A weekend in Columbus, OH

Iconic street art in the Short North District of Columbus

Columbus, Ohio, the state captol, seems vastly underappreciated. As a college town, it has many cultural offerings, a substantial downtown and is the third largest fashion hub in America (after the well-stilettoed New York City and Los Angeles). The Sciota River traverses  leisurely through the downtown and offers much natural beauty for exercising. Probably most famously, Columbus is home to The Ohio State University, the flagship public university in the state. Similar to other college towns, there is a large university presence and expect to see many locals in Buckeyes apparel.  As a native Bostonian who now lives in NYC, I also observed that Columbus is notable for its characteristic warm people. The city is situated in the middle of the state of Ohio, and is a 3 hour drive to Ann Arbor, a 2 hours and 45 minutes drive to Indianapolis, and 3 hours to Pittsburgh which make Columbus a weekend getaway for many midwesterners, or a destination as part of a broader midwest tour. I personally went to Columbus for a wedding and tacked Cincinnati (a 2 hour drive south) onto my Ohio vacation. The city is very manageable for a weekend getaway as a couple, a group of friends or a family.

When to go: The best season for a visit is the early fall, when the weather first begins to get crisp, yet outdoor activities are still pleasant. Of course, you may want to include the experience of attendance at a big time college football game to see Columbus at its liveliest. Alternatively, the summers offer many outdoor activities on the lakes. The city has once-a-month gallery hops, which would be a great time to coordinate your trip (more info here). 

Friday Night:

Start your evening in the Short North Arts District. The name comes from a time when the neighborhood was a little rougher and police would call it just short of the north district in downtown. Like many neighborhoods with a similar history it is now a Bohemian enclave. The Short North centers around High Street and has interesting boutiques, restaurants and bars.  A few of my favorite stores are Prologue Bookshop (841 N High St), where the owner, Dan, is the nicest guy and very helpful with book selections. Rocket Fizz (944 N High St), is a fun soda pop and candy shop and Homage (783 N High St) is a vintage tee shirts and hipster sportswear store. Being a hipster haven, Columbus also has a number of stores that sell vinyl records, such as Magnolia Thunderpussy (1155 N. High St). Grab some dinner from one of the many restaurants in the area!   Two especially enjoyable features of the Short North are the steel archway over the public way and the street art, which is open and free. The city of Columbus has created a downloadable map of the public murals.  

Saturday:

Start your morning with some form of exercise along the Scioto Mile, a picturesque downtown grouping of public parks and trails on the east bank of the Scioto River.  There are many options for sightseeing in the area, including the use of rental bikes available at a reasonable cost at the CoGo bike stations.  As a runner, I enjoyed an invigorating early morning jog while taking in the beautiful downtown riverviews. I love the iconic Main Street Bridge which is an inclined single-rib-tied arch bridge which opened in 2010 and the Rich Street Bridge which looks most glorious when lit up at night. 

Based on the timing of the OSU football game, go for breakfast or lunch at the North Market (59 Spruce St), a classic downtown public market and food hall with a variety of restaurants. The original location of Jeni’s Ice Cream is here. Jeni’s has expanded throughout the midwest and is a crowd favorite. Rumor has it that the shop opened during an OSU/Michigan rivalry game and Jeni completely sold out of her ice cream! A few other favorites are Lan Viet Market for Vietnamese food and Dos Hermanos for tacos. The North Market Spices is another shop worth browsing.

If the schedule permits, plan on attending a big time Big Ten football game at Ohio State, and try to get there early, as parking is limited. You will get caught up in the art of pre-game tailgating on the way to the game.  If you are not tailgating, another option is to try the vendors.  The stadium is called the horseshoe or the “shoe” and seats over 100,000 enthusiastic fans. Get inside before kickoff so that you can get acclimated and check out some of the pageantry such as the band, the cheerleaders, the teams entering the stadium to raucous fans, and the singing of the National Anthem. The OSU campus also houses a modern art museum, Wexner Museum (1871 N High St). You can get a tour of the stadium (info here). 

For those who are not in the least bit interested in college football, the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium (4850 W Powell Rd)  or Center of Science and Industry or ‘COSI” (333 W Broad St) are great alternatives especially when travelling with children, and it has a dinosaur gallery. The Columbus Zoo & Aquarium complex includes an 18-hole golf course, a water park and an amusement park. The famous long time zoo director, Jack Hanna, has authored children’s books and hosted syndicated animal television shows.   For those not travelling with kids the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens (1777 E Broad St) is another great non-football option!

In the evening, grab dinner at Thurn’s Speciality Meats (530 Greenlawn Ave) a specialty meat purveyor since 1886. Then make an appearance at a couple of the gastropubs in the Brewery District. 

