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48 Hours In Austin, Texas

austin sunset1

When I visited Austin for the very first time last year, I didn’t really know what to expect. My plan was to spend a month in the capital of Texas, hoping this would give me a good amount of time to explore the city whose slogan is ‘Keep Austin Weird’. Even though this slogan had me suspect that I’d love the city, I had no idea just how much I’d fall for Austin.

With dozens of live music venues, excellent craft beer, countless food trucks, plenty of outdoors activities, especially along the river, and an overall laid-back attitude, the city won me over during my month there.

Because I had the advantage of being able to spend four full weeks there, I took my time to explore every nook and cranny of the city, but I know that most people come to Austin for a quick weekend getaway. And while I’ve already shared 33 Things I Love About Austin, I wanted to give you a more structured overview of how to spend a weekend in Austin.AustinHere is my perfect weekend in Austin for you – including places to eat and drink, what to do and what to see on a first-time visit:

Friday, 2pm: Welcome to Austin

Luckily, nearly all Austin hotels are conveniently located downtown, which makes it easy to explore the city on foot. If you’re not hugely into walking, I recommend you take advantage of Austin’s easy-to-use bike sharing system. The shared bikes, called B-Cycle, have a great ‘Weekender Pass’, which gives you three full days access to the bikes for only $15 and includes an unlimited number of free rides up to 60 minutes (a 24-hour pass is $12).

The best way to use the B-cycles is to download the free app – that way you have an overview of all available stations around town.

Start with a ride around Downtown to get your bearings: 6th Avenue is the main drag, especially at night, lined with cool (and some cheesy) bars and restaurants. Congress Avenue runs from the State Capitol all the way down to the Colorado River. Once you get to the river, follow the bike path alongside it.

If you turn left, you can ride all the way to Ladybird Lake and beyond (go either until Frontage Road Bridge or Pleasant Valley Road Bridge, cross the bridge and circle back to Congress Avenue Bridge). If you turn right, you will get to Zilker Park and get superb views over the Downtown skyline. Stop at Doug Sahm Hill in Butler Park (on the other side of the river) for the best skyline views.austin texasIf you don’t want to rent a bike, you can easily walk the same route, it will just take you a little longer. A good walk would be across the Congress Avenue Bridge, turning left on Roy and Ann Butler Hike & Bike Trail, walking through Butler Park, crossing the river via the Lamar Street Pedestrian Bridge, and walking back to where you started on the north side of the river.

Food trucks

Reward yourself for your walk or cycle tour with your first taste of Austin’s famous food truck scene. I recommend Valentina’s TexMex BBQ (11500 Manchaca Road), Tommy Want Wingy (94 Rainey St), and Chi’lantro (Asian-fusion comfort food; 823 Congress Ave).

If you have a B-cycle or a car, venture a little further and try one of the tasty food trucks on Austin’s East Side, for example East Side King Thai Kun (1816 E 6th St), Micklewait Craft Meats (BBQ meats; 1309 Rosewood Av), or The Peached Tortilla (banh mi tacos & other Asian-fusion fare; 5520 Burnet Rd #100). Alternatively, head to the food truck park on S 1st Street and W Live Oak Street, where you find Venezuelan, Indian, Baja Mexican & Japanese Fusion, and desserts. Vegans will love Arlo’s (900 Red River Street).austin food truck

5pm: A Stroll along South Congress

It is almost time to go out and explore Austin’s nightlife – start with a stroll over S Congress Ave Bridge, which connects Downtown with SoCo, short for South Congress, where you will find a number of independent shops, restaurants and bars, and some fantastic old-fashioned neon signs.

SoCo is the neighborhood to find some of Austin’s most eclectic shops, like Uncommon Things, Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds, Allens Boots (with over 4,000 boots, definitely peek inside!), Monkey See Monkey Do, and the Yard Dog gallery. If you have a sweet tooth, treat yourself to a cupcake at the Hey Cupcake food truck, to some ice cream at the famous Amy’s Ice Cream shop or stock up on candy at the epic Big Top Candy Shop.

There are some great murals down here as well – look out for the Willie Nelson mural and the I Love You So Much graffiti. Güero’s Taco Bar is a good place for a sundowner margarita, and June’s is a wine bar with a nice patio.austin congress ave bridgeMake sure to walk back towards Congress Bridge in time for sunset, because that’s when – between March and October – Austin’s most unique and free show begins: the flight of the bats.

7 – 8pm: The Flight of the Bats

Since 1980, Mexican free-tailed bats have made their homes in the concrete crevasses of the bridge, and over 1 million bats fly out of there at sunset every night. It’s a rare spectacle to see, especially considering you’re right in the heart of a big city. In fact, this bat colony is the largest urban bat colony in the world! You can either watch the flight of the bats from the top of the bridge or from a big grassy spot near the river below. Be warned: This space fills up quickly.austin flight of the bats

9pm: Bar-hopping along Historic Rainey Street

Just north of Congress Ave Bridge is Rainey Street, a street lined with historic bungalows that are now home to some of Austin’s trendiest bars.

You can either opt for a food truck dinner – there are several on Rainey Street, for example: Art of Tacos, or the tasty Via 313 Pizza Truck behind Craft Pride, Boca inside the Container Bar, or Big Fat Greek Gyros – or you could do a fancy dinner just around the corner from Rainey Street, at what is one of the hottest tickets in town these days: Geraldine’s, a contemporary gourmet restaurant inside the fabulous new Hotel Van Zandt. If you want to treat yourself to a fancy dinner at Geraldine’s, make sure to reserve well in advance.

