THE ULTIMATE FLORENCE GUIDE

Firenze! One of the most beautiful and historically significant cities in the world. Founded in the first century BCE, the birthplace of Renaissance, this Italian city has an abundance of historical aesthetics and attractions, rich in culture, food, people and well preserved monuments. This quaint city attracts around 10 million tourists a year is a UNESCO World Heritage site and every inch of this city has a rustic aesthetic etched in the walls and cobblestone streets. Florence is a MUST when you are visiting Italy & I’ve got the perfect guide for you.

WHERE IS IT?

Located in the heart of Tuscany, Florence sits in north central Italy right in between Rome and Venice. It is a 1 hour and 30 min train ride from Rome and 2 hour train ride from Venice.

TRANSPORT ME HERE!

Florence is a relatively easy destination to get to. Because it is the most populous city in Tuscany, there are many ways to get here! 

FLY 

Amerigo Vespucci Airport is located directly in Florence- how convenient! From the airport, you can reach the main central station within 15 minutes by taking the T1 Tram. Average one-way ticket costs 1.5 EUR ($1.80) 

Galileo Galilei International Airport is located in Pisa. Flights into Pisa are less expensive, so this could be an option if you’re on a tight budget. A high speed train takes around 50 minutes from Pisa to get to Florence. 

TRAIN

Personally, it is the best form of transportation in Europe- comfortable & cost-effective! Opt for the train if you’re coming from other parts of Italy. The train will take you directly to the Firenze Santa Maria Novella Train Station, which is located in downtown Florence. It’s only a 2 hour ride from Rome or Venice. Book through Trenitalia or Italo for the best deals.

DRIVE

Driving into historic center Florence is a bit tricky for tourists. Not only are you driving on the opposite side of the car, but also there are restricted traffic zones, which means the center is closed to car traffic and ONLY residents, buses, & taxis can use the streets. Without a special permit, you could be fined for driving into zona a traffico limitato (ZTL) One option is to inform your hotel in advance so they can arrange a special permit for you!

GETTING AROUND FLORENCE

Easiest way is to walk! I promise you will easily get your 10,000 steps in by noon everyday. The cobblestone streets make it a bit more difficult, so wear a solid pair of walking shoes. There are buses that you can take, but Florence is truly a work of art in every corner- by walking  you’ll discover so much more in every little corners and streets. 

Avoid driving in Florence. Parking is hard to come by. Leave your car parked at the hotel and get your lazy butt up!  

SIGHTS TO SEE IN FLORENCE!


PIAZZALE MICHELANGELO

Address: Piazzale Michelangelo, 50125 Firenze FI, Italy

Ohhhhh you will want to come here every single day because the panoramic skyline of Florence is unreal! Highly recommend coming during sunrise to have the whole place to yourself & watch this historic city glow up! Check out the photoshoot we did here (if you recreate the same pose, be sure to tag me so I can give it some love on Instagram!)

It is around a 25 minute walk from city center. There is a steep hill you’ll have to climb (great butt exercise) If you’re feeling lazy, you can take a bus or drive to the top. Click here to find the right bus line that takes you here.

Giardino Delle Rose

Stop and smell the roses- take a moment to yourself & appreciate how lucky you are to be in Italy! This gorgeous rose garden is located right below Piazzale Michelangelo & it’s completely free! Who doesn’t love a free attraction? This garden was created in 1865 with over 400 varieties of roses.  

THE DUOMO & CATHEDRAL OF SANTA MARIA DEL FIORE

Address: Piazza del Duomo, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy

Did you really visit Florence if you didn’t get a photo in front of the Duomo? Hands down the most iconic landmark in Florence. The Duomo is part of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Del Fiore and dates all the way back to the 13th century. The dome is an architectural feat and built without scaffolding! Now take in the grandness here because it is considered one of the world’s marvel! 

Cathedral of Santa Maria Del Fiore:

Free entrance. I highly recommend going in and exploring the underground area called The Crypt of Santa Reparata.

The Duomo

There is always a huge line that wraps around the corner so make sure to buy the Grande Museo Del Duomo ticket, which allows you to climb up the dome, bell tower, museum & Baptistery. You will get admission to all 5 monuments in Piazza Duomo. This must be reserved in advance online with a specific time slot. Time slot cannot be changed so choose wisely. Click here to buy your ticket- the pricing is 20 EUR ($24) for adults

Personally, I do not think it is worth paying a fee to climb up to the top of the Duomo. All you see from the top are terra cotta rooftops of the whole town, while Piazzale Micahengelo gives you a much better view for FREE. FYI there’s 463 steps… each way..

PONTE VECCHIO

Address: Ponte Vecchio, 50125 Firenze FI, Italy

Ponte Vecchio, translation means the old bridge and actually the very first bridge to cross the Arno River. The bridge was once filled with butcher shops and they’d toss the unwanted  leftover meat into the river, but nowadays, it is home to souvenir/jewelry shops.

PIAZZA DELLA SIGNORIA

Address: P.za della Signoria, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy

This L-shaped square in Florence has a reputation of being the center of political focus of the city since the 14th century! There are important buildings in this palazza- a fortress like city hall that dominates the square, the David statue by Michaelangelo was placed outside here as a symbol of the Republic’s defiance of the tyrannical Medici and Loggia Dei Lanzi, an open-air museum showcasing famou Renaissance sculptures. You will be sure to find lively events going on every night from beautiful orchestras, fashion shows, art installations or street performances. 

MERCATO CENTRALE 

Address: Piazza del Mercato Centrale, Via dell’Ariento, 50123 Firenze FI, Italy

Can’t decide what to eat? This is the place to go to! This central market has options galore! The first floor is an open marketplace where you can buy all your groceries. They have fresh meat, cheese, truffle, seasonings, anything you can think of! The second floor has SO many vendors that can whip up a quick bite for you. There’s sandwiches, pasta, ice cream, juices, salads, etc. Mercato Centrale can feel a bit overwhelming if I’m being completely honest. Sometimes when there’s too many options, it’s tough to make a decision. Avoid coming here right at peak lunch/dinner time!

PHOTOBOOTH

Address: Piazza della Stazione 56r Florence, ITA 50123 or Via dell’Agnolo & Via Giuseppe Verdi

You’ll see some old school photobooths spread out all over Florence (see if you can find all 5!) Hop in one to capture some silly memories with each other. B&W, 4 per strip, €2.00

PITTI PALACE & BOBOLI GARDENS

Address: Piazza de’ Pitti, 1, 50125 Firenze FI, Italy

Pitti Palace

This palace was the symbol of the Medici Family’s power over Tuscany. Originally built in 1457, the famous Medici Family purchased it in 1549. This palace is divided into 4 museums: the Treasury of the Grand Dukes (ground floor), the Palatine Gallery and the Imperial and Royal Apartments (first floor), the Gallery of Modern Art and the Museum of Costume and Fashion (second floor) 

Regular Ticket Fee: 16 € /  Closed on Mondays 

Boboli Garden

This garden sits behind the palace. It is a historical open air museum with tons of statues, fountains and lush landscaping. It has been said that Boboli is what inspired the gardens at Versailles Palace. As you explore, there is a space that houses a little pink building- from there, you can see a panoramic view of Florence and the countryside. You can also stop by the Grottos, which has sculptures and fresco painting amongst stalactites. It’s the perfect space to roam around and get lost in! 

Regular Ticket Fee: 10 €

UFFIZI GALLERY

Address: Piazzale degli Uffizi, 6, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy

This gallery is home to priceless works of art! It is the second largest museum in Italy and houses a large collection Renaissance art gifted by the Medici family on the condition that these pieces never leave Florence. The name Uffizi translates into ‘offices’ and the museum is actually housed in a 16th century government office. Buy tickets ahead of time to skip the long lines. Click here to buy your tickets online!

