A Visitor’s Guide to Chicago

Chicago, IL

I recently gave some advice to a foreign friend visiting Chicago. And I’m visiting there soon! I thought it would be fun to turn it into a blog post because I’m so proud of my hometown and would love to share my two cents about what to do there. In order to keep this from getting too out of control, I limited each category to my top 10 recommendations. It was so hard. Chicago has so much to offer! Here we go…

Sights Chicago is a world class city filled to the brim with cultural experiences for every visitor. I’m the type of person who isn’t bothered doing “touristy” things in their own town. Therefore, this list is quite touristy. Take it or leave it.

  1. Visit a museum. The Chicago History Museum to dig into the city-named-after-a-wild-onion’s turbulent past. The Field Museum for its famous dinosaur skeletons. Adler Planetarium to learn more about the sun, its planets and everything else under the stars. Museum of Science and Industry for inventions that will blow your mind. And finally, the Shedd Aquarium, provided the fascinating jellyfish exhibit is still ongoing.
  2. Ponder some art. The Art Institute of Chicago has major clout. How else do you explain why they’ve had Seurat’s famous Sunday Afternoon for all these years? Try the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago for ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphics. I used to visit it often during my art history obsession in college. As a counterbalance, go to the Museum of Contemporary Art for art that makes you wonder what the heck art is. I saw an impressive Jeff Koons exhibit there a few years back.
  3. See a show. Chicago’s theater scene varies widely. Goodman and Chicago have great shows come through. Or check out Broadway in Chicago for all the places that host, you know, Broadway shows. But then, there’s the smaller gems like Steppenwolf, Lookingglass, and the Shakespeare theaters that all have incredible, intimate performances.
  4. Have a laugh. In the mood for something light? The Second City is where Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Jon Belushi, Mike Meyers, Steve Colbert, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey and many others performed before they made it big. Or try the Blue Man Group if you don’t mind getting sprayed with mushed banana. (They provide ponchos.)
  5. Listen to music. From the symphony at Lyric Opera House to the small time rock band at Schuba’s to jazz at Kingston Mines to big time festivals (ever heard of Lollapalooza?), there is something for every… ear. And if you are still not satisfied, take the train up to Highland Park’s Ravinia, where you can choose either lawn or pavillion seats, while listening to the many artists that come through. Sprawling on the lawn as the sun goes down and candles light up, drinking wine, munching on cheese, sharing pasta salad… Those concerts used to be one of my favorite summer activities.
  6. Attend a sports event. Da Bulls (or the Blackhawks) at United Center. Da Bears at Soldier Field. The Cubs at Wrigley Field. Even the Chicago Fire at Toyota Park. There is something really powerful about the Chicago sports community. The pride and the devotion of its fans are unmatched.
  7. Enjoy the outdoors. There are parks galore in this planned city, thanks to Daniel Burnham and his comrades. Lincoln Park is topped only by Central Park in NYC for the number of visitors it draws each year (according to Wikipedia anyway). Millennium Park (home of the Cloud Gate) and Grant Park (Buckingham Fountain) are other popular parks which, in my opinion, offer solid photo ops for locals and visitors alike. Case in point:

    J+J at the cloud gate

    J+J at the cloud gate

  8. Take a tour. The Architectural Boat Tour is probably the most popular and it’s easy to see why. As you cruise the Chicago River, knowledgeable guides explain all about the rather incredible history of Chicago’s buildings. Or try a Segway Tour, which doesn’t need any explanation.

    segwaying

    segwaying

  9. Walk or bike the lakefront. Just in general. It’s pretty in all seasons, but best in summer. There is a lakefront path that stretches the entire city, north to south. Now that there is Divvy, the sweet, new shared bike program, it’s easier than ever to glide through the whole darn thing. Enjoy the rollerbladers, bicyclists, joggers, volleyball-ers and, oh yeah, some really beautiful skyline views.
  10. Take in the view. Speaking of views, head to the Sears Tower Skydeck. Okay, actually I have never done this (but I plan to on my upcoming visit). I hear it is quite astounding and on a clear day, you can see Wisconsin and Indiana. Also, there is a glass ledge you can step into, suspended over 100 stories up, for the thrill-seekers out there.