End your first night in Austin by bar hopping until you can’t keep your eyes open anymore. Places worth stopping at are Blackheart, Banger’s Beer Garden (with over 100 beers on tap), Craft Pride and the Container Bar, which is made out of shipping containers.Austin Rainey Street

Saturday, 9am: Brunch

There are several excellent brunch spots in Austin, but my favorite is 24 Diner (600 N Lamar) which serves solid portions of all your brunch favorites and special treats like their sweet potato hash, or a waffle sandwich. Mimosas are only $3.95 and brunch cocktails start at $7.austin 24 dinerIf you have to wait in line (which you most likely will, since it is the weekend), head to Waterloo Records a couple of doors down to check out some new releases. Waterloo is a great old fashioned vinyl store, which are hard to find these days (but don’t be surprised to see CDs here, too).

If you’re a Whole Foods fanatic, you have to check out the Whole Foods flagship store after breakfast, which is located just across the street from 24 Diner. The 80,000 sq. ft market is more than just your regular Whole Foods – there’s a bar, a wine bar, an eatery, even a makeup counter. Plus a bunch of products that you can only get here.umlauf sculpture garden

11am: Street Art Heaven

Hope Outdoor Gallery is just a couple of blocks from 24 Diner and is a vast outdoor graffiti park – a must-see for street art lovers! The colorful walls are the remainder of an abandoned building, and street artists are allowed to leave their mark here. It is basically an ever-changing outdoor gallery, and you’ll probably be able to see some artists at work during your visit. If you climb all the way up to the top of the hill (the building ruins sit on the side of a hill) you also get some nice views over Austin.

If you’re not into street art, head to the small, yet beautiful Umlauf Sculpture Park ($5 admission) near Zilker Park instead.Austin Hope Outdoor Gallery

1pm: Food Truck Lunch

After your filling brunch, you probably won’t be all that hungry yet, but there’s always room for a small snack from a food truck or for a couple of Torchy’s Tacos. I’ve already given you some food truck recommendations, but for more ideas check out 20 Essential Austin Food Trucks and The Best New Food Trucks In Austin in 2016.tacos austin

3pm: Time for Culture

Austin has a number of places to get your culture nerd on: there are several top-notch museums (Blanton Museum Of Art, Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, The Contemporary Austin, Mexic-Arte Museum) – pick the one that best fits your personal interests. The Guardian has a great overview of the 10 best museums in Austin, my personal favorites were the art museums.

And then there’s also the Texas State Capitol, an imposing red granite building that is only second in total size to the National Capitol in DC (it is even 15 feet taller than the one in DC!), which can be visited in a free half-hour guided tour (note that the last tours on Saturdays start at 3.30pm).Austin Culture

6pm: BBQ Dinner

Austin is famous for its BBQ scene and you have to try at least one barbecue joint on a visit to Austin. Franklin’s (900 E 11th St) is the most famous one, but the notoriously long lines there can make it difficult to fit it into a short visit, so here are some alternatives: Kerlin BBQ (1700 E Cesar Chavez St, Austin ); La Barbecue (1906 E Cesar Chavez St), Freedmen’s (2402 San Gabriel St); Terry Black’s BBQ (1003 Barton Springs Rd); Stiles Switch BBQ & Brew (6610 N Lamar Blvd) and Lambert’s Barbeque (2nd Street District).austin bangers beer garden

8pm: Sunset Drinks

For sunset drinks, head up to one of the rooftops. For great views and al-fresco cocktails, head to The Hangar Lounge (318 Colorado St), The Market & Tap Room (319 Colorado St, Austin) or The Handle Bar (121 E 5th St).austin hangar lounge

9pm: Live Music

You can’t visit Austin without getting a taste of its wonderful live music scene. Austin has something for everyone – country, rock, jazz or blues – whatever you’re into, pick up a TimeOut (https://www.timeout.com/austin/things-to-do/things-to-do-in-austin-this-week) and see who is playing where on the weekend you are in town. The Continental Club on South Congress is one of the most popular and oldest venues, Antone’s is best for blues, and The Broken Spoke is great for two-step, The White Horse for country and then there’s the Red River Music District with venues like Stubb’s, Mohawk and Cheap Charlie’s.

Note: If you want to take a free Texas two-step dance class at the Broken Spoke, skip the sunset drinks and head to the Broken Spoke around 8pm. Lessons take place Wednesdays to Saturdays from 8.30pm to 9.30pm.

11pm: Drinks at a Speakeasy

If you aren’t tired yet, hit up one of Austin’s excellent speakeasy bars. The Midnight Cowboy, right on 6th Street, is probably the most popular one, and getting inside without a reservation is impossible (reserve a table online http://midnightcowboymodeling.com/). A solid and less crowded alternative is Garage which is located in a parking garage and has a large selection of delectable cocktails.drinks

Sunday, 9am: Texas-style Breakfast

Austin is known for its Tex-Mex cuisine and breakfast tacos. For the latter, head to El Primo (2011 S 1st St); Veracruz All Natural (1704 E Cesar Chavez St), Juan in a million (2300 E Cesar Chavez St), Pueblo Viejo (1606 E 6th St) or Taqueria Mi Trailita (5301 Manor Rd).

If you’re more in the mood for a full-on Tex-Mex breakfast, head to Curra’s Grill (614 E Oltorf St, Austin) for Huevos Curras (eggs over carne asada), chorizo con huevo and other scrumptious Mexican-inspired breakfasts, plus a number of creative Tex-Mex style cocktails. Trudy’s Texas Star (various locations) is another solid option for migas, chilaquiles, huevos motulenos or other Tex-Mex breakfasts. Drinks are only $2.50 until noon and $4.50 after that (until 4pm).

Bouldin Creek Café (1900 S 1st St) is the best vegetarian restaurant for breakfast.tex mex breakfast

11am: Kayaking on the Colorado River

After your brunch feast, it is time to burn some calories. If you’ve opted for a B-Cycle bike pass, take a bike and head to the river, where you can rent kayaks at Congress Kayaks ($15 per hour). It is now time to get out on the river, and an hour kayaking can bring you all the way to Lady Bird Lake (west) or to Zilker Park (east).

