Top Ten Things to do in Washington DC: Part One

Thanks to Alyssa and Eric’s beautiful wedding, we were able to spend a little over five days in Washington DC back in May. We had been looking forward to this trip all winter and spring and couldn’t wait to plan our time there and celebrate our sweet friends. Back in February, I ordered a few travel books from Amazon; Lonely Planet and Frommer’s are always two of my favorites. I also started following a few DC travel blogs and social media accounts to start getting restaurant recommendations. Not going to lie, finding places to eat is probably my favorite part about planning a vacation. We also did some research on different areas for a potential Airbnb before we eventually found a great apartment in Dupont Circle.

Spring came up pretty quickly this year thanks to Fiesta Arts Fair, so despite having read about so many different sites in DC throughout the winter, I really didn’t get to start planning or trying to book things until a couple of weeks before the wedding. I’ll share a little later where this caused a few problems, but overall it all worked out just fine (thankfully we had booked our flights and Airbnb further out). We were able to pack in a ton of sightseeing during our trip to DC, but even five days wasn’t enough time to get to everything we had hoped to see. I guess we’ll just have to go back for another vacation, right? We saw six of the monuments and memorials. Visited eight museums. Walked over 40 miles. Ate at Shake Shack three times. And we loved every minute of it.

IMG_9673

I get just a little nerdy about planning trips

Given my love for lists, I’ve decided to share our top ten favorite things to do in Washington DC instead of a day-by-day recap which would take forever to finish (I’m already almost three months behind… whoops). To help make it even easier, I’m actually going to break this down into two different posts so it doesn’t take me two more months to complete it. So here’s the first half of our top ten list, in no particular order.

IMG_6939 copy_edited-1

1. Visit the monuments, especially at night

We landed in Washington DC’s Reagan Airport on a Wednesday afternoon. We quickly dropped our bags off at our Airbnb apartment, spent some time at the National Portrait Gallery before meeting Alyssa and Eric for some delicious pizza at Matchbox, and then went to see a few of the monuments before calling it a night. Y’all. If I was told I could only see the monuments once during a trip to DC, it would definitely be at night. The lighting around each of them is incredible and gives them an even more majestic air, or at least it did for me. After visiting the National Mall that evening, I’m convinced that nothing beats walking up to the Lincoln Memorial as the sun is setting. We were completely speechless when we first saw this memorial, which was so much larger than we had anticipated. It’s pretty incredible to stand inside a memorial that has been around for almost 100 years, looking up at a 19-foot marble statue of Abraham Lincoln. We spent most of our time that evening at the Lincoln Memorial reading two of his famous speeches inscribed on the walls (Gettysburg Address and Second Inaugural Address) before walking to the Vietnam Memorial and World War II Memorial. Seeing the Vietnam Memorial was very sobering; the simplicity of the design makes you focus on the endless rows of names as the wall grows in height. We then ended the night by the Washington Monument. Honestly, it was the perfect way to kick off our trip to the nation’s capital. It was also extremely safe, there were lots of people around as well as park rangers throughout the area (and plenty of high school kids on field trips running around like crazy). The weather on Friday was absolutely perfect, so we went back out to the monuments to see them on a clear, sunny day.

Another fun way to see the monuments is by paddle boat in the Tidal Basin. We were able to do this on Thursday and loved the views of the monuments from the water. According to my Garmin watch, we paddled around for a mile, which totally justified getting dessert later that evening.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

IMG_6579

The Lincoln Memorial

IMG_9641

The Lincoln Memorial

IMG_6568

I really love the Reflecting Pool placed between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

IMG_6616

World War II Memorial with the Lincoln Memorial in the background

IMG_6619

View of the Lincoln Memorial from the World War II Memorial

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

2. Washington Monument elevator tour

The Washington Monument was one of my favorite highlights to our time in DC. I actually got a little choked up when we drove by it one final time on our last day before heading to the airport. It’s a beautiful landmark that you can see throughout the city and became a familiar beacon while we were there. You can even see it from Arlington National Cemetery. At 555 feet tall, the Washington Monument is the tallest building in the city as well as the world’s tallest stone structure and the world’s tallest obelisk. One thing we were really surprised by was the history behind the monument; construction was privately funded and actually came to a stop in 1854. When construction picked back up in 1877, the marble had to be sourced from a new location. If you look carefully (or even not that carefully, it’s pretty easy to see!), you will notice a difference in the color of the marble after the first 150 feet.

While you can walk around the Washington Monument at any time, they also offer tickets for an elevator ride up to the top. On a clear day, you can see into Maryland and Virginia from the observation windows. Tickets are available for timed-entry tours every 30 minutes from 9am to 5pm. You can purchase these tickets for a small fee online (these were already booked when we checked a couple weeks in advance), or you can wait in line the day of and get one of the 500 available tickets for free, which is what we did. The ticket office opened at 8:30, so Chip was there a little before 7:30 and there were already over 200 people ahead of him. Now, each person can get up to six tickets, so there were a lot of tour groups ahead of him in line getting tickets in bulk. This meant that by the time Chip got to the front of the line, all the slots we wanted were booked. Not exaggerating here, but the person right in front of Chip got the last two tickets for the slot we had wanted. We really wanted a late afternoon tour since we were going to spend the first half of the day at the zoo, so the best option he had was getting one ticket for 3:00. Definitely not ideal, but Chip thought it would be better for me to go up on my own and get a bunch of pictures than to try again another day when rain was in the forecast which meant the views wouldn’t be as good. Thankfully, when we got to the Washington Monument for the tour, one of the park rangers saw Chip was having to stay behind and let him come along with me. Seriously, all of the park rangers we interacted with were incredibly kind of eager to share the city’s history with visitors. The views from the top of the monument were incredible, it was definitely worth the effort to get tickets. There was also a lot of information about the construction of the monument on the top floor, including a list of repairs that took place after an earthquake in 2011.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

