Posts Tagged ‘Travel’

City of Angels

LA City View


There, I said it. I, a native New Yorker, loves the city of freeways and urban sprawl.  My first visit to Los Angeles was with my family when I was in college and similar to the experience of many people I knew, I was not too impressed.  I pictured palm trees, beautiful sandy beaches, and Hollywood glitz.  What I was met with was homeless people on Hollywood boulevard, traffic, mansions hidden behind massive gates, traffic, fast food signs and pawn shops along Sunset Boulevard, and more traffic.  I left thinking I’ll never come back.  But I did.  For grad school.  And I loved it.  I think now that the traffic and the sprawl and the pollution is the city’s way of protecting all the wonderful spots for its own residents.  And now I’m here to reveal my favorite spots (don’t hate me Angelenos).

So here is how I would plan a trip back to Los Angeles, because believe you me, with negative temperatures in the Northeast, I sure am wishing I can go back to LA soon! First thing, remember all the traffic I talked about? Yeah…that’s real.  You want to plan your trip based on sections or neighborhoods of LA so you’re not zigzagging across the city getting stuck in traffic while trying to make it from one attraction to another.

Day 1 – Beach Day

Ease into your trip by enjoying a laid back day at the beach, Cali style.  Pick up some delicious pastries at Huckleberry for a morning picnic at the beach.  Head to Malibu to Leo Carillo State Park.  There’s rock formations for pictures, climbing, and resting, tide pools, and also a dog friendly area so you might even catch some happy dogs frolicking about.  I found the beach clean, the sand soft, the waves calmer, and less crowded than other beaches.


My dog frolicking at Leo Carillo State Park Beach

After a few hours of sunbathing, you’ll want some lunch.  Drive back down the Pacific Coastal Hwy to Malibu Seafood Fresh Fish Market Market for what else, fresh seafood and views of the Pacific Ocean.

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View of Malibu from Santa Monica

After lunch, head to Santa Monica for some activities.  If you have kids or you are a kid at heart, hang out at the Santa Monica Pier.  There’s rides, games, and an aquarium.  If you want retail therapy, head to Santa Monica Place for a cool open air mall.  Go to the top floor for an awesome dining area with loungers and fire pits, and great views of the beach.  Also, walk down 3rd Street Promenade for more shopping and performance artists.  If you like to chill like me, walk along Ocean Boulevard, which is a tree lined boulevard with views of Santa Monica Beach.  Make sure to also stop by the new Tongva Park located across from the Santa Monica Pier.  It’s a small park but very well designed and also offers nice views of the beach.

Santa Monica Pier

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For dinner, what’s more Cali then having a gourmet burger at Father’s Office? There’s other items on the menu but the standout is the burger which is made with gruyere cheese and blue cheese.  It’s a gastropub with a great selection of beer, making it a 21 and older only crowd.  If you have kids, try the more family friendly, but equally famous and delicious Umami Burger.


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Other things to do in this area:

The Getty Villa – Beautiful art museum housed in a Villa.  Located between Santa Monica and Malibu.  Requires advanced reservations though.

Getty Villa

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Malibu Creek State Park – Scenic hike overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  Easy to Moderate intensity.

Malibu Hike

Random fireplace found at Malibu Creek

Malibu Lumber Mart – Don’t let the name fool you.  It’s a high-end shopping plaza with cool architecture, nice resting areas and even a playground.  Go if you feel like splurging or people watching!

Other places to eat:

Dukes – Kitschy Polynesian themed seafood restaurant known for it’s views.  It’s a fun place to get cocktails and chill.

Wahoo’s Fish Taco – Fast casual fish taco spot.  You can’t leave Cali without eating fish tacos and this place does it well if you’re looking for a quick meal.

Bay Cities Italian Deli – Great deli for picking up cold cut sandwiches and antipasto for a picnic.  Get the Godmother, so good!

BOA Steakhouse – Excellent steakhouse for a night on the town.  You may even spot a celebrity or two!

Stay tuned for more!

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As you can tell from the title, I went to Charleston a few weeks ago for a girl’s weekend getaway.  I had heard much about Charleston’s culinary scene and being that my companions were also fellow foodie lovers, it’s no surprise that our weekend getaway was largely centered on food!  Of course we still managed to squeeze a few activities in between meals and check out what Charleston has to offer.  Here’s our take on a 3 day getaway to the South!

