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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 New York foods:

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

Food markets:

  • 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)

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

Still looking for a place to stay in NYC? Click here for some great New York City hotel deals.

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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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How To Have a Perfect Girls’ Getaway In Sonoma Wine Country

korbel vinyard

I’ve already told you that Sonoma Wine Country is one of my favorite places for a girls’ getaway in California, offering all those things that you need to make a weekend with your favorite girls a huge success: wine, good food, plenty of fun activities. Throw some shopping and some relaxing spa time in the mix and everyone will be happy.

To give you a better idea of what a perfect girls’ getaway to Sonoma Wine Country could look like, I put together an itinerary for a weekend in Sonoma County, including where to stay, what to do, and practical information, such as: How would you even get there?

Get in

I recommend flying straight into Santa Rosa, the capital of Sonoma County. The Charles M Schultz airport is tiny, but that’s what makes this a super easy travel experience. There aren’t many direct flights to Santa Rosa, but if you live in L.A., Seattle, Portland, San Diego, Las Vegas or Phoenix, you’re in luck. Coming from NYC, I took a connecting flight to Santa Rosa from LAX, but I could have also flown into San Francisco and rented a car there.

You can get to Santa Rosa from SFO in just under 90 minutes, and you’ll want a rental car for your time in Wine Country anyway. Extra bonus if you’re driving up from San Francisco: You can drive up Highway 1, aka the Pacific Coast Highway, which is arguably one of the most beautiful drives in the U.S., followed by the Bohemian Highway, which winds through Redwoods and charming little towns.

Alternatively, you can rent a car at the airport in Santa Rosa – check Priceline or RentalCars.com for the best rates.

Paradise Ridge Santa Rosa

Where to Stay

There are hundreds of options for accommodation in Sonoma Wine Country – dozens of little towns, farmhouses, AirBnbs in the countryside… how to decide what’s the ideal location? I’d recommend staying in Santa Rosa, since not only is it convenient if you fly in and out of there, but it is also a decently sized – yet compact – town with plenty of things to do right there, which means you don’t need to spend too much time driving.

Two hotels I’d recommend are:

Vintners Inn – A 44-room boutique hotel surrounded by vineayards, that all have a balcony or their own patio. Every room comes with a half-bottle of Fume Blanc, (a wine made by Ferrari-Carano, who own the hotel), perfect to start off a girls’ getaway. I love that the Vintners Inn is certified by the California Green Lodging Program, i.e. consciously making an effort to reduce their carbon footprint. The fabulous John Ash & Co restaurant right on the property is well worth a visit, and next year a day spa will be added, which will make Vintners Inn even more perfect for a relaxing weekend.vintners inn

The Flamingo – This historic spa resort used to be very popular with the Hollywood crowd when it opened its doors in the 1950s, and you can still feel the nostalgia of this once posh and sought after hotel, even though these days it is neither particularly fancy or pretentious, but a reasonably priced option (rates for a double room start at $125 on the official Flamingo website). The hotel has a state-of-the-art health club and spa, including a yoga studio, two Olympic-sized swimming pools (heated), five tennis court and a restaurant with nightly entertainment.

Get your Bearings

If you are staying at the Flamingo Resort, you can start your exploration of Santa Rosa with a short walk over to Montgomery Village, an open air shopping mall with 75 shops and 12 restaurants – and don’t let the word ‘mall’ put you off – I found the name ‘village’ well chosen, since this is a cluster of shops set in an village-like environment with beautiful landscaping – nothing like an ordinary mall.