Sunday:

Start your morning in German Village, south of downtown. This historic neighborhood features old brick roads and German specialty restaurants founded after the arrival of the original European immigrants who made a community here. Get a jump-start on the day at Stauf’s Coffee Roasters (627 S 3rd St #1060) and then walk over to the Book Loft (631 S 3rd St), a 32 room bookstore which makes this the nation’s largest independent bookstore. (I do love bookstores!) The most famous German restaurants are Valters at the Maennerchor (976 S High St), Schmidt’s Sausage Haus (240 E Kossuth St) for a German hotdog, and next door, Schmidt’s Fudge Haus (220 E Kossuth St) for dessert. For those looking for a more upscale meal,  Lindey’s (169 E Beck St) has great food and a lovely outdoor patio. Lastly,  the former speakeasy, the Old Mohawk (819 Mohawk St) is worth a trip! Don’t forget to walk off all the German food with a stroll through quaint, Schiller Park. 

After German Village, make your way north to the downtown area. The Statehouse is a Greek Revival style building with what looks like a birthday cake on top. You can get a guided tour of the Ohio State Capitol Building (1 Capitol Square, tours start in the Map Room which is easy to access from the 3rd street entrance). Walk by the Ohio Theater and a few other downtown buildings. Make your way to Topiary Garden, which depicts figures from Georges Seurat’s 1884 painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, at the Old Deaf School Park. 

Cheers to a fun weekend getaway in the understated Columbus! 

If you are looking for more weekends away, check out my weekend itinerary for another Midwest college town of Madison, WI, Ann Arbor, MI or a fun filled weekend in Chicago, IL.

Thank you to Christy for sharing some of your favorites with me!

A weekend in Ann Arbor, MI!

Ann Arbor, this vibrant college town (actually a city) is home to the flagship University of Michigan. Go Blue! Don’t expect to walk down a block without seeing at least ten people in Michigan Blue and Gold. I went to visit some friends who were going to University of Michigan for graduate school, but this can be a great pals getaway, family destination, or couples retreat. The idyllic Huron River traverses the city and adds a beautiful backdrop to admiring nature during the fall foliage season. The people are friendly, but a weekend getaway is definitely ideal for a college football fan or those interested in looking at midwest college towns. 

When to go: I would recommend going in the Fall, when the weather is mild, the foliage is beginning to change, and the Michigan Football season is in full swing. If possible, try to align your visit with a Michigan football game. Timing wise, it is nice to have an evening game, so you can explore the city during the day. Yet, later in the season (Late October on) the weather can get very cold, so I would recommend an afternoon game if you are going in the late Fall. If you are not a fan of the Fall, summer is a great season to go for the great weather!

Getting there: there is an easy 45 minute bus called Michigan Flyer or the Air Ride that comes from the airport. Up to date schedules and booking can be found here

Friday night:

Arrive into Ann Arbor and get settled into your accommodation. I was visiting friends so this involved many laughs and lots of catching up. Grab dinner at the wine shop and restaurant, Spencer (113 E Liberty St), which provides a seasonal menu and picnic-style seating. Santer on over to Bill’s Beer Garden (218 S Ashley St), which turns the parking lot of the century old Downtown Home & Garden and turns it into a beer garden featuring local brews! 

Saturday: 

For those who enjoy getting a workout in the morning, I would recommend going for a run in the U of M’s Nichols Arboretum (1610 Washington Heights). Head back and get ready for the day (which includes a game, so get some Wolverines apparel on!) Head to the Saturday morning Ann Arbor Farmers Market (315 Detroit St). Make sure to eat something hardy before the game! Take an hour to windowshop some of the downtown stores, while there are many small businesses they mostly cater to outdoorsmen, college students, or birkenstocks wearing hipsters. 

Spend much of the afternoon at a University of Michigan game and tailgate. Tickets can be sold on stubhub or if you know a Michigan student there is a student marketplace where you can get tickets a few days before. University of Michigan has the largest stadium in the country (this includes professional stadiums). I went to a lively tailgate at the MBA Bus before the game! Legend has it that the land the stadium was built on was originally a lake and resulted in consistency similar to quicksand which caused an early crane to be engulfed under the stadium, where it remains today. Fact or fiction? We still don’t know!

For those who need a post game pick me up, I recommend coffee from the funky Roos Roast (117 E Liberty St).

In the evening, get dinner from Aventura (216 E Washington St), which has lovely decor, great tapas and tranquil outdoor seating on the back patio. Get a night cap while recapping the game at Jolly Pumpkin Café & Brewery (311 S Main St) which is a brewery offering high-end bar food and has a great upstairs deck. 

Sunday:

Start your morning off with some breakfast sandwiches from The Jefferson Market (609 W Jefferson St). Then head to campus. If you have a friend who is a student at the Law School, get a brief tour and walk around the law library (801 Monroe St) which was the filming location for Harry Potter! Head over to the University of Michigan Museum of Art (525 S State St) to peruse some of the rotating artwork. 

Don’t forget to grab a sandwich from Zingerman’s Delicatessen (422 Detroit St, Ann Arbor, MI 48104) before heading to the airport! 

Cheers to a fun Wolverine filled weekend in Ann Arbor!

If you are looking for more weekends away, check out my weekend itinerary for another Midwest college town of Madison, WI, Columbus, OH or a fun filled weekend in Chicago, IL.

