Top 10 Things To Do in Washington, D.C.

1. Walk through Arlington National Cemetery

 http://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/
Where? Arlington, Virginia
Why go? To call over 600 acres of tombs an overwhelming experience would be a disrespectful understatement. I wasn’t at all prepared for the enormity of it, or the impact seeing all of those tombs would have on me. It wasn’t easy to walk through, but I felt it was a necessary walk, not just for me but for everyone; in order to continue to justify war and hatred and taking of lives, I think everyone should take a walk through here
How long will you need? We spent around 2 hours here.
Cost? Free

 

2. Eat and shop your way through the Eastern Market
http://easternmarket-dc.org/

Where? 225 7th St SE, Washington, DC
Why go? The market itself left a lot to be desired on the day we visited, with very few stalls open, but the food section was pumping! Places like Market Lunch were full of people, and sitting at the big communal table with locals and my giant plate of pancakes was a brilliant way to start a day of exploring!
How long will you need? With the market not offering a lot, we were there for about an hour to enjoy some serious breaky and people watching.
Cost? My “short stack” of blueberry buckwheat pancakes with toasted pecans cost around USD$5.00. I use the term “short stack” very loosely, because the serving was so big I couldn’t finish it, even with help.

 

3. Take time to reflect at the Holocaust Museum

 https://www.ushmm.org/
Where? 100 Raoul Wallenberg Pl SW, Washington, DC
Why go? I’ve had a strong sense of horror, curiosity, intrigue and admiration for the victim’s of Hitler’s war of terror ever since reading Anne Frank’s Diary and Elie Wiesel’s “Night” in high school. The more I read from survivors, the more it digs into my soul, so I felt a strong pull to visit the Holocaust Museum. I moved through in in quiet reverence, took only one photo (above) in order to remember it, and left in silent tears. Again, if we are living in an age where our leaders condemn war, this is something that must be experienced, regardless of how painful that is.
How long will you need? We were in there for around 2 hours.
Cost? Free.

 

4. Indulge your inner bookworm at the Library of Congress
https://www.loc.gov/

Where? 101 Independence Ave SE, Washington, DC
Why go? This is an experience for both book and architecture lovers. The building will leave you speechless if you take the time to look at the little details, and the collection of books is mind-blowing.
How long will you need? We were there for an hour or so – I could have stayed all day.
Cost? Free! How wonderful is this city of free education?

 

5. Make yourself at home at Ben’s Chili Bowl
http://benschilibowl.com/

Where? 1213 U St NW, Washington, DC
Why go? The dogs were fantastic, more of a sausage than a frank, absolutely delicious. The chili was great too, a little bit of a kick, heaps of flavour, and plenty of it. What was even better was the gentleman who came over to our table to say hi, welcome to Ben’s, and asked how the meal was; not only did he stay for a chat and a photo, he introduced us to one of the owners and family members of Ben. The food was good, but the people were better!
How long will you need? We weren’t planning to stay long, but ended up there for just under an hour, chatting to our new friends 🙂
Cost? USD$5.95 for the classic jumbo chili dog.

 

6. Wonder through Georgetown

Why go? After the intensity of the museums and monuments, it’s kinda nice to just get away and take a stroll and look at the beautiful buildings that reside in Georgetown.
How long will you need? We were wondering around for an hour or two.
Cost? Free.

 

7. Take a quiet timeout at the Reflecting Pool
http://www.nationalmall.org/explore-national-mall/monuments-memorials/lincoln-memorial-reflecting-pool
Where? National Mall
Why go? The day we visited was cold and rainy, and I was getting a bit overwhelmed by it all. By the time we reached the reflecting pool, I needed to pause, and there couldn’t be a more beautiful spot in the city to do that. Watching the ripples across the water and the reflection of the trees above, it was the perfect place to stop and consider how far we’d come by that point in our trip. And when I finally looked up, I found I wasn’t the only one taking a time out.
How long will you need? I took about half an hour (under my umbrella!).
Cost? Free

 

8. Let your inner dorky child run wild at the National Air & Space Museum

https://airandspace.si.edu/visit
Where? 600 Independence Ave SW, Washington, DC
Why go? I’m actually a bit of an aviation and space nerd, so when husband suggested a stop in at this museum, I was stoked! There is SO much to see in here, and quite a few interactive stations – perfect for when it’s really raining and you need a break. Or for when your kids are starting to drive you up the wall and you to distract them.
How long will you need? At least a few hours.
Cost? Free, again!

