Travel: City Guide to Phoenix Arizona

We had the pleasure of having my brother and his girlfriend as city guides on our recent travel to Phoenix, Arizona this past weekend. They live in Glendale, which is just a stone’s throw away. Our lovely weekend was spent visiting a mixture of their favorite spots and a few new ones, too. We were not disappointed with what the area had to offer. While it is fresh in my mind, here is a travel guide for a weekend getaway in Phoenix, Arizona.


♦◊◊◊
Not worth the time.

♦♦◊◊
Good, but ordinary.

♦♦♦◊
Great. Worth a visit.

♦♦♦♦
Exceptional. A must-do experience.

$
Frugal friendly

$$
Reasonable

$$$
Pricey


Fourtillfour Coffee

♦♦
7105 E 1st Ave, Scottsdale, AZ 85251
$

Fourtillfour Coffee is a car-themed coffee shop housed in a garage space in Scottsdale, Arizona. An industrial roll-up door welcomes guests into a tiny shop housing merchandise and toy cars. Meanwhile, the coffee beans are packaged in containers that mimic vintage gas tanks, and the merchandise also imbibes a retro Grease-like vibe. Every Saturday, they host car meet-ups with different themes, which I think is pretty cool. People were gathering under the trees on tables and benches in the front lawn. I love that dogs were welcome, and there was a homey feel to the space.

Unfortunately, the coffee itself was more traditional in taste. I believe the beans were blends and not single-origin, so the drip isn’t exactly something out of this world. However, I think the traditionality of the coffee matches the vintage vibe of the shop, and I don’t necessarily consider the coffee bad. So I rate it good, but ordinary in terms of coffee. Regardless, it is still a really cool meet-up and hang-out spot, and you’re sure to see a few awesome cars parked on the street!

The Herb Box

The Herb Box Chicken Sando
The Herb Box

♦♦♦
7051 E 5th Ave J, Scottsdale, AZ 85251
$$

We had brunch at The Herb Box in Scottsdale, Arizona. The expansive patio has plenty of shaded seating. The indoor space is quite large as well. Good quality ingredients make up a wide array of brunch fare. They allowed us to bring our outside coffee in, which was pretty nice. And the service was excellent. Other than that, it was just a regular brunch on a regular Saturday.

Snakes and Lattes

♦♦♦♦
20 W 6th St, Tempe, AZ 85281
$$

We love board-games! So it may be biased to say that we loved this space. That being said, any game nerd who is going to travel to Phoenix, Arizona needs to stop at this place. Snakes and Lattes offers a great selection of food, alcohol, coffee, and coffee-alcohol (another plus). Their selection of games is incredible as well! And they have a board-game guru standing by the games, walking around, and teaching people how to play. He was great! Not all board-game cafes have a guru but now I am thinking they should.

The service was amazing and the play time is unlimited. It only costs $6 per person to play. The indoor space is large and there’s also an outdoor patio if you want to get some sun. We stayed a total of 4 hours and my brother has been there multiple times with groups as small as four people and as big as fourteen. We ordered beers and cocktails. Pro-tip: Happy Hour is from 2-4pm!

The Yard

The Yard Ping Pong Table

♦♦♦♦
5640 N 7th St, Phoenix, AZ 85014
$

In order to kill time between board-games and dinner, we swung by The Yard to grab a few beers and play ping-pong and cornhole. It has been a while since I had that much fun! The Yard is a great place to watch sports games on their many TV screens while eating eclectic bar bites and drinking cocktails or beer. It is situated in a college town, and a majority of the patrons there were in their 20’s and 30’s. There is an open space where one can play shuffleboard, ping-pong, and cornhole. It just takes an ID to rent the supplies. But don’t forget to get a stamp on your wrist if you give up your ID, so that you can still order drinks as you play. We surely worked up an appetite before going to dinner.

Ramen Dozo

Ramen Dozo

♦♦♦
Suite #107, 3415 S McClintock Dr, Tempe, AZ 85282
$

‘Welcome to Ramen Dozo, where the ramen is good, the broth is traditional, and the service isn’t so great.’ That was the introduction our server gave, which wasn’t completely far from the truth. The Ramen was good, but the space wasn’t ambient and the service was a bit off-kilter. Still, I really liked our waiter. Not because we got into a long conversation about our new Bitcoin card, but because he was honest, had a sarcastic humor, and was really trying his best to serve us as quickly as possible. The poor guy looked like he was waiting all the tables in the restaurant!

However, the ramen was really good. I ordered my typical tonkotsu ramen and it came with decent pork portions. I also ordered a side of extra noodles but I think the serving was big enough that I didn’t really need to. In fact, I didn’t finish them which NEVER happens. Mike got the spicy miso ramen and really liked his ramen as well! The price was awesome, coming in at around $10 a bowl. We are used to California $15-$20 ramens, so I was super happy with this one. I gave it a frugal rating! Definitely worth a visit if you are in the area. They do close early, though, so plan to eat by 7pm.

Provisions Coffee

♦♦♦♦
4501 N 32nd St, Phoenix, AZ 85018
$$

Great space to match great 3rd wave coffee! This spot is actually serving coffee by day and cocktails and beer by night! They have two bars – one lined with espresso machines and the other lined with draft beer handles. They serve bread and pastry with your coffee, as well as house a number of great coffee merch items! In the evenings, they have a pizza menu to go with your beer. I really liked this coffee spot, and my brother already has plans to return for weekend study sessions! There is ample room in the air-conditioned indoors, as well as a patio with a number of tables and benches. And it seems the dogs love it, too! PS: If you live in OC, California like I do, Bad Coffee sells Provision coffee beans. So there isn’t necessarily a need to travel to Phoenix, Arizona to try them out.

Taco Chelo

♦♦♦♦
501 E Roosevelt St, Phoenix, AZ 85004
$

If anyone ever tells you there are no good taco places in Arizona, they’d be lying. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much, coming from Southern California. But the tacos at Taco Chelo really blew me away. It was after hiking Piestewa Peak and Freedom Loop Trail, a 4.5 mile endeavor in Arizona sun that had me questioning our visit. The peak portion of the trail was amazing, but by the time we started the loop, I was very tired and exhausted. Nothing that tacos can’t fix! I would highly recommend going here. The serving is decent, as I got full after two tacos and splitting an order of chips. The others ate 3-4 tacos, which was quite impressive. The green salsa that came with the chips was so delicious, I added it to everything. And the service was fast! Exactly what we needed as we were starving post-hike.

