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 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 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 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