The Gateway to the West: Adventures in Omaha

Adventures in Omaha: YOUR Travel Guide

When I told friends I’d be traveling to Omaha for spring break, they had to laugh. After all, we live in Florida, home of some of the top spring break destinations in the country, and my friend and I were flying to a state that still had snow on the ground just a few weeks prior to our visit. However, I was excited to see one of our best friends in his new home city, and couldn’t wait to begin exploring.

So what exactly can you do in Omaha, the Gateway to the West? Much to my disappointment, it turns out that you can’t go pick corn* at a U-Pick farm in the middle of March. Luckily, there were a lot of cool spots for tourists and non-tourists alike, and we had a great time discovering a city I might not have otherwise thought to visit.

For those making the trip, check out my suggested itinerary items below! 🙂

Adventures in Omaha | YOUR Travel Guide

Places We Visited

  • Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium
    Known by TripAdvisor as the “world’s best zoo,” Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium is a must-visit for all animal lovers. I was especially excited to visit the pygmy goat enclosure (they even let us pet and brush them!), but there were other highlights throughout the zoo — penguins and sea creatures, an indoor desert, an indoor rainforest, the largest cat complex in North America, and so much more. Plan to spend an entire day at this zoo. There is a lot to see, and so many of these exhibits are among the largest in the world.
  • Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge
    Aside from a run-in with a very scary man by the river, we enjoyed our trip to see “Bob the Bridge.” This bridge crosses the Missouri River from Omaha, Nebraska, to Council Bluffs, Iowa. Not only were we able to be in two places at once, but we were able to check two states off our list!
  • Joslyn Castle
    “A castle?” you ask. “In Nebraska?” Yes and yes! Joslyn Castle was built in the early 1900s by a wealthy family who owned the Western Newspaper Union. The castle (really more of a mansion) is open for tours on the first and third Sunday of the month, when we happened to be in town, so it was kismet! I highly recommend a visit to this lesser-known landmark, especially if you’re a fan of gothic-inspired architecture.
  • Old Market Business District
    Take a stroll along the cobblestone streets of Nebraska’s Old Market.  The area is filled with eclectic shops and restaurants, but if nothing else, you can enjoy the various street performers and take in the historic buildings.
  • Spielbound Board Game Café
    On our first night, we stopped at Spielbound for some fun. The place is filled with — you guessed it — board games! We played games like Nuns On The Run and (my new favorite) Dixit over hot tea and coffee, and I would 100% return on a future visit.

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What We Ate

  • Flavors Indian Cuisine
    My first meal in Omaha was aloo gobi at an Indian restaurant called Flavors, which was true to its name and did not disappoint! They offer an awesome variety on their menu, as well as a lunch buffet for those looking to mix it up.
  • Fudge and Hot Chocolate in the Old Market
    During our visit to the Old Market, we stopped at the Old Market Candy Shop for fudge! The shop does serve small samples, but of course I ended up coming home with squares of dark chocolate and mint chocolate chip. Afterward, we popped over to Dolci next door for hot chocolate — the perfect way to warm up from the cooler temperatures! Dolci also serves ice cream and other desserts, depending on what your sweet tooth is looking for.
  • Stokes Grill & Bar
    For lunch in the Old Market, we visited the southwestern style Stokes Grill & Bar, where I enjoyed a delicious wood grilled chicken. Visit during brunch hours for an even greater variety.
  • Stella’s Bar & Grill
    This burger joint in Bellevue is known for its world famous burgers and was well worth the wait. They happen to sell T-shirts as well, so of course I left with a purple Stella’s shirt. Now that I’m back in Florida, I wear it all the time.
  • Lucky Bucket Lager
    I’m not much of a beer drinker, but a classmate from Nebraska requested a six-pack of Lucky Bucket since it isn’t shipped to Florida. I caved at the airport bar and tried a sip, and it was actually pretty good! Beer enthusiasts, stop at any Omaha bar or grocery store and you’ll be sure to find it.
  • Omaha Steaks
    I had an Omaha Steak hamburger at the zoo. The verdict? I like McDonald’s a lot better!

Any Omaha natives or recent visitors who would like to share their own local favorites? Sound off in the comments section below!

* I did not eat any corn throughout my entire trip to Nebraska. Just thought you all should know.

