Weekend in Boston

Growing up in Connecticut you are one of two types of people. Red Sox or Yankees, Pats or Giants (ok, there are the few, like my family that shamefully love the Jets also), Boston or New York. I have always been a New York girl. My family are hardcore Yankees fans and the quick 90-minute train ride into the city always made it easy to go watch a play on Broadway, explore China town, or window shop on Fifth Ave.

I can count the number of times I’ve been to Boston on two hands, and each time I was with someone else who knows Boston much better than I do. I always took the back seat on planning, exploring, and leading the way. So basically, I feel like I have never been there until last month.

In December my sister and I took a weekend trip up to Bean Town to experience their winter activities, check out the historical sightsee, and find some amazing foodie spots. It was the perfect, preholiday getaway.

Where we stayed:
If you’ve been around here a while you know I love me a good hotel and here we hit the jackpot. Since becoming a travel agent, I have become quite the hotel snob. We spent two nights at Boston Park Plaza hotel, a AAA Four Diamond hotel that is registered with the Historic Hotels of America. We had a Deluxe Room that gave us an amazing view of Park Plaza and sunrise views over Boston Public Garden and Boston Common.

For the most part, everything was within walking distance to our hotel which was great because I don’t like driving through cities I don’t know too much. Also, lucky for us, it was easy on and off of the Mass Pike (Route 90) and Route 93. And while they had easy Valet parking just outside the door to the hotel, there was also an off-site garage about a half a block down the street where we parked.

Where we ate:
Directly next to our hotel was an awesome little Irish pub, MJ OConnors where we ate the first night we got there. Staying true to Boston’s Irish roots I got Fish and Chips. Okay, okay, I know this is a little more English but I’m an Italian girl so that’s as close as you’re getting me to meat and potatoes. While the food was great the drinks were just okay. Stick with what the Irish like and you’ll be good: beer and whiskey.

The next morning, we started with a cold brew from Ziggy’s Coffee Bar before eating an early lunch at 21st Amendment on the north-east corner of the Common. This little, prohibition era themed, whole in the wall reminded me of anyone’s neighborhood bar. I had the 21st Hangover Burger which was topped with a fried egg. Put a fried egg on a burger and I am a happy girl. But they also had a braised short ribs grilled cheese which is defiantly what I will be trying next time.

That night I wanted Italian. Boston is supposed to have fantastic Italian food and I wanted a taste. We headed down Newbury St. to Papa Razzi Trattoria where I started with a Caprese salad. Stepping outside of my normal, penne ala vodka for my first time at a new Italian restaurant, my sister and I both ended up having Porcini Agnolotti, a lightweight pasta with wild mushrooms in a sherry sauce. A. Maz. Zing. UH! Literally probably one of the best dishes I’ve had in a long time. The food was amazing, the service was fantastic. We had to wait a while for a seat, but in the city on a Saturday night, we didn’t expect anything less. Hands down most fantastic meal of the weekend.

We spent the night at Sip Wine Bar and Kitchen and then headed over to Off the Common, our hotel’s lobby bar for a night cap. The next morning, we headed back over the Newbury St. to the Thinking Cup. A cut little local coffee shop with three locations throughout the city.

What we did:
Saturday morning, we woke up pretty early and started exploring the city. We walked through Boston Public Garden and Boston Commons. The cold weather kept the Swan Boats out of the water but was perfect for the ice skaters on the Frog Pond.

We headed east out of the Common. past Granary Burying Ground where Sam Adams and Paul Revere are both buried, past the Old South Meeting House and to Faneuil Hall where we browsed the shops and debated on stopping for another cup of coffee. Tip: If you are visiting Boston to explore the historical aspects of the city, get a Freedom Trail map. We pasted by a lot of important spots like the Boston Massacre Site and the Old State House and had no idea until we were looking at a map later on in the day. Also go out near Faneuil Hall at night. It was freezing so we stayed pretty close to our hotel at night but I’ve been out in that area before and it’s a ton of fun. The Black Rose is fantastic and so much fun.

