We are off to Hawaii this weekend to celebrate my mom’s 60th birthday and I’m hoping for sunshine, pristine beaches and sea turtles swimming in the water for her, since she loves all those things!
As a seasoned traveler, I’ve stayed in my fair share of hotels in different cities around the world. And I’ve learned (sometimes the hard way) that every major city has a different way it’s laid out which brings travelers the option of staying within the main tourist areas of the city or not. Sometimes, in certain places, it’s well worth it to stay within those busy tourist areas for a handful of reasons, while other times in other locations, it’s worth getting a bit away from those area when booking your hotel. Here are my suggestions for when to stay in tourist areas and when not to!
Where to Stay in the Tourist Areas
Paris – I personally like to stay a bit closer to the tourist monuments in Paris so that you’re able to walk everywhere you need, but I’m partial to which monuments to stay close to and which not to. I try to avoid the Champs Elysees as much as possible and tend to prefer staying closer Notre Dame near the Ile St. Louis. That location is near some of the best tourist attractions in Paris but also close to a lot of local areas too and it’s central enough to walk everywhere.
My suggestion: Hotel Le Notre Dame
Barcelona – Barcelona is one of those cities that I think is best to be in the center of the action and stay somewhere really central to the tourist areas. I’ve stayed right off of Las Ramblas as well as right next to Sagrada Familia and both were excellent locations to see everything but also see some of the local areas too.
My suggestion: Room Mate Gerard Barcelona
Sydney – Because Sydney is so famous for its views, I opted to stay right near the Sydney Opera House and Bridge and it was well worth it. Especially because it takes so long to get to Australia, you want the best view possible when you get there and staying right in the tourist area here was a win.
My suggestion: Four Seasons Sydney
Stockholm – Stockholm honestly feels like a small town within a large city and because of that, staying close to the main train station and Gamla Stan where most tourists will be is still a great choice. Plus when you’re so central, it’s easy to walk everywhere!
My suggestion: Sheraton Stockhom
Edinburgh – Edinburgh’s Royal Mile is full of tourists but in my opinion, it’s still the best place to stay in the city! You’re close to a ton of great shops and restaurants, close to the train station and because Edinburgh is still somewhat underrated in my opinion, you won’t have super horrible crowds anyways.
My suggestion: Hilton Carlton Edinburgh
Where Not to Stay in the Tourist Areas (and where to stay instead!)
Amsterdam – My visits to the famous Dutch city have been some of my favorite trips ever and after staying in a few different locations over the years, I think my favorite is to stay in the Nine Streets versus staying in the central tourist areas near the Palace and train station. I prefer to get away from the train station area and get closer to the canals which offers a much quieter, more local atmosphere.
London – London is one of those cities that can get quite chaotic and it’s at its best in my opinion when you get into the quieter neighborhoods. I personally love Bloomsbury or South Kensington to stay and actually any of the neighborhoods that border Hyde Park like Notting Hill are great too. They offer the charm of London without the chaos of staying in the major tourist hubs.
My suggestion: The Ampersand
Tokyo – Tokyo is really spread out and you’ll be taking the subway everywhere anyways, so my favorite spot to stay in Tokyo is right at the main Tokyo train station so you have easy access to the subway to go wherever you need to go!
My suggestion: The Tokyo Station Hotel
Rome – Rome is crazy chaotic in the main tourist hubs and can often seem very overwhelming. I much prefer staying a bit off the beaten path in Rome to have a more local Italian vibe.
My suggestion: Hotel Indigo Rome
New York – New York is similar to Tokyo is that there are so many neighborhoods to explore that you’ll be taking the subway around anyways, so it doesn’t matter as much to be right in the center of, say, Times Square. It’s better actually to find a spot more off the beaten path in a neighborhood you like and take the Subway wherever you need.
My suggestion: I’m trying out a new hotel in March, The Arlo Soho, and hoping it will be great. I haven’t found my favorite NYC hotel yet but keep an eye out for my review of this one!
Hong Kong – Hong Kong has a famous and beautiful skyline and if you stay in the tourist central areas, you won’t really get a glimpse of it at all since you’ll be in it! I prefer to stay a bit out of the way in Hong Kong and Uber wherever I need to go, plus you’ll get beautiful views of that famous Hong Kong skyline.
