A Piece of Your City
As a meticulous observer and proponent of hands-on experiences, I visited every U.S. major city for a day to showcase the best neighborhoods, views, foods, activities, events, parks, museums, historic sites, etc., that are absolute musts for any visitor to experience. This included hands-on work experiences by crafting mementos that characterize the city's culture and industry. I hope this series inspires curiosity, adventure and enthusiasm through meaningful experiences that visitors will always carry a piece of your city.
The West Highlights:
-Riding the cable car in San Francisco
-Walking through Chinatown in San Francisco
-Staying at Hotel Nia in Menlo Park
-Bending glass to make a neon sign in Las Vegas
-Making a clapperboard in downtown LA
-Driving Rodeo Dr. in Los Angeles
-Staying at Hotel Ambrose in Los Angeles
-Walking the shoreline trail in San Diego
-Staying at Hermosa Inn in Phoenix
-Hiking Camelback Mountain in Phoenix
-Eating Tamales in Tucson
-Border crossing in El Paso
-The overlook views in El Paso
-Sunday night stroll on Route 66 in downtown Albuquerque
-Painting pottery with an Acoma lady in Albuquerque
-Staying at the Garden of the Gods Resort in Colorado Springs
-Running the Cherry Creek Trail in Denver
-Exploring Temple Square in Salt Lake City
-Hiking Camelback in Boise
-Ice Skating Riverfront Park in Spokane
-Staying at the Davenport in Spokane
-Walking the glass floor of the Space Needle in Seattle
-Strolling Pike/Pine Corridor in Seattle
-Driving the Columbia River Gorge near Portland
No matter how many times I've been to SF, I'd get lost as if I'm in West Virginia. Credit to the people that know where they're going. I'd say this is the most picturesque city because of the hilly streets, views of the bay and the iconic bridges. Plus, when it's not foggy, you have consistently good weather.
San Francisco is filled with neighborhoods, all unique and authentic. The mission district to Fisherman's Wharf, Nob Hill and Chinatown. You'll get overwhelmed with how much there is to see. I spent most of my time in Chinatown since I made fortune cookies inside a factory. Each worker makes 10k per day. It took me a minute to make 3. The factory was very busy with observers and shoppers. It was a real SF treat. Bay Area college professors comes up with the fortunes you see inside the cookie.
I stayed in Union Square, known for its high-end shopping and tourist central. Hotel Zeppelin was super fun and surprisingly quiet.
I was born in this city and lived most of my life within 15 miles of San Jose. You could probably say that I know it well, but it's not a destination. Growing up, going into downtown SJ was not a thing. We would just stay in the suburbs because that's what makes the Bay Area unique. Each suburb has a downtown and they're all very different.
San Jose has some good hiking trails, airport, and everyone seems to like Santana Row, which is a Los Angeles influenced shopping district.
This city claims to be the epicenter of innovation, so I decided to contact the Patents and Trademarks office to file my motto, Living the Map. It will take a few weeks to receive the paperwork as a memento of San Jose.
I stayed in Menlo Park's Hotel Nia. I don't know if there's a rating system high enough to capture it.
The ever changing Vegas, developing new concepts to attract people again and again. Everytime I visit, there's a new building or attraction. Businesses come and go here, and is as competitive as any place to make it. I stopped in the Neon Sign Museum to learn about the history of signs and the businesses that have come and gone. The museum obtains these signs because of foreclosures in rebrands.
I had a chance to learn how to make a sign at Hartlauer Signs. Bending glass tubes was one of the more fascinating crafts. It's pretty serious stuff. I mean it is a very delicate process. I would heat the rod for 30 seconds until it would feel like rubber, than you would blow the glass so the tube doesn't change shape as you're bending. Some shapes have so many twists you can't believe it's possible. These talented artists even create a 3D effect, so the sign pops.
I stayed at the Freemont Hotel and Casino, which is considered downtown. People really appreciate this area because it's the authentic Vegas with lots of history before the Strip existed.
Taking the time to explore this city like a tourist. Although growing up in California and attending college at USC, I never took the time to hike the Hollywood sign or strolling Rodeo Drive, but this time I made sure to catch all the spots, even in DTLA. I did appreciate seeing the city in a new light, but there's one place that always captures your attention, Santa Monica. I stayed at the Ambrose, about 20 blocks from the beach. They had bikes to borrow and it was an easy ride. This was the place!
I had just come from skid row in DTLA to make Hollywood Clapperboards with an incredibly knowledgeable industry buff, Robert. I didn't think this would be as fascinating as it was, but that's what I love about the element of surprise and learning. A clapperboard has evolved over the years, and Robert created the color boards. I had a chance to custom make one for my daughter.
