I was pleasantly surprised with Minneapolis in the state of 10,000 lakes. Minneapolis sure did have a lot of lakes itself.
I tagged along for my husband's on-sight work trip to Minneapolis from a Monday to a Thursday. While most of his days were full of meetings and networking with his coworkers, I had ample time to take full advantage of the city and explore on my own. Here's what I did and what I liked...
After checking into the hotel and unpacking, we ventured into the indoor shopping plaza with an outdoor feel located attached to our hotel for some lunch.
Lunch was Sotti, a Mediterranean style fast-food restaurant and it was delicious for being fast foodish.
We spent the remaining hours before dinner relaxing and getting ready.
A shuttle picked us up around 6:00 to take us to Birch's on the Lake, a gastropub and brewery specializing in seafood and New American fare, located just right out of the city on Long Lake.
Dinner here was really the highlight of the day. My husband's company had arranged for an all-inclusive, already paid for four course meal with an open bar.
Appetizers and drinks started the cocktail hour portion of the night and then we were led into the dining area for a seated family style meal of salads, fried chicken, ribs, risotti, mashed potatoes, and an option of cheesecake or chocolate cake for dessert. After dinner, we drank some more on the patio outside and watched the sun set over the lake.
Dinner at Birch's was really quite the event and highly recommend putting this restaurant on your list of places to dine in Minneapolis.
I went to bed as soon as I arrived back to the hotel, for I was really stuffed.
I woke up early to make the most of my day entirely alone and up to my discretion.
Breakfast was at People's Organic, located in the attached mall. I got the steel cut oats, and it was all right.
After a quick trip to Target to get some supplies for the day, I headed a few blocks away to catch the metro.
*A quick note about the metro. It was pretty easy to navigate. I purchased a ticket for $2 to be able to ride unlimitedly for two hours, but I never had to show my ticket. On the way to my destination, there were no problems. On the way back, I felt uncomfortable, not necessarily unsafe per say, but highly uncomfortable. A lot of what I assume were homeless or drug addicts were onboard with some questionable behavior, including one guy leering at me. Being the only woman onboard, I was ready to get off. But overall, the metro is a cheap and easy way to get around.*
I took the metro to Minnehaha Park. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there. I took a walk to Minnehaha Falls, rented a quad bike from Wheel Fun Rentals and rode it around the park for an hour, and finally ended my time at the park by eating lunch hand drinking a beer at Sea Salt Eatery, located inside the park.
After a quick pitstop back to the hotel, I changed into my bathing suit and headed by Uber to Lake Harriet where I ordered ice cream from Pickles and sunbathed on one of the lake's two beaches.
My last adventure for the day was dinner and beer at Pryes Brewing Company located near the Mississippi River in the Warehouse District. I ordered the Riverside beer and the goat cheese pizza, both which were delicious and refreshing.
After a jammed packed day, which I mostly spent entirely alone, I went to bed early.
I woke early again to do a run near the Mississippi River by Mill Ruins Park and across the Stone Arch Bridge. I had an avocado, egg, and tomato toast for breakfast at Dunn Brothers Coffee.
Afterwards, I rented a bike from Nice Ride. Nice Rides are located all throughout the city. All you do is download the app, scan the barcode on the bike, grab and go, and return to any location throughout town. I rode the bike all along the path by the river and it was a really enjoyable ride. I had the bike for about an hour, and the entire trip cost me $8.25.
I had a quick shower and then wandered down to Target Field for a Twins day game at 12:10. James was able to meet me at 1, and we had another MLB ballfield down. I had delicious street tacos for lunch at the ballpark. The game was pretty uneventful, but we liked the stadium.
After the game, James had more work events to attend to, so I made my way to Caribou Coffee to read and have a few snacks.