Across the street from Faneuil Hall is Boston’s City Hall where just behind there was a holiday market with an ice skating rink built for visitors. Boston Winter is open through February and has booths selling all sorts of homemade goods. Olive wood kitchenware, family crest historical pieces, homemade lotions, soaps and candles, and so much more. I loved it.

After spending the morning walking around and exploring, we took an Uber over to the Sam Adams Brewery for a quick little afternoon tour. While I have been on much more in depth brewery tours (Hey Guinness Storehouse!) the tour ended with a half hour long tasting which was super informative and delicious. Super interesting: the Boston brewery on Germania St. is the smallest location of all Sam Adams’ breweries. Because it’s so small, they can’t mass produce much so they use the location to test experimental beers on guests that sometimes go to make bigger batches, and sometimes don’t. We tried a Marzen style nano brew, which I loved.

Boston is a perfect getaway for anyone from New England or even just flying in for a couple of days before heading over to Europe. The food options in Boston were way better than I had anticipated and the coffee shops and little bars were perfect. And for the historians out there, is there anything more historical than Boston? Where’s your favorite spot in Boston? I’m hoping to get up there again this summer and would love some more recommendations!

Things to do in New York City During the Holidays

I caught the Christmas bug a little earlier than normal this year. I think it was the lack of overnight shifts and finally being able to celebrate the holidays with my family that really got me excited to start celebrating.

Back in November, my sister and I took our mom to Radio City to see the Rockettes Christmas show. We spent the afternoon strolling Fifth Ave, checking out the holiday windows that were already on display. We were there the weekend that the Christmas tree got to New York from Pennsylvania this year and there were a ton of workers stringing lights and hanging ornaments getting ready for the big reveal.

There is absolutely nothing like New York City during the holidays and it has always given me all sorts of feels. I put together some of my favorite things to do in the city to get in the holiday spirit.

Skate in the middle of the city
There are amazing pop up skating rinks all around the city, and while the Rink at Rockefeller Center is in place all year, the best time to skate under the Rock is in between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when the most famous Christmas Tree in the world is looking down upon you. If you don’t want to skate in a not so packed, but still very packed and popular area, you can twirl on the ice at the Winter Village at Bryant Park, two rinks in Central Park and a few others scattered outside of midtown.

Visit the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree
This is one of my favorite traditions. Even when I was in living in Los Angeles, I always made it a point to visit the Gove or Americana at Christmas to see the huge trees and all of the decorations. Even just driving by the beautiful decorations at the Citadel outlets along the 5 Freeway could put anyone in the holiday spirit. But nothing compares to Rockefeller Center. There’s something about this beautiful piece of nature being completely surrounded by cement and skyscrapers. It’s a little piece of Christmas in the city.

Winter Village at Bryant Park
I may have talked about how much I want to visit European Christmas Markets one day. It’s pretty high up on my bucket list. And while we may not have as magical markets here in the US, Bryant Park’s Winter Wonderland is pretty high up there. You can shop artisan goods and food, eat at one of the restaurants over looking the park or skate on the rink.

Stroll 5th Ave and window shop
One of my earliest memories of going into New York City is walking down 5th Ave. and being in awe of how intricate the windows were. (Ironic I was a merchant for 8 years.) Bloomingdales, Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s and Bergdorf Goodman are some of the most famous, but not all on 5th Ave. and you may have to venture out a block or two but they are defiantly worth it. When I went to the city in mid-November the famous Saks windows weren’t revealed yet – yes there’s a whole big to do around the windows being revealed – but last week when I went into the city I was able to visit Lord and Taylor’s windows and they were all the heart eyes!

Rockettes Christmas Spectacular
Every Thanksgiving I watch the Rockettes in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade but this was the first year that I was able to see these amazing ladies perform their most popular show of the year. It was beautiful. I didn’t realize how intricate the entire show was, with a few surprised guests at the end.

This year seeing the Rockettes was a new Christmas tradition but Friday I am going to be talking about my favorite holiday traditions.