Coming over the desert mountains into the green valley of oak trees and hills, you'll notice that there's not another spot to develop. People love San Diego. It's arguably the best weather in the country with stunning sunrises and beaches. For some, this is paradise. I was born and raised in California, so it's not until I leave and then come back, do I notice the appeal. I'm not much of an ocean person, but when you look at those waves crashing and the high cliffs with hanging palm trees, you want to soak it in.
I stopped by a surfboard shop in La Jolla to learn about shaping boards and how surfing grew even more than it has in the past. A blank slate of polyurethane foam can be shape by cutting and sanding. The avid surfers want the high performance short and light boards. Bessells Surfboards custom makes boards up from 5 to 12ft long.
Boards are constantly changes shape and design, just like automobiles. San Diego is the place because of water temp, accessibility to water and the consistent current. I'd love to try surfing again, so I'll have to come back. In the meantime, San Diego has much to explore, like the vibrant Little Italy and the charming Balboa Park. I stayed in downtown at the Sofia Hotel, which was spacious for such a historic building. I would recommend it, if you want to be near the ballpark and the Gaslamp District.
This city is enormous, especially if you include the 'burbs' like Gilbert, Chandler and Mesa. I stayed in Paradise Valley, a fitting name for what it offers. Hermosa Inn was like a place featured on The Bachelor, It might as well have been, since it has all the features of romance. The rooms to the pool and the restaurant were all embellished by lighting. The sun shines beautifully on the mountains and the popular hike is Camelback. I had a chance to hike a little of Echo Canyon, which is great to keep in the shade. I started the day with a hike then ended it with a run on the canal trail. People are going to stay outdoors during this time of year, but otherwise you'll find the gyms packed.
I came to learn about the Cosanti windbells, which are primarily made with bronze. It's become such a phenomenon, that even real estate agents use them as gifts. They're starting to hang throughout the city like chili peppers in ABQ. The process was similar to my experience in Memphis by pouring hot metal into a mold.
Everything is new in downtown. Reminded me of Houston. Great place for a sporting event or night on the town. It will grow on people soon enough. It takes time for culture and character to form.
Did you know that Tucson is a food destination? Neither did I. Tamales are the things to eat and had a chance to meet the manager of Charro. He introduced me to one of the best dishes I've tried. I had 6 versions of tamales, from hemp to chocolate.
There's a lot to see in this place, from the national park that holds 15 ft tall cactus to strolling Broadway and Congress St. Arizona in the winter is the greatest escape for most Americans that face harsh weather. I saw many cars from Midwestern cities, and not only the weather draws people but the exotic landscape.
One of the cities I was most excited to explore, since I made a swift passing over the city a decade ago. I didn't know much about El Paso, but being a major city along the U.S. border. I contacted Visit El Paso for some 'make it' suggestions and little did I know, it's the Boot Capitol. They reached out to Rocketbuster, handmade boots that have been custom-made for celebrities. They only make 400 pairs a year, so I wasn't expecting to get a pair, plus they go for at least $1500. I learned how to tool leather with a swiveling knife that creates the patterns on the sides of the boots. I made flower which is a common design, but what a delicate process. Not a forgiving art. First comes the design, then tooling, coloring and constructing the heel.
I headed over to the mission trail, which was over 10 miles from the city. Interesting to see the border wall shading the interstate. It was towards the end of the day, so I saw many cars filled with passengers being dropped off to return to Mexico. There's a pedestrian bridge, costing 50 cents to use. It's a part of everyday life to go back and forth for many. I was told that some even come to El Paso to shop because it's higher quality for cheaper.
If you want to get one of the most fantastic/fascinating views, go on Scenic Drive which overlooks the entire city and mountain region into Mexico. The drive gets your adrenaline going since it goes up and up around winding roads. Only a few miles though. I'd say the terrain/landscape controlled the build of this city. Didn't seem like much of the land was destroyed to build, yet navigated around.
I stayed at Hotel Paseo de Norte. It's in the heart of the active Plaza District with theatres, arts and restaurants. I was most taken by The Centro which is blocks of shopping, but not high-end. It reminded me of NYC with the metal doors lifting for business. Many of the people I ran into didn't speak English. I bought a blanket, since it seemed like the most popular item.
There's a lot going on in this place. It's hard to keep up. So many outdoors activities to choose from, like hiking the Sandia Mountain or taking the world's longest tramway, and practicing your fly fishing skills at Tingley Beach near the Rio Grande River, or going on a hot air balloon ride. Catch the best sunset in America! Is it possible to do it all in a day, sure. But there's more. How about learning how to hand-paint pottery from a local Native? I tried that and loved it. I painted a little clay air balloon with the New Mexico flag, which symbolized the circle of life. I met with an amazing Acoma lady that taught me her craft and felt blessed to teach someone new.
