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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?

How To Get To Sonoma County

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.

Sonoma Wine Country

Where to Stay In Sonoma County

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.

Hotels I’d recommend are:

Hotel E – A small, stylish luxury boutique hotel in the heart of Santa Rosa in Courthouse Square. The brand new hotel (opened in 2019) is housed in an iconic beaux-arts building and has 39 guest rooms, as well as a lobby wine bar. In 2020, a rooftop bar (the only one in Santa Rosa!) will be added.

Vintners Inn – A 44-room boutique hotel surrounded by vineyards, 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 in Santa Rosa

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

Where to eat and drink in Santa Rosa

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’.Sonoma Wine Country

Saturday in Sonoma Wine Country

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 in Sonoma Wine Country! 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 in Sonoma County

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).

Sonoma Wine Country

Dinner in Santa Rosa: 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 the most iconic restaurants in Sonoma Wine Country and one of the pioneers in local farm-to-table dining. Jon Ash & Co 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 in Sonoma Wine Country

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.Sonoma Wine Country

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 in Sonoma Wine Country

Finish your Sonoma Wine Country 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 in Santa Rosa

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

  • 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

PIN IT!

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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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48 Hours in Austin, Texas

austin sunset1

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

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

Because I had the advantage of being able to spend four full weeks there, I took my time to explore every nook and cranny of the city, but I know that most people spend only a weekend in Austin. And while I’ve already shared 33 Things I Love About Austin, I wanted to give you a more structured overview of how to spend 48 hours in Austin. And while this article outlines a weekend in Austin, the itinerary also works on weekdays.Austin itinerary

My Austin Itinerary

Here is my perfect weekend in Austin for you – including places to eat and drink, what to do and what to see on a first-time Austin trip:

Friday, 2pm: Welcome to Austin

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

There are also several electric scooter companies in Austin, if you prefer those over a bicycle. You can rent them from Bird, Lyft, Lime, Jump or Spin. The cost is usually $1 to unlock and then around 15 cents a minute (prices may vary slightly). I recommend downloading several apps so that you have options.

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

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

Food trucks in Austin

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

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

5pm: A Stroll along South Congress

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

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

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

7 – 8pm: The Flight of the Bats

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

9pm: Bar-hopping along Historic Rainey Street

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

You can either opt for a food truck dinner – there are several on Rainey Street, for example: Art of Tacos, or the tasty Via 313 Pizza Truck behind Craft Pride, Boca inside the Container Bar, or Big Fat Greek Gyros – or you could do a fancy dinner just around the corner from Rainey Street, at what is one of the hottest tickets in town these days: Geraldine’s, a contemporary gourmet restaurant inside the fabulous new Hotel Van Zandt. If you want to treat yourself to a fancy dinner during your 48 hours in Austin, Geraldine’s is the perfect spot. Make sure to reserve in advance.

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

Saturday, 9am: Brunch in Austin

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

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

11am: Street Art Heaven in Downtown Austin

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

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

1pm: Food Truck Lunch in Austin

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

3pm: Time for Culture in Austin!

Austin has a number of places to get your culture nerd on: there are several top-notch museums (Blanton Museum Of Art, Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, The Contemporary Austin, Mexic-Arte Museum) – pick the one that best fits your personal interests. The Guardian has a great overview of the 10 best museums in Austin, my personal favorites were the art museums. If you’re not spending the weekend in Austin, but visiting the city during the week, make sure to look up opening times.

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

6pm: BBQ Dinner in Austin

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

8pm: Sunset Drinks in Austin

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

9pm: Live Music in Austin

You can’t visit Austin without getting a taste of its wonderful live music scene. Austin has something for everyone – country, rock, jazz or blues – whatever you’re into, pick up a TimeOut and see who is playing where on the weekend you are in town. If you are spending the weekend in Austin, you’ll find live music in all of the following venues, if you’re visiting during the week, check their websites to see if there’s live music on the day(s) you’re visiting. The Continental Club on South Congress is one of the most popular and oldest venues, Antone’s is best for blues, and The Broken Spoke is great for two-step, The White Horse for country and then there’s the Red River Music District with venues like Stubb’s, Mohawk and Cheap Charlie’s.