Day 1:

I can’t think of a better way to start our trip than with a decadent Southern brunch!  Poogan’s Porch definitely lived up to it’s reputation as a great brunch spot.  We arrived there slightly before opening time at 11:30am on a Thursday and by the time we got seated, the restaurant already had a wait!


While we ate at a bunch of great restaurants, this place was hands down everyone’s favorite of the trip.  To start, you get a basket of warm, sweet biscuits that were moist and delicious.  We shared the duck confit grilled cheese (duck confit, crispy bacon, pimento cheese, I mean, how can you go wrong??!!), the buttermilk fried chicken, and the shrimp and grits (one of many that we would be trying throughout the trip!).  All three dishes were great, but the clear winner was the duck!


Some exploring and walking was in order after all that rich food.  Downtown Charleston is really charming and full of historical buildings.  King Street between John and Broad Street, is really the heart of the downtown Charleston shopping district.  There’s a number of boutiques, eateries, high end stores, and big chain retailers housed in historical structures.  Walk east on Market Street to check out the City Market, an indoor/outdoor market space full of vendors selling local products that make for great souvenirs like sweetgrass baskets and low country culinary mixes (shrimp n’ grits, gumbo, hush puppies, she crab soup, etc.).  You’ll also pass by a number of fudge and praline shops so be sure to stop by for free samples!  We also stumbled upon a few old fashioned stores selling candy that will make you nostalgic over your childhood (Mallo Cups! Bit O Honey! Razzles!).

charleston7So what is there to do after brunch and snacking? Why, dinner of course!  Since we were in the South, we wanted to try fresh seafood. We debated between Pearlz Oyster Bar and Amen Street Fish & Raw Bar, and ended up with Amen since it had a wider selection of dishes.  Both are located on East Bay Street, which boasts tons of restaurants and is a great area to visit if you’re looking for dining options.  As you can see below, we certainly ordered a number of dishes but to be fair, all but one of them are starter dishes so we created our very own seafood tapas meal.  We had the hush puppies served with wildflower honey, fried green tomatoes, hot shrimp & crab sandwich, she crab soup, Amen Street’s famous shrimp corndogs, fried oysters, and a mix of raw oysters (not pictured).  Again, each dish was delicious and you can’t go wrong with any of them.  I particularly enjoyed the hot shrimp & crab sandwich, it was flavorful and the baguette was so soft, I wanted to buy a roll to take home!  The shrimp corndog was also memorable and the fried oysters were cooked just right, crispy batter on the outside while the oyster texture stayed smooth and soft.


Day 2:

No visit to the South would be complete without visiting a plantation.  Middleton Plantation is one of the more popular plantations known for it’s extensive grounds and beautiful gardens.  It’s located about 20 minutes outside of downtown Charleston and requires a car to get there.  There may be tours that go there but our hotel was not aware of any.  The cost of a rental car for 1 day was about $30 so it’s not a huge cost if you go that route and you do have it for 24 hours.

The grounds were certainly beautiful with magnificent Oak trees and Camellia’s in bloom.  But the real highlight of the visit was seeing all the animals.  There were sheep and their lambs grazing openly in the fields, huge Belgian draft horses, cashmere goats (!), water buffaloes, hogs, and tons of roosters running around.  What’s also great about the plantation is that they have a number of free tours that were interesting and informative.  We spent about a half day there (4 hours), which included 3 tours and some touring of our own.  There’s a really nice restaurant on site that looks over the grounds, but we opted for a quickie lunch since we had other plans for food later on!  If you have an early start there, you may also want to visit Drayton Hall nearby.  It’s another historic plantation that is highly regarded, especially for it’s main building, which survived the Civil War.

charleston9So what was our foodie plans? Why Bojangles’ Famous Chicken ‘n Biscuits!  I had heard much about this famous fried chicken chain so I was stoked to find one on the way to Middleton Plantation.  I have to say, it did live up to it’s reputation! I like it more than the other chicken chains, like KFC and Popeyes, the sides were delicious (dirty rice! mac ‘n cheese!), and the sweet potato pie was a great ending to the meal!


Being that we had a heavy, albeit delicious, late lunch, we capped the night off with desserts back in downtown Charleston at Kaminsky’s Most Excellent Cafe.  What can I say, we’re wild girls!  The desserts there were definitely most excellent! We had the tollhouse cookie pie, key lime cheesecake, italian cream cake, and their flavored steamed milks.  They were all really decadent and delicious but the tollhouse cookie pie was the clear winner!  I highly recommend going there for an after dinner night cap since they’re opened pretty late.


