Key West and The Florida Keys Vacation Guide

If you are still searching for moments of excitement and discovery but in socially distant destinations much closer to home, plan a vacation in the Florida Keys. The Florida Keys are an archipelago of 1700 tropical islands stretching about 120 miles off the southern tip of mainland Florida, between the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico.

With warm temperatures and sunny skies, the Florida Keys are great to visit any time of the year. Given that Miami is a big and crowded city, it is better to fly directly into Key West International Airport. However, Ft. Lauderdale/ Miami is often cheaper to fly into, and it allows you to drive through the famous Overseas Highway and explore the northern Keys by road.

Sucheta Rawal in Key West
Make sure to check out the murals and street art around Key West

More Than Just Beaches…

It is true that most people come to the Florida Keys for the beaches and resorts, while that is not all that the Florida Keys offer. In fact, there are no beaches in Key West so you may want to stay in the other Keys or Miami area. The history, architecture and food are bigger highlights here.

There is a Bohemian vibe to the city of Key West, with colorful buildings, cobblestone streets, orange colored Framboyant trees, Cuban cafes and rooster running around the crosswalks. Whenever possible, stay away from the crowded bars and enjoy a socially distant vacation in the Florida Keys at these places…

Oceans edge Key West marina
Water sports are included with your stay at Oceans Edge Key West

Oceans Edge Key West

First, check in to a spacious resort away from the hustle and bustle of Old Town Key West. Suites with separate living rooms and private oceanfront balconies overlook a contemporary marina at Oceans Edge Key West in Stock Island. The property is gated, has free parking, and a free shuttle for whenever you want to pop over the narrow Cow Key Channel into town for dining or sightseeing.

Also, there are a number of activities included in your stay at Oceans Edge Key West so you could easily spend a day here swimming, paddle boarding, biking, kayaking, snorkeling, or take a fishing charter into the sea.

Hemingway house cats
Resident polydactyl cats at the Hemingway House gift shop

Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum

If you are a fan of literature and cats, the Hemingway House in Key West is a must stop. The home of Ernest Hemingway is a walk-in museum where guides lead you though his life’s important events, while about 60 polydactyl cats roam free through his bedroom, pool and gift shop! Due to COVID-19, the number of people allowed indoors is restricted and masks are mandatory.

Ernest Hemingway books
The Old Man and the Sea is is one of Ernest Hemingway most famous works. It tells the story of Santiago, an aging Cuban fisherman who struggles with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream off the coast of Cuba.
Key West butterfly garden
Watch butterfly up close at the conservatory in Key West

Key West Butterfly Garden and Nature Conservancy

Next, the small butterfly conservatory in Old Town Key West is one of the most beautiful place for nature lovers. Picture being surrounded by 50-60 species of colorful butterflies frolicking on tropical plants and pink flamingos, some even settling on your clothes! A walk through the glass enclosed butterfly garden takes only a few minutes, but if you are in awe like me, you would want to relax and admire these little creatures for a few hours.

Key west food tour
Take a socially distant walking food tour in Key West

Key West Food Tour

When you want to know where to find the best local seafood or world’s best key lime pie, follow a resident food expert. Seafood Lover’s Food Tour led by Key West Food Tours is a perfect way to sample sangria, royal red shrimp, spiny lobster and conch, while learning about the history and culture of the place, and getting some exercise along the way! Set aside 3-4 hours for the tour and plan to walk along the famous Duval and Petronia streets. The woman-founded food tour company specializes in showcasing mom and pop restaurants you may otherwise not hear about.

Florida Key lime pie mystery novel
Here’s a good mystery novel to inspire your travel and tastebuds in Florida.
Up the keys ecotour in Florida Keys
Key deer are native to the Florida Keys

Up The Keys Eco Tour

In general, visitors tend to stay in the Key West area and take a day trip to explore the other Florida Keys. If you want to check out some of the hidden gems along the way and stay away from the tourist traps, book a private eco tour with Kim Stamps from Up The Keys. Kim knows exactly where the local wildlife (look for key deer, turtles and cormorants) hang out. Wildlife refuges, lighthouses, historic neighborhoods and mangroves are a few spots you will stop at along the Keys, while also learning about the railroad and trading history of the Conch Republic.

Florida Keys have manmade white sandy beaches
Enjoy the white sand beaches at Isla Bella Beach Resort

Isla Bella Beach Resort

End your Florida Keys vacation relaxing at the white sand beaches of Isla Bella, a 24-acre lush Mediterranean style resort located in the middle keys in Marathon, Florida. The five star destination resort boasts 5 swimming pools, spa and fitness center, on-site water sports, fishing pier, marina and stunning Atlantic Ocean views from all 199 one to five-bedroom rooms and suites. Sit under the cool shade of coconut trees, resting your feet in sand, while watching the evening sunset.

If you do feel like venturing out of the property, visit the nearby Turtle Hospital in Marathon where you can learn about rescue and restoration.

Historic streets of Key West are great for walking
Look around the historic homes in Key West

Play It Safe

Finally, the Florida Keys and Key West reopened to visitors June 1, 2020 with county ordinance requiring that facial coverings must be worn by visitors and residents while in business establishments and other public settings where there is a roof overhead. Keys officials’ messaging also encourages visitors to take personal health responsibility and embrace protective measures such as social distancing and frequent handwashing.

Key West is the southernmost point in the continental USA
Beat the crowds and go early in the morning to the southernmost point landmark.

Isla Bella Beach Resort and Oceans Edge Key West adapted a new “Safeguarding Our Guests” strategy meticulously crafted to adapt and implement precautionary hygiene protocols directed by the World Health Organization (WHO), Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations, American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) “Safe Stay” initiatives, along with State, Federal and local guidelines to ensure that a clean, safe and healthy environment is provided for guests and staff. The Keys visitor website at fla-keys.com offers comprehensive COVID-19 guidelines for visitors planning a vacation.

Refugees in New York Raise Awareness Through Fashion

Comments and photos provided by the Refugee Center in upstate New York…

The Heart of a Community

Refugee Welcome Center in Albany New York
Refugee Welcome Center

Albany, New York is both the center of the capital region and home to a number of diverse communities. Organizations like the West Hill Refugee Welcome Center (RWC) work tirelessly to create opportunities for its members, as well as an accepting atmosphere for those who are looking for a collaborative space to make lasting connections. 

Building Lasting Connections

The RWC works toward building a sustainable community that is supportive of its more established members as it is welcoming of newcomers. The center is known for its efforts in helping refugees polish their skills and tools they need to thrive as newcomers in the United States. They achieve this by organizing youth activities such as movie nights; mentorship programs; as well as safe and affordable housing. They also offer English and civics classes, and space to grow their gardens.