Thank you to Olga, Eli, and Josie for showing me around Michigan!

A weekend in Madison, Wisconsin

Wisconsin State Capital building!

Madison, Wisconsin, “America’s Dairyland”, is known for their warm people, cold winters, and seasonal ales. Home to the Wisconsin State Capital and the flagship University of Wisconsin, similar to other college towns, there is a large university presence. As you may guess when looking at the Green Bay Packers mascot, the state is known for the dairy and specifically cheese production. While it may not be your cup of tea, I recommend trying some cheese curds while in town. The city is situated between Lake Monona and Lake Mendota, and is a 2.5 hour drive to Chicago and 4 hour drive to Minneapolis, which make Madison a great weekend getaway, or a destination among a larger midwest vacation. 

When to go: The best season to go (in my opinion) is the early fall, when the weather first begins to get crisp, yet walking everywhere is still pleasant. The food and beer festivals in September located in capital square are one of the highlights. My favorite thing about Wisconsin is that when the weather gets cooler, dive bars have crock pots full of melted cheese with crackers. It feels like a party at someone’s house, all the locals seem to know each other but are friendly to visitors. Not to mention that Fall, you can coordinate with a college football game to really see Madison at its liveliest. Alternatively, the summers offer many outdoor activities on the lakes. 

Friday:

Get settled into your accommodation. Then start your evening at the gastropub, The Tipsy Cow (102 King St), where you can get a burger, beer and a side of cheese curds! If you are interested in the gastropub scene, walk the one block to Great Dane Pub (123 E Doty St). The Great Dane has pool tables and outdoor beer gardens, which make for a relaxed setting for a Friday night. 

Saturday: 

Enjoying at beer at New Glarus brewery!

Start your morning with a tour of the Wisconsin State Capitol Building (2 E Main St) afterwards peruse the Dane County Farmers market called “Saturday in the Square”. Coming from an East Coast city, I have a great appreciation for anyone who has worked in the agriculture industry.

For those who are interested in architecture, take a quick sidetrack to Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center (1 John Nolen Dr), which is a Frank Lloyd Wright designed waterfront building. Return to the capitol building before window shopping State street west to the University. State Street is a vibrant street with a number of shops, restaurants and art galleries. It terminates at the university campus along with the Wisconsin Historical Society (816 State St) and Chazen Museum of Art (800 University Place). 

Spend your late afternoon in the Swiss Village of New Glarus and eponym brewery.  New Glarus was established as a Swiss Colony in 1845 and incorporated as a Village in 1901. The town retains its Swiss architecture and culture with chalet style houses and lovely quaint stores. 

Sunday:

Don’t underestimate the amount of effort it took to get up there!

Work up an appetite walking around the large and tranquil University of Wisconsin Arboretum. Then get a well deserved hearty brunch from Mickies Dairy Bar (1511 Monroe St). 

For those who have additional time, I would recommend a day trip to either Mount Horeb, the Norwegian village that has become the “Troll Capital of the World” or head to Taliesin Estate, Frank Lloyd Wright’s picturesque former home and the location for a grisly mass murder. 

If you are looking for more weekends away, check out my weekend itinerary for another Midwest college town of Ann Arbor, MI, Columbus, OH or a fun filled weekend in Chicago, IL.

Thank you to Kelly and Chris for showing me around your city!

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A weekend in Matera, Italy

‘Tragically beautiful’ Matera has gone from rags to riches over the past century.  Evacuated in the 1950’s for rampant poverty and disease; Matera was awarded the UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1993 and 2019 as the European Cultural Capital. 

While other cliffside towns are built on top of the deep ravine, the houses and entire sassi is built into and complementary to the preexisting caves.  With hundreds of years of layers placed in one building it is hard to differentiate when different additions were added. 

Matera has been inhabited since the Paleolithic time. In ancient times, cave-dwelling (not to be confused with cavemen) settlers moved into the tofu rock caverns of the steep ravine. During the Neolithic Revolution these early dwellers learned to breed animals and eventually became herders and farmers, which they remained until the 20th century. Eventually more people moved in and the community of cave-like dwellings became known as the Sassi (Italian for “the stones”). You may recognize it as the backdrop for Jesus walking with the cross in Mel Gibson’s 2004 movie, The Passion of the Christ

Having never had a ‘golden era’ for art and culture, Matera’s development has never been preserved in a time period. History has not been destroyed to glorify ornate palaces and city buildings stuck in time when the city flourished (such as Florence during the Renaissance and Venice in the Middle Ages). Therefore each house, or one could even say the city as a whole, has been continuously developed in a way mirroring the continuous human development. 

In the 1940’s Carlos Levy, physician, painter and author was sent to exile in the south of Italy for anti-Fascist sentiments. Shocked by the rampant malaria and cholera he described the region as “a schoolboy’s idea of Dante’s Inferno” in a book about his year in exile. This propelled Matera into the public eye as Italy’s “la vergogna nazionale” (‘Shame of the Nation’). Levy’s book can be compared to Jacob Riis’ How the Other Half Lives: Studies among the Tenements of New York which propelled the United States to create social reform nearly a half century before. 

