10 Of My Favorite US Cities

With a move to London on the horizon, I’m growing increasingly excited to live in another country and see as much of the UK and Europe as possible during my time there.

I’ve done a lot traveling around the US the past few years, and will definitely miss the breadth and diversity of cities across the country. I say it all the time, but travel doesn’t have to be expensive or far flung- so many places in America are the perfect (affordable!) destinations for a long weekend.

10 Of My Favorite US Cities

Seattle

When I hear the “Emerald City,” a few things come to mind: Quirky music and art, the great outdoors, first-rate local produce, and, of course, adventure. Every time I visit Seattle, I’m reminded of how eclectic of a city it is.

Having visited the Pacific Northwest many times, I’ve had the chance to explore a lot of Seattle’s neighborhoods, and because I know a lot of people automatically think “Space Needle” whenever they hear “Seattle,” I’ve put together a list of my favorite places to go in the city, as well as my must-sees for Pike Place Market.

Between the food, the music and the shops, you can’t go wrong spending a few days in Seattle. And, it’s close enough to Portland, Victoria, B.C., and Vancouver to warrant spending more than a weekend in this part of the country.

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Los Angeles

Every time I visit the Golden State, I fall a little bit more in love with the land of laid back. It’s a refreshing break from the East Coast- palm trees, sunshine and warm weather year-round, what more could you ask for?

Contrary to what many people may think, LA is not just Hollywood. During most of my trips to LA, I’ve stayed in Santa Monica or Venice to get my fill of beach vibes. And, if you head outside of the main areas, Malibu, Palm Springs, Joshua Tree State Park, and even Disneyland are great places to kickback and unwind while soaking up some sunshine.

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Austin

I haven’t written about Austin yet for this blog, but after living there for a few months a couple of years ago, I fell hard for the city. Known as the live music capital of the world, Austin is all about seriously good eats, strong drinks, great beats and being outside. It’s the only place I’ve ever been where people applaud sunsets.

One of the best parts about Austin? It’s compact enough to see and do a ton of stuff during the shortest of trips. I’m planning on spending a few days here as part of a visit back to the US in early March. Already excited to discover how much the city has changed since I’ve been there, and revisit a few of my favorite spots.

NYC

After calling New York City home for over six years, it’s really tough for me to imagine settling down anywhere else. Even though I (and many New Yorkers) have a serious love-hate relationship with the city, it’s a place brimming with energy morning, noon and night- you can’t help but feel so alive when you’re here.

Aside from never-ending options of things to do, I also love how walkable New York is, and even though I complain about subway delays, the public transit system really is top notch. There’s no question this city is somewhere everyone should visit at least once in their life.

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Miami

In Florida, they salt margaritas not sidewalks. My first time in Miami was during a particularly brutal February in the northeast, but it’s the perfect escape any time of the year.

With stunning beaches, a bustling art scene, great food and nightlife, and some seriously cool art deco architecture, there’s no shortage of things to do in Miami. And, because I know a lot of people think of the South Beach party scene when Miami comes up, I haven’t spent much time there, and have still loved every trip I’ve taken to the city. Although, I love a good night out, I’ve spent more time in Wynwood, Little Havana and Key Biscayne.

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Walt Disney World

Walt Disney World conjures up images of kids in strollers, characters roaming the parks and a lot of mouse shaped things. And, sure enough, as soon as you walk into the parks, you feel like a kid again- you’re excited to get your picture taken with Pluto, wait in line for Space Mountain, and buy a pair of sparkly mouse ears because, magic.

Disney may be extra special for kids, but I’ve come to appreciate it more as an adult through vacations and runDisney events. One of the best parts of visiting Disney as an adult? Seeking out the best spots to grab a drink when you need a break from the magic madness.

Whatever your reasons for visiting Disney, you have to appreciate the attention to detail everywhere from the resorts to the parks- it’s truly astounding. And yes, I recognize Disney isn’t technically a city, but it sure is big enough with enough to do to warrant a spot on this list.

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New Orleans

New Orleans is a city bursting at the seams with Caribbean vibes and Cajun attitude.

In Nola, it’s all about the details. Strings of beads are draped on cast-iron balconies year-round, an assortment of cultures, and live music bring Bourbon Street to life. There’s savory beignets for breakfast and steamed crawfish for dinner. It’s the perfect place to spend a long weekend.

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Charleston

Charleston is the epitome of Southern charm. Quaint streets lined with sprawling, pastel homes and palm trees. Some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. And, seriously good eats.

After spending a long weekend in downtown Charleston, I realized nothing is truer than this statement: north is a direction, south is a lifestyle.

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San Francisco & Napa and Sonoma

San Francisco is the kind of city that never gets old, no matter how many times you visit, because there’s always something new to do or explore. Having been to San Francisco a few times, I have my go-to recos for things to do or see, but also have a slew of things I still want to do on return trips.

Located on a peninsula surrounded by water, San Francisco’s climate is mild year-round, although summers tend to be on the cool side. If the weather is a bit chilly during your visit, and you’re in the mood for warmer temps, plus some wine, head an hour north to Napa and Sonoma.

My first visit to wine country felt intimidating- so many wineries! According to Lonely Planet, there are over 600 wineries in Napa and Sonoma Counties. But it’s quality, not quantity, that sets the region apart – especially in Napa, which competes with France and doubles as an outpost of San Francisco’s top-end culinary scene. Sonoma prides itself on agricultural diversity, with you-pick-em orchards and roadside fruit stands.

Fortunately, one of my girlfriends has grown to love wine as much as me, and every year we plan a weekend back to the region. Rolling hills, blue skies and vineyards as far as the eye can see make California’s wine country a relaxing and fun weekend getaway.

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Portland

If you like to shop and eat, Portland is the town for you. Usually, when I’m in the PNW, it’s to visit Seattle, so I haven’t spent as much time in Portland as I’d like. If you’re visiting for the weekend, get ready for days filled with walking all over the city, popping into shops and eating and drinking all of the delicious things.

And, like in Seattle, just outside the city, there are a lot of outdoorsy activities to do, including hiking the Oneota Gorge. Off I-84 near Mulnomah Falls outside of Portland, Oregon, the Oneonta Gorge is one of those bucket list natural wonders- you kind of have to see it to believe it.

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Chicago

The third largest city in the US (by population) is known by a multitude of nicknames- The Windy City, the Second City, the City of Broad Shoulders- and for good reason. There’s a lot to do in Chicago, from cultural gems like the Art Institute to exploring the city’s booming food scene.

If you’re only visiting for a weekend, it’s impossible to do everything, but there are some things that shouldn’t be skipped over. It’s been a while since I’ve been to Chicago, but I’m hoping I’ll be able to spend a few days becoming reacquainted with the city on a return trip to the US- already excited to revisit a few of my favorite places and check out some new restaurants and bars that have popped.

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Honorable Mentions to: Denver, Savannah, Pittsburgh and San Diego.

On my list of cities to visit on return trips to the US over the next few years?

  • St. George, Utah
  • Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona
  • Marfa, Texas
  • Billings, Montana (aka Big Sky Country)
  • Portland, Maine
  • Nashville, TN (I’ve only been there once for a conference)
  • Oahu, Hawaii

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Weekend Getaway: Portland, OR

If you like to shop and eat, Portland is the town for you. Usually, when I’m in the PNW, it’s to visit Seattle, so I haven’t spent as much time in Portland as I’d like. If you’re visiting for the weekend, get ready for days filled with walking all over the city, popping into shops and eating and drinking all of the delicious things.

My list of favorite places admittedly doesn’t scratch the surface of what Portland has to offer. Putting this post together has me yearning for another trip to this hipster-friendly town.

