Choosing Your Own Adventure in DC: The US Botanic Garden

I originally wanted to do a recap of all the museums I visited in Washington, D.C. before I concluded this series of posts on the blog. In the span of 2(ish) full days, I got to see the National Museum of Natural History, The Air and Space Museum, and the US Botanic Garden - all of which were fabulous, but like most museums, were too big be seen in their entirety.

From "The Tropics" room at the US Botanic Garden.

From "The Tropics" room at the US Botanic Garden.

The Smithsonian Institute has 19 free museums along the National Mall and throughout the city catering to literally any interest one could possibly have. From modern art, to African American history, to botany, to the history of aviation, it’s impossible to see everything in a single visit. 

This was at the National Museum of Natural History.

This was at the National Museum of Natural History.

So heading over to these sprawling galleries and exhibits becomes sort of a “choose your own adventure”, something a lot of really enthusiastic travelers might have to reconcile with once they get there. Once I did, I decided with my friends which ones seemed the most enjoyable, the least packed, and the easiest to get to depending on where we were during the day.

Out of the few we saw, my favorite by far was the U.S. Botanic Garden, so I wanted to share some shots I got in their breathtakingly gorgeous greenhouse and gardens. I really put my DSLR to work in this place.

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One of the first things I saw as we walked in was a gigantic corpse lily. I remember hearing about the one that bloomed in New York last year, but it was REALLY cool to see it in person. It wasn’t blooming or stinky when I was there, but I’m pretty okay with that.

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The room that the corpse flower was in was called “Garden Court” and the narrow fountains surrounded by tropical flowers, orange trees, and hanging plants looked exactly like the terrace gardens at Alhambra Palace in Granada.

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Basically, I could've spent all day (or the rest of my life) in this room. It was so gorgeous.

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This is called a 'rain lily' and quite possibly my new favorite flower.

This is called a 'rain lily' and quite possibly my new favorite flower.

Next was the "tropics" room...it was also beautiful but I didn't stay long. Because of all the tropical vegetation, it was stiflingly hot in there, way too much to handle on an already sweltering 90 degree day.

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Next was the Orchid room...

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Then I got to see some really oddly shaped cacti and succulents in the "World Deserts" room.

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Almost stole one of these lemons from the "Mediterranean" room.

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Also wanted to leave you with a picture of this really pretty lily pond, though I honestly could not tell you which part of the building it was in. I guess you'll have to go find it for yourself!

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I had a lot of fun taking photos here at the US Botanic Garden, but honestly they didn't remotely do it justice. I didn't include a picture from every single room, but believe me there is SO much to see. If you're a fan of nature, make sure you carve out at least an hour or two to walk around and see their expansive collection of gorgeous plants.

If you liked this, make sure to pin it below!

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5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Visiting D.C.

So let me preface this by saying that overall, I had a GREAT time in D.C. a few weeks ago and fully intend on going back soon. I got to attend a friend’s beautiful wedding, celebrate my birthday on U-Street, revisit some of our national monuments, and cover quite a lot of ground in the short time that I was there.

With that being said, there was definitely a learning curve on this trip. This was my first time back to D.C. as an “adult”, so here’s a few things I learned that you may want to make note of.

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1. Don’t Bring a Car to D.C.

The primary reason my friends and I were headed down to D.C. that weekend was for a wedding, so I figured with our extra stuff like garment bags full of dresses, driving would be the smartest thing to do right?

NO.

Photo  [via]

Photo [via]

Okay first of all, what you might save on an Amtrak by driving instead, you’ll immediately rack up in tolls (and gas). Sure, we had a nice comfortable ride down from NYC, but once we entered downtown D.C. en route to our first hotel near The White House, I seriously thought I was going to run someone down. I guess this is the truth in any new city, but between the odd setup of the streets, low traffic lights, and nonsensical one-ways, you’re in for at least half the frequency of panic attacks that I had. Which is still a lot.

Like most major cities, parking is also a nightmare. Most of the time, we left the car at the hotel because we had to pay $50+ a night just to park it there. Ugh. But when we did have the car, finding a metered spot/any parking was like next to impossible.

