Top Three Things to See in Santa Monica

Before I say this, promise not to judge me.

Do we have a deal? Awesome! 

img_8817Here it comes…. I never liked LA.

Between the traffic and superficial vibe, I was pretty sure the only thing it had going for it was In-N-Out.  Don’t get me wrong — that was enough to keep me coming back.  Who doesn’t love their fries animal style?

That was all before I experienced Santa Monica. In the short time I had there, it completely changed my perspective.  I am now a true Cali fan for life.  From the Mexican food to the sandy beaches, I loved it all, but here are a few of my favorites.


Venice Beach

We all know I love a good beach, but Venice Beach was more than just a great patch of sand.  It had an energy like no other.  The people knew they were unique and owned it.  Everyone from skateboarders to artists came alive along the coast. 

We needed to be a part of it all so we rented bikes (highly recommend Jay’s Rentals) and spent the day working our way from one side of the boardwalk to the other.   We did everything from shopping to drinking coconut water while taking in the views.

With everything from body builders to painted palm trees, it is truly a scene to experience for yourself.

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Santa Monica Pier

The Pier brought me right back to my childhood.  With arcades, hot dogs, rides and even margaritas at Mariasol, the fun is endless.  

If you go at sunset, you’ll get a real treat.  The sky turns the most magical shade of orange as the day comes to a close.

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The Bungalow

Nestled among the trees, you completely forget that you’re between a busy road and a massive hotel while you’re sipping your cocktails at the Bungalow.  My favorite bar of the trip, it’s classy without being pretentious. Trendy while still feeling welcoming and quaint.   

If you’re looking for a place to unwind after a day on the beach, it will be perfect for you.


So apparently my opinions can be swayed — you just have to be as amazing as Santa Monica.

How to Plan the Ultimate Day Trip to Capri

Though I may not be Italian by blood, I am certainly Italian by heart.

Visiting the Amalfi Coast convinced me as much.

It took me no time at all to immerse myself in their way of life.  Espresso in the morning.  Friendly banter with the locals.  Gelato midday.  Aperitifs in the afternoon (oh the aperitifs). Carb load at dinner.  Wash, dry, repeat.

And what’s more Italian than a day trip to Capri?  If you happen to get so lucky, here’s what not to miss.


Boat Tour

IMG_0036.jpgThe only way to get to Capri is by boat.  Sure, you could take a ferry with crowds of people and get there as quickly as possible, but then you’d miss so much of the island’s character. 

Why not reserve a spot on a semi-private charter boat with a local boat captain, meet six to eight new friends and catch all the landmarks along the way?

You’ll even get to navigate through the natural caves, referred to as grottos, as their blue waters are illuminated by the sun’s reflection.  Each is uniquely its own.  The Blue Grotto is probably the most well known, but the Green, White and Red Grottos are equally as awe-inspiring.

IMG_0038.jpgThe tour also brings you by I Faraglioni — a natural stone archway that stands as yet another testament to mother nature’s magic in this area.  Legend has it that if lovers kiss under this arch they will have a lifetime of happiness together.  I am not superstitious but even I was sure to sneak a smooch from bad as we passed below.

Note: We used Blue Star Positano, who I highly recommend.  You can book them through Viator.


Funicular

Once you make it to the island, there are couple ways to make your way up to the center of town.   One that is really unique is the funicular.

You travel directly through the lemon groves in a cable car that climbs uphill and ends at the Piazzetta.

It’s not only the fastest route but has the most spectacular views.


Gelato

IMG_0042.jpgWalking around with a waffle cone in hand is not optional. 

Since I really don’t think Italians know how to make a bad dessert, you’re probably fine stopping at any gelateria along your route. 

However, our absolute favorite was the hazelnut gelato at Buonocore Gelateria.  If you happen to pass by, you should check it out.  I also hear they have amazing pastries if you’re not an ice cream person (though I can’t imagine such a person exists).


Anacapri

Any good day trip includes some quality shopping, so after your gelato, jump on a bus and make your way to Anacapri. 

This area is a bit less crowded than Capri and offers a quieter, more authentic island experience.  There’s everything for boutique stores with luxury items to small, artisan vendors willing to make you custom leather sandals (for a price, of course). 

Once you’ve had your fill of shopping, be sure to take the chairlift up to Mount Solaro and catch the amazing views.


You could certainly spend a full weekend in Capri, but if you only have 24 hours, I say make the most of it!

Baecation Days: Porto, Lisbon and Algarve, Portugal

The Best of Both Worlds in Portugal: From Cities Streets to Sandy Beaches

I am a beach bum.  Give me a lounge chair, some sand between my toes and time to work on my tan, and I am content for days on end. 

