Five Best Small-Town Getaways From San Francisco

With many in the Bay Area working from home right now, it’s easy to feel like you never get to leave “the office.” Luckily, there are a plethora of charming and restorative nearby destinations that are just a few hours drive or less from San Francisco. See our top picks for a small town getaway close to the City.

Hot Air Balloons Take Off in Napa, California
Hot air balloons take flight over Napa, California.
1. Monterey, California

The famed Monterey Bay Aquarium is always worth a day’s visit, but there are plenty of other seaside attraction to enjoy in Monterey, including a trip to Cannery Row, the Old Fisherman’s Wharf, and for families with young children, the much beloved Dennis the Menace Park.

Where To Stay: Hilton Garden Inn Monterey

2. Napa, California

Wine lovers, unite! With dozens of vineyards and wineries offering daily tastings, your palette will never be parched in this oenophile’s dream. Once you’ve had your fill of vino, head to downtown Napa to explore great restaurants, cozy galleries, and interesting boutiques as well.

Where To Stay: Embassy Suites by Hilton Napa Valley

3. Sacramento, California

The Capitol City is a dream destination for families, replete with all kinds of activities for little ones. Train aficionados will love a visit to the California State Railroad Museum, while kids of all ages will love to re-enact Sacramento’s goldrush history with a Gold Fever! Tour.

Where To Stay: The Fort Sutter Hotel Sacramento, Tapestry Collection by Hilton

4. Santa Cruz, California

For the outdoor enthusiasts, it’s hard to beat Santa Cruz for natural beauty and wonder. Start your stay with a trip to the Natural Bridges State Beach or spy on the surfers from the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, then cap off your visit with a stop at the Seymour Marine Discovery Center to learn what may be lurking just below the water.

Where To Stay: Hampton Inn Santa Cruz West

5. Sonoma County, California

Not to be outdone by its slightly more famous wine-growing cousin Napa, the Sonoma County wine region mixes vineyards and tasting rooms with plenty of outdoor splendor as well. After you’ve had your fill of great wines, stop by Bodega Bay to try your hand at fishing and clamming or take a swim at the Sonoma Coast State Park.

Where To Stay: Hampton Inn & Suites Windsor – Sonoma Wine Country

Five Best Small Town Getaways from New York

We get it: you’ve been cooped up in your apartment for weeks, and you’re ready for a taste of fresh air and an escape from city life. Luckily, a great adventure is closer than you think. Here are our picks for the top five small-town getaways that are just a quick drive from the City.

1. The Catskills, New York

Take a hike to the famed Kaaterskill Falls, or try your hand at some off-road cycling at the Windham Mountain Bike Park; this dreamy destination is all about experiencing the great outdoors. If your adventures cause your appetite to spike, pop into top-rated Cucina for dinner or grab a pint & brewery tour at West Kill Brewing.

Where to Stay: Hampton Inn Kingston

2. Neptune Township, New Jersey

If it’s a beach getaway on your mind, escape the crowds of the more touristy beach destinations and head to the little enclave of Neptune. Pack the sand-castle tools and head to Avon-on-the-Sea for some white sand perfection, then end the day with a hearty meal from Local Smoke BBQ.

Where to Stay: Hampton Inn Neptune/Wall

3. Sleepy Hollow, New York

Yep, the tale of the headless horseman happened just a couple hours outside of Manhattan, and you can explore the supernatural at the (supposedly haunted) Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. For a less macabre outing, check out the manicured gardens of Kykuit, the Rockefeller family’s palacial hilltop estate.

Where to Stay: DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Tarrytown

4. Saratoga Springs, New York

If browsing and strolling along a charming and historic downtown block is more your getaway style, then look no further than Saratoga Springs. Or, make a visit to one of the town’s namesake bubbling mineral attractions at the Saratoga Spa State Park.

Where to Stay: The Saratoga Hilton

5. North Fork, New York

Wineries are calling your name from Long Island’s less visited coast. Go for an afternoon of tastings at Kontakosta Winery, Roanoke Vineyards and Bedell Cellars before finishing off the day at Lavender by the Bay for a scenic water view surrounded by fragrant flowers.

Where to Stay: Hilton Garden Inn Riverhead

 

Featured photo by Andy Arthur for Flickr / CC BY 2.0

The Official Recipe of the Signature DoubleTree Cookie

Ready to make your day a little sweeter? For the first time ever, DoubleTree by Hilton is sharing the official bake-at-home recipe for the brand’s beloved and delicious chocolate chip cookie.

Now at-home bakers can create the warm and comforting treat that has been synonymous with DoubleTree hotels worldwide.

DoubleTree cookies have a passionate following and a long history. More than 30 million cookies are consumed every year, and they even became the first food to be baked in orbit during experiments aboard the International Space Station.

We hope our warm chocolate chip cookies can bring a moment of comfort and happiness to your home.

DoubleTree Signature Cookie Recipe

Ingredients

  • ½ pound butter, softened (2 sticks)
  • ¾ cup + 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 ¼ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 ¼ cups flour
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Pinch cinnamon
  • 2 2/3 cups Nestle Tollhouse semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 3/4 cups chopped walnuts

Takes , makes 26 cookies.

Instructions

  1. Cream butter, sugar and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer on medium speed for about 2 minutes.
  2. Add eggs, vanilla and lemon juice, blending with mixer on low speed for 30 seconds, then medium speed for about 2 minutes, or until light and fluffy, scraping down bowl.
  3. With mixer on low speed, add flour, oats, baking soda, salt and cinnamon, blending for about 45 seconds. Don’t overmix.
  4. Remove bowl from mixer and stir in chocolate chips and walnuts.
  5. Portion dough with a scoop (about 3 tablespoons) onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper about 2 inches apart.
  6. Preheat oven to 300°F. Bake for 20 to 23 minutes, or until edges are golden brown and center is still soft.
  7. Remove from oven and cool on baking sheet for about 1 hour.
  8. Cook’s note: You can freeze the unbaked cookies, and there’s no need to thaw. Preheat oven to 300°F and place frozen cookies on parchment paper-lined baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Bake until edges are golden brown and center is still soft.