If kayaking is not cool enough for you, rent a stand-up paddle board at Live, Love, Paddle and paddle around Ladybird Lake ($20 per hour).

Going out on the river was one of my favorite activities in Austin, and the views over Downtown from the river were wonderful. If you head to Ladybird Lake, moving away from the Downtown buildings, you’ll notice how green Austin really is.Austin Kayaking

12pm: A Walk in the Park/Pool Time!

Finish your visit with a walk through Zilker Park, which, at 351-acres, is one of the biggest green spaces in Austin. If you are a fan of Botanical Gardens, it is well worth checking out the Zilker Botanical Gardens ($3). If you’re visiting during the summer months, pack your bathing suit and stop for a swim at the gorgeous Barton Springs pool, over three times longer than a football field and fed by the Barton Spring, the fourth largest natural spring in Texas. ($8 for non-residents, $3 for residents).Austin parks

2pm: Food Truck Time

After your swim or walk in the park, treat yourself to one last food truck meal before heading to the airport. Within walking distance from Zilker Park are the amazing sandwich truck Hey!…You Gonna Eat or What?, The Mighty Cone (fried meats & veggies in tortilla cones), and Kebabalicious (all three are located in 1720 Barton Springs Rd).food truck austin gourdoughs

Practical Information

  • Austin doesn’t have Lyft or Uber, but there are several similar rideshare options – here is an overview of the best Lyft and Uber alternatives in Austin.
  • If you’re on a budget, take advantage of bus No 100 which brings you Downtown from the airport in less than half an hour for only $1.75 (you’ll need exact change). A taxi, in comparison, is around $30.
  • The best way to get around if you don’t have a car and don’t want to rely on car sharing services is the B-cycle bike sharing program.
  • Austin’s public transportation system is pretty decent though, and a 24-hour bus pass is only $2.50 (a single ride is $1.25).
  • GoogleMaps directions worked well to show me bus routes and schedules, but you can also download the CapMetro app for the most accurate information and to buy tickets via the app.

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Polaroid Of The Week: Snowy New York City

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week USA New York City Brooklyn Bridge Park WinterAfter returning from Israel, I only had a few short days in Germany before I boarded a flight back to New York – just enough time to pack up my clothes and a few other belongings I wanted to bring to New York with me and hug my friends and family goodbye.

When I arrived in New York, I learned that I’d been lucky – had I flown a day later, I wouldn’t have made it to New York, because a massive blizzard hit the city, causing over 1,700 flights across all three airports to get canceled. That blizzard was the first real snowstorm I’ve ever witnessed! Yes, of course we get snow in Germany, but not like this. Seeing the city get covered in 10 inches (30 centimeters) of snow in the span of a few short hours was an incredible experience for me – I was amazed to see how quickly New York transformed into a winter wonderland. I watched the spectacle from the inside of a warm coffee shop while I was working and couldn’t resist taking a couple of walks through the snow, even though I decided NOT to bring my winter jacket with me to New York (I brought a vest because I figured it’d be enough for my last few days of winter). The novelty of the experience made me forget how cold it was and I adored the quietness of Manhattan in the snow – I don’t think I’ve ever seen New York that silent.

Yesterday, I woke up to bright blue skies and lots of sun, which made the winter storm the day before almost seem like a dream. Even though I am not the biggest fan of running in the snow I put my running clothes on and went for a jog along the East River. It was just too perfect of a winter day to not enjoy the views over Manhattan – another first for me, a winter run in New York.

This will be as much as I am getting of winter in New York – I am escaping the cold weather and won’t be returning until the spring! My next Polaroid will be coming to you from Ecuador, my first new country of 2017.

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5 Epic Girls’ Getaway Destinations in California

redondo beach california

I spent over a month in California last year, rekindling my love affair with the Golden State, which has been ongoing since my first visit in 2010. 840 mi (1,350 km) of coastline are certainly a big draw of the state, but I also love the many wine regions (there’s more than just Napa!), the mountains, National Parks, small towns such as Santa Barbara and big cities like L.A. or San Francisco. California will be a regular stop in the future, and this year, I’d love to make a girls getaway happen – I’ve already started looking into California vacation rentals and found some stunning villas that are perfect for a girls’ getaway. The toughest thing will be deciding where to go… a luxury retreat in Orange County? A glamping weekend in Big Sur? Touring the wineries of Northern California? All I know is that I’ll be doing it in style.CaliforniaIf you are thinking about a girls’ getaway to California, here are five destination for an epic weekend getaway:

1 A Spa Weekend in Palm Springs

What’s better than some desert sun to recharge your batteries? When it comes to wellness and pampering yourself, Palm Springs is a solid choice. Almost all of the desert resorts have a day spa, so book yourselves some relaxing massages, ayurvedic treatments, mud baths and yoga sessions. Some of the best spas in town include the Spa at Desert Springs which offers a plethora of saunas, steam rooms and pools, and an outdoor saltwater pool; the hacienda-inspired Spa La Quinta at the La Quinta Resort & Club, and a short drive from Palm Springs: Two Bunch Palms Resort and Spa in the town of Desert Hot Springs, which is famous for its natural hot- and cold-water aquifers that run underneath the city surface and thus make it a spa lover’s dream. Moon Travel Guides has a full list of the very best spas in Palm Springs.