But bae is more about that urban life.  After just a couple hours of sitting still, he is itching to get moving.  He prefers wandering city streets where he can explore the country’s history and culture with a more hands on approach.

The good news is we both appreciate the other’s tastes.  I still love a good city adventure and he finds his own ways to stay busy in beach towns.  We have no problem compromising, he gets Copenhagen in August and I get Fiji in December. Win. Win.

But sometimes, the worlds align and we find a destination that offers the best of both worlds.  Cue Portugal. 

When we went a couple years ago, we spent a week working our way south from Porto to Algarve taking in everything the country had to offer.

Here’s how we found the perfect balance between sun, sand and cityscapes in Portugal.


Porto

Porto was the first stop on our journey through Portugal and it remains a big reason the country has stolen our hearts.

Nestled on the northwest coast of Portugal, Porto has a charm unlike any other.  Trekking up hill on the city’s narrow cobblestone streets, you can’t help but feel like you’ve gone back in time.

Though I could have stayed for weeks, 48 hours was more than enough time to experience Porto’s main attractions.

Our favorites were:

  • The Cais da Ribeira — We spent almost every meal sitting along the banks of the River Douro enjoying local cuisine and sharing pitchers of sangria made with local Port wine. The city truly comes alive in this area with street performers, tourists and locals alike enjoying the laid back vibe down by the river banks. 
  • The Ponte de Dom Luis I – Trust me when I say admiring this bridge from afar just doesn’t do it justice.  Be sure to take the walk over and enjoy the views of the River Douro from both sides.  It can be a bit of a hike up to the bridge but it is worth it. 
  • Funicular dos Guindais — If you want to make the journey to the bridge a bit less burdensome, you can always jump on the Funicular dos Guindais.  The ride up in the glass enclosed cable car boasts unparalleled views of the city and costs only 2.50 euros.
  • Clerigos Tower — Another great place to view the city from above is Clerigos Tower.  Again, the climb up is a bit strenuous, but once you reach the top the views will take your breath away.
  • Palacio da Bolsa – Also known as the stock exchange palace, Palacio da Bolsa is an impressive structure inside and out.   
  • Rail Station Sao Bento — Sao Bento, the city’s active train station, is also home to some of the most beautiful mosaics in the country.  There is no charge to enter and learn all about the city’s past as depicted through the station’s traditional Portuguese tiling.
  • Wine tours — Of course you have to check out some Port wine while you are there.  Our favorite was Churchill but there are plenty to choose from.
  • Yeatman  If you need somewhere to relax after all that walking, climbing and sightseeing, the Yeatman is your place.  With private baths and a world-class spa, you’re sure to leave completely recovered and ready for another day of exploring. 

Lisbon

Though the our next stop was another city, this one was uniquely its own.  In contrast to Porto, Lisbon is much more modern and trendy with the metropolitan feel you’d expect from a large European city.   We enjoyed the laid back atmosphere in Lisbon and found a lot we loved about the city.

  • Alfama — Charming narrow allies lined with craft stores and cafes lead through to amazing views of the Largo das Portas do Sol.  Even the old buildings add to the area’s character and draw tourists from near and far.
  • Bairro Alto – The “it” party spot for college kids, Bairro Alto is a vibrant neighborhood filled with bars and restaurants. The streets are quite literally filled with young people mingling and enjoying the vibe. If you’re looking for some nightlife, this is the place for you. 
  • Belem – A bit of a bus ride outside of the city center, there is plenty in Belem to see and do.  You won’t regret the time investment getting out there. While you’re there don’t miss Jerónimos Monastery, Padrao dos Descobrimentos or Santa Maria de Belem Church – all are true testaments to Lisbon’s rich history.  Before you head back, be sure to refuel with some delicious pastel de natas at Pasteis de Belem. They are famous for them.

Algarve

After five days of maneuvering cobblestone, hoofing up narrow hills and climbing hundreds of stairs, this beach bum was ready for a lounge chair and a fruity cocktail. 

Algarve did not disappoint. 

There was not only sand, sun and waves galore, but the views of the cliffs along the coast were like a scene from a postcard.

To be honest, we spent most of our time in Algarve relaxing by the pool and beach, which was exactly what we needed.  However, here are some highlights from the brief moments we were awake between our sun-induced slumbers.

  • Pine Cliffs Hotel — This Starwood hotel was absolutely gorgeous.  From the picturesque outdoor dinning to the views from the glass enclosed elevator that takes you down to the beach, every detail was designed to showcase the natural beauty of the area.
  • Downtown Albufeira — A great place to reassimilate into society after secluding yourself to the beach, Albufeira is full of bars, restaurants and souvenir shops.  We spent a night there enjoying everything from our piri piri sauce to people watching.

