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!

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: 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.

LightnerMuseum

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: 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!