Category

Cities

Prescott: A Love Story (Days 27-28)

Friendly, walkable downtown? Check.

Great food scene (with plenty of gluten-free options)? Check.

Beautiful scenery and easy access to outdoor activities? Check.

You guys, Prescott, Arizona has it all.

When Ryan and I added Prescott to our itinerary, it wasn’t so much as a destination, but an opportunity to visit my aunt who lives there. And we figured it would also be a convenient stopping point to explore nearby Flagstaff and Sedona.

But we ended up falling in love with this charming little town. Arizona was the breakout surprise of our southwest adventure — we loved it there — and Prescott was a strong contender for “top Arizona experience.” This town has a little of everything, from delicious food to delightful shops to a stunning natural backdrop. (And hey, my aunt lives there — and she’s a pretty awesome lady!)

We kicked off our tour of Prescott with an afternoon stroll through downtown. In the center of town is Courthouse Square, a pleasant green surrounding the Yavapai County Courthouse.

2016-03-08 17.04.16

Coffee from Gurley Street Coffee in hand, we explored Prescott’s residential side streets. We loved coming across this 115-year-old house that is now the Prescott Travelers Hostel. It’s too cute!

Prescott Hostel Our Streamlined Life

We took in the view of the mountains behind town looking down Montezuma Street before heading to Rosa’s Pizzeria to meet my aunt for dinner. Rosa’s had both delicious gluten-free pizza and Italian food authentic enough to satisfy Ryan’s discerning tastes.

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Another downtown Prescott star was our mead tasting at Superstition Meadery. We’d first tried mead at Savannah Bee Company and were excited to broaden our palate. Ryan and I shared a flight of 12 samples ranging from light ciders to thick, sweet dessert meads.

Superstition Meadery 2 Our Streamlined Life

Another edible highlight of our trip to Prescott was Bill’s Grill. When my aunt suggested we got there for dinner, she warned us that the location was unassuming, but promised the food was really, really good. Sure enough, Ryan described his dinner as “possibly the best burger he’s ever had” — and I had an awesome black bean burger, complete with a gluten-free bun. For us, that’s the best of both worlds, and something we’ve only discovered at one other burger joint (our beloved MELT).

If you’re a book-lover visiting Prescott, you should definitely check out the Peregrine Book Company. We love visiting new bookstores and Peregrine was one of my favorites from the trip. And next time we visit we’d love to check out The Palace on Whiskey Row (it’s been around since 1877!) as well as the Sharlott Hall Museum.

The delicious food isn’t the only reason we loved Prescott. In addition to have a charming, walkable downtown, Prescott is also conveniently located near some gorgeous hiking. There are lots of choices when it comes to hiking in Prescott (including the 54-mile Prescott Circle Trail), but we settled on the Granite Dells … because, as you know, we find water irresistible.

Granite Dells 2 Our Streamlined Life

The Dells consist of exposed bedrock and large granite boulders that appear incredibly smooth …

Granite Dells 3 Our Streamlined Life

… but which actually have a very rough texture that makes them easy to climb. We enjoyed walking part of the Peavine National Recreation Trail through the dells, and spent some time just relaxing on the rocks and taking in the lake views. I should also mention that if you visit Prescott in the summer (April – October) Watson Lake Park also offers very affordable dry camping, with restrooms and showers available.

Those are our highlights from Prescott, Arizona! We can’t wait to go back — maybe in the fall next time! Have you visited Prescott? Any recommendations of things we should see?

Desert Luxury in Cave Creek (Days 22-23)

You don’t have to be a long-term traveler to know that being on the road is tiring.

At this point we’d been roadtripping for three weeks. Aside from our time visiting my brother in San Antonio, we’d been sleeping in the back of the car, working at coffee shops, and using public showers for three weeks straight — and we were ready for a break.

So imagine our delight when the next two days of our trip ended up being pure desert luxury.

