A (half) day in Bari, Italy

The port in Bari. You can see the Lungomare and walkable city wall above.

“Get in, get a meal, and get out.” Is what we heard about this port city, university town and Capital of the Apulia (or Puglia in English) region of Italy. For those who say Italy looks like a boot, this is the capital of the “heel” region. We were pleasantly surprised by Bari when we arrived and spent a half day exploring. The Adriatic waterfront area is beautiful, the weaving streets of the old city were jam packed with historic appeal while still being manageable in a short amount of time. Puglia was once a part of mankind’s first democracy as part of Magna Grecia (ancient Greece), and the region is seeping in history. Do spend the half day recovering from your travels by exploring this transit hub before spending quality time in the picturesque whitewashed mountain top villages, rolling countryside and seaside towns in the Puglia region.

Arrive into Bari and get settled into your accommodation. Bari, with a large train station for the trek West to East and also a large port offering many ferries on the Adriatic Sea, most tourists stop here as a point of transit onto other destinations. For us, we had international flights from the USA to Rome, and then took the train to Bari. From Bari we were renting a car and exploring the Puglia region and Matera in Basilicata. With all the travel we spent a night in Bari to calibrate to the timezone and get over some jetlag.

The two areas of Bari to explore in this half day are the Murat area, which is the modern and mostly shopping district and the old town, Bari Vecchia, which includes historical sights such as churches, a castle and the old city walls. 

Start your day by walking down the main pedestrian shopping street Via Sparano da Bari. Bari is the city where locals go to get their shopping done and the main pedestrian shopping street Via Sparano da Bari, offers many brands in case you forgot any items. They have Zara, H&M, and Sephora. Windowshop or pickup any forgotten items that you may need for your trip. Take a side track down Via Nicolò Putignani to look at the architecture on Teatro Petruzzelli (Corso Cavour, 12).

Making your way into the previously walled city or Bari Vecchia, the true highlight for me was walking the maze-like streets of the old town. Walk along the former walls of the city, Via Venezia, which overlooks the Adriatic Sea.  Do not miss the 11th century Basilica San Nicolas (Largo Abate Elia, 13). Some of the remains of St. Nick or the original Santa Claus are in the crypt, which makes this a pilgrimage destination for many Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians. The Bari Cathedral or Cathedral of San Sabino (Piazza dell’Odegitria) and Castello Normanno-Svevo (Via Pier l’Eremita, 25/b) originally built in 1132 are both worth a peek inside while exploring. Walk by the iconic pink Museo Teatro Margherita (Teatro Margherita, Piazza IV Novembre) which is situated on the waterfront.

 While we did not get a walking tour, there are many free (or on tip basis) walking tours of the city that may be worth your while to get an understanding of the history of the region. For those who are interested in art and have more time, the Pinacoteca Provinciale di Bari or Painting Gallery of Metropolitan City of Bari (Via Spalato, 19) provides a scenic respite from the hot sun.

Get some dinner at La Tana del Polpo (Strada Vallisa, 50), it has an iconic giant plastic octopus on the ceiling like spiderman. The local restaurant has great service, local wines and fabulous seafood. The great thing about this region is that it is large in agriculture and you can eat fresh local produce in all your meals.

 If interested in the region, here are some itineraries for Matera (in the neighboring Basilicata region), Locorotondo, and Martina Franca

A (half) day in…Locorotondo, Italy

The raised terraced gardens provide the support to the town of Locorotondo (“round place”), which seems to levitate above the flat countryside dappled with wild red and yellow flowers and trullis as you enter the area. Locorotondo, known nationally as one of the “Borghi più belli d’Italia” (one of the most beautiful villages), is a charming town that provides a wonderful site for a leisurely day in the Puglian sun.

Located in the Valle d’Itria (the Trulli Valley) or the ‘top of the heel’ of Italy, Locorotondo is conspicuously charming, with winding roads of white washed houses decorated with bright-red pots of geraniums and wisteria cascading over stone walls.The green and blue shutters provide a contrast to the white marbles and tanned buildings.

Start your day with a coffee from Caffe della Villa in the center of ‘Centro Storico’ and Piazza Vittorio Emanuele. See locals get their coffee while standing. 

