Feeding My Soul in New Orleans, Louisiana


Beads, Beignets, Bourbon Street

French Quarter

I fell in love with New Orleans the first time I stepped foot in the city. The energetic atmosphere, the delicious Cajun food, and the jazz music were all so enticing and I knew that I wanted to return soon. The world had other plans though. Covid and an unexpected hurricane pushed back my travel plans, but this year I was finally able to step foot in the French Quarter once more.

It’s not a trip if something doesn’t go wrong though, right? Storms were brewing the afternoon I was scheduled to fly out. I had a layover in Dallas which I was able to make, but severe weather in New Orleans led to my flight getting canceled. Thankfully, I was rebooked on the first flight out of Dallas. My friend Hailey also had some similar flight headaches, but she finally arrived at the Sheraton Hotel around 1:30 in the morning while I tried to make myself comfortable in the airport waiting for 5:30 to come along.

By the time my flight landed in New Orleans, I had been awake for 24 hours. I chose to take a taxi to the hotel instead of an Uber, which was surprisingly an easy process. Hailey and I decided not to rent a car for the trip, instead choosing to split Ubers when we needed to get around the city which ended up being the cheaper option. By the time I got to the hotel, changed, and put myself together it was time for us to head to the Garden District for a tour.

The tour was ran by a company called French Quarter Phantoms. The bright and cool spring weather made it the perfect day to walk around and view all of the beautiful architecture the Garden District had to offer. Our tour guide stopped by different houses and buildings, noting the history and unique designs of each one. We could see how the style of homes changed over time just by walking down different streets. The guide also pointed out which buildings were owned by celebrities. I was surprised to learn that St. Louis’ own John Goodman has a home in New Orleans.

After the tour, we made our way to Uptown to grab some brunch. We chose to dine at a cute little restaurant called Wakin’ Bakin’. By that point I was starving so I ordered The Superbowl – a hash topped with an abundance of veggies and savory meats. After eating our fill, we took an Uber to The Voodoo Lounge – a small dive bar on the outskirts of Orleans Street that serves cheap drinks. This would become our starting point and ending point every day on this trip. This was also the bar we needed to meet at for our next tour organized by French Quarter Phantoms – the Saints and Sinners tour! If learning about the sex and sin-filled history of New Orleans isn’t your cup of tea, then you will want to skip this one. We ended up getting an unexpected private tour since we were the only two that had signed up. Our tour guide was hilarious, knowledgeable and gave us plenty of bar recommendations apart from the main strip. A nice thing about these tour companies is that they want to make sure you are hydrated and will pause in the middle of the tour and allow you to refill your alcoholic or nonalcoholic beverages. We made a stop at a popular gay bar to get a refill before learning more about New Orleans’ sinister history.

We had some time to kill before our third and final tour of the day so we stumbled into the Rampart Treehouse – a bar known for its pizza, beer, and hand-crafted cocktails. The bar is filled with artwork. The most mesmerizing piece is a magnolia tree in the middle of the bar adorned with hand painted flowers. We happened to arrive during happy hour which is from 3-6 PM Monday-Friday. $5 got me a slice of cheese pizza and a beer. The Rampart Treehouse was right down the road from The Voodoo Lounge which we needed to go to again to check in for the Ghosts & Vampires tour which is praised as French Quarter Phantoms’ most popular tour. Tickets for this tour could be used at the bar to purchase buy one get one free hurricanes. Not one to pass up a deal, I ordered myself two hurricanes and with one in each hand I traversed the dark streets of New Orleans while learning about the spirits and vampires that supposedly haunt the area. With the hurricanes gone to my head, we looked up places for dinner and found a restaurant called the Gumbo Shop. This was one of my favorite dinner stops of the entire trip. The restaurant was packed, but we ended up waiting only a few minutes before being led to a table. Even if the wait was longer, it would have been worth it. I’m a sucker for anything Cajun and spicy, so I ordered the Chicken Andouille Gumbo. They weren’t lying when they said locals rated it as the best gumbo in the city!

Chicken Andouille Gumbo – The Gumbo Shop

The following day, we woke up early and got an Uber to The Voodoo Lounge to check in for our fourth tour of the trip – the French Quarter Tour. Our tour guide dove into the history of Bourbon Street, the French Quarter, and Jackson Square. We also learned about voodoo and how misunderstood the religious practice is today. Halfway through the tour we walked down Pirate’s Alley. If the name didn’t give it away, it’s an area rumored to be frequented by pirates back in the day. At the end of the alley stands a bar with the same name. This bar piqued my interest since there was a peculiar device on the bar top which I learned helps the bartender dilute absinthe. There was a menu listing out different absinthe options patrons could choose from. The two hurricanes from the night before had me feeling some type of way so I decided to pass on absinthe that morning, but it was my goal to drop in and try the spirit sometime before the trip ended.

All that walking had made us hungry, so we went to the Vampire Cafe off of Royal Street which wasn’t far from where the tour had ended. The restaurant plays on its vampire name: crafting “blood type” cocktails, serving vampire-themed dishes, and adorning tables with gold silverware instead of the typical silver utensils. I went with the Bloody Mary and their Alligator Po’boy. This was just what I needed to remedy my hangover. The Bloody Mary was delicious and the Alligator Po’boy was filling and had some surprising heat to it.

Bloody Mary – Vampire Cafe

We had some time to kill before our fifth and final tour of the trip so we decided to take a slight detour to Abbott’s Frozen Custard. I ordered a cup of the Marvelous Mango which was just the creamy and cool treat I needed to beat the incoming heat. We walked to the tour meet up area which was situated outside of a voodoo shop. We checked in with our guide, perused the shop for a bit, went to the bar next door to grab a cheap (and heavily poured) tequila sunrise and by that point the remaining tourists had gathered. We booked this tour through the Haunted History Tours company. The particular tour we were taking was their French Quarter Ghost & Legends tour which per their website is the most popular tour they manage. While we had taken a tour of the French Quarter the other day, this tour took us to a few different locations and discussed murders, hauntings, and even werewolf legends that the other tour company hadn’t touched on. It was nice to see that the tour companies didn’t rehash the same stories so each tour felt like its own separate experience. Halfway through the tour, I purchased a frozen Voodoo Daiquiri from a hotel bar. Be aware that the frozen drinks are pricier than the well drinks, but they are definitely appealing and satisfying especially on a humid Louisiana day.

Jackson Square

Dinner was calling our name by the time the tour ended so we walked around until we stumbled upon Pere Antoine. I ordered the Voodoo Brew cocktail which was served in a tall plastic cup and contained an ample amount of rum. The drink was a little too sweet for my liking, but the highlight of the dinner was the Gumbalaya. My plate was full of chicken and sausage gumbo and in the middle was a generous serving of their jambalaya. Trust me when I say there wasn’t a single morsel left on my plate. It was that good!

Gumbalaya – Pere Antoine

Since this was Hailey’s first time in New Orleans she knew she wanted to stop by Café Du Monde to order some of their famous beignets. My stomach was full, but I knew I could make some room for dessert. There is typically a line of people down the sidewalk that can stretch far past the café. The line tends to move fairly quickly though, so don’t let that deter you from getting in line. Once we got our bag of beignets we found a table to sit at to enjoy the tasty treats. After that, we ended the night at the Voodoo Lounge. We had stopped in so often that by that point the bartenders and tour guides recognized us and welcomed us in. They were all fun to chat with and gave us great recommendations for things to do in the city during our stay.

By the third day of the trip we only had one thing left on our itinerary. We first grabbed breakfast at Mena’s Palace – a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant and bar with limited seating. However, we ended up lucking out and a server sat us at a table right when we walked in. I ordered the Shrimp Creole Omelette which sounded delicious but was drowned in tomato sauce. If I were to visit this restaurant again I would try a different omelette or wait a few hours until they served their lunch menu. We took an Uber to the Garden District to cross our last planned stop off of our list – The Garden District Book Shop. Inside, bookcases are filled to the brim with books of varying genres of all shapes and sizes. They even sell first editions and signed copies. If that’s something up your alley I would definitely recommend checking it out.

St. Louis Cathedral

With nothing else left on our agenda, we stopped by the Voodoo Lounge for some drinks before walking around the French Quarter. We perused the farmers market, stopping to eye the art and trinkets that people were selling. The Saturday sun was beating down on us so to escape from the heat we made a pit stop at Jinx for a drink. Little did we know we would also be present for a burlesque show. Every Saturday and Sunday the bar and grill hosts a mini burlesque show starting at 1:00. Each performance lasts fifteen minutes which gives you a little taste of what their evening burlesque shows contain. I could tell the two burlesque performers that afternoon were having a blast and at times they even got the audience involved. One of the funniest moments was when a husband in the crowd was asked to stand up and he was instructed to mimic the burlesque performer’s movements. Once he learned all of the steps he had to showcase the moves on his own. He was having the time of his life and I can only imagine what other hysterical demonstrations and exciting performances they put on during their main shows.

