Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Best Walls in San Francisco

San Francisco is a city with an abundance of amazing street art - walking down its streets is like wandering through an art gallery. Over 1000 murals can be seen in all over the city - in some parts of the city, like the Mission, there are murals everywhere you look, and this is where you can find many of the best walls in San Francisco.

I am a sucker for a good wall and I love cruising the city to find them! Here, I've rounded up my favorites for the ultimate collection of the best walls in San Francisco, and where to find them.

1. Flamingo Wall by fnnch
outside Media Noche restaurant
3465 19th St.

2. Blue Houses and Poppies by Ursula Young
Ames Alley and 21st St.

3. Rainbow Geometric Wall
Clarion Alley - between Valencia St. and Mission St.
(this alley is full of amazing walls - definitely home to some of the best walls in San Francisco!)

4. Floral Wall by Jet Martinez
Valencia St. & 15th St.

5. Tribal Chevron Wall
Balmy Alley - between 24th St. and 25th St.
(another spot with some of the best walls in San Francisco)

6. Ombre Triangle Wall by Val Santillo and Yuka Ezoe
outside Edo Salon
601 Haight St.

7. Pink wall
outside Miette
449 Octavia St.

8. Neon Feather Wall  by Apexer
18th St.& Guerrero St.

9. Pink Block Wall
Balmy Alley

10. Lip Wall by fnnch
outside Bodega
700 Columbus Ave.
*note: a blue and white version of this is also on Haight St. & Central Ave.

11. Citrus Argyle Wall 
outside Boba Guys
3491 19th St.

12. Evolutionary Rainbow Wall by Yana Zegri
Cole St. & Haight St.

13. Abstract Bird Wall
Buena Vista Horace Mann School
Valencia St. & 23rd St.

14. Tropical Leaf Wall by Elle
Sparrow Street & Caledonia St.

Where have you found amazing street art? Let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

12 Things to Do in Seattle

Seattle is one of my all-time favorite cities. You can't go wrong with all the green (all that rain really does make the city beautiful), and the amazing views of the surrounding water and mountains. And because it is only a 2 hour flight away from San Francisco, I find myself coming back over and over again - 7 times in 6 years, in fact.

Seattle often gets overlooked because of its reputation as a grey, rainy, and muted city, but I think there is something for everyone to love there. Here are the top 12 things to do in the Emerald City:

1. Eat your way through Pike Place Market
Pike Place Market is one of the oldest continuously operating Farmers' Markets in the United States and is an absolute foodie haven. You can find hundreds of produce stands, butchers, bakeries, seafood markets, flower vendors, craftspeople, and specialty food stores in this 9 acre historical district.

It is also home to the original Starbucks location, as well as 80 restaurants. Bring your stomach - there is so much to feast upon here.

2. Go up the Space Needle
Originally built for the 1962 World's Fair, the iconic Space Needle is considered a symbol of Seattle today. Enjoy sweeping views of the downtown Seattle, Puget Sound, Lake Union, the surrounding islands, and the Olympic and Cascade mountains. On a clear day, you can see Mt. Rainier, looking as majestic as ever.

Pro tip: You can buy a day/night ticket to see the views both in light and dark. I discovered (on accident) that the best time to go, is right before sunset - then you get both daytime and nighttime views, even with general admission.

3. Admire the glass art at Chihuly Garden and Glass
You may recognize Seattle area native Dale Chihuly's renowned glass sculptures - one of his most famous works is in the lobby of the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. At Chihuly Garden and Glass, you can admire Chihuly's works in all its glory. The long-term exhibition at the Seattle Center features a gallery, a garden, and a glasshouse, featuring an incredible 100-foot ceiling sculpture that creates a unique view of the neighboring Space Needle.

