Full disclosure: I went to Nashville, Tennessee because I am a super fan of CMT's hit TV series Nashville. I pictured myself writing a song with Scarlett, Gunnar and Avery just before heading over to see Deacon Claybourne perform at The Bluebird Cafe. I'm sure it's obvious at this point, but I took The Nashville TV Show Tour. As I entered the tour bus, Ed, my driver and tour guide acted like he wondered why I would take such a silly tour. Turns out, he should apply for an acting role on the damn show as he was an even bigger fan than I. He knew every plot, subplot, twist, turn, broken relationship and lost story line that the show had ever written. He also dropped Season 5 spoilers without warning (I was not there yet, Ed!).
Anyway, it may have been the TV show that brought me to Nashville, but it is the music, vibrant neighbourhoods, BBQ'ed everything and July 4th fireworks that will bring me back...oh, and also the Nashville Pedal Tavern. Here is a list of my favourites:
1. The Ryman Auditorium: You can visit this historic theater for a self or guided tour, to see a show, or make your own record. I did a self-guided tour and particularly enjoyed "The Soul of Nashville" experience (Holograms provide you with an in-depth history of the auditorium).
2. The Bluebird Cafe: While in Nashville, I visited The Bluebird Cafe twice. The first time, I was able to meet the managers of the venue and hear about its amazing history. This stop was included in my Nashville TV Show Tour. I happened to get back to the tour bus a little earlier than the rest of the super fans, and Ed was all too happy to spoil some more episodes and plot lines for me. (*Spoiler Alert* I didn't know Scarlett was pregnant, Ed!)
As Ed drove us out of the parking lot and revealed the identity of Scarlett's Baby Daddy, I wished I had tickets to a real show at The Bluebird. I had unsuccessfully tried to buy tickets the entire week before my trip to Nashville. Later this day, however, I received a phone call from The Bluebird Cafe- there had been a cancellation and they were going to let me in! I was able to attend an In the Round with Adam James, Austin Jenckes, Bentley Caldwell and Zack Logan.
3. Boots and Hats: Adam James, one of the song writers from The Bluebird's In the Round, performed a song called Boots and Hats. So when in Rome...Buy some boots and hats!
4. The Johnny Cash Museum: This museum was filled with history, memorabilia and great music.
5. Walk Music Row: I loved strolling these streets. While here, you can also tour Historic RCA Studio B.
6. Visit the Restaurants and Shops in 12 South: This neighbourhood made for a great afternoon of coffee drinking, shopping and dining. I really enjoyed the farmer's market, The Frothy Monkey (Taylor Swift's coffee shop), Draper James (Reese Witherspoon's store) and The Flipside (Delicious chicken).
7. Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie Bar: This bar had delicious BBQ chicken and some fantastic music played by The Stacy Mitchhart Band.
Nashville, I'm sorry it took a soap opera TV show for me to get to you. I don't really need to watch it anymore (Thanks, Ed), but I do need to get myself back to Music City!
A few years ago in Florida, a little alligator snuck up on me. I was sitting on a dock looking for some manatees and an alligator popped his head up out of the water, right under the place my feet were dangling from. My feet were safely dangling 3 feet above the water...or so I thought. A simple Google search later told me that alligators can jump 6 feet into the air from a state of rest! Needless to say, I've been afraid of gators ever since.
In my most recent visit to the Sunshine State I decided it was time to face my alligator fears. I knew gator wranglin' was out of the question so, to overcome my fear, I decided to visit two alligator tourist attractions: First, I paid to enter a theme park that housed 150 alligators and second, I paid a scary man to crazily drive me around a swamp on an air boat to look for alligators (and snakes!). I think I can honestly say my fear of gators is a thing of the past.
Known as the "Alligator Capital of the World," Gatorland is located "on Hwy 441, just North of the Orlando-Kissimmee line in South Orlando." Tickets cost $26.99 for adults and children aged 3-12 are $16.99; however, you can save $3 a ticket if you order ahead online. Gatorland showcases snakes, gators (And lots of them!) and cranes and also offers a train ride around the grounds ($2 per rider), an alligator zip line and a gator wrestlin' show.
My time here showed me that alligators don't do too much; they seem to just like basking in the sun. I also went to the Gator Wranglin' show and well, it was just another day on the job for the employee who stuck his face in an alligator's mouth.
The second place I checked out was Camp Holly and it was definitely scarier than Gatorland. Not sure if it's because a) shirts and shoes were optional b) My driver only spoke to inform me that he was in the only safe seat of the boat or c) because I trusted Gatorland's gates and fences more than the open air separated me from the gators. We found approximately 20 alligators and this experience confirmed for me that they can in fact jump quite high from a resting position. Camp Holly is in Melbourne and a 40 minute ride around the St. John River costs $40.
My driver, in his safe seat:
Camp Holly made me realize that people are scarier than alligators.