Day 3:

We started our last full day in Charleston with a visit to the famous Hominy Grill for brunch.  We had heard that the wait could be pretty long on the weekends, but we ended up going around 10:30am on a Saturday and had no wait, which was a very pleasant surprise.  Although by the time we left around 11:30am, there was a sizable wait list.  The restaurant itself is very homey and the staff is friendly.  We ordered the home made pop tarts, the big nasty biscuit (fried chicken biscuit sandwich), shrimp ‘n grits, and one of their beef specials (the dish name escapes me).  We finished off with a slice of their buttermilk pie.  I thought the home made pop tart was excellent and while I’m certainly no expert in shrimp ‘n grits, it was definitely the best I ever had.  The other dishes were good as well, although the group consensus was that Poogan’s Porch offered a better brunch.


After brunch, we headed over to Market Street for our Carriage Tour.  On our way there, we stumbled upon a hip coffee shop, Kudu Coffee House and ordered a couple of iced coffees.  If you love coffee, I highly recommend stopping by here.  It’s just off King Street, has great coffee and a cute outdoor seating area.

Apparently one of the highly rated activities in Charleston is a carriage tour, and it did not disappoint!  We went with Palmetto Carriage Works, but there’s a number of carriage companies there which I imagine to be quite similar.  The tour is 1 hour long and takes you through Charleston’s historic district and by the waterfront.  Our guide was extremely informative and provided lots of historical tidbits.  I highly recommend the tour as a good way to orient yourself to the history of Charleston.  We went back and did our own leisurely self guided tour after the carriage tour and I’d say we definitely viewed the antebellum homes with a lot more appreciation after learning about the architecture and history from our guide.

Cute kids at Palmetto Carriage Works:

charleston13Beautiful mansions:  Fun fact, the mansion below is the Calhoun Mansion, which was in the Notebook.

charleston14Again for dinner we opted for seafood.  When in Rome right?  This time we chose Coast Bar & Grill, which is known for some of the freshest seafood in Charleston.  We had the BBQ local oysters, lobster and crab gratin, plantain encrusted mahi mahi, and the duo seafood platter of oysters and scallops.  Looking back, we certainly ate our fair share of fried food for such a short weekend!  My favorite dish of the evening was the lobster and crab gratin, hands down.  The oysters were very good as well.  I must say, Charleston certainly does oysters very well, whether raw, BBQ’d, or fried, the oysters were consistently good.

charleston15Day 4:

So this is where we say goodbye to Charleston, but not without one last meal!  Even with a morning flight, we made sure to stop by Wildflour Pastry at 8:30am for their cinnamon rolls.  If you read their reviews, most people rave about Sticky Bun Sundays, but the cinnamon buns are the same, only with a hefty serving of frosting on top so feel free to get those if they run out of sticky buns.  We got there at 8:30am and they were already out of sticky buns!  Being that we had a flight to catch, we couldn’t wait for the next batch, so we got the cinnamon buns instead and they were delicious! Happy faces all around!  They have many other pastries that looked yummy as well.  Word of warning though, the buns seriously are the size of your head so plan to share or you’ll end up eating it throughout the day.


So that concludes our short weekend getaway to Charleston!  I’ll leave you guys with some general information and tips:

  • Stay in the heart of downtown Charleston.  We stayed at the Hampton Inn which was not only convenient but also nice and included a satisfying breakfast.
  • Rent a car.  While downtown Charleston was charming, I felt it didn’t warrant more than a full day of exploring.  Rent a car and go visit a plantation.  If we had another day there, I probably would’ve tried to visit Savannah, GA while we were down there since it’s only a 2 hour drive from Charleston.  If you’re there in the summer, the beach would probably be a good option too.
  • Make sure you make room for all the food!  Charleston certainly lives up to its reputation as a great culinary city.  And a pleasant surprise was that no matter how popular the restaurant, we never had to wait more than 20 minutes, which is so different from NYC and SF!
  • If you’re planning on visiting Charleston, look up their calendar of events before you book anything.  We missed the Food & Wine festival there by about 2 weeks and the Festival of Houses and Gardens by 1 week.  Both seemed like they would’ve been really fun and interesting and had we known those festivals were happening, we might’ve booked our trip to coincide with one of those events.

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Guess where I was last weekend?

