Los Angeles, California, LA, Palm Trees

Pumped Up In Los Angeles

Last year, my dear friend Amber, of Manny the Frenchie fame, and I were attempting to plan her bachelorette party.  No matter what we thought of, there was a conflict either for our schedules, or for the destination.  Eventually, we decided to follow our mutual love for trashy reality shows to Los Angeles, California.  We planned a tour of all of the Lisa Vanderpump restaurants and based all of our travel plans around it.  Honestly, I was so excited.  I am a shameless lover of all Bravo shows and this was a dream trip of mine. 

Lisa Vanderpump, Pump, West Hollywood

We (myself, Amber and Dani, another bridesmaid) were going for a long weekend at the beginning of March and we would meet one of the other bridesmaids, Brenda (who already lives in Los Angeles) at the hotel.  We stayed at the Loew’s Hollywood Hotel, which was right off of Hollywood Boulevard, of course. Due to that notorious LA traffic, it took us 45 minutes to get there from the airport.

The lovely front desk staff made up for the long drive by upgrading us to a suite that had a view of the Hollywood Sign because we were celebrating. We had Amber wait for us in the bar and order some snacks while we ran up to the room and decorated for the Bachelorette. We put up signs and blew up balloons and threw confetti everywhere and then ran back down to join Amber. The snacks were extra delicious because we were all very hungry. We had truffle fries, shrimp flatbread and toasted butternut squash ravioli, which was much better than most lobby bar food.

We had reservations at SUR (Sexy Unique Restaurant) for dinner, so we took our time getting ready in the room, then met our fourth friend, Brenda, at the restaurant. I was SO EXCITED! Reality TV is (almost) my only vice and this was where the obsession started. The hostess sat us at a back corner table, which wasn’t ideal but did make for good people watching.

SUR, Los Angeles, California, Vanderpump

The table was gorgeously set, but I can’t say much for the quality of the food. We got the famous goat cheese balls and I had the salmon as my entree and everything was just kind of meh. It was pretty clear that they’re resting on the fame from the show, but that’s why were were there, so we couldn’t really complain. The dessert (flan and sorbet) was the best part of the overpriced meal, but at least we can check that off our bucket lists!

SUR Restaurant, Los Angeles, Vanderpump

After dinner, we continued our Vanderpump tour by walking around the corner to TomTom, the newest addition to their restaurant group (at the time). We only waited in line for about ten minutes before being seated towards the front of the bar. I ordered the Alchemy Rose, which consisted of gin, lemon, ginger, hibiscus and aquafabba (absolutely delightful) and we got an order of fried olives for the table. This trip was over a year ago and I am still craving those olives.

TomTom Bar, Cocktails, Los Angeles

We were innocently enjoying our cocktails when a group of gentleman sat at the table next to us. They started chatting with us, and we learned that one of them was the head chef for all of the Vanderpump restaurants. It was fate! We told him all about our plans to visit the full line-up. In return, he gave us little yellow flowers called buzz buttons to try. He wouldn’t tell us much about them, only that we had to try it. We each popped one in our mouths and instantly got a tingly, numbing sensation on our tongues. Understandably, we thought he drugged us and started reacting as such, but he explained that it was simply the effect that the particular flower had.

We didn’t have too much time to be mad about it, because soon after, TOM SANDOVAL himself walked in the door. Amber and Dani ran off to get a picture, and Brenda and I stayed at the table to continue chatting with the chef. He gave me his card and told me to let him know when we made our way to Villa Blanca on our last day in Los Angeles.

Tom Sandoval, TomTom, Los Angeles

When we asked for our bill, the very handsome waiter told us that our first round of drinks was taken care of by our new chef friend. That must have been his way of apologizing for the buzz buttons! When we got back to the hotel, we all fell asleep pretty quickly, which was a good thing, as we had crammed as much as possible into the next day – our only full day in Los Angeles.

We started at Sky Space, which is a very tall building topped with a clear slide attached to the outside. It was pouring when we got there, and the ticket attendant informed us that the slide was closed and visibility at the top was virtually 0%. So our choices were either to leave or buy our tickets at half price and enjoy it anyways. We chose the latter.

Sky Space, Los Angeles

The first couple of floors that you have to wander through to get to the top were full of interactive games. There was virtual paparazzi, graffiti walls, karaoke and plenty of information about the area. Once we finally made it to the top, we were greeted with a view of a solid wall of fog through the floor to ceiling windows.

Sky Space, Los Angeles

We did everything there was to do besides the slide (which I would absolutely make the trip back for, given the chance) and then made our way back down to the ground floor. We decided to run to In & Out Burger (a delicious first for me!) for lunch before jumping on the TMZ Bus Tour. We had fun on the tour and enjoyed the break from the rain, but unfortunately didn’t see any celebrities. It was a nice way to see the city though!

TMZ Bus Tour, Los Angeles

After the tour, we headed back to the hotel to get extra fancy for our night out on the town. Amber got in touch with a friend who could maybe get us into the Magic Castle, which had a very strict dress code. That was to be the cherry on top of our fun LA evening. We took a cab over to Pump (our third Vanderpump Restaurant) for dinner. This one had a completely different vibe from SUR; it felt like more of a nice lounge than a reality TV stage. Though, like SUR, all of the servers were very attractive and dressed in identical trendy outfits.

We were seated out in the garden, which was absolutely gorgeous, with flowers, string lights, chandeliers and candles hanging above us. We ordered ahi tuna tartare and rock shrimp tempura to start, and they were both really tasty and miles above the starters from the previous night. For my main course, I had pan-seared sole with wasabi mashed cauliflower (!!!) and haricot verts. Yummm. It was one of the best meals I’ve ever had on vacation.

Pump, Los Angeles

We went down the street to The Abbey next, for dancing and Frosé‎. It was so much fun! We didn’t spend more than an hour there, but it was the perfect place for us to pick up the energy after dinner.

We went to TomTom again after that, purely to try some of their other creative cocktails. We were sat pretty quickly again and each tried a new drink- I got the Clockwork Pink, which was a spicy mezcal mix. We were seated in the perfect spot, between the back rooms and the front, to spot celebrities. Here, we had more sightings than on the TMZ tour! We saw Darren Criss, and multiple Vanderpump stars: Billie Lee, Ariana, Tom Sandoval again, and we saw Peter earlier that night.