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12 Non Boozy Things To Do in Las Vegas

If you’ve been around here for a while, or even a little bit, you know Las Vegas is one of my favorite places. Now if you’re not from the southwest I understand that this can make me sound like a complete lush. Even as a travel agent, I find myself justifying Las Vegas as a perfect long weekend getaway. But there have been many trips where I have gone to Vegas and done non boozy activities.

So instead of justifying myself over and over again, I thought I’d compile a list of 15 non boozy things to do in Las Vegas.

1. See a Show
Oh my goodness this has to be one of my faovirte things to do in Vegas. And now with the new TMobile arena, there are even more options of shows to see. I’ve seen a few different Cirque de Soleil shows, Blue Man Group, Jennifer Lopez and so many more different shows while in Las Vegas. And there are so many more shows that I want to see. (Like Backstreet Boys and Britney!) These shows are absolutely fantastic and there are options for everyone’s style.

2. Grand Canyon Tour and the Hoover Dam
The first time I went to Las Vegas, my sister and I joined our parents for a little family vaca. My parents had gone the year before and weren’t really into visiting the Grand Canyon again, so my sister and I woke up early one day, took a taxi to a hotel downtown and hoped on a bus tour to the Grand Canyon. It was pretty interesting learning about the history of Boulder City and how the Hoover Dam was built. Our first stop was the dam, where we grabbed a bite to eat and then headed out to the Grand Canyon. For our first trip out to the West, it was definitely worth the visit.

3. Freemont Street Experience and Zipline
All the way at the north end of the current strip is Freemont Street. This is where the hotels that built Las Vegas are still standing. At night you can head down to Freemont Street via taxi, Uber or even the bus system, and check out the light show. Hanging over a few blocks on famous Freemont Street is a huge screen of LED lights. When I was there last there, the show played lights to classic rock music. And if you’re up for it, there is even a new zipline that runs down the street.

4. Venetian Canals and Gondolas
Just like Italy. Okay maybe not but this hotel is definitely somewhere you can spend the day exploring the high end shops, taking a ride on the gondolas, and ending the night with some pasta. The Venetian is defiantely one of my favorite hotels to get lost in.

5. Seven Magic Mountains
Last summer, after our trip to Vegas to see Garth Brooks, we stopped off of route 15 to see the oh so instagramable pieces of art along the freeway. Check it out here, and next time you’re in Nevada, check out these rocks. They are absolutely enormous and a sight to be seen.

 

6. Stratosphere thrill rides
Not something that I have done, or will do, but if you are a thrill seeker you need to visit the Stratosphere. Here you can bungee jump, go on a rollercoaster and a set of swings, all sitting 1,149 feet above Las Vegas Blvd. Or if you’re like me you can watch all of the crazies from the observation tower where they have a cute little restaurant. (If you really want to freak someone how, bring them here and don’t tell them about the bungee jumping… then watch their face as someone falls off the side of the building… it’s great.)

7. The Neon Museum Las Vegas
The Neon Museum is a pretty cool stop for any history or entertainment buff. With 6 acres full of old neon lights and signs, these signs show the history of Las Vegas and pays omage to some of the cities most famous attractions.

8. Golf…or better yet, TopGolf
TopGolf came to Las Vegas a few years ago, and now you can’t go there without a wait. Anytime you want to hit some balls, you can head over to the four story dirving range between 9am and 2am, attached to the MGM Grand. There are climate controlled bays where servers can serve you food (or booze) between your practice swings. There are even two pools, VIP cabanas and private suites. Very Las Vegas.

9.Helicopter Tour of the Strip
I haven’t done this yet, but it is definitely on my bucket list. For myself, I may need a little vino to get myself up in a helicopter but for most people, this can be a non boozy activity. I’ve always loved the view of the strip from up high. On my last trip to Vegas, I was that annoying guest at check in asking if there was anything better. I went back three times but the view was pretty good.

