tourism

Adventures in Florida: New Smyrna Beach

New Smyrna BeachIn a few short days, I will be completely finished with my spring semester and one half of the way through graduate school! Time flies when you’re having fun (that, and when you’re up against a deadline on a paper!), but classes have proven especially challenging for me this semester, so I will be excited for a little break. :)

I plan to celebrate the upcoming summer season by crossing a few more items off my 26 at 26 bucket list, spending quality time with friends, and doing some much-needed organizational projects at home. Of course, no summer in Florida is complete without a beach trip, so I’m looking forward to taking a mini-road trip to New Smyrna Beach!

As some of you may know, I grew up a lot closer to the coast, so a trip to the beach was no big deal. However, living in Central Florida often means fewer beach trips, simply because of how much longer it takes to get there! For my 25 at 25 bucket list, I decided to visit a Central Florida beach that I had never visited before: New Smyrna Beach.

IMG_4926New Smyrna Beach is one of the prettiest beaches I’ve ever visited. Not only does it have that picture-perfect white sand,  but you can actually park right on the beach. The last time I went, I felt like I was on spring break! 🙂

If you’re getting in around lunchtime, the best place to stop is the iconic Breakers Ocean Front Restaurant, a beloved landmark in NSB. The seating throughout the restaurant overlooks the ocean (and makes for excellent people-watching), and the burgers are pretty good, too.

For those visiting from out of town, check out Tripping.com to book your vacation rental. From beach houses to luxury vacation homes, Tripping.com has a great selection of places to choose from in New Smyrna Beach and all over Florida, and will compare prices from all of the top sites.

Thinking of making the trip? Here are my top five must-haves for any beach vacation.

  • Proper Hydration
    In case you haven’t heard, Florida can get pretty hot in the summertime. While a cold beer may feel refreshing, it’s important to stock up on water as well in order to remain fully hydrated. Don’t forget your cooler! Bonus tip: A koozie will also help keep your drink cold. Check out ChicMonogram on Etsy for customized monogrammed koozies. Her turnaround time is awesome and her products never disappoint!
  • Cute Cover-Up
    A cute cover-up is essential for any beach trip. I’ve bought a lot of my favorites at Target, and am currently eyeing this adorable kaftan.
  • Sunscreen & Skin Care
    A little bit of sun goes a long way. Make sure to protect your skin from the UVA rays. I like to bring a hat as well to cover my face and (hopefully!) prevent added wrinkles. Don’t forget a lip balm with SPF too– your lips will thank you!
  • Ibuprofen
    As much as I love the great outdoors, I tend to get a pretty bad headache if I’m outside in the heat all day. That’s why I always make sure to pack some ibuprofen or aspirin– that way, I can enjoy the day for longer and still feel great.
  • A Great Beach Read
    For added relaxation, pack along that book you’ve been dying to read. Need some suggestions? For short stories with a splash of dark humor, check out B.J. Novak’s One More Thing, or Helen Ellis’s American Housewife. If you’re looking for sci-fi drama, And Again by Jessica Chiarella is a true page-turner. Or, if you want a memoir with a strong female lead, look no further than Mindy Kaling’s latest, Why Not Me? or Amy Schumer’s Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo.

What are your favorite beach essentials? Any tips for visiting New Smyrna? Share with us 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.

Adventures in Florida: A Weekend in St. Augustine

When I turned 25 just a few months ago, one of my first orders of business was to plan a trip to St. Augustine in the New Year. When I was a child growing up in South Florida, St. Augustine played a big role in my fourth grade education, as the oldest European-established settlement in the country and the first overnight field trip destination my classmates and I ever visited. I visited the town in passing a few times since, but wanted to spend more time in St. Augustine this winter.

In early January, my mom and I packed our bags and took a short road trip to the nation’s oldest city, where we would stay for the weekend.

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Our first stop was the Lightner Museum, which was originally the Hotel Alcazar built by Henry Flagler. Aside from the gorgeous Spanish-inspired architecture and picturesque landscaping, the museum boasts collections of antique musical instruments, sculptures, paintings, the stained glass art of Louis Comfort Tiffany, and several other historical and science exhibits as well.