Spend the rest of your weekend exploring the desert-scape: head up into the mountains on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, go for a hike in the Jacinto Mountains or in the Indian Canyons, go for a drive in the stunningly beautiful Joshua National Park (about an hour east of Palm Springs). Of course there’s also plenty of shopping in Palm Springs – I recommend the Desert Hills Premium Outlets.Untitled

2 Wine tasting in Sonoma County

I love Sonoma County – the small towns, the Redwoods, the 425 wineries. I’ve found the scenery to be just as picturesque as Sonoma Wine Country’s more famous neighbor, Napa Valley, but less pretentious. A weekend filled with wine tastings in different wineries is the perfect getaway for wine loving girls like me. If you base yourself in Santa Rosa, don’t miss Paradise Ridge Winery (right on the outskirts of town) with its beautiful sculpture garden (Marijke’s Grove) and sweeping views over the valley. Head over to Guerneville and spend some time in the Russian River – Johnson’s Beach is perfect for canoeing, kayaking, and other water sports. Take a break from wine tasting and go for a hike in the Armstrong Redwoods. If you base yourself in Healdsburg, you’re in for a treat: not only does the charming small town sit on the juncture of three prime wine growing regions — the Russian River Valley, Dry Creek Valley, and Alexander Valley wine appellations, but it also known for its excellent dining options and fabulous art galleries.korbel champagne tasting

3 A ski weekend in Lake Tahoe

For ladies who love snow and skiing, there’s no better place for a girls getaway than Lake Tahoe. California’s #1 ski region, and largest Alpine Lake in all of North America, has much more to offer than winter sports in the Olympic Valley – if you’re looking for an active getaway, Lake Tahoe is a great destination at any time of year. The stunningly beautiful lake itself is great for swimming, kayaking, fishing, sailing, or simply resting on its shore, and no matter what side of the lake you’re on: there are hiking and mountain biking trails, state parks, national forests, and protected tracts of wilderness – perfect for an action-packed weekend!

Good Morning North Lake Tahoe

4 Art & Shopping in Venice Beach

If you are looking for a weekend of shopping and art, I suggest basing yourselves in Venice Beach. Abbot Kinney Boulevard is just a few blocks down from the beach and filled with boutiques and independent stores, coffee shops and eateries. The boulevard has been named ‘America’s coolest block’ for a reason – it’s a place where you go to see and be seen. Don’t miss rag & bone, milkmade, Alternative Apparel and Guild (clothes), Intelligentsia (coffee), Heist for accessories, The Tasting Kitchen for cocktails. This guide has some more ideas where to shop on Abbot Kinney Boulevard. Treat yourself to a new haircut at Holly Jones Hair Design and pamper yourself at Caudalie. If you happen to be here on the first weekend of the month, head down to Abbot Kinney Boulevard for First Fridays, when art galleries and shops open late. There are food trucks, there’s live music – come hungry and bring your credit card. Altered Space has paintings, sculptures, jewelry and furniture made by local artists, and Kana Manglapus Projects is a gallery that is a must for art aficionados. After a long day of shopping, head back to your Venice Beach villa in time for sunset drinks by the pool.abbot kinney boulevard venice

5 A Beach Getaway in Orange County

In need of a beach getaway? Then head down to Orange County! Newport Beach, Laguna Beach and Corona Del Mar have gorgeous villas for rent, complete with beach views and dreamy swimming pools. You don’t even have to fly into LAX anymore – John Wayne Airport is located just outside Newport Beach and served by American Airlines, Alaska, Delta, Southwest, Frontier, United and WestJet – talk about convenient! If you want to see more of the region, hop into a convertible and drive down the Pacific Coast Highway all the way to San Diego, or north to Long Beach (don’t go any further if you don’t want to be stuck in the notorious LA traffic) or simply relax by the pool and catch up with your girlfriends. For some shopping, I recommend South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa Shop for luxury shopping, the Outlets at Orange to hunt down some bargains, Fashion Island in Anaheim for some serious retail therapy. For the best food in the O.C., check out this list of the top 25 restaurants in Orange County.newport beach california

Photo credit: Lake Tahoe image by Daniel Hoherd used via Flickr’s Creative Commons License.

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Polaroid Of The Week: Fall Colors in Sonoma Wine Country, California

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week usa california sonoma wine country

One thing I loved about my trip to Sonoma Wine Country was seeing the vineyards during leaf changing season. I’d flown up from Los Angeles, the evergreen city with palm trees and summer weather even in December, and a short 90-minute flight later I found myself in fall weather again, just like in Seattle six weeks earlier. I’d never seen grapevines with changing leaves – I am not sure I even knew they were changing colors! – and loved the bright red and yellow colors in each winery I visited and every vineyard I passed in my car.

The wine tastings I did were fantastic, too – at the Korbel Winery for example, where I sampled California champagnes, or Virginia Dare Winery, recently purchased by Francis Ford Coppola. I got to tour the wineries and see the entire production line from wine making to corking and labeling the bottles which was incredible, got to sample wines that aren’t available anywhere but directly at the winery, and learned so much about wine in those few short days that I feel inclined to do some further studying now. I want to know more about the different kinds of grapes, the different kinds of wines, the differences between all of them. If you’re looking to pick up a new hobby, I highly recommend a trip to Sonoma Wine Country… I can’t imagine you’d come back without having your curiosity  in wine piqued 😉

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Polaroid Of The Week: Being Dwarfed By California’s Redwood Trees

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week usa california armstrong redwoodsThis past week was one of the busiest travel weeks since returning from Italy in September – I admit it, I am exhausted. After a long weekend in L.A. (where I was amazed by the still oh-so sunny and warm weather!) I flew up to Santa Rosa in Sonoma Wine Country for a week of wine, art, good food and hiking.

One of the highlights of the week was an afternoon spent hiking in the Armstrong Redwoods. The Redwoods are home to the tallest trees in the world, which live to be 500-1,000 years old, grow to a diameter of 12-16 feet, and stand from 200-250 feet tall. Walking through the forest where these imposing structures were towering over me, with moss-covered trunks of fallen trees on the ground, made me feel like I had entered some fairy tale world. I wouldn’t have been surprised had a fairy appeared in front of me, asking me to make a wish. Because of the height of the trees, barely any sun rays make their way through the branches, keeping the forest darker and in deeper shade than most other forests I’ve hiked through, which only added to the mystic aura.