Then, I had to try local flavors, of course with chili. Red or Green is the common question around here. I loved the hidden treasures around the Rio Grande, like the beautiful ranches and wineries. I do appreciate the trees since it's a desert.
I stayed in downtown, at the elegant and bursting with SW charm, Hotel Andaluz. It's right across the street from the convention center and Galeria Mall. It's a few blocs away from Route 66, aka Central Ave, which was bustling with cars cruising the strip. It's a thing here. Today, I'll be at the Turquoise Museum to cut and polish another great ABQ piece.
Might be heaven! I'm staying at the Garden of the Gods Resort, known for one of America's most desired wedding grounds. It overlooks the magnificent Red Rock formation, unique to the Rocky Mountains, and just behind those is Pikes Peak, one of the highest elevations in the country. You can find trails just about anywhere and I suggest 7 falls, which is a fun climb up stairs along waterfalls.
Downtown looks like a modern version of an Old Western town. Blocks and blocks of places to eat and shop. I spent most of the day exploring what makes Colorado Springs the Olympic City. Olympians spend months training at the center, a great escape from any distractions. Of course the facilities are state of the art. For the public, you can visit a very interactive Olympic Museum. I loved racing an image of Jesse Owens for 40 meters. Also, there's displays of medals from every Olympics from 1896.
This city reminds me that Americans live to vacation. They want the WOW factor and something to remember. Colorado Springs is just that, even in the winter.
This is one of those cities that only by living in it, you'll find the best spots. You can't just leave it up to the touristy destinations. I have biked every road of Denver, every path and neighborhood over the years. It's definitely an easy city to get around on bike paths alone. I'd argue it's the best city to bike along with Minneapolis.
Denver has many neighborhoods with a strip of food establishments. And, then there is Colfax and Broadway with miles and miles of bars and restaurants. Downtown is saturated with the bar scene and high end restaurants. There's one in every hotel. I'm staying at this awesome themed hotel The Curtis, right next to the Performing Arts Center and 16th St. Mall. What I'm trying to get at, is this city seems like it has a food establishment per person. There all high quality too. I've never been disappointed with a meal in Denver.
There are plenty of parks to walk off your meal. Here's how I rank them, yet they serve a different purpose. Washington Park, Cheesman, City Park, Ruby Hill. The Capitol Building is great too. Their stairs leading up inspired me to make a Denver memento, the Mile High Marker. These markers show 1 Mile above sea-level and there are 5 spots in the city. I made my very own with Mile High Laser Engravers. I'm sure this piece was mass produced, it would be sold in gift shops around town or wedding tokens.
Salt Lake City
The city sits right up against dramatic mountainscapes, almost like a protective wall. SLC has quite the majestic skyline, especially with the capitol building sitting on it's own slope. The city is lit very well, a feeling of welcome. There is plenty to do with the downtown area, catching a Utah Jazz game, exploring Temple Square, City Creek shopping and ice skating. Yes, ice skating in the city that held the Winter Olympics. They're never going to let that legacy down.
I have been to this city a dozen times, but it was my first visit to the Natural History Museum of Utah. It might be better than the Smithsonian. Utah has a rich natural history, as you can tell by the National Parks. Yes, many dinosaurs and mammoths have been uncovered, and I was told only 10% of the state has been observed. I visited the paleontology lab to learn about the process of displaying fossils. Volunteers spent thousands of hours excavating Utah's land, removing fossils from rock and puzzling pieces together. I worked with a 16 million year old alligator by jackhammering stone way from a tibia. It takes patience and great vision to construct these creatures.
I wasn't going to pass up this stunning city in the Treasure Valley. Once you visit, you'll understand why people have been flocking here for over a decade. It's one of the most livable cities with so much to offer, from the great outdoors, education, healthcare, and a down to earth nightlife.
I'm fascinated by the gothic style architecture and one of a kind cone-shaped building, possibly inspired by Transylvania. I visited the Basque Block in downtown to learn about the great migration of those from the Basque Country, located in Spain and France. The sheepherding industry brought hundreds of Basques to Boise for an opportunity. The museum will tell the great story of a culture that still lives on strong. Just like it's food, I had a chance to cook chorizos at Ansots. One of the best dishes I've tasted and it was so simple.
Afterwards, hiked the Camelback Hills which is right near town. I enjoyed Hyde Park's historic district for a stroll through a quant neighborhood and eateries.