TomTom, Los Angeles

After we finished our cocktails, it was finally Magic Castle time. It was 1am, so we were afraid we wouldn’t be able to get in, but we got an Uber there anyways. We asked for our friend of a friend connection at the door, and he let us know that we missed all the shows for the night but we could still come in for a drink. Luckily, one of the magicians came up to us while we were wandering around and showed us a few card tricks. It was cool just to be in the building and see where the magic (heh heh) happens.

Magic Castle, Los Angeles

The next morning, we fought our hangovers to attend the private yoga session we optimistically booked the day before. We were able to do it out on the pool deck before it started raining again. It was actually really nice to get some physical activity in and sweat out some of the alcohol. Our instructor, Shawn, ended the class with a quote that I really loved: “And still, after all this time, the sun has never said to the earth ‘you owe me’. Look what happens with love like that. It lights up the sky.”

After yoga, we all showered and got ready to go to Villa Blanca, the last stop on our Vanderpump Tour, for brunch. It was the most elegant of the four restaurants, with beautiful, fresh flowers and bench seating with gorgeous throw pillows. We started with grapefruit mimosas, which were extra refreshing.

Villa Blanca, Los Angeles

Our lovely new chef friend sent out some complimentary appetizers: a stack of beets, avocado and radishes and beef tartare. I was still feeling the hangover, so I ordered a prosciutto and fresh mozzarella sandwich. It tasted like the best sandwich I’ve ever had, a real culinary treat. Everyone was silent as we ate, mostly because we were all so grateful for a delicious meal after a fun night out.

Villa Blanca, Los Angeles

Villa Blanca is technically in Beverly Hills, and we had some time before we had to head to the airport, so we walked down Rodeo Drive after brunch. It was a beautiful day, finally, which made me sad to be leaving California, but it was time to head home. We had an amazing trip, full of delicious food and cocktails, shameless reality TV love, and a solid bachelorette party vibe.

Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills, California

Sturgeon Bay, Whitefish Dunes, Door County, Wisconsin, RebeccaWanderlusting

A Door County Road Trip – Part 2

**please note this trip was quite a while ago, but it was unfinished so here we are.**

The best part of passing out early on vacation is getting an early start the next day.  I had a lot of exploring left to do, and I wanted to drive through Door County, making stops at all the places that had been recommended to me or that I had noted for myself to check out.

The Holiday Music Motel had a continental breakfast set up in their little diner nook on the first floor, so I helped myself to some muffins and coffee.  The whole hotel had a fun retro look, and I very much enjoyed sitting at the singular table in the kitchen and watching people filter in and out to grab coffee and baked goods.

Once I had my fill, I headed over to Potawatomi State Park for a brisk morning hike.  I bought the out of state pass for $11 so that I could go back to Whitefish Dunes later that day too.  The ranger that sold it to me recommended the Ice Age Hike, so that’s where I started.

Sturgeon Bay, Door Count, Potawatomi State Park

The path ran right along the shore, halfway between the lake and the road.  The majority of the lake over here was frozen over still, but the sun warmed me as I walked.  Because it was still early, I didn’t run into anyone on the trail.  It was so peaceful.  The views of the lake popped up intermittently between the trees, creating a very picturesque scene.

Potawatomi State Park, Sturgeon Bay, Door County

After walking a ways down the path, little yellow markers led me up stone stairs to the road.  The path picked up on the other side, but the terrain was very different.  There were no more pine trees, just birch and ash trees that were still barren from the winter.  I was planning on hiking to the old fire tower, but only got fifteen minutes into the hike before I lost my nerve.  The forest was deserted and I couldn’t get the Blair With Project out of my head! There was also a bird whose call sounded like a crazy woman laughing, and that was the final straw.  I hightailed it out of there and went back the way I came.  Much better.  I got back to the car and drove past the boat launch just to take in the view before continuing my Door County road trip towards Bailey’s Harbor.

Potawatomi State Park, Sturgeon Bay, Door County

Once there, I stopped at Cornerstone Pub for lunch, where I was one of the only patrons, so I chose a table with a view of the water.  I ordered a solidly Wisconsin meal of cheese curds, seafood chowder and a New Glarus Moon Man – it was super heavy, but also super worth it.

Wisconsin, Door County, Cheese Curds

My next stop was Island Orchard Cider in Ellison Bay, but I made a quick detour to the Ridges Sanctuary to see the view I had from the restaurant up close.

Ridges Sanctuary, Door County, Wisconsin

The cider house was on my list of Door County must-sees, and I was so glad I stopped in.  It was very cute and the cider was delicious.  I tried the tasting portions of the Lavender, Pear, Cherry, and Brut Ciders and sat outside to enjoy them.  The Cherry and Lavender were the best, so I bought a large bottle of each to take home with me!

Island Orchard Cider, Ellison Bay, Door County

After making my cider purchase, I jumped back in the car and moved towards the Ellison Bluff Overlook.  I had to turn off the main road onto a dirt one to get there, fearing for my rental car as I hit multiple potholes on the way.  The view that awaited me once I parked and walked down a set of wooden stairs though was one for the books.  It was the kind of view that might make you cry.. or puke.. or do whatever you had to do to not move from that spot.  The small wooden path jutted out from the bluff and looked over Lake Michigan, lined on one side with pine trees and limestone cliffs.

Ellison Bluff Overlook, Door County

The gradient in the water moved from a brilliant emerald green to the deepest blue; it was stunning.  I didn’t want to leave that view, but I still had more to see.  So I tore myself away and took the very scenic drive to Fish Creek, a town of many cute shops and restaurants.

Scenic Drive, Door County

I needed a new book for the rest of my trip, so I stopped into the Peninsula Bookman.  The store was chock-full of new and used books, which made it very fun to browse through.  After searching for twenty minutes or so, I landed on “The Lord of the Flies”, which I’d never read before.  I walked around Fish Creek a bit, but a lot of the stores weren’t quite open for the season yet, so I made my way back toward Sturgeon Bay.

I wanted one more hike at Whitefish Dunes before dinner, and decided to walk the other way around the lake from the day before.  This trail kept near to the lake, but the dunes hid most of the view.  A ways down, I came to a board walk that lead to a beautiful view of the lake.