3.  United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

The Holocaust Museum was at the top of my list of places to visit in DC. Chip took some convincing, he wasn’t sure he would be able to handle just how incredibly sad that visit would be, but in the end it turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip for the both of us. While almost all of the museums in DC don’t require advanced tickets, this one does for its permanent exhibition. As I mentioned earlier, a lot of our planning took place weeks before this trip. By that point, all of the tickets for the permanent exhibition had been reserved for the five days we would be in town. I can’t tell you how bummed I was about this. We decided to still visit to see which other exhibitions we would have access to as walk-ins and to check if there were any leftover tickets for the permanent exhibition.

We spoke with one of the docents at the museum and shared that we were from out of town and had really hoped to get tickets to the permanent exhibition. We asked if they had any available for us to pick up in person for any of the five days we would be in DC since all of the online tickets had been reserved. This kind old gentleman looked at us and asked if we could go right then. I figured he hadn’t understood us correctly and reminded him that we couldn’t go then since we didn’t have tickets. After a quick “No… Can you go see it now?…” we realized he was holding out two tickets for us to take right then. We were so touched that he was giving us these tickets, we couldn’t take them fast enough. We got in line for the exhibition and spent most of the next two and a half hours in complete silence. The exhibition begins with an identification booklet given to each guest with the name and story of a person from the Holocaust. As you go through each floor of the exhibition, you read the next page of the booklet. By the end of the exhibition, you learn the fate of the individual. I’m so glad this is a ticketed exhibition as it helps keep the size of the crowd under control. I can’t imagine getting to see and read as much as we did if they didn’t limit the number of guests.

The exhibition covers the entirety of the Holocaust. It starts with videos and displays explaining the rise of the Nazi party, which was so chilling to see. It also highlighted the various ghettos people were forced to live in before being transported to concentration camps. We were able to see a cobblestone street from one of these ghettos, as well as read stories about the different ways Jews living in these ghettos would try to revolt against the Nazis. It was so eerie to walk through a dark train car, similar to the ones used to deport Jews from the ghettos to the concentration camps, and then pass under a sign used at an entrance to one of the camps. For me, one of the hardest rooms was one filled with shoes. These shoes were from the 4,000 Jews killed at one of the concentration camps. I couldn’t even wrap my head around the math of it. This room had shoes for 4,000 Jews; that is tragically just .06% (yes, less than 1%) of the six million Jews killed during the Holocaust.

There is a really incredible room towards the end of the exhibition on the last floor. There is a white wall in the middle of the room filled with the names of individuals known to have helped hide and save Jewish people during the Holocaust. Some of these names included stories of the work they did, and after seeing so much darkness in the exhibition, these stories filled me with hope.

We spent about two and a half hours at the permanent exhibition, and even with that amount of time, we had to rush through certain sections. We decided to go back again another day to check out the featured exhibitions. We were able to get a docent led tour for Remember the Children: Daniel’s Story and Some Were Neighbors: Collaboration and Complicity in the Holocaust. While the permanent exhibition was by far my favorite at this museum, these two were also really informative. Daniel’s Story told the experiences of a child who survived the Holocaust through journal entries. It was heartbreaking to read, but also a really relatable way for younger audiences to learn about the Holocaust. Some Were Neighbors was chilling for different reasons. It was frightening to see how the actions of individuals impacted the lives of others; whether someone chose to turn a blind eye to the injustice of the time, or if they chose to help friends or strangers and ultimately save a life.

Following these two exhibitions, our docent actually let us into the permanent exhibition, which allowed us to revisit some areas we had rushed through previously.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

4. The National Museum of American History

The Museum of American History was possibly our favorite of all the Smithsonian museums. There is so much in this museum that covers American history, from the original flag that inspired the National Anthem, to an exhibit of dresses worn by the First Ladies, to pop culture artifacts. There really is something for everyone at this museum. Other highlights included a portion of the Berlin Wall, items family members have left for loved ones at the Vietnam Memorial, a collection of steel from the World Trade Center, Julia Child’s kitchen, the hat Abraham Lincoln wore the night he was assassinated, George Washington’s portrait uniform, Dorothy’s ruby red slippers from The Wizard of Oz, Muhammed Ali’s boxing gloves alongside Apolo Anton Ohno’s speed skates, and an exhibition on the American enterprise. It was a fun surprise to see in the enterprise exhibition a picture of my former employer, Ernest Bromley.

There was a poster on display for a new exhibition opening up in the summer of 2018. I’m not sure all it will cover, but there was a picture of Celia Cruz so I’ve already told Chip we will be going back!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

5. National Portrait Gallery

We visited the National Portrait Gallery our first night in DC. We spent a little bit of time on the first floor checking out the recent acquisitions hall before going straight up to the American Presidents exhibition. This was another one of our top Smithsonian experiences. We took our time walking through the gallery space; it almost felt like we were traveling through time starting with the first presidents and ending with George W. Bush’s portrait. This exhibition is the nation’s only complete collection of presidential portraits outside the White House, and I have to admit… there were a few presidents I had completely forgotten about. Sorry, Millard Fillmore. It’s nothing personal. In all seriousness, it was inspiring to be reminded of all the presidents who have served our country (whether I personally liked them or not) and also really interesting to see the difference in artistic styles between all of the presidential portraits.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Part two of our top ten list will be up soon!

