Disneyland Anaheim Travel Guide

In honor of many upcoming trips to the cheery land of Disney, thought I’d post my favorites of this magical place.

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Tips & Tricks

  • Always dress smart with layers…Disneyland is in California the sunshine state, but it can still get chilly at night depending on the weather. Bring a light weight jacket and wear comfortable shoes since you’ll be walking around a lot all day.
  • Be prepared and take water if you can to stay hydrated throughout the day. Don’t forget snacks since Disney still lets you bring in food.
  • Don’t forget to apply sunscreen if you go during the day to avoid sunburning.
  • Ride lines can also be a long wait so bring cards or download some fun phone app games to pass the time by.
  • Don’t forget a portable charger for your phone if you plan on using this in line ( we always bring a heavy duty power bank)
  • Take advantage of FAST PASSES – literally the key to trying to get on every ride in one day (very possible by the way if you have a strategy and game plan in mind when conquering the parks); Get MaxPass (new app that gives you digital fastpasses on the Disneyland App) the $10 is worth it and will save you so much time from not having to run around the whole park
  • MaxPass can also be used for unlimited Disney Photopass downloads from the day (such a fun souvenir) plus you can check all the attraction wait times as well as make dining reservations and mobile order food at select restaurants. The app also has all the restaurant menus, a GPS map of the theme park, you can locate Disney characters sitings in the park, view park hours and view entertainment schedules.

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  • Celebration buttons are a must, cutest souvenir to remember your special trip (get these at the town hall for free) They have all different kinds from I’m celebrating to Graduation to Happy Anniversary, Happily Ever After, Happy Birthday, 1st Visit, etc.

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  • Send yourself a postcard from the park (they have mailboxes everywhere on main street) my favorite are the ones from WonderGround Gallery; don’t forget your postcard stamps before you come

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Entertainment Favorites

Main Street Electrical Parade – Love that they brought this back, the LED lights are spectacular…..the show is the same as the original, music and all. A must see in the summer! The best views are on Main Street or by Small World.

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Fireworks Show – Disney has their fair share of different variations of their firework spectaculars, each unique and special. One of my favorite parts of Disneyland is watching all the colors spark over the Sleeping Beauty castle. Also a fun way to see Tinkerbell fly across the night sky if you stand in front of the castle. I think the best spots to watch the fireworks are on Main Street, Rivers of America by Pirates of the Caribbean and from Fantasyland by Small World

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Fantasmic – Excellent show on the water of New Orleans right in front of Pirates. All the characters and princesses make appearances on the riverboat and floats. There’s lots of fireworks, festive music and they have movie reels on water projection screens like the World of Color

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Mickey and the Magical Map Show – Cutest sing along show in the huge theater out front of Toontown in Fantasyland, fun to take little kids to, the singing and dancing numbers amazing (almost broadway quality)

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Sleeping Beauty’s Castle – The iconic landmark of Disneyland, love that they kept the sparkly roofing on the castle from the diamond celebration (such a beautiful touch). It’s always fun to walk through sleeping beauty’s castle, don’t miss it

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Disney’s Holiday FestivitiesPLEASE go to Disneyland during one of their holiday celebrations; I’ve personally been to every single one and the decorations alone all across the park are phenomenal (my all time favorites being Christmas and Halloween). The Haunted Mansion ride decked out themed Nightmare Before Christmas was a genius marketing move and so fun. Space Mountain is decked out as Ghost Galaxy. Love It’s A Small World Holiday when it’s all decked out in lights and Sleeping Beauty’s Winter Castle with the icicles is my absolute favorite. Always enjoy the Halloween parties….I mean any excuse to dress up as a Disney princess and you’ve got me, I’m in. Plus you’ll acquire so much candy from the adorable trick or treat booths spread all across the park. The special holiday treats you can buy throughout the park let alone are the main reasons I have to go every year.

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Rides

It’s A Small World – Arguably my favorite ride, who wouldn’t want to take a cruise around the world? Of course I’m always a little bias when it comes to representing my ethnicities and think that the Ireland/Scotland/England and Japanese areas are the best. The pastel colors, the dolls, everything about this ride makes me smile with pure joy (in Fantasyland)

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Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge Millennium Falcon Smuggler’s Run – Very neat architecture, newest land in Disneyland. The ride was fun and similar to Star Tours except you get to fly the ship. There’s 6 people to each ship and you’re given acting parts such as pilot, gunner and engineer. If you’re standing in line, you can even purchase a cute Star Wars soda

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Peter Pan’s Flight – Can you blame me if I love Fantasyland more than any other? This ride though….first off, you get to fly in a pirate ship (who wouldn’t want to live this childhood dream?)…..and flying over little London town, so dreamy

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Dumbo – Looks like a cheesy ride if you’re not 5, but you get a pretty neat view overlooking the park (in Fantasyland). This was my favorite ride growing up, I always try to ride the pink elephant.

