On being alone

EXT. VALTER’S OSTERIA. EVENING.

A WOMAN in her early 30s sits alone at a table on the patio. She’s waiting for her bill and slipping into the early stages of a carb coma, having just enjoyed a delicious meal at one of the top rated restaurants in Salt Lake City. A group of men walk by, led by UNNAMED ASSHOLE.

UNNAMED ASSHOLE
“Why are you alone?”

The woman looks over, confused.

WOMAN
“What? What’s wrong with being alone?”

Unnamed Asshole looks at his friends, laughs, and shakes his head in disbelief.

UNNAMED ASSHOLE
“Are you serious?”

His friends join in the laughter and keep walking. The woman sits in silence, her rage boiling below the surface. The waiter places her bill on the table.

THE END.

 

On my recent trip to Salt Lake City, I arrived a couple days before my friends who I was meeting in town. I’m a big advocate for solo vacations and even wrote about tips for traveling alone after my first time doing it. (Note to self: Write a part two. That trip was 6 years ago and I’ve come a long way since then… literally!) So, it wasn’t unusual for me to explore a destination on my own.

When the scene above played out on my first night in SLC, I was so pissed off at Unnamed Asshole, and then later pissed off at myself for giving him any reaction at all.

I’ve reached a point where I’m pretty comfortable doing anything alone: Eating at a restaurant, going to a movie, hiking, etc. If I waited around for someone to do all those things with me, I might never leave my apartment. That’s not to say I don’t have any friends. Just that people aren’t always available, or they don’t want to do the same thing as me, or sometimes I just want a break from people. Basically, I never let being alone hold me back from experiencing life.

When people tell me they could never imagine doing these things alone, I often wonder if it’s because they’re uncomfortable being alone with themselves. I don’t want to put myself in the position of judging them the way they judge me, but it reeks of insecurity. I imagine they’re worried about people thinking they’re a loser, worried about being bored, worried about being alone with their thoughts (oh wait, that last one applies to me, too). I picture them face down in their cell phone safety net should they ever end up in public alone.

But a funny thing happens when you decide to embrace doing things on your own: You can have a ton of fun! It’s freeing to be able to do whatever you want with no one to answer to. You pick the restaurant. You pick the movie. You pick the travel destination. Doesn’t that sound great? Doing whatever you want?

And sometimes, because you’re forced to pay attention to your surroundings more, rather than stay in the comforting bubble of your friend group, you can have some really unique experiences. I’ll never forget one night in South Haven when I ended up bar hopping with two travelers I met while eating dinner. At every stop, we picked up more people and ended the night dancing on a boat. Sure, that could have happened with a group of friends or a boyfriend (assuming they have the same mindset), but I was more open to that experience because I was alone.

I’ve had some super fun trips with friends (no boyfriends, yet), including the rest of my time in Salt Lake City. I don’t want to take away from those experiences by any means, but I really cherish the trips I’ve taken alone. And I’m already thinking about where I’ll go next. I’m getting the international itch again so it might be time for my first solo experience overseas.

As I replay my conversation with Unnamed Asshole, I wonder about his motivation for saying anything at all to a total stranger. I can guarantee this scenario would not have happened if I were male. And sure, maybe he thought I was too attractive to be eating alone (for the record, I don’t think that). But that implies I can’t exist without someone else. And clearly he wasn’t considering the many factors that may have led to me sitting there alone. But none of those would have mattered either. He doesn’t deserve an explanation. It doesn’t fucking matter why I’m alone.

And I will never get an explanation as to why he’s an asshole, though I have a few guesses. In the meantime, cheers to you, Unnamed Asshole. May you feel better about yourself having confronted the woman sitting alone.

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Salt Lake City

When my friends Brooke and Ryan mentioned they were road tripping from Portland to Colorado, staying at national parks and forests along the way, I jumped at the chance to meet them in Salt Lake City and see Utah for the first time.

After the obligatory listen to Sal Tlay Ka Siti, I dove into researching SLC. This trip had a lot of moving parts, so I ended up creating more of a structured itinerary than I typically do. It worked out great though and I got to experience the best of SLC proper and the beautiful surrounding area.

