Living in Florida for over a decade, visiting the Panhandle has been something we have been meaning to do. The Santa Rosa beach area has plenty of parks and campgrounds to chose from. We camped at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park. There are plenty of trails to get some exercise, including paved portions open for biking. We hiked the trail to Campbell and Morris Lakes, which are Coastal Dune Lakes, a rare type of lake formed by sand dunes. They can only be found in Madagascar, New Zealand, Australia, and here in the Panhandle. The hike out only took about 30 minutes to Campbell, and then another 30 to Morris on both a paved trail, and then a sandy trail. Be aware that the trails are nature trails, which means you may see some wildlife like the Pygmy Rattlesnake I almost stepped on, and the alligator we saw swimming in Morris Lake. I definitely recommend bringing or finding a walking stick to hit on the ground in front of you as you walk.
Of course we headed out and about to check out the surrounding areas. We explored the areas around Destin, Seaside, Panama City, and Pensacola. Each of these stops had things that set them apart from the others.
Seaside is about 15 mins East of the Santa Rosa area on 30A. It has a cute Central Square that was all decked out for the holidays. There were lovely shops and restaurants and a row of Airstream Food Trucks serving up a variety of tasty treats. We split a platter at Barefoot BBQ, which was delicious, and then spent the rest of the day at the beach. The sunsets here are simply breathtaking. Later in the week we enjoyed Paella and some wonderful wine with new friends at 45 Central. They only make it a couple of times a week so make sure you check ahead of time! This new planned community really became our favorite place in the Panhandle.
Destin is a newer city with a great waterfront area filled with shops and restaurants. If you are looking for a more high end destination on the Panhandle, Destin is a great location for you. If you continue towards Pensacola, you will come across miles and miles of beautiful sand dunes. This entire area is very picturesque.
Panama City seems to be geared more towards the Spring Break crowd, though there is a newer section that was filled with chain restaurants, bars, and shops. The rest of the area is filled with novelty stores and the tourist trap area similar to International Drive in Orlando with wax museums and mini golf courses.
Pensacola is a military town that has a great historic area to stroll around. Many of the buildings are similar to those in the French Quarter, built with bricks and iron works. There are a few small, but nice parks, and public art pieces throughout the area. The Veterans Memorial Park has some magnificent statues and memorials, including a replica of D.C.'s Vietnam Wall. Of course there are tributes to the Blue Angels all throughout the city.
One thing that all of these places have in common is miles and miles of gorgeous beaches, with sugar sand and sparkling clear water, all a part of the National Gulf Seashore. It is some of the coolest, softest, and whitest sand we have ever seen and the water explains why they call this the Emerald Coast.
We often hear how lucky we are to not have to work and to just travel full-time, but the truth is, travel is a lot of work. We started our journey around the world 6 months ago, and we have quickly learned that this isn't going to be all play, no work.
Currently, we are traveling around the United States in a small van that we built to live out of, not in. Most of our nights are spent camping, staying with friends, or in hotels. We usually spend an average of 2-3 nights in most places, with some of our bucket list stops averaging 5-6 nights. This means, that we usually spend a few hours driving to our new location, then we have to set up camp or pack our bags to bring up to the hotel room. We then have time to catch up on our Journals, eat dinner, check in on things back home, and then plan the next couple of days in that location. This means researching our "To Do/To See" lists and coordinating how long each activity takes along with drive time and proximity to other activities. We generally like to be out exploring about 6 hours each day, though many are much longer than that. We also research our followers suggestions and any suggestions we've received from locals, and see if they are a good fit for us. Sometimes we get so many great suggestions that we end up extending our stay. Toni is in charge of looking up the festivals in the area to see if there is anything fun and unusual going on that we may want to add to our agenda. Sometimes the planning can take hours. We also have to consider hours and days places are open, traffic concerns, weather, and other things that may impact our time there. You would be surprised how often major attractions will be closed on Mondays, throwing a wrench into the entire plan! Now that the schedule is complete, we can get some sleep!
The next morning starts with breakfast, and hopefully a workout. With all of the delicious local eats we find, we have to find a good balance, which is a challenge in itself (which is a BLOG for another time)! We then get on the road to go explore for the day. While we are exploring, we are taking hundreds of pictures throughout the day, both for our memories, and to share with our followers. During lunch we usually take a few minutes to post about our day to keep our followers engaged. After dinner, it's back to camp or our room to journal about our day. We both keep separate journals so we can keep our separate perspectives of each stop. I spend about an hour reviewing all of the pictures of the day, making sure they made it to the cloud, and then choosing ones to share with our followers. After that, I respond to our followers comments, and then spend some time supporting some of their pages with likes and comments. I then check my emails, log our financials, and address any concerns with our business back home. Some nights we get to relax a bit before hitting the sack.