An easy two hour drive took us to Cave Creek, where we were warmly greeted by Ryan’s “aunt and uncle” — old friends of his mom’s from Louisiana who had since migrated to Arizona to be near their son and his family. They welcomed us into their beautiful home, which boasted a to-die-for guest suite, as well as tremendous mountain views just out the back door. I had never met them before, and it had been years since Ryan had seen them, and we had a wonderful time getting to know them.

Ryan’s aunt was eager to show us the area, and we jumped in her car and off we went! After a delightful lunch on the patio at The Grotto Cafe, we were off to explore Scottsdale and Phoenix. Where Tucson had offered a grungy yet welcoming vibe, this area of Arizona was far more upscale. The traffic was crazy, the views spectacular, and hotels and spas were seemingly on every corner.

Our first stop was the stunning Arizona Biltmore hotel. You guys — this place was magnificent.

Photo from www.arizonabiltmore.com
Photo from www.arizonabiltmore.com

The more I travel, the more enamored I’ve become of true luxury hotels — not just expensive hotels, or ones with trendy lobbies but basic rooms — and the Biltmore set a new standard of luxury in my mind.

Arizona Biltmore 3 Our Streamlined Life
Photo from www.arizonabiltmore.com

The Biltmore was designed by Albert Chase McArthur,  who studied under Frank Lloyd Wright, and the resort has been an Arizona landmark since its opened on February 23rd, 1929. Also, pools like this make it hard to go back to campground life.

Arizona Biltmore 2 Our Streamlined Life
Photo from www.arizonabiltmore.com

Ryan & Rebecca Biltmore Arizona Our Streamlined Life

After exploring the grounds at the Biltmore, it was on to our next destination: jade bar at Sanctuary Resort overlooking spectacular Camelback Mountain.

Scottsdale Spa Our Streamlined Life

Sanctuary Resort was another opulent retreat, and we had the entire patio to ourselves to sip drinks and catch up (and catch our breath).

Spa Drinks Our Streamlined Life

I’m thinking I could get used to travelling like this. Maybe it’s time to start from scratch and become a luxury travel writer?

The following day included more work for me — but after a heavenly night’s sleep in a real bed, I was more than up to the task. Besides, I had this lovely view to distract me …

Desert Home 2 Our Streamlined Life

And then we ended the day with margaritas and Mexican food. #perfect

After two days of thorough relaxation, we were rejuvenated and ready for our next adventure: THE GRAND CANYON.

Tucson: An Arizona Love-Affair Begins (Days 19-21)

Ah, Tucson.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways (and also, the delicious tacos).

Tucson was an unexpected delight, and we ended up staying there four nights instead of our planned one. We did a lot of exploring, and a lot of working, and left Tucson wishing we could stay longer. It even had us both sheepishly professing that we could envision our beach, lake, and forest-loving selves living in the desert.

Catalina State Park

The campground at Catalina State Park was a huge part of why we loved Tucson so much — and the story of how we snagged a campsite there highlights a perfect blend of road trip naïveté and astonishing good luck.

It was February 28 — the peak of camping season in Arizona — yet it hadn’t even occurred to us that there might be no room in the inn. In fact, I only discovered that our target campground, Catalina State Park, was full because I was trying desperately to find somewhere else to stay. The escalation from $10/night camping in New Mexico to $30/night in Arizona was not sitting well with me. I quickly stopped complaining about the state park rates when I discovered the KOA and other private campground rates soared well north of $50/night.

Catalina State Park Campground Our Streamlined Life

We drove through the gates of the park, greeted by this fabulous view, and prepared to beg for nothing more than a spot in the parking lot. Apparently our desperation was evident, and we were pointed to what was inelegantly described as “the overflow lot.”

The Ringtail Campground is, in fact, a group camping area — but from January 15 – March 31 its sites are rented out individually for desperate travelers like ourselves. There are no hookups, and during the day the area hums with generators, but for $15 we snagged ourselves a perfectly respectable spot. In no time flat Ryan had a tarp shelter rigged to protect us from the desert sun, and we were in business.

Catalina State Park Campsite Our Streamlined Life

Park staff warned us that it may be difficult to hold on to our spot; Ringtail Campground is available on a first-come, first-served basis so we’d need to be in the office bright and early to renew our spot if we wanted to stay longer. While we were lucky enough to keep our spot for four successive nights, we did witness more than one hapless soul being turned away.

