Oaxaca City Travel Guide

730 days ago, I landed back in San Francisco, refreshed, still in awe and maybe just a little hungover from an 8 day trip to Oaxaca. Located much further south (and more central) than resort destinations like Cancun or Puerto Vallarta, Oaxaca City was a vibrant pocket of Mexico just perfect for my first trip to the country. From the bright pink houses (you should know I love those) to the tan mountains set against that clear blue sky, to the rainbow colored woven rugs in Teotitlan—I was instantly smitten by Oaxaca. By the time I left, the food, the beauty of the city, and the vibrancy of the people made me really love this city. 

What to See in Oaxaca   

Hierve el Agua

Hierve El Agua

Do yourself (and your travel companion(s) a favor and head out on a 1.5 hour drive to Hierve El Agua. Depending on the time of day, you might have the natural springs and hike all to yourself—perfect for snagging uninterrupted shots of the spring and the valley below. Do the 30 minute hike underneath the springs to get a full view of the calcified waterfalls, which look eerily look like a real one.

Mitla

Mitla sits 45 minutes outside of Oaxaca City in Tlacolula Valley, where the heart of the Zapotec culture and center of pre-Hispanic Mexican culture. Just like Monte Alban, it’s pretty remarkable that you can wander around an archaeological site almost untethered and climb into underground tombs, climb into the old temples and touch the same rocks (and blocks) that the Zapotecs built and used everyday.

Monte Alban
Monte Alban
Monte Alban

Monte Alban

It’s not every day that you can drive 20 minutes outside of a city and wander into an archaeological site—that’s still being excavated. Get ready to roam around the artificially flattened hilltop that’s surrounded by temples, tombs, more temples and elevated altars that require a steep incline to view. You can’t beat the sweeping vista that you can see once you get to the top of one of the temples.

What to Do in Oaxaca

Palenque Tour
Palenque Tour Oaxaca

Palenque Tour & Mezcal Tasting

So your #1 reason for visiting Oaxaca might be the mezcal, so do yourself a favor and schedule a palenque tour before you leave. Once upon a time, mescal was the poor man’s drink of the Oaxacan state since agave grew nearly everywhere. It’s trademark smoky flavor comes from the 2-3 day process of cooking the agave heart buried under volcanic rock and dirt. But don’t worry, it’s all earthy, not dirty—unless you drink too much.  

Agustin Oaxaca Cooking Class
oaxaca cooking class

Oaxacan Cooking Class

Do yourself a favor and take a cooking class in Oaxaca with Esperanza and the hilarious (and ultra-talkative) Agustin. You’ll learn how to make two kinds of salsa, molé, deep-fried quesadillas and probably some other things that I’m forgetting. Plus, there’s unlimited beer and mezcal if you choose to drink (that much) while you cooking and eating all of this food.

jardin de ehtnobotanica
jardin de ehtnobotanica

Tour Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca

So nice, we went there twice. Right behind the walls of the former convent, turned museum, is the ethnobotanical garden that now grows all the desert and coastal plants that you can find in Oaxaca. We learned so much while we were there—there’s a tree that was used as soap! Bugs that are crushed for their natural dye! Cacti that are used as fences! Perfect spot for learning and plenty of Instagram-worthy shots.

Mercado de Benito Juarez
Mercado de Benito Juarez

Mercado de Benito Juarez

Again, if you know me, you know I don’t miss a market stop. This is where I tried cricket for the second time, where the lady vendors just scooped them from a pile of roasted and spiced crickets into a baggie for you to snack and walk with. This is where you can also browse and try all of the Oaxacan cheese your heart desires, drink more tejate, buy a bag of maize if you please, and see every color of the rainbow in vegetable form.

Templo de Santo Domingo

Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca

Located inside the Templo de Santo Domingo, the Museum of Oaxacan Culture is just that. It’s room after room of Oaxacan history, dating all the way back to pre-Hispanic times and up to modern day. Take at least a half a day to roam and learn, or stop by after you visit the botanical garden, which is located right behind the museum.

museo de filatelia

Museo de la Filatelia

Let me use my 3 weeks of Duolingo to teach you what this is: a stamp collection museum. It was only a matter of time before my long-buried passion for collecting stamps would resurface and I guess Oaxaca wasn’t a bad place to rediscover it. But mainly, it’s worth a stop to see old letters that Frida Kahlo wrote to her San Francisco lover and former doctor—so grab a tejate and stop by.

Where to Eat & Drink in Oaxaca

El Destilado

El Destilado

5 de Mayo 409, Centro

2 years later and I still dream of the grilled octopus dish that I had at El Destilado. Founded by 3 guys from the US (2 of whom came from San Francisco’s Michelin star, Saison)—it’s a hole in the wall restaurant with a killer, but down-to-earth menu and an impressive bar program. So good, I made us go nights in a row.

Boulenc Oaxaca

Boulenc

Calle Porfirio Díaz 207, Centro

3 weeks before I left for Oaxaca, I downloaded Duolingo so that I could master Spanish before my flight touched down. By the time we arrived, I had a very strong understanding of una manzana and un pan. Apple and bread, respectively. Un pan came in handy when I read about Boulenc, a Oaxacan bakery that uses locally sourced regional grains and employs European baking techniques for their baked goods, in an old world meets another old world mix that’s somehow, utterly modern.

