2017 Travel Review & if I Accomplished #tripamonth

Are years flying by faster and faster or is it just me? I cannot believe 2017 is almost over, but nonetheless it’s time to reflect on the past before making way for 2018. This year I set myself the goal of doing a #tripamonth (some people call it #take12trips). I didn’t want having a full time job to slow me down from pursuing outside passions (aka travel). This goal was so close to being accomplished, but I did not leave town in December.

Can’t be mad about that, though–we had family visiting and we all know it’s not where you are but who you’re with that matters 🙂 Work obligations on top of not wanting to deal with moving around over Christmas also impacted our travel-less December. Some months of the year we did more than one trip, so I feel like I can cut myself a bit of slack and say it was a successful #tripamonth year… So here is a review of where 2017 took me! I also added the links to all the blogs that resulted from each trip if you want to relive any of them with me before we say hello to 2018 🙂

January: started 2017 in NYC with family which was so epic.

Summer vs. Winter: NYC Edition

February: went on an amazing girls trip to Arizona.

Here’s Why You Should Visit the Grand Canyon in February (with photos)

How To Spend 4 Days Adventuring Through Arizona

March: found couple heaven and learned how to ski in Big Bear.

Why I Don’t Want to Tell You Where We Stayed in Big Bear

April: went to Indianapolis for a wedding with a pit stop at Purdue; also went to LA for a concert and hockey game.

no posts resulted, oh my!

May: left the country for the only time this year and drove around Iceland with my bestie; also snuck over to San Francisco for a quick weekend over Memorial Day.

What It’s Really Like Driving Around Iceland

Street Art Spotlight: Reykjavik

Strange in the Best Way: Iceland Through Stories and Photos

Another Weekend Spent Falling in Love with San Francisco

June: went to Chicago for a wedding, and I fell even more in love with that city.

no post resulted! Highlights included Cubs game and rooftop bars overlooking Millennium Park and Lincoln Park

July: got a taste of island life when we stayed overnight just off the coast of LA on Catalina Island.

How We Found Ourselves on Catalina Island

August: spent a fun weekend with friends in Redondo Beach.

We spent a lot of time over the summer enjoying home… I wrote this post about all the reasons I love Solana Beach.

September: returned to a really special spot in Big Bear, hung out with friends in D.C. and got our NYC fix yet again; visited LA another time for a girls weekend.

The Top 6 Reasons I Have a Crush on Alpenhorn B&B

Culture, Concrete, & Calories: 5 Amazing Days in NYC

How to See the Best of D.C. in a Day

What Traveling Somewhere You Don’t Like Can Teach You

October: blissful weekend in San Francisco over Halloween.

The Best Way to Check Sausalito Off Your Bucket List

Where to Have a Great Meal in San Francisco

November: Miami which I’m still smiling about.

An Expat’s Top Reasons to Tailgate when You Visit the U.S.

Miami for Couples: First Timers’ Guide to a Hot Weekend

December: exploring San Diego and discovering more local favorites

We also had many friends and family come visit us in San Diego throughout the year, so we were always doing something fun. It still feels like I’m on vacation even though I live here. I’ll share my San Diego specific posts below.

9 Delightful Ways To Have The Best San Diego Summer

Rosé and Summer Memories

5 Things To Do in San Diego When it’s Raining

3 Unique Spots for Your Next San Diego Brunch

Travel Awards

I spent some time reflecting on all these trips and wanted to break them down a bit more for anyone interested.

Most Peaceful: Iceland, runner up Big Bear

Most Impressive View: Grand Canyon, runner up Iceland

Most Fun: Miami, runner up NYC

Place That was Just OK: LA, runner up Catalina Island

Place with the Best Food: San Francisco, runner up Chicago

Favorite Bucket List Activity: Blue Lagoon in Iceland, runner up National Archives Museum in D.C.

Favorite Accommodation: Alpenhorn Bed and Breakfast in Big Bear, runner up Kimpton EPIC Hotel in downtown Miami

Place I Want to Return to the Most: Miami, runner up NYC (can never get enough of that city)

Places Visited More Than Once: NYC, San Francisco, LA, Big Bear

Favorites in San Diego: Karl Strauss Sunday Brunch, runner up El Prez rooftop bar

 

2017 was such a great travel-filled year, and I can’t wait to see what 2018 brings!

What were your most memorable travel moments of 2017? Would you do the #tripamonth challenge?