Accommodation: We stayed in a carefully renovated, beautiful cave hotel called Corte San Pietro. I would recommend this distinct experience. If you want to read about a few of the other unique accommodation experiences in the south of Italy I wrote about it here: A Trulli, a Cave, and a Masseria oh my!

Getting there: this is the hardest part. Matera was a part of a week-long vacation in the Puglia region of Italy. We chose to take a train to Bari (so that we didn’t have to drive from Rome) and then rent a car. Renting a car is the easiest way to get around this region of Italy. There is a regional train that services Matera from Bari and runs everyday except Sundays. 

I would recommend reading Carlos Levy’s book ‘Cristo si è fermato a Eboli’ or Christ Stopped at Eboli, about his year in exile in the Basilicata region of Italy. 

My friend, Jen, from World On a Whim, recommended a ten day vacation to the Puglia region and Matera. We spent two nights and two days in Matera, and we felt that was the perfect amount of time. 

Friday: 

Arrive into Matera. No amount of scrolling through photos prepared me for the utter awe that I felt when I arrived at the top of the sassi and was blasted with 180 degree falling views of the ancient ravine. Definitely take some time to let it sink in. In our case, we were in a car and that minute went on too long and we were quickly interrupted with honking from a car behind us! Nothing like modern traffic to bring you back to present. Get settled into your accommodation and get dinner in the sassi for your first night. 

Saturday:

Start your morning in the new town at no frills Caffè Schiuma di Rocco Luigi Schiuma (Via T. Stigliani, 92). Spend a little bit of time walking around the Civic Center of the new town of Matera. I am recommending this, because I personally think it is interesting to see the more modern developed sections as a comparison to the Sassi. 

The Sassi is best explored on foot. The whole city is walkable, so definitely pack good shoes because the incline and roads have been smothered over from so many pedestrians. I would recommend starting at Casa Noha (Recinto Cavone, 9) for a foundation of the history of Matera. They have multimedia displays, large video projections on the walls, and you move from different rooms to make the exhibit a little more interactive. Spend a few hours walking around the two Sasso Barisano and the Sassi Caveoso. Sassi Brisano is where all the shops and hotels are, whereas Sassi Caveoso is mostly caves. Briefly check out the Church of Saint Mary of Idris (Via Madonna dell’Idris). Make your way to Cathedral of Saint Mary ‘della Bruna’ and Saint Eustace in the Piazza Duomo. This cathedral is the highest point in Matera and is the middle point between the two Sassis.

In the early evening, get into your car and head to sunset at Asceterio di Sant’Agnese (Contrada Murgia Timone, 75100) or Belvedere di Murgia Timone. We plugged this address into the GPS, but had to park a little away in a parking lot. Make sure to leave to get settled before sunset and explore the green area and the isolated caves in the area. 

Your accommodation should be able to recommend some restaurants based on your preferences. We ate at Da Zero (Via Madonna delle Virtù, 13) and loved the pizza. I would recommend getting an evening glass of wine at Enoteca Dai Tosi (Via Bruno Buozzi, 12) in one of the cozy alcoves. To enter you take a steep set of stairs into a cavernous interior that was a former cistern for drinking water. 

Sunday:

Get a coffee and pastry at Caffè Vergnano 1882 (Via del Corso, 78) then ONLY if you are as big of a nerd as I am, I would recommend going to Museo di Palazzo Lanfranchi (Piazetta Pascoli 1). The Palazzo itself is intriguing architecturally speaking. Yet, I truly went just to see Carlos Levy’s moving large installation portraying the poverty in the 20th century that led to his book. 

The museum is located in Belvedere di Piazza Giovanni Pascoli (Piazzetta Pascoli) which offers a wonderful view of the Sassi from the new town and should not be missed. Again, spend your day walking around the Sassi. I went to the La Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario (Vico Solitario, 11), which I realize is the 3rd museum in two days but I truly wanted to see what it would actually feel like to live here back in the 20th century.

Get a cocktail at Area 8 (Via Casalnuovo, 15) this area, which encompasses Enoteca Dai Tosi, can be very lively at night with college students and it’s great for people watching. 

Cheers to a great weekend in Matera!

If you are exploring the Southern region of Italy, check out my itineraries for the Locorotondo and Martina Franca.

Thank you to my friends Jen and Allison for being my travel companions! Check out Jen’s blog at worldonawhim.com

A weekend in Charlottesville, VA

Charlottesville, VA is a quaint college town (actually a city) surrounded by rural Virginia. Considered the Gateway to the Shenandoah National Park, Charlottesville has a beautiful mountain backdrop and much of the city is centered around the flagship University of Virginia. Having historic roots in early colonial days, the area boasts home to the estates of Founding Fathers (and early American Presidents) James Monroe, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. 2.5 hours south of Washington D.C, Charlottesville is a fun country getaway and as the slogan Virginia is for Lovers gives way, the people are warm and welcoming.  

