Florida Travel Itinerary: Part Two of a 10 Day Roadtrip to the Sunshine State

Florida Travel Itinerary: Where to Find Part One

If you are looking for a high-energy Florida travel itinerary that incorporates nature, history, and modern entertainment, this is the Florida road trip planner you are looking for. However, this is Part Two! You can find the first three days in the Part One of the Florida Itinerary.

Day Four: Dry Tortugas National Park

(1) Expedition Dry Tortugas

Florida travel itinerary

(c) ABR

Dry Tortugas National Park consists of a large, hexagonal fortress built on a small key that is still home to a unique ecosystem of low-lying plants and a vibrant assemblage of birds. Visitors can either spend a day on the island, or pay for a camping permit. I went for the day trip option, as I had a packed schedule, but camping on Dry Tortugas will give you the chance to experience the isolated little island at night.

In either case, visiting Dry Tortugas has an massive fort, swimming in the tropical waters surrounding the island, and hiking. All of these will give you the chance to explore a place that is really unlike any other in the world so it is a must-have for any Florida travel itinerary.

Florida travel itinerary

(c) ABR

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Florida Roadtrip Itinerary Part One: Seeing the Sights with Limited Time

This Florida roadtrip itinerary is designed for high energy travelers who want to pack alot of sight-seeing into a relatively short period of time. I also like to prioritize checking out national park units and exploring novel environments as I move around. This itinerary can be easily adjusted if you have more time, but will generally excite roadtrippers who love getting a dose of nature and history when they travel.

Day One: Get a Taste of History in Jacksonville

(1) Arrival

Plan on arriving into Jacksonville as early on this day as you can manage. This will give you more time to explore if you are strapped for time. If you can afford to make your itinerary a day longer, you might also consider giving yourself two days here. One to arrive and one to explore the city a little. Jacksonville is surprisingly vibrant and large for those unfamiliar with the area.

(2) Visit Fort Caroline National Monument/Timucuan Preserve

florida roadtrip

(c) ABR

The Fort Caroline National Monument and Timucuan Preserve in combination will give you the opportunity to learn more about the history and ecology of the northern, coastal area of Florida. You should start at the visitor center, which can be found at 12713 Fort Caroline Road, Jacksonville, FL 32225. They are open seven days a week from 9:00A-5:00P and entrance to both parks is FREE.

The star of the Fort Caroline show is, of course, the fort itself. This is a particularly unique place in respect to the other forts of the Caribbean region (and there are many), because Fort Caroline is a simple, wooden fort. It harkens back to an earlier colonial time than most of its cousins. Fort Caroline will give you insight into some of the deeper past of the region than you can get elsewhere. This National Monument also has some information on the local indigenous people that inhabited this area at the time that European immigrants first started arriving. The long human use for the Jacksonville area was a poignant indicator for me of just how important this area has been for people over time. It’s rivers, shores, and forests have long served as sources of wealth, places of transportation and trade, and shelter from the oft-stormy waters of the Caribbean and Atlantic.

florida roadtrip

(c) ABR

With these things in mind, the Timucuan Preserve serves as a great partner to Fort Caroline on your Florida roadtrip as visiting here will give you the opportunity to explore and experience some of Florida’s beautiful natural landscapes. This is something that people often overlook in this state, north of the Everglades, but the forests are a strange and unique mix of tropical, coastal and dryland plants. They should not be missed by any hikers, birders, or nature-lovers among you. There is also a nice selection of trails in this area, allowing for a range of trips from short walks to easy day hikes.

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Disneylands galaxys edge

All You Need To Know About Exploring Disneyland’s Galaxy’s Edge

Why You Should Be Excited About Galaxy’s Edge

Disneyland’s Galaxy’s Edge open in 2019, and it seemed like the jury was out on the new addition to the park for the first few months. Was it worth the cost of admission? Was the food good? The blue milk weird? And were the new characters enough to bring the world to life? The answer to all of these things is YES, and you need to visit to see just how amazing this place is.

For Lucas Star Wars Fans

I’m what I refer to as a “Lucas” Star Wars fan, because I love the universe of Star Wars that was developed while George Lucas still owned his own franchise. I am honestly not a huge fan of what Disney has been creating for this science fiction staple. But nonetheless, I loved Galaxy’s Edge.

Even if you don’t like Disney’s new movies, Disneyland’s Galaxy’s Edge will make you feel like you’ve finally entered the world of Star Wars. It really was like a dream come true and I couldn’t get enough of it. In typical Disney fashion, they hit this place out of the park from the smallest detail to the largest. The buildings were amazing, and the food was fascinating. The lightsaber building experience was surprisingly emotional. I thought all of the cast members in Galaxy’s Edge were really great as well.

