72 Hours in Chicago

Before autumn fades out for good, I wanted to take the time to recap on my recent trip to Chicago in case anyone was looking for ideas for an upcoming trip! While I’ve passed through the windy city many times throughout my life, this was my first trip (in memory, at least) where Chicago was the main destination. I was so excited! I’ve had a big hunch for a few years now that I would adore this city, and oh man, was I right.

In a nutshell, Chicago has that perfect balance of metropolitan bustle and small town coziness that I love so very much. There’s beautiful architecture, exciting food and drink options, a shockingly cool history and cultural identity, and some of the nicest people ever (midwesterners are the best).  The weather was also perfect – we went the first weekend of October so it was sunny but with a perfect fall crisp. It occurred to me more than once during my stay there that if it weren’t for the brutal winters, I’d move there in a heartbeat.

Going with my big sister (& travel soulmate) was crucial. We do trips together really well and tend to create itineraries that include a lot of food & coffee, a ton of walking/biking, some ticketed special/local experiences, and relaxing quality time spent together. We like to steer clear of most tourist traps, keep things pretty frugal, and try to really get the feel of the place. This trip did exactly all those things, so without further adieu…Our Perfect Chicago Itinerary! 

Day 1:

We started the day early (like 9:30-ish but we recommend even earlier!) at the Doughnut Vault. I love doughnuts, and saw this spot all over the ‘gram, so I made this one a non-negotiable. The aesthetics were so on point and the doughnuts were good, but we got there too late and the buttermilk old fashioned doughnuts had already sold out. Sad.

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Starting here was also ideal because it put us in the heart of downtown Chicago. We took our coffees to go and leisurely walked around the downtown area so that we could admire all the city sights, like the iconic Chicago Theater!

We also picked up our metro passes early in the day. This ended up being completely worth it – the subway and bus system in Chicago is really nice and got us everywhere we needed to go. No Ubers or renting cars required!

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Eventually we found our way to Millennium Park and The Bean. Our advice? Go early and go on a weekday. We were there when it was relatively empty, but just an hour later it was completely packed.

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Around noon we loaded onto a riverboat for an Architecture Boat Tour. Seeing the city from this perspective, on the river that winds through the middle of it, felt really unique. I learned a few cool facts about different styles of architecture, and my only complaint would be that I had hoped for more trivia about Chicago itself.

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By the time the tour was over we were starving, so we headed to Pequod’s Pizza for some Chicago style, deep dish pizza. Then it was off to explore the Lincoln Park area. This was definitely one of my favorite neighborhoods – it was beautiful, quaint, and almost London-esque. Doesn’t this house (below) look just like Hogwarts?!

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At around 7:30 we made our way to Second City Chicago for an improv show. Guys, I don’t think I’ve laughed so hard for so long in my entire life. One of my favorite activities of the whole trip and a total must!

To end the night, we stopped at the LondonHouse rooftop bar for a quick drink and some stunning sights of the city at night. Then it was off to bed.

DAY 2:

Our airbnb was a beautiful 15 minute walk to Wicker Park, so we headed that way for brunch at Etta. Talk about interior dreams.

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Wicker Park turned out to be my favorite area, so we spent a good amount of time exploring. We stopped into several shops, sat and chatted over coffee at Wormhole Coffee, did a lot of great people watching, and loved every second of it. From Wicker Park, we walked all the way over to Logan Square where we tried a few beers from a local brewery and where I picked up a “souvenir” candle from Diptyque.

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Around 5 p.m it started to rain, so we caught an early dinner at Beatnik. This was maybe my favorite place we ate the entire trip. The interior was so beautiful! There were plants everywhere, a glass ceiling, lots of middle eastern textures, big golden chandeliers, drippy candles, and fun patterns. The food was also so good. 

Since it was still raining and we wanted to give our feet some rest, we headed back to our airbnb to relax and watch a movie together. After refueling, we headed back out to Wicker Park to get drinks at The Up Room cocktail bar, then ended the night at a speakeasy called The Violet Hour. The speakeasy culture of Chicago is really cool, so don’t sleep on it. I wish we could have gone to more!

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Day 3:

We started out with another brunch in Wicker Park (can you tell it was our favorite area?) at Café Cancale. Then we headed back into the downtown area to visit the Chicago Cultural Center, which was stunning and so interesting. If you’re too crunched for time to do the Art Institute like we were, this is a great (and free!) alternative.