Trip to Washington, DC

Last month, Chip and I took a trip to Washington, DC for one of my dear college friend’s wedding. Nothing beats seeing the people you love marry their best friend and watching Alyssa marry Eric was so incredibly special. Alyssa and I met our freshman year at Trinity while living just down the hall from each other. We quickly bonded over our high school dance experiences, love for travel, and obsession with the show So You Think You Can Dance. She was even my big sister when I joined APO at the beginning of our sophomore year. Over the course of our four years at Trinity, we created a weekly tradition: Tuesday night dinners together. Looking back, I think the only time we didn’t meet was during our fall semester of junior year when we each studied abroad. These weekly dinners will always be one of the highlights to my college experience, and I am so thankful for the phone dates we continue to have throughout the year. Alyssa, congrats again to you and Eric, we love you both!!

1928791_506467642870_9136_n

Before the homecoming dance our sophomore year at Trinity

1923313_506468151850_6343_n

APO Opening Ceremonies

1933737_506468166820_92_n

The three generations to our APO family (yes, I was in turn Chip’s big)

4214_531793070510_2378898_n

Our last Tuesday dinner our senior year

229027_583860931100_4070275_n.jpg

Loved having Alyssa stand beside me at my wedding, so bummed I didn’t get a picture with her at hers!

IMG_9745

Trinity Tigers at Alyssa and Eric’s wedding

IMG_9732

My cute date for Alyssa’s wedding

IMG_9741

Loved catching up with these ladies

Since Chip had never visited Washington, DC and the only time I had been there was when I was 16 years old and at a leadership conference, we decided to fly out early for the wedding and make this our big vacation of the summer. During my high school trip, I really didn’t get to see much of the city. If I remember correctly, we walked around a lot to different conference rooms, went into the Capitol building, and saw the World War II and Vietnam Memorials. That was pretty much it. So in a way, this felt like my first time to DC. After hearing Alyssa talk about her love for the city for the last five years and reading up on all the different museums, I knew we would have a great trip. Y’all. DC completely surpassed our expectations. I did not expect to fall in love with this city the way I did. We couldn’t believe the quantity and quality of Smithsonian museums and how incredible the monuments are in person. You couldn’t go anywhere in the city without seeing some incredible pieces of history. I can definitely see why Alyssa decided to move out there after we graduated from Trinity!

We were able to spend about five and a half days in DC and could have easily stayed for another week. There is so much to see and do in this city and I really do hope we make it back there again. Stay tuned for some of our favorite highlights to our trip!

Weekend in San Francisco

Check it out, the last post on our trip to California in October! If you’ve read all of these posts (here, here, and here), and we’re not related, bless your kind soul.

While planning this trip, we intentionally decided to spend the first part of our trip in Napa so we could avoid the large crowds in the tasting rooms, and also so we could enjoy the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market in San Francisco on Saturday. It may sound weird to plan a trip to such a big city around a farmer’s market, but it truly is incredible. Between the Ferry Building and the plaza behind it, there are rows of booths with fresh produce, stores with candles and ceramic bowls, and lots of yummy food stands. We stocked up on a few picnic items for the afternoon and grabbed some delicious breakfast sandwiches.

IMG_8063

Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

IMG_6329

Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

Since we were lucky enough to have visited San Francisco two other times, we decided to skip out on walking along the Embarcadero and instead check out a new part of the city we had never visited before: Golden Gate Park. Golden Gate Park covers over 1,000 acres and is one of the most visited parks in the U.S. You could easily spend an entire weekend exploring all parts of Golden Gate Park. Since we only had a few hours to spare that afternoon, we chose to focus on getting a boat to view the park from Stow Lake before visiting the de Young Museum.

IMG_6333

Golden Gate Park

IMG_6335

Personal boat rower at Golden Gate Park

IMG_6347

Golden Gate Park Japanese Tea Garden

IMG_6358

Golden Gate Park

After our time on the water, we walked over to the de Young Museum, where we had a picnic before checking out the exhibits.

IMG_6370

Outside the de Young Museum at Golden Gate Park

IMG_6373

Our picnic outside the de Young Museum

IMG_6375

Inside the de Young Museum

IMG_6379

Inside the de Young Museum

IMG_6386

Inside the de Young Museum

We left the de Young Museum and walked back to our car so we could drive by the bison paddock on our way out of the park. Yes, bison. It was a little strange to see these large animals in the middle of a large city, even if it was in a fenced off area.

As bookends on this trip, we would only get two dinner meals in San Francisco. On our first night, we had a (very late) dinner at Tacolicious. The other restaurant we love is Coqueta along the Embarcadero and we were so excited to get reservations there for Saturday night. The environment is a lot of fun, and their food is delicious. We sat up at the bar where we were able to watch the chefs in the kitchen. Warning: if you sit in this spot, you will be tempted to order every single thing you watch them prepare. We may have been convinced to order a few tapas because of this kitchen view, but they went perfectly with our paella dinner.