I stayed at Hotel 43, which was a wonderful stay in downtown, walking distance to the vibrant 8th street. I highly recommend this boutique hotel and the attached restaurant. Boise still has room to grow, so don't be surprised by the changes each visit.
City #50! I am in Spokane at the most beautiful time of year. Holiday lights, snowfall and a cheerful spirit. Wasn't easy getting here from Seattle, driving the pass, but I met a gentleman helping me put chains on my tires and wanted to pay him for his assistance. He said, 'you're just another guy trying to get somewhere." He was on a way to his daughter's rehearsal. I was on my way to my 50th city of this tour.
The first thing I noticed while descending into the Spokane Valley was the freight train high above the interstate. It was a beautiful setting, something humbling about it. Spokane is a down to earth city, once in a while getting spoiled by special features, like the Riverfront Park. I'm telling you this park can't get any more perfect, especially during the holidays. The ice skating rink was like a track, rather than a rink. The lights cover pedestrian bridges over the rushing river. Sometimes a city can be worth visiting for just one feature, but luckily that's not all to see. I stayed in one of America's finest hotels, the historic Davenport. I can't say enough good things about this classy stay. The craftsmanship everywhere you look is stunning. The fine detail of woodwork, light fixtures, carpeting can't be found in today's builds. The rooms, well let's just say, I want to revisit.
Spokane is also known for the great outdoors, being so close to the forests for hiking and skiing.
I came to learn a few things in the city. The first was watercoloring lilacs, since Spokane's nickname is 'lilac city'. I painted with Megan Perkins, a local artist that is passionate about her art. I haven't watercolored since grade school and I was eager to see if I remembered anything. Nope. I forgot which colors are primary and secondary. I didn't know how to stroke the brush. We painted the famous red wagon, surrounded by purple lilacs. I am pleased with the work.
Then, I headed to the basement of The Davenport to learn about their famous peanut brittle. Do you know there is a brittle war in Spokane, similar to pizza wars in New Haven, CT? It's a tasty treat, and if you like Butterfingers, this is a much higher quality candy. I suggest ordering some!
Seagulls in the morning, seagulls in the evening, seagulls at supper time. I don't know, that song came up, when I hear seagulls all the time near the water in Seattle. I ran to Public Market this morning and caught some fish throwing by the fishermen. I suggest an early morning visit, since the lights are beautiful as you watch the workers get ready for the day. I understand much of the local community uses the market to buy foods, but this is a tourist's dream. You can easily spend a few hours within the market, alleys, and halls.
Then, I headed to the Space Needle, which is a must, almost like the Eiffel Tower of Paris. The top level has every view of the city. The next level below has a glass floor, so you can get yourself sick looking down. There's even seating for a restaurant. As I was passing time for learning latte art, I went to Pike and Pine, which seemed like a very Seattle place to explore. Meaning, authentic and grungy. It's a very interesting place, whether on the sidewalks or in the shops. The Cap Hill area is a must for visitors because there is a lot to see and the views are great.
I headed down the hill to Expresso Vivace to learn how to make that foam design in coffee. I'll keep this short. Not easy. My natural instinct was to poor slow and delicate, but that's where I messed up. I messed up 3x and decided not to waste so much milk and coffee. My instructor, Dave, kept encouraging me, but it wasn't something I would master for another month or year. I did want to take a picture, but it was embarrassing. Made me appreciate the art and the work people put into their craft.
I had dinner at Kabul Afghan Cuisine. Best food you'll have. I'm staying near UW, way on the other side of town at The Graduate. What a beautiful art deco 1920's building! Seattle has so much to see, because each neighborhood is so different. A blend of modern from the tech field, hip from the grungy, and the authentic fishermen culture.
Just getting warmed up here. There's so much to see in this island of a city. You're surrounded by water, and mostly in it because it's always rainy. Thanks the the beauty of Puget Sound, Lake Washington and Lake Union, when you say you like being around water. you must really mean it. Most people associate that statement with Florida's beaches. If I hadn't been here before, I would be in awe, seeing the cars driving onto the ferries as people commute across the Sound to their sanctuary. Staying at the ACE Hotel, it's a great view seeing the lit ferries crossing the water.
I'll learn latte art today and take a trapeze class. Should be a fun Seattle experience.
There's definitely lots of unique traits to Portland, like the Victorian homes used for business, co-op grocery stores, moss on roads and sidewalks, and restaurants that use the sidewalks with covered picnic tables. What makes it most unique is that you're in the rain forest. Usually you look for the parks in the city, but here, you look for the city in the park. It's a great place to bike, even if the pavement is always wet. I learned about the biking culture and how to custom build a bike from Ahearne Cycles. It's a fascinating and intricate process that I wouldn't bore you with, but it takes months to build a quality bike worth over 8k. I had a chance to ride a bike selling for 20k around the blocks of Portland.