LightnerMuseum

During our visit, we were also able to see the hotel’s original spa and Turkish bath areas. However, nothing was more festive and exciting than our lunch at the Cafe Alcazar, a restaurant located where the indoor pool used to be. I loved my hummus salad almost as much as the cafe itself, and would highly recommend grabbing a bite there for an elegant and unique dining experience. (After all, how often do you get to eat lunch in a swimming pool?)

Cafe Alcazar

After the Lightner Museum, we walked over to Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park. Of course, my mom and I drank from the Fountain of Youth, so now I’m hoping to be young and beautiful well into my nineties. If I’m still blogging by then, I’ll let you know how well the fountain really worked. 🙂

Fountain of Youth

We roamed around the park for the afternoon, visited the exhibits, watched a few videos on the discovery of the settlement, and fell asleep during the observatory show (okay, that was just me!). I also made a few unlikely friends.

Fountain of Youth Park

Seriously, these guys were everywhere!

After checking into the hotel and grabbing a quick bite to eat, we ended the night with a Ghosts & Gravestones ghost tour. I have always been a fan of ghost tours, and this one did not disappoint! We stopped at the Lighthouse Park and at the Old Jail, where we were visited by an old (slightly terrifying) prisoner. We had a fantastic time, all while learning about some of the more macabre history of St. Augustine.

Castillo de San Marcos

The next morning, we headed out to the Castillo de San Marcos, the country’s oldest fort that was owned by several nations at different points in history. It was an incredible experience to walk through a place that survived so many wars and attacks, in the footsteps of so many others before us.

Castillo de San Marcos

After the Castillo, we enjoyed a quick lunch in the Old City before heading back home. I had a wonderful weekend with one of my favorite traveling companions, and would recommend St. Augustine to anyone planning a vacation. 🙂

For a recap of my other Bucket List adventures, click here!

Have any of you been to St. Augustine? What were your favorite experiences?

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!

Adventures in Florida: Central Florida Zoo

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Squad goals.

My inner child had the time of her life over the weekend when I took my very first trip to the Central Florida Zoo in Sanford. As some of my blog readers know, I’ve been dying to visit this zoo for quite some time — it’s practically in my backyard and it made its way onto my 25 at 25 Bucket List! (To see my progress so far, click here.) I was overcome with excitement when I convinced a few friends to tag along, and I enjoyed every minute of my visit. 🙂

Total disclosure: I’m an unapologetic nerd when it comes to my love for animals. I know there are a lot of pros and cons when it comes to zoos, but there’s no denying that zoos can instill in us an empathy and love for all creatures from a young age. You gain exposure to species you’ve never even heard of from areas of the world you’ve never been. If you live in Florida, a giraffe is probably not going to wander in front of your window one morning, so seeing one in person can be a one-of-a-kind experience.

Of course, as you’ve probably guessed, I had a great time at the zoo. 🙂 It was Lemur Conservation Day, which meant that we learned little factoids about lemurs throughout the day and even observed part of a zookeeper talk on lemurs.

Red Ruffed Lemur at Central Florida Zoo

Aside from lemurs, the Central Florida Zoo features a cheetah, leopard, cougar, dromedary camel and many other animals, as well as a fairly extensive herpetarium and a variety of birds. The adorable otters were swimming when we arrived in their area and were possibly the happiest animals in the entire zoo, followed closely by this boer goat (who just might definitely be my spirit animal).

He seriously might have been my favorite animal of the whole day.

He seriously might have been my favorite animal of the whole day.

I was also enamored with these two Indian rhinos, Jahi and PJ, and compared them to two of our family dogs throughout the visit based on their proximity to one another. 🙂

Rhinos at Central Florida Zoo

For those of you who live in the Orlando area or are making a trip out here, the Central Florida Zoo is well worth the visit. I’m so happy I was able to finally experience it after years of living only a few miles away! It is a relatively small zoo, but it has a good variety of animals and plenty of activities for children as well.

This llama hopes you had a nice day!

This llama hopes you had a nice day!

What’s on your bucket list this year? Share your latest adventures in the comments section below!

