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5 Fun Things to Do in Fort Lauderdale


Fort Lauderdale is a fun and festive beach-side city with endless things to do, from the Atlantic coast to the Downtown vibe, it takes Miami’s tempo, chills it out a bit, and draws you in. Check out 5 things to do in this sunny city!

The Beautiful Beaches

Fort Lauderdale espouses some of the most gorgeous beaches in the continental U.S. With soft white sand and gently waving blue water, it’s the perfect place to relax. While a tourist attraction, its also a local favorite, and despite its beauty remains relatively uncrowded. Parking is relatively easy to access and inexpensive as well.

The famous Elbo Room on the corner of A1A and Las Olas is a favorite of vacationers and regulars alike, offering a classic location with drinks and a view of the sea. Grab a cocktail, make some new friends, and then venture out with your towels and sunglasses for a swim, just across the street! In addition to this beach favorite, take a walk along the main drag to stroll past the other myriad restaurants and shops. Many offer drink specials, including two-for-one tropical drinks in 30+ ounce martini glasses!

If day turns tonight along the beautiful beach, you’re well taken care of. All along A1A the Fort Lauderdale nightlife begins to thrive early in the evening and continues until the wee hours of the morning!

Hit Up Downtown

After a day at the beach, put away your sunscreen and head out to Fort Lauderdale’s vibrant downtown. Himmarshee Street is a fun and walkable strip of modern restaurants, great bars, and local favorites with upbeat live music ranging from salsa to hard rock. As you walk along you’ll find an amazing array of food and drinks, everything from fried chicken, to seafood, to tacos and pizza – all of which impress!

Check out Taco Craft or Bull Market for a drink and dinner, and if you’re feeling the need to dance the night away, (or just grab some handcrafted cocktails), make a visit to Stache. From the street, this eclectic and unique location doesn’t advertise – just look for the Chinese lettering on the red marquee off 2nd avenue, which is around the corner from Himmarshee Street itself. (Make sure to check out the upstairs “library”!)

Lastly, continue your walk behind the downtown/Himmarshee area to the riverfront and enjoy the scenic beauty of the Fort Lauderdale Riverwalk area, a long, winding riverside walkway that bends along the New River. Yachts stride up and down this stretch of calm waterway day and night, and the nighttime lights of the boats make for great romantic sightseeing on a crisp evening.

Take the Water Taxi

One of the best ways to get around the intracoastal is via the local water taxi. Hosted by charming and informative captains, these boats will take you through the winding waters of the local area, stopping at locations all the way from the Fort Lauderdale to the city of Hollywood, if you so choose! With stops all along the water, take your pick and hop on (and then, off!) wherever you’d like.
Make sure to stop at the 15th Street Fisheries restaurant, as well as Bahia Del Mar, both excellent waterfront places to get great food and drinks. Try the fish dip at Bahia, not to be missed! After a day on the intracostal, you can exit the taxi at any one of their stops as well. Running day and night daily, the Water Taxi is a thriving attraction while getting around the city every weekend – so why not give it a try?

See a Show at the Broward Center

Located right in the heart of Fort Lauderdale is the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. Sitting along a quaint section of the intracoastal, it brings in an impressive array of Broadway productions and concerts during the year. From The Lion King and Rascal Flatts to smaller, local productions, their rotating schedule is one to keep an eye on. Ticket prices are reasonable, especially considering the caliber of performances, and the venue is a tribute to theater itself.

The Broward Center features both a classically beautiful main theater, often a center for popular national and global acts that seats thousands, as well as a smaller theater (pictured above) that focuses on providing an environment for local artistic troupes – which we often prefer. With comfortable seating, both inside and out, you can spend intermission on the terrace with a nice glass of wine and good conversation. Check out their schedule while you’re in town and find any number of intriguing performances!

Brunch it Up!

Fort Lauderdale is definitely a brunch-friendly city! After a few days in the sun, sand, and festivities of the area, you’ll find that the mid-morning scene in Fort Lauderdale is a welcome repose for a weekend morning (or, afternoon!). There are so many great places to experience great food and a couple mimosas, its difficult to pick favorites!

For starters, check out the classic Foxy Brown on East Broward Blvd for great American fare and a covered back patio where you can relax with your bubbly drinks. Get there early for the best seating, it’s a popular spot for a reason – the food is delicious! If you’re looking for more of a downtown vibe, head back to Himmarshee and sit along the street at Public House while you people watch, a favorite among locals. Make sure to ask for a spicy Bloody Mary to accent your meal. For some Latin flavor, make your way to The Chimney House, located near the Broward Center, which serves some of the best Latin cuisine in the city. Also a great place to sit outside, make sure to order their house-made Sangria and a plate of Empanadas… amazing!

At every turn, Fort Lauderdale is a fun and exciting place, with beautiful beaches, world-class food, theater, and excursions. Bring a couple towels, some sunglasses and your spirit for adventure, and get lost in the sunlight!

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5 U.S. Airlines We Love (And 2 We Don’t)


We fly a lot. We haven’t always, but whether through business, seeing family or traveling, Tracy and I have spent a lot of time in the air over the past few years. New travelers have a hard time telling the difference between good and poor carriers, as they should, but it doesn’t take long before you can start to separate the wheat from the chaff. What are the best airlines in America, and which are the worst in the U.S.? We have a few ideas.

Everyone has their own bugaboos when it comes to air travel that makes for either a great or not-so-great experience, and Tracy and I consider ourselves fairly low-maintenance. Get us where we’re looking to go generally on-time (if you can help it – weather and maintenance are things that just tend to happen), reasonably comfortably at a price that doesn’t break the bank and we’re happy campers. Little things like not losing bags is quite a boon. Being able to make a decent drink doesn’t hurt either, but that’s not a determining factor.

To others, there are a lot of other reasons to fall in love with an airline or have them on your personal no-fly list. A personal issue for me, as someone who is 6’3″, is having a little leg-space. For others, especially on long-haul flights, food is a big factor. Maybe you have another reason why you frequent your favorite carriers, but whatever the case may be, we believe that what people generally want is fairness and reliability.