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

11pm: Drinks at a Speakeasy

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

Sunday, 9am: Texas-style Breakfast

Austin is known for its Tex-Mex cuisine and breakfast tacos. The more tacos you can fit in your Austin itinerary, the better! For some of Austin’s best breakfast tacos, head to El Primo (2011 S 1st St); Veracruz All Natural (1704 E Cesar Chavez St), Juan in a million (2300 E Cesar Chavez St), Pueblo Viejo (1606 E 6th St) or Taqueria Mi Trailita (5301 Manor Rd).

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

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

11am: Kayaking on the Colorado River

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

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

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

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

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

2pm: Food Truck Time

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

48 Hours in Austin: Practical Information

  • Lyft and Uber were banned in Austin, but there are several similar rideshare options – like the Austin-based non-profit rideshare Ride Austin, or Fasten. Update 2018: Lyft and Uber are both back in Austin!
  • If you’re on a budget, take advantage of bus No 100 which brings you Downtown from the airport in less than half an hour for only $1.75 (you’ll need exact change). A taxi, in comparison, is around $30.
  • The best way to get around if you don’t have a car and don’t want to rely on car sharing services is the B-cycle bike sharing program.
  • Austin’s public transportation system is pretty decent though, and a 24-hour bus pass is only $2.50 (a single ride is $1.25).
  • GoogleMaps directions worked well to show me bus routes and schedules, but you can also download the CapMetro app for the most accurate information and to buy tickets via the app.

48 hours in Austin

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Polaroid Of The Week: Snowy New York City

Polaroid of the week

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

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

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

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

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Twelve Essential Restaurants You Need To Visit In San Francisco

In Situ The Forest_Mauro Colagreco_Mirazur

San Francisco is one of the most popular cities to visit in the U.S. – and not only because of the Golden Gate Bridge or its iconic Cable Cars, but also for its diverse food scene. From Mexican and Central American food to Chinese restaurants and authentic Italian cuisine – there is nothing you can’t get in San Francisco. Since there are literally hundreds of restaurants you could go to, I’ve selected ten restaurants you shouldn’t miss on a visit to San Francisco. Of course there are dozens of others that are also worth visiting – so don’t see this as an ultimate guide, but rather as an ‘appetizer guide’ to get you started. This is the 2017 edition – 12 restaurants that are worth including in your San Francisco itinerary. Some of these restaurants have risen to fame in recent months or are brand new and buzz-worthy, others are all-time San Francisco classics, and then there are a couple of fine dining gems.

Chicory, dickory, dock. It’s pizza o’clock.

A photo posted by Pizzeria Delfina, est. 1998 (@pizzeriadelfina) on

Without further ado: Twelve essential restaurants you need to visit in San Francisco:

1 Best Burritos: La Taqueria

The Mission District is a mecca for foodies – thanks to its large Latino population, you find a myriad of Mexican, Latin American and Central American eateries here, and to choose a place for a burrito can be overwhelming. I suggest La Taqueria, which was recently awarded the title America’s Best Burrito. Head there to find out if they deserve this recognition, but the continuously great reviews and long lines speak for themselves. What makes the burritos here special is the fact that they don’t have rice. Instead, the flour tortillas are filled with pinto beans, meat, and toppings that include salsa, guacamole and hot sauce.

Tip: Order your burrito dorado and it will be seared on the plancha until it is crispy on both sides.

Address: 2889 Mission District Street

Voted best burrito in America, or something like that. #lataqueria #missionburrito #burrito #corona #sanfrancisco

A photo posted by Lyndsey Kaplan (@kappiekap) on

Honorary mention: El Castillito (136 Church Street, Castro). What’s special about them is that they melt the cheese inside of the tortilla.

2 Best tacos: Taqueria Cancun

Taqueria Cancun is one of San Francisco’s most popular taco places and has now three locations (in the Mission, SoMa and Bernal Heights) for a reason. It is famous for its tacos al pastor and carnitas. The tacos are loaded with meat, fresh avocado, salsa and sour cream. If you’re in the mood for a burrito, you’re at the right place too. Their Al Pastor Super Burrito is super yummy and super filling.