Pictured below is the little fella that started my gator journey. If it weren't for this little guy, I never would have learned that some people will wrestle alligators for minimum wage; alligators can actually live in harmony with birds and that not all places require shirts and shoes.
Unfortunately, a new fear seems to have surfaced as a result of this trip and I will have to attempt to conquer it on my next adventure in Florida: The Waffle House.
Despite Drew Barrymore's warning to Seth Myers, "If you've ever taken your kid to Disneyland or Disney World, it all ends at some point in mayhem", I decided I needed to go to Disney World with my son (4) and daughter (1). My husband threw a wrench in these plans when he said, "I absolutely refuse to go." We met in the middle and decided that I would go on my own with the 4 year old, and he would hang by a Florida pool with the 1 year old. I clearly had the better deal; he disagrees.
I paid the $2000 something dollars to get my son and I into the park. I couldn't believe that after purchasing a couple of tickets online, I was given a FastPass and was allowed to choose any 3 attractions where we could bypass the line. I also had to make an account which helped me plan my day. It showed me the wait times for all of the attractions. I was immediately sucked in to this World of Disney that I have heard so much about.
When Drew says that your trip will end in mayhem, I assumed she meant it would have something to do with the behaviour of your kid. As it turns out, during my visit, it was my own mood that had a lot of ups and downs. For example, I had the time of my life on the Peter Pan attraction, but half an hour later when the food lineups were so long, I would have taken a chicken drumstick off of Mickey himself. My son only had one issue (Which I will get to later), but in the grand scheme of things, he had significantly less mood swings than I. Regardless, my day did end in chaos and disorder, so I now realize Drew just meant that one way or another, the day will literally end in mayhem. But for now, allow me to take you back to the beginning.
The morning of our visit, I was pumped; however, upon arriving, the line just to get on the ferry and the sheer number of people at the park brought my general mood back down to neutral (Or slightly annoyed). But, as we entered the gates to this view, I felt excited again:
Still pretty happy, we hopped onto Prince Charming's Regal Carrousel:
We used up 2 of our Fast Passes and checked into Monster's Inc. Laugh Floor and a meet and greet with Rapunzel and Princess Tiana. And this point of the day marks my son's only meltdown. Suddenly, he became afraid of princesses, so as it turned out, only I met Rapunzel and Tiana. My son met this exit door:
No problem; we only wasted a FastPass and a much better photo opportunity. From here, my son was back, but my mood worsened exponentially as I lost our stroller. We parked in front of The Magic Carpets of Aladdin (Or so I thought), and when we left the attraction through the exit, the stroller was no longer there (Which also contained our snacks, drinks and warm clothes). It was my son that eventually found our stroller (In front of the pretzel stand; a stop I forgot we made...).
Very happy again, we moved along to Tomorrowland Speedway. Once again, my mood quickly changed as I became fearful for my life- it appeared to be in the hands of a 4 year old driver.
After the ride, a consistently content mood stuck around as we had so much fun going from attraction to attraction: Astro Orbitor, Dumbo the Flying Elephant, It's a Small World (My son's favourite), and Peter Pan's Flight (My favourite). We went for dinner from here, and as previously mentioned, I became incredibly hangry.
As a side trip on a different day, my son and I also visited Disney's Art of Animation Resort so we could check out Lightning McQueen's Stomping Grounds. We loved the art and spending some time in Radiator Springs, but climbing the cars is not allowed- we found out the hard way.
All in all, we had a great day at Disney. If I could do it again, I would try to choose Peter Pan's Flight, The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Pirates of the Caribbean for my FastPass. Also, you can continue to book new FastPasses throughout the day, so it's best to time attractions closely together. I'm really glad I brought my stroller, but I wish I also thought to bring my own meals for the day. Oh, also, I wish I wasn't standing on a bridge with people trying to get by in both directions during the firework show. I also wish these people didn't push, shove and leave minor but multiple bruises on my arms. Besides ending in mayhem, it was pretty magical.
I was lucky to grow up with a grandmother who owned a mobile home in a senior's resort in Florida. As a child, I loved visiting her there, but knew I drove her friends crazy with my splashing, loud "Marco-Polo's", and grand jumps into the pool. My grandma would often dare me to "accidentally" bump into them during their daily aqua- aerobics. It was fun until Gladys "accidentally" clocked me one day.
Aside from pools and harassing the elderly, my childhood Floridan interests also included the Orlando area's theme parks and beaches. My only dislike was being dragged to shopping malls night after night. As an adult, my thoughts on Orlando have changed: 1) I no longer find joy in bothering others and 2) I enjoy trips to giant Target super centers way too much.
This post is a collection from over the years of my favourite things to do in Orlando.
1. Melbourne Beach I love Melbourne Beach and exploring the town of Melbourne
2. Coca Beach This beach has it all: shops, ice cream, food and views! It is also very close to the Kennedy Space Center, so I was able to fit both stops into one day.
