Weekend in Chicago

Back in July I took a long weekend trip to Chicago with my oldest friend and bestie, Liz and just now getting around to sharing! I’ve been thinking about the possibility of moving to a bigger city lately  (which has since been pushed back a few years after enrolling in an MBA program here in Des Moines). I always loved Chicago as a kid, but I hadn’t been to the city since high school so I thought I should probably check it out again to make sure  I still love it before seriously considering a move. Good news: I do still love it! Bad news: The weather was terrible. It was unbearably hot or pouring rain the entire time we were there–but that didn’t stop us from getting a pretty decent tour of the city.

First up–we took the train. Neither of wanted to drive and the train sounded novel and fun. And oh man do I love the train. So comfortable, so roomy–AND you can BYOB. Can any one say mimosa to go?!

On Friday night we went on a dinner cruise- which is the best way to see the skyline and actually the only time the weather was bearable. Once the sun went down and we had a breeze it was pretty fantastic.

Saturday, we ventured out in the cement sauna and walked through Millennial park. The gardens there are so beautiful, loved the juxtaposition of nature and city. There was huge fitness class happening in the park that we would have probably joined if it wasn’t 976 degrees.

After a good morning sweat session  stroll we visited the Art Institute of Chicago. Between Chicago and SanFran, I was so spoiled this summer with art. The Art Institute has some fantastic stuff. I didn’t spend a lot of time looking into what was there beforehand, so I was pleasantly surprised at every turn. Hopper’s Nighthawks and Suerat’s A Sunday on La Grand Jatte were a few of my favorites.

After the Art Institute we stopped for sushi then headed to Lincoln Park for the afternoon. I had wanted to explore the neighborhood a bit but it was way too hot for that, so we took to window shopping at West Elm instead. We headed back downtown for much needed showers then it was time for a show! Liz got tickets to Book of Mormon for my birthday and man was it good! I always love musicals and this was no different.

For me, brunch is a MUST on every vacation, big or small. And yes, I picked The Hampton Social solely for the instagramable wall. The menu also boasted crab cakes Benedict, two of my favorite dishes mashed together.  I highly recommend it, they’ve also got a great rose happy hour and the entire space has a fun, fresh nautical nod.

After brunch we stopped for an (air conditioned) mani, then it was back to the train to head west again.

 

 

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NorCal16: San Francisco

IMG_2707The last leg of our Northern California vacation was two nights in San Francisco. Seeing places that were so different was awesome, it was like a brand new vacation every two days. Its hard to say what stop was my favorite. I loved both San Francisco and Sonoma, but for very different reasons.

IMG_2638We saw lots of things while in San Fran but my favorite part was easily the uber rides around town. I just loved seeing all the different neighborhoods. The row houses are everywhere! The city just looks so much different that other cities and I love that. There’s definitely a “feel” about the city. I somehow didn’t take a single picture of any of the neighborhoods we drove though. Which I’m actually ok with, its a sign that I was just enjoying the sights. Sometimes we’ve got to do more of that on vacation you know. The adorable honey bear was across the street from our airBNB. I found the artist through instagram, clearly I’m not the only honey bear loving grammer out there.

IMG_2635Our first stop was the newly opened SFMoMA. This was was one of my only must-sees on the trip. I have a minor in Art History and some of my very favorite pieces are housed here. I was most excited to see Woman with a Hat  and Fountain. I’ve been to a couple pretty serious art museums in Spain and France, but it was before I’d ever set foot in an art history class, so this was my first post-grad visit if you will. And man did I get excited. There were a couple things there that I wasn’t expecting and when I stumbled upon that pile of dirt I wrote an A essay on, I got pretty excited.

After SFMoMA we took at little shopping break for the flagship Gap store. Then swung by the Painted Ladies. I was looking forward to seeing them, but ended up feeling really creepy. People actually live in them and there a constant flux of tourist taking pictures across the street. It was weird.

IMG_2624Now let’s talk about the food. Our first night we had dinner at Inovino, a cozy little Italian place a few blocks from our airBNB in Cole Valley. Service was fantastic, wine was great, food was even better. We sat outside on their tiny little sidewalk patio, highly recommend.