The real joy of Locorotondo is leisurely wandering the streets. Take the afternoon exploring the alleyways in the center of town and take in the beautifully curated window boxes and terrace gardens. As a hilltop village, many of the streets offer panoramic vistas of the Trulli speckled countryside. Two such views are seen at gardens of Villa Comunale Giuseppe Garibaldi and also ironically named “Lungomare” (a road next to the sea..) on the adjacent Via Nardelli. 

Via C. Battisti offers one of the most beautiful (and photographed) views in the village

In the ‘Centro Storico’, don’t miss the chance to peek into three churches: Chiesa Madre di San Giorgio, Chiesa San Rocco and the Chiesa della Madonna della Greca. 

We had a lovely local menu of the day dinner at La Taverna del Du (Via Papatodero 3), which is tucked away in one of the side streets. The region is known for orecchiette, which was part of the pre-fix menu. Other fine dinner option are Bina Ristorante Di Puglia (via Dottor Recchia, 44-50) and U’Curdunn (Vía Dura 19) which were both recommended while we were traveling but we were unable to try. 

Cheers to a leisurely day in Locorotondo! 

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

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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 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 day in…Cambridge, MA!

The view of the Charles River (with the iconic Citgo sign in the background) from the MIT Sailing Pavilion.

Located just across the Charles River from Boston, Cambridge is easily accessible by public transit, with multiple stations on the MBTA’s red line and one station on the green line. As the home to Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.), Cambridge attracts many academics and hosts many high-tech companies.  It is the “City of Squares,” with cerebral Harvard Square, techie Kendall Square, yuppie Porter Square, eclectic Central Square, and trendy Inman Square. These are a few of the urban centers that encompass Cambridge’s bustling food and drink scene, not to mention small businesses, independent bookstores, and boutique shopping. Cambridge is a bastion of progressive politics and is very pedestrian and bicycle-friendly.  The city has become so popular, and the real estate so expensive, that it overflows into neighboring Somerville, and can be confusing at times when streets have the same names. Somerville offers a vibrant scene in its own Davis Square with restaurants and bars, live music, and independent movie houses. 

Morning: 

Breakfast: You may want to start your morning off with a quick stopover in Central Square. The area is gentrifying, as startups move into the square, and it has some interesting shops and ethnic restaurants along with stately City Hall and Post Office buildings.  An option for morning coffee would be a coffee to-go from the 1369 Coffee House at 757 Mass Ave and then walk down Mass Ave toward Flour Bakery at 190 Mass Ave, to get some delicious French pastries. If you would rather sit down for brunch I would recommend Cafe Luna at 612 Mass Ave, or try Zoe’s, a classic fifties diner, located at 1105 Mass Ave,  which offers a great, reasonably priced brunch. 

(c) Boston Globe’s 2019 photo of the Captain America Great Dome!

After breakfast, take a tour of the MIT campus, which is famous for its brainy students and also its daring architecture. The iconic Great Dome is reminiscent of the Pantheon in Rome. It is known as “the center of the universe” by MIT students, and has been the site of many MIT student pranks over the years: http://hacks.mit.edu/Hacks/by_location/great_dome.html

Do not miss the audacious Stata Center building designed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry and located at 32 Vassar St.

Afternoon:

Continue your day along the north bank of the Charles River to Harvard’s campus. Keep in mind that Cambridge is a very walkable city, and also has ample public transit. For those who enjoy a morning run, I would say this is one of the best routes in the Boston/Cambridge area, as you can enjoy the views of the river, the bridges and the boat houses along the way.

Photo of the John Weeks Footbridge during the Head of the Charles Regatta. The bridge connects Cambridge to Allston. Annually in October, the Charles River hosts the Head of the Charles Regatta for rowing, the largest two-day regatta in the world.

