Sunday

It's the FREAKIN' WEEKENDER: Austin, TX

Looking for a cool place to get away to for a weekend? Enjoy great food, lively music, fun nightlife, close proximity to a lake, and a whole lot more? Look no further than Austin, Texas. M just got back from three days in Austin and we figured no better time than now to highlight a few must do's on a trip to Austin!


Franklin BBQ:  
A trip to Austin is not complete without some show stopping barbecue.  We elected to get Franklin's, as it was a quick 10 minute cab ride from where we stayed downtown.  The line to get food is no joke, as you should be prepared to wait for over an hour to get food.  Once something runs out, it's off the menu, so there are no guarantees....unless.... you pre-order your BBQ!  We did this for our group and it was maybe the smartest decision of the trip.  Our food was ready to pick up promptly and we skipped the entire line.  The only catch is that you have to order 5 or more pounds of food, but seriously, it's worth it.  Check out the easy pre-order page here.  The brisket topped with texas style bbq sauce was my personal favorite, but it honestly was all delicious.


Juan in a Million:

While we're on the subject of food, be sure to check out Juan in a Million for outrageously good breakfast tacos.  A no nonsense, diner style spot serving up traditional Mexican food on a daily basis, this was my favorite breakfast of the trip.  You really can't go wrong with anything on the menu, but the chorizo & egg breakfast taco stole the show for me.

Insider tip:  They offer pick-up orders, and the salsa is spicy!


Lake Travis:
Hands down my favorite day of the trip was our afternoon on Lake Travis.  Just outside of downtown Austin, Lake Travis is about a 40 minute drive away.  Our group rented a pontoon boat for four hours to take us out on Lake Travis on a picture perfect Friday afternoon.  We rented through Good Time Tours which I would highly recommend.  Depending on your group size there are tons of different options, but for our group (of 8) the size of the boat and the price was a perfect fit. The boat had a grill, water slide, ipod hook up, plenty of seating, an upper deck, and a cooler all on board.  Captain Kris could not have been a better host, cooking all our food for us while allowing us to just kick back and enjoy the afternoon.  Check out the video below from our afternoon on the lake.




Rainey Street:
We chose to forego the lively 6th street area and spent the majority of our time out exploring Rainey street.  Rainey features bungalow style homes that have been converted into bars with outdoor areas, making for a unique night out experience.  Each spot is different and offers its own character and charm.  Grab a local brew and sit outside at Clive.  Sample some of the best craft beer around while listening to live music at Craft Pride.  Get your sausage fix at Bangers (the fried chicken sausage is a must have). Swing by Container Bar (made up of all storage containers) and head upstairs to watch the bustle of people walk down Rainey street on a Saturday night.  The possibilities are endless.  A full list of spots is available here.
Bangers (courtesy: raineystbars.com)
Insider tip: Aside from Bangers, most of the other bars don't offer food.  But there are food trucks aplenty, some even in the backyards of the bars!

Have you been to Austin? What was your favorite spot? Tell us in the comment section below and thanks for reading!

Saturday

Click, Click, Zoom!

Hey loyal blog readers! We're submitting one of our pictures from our South African adventure for this great photo contest and need your help choosing which photo to enter!

Take a look at the six pictures below and vote for your favorite in the comment section. Thanks for your help and thanks for reading!


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Monday

Cha Cha Slide down to the Chachagua Rainforest Hotel in Costa Rica!

Sometimes B gets antsy.  She is constantly planning a trip and is ready to pack her bag in an instant (yes, singular bag as she lives and dies by the "carry-on only" rule).  We are great together because she forces me to be more spontaneous while I reel her in and bring her back down to Earth a little bit. B is in Costa Rica for the week so I figured it was a great opportunity to give a hotel review from the first time we went to Costa Rica together.  I bring up B's wanderlust nature only because that is how our trip to CR came about in the first place.  It went something like this:

(M at work. Receives text message)
B- Hey what do you think about going to Costa Rica sometime?

M- Sounds great.  Let's do some research when I get home tonight.

B- Ok great, because I booked a trip for us! Love you, see you tonight!

(M lets out heavy sigh and slowly realizes what he's gotten himself into)

Five weeks later we were boarding a plane with our destination being a self-sustainable farm called the Chachagua Rainforest Hotel & Hacienda (pronounced cha-chew-ah not cha-cha-gua, which we were having fun saying!)

Chachagua is located just outside of La Fortuna, about a three hour drive from the San Jose airport. We opted for a car service although renting a car is also an option.  Infrastructure in Costa Rica has dramatically improved over the years with the main roads being very drivable.  However, if you're going to a somewhat remote location as we were, the driving can get very tricky akin to ATV off-roading, so car service it was!  Chachagua Rainforest Hotel is listed in the book "1000 Places to Go Before You Die" so it had quite a reputation to live up to.


Upon arriving we were greeted by friendly staff with a delicious fruit beverage. The check in process was simple and they provided us with an umbrella for our stay (it's the rainforest after all!) The grounds of the resort were breathtaking, situated on 300 acres of rainforest, farm, and resort areas, it truly felt like paradise. If you are the type of person who needs nightlife, THIS IS NOT THE PLACE FOR YOU! If you are looking to be as close to nature as possible and spend your days relaxing by the pool, hiking the nature trails, and exploring the area THIS IS FOR YOU!




Resort:
There are so many awesome things to do right at the resort.  They offer daily guided rainforest hikes (or you can explore on your own) which give an amazing look at the local scenery.  They also offer a horseback riding tour that offers breathtaking views.  And if getting up on the horse isn't your thing, you can just go visit them in the steeple along with the other animals on site.  A natural spring provides fresh water for the pool which makes for a clean, refreshing dip on hot days.  Many afternoons were spent reading and relaxing by the pool during our time at Chachagua.

An absolute must at Chachagua is the night time nature walk. The jungle comes alive once the sun goes down, as many nocturnal animals come out.  Surrounded by the sounds of the jungle as you walk with just a flashlight around a short 1 mile loop was such an incredibly unique experience.  We spotted a few tree frogs, including the very small glass frog on our walk.  No jaguars, which was a good thing!

And if all this wasn't enough, Chachagua had a huge bonus that we discovered once we got there....a fantastic resort dog! Canela , meaning cinnamon in spanish, is the resident dog at Chachagua and was our best buddy for the week we spent there.  She even came on some hikes with us.






Room:
We stayed in a Rainforest Bungalow (a free upgrade when we arrived, thanks Chachagua!) which was the absolute perfect room for the two of us.  The room had a private deck with a hammock and bench, which was perfect for relaxing during the quick Costa Rican rainstorms that usually came once a day. A spacious room with a comfy bed was excellent, but the amazing rain shower in the bathroom stole the show.

Food:
The food at Chachagua was nothing short of fantastic.  Three meals a day were offered at specific times, making eating an event we looked forward to.  Every meal was delicious, but my favorite was the 'typical lunch' which consisted of rice, beans, fresh salad, organic pan fried chicken, and a sweet plantain.  It was simple, made with fresh organic ingredients from on site, and was absolutely outstanding.  For dinner, the fish was always amazing.  As an added bonus, you can borrow a fishing pole and try and catch your own dinner from the tilapia pond. You can also explore the farm lands and see where all that delicious organic food comes from.



Other Activities:
One of the best parts about Chachagua is the fact that you really don't need to go anywhere else if you don't want to.  However, if you're feeling adventurous and want to see what else Costa Rica has to offer the friendly staff is happy to help arrange activities.  We left on two different occasions; once to hike up the Arenal Volcano & visit a local hot spring, and another time to go zip lining over the rainforest.  Both activities are highly recommended and were based out of the neighboring La Fortuna, so just a quick cab ride away.


All in all, an amazing experience in Costa Rica that wouldn't have been possible without B and her wanderlust spirit!  Have you been to Chachagua or Costa Rica? Tell us about your experience in the comment section below!


Friday

When Nature Calls: Visiting National Parks

Travel & Camping tips


Traveling to National Parks has become such an obsession of ours that we try to see at least one new park every year.  In the past two years we've done camping trips to both Yosemite and Joshua Tree, while a trip to Zion National Park is fast approaching this fall. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service- what better time to pack your backpack and head out into nature?! Here are some of our tips if you are traveling to a National Park...


If camping, reserve your campsite six months in advance:  National Parks that take reservations usually have their campsites open up six months in advance, and the good ones get swooped up FAST.  If you have a trip planned more than six months out, do a little research about some of the better spots and snatch one of those good sites.  Reservations can be made here. Many parks have campgrounds that are first come, first serve. When we are traveling 6+ hours by plane and many more hours by car to get there, we prefer to make reservations. If your schedule is a little more flexible then consider one of the first come, first serve spots.