Whitefish Dunes, Hike, Door County

There was quite a bit of snow on this trail, which made it extra adventurous in my mind.  I decided to take the trail up to “Old Baldy”, the tallest dune in the park that boasted a GREAT view from it’s observation deck.  It was a long hike, and there was nobody else on the trail.  All I could hear were the waves on the other side of the dunes and the occasional crow.  It was actually really peaceful.  Until I finally made it to Old Baldy and it was CLOSED.

I was so frustrated by this sign that I marched myself right passed it and up to the observation deck anyways.  I wish I could say the view was worth it.

On the way back down, the light was perfectly golden and it made the forest around me look so dang pretty.  The smell of the pine trees was almost enough to make me pack my bags and move up North.  All of my senses were content with the rest of the hike.

Sturgeon Bay, Whitefish Dunes, Door County, Wisconsin, RebeccaWanderlusting

By the time I made it back to the car, I was very happy with my day but also pretty exhausted.  I went back to the hotel to freshen up and then went to The Inn at Cedar Crossing for dinner.  It was mediocre in service and cuisine, but I did enjoy the wine and reading my new book.  Despite the so-so end to my trip, Door County was everything I wanted and more.  The hiking, ciders, and cheese curds were enough to make me wish I was a permanent resident.  I can’t wait to make the drive up again!

Whitefish Dunes, Door County

Have you explored Door County? Which Door County town is your favorite to stay in?

Sturgeon Bay, Door County, Wisconsin, RebeccaWanderlusting

A Door County Road Trip -Part 1

Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin came on my radar early in the year because my sister had gone up there for a conference and couldn’t stop talking about it afterwards.  She gushed about the cute town and the lush state parks until I just had to check it out for myself.  I booked a rental car and a few nights at the Holiday Music Motel in downtown Sturgeon Bay and then I was off for a long weekend at the end of April.

Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, Door County, RebeccaWanderlusting

I drove the four hours straight through, listening to an audio-book entitled “800 Grapes” (good, not great, but perfect for a long drive).  My first stop, once I arrived in Door County, was Whitefish Dunes State Park.  There was a $5 fee for an hour of hiking, which I paid at the visitor center.  I set off, aimlessly hiking down a path that was set next to the rocky coast of Lake Michigan.   There was still snow on the ground that far north, so that and the fact that I was there before the tourist season picked up in Door County meant that I had the park pretty much to myself.

Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, Door County, RebeccaWanderlusting

Once I got further into the wooded area along the lake, there wasn’t really any defined path.  I switched between walking on the rocks by the shore and through the trees where the ground was covered in pine needles and dotted with patches of ice.  It was windy, and the waves on Lake Michigan crashed into the rocks, spraying up water.  The views throughout the park alone were worth the drive up there, and there was still so much to see.  Right next to Whitefish Dunes is Cave Point County Park, but they might as well be the same park as they run into each other.  The “cave” was an unassuming rock formation that dipped into the lake, the waves splashing in and out, soaking anyone that stood too close.

Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, Door County, RebeccaWanderlusting

I couldn’t get over the view from each outcropping.  The lake was a perfect sapphire blue.  My time was halfway up when I reached the cave, so I turned around and went back the way I came, taking it slow to soak up all that fresh air.  I decided to come back to Whitefish Dunes again at some point while I was in town.  It was just too pretty to not take another hike there.

Since I had driven straight to the park and then hiked, I was so hungry by the time I got back to the car.  I didn’t have any phone service to try and look up where to go, so I drove towards downtown Sturgeon Bay.  I stopped at Grammy’s Country Store, and they recommended the Door County Firehouse on 3rd Avenue for lunch.  I took them up on their suggestion and set myself up at a high top in the bar side of the restaurant.  I felt compelled to order a Spotted Cow and got a pulled pork sandwich too.  I know I was really hungry, but that had to have been one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had.

Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, Door County, RebeccaWanderlusting

After lunch, I went and checked into the Holiday Music Motel.  The motel is a renovated space that has gained a good amount of attention for their affinity for live music and their retro decor.  Once I actually got to my room, I immediately showered and took a glorious nap before heading out to explore the downtown area.  I walked along the lake first, which was beautiful in the late afternoon sunshine.  The bridge and the rocks along the shore were so pretty, the water perfectly clear.

Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, Door County, RebeccaWanderlusting

I meandered over to the local fancy Italian restaurant, Trattoria Dal Santo, for dinner.  They sat me at a lovely table for one, and I immediately picked out the Montepuciano by the glass to start.  The waitress commented on the book I was reading (“In The Woods” by Tana French”) and we had a nice conversation about books and the absence of bookstores in the area.  Apparently the local bookshop had closed recently (though I’m told they now have a new one).  I ordered the Scalllopini Marsala for dinner, which came with a garden salad to start and mashed potatoes on the side.

Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, Door County, RebeccaWanderlusting

The food was delicious, and the ambiance in the restaurant made it all the better.  I savored each bite and took my time, reading while I ate.  The staff was so wonderful, and let me hang out longer than the average dinner check, which I appreciated.  After I finished, I walked over to the Door County Maker Space, which is an event space/concert venue/center for the arts.  They were having a singer/songwriter showcase.  I was a little bit late, and the place was packed, but luckily, the guy manning the door let me bypass the cover charge.

Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, Door County, RebeccaWanderlusting

I stayed for a few songs, and then it was intermission time.  Everyone seemed to know each other, which was nice to see, but not the best case scenario for an outsider.  I felt a little awkward, so I moved out and went across the street to Roots, a wine bar.  I got into a discussion with the bartender about what was going on in town that evening.  She gave me a newspaper to check out the local section and directed me to the Stone Harbor Pub to see a local cover band.

The pub was right on the lake, and I sat at the bar with a (couple of) Spotted Cows, content as could be.  They had the Celtics vs. Bucks game on the TVs, and I stayed through the end of the game, cheering for the Bucks, since I was in Wisconsin.  The cover band was pretty good too!  They were called the Tighty Whiteys.  I walked back to the hotel after awhile to have a glass of local wine and watch a movie.  It was a great first day in Sturgeon Bay and I was looking forward to what tomorrow would bring.

Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, Door County, RebeccaWanderlusting

Quick Weekend in NYC, RebeccaWanderlusting

A Quick Weekend in NYC

All day at work on the day I was due to leave for NYC, I checked the weather and my flight status constantly.  I had friends that were flying out of O’Hare that same day were texting me that their flights had been cancelled.  There was a huge winter storm brewing on the East Coast, and any flights in and out of New York were getting cancelled left and right.  At 4:00pm, I left work to hop on the blue line to the airport, hoping for the best.

