The Weekend Getaway: Newport, RI & Portland, ME

Every now and then, I feel as if life decides to throw me a little surprise party for no reason at all. And that's exactly how I felt this past weekend.

See, it's been a while since I've done a *weekend getaway* and this latest one couldn't have come at a better time. After seven straight weeks of grinding out school and work in the hectic grid that is NYC, I was ready for a mini-escape that felt special but also didn't totally drain my bank account. 

After all, I started these mini, 3-5 day adventures a few years ago in response to the busy, tight-walleted nature of being in ones' twenties. Back in college, I had the luxury of studying abroad in Thailand and Vietnam, spending a summer in China and indulging in the quintessential European tour after graduating. I had lucked out with a mix of scholarships and just plain ol' cheap destinations or deals. Of course, I also had all the time in the world to globe trot. 

Once I graduated, though, it became a bit more difficult to find the time and money to get away. So, instead of planning costly, grand adventures, I decided to make more of an effort to see the good ol' U.S of A. In the past three years since, I've visited New Orleans during Mardi Gras, Niagara Falls in the summer,  Vegas, Montauk, The Catskills, Saratoga Springs, Cambridge & Boston, San Francisco and San Diego. Now, I can add Newport, Rhode Island and Portland, Maine to that list, too!

We spent a total of $338 on lodging and $400 on food over the course of 3 days/nights. Keep in mind, though, we're huge foodies, so you could easily halve this cost. Furthermore, the food budget spanned ELEVEN different restaurants (listed at the bottom) and ALL of our cocktails. So, IMHO, we still made out like bandits!

First stop: Newport, RI

One of our friends, Mike, lives in Newport, Rhode Island, so we decided to break up the drive north with an overnight at his place, and boy, was that the right choice! I never knew how downright beautiful Newport was.

Upon arriving, we hit up Castle Hill Inn, a gorgeous property on the cape. While we could have spent around $500 a night to stay at the Inn, we instead simply indulged in our first bowl of clam chowder and enjoyed a cocktail on the front lawn. It served as a nice dollop of luxury without the terrifying price tag.

We then meandered about the stunning cliff walk before meeting up with Mike. We had a delicious tapas-style dinner at Midtown and got to bed. The next morning, we hit up corner café for a hearty breakfast before getting on the road.

Next stops: Portland, ME with trips to Freeport and Cape Elizabeth


This should go without saying, but the drive up was half the fun. I just don’t think fall foliage ever gets old. Each time the season turns and the leaves begin to change, I wonder how anyone could choose to live anywhere else in the world other than the Northeast. 


We arrived at our Airbnb and were thrilled with the space. If you’re a music or lit junkie or simply like going off the beaten path, I strongly encourage staying at Mac’s. We had full run of this 3rd floor studio in a walk-up brownstone. Instead of paying the exorbitant prices to stay at a chain in downtown Portland in a cramped hotel room (a 2-night stay can run you around $650 at the least in peak season, depending on where you stay), we spent a grand total of $338, taxes and fees included, to basically have our own “suite” at Mac’s.  We felt we had a more authentic experience AND we had a little leftover cash to hit up the Freeport Outlets one afternoon. 


We then spent the following 48 hours eating. The over/under on clam chowder and lobster rolls was three. We exceeded the former, downing four chowders total and had exactly three lobster rolls. On Saturday night, we first enjoyed a tapas-style dinner at Local 188 and then literally had a SECOND dinner at Old Port Tavern where we each ate a full lobster dinner. The best part about nonstop eating in Portland? 1. It’s actually affordable (twin lobster dinner was $26!) and 2. It’s actually fairly healthy! Lobster is like 150 calories a pound or something silly, and, when in Maine, you barely even need the butter that you generally dunk it in because it’s so freakin’ fresh.  Win-win. 

Restaurant list

Castle Hill Inn – Newport, RI – claim chowder, cocktails on the lawn

Midtown Oyster Bar – Newport, RI – tapas & beers - pork belly cracklings and old bay steamed shrimp)

Corner Café – Newport, RI – breakfast! Awesome rosemary-crusted potatoes

Central Provisions – Portland, ME – farm egg bread and butter, roasted bone marrow, cocktails (we LOVED this place so much we went twice!)

LFK – Portland, ME – cocktails (ask for Jasper!) and awesome ambiance to start your night

Yosaku – Portland, ME – anything, but especially the miso soup, lobster and king crab rolls and sake

Isabella’s Sticky buns – Freeport, ME – obviously the sticky buns, but the breakfast sammies are just what you need before a little shopping!

Linda Beans  - Freeport, Me – lobster roll with tarragon

The Lobster Shack at Two Lights – Cape Elizabeth, ME – lobster roll and fried clams

Local 188 – Portland, ME - Tapas & craft cocktails that will rock your world  especially the foie gras and deviled eggs

Old Port Tavern – Portland, ME – Twin lobster dinner ($26!)

The Weekend Getaway: The Catskills

If ever there's a time to enjoy New York City, RIGHT NOW IS NOT IT. It's already common knowledge to avoid the city in the summertime, but with consecutive 95+ degree days, the point cannot be made clear enough. Yesterday, I went from zero to full-upper-lip-sweat-bubbles in 30 seconds on the subway. And it wasn't even an overly hot cart! Obviously - and as my mother likes to remind me - I'm a "sweatball" and something like this could very well happen to me mid-winter. But even if you aren't a naturally-gifted sweatball like myself, it's still fucking hot out. 

ANYWAY, I luckily had the chance to visit the Catskills last weekend and breathe in some cool, fresh mountain air. The weekend in its entirety was a pleasant repose from city life and I would recommend the trip to anyone. So, if you're going to do the Catskills, here are some things you should consider...

1. Go for a wedding!

While I know this can be a tough aspect to plan, it certainly enhances the experience and if you have any influence on an upcoming wedding, I'd nudge for it. I'm just sorry you couldn't be there for last weekend's wedding, because it's prob/def the best one the Catskills has seen to date. Mimi and Rae got married in an old church/now house and then we partied in an old school/now house - it's hard to explain, so just view the pictures and stop assessing my poor sentence structure.

2. Drink the water

Seriously. Drink the tap water. Or the water from the streams while you hike. It's that fresh. Also, you should "drink the water" a la "drink the cool aid." Buy into it. Soak up the small town life, saunter around the downtown area, and kick back. Act like you're on mountain time. 

3. Go hiking

After a hearty breakfast of country-fresh eggs and corned beef hash, Matt and I asked a local for a recommendation on where to hike. What we got back was a pure gift. Through a series of instructions, we were directed down a few miles to the ranger park, back over a few lakes and through no less than three parking lots to find a sign for the Mountain House. We edged along the side of the mountain on an unnamed trail (thanks to the local tip!) and got into some serious rock-climbing. Matt almost catapulted himself off the side of the mountain, but besides that, the hike was perfect and the views? The views were nearly to die for, as Matty illustrated.