You’ll find a number of restaurants at Montgomery Village and if you want to have dinner there, I recommend Monti’s Rotisserie, where I enjoyed some excellent Mediterranean cuisine. The show stopper here is, as the name indicates, the wood-fired rotisserie, but the menu also features enough vegetarian dishes to make me happy, plus Happy Hour cocktails and a comprehensive wine list. The cheeseboards alone were reason enough for me to love Monti’s Rotisserie, sea food lovers will love the oysters and shrimps, and meat lovers can feast on grilled and roasted specialties such as pomegranate-glazed pork ribs or oak-roasted chicken.Montis Santa Rosa

Dinner and Drinks

If you prefer heading into town, check out The County Bench Kitchen + Bar (535 4th St) which only opened in 2016 but has already received a lot of praise, including a mention in Forbes’ 5 New Wine Country Restaurants You Need To Know About, and which upgrades Downtown Santa Rosa’s dining scene to another level, with hand-crafted cocktails and a chic bistro atmosphere. Not really a surprise, considering the restaurant is the brainchild of two Michelin-star chefs: Michelin-starred chef Bruce Frieseke (Applewood, Bella Vineyards) and Ben Davies (Petite Syrah, Spoonbar, Mirepoix).

The menu, focusing on American cuisine, includes innovative dishes such as a Farro Risotto, Red Wine Braised Short Rib and $1.50 Happy Hour Oysters. Speaking of Happy Hour (from 4-6pm on weekdays) – the high-quality $5 cocktails and happy hour snacks are hard to beat, so if you prefer a light dinner made up of a range of small dishes to share, served with inexpensive cocktails and wines, the County Bench & Kitchen is perfect for you. If I lived in Santa Rosa, the County Bench would be my regular hangout spot for sure.

For a more casual dinner, head to Left Coast Kitchen & Tap Room (523 4th St), just a couple of doors down from The County Bench. Chef Gray Rollin (who used to be a tour chef for celebrities like Katy Perry, Linkin Park, Justin Timberlake and Metallica) and is dedicated to everything ‘Left Coast’ – emphasizing dishes, beers and wines from the Pacific States: Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, and Hawaii. The menu ranges from tacos to a number of meat dishes (pork sliders, steak, pork belly), but also vegetarian-friendly options such as a delicious roasted beet, goat cheese & arugula salad, and grilled artichoke and truffle mac’n’cheese. And while I love wine, at Left Coast I was particularly impressed with the number of Pacific micro brews on draft.

If you’d like to include wine in your first dinner experience – you are in wine country after all – make your way to Willi’s Wine Bar (44 Old Redwood Highway) where you can enjoy local wines paired with delectable dishes made from locally sourced food. Don’t expect a fancy restaurant – Willi’s Wine Bar is a classic, laid-back roadhouse restaurant with both familiar comfort foods as well as inventive international bites, but expect the same quality that Monti’s Rotisserie offers – it is run by the same owners, Mark and Terri Stark. You can choose from 32 contemporary American as well as international small plates, perfect for sharing, divided into ‘surf’, ‘turf’, ‘earth’, ‘cheese’ and ‘charcuterie’.wine

Saturday

Breakfast in Santa Rosa

For breakfast in Santa Rosa, I have two suggestions. One is just across the street from The Flamingo Hotel: Jeffrey’s Hillside Café. The small, family-owned café uses local ingredients and offers brunch classics such as Huevos Rancheros, bagels & lox, chilaquiles and omelettes, but also a few breakfast items with their own twist added to them, such as a Sticky Bun French Toast and a Tex Mex scramble.

My other recommendation is Dierk’s Parkside Café, another small family-run café, and winner of ‘Best Breakfast in Sonoma County in 2016’. If you eat here, don’t leave without trying Grandma Dierk’s Pull-A-Parts (tender fried bread dough with sugar & cinnamon).santa rosa chilaquiles

Head to Armstrong Redwoods

After breakfast, it is time to walk off some of these calories. Drive to the nearby Armstrong Redwoods, which are about 30 minutes west of Santa Rosa, which make for one of the most magical forest experiences you’ll ever have. This serene, tranquil forest with majestic Redwoods trees doesn’t fail to impress, with trees that grow 200-250 feet tall and live to be 500 to 1,000 years old.