Each day is pretty much the same, until we get to our last day at a location. That evening is spent scouring the Internet for our next "home", and the best deal we can find on it. This means searching camping options, Air B&B, hotels, and our latest option, house/pet sitting options. We have to take into location the cost and the location, along with things like parking. When we stay in cities, parking, if not included,can be quite expensive and also can be difficult to find. Many garages don't have the clearance that we need, even for our small van! There are so many little details involved in the logistics of traveling full-time, so much more that we could have imagined. Thankfully we started in the U.S. so we can work out our schedule and figure out all of these little details. Once we start the International part of our trip, I'm sure it will bring many other logistical headaches that we will have to learn to deal with. In the meantime, we are happy with how smooth the trip has been, and how much we have learned about travel.
Our last day at a location means it's time to pack up, break down camp, load the van, and hit the road, starting the whole process over again! We try to schedule "down days" to catch up on our website, write some reviews, BLOG, and business projects, but just like at home, when you take one thing off of the "To Do" list, 3 more things are added. This is one of the reasons that keeping up with our BLOG has been so difficult...we are still working, a lot! Travel is a wonderful experience and we are truly lucky to be in a position to take this adventure, but make no mistake, if you are planning to travel full-time, be prepared to work!
New Orleans has always been on our bucket list for a long weekend, but not for Mardi Gras. We arrived in New Orleans the first week of December, and the city is decked out in red bows, garland, Christmas Trees and lights. The decorations along with the iron works throughout the city, make you feel like you've stepped into a Dicken's Christmas Story, without the snow (UPDATE: It's snowing in New Orleans today!). Walking around this historic city just seems magical this time of the year.
Yeah, I know, Mardi Gras looks like an amazing party, but if a huge mass of very drunk people behaving badly isn't your scene, then consider New Orleans around Christmastime (Note: There are family friendly parades all through Carnivale, including on Mardi Gras). If that is your scene, the good news is that there is always a party going on down Bourbon Street. There are plenty of opportunities to partake in the festivities and if you enjoy people watching, there are plenty of partying people to watch every single night! Worried that you are missing out on the parade? Plan your trip around the annual Christmas Parade that runs down Canal Street. No, it's not as large as the Mardi Gras parade, but there were a lot of floats and people throwing beads, stuffed animals, cups, candy, and all of the traditional Mardi Gras swag! If it's not enough floats for you, head to Mardi Gras World and check out where the floats, as well as other sculptures for Disney and other parks and casinos are made. The tour shows you how these floats are made and not only will you see some old props, but you will get a preview of the floats and props they are working on for the next Mardi Gras! Did you know that they start celebrating the first week in January and there is at least one parade every single day until Mardi Gras!
Parades are a common occurrence in New Orleans. Bands seem to come out of now where and suddenly you find yourself marching behind them, forming your own parade. The streets are constantly lined with musicians of all ages playing a variety of musical instruments. Like many cities, you have your bucket drummers, but here, may of them are young children, and quite talented. There are musicians that played instruments in ways I have never heard before. I remember saying "I never knew that a clarinet could sound like that", with Toni returning the sentiment. Make sure that when you travel to New Orleans, that you carry plenty of dollars with you so you can support these amazing artists.
A trip to New Orleans isn't complete without visiting their unique cemeteries. I know it seems morbid, but learning about how people in different areas celebrate and honor their dead is a part of understanding the culture of an area. New Orleans is below sea level so they bury their dead above ground and it's quite a site to see. Many of these cemeteries are very old, and I would consider them a "must see". St Louis is the most famous, but it now requires a tour guide, which is $20 each. Instead, head to the Lafayette Cemetery in the Garden District. It is not as large, but has the same style markers. While you are there, do a self-guided tour the two blocks around the cemetery and you will see Sandra Bullock, John Goodman, Archie Manning (where Peyton & Eli grew up), and Ann Rice's homes! The area is a lovely place to walk, filled with beautiful homes.