 

9. People watch at Washington Harbor

https://www.thewashingtonharbour.com/
Where? 3000 & 3050 K Street NW, Washington, DC
Why go? This was sunset on the harbor after a long and emotionally taxing afternoon in Arlington. There weren’t many people out, being the middle of winter; a few joggers and dog walkers, and us. We sat down, watched a few planes soar overhead, and let the experiences of the day wash over us.
How long will you need? An hour or two, depending on how much is going on.
Cost? Another freebie.

 

10. Get into the greatest food combo the city has to offer, fried chicken and donuts
Where? My personal favourites were Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken (1308 G Street NW, Washington, DC) and GBD Fried Chicken & Doughnuts (which is sadly now closed).
Why go? Fried dough. Fried chicken. I had no idea it was a thing to throw them together. Astro’s chicken was so tender and juicy on the inside and ridiculously crispy inside, and their doughnuts were some of the best I’ve had.
How long will you need? How fast can you eat?
Cost? Doughnuts cost around USD$3.00 each, and the big 8 piece chicken box will set you back around USD$20.00 (Tip – we didn’t get through the 8 pieces. The services are WAY bigger than those you get in Australia)

Top 10 Things To Do in Los Angeles

1. Check out the view of LA from the car park of Dodger Stadium

 http://losangeles.dodgers.mlb.com/la/ballpark/
Where? 1000 Vin Scully Ave, Los Angeles
Why go? Even if you’re not a baseball fan (like me), the view from the car park is unreal!
How long will you need? We were there for about an hour, because husband discovered we could go into the stadium and just sit around. And, the gift shop was open.
Cost? Free

 

2. Eat your way around Grand Central Market
http://www.grandcentralmarket.com/

Where? 317 S. Broadway, Los Angeles
Why go? Food. All of the food. It’s also full of locals, and watching the way the huge the mix of cultures and ethnicities interact in a market setting is a true experience.
How long will you need? A few hours, preferably first thing in the morning.
Cost? How hungry are you? You can get a solid breakfast for only a few dollars if you’re struggling for cash, or you can buy all of the food!

 

3. Be a big kid at Universal Studios
 http://www.universalstudioshollywood.com/
Where? 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City
Why go? As if you need a reason…
How long will you need? All day!
Cost? Ticket prices start from USD$105.00 per adult

 

4. People watch in Santa Monica and Venice Beach

Why go? People watching at it’s absolute best, it’s the perfect spot to melt into the background and just observe the goings on.
How long will you need? A few hours.
Cost? People watching is the greatest free activity ever.

 

5. While you’re in Venice Beach, check out Abbot Kinney Blvd for good shopping and great food
http://www.abbotkinneyblvd.com/
Where? Abbot Kinney Blvd. Obviously.
Why go? It’s a pretty hipster area, but in a good way – lots of gorgeous and really unique stores to buy some different souvenirs (because do you really want to be that guy with the Hollywood Star fridge magnet?). And with hipsters comes great food – my cereal and peanut butter bowl from Another Kind of Sunrise was magic.
How long will you need? Another few hours after you’re done people watching in Santa Monica and Venice Beach.
Cost? Free to wander, bring some money to shop and eat.

