A Visit to the U.S. Botanic Gardens

Just a short walk from the Capitol Building, the U.S. Botanic Gardens might be one of my new favorite (non-restaurant) spots in DC. Compared to the rest of the buildings and museums on the National Mall, it’s certainly not the most popular but for a Floridian missing greenery and palm trees in the wintertime, it’s the perfect place.

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I had a shoot with a friend a few days ago, and I had some extra time to snap a few shots in the gardens beforehand. I grew up gardening with my grandfather so I love plants in general, but The Tropics section of the conservatory was by far my favorite. Beautiful light, lots of amazing palms to take you away from the fact that it’s 30 degrees outside, and best of all, it’s WARM! Walk up the stairs to the mezzanine level for the best views.

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A Day at L’Academie de Cuisine

Earlier this year I spent the day at L’Academie de Cuisine, a professional culinary and pastry arts school just outside of D.C. in Maryland. The school needed new photos for their website, and invited me to spend the day at their campus shooting a few different culinary classes, pastry classes, and a cooking competition (similar to Chopped) that took place among their Phase 2 students. These students are in the advanced kitchen training portion of their education, and it was pretty incredible to watch them work their way around the kitchen.

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More photos are over at the L’Academie website!

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Los Angeles Recap

This post is a long time coming. To say I’m a fan of LA is a gross understatement. We loved every minute of our time there, and do really hope to live in California one day in the future. I think the city gets a bad rap sometimes, but we really found everyone to be warm and friendly, and it really is one of the most beautiful cities in the U.S.

We stayed in a few different neighborhoods during our trip (Santa Monica, Hollywood and Beverly Hills), and then ventured out to a few other areas during the day. We had some fantastic food in Echo Park and Koreatown, but I have to say, I just love being by the ocean in Santa Monica and Venice so much. On our last day there, we drove out to Malibu which is something I’ve always wanted to do. The Pacific Coast Highway is every bit as beautiful as I imagined, and we spent the afternoon on the pier having lunch and watching surfers. Perfection!

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EAT:
– Night + Market Song – This was my favorite meal in LA, and we stumbled upon it by accident a couple of hours before our flight home. Easily the best Thai food I’ve had outside of Thailand.
– Animal – We went for brunch, and it was just beyond fantastic. Really creative, fresh dishes. We heard reservations can get tough, but we arrived right when they opened, and had no issues.
– Ostrich Farm – It’s just beautiful and bright in here which I really love. Had a great sparkling rose and shared a snack. I wish we could have gone back for brunch.
– Pine & Crane – Inexpensive, and really delicious. We grabbed some dumplings, and chilled out here for a couple of hours.

DRINK: 
– The Black Cat – We stopped in here for a happy hour, and they made a really wonderful Aperol spritz (my favorite cocktail) so I was sold!
– Cafe Stella – Close to the Black Cat, Cafe Stella churns out some really well-made cocktails. The patio is tiny but really nice if you can snag a spot.
– The Frolic Room – This place is a little bizarre, but in the best way. It’s a no frills, old Hollywood type place that sells cheap beer, and hasn’t really changed in the past few decades.
– Good Times at Davey Wayne’s – This was such a cool spot with a great 70s vibe. It was such a great mix of people which I really loved.

SEE/DO:
– Griffith Observatory – Worth a visit every time. The views are just so perfect, and you can’t help but love LA when you’re up there.
– Malibu – Again, worth it to take the time to drive over, especially if you’re into the beach.
– The Getty – Admittedly, I didn’t get a chance to go this time around but I’m dying to visit next time around, and thought I’d include it.
– Venice Fishing Pier – I’m a sucker for all things ocean related, but this pier was my absolute favorite. The view of Venice from the end is to die for.

Final tip? We’ve always been told what a driving/car-centric city LA is. Save for renting a Zipcar to get to Malibu, we Ubered everywhere, and found it to be way cheaper and easier than renting a car. We talked to a few locals, and found that more and more people are opting for public transit/Uber.

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Caribbean Adventures

When booking our trip, we wanted to make sure that we selected an itinerary that included as many ports as possible. We’ve never spent a great deal of time in the Caribbean so why not see as many different islands and ports, right? On our journey on the Carnival Breeze, we had stops in St. Maarten, Antigua, St. John, and the Dominican Republic. In each port, we had a very different experience, but from spotting planes in St. Maarten to kayaking in the Dominican Republic, we had a fantastic time exploring each of our beautiful Caribbean stops.

 It was so incredible to experience all four of these places on one trip. Logistically, I can’t imagine planning a trip to all these separate spots on my own so I was more than thankful we were cruising! It really allowed us to maximize our time enjoying ourselves vs. worrying about transportation, lodging, and how to get to the next location. Easy as can be!

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Today, I’m sharing some of what we did in each port, general tips, and what our favorite spots to explore were on each island.

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For our first stop, we dropped anchor in St. Maarten where there are both Dutch and French sides of the island. Full disclosure: this was the stop I was most excited for, and it did not disappoint at all. Just a 15 minute walk away from the port is a great shopping area in downtown Phillipsburg that we enjoyed walking through, but we had our hearts set on traveling to Maho Beach (on a different part of the island) to see the famous plane landings at Princess Juliana International Airport, located just beyond the beach area.