El Popular

La Popular

Manuel García Vigil 105 Col. Centro

After dropping off our suitcases from a long day of travel, we hoofed it to no particular place in mind and ended up walking by La Popular, where someone was strumming a guitar from inside the restaurant. It was almost like Oaxaca planted this spot for us after our day of flying. The food is traditional and simple—like pozole and tortas, but it seemed to be a favorite for locals and travelers alike to eat, drink and watch people walk down the calle.

tlacolula market
Tlacolula Market

Tlacolula Market

70400 de, Galeana 2, Tercera Secc, Tlacolula de Matamoro

On the very  first day of our trip, we headed out in a tour van to visit Mitla (see above), El Tulle (the widest tree in the world) and then stopped at Mercado Tlacolula for a bite to eat. This is where I knew that nope, we were not in SF anymore and it was great. There were racks of dried and raw meat just out in the open, women beating flies away from the meat with rubber broom-like brushes, stray dogs roaming through the stalls, and merchants selling more varieties of peppers than I never knew existed. Although it’s not in El Centro, it’s worth the drive for the grilled meat, which is usually just served with radishes, raw onions and tortilla on the side.

Los Danzantes

Jardín Centenario 12 Col. Villa Coyoacán

If you’re the type of traveler who needs their plates and utensils replaced after every dish, white linen service, and a curated wine list—head to Los Danzantes for a night out. Even two years ago, I remember listening to a surfer go on and on to his girlfriend about the surf in Puerto Escondido while I tried crickets for the first time. The restaurant itself is stunning, with towering walls that go up at least 24 feet to reach a ceilingless roof. I guess it was pretty cool to eat crickets under the stars.

Mezcalogia

Mezcalogia

Calle de Manuel García Vigil 509, Ruta Indepenecia, Centro

“Drink mezcal like you treat a woman: with a lot of respect and little kisses,” said Victor, my favorite bartender from Oaxaca. I think this trip was the start of my bar rat tendencies on vacation (see my New Orleans trip),where we spent roughly 4 nights at this bar to end the day (fuzzily) with Mezcal tastings, good company, and some educational moments about the history and production of Oaxaca’s famous spirit (literally and figuratively).

La Mezcalarita

La Mezcalerita

Calle Macedonio Alcalá 706, Ruta Indepencia, Centro

Imagine this: It’s a dry 85 degrees, you’ve been walking around with a backpack for most of the afternoon, your silk dress is getting damp from back sweat—then you stumble upon a dim bar that’s icy cold, just like the beer they serve. If that’s not heaven, I don’t know what is. Stop at La Mezcalerita for a taste of local craft beers from Oaxaca and other Mexican states, but of course, you can also expect to find bottles and bottles of mezcal.

Tejate

Tejate

Tricked you! Tejate isn’t a restaurant, it’s a non-alcoholic drink made with cacao and maize, both ground into a paste then mixed with water and sweetener (honey or agave) to make this mid-day (multiple times a day for me) refreshment. The women who run the stalls dip small painted wooden bowls into larger plastic tubs to swirl the mixture around, before scooping it into a cup for you to enjoy in the shade.

Where to Stay in Oaxaca City

Casa de Los Milagros

Casa de Los Milagros

Matamoros No. 500-C (corner of Crespo), Centro

I’m the type of traveler who likes to make a place my temporary home, where I find a new favorite coffee spot and figure out my favorite route home to the hotel. Part of a small, family-run bed and breakfast chain, this location was our favorite between the two that we stayed at. Los Milagros is located in a quieter part of town and only has 3 rooms, the perfect amount to really get to know your neighbors and swap stories of Oaxaca—like we did when we met a couple doing a road trip across Mexico. Talk about travel goals. Aside from being a comfortable place to lay our heads, we also loved the freshly made breakfast every morning served with a hefty side of sugar-coated pan.

Alright, that’s Oaxaca through my eyes! What’s your take? Got questions? Let me know!

The Oh Wonderful Guide to O’ahu

To say that I was prepared to visit Hawaii’s most populated island, would be a lie. The extent of my prep was buying reef-safe sunscreen and making sure I had swimsuits that fit. Not one ounce of pre-travel research was done. Having only been exposed to the more desolate Big Island, I was expecting white sandy beaches, quiet afternoons with a Mai Tai in hand and lots of palm trees.

Most of this came true, but with 300 more people around.  Even with the crowd (and traffic) there was no shortage of things to do, see and eat on the island. Now that I’m back with a less-translucent skin color, here’s everything that I would do all over again on O’ahu. Shaka!

What to See

Waikiki Beach

If you’re looking for a quiet, serene and secluded seaside spot—Waikiki is not it. Waikiki is bustling with tourists (both international and domestic), packed with brand name shopping that you all know and lines everywhere. But Waikiki Beach should be penciled in as a stop for the pretty blue waters and people watching at the beach. This is also the epicenter of Japanese food on the island, so don’t miss out on fresh bowls of udon, the classic spam musubi and mochi donuts.

North Shore

Unlike Waikiki, you won’t find a single high-rise apartment or chain store on the North Shore. Instead, expect to find a single small town (Hale’iwa) that is home to the most restaurants and shops that this part of the island has. As long as you’re not there during a major surf competition, you’ll have access to quiet(er) beaches, more open roads and views of nothing but pineapple fields or Hawaiian hills. Oh, and the ocean. If you’ve got a car and like taking drives to nowhere, definitely park and put your toes in the sand at major surf spots like Waimea Bay, Sunset Beach, Banzai Pipeline, Chun’s Reef and Lani’s (where you also might spot some turtles).

sharks cove oahu

Shark’s Cove

Hankering for some snorkel time while in Hawaii? Hit up Shark’s Cove on the North Shore to see some needlefish, Hawaiian rainbow fish (my fave!), and sea cucumbers—amongst many other sea creatures too! Be sure to pack water shoes that protect your feet from rocks and DO NOT step on the coral (unlike some other folks I had to scold). Anything for you, Mother Earth.