Local Partnerships

This summer, the RWC partnered with two local professors, Dr. Vera Eccarius-Kelly and Dr. Alison Schaeffing, with the purpose of creating a community museum with refugees living in the underserved West Hill neighborhood. A group of 12 Americorp fellows, students, many of whom are refugees themselves, were also involved in the program, which was facilitated by the Siena Project Incubator (SPIn), hosted by Siena College.

Unforeseen Obstacles

The supervisors and their fellows had originally hoped to engage with the RWC by developing a museum exhibit that showcased the voices of refugees. However, the spread of the coronavirus created several obstacles for the group.

They instead started a virtual fashion series, titled “For Us By Us.” The series features West Hill community members who showcase thee refugee community through fashion. 

Learn how men and women dress across different cultures.

For Us, By Us: A Fashion Series

The “For Us By Us” project highlights more than just beautiful clothing. Descriptions of the outfits written by the models tells you more about the history of the garment and its use.

The project strives to provide a space for refugees to share their experiences, stories, and needs with the wider Albany community. The SPIn fellows hope that the future will allow them to use the images and their descriptions from the series as a feature in a new museum exhibit that will eventually be created through this initiative.

Meet the Models

Jeanne Sinzinkayo is not only a curator of the “For Us, By Us” Series, she is also a model for the fashion show. Along with another member of the AmeriCorps team, she is researching the Banyamulenge struggle for recognition, with the long term goal of publication of digital information for a virtual museum exhibit. With both projects, she hopes to serve as a record keeper for the unheard voices and experiences of the diverse communities, along with developing a comprehensive case study to publish.

Jeanne Sinzinkayo in an iribaya and ipantaro
Jeanne Sinzinkayo in an iribaya and ipantaro

Jeanne Sinzinkayo: This blue outfit is a two-piece set in African clothing. The top is called iribaya (shirt) and the bottom part is called ipantaro. This is the most common for everyone of all ages. Usually, younger women would wear this as is or pair the iribaya (shirt) with a skirt (ijipo). Older married women would wear the iribaya (shirt) with another piece of igitange as their skirt. It is handmade and it is very versatile. It can be used interchangeably. For example, the top could be worn with jeans, and the pants could be worn with t-shirts. To save money and time, there are extra stitches so if one gains weight, one can take out some of the stitches to make the clothes lose to fit. The cloth itself is high-quality so it can sustain longer. 

Jeanne Sinzinkayo in an Banyamulenge Ibubu
Jeanne Sinzinkayo in an Ibubu

This yellow dress is called ibubu. This is commonly worn by older women in the Banyamulenge community of Congo. It is loose and it gives you room to be able to move around. It is typically worn with a headpiece because older women from the Banyamulenge community cover their heads as a sign of respect. When it is worn by younger women, they usually wear it without the headpiece. 

Jeanne Sinzinkayo in an Igitange
Jeanne Sinzinkayo in an Igitange

This green outfit is made out of a fabric called igitange. It is a set with pants and a long blazer, the blazer is called ikoti (jacket) and the pants are called ipantaro (pants). This is usually worn by younger women and it can be made for men as well. After selecting the fabric you can take it to the tailor with a design and they will make the outfit for you. 

Ethnic tunics have become part of mainstream fashion globally.

Balqees Sayed is also a SPIns Fellow, a model, and a local resident of the West Hill community.  She is a recent graduate of Russell Sage College. She has been volunteering at the RWC for the past two years. Balqees is working as a part-time Program Coordinator at the RWC after graduation.

 Balqees Sayed in an Afghani Kamees
 Balqees Sayed in an Afghani Kamees

Balqees Sayed: I love wearing my Afghani Kamees (ethnic Pashtun dress). For me, this is an opportunity to show another part of who I am. I am not just a girl from a developing country. I am not oppressed. I am not controlled by men. This is a vintage dress worn by Kuchi women (Pashtun nomads). My ancestors were nomads. Traveling to colder areas in summer and warmer areas in winter. These dresses are perfect for colder weather in summer. It is very loose and has a huge pocket where you can store many things. And this is all handmade!

When I bought it, my mom sewed some torn parts of the dress. This is more than just a dress. This is a part of who I am. This is the beauty of my culture. This is what the media fails to see. We are humans. We have cultures. We have insights. We are smart. This is an Afghani kamees, to all the white people out there appropriating our culture. This is not a “boho” dress. This is a handmade Kochani kamees (nomadic dress). 

Handmade Dress by Balqees Sayed
Handmade Dress by Balqees Sayed

The second dress was designed by me and my mother. Then it was sewn by my aunt. In Afghanistan, people who know how to make clothes, sew their own clothes. It is a very traditional way of wearing clothes. This dress was made from scratch, except the chest part which I bought from a vintage shop. This dress is usually worn in parties and different formal and informal occasions. 

Model Ishaque Ismail in a traditional Afghan

Ishaque Ismail: Men’s fashion is a way to express yourself. People can tell a lot about you just by looking at your outfit. This is a traditional Afghan male dress. It is called shalwar kameez. I wear it on Eid and to weddings.

Muzzamil Khiljee continually strives to spread love and acceptance throughout all of his lyrics. He has persistently fought for his work and message throughout his changing environments. Sip has continued to drop high-quality music with top-notch production to attract a mainstream crowd, all the while fostering the same message that culture is not necessarily just black and white. Music is unity; music is the culture that brings everyone together.

Muzzamil Khiljee in a handmade logo outfit

Muzzamil Khiljee: As a Hip-Hop fan, this handmade “culture” logo that you see on the back of my jacket is an international brand by one of the most talented Afghan hip hop/rap recording artists called Sip.

Continue Spreading Awareness

Looking for ways to become a part of the cause? Consider donating to the West Hill Refugee Welcome Center today, or, if you are a local of the Capital Region in Albany, consider volunteering at the Center and make a difference in a fellow community member’s life.

10 African-American Chefs You Need to Know About

In the USA, there are approximately 941,000 individuals employed as chefs. How many of these chefs can you name off the top of your head? You may have heard of famous figures like Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver and Wolfgang Puck. However, can you name any celebrity African-American chefs? 

Even though every one out of five chefs in The United States is African-American, according to the Bureau of Labor, Black cooks are socially isolated, discriminated against, and have a lack of representation in the media. While the Black Lives Matter movement continues to be a pressing topic in our current times, efforts are being made to bring attention to black narratives, specifically in the culinary world.

Despite facing many hurdles, African-American chefs have beaten the odds and created a platform for others, as well as continued to break racial barriers. In a time where representation is important for our society and the younger generation, take a moment to support such individuals by learning more about their background, passion, and get a taste of their cooking. 

Here are ten African American chefs who have made great names for themselves in the culinary world.