Eats Food is a very important, I’d even say critical, part of Chicago culture. Just see this Chicago Food Glossary and you’ll understand. You just can’t experience this city without exploring some of the fabulous restaurants. While trying to think like a visitor, I also added some of my personal favorites.

  1. Deep dish pizzaLou Malnati’s. Best Chicago-style pizza, hands down. Seriously. Giordano’s, Uno’s and Gino’s East are all “fine”, but they don’t compare to the glory that is Lou’s butter crust.
  2. Hot dogPortillo’s. No visit to Chicago is complete without a classic, Chicago-style hot dog or a sweaty Italian beef. This is the place to get it. I actually detest the downtown location, but bite the bullet hot dog here. And don’t ask for ketchup. Never ketchup. They’ll slap your face (or should). If you really want to get fancy with your dog, scramble over Hot Doug‘s as they open. Don’t let the line around the block discourage you.

    hot doug's

    hot doug’s insanity

  3. TacoBig Star. Very trendy and you may have to wait in a (sometimes very long) line, but there is no better way to spend a sunny afternoon than by sipping margaritas and chowing down on inventive (& cheap) tacos at this hipster hangout. Note: lime juice + your skin + the sun don’t mix well. Want the cheap late night stuff? Picante.
  4. Pig face. In the mood to, you know, eat a pig’s face? How about a cod cheek? Solution: Girl and the Goat. Opened a few years ago by Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard, this creative American hotspot is completely, positively, absolutely worth the hype. (I heard her new eatery, Little Goat, is superb as well.)
  5. Seafood. GT Fish and Oyster. One of our favorite date locales. The best nights were spent sitting at the bar, downing raw oysters and dirty martinis. Another great choice is Le Colonial on Rush. 
  6. Steak. David Burke’s Primehouse. You can’t visit Chicago and not have a steak. That’s just blasphemous. I’m not really a red meat person, but David does it right. Avoid the chains. 
  7. ItalianVia Carducci. There are a million Italian restaurants in the city. What I love about this one is its neighborhood charm (now that our beloved Terragusto closed its doors). We spent many casual date nights and family birthday dinners here. The one on Division is teeny tiny, reasonably-priced and there’s never a wait. Don’t mind waiting? Rosebud on Taylor. 
  8. Sushi/Thai. Butterfly Thai. There is nothing fancy about this place, let’s get that straight. It’s a hole in the wall. But, it had to make the list, if only because they got so much of my business while I was living in Ukrainian Village (I told you this would be biased). My favorite sushi and Pad Thai, and it’s BYOB, c’mon.
  9. Sandwich. As any Chicagoan will tell you, sometimes you just need a gigantic sandwich. At Jerry’s. If you don’t get the Mindy F with peanut butter… I don’t know what to tell you.
  10. Brunch. If brunch was a sport, I’m a gold medalist. I can’t choose just one place. Milk & Honey for their huevos rancheros casserole. Toast for that pancake orgy. Nookies for any of their weekly specials. Orange for the fru-shi (fruit sushi, duh). Feast for the benedict. Rockit for the Bloody Mary bar… The list goes on.
  11. Bonus! Some places that I have never tried, but will from all the rave reviews I hear: RPM for Italian, Frontera Grill for Mexican, Sunda for sushi, Kuma’s for his famous burgers and Ruxbin for creative American.

Drinks We more or less stuck to our usual hangouts (Ola’s being one of them), but here is a variety of places depending on your mood.