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Indiana Jones – By far my favorite “big kid” ride…..love that you’re in a jeep four wheeling through some crazy scenes—the skulls, the snakes, the creepy Aztec looking tiki doll heads, the flaming fire, the huge boulder chasing you down a hole…..kind of wish the danger were real because that’d be a gnarly experience to battle through (in Adventureland)

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Storybook Land Canal Boats – Another cute fantasyland favorite, those miniature towns get me every time and the lit arch ways you pass under at night from Casey Jr.’s is so romantic (my favorite town is the new frozen one of course)

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King Arthur’s Carrousel – Everyone needs to ride on the Mary Poppins horse Jiggles at least once, it’s the best one with the glimmering gem stones and bells (the golden hoofs are a nice touch too) also in Fantasyland

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Mark Twain Riverboat – Love the casual stroll across the Rivers of America on this gorgeous boat that makes me feel like I’m strolling down the Mississippi river amongst New Orleans (in Frontierland)

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Matterhorn Bobsleds – Iconic mountain of Disneyland…..personally the ride isn’t the best with all the back and butt whiplash you experience, but the Swiss alps aesthetic keeps me coming back—love that it makes me feel like I’m in Austria especially with the workers dressed in the cutest costumes (in Fantasyland)

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Big Thunder Mountain Railroad – Way fun roller coaster, love the scenery as it reminds me of Arizona or Utah because of the rock formations (In Frontierland)

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Lilly Belle Railroad Train Car – Newest favorite, look how gorgeous….the cool part is you’ll need reservations to see this beauty. Part of the back train car of the Disneyland Railroad which has stops on Main Street, New Orleans Square, Toon Town and Tomorrowland.

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Alice in Wonderland – In Fantasyland, love all the cute characters throughout the ride. Slow moving and great change of pace after all the big rides or after a heavy meal. My favorite was always the little white rabbit.

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Eats

Tiki Room Juice Bar – Two words “Dole Whip”….what’s not more refreshing on a warm summer day than pineapple soft serve (very iconic dessert) in Adventureland. Choose the soft serve (whip) or dole float (ice cream in pineapple juice)

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Bengal Barbecue – Must try the new tropical Jungle Julep drink, cousin of the Mint Julep. Super fruity smoothie/icee like consistency. Very delicious with hints of orange, grape, pineapple and lemon. The kabobs are a delicious snack too. My top favorites are the Safari Skewer (bacon wrapped asparagus), Bengal Beef Skewer (beef skewer in sweet zulu sauce) and Chieftain Chicken Skewer (chicken skewer in Polynesian sauce). Located in Adventureland across from Indiana Jones & Jungle Cruise

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Tropical Hideaway – My newest food favorite, this place came alive after they took out the Aladdin Oasis area. This is my other go to and comparable to Bengal BBQ. The baos are delicious and the perfect snack. I loved the beef one and my second favorite was the chicken. I will definitely be coming back to try all the Dole Whip cousins. Pictured are the raspberry/pineapple dole whip and the orange/pineapple dole whip, yum! I love the mixed flavor dole whips even better than the original

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Cafe Orleans – Mickey beignets are a must, super cute and always loving the NOLA vibes. They come with delicious berry compote sauce which reminded me of Knott’s boysenberry pie. Try the Monte Cristo sandwich, very classic New Orleans (grilled ham and cheese sandwich). Located in New Orleans Square. We also got the steak & potatoes and Bourbon chicken dishes with the chicken gumbo

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Olga’s Catina – One of the newest dining experiences in Disneyland and the only place now serving alcohol in this park. Olga’s was very nicely designed and set up. It felt like being in a real bar and I almost forgot we were still in the park. They’ve got a ton of cool drinks to choose from, but the limit is 2 per person. We chose to order two non-alcoholic (hyperdrive punch it! – Powerade mountain berry blast, white cranberry juice, black cherry puree and sprite & Carbon freeze – Powerade lemon lime, wild strawberry/blueberry and green apple popping pearls) and one alcoholic concoction (Jedi mind trick – Ketel One Botanical Grapefruit and Rose Vodka, John D. Taylor’s Velvet Falernum, Bols Blue Curaçao, White Grape Juice, Lime Juice, and Grapefruit Bitters). My favorite was the Carbon Freeze (yellow one featured below)

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Golden Horseshoe – Apparently the ice cream nachos are a thing, who knew? Is Disney on the secret menu phenomena kick like Starbucks? Also love their ice cream floats, try this cool new cherry cola one for the Fantasmic celebration. In Frontierland. The park rival of Gibson Girl on Main Street USA

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Stage Door Cafe – Funnel cakes in Disneyland are huge and amazing. The strawberry funnel cake is so delicious! They are huge so bring friends to share with.