You can't talk about New Orleans without talking about the food. Like many of the places we have visited on the coast, seafood is a huge part of the cuisine. Craw fish seems to be a staple here along with shrimp. Gumbo and Jambalaya dishes are often made with shrimp, chicken, and andouille sausage, but each place has their own take on these dishes which include rabbit, craw fish, and alligator. Fried chicken is everywhere you look and was delicious! We did meet some new travel friends that suggested trying Boudin as well, but we just couldn't do it. For those of you more adventurous with your food, it was recommended by a person that eats a plant-based diet, but makes Boudin her exception! Anyone who knows us will not be surprised to learn that our favorite local dish was the Beignets and Cafe Au Lait from Cafe Du Monde. A french-style fried dough with, what seems like, and entire bag of powdered sugar on top. Toni says they are perfect for coffee dipping! You cannot go to New Orleans without a stop here!
So, if Mardi Gras isn't your type of scene, don't write off a visit to New Orleans, just visit around the holidays! The sites and sounds of this city are truly unique to anyplace we have seen in the United States so far. The culture here is so different, in fact, that the United States originally rejected Louisiana's request to be a part of the States! This is another Bucket List stop that did not disappoint. As a matter of fact, we will be back!
Continuing our trek south for the winter, our next stop after Cleveland was Cincinnati. En route, we stopped by the Ohio Reformatory, which is the famous prison from the movie Shawshank Redemption, and has been featured in other films as well. Usually you are able to tour this architecturally beautiful prison, however, they are currently decorated to the max for Halloween and are only open at night for their Blood Prison event...a haunting experience. Since horror isn't really our thing, we decide to just admire the prison from the road. If you are a big Shawshank fan, there is a local tour you can do to see several of the scenes from the movie.
We continue south and change our route to take us through Dayton. Dayton is famous for aviation and there are several points of interests dedicated to the Wright Brothers, who were from Dayton. We only stopped by one park, which ended up being named after them, but was really a poorly maintained Veteran's Memorial Park. There was a good view of the river and the city from that point, but the park was quite disappointing.
A hidden Gem near Cincinnati, in Loveland, is the Castle La Roche. Upon arriving, we meet some of "Knights of the Golden Trail". They are working on the castle and cannot seem to get the aerial lift they rented started. Nicole, having a lot of experience working with lifts in our window cleaning business, decides to take a look. After only a few minutes, it's up and running. It will go up and down, but it still won't move forward and back. She spent an hour troubleshooting it with the Knights, but was unable to get it to move and suggests they call the rental company because it needs repair. We begin our self-guided tour of the castle. The castle isn't massive in size or fancy, but the story behind it is awesome. To summarize, Harry D. Andrews built the castle over the course of 51 years, by himself! He used stones that he collected from river that runs through the property. He worked on it until he died at the age of 91. He had no heirs, so when he was younger, he knighted several boys from the Sunday School that he taught. He called them them the Knights of the Golden Trail because they had to agree to live by the 10 commandments, and they had to agree to help maintain the castle and share it with others. He created a 501C and left the property to them, and they continue to run it today. People can be knighted by volunteering their time. Nicole was almost knighted for her help with the lift, and though she wasn't, they all said that we were, by far, the most helpful visitors they have EVER had! The full story of Harry and this castle is pretty impressive and you can read it HERE if you want to learn more.
Another hidden gem we stopped at was the Lucky Cat Museum. If you've ever seen those fat cats waving their paw up, that is a Chinese Lucky Cat. This museum is located in the Essex Art Studio and is a personal collection of Lucky Cats figurines as well as a variety of other Lucky Cat items. The studio is free, though a small donation to look around is always a great gesture. We spoke to the owner of the collection and learned about how she came to own so many and where she gets them from. One rare slot machine that she had always wanted was found in the basement of someone's house and went up for sale, right in Cincinnati! Talk about lucky!!! The museum only takes about 15-30 minutes to walk through, but it's unique and some of the items are interactive, like the coin boxes and slot machines. Toni loves the lucky cat so this museum was a great find for us.
We did swing by the famous Findlay Market, which is listed on the National Registry for Historic Places, and is Ohio's oldest continuous market. It was later in the day, but many of the vendors must have closed up early so we did strike out there, but we made up for it by trying some local favorites. We went to Skyline Chili, which has a unique flavor that has made it a staple in Cincinnati for decades. There is much debate about whether theirs is the best or Gold Star Chili, which we didn't get to try. You will have to try them both and decide for yourself! There is no debating that Graeter's Ice Cream is another great staple here. They are known for their Raspberry Chocolate Chip Ice Cream, which Nicole tried, but they offer several flavors, including seasonal flavors like the Stout & Chocolate Pretzel that Toni tried. Both were outstanding, and the chocolate chips are really small chunks of their dark chocolate, which were absolutely divine!