4. EAT!

Come on, I wouldn't have left this out. You should know me better than that.

and just as a bonus for making it to the end of the post, here's a really nice picture of everyone that I ruined

Getaway: Pacific Beach, California

My friend Erica and I met in first grade and have been #bf4ls ever since. In fact, we were so close growing up, there was even an online thread posted about us once in middle school that claimed we were lesbians. (We ain’t mad ‘bout it.) We went on to graduate college together after she finally transferred to UMD her sophomore year.  Then, that pesky “real world” attacked and I ended up in Virginia > New York and she in Arizona > San Diego. It’s been a little tough and very odd not living side by side these past four years. But once she moved to Pacific Beach last year and I finally felt settled in New York, I knew it was time for a visit.  So, I finally got out there! Below are a few of my favorite things about the trip:

1.      Seeing my BFF, DUH.

There’s only so many people that you can crack up laughing with after only minutes of being together. For me, Erica is one of those people. There’s also only so many people that wont second-guess spending Sunday afternoon of MDW with you at the CVS minute clinic when you come down with a killer sinus headache (#FTL!). Thanks, bae.

2.      Breakfast at The Fig Tree

Situated around the corner from Erica and Drew’s apartment is the most adorable and delicious breakfast place of all time. It looks like a big tree house and the food is phenomenal. (the rosemary potatoes and fresh-squeezed OJ were especially d-lish.)

3.      Riding bikes through La Jolla

After a hearty breakfast, we rode bikes through the streets of La Jolla and played pretend House Hunters. Even with all the mansions and over-the-top residences, though, it was these cute little surf huts that stole my heart.

4.      Lounging at Wind and Sea

Known for being a famous surf break and a hotspot for photo-shoots, Wind and Sea is also a pretty divine location to simply lay out and kick back. Which we managed perfectly, just like the professionals we are.

5.      Acai / Pitaya Bowls

Acai / Pitaya bowls are all the craze these days and they’re seemingly sold on every corner in San Diego. The bowls are made of frozen acai berry or dragon fruit mixed with a small amount of liquid (coconut water, almond milk, soy, etc.) into a sherbet-like texture. They’re then topped with healthy pickings like berries, granola, peanut butter and coconut. #omnomnom is right.

6.      Strolling the Pacific Beach boardwalk at Crystal Pier 

Lined with old-school cottages that have a 2-year waiting list, there’s plenty of history at Crystal Pier. As for the rest of the boardwalk, people-watching alone can be a full day’s activity. We strolled the boardwalk one day and then met my cousins (!) for lunch at World Famous, yet another great foodie find.

7.      Oscar’s Fish Tacos 

Also around the corner from Erica and Drew’s place is Oscar’s. About the size of a small food truck, this North Pacific Beach taco haven crushes it with fresh seafood and ridiculously low prices.

8.      An outdoor BBQ

On Sunday night, I managed to come halfway-back to life after a healthy dose of Sudafed. We barbecued and played corn hole in the front yard.

9.      Experiencing Club Pilates 

I love exercising, so while I wasn’t feeling up to a crazy workout thanks to my sinuses, I wanted to get a little something in during my trip. Enter: Club Pilates. I tried out my first class on the reformer machines for a meager ten bucks. It was actually a ton of fun to maneuver the reformer and definitely the perfect workout to settle on.

10.  Massages & kickin’ back 

I’m a massage fiend and a total diva when it comes to pampering myself. Unfortunately, I’m not made of money. So, it’s always a beautiful thing when I can score a solid massage at a low price. At Health & Wellness Arts Healing Center, I was able to do just that. Located in Pacific Beach amongst a strand of restaurants and shopping, the Healing Center offers a $50 massage for a full hour. It’s clean, relaxing, and best of all, the massage was absolutely top-notch. On my last day, I enjoyed a massage and then kicked back with Erica to crack up over Broad City and Best in Show.

Can’t think of a better way to spend, or end, a vacation!

Sonoma: Wine Country in Pictures

And on the last day, God made wine... isn't that how it goes?  At the least, that's how it went for us!

See the pics below for a small snapshot of the day. And if you'd like to scope out the awesome accommodations Ana found us in Healdsburg, see here!

San Francisco Day 2: steep Hills, tears & bicycle beers

After an active day on the water and a few evening cocktails in Luke and Ana’s sweet new loft, I was feeling pretty hungry come morning. Luckily, they just happen to live right around the bend from an old, tiny diner in Oakland called “Lois’ Pies” which serves up southern specialties and prides itself on, you guessed it, pies.

Certain eateries just have something to their aesthetic that lets you know they’re going to be good, and Lois’ is one of those places.

It wasn’t until we sat down that we learned Lois’ was a pretty famous spot. Lois herself is the adoptive mother to Reggie Jackson.

The vibe was warm and the food was good. After meals like this, we were ready to take on the day!

Prior to jumping further into today’s post, I should circle back to a brief conversation Luke and I had during our redwoods/SUP day. See, Ana and Luke had initially been living directly in San Francisco for the past few months in a sublet. The day before my arrival (literally), they moved across the bridge to Oakland. For those unaware, Oakland is somewhat comparable to Brooklyn or Asbury Park, circa 10 years ago.

In terms of energy, my entire Oakland experience was an excessively friendly, quintessentially-Californian one. From the coffee shop owner who absolutely insisted upon giving me a free cup when I realized my credit card wasn’t working to the eclectic group of locals that stopped by their loft to say hello and welcome them to the neighborhood, Oakland felt charming and unique.

When I shared this observation with Luke, he told me how he not only felt the same, but felt that people in Oakland were significantly kinder than those in San Francisco. Interesting, right?

Now, fast-forward to Friday afternoon in Haight-Ashbury. We planned on riding bikes around the city and since I couldn’t fit mine in my carry-on, we had to rent one for me. As we approached a small bike shop, I went to slide past a man halfway in the doorway to scope out the bikes. What then ensued was one of the more unnecessary and unprovoked confrontations that I’ve experienced in a long time.

And, look, I’m from Jersey. 

When faced with a rude stranger, my initial reaction is generally to snap back. It’s something in my DNA… thanks a lot, Dad. 

However (and as my boyfriend will tell you), I sometimes find myself trapped in a figurative glass case of emotion. This, unfortunately, is also something in my DNA... thanks a lot, Mom.

Much to my dismay, the latter occurred and… I just started crying. In public. And fled to the bar next door. It wasn’t embarrassing at all.

P.S. the irony of this occurring in the center of Haight-Ashbury, the neighborhood known for being the origin of effing hippie subculture, did not escape me. Hashtag Blessed. 