5 Tips For Planning Your Next Vacation

“I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.” – Mary Anne Radmacher

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If you can’t tell already from the bulk of my posts, I love to travel. I may not be able to do that much of it now that I’m in graduate school, but I try to prioritize even the shorter road trips so that I can experience something new. I truly enjoy visiting a place I’ve never been before, and immersing myself in the culture, food, and history. (Check out my travel guide on Savannah, Georgia, for my latest vacation recap!) However, no vacation is complete without the proper planning, and I’m nothing if not a planner. 🙂

With Memorial Day Weekend almost here and summertime just around the corner, it’s not too late to plan your next adventure. Below are my tips for making it a stress-free vacation, because you deserve it!

  • Call your credit card companies and financial institutions.
    As someone who works in the banking industry, I can attest to this! If you use your card in another state or country, your bank/credit union/credit card company may think that someone has stolen your card and is conducting fraudulent transactions. One of my credit cards was shut down before my trip overseas, simply because I purchased attraction tickets online. Let your financial institutions know where you will be and how long you will be there so that they don’t mistake your travel expenses for fraudulent activity.
  • Plan ahead with a unique itinerary.
    When it comes to vacations, I love this part of the planning process. Before we go on one of our mother-daughter trips, my mom always orders a AAA book to guide us on things to do and places to stay in a particular area. I love the U.S. News Travel site, but I also really enjoy searching for travel blog posts via Pinterest to find suggestions, including some off-the-beaten-path. Having even a rough itinerary will keep you organized throughout the trip and ensure that you have the chance to do the things you’re dying to do!
  • Look for a Hop-On, Hop-Off Tour.
    I am a huge fan of these tours because they allow you to see a lot of the major landmarks and learn the history behind them, while “hopping on” and “hopping off” at your leisure. It’s a great way to spend your first day in a new city! I first discovered these tours in London, but have done them both abroad and in the U.S. If you’re visiting one of the seven cities they serve, I highly recommend Old Town Trolley Tours.
  • Print extras of everything.
    Renting a car? Booking a tour? Designate a folder for all things trip-related, and keep copies of your reservations and tour confirmations with you in case you need to reference that information later on. You’ll thank me when the rental car company doesn’t properly compute your Costco membership discount, and accidentally upcharges you for your car! 🙂
  • Keep your home safe.
    Don’t forget about your house or apartment when you’re on vacation! It’s important to make sure you come back to your home just as you left it, from setting your alarms to cleaning out the fridge. For some more information, check out SimpliSafe’s Facebook page and infographic below about stress-free travel, as well as their tips for keeping your home safe when traveling overseas.. SimpliSafe offers wireless, customizable security systems that use modern technology to protect your home, whether you’re leaving the country or simply leaving for the grocery store. Visit their website here!

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Where are you traveling this summer? Sound off with your plans and other tips in the comments section!

The Hostess City of the South: Adventures in Savannah

Savannah - 12While discussing upcoming travel plans, my friend Karina brought up an important point: if you didn’t blog about it, did it even happen? Back in January, my mom and I took our much anticipated annual mother-daughter trip to Savannah, Georgia, a city with culture as rich as its cuisine.

The Historic District of Savannah, where we spent the bulk of our vacation, includes 22 town squares as originally planned by James Oglethorpe in the 1700s. The squares are easy to navigate, and each one we visited had its share of landmarks, restaurants, and eclectic shops.

I’m excited to share the highlights of our trip on the blog, and provide a guide for those traveling to this city for the first (or fifth!) time. 🙂

Places We Visited

  • Wormsloe Plantation
    We began our visit at the Wormsloe Plantation outside of Savannah’s Historic District, first occupied by Noble Jones. We toured the museum and watched a short film about the city’s establishment, but the highlight of visiting these tabby ruins was our mile-long walk down the Spanish moss-lined avenue. What a gorgeous view and a perfect photo op!
  • Savannah - 195Owens-Thomas House
    My mom and I are both big fans of historic homes, so visiting this English Regency-style house was a must. The house served as a home for many over the years, including (temporarily) Marquis de Lafayette. We enjoyed learning the history of the home and its architecture. If you only have time to visit one historic home on your trip, this is the one!
  • Telfair Academy
    Telfair Academy is an art museum located in Telfair Square (near the Owens-Thomas House) and boasts a beautiful sculpture gallery. It also boasts its share of ghost stories. For those planning to visit Telfair Academy, your ticket will also grant you admission to the Owens-Thomas House, as well as the Jepson Center, a contemporary art museum.
  • Sorrel-Weed House
    The Sorrel-Weed House is located very close to our hotel, so we decided to pay the home a visit. The home is currently undergoing restoration efforts, but it was interesting to see how people lived in the 1800s when it was first built. It is also a site known for its ghost sightings, so be wary of any paranormal activity!
  • Savannah - 73Massie Heritage Center
    This former school house was converted to a museum after the school closed in the 1970s, and provides a great overview of Savannah and its history. From its interactive 3D map of the city with a laser show to the 1800s classroom replica, we had fun stepping back in time at Massie.