IMG_8114

Before drinks along the Embarcadero. Chip made fun of this vest when I first bought, but I still love it.

IMG_8079

Pre-dinner drinks

IMG_6391

Coqueta

IMG_6392

Coqueta

IMG_6393

Coqueta

IMG_6394

Delicious paella at Coqueta

To wrap up our night in San Francisco, we went to grab a drink and dessert at Ghirardelli Square.

IMG_6396

Chocolate martini at Ghirardelli Square

IMG_6398

Dessert at Ghirardelli Square

We had some time Sunday morning before our flights back to San Antonio. We decided to swing by Mama’s for a hearty breakfast. It doesn’t seem to matter how early we get there, there is always at least an hour wait. This was our second time there and I have to say, I don’t totally get the hype. Yes, the food is good, but not “wait in line for over an hour” good. If you have limited time in the city, there are a lot of other great small restaurants that won’t have as long of a wait. We had hoped to drive around a few neighborhoods and check out the Painted Ladies again, but we had to eat our food pretty quickly to get to the airport on time.

IMG_8116

IMG_8096

Glad to see these Tai Chi classes are still going on across the street from Mama’s

IMG_8119

The view from breakfast

IMG_8103

Breakfast at Mama’s

IMG_8105

Driving to the airport

After a couple of flights, we were back in San Antonio to our sweet pup who was ready for some cuddle time. We loved our time in Napa and San Francisco and hope to be back again soon!

IMG_8120

Farewell, Napa. Hello, San Francisco.

Friday was our last morning in Napa. I’m sure there are a lot of great breakfast/brunch spots in Napa, but we could eat at Oxbow every morning and be perfectly happy. We ventured from our regular tacos at C Casa for their awesome breakfast burrito and cinnamon roll. We ate it all before I could get a good picture of our meal.

IMG_8001

Leaving RiverPointe – it really felt like a little home!

IMG_6196

Walking around Oxbow one last time

IMG_6197

Learning about bitters for making Old Fashioned’s at home

Before driving back to San Francisco, we decided to head back to Domaine Chandon for a quick stop. We had such a great tour there the day before, but had rushed out to our next tasting that we didn’t get to fully explore the grounds. We initially thought we would just go take a few pictures and walk around, until I remembered that as new wine club members, we get free tastings every time we visit. Twist my arm, I guess I’ll have a glass of sparkling wine at 10am. One observation while we were there Friday morning: As we got out of our car, we saw a group of 20 people getting ready for their tour. I’m so glad we visited on Thursday and had been in a small group of four people and got to ask our guide a ton of questions. I highly recommend visiting the wineries during the week for this reason.

IMG_6199

Walking up to Domaine Chandon

IMG_8002

At Domaine Chandon

IMG_8023

One of our new favorite places in Napa

IMG_6204

I could stay here all day

IMG_8008

…Especially with a glass of sparkling rose

IMG_8015

The right way to do a Friday

IMG_6208

Domaine Chandon

Before we left the wine country, we had to take the funny video below outside of Chandon. Hey, cutie.

After our stop at Domain Chandon, we drove back to San Francisco for the weekend. I’m sure locals get used to it, but I am always blown away at how tall the towers are on the Golden Gate Bridge. While we usually stop for pictures at the lookout point coming out of the city, we decided to try a new spot this time as well: Fort Point. If you can only pick one place to stop for pictures, I would choose this one over the lookout spot right after the bridge. Yes, you do get the city behind you with the lookout spot, but I love how you get such a sense of how tall the bridge is from Fort Point. We took more than a few pictures there and enjoyed the water crashing up against the rocks before check in at the Coventry Motor Inn one more time.

IMG_6214

IMG_6215

IMG_6219

IMG_6220

IMG_6223

IMG_8087

Fort Point

IMG_8089

IMG_6225

IMG_6227

 

IMG_6235

IMG_6243

Alcatraz out in the distance

IMG_6248

IMG_6250

IMG_6263.JPG

IMG_8028

IMG_8030

IMG_8034

Now, when we were first deciding if we wanted to take this somewhat last-minute trip to San Francisco, we saw that Of Monsters and Men would be playing in nearby Berkeley that same weekend. This sealed the deal for us. We had to make this trip. Chip and I both love music, but we don’t always enjoy the same artists. I’m a sucker for catchy pop music (I’ll always fan girl over boy bands, no shame at all), and I tease Chip about his alien music full of weird synthesizers. But Of Monsters and Men is a band that we both really enjoy and love listening to together. Certain songs from their first album will give me serious nostalgia for our first trip to Nantucket. While Chip was at his conference, I would sit out on the porch at Century House, working on emails and listening to “Little Talks,” “Dirty Paws,” and “Love Love Love” nonstop. Their new album Beneath the Skin came out in June and was pretty much always on at home and in the car for a few months. Once we realized this concert was happening Friday night, we planned our entire trip around it. So after checking back in at the Coventry Motor Inn, we hung out at the Ferry Building for part of the afternoon before driving out to Berkeley for the concert at The Greek Theatre in the UC Berkeley campus.