3. The Kennedy Space Center: While here, I couldn't believe I was in a place where rockets actually launch! This center was inspiring, educational and fun!
4. Disney World Check out this post for some stories and pictures from my latest trip
5. Gatorland: Super scary. I wouldn't be hanging around if I was that crane. Just realizing that I paid to hang around in there...
6. Camp Holly I had a fantastic but terrifying day riding this boat around a gator swamp at Camp Holly. This post compares the Gatorland to Camp Holly.
7. Universal Studios I had such a great day here and my favourite attractions were Jaws and Jurassic Park. I need to get back for Harry Potter!
8. Busch Gardens This was one of my favourite day trips to make when I was that young, obnoxious child. I likely complained and asked "When are we going to get there?" the entire drive to Tampa.
On my most recent stay in Florida, I rented a home off of the nicest people in the world, Sarah and Ken. They were so helpful in planning or trip and genuinely wanted us to have a good time. And I mean that literally. Their home was decorated with signs like this:
Upon arriving, I read the signs and immediately responded "I know" and "Well I thought you'd never ask!" These two have an amazing blog about everything Orlando and if you're in the area, you should definitely check it out!
When my flight was on time, my seat on the plane included extra leg room, and there were great food and movie selections, I should have known something was bound to go wrong. Even when my luggage was first out on the conveyor belt, it still didn't hit me that my good luck was bound to run out. It was probably when there was no line up as I picked up my rental car that I should have really been nervous. Unfortunately, it happened the moment I hit the road, excited to begin my 6 day San Francisco to LA road trip: the rental car clicked, clacked, smoked...and then broke down. My road trip was not off to a good start.
The car breaking down isn't really what went wrong. As I mentioned earlier, the car literally broke down the moment I left the Hertz parking lot. What actually slowed me down was my (unsuccessful) attempt at negotiating a car upgrade due to this "major inconvenience." I guess Hertz is still in business for a reason.
Anyway, after getting on the road (again), I was headed to Mountain View. This little city is home to quaint streets, cute shops, restaurants, cafes and beautiful homes. What stood out to me more than anything though, was all of the technology I was seeing people around me using: little gizmos and gadgets, self-driving cars, Google glasses, drones in the parks and skateboarders were even controlling the board's direction through the movements of their heads. People were playing futuristic games everywhere I looked. What type of games, you ask? I have no idea. It was as if the locals of this city were all members of a secret club. I wanted in.
For dinner, we went to CasCal and shared some delicious pan-Latin tapas on a beautiful outdoor patio. Afterwards, we went to the Beirhaus for some tasty patio beers. There was a great selection of beer and they were served in giant mugs. Food and drinks were enjoyed by patrons on picnic tables in what felt like a neighbour's backyard patio....well, until I tried to talk to some people, that is. My attempt at conversation made me feel like I was actually a desperately unwanted and despised neighbour crashing another neighbour's backyard patio party.
The table to the left of us were playing cards, but the deck they were using was the size of an 8 1/2 by 11' sheet of paper. It appeared to be another one of those futuristic games! Desperate to learn about all of the fun I was missing out on, I asked them about this game they were playing. Unfortunately, there was no response; they all just looked around nervously at one another and then back at their cards. The continued playing the game in silence, as if I had never spoken. It made me wonder if they were forced to sign some sort of confidentiality agreement.
I decided that instead of staring at or asking about the activities strangers were engaged in, I would head over to the land of self-driving cars, Google Glass and probably giant cards too. At Mountain View's Googleplex campus, I was able to get an answers about technologies like a holodeck, and also learn why things like miniature swimming pools, volleyball courts, slides, a giant dinosaur eating flamingos, and a restaurant without bills were at a workplace. The experience may also have been the highlight of my life.
Upon the conclusion of my Google tour, I was a little embarrassed to get back into my car and actually drive it myself to Carmel. Feeling bummed out to be leaving the Silicon Valley suburb and The Future, I decided to pay $17 to access the 17-mile Drive to get there. The $17 includes a map of the drive and it outlines 21 points of interests with descriptions of each (My favourites listed were The Lone Cypress, The Ghost Tree and The Lodge at Pebble Beach).
The conclusion of the 17-Mile Drive ends right in Carmel by the Sea which is a stunning beach town. At sunset and sunrise, dolphins jump and play along the beach's shoreline. Aside from great beach walks and views, this town is full of great restaurants, pubs, shops and beautiful beach homes. My new plan in life is to invent something in Mountain View and buy a beach house in Carmel.
The locals were very friendly and keen to share the best places for food, drinks, music, apparel and even crazy hats (The latter reco came from the owner of The Carmel Hat Company). I was sad to leave this little town, but time was of the essence and the Bixby Bridge and Big Sur were waiting. Part 2 of this road trip covers the windy roads of Route 101, and Big Sur's hiking trails, terrifying mountain lions and friendly deer. In the meantime, feel free to leave your favourite things to do in Mountain View and Carmel in the comment section for others to see!
