Atlanta Restaurant Bucket List: King + Duke

A few months ago, I posted about my Atlanta Restaurant Bucket List. I have a good friend in Atlanta who is always down to go on foodie adventures with me, and every few months I try to get back over to Atlanta to check some more restaurants off the list.

This past weekend, I had to go to Atlanta for a friend’s party, so I came in a night before to check a restaurant off the list. Prior to my visit, I had sent my friend the list and told him to just pick one and make reservations. He chose King + Duke, another Ford Fry masterpiece (last time we visited The Optimist), this one focused on open-hearth seasonal cooking.

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We like to go all out on our meals together, so of course we never can pass up drinks or starters. K+D has an incredible craft cocktail menu and I was immediately drawn to the Duke “James and the Giant Peach.” With Buffalo Trace Bourbon, honey roasted peaches, lemon, and mint, it was so refreshing and a cocktail I could drink all summer long.

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With some many great starter options on the menu, we couldn’t choose just one, so we opted for three: Deviled Eggs, Pimiento Cheese Hushpuppies, and Avocado Toast. Had we known we would also be getting Yorkshire pudding as the complimentary bread offering, we probably didn’t need to indulge so much, but we couldn’t resist! And can I just interject here that Ford Fry is a master with his breads? The Yorkshire pudding was so deliciously eggy and warm inside with a crisp outside and just pure perfection. Remember my last Atlanta post where I raved about his dinner rolls at the Optimist?!

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Ok, back to the appetizers. The deviled eggs had an incredibly creamy yolk filling, the pimiento cheese hushpuppies were moist and served over a bed of homemade pimiento cheese and topped with a spicy pepper jelly, and the avocado toast was incredibly fresh with micro greens, salty ricotta salata, and crunchy radish on top of avocado mash smeared on a thick slab of crusty bread. And aren’t they all so beautiful?!

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For my entree, I ordered the Springer Mountain (half) Chicken. It was phenomenal. It had a roasted-on-the-hearth taste that gave it a smoky, earthy flavor. The chicken was moist and the skin was just slightly crisped. It was served over panzanella, but we’d had so much bread in our appetizers, I really just focused on the chicken.

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My friend ordered the Duck “Coq au vin,” and while I can’t speak on it because I don’t like duck, he said the chicken was much better. Although, the roasted summer vegetables it came with were great.

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For our dinner side (as if we needed any more food), we got the Heirloom Tomato salad. Oh my lawd. This was hands-down the best tomato salad I have ever had. We couldn’t get enough of it. It was full of gorgeous, colorful heirloom tomatoes and cherry tomatoes, mixed with cucumbers and topped with shaved pecorino cheese. AND THE DRESSING — literally could not get enough. It was a peppercorn dressing with such a rich, milky flavor that complemented the tomatoes perfectly. After we ate all the tomatoes, we started taking pieces of bread from my panzanella and dipping in it (so much for too much bread). We even took home what remained of the sauce to eat with my leftover chicken.

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And then because how could we come this far and not have dessert?! We ordered the Sticky Toffee Pudding with Vanilla Ice Cream. Again, incredible. Did we need it? No. Are we glad we got it? Hell. Yeah.

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Definitely check out King + Duke next time you’re in Atlanta. Request to be seated on the patio if the weather is nice. We sat outside and it is a lovely place for happy hour, drinks, or dinner.

A New Addition

The next morning for breakfast, my friend took me to a place that wasn’t originally on my bucket list, but he informed me it should be. Home Grown has been around in Atlanta for a long time, serving up breakfast and lunch made from local produce, but at an affordable price. It’s your typical no-frills Southern joint, and has become a staple for down home Southern cooking; even the likes of Presidents have visited.

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We went Sunday morning and waited for about 25 minutes for a table, but not to worry, Home Grown puts out coffee for those who just can’t wait for their table. We were eventually seated in a cozy table in the back, across from the consignment thrift store housed in the back of the restaurant! Such a unique atmosphere.

We all ordered the Comfy Chicken Biscuit because it’s one of their specialties and it couldn’t have been a more perfect Southern breakfast. Thin sliced chicken cutlets were fried in a crispy, peppery batter and served over fluffy biscuits, and topped with an incredible sausage gravy. The gravy was just as rich as you’d hope it to be, but wasn’t too heavy or salty. I ate every single bite of my dish. And now I’m craving it again. Why am I writing this while I’m hungry?!