Click here for the recipe in metric units

Stream Your Way to Your Favorite Hilton Destination

A good movie can transport you to a foreign land without ever leaving your living room – you might even spy some of our hotels in your favorite films! Take a peek at our list of Hilton properties that have been featured in the movies to inspire your next streaming binge.

Looking up the exterior of the Hilton Chicago

Hilton Chicago: Home Alone 2
In Home Alone 2, Kevin McCallister famously gets “lost in New York,” living it up with limousines, cheese pizzas entirely to himself, and toy stores before having another run-in with the “Wet Bandits.” Believe it or not, the Christmas morning scene where Kevin is reunited with his family was actually shot at the Hilton Chicago. The suite the family celebrates in is the Conrad Suite, which spans two floors and over 5,000 square feet.

The Hilton Chicago has also been featured in several other movies, including Little Fockers (2010), Road to Perdition (2002), My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997), and The Fugitive (1993).

A view of the neon sign on top of The Drake Hotel in Chicago

The Drake, A Hilton Hotel: Risky Business
The city of Chicago is featured in many of John Hughes’ movies, and you might recognize The Drake from Risky Business – Joel meets up with Lana in the Palm Court of the hotel. The iconic neon signage on the exterior of the hotel can also be seen in other scenes.

The Drake has also been featured in My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997) and The Blues Brothers (1980).

The outside of The Beverly Hilton Hotel

The Beverly Hilton: Frost/Nixon
You may already know The Beverly Hilton as the site of the Golden Globe Awards, which have been held there since 1961, but the hotel also made its way to the silver screen in Frost/Nixon. You may catch a glimpse of the Beverly Hilton hotel lobby, and the balcony scene in the movie was filmed in room 817. The Beverly Hilton was also the real-life setting of Richard Nixon’s “last press conference.”

The Beverly Hilton is lovingly dubbed as the “hardest working hotel in Hollywood” by the Los Angeles Times, and has also been featured in Argo (2012) and To Live and Die in L.A. (1985).

The outside of the New York HIlton Midtown at dusk

Hilton New York: Spider-Man 3
The New York Hilton Midtown is full of history, and it can also be spotted in several movies. In Spider-Man 3, Gwen Stacy falls from 1345 Avenue of the Americas, which is the building next door to the New York Hilton Midtown. The exterior of the hotel is shown in the background of this scene.

The New York Hilton Midtown is also featured in The Amazing Spider-Man (2012), Two Weeks Notice (2002), Michael Clayton (2007), and American Gangster (2007).

A view of the rainbow tower and the ocean at Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort

Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort: Godzilla
In 2014, Godzilla roared its way back onto the big screen, and in the monster’s reign of terror, it demolishes the famous Rainbow Tower of the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort. Luckily, the Rainbow Tower was only digitally demolished in the movie, and it still stands in Honolulu along the widest stretch of beach in Waikiki.

The property might also bring a feeling of nostalgia for 90s kids, who might recognize it from You’re Invited to Mary-Kate & Ashley’s Hawaiian Beach Party (1996).

Hilton Isla Nublar Resort: Jurassic World
Admittedly, the Hilton Isla Nublar Resort is fictitious, but one can dream, right? Unfortunately, you can’t actually enjoy the property’s luxury spa “with unique Mesozoic stone massage,” but you can take a virtual trip there just by turning on your TV. This fantasy resort is set right in the heart of Jurassic World, where guests stay during their visit to the island also inhabited by dinosaurs.

The Hilton Isla Nublar Resort isn’t the only fictional Hilton hotel gracing the silver screen – 1990’s Total Recall features the “Hilton Mars,” and 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey also features a fictional Hilton hotel.

Movies have an impeccable ability to carry us to different times and places. If you need me, I’ll be queueing up these movies for a world tour straight from my couch!

Turning the Page for Travel: Top 15 Travel Books For Jet Setters Not Jetting

We travel to connect. To escape. To discover. And while most of the world is grounded, wanderlust doesn’t require planes or passports and can be ignited by simply turning the page of a new novel. So, take a break from your digital screens and transport your imagination to a different time, a different place and a different story. Here’s a list of our top 15 travel books, compiled by Hilton team members. What’s on your bookshelf?

A room set with a large bookshelf
The Library at the Canopy by Hilton Reykjavik City Centre

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
Travel back in time to post-Russian revolution, when Count Alexander Rostov is sentenced to a lifetime of house arrest in the luxurious Hotel Metropol in central Moscow. If you are missing a hotel stay, you’ll enjoy this charming novel (soon to be TV series), where the staff become the Count’s extended family as he views his changing nation and the world from the hotel lobby.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Take a journey to Santiago and meet an Andalusian shepherd boy traveling “in search of a worldly treasure as extravagant as any ever found.” From his home in Spain, he journeys to the markets of Tangiers and across the Egyptian desert to a fateful encounter with the alchemist.

My Kind of Place: Travel Stories from a Woman Who’s Been Everywhere by Susan Orlean
Get to know the author of The Orchid Thief and a staff writer for The New Yorker, Susan Orlean as she shares her off-beat take on “travel writing” with this collection of nonfiction stories. As she explains it, “These certainly aren’t typical travel pieces — you will find no hotel or restaurant suggestions, that’s for sure — but in each one, I felt the sense of where the story unfolded was almost as important as the story itself.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
Hike the Pacific Crest Trail with 22-year-old Cheryl Strayed who lost her mother, her family and her marriage and took on an unbelievable challenge in search of inspiration and adventure – and healing. The national bestseller depicts the journey, mentally and physically, of Strayed who risked it all and persevered against all odds.

Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert
Indulge in the sensory pleasures of Italy, practice the daily devotions in India and appreciate the balance of “worldly enjoyment and divine transcendence” in Bali throughout the pages of this iconic novel. Elizabeth Gilbert tells the story of how she left her seemingly perfect life to travel the world – and eventually meet herself.

Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy by Frances Mayes
Take in the Italian countryside with Frances Mayes as she embarks on the most rewarding adventure of her life, setting up a villa – and her new life – in Tuscany. Best enjoyed with a glass of your favorite Italian wine.

Crazy Rich Asians Trilogy by Kevin Kwan
From Singapore to Shanghai back to Singapore, experience Asia as an elite with this popular trilogy (and also Motion Picture). Meet main characters Rachel Chu and Nicholas Young who are navigating the complexities of mixing different cultures and families together in the hilarious and entertaining novels.

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
Travel back in time to enchanting Paris in the 1920s with Ernest Hemingway and his wife, Hadley Richardson. Embrace the decade that is often referred to as Années folles (“crazy years”) and get immersed in how the golden couple navigated the free-loving and fast-living lifestyle of Jazz Age Paris while facing crisis and deception within their own marriage.

The Martian by Andy Weir
Get ready for some planetary travel as you follow along on astronaut Mark Watney’s mission to Mars. After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone on Mars with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive. You will become enthralled by how Mark uses his ingenuity and steadfastness to try to overcome the most insurmountable obstacles.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Dive right into the endless blue expanse of the Pacific Ocean (life vest required) with Pi Patel, the 16-year-old son of a zookeeper. In an attempt to move to Canada, Pi and his father hitch a ride on a freighter and embark on an ill-fated voyage with their menagerie of animals. A harrowing shipwreck finds Pi adrift in the ocean with nothing but a wounded zebra, spotted hyena, seasick orangutan and a 450-pound Bengal tiger for company.

Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time by Mark Adams
Ever wondered what would happen if someone tried to recreate the original expedition to Machu Picchu? Well, you are about to find out! Un-adventurer Mark Adams set out to retrace the perilous path that explorer Hiram Bingam III took in 1911 to discover Machu Picchu. You are going to need a Pisco Sour on hand for this one.

Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants Series by Ann Brashares
Get ready to see some new sights and make some new friends in this heartwarming, coming-of-age tale about four inseparable girls who are about to embark on their own adventures for a summer. From the seaside cliffs of Santorini to the windy, sandy beaches of Baja California, a pair of magical thrift store pants keeps our heroines closely connected throughout their travels.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
Get ready to travel back and forth in time and get immersed in the harrowing love story of Clare, a beautiful art student, and Henry, an adventuresome librarian. Henry is one of the first people diagnosed with Chrono-Displacement Disorder, which means periodically his genetic clock resets and he finds himself misplaced in time. Told from both their perspectives, witness the impact of time travel on Clare and Henry’s marriage and see how their passionate love continues to unfold.

Love, Africa by Jeffrey Gettleman
Experience the sights and sounds of East Africa, via the narrative of Jeffrey Gettleman, a seasoned war correspondent who, for the last decade, has served as the East Africa bureau chief for the New York Times. As much as Jeffrey has a connection to Africa, he has also fallen in love with a criminal lawyer based in the United States – see how he embraces far-flung adventure, long-distance relationship woes parenthood and more while being torn between two very different parts of the world.

Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss
Because it’s never too early to inspire our next generation of travelers and travel companions, Dr. Seuss paints a bright picture of the future, reminding us all, “Somehow you’ll escape, all that waiting and staying. You’ll find the bright place where Boom Bands are playing…Oh, the places you’ll go!”

Top 6 Foodie Experiences in Melbourne

With nearly 2,500 restaurants and cafes within the city of Melbourne’s boundaries alone, there’s a mind-boggling amount of choices when it comes to satisfying those hunger pangs or seeking a gourmand night out in Melbourne.

Guests dining in at the Tipo 00 restaurant in Melbourne.

So, with all these options, where to start? I always enjoy tips from locals when I’m traveling, so as a local, I’ve put together six of my bucket list foodie experiences you must do in Melbourne. This is just the tip of the iceberg, but it’s a great start if you only have a short time to explore – happy eating!

The Perfect Pastry: A Lune Croissant – Lune
Be prepared to line-up to get your hands on one of these perfectly formed and shimmering little golden treasures. Created in a climate-controlled lab, Lune croissants are the brainchild of an ex-Formula 1 aerodynamicist. The result is an almost mathematically perfect, golden croissant, crisp on the outside, and moist and buttery on the inside. From sweet apricot or chocolate to ham and cheese, or just the traditional plain swirl, you won’t be disappointed.

Local tip: Get there early, as they are known to run out daily; be prepared to pay double digits.

Hidden Secret: Vegemite Curry – Sunda
Sunda is a relatively recent addition to the Melbourne dining scene. A blend of modern southeast Asian cuisine combined with native Australian ingredients. The hidden secret is the locally famous vegemite curry. Dense with flavor, ultra-smooth and creamy with hints of kaffir lime, curry oil and that iconic salty, yeasty vegemite backbone. It’s served as a dip with a swirl of hot, flaky, buttery roti.

Local tip: make an early booking as it’s a limited, off-menu item. Make sure to ask for it!