Tours We Took

  • Old Town Trolley Tours: Hop-On, Hop-Off
    Whenever visiting a new city, I always recommend taking a hop-on, hop-off tour if available. Not only do these tours allow you to learn a lot about the city you’re in, but they also happen to stop at all of the major attractions and can be a great guide for getting to know the area. We toured the city on an Old Town Trolley Tour, which transported us to the picturesque Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Congregation Mikve Israel (one of the oldest synagogues in the country and the only one designed with gothic architecture), Massie Heritage Center, River Street, and many more destinations.
  • Ghosts & Gravestones Tour
    You can’t visit a historic city known for its hauntings without taking a ghost tour! My mom and I did a Ghosts and Gravestones tour on our St. Augustine trip last year, so it was only fitting that we returned for our 2017 trip. The tour gave us some additional insight into Savannah’s history, but it also stopped at the Andrew Low House as well as a ship chandlery. Definitely spooky!

What We Ate

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My mom and I don’t consider ourself major foodies, but we did eat a few delicious meals and treats during our visit! Here are some of our favorites:

  • The Public Kitchen and Bar
    Our first dinner in Savannah was spent at The Public Kitchen and Bar, a farm-to-table restaurant located near our hotel. I tried a Thai Coconut Red Curry, while my mom ordered one of the grass-fed burgers the restaurant is known for.
  • River Street Sweets
    River Street, while iconic, was a little too crowded and touristy for our taste. However, we did make a special stop at River Street Sweets, where we sampled free pralines and purchased some candy to bring back to the hotel. The long lines were worth it!
  • Gryphon Tea Room
    Gryphon Tea Room was the perfect lunch spot for our second day in Savannah. The restaurant itself is a sight to behold, with beautifully carved bookshelves, stained glass, and ornate light fixtures.  While I enjoyed my chicken marsala, the highlight of our visit was definitely the pot of Atlanta Peach Tea that accompanied my meal. On my next visit to Savannah, I would love to return for high tea.
  • Chocolat by Adam Turoni
    How can you walk by a store called “Chocolat” and not go inside? Like Gryphon, Chocolat by Adam Turoni is filled with bookshelves and actually resembles a bookstore more than anything else. The store sells gift book boxes of chocolates, mint julep truffles, and a variety of other unique food products. I enjoyed a piece of the Savannah Honey Chocolate Bar and a Raspberry Chambord Truffle. Definitely worth the visit!

Savannah was only a four-hour drive and the perfect way to spend a long weekend for a mother-daughter trip! I can’t wait for my next visit to the Hostess City of the South, and look forward to getting to know this city even better.

Have you been to Savannah? What are some of the highlights from your trip? Share your suggestions or questions in the comments section below!

Adventures in Florida: The Seacrest Wolf Preserve

Over the weekend, I experienced the adventure of a lifetime when my dad, sister, and I took a trip to the Seacrest Wolf Preserve. Tucked away in Chipley, Florida, the Seacrest Wolf Preserve was one of those bucket list items I never even knew I had until recently, when I met one of the volunteers at the Blue Springs Manatee Festival. I come from a family of animal lovers (who also happen to be involved in German Shepherd rescue efforts), so visiting the Seacrest Wolf Preserve was the perfect family getaway.

For those who are unfamiliar, the Seacrest Wolf Preserve is a non-profit organization dedicated to wolf conservation. Covering more than 400 acres, the preserve is a safe haven for several wolf packs, as well as foxes, skunks, a coyote, and other wildlife. Seacrest offers both public and private tours, allowing visitors to meet and interact with the wolves and smaller animals.

For our first visit, we decided to check out the Saturday Wolf Encounter Tour. When we arrived, we met Cynthia Watkins, one of Seacrest’s co-founders, and it was easy to see her passion for these beautiful animals. For just $25 admission, we had the chance to tour three wolf habitats and meet the packs who live there, as well as visit the foxes and skunks in the small animal areas.