Interesting Attractions

  • Explore Nob Hill: Walk up and down NW 23rd avenue, window shopping as you go. I love this stretch of shops because most of them are small businesses
  • Taste different craft brews at Deschutes Brewery, Rogue Brewery and Base Camp Brewing. Portland is home to 60+ breweries, so you’re bound to come across at least one of them on your trip
  • Check out Portland’s famed food carts: I dig this map to use as a guide to all the carts
  • Relax at the Japanese Gardens: I haven’t been to these gardens, but they’re a repeat recommendation from friends who’ve visited Portland in the spring or fall
  • Spend time in nature: If you have enough time, I recommend leaving the city for a day trip to visit either Canon Beach or The Oneonta Gorge. Although I’ve never been, I’ve heard Multnomah Falls are also worth a trip

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Where to Shop

  • Powell’s City of Books: Swoon. Shelves upon shelves of books, I could easily spend a few hours browsing here
  • Canoe: Adorable furniture store
  • Alder & Co: Clothing, cool jewelry and home goods
  • Cargo: Love, love, love this shop- it began as a local project to connect the city with artisans from around the world. Cool place to browse imported architectural pieces, textiles, jewelry and party goods
  • Schoolhouse Electric Supply Company: Amazing place to shop for housewares

  • Union Way: Shopping gallery inspired by the passageways in Paris. Two of my fav shops to check out if you wander through: Danner for leather goods and Spruce Apothecary for lotions

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Where to Eat

Where to start? So many great places, I’ve organized my list by coffee/cafes, doughnuts, lunch/dinner options, and finally dessert picks

  • Heart: Great lattes and cold brew 
  • Stumptown: A PDX classic, fuel up on coffee and then head across the street to the Ace Hotel to take a picture in the iconic photo booth
  • Good Coffee: The chai has a nice flavor, but they’re known for their espresso drinks
  • Voodoo Doughnuts: Famous for a reason, definitely get a jelly-filled voodoo doughnut, but also try one of their daily flavors- love the one covered in chocolate and Oreos
  • Blue Star Donuts: IMO, these taste better than Voodoo, but I think going to Voodoo is fun for the experience. If they have the blueberry bourbon with basil when you visit, def order it
  • Pip’s: The cutest baby doughnuts, and a great homemade chai  

  • Sweedeedee: Top-notch breakfast cafe, order the breakfast burrito and honey pie

  • Mother’s Bistro: Another great breakfast/brunch option with solid kitchen classics, like scrambles, Belgian waffles and fluffy, homemade biscuits
  • Por Que No: A good brunch place on the weekend or spot for weeknight dinner. For sure order the chips and salsa and have a margarita. Really enjoyed the tacos here as well 
  • Hot Lips: Veggie pizza is on point here, but asparagus eggplant pizza whaaat! If you’re into kombucha, try their local brew
  • Bamboo Sushi: Some of the best sushi I’ve ever had, lots of different veggie options to try if raw fish isn’t quite your thing
  • Ava Gene’s: Delicious Italian dishes, a lot of which are vegetarian friendly. Get the burrata, you won’t regret it. Not sure if it’s still on the menu, but the corn agnolotti lobster was to-die-for 
  • Salt & Straw Ice Cream: Small batch ice cream with inventive flavors. The honey balsamic strawberry was my fav when I visited
  • Moonstruck Chocolate Company: Try the Mayan hot chocolate and sample a few of the mini chocolates, they’re all delicious

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Where to Drink: 

  • Deschutes Brewery, Rogue Brewery,  Base Camp Brewing or any of the city’s other breweries for a craft brew
  • Cooper’s Hall: Wine on tap, two thumbs up. Also love the ceiling here- white, industrial with cool lighting 
  • Shift Drinks: Cool spot downtown to grab a drink with a good cocktail menu
  • Multnomah Whisky Library: Perfect place for pre-dinner cocktails- speakeasy-esque bar in an old piano building. If you’re a whiskey drinker, you need to come here
  • Teardrop: Let the mixologists make you a drink, just tell them what kind of flavor profiles you like
  • Reverand Nats Cider: I’m a big cider fan, so it’s no surprise I really enjoyed the taproom here- definitely try the seasonal varieties if you visit

 

Getting Around Portland

  • When I was in Portland, I walked everywhere or took the TriMet (bus or Max Light Rail). If you want to make the most of your time in Portland, or want to check out some of the natural wonders just outside the city, I recommend renting a car.

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PS. Love this ultimate bucket list, 101 Things to Do in Portland.

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Road Trip: Seattle to Northern Cali

Growing up, I always wanted to take a true road trip. There was something so alluring about going off the beaten path and discovering the unknown. Two summers ago, I decided it was finally time to embark on said road trip.