Timing: Charlottesville is best visited in the Fall and Spring for the weather. Both in the spring and the fall are Foxfield Races, or steeple races which has become a University of Virginia tradition. You can coordinate with the time of the race if you wish to attend, if you do not wish to attend, I would recommend avoiding this weekend since everything will be far more crowded.

Friday Night:

Arrive into Virginia and get settled into your accommodation. Charlottesville is easily accessible by train, but for many of the sites you do need a car to get around. I had a couple of friends who were either going to school at UVA or working at the hospital and were great hosts when I visited! Get some dinner and explore the Downtown Mall. Centered around Main street, the Downtown Mall is an 8 block pedestrian mall with a number of restaurants, bars and shops. 

Saturday: 

Before leaving grab some grub and coffee to go from Paradox Pastry (313 2nd St SE #103). Then start your morning off by visiting Thomas Jefferson’s plantation, Monticello (931 Thomas Jefferson Parkway, Charlottesville, VA). Ironically, the same man who wrote the Declaration of Independence (“All men are created equal”) was also a slave owner. The museum is not skittish of Jefferson’s controversial past. Historic Michie Tavern (683 Thomas Jefferson Pkwy) is a five minute drive from Monticello, for those who may be interested in a glass of wine.  Fun fact: the current Nickel depicts Monticello on the back of it. 

Both James Monroe’s Highland (2050 James Monroe Pkwy) and James Madison’s Montpelier house museums are local, too. If you have a preference as to which early president’s home you are most interested in! Maybe I should give my home a name and I will become a president!

After getting your fix of history, get your wine tasting on. My favorite vineyard is Pippin Hill Farm and Vineyard (1616, 5022 Plank Rd, North Garden, VA 22959). It is great to sit outside and enjoy wine tasting with a few snacks. If you want to continue, I would recommend Blenheim Vineyards (31 Blenheim Farm, Charlottesville, VA 22902). For those who wish to pack a sandwich for picnic at the vineyards, Ivy Provisions (2206 Ivy Rd) is an upscale deli offering many options. 

Come back to town and refresh before going out to dinner at the Ivy Inn Restaurant (2244 Old Ivy Rd), The restaurant serves elevated American food in a charming 19th century home, and I recommend sitting on the patio. The Belmont Neighborhood of Charlottesville also offers many culinary delights. Local (824 Hinton Ave) is another favorite restaurant where you can get great mac and cheese and malbec! You can get a slop bucket from Belmont BBQ (816 Hinton Ave) or Mas (904 Monticello Rd) for some great tapas.

Sunday:

For those who want to get outdoors, grab a coffee from Mudhouse Coffee or Shenandoah Joe Ivy before heading to Humpback Rocks Hike (Milepost 5.8 Blue Ridge Parkway, Lyndhurst, VA 22952). This hike on the Blue Ridge Mountains offers splendid views and can be really magnificent in the Fall. 


After returning to Charlottesville, get some well-deserved New York style bagels at Bodo Bagels (505 Preston Ave). Reserve a guided historical tour of the University of Virginia (sign up here). The University was founded in 1819 by Thomas Jefferson, and the original Board of Visitors included Jefferson, James Monroe (who was the sitting President at the time) and James Madison. Do not miss the iconic and Jefferson designed Rotunda. Head back to your accommodation and off back home.

Cheers to a relaxing weekend getaway in Charlottesville, VA!

A weekend in Chicago, IL

Chicago, the “Jewel of the Midwest,” known for its deep-dish pizza, jazz music, architecture, and …notorious mobsters. Chicago is the third largest city in the United States. Unlike New York and Los Angeles, you can get a good feel for the city during a weekend getaway. Sometimes called The Windy City (lore says its for its politicians as well as its weather), the city’s entire east side is bordered by Lake Michigan and offers miles of waterfront walking. 

Friday:

Get settled into your accommodations and then head out to dinner at Giordano’s for some famous deep-dish pizza. They have many locations, so look up which is closest to your hotel or evening plans. Gino’s East and Lou Malnati are also local favorites for deep-dish.  Save room for pizza dessert! 

After dinner, I recommend heading to The Green Mill Cocktail Lounge (4802 N Broadway, Chicago, IL 60640) for a live jazz performance. This uptown lounge was notorious Chicago gangster Al Capone’s old stomping ground.

Saturday:  “The Loop”

The view of Millennium Park from Cindy’s

Start your morning with the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s river cruise (you can start at either of two locations, I recommend starting at 401 N Michigan Ave). This is a cool and enjoyable way to see the city. The river tour guides provide a nutshell of the city’s history in addition to the city’s famous architectural sites. The price is roughly $45, and tours begin every 20 minutes. 

