Washington DC: Honorable Mentions

We had a pretty jam-packed trip to Washington DC back in May (you can read more about it here and here). While I ranked our top ten moments from the trip, there were a few other places we visited that I’m going to put on an honorable mention list (sounds weird but my blog, my rules, right? Ha).

1. White House Visitor Center

When we got the invitation to Alyssa and Eric’s wedding, the first thing I did before even booking our flights was request a White House tour. I submitted our tour request for any day over the span of a week to see if that would help us get a spot; if we got a tour, we would plan the rest of our trip around it. Unfortunately, they couldn’t schedule us for a tour while we were there. To try to make up for it, we decided to check out the White House Visitors Center. We got there early in the morning, so it really didn’t start filling up until we were getting ready to head out. There are over 90 artifacts from the White House collection, including some table settings for state dinners, copies of schedules (you bet I took a picture of any schedule that mentioned meeting with Queen Elizabeth), letters, videos, and more. Overall, it was a great glimpse into what history has looked like in the White House.

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2. National Museum of Natural History

This is probably one of the first museums that comes to mind when you think about the Smithsonian Institution, or at least it does for me. I’m sure this museum already gets a big kid crowd, but since we were there on a rainy Saturday, there were tons of kids running around. Some of our favorite highlights were seeing the African Elephant in the rotunda, the Hope Diamond (I’ll take one of those, please), and the geogallery (as a kid who loved going to the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, this was awesome). Our favorite exhibition of the whole museum was the 21st annual Nature’s Best Photography Awards Smithsonian Exhibition. To say those were some incredible pictures would be an understatement. We went through the museum pretty quickly before heading out to the National Museum of American History.

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3. Smithsonian’s National Zoo

We had heard great things about the National Zoo, especially when it came to the giant pandas. Now this zoo is just a smidge on the large side… as in it covers 163 acres. We walked a lot, but honestly, I preferred it that way. I struggle a bit with zoos and how much space each animal is given and what their quality of life is like. I appreciate the education-side of zoos and how they give us access to animals we normally would never get to see, and I realize they can help preserve certain species, but I think it’s a fine line between education and entertainment (don’t even get me started on circuses, I think they should all be shut down). All that to say, I really was pleasantly surprised by how much we had to walk between each animal exhibit and was glad that they weren’t all crowded on top of each other. The grounds were so well-maintained and I was happy to see how active a lot of the animals were in their spaces. One monkey in particular loved swinging around for all to see before laying down on a perch and checking us out.

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4. Library of Congress:

At the risk of sounding like an idiot, did you know the Library of Congress is an actual library? It’s actually the largest library in the world, and I have to say, it is by far the most beautiful library I’ve ever been to. It’s the library used by members of Congress, and also has some really beautiful exhibitions. I highly recommend dropping in for a visit, just don’t go on a Sunday, they’ll be closed just like every other library. Whoops.

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Standing in the rain outside the Library of Congress on Sunday, right about the moment when we realized they were closed

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Back at the Library of Congress, on a sunny day when they were open

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Library of Congress

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I have one more post coming on our trip to DC and it will cover all our favorite places to eat. Ending with the really important stuff, am I right?

Top Ten Things to do in Washington DC: Part Two

IMG_7218 copy_edited-1Picking up where we last left off, here’s the second half of our top ten list! Just seven months after our trip… ha.

1. Arlington National Cemetery

There really aren’t words to describe how majestic and somber Arlington National Cemetery is. It’s only a ten-minute drive from the crowds at the National Mall, and yet it feels so quiet and peaceful at Arlington that I would have guessed we were an hour outside of the city. It’s nothing short of a humbling experience to walk along the endless rows of gravestones, honoring all of the brave men and women who have served our country. From a distance, the white gravestones almost look like domino pieces, too many to count or really process. But then you get closer to each stone and read the names of those buried there, and it all becomes much more real. These were the people who served our country as early as the 1860s, as well as their loved ones buried alongside of them. To give you a sense of just how large Arlington is, it covers about 620 acres and over 400,000 veterans have been buried there. As we walked around the grounds, Chip and I talked about how everyone should make a trip to Arlington at some point in their lives. You really don’t get a sense for how lucky you are to have so much freedom until you’re surrounded by the reminder of what that freedom costs.

We visited the grave site of President John F. Kennedy, which overlooks the cityscape of Washington D.C. It’s a fitting view to see the monuments in the background as you read excerpts from Kennedy’s most famous speeches. We also spent quite a bit of time at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It was almost hypnotizing watching the changing of the guard and observing how stoic they are as they march back and forth before the tomb. There were a few wreath-laying ceremonies while we were there, and a small rain storm couldn’t keep the crowds from watching. And yes, we did get the chills and a lump in the back of our throat every time they played Taps.

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Arlington National Cemetery

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Tomb of the Unknown Soldier – Arlington National Cemetery

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Tomb of the Unknown Soldier – Arlington National Cemetery

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Arlington National Cemetery

2. Nationals baseball game

It’s no secret Chip and I love baseball. He grew up playing it through our freshman year at Trinity; I grew up watching it and spent my springs at my brother’s games from the time he was five years old until I left for college. Our dog is named Wrigley. We love October and getting to watch the World Series every year. So when we were planning our trip to DC, we knew we wanted to catch a Nationals game. I was even more excited when I saw they would be playing the New York Mets, a team I used to cheer for a long time ago, mainly out of spite to the New York Yankees. My favorite Met, David Wright, is still on the team and we were able to watch him hit a homerun early on in the game, right after Chip made some snarky comment about Wright being overpaid. A little bit of poetic justice, if you ask me. Towards the end of the game, we got to watch a fellow Calallen Wildcat would be pitching to close the game out for the Mets.