4. Spend time on the water
Seattle is surrounded by water, and some of the best ways to see the city are from a boat. You can go about this in several ways. One option is to rent a boat or kayak. Another is to take a ferry to one of the surrounding islands. Bainbridge Island, Vashon, and Bremerton are great options for a day trip to get away from the city, and spend some time on the water. You can also take a water taxi to beachy West Seattle.

There are also several companies offering boat tours around Elliott Bay, for spectacular views of the Seattle waterfront, and skyline, and the bay. Another option for is a cruise around Lake Union and Portage Bay, also offering sweeping views of the skyline, and a look into Seattle's unique floating homes community.

5. Snap a photo of the view from Kerry Park
Ever wonder where to get that postcard shot of the Seattle skyline with the Space Needle in the foreground from? This is the spot. Grab your camera, admire the view, and snap a bunch of photos. On a clear day, you can also see Mt. Rainier peek through, making the view even more perfect.

6. Say hi to the Fremont Troll
Located under the Aurora Bridge in Fremont, the Fremont Troll is a public art piece that was built in 1990 as the winner of a competition to rehabilitate the area under the bridge. The piece has its roots in Scandinavian folklore. He's a bit strange, but he's also cool (and HUGE), and you should definitely go say hi to him!
7. Hang out at Gas Works Park
Gas Works Park is built on the site of an old coal gasification plant of the Seattle Gas Light company. It houses numerous remnants of the plant, which provided gas for energy to the city of Seattle for 50 years, and is the sole remaining coal gasification plant in the United States.

It also has lots of grass hills and incredible views of Lake Union and the Seattle skyline. It also hosts various events and festivals, and you can find lots of people picnicking and flying kites here on a sunny day. Definitely a cool, unique park to check out.

8. Spend some time at the library
The Central Library location of the Seattle Public Library is an architectural spectacle that is definitely worth a visit. The 11-story steel and glass buildings have won numerous awards. Take a self-guided tour around the facility, sit and read some books (there are several reading rooms), or just stop by to enjoy the view from the 10th floor viewpoint - whatever you do, you can't miss the unique architecture here.

9. Take a walk at Olympic Sculpture Park
The Olympic Sculpture Park is a 9-acre sculpture museum and park owned and operated Seattle Art Museum. It features both permanent and visiting installations, and offers gorgeous views of the surrounding water and mountains. Perfect for a leisurely walk, and for experiencing the unique art and natural landscape of the area.

10. Admire the views on the waterfront
Okay, so the Seattle waterfront may be overrun with tourists and full of kitschy souvenir shops and mediocre restaurants - but you can't beat those city and bay views from here. My personal favorite viewpoint is from Pier 69 (pictured above).

From there, keep walking south on Alaskan Way. You can also go for a ride around the Seattle Great Wheel, which is the tallest Ferris Wheel on the west coast and offers panoramic views of the city and Elliott Bay.

11. Take a photo in front of the gum wall
The gum wall is located in front of the theater in Post Alley in Pike Place. It is one of two such walls in the United States (the other one is in San Luis Obispo, CA), and considered to be the second germiest attraction in the world. It started when theater patrons started sticking their gum to the wall; no matter how many times it was cleaned off, the tradition seemed to stick (pun intended, haha). In 1999, it was declared a tourist attraction, and all efforts to clean off the gum stopped...that is until November 2015, when over 2000 pounds of gum were scraped off.

12. Check out the locks in Ballard
Also known as the Hiram M. Chittaden Locks, this series of locks lowers the water levels of the freshwater Lake Union and Lake Washington, and reverses the river flow, and levels it off with the water levels of the sea water of Elliott Bay. It handles the most boat traffic out of any lock in the United States, and is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Seattle. You can watch the boats pass through, watch the fish go up the fish ladder, or explore the surround park and gardens. Or, for a unique experience, you can take a boat tour that actually goes through the locks.

Have you been to Seattle? What are your favorite things to do there?