The owner The White Rabbit (A store entirely based around Alice in Wonderland) basically kicked me out of Carmel. I was browsing his beautiful shop and he struck up a conversation with me. He asked about my trip and where I was headed next. When I answered "Big Sur", he took the Cheshre Cat t-shirt I intended to purchase out of my hand and told me to get into my car and go. It was as if I was late, for a very important date. He said Big Sur was the most beautiful place in the world. I couldn't imagine a place being any nicer than Carmel, so I took this local's advice and got moving. The only thing that might have made the drive there better would be if I was wearing that Cheshire cat shirt.
We stayed in a cabin in Big Sur Lodge in Preiffer Big Sur State Park, "which is situated among redwood and oak trees." After we checked in, we hiked "Pfeiffer Falls trail that winds over rustic bridges across Pfieffer Redwod Creek a ends at a 60-foot high waterfall." As we reached the trail's entrance, I almost turned back. A sign warns hikers about Mountain Lions and mentions that they are particularly drawn to children. Being a petite build at 5'1 and aware that Mountain Lions may not be able determine a human's age, this particularly scared me.
I don't remember much of the hike as I walked it in a constant state of fear and panic. Luckily, I have photos:
After our hike, I took a short drive to relax at Pfieffer Beach. When you get out of your car, you won't notice anything extra special about the place- there is a parking lot, some picnic tables and a change room. Take the short trail and as it ends, you will feel like you fell down a rabbit hole.
As if the beach didn't fill my daily quota of max'n and relax'n, I decided to do some more of it back at my cabin once the sun set. As I was sitting on my cabin's porch, I suddenly noticed 2 deer. I quietly ran into the cabin to grab my camera for a picture. I was back outside in seconds and silently followed the deer around to take pictures. In the midst of my photography sesh, a fellow cabin neighbour and porch-sitter who had been watching me for 10 minutes shouted over, "You don't have to worry about scaring them. Deer ain't afraid of people here."
Big Sur allows you to become fully immersed in nature and majestic scenery. It also makes you question if you are actually in Alice's mad Wonderland with wild flora and fauna, terrifying mountain lions, sneaky scenery changes and friendly deer. I definitely wouldn't be suprised to find a caterpillar smoking a pipe here.
I would move here if I could; wouldn't it be great to live in harmony with deer? Unfortuantely, I only had a few days left to get myself to L.A. and had to hit the road. The adventure continues with Part 3 in San Simeon, Hearst Castle and San Luis Obsipo.
The tail end of my road trip covers 3 places that were recommended to me: Hearst Castle, San Luis Obispo and the Santa Monica Pier. As I made my way to these 3 final stops, I was lucky enough to also cross paths with elephant seals, wine at Hearst's ranch and some great sights (Hot harbor surfer cops as well as the scenic views pictured below):
As I ventured toward San Luis Obispo, a beautiful 3 hour drive south of Big Sur, I planned a stop at Hearst Castle in San Simeon along the way. 2 simple signs on Highway One persuaded me to add a couple more destinations to my trip. The first sign that grabbed my attention was just north of Hearst Castle and mentioned elephant seals. To be honest, I had never heard of such a thing. Did these seals have trunks and tusks? Or were they simply elephants with flippers? I needed to find out.
As I searched high and low for this attraction, I heard some loud noises and noticed a packed parking area. I pulled over and walked down a short path to a beach filled with these giant creatures. As it turns out, they look more like seals...and I'm just not sure where or why the elephant part comes in. If I were asked to name them, I'd call them "Drunk Seals" as sleeping and wrestling is all they seemed capable of doing. These fighter drunks entertained me for a good half hour as they wrestled and rolled on one another in and out of the water.
As I attempted to get myself back on track and over to Hearst Castle, a second sign jumped out at me. This sign informed me that Hearst also had a ranch. I realized I was absolutely starving and quickly pulled into a parking lot on the west side of highway 1 (The other side of Hearst Castle). I enjoyed a delicious and affordable lunch (grass-fed beef), and a glass of "Lone Tree" Cab Franc, right on the ranch.
When I arrived to Hearst Castle, I stood in line to purchase tickets. Tickets cost $25 for adults and $12 for children aged 5-12. There was a list of tours to choose from (The Grand Rooms, The Upstairs Suites, kitchen and Cottages and an Evening Tour). I chose the Grand Rooms Tour as it is advertised as the best choice for 1st time visitors. The tour begins with a viewing of "Hearst Castle- Building a Dream" on a 5 story screen, which provides a biography on William Randolph Hearst and the history of the castle.
It may be a good idea to order tickets ahead of time off of their website. Because I neglected do this, had to wait 2 hours before I could take the tour. The castle itself is located 5 miles up a hill, so to get there, you have to take a shuttle. It is your ticket time that gets you on the appropriate bus.