For dinner that night, plus ones were able to attend dinner. We had an outside dinner at Owamni by the Sioux Chef, a restaurant specializing in Indigenous cuisine. The restaurant was located near where I ran and biked earlier in the day and featured views of the river. The food was beyond good. Again, we had an open bar and a multi-course meal of bison meatballs, gazpacho soup, and some type of potato and trout dishes. 5 stars for me.
We hung out by the hotel bar afterwards and then called it a night.
We were technically checking at 11, but we had the whole day until our flight. I started out with an early run and then a bagel breakfast at People's Organic again.
We showered, packed up our luggage and Ubered to the Mall of America in Bloomington, near the airport. If you aren't into shopping, the Mall of America is still a sight to see. There's a whole mini theme park plus an aquarium, comedy club, escape room, Crayola Factory, and many more novelty exhibits and shops. We ended up eating lunch at Crave, and then I got two of the best cookies I've ever had at Baking Betty's. They were goat cheese and jam and a sea salt nutella. You can order online, and I'm thinking of doing that.
We headed to the airport, thus ending our trip to Minneapolis.
I really enjoyed Minneapolis. The city is easy to get around, whether you are taking public transportation, renting a bike, or walking. The weather was pretty nice in the summer. The food was good. And there was plenty to do.
If I had more time, I would have visited Lake of the Isles and rented a kayak with Paddle Share, a unique concept of simply reserving a kayak and then grabbing it from a locker. I also would have loved to explore more of northern Minnesota and visited one of its bigger lakes.
Overall, Minneapolis gets an A.
Country Roads Take Me Home....
West Virginia is my home state and it really is a beautiful state. It has a lot to offer.
In my quest to visit all of the National Parks in the US, I knew New River Gorge National Park, America's newest national park, had to be on the top of my list.
This summer of July '22 I made that happen. With my mom, dad, aunt, cousin, and two kids, including my own, we traveled to New River Gorge National Park and experienced some breathtaking views, thrilling rapids, fresh mountain air, and the best activities to do with kids there.
It is truly so important to take kids outside and into nature.
Read on for 5 of the best activities to do with kids while visiting this park.
#1. Stay at Adventures on the Gorge
Adventures on the Gorge is a mecca for kids. You don't ever have to leave the resort and already it has some of the best activities for kids.
We stayed in one of the cabins called Lost Paddle. It has a master bedroom with a king sized bed and bathroom. Upstairs in the loft area has two double beds, a pull out chair (perfect for a small kid), and a bathroom. The living room has a pull out couch and some nice sitting chairs. Plus there is a fully stocked kitchen. Outside has a hot tub on the deck and a fire pit and grill down below.
The cabin alone was fun for kids by doing activities like playing in the hot tub, digging in the mud, and making a fire to roast s'mores.
But the rest of the resort was the best.
For starters, the pool, Canyon Falls, is right on the rim of the New River Gorge with incredible views of the New River Gorge Bridge.
The 3,000 square foot pool has a kiddie splash area, waterfalls, and an upper and lower pool with a huge surrounding deck and a snack bar. You could spend a whole day there.
The rest of the resort has four other dining options: Sweet Java Falls, a coffee and pastry shop; Chetty's Pub, a restaurant with burgers, beers, and wings; Smokey's on the Gorge, more of an upscale restaurant with premiere seating on the deck with spectacular views; and Rendezvous River Lodge which you can rent out.
In addition to dining, there are family activities such as disc golfing, aerial activities (zipline and tree treks), paintball, and a playground that our little kids loved.
Adventures on the Gorge definitely tops the list as the number one place to stay and explore with kids.
#2 Go on a Hike
Get off the mainland and take your kids on a hike for an activity.
Adventures on the Gorge had an easy path that went around the resort that my son loved being "the leader" on.
Want to go on a hike with a more scenic views of the gorge? Try Endless Wall Trail or Long Point Trail. Both are around 3 miles which is the threshold for little kids.
The hike up the Endless Wall Trail is easy for kids to navigate, but once you get to the top, there are steep drop offs if you want to take in the view. If you are nervous about this, either keep the kids on the main trail with another person and then switch as both of you look out the vista or strap them into a backpack.