Pack smart: A good pair of hiking shoes, dark clothing (hides the dirt), a hat, extra pairs of socks, and lightweight layers can go a long way.  The temperature can fluctuate A LOT at many of the west coast parks (for example: Yosemite on Friday was 54 degrees at 6 am & 85 degrees at 1 pm) so lightweight layers that you can easily shed midway through the morning hikes are a must.

Plan for early mornings and early nights:  Watching the sunrise while camping at a National Park is a must.  The colors are like nothing that can be described.  As for the night it gets dark fast- a fire and star gazing is the perfect way to cap off the day.

Familiarize yourself with the park you're visiting:  While some things about National Parks are the same (amazing views, fun camping, great hikes, tons of nature, etc) each one is very unique. Yosemite has bear lockers to keep your food in while Joshua Tree only takes reservations for a few camp sites, all the others are first come first serve.  For a snapshot of the National Park you plan on visiting this website is very helpful.  For camping reservations and info check out this website

Bonus, some of our favorite camping gadgets:
Headlamps
Jetboil personal water boiling system
Great campfire chair


WATCH OUT FOR BEARS!



What's your favorite National Park? Let us know in the comment section below!

Vino, Vino, Vici: A Weekend in Wine Country

It's the FREAKIN' WEEKENDER: Wine Country, CA

We're heading out west to wine country and Petaluma, California (Bonus: Sonoma, California also!)

Petaluma is a beautiful city in Sonoma County right smack dab in the middle of wine country.  Only about 45 minutes north of San Francisco it makes for a great little getaway spot for anyone living in San Fran! 



While there are a handful of hotels in Petaluma & Sonoma, we would highly recommend finding a unique Air BnB in the area.  During our time visiting we stayed in a converted barn loft on a horse farm.  There was nothing like coming home in the evening and being greeted by our 'barn mates'.  






Saturday

An early morning drive to Muir Woods: Located right outside of San Francisco, Muir Woods National Monument is the world's most visited redwood park and is well worth the drive.  An easy one mile flat walk serpentines you through these massive trees that are close to 1,000 years old.  The drive in is equally exciting, taking you on a winding mountain road with breathtaking views.


Lunch on the river in Petaluma:  Head back to Petaluma for lunch on the river.  With plenty of places to choose from pick a spot and enjoy a meal outdoors.  TAPS beer co. & Dempsey's offer good food and great views.



Dinner in Sonoma:  The Girl & the Fig is advertised as "country food with a French passion" and this spot delivers. The menu is always evolving with the seasons, and features plenty of local, fresh ingredients. A personal favorite was the duck confit, but the wine flight is a must with any meal (you're in wine country!)




Sunday

Wine Tastings: Be sure to try at least a couple different wineries, as each winery in the Petaluma/Sonoma area has something unique to offer.  Our two favorites were Sebastiani Vineyards and Winery & Buena Vista Winery. Sebastiani Winery is walkable from downtown Sonoma while Buena Vista is a 10 minute drive from downtown.  A tasting (or five) is always the way to go.  We left with a bottle from each spot!
Travelers tip: Make reservations for tastings! 

Dinner at Sauced BBQ & Spirits: What better way to cap off a long day of tasting wine than enjoying some delicious barbecue.  Bringing genuine southern BBQ to Northern California the menu is extensive and the food delicious.  Bring a friend or two and get a couple different plates of BBQ to share.
Travelers tip: 'Sauced' doesn't only refer to the extensive beer list, there are some really delicious sauces to choose from for the BBQ.  You can even buy a bottle to take home!  


Bonus Travel Tip: Sonoma County hosts a bunch of really cool fairs and festivals year round.  For a complete list click here. We lucked into being there during the Harvest Fair in October and tried our hand (or should we say foot) at grape stomping! We came in 2nd place... no big deal ;)



Have you been to Sonoma County or do you live in the area and have more suggestions? Share the wealth in the comments below! 

Sunday

Sun's out, (Hot Dog) Buns out on Coney Island!


Looking for the ultimate 4th of July weekend? Book a trip to Brooklyn for a once in a lifetime experience!

Q+A with Jon Hein, fast food/pop culture expert & TV/radio personality


FastFoodManiacBook.com
Q- In your book, Fast Food Maniac, you talk about how special Coney Island is to you and your family. What makes it such a great summer destination?

A- Coney Island has everything you could want out of a summer trip. The beach, the boardwalk, some nostalgia, and of course the Original Nathan's. You can even catch a Cyclones game, ride the Cyclone, or go on a host of other amusement park rides. The place bleeds nostalgia and it's fun. If you want to capture the essence of a summer day in New York, Coney Island is the place to be.