After the tour, walk over to Millenium Park to see the much-photographed “Bean.”  Millennium Park is located in the heart of the city, and is bordered by many cultural and art institutions. Check out the Tiffany Glass dome in the landmarked Chicago Cultural Center (78 E Washington St.), which was built in 1897 and is open to the public at no charge.  Also nearby is the former Marshall Fields Flagship store, which is now a Macy’s (111 N State St). Get a snack and enjoy spectacular views over Millenium Park at Cindy’s (12 S Michigan Ave), located on the 13th floor of the 1893 Chicago Athletic Association Hotel. 

Head up to the Old Town/Goldrush neighborhood to catch a 4:00 pm comedy show at The Second City (1616 N Wells St.), which has launched the careers of many celebrity comedians such as Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert, and Bill Murray. After the show, get a happy hour drink and peruse the exquisite furniture offerings at Restoration Hardware, now known as RH (1300 N. Dearborn St.) which is located in an old arts club. 

Get some dinner in the Lakeview East neighborhood. Both N. Halsted St and N. Clark St offer a number of great dinner and debauchery locations. N. Halsted is the main strip in Boystown, the historical LGBTQ neighborhood, while N. Clark St, in the Lakeview neighborhood, is geared more towards a younger crowd and Cubs baseball overflow, since it runs south of Wrigley Stadium. 

Sunday: Evanston, IL

Baha’i House of Worship in Wilmette, IL, one hour north of Chicago.

Start your morning by taking the metrorail to Evanston. Get a coffee and pastry from Hewn Bakery (1733 Central St, Evanston, IL). Spend an hour touring downtown, which has many interesting galleries, small businesses, and museums. Walk over to Northwestern University’s campus, and don’t and forget to check out the waterfront views in the Lakefill section of the campus. After Northwestern, get a two-mile ride to the architectural gem that is Baha’i House of Worship (100 Linden Ave, Wilmette, IL 60091). You can ogle the lace-style details for hours!

For those who do not want to make the roughly one-hour train ride to Evanston, the neighborhood of Ravenswood in Chicago is quaint and offers much to do. It has an old fashioned apothecary. Each fall, Ravenswood sponsors a superb Apple Festival in Lincoln Square. I recommend checking it out if you have a chance.

Cheers to a great weekend in Chicago!

If you are looking for more weekends away in the Midwest, check out my itinerary for a couple of the iconic college towns of Madison, WI or Ann Arbor, MI.

Thank you to Emma, Katrina, Elizabeth, and Jimmy for showing us around your city! Thank you to Meghan and Sarah for exploring with me 🙂

A weekend in Napa Valley, CA

The rolling hills of Napa Valley have become synonymous with images of culinary excellence and award-winning wine. Much to many Francophiles’ surprise, the area was put on the global wine map when two local vineyards won in a blind taste test at the “Paris Wine Tasting of 1976.” Napa Valley is now best known for its dry red wines, the most popular of which is Cabernet Sauvignon but Merlot, Pinot Noir and even Chardonnay have received high praise. (If you are more interested in vineyards producing white wine, check out the neighboring laid back Sonoma Valley.)  I consider the Napa Valley region as the apex of “rural chic” and the culture is still steeped in its agricultural history. Napa Valley is an hour drive north from San Francisco and it makes for a great weekend getaway.

Situated between the sloping hills of the Vaca and Mayacamas mountains, Napa Valley includes five cities: Napa, Yountville, St. Helena, Calistoga, and lesser known American Canyon. The region stretches for over 30 miles from north to south, and be prepared to have up to a 40 minute drive between destinations. Napa Valley can get expensive. Tastings at inexpensive vineyards start at around $35, and seeing multiple vineyards in a day can add up. Please note: I enjoy wine, but I am not a sommelier, so my itinerary is focused on a positive experience rather than as a wine critique! Pace yourself both physically and financially and remember to hydrate, as the area is known for hot temperatures and drinking all day can cause dehydration.

I enjoy watching movies and reading books about a place before I visit. For Napa, I recommend watching movies such as Wine Country, Bottle Shock, or the oldie but goodie, The Parent Trap. A few of Dean Koontz’s novels are set in Napa, but I would recommend The House of Mondavi: The Rise and Fall of an American Wine Dynasty by Julia Flynn Silor.

When to go: I would recommend going in the spring-time, after the rainy season, when the landscape is lush, green and abundant. Autumn and winter are also often good times. I would be wary of going in the summer, as Napa gets very hot and temperatures can go above 100 degrees.

Where to stay: I love staying in downtown Yountville, as it has a quaint downtown and walking around the center is always fun. I have previously stayed at Maison Fleurie, A Four Sisters Inn, and really enjoyed the ambiance.

Friday: Dinner in Napa

The Restaurant, Allegria, has seating inside the old bank vault.

Get a reservation for dinner at Allegria (1026 1st St, Napa, CA), an upscale italian restaurant in a historic bank landmark, built in 1916. Take a stroll through Napa’s downtown after dinner. Please be aware that much of the town shuts down earlier in the evening, since most tourists spend the day sampling wine.

Saturday: Wine tasting

Start your morning with a pastry and coffee from Bouchon Bakery (6528 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599), in the middle of the quaint downtown section of Yountville.