When Lewis and Clark nearly completed their expedition and stumbled into the Columbia River Gorge, they must have found the treasure. About an hour east of Portland, the Columbia River Gorge is like seeing all of the world's beauty at once. I was headed for Multnomah Falls, which is one of the greatest nearby features of any city. You can even hike a mile to the top for the view of the Columbia River.
Now I'm staying along the Willamette River east of downtown at Jupiter Hotel. It's the best location, near the Lloyd Center, Conference Center, and many great neighborhood districts. Yes, it's raining, but I'll be exploring.
Since this is bike city, I'll be building a custom bike in the morning. Maybe afterwards I'll get a chance to get into some bike lanes. So far, Portland in a weird way, reminds me of Brooklyn. Maybe it's all the graffiti, murals, hipster feel. Lots of oddities, so you can stand out just to stand out.
The Mid-Atlantic and the South Highlights:
-Walking the Inner Harbor and Fells Point of Baltimore
-Staying at the historic 1840 Carrollton Inn in Baltimore
-Learning about the literary history of Washington D.C.
-Strolling the Mall, standing between the Washington Monument and the Capitol Building
-Watching the sunset at Neptune Beach in Virginia Beach
-Being on a naval ship in Norfolk
-Making a piggy bank at ClayWorks in Charlotte
-NASCAR Hall of Fame and Museum in Charlotte
-Forging a train spike into a knife in Birmingham, the Iron City
-National Center for Civil and Human Rights Museum in Atlanta
-Exploring the Freedom Trail in Atlanta
-Eating and staying at the Emeline Hotel in Charleston
-Making a sweetgrass basket at the City Market in Charleston
-Paddleboarding in Jacksonville
-Dinner Theatre at Alhambra in Jacksonville
-The Arts Fair around Lake Eola in Orlando
-Walking through Little Havana in Miami
-Making cigars in Ybor, Tampa Bay
-Taking the streetcar down St. Charles in New Orleans
-Eating on a balcony overlooking Jackson Square, listening to local jazz in New Orleans
-Astronaut training at NASA in Houston
-Market Square in San Antonio
-Hiking Mt. Bonnell in Austin
-Recording a song in Austin
-Staying at the Driskill Hotel in Austin
-Making the Stetson Hat in Dallas
-Cattle Drive in the Stockyards of Ft. Worth
It would've been a huge mistake to skip this city. Don't do it. Whenever you visit Dallas, dive 40-60 minutes to see Ft. Worth. It has a totally different feel than Dallas. Main St. is a really nice street, covered with brick and mature trees. There's a really interesting public water feature, called Water Gardens.
The main attraction is The Stockyards, where you'll get a real dose of the Western Cowboy Culture. If you're not wearing a hat, you'll be the only one. I loved watching the longhorns parade down the street, watching the cowboy crack is whip, and the wooden structures. I felt like I was at the State Fair, there's so many exhibits and attractions to keep you busy for several hours. I'm not going to compare it with the Stockyards of OKC, but it's definitely more touristy. I stayed at the Springhill Suites which has the best view of downtown and the surrounding area.
Nearby, I visited with ML. Leddy's Boots to learn about their iconic leather boots and saddles. I had a chance to see a leather artist design a saddle, all by hand. It was impressive to say the least. One little mistake can cost thousands of dollars.
When I think about Dallas, I think high-end everything, including shops, hotels, fashion, homes, careers, etc. Visit Dallas connected me with Stetson Hats, which is a cultural iconic piece of American fashion. I had a chance to visit their factory in the suburbs of Garland to learn about the history and manufacturing. Also, get a hands-on experience to make one of my own. They have two operating floors, one for straw hats and one for felt. I had no idea that felt was made from rabbits. That's the primary fur they use to make most of their felt hats. It's quite a process, at least 12 steps to get it to the stores.
As I mentioned, Dallas is extravagant. The downtown has incredible plazas, hotel, restaurants. Just on the other side of the freeway is the historic Deep Ellum district which seems like a world apart. It's more hip and eclectic with serval blocks of eateries and bars. Many murals that are fun to browse, even underneath the freeway. Dallas is spread out, so you'll mostly need a car to explore the sites and neighborhoods. You'll find some cool neighborhoods near the Galleria Mall. That's probably the area you'll find the Real Housewives of Dallas.