There are some great carriers, out there, many of whom we’ll discuss in just a moment. What’s more important, however, is avoiding the bad ones. The ones that ruin your trip because you never take off. The ones that suck you in with a cheap price to only eviscerate you with petty charges (up to $80 for a carry-on?) You know, the ones that have you in a bad mood before you ever land at your destination.

It’s amazing to see people get fooled by bad airlines so frequently, either through slick marketing, perceived cost (which is far different than actual cost) or presumed accessibility. We’d like to put a stop to that, so, for those looking for the best (and worst) the U.S. has to offer, we’ve broken down the list.

As a disclaimer, this is based on our experience. Maybe yours differs, and if so, that’s great. If it works for you? Don’t change a thing until you have to. Ultimately the goal of this post, and this blog, is to help people travel more often and enjoy better experiences. We hope this helps you accomplish just that.

The Ones We Love

JetBlue

You really have to start with JetBlue if you want to talk about the best carriers in the U.S., as they have a 12-year streak of being voted #1 by J.D. Power. It’s with good reason, too, as JetBlue place outstanding emphasis on service. The entire process, from check-in, to boarding, to comfort on the plan and baggage claim, is generally flawless.

We’ve flown JetBlue countless times, especially to Boston and New York, and the flights are comfortable, with ample entertainment, decent food, reasonable drink prices and an overall inviting and welcoming environment. Those that work on JetBlue flights are always pros, warm and kind to even passengers that might not deserve the patience.

The differentiator for JetBlue really is the on-board experience, which you have a hard time believing for the overall cost. In fact, while some airlines tout lower fares, we’ve found that JetBlue is consistent with their pricing – maybe a little more for the shorter trips, but much less for flights in the 90 minute to three hour range. Another plus? All those miles you gather flying frequently on JetBlue keep storing up for you – even after the calendar year ends.

You get more than what you pay for, and I say this as someone who isn’t being compensated for writing it. I’m saying it because, if you aren’t flying JetBlue, you should be.

American Airlines

I hear some people with mixed emotions about American, but we love it. AA is our go-to carrier between the U.S. and London because it’s extremely comfortable, their rewards program is excellent and we’ve never had a delayed flight by more than 15 or 20 minutes. The food on the long-hauls are always fair (sometimes, actually, they’re quite good) and the entertainment, even in coach, is enough to help you peel back 7 or 8 hours pretty easily.

In recent years, American has lurched ahead of some of it’s established competitors by upping their rewards program, making it more rewarding to fly frequently. To be frank, the major draw of American is the reliability. If we’re booked for a flight, the flight takes off close to that time. It’s a fair to enjoyable experience where we get our points, a decent meal, some good entertainment and enjoy the transit. In addition, as an old-guard, behemoth carrier, they’re route network simply cannot be beaten. You can fly nearly anywhere on AA.

Their reviews? Not great, admittedly. But, when is the last time anyone you knew actually left a good review? For anything? It’s not in human nature to talk about the “awesome experience they had flying” because they expect greatness in whatever they pay money for. From our experience, AA does the job and they do it well. That’s all we ask.

Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines is another “AA” that’s doing something right, as they were named #1 by Wall Street Journal in 2015 and have continued to rank highly in 2016 and beyond.

Alaska is almost devoid of customer complaints, continually rank high in on-time arrivals and are one of the least-likely to lost your luggage. I can’t say they’re the best, but it’s nothing to do with them. Honestly, it’s mostly on the part of familiarity. Alaska Airlines is an airline we’ve seldomly flown, but what we have experienced has been excellent – clean environment, comfortable, great staff, timely, and that old word that keeps coming up – reliable. 

A great thing about Alaska is that they truly innovate, having pioneered Required Navigation Performance (RNP) in the mid-1990s to give them a competitive advantage in flying accurately through low-visibility weather and into airports within difficult terrain. That’s beyond reliability – that’s taking a great airline and making it game-changing.

Southwest

I can hear you now. “What? Southwest?” Yeah. Southwest.

Southwest is the low-cost carrier that other low-cost carriers strive to be. Are they the cheapest? No, but they’re close. Are they the most comfortable? No, but they’re not the least comfortable either. Their prices are fair. The experience is fair. The comfort is fair. You may dislike Southwest, but we love it.

I flew Southwest for years, on a weekly basis while traveling for work, and I can say that they have the best rewards program I’ve seen in terms of how many points it takes to get a free flight. Yes, you’ll be stuck with a pack of peanuts as a meal, but with the money I save on Southwest I’ll buy whatever I want to when we get off the tarmac.

It’s true that Southwest does have the occasional delay, but I’ve found that most of those delays happen on the same flight schedules, at the same times, on the same days, between the same cities. It’s predictable, is what I’m saying, and I can deal with predictability.

Southwest gets our vote because they won’t nickle-and-dime you. Need to change a flight? No arbitrary charge for making someone do some typing. Need a checked bag? We’ll give you a couple – for free. Low-cost flight with wi-fi? Priority access and avoid the Southwest check-in? How does $12 sound for the best seat on the flight?

Dependable? Reliable? Honest? Yes. Flashy? No, and that’s part of the appeal. We love Southwest, and we say it proudly.

Virgin America

Everything is better on Virgin America.

This feels like cheating because A) they’re owned by Alaska now and B) Richard-Freaking-Branson.

We’ve flown a decent amount on Virgin, most recently on our way to London, and Virgin is just awesome. A little pricey? Sure, you can say that. But, sometimes you get what you pay for. Virgin is more than clean, it’s futuristic. It’s more than comfortable, it’s soothing. Price not-withstanding, it’s the best airline in the U.S. and the best transatlantic flight we’ve ever had.

The entertainment on Virgin is outstanding, with an excellent array of music and films, and the food is way above-board for an airline carrier in coach. Say one thing about Mr. Branson, he knows refinement and he knows class. The on-flight entertainment and e-commerce reflect that.

Additionally, we’ve never had a flight delayed because of maintenance or mechanical issues, and every plane we’ve been on is so pristinely kept that it feels brand new. Well, with Branson’s money, maybe they are all new.

Consistently a top 5 airline in the world, the entire Virgin Airlines flagship, and certainly VA, has excellent operations and customer service that quite frankly dominate any other operator as a total package. Want your luggage to arrive with you every time? It’ll happen. Want a great experience? It’ll happen. Want to feel more special than your ticket price deserves? Done. Want kind and entertaining staff that bends over backwards to give you a rich experience? It’s happened every time.

