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Last-Minute, Low-Budget Niagara Falls Itinerary

niagara falls horseshoe falls water power

As the largest and most magnificent waterfalls in North America, Niagara Falls rightfully holds a place on most people’s travel bucket lists. Yet, due to centuries of world fame, the destination has become a popular tourist attraction, bringing in more than 30 million visitors every year. As a result, Niagara Falls isn’t always ideal for the globetrotter: Prices can be high, and reservations can be necessary.american falls and bridal veil fallsFortunately, it is possible to see the best of Niagara Falls on a whim and on a budget. Here’s how you can see the most of these famous waterfalls and the surrounding countryside on a short, affordable trip to Niagara:

Stay Close to the Falls

Since you likely don’t have much time to explore the whole Niagara region, you should try to find accommodations close to the action. On the Canadian side of the falls, there are a number of affordable, deluxe hotels and resorts within walking distance of major attractions, and many of these accommodations boast rooms with outstanding views. I highly recommend the Marriott on the Falls, which is the closest hotel to Niagara Falls and offers award-winning amenities, including a spa and an upscale restaurant. Plus, you can usually find last-minute bookings for low prices because major hotels like Marriott are eager to fill their rooms.niagara falls

Invest in a Niagara Falls Trip Package

During a last-minute vacation, you don’t have time to waste trying to plan an itinerary, compare prices or perform other preliminary research on your destination. Therefore, it is likely worth your money to buy a vacation package, which will include admission to various attractions as well as some meals during your trip. Because Niagara Falls is a popular tourist destination, you have hundreds of tour packages to choose from, but I suggest choosing one offered through your hotel. These will be more convenient, often including transportation to and from different attractions. Marriott’s Niagara Falls, Canada vacation packages include family-friendly waterpark days, adult casino nights, wine-tastings, luxurious breakfasts, spa services and more.niagara falls american falls &mist from river

Decide How to Get Around At Niagara Falls

As long as you stay in the heart of the tourist areas of Niagara Falls, Canada, you won’t have to worry too much about transportation – you can just use your two feet. Major attractions like Queen Victoria Park, the Rainbow Bridge and boat tours are easily accessible by pedestrians. If you want to venture slightly farther afield, perhaps to the wineries of the Niagara countryside, you might consider renting a bike or even signing up for a cycling tour of Niagara’s vineyards.Niagara Wine countryIf neither of these sounds appealing, you shouldn’t opt for a rental car just yet. Niagara also boasts a unique visitor transportation system called WEGO, which connects hotels with all major attractions in the Niagara area, from Niagara-on-the-Lake in the north to the Floral Showhouse in the south. For two days of unlimited rides, you pay only $12.50 per adult or $9 per child between 6 and 12 years. That’s a steal compared to rental car prices, which can be upwards of $25 per day – and that’s for compact models.

Can’t-Miss Niagara Attractions

Now that you have your logistics sorted, you can focus on the fun. Niagara Falls has grown into a tourist’s playground, filled with adventures and excitement that can last weeks, so if your time is limited, you will have to pick and choose from the following list of low-budget activities you can’t miss.niagara falls horseshoe falls

Niagara parks and gardens. Queen Victoria Park offers the best view of Niagara Falls, but you can also mosey around Dufferin Islands, Niagara Glen, and the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens to see beautiful scenery.

Clifton Hill. Playing any arcade games will cost you a few quarters, but you can also enjoy the lights and action of the iconic Street of Fun for free.niagara falls canada ripleys

Niagara Falls History Museum. If your last-minute trip coincides with a Thursday evening, you can get into this museum free of charge. Exhibits include the history of Niagara Falls, especially the region’s role in the War of 1812.

Niagara Falls Farmer’s Market. Niagara is one of the must productive regions in Canada, bringing forth bushels of fresh produce. You can sample the fare at local farm-to-table restaurants, or you can create your own culinary masterpieces by picking up ingredients at the Farmer’s Market, open 6 A.M. to noon on Saturdays.niagara wine country fruit stand

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Guide to a Romantic Stay in Miami

Beach

Miami is one of the most romantic cities in the United States. With crystal clear oceans, luxury beachside resorts, and some of the best nightlife in the world, it’s hard to go wrong with a romantic stay in Miami. Whether you’re visiting Miami for the first time or you’re practically a local, there are a lot of ways to make your stay in Miami special for you and your partner. Read on for a guide to having the best romantic stay in Miami.MIAMI SKYLINES | 2016

When is the best time to visit?

When you think of Miami you probably think of white sand beaches and walking along South Beach. Those are definitely some of the best sights in Miami, but you might be surprised if you visit them during the wrong time of year. Miami is a popular destination, and that means millions of tourists flock to these favorite spots each year. There’s nothing romantic about fighting through crowds or having groups of people in the backgrounds of your romantic photos with your partner! Avoid the crowds by visiting Miami in the off months. That means skipping popular times of the year like in the winter and over Spring Break. It might be hotter in the summer, but you’ll have much more time to yourself!

Planning romantic activities with your partner

When you visit with your partner, you want to have the best activities planned to make the most of your time together in Miami. You can go as elaborate or as simple as you want in Miami! Relaxing on the beach counts as an activity, right? If you want to spend your time on the beach, consider renting a beachside cabana from one of the resorts so you can lounge the day away with your special someone._MG_4256For more excitement, go further into the city and explore the many unique neighborhoods like Little Havana or Bayside. Don’t forget about Miami’s diverse food scene! Miami is home to some of the best restaurants in the country, and this is the perfect place to plan a romantic date night! It’s also fun to get out of the city for a bit and see what else South Florida has to offer. There are a lot of great day trips you can take like kayaking through the Everglades or even traveling down to Key West!

Finally, no trip to Miami would be complete without taking in the nightlife! With so many bars and clubs spotting the South Beach streets, it’s impossible to see it all in one trip. Whether you prefer cozy beachside bars or multi-level dance clubs, there’s a party for you in Miami! It’s so much fun, you’ll never want to go home!Hotels-68542

Stay in luxury with the right hotel

Miami has so many luxurious resorts and hotels, it’s no wonder so many of the rich and famous spend their free time in this city. For a romantic stay, you can’t go wrong with a romantic hotel with in-room jacuzzi in Miami Beach! Choose from the best hotels in the world and really experience the ultimate luxury in Miami! You and your partner deserve the best quality so you can have a great time together both in Miami and beyond!