Adventures in Florida: Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens

MorikamiA couple of weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to cross another item off of my 25 at 25 Bucket List: visiting the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Delray Beach, Florida. When you’ve lived somewhere for most of your life, you start to take it for granted, and sometimes miss out on some of the amazing hidden gems right in your own backyard. It is my goal this year to pursue new experiences in Florida and visit some of the places I’ve always wanted to see. The Morikami Museum was definitely one of those places, and it did not disappoint.

The Morikami Museum sits on 200 acres of Japanese gardens, all representing different eras of garden design. I went with my parents on a breezy, overcast day — perfect walking weather in Florida — and it felt like we were in another time and another world.

Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens

We learned about the history of the Yamato Colony, a pioneering group of Japanese farmers who settled in South Florida in the early 1900s. The colony never grew past 35 farmers, especially because it consisted mainly of young single men (most women weren’t interested in relocating from Japan to the Yamato Colony). However, the land was donated by one of the last colony members and preserved as a place to celebrate Japanese culture and educate others on the lesser-known history of Japanese heritage in Florida.

Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens

We also walked through the museum, modeled after a Japanese villa, and visited the art installations as well. The art installations focused on life during World War II in the Japanese internment camps, a dark time in America’s history. I didn’t know much about the internment camps prior to my visit (just that they existed), but the exhibitions were so moving that they inspired me to learn more after I left. I am now reading Julie Otsuka’s novel When The Emperor Was Divine, which focuses on a family sent to an internment camp in Utah, and still can’t believe that this really happened here less than 100 years ago. One room of the museum features The Tag Project, a set of seven hanging installations that consist of replicas of each identification tag for all of those displaced to internment camps. It creates a startling visual of just how many people were displaced at that time.

Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens

Visiting the Morikami Museum was an amazing educational experience that I cannot recommend enough.  For those who live in South Florida or are planning a trip, take some time to walk through these gardens and learn about the Japanese culture, past and present.

What’s on your bucket list this year? Share your latest adventures in the comments section below!

Love Your Shorts Summer Rewind: Adventures in Sanford

Ever since I graduated from college, I’ve looked for new ways to get engaged in my community. I grew up in South Florida, and while it may only be a few hours from where I live now, the two places sometimes often seem like worlds apart. Finding fun local events to attend with friends — especially those that pertain to the arts — has made my new residence feel a lot more like home.

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Sanford is a port city just north of Orlando, filled with its own rich history and well isolated from the hectic Disney World traffic. I often drive down to Lake Monroe to enjoy the beautiful view, eclectic shops and historic downtown district. From authentic German cuisine at Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Cafe to (paleo friends, cover your eyes for this!) handcrafted marshmallows and s’mores at Wondermade Dessert Cafe, the city is unique and has something to offer everyone.

Over the past two years, I’ve been using websites like Visit Seminole and EventBrite to find fun things to do in the Sanford area. The great thing about EventBrite is that not only can you sign up for events in your area, but you can also manage your own events and even sell tickets!

Back in August, while using the site, I discovered the Love Your Shorts Summer Rewind, and was immediately intrigued.

rewind3

The Love Your Shorts Film Festival takes place every year in February, but this year, they kicked off the fall with a showing of some of the best films from last year’s festival. This one-night event featured short films from all over the world of various genres — romance, comedy, sci-fi, animation, you name it!

I decided to go to the film festival with a good friend of mine, and we were not disappointed. The event took place at the Wayne Densch Performing Arts Center downtown, which my friend described as being “straight out of old-timey America.” From there, we moseyed over to the film festival after-party at String Theory Creations, a nearby art shop.

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The after-party had a fun luau theme, and featured a live auction. Brice and I didn’t put in any bids, but we definitely enjoyed the people-watching. (There are few things more entertaining to watch than a live auction!) We did take advantage of the many mirrors throughout the shop by snapping a few mirror selfies.

Summer Rewind

For anyone traveling to Orlando, I highly recommend you take a day-trip out to Sanford. There are so many cool events like this throughout the year, and even if you visit on a quieter day, you can still take advantage of some awesome antiquing (my favorite store is Antiques and Dustibles on First Street!), enjoy delicious food, and perhaps even convince a handsome gentleman to take you out on his boat!

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Are any of my readers from the Sanford area? What events and activities would you recommend for travelers and locals alike? 🙂

Link Love Thursday: Let’s Go To Eataly!