Yes, sometimes it really is that simple. Sometimes paying a little extra gets you a lot more. If you’ve never flown Virgin, you owe it to yourself.

Two We Don’t

Delta

I’ve flown Delta many times. I’ve given it many chances. In my experience, I would prefer not to have those experiences.

Delta has almost always been late, and this is coming from someone who flew the airline almost exclusively while traveling for several months, so consider about 20 flights into that equation. Twenty flights is enough to have shown some morsel of promise. Nah.

Delta is bad enough to have prompted one comedian we’re fond of to coin a little ditty about his feelings about Delta during his skit. The lyrics? “We’re Delta Airlines, and life is a f*&$ing nightmare.” It’s true. Look it up.

What they have going great for them is size. Delta’s route network is incredible, but their size only adds to the disdain I and some others feel for them, given our experience. To be that big, with so many routes and so many planes, how can every experience I have be so bad?

They have the resources to do better, period. Mechanically, they’re one of the best. The planes are great with a massive fleet, comfortable, and everything appears wonderful from the street-corner. Get on-board a Delta flight, have a delay, roll around the tarmac for a bit, let the on-board staff ignore you three or four times in your panicked want of water, and you start to see where it falls apart. It’s happened to me numerous times. Am I unlucky? Perhaps.

What do you get for all of this? An incredibly expensive flight. One of the most expensive in the U.S., in fact.

Spirit

Here’s the truth about Spirit – I’ve never flown with them. I’ve booked with them twice, and was 2 for 2 on cancellations on two separate occasions without inclement weather, impending asteroid or worldwide implosion.

I would rather fly Delta than Spirit. I would rather fly fold-up Wright Bros. craft than Spirit. I would rather Oregon Trail my way across the country than fly Spirit. I would rather ride side-car tractor festooned with mule manure than fly Spirit.

I would rather walk than fly Spirit. They’re so bad they had to promise to not be the worst. Publicly.

Now, “what’s so bad if you got your money back” you ask? I didn’t. Zero for two on that one as well. In fact, let me tell a little story…

About two years ago Tracy and I took a flight to Boston to visit a few friends of ours. Excited about the trip, we somewhat haphazardly booked our flight to Boston on JetBlue and booked the return flight from Boston to Fort Lauderdale on Spirit. We had never flown on this airline before, so we really didn’t fear the return flight.

Five days later, we pull into Logan Airport, walk up to the marquee and see “delayed” next to our flight indicator. “Delayed” actually meant “cancelled”, and only those who walked up to the counter were able to get on other Spirit flights out of Boston, as they seemingly failed to send the notification via e-mail, which I had selected. The reason, as we understood it, was that it was “windy in Chicago.”

Out of options on Spirit, we booked another, last-minute flight on – you guessed it – Delta. Two people, one way from Boston to Fort Lauderdale. “How much,” you ask? $1,200. When we asked the young, unattentive lady at the Spirit counter for a refund, she responded “oh, I’ve already shutdown the computer.” Yes. Computers. Those things that take mere moments to start, then pull information from all part of the globe. She was incapable of issuing a refund because she turned off her computer with a line full of angry would-be customers. Was it late? Oh, no, my friends. Closing time this fair day was apparently 4pm. We were given a number to call, that was of course never to be answered by a human, that was intended to be our source of refund. Never happened upon repeated calls to corporate.

Most recently, my wife was flying back from Tampa on Spirit (a flight she did not book, by the way). She did make it back. She did not do so easily, on time, or without a bit of a disconcerting incident.

Just before push-back, the pilot said that they couldn’t take off because the flight had been switched at the last minute (gate change) with a flight that was going from Tampa to Detroit with a major flaw that nearly went unnoticed. The Detroit flight had enough gas to make it to Fort Lauderdale. The Fort Lauderdale flight had enough gas to make it to Detroit. See a problem there? This doesn’t do much for our confident level in airline safety.

I congratulate the pilot in this instance, otherwise the flight to Detroit would have had to make an emergency landing due to lack of fuel, and the flight into Miami would have likely hard a (very) hard landing on the account of having too much fuel.

I don’t care how cheap Spirit is. Maybe you do. Maybe you love Spirit. Maybe it’s fun. If it gets you where you want to go, then great. In fact, I’ve heard that the newly appointed CEO plans massive changes, starting with the customer service. I hope that’s true, as an airline this inexpensive with upgrades in that department could really aid in the common person’s ability to travel. As of now? I know many people who avoid flying because they can’t afford anything else and don’t trust Spirit. We hope that changes, but time will ultimately tell.

Conclusion

So, my friends, take a little time to pick your flight. Price is important, but so are safety, reliability and dependability. Traveling should be fun, should be a rewarding experience and should be something to be savored. Maximize your experience and avoid the pitfalls by picking the right carrier to get you out of the gate.

 

 

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Best U.S. Cities for St. Patrick’s Day


It’s a month away, but like us, you know you’re already thinking about it. You’ve already looked at the calendar, saw St. Patrick’s Day (on March 17th every year, for those of you who aren’t in the know) is on a Friday, and felt your own inner leprechaun tickle your soul. St. Patrick’s on a Friday? Just take the day off. Start early. Go late. Yeah, you know you’re making plans.

Americans, and I guess really anyone, loves a good excuse to drink. Hey, it doesn’t even have to be our holiday (sorry about that, Ireland)! We’ve all but stolen Cinco de Mayo and made it into a tequila-infused day where everyone will readily tell you they don’t have a clue what they’re celebrating. Did you really think St. Patrick’s would be any different? Oh no, my friend. Oh no.

So, with flights to be booked and plans to be made, where are the hottest spots in the U.S. to have a bit of the green goodness and let your inner clover blossom?

#10 Seattle, WA

Despite the most geographically-distant location from where it all started, Seattle does St. Patrick’s Day right. The city leads up to the day with great events on a daily schedule, including a St. Patrick’s Day Dash that continues to grow in size yearly. The race paints the streets of the Emerald City green, as it has done for more than 30 years and is as much of an “Irish Halloween” in the Spring as one could imagine – complete with costumed participants such as the nearly 7-foot-tall leprechaun.