However, if you stay on the main trail, there are no steep cliffs.
#3 See Waterfalls
There are about 9 total waterfalls in the whole park, but we only went to one, and it was such as great activity to do with little kids.
We went to Cathedral Falls which is right off the road.
Kids can literally play in the shallow waters before the falls all day. My son had a blast turning over and piling rocks. Such a good sensory activity.
#4 Go Rafting
Okay, so little kids might not be able to do this. Most trips you have to be 12+.
But this was too good not to do. Keep the little kids at the pool with a designated scaredy cat and sign up for this trip.
We did the 1/2 day run on the New River and had a blast. We booked through Adventures on the Gorge.
There will be 8 people + a guide in one raft, and we probably went through 8 or more Class III rapids. The tour guides were funny, and we got beer on the bus ride back.
If you're adventurous, do this! But also my 61 year old Mom did it (no offense, Mom), so it isn't too strenuous.
#5 Swim in the Lakes
We didn't do this one, but if we had an extra day, we would have.
Head on over to Summersville Lake where you can swim, boat, fish, or rent kayaks.
A great day trip for little kids.
Overall, I have three takeaways about New River Gorge National Park.
1.) Don't sleep on West Virginia. It's beautiful. The people are great.
2.) Take your little kids out in nature.
3.) The New River Gorge National Park has lots of great activities for little kids.
A History's Lover Guide to Boston
I have been two Boston two times. One time, my cousin's boyfriend (now husband) was living and going to dental school there, so we took a road trip to the city. The second time, it was our first stop on our New England road trip. We stayed with my cousin and her husband who live in Weymouth. I love the city. But my cousin, Amy, loves it more, and her words describing the city are truly poetic.
"The word of the Lord by night.
To the watching Pilgrims came,
As they sat by the sea-side,
And filled their hearts with flame."
Ralph Waldo Emerson's opening lines of his poem, "Boston Hymn. There were no truer words written.
Boston is the greatest city in this country. Sure, an exaggeration to some, but it is truly what Bostonians believe. There is a certain swagger in the streets of Boston, perhaps developed over time and adopted after the initial Sons of Liberty, as they strutted across the cobblestones on their way to the South Meeting House.
I digress. To explore Boston properly, one must simply follow the Freedom Trail. You can book a guide or book a bus tour, but if you are moving on a budget, it is a very walkable city.
Let's just pretend you booked a room at the amazing downtown hotel "The Godfrey," which is in the shopping/theatre district and a walkable distance to so many of the city's wonderful sites. There are another amazing hotels, but I'm just pretending you are staying here.
I start at the BOSTON COMMONS & PUBLIC GARDEN. The Commons once had a dangerous past, as criminals were hanged on the square. Nowadays, there are food trucks, water fountains, an ice rink in the winter, gatherings of hipsters, free Shakespeare performances in the summer, and access to the T (the subway system, which you genuinely don't need unless it's cold and rainy and your venturing out of the city/have tons of luggage). There are beautiful views of the dome of the State House and Beacon Hill from the Commons. If you are a lover of history and Instagram-worthy pictures, venture up the hill and wander through the streets of Beacon Hill. Louisburg Square and Acorn street are two of the most photographable places. You can also book a tour of the State House.
Down the backside of Beacon Hill towards the Charles River, is the Esplanade, a beautiful park with a walking/cycling path that winds all around the river. There are often performances there! But you also just see views of the river, and follow the path towards Back Bay for shopping in one direction, or head towards the North End in the other direction. While the shopping is great in Back Bay and it has some amazing row houses, I would opt for the North End myself. It is my favorite part of Boston.