10. The Mob Museum
Based in the old Las Vegas Courthouse and Post Office the mob museum was built to show the history of organized crime in the US, which is actually a lot of the history of Las Vegas. This has been a place I’ve wanted to visit in Las Vegas since it opened about 5 years ago.

11. High Roller at the LINQ
The High Roller is new to the strip but has quickly become a part of the Las Vegas skyline. This beautiful, huge Ferris wheel sits right in the middle of Las Vegas Blvd. behind the LINQ hotel. You can take the trip during the day or at night, in a “cabin” with an open bar, or how I like to view it, from the ground at the Promenade at the bottom. Hanging out at the Promenade is a nice little afternoon of stopping in the stores, grabbing a drink at one of the restaurants or bars or even a cupcake at Sprinkles.

12. Fountains of Bellagio , Mirage Volcano and Treasure Island’s Pirate Show

Most people visiting Las Vegas make it a point to check out the Bellagio’s water show that goes off every half hour to 15 minutes each afternoon and night depending on the day. But there are other shows along the strip that don’t get as many spectators. Depending on weather both the volcano at the Mirage and the pirate show at Treasure Island are really cool and fun shows to stop and check out.

 

 

Why the Fall is the Best Time to Visit California’s Central Coast

Living in Southern California wasn’t always a vacation. I worked in retail management for the majority of my 7 years in California and that meant my phone was attached to my hand even when I wasn’t clocked in. But there was one place in California that I could always go and good news for me, service wasn’t really the greatest. (Or at least I could pretend to have bad service and usually my boss believed me.)

The central coast is a place that will always have my heart. I’ve written about Solvang, Carpintaria, El Capitan, Pismo Beach and Avila Beaches. As soon as I drove north on the 101, leaving Ventura, it was like I was entering this place where people didn’t have real jobs, no one cared what time it was, and beach life was the only life.

Uhg take me back.

I went during the winter, spring, summer and my favorite time: fall. Each year that I was on the west coast, I took a weekend trip north to get away and veg out before the chaos of the holidays began in the retail world. It was a place that I could reset and had no worries.

The beach in the fall
I grew up in a New England beach town my whole life. When I was 23 and moved to Los Angeles the beaches just were not the same. They were packed. You had to fight for parking and a spot on the beach. Going to the beach ended up being more of a project than fun. The central coast beaches are smaller, less crowed, and way more townie than anything you will find in Orange County or Los Angeles. I love it. Small shops, seafood restaurants and beach side bars… just a few of my favorite things. It felt just like home.

Closest you can get to fall foliage
Okay, you’re right. Last year we found Oak Glen, CA and that was a little piece of fall in Southern California but not like in Avila Beach. One of my favorite places in Avila is the Avila Valley Barn. They have amazing fresh fruits and veggies, homemade baked goods, Mexican corn on the cob, tractor rides, a corn maze and animals throughout the property.

Take advantage of your fall wardrobe
My first fall in California I went pumpkin picking on a not so crisp October afternoon. I was so excited to do some fall activities that I dressed up in my knee-high boots and sweater to get into the fall spirit… and I wanted to die. By the end of the day I had run to the car to switch into my flip flops and threw my sweater around my waist and just wore the tank top that I had under my top layer. The weather north of Santa Barbara is completely different then the hot fall weather in southern California.

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Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival: Adults Only Disney

Last week was a little slow moving. I got home late Sunday from a three-day weekend away to Disney World. You know I love me some Disney. I’ve written about Disneyland here, here and here in the past. But this was my first trip to Disney World in over 12 years. What was so unique about this trip is this was a bachelorette party.

A lot of people asked what we were going to do at Disney World for a bachelorette but there is actually a lot of adult activities at the different parks and resorts. In our three days at Disney World, we really never felt overwhelmed with children or families.

We stayed at the Beach Club Villas near Epcot. This was perfect for our group. Because there were nine of us we got two, two-bedroom villas. In each villa there was a room with one bed, and a room with two queens. We had a kitchen, living room, two bathrooms, washer and dryer and three balconies. This gave us plenty of room to spread out, and not be on top of each other.