It wasn’t until we parked our car near UC Berkeley that we realized we hadn’t locked the doors while we were at the Ferry Building… and someone had stolen my American Giant hoodie and Chip’s sunglasses. So not cool. They left behind the blankets we had packed, so we fortunately still had those to sit on during the concert. After I got over being insulted by this petty theft, we went to Eureka! for dinner and enjoyed some great burgers before walking to The Greek Theatre. Now, this outdoor venue is designed to look like an old amphitheater with a round seating plan. The seating is unassigned and broken into three sections: the pit (where you stand the whole time), the orchestra (where you sit on cement steps, which is why we packed blankets), and the lawn. After reading online reviews from veteran concert goers, we decided to sit in the orchestra section. We wanted to get some good seats in this section, so we finished our dinner and walked a mile through the UC Berkeley campus, checking out all the buildings along the way and got to the concert gates before the doors opened. The line was longer than we anticipated when we showed up, but most of the early comers went straight to the pit, so we got a great spot in the middle of the orchestra section.

I can’t say enough good things about the concert. The opening act, Amason, was great and did a great job setting the tone for the night. Chip and I had been debating over what we thought would be Of Monsters and Men’s first song. Would it be from the old album? The new album? We went back and forth on it, but neither one of us expected it to be “Thousand Eyes.” We didn’t even think they would perform this song. I’m so glad we were both wrong because this was AMAZING live. It was so dramatic with the lighting and the drums. The song ended and we just looked at each other and laughed. We knew the rest of the concert was going to be incredible and we were not disappointed. There are songs that I liked before, but after hearing it live, I love them. Who would have thought an accordion would make “King and Lionheart” sound so good live? Looking back on the concert four months ago, some of our favorite memories are singing along to “Dirty Paws,” following the drummer’s lead to clap the beginning of “Slow and Steady,” and listening to “Crystals.” They did such a great job interacting with the audience and we loved comparing how the lead singer Nanna sways as she sings while fellow band member Ragnar bobs his shoulders up and down as he plays the guitar. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we can see them again another time.

IMG_8037

Dinner at Eureka!

IMG_8038

Walking the UC Berkeley campus

IMG_8039

Walking the UC Berkeley campus

IMG_6266

Picking our seats for the concert

IMG_6273

We loved The Greek Theatre

IMG_6288

Amason

IMG_6290

IMG_8050

Ready for the concert

IMG_6296

Of Monsters and Men

IMG_6298

Of Monsters and Men

IMG_6303

Of Monsters and Men

IMG_6309

Of Monsters and Men

Listen to that accordion!

As soon as they started playing “Little Talks,” the sweet preteen in front of us started dancing like crazy. It was awesome.

The pictures below are from the Of Monsters and Men Facebook page. Love the view they had of the audience!

10003715_10153062222946331_6876634898479943425_o

Of Monsters and Men Facebook Page. The fancy blue arrow is the area where we sat.

In front of our favorite wall at Frog's Leap

Thursday in Napa

After our tasting at Pride Mountain Vineyards, we drove back into downtown Napa to check in at our hotel. We originally hoped to find a place through airbnb or VRBO, but we couldn’t find anything in our price range. If you’re traveling to Napa with a larger group, I highly recommend a rental home. We went that route last year with my family, and had a great time having a home to spend time in. Since we couldn’t find any for this trip that worked for us, we considered our hotel options. There aren’t many chain anythings in Napa, save for a Starbucks and Panera Bread, so it felt slightly out of place to consider staying at a Best Western or other chain hotel. Napa also has a few really nice four to five star hotels, but these were definitely out of our price range. Reading through reviews on TripAdvisor took us to RiverPointe Napa Valley and we couldn’t have been happier with it. It was the perfect middle ground between a hotel and a rental home. We loved how close it was to downtown Napa, giving us the option to walk to Oxbow Public Market in the mornings for breakfast and quick access to some great restaurants for dinner. These mini condos/mobile homes gave us our own space, complete with a kitchen and living room, but still offered some of the amenities of a hotel, like a wine tasting our first afternoon in Napa. We weren’t expecting this tasting, so we were pleasantly surprised when we checked in just before the event started. And yes, we were by far the youngest couple in the room but we had such a great time getting to meet some of the other people staying at RiverPointe. Everyone becomes a friend when you’re having a glass of wine, right?

After our tasting, we drove to dinner at Bistro Don Giovanni. We had visited Don Giovanni for lunch during our first trip to Napa a few years ago and really enjoyed it. When we told friends we were going back to Napa for this trip, we heard more than a few recommendations to go to Don Giovanni for dinner. One look at the menu solidified our decision. It was crowded there, so be sure to make reservations if you want to make Don Giovanni part of your Napa experience. Everything on the menu looks great, you really can’t go wrong there. We also had a super sweet waiter from Croatia. He loved hearing that we spent a day in Dubrovnik during our honeymoon, and then showed us pictures of his family while we ate.

Thursday morning started off with breakfast at Oxbow. Seriously, we love this place. We considered a few options for breakfast, but in the end went with C Casa. You can’t beat their breakfast tacos.

IMG_6089

C Casa – please send us tacos

IMG_6091

Pumpkin latte to get the morning started

After breakfast, we grabbed a few snacks there at Oxbow before driving to our first stop for the day: Chandon. Over the last year or so, I’ve really started enjoyed sparkling wine. We went to Mumm during our last trip and thought it would be fun to check out another place that specialized in sparkling wine. It didn’t take much research to find Chandon. Y’all. This place was amazing! We may or may not have joined their wine club… any friends want to join us for some sparkling wine?