For Disney Star Wars Fans

I think it goes without saying, but I will say it. If you are a Disney Star Wars fan, Disneyland’s Galaxy’s Edge will have everything that you love! You’ve got the universe, you’ve got all the great characters from the movies, and more! You are really in for a treat if you love the newest movies.

Disneylands galaxys edge

(c) ABR 2019

For People Who Aren’t Star Wars Fans At All

You don’t need to be a Star Wars fan in order to enjoy Disneyland’s Galaxy’s Edge. If you love all of the environments that Disney creates, you will appreciate this corner of the park. Disney is in true form when it comes to this new addition. If you listen to the ambient sounds you will be hearing an alien world. If you are a plant connoisseur, you will notice that each piece of flora was selected for its beautiful and yet otherworldly forms. The buildings have a science fiction quality that is carried over into the gift shops and restaurants. It is truly a unique experience that any Disneyland fan will enjoy exploring over the years.

Getting into Disneyland’s Galaxy’s Edge

Disneyland's Galaxy's Edge

(c) ABR 2019

When Galaxy’s Edge first opened, there were a few hoops that you had to jump through in order to get in. Now, however, I can tell you that Disneyland’s version is fully open. So you don’t need to worry about reserving a time to enter or any time limits to how long you can stay in the area.

Just walk right in!

You will, however, need reservations to get a lightsaber or go to Oga’s Cantina. More details on that below.

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The Un-Planner’s Guide to Seeing the Sights in San Francisco

Un-planner reporting for duty! I’ve been to San Francisco a couple times when I was younger, but this last trip was the first time I really had a chance to check out the city for myself. As I always say, travel tastes vary, but here’s a handful of things I enjoyed during my visit and hopefully you will, too!

Sights:

Dolores Park – Dolores St &, 19th St, San Francisco, CA 94114

I only took a stroll through Dolores Park, but if you can find a spot on a sunny day, it would be a great place to lounge and picnic. Pet-friendly, but also has a part of the park separated for those who want some peace from pets. Plus, at the top of the  park’s hill, you can get a great view of the city.

Downtown

I didn’t spend a ton of time in downtown San Francisco, mostly just walking through to get to other destinations. However, if you’re a fan of old buildings/architecture, they have some beautiful ones to look at.

Plus, you’re not too far from the Orpheum Theatre if you want to see a show. Or, The Embarcadero if you’re itching to see the bay.

The Embarcadero – Along the City’s Eastern Shoreline

The Embarcadero has plenty of things to see along its numerous piers, including the famous (or infamous) Fisherman’s Wharf. You’ll recognize the Ferry Building when you see its iconic clock tower – a building that’s both a marketplace and an outlet that leads to actual bay ferries.

Sausalito – Across the Golden Gate Strait

Out behind the Ferry Building, you can take a 15-ish minute ferry ride to Sausalito – a sleepy little city on the bay. (Remember that Clipper card? Only $8 to take the ferry!). On this particular ferry ride, we rode through a bit of chilly fog only to be rewarded with a picturesque view of it rolling down the Sausalito hillside in late afternoon sun. I only spent a short time there, but it seems a good place to relax and eat a quiet meal before you either take the ferry back (if it’s early enough in the day) or drive across the Golden Gate bridge.

Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park is absolutely enormous park – over 1,000 sprawling acres. Entrance to the park itself is free, but it’s chock full of attractions like the Botanical Garden, Conservatory of Flowers, California Academy of Sciences and more that have paid admission. I only had time to visit the Botanical Garden, which was still a good couple of hours of strolling.

I honestly think I could have spent most of my vacation here, visiting a new part of the park each day. I look forward to being able to explore more of Golden Gate on my next trip.

Dutch Windmill/Land’s End

At the north end of  Golden Gate Park, you’ll find the old Dutch Windmill. No longer functional, but still worth a look for its impressive size and the various colorful flora surrounding it. It’s about 6-minute drive or a 45-minute to an hour walk from the Botanical Garden to the Dutch Windmill (we opted to ride share). When you’ve had your fill of the windmill, you basically walk right across the street to the beach.

If you keep walking north up the hill, you’ll find the Camera Obscura. Which is exactly what it sounds like – a large camera obscura. I didn’t enter the Camera Obscura (just a small fee or $2 or $3 admission, I think) or keep walking further still to the Land’s End recreation trail, because I was getting hungry and a search for food prevailed. (If you are looking for a bit of hiking, Land’s End has trails and pretty views.)