Upon your arrival in Harvard Square, grab a hot chocolate from L.A. Burdick at 52 Brattle St. and window-shop the boutiques in Harvard Square. There are many independent bookstores but my favorite is the Harvard Book Store at 1256 Mass Ave. Directly behind it is the quaint, Grolier Poetry Book Shop. As you enter the Harvard campus, you may want to join in a tourist tradition of rubbing the left show of the statue of John Harvard.  Harvard offers free student-led tours  from the Harvard University Visitor Center, in the Smith Campus Center.  See website:  https://www.harvard.edu/on-campus/visit-harvard/tours.  You can do a self-guided tour in which case you should buy a Harvard tour booklet for $3.00. Also available are privately-run guided tours with positive reviews: https://www.trademarktours.com/harvard-tour/

Evening:

For dinner there are many options. I will separate the restaurants by location. Mr. Bartley’s in Harvard Square is a casual and fun burger place. The walls are plastered with posters from college concerts and photos of celebrities who have dined there. The menu in this bustling restaurant is a political satire with such items as Brexit, Trump Tower, and Taxachusetts.  PARK Restaurant & Bar, Alden & Harlow, the Russell House Tavern, and Forage all provide good service and ambiance with a broad menu. Grendel’s Den is a student bar that offers half priced food for Happy Hour. (Massachusetts has some Puritanical laws that do not allow happy hour prices on alcohol.)

Inman Square and Kendall Square offer a variety of restaurants with good vibes and great cocktails. Inman Square has a Tiki-themed BBQ place, Highland Fried (1271 Cambridge St) or if you are craving upscale Mediterranean, Oleana (134 Hampshire St) is great!  To cap off the night with a sweet treat, I recommend going to Christina’s (1255 Cambridge St) for an ice cream and an evening stroll.  A personal favorite is the burlesque-themed tapas restaurant, Cuchi Cuchi, in Kendall Square.

Thank you to: Eli, Olga, Hannah and Chris for all your great suggestions. Especially Olga for taste testing our way through Cambridge starting with the bread at Bertucci’s back in 2005.

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A day in…the Mission District!

The Mission District is named after the historic Missión San Francisco de Asís and the adjacent Basilica, known colloquially as “Mission Dolores.” In more recent times, the neighborhood has been a hip Latino neighborhood, known for its art, music and food scene. While gentrification has changed the vibe of some sections, such as Valencia Street and the neighborhood surrounding Mission Dolores Park, much of the southeastern neighborhood still holds roots as a working-class Latino enclave. While this guide is mostly focused on the Mission neighborhood, I include a stop in the Castro District with an evening restaurant option there. 

If you like exploring the bay area in day trips, check out my “A Day in” itineraries for Carmel, Oakland, Berkeley, and the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Morning: 

The ornate Basilica in Missión San Francisco de Asís.

Start your morning off with a coffee to go at Four Barrel Coffee (375 Valencia St).

Take a look at  the Missión San Francisco de Asís and adjacent Basilica at the corner of 16th and Dolores Streets. The Mission, founded in 1776, is named after St Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan Order.  The Mission church, which is the smaller white adobe building next to the basilica, was dedicated in 1791. It is said to be the oldest intact building in San Francisco, having survived the 1906 earthquake while the neighborhood buildings burned down. The Mission includes historical information about the Native Americans Ohlones, who inhabited the coastal areas around San Francisco and who were evangelized. 

Walk three blocks to Tartine Bakery (600 Guerrero Street.) for pastries. Enjoy your treat at Mission Dolores Park while people-watching and taking in the views of the city.

Afternoon:

Window-shop down trendy Valencia Street. There is a striking contrast between Valencia Street and Mission Street which caters to the traditional Spanish speaking population in the surrounding environs. 

A yummy burrito from Farolito; you can split with a friend!

Try a tasty burrito from Farolito (2779 Mission Street) for lunch. Don’t forget cash because they are cash only. Another good burrito place is Taqueria La Cumbre (515 Valencia Street) and for any empanadas lovers I would recommend Venga (443 Valencia Street). 

To work off the burrito head down 24th Street to Precita Eyes Muralists (2981 24th Street), a nonprofit organization promoting positive community change through artistic expression. Pick up a $5 map of the murals in the neighborhood and learn more about the meaning behind the artwork (most are deeply-rooted in ideals of social justice.) A significant number of the murals are around Balmy Alley, Clarion Alley, and the Women’s Building (3543 18th Street). Continue on 24th Street until Potrero Street then come back and take a right up Mission Street. 

While mural-viewing, stop for a margarita with a view of the city at El Techo, (2516 Mission Street). They have a reasonable-priced happy hour from 4-6 PM on weekdays.