Regular Ticket Fee: 20 €

WHERE TO EAT

All’Antico Vinaio ($): craving a panini? Check this palace out! Those on a tight budget, this spot is for you- SO cheap. No seating-  I recommend taking it to your airbnb or find a bench and have a picnic!

Il Nutino ($): Cozy, 1950s venue with frescoed decor & wooden beams. I had the BEST Linguine Vongole (Spaghetti with clams) and I still crave this dish soooo much.

Trattoria Toscana Gozzi Sergio ($): a local’s favorite! If you want an inexpensive, authentic Tuscan meal, this place is for you! There is outdoor seating along the side of San Lorenzo Basilica. The pasta with ragu, Pepeso- slow cooked beef with pepper and red wine sauce here is unreal. They are only open for 3-5 hours everyday so I recommend getting there before opening to get a seat before it fills up.

La Prosciutteria Firenze ($): who doesn’t love wine and an epic cheese plate? Come here for an impressive charcuterie board and a cute vintage sidewalk set up.

 Trattoria Mario ($$): family run eatery with unique handwritten menu on the wall. Get in here before noon and be prepared to share a table with other parties. Popular order here is the Florentine Steak & you can always ask what they’d recommend or look around to see what other people are ordering

Trattoria Sostanza ($$$): The history of the Florentine steak is as old as the Italian city of Florence. The steak is cut from the veal loin and in Tuscany, the animal has to be a Chianina breed- the oldest breed used for heavy work by the Romans. Food here may be pricy, but cooked to perfection!

La Terrazza Rooftop Bar ($$$): I don’t think there is any other bar that can top this location- rooftop floor of the medieval Consorti tower surrounded by impeccable Tuscan views. You’re def paying for the view… its steep in prices

GROM – Il Gelato ($): One of the best chain gelaterias in the world. Endless mouthwatering flavors to choose from and high quality ingredients.

WHERE TO STAY 

Florence has an abundance of Airbnbs AND hotels to choose from. Luckily, a couple of the Airbnb’s even have epic rooftop views of The Duomo from the living room! I’ve listed the ones that are on my bucketlist for the next visit . There is a huge range in prices- you can easily find budget places for $50/ night to $500 luxury hotels. Depending on your budget, there is a space for everyone!

BALCONY DUOMO VIEW ($)

MODERN ARTSY AIRBNB ($)

ROMANTIC ITALIAN SPACE with PARTIAL DUOMO VIEW ($)

MODERN SPACE WITH DUOMO VIEW ($$)

LUXURY DUOMO VIEW ($$$)

DAY TRIPS FROM FLORENCE

Florence is an excellent city to use as a homebase. Feel free to go on epic day trips/ weekend getaways! Trains are so accessible in Italy and is the perfect transportation to take for day trips. Check out the list of day trip ideas!

PISA : Read my A Day In Pisa guide here!

CINQUE TERRE– I’ve got a whole guide on the 5 coastal towns here! You MUST visit here on your trip!! Click here!

TUSCANY: SO many Tuscan towns to choose from- I’ve listed my favorites that stand out!

  • SAN GIMIGNANO: the postcard village of the Tuscan hill towns! Whole town is surrounded by 13th century walls and in the heart of San Gimignano is filled with museums, churches, small local shops. Honestly, we came here for the world famous, award winning gelato shop: Gelateria Dondoli. It tasted like any other gelato in Italy… haha still very delicious! However, we stumbled upon the cutest meat and cheese shop with created by the most passionate & kind butcher! Despite the language barrier, he gave us an interactive one on one experience that was unforgettable!

Dine at Da I’ Mariani ( Address: Via di Quercecchio, 19, 53037 San Gimignano SI, Italy) The charcuterie board is absolute perfection here! Also, buy a bottle of Truffle Honey- it’s soooo worth it!

  • BOLOGNA: Only half an hour from Florence by train, Bologna is one of the most underrated cities in Italy. The cuisine is one of the main reasons to visit Bologna, and it’s well worth taking a food tour  here. You can even tour a Gelato Museum and MAKE your own!!! HOW COOL. Piazza Maggiore is the main square and one of the top Bologna attractions. Here you’ll find the Basilica di San Petronio and a 16th-century Neptune Fountain built by Flemish sculptor Giambologna.
  • SIENA: This city is well known for its gorgeous architecture and beautiful main square – the Piazza del Campo. Explore the medieval streets and admire the premier examples of Gothic churches and palaces. You must see the magnificent Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta that was constructed in the 13th century, Palazzo Pubblico, & Biblioteca Piccolomini. I personally had a blast at the Torture Museum ( Opening hours: everyday from 10 to 7om / Tickets: 10 € )

Dine at Ristorante Tar- Tufo- restaurant that specializes in TRUFFLE. Need I say more? If you’re going to splurge on one meal in Italy, this is the place to go for luxury dining. They put a lot of effort into the presentation of the dish, the flavors are on point and the lovely outdoor terrace has a beautiful view of Siena.

  • MODENA: Modena is the home of balsamic vinegar! Visit Acetaia di Giorgio, a family run business that’s been making vinegar for the past 130 years and the tradition is passed down each generation.

Dine at three-Michelin-star Osteria Francescana– owned and run by chef Massimo Bottura. It has been named as one of the world’s best 50 restaurants! This restaurant has been featured in Chef’s Table and Somebody Feed Phil for those interested in seeing what they serve before making a reservation (Netflix shows!)

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XO, Soph

A DAY IN PISA

Did you know the Leaning Tower of Pisa is in Italy? That’s why it is italicized! And aren’t you surprised the tower of Pisa hasn’t fallen over during the pandemic… without all those tourists helping hold it up! Ok all jokes aside, Pisa is one of the most famous cities in Tuscany. Being less than 1 hour away from Florence, the city is a must-stop on your Italian itinerary. It was once a major seaport, but nowadays Pisa is known for the Leaning Tower. I would say 4-5 hours in Pisa is the perfect amount of time to spend here. Keep on reading to learn more about my recommendations!

GET ME HERE!

The train is the best way to get to Pisa. Train ticket from Florence is 8.70 € ($10) one way, with trains traveling every 20 minutes.

Fly into Galileo Galilei International Airport of Pisa– located only 1 kilometer southwards from the center of the city. The train between Pisa Airport and Pisa Centrale station takes just 5 mins. 

Buses are the cheapest of all transport options and many link the main Italian and Tuscan cities and towns to Pisa. There are three bus operators servicing the tourist platform of Pisa- Autolinee Lazzi, Compagnia Pisana Trasporti, CLAP.

GETTING AROUND PISA

Your best bet is to simply walk. Get your daily steps in! Another fun way to discover Pisa is by bike. Bikes are available for rent at Pisa Centrale where you also find a good luggage deposit service. There are buses available that takes you around the city- individual tickets are very affordable and can be bought from newsstands and ticket offices

SIGHTS TO SEE

LEANING TOWER OF PISA

Realistically, we are all only stopping in Pisa to see the leaning tower. The famous Leaning Tower of Pisa is a short walk away from the station and the route will take you directly through the city centre. Many tourists are surprised to see that the Leaning Tower is actually a part of a larger religious complex on the Square of Miracles (Campo dei Miracoli). Right next to the Tower, you’ll find an impressive cathedral and baptistery. Access to the square is FREE, but access to specific attractions is ticketed. Visit the inside of the tower and go all the way to the top to enjoy the view over Pisa. The climb is 251 steps up FYI. Book your ticket in advance here!