Pow! Wow! Street Art in Kaka’ako

If you’re frequent readers of the blog or if we’ve traveled together, you know that I love me some street art. Pow! Wow! is a public arts project that brought local and international artists together in Honolulu for a week-long mural painting (among other things) extravaganza. It’s very much worth a visit, plus after you’re done looking at the art, you can pop into the locally owned stores and spots in the hood (like Here. and ARVO Café). Stay tuned in other cities, they’re growing quickly and expanding to Taiwan, D.C., Long Beach and beyond.

byodo-in temple oahu

Byodo-In Temple

Traveling in O’ahu sometimes felt like a mini-Japan—from stepping into Mitsuwa Market to driving by a literal Japanese Food Court in the heart of Waikiki. It’s a smaller-scale replication of the actual, 950-year-old Byodo-In Temple in Uji, Japan and was built to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the arrival of Japanese immigrants to Hawaii. Located at the foot of a mountain range, it’s peaceful, lush landscape is totally unexpected. Stop by to slow down.

Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art

Constructed in 1937 by the “richest little girl in the world,” Doris Duke’s Shangri La served as her Honolulu home, which she built from the ground up (unlike her other homes). After being inspired on her around-the-globe honeymoon travels, Duke began construction on her island property and began to collect and fill her home with Islamic art from the inside, out. If you want to pretend that you too, were born into money or thoroughly enjoy art or architecture, stop by. Admission to her home also grants you a day pass to the Honolulu Museum of Art.

KCC Farmer’s Market

If you don’t know, now you know: I friggin’ love a good farmer’s market. As I reflect back on our Hawaii trip, I honestly think this was the thing I most enjoyed. From tasting fresh macadamia nuts, tasting Hawaiian honey, eating fresh rambutan, to drinking fresh sugar cane juice with lilikoi (the best thing I have EVER drank), plan for a quick trip to KCC on Saturday morning or Tuesday evening. Try pairing it with your Diamond Head hike, as the hike is just above the college where the market is held.

What to Do

manoa falls oahu

Hike Manoa Falls

We had big pipe dreams to walk to a waterfall, then jump into it’s running waters for a post-hike swim. Instead, we chickened out and were our rule-following selves and didn’t make it past the “do not climb” sign. The hike up to the waterfall is a quick 20-40 minutes depending on how speedy you are, full of tropical flora and is quite muddy and slick—so be sure to wear non-stick shoes and clothes that can withstand some dirt.

Swim at Kailua & Lanikai Beach

My favorite part about any warm-weather, seaside vacation? Cerulean blue water. Kailua and Lanikai beaches are located right next to each other, but traffic and parking could be pretty hectic to shuttle between the two. Lanikai frequently ranks as one the world’s top beaches, while Kailua is just plain beautiful. Block off an afternoon for each, then hit up Island Snow (see the Eats section) for a post-beach treat.

Hike Diamond Head

For a good sweat sesh, views of Waikiki and an endless expanse of ocean, put up with the crowds and hike Diamond Head. It’s a 1.5-2 hours round-trip hike, where the first part starts off with a paved path, then an easy set of switchbacks that then transforms into a seemingly endless set of stairs to the top. It’s an old army base, so you’ll also walk through a tunnel, then through a bunker to reach the top. Get ready to get sweaty!

Swim with Sharks

As I write this, I’m realizing that we had a pretty adventurous trip. Who would have thought that the girl who was once 100% convinced that sharks might swim up the toilet would one day swim with sharks? We went cage diving with North Shore Shark Adventures and swam with Galapagos sharks which, if you’re wondering, rarely eat people.

Take a Surf Lesson on North Shore

Barrels, big waves and surf competitions. After (many) more lessons—that could be you! If you’re a water baby (like me), it’s worth blocking off some of the day to surf the North Shore, in the very same waters as household names like Kelly Slater and John John Florence. We took lessons with North Shore Surf Girls right off of Hale’iwa beach park (perfect location to head to lunch right after). The feeling of catching a wave really can’t be beat.

Where to Eat

ono seafood oahu

Ono Seafood

Kaimuki | 747 Kapahulu Ave.

Direct and to the point. That is how I like my people and my poke. Ono is a no-frills joint where parking is limited, your food is served in styrofoam take-out containers and you’re simply there to promptly eat, then leave. Get the shoyu and spicy poke, and save room for the Japanese side dishes they have stocked in their fridge.

Marukame Udon

Waikiki | 2310 Kūhiō Ave #124

Even though you might think eating hot noodles in a hot climate is a no-go, try resisting these handmade noodles (made with Sun Noodle flour!). Ordering mimics a Chipotle (or vice-versa) and don’t not load your plate with tempura, onogiri and kaarage before you check out.

barefoot beach cafe oahu

Barefoot Beach Café

Waikiki |2699 Kalakaua Avenue

Good food and views of turquoise blue waters—this is what brunch dreams are made of. Even though it’s technically on Waikiki, it’s situated far away enough from the main strop that you feel like you could steal some generous minutes of silence before you head back into the tourist horde. Go there for breakfast or brunch and order Dad’s shoyu eggs and a freshly blended pineapple, served in a pineapple. 

haleiwa bowls north shore

Hale’iwa Bowls

North Shore | 66-030 Kamehameha Hwy

The perfect spot for a pre or post-surf snack. Like the name implies, Hale’iwa bowls serves up açaí bowls, fresh smoothies and juices to keep you feeling light and fresh in the Hawaiian heat. I sprung for the blue majik bowl, which solicited lots of stares from others, but a lot of good food for me.