Mini Burlesque Show – Jinx

With my wallet a little bit lighter, we headed to Frenchman Street which one of our tour guides mentioned is the go-to area for live jazz music. I hadn’t ventured to this part of New Orleans the first time I visited the city, so I was excited to walk around and see what the area had to offer. I was not disappointed. We could hear the sound of trumpets, tubas, and saxophones the closer we got to the bars and music joints. We decided to give The Spotted Cat a go. The venue was small and charming. There were already a few groups of people inside, but we were able to find two empty bar stools. While posted up at the bar we ordered cocktails and listened to the jazz band playing. I love live music and I probably could have sat there and listened to different jazz bands play the rest of the day, but the drinks were starting to make us sluggish and a cat nap was in order.

The Spotted Cat

Once we woke up, we were ready to explore the city some more. As we were walking, we couldn’t ignore the smell of cooked seafood coming from the French Market Restaurant & Bar. The eatery advertises fresh, never frozen seafood and dishes made from scratch. When we walked inside we saw tables sharing boats of crawfish. While purchasing crawfish by the pound was tempting, I instead chose to get the Crawfish Étouffée which ended up being deliciously filling. We ended the night at, you guessed it, the Voodoo Lounge! It was packed with people ordering buy one get one hurricanes and checking in for the last tour of the evening. If I had paid more attention, I would have noticed a celebrity in the bar that I (literally) ran into but I didn’t realize who it was until she left with the tour group. After a few more drinks we made our way to the hotel, wanting to get some decent sleep before the long day ahead of us.

Crawfish Étouffée – French Market Restaurant & Bar

Not only was it our fourth and final full day in New Orleans, it was also Easter! The bartenders at the Voodoo Lounge had told us about the three different parades that would be going on that day. Yes, you read that right. Three different parades! We chose to try out a popular brunch spot called the Ruby Slipper Cafe before making our way to Bourbon Street. Be prepared for a long wait though. I recommend joining the waitlist on their website as early as you can. There were several waitresses taking drink orders for those of us waiting outside. I ordered their delicious award-winning Bloody Mary which contained bacon-infused vodka along with several garnishes. We ended up waiting over an hour for a table, but it was well worth it. We were seated at the bar and our order was taken quickly. I ordered another Bloody Mary while I debated on which Benedict I wanted to order since that seemed to be one of the more popular items on their menu. I decided that I couldn’t just choose one though. If you are indecisive like me, you can opt for The Peacemaker which allows you to mix and match two benedicts of your choice. Unable to pass up the seafood benedicts, I ordered the Bayou Shrimp Benedict and the Crawfish & Grits Benedict. This was the best breakfast I had by far. The benedicts were delectable and paired well with the Bloody Mary. If you are in New Orleans and are a fan of eggs benedict, you need to try the Ruby Slipper Cafe if you get the chance.

Bayou Shrimp Benedict and the Crawfish & Grits Benedict – Ruby Slipper Cafe

We had missed the first parade of the day, but had some time to kill before the Chris Owens French Quarter Easter Parade which honors the late New Orleans entertainer and icon. We walked back to Pirate’s Alley and made our way to the corner bar to purchase some absinthe. Typically it would cost around $20 for a drink, but the bartender had mistakenly poured the wrong absinthe for a previous customer and told me if I wanted that absinthe she could make me the drink for $10. I couldn’t pass up that deal and watched as the bartender diluted my drink. I should note that this bar is cash only so plan accordingly. I had heard that absinthe tastes like black licorice but I was hoping everyone was mistaken. Surprise, they weren’t. It was fun getting the opportunity to try it, but I don’t see myself drinking absinthe in the future.

Pirate’s Alley

We knew we wanted to get a balcony view of the parade, so we stopped into Local 718 and made our way upstairs. Luckily, we were able to find a table and we ordered drinks to sip on while the parade got underway. Carriages and floats were decorated in bright colors and people in the parade, along with onlookers, were dressed for the occasion. Of course, there can’t be a parade in New Orleans without beads. Since we were sitting in the corner of the balcony beads weren’t thrown our way. Other objects like toys and even carrots were tossed into the crowd. I walked away with two beads, but I knew I needed to find a closer spot for the next parade if I wanted to get more.

Chris Owens French Quarter Easter Parade

The third and final parade was the gay parade, which was starting at the park located near the Voodoo Lounge. Inside the bar were people dressed in bright, interesting outfits and costumes. It seemed like this parade was going to be the most attended. After slamming some tequila sunrises, I found a perfect spot in front of the sidewalk that allowed me to observe the entire parade. It was also a great place to catch beads. By the time the parade was over, my neck was covered in assorted, colorful beads of various sizes. It was a parade unlike any other I have ever experienced. If you happen to visit New Orleans on Easter weekend I urge you to check out all of the parades!

Gay Easter Parade

With the festivities of the day coming to an end, Hailey and I decided to go back to the Gumbo Shop for our last supper. I ordered their Jambalaya and a cocktail. I enjoyed the meal, but it didn’t beat the gumbo dish I had ordered the first night. As we made our way back to the hotel on foot, we stopped in various gift shops, checking out the plethora of souvenirs and shirts. I didn’t want to end the night without purchasing a big frozen drink, so we stopped into Big Easy Daiquiris. They have four locations and lined up at the bar are machines mixing several frozen cocktail flavors with different proofs of alcohol. $13 and a brain freeze later, I was enjoying my last evening cocktail as we walked back to the hotel, not entirely ready or looking forward to packing up my things.

Jambalaya – The Gumbo Shop

We had some time to kill before our flights so we decided to grab breakfast at Daisy Dukes. They serve your typical breakfast fare but with some Cajun flare. I ordered the Alligator Omelet which came with a biscuit and hash browns as a side. I also ordered a Bloody Mary, but it was pretty plain compared to the other Bloody Marys I had throughout the trip. After saying goodbye to Hailey I took my luggage down to the concierge desk so they could hold on to it until it was time for me to leave. I had spotted a cute little coffee shop on our way to breakfast and I thought that would be the perfect place to sit and relax before I needed to head to the airport. Fourth Wall Coffee & Bar is a cozy cafe with different seating arrangements inside and outside that you can choose from. They also have a table with books that you can read or peruse through during your stay. If it wasn’t windy I would have sat outside, but instead I stayed inside and sipped on my caramel latte while people watching. The time flew by and before I knew it I was heading back to the hotel and in a taxi heading for the airport.

Alligator Omelet – Daisy Dukes

New Orleans is one place I recommend everyone to experience at least once in their lifetime. There’s so much to do which for some people may seem overwhelming, but trust me when I say it isn’t. The only things Hailey and I had booked in advance were the tours we took. We used the Go City app where you can purchase a 1, 2, 3, or 5-day pass which allows you access to different tours, museums, and attractions around the city. We decided to go with the two day pass for our tours which was well worth the money. We even found a coupon code so we only ended up spending $89. The app gives you a QR code which makes scanning at each destination quick and easy. Besides booking tours in advance, I suggest leaving the itinerary at home. Walk around the streets of New Orleans and just take everything in. The music, the food, the people, the culture, the history. You won’t be disappointed.

Until the next adventure ✈️

Taking a Much Needed Break in Treasure Island

Feeding gators at a mini golf course and almost getting stuck on a draw bridge were definitely the highlights of this trip.

It’s crazy to think it’s been almost a whole year since I’ve traveled and wrote about a trip. When my friends Emilie and Jay invited my boyfriend, Zach, and I on a week-long getaway to Treasure Island, I couldn’t say yes quick enough. It turned out to be one of the most relaxing vacations I’ve had in a while. A week on the beach was just what I needed to rejuvenate my body and clear my head after some nonstop stressful months of work. As I was packing my suitcase, I could already smell the ocean air and feel the cool sand on my feet. I was looking forward to having no itinerary, indulging in all the fresh seafood, laying out in the beach with a cold drink in my hand, and exploring what the area had to offer.

After landing at the Tampa, Florida airport, we took a little detour to Sparkman Wharf before heading to our condo. Home to a plethora of food stands, bars, and shops, it isn’t difficult finding something to do at the Wharf. Once you grab your food and drink of choice, you can head to the beer garden area where they have an abundance of tables and open seating available. If you happen to come on the weekend, you can tune in to the live band scheduled to play that day. Zach and I noticed Edison’s Swigamajig serving up fresh seafood near the entrance of the wharf and after perusing the other food options we knew we had to go back and try them out. We were pretty hungry after the flight so we decided to split an order of shrimp and chips and fish and chips. We also ordered some margaritas to keep us cool while we ate our hot meal outside. The cook didn’t skimp out on the portions and we were starting to get full before we even dived into the seasoned fries.