IMG_2646The next morning we had brunch at Zazie’s first thing. Online reviews mentioned long waits, we got there right at 8am when they opened and were seated right away. Again, on the patio–of course. I ordered Eggs Benedict with OJ and coffee–my brunch go to. Gratitude was included in the price and they mention that they offer really awesome benefits for their employees which I love. I spent alot of time working in food service during school and its not an easy job. Props to them. Plus it takes out the tip calculating at the end of the meal, so its just that much easier. Again, highly recommend!

IMG_2654.JPGAfter Zazie’s we headed down to the bay to tour Alcatraz. Had I gone alone I probably wouldn’t have gone on the tour, but man am I glad my vacay partners wanted to go! I was expecting it to be creepy and claustrophobic–which the inside of the prision kind of is. But the island is beautiful! There’s panoramic views of the bay and San Fran skyline and the gardens are really something. Who knew that an old prison had so many luscious gardens?! The tour of the prison is a recording–which I thought sounded really lame–but again, I was wrong. You can go at your own pace and aren’t stuck with a guide or certain group and the recording is pretty legit. Don’t go to San Francisco without  touring Alcatraz, OK? OK. I would recommend going on an earlier tour. Our ferry left at 10am and by the time we were heading back around noon it was very busy. I think the very first one (that leaves around 8am I think) would be ideal.

IMG_2660For lunch we found The Codmother Fish and Chips,  a super tasty little food truck with some bomb fried seafood. The portions were huge–I would recommend sharing. And it seemed like there were a lot of locals there, which I always take for a good sign. After lunch we made the hike up Lombard street. Such a touristy thing to do, but its worth it for the quirk. And a good way to burn off some lunch calories.

IMG_2691Towards the end of the day I started to come down with a head cold and that, combined with the after effects of Sonoma (so much wine) I was fading fast. We went to the Presidio of San Francisco for the views of the Golden Gate bridge. Awesome place to take pictures and no admission fees!  Our last stop of the day was another bay tour, which was a bit of blur as I was falling asleep for part of it. It provided some interesting information, but it was too windy and cold to sit outside and VERY touristy. Like we were probably the only American citizens on the boat.

IMG_2714We ended the day with a quick stop in Chinatown for snacks, then ordered in pizza at our airBNB (we had super early flights the next morning).

IMG_2706Phew, I think that’s it. We crammed in alot. I would love to go back and spend a whole week there. Take a couple drop in yoga classes, explore more eateries. Ah, but some many other places to see. I sometimes feel like I have to see ALL THE PLACES before I go back to visit someplace twice.

Check out our first two stops, Yosemite and Sonoma too!

NorCal16: Sonoma

IMG_2470.JPGOh wine country. I think it might be my favorite place on earth. You know the saying “I’m outdoorsy in that I like to drink on patios.” It is the quintessence of Sonoma. The weather is perfect, I could not think of one thing to make it better. 69 degrees with a few clouds in the morning that are well burnt off by lunchtime, leaving beautiful blue skies sweeping across a sea of green grape vines.  And everyone you meet seems to have a bottle of wine just waiting for you to drink. It’s the greatest thing ever.

IMG_2342We started in Lodi, CA. Which is halfway between Oakhurt and Sonoma. We had a delicious lunch at The Dancing Fox, then headed out to Klinker Brick  winery. It was probably my favorite winery of the whole trip. It was well outside Sonoma or Napa so the prices were great. We got out with three wine tastings, one glass and two bottles of rose for $30. (I stopped my wine tasting at the rose–#2 of 9–and just said FILL ME UP #roseallday) The patio backed right up to the winery so we were able to wander the rows, glass in hand, to fulfill all my Instagram dreams.

The following day we took a  wine trolley. Initially the idea of a wine trolley seemed really cheesy and touristy, which it kind of was. But it was also really great. We didn’t have to worry about having a designated driver, or navigating to and from the wineries. We made four stops and each place was ready for us. And by ready I mean they were waiting at the door with a glass of wine. (Why isn’t every activity I do like that? Good Morning Angela! Welcome to work, have a glass of wine.)

IMG_2417 Our first stop  was Ravenswood Winery, where we got a brief lesson on the science of wine making and sampled several of their reds. The second stop, Buena Vista Winery, was beautiful! The sun had come out and there was a wonderful European feel about the place. We got a full tour of the grounds, a tasting and glass of wine to go with lunch, which was catered with the trolley–another awesome perk.