Drool-Worthy Italian: Three-Course Degustation – Tipo 00
Melbourne has a strong Italian heritage, so there are plenty of incredible restaurants to try, but my favorite is the subtly classy Tipo 00. The three-course degustation for two is a great value. You’ll share a selection of delicious entrees, pasta, and desserts – make sure they include the salty black, squid ink tagliolini. Grab a seat at the bar, watch the chefs in action, and trust your knowledgeable server’s recommendations on a wine match.

Local tip: Tipo can be booked months in advance, but if you are up for a very late lunch or very early dinner, you might be able to get in.

Go Native: Sharing Platter – Charcoal Lane
If you want to try authentic modern Australian native cuisine, head to Charcoal Lane. With a menu packed with unique and local Australian foods with flavors, I guarantee you’ve never tried something like it. The best way to start is to share the Chef’s Native Tasting Plate. It contains a delicious variety of native produce sourced from around Australia; your taste buds will be amazed by the explosion of new flavors, textures, and tastes.

Local tip: You’ll not only enjoy a memorable meal here, but as this is a social enterprise restaurant, you’re also supporting young Aboriginal people learn new skills and forge a career path.

One For the Veggies: Slow-Cooked Dahl – Daughter in Law
Welcome to the world of “unauthentic Australian Indian cuisine.” From modern takes on traditional street food to naan pizzas and rich curries, there’s plenty of mouth-watering dishes to delight any vegetarian (or meat-eater for that matter). But the absolute highlight is the rich and creamy, slow-cooked, black lentil dahl. “The Aunty Dahl” is no ordinary dahl. This little gem takes five days of soaking and simmering on the tandoor to produce the darkest, rich, and silky dahl you’ll ever experience.

Local tip: Don’t miss trying the “balls of happiness.” These are delicately crunchy on the outside and filled with a tangy blend of mint, tamarind, and yogurt liquor on the inside.

Once in a Lifetime: Degustation – Attica
A Melbourne restaurant that regularly features in the world’s top restaurants is worth the visit if you can get a reservation. By their own token, Attica loves “beautiful, rare, and unique ingredients.” Beyond the food, the entire Attica journey is an experience. From the sleek, dark, and elegantly sexy dining room with meticulously selected plateware and exceptional service, Attica is a delight for all the senses. With a focus on local and sustainably-sourced produce, native ingredients are heroes of each of the 15 courses you’ll enjoy on this antipodean culinary journey. Attica is a truly memorable dining experience.

Local tip: Although generally booked out months in advance, it’s worth joining the waiting list as vacancies do pop up from time to time.

Budget-Friendly Things to Do in Dallas

Dallas is a haven of opportunities for whatever activities your heart desires. Catch a professional sporting event with your choice of football, basketball, or hockey. Visit a world-class arts venue to take in a musical, opera, orchestra, or ballet. Dine at one of the many fantastic restaurants. While there are iconic (and sometimes pricey) experiences abundant throughout the metroplex, Dallas boasts several budget-friendly experiences year-round. Several special events are coming up this spring that will have you hitting the streets without breaking the bank. Are you looking for one-of-a-kind experiences? Look no more – explore Dallas!

Puptopia
Puptopia is coming on March 21 at Main Street Gardens. It’s an outdoor festival. It’s food and libations. It’s obstacle courses and main stage shows. It’s massages and a “sPAW.” It’s Coachella for dogs! If your pooch could legitimately file as the head of your household, Puptopia is for you! Tickets are only $25 each with discounted rates available for two-legged companions who want to spend the day with you and the Boss.

Welcome sign outside of the Texas Discovery Gardens featuring butterflies.

Flora Fest
Visit one of the hidden treasures at Fair Park. Flora Fest will take place at Texas Discovery Gardens on April 14. With tickets at $10 or less, Flora Fest is a winner for family and friends fun! There will be critters, yoga, crafts, and more. Wander through the three gardens soaking up the sun and beautiful views. Watch butterflies feasting on the fruit bowls or simply sit and wait for them to land on you. You may also purchase a butterfly release for an additional fee and name your wishes as you release them towards the heavens.

Entrance to the Dallas Farmers Market.

Taco Libre
What could be more “Dallas” than delicious food? How about Taco Libre 2020! Though VIP tickets are available, tickets start at $17 ($10 for children 6-12) for seven hours of family-friendly entertainment on April 25 at The Shed at the Dallas Farmer’s Market! Cheer on (or discover!) your favorite luchador in the ring and stick around for some of the music offerings, but don’t miss out on the most important part of the day! From traditional to contemporary interpretations, twenty-eight of the best taquerías in the region will be onsite, each with a $2 taco. Bring an extra belt (or maybe just wear your stretchy pants), because you don’t want to miss this!

Food trucks lined along at sidewalk at Klyde Warren Park.

Klyde Warren Park
Still looking for an event that promises tons of fun without breaking the bank? With nearly daily activities featuring Zumba, yoga, and fitness classes, children’s activities, stories, music, and rotating food trucks such as Cousins Maine Lobster and Nammi, a visit to Klyde Warren Park on Woodall Rogers is fun at any time. However, keep an eye on the website because there are free events scheduled year-round that will put a smile on the tightest budget. The 2020 Summer Movie Series opens this Saturday night and is free for all, but if you need more time to plan, don’t miss out on the free and non-ticketed Memorial Day Music Fest. VIP tickets will be available, but entertainment, face painting, and the famous Dallas food trucks will be there.

Where to Stay
Each of these events will leave you happy and worn out. Where to take the afterglow in the city? There are Hilton options available close by each event. When all six feet are worn out after the day at Puptopia, The Statler Dallas (a Curio Collection by Hilton) is located just across the street from Main Street Gardens. Book early and let them know that you’re bringing your best friend! Some restrictions apply to Fifi/Diablo, and a deposit is required, but you’ll both be spoiled! Can’t get enough and want to come back again? The Statler Dallas is only two miles away from Texas Discovery Gardens and a half-mile from the Dallas Farmer’s Market.