Address: 3211 Mission Street between Valencia Street and Fair Avenue, 1003 Market Street between Golden Gate Avenue and Taylor Street, 2288 Mission Street between 18th and 19th Streets

Honorable mentions: The Carne Asada Super Taco Dorado at La Taqueria (see above); the  carne asada and al pastor taco at Taqueria Vallarta (3039 24th St)

3 Best Pizza: Delfina’s

Delfina’s has been going strong for 17 years and has so many loyal local fans that it has now two locations in the city: in the Mission and in Pacific Heights. If you try one of their pizzas, you’ll understand why. The intention of the owners, Annie and Craig Stoll, was to bring Neapolitan-style pizza to the Bay area, and that’s exactly what they did. The pizzas are thin and delectable, chewy and crisp, and the crust is absolute perfection!

Tip: If you’re not too keen on pizza, try their signature spaghetti or their fresh burata. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

Address: 3621 18th Street (Mission), 2406 California Street (Pacific Heights)

 

4 Best Burgers: 4505 Burgers & BBQ

4505 is known for its quarter-pound grass-fed beef pattys, which come from a California farm near the Oregon border. Especially the cheeseburger gets a lot of praise (topped with Gruyère cheese and served on a buttery, crisp sesame- and scallion-topped bun with a secret sauce) – it was voted as one of the 33 best burgers in all of America and the best burger in California.

Tip: As the name indicates, 4505 does not only serve burgers, but also BBQ fare: the brisket and the pulled pork are well worth trying, too. Another beloved item on the menu is the Frankaroni (a fried mac-and-cheese-and-frankfurter patty).

Address: 705 Divisadero Street (at Grove Street)
4505

Honorary mention: Super Duper Burger (six locations in San Francisco), Gott’s Roadside in the Ferry Building, and the grass-fed burger at Nopa (see #6)

5 Best Ice Cream: Bi-Rite Creamery

In the summer months, the long line outside Bi-Rite Creamery can be intimidating, but trust me, the ice cream is worth the wait. You’ll notice that it is much creamier than other ice creams, and that’s because they use a higher ratio of cream to other ingredients than other ice cream parlors.

Flavors range from tasty creations such as Salted Caramel, Crème Brulee, Blue Bottle Coffee, Black sesame with Sonoma honey, Orange Cardamom, Turmeric & Ginger with Candied Lemon Zest, Earl Grey, Birthday Cake with Chocolate Cake and Rainbow Sprinkles. But the true show stoppers are the Sundaes. My pick: The Afternoon Snack which has roasted banana ice cream, home-made graham crackers, caramel sauce and whipped cream.

Address: 3692 18th Street, Mission District and 550 Divisadero Street

@pp_amanda112 ^^

A photo posted by Karthik Ramgopal (@karthikrgbits) on

 

6 Best For A Decadent Brunch: Nopa

Nopa is one of the Top 20 restaurants in San Francisco, and in a city with well over 4,000 restaurants, that’s saying something! Most people come here for the wood-grilled burgers (see #4) and the pork chop, but I recommend coming for a decadent brunch. It’s not the cheapest place for brunch (or dinner), but it is money well spent. Whatever you order, make sure that you also get an order of the Custard French Toast (they also have half orders) – you’ll thank me later. You can’t go wrong with any of the other dishes either – they are all finger licking good. Try the Butter Basted Eggs with Tasso Spiced Ham, Soft Polenta, Brussels Sprouts, Romesco and Parmesan Reggiano for example, or the Green Chorizo with Pinto Beans, Red Rice, Braised Greens, Feta and a Poached Egg. Definitely order a brunch cocktail with your dish – they are amazing.

Honorary mention: Zuni Café, see #8

Address: 560 Divisadero Street

A closeup of a fundamental brunch item from @thewongway. Indeed it is hard to go wrong with this French toast.

A photo posted by nopa restaurant (@nopa_sf) on

 

7 Best Fine Dining: Aster

Aster is currently one of the – if not THE best place for an exquisite dining experience in San Francisco. Rewarded with 1 Michelin star, chef Brett Cooper cooks up his artful, inventive creations in a quiet corner of the Mission District, combining ingredients you wouldn’t normal think go together but that end up complementing each other extraordinarily well. I recommend ordering the tasting menu which is at $65 (additional wine pairing $36) very reasonably priced. With four options for each course, you still get to personalize your dinner, or you can order a la carte (main dishes start at $27.)