Seattle is a great drinking city as well, and one with enough craft beer joints to help you truly immerse yourself the event – wherever that might take you. If you’re looking for traditional Irish Pub flare, try the Old Pequliar or Mulleady’s Irish Pub, often considered the best of it’s kind in the city.

#9 Roanoke, VA

 

Roanoke? Yeah. Roanoke.

Downtown Roanoke fills up with more than 30,000 revelers each year during what they call their “Shamrock Festival,” a family-friendly affair that still features plenty of pints of the good stuff and a raucous enough environment to make you think you’re back in the Old Country. There are block parties littered everywhere throughout the city, that will grade from as docile and “nice” as you would like to the upper echelons of drunken hooliganism.

#8 Atlanta, GA

St. Patrick’s Day is a huge deal in Atlanta, featuring a city-wide parade that the city has hosted for 135 years, making it one of the oldest traditions in the city. There are several groups that feature in the event as active members and participants, including Clan Na NGael, Fire Emerald Society of Metro Atlanta (FESMA), the Irish Information Center and the Metro Atlanta Police Emerald Society (MAPES). The family-friendly event also includes a 5k race with a hosts of runners of all classes, from walker to professional athlete.

Additionally, Atlanta is a thriving drinking city with a high Irish ancestral population. Our personal favorite is Ri Ra Irish Pub in Midtown, where you can enjoy excellent hand-crafted burgers such as the Dubliner – a rosemary-infused lamb burger with curry aioli and goat cheese on brioche. Goes great with a Guinness!

#7 San Diego, CA

The year-round gorgeous weather of San Diego makes a great backdrop for any parade, but the St. Patrick’s Day parade hosted by the city is one of the liveliest and most well-attended put on by the city’s “Irish Congress” each year.

Each year, San Diego lines up an extensive list of performers of Irish theme, including traditional Irish dance troupes and pipe bands to further authentify the occasion. More than 40,000 people are present each year for the event, which begins at Balboa Park and stretches throughout the city.

#6 Philadelphia, PA

Philadelphia is a food and drink mainstay in the U.S., which makes it an ideal location to be on St. Patrick’s Day. The Irish in Philadelphia first celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in 1771, five years before the Declaration of Independence was signed, making this parade the 2nd largest in the entire United States (behind the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade, held in 1762). This is massive event with more than 100 events and over 2,000 participants!

Philadelphia, as mentioned, is one hell of a place to get a drink – especially a Guinness. Skip the chain locations and go straight to Moriarty’s on Walnut Street if you want to do it right. Here, you can get all the Irish classics to sop of a few pints of the black stuff – including Shepherd’s Pie, Fish and Chips and the best Bangers and Mash in the city.

#5 San Francisco, CA

 

You may not think Irish when you think of San Francisco, but you definitely think of partying. The LGBT capital of the U.S. is a haven for any group of people looking to mix it up, and the diverse setting results in unique pockets of celebrations that explode throughout the city.

San Francisco has its own parade, massive in its own right and dating back to the mid-1800s. The roster is one of the earliest to begin in the country, and one of the last to end, leaving revelers covered in glitter, filled with green beer and partying late into the night. If you’re really looking for a big crowd and a great time, check out the Financial District’s block party – one of the largest of its kind in the country!

#4 Savannah, GA

Savannah probably isn’t where your mind starts when you think of the best cities to drink green beer and douse oneself in lucky-charm-colored glitter, but have you been there? These people know how to party, and don’t need much of an excuse to do it. Home to one of the largest organized St. Patrick’s parades in the U.S., Savannah literally turns green the week leading up to the holiday with landmarks such as the fountain at Forsyth Park being dyed for the affair.

With proximity to bars being paramount on St. Paddy’s, the parade route smartly runs alongside the more popular areas where followers can watch while piling on the pints.

#3 Chicago, IL

Admittedly, the top three could be argued about their order by Chicago unquestionably deserved a spot. The Windy City dyes the Chicago River green, sparking the city with Irish spirit and the patrons with Irish spirits!

Chicago’s downtown parade occurs on the Saturday before St. Patrick’s Day, beginning with the dyeing of the river at 9am and continuing in Grant Park with a parade at noon. The South Side Irish Parade occurs the following day, stepping off from 103rd and Western at noon, further invigorating the city into full-on celebration.

Skip the deep dish pizza on St. Patrick’s, however, because Chicago features some of the best Irish Pubs in the mid-west. Our favorite is The Grafton, located on North Lincoln and named after the famous Grafton Street area in Dublin, Ireland. The menu includes all of the Irish classics, including a mammoth legend that’s difficult to find done correctly in the U.S. – the full Irish breakfast.

#2 New York, NY

What doesn’t New York do well? The United States’ largest city and cultural wellspring, New York was an early spot for Irish settlers in the 16th and 17th centuries, and has kept in keen sight it’s European roots.

Hosting the oldest St. Patrick’s parade in the United States, which begins in Midtown and ends at the American Irish Historical Society at East 80th Street in the Upper East Side. Any festival in New York is a site to behold, but St. Patrick’s Day brings entertainment of a different sort. Bartenders are common to pass out free shots along the parade route, ill-advised clover tattoos are visible as far as the eye can see and drunken revelers belt out pitchy renditions of “Danny Boy”. Never a lack of entertainment in the Big Apple, is there?

New York is it’s own animal, and the beast gets let loose on St. Patrick’s Day.

#1 Boston, MA

Did you really think another city was going to be first?

Boston is America’s Dublin. The Irish have been in Boston since colonial times, when they arrived as indentured servants, merchants, sailors, or tradesmen in the mid-1600s. Even today, the Irish still represent Boston’s largest ancestral ethnic group.

Bostonian last names are distinctly Irish, from O’Connor and O’Brien to McCormick and Kennedy, the Irish have positively impacted America from the country’s earliest roots – much of which stemmed in Boston.

If there is one parade in America you must attend on St. Patrick’s Day, it’s in Boston. The passion of the ancestral spirit is alive, palpable and proud on this day, as the parade routes from Broadway Station to Southhampton St, making it one of the longest in the country.

