THE PRESENTS
Ah, gift anxiety—not knowing what size to get, dealing with shipping, dealing with timing, spending lots of money—just don’t do it. Instead you can donate to causes in people’s names, write poems or heartfelt letters, or commit to an adventure in the spring. It really is the thought that counts.
Okay okay, we just said don’t do presents. But if you must, feel free to re-gift wine you’ve gotten, jewelry you’ve never worn, your own personal copy of a book that you love… no shame in taking the sustainable route (PS—if you need to wrap, here’s how to avoid the wrapping paper)!
WALK IT OFF
We can’t stress this enough: Exercise makes you happy. Get your blood pumping at least a few times a week and you’ll be happy every day (trust us, we are scientists). Stuck inside? Turn on your favorite tunes and dance it out. If you need a playlist, here’s our Rock the Holidays playlist.
The key word is PRACTICE. It’s easy to give thanks when things are going well. It’s when things have fallen apart—the pies burned, the traffic is horrendous, you’re on your second hour of the annual Smith Family political debate—that’s when you practice gratitude and find something (ANYTHING!) to be grateful for. You’ll find that it is, indeed, an imperfect but happy holiday!
Here’s the thing about photoshoots: they’re not always the glamorous, linen soirees they’re made out to be. When we went to Acadia National Park on the eastern shores of Maine for our Fall photoshoot, we got rain, snow, ice, stuck cars, closed roads, and an emergency drill. It was a far cry from blow dryers and lemon water – so naturally, we were stoked.
Protruding into the Atlantic, Acadia National Park takes up the better half of Mount Desert Island (pronounced “dessert”, it’s a Maine thing) on the Schoodic Peninsula. It’s home to ragged cliffs, precarious lighthouses, bucolic lakes, and Cadillac Mountain — the tallest mountain on the eastern coastline and first place in the USA to see the sunrise. Of course, the road to Cadillac Mountain is closed during the winter (news to us), so we changed the plans and started back at the beginning.
The main entrance to Acadia NP is through Bar Harbor, ME – a shingled seaside town that ebbs and flows with tourists and the tides. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, it’s a sea of baseball caps and tail lights. In the winter, you can have it all to yourselves (and a few hearty locals).
Just outside of Bar Harbor we picked up the 27-mile Park Loop Road, a one-way “best of” tour of the park. Driving slowly and with our Kodaks at the ready, we hopped out to explore when the mood struck us: a jaunt up Precipice Trailhead, scrambling to unnamed overlooks, and a heated debate over whether to take the plunge at Sand Beach or not (we settled for a toe dip – and yes, it was freezing).
Just short of Otter Cove we stopped off at Thunder Hole, a formation named for the cacophony of sound emitted from waves crashing against rocks. It did not disappoint.
Likewise, Otter Cliff coaxed a few holy mackerels from our lips. These 110-foot granite cliffs are dotted with evergreens and icy waterfalls that quietly spill down into crystal green waters, beckoning you to take a plunge… I mean, if the otters can do it…
When we rounded the corner to Jordan Pond our excursion came to an abrupt end due to a Park Ranger safety drill. So we did some calisthenics and picked up Route 3 back to Bar Harbor, in search or the one joint still serving cold brews and hot chowder.
4,600. That’s the number of islands that belong to the state of Maine. Somewhere in there is Peaks Island – a busy little suburb off the coast of Portland and home to one of our all-time favorite Toads, Ponch. He’s our National Retail Development Manager and has been heading up our flagship store in Freeport since 2001. A few things you should know about Ponch: he’s part polar bear, can fix literally anything, and he’s the greatest pizza chef in the state of Maine (unconfirmed, but trust us on this). He’s got every skill you need to live on a tiny Maine island for 365 days a year (which he does with his wife, 2 daughters, and 2 pups). When were out there for our photoshoot this fall, we sat around Ponch’s kitchen and got the local’s take on Peaks Island living.
How many years have you lived on Peaks?
This stint is 13 years, but Jess and I did a previous 3 year stint.
What’s the easiest way to get there?
Casco Bay Lines Ferries out of the Portland harbor – same spot they’ve been running out of since 1880! It’s a 17 minute ferry through the bay, and you pass the old Fort Scammel, can see lighthouses and the Portland skyline. It’s really pretty (You can always take a water Taxi if you plan a late night out on the town).
What’s your last stop before the mainland?
Standard Baking Co. for incredible bread and Old Port Spirits and Cigars for libations.
Best place to get a pizza on the island?
My house! There aren’t any pizza joints on the island, but I like Portland’s Flatbread Pizza, or Micucci’s for a Sicilian Slab.
What’s the best way to get around on the island?
When you get off the ferry, walk up the hill, take the first left, walk a few blocks and visit Brad’s Recycled Bike Shop – you can rent all sorts of 80’s and 90’s bikes, plus some old Schwinn tandems and even kid carriers – great for your beer and lobsters, or dog, if not your kid. Walking is also great as is unicycling.
Best place to watch the sunrise?
Picnic Point – I recommend walking out past the rope swing.
Best place to watch the sunset?
Picnic Point is still a great spot, or the front of the island to watch the sun set over Portland.
Best spot to the get creative juices flowing?
The Illustration Institute cabins. The Illustration Institute is a non-profit based in Portland that allows artists to spend a few weeks off the grid, living in quiet cabins on the island just working on their craft.
Best spot for a cocktail?
Make your own in advance or pack the ingredients, put it in a thermos, and go hang out on the rocks.
Best place to pitch a tent:
It’s not necessarily legal, but can’t say it doesn’t happen… Best advice is to be friendly, and don’t make a mess, but know that most of the land is private and the rest of the island is Portland City property.
Best piece of advice for living on an island:
A friend of mine had recently moved to the Great State of Maine and was considering buying a house but didn’t know where. He asked me about Peaks but had heard that it was a pain. My response to him was “It’s only a pain if you don’t like boats.” You have to know that you can’t get home without a boat and you can’t come and go on your own schedule. You have to share transportation with a whole bunch of people – some you know and some you don’t, some you like and some you don’t care for. BUT it’s a very pleasant way to start a commute or end a long day or week.
For more local tips about Maine, catch up with Ponch and the rest of the Toads at our Toad&Co Freeport store at 11 Bow Street in Freeport, ME.