CiBo Pizzeria

♦♦♦♦
603 N 5th Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85003
$$

They really did save the best for last, as this was my favorite spot for the entire weekend. The restaurant is actually a home with a large front yard lined by a white picket fence and covered by mature trees. String lights create the perfect ambience as we dined al fresco. A few musicians were stationed in the corner of the lawn singing and playing string instruments. The vibe was laid-back, family style, but also, romantic enough for young couples on their first date.

The wine selection was decent but the pizza was amazing! I finished an entire pizza by myself, which is a great sign. Sourdough bakers always say that a dough is made right when you can eat an entire loaf by yourself in one sitting. Same goes for pizza! I ordered the Diavola (Tomato sauce – mozzarella and spicy salame) and Mikey ordered the Dolce Vita (Burrata – spek – arugula and balsamic glaze). Don’t let the simple ingredients fool you. This is just how pizzas were meant to be. Next time we travel to Phoenix, Arizona, we will be back at this joint!

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Travel: An Overview of Snaefellnes National Park on the West Coast of Iceland

Snaefellsnes National Park is a beautiful, secluded area on the western coast of Iceland, only two and a half hours away from Reykjavik. It was voted one of the most romantic areas to get away in Iceland, and is the perfect place for both hiking in the summer and Northern light viewing in the winter. We stayed two days in this area and I absolutely fell in love. I wish we could have stayed an extra day in order to explore more of this region, but we were short on time in general. There are many things to see in this national park, and some of the most iconic images come from this area. The experience is unparalleled by other national parks we have visited, coupled with the seclusion and moody weather (even mid-summer!). Here, I will highlight a few sights but to be honest, none of these photographs do it justice and you really have to go for yourself to believe it.

Note: the sights are listed in order if you drive around the national park counter-clockwise, which is the direction that you approach it from Reykjavik (the south). The best way to get to the Snaefellsnes area (and all around Iceland) is by renting a car or campervan. We rented a car from Hertz which had the best deal at the time. Just a side note, there is plenty of gravel roads and F-roads in Iceland so you want to rent an F-road approved car if you want to reach the most remote of places. Also, we got car insurance for peace of mind since flying gravel is a common occurrence and we weren’t willing to risk car dents and broken windshields.

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Gerduberg Cliffs

A wall of columns make up this famous cliff.

These cliffs are encountered on the way to Snaefellsness National Park via a tiny road splitting from the main highway to the right. Parking wasn’t an issue as this place is usually deserted, allowing you to revel peacefully at its glory. Evenly spaced, dark grey basalt columns made from lava rock line the cliff walls and have baffled scientists for many years. It isn’t so much the fact that the columns extend for miles but rather, the fact that the evenness in width of each column makes it seem as if this natural beauty was carved by hand. The explanation comes from the way in which the lave rock must have cooled evenly. Small indentations in the grass show a path by which you can climb to the top of the cliffs to get a better view of the valley below.

Ytri Tunga Beach

This beach is comically famous in island as it is the only yellow sand beach present. To which Mike replied, “So like every beach in California?!” I suppose to an islander who is used to black sand beaches, this is a sight to be seen. It is still worth a visit as this is the stomping grounds for different breeds of seals. We visited during golden hour and the seals were playing in the water, bobbing their heads along as Mike and I climbed rocks to see them. Although we were originally unsure whether the “sameness” of this beach to one you would find in sunny San Diego is worth the drive, I was pleasantly surprised at how much we enjoyed our sunset there. We must have watched the seals for an hour, before heading off to dinner.

Budakirkja

Budakirkja set against the mountains in Snaefellsnes National Park.

This black church is similar to many churches in island, so if you’ve already seen one, there is no need to pull off the side of the road to see this one. However, it does mark the start of an eight-hour hiking trail that I wish I was able to do. It is hardly mentioned in the blogs online or in travel books, but it travels from Hotel Budhir to Hellnar. We did end up doing a portion of it, hiking from Anastarpi to Hellnar, but when we return to this region (which we surely will!), I would like to set aside the proper time to do the hike that starts from this church.

A bit of a ways at the beginning of the hidden trail. You can see the worn in grass which marks the path for the hike. All you need to do is walk away from the church towards the ocean.

Bjarnafoss

Such a beautiful waterfall. I can only imagine how much stronger it would be in the Spring.

This grand waterfall is so close to the road that you can see it on the road. The sign to the right of the road is small and easy to miss, but it is definitely turning back around for. There is a short hike that gets you closer to the falls, but not right up to the tippy top. Pro advice: a tiny picnic area hidden among the trees at the base of the waterfall makes this a great place to eat lunch.

The trail Mike is standing on leads to a hidden picnic table behind the trees.

Anastarpi

Bird-watching from the Cliff Viewpoint.

I’ve written about what can be found in Anastarpi in my previous post highlighting the hike from Anastarpi to Hellnar. This tiny town is a great place for bird-watching from the Cliff Viewpoint. It also has the famous Bdar Saga Statue that was built from rocks and towers over the town. You can climb the stone bridge and take a photograph that makes you look like you are high-up in the air, too. And I wrote in that post about the pizza we had for lunch, which I totally recommend. If you have a few days in the national park, I would really recommend hiking from here to Hellnar, as it is a short 1-hour trek and would break up the site-seeing quite nicely.

Bdar Saga Statue looking over the town.

Londrangar Viewpoint

Snaefellsnes is a bird-watcher’s paradise. There is no shortage of cliff areas to watch birds from.

There are many viewpoints along the highway running around Snaefellsness National Park. This one is just a few steps from the lot. It isn’t much different from the bird-watching that can be found in Anastarpi, but the rock formation was sure worth the two-minute detour.

Vatnshellir Cave

The entrance to the cave, although you must take a tour to see inside.