Logistical wrangling aside, Catalina State Park stands out as one of the best campgrounds we’ve ever stayed at. The bathhouse was spaciousmodern, and ridiculously clean. It even had an external wash station for cleaning dirty camp dishes. The location couldn’t have been more perfect — big enough to feel like you were definitely out in nature, but just minutes from restaurants and shopping. The views of the Catalina Mountains were heavenly, and there was a wide range of hiking trails beginning within the park itself.

 Saguaro National Park

As if an amazing state park wasn’t enough, Tucson is also home to a one-of-a-kind national park: Saguaro National Park on the west side of town.

Saguaro National Park 1 Our Streamlined Life

Having previously held little-to-no feelings on cacti, I was surprised by how gorgeous I found Saguaro NP — and it was one of Ryan’s favorite national parks to date.

Saguaro National Park 2 Our Streamlined Life

Our first stop, as always, was the visitor’s center, where we purchased a number of national parks themed gear, including some new bumper stickers and a dri-fit shirt decorated with cacti for Ryan. (I told you he loves Saguaro!)

We also watched the orientation video, which was excellent. No spoilers, but there’s a little surprise at the end that will have you truly marveling at the beauty of the desert.

Saguaro National Park 3 Our Streamlined Life

Having learned a great deal about the wildlife and geography we were about to experience, we set off into the park. We chose to do the Scenic Bajada Loop Drive, a five mile loop with several options to stop and hike into the desert.

One place we opted to stop was the Signal Hill Trail, a short, quarter-mile hike with dozens of ancient petroglyphs over 800 years old.

We also stopped at the Ez-Kim-In-Zin picnic area, with a charming stone hut set off the road.

Saguaro National Park 4 Our Streamlined Life

We made our way up the path into the hut, where it was about 20 degrees cooler than in the desert sun. We had a lovely picnic lunch and even made a bird friend!

Saguaro National Park 5 Our Streamlined Life

Saguaro National Park left us spellbound by the desert and wanting more! While we never encountered cacti quite like the ones we saw here, Saguaro set the stage for our love affair with desert landscapes that would only grow as we moved north through Arizona.

Tucson, Arizona

I had no idea what to expect from Tucson, but we found ourselves delightfully surprised. It was definitely unique, and a bit seedy in spots, but we loved the quirky vibe and friendly people.

Tucson 1 Our Streamlined Life

We started our exploration with coffee from Maynards Market and Kitchen, then made our way north. Our first stop was Miller’s Surplus, where Ryan found himself in camping supply heaven. Next stop: Antigone Books, a zany, independent (and 100% solar-powered) bookstore.

Tucson 4 Our Streamlined Life

After that we just wandered, enjoying the gorgeous day and taking in the varied architecture. We made a few stops along the way — chatting for a while with a friendly realtor who gave us the rundown on Tucson’s neighborhoods, sticking our head in the charming visitor’s center, and marveling at the gorgeous St Augustine Cathedral.

Tucson 2 Our Streamlined Life

Of course we had to enjoy some Mexican food while we were there, and we had a fantastic dinner at Street Taco and Beer on Congress Street. The tacos were awesome and the sweet, fruit-flavored Mexican water was perfectly refreshing.

If we’d had more time to explore Tucson, I would have loved to do a self-guided historic walking tour — and a few people highly recommended the Mission San Xavier del Bac, a national historic site.

And that’s our take on Tucson, friends! Have you been? Do you love it or hate it?

 

Campground: Catalina State Park (Tucson, AZ)

  • Tent/RV site, no hookups (Ringtail Campground — overflow)
  • Cost: $15
  • Pros: This was one of our favorite campgrounds of the trip. It was incredibly beautiful, nestled at the base of the Catalina mountains — but just minutes from Tucson and very near Saguaro National Park. The facilities were gorgeous, too — the (free) hot showers were among the nicest we’ve encountered at a campground, and there was an extremely helpful camp kitchen setup for washing dishes.
  • Cons: All the pros of this gorgeous campground led it to be very crowded! We were lucky enough to be able to snag a spot in the overflow campground each of the five nights we ended up staying here, but we saw a few people be turned away. Also, the overflow lot is decidedly unfancy — just a big parking lot — although we personally were more than happy to be there because it was cheaper than the developed sites.