Anyway, I’m so glad my friend introduced me to Home Grown and I highly recommend you all add it to your ATL Bucket Lists!

Stay tuned for more posts in the future as I regularly update my restaurant list!

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A Foodie Weekend in New York City

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Happy Tuesday everyone! I just returned from an amazing, food-filled trip to New York City. I’ve been to the big city numerous times for numerous reasons in numerous seasons – Christmas trips, visits with relatives, job interviews, school trips, mission work, random fall weekends – but this was primarily a FOODIE WEEKEND! I had a US Airways companion pass that I needed to use by June 30, so my friend and I decided to head up to NYC to have a food- and drink-filled girls weekend. I have a lot of friends from college living in the city so it was also a great reunion with good friends I hadn’t seen in a couple of years.

We stayed in a friend’s beautiful apartment in the Upper East Side and enjoyed being able to walk to Central Park and great restaurants in the area. Since the friend who came with me and I had both been to the city before, we didn’t need to fill our time with tourist activities. I put together the perfect foodie itinerary for us so we got a taste of quite a few different neighborhoods around Manhattan. I’ve broken down where we ate by neighborhood, and would highly recommend all of these places!

Lower East Side

Russ & Daughters Cafe
This cafe is an off-shoot of the original Russ & Daughters shop specializing in smoked fish, caviar, and bagels and bialys. We couldn’t go to NYC without getting a bagel, so Russ & Daughters Cafe was our first stop for lunch when we got in on Friday. I got the Classic Board with a bialy and smoked salmon, cream cheese, tomatoes, onions, and capers. The salmon had the perfect smoked taste, the tomatoes were so fresh, and the bialy was amazing. If you don’t know, a bialy is similar to a bagel, but only has the hole in the top and is just baked instead of boiled and then baked. My friend got the Shtetl Board with smoked sable (black cod), goat cream cheese, tomato, onion, and capers. We also got housemade Blueberry Basil sodas to wash it all down with.

Stanton Social
Stanton social is a gourmet small plates restaurant that my New York friend said we absolutely had to go to. We took his advice and made dinner reservations for Saturday night. The three-story restaurant was packed and had a really cool and trendy atmosphere. Since it’s small plates, you order a bunch of dishes to share, and they come out as they’re ready, instead of all at once. There were four of us (one vegetarian, sorry Eva) and they told us 8-10 dishes were typical for 4 people but we decided to start with 6 and see how we felt after that. My favorites were the phenomenal Potato & Goat Cheese Pierogies with caramelized onions and truffle creme fraiche; the French Onion Soup Dumplings covered by a layer of baked melted cheese; and the Mexican Street Corn Ravioli with roasted poblano crema, jalapeño, cotija, and cilantro.

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French Onion Soup Dumplings

Everything we had though was delicious. The other dishes we got were Red Snapper Tacos, Chicken Arepas, and Chicken and Waffles that had Louisiana hot sauce butter that I want to put on all things, always. We felt totally satisfied after the 6 dishes, but I think it depends on what dishes you order (also our vegetarian friend obviously wasn’t eating all of them). It seemed like the dishes on the left side of the menu were a lot smaller than the ones on the right side, so I think it’s a matter of whether you order 6 little dishes or 6 larger dishes.

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Arepas and Mexican Street Corn Ravioli

The cocktails were also amazing. We tried the Strawberry Fields with Grey Goose Citron, muddled fresh strawberries, lemon syrup, fresh lemon, and a Riesling floater; and the Notorious F.I.G with Bulleit Bourbon, fresh fig, pear-cinnamon syrup, and fresh lemon.

Strawberry Fields Cocktail with pierogies to the right

Strawberry Fields Cocktail with pierogies to the right

Beauty and Essex
This was the coolest speakeasy lounge/bar right around the corner from Stanton Social. It doesn’t look like much from the outside and you walk through a pawn shop to get to it, but inside, it’s a huge three story lounge and restaurant that looks like a mansion. There are crystal chandeliers in every room, leather couches, and a grand staircase leading upstairs. It was packed. They have a list of handcrafted cocktails, and I opted for The Geoffrey with Milagro reposado tequila, cinnamon St. Germain, lemon, and Magners Cider. It tasted like an updated margarita, so of course I loved it.