Epic “Maestrapeace” mural at the Women’s Building. This portion of the mural depicts Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Guatemalan human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

Finish your mural tour at the “Maestrapeace” on the Women’s Building (3543 18th Street) or continue on to Clarion Alley. Walk to the Castro to see the LGBTQ epicenter of San Francisco. Indulge your sweet tooth with a treat from Hot Cookie (407 Castro Street). Spend some time walking around and get a chuckle out of the cleverly-named storefronts. 

Evening: Dinner and a movie! 

The iconic Castro Theater

Choose between Castro Theater, Alamo Drafthouse or Foreign Cinema!

Option 1: Grab a seat at the iconic Castro Theater for a movie and grab some post-movie grub at either the nautical Woodhouse Fish Comp or stylish Fin Town. For those musically inclined, the Castro Theater does sing alongs to Disney Movies and even movies like Bohemian Rhapsody. They even provide small goody bags! More information can be found on the Castro Theater website (castrotheatre.com/singalongs.html).

Option 2: Go to the Alamo Drafthouse for dinner and a movie (reserve tickets in advance to guarantee good seating.) 

Option 3: Have dinner at Foreign Cinema, a restaurant which has a cool vibe, where you can sit outside and watch old black and white movies while you dine, or try the indoor ambiance of the building with its high ceilings with movies projected onto the wall (make a reservation, evening seating on a first-come first-serve basis; bar seating can be limited).

A huge thank you to Jamie for giving me all the tips on your vibrant neighborhood! Another thank you to Sarah for testing everything out with me!

If you are looking for other neighborhood guides in the Bay area, check out my guides to Berkeley and Oakland.

A day in…Crown Heights, BK

Crown Heights hosts the annual Labor Day Carnival celebrating Caribbean culture. I would recommend going during the day, because the evening can often get rowdy. Above: a fiery female dressed in the traditional Carribean Day clothing.

The neighborhood that made national news during the three-day racially charged Crown Heights Riot in 1991 is undergoing gentrification.  Historically, Crown Heights has been the home to a large population of Jewish residents, and the headquarters of the Lubavitch movement is located on Eastern Parkway.  Crown Heights also has a large population of African Americans and people from the West Indies, and it hosts the annual Labor Day Carnival celebrating Caribbean culture. 

The area is forever evolving and is becoming one of the hippest neighborhoods in Brooklyn. With gentrification, Crown Heights has seen much change over the last decade, including a thriving foodie scene on Franklin Avenue.  However, Crown Heights still has great spots that showcase its roots as a split community of African- and Carribean-American and Jewish cultures. 

If you like exploring different neighborhoods in NYC, check out my day itinerary in Red Hook.

Without further adieu here is your one day tour of Crown Heights: 

The tree-lined Eastern Parkway, is a great location for biking, walking, or running.

Start your morning off with a bagel from Bagel Pub at 775 Franklin Avenue. Then grab a coffee from either Breukelen Coffee House at 764 Franklin Avenue or Little Zelda’s at 728 Franklin Avenue. 

Spend the early morning checking out the Hunterfly Road Historic District in Weeksville Heritage Center. Weeksville was one of the largest free black communities. Slavery was abolished in NYC in 1827 but not nationally until 1865, so this enclave became a safe haven for freed men and runaway slaves. It is one of the few historically preserved areas for the African-American community from that time period. 

Beautiful Brooklyn Museum at 200 Eastern Parkway.

Continue your tour by taking a leisurely stroll among the Cherry trees and through the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden within the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens at 990 Washington Avenue at the edge of Prospect Park.  You may also enjoy a visit to the nearby Brooklyn Museum. Both of these call for a paid admission.

For lunch, try the tacos and a Margarita from Gueros at 605 Prospect Place. They also have great lemonade! 

The area became the outpost for Brooklyn architects such as Cohn Brothers, Parfitt Brothers, and Montrose Morris who designed many mega-houses. Don’t be surprised to see Tzitzits (Jewish garment with white strings hanging down, reminding practitioners to follow the Commandments and not their eyes or heart) being worn in the neighborhood.

After Gueros, take a self-guided architectural tour through South Crown Heights. You can see turn-of-the-century brownstones along tree-lined boulevards. Most of the real beauties are on President St between New York St and Kingston St.