Benvenuto a Eataly!Cute animals, Disney villains and pizza, oh my! This week, the Internet was filled with gold, and I’m excited to share with you in a one-day-late Link Love!

What great links have you come across this week?

The Weekend Five: Things I Loved in Paris

Bon jour, readers! For those who are wondering, yes, that’s me in the picture, standing in front of the Eiffel Tower on Bastille Day. 🙂 (More on that later!) As Part II of my study abroad trip to Europe, my classmates and I spent a week in Paris, where we filled up on carbs, brushed up on our merci‘s and au revoir’s, and visited some breathtaking sites throughout the city.

Although I had been to Paris twice before (at ages 15 and 16), my experience this summer was unlike any other. This week, I’ll share five of my favorite attractions and memories from my most recent visit, and my recommendations for those who plan to travel to Paris in the future. Share your own experiences in the comments section below!

The Weekend Five: Things I Loved In Paris

1. Musee d’Orsay.
When it comes to famous works of art, everyone tells you to visit the Louvre when you’re in Paris. Now, I’m certainly not knocking the Louvre — you could spend days in there before you’ve seen everything! — but I found during my most recent trip to Paris, I enjoyed Musee d’Orsay even more. Orsay houses some amazing impressionist works, and you’ll have the chance to see paintings by Monet, Manet, Renoir, Degas, van Gogh and more. The building itself is a work of art, formerly the Gare d’Orsay railway station, and is also home to plenty of sculptures, photography and other media.

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2. Palais Garnier.
As a huge Phantom of the Opera fan, I always love visiting the Palais Garnier — the famous opera house that served as the backdrop in the original novel. Located near some of the high end Parisian shopping (Galleries Lafayette), the Palais Garnier is beautifully decorated and absolutely worth a visit. One of my goals is to eventually see a ballet or an opera there, but until then, I’m happy peeking into the auditorium and snapping photos in the venue’s various rooms. An added bonus is that Box Five is actually “reserved” for the Phantom… you can look at the box’s inscription to see for yourself! Even if you hated the book/musical, you’ll still appreciate the opera house’s gorgeous architecture and interior.

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3. Boulangerie Tour.
One morning, a smaller group of us visited a bakery called Le Petit Mitron, thanks to a tour we booked on Viator prior to leaving the States. For the next hour or so, we learned all about how bakeries produce croissants, pain au chocolat, and baguettes — and we had the chance to make our own! We had a very passionate baker and tour guide/translator, who both made the experience fun and interactive. Although I’m not much for food and beverage, I loved having the chance to create my own signature on a Red Label baguette, and I was very proud of my croissant-rolling skills! At the end of the visit, you get to take home a few creations for free.

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4. Tim Burton Exhibit at the Cinematheque Francaise.
My fascination with Tim Burton and his work probably began when I was three years old and Nightmare Before Christmas had come out. A lot of people will criticize his work nowadays for being too much of the same, but there’s something to be said for the dark worlds he weaves together (usually with the help of Helena Bonham-Carter and Johnny Depp), and I’ve always loved his cinematic style. That’s why I was very excited to see his work being exhibited at the French Cinema Museum, where they include early drawings and stories, notes from various film scripts, sketches of characters, short films, costume pieces from some of his movies and even the famous scissor hands that everyone knows from Edward Scissorhands (one of my all-time favorite movies). The exhibit will give you a deeper insight into Tim Burton and his work, and is definitely worth the visit.

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5. Bastille Day.
If you are ever planning a trip to Paris in July, Bastille Day (July 14) is a very exciting day to do it! Because it would have been difficult to attend the Bastille Day parade and have a decent view of everything, we decided to watch the parade from our hotel television… but little did we know that the jet fly-bys on TV would soon occur right outside our window! After the parade, we went to the Eiffel Tower for a bird’s eye view of Paris. But the best part of the day? Sitting on the lawn of the Eiffel Tower (pictured) for the remainder of the afternoon with friends, waiting for the fireworks show to begin. I don’t know when I’ll be back in Paris, but watching the fireworks with so many thousands of people from around the world was such a wonderful experience, and I know I’ll have to do it again someday.

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To learn more about my study abroad trip, read my last blog post about London! Tune in next week to find out what I loved in the third and final city of my tour.