After recovering from a few tears-over-nothing, I emerged from el bano to find mom & dad (i.e. Luke and Ana) at the bar poised to welcome me back to emotional stability with a sympathy beer! We finished our Guinnesses and meandered down the block where I was able to successfully rent a bike from a much nicer group of San Francisco(ines/ites/ans?). 

Then, as a finer version of hell's angels, we took off into the day, making our first stop at Inspiration Point.

We then maneuvered down to the Palace of Fine Arts and biked through the posh Marina area.

Soon enough, we figured it was time for another drink and some food. Down in the Cow Hollow area, we posted up at  Pacific Catch for some wine and fried seafood. That calamari though… #OMNOMNOM

We then made our way up to Russian Hill and rode our bikes down the steepest street in America, Lombard Street, which was both terrifying and exciting. A few people walking up the winding road gave me very justified looks of doubt that seemed to say “eh, really?”

Luckily, we survived. Cruising back to the Marina/Cow Hollow area, we finally ended our 3.5-hour bike tour and celebrated with a shot and a beer.

In a sad attempt at rallying for the evening, we made one last stop at Peet’s coffee shop for espresso. Instead of rousing my party energy, I think the warm chai flavor just made me that much more ready for bed.

San Francisco & The Gift of Adventurous Friends

Preface:

Meet Ana. Full Russian, Ana was born and bred in Sweden for the first 16 years of her life before immigrating to America to finish high school and go off to the University of Maryland for college. She has no concept of time or distance (seriously, I wouldn’t put it past her to drive three hours and back just for a lunch date) and somehow possesses an endless repository of energy. The first time we ever went out together, I came home without any shoes on.

In short, she’s “my crazy Russian friend.”

Naturally, though, she is much more than this. She’s cultured, kind-hearted and very sharp. However, her open-minded, adventurous spirit is pretty unparalleled and, to me, that makes for the best of friends.

Having recently moved out to San Francisco to work for Apple (#bosslady), I purposely conjured up time between jobs for a trip to visit her in her new digs. Here’s how it went.

Part 1: Taquerias, Redwoods & Sea Lions, OH MY!

Upon arriving, Ana instructed me to take a cab downtown to a taqueria named “lolo.” As the cab pulled up to the address, I noticed two things: a shady-looking place across the street called “The Make Out Room” and a sign on Lolo’s door that was being flipped to “Closed.” Oh, Ana.


Luckily, Lolo had a sister restaurant down the block so I made my way over to Valencia Street and met Ana and her boyfriend Luke. Unfortunately my taste buds overthrow my brain when food is in front of me and I didn’t get any pictures of the spread, but it was phenomenal. Here’s a small idea of what it’s like, thanks to #Instagram.

While Ana had to go to work the next morning, her boyfriend, Luke, who is also coasting on his last days of funemployment had plenty planned for a solid first day.

Instead of touring the city, we skipped town and drove through the uniquely winding hills that are so synonymous with the California coastline. We dipped in and out of fat pockets of gorgeous redwoods and emerged each time to find an expansive view of mountains beside a crisp, rolling ocean. John Muir State Park welcomed us onto roads with fitting names like “Panoramic Hwy. The fog was nowhere to be found.

Finally landing in a tiny community in Stinson Park, we took out the stand up paddle boards for an epic session. While Luke played in the waves, I snuck into the nearby estuary to do some exploring. Almost immediately, my curiosity was rewarded. I had a close up encounter with a sea lion, followed by a 5-minute paddle alongside a large stingray and my first-ever baby sand shark sighting!

The coolest part came about an hour into the mini-exploration. I heard some noises and couldn’t figure out what they were. As I paddled around the calm back area, I skimmed past a few large sandbars at a distance but didn’t notice anything much.

At first, that is.

When I looked and listened a little closer, I noticed around fifty beached seals, hanging out on a sandbar about 50 yards from me. Having rolled around in the sand, they were difficult to discern from far away. A few more strokes toward them and about 20 seals started flopping their way into the water.

So as not to frighten them, I slowed down and took a seat on my board. Soon enough, I had a whole group of interested,  new friends just a few feet from me! I am really bummed I didn’t have a waterproof camera of sorts to capture the moment, but as my mother likes to say “sometimes the greatest moments are best left to be captured only in memory.” I’ll trust you on this one, Mama bear.

Before leaving, I did get some photographic proof. Lucky for all of you, not only is there this solid shot...

but there are all of these leading up , too: 

To top things off, Luke introduced me to The Lunch Box and I had my first-ever salmon po’boy.  BOOM.  

New Yorkers: How to Weekday Staycation

There are myriad ways to spend a free day in New York, not one of which are "wrong" per se. Between five boroughs, 800+ languages and enough cuisines and cultural events to match, excitement lies every day in every pocket of this great, vast grid we call home. That being said, allow me to now share with you how I decided to spend the past few glorious days off. 

I am currently transitioning jobs and decided to take a little time off in between. At first, I was apprehensive to take more than a long weekend, but after some thinking, I changed my mind. And let me tell ya, I'm glad I did. This break has been a truly wonderful period of reflection, enjoyment and relaxation. At a time when spring is finally coming out of it's half-frozen shell, 10 days off couldn't have been more aptly received. 

1. Head to the Museum

One of the greatest aspects of this city is its rich collections of art and history. But, what New Yorker wants to spend their free Saturday afternoon being suffocated by throngs of crowds just to get a short-lived peek into some of even the most wonderful exhibits? This past Monday, I grabbed a cappuccino from my favorite cafe, Cafe Lalo, and strolled over to the American Museum of Natural History. I most enjoyed the Butterfly Conservatory (duh), the Hayden Big Bang theater, and the Countdown to Zero (Disease Eradication) exhibit. My entire experience was easy, swift, and relatively quiet. I spent a solid 20-25 minutes in the tiny conservatory with 500+ butterflies and maybe 10 other people, tops. I waited less than 4 minutes for the Big Bang theater, and was virtually the only person in the Disease Eradication exhibit. 

If you have only one thing to do on a free weekday in New York, this is it. 

2. SPA (affordably!)

Yes, I know. I adore spas. But, who doesn't? With some nifty research and calculated planning, I've been able to score hour-long massages for as little as $30 in the city. That, however, did not come without its fair share of work. I've used deal sites like Groupon or memberships like CandleSpas and then literally had to plan 4-8 weeks ahead of time for a weekend pampering session. Why? Because you don't get massages that cheap without it coming at a price -- the price being convenience due to mass competition for weekend appointments by other "savvy" New Yorkers who are doing the same exact thing.

However, if you've ever tried to schedule a spa appointment Monday-Friday, the tides radically shift. Spas are virtually empty during the week and you can schedule one as little as 24 hours ahead of time usually. So, when I received a nice little text from Red & White spa in Soho advertising their 50-minute massage & 50-minute facial for $99 total, viable during the dates I was conveniently on staycation, I jumped at the chance. What ensued was a luxurious friday afternoon at one of my favorite spas, feeling like a total princess.