Upper East Side

Felice 64
My friend whose apartment we were staying at recommended this Italian restaurant and wine bar for our dinner Friday night. We went to see An Act of God with Jim Parsons (Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory!) and were looking for some place to do a late dinner after since we’d had a late lunch. Felice 64 was just a block away from where we were staying, so it was perfect. I ordered the Risotto alle Capesante which was carnaroli rice risotto tossed in broccoli purée and served with seared scallops, buffalo ricotta cheese and lemon zest. It reminded me of my favorite pasta my grandma makes. It was delicious and I loved that they sliced the scallops up and mixed them in with the risotto. My friend ordered the Fusilli al Ferretto with homemade tomato sauce and burrata cheese. Also great – the pasta was homemade and the tomato sauce tasted very authentic. Plus burrata cheese is my favorite! (Sorry for the bad picture — the light was basically non-existent inside.)

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Cascabel Taqueria
We went here for brunch on Sunday because we couldn’t leave New York without doing bottomless brunch. And what goes better with bottomless brunch than Mexican food?! This taqueria offers refined Mexican street food and bottomless drinks for only $15 (a really good deal considering most drinks in NYC cost $15 for one). The best thing about the bottomless deal is that you can try as many of the eight drink options as you want — you’re not confined to just one drink. We tried the Sangria, La Lola (grapefruit juice, cava, and aperol), and the El Capitan (cava, passionfruit, and domain de canton). They were all so good! For food, I ordered the Chilaquiles with chicken and fried eggs and my friends got the Carnitas Benedict on cornbread with chipotle hollandaise. Everything was delicious!

Little Italy

Ferrara
Ferrara is a famous Italian bakery that you have probably heard of before. They have the best cannolis you’ll ever have. I always get the chocolate dipped ones. I also love their lobster tail pastries. They are huge and stuffed with so much cream they feel like they weigh two pounds each! You can get mini ones, too, but who wants that?! Go here for dessert and coffee one night or grab a sweet afternoon snack.

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Nolita

Cafe Habana
This little Cuban cafe has become known for their Mexican-style Grilled Corn and the affordable price they offer great food at (corn is only $3). There is a sit-down part of the restaurant and also a to-go counter around the corner where you can grab and go. We stopped in for an afternoon snack of the corn. It really is served true Mexican-style, grilled and coated with Cotija cheese and a sprinkle of hot chile powder on top. Be careful — the chile powder is very spicy, but you can always order it without. I wanted to eat this corn every day! We also got a side of plantains because I can never resist plantains.

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Chelsea // Chelsea Market

On Saturday, we went to Chelsea Market, a specialty food and product market, for lunch. We sampled dishes from a few different places. Here were my favorites:

Los Tacos No. 1
This place probably had the longest line but trust me, it’s worth it to wait in it. These are true Mexican and West Coast-style tacos, and the Carne Asada taco I had was one of the best I’ve ever had. The steak was so tender and flavorful, and was topped with guacamole, salsa, and onions and wrapped up in a corn (or flour if you prefer) tortilla. My friends also loved the Pollo Asado and Nopal (a type of edible cactus) tacos.

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Mŏkbar
We have a lot of ethnic food options in Birmingham, but traditional ramen is not one of them, so I knew I wanted to have some while I was in NYC. Luckily, we came across Mŏkbar in the market, serving Korean-style ramen. I got the Classic with pork broth, braised pork, and seasonal vegetables which included greens and mushrooms and added a poached egg to it. The pork was incredibly tender and flavorful, as was the broth. So much better than ramen from Cup Noodles!

Mokbar Ramen and Carne Asada taco from Los Tacos

Mokbar Ramen and Carne Asada taco from Los Tacos

Doughnuttery
This place makes the cutest mini donuts and you can watch them being fried right in front of you. You have the option to coat them in a variety of flavored sugars. We got a dozen and tried them in flavors of Urban Monkey, Mulled Green Apple Cider, Cheeky Peach, and Fruity Cereal. They were all really good and we loved their little bite-sizeness. The best part though was the Beer Caramel that we got to dip them in. It really tasted like beer mixed with caramel and it was amazing, especially with the Mulled Green Apple Cider donut.