Sunset Vistas resort

Our condo was located in the Sunset Vistas resort in Treasure Island, just mere feet from the beach. Two pools, a hot tub, a gym, and a tiki bar were all amenities we could use during our stay. Once we arrived and got settled in, we checked out the beach as the sun went down. The sand was full of tiny, colorful shells and the closer you got to the shore the more shells there were. We also scoped out the resort’s beach bar which was small in size, but offered a good amount of specialty drinks along with well liquor for any other cocktails beach goers desired. On one wall of the bar was a sign informing patrons that they could earn a free t-shirt if they could drink their eleven specialty drinks. A menu listed out the names of each drink, their ingredients, and whether they were best served frozen or on the rocks. The bartender told us we could complete the challenge in pairs or even as a group. Never one to turn down a challenge, Zach and I asked for a punch card and ordered our first two drinks of many that trip.

John’s Pass – Can you spot all of the dolphins in the ocean? 👀

Most of our mornings and afternoons were spent soaking up the sun at the beach. We honestly lucked out on the weather. It was bright and sunny the entire trip with barely a cloud in the sky. There weren’t a ton of people on the beach either which blew my mind. It was the end of April when we went, so we may have gone during a less busy time of the year. Either way, we took full advantage of the circumstances and found the perfect area on the beach to lay our towels, chairs, and cooler down. There was one thing we hadn’t thought ahead though…we needed an umbrella. My complexion and the sun’s rays don’t always mix, so spending one whole day on the beach without shade was all I could handle. There was a man renting out umbrellas and helping guests set them up on the beach for $20. I honestly would have rather used the money for other excursions, but since the umbrella the condo offered was cheaply made and stood up for about two minutes before it collapsed, the $20 umbrella was the only convenient option we had. Besides the umbrella fiasco, the time we spent on the beach was super relaxing. It was also nice having the condo close by. We never had to fight for a spot on the beach. We could easily leave our towels and chairs on the sand, head up to the room to cool off and then grab a bite to eat and restock the cooler whenever we needed to.

Besides hanging out at the beach, we did a bit of exploring. One evening we drove to St. Petersburg where we checked out the pier and stopped at some of the fun bars and restaurants located downtown. You are able to have outside drinks on the pier, so we made a stop at Hops & Props Bistro Craft Beers before we began the long trek. We took in the scenery as we walked past charming parks, interesting artwork, and fun areas for both children and adults to survey. When we made our way to the end of the pier, we stopped at Pier Teaki, a rooftop bar that was packed to the brim with people.

Starting to get hungry ourselves, we made our way out of the pier and walked less than a mile to the fun rooftop bar called The Canopy. There were a mix of casual and finely dressed guests seated at tables, in long couches next to fireplaces, or at the ornate bar. Four cabanas are also available to rent and appeared to be comfortable for larger parties. A hostess sat us at a table near the bar. Wasting no time, we ordered drinks and appetizers to share. If tequila is your alcohol of choice, I would definitely recommend the Mango Margarita. If you happen to be in the area and want to give The Canopy a try, they do have happy hour during the weekdays from 4 pm-7 pm and they also have a ladies night every Wednesday from 7 pm-10 pm. After devouring some appetizers and downing our drinks, we walked past a few more bars before deciding to stop by The Crafty Squirrel which had open outside seating by one of their bars. We happened to stop by during one of their specials. Every Tuesday from 3 pm til the kitchen closes you can order as many chicken, beef, or pulled pork tacos you want for just $2 a taco. Who can say no to cheap drinks and tacos?

Smuggler’s Cove Adventure Golf in Madeira Beach

We also put our golfing skills to the test and played a round of mini golf at Smuggler’s Cove Adventure Golf. They have a few locations throughout Florida that each have their own unique layout and design, but they do have one thing in common. Gators! Smuggler’s is home to around 20-30 alligators in each location that you are able to feed before and after your mini golf game. When you purchase your ticket you can also buy alligator food from the cashier. Once we reached the alligator enclosure, which was right before hole #1 at the Madeira Beach location, we found cane fishing poles that we used to feed the alligators. Quick heads-up. There were instances where the food fell off the poles as we threw the line towards the water. You may want to double check the fishing poles and make sure the food is secure before you cast the line so you can avoid losing any food. If you’re interested, you can check out my Instagram – @erineallen – to see me feeding some of the alligators on the course!

Middle Grounds Grill

A great restaurant we tried one evening that was located near our condo was Middle Grounds Grill. We called ahead the morning of to make a reservation which I would recommend doing since the restaurant looked crowded every time we drove past it. We pored over the online menu beforehand, but we had no idea we would be dining during their Wine Wednesday special. Every Wednesday, bottles of wine that are originally priced at $200 or less are half-off! Our waiter also informed us that we could take a bottle of wine home with us if we wished. He would just have to uncork the bottle and place it in a doggy bag before we left. Zach and I couldn’t pass up the deal and splurged on two bottles of wine – a Pinot Noir for dinner and a Sauvignon Blanc we took home for dessert later at the condo. The Pinot Noir paired nicely with the complimentary bread and oil and my order of Seafood Fusilli – a flavorful pasta full of shrimp, scallops, fish, and mussels tossed in a mouthwatering lobster sauce. To say this was my favorite meal of the trip would be an understatement.

John’s Pass

One of my favorite parts of Treasure Island was traversing the nearby John’s Pass Village and Boardwalk. We ate at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. one evening where I devoured the Jenny’s Catch and sipped on a Bloody Mary. The wait for our food and drinks was a bit long, but the restaurant was understaffed so it was to be expected. The pan-seared tilapia and mashed potatoes were well worth the wait though. After dinner, we took a walk around the area, scanning the bars and doing some window shopping until we came across Cuban Paradise Cigar & Cafe. The shop rolls cigars on the daily and if you are outside you can observe a worker in his element, rolling cigars one after the other. We ended up going to the store two separate times. I bought one to try myself and I couldn’t pass up the chance to buy a cigar in the shape of a baseball bat for my dad. The workers at the cigar shop were very knowledgeable. They were able to answer our questions and recommend each of us cigars that fit our specific tastes. The night ended with us sprinting across a draw bridge. Traffic lights began flashing and making noise as we were walking on it and for a split second we believed the bridge was about to open right then and there. Jokes on us, there was an operator working the drawbridge who would have likely waited for us to get across and a fisherman on the bridge laughed at us as we made it over safely in one piece. I have never seen a drawbridge open though, so it was pretty cool to get to experience that firsthand.

Our last full day was spent on the beach and bar hopping in John’s Pass. We stopped at Mad Beach Craft Brewing Company where I ordered the Drunken Dolphin which was a refreshing pale ale. We sat at the bar where I split an order of fried alligator with Zach. While we were sitting at the bar, it was hard not to notice the huge flight boards hanging from the ceiling. If drinking 28 flights in one sitting interests you, then their Walk the Plank option is right up your alley! This allows you to try 5 oz pours of every single beer they have on tap, but don’t think you can take this on single-handedly. A minimum of three people have to go in on it together.

While our friends left for the beach, Zach and I chose to continue drinking at the Mad Pub. We took a seat at the open bar where I tried their spicy Bloody Mary and a few more local Florida brews. Before heading back to the beach to catch some last minute rays, we stopped by an attraction full of alligators and an abundance of other Florida wildlife we could interact with and learn about. The Alligator and Wildlife Discovery Center strives to care for all 180+ animals that were surrendered by individual owners or came from reptile or wildlife rescues and were not able to return safely to the wild. After we went through the entire attraction, we paid to hold an alligator and learned more about the creatures and the center’s work from one of the employees.

Instead of going out to eat that night we opted for some New York style pizza from DeLosa’s. The restaurant is located in John’s Pass, but we were able to get the pies delivered to our condo. Feeling parched after the meal, we went to the beach bar and ordered the last drinks remaining on our punch card and a few of their rum buckets, which contained a generous mix of different liquors. Before heading back up to the condo for the last time, Zach and I collected our shirt to show that we succeeded at drinking the entire board. Safe to say that was the most expensive shirt I’ve ever gotten on a trip, but it was well worth it. They do change the color of their shirt every year so if you happen to stop by Sunset Vistas more than once and want to give the challenge another go, you likely won’t end up with the same color shirt twice.

Ybor City

We had a few hours to kill after checking out of the condo, so we drove back to Tampa and took a free, short trolley ride to the historic neighborhood of Ybor City. The area has a diverse range of restaurants, shops, bars, art galleries, and museums. If you keep your eyes peeled you’ll likely spot some wild chickens roaming the streets as well. Looking for a bite to eat before we made our way to the airport, we perused some of the menus posted outside of restaurants before we stopped at Gaspar’s Grotto which was completely decked out in pirate trinkets and decor. I wanted to try some more local craft beers, so I ordered the Funky Buddha, a Hefeweizen, and I tried an IPA called Reef Donkey. If I were to choose one though, I would have ordered another Funky Buddha. I couldn’t end the trip without seafood of course! The crab and shrimp quesadilla appetizer was delicious and the perfect size for a quick bite to eat.