Day 1: Olympic Park and Park City
I’ll admit to not watching much of the Winter Olympics outside of ice skating, but it was cool to visit Olympic Park. There’s a lot to do in the summer if you want to pay for it. I went the free route and hiked up the Iron Bill trail, around the Legacy Ridge/Loop trails, then back down via the extreme tubing trail.

Next, I headed over to Park City and refueled at Wasatch Brewery before taking the town lift up the mountain. It was my first time on a true ski lift and I have to admit I was more nervous than I thought I would be. The views were absolutely beautiful though so I tried to relax and take it all in.

On my hike back down, I intended to follow Jenni’s Trail. The trail markings were a little confusing though, so I’m not quite sure what route I actually took. I came out near the Legacy Lodge and had a short walk back to the main street area where I posted up at High West Distillery for a flight. Because of Utah laws, they can’t actually pour you the whole flight at once. I enjoyed mine two-by-two and bought a bottle of Campfire before heading back to SLC where I enjoyed a delicious meal with phenomenal service at Valter’s Osteria.

Day 2: SLC
I started my day with a three-mile run, making Utah the 20th state I’ve ran in. Staying in sweat mode, I drove over to the Greater Avenues area to access the Bonneville Shoreline Trail. If I thought the trail markers were confusing in Park City, they were nonexistent here. Luckily I had done some research and knew general landmarks to look for in order to climb toward a truly spectacular view of Salt Lake City and the Wasatch Mountains. I also hiked part of the trail near the Natural History Museum, though I turned around before ever finding the Living Room.

After another full day in the sun, I was ready for Red Rock Brewing and BTG Wine Bar. The Golden Halo at Red Rock was one of my favorite beers of the trip.

Day 3: Wasatch National Forest
Brooke, Ryan and their dog Charlie arrived in town and we headed out to Wasatch National Forest. We drove around checking out different sites and overlooks before settling in at Duchense Tunnel campground. The forest was full of stunning views, including the creek that our campsite backed up to.

Day 4: SLC
I would have loved to camp another night but everyone on my flight home was probably grateful my last night was spent in a hotel with a shower. We hopped around to The Green Pig (loved the rooftop), Twist (good cocktails and fun staff), and Squatter’s (more of that Utah 3.2% beer).

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As much as I loved the beautiful views, I didn’t care for the vibe of Salt Lake City itself. I would recommend that as your point to fly in/out of, but suggest spending most of your time in Park City and surrounding areas.

 

First time cruiser

Last week I went on my first cruise. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I ended up having a ton of fun! Three friends and I sailed with Royal Caribbean from Tampa to Key West and Cozumel. It happened to be Spring Break and we quickly showed the 21-year-olds that life doesn’t end in your 30s.

   

 

 

 

 

Brilliance of the Seas
Some notes about the ship:

  • It was definitely big but it’s amazing how quickly it became small. There are only so many places to go, of course. We made a routine of bar hopping but ended in the dance club most nights, where we made fast friends with the bartenders.
  • I never knew what time it was. That was partly because of our pitch black interior rooms. But also because we had to deal with the Daylight Savings Time switch and a time zone difference in Cozumel.
  • I can see how easy it would be to overeat. Most days we ate a slighter bigger breakfast, skipped lunch, then enjoyed dinner in the main dining hall. The food was on par with what I expected given how much food they are churning out around the clock.
  • Our dinner table was a little awkward the first night but we got over that. Our two servers were outstanding and we genuinely looked forward to seeing them each night. By the end of the week, we were giving them big hugs and didn’t want to say goodbye.
  • I ran three miles the second morning to add Gulf of Mexico to the list of places I’ve ran. The rest of my calories were burned on the dance floor.

Key West
As many times as I’ve been to Florida, this was my first trip to Key West. We only had about five hours but we made the most of it. We beelined it to the buoy to get the obligatory Southernmost Point photo but there was a long line. So instead, we got some quick #sidebuoy action, walked past the Hemingway House, and bar crawled our way back to port.

We stopped at Green Parrot, Sloppy Joe’s (my favorite beer of the day – Sloppy Joe’s Island Ale by Funky Buddha Brewery), Hog’s Breath, Garden of Eden (nude rooftop bar!) and Two Friends.