Carla Hall, Washington, D.C.

african american chefs
Top Chef Carla Hall works at Smithsonian National Museum for African American History

Born in Nashville, Tennessee, Carla Hall spent much of her career fighting for visibility in the culinary industry. She landed appearances on Top Chef, The Chew, Good Morning America and many more. She has authored three cookbooks centered around soul food, and one of them has received an NAACP Image Awards nomination.

Order Carla Hall’s award-winning cookbook

Hall believes food connects everyone and strives to communicate through her work and cooking. Hall is the Culinary Ambassador for Sweet Home Cafe at the Smithsonian National Museum for African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. There, she works to promote and connect the experience of the museum through the history of the food.

Leah Chase, Louisiana 

african american chefs
Chase had customers ranging from past presidents to freedom riders

Leah Chase is the nation’s preeminent Creole chef who brought New Orleans Creole cooking to international attention. After high school, she took a job at a French Quarter restaurant where it sparked a deep love of food in her. Alongside other numerous rewards, Chase was inducted into the James Beard Foundation in 2010. She received awards from the NAACP, National Council of Negro Women and Southern Foodway Alliance.

The late 96-year-old was the chief chef at her restaurant, Dooky Chase’s. It once was a hotspot for civil rights organizers to plan their course of action in the 1950s. Several famous figures, like Barack Obama and James Baldwin, have dined at Dooky Chase’s. If you’re craving classic, Creole cuisine, be sure to visit!

Todd Richards, Georgia

african american chefs
Todd Richards is a Georgia icon

The two-time James Beard Award semifinalist is a fixture of the culinary scene in Atlanta. Todd Richards worked at several fine-dining restaurants including The Four Seasons Hotel and the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead before opening his own – Richards’ Southern Fried in 2016. Here, guests can have a taste of unique spin on casual southern dishes like fried chicken tenders, mac and cheese, black eyed peas, and chicken and waffle wings.

Just recently, Richards released his first cookbook – Soul: A Chef’s Culinary Evolution, which includes roughly 150 recipes. Each page highlights the versatility of humble ingredients like onions, corn and tomatoes. It also aids in transforming them into delicious one-of-a-kind meals. Check out his cookbook below.

Order Richard’s cookbook filled with 150 recipes

Marisa Baggett, Tennessee

african american chefs
Baggett says expensive equipment or exotic ingredients aren’t necessary for good sushi

Marisa Baggett is the first female African-American to graduate from the California Sushi Academy. With her mission to share the art of making sushi, she has authored two cookbooks – Sushi Secrets and Vegetarian Sushi Secrets.

For three years, she worked at Do Sushi Bar and Lounge in Memphis, where she showcased her delicate skill in sashimi, nigiri-zushi, makimono and kaiseki. Though Baggett has since stepped down from her role, she is now focusing on sharing the art of sushi as a traveling itamae (Japanese chef) by teaching classes at markets, private homes and at events.

Get this kit to make your own sushi at home

Erick Williams, Illinois

african american chefs
Chef Erick Williams wan named one of “16 Black Chefs Changing Food in America” by The New York Times

Erick Williams was influenced by his great-grandmother’s Southern cooking and her insistence on connecting with anyone who sat at her table. He learned that sharing a meal is a universal expression of respect and dignity. The Chicago native is currently nominated for a James Beard Award for best chef in the Great Lakes region. 

Williams is the chef/owner of Virtue restaurant in Chicago. Since its opening in 2018, the restaurant has won Best New Restaurants in America for its twist on classic Southern American food. He also currently works on his personal goal of racial inclusivity and training young people of color in the industry.

Mariya Russell, Illinois 

african american chefs
Mariya Russell is the first African-American female to receive a Michelin Star

This Ohio native chef found her passion for cooking at the young age of 14. Since then, Mariya Russell’s love for food led her to receive a Michelin Star in 2019. That made her the first African-American woman to do so. Russell’s unique style of cooking is omakase, which flirts with Japanese methodology and fully controls a person’s dining experience. Anyone can immerse themselves in this experience at the previous restaurant she worked at, Kumiko and Kikko, where she served elegant seven-course meals.

Since winning a Micheline Star and stepping down from her sous chef position at Kumiko and Kikko, Russell has plans to use her platform to mentor other aspiring Black chefs. Be sure to follow her at @mariyaleniserussel on Instagram.

Rodney Scott, South Carolina

Rodney Scott specializes in whole-hog barbecuing in the Eastern Carolina tradition

Not many people can say that they have cooked a whole hog at the age of 11, but Rodney Scott sure can! Since his first hog, he has become one of the most famed pit-masters in the country. Scott has made appearances on TV-shows such as Parts Unknown, Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, and at countless food festivals.

In 2017, Scott turned his craft into a full-fledged restaurant called Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ, with locations in Charleston, Birmingham and (opening soon) Atlanta. Here, you can literally order a whole pig, or if you want something lighter, pit-cooked chicken and spare ribs. 

Dolester Miles, Alabama

african american chefs
Dolester Miles was named Most Outstanding Pastry Chef in America at the James Beard Awards

This world-class pastry chef engaged in her craft for over 30 years before winning her first James Beard Award. It’s safe to say that Dolester Miles is not only one of the greatest pastry talents in the South, but also in the United States. If you have one chance to try her baking, order the Coconut Pecan Cake, which is a nutty and tropical. However, Miles is versatile in her experience and can create any dessert from classic southern pound cake to traditional French dacquoise.

Mile’s inspiration for creating pastries stems from her mother, who taught her how to bake. When in Birmingham, Alabama, stop by the Highlands Bar and Grill to try her pastries.

A stand mixer is a must have for at home baking

BJ Dennis, South Carolina

BJ Dennis specializes in authentic Gullah-Geechee cooking

Many consider BJ Dennis the country’s leading ambassador of Gullah-Geechee cooking, which is a grain-based, hearty cuisine that is usually paired with seafood. To keep the African-Gullah culture alive, Dennis travels across the nation and cooks at pop-ups and events. He has also made appearances on Top Chef and Parts Unknown to educate viewers on the history and culinary techniques of the low country’s cuisine.

To learn more about Gullah-Geechee cuisine and to keep up with Dennis’ next pop-up event, check out his Instagram page.

Edouardo Jordan, Washington

Edouardo Jordan’s inspiration comes from his Sunday suppers and grandmother’s meals

Since the opening of his second restaurant, JuneBaby, Edouardo Jordan received Eater’s Best New Restaurants in 2017 and Food & Wine’s Best Restaurant of 2018. He also received a three-star review from the New York Times. Jordan was also a double winner at the 2018 James Beard Awards.

Eduardo explores his Southern roots and the cuisine of the African-American diaspora with JuneBaby’s celebration of Black, Southern food. He also celebrates the breadth of southern cuisine by showing the world that it can be high-brow and low-brow. Take the time to experience how food can showcase humble West African beginnings at Seattle based JuneBaby.