Five Reasons I Fell in Love with Chicago

In case you couldn’t from my week of posts all about my trip to Chicago — I totally fell in love.

Chicago River & Navy Pier | Our Streamlined Life

The city first came on my radar a few years ago when I started noticing some of my favorite online ladies (Jess Lively, Jessica Murnane, The Everygirl) were all based out of Chicago. Not only did it seem to be a great spot for thriving and aspiring entrepreneurs, but their Instagram pictures were regularly full of gorgeous city views and hunger-inducing food.

“But,” I thought, “Who wants to live in Illinois, anyway?”

I’m not entirely sure what I expected to experience when I got there, but I did not expect to love Chicago as much as I did. I figured it would be a fun weekend getaway; I’d enjoy myself for a few days, then check it off my list and move on.

I guess I should caveat my list below by saying I did visit Chicago in late June — from what I’ve heard, the best possible time to be there. I might be singing a different tune if the city had been in the throes of one of its famously harsh winters.

My sister lives about three hours from Chicago and when I professed my love for the city she looked at me in total disbelief. “We never go to Chicago, if we can help it,” she told me. “If we want to do the city thing, we always go to St. Louis.” Clearly, to each her own.

Ryan and I have shared before that part of our journey is trying to figure out where we want to settle down. And while we haven’t yet answered the question of whether we want to live in the city or the country, if we were to move to a city, Chicago is just the kind of place I can see us heading. Read on for my top five reasons why.

1. Chicago is Full of Urban Parks & Green Spaces

I love the city but I also love nature — making a city full of parks the best of both worlds. (That’s the reason I love Philadelphia and Savannah so much!) I love the feeling of being surrounded by trees, grass, and water, while simultaneously being within walking distance of work, home, and modern conveniences.

Chicago is full of parks, big and small — from Millennium Park to Lincoln Park. In fact, it has more than 8100 acres of green space, with 600 parks and 11 beaches. And the Chicago Riverwalk and the Lakefront Trail make it easy to get close to the water, too.

Chicago River | Our Streamlined Life

2. Chicago is an Active City

Everywhere I went in Chicago I loved seeing all the people out enjoying the beautiful weather, from runners in the park to bikers on the Lakefront Trail. Many cities have a vibe of rush rush rush, everyone hell-bent on getting from point A to point B (and usually wearing headphones to drown out the outside world). In Chicago it seemed like everyone was just happy to be outside … probably a byproduct of those crazy winters!

On a related note, I also appreciated that most of those people who were out and about seemed to be people who lived or worked there. I always find it a little off-putting when I visit a city and find nothing but tourists as far as the eye can see (however hypocritical that might be). Chicago was full of natives out enjoying playdates in the park or a lunchtime run. I love a city that the locals seem to love, too.

Divvy | Our Streamlined Life

3. Chicago is So Clean

If you’ve visited New York, Boston, or Philadelphia in the summer, you’ll appreciate this one: Chicago doesn’t smell like trash. That’s due in large part to its 1900 miles of alleys, which keep garbage and other messy parts of city life out of the main thoroughfare. (This article about this “utilitarian wonder” is super interesting.) It was also the first American city to have a modern sewer system, which probably has something to do with it too.Downtown | Chicago Our Streamlined Life

4. Chicago is Like an East Coast City … but Friendly

Despite the trash comment above, I’m partial to east coast cities like New York, Boston, and Philly — maybe because I’m an Irish girl who loves a good pizza. That said, none of those cities are renowed for their warm, welcoming locals. Chicago had all the feel of an east coast metropolis, but just about everyone we encountered was — wait for it — friendly and helpful. The best way I can think to describe it is an east coast city with a midwest heart. It’s the best of both worlds!