Oh! throughout your travels, you will see a brick path in the sidewalk- that is the Freedom Trail. You can hire a guide, or you can follow it. If you choose to follow it from Boston Common, it will lead you past some great sites: Granary Burial Ground (Sam Adams' & John Hancock's graves), King's Chapel (sign up for the crypt tour if you love creepy things), Old State House, Boston Massacre Site, Faneuil Hall, Paul Revere House & my personal favorite place in all of Boston, the North Church. All of these are along the same path and they are free to stop outside of. If you want a full tour, it does cost money. Recently, the North Church started requiring tickets just to go in. So you can purchase a pass that goes to all of them, or purchase individual tickets for the places you care most about- I recommend Paul Revere House & North Church.
Fanueil Hall is the home of Quincy Market, so that's a good place to stop for lunch! Don't expect to sit and eat a table, because it's crowded, but it is definitely worth the experience. Regina Pizza is a famous and perfectly delicious pizza place in Boston. The original location is in the North End, and I recommend going, but you can also grab a slice at the Quincy Market location.
All along the harbor of Boston is the Harbor Walk, which is a path that takes you all the way around the city. You could literally spend a day just walking the Harbor Walk, which goes all the way into Charlestown, across the Harbor, where Bunker Hill and the USS Constitution are. If you are a nautical person and like to be near the water and see boats, you can literally just do this and stop for food and fun things along the way. The Aquarium is also along the Harbor Walk. OH, and if you like some cheeesey historic fun, you can cross a bridge and stop of the Boston Tea Party Museum, and participate in a reenactment. They also have beautiful tea shop where you can sample teas and eat scones in the middle of the harbor. LOVE IT.
You should end your day with dinner in the North End. There are so many Italian restaurants and bakeries, and the air literally smells like Italian food. Having traveled to Italy, it feels like you are walking around a small Italian town, as you walk around the North End: older Italian guys sitting in folding chair outside of cafes, drinking espressos, Italian grocery stores, religious shrines on every corner, and festivals to saints every other day. Some of my favorite places to eat are: Il Panino (amazing food, lots of seating, prices are more expensive than an Olive Garden, but won't break the bank), Regina Pizza (duh), La Summa (a family-run restaurant filled with black/white family photos), and the famous, cash-only, two-hour wait line, Giacamo's. Just go there at 4, and have an early dinner- worth it. Get dessert at Cafe Vittoria, Modern Pastry or Mike's Pastry, or Bova's. There are always long waits at Modern & Mikes, so I usually get a breakfast pasty at those two.
Lastly, just some other food recommendations in other parts of town: Ice Cream- J.P. Lick's (Beacon Hill), Irish Pub- the Black Rose (near city center), Burger- J.M. Curley's (downtown/theatre district), The Gallows (South End), Coffee- Cafe Nero (downtown) & George Howell (inside the Godfrey Hotel). Also, you can visit the Boston Public Kitchen for amazing local vendors- cider donuts all year long, and more George Howell Coffee. This is near the north end and near Quincy Market. Steak: MOO. Yeah, it's called Moo. If you are in the mood to drop $50 on a steak, then this is the place to go. I know this sound sort of sarcastic, but it's the best steak I've ever had in my life. And the bread! oh the bread. Maybe you could just get the bread and then do a dine and dash?
Don't forget seafood- a lot of people love Union Oyster House for its history and its great seafood. I'm not a seafood expert, but I am a lobster roll expert. So I'm only going to recommend one place: James Hook & Co. It's worth the price, and the best lobster roll outside of Maine. I'm not kidding. Don't try another place, and don't let the outside of the building fool you. Grab one for lunch on your walk around the harbor.
There is just so much more...
Or you can ignore all of this and do a Duck Tour...because those are funny.
I can't hold a candle to Amy's knowledge of Boston. She is quite the tour guide and when we went there, we traversed all across the city with her as our leader.
A few things that she didn't mention that I enjoyed while there were Fenway Park and something really meta, drinking a Sam Adams at Beantown Pub while looking at Sam Adams grave in the Granary Burying Ground.
