Travel guide

Want to browse quickly? Jump to the location you're interested in:
Portland, OR
Pacific Coast Road Trip
Seattle, WA
Washington, DC


Paris, the city I love. My second home. There is no place I'd rather walk than Paris, sweet city, with its old white facades and accordion playing citizens.

Hotel Vivienne- This hotel is simple, inexpensive and central enough to matter. It's located right near a ton of Metro stops, including Bourse (line 3), Richlieu-Drouot (8, 9) and Grands Boulevards (8, 9). Super convenient. It's also right near a Starbucks in case you're feeling homesick for chai tea lattes and a short walk to the Opera Garnier or the Louvre. There's free Internet in the lobby and a sweet cat who lives there named Mercedes or Porsche or Romeo. Something memorable. (Or not).

Le Drapeau de la Fidelite- The place to be to meet French students. A Vietnamese restaurant where you share tiny tables with other guests. Books everywhere that you can borrow for free. The chef is a philosopher who fled Vietnam. If there aren't many customers, he'll come out and discuss life with you. My Hungarian friend, Agnes, took me here for the first time and I LOVED it. 6 euros for dinner, regardless of which dish you select? Oui!

Bakery, Rue des Petits Carreaux - Found on the corner of the Rue des Petits Carreaux and Rue Reamur (Metro: Sentier).  Descend the rue des Petits Carreaux; the bakery is on your left across from Starbucks. Excellent almond croissants and petits fours. While you're there, mosey down the rue des Petits Carreaux and check out the butchers, flower shops and vegetable stands towards Les Halles.

Point Ephemere- a bar along the canal St. Martin. I always make friends here- either while sitting along the canal with a bunch of funny strangers or while dancing. Both are fun.

Le Pont des Arts- A footbridge across the Seine where young people gather to play guitars and have picnics in the evenings. The last time we were there, we had a run-in with a homeless man; I recommend you hang here during the day or in the early evening.

Place des Vosges- In one corner of the square is Victor Hugo's residence. Go through the doors in the wall to find a secret courtyard with hidden statues of the four seasons.
Musee Rodin- Go when it's nice out and spend some time in the gardens. Be on the lookout for "The Walz," my most favorite statue there.

Ile St. Louis- Take the Pont-Neuf and descend to the tiny park on the western end of the island. Bring a picnic or watch the boats go by. I can also recommend the Vedettes boat rides, which seems like a tourist trap, but is actually wonderful and relaxing.

Musee d'Orsay- This is seriously 100 times better than the Louvre. Van Goghs, Cezannes, statues and small models of the Opera house, all housed in an old train station. Beautiful and so worth it.

Sacre-Coeur and Montmartre- The beautiful white church from Amelie Poulin... walk up a bunch of steps for a beautiful view of Paris. Beware the guys who try to put a bracelet on you to make money. Get some ice cream and wander around the streets where Edith Piaf used to sing.

United States

Portland, OR
** for more Portland tips, check out the Pacific Coast roadtrip section below...

Oh, Portland. You were so much more down to earth than San Fran ever was, and yet the homeless people. The homeless! They were everywhere. And wherever they were, there were signs about not giving them money or buying them lunch. It sure was a moral dilemma, I'll tell you.

But seriously, Portland was a fantastic city. It was just the perfect size for wandering and, probably, for living. My friend Kathryn (who married there) owns a house about 10 min from the city center. She's also about 30 minutes from the most beautiful forest I've ever seen. Prime real estate, that's all I'm saying.

Ace Hotel- This should sound familiar. The Ace! Oh, how we love the Ace. Portland's Ace Hotel is cheaper than Seattle's (we paid $130-$140 per night) and it's also much bigger. For that reason, it doesn't feel as cozy as the one in Seattle, but it makes up for it with the photo booth in the lobby. It was perfectly located in the center of downtown, just 1 block away from Powell's and a short walk to Vodoo Donuts.

There's a MAX (electric trolley) stop right near the Ace, which takes you up into the Northwest area of Portland. Much of the city falls within the free zone, but on the occasion you have to go into another zone you can pay 2 bucks via a machine in the trolley. Very navigable.

Mother's- We had the best food of the trip here. Chris ordered some kind of mega-sandwich and I had a Mexican salad and we both had soup for starters. It was INSANELY good. Plus, the vibe is witty and pretend-proper, just like your Mother would encourage.

The portions were enormous and the brunch looked tempting, so don't miss this place, regardless what time of day you visit.

Voodoo Doughnut: No vacation is a success without giant donuts. We bought four because Chris thought we should each have two, but then we totally bailed on half our order and finished them later in the afternoon. Be prepared for a line (we got there around 9am and waited about 30 min) and when you get your order, wander over to the park along the river to feast and watch the runners.