Pro Tip: After you fill up at Chelsea Market, walk it off on the High Line right near by — the elevated park on an old railroad track. It’s beautiful and has great views of the Empire State Building.

Financial District

Loopy Doopy
If you venture down to the Financial District (I know you want to see the new Freedom Tower), this rooftop bar at the Conrad Hotel serves alcohol-infused People’s Pops in glasses of Prosecco. Yes, you read that right. I will now be dipping all my popsicles in Prosecco. You choose your flavor of pop and then they drop it in the glass and you can enjoy it and beautiful views of the Hudson and Lady Liberty. I opted for the Pear Vanilla pop and my friends got Peach Ginger and Blackberry Mint. It’s also fun because the pop you choose flavors your Prosecco. But this isn’t a place to stay and drink all day — these cocktails will set you back $20 (before tip). Definitely a one and done place!

Let me know some of your favorite foodie spots in the Big Apple!

In and Around Banner Elk, North Carolina

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Ok, I know I missed Travel Tuesday, but I feel like I’ve been slacking on my travel content lately and didn’t want to wait until next week to put this one up. (Side note: y’all let me know if you like the idea of Travel Tuesday or if you’d rather just see travel content as I have it.)

Anyway, I grew up in western North Carolina, about an hour from the mountains, and going up to the mountains was always an integral part of my childhood. We would take day trips or weekend trips to go up and hike, eat, and just enjoy the cooler weather and beautiful views. About two years ago, my parents decided to invest in a little cabin in Banner Elk, North Carolina. I love going up to visit, and although I don’t get up as much as I’d like to be able to, it’s always a nice treat to go home and be with my family in our little mountain abode.

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I headed up to the cabin for Memorial Day just the other week, and we had the most beautiful weekend we could have ever asked for. The sun was shining without a cloud in the sky, the temperature was between 65 and 75 degrees every day, and the rhododendrons were in full bloom. We hiked, we drank wine on the deck with neighbors, and we had a Memorial Day cookout to wrap up the weekend. It was wonderful.

If you’ve never been to the mountains of western North Carolina, it needs to be on your bucket list. My favorite areas are Banner Elk (where our cabin is) and the surrounding areas of Boone, Blowing Rock, and Valle Crucis. They mountain views are breathtaking, the hiking trails have something for every age, and there are great restaurants and watering holes. I wanted to share with you a few of my favorite places and hidden secrets for eating, drinking, and exploring!

Eat:

Coyote Kitchen – Boone
This is the place I crave most when I’m gone. It’s in a strip mall in Boone, but don’t let that sway your opinion of it. Their style is “Southwest Caribbean Soulfood” and it is so darn good. They have these “boats,” which are personal casserole dishes layered up with protein and veggies and topped and broiled with Jack cheese. There are 10 options and my favorite is the Taos boat: rosemary chicken, cornbread, black beans, roasted sweet potatoes, roasted corn, fried plantains, Roma tomatoes, Jack cheese, chipotle cream cheese, and scallions. The combination is incredible and it’s delicious, filling, warm-you-to-your-toes comfort food.

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The Ham Shoppe – Valle Crucis
This is an unassuming wooden home on the side of the road that you probably wouldn’t think twice about if you drove by. But inside, they have some of the most delicious sandwiches that are perfect for taking on a hike or for a picnic in the park. They are huge sandwiches packed full of protein between slices of delicious fresh bread. You can create your own sandwich or order from their specialty sandwiches. My personal favorite is The Rhett with homemade pimento cheese, spinach, cucumbers, onions, sprouts, and bacon on toasted sun-dried tomato bread (although sometimes I get it on sourdough). My dad loves the Russian Mistress (never thought I’d write that sentence) with turkey breast, fresh spinach, tomato, bacon, and Swiss cheese topped with Thousand Island dressing on multigrain bread. (PS Google will tell you this place is permanently closed when you google it, but that’s not true.)