  1. Beer. Head over to Goose Island Brewery (or almost any bar in the city) and get a Green Line. Really want to impress the bartender? Order the vintage Sophie or Matilda and they’ll think you’re a local. Or just someone that appreciates really good beer.
  2. Wine. Sono became a popular place for friends and I to have wine nights; it was the perfect stop after shopping binges on North Ave. They also have tasty pizzas. 404 Wine Bar (nestled in the Southport Corridor) and DOC Wine Bar (in my old stomping grounds, Lincoln Park) are also very good.
  3. ChampagneRM Champagne Salon is swanky, tiny, with French-inspired details and beautiful chandeliers. Great for dates.
  4. With a view. Duh, the Signature Lounge. Okay, I will warn you right away that this is very touristy. But, it’s on the 96th floor of the Hancock Tower and there are beautiful sweeping views of the city.
  5. Pre-dinner. I’ll always have a special place in my heart for Hunt Club because we headed there on our very first date before a meal of epic proportions at nearby Carmine’s.
  6. Post-dinnerTrump Hotel‘s Rebar or Terrace. As the name suggests, it’s a bit on the upscale side. Such great views of the river that you almost forget you paid $18 for that cocktail.
  7. Secret. Is the light on? That means Violet Hour is open. A disguised facade with a “hidden” entrance, VH has the best cocktails in the city.
  8. Sports Bar. Try Old Town Social for a sports bar that doesn’t feel like a junky college hangout. If you want a junky college hangout, go anywhere in Wrigleyville. There’s my bias again!
  9. Mobster-style. The Bedford. People around the world still remember Chicago as Al Capone’s territory, filled with mobsters, and basically a corrupt city (which it is…). This old school real bank vault turned trendy bar/restaurant celebrates that image in the best way. With stiff drinks.
  10. Late night. Innjoy. The late night dance parties can’t be beat. Although maybe I only liked this place because I could stumble home afterward. Of course, there’s also dive bar Ola’s, which hands out $1 mystery shots and has an ancient jukebox from which you can blast LaBouche. Not that I ever did that…
  11. Bonus! Need to try Maude’s Liquor Bar on Randolph (maybe before dinner at Girl and the Goat?), Hopleaf up north with it’s massive beer selection, and the Whistler because it just looks cool.

Shops Organized this category by street since there is no easy way to do this.

  1. Michigan Ave (Magnificent Mile). This is where you’ll find all the major department stores and designer boutiques. Prepare to get sucked up in the current and just go with it.
  2. Damen. Between Armitage and North are a ton of little boutiques. Old favorites include Apartment number 9 for menswear, Stitch for beautiful home goods, Riley for clothes and jewelry, etc, etc. Goddess & Grocer is a wonderful place for lunch.
  3. Armitage. Great boutique shopping (try Art Effect), with a lot of beauty stores thrown in like Kiehl’s, Benefit, MAC, and more.
  4. Southport. My Anthropologie was/still is over here, but now I’d love to also browse through Krista K and Perchance. Southport Grocery is a great place to refuel, but if you are there in the evening, Tango Sur is a dynamite Argentinian steakhouse.
  5. Division. Itty bitty boutiques abound. I loved Penelope’s for the clothing and Paperdoll for stationery.
  6. Milwaukee. The heart of what-used-to-be-hipstervile-and-now-is-yuppieville. That’s okay though. Find your Levi’s, Free People, Urban Outfitters and some interesting vintage stores here.
  7. North. I used to do some real damage on this street. With power labels like J.Crew and housewares mecca Crate & Barrel (and it’s trendy baby C2), I’d gather my necessities here. (Then grab wine at Sono.)
  8. Grand. Some of my favorite antique/junk stores are over here and they are amazzzzing. Salvage One is the best and it’s also an event venue (we considered having our wedding here, but went with this incredible space…which made this awesome list at #3)
  9. Montrose. Admittedly, I never made it up here myself. But I hear Neighborly is rad.
  10. Just trust me. The Walgreens on North & Damen. This isn’t your average drug store.

And there we have it. Now that I don’t live there anymore, I realize two things 1) how massive that city is (2.7 million residents! 234 square miles!) and 2) how little I really knew of it (I didn’t even touch on cool neighborhoods like Logan Square, Andersonville, or Pilsen). It’s amazing how you can find your little niche wherever you live and once you find that comfort, you kinda stick with it.

I know a city this large has way way wayyyy more to offer. Have something to add? Please leave a note in the comments!

xxx

{first image is from a boat tour I took with my dad back in 2010.)

P.S. My guide to visiting Amsterdam.