A bit of history… Construction began in August 1173 and eventually completed in the mid-1300s. It was originally built as a freestanding tower bell for the nearby cathedral 850 years ago and is now an attraction on its own. WHY does the tower lean? Thanks to the soft ground, it had begun to lean by the time its builders got to the third story in 1178. Shifting soil had destabilized the tower’s foundations. Over the next 800 years, it became clear the 55-metre tower wasn’t just leaning, but was actually falling at a rate of one to two millimeters per year. Today, the Leaning Tower of Pisa is more than five meters off perpendicular. Due to this flaw, it’s the reason why the city is so famous.

TIP: the large crowds here can be so overwhelming. Get here in the early mornings to have the place to yourself! Don’t forget to do a CHEESY, stereotypical tourist pose here!

CATHEDRAL OF SANTA MARIA ASSUNTA

Construction on the cathedral started in 1063 and it boasts fascinating Pisan Romanesque architecture. It encapsulates diverse styles and highlights the international influence on the city- classical, Lombard-Emilian, Byzantine and Islamic. The Duomo di Pisa is the largest building of the religious complex on this square and like the tower, has clearly sunken into the ground. The most impressive thing is the gold plated ceiling inside!The cathedral is FREE to visit IF you have bought a ticket to any of the other buildings of the complex (Leaning Tower or Baptistery and Camposanto)

ARNO RIVER

The Arno River, which also flows through the nearby city of Florence, cuts through Pisa and offers an incredibly stunning view. Lugarno are the roads along the banks of the river and this is a wonderful road to stroll along to bring you past some iconic sights in Pisa. Take some time to pop into charming cafes, bars or have a picnic alongside the river.

THE KNIGHTS’ SQUARE OF PISA / PIAZZA DEI CAVALIERI

Piazza dei Cavalieri is a landmark in Pisa, Italy, and the second main square of the city. It was once used to be the heart of the city where everybody would gather around to discuss political/ everyday matters. The square was known as the Square of the seven streets (Piazza delle sette vie).

On the square, you’ll see the beautiful Palazzo della Carovana and the Church of Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri. The Order of the Knights of St. Stephen used the palace as headquarters. Cosimo I de’ Medici, the first Grand Duke of Tuscany, founded this order to fight the pirates in the Mediterranean Sea in the 16th century.

CHURCH OF SANTA MARIA DELLA SPINA

Chiesa di Santa Maria della Spina is a small 14th-century church in a Pisan Gothic style. The church’s name has a special history: ‘spina’ means ‘thorn’ and the church is said to have hosted one of the thorn of Jesus’ crown

WHERE TO EAT

Filter Coffee Lab: industrial style cafe with outdoor courtyard. Grab some delicious espresso and pastries in the morning before you start your exploration around Pisa!

I Porci Comodi: offer really awesome appetizer platters with a great local selection of meat, ham, sausages, cheese and bread. A popular spot so be ready for long queue and long waiting time

Il Ristoro della Pe’ : Authentic atmosphere, Italian cuisine food is cooked right in front of you , off the main tourist route

Ristorante Alle Bandierine:  very popular with the locals which is always a good sign! Portion size are quite large, fresh pasta & house wine that will leave you wanting more

L’ Ostellino: a tiny hole in the wall spot away from the tourist traps! Has a wide range of paninis prepared freshly and quickly. Also very reasonably priced!

Pasticceria Cioccorocolato : endless desserts and pastries!

Gelateria De’ Coltelli : Come here for gelato- they offer different flavors everyday and is an award winning place!

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CA Gold Rush

We’ve all heard of the 49ers right? No no, I’m not referring to the San Francisco football team… I’m talking about something else! The 49ers- a nickname given to the miners that took part in the 1849 California Gold Rush. 

Located in the Northeastern area in CA, the historic Highway 49 passes through the old mining communities that have been very well preserved. Go on a roadtrip through this highway to travel back in time to the sights of these mining towns! It’s perfect for families with kids as there are tons of interactive mining activities to experience, for history lovers that want to take a step back in time, for architectural lovers to admire different structures and couples looking to get a change of scenery. 

HISTORY

A glimpse of history… On Jan 24,1848, James Wilson Marshall, a carpenter from NJ found flakes of gold in the American River at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains. This moment instantly changed California- leading to the largest immigration in US history! Word got out worldwide- migrants from Chile, China, Peru, Brazil, Caribbeans etc spent their life savings to make the trek to CA to pursue their dream of gaining immense wealth! People dreamed of striking big and living a prosperous life and California experienced a huge rapid economic growth. Because of this event, a total of $2 billion worth of precious metals was extracted during the Gold Rush period.

AWARENESS

Although the Gold Rush was a significant event that has shaped our history, it is IMPORTANT we recognize the shameful parts of our past as it created dark devastation to the Native Americans community. The Gold Rush was a heinous chapter in CA history & I personally find it important to address and spread more awareness on the whole truth before we get to the fun sights and itinerary.

First, all the mining, specifically hydraulic mining, destroyed the regions landscape. It ruined fertile land for native farmers, choked the rivers with sediments, ultimately destroying crops, making it extremely difficult for Native Americans to survive and eventually became victims of starvation.

Second, violence, discrimination and genocide against Native Americans were carried out. Hundreds of Native Americans were enslaved and used as laborers and makeshift militia for James Marshall (the one who found flakes of gold) to defend his territory and expand his empire. Mass massacres wiped out tribal populations (9,000-16,000 were murdered in cold blood), children were forced to attend “Indian Assimilation School,” and people caught diseases that were brought in from overseas. 80% of Native Americans were wiped out 20 years later, specifically the Nisenan Maidu and Miwok tribes, and by 1870, only 30,000 Native Americans remained in CA, most of them on reservations WITHOUT access to their homelands. 

This part of the history shouldn’t be overlooked or avoided because ignoring our history doesn’t make the situation disappear. There can only be progress by confronting the truth, acknowledging these experiences, learning from the past so we can move forward. Keep that in mind as you explore these communities!  

Towns and developments were created to accommodate the gold miners and to this day, so many of them are still well maintained for historical preservation and tourism! You’ll have an array of Gold Rush towns to choose from, however not all of them are worth visiting. All the towns start to blend together, but there was one town that was memorable and stood out the most so I will be highlighting that one!

COLUMBIA, CA 

Columbia State Historic Park 

This area is the largest single collection of existing Gold Rush era structures! You can spend a whole day roaming around here- the streets are lined up with boutiques specializing in nineteenth century goods. You’ll see merchants dressed in 1850’s costumes, areas for you to pan for gold, museums & blacksmith shops. Fun fact- I was told by a local that the reason so many of these towns are at the bottom of hilly mountains is because of all the mining. The land use to be flat and because of the insane digging it created these huge pits.

P.S I applaud the town for its free admission, parking, and guides!! You can even bowl for free at an antique bowling alley.

Stop by a saloon to quench your thirst with a Sarsaparilla soda (tastes just like root beer!) This is a popular soda in Southeast Asia- I actually grew up drinking it and didn’t understand why it was so popular in these historical towns. I learned that the Native Americans used Sarsaparilla as a medicinal drink to cure blood problems. Sarsaparilla is produced from a vine and the beverage became popular in the US in the 19th century.

Other Gold Rush Towns to visit if you have extra time!

Jamestown: Railtown 1897 State Historic Park- offers seasonal excursion rides! Featured in a ton of films. 

Murphy: For wine lovers! A Charming town known for their vineyards & award winning wine- there are 25 wine tasting rooms along the main street.

Nevada City: Hike the Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park

Sonora: Sonora, named after the miners from Sonora Mexico who settled the City in 1848. Visit the Tuolumne Museum  & History Center.