Travel Tips:

  • Pack your bag for weather that really can’t decide whether it wants to be warm or cold. If you’re visiting in late summer, like I did, you could see some warm, sunny days that turn quickly to grey fog (thanks to the actual fog rolling in, lovingly named Karl – no really, Karl the Fog even has its own Twitter).
  • Try not to drive, if you can help it. Not only are some streets terrifyingly hilly if you’re not used to parking/driving on steep hills, but the traffic seems to move pretty slowly (especially downtown or during rush hour).
  • Use public transportation, instead! The BART, bus system and streetcars are pretty reliable and if you get a Clipper card, you can use it to pay for basically all major public transport and not have to try to get cash/change together to pay for each ride. (The Clipper is reloadable and you can get one at a BART station.)
  • Speaking of BART stations, there is one right outside the SFO airport, if you want a convenient and inexpensive (only a $9 ride!) option of getting to and from the airport.

Well, that’s a little slice of San Francisco for ya. Looking forward to the next adventure!

A Pin-ny for Your Thoughts

 

Things to Do in Phoenix in the Summer: 12-Hour Travel Challenge

About the 12-Hour Travel Challenge

The goal of the 12-Hour Challenge is to explore new places throughout the Phoenix-Metro area. Specifically, our first challenge forced us to discover new things to do in Phoenix in the Summer. For each one, we define a distinct area within which we have to limit our explorations, based on the different boundaries between cities. We also avoid hiking during the challenge, in Phoenix at least, because we are working on in-depth guides to the trails in the area.

For our debut challenge, we limited ourselves to activities in Central Phoenix. Mapped below with the help of Google.

things to do in phoenix in the summer

The Search for Breakfast

The day began with a search for some of the best restaurants in Central Phoenix. We planned to have our morning start with a hearty breakfast at the Original Breakfast House, but unfortunately, our 9 a.m. start time ruled that option out. Despite its unassuming location, the OBH is VERY popular in the area, and waiting visitors were filling the patio by the time we arrived. With no time to spare, we decided to try an alternative option. (Tip: If you do visit OBH, they are a cash-only establishment.)

Oink Cafe

4326 E Cactus Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85032

Oink Cafe is one of R. and my favorite places to get breakfast in Central Phoenix. This little place is located in a strip mall next to a Target and REI. They specialize in bacon (surprise, surprise), and giving one of their bacon flights a try is real fun. The flavors aren’t crazy, just really savory and delicious. Any of them are available for pairing with a regular breakfast meal as well, and you can even enjoy a bacon donut from the bar. I usually enjoy one of their waffles.

With its slight cinnamon/vanilla flavor, these sweet breakfast treats are some of the best in the city. This time, however, I opted for the Oink French Toast, which turned out to be more of a challenge than I expected.

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The Un-Planner’s Guide to Surviving San Diego Comic-Con (When You Don’t Have a Ticket)

Q: What do you do when you accidentally take a trip to San Diego during one its busiest events of the year (i.e. San Diego Comic-Con)?

A: You use all your Un-Planner skills to find out ways to have fun, even without a ticket.

Free SDCC Shenanigans

Even if you don’t have tickets to San Diego Comic-Con, there’s still a ton of fun stuff to get into downtown. Plenty of the entertainment networks and companies that are hosting events inside of the convention center also are hosting activities outside for free!

Me, gazing adoringly upon one of my favorite no-nonsense TV characters, Captain Holt.

They had plazas with giveaways and games to play, a karaoke bus, an axe-throwing club, stand-up comedy shows and more! It all just depended on what you wanted to to and how long you were willing to stand in a line.

Tips for More Fun and Less Frustration:

  1. If you hate crowds or waiting in line, this is uh… probably not for you. Organizers seem to have this down to a science though, because the lines move pretty quickly.
  2. If you want to do an event or activity that has limited hours, they’re not joking when they tell you to show up early. We showed up to something at noon that was already booked until it was closing THREE hours later.
  3. If you want to avoid steep parking fees and traffic, rideshare/cab your way downtown. Or, if you are driving, use a parking app to pre-pay for parking downtown. If you don’t mind walking an extra ten minutes toward the convention center, the parking garages and lots are basically half the price of those closer.
  4. Maybe this tip is obvious, but if you’re meeting people downtown, don’t make them try to find you in the crowds. I thought the Coin-Op Game Room bar and arcade was a pretty good meeting place for those 21+. It was easy to find and being farther away from Comic-Con made it way less crowded.
  5. This is less of a tip and more of a helpful suggestion for food, especially in the packed Gaslamp Quarter. Cafe 21 has plenty of seating and killer happy hour (just look at this precious fondue board).