It involved southern comfort food…


beautiful antebellum mansions…


lush plantations…


and awesome friends!


I’ll be back with a full recap of my fun girl’s weekend!

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It’s been 3.5 years since we moved from the East Coast to sunny California!  In that short time, we’ve been so fortunate to have visited so many of California’s great attractions and cities.  Seriously, California truly has it all.  Where else can you go soak up the rays on a beach, ski down powdery slopes, hike to through a breathtaking national park, and eat amazing food, all within a few hours of each other?  I highly recommend a roadtrip through this great state!  Here are the breathtaking sights and cities that we’ve visited.

San Diego/Coronado/La Jolla – Highlights include over 300 days of warm sunshine a year, pandas at the San Diego Zoo, and a laid back Cali vibe:

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Los Angeles – Where to begin? Santa Monica beach and boardwalk, Hollywood hike, Venice Canals, and food trucks!  Stay tuned for future posts on La La land!

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Joshua Tree National Park – Love those Joshua Trees!

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Santa Barbara/Solvang/Santa Ynez Valley – Great wineries, quaint Danish town, and gorgeous Spanish style architecture:

cali 4 San Francisco – I love this city! SF is a charming city with amazing views throughout and an overabundance of great food!

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Napa Valley – Delicious wine and food, and gorgeous scenery to boot…. what else do you need?

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Tahoe – Powdery slopes in the winter, beautiful lake and hikes in the summer:

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Yosemite National Park – One of country’s most beautiful national parks, Yosemite has breathtaking scenery and if you visit from May through September, gushing waterfalls!

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Mendocino – Rugged coastlines and a slower pace of life, this is the perfect area for rest and relaxation!

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And 2 places I haven’t visited  yet, but will eventually!

Death Valley National Park:

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Redwood National Park:

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A few weeks ago, the hubs went on an epic snowboarding trip to Colorado.  Unfortunately I wasn’t able to accompany him but that didn’t stop me from daydreaming about other wintry escapes.  Most people think of beach escapes when it’s the middle of winter, but I personally think it’s uber romantic to take a winter wonderland getaway.  I immediately think of cozy fireplaces, untouched freshly fallen snow, hot cocoa, and lots of cuddling!  Here are some places I wouldn’t mind visiting or re-visiting 🙂

Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada:

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Jackson Hole, Wyoming:

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Prague, Czech Republic:

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Zermatt, Switzerland:

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Neuschwanstein Castle, Bavaria, Germany:


Bruges, Belgium (stay tuned for my post on Bruges!):

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Hammerfest, Norway:

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Quebec City, Canada – this city truly is a winter wonderland!

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Movie Inspired Destinations

The Oscars is upon us!  In light of tonight’s event, here’s a list travel destinations inspired by oscar nominated movies.

Wyoming, USA – Inspired by Brokeback Mountain, Wyoming seems like a beautiful state of untouched wilderness and sweeping mountain vistas.

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Paris, France – Inspired by Midnight in Paris.  There’s no denying my love for Paris, but this movie made me want to seek out the old Paris of the roaring twenties.

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Kyoto, Japan – Inspired by Memoirs of a Geisha.  The beautiful cinematography of this movie increased my desire to visit Japan, especially Kyoto, with it’s abundance of temples and shrines and women still dressed in traditional kimonos.


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Barcelona, Spain – Inspired by Vicky Christina Barcelona, I had already been to Barcelona by the time I watched this movie, but this movie definitely made me nostalgic for the amazing food and architecture of this vibrant city.

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Santa Ynez Valley, California, USA – Inspired by Sideways, who doesn’t want to visit this beautiful region with rolling hills, great wine, and food?!

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Hawaii, USA – Inspired by The Descendants, need I say more? I’m always up for visiting Hawaii again, but imagine actually living there?  The great weather, beautiful beaches, and the laid back attitudes.

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Utah, USA – Inspired by 127. Okay, so this movie freaked me out a bit, but being that I don’t climb, I’ll never hike by myself, and there’s cell phones now, I feel pretty secure in knowing that this won’t happen to me.  This movie did make want to visit Utah’s national parks though, which I’ve heard are amazing.

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New Zealand – Inspired by Lord of the Rings.  Granted that many of the scenes are CGI, all of the filming was done in New Zealand and many of the sets are still there today.  Check out the cute set of Hobbiton below!  In addition to the cool sets you’ll get to see, New Zealand’s landscape is simply just stunning.  Sign me up for a Lord of the Rings tour!