The Armstrong Redwoods are supposed to remind visitors of what this whole region used to look like: Instead of  being covered in vineyards like it is today, all of Northern California used to be covered in forests of these colossal, majestic Redwood trees. The largest tree I encountered on my hike was the Parson Jones Tree, measuring more than 310 feet (94 meters) in height – longer than the length of a football field! Colonel Armstrong Tree, the oldest tree in the grove, is over 1,400 years old – these numbers were truly staggering and left me feeling even smaller and more humble than I already did in between these silent giants.

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35 Places I Love In Seattle

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I’ve decided to change things up a little bit with my Things I Love About… series. Instead of telling you all the things I love about Seattle, I’ll share 35 places I loved with you (It was supposed to be 33 places, but somehow I ended up with 35!)

These are my personal favorites from a month in Seattle, so this list is pretty biased and focuses on the things that I love: craft beer, parks, speakeasy bars, great views, cool neighborhoods, food, and of course COFFEE.

I feel like I only got a taste of Seattle during my four weeks there, and with so many rained-out days, I also didn’t get around to visiting all the places I had on my to-do-list, so please consider this list by no means complete. These are some of the places I loved, so feel free to use this post for some inspiration for things to check out on a trip to Seattle. For practical information, scroll down to the end.seattle miners landing

1 Golden Gardens

This gorgeous beach in the north of Seattle made me wish I was visiting during the summer months, but even on the chilly October day I visited it made for a nice autumn walk along the beach. There are several hiking trails and two wetlands in the park. I think this is also an amazing spot to watch the sunset.seattle golden gardens

top pots doughnut2 Top Pots Doughnuts

I’ve done thorough research on the topic of doughnuts during my time in Seattle, and can attest that Top Pots have the best doughnuts in town (their Apple Fritter is to die for). If you’re a doughnut lover, I’d recommend skipping the highly praised General Porpoise and heading straight to one of the Top Pots branches instead.

3 Joe Block Park

This little gem of a park is a place I would’ve never found, had a friendly local not pointed me towards it. A little-known park (even for Seattlites!) it is a little tricky to find, but well worth getting lost. It is located in West Seattle, close to the port, and basically on the way to Alki Beach. But since it is closer to Downtown Seattle than Alki, the views here are actually better (Alki is also known for fantastic views over Seattle). There is a walking pier that has an observation deck with benches at the end, offering sweeping views over Downtown Seattle and Puget Sound. I loved this place and would go back for a sunset picnic next time.seattle skyline at sunset

4 Storyville Café

Another place to while away a rainy day? Storyville Café! The coffee is excellent, and the pastries are divine. I’ve only been to their branch in the Queen Anne neighborhood so I don’t know if all of their cafes have fire places, but that definitely added to the coziness factor. There is also a branch right by Pike Place Market.seattle coffee2

5 Seward Park

I loved this little park which occupies the Bailey Peninsula in Lake Washington so much that I dedicated an entire Polaroid Of The Week to it – I loved the paved trail that goes around the entire peninsula along the water, and the dirt trails that lead up the hill through the forest. If you make it here, I recommend combining it with a meal in the cool Raconteur restaurant (inside a bookstore, always worth going in, if you love books as much as I do) or a coffee at Caffe Vita (see below) in the nearby Seward Park neighborhood.Seattle Seward Park1

6 Café Chocolaticafe chocolatti seattle

Luckily for both  my waistline and my wallet, I only discovered this place during my last week in town (and still managed to visit twice). This is seriously some of the best hot chocolate outside of Paris, where I’ve had the thickest, richest hot chocolate in my life. A cup of it is basically a meal in itself. My favorite: the Dark Vader (Raspberry Hot Chocolate). Extra tip: You get a free truffle on your first visit. Yes, they know how to make you addicted. I don’t think there’s a better place to spend a rainy afternoon than at one of the five Chocolati cafés. (The downtown branch is in the Public Library which is also worth a visit).

7 Fremont

This neighborhood in the north of Seattle describes itself as the ‘Center Of The Universe’. While I am not sure how much I agree with that, I loved the artsy vibe in this neighborhood: there are plenty of sculptures, some street art and even a troll who lives under the Aurora Bridge and is cherished by the locals. So yes, Fremont is one of Seattle’s quirkier neighborhoods. If you go, don’t miss the Theo Chocolate Factory Tour – it’s only $10 and includes a chocolate sampling. There’s also a factory shop worth visiting should you not make it on a tour.seattle fremont street art

8 Olympic Sculpture Park

The Olympic Sculpture Park sits right on the shores of Puget Sound and belongs to the Seattle Art Museum. If you’re into art, both are worth a visit. The Art Museum is free on the first Thursday of every month.seattle olympic sculpture park

9 Gas Works Park

I loved this park for its stunning views over Lake Union and since it is sitting on the site of the former Seattle Gas Light Company, a gasification plant, the rusty remnants of the plants make for awesome photo ops. Every time I went there on a sunny day, the meadows were filled with sun worshippers. Just like Freeway Park, this is a park that’s unlike any other park I’ve been to.Gasworks Park Seattle

10 JhanJay

Even if you’re not a vegetarian, I highly recommend stopping by JhanJay’s, where I had the best vegetarian Thai food outside of Thailand. There are two branches – one in Ballard and one in Wallingford. You’ll thank me later.seattle thai food

11 Frye Art Museum

Another great art museum – and this one is FREE all the time! Located in the First Hill neighborhood, you can walk to the Frye Museum from downtown.