The Vatnshellir Cave is an 8,000 year old lava tube created during a nearby crater’s volcanic eruption. As the lava flowed down a hill onto the lava river, it cooled on the surface as the lava river continued to drain out, thus creating a roof-top over the existing cave. One company does tour guides for the cave and they are the only ones with a permit to enter. That means that you need to do a tour with a guide to see the cave. We decided not to join the tour as we had many other sites on our list. It doesn’t seemed to be booked in advance, which is good, as we saw cars pulling up and signing up for the next tour. You do need to wear proper gear which they provide (such as a helmet), and they ran 45-minute tours every hour at the price of 3500 ISK per adult.

Djupalonssandur Beach

The view of the beach from the top. If you look closely, you can see the ship-wreck remains – bright orange bits of rusting copper.

This beach was another area in which I sadly did not set aside enough time for. I was expecting nothing more than a black sand beach, but to my surprise, there were multiple hiking trails to take from the car park and this beach actually spans a large area. We did do one of the shorter hikes which took us down to the black rock beach, where the remains of a ship wreck can still be seen. To the right of the beach are steps that leads one to a small pool where previous settlers (mostly sea people) had to walk to to get access to drinkable water. There were two other hikes that I really wanted to see, each of which took 1-2 and 3-4 hours respectively. I will definitely be back here to explore! I think it would be best to set aside a half-day to see this beach at leisure.

The hike to the left of the beach took us to this secluded pool where sea travelers had to go to get drinking water.

Saxholar Crater

The Saxholar Crater is nothing but a huge hole in the ground that is viewable after climbing a surmountable number of steps. The cardio work was fun, don’t get me wrong, but the view was anti-climactic and honestly not worth the climb (unless you’ve never seen a crater before?). It is a five-minute detour from the road, if you just want to see it. But Iceland had so many other things to see!

Svortuloft Lighthouse

This was definitely not worth driving to as it required a 1 hour driving detour from the main road on a gravelly path (which meant a 2 hour detour total) just to see a lighthouse. There was, however, cool signs at the end that gave a bit of history about how the sea travelers who landed in this part of Iceland survived. Some of the old dwellings are still visible as mounds in the soil, and there is a scary looking well that you can look at. Mike was brave enough to walk into it, but it was too claustrophobic for me to even try. To be fair, we were coming to the end of our very long day of sight-seeing and I was getting cantankerous from the hunger pains signaling the need for dinner, and soon … so there’s that.

Mike bravely entering the under-ground well.

Kirkjufellsfoss

This waterfall and the background mountain reminds me of Mount Crumpit from Who-ville where The Grinch lived. It is so fairytale like that I wouldn’t believe it was a real place if I didn’t see it myself. The fall itself isn’t as grand as it seems from the photographs but the background can’t be beat on a clear day (luckily, it did clear up in the latter half of the afternoon). There is a lot on the side of the road and it is a minute’s walk from the car park to the fall itself. I had to open this entire post with this photograph, although here is another view of it without the mountain in the background from the base of the fall. Not as grand, right? It is one of the most famous sites for Google stock photos, and looks even prettier (or so it appears in other people’s pictures) with the Northern Lights in the background.

Sights we did not see:

  • Skarsdvik Beach
  • Berserkjahraun
  • Ondverdarnesviti
  • As mentioned at the beginning of the post, a few days was not enough time to see it all. Here are sights we did not see but will make the list on our second go around. Also, the hikes mentioned in today’s post are also going on the list for our return trip! These photographs are only a sneak peak of what there is to see in this area of Iceland. The pictures do not do the beauty justice. ‘Til next time!

    Travel: Hiking Reykjadalur Valley in Iceland and Bathing in its Geothermal Hot Spring River

    This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

    Of all the day hikes we did while visiting Iceland, the hike in Reykjadalur Valley was by far our favorite. Just a stone’s throw away from Reykjavik, this valley is full of beautiful scenery, geothermal hot springs, mud pools, and best of all, a hot river that you can bathe in at the center of the valley mid-hike. I would highly recommend relaxing your muscles in the running river, as it is a serene and beautiful spot. We almost skipped it but after high praises from my sister, who dipped into the river a few days prior, we rolled up our leggings and shorts and waded in. We had a great time and call it one of the best experiences on our Iceland trip.

    You can hire a tour guide to explore this area on horse (Iceland does have the cutest horses around, with their squat legs and beautiful flowing hair) but I prefer hiking on foot. My sister did the tour with the horses and it was an all-day trip, whereas my husband and I hiked Reykjadalur Valley on foot and it took about 3-4 hours. If you’d like to learn more about the hike to Reykjadalur Hot Springs, feel free to read on.

    Spoiler alert: There’s a number of photographs in this post that may spoil the views. This may not be the best post for hikers who prefer to be surprised by the scenery. I, for one, like to know ahead of time.

    This is a view of the valley on the main freeway as you approach from Reykjavik. From far away, you can see the geothermal activity of the area in the form of smoke rising from the hills.

    Reykjadalur is located fairly close to the main city of Iceland, Reykjavik. You just hop onto the 1 Freeway (also known as Ring Road) and head southeast for 40 minutes. You can see the valley on the freeway and before you reach Hveragerdi (the closest town), there is a turnout with a map of southwest Iceland. From this turnout, you will see smoke rising from the hills. Know that you are not far away. You must turn left towards the mountains when you reach Hveragerdi. The roads are well paved and there are no F-roads to encounter along the way (meaning you can reach the trailhead with a regular car). A large parking lot with a cute coffee shop marks the trailhead. There was plenty of parking space when we went, despite the late start to our day.

    The beginning of the trail.

    From the parking lot, you will see a well-kept gravel trail that begins the journey into the valley. If I had a do-over, I would start this hike earlier in the morning, so as to return for lunch at the cute cafe near the parking lot. In reality, we slept in after some major jet-lag, and started our hike at noon. As you can tell from the photograph, Iceland stays relatively overcast, even in July. That doesn’t mean you should skip the sun-screen. I would pack a light rain jacket if you have a problem getting wet, or a light fleece jacket over a tanktop. I like to wear layers when I hike for easy shedding. It was fairly warm that day, so I didn’t need both. For us, hiking boots are a must, although this trail is doable in regular running shoes as well. To get an idea, these are the things I wore on this day.

    What to Wear When Hiking Reykjavik Hot Springs

    Things to Bring

    When we went, there were no crowds. People were spaced out enough and as you get deeper into the valley, you see fewer and fewer hikers.