Tip: Park outside the State Park at the Armstrong Redwoods’ Visitor Center and save yourself the $10 fee for driving into the park. Walk instead, it is a gorgeous hike. Depending on your fitness levels, you can decide when to turn around, but it is a relatively small forest.Armstrong Redwoods California

First Wine Tasting: Korbel Champagne Cellars

After this active morning, it’s finally time for your first wine tasting. Start off with an afternoon of wine tasting in style with some bubbly at Korbel Champagne Cellars, which you would have passed on your way to the Armstrong Redwoods.

The winery, which dates back to 1882, is located just outside of Guerneville and in addition to sampling the most popular méthode champenoise champagne in the entire U.S., you can enjoy a light lunch or a snack here Korbel Delicatessen and Market adjacent to the tasting room has tasty salads, coffees and cakes.

And the extended tour through the historic champagne cellars, which includes a tasting, is completely free (most wineries charge a fee for their tastings).korbel champagne cellars

Francis Ford Coppola Wineries & A Native American Lunch

You might know that Oscar-winning director Francis Ford Coppola has long had an affinity for wine: he bought his first winery in 1975 from the proceedings of the first Godfather movie. He now owns several wineries in Napa and Sonoma, and in 2016 he added another addition to his ever growing wine emporium – the former Geyser Peak Winery – which he renamed Virginia Dare Winery (22281 Chianti Rd), after the first child of English parents born in the New World. The other wines produced at Virginia Dare Winery also carry names based on folklore and history, such as White Doe, The Lost Colony or Two Arrowheads – but I’ll leave it to you to find out what these names are based on during a wine tasting.

If you haven’t eaten anything at Korbel yet, I recommend having lunch at Virginia Dare, where the Werowocomoco Restaurant (right next to the tasting room) serves Native American food – something you don’t find very often, especially in this part of the U.S. The giant fry bread taco I had there was finger-licking good.virginia dare winery restaurantIf you want to check out another one of Coppola’s wineries, you can visit the Francis Ford Coppola Winery (300 Via Archimedes, Geyserville) next, which is also located in Geyserville, only five minutes up the road from Virginia Dare. This one is the most spectacular of his wineries – Coppola himself describes it as a ‘wine wonderland’, and the stunning property, based on Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens amusement park, is well worth a stop.

The views are amazing, there are two connected swimming pools, a park with bocce courts and game tables and a movie gallery. The pool is open to the public, and you can also play bocce here – and of course taste wine. And if you’re a film buff, don’t miss the museum, where Coppola’s Oscars and a whole bunch of movie memorabilia are showcased.

A third winery worth checking out in Geyserville (again, only a five-minute ride away) is Trione Vineyards (19550 Geyserville Ave), a family-owned winery with a small tasting room and bocce courts.virginia dare wines

An Afternoon of Winery-hopping

From Geyserville, head to Healdsburg, which is only 10 minutes away. Healdsburg sits at the juncture of three prime winegrowing regions: the Russian River Valley, Dry Creek Valley, and Alexander Valley, so there are plenty of wineries to visit. In addition, you can explore the small town center, which has a number of interesting shops, including jewelry stores and antique shops, and over 20 art galleries. The walkable downtown has artisan bakeries, wine bars and restaurants – it’s a great place to stroll around for a couple of hours.

As for wine tastings, here are a few of Healdsburg’s over 30 tasting rooms that stand out: Ferrari-Carano Vineyards & Winery (8761 Dry Creek Rd) which offers exquisite wines and sweeping views over the vineyards and Dry Creek Valley; Lancester Estate Winery (15001 Chalk Hill Rd) has a picturesque setting in the rolling hills of Alexander Valley, and remarkable wine caves on the property (reservations required); Lambert Bridge (4085 W Dry Creek Rd) offers artisanal wines, a vaulted, redwood tasting room and gorgeous grounds; SIMI Winery (16275 Healdsburg Ave) has a historic stone cellar and 140 years of history, plus a redwood grove; MacRostie Winery (4605 Westside Rd) is home to a fabulous patio that offers expansive views over the Russian River Valley (reservations required).