3. Shop

Whether we're talking clothes shopping, food shopping or simply window shopping, shopping in New York on the weekend can be stressful. Like most other activities, everybody's doing it. On an easy Tuesday, however, it's so peaceful it's almost, dare I say, therapeutic. I took the liberty to skim thrift-store racks for some new spring clothes (sans the dressing room wait) before navigating empty aisles of full shelves at Trader Joes. On the way home, I slowly enjoyed the magnificence that is Columbus Avenue in the sunshine, without being shouldered by pedestrian traffic. Though, it's admittedly always a little calmer on the Upper West, this was even surprisingly enjoyable for me. In the evening, I dressed up in my new spring finds and crafted a delicious spread of charcuterie and wine for dinner... on my own couch, in my own little apartment.

Eating Our Way through Annapolis

If this title doesn't speak for itself, allow me to translate: we went HAM in the eating department during our trip to Annapolis last weekend. That's "HAM" as in Hard as a Motherf*cker for anyone who hasn't listened to rap in the past two years. What can I say? I'm a big fan of getting to know a place through its food and I'm also a big fan of taking pictures of my food. So, deal with it. Below, I've crafted up the perfect "1-Day in Annapolis" foodies adventure. 

But before I get to that... I have to say that first and foremost, we were SO fortunate to be in town for the weekend to join friend's Taylor & Dominick West in their wedding festivities! We had an amazing time dancing up a storm and throwing them back on friday night. Here's a sneak peak:

As for the 1-Day menu...

We woke up Saturday totally flustered and eager to get outside into the nice weather. Wrongly assuming that everyone else had gone to visit the Cherry Blossoms in D.C., Matt and I scooted downtown by ourselves and went to the famous Miss Shirley's Cafe. While there was a wait (as there apparently always is) it was a swift 35 minutes. During this time, we were able to sit outside in the sunshine and enjoy one of their delicious craft Bloody Mary's while we waited. 

Then we ordered two dishes that only made sense given we were back down in Maryland: a crab & bacon omelet and chicken and savory waffles. Naturally, neither dish disappointed.

Next, we drove down to the inner harbor and took our first selfie as a couple. Major milestones all around!

We strolled around the gorgeous downtown area and for a moment, I blacked out and thought I was still in school at UMD, so I bought a few pairs of Sperrys. Then, we continued up on the cobblestone streets toward the state house and caught a guy playing the Game of Thrones theme song on the violin. Then, I blacked out again and forgot we just ate breakfast. Cue, ice cream from Kilwins.

Around this time, we received a text from Matt's brother Dylan to meet them at McGarvey's back down by the water. This is when we realized that we were, for the first time in history, the first of the group to have left the hotel that day. Apparently, everyone else was just beginning brunch. To make sure we were contributing still, we helped them out with some shrimp and oysters.

After a much-needed nap back at the hotel, we all hopped aboard a party bus and ended the evening at Cantlers for about 8 dozen amazing crabs. Does it get more Maryland than this!?

Vacation: How to Enjoy it!

Hello, there, Tangent Pursuer’s! Recently, in alignment with some vacation I had scheduled, I decided to take a two-week hiatus from posting. Did you notice my absence? Probably not, but I won’t hold it against you. this time. Anyway, it feels good to be getting back into the swing of city things and I’m grateful we are finally making an exit from the winter season. Prior to my vacation, I was ready to lose my mind. I had had enough of the cold weather and was constantly teetering on the edge of being sick. Needless to say, I’m feeling much more rejuvenated now. Here's a little slideshow of the experience:

After three years spending spring break with my family in Mexico, I’ve definitely learned a few lessons along the way on how to get the most out of your vacation – check out my favorite tips, below!

Before Your Trip

Plan Ahead

No, I am NOT suggesting that you plan your vacation activities down to the minute. In fact, definitely don’t do that. I just mean that you should book your travel and accommodations a few months ahead. Beyond saving money by planning early, you also rake in a lot more happiness via anticipation. Many studies have proven that we reap the most benefits from a vacation during the weeks leading up to it. Honestly, who hasn’t gotten giddy with excitement at least once while day-dreaming of sun and blue waters at their cubicle? That’s what I thought.

Prep a little

Take note of this post the week leading up to your trip.

On Your Trip

Unplug!

This is really tough, but you have to try to cut down on the drug that is technology. To wane myself off (how pathetic does that sound), I crafted up a few golden rules:

1.       Limit frequency: I allowed myself to check my e-mail twice a day for no longer than 20 minutes. Once in the morning after I had my coffee, watched the sunrise and stretched. Then, again, in the evening if I really needed to.  

2.       Limit location: keep your electronics in one corner of the hotel/apartment you’re staying in. There is no need for them by the pool or on the beach.

3.       Limit content: I generally tune out of social media and definitely avoid negative news outlets. That said, I couldn’t resist a few Instagram shots J. I mean, did you see how cute my little cousin is? Please. I had to.

Stay Active

... outside of the gym. If you must get in a few gym workouts while you’re away, go for it for peace of mind. But otherwise, try to use your natural surroundings and enjoy yourself. I took 2 full weeks off of the gym and running and instead cruised around every morning on the stand-up paddleboard. It was a killer workout and the best way to start my day possible. Throughout my trip, I was lucky enough to see a sea turtle, a sea lion, a flying fish and even (my fav) a WHALE up close! That beats the hell out of a beach run any day.

Stay Healthy

It’s usually easy to indulge while being nutritious at most tropical destinations. I had delicious mango, fresh coconut water, off-the-boat sushi, homemade margaritas and avocado-everything while in Cabo. You just can’t get those same ingredients as fresh in the North East. 

Relax

Duh, right? But it can be difficult to unwind when most of us live such regimented lives. Trade the iPad for a real book. Trade Spotify for the sound of the ocean. And trade your schedule for whatever-you-feel-like-doing. Honestly, don’t feel the need to fill your vacation time with zip-lines and banana boat rides if all you really want to do is kick back and relax. It’s your trip; do it your way.

POST TRIP

Plan A Post-trip Perk

Coming home from vacation can be tough, which is why you should schedule something to look forward to the day/week you return. When I was younger, the night we flew home from a trip would signify pizza & movie night, regardless of which day of the week it was. As a kid, that made coming home from a trip part of the fun! While pizza night is still a solid choice, here are some of my other favorite ideas:

o   A date with friends at your favorite restaurant

o   A dose of live-music and drinks

o   A massage/spa appointment*

*My personal favorite. Clearly, I’m no stranger to pampering myself. 

Have your own tips and ideas? Share them in the comments!