My suggestion: Kerry Hotel Hong Kong
There are certain places in the world that we just feel drawn to, like a magnet. And in all the countries I’ve visited, all the cities I’ve explored, some places just keep pulling me back and make me think of them often. I’m finding also that as I get older, as I see more of the world, these places provide the solace I need in a busy life and provide me with that feeling I had when I first starting traveling. The places that I constantly get drawn to are destinations that set something alight inside of me and constantly draw me back again and again for various reasons.
I fell hard for Charleston last year when we visited for the first time and even contemplated a move there (in the end, we obviously stayed in Portland). The city is gorgeous, the weather divine (most of the year) and the food… well where do I even begin! Charleston has been gaining in the travel community as of late and my visit there will surely not be my last and I’m scheming to figure out a way to return this year.
When someone asks me to name my favorite place I’ve visited, I often say Iceland (if I don’t say Paris). Iceland is my spirit animal destination, it’s the place in the world that I feel the most alive, that I feel the most free. It’s no surprise that this tiny island in the middle of the ocean is where we often go to get off the grid and get away from our busy lives and it’s also no surprise that when all Hell is breaking loose, I often remark “let’s just escape and buy a little horse farm in the middle of Iceland.” This country has made such a mark on my soul over the years and after numerous trips and seeing most of the island, I can honestly say my soul just craves visits to this magical place.
Ahh Paris, you all know my love for the City of Light. If Iceland makes me feel my most free, Paris makes me feel my most whole. It’s as if a piece of my soul is missing most of the time and when I’m in Paris, that part completes itself and I feel totally whole. I’ve always felt at home in Paris (and France in general) and there is something about the city that keeps me coming back again and again. Maybe it’s the warm croissants fresh from a Boulangerie oven, or my favorite meal in the world at St. Regis Cafe or the way the cobblestone streets feel underfoot or the sound of sing-songy French wafting in the air. Whatever it is, Paris is my place.
Over the years, I’ve often found myself slowly shifting from the draw to cities and being drawn more toward the solitude of some of the most naturally wild places on the planet. Iceland for example was an odd place for me to fall in love with all those years ago when I first visited, having been squarely a city girl. But over time, the simple escape to a place more wild, more raw became a sort of spirituality for me. And Alaska is one of those places. My first visit to Alaska began a lifelong love affair with the most Northern US state and I see it as having a large part of my life overtime.
We’ll be returning to Seville in March after our first visit a few years back and it’s a place I’m so excited to get back to. Spain in general is one of my favorite countries but Seville, it stole our hearts on our first visit and I’ve consistently thought about going back ever since. We actually remarked while wandering around the first time “maybe we should retire here” and believe me, I’ve given it some serious thought over the years. The aroma of fresh citrus trees, sitting for hours over tapas and sangria, what’s not to love?
London is one of those places that we use as a stopover en route to other places in Europe and yet, each time we go through London and spend time there, I realize over and over how much I love it. It’s not a place I find myself thinking of regularly but when I’m there, I always dream of the next time I’ll be back. London is a slow and steady love, but a love nonetheless.
We spent a glorious and magical Saturday at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in LA a couple weekends ago as well as exploring the whole Universal Studios Park and enjoyed it very much! It had been years since we had been (since we were kids) and while the Wizarding World of Harry Potter was our main attraction and why we went, we ended up really enjoying the rest of the park too. After a full Saturday at the park, I made a mental list of all the things I’d recommend if you’re making a trip there yourself so here are my best tips for visiting!
Go early and do the most popular rides or later in the evening around 6pm.
It’s best to either go early in the morning or later in the evening as mid-day the park is at its busiest. We found that doing the rides we really wanted to do first thing in the morning or after 6pm had the shortest wait times. For example, we did the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride inside the Hogwarts Castle (which is the best Harry Potter ride) with only about a 15 minute wait in the morning right at opening and then again after 6pm. During most of the day, the wait was 65-75 minutes so it’s worth timing it appropriately so you’re not waiting around all day. Instead, do the rides you want in the morning and evening and spend the rest of the day wandering around the park itself.