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Vidalia Restaurant and Wine Bar – Boone
This is my favorite fine dining restaurant, located in downtown Boone. They specialize in refined Southern cuisine, which means all your favorite Southern dishes re-imagined and made a little fancier. People go crazy for the Chicken and Waffles with creole battered fried chicken, sawmill gravy, collard greens, waffles, and whiskey infused cane syrup, but I absolutely love the Braised Beef Short Ribs with Cheerwine BBQ sauce, griddled mac n’ cheese, grilled Vidalia onion chowchow, jicama, and baby greens. For a true taste of the mountains, try the oat-crusted North Carolina Trout with pecan brown butter sauce. I love how they take North Carolina staples – like Cheerwine, sawmill gravy, and trout – and incorporate them into their menu. Last time I was there we also had this fabulous lemon poundcake with lemon basil ice cream. Don’t skip dessert!

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Drink:

Blowing Rock Brewing Company – Blowing Rock
Blowing Rock Brewing is a brewpub in the adorably charming downtown of Blowing Rock. They brew their own beers in the style of “mountain artisan beers” meaning they use the fresh mountain spring water and incorporate flavors of the area. All the beers are crisp and complex. I like the High Country Ale (their flagship) and the Farmhouse Peach Ale (available seasonally). There is also really good food at the Ale House, the restaurant in the brewery. The Grilled Carolina Bison Burger with charred tomato jam, smoked mozzarella, peppered bacon, stout glaze, and grilled onions is probably the best burger you’ll find in the area. The brewery’s beers are incorporated in almost every dish on the menu. They also have fun seasonal specials like this lobster roll below with pickled okra.

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Grandfather Vineyard – Banner Elk
This is a beautiful little vineyard just down the road from our cabin, so we take full advantage of it. You can come and do tastings or just grab a bottle and enjoy a glass (or three) out on the patio or down by the bubbling stream. The vineyards are grown on the side of the mountain, which makes for some beautiful scenery. They have a variety of reds, whites, rosés, and specialty wines like ice wines and muscadine wines (a North Carolina specialty).

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Do:

Mast General Store – Valle Crucis
Take a trip to the original Mast General Store in Valle Crucis one day. It’s an old-fashioned candy store and general store. We always grab our favorite candies and a Cheerwine or Peach Nehi and sit outside on the porch swings or the picnic tables out back and enjoy the beautiful weather. There’s also a little park with a nice walking trail right near the store.

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Hike: 

There is so much good hiking in the area, and while I love to hike and would gladly do some of the more challenging trails, my family likes the easy but scenic ones. Here are three of our favorites.

Rough Ridge – Boone
Rough Ridge definitely has the nicest views of these three hikes. It’s a fairly easy hike – it can get a little rocky – but the views are extremely rewarding for little effort. And you’ll see why these mountains are called the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s only about .3 of a mile.

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Crab Orchard Falls – Valle Crucis
These waterfalls are easily accessed from the parking lot at Holy Cross Episcopal Church in Valle Crucis (don’t worry, it’s allowed – there are signs for it). It’s a short hike to the falls – a bit steep in places, but nothing dangerous. The falls are really nice and there are massive rocks and boulders that you can climb on for different vantage points. Watch out though, the rocks can be slippery if they’re covered in moss.

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Grandfather Profile Trail – Banner Elk
If you’ve seen Grandfather Mountain (see photo at top of post), you know it looks like the profile of an old man’s face from afar. Well this hike is along that profile. The entire trail is one of the most challenging, with steep hills, large rocks, and even ladders to climb, but the first mile of it is a really nice and easy hike with beautiful scenery. You walk through the woods and cross the Watauga river and other streams. It’s really quite scenic and you can say you hiked the profile trail even if you don’t do all of it. 🙂 We were told a good stopping point is when you get to the point where you have to go between two large rocks. But if you want to go a little farther, it’s 1.7 miles from the parking lot to Foscoe View. After that, things start to go uphill and get challenging quickly.

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I hope you enjoyed these tips and consider planning a trip to the beautiful state I was lucky to grow up in!

Why Eating Local is Important

I promise, within a week, I will have an original post up here! I have been slacking but I have also been in a whirlwind of grandma visiting, my mom visiting, and a trip home to North Carolina. But things are leveling out here and I can get back into my regular routine now, hopefully!

In the meantime, check out this post I wrote on Family Travels on a Budget about why I think it’s so important to eat local on your vacations.

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Travel Tuesday: Aruba on a Budget?! Yes!

Hey y’all! This is a quick Travel Tuesday post this time since I haven’t had any extra time this weekend/week to prepare one. My grandma is visiting so I’ve been busy entertaining her but will hopefully be back into my regular schedule next week!

