Weekend in St. Augustine

Hello friends and happy Monday. How was everyone’s weekend. Here in Connecticut if finally broke 40 degrees so pull out the bathing suits!! Summer is here. (eyeroll)

I have been dreaming about the warm winter days I had a few weeks ago in northern Florida. These below freezing temps we have been getting along the shoreline in Connecticut have been killing me. If it’s going to be cold can’t I at least get a snow day out of it? Instead mother nature has been hovering at a whopping 24 degrees for the past few weeks. Instead of sitting through this crazy weather, I decided I needed a mid-winter break and headed down to St. Augustine, FL for a few days.

Did you know St. Augustine claims to be the oldest city in the country? I’m not really sure how they can back that claim because Florida wasn’t part of the original 13 colonies but its okay. I’ll let them have it. So, in St. Augustine, you can see the oldest house, oldest street, oldest school house, and pretty much oldest EVERYTHING. It became the running joke of the trip, but they sure are proud of their history.

What We Did
We decided to take the Old Town Trolley Tours. Essentially it is a hop on, hop off trolley tour of the town, which happens to be a fantastic way of getting around town. We ended up getting a three-day pass which was perfect because we were there for just that amount of time and we were able to see everything we wanted with those three day tickets.

The first day we spent the morning on St. George Street, the uber popular pedestrian-only street that is full of original buildings that are now chalk full of restaurants, candle shops, clothing boutiques, ice cream shops, and handmade pottery stores. Walking the streets, especially so early in the morning, before the crowds came out, it was easy to feel like you stepped back in time.

We wandered down to the Plaza, which we learned was a requirement that Spain had for every major city in the new world. Lining the Plaza was also the Government House and Cathedral Basillica of St. Augustine, also both required by Spain, plus a ton of shops and restaurants (required by the present day tourists).

On the far end of the Plaza is a trolley stop where you can pick up a beach shuttle. This was perfect because we essentially never needed our car during the day. We hopped on the beach shuttle and crossed the Bridge of Lions over to St Augustine Beach. Here you can make stops at the Alligator Farm, the super popular St. Augustine Lighthouse and museum or head out to the beach like we did to relax under the Florida sun.

The shuttle runs every hour so you can really spend a good amount of time on the other side of the bridge.

After a long day of exploring we needed to check out the libations that St. Augustine had to offer. We took the trolley over to the St. Augustine Distillery, an old ice plant turned small batch distillery who specializes in whiskey, vodka, and gin. The quick half hour, free tour tells the history of the locally owned distillery and how they are involved in their community, shows tourists how the different spirits are created and what makes them different, and ends in the tasting room where you can try three different mixed drinks. All curated from the spirits created right there in that building.

What I really loved about the distillery is their dedication to their carbon footprint. For instance, all of their bottles are hand bottled, sealed and labeled. Because to ensure their whiskey can be labeled bourbon, all of their char-oaked barrels can only be used once. So instead of getting rid of the barrels at the end of the aging process, they share them with local wineries and other distilleries to create other spirits.

One of the wineries the St. Augustine Distillery shares their barrels with is the San Sebastian Winery just up the street. This was our next stop on the trolley. The San Sebastian Winery was built in an old railway building and they get their grapes from the west coast of Florida at their sister property, Lakeridge Winery. San Sebastian Winery focuses on dessert wines. Sweet wines are not my favorite and I didn’t honestly love any of them but they have won a ton of awards for their wines so if sweet wine is your thing, defiantly check them out. They also have an amazing roof top that I would absolutely check out again. Thursdays through Sundays the rooftop is open where they have jazz performers. The view from the top is beautiful.

Another one of my favorite stops off of the Old Town Trolley was the Castillo de San Marcos. This was the main fort for the village of St. Augustine to protect against intruders. In the 17th century, if the city of St. Augustine was under attack all of the towns people, and their animals could fit in the fort and in the dry moat that borders the base of the fort. This National Monument covers 20.5 acres of land and is run by the National Parks Service so there is a small fee to enter. If you like history, check it out. It was really interesting. And if you don’t like history, check it out anyway. There are some beautiful views from the top of the fort.