When I finally got onto a shuttle, I was thrilled to learn that information about "the enchanted hill" and the castle would be narrated throughout the drive by Canada's own, Alex Trebek! As you ride up to the castle, Alex points out some beautiful coast line sights and old animal enclosures that used to be a part of Hearst's zoo on the hill.
Alex: These animals can still be seen roaming the property from the time of the zoo.
Me: What are zebras?
I didn't see any.
When we arrived at the top, we were greeted by a guide who could probably beat Alex in a round of Final Jeopardy. She showed us around the grounds that once hosted Charlie Chaplin and Franklin Roosevelt. To sum it up, I learned that Hearst was quite particular and cared a great deal about formal dinners, art, design, landscape and Heinz ketchup.
The tour of the castle made me think that money really just might buy happiness. Because of my shuttle difficulties, the castle was my third and final stop before reaching San Luis Obispo. If you have time, Morro Bay and Pismo Beach are 2 other places I would have loved to check out.
When I got to San Luis Obispo, I stayed at the San Luis Creek Lodge. This hotel was so charming and located very close to downtown restuarants and shopping. The hotel staff were very knowledgeable about the city and nearby wineries, hiking trails and markets. They were also incredibly helpful with directions. A stay here includes a delicious breakfast and they even had free movie rentals and popcorn ready for their guests.
I spent the afternoon walking along the creekside and stopping into shops in the downtown core. My favourite stop was The Just Looking Gallery as the work of a Canadian artist, Steve Thomas, caught my attention. His work concentrates on the Central Coast of California and I'd buy it all if I could.
I ordered a delicious pizza for dinner at Novo Resturant and was able to sit on a light-strung patio overlooking the creek. I also checked out Creekside Brewing (delicious) and Powell's Sweet Shop -- Each employee seriously knew their stuff about candy (delicious). I also went to Luis Wine Bar (delicious), and Bubblegum Alley, which is "estimated that nearly two million pieces of gum adorn the 70-foot-long alleyway off Higuera Street " (gross... but great, but gross).
I spent my free breakfast the next morning thinking about how I should have left myself more time in the trip for San Luis Obispo. Sad to be on my last day's drive back to L.A., I stopped at a beach in Malibu and the Santa Monica Pier (Sights of the hot surfer cops did cheer me up).
This was one of the best trips of my life and it definitely wasn't long enough. If you've ever done this road trip, please feel free to add some ideas, stops, tips or tricks in the comment section for others to see.
No one believes me when I tell them about my two fingered waiter in San Francisco with a mustache longer than Lombard Street. This server made it especially difficult for me to make my final meal selection as he raved about every item on the menu; in the end, I ordered a pasta dish. While I was eating the dinner, he pulled up a chair and asked me what I thought of the food. Next, he pulled out a knife and fork he brought for himself, and began eating off of my plate. I immediately told him I was finished as I quickly lost my appetite and couldn't get the fear of things turning into that Lady and the Tramp dinner scene. With pasta sauce dripping from his mustache, he asked if I would mind if he took my doggy bag home.
I'm not even sure this, uh, gentleman was the friendliest person I met during my stay in this city. Another day, my waitress took it upon herself to let me know that she was a newish member of a society of very liberal and open relationships. Learning from my experience with the two-fingered moustache man, I strictly limited my responses to this young lady: "yes," "no" and "what are your happy hour specials?" Unfortunately, I heard quite a bit more about the cult this waitress was in. I'll save the full story for a time when I have subscribers who pay a membership fee to this blog.
I did spend the first half of the trip exploring the city on my own, so it was a little comforting that strangers always seemed more than willing to talk and share...I also learned that I had sharing limits with strangers (food and TMI). The trip was incredible as there was so much to see and do in this beautiful city. So, if you're going to San Francisco, be sure to wear flowers in your hair...and check out some of my favourite sights and activities:
1. Pier 39 It had restaurants, shopping, entertainment and delicious wines from Napa and Sanoma. It also had a great view of Alcatraz...And I'm glad it did because it was the only one I got. I had planned on taking a tour of the prison, but did not know I would need to buy tickets in advance. If you are interested in going, avoid disappointment and purchase yours ahead of time here.
2. Rent Bikes and Ride Across The Golden Gate Bridge You can rent bikes in many places in the city, but I chose Blazing Saddles, right by Pier 39 so I'd have a nice ride over to the Golden Gate Bridge. The bike rental cost $5-$10 for a couple of hours.
3. Telegraph Hill For great views of the city, homes, gardens and even parrots, you can climb the 400 stairs of Telegraph Hill (Lombard and Telegraph Hill Blvd) . We paid an extra $10 to also climb to the top of Coit Tower. The view from the very to was pretty incredible, but you have to line up to look out the tiny windows. We also had to line up to get back down.