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Candy Palace – Order a World of Color slushy off the secret menu, it’s almost too beautiful to drink. The best slushy. Right off the beautifully decorated Main Street USA

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Gibson Girl Ice Cream Parlor – Crowd favorite for ice cream and sundaes, the waffle cones are to die for. Also on Main Street USA

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Blue Bayou – Inside of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride (not my favorite restaurant, but it was cool to experience – be ready for a long wait and make  reservations ahead of time. Next to the famous Club 33) in New Orleans Square; has similar food to Cafe Orleans if you’re looking for a not as expensive option with the same cuisine. I always order the Monte Cristo and they have the best chicken gumbo soup

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Redd Rockett’s Pizza Port/Alien Pizza Planet– Cute themed with Toy Story for now, but not sure how long this will be called Pizza Planet. Love the pastas especially the Count Down Chicken Fusilli (like fettuccine alfredo), Terra Nova Vegetable Pasta (has a slight spicy kick to it) and Mars-inara with meatballs; not a huge fan of the pizzas (in Tomorrowland by Space Mountain)

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Earl’s Sandwiches – Technically not in Disneyland, but this Downtown Disney favorite needed some recognition (the Hawaiian bbq sandwich is delicious)

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Tortilla Joes – Also in Downtown Disney and they have the best chicken flautas. Also loved their chicken street taco plate – the sauce has a little kick to it

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French Market Restaurant – Love the french dip or pulled pork sandwich! Super filing dinner choice located in New Orleans Square and conveniently located next to the Mint Julep bar. Also the corn chowder is a favorite.

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Mint Julep Bar – Yummy mickey mouse shaped beignets (sugary powdered doughnuts), they have peppermint ones during Christmas time

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Uva Bar Catal – Located in Downtown Disney, loved the mimosa flight with pineapple, peach, cranberry & orange. My favorites were the peach and cranberry!

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Troubadour Tavern – the best snack in the park, bacon and sour cream stuffed baked potato

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Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen – Downtown Disney, the best New Orleans food besides the original place itself. Love the gumbo so much and the beignets. We got the bolognese ravioli, pasta jambalaya and grilled medallions of beef (filet mignon, mashed potatoes, green beans all in a nice rich wine sauce).

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Naples Ristorante e Bar – Newly renovated look, such a cute Italian restaurant in Downtown Disney. I loved the spaghetti with meatballs and meat sauce.

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Haagen Dazs – Another Downtown Disney location. This ice cream is phenomenal and one of my favorites. Pictured is the banana split dazzler – three scoops of vanilla ice cream layered with bananas, pineapples, strawberries and hot fudge.

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Salt & Straw – Part of Downtown Disney, but they have the best ice cream! My all time favorite has been the peppermint bark cocoa Williams Sonoma collaboration from xmas. So delicious! My other go to classic flavor is the chocolate gooey brownie. Yum!

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Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beers – Located in Downtown Disney; super fun place serving classic foods (burgers & shakes). We had the Texan Burger with a potato roll, prime burger, bacon, aged cheddar, crispy onion rings, sweet baby ray’s bbq sauce, lettuce, tomato and mayo. Came with Idaho fries on the side. It was super filling. This trip wouldn’t be complete without trying a crazy shake, we got the Cookies & Cream Supreme with a vanilla frosted rim, crushed Oreos, cookies & cream sandwich, whipped cream and chocolate drizzle.

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Souvenirs

World of Disney – Downtown Disney shop that literally carries everything you can find in the parks. The one stop shop for all your Disney favorites. These mickey shaped gummies below are my absolute favorite candy in the entire world and I’ve only seen them sold at Disneyland & California Adventure.

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Disneyland’s Half Marathons

If you have a chance, put one of these races on your bucket list they are amazing! My favorite is the Tinkerbell Half Marathon, but someday I’ll go to Florida to run the Princess Half Marathon. The medals are the prettiest ones I own.

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Have fun enjoying the happiest place on Earth <3

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Washington DC Travel Guide

Hi fellow readers! Thought I’d introduce to you my favorites from our capitol DC today. Such an iconic city enriched with so much history. Love this country I live in and our patriotic pride. Check out my recommendations below, Happy travels friends.

SIGHTS

The Smithsonian Museums:

American History Museum – My favorite museum to roam through. Highlights include the First lady’s china sets/dresses, First lady’s inaugural gowns, Theodore Roosevelt Teddy Bear, Chelsea Clinton ballet shoes, Wizard of Oz ruby slippers & Glinda staff, star spangled banner gallery and Julia Child’s kitchen replica.

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Natural History Museum – Favorite thing to see was the Hope diamond necklace, also thought the rotunda super dome had neat intricate architecture.