Sutter Creek: Visit Knight Fondry- a national historic mechanical Engineering Landmark

THE ULTIMATE SATURNIA GUIDE

HISTORY
INFORMATION
TRANSPORT
WHAT TO BRING
TIPS
WHERE TO STAY

Saturnia di Terme… also known as Cascate Del Mulino, the mythical landscape you’ve most likely seen in magazines wondering if it’s actually a real destination. I’m here to confirm that this natural Tuscan bath is very much a real spa town that does not disappoint and the pictures don’t do it justice!  

RUMOR HAS IT….

SATURN

This hotspot (see what I did there 😉 ) dates all the way back 3,000 years ago! According to the Etruscans and Romans, Terme di Saturnia was formed by lightning bolts thrown down by Jupiter. Two mythological deities were in the middle of a violent quarrel when Saturn had thrown bolts down and missed, causing the formations at this hot spring. 

A BIT OF HISTORY

Hot springs are heated by geothermal springs- heat from the Earth’s interior. The water in the ground comes into contact with hot rocks or magma and it seeps through the cracks/crevices of the Earth’s crust, which leads to hot springs like Saturnia!

So what is heating up Saturnia? Meet Amiata volcano, which also doubles as the tallest mountain in Tuscany. This volcano sits 80km south of Siena and is actually considered “extinct” because there has not been any recent activities in the past 200,000-300,000 years. 

INFORMATION

The best things in life are free: family, love, & SATURNIA’S NATURAL TUSCAN BATH! We all know how instagrammable spots have turned into huge money making businesses with entrance fees, life jackets, parking fees etc, but thankfully, this spot has remained generous and FREE all year round. You heard that right. Open 24 hours for 365 days!

WHERE IS SATURNIA?

Located in Tuscany, halfway in between Florence & Rome sits Saturnia. It is in the province of Grosseto, north central part of Italy.

Saturnia Di Terme coordinates: Latitude: 42.648; Longtitude: 11.513

TRANSPORT ME HERE

Easiest way to get here is by renting your own vehicle and driving through the hills of Tuscany. We rented from Hertz: started our trip in Florence and ended our road trip in Rome. The roads are well paved with clear markings and signs. Definitely use your GPS/ Google Maps to get around. Screenshot directions ahead of time because cell reception is a bit poor in some spots in Tuscany.

PARKING

As you approach the destination, you might see cars parked alongside the road, DO NOT stop or park there. You will get a ticket! 
Drive to the end of the road, make a right following the blue parking sign. The lot is pretty spacious & that is where you can park for free all day long. The area is safe, but don’t leave any valuables visible in the car- throw it in the trunk.

WHAT IS THAT SMELL?

Ever wondered why hotsprings smell like someone is cooking up dozens and dozens of hard boiled eggs? 

The water heats up due to the earth pressures and proximity to the core. As it comes through the surface, the warmth dissolves the rich mineral deposits (sulfur in the surrounding rocks/soil) and this chemical reaction creates that eggy smell. The hotter the water, the stronger it’ll be. The smell is actually caused by the bacterias eating up the sulfides in the water. The smell is pungent at first, but you get used to it. 

HEALTH IS WEALTH

The thermal waters have a temp of 37.5 °C and brings therapeutic and relaxing properties. The water helps with skin elasticity, psoriasis, relaxes the muscles/aches, rashes, circulation, supports respiratory and many more conditions! Nature truly heals!!!

BEST TIME TO VISIT

Spring! This place attracts locals and tourists from all over the world. Summer crowds are often big and the weather is wayyyyy too warm to soak in a hot bath.

WHAT TO BRING

  • Water shoes/flip flops: the pebbles and sharp rocks sitting in the springs is no joke. Couldn’t handle the pain so I ended up having to wear my Birkenstocks (totally destroyed my shoes!)
  • Towels: dry yourself before you destroy the rental car with the eggy smell and get fined for it
  • Biodegradable Sunscreen: there’s minimal shade here so protect your skin and make sure the sunscreen ingredients won’t harm the mineral deposits here
  • Water: hot springs dehydrate you, so bring/ drink plenty of water
  • Camera: don’t forget to capture some memories here to look back on! 

TIPS

  • Visit during sunrise: you will have this magical place to yourself! 
  • No changing rooms: come dressed in your bathing suit 
  • Wear an OLD bathing suit: the eggy smell will linger even after MANY washes…. I made this mistake and wore a brand new bathing suit… 
  • Remove all jewelry: the sulfur can tarnish silver
  • No lifeguard on duty: although it is shallow, always be extra careful 
  • LEAVE NO TRACE: preserve the beautiful land and keep it clean

!WARNING!

Saturnia’s OG tenants- itty bitty red worms….. No one warned me about this- I learned the hard way. As I was relaxing, soaking my body in the springs, I noticed  little worms swimming around me & YES I freaked the fuck out! They’re actually harmless, but yuck! This is just an FYI so you don’t get scared. Still totally worth going in and I have no regrets! 

WHERE TO STAY

Luckily, there are plenty of options from luxury spa hotels nearby to authentic Tuscan style airbnbs. Below are my recommendations!

SATURNIA TUSCANY HOTEL 

TERME DI SATURNIA  RESORT

ELEGANT TUSCAN VILLA AIRBNB

FARMHOUSE AIRBNB

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XO,

Soph

Tulum Travel Guide

GENERAL INFO

Click to enlarge & read.

GETTING AROUND TULUM

Tulum is divided into 2 different areas: Tulum town center and Tulum beach zone. Decide what kind of vacation you are looking for- relaxation? Then the beachfront is for you! If you’re off adventuring, getting out of tourist trap spots- then stay at the town center for a more authentic feel! Traffic is CRAZY since there’s only one road connecting the town center to the beach- keep that in mind. It can sometimes take 45 minutes just to go 7km to/from town center/ beach so if you’re constantly driving to explore other parts of Mexico, then staying at the beachfront will add time to your drive. Taxi ride from town to the beach is usually around 250 pesos. Always try to negotiate if they throw an unreasonably price tag at you. You can always rent a bike to get around too- only takes 30 minutes to bike the path between the 2 areas in Tulum!

ACCOMMODATION

Click here to read my review on the airbnb we stayed in! Depending on the kind of vacation you want, there are a ton of options to choose from- there’s a range from budget to luxury. Note: the beachfront properties are on the pricy end. 

RUINS

Chichen Itza

Truly a one of a kind archeological site! It is one of the 7 New Wonders of the World. The most well preserved, excavated ruin here in Mexico- you will NOT be disappointed. Because it is fully excavated, there aren’t many shady spots and the weather is oppressively hot. Make sure you bring a hat, sunscreen & stay hydrated.

Some fun facts about Chichen Itza.

  • Mayans were astronomically aligned! The main pyramid functions as one huge calendar. It has 365 steps total: 91 on each side and 1 at the top. Each side represents each season- Autumn, Winter, Spring & Summer. Coincidence? I think not!
  • Clap your hands at the base of El Castillo stairs. You will hear an echo that resembles the Mexican Quetzal- a bird that’s considered sacred in the Mayan culture & native to the Yucatan area! Mindblow!
  • The Temple of Kulkulkan forms the shadow of a serpent twice a year during Spring/Autum equinox. The body of the snake slowly moves down as the sun sets and merges with the serpents head at the bottom of the stairs. I mean, major goosebumps!!

The drive from Tulum takes about 2 hours. Come right at opening/ early in the morning to avoid crowds because this place fills up quickly with tour buses dropping off tourists. Literally over 2.5 million tourists visit Chichen Itza every year! There is plenty of space here to roam freely and local guides you can hire on the spot right as you enter. When you are putting in the address in Google Maps, type in Chichen Itza Parking Lot instead of Chichen Itza. 

Chichen Itza Entrance Fee is 533 MXN Pesos which translates to $27 USD approximately

Hours: Monday – Sunday 8AM- 5PM (last entrance at 4PM)

P.S.  Tripods are NOT allowed & GoPro’s count as a “professional gear” so they’ll charge you an extra $3 for it

Coba

Coba means “waters stirred by the wind’, which explains why this settlement is tucked in between 2 large lagoons. Coba is located deep in the jungle and not easily reached. You will truly have an authentic Mayan experience here & feel like you’re on an Indiana Jones adventure.

The main ruin (Nohuch Mul Pyramid) is deep in the jungle and requires you to trek a bit. The civilization here was a thriving so many of the sites are spread far apart. Your day at Coba can last up to 3 hours if you walk the site, 1.5 hours if you take advantage of the bike rentals or an hour if you opt for the Mayan Uber, a chauffeured tricycle where you just sit and take in the sights. Both bicycle options are inexpensive and super fun- definitely opt for it!

Some fun facts about Coba:

  • Coba structures show influences from Teotihuacan (near Mexico City) architecture- evidence that inhabitants had contact with Central Mexico.
  • It takes 120 steps up to the top of the Nohoch Mul pyramid (the main one), and reaches 137 feet in height. This is the tallest temple pyramid on the Yucatan Peninsula! (unfortunately, due to the pandemic, you are no longer allowed to climb it- it may change)
  • There’s more than 50 sacbes (white roads) that have been discovered within the Coba settlement with 16 open to the public. All roads originate at the main pyramid and stretch out in the four cardinal directions; east, west, north and south.

Coba Entrance Fees: 80 Pesos // $4 Parking Fees: 50 Pesos // $2.50 Bike Rental: 50 Pesos // $2.50

Hours: Monday-Sunday 8AM-5PM

CENOTES

What are Cenotes?

pronounced “seh-no-tay”

Cenotes are natural sinkholes, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath. Cenotes comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes: caves, semi-open & open. The Yucatan peninsula use to be a gigantic underwater reef millions of years ago and as sea levels dropped, the limestone land mass was exposed and the network of fractures created an underground river system. As of 2021, there are over 7,000 cenotes in Mexico!

Importance of Cenotes

The Mayans considered cenotes as entrances to the underground world where the Mayan Gods were and it was a place that provided fresh water for them. These sinkholes holds significance to them, which explains why most temples & villages are built near cenotes. Some of the cenotes became sacred sites where human sacrificial offerings were made- many had human remains & gold at the bottom (eeeek!!)

Here are my thoughts on the cenotes we visited!

Click on image to enlarge & read!

Here are some more photos for you to get a better idea of each cenote’s vibe:

DAY TRIPS

IZAMAL

Izamal is nicknamed La Ciudad Amarilla– The Yellow City. It was founded nearly 2,000 years ago by the Mayans and became a center for the worship of the supreme god, Itzamná and the sun god, Kinich-Kakmó. We were told the town was painted yellow in honor of Kinich Kak Moo, a manifestation of the Maya sun god to impress Pope John Paul II visit in 1993. Izamal is often referred to as the ‘City of Three Cultures’ due to its fascinating blend of pre-Colombian, colonial and modern cultures. Around half the town’s population speak Mayan (along with Spanish).

The drive from Tulum to Izamal takes about 2 hours and 45 minutes. Alot of sites in Mexico can get extremely crowded, but Izamal is a hidden gem away from the tourists. It’s a little off the beaten path, but sooo worth it! Every inch of the town is photogenic & extremely instagrammable!

Izamal Sights

  • Kinich Kakmó Pyramid, translated to ‘fire parrot’, had the head of a macaw and was said to descend to Earth to accept offerings of fruit, flowers, animals and spices when the sun was at its apex.
  • Convento de San Antonio de Padua: one of the oldest Catholic monasteries in the Americas and its outdoor atrium is the second largest in the world (after the Vatican).
  • Dine at Kinich Restaurant: Yucatan food in a beautiful atmosphere

VALLADOLID

Valladolid is a breathtakingly restored colonial town UNESCO Heritage Site) It’s listed as one of Mexico’s “pueblos magicos”, aka magic towns! My favorite activity was wandering around the streets admiring the colorful buildings, street vendors & people watching! You instantly feel the vibrant culture & it transport you back to how the Mayans use to live. This town is centrally located from all the major hotspots- Chichen Itza, Cenote Suytun, etc so it makes for a great place to stay overnight too! Everyday at 7pm you can join a free walking tour with a knowledgable guide! 

VALLADOLID SIGHTS

  • Cenote Zaci: located in the heart of the city
  • Visit Museums 

Museo San Roque – archeology lovers

Choco Story – Chocolate museum and shop

  • Walk around the main square:Plaza Central, walk the Calzada de los Frailes to the Ex Convento.
  • Convent of San Bernardino de Siena: one of the oldest colonial sites in the Yucatan, the former Convent of San Bernardino de Siena dates to the mid-16th century and even has a cenote on-site, which was used as part of an irrigation system during the time that a Franciscan order called the convent home.

Dine at El Saxon De Valladolid

RESTAURANTS in Tulum

What makes Tulum so versatile is that you can get a 25 cent taco in one corner and walk a block away to dine at a Michelin level restaurant.

Annnnnd if you’re too lazy to go out? Trust me, I get it. After a long day of exploration, you kinda just want take out. Order delivery from tomato.mx . Simply set up an account, pay a little delivery fee and you’re good to go! Below are my recommendations on the spots we went to!

VERDANT

This place was SO phenomenal I wanted to expand on my dining experience here.

The chef’s tasting menu was a culinary delight! You can taste the love and care that goes into the food and they use all locally sourced ingredients. The farm to table experience is evident – make sure to tour the garden in the back to see where they grow a portion of their herbs and vegetable. Each dish is inventive, flavorful, ingredient driven & sustainably ethos. They incorporate a whimsical twist on simple ingredients & it was worth the splurge! Make a reservation ahead of time!

BEACH CLUBS

EXTRA TRAVEL TIPS

  • FLIGHT: Book an overnight flight to Cancun & find a flight that lands in the early morning. CUN Airport is the second busiest airport and immigration/TSA takes FOREVER. The airport is a lot less busy when you land in the morning.
  • SUNSCREEN: You’ve got to wear lots & lots of sunscreen, but please make sure we keep our ocean life happy by using non toxic chemicals. Here is a guide breaking down on what types of chemicals to look out for when purchasing sunscreen.
  • WATER: Bring your own canteen to prevent buying plastic bottles. DO NOT drink from the tap in Mexico!!  I personally don’t even like to brush my teeth with tap water. Take precautions, stay on the safe side and avoid spending your whole trip in the bathroom. My Zojurushi bottle is vacuum insulated which keeps the water SUPER ice cold all day. Highly recommend!
  • SAFETY: Yucantan peninsula is considered one the safest place to drive around in Mexico in the daytime. Make sure you get to your destination before it gets dark. Walking around Tulum center/ beachfront at night is okay as long as you are not traveling alone. Also, don’t leave things in the car- hide it in the trunk!
  • HAVE FUN: You’re on vacation!! Go with the flow and channel your inner child mode. Plans might change, things might not go according to plan, but stay open minded & enjoy the time off!

Tulum Airbnb

Hola Tulum! A year later (that darn pandemic), we were finally able to get married and go on our honeymoon! In this post, I share the Airbnb we stayed at & damn, it was absolute perfection. I know there are SO many options to choose from on Airbnb, but this spot is truly a one of a kind! 

Firstly, we wanted an intimate & private space to celebrate our wedding shoot/honeymoon for this trip. We craved a space that was aesthetically breathtaking, simple and architecturally unique all at the same time. It was important for the space to incorporate lush natural elements in a luxurious way, but also provide that cozy feel!