A Weekend In Brooklyn

I recently had the luck and pleasure of staying in Brooklyn for a wedding and, subsequently, an eat-and-drink-filled weekend. Naturally, most of the stops and shops were set up or recommended by the bride and groom. As it happens, however, this particular bride and groom are trusted locals and esteemed foodies.

The weekend, in a word, was delectable. And after I found myself daydreaming at work about craft cocktails and olive-oil drizzled crostini, I realized that their picks were simply too spectacular not to share. 

While we stayed in Brooklyn for the entire weekend, the recommendations below would also fit comfortably into a single Saturday evening. So, if you’re planning some time in Brooklyn, here’s how you may want to spend it:

Where We Stayed

Nu Hotel

While the word “cozy” generally tends to be an NYC cover for “closet-sized,” the Nu actually delivers on the vibe. The maze-like hallways give way to a sought-after sense of privacy and the locally-commissioned artwork illuminates the walls in Brooklyn culture. The small, sleek bar and home-baked cookies in the lobby also add to the ambiance. Located on Smith St. and Atlantic Ave., the area is brimming with shops, bars and eateries.

Being Manhattan-ites, we were slightly surprised at how much was closed after midnight (you mean to tell me I can’t get Chinese food delivered at 1 a.m.? Then again, perhaps for the best.). Additionally, the noise dies down significantly after midnight; so significantly, in fact, that we were able to sleep in until NOON on our second day. Yes, noon. Win.

Where We Ate & Drank

The Night began at Franny’s in the Park Slope/Prospect Heights neighborhood. We sat in the cozy (seeing a pattern, here?) wood-covered wine cellar and were treated to a feast. The assortment of crostinis, savory mushroom pizza, perfectly-cooked Stone Bass and leeks were especially stand-out. Best of all, though, was the cacio e pepe.

Apparently, cacio e pepe is not a chicken dish and why I have assumed so my entire life is beyond even my own comprehension. After all, the words literally translate to “cheese and pepper.” Nonetheless, this kosher salt and peppered, parmesan, pecorino covered pasta (try saying that 3 times fast) was pure loveliness. This simple dish was, hands down, one of the top 5 pasta dishes I’ve ever eaten in my life, which includes my Jersey upbringing and international travels to Italy.

After five courses of fragrant goodness, we wrapped up at Franny’s and Uber’d our way down Flatbush Ave. Far from being the title of a poorly-made 1980's porn flick, Flatbush actually the name of a major traffic artery that traverses through Brooklyn. The route will lead one to the Brooklyn Public Library, the new Barclay’s Center, the famed botanical gardens, Prospect Park and more. It also gives one a glance at the various cultures and cuisines that reign amongst the area.

As for us, we maneuvered our way back over to bustling Smith Street and arrived at the Clover Club. At 10PM on a Thursday, the neighborhood was alive and the cocktail lounge was, too.

The lounge’s atmosphere draws from Clover Club’s (originally a club of journalists) motto “who enters here leaves care behind, leaves sorrow behind, leaves petty envies and jealousies behind.” Have one strong and delicious drink, here, and you’ll have no problem leaving anything behind – luggage included, if you’re me.

The drink menu is uniquely expansive and impressive, but the bartenders are even more so. Stalled by indecision, I simply asked the bartender to make me her favorite vodka cocktail. It was superb.

The rest of the weekend was spent enjoying the celebratory occasion at the Prospect Park Boathouse where romance met revelry. Friends and family made the most of their free time in Brooklyn by walking the legendary Brooklyn Bridge, visiting the Brooklyn Museum (where an Art of the High Heel exhibit is currently on display) and bopping around town.

A short ride from Manhattan, but a long cry from its stressors, Brooklyn - when done right - is sure to please.

Note/Extras: The Williamsburg Film Festival was running that weekend, as well, and live music is always aplenty. Mexican fare from OMG Taco was the perfect late night snack. And, finally, the one regret I have is not visiting Sheltsky’s Smoked Fish for raved-about nova sandwich. 


The Weekend Getaway: Asbury Park, NJ

So. I’m obsessed with the actual “Jersey Shore” and I have a past of being very outspoken about it. Personally, I find this to be completely normal. Not only is Jersey a lovely, dynamic place, but it’s also where I’m from. And, aren’t most people proud of where they’re from?

I grew up at Takanassee Beach Club in Elberon and, while Tak has since closed (#RIP), I still return each summer to spend weekends in Deal and Asbury Park with my family and friends. To me, the Jersey Shore has always just been home – a string of happy, little beaches filled with the brightest, childhood memories possible and interspersed with some of the best Italian food in the world. As I got older though, I quickly realized that – shocker, you guys – not everyone loves New Jersey! In fact, some people really hate us.

I couldn’t comprehend this at first. In college and abroad I would always be asked the staple getting-to-know-you question from various guys, “where are you from?” When responding with anything along the lines of “New Jersey” or “the Jersey Shore,” though, I received everything from laughter to hatred to the haughtiest of apologies for having come from such obvious trash.

Smooth, bros.

It seemed so utterly stupid to judge an entire state and its people off of one stereotype that, mind you, comes from people that are not even from New Jersey! More bothersome, though, was that I couldn’t fathom how someone could deem it appropriate and acceptable to bash someone’s answer to the question “Where are you from?” I mean, isn’t exercising verbal restraint regarding judging another’s home or cultural background LITERALLY RULE NUMBER ONE in having any semblance of manners?

But, alas, I digress. This post isn't for the haters, but for the lovers - and to them, I say welcome! Welcome to the Jersey Shore…the greatest country in the world. 

Where To Stay 

The Berkeley Carteret if you're looking for modern luxury. The Berkeley is a 100 year-old hotel of Victorian style and grandeur that sits atop the famed Asbury Boardwalk. It is so large and sprawling that it can comfortably host large wedding parties without interferring in your small, romantic retreat.

Tides Hotel if you're gay. And fun. Tides is plenty of both, not to mention utterly charming.

The Empress Hotel also if you're gay. However, not a requirement. The Empress has been around fo'eva, having sunk in and rose up with the tides of Asbury's economy over the years. A resort that once hosted the likes of Liza Minelli and Judy Garland and graced the cover of Springsteen's records, The Empress is as iconic and special to the town as Jersey's unspoken mascot, tillie. 

Where to Eat

Toast - for dressing up and going to a delicious brunch with friends 

Porta - for not dressing up and going to brunch for $10 bottomless mimosas. Also, for phenomenal brick oven pizza. Also, for roofies maybe. More on this later.

Frank’s Restaurant – for the most authentic porkroll egg and cheese you’ll ever have. Cash-only and I would recommend take-out.

Goldie’s – for vegan selections or something simply more on the healthy side, accompanied by gorgeous décor in the heart of the arts district.