The Old Town Trolley Tour had so much to offer. Below I listed some other stops that I would love to check out next time I’m in town.

  • Lightner Museum and Café Alcazar – This was formerly a hotel which Henry Flagler (who pretty much built up St. Augustine) built for his famous and rich New England friends according to the Old Town Trolley Tour guides. The Café is super popular for lunch and is in the base of the pool of the hotel. Like what!
  • Flagler College – Named for the city’s founder this college has the largest collection of Louis Comfort Tiffany stained glass windows. Can you imagine being in college and stumbling into the cafeteria hung over to sit next to the largest collection of Tiffany’s stained glass. What the heck!

Where We Ate
We didn’t get to explore the food scene in St. Augustine the way I would have liked. I have a cousin that lives a half hour away so we spend one night with them having a little cocktail party with amazing appetizers that filled us up completely. But I do have a list of a ton of restaurants I’ve heard amazing things about, and some that my cousin’s wife recommended first hand.

Maple Street Biscuit Company – I’ve heard so much about Maple Street Biscuit Company that when I found out there was one in St. Augustine, I dragged my non-breakfast eating mom to try it out. (She’s fine, she had kid’s mac and cheese at 9am and was a happy camper.) I totally over indulged and got the Ralphie and added a fried egg on top. It was A LOT! One of the breakfast sandwiches would have probably been enough but how do you go there and not try their gravy?? I may need to try to push a trip to the Maple Street Biscuit Company for our Charleston trip in April.

The Kookaburra – This Aussie-American coffee shop is located right on the Plaza in St. Augustine and was a perfect spot for an afternoon pick me up. Their cold brew was everything I needed and their Aussie pies were an awesome snack. The actual location was so small and got pretty tight when a group of 8 business men came in to place their order also. Just a little tip- they have a small location just outside and across their patio for a sitting area.

Salt Life Food Shack – I would LOVE to check out Salt Life during the summer. This restaurant was across the Bridge of Lions in St. Augustine Beach, it had a huge outdoor patio with a fire pit and outdoor bar. There was, what looked like, a pretty big rooftop that during the day you would have views of the beach. The rooftop was closed while we were there, I’m assuming because it was January.

I started my dinner with a bowl of Bahamian Fish Chowder which was delicious… but HUGE. Definitely only needed a cup of that to try the soup. I ended up having Lobster and Shrimp Pasta and it was amazing (and again, huge). My parents both had tacos and they looked amazing. They have a full raw bar and sushi as well as burgers and sandwiches. Anyone can find something there and I’m pretty sure everything would be awesome!

Here is the list of other restaurants we didn’t get to try but came highly recommended:

  • A1A Ale Works
  • OC White’s Seafood and Spirits
  • The Tini Martini Bar
  • Raintree Restaurant
  • Columbia

To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of Florida. It’s hot and sweaty, and sticky and yuck but this trip gave me a different perspective of our southern most state. St. Augustine was so charming and historical. I’d love to go back to St. Augustine and explore a little more. Have you ever been?

Weekend in Philadelphia

Hey there friends, and happy Sunday! I spent the last week catching up and getting back to work. I was away for a long weekend that spilled into last week’s work week. This year, one of my goals was to visit 10 new cities and so far I got two under my belt. Last weekend I went down to St. Augustine, FL to do a little exploring, but a few weekends ago a group of us headed down to Philadelphia for my first weekend trip of the year.

I have a friend I grew up with who plays base in a band, so when we had the option to go to Boston, which we’ve all been to a million times before, or Philadelphia to see the Revivalist play, my friends and I chose Philly. We had the show at the Met on Saturday night so that gave us 24 hours to eat all the cheese steaks and visit as much of the historical city as we could.

What we did and Where we ate
Our first stop was food. We headed to Reading Terminal Market to explore Philly’s food scene. Conveniently located across the street from the Pennsylvania Convention Center, and just a few blocks from Philadelphia City Hall, Reading Terminal has a plethora of coffee shops, fish markets, cheese stands, and a ton of cheese steak places. We started our food explorations with Old City Coffee and an amazing black iced coffee.