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Our last big activity for the trip was renting a couple of bikes and biking up and down the lakefront of Lake Michigan, past the Navy Pier, and through several parks. I was completely floored by how blue the water was, how the lake looked like an ocean, and how it came right up to the edge of the running path! I saw so many people just jump right in (not wade, jump!), from where we were biking. The weather couldn’t have been better, people were out doing all kinds of activities, and it was altogether just stunning.

We biked all the way up to Weiner’s Circle for a Chicago-style hot dog as our last meal. Then we returned our bikes, picked up our bags, and headed to the airport (which was so easy to get to on the subway!)

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That was it! I loved it there so much and can’t wait to go back. There were so many things we just couldn’t get to all in one weekend. Bravo, Chicago, you stole my heart.

 

 

 

36 Hours in Monterey Bay

This post has been sitting in my drafts file for almost a whole year!!! Which is ridiculous, because I’ve really wanted to share it with you all.

Last summer, for Fourth of July weekend, Mark and I traveled a bit north to spend a few relaxing days in Monterey Bay. Mark’s been raving about this super quaint beach town for years to me, and after watching Big Little Lies (Reese Witherspoon is everything) I was ready to find out what all the fuss was about.

You know how in the NYTimes Travel section they do “36 Hours in _____”? I love them! It’s a great resource for planning a short but awesome trip somewhere new. So I thought I’d do my own little version: 36 Hours in Monterey Bay.

FRIDAY:

We left L.A around 8 am. It’s a 6 hour drive so we thought it best to get started early. Around 2 we arrived in Carmel, a small but charming town adjacent to Monterey. It’s small enough that we decided it would be totally doable to fit into the trip and honestly was really worth it. After so long in the car we decided the first thing on the itinerary would be to stop at the Point Lobos State Reserve and hike around. The trails are easy and take you through the woods till you hit the water, where you can see tons of sea lions, birds, and other marine life. It was gorgeous!

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After hiking, we made a point to explore the little town of Carmel a bit. Everything was picturesque and exactly what you’d expect of a beach town. Lots of cute shops, good coffee and bakeries, and the marina was adorable. I couldn’t snap enough pictures. We stopped in to A.W Shucks for light dinner, enjoyed some wine and oysters, and then drove to Monterey and checked in to our AirB&B to turn in since Saturday was going to be a full day!

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SATURDAY:

The first task of the day was (predictably) to get coffee. We drove over to Cafe Lumiere and grabbed lattes and smoked salmon breakfast toasts. So good! The decor was (also predictably) nautical themed, which got us in the mood for our next stop: the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

The aquarium is in the middle of Cannery Row in Monterey. It’s a pretty touristy zone, but the history is interesting. It was (is?) apparently home to canning factories, which were responsible for most of the revenue and jobs in Monterey for a long time. I had big hopes for the aquarium, but I hate to say I was pretty disappointed. There were some cool smaller exhibits, and we loved the penguins and otters, but the tickets were sooo expensive and the aquarium really wasn’t worth the price tag.

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After the aquarium we did some strolling and found ourselves on the pier. We grabbed another snack and an iced coffee at Water & Leaves and enjoyed some pretty sweet views of the marina. Then we hustled over to Adventures By The Sea where we got to rent kayaks and freely boat around the bay for hours! We got so close to wild otters and had sea lions mere feet from us. It was so much fun and even though both of us got reaaally sunburnt, the best excursion from the trip.

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For dinner, we chose The Sardine Factory in Cannery Row. Don’t let the name scare you off! We chose to eat in the “garden”, which was a greenhouse-like room surrounded by beautiful greenery and it honestly felt like we were in a dream. The sun was setting so the light was nice and soft, and slowly the ambiance shifted to twinkle lights and candles. It was so sweet! We loved our food (and wine) but the part of the meal that I will never forget was the clam chowder with sherry. So. GOOD.

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SUNDAY:

It was the Fourth of July at this point so we woke up early, grabbed some coffee and pastries, got one last view of the beach, and headed home to get started on our celebrations!

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P.s if you like travel posts, especially California based, you have to follow my girl Elizabeth’s blog at Have Dog, Will Drive! She and her fiancé are absolute travel pros.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Settle in y’all. It’s about to be a long one!

On September 1st, the day when magical kids from all over the UK load onto the Hogwarts Express to begin another year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I dragged Mark to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal to celebrate.