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Easy day trip: Oneonta Gorge

Having spent my childhood in the great plains of the Midwest, my world was flat. Flat cornfields, flat roads, flat everything made distant rolling hills and far off craggy mountaintops all the more majestic. There was something magical and mysterious about them; they were out of reach. To this day, I am still captivated by landscape that is not perfectly horizontal.

Midwesterner or not, the Oneonta Gorge is a delight for thrill seekers of all ages. A tall, narrow ravine only accessible by climbing slippery logjams and plunging chest deep into icy water, this gorge is a riveting experience. And just 40 minutes outside of Portland, it is well worth the drive for those wishing to actively participate in a slice of Oregon magic.

So, how do we get there? It’s actually quite straightforward and for those of you that have been out on the scenic route 30 have probably passed right by it. Just east of Multnomah Falls, there are signs for the Oneonta Gorge Trail. Go ahead and park in that designated area. To follow the trail, there is a bridge leading into a tunnel. But rather than go through the tunnel, you’ll want to take the overgrown stairs just before the bridge in the southwest corner.

Oneonta Gorge, Oregon

This is where our adventure began. These steps led us down to the bottom of the ravine, rather than the marked trail. Initially, the trickle of water is not even ankle-deep and easily avoidable by the wide riverbanks. We walked along the bank until we got to this:

Oneonta Gorge, Oregon

Yep. It’s a huge logjam with dozens of enormous, slick trees. It doesn’t look that treacherous, but trust. It’s taller and wider than it lseems. Climbing across it is somewhat dangerous. I mean, this area is unmaintained and there are no handrails. But we did see small nimble children, fit older folks, and even brave dogs making their way across. Know your own limits. It is NOT safe.

being a nerd.

being a nerd on top of the log jam

Once we successfully crossed, we understood the reason why so many people do it. Ahead of us was a deep cut in the mountains that looked like they were split apart with a jagged knife. Walking through it, we stared up in amazement.  It was otherworldly. We were not be the only ones murmuring, this is awesome. It is awesome. It invokes awe.

Oneonta Gorge, Oregon

As we walked along, we realized our legs were tingling. Looking down, we saw that the earth dipped and the water slowly crept up and was hugging our calves. And the riverbanks had disappeared. The water was so clear we could barely tell. But, not wanting to be wimps, we forged on. (You can’t forge a river though.) Surprisingly, our legs numbed got used to it quickly.

The water receded just as fast as it rose, and we thought we were out of the danger zone. That wasn’t so bad! But a few steps ahead then the ground sank again. The stones on which we were walking kept dipping lower, and lower and lower beneath the surface of the water. This time, it wasn’t just to our knees. The water was now chest deep. And ice cold. Since we knew there was more ahead, we kept going, the cool water wrapping around our skin like a snake with a deathlike grip. It. Was. Freezing. But after a few minutes of torture, we were released and back on dry land.

Oneonta Gorge, Oregon

deep!

Walking a few more paces into the canyon, we came to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Before us was a massive waterfall. We reached the end! After a few obligatory jumping photos, we traversed back out.

Oneonta Gorge, Oregon

Oneonta Gorge, Oregon

Oneonta Gorge, Oregon

That entire adventure took us about 90 minutes. Well worth the drive from Portland to visit this natural treasure.

xxx

Trip Planning: Hiking the Kalalau Trail

Jaro and I are thrilled to be heading back to Kauai this fall. It can’t come soon enough! Aside from sunning on the beautiful beaches, snorkling with sea turtles, eating all the fresh poki we can handle, and enjoying time with Jaro’s aunt, we decided to try something new while we are there this time…

We’re going to hike the entire 11 mile Kalalau Trail that runs along the breathtaking NaPali Coast. Those 11 miles take the “good conditioned” hiker one full day. So obviously, coming back out will take another full day at a minimum. This will probably be a two night trip, so we can spend a day relaxing at the final destination- Kalalau Beach. It will also depend on weather, which can turn in an instant on Kauai.