Bars? Food? Beer? Boston’s got that too. You can stumble across a myriad of pubs throughout the downtown area, along the financial district and parade routes. One of the most popular in the city is J.J. Foley’s, the more than 120 year-old establishment in “Southie”. Foley’s is a place where you can get all of the traditional Irish pub grub with a flair of class – including dishes such as a magnificent Duck Confit and a Pork Osso Bucco that absolutely melts on contact.

If you can’t make it to Dublin for St. Patrick’s Day, the U.S. offers many great options. However, you simply have to put Boston at the top of the list.

 

Photo Credits: 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1

 

 

 

 

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Downtown Jacksonville – Where Art and Eateries Meet


Jacksonville’s downtown is one of our favorite familiar scenes, with good reason. Before moving to South Florida, we spent a few years living in Jacksonville and found it to be one of the most underrated cities in the U.S. From the bars along Bay Street to the Brooklyn area’s new nuances, there is something for everyone. A far cry from the over-saturated Town Center or beach areas, downtown Jacksonville is a slow beat, a riverside walk and a cold beer on a Saturday all in one.

Riverside’s Chill Side

A great way to get familiar with the city is to start out in historic Riverside where you can peruse kitschy and endearing antique shops, as well as locally owned boutiques and bars that draw in the colorful downtown scene with a vengeance.  The friendly nature of this area of downtown Jacksonville makes for a great weekend excursion as well as an exciting night on the town.

Strolling in downtown Jacksonville

For one of the best brunch restaurants in Jacksonville (or dinner, for that matter), check out Derby on Park, a contemporary American restaurant that is located in a refurbished building in Riverside – the site of the old diner that use to inhabit the space. Their back patio area is perfect for enjoying the Jacksonville weather almost any time of year, and the space itself is a Jacksonville cultural landmark. This area, formally known as the Five Points area, contains not only Derby on Park but in fact several popular eateries within mere feet of one another. Another of our favorites in the middle of Five Points is Black Sheep Restaurant, a slightly more upscale contemporary American outfit with a beautiful rooftop patio that is perfect for enjoying a glass of wine with lunch, or joining a group of friends for an unwound brunch. Their rich and tasty menu never disappoints, and includes everything from contemporary American classics to spins on Southwestern Asian dishes such as the Banh Mi Sandwich.

After brunch or dinner, Five Points offers numerous spots for a casual night cap. A spot we’ve frequented would be Raindogs or Birdie’s Bar, both just steps away from the main roundabout and again within a few dozen yards from the front door at Derby on Park. Birdie’s is known for it’s laid back attitude, interesting internal decor that features punk-inspired paraphernalia, inexpensive drinks and a jovial atmosphere with a lot of regulars who are eager to strike up a conversation! Raindogs is also a laid back, chill bar to have a drink and peruse the amazing local visual artists who display their work on the walls there.  On certain nights you’ll get to sit back with a beer while live music entertains you as well. (Try their white sangria for a real treat!) Both locations can range from the casual and relaxed to the outright raucous, depending on the time of day or night.

If you’re interested in vintage movie theaters and cinema, you have to check out the also locally-owned Sun-Ray Cinema, a virtual time capsule from the glory days of 1960’s movie houses. They offer rotating classics like Casablanca, to modern titles, but their biggest draw is the amazing independent films that are screened here. The scene inside is fantastically retro, down to the large-stand gaming machines that adorn the inside corridor. Grab a ticket, a beer, and some popcorn, and find yourself back in time no matter which movie they’re showing!

The legendary Sun-Ray

During the daytime, make sure to find your way to scenic Memorial Park (locally known as Riverside Park), a beautiful (and aptly named) river-facing grassy plateau where you can bring your coffee or lunch and sit in the shade by the St John’s River while the city walks by.  You can also take a jog around the park’s pathway or get in on a game of soccer or frisbee in the center of the expansive, well-maintained field.

The Brooklyn Beat

New to Downtown Jacksonville is the Brooklyn scene, right across from the St Johns River and nestled in between the nightlife and the vibe of Riverside. One of the additions to this part of the city is the well-known Burrito Gallery restaurant, with it’s original location in the heart of the city on Adams Street in downtown Jacksonville.

Named for it’s idea of focusing on local artists and featuring impressive paintings on it’s walls, this particular eatery was a favorite of ours. In Brooklyn, it’s now a fun and family-friendly place to get great local food with a view from the second floor that overlooks the river.

The draw of the Brooklyn area of Jacksonville is enhanced by the modern architecture that encircles the eateries, a vibrant and colorful palate of buildings that seem to stand alone in the district. Though close to both the bustling downtown and the hipster-esque lifestyle of Riverside, Brooklyn lives in a largely business area, welcoming everyone from late night party goers to families and briefcase holders. If you’re looking for things to do in Jacksonville, check out the walk across the street and enjoy the river view, you might even see a few dolphins swimming past as you stroll!

Downtown Nightlife

At night, head over to the real downtown, just minutes away from Riverside. Downtown you’ll find a mix of bars and nightclubs of all varieties to entertain you with music and excellent bartenders, ready to mix up your favorite cocktail or let you enjoy one of their signatures. For a fun and very classic Jacksonville experience, head over to Dos Gatos, directly across from the famous Florida Theater and the best bar in Jacksonville.  Owners Jay and Joy Albertelli are excellent hosts and have made this bar a local favorite for years. Try their delicious “Stolen Fish” cocktail, and tell them Tracy and Justin sent you!

For a more musical scene with live bands and a great crowd, head over a block to 1904 Music Hall. This bar offers a wide range of beers from local brews to international, depending on your taste! Check out the back patio area where local graffiti artists rotate their work, it’s a great place to sip a brew with friends and chat.

Downtown Art-life

For even more of the amazing art scene, Jacksonville has the MOCA, a modern art museum with an entryway that leads you to an expansive area where the walls are hand-painted by different artists before every opening event. Hosting some of the best modern art pieces from around the world, it’s sure to expand your mind! The museum’s restaurant, Café Nola, is also exceptional. Make sure to ask for their butter-of-the-day to spread on their sweet and delicious bread. (My favorite was lemongrass.)