The Mummy and Harry Potter castle ride were the best.
In the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, there are only 2 actual rides: the Forbidden Journey and the Roller Coaster. The roller coaster is meant for kids so it’s pretty lame and super short and really not worth the wait. But the Forbidden Journey was amazing and totally worth it; we even did it twice! Outside of the Wizarding World though are a bunch of other rides. Our second favorite to the Harry Potter one was the Mummy roller coaster. I had no expectations and it blew us away and was super cool.
Use credit card points to buy your park tickets.
It can be expensive buying a bunch of tickets, even for just a day, to Universal Studios, especially for a family. We ended up using our Chase Sapphire points to buy our tickets and we ended up spending like $60 out of pocket for both of our tickets when they are usually over $100 per person for a day pass.
Even if you get early entry, nothing is open until the actual opening times.
You can buy early entry passes to the park but the stupid thing is, that basically all that gets you is early entry into a park that’s closed. You can get in line for rides early I guess, but overall, it’s not worth the extra money. They open the gates about 30 minutes before opening anyways and we found it was totally fine doing that and had no issues.
Food is cheaper (and better) at Citywalk than in the park.
We ate at the Three Broomsticks in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and paid $54 for lunch which was super overpriced. That same night, we ate at Vivo, the Italian restaurant at Citywalk right outside the park and paid $60 for 2 dinners, appetizers and wine. The food is overall better and cheaper at Citywalk than in the park but some of it is the experience so determine which is better for you.
Stay at one of the hotels in the park.
We stayed at the Hilton at Universal City and it was well worth it to have easy and quick access to the park.
Cheaper to stay without a car than to park at park or hotels.
We took a Lyft from LAX straight to the hotel in Universal City and didn’t rent a car which saved us quite a bit of money. If you can do this, it’s worth it as the hotel and park parking rates are fairly high.
Easy to do the whole park in a day.
It’s easy to do the whole Universal Studios park in one day, especially if you look at what they have before hand so you know. I would also recommend getting a map first thing out so you can figure out your schedule. We started in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, then went to the lower lot for the Mummy Ride, then had lunch in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, then did the Universal Studios Set Tour, followed by the Waterworld show. Then we went back to the hotel for a few hours to rest and came back around 6pm to finish the evening in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter again. That was a good schedule for us and granted, we didn’t do the Simpson area (we’ve never really been fans) or the Despicable Me area (mostly for kids) but we would easily have had time to do so had we wanted.
For years now, Nick and I have had the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Hollywood on our travel list. And for some reason, it’s just never really seemed to work out. Finally, we spend a weekend there in late January and all our Harry Potter dreams were realized! First, the whole Universal Studios park has so much to do, but more than that, the way they brought the world of Harry Potter to life really is super magical. After a stressful month, this weekend was exactly what we needed to escape reality and add some imagination to our lives and I’m so glad we did it!
The Universal Studios park is fun in itself, but the real winner is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter complete with Hogsmeade Village and the Hogwarts Castle, a few rides and a few experiences. Overall the ride in the Castle was by far the best and the roller coaster pretty lame (it’s meant for kids). But my favorite out of everything was just strolling through Hogsmeade village, sipping on a butterbeer (you’ll only want one, they are super sweet!) and being immersed in the world that JK Rowling created. The whole experience of being there is a pretty great one if you’re a fan of the books and inspired me to start reading them again on our way home. Long story short, if you’re a fan of the series, you’ll love the Wizarding World!
Hilton Los Angeles Universal City – Los Angeles, USA
555 Universal Hollywood Dr, Universal City, CA 91608
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at LA’s Universal City has long been on our wishlist for travel and we finally made it happen this January. I had looked into it many times in the past and knew we’d probably want to stay in the park itself to make it easier and found that there are only two hotels within Universal City – the Hilton and the Sheraton. Upon further investigation, the Hilton looked like it had been renovated more recently than the Sheraton and therefore I chose to stay there. In the end, it was super convenient and while a little overpriced (because it’s in the park), we were happy with our stay at the Hilton.
Location – You can’t beat the location for this hotel which is right across the street from Universal City and the theme park. It was super convenient for us to walk across and walk back to the hotel multiple times per day. We were able to go into the park when it opened, go back to the hotel mid day and rest a bit and then go back later that night because we were so close.