    On the day that we went, there were few crowds. I was happy to be hiking with less people around. As you get deeper into the valley, you will notice that the hikers spread out even more. The winding trail allows for bouts of isolation, so that you can enjoy the scenery without a bother. Mike and I prefer to hike fairly alone, and do most of our deepest talks during the most strenuous of hikes, which also happens to be the lesser crowded ones. Check out the photo below to see what I mean.

    A lone hiker in front of us, and nature all around.

    I would rate this hike as easy to moderate. Don’t let the steep looking inclines dissuade you from trying this one out. There is a steep hill at the very beginning but it is fairly flat towards the middle. Plus, you know what steep hills mean – easy descents! We hiked this trail without walking sticks, and the path was not so gravelly that we were slipping and sliding. Of course, our hiking boots really helped with the solid footing. To give you an idea of the difficulty level, we saw 3-5 year olds doing the hike with their parents. And there is only one patch of the hike that still had ice in July. It was fairly short (twenty steps total?) and was on a flat surface.

    A word of caution: Don’t stray too far from the trail. This place is teeming with geothermal activity. Mud pools could create soft pockets of dirt, which a boot can easily depress into. The last thing you want is a burned leg. Stay away from the steaming areas, and I would think twice about touching running water. The hot spring river is good to swim in, but I can’t speak for other areas. Other than that, enjoy the views!

    Don’t get too close to these hot vents. They’ve turned black for good reason!
    A happy giant looking down on us from the rocks.
    Sheep grazing in the grass, unperturbed.
    The views undulated between grassy knolls, black lava rock, and bright blue running streams. The overcast day and the white smoke rising from the brown mountains was really a sight to see!
    You can see the steaming river just around the bend.
    When you get to this bridge and a horse pen, you know that you aren’t too far away.

    A bridge and horse pen demarcates your proximity to the running river. You cannot miss it, as people are most likely wading in the waters. There are changing stalls without any doors. If we knew we were going to get into the water, we would have brought a towel and swim suit to switch into. As is customary in Europe, nudity is never a problem and you’ll see a number of people changing without the typical modesty you would see in America. You can always hide behind a stall and wrap your towel around you if that makes you uncomfortable. On either side of the river are stairs by which to enter the water. We spontaneously did it and are so glad we did. We stayed for an hour, and never wanted to leave. It was the perfect break before hiking back down to the parking lot.

    Side note: The river is not the end-all-be-all, even though it is where we turned around. The trail continues past the river and into the mountains. It is a loop that starts just past the river and returns to the river. Continuing on would add an hour to your hike. Then you return the way you came.

    It is worth stopping by the shop and cafe when you reach the car park. There were delightful cakes in the case, and sandwiches and coffee to be had. They also have clean restrooms and you can refill your water bottles at the restroom sinks. Lastly, there is a tiny shop where you can buy souvenirs or hiking necessities (such as a tiny towel, or a swimsuit).

    The valley and all it’s pretty terrain.

    This was our favorite hike in Iceland. It was also our favorite geothermal spot (better than the touristy Blue Lagoon!). We are introverted travelers and we prefer the romantic views and more isolated spots where we can hear our inner thoughts, and discuss them too! Even when we were in the river, there was enough space for everyone to get a stairwell to themselves. This place never felt crowded or overwhelming, but rather peaceful and serene, something we like over the tourist scene. I don’t think it’s worth getting a tour guide, as that would require you to see this place on their time. I recommend doing this hike on your own, and taking it in without rushing through it. It would probably take a half day to do.

    Travel: A Weekend in Telluride, CO

    A weekend in Telluride, Colorado was the right prescription to combat my fast-paced California life. Nestled in a valley surrounded by snow-capped mountains (in June!), this secluded town is almost two hours away from the nearest Southwest-serving airport (Mike and I are companion pass holders and we use our Southwest card to travel around the United States for FREE!) and is a stand-alone vacation spot so that, once there, you can nix the rental car along with all other obligations and just settle into the present tense. In fact, since there is no need to leave this town (like ever!), I would actually recommend taking the shuttle (at $75 per person) from the airport to Telluride. It’s less stress, less hassle, and if you’re staying a while, less dollars.

    Telluride is the perfect place if you like slow-living. There is fantastic food and coffee to be had, as well as a number of shops downtown. I would recommend swinging by the book store and purchasing a paperback to read on the patio of Ghost Town or Coffee Cowboy. If you prefer to write, my friend and I bought paperback journals and spent an afternoon writing whilst sipping smoothies. Natural juices translated into creative ones in real time. There are also many local events, such as live music on the green or a Farmer’s Market that takes place for a majority of their Fridays. On the weekend, you can join the community clean-up crew to keep the area looking pristine – and to pay back Mother Nature for all the good she provides.

    The vibe of Telluride is adventure-laden. The streets are teeming with dogs and active pet-owners who have most likely checked off a 3-mile hike by the time you wake at 9am. Patagonia gear, trail runners, and Prana shorts abound in this outdoor-loving getaway of a town. Most trailheads begin in town, and the trails are well-kept and demarcated clearly, as well as avidly used by the locals. Many waterfalls can be seen due to the melting snow caps, and some you can walk right up to them and revel in their misty glory. Shall you choose, rivers for crossing are also present – so feel free to slip off those Tevas and ground yourself in ice-cold goodness. Telluride also has the only free gondola in North America, which will take you to trailheads at the top of the mountain, without the need to slave away to the halfway point. For those with kids, why not take the Gondola up and hike with them down towards town? You’ll still get the view, without the tantrum.

    Here are a few highlights from our recent Telluride trip.

    Ghost Town Coffee

    A great spot to have breakfast or refresh in the afternoon. We went back for smoothies twice (may I recommend the coconut milk in the Purple Smoothie or the house-made cashew milk in their green smoothie?). They also make great coffee, and have an intimate gathering area outdoors for your friends and family.

    Cowboy Coffee

    The pitstop we made three out of three days. It’s a tiny trailer stationed next to a Greek restaurant serving great coffee and breakfast burritos. Pro tip: The day-old burritos are half-price, so take them to go and reheat in your AirBNB for an easy time. Also, they’ve got a stash of spices sitting on the counter, and my tumeric-infused coffee really got me through those rainy Telluride afternoons. The clouds roll in around 2pm from the surrounding mountain giving the town a daily shower. No wonder it’s so green!