12 Alki Beach

This might be my favorite beach in Seattle – and a great place to run or walk. Alki Beach is 3.1 miles (5k) long and offers sweeping vistas of Downtown Seattle. It’s a little out of the way in West Seattle, but if you have a car, it’s worth going there and you could combine it with Mexican food & drink happy hour at Cactus, or a doughnut breakfast at Top Pots, artisan pizza at Phoenicia or more scrumptious burritos at El Chupacabra (scroll down to #26 for more details).seattle alki beach sunset

13 The Top Of The Smith Tower

Head up to the newly revamped Temperance Café and Bar on the 35th floor observatory deck of the Smith Tower. Not only do you get tasty Prohibition Era-inspired cocktails here, but also amazing views over Seattle. Tickets have to be reserved in advance, and you can choose between tickets for the bar or simply the observation deck.

14 Georgetown

Seattle’s oldest neighborhood is industrial and still feels a little gritty, but it is quickly becoming super hip and makes for a fun afternoon: there are a couple of cool coffee shops (The Conservatory and All City), a superb Mexican restaurant (Fonda La Catrina), Georgetown Liquor Company and a couple of small breweries (Georgetown Brewing Co and Machine House Brewery), all a short walk from one another, and there is also some cool street art to admire.Georgetown Seattle

15 Ballard Locks

The Ballard Locks are a complex of locks in the Lake Washington Ship Canal at the west end of Salmon Bay. Apparently they carry more boat traffic than any other locks in the U.S. which makes it fun to hang around for a while and watch the water being drained or elevated in order to let ships pass through. Don’t miss the salmon viewing station on the south side of the locks – here, you can watch salmon migrate up the fish ladder between June and October.Ballard Locks Seattle

16 Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizza

I am a huge pizza snob, especially after spending so much time in New York City. Domino’s or Papa John’s? Hell no. Never! If I treat myself to a pizza, I want a thin-crust, Neapolitan-style pizza. I spent quite a while researching the best Neapolitan-style pizza in Seattle and finally settled on Tutta Bella, which has five branches in the Seattle area, and hit the spot. On my list to try next time I’m in Seattle: Via Tribunali, Pizza Credo and Veraci.tutta bella pizza seattle

17 Kerry Park

Even though I wouldn’t necessarily call this little lookout a park, I’d definitely recommend visiting it for its amazing views over Seattle’s skyline and Elliott Bay. If you’re lucky and the weather is good, you’ll even see Mount Rainier from here. While you’re there, why not check out Queen Anne Ave just a few blocks north of Kerry Park? The 5 Spot is great for a casual dinner, or further up the road, How To Cook A Wolf is a more upscale Italian restaurant. The aforementioned Storyville coffee shop is also on Queen Anne Ave.seattle kerry park

18 Fremont Sunday market

I’ve already mentioned Fremont, but the Sunday market deserves an extra mention. A mix of flea market, handicraft market and food market, it makes a fantastic Sunday activity and you can easily combine it with a stroll around the rest of the neighborhood. The nearby Milstead & Co has been awarded the title of the best coffee shop in all of Washington several times.seattle fremont market indian street food

19 Rainbow Crosswalks in Capitol Hill

Of course Capitol Hill isn’t only worth a visit for its rainbow crosswalks, but also for its lively bar scene. What used to be Seattle’s gayborhood has branched out a little more over the past few years (some might want to say the neighborhood has gentrified) it is still the city’s prime gay hot spot.seattle capitol hill rainbow crossing

20 Wildrose

Speaking of gayborhood – Wildrose is not only Seattle’s only lesbian bar, but also one of the last remaining lesbian bars on the West Coast, and the longest running lesbian bar in the country. Most fun on Wednesdays for karaoke.

21 Espresso Vivace

Another outstanding coffee shop and coffee roaster in Seattle, Espresso Vivace has been around since 1988 and has three locations in Seattle. I loved the ‘quiet rooms’ in both locations I visited, and it didn’t hurt that their biscotti were mouth-wateringly tasty, too. Vivace was also awarded the title of ‘Washington’s best coffee shop’.seattle coffee4

22 The Gumwall

It’s gross, it’s weird, but it is also something you should definitely see. There’s also some cool street art in Post Alley, where the gum wall is, and since it’s right by Pike Place Market, it’d be silly not to check it out while you’re there.

Gumwall Seattle

23 Pike Place Market

And while we’re at it: Pike Place Market is on every Seattle visitor’s to-do-list, I think, and I expected it to be super touristy. However, I was surprised to see just how many locals do their fresh produce shopping here, especially in the fish section. Another surprise: how many good restaurants there are in Pike Place. I loved Country Dough, Pieroshky Pieroshky, Pike Place Chowder, Three Girls Bakery, and I still have some places on my to-do-list for my next visit, like the Pink Door, as I didn’t make it there during this visit.Pike Place Public Market Seattle

24 Speakeasy Bars

I love speakeasy bars, and so I was excited to find out there were quite a few bars in Seattle where I could splurge on a tasty cocktail in a fancy setting. While I was disappointed that Bathtub Gin doesn’t have any resemblance to its New York counterpart (nope, no bathtub in there!), it’s still a speakeasy-style bar. The Needle & Threat, inside the Tavern Bar, is probably Seattle’s most iconic speakeasy bar, so make sure to reserve a table in advance. Backdoor at Roxy’s in the back of Roxy’s Diner in Fremont is another classic speakeasy, as is The Knee High Stocking Company in Capitol Hill. The above mentioned Temperance Bar on top of the Smith Tower is also a speakeasy.

25 Kubota Garden

This Japanese Garden in the south of Seattle is the perfect urban oasis. I went for some tranquility and self-reflection and couldn’t have chosen a better spot. What makes Kubota Garden special? 20 acre of greenscape that blends Japanese garden concepts with native Northwest plants. And the best thing? It’s FREE!seattle kubota gardens

26 El Chupacabra: Burritos & Tacos

The best burrito I found during my time in Seattle – I loved the atmosphere in their Phinney Ridge branch (self-described ‘Mexican cantina with punk rock roots’ – to give you an idea), but the Alki Beach branch beats it with its waterfront location. No matter which El Chupacabra (the 3rd one is in South Lake Union) you head to, the food and drinks won’t disappoint.