Whether you’re looking for sand and surf or cobblestone and culture, Portugal should be on your list. It’s got something for everybody.

Going Bae-Less – Five Fabulous Finds for a Girls’ Weekend in Burlington and Montreal

Every once in a while you need to break free from bae and catch up with your besties.

Last weekend was one of those times.

A few weeks back, I was chatting with two of my best friends, Elise and Sarah, about how we desperately needed an escape.  We all had a lot going on in our personal and professional lives, and we really wanted to get out of the country for a bit. 

While getting too far out the country seemed a little aggressive given we had just a couple weeks to plan and limited budgets, we all agreed that a road trip to Canada was totally doable!

We settled on Montreal as our final destination since we all have a special place in our hearts for Burlington, V.T. which is a couple hours south of Montreal and would be directly on our route.   Plus, by stopping in Burlington on the way from Boston to Montreal, the drive is a bit more bearable – making it possible to leave the country without the costly airline ticket.     

It was the perfect choice! We spent the weekend stuffing our faces, partying with the locals and exploring two great cities all while relishing in some quality time with the girls.

Here were a few of our favorite finds.


IMG_8602.jpgMagic Hat Brewery 

So apparently I like breweries – so much so that I’ve mentioned one in every Baecation Days post so far.  Nonetheless, I have to talk about Magic Hat.  It is one of my all-time favorites, and with its funky, psychedelic vibe and neon signage all over the walls, it’s the perfect place to hang out and taste a bunch of great beers.

They offer free guided tours in the afternoon (check their site for exact times) but you can also do a self-guided tour at any time.  I’ve done both and you really can’t go wrong either way.  Their employees (tour guides and bartenders included) are super laid back, friendly and knowledgeable.  

The best part is the free samples (of course).  They’ve got 10 or so beers on tap at a time, and I am yet to find one I don’t like.

Also, get this, the brewery is DOG-FRIENDLY so bring your four-legged friends along for the trip!


Penny Cluse Cafeimg_8609

By now you also know I love to eat.  So when a local friend offered to take us to her favorite brunch spot in Burlington, we were most definitely in.

Located in a colonial house turned café, Penny Cluse provides a cozy, homey place to settle in for a brunch full of comfort food.

I ordered the “Penny Cluse” or, as I like to call it, the best eggs, biscuits and gravy I’ve ever experienced.  The portions are huge too.  Thankfully, I had a local there to suggest that Elise and I share.  It was perfect for two! Everyone at the table raved about their meal and left fully satisfied.

Plan for a pretty long wait but trust me – its worth it!  You can even visit their sister cafe, Lucky Next Door, while you wait.  Order a coffee or latte and they’ll let you take it back to your seat at Penny Cluse when your table’s ready. 


IMG_8720.JPGNotre-Dame Basilica

Not everything I do revolves around eating and drinking (although it’s always a plus if it can be incorporate somehow). Sometimes, I do experience a city’s culture by visiting pieces of their history.

In the case of Montreal, Notre-Dame Basilica is a huge piece of that history.

The basilica speaks for itself.  The city’s oldest Catholic church and first in the Gothic Revival style is truly awe-inspiring with intricate designs in deep colors.

The stain glass windows, which tell the story of the early Ville-Marie settlement, are particularly breathtaking.

But what’s most impressive about Notre-Dame is that Celine Dion got married there in 1994. I am kidding of course, but it is an interesting piece of trivia.


IMG_8714.JPGOld Port and Rue Saint Paul

Only a couple blocks from Notre-Dame, Old Port is by far my favorite area in Montreal.  With cobblestone, cafes, small souvenir stores and scenic views of the Saint Lawrence River, you truly feel as though you’re walking down the streets of Europe.

With my maple latte in hand, I could have spent all day wandering in and out of the shops that line Rue Saint Paul. But if walking isn’t your thing, there are also horse drawn carriage rides available by the water – something I definitely would have talked bae into if we were there for a romantic getaway.


IMG_8707.jpgPOUTINE!

You can not go to Montreal without having poutine.

Okay, you could but why would you want to?

Most places have some version of poutine on their menu, so if you’re feeling ambitious you could even try a couple styles (you know purely for the sake of comparison).

We got one at a sports bar on our way out of the city.  It definitely hit the spot, but I hear there are a few places that would have been life changing.  Next time I am trying Vices et Versa for sure!


All in all girls’ weekend was a welcome reprieve from work and we are already planning our next one.  Where should we go?  Tell me in the comments section.