 

IMG_6097

Ready for our tasting

IMG_6099

The tour at Chandon

IMG_6108

The flight at Chandon

IMG_6109

Fun fact: Chandon also makes still wine

IMG_6111

Set up for the tasting

IMG_6113

Starting our tasting…

IMG_6114

Bring on the bubbles

Our tour at Chandon was one of our favorites of this trip. We were a small group of just four people, so we got to spend a lot of time with our super sweet tour guide, who was great at answering all of our (mainly Chip’s) questions. The grounds were incredibly beautiful and we had a great view of the lawn as we had our final tasting. Our tour ran a little longer than we had planned, so we had to rush out to our next tour after signing up for the Chandon wine club. Don’t worry, we stopped by the next morning for some pictures!

After Chandon, we had our tour at Frog’s Leap. This was our third time at this winery. We had done their garden tasting during our first trip, and the tour during our second. For this third trip, we decided to do the signature seating tasting. I’ve said it before, but what we love about Frog’s Leap is how casual the environment and how beautiful the grounds are. It’s a unique combination to enjoy some really great wine while also feeling really comfortable in the laid back setting.

IMG_6124

I really love the Frog’s Leap logo

IMG_6127

Signature Seating Tasting at Frog’s Leap

IMG_6128

The lawn at Frog’s Leap

IMG_6132

Tomatoes everywhere

IMG_6136

Love the Frog’s Leap chickens

IMG_6140

In front of our favorite wall at Frog’s Leap

IMG_7931

One of my favorite places with my favorite guy

IMG_6142

Little more fall colors compared to last year

IMG_6157

Frog’s Leap

IMG_6158

House goals

On our way out of Frog’s Leap, we decided to make a quick pit-stop for some food at Gott’s Roadside. Let me tell you, nothing goes better with wine than a good hotdog and chocolate milkshake.

IMG_6159

Gott’s Roadside

For our last winery, we went to Sterling Vineyards. We had someone recommend Sterling to us, and after reading about the winery, we decided to check it out. A highlight to Sterling is their gondola with views of the wine country. We were excited for these views, but we were worried it was a tourist attraction and that the tour wouldn’t be that great. Maybe it’s because we did the self-guided tour, but we were underwhelmed with our time at Sterling. We enjoyed the gondola and took tons of pictures from up in the air, but the tour itself was made of videos at the different “stops, ” so there wasn’t much room to learn more or interact and ask questions. I’m glad this was the last tour of our trip so it wasn’t the first time we were learning about the wine making process.

IMG_6161

The view at Sterling Vineyards

IMG_6186

During our tour at Sterling Vineyards

IMG_8084

In the gondola at Sterling Vineyards

We drove back into downtown Napa after our tasting at Sterling for dinner at Torc. It was easy to see why this restaurant has such great TripAdvisor reviews. The ambiance was festive, without being too loud, and the food was delicious. I would definitely go there again if we ever had the chance. More to come on our last morning in Napa and our weekend in San Francisco! I promise I’ll try to get those posts done sometime in the next month…

IMG_6192

Ready for dinner at Torc

 

Traveling back to San Francisco and Napa

I was lucky enough to have last week off for the holidays. While it meant finally catching up on laundry from our trip to Tucson for Christmas, baking some doggy treats for the first time in about a year, and general cleaning (I think I am finally ahead of Wrigley in the vacuum-shedding battle), I was also able to spend some time reflecting on 2015. It was a fast year, and a really long year. It had lots of great moments laughing with friends and family, but also some really tough days. Instead of letting those hard days define the year, I’m hoping to share some of my favorite memories from the last few months while this blog sat neglected.

One of my favorite memories of 2015 is a trip Chip and I took to San Francisco and Napa in October. It was a bit of a spontaneous trip, but we were so excited for some time together in a part of the country we love so much. I’ve mentioned this before, but we are so glad we decided to start setting aside a little money each month for the sole purpose of traveling. We love exploring new places together and seeing what life looks like outside of our bubble in San Antonio. We flew in to San Francisco on a Tuesday evening with the plan of renting a car and then driving to Chip’s favorite place for dinner – Tacolicious. We had two smooth flights before landing in San Francisco and patiently waited for the team at Enterprise to help get us a car. Since the wait took longer than they expected, they graciously upgraded us to a sports car. We were pretty excited about that! We left the airport around 7pm and started the drive into the city…

Less than 10 minutes into our drive, one of the dashboard monitors starts beeping. A lot. And loudly. We had a flat tire. We took the first exit we could and pulled over while we called Enterprise. And called and called and called some more. Y’all. We could not get anyone at the airport office to answer the phone that entire night. We eventually spoke to one of the road side assistance reps on the general help number and they called in a tow truck for us. In the meantime, we sat in the car in a thankfully very safe neighborhood while continuously trying and failing to get in touch with someone at the Enterprise airport office. We wanted to make sure that we should tow the car back to their office instead of a mechanic, and we also wanted to see if they could have our next car ready for us. We were getting pretty hungry for dinner by that point. Fast forward over an hour later (we still haven’t talked to anyone at that Enterprise) and we’re getting the rental car towed back to the airport while riding in the truck with the driver. Fast forward a bit more, and we’re finally leaving Enterprise once again, this time in a convertible since that was just about all they had left by that time (we really didn’t want to ride in a big SUV/pay that much in gas). We quickly checked in at the Coventry Motor Inn and walked to Tacolicious for dinner around 10:30.