Across from the MOCA sits Hemming Park, where every first Wednesday of the month the area hosts an expansive and impressive Art Walk. Everything from handmade jewelry, to local art, to performance art are on display for the evening.  Walk around and peruse the scene with a cold local beer, which many vendors have for sale around the festivities. While you’re there, make sure to step into Chamblin’s Book Store, our favorite local shop selling books of any age and genre, with genial and knowledgeable owners and a cozy coffee shop offering warm drinks, bottled beer, and vegan or vegetarian wraps and soups. We love this place, and it gets credit for about half of the books that remain in our library!

More Than Just a Beach Town

While coastal, Jacksonville is much more than just a beach area if you venture into the heart of the city. The art museums and general culture are a fresh window Take a walk along the St. Johns, sip a local brew and enjoy the local scenes, rife with art and culture. There are many hotel options in this area, many with views of the river. Check out the Hyatt, the Omni, or the Doubletree for optimum access to the city center.  Settle in to the artsy and upbeat scene of downtown Jacksonville, make a few new friends, and sample the local eats. You’ll be glad you did!

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Where Do Couples Eat in Fort Lauderdale?


We’re fortunate enough to live in a place that, even when we’re not on the road, feels a lot like vacationing. Tracy and I moved to Fort Lauderdale a few years ago, and have since been amazed at the sheer depth of things there are to do in the Venice of America, as it’s called.

Fort Lauderdale isn’t a large city, with only around 200,000 residents in what is considered “proper” Fort Lauderdale. One really does need to make the distinction, as rarely is done, between Fort Lauderdale and Miami. It’s essentially two different planets. The food, the attractions and the cities themselves are different enough to necessitate separating Fort Lauderdale out from Miami in a food-focused post. There are, of course, plenty of reasons we travel, but Fort Lauderdale is a great place to call home when you can’t, and there’s plenty of things to do.

With that being said, Fort Lauderdale is a major tourist attraction in the U.S., and you can’t cover all of it in one post. The beautiful beaches, hot climate and vibrant atmosphere attract visitors from not only the rest of the U.S, but South America, Europe and throughout Asia as well. It is as diverse a place as there is in the United States for tourism, and its deep culinary underbelly reflects much of that.

Given the depths of all there is to experience, we’ve tried to gather as much information to give you a great start the next time you find yourself along Las Olas and A1A, looking for a place to fill you up that won’t break the bank!

Southport Raw Bar

Intracoastal view from the back deck of Southport Raw Bar

Type: Seafood

It’s first on our list for a reason.

Southport Raw Bar is a Fort Lauderdale landmark that has its beginnings in the early 1970’s, and has seemingly grown alongside the city. At the time, Fort Lauderdale was primarily an undeveloped beach town aside from the notoriety it had gained by being featured in the 1960 movie Where The Boys Are. Now, both are synonymous with “island-life” in South Florida.

When company or family comes to town, the first stop is Southport, one of the best seafood restaurants in Fort Lauderdale. With outdoor seating facing the Intracoastal waterway, some of the freshest seafood catch you can find in the Southern U.S. and cheap beer specials, you can come, fill up, slam a couple of pops and just get away for a while.

The service is friendly, the food is great, and the prices are some of the more affordable along the beach considering the quality of the experience. We highly recommend as a place that is sure to get you in the beach-mood.

Gilbert’s 17th St. Grill

Havarti-stuffed burger? On a date? Yes, actually!

Type: Grill

Gilbert’s isn’t just burger joint, it’s the burger joint.

Family-owned for more than forty years, Gilbert’s boasts a small menu that’s heavy on taste, including a selection of more than ten different hand-crafted burgers, grill platters with beef, fish and chicken as well as excellent salads and desserts.

However, don’t sleep on the sides at Gilbert’s. Get the legendary sweet potato fries to go with the blue cheese stuffed burger for a truly transcendental experience!

Looking to keep it thin for your fun in the sun? Gilbert’s offers plenty of lighter-fare options to keep you from feeling beached on the beach!

Wild Sea

An excellent spot for great seafood and a glass wine.

Type: Seafood/Fine dining

Why include a “fine dining” establishment in a post about where to eat on a budget? Wild Sea offers a first-class experience at third-class prices, with one of the most creative seafood menus in all of Fort Lauderdale. The menu is stunning, and you can get a great meal for under $20 per person.

If you know your seafood, I mean really know, Wild Sea offers great catch options outside of the norm such as Monkfish and Wahoo. The decor is elegant, the inside is cozy and warm while also feeling exclusive and providing the background setting for a great date night.

Tap 42

“Tap” is a great spot to meet with friends or have a great cocktail.

Type: Gastropub

Tap 42 is a newer Fort Lauderdale invention that is off-the-rails popular. A place for 30-somethings to both see and be seen, Tap 42 is most popular as a brunch location that gets busy early and stays that way.

Complete with bottomless drink menus both Saturday and Sunday, the brunch features American-based fare with flair, such as Chicago-Style Steak and Eggs and the “Hangover,” a colossus of a meal consisting of Turkey Sausage, Scrambled Eggs, White Cheddar and Maple Hollandaise between a French Toast Challah Bun!

Located just down the street from Las Olas and on the edge of downtown Fort Lauderdale, “Tap”, as its called locally, has also spread to neighboring areas in Boca Raton and Miami for those just outside of Lauderdale limits. Go hungry, stay long and take a cab. Trust me.

Il Mulino

You probably want this.

Type: Italian

Mention Italian food in Fort Lauderdale, and Il Mulino is bound to come up. Located on N Federal Highway next to one of our favorite theaters, The Gateway Theater, Il Mulino serves classic Italian dishes in a warm and inviting setting.

I, quite honestly, have a very hard time recommending what to get at Il Mulino. Why? Everything is outstanding. You want pizza in Fort Lauderdale? The good stuff they make in the old country? Go to Il Mulino. You want pasta? Il Mulino. Flatbread Rustico? Il Mulino.

Just go to Il Mulino, the best Italian restaurant in Fort Lauderdale.

Moonlite Diner

If you romanticize the 1950s like we do, sometimes nothing is more quaint and fun than an American classic – diners.

Type: Diner

Tracy and I are absolute suckers for diners. Put one in an Airstream bus or other silvery, shiny exterior mimicking an Airstream, and we go fully unglued into nostalgia for a time forgotten in America. Fort Lauderdale is like any city – it needs a great diner.

Don’t get fancy, just stay with the diner classics for a cool, romantic experience and a taste of Americana – split a chocolate shake, for example. Two straws, please!