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I’ve seen photos of the plane landings online for year, and I’ve always wanted to see them in person so we couldn’t have asked for a better first stop. We took an inexpensive local bus to Maho, and despite our apprehensions about finding the right bus, it could not have been easier. We got to the beach in about 30­-40 minutes, grabbed some snacks and drinks, and found a good patch of sand to settle into.

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Planes flew in fairly regularly, and words can’t even describe what an incredible experience it was. There was so much excitement about seeing the planes all across the beach, and just the idea of seeing a plane fly just a few hundred feet overhead is pretty wild. We made some great friends on the beach, and really had to tear ourselves away to make it back to the boat in time.

After our experience in St. Maarten on the first day, we opted for a more quiet time in Antigua at Dickenson Bay. In contrast with our previous day, Antigua was low key with very few people on the beach, and definitely no plane landings. It was a quick ride from the port, and home to the most perfect turquoise waters I’ve ever seen.

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On any trip, it’s always good to have a good mix of active days, and more relaxing ones so we tried to make sure we did a good job varying it up. There were a few different local spots along the beach at Dickenson Bay if you’re looking for a bite to eat, and if you’re not one to relax in the sand for more than an hour or two, there’s also the option to take a horse ride right on the shore.

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From Antigua, we made the short journey to St. John, part of the U.S. Virgin Islands. There are a lot of different beaches in St. John to choose from, and we definitely had a difficult time figuring out which we’d like best. In the end, we settled on Coki Beach which was a quick cab ride away from the ship’s port. We were hoping for a beach that had snorkel rentals, beautiful scenery, and one that didn’t feel too cramped. Though we heard that Coki can get crowded at times, it wasn’t bad at all, and it could not have been easier to rent a chair and get a good spot right by the water. As the day went on, things definitely got a bit more lively so try to get there early if you want to get a good spot.

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The same person that helped us with the chair rental handled our snorkel rentals (how easy is that?) so after a traditional island lunch consisting of fresh fish, we set off in the water with our gear. At the end of Coki Beach is the Coki Dive Center so we were excited for the sea life we’d be able to see, and luckily there was quite a bit out there to look at. Snorkeling and scuba enthusiasts will absolutely love this spot.

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Though we had explored each of the other three ports on our own, for our final spot in the Dominican Republic we opted for one of the planned excursions to La Casa En La Playa, a beachside getaway complete with kayaks, snorkels, paddle boards, a chef and bartender, and plenty of lounge seats. After planning each of our other island trips (which was a fun but at times overwhelming process), it was so nice to hand the reigns over to someone else.

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The beach is completely secluded, and absolutely beautiful with the most picturesque palm trees lining the water. We fit in some snorkeling, kayaking, reading in hammocks, and walking along the short all in one afternoon which was quite the feat.

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All in all, our goal was to really seize the chance to see as much as possible, and we were so glad that every stop felt like a completely new adventure for us.

 

This post was created for Away We Go with Carnival, the destination for getting in the getaway state of mind. Head on over.

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Girls Weekend in Norfolk

Earlier this year, Garden and Gun sent my sister and I a few hours south to Norfolk, Virginia to experience some of the food and art that the city is becoming more and more known for. I’d not been to Norfolk, but I jumped on the chance to see the city firsthand.

Though the city is relatively small (compared to D.C.!), I was impressed with the food, the sweet locals, and how much there was going on. In talking to those who live in the city, it seems like people are really exciting about the direction Norfolk is taking. There are lots of fun festivals, breweries, restaurants, and shops to be explored making for a fantastic girls weekend.

You can see my full guide on Garden and Gun Field Report, and I’ve also included a list of my Norfolk favorites are at the end of this post. Enjoy!

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TO EAT

Luna Maya – Owned by two sisters, we loved this place. Amazing Mexican food, good drinks, and it was absolutely packed with Norfolk locals.

Cure Coffeehouse and Brasserie – A great little breakfast spot. In the evenings they serve wine!

Handsome Biscuit – There was quite the line to get into this place, but it was easy to see why. The most delicious, gigantic biscuits out there.

Toast – Another one of my favorites in the city. All toast, all delicious.

Field Guide – We stopped in here for lunch and shared one of their bowls. Easy, inexpensive, and really filling!

TO DRINK

Mermaid Winery – This place has a cute little patio where you can sip your rose under the sun. I highly recommend it!

Coelacanth Brewing – Just down the street from Mermaid, this brewery was fantastic. Their flights are pretty big so it’s easy to just share one.

Press 626 – This was easily my favorite spot in Norfolk. Located in an old house, we sat on the front porch and watched a storm roll in. The wines were wonderful, and the staff was great about giving us recommendations.

TO EXPLORE

The Chrysler Museum – An unexpectedly large and impressive collection of art and artifacts.

The Botanical Gardens – I’m a sucker for gardens in general, but these were really beautiful and absolutely sprawling. I think we probably saw maybe 1/10th of what was there.

The NEON District – This area is home to Norfolk’s emerging art scene. There are galleries, public art, and my personal favorite, Glass Wheel Studio.

GENERAL TIPS

– The women at Visit Norfolk told me about F.R.E.D. (Free Ride Every Day), a free transportation service that takes you around the downtown area. Just call the service, and a driver will pick you up. Firstly, I couldn’t believe it was free, and secondly, why isn’t this everywhere?

– There is a hotel with a rooftop bar opening in downtown Norfolk sometime next year. The renderings looked really beautiful, and I’d love to stay there next time!

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