Know Before You Go:

Foodie Finds in Denver

If you are visiting Denver, you must check out the local food scene. These restaurants feature chef-driven concepts in hip neighborhoods. Whether you are looking for craft-cocktails, locally-brewed beer, or locally-inspired dishes, there is a little bit of everything here in Denver. Check out some of my top bites and drinks you don’t want to miss out on.

Display of veggies and meat at the Farm House at Breckenridge Brewery

Farm House at Breckenridge Brewery
Just a short drive south of Downtown Denver in Littleton, Colorado, the Farm House at Breckenridge Brewery is the hip place to visit. This restaurant is spacious, featuring a beer garden and rustic dining room and beautiful views of the Rocky Mountains on the back porch. The menu truly embodies local, fresh Colorado flavors, plus they have all their beers on tap. They also offer free tours of the brewery, and you will want to check out how their beer is made. My personal favorite is meat and cheese board. The flavors are awesome; it’s fun to pair them with the different beers, and there is enough to share! The Farm House partners with local vendors making it truly farm to table

Plate with authentic Mexican food at El Jefe

El Jefe
Who doesn’t like tacos? El Jefe is the place to be for delicious yet affordable Mexican food. This fun little Mexican restaurant in the Sunnyside neighborhood in Denver truly has something for everyone. The menu rotates with the seasons, and there is always something new to try. One other cool fact is that the tortillas are homemade daily, and you can tell the difference. Don’t overlook El Jefe for brunch on the weekends, as their Breakfast Tacos are just as good as their dinner tacos. I love the Chicken Brunch Tacos; they are the perfect balance of spice and flavor. The best day to visit is, of course, Taco Tuesday, which features four different $1 tacos!

View of desserts a the D Bar restaurant in Denver

D Bar
If you have a sweet tooth, D Bar is the restaurant for you. Located in uptown Denver, D bar is Food Network’s Celebrity Chef Keegan Gerhard’s restaurant. His team brings seasonal dishes and specializes in craft drinks and creative desserts. The ‘D’ in D Bar stands for drinks, dining, and dessert, and the experience does not disappoint. Ask to sit at the dessert bar to watch the chefs work their magic. You can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, and I always love the Cake and Shake option.

View of glass ciders at the Stem Ciders in River North

Stem Ciders
If beer is not your thing and you are more of a cider person, Stem Ciders in River North is a cute little shop making delicious fresh ciders daily. They are local to Lafayette, Colorado, but opened this Tap House in 2014. The craft cidery has unique flavors and styles, and they always have seasonal options to try. Be sure to order a flight so you can explore everything that Stem has to offer, but they also sell cans so you can take some home!

When thinking about all the local restaurants and bars in Denver, there are just too many good ones to try out. I could go on and on about different places to try. These four make the list for something unique and not on the typical “best places to eat” list.

Know Before You Go:

  • If you are staying downtown, many restaurants are within walking distances! Be sure to bring comfortable shoes and avoid the parking hassle.
  • Don’t be afraid to explore. There are so many local restaurant groups that feature amazing restaurants. Check out local places!
  • If you are traveling at the end of February, Denver Restaurant Week is a great way to explore different offerings at an affordable price. Denver Restaurant Week happens yearly either the last week of February or the First week of March.
  • Staying at a Hilton Hotel? Be sure to have a meal at their restaurant. Some of my favorite restaurants are inside the Hilton Hotels. Knife & Board, The Corner Office, Amberstone Bar & Grill, and Prospects to name a few.

Best Food to Taste in Mexico City

Mexico City, or recently renamed CDMX, is the largest metropolitan area in the western hemisphere and is well known for its ancient history that mix modernity and heritage. The city has become one of the trendiest and cosmopolitan spots to visit in the last decade.

Picture of a golden skull displayed in downtown Mexico City.

Considered the oldest capital city in the Americas, it was built on an island of Lake of Texcoco back in 1325. It has preserved its magic and authenticity in conjunction with the Spanish colony influence, creating a unique culture full of options to discover.

Picture of sweet Concha bread being served at the El Cardenal restaurant.

Breakfast
Let’s begin the day with a traditional Mexican breakfast at El Cardenal. Visit one of the five locations in Mexico City and make sure to book a table in advance; Sundays can be very busy, especially in the restaurants located downtown. Don’t miss the famous Concha con Nata, a sweet bread filled with homemade creamy butterfat or “nata,” while you dunk it in hot chocolate prepared at your table. Also, try the scrambled eggs covered with a hot red sauce that was ground in a stone mortar, just like you will find it in small pueblitos around CDMX.

The interior of the Cocuyos restaurant

Tacos
After breakfast, take a walk downtown to visit the Zocalo, the Metropolitan Cathedral, and Templo Mayor, hulking stone ruins that once marked a centerpiece of ancient Capital Aztec. You will have time for a bite or “antojito,” and at this point, you should now know that everything in Mexican cuisine is about corn and tortilla. For lunch, choose between two of my favorite places for tacos in CDMX; the first one Tacos de Canasta Los Especiales, just a block away from Zocalo on Madero Pedestrian Street. There you can get delicious steamed tacos filled with beans, potatoes, and spicy shredded beef or salsa verde pork rind for only $0.50 each. The second option is Los Cocuyos; here, you can enjoy the real street taco experience for just $0.75 each. Try the Suadero and Maciza “con todo” (with chopped coriander, onion, and spicy red sauce), and don’t forget to add some lemon juice drops to your tacos.