I always find it the best way to explore a city by running. I ran down the entire commercial district of 6th and headed for Lady Bird Lake. It truly does keep going. I imagine the college students love attending school in Austin. Regardless, it's a very young city. It's also very active. I thought I'd be the only person running at 6am, but this is one of the most active cities I've seen. Both sides of the river/lake have pretty trails. 2 hours later, I still found myself running. I had a great stay at the Driskill Hotel. Has to be one of the iconic hotels of America. It was spectacular. The grand entrance, the bakery and restaurant were all 5 star. My primary focus of Austin was to write a song. I connected with a songwriter, Walker Lukens to make a song about this journey. I sat in a booth, called Song Confessions and told the story of this journey. He'll translate that story into lyrics and outsource it to a band. We'll see how it turns out. Could be the best memento yet!
I haven't been to Austin since running the half marathon in 2012. That's the first activity that I gravitated towards, running the trails along the Colorado River. It's not the same river that originates from Colorado, but it's an impressive bluespace. I'm still uncertain if it's a lake or a river. I think it's a lake. Very confusing! Still, waterfront enhance cities, especially if you can play in them. Lots of kayaks and paddleboarders in the (lake) in the heart of the city. There are running trails on both sides. I headed up to Mt. Bonnell which has the view of the skyline and the hilly terrain of the city. The landscape has a similar feel to the Bay Area of California. No wonder people from the flock to Austin.
I hopped on a bat cruise to watch the millions of bats fly out from under the Congress bridge. It's quite a spectacle in the city, where people watch it like a firework show. The nightlife of downtown is pretty expansive, about a mile or two down 6th and then 2nd has about 3/4 of a mile. If you didn't know, Austin is the Live Music Capital. I'll have a chance to work with a local musician to write a song about this journey.
Market Square will take you to what seems like a foreign country. San Antonio is as close to Mexico, culturally, than pretty much any other major city in America. I loved the vendors, music and the colorful displays. I contacted Amol's Fiesta and Party store supplies to make popel picado, which is displayed above most of Market Square. Popel picado means cut paper, so I went to learn how to use tissue paper to design a Piece of San Antonio.
I made a paper flower, which became popular in Mexico because they lasted longer than real flowers and it was cheaper to make. Now, artist from Mexico and San Antonio are in high demand, year around and during the festive holidays. Viva Fiesta is one of the largest events in America. Maybe I'll come back and sell my paper flowers.
This city's park system had me smiling and singing while running. That takes quite a bit of energy. From my hotel, C. Baldwin, conveniently located near the public library and theatre district, I hopped on the Buffalo Bayou Trail and navigated under bridges, over bridges, through public art pieces, along a nice creek. It goes for miles until you reach the popular, Memorial Park. While I'm still on the topic of parks, near the expansive museum district in Midtown, there's another park worth seeing, Hermann Park. This one has similar trails along a river, massive fountains and greenspace. Looks like it had a zoo as well.
I thoroughly enjoyed visiting the NASA Space Center for astronaut training. I had to overcome an obstacle course with glasses that disoriented me. I just can't imagine the training that takes years to be prepared to go in space. It's another must to see, especially if you want to touch a rock from the moon.
Houston is known for its food. I put myself into a food coma, trying the incredible Blood Bros. BBQ, Xochi and Breakfast Klub. They were all the best spots to hit in the city, but there's so much more. You can spend much of your stay, just eating in this city. Any types of food you want, it's in Houston.
Thank you to Visit Houston for coordinating my trip, which also included a stop at Smither Park, which has structures built by mosaics. I sat down with several ladies to make a piece of Houston.
On my way out, I was curious where Joel Osteen lives, so I just wanted to check out the River Oaks neighborhood. At 5am, I saw so many neighbors jogging or fast-walking. Goes to show, success starts early in the day, getting on a balanced lifestyle routine. Royal Oaks, near the Galleria Mall, is one of the nicest neighborhoods in America. Within 4 miles of downtown, you'll see massive mature oak trees covering some of the largest homes built in the country,
A very easy city to write about. First, let's start with the city streets. There are so many recognizable or notable streets, like a Monopoly board in the city. St. Charles Ave, Canal St., Magazine, Bourbon, Royal and Oak St to name a few. What's nice, is that you can either walk all of them or take the iconic streetcar. I'd say on a hot/humid day, take the streetcar down St. Charles to Audubon Park to see the Louisiana wildlife. Plus, the Spanish Moss and oak trees will blow your mind if you're not from the South.
The main event of the city is Jackson Square. There's no other way to put it, but referring to magical. Most people don't think that this gem is right on the Mississippi River. It's so easy to get lost in the French Quarter with all the excitement, music, shops, but there's a serious natural feature just a block away. If you want to experience quintessential New Orleans, eat on the balcony of Tableau, overlooking Jackson Square, listening to local performers and taste fine cuisine.