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White House – If you’re lucky enough to get to do the White House tour, it was definitely the biggest highlight of my whole trip. Everything was so historic and neat to see. I was eager to take pictures of every little thing, but there was just so much to see and look at and they try to keep the people moving as there are a ton of visitors. You’ll get to walk room to room down a set path. Make sure to sign up for a tour 3 months in advance with your congressional office member. We didn’t get to see the oval office or resolute desk, but it was still pretty awesome to see the state dining room, blue room, red room, green room,  east room and more. Only annoying part was not being able to wear a purse to carry all my things, but I’m glad they let you bring phones and cameras.

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Blair House – President’s Guest House across the street. Interesting to see and pretty architecture. They used to let you walk down the street, but not anymore under the current presidency due to higher security.

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Capitol Building/Capitol Hill – Loved the tour and especially enjoyed the house/senate galleries. You must get a separate ticket from your congressional member to see the galleries, but it’s worth it to check these out. Neat to sit in the rooms that I’m used to seeing only on television. The monumental canopy frieze dome and room full of paintings/statues is my favorite.

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Supreme Court Building – Highlights include Old Senate Chamber, great hall, grand corridor, courtroom lecture and john marshall statue. Cutest souvenir (you can buy a mini gavel at the gift shop).

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National Mall:

Lincoln Memorial/Reflecting Pool – My favorite national monument, make sure to find the Martin Luther King I had a Dream Speech spot. Definitely was the most crowded memorial we visited.

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Jefferson Memorial/Tidal Basin – Second favorite national monument, rent the swan paddle boats in the summer for a romantic view. Such a peaceful place because it is farther out from the main area.

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National World War II Memorial – absolutely beautiful, my favorite war memorial. Has a great view of the Washington monument.

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Georgetown University – I had to visit since it was nearby and heard it was a fun area to go shopping and eat. Such a cute college town with lots of boutiques, expensive row house neighborhoods, and trendy eateries. The Healy building was my favorite. We took the red bus circulator from the main city area to get to Georgetown.

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National Archives – Loved seeing the most famous documents in history: Declaration of Independence, Magna Carta, US Constitution, Bill of Rights and emancipation proclamation. Also has one of my favorite gift shops where I bought a ton of cool souvenirs.

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Washington Monument – Both times I’ve visited DC the Washington monument has been closed for refurbishment. Hoping someday I’ll be able to climb to the top through the newly build elevator to see the amazing view of the city.

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Library of Congress – Really enjoyed the fun tour. My favorite to see was the recreation of Jefferson’s library and the reading room. Also got to see the Gutenberg and mainz bibles.

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Ford’s Theatre & Museum/Petersen Boarding House – Lincoln’s assassination site, very eerie and a little creepy to see but I loved learning all the history.

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Washington Navy Yard/Nationals Park – Glad we got to see a Washington Nationals MLB game while we were in town. One of the newer stadiums I’ve visited. Got to see Bryce Harper play here before he got traded.

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George Washington’s House Mt. Vernon – Kind of out of the way, but glad we made it out here to see Mt. Vernon. The most beautiful house & grounds where we got to sit on the back porch and watch the Potomac river as it rained. The burial site was a little eerie, but very historic and neat to see.

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Pentagon – If I ever go back to DC I’d love to take a tour of the Pentagon, I’ve only seen it from a distance. Below you can see the Pentagon from Arlington National Cemetery.

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Arlington National Cemetery – Highlight was seeing the Kennedy’s gravesite & eternal flame, Arlington House, Iwo Jima statue and changing of the guard/tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

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US Botanic Garden – beautiful, but when we visited the flowers weren’t in bloom so the gardens looked a little bit bare. Still fun to see.

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Bureau of Engraving and Printing – do the tour to learn about how they make money, very interesting and super fascinating. The gift shop is neat and you can buy shredded bags of money as souvenirs afterwards or special printed sheets of money.

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Department of Treasury – neat to see the building from the outside, but we wish we could’ve gone inside to take a look around

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EATS

Georgetown Cupcakes – favorite cupcake place in DC, used to love watching the show on food network

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J. Paul’s – Restaurant we went to in Georgetown with delicious food. Located on the cutest street too.

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Sette Osteria – FAVORITE Italian restaurant in DC, it was so good we ate here our first and last night. I felt like I was truly in Italy, food was so authentic tasting and absolutely amazing. Located in DuPont Circle, which was such a fun trendy area to stroll. I loved the mozzarella Alla caprese, fettuccine alla bolognese, moscato wine and lemon sorbet. Still dreaming about how wonderful the food was. Hoping someday I’ll get to come back.

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BLT Steak – Loved this fancy steakhouse, the filet was cooked perfectly and I really enjoyed the sparkling prosecco. Our table also got the seafood platter as a starter. Finished off the meal with delicious peach sorbet.