If you find need a break from all the fanfare, may I suggest these activities/places:

The Balboa Theatre

If you enjoy the theater (or even funky architecture – the building was built in 1924!), check out what’s going on at the Balboa Theatre. We saw a live podcast show here and it was both an entertaining and relaxing end to our day.

Convoy Street

About 15 minutes from downtown (without traffic), in the Kearny Mesa area, there is an amazing cluster of Asian restaurants and shops along Convoy Street. Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese food – you name it, it seems to be there.

Tip: Once again, parking can get kind of dicey here. So either rideshare/cab it to the area or if you’re driving, you might have some luck parking in the complex that Mitsuwa Marketplace is in and then walking from there.

Here are a couple popular places that I visited that I really enjoyed:

Mitsuwa Marketplace

I wish we had a Japanese grocery store like this in Arizona! In addition to Asian grocery and beauty items it would be hard to find in most stores in the U.S., they also have five little restaurant/food stands inside.

We grabbed some tasty ramen bowls at Santouka Ramen – there were a ton of different options and combos to choose from. I got my usual Shoyu.

Tip: This stand is cash only.

Somi Somi/Sul & Beans

Somi Somi and Sul & Beans are two excellent Korean dessert establishments in one building. We ate Somi Somi, which has soft serve and taiyaki (a fish-shaped cake with filling). Or you can go nuts and get the soft serve IN the fish-shaped cone with a filling.

Matcha and black sesame soft serve in a goldfish waffle cone with Nutella filling. Honestly, can you believe this thing?

Hillcrest Farmers Market

If you really want to wind down your weekend, it’s worth taking a trip out the Hillcrest Farmers Market.  The market is open every Sunday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Normal Street. Here you can take in some live music, check out the craft stalls and of course, enjoy a wide variety of food from their many vendors.

Veggie dumplings and BBQ pork bun from House of Bao.

See? Even if you don’t make it into Comic-Con, there’s plenty to do! (But maybe next time, I’ll plan ahead. Maybe.)

Until We Meet Again,
Katie

In My Humble O-PIN-nion

Fourth of July Fireworks in NYC (How to Not Lose Your Mind, Save Money & Actually Have a Good Time)

Just like the Thanksgiving Parade, Macy’s annual Fourth of July fireworks show in New York City are, as you might have guessed, kind of a big deal. And definitely something worth seeing at least once in your lifetime, in my humble opinion. But Katie, you ask me, with eight million (in 2017) New York City residents and roughly 65 MILLION tourists a year, how am I even going to see the dang things?

Well, for one, most of the locals don’t seem to want to battle traffic, crowds and tourists. So that just leaves… you to do it. But, if you consider some of my tips I’m about to lay out here, I think you’ll have an easier time navigating the hubbub and will actually – gasp – HAVE A GOOD  TIME.

 

Tips for a Fun Fourth Fireworks Experience

  1. It’s freeeeeeeeeeeeeee. That is, if you go to the fireworks viewing stations that are laid out specifically for the event. (Plenty of hotels and other venues were offering rooftop views for $$$.)
  2. Speaking of viewing stations, if the event for the year is on the East River or centered on the Brooklyn Bridge (like this year’s) and they have stations on Manhattan side and Brooklyn – PICK BROOKLYN. Pros for the Brooklyn view based on our experience:
    1. Brooklyn Bridge Park had multiple piers to view the fireworks so it was never too crowded.
    2. It’s a park! Easier to keep the kids occupied when there’s space to run around and basketball courts to play on.
    3. There are actually places to sit. Turf on the ground, benches, tables, etc.
    4. Last but not least, there are BATHROOMS. I mean, nothing fancy,  just port-a-potties, but at least it’s something. Complaints from relatives who were on the Manhattan side was that there wasn’t an easily accessible bathroom anywhere.
  3. Continuing the pro-Brooklyn for fireworks viewing thread, you can get there pretty easily by subway. It’ll be much cheaper and faster than attempting to rideshare, especially with traffic.
  4. When they say get there at least a couple hours before show time, they mean it. You’ll get a better seat if you get there early, plus when the pier stations started reaching capacity, they started closing off the entrances for safety reasons. IMPORTANT NOTE: They are SUPER serious about safety, so if police/security has closed off an entrance and you’re thinking about leaving an area, check with them to make sure you can get back in. 
  5. I’m sure you already know this, but it bears repeating – cell service can (and DID) get spotty when there’s crowds around so always know where your people are at and stick together!