santa rosa korbel winery

Dinner at John Ash & Co

Back in Santa Rosa, take a nap after all those wine tastings or relax for a couple of hours before heading to Jon Ash & Co for a memorable dinner (perfect if you’re staying at the Vintners Inn where the restaurant is located). John Ash & Co is one of Sonoma County’s most iconic restaurants, and one of the pioneers in local farm-to-table dining, having introduced the concept of cooking with local produce and seasonal foods – many of the vegetables and fruits used are grown in the on-site gardens. I recommend going for the four-course tasting menu ($68) which is available with wine pairings ($35).

Sunday

Breakfast at Coffee & Brew

To make the most of your day in Sonoma Wine Country, head to Coffee & Brew for a quick breakfast – the owners of the cozy coffee shop, Alisse and Jessica, are coffee industry veterans, so you can expect an outstanding cup of coffee with your breakfast. You’ll find freshly baked pastries here, eggs, or their to-die-for avocado toast on Pullman bread – very thick and prepared with seeds, lemon, and spices.brew santa rosa avocado toast

Sundays are for Art

Just around the corner from Brew is the Art Museum Of Sonoma County which used to be housed next door, in Santa Rosa’s historic Post Office building, now home to the History Museum Of Sonoma County. Despite being small, the museum has some fantastic pieces and artwork by well-known modern artists, such as Andy Warhol, but it mostly features artists who have lived and worked in Northern California.

The History Museum might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I happened to be in town for an exhibit that I was excited about: The Beat Goes On: Peace, Love and Rock & Roll in the North Bay featured rock posters, artifacts and images that trace the influences of music, counterculture and rebellion in the North Bay Area. So it’s worth checking what exhibit is on while you’re in town.Santa Rosa Art

Now it is time to combine art with wine – for that, head to Paradise Ridge Winery (4545 Thomas Lake Harris Dr) on the outskirts of Santa Rosa, where not only will you get to enjoy some fine wines, but also some fine art in the delightful sculpture garden (Marijke’s Grove) on the grounds. In addition to the sculptures, I found the exhibit in the tasting room about Kanaye Nagasawa, one of the first Japanese winemakers in California, very interesting – who knew that there even were Japanese winemakers!

Another aspect I loved about Paradise Ridge was that you can take a self-guided walk around the winery, including the vines, where plaques educate you about the entire wine making process.Santa Rosa Paradise Ridge Winery2

Time for Lunch

Head to Rosso (53 Montgomery Dr) for lunch, an unpretentious yet absolutely divine pizzeria and wine bar. Go for the truffled burrata, the calamari with green chili aioli or try the whole head of sweet roasted garlic, followed by one of their wood-fired pizzas which all have unique toppings.

Spring Lake Loop

After lunch, go for an easy hike around Spring Lake, just a ten minute drive from Rosso. Spring Lake Loop is an easy 2.3 mile hike on a trail that follows the lake shore. If you’re visiting during the warmer months, take advantage of the swimming lagoon or rent a boat.

Spa Time!

Finish your girls’ getaway with some spa time – a massage, a facial or a body scrub will ensure you feel rejuvenated after this weekend, too.

If you’re staying at The Flamingo, you can also just hop in the pool for a while, and enjoy the spa facilities next door at Montecito Health Spa, for which all hotel guests receive complimentary use of the Spa and Health Club facilities with all spa treatments 50 minutes or longer.