This experience was life-changing, and I can’t wait to return for another visit. Within the wolf habitats, we were actually able to pet, play, and howl with the wolves– we even received a few wolf kisses! I fell in love with an energetic 10-month-old pup who reminded me a lot of my first German Shepherd, Shana, at that age. 🙂

Throughout the day, we learned about how packs form and how difficult it truly is to be a “lone wolf.” We also learned about why conservation efforts are a necessity, as wolves are incredibly vital to the ecosystem, and how greed and legislation have put their lives in danger.

During the tour, we talked about how important it is to speak for the wolves, because they cannot speak for themselves. Supporting organizations like Seacrest is a great way to give back to these incredible animals and fight against the regulations that have put them in harm’s way. Visiting the preserve gives you a greater appreciation and empathy for an often misunderstood creature, and is a must-do for anyone who wants to get up close and personal with a wolf.

I’m excited to return with my family for a VIP Tour in the near future! I highly recommend Seacrest (learn more about tours here) for all of you animal lovers. It’s an experience you won’t forget.

Asheville Adventures: A Day at the Biltmore

During my North Carolina vacation last month, my friends and I decided to take a day trip to the beautiful city of Asheville. After a two-hour drive from our hotel, our first stop was the Lexington Avenue Brewery for lunch.

Things To Do in Asheville, NC

Brice’s brother had suggested the brewery prior to the trip as one of the best sandwiches he’d ever had, and the place did not disappoint. I ordered the chicken caesar salad — a safe though seemingly boring choice — and was surprised by how delicious it was! Never will you hear me rave about a caesar salad more than I did that afternoon (and for the rest of the trip). We were excited to learn that a percentage of the proceeds from our meals actually benefited the local humane society. It was nice to enjoy a delicious meal while giving back to a great cause!

After lunch, we meandered around downtown to check out a few of the shops. At one point, we spotted this gem, which I may forever regret not purchasing.

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Our afternoon continued at the Biltmore Estate, a highly anticipated point in the trip. This mansion was built by the Vanderbilt family and reawakened my dream to someday marry into old money. If the Moses Cone Manor was Charlotte Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, then the Biltmore Estate was definitely Thrushcross Grange.

Things to Do in Asheville, NC | Biltmore Estate

For a single admission price, we had the opportunity to tour the 33-bedroom/43-bathroom mansion. The Biltmore features a bachelors’ wing, an indoor pool, a gymnasium, countless kitchens, a breakfast room, and a Halloween room with bizarrely terrifying artwork. We also strolled through the gardens and the greenhouse. Most of the plant life in the gardens was still dead from the winter, but the greenhouse was in full bloom.

After touring the grounds, we drove over to the Antler Hill Village and stopped in the winery for a wine tasting (also included in our admission). While my palate isn’t exactly sophisticated enough for reds, I enjoyed the Century Sweet White wine that the winery had to offer. Harry, Brice, and I had a lot of fun rating the different wines and filling out our comment cards.

Things To Do in Asheville, NC | Antler Hill Winery

We ended our day with dinner at the Noodle Shop in downtown Asheville. I enjoyed a curry chicken while we listened to live music outdoors with a scenic view of the city. If you’re stopping in Asheville and have any Chinese food cravings, the Noodle Shop is a must-try!

Things To Do in Asheville, NC | Noodle Shop

The verdict: Asheville is a cool, artsy city with great food and beautiful architecture. It is the perfect place to stop during any North Carolina trip!

Cheers Before Mountaineers: Adventures in Boone, NC

Sometimes a change in scenery is exactly what you need to experience before you conquer the world. At least that’s what I told myself earlier this month, as my friend Brice and I jetted off to North Carolina just a week before my graduate school interview and a guest speaking appearance. It was my first time leaving the state of Florida since 2012 (something I made sure to prioritize on my 25 at 25 bucket list this year!), and the perfect opportunity for us to visit Harry, one of our best friends from college.

Harry moved to Boone for graduate school a couple of years ago, so we were excited to visit his new stomping grounds and create brand new memories in such a beautiful place. Of course, the photos and descriptions from all of my Pinterest research didn’t even begin to do this mountain town justice.