Leonard’s Bakery

Oh my malasada. Do yourself a favor and avoid eating any malasadas until you get to Leonard’s. What is it, you ask? “A Portuguese donut without a hole” as defined by Leonard’s Bakery themselves. They’re light, fluffy, but just dense enough. Get the Guava filling and try the Li Hing (sweet and salty) powdered version to get a taste of this island favorite.

Arvo Café

Kakaʻako | 675 Auahi Street

Tucked next to a flower store and complete with an order-at-the-window window, Arvo is the brainchild of Instagram-loved Dixie Rose (who yes, I’ve been following for years) and Casey Wiggins. It’s cute, it’s hip and serves up freshly roasted coffee and Australian-inspired eats like vegemite toast.

Shaved Ice in O’ahu

Lawson Station

Waikiki | 2255 Kalakaua Ave.

Apparently, Lawson is a chain of convenience stores in Japan, but a purveyor of very fine shave ice in Waikiki. No wonder there were so many Japanese snacks in there. Spring for the Hawaiian Punch flavor, it really does pack a punch of finely shaved ice powder.

Waiola Shave Ice

McCully | 2135 Waiola St.

The one, the only and the very famous Waiola. The best food on the island was mostly served in styrofoam containers—no exception here. Pull up and park, then attempt to master the ordering system (number of bowls, ice cream or no ice cream, then flavors one at a time).

Island Snow

Kailua | 130 Kailua Rd

We basically vacationed just like the Obama family in Oahu. But, only when it came to stopping by the very same shave ice spot that they go to too. Get it straight—visit the Island Snow location that’s closest to the beach to increase your chances of run-in with 44.

Need a map? Save this to your phone for your trip!

Alright, that’s O’ahu—through my take. What’d I miss? What do like to do? Let me know!

The Oh Wonderful Guide to New Orleans

Guess who has two thumbs and finally made their way to New Orleans? This girl! Back in the day, my aunt would take me to Disneyland every weekend where we would head to their version of the French Quarter, visit the Haunted Mansion and Tom Sawyer island. Little did I know that the real New Orleans would be just like Disneyland—just with way more beignets and cocktails involved. Here’s my take on where to eat, drink and see in New Orleans, all from yours truly.

Where to Eat in New Orleans

Willie Mae’s Scotch House – Treme 

Are you also on the hunt to eat the best fried chicken, all the time always? Just me? Cool. Do yourself a favor, call a car the minute you land and hightail it to Willie Mae’s Scotch House (not to be confused with any other Willie’s located throughout the city). You’ll be driven ~10 minutes outside of the French Quarter (FQ), dropped off in the Treme neighborhood and in front of a house that’s been Willie Mae’s since 1957. Their chicken is perfectly crispy on the outside and so, so juicy on the inside. Get messy, order the housemade lemonade and sit back and enjoy.

Willa Jean’s Warehouse District 

I couldn’t quite shake the San Francisco off of me, so we made our way to Willa Jean’s for a very chic brunch in this James Beard award-winning bakery, café and restaurant all-in-one. Head here for breakfast or brunch (maybe before a visit to the Garden District), and look out for The Biscuit Situation on the menu, their BBQ shrimp toast, crawfish and grits, freshly baked bread, new takes on lattes and, are you hungry yet?

CochonCentral Business District

You’d be crazy to not eat some Cajun food in Louisiana. Even if it’s a little steamy outside, order the rabbit stew with dumplings, their take on charbroiled oysters (with chili-garlic butter) and drinks mixed with moonshine and crawfish boil (but not together).

Auction House Market – Warehouse District

You know I love a converted warehouse. Oh, you didn’t know that? Well, now you do. With no less than 5 different food stalls, a stunning marble bar in the center and waiters yelling out your name to come pick up your order, Auction House Market is worth a visit just for the change of pace from your normal sit-down restaurant experience.

Where to Drink in New Orleans

Arnaud’s French 75French Quarter

Lately, I’ve been a big fan of cocktails and outstanding experiences at bars. Nowadays, this does not consist of talking to QT’s but really chatting it up with bartenders who know their stuff and having some unforgettable drinks throughout the night. I ended up spending 3 consecutive nights at French 75, headed up by Chris Hannah, the award-winning head bartender at this spot right off of Bourbon (and literally the star of every publication that has written about NOLA). He’s mixing up newer takes on old, old classics, while somehow keeping once well-loved drinks, well, still loved. The best souvenir I brought home? A list of NOLA favorites hand-written from Hannah himself.

The Roost Bar at Brennan’s – French Quarter 

Famous for its flamingo pink exterior and flamingo-decked mirrors, it’s obvious to see how I was convinced to head inside. Otherwise known for their Creole fare, Brennan’s is also notably famous for their Caribbean Milk Punch mixed with rum, bourbon, cream and plenty of vanilla. So sit back, relax and order one as a quick escape from the heat of the South.

Compère LapinWarehouse District 

Compère Lapin (or brother rabbit) was another recommendation from our friend Chris (who is probably besties with the head bartendress, Abigail Gullo). We only stayed for one drink slushie each, and they were good. Think refreshing, not tropical and perfectly Southern—someway, somehow. Order one, sit at the bar and chat it up with Abigail (which we didn’t get to do), but I bet she’s really cool.

NOLA Brewing Company – Irish Channel 

To be honest, we didn’t get to stop by the brewery, but rest assured, I did have their beers. Their pale ale might just be the best I’ve ever had and word on the street is that this brewery rocks. Apparently, it comes complete with an outside patio, string lights and if you’re lucky, live music just alongside the river. Sounds so #dreamy.