Before we could do our happy dance, we had to clear two things: That the trail is passable during this time of year (it is, but there is always a risk of rain) and that we could obtain the overnight camping permits in time because they sell out quickly (we did). Fortunately, we have all the equipment for backcountry camping, so we’re all set. Although Jaro will take any excuse for another stroll through REI.

The first time we went to Kauai together, back in 2008 (!), we hiked the first 2 miles to the Hanakapi’ai waterfalls. Climbing past giant bamboo, mountain streams and wild lychee, it was truly an unforgettable experience. Here are some pics from our little point and shoot we were using back then. These were all shot in one day and you can see how the weather changes pretty drastically from clear, to completely overcast and back.

I can’t wait for the shots we’ll take with our better camera and better photography skills!

Kalalau Trail, Kauai

Kalalau Trail, Kauai

Kalalau Trail, Kauai

Kalalau Trail, Kauai

Kalalau Trail, Kauai

Kalalau Trail, Kauai

one last look at NaPali

a rewarding sunset at Ke'e Beach

xxx

Day Trip: Mount St. Helens

Dad and I took yet another day trip (see Astoria and the Gorge; our others) up to Washington, hoping for a glimpse of Mount St. Helens, an active volcano that famously erupted back in 1980. As we approached the visitor center, we had high hopes. Once inside, we learned that several roads were still closed due to snow. Snow? What snow? It was completely melted up to that point. We drove in as far as we could, passing snow piled up as tall as the car (oh), stopped in the middle of the road, and waited, thinking that the clouds would part to get a good look at her flat-top.

No such luck. As you’ll see in the pictures, we only got a slice of the pie this time. Ironically, the entire following week was so clear that we could see St. Helens every single day all the way from Portland. Looks like Dad has to come back again.

Mount St. Helens, WA

Visitor Center. Mount St. Helens, WA

Mount St. Helens, WA

Pretty scenery. Mount St. Helens, WA

Mount St. Helens, WA

Abnormally large clovers. Mount St. Helens, WA

Mount St. Helens, WA

Snow as tall as the car. Mount St. Helens, WA

Mount St. Helens, WA

There she (sorta) is. On the right, you can see the slope. Mount St. Helens, WA

Mount St. Helens, WA

A better look in the crater. Mount St. Helens, WA

Mount St. Helens, WA

Winter Wonderland. Mount St. Helens, WA

Verdict? It’s worth a shot. Even though we didn’t see the full monty, there was something special about my Dad and I leaning on the hood of my car, in silence, watching the clouds. You don’t get those moments very often. That was a good one. I won’t forget it.

xxx

Day Trip: Astoria

The radio silence around here wasn’t for nothing. We’ve been busy getting our house together and continuing to explore the Pacific Northwest with alarming zeal. Seriously. Things are super busy around here. In a good way.

And my dad recently visited! He was our first guest in our new old house and that alone made it special. But we also toured all around the NW so he (and myself, let’s be honest) could learn more about this region that I now call home. Guess what? It’s awesome! Our first day trip was to Astoria, home of my generation’s classic The Goonies movie, the devastating Columbia River Bar (aka: the graveyard of ships) and some really great breweries. Since the weather was a little crummy, we spent the entire morning in the Columbia River Maritime Museum learning about the dangerous Bar, which was fascinating. The water looked so peaceful, but somehow that area has amassed over 2,000 shipwrecks and many, many deaths. After finding this out, both surprised and unnerved, we drove up to Washington to visit the state park where two historic lighthouses protect this barbaric coast.

Goonies House, Astoria

Goonies House, Astoria

Columbia River Maritime Museum, Astoria

Columbia River Maritime Museum, Astoria

Fort George, Astoria

Fort George Brewery, Astoria

Cape Disappointment State Park, Washington

Cape Disappointment State Park, Washington

North Head Lighthouse, Cape Disappointment State Park, WA

North Head Lighthouse, Cape Disappointment State Park, WA

Cape Disappointment State Park, Washington

Cape Disappointment State Park, Washington

Cape Disappointment State Park, Washington

Cape Disappointment State Park, Washington

Columbia River Bar

Columbia River Bar

Cape Disappointment State Park, WA

Cape Disappointment State Park, WA

If you’re coming to Oregon – check out Astoria! Beautiful place with such interesting history.