Perhaps you and your love need a base-coat after a fun night out? You can’t go wrong with off-the-griddle hash-browns and a couple of eggs, sunny-side up!

Galanga

Tom Kha Gai? Yes, please.

Type: Thai Fusion

Galanga is a Thai-Sushi location in the Wilton Manors area in northern Fort Lauderdale, about 2 miles from downtown and only 3 miles west of the coast. We frequent here when we need an international fix, as Galanga serves up one of the best Red Curry dishes in all of South Florida.

The interior is soft and ambient, providing an ideal mood-setting spot that is incredibly relaxing. Best of all? Two entrees and a bottle of wine will get you out the door for under $40!

This is absolutely one of our favorite places in Fort Lauderdale, and it comes highly recommended.

Shuck n’ Dive

The Fried Green Tomatoes are excellent.

Type: Cajun

Shuck n’ Dive serves up Louisiana Cajun like no one else in Fort Lauderdale, including nightly specials coming both in plates and bottles! Shuck is a place we go to often when we’re looking for a relaxing outdoor setting where we can have a casual conversation or possibly take in a ballgame. Cajun may not sound like the ideal centerpiece for a date night, but it absolutely is.

The popular Cajun classics are on point – from Jambalaya to Crawfish, and we’ve probably eaten our body weight in oysters here. Very cool, very laid-back spot that’s great to pass a few hours and down a few buckets.

Nuevo’s Cubano’s

When is a Cubano ever a bad idea?

Type: Cuban

Want authentic Cuban? Want a real Cubano? Guava Pastelito? Empanada? Come here as soon as your plane lands and get the best Cubano in Fort Lauderdale.

Nuevo’s Cubano’s is a local fixture that stands on its own in a city full of great Hispanic food and tradition. Nuevo’s is exactly how you want a place to look when having one of the best sandwiches you’ve ever had – small, roadside, tight parking, fast service, cheap (under $10) and delicious.

With the location only three miles from the beach, it’s a great spot to sit down for a day-break, maybe even split a meal (they’re filling) and head to the beach. Wash it all down with a delicious Cuban Coffee for the road, and off you go!

Tom Jenkins BBQ

Type: BBQ

You can smell it when you drive by. It’s as though the scents reach into your car, grab the wheel, and pull you in. It’s good. It’s really good, and (as un-beachy as BBQ may be) you’ll do yourself a service to get the good stuff anywhere you can, anytime you can.

Tom Jenkins is by far the best BBQ in Fort Lauderdale, but that isn’t a disservice to the rest of the BBQ joints in the city because Jenkins is the best BBQ restaurant in most cities.

Listen, is BBQ a romantic food? No, of course not. But it’s a great way to find out if you have the right one with you. “You don’t like BBQ? Maybe I don’t like you.” There’s possibly no better love than someone that can help you take down a pound of brisket – let’s be honest.

Homemade food. Homemade sauce. Do it.

The Foxy Brown

Foxy Brown is possibly the best brunch spot in Fort Lauderdale.

Type: Brunch

Unquestionably a top-five brunch spot in Fort Lauderdale, The Foxy Brown is a personal favorite. It’s a place that feels somehow less than Floridian, and more in line with what one would experience in a Charlestonian breakfast or brunch. It has a bit of Southern Charm that is equal parts relaxing, delicious and intoxicating.

The small, warm environment includes a somewhat secluded seating area outdoors, and generally is full after about 10am on the weekends. They have an excellent choice of frittatas and benedicts, but I’m partial to the Hangar Steak Hash- a lead cut with 2 eggs and a chimichurri hollandaise that is somewhere lighter than it should be, and so good. A place where Tracy likes to go traditional, try the Patty Melt as well – it did, after all, inspire the rest of the menu!

La Bamba

Type: Latin

More of a fusion restaurant than purely Mexican, intertwining with classic Spanish dishes, La Bamba is a great location for couples looking to have a few margaritas and unwind.

A small, comfortable and traditional restaurant, the lines at La Bamba are often long – with good reason. Worth the wait? Without question. The traditional Ropa Vieja is outstanding, and I highly recommend the Costillas de Puerco – two seasoned pork chops topped with sauteed onions served with white rice, black beans and fried ripe plantains.

Date Night Special: Mod Wine Lounge & The Gateway Theater

Type: Neighboring establishments – Wine Bar & traditional 1950s movie theater

One of our favorite date night plans involves two neighboring locations.

Start your night at Mod with a bottle of wine and charcuterie plate, perhaps mixing in an elegant country pate in a quaint, beautiful bar with a 1960s flair. Reasonably priced given the quality, we’ve loved going to Mod and sitting outside on yet another impeccable Fort Lauderdale night and watching the city go by. Frank and Chad are the owners, and if you have an opportunity to speak with these two you’ll fall in love with their love for wine, for providing a first-class experience, and their sheer kindness and hospitality.

After you’re finished, walk the ten steps next door to the Gateway Theater, a traditional movie theater opened in 1951 that is as much Fort Lauderdale as the beach, itself. The Gateway hearkens back to a pre-AMC homogenized era where theaters had a sense of character while offering films not commonly shown in your run-of-the-mill chain theaters, including art films and foreign new releases not available anywhere else!

It’s easy for us to pick out a few of the best, ones that we’ve frequented and loved, but it’s hard to go wrong in Fort Lauderdale. With the ocean as your backdrop, the sound of the gulls as your soundtrack and the smell of salt and fresh catch in the air, it’s easy to find the right choice.

 

 

 

 

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Music City Reborn: Nashville is Singing Once Again


A strange article for me to write is “how cool” Nashville is. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great city. In fact now, it’s possibly the hottest, growing city in the American South. It’s hip. It’s cool. People are moving there by the thousands from larger, more well-known cities such as New York, Miami and Los Angeles. Nashville is not only a travel mecca, but in fact a domestic mecca – a place where 30-somethings are congregating in hoards to settle-in and raise a family in a place that is increasing in relevancy. These days, Nashville is the place to be.

Growing up as a child there in the 90’s? Not so much.