Drive up to Calistoga, and start your day at Sterling Vineyards (1111 Dunaweal Lane, Calistoga, CA 94515).  This has the only aerial tram in Napa Valley and offers cascading views of the area. By the late afternoon, the tram can get hot and crowded, so I recommend starting here.

A tranquil Chinese garden and serene Jade Lake were added to the ascetic appeal of the already beautiful Chateaux Montelena by a Chinese- American family during the roughly two decades that the estate took a hiatus from wine making and was a private home. Do not miss walking the grounds at this vineyard!

Next stop is Chateau Montelena Winery (1429 Tubbs Ln, Calistoga, CA 94515) this beautiful 19th century chateau and vineyard was put on the world vintner map when the Chardonnay won the “Judgement of Paris” wine competition in 1976. The movie, Bottle Shock, is a fictionalized depiction of this new world victory! 

After visiting two vineyards get a late picnic lunch at V. Sattui (1111 White Ln, St Helena, CA 94574). You can pick up some food from the store and sit outside at many of the park benches. After lunch, you could continue on with winery tours, but I would recommend regrouping at your hotel and window-shopping the quaint shops in downtown Yountville. 

For dinner consider the French restaurant, Bouchon Bistro (6534 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599). For those who are looking to burn through some serious cash, French Laundry (6640 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599) is a delicious 9 course prefix experience ($310/per person). Located in an unassuming stone farmhouse, this restaurant is repeatedly listed among the top restaurants in the world and received 3 stars in the Michelin guide. 

For those who still have the energy, consider an after dinner drink at Restoration Hardware (6725 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599) which is open until 10:00PM.

Sunday: Hot Air Balloon ride and Oxbow Public Market

For those who are not afraid of heights, start your morning very early with a memorable sunrise hot air balloon ride provided by Napa Valley Balloon, Inc (4086 Byway East, Napa, CA 94558). This could be missed for those who want to sleep in and save some money. Prices run roughly in the low $200’s per guest. 

Try a grab and go brunch at Oxbow Public Market (610 1st St, Napa, CA 94559) before heading home for a weekend well spent (in more than one way) in Napa Valley!

If you are looking for more weekends away, check out my weekend itinerary for Santa Barbara, San Diego, Santa Ynez Valley and San Luis Obispo.

A long weekend in Portsmouth, NH

This quaint New England harborside city has converted numerous pre-war maritime homes to art galleries, restaurants and bars. Settled in 1623, as Strawbery Banke, Portsmouth sits on the harbor of the Piscataqua River. This among many other New England small cities brings a thriving restaurant scene to walkable historic cities. This is a great long weekend or even day trip from Boston, MA, and is only a one hour drive. 

Friday:

Get settled into your accommodation, I recommend staying in the city center. Once settled, get some dinner from one of the many waterfront seafood restaurants: Old Ferry Landing (10 Ceres St), Surf Portsmouth (99 Bow St Suite 200W) and River House (53 Bow St) all offer great options. After dinner you can see if there is live music at Portsmouth Book and Bar (40 Pleasant St, Portsmouth, NH 03801) which is a bookstore and bar located in 1860 Portsmouth’s old Custom House and Post Office. 

Saturday:

I recommend starting your morning with a bike ride around Portsmouth and through New Castle Island. In New Castle take a detour off route 1B down the winding River Street which offers great views of the river and beautiful homes. For those looking to get some more miles in, you can bike all the way to the honky tonk, Hampton Beach and back (round trip is roughly 30 miles of SCENIC east coast greenway). Warning: The bridges into New Castle can be a pain (one has grates on the road and another is a single line of traffic, so you may have to wait.)

In the afternoon, make your way to one of the beaches in Rye, NH. Jenness Beach is a favorite, or if you are trying to get away from people, the river side of Odiorne State Park offers soft sand and few crowds. While in Rye, get some lunch from Ray’s Seafood (1677 Ocean Blvd, Rye, NH 03870).

Walk around the downtown and window shop before dinner. Grab some grub from barrio tacos (319 Vaughan St, Portsmouth, NH 03801). You can build your own tacos here and I recommend a margarita! For those who enjoy more seafood, I recommend The Franklin (148 Fleet St), which has a great oyster bar.

Sunday:

Start your morning with brunch from The Friendly Toast (113 Congress Street, Portsmouth, NH 03801). I recommend that you spend the afternoon at Strawbery Banke Museum (14 Hancock St, Portsmouth, NH 03801). Strawberry Banke is the oldest european settlement in New Hampshire. The museum is outdoor and encompasses many buildings which were in use from the 1630’s- 1950’s. Don’t forget to admire the river views and flower garden in Prescott Park which is across the street from the museum area. 

Cheers to a relaxing weekend in Portsmouth. NH! 

If you are interested in other ideas for weekend getaways from Boston, check out my article 5 Seaside Getaways from Boston.