Lunch with Locals
Chilangos (Demonym for CDMX citizens) have lunchtime after 2 PM, and if you want to meet with locals and other tourists from around the world in one of the best well-known restaurants in downtown, then you are ready to have “La Comida” at Azul Histórico. This open-air restaurant located in an XXVII Century building offers a variety of traditional Mexican food from all around the states and corners of the country, served with contemporary touches. Lunch is always better with margaritas, so indulge yourself with a Tamarindo or Cucumber Margarita, and don’t forget to taste Panuchos, a regional plate from Yucatan Peninsula made with Cochinita Pibil and accompanied with spicy roasted habanero sauce. If you feel adventurous, go to the first level of the building for Mezcal Madrecuixe at La Botica; try the perfect pairing with slices of fresh orange and sal de gusano (agave worm salt), a spicy, smoky condiment essential when drinking mezcal.

Early morning image of the sunrise in downtown Mexico City.

Last but not Least
Immerse yourself in the heart of Coyocan, a popular southern neighborhood of the city known for Frida Kahlo’s emblematic house. Here you can get an overview of the rich culinary heritage by visiting the Local Food Market; the golden rule is to taste the flavorful Pozole Rojo, a pre-Hispanic stew with pork and hominy kernels that is popular within Mexican families on special celebrations.

Small cart serving churros and ice cream at the Porfirio restaurant in Mexico City.

If you have time to visit other neighborhoods of CDMX, take the Turibus to Polanco, an upscale and community, famed for its luxury stores and nightlife, that gives you another great foodie selection with Porfirio’s Restaurant. The showbiz is in the presentation; as an example, churros and ice cream are served in a miniature model of a churro cart. You don’t want to miss this experience!

Three Hikes Around Europe

Are you a fan of outdoor activities? Do you enjoy walking in nature and reaching heights to enjoy the view from the top? If so, keep reading, and I will guide you through my top three hikes around Europe.

Scenic view from a hiking trail on Mount Bolettone.

Monte Bolettone, Italy
Located in the northern Italian region called Lombardy, the Monte Bolettone (also called Bollettone) is a mountain in the Como Prealps. 1,317 meters above the sea level, this mountain is easily visible from the city of Milan due to a row of fir trees that start from the top down to the valley. To get to the hiking route, you need to rent a car. You can organize a day trip there easily from Milan, Como, Turin, Genova, Novara, Parma, or Aosta, which are all one to two hours away by car. Travel to Albavilla, and from there, head to Alpe dei Viceré. Here, you can park your car (for free on weekdays only) and start your trekking route.

Hiking trail sign along the Monte Bolettone trail.

You can reach the mountaintop in two different ways. For the first, hike for about an hour to the first shelter, Capanna Mara (m 1,150); from here, you will have to walk for another 40 minutes until approaching the peak. The alternative option is a more direct way that reaches the Bolettone shelter (m 1,320), quicker, but it’s a bit more difficult (you can walk either in the woods or on the road). However, this hike is not necessarily hard itself.

View of Como Lake from the top of Mount Bolettone.

After you clear the woods, the landscape displays a vast quantity of mountains and little villages. Once at the top, admire Lake Como that sinuously shapes the view. Enjoy the silence for a while, and reward yourself by grabbing something at one of the two shelters mentioned on your way back down.

View of a lake at the peak of Nuuksio.

Nuuksio National Park, Finland
If you are spending some time in Helsinki, Turku, Espoo, or Tampere, you cannot miss this hike. Nuuksio is one of Finland’s 40 national parks; established in 1994, it is easily accessible from the Finnish capital by public transportation.

A sign giving directions along the Nuuksio hiking route.

Once you are there, you have many different routes, fitting for a variety of hikers. The trails go from 1.5km to 110km for those who also want to camp there. My first stop was the NaturaViva shelter. Try their Cinnamon Rolls; they have the best ones I have ever tried! Once your stomach is ready, explore the different activities they offer from canoe tours and stand-up paddling to biking excursions.

View of trees along Nuuksio Hawk Lake in the Nuuksio National Park.

I recommend a canoe tour around the Nuuksio Hawk Lake. Paddle to the other side of the lake, tie your canoe and get off. Once there, take a short hike to reach the top of some rocks and enjoy the beauty of the park. If you do not know already, Finland does not have any mountains, only hills. However, the views from its highest peaks are breathtaking. After returning the canoe to the shelter, you will find yourself in a large area where different routes start; pick the one that best suits you (and your time at disposal) and start your journey.

Woman holding berries in her hand at Nuuksio National Park.

You will find many places where you can barbecue or picnic; I recommend bringing some food and stop for a break, as these areas are relaxing and beautiful. You can also pick berries and mushrooms in Nuuksio, as well go bird watching; there are so many activities that you could spend more than a day exploring here!

View from the top of Miraflores de la Sierra.

Parque Regional Cuenca Alta Manzanares, Spain
Usually, Spain brings to mind the sea, local fiestas, and flamenco, but this country has amazing trekking routes for the avid hikers as well. Situated exactly in the middle of the country, the Parque Regional Cuenca Alta Manzanares is an ecologically preserved area in the northern area of Madrid; the easiest way to reach it would be by car or by bus from the station in Plaza de Castilla (Madrid) to the closest town, Manzanares el Real.

Many hiking routes start from the town; take a look at this website to pick the one you prefer. From Manzanares el Real in the winter, you can cross the snow-covered Cuerda Larga, from the Mirador de la Buitrera and the Hueco de San Blas.

Trees lined along a hiking route near Miraflores de la Sierra.

On our route, we walked past small waterfalls and through a tranquil oak forest until we arrived at a herd of bulls; be sure not to get too close, even if they are in quiet groups. Once at the top, we started our descent to Miraflores de la Sierra, where we ended up with an amazing caña (a small beer) at the Taberna La Insula.