Side note: Another amazing taco place is Tacos Chukis.el chupacabra seattle

27 Green Lake Trail

The 2.8-mile trail that loops around Green Lake was one of my favorites and I bet it is even more gorgeous in the summer. I was told you can even swim in the lake! Reward yourself after a walk around the lake with some no-frills diner fare at Beth’s Café.seattle greenlake park

28 Pie Bar

Pie and liquor – need I say more? A combination that can’t be beat! If you don’t care about a drink with your pie, get a slice to go at the take-out window. And if one pie place isn’t enough, check out: Pie in Fremont, Pie Bar Ballard (owned by the twin sisters who own the original Pie Bar in Capitol Hill) and A La Mode Pies.seattle pie

29 Columbia City

I stumbled upon this neighborhood when somebody recommend Empire Espresso to me, which happens to be in Columbia City. Apparently, it is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the entire country, with European and East African immigrants, Orthodox Jews and other cultural groups. I ended up returning several times to check out other places like Geraldine’s (great breakfasts), Columbia City Bakery and Flying Lion Brewing. I loved the ‘villagy’ feel of Columbia City and how walkable it was.

30 Biscuit Bitch

I didn’t even like biscuits & gravy, but Biscuit Bitch has converted me. After eating breakfast there I wanted to go back every single day. They have three branches in Downtown Seattle, including one right by Pike Place Market (the Belltown branch is usually less busy). Expect Southern-Inspired breakfast dishes with an emphasis on, you’ve guessed it, biscuits and gravy. Vegetarian? Gluten-free? Not a problem!seattle biscuit bitch

31 Caffé Vita

Yes, another coffee shop! Caffe Vita recently opened a branch in Bushwick, one of my favorite Brooklyn neighborhoods, and in L.A.’s hip Silver Lake neighborhood, and that’s an indication of what kind of coffee shop Caffe Vita is: definitely a hipster hangout. The small independent coffee roastery focuses on sustainable farm-to-cup relationships with local coffee farmers in Latin America and their baristas are incredibly knowledgeable about the coffee they offer.

32 Freeway Park

This might not be Seattle’s prettiest park, but it is surely its most unique: it was built on top of a freeway, as the name suggests. It is an interesting park – a series of irregular plazas that are intertwined and mixes concrete walls with planting containers and trees. I’ve never seen a park like this anywhere in the world.seattle freeway park

33 Cowgirl Espressobikini barista seattle

I can’t write about Seattle without mentioning the bikini baristas, which are a unique component of Washington and Oregon (plus one bikini barista coffee shop in Hawaii). They’re basically little roadside shacks in which scantily dressed girls serve caffeinated drinks. Even though they’re called bikini baristas, they don’t always wear a bikini – sometimes, it’s just a tiny string and a couple of strategically placed stickers. These coffee shops – despite serving excellent coffee – aren’t without controversy, as you might expect, and this video has some insights on bikini baristas, if you’d like to learn more about them.

seattle fremont brewery

34 Microbreweries

It was too hard for me to pick only one here, so I’ll just leave you with microbrews in general, and some suggestions. I love that Seattle has a microbrewery in nearly every neighborhood! Ballard seems to have the largest number in a relatively small space (8 breweries in a 2-mile radius!), and I recommend this brewery crawl as suggest by Thrillist. For a complete list of all microbreweries in Seattle, check out Eater’s Essential Guide To Seattle’s Top Breweries.

35 Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room

I can feel you’re rolling your eyes now, but hear me out: I have to admit that I never understood the long lines in front of the original Starbucks, the first ever Starbucks in Pike Place Market which is visited by hordes of tourists every day, rain or shine. And I didn’t even want to go inside the Reserve Roastery, but one day I happened to walk by there and thought: heck why not. And I was impressed! It’s nothing like your regular Starbucks. The 15,000-square-foot space is half coffee roaster, half coffee shop, and has a coffee specialty bar where you can order siphon coffee or an espresso flight – things you don’t get at any other Starbucks.Seattle Starbucks Reserve & Roasting Room

Practical Information

How to get around

I found public transportation in Seattle rather difficult to use (unless you have an unlimited amount of time on your hands) but the Link Light Rail is pretty good for parts of the city and brings you all the way to the airport for only $2.75 (runs every 10 mins and takes about 40 mins from downtown to SEA-TAC).

If you don’t have a car but want to get to some of the further away neighborhoods and attractions, I recommend the Lyft app (cheaper than Uber and they are nicer!).

If you are looking to rent a car, I recommend Rentalcars.com (they are not paying me to say anything nice about them, I just had a great experience with them on my recent trip to LA and got a great rate).seattle lake union Where to stay

Most big hotels are right downtown, which is practical for most sightseeing. Check out Booking.com for the best deals. If you’re on a budget, the Green Tortoise is an excellent hostel right by Pike Place Market. They even offer free tours in Seattle and out-of-town, taco nights and other cool extras.downtown seattle Other resources

  • For food and drink recommendations, check out Thrillist Seattle.
  • Pick up a copy of The Stranger, Seattle’s free alternative culture magazine, which is available in bars around town, or check out their weekly listings online.
  • For things to do and attractions, browse TimeOut Seattle.

seattle mount rainier view

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Polaroid Of The Week: Seattle’s gorgeous Seward Park

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week usa seattle seward parkEven though I am already on my quick unplanned stopover in Los Angeles as I type this, I wanted to share one of my favorite running & hiking spots in Seattle with you, which I was lucky enough to get to see in the sun again before it started raining for the last couple of days of my stay (thanks for the wet goodbye, Seattle!).