~By Virtual Marketing & Communications Intern, Laura Vo. Laura’s a Public Relations Major at Kennesaw State University and has a passion for supporting great causes like Go Eat Give.

Vacation Like a President in Williamsburg, Virginia

Wish you could spend a night at The White House? Want to know where presidents and celebrities go for vacation? Here’s some insider information for you!

A long winding road shaded by canopy of trees leads you to an expansive resort in the woods. You pass by homes of all sizes, lush golf courses, manicured tennis courts and natural ponds, arriving at a 7,000-square-foot private estate with panoramic views of the James River, where notable individuals such as President Barack Obama, President George H.W Bush, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have previously stayed.

This 4 bedroom estate has housed America’s Presidents!

The Estate at Kingsmill

Formally known as Pettus House, Kingsmill Resort has gated, manicured, residential grounds. It was the private mansion for the Busch family, who is known for Budweiser Beer and Busch Gardens.

Hire a private chef to cook in this kitchen for $4,000+ per night.

After a $3 million worth of renovations, – featuring beautiful interiors transformed with distinctive furnishings, lighting, textiles and décor from RH, Restoration Hardware – the Estate at Kingsmill looks like a modern villa with high ceilings, teardrop glass chandeliers, luxurious bathrooms (bigger than some of your lofts), distinctive art, gilded mirrors, retractable glass and floor to ceiling windows. A private terrace overlooks an infinity pool, hot tub, and perfect sunrise and sunsets over the James River. And if self pampering is your style, bring your private chef along or hire a butler to cook meals for your family in this state of the art kitchen.

While you can rent this four-bedroom Estate for your next vacation, small wedding, a milestone birthday getaway, or a corporate retreat, there are other more affordable accommodations on the property at well.

Old world charm and modern amenities are available at the condos.

The Resort

I stayed at one of the condo style accommodations at Kingsmill Resort. My private unit had parking directly in front of the building. In addition, it did not have hotel hallways or corridors. The entrance truly made me feel like I am walking into my private apartment. Inside, there was a spacious living room with fireplace and television, a dining room, full kitchen, laundry, separate king bedroom, bath, and a balcony overlooking the river. As the units were well spaced out and there were hardly any guests at the resort, it was peaceful and quiet. I mostly watched ducks, rabbits and deer enjoying the vast green spaces while sipping wine from my patio.

Spend the summer with your family at a cottage by the river.

A few people decided to rent Cottages at the James for a long term stay during COVID-19. Surrounded by mature trees, wildlife, water and cooler temperatures, Kingsmill Resort has 3,000 acres. Also, it is the perfect escape from busy and cramped city spaces. Pets are also allowed!

Kingsmill Resort also offers onsite amenities such as golf, tennis, spa treatments, yoga and Pilates classes, two luxury SUVs, customized golf carts, private jet skis, personal shoppers, laundry service, and personalized menus and music selections. There are four restaurants on site. However, dining services have been modified and there’s to-go menu only through Kingsmill Express.

williamsburg virginia
Enthusiastic from around east coast come to play at one of the best golf courses in Virginia.

Championship Golf

Kingsmill Resort is Virginia’s Only AAA Four Diamond condominium resort. Moreover, it features two renowned 18-hole golf courses, a celebrated golf academy and year-round golf instruction. There’s a good chance that your fellow celebrity guests and diplomats have practiced their swings at the River Course, rated one of the best golf courses in Virginia.

Williamsburg virginia
Spend the day on the river boating, fishing or jet skiing.

Water Activities

One of Kingsmill’s popular activities include the marina located on the scenic James River, which begins in the Appalachian Mountains and flows 348 miles to the Chesapeake Bay. While you can sit on the deck or beach and enjoy water views, you can also kick up your adrenaline on a jet ski, kayak or paddle board. Boat and pontoon rentals, as well as fishing equipped is available just a few feet from your room. Enjoy summer with a dip in the outdoor swimming pool or slide along the lazy river.

Historic Williamsburg

Williamsburg was the capital of the Virginia Colony from 1699 to 1780 and played a significant role in the American Revolution. It forms the “Historic Triangle” together with Jamestown and Yorktown. It is noted that the British settlers first arrived in the Williamsburg area in 1607. This is also where Pocahontas once walked and where America was born.

There are numerous attractions located within minutes of the Kingsmill. You can learn about American history, taste some of the best pancakes in the country, and enjoy some thrilling rides. Further, plan to visit Colonial Williamsburg,  Jamestown Settlement, American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, Historic Jamestown, Yorktown Battlefield, the Williamsburg Winery, and Busch Gardens – to name a few.

williamsburg virginia
Get this guide book to learn about the Historic Triangle.

Getting There

Kingsmill Resort is located on the James River off I‐64 between Richmond and Norfolk. You can fly in to either airport and rent a car or taxi to get to the resort. You can also do a road trip from Washington DC, while checking out other historic sites and Virginia beaches along the way.

Staying Safe

As destinations continue to reopen safely, please make sure to check out the local Williamsburg tourism website and Kingsmill Resort for updates on travel restrictions, social distancing and mandatary protocols. The state of Virginia requires everyone to wear a mask indoors in public places.

Continue learning about USA at home with this jigsaw puzzle appropriate for adults and kids.

How Your Visit Can Help Rescue Turtles in Florida

When you travel on vacation, a visit to the hospital may be the last thing on your mind. But this particular hospital for turtles in Florida is a great place to learn about different kinds of turtles and to see them up close!

The turtle hospital in Marathon, Florida is located halfway between Miami and Key West, on the grounds of the old Hidden Harbor Motel. The old motel rooms serve as living quarters for the rehab staff and storage.

turtles
One of the patients at The Turtle Hospital.

During Your Visit

There are 7 species of sea turtles throughout the entire world. Five of the seven are found in Florida: Green, Loggerhead, Leatherback, Hawksbill, and Kemp’s Ridley. Volunteers and student guides give visiting guests a brief history about the location and the work the nonprofit does around rescue, research, rehabilitations and education. They also tell you about different species of sea turtles, their characteristics, and the kinds of illnesses and traumas they face. Most of the turtles that The Turtle Hospital has rescued were victims of boat accidents, entangled in fishing nets, ingested plastics and debris, or acquired skin conditions due to chemicals in the water. Similar to humans, sea turtles get cancers, amputations, tumors, eye infections, and loose their ability to swim.

turtles
You can minimize your impact on sea turtles by following a few basic guidelines.

The most fun part of the tour is seeing the turtles up close! You will get a chance to learn about each one’s life, their names and recovery process. You can also feed them food and watch them come up to the surface, or swim around the pools.

turtles
Guides will pass out special turtle food for you to feed the rescued turtles.