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The Palm Restaurant – Another delicious steak dinner, I had a delicious filet and their whipped garlic mashed potatoes were amazing.

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RANDOM NOTES

Use the metro transit system – get a weekly pass card if you’ll be going in and out of the city a lot. We stayed in Virginia and used public transit every day

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Go to the Smithsonian’s earlier in the day if you want to avoid the crowds

If you have time, visit the Lincoln & Jefferson Memorial both at day & night (amazing different experiences/fireflies come out at night and everything is lit)

Pentagon City stop on Metro has a large shopping mall

Can take the metro to do side trips easily to Boston, Baltimore, Philly, etc.

Alexandria Virginia – One of my favorite places on my trip, a stop at the end of the blue line on the metro and is the most gorgeous waterfront town with amazing restaurants, darling cafes, art galleries and shops on King’s street, lots of character and charm with the brick and cobblestone—trolley rides are free (Chadwick’s was my favorite restaurant=amazing!, Old Fashioned Pop’s Ice Cream Company)

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Embassy Suites Old Town – we stayed here in Alexandria Virginia and it was super close to metro making it easy to get into the city. Also had beautiful rooms

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Hilton Washington – We’ve also stayed at this hotel when we were in DuPont Circle and it was amazing. The rooms are so nice and it was easy to get to and from the city by uber (12-15 mins away). Loved all the restaurants in the area

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There you have it! Enjoy our nation’s capitol and all of its beauty!

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Loved this view of the national mall from above as we flew out of Ronald Reagan!

 

 

 

Chicago Travel Guide

When I picture Chicago I think of deep dish pizza, Chicago style hot dogs, jazz/blues/house/electronic music, Lake Michigan, city living, tall skyscrapers, unique architecture, Joffrey ballet, Dunkin Donuts, L train, Garrett popcorn, Great Lakes and The Loop. Here’s my favorites:

Skydeck Chicago (Willis Tower) / 360 Degrees Chicago (John Hancock Tower)

Spectacular beautiful views of the city. Go at night to see all the city lights and enjoy the magnificent city scape view of the buildings during the day. My personal favorite was 360 over Skydeck because of the beach views, but both were terrific. Skydeck has the cool photo opportunity with the glass ledge which was a highlight.

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Giordano’s & Lou Malnati’s

My favorite places to get deep dish and thin crust Chicago style pizza. Personally Lou’s was my favorite for deep dish over the two, get the Malnati Chicago Classic (sausage, cheese, tomato sauce on butter crust). Also tried the Chicken Marsala Pasta at Lou’s which was amazing. Lou’s also had Italian ice which we tried lemon and strawberry – lemon being my favorite. If you go to Lou’s eat at the Gold Coast location, the area is super trendy. Giordano’s had my favorite thin crust pizza, so delicious.

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Shake Shack

The midwest In&Out, super delicious burgers and the best crinkle cut fries. Also the black & white shake is delicious!

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Wrigley Field Cubs / US Cellular Field White Sox

Not a huge cubs fan, but definitely a huge MLB fan. This stadium is so historic and amazing. Seeing the ivy wall was exciting since usually I only see it on television. We had a ton of fun at the game. Take the L Train there.

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Chicago Riverwalk / Water Taxis – Architecture River Cruise

Probably one of my favorite things I’ve ever done in Chicago, the architecture of the skyline is gorgeous. We took the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s 1.5 hour tour and loved it, super beautiful on a sunny day.

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Grant Park / Buckingham Fountain

Beautiful fountain located past Millennium Park. There are water fountain shows at night during the summer.

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Millennium Park / Cloud Gate / The Bean

Iconic site of Chicago. The Bean is beautiful and it’s cool to see your reflection in it amongst the city scape. The area all around is extremely crowded and very touristy.

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Arts Institute of Chicago

My favorite museum I’ve ever been to, this competes with The Met (NYC) and The National Gallery (London) for me. My favorite is the Impressionism paintings…love Monet & Van Gogh. featured my top 2 favorites at the bottom. The top 3 most famous artwork are American Gothic, Nighthawks & A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.

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Navy Pier

Cute pier with beautiful views, unique storefronts and wonderful restaurants. During the summer they have firework performances at night which was a fun date night experience.

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The Original Rainbow Cone

If you go to Navy Pier, please try one of these iconic rainbow cones. Each layer is a unique different flavor, but of course my favorite was the top layer of orange sherbet. The stacking of the ice cream is so unique, I got it in a cup this time but next time I’ll try the cone.

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Chicago Theater

Beautiful theater with rotating performances. Super pretty all lit up at night.

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Magnificent Mile / Michigan Ave.

All the major mall stores on one giant street. I loved staying near this area, super convenient for souvenir/gift shopping and lots of restaurants to select from.

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Joffrey Ballet

Would love to see a performance if I’m in Chicago during Swan Lake or The Nutcracker usually during October and December. Probably my favorite ballet company besides ABT in NYC.