Thursday, June 15, 2017

5 Must-Have Experiences in Stockholm

I recently came across a super cheap flight to Stockholm, and although I had never really considered visiting, I couldn't resist! With its fairytale-like architecture, charming cobblestone streets perfect for roaming, and picturesque waterfront views, it was easy for me to fall in love with Stockholm.

There is so much that this city offers, that I there was never a dull moment! Here are some must-have experiences in this beautiful city:

1. Explore Gamla Stan
Gamla Stan was the first viking settlement and where Stockholm was founded in 1252. It is one of the largest and best preserved medieval city centers in Europe. Today, it is one of the most popular districts in the city, and full of lively cobblestone streets, restaurants, cafes, bars, and museums. It is the perfect spot for wandering and people watching.

Some of the most popular attractions there are Stortorget, which used to be one of the largest town squares in northern Europe and known for the iconic colorful gingerbread-like buildings; and the Royal Palace, which is still one of the largest palaces in the world, and home of the offices of the royal family.

2. Spend some time on a boat
Stockholm is a city built on 14 island and has more than 50 bridges, so in my opinion, the best way to see it is from the water. There are many boat tours that allow you to get a unique perspective of the city, while letting you relax and rest your feet. You can also sign up for an excursion that takes you outside of the city while you enjoy the views from the water. A perfect way to see the city, especially in those warm summer months, but there is also a winter boat tour available.

3. Enjoy fika!
Fika is essentially a Swedish coffee break, often accompanied by a sweet treat, and enjoyed with friends. It is a reminder to slow down and enjoy the simple things in life - something we can all strive to do more in life. And in my book, any excuse to enjoy coffee and a sweet treat is a good thing! There are lots of excellent bakeries in the city, but I especially enjoyed the cakes from Vete-katten, and the cardamom buns from Fabrique.

4. Check out the subway art
At 110km, Stockholm's subway system is said to be the longest art exhibit in the world. Over 90 of the 100 stations have been decorated in some way, featuring the works of more than 150 artists. Most of these are done on a smaller scale, but some of the stations are truly breathtaking and unique works of art.

Some of the most notable stations include: Solna Centrum, Kungstragarden, T-Centralen, and Stadion.

5. Explore the archipelago
Did you know that Stockholm is also home to the second largest archipelago on the Baltic Sea, which consists of over 30,000 islands, rocks, and skerries? These islands range from uninhibited wilderness to charming little seaside towns any of the locals escape to them in the summer. Many are easily accessible by ferry, and are perfect for a little day trip.

I trekked out to Fjaderholmarna, which is closest to the city and only a 25 minute boat ride away. But other options include Vaxholm, which features a 16th century fortress; Varmdo, which is home to the international art center Artipelag; or a 3-hour archipelago tour. These are all included in the price of a Stockholm pass (more on that in a future post).

Have you ever been to Stockholm? What do you think are some must-have experiences there?

Thursday, April 06, 2017

2 Days in Florence: What to Do, See and Eat

Oh, Florence. What a beautiful, charming city. I had heard so many amazing things about Florence and was so excited to make a stop there on my Europe trip - and it definitely lived up to the hype!

From the moment I stepped off the train from Pisa and started walking on those charming cobblestone streets, I immediately fell in love. Walking through the streets and being surrounded by so much art and beauty, you could almost imagine what life was like during the Renaissance.

I spent 2 days there, and definitely wish I had more time to spend here - but I definitely made the most out of the time I had. Here's a guide to what to do, see, and eat in this amazing city.

You can fly into Florence, but I found it easier (and cheaper) to fly into Pisa and take a train - it only takes an hour (plus, it's a good excuse for a day trip to Pisa). It is easily accessible via train from other Italian cities.

I stayed at the Grand Hotel Minerva which is a family-owned boutique hotel, right near the train station. It was very centrally located and within walking distance to all the places on my list. They have just renovated the property, and it is gorgeous. The rooms were stylish and comfortable. There is also a rooftop bar - it wasn't open while I was there, but I did go up and check out the view and it was pretty amazing. The staff was also very helpful with directions and with arranging dinner and museum reservations. Highly recommend!