Cozumel
We didn’t actually spend any time in Cozumel since our excursion took us immediately on the ferry to the mainland. There were several Mayan ruin excursions but we chose one that included climbing 126 feet up a very steep/slick Mayan pyramid in Coba then climbing down 80 feet underground to swim in a cenote. It was such a cool experience and after hearing how the other ruins excursion was from our tablemates, I was so happy with our choice.

So, would I cruise again?
Yes, but here are some thoughts if I do:

  • I think it’s great for a group trip. I’ve been on some trips where groups try to do everything together but that’s not super realistic and usually means someone isn’t doing what they want to do. On the boat, everyone can easily do their own thing but still come together for the main dinners, excursions, etc.
  • Five nights was a good length. I don’t think I could have done another night unless I made a point to sleep more.
  • We had two days at sea where we were on the boat the whole time. I don’t think I would want to do a trip that had more than that based on my preferred vacation style. I can only lay out by the pool so much.
  • The all inclusive booze package was 100% worth it but there were some limitations. It only included drinks that were $12 or less, which unfortunately didn’t include prosecco. We powered through, but the last night I splurged for two bottles for our dinner table because it’s not a real vacation without bubbly.
  • I should have boarded the ship wearing my swim suit and cover up. I knew they would take my suitcase so I packed a tote bag and changed when we got on board. But I could have started enjoying the sun and pool deck that much quicker.
  • I would stick with the cruise line for booking excursions. We debated this a lot for Cozumel but once we got off the boat I was so glad we went through Royal Caribbean. They took care of the ferry ride and getting us everywhere on time.
  • I would pack more layers. Our last day at sea was relatively cold, almost too cold to lay out. I wasn’t really prepared for that.
  • I never ended up taking Dramamine but I was glad I had it just in case.
  • I would bring more cash. We had a base level of gratuity included in our package but there was a chance at the end of the week to tip individual staff members who went above and beyond. I had to get some more cash out on the boat to properly thank our two dinner servers and our favorite bartenders.

Have you been on a cruise? What do you love about it? Share in the comments below!

 

NOLA

New Orleans has been near the top of my travel wish list for a long time and I was so excited to check it out with two of my favorite people for a college roomie reunion. Leading up to the trip, we were a little overwhelmed by the long list of recommendations from friends who had gone and loved it. In the end, our trip was a combination of some of those tips and some things we stumbled upon. At the risk of adding to said long list, here are some of the highlights.

French Quarter
We stayed a block off Bourbon Street in a great apartment. I had some people tell me to avoid this area completely, which I think is a bullshit recommendation. It’s the thing to do in the place to do it. We drank hurricanes. We did a tarot reading. We had absinthe. We danced in the street to Beyonce. We had no regrets.

Beyond the booze, we had some delicious noms. I don’t eat seafood but I kind of get into crab in certain formats. I really enjoyed the crab cake alfredo at Oceana and the super unique crab meat cheesecake at the Palace Cafe. And of course we had to get beignets, though we opted for Cafe Beignet over du Monde since it was close by. It had the most adorable courtyard where I could have sat forever.  

Garden District
Our second night, we ventured over to the Garden District and had one of the best fried chicken meals of my life. No, it wasn’t at Willie Mae’s, where pretty much everyone told us to go. We got a tip from a local to eat at Joey K’s and it was in the area where we wanted to bar hop so that’s where we went. I’ll never be able to compare it to Willie Mae’s but I kind of don’t care. It was my death row meal come to life, it was unreal, and once again, I had no regrets.

Our server there was awesome and wrote out a list of places for us to go, which we followed almost to a tee and it made for a great night. Balcony Bar gave us call backs to house parties at UD. The Bulldog had a great courtyard with a cool tap fountain. I had trouble finding anything local on tap up to that point so it was nice to order a flight of local brews. And we wrapped things up at The Delachaise wine bar before heading back for some more Bourbon Street debauchery.

Frenchmen Street
For our last night, we checked out Frenchmen Street. It was very crowded but a different vibe than Bourbon Street. There was live music at each bar we went to: A super fun band at Bamboula’s; a band I don’t really remember because we were so focused on the absolutely stunning bartender at Maison; and the Jason Neville band at Vaso who had us dancing and loving life and never wanting to leave NOLA. It was seriously the best night.