IMG_7818

Airplane selfie! We would soon both feel how Chip’s face looks…

IMG_7820

Towing the first rental car back to the airport

IMG_6014

Late dinner at Tacolicious

We decided to spend the first few days of our trip in Napa with the hopes of avoiding the big crowds that fill the wineries for weekend tastings. So after walking to breakfast at Home Plate, we loaded up the car and made the drive out to Napa.

IMG_7871

Morning view from the hotel

IMG_7822

Getting ready for the afternoon winery visits with a big breakfast

IMG_7825

Driving the streets of San Francisco

IMG_7832

These pictures just don’t capture how STEEP some of the streets are!

IMG_7837

Love my travel buddy

IMG_7839

Taking advantage of the convertible to enjoy the sunny day

IMG_7846

Golden Gate Bridge

IMG_6024

View of San Francisco from the other side of the bridge

IMG_7847

On the other side of the bridge

IMG_7861

Crazy hair on the drive to Napa

IMG_7874

In serious need of a Thelma and Louise head scarf

It took us about an hour to drive from San Francisco to Napa. It’s been a warm year across the country (doesn’t feel like it right now!), so we didn’t see the amount of fall colors as we did the first time we went to Napa a couple of years ago. That didn’t stop us from enjoying the view, the wine country is really one of the most beautiful places we’ve been to. Once we got into Napa, our first stop was to get a quick lunch at Oxbow Public Market. Chip got a burger while I couldn’t resist a hot dog. Keeping it classy.

IMG_7875

Sometimes, I have the palate of a five year old

Planning a trip to Napa can be a little overwhelming. Did you know that there are over 400 wineries in Napa? If you’re also looking at Sonoma, there are over 600 total wineries to choose from. To help pick our tours for this trip, we focused on getting a different experience from each place we would visitt. As much as we enjoy wine, it can be difficult to differentiate one tasting and tour from another unless there is something unique offered. When we first started planning this trip, I was really intrigued by a blind tasting offered at Elizabeth Spencer Wines. We had never done a tasting like this before and liked the idea of competing against each other while also learning how to get more from a wine tasting. We had 1:00 reservations at Elizabeth Spencer and we lucked out by being the only ones on this tour. We were taken into a private room with our tour guide, Dana, and had four glasses of red wine ready for us to taste. Dana walked us through the four wines, teaching us how to compare the shades of red between the wines, where you feel tannins, and more. Dana was so great and patient with us and probably spent an extra 30 minutes on our tasting, walking us through the different regions of Napa Valley and even showed us some dirt samples from each area. Unfortunately, Chip correctly guessed two of the four wines, while I was only successful with one. I’m waiting for a rematch!

IMG_7876

Blind tasting at Elizabeth Spencer

IMG_6026

So focused on the wines

IMG_6033

Dana walking us through the different regions in the Napa Valley

IMG_6032

Who knew grapes could grow in these types of soil?

IMG_6031

Dana gave us one more sample of each wine once we finished the tasting

IMG_6035

Elizabeth Spencer was definitely one of the highlights to our trip!

We had such a great time at Elizabeth Spencer. We loved the unique tasting experience, which was both fun and extremely informative. Out of the different wineries we’ve been to in California and Fredericksburg, this was by far one of the best tasting experiences we’ve ever had. Dana did a great job answering our questions and made us feel so welcome there. We can’t wait to do a blind tasting with my family sometime soon!

IMG_7881

Leaving Elizabeth Spencer

After Elizabeth Spencer, we drove to our next winery: Pride Mountain Vineyards. We decided to visit this winery because of their Facebook page. Like everything social media related, a lot of wineries would post just beautiful and perfectly lighted pictures, beautiful glasses of wine with the perfect backdrop. But Pride Mountain had a lot of fun, behind the scenes posts. We loved seeing how the staff has fun while making great wine, and that they give so much credit to their field workers. We had the last tasting of the day, so it did feel a little rushed, but we loved the casual feel to the winery and seeing some of the wine-making process in action. Since the staff was wrapping up for the day, we also got to see them cleaning out some of the equipment while they joked with our tour guide. It was nice to see such a transparent picture of what life on this vineyard looks like. I have to admit, they made all that hard work look really fun.

IMG_6038

Driving to Pride Mountain Vineyards

IMG_7886

Chip wanted to smell the barrels outside of Pride Mountain Vineyards. Spoiler: they didn’t smell like wine.

IMG_6045

Not a bad view from the parking lot at Pride Mountain Vineyards

IMG_6047

Can I work here?

IMG_6088

Grape vines for the win

IMG_6055

Chip found some grapes. They smelled better than the barrels.

IMG_7897

Ready to tour Pride Mountain Vineyards

IMG_6064

In the tasting room at Pride Mountain Vineyards before the tour

IMG_6063

You bet we bought Wrigley a bag of these treats

IMG_6070

Speaking of Wrigley… this could have been his long lost cousin in a book at Pride Mountain Vineyards.

IMG_6073

Part of the wine making process

IMG_6072

More of the wine making process

IMG_6071

On one side of the brick line is Napa. On the other side is Sonoma.

IMG_6079

In the cave at Pride Mountain Vineyards

IMG_6080

Pride Mountain Vineyards

IMG_7918

Leaving Pride Mountain Vineyards after our tour

IMG_7920

Can we live here?

More to come on our time in Napa, a concert in Berkeley, and our weekend in San Francisco!