We had heard some great things about the Cincinnati zoo, and we had some extra time, so we decided to check it out. We love animals and enjoy spending time at zoos. (Money Saving Travel Tip: Most zoos offer affordable memberships that give you reciprocity at other zoos. Often it's 50% or 100% off at other zoos!) The zoo is pretty large and has a wide variety of animals. It was a Trick or Treat day there so we saw lots of kids and even some parents dressed up, and many of the animals were given pumpkins. We saw several animals, mostly small mammals, that we haven't seen before, so it was fun to learn about them. We saw an Andean Bear with his head in his pumpkin, getting every last seed out of it. They also have Sigfried and Roy's White Tigers there and 3 Bengal cubs as well...all were beautiful! Fiona, the baby hippo, has taken the Internet by storm. We were able to get a glimpse of her while she out as well. Overall, we feel that the Cincinnati Zoo is worth visiting. Make sure you plan on at least 4 hours so you can see it all!
Cincinnati sits along the Ohio River and has a beautiful green area near the river. The Bengal's and Red's stadiums are right by the river as well, making that area a great place to explore. There are 3 bridges near the river front park, and all bridges lead to Kentucky. The John A Roebling Suspension Bridge is a stunning blue bridge that connects with Covington, KY. We were able to walk across the bridge to Kentucky in about 15 minutes. There are wonderful views of Cincinnati from the bridge and it is definitely worth the walk. The park has porch swings all along it, as well as fun activities for kids and adults alike. Play a giant pipe piano by walking on keys, hop aboard a flying pig, play on the playground or in the fountains, or just walk along the river and enjoy the views. There is an indoor carousel, and thanks to Marcy, who we met on the bridge, you can take the street car and/or trolley around and get a good feel of the city, which we did. Of course there are plenty of places to eat and shop in the area as well. We walked to Fountain Square where they are currently building a skating rink for more winter entertainment in the city.
Overall, we were very impressed with Cincinnati, and to be honest, quite surprised. Most people probably don't think of Cincinnati when they think of cities to explore, and we honestly thought we would have a hard time finding enough to do. There is plenty to do there to fill a long weekend getaway, and the River Front area is nice place for a romantic walk. You can even hop a cruise down the river on a paddle boat! The Queen City has plenty to offer travel enthusiasts!
This week we continued to make our way back south with stops in Cleveland and Cincinnati. In Cleveland, we had to head straight to the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame first, a bucket list stop for us! With thousands of artifacts from musical artists from Elvis Presley to Michael Jackson, this museum offers an entire day of fun and entertainment. There are jukeboxes touch-screen TVs that will play videos for just about any song you want to hear. Nicole chose "Rock Me Amadeus", which brought back memories of her youth. Someone chose "We are the World", which we just had to stop and watch too. There are interactive displays that let you learn about and listen to categories like one hit wonders. We found this quite addictive and spent about 45 minutes listening to them all, alphabetically. We also came to the conclusion that one hit wonders tend to be used more in commercials, because we were able to tie so many of them to several different brands, which was a fun side game for us. There are great displays that show all the influences of blues, country, and other genres on Rock & Roll.
Just south of Cleveland is the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, another Bucket List stop! This is a must see for any football fan. Currently, they have a football card collection on display on the 1st floor, which was quite impressive. One floor has Madden games set up on big screen TVs where people can sit on a couch and play for a while. We were able to sit in on a presentation about helmets and how they have changed through the decades, and how they are addressing the current safety concerns with concussions. It was interesting to see the new helmets players are using and how much they have improved just from the time that we've hung up our cleats (2006). A volunteer there, Bill, started talking with us and ended up giving us a personal tour of a few things he wanted to be sure we didn't miss. He was excited to tell us that they were about to get a briefing on a new helmet that day from a company called Zenith that is supposed to be the safest helmet to date and may take the market by storm. He then showed us the plans they have for a huge expansion to the property. They are adding a retirement home for NFL players where they will be able to get proper medical care. They are also adding a resort that will have all types of restaurants, shopping, a watermark, and football related activities. We also learned that there is one house still on the property that is owned by a 90 year old woman. When they bought the property they told her that she can stay there until she dies, which is unheard of. We continue our tour and spend about 4-5 hours looking at the Hall of Fame Busts, the artifacts, and learning about the history of football. There are some interactive displays here as well. One of our favorites was a real Instant Replay experience, which give you insight of how the referees use this tool, using real-life scenarios from games. Though the museum doesn't have a section that represents the Women's Pro Football Leagues yet, there were a few displays to honor the women of late that have broken into some coaching, refereeing , and broadcasting roles in the NFL. Actually, just the day before, Jennifer Welter, a previous Women's League player and currently an NFL coach, was at the Hall of Fame. Maybe someday there will be a section to represent women who have been playing for decades, like Cooperstown has done.