As a lover of baseball, Fenway Park is a stadium you have to check off your list. It's one of my favorite ballparks (read my ranking here) dues to it's nostalgic feel and passionate fans. I have taken a tour of this stadium on one occasion and the next I watched a game. Both, I recommend doing.
If you have some extra time, take a ferry to Martha's Vineyard for a quaint island feel, some good lobster rolls, and a leisurely bike ride.
Hopefully, Amy's words inspire you to visit Boston!
A Woman's Guide to Charleston
This southern city on the coast of South Carolina is full of charm and history. It boasts of food, sun, churches, homes, and activities.
I was fortunate that in my pre-kid days that my friend, Michelle, lived in Charleston while I was living in Raleigh.
was able to visit her on quite a few occasions. We also had my friend Kara's bachelorette party there. It is on my bucket list to the do the Bridge Run.
She put together a list of some of her favorite things, and I added in mine as well.
Durham, North Carolina is right in my backyard, and makes up one of the cities in the Triangle - Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill.
I like to hate and say Raleigh is better, but that is highly debatable in the last few years as the Bull City is expanding, developing, and evolving into a hip, vibrant city for the whole family. We always enjoy going to the American Tobacco Campus to dine and catch a Durham Bulls game.
I don't get to this city as often as I like, so I asked three resident experts to help me out. My friends, Stephanie and Kent, live in the city and have first-hand experience of traversing across the town.
My other friend, Mindy, lives in Cary, but she's always in the know of what restaurants, breweries, and bars are good. Read on for their top recommendations.
Breweries and Bars
I grew up in Wheeling, WV, an hour southwest of Pittsburgh, so we would make frequent trips to this city. While I am an avid hater of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Penguins (Pirates are all right), I do love the city itself. Having been to the city so much, I am simply going to list my Top 5 favorite things to do in the Steel City.
I haven't been to Sandcastle in years, so maybe it has lost its charm, but growing up, well into high school even, I absolutely loved going to this water park nestled on The Waterfront. We would spend hours riding the slides, floating in the lazy river, and nearly drowning in the wave pool. The day would always be capped off with Dippin' Dots and concession stand food. The ride home we would flow asleep while still feeling the motion of the waves. Those were the days.
4. Mom and Daughter Trips
Another fond memory growing up was when my mom and her friends would take their daughters and me on day or overnight trips to Pittsburgh. The malls near Wheeling are dismal to say the least, so we had to travel to Pittsburgh to do some real shopping. While I am not a big lover of shopping, I did enjoy those trips with the girls. We would hit up Ross Park Mall, South Hills Village Mall, or Robinson Town Centre Mall, or sometimes all three in one day. Hours were spent in Limited Too, American Eagle, Hollister, and Abercrombie and Fitch. Then, we would enjoy dinner or a show at the Benedum Center
3. Station Square
Station Square is a strip along the river where you can dine, drink, and have fun. From here, you can take a ride on the famous Inclines or Gateway Clipper. The Duquesne or Monongahela Incline take you up to Mt. Washington, which has some killer views of the city. The Gateway Clipper can take you into the city, and you can walk around The Pointe, the area where all three rivers meet.
2. The South Side
The South Side is a hip area of Pittsburgh not far from Station Square. The area had restaurants, bars, and shops, including The Cheesecake Factory and Urban Outfitters, which, growing up in WV, were novelty for my friends and me. In high school and college, we would make special trips here and would use it as an excuse to get dressed up. Going through old photo albums, I found many photo shoots from the South Side.
1. PNC Park
My absolute favorite thing to do in Pittsburgh is to see a Pittsburgh Pirates game. You don't have to be a lover of baseball to enjoy this stadium. Walking over the Roberto Clemente Walking Bridge with everyone will give you all the feels and tailgating in the parking lot will get you hyped for the game. PNC Park does it right. It has excellent views, excellent in-game entertainment (Pierogies racing after game concerts) and, excellent food (Primanti Brothers!), and excellent surrounding features (bars, restaurants, and entertainment). My family or friends would make sure we would catch at least one game every Sunday. I definitely miss being so close to such an awesome baseball stadium.