Have you watched turtles lay eggs? Only 1 in 1,000 of these sea turtles actually survive!

Watch a Release

The Turtle Hospital has successfully treated and released over 1500 Sea Turtles since its founding in 1986. Public releases are held in the Florida Keys, some from the shore, others from a boat. Hundreds of people cheer for the turtle returning back home, where it belongs. You can follow The Turtle’s Hospital social media page to learn about release dates and plan to attend it.

turtles
Watch a recovered sea turtle swim back into the ocean.

Ways To Help

Visiting The Turtle Hospital is a small step toward rehabilitation of endangered sea turtles, since all of your ticket price goes toward supporting the nonprofit organization. You can also purchase cute souvenirs, jewelry, t-shirts and bags from the gift shop to remind yourself of these amazing creatures. I purchased this super cute turtle crossbody bag from the gift shop at The Turtle Hospital, but you can order it through Amazon.com too (click on the picture).

Adopt a sea turtle yourself or gift to an animal lover for only $35 a year. Five of the permanent residents (sea turtles that are deemed non-releasable) are currently available for adoption. You can also make a tax deductible donation directly to The Turtle Hospital.

Stay at the Tranquility Bay resort located next door, a proud supported of The Turtle Hospital. The beachfront all-suites resort offers townhome style accommodations with private kitchens, multiple bedrooms and balconies. There are few swimming pools, restaurants, and water sports on site so you can make the most of your Florida Keys vacation. Tranquility Bay also has one of the best sites to see the sunset, so make sure to relax with a key lime martini by the beach!

Watch the best sunset in Florida Keys at Tranquility Bay.

Tranquility Bay encourages their customers to visit The Turtle Hospital, and will make a reservation for you. You can also get a free plush toy during your visit.

If you spot a sick or injured Sea Turtle in Florida, you should immediately contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 1-888-404-FWCC (*FWC or #FWC on your cell phone).

Wear biodegradable sunscreens when doing any water based activities.

Awareness at Home

Eat sustainable seafood. Make responsible consumer decisions when it comes to the purchase of seafood and know how it was obtained or caught. Visit www.seafoodwatch.org for a free guide on sustainable seafood you can buy at grocery stores or restaurants.

Help keep the beaches and water safe and clean. Do not throw garbage, especially plastic on land and in the sea. Often times, trash blows away with the wind and ends up in the digestive tracks of wildlife. A recent study found that on average our oceans are littered with 47,000 pieces of plastic per square mile!

Reduce, reuse and recycle. Reduce your consumption of packaging and one-time use products. Travel with aluminum water bottles, wear washable masks, and recycle what you cannot reuse. 

Buy eco friendly products. Avoid using non biodegradable sunscreens and lotions when swimming in the ocean.

Be a responsible boater. Avoid crossing seagrass beds and be aware of your speed limit. Use a chart or GPS, stay alert and look out for floating sea turtles. A floating sea turtle is often sick and cannot dive down to escape an oncoming boat.

Dispose fishing line properly. If you enjoy fishing at home or on your vacation, make sure to not discard fishing lines in the water, and pick up a fishing line if you see it. Recycling bins are now located on every fishing bridge, beach and marina in the Florida Keys. Instead of tossing your fishing line in the garbage, hold onto it and place it in a recycling bin instead.

Due to social distancing restrictions, The Turtle Hospital is allowing only up to 20 people at a time, so make sure to make a reservation ahead of time. Masks or face coverings are required, and guests are asked to stay 6 feet apart from each other. 

Road Trip Through Charming Towns in The Outer Banks

Outer Banks, North Carolina is a road trip enthusiast’s dream. This iconic chain of barrier islands linked by coastal highway NC 12 is home to some of the largest tracts of undeveloped beaches on the East Coast. There are endless undeveloped coastlines, preserved wildlife, great fishing and historic landmarks.

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Though I did see many dolphins around OBX, this picture is courtesy of outerbanks.org

Known collectively as the “OBX,” the four islands are home to six towns and 12 coastal villages – all with very different personalities ranging from quintessential beach towns to traditional fishing villages. If you are unfamiliar with OBX, it can be hard to decide where to start your journey and what all to explore! You can spend as little as 4 days if you want to just get a feel for the OBX, or stay for a week in each of the four islands and get a taste for the local life.

However, if you are planning a quick summer road trip to the Outer Banks, here’s what you must include in your itinerary…

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Sanderling is one of the best luxury resorts in OBX.

Relax at a Resort in Duck

Check into Sanderling Resort in Duck, a relatively quieter part of OBX, occupied by large beachfront holiday homes. Sanderling is an upscale hotel with a North Carolina bungalow charm that spreads across a large area, so families can enjoy private time. Here you can walk along secluded beaches, dip in one of the swimming pools, relax at the spa, or simply watch dolphins playing in the Atlantic right from your balcony.

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Lifesaving Station Restaurant is a historical landmark!

Dine at Delicious Restaurants

The Lifesaving Station at Sanderling is not just one of the best restaurants in Duck, it is also one of the original rescue stations from 1870s. You can see the many pictures and memorabilia of wayward passengers and crew aboard shipwrecked vessels along the Atlantic shores, while dining on Carolina delicacies – blue crab and corn chowder for dinner or crab Benedict for breakfast.

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These warm cake donuts are to die for!

For breakfast, bike or walk along the tree shaded sidewalks to Downtown Duck to eat some of the best cake donuts in the world! This is the birthplace of the famous donut chain – Duck Donuts. Made to order, hot and fresh, you can create any kind of decadent concoction you want, or choose from some of their fan favorites. My personal favorites include Hynoduck, Pina Colada, and Blueberry Pancake, but the expression on little kids faces digging into their boxes, is priceless!

Grab dinner, watch the sunset or shop at the boutiques in the Town of Duck.

Spend the afternoon exploring the Town of Duck which features 11 acres of trails through the maritime forest and willow swamp, and shops and restaurants located on the Duck Boardwalk. This is also a good place to watch the sunset over the Bay while dining outdoors at The Blue Point. The restaurant prides itself on featuring local farmers, fisherman and independent suppliers on its menu. 

Commemorate the first flight in the world!

Take a Lesson in Aviation History at Kill Devil Hills

This is where you want to come for a history lesson in aviation. The Wright Brothers National Memorial is the most famous landmark in Kill Devil Hills. There, Wright brothers achieved the world’s first heavier than air, powered, controlled flight in 1903.

Stop for drinks and lunch at the Outer Banks Brewing Station, the oldest wind powered brewery in the US! Take a tour of the brewery and watch how wind energy is harvested to make beer.

Walk or jump over the natural sand dunes in the Eastern US!