4. Lombard Street This street is one of the most crooked in the U.S. It is steep, curvy and hilly.
5. Vesuvio Cafe (255 Columbus Street) This historic bar is in North Beach that was a favourite of many Beat Generation celebrities. It is open from 8AM (6AM on weekends) until 2AM, 365 days a year.
6. North Beach Known as "Little Italy," this little pocket has some delicious Italian restaurants along Columbus Street. I can't guarantee your server won't join you for your dinner.
7. Chinatown I loved walking through Chinatown and really enjoyed eating at Floating Sushi Boat (700 Grant Street). I wish I could say I liked it for the food, but really, I think it was because I liked selecting the sushi I would eat off of a little boat that floated by my table. When I get back to this city, I will find DJ's vet clinic. #sanfranciscogoals
8. Shop in Union Square Called "San Francisco's Crown Jewel of shopping districts," it is not to be missed if you are a Becky Bloomwood. It is also a great place to plan lunch, dinner or coffee around as there are also many restaurants and coffee shops.
9. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) This museum is located on 151 Third Street and showcased an incredible number and variety of contemporary and modern art displays. Tickets range from $18-25; teens and children are free. If you know the date and time you want to go, you can skip the line and order tickets here.
10. The Painted Ladies You can find these homes on Steiner Street across from Alamo Square. We couldn't resist an old school, super happy, park picnic, Full House photo shoot in the park. When I go back, I'll have to pose as a Fuller House "She-Wolf" pack member, mid howl.
11. Haight and Ashbury I had always imagined what it would be like to grow up in the 60's, and the Haight invited me to be a flower child, if only for an afternoon. We strolled around vintage shops, coffeehouses and parks and spread some peace, love and happiness...and money. This stroll also caused us to be late for an event we had tickets for later that night. I don't think I'd make a very good hippie.
12. Golden Gate Park After leaving Haight and Ashbury, we checked out Golden Gate Park. We passed ponds, gardens, beautiful bridges, a carousel, a Japanese tea garden, Strawberry Hill, buffalo and some pretty peculiar people.
13. California Academy of Sciences: This museum is home to an aquarium, planetarium, bio dome and a natural history museum. On Thursday evenings the museum has a live DJ and serves drinks from 6-10PM. Admission is 21+, the cost is $15 per person and it feels truly amazing to pet a sting ray with a beer in your hand.
Your turn- Please share your favourite things to do and, if you met an interesting stranger, be sure to tell us about them in the comments sections below.
"You up for karaoke at Bill's Gamblin' Hall?" asked Stuart, a complete stranger I had connected with over the poor luck we were both having at the bar-top computerized blackjack money-stealing machines. My cards weren't great, but Stuart was making horrid moves and I wasn't convinced he even knew how to play the game. As he continued to throw his money away, we chatted and learned that we shared a strong love for karaoke, Elvis impersonators and the "Dealertainers" (Celebrity impersonators who also perform while dealing you your cards) at The Imperial Palace. Vegas was the perfect place for our budding friendship (More on Stuart later).
When my husband and I landed in Las Vegas, we grabbed a cab and the driver asked if we'd like to take the scenic route. Excited to be in a new city we said "Sure," not realizing it was double the price and that we would walk this "scenic route," AKA The Strip, our entire stay. Save yourselves and say no to the scenic route. This experience did foreshadow the outcome of my trip: people in Vegas like to take all of my money.
I arrived with a plan, but never seemed to quite accomplish anything. I guess what made the trip so great was that I would intend to do something, but either end up doing it way later or getting distracted by something completely different. For example, I had planned to walk to the New York, New York Hotel to ride the roller coaster, but for some reason ended up being photographed on a motorcycle, participating in a street magic show involving a corbra and then distracted by a giant fish tank.
I did eventually make it to the New York, New York roller coaster, but I'll get to that later. I've organized this post into things you can attempt to do in Vegas, before you become dead broke or completely distracted by something else. The topics I will cover are Things to See, Things to Do, Food and Drink, and How to Gamble for Free Drinks When You Have No Idea What You're Doing.
my favourite things to see
1. The Hotels: All of the strip's hotels are something to see. I think my favourites were Paris, The Luxor, New York and Caesar's Palace. We tried to do one thing at each casino to make sure we saw them all (For example, we checked out the flamingos at The Flamingo and did some underground shopping at Caesar's forum shops; somehow this led us to another distraction: We watched a really weird, but free "Fall of Atlantis" water fountain show). At the time, Excalibur was my worst nightmare because it was full of screaming children, but as I'm writing this now (Mom of 2 kids...and both scream), I suppose that's where I'd have to stay if I went back.
2. The Bellagio Fountains: Every half hour between 3-8PM, there is an amazing water show in front of the Bellagio.
3. Conservatory and Botanical Gardens at Bellagio: While you're in the area, stop in to see the Botanical Gardens. I didn't think I'd care much for this since I'm not a gardener (I've killed 2 cactuses), but I quite enjoyed the experience. If you've ever wanted to see an over the top garden, this would your chance.