Enjoy your romantic stay in Miami!

Miami, Florida is really one of the most exciting cities in the world. It’s known for its international culture, luxurious style, and gorgeous beaches! All these factors and more make Miami the perfect destination for you and your partner to enjoy a romantic getaway. Whether you’re celebrating your honeymoon or your first weekend away together, Miami is guaranteed to take your breath away!miami beach ocean rescue lifeguard tower

Photo Credit: All images used via Flickr’s Creative Commons Licensing. (1) Miami Skyline by Robin Mehdee; (2) Miami by Peter Jakobs; (3) Miami at night by Ferd Brundick; (4) Miami Beach Rey Perezoso

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Why Go on a Tour of Central Park When You are Visiting NYC?

Central Park lake

When you think of New York City, you probably picture the soaring skyscrapers of Manhattan and the bumper-to-bumper traffic in Times Square. But this bustling metropolis is also home to one of the most famous urban parks in the world: Central Park. Spanning an astonishing 843 acres, this beautiful common area has been designated as a National Historic Landmark, and is up for placement on the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites.central park summer 2015As such, the park is a must-see destination while you are in the Big Apple. Indeed, 35 million visitors explore its lakes, ponds, cottages, and other attractions every year. Nonetheless, it remains a great place to get away from the crowds.

There are many ways you can discover the delights of Central Park. You can venture out on a Central Park suggested walk, or you can take a Central Park carriage tour. But perhaps the best Central Park tours are the pedicab tours.

Why Consider Central Park Pedicab Tours?

If you have never been in a pedicab, it is like a small hooded vehicle driven by a guide on a bicycle. On a pedicab, you are able to travel more quickly than you could on a Central Park self-guided walking tour, but you can ride along the same routes, touring the major sites and enjoying the fresh air. Your guide will provide you with interesting facts along the way, adding to your knowledge and enriching your experience.

Could you ride a bicycle on your tour of Central Park?  Sure, but you would miss out on the chance to chat with a well-informed guide. You also would expend more energy, and there is a lot to see and do in the park. So you will want to conserve your energy for the various sites and activities you will encounter along the way.

Here are just a few of the famous spots that you can explore on the best Central Park pedicab tours:

  • Bethesda Terrace and Fountain: This famous location has been featured in numerous TV shows and movies.
  • Tisch Children’s Zoo: At this park, children (and the young at heart) can pet and feed animals such as sheep, goats and pigs.
  • Dairy: This beautiful structure in the Gothic revival style was constructed in 1870. Here you can view exhibits on the history and architecture of Central Park.
  • Victorian Gardens: This outdoor amusement park is like a year-round carnival. It’s the perfect place to bring small children.
  • Belvedere Castle: This legendary folly combines Romanesque and Gothic architecture and looks like a miniature castle. In it you can view exhibits and also climb to an observation deck where you can survey the park.
  • Conservatory Garden: This formal garden covers six acres and combines English, French and Italian styles. Those who are looking for a quiet place to relax can enjoy a peaceful stroll among the fragrant blossoms.

You can also stop by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and the Museum of Natural History. These are some of the world’s most renowned museums, featuring stunning collections of artwork and scientific specimens.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Central Park however is its simple beauty. No matter where you go on your tour, you will be surrounded in lush greenery and breathtaking tranquillity. With the New York skyline rising over the dense foliage and spacious lawns, you will experience many picture-perfect moments and your pedicab guide will be standing by ready to help you capture them.Central Park pedicab rates are quite reasonable, and it is up to you to decide on the pace of your tour and the length of time you want to spend in the park. You can head out for anywhere from one to four hours either on your own or with one or two other people. Lately, the Gossip Girl Sites Tour in a pedicab has been favored among teens.

While the neon lights of Times Square and the colorful markets of Chinatown have their draw, many visitors to NYC say upon returning home that their time exploring Central Park was the highlight of their trip. Where else can you get away from it all while still being right in the heart of everything? So check into Central Park pedicab tours. There is no better way to see America’s most famous urban park!

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Visiting the Big Apple on a Shoestring

New York New York

There’s no denying in that New York is one of the most expensive cities to visit in the USA, which is why a lot of people put off the dream of visiting. But, it doesn’t need to be this way. In fact, you can visit the Big Apple on a shoestring and still have a fantastic time! Here’s what you need to know in order to take a trip there without drawing down your savings to do it…yellow cab on times square broadway

Affordable airfare

Your plane fare to New York doesn’t have to be as expensive as you first think – especially if you’re happy to fly to any one of New York’s three major airports. If you think flying into JFK, New York’s best known and largest airport, to be in the city quickly, you’re wrong: I sometimes even get faster to Manhattan from Newark, all the way over in New Jersey. So be flexible with your arrival airport. There are many budget airlines offering good deals, but you can make it cheaper by choosing to take indirect flight with a stopover or change, as well as considering alternatives to US airlines, such as Air France, IcelandAir and Lufthansa. Make sure to check flight comparison websites to find the best deal.lufthansa A380 LAX

Find cheap accommodation

The first trick to know is that you absolutely need to widen your search beyond Manhattan, as you’ll pay a premium to stay here. Airbnb isn’t always expensive (particularly if you book well in advance), and you’ll make your stay even cheaper if you’re prepared to rent a room through Airbnb rather than an entire apartment. But what if you want to stay somewhere centrally located without paying too much? There are so many hotels in Midtown Manhattan that you are often able to find a deal through a hotel booking website. I myself stayed in a gorgeous little hotel on the Lower East Side earlier this year for only $100 – an absolute steal!The Nolitan Hotel New York City

Taking public transport? Buy a pass

Taking taxis or Ubers is going to deplete your budget fast, so ride the subway instead. It’s quicker anyway – the main thoroughfare’s in Manhattan are always clogged with cars, taxis, trucks and tourist buses and it can be frustrating to sit in traffic for hours. On the subway, you don’t have this problem! If you know you’re going to use the subway more than once very day, consider buying an MTA pass: seven days of unlimited travel will cost you $32. It usually already pays off during a 4-day visit, if you take a minimum of four rides a day. With this weekly pass, you can also use the city buses.new york broadway taxis