Address: 1001 Guerrero St., Mission District

Brassicas, citrus, lemongrass sabayon, espelette #astersf

A photo posted by @brettmichaelcooper on

 

8 Best New Restaurant: In Situ

In Situ is a new fine dining venue inside the recently re-opened San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, SFMOMA, and chef Corey Lee, who received three Michelin stars, has curated a menu of dishes to which over 80 chefs from all over the world contributed. Since opening in June 2016, the restaurant has already received a ton of praise, including a huge praise from the New York Times who declared it the best new restaurant in the country. There couldn’t be a better spot for In Situ than inside an art museum, because the restaurant itself can be seen as an art installation. The flavors of the (currently) 15 dishes on the menu are as spread out across the globe as the chefs are who contributed to the remarkable menu. Sophisticated eaters will appreciated being taken on a culinary journey that includes dishes from famous international chefs such as Virgilio Martínez of Lima’s Central, David Chang of Momofuku in New York, or René Redzepi of Copenhagen’s Noma.

Address: Inside the SFMOMA, 151 3rd Street

In Situ Carrot, Sour Curd, Pickled Pine_Matt Orlando_Amass

9 Best For A Date Night: Zuni Cafe

The popular Market Street bistro is perfect not only for a date night, but for pretty much any occasion. The space is just as charming as the food is tasty. If you’re planning to come here, make sure to book a table in advance. The roast chicken is the dish that stands out here, but the burger is also regularly named as one of the best burgers in the city (served on grilled rosemary focaccia). Still, the chicken for two roasted in the brick oven, served with a warm bread salad, is unforgettable. If you’re not in the mood for a big meal, it’s also worth popping in here for some oysters and a cocktail at the bar.

Address: 1658 Market Street

 

10 Best Breakfast Sandwich: Devil’s Teeth Baking Company

First of all, Don’t expect a proper sit-down place when you head to Devil’s Teeth Baking Company. Do expect long lines, especially on weekend mornings. Come hungry and bring patience and you’ll be rewarded with one of the best breakfast sandwiches of your life. The biscuit-topped breakfast sandwiches are super filling, and you can choose between the classic bacon-egg-and-cheese ($5.50) and the more extravagant version with scrambled eggs, thick applewood smoked bacon, pepper jack cheese, avocado, and lemon-garlic aioli ($6.75).

Tip: If you come on a Sunday, you’ll get to enjoy the delectable $1 beignets.

Address: 3876 Noriega Street, (near Ocean Beach)

 

11 Best For Something Different: State Bird Provisions

State Bird Provisions made headlines around the country when it opened in 2012 and was promptly rewarded the title ‘Best New Restaurant in America in 2012’ – and that’s because of its very own take on the concept of dim sum. Self-described as ‘a restaurant without any programmed elements’, State Bird Provisioins serves dim sum-style ‘provisions’, or bite-sized portions of California fare with a Japanese touch. Don’t expect dumplings here – instead, you’ll get specialties like smoked trout-pickled onion ‘chip & dip’; or sourdough, sauerkraut, pecorino & ricotta pancakes; or curry roasted cauliflower with smoked date purée and pistachio. The ‘provisions’ are served dim sum–style on rolling carts, but there are also ‘Pancakes’ and ‘Commandables’ – the latter two served as à la carte items.

The Michelin star is well-deserved, but made it nearly impossible to snatch up a reservation on short notice. One thing you need to know if you’re planning to eat here: make your reservation well in advance, or you’ll be in line for up to two to three hours, especially on weekends (not kidding). But on the upside, the fabulous seats at the chef’s counter are set aside for walk-ins.