We found a few other stops interesting in Cleveland. We went to 'The Christmas Story' House and it's exactly as it looks in the movie. There are tours available, though we opted to skip the tour. You are able to walk up to the porch and you can see the Leg Lamp in the front window. Across the street is a garage that has the "Old Man's Oldsmobile" and the Fire Truck that was on the scene to help the kid with his tongue frozen to the pole. There is also a museum and a gift shop. The gift shop has gift items from several favorite Christmas movies like Elf and National Lampoon's Christmas for sale. They do have an online shop if you are looking for some unique Christmas gifts!
A hidden gem that we found is the International Women's Air & Space Museum. Right next to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, in the terminal of the Burke Lakefront Airport, this small museum has some artifacts and shares some great stories about women who have led the way in aviation. The museum and parking are free and is a great way to spend about an hour learning about these amazing women.
The West Side Market is worth checking out. The fruit and vegetable displays are beautiful, and there are a lot of vendors selling a variety of mostly unprepared fresh foods, though there are some beautiful looking
baked goods that you could certainly snack on as you stroll. If it's nature you are looking for, head to the Cayuhoga National Park and take a short hike to the Brandywine Falls. The National Park has several trails you can hike, and the drive out there is also very pretty.
Cleveland is definitely a great city to get out and explore. There is plenty of things to do to fill a long weekend in this city and its surrounding areas. We enjoyed our stay here and would recommend adding it to your weekend getaway lists!
Bangor was our second stop in Maine. We were there from August 24-26. Though there isn't a ton of tourist attractions here, the scenery is beautiful and it's great if you are just looking for a little down time. It's definitely worth a day or so en route to your visit to Acadia.
Highlights of our time in Bangor, Maine
- Pleasant Hill Campground
- Dysarts Truck Stop & Diner (a must)
- Stephen King self-guided tour (don't pay for a tour...it's all easy to find)
- American Folk Festival
- Visit with Toni's friend Naya from High School
We were in Portland Maine from August 20-23. This is a city on the Southern coast of Maine known for it's ports that would export Lumber from Northern Maine. The city has several parks, the Old Port area for shopping and restaurants, and then several quaint towns surrounding the city. LL Bean has their flagship store here and we were able to watch the eclipse from their location. They had eclipse glasses as well telescopes set up for the event. The store itself it worth checking out.
Here are all of the highlights of our stay in Portland:
- Friends and Family Campground at Sebago Lake
- Old Port
- East Prominade
- West Prominade
- Two Lights State Park (must do)
- Len Libby's Candy Shoppe (Worlds Largest Chocolate Moose...1700 lbs!)
- Saco River Canoe and Kayak
- Tubing down the Saco River
- LL Bean
This week we camped in Provincetown on the Cape, and then headed to Boston, where we are camping about 35 minutes out of the city. The whale watch was the highlight of our week in P-Town. Our videos are on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube...they are a must see! So far we are loving Boston. So much to see here and lots to do! Here are a few photos and a video about the highlights of our week! Thanks for following!
The second half of the week was even busier than the first. This is a longer VLOG, but we covered a lot of territory in a few days and saw so many amazing sites. This will easily be a couple of chapters in our book!
Here are some of the highlights of these days!
- Dinosaur State Park, Hartford,CT
- Noah Webster Museum, Hartford, CT
- Mark Twain House & Museum, Hartford, CT
- The State Capital Building, Hartford,CT
- Thread City Crossing Bridge (Google it)
- Mystic, CT
- Newport, RI
- Ocean Drive, Newport, RI
- Cliff Walk, Newport, RI
- Aquinnah Cliffs, Martha's Vinyard
- Gay Head LIghthouse, Martha's Vinyard
- Menemsha Beach (Jaws), Marthas'Vinyard
- The Flying Horse Carousel, Oak Bluffs, MV
- All of the towns of Martha's Vinyard
We accomplished a lot this week so we had to split the VLOG into two segments. This is from our time spent in New Jersey & Connecticut.
Here are some of the points of interest we saw:
- Weehawken Dueling Grounds, NJ
- NYC Skyline & Liberty Views from NJ
- Teardrop Memorial at Cape Liberty, NJ
- Pez Factory & Museum, Orange, CT
- East Rock Park, New Haven, CT
Here are a few pictures highlighting these adventures!