For our first Philly Cheese Steak we tried Spataro’s traditional with cheese whiz and grilled onions. I know, I know I questioned it too but it wasn’t half bad. I’m not a huge fan of cheese steaks to begin with so this one didn’t really knock my socks off, but it was ok.

We walked a few blocks up Arch St. to snap a quick photo of the Chinatown Friendship Arch. There were so many eateries I would have loved to run into but we had just left Reading Terminal Market and were not ready to stuff our faces with Pho and Dim Sum.

After checking out Chinatown, we really wanted to see Love Park. We headed down Arch St. until we essentially walked straight into Love Park. Beautiful. The views down Benjamin Franklin Parkway, with the stunning views of the Philadelphia Museum of Art were outstanding. I would love to see these views during the summertime. I could only imagine how stunning it would be.

After all of our exploring and walking we needed to sit down and enjoy some of the libations Philadelphia had to offer. Sansom St. was very good to us. We visited Mission Taqueria, a cute bar that channeled all of my Los Angeles vibes with the indoor-outdoor feel and cute little outdoor courtyard in the middle of the restaurant. The drinks were fantastic but my favorite was the Bee Sting.

One thing that we kept hearing the entire day was that we needed to try Jim’s Steaks on South Street. Before this month, when I hear of Philly, I heard about Pat and Geno’s. The two dueling cheese steak restaurants that are open 24 hours, and fight for customers as well as the title of best cheesesteak in town. But the locals (and Ubers) said they’re both overrated. (Listen to your Ubers people, they know what they’re talking about.) We needed to go to Jim’s. We went late night, and it may have been the drinks from the concert so take this with a  grain of salt, but Jim’s was lifechanging. But in all seriousness, the area was beautiful. Skinny streets, pretty row homes, it looked like an area that would be great to walk around during the day, close to the water with a super local feel.

The next morning, we headed back to Sanson St. to Harp & Crown for one of the best brunches I ever had. Harp & Crown is a beautiful English pub style restaurant that apparently has a secret basement bowling ally for late nights. Next time I fully intend on taking advantage of this.

How we got around
Ultimately Philadelphia is a very walkable city. We stayed across the Schuylkill River right near the campuses of Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania. To get over to the city center it was about a 10-15 minute drive but parking is not too easy to find, and definitely not cheap. We decided to try out the SEPTA, or subway system.

We are used to New York City subways, where the stations are packed and the trains are plentiful. This was the complete opposite. There weren’t a ton of people on the subway, and it was pretty easy to get to different areas of the city on the subway, but we waited for about 10 minutes for our train. Once we were in town, we decided to check out Ubers to get back to our hotel and the price was AMAZING and there were a ton of cars available. It was even cheaper, and quicker to grab an Uber from our restaurant back to our hotel. From then on, we stuck to rideshares.

We didn’t get to try it out but there is a trolley system also run by SEPTA and it seems like there are a ton of stops as well. Maybe something to try out when the weather is a little warmer.

Where we stayed
We ended up staying a little out of city center, but the Sheraton Philadelphia University City was a great place to stay, especially if you are visiting either Drexel or the University of Pennsylvania. For us it was right along the subway line and just a quick two stops to city center.  There was a good amount of quick bite restaurants around and a few shops that we ended up taking advantage of to buy new outfits for the concert.

Friday Five – October & November

Happy Friday!!! Who else is pumped to gain an hour this weekend?? I know my waking up in total darkness the past few weeks has not been prime motivation. A few weeks ago I was able to take a three day staycation and it was fabulous. I binged “Anne with an E” on Netflix and relaxed for a few days, just in time for the craziness of the holidays to swing in full force.

I’m looking forward to the holidays more than usual this year. I have some exciting news in early December but I can’t say much for now. For now, here are five things that are getting me through October and November.

A night at the theater
When I was living in California I really started to fall in love with the theater. My good friend’s family ran a local community theater and their productions were out of this world. Being that we were in Los Angeles, there were even a few professional actors that performed at the theater on the side. I really fell in love with Les Misérables while I was out there so when tickets went on sale at the Shubert Theater in New Haven, I new I had to see the national touring company perform live. It was insane!