The city I grew up despising and devising plans to escape from in my misspent youth has grown to become, dare I say, a cultural icon. To say it has undergone a metamorphosis doesn’t begin to tell the tale. Nashville is, in many ways, synonymous with not only music, food and a good beverage but the American way of life itself. In many ways it is as it has always been – a blue-collar city full of old southern charm, Americana, deep cultural history and truly some of the kindest, gentlest people you could ever want to meet.

Downtown Nashville looking along historic Broadway.

The past decade has been kind to Nashville, as areas of previous degradation have risen from the ashes to spearhead a sort of cultural renaissance built on much of what made Nashville cool in its mid-century heyday. It’s hard to say where or why the rebirth started, but one needs look no further for an example than the Nashville’s East End. Until roughly 10 years ago, much of what is now a gastronomical haven in East Nashville was high-crime, and in many places unlivable with unemployment hovering around 40 percent. That’s until local entrepreneurs, sucked in by the antique building structures, low cost of doing business and relative non-existent barriers to entry, began opening hipster-inspired bars in a wide-spread re-gentrification of the area.

As new bar after new bar grasped a foothold in the local community, drawing in younger crowds with disposable income from nearby universities such as Belmont, Vanderbilt, and Middle Tennessee, unemployment dropped, the vibe changed and suddenly entrepreneurial capital from more northern states began pouring in. Culinarians looking for a fresh start in warmer weather aided in the area’s progress, which since has become a hotbed of activity for not only locals, but vacationers looking for a taste of the Old (and the New) South.

The rebirth of East Nashville was a harbinger of things to come, as developments in the area coincided with massive upgrades following in the “Gulch” area, the southwestern corner of Nashville’s business district, as well as along West End Avenue in downtown and in surrounding communities easily commutable from the city center. Among these included new shopping and restaurant areas in Franklin, a primarily business district 15 miles south of the downtown area, and a re-branded section of South Nashville known as Pie Town.

Beneath the veneer of new development, however, remained the classic Nashville ingredient that first put the city on the map in the 1930’s – music. Well known as the country music capitol, what is revealed in the Nashville underbelly is a broader music scene than is popularly known, supported by music programs feeding the local music communities from the aforementioned universities above. On a given Friday or Saturday night (or Tuesday, for that matter), within blocks one can hear budding upstarts in Rock, Metal, Blues, Folk and even Christian music.

The kitchen classics remain in Nashville, as well, despite the city’s new face. From diners and country kitchens, to soda shops and Rotisseries, Nashville hasn’t lost sight from where it came. Among the classic “musts” are Wendell Smith’s Restaurant in West Nashville, Rotier’s in the West End area (get the milkshake), the Loveless Cafe in Bellevue and Helen’s Hot Chicken on Jefferson Avenue. How hot is the Hot Chicken in Nashville? Enough for Chef/Author Anthony Bourdain to describe it as a “three-day commitment” after his recent taping.

When in Nashville, get the Hot Chicken.

So many of these places represent countless memories for me, such as Wendall Smith’s Restaurant. As a kid growing up in the Music City, it was simply called “Wendell’s”, and I remember coming back from golf rounds with my dad, sitting down in Wendell’s classic diner-style benches waiting on a flawlessly-made “Meat-n-3” to storm from the kitchen. I remember Sunday morning breakfast buffets at Loveless Cafe, the classic morning breakfast joint built within the shell of a classic 1950’s motel – old Americana sign and all. Memories are made easily in Nashville, as yours will be.

After you’ve tasted the classics, see how “New Nashville” stacks up against it’s legendary predecessors. Great places to check out include the Sky Blue Cafe and Pepperfire Chicken, both in East Nashville’s Edgefield district. Nashville is also littered with some of the best breweries in the South, such as Tennessee Brew Works,  Jackalope Brewing Company and the grandfather of modern Nashville craft breweries – Blackstone Brewing Company on West End Avenue.

Belly full and buzz accomplished, you might be in the mood for something to do. Perhaps, educational? Historical? Nashville’s got you.

The Country Music Hall of Fame, Ryman Auditorium and Johnny Cash Museum are well-known hotspots for southern audiophiles, and the home of the 7th U.S. President Andrew Jackson (The Hermitage) still attracts crowds of visitors each weekend. Lovers of classical history can get their fill of culture upon visiting Nashville’s full-scale replica of The Parthenon in Athens, Greece, which is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. Similar travelers may be interested in the tomb of James K. Polk, America’s 11th President, located in the State Capitol building.

As if this and the untold number of pubs, bars, juke-joints, museums, halls and parks gone unmentioned in this article weren’t enough, Nashville provides ample fun for the sports-lover as well. Collegiate sports have always been a massive hit in the area, whether it’s watching the rivalry of in-state football rivals Tennessee and Vanderbilt battle alternately between Nashville and Knoxville, taking the family to the Vanderbilt basketball team at Memorial Gymnasium or attending the Music City Bowl, a Division I college bowl game played in Nashville for nearly 20 years. Football or Basketball not your thing? Greer Stadium provides a wonderful and wholesome experience each summer as families gather to watch a Nashville classic – the minor league Sounds, who have lit-up summertime nights for nearly 40 years.

It could be argued, in fact, that the city’s renaissance began not with the addition of new restaurants in lesser developed areas, but with the arrival of the National Football League’s Tennessee Titans in 1999. I, in fact, was one such lucky fan who was present at the “Music City Miracle,” Tennessee’s heroic last-second victory against the Buffalo Bills in January 2000. Believe it or not, it was my 18th birthday and one of countless memories Nashville provided.

 

Nashville presents something for everyone. From the music lover to the foodie, from the history buff to the sports enthusiast, you’ll find yourself overwhelmed with options and short on time to get it all done. What remains now, as the backdrop to the development and the city’s growth, is that which has always been and will always be. The people. In no place could one find finer people, wholesome of spirit, well-intended at heart and of caring nature. Upon moving from Nashville, I remember being shocked how strangers passing by simply didn’t wave and smile with a gentle southern nod as if to say “have a good day.” It’s a city that can spoil you.

So, be spoiled. Go to Nashville. Have a beer at Tootsie’s. Troll 2nd Avenue for a great new band. Get lost in the wonder of the history, and listen to the music spilling out of “The Row”. Have a conversation with a kind stranger bellied-up to the bar. Nashville’s waiting, and it won’t hold back.

Neither should you.