So here’s a little fun fact about me: I am obsessed with the Harry Potter series. Like, have all the books and books on tape and movies all in multiple formats. I burst into tears whenever I hear the soundtrack, or watch/read certain scenes, or when I think of how much the whole thing means to me. I know every fact ever about the whole franchise and I’m the go-to trivia expert on the matter for my family and many friends.

So considering all of this, it was a little absurd that before yesterday, I had yet to visit either of the Harry Potter parks. I was full on crazy the morning of September 1st, I woke up immediately at 6:40 am and jumped up to get ready. Mark and I left around 7:10 in the morning because we I wanted to get to the park 1 hour before it opened (Early admission is allowed when you purchase tickets from the park website) so we could walk around and take pictures before it got crowded. This was definitely the right move. The park was virtually empty, the light was just right for photos, and we got to see everything and even go on some rides before it opened!

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I immediately started squealing when I saw everything. The details were unbelievable. It was a whole experience and it really felt like I was in the story I have loved for decades now. hogsmede2

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After taking the time to take photos of every storefront and all views of the castle, we decided to start with the ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. In order to get to the ride you get to walk through the castle like a student and see famous classrooms and artifacts from the movies. My favorites were the enchanted Weasley car, the Mirror of Erised, the Defense Against the Dark Arts classrooms, and the moving and talking portraits. One was even of Salazar Slytherin!HOGWARTScar

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At the very end of the walk through was the beginning of the ride which takes you through a condensed version of all Harry’s adventures. It was so well done, with a combination of 3-D visuals and physical things popping out at you. I’ll try not to ruin it, but you meet up with dementors, a basilisk, acromentulas, a dragon, and you get to play some Quiddich. I immediately burst into tears of joy and continued to sob with the goofiest smile on my face for the whole thing, all the while thinking “I’m in the story. This is all I’ve ever wanted”. 

Around 8:30 we decided it was time for some of the famous butterbeer, so we stopped at a cart and got 2 butterbeers (1 frozen and 1 iced), and 2 pumpkin juices for the road. The butterbeer was good, like a butterscotch soda, but really sweet. And of course you know we got the souvenir cup!butterbeer3butterbeer2butterbeer

Next stop was Ollivanders, where you can actually go in and buy your very own wand! They lead you into a dark wand room and play out the same scene where Harry gets his wand with a very lucky kid. And I mean the exact same scene. Cue the sobs for the second time. It just felt so real!!! The wand expert even made fun of me a little for this one… It was also so cool to admire close up all the wands from the movies for all of the different characters. In the end, the wands that chose Mark and me looked an awfully lot like Sirius Black’s and Hermione’s 😉ollivanders

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Then we spent a good amount of time going into all of the shops, looking around, and shopping. We purchased some howlers from the Owl Post, laughed at the comical goods at Zonko’s Joke Shop, tried on robes, and got dangerously close to buying all things quiddich related at the Quiddich shop. owlpostzonkos

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Around 10:30 we had a traditional english breakfast in the restaurant The Three Broomsticks, which had so many authentic details that I just couldn’t stop snapping photos. And then, since the park was getting pretty crowded and we had done just about everything we wanted to do, we took a little break and went to other areas of the Universal Park. threebroomsticks3threebroomsticksthreebroomsticks2

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We took a really cool studio tour where we got to tour the lots where movies and tv shows are filmed, then did a Walking Dead themed walk-through experience that almost had Mark hyperventilating in fear, and then I wanted to go back to Hogwarts (shocker). So we went on the Forbidden Journey ride again, did the quick ride “Flight of the Hippogriff”, visited Hagrid’s hut, picked up 2 more butterbeers, and then stopped into Honeydukes for a final bit of shopping before we took off.

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It was so amazing in there. Seriously straight out of the movies. We wanted to buy just about everything, but decided to stick with the classics from the series: We got a chocolate frog (with Rowena Ravenclaw’s card inside), exploding bon-bons, Bertie Bott’s Every Flavored Beans, and some butterbeer fudge. honeydukes2honeydukes3honeydukeschocolatefrogs

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We got home at 2 pm, ordered pizza, and watched the last three Harry Potter movies to keep the festivities going. It was pretty much my favorite day ever. And today I woke up, got to drink some coffee out of my HP themed mug, and nibble some of my butterbeer fudge. Heck yeah.

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