4. Old Vegas I know you should never hop in the car with a stranger, but for some reason, I threw this rule out the window in Vegas. After an incredibly successful night of karaoke at Bill's Gamblin' Hall with Stuart (The fastest friend I've ever made) he offered to drive myself and my husband to Old Vegas the next night.* We hopped in his car for a great night on Freemont Street. My wallet would tell you differently but; apparently, the gambling odds were way better over here.
*Disclaimer: If, like us, you don't have a car in Vegas, taking an Uber might be the wiser choice.
5. The Impersonators
things to do
1. The New York, New York Roller Coaster: This bad boy can be found inside the hotel. A ride costs $14 or $25 for a day pass which might not be a bad idea. And if you're up for it, they'll also marry you here.
2. The Eiffel Tower Experience: Depending on your age and time of day, prices range from $10.50-$16.50 and you can ride to the top of the tower for a great view of the strip (Dang! I just realized I was suckered into paying once again for another scenic view of the strip...seriously, it was great though).
3. Catch a Cirque du Soleil Show
4. Shop: Like everything in Vegas, shopping is over the top and we did a lot of it, both on and off the strip. We really liked the Las Vegas North Premium Outlets and if you decide to go, you will pass the famous Vegas sign. It was a great chance to grab a pic.
5. Hit the Clubs
6. Hang Out Poolside: We spent some time every day hanging out by the pool. Drinks were pricey, but you can always make a deal with your bartender. The pools were well-kept, swanky and relaxing.
food and drink
This article, The Single Best Restaurant in Every Casino on the Strip, by Rob Kachelriess outlines some great eats and drinks. But, if you're on a budget, here is my list:
1. Jimmy Buffett's Margarittaville
2. Nine Fine Fishermen This pub is in New York-New York and they pour a mean Guinness
3. Buffet of Buffets: a 24 hour buffet pass can be used at Caesar's Palace, The Flamingo, Harrah's, Planet Hollywood and Rio. During the week, a pass costs $59.99 and $74.99 on the weekend, plus tax, per person. We pretty much used the buffets throughout our stay. Having so many different hotels we could eat at made it a great way to see more of them. We would start them around 7 or 8 PM and eat a late dinner. This way, we could have an early dinner the next day and get 4 delicious meals in.
WARNING: THIS LIST IS ABOUT TO GET PATHETIC
4. Convenience Stores: Snacks are way cheaper here and heck! You're allowed to drink on the streets! Grab a cocktail and get to the Bellagio fountain show!
5. Ellis Island Casino and Brewery: Once I hit rock bottom, I went to this little gem off the strip for a $3.99 steak and egg breakfast. While I waited for my breakfast, I took the opportunity to win it all back.
how to gamble for free drinks when you have no idea what you're doing
1. First of all, nothing in Vegas is free and don't ever forget it.
2. Be a female.
3. I played a few penny slot machines for a free drink, but found I received way better service at the roulette and black jack tables and the bar top computerized machines. At the bar top machines, I would put $10 in and play 50 cent rounds... I likely paid a lot of money for all of my drinks.
4. Even though the only luck I had gambling in Vegas was the odd free drink, it sure was fun. Check out this website for the 101 on gambling.
dedication to stuart and the dealertainers
Hubby and I spent our entire stay in Vegas with Stuart. Sadly, we lost touch and have since learned that the Dealertainers and our favourite Vegas karaoke venue (Bill's Gamblin' Hall) are no more. We will always have Elvis.
There is something for everyone here, so please share your tips, tricks and favourite distractions in the comment section to help others enjoy this hilarious and amazing city!
After landing in Los Angeles, I picked up the Mustang Convertible I obviously rented and was excited to talk about traffic routes for the next 5 days. My husband and I drove straight to the city from LAX (We took Route 1 to the 1-405 North) and checked into the W West Beverley Hills.
As we checked in, we told the W's concierge it was our first time in LA. Free of charge, she upgraded our room to a suite complete with huge windows overlooking the hills, a separate lounge and office area, walk in closets and a gigantic bathroom. We were instructed to call down to the front desk 2 minutes before we needed our car; that would give them enough time to have it out front and ready for us. I realized that I loved LA and could really get used to this glamorous lifestyle.
As promised, our car was out front waiting for us shortly after we called. We headed to the famous Chateau Marmont for dinner. I was already excited to visit this enchanted castle on the hill, but even more so after all of the special treatment I was receiving in this prestigious city. I began imagining myself being escorted by the hostess into a private nook of the restaurant (You know, safe from the paparazzi). I couldn't wait to sink into a large leather chair by a candle-lit table and gaze out at the garden terrace. I would listen to the sweet, soft sounds of live jazz music while I waited for my friends, Bradley Cooper and Scarlett Johansson to show up. The waitress would be sure to bring me a martini while I waited and the chef would greet me to introduce the custom menu that was created for our visit....