    The Butcher and the Baker

    Apparently this is the busiest breakfast situation on weekends. The line went around the corner, and there are no reservations. I would recommend swinging by during the weekday if you want to avoid waiting a while. I got the cheddar croissant and coffee. An honest baker’s opinion? I would go with an actual breakfast meal rather than a pastry and bring coffee from the other two places mentioned above. What I ordered was okay, but what the waiters were bringing to other tables looked way better!!

    Brown Dog Pizza

    My number one recommendation when staying at Telluride. This place gets busy between the hours of 6pm and 8pm and there is limited seating outside so either plan to come early or take it to go. They have multiple Award winning pizzas and they did not disappoint. You could even request to top the two halves differently. We were able to try two of their Award winners, and it was DELICIOUS!

    New Sheridan Hotel

    A historical hotel remodeled into what currently stands, with a great patio area and restaurant for lunch and dinner. Eating here is a bit on the pricier side, but they serve good American fare for those who like lighter and well-prepared meals. The key lime pie is to DIE FOR. I’m biased, of course.

    Bear Trail Hike

    This trail is a great beginner 5-mile out-and-back hike (2.5 miles each way). The trail is well demarcated and you’ll encounter fields of wildflowers, fallen trees, a few waterfalls in the distance, and a waterfall that you can walk right up to. Trees line the way on either side as the snowy mountains guide you straight ahead. We saw many families and dogs on this hike. It’s very doable, but make sure to embark early and return to town around lunch time to avoid the afternoon rain.

    Gondola to Mountain Village

    You can take the Gondola to the Mountain Village which is the ski resort at the top of the mountain. The gondola is the only free one of its kind in all of North America. We took it all the way up and then hiked back down into town.

    Telluride Trail

    You can go up and down this intermediate ski run but we used the Gondola to go up and hiked it back down. As you get closer to town, you see a bird’s eye view of Telluride as well as hear the live music playing on the green. The hill is steep and rocky, so you definitely want to wear footwear with traction – unless you’re okay with slipping and sliding occasionally. The trail is straight-forward and bare since it is a ski run, but the view is hard to beat. Please note in the photo the afternoon clouds rolling in, right on schedule.

    Telluride is a well-kept secret, but the travelers we met pay recurring visits. I plan to return, as well. This tiny pocket of slow is really what many of us need right now.

    A Guide to Staycations

    For two and a half years since we’ve said the words “I do”, we’ve spent every holiday getting away to see the world. This Labor Day, we’ve decided to slow it down from the traveling and relish in the beauty of our home. We had just returned from three back-to-back travel destinations (Seattle, Juneau, and Santa Rosa) and I was feeling a bit like I was missing out on the joys of being home. Perhaps that’s a sign of aging? We thought it’d be great to try and re-create vacation vibes in our own city… and our own living room. While everyone is fighting for limited space on highways tonight, higher hotel and flight prices over the weekend, and surely every last little bit of summer sun, maybe you could turn your home into a vacay oasis too, without opening your wallets or car doors (too often).

    We always took off whenever we had a bit of freedom from work, which was in essence every holiday that has ever been granted, because we felt that time was precious and tough to come by. So when it finally did, we seized the opportunity. But that’s exactly it! Time IS tough to come by, even in the comforts of our own home. Actually, ESPECIALLY in the comforts of my own home, where I do multiple jobs as a home baker and home writer after long shifts at the dental office. And now that we are homeowners, I have finally come to feel that there can be more time spent valuing this sanctuary, in a city that we so love.

    Yet staycations are a tricky thing. The trick lies in re-creating the feeling that you are actually on vacation. There are a few things we feel when we are away – relaxed as we are freed from our daily responsibilities, excited as we explore to see something new, and warm as we connect with others whether that be friends and family that we are traveling with, newly met locals, or fellow wanderers. Sometimes, traveling is a way for us to simply escape from our norm. Whatever it is that you seek when you travel, you must also seek in a staycation. Your mind must be in its own wonderland and you must be focused on establishing that feeling of “elsewhere”, lest you return to work after the long weekend feeling like you’ve wasted your staycation cleaning up around the house.

    To focus on creating a REAL staycation, you have to clearly know in your mind what you want to achieve. What is this staycation meant to be?

    This is for all those times you had to spend balancing work and life, getting home after a long day only to complete a list full of chores. This is for the days you wished you could wake up late, and lounge in bed all morning long like a teenager on a Saturday, contemplating which would draw you out of bed first – the beating rays from a high sun or the smell of bacon and eggs. This is a time for sitting down and reading an entire book from beginning to end, undisturbed. This is for staring out of a window instead of at a screen, for playing with your cat and not giving up when he wins. This is for having breakfast in bed, and possibly never leaving the bed at all.

    Here, a few guidelines for creating the perfect staycation.

    Break Routine

    The secret to feeling like you’re on vacation when you’re actually where you were yesterday is to distance yourself from as many daily occurrences as possible. Avoid doing the laundry, sweeping the floors, organizing your shelves, if only for one weekend. If anyone could understand how hard this first step is, it would be me. But it is essential to creating success. A way in which we’ve prepped for this at Casa Debtist is by doing all the laundry on the weekdays prior. Now we have a full closet, freshly steamed. We’ve cleaned our home as well, so our floors are looking polished, our bathroom sparkling. The sheets are newly washed, without any cat hair (for now) and the bed will be made when our staycation starts. I’ve finished my organizing in the kitchen, a project that I was hoping to tackle for some time, and the counters are finally bare, the appliances wiped down, and the dishware beautifully displayed behind closed cabinet doors, just the way I like them. Last week, we purchased enough groceries to last us through the holiday weekend, plus a bottle of wine, our attempt at feigning luxury for under $10. Usually, the cat wakes us up at 6am on the dot every morning and we get up and go about our day, but perhaps we’ll crawl back into bed and banish the sun for a few more hours. If you typically prefer showers, maybe soak in a bath with a bath bomb? Color the tub pink! I don’t normally have scented things around the house, but for this weekend I’ve situated PF candles of in each room, for lighting during the most mundane tasks of showering, lying in bed, and reading a book. In essence, we are trying to act as if we are waking up to a buffet breakfast on the resort of an island or awaiting a foot massage at a spa. In fact, I would be first to admit that part of the allure of travel time is the beautiful AirBNB homes that we get to live in, which goes hand-in-hand with the façade that we were living some other life. So I guess staycationing requires also that nostalgic façade, but in the comforts of our own home.