I got to O’Hare and saw that every flight before and after mine had been cancelled, but mine hadn’t yet – it was still on schedule.  I was convinced this trip wasn’t happening, so I went to McDonald’s (the best airport food, don’t judge me) to drown my sorrows in french fries and chicken nuggets.  The customer service desk for United had a line that stretched almost the whole length of the terminal, full of angry customers on cellphones.  When it was about time to board, the flight was still on time and they began the process of opening the gate and letting on families.  Apparently we were on a smaller plane, which would be better to navigate the storm with.  I didn’t feel overly confident about my safety but I got on the plane anyways.

The whole flight was normal up until the last half hour, which was very, very turbulent. We landed safely (thank goodness), and I hopped in a cab right away, headed towards Harlem.  My cousin, Gracie, was hosting me for the weekend, and she greeted me with Spanish rice and beer; she knows me so well.  We caught up on our lives and listened to music until I was too sleepy to keep my eyes open.

Weekend Trip to NYC, RebeccaWanderlusting

We woke up at a leisurely pace the next morning and had bagels at home before heading out for the day.  We took the subway from Harlem to Union Square, where we ran directly into a puppy truck full of dogs up for adoption.  We couldn’t resist stopping to pet the little fluff pups. There was one particular little ball of love that I wanted to take home with me.  He liked me too, I know it. We went into Innisfree and we got a ton of sheet masks and some free samples, which was amazing because there is no Innisfree in Chicago.

Next, we walked to the Wing in Flatiron, where Gracie works.  It’s a women’s only club and coworking space and it is heavenly.  There were walls of books organized by color and plush, pink sofas and armchairs.  They had a little cafe, where we got some coffee and avocado toast.  We got to sneak up onto the roof to take in the view, which was lovely, of course.  Later, we would visit one of their other locations, in Soho, which was bigger and even more beautiful, if that’s even possible.  Both locations were little oases of calm and pastel perfection.

The Wing, NYC, RebeccaWanderlusting

The Wing, NYC, RebeccaWanderlusting

We also made a stop into The Strand, which is one of my favorite places in NYC.  It’s a wonderland of new and used books.  We wandered through the stacks and shelves and picked out a few titles.  I got “Nocturnes” by Kazuo Ishiguro and a tiny little t-shirt for my niece and Gracie got a couple of books too.  After we made our purchases, Gracie led me to one of her favorite ramen places in the city: Ramen Thukpa for a late lunch.  It definitely lived up to the hype.  We each got a Sapporo and a big bowl of ramen, which we slurped contentedly.  The restaurant was pretty small, and the staff was super nice and attentive. We had to sit for a while after we finished because we were so full.

Ramen Thukpa, NYC, RebeccaWanderlusting

We went to the other location of the Wing to have a cocktail and sit, read and regroup for a while before we headed out for the night.  It was nice to be able to relax and freshen up there!  We were meeting a couple friends for dinner at Kiki’s in Chinatown.  On our way there, we wound up stopping into a pop-up gallery and were greeted with Brooklyn Lagers and a pamphlet on the artist.  I wish I could say who it was, but, to be completely frank, I didn’t write it down and it’s been too long since my visit to try to find out.  Regardless, the gallery was a treat for all senses: gravel paths led through a field of turf with Chinese statues sprinkled throughout.  It smelled like fresh-cut grass.  On the walls, collages made of gold and silver chains spelled out sayings on mirrors.  It was really fun to experience.

Art Gallery, NYC, RebeccaWanderlusting

Art Gallery, NYC, RebeccaWanderlusting

Kiki’s is a wonderful, cozy Greek restaurant; we met our friends Mike and Christy there for dinner.  There was a little bit of a wait for a table, but it wasn’t too bad.  We ordered a liter of red wine and some small plates: fava bean paste, tzatziki sauce, moussaka, roasted chicken and grilled octopus.  The food was SO GOOD! I always love Greek food, but this place was exceptional.  We had a truly lovely dinner and conversation.  Kiki’s will be on my list to try again next time I’m in the city for sure.

After we finished our meal, we went to a bar called Rocka Rolla in Williamsburg.  It was the perfect place: cheap beer, a good jukebox and a big booth just for us.  The beer was served in huge goblets, and after a few of them, I decided Gracie and I NEEDED matching Rocka Rolla t-shirts, so I bought us each one.  We held court in our booth for the majority of the evening, and more and more friends joined us.  We drank and danced until it was almost closing time.  Then Gracie and I took a cab home and got a pizza to split on our way.

Weekend in NYC, RebeccaWanderlusting

The next morning, we were both feeling pretty rough, but I made us go out and get breakfast anyways.  After a walk around Harlem, we ended up at The Grange, where we drank every liquid they put in front of us and ate in silence.  I had french toast and bacon, and the bacon was so dang good.  It was a little overpriced, but that’s what we get for choosing a hip brunch spot in Harlem I guess.  After breakfast, Gracie and I went to see the Royal Tenenbaums house, which was just down the street, and then she walked home and left me to explore Harlem on my own.  I was grateful for a chance to see this slice of NYC that I hadn’t experienced yet.

Weekend in NYC, RebeccaWanderlusting

Harlem, NYC, ReneccaWanderlusting

My first stop was the Apollo Theater, which weirdly enough, was in a trip of outlet stores and fast food restaurants.  I wanted to see this place where so many of my favorite musicians performed, but unfortunately the tours are by appointment only, so I had to settle for seeing the lobby and taking photos of the marquee.  I sang some Aretha Franklin in my head and moved on.

Apollo Theater, Harlem, NYC, ReneccaWanderlusting

I walked a little south to see what I could see and was delighted to find a lovely strip of cafes, restaurants and apartments that I would love to move right into.  I stopped into Double Dutch to get a latte to keep me going.  It was such a cute little coffee shop, but it was absolutely packed so I took mine to go.  The coffee was delicious, but I chugged it so I could go into a restaurant (Harlem Tavern) where live music was playing.  I sat and had a glass of wine at the bar to listen, which was a lovely way to spend an hour.