We had to deal with a broken meter, a $100 parking ticket, and near gridlock traffic at one point. Overall, so not worth it, guys.

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That being said, we were happy to learn that Uber in D.C. is actually really reasonable considering how much we’d pay regularly and at surge times in NYC, so that’s a really great option for anyone visiting. The Metro is also reliable from what I’ve seen; just keep an eye out on their hours of operation.

Normally, I’d say when in doubt just walk everywhere, especially around the Mall area where all the major sights are concentrated, but we definitely struggled a little with that. Which brings me to my next point...

2. Don’t Go To DC In the Summer

The heat and humidity we were hit with in a mid-August Washington DC seemed to render this city unwalkable - at least during the daytime. If you’re walking between icy, air-conditioned buildings and museums, I’d say sure - it’s doable. But the fact of the matter is that there’s so much more of D.C. to see, and it’s hard getting motivated to walk miles and miles during the day when it feels like the air is made of boiling hot soup. It really does take a toll.

Ice cream was our only lifeline.

Ice cream was our only lifeline.

If you find yourself in a Southern city like D.C. (notice I didn’t say “The South” for fear of mass controversy), seriously don’t underestimate dressing for the weather. I wore sneakers and these cropped jeans two of the days exploring and have honestly never sweat more in my life. It was a struggle.

3. Don’t Miss Out on Smaller Neighborhoods

While my friends and I were really committed to museums and sightseeing, we definitely did our best to check out some of the smaller neighborhoods of the city. One mistake I think people make in a lot of major cities is getting way too caught up in all of the 'checklist items' to even enjoy the local flavor. It’s something I hear from people all the time when I mention NYC - they swear up and down how much they hate it, and then I find out they never left the lines and chaos of midtown.

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Map  [via]

Map [via]

I got to spend a night exploring the U-Street corridor where we had AMAZING Ethiopian food at Dukem, the weirdest/most delicious gelato I’ve ever had at Dolcezza, and drinks at a few local spots including my new favorite bar, Cafe Saint-Ex.

Another recommendation is to stroll around the Capitol Hill Neighborhood - we stumbled upon it while wandering around after visiting the US Botanic Garden. Next time, I definitely want to see Georgetown, Adams Morgan, and Dupont Circle (that’s where our hotel was, but we never explored the area).

 

4. Don’t Leave D.C. at Rush Hour

I feel like this goes without saying, but I had no idea how bad it would be until we stupidly decided to try anyway. If you think New York or LA traffic is bad, jeez. You’ve seen nothing yet. It’s reason enough to follow my first recommendation NOT to drive in Washington, D.C. at all.

5. Don’t Do The Monuments During The Day (if You’re Strapped For Time)

Finally, if you’re only here for a night or a short weekend...just don’t waste your day looking at the monuments at the Mall. This is something I really regret not doing, considering how hot and crowded these popular tourist destinations get during the day. After learning more about them while we were there, I found out that these don’t close at night, and are stunningly lit up when it’s dark out.

Photo  [via]

Photo [via]

Did I forget any? Let me know if you experienced any blunders while visiting Washington, D.C. or if any residents want to school me on some “don’ts” that I missed. Make sure to pin this if you found it helpful!

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Monument Hopping During D.C. High Season

I would say that walking around the National Mall in Washington, D.C. in mid-August was kind of like walking in a herd of sheep...but the sheep were lost, walking into frame at the worst times, waiting in lines, and covered in sweat. Sweat like you’ve never felt, man.

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I hadn’t been to D.C. since I was 14 on a school trip. When I received an invite several months ago to my good friend’s wedding in D.C. (the main reason I went down there), I was really excited to rediscover the city as an “adult”.

While we only had a weekend down there, I was excited to plan some activities around the wedding to get to know the city a little more. I remembered bits and pieces of how beautiful the monuments and statues were, how clean it was, what it was like seeing the Hope Diamond for the first time...but one thing that seemed to have escaped my memory is the sheer volume of people and how hard it would be to maneuver around them.