What to Do in New Orleans

Preservation Hall

Do yourself a huge favor and go check out some live music at Preservation Hall. It’s $20 at the door, cash-only and the best part is that there are no phones or cameras allowed during the show. It’s just you, all the other guests and a very good band at the front of the house. Be sure to get there on the earlier side of the next show time (they’re every hour, on the hour from 5-10 p.m., except for 7 p.m.), I would say 30 minutes beforehand is your safest bet.

Garden District

Even if you’re not into “touring,” the Garden District is worth the trolley ride out from Canal Street. Visit the above-ground cemetery that inspired Anne Rice, see her old house, Sandra Bullock’s mansion, the spot that Nicolas Cage bought and even the Manning family house. Now that I think about it, it was more a celebrity real estate tour with many beautiful mansions along the way. Still worth it.

Swamp Tour

Maybe when I’m older and grayer, I will move myself out to a swamp and feed marshmallows to alligators. Visiting Honey Island swamp was definitely a highlight of the trip. It wasn’t an airboat tour, but the flatboat was able to get us into narrow bayous, up and down the river at what felt like, high speeds and a lot of animal spottings like swamp raccoons, egrets, herons, gators, turtles and even a wild bachelorette party.

Frenchman Street

Are you a woo girl? If not, skip Bourbon Street entirely and head out to the locals-favorite Frenchman Street instead. We stopped by The Spotted Cat (yes, the exact place where CNN does NYE!) and listened to a bluegrass band and had a whiskey shot. We were totally fine that night (we were not).

Mardi Gras World

Want to see some Mardi Gras floats without actually experiencing the crowds? Head to Mardi Gras World (there’s even a free shuttle from major hotels!) where you can see how the props are built from giant pieces of styrofoam, paper-mâchéd over, then painted over every year by the same family that started making them in the 19th century.

French Quarter

Just like Disneyland! Every street in the FQ is like walking back in time, with old French-style houses in pastel colors, porches that are just made for perching and a live band that might dot a street corner. Rent a bike at dusk to see the neighborhood, try a ghost tour or an architecture tour if you’re more refined and just soak up the sights. Royal Street is known for all of it’s shops (mostly antique), Bourbon just might be the Vegas of the South and all the other sidestreets have something up their sleeves too.

Still have questions about New Orleans? Just ask!

The Oh Wonderful Guide to Austin

Guess who’s back, back again! Three months away from the blog is a very long time—but I’m grateful that two friends and all of my family noticed. I’m also back from Austin, Texas, which just might be my new favorite city. Here’s my guide to Austin, but disclaimer: try and visit with your most favorite people who make it easy to have fun.

Where to Eat in Austin

La Barbeque – East Austin

Sure, everyone’s heard of Franklin Barbeque. I’ve never eaten it (yet)  but if you want some meat and don’t want to line up at 9 a.m., head to La Barbeque in East Austin. They went from barbeque truck to an air-conditioned and high-end convenience store. You can also order a beer while you wait, so this just might be the best line you’ll ever wait in. Get the brisket, spicy sausage, pulled pork and plenty of potato salad.

Elizabeth Street Café1st Street  

My new version of a perfect summer night now consists of eating fiery Vietnamese food on a 90-degree night in Texas. The #millenialpink neon lights wooed me in, but things quickly got serious once the food arrived. Their menu’s split into appetizers, bánh mì, pho, bún and specialties that rotate out. Spring for something on the specialties section (or you’ll miss it) and be sure to pair it with a carafe of whatever cocktail you’re drinking to wash it down.

June’s – South Congress 

If you know me at all, you know that I will always want to visit a BA best new restaurant of whatever year it is. June’s is a wine bar that feels like the love child between a diner and sexy French restaurant (with a lot less smoke). Grab a glass of wine or brunch while you’re in town—they have it all.

Guero’s Taco Bar – South Congress

You apparently can’t travel to the American Southwest without eating a taco, so you might as well eat one at Guero’s. Your tacos come with a hefty side of Mexican restaurant kitsch, plus an unlimited salsa bar and strong margaritas.

What to See in Austin

Barton Springs Zilker Park

When it’s over 100 degrees outside, there really is no excuse to skip out on a trip to Barton Springs. Just 15 minutes max from downtown is a natural spring full of living organisms (like the Barton Springs salamander) and very cool water. It’s free after 9 p.m. and only $8 if you’re not a local.

Live Music at The Continental Club – South Congress 

Have you ever listened to honky tonk funk? Nope, neither have I—until I hit up The Continental Club. If you have a couple of hours to spare on a weekday (or weekend) night in Austin, catch a show (it’ll probably be under $10) from a local band.

South Congress Bridge Bats

When’s the last time you saw 1.5 million bats fly right over you? If the answer is never, then block off at least one night just before sunset to plant yourself on the east side of the South Congress bridge to watch the bats take off at dusk. And I swear, it’s not like that one scene from The Office.

Shopping – South Congress & East 11th Street

Let’s be real, no vacation of mine is ever complete without a little bit of shopping. While in Austin, I fell in love with two main drags: South Congress and East 11th. South Congress is famously known for their small shops, but my favorite was Feathers Boutique, for their highly curated items ranging from DVF dresses and Gap skirts from the 90s. East 11th street also had some great hits like Charm School Vintage, Olive (for contemporary cool-girl clothing) and take heart (for tiny, minimalist wares).

1st Street

I swear, I purposefully did not map us to this mural! Just take one stroll down 1st Street (on the south side of town) and walk north. You’ll hit up spots like the Austin postcard mural and attached art gallery, Gourdough’s doughnuts (could eat these everyday) and the aforementioned Elizabeth Street Café. According to insider info from a Lyft driver, 1st street is the place to be if you want to blend in with the locals.