Harlem, NYC, ReneccaWanderlusting

Harlem, NYC, ReneccaWanderlusting

When the band finished their set, I decided to take another walk around the neighborhood before heading back to Gracie’s apartment.  We took the train together to Soho because she had to work that evening.  I walked her there and then went to Canal Street Market on her suggestion to get something to eat before my flight.  I perused the small vendor’s goods and grabbed a bibimbap from the Korean food counter.  I sat in the common area to enjoy it – which I did with gusto!  It was delicious.  I cabbed it to La Guardia from there and reluctantly went home.  Every time I come to NYC, I have to bribe myself with another visit to get on the plane home.  One of these days, I’ll just move there already, but until then, I’ll always look forward to the next visit.

Soho, NYC, RebeccaWanderlusting

Have you been to New York? Which is your favorite NYC neighborhood?

Culinary Misadventures in Miami | RebeccaWanderluslting

Culinary Misadventures in Miami

I’ve written about my previous solo travel missteps in Miami before, but I recently wrote a travel essay for my aforementioned creative non-fiction class and decided to share it.  It’s a funny story, and my family still makes fun of me for this instance to this day.  I hope you enjoy it and please feel free to share any of your own solo travel misadventures in the comments below! 

Miami, FL was carefully chosen for my first ever solo vacation for its cheap round trip flights from Chicago and its beautiful beachfront hotels.  I was twenty-three years old, and desperate to prove my worldliness and bravery.  I booked everything without much research and bragged about my solo trip to anyone who would listen.

I flew out of O’Hare and landed in the evening, taking a shuttle to my hotel.  I stayed at the Newport Beachside Hotel & Resort which was technically in Sunnyside Isles Beach, just North of Miami proper.  The plan was to just lie out on the beach, read, and sip cocktails while I worked on my tan.  While I did try to venture out more to explore, I often just got lost and went back to my hotel, defeated.

On my last night in Miami, I decided to treat myself to a nice dinner at the fine dining restaurant in my hotel.  I brought a book with me as a shield against the other diners who may feel sorry for me for dining alone. (I’ve since learned that this doesn’t matter at all.)  Despite this, the waitress still gave me a pitying look as she took the second set of silverware and water glass off the table.

I tried to play it cool and ordered the special of the day: the lobster.  It came with a salad to start, which I happily ate, along with the rolls and butter that were set before me.  This wound up being the only thing I would eat for dinner.

When the lobster was placed in front of me, I tried to continue being cool as a cucumber and thanked the waitress.  The portion I was served was not solely the lobster tail, as I had enjoyed before, but the whole lobster.  I looked around at the other diners near me, but no one in the immediate vicinity had ordered the special as I did.

“Whatever,” I thought to myself. “I went to culinary school. I can figure this out.”  I confidently cut into the front end of my lobster, and the green brains came seeping out onto my plate.

I was at a loss.  Do I eat the disgusting ooze? I slid my phone out of my purse and took a discreet picture.  I sent it to my dad, the resident seafood eater in our family, with the caption “what do I do with this?”  My dad promptly called me, and I tried to be nonchalant as I asked him how to eat the monstrosity on my plate.  He tried to advise me as to the best plan of attack, but I had to rush him off the phone in the quiet restaurant.  I tried to pick at the tail, as my dad suggested, but the majority of it had been tainted by the green brains.

I cut up the lobster and pushed it around on the plate to keep up appearances but wound up filling my stomach with the rolls and butter.  After I paid for the dinner I didn’t eat, I went out to the bar by the hotel’s pool.  After ordering a PBR Tallboy, I sat poolside and vowed to do better next time.

Culinary Misadventures in Miami | RebeccaWanderlusting

Top Five Friday: Winter Activities in Chicago | RebeccaWanderlusting

Top Five Friday #26

Winter Activities in Chicago

As you may or may not know, winters in Chicago can be pretty brutal.  There’s freezing rain/sleet/snow, darkness before work, darkness after work, slippery sidewalks, falling icicles, you name it.  It’s a dangerous, frozen tundra (Chiberia, anyone?), but there are ways we Chicagoans find silver linings to the cold weather.

Winter activities in Chicago range from the adventurous to the cozy and everywhere in between.  There’s something for everyone in this beautiful city, especially during the holidays and that problematic time between New Year’s and springtime.  So, without further ado, here are my personal favorite winter activities in Chicago:

  1. Skating at Maggie Daley Park: There are many places to go ice skating in Chicago, but Maggie Daley Park is probably the most unique.  The shape of this rink is a ribbon set in a wavy circle with peaks and valleys set into the ice.  Admission is free and skate rentals are $12 during the week and $14 on the weekends.  This attraction has already opened for the year.
  2. ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo: Every year, Lincoln Park Zoo puts on a free event where guests can enjoy the zoo at night in all its twinkly light glory.  They have winter activities for families, warm spiced wine and ice sculpture carving, along with all the normal zoo activities.  ZooLights starts today actually, and is open select dates through January 7.
  3. Walk Down Michigan Avenue: Michigan Avenue can be one of the most magical, albeit crowded, places in the city during the holidays.  Every space imaginable is decorated in twinkly lights and holiday ornamentation.  Plus, it’s mostly free, unless you decide to partake in the many, many stores that line the Magnificent Mile.
  4. Christkindlmarket: This outdoor Christmas market is located in Daley Plaza downtown and his home to a ton of small markets selling holiday fare.  Nestled in between the stores are vendors selling traditional German fare, hot chocolate and mulled wine.  Even if you’re not in the mood to shop, this market is super fun to walk around while you sip your hot wine.  It’s open now through Christmas Eve.
  5. Grab a Drink in a Cozy Bar: There are number of cozy places in Chicago to obtain a booze blanket to fight the cold.  The best ones have a fireplace and comfy chairs for that extra homey warmth.  My favorite bars for winter are Drumbar in the Raffaello Hotel (Gold Coast), The Broken Shaker in the Freehand (River North), and Scofflaw (Logan Square), all of which have excellent cocktails and cozy ambiance.

Top Five Friday: Winter Activities in Chicago | RebeccaWanderlusting

What are your favorite winter activities in Chicago?