I realize there's a deceivingly small amount of people in this photo. Just trust me on this one. 

I realize there's a deceivingly small amount of people in this photo. Just trust me on this one. 

I learned the hard way that we’d shown up during peak or ‘high’ season in D.C., when everyone and their 18 family members who couldn’t come for the Cherry Blossom Festival decided to spend some of their summer vacation there instead. Not only did temperatures climb into the upper 80’s and 90’s, but hordes of people would descend upon the National Mall, and the line outside the National Museum of American History would wrap around blocks and intimidate those who were just there to see the giant star spangled banner (which is still very, very cool).

That being said, there is so much history to see down in Washington, D.C., and all challenges aside, nothing really kept us from enjoying the monuments and large public areas of the Mall (museums...were a different story).

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After a frustrating ordeal of finding available and legal parking around the Lincoln Memorial area, my two friends and I endured the heat and followed the droves of people walking in that direction. We had seen the Washington Monument up close the day earlier, but decided to focus on the opposite end of the Reflecting Pool on that Saturday.

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I had seen this exact area when I was in D.C. years ago, but as I’m sure it does to even locals, it still took my breath away. We climbed what seemed like 500 stairs on that 90 degree day (it was 58), stopping along the way to get some very satisfyingly symmetrical shots of the Reflecting Pool and the Washington Monument in the distance.

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One thing that was really different was the now unavoidable presence of cell phones, selfies, selfie sticks, Snapchat, and all other trademarks of 2017 that were pretty much non-existent on my last trip here in 2009. Listen, I’ve been to other famous monuments, I’ve been to concerts, and I’ve walked through Midtown Manhattan - I get it. Everyone’s gotta get a picture! Hey, how did you think I got all of these?

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Maybe it was the volume of people, but I had to circle around the crowd on both sides of the statue to even get close enough for some of these photos because I kept walking into people’s frames, into their selfie sticks, or into their arms because they weren’t paying attention. It was just a lot.

Now, if this place was empty? Or even had half the people in it? I could stay here for hours. The seated Abraham Lincoln towers 30 feet over visitors, housed in a classical Greek-style columned structure commanding their attention like Zeus himself. On the north and south walls beside him, I got to read his second inaugural address and Gettysburg address before exiting down the steps where I stumbled upon a little spot that most visitors probably don’t even see.

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On my way to find the bathroom about halfway down the steps, I see on the other side of the entrance there’s a tiny little museum! I didn’t get any pictures because I only did a quick sweep, but definitely go check it out. There are mock ups of the memorial before it was built, old equipment used to carve the marble stone, and lots of other historical tidbits. It’s also an amazing place to cool off because it was sweltering when we were there.

Afterward, we hung around the Reflecting Pool for a bit before heading over the Vietnam Veterans Memorial just a short walk from where we were. We made a friend before making out was over there, but sadly, had to leave him behind.

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Before running back to our quickly dwindling meter and checking into our new hotel, we headed toward the memorial where we were met first with the famous Three Soldiers Statue. I actually remember this one from years ago. The three men, meant to represent those fallen soldiers in Vietnam, gaze solemnly at the Memorial Wall containing the names of 58,307 individuals who were killed or declared missing in action.

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The structure itself is so, so beautiful, but the atmosphere is much more different there than in the Lincoln Memorial. We whispered, in reverence of those visitors looking for a friend’s or family member’s name, like the woman crouched down, taking a pencil rubbing of her husband’s name towards the end of the wall.

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When I read up on the memorial, I learned that the designers of the wall intended it to symbolize a convergence of the past and present; a reminder of how the sacrifices of years ago are never forgotten, and to never take our freedoms for granted. Despite not recognizing any of the names on that wall, I think that’s a message we can all relate to and really take with us, even after leaving the beautiful structure behind.

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After walking the length of the Memorial Wall, we decided to grab a popsicle and head to our hotel before venturing back out to another site. We ended up never having time, but I’d really love to visit the Korean War Veterans Memorial and FDR Memorial in the same area next time I’m there. I definitely want to get more into how we spent our time in D.C. on the blog, so stay tuned!