After some cultural and historic intake, peruse the Anyone Comics store before trying a cocktail and a slice of pie from the female-owned bar, Butter and Scotch.

Crown Heights has much to offer on the food scene. Based on what you are craving I would recommend: Barboncino at 781 Franklin Avenue for pizza, Chavela’s at 736 Franklin Avenue for good Mexican food and ambiance with its Spanish-tiled bar and día de los muertos decor, or colorful Glady’s at 788 Franklin Avenue for some delicious Jerk Chicken (and a nod to the Caribbean community that unfortunately gentrification is slowly displacing). If you are with a big group and just want to hang out for a while, Berg’n Foodcourt at 899 Bergen Street is a fun place which provides a food court with many options.

There are many bars to enjoy either a laid-back beer or a well-crafted cocktail. Franklin Park, Mayfields, The Crown Inn, Covenhoven, and King Thai all offer libations. 

If you are into music, consider the Murmrr Theatre located on the third floor of a synagogue at 17 Eastern Parkway.  It is a great and interesting locale for a concert, although I’m not sure everything is up to Code. The Way Station (a Dr. Who-themed nerd bar at 683 Washington Street) and Friends and Lovers at 641 Classon Avenue regularly offer live music and may be worth checking out.

Thank you to my (current or former) Crown Heights locals for all their suggestions on how to enjoy their neighborhood! Andrew, Lauren, Laura, Adam, Tricia and Chris!

A delectable three days in NOLA

Whether you are visiting New Orleans (“NOLA”) for a bachelor(ette) party, Jazz Fest, Mardi Gras, or just a weekend getaway prepare to indulge all of your senses with music, food, drinks and culture in this one-of-a-kind city.  The aromas of Cajun cooking billow into the streets from restaurants and houses, watering your tastebuds. Live jazz flows at all hours from the bars and cafes along Bourbon and Frenchman Street. Whatever you are coming for, the city is bursting with a melange of culture and life.

First claimed in the 17th century under French Rule, with a brief stint under the Spanish in the late 18th century, NOLA was later sold to the United States by Napoleon in the 1805 Louisiana Purchase. The medley of French, Spanish, African-American, and Creole influences are in abundance in the architecture, cooking, and culture of the city today.

Timing: Many people visit the city for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (nicknamed: “Jazz Fest”) which is usually held at the end of April/early May (details can be found here). Mardi Gras, first documented in 1699 by the French, it is now a two-week festival leading up to Ash Wednesday. For more information please follow this link.

Three people to know before you go: Maria Laveau, known as the voodoo queen of New Orleans, Jean Lafitte, a French pirate and smuggler based out of New Orleans who made a deal to help Andrew Jackson defend New Orleans from the British in return for a pardon, and  Marquis de Vaudreuil-Cavagnial, governor of Louisiana for over a decade and the last governor of New France, known for building New Orleans into the rich port city which is sometimes called petit Paris.

Arrive Thursday evening and check into your hotel.

Dinner:  Kingfish for dinner and then stop by Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar, located at the corner of Bourbon Street and St. Philip Street in the French Quarter. Legend has it that Jean Lafitte ran a business here, and it is also claimed to be the oldest structure housing a bar in the United States.

Day 1: Friday

Start your morning off at Café Du Monde for chicory coffee and Beignets (French deep-fried choux pastry, and don’t wear black because the powdered sugar will be everywhere!) Fried dough for breakfast? Definitely indulging in every 7 year old’s impulses! Bring money because Café Du Monde is cash only.

Enjoy the afternoon at a Swamp Tour with Cajun Encounters, and keep in mind that for a small additional charge they pick you up at your hotel. This was one of my favorite things. Listen to authentic Louisiana accents, and see wild boars and alligators.  I wore my best camo outfit to blend in. Observe how people live in the Bayou. Behold the houses on stilts with motor boats for transportation, which safeguards property from flooding.

Drake enjoying Gene’s Poboy in his music video “In My Feelings”.