Chimney Rock Essay, North Carolina | RebeccaWanderlusting

A Chimney Rock Essay

One of my goals for this year was to take a continued education class, and I waited until I was ten months in to finally get started on that goal.  I decided to take a creative non-fiction writing class online through Gotham Writers Workshop, which also has classes in real life in New York.  One of our first assignments was to write a memoir -style essay about a crosswords we had to face.  I took that literally and wrote about my solo road trip to North Carolina, specifically my time spent in Chimney Rock State Park.  I decided it would be fun to share it with you all, dear readers, because it’s travel related and I liked what I wrote.  So, without further ado, here it is:

A Chimney Rock Essay, North Carolina | RebeccaWanderlusting

I took one look at the road that zigzagged up the mountain with harrowing hairpin turns and contemplated turning back.  I had just driven the forty-five minutes from downtown Asheville to the outskirts of Chimney Rock State Park, and before that, the ten hours from Chicago to Asheville.  It should be noted that I am not a good driver; I can more accurately be described as a nervous passenger.  I learned how to drive in a small town with three main streets and no highways.  I had only just learned how to drive on the expressway a few months before this trip, when my boyfriend pushed me into trying it in his car.  He had a good point, I couldn’t go on a solo road trip across state lines without ever having driven on an expressway.  Now, here I was in a rented Kia Rio, staring up at a whole new level of driving I had yet to experience.

Internally, I was going over the worst-case scenarios; I turned the volume down on the radio to help me think.  I could go careening off the side of the steep cliff, I could crash head first into one of the other cars coming down from the top at a surprisingly quick pace, or I could slide backwards if the tiny car I had chosen because it was the cheapest rental option couldn’t make it all the way up.  Finally, after watching multiple cars drive up and down the mountain, I said “fuck it” and headed into the park.  I took it slow, hitting the horn every time I came around the bend of one of the hairpin turns.  I winced each time a car sped past me going the opposite way, especially the large campers that were somehow swinging around each turn like they were on rails.

Once I neared the top, I felt the knots in my stomach loosen.  I pulled up to the parking lot, grateful to be on level ground again.  I paid my entry into the park, parked and headed to the start of the hiking trails.  There were 500 steps to the top of Chimney Rock, and the view from the top was worth each and every one.  The day was clear, I had just conquered one of my biggest fears and I could see the road I had just driven, along with the beautiful valley, river within it and mountains beyond from this vantage point.  I was proud of myself and felt like I could accomplish anything after that drive.  I hiked around the park with my chin up and breezed back down the mountain, with some of my previous caution but none of the fear.

A Chimney Rock Essay, North Carolina | RebeccaWanderlusting

Share a fear you’ve conquered in the comments! 

A Weekend in Rockford, IL | RebeccaWanderlusting

A Weekend In Rockford, IL

Last weekend, Mike and I drove the hour and a half from Chicago to Rockford to see what this suburban city had to offer.  We left bright and early on Saturday morning, with our puppy in tow as our hotel was dog-friendly (so was the rest of Rockford, as we learned).  I’m not sure why in the world I thought we would be able to check into our room at 9:30am ( I worked at a hotel for five years, I really should know better), but I did and we couldn’t.  This resulted in Mike and I parting ways for the first stop in our tour of Rockford, the Anderson Japanese Gardens.

A Weekend in Rockford, IL | RebeccaWanderlusting

A Weekend in Rockford, IL | RebeccaWanderlusting

I have to say, we were a little frazzled when we arrived at the gardens, but, once I started walking through, I felt much calmer.  The path wove through ponds, over bridges, and next to waterfalls.  It was so beautiful and tranquil.  There weren’t many people there, but there were quite a few photographers shuffling around each other, trying to get the best shot.  My favorite part of the park was the koi fish pond and the area around it, particularly the boardwalk that passed under a huge, perfect willow tree.  I really could have grabbed a book and sat there all day.

A Weekend in Rockford, IL | RebeccaWanderlusting

But we had a lot more on our schedule, so we moved on to downtown Rockford.  The main drag, State Street, was lined with cute stores, coffee shops, breweries and restaurants.  We popped into Salvaged by Sonja, an amazing antique store, first.  The gentleman behind the counter was so friendly and happy to give us more information on the city and recommendations for dinner and activities in the area.

A Weekend in Rockford, IL | RebeccaWanderlusting

I bought a beautiful bracelet and ring and we crossed the street to Art Deli.  This store is the epitome of city pride.  Their freshly pressed t-shirts advertise Rockford in all it’s glory and nicknames (Screw City??).  The shirts were so cute and soft, but I opted for a tote bag emblazoned with “Explore the Midwest” – it suited me.  The proprietors of the shop were also more than happy to discuss the area and tell us all of their favorite places to go for dinner and drinks.  We were finding that this was a trend among all of the people we met while in Rockford.  Everyone was wonderful, kind and brimming with city pride.

A Weekend in Rockford, IL | RebeccaWanderlusting

We popped into a couple more stores (CD Source, Minglewood and EuroStyle) before heading to Taco Betty’s for lunch.  What a fun restaurant!  They’re decor was colorful and whimsical (they had Dirty Harry’s famous line proudly displayed at the front of the restaurant).  As soon as we sat down, a bowl of spicy pork rinds was brought to the table, and we ordered some sangria (beer for mike) and poblano guacamole to enjoy while we poured over the menu.  We decided to split 3 sets of tacos (each order came with 2): Mole Chicken, Crispy Fish, and Pork & Poblano.  Everything was delicious, but the fish tacos were without a doubt the best I’ve ever had.  Actually, I wish I had some now.

A Weekend in Rockford, IL | RebeccaWanderlusting

A Weekend in Rockford, IL | RebeccaWanderlusting

We were lucky enough to meet the owner, Paul, who also operates two other restaurants on State Street: Abreo and Social Urban.  He was another enthusiastic Rockfordian who was happy to tell us how far along the city has come in the past five years.

We finished up our lunch and headed back out onto the main drag to get some coffee from Wired (a cozy cafe with delicious espresso).  We finally got a call from the hotel saying we could check in, so we made our way to the Holiday Inn Express 15 minutes outside downtown to do so.  We then drove into Rock Cut State Park, which was very close by, to meet Andrea from Go Rockford for some boating on Pierce Lake.

A Weekend in Rockford, IL | RebeccaWanderlusting

A Weekend in Rockford, IL | RebeccaWanderlusting

We chose a paddle boat because we thought it would be the easiest, but it took a surprising amount of effort to propel that thing.  There were a lot of other boats on the lake (kayaks, row boats, fishing boats…), and once we got to the middle, we stopped to take it all in. The scenery was really just stunning, especially with the leaves changing color along the shore.  It was so peaceful out in the middle of the lake, even with the hollering fisherman and rowdy family reunions in the park.