    Avoid Screens

    This is a rule that was important to establish in our home. Mike is a frequent Redditor and avid gamer (especially after the release of World of Warcraft this past Monday) and I am a workaholic who types words onto a digital page all day long. But when we travel, we don’t have access to computers. My minimalist self abhors at the idea of lugging around a heavy laptop, so I never do. Which means, more times off screens and looking at each other in the eye. This weekend, we’ve decided on a zero-computer policy. I’ve got a few blog posts with publish dates on queue, and the rest can wait. Which gets doing other things, or better yet, nothing at all.

    Connect with People

    Traveling has always been about connecting with people. At first, we were trying to connect with locals and other expats, probing their minds for other world views. Lately though, we’ve been traveling with friends and family, and relishing in the moments that can steal from the everyday, moments that we once shared more frequently when we were young. This weekend, we wanted to re-create the Santa Rosa trip we had only two weeks ago. On Saturday, our friends are invited to our abode for a gathering of sorts. We plan to go out to dinner as a group, then come home and drink leisurely with a game of beer pong as a few Switches are streaming multi-player games on our projector screen. In essence, re-creating our college days when none of us had jobs, we were all poor still figuring things out, and life was at its prime. On Sunday, we have a gathering at an Aunt’s beach house with Mike’s whole side of the family. Lounging on their patios overlooking the ocean, eating veggies and dip and having dinner outdoors under twinkling lights as the sun sets over glasses of wine.  Lastly, Monday is dedicated to Mike and I, discovering new coffee shops and restaurants, lounging in bed and in the sand, and watching movies in the theatres regardless of whether there’s a movie worth spending our free movie tickets on.

    Act Like A Tourist In Your Own City

    Aside from getting away from the daily grind and connecting with people, the final perk of traveling is having excitement in discovering something new. Mike and I live in a city but due to our frugality and my love for cooking meals, we recommend the same three restaurants when friends come over to eat. This weekend, we’ve decided to get to know our neighborhood more. We wish to try a new coffee shop, dine at a new restaurant (with friends), and act like a tourist in our own town. There are so many spaces to discover yet and we want to learn everything we can about our surrounding area. Plus, part of our plan to avoid daily habits is to cook as minimally as possible, for less clean up! So, making the city our symbolic kitchen and living room will help with that.

    If you’ve actually read through this whole post, I’d wager that you haven’t made plans for the holiday yet. Or perhaps you’re considering bailing on those plans. If so, I hope this helps with creating an alternative to travel. And if you ARE getting away, maybe this will inspire you to stay next time. Maybe your home (and your wallet) will thank you for it. Either way, we wish you a happy holiday.

    Travel: City Guide to Seattle, Washington

    Seattle has been on our radar for a very long time, so it was nice to finally get away for Memorial Day Weekend after experiencing an unintentional traveling hiatus the last few months. As usual, we were able to get plane tickets for free, and if you’d like to do the same, here’s how! If you frequently fly Southwest, learn how to fly for free AND take someone with you (also free). The getaway consisted of only two days and to save on travel expenses, we’ve decided not to get a car. This meant that we got a lot of walking in (steep hills in the city resulted in sore (STILL!) calf muscles … but great exercise!) and this also meant that we were stuck in Downtown Seattle proper. For the length of our stay, that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but this trip IS a bit different from our other ones which are usually filled with nature and outdoor hikes. This trip was mostly about eating, and drinking, and mild site-seeing. If we were to return, I think that a trip to Mount Rainier would be the thing to do, seeing as how we pretty much saw and ate our way through Seattle. Regardless, I hope you enjoy this city guide, and may you go to Seattle hungry!


    ♦◊◊◊
    Not worth the time.

    ♦♦◊◊
    Good, but ordinary.

    ♦♦♦◊
    Great. Worth a visit.

    ♦♦♦♦
    Exceptional. A must-do experience.

    $
    Frugal friendly

    $$
    Reasonable

    $$$
    Pricey


    Starbucks Reserve

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    ♦♦♦♦
    1124 Pike St, Seattle, WA 98101
    $$

    I take the liberty in speaking for Mr. Debtist when I say that this was by far our favorite experience on our trip to Seattle. Before coffee snobs start to turn their noses up at the name Starbucks, may I just mention that Starbucks was historically the company that paved the way for third generation coffee roasters and allowed them to exist. They made it socially acceptable to pay $5 for a cup of coffee. Additionally, to this day, they source only coffee beans that are scored with 80 points or higher. I cannot say the same of other third wave coffee shops. As much as you’d like to look down on Starbucks as being heavily diluted, mass-produced coffee, you cannot fault them in the actual quality of the bean, from which everything starts. As I finish up that rant, I want to say that the experience at Starbucks Reserve was definitely not the same as the experience in a regular Starbucks shop. I would skip visiting the original Starbucks which is reminiscent of any Starbucks you’ll see around the world, and I would even suggest you visit this twice if you had the choice. My favorite part about this place was the bar that serves cocktails mixed with coffee and tea. Our first ever experience in drinking a cold-brew coffee martini was at a five course dinner at a restaurant called Roots in New Zealand. The taste was so clean and the drink went down so smoothly, it was like a moment of clarity. Until this past weekend, no alcohol paralleled that drink. At Starbucks Reserve, there were two that compared. The first was the Boulevardier, which is made up of barrel-aged vanilla syrup, Campari, sweet vermouth and bourbon poured over freshly ground Starbucks Reserve coffee, finished with lavender bitters. The second was a shot of whiskey barrel-aged cold-brew coffee. At $80 a pound, we only brought back 1 pound of beans to experiment with at home. The cold brew was reminiscent of root beer, without the carbonation, and with a hint of a caramel-y, vanilla-esque whiskey coffee. Obviously, it’s enough to inspire word invention. It has no alcohol content, since what little is obtained from the barrels goes up in smoke when the green bean is roasted and cracks open. Two other mixology drinks that we tried included the Whiskey Cloud (Pressed Starbucks Reserve coffee, Amaro Averna, orange-piloncillo syrup, local single malt whiskey and chocolate bitters. Served hot with shaken cream and nutmeg) and Cold Brew Spiced Rum (Teavana Dosha Chai rooibos tea, fresh lime juice, simple syrup, cold brew coffee, white rum and black lemon bitters. Shaken and finished with fresh cinnamon). In the hot afternoon heat, the affogato (espresso with a generous scoop of Mora’s locally made ice cream) was a delight! However, I prefer the affogato being served at Patricia’s in Melbourne. Either way, this isn’t a stop to be missed. I would skip the trinkets (famous last words of a minimalist), and head straight to the counter. Also, be prepared for the crowds.