Hiking Through Camp Hero

As I mentioned in my post last week, Montauk is one of my favorite places ever. I love that it’s close enough to drive to for the day or for an extended stay - so no matter what time of year, it’s easy to escape the city when you need to.

There are so many little historical sites, restaurants, bars, and fun things to do out in Montauk that I definitely want to tell you all about. Places like Montauk Brewing Co., The Surf Lodge, the Montauk Lighthouse, and Gosman’s are popular destinations for visitors from all over, but what I want to tell you about today is a little off the beaten path.

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Ever watch the Netflix series Stranger Things? If you haven’t you are MISSING OUT, my friend. Basically it has to do with human experimentation, interdimensional travel, a unassuming small town, Dungeons and Dragons, and a spunky group of heroes under the age of 12. It’s fantastic, it’s set in the 80’s, just go watch it.

Photo [ via ]

Photo [via]

Anyway, not a lot of people know this, but Stranger Things is loosely based off of one of my favorite spooky spots in Montauk, Camp Hero State Park. Located on Montauk Highway right before you enter the parking lot for the lighthouse, the sign for Camp Hero almost sneaks up on you, the driveway hidden in a mess of overgrown brush and trees.

It’s a New York State Park, so certain times of the day/year you’ll have to pay $10 to get in, but luckily I’ve always found a way to avoid that and still get to look around this creepy little outpost.

Unless you drive straight past the entrance to go visit the bluff overlook (which has such a beautiful view of the lighthouse and ocean), you can drive through the park to where the real fun stuff is like the radar tower, old battery dunn, and abandoned buildings that housed soldiers and other facilities when it was a military base in the 1940’s.

There’s a lot of really cool history behind Camp Hero and believe me, I could go on and on about not only its recorded history, but the stories and conspiracy theories that surround the abandoned base in the 1980’s, when many have come out and alleged to be a part of various psychological and time travel experiments called The Montauk Project underground.

If you want to dig a little deeper there, Wikipedia isn’t super helpful so visit this Dan’s Papers article where you’ll get a general overview of why this place is so shrouded in mystery.

My favorite thing to do is head straight for the picnic area past the tower to where there are a group of abandoned barracks, bunkers and various buildings (that may or may not be entrances to secret underground facilities). The majority are boarded up with ‘DO NOT ENTER’ plastered anywhere paint would possibly stick. While my love for the lore behind Camp Hero was definitely creating some internal paranoia about the place, something about walking around those ominously silent grounds made me not want to even try to enter.

I’ve been here several times before, but this was the first time I climbed up behind a few of these buildings and saw that one of them was completely broken down in the back, leaving a very accessible opening to a long, dark interior. The reality was the inside of what seemed like this sort of old armory was just covered in tags and debris - no ghosts, demogorgons, or men in white lab coats looking for any willing (or unwilling) human participants. But you better believe I snapped this picture and hauled ass out of there.

One of my favorite stories from last summer was right around this building below, when my friends and I had stopped by after a beach day at Ditch Plains. As we’re wont to do, we were snooping around for openings in these buildings to see what was inside.  

After trying to peek behind a piece of plywood hanging off the back, a gigantic black bird breaks the silence around us and swoops down, almost skimming the top of our heads. I decided, for my own sanity, that it was just an osprey we pissed off by being in its territory, but nevertheless it was terrifying.

Camp Hero is such an awesome place to go if you want to scare yourself and get lost in all those campfire tales, but also if you want to hop on some of the best and unfrequented hiking trails on the eastern end of Long Island.

When I was there last spring, the park was basically empty and the trees were still a little bare, making for a chilling walk up to the bluff overlook, but gave way to arguably one of the most beautiful view of the lighthouse ever. I hope this inspires you guys to go and explore the unseen parts of some more popular destinations - sometimes the creepy, the unknown and even the macabre make for the best stories.