And just for fun:

xxx

Monday Travel Memory: Swiss Forgiveness

A few months ago, Jaro and I took a impromptu two week road trip through Europe. I wrote about Switzerland. Specifically, how I pretty much hated it. It’s funny to look back on those thoughts in retrospect. I mean, what a drama queen. Yes, it was shockingly expensive. Yes, I thought I was going to die when I went paragliding in Interlaken. But now, I realize how little those things mattered in the grand scheme of things. Okay, well maybe fearing for my life does sort of matter… but as much as I complained, I trusted. I lived. Why couldn’t I just let it go? Not be that annoying American tourist (cringe) complaining about money all the time? Just forgive and enjoy?

Now that we have our desktop up and running, I scrolled through the pictures from that portion of the trip and am blown away by the stunning beauty everywhere we turned in that country. And how lucky I am to have lived close enough to go.

Bern, Switzerland

Bern, Switzerland

Bern, Switzerland

Bern, Switzerland

Lake Geneva, Switzerland

Lake Geneva, Switzerland

Lakeside in Montreux, Switzerland

Lakeside in Montreux, Switzerland

Lake Geneva, Switzerland

Lake Geneva, Switzerland

Gruyere, Switzerland

J+J in Gruyere, Switzerland

Gruyere, Switzerland

Gruyere, Switzerland

Interlaken, Switzerland

Interlaken, Switzerland

Outside Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland

Outside Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland

Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland

Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland

Lungern, Switzerland

Lungern, Switzerland

Lucerne, Switzerland

Lucerne, Switzerland

Countryside, Switzerland

Countryside, Switzerland

Aletsch Glacier, Switzerland

Aletsch Glacier, Switzerland

Aletsch Glacier, Switzerland

Me enjoying Aletsch Glacier, Switzerland

Matterhorn, Switzerland

Matterhorn, Switzerland

I truly only have wonderful memories about our time in Switzerland. I don’t remember the expense. I don’t remember if the food was mediocre. I don’t remember other negatives. I only look back on it warmly. With nostalgia. Sometimes you (okay, I) need time to realize things aren’t as bad as they seem. I strongly, highly, totally 100% recommend visitors to Europe to include Switzerland. Don’t have the attitude I did. Just enjoy it. Switzerland, I forgive you for your (very few) flaws. I hope you forgive me.

xxx

California Trip: San Fran & Oakland

Happy Thursday! Looking forward to a wine tasting tonight with some friends. It’s almost the weekend and we’re in a celebratory mood. But first, let’s wrap up my visit to Cali. I’ve summed up our drive south and our drive north, but what about my time IN the bay? Here we go, my dears.

Unfortunately, I don’t have too many pictures of my time in the cities. We were too busy chatting and running around from place to place that I didn’t spend time lining up for decent shots. So here is a brief summary:

Berkeley: My first night there, we went to a chic dinner at Chez Panisse. Highly, highly recommend. The food was so fresh. The whole street, known as the Gourmet Ghetto, is dotted with eateries run by acclaimed chefs, so I think I need to find my way back there again real soon.

Oakland: My friend lives here so I really got to experience some of the highlights this city across the bay has to offer. It is awesome! It’s totally up & coming and not at all touristy. I recommend visiting Oakland if you are traveling to the bay area. While it’s definitely on the up and up, gentrification has its downsides (less diversity, more expensive, etc) and it will be interesting to see how that affects the environment in Oakland. All I can say is right now is a great time to go…

Oakland, CA

especially with all the trees flowering – so pretty! As for what we did, we (seriously) enjoyed chicken & waffles at none other than the Home of Chicken and Waffle, basically an Oakland landmark…

Chicken and Waffles

and it was surprisingly delicious and, not surprisingly, SUPER filling. We also walked around the quaint Jack London Square, grabbed scrumptious macarons at Miette, got foot rubs while drinking tea at the Foot Spa and Tea Bar, strolled the three mile loop around Lake Merritt (twice!)…

Lake Merritt, Oakland, CA

poked into the shops in Rockridge, ate our weight in cheese from the Sacred Wheel cheese shop and feasted at Burma Superstar for a flavorful dinner and Cock-A-Doodle for a hungover brunch. Basically, it’s the best. I loved all the places we checked out and would recommend them to all my friends.