One of my favorite things about Seattle is the fact that you’re never far from water. No matter if it was Puget Sound to the West (which is an inlet of the Pacific Ocean) or Lake Union between northern Downtown and Fremont, or Lake Washington to the East – there’s water everywhere.

I even got to check out Greenlake in northern Seattle during my last week in town, which has a great running trail around the lake, but I missed out on the Burke-Gilman Trail along Lake Washington my friends had recommended to me – I guess I’ll have to return to Seattle at some point (but preferably in the summer).

Two of my favorite running routes: Along Alki Beach in West Seattle, from where you have amazing views over Downtown Seattle, especially during sunset, and Seward Park in the southeastern part of town, which occupies the small forested Bailey peninsula in Lake Washington. This little peninsula is completely covered in a lush rain forest and has not only a trail that runs straight around the peninsula, but also several trail inside the forest, and an amphitheater in a forest clearing on top of the hill. I’d love to come back there in the summer for an outdoors performance and enjoy the long daylight hours in Seattle.

Goodbye for now, Seattle, and I’m sure I’ll see you again one day…

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Polaroid Of The Week: Pumpkin Fun In Buckley, Washington

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week usa washington buckley pumpkin patchOctober was a very special month for me. Why? Because I visited my first ever pumpkin patch! Despite having spent several autumns in the U.S. over the past few years, somehow I never made it to a pumpkin patch. But this year, thanks to my friends Tawny and Chris, I finally got to finally tick this quintessential fall experience off of my bucket list!

The pumpkin patch we went to turned out to be so much more than just a field filled with pumpkins (although, that alone was pretty awesome, seeing hundreds of bright orange pumpkin in different shapes and sizes on a massive field) – there was a corn maze, and a bunch of family-friendly activities like pig races, tractor-pulled hay rides, pony rides, a goat walk and some ducks running around. I had a blast, especially trying to find our way through the corn maze with the help of quizzes (note to self: I really have to improve my knowledge on American history, ahem).

Then it was time to pick out a pumpkin. While I didn’t carve one this year, Tawny and Chris went home with a pumpkin right from the field. Our last activity before leaving the farm? Food, of course! We enjoyed farm-fresh roasted corn cobs, before getting some Legendary Doughnuts for dessert to finish off this amazing day.

My only regret? Not being able to enjoy the ‘haunted woods’, where you follow a 35-minute creepy quest through the corn which for me, someone who loves everything scary, sounds awesome! But I guess now I have the perfect excuse to come back one year…

Happy Halloween, everyone!

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Polaroid Of The Week: Seattle By Night

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week usa seattle by nightWhat a week it’s been! The sun has shown itself more often than expected (and much more than the previous week), and I used every opportunity to get out and explore as much of the city as possible. I ticked all kinds of things off of my Seattle-to-do-list, like a stroll through the Olympic Sculpture Park and along Alki Beach, a visit to the locks in Ballard and a short hike through Discovery Park. The sunny weather had me check out all kinds of parks this week, from Union Lake Park and Seward Park to Freeway Park and Volunteer Park.

I went out on more neighborhood explorations and, thanks to Katie being in town, I also got to enjoy lots of good food and craft beer. It even stayed dry long enough to check out the Sunday market in Fremont, and we headed to Golden Gardens, which turned out to be a lovely beach instead of a garden, but ended up being one of my favorite finds last week. I think I definitely have to come back to Seattle in the summer, especially after reading 17 Reasons Seattle Summers Dominate All Other Summers – I can only imagine how packed the beaches get and how awesome it must be to be out on the water, be it on a paddle board or in a sailboat, and to enjoy outdoor movies in the park. One of the highlights of the week was going up to Kerry Park, which is known for its splendid views over downtown Seattle, where I took this week’s Polaroid on Katie’s last night in town.

I’ve still got a bunch of places on my Seattle-to-see list for my last full week in Seattle – so fingers crossed the weather stays as nice as it has been the past couple of days!

If you’ve been to Seattle and have recommendations for me, feel free to share them in the comments 🙂

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Polaroid Of The Week: A Rare Sunny Autumn Day In Seattle

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week usa seattle gas works park viewsOh Seattle… I don’t even know where to start with you.

I wish I would’ve written this on Wednesday morning after my beautiful run through Seward Park with gorgeous views of Lake Washington in almost all directions (since the park sits on a peninsula). Wednesday morning was so nice that I thought to myself: ‘I’ll have to take half a day off and take advantage of this beautiful fall weather!’.

Well, while I was still researching things I could do outdoors that afternoon, the weather suddenly turned and it started pouring. And it hasn’t stopped since. I’ve seen more rain since I got here that I’ve seen in the entire previous nine months of 2016 combined! Those of you who’ve been following me for a while know that I am a summer girl, a sun chaser.

I knew it was risky (weather-wise) to come to Seattle in October, but honestly, I didn’t think it was going to be that bad. A major storm is headed towards the Pacific Northwest now, expected to hit Saturday afternoon, and the dreadful weather is supposed to linger for at least another week.

Since I’ll have a visitor in town over the next few days and lots of outdoorsy activities planned, I can’t say that I’m too happy about all this rain (how is it possible to rain so much?!) but I hope we’ll find some stuff to keep us entertained, and luckily there are plenty of coffee shops to duck into, possibly my favorite thing about Seattle so far.

However, I have to say that every time the sun peeked out I liked what I saw of Seattle as I have been slowly exploring the various neighborhoods. I’ve seen Fremont (artsy and hip), Capitol Hill (Seattle’s gayborhood, but no Capitol to be found there), parts of downtown (pretty much like any North American downtown), Georgetown (Seattle’s oldest neighborhood, former industrial turning into up and coming chic), Columbia City (residential yet diverse, with lots of cute little eateries).

The views over Lake Washington, Puget Sound and Lake Union (pictured) are gorgeous when the sun is out, so I hope I’ll get to see more of these fabulous vistas before I leave Seattle.

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