We unfortunately didn’t have enough time to explore everything Ybor City had to offer though. By the time we finished our meals we needed to get going. The trolleys come every fifteen minutes or so, so if you’re pressed for time make sure you plan out your trolley rides accordingly. We definitely could have saved some time by driving the rental car and parking somewhere in the neighborhood instead. Our trolley driver also went on break and another trolley driver had to take over in the middle of the route, which made the ride a bit longer, but it was a pretty neat way to travel through the town. We weren’t late to the airport by any means and before we knew it we were boarding our flight and heading back home to St. Louis.

John’s Pass

If I were to visit Treasure Island again, I’d definitely check out some of the other restaurants, bars, and local shops in the area. I’d also be curious to look into whether the area has an fun events or festivals planned now that Covid restrictions are being lifted. Maybe I’ll go on a dolphin cruise or rent a boat or jet ski from John’s Pass and take it out on the ocean, but the beach was enough for me this time around. If you’re looking for a place to get away, relax, and treat yourself, you may want to give Treasure Island a try.

Until the next adventure ✈️

Adventures in Isolation: Destin, Florida Style

Sunrise, Sunburn, Social Distancing, Sunset, Repeat

My travel plans looked a little different this summer. I had a previous trip scheduled that I had to cancel (and now I have a Southwest Airlines voucher I’m not sure what to do with) and my personal goal of using my passport for the first time to visit a new country was out of the question. The travel bug was biting, but there was nowhere to go. Or so I thought. I’m a school-based Speech-Language Pathologist, and my district informed me summer school would be pushed back a month, giving me all of June off which I typically didn’t have. My sister had planned a trip to Destin, Florida months ago and she invited me to tag along. Destin has been a vacation destination for my family for as long as I can remember and even though I typically write about places I’ve experienced for the first time, I thought it would be fun to write a short post about this relaxing and fun Florida city.

Most of our mornings and afternoons were spent relaxing on the beach. We woke up early, gathered our beach bags and coolers, packed up the golf cart, and arrived at the beach around 9:00-10:00 each morning to pick out a prime spot on the beautiful white sand. I would recommend getting to the beach as early as possible, since it can be difficult to find a parking spot later in the day. However, the beach never felt crowded, even during the weekend when vacationers were just beginning to arrive. Destin was the perfect place to escape to and unwind after months of being cooped up at home. It was nice to see people hanging out with their friends and family, listening to music, playing games, and overall enjoying life.

PSA for all of my fellow St. Louisans: if you wear any STL, Blues, or Cardinals attire, be prepared to have at least one person ask about where you live. For some reason, people from STL love to vacation in Destin. Last year, I was in Destin during the Stanley Cup finals and the restaurant I was at was PACKED with Blues fans. Even the manager of the restaurant (who wasn’t born in St. Louis) is a big STL fan and was cheering on the Blues. If you visit Destin, you are bound to run into someone who’s from St. Louis or is a Cardinals/Blues fan. I think I need to make a beach drinking game the next time I visit. Should I take a drink every time I see someone wearing Cardinals/Blues clothing or take a drink every time someone asks me if I’m from St. Louis?

The Crab Trap Destin

Besides hanging at the beach, we ventured out to a few restaurants. Destin is home to a plethora of local and chain eateries that serve different types of cuisine. If you plan on visiting Destin though, you have to try their seafood. Our first restaurant stop of the week was Surf Hut for dinner. There was a wait time, due to less seating being available, but we ordered drinks at the bar and chatted until we received a text message letting us know that our table was ready. Their piña colada and Barrier Red Reef sangria held me over until my Mahi-Mahi sandwich was served. Surf Hut has become one of my favorite dinner outings in Destin. The food and drinks I’ve tried so far have been delicious, so I would highly recommend giving it a try!

After dinner we hopped in the golf cart and drove to the Crab Trap to grab a drink, enjoy the weather, and people watch (and failed spectacularly at not making eye contact with the teenagers making Tik Tok dance videos next to us). The restaurant has an outside beach bar and a huge, spacious deck where you can sip on drinks and wait for your table while you practice social distancing. This bar is also open to beach goers, no shirt or shoes required. You can walk on up in your swimsuit, order a frozen beverage, and take it back on the beach with you. The drinks can be pricey, but if you need something to cool you down after laying out in the hot sun, they are definitely worth trying! There is also an inside bar where you can order drinks or food in your beach attire. My sister and I went inside to purchase appetizers and take them back on the beach with us one afternoon. I ordered a Crab Trap favorite, the hot crab dip. In hindsight, I should have gone with something my stomach could handle on a hot day. The dip was delicious, but the combination of a full belly and the heat from the blaring sun did not sit well with me later that day.

Our next dinner destination was World of Beer. They have a $5 burger special on Mondays, which they serve all day, and hundreds of beers from around the world (like the restaurant’s name implies) on tap . You can build your burger however you like, but be aware that certain toppings will result in an upcharge. My absolute favorite beer in their lineup has to be the Secret Llama Blueberry Wheat Ale, a local beer brewed in Lakeland, Florida, which comes garnished with blueberries. It was light with just a hint of blueberry which complimented my savory burger.

Destin Harbor Boardwalk

A popular tourist attraction in Destin is the Harbor Boardwalk which is comprised of seafood restaurants, food trucks, bars, shops and outside entertainment such as live bands, outside TV’s broadcasting sports games, ziplines, and fishermen unloading their catch for the day. Parking at the harbor lot costs $10, but you keep your ticket and are able to reuse it for the remainder of the day. You could potentially go to the harbor in the morning, leave for the afternoon, and return in the evening without having to pay another $10 parking fee. When we arrived, we walked around the harbor for a bit and decided to eat dinner at AJ’s Seafood & Oyster Bar. We had about an hour to kill before our table was ready, so we stopped by Fish Heads, one of the many outdoor bars, to get a drink and watch the boats leave on evening cruises or dock in the harbor. More frozen drinks were consumed when we were seated at our table. I ordered a cup of their seafood gumbo as an appetizer and stuffed shrimp as my entree and we enjoyed our meals as a quick storm rolled through. After dinner, we explored the harbor a bit more, taking note of some of the dolphin cruise options, before heading back for the night.

Our last dinner in Destin was at Pompano Joe’s Seafood House. We knew we were in for a long wait since it was a Friday night, but we were still surprised to hear that there was a 2+ hour wait. We put our names down and checked with another restaurant down the street, where we were told that they could seat us in about three hours. We decided to stay at Pompano Joe’s, passing the time at their outside tiki bar just a few steps away from the beach. There was plenty of space for people to order a drink and find a seat or stand on the sidewalk and watch the sunset. It was dark by the time we were seated at a table, but the wait was well worth it. I ordered a cup of seafood gumbo as my appetizer (I’m a sucker for gumbo if you couldn’t tell) and holy moly it was delicious! Their gumbo is famous for being a 3-time winner of the Sandestin Gumbo Festival and it was one of my favorite dishes of the entire trip. My entree was the Mahi Mahi “Bajan” – crab and shrimp stuffed Mahi Mahi – which I confidently (and incorrectly) pronounced to our waitress. It was a seafood combination I didn’t know I needed and I was slightly disappointed that the seafood gumbo had left me feeling fuller than I had anticipated. I was unable to finish my entree, nor could I box it up since we were leaving early the next morning, but the meal was delicious and the most memorable compared to the other courses I had that week. Out of all of the restaurants I’ve mentioned, Pompano Joe’s has to be my #1 recommendation especially if you are wanting to try delicious seafood right by the ocean.

If going out to restaurants multiple times a week isn’t feasible or you want to keep your distance from others with everything going on in the world, check out one of the many grocery stores Destin has to offer! We shopped at Winn Dixie the day we arrived and split the cost of lunch meat, bread, and snacks that we could easily pack and eat on the beach. We also planned on making a few meals at the house during the week (one such delicious meal is pictured above) and everyone chipped in buying and preparing different entrees and sides. Eating out in Destin can get expensive, but if you are staying in a place with a kitchen you can save a few bucks by eating in a couple times during your trip. I would also recommend checking out restaurant websites in advance and looking up their happy hour deals. A majority of the restaurants in Destin have great food and alcohol happy hours during the weekdays that are hard to pass up and can help save some money that can be used for other excursions!

One such activity we wanted to do during our trip was an evening dolphin cruise. We purchased our tickets online for the Glass Bottom Boat ($31.70 per adult and if you book online you can use code BWS to save $2!) and headed for the harbor. A big headache we didn’t consider was the traffic. There is a ton of traffic in Destin, especially if you are driving towards the harbor. Sometimes you can get lucky and miss the worst of it, but more often than not you get stuck in bumper to bumper traffic and your GPS says it’s going to take you an extra thirty minutes to get to your destination. We were getting anxious about being late and the boat leaving without us, but we found a parking spot fairly quickly and picked up our tickets with enough time to grab a drink on the harbor and get a place in line.