It's a very good thing I wasn't too accustomed to being treated like royalty. When we showed up, we learned that our reservations were not for the main restaurant, just for the bar. So we ate kobe burgers and french fries while tucked up to a bar top, but they still offered us valet parking.
Speaking of the valet parking; it was absolutely everywhere and I had serious withdrawal from it when I came home. I do wish I had read this article before I arrived: How to Use Valet Parking (Without looking like an idiot). Besides having someone else park and bring me my car at any and every opportunity presented to me (This includes a quick stop at In N' Out Burger), here is a list of the other things I enjoyed and recommend:
1. Hike the Hollywood Sign Trail Luckily, Francisco researched this trail before we arrived as it was actually a little difficult to find. He brought this very detailed map with instructions on it (It might be a good idea to print the map out as reception on the trail was hit and miss, so we couldn't always rely on our phones). Don't forget to bring at least 1.5L of water per person; you will need it.
We didn't see any rattlesnakes, but we did see a baby coyote, dogs dressed better than us and a great view from the top.
2. Walk along Hollywood Blvd to see the TCL Chinese Theatre, The Dolby Theatre, the Roosevelt Hotel and the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
3. Hollywood Bus Tour Like many celebrities before me, I did something embarrassing and am hoping the paparazzi didn't catch me: I took a TMZ bus tour. We basically drove around LA and were bribed with XL TMZ t-shirts to find and point out celebrities. I was so embarrassed to be on the bus, that I half-hoped someone would egg us. By the end of the ride, my bus mates had found Cameron Diaz, George Clooney and Malin Akerman lookalikes and I had less faith in humanity.
4. Embrace 90210 I felt like less of a loser back in my own car (And remember, it was Ford Mustang). Although Dylan's Porsche would have been a better ride, my inner 90's child was as content as could be driving through the streets of Beverley Hills, home of Ned's Peach Pit.
We stopped to look at the platinum fire hydrants, beautiful homes and the shops of Rodeo Drive. For dinner, we went to SUGARFISH for sushi and it was the best sushi I have ever had. The fish was so fresh and plated beautifully. As the waitress delivered our meals at staggered times, she would explain how they were made and how to eat the pieces. We were instructed to eat immediately; they do not wait until the entire table's food is ready before serving. They do not take reservations, but we only had a short wait for a table. We each chose 3 items from their "Trust Me" menu (I picked the snapper, salmon and albacore sushi) and quickly learned that we could indeed trust them.
We also did a self-guided tour of Bel Air ( I didn't realize that Will Smith's cab where "the license plate said FRESH with a dice in the mirror" made such a long and windy trip up a hill to get to Uncle Phil's house).
5. Venice Beach We had a great time relaxing on this vibrant beach. We walked passed Muscle Beach, the famous basketball courts, beautiful boardwalk homes, shops and the filming of a reality TV show. We also enjoyed watching artists musicians and athletes. Watching the surfers, bikers, skaters and hacky sackers, made me feel like I was in that old video game California Games. Apparently, I also felt like I had actually participated in these athletic activities the way I rewarded myself with some delicious beach snacks in a boardwalk pub.
6. Santa Monica Pier Another great beach stop with swimming, fishing, surfing, volley ball, rides, music, people watching and delicious food.
7. Go to a Television Taping One month before arriving in LA, I requested tickets to see Jimmy Kimmel and Ellen Degeneres. The highlight of this trip was definitely getting to go to a taping of The Ellen Degeneres Show at Warner Brothers Studios in Burbank. I couldn't believe it when someone from the show called to offer me the tickets. I spent the majority of that long distance phone call making the person convince me she was real.
The day was magical: I got to sing karaoke before the show, I was seated in the aisle Ellen dances through, her guests were Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson and we even got to watch them joust.
8. Universal Studios When buying our tickets, we upgraded to the 'Front of the Line' option. It was pricey, but worth every penny. We got to walk to the front of the line for each attraction and we were able to hit them all. My absolute favourite one was Jurassic Park- The Ride (it was very, very scary). I also really enjoyed the 1 hour Studio Tour, which is included in all admission tickets. We were able to learn about how movies were made, see a King Kong attraction, studios and sets (including Wisteria Lane from Desperate Housewives).
I had a fantastic time in LA and am already looking forward to going back. I really enjoyed staying in Westwood as it was such a cute area with a lot of shops and restaurants. I particularly liked Barney's Beanery (A restaurant and pub). We met some locals there who befriended us for the night and invited us to join them in some great karaoke duos. The bartender also informed us that Jim Morrison was once in the establishment, but kicked out for urinating on the very bar I ordered my drink from....Nice!
I definitely wasn't here long enough so, what should I do next time? Please add your recommendations in the comments section for others to see as well.
My name is Sara and I love finding new things to do in a new city. This website is an attempt to share the things that excite me in a new place through stories, photos, lists, travel tips and tricks.