The daytime stuff
We did two tours: Mardi Gras World and Save Our Cemeteries. It was super interesting to learn about the history of Mardi Gras and everything that goes into it. I had no idea there were so many parades, for example. Seeing the elaborate artwork of the floats up close was really cool, too. And our guided walk through St. Louis Cemetary #1 provided some history on the city and fun facts – like seeing Nicolas Cage’s future burial tomb. Oh and I added Louisiana to the list of states I’ve ran in (number 19) with a nice route down to the riverwalk.

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Normally this is the part in my trip recaps where I would ask what I missed out on and what you think others should check out. But we’re at maximum information overload as it is. To summarize: NOLA was everything I hoped it would be. The people were so nice. The food was ridiculous. The music was so good. And I was so happy to be with my two college roomies!

Traveling in Toronto

“Why Toronto?”

I got that question a lot when talking about the bachelorette party I planned for my best friend of over 20 years. When thinking about a trip that would properly celebrate Kim, I wanted a destination that was as unique as her – someone who lived a year in Argentina (read about our adventures in Buenos Aires and Mendoza) and spent six weeks in India, among many other worldly travels.

Toronto was a short flight from Chicago, where the bride-to-be lives, and the more I researched it, the more sure I was that it would make for a great trip. The city definitely delivered!

The digs
We stayed in an Airbnb apartment that was in a great location just a few blocks from the waterfront and a short walk to the CN Tower (balcony view below). Like my previous Airbnb stays, it was nice to have a home base with more space to relax. I have a tendency to fall in love with everywhere I visit and it’s that much easier to imagine living somewhere when you’re staying in an apartment versus a hotel.

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The eats
Many of my favorite memories with Kim surround meals we’ve shared. This trip would prove to be no different as everything we ate was pretty much delicious, starting with a Nutella pastry from the Tim Horton’s across from our Airbnb. Other highlights included:

  • WVRST – Multiple friends recommended this restaurant, self-described as “sausage hall and other wonders.” I tried the kangaroo, which felt weird to order but tasted great. Realistically, though, we could have just had the duck fat fries with our various dipping sauces and been perfectly satisfied.
  • The Elm Tree – This was a super cute spot with a great wait staff and modern Mediterranean menu. My steak frites were delicious (are you picking up on my fry addiction yet?!) as was the burrata appetizer we split.
  • Afternoon tea at the Ritz Carlton – I don’t drink tea but after enjoying my high tea experience in London, I was interested to see how this would compare. The treats were perfectly dainty and delicious and I ended up picking a tea I didn’t hate (read: I actually drank an entire cup).
  • Toula – Located 38 floors up in the Westin right on the waterfront, Toula offers a 360-degree view of Toronto. I made our reservation so that we would be there during sunset. While the tall buildings blocked our view of the sun, it was beautiful watching the sky morph from bright blue to shades of red, pink and purple. We also had a great view of the CN Tower lit up for Pride, which was that day. The food was also great but the service was a little slow.

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The things to do
The CN Tower dominates the skyline and is seemingly always in sight. We decided against going up though, partly to avoid wasting time in line and partly because we knew our dinner Sunday night would have a (somewhat) comparable view.

Instead, we ventured to the St. Lawrence Market and wandered our way through more than 100 booths. We settled on some meats and cheeses to take with us on our beach trip as well as some ice wine from Peller Estates for the apartment. The wine was pretty unique and had a syrupy texture that made me want to pour it over ice cream or a piece of cheesecake.

Sunday morning, we took the ferry to Hanlan’s Pointe on Toronto Island. And because it was a bachelorette party, it’s only appropriate that we ended up at a clothing optional beach (naked men – check!). It was much less crowded than what I imagine Centre Island would have been, at least based on the size of the ferry going that direction versus ours. The couple hours we spent out there were super relaxing and we got an awesome view of the cityscape on the ferry ride.

I also snuck in a three-mile run Saturday morning on the Waterfront Trail — my second time logging international miles!

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The nightlife
We arrived on Canada Day and posted up on the patio of Macho, just a block down from our place, to watch the fireworks. After that, we walked to King Street West where there are a ton of bars. The first spot we tried was only offering a $1,000 bottle service minimum. No thanks! Luckily our waiter earlier in the night recommended Early Mercy, which had a reasonable $10 cover and a decent enough DJ. A quick stop in Locals Only across the street rounded out our first night in the city.