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Lincoln Park Zoo

One of my favorite activities we did in the city. The zoo & conservatory are both free admission to visit. We saw so many unique animals, my favorite were the giraffes and zebras. They even had a dippin’ dots stand – love the banana split flavor. Lots of fun exhibits and a great place to learn about all these crazy animals.

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Lincoln Park Conservatory

Right next to the zoo is the conservatory, which has a lot of neat plants located in a greenhouse. My favorite room was the orchids. Felt super peaceful.

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North Avenue Beach/Oak Street Beach

Personally think these are my favorite beaches in the city. You can see them both from the 360 degree observatory deck. Both are great, but Oak Street beach is the smaller of the two. My favorite is the North Avenue Beach which has the hook like peninsula. You can see the most spectacular close view of the city scape from this beach. Oak Street beach is near one of my favorite cities to stroll around, Gold Coast.

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Garrett Popcorn Shops

If you’re ever in Chicago you have to try Garrett’s popcorn, official popcorn of the Chicago Cubs. They sell this popcorn in the stadium and all over the city. My favorite is the Garrett Mix which has both the cheddar cheese and caramel corn – perfect savory sweet combination. Eat it quick or it’ll become stale.

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St Charles

Small charming town with beautiful nature and picturesque views.

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Transportation – L’Train

Super easy to navigate and get from place to place in the city. Wouldn’t recommend using at night due to safety, but easy to use during the day.

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Conrad Chicago (Hilton Hotel)

We stayed at the Conrad Chicago in the city off of the West Loop. Super easy to get to from O’hare by taking the blue line from the airport. Highly recommend this hotel, it’s gorgeous, the rooms were really really nice. It’s pretty central and located near all the shops on the magnificent mile.

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Next Time Must Do’s:

Downtown St. Charles for Dinner

Joffrey Ballet Swan Lake Performance

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Hope you all enjoy the windy city as much as I did!

 

Big Island Hawaii Travel Guide

When I picture this part of Hawaii, what immediately comes to mind is black volcanic rock and craters, green farmland with ranch style homes, grazing cows and goats, coconut palm trees, tiki torches, a rainbow array of hibiscus flowers, bright sunsets, farmers markets, beautiful beaches and sea cliffs. The Big Island truly is a statement of its own and unlike any other Hawaiian island. You will have to experience this treasure for yourself. All of my favorites during my stay are listed below. Aloha!

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Sights:

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

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  • My number one must see. We started at the Keanakako’i Crater overlook outside the Jagger Museum (wow I was not expecting to see bright red lava like I did, what a treat–the ranger told us that this was not a normal occurrence and usually visitors only get to see the steam being released from this crater)
  • Drove Crater rim drive to the Kilauea overlook and Kilauea Iki Crater overlook, which were both neat to see; lots of black volcanic rock and craters

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  • The second highlight was the Thurston Lava Tube–this was pretty interesting (it was lit inside which made the cave less scary to walk through–no flashlights required, be prepared to get a little wet because it was a bit damp in there, short non-strenuous trail through the rainforest and cave)
  • We did not do any hiking trails, but if I had more time these looked pretty awesome especially the Devastation Trail; we did hear that they take some time to complete however, but were informed that the views are totally worth it
  • The Chain of Craters Road was closed during our stay due to the hurricane Madeline & Lester watch unfortunately
  • Skip the steam vents and sulphur banks if you are short on time–these were not as thrilling or exciting as the rest of the volcano festivities
  • Do not miss the Kilauea Visitor Center to learn about the history of the park from the rangers; pick up a trail map and do not forget to get your national parks stamp to show you were here

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  • [Notes]: there is an entry fee of $20 per vehicle when I went (it will allow you a 7 day entry pass), some areas of the park may be closed due to safety reasons so check the website for updates on closures beforehand, wear closed toed shoes and comfortable clothing, bring a wide angle lens if you have one for your camera to capture the best shots, the park is open 24 hours so catch the volcanic activity during the day and night for different experiences

Akaka Falls State Park

  • Arguably the best waterfall on the Big Island–quick easy less than a mile (.4 mile loop) hike to a huge streaming waterfall 422 feet high amidst a tropical rainforest
  • Circle loop trail is non-strenuous, short, paved and has hand rails; slight incline but nothing too difficult; more of a walk than hike
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Top – Zella; Shorts – Nike

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Hapuna Beach

  • Crystal clear blue waters, gorgeous white sandy beach, lush green palm trees; not very crowded either…perfect tropical paradise — also waves are pretty still (not the best spot for surfing, but good for skim boarding or snorkeling)

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Waipi’o Valley Lookout

  • Beautiful green valley; super windy lookout point of the side of a cliff (there’s also a black sand beach at the bottom if you walk down the trail) see if you can spot the waterfall in the distance as well