Adventures in Boone, NC

We took the roads less traveled as we hiked through the woods and forged new (unpaved, possibly dangerous) paths. We sipped strawberry-flavored imitation moonshine on the side of a mountain. We crossed a mile high bridge, said hello to a bear, and decided that nearly everything is a metaphor when you are in the wilderness. Being with two of my closest friends truly made the trip nothing short of an adventure.

For those of you planning a trip to Boone or the surrounding areas, here’s a quick recap of what we did!

Adventures in Boone, NC

Howard’s Knob.
This mountain has the best view of the town and was the perfect place for us to get our first taste of Boone. Our visit to Howard’s Knob was when it truly hit me that we were in completely new terrain, and that mountains were not just some vague shadows in the distance. (Bonus: There was still snow on the mountain, so a snowball fight just might have taken place.)

Adventures in Boone, NC

Moses Cone Park.
First of all, if your last name is Moses, then you’re basically breaking the law if you don’t visit Moses Cone Park! Though we did not go inside the house (pictured above), we felt completely haunted by its beauty. It reminded us of Wuthering Heights, and we half-expected to see the ghosts of Heathcliff and Cathy Earnshaw. From the house, we followed the winding trails for a few miles and found ourselves at Bass Lake (all to a very inspiring soundtrack of Taylor Swift and Donnie Darko music), before beginning our treacherous journey back to Moses Cone Manor. There was not a single bad view in sight, and there was something so invigorating about being out in the crisp air among nature.

Adventures in Boone, NC

Linville Falls.
We took the intermediate and advanced trails to various lookout points to see the waterfalls of Linville Falls. Just look at the picture. Do you even need another reason to go?

Adventures in Boone, NC

Grandfather Mountain.
Grandfather Mountain is not named for the many old men who inhabit it, but for its shape — from various angles, the mountain looks a lot like the profile of a man. This stop was nearly an all-day activity. After driving in, we purchased a CD that guided us on our way. We stopped at various lookout points and rock formations, took a tour of the museum, and visited a few animal friends: a bear who came out of hibernation for us, two very happy otters, a mountain lion, and a pair of eagles. Soon, we crossed the Mile-High Swinging Bridge (yes — we were a mile above sea level!) and stood at one of the peaks. It may not have been the smartest decision to do this while wearing Vans (and I swear the wind almost took me!) but it was truly a breathtaking experience that I would recommend to all visiting Boone.

During our time in North Carolina, we also spent a day in Asheville, which I’ll discuss more in a future post. 🙂 For now, I leave you with this quote, which perfectly summarizes our trip:

“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, and leading to the most amazing view.” – Edward Abbey

Adventures in Florida: A Night at the Planetarium

As some of my readers know, I created a 25 at 25 Bucket List for my 25th birthday back in September, consisting of 25 things I hoped to do over the next year. (Want to know how it’s going so far? Click here!) One of those adventures included a trip to the planetarium – something I hadn’t done since elementary school. I’ve always been interested in astronomy, as well as the mythology used to explain many of the stars in the sky, and I thought that a planetarium visit would be the perfect opportunity to learn something new.

Imagine my excitement when I found out that there was a planetarium just a few miles up the road at Seminole State College! The Emil Buehler Perpetual Trust Planetarium costs just $6 for an adult ticket (free for SSC students and $4 for seniors, K-12 students and students from other colleges), and offers a variety of public shows to choose from.

Emil Buehler Perpetual Trust Planetarium

Two weeks ago, my friends and I decided to get into the holiday spirit and attend the planetarium’s Star of Bethlehem show, which we learned is one of the most popular seasonal shows for planetariums worldwide. The show focuses on the story of the Magi and the birth of Jesus, as well as the scientific theories behind what the “star of Bethlehem” could have possibly been.

I enjoyed the mix of science and religious folklore throughout the show, and appreciated that the narration never became too preachy or alienated any of its audience. Instead, the show allowed for viewers to decide for themselves what to believe about the star, and encouraged viewers not to turn science and religion into a mutually exclusive either/or scenario. My friends and I are from different religious backgrounds, but the show appealed to all four of us and we all left having gained new historic, religious and scientific knowledge.

Emil Buehler Perpetual Trust Planetarium

Based on my experience at the Star of Bethlehem show that night, I will definitely be returning to this planetarium for other shows in the near future! In January, I also hope to attend the free Winter Sky Festival that the planetarium will be hosting. What a perfect way to enjoy a winter night in Florida!

What’s on your bucket list this year? Have you visited the planetarium recently? Share your latest adventures in the comments section below!