Q- Easy transition here... 4th of July + Coney Island = Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest! You have been to the event so tell us a little about that, and similar to "Times Square for New Year's Eve" or "New Orleans for Mardi Gras", should Coney Island for 4th of July be a "Bucket List" event for travelers? 
Photo from "Fast Food Maniac"

A- Everyone should experience the Hot Dog Eating Contest at some point in their lives. Forget about the contestants gorging themselves on way too many frankfurters. All the people down on the boardwalk are there to celebrate and have fun --- and it is a sight to see! Is it cheesy? Absolutely! And that's just part of the fun. When it's all over, you get fireworks, and a beach front boardwalk stroll, topped off by the best hot dogs and fries on the planet.
Courtesy NathansFamous.com
Q- What is the craziest hot dog you have ever eaten and is there any dog that rivals Nathan's?

A- I'm a purist. The Coney Island Nathan's Hot Dog is so good that you don't even need to put mustard, sauerkraut, or any other topping on it. There's definitely something in that Coney Island water, because a hot dog from that spot in Brooklyn tastes better than a Nathan's Hot Dog from anywhere else. Nothing comes close.





Q- For those people opting for a 4th of July stay-cation, can you offer up any grilling tips?

A- A grill is a requirement on the Fourth. You can barbecue practically anything these days, but on the Fourth, burgers and hot dogs are a must. I like throwing some corn on there in addition to some skirt steak and chicken kabobs. I'll even put a veggie burger on for non-meat eaters, but the basics are a must to honor the birthday of the greatest Nation in the world.

For more of Jon's grilling tips check out this video
Follow Jon @jonhein on Twitter!

Hope to see you on the boardwalk to celebrate the 4th of July and the 100th Anniversary of Nathan's Famous

Questions about Coney Island? Hit us up below!

Friday

Just own the Night like the 4th of July

The 4th of July is not just a chance to sing Katy Perry's "Firework" (ahem.. B..), it is also a chance to check out some REAL fireworks displays! Every city brags that they have the best display so we have narrowed it down to our three favorite fireworks displays in the USA for your viewing pleasure!

New York City's Macy's 4th of July Fireworks

The 40th anniversary of the biggest fireworks show in the country has some big things planned for this year.  With 56 thousand shells set to be fired off into the sky this year's show will be the biggest since the millennial show back in 2000.  Set to begin around 9:25pm, the 25-minute display will feature some unique fireworks such as disappearing and reappearing fireworks called ghost shells, and pyro-writing to spell out USA in the sky.  Now this can be tricky, the display rotates between the East side and the West side. This year find a spot with a view of the East River, bring a picnic (obviously we suggest this!), and enjoy one of the best fireworks shows of the year. 
For event info & viewing tips, click here
Courtesy NewYork.com
Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular

This historic fireworks show accompanied by music by the famous Boston Pops orchestra is one of the most visually appealing shows in the country.  Set on the banks of the Charles River, viewers enjoy a show of impressive fireworks and great music, and did we mention REAL cannon fire?!  The concert this year starts at 8:30 pm, with the fireworks show set to begin at 10:30 pm.  If you're not planning on going to the concert, set up anywhere along the Esplanade for a terrific view. Also an option- make a friend with a roof deck in Beacon Hill! That is where some of our favorite 4th of July's were spent back in the ol' days! Admission is free for the concert so get their early to enjoy everything this great display has to offer!
For event info & viewing tips, click here

Courtesy Boston.com
San Diego's Big Bay Boom

Touting the claim as the largest fireworks display on the West Coast, the Big Bay Boom lights up the sky with fireworks launched from four different barges on the San Diego bay.  With more than half a million people expected on hand to enjoy the 18 minute show, it promises to be one of the biggest displays in the show's history.  Sync up the whole experience by listening to a simultaneous music broadcast on 105.7 FM.  The fireworks show starts at 9 pm, so set up at your favorite spot along the Bay and enjoy what expects to be a huge show. Let's just hypothetically say that you don't get a good view, you're still in San Diego so that will make for a good night regardless! 
For event info & viewing tips, click here
Courtesy BigBayBoom.com

Let us know in the comment below where you watch the colors burst and make you go "Ahh", "Ahh", "Ahh" as they shoot across the "sky", "sky", "sky".... B, STOP SINGING!