Stop for an Adventure in Nags Head

Continue your Outer Banks road trip to the adjacent town – Nags Head, known for the towering sand dunes, salt marshes and quiet beaches. Being the entertainment hotspot, this OBX town is dotted with souvenir shops, fast food restaurants, mini golf courses and fishing charters.

You would never know how fun it is to hang glide over sand dunes until you try it for yourself!

For a unique experience that can be enjoyed by adventurers of all ages, try Hang Gliding at Jockey’s Ridge State Park. It’s a 426-acre park with the tallest and largest natural sand dune system in the Eastern United States. The Kitty Hawk Hang Gliding school offers a chance to safely experience flying over soft sand dunes with the assistance of two instructors. You get 5 attempts to perfect your landing and you don’t even have to worry about falling. This sport is super fun and easy!

For other Outer Banks thrills, try jet skiing, kayaking or parasailing. Kitty Hawk is the largest adventure company with locations all over the OBX, offering a wide range of bike and paddle rentals, surf and kite flying lessons, to scenic bi plane and full moon kayak tours.

Bodie Island Lighthouse has been moved from its original location due to the southward migration of the inlet.

Dreamy lighthouses make for picture perfect backdrops and climbing up the towers offer great vistas. Note: Some lighthouses are currently closed due to Covid-19, but you can still visit them from outside with social distance and face covering. At the tip of Nags Head, visit the 156-foot tall horizontally-striped Bodie Island Lighthouse. It is not the tallest in the area, but the marsh walk around it makes for good wildlife viewing as well.

Soak in Nature’s Beauty in Hatteras

The drive from Duck to the end of Hatteras Island is 83 miles. However, it is highly recommended. Along the way, you can stop at the islands mentioned above, or just spend an entire day exploring the rugged natural beauty of Hatteras Island. Most people who live in these rustic villages of Hatteras have fishing boats. You can charter a sport fishing boat here or watch one of the professional fishermen and women bringing in their fresh catch each afternoon to the Hatteras Harbour. Needless to say, this is also a great place for seafood lovers! Also, all the restaurants you will find in Hatteras offer daily caught shrimp, crab, tuna, grouper and mahi mahi on their menus.

Most seafood in OBX is locally sourced and sustainable.

Enjoy the Surround Wildlife

Pack your walking shoes and a hat and prepare to spend a couple of hours at the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge (around mile marker 31). The Refuge is a great spot to spot 365 species of local wildlife, including birds, reptiles, mammals and amphibians. In addition, explore on your own walking along one of the trails, or join refuge staff for programs on topics ranging from sea turtles to life in the sound, to bird adaptations.  

Learn how to volunteer at Pea Island

The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is the tallest brick beacon in the world!

Continue on to Cape Hatteras Lighthouse (also known as America’s Lighthouse), because it is the tallest brick beacon in the world, standing at 210 feet, and originally constructed in 1870.

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Horseback ride through the forests and beaches in the southern tip of Hatteras.

Another unique way to explore the southern end of Hatteras Island is on horseback. You will find families of all ages, coming for generations for Equine Adventures Horseback Tour. The guided trail ride goes through the thick maritime forest of Frisco, crossing deep water pools (especially after a good rain), and the beaches of the Carolina coast. You have a chance to gallop your horse on the wide-open beaches, or leisurely stroll with your experienced guide. You’ll have a memorable adventure while getting wet!

Catch a sunset cruise behind The Tranquil House at Manteo Waterfront.

Slow Down The Pace in Manteo

The town of Manteo located on Roanoke Island is a charming North Carolina coastal town, where you can enjoy history, shopping, dining and a quieter pace. Stroll around the downtown near Manteo waterfront to soak in its unique architecture, local boutiques, and coffee shops. Learn about the first English colonies on North American soil at Roanoke Island Festival Park, or watch the seasonal blooms at The Elizabethan Gardens.

Because sunsets in the coastal barrier islands of North Carolina are spectacular on most days, book yourself a private sunset sail on a 41-foot Gulfstar. Captain Dan will sail you from downtown Manteo Waterfront into the Roanoke and Albemarle Sounds. There, you’ll also spot dolphins and birds, and listen to a lot of interesting stories. For dinner, head over to BlueWater Grill for the best tuna tartare and crab cakes in Manteo!

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Respect the guidelines when you travel.

Travel Sustainability in OBX

There are not many fast foods or big retailers in Dare County. Most businesses have signs at the door stating which local charities they donate a portion of their proceeds too. In the Outer Banks, you are likely to only see locally caught seafood at restaurants, which is generally fresh, tasty and a lot more sustainable.

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Businesses in Dare county give back to the community.

Due to COVID-19, businesses are mandating keeping social distance indoors and at public parks and beaches. Individuals must wear a mask indoors, especially when entering restaurants and retailers. Many of the hotels have reduced capacities. A large majority of the accommodations found in the OBX are also holiday rentals.

To get to OBX, start your road trip in Raleigh, NC or Norfolk, VA if you want to save a few hours.

B&B Getaway in Blue Ridge Mountains

Are you dreaming of a quick escape to a place within driving distance where you can have a change of scenery and still keep social distance? Do you want to breathe cool fresh air, stare at rolling hills from your balcony, or cool down in a waterfall?

Located only 1.5 hours from the city of Atlanta, are the Blue Ridge Mountains, part of the 550 miles long Appalachian Mountain range. There are lots of hiking areas, waterfalls, wineries, and produce farms in the area, which has also recently been nicknamed as the “New Napa Valley.” There are over 40 boutique wineries in the area, and a charming downtown Blue Ridge, with restaurants, shops, art galleries, and even a scenic train. To take advantage of all that North Georgia has to offer, plan to stay a couple of nights in the area.

Where to Stay

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Blue Ridge Scenic Railway takes people to Toccoa River and into the Chattahoochee National Forest

There are many chain motels in the countryside, but if you want to have a memorable weekend getaway, stay at family-run Overlook Inn at Chatsworth.

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Private suite at The Overlook Inn

Unlike most inns around, The Overlook Inn is an actual home that is built with 6 independent suites, each equipped with a fireplace, as well as a hot tub or jacuzzi. Every suite is named after a hiking trail in the area, and has a distinct character. There is a Council Room (great room) that serves as a family/ dining room where you can chat with the innkeepers, meet other guests, or simply cozy up in a corner with a good book. The log cabin style decor is accented by modern touches, an upright piano, and a collection of books from around the world.

Feel at Home

Innkeepers Bill & Nicole call themselves the “yin and yang” team

Innkeepers – Nicole and Bill purchased the property in January 2020. The couple took a break from their corporate work to start something of their own. Bill had lived in the UK and had fond memories of English style B&B’s, while Nicole enjoyed gardening, decorating, and meeting people. She had always dreamt of owning a B&B someday. Since they started their new lives, the pandemic hit the travel industry, but they saw this as an opportunity to ease into the business. Now, they feel they work harder than ever, but it doesn’t feel like it as they are doing something they are passionate about.