Peet’s Coffee – All the food at the park is super overpriced and the restaurant hotel was also, but there is a Peet’s Coffee inside the Hilton which was a great lower priced option. We did breakfast both days at Peet’s to save some money and not fill up too much before heading to the park across the street.
Comfortable Room – The room was large and comfortable and had lots of space for luggage.
Wifi – We stayed on LTE most of the weekend because the wifi was terrible in the hotel. It didn’t matter to us too much because we only had our cell phones and LTE worked great, as well as being at the park most of the time, but it is worth noting.
NOTES TO KEEP IN MIND
Parking will set you back $40 per night – We didn’t rent a car this trip because we were just going to be based at the park so we took a Lyft to and from LAX to the hotel. If you don’t though, the hotel charges $40 per night for parking so be sure to budget that in.
The Hotel is about an hour drive from LAX – In no traffic, it took us about 45 minutes, in traffic, well over an hour to get to LAX so be sure to give yourself driving time to get from LAX to the Hilton at Universal City.
All hotel photos via.
It’s been a while since I’ve done a #BloggingDesk post but to be honest, I’m at the point with the internet and Instagram that this post is a long time coming. After blogging for more than a decade, I’ve seen the space change and morph over the years and with the additions of Instagram and constant social media presence in our daily lives, it’s hard sometimes not to feel overwhelmed with everything we see. But lately, I’ve found that the “un-realness” of the internet and Instagram specifically is really bothering me. I hate that we live in an age where so many people find themselves looking at pictures and reading captions that truly are nothing more than an ad for someone’s highlight reel of their lives, showing everyone else that their life is perfect and making us all feel bad for actually being “real.” It all sort of hit me late last year and I spent a few weeks unfollowing a lot of people that I didn’t feel fit with how I’m feeling about social media these days. And wow, was that freeing! But while yes, we can unfollow if we want, the internet and social media is unfortunately becoming a place that is so far from real life that it’s often hard to distinguish between someone’s real life and their online persona and that’s truly sad. The blogging community (which much of it moved to Instagram in the last handful of years) used to be real, it used to connect real people in real situations and these days, much of it feels very fake and overdone and I think many of you will agree that what once was a real community has started to peel away the layers and reveal an ugly core. Several online situations recently have brought me to this post and each one has taught me a very important lesson.
You Don’t Need to Bring Others Down in order to Lift Yourself Up
A couple months ago, I messaged a “mommy blogger” that I had been following about an Instagram story she had posted about women without kids living a constant vacation. I personally found it offensive and I told her why in a DM. She did take it down but in our conversation, I realized that she would never understand my side of this issue and I would never understand hers. Ok so a little back story, I have followed this person for years and know her through some mutual friends, so my following was more of a loyalty. But here’s the thing, after that situation, I realized that while her whole life (and Instagram) account is motherhood, that doesn’t mean insulting women for other life choices, like choosing not to have kids, should be part of that platform. And I’m not saying she overtly came out and insulted other women, but over time, I found many posts and stories leaning in that direction, basically saying, if you didn’t have kids, you had all this free time and you weren’t living a fulfilling life. Now I have my own very personal reasons for choosing not to have kids and I’ve been open and honest about here on LOM and in my personal life, but each woman has a totally unique and totally valid reason for not having kids. That should never be put down, especially by other women. If we can’t stand together and support each other for our life choices, then we just end up dragging each other down. It got to a point where I ended up just unfollowing this person, not because she purposefully did anything wrong, but I realized that her mindset and mine were so far apart that she was inadvertently bringing me down.
The lesson: unfollow people who bring others down, whether they know they are doing it or not.
The Perfect Relationship
I’m at the point on social media where the captions about how perfect people’s marriages are or how perfect their spouses are make me just shake my head. Ok let me preface this by saying, I love my husband and we have a wonderful relationship and marriage, but does that mean that he’s always perfect and that our marriage is always perfect? Ummm no. And the truth is, no one’s is! That’s why it kills me that there are still the people putting that out there for the rest of us to think, “if I don’t feel that way, something must be wrong with me.” The people that brag about their spouses constantly and the people that say how perfect their relationships are, those are the ones that probably are farthest from it or live in a constant state of denial. I’m so tired of the perfect relationships thrown all over Instagram that now, I totally ignore it.