Miami for Couples: First Timers’ Guide to a Hot Weekend

To say we enjoyed our time in Miami would be an understatement. It was quite possibly the best weekend of the year, and we’ve had A LOT of good weekends in 2017. It’s kind of magic when you travel as a couple and find a place that makes each person as happy as the other. We both adored everything we did all weekend, but Ollie especially loved the sporting events while I loved the art, cultural vibes, and beach. It was my first visit to Miami and Ollie’s second. I highly recommend the following for anyone visiting Miami as a couple for the first time!

Where to stay in Miami:

We checked into the Kimpton Epic Hotel in downtown Miami. Our room was super nice, especially the bathroom. Sadly the hotel pool was under renovation which was kind of the main reason I booked this hotel, but we liked our stay regardless. The location was decent. We were a quick Uber from Wynwood, Little Havana, and SoBe. We probably spent more time in South Beach than anywhere else, so booking a place in SoBe would have been smart but probably a lot more expensive.

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Looking over the river from our balcony

What to eat in Miami:

If you are a fan of bottomless brunches, you HAVE to go to Prime Fish in South Beach. For $55 you get unlimited mimosas (other bottomless options available) and 4 and a half hours to devour a really upmarket buffet. They do the brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. Apparently Sunday gets really crazy, so we went on Saturday to enjoy chiller vibes.

The other amazing meal we had was at Doce Provisions in Little Havana. I would describe it as hipster Cuban. We were both blown away by our meals and the atmosphere.

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Cuban spin on chicken and waffles @ Doce Provisions
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So excited for my salmon @ Doce Provisions

Where to drink alcohol in Miami:

In South Beach, we killed some time at the Clevelander. Ollie loved that bar, but I thought it was just ok. He was in a party mood and I was in a beach mood, though, ha!

In Little Havana we really enjoyed our time at Ball and Chain drinking happy hour cocktails and listening to live music. Nothing beats live music, especially when it’s Cuban or jazz.

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Ball and Chain!
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Loving Little Havana

We also ended up going on a sort of brewery hop in Wynwood, stopping at Wynwood Brewing Co., Concrete Beach, and J Wakefield Brewing. I highly recommend each of these spots–the craft beer was fantastic and the interiors unique.

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I think Concrete Beach was my favorite brewery!
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J Wakefield Brewing, Wynwood

What to do in Miami:

Besides sleeping, eating, and drinking there is so much to do in Miami.

Attend a professional sporting event: Miami is home to the Dolphins, an NFL team. Going to the recently renovated Hard Rock Stadium for the game was our main reason for this visit. It was so much fun and the tailgate was even better! I wrote all about that here. Miami also has an NBA team, the Miami Heat. Ollie was bummed they weren’t playing while we were there, especially because our hotel was so close to the arena. Next time! If you’re a baseball fan, head to a Miami Marlins game. All of those stadiums looked so nice.

Chill on the beach: One of my favorite parts of our visit was relaxing on South Beach. It was definitely busy, but that made people watching the international crowd that much better. The water was mesmerizing as well–I couldn’t stop staring at the bright blues. Living in San Diego, I’ve gotten used to the Pacific Ocean, which is definitely beautiful but usually too cold for me to enjoy. Being able to go in for a swim was the best! I also loved all the colorful lifeguard stations and being able to look back towards the mainland and see all the art deco buildings.

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One happy girl walking along South Beach
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Beautiful blues in SoBe

Explore Wynwood: Wynwood is so cool and was the highlight of the trip for me. There is street art EVERYWHERE, hip coffee spots, incredible breweries, funky shops, and tons of art galleries. We ordered room service at 2 a.m. the night before coming to Wynwood, so I unfortunately don’t have any food recommendations haha. We started our afternoon in Wynwood at Panther Coffee, admired the Wynwood Walls, strolled around some shops while taking in all the street art, and went to the three breweries I mentioned above. Highly highly recommend carving out a few hours to wander around Wynwood.

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Panther Coffee @ Wynwood Walls
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One of my favorite snaps from Wynwood
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Loved those two pieces
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Miami definitely makes you feel that way 🙂
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Scenes of NYC in Wynwood
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Wynwood Walls
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Don’t forget to look up, Wynwood Walls

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Art is EVERYWHERE in Wynwood <3
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Walking into Plant the Future, Wynwood
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Plant the Future, Wynwood
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Browsing succulents @ Plant the Future in Wynwood

Experience Cuba in Little Havana: After an afternoon in Wynwood, catch a quick Uber to Little Havana to experience the evening festivities. We went on a Monday, so apparently it was dead compared to the weekends, but we still found it very lively and fun. First we checked out a couple of the Cuban shops (aka cigars for days), then settled in at Ball and Chain (mentioned above) for drinks and music. We weren’t quite ready for dinner so we walked to the bar across the street and repeated our steps at Ball and Chain haha–more drinks and live music. The atmosphere of Little Havana was incredible. We finished a perfect day with a perfect meal at Doce Provisions (also mentioned above).