Nicole and Bill have added their own touches to the guest experience at The Overlook Inn. Rooms are deeply cleaned and an amenity basket with bathrobes, soaps and fresh baked cookies make for an inviting welcome. Bill, who doubles as a handyman, chef and receptionist, presents a personalized breakfast menu to accommodate special diets and prepare fresh meals with a lot of love. Three-course breakfast options may include Bill’s decadent french toast with local berries and whipped cream, Nicole’s famous spinach quiche, or new menu items that change every week.

Food to Enjoy

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Nicole serves wine and cheese to individual guests

There’s also a daily wine and cheese happy hour from 5-6pm, where guests can enjoy a glass of wine and locally sourced cheeses, while lounging in the Council Room. This is a wonderful opportunity to just chill and enjoy the mountain views from the large windows, and you may even spot some bears or a wild turkey! Walk over across the street to The Overlook point, a popular spot to watch the sunset.

Once the sun is down, you can continue to stay in and have an intimate dinner at the Inn. The Fireside for Two 3-course dinner accompanied by a bottle of wine is only $79 and well worth the ambiance, service and food! Start off with toasted rosemary bread and North Georgia Mountain caviar (vegetarian). Then have grilled chicken, BBQ burger, or a pecan wood smoked trout for entree, with a few homemade sides. Dessert changes daily, but if you’re lucky, you may get to try the decadent deep dish chocolate chip cookie with vanilla ice cream!

Other Activities to Do

Lookout deck at Fort Mountain State Park

The Overlook Inn is located halfway between Ellijay and Chatsworth, 2 miles from Fort Mountain State Park, a historic area that was once home to Cherokee Indians, with a manmade beach, lake, campground, and walking trails. Make sure to hike up to see the stone tower and lookout deck. Situated in the Chattahoochee National Forest, Fort Mountain State Park offers many outdoor activities, such as hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding.

Row after row of endless greenery at Chateau Meichtry

On your way back, hike up the Amicalola Falls, stop by for a glass of wine and live music at Chateau Meichtry, and stock up on farm fresh fruits and vegetables from Nature’s Creek Farm. Depending on the season, you can also find apple orchards, sunflower farms or blueberry farms that are open.

To keep guests safe, Bill and Nicole wear masks when cooking and serving food, have tables spaced out and take reservations for breakfast and dinner, to allow for social distancing. A trip to The Overlook Inn is a quiet escape to a slower pace, far removed from the bustle of city life, but convenient for weekend getaways from Atlanta or Chattanooga. With the breath-taking views of the Blue Ridge, you will come as guests and leave as friends!

Varuni Napoli: Take A Slice of Pizza Pie History

Head chef and owner of Varuni Napoli, Luca Varuni

Luca Varuni is a master at his craft. As head chef and owner of Varuni Napoli he swears by the freshest ingredients and uses traditional Italian techniques to create the best Neapolitan pies. Growing up in Naples, Italy, he studied under renowned chef Enzo Coccia, head chef of the only Michelin rated pizzeria in the world. After years of experience, he settled in Atlanta with the goal of showing everyone what real Italian food should taste like.

New Updates

As of June 5, 2020, Varuni Napoli has reopened its Midtown and Krog Street location in Atlanta. While guests can still order through curbside pickup and delivery, limited dine-in seating alongside touchless menus will also be offered. With new spaced seating, plexiglass installations, and sanitizing stations, guests and employees can easily maintain social distancing guidelines while enjoying their Neapolitan pies. To further ensure the health and safety of their customers, Varuni Napoli will also be doing temperature checks and wearing proper protective equipment.

Alongside the new updates, the Midtown location still offers pizza and cannoli kits for the family to appreciate the fresh ingredients and authentic Italian techniques at home. For more information regarding new policies and store hours, check out their Instagram at @varuninapoliatl or their website.

Who should come?

Inside Varuni Napoli you will notice large family-style tables as well as conventional seating for smaller parties with the aim of creating an atmosphere best fit for your desired experience. Don’t be afraid to go alone, sitting at the bar gives you a firsthand experience and a direct view of the chefs at work. Since Varuni Napoli is based on the idea of tradition, we must travel back in time to see where these traditions originated to appreciate how pizza has ended up on our dining table.

Why Pizza?

Pizza has a complex history. Some suggest this dish started in Greece, others say Egypt, but the pizza we are familiar with today, got its start between the late 1700s and early 1800s in Naples, a city filled with the poor and working class.

The majority of the population required a quick and inexpensive meal during the day, before returning to work. Street vendors sold these flatbreads made with different toppings to satisfy the needs of workers. They were not looking for a rich or high quality meal, just a little something to tide them over during the long work hours.

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The History

Raffaele Esposito, the father of modern pizza, serves the most delicious pizzas all across Naples. After Italy was unified, King Umberto and Queen Margherita requested Esposito to make pizzas for them. During the meal, Queen Margherita expressed her delight with the flatbread covered with mozzarella, basil and tomatoes (to represent the three colors of the Italian flag) so much that they named the pizza after Queen Margherita. After approval from the queen, the popularity of pizza grew and expanded beyond the borders of Italy.

Similar to Queen Margherita, Luca Varuni is also passionate about margherita pizza. He says here in this interview, “You can tell the quality and authenticity of a pizza place by the quality and authenticity of the margherita.” He proudly explains that the cheese, sauce and olive oil for his pizzas are all from the region of Naples.

During the late 19th century, many Europeans moved to the United States of America searching for factory jobs where the Neapolitans started family-run pizzerias. Americans couldn’t get enough of this Italian novelty as it spread quickly all over the country. Once pizza made it’s way to the U.S., Gennaro Lombardi opened the first documented pizzeria in New York City in 1905, which still operates today. Though pizza was a simple dish that started as a snack for peasants, it is now devoured by young and old people all over the world. There are hundreds of pizzerias all over the United States, but the Gayot Guide recently named Varuni Napoli as one of the top pizzerias in Atlanta for 2015.

How To Spend a Weekend in Chattanooga

Are you ready to travel again? Even as international travel still remains restricted, you can still explore destinations in your own backyard. If you want to get away for a weekend or even a day trip, Chattanooga, TN offers a perfect blend of nature, history, food, and culture. Conveniently located less than 2 hours drive from Atlanta, there are several attractions for families and travelers of all ages in Chattanooga. Businesses around the city are taking several measures to ensure the safety and health of travelers, that you can read about below. Here’s where to go on your summer getaway for a weekend in Chattanooga…

Exterior of RiverView Inn in Chattanooga
RiverView Inn offers proximity to attractions and views of the river

Stay at a Charming Inn

Lookout Mountain, the highest point in Chattanooga, has a number of family-run B&Bs, many of which are historic homes. Though the mountain is part of Georgia and part in Tennessee, you have to drive through the city of Chattanooga to get to the boutique RiverView Inn. This cozy inn is well-spaced out, with clean suites, and balconies offering stunning views of the city and the river. Due to current COVID Hotel Standards, they offer a to-go breakfast bag and coffee only, while the heated and salted swimming pool is open to guests.