The second night was devoted to Kim’s love of Latin dancing. My extensive research turned up El Rancho, a salsa club on College Street that ended up being the perfect spot. We danced for a solid four hours, spinning and sweating our way through salsa, bachata, merengue and reggaeton. It was seriously the best time ever and I loved watching my BFF in her happy place.

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After such a fun weekend, my response to the question is now “Why not Toronto?”

Experiencing Austin

I haven’t fallen in love with a lot of someones but I have fallen in love with a lot of somewheres. My latest fling: Austin.

Okay, so maybe I didn’t fall in love with the heat. No place is perfect! While I did my best to glisten a la Ashley Judd in A Time to Kill, I’m convinced it’s impossible to feel sexy when you’re constantly sweating. But the river, the bridges, the cityscape, the rooftop views, the breakfast tacos and the whole “Keep Austin Weird” undertone definitely wooed me.

I was there last weekend for a friend’s birthday. We stayed 15-deep at an Airbnb house that was about a mile from the east end of Sixth Street. The location worked out pretty well and I got to experience so much more of Austin compared to the first time I went for work several years ago.

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The nightlife
Austin is known for its live music scene and the notorious Sixth Street certainly delivered. Similar to Broadway in Nashville, both sides of the street are lined with bars showcasing a wide variety of musicians. We spent a lot of time on the Dirty Sixth end, with some highlights including Easy Tiger (stopped in for a beer but they also bake bread!), Maggie Maes (awesome rooftop deck), Chupacabra Catina ($2 happy hour beer) and The Gatsby (posted up on the balcony overlooking a big back deck and watched a couple bands play).

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The Driskill Hotel is an old timey oasis in the middle of the Dirty Sixth bar hopping scene. The architecture and décor ooze opulence and indulgence. We cozied up in leather barstools and enjoyed some very well-made cocktails.

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On our last night in town, we went to Rainey Street and this is where Austin truly stole my heart. It wasn’t necessarily any less crowded than Dirty Sixth but it had a completely different vibe. Every spot had great outdoor spaces with string lights (I might be slightly obsessed with them…) and good music that you didn’t have to scream over.

I read about Container and it lived up to my expectations and then some. It’s a really cool space that’s built with shipping containers. Bungalow was another solid spot that looks like a regular house from the outside but is gutted and open inside. And we ended the night dancing our asses off at Javelina until last call.

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To experience Austin is to experience Dirty Sixth, yes. But I would highly recommend checking out Rainey Street. And we heard from a few locals that the west end of Sixth Street is developing more and cultivating a somewhat upscale culture.

The eats
To experience Austin is also to eat breakfast tacos and BBQ. Our house was only a few blocks away from Juan in a Million. I tried a migas taco, which has crispy tortilla chips in it, and it was delish! Our group also hit up Salt Lick Bar-B-Que. I don’t get all crazy over BBQ like some people so it was good but not amazing to me.

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My favorite meal though was our first one in town at Stella San Jac. They had the most amazing biscuits and salted butter and my burger with onion straws hit the spot. I have to give a shout out to our waitress Clarissa for handling our huge group. She was a rockstar!

The things to do
One of the coolest – literally – things we did was take a dip in Barton Springs. I’ve been in natural hot springs before but this water runs around 68 degrees. It was heavenly compared to the 100-degree weather we’d been walking around in. It is a bit of a shock to your system when you first get in but so worth it.

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We also went to a Round Rock Express ballgame. The birthday honoree and a lot of the guys on the trip are big baseball fans. I am not. However, I do enjoy the ballpark atmosphere. We sat in a section of rocking chairs and it was really relaxing and a unique experience. I probably could have sat rocking sipping my cold cider shooting the shit with the group forever.

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And if you like all things quirky and eclectic, South Congress is a great place to stroll through. There are boutiques, art galleries, bookstores, restaurants and of course live musicians playing on the street.