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Shopping for cigars in Little Havana

What to do with a few random free hours in Miami:

Check out an art museum: We had a couple awkwardly placed hours to spare before our flight home, and I wanted to get in another dose of art after being so inspired by Wynwood the day before. I headed to The Perez Art Museum. It was the perfect way to spend an hour or so. Ollie didn’t feel like coming in, so he grabbed a beer and sat on the beautiful patio that looks over Biscayne Bay while waiting for me. I loved this museum. It was small enough to wander through it all, but interesting enough to hold my attention the whole time. I loved reading the blurbs about each piece and seeing so much work by Cuban artists.

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Outside the Perez Art Museum
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Perez Art Museum, Miami
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This wall made me happy 🙂

What we could have done outside Miami with more time:

A CRUISE! I would love to come back and do a 4-5 day caribbean cruise.

Rent a convertible and road trip to Key West. All the people we met highly recommended spending a day or night in Key West–it’s gotta be beautiful!

Miami, you are such a hottie!

I have a feeling we won’t be able to stay away from you 😉 Have you ever been to Miami? Did you like it as much as we did?

An Expat’s Top Reasons to Tailgate when You Visit the U.S.

Someone coming to the States who wants to have an American time should look no further than “the tailgate.” Sport is such a huge part of our culture here. Between professional and college sports, there’s hardly ever a day where you can’t tune into something on TV whether it be baseball, basketball, football, soccer, golf, tennis, hockey, etc. I spoke to my husband (an expert with years of personal experience integrating into American culture) about this sacred practice so you can really get a feel for why you should attend a tailgate if you are coming to the U.S.

First, some general information about the American tailgate:

The most common sport to tailgate for is American football…NFL (National Football League) and college teams–not soccer which is called football in every other country. Football season runs roughly from the end of August to the first weekend of February, so if you are traveling to the U.S. in that window I highly recommend researching to see if any games will be on where you will be traveling. Even if you aren’t a big sports fan or if you don’t understand the rules of football, the NFL is a league built purely on entertainment so it will be an experience regardless.

Tailgating is the name given to partying before the game begins usually out of a vehicle. A tailgate typically occurs in a parking lot outside the stadium and lasts about 3-4 hours. People get all decked out in their team apparel (some fans get way dressed up which is fun to see), grill out, eat, drink beers and other alcoholic beverages, dance to music, and just get hyped about the game in general. Like I said at the start, it is a very interesting and fun tradition in American culture. Americans take sports pretty seriously, with most people having extreme loyalty to certain teams from their hometown or where they went to college. The tailgate is another avenue, besides just attending the game, to outwardly express this loyalty.

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Hard Rock Stadium in Miami

I sat down with Ollie to get his take on tailgating and why he recommends experiencing one if you can. Here’s what he had to say:

Tailgating is like God’s gift to society.

The only time an Uber dropping you off 2 miles away from your destination is ever justified is when you know you’re walking to a tailgate. As you get closer to the stadium, you smell the grills fired up with every delicious thing your slightly intoxicated mind could imagine. You walk through the sea of tents with the stadium in the background, and it feels heavenly because you know what’s about to happen. It creates the perfect ambience for getting into your zone before the game.

The die-hard tailgater is surely something that needs to be seen.

Some people not only set up tents/coolers/grills but also set up satellite dishes, flat screen TVs, electronic generators, and sound systems out of the back of their car so they can watch other sports during the tailgate. These people are the pinnacle of what sporting life is all about. You also don’t want to miss the super fans who get all dressed up in different costumes for the game.

Attending a tailgate can potentially save you money at the game.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that $14 for a Bud Light could run Bill Gates’s bank account into the ground. One of the great advantages of tailgating is insuring that you get your fill before you even step a foot inside the stadium. Let’s not forget about cost of food. If you’re lucky enough to tailgate with people who know their way around a grill you are going to have a good time.

The atmosphere at a tailgate is one-of-a-kind.

There is no sense of excitement like die hard fans grilling and drinking outside of a stadium wearing their team colors. The excitement of fans in its purest form is something you could only see at a tailgate. You don’t want to miss seeing everyone tossing around the pig skin, playing corn hole, listening to music and dancing around. It is the pregame TURN UP.