Luckily one of my best friends was game enough to ride along. Over the course of seven days, we drove from Seattle through Oregon to Northern California and back to Seattle.

What I learned: Road trips take a lot of patience. We saw unreal natural phenomenons and covered a lot of ground. There’s no denying it was a great trip- but, I’m not the kind of person who can sit in a car for hours without cell service (hello Highway 101). A bucket list trip for the books but next time, you’ll find me on a beach or exploring a new city.

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Trip Highlights:

  • Started in Seattle, fueled up on doughnuts from Top Pot for breakfast
  • Drove to Astoria, stopped to stretch and climb the Astoria Column for a breathtaking view

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  • To round out our first day, we stuffed our faces with cheese at the Tillamook Cheese Factory (seriously, so nom)
  • If you ever find yourself spending the night in Coos Bay, OR, have breakfast at the Pancake Mill. You won’t regret it, it’s the cutest little place with surprisingly fresh and delicious omelets (bonus points for homemade jam!). Also, the coastal views in this cozy town are unreal

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  • Albeit, I learned I am most definitely not a camping person, I enjoyed sleeping under the stars and majestic redwoods, and roasting marshmallows for one night (camping hack: dip the marshmallows in Bailey’s before layering onto a s’more)

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  • As we continued our drive down Northern California, we drove down the Avenue of Giants (equal parts peaceful and jaw dropping), and through the Chandelier Tree

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  • Before heading across the state to Yosemite, we shucked oysters along the coast at Tomales Bay Oyster Company. I’m spoiled for life now, fresh oysters with a touch of Sriracha and lime are incredible

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Once we made it to NoCal, we spent two nights in Merced (about an hour from Yosemite).

Our one day in Yosemite didn’t even scratch the surface of what Yosemite has to offer. It’s simply not possible to do the park justice through words.

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I’ve heard every National Park should be visited at least twice. I take this approach to a lot of cities I visit- the first time, I try to experience some of the popular spots that make the city what it is, and the second time, I travel a bit more off the beaten path.

Because we only had one day in Yosemite, we opted to check off a few of the must-sees everyone raves about.

Tunnel View: We started our day here, after entering the park from southwestern entrance (we stayed in Merced the night before visiting)

  • If you want to camp in Yosemite, reserve space at a campground months in advance. By the time we started checking availability, almost everything was booked. We decided it made more sense to stay in Merced (about an hour outside Yosemite). It would have been great to wake up in nature, but having Starbucks for early mornings and In-n-Out burger to refuel after a long day of hiking worked out well for us

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  • Bridalviel Falls: When we visited in mid-June, the falls were already a mere trickle. It’s a quick (<10 minutes) walk to the base of the falls, and worth checking out even if the water flow has slowed because it’s one of the most iconic waterfalls in the park. The falls get their name from the Ahwahneechee Native American tribe, which believed inhaling the mist would improve your chances of getting married
  • The Valley floor gets mixed reviews, some people say it’s overrun with tourists and too commercial. While these things are true, it’s also part of what made Yosemite so famous to begin with and worth checking out to see Upper & Lower Yosemite falls, as well as Mirror Lake. And, if you’re an Ansel Adams fan, spend five minutes admiring the photo collection that’s taken home here, the shots are stunning
  • Lower Yosemite FallsThe shuttle stops directly at the Lower Yosemite Falls and it’s an easy walk to the base (you’ll also see Upper Yosemite Falls). When we visited, the falls were flowing but we were still able to climb a few dozen rocks at the base to get closer. If you’re trying to save time, get on a bus from the visitor’s parking lot and take it to stop number 6 to walk the trail out to see these falls.

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  • Mirror Lake has to be the definition of serenity. Even though it was a relaxing hike, if I’m at Yosemite again, I’ll probably opt to do Taft Point- a slightly longer hike, but unparalleled views

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  • Glacier Point is, in one word, breathtaking. Half Dome is spectacular and so are the views of Yosemite Valley, Bridalveil Fall and El-Capitan. We ended our day with a drive to the lookout
  • Bonus recommendation: We opted not to see Mariposa Grove after spending a few days in the Redwood National and State Parks on our road trip, but I hope I’m able to stand face to face with the giant Sequoias in Yosemite someday

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Next, we moved onto wine country. Vine-covered hillsides, lush greenery, culinary hot spots and hundreds of wineries- what’s not to love? On this tripe, we decided to re-visit a few of the wineries we’d enjoyed on previous trips, and explore a few new ones as well.