These are only three of the many hiking routes you will find around Europe. Many of them are not too far away from main cities/capitals, so make sure to mix nature into your next European escape!

Discover Unique Food at the Rodeo in Houston

Did you ever dream of being a cowboy or cowgirl when you were a kid? You can bring those dreams to life in Houston each spring at the Rodeo! You don’t have to ride a horse or even wear boots to enjoy rodeo food like a local, so grab your phone and loosen your belt buckle – it’s time to dive into delicious food at the Rodeo in Houston!

Rodeos bring to mind cowboys and cowgirls, horses and mutton bustin’, but what about rodeo food? If you think rodeo food is only barbecue, it’s time to explore the other unique foods you can find at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Last year, over 25.5 million fans attended the event at NRG Park, making it the largest livestock exhibition and rodeo in the world. This year’s event, running from March 3 through March 22, 2020, is expected to be even bigger, with many new food options to try.

NRG stadium parking lot at night.

The rodeo food fun starts Thursday, February 27, with the World’s Championship Bar-B-Que Contest. The first of more than 20 days of entertainment and food, the cook-off showcases some of the best barbecue in the country.

Barbecue
You’ll find the standard fare of Texas barbecue chicken, pork, ribs, and sausage, plus steak and brisket dinners, turkey legs, burgers, and giant pretzels dripping with cheese. And food on a stick. Always a rodeo favorite, food on a stick offers the dining convenience of coming with its own handle – no more messy fingers! You’ll find chicken or sausage on a stick at the top of many menus. Or try a new a twist on potatoes (a literal twist), that is, of course, on a stick. Twisted potatoes on a stick, or twisted potatoes and hot dog on a stick are among the new food items for this year. But Houston’s rodeo food isn’t just great barbecue; there’s so much more to explore!

Rodeo Carnival at night with a Ferris Wheel in the background.

Carnival Food
Visitors to the Rodeo Carnival, in the parking lot of NRG Park, can enjoy the usual carnival foods of turkey legs, corn dogs, funnel cakes, cinnamon rolls, cotton candy, popcorn, snow cones, and caramel candy apples. Last year 3,400 corn dogs, 47,480 tamales, 38,000 cinnamon rolls, and more than 8,000 funnel cakes were consumed. And 122 slices of bug pizza. Yes, bug pizza, complete with worms and scorpions.

Deep-Fried Everything
Rodeo food is not like anything else. It’s fun food. Food you want to snap pics of and be seen with. Take the deep-fried, ice-cream-stuffed cupcake. You’ll want to snap a shareable pic before you bite into this fried confection, so your friends will believe deep-fried, ice-cream-stuffed cupcakes are really a thing.

Rodeo foods are proof that just about anything can be eaten deep-fried. Deep-fried Oreos, Twinkies, Moon Pies, red velvet cake, ice cream-stuffed cupcakes, cheesecake, or deep-fried apple, pumpkin, key lime, pecan and chocolate pie, plus deep-fried strawberry shortcake, brownies, cookie dough, and bread pudding are just a sampling of the deep-fried treats you’ll find at the rodeo. New for this year are the black gold truffles — sweet deep-fried chocolate truffles served with whipped topping, hot fudge sauce and a cherry on top are sure to satisfy any sweet tooth.

If you’re craving something savory but still from the deep-fried foods family, you can also find deep-fried pickles, nachos, boudin, and zucchini, plus almost any fried fruit or vegetable you can imagine. If deep-fried veggies aren’t your thing, try the fresh corn. On the cob, in a cup, or spicy-seasoned with cheese, it’s all good.

Spicy Foods
Are you looking for something spicy but not deep-fried? Cheetos cheese pickles should fit the bill. A bed of sliced pickles is topped with Flaming Hot Cheetos, then topped again with melty cheese. If that’s not enough flaming hot cheesy goodness for you, you can also find Flaming Hot Cheetos corn dogs and Flaming Hot Cheetos fries.

The Houston Skyline during the day.

New Items
Check out the mac and cheese egg rolls that are also new this year. Picture a golden-brown flaky deep-fried egg roll, then picture it stuffed full of macaroni and cheese. If that’s not rich enough yet, did I mention it also has bacon?

Into the new trend of nitro-infused foods? Don’t miss the nitro pop, nitro sour bombs, nitro Dole Whip bars, and nitro slushies. Make sure you order the unicorn breath cotton candy balls, it’s a social media must-share treat!

Cowboy performers during the Houston Rodeo.

Other Food Events
Not all rodeo food centers on deep-fried and on-a-stick delicacies. Other rodeo-related food events in Houston include wine tastings at the Champion Wine Garden, featuring award-winning wines from the Rodeo Uncorked international wine competition, and the Vegan Rodeo Weekend featuring vegan barbecue.

Ride all of the carnival rides first, then dine your way through the food tents before heading over to see the Livestock Show. Browse through the wares of more than 300 vendors selling everything from western boots to cowboy hats. You’ll also want to get some candy to munch on later in the evening, so take a stroll down memory lane through the 2,000 square feet of candy maze aisles of the World’s Largest Traveling Candy Store, selling old-fashioned candies you’ll remember from your childhood.

If you haven’t eaten enough yet and feel like taking on the challenge of trying all eight Gold Buckle Foodie award-winning creations, there’s a prize in it for you; make sure you stop by the Social Station at NRG Center for more details before you dive in. And when it’s time for the day’s rodeo competition and musical entertainment to begin, if you’re still hungry, there’s much more food inside!

Houston locals know that the best way to end a fun-filled, food-filled Rodeo visit is…filled! Try it yourself; you won’t go home hungry.