As for other spas in Santa Rosa, your two best options are The Best Day Spa (3082 Marlow Road, Ste B4–B6) and Soulstice Spa (2462 W. 3rd Street).spa time

Dinner

For your last dinner in Santa Rosa, I recommend the following places:

  • The County Bench (see Friday night above) for upscale Californian fare
  • Pullman Kitchen (205 5th St) for Californian & Mediterranean dishes
  • Best of Burma (528 7th St) If you’ve never tried Burmese food, you must eat here!
  • Willi’s Wine Bar (see Friday night above) for Californian cuisine paired with local wines

santa rosa dierks parkside cafe

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The Ultimate LGBT Travel Guide To Santa Rosa and Sonoma Wine Country

love sculpture

Sonoma Wine Country is a popular couples’ weekend getaway, but what about LGBT couples? The LGBT hot spot of the West Coast, San Francisco, is only 55 miles (just over an hour) away, which makes Sonoma, and its largest city, Santa Rosa, perfect for a romantic weekend break.

In fact, Sonoma County was named as one of the top 20 tourist destinations for LGBT travelers in the entire U.S., and Huffington Post included it in its Top 10 LGBT Honeymoon Destinations.

I went to Santa Rosa and Guerneville to find out what Sonoma Wine Country has in store for queer travelers, from LGBT-friendly places to stay, things to do and which events are worth a trip.paradise ridge winery santa rosa

Things To Do

This region of Northern California is primarily known for its many vineyards and wine tastings, but there’s a lot more to Sonoma County than just that: the Pacific Coast Highway, Redwood forests, river adventures, quaint little towns and beautiful beaches.

Wine Tastings

Of course you can’t go to Sonoma Wine Country and not drink wine! There are over 250 wineries in Sonoma County, many of them producing award winning bottles. No matter where you base yourself, you’ll never be far from a winery, but here are a few that are well worth visiting:

  • Paradise Ridge Winery (4545 Thomas Lake Harris Dr, Santa Rosa)
  • Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate & Gardens (5007 Fulton Rd, Santa Rosa)
  • Korbel Champagne Cellars (13250 River Rd, Guerneville)
  • Sebastiani Vineyards (389 4th St E, Sonoma)
  • DeLoach Vineyards (1791 Olivet Rd, Santa Rosa)
  • Matanzas Creek Winery (6097 Bennett Valley Rd, Santa Rosa)
  • Virginia Dare Winery (22281 Chianti Rd, Geyserville)
  • Bella Vineyards & Wine Caves (9711 W Dry Creek Rd, Healdsburg)
  • Martinelli Vineyards & Winery (3360 River Rd, Windsor)
  • Iron Horse Vineyards (9786 Ross Station Rd, Sebastopol)

korbel champagne tasting
Explore the Small Towns

Sonoma County is home to a number of small towns worth exploring:

Start with not-so-small Santa Rosa, the largest city (pop 174,000) and capital of Sonoma County, where you find the excellent Sonoma County Art Museum, with its rotating art exhibits and exhibits on local history and culture, and if you are a fan of the Peanuts comics, you can’t miss the Charles M Schultz Museum.

The above mentioned Paradise Ridge Winery, which I found worth visiting for the Sculpture Garden alone, and the Luther Burbank Home and Gardens are beautiful, and the Railroad Square Historic District is well worth a stroll. Here you will find a number of small shops selling books, jewelry, and antiques, as well as art galleries, and restaurants.

Santa Rosa Paradise Ridge Winery1

Guerneville is the heart of gay and lesbian Sonoma County, worth a visit not only for the nearby Redwoods and the Russian River beaches, but also its charming Main Street and the many gay-friendly establishments. The former lumber town has turned into one of the most popular gay hotspots on the West Coast, so it is the town where most LGBT travelers base themselves on a trip to Sonoma County. Here you can find the largest concentration of LGBT-owned or LGBT-friendly hotels, nightlife and bars, and several LGBT events take place here every year (see below).

Healdsburg is a quaint little town in the middle of wine country, offering art, sculptures, shopping in little boutique shops, and more world-class dining then you can fit into a quick getaway (see Where To Eat). If you are in need of a break from all the wine tastings, make sure to stop at the Sonoma Cider Company’s new tap room for a flight of their innovative artisanal cider creations.