The bride’s mom (who is a Disney professional) ordered us groceries from a local store so we had everything prepared for us when we arrived. Breakfast options, coffee, snacks for the pool, and cheese and crackers for our wine before heading out for the night. This was perfect for us as adults, but also such an amazing service that you can do not just at the villas, but any of the resorts. This is great for families or groups that don’t want to eat out every meal, or want to save a little money during their trip.

Epcot International Food and Wine Festival
We only went into the park one day. And for our adult Disney trip, we went into Epcot for the Food and Wine Festival they have each fall. This is a perfect adults only vacation trip idea. There are hundreds of food options from all around the world around Epcot’s World Showcase. There were not many kids at all at Epcot during our trip. This was just a short walk from our hotel at the Beach Club. We started our day around 11 in the morning and ate our way through the park until about 7pm.

The food was absolutely amazing. We had Bellhaven Brewery Scottish Ale from Scotland, wine from Germany, “Le Cellier” Wild Mushroom Beef Filet Mignon from Canada and so much more. My favorite was probably the seafood options we got at the new Coasts Eats booth. There was Lump Crab Cakes, Bake Shrimp Scampi Dip and Seared Scallops, all of which I really enjoyed. Prices ranged depending on what you got but anywhere from $4.50 to $12 seemed pretty average. What’s important to remember is this is a tasting.

These are not big portions of food because you want to try everything and anything. I didn’t think anything was too overpriced, but as the day went on, I stopped ordering wine. Most of the wine tastings were around $6 and you only got between 1 and 2 ounces. That to me wasn’t really worth it. But the food and cocktails were fantastic.

Pro Tip: If you do want wine, head over to the Germany and Italy areas. Germany has a nice quiet tasting room where you can order a glass of wine and Italy had a fantastic little wine cave with great food.

Disney Springs
Downtown Disney, now Disney Springs, had a major facelift since I was there 12 years ago. I was blown away by the number of new stores, restaurants, shops and places for live music that were all around. I was really impressed that every store front we walked by there was music coming out of the restaurant.

We had dinner at Raglan Road, an Irish pub at Disney Springs. The food and drinks were fantastic. I ordered their Gnocchi Sea Gnocchi Do, a scallops and gnocchi dish that I wish I could find anything similar to here. During our meals we watched an Irish band and Irish step dancers which were all amazing performers.

Besides Raglan Road, you can watch a concert at House of Blues, go blowing at Splitsville, watch a show at Cirque du Soleil, or take a boat ride around Lake Buena Vista on a Vintage Amphicar and Italian Water Taxi. Or simply shop around at some of the amazing stores like Zara, Anthopologie, Everything But Water, Francesca’s and so much more. I will defiantly be stopping her during the day next time I am at Disney as well as at night.

Resorts
The resorts actually have less Disney features than you’d expect. Besides a few hidden Mickeys and maybe a character breakfast, otherwise not too much screams you’re at a Disney resort. Each resort has amazingly themed pools. At our resort, the Beach Club, we shared a pool with the Yacht Club and this is dubbed one of the best pools on property according to a few different cast members I talked to over the weekend. There was plenty of different areas around the pool that never made the pool feel crowded.

Spas and golfing is always an option at many resorts, but besides the normal resort options some of the resorts have 8-person bikes, boats you can rent, ferry rides, watersports like tubing, waterskiing and parasailing, and even fishing. Animal Kingdom Lodge even has a Safari that you can go around the property and check out the animals they have on site.

Restaurants, Bars and Sports
A lot of people don’t know this but the Atlanta Braves actually use ESPN’s Wide World of Sports baseball field for their spring training. So, if your visiting Orlando in March, check out a game. Mickey most likely won’t be in the stands.

One of my favorite things we did during out trip to Disney World was a monorail bar crawl. We took a taxi over to the Grand Floridian where we began our tour of a few bars in that hotel, at the Contemporary, and the Polynesian. We finished off the night at a dueling piano bar at the Boardwalk hotel. So much fun. And no kids.