Remember last week when I told you about my Adventure in Aruba? Well I wrote a post on how to do Aruba on a budget for my friend Karen over at Family Travels on a Budget.

Karen and I met while I was on a work trip in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and we immediately became friends. She was the best travel buddy and she has an awesome site that shows you how to make your family vacations fit into your budget. Check out her site and make sure to read my post while you’re at it!

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Travel Tuesday: Adventure in Aruba

Arashi Beach, Aruba

“Aruba, Jamaica, oooh I wanna take ya….”

That song has been stuck in my head for the past two weeks and you know why?! Because I took a trip to Aruba! And it was amazing. And now every time I think of Aruba, I can’t help but sing that catchy little line from Kokomo. Thanks, Beach Boys.

Anyway, back to Aruba (but actually, can I really go back?). I’m such a beach bum, and I have wanted to go to Aruba for years. I’m not exactly sure what sparked my desire for Aruba (maybe it was The Beach Boys’ song) but something just draws me to the sand and the sea and I knew Aruba would be the epitome of perfection of the two.

Eagle Beach at dusk

Eagle Beach at dusk

What I didn’t realize until I started researching was that Aruba is actually a desert, so it has an arid climate, an average temp of 82 degrees all year round, hardly any rain, and a nice steady breeze from the tradewinds. 18 miles off the coast of Venezuela, Aruba is even located outside of the hurricane belt, so there will hardly ever be any bad weather. So basically, to sum things up, Aruba is perfect all year round.

Exploring the Island

There are many different geological regions of Aruba, even though the island is only about 20 miles long, and it’s really interesting to drive around and see all the different parts of it. The western side of the island, where most of the resorts are, has the calm, bright blue Caribbean Sea with gentle waves that lap on powder white sand.

Eagle Beach

Eagle Beach

These are the beaches you want to spend your time at, with the most popular ones being Eagle Beach (where we stayed) and Palm Beach. Eagle Beach has the low-rise resorts and condos and Palm Beach has the tall, glitzy resorts with all the nightlife. You can also watch the sun set over the ocean at these beaches.

A divi-divi tree at Eagle Beach

A divi-divi tree at Eagle Beach

If you go north of these beaches, to the northern tip of the island, you’ll find Arashi Beach and Malmok Beach, which have some reefs right off of them that are popular for snorkeling, and California Lighthouse that looks out from the tip of the island. The beaches to the north are more rocky though, but also less crowded.

Malmok Beach

Malmok Beach

The eastern side of the island is for the adventurers. With tall cliffs and crashing waves, it’s not the side that you can (or want) to go swimming on, but it is beautiful to see.

The eastern side of the island

The eastern side of the island

Also on the Eastern side of the island is Arikok National Park. It costs $11 a person to enter the park but inside the park are the Natural Pools, caves, and even a beach with pink sand called Boca Prins. Unfortunately, you need an off road vehicle (like a Jeep or ATV) to get to the Natural Pools, so we didn’t get to see those in our little Kia Rio, but we saw everything else.

Boca Prins is carved out of a cliff, and the sand has streaks of pink sand made from crushed up shells. It was beautiful for photographs.

Boca Prins

Boca Prins

The caves were also really cool to explore. Aruba was formed from a volcanic eruption, and it’s interesting to see how these caves formed. Some people believe that pirates hid their treasure in these caves!

Quadirikiri Cave

Quadirikiri Cave

As I mentioned previously, Aruba is a desert, so as you’re driving through the park and also around the interior of the island, it looks as if you could be in Nevada or Arizona, with cacti, shrubs, and rocks and dust. It’s really interesting to see this juxtaposed with the beauty of the beaches.

Arikok National Park

Arikok National Park

Get Your Snorkel Ready

One of my favorite things that we did while in Aruba was snorkeling at Baby Beach, on the southern end of the island. I went on the trip with one of my best friends and her parents, who had previously been to Aruba, so they were able to give us some insider tips. They had gone snorkeling at Baby Beach on their previous trip and raved about it. Instead of paying to do a snorkeling excursion, we purchased snorkeling gear at home and brought it with us since you don’t have to be taken out on a boat to snorkel at Baby Beach. This saved us money and also allowed us to snorkel all day and be flexible with our schedule.