Grab some po-boys for snack time. There are two po-boy shops I recommend: Gene’s, which was featured in Drake’s “In my Feelings” music video, or the Parkway Bakery and Tavern, which has been around for over 100 years.  For an afternoon activity, I would recommend one or more of the following: Do a bar-circuit to sample famous drinks (like the iconic and tropical Hand Grenade drink) while people-watching the antics of Bourbon St. It may seem like an adult frat party.  Check out the two-story verandas on the mansions in the historic garden district, or some Voodoo shops, or try all of the above.

Enjoying dinner at Three Muses. Please ignore our “sippie cupes”, for drinking in the street!

For the evening, I recommend dinner at the bohemian Three Muses. The restaurant offers live music, small plates, and house cocktails. What more could you ask for!

New Orleans has everything from Jazz, Cajun and Brass Bands playing every night. Enjoy a night of live music wandering around the French Quarter to find your favorite live music location (try Bourbon Street or, for a different vibe, the less crowded Frenchmen Street which many people find to be more enjoyable).

Make a pitstop at the Frenchman Art Market while walking through bars looking for live music.

Day 2: Saturday

Start your morning off at the Court of Two Sisters for their Jazz Brunch. The purple flowers of the willow trees cascade over the courtyard, the dappled lighting is supplemented by draped twinkle lights. The buffet offers a leisurely brunch while you imagine life as an aristocratic French Colonialist.

Learn about the history of burial in New Orleans, with a St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 Tour.  A guided tour is a must, in accordance with archdiocese rules, so make sure to book ahead of time. The tour guides are local historians who will lead you through the one mile walk over cobblestones.  The guide will point out the unique above-ground burial vaults which are a necessity because of the high water table. Buried here are Homer Plessy (of the landmark civil rights case Plessy vs Ferguson), voodoo priestess Marie Laveau, and a pyramid shaped tomb purchased by Nicolas Cage.

Enjoying dinner at Mr. B’s Bistro.

In the evening, try a swanky night of pre-dinner drinks at Carousel Bar. Grab seats at the spinning bar! Continue on with dinner across the street at Mr. B’s Bistro. They are known for their shrimp and gumbo! If up for it, enjoy another fun night out listening to the live music. If you went to Bourbon Street the night before try Frenchmen Street, or vice versa.

Day 3: Sunday

Check out, get a beignet to go, and fly home.

An Ideal 3 Days in San Diego

San Diego, this vibrant coastal city with a laid back vibe allows for any traveler to have a relaxing escape. Don’t be surprised if you hear F18 aircrafts flying overhead because this city has a foundation as a military town. Whether you are a foodie, family of five, or college student on spring break San Diego has something for you. It offers canyons and peaks to hike, beaches to sunbathe or learn to surf at, and is home to many micro breweries to indulge in.  

Torrey Pines.

Friday: Brewery Tours

Enjoying a cold brew in Stone Brewery’s beer garden.

Start your day off with a self-guided brewery tour in Miramar, take an uber because those IPA’s are strong!  Miramar hosts Ballast point, Green Flash, Saint Archer, Ale Smith, 32 North, and the glute-friendly Duck Foot.

Soak up some of the hops with lunch from the hole in the wall, Punjabi Tandor. A personal favorite is chicken tikka masala and the garlic naan.

Entrance of Stone Brewery at night.

In the evening enjoy happy hour and sunset at subscale Vintana in Escondido. Then end your day of breweries with dinner in the lush beer garden at Stone Brewery.

Saturday: Coastal Adventures in chic seaside community of La Jolla

Cafe Caroline in La Jolla Shores.

Start your day off with a low key breakfast at Café Caroline on top of a UCSD Oceanography building in La Jolla Shore. Get a morning coastal hike in at Torrey Pines. La Jolla Cove is known for good kayaking if you would prefer a water sport.

Rocks along the beach at Torrey Pines.

Grab a well earned lunch at Puesto in La Jolla Village. You can’t go wrong with any of the crispy cheese tacos and their rotating seasonal guacamole. Take some time enjoying the sunshine and water in La Jolla Cove.

Make it to a quaint early dinner and/or happy hour at Herringbone La Jolla.

Evening options: Little Italy for gelato or nightlife and a speakeasy if you are into it in the Gaslamp district

Sunday: Coronado and Balboa Park

Brunch at Coronado’s Clayton’s.