A Weekend in Rockford, IL | RebeccaWanderlusting

After a while, we headed back in, peddling hard and moving slowly.  Once we finally made it to the dock, we turned in our life jackets and headed back to the hotel to grab my camera and make sure Brody was comfortable.  From there, we moved onto Prairie Street Brewhouse, which was close to the main drag downtown.  The old warehouse still had the train tracks running through it and was both a restaurant/bar and event space.  We were meeting the CEO of Go Rockford, John, who graciously showed us through the first two floors of the building.  They were set up for a wedding in their larger event space and it was gorgeous (made me want to start making some plans…).  The three of us sat outside on the pier to drink our house-brewed beers.  I had their Black & Blue Kolsch, which was tart and delicious.

A Weekend in Rockford, IL | RebeccaWanderlusting

The weather, scenery, and conversation were all perfect and Mike and I agreed that we’d need to come back to this beautiful brewhouse sooner rather than later. The next stop in our makeshift bar hop was Social Urban, a lounge-style restaurant with community seating and wonderful, smoke-filled bourbon cocktails that taste like cinnamon.  The making of said cocktails was a show all its own, with smoke and sparks and requiring two bartenders. We also ordered the cheese curds (a recommendation from our friends at Art Deli), the cheese plate and the charcuterie plate.

Everything was local or from one of the surrounding areas and it was all so damn good.  The cheese plate came with this amazing jalapeno & cherry jelly and the charcuterie plate had HOMEMADE BOLOGNA!! We were in heaven.  At one point, the waiter came over to chat, quipping that most people only get cheese plates to start or end the meal.  To which I answered “we get it for an entree, RESPECT THE CHEESE!”  Mike noted that I said it too forcefully to be taken as a joke, but I meant it.  I just really like cheese.

A Weekend in Rockford, IL | RebeccaWanderlusting

After we finished every last bite, we decided to stroll down State street again, and popped into the local skate shop, Ground Level.  We met the owners, yet more proof that Rockford is full of proud citizens/wonderful people, who were happy to give us more recommendations and convinced us to go to Carlyle Brewing next door.  Though their main selling point, the shuffle board & dart boards in the back room, were closed for a private event, we thoroughly enjoyed sitting at the bar sipping CBR’s (Carlyle Beer Rocks).  This crisp, delicious beer was the breweries take on the classic PBR recipe.

A Weekend in Rockford, IL | RebeccaWanderlusting

We next made our way to the Pig Minds, a vegan brewery in an industrial area outside of downtown.  They were having their Oktoberfest with a live band out on their patio and a full (vegan) German menu.  The restaurant was bustling, and we had to do a couple laps before we found a spot at the bar.  We both loved our chosen beers (a blueberry ale and a coffee stout) so much that we left with two growlers to take home.  We ordered some vegan pretzel sticks and cheese to enjoy while we listened to the band. The bar had such a fun atmosphere.

A Weekend in Rockford, IL | RebeccaWanderlusting

Our last stop of the night was the Nicholas Conservatory and Gardens.  They were (and still are – until November 5) showcasing the Bruce Munro light show, which took place within the greenhouse and through the gardens.  I’m so happy we didn’t skip it to turn in early like we discussed at Pigs Mind.  It was so much fun.  We walked the length of the gardens, through each exhibit, reading the inspiring explanations as we went.  I really loved the flamingos exhibit and the fields of twinkling lights.  I hope they do a show like this again, because it really was so pretty.

A Weekend in Rockford, IL | RebeccaWanderlusting

A Weekend in Rockford, IL | RebeccaWanderlusting

We drove back to the hotel afterwards and promptly fell asleep as soon as we got our pajamas on.  The next morning, we met Andrea and her husband, Nick, for breakfast at Lydia’s Cafe, a local favorite.  It was a sweet little spot with local art on the walls.  I got a plate-sized blueberry pancake and Mike got a skillet named for the a park in the area.  The meal was perfect and delicious comfort food and the company was fantastic.  We chatted like old friends and made plans to meet up again in Chicago.

A Weekend in Rockford, IL | RebeccaWanderlusting

We had such a wonderful time!  Who knew there was such a perfect oasis so close to Chicago?!  I can confidently say that we will be making our way back to Rockford very soon.

A Weekend in Rockford, IL | RebeccaWanderlusting

Have you ever been to Rockford?  Where is your favorite oasis near your city?


**A huge thank you to the wonderful people at Go Rockford for hosting us and showing us  the best parts of this fun town**

Fall in Chicago, Bucket List | RebeccaWanderlusting

Fall in Chicago: A Bucket List

Call me cliche, but I love Fall in Chicago.  This season is amazing everywhere, but I think this city, and the surrounding area, does it best.  From the Fests, to the leaves changing in our many beautiful parks to the apple and pumpkin picking in the nearby suburbs, Chicago has everything you could want for your Fall bucket list.  Last weekend, we went apple picking with my family in Wisconsin and it made me think of all the other Fall activities I’d like to get to before it gets too cold.  We have about a month and a half before the cold sets in and the craziness of the holidays begin.  Here’s hoping we get to everything before then!

Fall In Chicago, Bucket List | RebeccaWanderlusting

  1. Jump on a haunted boat tour with Seadog: I saw an ad for this on Facebook and was instantly interested.  I love the boat tours here in Chicago and a haunted tour would a fun twist on an already great experience.
  2. Take a Midwestern road trip: I’m getting a little greedy with all of my Midwestern road trips, but I can’t resist seeing the colors change across state lines.  I would love to head down to Nashville, IN or up to La Crosse, WI for a night or two just to take in the scenery.
  3. Walk along the lake on the south shore: I’ve never ventured past 12th street beach on the south shore of Lake Michigan and I’ve heard it’s beautiful.  I would love to head over to the South Shore Cultural Center and stroll along the lakefront in the perfect Fall weather.