Baby Beach

Baby Beach

Baby Beach is a semi-circle beach that basically acts as a holding tank for calm waters and tropical fish. The mouth of the beach goes out to the Caribbean Sea and can have strong currents near the outlet sometimes, but as long as you don’t go past the buoys, you’re fine. There is even a roped off area for snorkelers over the reef. You will feel the current pull you, but since it’s roped off, the ropes keep you in the area and you don’t have to worry about drifting.

Post-snorkeling at Baby Beach

Post-snorkeling

The fish were amazing. As my friend’s dad said, “it’s like swimming in a saltwater aquarium.” We saw so many tropical fish in shades of yellow, blue, yellow and black striped, silver, and more. My favorites were these type of boxy looking fish that were black with white polka dots and yellow fins. I think they are Trunkfish! (Soon I’ll have my underwater camera developed, too.) We also brought some bread to feed the fish and it was amazing to be surrounded by entire schools of multiple types of fish. Some even ate right from our hands! I would definitely recommend Baby Beach for snorkeling. And after you’re done snorkeling, you can relax on the beach under one of the divi-divi trees with a local Balashi beer. 🙂

Balashi Beer at Baby Beach

Relaxation at its finest

Aruba, mi Dushi

All in all, Aruba was amazing and I immediately fell in love with it. What also makes it interesting is that it is its own country, unlike many other Caribbean islands. It has it’s own culture and it’s own language (Papiamento), but it’s also part of the Dutch Caribbean, so you see the influence of the Dutch culture on the island, as well as a Latin influence from its proximity to Venezuela. Most Aruban people speak four languages (English, Spanish, Dutch, and Papiamento) and it’s fascinating to see all the cultures collide in one small little island.

Palm trees in Aruba

One of the words we learned from Papiamento was “dushi,” which means sweet or sweetheart depending on how you use it. Although it sounds like an American slang word that has the exact opposite meaning, we loved the saying and heard it used around Aruba quite frequently. So Aruba, mi Dushi, thanks for the amazing experience and I hope we will meet again someday!

Keep calm and be dushi

Want to know how you can visit Aruba on a budget? Check out my post on Family Travels On A Budget!

Travel Tuesday: Planning a trip to Bald Head Island, North Carolina

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Hello lovelies! Sorry it seems like I’ve been MIA for the past week or so. Last week was crazy busy as I prepared to head up to North Carolina for 5 days for a good friend’s wedding. The wedding was in Bald Head Island, which is definitely one of the more unique coastal destinations I’ve been to. There are no cars allowed on the island, and there are also no hotels, so it can be a little daunting to try to plan a vacation there, so I’m sharing some insider tips of things you will want to know if you are planning to take a trip to this lush little island.

Although it may seem like a hassle to get there, it’s worth it. The island is extremely beautiful and serene and is a great option for those wanting to get away from it all. The 4 square miles the island covers consist of a number of different environments — you’ll find wide, sandy beaches, expansive marshes (keep an eye out for alligators!), and thick foresty areas with lush vegetation and Spanish moss draped trees. There is plenty to do, from relaxing on the beach to fishing to hiking to kayaking to visiting Old Baldy, the oldest standing lighthouse in the state.

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Bald Head Island is definitely a more exclusive destination, and it’s important to factor in all the costs associated with going. I’m going to break down some of those costs for you, and also give you some things to consider when planning your trip.

Getting There

Bald Head Island is accessible by ferry from Deep Point Marina in Southport, NC. The ferry is a passenger ferry (obviously since cars aren’t allowed), and you park your car and leave it at the ferry port for $8 a day. A ferry ticket (return trip included) will cost you $23 per person. You can check as much luggage as you want free of cost, as long as everything is contained in a suitcase/bag or plastic bin. Ferries to the island leave on the hour, and ferries from the island leave on the half hour.

To get from the ferry port to your accommodation, you will need to make reservations on the complimentary tram. You do not need to make ferry reservations, but you will need to make tram reservations because seats fill up fast. To do this, you can contact Bald Head Island Transportation (910-457-5003). In busy season, I would suggest calling the day before you need the tram, otherwise 2-3 hours is fine in off season. You just tell them what ferry you will be taking and where you are staying and it will be there to pick you up when you arrive at the port. The same goes for your trip home. Make reservations in advance and the tram will pick you and your luggage up at your accommodations and take you to the ferry port.