Get breakfast at Clayton’s Diner or Leroy’s on Coronado. Despite being called “Coronado Island” this section of San Diego is actually a man-made peninsula, and home to a Naval Base. Walk to Hotel Del Coronado (known locally “Hotel Del”) for some sunbathing.

Drive to Balboa Park and enjoy one of the many cultural exhibits (San Diego Museum of Art, Japanese Tea Garden, Rose Garden, Air and Space Museum, etc.) Get a lunch at Cucina Urbana in Bankers Hill, all of their pizza and pasta is phenomenal. They also host a seasonal 9 course Beast Feast.

Enjoying a walk through Balboa Park with friends.

Enjoy dinner and nightly Mariachi performances in Old Towne. Old Towne is the location of the Mission San Diego de Alcála, by which the city is named after. I recommend Casa Guadalajara, with its vibrant decorations and price conscious happy hour deals.

Mariachi display in Olde Town.

Evening options: the alternative from the night before either Little Italy for gelato or nightlife in the Gaslamp district.

The ultimate long weekend in Mexico City: 3 day itinerary

Ballet Folklorico de Mexico in the Palacio de Bellas Artes.

Mexico City has been on the top of my ‘must see’ list ever since watching the opening scene of the movie Spectre, showing James Bond chasing a villain in the ‘Zocola’ (City Center) during a colorful Day of the Dead festival. I absolutely loved Mexico City! It is the perfect long weekend trip because you can see diverse cultural attractions ranging from Mayan Ruins, Colonial-era Spanish Cathedrals, and Diego Rivera murals all within a few blocks of each other (and all free). The city has a vibrant food scene ranging from street food to upscale dining, with everything in between. With the favorable peso to dollar conversion rate, a long weekend away will not break the bank. Obviously, in a major metropolitan city there is always more to see, but in a long weekend you can check off a lot of major sites while having a good time.

A GIF from the beginning of the Spectre Movie.

This often overlooked cosmopolitan city dates back to 1325 when it was known as “Tenochititlan,” the cultural and political capital of the Aztec empire. Later conquered by the Spaniards in the 1500’s, the layers of historical and cultural influence are interspersed into the now modern city. Mexico City or locally known “DF” and “CDMX” (short for the Spanish Districto Federal and Ciudad de Mexico, respectively) has the second largest number of museums outside of Paris and a majority are free.The city is known for murals from Diego Rivera to a large street-art scene and a lively nightlife for any type of traveller. Although public transportation is an option, Uber is abundant and none of my rides cost more than $4.50 (roughly around 88 pesos).

Street Art in Mexico City

Hotels and flights: I would recommend staying in either Condesa, Roma Norte, or Polanco.  All have great food and exciting nightlife. We opted for an airbnb in Condesa. You can research accommodations through various sites such as hotels.com, bookings.com, and airbnb. I checked flights for Mexico City for a while and was able to get an Aeromexico flight for $260 round trip from NYC over a long weekend. I arrived on Thursday night after work, so I got the full day of Friday to explore. Before going I watched the movie, Frida, a biography of the artist, Frida Kahlo, starring Salma Hayek which gave an interesting perspective on her life (1907-1954) and the central role she and Diego Rivera played in the the Mexican artistic and political scene.

Day 1:

We stayed in Condesa and went to the restaurant Lardo for breakfast. They have wonderful breakfast options and huge windows overlooking the street. If you are staying in Roma Norte I would recommend trying out one of the three: Huset, Panaderia Rosetta, or Blanco Colima for breakfast. All have great food and equally appealing ambience.

Take the morning and early afternoon to walk around the the center. Make sure that you see the major sites in the Plaza de la Constitución, colloquially known as the “Zócalo.” The massive square hosts Templo Mayor, a 13th century Aztec temple and both the Spanish Cathedral and Basilica. Construction on the Cathedral commenced in the 1500’s and wasn’t completed until the 19th century. The Templo Mayor was destroyed and buried, but centuries later the buried remains of the Temple were discovered by electrical workers and, over time, excavated and restored.

If you need a coffee break, walk over the the beautiful Gran Hotel Cuidad de Mexico for a coffee or a drink at the rooftop bar. The hotel features an ornate interior of wrought iron elevators, tiffany glass ceilings, and birds chirping in the entrance.