Day tripping to Newport, RI
I think Newport, RI is such an underrated city. In the summer it is the perfect New England city with fresh seafood restaurants, little shops to explore, and breathtaking sunsets over the water. In the winter the town gets sleepy but winter is the perfect time to go to Newport and truly rest and relax. The skinny streets make you feel like you’ve gone back in time and wandering in and out of bars is really the best way to spend a snow day. I went last week to explore something else that is famous in Newport. The Newport Mansions. Not too long ago New York City’s elite used Newport as a place to summer. Their summer “cottages” were bigger than my high school. A few girlfriends and I took the two hour drive east to explore the Breakers and Marble House, two of the Vanderbilt family’s homes from the late 1800s.

Pumpkin carving parties
My girlfriends and I try to get together as often as possible, but with husbands, kids, careers, and side projects, it’s not always the easiest. Last weekend we were able to be festive all weekend. We celebrated our favorite two year old’s birthday with a Halloween themed birthday party on Saturday, and Sunday had a Halloween party and pumpkin carving contests as a housewarming at another friend’s. It was the perfect way to get into the spirit of the season before fall blows away from us completely.

Exploring the Viking Star in Boston
Part of my full-time job is getting out of the office and visiting the ships that we send our clients on. When Viking Ocean Cruises invited a few travel agents onto their ship, the Viking Star, I jumped at the opportunity to see this ship. Viking is known for their river cruises, being one of the largest river cruise companies in the world, but when they expanded into ocean cruises a few years ago, I knew I wanted to see their ships. I love the clean lines, and the Scandinavian style of their ships. What I love about Viking is their attention to detail and how although they’re not a luxury cruise line, you still feel like a princess while a guest on their ship.

Making a Murderer part 2
A few weeks ago, I did a post about my favorite bingeworthy shows and since, I’ve already gotten through the new Marking a Murderer part 2. I actually watched it in just three days. If you watched part 1, be prepared that this one moves a little slower. We know the story already so now we are going through new evidence and learning information we didn’t know before.

 

New England Weekend Getaway Ideas

Growing up it was always funny to me how much some people loved New England. The quaint beach towns and little shops and restaurants, I just thought every town was just like mine. And then I moved to Los Angeles, where you would assume the beaches are better than anywhere else. I was stuck in mobs of people heading to the same beach as me, fighting for a spot, and eating at over priced restaurants that were just ok.

Now as an adult, I appreciate my cute little home town, and I embrace the other towns and areas around me. One thing I’ve learned recently is you really never know where your path is going or where you’ll end up so I believe in living in the moment and taking advantage of what is around you.

I put together some of my favorite spots in New England that are perfect for weekend getaways. I included a few places I haven’t been but are on my bucket list to check out really soon.

Maine
My favorite ways to travel is to have no expectations and be shown around like a local (hence the reason I fell in love with Oregon). One of my best friends grew up in Maine on a cute little island. In college we would go up during the summer and explore her town, eat copious amounts of Lobster, shop all of the outlets in Freeport and spend the nights enjoying the lack of light pollution. This was before Portland (Maine) had become such a food and beer mecha. I would love to get up there again and really explore Portland as an adult, and as someone that appreciates food and drinks now.  I also never was able to stop in Kennebunk or explore north to Acadia and Bar Harbor area. There is still so much of Maine to see.

Newport, Rhode Island
Over New Years one of my oldest girlfriends got married in this magical town. I hadn’t been there since my cousin got married in Newport 20 years ago. This beautiful place definitely turns into a ghost town during the winter months, but in the summer the amazing views of the mansions on the cliffs, the legendary Newport Bridge and all of the gorgeous lighthouses in the area really set the stage for a perfect weekend getaway.

Cape Cod and the Islands
This summer I went to the Cape for 24 hours and it was just what I needed to start my summer. Nothing says summer in New England like Cape Cod. Even though I’ve been to this amazingly quintessential New England area countless times, I have never been out to Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket. Just a quick ferry ride from Hyannis, you can get to either of these islands and enjoy a perfect long weekend away from the rest of the world.