Sonoma with its historic town plaza, is anchored by a Franciscan mission, a remnant of the town’s Mexican colonial past, and has several historic monuments (it was here where Californians declared their independence from Mexico after the Bear Flag Revolt), including the Mission San Francisco Solan, the last Spanish-Mexican mission built in California, and Buena Vista Winery, California’s oldest winery. You can also find cute shops, restaurants and tasting rooms around the town square.

Enjoy a Spa Day

Nothing is more relaxing and rejuvenating than a spa day,so luckily Sonoma County has more than 40 fabulous spas and wellness centers where you can find treatments, massages and ultimate relaxation.

Some of the best spas include:

  • Willow Stream Spa At the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn (rated among Travel + Leisure’s top 25 spas)
  • The Best Day Spa, Santa Rosa (amazing massages)
  • Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary, Freestone (Japanese-themed)
  • Boon Hotel & Spa, Guerneville
  • Spa Dolce in Healdsburg (Fodor’s Choice 2013)

grand hyatt playa del carmen cenote spa pools
Go for a Hike

Sonoma County has over 140 miles of trails in its Regional Parks, ranging from beach hikes (see coastal hikes below) and forest hikes to hikes through the mountains and to lakes; there’s something for everyone.

Some of the best hikes in Sonoma County are Hood Mountain (just outside of Santa Rosa), the tallest peak in the Southern Mayacamas Mountain Range, where the Goodspeed Trail to Gunsight Rock rewards hikers with sweeping views of both the Sonoma and Napa sides of the Mayacamas Mountains; Taylor Mountain (also near Santa Rosa) with a gradual ascent to the top of the mountain, from where you get splendid vistas over Santa Rosa, Pomo Canyon Trail for Redwoods as well as views of Willow Creek, the Lower Russian River, and the coastline.

If you are visiting Sonoma County in the spring, head to Trione-Annadel State Park which boasts a huge amount of colorful wild flowers in April and May.

You can find a full listing of hikes in Sonoma County here.santa rosa vinyard
A Day on the Russian River

If you are visiting Sonoma County during the warmer months, don’t miss out on some river fun! On the Russian River, you can go tubing (tubes can be purchased at Country Tire in Guerneville; $22.50 for a large tube, $15 for a small tube), SUPing, canoeing and kayaking (you can find detailed information on rentals and guided trips here) or simply go for a swim. The best beaches along the Russian River are Johnson’s Beach in Guerneville, Monte Rio Beach, and Healdsburg Memorial Beach.

Visit the Coast

With 76 miles of stunning coastline, Sonoma County has several beaches and trails along the ocean that shouldn’t be missed. Take a drive on the Pacific Coast Highway, stop at Salmon Creek (one of the most popular beaches), at Duncan’s Landing (the crashing waves are spectacular, especially on a windy day), and Goat Rock Beach in Jenner, which is a favored hangout spot for seals – you can also rent kayaks here.

If you like hiking, check out Kortum Trail, a cliff-side trail between Wright’s Beach and Blind Beach (4.5 miles round-trip, the trailhead is at Shell Beach in between the two beaches) or the Bodega Head Trail, a 3-mile path around the headlands near Bodega Bay with stunning views of the ocean and Bodega Harbor.

Bodega Bay is also home to the Bird Walk Coastal Access Trail, a path (just over a mile) that circles two ponds and offers coastal views along with superb birding opportunities.If you happen to visit Sonoma County during whale migration season (January until May), stop at Ocean Overlook at Bodega Head for some whale watching.

For a tasty lunch, head to Spud Point Crab Company in Bodega Bay for a cup of their famous chowder.

A Walk in the Redwoods

Most LGBT travelers seem to base themselves in Guerneville (more on Guerneville below), and if you’re itching to see the majestic Redwood trees Northern California is famous for, you can’t pick a more ideal place: The Armstrong Redwoods are just a half-hour walk outside of town (or 5-min drive by car).

These majestic trees – the largest in the world, standing 200 – 250 feet tall! – are hundreds of years old and are a sight you can’t miss on a trip to Sonoma County.

If you need an extra adrenaline kick, why not go for a wild ride through the Redwoods? Sonoma Canopy Tours offers ziplining tours in the Alliance Redwoods just 20 minutes outside of Guerneville, or a half-hour drive from Santa Rosa.armstrong redwoods dani jump

Where to Eat

Santa Rosa

  • John Ash & Co (Californian fare – regionally sourced farm-to-table dining)
  • Dierks Parkside Cafe (very good breakfast dishes)
  • Rosso (wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas paired with eco-friendly wines)
  • Best Of Burma (authentic, finger licking good Burmese food)
  • Gaia’s Garden (vegetarian)

santa rosa best of burma

Guerneville

  • Boon Bistro – modern California cuisine
  • Big Bottom Market – gourmet deli fare
  • Taqueria La Tapatia – authentic Mexican dishesand beer
  • Seaside Metal Oyster Bar – Spin-off of San Francisco’s Crudo, excellent chowder, mussels and oysters, as well as a Bay Area–focused beer list

Healdsburg

  • Dry Creek Kitchen – fine dining at Hotel Healdsburg, where chef Charlie Palmer makes refined Californian fare with a special twist
  • Bravas Bar De Tapas – Rated as one of the best tapas bars in the U.S. by Travel & Leisure, this tapas bar in a restored 1920s bungalow makes for an unforgettable, very authentic Spanish tapas experience
  • Chalkboard – contemporary American small plates with seasonal ingredients paired with local wines & flights

Sonoma

  • The Girl & The Fig – rustic bistro serving inventive French country fare and local wines
  • Fremont Diner – quirky diner and a Sonoma institution
  • El Molino Central – roadside Mexican café serving tasty authentic Mexican dishes

Fine Dining

  • Farmhouse – one Michelin star, only 10 minutes east of Guerneville (10005 Coastal Highway 1, Olema) which offers a delectable four-course tasting meal with wine pairing
  • Terrapin Creek in Bodega Bay – one Michelin star, innovative American & world cuisine

Other places worth checking out:

Juice Shack – Juice Shack was named one of the top 25 LGBT-owned businesses in the Bay Area by the San Francisco Business Times – a company well worth supporting – plus they offer some amazing smoothies and fresh juices. Juice Shack has seven locations across Sonoma County: four in Santa Rosa, two in Rohnert Park and one in Petaluma.

Brew – Lesbian-owned coffee shop and craft beer bar in Santa Rosa. Perfect for low-key breakfasts and lunches on cozy sofas, or to sample a local craft beer. Outstanding espresso creations made with coffee from a SF-based roaster (Ritual).

Cowgirl Creamery – famous lesbian-owned cheese shop. Now their cheeses are sold all over the Bay Area, but the original creamery and cheese shop at Tomales Bay foods (inside a former hay barn) is worth stopping by. Located at 80 4th St, Point Reyes Station, right on Highway 1.brew coffee santa rosa

Where to Stay

R3 Hotel, Guerneville

If you are looking for a place to party, stay at R3 Hotel, where you will find a clothing-optional pool and a bar that is open from 11am until late. If you want to splurge, stay in the main suite which has a spa tub. Since the hotel pool bar is open to non-guests as well, expect this to be a lively and social hotel.

Boon Hotel & Spa, Guerneville

If you are looking to treat yourself to a fancy getaway, then lesbian-owned Boon is for you. The hotel is just outside of town and has a fabulous spa, pool and hot tub.

Highlands Resort, Guerneville

The Highland Resort is one of the most popular hotels with LGBT travelers, many of whom return over and over to stay in the rustic cabins near the Russian River. Some cabins come with a double spa tub, others have a fireplace, and there’s a pool.

