As my days in Tampa dwindled to a close, I scrambled to do everything I never found time to do before. As a resident of the Tampa Bay area for six years, I had certainly had my fair share of Tampa adventures, but now time was running out. I remembered hearing whispers of a market at a temple. After finding a magnificent Chinese temple outside of Melbourne, Australia, I was excited to find this Buddhist temple in Tampa. My last Sunday in the Bay area, I finally made it to the Wat Thai Temple in Tampa.
Wat Thai Temple Sunday Food Market
On Sundays the temple features a popular food market (cash only) open from 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. My boyfriend and I came around noon for lunch. The market itself features a variety of food stands with everything from delicious Thai entrees to traditional desserts. We browsed all of the stands under the pavilion before making our choices. Continue reading “Thai Temple in Tampa”→
Chicago! This year I was finally able to check the Windy City off of my bucket list. I spent three and a half days exploring the city sometimes by myself and sometimes with a friend. There is a good public transportation system, so I suggest you use it in order to save money. Check out my itinerary for a long weekend in Chicago.
Start your day at the Lincoln Park Zoo. It’s free! I walked in at the start of the sea lion show. I spent a good bit of the morning wandering around seeing all of the different animals. As you exit the zoo near the kangaroos, you will come across a bridge with a great view of the city. From there, you can walk through Lincoln Park toward Lake Michigan.
The weather was hot, so I enjoyed my time ambling along the water and checking out the view of the city and the sailboats. At this point, I was getting hungry. There are a couple of places along the water, but one man informed me that most of them close after Labor Day. They “reopened” that weekend in September because it was so nice out but had a limited menu. In the prime summer time, this would be a good spot to grab a drink and perhaps a small lunch.
Chicago History Museum– From the beach, I walked back into the city. I crossed by the Chicago History Museum at the edge of Lincoln Park. If you are into history, this could be a good place to explore. I did not go in but history buffs would enjoy.
Old Town Chicago
I quickly found myself in Old Town Chicago. It was an enjoyable neighborhood for an afternoon stroll that I would frequent if I lived in Chicago.
North Wells Street- I happened to stumble upon this street in Old Town and immediately liked it. There are lots of cute shops and restaurants. The chocoholic that I am, I made sure to stop by Cocoa + Co and work my way down to The Fudge Pot that displays a variety of chocolate in all different shapes and designs. This would be a good place to grab dinner or drinks from the various restaurants lining the street. The road also features places that stood out to me like The Spice House, Broken English Taco Pub, and the famous Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. Personally, I found the iconic ice cream shop to be underwhelming, but the long lines seems to suggest that I am in the minority.
After spending a long weekend in Nashville, it is no surprise to me that the city is one of the most popular destinations for a bachelorette party. Everywhere you go, you will see brides and their posses partying it up in the Music City.
The Pros of a Nashville Bachelorette Party
Because Nashville is known for its bachelor and bachelorette parties, the city caters to these visitors. They have a variety of “party bus” options that are basically made for bachelor and bachelorette parties. You and your gang can drink all you want while being transported around the city in some fashion. We did the Party Barge, but you could try the Honkey Tonk Express, Pedal Express, Pontoon Saloon, Nashville Party Wagon, or whatever fits your fancy. You will see a gaggle of tractors, trucks, and buses hauling the happy drinkers down Broadway at any time.
When it comes to most bachelorette and bachelor parties, drinking is a main activity. The great part about Nashville is the abundance of bars in the same area. Broadway boasts many famous bars all on the same street. There you will find rooftop bar after rooftop bar with many owned by the country music greats. We didn’t run into any that Continue reading “Should you have a Bachelorette Party in Nashville?”→
Have you noticed how complacency can so easily creep in when you live somewhere? Your desire for exploration and adventure can wane dramatically as you become comfortable with where you live. While I sit and daydream about international adventure, I neglect to step outside and explore my own backyard that is the Tampa Bay area.
Last week my sister was visiting, so I got to see Tampa Bay as a tourist. It was amazing how many places I had wanted to go to but had never gotten around to until now.
Exploring the City of Tampa Bay
Of course if you are coming to Tampa, you will want to visit downtown. Unlike the cities of the Northeast, Tampa is spread out with lots of greenspaces and is easily walkable. Since it is the Sunshine State, take time to just get lost in the city. The arts area is the best place to explore. There are lots of iconic Tampa buildings (Straz Center, Children’s Museum, Sykes building, etc.) as well as my favorite greenspace, Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park. If you go on the weekend, there is a good chance that there will be some event going on in the park. You can also walk the streets and find lots of cafes, bars, and restaurants. Eddie & Sam’s N.Y. Pizza (they have gelato too!) is a Tampa favorite. Fair warning, it is closed on Mondays. We grabbed a smoothie at a cafe and continued walking.