Once on the boat, we were ushered to the stern where we got a group picture taken (we purchased not one, but two prints because of how comical it turned out) and we were told we could order drinks at the bar, located on the top deck. We made our way up the stairs to order a drink and take in the sights. There was no drink limit on this dolphin cruise which was a plus, since other cruises we researched limited adults to two alcoholic beverages. When we set sail, we moved to the lower level of the boat to check out the glass bottom. The captain informed us that the water close to the harbor was green and not at all clear, therefore making it difficult to see anything out of the glass until we started to get farther out into the ocean. While the glass bottom is this boat’s selling point, we decided to stay on the main level which ended up being a smart move. About an hour in, we started to see dolphins from a distance, but then a few dolphins slowly started to appear closer to our boat. At one point, there were three dolphins crisscrossing by the bow, keeping pace with the ship. Check out my Instagram – @erineallen – to see some footage of the dolphins I caught!

The two hour long cruise was absolutely worth the ticket price. We paid for a few drinks, learned about the history of Destin from the captain, and saw way more dolphins than we expected. It was fun getting out on a boat, feeling the sea breeze and ocean spray, and watching the dolphins swim and jump out of the ocean. Time flew by and before we knew it the boat had docked. By that point the sun was beginning to set. Every Thursday around 9 p.m. the harbor shoots off fireworks. We decided to try out one of the many food trucks on the harbor, grab a drink, and find a spot to watch the show. The fireworks can be seen on many of Destin’s beaches, so you don’t have to go to the harbor to experience the show, but it is exciting to have a close up view of the fireworks. There are even sunset cruises you can book that will take you out on the ocean to watch the show. The harbor has a little something for everyone, and is a great place to check out at least once during your trip to Destin.

This unplanned vacation gave me the perfect excuse to get out of the house and decompress in a relaxing city. I was in a much better headspace when I returned home versus when we began the 12+ hour journey. My favorite part of the trip by far was the dolphin cruise. Most of my trips to Destin consist of eating out at restaurants and laying on the beach, but it was nice to get out on the ocean and do something different for a change. I’m hoping to try some different restaurants and attempt some new water activities (maybe parasailing?) in the future. If you have been to Destin and have any recommendations regarding restaurants, tours, attractions, or water activities, leave a comment and let me know what I should try next time!

Until the next adventure ✈️

The Cold Never Bothered Me in Anchorage, Alaska

What’s cooler than being cool?

Matanuska Glacier

When Next Vacay sent me a great deal on round trip flights to Anchorage, I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go. Now, I’m not a fan of cold weather in the slightest, but it only made sense for me to travel to Alaska in the winter. I pictured the mountains, the snow, the sled dogs, and experiencing winter in a place I’ve never dreamed of visiting before. Two of my friends and I purchased our plane tickets months in advance and began to plan what we wanted to do during our trip. This trip also gave me an excuse to update my nonexistent winter wardrobe (I’ve been using rain boots as an alternative for snow boots when shoveling the driveway for a few years now, so new winter gear was much needed). If you would like to see what clothes and items I purchased and took to Alaska, you can find my Alaska Amazon purchases here. I also purchased a pair of Columbia snow boots that were on sale on their website that I would highly recommend. At no point did I feel cold using these items and I was very happy with my purchases.

Only a drive to Chicago and a short layover in Seattle stood in our way to get to Anchorage. Once there, we went on a few tours around the area, tried different restaurants and breweries, and explored the sights of downtown Anchorage and learned about the city’s history.

Matanuska Glacier


There were heaps of restaurants in downtown Anchorage that served all types of cuisine. It was hard to choose which restaurants we wanted to go, but we narrowed our choices down to the ones that were recommended to us most by our tour guides, Uber drivers, and locals.

  • For our first night in Anchorage, we ate at Glacier Brewhouse. The inside of the restaurant was spacious and appealing. They brewed their beer in the restaurant which also had a huge open kitchen and a fireplace in the middle. I had their Seafood Fettuccine which had salmon, shrimp, clams, and cod in it (I was in seafood heaven). After polishing off the pasta, my friends and I shared a piece of their Original Peanut Butter Pie for dessert. After I took that first bite of pie, I thought the top button of my jeans was about to pop off. To say I was stuffed was an understatement.
  • After one of our tours, the tour guide took us to Long Rifle Lodge. This restaurant is located in Sutton, Alaska near the Matanuska Glacier. If you happen to be visiting Alaska and are in the area, you definitely need to stop by. The restaurant is a beautiful wooden lodge containing numerous taxidermy animals. Our lunch was included with our tour, and I ordered the Cod Sandwich. The portions were generous and the cod was some of the best seafood I had during the trip.
  • Humpy’s Great Alaskan Alehouse was our next dinner outing. A very relaxed, casual restaurant, Humpy’s had different taps lining the walls and lights strewn up across the ceiling. I ordered a Reindeer Burger (because who knew when I would get the chance to try reindeer anywhere else) and was pleasantly surprised by how good it was.
  • We had brunch at Snow City Cafe on our last day in Anchorage. This was probably my favorite restaurant we went to during the trip. The cafe was bright and colorful. When you walk in, they have a table set up where you can grab a mug and fill it with coffee during your wait. The coffee isn’t free (your server will add it to your bill) but it’s nice to have the option to grab coffee if you have to wait a bit for your table. There is artwork displayed around the cafe that can be purchased. Each month, a new local artist’s work is displayed. I ordered the Deadliest Catch – a Benedict with housemade smoked salmon cakes and a Benedict with Alaska Red king crab cakes. The restaurant was busy, but the food was delicious and worth the wait.
Moose’s Tooth Pub and Pizzeria.
  • Our last meal before we had to head to the airport was Moose’s Tooth Pub and Pizzeria. We went to the Midtown location, but they also have a location downtown. This was another restaurant that was recommended to us by multiple people. Moose’s Tooth also had their own house-brewed beer and I liked the aesthetic of the different beer bottles that lined the walls. My friends and I decided to split a pizza since we didn’t want any to go to waste before we had to head to the airport. We ordered a large pizza, half Santa’s Little Helper and half Call of the Wild. We ordered mozzarella bread sticks as an appetizer and there was plenty to go around for three people. The appetizer came with marinara sauce and their house sauce, which was marinara sauce mixed with pesto. It seemed like it would be a weird mix, but their house sauce was scrumptious. When our waiter served our pizza, the slices were huge and the task of finishing the entire pizza off was daunting. It was also topped with pepperoni, steak, chicken, bacon, and reindeer sausage with some veggies. I was able to eat three pieces before throwing in the towel.

Overall, we were happy with the restaurants we went to. Each restaurant served amazing food and we had great experiences at each one. We were able to try different foods and I was able to get some delicious fresh seafood.

Brews & Bars

Matanuska Brewing Company
  • At Glacier Brewhouse, I ordered the Raspberry Wheat and Blackberry IPA. The Raspberry Wheat was light, with a faint hint of raspberry, while the Blackberry IPA had more flavor to it. Glacier Brewhouse beers are not sold in St. Louis, so I guess I’m going to have to find a close alternative to the Raspberry Wheat and Blackberry IPA on my next beer run.
  • We went to Matanuska Brewing Company where we ordered two flights of beer to share (if you look at the picture above, you can guess what type of beer I typically fancy). The bar was getting ready to close in a little over an hour and the place was dead, but there were a few people at the bar finishing up their last drinks. Most of the beers I had were light in taste and easy to drink. Their Apple Ale had an interesting flavor, but not something I would typically buy. I was really excited to try their Blueberry Ale, which we were told is their most popular beer, but it was sold out that evening. Maybe I’ll get the chance to try it another day.
  • We briefly went to F Street Station, another small, causal bar, before ending one of our nights in Anchorage. We each ordered one last drink (I got a Pale Ale) and headed back to our hotel for the night. Before we left, we did notice that their bar menu had some inexpensive food choices. If we had more time, we probably would have stopped in again to grab lunch or dinner.
  • Moose’s Tooth served beers from the Broken Tooth Brewing company. I ordered the Northern Lights Amber (chosen specifically because of the name). The beer wasn’t as hoppy as I was expecting and it had a slight caramel taste. It ended up being one of my favorite beers I tried on the trip.

There were many other breweries in the area that we didn’t have time to try. Fun fact: Alaska has around 35 craft breweries around the state and Alaska is #3 among states for gallons consumed per capita (data obtained from Alaskanomics.com). Alaskans really love their beer.

Anchorage Museum


There were plenty of amazing sights to see in Anchorage. Each of the tours we went on surprised me by how much they offered and how much we were able to take part in. Multiple times while on the tours or just walking around town, I was taken aback by how beautiful and peaceful Alaska was.