The Duomo (Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore)
The most iconic landmark in the city. This grand Brunelleschi-designed building, with its terra-cotta dome and pastel marble-tiled facade will leave you in awe. I passed by this on the way elsewhere at least 5 times, and each time, I had to stop and marvel and take it all in.

To avoid the crowds, I would stop by early in the morning - I passed through on the way to the Galleria Academia on my last day, and it was amazing to be able to take it all in without a swarm of people in front of me (and the street vendors trying to hound me into buying a selfie stick).

Your combined admission ticket will get you into the crypt, bell tower, and up the Cupola. The climb up the 463 steps to the top of the Cupola is a must-do - the views of the city are pretty phenomenal (you will need to reserve a time slot for this). Did not get to to do the bell tower, but I hear it's well worth going up as well - because then you get to see a unique vantage point of the Cupola.

Piazza della Signoria
This lively piazza was also historically the center of the Florentine Republic, and is also the gateway to the Palazzo Vecchio (the town hall) and the Uffizi Gallery. It also houses a number of statues, and a replica of the David (the original was moved to the Galleria Academia).

Uffizi Gallery
The second largest museum in Italy, the Uffizi houses a large and prominent collection of Italian Renaissance art, including works by Michelangelo, da Vinci, Botticelli, and Raffaello. (Tip: make a reservation to skip the lines! It costs a few extra Euros, but well worth it.)

Galleria Academia
You are basically going here to see one piece: The David. What a work of art. I liked to walk around the perimeter, admiring how the light hit it from different angles. Truly amazing. (Pro tip: The Academia opens at 8:30. Go as early as you can - there will be hardly anyone there).

Ponte Vecchio
AKA: The bridge with the houses. The actual bridge is filled with jewelry shops, but it is said that some people still live in the apartment above the shops. Still a cool bridge, and I took a million photos of it. (Pro tip: the best view of this is actually from the second floor of the Uffizi Gallery).

Piazza Michelangelo
It is a bit of a climb up, but you will be rewarded with that classic view of the Florence skyline. Just breath-taking. I happened to go up there around sunset time, and it was such an amazing place to take in the sunset over the Tuscan hills.

- Osteria Santo Spirito: This is a popular dinner spot, with delicious yet affordable dishes and wine list. They do half portions of pasta for ~6 Euro and that was basically a full portion! I had a simple tomato & basil pasta and it was phenomenal.

- Trattoria Za Za: Another popular restaurant specializing in Florentine classics, but it has an extensive menu with lots of other Italian specialties. The concierge at our hotel said this was his wife's favorite restaurant, and it did not disappoint. I had the walnut pasta here - it is a Tuscan specialty, very creamy and delicious.

- Enoteca Pitti Gola e Cantina: This is a popular, well-reviewed wine bar, with an amazing selection of Tuscan wines. The bartender was super helpful and suggested some amazing (yet affordable), hard-to-find Tuscan wines.

- Trattoria Mario: You go here for meat - but I got pasta (because I wanted to EAT ALL THE PASTA). Which was equally amazing. This is a tiny, popular place - be prepared to be cramped and packed like sardines in communal tables. But the food is delicious, and well worth it.

- Gelateria dei Neri: Being that it is in Italy, Florence is filled with an abundance of gelato shops - I sampled several of them, and this was hands-down the best.

- I Due Fratinelli: This is a tiny, literally hole-in-the-wall wine bar. It is a walk-up counter, with amazing wines by the glass - and delicious panino!

- Trattoria Sostanza: Arguably Florence's most famous, popular restaurant. Admittedly, this was at the top of my list, but I did not get to go - because I didn't realize that they are only open Monday-Friday! This came highly recommended by a variety of sources. They have been open for 150 years, and their specialty is the Florentine steak. Please go an have some for me! :)

Have you been to Florence? What are your favorite spots there?