Since New Orleans is known for Mardi Gras, I was to the costume museum of Mardi Gras to make a mask. I decorated it with the tradition purple, green and gold as my piece of NOLA. The costumes are extraordinary and it's worth a visit to learn about the meaning and tradition of the pieces.
Thanks to NewOrleans.com I was able to have an incredible stay at The Troubadour, which is centralized for walking to any attraction.
It's hard to believe that an already established city is still growing. Where are these people coming from? High-rise condos are going up all across downtown, keeping the city clean and modern. Just about everything looks new, The riverwalk trail is just incredible to explore the views, and if you don't want to walk, there's a boat taxi, which looks fun.
Now, there's an old city within this city, called Ybor. It's only about 3 miles from downtown and it's nearly the original neighborhood of Tampa, where people migrated to the city for the cigar industry. Yes, Cuban Cigars are more prominent here than in Cuba. I had a chance to roll the tobacco product at J.C. Newmans, the last factory to exist in the city. What a process! The entire cigar is made of leaves, used with three different layers of tobacco. Rolling it by hand is the premium product and the traditional method. It's not easy work, so no wonder cigars are a delicacy.
Ybor neighborhood is fascinating, established in the late 1800s, it sort of reminded me of a blend of the French Quarter in New Orleans and the Stockyards of OKC. It's heavily touristy for its cigar shops and restaurants. Let's not forget about the roosters roaming the streets. When I first heard them, I thought I was going crazy, but there are many roosters throughout the neighborhood.
I stayed at the Haya Hotel, which was like sleeping on a cloud. Then, I ate at the Columbia Restaurant, which is over 100 years old, filled with family tradition. It was an impressive 1 block restaurant and bar, filled with different themed rooms. Can't beat it. Thank you to @VisitTampaBay for the amazing suggestions and connections.
How should I put this delicately? Miami is over the top. There's nothing modest about this city, mostly referring to the hot spots, like Miami Beach and downtown. It's an elegant city wonder, where sunglasses are a must. The city pops with bright colors, from the spiral white buildings to the aqua blue water. South Beach is the most iconic in the world, where you can relax, bike, and dine. I appreciate a city that cannot be replicated. This place is the standard for vacation.
Although I'm more of a mountainous forest type, the beauty is hard to deny in Miami. I spent some time at the beach, making a sand art project, then I headed for another unique location, Little Havana. Miami has the largest Cuban population and plays a significant role in shaping this city's culture. Little Havana is worth seeing because it's authentic and far from the rest of the attractions. I enjoyed spotting the rooster statues on every corner, a symbol of power and strength to the Cuban culture.
Then, I went to the Miami Dolphins game, an invitation extended by a friend from Alabama.
Yes, there is life outside the amusement parks in Orlando. Actually. it's quite remarkable. I spent time walking around Lake Eola and found an arts fair that circled the entire lake. The area was packed, assuming mostly of locals. The neighborhoods are filled with nature and immaculate city streets. It flowed into downtown, which had blocks worth exploring, like Church St. and Orange Ave. The Dr. Phillips Preforming Arts Center has a unique modern structure and was getting lots of attention.
Also, I went through a very nice neighborhood, Baldwin Park, on my way to Crealde School of Arts to learn how to draw caricatures. As you know, most amusement parks have cartoonist, so I met with Rafael Diez to teach me the basics. "There are 5 shapes to consider; head shape, space between eyes, nose, mouth and ears. Typically, they're all half the distance from one another." I practiced a few head shapes of celebrities and drew lines of the spacing between features. Rafael can draw a pretty accurate portrait within 5 minutes. Now, I have a fun piece of Orlando.
As a visitor, it is very easy to miss downtown Orlando and anything north. The airport is near all the main amusement parks in the south. I'm staying at the Wyndham Bonnet Creek Resorts, which is a great property and has all the answers to a perfect vacation. I headed to this region's first amusement park, Gatorland, which started out as a roadside attraction. Now, it's a few hundred acres managed swamp for visitors to interact with alligators, crocodiles and many other animals, I fed the alligators, maybe 30 of them up close and personal. It was intimidating at first, but they patiently waited for food like dolphins.
My first time visiting downtown was awesome! I caught the very popular Art Walk at James Weldon Johnson Park. There was music on every corner. Artists were showcasing their work throughout 3-5 blocks. Police officers riding horses, strolling right in the middle of the road. People were in a great mood and it was a great introduction to the city. I'm curious where the mini train that cuts through downtown goes. Maybe I'll ride it!