Thanks for those great words of wisdom Ollie 🙂

Practical tips for attending a tailgate:

The NFL has restrictions on what you can bring into games. If you don’t know anyone to tailgate with or don’t have a vehicle to leave stuff in, I recommend putting some beers and ice into a disposable bag or container. That way you can have drinks during the tailgate without needing to store anything when it’s time to head into the game. They only allow you to bring clear bags into the game, so you’ll need one of those. Alternatively what I do is keep my ID, credit card, and cellphone in my pockets and go without a bag.

It just so happens that we were recently in Miami for a Dolphins game and attended our third Dolphin’s tailgate (but our first actually in Miami). Here are some photos to give you a glimpse into what it looks like when it all comes together.

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Gotta rock your team colors!
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Parking lot filled to the brim!
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Super fans!

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I love the team Bud cans!
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MIAMI DOLPHINS

Have we convinced you to add tailgating to your US itinerary?

 

Where to Have a Great Meal in San Francisco

San Francisco might be my favorite place to go out to eat. Each time I visit, I make it a point to try something new and different because I know I won’t be let down. I feel like you can get anything in San Francisco because of how many people from different cultures call it home. I also love the small, homey vibe of the restaurants. In my opinion the coziness makes the whole experience even tastier. Over the past year, I’ve been to San Francisco three times and have had AMAZING dinners each visit. I love how you can feel like you’re in another country without ever leaving the city. If you’re looking for somewhere to sit down for a great meal I highly recommend the following places!

  • Cafe Europa for Ukrainian/Polish
  • B-Star for Burmese fusion
  • Tony’s for Italian
  • Leopold’s for German

I asked my cousin for her recommendations as well (born and raised in SF!):

  • Elephant Sushi on Hyde Street for Japanese
  • Don Pisto’s in North Beach for Mexican
  • Tartine Bakery Devil’s Tooth Bakery
  • Woodhouse Fish Company on Fillmore Street for seafood
  • Bonus restaurant on her radar: Swan Oyster Depot 

San Francisco continues to win over my heart (and stomach) each visit, and I always leave feeling a bit more cultured 🙂

What’s your favorite city in terms of food??

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Just the appetizer @ Tony’s…when the main came out it was gone before I could get a photo.
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Mains @ B-Star

 

The Best Way to Check Sausalito Off Your Bucket List

Since it was my fifth visit to San francisco I figured it was time to expand my explorations of the area, and the one place that kept coming to mind was Sausalito! It kind of feels like another world, very European with its cliffs and bays and sailboats and sunshine. So I didn’t think just driving there would do it justice; it deserved more of an adventure.

We decided to rent bikes and cycle our way there across the Golden Gate Bridge. It probably ended up being close to 7 or 8 miles, but it wasn’t a super challenging ride (except for the couple uphills). Spending an afternoon riding bikes felt so carefree and wonderful, and I had never realized what a great way it is to explore. Even in complete fog, it was epic! I would 100% do it again on a sunny day in the city.

We rented through a company called Blazing Saddles which I was mostly happy with.  Beware: they tried to rip us off ferry tickets, so be cautious before you pay that you haven’t been over charged for anything.

Once on Sausalito we headed straight to Bar Bocce where we ordered shandys, relaxed, and took in the beautiful views. Instead of biking back, I suggest taking the ferry. There’s something so special about seeing a city from the water, and they have a bar on board (cash only) to keep the party going.

If you have a spare day in SF or want to visit Sausalito I highly recommend doing it this way!

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Cycling through the Marina District, SF
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Taking in the city views before crossing the bridge
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Despite not being able to see ANYTHING because of the fog, it was still an epic ride!
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Ollie’s SO annoyed that I’m taking a selfie while cycling
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The most the the Golden Gate Bridge we saw that day
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Drinks @ Bar Bocce
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SAUSALITO you beaut

 

The Most Effective Way to Have Drinks with George Washington

I’m hoping this comes as no surprise to anyone considering it’s been 218 years since George Washington’s death, but he is no longer alive and able to meet up for beers. However, I recently visited a couple spots that made me feel like I was vicariously in his presence and wanted to share these legendary American taverns with you. One of the things I love so much about traveling is being physically in a place where historic people have been. If you find yourself on the east coast I highly recommend popping in for a beer or two, so you can say you’ve had drinks at the same bar George Washington used to frequent.

(Click the links if you’re interested in reading about their specific history and tie to our first president.)