Enjoy free activities

With all the shopping, food and entertainment to enjoy in New York, you could spend a fortune. But thankfully there are plenty of free things you can do if you’re travelling on a shoestring. Take a ride on the Staten Island Ferry for excellent views of the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan – for free! Lace up your comfiest walking shoes and walk the length of Brooklyn Bridge (reward yourself with a slice of NY pizza on the other side, but skip the long line at Grimaldi’s and stop at Fornino’s instead – you’ll find it in Brooklyn Bridge Park), and enjoy one of the best views over Manhattan. Stroll along the High Line (a park that’s been built over an abandoned freight train line, which is popular with tourists and locals) and check out Chelsea Market, go for a walk in Central Park and go for neighborhood strolls in the West Village and SoHo. Be sure to visit Times Square at night, if only to marvel at the lights, hustle and bustle. Remember too that entrance fees to the city’s museums are generally actually just recommendations, and many will offer free admission during particular hours.brooklyn bridge new york

Get discounted entry to paid attractions

Of course, you’re also want to enjoy some attractions that aren’t free, so be smart and book them in advance. For example, seeing a Broadway show is an experience you definitely don’t want to miss, so look online to pre-book tickets for Broadway shows, taking advantage of the early booking discounts. If you’d like to go to the top of the Empire State Building or the Rock Observation Deck, fancy taking a Circle Line sightseeing cruise or paying a visit to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, you’ll get the best deal if you buy a city pass. If you are using all six attractions included in the pass, you save 42%!miss liberty

Eating out? Do lunch & food trucks  

Finally, you can eat out pretty cheaply in New York – it has a ton of food options, and the street vendors, food trucks and independent businesses offer authentic burgers, pizzas, bagels, hot dogs and shakes for a fraction of the cost the big chains are charging. If you’d like to enjoy eating in at least a few restaurants during your visit to NYC, make a reservation for noon: lunch is a whole lot cheaper than dinner, and you usually get a starter and a main for around $10 in a decent restaurant.don antonio pizza new york

Remember these cost-cutting ideas when you’re visiting New York – you’ll have a great time at a fraction of the price!

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Five Reasons to Spend a Day in Brooklyn on a Visit to New York

brooklyn brownstones

It wasn’t Manhattan that made me fall for New York – it was Brooklyn that made me fall in love with the ‘Big Apple’. I had been to New York several times but it was in 2013, when I lived in Brooklyn for two months, that I fell so hard for the city that I decided I had to live in New York at some point in my life. While I had always enjoyed New York City tremendously on previous visits, it never felt like a place I’d want to call home – until the summer I spent in Brooklyn.Brooklyn New YorkAnd since then, not only have I made Brooklyn my home, but I’ve also spent countless months exploring this massive borough, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ll never be done exploring it – because there are so many different neighborhoods to see, cool spots to stumble upon and hidden gems to discover.

Over the past few years, I’ve made it a point to introduce everyone who comes to visit me in New York to Brooklyn. Sure, I get it: Manhattan is still the biggest draw for 99% of people who come to NYC, but I feel like they’re missing out on such a big part of the city when they never leave that tiny island – they should at least add a couple of stops outside of Manhattan to their itinerary. Plus: There are plenty of cheap places to stay in Brooklyn – if you are familiar with Manhattan hotel prices, you know what I’m talking about.

I’ve started to run Brooklyn tours this year which I hope I’ll be able to launch on a larger scale later this year, but for now, let me take you on a virtual tour of Brooklyn and tell you all of the reasons why it’s well worth venturing into Brooklyn for a day while you’re visiting New York:

1 Explore Brooklyn’s diverse Neighborhoods

It’s funny that most people who visit New York only set foot in one of the five boroughs – Manhattan – even though it is by size the smallest of them all, and by population the third smallest. Manhattan has a population of 1.6 million, the Bronx 1.4 million, and Staten Island just under half a million – even though by land area, it is more than twice as large as Manhattan (Manhattan is 22.83 sq miles, Staten Island 58.5 sq miles).

Brooklyn is 71 sq miles, which is more than three times as big as Manhattan, so really, it’s impossible to overlook this giant borough.Brooklyn NYCAnd you shouldn’t just visit Brooklyn for its vast size, but also for its many diverse neighborhoods. Here are just a few that I think are well worth a visit:

  • Bushwick for the street art and epic dance parties in massive warehouses
  • Williamsburg for its hipster feel and fantastic eateries and bars
  • The predominantly Polish Greenpoint
  • Historic Brooklyn Heights for its grand homes
  • Fort Greene for the historic architecture
  • Dumbo for its beautiful waterfront and views over Manhattan
  • Red Hook with its large waterfront and freight port/industrial history
  • Predominantly Russian Brighton Beach
  • Coney Island for its famous boardwalk and the old-fashioned amusement park
  • Park Slope for some of the prettiest brownstones in New York City
  • Cobble Hill for its cozy atmosphere, little plazas and cute coffee shops
  • Sunset Park for Brooklyn’s Chinatown and the park that gives the neighborhood its name
  • Bay Ridge for its small-town feel and impressive gated mansions in the upscale, old-money Harbor View section

I could go on and on, but you get the point: Brooklyn is so diverse and large that you could spend days just exploring this borough. There are well over 50 neighborhoods you could explore here! In fact, Brooklyn was its very own city until 1898, when it was annexed to New York City.Brooklyn

2 Brooklyn has some of New York’s best Eats  

Yes, Manhattan has an amazing restaurant scene and definitely beats Brooklyn when it comes to rooftop bars, but foodies HAVE TO include Brooklyn in their NYC itinerary, because it is home to some of the city’s most iconic eateries. The borough’s dining scene has improved exponentially over the past few years and now almost every neighborhood has exceptional restaurants that are even attracting Manhattanites and visitors from all over. Here are some recommendations for places that are worth a trip to Brooklyn for:

Excellent restaurants:

  • Lilia’s (Italian restaurant in Williamsburg)
  • Five Leaves (American fare in Greenpoint)
  • Roberta’s (best pizza in the city, in Bushwick)
  • L&B Spumoni Gardens (old-school Italian restaurant, Bay Ridge)
  • Diner (a Brooklyn institution in a retro railcar in Williamsburg)

Noteworthy bars:

  • Sunshine Laundry & Pinball (speakeasy bar with a pinball arcade hidden in a laundromat in Greenpoint)
  • Boobie Trap (quirky breast-themed dive bar in Bushwick)
  • Radegast Hall & Beergarden (a German-style drinking hall in a converted warehouse in Williamsburg)
  • The Brooklyn Barge (floating bar with great skyline views on a ship in Greenpoint)
  • Weather Up (speakeasy-style bar that serves topnotch cocktails in Prospect Heights)

Iconic Brooklyn foods:

  • Red Hook Lobster, Red Hook
  • Dough Donuts, Bed-Stuy
  • Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs, Coney Island

Food markets in Brooklyn:

  • Smorgasburg Williamsburg, a big open air food market (every Saturday)
  • DeKalb Market Hall, an indoor food market including a Katz’s, Arepa Lady, Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies, Pierogi Boys)
  • Smorgasburg Prospect Park, an open air food market in the park (every Sunday)
  • Industry City, food hall inside the iconic shipping, warehousing, and manufacturing complex on the waterfront in the Sunset Park, which includes the famous avocado restaurant Avocaderia, Ejen Korean, Blue Marble Ice Cream, Burger Joint and many more..

Brooklyn Food

3 Brooklyn has amazing art and culture

Manhattan is famous for world-class museums such as the Met, the MoMA and the Guggenheim, but Brooklyn has plenty to offer for art lovers, too! The Brooklyn Museum is NYC’s third largest museum and holds an impressive 1.5 million pieces, and the fantastic Jewish Children Museum is the largest Jewish-themed museum of its kind in the entire U.S. – and not just enjoyable for children. Another cool museum in Brooklyn is the Transit Museum, which is located in a decommissioned subway station at the corner of Schermerhorn Street and Boerum Place in Downtown Brooklyn.

Art aficionados should check out the Williamsburg Art & Historical Center, and ArtNet News introduces 15 Brooklyn art galleries you need to know. The New York Times recommends these ten art galleries in Brooklyn.Brooklyn Art

Culturists will love BAM, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, which is a performing arts venue that is famous for its cutting edge performances and indie movies at the BAM Rose Cinemas. Check out the BAM schedule before your visit.

And for architecture buffs there are neighborhoods such as historic Prospect Lefferts Gardens with incredible examples of neo-Renaissance, Tudor, Romanesque Revival and neo-Federal architecture, all in one neighborhood. If you want to check out this unique historic neighborhood on a self-guided walking tour, make sure to check out the historic limestones on Maple St (between Bedford Ave and Rogers), the newly land-marked Tudor houses in Chester Court, the oldest home in the district on Midwood Street and Bedford Avenue, the wood-framed houses on Lincoln Road and the Alex Hedman houses on Rutland Road.
Brooklyn Prospect Lefferts Gardens

4 Brooklyn has the best street art in New York

If you are a fan of street art and urban art, you cannot miss Brooklyn! There is some street art in Manhattan, too, especially Spanish Harlem which has some great murals, and the East Village and Chinatown also stand out, but other than that, there just isn’t much street art in Manhattan.

Brooklyn, on the other hand, has an entire neighborhood filled with amazing murals: Bushwick. The Bushwick Collective, a conglomerate of street artists, made it their goal to transform the neighborhood with its formerly grey and ugly warehouses into a colorful outdoor art gallery. They have attracted street artists from all over the world, and the exhibits are changing all the time. Troutman Street is one of the most colorful streets in Bushwick, but there is also great street art to be found in the streets around there (Jefferson Str, Knickerbocker Ave, St Nicholas Ave, Wyckoff Ave; and nearby Grattan St, Thames St and Harrison Pl, plus the cross streets between them)

Another great Brooklyn neighborhood for street art is Williamsburg. This article has the exact spots of some of the best pieces in the neighborhood, including pieces by Kobra, Roa, Faith 47, Mr Brainwash and Icy & Sot. If you just want to wander the neighborhood and see what murals you come across, head north on Wythe Ave towards 15th Street, or south on Kent (south of Metropolitan Ave).

Brooklyn Street Art 2017

5 Brooklyn offers the most epic views over Manhattan

What does Manhattan not have? Panoramic views over Manhattan! And those views make for the best photos. And guess where you can find the most epic Manhattan vistas? That’s right, in Brooklyn. The views alone are worth crossing one of the bridges into Brooklyn (and honestly, crossing the Brooklyn Bridge is one of the most scenic walks in NYC), and you can combine taking in the views with exploring the neighborhood around there. Here are three views you should check out, and one thing you can combine each visit with:

Pebble Beach, a small beach perched right in between the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge. Grab a coffee at the Brooklyn Roasting Company in Dumbo (25 Jay St) and an almond croissant at Almondine Bakery (85 Water St) and take in the views for a bit.

East River State Park in Williamsburg: This one is best visited on a Saturday, when from March to October, the popular Smorgasburg food market takes place right in the park, next to a tiny stretch of sand beach on the East River. If you’re visiting on a weekday, go on a Williamsburg vintage shopping tour or stop at The Ides rooftop bar (at the Wythe Hotel) for even better views, or go on a pizza-themed walking tour of the neighborhood – stops should include Artichoke Basille  (148 N 7th St), Vinnie’s Pizza (148 Bedford Ave), Joe’s (216 Bedford Ave) and Best Pizza (33 Havemeyer St).