 

6. Enjoy a chili dog at the institution that is Pink’s
 http://www.pinkshollywood.com/
Where? 709 N La Brea Ave, Los Angeles
Why go? Because it’s a city institution – everyone from Dolly Parton to Jimmy Fallon to Aerosmith to Betty White have been. When we visited, we came across a particularly excited lady who was finally visiting for the first time after having lived in LA her whole life.
How long will you need? We were there for about an hour.
Cost? We got the classic chili dog with mustard, onions and chili, for around USD$5.00

 

7. Eat your way through The Grove Farmers Market

 http://www.farmersmarketla.com/
Where? 6333 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles
Why go? Food (noticing a theme?), and lots of it! While the Grove itself is a bit upper class and la-di-da, the Farmers Market is much more laid back, with those plebian food options that everyone loves. You can have your table-cloth clad restaurants, I’ll take a doughnut and pulled pork sandwich any day.
How long will you need? We visited a few times, and spend an hour or two each visit. It’s a great spot to grab a coffee and sweet and just watch the world go by.
Cost? Again, depends how much you’re eating…

 

8. Take the trek out the Greystone Mansion and Gardens

 http://www.greystonemansion.org/
Where? 905 Loma Vista Drive, Beverly Hills
Why go? It’s stunning. It’s nothing like you’d expect to find in the neon soaked world that is Hollywood, and that’s why you need to go. It’s a little piece of paradise in a world of botox and hairspray, and that’s what you’ll need after a day or two in the mayhem.
How long will you need? Hire a car and drive. It’ll cut down on time walking and time spent in marriage counselling. Trust me. Once you’re there, an hour or so should be enough to recharge.
Cost? Free parking and admission

 

9. See how the other half live out in Beverly Hills
Why go? Honestly, it’s fascinating. There is so much wealth and so many bizarre activities and conversations associated with that, and as a regular, middle class gal, it really is mesmerising to see how life unfolds for those with money.
How long will you need? Not long – we only lasted an hour.
Cost? Free to people watch, bring a few credit cards if you plan to shop.

 

10. Catch a movie at the legendary TCL (Grauman’s) Chinese Theatre
 http://www.tclchinesetheatres.com/
Where? 6925 Hollywood Blvd, Hollywood
Why go? Hollywood takes a special kind of person to put up with it and find it interesting for more than an hour or two, particularly at night. When you reach your limit of fake-and-touristy, why not catch a movie at one of the most iconic movie theatres in the world?
How long will you need? A few hours – they’re great cinemas so you may want to go back more than once.
Cost? USD$16.00 for a standard adult ticket

 

Top 10 Things To Do in San Francisco

When I worked as a travel consultant, I heard over and over and over again how much Melbournians loved San Francisco because they were such similar cities. I heard so many people singing San Francisco’s praises, and because of that, I was a little apprehensive to visit – high expectations generally lead to big let downs. But if you can put all of the comparisons and people telling you “you HAVE to love it!” aside, you might find that you actually will love it. I did – it’s a great literary city with fantastic food and a rich history. And while there is a heap to do, here are my top 10 picks.

 

1. See Alcatraz Island
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https://www.alcatrazcruises.com/
Where? Departs from Pier 33
Why go? It brings history to life. It’s mind blowing, because walking through it (with the best audio commentary I’ve ever heard), it’s actually pretty easy to imagine how things would have been for the men held there. It’s stepping back in time in the most fascinating way, and it should be top of your list when you visit.
How long will you need? Allow a good 3 hours
Cost? Adult tickets currently start at USD$35.50 per person

 

2. Hang out in Golden Gate Park
https://goldengatepark.com/
Where? The massive chunk of green between Fulton St and Lincoln Way
Why go? It’s a really beautiful park and offers quite a lot of activities – there’s the museum, the Conservatory of Flowers, Botanical Gardens, California Academy of Sciences, Japanese Tea Garden, playgrounds, archery field, and a HEAP more.
How long will you need? Depends how much you want to do!
Cost? Wandering around the park is free, but specific attractions all attract their own fees – more details on the website.