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Kealakekua Bay

  • Beautiful bright blue bay among lush green hills and a rocky beachfront
  • Historic park outlining the Hawaiian and Westerners past and arrival of Captain Cook in 1779
  • Can see a tiny glimpse of Captain Cook’s monument (white spire) from across the bay and also Hikiau Heiau, which is a religious site
  • This is a great place to see dolphins swimming and other wildlife viewing; also good for snorkeling and boat tours however the tide seemed rough and rocky when I went so be careful about the ocean currents and high surf
  • Driving down to this place is a little scary; reminds me of driving in the mountains as the road is very winding so be careful and turn with caution

Captain Cook’s Monument

  • An ominous site, but filled with rich history (major landmark on Kona coast)
  • Accessible only by hiking or by boat/kayak (can not drive down to the monument base) look into options if you are considering seeing it up close–I did not do this and chose to admire it from afar instead since it seemed too eerie to me

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Hulihe’e Palace

  • Located in historic Kailua village of Kailua-Kona; Historic vacation home for Hawaiian royalty across from the 1st church
  • Beautiful museum showcasing Victorian artifacts; museum was closed when I went but I was able to take in the amazing architecture from the outside
  • Great view of Kailua Bay and the pier from afar

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Moku’aikaua Church

  • In historic Kailua village of Kailua-Kona across from Hulihe’e Palace; Hawaii’s 1st Christian Church and the oldest on the Hawaiian islands
  • Open to public to view inside (it was a lot more spacious then I imagined)

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Quick little drive through Hilo…it was pouring rain in this town so we didn’t do much here

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49 Black Sand Beach Mauna Lani

  • Gorgeous private black sand beach; beautiful, black sand felt hotter to walk on than normal beach sand

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Hamakua Macadamia Nut Factory

  • Did the walking tour around the plant, ate a bunch of the samples of all the different flavors, cracked open a macadamia nut, saw the orchard trees (Their packaging though was just the cutest)

King’s Shops Maui Divers Jewelry Store

  • Picked our own oysters to get pearls….classic! Ended up with a twin set of beautiful pink pearls

Food:

Big Island Grill

  • Kailua Kona; had the best plate lunch I ate on the entire islands. Order the mixed plate with chicken katsu and teriyaki beef steak with rice and macaroni salad. The katsu was very lean and delicious. The teriyaki beef was thinly sliced, lean and the sauce was to die for. Also ordered the traditional mudpie for dessert…yum, love kona coffee ice cream. So good we ate here twice during our four day stay.

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One Aloha

  • Kailua Kona; amazing shaved ice because this place uses organic homemade syrups that taste very flavorful and juicy, but not artificial. Not the most visually appealing shaved ice because of the light coloring naturally from the fruits, but the taste is spot on. Sort of difficult to find this place off the street but use Google maps to guide you as it is in a strip mall. Get ice cream inside the shaved ice–their vanilla and kona are amazing (very rich and milky in flavor; some of the best ice cream I had on the island)

Anuenue Ice Cream & Shaved Ice

  • In the town of Waimea; got the POG, guava and lime and the ice was huge

Lodging:

I would highly recommend staying in Waikoloa. Overall, I felt like Waikoloa was one of the nicer areas on the whole island that was newly renovated and gave me the big paradise resort feel that I was looking for when booking my labor day vacation. Waikoloa was a great choice because it is centrally located where we could easily drive into Kona, Hilo and all the other major cities in a short amount of time. Waikoloa was also close to all the most beautiful beaches.

Marriott Resort Waikoloa Beach

Loved staying at this resort, could not recommend it enough. Hands down amazing!

Benefits:

  • Has private pathway access to Anaeho’omalu Bay, which is stunning and gorgeous at sunset but only open until 7pm nightly
  • Steps away from the King’s shops and Queen’s Marketplace shops (also has shuttle)
  • Offers fun cultural activities such as lei making, hula dancing, bamboo stamping and historical walking tours
  • 24-hour pool and fitness center usage/Tennis courts & table tennis areas
  • Luau dinner reservations
  • Continental breakfast at the daily island orientation (presentation by the in-house local expert Expedia team going over sights and things to do on the island, giving recommendations, assisting with dinner reservations/excursion activities, etc.)
  • Kona coffee shop in the lobby terrace
  • Resort restaurant and bar lounge overlooking the pools and bay (great drinks & smoothies)
  • Shell necklace greeting at check-in
  • Gift shop for convenience open until 11pm
  • Close to Waikoloa Beach Resort Golf Course (36 holes of fun)
  • Daily snorkel and stand up paddleboard rentals at Anaeho’omalu Bay; also morning yoga
  • See the ancient fishponds in front of the Anacho’omalu Bay

Hilton Waikoloa Village Resort

I didn’t stay here, but this would be my second choice on where to stay. It is absolutely beautiful and located right next door to the Marriott Resort, offering almost the same amenities. I had the opportunity to walk over to this resort during my stay and it was just as lovely.