Rock City Walking Path in Chattanooga
Pristine walking paths in Rock City

Stroll Through Historic Gardens

One of the biggest attractions on Lookout Mountain is Rock City – a geological garden with waterfalls, wildflowers and art. Here you can walk through quiet woodland gardens, ancient rock formations, and a suspended bridge; breathe in fresh cool mountain air, and get a view of 7 states. There’s a cafe and restaurant onsite where you can enjoy a lunch break, before you make your way underground to a colorful displays of classic childhood fairy tales at Fairyland Caverns and Mother Goose Village.

Fairyland Caverns of Rock City
Storybooks of your childhood come alive at Fairyland Caverns

Explore the Sites, Safely

You need to make reservations online to visit Rock City, as only a limited number of people are allowed in at any given time (pets are allowed too). This actually makes it a great time to visit Rock City, as you can avoid crowds and take amazing photos! There are hand sanitizing stations throughout the garden as well as reminders for visiting gnomes to maintain social distance.

Covid Safety Gnomes
Be safe and healthy while visiting Rock City

Near Rock City, also checkout the famous Ruby Falls, Point Park, and Incline Railway.

Views of Rock City Chattanooga Tennessee
Waterfalls and Lovers Leap at Rock City

Explore the Urban Areas

Chattanooga has a cool urban vibe, while being close to nature. The downtown area is pedestrian and bike friendly. You can walk or bike on Walnut Street Bridge, or along the waterfront, where you will see families, street artists, musicians and food trucks. Kayak or rent a boat on the Tennessee river and check out the scene from the water.

Parks of Chattanooga
Stroll through the waterfront trails, parks and bridges around Chattanooga

Stroll around the Chattanooga Choo Choo hotel area (access to interior is currently closed), which comes alive on weeknights and weekends. Here you can see several bars offering outdoor seating, live music and lots of people watching.

Songbirds Restaurant Exterior
Grab a drink and listen to music in downtown

Get a Taste of the South

During your weekend in Chattanooga there are several good restaurants that are open for dine-in, with spaced out tables, masked employees, and advance reservations. On weekends, grab a pitcher of mimosa for only $10, and sit outside overlooking Main St at STIR. Latin-inspired State of Confusion has some of the best Peruvian ceviche and traditional margaritas, paired with excellent service.

For dessert, get a scoop of some of the creamiest salted caramel and  coffee toffee at Clumpies Ice Cream. If you’re there on Sunday, check out the Chattanooga Market at First Horizon Pavilion, to purchase goods from local farmers and artisans.


Hidden Gems to Visit Across America

How can you make ordinary trips across America more unique and fun? Look for hidden gems scattered around each state! Though tourist spots like museums, bustling cities, landmarks, theme parks, or national monuments are often highlights of a destination, hidden gems like the ones listed below, can turn your traveling experience from memorable to unforgettable!

When you search for activities on your vacation, try to find hole-in-the-wall places, often times located in between attraction hotspots. You’ll find yourself learning something new while getting away from the crowds.

The easiest thing to do is Google search “unique places around me,” or “unusual things to do at ____” to look for interesting wonders to visit. You’ll also be inspired to go searching for secret spots to venture to in your own backyard. Here are some suggestions on where to get started…

California: Downtown Los Angeles Underground Tunnels 

Explore these hidden tunnels in Los Angeles
Image courtesy of Alissa Walker

What comes to mind when you think of California? Disneyland, the Hollywood sign, Santa Monica Pier – I bet you it’s not this! Most people don’t realize there are a network of tunnels underneath the city. As Los Angeles began to grow a century ago, underground tunnels were carved out for transportation needs. However, the 11-mile hidden passage became even more of a hotspot during the prohibition period. Such tunnels became the meeting place for basement speakeasies and a method for people to transport liquor. But now, they have been abandoned.

To explore this hidden gem, you can slip into an elevator behind the Hall of Records on Temple Street, or you can schedule a guided tour.

Louisiana: New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum

This cultural gem is only a three-minute walk from the St. Louis Cathedral
Image courtesy of The Captain’s Ramblings

Connected to nature, spirits and ancestors, Voodoo is a historic religion in “Big Easy” city. With its mix of African, Haitian and Catholic spiritual practices, it became widespread among the slave population of New Orleans during the 18th century. Inspired by the Voodoo culture, local artist Charles Massicot Gandolfo founded the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum in 1972. This hidden gem offers interesting items for sale such as potions, books and fortune-telling. Also, you will find artifacts, antique dolls and recollections of the famous Voodoo Priestess Maria Laveau.

As the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, Laveau was a black priestess who wielded tremendous power and magical abilities. Such beliefs continue today as visitors still visit her grave and make their wishes. If you want to spice up your usual trip to the French Quarter, check out this enriching culture spot.

Colorado: Paint Mines Interpretive Park

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Capture these gorgeous colors in person on your next hiking trip
Image courtesy of El Paso County

After hiking the famous Rocky Mountains, journey on over to El Paso County, where beautiful, brightly colored rock formations will inspire you. Unlike other national parks, orange, purple and white clay bands decorate this geological formation. It’s said that ancient Native Americans collected sediments from this area 9,000 years ago to create colorful pottery and even war paint.

For anyone wanting a hiking spot that is more intimate and has a historical background, Paint Mines Interpretive Park is definitely a hidden gem to visit.

Pennsylvania: Philadelphia’s Magic Garden

A maze of various art will blow your mind
Image courtesy of Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens

Wanting to add a little magic to your vacation? Make some time to visit Philadelphia’s Magic Garden. Don’t let the name fool you. Instead of flowers, mosaic tiles, antique objects and other artistic knick-knacks entirely make up this garden.

Isaiah Zagar, a local artist in the 1960s, began tiling South Street and never stopped. In addition, a wide range of Latin-American to Chinese art fills the Magic Gardens encompassing half a city block. Also, don’t forget to check out the neighborhood of indoor galleries and an outdoor labyrinth. On your next trip to Philadelphia, let yourself get lost in this gorgeous work of art!

A great way to capture all your hidden gem moments in a unique way is with a Polaroid! Make sure to check out this item to save all of your travel memories!

~By Virtual Marketing & Communications Intern, Laura Vo. Laura’s a Public Relations Major at Kennesaw State University and has a passion for supporting great causes like Go Eat Give.