Applewood Inn, Guerneville

A Boutique Wine Country Inn and a Sonoma County landmark built in 1922, the Applewood Inn has 19 rooms and suites and makes for a cozy getaway. There is a spa and a well-regarded upscale restaurant on-site, and there is a pool on the property which is surrounded by Redwood Trees.LKF hotel Hong Kong pillowsVillage Inn, Monte Rio

The Village Inn is located right on the Russian River, between Guerneville and the Pacific Coast. Gay-owned, the Inn has a charming historic flair, views over the river and an exquisite restaurant.

Sonoma Orchid Inn, Guerneville

This historic farmhouse offers luxury accommodation with modern amenities. Fireplaces and a hot tub up the cozy factor. If you like to make your own meals, this place is for you – there is a kitchen available for guest use.

Purple Roofs

For more LGBT-friendly accommodation, check out Purple Roofs, the world’s largest travel directory of LGBT-friendly accommodation with more than 4,800 bed and breakfasts, hotels, vacation rentals and other properties around the world. See all Purple Roofs listings in Sonoma County here.

TAG approved:

TAG Approved Accommodations (meaning: LGBT-welcoming hotels) include

  • Sonoma: MacArthur Place, El Dorado Hotel, and the Best Western – Sonoma Valley Inn
  • Glen Ellen: The Gaige House
  • Santa Rosa: The Flamingo Conference Resort & Spa, The Hilton Sonoma Wine Country

santa rosa the flamingo

AirBnb

If you prefer self-catering, check out AirBnb’s listings in Sonoma County. There are plenty of houses and apartments available. If you’re not signed up with AirBnb yet, use my referral code and get $30 off your first booking!

Where to Party

R3 Hotel, Guerneville

The ultimate place to party in Guerneville! The pool (clothing optional) and bar are always busy – day and night.

Rainbow Cattle Company, Guerneville

This bar right on Main Street in Guerneville has been around since 1979 and is a fun place for a night out.

Russian River Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence Bingo Night, Guerneville

Every second Saturday of the month, there is a bingo night at the Guerneville Veterans Memorial Hall and it is not to be missed! Hosted by the ‘Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence’, you’re in for a night of comic fun and laughter, andmoney is raised for a different charity each month. Tickets can be bought in advance online (recommended).

For more LGBT nightlife, check out Sonoma Gaydar on Facebook.sonoma cider company

LGBT Events in Sonoma County

Gay Wine Weekend

Gay Wine Weekend is an annual event put on by Out In The Vineyard, an experiential Wine Country Event and Travel Company promoting LGBT lifestyles and offering luxury itineraries in Wine Country – this is the largest gay wine event in the world!

Gay Wine Weekend is a 3-day weekend in the summer with special events for LGBT visitors – including wine tastings, fine dining, music and dancing in a vineyard, champagne brunches and a pool party.

The 2017 Edition of Gay Wine Weekend takes place from 14-16 July.

Russian River Women’s Weekend, Guerneville

The Russian River Women’s Weekend at the R3 Hotel in Guerneville is a 3-day Sapphic-centric extravaganza including activities such as yoga, Redwood hikes, poolside networking, lesbian DJs, drag king shows, fine dining, burlesque and stand-up comedians.

The 2017 Russian River Women’s Weekend takes place from 18 to 21 May.

Sonoma County Pride, Guerneville

Sonoma County Pride takes place every June, and offers two days of Pride fun, concerts, a Unity March & Parade, as well as a National LGBTQI March – Solidarity Rally.

The dates for the 2017 Sonoma County Pride are 2–4 June.pride flag brighton

OUTwatch – Sonoma County’s LGBTQI Film Festival

In Santa Rosa, the OutWatch Film Fest shows queer movies every November. Check the website for the exact dates and movies that are shown.

Lazy Bear, Guerneville

Lazy Bear is an event that caters to the gay community – it is the ‘Biggest, Hairiest, Beefiest, Burliest, Craziest, Laziest FUNdraising event on the planet’. Around 7,000 men from all around the globe come together in August in Guerneville for the six-day celebration.

The 2017 Lazy Bear weekend takes place from 2 to 7 August.

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