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Angel Falls, Venezuela – Inspired by Up.  Okay, so I just love this movie, but besides that, who wouldn’t want to visit this spectacular waterfall.  The tallest waterfall in the world and located in a remote area of Venezuela, it’s definitely a once in a lifetime type of trip.

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I wonder how many of these locations have seen an increase in tourism after the debut of these movies?  What are some movie inspired destinations you’ve been wanting to visit?

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So I’ll conclude my french escape recaps with one last post on accommodations and general tips.  First up is accommodations.  The first 2 times I visited Paris, I stayed in hotels in the Montparnasse (14th arrondissement) and Montmartre (18th arrondissement) districts.  Both are located a bit further from the centre of Paris but offer good deals.

Montparnasse was famous in the early part of the 20th century as the heart of intellectual life.  As such there’s many historic cafes and bars located there, famous for serving the likes of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald (sounds like “A Midnight in Paris”).  That said, the area is less touristy than the other arrondissements, with some good neighborhood restaurants, however I found myself taking the metro quite a bit since it is far from most famous attractions.

Montmartre is the bohemian enclave of Paris, made even more famous by the movies “Amelie” and “Moulin Rouge”.  It’s where the Sacre-Coeur Basilica is located and is very quaint and picturesque.  Similar to Montparnasse it is located far from most attractions.  It’s a bit more touristy, especially the area around the Sacre-Coeur and is hilly, so can make coming home a bit of a  chore after a long day. I didn’t spend much time eating in this area,  however if you are here, one fun place I would recommend is Le Refuge des Fondues.  For a set price, you get unlimited fondue with meat and bread and red wine served in a baby bottle.  It’s definitely touristy, a little grungy, but way fun!

This recent trip, the hubs and I opted to rent an apartment in the Marais (4th arrondissement) district.  First off, I looved this neighborhood.  It’s walking distance to the Seine and therefore close to most sights, making it a very convenient home base.  This lively and charming district is also full of great restaurants, shopping, and parks.  Secondly, I would highly recommend renting an apartment.  Oftentimes it’s cheaper than a hotel, you end up staying in more desirable neighborhoods, and you really get to experience what it’s like to be a Parisian.  I’ve rented apartments in Madrid, Barcelona, Buenas Aires, Vancouver and now Paris, and I’ve had great experiences in each city.  Check out some these Parisian apartments!

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And for those who want a little more luxury or need a bigger apartment.  Check out this 2 bedroom.  Imagine having breakfast or midday wine and cheese on that rooftop terrace?!

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In terms of where to stay, my picks would be either Le Marais (4th arr.), the Latin Quarter (5th arr.), or St. Germain des Pres (6th arr.) because they are all centrally located, great walking neighborhoods, and full of restaurants and shops.  The Eiffel Tower (7th arr.) area is also really nice however a bit of a trek from the city centre so you’ll have to hop on the Metro quite a bit.

Finally, here are my general tips on making your vacation as fun and memorable as possible:

  • Research what sights you have to see, no more than 1-2 per day so you leave plenty of time for enjoying meals and wandering around.  Make note of the opening hours (many museums are closed on Mondays or Tuesdays) so you won’t be disappointed.
  • Research restaurants.  Paris has an abundance of really great restaurants and also really mediocre overpriced restaurants aimed at tourists.  Doing a little bit of research ahead of time can really make your experience that much more enjoyable if you’re not wandering around trying to find a decent place to eat.  Also make note of opening hours, I found many of the restaurants I wanted to go to were closed on the weekends.
  • Make reservations! Most restaurants are small and may not be able to accommodate you without a reservation.  You only need to call 1-2 weeks in advance, but at least it’ll guarantee you a table.
  • Try to group your activities and meals in the same arrondissements so you’re  not criss crossing all over the city.
  • Make time for a picnic.  Buy some wine, fresh bread, cheese and salami, head to a pretty park for a picnic and enjoy the people watching.
  • When booking train tickets, buy as early as possible for the cheapest rates.
  • Learn a few french phrases.  The french are much nicer when you start off with a “Bonjour, parlez-vous francais?” than if you just start talking to them in English.   Think of how you would feel if a tourist came to your country and just started talking to you in their language?

So this is the end of my recaps! I hope this was helpful to many of you in planning your own trips and help inspire others to visit Paris. I know I can’t wait to go back there again!

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