I recommend the Portland Cream, by the way. It was seriously good.

Clyde Common- This place is in the first floor of the Act Hotel and I'd recommend it for drinks over food. We had some decent fare, but they clearly have the vibe and bourbon list for a happy hour joint. Not just any happy hour, though. Get engaged and invite your two closest couples to join you for a toast. Leave the masses to another bar.

Stumptown -  Stumptown is to Portland what Starbucks is to Seattle. Neither of us drink coffee, so I can't attest to their java, but the muffins were delicious and they offer a cheddar bacon biscuit that looked pretty deadly.

Columbia River Gorge- Are you ready to die of a good view? I hope so. The Columbia River Gorge's Visitor Center opened up and showed us half of the Pacific Northwest. It was totally breathtaking. Worth renting a car and driving out for the day... just remember some Aleve. I got a major headache from the altitude.

We also somehow stumbled onto a 12-mile drive up a mountain on the way to the gorge. We drove into the most mysterious and thick forest we'd ever seen and it was kind of like being in a movie about dwarfs and woodland creatures.  

Powell's-This is your Mecca if you have ever loved a book. It's one square city block of books, from sci fi to fiction to history arranged by US president. I'm not lying when I say that I almost started weeping at the front door, it was that overwhelming. You can buy as much as you want and ship your books anywhere in the country for a maximum of $12.

Don't miss the opportunity to have your picture taken there, either. Find the little photo booth (near the Powell's tee-shirts and mugs... HELLO, XMAS GIFTS!) and smile away as they snap your pic and email it to you within one second. If you're lucky, they'll print you out and hang you on the wall.

I loved this bookstore. Loved.

Northwest Portland district - I would live here! Seriously, I would. There are adorable cafes, lots of shops (my dress to the wedding was purchased here!) and a ton of little houses and apartments. Take the MAX up to 23rd Street and Marshall and then wander til you find your next home.

Clear Creek Distillery - Let me put it this way. I didn't like brandy and we left the brandy tasting with so much alcohol, we had to SHIP IT HOME. Our friend at work recommended Clear Creek's tastings and we were not disappointed. A small operation, we had a personal tasting of up to 10 alcohols (5 per person) with a guy who worked IT during the week, booze on the weekends. Our favorite was the pear brandy.

Go do this. You will not be disappointed!

Seattle, WA
Seattle is (at least to a girl from the North East) the place you move to when you want to reject what everyone else in your alumni group is doing. Philly? Boston? New York? Try the alternative city of Seattle, the place where people are clothed in North Face and REI year-round and where breathtaking mountain views convince you to move there. Provided that the fog and rain don't hide them.

Ace Hotel- Hell, I might suggest that you should just live in this hotel if you move to Seattle. It's very reasonably priced (about $80 per night for a room without bathroom, $180 with bathroom when we went in April 2010). The design is clean and functional; it feels more like a hostel than a hotel. And while you might meet some cool, adventurous folks at breakfast like in a hostel, you won't have to deal with the overall grunge and funk that you appreciated ten years ago while backpacking through Europe. And sharing your bedroom with 25 extra people.

The Ace Hotel is located in Belltown, about 8 blocks from Pike Place Market and a short walk to the Space Needle and Seattle Center. Easy to get to from the airport; we took the Lightrail ($2.50 each) to the last stop and hoofed it to the hotel. Piece of cake.

Beecher's Cheese- There's a ton of stuff to eat at the market, and I get that. But DO NOT MISS THIS CHEESE. Chris had a grilled cheese and I got the mac & cheese, which they touted as the world's best. Believe them.

Black Bottle- We had a free night and didn't feel like going far, so we checked out this place which was a block from the hotel. It's a tapas sort of place, but the portions are ridiculous. We had the best broccoli of our lives here (I know how that sounds, trust me and order it!) called Broccoli Blast. They blanch it and then bake it or something magical. Chris got a little sick from eating too much of it and he still said it was the best thing he ate all trip!

Elliott Bay Cafe- We were in Pioneer Square, thinking about taking one of the Underground Tours, when it started to rain. And we got hungry. Trust me that half of your trip to Seattle will involve those two things. If you're in that area, hit up this cafe... warm and cozy with great lunch food.

Gordito's- One of the Ace Hotel people recommended this little Mexican place once we said we were headed to Greenwood and Freemont. Their claim to fame is a burrito the size of a newborn baby- and they have the photographic evidence to prove it! Great, healthy food in a very green way.