Things to Bring (Or Wear)

Keeping in mind that they did a quick bag check when we were walking to Brooklyn Bridge Park, I think I still would have wanted to come a little better prepared with  the things below.

  1. Food! Double check what’s allowed at the viewing stations (I just searched for the event at Brooklyn Bridge Park on the Googs and found a super helpful guide), but it seems like most food and drink is welcome EXCEPT for alcohol. Some people brought snacks, some families made a huge event of it complete with serving trays, coffee carafes, etc. There also are usually a bunch of vendors outside the area selling food and beverages.
  2. Something to sit on! People brought chairs and blankets to relax on, or even a jacket will do.
  3. Games! Maybe a deck of cards to help pass the time before the show starts.
  4. Comfy clothes and shoes. It’s July – so most likely, it’s going to be humid during the day. And if you’ve chosen to take the train and walk to the viewing stations, you’ll want to do so in comfort.

Why I Enjoyed the Show (And Am Pushing the Brooklyn Side So Hard)

Despite my hesitation and worries about how difficult it might be to see the fireworks, it was actually a wonderful time. Getting to Brooklyn Bridge Park was easy and so was getting swept up in all the excitement. Kids ran around laughing with their friends and waved at helicopters flying by. People ‘ooh-ed’ and ‘ahh-ed’ at the FDNY boats spraying red, white and blue water streams for their hoses. Everyone settled in close to showtime as breezy air from the water cooled down the area. Then, the Brooklyn Bridge lit up in a shower of pyrotechnic sparks signaling the start of the show with huge barges now launching huge bursts of color into the NYC skyline.

Anyway, you don’t have to take my word for it. Try it for yourself! But keep these tips in mind so you can stress less.

See ya next time travelers!
Katie

In Case You Find This Pin-Teresting

A Guide to History & Hiking in Napa Valley & Sonoma

hiking in napa valley

(c) ABR 2019

Napa Valley is a mecca for wine lovers the world over, but what about those of us who find themselves in or invited to a trip to the Valley who aren’t so interested in that wine-life experience? What is there to do in Napa besides wine tasting? Well, I’m here to tell you that there is plenty to do in Napa Valley for everyone. In particular, I would like to share three of my favorite places for hiking in Napa Valley, along with a weekend-length itinerary for anyone interested in having a unique outdoor and cultural experience in this area. Feel free to use this guide as an inspiration for your own weekend in Napa or just as a short list of places that we loved in the area.

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Escape the Napa Vineyards at Denman Ranch with Cider, Aperitif, Sparkling Mead and More

Everyone goes to Napa, California for wine. And really, how could you not? It is wine country, after all. The vineyards are unbelievably beautiful and an almost endless assortment of wines to sample. But if you are like us, you will eventually tire of all the wine, or you may have gone to Napa for reasons other than wine (maybe a friend’s birthday, perhaps… or wanting to see Jack London’s house). In either case, a place called Denman Ranch in Penngrove, CA is the place for you! They’ve got some absolutely tasty beverages for tasting, and just as importantly, very friendly faces.

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Explore the Washington DC Monuments and More

washington dc monuments

There are so many amazing Washington DC Monuments, parks, and attractions in the DC area that it can be hard to narrow down what you’d like to do. At the same time, the Mall is the primary section of the city that tourists flock to. This guide will help you both narrow down the locations that you’d like to see, as well as help you plan for an in-depth itinerary that will allow you to thoroughly explore the United States capital. In particular, national park service geeks will appreciate the focus of this guide. Anyone collecting stamps will amass a new section of their collection following our itinerary.

Day 1: Museums and the Washington DC Mall

Stretching from the Lincoln Memorial to the State Capitol building, the Mall is the most famous part of Washington DC. If you take the time to stroll from one end to the other you will pass by most of the Smithsonian museums, the White House, and many Washington DC monuments.

washington dc monuments

If you start at the State Capitol, and head east, you can begin your day with the Smithsonian museum that is most interesting to you. I always love to visit National Museum of Natural History. As an environmental scientist, I find all of the massive collections and endless opportunities to learn more about the nature of Earth fascinating. My inner space nerd also really enjoys the National Air and Space Museum. But you honestly can’t go wrong with any of these, as they are all free.

After spending the first part of the morning in the museums, snap a picture of the beautiful Smithsonian Castle, and then work your way out into the memorial section of the mall.

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