  • Has unique Dolphin Quest program where you can experience a hands on encounter with dolphins and other marine animals (habitat seemed very tiny however so I felt a little bad for the dolphins)
  • Tram to take you into all the different areas of the resort; almost reminded me of Disneyland
  • Keep in mind that this place is massive; they have their own private beach access and it takes some time to get from place to place in the resort
  • The architecture of this place is very elaborate and almost too gaudy at times (lots of Grecian like pillars, white tall horse statues, Asian inspired fixtures and Indian Buddha monument)

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Flight:

I flew into Kona International Airport and it is absolutely beautiful. The airport is primarily outdoors however so if it is stormy or raining hard, this is probably not the best place to be. It happened to be a nice sunny day when I landed so I was able to take in the gorgeous nature that Hawaii offers. At first glance, you will see these cool tiki like thatched roof huts that act as the terminals for each of the airlines. The airport is rather tiny compared to what I am used to on the mainland. However, the beauty just left me awestruck. Everything from the palm tree lined surrounding streets to the bright blue hued ocean water to the thick black volcanic rock runway tarmacs was unreal.

I highly recommend flying Hawaiian Airlines since I had the best experience. They offer an inflight complimentary island inspired meal for domestic flights flying from the mainland to the islands and it was pretty decent in terms of airline food. We even got a Honolulu Cookie Company cookie, which are my favorite cookies on the island. They also served POG juice, which I love and is a Hawaiian local favorite. The staff was so adorable dressed up in their Hawaiian shirts and attire, which added to the whole Hawaiian ambiance and aloha spirit. The airplane was equipped with inflight entertainment and had mini television screens on the back of each chair. You techies are in luck; they even had a charging port on the right side of the back of the chairs. Plus on a side note, their safety instructional video was the best I have ever seen, the views of Hawaii in the background kept me attentively listening and interested even though usually I zone out when the flight attendants give the live demonstrations. Such a good marketing idea, I was super impressed. You can also purchase a lei greeting when you arrive at the islands, which I think is a pretty cool unique add-on and makes for a fun souvenir. They also pass out really helpful pocket maps during the flight, which can be instrumental when planning your vacation itinerary because it specifically highlights all the iconic landmarks of the island.

Honorable Mentions:

Things I did not have time to see, but will visit on my next trip since I have heard these were must see sights.

Pu’uhonua O Honauna “City of Refuge”
Mauna Kea Summit & Observatory
Rainbow Falls
Punalu’u Beach Park (Black Sand Beach)
Pu’u Mahana (Green Sand Beach)
Mauna Kea Beach

Thanks for reading friends. Stayed tuned for the next guide and my latest adventures. Mahalo!

Los Angeles Travel Guide

The hustle and bustle of the city brings limelight to Los Angeles. LA is amidst sunny California filled with palm tree lined streets, beautifully landscaped beaches and artistic trendy places to eat perfect for any foodies out there. Since LA is the hub for television and movie production sets, if you are lucky you may even spot some celebrities as you explore this golden city.

Below are my best recommendations on must see sights and eats in Los Angeles:

*Sights*

Museum of Ice Cream – Most adorable museum I’ve ever seen, the backdrops were amazingly cute. The photos alone made the admission fee totally worth it. The sprinkle pool was so much fun, but tinnier than I had imagined. My favorite ice cream we got was the strawberry vanilla oreo cone at the end. Loved the gummy bear, popsicle and banana rooms.

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LACMA-Go here to take Instagram photos in front of the tall white iconic lamps display called ‘Urban Light’; showcases some of the most interesting artwork

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Griffith Observatory-The views here are stunning; check out the beautiful architecture of the observatory building; also can see the Hollywood sign in the hills at a distance (best time to go is at sundown)

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Getty Villa– Gorgeous property in the hills of Malibu; houses some of the most intricate European style artwork; beautiful gardens can be viewed year-round

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Manhattan Beach & Pier -Famous surfing spot and home of beach volleyball

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Santa Monica Beach & Pier -Cute little amusement park & iconic ferris wheel at the end of the pier (way better to see during the day than night)

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Huntington Library & Botanical Gardens – Located in Pasadena amongst the prettiest unique estates, Pasadena is home to the Rose Parade and some of the grandest architectured homes.

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These were the most beautiful rose gardens I’ve ever seen. Reminded me of the Butchart Gardens in Victoria Canada. Loved how each flower had a name card and there were so many gorgeous colorful roses, one of my favorite flowers.

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The Japanese Garden section was really neat too. It was fun walking through the bamboo forest. I felt like I had flew to Japan, so well done.

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