Where to Drink in Austin

Lazarus Brewing East Austin

Great beer, air conditioning and a stained glass mural of Jesus are all to be found at Lazarus. If you’re in need of a craft beer break, a visit to East Austin is worth it.

Blue Owl Brewery East Austin

I. Love. Sours. So I am a little bummed that I didn’t actually get to check out this brewery in person, but I am being held over by the single taster I had at a coffee shop. Head to Blue Owl for me, won’t you?

Hotel San José – South Congress 

This hotel looked hip as hell, which of course means that they were serving the summer drink of the year: Frosé. The poor thing melted in less than 20 minutes (like me).

Other important things:

Where to Stay

If you’re looking to be where it’s at, stay somewhere near (or on) South Congress Avenue, whether it’s an Airbnb or at the Austin Motel. If you’re okay with being a little farther out from the hustle and bustle, a few nights in Zilker Park or Bouldin are fine too.

How to Get Around

Bus, bike, Lyft or Uber—Austin really has it all now. Renting a car might have its perks too since you’d be able to travel a little farther outside the city to find a no-wait barbeque joint.

When to Go

Skip a mid-August trip since we learned that it’s the hottest time of the year. Early fall and late spring are prime time.

The Oh Wonderful Guide to Seattle

A couple of weeks ago, I took a quick jaunt up to the Pacific Northwest for a long(er) weekend away in Seattle. The weather forecast called for lots of rain, which meant that we were going to spend most of our time indoors either eating or shopping. If you’re wondering, we did both.

But with that rainy weather (seriously, it was their biggest storm of the year for them!), that meant we got to try out some seriously good food spots. Without having to worry about missing out on the outdoorsy stuff. As if we would really care if we did. Here’s my weekend guide to Seattle.

Where to Eat in Seattle

Weekend Guide to Seattle Weekend Guide to Seattle

Il Corvo Pasta

Il Corvo is the one spot that you must pasta pencil into your itinerary. This 2016 James Beard Award winner makes fresh pasta made to order in this sit-down spot. They’re only open for lunch from Monday to Friday between 11-3 so make sure to show up before the weekend rolls around.

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Anything by Renee Erickson

I’m just going to call her the Queen of Seattle at this point. I was #blessed to eat at every restaurant she has to offer in her city. With three restaurants in the young and hip Capitol Hill hood and one in the quaint and waterfront Ballard. Make a reservation at Bateau for individual, dry-aged steaks and the best corn (buttery, the right kind of cheesy and topped with chili threads). Head to General Porpoise for Stumptown Coffee and stuffed donuts. Then, if you need something from the sea and in a french-inspired setting, stop by Bar Melusine just two doors down.

Walrus and the Carpenter is her most famed-spot which is nestled just off the main drag in Ballard. It’s small plates and family-style eatery is experienced best with good company and one of their fine wine selections.

Other Seattle Eateries: 

  • Mr. West Café Bar: Thought you could only find avocado toast in California? I guess it’s taken over Seattle too. Mr. West had darn good coffee and a curry and mustard seed avocado toast.
  • Ballard Annex Oyster House: Freshly made bloodys and freshly shucked oysters make a perfect afternoon brunch.
  • Starbucks Reserve: There’s more to Starbucks than just PSL’s, which the Starbucks Reserve proved. Head here to see coffee roasted in at least four different ways.

Where to Drink in Seattle

Weekend Seattle Guide

Fremont Brewing Company

Just down the hill from the Fremont Troll and across the road from some Seattle-exclusive houseboats is Fremont Brewing Company. You can expect a lot of warm, hip company here (plus a fireplace inside) and an outdoor patio for when the weather’s nice. Plus, organic beer. Need I say more?

Weekend Guide to Seattle

Damn The Weather

Aptly named, Damn The Weather, this spot is the perfect place to hunker down from any and all bad weather. However, if I lived in Seattle, this is where I would be rain or shine. Nice wine, nice bartenders and even nicer cocktails.

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Barnacle

While you wait to grab a seat at the aforementioned Walrus and the Carpenter, grab a seat at Barnacle for a glass of Italian wine and a teaser plate of oysters.

Where To Shop in Seattle

Seattle Weekend Guide

Elliot Bay Book Company

There isn’t one city that I can go to without stopping by a bookstore. Maybe it’s because I like to pretend that I’m Belle from Beauty and the Beast in my very own library. This one has a mini-Oddfellows nestled right in there, so buy a paperback and head into the café for a blackberry lemonade.

Seattle Weekend Guide

Pike Place

As cliché as it is, no Seattle trip is whole without a visit to Pike Place. Grab a cup of coffee from Starbucks, see some fish being thrown through the air and grab some freshly cut dahlias for your hotel. Plus, you can’t go wrong with some quintessential (and food-centric) Seattle treats to bring back home.

Other places to shop in Seattle: 

  • Moorea Seal: Stop by the bright and airy spot in Belltown for their handmade jewelry that’s far from kitschy, smart wall art and some desk goods that I 100% want to have on my desk.
  • Prism: This is the store that’s so hip that you’ll feel square no matter how cool you are. Expect to find jewelry from Baleen, apothecary goods from Herbivore and other hip(ster) goods.
  • Nordstrom Flagship: The one Nordstrom that started it all. It might just be me or is everything even more carefully curated here? Plus, a fresh flower boutique at the entrance?
  • Horseshoe Boutique: Did you forget a sweater at home? Need another layer or a new pair of jeans? Horseshoe has you covered with Mother Denim, Frye, Sundry and my favorite fragrance, Kai.