 

3. Take a coffee and croissant break at Tartine Bakery
http://www.tartinebakery.com/

Where? 600 Guerrero St, San Francisco
Why go? Because this was one of the best almond croissants I’ve ever stuffed my face with, and husband’s coffee was the size of a small fish bowl. And it was actually good!
How long will you need? Give yourself a bit of time because there’s often a wait for tables. If you snag one, though, stay as long as you want to keep eating and drinking!
Cost? USD$10.00 will get you a coffee, a croissant and change. Worth it.

 

4. Pick up some reading material at City Lights Bookstore
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http://citylights.com/
Where? 261 Columbus Ave, San Francisco
Why go? City Lights is an interesting combination of independent bookstore and publishing house with a strong connection to the Beat Generation; not only does it live next door to Jack Kerouac Alley, but founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti was arrested in the 1950’s after publishing Allen Ginsberg’s Howl & Other Poems on obscenity charges.
How long will you need? Book nerds – give yourself an hour. Normal people – 10 minutes should suffice.
Cost? Depends how many books you’re taking home…

 

5. Eat all of the chocolate at Ghirardelli Square
http://www.ghirardellisq.com/
Where?  900 North Point Street at the corner of Beach and Larkin Streets
Why go? Because chocolate. The original Ghirardelli chocolate factory. They make chocolate, They sell chocolate. They serve it up in hot drinks and cute desserts. That should be all the reason you need. Chocolate. Also, there’s other stuff, like a pub, shops, the occasional live music set.
How long will you need? Chocoholics – an hour or two to shop and eat. Normal people – maybe half an hour. And get your heads checked.
Cost? Depends how much chocolate you’ll be wanting to take home…

 

6. Get lost in Chinatown, and stop for dim sum when you get hungry
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http://www.sanfranciscochinatown.com/
Where? Yummy Yummy will feed you well at 758 Pacific Ave
Why go? San Francisco’s Chinatown is one of the best in the world, and for good reason – it’s enormous! Which means you’ll be hungry after doing laps of it – Yummy Yummy was where we stopped, and it was a great move. Amazing food, great prices, homely atmosphere!
How long will you need? A good half a day to explore and eat
Cost? Everything you see above that we ate cost us around USD$30.00 (including tip)

 

7. Eat seafood and people watch at Fisherman’s Wharf
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http://www.fishermanswharf.org/
Where? Fisherman’s Wharf
Why go? There is SO much to do around there – shopping, eating, activities like Madame Tussauds, the aquarium, Pier 39, the Maritime National Historical Park, sightseeing tours and sea lion watching.
How long will you need? A few hours
Cost? Depends what you’re doing – we grabbed a cup of fresh seafood and sat by the water and watched the world go buy, and that only cost a few dollars!

 

8. Cheer on the 49ers!
http://www.prontoshuttles.com/
Where? Levi’s Stadium is located in Santa Clara, about an hour from San Francisco by car
Why go? While husband and I both very much wanted to see an NFL game, the distance of the 49ers stadium from the city was very off-putting, until we found out about GameDay Shuttle (now Pronto Shuttles) – through them we were able to organise a single game pass for us both which included a shuttle service from the city to the game and back, and for an extra fee we added on the Fiesta Pre-Game pass – lunch and drinks at a Mexican restaurant near the stadium with the rest of the people on the shuttle! It was the best experience, and I’d absolutely do it again!
How long will you need? All day
Cost? We paid around USD$85.00 for the shuttle and buffet lunch (not including game tickets), but I believe Pronto’s services start from as little as USD$29.00 for a single pass.

 

9. Check out the street art
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Where? Everywhere!
Why go? There’s no one place to go, it’s more a case of keeping an eye out and wandering around the smaller streets as well as the main ones. The street art in this city is incredible, so when you see a giant mural on a wall, take the time to actually stop and look at it!
How long will you need? As long as you want
Cost? Free!