The Sunset Landing – for feeling as if you're in Grandma's Hawaiian kitchen. A (very) small mom n’ pop place with an open kitchen and surfboards hanging from the ceiling, The Sunset Landing resides on the Asbury Park lake where you can feed the ducks while sipping carrot ginger juice.

Langosta Lounge – for seafood/sushi accompanied by live music and boardwalk seating

Cubacan -  for date night with contemporary cuban with latin fare on the hottest spot on the boardwalk. 

Where to Go Out

Watermark - for the first drink of the trip at least. This cocktail lounge is set in the heart of the boardwalk across from the aforementioned, famed Empress and overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The unique cocktails are deliciously crafted by attentive staff in a relaxed, open setting with crisp white lounges and modern couches that you don't have to pay $1000 to sit on. Imagine that!

Beach Bar - for the rum buckets! A great spot to get tuned up with a big group of friends, slightly more north along the boardwalk. While there is some roof coverage, it is pretty much entirely outdoors. Anchor's Bend is right around the corner and generally has live music for a quick visit or change of scene.

Porta - for the experience. Porta is an old-warehouse-turned-gorgeous-three-space-bar with outdoor seating, high-lofted ceilings and a boom-boom-room like no other. It's drawn quite a lot of attention and criticism regarding its rowdiness which makes it, unfortunately, an attraction for fist-pumping visitors. Clearly, though, visitors aren't the only ones patronizing the bar regularly; it's a locals hang as well. Just watch your drink, as the place is rumored to be a roofies hub, and we all know there's nothing like a good 'ol roofie to spoil your day.

Johnny Mac's - for the free pizza ALL day EVERY day. Also for the "Irish Village" decor and late-nighting since it tends to stay open until 2-2:30 whereas most local bars close around 1:30 instead.


The Weekend Getaway: Baltimore, MD

Baltimore, or Bawlmer, rather, holds a very special place in my heart. Not only is it a former dwelling place of mine and current home to my best friend and soulmate, but it also is a beloved branch of Terp Nation, a seafood lover's paradise and a charming little corner of American history and culture.  So, naturally, I was excited for my annual summer excursion down last weekend.

Let's start with the travel, shall we? The ride from New York to Baltimore should take no more than 3 easy hours. However, since the New Jersey Turnpike is always out to get me, and apparently the state of Delaware still exists, it took closer to 6 glorious hours.

So my first tip is this: scope out Amtrak.com 5+ weeks ahead of time and snag a roundtrip train ticket for $98. Or, if you insist on driving, at least leave Thursday evening after rush hour traffic has subsided. Trust me, it is well worth saving yourself the hassle.

Once that battle had been won and I dried my eyes from tears of back-seat-driver-frustration, though, it was easy sailing. Here's how a perfect weekend Baltimore weekend might unfold...

Where to Wake Up

While I stayed at my best friend's place in Canton, I do have a few other recommendations.

Sheraton Inner Harbor or the Baltimore Harbor Hotel are great options if you're in town for an Oriole's game. I used to stay around this area for work due to the ease of getting in and out of the city onto 95, plus the proximity of the water. In addition to being right around the corner from the stadium, both spots are also walking distance or a quick cab to famed pre-game joint, Pickle's.

This AirBnB because who wouldn't want to stay on a boat in Fells?! Fells Point is personally my favorite neighborhood in Baltimore. The cobblestone streets are brimming with young professionals and families. The neighborhood is lined with artisan shops and delicious, affordable restaurants and the nightlife is the perfect mix of relaxed-yet-lively.

Four Seasons I mean, just look at that pool.

NOTE on NEIGHBORHOODS: I love Canton not only because of its great vibe and Mama's on the Half Shell, but also because I know the area and have wonderful friends who live there. That being said, you want to select your neighborhood based on what you're in town for. If it's a family trip, stay near the harbor. If it's a romantic getaway, do Fells Point. And if you're going to party with friends from college, Fed Hill is the spot. 

How To Spend The Day

On someone's roof deck: roof decks are a baltimore staple. In fact, not having a roof deck is actually abnormal. And since Baltimore is such a low city in terms of height, you really get spectacular views. 

Anywhere Near The Water: if you don't know anyone in Baltimore and aren't nimble enough to scale the city walls onto someone's property unseen, enjoy strolling the docks, crabbing, visiting the National Aquarium (it's SO cool) or simply laying by the pool at the four seasons instead (book a spa appointment and you can enjoy the day at the pool as well).

At the O's game: Camden Yards is just as charming as the rest of Baltimore. With reasonable prices, friendly staff and an energy that truly combines MLB with hometown ballpark, Camden Yards encompasses a sort of accessibility that Yankee Stadium never will again. It's the perfect place to enjoy the day or an early evening. 

Most Importantly, Where To Eat

Sip n' Bite: if there's one thing that makes me feel at home, it's a 24/7 diner, and my-oh-my does Sip n' Bite do the trick. I don't know if it's the perfectly seasoned lamb gyro, its shiny street corner lights or the guaranteed 3am pimp sighting, but I just can't seem get enough of this place. Apparently, neither can Guy Fieri

Mama's on the Half Shell: Known for the occasional Michael Phelps sighting, but way more known for its Ah-mazing food (b/c who really gives a sh-t about Phelps, anyway? Heard he's a dick. JUST SAYIN), Mama's is the place to dine. If you are making one stop and one stop only, this is it.

Captain James Crabhouse: Look, it's dozens of the best crabs in the country for as little $4 a pop, outside, on the waterfront, with great drinks. What else do you need to know?

Towson Hot Bagel: I end it with THB for a reason. As an ever-proud #JerseyGirl, I must say that this joint does a phenomenal job with their breakfast sandwiches, particularly their pork roll and cheese. The fact that anywhere outside of Jersey even has pork roll makes me giddy with joy. And the fact that this place happens to be Baltimore? Well, that, my friends, makes me want to consider leaving this whole New York life behind… totes JK I would never!

But, you know, maybe.

The Weekend Getaway: Saratoga Springs, NY

Saratoga Tips on Gambling, Fried Chicken, Mob Mentality & MORE!

My number 1 rule when it comes to gambling is if I don’t hit my first bet, I walk away.

However, my #1 rule when it comes to everything else in life is don’t ever give up. So you can see how after I lost my first bet on Friday, I felt conflicted. Then I continued betting. And losing. For about 14 races. Eventually, the karmic gods praised me for my fortitude and awarded me with a $196 exacta in the last race, so I only walked away about $50 down.

Stick with me and you’ll be alright.

I had planned on sharing betting tips on this post, but considering my strategies led to me more to posting pictures with the hashtags #spiraling and #theyrecomingformypinkyfinger, rather than raking in the cash, I'm going to expand the topic matter.

Tip 1: Learn how to bet on the horses from the professionals.

         Download the One-click Pony app!

         Download the One-click Pony app!