San Francisco: Well, obviously. I love this city so much. We had done a lot of the tourist attractions the other times I visited (visiting Fisherman’s Wharf, Ghirardelli Square, Lombard Street, drinks in the Marina, shopping in Union Square and driving over the Golden Gate Bridge), so this visit was more focused on hanging out with friends. I did convince Marisa to ride the cablecar with me from Powell to Hyde and that was really fun. It passed a lot of the attractions that SF is famous for. Beyond that, we checked out Golden Gate Park, took in the views from the tower at De Young

San Francisco, CA

ate made-to-order sandwiches and teensy treats (that’s what their bitty desserts were called!) from Andronico’s, laughed and gabbed our way through a Peruvian dinner at Limon in the Mission, followed by drinks at pub-style Elixir and dance-y Beauty Bar. It was GREAT. Again, I’d go back to any of these places and gladly recommend visitors to check them out.

And finally, I don’t know what I’d do without these two…

Lake Merritt, Oakland, CAThese are friends I’m so lucky to have, especially now that we’re all living on the west coast. It was just like old times, but in a new place. Sometimes familiar faces (and a little bit of sunshine) are all you need to pull yourself together and say, “Okay, we can do this.” This is pretty much everything going on in my unsettled life right now. That’s all going to change soon.

I came back to Portland refreshed and relaxed. That’s the point of vacations, right? Thank you, California!

xxx

California Trip: Redwoods & Wineries

Happy Wednesday all! I’m feeling better and this week is looking up. Way up. Woo hoo!

So, yesterday I shared the coastal part of my trip to Cali, today is the next installment when we drove north from the bay. Our first stop was Guerneville, a somewhat remote town on the edge of some majestic redwood forests. It’s a tiny one-street “downtown”, perfect for stopping and stretching your legs.

Then we headed into the woods. We explored nearby Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve. The thing about redwoods, if you didn’t know, is that they’re really tall. Like 300 feet tall. And they’re really old. Like 1,300 years old. This is what we saw as we walked among the giants…

Armstrong Redwoods

Armstrong RedwoodsArmstrong Redwoods

Pictures really don’t do them justice. They be huge. And reserve itself is really nice and close enough to the bay that you can get your redwood fill without having to drive four hours up to the national park. (Though I still want to visit there sometime.)

After a morning “hike” through the reserve, we obviously needed refreshments and headed into wine country. Not far away in the Russian River Valley, was a stretch of small, adorable wineries along a country road called Westside. We stopped at Matrix (which does not distribute) and tried maybe 8-10 wines for only 5 bucks! Try finding that kind of deal over in Napa. Traveler Tip: Want to experience the vineyards without all the hype (or the traffic)? Check out the options in the Russian River Valley. They are much more low key. I definitely suggest it to fellow wine lovers out there!

After that grueling morning, we realized we were becoming hangry. So we drove over to Calistoga, a sweet town at the north end of the Napa county, for lunch. Stopped into Checkers for some hearty salads and then continued merrily on our way down the Silverado Trail through all those lovely vineyards. Traveler Tip: The Silverado Trail runs parallel to the main drag through Napa, Route 29, but is much less congested. Highly recommend if you just want to drive through Napa and take in the scenery, but not necessarily visit the heavy hitters like Sterling or Robert Modavi (you’d have to get on 29 for them). These were our views…

Napa Valley, California

Napa Valley, CaliforniaWe finished out the day in Sonoma. Traveler Tip: Sonoma is the underdog of Napa Valley. Don’t get me wrong, I love the glamour of Napa and Yountville from my last visit, but with that comes higher prices and more people. This was a different experience and maybe that’s because of the time of year too. February isn’t as hot a ticket as September. I guess I’ll have to go back again to be sure. Anyway, it took a bit of effort to climb over the ridge to get to Sonoma, but it was so worth it. I’m definitely making it a priority the next time I’m in the valley. Such a pretty town, with a cute main square and lots of little boutiques and wine bars. I only managed to get this shot of the sunset over the trees…

Sonoma, California

The sky looked like, I don’t know, cotton candy? Not that I’d ever eat it, but it’s pretty.