  • Multiple tour guides and locals recommended that the Anchorage Museum was a must see. Admission was $20 for adults. The museum reminded me of a Smithsonian due to how big it was and how many different things were displayed. There were areas throughout the museum that showcased art (both historic and local), history, Alaskan Native lifestyle, ecology, and science. There was a Planetarium on the main floor and art work from local high school students displayed on the walls. My favorite displays were artifacts collected from the Alaskan Native tribes and information and pictures depicting each tribe’s history and customs. We spent a few hours at the museum, which helped us pass the time before our red eye flight.
Willow, Alaska
  • One tour company, Greatland Adventures, was recommended to us due to the fact that they offer a shuttle service where they will pick you up from the hotel you are staying at and take you to your tour’s destination. Since our trip was in the winter and we were unsure of how the weather would be, we decided that Greatland Adventures was our best option. The first tour we booked was their Anchorage Dog Sledding Tour. We were picked up from our hotel promptly at 8:00 a.m. Our flight had landed in Anchorage around 3:00 a.m. and I was pretty awake even though I had only slept about three hours that morning. There were snacks and waters provided on the shuttle. After about an 1 1/2 hour drive, we arrived at Snowhook Adventure Guides of Alaska. There were a few dogs roaming around on site. A guide told us that there were 53 dogs on the property and some of them were chained to keep them from tackling us when we walked up there (which I would not have minded at all). Our guide directed us to a nearby sled where we were told that we would get the chance to drive the sled, with a musher, on a 10 mile track they had set up on site. This was not something I was expecting, but was very excited to try. While the dogs were being gathered, we spent some time going around petting and playing with the dogs. When it was time to drive the sled, we were taught how to properly stand on it and how to use the brakes. The coolest thing about the tour was watching the dogs bark before we moved, but when they started to run all of the dogs went silent. It was peaceful to be on the back of the sled as the snow was coming down. I also found out that the musher who was driving the sled with me was just sixteen years old, which made me contemplate everything I’ve been doing with my last for the past ten years. After the 10 miles were up, we were told to pet the dogs as a “job well done” and as a “thank you” for their hard work.
Willow, Alaska
  • Immediately after the dog sled tour, our driver informed us that the Iditarod restart was happening literally right across the street from us and they could drive us to the race and back to our hotel for an extra fee. We decided that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity and told our tour guide that we were down to go. Once we parked, we were handed spikes to put on the bottom of our shoes and headed to where the race would begin. As it got closer to 2:00 p.m., the spectators lined up near the track. People went down the track as far as they could to get a good spot to see the racers; farther than I or my camera could pick up. There was an announcer that introduced each racer and after their introduction they set off with their sleds and their time started. Each sled team was introduced and began the race in 2 minute increments. It was interesting to hear about each musher’s home town and how they became interested in sled dog racing. Our tour guide, Steven, was also having a lot of fun taking pictures and trying to get closer to the track. After about 15 racers (out of a total of 57) went by, we decided to leave a bit early to beat the traffic. When we got out of the parking lot and on to the highway, there were still cars lined up waiting to get in to the parking lot.
Matanuska Glacier
  • My absolute favorite part of the trip was the Matanuska Glacier Winter tour through Greatland Adventures. Similar to the dog sledding tour, two different guides picked us up at our hotel. This time, multiple tourists were picked up from their respective hotels, rather than the three of us having the shuttle to ourselves. The shuttle was packed and our guides drove us 2 1/2 hours out of Anchorage to our destination: Sutton, Alaska. Since we were picked up early, around 7:50 a.m., the ride to the glacier was fairly quiet. There were plenty of snacks in the shuttle for everyone to munch on before we got to our tour destination. When we made it to the glacier, our tour guides asked us if we needed any snow gear. They had multiple bags piled in the back of the shuttle containing winter coats, gloves, hats, boots, and snow pants. Once everyone was bundled up, we received spikes to put on the end of our boots and we began the hike across the glacier. Mind you, this glacier is 27 miles long and we were only planning on hiking around 3 miles of it. We were informed to hike on the path made by the tour company in single file, because they want to keep the rest of the glacier as pristine as possible. Also, the ice shifts every single day, so the tour path continuously changes. Someone has to come out and check on the path every single morning to make sure that areas on the path are safe to hike. If they aren’t, a cone is put down near the area that tour groups need to stay away from. When we were walking on the glacier, we could hear all sorts of different sounds the ice made depending on how thick the ice was in that particular area. There was an instance we heard the ice crack and another instance where we heard a loud “WHUMP” that sounded like it came from way down below us. One of our tour guides mentioned that he wasn’t too worried about the sound, but he would have been more concerned if the sound had occurred while skiing on a mountain. Our tour guides were very informative and we learned about why some of the ice formations had different colors and why water would seep out of some areas of the ice. We were able to get up close and personal with the ice. We were able to go inside, crawl in, and climb up some of the ice caves and ice formations. We were also instructed to take our gloves off and touch the ice (which surprisingly did not feel that cold). It still baffles me that we were walking on a huge lake covered with ice and I had a hard time comprehending that in the next few months, as the temperature gets higher and summer gets closer, the glacier I saw that day would begin to melt and look completely different. There were many times, as I was taking pictures or videos, that I just stopped and looked around me. It was fairly quiet as we were walking around the glacier, so I couldn’t help but take in the scenery. I have never felt anything remotely close to this in my home state of Missouri, where I have been completely captivated by my surroundings. The Matanuska Glacier was beautiful to learn about and discover. Nature is truly spectacular.
Our tour guide showing us the overflow ice

I will never forget these experiences. They left me breathless and appreciative that I have the ability to travel to a place as alluring as Alaska. I am especially grateful for our wonderful tour guides from Greatland Adventures that were extremely accommodating and everyone in the area that gave us recommendations. The trip would not have been as easy or as fun to plan without them. It was also interesting to find out that many people from Alaska aren’t originally from the area, but have moved there from various parts of the United States. While I don’t imagine myself ever moving to Alaska, I can definitely see myself visiting again in the near future!

There were some things I was not able to do that I would love to do the next time I visit. I would have loved to see the Northern Lights or taken a kayak tour on the lake to get a different look at the glaciers or icebergs. Unfortunately there weren’t enough hours in the day to do everything we wanted. Hopefully I will get the chance to experience more things Alaska has to offer the next time I visit. Now that I’ve survived an Alaskan winter, I think at some point I need to see what an Alaskan summer has to offer.

Matanuska Glacier

Until the next adventure ✈️

A (Literal) Train Wreck in the Windy City

Fun Fact: A train hits a car every three hours. Our train was no exception.

Cindy’s Rooftop at the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel

A short trip to Chicago deserves a short blog post about the sights that were seen and the bars that were hopped, especially since the last time I visited the Windy City I was fairly young and only recall going to the American Girl Doll store. My aunt and uncle planned this trip as a surprise for my cousin Tony’s 21st birthday. Twelve of us woke up early Sunday morning (that 2:45am alarm was rough) and with our luggage, snacks, and some alcoholic beverages in tow, we were ready to embark on the train ride to Chicago.

After disembarking the train, gawking at how beautiful Chicago’s Union Station is (get it together St. Louis), checking in to the hotel, freshening up, and grabbing a quick bite at Jimmy Johns, we were ready to begin the birthday celebrations. Our first stop was Cindy’s Rooftop which is located at the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel. We took advantage of the unusual 50 degree December weather and sipped our drinks on the terrace which overlooked The Bean, Millennium Park, and Lake Michigan. After taking in the rooftop view and snapping a few pictures, we walked through Millennium Park and the Navy Pier until we stopped at the Billy Goat Tavern for a few beers.

When in Chicago, a deep dish pizza must be eaten. Heading back to the hotel to change, we decided to have dinner at Giordano’s. Each deep dish pizza at Giordano’s takes around 45 minutes to prepare. We placed our order in advance and stood around the bar until our table was ready. The restaurant was constantly bustling with people waiting for tables or trying to put orders in. The bar was not terribly packed and even though we were standing while drinking and chatting with each other, the wait for our table did not feel long. Though there were twelve of us, we were unable to finish off three delicious deep dish pizzas. My favorite was The Special stuffed with sausage, mushrooms, green peppers, and onions which paired nicely with a Bloody Mary. I also attempted a cheese pull, but I did not do it justice.

Apex Predator Farmhouse Ale at Dublin 4 Irish Pub and Cafe

With full bellies, we walked to Snickers Bar and Grill for some cheap beer. Since we all had woken up ridiculously early for the trip, the group broke up throughout the night to head back to the hotel to get some sleep. Tony, my sister and I stopped for a drink at the hotel restaurant, Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse. I had the El Train (recommended by the bartender since they no longer carried my first choice, Zombie Dust) which was a delicious IPA.

Not wanting to end the night early, Tony and I braved the rain and stopped at Dublin 4 Irish Pub and Cafe for a drink where I tried (and highly recommend) the Apex Predator Farmhouse Ale. The bartender overheard us discussing where to go next, and he suggested we hit up Mother Hubbard’s Sports Pub. He informed us that bars along W Hubbard Street were open till 2:00 a.m., while some even stay open till 4:00 a.m. Per the bartender’s advice, we took an Uber to Mother Hubbard’s and had a few drinks while Tony pulled up TouchTunes on his phone and proceeded to play Gloria for the bar to enjoy (Lets go Blues!). Down the street from Mother Hubbard’s was Howl at the Moon, showcasing live music and dueling pianos. The bar was packed with people dancing and singing along with the pianists. We ended our night there and jogged back in the rain to our hotel, a mere two hours earlier than the time we woke up to begin the journey to Chicago.