Staying There

There are no hotels or high-rise condo buildings on the island, so your best bet is to rent a beach house. I think there might be one B&B, but other than that, it’s all owner-rented homes. Some good resources to find homes are VRBO, HomeAway, Tiffany’s Rentals, and Bald Head Island’s site.

Consider what you’re looking for in your rental. If you want a private escape, look for homes tucked off of the smaller streets in the wooded areas. You might even spot a deer or two. For easy access to some of the boardwalks and trails, stay along the marsh. If you plan to spend most of your days enjoying the sun and sand, there are homes that are beachfront or right across from beach access.

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I stayed in the Bald Head Island Villas, which were super convenient to everything, especially the Bald Head Island Club (where many of the wedding events where held). These villas are right across the street from the beach, and are smaller, 3-bedroom homes. Ours overlooked a pond and golf course. It was about a 5 minute golf cart drive to the market and shops, and about 7 minutes to the restaurants and Old Baldy Lighthouse.

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I believe most rentals come with golf carts, but make sure of this before committing to anything. If they don’t have carts, or if you need extras, you can rent them from Riverside Adventure Company on the island.

Eating There

There are only a few restaurants on the island, and they can be a little pricey because they are the only ones, so if you’re staying for a week, I would consider cooking in some nights.

Mojo’s on the Harbor is classic coastal dining, with seafood entrees, pasta, burgers, and sandwiches. For entrees, expect to spend $20 and up per entree.The burgers are a good, less expensive option. They are very sizable and the fries that come with them are delicious. Mojo’s also has a good selection of cocktails, but things can get quite pricey if you start throwing back more than one. They range anywhere from $9 for a mojito to $15 for a margarita.

Delphina Cantina serves Latin cuisine with the influence of fresh seafood, and is a littler cheaper than Mojo’s. You’ll find tacos, burritos, tortas, and entrees such as fish and chips, seafood enchiladas, and cubanos. I really enjoyed the BHI Favorite tacos with tequila marinated shrimp, jicama slaw, watercress, and chimichurri sauce ($13 for two tacos). We got a pitcher of white sangria for $22, which yielded about 6 wine glasses worth.

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The Maritime Market Cafe, located inside the market, also has breakfast and sandwiches for lunch. There are also grab-and-go breakfast options like muffins and donuts. The market has a selection of groceries if you need anything, but regular products are a little overpriced, so I would suggest doing your major grocery shopping on the mainland and bringing it over in a cooler on the ferry with you.

The Bald Head Island Club also has a few restaurants but you have to be a member to dine with them. Some home rentals include a temporary membership to the club. Check with your rental company to see if it’s included for you.

Sandpiper Coffee and Ice Cream is great if you’re in the mood for a sweet treat after the beach or a little afternoon pick me up.

Things to Consider

-The beaches in North Carolina don’t truly get warm until the end of April, and it will take a little longer than that for the water to warm up. Peak season starts at Memorial Day, but you will be able to get better rates before that, and the weather probably will have warmed up a month or so prior.

-Bald Head Island is a favorite for golfers. If you plan on golfing, consider renting a home that includes a temporary membership to the BHI Club. If the home doesn’t include it, you can purchase a guest membership.

-If croquet is more your style, the BHI Club also has a regulation croquet court. But if you want to play, you have to wear all white and have your croquet cleats on (I mean, who doesn’t have these in their closet?).

-There is no liquor store on the island. The market sells beer and wine, but if you’re wanting to mix up your own cocktails, make sure to bring liquor with you.

-And speaking of liquor…getting a DUI on a golf cart is the same as getting a DUI in the car. There are police, and they will pull you over if you’re driving your golf cart a little too crazy. Same goes for open container. Don’t drink and golf cart, y’all.

Hopefully these tips will help you in planning and preparing for your vacation to Bald Head Island! A good resource to see upcoming events and plan some outdoor adventure activities once you get there is Bald Head Island’s site.

And now, here are some pictures of the beautiful wedding I attended! They’re just too pretty not too share. Bald Head was such a gorgeous setting for a destination wedding. The ceremony was held outside on the grounds of Old Baldy Lighthouse, and the reception was at the Bald Head Island Club. Enjoy and let me know if you are planning a trip to Bald Head!

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