Willis Tower Daniel Burnham | Our Streamlined Life

5. Chicago Has Something For Everyone

Chicago has something for everyone — maybe because it boasts 77 unique and distinct neighborhoods. I hadn’t realized just how big the city is; in my head, I’d always compared it to Boston in size, but at 234 square miles, it’s actually five times Boston’s land area! We spent most of our time in The Loop & River North area, but that’s just scratch on the surface of everything Chicago has to offer. This is a great resource on Chicago’s neighborhoods, and apparently “This Infographic of Chicago Neighborhood Stereotypes Nailed It.”

Read my other posts about Chicago here, here, and here!

I loved Extra Pack of Peanuts’ Destination Diaries – Chicago. Travis is joined by a Chicago native, and he has lots of great recommendations for food and beer. This episode came out right after I got back from Chicago — I think he was there right around the same time I was.

For more ideas on things to do in Chicago, check out our Chicago Pinterest board.

Five Reasons I Fell in Love with Chicago | Our Streamlined Life

Just One More Day: 6 Things I Wish I’d Done in Chicago

Yesterday I shared all the fun my sister and I had during our three days in Chicago (part one, part two) … but there’s so much more we could have done! I hadn’t even left the city before I was already scheming about everything I would love to do next time I visit Chicago.

1. Take a Chicago Crime Tour

My interest in organized crime and the twisty politics in Chicago was first sparked when we binge watched Kelsey Grammer’s terrific-but-short-lived show Boss a few years ago. And of course Chicago has a rich and storied history of criminals, mobsters, and gangsters. Chicago Crime Tours merges crime and history to show you famous landmarks showcasing criminals from Al Capone to H. H. Holmes.

 

Chicago Crime Tours | Our Streamlined Life

2. Kayak on the Chicago River

I absolutely love the idea of urban kayaking, and paddling down the Chicago River through the heart of the city sounds like an awesome way to see the city! Wateriders offers everything from history tours to fireworks paddles — you can even combine crime and kayaking. Pretty sure it doesn’t get more fun than that.

Kayak on the Chicago River | Our Streamlined Life

3. Take a Chicago Architecture River Cruise

Another way to see the river and the city is with a Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise. We went back and forth between doing this and a Lake Michigan boat excursion; we ultimately opted for the lake cruise because it seemed a bit more kid-friendly, but next time I’d love to take in Chicago’s tremendous architecture from the river.

Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise | Our Streamlined Life

4. Visit a Distillery (or Two!)

We had an awesome experience at CH Distillery, and that just whetted my appetite for Chicago’s distillery scene. Koval has a dry gin I’d love to try, and a full calendar of special events; Rhine Hall specializes in fruit brandies and offers tours, tastings, and brandy cocktails. And both spaces look awesome, which is definitely a plus.

Rhine Hall | Our Streamlined Life

5. Enjoy a Chicago Brunch

Just about every article I read about Chicago practically screamed, “YOU MUST EAT BRUNCH WHILE YOU ARE THERE.” We didn’t end up brunching, but I’d love to check out a few mouthwatering places next time I’m in town. The Hampton Social offers a relaxed nautical ambiance and fresh coastal menu. Fig & Olive offers a — wait for it — fig & olive salad, which looks tremendous … and hello, blood orange mimosas. And Waffles Cafe has waffle flavors you never knew you needed to try. (Mexican Chocolate Waffle, please and thank you.)

Fig & Olive | Our Streamlined Life

6. Run or Ride the 606

I’m kind of obsessed with rail trails, and The 606 is the best kind: a combination elevated rail line and park. Running through the Logan Square, Humboldt Park, Bucktown, and Wicker Park neighborhoods, it reminds me of the High Line, one of my favorite features in New York City. Read more about The 606 here.

The 606 Humboldt Blvd Lookout | Our Streamlined Life

Have you been to Chicago? What’s on your must-do list?

For more ideas on things to do in Chicago, check out our Chicago Pinterest board.

Just One More Day: 6 Things I Wish I'd Done in Chicago | Our Streamlined Life