Starbucks Reserve Roastery

A somewhat hungover Monday morning wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the Starbucks Reserve Roastery, in which customers coast up four stories of escalators and stop off at their floor of choice to purchase their favorite coffee and breakfast items (even though there are a plethora of other Starbucks and independently owned coffee shops around the city that won’t leave you feeling claustrophobic). When we left, a line was forming outside that began to wrap around the building.

Monday was mainly spent shopping, which was ideal since the Windy City was taking full advantage of its nickname. A cold front had come in overnight bringing with it wind and some snow flurries. We strolled along the Magnificent Mile, stopping by stores that were two or more stories tall. At Bloomingdale’s, we stopped at Aster Hall on the 5th floor of the store which houses a unique food court. There are touch screens along the wall which are used to order the food you desire. There were many choices ranging from burgers, to sandwiches, to pizza, and even sushi. After changing my mind a million times, I chose to order chicken fried rice from Lost Lily’s. A receipt with my order number was printed out and I walked to find the Lost Lily’s area. Each restaurant in the food court had a screen which displayed order numbers that were in progress and order numbers that were ready to be picked up, making it easy for customers to find where their food was being made and when their meal be done. The portions were large, the fried rice was delicious, and I felt reinvigorated (and slightly less hungover).

The Signature Lounge was the next pit stop between our shopping excursion. The Signature Lounge is located on the 96th floor of the John Hancock building. We were able to snag one entire side of the bar and ordered drinks while taking in an immense view of the city. My aunt mentioned that one of the best views of Chicago can be found in the women’s restroom (sorry boys) and I did not pass up the opportunity to go in and take a few pictures. One Bloody Mary and a final glimpse of the city later and we were back to shopping, which gave me the opportunity to warm up as the temperature continued to drop outside. Before long, it was time to head back to the hotel to gather our belongings and begin the trip back to STL.

Rarely does a trip end without a bit of drama. About thirty minutes in to the train ride, some noises at the front of the train were heard and the emergency brakes were engaged. Over the intercom, the conductor notified the passengers that the train had hit a car and an investigation would have to be carried out before the trip could commence. After some time we were informed that there were no casualties and the car had been abandoned on the tracks. The mood on the train shifted and passengers became amicable, discussing what could have led to the accident. For the next few hours we were stuck on the train while the investigation was taking place and the engine was being assessed (I utilized the time by catching up on some true crime podcasts, of course).

Five hours of being stranded on the tracks and a few podcast episodes later, we were offered some good news: we would be making it to STL. However, the train had to go back to Chicago first. By the time our train was pulled back to Chicago, it was 1:00 a.m. If the trip had gone accordingly, we would have already been back in our beds passed out from the amount of walking we had done and drinks we had consumed. The five hour train ride had turned in to a thirteen hour debacle, finally arriving in STL around 8:45 a.m. Tuesday morning. While the train ride ended up being uncomfortable and unpredictable, it was interesting experiencing something that many people have only witnessed in movies or television. Thankfully no one was hurt, passengers were able to make it to their destinations, and I left Chicago and the train ride with a fascinating story to tell.

Until the next adventure ✈️

I Would Walk 500 Miles in Washington, DC

Girl’s trips are good for the soul

Traveling in a group and planning trips that work around everyone’s schedules can be tricky. My friends and I pledged to visit our friend Brooke, who is a traveling nurse, as much as we could throughout her travels. After much discussion, comparing schedules, and date changes, we finally found a date and destination that would work for the four of us for a quick girl’s trip: Washington, DC. Three days in DC was not enough to explore everything the city had to offer, but boy did we try.

Day 1

After a quick (albeit cramped) morning flight to the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (which is actually in Virginia, not Washington), my friend Brooke picked up my two friends Sarah S., Sarah L. and I and we embarked to DC. We were not able to check in to our AirBnB until later that afternoon, so we kept ourselves busy exploring the downtown area.

⁃ We were starving after the flight and stopped by Hamilton’s Bar and grabbed some grub. It’s a hidden brick-walled sports bar located behind some larger buildings. Our GPS told us to walk down an alley which had us slightly concerned until we saw an older gentleman walking the same way. They make some great sandwiches and serve a variety of craft beers.

⁃ We killed even more time by visiting the International Spy Museum. At this museum we received spy badges and were assigned an undercover mission. We also had a code name and a code word to complete tasks throughout the many floors of the museum. At first glance you would think this museum is geared towards children, but people young and old were traversing the museum, learning about spies throughout history, past and present. The International Spy Museum had an interesting mix of history and interactive qualities that kept me engaged the entire time we were there, which was about 3 hours (Yes you read that right, 3 hours!).

⁃ After checking in to our AirBnB and dropping our luggage off, we took an Uber to matchbox for some delicious wood-fired pizza. I would highly recommend the fire + smoke pizza if you enjoy your food with some kick to it!

⁃ After dinner we went to the DC Comedy Loft which is located inside the Bier Baron Tavern. Drink service was slow, but the comedians were entertaining. Every Monday the DC Comedy Loft holds an open mic night where aspiring comedians can test their jokes on a smaller audience. However, there is an “interrupter” who will cut the comedians off depending on whether the jokes are hitting or missing their mark. There is no charge to watch the comedy show and it was definitely one of my favorite surprise finds on the trip.

⁃ We ended our first night in DC at the Board Room Bar where different board games were shelved and could be played at no expense. Our friendships were tested that night as we decided to play a competitive game of Monopoly while trying some craft beers.

Day 2

Our second day consisted of walking. A LOT of walking.

⁃ Before exploring the National Mall we had brunch at Founding Farmers. We each ordered our own breakfast and split an order of beignets which were delightful and served with different dipping sauces.

⁃ After breakfast we walked around the National Mall and visited the different monuments and memorials. We saw the Washington Monument, the World War II Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Vietnam War Memorial. The World War II Memorial was beautiful and my favorite one to behold.

⁃ We then spent hours at the U. S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. If you ever have the opportunity to travel to Washington, DC you must visit this museum. The museum had multiple floors that flowed chronologically as it told the history of the Holocaust beginning with before Hitler rose to power to after World War II ended. I learned new information that I had never been taught in school and found it to be an enlightening experience.

⁃ After a lot of walking, we went to The Wharf which is home to different restaurants, bars, and an entertainment venue. We ate sandwiches at Grazie Grazie due to the short wait and the fact that we had a tour planned later that evening.

⁃ Our sandwiches were served quickly which left us with an hour to kill before our tour. We stopped by Cantina Bambina, an open-air bar overlooking the water. We each ordered some hot alcoholic drinks and sat on the outside patio next to a small fire pit which kept us comfortable until our Uber arrived.

– Our night ended with a walking ghost tour around Lafayette Square. The tour was less than a mile and a little less than an hour long. It featured eight stops in and around the park where our tour guide told us engaging ghost stories and the history of ghosts claimed to have been seen/experienced in and around the White House.

Day 3

Our third and final day in DC was bittersweet. We had barely scratched the surface of what DC had to offer and our legs were sore from the full day of walking and exploring the National Mall.

⁃ We ate breakfast at Open City where I had a Pickle Me Mary: a tasty bloody mary with pickle juice and pickle chips (where are all of my pickle lovers at?).

⁃ We then explored the National Museum of Natural History where an abundance of exhibits can be seen. Some of my favorite exhibits included: Human Origins; Fossil Hall; Outbreaks: Epidemics in a Connected World; Geology, Gems and Minerals; Insect Zoo; and Bones & Mummies. At the insect zoo I was able to hold the biggest grasshopper I had ever seen!

⁃ Our final stop of the trip was the National Museum of American History which also had multiple floors containing an array of exhibits. My favorite exhibits at this museum included: Food, World Wars, American Culture and Entertainment, and The First Ladies. The First Ladies exhibit contained dresses that the actual First Ladies wore during their time in the White House. It was fascinating to see how the styles changed throughout the years and what the First Ladies contributed during the time their husbands were in office. One exhibit also showcased a piece of the Berlin Wall which I found fascinating.

By the time we were dropped off at the airport and boarded our flight, our legs were sore and we were exhausted. Washington, DC had us constantly moving and wanting to see everything we possibly could. Even though we were only in DC for three days, we saw as much as we could in a short amount of time. It surprised me how massive the museums were and how we spent hours at a time at each one. Most museum pamphlets even had a section stating how long tourists typically spent there. The only downside I could note from this trip was the road construction. Some streets were blocked off with flimsy, hard to notice signs which made it difficult driving around DC, especially at night. I won’t forget the experiences I had on this trip and how sore my legs were after multiple days of sight seeing and walking around DC. Maybe next time I’m in DC I will try the subway.