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My favorite stop was the last one–Mayo Winery. Its a family run business and the tasting was really just a free flow of wine. Red, white, bubbly. The works. Seriously considering joining their wine club. Mostly just for their sparking 2011 Blanc de Blanc #basic.IMG_2555

I would highly recommend the trolley. Way more fun than ubering from winery to winery and the driver had a cooler chock full of water bottles that were handed out between each stop. (brilliant)

By the time we left, I’m not sure how much wine was actually left in Sonoma–I’m not going to tell you how many bottles we consumed between the three of us. But I will say that I’m already trying to figure out how I can work in a stop to wine country on EVERY vacation from here on out. #yeswayrose

 

NorCal16: Yosemite

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About a year ago I had a hankering to see the Redwoods and Palm Springs. And as with all my hankerings, I shared it with two of my childhood besties. Over the course of a year or so we morphed that hankering into a week long girls trip (although girls trip doesn’t really apply to me as my entire life is a girls trip–seeing as I’m sans husband and children #blessed) to Northern California. In the end, it didn’t include Palm Springs OR Redwoods–but it turned out to be absolutely fabulous!

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Our first stop was Yosemite. We stayed in Oakhurst at a great airbnb. It was huge, probably more space than we needed. The outside area was on point, with a fire ring, hot tub and grill. There was a stream than ran behind the cabin just down the hill. I did a few pretty solid vinyasa flows back there one morning. It was downright idyllic.

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Most of my family’s vacations growing up were to National Parks. We did the Rocky Mountains, the Smokey Mountains, Yellowstone. The Works. I spend alot of my time sleeping in the car or whining in scenic pull offs with complaints of motion sickness and general teenage bratiness. I thought that I would have a new found appreciation for nature and enjoy it so much more than when I was younger. But turns out I still get really terrible altitude and motion sickness driving through the mountains. I often feel like a whiny little bitch when experiencing this–but for those that don’t know what it’s like– it’s like when the the gang gets back from the bar on Jersey Shore and they have to sleep with one foot on the ground to keep the spins at bay. Except without a lick of alcohol in your system. It’s rough. So this might be my last jaunt into high altitude.

But I will say it is breathtaking. Around every bend there is a a new scenic view of this water fall or that gorge. I mean its really incredible. Especially when you spend the majority of your life in the rolling plains of the Midwest.

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We ventured into Yosemite Valley–which was BUSY, even on a Monday–but really nice. Once we hunted down a parking spot there were loads of picnic areas and plenty of paved trails back to some falls. Handicap accessible hiking is really my preferred kind of hiking.

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Whenever I’m in National Parks I always find myself thinking about what it would be like to come upon this as a pioneer or new settler. Like hot damn, how are we getting over this mountain?! Honestly I would have turned back once we hit the Mississippi. I wouldn’t have made it anywhere near California. Actually I probably would have died of typhoid, or starvation or just general prissiness. I really don’t think I’m cut out for exploration.

 

 

Fall Creek Falls, Tennesse

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Last month I took a super last minute long weekend to Tennessee. My parents were headed down to visit my brother and sister-in-law and ended up with a larger cabin the day before they left. My mom invited me along and seeing as it was Mother’s Day weekend I could hardly say no. And man, was I in for a treat! Fall Creek Falls is delightfully breathtaking.

file (3)We stayed at Cozy Cabins & Cottages, which were so comfortable. It took nearly 25 years, but I finally got my own room on family vacation, which was a major perk. Other than an unsightly storage trailer (not pictured) the back yard was on point. Roomy deck for morning coffee. (Outdoor morning coffee is the only way to start a vacation day.) Fire pit, hot tub, horse shoes and a short trail leading through the woods.

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We ventured into the state park for a little hiking. Well, actually I stayed at the cabin to read and nap Saturday, then joined the hiking adventure on Sunday. I want to like nature. I want to be a Wild-esque hiker. But I’m really not. I prefer to enjoy nature from the comfort of a covered patio with a glass of rose. But the perilous heights and countless mosquito bites were totally worth it when it comes to these views. I was not expecting them at all, but they’re pretty freaking majestic. Apparently they’re some on the only untouched forests in the United States AND there’s only one known professor to fall to his death here, so that’s a perk.
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Huge waterfalls always make me think of Pocahontas. Not the real one, the Disney one. That wears suede fringe and canoes down huge falls while belting show tunes. I think I like nature, the way Disney Pocahontas likes nature…