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3. National Gallery of Art

For those who haven’t visited the National Gallery of Art, humor me real quick. Picture however large you think this museum is. Got it? Now triple it. Even that probably isn’t close to the size of this museum. We weren’t able to get through it all, I can’t imagine how long it would take to see everything and give it the time it deserves. We were blown away by the amount of incredible work in the National Gallery of Art. Local residents really are lucky to have access to such renown work, it still blows my mind that all of the Smithsonian museums do not charge admission fees.

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Quick nap at the National Gallery of Art

4. Air and Space Museum

The National Air and Space Museum was the first Smithsonian we visited and it set the bar pretty high for the rest of the trip. There is a lot of history packed into this museum with models and historical pieces displayed everywhere. As an example, Charles Lindbergh’s The Spirit of St. Louis greets you as soon as you walk into the museum. Y’all, that Charles Lindbergh must have been either incredibly brave or incredibly stupid. You could not pay me to ride in that small plane from San Antonio to Boerne, I cannot believe it flew across the Atlantic. Other highlights include the Apollo 11 Command Module “Columbia,” the 1909 Wright Military Flyer, Amelia Earheart’s Lockheed Vega 5B, military planes from each war, and much more.

One of my favorite exhibits was on Charles and Anne Lindbergh. I recently read The Aviator’s Wife and found all of the pictures and stories extremely interesting. I have to admit, I had always heard about Charles’ accomplishments despite Anne being alongside of him for much of those record-setting trips. I highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to learn more about her story, both the good and the bad.

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5. National Archives

You can’t make a visit to DC without spending some time in the National Archives. Only at the National Archives can you see the original copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. I’m sure we can all recite bits and pieces of these thanks to our history classes, but there’s something really inspiring and humbling about reading the original handwritten copies of each of these documents. While admission is free (how great is that?), you can reserve your tickets online for $1.50 so you don’t have to wait outside in line for a long time. This came in handy for us since we visited on a rainy day. Don’t bother trying to break the “no pictures allowed” rule; we saw some people escorted out of the museum for trying to sneak a couple pictures on their phones. And as random as it sounds, I highly recommend their gift shop. It was one of the best we visited during the whole trip and was a perfect place for a few souvenirs, including our Uncle Sam nutcracker.

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We fell in love with DC during our almost week-long trip there and hope to be back again soon!

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.

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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.

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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.

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The Lincoln Memorial

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The Lincoln Memorial

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

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World War II Memorial with the Lincoln Memorial in the background

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View of the Lincoln Memorial from the World War II Memorial

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!!

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Before the homecoming dance our sophomore year at Trinity

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APO Opening Ceremonies

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

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Our last Tuesday dinner our senior year

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

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Trinity Tigers at Alyssa and Eric’s wedding

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My cute date for Alyssa’s wedding

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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.

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Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

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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.

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Golden Gate Park

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Personal boat rower at Golden Gate Park

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Golden Gate Park Japanese Tea Garden

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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.

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Outside the de Young Museum at Golden Gate Park

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Our picnic outside the de Young Museum

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Inside the de Young Museum

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Inside the de Young Museum

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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.

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

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Pre-dinner drinks

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Coqueta

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Coqueta

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Coqueta

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Delicious paella at Coqueta

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

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Chocolate martini at Ghirardelli Square

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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.

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

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The view from breakfast

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Breakfast at Mama’s

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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!

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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.

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Leaving RiverPointe – it really felt like a little home!

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Walking around Oxbow one last time

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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.

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Walking up to Domaine Chandon

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At Domaine Chandon

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One of our new favorite places in Napa

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I could stay here all day

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…Especially with a glass of sparkling rose

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The right way to do a Friday

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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.

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Fort Point

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Alcatraz out in the distance

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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.

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Dinner at Eureka!

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Walking the UC Berkeley campus

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Walking the UC Berkeley campus

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Picking our seats for the concert

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We loved The Greek Theatre

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Amason

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Ready for the concert

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Of Monsters and Men

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Of Monsters and Men

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Of Monsters and Men

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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!

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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.

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C Casa – please send us tacos

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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?

 

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Ready for our tasting

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The tour at Chandon

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The flight at Chandon

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Fun fact: Chandon also makes still wine

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Set up for the tasting

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Starting our tasting…

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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.

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I really love the Frog’s Leap logo

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Signature Seating Tasting at Frog’s Leap

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The lawn at Frog’s Leap

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Tomatoes everywhere

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Love the Frog’s Leap chickens

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In front of our favorite wall at Frog’s Leap

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One of my favorite places with my favorite guy

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Little more fall colors compared to last year

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Frog’s Leap

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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.

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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.

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The view at Sterling Vineyards

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During our tour at Sterling Vineyards

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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…

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Ready for dinner at Torc