Only 15 miles away from downtown is the beach. I find it rare that you can live on a resort close to the water, then commute to downtown for business during the day.
When people think of the great outdoors, Montana and Colorado come to mind, but Jacksonville has just as much. For the coastal environment, this is one of the most beautiful and expansive outdoors scene. I had a chance to paddleboard through the channels and there are many waterway trails. I'd say this was an absolute must, since you can get into the nature that attracts people to live here. I was told you can catch dolphins swimming during the summer months. I met with a paddleboard instruct from Jax Surf & Paddle at the Dutton Island nature preserve, which was also a great place to hike.
Speaking of water, the oceanfront has a few coastal towns, Neptune Beach, Atlantic Beach, Jacksonville Beach and others, where you can catch an amazing sunrise/sunset. I was lucky enough to see the massive waves caused by Nor'easter. Most of the sandy shore was covered though, which made it harder to find oyster shells. I met with The Gilded Shell to make oyster shell art. The owner, Jill, found a few shells beforehand and drilled a hole at the top so I can make a cool piece. I painted the shell with gold trim, included some beads to the tie and now have a great piece of Jacksonville.
If you have a chance to explore the City of Jacksonville, it's huge. It does take awhile to get places because of all the traffic lights and cars, but the neighborhoods across bridges of the St. John's River are worth checking out. I loved San Marco because the business district was active and had a unique layout. The riverwalk to catch the view of downtown was stunning. Jacksonville's skyline has a few signature features, like the bridges and the chimney-shaped building.
I spent the evening at the oldest and longest running dinner theatre, Alhambra. What a great concept to watch a play while eating a 3 course meal. It was packed inside, so obviously an experience to have in Jacksonville. I stayed at The Palms Hotel, which used to be a motor court. I haven't seen anything like it. Also, it was close to all the action on the beach.
I want to thank @Visit_Jax for coordinating such a great visit. The city had way more than I expected, especially if you love the outdoors. There are parks everywhere, even throughout the city streets. I'm a sucker for greenspace, and now bluespace.
If I hadn't been to Charleston before, I would've lost my mind it's so unique. The French architecture, infinite amount of church spires, kerosene lanterns flickering and the horse carriage rides throughout downtown to name a few iconic features of the city.
I checked into Emeline, a signature boutique hotel that had it all. A beautiful historic entrance, luxurious lobby, coffee shop, and a fine dining restaurant with an elegant Southern Charm. My first impression driving into the city was the fashion. People are over the top, like Beverley Hills. There are many unique clothing shops on King St., which is one of the more popular streets to stroll.
If you decide to go for a run or bike ride, there are many routes to explore. I ran down Meeting St and the looped around to King St., down to the waterfront at Battery Park. You'll see the incredible Southern mansions, cobblestone streets, palm and live oak trees. Occasionally, you see a cool narrow alley or a park with a fountain.
The most popular stop for tourists is the City Market, keeping a long history of local merchants selling items. I stopped by Ophelia's Sweetgrass Baskets to make the iconic Charleston memento. The sweetgrass baskets are typically made by those of the Gullah culture, which is unique to the area. It was a great learning experience and your hand gets cramped pretty easily trying to piece it together.
If you didn't know, Charleston is also known for beaches, like Folly Beach and Sullivan's Island. Those are worth checking out. Great city! Kind people! Easy-going! Probably the most romantic city in the country.
An impressive energetic city that took it up a notch with a World Series title on the line. You can just feel the excitement and confidence in the city through the smiles and laughter of the people. Some are even dancing. Atlanta is the major hub of the South and has so much action for those that live and visit here. I spent time at Centennial Park, where you'll find the World of Coca-Cola, Georgia Aquarium and the new Civil Right Museum. All are extremely impressive and a great way to spend a few hours.
Atlanta inspired me to make a piece reflecting the legacy of Martin Luther King. Since he was born in Atlanta and spent much of his life here, I made a steel piece of his 'I have a dream' speech. The work was originally created by Xavier Medina and I found local artist Carl Moore to help me put it together. After four hours of cutting, welding and bending, it was a fun learning project to have a great piece of Atlanta. If any one person had an impact on a city, MLK had the greatest one on Atlanta.
There's so much to this city, I might as well call it the city of nooks and crannies, because there's something interesting around every corner. It's a curvy and hilly city with lots of great neighborhoods, parks and trendy shops and restaurants. I stayed in Midtown, right next to the famous Fox Theatre. Element Hotel at Midtown is such a fantastic stay. It's brand new, guest services went above and beyond and the breakfast was made to order. I wish I could live in this place!
This city has great night life, fitness life, shopping life, and business life. No wonder people flock here.