Delancey- I got Molly Wizenberg's book for my birthday and really enjoyed it. Since we'd already made the trip to Seattle, I was curious to try her husband's pizza shop. The pizza was decent (but not worth the normal 2 hour wait time, in my opinion), but our honey cream dessert was delicious. Have a late brunch and go right at 5pm when they open to avoid the wait.

Wasabi Bistro- When we planned our trip, we asked some friends who had spent time in Seattle for recommendations and Melissa suggested this place for sushi. It was right near the hotel and Chris was very happy to chomp down on some spicy tuna with a Sake Bloody Mary. I'm not into raw fish, so I was very happy with a delicious steak. Oh, and I finally tried crab for the first time in my life in the form of some appetizer wontons. Delish!

Two Bells Tavern- Root beer on tap. 'Nuf said.

Underground Tour- It's gimmicky and cheeseball, but I learned a fair amount about the history of Seattle and Chris liked pondering the structural sound-ness of the whole operation. A great way to spend a few hours.

Greenwood Space Supply- I am pretty obsessed with 826 National, Dave Egger's tutoring centers that have quirky shops attached to them. I visited the Pirate Shop in San Francisco and loved it. When I saw there was an 826 Seattle, I knew we had to go.

It wasn't as interactive as the Pirate Shop, but there were some very memorable merchandise. I bought a small jar of chaos, which is on my desk at work.

Seattle Central Library- I cannot recommend this more. We were chilly and it was spitting rain, so I said "I think that library's around here somewhere." It sure was, right there on 4th Ave and Madison.

While you should definitely just poke around and walk through the different floors, we had a blast checking out the Writer's Room and talking with one of the librarians. Then we settled into some comfy chairs on the first floor and flipped through gardening books and new non-fiction. We probably spent two hours exploring this library and hanging out.

Science Fiction Museum- Chris loved this and I loved this museum's architecture. One of the things that struck us the most was how artistic Seattle is. There are sculptures everywhere and the buildings (particularly the newer ones) are so creatively designed. I'd recommend if you're into Sci-Fi or music... the SFM is attached to a music museum known as the Experience Music Project. One entry gets you into both.

Washington, DC
For a long time, I thought DC was annoying. You cannot have a conversation in a bar without someone falling over themselves to tell you about what senator they work for. (SNOOZE.) Then, two things happened. First, every sibling I have moved there. Second, I started to LOVE American History. And if you like history or siblings, this place is the bee's knees... at least for a weekend.

Warning: DC gets HOT. Hoooooooot. Thinking of going in July? All I can do is warn you against walking the length of the Washington mall because you will not find a single water vendor the whole way! And you will grow parched and hungry and your siblings will start lying about how far away the bathrooms are. Consider yourself warned!

U Street Cafe- Once I was walking in DC and said to the group I was with "You know, I really could go for an everything bagel with lite veggie cream cheese and a bowl of chicken noodle soup." The group desired grilled cheese sandwiches and outdoor seating. I am not joking when I say we ran into this cafe and they had EVERYTHING we ever wanted. Reasonably-priced and cute; their sandwich board even advertised gingerbread chai lattes. Need I say more?

Meridian Pint- We've been here for drinks, but I prefer this place for brunch. If you go at night, it seems like a good place to meet people, aka hook-up. I wouldn't know about that, as I was with my person when we went (and he played the best game of pool of his life at this place). Anyhoo, the brunch! We sat outside and had a solid, solid brunch. Eggs, pancakes, the whole nine yards. It's a good spot in the Columbia Heights neighborhood and right across the street from a yummy pizza place (RedRocks... check them out!).

Busboys and Poets- This place ALWAYS has a wait. However, you kind of always want the wait because this is a restaurant combo bookstore! Great salads, soups and dinner entrees. A bit classy, but nothing too crazy. You can handle it.

To do:
Museum of Unnatural History!
The Museum of Unnatural History- This is the DC version of the 826 writing centers that front as crazy stores... and this one does not disappoint! Buy some Unicorn Burp and other Objects of Wonder. I got an awesome tee-shirt that says Nerd Bird on it. 'Nuf said.

Museum of American History- Ever wanted to see Jerry Seinfeld's puffy shirt? Or Julia Child's kitchen? Or a giant American flag or the original Kermit the frog puppet? This is your place. This is like the fun, cultural museum of America. The section on the original Planned Parenthood info is amazing (and crazy to imagine that our parents were educated with those books... ha!). And let's not forget, as this is a Smithsonian museum, admission is free!

Air and Space museum- This is going to sound sexist, but I have a question for you. Are you bringing a dude to DC with you? If yes, this is an amazing choice. For some reason, guys love to stand around and look at space stuff and airplanes and pilot stuff. From my point of view, I just loved seeing the authentic WWII marketing materials and the whole Snoopy vs. Red Baron stuff. Fun for history fans and dudes everywhere!