Make sure to make it to the Palacio Nacional, which showcases murals by Diego Rivera. The entrance is on Calle Moneda and if  you continue walking away from the Zócalo for a few blocks you will be bombarded with numerous vendors with low cost trinkettes, street carts with food and street artwork.

Some of Diego Rivera’s work in the National Palace

Make your way back to Avenida Hidalgo to Cafe de Tacuba, where you can enjoy a leisurely lunch. It has beautiful tile-work and  is the location of one of Diego Rivera’s weddings. After lunch walk the last few blocks to Palacio de Bellas Artes to purchase tickets for Sunday. Don’t miss the Diego Rivera murals called “Man Controller of the Universe” and “Carnaval de la Vida Mexicana.” If you’re up for it, you can elect to the go to the top of Torre Latinoamericana for views of the cityscape.

Palacio Bellas Artes

In addition to Cafe Tacuba, there are a few different places in the city center that I would recommend, all within a few blocks of each other: Azul Historico (probably the most fancy of the recommendations), Hosteria Santo Domingo, and limosneros, which is located in a converted convent.


Mariachi tip: I would skip tired and seedy Garibaldi Square and opt to hear Mariachi performers at either the unassuming Cantina La Guadalupana after a trip to Frida Kahlo’s Museum or while riding a trajineras in Xochimilco (see Sunday’s itinerary for more details.)  

After lunch, that an Uber to the Chapultepec park which has both the Chapultepec Castle and the National Museum of Anthropology. I would recommend double checking the open hours for the museum, because we arrived at 5 thinking it closed at 7pm (listed on Google) and they were closing. The museum will give you better context to the day trip to Teotihuacan on Day 2.

Inside Chapultepec park are street performers called Danza de los Voladores (translated to “Dance of the Flyers”), in which four or five colorfully dressed dancers fly around a 30 foot pole while attached to it with a rope.

End the night with an amazing meal at Contramar in Condesa.

Day 2:

Spending the day out in the Ruins of Teotihuacan. Bring layers and sun protection because the temperature is cold in the morning and warms up by midday and there isn’t much shade.

Take a half-day trip to the ruins of Teotihuacan, an hour outside of Mexico City. (Try to say that name ten times fast). Our tour guide, Tomas Alberto Ortega Corona (Teotihuacan al extremo), is actually an archaeologist who grew up in the town of Teotihuacan. He gave an extensive history of the site (which I knew nothing about) and even provided home videos of excavations he had been on. Bruin on a Budget tip: Take an Uber to the bus station and then take the public bus to the site, instead of hiring an all inclusive bus trip. Our tour was 120 pesos total (which is roughly 6 dollars.)

When we got back to the city, we rested and then spent the rest of the day and into the evening window shopping, dining and mezcal-tasting around Roma Norte.

Day 3:

A dancer in the Ballet Folklorica

On Sunday we elected to go to the 9:30 AM Ballet Folklorica in the beautiful Palacio de Artes.  It was a great start to the day; the traditional costumes and dances provide a history of the culture of Mexico. The music and dancing is contagious. Don’t forget to take note of the Tiffany curtains and the Diego Rivera murals.

Gondola like “trajineras” in Xochimilco

In the morning enjoy a tour of Xochimilco. At one point in time this was a unique city outside of CDMX, and it still has a suburban feel. During the Pre-Hispanic period, this was the location of Lake Xochimilco. What remains is a canal system and man-made island farms called “chinampas” or floating gardens. Visitors in colorful boats called “trajineras” while a mariachi band serenades you and lunch is served. These boats can fit up to 20 people and often carry groups celebrating a birthday, anniversary, or some other festive gathering.

Self Portrait by Frida Khalo on displayin Casa Azul.

We then took a car to Frida Kahlo’s Museum or “Casa Azul” in the southern neighborhood of Coyoacán. I would recommend reserving timed tickets from boletosfridakahlo, because there is always a long line. Coyoacán has an identity of its own and I would recommend shopping at the Mercado de Coyoacán, a classic public market; grabbing a coffee from Cafe el Jarocho, and enjoying a mariachi band over an dinner at the lively and unpretentious Cantina La Guadalupana.

Fly home either Sunday evening or Monday morning