A long weekend in Portland, ME

This quaint New England seaside city has converted numerous pre-war maritime warehouses to art galleries, restaurants and bars. This among many other New England state capitals brings a thriving restaurant scene to walkable historic cities that are easily manageable on a weekend. This is a great long weekend from Boston, MA, and is only a two hour drive. 

For those interested in literature I would recommend reading Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, Empire Falls by Richard Russo, or Maine by Courtney Sullivan, all of which are set in Maine.

Friday:

Arrive and get settled in your hotel. I stayed at Courtyard Portland Downtown/Waterfront (321 Commercial St, Portland, ME 04101) which was an easy location to walk to everything downtown.

Get some grub at Fore Street (288 Fore St, Portland, ME 04101) then enjoy a rooftop drink at Top of the East (157 High St, Portland, ME 04101) on the top of the Westin Hotel to get oriented on with the city and if possible watch the sunset.

Saturday

Start your morning off with breakfast at LB Kitchen (249 Congress St), you order at the counter and get the food served to your table. 

Portland is great for a seaside bike ride. We rented bikes from Portland Encyclopedia ( 6 Commercial St). On your ride don’t miss both Bug Light and Portland Head Lighthouse (12 Captain Sprout Cir, Cape Elizabeth, ME 04107) Take a break and grab a lobster roll from the Bite of Maine food truck, right outside the Portland Head Lighthouse. They will NOT disappoint!

After biking, relaxing over an IPA from Shipyard brewing company.  We spent some time at the brewery. After getting your hops on, window shop down the Old Port section of the city. This is quintessentially New England with the cobblestone street and colonial brick buildings. I did not miss out on tasting Portland’s favorite donut shop, Holy Donut (7 Exchange St), which is a great afternoon snack.

Get dinner at Eventide Oyster Company (86 Middle St, Portland, ME 04101). This sleek and busy restaurant is great for any seafood lover. We ordered some oysters for the table and then continued to sample most of the menu!

Sunday

Get breakfast at Tandem Coffee and bakery or the standard baking company before heading for a last walk downtown and head home. 

If you are interested in other ideas for weekend getaways from Boston, check out my article 5 Seaside Getaways from Boston.

5 Seaside Getaways from Boston

5 Seaside Getaways to take this summer from Boston, while safely Social Distancing:

Nobska Lighthouse in Falmouth, MA
  1. Cape Cod, MA
Cahoon Hollow Beach, Wellfleet, MA

No matter where you are coming from, Bostonians always call it “the Cape.” Cape Cod is known for beautiful beaches along its 400 miles of shoreline.  My favorite beaches are the ones along the Cape Cod National Seashore, especially Cahoon Hollow Beach in  Wellfleet on the Lower Cape. While the surf is rough, there are lifeguards on duty, a parking lot, and The Beachcomber, one of the best beach bars/restaurants in America. For family fun, you may want to try one of the more tranquil beaches on the bay side of The Cape. I have always enjoyed the Cape’s great bike trails, such as the Cape Cod Rail Trail, which runs from Yarmouth to Wellfleet or Shining Sea Bike Trail in Falmouth. For a scenic ride, take route 6A or “Old Kings Highway” (just to remind you are in New England) from Bourne to Provincetown, a distance of about 65 miles.

  1. Portsmouth, NH
View of Portsmouth, NH

One of the many charming New England seaside cities, I love biking from historic and vibrant Portsmouth, NH along scenic Route 1A, also known as Ocean Boulevard, to the honky tonk locale of Hampton Beach and back. The whole New Hampshire shoreline is less than 20 miles long, and is worth a drive.  Portsmouth has a few well-preserved museums dating back to the early colonial days of the 17th century. Portsmouth is surprisingly lively considering it’s in low-key New Hampshire. The downtown has many restaurants, bars, galleries and street performers.

  1. Portland, ME
Lobster roll from the Bite Into Maine food truck, located on Cape Ann near the Portland Head Lighthouse. This makes a great biking destination!

This quaint New England seaside city has converted numerous pre-war maritime warehouses to art galleries, restaurants and bars. This among other coastal state capitals is a walkable historic city that now has many breweries and is flush with colonial history. I love shopping in the quaint city center, biking down to the lighthouse and grabbing a lobster roll from the food truck. 

  1. Gloucester, MA

The North Shore city of Gloucester is known as a fishing port and it’s the setting for the book and subsequent movie The Perfect Storm. In fact, The Crow’s Nest dive bar is still located in downtown Gloucester.  I enjoy a beach day at Good Harbor Beach. For cyclists, the Essex Scenic Route is a beautiful bike route through seaside Essex, Gloucester, and Rockport. 

  1. Newburyport, MA
The pedestrian Inn Street in Newburyport, MA

This charming small city is also located on the North Shore. The stately brick Federal-style houses and the brightly- colored wooden houses come right out to the edge of the sidewalk, attesting to the early history of Newburyport, before cars were prevalent. The Essex County Superior Courthouse, designed by Charles Bulfinch and built in 1805, is a beautiful brick Federal-style building overlooking a pond. In the downtown waterfront area are many interesting shops and restaurants.