National Arboretum. So gorgeous.
Postal museum- We always arrive at Union Station, either via Amtrak or the Bolt bus. As such, we're right next to the Postal museum and I make sure that we stop by at least once a trip. The truth is that we've never actually visited the museum, but I always stop by the gift shop to browse their awesome stamps and buy a bunch for upcoming letters. One of these days we'll do the tour as well...

National Arboretum- Ok, I'm going to be honest here. When we went to the National Arboretum, I started thinking seriously about moving to the DC area. SERIOUSLY, this place is beautiful. If I lived nearby, I would take my golden retriever on walks here all the time. It's also a stunning place to take engagement photos or band photos or just fun pictures with your siblings and husband. A short drive from center-city.

Pacific Coast Roadtrip (OR and CA)

Some general roadtrip tips:
1. At some point, buy ingredients for PB&J. You will love this handy (and cheap!) lunch.
2. Stop as often to take pictures along the coast as you'd like in the beginning. You get sick of it, so you should take advantage while you're motivated!
3. Do NOT pay to see the sea lions at the Sea Lion Caves between Newport Beach and Gold Beach, OR. It's $12 per person and, honestly, you're going to see a billion more! Not worth it.
4. Do NOT go to Fisherman's Wharf in San Fran first. It will put you in a bad mood and you will judge the city based on it!
5. When you pass fruit stands, stop! Fresh cherries and peaches are the best.

And now for the good stuff...

Kenny and Zuke's- Great little spot for a meal, especially if you're staying at the Ace (it's next door). We had breakfast here one morning and I can highly recommend their maple granola. Good way to start the trip on a healthy foot.

Grain and Gristle- Our friends brought us here for a honeymoon celebratory dinner and it's a cozy little spot. Think burgers and beer. This restaurant is a little ways from downtown, but take advantage of the neighborhood for a post-dinner stroll. You may even spot some goats in a yard! That's just how Portland rolls.

Food Trucks- Though they're everywhere, we hit up the ones on SW 10th and Alder. Lots of choices, including BBQ, thai, cuban, bratwurst, salads and pizza. Take your food to nearby Pioneer Square and eat it in the NW corner while you watch the tourists amaze themselves in the echo circle.

Ride bikes- Ride along the river and cross at the steel bridge. We had a good time exploring the residential neighborhood on the east side of the river (along Salmon). Keep an eye out for community gardens and friendly gardeners who invite you to sample their veggies!

Ground Kontrol Arcade- I had never been in an arcade before, but this was fun! I sucked at everything but Dr. Mario. Bring quarters or bills for change... a great way to spend some free time.

Tilamook State Forest- Location of the first wilderness goosebumps of the trip. I don't know what they feed their trees in Oregon, but it might be Wheaties. What a stunning place to drive through. Really set a great tone for the trip to the coast.

Blue Heron Cheese Company- Stop here for lunch. Fresh cheese, tons of samples (TONS!), delicious lunch and a petting zoo. What more could you ask for?

Newport Beach
Sylvia Beach Hotel- Every room in this unique B&B is themed after a different author. We stayed in the Heminway room, which featured lots of photos, his entire collection, and some fake animal heads. If we went back, I'd try to get the Tolkien, Shakespeare or JK Rowling rooms. They seemed to be the most over-the-top.

Dinner at Sylvia Beach Hotel- Do NOT miss this! Even if you're not staying at the hotel, you can sign up for dinner. Here's how it works: you make a reservation and select your entree on the phone. Then at dinnertime, they ring a bell and you find out where you'll be sitting. Thus ensues an evening of playing the game "Two Truths and a Lie," the perfect ice breaker to get to know all of your dining companions. Seriously better than eating a boring old dinner for two.

Gold Beach
Bella Rogue B&B- This remains the site of my favorite memory of the entire trip. Located along a river, the B&B is across the street from a rock beach. Go down and check it out, then wade in the river. It's expansive, stunning, and overwhelming. The owners are amazingly nice and left us chocolate and wine as a welcome gift. There's a fireplace, a hammock and special rates on renting all four rooms (think family vacation!).

The Bridge- This is the restaurant owned by the Bella Rogue B&B people. Located 15 minutes from the B&B, it's a nice mix of bar and restaurant. Talk with Caprice (the owner) about her time living in every state but one. Super-sweet.

Jet Tours up the river- We didn't get to do this and we were so disappointed! Half and full-day trips in boats go up and down the river... and rumor has it, you can see bears eating berries. BEARS EATING BERRIES, PEOPLE! I can't believe we missed this.