Long Island, New York
I can see Long Island from any beach in my town. The 11 miles across the sound seems so close on a clear day, but the hour and half ferry ride, or nearly two-hour drive through New York’s boroughs to Long Island makes it seem so much further. This summer I took two trips over to Long Island and finally got to see it more than just a shadow in the distance. One day we spent the day exploring Port Jefferson, walking in and out of the shops and eating and drinking our way through town. A few weeks later we took the ferry over again and explored the wineries on the north fork.

Finger Lakes, New York
During our drive across country last year, we stopped at a winery in Virginia and when we told the owner where we were from, he couldn’t stop raving about the Finger Lakes and their wines. I literally have never heard of New York having a wine region outside of the North Fork of Long Island, let alone, had I ever heard of the Finger Lakes. (To us in the Tri-State area, New York is the City and Long Island and that’s about it.) Then when every blogger under the sun went to Aurora last summer to check out the Mackenzie-Childs HQ, I decided I needed to put it on my list. The Finger Lakes area little further away, which is probably why I wasn’t able to get there this summer. A good 5 hour drive north-west of NYC, I would definitely want to take at least a 5-night trip up there. Wineries, beer, good food, and tons of hiking and waterfalls, this seems like it would be my paradise.

Burlington, Vermont
Most people think of Vermont as a winter destination, but for my non-athletic ass, I like Vermont in the summer the most. There are a ton of lakes you can play on and at night, the weather is perfect for a bonfire. Last summer a few of us went up to visit our friend who lives on Lake Bomoseen and it was a perfect end to the summer. But Burlington is an awesome place to check out if you’re not so into the great outdoors. There are tons of restaurants and shops up here on Church St. Definitely on my list of the fall or next spring.

Summer Must Dos in Connecticut

Summer in the Northeast is what we have been looking forward to pretty much since Thanksgiving. Once the weather starts getting cold, New Englanders go into pure hibernation so when the leaves start showing their buds and the flowers start parking out from the ground, everyone goes bananas.

People suddenly start remembering they should have been exercising all winter, ice cream becomes life, and every meal needs to be eaten outdoors… on a patio… with rose. Obviously.

My planner has been getting more and more full, and the Netflix binge watching has toned down a lot. It’s been pretty hard to keep up with my Braverman’s on Parenthood since Mother Nature decided it was time she started being friendlier.

I’ve started making my annual summer to do list.

Thimble Island Boat Cruise
Years ago my parents would take us to Stony Creek and the Thimble Islands, a little group of islands in Long Island Sound. Someone my cousin new had a house out on one of the islands and I remember running around exploring the little island like it was out in the Caribbean. Now that I’m not 10 anymore I know that Long Island Sound is far from the blue waters of the Caribbean but the little islands are still pretty cool. I can’t wait to take the tour around the islands, and then maybe check out the nearby brewery with the same name.

Connecticut’s Wine Trail
Last year I was able to check out a lot of the Connecticut wineries but honestly, I barely checked off half of the list of wineries around here. This year I am hoping to finish the list, and maybe even move onto some in the North Fork of Long Island.

Sunday morning hikes
There are so many hiking trails in Connecticut and I am looking forward to my Sunday morning hikes at Sleeping Giant and Devils Hopyard. Connecticut has so many good State Parks with awesome waterfalls and trails.

Book club and rose
Last month my girlfriends and I had our first book club of the summer. It’s basically a good reason to get together, spend very little money, and force ourselves to read. More on that next week but I will say, we jumped right in to our first book by asking the author to come join us for our meeting.

Explore NYC
I always say how much I take living so close to New York for granted. This summer I plan on getting into the city more often then I have in the past. Last month one of my friends from California was in New York and we were able to spend the day strolling Central Park and catch a Broadway show together. Earlier this month a few friends and I stopped into the city for an impromptu Monday night dinner. It’s always easier to get into the city in the summer and not have to deal with the snow and cold that the winter brings. Also having a drink, rooftop at Eataly doesn’t hurt either.

Eat all of the ice cream
Like I said, ice cream is life in New England during the summer. My first job was at one of our local ice cream shops but here most of them close for the winter. The spring weather has most of the shops open again and I’m ready for my weekly ice cream cone.