Definitely spend time enjoying this city if you ever get a chance. And even though I hate, Pittsburgh fans are diehard, so catching a Pirates, Steelers, or Penguins game is sure to be enjoyable.
The Nation's capital, Washington DC is home to much history. Museums, monuments, music, and chicken pot pie is what comes to mind when I think of this beloved city.
I've been here few times. I've attended the March for Life rally in high school, watched the Nationals play, run the Rock N Roll half marathon, and explored the National Mall with my cousins.
On one occasion, we have dined at Elephant and Castle and all ordered the chicken pot pie randomly. Now, it has become a tradition to go to that restaurant and order chicken pot pie. I haven't ventured much further than the downtown area, but I will give you a summary of what I did there.
Welcome to Chi Town, The Windy City, and the Paris on the Prairie. That's right, today, we are discussing Chicago, Illinois' largest city and the third largest city in the U.S.
Situated on Lake Michigan, Chicago is known for its skyscrapers, museums, and deep dish pizza.
I've been twice now. Once when I traveled with some friends after high school in 2007 to stay at my one friend's sister's place. We packed a lot in in a little bit of time, and I must say this is a place to go back to.
My husband and I were supposed to go back for our 5th anniversary to see the Cubs, Whitesox, and Brewers all play, but COVID ruined that. Fingers crossed for next year.
*Update* James and I were able to go to Chicago in July 2021 to visit all the baseball stadiums.
1st Time Itinerary
2nd Time Itinerary
*What I wished we could've done*
A Guide to Sedona in Two Days
This red rock Arizona city isn't in the top 100 of most populated cities, but I have been twice and just love it, so I decided to feature it.
Sedona is where Hippie meets Native American and they combine to make this quaint, tranquil town. Picture stepping into a spa and they have the trickling water and peaceful music playing. Add in the red-rock buttes, canyon walls, and pine forests, and you have got Sedona.
I have gone twice. Once with James over Labor Day. I essentially won a "free" trip at a bridal show. Free if you count paying for airfare and sitting through a 2-hour timeshare presentation to get the room comped. But it was worth it. The second time, I went with my mom and aunt as we drove back from San Diego to St. Louis.
Sedona is a city where you'll want to pack layers. It is the desert but temperatures are comfortably warm during the day and brisk, borderline chilly, at night. Three to four days is a perfect amount of time to say. That time will give you a chance to hike, explore, visit a spa, do yoga, eat, shop, and go on an adventure. You'll be sure to leave Sedona invigorated!
I am not a huge fan of gambling, exorbitant drink prices for fancy cocktails, clubbing, and staying out past 10 PM, so on the surface Las Vegas isn't for me, but I have been twice, and I have enjoyed it both times although I am not clamoring to go a third time.
The first time I went was in the summer of 2010 with my parents and brother. We started and ended our Out West road trip to the Grand Canyon, Lake Powell, and Zion National Park from here. I was a couple of weeks shy of 21, but I was in awe of the intricate details of the casino hotels, and really just enjoyed wandering around and taking in the sights. We stayed at the Parisian and upon our arrival were upgraded to a suite. The only problem was that it only had one bed for four people, which began a running joke on the trip.
The second time I went was in the winter of 2011 with some high school friends. We went while we were on winter break from our college classes. My one friend's parents had a timeshare on the strip, The Polo Towers, and we decided it would be a nice hurrah to end our senior year of college. This time I was 21, and could fully access the casinos, bars, and clubs.
Vegas is a city where, in my opinion, you only need to stay for 2-3 days. After that, drive out to some of Vegas' close by destinations like the Grand Canyon, the Hoover Dam, and Zion National Park. Read on to see what happened in Vegas which will not stay in Vegas as I will give you a brief synopsis of things I did here.
Photo used under Creative Commons from does_not_travel_often