The place to run
My training schedule called for nine miles while I was down there and luckily our house was less than a mile from the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail. It wraps around the river so you can run almost entirely uninterrupted with spectacular views of the city. I managed to get out the door by 7:30 a.m. but it was already almost 90 degrees by the time I finished. Props to the Austin running community for dealing with that on a daily basis!

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I had a feeling I would love Austin going into the trip but I wasn’t sure what to expect with the group dynamics since I only knew the birthday honoree and his girlfriend. The group was awesome though and I had so much fun. And luckily they’ve traveled together quite a bit so they’ve mastered the balance between group activities and letting people do their own thing.

So, Austin, you’ve got a hold on my heart. Until the next trip at least…

The perfect southern solo getaway

Before I travel, I usually do pretty extensive research on sites to see and places to eat so I can hit the ground running when I arrive. I creep on Google Maps (satellite and street view!) to the point where I often have a city’s general layout memorized before I even get there. Given all that, I usually have a good idea of what my trip will be like going into it.

Last week, however, Charleston, SC, took me by surprise. I was truly blown away by how beautiful and relaxing it was. I present into evidence Exhibit A: My Instagram account, which I unashamedly BLEW UP for three days solid.

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Charleston was exactly what I needed after getting through our biggest work event of the year the weekend prior. I love to travel and have never been one of those “It’ll be good to get home” people but this trip was particularly tough to see come to an end. I spent my last night under the moonlight, toes in the sand, just listening to the waves hit the rocks. It was perfection (Exhibit B).

To be fair, it would have been hard for Charleston to fail as a destination, what with warm weather, water, southern cooking and historic homes. It did end up being an expensive town but I was in full on treatyoself mode and had budgeted appropriately. I didn’t do as much as I typically fit into my trips (event planner hangover, perhaps) but I did get a taste of everything Charleston has to offer and loved it.

I stayed at the Charleston Harbor Resort which overlooked downtown from across the bay. The hotel had a free trolley to/from downtown and there was also a water taxi that was a cheap way to get out on the water (and see dolphins!). I took advantage of the free hotel bikes one day and also got in a five-mile run to the bridge and back. It was a convenient location to both take advantage of all the excitement of downtown and escape from it to relax by the pool or on the marina dock.

So, the highlights:

  • Magnolia’s: The fried chicken meal I had was the epitome of southern cooking and I was in carb heaven. Since I traveled alone, I sat at the bar right away but I would recommend reservations.
  • The rooftop at The Vendue: Pretty popular on a Saturday night and for good reason. I enjoyed a beautiful view of the sun setting over downtown.
  • 82 Queen: I wish I had been hungrier when I was here! I stopped in for lunch and the menu looked amazing but I kept it light with a super tasty local Kolsch and a crab cake. They have an adorable patio but I sat at the bar since the wait was so long.
  • Kaminsky’s: Did the cliché dessert of a warm slice of apple pie a la mode while killing time before taking the hotel trolley back. So good!
  • 39 Rue de Jean: Hands down one of the best meals I’ve ever had. Ever. I ate every bite of the steak frites and can still taste the deliciousness thinking about it now. So glad one of my friends recommended it!
  • Tavern and Table: I biked over for lunch and saw yet another gorgeous side of Charleston. I sat outside overlooking Shem Creek with a delicious charcuterie and cheese board.
  • The Griffon: For my last dinner, I took the water taxi over and asked the captain to recommend somewhere chill and unique with a tasty burger and local brews. His suggestion was so on point!
  • Nathaniel Russell House and Aiken Rhett House: With no car, I was limited in getting out to the larger plantations. However, Charleston has preserved several urban plantations and house museums right in the middle of the downtown neighborhoods. I visited the Nathaniel Russell House first and it had a cool staircase. But the Aiken Rhett House was far more impressive and the audio tour was really well done.

I realize it looks like all I did is eat but I’m okay with that. I enjoyed every single thing I ate, except for the crab cake which I tolerated in an effort to eat seafood. If I had a car, I could have ventured to Folly or Sullivan Beach, too. But I enjoyed keeping it low key and spending a lot of time just walking around and taking in the views of the water, the architecture and the flowers.

And if all that wasn’t enough to convince you how perfect this trip was, here’s a gallery of pics:

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Have you been to Charleston? What did I miss out on? Did you also eat all the food while there? Add your recommendations in the comments below!