Address: 1529 Fillmore Street

Black butter roasted figs with Wagon Wheel cheese fondue and balsamic. @cowgirlcreamery #getfigged #lucious

A photo posted by state bird provisions (@statebirdprovisions) on

 

12 Best Oysters: Leo’s Oyster Bar

Leo’s Oyster Bar is worth a visit for its retro 70s atmosphere alone – resembling a Golden Era oyster bar that is split up in a ‘Dining Room’ and a ‘Champagne Room’. In addition to a large variety of oysters, you can get clams, lobster rolls, crab legs, crab cakes, mussels and a selection of divine cocktails. The oysters carbonara and the deviled egg with fried oyster on top come highly recommended, and Mr Nicholas’ Liquid Lunch – a vodka or gin martini served with pickled vegetables and olives – gives you the perfect excuse for a midday drink. And since the bar is located in the Financial District, close to many San Francisco hotels, you’re likely to walk by Leo’s Oyster Bar at some point anyway – so make sure to check it out, the decor alone is worth a cheeky drink and some oysters. Tip: There’s not just one bar at the back, but two, so don’t stop at the first door.

Address: 568 Sacramento Street (between Montgomery and Sansome), FiDi

Leo's Oyster Bar

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5 Epic Girls’ Getaway Destinations in California

redondo beach california

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

1 A Beach Getaway in Orange County

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

2 A Spa Weekend in Palm Springs

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

 

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

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3 A ski weekend in Lake Tahoe

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

ski mountain

4 Wine tasting in Sonoma County

I love Sonoma County – the small towns, the Redwoods, the 425 wineries. I’ve found the scenery to be just as picturesque as Sonoma Wine Country’s more famous neighbor, Napa Valley, but less pretentious. In fact, I wrote an entire guide for a perfect girls getaway to Sonoma County! A weekend filled with wine tastings in different wineries is the perfect getaway for wine loving girls like me, and a lot of ladies have become interested in a girls getaway in California that includes wine after watching “Wine Country” on Netflix. If you base yourself in Santa Rosa, don’t miss Paradise Ridge Winery (right on the outskirts of town) with its beautiful sculpture garden (Marijke’s Grove) and sweeping views over the valley.

 

Head over to Guerneville and spend some time in the Russian River – Johnson’s Beach is perfect for canoeing, kayaking, and other water sports. Take a break from wine tasting and go for a hike in the Armstrong Redwoods. If you base yourself in Healdsburg, you’re in for a treat: not only does the charming small town sit on the juncture of three prime wine growing regions — the Russian River Valley, Dry Creek Valley, and Alexander Valley wine appellations, but it also known for its excellent dining options and fabulous art galleries.girls getaway california

5 Art & Shopping in Venice Beach

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

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Polaroid Of The Week: The Insane Christmas Lights In Dyker Heights, Brooklyn

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week usa new york city brooklyn dyker heights christmas lightsI couldn’t go home to Germany for Christmas without stopping in New York en route to Europe! I hadn’t been in my adopted home in months, was eager to catch up with friends, and, most importantly: enjoy the Holiday Season in New York, because everybody knows that Christmas in the Big Apple is magical. Last year, when I spent the entire month of December in New York, I had so many plans for my 1st NYC Holiday Season: go ice skating, visit the Christmas markets around the city, see the Christmas window displays on 5th Avenue, marvel at the legendary Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, and see the famous Dyker Heights Christmas lights. Well, somehow I didn’t manage to fit in everything on my list last year – I never went ice skating and I never made it down to Dyker Heights in the south of Brooklyn, which isn’t the easiest place to get to.

Even though I had less time than last year during my brief visit this month I was determined to make up for it, and not only did I go ice skating in Bryant Park (which was fabulous!), but I also went all the way to Dyker Heights to take in the elaborate Christmas lights there. I am not sure how it started, but there are a few blocks in a residential neighborhood there whose residents go completely bonkers with their Christmas light decorations. Now it has become so famous that bus loads of people arrive there every day (really, you can take a Dyker Heights Christmas lights bus tour!) to see this spectacle for themselves – apparently, more than 100,000 (!) people make their way to Dyker Heights every December! The lights been featured on the news, and every year, all sorts of publications run stories about these Christmas light displays.

Apparently, the residents who are participating in the Christmas light craze aim to make people feel the spirit of Christmas and have been doing so since the 1980s. Over the past few years though, since international media began reporting on this ‘phenomenon’, the lights have become crazier and crazier. As I was slowly walking up and down the streets that have the most intricate decorations, I couldn’t believe the extent of this annual tradition – the extravaganza was beyond my expectations and even though I think they are a little over-the-top, the Dyker Heights Christmas lights put a smile on my face and I know I’ll be back to see them again – hopefully next year.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

 

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