If you come to Tampa, the Riverwalk is a must. You can choose to walk, run, bike, even take your dog along with you. The Riverwalk is a scenic path along the water from the Florida Aquarium in Channelside to Armature Works. You can walk the length of it or just pick a section. Stop by the Sail Pavilion for a drink by the water. Along the way, there are monuments, benches, swings, plaques, and more. Just keep walking and find out what is next. You can use Tampa’s bike share or hop a water taxi from one end to another. But that is just the beginning… Continue reading “Tampa Bay as a Tourist (From a Local)”→
St. Petersburg, Florida is a beautiful sister city to Tampa that is just across the bridge. It is where the Tampa locals go to escape on the weekends.
It has a walkable downtown area with lots places to explore. Spend a good bit of time strolling along the water or wandering the streets before grabbing a bite to eat at the many great restaurants, bars, and cafes. There is a wide selection to chose from. Just follow your gut on whatever looks yummy.
One of my favorite stops in downtown St. Pete is Locale Market. You will find lots of local Tampa Bay delicacies and treats. You can buy meats, wine, spices, and cheeses for future meals, or you can visit the restaurant upstairs. It has seating outside. You could also grab a hot meal from downstairs to go. Take it toward the water and eat outside if you so please. They also have an ice cream and bakery to satisfy your sweet tooth.
The Dali Museum is a popular stop in St. Pete. There is a discount for students so bring your student id if you have one. The Dali exhibit is surreal (pun intended). You can spend a great deal of time examining the details of all of his paintings. The other half of the museum features a rotating exhibit. You can check their website to see who is currently on display. Past exhibits include Picasso, Disney, and Clyde Butcher. There is a small garden in the back as well as a cafe and gift shop. Continue reading “St. Pete as a Tourist”→
If you are in the USF area, be sure to stop by Lettuce Lake Park. It is $2.00 per car to enter, and you could spend a good bit of your day there. There is a visitor’s center, walking paths, a boardwalk path, picnic areas with grills, and canoe/kayak rentals. You can wander around the trails. The boardwalk is a nice stroll with great views of the wildlife. There is also an observation tower to look out onto the Hillsborough River. We saw turtles, birds, squirrels, bugs, and alligators. Have you really visited Florida if you don’t see any alligators on your trip? Unfortunately, it had been raining in Tampa a lot so part of the boardwalk and the surrounding greenery were completely underwater. We had to cut our walk short. If you are feeling active and adventurous, consider taking a canoe or kayak out for a spin. You may be lucky enough to see an alligator sunning itself up close. Finally bring a lunch and enjoy a picnic in the park.
As a proud USF alumni, visiting campus was at the top of my list. While you may be rolling your eyes, if you are in the area, I would recommend it whether or not you are a bulls fan. The campus has lots of scenic areas including a botanical garden, ponds, water features, lots of well-groomed landscapes, and of course the beautiful Marshall Student Center with the running bulls statues in front. (It is customary to “ride the bull” at least once as a student.) It was summer so the campus was mostly deserted, but during the school year, you may stumble upon an event. If you are looking for a relaxing area to read a book or go for a nice walk, the University of South Florida campus is perfect. Continue reading “North Tampa (USF Area)”→
After spending the 4th of July in the small town of Kaibab, Arizona, we made our way toward Flagstaff. After setting up the RV, we decided it was time for a hike.
After surveying the nearby area, we went to the Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. We decided to start by “hiking” the A’a Trail. It’s really more of a casual stroll than a hike. You will wind your way through the lava field and take in the black formations along the path. Stop and press your foot on some of the small groups of rock. It has some give and feels like rubber.
After wandering through the lava trail, we crossed the street to hike the Lenox Crater Trail. The path itself is ashy, and it can be hard to get a good grip on the uphill trek. Walking sticks can be helpful for this portion.
When you wind your way up toward the top, you will find yourself peering at an all black ash field on the other side. The black soil makes perfect circles around the trees in the field almost as if it were purposely landscaped that way. It is certainly a unique view to behold.
That night we drove to the town of Williams on Route 66 for dinner. The town itself is exactly what I imagined, mimicking the small town in the movie Cars. It has lots of cute shops and really leans into the Route 66 theme. You can find lots of unique souvenirs. As the sun started to set and our stomachs grumbled, we ventured off in search of dinner. We settled on Station 66 Italian Bistro. I had been craving a big plate of spaghetti and meatballs, so I was more than satisfied with my meal.
On our third day out West, we ventured from Utah to Arizona to see the Grand Canyon. Because it was the week of the 4th of July and crowds were a guarantee, we opted to go to the North Rim. According to the U.S. National Park Service, the North Rim “is visited by only 10% of all Grand Canyon visitors.” It is also only open from May 15 to October 15 because of snow. If you are not looking to deal with crowds or fight other tourists for the best picture spots, the North Rim is a good alternative.
We went later in the day to catch the sunset. Upon entering the park, we were immediately greeted by a herd of buffalo casually grazing not far from the road. It was a good way to start off our time in the park. After a few minutes of admiration for the animals, we made our way up through the woods until we got to the lodge and the visitor center. The area has gift shops, restaurants, ice cream, and restrooms, but at this point, we were just interested in the view.
Bright Angel Point Trial
Bright Angel Point Trail- Easy, 0.07 round trip
Our first stop was Bright Angel Point Trail which starts right by the lodge. It is not really a hike, more of a scenic stroll where you can overlook the canyon from different angles. While I do not like heights, this did not scare me (as long as I didn’t stray too close to the edge). The walk can be narrow in places, but there were only a handful of other people on the trail at the same time. When you reach the actual Bright Angel Point, you will have an almost 360 degree view of the canyon stretched out before you.
The magnificence of the canyon is simply stunning. It seems to go on in every direction forever. There really is no name more fitting than The Grand Canyon. The rock formations rise and fall over one another filling your view. You will see plateaus and mountains of reds, browns, and whites dotted with green from the trees. While Bryce Canyon National Park was still my favorite national park we visited, The Grand Canyon was certainly a must see when traveling based on the sheer size of it alone.
After soaking in that view, it was off to the next lookout with new sites to take in. We drove to the highest point on the North Rim, Point Imperial, to see the eastern side of the canyon. (Note- There is no shuttle service within the park and the lookouts can be miles apart.)
Our second day in Utah was a trip to Bryce Canyon National Park. While Zion and The Grand Canyon seem to be the stars, Bryce stole the show in my book. We all agreed it was our favorite part of the trip. The drive there alone was a site to see. We weaved our way through the Red Canyons stopping to take pictures of the magnificent red giants towering over the road. You may also stumble upon a few of Utah’s arches which act as tunnels for passing cars. What I didn’t know at the time was that these clay towers were just a glimpse into the red city awaiting us at Bryce.
The first stop at Bryce was Sunrise Point and all I can say is wow. Reds, peaches, whites, and greens dot the horizon as far as the eyes can see stretching to meet the bright blue sky and the white clouds above. Red hills span in layers overlapping and blending together.
The landscape is so unique it makes you pause to entertain the saddening thought that you may never experience something like this again. While you may immediately pull out your phone to capture and share the view, make sure you also take the time to absorb the moment without any cameras. Just gazing out onto the expansive scenery is a sublime reminder of our own irrelevance on this enormous planet. Mother Nature must smile down upon Bryce Canyon watching as the arrogant and busy humans are silenced by the ethereal view before them.
The Narrows- Stop 9, hike as far as you like (we hiked for about an hour and didn’t make it all that far)
Get off at the 9th stop with the Temple of Sinawava, and make your way on the short trail to The Narrows. The Narrows is an upstream battle through the Virgin River that while unique is certainly harder than expected. Before going on the hike, I remember laughing about how it was categorized as strenuous. On a hot day in Utah, The Narrows can serve as a cool oasis in the desert, but you probably won’t make it as far as you had hoped. While I was resistant to the nerdy appearance of the hiking poles, they are a must on this hike, especially if you are as graceful as a newborn giraffe like me. Backtracking and walking downstream is much easier, but the rocks may still be slippery. Be wary where you tread. You may find yourself like my mother wading out into water that comes up to your stomach. Being the most popular hike at Zion National Park, The Narrows had the added pleasure of careening your way through the many other eager hikers. Granted, we did go the week of July 4th, but expect a crowd.
If you don’t have the best water shoes, don’t sweat it. The hot desert air will dry your shoes and keep you from noticing the wrinkles in your feet. If you have the time, I would taking a few minutes to dry our your feet after and change your socks, but I did without just fine.