    Pike Place Market

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    ♦♦♦♦
    85 Pike St, Seattle, WA 98101
    $-$$

    This is definitely a must-see, even if you do not buy anything from here. They have many stalls that showcase a number of products with samples. Walking around and tasting everything was a lot of fun – most samples use wooden sticks to taste. It helped that the weather was lovely. The market is by the water and you can walk along it down to the pier. There are also many eateries and restaurants, as well as vintage shops and artisan crafts. It took us about two hours to walk around, three if you include the pitstops we made. See below!

    Ellenos Greek Yogurt

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    ♦♦
    1500 Pike Pl, Seattle, WA 98101
    $

    I would love to give this more stars, but unfortunately, I think this place is over-hyped. I am not even docking it for the fact that everything comes in plastic. While I would agree that the yogurt has a unique, creamy taste, I think that it was short of anything memorable. We split a marionberry pie yogurt, and it was really OH-KAY. Not worth the plastic waste, though.

    Beecher’s Handmade Cheese

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    ♦♦♦♦
    1600 Pike Place, Seattle, WA 98101
    $$

    Get the World’s Best Mac and Cheese! The grilled cheese sandwich was a bit sub-par (unfortunately, I judge most sandwiches by the bread, and it made the taste of the sandwich a bit less than), but the mac and cheese was deemed BEST by Mr. Debtist. And he is a true mac and cheese fan! You can also sample a few cheeses, and buy any of their pre-packaged flavors. The line may be long, but the mac and cheese is worth the wait. Meanwhile, you can watch through the window the cheese being made, or in our case, listen to the two toddlers behind you driving their parents a little insane.

    Daily Dozen Doughnuts

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    ♦♦♦♦
    93 Pike St #7, Seattle, WA 98101
    $

    If one thing surprised me, it was these doughnuts. When you walk up to the stand, it seems like a dingy little thing. A green pushcart was all it was, and a small machine was making doughnuts behind a sneeze guard window. As someone who just recently delved into the making of doughnuts using a brioche dough at my bakery, I honestly was not expecting much. There were only six flavors to choose from, all mini-sized doughnuts, including the special for the day which was bacon topped maple. Since we were feeling full from lunch, we ordered six mini doughnuts with some repeats. We skipped the chocolate sprinkle doughnuts and instead ordered 2 powdered sugar, two cinnamon, one maple and one maple bacon. They were delicious! I liked the maple bacon least, followed by the maple and then the powdered sugar, with the cinnamon doughnut being the best. Reason being? The cinnamon and plain doughnuts were freshly made, and still warm! They grab fresh doughnuts and toss in a bag with cinnamon and sugar. The other doughnuts were already pre-made and have cooled slightly. If I could have a do-over? 4 cinnamon and 2 powdered sugar. But that’s just me. This doughnut cart totally took me by surprise, but it was one of my favorite stops during our trip!

    Rachel’s Ginger Beer

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    1530 Post Alley, Seattle, WA 98101
    $$

    As much as I’d like to say this place was great, I think it was another case of being over-hyped. Firstly, may I clarify that neither of us drink soda. And while Mr. Debtist can appreciate ginger beer once in a while, these flavored drinks were similar to Fanta flavors. We just couldn’t be appreciative of it, especially for the cost. If we got the boozed version, maybe it would have been different. Joking aside, this is the only place on this trip that I gave such a low rating for.

    Pinball Museum

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    ♦♦
    508 Maynard Ave S, Seattle, WA 98104
    $$$

    I love pinball. If I was born in another decade, I would probably become one of those pinball addicts. The type who stands by the machine so as not to lose one’s spot and refuse to eat or drink for as long as my body stays upright? Yeah, that’s me. So making this pit stop was definitely in the books for us. I did dock it in rating because it’s fairly pricey ($15 per person)  and unless you are planning to spend your entire day there, I am not sure it is worth it. There are about 30 machines, a few of which were broken. There are two levels, and plenty of people, so sometimes you’ll have to wait patiently for a pinball machine that you’d like to try if someone is continually using it. The plus side is, after the entry fee, all machines are free (except one). So if you played more than 60 times, then it was worth your fee. Since we got there a bit late, I doubt we reached 60 plays. But! If you are a pinball fan, it was absolutely cool to see the difference in handling of the machines. Some were very old and only had two plastic flippers that lagged when you pressed the buttons. Playing pinball back then must have been extremely frustrating! Others were seizure inducing. Overall, though, I had a great time and would go again. PS: There’s a sweet labrador who walks around and greets you right when you walk in. Make sure to say hi to him!

    Ramen Danbo

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    ♦♦♦
    1222 E Pine St, Seattle, WA 98122
    $$

    Not one of my top five ramen, but still, really good! We got the white sesame seed oil ramen, and it had a lot of flavor. What we liked most about this place was how customizable the ramen is. You can choose from noodle thickness, noodle firmness, thickness of broth, richness, and the level of umami spicy sauce. As customary, I ordered Kaedama (extra noodle) and a side of egg. Also, the service was fast, but the wait time was pretty long since it’s a popular place. Our wait time was thirty minutes at around 7pm on a Sunday night.

    Molly Moon’s Ice Cream

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    ♦♦♦
    917 E Pine St, Seattle, WA 98122
    $$

    It’s not Salt and Straw from our Portland City Guide, but it was still good ice cream. I got the Earl Grey ice cream, which the guy behind the counter very accurately described as tasting like the left-over-milk in a Froot Loops bowl. I would say it is worth swinging by just to try, but then again, I am heavily biased towards ice cream consumption.