Favorite Hamptons Pit Stops

Long time no see! I know it’s been a minute, but I won't get into a litany of excuses for this procrastination. I’m glad to be back here writing about the spots I’ve visited so far this summer, so without further ado, enjoy!

Because I live so close, I try to head out to Montauk and the Hamptons as much as I can during the summer. Whether it’s for a weekend or just a day trip, I’ve learned that half the fun really is getting there, and some of my favorite road trip memories have been on Montauk Highway, either speeding down the empty road if we’re lucky, or more often than not, stuck in miles and miles of stop and go traffic. I usually stay and hang out the most in Montauk, but there are a couple of pit stops I love making along the way.

On one of my most recent trips out east, my friend Shelby and I were determined to stop at Wolffer Estate Vineyard for a glass of wine and a bite to eat. I’ve fallen in love with their rosé, but have never actually gotten to see the vineyard. You can imagine the deep, dark hole of despair my heart sunk into when we found out it was closed for a wedding that day. Boo.

Photo  [via]

Photo [via]

Luckily, Wolffer has a small shop and eatery right off Rt. 27 simply called “The Wine Stand”, and it turned out to be exactly what we wanted. As you walk up to their small shop right up against the vines, you pass the Rosé Drive Thru outside - their “adult” take on a lemonade stand. It’s ADORABLE, but you actually can’t buy anything from them out there. Instead, you have racks upon racks of wine, cider, and even their new rosé gin to choose from inside.

After picking up a bottle of their rosé table wine to bring home, we ordered two glasses of their new Dry Rosé Cider and sat out on their patio next to the vineyard. Of course, it was only 1 PM so I ended up leaving with a nasty sunburn, but all in all, so worth it.

It really is a great place to relax and get the whole “Wolffer experience” without going up the road to the main estate itself. Quick tip - summer weddings are BIG at Wolffer, so if you plan on doing a tour or visiting their tasting room, definitely call ahead and check if it’s even open.

If you’re a seafood lover like me, our next stop is something of a pilgrimage: The Lobster Roll in Amagansett. Recognizable by its gigantic “LUNCH” sign nestled atop the tiny restaurant in the middle of nowhere, some say it’s where the dish by the same name was pioneered.

The iconic restaurant is a casual eatery with some seating indoors, a covered outdoor area, and an open patio in the back. While some places in the Hamptons and Montauk have become posh - and dare I say pretentious at times - this holds onto the same cozy, no-frills feel that I remember from visits out east when I was a little kid.

There are paper menus, plastic cups, dogs sitting at the patio table next to you, and the smell of the most delicious, fresh local fare wafting from the kitchen behind you. I usually get a lobster roll when I come here, but I decided to change it up and get the fried oyster po'boy which did not disappoint.

To say this place is beloved wouldn’t even really scratch the surface, and it is, in my opinion, a national treasure. Also in case you were wondering, they serve lobster rolls both hot and cold here - the cold is a traditional lobster salad with mayo, veggies and seasonings, and the hot is simply steamed lobster with melted butter drizzled on. Both are incredible, so, you know, go at least twice. Okay I think I’m done fangirling now.

This is more of a no-brainer for any drive through the country, but I really wanted to give farm stands an honorable mention before wrapping up my favorite Hamptons/Montauk pit stops. I love the way they can sneak up on you, and most often have different products every single day - you know, actual farm fresh food (what a concept right???). Aside from great fruits and veggies, I’ve scored some delicious jams, honey, plants and pies depending on the time of year and location. My favorite by far is definitely Bhumi Farms in Amagansett.

Photo  [via]

Photo [via]

Not only is it arguably the most instagram-able stand ever (I mean just LOOK AT IT), but they always have a wide variety of produce and the most gorgeous sunflowers! I’m also a big believer in supporting small businesses, and visiting family farms and farm stands like this is a great way to do that.

The road out to Montauk has so many great things to see whether they’re scenic, historical, or just fun, and I love exploring more every time I drive out there. Which ones did I miss, and which ones are your favorites? Let me know, I’d love to do a Part II!