And now to end this post with a funny picture…

IMG_7925

Even guys get convertible hair

Last Day in Nantucket

Let’s just pretend it hasn’t taken me a couple months to finish blogging about our trip to Nantucket. Sound good?

Sunday was our last full day in Nantucket. I’m so glad we had used Saturday as our day to ride bikes and enjoy the beach since Sunday had such a rainy start. We didn’t want the weather to hold us back, so we thought we would go spend some time in a local coffee shop, Handlebar Cafe before our brunch later in the morning. It was only half a mile away from the Carlisle Inn, so I thought we would be fine walking there. About five minutes into our walk, I realized it was raining a lot harder than I had expected. We were some of the only fools out on the streets, but it seemed pointless to wait for a cab or Uber to pick us up for the last quarter mile so we kept walking. We soon got to Handlebar Cafe, where it was surprisingly full inside. Nothing says “spend some time in a coffee shop reading” like a rainy morning. Luckily by the time we had ordered our drinks a table cleared up, so we took our time enjoying our coffee and books.

At Handelbar Cafe

At Handelbar Cafe

The rain had slowed down by the time we left Handlebar Cafe, so we were able to walk to our brunch spot, the Boarding House. Chip had a delicious soft crab BLT. I ordered the chilaquiles plate inspired by the now-closed restaurant Corazon del Mar, which had been our favorite restaurant during our first trip to Nantucket.

Brunch at the Boarding House

Brunch at the Boarding House

We had originally planned to rent bikes again to ride out to Cisco Brewers across the island, but with the persistent rain, we decided to call an Uber. But first, we spent some time at the Carlisle Inn watching Son-in-Law. Yes, the Pauly Shore movie. It is such a good thing we don’t have cable anymore, we would get sucked into watching 90s movies all the time.

Cisco Brewers is unique in that it is a winery, brewery, and distillery in one place. It’s pretty small, but it’s a fun place to visit. After doing a walk around the grounds, we decided to do their tasting tour, which would give us two samples from each of these branches. While we waited for our tour to start, we ate clam chowder and a grilled cheese from a food truck, listened to live music, and met another sweet dog.

Clam chowder at Cisco Brewers

Clam chowder at Cisco Brewers

Cisco Brewers

Cisco Brewers

Nantucket Vineyard at Cisco Brewers

Nantucket Vineyard at Cisco Brewers

Wine sample during the tour

Wine sample during the tour

Still waiting for our shoes to dry off

Still waiting for our shoes to dry off

One of the beer samples during the tour

One of the beer samples during the tour

By the time the tour ended, the weather had finally cleared up. We got a ride back to the Carlisle Inn and started to get ready for dinner. With all that rain, you know it took a while to de-frizz my hair. #humidityproblems

On our way to dinner

On our way to dinner

Keeping it classy

Keeping it classy

For our last dinner in Nantucket, we went to Le Languedoc. After our somewhat disappointing dinner at Oran Mor, I was worried about going to another “traditional” Nantucket restaurant, but I’m so glad we went. We split the best lobster, it was the perfect way to end our time together on the island. According to the family sitting near us, you can’t find a better lobster anywhere else. The portions were pretty large, I’m glad we decided to split the meal.

Y'all, we ate every bite

Y’all, we ate every bite

When the waitress asked us if we wanted dessert, we told her we were going to the Juice Bar. Again. She jokingly asked us to bring some for her, no one can deny that ice cream.

Looking at this picture gives me Juice Bar withdrawals

Looking at this picture gives me Juice Bar withdrawals

Monday was my day to travel back to San Antonio while Chip stayed for the conference for the next couple of days. I was taking a ferry later in the morning, so we spent some time walking around downtown Nantucket for a bit after having breakfast at Black Eyed Susans again.

Downtown Nantucket

Downtown Nantucket

The best bookstore around

The best bookstore around

We always try to get an ornament whenever we travel somewhere together

We always try to get an ornament whenever we travel somewhere together

Walking around Nantucket

Walking around Nantucket

Yes, that's a helicopter on a yacht

Yes, that’s a helicopter on a yacht

We love Nantucket!

We love Nantucket!

Walking around Nantucket

Walking around Nantucket

Walking around Nantucket

Walking around Nantucket

On the ferry back to Hyannis from Nantucket

On the ferry back to Hyannis from Nantucket

I took the high-speed ferry from Nantucket to the port in Hyannis. By the time my luggage came off the ferry, all of the cabs had already left the dock. I waited for another 10 minutes before asking one of the girls that worked the parking lot area how far the bus station was in case there weren’t any other cabs coming. I only had about 30 minutes before my bus left for Boston. She assured me more cabs would come… and they never did. Now, if you’ll remember, we smashed my phone on Saturday. The only “smart” device I had was my Verizon tablet. Couldn’t exactly call an Uber from there. So I had her give me a map and dragged my luggage a little over a mile to the bus station. It was supposed to be pretty much a straight walk down from the port with one turn, but I somehow got a little lost and had to flag a couple of locals down to ask for directions. I made it to the bus station, silently willed the older gentleman at the ticket counter to please stop asking questions so I could buy my ticket, and got on to the bus with minutes to spare. The girls who came on the bus just two minutes after me were actually turned away. While I was fanning myself from that fun luggage walk, Chip was sending me pictures like the one below of his lunch time view from Something Natural. Thanks, Chippers. Luckily, the rest of my travels were smooth sailing and I came back home to a very happy Wrigley. Until next time, Nantucket! IMG_2030