Tip 2: Indulge in Hattie’s Fried Chicken. It is more than worth it

Lucky for me, Saratoga isn’t just about gambling. It’s also about traditions; some of which date back to over 150 years ago when the races first began and others that have sprung up over time. During our visit, it was “Hats Off to Saratoga” weekend, which meant I was able to whip out my favorite accessory – the hair piece – and go wild. And if there’s one thing I enjoy more than betting, it may be playing dress-up at the track.

Because there’s just nothing like putting on a fancy dress and eatin’ fried chicken. 

Tip 3: Dress up! See the Saratoga dress code rules here.

While the style in Saratoga ranges from conservative to casual and everything in between, there are some basic rules to abide by. If you’re sitting in the regular Grand Stand or hanging in the picnic grounds, a tee-shirt and shorts will fly – BUT, keep in mind that they don’t have to. Even in the picnic area, many people choose to honor the age-old tradition of summer hats and sundresses. On the flip side, if you’re seated in the Clubhouse, Box Seats, or any of the other luxury options, definitely be sure to get a little dapper.

Tip 4: Rush The Gates!

Mama once said, “If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you do it, too?” to which my answer has now been forever altered to: “Depends on how much fun the jump is."

Every morning during the fleeting 6-week racing season, track-goers line up with their chairs and tablecloths as early as 5AM to wait for the gates to open at 7AM. Once the gates open, the crowd charges forward like angry cattle breaking free from a corralled-off, grass-less space. People sprint into the park to slap belongings down on picnic tables and lay claim to grassy sections for chairs, umbrellas, etc. Since we were sitting in the picnic area on day two, our fate was inevitable. We had to join the mad dash. I was not let down.

To give you an idea of how seriously people take this tradition, here are a few sound bites from my experience:

“Once the gate opens, it’s free game.”

“Yeah man, we’re blowing past all these people.”

“I got my Nikes on and everything. I’m ready to GO." 

Then, as the time drew nearer and tensions mounted...

 “Stick to the original plan!”

“Hold the line!”

And my personal favorite, “We just got married last night. This is our wedding run!”

While 7AM may seem early, it’s hilarious and so worth the experience – plus, you can go back for a nap afterward. 

Tip 5: Check out some live music! 

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The most unexpected part of the weekend came when we were wandering around the downtown music festival. Home to a fabulous summer line-up, it is very common for DMB, Phish and a slew of other uber-talented artists to frequent the Saratoga stages. Of course, the hometown bands also contribute their fair share of surprise rock sessions and street parties. In fact, one band really struck a chord. Having strolled over merely by chance, we came across the band Better By Morning in none-other than the obscure post office’s parking lot on Saturday night – and, in a sweetly serendipitous moment – fell in love with their sound. I reached out to the band, (essentially, a group of teenagers) and asked for a sample. Turns out, they are just producing their first single.

From open mics to cover bands to primetime performers, Saratoga has it all, every night of summer. Take a look at the full concert calendar here.  While the summer’s first weekend music festival has passed, there are plenty more to attend to, including Wine and Music Fest Sept 5-7.

The Weekend Getaway: Montauk, NY

(Scroll for galleries & recommendations)

Ditch Plains, Montauk, NY

Ditch Plains, Montauk, NY

And so it began: my very first trip to the Long Island coastline.

The roads were a deepening dark. Shadows loomed around every bend, and with the tank nearing empty at a quickening pace, I was scared, anxious… and alone.

LOLLL, JK!  It was 11AM on a gorgeous day and I was with my boyfriend.  And his family.  And, like, 28 of their closest friends.  Just keeping you on your toes.

It was, however, truly my first time “out east,” as they so fancily say and I did have just a tad bit of nervous excitement about it (but, you know, in a totally very casual and cool way, right?).

Anyway.

Having been raised on the beaches of Jersey, not once did I find it strange growing up that I had never been to other popular, North East shore towns. Ocean City, Maryland and Delaware’s Dewey and Bethany Beach seemed, quite frankly, unnecessary trips. And, Long Island? Well, that just seemed silly. If I could ride my bike to the beach, why would I ever get in a car for the same thing?

Nonetheless, despite all my former protests and reasoning, here I was, so as not to remain ‘ignant, driving out of the city on a Wednesday for an extended-weekend stay in Montauk.

Cruising through the Hampton towns, we passed a series of charming downtown areas, each one lined with a mélange of fancy, high-end stores mixed in with dainty mom n’ pop shops. We also, to matt’s delight, just missed the entrances to a few antique shops. I’m still reeling.  

In between towns I marveled at the wineries and large plots of appealing-yet-untouched land as commercial real estate grew fewer and farther between. Finally, after quite some time of shamelessly looking for celebrities while (also shamelessly) pretending I was auditioning for a role in The Great Gatsby, we arrived in Montauk. And, even the die-hard “Jersey Shore” girl in me has to admit, I loved it.

Of course, it likely helped that I was being shown around by a collection of 20+ year Montauk veterans. So check it out! 

Montauk Highlights: 

Where To Eat

Ditch Witch – Does Zagat rate food trucks? Because they should give Ditch Witch a 30. Serving up a variety of perfectly-pressed paninis, salads, quesadillas and smoothies, the Ditch Witch located at Ditch Plains beach was easily one of my favorite meals of the trip. I mean, who knew you could have freshly made mozz and local basil prepared on artisan bread at the beach? It's all about the paninis in bikinis.

John’s Drive-in – Located right in the downtown area, this classic drive-in spot has deliciously creamy hard ice-cream. I’m talking REAL GOOD, like stays-creamy-even-after-being-in-the-freezer-2-days and IDGAF-if-I’m-wearing-a-bikini-tomorrow-give-me-the-cake-batter-or-I-bite-your-hand-off good.

Montauk Golf Course – Apparently, this course is one of the top 10 hardest in the country, which is probably why they have a deliciously hearty breakfast to prep you for it. I lament to say, however, that the dog ate my clubs so I wasn’t able to participate this time and instead was resigned only to having breakfast overlooking the sprawling course. Ugh, FML.

Lobster Roll, aka LUNCH – To ease the sorrow of a vacation’s end, we decided to fill up on arguably the best lobster roll in the country on our way out of town. Award-winning and frequented by very big names, I once more shamelessly purveyed the scene in search of a famous face, and I think I may have seen Giuliana Rancic’s husband. Or I guess Bill Rancic? Whatever. He may not give the place any points, but the lobster, clam chowder and clams casino definitely do. 

And of course, at home! Beach life in Montauk is all about casual backyard grilling. Especially when you happen to be vacationing with a renowned NYC private chef. #amysamuel

What To do

Montauk Brewery – With a selection of deliciously smooth brews, you would never guess this place is only 2 years old and in its nascent brewery development. Go visit the brewery and sit down for a few samples with the ever-friendly Erin, pictured above.

Go fish! / Gosman’s – Montauk is widely known as the “fishing capital of the world” to many. Unfortunately, my vomition center (it’s a thing) doesn’t enjoy long spans of time on small boats in open seas, so I stayed on land. Conversely, the boyf digs fishing, so I still got to reap the benefits of his labor. My only regret is skipping out on the chance to sit at Gosman’s on the dock with some oysters and a cocktail as the boys came in from their trip. That, my friends, is my kind of fishing. It is also what repeat trips are for. :-)

The Beach – Duh.

Montauk Point Lighthouse - As a national historic landmark built in the 1700s and authorized by George Washington himself, it's worth the 5 minute drive. Plus, #selfienation.

Bonfires – Montauk allows bonfires on the beach at night which makes going to the bars vs. going back to the beach for drinks a very, very easy decision.  Reminiscent of late-nighting at Takanassee Beach in Long Branch, NJ as a kid, Ditch Plains had me feeling right at home.

And for some bonus shots!

 

 

The Weekend Getaway: Niagara Falls

Click through the pictures and the link below to read on!

In a world where vacation can be so limited that some workplaces go so far as to refer to it as “a four-letter word” (e.g. “you shouldn’t use it”), making the most of your precious time off is crucial to staying sane. After all, we all know that there’s nothing worse than coming back from a vacation only to find yourself exhausted and already in need of another one… especially after you’ve just used the majority of your 10-15 measly days off.

For my fellow planning and activity addicts out there, this can be even more of a challenge. Ever-impulsive and enamored by possibility, I have a genuinely ridiculous need to try doing as much as I can during my time off. In terms of vacation, it has led to burn out, over spending and a kind of anxiety comparable only to that of a little girl’s on her birthday.

I know. I’m dramatic.

But in an attempt to quell the drama and enjoy the moment, I’ve recently taken up a new love for the extended weekend escape, otherwise known as the “Mini Vacation.” I'll be sharing a series of these trips throughout the summer. The first trip featured is Niagara Falls and falls in line with the diva-free theme of "affordability."

The Benefits of a Mini Vacation

  1.  It's Good for Your Health! Research has shown that looking forward to a getaway is almost as gratifying and beneficial to our health as the actual trip itself. Why not shorten the trips and space them out? Imagine having a getaway to look forward to 6 times a year instead of once or twice.

  2. Less Stress. When we use the majority of our vacation in one shot, we end up accumulating that aforementioned anxiety of trying to fit everything in. With shorter trips, prioritizing how we spend our time is handled more naturally.
  3. Better for the Budget $ A three-night trip where driving is possible (especially if you already have a car) will amount to a fraction of the cost of longer trips and farther destinations. Worrying about money is just about the last thing anyone wants to do on vacation.

TIP: Putting an extra few bucks away the 3-4 paychecks leading up to a trip makes for a nice little cushion to support some splurging. I try to save an extra $175-$200.

Niagara Falls Overview & Tips for Doing it Right!

To kick things off, I started off at Niagara Falls and immediately learned a few generic tips for a successful weekend trip:

1.     Go Local!

Lucky enough to travel internationally through much of college, I had almost forgotten how many wonderful places there were in the states, particularly the Northeast, that I had yet to visit. A truly scenic 6.5 hour drive from Manhattan, we took a half-day on Thursday so we could get an early start and avoid traffic on our way up to Niagara. This allowed us to get a full three nights in and still only use 1.5 vacation days total. Definitely a plus.

Other Northeast Trips I’m looking forward to covering this summer: Montauk, Saratoga, The Real Jersey Shore and Baltimore.

Want some other suggestions? Check out this piece from Lonely Planet, featured on the daily beast.

2.     Plan Creatively: Live Large, Spend Less.

A little planning and creativity goes a long way when vacationing, especially in terms of budget. In one $50 grocery run, we stocked up on some craft beers, microwaveable appetizers and, duh, cheese and crackers. I don’t care how much food is in the vicinity, it’s always nice to have snacks on hand for that 4PM break time. And since we got in relatively late on day 1, it was convenient to be able to immediately heat up some spinach dip, break out a few drinks, and get comfortable in the new digs.

Getting there: A medium-sized rental car will run you around $200-$300 total for a 4-day trip. Amtrak (with some foresight) can be a $120 round trip, but then you have to plan for how to get around once you're there.

Of course, you could always fly, but a road trip in the summertime somehow feels more personalized. It makes the travel a part of the trip in the same way reading a book over a kindle or drinking wine out of a paper cup somehow feels more memorable, ya know?

Don’t roll your eyes at me.

Where to Stay: We opted for The Vintage Whinery rental on AirBnb and I absolutely recommend it. For $120 a night ($400 total for 3 nights after taxes and fees), we were a 10-minute walk to the falls in our own private space + free parking + a daily, home-cooked breakfast a la french-pressed coffee.

The downside? We didn’t have a view of the falls. However, with the cost of most fallsview hotels coming in around $225-$375 a night, the trade-off was well worth it for us.

Full Disclosure: Though I was happy to support the Niagara, NY economy and believe it is on the cusp of booming back to life, the Canadian side is currently much more manicured and built-up than the NY side... Bring your passport!

3.     Prioritize Your Time & Funds: What do you really want to do?

If you aren’t into tourist attractions at home, you probably shouldn’t spend all your time at them on vacation. My favorite part of living in New York isn't riding the TMZ bus around (shocking, I know). It's the mixing of cultures, the quality of the food and drink and the proximity of all things art that I love.  So, that’s what I wanted to experience in Niagara.

While we absolutely spent a day around the Falls, we also didn’t stand in line to pay for Maid of the Mist. Instead, we had lunch and cocktails at Elements on the Falls ($35) and perused an indoor art gallery. In the evening, we watched the fireworks from the Canadian side and listened to live music outdoors (Free!).

Okay and fine we gambled a little.

Saturday, we drove to Niagara-On-The-Lake, an easy 20-minute trip from our place. After an obligatory stop at Tim Horton’s, we cruised around the local area stopping at 4 of the 30+ vineyards. At one, we even took part in a fancy champagne tour. We had 1 map, no plan, and the whole day was a steal! Tastings are only $1 a piece and oftentimes they put the total toward a bottle of wine as an extra buying incentive.  I think we spent something like $25 altogether which included a bottle of wine.

Of course, it did help that we made friends with random Canadians whom we tagged along with to a few vineyards where they were VIP members (e.g. free tastings).

More Full Disclosure: I definitely threw up on the side of the road later that evening. Apparently, I could only handle so much class.

Afterward, we drove a quick 5 minutes to Old Town and snoozed off some of the wine alongside Great Lake Ontario, where I then was casually pooped on by a bird.

Supposedly this is good luck, but I’m still waiting.