Crescent City
Redwoods- Do NOT pay to see the Trees of Mystery in the north of California. $14 per person and if you drive a little further south, there is an amazing side road (the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway) filled with Redwoods that you can explore at your leisure… for free. Pro tip: pull over, walk a bit into the forest and yell "hello!" Gonna blow your mind.

The Seagull Inn- I'm not going to lie. Mendocino is a weird place. They film many movies there and it feels like an empty set. But! If you need a place to stay in Mendocino, the Seagull Inn is a lovely place to do so. We stayed in their renovated shed and had a delicious breakfast of banana bread and fresh fruit in the morning. The owners bought the place after celebrating their anniversary there for many years, so you're in good hands.

San Francisco
Absinthe- Hands down, the best meal of the entire trip. Get the garlic pretzel bites for appetizers, the steak or the grilled squash for entree, and treat yourself to a cheese course just to remind yourself of the years you lived in France. Great sommelier, great dessert too.

Boudin Bakery- So you know that feeling when you get to a new city and you're hungry for lunch but you don't know where to go? So you walk around for a while and everyone's hungry and grumpy and you just don't want to settle? PROBLEM SOLVED. We ate here for lunch twice and I loved it both times. Get a salad. Amazing.

Drinks at The View- This was on my must-do list. Take the elevator up to the top floor at the Marriott on 4th Street and get drinks overlooking the city. It was foggy the night we were there (blast you, SF!), but it didn't matter. We still had some of the most meaningful conversation of the trip up there, looking down at the lights.

The Zoo- So, we did not love San Fran. It seemed like the stuff to do was either mega-touristy or residential. This made for a confusing time, as we tried to figure out how to spend two days. Solution? VISIT ANIMALS AT THE ZOO! The grizzly bear feeding was awesome, as was watching the gorillas. Totally easy to get to on public transportation.


17 mile drive- Carmel is expensive as hell. Take some time for low-key, fun driving and do the 17-mile drive. You'll see the largest houses ever, more sea lions, and maybe some golfers too. Heads up, entrance costs $9.50.

Big Sur

Nepenthe- Awesome food and ridiculous views. This restaurant hangs over the edge of a cliff. Bring your binoculars from the car so you can entertain yourselves looking for bears while you wait for your food to come. (No bears sighted, sadly). 

Horseback riding- Staying in Carmel? Want to ride a horse? Donezo! For the avid equestrian, this might be a little boring, but if you're like me and have never ridden a horse in your life, this is a great time. Ride through spectacular scenery and end on the beach. 

San Simeon
Hearst Castle- William Randolph Hearst was super-rich and owned this amazing home. It was irritating to pay $25 for the tour, but it was really worth it to get to see the place up close. One of the most interesting aspects was all the art he bought in Europe and had shipped to California. And we're not talking paintings, here. We're talking ENTIRE choir pews from churches in Italy. Or entire Italian ceilings. Chris called this place the capitalist version of Versailles and I think he might be right. Pro tip: look for the zebras chilling with cows on the side of the road. These are left over from Hearst's exotic animal collection.

San Luis Obispo
The Madonna Inn- What an insane hotel. Every room is decorated in a different theme. Ours had shaggy blue rug and blue floral wall paper and blue tiles in the bathroom. You have to eat dinner in the steak house dining room. We were totally stuffed by this point of the trip, but we just couldn't miss it. The huge fake flowers are just the beginning of the jaw-dropping decor.

Palm Springs
The Parker- Ok, here it comes. This is the most luxurious hotel I have ever stayed at. We reserved a room here through Jetsetter (because we're not made of money) and it was amazing. Stunning. Gorgeous. There you are in the middle of the desert, and there are flowers, trees and bushes blooming everywhere. It's incredibly privacy-oriented, so it feels a bit like a maze. The pools were so nice (though I could have done without the housewives of California and their annoying banter). The breakfast was better than the dinner, but since we literally never wanted to leave, we ate both meals in. (Note: this resulted in a $79 bill for breakfast, so don't say I didn't warn you). Apparently the hotel was completely designed by Jonathan Adler and I now have a new obsession with his stuff. In short, STAY HERE. Get a deal, sell some blood cells, do what you gotta do. It was incredible.

Ace Hotel- So I'm not sure if it was because we had just come from the Parker or what, but this was our least favorite Ace. It's a bit dingy and the clientele was... not our scene. Apparently it's where young people from LA come to hang out and party in the pool. Meh. I'd still recommend it though, because at less than $80 a night, it's a bargain. Plus, the pools were awesome and the restaurant was delicious and reasonably priced. 

No comments: