While most college grads celebrate their graduation with a party, my family likes to be unconventional. Since my Omi and cousin were coming from Germany, my dad used their visit as the perfect excuse to plan a road trip through Kentucky and Tennessee. It was like a scene out of a Chevy Chase movie: the entire Muehlbauer clan packed into a minivan and jamming out to country music as we made our way through the Smoky Mountains.
1st stop-Lexington, KY
It’s unintentionally (or intentionally, depending on how you look at it) become a theme in our family to try the native alcohol of each place we visit; so naturally we made a pit stop along the bourbon trail to taste Kentucky’s famous whiskey. Woodford Reserve did not disappoint. The distillery was surrounded by fields of potential race champions and offered a historic tour on how Kentucky bourbon came to be.
Fun fact: The minerals in the state’s water source are proven to produce stronger muscles in horses and is what gives the bourbon its edge. My family had a blast touring the property and taking part in a tasting. It’s no surprise that we left with too many alcoholic souvenirs (try the bourbon balls!)
2nd Stop-Pigeon Forge, TN
Driving into Pigeon Forge, the first two words that popped into my head were “cartoon” and “Vegas.” Just like in Sin City, there is a long strip of businesses with colorful lights, gaudy buildings and ads for unusual attractions (like an upside down house). But everything had a very whimsical and cartoonish vibe. We stayed on the “island” which was like a resort in itself. The Margaritaville hotel overlooked a village-like cluster of shops, restaurants and a ferris wheel.
On our first night, my dad, cousin and Omi discovered “Ole Smoky”-a moonshine distillery-on the Island. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to witness my 78-year-old grandma shoot back 13 different flavors of moonshine, but my family must’ve made an impression because the employees recognized them all when we did the tasting again the next day. We *shockingly* left the store with another armful of souvenirs (my favorites are the coffee and margarita flavors).
If we hadn’t put my poor grandmother through enough, we decided to check out a haunted house called “Outbreak-Dread the Undead” along the strip. Was it the smartest idea to take Omi and mom (who screams at anything and everything) through the ‘zombie apocalypse?” No. Was it entertaining? Absolutely. I can still picture all of us shuffling forward on the lookout for zombies while my mom screamed directly in my ear. It was by far one of our most memorable moments. Poor Omi had to chill on a bench, her heart was pounding so fast....
Last summer, some friends and I decided to celebrate our last summer at home before graduating with a weeklong road trip to the East Coast. We hit Pinterest for a little inspiration, packed our bags and some snacks, and loaded ourselves into our second home for the next week.
After 5 hours in the car, we rolled into Nashville. Let me tell you something, you have not felt sweltering heat and humidity until you have traveled south in August. We peeled ourselves off the seats and got ready to do a little exploring.
So we did what all good tourists do when heading to Nashville – we hit Broadway. We got some good home cookin’ at Jack’s BBQ and my goodness was it good – We walked up and down the main strip for as long as we could handle the heat, and then made our way back to our hotel, which was only about a 5-minute drive from Broadway.
Normally I would look for a hostel, but with 3 of us splitting the cost, it really wasn’t too expensive (For a cheaper option, we stayed at the music city hostel on another trip). That night we did dinner at Acme Farm Supply’s rooftop bar. We got some pulled pork nachos (another southern must try) and watched the sunset over the river with a drink in hand. Is there really a better way to end a night?
...With a little food in us, we were ready to check out Nashville’s famous live music and bars, so we went to Tootsie’s, Honky Tonk Central, and Tequila Cowboy. The live music is amazing at every bar (and every street corner) and there’s usually a different band on every level of the bar, so if you get tired of one, go upstairs and check out another. There were no cover fees, so we could just bar hop whenever we got tired of one place. Having no cover does mean that sometimes the bars get a little crowded, but hey, you can’t have everything....
I had never been to California, so when I got the opportunity to go for a weekend, I took it. I made the cross-country flight and a few hours later I found myself stepping off the plane at LAX (with a dream and my cardigan….). I met up with a friend, and the rest of the day was spent in L.A. My night in the city was spent exploring a little bit of downtown. If you make it to downtown L.A, make sure to look for a place to eat outside. We found quite a few and managed to get some really tasty pizza and a prime seat to watch the DJ and dancing going on; it was dinner with free entertainment.
The next day, we made our way to Disneyland, and I think that I might have had more fun at 20 than I did when I was little. I’m not sure if Disney stepped up their game, or I just appreciate things that I didn’t as a kid, but the parades and rides were really fun. We ended the day with the fireworks show ( a must-do if you make it to Disney)
Now that I’m an adult and paying for things myself, I will say that Disney is incredibly expensive. But if you’re only doing it for a day, I think it’s doable, and definitely worth looking into. Oh and did I mention that this trip included at least a meal a day at In N’ Out? Seriously those burgers are the best thing I’ve tasted. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it......
Once we were done checking out Vancouver, we made our way back across the border to Seattle for the last 5 days of our trip. The drive down was only a couple hours, and I’d never seen real mountains before this trip, so the scenery was pretty incredible.
Seattle, like Vancouver, was a nice break for the heatwave we’ve been having in the Midwest for the last few weeks and another city I was excited to explore. This time we rented an apartment with Airbnb, which was actually a lot cheaper than a hotel and gave us a lot more space (if you’ve never used airbnb, definitely check it out and use this link for a discount www.airbnb.com/c/carolinez207).
Seattle is another bustling city full of cute little neighborhoods that have so much personality and plenty of shopping and restaurants to choose from.
1) Marysville Outlets - the outlets were actually really great for travel lovers. If you’re like me and getting ready for a trip, this is perfect because they have shops like Eddie Bauer, Columbia, and North Face, and with most of the stores being discounted, it made for a great way to prepare for my trip to Europe.
2) Seattle is the home to so many flagship stores including Starbucks, Nordstrom, and REI. REI is home to the giant rock climbing wall - be warned that before you climb, you have to take a class, so it’s not really easily accessible.
3) University Village - this was recommended to us by a local and is pretty much a big outdoor mall. It has the first Amazon brick and mortar store, a bookstore, which was really fun to look around. We grabbed some lunch and found what is apparently the only ice cream shop in Seattle because 1. I saw no others and 2. The line was 50 people long.
This past week, my family and I took a vacation to the West Coast before my sister heads off to college and I head to Europe. Like any family vacation, it had its highlights and a few challenges (I'm sure you know what I mean). Unfortunately, our 7 p.m. flight was delayed until 11 a.m. the next morning due to some technical difficulties, so we only had two days to see Vancouver. Here are a few of the must dos:
We stayed at a hotel on Hornby, right in the heart of downtown, which was great because most things were in walking distance. There were plenty of shops and restaurants to choose from:
1) Robson Street - the main shopping strip was only a few streets over. It was also just a few blocks to the water's edge, which was definitely worth a walk down to see the sunset.
2) Gastown - this fun, hip neighborhood had tons of boutiques and restaurants that would definitely appeal to a young adult crowd. If I had more time, I would have spent some more time walking around this area and maybe grabbed a drink and bite to eat.
3) Granville Island reminded me a lot of the Rastro in Madrid - you walk inside and there's hundreds of booths and counters set up. You can get anything from fresh bread, fruit, and flowers to paintings, purses and magnets. Go around lunch and grab some fresh food from one of the many vendors and enjoy it by the water (beware of giant seagulls though).
4) Stanley Park was really beautiful with some totem poles and a nice trail right next to the harbor. We only walked for about 20 minutes, but you could easily spend an hour or two walking around the park....