Another great day in California comes to an end. Still more to share about our adventuring in Oakland and San Francisco. Coming soon…

xxx

California Trip: Route 1

Hey friends. It’s safe to say that I’m in love with California. It’s the state that has it all. Dramatic coastlines, sandy beaches, rugged mountains, charming vineyards, towering redwood forests, sophisticated cities, the SUN, and so much more. What a spoiled state. (One could say that Oregon has these things, but the weather being what it is, I haven’t experienced them, so hmph.)

For one day, we drove south from Oakland on Route 1, otherwise known as the Cabrillo Highway. We occasionally pulled over to take in views like this… California

strolled along the coast through Monterey and Pacific Grove after a huge meal at Cannery Row Brewing Company

Monterey, California

detoured to do the famous 17 Mile Drive, which includes Spanish Bay…

Spanish Bay, California

Spanish Bay, California

Point Joe…
Pacific Grove, California

California

and the gorgeous Fanshell Cove…
Fanshell Cove, California

Then we came upon The Lone Cypress, landmark of the Pebble Beach Golf Club…

The Lone Cypress, California

And played under this pier…

Pebble Beach Golf Club, California

Before heading back home, we drove through part of Big Sur (which is lovely, but we never found a good spot to pull over for pics on those twisty roads) at sunset.

I highly recommend this drive; it is so scenic. Even the 17 Mile Drive, which costs 10 bucks just to enter, is totally worth it. The beauty in this route is that it can be done any time of year. You are guaranteed incredible views. We experienced some strong wind, but the sunshine was plentiful and the skies were clear. Traveler Tip: In some stretches, towns are few and far between, so fill up your tank and bring snacks. No one likes a hangry passenger.

Stay tuned for more Cali adventures…

xxx

On Travel

Chicago

What does travel mean to you? The word travel. What is it? I’ve been reflecting on it recently. Much like home, it’s kind of elusive to me. Or maybe not just elusive, more like… evolving.

See – A few months ago, I was getting myself excited for a move to Stockholm. So many new countries to explore up there. I had never been to Norway, Finland or Denmark. I craved the idea of a trip to Iceland. I was excited to drift through these Scandinavian countries; exploring beautiful landscapes, exposure to new cultures, meeting interesting people, eating all kinds of seafood (can you imagine?). Scandinavia. It sounds so mysterious. So cold cool. I would have continued to travel. To be uncomfortable (and okay with it). To be amazed. To be inspired. To be changed. From living abroad, that became my definition of travel. While not always glamorous, it was always thrilling.

Then, we slammed on the proverbial expat brakes (not intentionally) and moved back to the U.S.

“Travel” as I knew it will now be more difficult. We bought are buying a little house. Eventually, a little pup. Jaro’s job is a little more… local (read: not back and forth between Netherlands and Ukraine). Our life is a lot different. In a lot of ways, it’s simpler. And one of my first thoughts was, when am I going to travel again?

Gaining all this insight from my experiences over the past eighteen months and now faced with a “familiar” (what I previously would have called boring) life, I realize that I need to redefine travel. The word. It can’t be limited to the things I mentioned above. It longer means a visit to a foreign country. Or interacting with foreign people, foreign languages, foreign currency. It no longer means being uncomfortable… necessarily.

It means a lot more. Of course, it still means those things. But, it also means a day trip to Cannon Beach. Or a drive out to the Columbia River Gorge. Or a quick city getaway to Seattle or San Francisco (especially if that includes a day trip to Big Sur). It means getting out and seeing a new place, anywhere. And respecting it. And appreciating it. Even if it’s just a new part of Portland.

World, I’m ready.

xxx

P.S. My evolving thoughts on friendship.

{image from our flight to Chicago, our first glimpse of the States in 14 months}