Every day in wine country should start with a sparkling flight. On our first day, we started at Mumm Napa with a toast on the patio.

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Our second day began with us returning to Domaine Carneros (a favorite from our first trip), and I’d have to say is still my preference for sparkling. It’s really just an un-matchable experience- top-notch sparkling wine on a beautiful terrace with gorgeous vineyard views.

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If a lazy, afternoon picnic in the shade with lots of cheese and blue-cheese stuffed olives is your thing, V. Sattui is the place to be.

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They say one cannot think well, love well or sleep well if one has not dined well. Our first night in Napa, we dined downtown at Uva Trattoria Italiana and indulged in handmade gnocchi with a Gorgonzola reduction. And, because we were on vacation, we also stopped at the Carpe Diem Wine Bar for delicious bread pudding to complete the evening.

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The next morning we had brunch at Fremont Diner, what a hidden gem! Cute, rustic atmosphere with great food. Order the grilled cheese and chicken & waffles, and eat outside with the chickens.

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Wine & cheese o’clock, anyone? I dare you to find a winery in Napa or Sonoma that doesn’t offer a cheese tasting (they’re few and far between). Although we only did one cheese/wine pairing this trip, think we picked a winner with Kendall-Jackson Estate. Perfect experience, great pairings and generous pours.

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With so many wineries in the region, it can be daunting to figure out which ones warrant a visit. Click here to check out my favorite spots in Napa & Sonoma.

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Kicking and screaming, we left wine country to head back to Seattle, splitting up the drive with a stop at the Oneonta Gorge. I’d first learned about the gorge on BuzzFeed, and we’d read the reviews on Trip Advisor, but really, nothing can prepare you.

A reminder to never lose our sense of wonder, the gorge is an unusual and beautiful place.

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It’s only a half mile hike to the waterfall, but it’s not for the faint of heart. Climbing over a log jam and wading through waist deep water were the least of our worries.

At times, the stream is the actual trail, and pending what time of the year you visit, water levels may be pretty high. When we visited in June, water in the final passage before the falls was high (6-7 feet) and freezing. It’s a shock to the system, but worth it to get to the other side. Pro tip: Bring a change of clothes for afterwards.

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Post-gorge explorations, we got back on the road and set our sights on arriving in Seattle in time for dinner. Seattle is undoubtedly one of my favorite cities in the world- quirky music and art, the great outdoors, first-rate local produce, and adventure. Every time I visit Seattle, I’m reminded of how eclectic of a city it is.

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If you plan on visiting Seattle for a few days, check out my favorite things to do and see in the city.

All in all, it was a phenomenal trip- we learned to enjoy the journey and explore the open road.

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Hiking Oregon’s Oneota George

Off I-84 near Mulnomah Falls outside of Portland, Oregon, the Oneonta Gorge is one of those bucket list natural wonders.

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Really, nothing can prepare you for the Gorge- it’s one of those things you have to see to believe.

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It’s a short hike, but there are a few obstacles to climb and wade around- plan to get wet and crawl over logs to get to the falls. You’ll be wading through water in a cave-like experience, so wear water shoes and bring a change of clothes for afterwards.

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At times, the stream is the actual trail, and pending what time of the year you visit, water levels may be pretty high. When we visited in June, water in the final passage before the falls was high (6-7 feet) and freezing. It’s a shock to the system, but worth it to get to the other side.

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Tip: Be cautious about your electronics, put them in waterproof containers before you start the hike.

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Climbing fallen timber, walls covered in emerald green moss, and sparkling waterfalls make the hike an incredible experience. On a hot day, visiting the Gorge would be the perfect afternoon activity if you’re visiting Portland.

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A reminder to never lose our sense of wonder, the Gorge is an unusual and beautiful place.

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