Thanks to Pacific Northwest for yet another great trip!

The First Quarter Dispatch from San Francisco

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In business-speak, it’s been a whole fiscal quarter since I’ve packed my bags (furniture, kitchen supplies and mountains of clothes) and moved from the East Bay to San Francisco. Fun fact: I looked for an apartment for over a year and a half. A week after I’d accepted a new job offer, I lazily looked at an apartment and it worked out!

Here’s what I love about San Francisco: 

  • There’s something scenic on every corner, whether it’s a charming SF house or a cutie.
  • Evening or afternoon walks are pretty great when you have hundreds of places to visit within less than 4 miles from you in all directions.
  • Yoga Tree is keeping me centered, somewhat fit and on a schedule.
  • Muni is pretty great, I don’t always need to rely on my car anymore.
  • No more long commutes to work, to friends or the occasional date.
  • Proximity to wine country—rosé all day.

Here’s what I don’t love about San Francisco:

  • People would rather talk to their dog than say “hi” to anyone.
  • Poop. On. The. Streets.
  • What is it with this bone-chilling weather in the summer?

The Oh Wonderful Guide to San Luis Obispo

If you know me fairly well, you’ve most likely asked me why I go to SLO so often. Did you go to school there? No. Are you visiting friends? No. (Also, if you know me, you’ll know that I have five friends, tops). Did you grow up there? Nope. Well, sort of. 15 years ago the aunt who took me to Disneyland every weekend moved to the central coast for what we all thought would be a short stint.

Lucky for us, it turned into fifteen years, SLO county turned into a second home for our entire family and a future home for many of us. Head to SLO for a week or a weekend and you’ll return feeling refreshed, charmed and extra grateful for small towns.

Here’s where to head if you’re planning on visiting San Luis Obispo county:Morro Bay Morro Strand Beach

Morro Bay

Morro Bay Taco Temple

Morro Bay: 13 miles north of SLO proper is the little retiree beach town of Morro Bay, where I honestly spend most of my time. Head to Morro Strand Beach with your dog or with your friends or family, take in Morro Rock from afar and collect real life sand dollars instead of buying them from the souvenir shop. Taco Temple has been around for a lot longer than we’ve been going there and that little California-fusion Mexican restaurant has expand their space but still serves killer seared scallop tacos.

Sunset Drive-in Theater SLO

High Street Deli San Luis Obispo

San Luis Obispo Classic Car

SLO Farmer's Market Bishop's Peak Hike
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San Luis Obispo: Ahh, my favorite city in the whole wide world (for now). I can spend hours in downtown San Luis Obispo reading a book, walking around, drinking a chai latte from Scout Coffee and shopping at all of my favorite shops like Len Collective and these other cute shops. If you’re feeling outdoorsy and have the urge to sweat, hike up Bishop’s Peak along with every other SLO county resident in town and their dogs and admire the view from the top. Afterwards, go to High Street Deli for the best sandwiches you’ll ever eat (just thinking about the Doobie Dip is making my mouth water rn). Just a bit outside of Downtown SLO is the Sunset Drive-in Movie theater, one of that last few in California. The best part about drive-ins? YOU CAN BRING ALL OF THE SNACKS YOU CAN AND WANT TO EAT.

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Los Osos: This tiny beach town with virtually no beaches is completely surrounded by coast—you pretty much can’t avoid looking at the deep blue sea the entire time you’re in Los Osos. Hike Montano del Oro to visit the tide pools (with actual starfish!) and eat greasy burgers and onion rings from Sylvester’s Burgers. 

A couple things about San Luis Obispo:

  • Everyone’s nice here, so don’t bring your city jerkiness to these people.
  • Always pack workout clothes and hiking shoes—you never know when you’ll want to pull over and explore.
  • Bring plenty of cash. This is the place where I discovered the joy of farmers markets, so discover them for yourself too!

Honestly, this (brief) travel guide to San Luis Obispo is really just a way for me to remind me of the place I love most. I hope you love it too!

West Coast Craft, Summer 2016


Another year, another West Coast Craft! West Coast Craft did it again with the bi-annual craft fair in San Francisco’s Marina neighborhood. This summer’s festival was packed with people checking out everyone’s wares and there were hardly any girls not wearing frayed-hem jeans. Here’s my wrap-up of the best of the best from the summer edition of West Coast Craft.

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After months of Instagram-swooning over her jewels, I finally met the maker herself, as well as her to-die-for Relic Collection that’s she’s been working on. Her ear cuffs, wrist cuffs and dainty rings with an organic feel were so, so beautiful. Also, Molly’s designs are set to be stocked in the previously featured Len Collective in San Luis Obispo!
I couldn’t help but stop by Corinne’s booth after seeing the minimalist color palette, plush fabrics and owner/designer, Susan Kim’s vivacious personality (seriously so, so nice!). Her latest collection of crop tops, pencil skirts (which I wish I picked up) and her super-soft tees are mostly crafted out of french terry and meticulously handmade in her downtown Los Angeles studio.
I love my sundresses, but now that I live in the city where fog and drizzle is the norm in the morning and sudden gusts of wind can blow through, I won’t be wearing those dresses for a long time. Gusts of wind also served as the inspiration to designer Kimber-Lee Alston, who dreamed-up the genius (and incredibly cute) playsuits. They look like a fit and flare mini-dress, but have a secret snap closure for those urgent trips to the bathroom. Plus, no breeze will be able to get through those.
I was pretty much starstruck when I met Instagram-darling, Aleksandra Zee. A one-woman woodworker showcased a special collection of her paneled pieces and her new exploration into hand-stamped fabric wares for her “Everything is Okay” collection.
Hailing all the way from Nashville, Ceri brought her leather goods to San Francisco. I was smitten with the cool colors and the minimalist shapes of her bags that still felt really usable. And those sandals came with a solid birch wood heel that perfectly complemented the buttery soft leather straps.