Until the next adventure ✈️

Being Weird, Being Rude, Staying Alive in Indianapolis

True Life: I’m Obsessed with True Crime Podcasts

Clowes Memorial Hall at Butler University

When Crime Junkie came out with their live show tour schedule, I knew I couldn’t miss it. Their shows were limited and they were not making an appearance in Missouri, but that didn’t stop my friend and I from buying tickets to their Indianapolis show and embarking on a short, entertaining trip.

The show didn’t start until the evening, so we spent the morning and afternoon exploring downtown Indianapolis. First, we got our history fix and went to the Eiteljorg Museum. There was a small room showcasing Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) art and alters during the month of October. The alters were colorful and filled with different offerings such as food, tequila, pictures and sugar skulls. It was the perfect start to a spooky filled day. We also checked out the museum’s other exhibits showcasing Native American and American West artwork.

We used Lime scooters to quickly scout other parts of Indianapolis such as White River State Park and the Wholesale District. I would usually recommend Lime scooters as a quick and cheap way to get from place to place, but be warned. When we were riding through White River State Park and got off to take some pictures, the Lime app notified us that we could be fined for ending our ride there. Turns out there are many places in downtown Indianapolis (shown on the map in red) that you aren’t supposed to use or park Lime scooters. It was a headache to find a place to park our Lime scooters that wasn’t in a restricted area. We did not receive any fines, but it may be easier walking around downtown than risking a potential fine.

Wholesale District

Then it was show time! If you are a fan of Crime Junkie, you need to witness one of their live shows. Ashley and Brit made their show engaging and interactive by utilizing pictures, videos, and audio of the case they were talking about. The case they told was one I had never heard of and gave me full body chills multiple times. Since Indianapolis is where they started out, Ashley and Brit ended the show with a sneak peak of a video that no other show would have the opportunity to see. The show was amazing and the special preview of their future work made the experience even better.

Crime Junkie at Butler University

Our AirBnB was located in Broad Ripple, which was fairly close to Butler University where the show was being held. Being in a college town, we were walking distance from a strip filled with all sorts of bars and restaurants. After the show, we went to the Brick House Dueling Piano Bar. I have never been to a piano bar and this one blew my mind. The piano players were amazing and energetic. They played everything from Britney Spears to Journey to the Star Spangled Banner to Baby Got Back. Safe to say that Baby Got Back played on the piano was a sight to behold. After hours of drinking and listening to a range of genres played on the piano, we ended our night at Kilroy’s.

While we may not have seen everything Indianapolis had to offer, the college town vibe and night life of Broad Ripple was entertaining enough for a short trip. That was my first night in a while where I was out having fun past 2am. Next time I’m in Indianapolis, I would like to spend more time exploring downtown and experiencing downtown Indy’s night life. I’ve been told there is a bar called Patron Saint located in the basement of a Mexican restaurant with a ouija board on the ceiling and I have made it my goal to visit this bar at some point in my life.

White River State Park

Until the next adventure ✈️

The Allen’s Take on Coast Guard Week in Grand Haven, Michigan

Squeezing eleven people into one house is no small feat

The first thing I noticed about Michigan was how pleasant the weather was. I was in Grand Haven in late July through early August and the air was never turned on in the house my family and I were staying in. The windows were left open throughout the day which was able to keep all of us in the house (eleven people at one point) comfortable. Some mornings were cooler than others and I would need to put on a sweatshirt until it was warm enough to lay out on the beach. Being from Missouri where humidity is the norm, the cooler weather in Michigan was a nice change.

Not much sightseeing was had on this trip, but I was able to relax before my job started back up with the new school year. Many days were spent at the beach which was just a few steps away from the house. Now Lake Michigan Beach is not like other beaches and here’s why:

⁃ The weather is so nice and there’s usually a breeze which makes it hard to notice if you’re getting a sun burn until it’s too late. Either bring a hat, an umbrella to set up later for coverage, or continuously reapply sunscreen! My family and I would stay at the beach for hours at a time and I did not always reapply sunscreen (whoops).

⁃ The water is cold. Like, really cold. Like so cold my cousin swam out to a buoy, took breaks during his swim and by the time he swam back to shore he was out of breath and physically drained. If you’re fine with cold water then this probably won’t bother you. Since I despise the cold I spent most of my time laying out on the beach.

Coast Guard Week was taking place when we stayed in Grand Haven. Different events were happening throughout the area and a huge carnival was

set up. It was fun to walk around, people watch and take part in the events. There was a band of clowns that played outside of a bar (I’m not joking and I wish I was) that attracted quite a few people. You could even take a tour of a U. S. Coast Guard ship.

My favorite part of the trip had to be bar hopping around Grand Haven with my cousin and checking out the night life. The bars and restaurants we went in to served drinks and food items that were unique and delicious. At one bar, a Coast Guardsman named Jillian walked up to the bar on a mission, roller skates slung over her shoulder, and asked the bartender for a shot of vodka. After ordering her shot, Jillian glanced at us and asked if we wanted one as well. I graciously accepted and she sprung up conversation with us about being in the Coast Guard and where she was from. After that my cousin and I went to a few more places before calling it a night.

Visiting Grand Haven was the recharge I was craving. Spending time laying out at the beach and walking around the town was a relaxing end to the summer. I was not able to see the sand dunes or Mackinac Island, however, so I think another trip to Michigan will be necessary in the future.

Not Your Average Bachelorette Party

You know you’re in a small town when you go to a restaurant and the servers’ shirts say Where the Hell is Utica, Illinois?

I’m sure many places come to mind when someone says they are going on a trip for a bachelorette party. Utica, Illinois probably isn’t one of them. Twelve sorority sisters embarked on a 4 hour drive to a small town in Illinois. None of us had a clue where we were going, but we were excited for a change of pace.

Utica, Illinois is not your typical bachelorette party destination. It’s a small town with a few bars, restaurants and local stores where fresh snacks and treats can be purchased (the gourmet popcorn shop was a favorite stop). So what did this small town have to offer a group of girls celebrating their friend’s last month and a half before she says “I do?”

Starved Rock State Park

Utica, Illinois is home to a plethora of state parks and hiking trails. We chose to hike at Starved Rock State Park one morning. The huge parking lot was full of cars and people gearing up to go on their respective hikes around the park. We hiked for a few hours, but did not come close to exploring the entirety of the park. Kayaking was another fun (and my personal favorite) activity we had been looking forward to. The drive to the kayak rental was 30 minutes from our lodge and the fee was $60 a person. The experience was well worth the drive and cost. The river was slow moving which made for a relaxing and easy float. We spent almost an entire day on the river and we were tired (and, for some of us, a bit sunburnt) after the journey. The river was not crowded at all which was also a plus!

One of the waterfalls at Starved Rock State Park. The best time to see the waterfalls are in action is in the spring.

Besides spending time outdoors, we went to a wine tasting room and hung out at the lodge catching up and playing games. The WiFi at the lodge and in town was fairly weak, which allowed us to enjoy the outdoors and our time celebrating the bride-to-be without constantly being on our phones.

August Hill Winery Tasting Room

If you are in need of an escape from your daily routine or want to unplug for a few days, Utica, Illinois is the place to go. This small town is full of kind people and an abundance of outdoor excursions and adventures to be had. No cellphone required.

Grapes and Ghosts in KC

A haunted winery? Sold.

Fun fact: I’m obsessed with anything paranormal and true crime. I love visiting haunted areas and going on spooky tours. I’ve also recently been introduced to paranormal and true crime podcasts. One in particular, called And That’s Why Drink, had an episode that discussed the history and hauntings at the Belvior Winery and Inn in Kansas City. I had listened to this episode as I was planning a trip to visit a friend in Kansas City. I told my friends about the winery and everyone was intrigued and wanted to check it out some time during our trip.

The Belvior Winery and Inn happened to be my favorite part of the weekend (not surprising really). My friends and I got to try some amazing wine and explore the area. There were many rooms in the winery to explore and there were many buildings on the property that were run down and no longer in use.

We could not go inside those buildings, but that didn’t stop us from exploring around the buildings, peeking our heads in, and attempting to catch some paranormal activity. We even found a ouija board and tried using it to conjure some spirits (no spooky things happened unfortunately).

Now I haven’t been to many wineries, but it’s safe to say that this is the only winery I have been to with a skeleton on display.

I would highly recommend listening to the And That’s Why We Drink podcast episode titled And That’s Why We Drink Wine (& Crime)! The Crossover Episode to hear about the history of the winery and the paranormal sightings reported by guests and workers. Also, the Belvior Winery and Inn has a paranormal investigation team come in on Fridays year round where the public can purchase tickets to learn more about the history of the winery and follow the team as they do a night time investigation of the property. I may need to make another trip to KC and experience an actual paranormal investigation (and hit up some more BBQ joints while I’m at it)!

Let me know what spooky destinations I should go to next!