    Elysian Brewery

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    ♦♦♦
    1221 E Pike St, Seattle, WA 98122
    $$

    On the way home from an extremely long day of walking and eating and drinking, we stopped by this brewery and ordered a flight. They showcased a number of different types of beers. I ended up liking a Gose that Mr. Debtist ordered, as well as an Elderflower IPA. They also had pub food which looked very good, but we were not able to try after all the ramen and ice cream! I would go back to this brewery though! Very lively, a great place to meet up with friends.

    Elm Coffee Roasters

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    ♦♦♦
    240 2nd Ave S #103, Seattle, WA 98104
    $$

    Our second day began with coffee from Elm Coffee Roasters. The decor of the shop was just my style. Located in an assuming part of town, the inside was bright, and there were surprisingly not many people. Those who did stay seemed to be enjoying their Memorial Day off, reading newspapers and typing on laptops. The crowd seemed to be slow livers who preferred enjoying their coffee, rather than quick passer-bys taking their drinks to-go. They roast their coffee in the back three days a week. My favorite part of the menu is the flight version of coffee. You can order One & One (espresso and machiato), One of Each (espresso and brewed coffee), and One of Everything (espresso, brewed coffee, and a machiato). Plus they house pastries from Macrina Bakery and Cafe, so it’s a one stop shop if you also were trying to try their pastries!

    Salumi

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    ♦♦
    404 Occidental Ave S, Seattle, WA 98104
    $$

    Another sandwich place, getting another mediocre review from a baker. I am judging the entire sandwich as a whole, but the salami was mediocre. I got the Salumi Salami which is a cold sandwich with peppers and cheese, and Mr. Debtist got a hot sandwich with pork belly, which looked too greasy. The upsides? The servings were pretty big (we should have split!) and the cold sandwich kept well until the next day (refrigerated) and I was able to eat it for breakfast. But I wouldn’t say I’d rave about this place after the trip.

    The Elliot Bay Book Company

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    ♦♦
    1521 10th Ave, Seattle, WA 98122
    $

    This is the Seattle version of Powell’s Bookstore, or so they say. It’s much smaller and resembles the size of a Barnes and Nobles, but with a better book selection and book features. We enjoyed perusing the shelves and even sat down to read. We spent probably an hour and a half here. I ended up finishing this book, and collected a long list of ones to read. This would be a good stop for book lovers, or if you are trying to kill time. Not exactly a must-see.

    The Pink Door

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    ♦♦♦
    10662 Garden Grove Blvd, Garden Grove, CA 92843
    $$

    We ended our trip with a dinner at The Pink Door. Close to the Pike Place Market, this restaurant repeatedly showed up in all the reviews. The food and drink was better than average, but not outstanding. There was an aerial performer and we stuck around for her first show. If you come for the show, do ask to sit at the bar rather than on the patio. It happened to be a very sunny weekend in Seattle (which the locals never failed to comment on) and so sitting on their rooftop patio would have been lovely too. I would likely come back, for the food more than the vibes. We ordered the Tajarin (prosciutto cotto, asparagus, sugar snaps, green garlic, organic egg), the Linguine Alle Vongole (baby clams in the shell, pancetta, garlic, chilis and white wine), and doughnuts which reminded us of the Ableskivers in Portland.


    For those who are interested, what I packed:

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    Travel: Brekkies in Melbourne

    When you go to Melbourne, you don’t just go for the coffee and the graffiti. You also go for the brekkies.  Plates that turn dishes of norm into elevated versions, bursting with fresh ingredients and well-balanced flavors. It seems the coffee shops take as much pride in serving delicious brunch menu items as they do their high quality brews. This we already knew. So each day, we focused on visiting the best places to join the brunching crowd – university students, businessmen catching a lunch break, creative artists trying to nourish souls – with a cup of decent brew on the side. Here are some of our top spots!


    ♦◊◊◊
    Not worth the time.

    ♦♦◊◊
    Good, but ordinary.

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    Great. Worth a visit.

    ♦♦♦♦
    Exceptional. A must-do experience.

    $
    Frugal friendly

    $$
    Reasonable

    $$$
    Pricey


    Proud Mary

    ♦♦♦♦
    172 Oxford St.
    Collingwood VIC 3066, Australia
    $$

    The Potato hashrusset potato hash, poached eggs, thick cut bacon, kale salad, bagna cauda (garlic, cream +anchovy sauce)
    Avocado + Kim chi Toastsmashed avo, wombock + daikon kim chi, kohlrabi, fermented sago, sesame vinaigrette, sourdough

    Seven Seeds

    ♦♦♦♦
    114 Berkeley St.
    Carlton VIC 3053, Australia
    $$

    Lavender Brioche French Toast with Honeycomb
    Roasted Cauliflower Salad with Almonds, Tofu, Yogurt Sauce, and Herbs

    Top Paddock

    ♦♦♦♦
    658 Church St.
    Richmond VIC 3121, Australia
    $$


    Western Australian Kingfish Sashimi – Soba Noodles, Seasonal Greens, Daikon, Fresh Lime, Toasted Kombu

    Flinders Island Pressed Lamb Shoulder – Flatbread, House Made Pickles, Farm Greens, Garlic and Mint Labne

    St. Ali

    ♦♦♦♦
    12-18 Yarra Place
    South Melbourne VIC 3205, Australia
    $$

    Koo Koo Ka ChooCrispy potato hash, roasted mushrooms, porcini puree, poached eggs, 1000 day aged gouda cheese, shitake mushroom & charcoal vinaigrette
    My Mexican CousinSecret recipe corn fritters, poached eggs, halloumi, sweetcorn salsa, kasundi, dressed leaves

    La Lune Bakery

    ♦♦♦♦
    119 Rose St.
    Fitzroy, VIC 3065, Australia
    $$

    CroissantTraditional French croissant, prepared over 3 days
    Twice Baked Almond Croissant The original Croissant aux Amandes, prepared with almond frangipane & garnished with a healthy amount of flaked almonds
    Ham + Gruyere A croissant baked fresh with a filling of shaved ham, Swiss Gruyere & seeded mustard

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