The Brooklyn Heights Promenade – I love watching the sunset on the promenade high over Brooklyn Bridge Park – which is directly on the waterfront and adjacent to the picturesque Brooklyn Heights neighborhood. You could combine a visit with a neighborhood stroll (don’t miss Joralemon Street, in my opinion the prettiest street in the hood) or a stop at the Brooklyn Cat Café on Atlantic Avenue.Brooklyn Views

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Five Reasons to Include Tacoma in a Trip to Seattle

mount rainier

I knew that during my month in Seattle, I wanted to explore Washington beyond the ‘Emerald City’ and the first place on my list was Tacoma, which shares the international airport SEA-TAC with Seattle. The cities do not only share an airport, but a stunning location right on the shores of Puget Sound, one of the most beautiful bodies of water in the Pacific Northwest.seattle pritchard beach lake washington1While I found that most Seattleites tend to look down on Tacoma, I found the city to be surprisingly charming with lots of things to offer visitors – so many that I returned several times. So if you are visiting Seattle or the surrounding region, or road tripping around the Pacific Northwest, I’d recommend stopping in Tacoma. And since Tacoma is less than one hour from downtown Seattle, you may even consider booking your accommodation here – hotels in Tacoma are much cheaper than a Seattle hotel.

Here are five reasons why Tacoma is well worth a visit:

1 The Bridge of Glass and Glass Art

What Tacoma is best known for is its glass art, and if you are not a fan of glass art already, you will be after a visit to the Museum of Glass. The famous glass sculptor Dale Chihuly was born here, and his remarkable glass blown sculptures can be seen all over the world. If you are planning to visit the Chihuly Gardens in Seattle, you also have to add the Tacoma Museum of Glass to your itinerary. In addition to installations by Chihuly, glass blown pieces from other glass artists around the world are displayed here, and there is a glassblowing studio on site.

Tip: If you happen to find yourself in Tacoma on the third Thursday of the month, the museum is free from 5pm to 8pm. Otherwise general admission is $15.Untitled

If you don’t want to fork out for admission into the museum, visit the Bridge of Glass instead. This unique bridge connects downtown Tacoma with the Thea Foss Waterway (it goes right over the Freeway, so you’ll probably see it – it’s recognizable by two large blue crystalline towers when you drive into Tacoma) and displays artwork by Chihuly. You can combine the bridge with a visit to the Glass Museum, which sits right on the Thea Foss Waterway side of the bridge.Clusterfark - Chihuly Glass

2 Ghost Stories & Local Brews

If you want to learn more about Tacoma’s past, which includes quite a few dodgy characters, serial killers, and dubious (ghostly?) events, the Booze and Boos Tour, offered by Pretty Gretty Tours, will be right up your alley. I learned much more about Tacoma during this tour than I did from any of the travel articles I read to research fun stuff to do in Tacoma.tacomaThe guides who run the tour are knowledgeable, entertaining and informative, and getting to see the city’s haunted places instead of the usual sights was a great alternative way to get to know the city. And because I love craft beer, the stops at local microbreweries were the icing on the cake – not only did I get to know the spooky side of Tacoma, but I also got to enjoy some topnotch craft beers.seattle craft beers

3 Art and Cars

If you love art, the Tacoma Art Museum is a must, as it is the only museum in the region with an emphasis on artists from the Northwest and the broader West of the U.S. There are 3,500 pieces of artwork in total, and in addition to art from the region, you’ll find exhibits that include Japanese prints and woodwork, European Impressionism and special temporary exhibits. And of course there are Chihuly glass sculptures on display.

I know that art is not for everyone, so if you’re not into art, you might want to check out the LeMay – America’s Car Museum instead. Or if you’re into art, and your hubby is not, this is where you can send him while enjoying a stroll through the art museum (both museums are a five-minute drive from one another)!

This automobile museum is not only home to the finest collection of cars in the Pacific Northwest but houses the biggest automobile collection in the entire world with around 2,700 cars – it even made it into the Guinness Book of World Records.1954 Hudson Hornet

4 Tacoma is Quirky

If you love quirky things, you’ll be happy to hear that Tacoma has quite a few quirky attractions, and I don’t just mean the various bikini barista coffee shops around town. If you are a coffee lover though, make sure to check out the quirky Pacific Northwest invention of ‘bikini coffee’ – there are several ones all over Tacoma.)bikini espressoIf you prefer coffee and other beverages in a less raunchy setting, make sure to head to Bob’s Java Jive (2102 S Tacoma Way), a 25-foot coffee pot music spot that has served up over 80 years of concrete kitsch, which earned it a listing in the National Register of Historic Places.

Another quirky place in Tacoma? Antique Row (near 9th and Broadway downtown), which is home to a number of antiques stores that are filled with everything from vintage clothes, antique furniture, old books, jewelry, photographs and other treasures.

It’s easy to get lost in these shops for hours, and you’ll definitely find some rare things here. The biggest and strangest shop in ‘Antique Row’ is Sanford and Sons, a giant store with 20 antiques vendors that is spread over three levels.bob's java jive

5 Nature Galore for Outdoors Enthusiasts

One of the most attractive features of Tacoma is its beautiful natural setting. Getting out on the water means you will get to enjoy the city skyline from a completely different vantage point – and it’s not just the cityscape you can enjoy from here, but also the Cascade Mountains Foothills, majestic Mount Rainier and the Olympic Mountains.seattle birdIn addition to kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding is becoming more and more popular, and the tranquil waters in Commencement Bay are the perfect spot for a couple of hours out on the water. You can rent kayaks at Owen Beach in Point Defiance Park and Ruston Way. Ruston Recreational Rentals in Point Defiance Marina has kayaking equipment; Dolan’s Board Sports on Ruston Way (open 2pm to 7pm Wednesday through Friday, 10am to 7pm on weekends) rents stand-up paddleboards.

If you don’t want to get out on the water, Point Defiance Park – a 760 acre park with beaches, natural forests and hiking trails – is still worth a visit, especially to hike the trail along the cliffs, which offers sweeping views over Vashon Island, Dalco Passage, Gig Harbor, and the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. If hiking is not your thing, check out the scenic five mile drive through the park. Note that the road is closed to cars on Saturdays and Sundays until 1pm, making it a perfect spot for a weekend morning run, hike or bike ride.
seward parkWhile Tacoma may not have the metropolitan vibe of nearby Seattle, it definitely has enough to offer to make a visit worthwhile. No matter if you’re interested in art and museums or in outdoors activities – there’s something in Tacoma for everyone. If you are planning to explore both Tacoma and Seattle, consider staying in one the Sea Tac hotels around the airport, which is conveniently located right in the middle between Seattle and Tacoma. The Link light rail train goes straight to Seattle, and there is a bus that goes from the airport to Tacoma.

Photo credit: All images that are not my own are used under Flickr’s Creative Commons Licensing. (1) Tacoma Glass Bridge by Collin Votrobeck; (2) Chihuly Glass by CJ Oliver; (3) Tacoma Car Museum by Jim Culp; (4) Bob’s Java Jive by Kenji Ross.

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Five Cities Surrounding Los Angeles that you Need to Visit

redondo beach california

While Los Angeles itself has plenty to offer, the city can be quite overwhelming, especially for people who aren’t used to cities of this magnitude. During the month I spent in the West Coast metropole last year, I became increasingly frustrated about the long drives and traffic several times – can it really take 90 minutes to cover an eight mile distance? I found myself wishing for small town conveniences on various occasions (usually while stuck in a traffic jam on the 405), and that’s when I realized it may be a good idea to check out some nearby cities of a more manageable size to see what they have to offer. Luckily I had enough time to check out several cities right in Los Angeles county, some along the coast, some just outside the L.A. city limits. Each one was special and unique in their own way, and worth a visit for things that the others didn’t have.

long beach california sunset1If you visit L.A. and want to escape the ‘Big Smog’ for a day, here are five nearby cities that you should visit:

1 Long Beach

Long Beach is LA’s big neighbor to the south, California’s 7th largest city and second busiest container port in the U.S. The massive port has led people to believe that Long Beach is nothing more than a big industrial city, but I found out that the city itself is actually a fine escape from L.A., offering a downtown area that is walkable and, as its name suggests, a pretty long beach.venice beachThe coastline is actually divided into different smaller beaches, but what they all have in common is that they are wide, sandy, and have a bike & running path that follows the shore for miles.

I was surprised to find more independent coffee shops that I could possibly try in a day (Rose Parks and the Library Coffee House were among my favorites), colorful street art (especially in the East Village Arts District), and the quaint Belmont Shore neighborhood with its Spanish-style homes from the 1920s and 1930s and palm-fringed streets.

The one thing that really had the ship lover in me the most excited weren’t the freight ships that majestically glide in and out of the port, but the original Queen Mary ocean liner that is retired in Long Beach and can be visited, which is best done by having drinks at the Observation Bar.long beach california street art2If you arrive hungry in Long Beach, for breakfast head to the Coffee Cup, Sweet Dixie or Fuego At The Maya. If you get hungry later in the day, head to Los Comprados for Mexican or to Nick’s for classic American comfort food. For beer lovers, Belmont Brewing right by the beach is a must and its happy hour makes it a perfect sunset hangout.

There are quite a few hotels in Long Beach, most of them conveniently located in the Downtown area, in walking distance to the beach.

2 Malibu

Malibu is located west of L.A. and is known for its stunning cliff views over the ocean, as well as lovely Zuma Beach and Malibu Lagoon State Beach, which is especially popular with surfers. The city stretches along the ocean for nearly 30 miles and a ride along the Pacific Coast Highway is the perfect way to get a first glimpse of what is some of California’s finest coastline.Untitled

The other big draw of Malibu is that it is right near some hiking trails in the Santa Monica Mountains, where you can hike through canyons and to waterfalls. A great hike that is not too difficult and only takes two hours is the Solstice Canyon hike, but if you want a bit more of a workout, head up the Mishe Mokwa Trail to Sandstone Peak, which inclines 1,600 feet and offers amazing views over the Malibu coast, and on a good day, all the way to the Channel Islands. Check out this article for more Malibu hikes – the 7.5 mile Puerco Canyon hike is already on my to-do-list for my next California stint.

The Malibu Pier is also not to be missed, and while you’re there, have dinner at Malibu Farm, an organic cafe right at the end of the pier. The best time to visit is at sunset, but their breakfast dishes are also absolutely delicious.newport beach california dani

3 Pasadena

Pasadena is located northeast of L.A., and is a food lover’s paradise: There are over 500 restaurants here, including the only Michelin-rated hotel restaurant in Southern California, The Langham Huntington, and don’t miss the 46-year-old Pasadena landmark Pie ‘n Burger.

Architecture buffs will love Pasadena for its historic homes: Bungalow Heaven is a Landmark District made up of 800 small craftsman bungalows built between 1900 and 1930, the Gamble House being the most famous one, known as the masterpiece of the Arts & Crafts period.

Art lovers shouldn’t miss the Norton Simon Museum, an extensive art museum with a wonderful sculpture garden and a remarkable contemporary art section.

Pasadena

Here are some great places to stay in Pasadena.

4 Anaheim

Anaheim is home to the ‘Happiest Place On Earth’ – Disneyland! If you’re a theme park fan, Anaheim will surely be included in your L.A. itinerary already, but even if you are not a Disney fan or an amusement park aficionado, you’ll appreciate Anaheim for the historic Packing District, including the gorgeous Farmer’s Park with an olive grove, gardens and a weekly farmer’s market on Sundays.

The Packing District is made up of three 1920s commercial spaces which have been refurbished and now house some of the city’s greatest eateries. Make sure to stop at the Old Packing House, a historic 1919 citrus packing house turned into an upscale food court with local vendors and bars. Beer lovers flock to Anaheim for its numerous microbreweries which resulted in Anaheim being named the ‘Beer Capital Of Orange County’. Check out this list of breweries to plan a self-guided brewery hopping tour around Anaheim.mumford brewing LA

5 Santa Ana

Santa Ana sits southeast of Los Angeles and its primary draw is the Historic Downtown district which is famous for its art deco houses. In addition to the historic architecture, you’ll find the Artists Village downtown, which is an area filled with art galleries and studios as well as some fantastic restaurants.

The Artists Village was part of an initiative to bring abandoned downtown areas back to life, and it has certainly worked here. The Orange County Center for Contempory Art and the Cal State Fullerton Grand Central Art Center are both worth a visit.

Historic ‘Calle Cuatro’, or 4th Street, is also part of the historic downtown and lined with restaurants, independent shops and boutiques, craft beer breweries and the 4th Street Market, which is an indoor food market.

Santa Ana, California

Click here for some amazing Anaheim hotel deals.

Photo Credit: Photos used via Flickr’s Creative Common license. Pasadena by Graham, Santa Ana by Jasperdo.

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The Three Most Epic Road Trips In Florida

Beach & clouds

With 1,350 miles (2,170 km) of coastline, Florida is a great destination for coastal road trips, with lots of beach stops along the way of course! But beaches aren’t the only draw of the Sunshine State – there’s more to Florida than that, including fascinating nature that ranges from swamplands and crystal clear springs to the tropical islands of the Florida Keys. Add to that the dozens of pristine beaches, historic lighthouses, quaint rural towns, canopy roads and national parks, and you’ll get to experience a completely different state than the Florida that is famous for the glitz and glamour of South Beach, or its many exciting theme parks.

To showcase the most scenic parts of Florida, I put together the three most epic road trips in the Sunshine State for you – covering beaches, unspoiled nature and wildlife, tropical islands, art and theme parks, and some of the most iconic Florida sights. In addition, you can find more Florida road trip ideas here.

Florida's Sunrise

1 The Real Florida: Wildlife and Nature

As much as Florida is about beaches and waterways, there’s another completely different side of the Sunshine State to uncover – a more untouched, rural, and authentic side. With wetlands and lush green forests, and several springs and stops along the rural coast, this trip is a nature lover’s dream.

It starts in Tallahassee, the state capital, with its canopy tree streets formed by moss-draped pines and live oaks, continuing on to Wakulla Springs, and then following the lonely Highway 98 to Crystal River, with plenty of wildlife stops along the way. The final stop would be in either Tampa or Orlando – depending on if you’d like to conclude the trip with a visit to Florida’s theme parks or if you would prefer exploring the cultural heritage of Tampa Bay.

Altogether, this road trip spans just over 400 miles if you’re ending in Orlando, and around 375 miles if you finish in Tampa.

Life in this part of Florida is much simpler, and you couldn’t get any further away from the party scene of Miami. Many older people see the towns you get to experience on this trip as the ‘Real Florida’.P1040137

Plan a couple of days to explore Tallahassee (check out its most beautiful canopy roads here) before heading to Wakulla Springs, which is part of the longest underwater cave in the United States and has an abundance of wildlife.

If you are a true wildlife and bird lover, you should stop at St Marks National Wildlife Refuge next, which is a 68,000 acre nature reserve just half an hour south of Wakulla Springs. Bird watchers in particular will love this wildlife haven. Manatee Springs Park, where you can swim with manatees in the crystal clear waters of the spring, is a highlight for many, and from there you’ll drive through marshland and wetlands to Cedar Key, a cluster of islands off the mainland, which is an old-fashioned laid-back Florida vacation spot.

From there, head back inland through sleepy rural Florida to Silver Springs, which was one of the first touristy places in Florida. Tourists have been flocking here since 1878, mainly for the crystal clear waters and the exotic nature around the system of springs, which consists of a total of 150 springs! From there, head back towards the coast and stop in Crystal River, the largest wintering grounds for manatees in all of Florida. The kitschiest stop would be Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, where, in addition to wildlife (mainly reptiles & birds), you can watch the popular mermaid show.

Essential stops: Don’t miss the view over Tallahassee from the Florida State Capitol, the glass bottom boat tour and the river boat tour in Wakulla Springs (or enjoy the 9 miles of trails there, if you enjoy hiking) for wildlife (alligators, birds, turtles…) and the seven mile road to an 1829 lighthouse in St Marks Wildlife Refuge.

Definitely visit the Manatee Springs State Park where you can swim with manatees and take a glass bottom boat tour in Silver Springs. If you’re an art lover, don’t miss the Appleton Museum Of Art near Silver Springs. Between January and March you can snorkel with up to 200 manatees in Crystal River. More manatees and other wildlife can be seen in Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park just south of Crystal River.

Detour: Drive about two hours west of Wakulla Springs to St George Island with nine miles of unspoiled sandy beaches. A big part of the island is a designated state park with miles of hiking trails. You can also cycle the entire length of the island. You can also take a detour between St Marks and Manatee Springs Park through the coastal area of Big Bend through small, sleepy coastal villages.
ThreeSistersSprings1010030

2 The Florida Keys: Tropical Paradise

The Florida Keys, an archipelago of over 1,700 islands, is probably the most spectacular road trip in Florida. Highway 1, also known as the ‘Overseas Highway’ down here, runs 113 miles from mainland Florida all the way down to Key West, the southernmost point of the continental U.S., and only 90 miles north of Cuba! The views over the ocean (the Atlantic to the left, the Gulf Of Mexico to the right) are magnificent, with the color of the water constantly changing from one shade of blue to another. Driving the road itself is a memorable experience too, making you feel like you’re floating above the water, and the Seven Mile Bridge in the Lower Keys is an architectural masterpiece.

If you start in Miami, the entire drive is about 164 miles long, taking about 3.5 hours at a leisurely driving pace.

Essential stops: If you want an extravagant adventure along the way, splurge and stay at the underwater hotel in Key Largo, Jules Undersea Lodge, which is only accessible via scuba diving! It’s a little pricey ($800 per night for two people), but an absolutely unique experience.

The Bahia Honda State Park, about three quarters of the way along the Oversea Highway on the way to Key West, is one of the most pristine beaches in the Keys. Pack your bikini and your snorkeling equipment!
Southernmost, Key West, Florida
Don’t miss the Better Than Sex dessert restaurant in Key West – the decadent sweet treats here are out of this world! And of course eat as much key lime pie as you can handle. Use this Miami New Times list of Ten Best Key Lime Pies In The Keys as a guide.

Detour: If you have a time for a detour, add the Everglades National Park to your itinerary. The turnoff to the National Park is just outside of Homestead (35 miles south of Miami / 127 miles north of Key West). The Everglades, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are one of the most magnificent places in Florida to spot wildlife – you are likely to see alligators, herons, cormorants, garfish, bass, turtles, deer, stilts, bitterns, limpkins, purple gallinules, roseate spoonbills, ibis, wood stork, Everglades kites, and if you are truly lucky, a Florida Panther.
airboat and pelican

3 Beach Hopping From Jacksonville To Miami

Going all the way from Jacksonville near the border with Georgia in the north to Miami in the south (or vice versa), Highway A1A is not only one of the most scenic drives in Florida, but in the entire nation. The road follows the Atlantic, always as close to the water as possible. If you start in Jacksonville, your first stop will be St Augustine, the oldest town in the U.S., which is well worth a stop not only for its historic significance but also for its beautiful beach. From here, make sure to follow the A1A Scenic & Historic Coastal Byway all the way down to Flagler Beach and be prepared to pull over frequently to take pictures. Your next stop will be Daytona Beach, where you can buy a beach day pass for only $5, where the boardwalk and arcades make for a fun day on the coast. From there, head to Cape Canaveral to get closer to NASA than you can anywhere else on the planet, or take a detour to Orlando (see ‘Detour’ below). The island of Palm Beach is another gorgeous beach stop on the way south, as is the lesser known (and less crowded) Delray Beach. In Fort Lauderdale, you can choose between art and culture or beach life, and driving down Miami’s Ocean Drive couldn’t be a better way to end your trip. Make sure to add a couple of nights in Miami – this city has so much to see! (See ‘Don’t Miss’).

Don’t miss: The historic sites in St Augustine, the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, and right next to the Kennedy Space Center you find one of the most scenic beaches along the entire Eastern seaboard: shell-strewn Playalinda in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

Vero Beach, just a short drive south of Cape Canaveral, has been getting a lot of praise and makes for a lovely additional stop – the Vero Beach Museum of Art alone is worth a look.

Delray Beach is a small town which is experiencing a revival at the moment, with a booming art scene and growing restaurant & bar scene – in addition to miles and miles of beaches.

Art lovers will enjoy Fort Lauderdale’s Las Olas Boulevard which is lined with diverse restaurants, three museums, ten international art galleries, and shopaholics will appreciate the 65 retail options! Nearby Hollywood Beach is fantastic for a lazy beach town, if you want to enjoy the ocean and skip the city.

Don’t leave Miami without visiting Little Havana, the Wynwood Art District, the Art Deco District in South Beach and of course the iconic Miami Beach!
Miami Art Deco District
Detour: If you’re a theme park fan, take a detour to Orlando from Daytona Beach before heading back to the coast to Cape Canaveral. It’s only a short drive inland, and in Orlando you can unleash your inner child at Disney’s Magic Kingdom, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Legoland, Epcot Center, or the brand new water park, Volcano Bay.

Photo credit: All photos used under Flickr’s Creative Commons license. (1) Florida sunset by Sergio Monsalve; (2) Florida alligator by hex1848; (3) Crystal River by Bill Froberg; (4) Key West by Roman Boed; (5) Everglades by Mike Mahaffle; (6) Miami Art Deco by simplethrill.
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Polaroid Of The Week: A Beautiful Manhattan Sunset

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week usa new york city sunset

Another busy week is coming to an end! This week, I’ve had the pleasure to add ‘serious’ room hunting to my to-do-list (as opposed to ‘casual’ room hunting the week before).

Had I not challenged myself to daily runs this month, I don’t think I’d seen much of the city in the past seven days, but these four miles a day allowed me to remember that I am in my favorite city in the world. I deliberately chose scenic running routes this week to remind me in what a stunning city I live: Bridge runs over the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge, the Prospect Park loop, and runs through some of my favorite picturesque neighborhoods, like Fort Greene and Bed-Stuy, with their beautiful brownstones. I had to pinch myself sometimes, thinking to myself ‘I can’t believe I am living here now‘, and indulged in reading a few of my first posts about my love for New York, and how I’d been trying to figure out to spend more time here ever since my first full summer in 2014. First my extended visa, now permanent residency.. sometimes I still can’t believe that this is really happening. I’ll be reminiscing some more about how I got here in my Life Lately round-up.

Even though I didn’t get around to enjoying New York as much as I’d like to, I still managed to fit in some socializing with  drinks and dinners in eateries I’ve had on my ‘To Try’ list for a while, such as Puerto Viejo in Crown Heights (amazing Dominican food, and a surprisingly large range of vegan options), the vegetarian restaurant Buddha Bodai in Chinatown, Queens Comfort in Astoria for brunch, and my best new find for cocktails: Boudoir in Brooklyn Heights, a bar with a hidden downstairs area, speakeasy-style.

Oh and – the room hunting? Successful. With only one day left before having to leave my current place, I found something. To say the room hunt was stressful would be an understatement, but I’ll be moving to one of my favorite neighborhoods next week – stay tuned!

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Polaroid Of The Week: Cherry Blossom Carpet in New York City

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week new york brooklyn cherry blossoms

It feels like I haven’t sat still for a minute since returning to New York. From day 1, I’ve been dealing with immigration matters, setting myself up as a ‘legal resident’, which includes things like getting a bank account, insurance and figure out how to file taxes. Then there’s the issue of finding an apartment and a part time job, which – much to my surprise – happened faster than excepted! While I’m still officially homeless (no worries though, I don’t have to sleep on a bench in Central Park), I’ve started working, and I was lucky enough to find a job that offers me more than just part time work. Income that I need for a number of things, but I’ll get into that in more detail in my May round-up next week. Between the new job and my freelance writing work I’ve been struggling to keep the blog up and running, as you may have noticed, but I hope I’ll find a way to combine those three things when things in my new job have calmed down a little.

Luckily, I was able to enjoy a little bit of New York’s gorgeous spring weather before I started my crazy 70-hour work week, and one sunny morning my friend Kristin and I met up for a little photo shoot in the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, one of my favorite green oases here in New York. We caught the tail end of the cherry blossom season and the fallen blossoms turned the ground into one massive cherry blossom carpet. Even though I didn’t have much time to enjoy New York so far, I’ve made sure to diversify my daily runs as much as possible, which means I’ve got to see spring flowers and cherry blossoms all over the city, from Randall Island and Governors Island in the East River to Central Park and Prospect Park as well as bridge runs over the Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge.

I hope next month I’ll be able to enjoy the city a bit more, and be able to fit in a trip to the beach!

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