I continuously walk by this one desk at the office that always has two mugs perched on the desk in an on-trend boob print (yes, boobs!) and a rustic brown and low-profile mug. Turns out, they’re handmade by my coworker and ceramic artist, Gopi Shah. She also keeps a really great online journal, which you’ll spend a good chunk of time reading after checking out everything she makes.
Now do yourself a favor and support these makers and movers and shakers! I’ll see you next time West Coast Craft!

Cute Shop: Maple Street Denim, Oakland

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So you should be fairly familiar with Old Oakland by now. A few weeks ago I stopped by Marion & Rose’s Workshop and weeks before that (on the same day) I walked by Maple Street Denim. Just like I did with Marion & Rose, I pressed my entire face up to the window, peered into the store and saw rows and rows of denim lined up. Plus, I laid eyes on a charcoal gray crewneck that had “Girl Gang” emblazoned on it in large block, white letters. I knew I had to have it.
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Eventually, I popped over to Maple Street Denim not even knowing that I wanted a new pair of jeans. The gregarious and knows-her-stuff owner of Maple Street, Julie Harleman, made me so excited to be trying on jeans (something I truly hate) and introduced me to brands I had no clue about, like Naked and Famous (which apparently all the uber-cool kids love).

 

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Julie, as she puts it, fell into denim by accident. As a student at UC Berkeley, Julie’s friend introduced her to Slash, an Elmwood denim shop specializing in vintage Levi’s. As the shop grew, Julie grew with it and subsequently, fell more in love with denim. Towards the end of her time there, she was a full-time buyer and manager of a new section of the store until a small fire occurred and sent Julie towards a crossroads of where her denim future would go. This is where Oakland lucked out. With the help of Kerri Johnson (see, I told you everyone in Oakland is great!), Julie was introduced to her storefront on 9th Street which would eventually become the tight-knit epicenter of small businesses that I crush on today. Julie says it herself, “Downtown Oakland is just this really special place and I always want to scream it from the rooftops!”.

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Walk into Maple Street Denim and you’ll be genuinely greeted by Julie, not in a I-want-to-sell-you-something sort of way, but in a I-love-what-I-do, earnest way. As you browse through her selection of Paige, Citizens of Humanity, and Made & Crafted Levi’s all of which fit in with the modern and simple aesthetic that aligns with her store and her customers, you’ll learn that all of the brands that are brought in because of their commitment to manufacturing and sourcing their materials and labor in a sustainable, ethical way. Not only in the materials they use, but also in how their employees who assemble your jeans are treated. The jeans you’ll find in her shop will last for years and years to come as you break them in, make them your own and let them fade in the most perfect way.

Speaking of denim, Julie asserts that skinny jeans aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. But what we can expect are expanded styles of denim—think higher waists, easier fits and heavier fabrics for sturdy, long-lasting denim. Another denim surprise? Overalls are back in full swing and the Naked and Famous overalls that Maple Street carries can barely keep in stock. Trust me, I’ve worn my black pair more than two hands worth of times.

Maple Street Denim 

465 9th Street
Oakland, 94607

Cute Shop: Len Collective, San Luis Obispo

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Several months ago my aunt mentioned a small shop located in an old creamery building just off Higuera, San Luis Obispo’s main drag. Once again, I discovered that she had kept another a total gem hidden from me for many, many years. The second I walked into Len Collective’s old, shop with exposed bricks, bags from Baggu and watches from Cluse, my heart melted and I was smitten.

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A vagabond gypsy by heart born and raised in SLO, owner Shannon Len began making jewelry when she was living in Kauai. After realizing that she needed to get her hands on more materials, Len moved back to California and continued her jewelry business which then expanded to the point where she needed an actual workshop, then a brick and mortar shop to sell her designs. Her passion for small batch, handcrafted and minimalist, yet rustic-esque design from artisans eventually gave her the idea to bring other brands into the shop as she supplied the home where everything lived.  When the store first opened it’s doors, The first brand she brought in was P.F. Candle Co., the LA-based candle crafting duo whose signature brown glass candles can be seen everywhere from Urban Outfitters to CB2.

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Since my first happenstance meeting with Len Collective, they’ve moved into a newer and larger space in downtown SLO and stocked the shop full of much-loved brands including Herbivore Botanicals, Ursa Major skin care and BCE Jewelry. Just like other Cute Shops that have been featured here, mostly everything sold at Len is American-made, with some of it being local to SLO county like Oak and Flower soaps, and of course, Len’s own designs.

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Most of the customers who visit Len Collective are conscious shoppers looking for something unique, well-made, crafted with quality and supportive of U.S. makers and artists much like Len herself. Aside from sourcing most of the brands in the store through Instagram (the perfect at-home platform when you’re a busy shop owner and mother), Len also makes it a point to cut out the middleman and work directly with the artisans when ordering new products or restocking.
Over the past 15 years, SLO has managed to carve a big spot in my heart which only grows bigger when I see small businesses like Len thriving (and beating the big players) downtown. As SLO continues to grow, Len also plans on growing with it, continuing to share heirloom-worthy pieces, all while introducing shoppers to their next favorite small brands.

 

722 Marsh Street
San Luis Obispo, CA 93401