The moment I saw the staircases next to the 20 ft living room windows looking out to tropical trees, my heart instantly knew this was where I’d celebrate my once in a lifetime moment.This airbnb has impeccable designs in every corner, the hosts adds special touches- from fresh bouquets of flowers in every room to all the amenities you’d need. The kitchen has a reverse osmosis water filter, in house washer/dryer and effective air conditions in the rooms, safe/secure area with parking spot included. The host is extremely responsive through messaging, he was happy to coordinate, answer any questions we had, and provided very clear/detailed directions. They even arranged for a nurse to come to the home to do a private COVID-19 PCR test for us! Here is the link to the airbnb! Enjoy!!

WHITE SANDS NATIONAL PARK

HISTORY

The 62nd official national park in the U.S, located in the Chihuahuan Desert in Southern New Mexico, is White Sands National Park. It’s filled with soft and white sand dunes comprised of gypsum making it the world’s largest gypsum dune field. The entire area used to be underwater 250 million years ago! The dunes were created from selenite crystals that formed during the Ice Age and over time, the selenite crystals eventually wore down into gypsum sand. The effects of wind and rain leaves the pure gypsum sand to blow around and create these incredible dunes.The dune fields cover about 275 square miles with 115 square miles located within White Sands National Park, and the rest is military land that is often used for missile testing (crazy right!)

WHERE IS WHITE SANDS NATIONAL PARK?

White Sands is a bit out of the way & kinda in the middle of nowhere. Located near the border of Mexico and Texas, the closest airport is located in El Paso, Texas (1.5 hours away) FYI The first first 5 miles of the road is paved and the last 3 miles are made of compact gypsum sand (might want to think about what kind of car you take) 

WHERE TO STAY

Alamogordo The closest town to White Sands National Park. I would recommend staying at a simple Holiday Inn or Motel 6 located in this small town. You will spend the majority of your time out and about exploring White Sands so all you really need is a clean bed and bathroom! However, if motels aren’t your thing (trust me, I get it) then there are a couple airbnb options!

Las Cruces A larger city with more options . Downside is the 1 hour drive to White Sands . This is where we chose to stay since the first leg of our trip was a direct drive from LA — Las Cruces (12 hour driving) If our driving day wasn’t that long, I would’ve much rather prefer staying in Alamogordo!

Airbnb Options
Las Cruces Charming Casita with Hot Tub & Patio
Wish we stayed here over motel 6… 100% booking this the next time we visit White Sands!
One Bedroom Apartment
AlamogordoTwo Story Guesthouse
Cozy Home

WHEN TO GO

Temperatures vary greatly throughout the seasons so make sure you research the weather patterns ahead of time. Spring is the best season to go with the most stable weather patterns or even September October in the Fall. Summer // Winter- You will deal with extreme weather that’s unbearable. The average weather during the summer is 95F and can spike to 110. Winter nights can get so cold to 20 F. In September, there is an annual White Sands Balloon Festival! How cool!

P.S Did you know w there are free national park days? Click here to find out what day is free to visit!

WHAT TO DO THERE

  • Camp

Campsite 5 is the gem with untouched sand dunes. Like the ones you see in movies without any footprints. Keep in mind you do have to hike 1 mile each way to get to the camp site. I would not recommend camping during the winter or summer time (due to the extreme temperatures) 

  • Chill & Picnic

Soooo much space to explore and spend the day just enjoying this incredible space. Bring a blanket, food and have yourself a dreamy little picnic!

  • Hike

The park has 5 established trails ranging from easy to strenuous:

  1. Interdune Boardwalk – easy stroll, 0.4 miles round trip, accessible to wheelchairs and strollers
  2. Playa Trail – easy trail, 0.5 miles round trip, at the end you have the opportunity to see what this area looked like 10,000 years ago and learn about the giants that once roamed this area!
  3. Dune Life Nature Trail – moderate hike, 1 mile loop, kit foxes, badgers, birds, rodents, and reptiles all live in this area and you can often either see them or their tracks
  4. Backcountry Camping Trail – moderate hike, 2 mile round-trip, hike through the heart of the dunes
  5. Alkali Flat Trail – strenuous hike, 5 mile round-trip, you’ll be hiking up and down dunes along the edge of the final remnant of Lake Otero

  • Photogenic Opportunities

I mean nowadays, we are all about instagrammable shots & hands down, you can’t go wrong with a photo here. The bright white sand pairs perfectly with any color outfits. Hopefully you witness an epic sunset on top of that. 

  • Sand Sledding

Embrace that inner child in you and get a work out in! Bring or buy a sled/ smooth saucer- they sell it at the park for a higher price, but if you plan ahead you can purchase one at a Walmart for an affordable deal 

  • Sunset Strolls 

The national park offers a 45 min- 60 min ranger guided sunset tour for FREE! You learn first hand about the geology, animals and plants. The hike is a leisurely 1 mile long. Bonus: pets are allowed to join! Meet near the sunset stroll sign parking area, a 5-mile (8.05 km) drive from the fee station. Click here for more information

THINGS TO BRING WITH YOU

  • Sunscreen: There is absolutely zero shade here, it might feel like you’re under the sun burning
  • Water: you never want to be dehydrated out in the middle of a desert so load up on a ton of water in the trunk for emergencies
  • Snacks: there aren’t any restaurants anywhere in the national park so bring your own so you don’t get hangry!

TIPS

  • $20 Entrance Fee // $40 annual pass // US Military members remains free
  • You can easily get lost in the sands… I know it sounds a bit ridiculous but pay attention to markers and where you’ve parked your car. Once you explore deep enough, the entire area blends in
  • Check for closure before you go. The national park closes for military uses aka missile testing.
  • Do NOT hike in the heat. Don’t even try it…. There is zero shade there and extremely unsafe to hike in the heat.
  • Cell service is a bit unstable there so if you are expecting an important call or need service, you might not be able to do that here
  • As a safety precaution, drop a pin on Google maps to wherever you need to get back to, whether that’s a tent, parking lot or start of the trail. 

SNOWY GETAWAY IN LA

Stuck in LA and NEED to get out of here? Wishing you were on winter wonderland trip in Finland? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered with a hidden gem! This location is not your typical Big Bear Mountain or Mountain High… It’s a lot more secluded, quiet and delivers just as gorgeous of a snowy backdrop view. Depending on what season you’re visiting you can expect a full on winter wonderland or a lovely camping ground during the summer.  Yessss I know we are in a pandemic… BUT that should not stop you from exploring your backyard SAFELY. This is the year to spend more time and develop a stronger connection to nature.

LOCATION 

Mount San Jacinto, located in Riverside county east of LA is a California state park perfect for a day or weekend getaway. It’s tucked next to Palm Spring/ Coachella Valley. The drive is relatively easy and it doesn’t get too windy. There was ice on the road, but as long as you are going slowly and carefully you should be ok. Multiple times throughout the day, there are snow plow trucks going back and forth cleaning the roads and keeping it well paved.

WHERE TO STAY 

You can easily do a day trip, however there are plenty of beautiful A-Frame cabins to stay at through Airbnb or bed and breakfast! 

LuxuryModerateBudget
AIRBNB Upscale Cabin
AIRBNB Treehouse
AIRBNB Modern A-Frame Cabin
AIRBNB Creek Cabin
AIRBNB Lakeview Lodge
AIRBNB Cozy Home
AIRBNB A-Frame Cabin
AIRBNB Romantic Log Cabin
AIRBNB Studio Cabin
Boutique Hotel
AIBNB Guesthouse Cottage

WHAT TO DO THERE

There are plenty of pull off points to hop out and play with snow. It’s the perfect destination to social distance during this pandemic and who doesn’t love a day out playing in nature. You can make snow angels, build a snowman, do a photoshoot or have a snowball fight! In the other seasons, there’s plenty of hikes to do! 

We came after a full night of snowfall and by morning, the entire mountain was covered in fresh snow. Every inch was untouched, the snow was fluffy/ clean and it was truly a winter wonderland! Bring your own food, hot cocoa/coffee and set up a cozy picnic inside the car and have a romantic day watching the snowfall! 

WEATHER CONDITIONS 

P.S Be mindful of the weather conditions BEFORE you start your journey here. Check the Cal Trans App or online maps for the travel restrictions here. You will see on the map that each point of destination will have a tire restriction. R2 means you can drive up in a 4 wheel drive without any chains (however you MUST carry them in the car) and R3 means chains are REQUIRED. This is for your own safety so please do your research before you put yourself in a dangerous situation.

BANDELIER NATIONAL MONUMENT GUIDE

As we headed back West on our cross country road trip, we stayed in Santa Fe for 2 nights and researched on what we could do around there, and damn, we were so pleasantly surprised with this destination.  

Today’s blog post is about a very sacred & special place… drumroll please…. Bandelier National Monument! Bandelier National Monument encompasses more than 30,000 acres of historial desert mesas and canyons and easily became one of my favorite USA national parks. It is only 1 hour West of Santa Fe- super feasible to do a day trip out here. The monument preserves Ancestral Puebloans structures that dates back to 1150- 1600 AD- almost 15,000 years ago! You will have the opportunity to discover cave dwellings, petroglyphs, and rock paintings. Today, the people of Chochiti Pueblo are considered to be the most direct descendents of the natives’ ancestral puebloans. 

As you drive into the park, you will come across some viewpoints where you can park and hop out to take some photos, which I don’t think its worth stopping. Keep in mind of your time here. Ultimately, you want to get down to the main Visitor Center area to start the adventurous hike so make sure you make your way down there to see the cave dwelling and archeological sites.

Parking is extremely limited once you get down to the Visitor Center area (where the start of the hike up to the cave dwellings are) In the summertime, you’ll have to park at the top and take a shuttle down, but in the winter time, you can pull in directly to the main lot. Once you get down to the main parking lot,  you will see a visitor center where you can learn about the early inhabitants that dates back thousands of years. From there, you can start your hiking adventure!

Main Ruins loop trail is 1.2 miles. You start the trail right by the visitor center and make your way through archeological sites and cave dwellings. It’s easily worth seeing even if you’re limited on time here- it requires very minimal hiking/short walk. I’d say average 30 min round trip. As you continue on the trail, you will see a sign that says “Long House,” which is another collection of Pueblo Ruins. They use to be 4 story houses built along side the cliffs. You can add on an extra mile & the trail will lead you on to see the Alcove House previously known as the Ceremonial Cave. The Alcove House is the tallest one, which served 25 people at one point and is 140 ft above ground…. so be prepared to do a lot of climbing (4 sections of long ladders )! P.S look into weather conditions before coming here. The ladders are closed off if there is abundant snowfall. If you have a fear of heights, you might want to skip out on the Alcove House.

Cave Dwellings

There are 3 short ladders to climb right at the beginning of this trail. Definitely give those a try and if you are up for an epic adventure, challenge yourself to the 140ft ladder by the Alcove House. You can tell the ancestral puebloans were much shorter based on how small these caves were. You are able to freely climb up, explore the space, observe the interior of the caves. The ancestral puebloans used these spaces to escape from the extreme weather changes. PLEASE only enter the caves that have ladders. Be respectful of the historical preservation here!  

THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO

  • Entrance Fee: $25 (you can use your national park pass for this too!)
  • Parking is LIMITED. It’s such a small lot and fills up quickly. My advice: head there early in the AM!
  • Check the weather conditions before you go. Ancient Pueblo sites have closures that are dependent on weather conditions so check before you go!
  • Pack your own food and drinks to have a lovely picnic there. There is a cafe on site, but the menu is small.

THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO NEW ORLEANS

New Orleans, most notably known for its epic Mardi Gra celebration, has earned quite a wild reputation, but it’s sooo much more than that. There’s alot to learn & experience- from the cultural traditions to the food & history. The city is a blend of Creole, French, Cajun all intertwined and represented throughout every inch of the city. Music flows down every street you turn, every dish is a work of art and you are left in awe from the historical architecture. 

We spent a couple days here and squeezed in as much as we could. You can definitely get a good sense of the city in 24 hours so it’s the perfect place for a weekend getaway. Below is my guide and recommendation for your next stop in New Orleans. Feel free to comment down below with any questions or find me on my Instagram where I post daily content!

GETTING HERE

Drive or fly? You choose! Louis Armstrong International Airport is very well connected with tons of flights daily and it is only 15 minutes away from the city center. Ubers are accessible & safe to take from there. Minimum airport fee to and from is around $35 each and dependent on high-demand periods. 

Since we were on our cross country road trip, we drove. I don’t think there is a single person out there that enjoys driving into and around busy cities. The annoying traffic, complicated parking signs, confusing one way streets, & worst of all, parking is a shitshow. I recommend going directly to your hotel parking lot or a reliable lot and pay up that awful price and just leave your car there for the entire duration of your trip.

GETTING AROUND

Riding St. Charles Street Car ( P.S always mask up! )

Driving your own vehicle around the city will give you a HEADACHE. Don’t even try it. I suggest using New Orleans public transport! Riding the street cars (only $3 per person for the whole day! You can hop on/off as you wish) adds to the whole experience and on top of that, you’d be supporting a local business. New Orleans is a small-scale city, so if you stay somewhere centrally located, it’s pretty accessible by foot!

Fun Fact: St. Charles street car is the oldest continuously operating street car line in the world!

WHEN TO VISIT

February- May is when the celebrations are in full swing and the weather is ideal. You’ll be visiting with thousands of other people so be mindful of the crowds. If you’re looking to save $$, travel here in the summer. The summer heat and humidity can feel oppressive, which is why hotel rates will be much lower. If you’re not interested in the celebrations, I recommend coming in December and January when the weather is chilly, but manageable. Way less tourists & you feel like you have the city to yourself. 

WHERE TO STAY

Magnolia Hotel

Magnolia Hotel

I did a ton of research on where to stay and debated on whether or not I wanted to be on Bourbon street… and thank god I didn’t. I recommend staying right on the edge of French Quarter so you get some peace and quiet at night. Magnolia Hotel was the perfect location. It’s steps away from the French Quarter so we were able to walk everywhere! It’s removed from the French Quarter craziness/sketchyness. Magnolia hotel is sophisticated, clean, cozy & modern. The bed was comfortable, staff was friendly & professional & covid protocol was implemented. The only downside is parking. There are ONLY 6 free parking spaces right in front of the hotel, but there is a lot you can park at across the street for $30 a night. I know.. so pricy, but that’s how it is in every city.

WHERE / / WHAT TO EAT

CAFE BEIGNET

 334 Royal St, New Orleans, LA 70130

Yes, we’ve all heard of Cafe Du Monde, but Cafe Beignet is where the locals go! Beignets are basically a French “donut”- deep fried pastry covered in powdered sugar. The beignets here are chewier (my preference, if you prefer airy, pillowy ones go to Cafe Du Monde!) and they serve more on the menu. IF you’re craving beignets late at night and it’s closed, know that Cafe Du Monde is open 24/7 and going there would be more of an experience. 

BRENNON’S

417 Royal St, French Quarter, New Orleans LA

Known for its iconic dish, THE banana fosters. Who doesn’t want bananas that are flambéed tableside with brown sugar, butter, cinnamon, rum and served with New Orleans Ice Cream Co. vanilla bean ice cream?? It’s the most ordered dish on the menu and for good reason. You can thank me later.