    Fall in Chicago, Bucket List, RebeccaWanderlusting

  4. Have a bonfire: This is a quintessential Fall task for me; there’s nothing better than sitting around the fire with friends.  Not only is it super cozy and comes with great snacks (s’mores anyone??), there is no better smell than a Fall bonfire.
  5. Run the Ditka Dash: This might be cheating a little bit, because I’m already signed up, which means this task is definitely happening, but I’ve always wanted to run this 5K.  The registration fee includes aviators, a mustache and a shirt that looks like Coach Ditka’s classic Bears sweater!
  6. Enjoy a classic horror flick at the Logan Theater: Every year, the Logan Theater shows classic horror movies every night during the month of October.  This year, they are showing The Birds, The Shining, The Exorcist, and other such gems.  We’re planning on seeing Friday The 13th on 10/13.

    Fall in Chicago, Bucket List | RebeccaWanderlusting

  7. Carve pumpkins: Michael and I buy a pumpkin each year at the Apple Orchard, and every year we say we’re going to carve it.  Then, come Thanksgiving, we’re tossing it in the garbage because it’s mushy on one side and smells weird.  This is the year. We’re doing it.
  8. Go to a Bears Game: This might be a long shot, but I love my Bears, despite their record, and would love to go to another game.  Maybe since they aren’t doing so hot this year, the tickets will be cheaper.  Here’s hoping!


What do you love about Fall in Chicago? What’s on your Fall bucket list?

New Buffalo, Michigan | RebeccaWanderlusting

Day Trip: New Buffalo, MI

The journey from Chicago to New Buffalo, MI takes an hour in a half in the car and $8.10 in tolls.  I can’t tell you up front that it’s well worth it.  We had been trying to plan this day trip to New Buffalo all summer, so I was very excited when we finally got it together and drove there last weekend.  Our first stop in this new city was the beautiful beach in town.  We paid for parking and tip-toed across the hot, hot sand and past the super cute landmark lighthouse to the surprisingly not crowded lakefront.  The few people populating the beach lounged under umbrellas and atop towels in the sunshine, and Mike and I picked out a free spot amongst them to set up.  I immediately ran into the lake to stick my feet in the water.  Lake Michigan was perfectly cerulean, clear and cold.

Day Trip: New Buffalo, MI | RebeccaWanderlusting

Day Trip: New Buffalo, MI | RebeccaWanderlusting

Day Trip: New Buffalo, MI | RebeccaWanderlusting

Behind the beach, grass covered dunes loomed; the whole scene was beautiful.  I walked up and down the beach while Mike lounged, it was too pretty to sit still.  I wanted to jump into the water so badly but due to a (minor) surgery earlier in the week, I had to settle for wading in up to my knees.  We’ll just have to come back to swim I suppose.  After a while, we decided to hike up the sand dunes to the boardwalk at the top.  The view was breathtaking from every angle.  It almost looked like the beach from Jaws, on the East coast.

Day Trip: New Buffalo, MI | RebeccaWanderlusting

Day Trip: New Buffalo, MI | RebeccaWanderlusting

As we made our way back down to the parking lot, we decided it was time to grab some lunch.  Mike dropped me off at the door at the Stray Dog Bar & Grill, just across the bridge from the beach, and went off to find parking.  This proved to be a difficult task, as he didn’t join me in the restaurant for another twenty minutes.  While I waited for him, I checked out their beautiful rooftop terrace, which we ultimately opted out of due to the heat.  We both ordered local beers (I got Kolsch by Round Barn – yum!), and, because the Bears game was on, we decided to order buffalo shrimp and chorizo nachos.  The food was fantastic and perfect for watching the football game.

Day Trip: New Buffalo, MI | RebeccaWanderlusting

Day Trip: New Buffalo, MI | RebeccaWanderlusting

We watched the first half of the game at Stray Dog and then caught the next quarter down the street at the Beer Church Brewery where we engage in some light day drinking.  While half of the church was currently under renovation, it was still a lovely place to sip a craft beer and catch some football.  I had the Crooked Cross Ale and Mike had the Midnight in a Perfect World, which he enjoyed so much that we left with a Crowler (2 pint can) of it.  At the brewery, we met a lovely couple who gave us some great recommendations in the area to check out.
(If churches made into breweries is something that strikes your fancy, check out Brewery Vivant in Grand Rapids too!)

Day Trip: New Buffalo, MI | RebeccaWanderlusting

Day Trip: New Buffalo, MI | RebeccaWanderlusting

We decided to take their advice and head to the next town over, Union Pier, to check out the St. Julian Winery.  On our way back to the car, we strolled down the main drag, Whittaker Street, and stopped into some stores as we went.  We really loved Whittaker House (a cute boutique with beautiful jewelry and clothing), Frolic (gorgeous jewelry and fun knick knacks), and Designed Cottage Scapes (cozy home goods).

Day Trip: New Buffalo, MI | RebeccaWanderlusting

In between stopping into the stores, we popped into David’s Delicatessen & Coffee for some caffeine.  The cool cafe featured home-baked and pre-packaged snacks and a cozy backroom with a fireplace and comfy armchairs.  Mike and I took the opportunity to take a breather and plan out the rest of our day.

Day Trip: New Buffalo, MI | RebeccaWanderlusting

We drove the short way from New Buffalo to Union Pier to check out the oldest winery in Michigan, St. Julian Winery.  We weren’t really sure what to expect walking in, but it was a really fun experience!  We decided to do a wine tasting, which was only $6 to try six of their fantastic wines (and included a St. Julian wine glass).  We chose to try the dry wines, which progressed from a sparkling rose, to whites to reds and finishing with a brandy.  Chris, who was our wine guide for the afternoon, was very charismatic and knowledgeable.  The wines were all very good, but we especially liked the Cock of the Walk red blend, which we bought a bottle of to bring home.

Day Trip: New Buffalo, MI | RebeccaWanderlusting

Our last stop of the day was Lakeside Antiques.  This multiple building antique superstore was just down the road from St. Julian Winery.  It was the perfect combination of curated and rummage-worthy piles of treasures.  I especially liked all of their unique art on the walls, which of course was all for sale.  It was a little pricey, but it was also very fun to browse through.

As we walked out of Lakeside Antiques, it started to rain, which perfectly summed up the way we felt about leaving New Buffalo to go back to reality.  This little lakeside town made for the perfect little trip from the city.  It had a little bit of everything: a beautiful beach, craft beers, and fun stores.  We are looking forward to visiting again!

Day Trip: New Buffalo, MI | RebeccaWanderlusting

Have you ever been to New Buffalo, MI?  What are your favorite attractions there?