How to Spend 24 Hours in Brussels

Fluffy waffles, quirky sights, world-class fries, grand squares, artisan beer, quaint cobblestone streets, funky street art, museums galore, and the pièce de résistance: the world’s best chocolate! Twenty-four hours in Belgium’s compact multicultural capital will enchant you and leave your taste buds begging for more.

A view from the Mont des Arts

EARLY MORNING: WELCOME TO BRUSSELS
Kick-off your day with a breathtaking view from the Mont des Arts, overlooking museums, gardens, and even the spire of City Hall in the distance.

For those who prefer guided tours, consider New Europe’s Sandeman’s top-rated free tour (remember to tip your guide!). While we did not take one this trip, we have enjoyed Sandeman’s tours in other countries.

Choose your adventure this morning. Music aficionados should check out the Art Nouveau Musical Instruments Museum with over 7,000 instruments. For those who adore blue Smurfs and red-headed Tintin, follow the Comic Book Route or head to the Belgian Comic Strip Center. Political junkies can tour the European Parliament. Surrealist art lovers should drop by the Magritte Museum. With over 100 museums, your crew is sure to find something that sparks their interest.

Night view of Grand-Place with lights illuminating the walls

LUNCHTIME: EAT YOUR WAY THROUGH TOWN
If you’re self-proclaimed foodies like us, consider a “traveling lunch,” sampling Belgian delights en route to some must-visit sights.

Start at the heart of the city at the architecturally-stunning Grand-Place, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Take a 360-degree spin around this beautiful square surrounded by elaborate guildhalls, the City Hall, and the Brussels City Museum. Perhaps your visit will coincide with one of many Grand-Place festivals, including a flower carpet of over 500,000 begonias or the Christmas Sound and Light show (a highlight for us!). Check out this same square illuminated at night!

A waffle dessert with whipped cream at Maison Dandoy

A few steps away, you’ll find the famed Maison Dandoy which has been making waffles since 1829. We compared waffles styles: the caramelized buttered sweet Liege style versus the fluffy Brussels style (our favorite!). Your hardest decision of the day will be selecting among delectable toppings such as whipped cream, strawberries, hot chocolate sauce, and other sweets.

Next, pass the ornate La Bourse (The Stock Exchange) heading to Friterie Tabora’s. No question what to order here: cornet of crispy fresh-cut fries smothered in their kickin’ house sauce.

Chocolate desserts behind a display case at Neuhaus

As you window shop through the luxurious Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert arcade, pop into some high-end artisan chocolatiers, such as Neuhaus and Mary (if you’re lucky, you may even score some free samples!).

View of the Mannekin-Pis fountain

It’s time for an up-close and personal visit with Brussels’ most famous son, the one and only, Mannekin-Pis. Depending on the day, this diminutive bronze dude may be “au natural” or decked out in one of his hundreds of costumes. A few steps from the city’s mascot, you will find Elisabeth, a welcoming chocolate boutique known for collaborating with Belgian artisans.

The interior of the luxurious Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert

AFTER LUNCH: JOURNEY AROUND THE WORLD
With satiated bellies, we hopped a metro to Mini-Europe. This kitschy family-friendly attraction boasts over 350 models at a 1:25 scale, highlighting famous European landmarks with great photo-ops! (We even fooled our relatives into thinking we took a detour to Paris by sending a picture in front of the “Eiffel Tower”!).

View at the base of the Atomium structure in Brussels

LATE AFTERNOON: VISIT THE ICON
Next to Mini-Europe, look up to see Brussels most visited monument, the Atomium. The Atomium’s nine gleaming spheres represent an iron crystal magnified a whopping 165 billion times. There is so much more to this futuristic-looking iconic architecture than meets the eye! Left standing after the ‘58 Expo, this symbol of Belgium includes an engaging museum explaining the Atomium’s unique history, a rotating special exhibit, and spectacular views. You will delight in navigating the other-worldly tubes and spheres. We timed our visit, so we toured the Atomium in daylight, reached the lookout at sunset, and then exited seeing it brilliantly lit up at night – it’s magical!

Scallops meal at the Sentro Lounge & Bar

DINNER TIME
After a jam-packed day, it’s time to relax and refuel! Grab a table with a beautiful view at the centrally-located Sentro Lounge & Bar in the modern Hilton Brussels Grand Place Hotel. Our dishes from Head Chef Vincent Masson’s kitchen were a creative blend of European cuisines. Highlights of our meal included perfectly grilled scallops with risotto and monkfish accompanied by seasonal Belgian produce. Sentro also serves artisanal locally-raised cuts of meat. Save room for their delectable dessert menu!

View of local street art in downtown Brussels

AFTER-HOURS: GET DELIRIOUS
With over 200 breweries, this city takes its beer culture seriously! Brussels’ history of brewing beer dates to the Middle Ages, and its beer culture is even on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list. We checked out the mind-blowing menu of over 2,000 beers at Delirium Village.

Lobby view of the Hilton Brussels Grand Palace Hotel

WHERE TO STAY
The luxurious Hilton Brussels Grand Place Hotel is a welcoming oasis in the middle of this bustling city. Hilton Brussels is the perfect base for your vacation. You can walk everywhere or simply hop on the metro, as it’s steps away at the train station. This elegant Hilton has spacious family suites with one-and-a-half bathrooms (a rare find among European hotels). We enjoyed our time spent in the executive lounge and taking a breather in the airy lobby. This Hilton boasts a bountiful breakfast buffet, a 24-hour fitness center, a Godiva Café Chocolat, and a helpful staff.

Lisa’s family was provided with discounted and/or complimentary tours, a hotel stay, and one meal so that she could review them for your information. Lisa chose the above tours and restaurants based on solid reviews.