Fraunces Tavern, New York City

 

Gadsby’s Tavern, Old Town Alexandria

 

Do you have a favorite historic bar?

 

How to See the Best of D.C. in a Day

I have to be honest: D.C. blew my mind. I knew I was going to enjoy myself and see a lot of cool American history, but I didn’t realize how incredible and indescribable I would find it all. I highly recommend visiting this city if you haven’t been, or if it’s been a while, and you don’t even need a ton of time to do it. We spent one solid day exploring, and I felt happy with what we were able to see in such a short time, granted it was a jam-packed day.

I recommend starting your day at a museum of your choice.

There are so many to choose from, so do a bit of research and decide which one intrigues you the most. I liked starting with a museum because at the beginning of the day we were caffeinated and able to pay more attention to detail (I personally would have found it hard to browse a museum after walking around and looking at monuments all day but that might not be an issue for you).

We started our morning at Newseum. As you can guess from the name, it’s a museum all about the news, and it was really impressive. Every morning they print the current front page of one newspaper from each state. It was interesting to see all the nation’s headlines side by side, and this is before you even step foot inside the museum. Once inside, we did an interactive exhibit where we got to be newscasters, read off a prompt, and watch ourselves onscreen, which was so much fun. We browsed a couple floors of historic newspapers, seeing iconic stories like Man on the Moon, Marilyn Monroe Found Dead, Vaccine Dooms Polio, etc. I spent my time surrounded by those old newspapers reflecting on the power of the media, how it’s changed over time, and what that’s meant for our society. In Newseum you will also find a section of the Berlin Wall, the antenna that stood on top of the World Trade Center, and all of the Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs. The top floor also has an outdoor deck with a great view of the Capitol Building. We definitely could have stayed the whole day, but after a couple hours we were ready to see more of D.C!

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Views of the Capitol Building from the top floor of Newseum
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Artifacts @ Newseum
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911 Tribute @ Newseum
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Berlin Wall @ Newseum

You have to visit the National Archives Museum.

If there’s only one museum you step foot into while visiting D.C., make it the National Archives Museum. First of all it’s free and centrally located, but more importantly it’s home to The Declaration of Independence, The Bill of Rights, and The Constitution. It doesn’t get more American than that, and I cannot describe how surreal/amazing it was to see the sheets of paper that started it all.

Grab a bite to eat and wander around the beautiful, clean downtown. 

We ended up getting an Uber to a sandwich shop called Bub and Pop’s which was sooooo good. My friend and I split a sandwich, just half was enough to keep us fueled for most of the day–they were that loaded! Bub and Pop’s is less than a mile away from the White House, which happened to be our next stop, so it was the perfect location to allow us to walk around downtown a bit after lunch before starting all the sightseeing.

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Huge sandwiches at Bub and Pop’s
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Downtown D.C.

Get your fix of The White House from ground level and above. 

We made sure to spend a decent amount of time in this iconic building’s presence. We got photos of the front and back, and also went to a rooftop bar to admire it over drinks. From POV at the W Hotel you can also see some other monuments, so it was a great teaser for what we would be doing next.

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Admiring the White House
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THE WHITE HOUSE
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Can’t stop looking at it

Explore all the monuments to your heart’s desire! 

While you could spend hours visiting tons of great monuments, we headed straight for the Lincoln Memorial in the interest of time. I was so impressed by the view of the Washington Monument in the reflection pool as well as being in the spot Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous speech. You definitely don’t want to miss The Lincoln Memorial.

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Walking past the Washington Monument
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Iconic view from the Lincoln Memorial

Spend the evening in Georgetown. 

You could certainly spend the rest of the day just in D.C., but we decided to head to Georgetown for something a little different. Wandering around the cobblestone streets and admiring the east coast-style buildings made me giddy. Georgetown is home to The Old Stone House, built in 1765 and the oldest structure on its original foundation in D.C. It’s a quick visit but very cool to see something so historic. We also stepped foot on Georgetown’s campus and drank at a few of the college bars which was cheap (oh the days of being a poor student) and a lot of fun.

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Georgetown waterfront
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Cute building in Georgetown
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Georgetown University
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Georgetown being beautiful
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Georgetown wanderings
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The cutest row of houses in Georgetown

I feel like spending the day this way was a really solid D.C. introduction and would work well for most first timers. I was satisfied with the mix of mind-blowing history, wandering around, and relaxing in bars to talk about it all and recharge. D.C. is a really special place where history is inescapable, and I loved every minute of taking it all in. Huge shout out to Emily Alyssa Photography for hosting us!