 

10. The 16th Avenue Tiled Steps
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http://www.tiledsteps.org/
Where? Moraga St, between 15th and 16th Aves
Why go? Because it’s gorgeous. It’s a true neighbourhood effort, and a shining example of what can be achieved when people work together. It’s also a great way to work off all of those delicious calories you’ve been eating.
How long will you need? Leave an hour – you may want to kick back and relax after climbing those stairs!
Cost? Free

 

Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, New Orleans

Lafayette Cemetery No. 1
Corner Washington Ave & Prytania St, New Orleans
http://www.saveourcemeteries.org/lafayette-cemetery-no-1/

 

In stark comparison to the clean lines of the mostly shiny white marble of the St Louis Cemetery No. 3 and a little closer to the beautifully dilapidated St Louis Cemetery No. 1, Lafayette No. 1 is surrounded by the most beautiful trees (as one might expect for a cemetery located in the middle of the Garden District). We visited in winter, and most of those trees had shed their leaves onto the tombs below. It gave the impression that the elements were somehow protecting their residents.

This cemetery is not only the oldest of the seven city-operated cemeteries in the city, but it’s also a non-denominational and non-segregated resting place for not only natives, but also immigrants from 25-odd other countries . Over 7, 000 souls in total are entombed in the cemetery.

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Photo Journal: New Orleans, 10 years post-Katrina…

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It’s hard to believe it was 10 years ago to the day that Hurricane Katrina tore apart New Orleans; 10 years ago I was half way through my university degree, still living at home, in a relatively new relationship with the guy that would become my husband. When we first started dating, we spent a lot of time talking about all the places we wanted to travel to (and it was a bloody long list), the places we wanted to see and, more importantly, experience. New Orleans was a city pretty high up on both our lists, and we were both equally surprised at the others’ desire to visit. New Orleans, pre-Katrina, wasn’t exactly a big ticket city; at least not for 2 Aussie uni students. It wasn’t a Paris or a London or  a New York. But we both wanted to go. He wanted to go for the music, the night life, the care-free atmosphere in a city that seemed to be built on fun. I couldn’t actually put into words why I wanted to go; it was one of those weird “I don’t know why, but I know I belong in that city” things. Something about the music, the art, the voodoo, the cemeteries, the literature, the food – I just knew that any place there was a coalescence of all those things was a place I needed to be.

But we were still kids. We were both full time uni students. We had big dreams, but no money to fund them. When Katrina hit the city, we were both devastated; for some still unknown reason, we felt a strange connection to this mysterious city on the other side of the world. We debated over and over again whether it’d still be a city we’d want to visit post-Katrina. Would it be somehow tainted? Would the recovery effort have taken away all of the magic and the charm we wanted to visit for? Would they, a people so fiercely proud and protective of their city, still accept visitors as openly? We weren’t sure, but we were both determined to visit anyway and find out for ourselves.

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Ten and a half years after we started dating, and nine and a half long years after Katrina hit, we finally made it. We finally visited this city we were both so strangely drawn to. And while the spirit of the people was so strong, the physical effects of Katrina were still so punishingly visible.

This storm caused damage on a scale that can’t be accurately understood through words. We’ve all read the numbers, the statistics, but even they seem completely unreal.
80% of the city under water.
Almost 2000 lives lost.
Close to $110 billion in damage.

There have been hundreds of articles written about it all, and nothing I write will be as meaningful as some of the first-hand accounts written by the residents and survivors (I’d especially recommend watching  HBO’s Treme and reading Nine Lives by Dan Baum). What I can say, as a complete foreigner and outsider, is that New Orleans changed the trajectory of my life. Even post-Katrina, it was still magic. All of the imperfections made it so perfect. My soul was different for having visited. And all of our reservations were completely unfounded; the charm was still there, the recovery effort was incredible, and the people couldn’t have been more kind and welcoming. Instead of writing about the recovery ten years on, because (let’s be honest) I really don’t have the insight into it like the locals will, let me show you New Orleans through my eyes almost 10 years on. And I’m not talking the pretty touristy sights. Let me show you some of the more real, less brochure-worthy, genuine places and things I saw.

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