Mr. Ed’s Oyster Bar and Fish House 

512 Bienville St, New Orleans, LA 

The world is your oysters!! If you’re looking for an authentic “New Orleans” meal, this is the place to go. From the outside, it doesn’t look like much, but don’t let it fool you! The raw oysters were super plump & clean. The charbroiled oysters were soooo juicy (currently drooling as I’m thinking back to this meal). Man, now I’m wishing I ordered more! The best part is that it’s super affordable for quality seafood!

Central Grocery Company

923 Decatur St, New Orleans, LA 70116-3381

We came here because of alllll the hype on the muffuletta sandwich. The muffuletta recipe is over 100 years and the store dates back to 1906. The muffuletta is pretty much an italian sandwich packed with meat (salami, ham), cheese (swiss, provolone), & olive salad. My advice: get a half sandwich. The portion size is huge and a half will fill up 2 people! It’s the perfect place for a quick to-go meal and you can easily bring it over to Jackson Square & and enjoy it outdoors.

Being raised in Santa Monica, I am spoiled with a shop called Bay Cities with the same Italian deli like supermarket so the flavors tasted oddly familiar and I have to say it did not beat it. Bay Cities trumps this place.. BUT if you’ve never had something similar, then it’s a pretty darn good sandwich!

Leah’s Pralines 

714 St Louis St, New Orleans, LA 70130

Did you know New Orlean’s signature candy started out as one of America’s earliest street food? It also emancipated black women to make a living during a time when civil rights weren’t even in the picture. The candy is a symbol of a rich black culinary heritage and city tradition. Leah’s Praline is a family owned business since 1944. They use locally sourced ingredients such as Alabama pecans and Louisiana sugar. New Orleans praline has origins that can be traced back to its French heritage, however Louisianians adjusted the traditional recipe to include almonds and cream. There is a wide variety of toppings to choose from and let me tell you, pralines are not cheap! To be honest, I don’t have too biggest sweet tooth so it tasted a bit tooooo sweet for my liking. But definitely go here for the experience, treat yourself to a sweet treat & support a local business!

NOLA POBOY

908 Bourbon St, New Orleans, LA 70116

Legend has it, that the name poor boy, also referred to as po’ boy, comes from the Great Depression era when a sandwich was created to be given free of charge to transit strikers. It’s a must whenever you visit the South. Po’ Boys use French bread and dress it up with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and your choice of meat- shrimp, roast beef, etc. I can’t ever say no to oysters so I go with the fried oyster poboys & it hits the spot every time.

GALATOIRE’S

209 Bourbon St New Orleans, LA 70130

Established in 1905, this family owned restaurant has the best traditional Creole/Cajun dishes. Come here for a nice wholesome bowl of gumbo. P.S did you know the word gumbo originated from the African word okra? Suggesting gumbo was originally made with okras! It’s a melting pot of Louisiana cooking & its one of my favorites!  Other dishes I would recommend to try are jambalaya (comparable to Spanish Paella), etouffe, & red beans and rice. 

FRENCH TRUCK COFFEE

1200 Magazine St, New Orleans, LA 70130

Chicory, the root of a blue flowered plant is a widely used as an ingredient in NOLA coffee. During the Civil War, Louisianians used chicory coffee as a substitute when the naval cut off the port- leaving people with a coffee shortages. Chicory coffee is commonly used during economic crisis and New Orlean continues this tradition.

WHAT TO DO // SEE

FRENCH QUARTER

The oldest neighborhood in the city of New Orleans. The French claimed Louisiana in the 1690’s. The streets are named after French Royal houses and Catholic saints to pay homage to France’s ruling family. You can spend all afternoon wandering through the streets and I’d say THE most instagrammable spot in the French Quarter is at the corner of Royal and St. Peter. (location of the photo above!)

BOURBON STREET

TBH, Bourbon street brings out the binge drinker in all of us… HA jk.. This historic street is located in the heart of French Quarters. The entire street embodies the life of the party with neon lights bursting, loud lit music blasting, and beads decorated/ thrown everywhere. At night, it’s packed with Bachelor/ Bachelorette parties, sketchy looking people. Now, it’s certainly not my type of scene, but still fun to observe every once in a while. It’s a VERY entertaining place to people watch 😉 trust me on that.

For solo female travelers, I DO NOT recommend coming here at night by yourself. Always have a buddy or come here in the daytime.


LOUIS ARMSTRONG PARK // CONGO SQUARE

If you need to get out of the French Quarters and go for a nice stroll to work out all the delicious food you’re having in NOLA, this is a great option to walk to. This park is filled with a historical oak trees dripping in lush Spanish moss, a pond filled with adorable ducklings, & lots of benches for you to sit back and relax.

There is an area inside the park called the Congo Square that holds a lot of historical significance. During the 18th century, enslaved Africans were only allowed to congregate and gather in remote public squares on Sundays. This particular square (located right outside the French Quarters) was a place where they could celebrate their African roots and dance together during the oppression.

GARDEN DISTRICT

Take the St. Charles street car for $3 per person and go on a scenic ride to the Garden District. It’s a fun 15 minute “Disneyland” trolley ride! Sometimes the French Quarter can feel a bit overwhelming, so it’s nice to spend an afternoon away from it admiring the charming historical homes in the residential area. P.S if you’re into American Horror Story: Coven, Miss Robicheaux’s Academy filming location is actually at one of the homes in this area, the Buckner Mansion. You can even stay there for a night!

LAFAYETTE CEMETARY NO.1

While you’re visiting the Garden District area, take a moment to step back in time and check out this cemetery. Walking around a cemetery can feel eerily and creepy, but it can also be quite interesting. If you’re someone who is intrigued by ghosts and spirits, this is the place to go and see if you can encounter some of the ghostly energy. Each cemetery has its own “charm and personality” so do your own free walking tours at the various cemeteries in NOLA to observe the different tombs & styles.

JACKSON SQUARE // CATHEDRAL ST. LOUIS

Centrally located in the French Quarters, this is an iconic spot to visit in NOLA. Admire the beauty of the Cathedral sSt. Louis while you soak in some vitamin D at Jackson Square. Aside from the beauty, its a great place to wander around, sit in the courtyard and people watch. Grab some beignets, muffuletta and have a picnic at the square! 

TIPS ON AVOIDING TOURIST TRAPS

With over 10 million tourists a year, you are bound to be bombarded with tourist traps and scams here. My best advice is to NOT engage ever or politely decline. Don’t pause when someone approaches you- just keep on walking! 

  1. The Infamous Shoes

This scam makes me laugh! You will 10000% have someone approach you and say “I bet I can tell you where you got your shoes” or “Where did you get your shoes?” Once you respond to their question, you’ve just participated in the bet… So be prepared to pay up! The answer? Buddy you got dem on your feet on Bourbon street (or whatever street you’re on) in New Orleans! HA! 

David and I knew about this going into the city, so the moment a man approached him about it David walked away. He actually followed us for a bit and even started to BEND DOWN to touch David’s shoe. Totally crossing the boundary, so be careful!

  1.  Tell me your first name and I bet I can spell your last name!

Someone will most likely come up to you and say, “Bet you $10 if you tell me your first name, I can spell your last name.” So you give them your first name, and then they will LITERALLY spell out “L-A-S-T  N-A-M-E” hahah! If you want to play along, go ahead! But remember, you’ll have to pay up at the end! 

  1. Can I borrow your cell phone?

Someone will come up with a fake storyline, “my cell phone ran out of battery, can I borrow your phone?” or “I left my phone at home and need to make an urgent call.” What do you think happens when you hand it over? Hmm.. They run away with it and you’re left phoneless. Nowadays, theres a good excuse to not hand your phone over, um COVID-19, so politely decline and say you’re in a rush.