The lesson: We all have our own lives and our own problems, no matter how beautiful someone else’s may seem, it’s not real.
Always Healthy, Always Happy
You know those bloggers and social media stars that are always happy and always healthy and always dressed perfectly and out and about? Ok I’ll tell you right now, I’ll never be one of them and in truth, I think very few of them are actually real, if any. The truth is no one is healthy and happy all the time. We all struggle with times in our life that aren’t picture perfect, when you just want to crawl on the couch in your pajamas and watch Netflix for hours. When you’re dealing with health issues or you’re sick and can’t get out of bed. The behind the scenes of our lives are our lives and unfortunately, so many people on social media will only show the great amazing moments of their lives that we all think we’re living a less impressive life. And I get it, who wants to see the negatives? Well if that’s the case, then just don’t post. Or post and be honest about what’s going on. Personally I spent a week in late January barely being able to walk because of an issue with my back and I was honest about it. My favorite social media accounts are the ones that are honest about their struggles and are open to their followers about what’s really happening in their lives. Some of my favorites for this particular reason are Carin Olsson, Lauren Bryan Knight, and Kat Tanita. So if you’re looking for people with beautiful lives but that still show the hard stuff too, follow them. I so appreciate it when someone you follow reveals something from their not so perfect life that shows us we’re all the same. We’re not always happy and we’re not always healthy, but at the end of the day, sharing that is what unites us more.
The lesson: Remember that what you see on social media is a facade and follow the people that are honest and open about the downsides of life too.
Honolulu is a big city and a tourist hot spot so naturally, there are more than enough restaurants to go around. But over the years of visiting (and living in) Honolulu, I’ve come up with a favorites list for breakfast specifically depending on what type of morning meal I’m looking for. Here are my favorites spots for where to eat breakfast in Honolulu on your next trip to the Islands!
Koko Head Cafe
This spot has been on my list forever and I finally tried it on my trip to Hawaii in December and it is well worth the hype it gets. It’s out of the tourist area so you’ll have to drive or Uber here if you’re staying in Wakiki, but the food is so incredible you’ll definitely want to make the trek. Their Cornflake French toast is perhaps the best thing I’ve ever eaten for breakfast… ever. You’ll probably have a wait here, but it’s worth it.
When you want a gorgeous Waikiki view for breakfast, this is your spot. Located in the Outrigger Hotel, this spot is your go to for Macademia Nut Iced Coffee and Acai bowls as well as full breakfasts like omelets. It also boasts one of the most beautiful views in Waikiki of the hotel pools and the ocean. Go early or make a reservation here though as it gets crowded!
Original Pancake House
This is a local spot where you won’t get a lot of tourists but if you’re in the mood for pancakes, this is the place. I’m partial to their crepes and thin Swedish pancakes here but whatever you get, you’ll be impressed. You might have a short wait here but they move through pretty fast so it’s worth it to hang out and be patient.
Honolulu Coffee Company
Want a does of Aloha with your morning coffee and pastry? Then this is your spot. There are a few locations around Honolulu but the Honolulu Coffee Company is perfect for a light breakfast in true Hawaiian style.
And if you really want to eat where the locals eat in Hawaii, Zippy’s is your spot. Basically the Hawaiian version of Denny’s, Zippy’s is the local spot for breakfast that everyone visits. Their grilled cornbread is pretty great so don’t miss that.
It’s become a bit of a tradition in the last couple years that Nick and I escape the cold weather and chaos of the holidays and spend a week around Christmas in Hawaii with my parents. This year, we flew over to Oahu on Christmas Day and came back New Year’s Eve and it was such a fun and relaxing week in the Islands. I love Hawaii in December, the crowds are lower, the weather cooler and it’s a really nice break for us before coming home and diving into the New Year. We spent our week this year eating good food, flying the drone and taking in scenic spots around the Island. All in all, it was low key and relaxing, just what a week in the Islands should be. While we didn’t take many photos while there, we did get a decent amount of video so today we all get to fly away to Hawaii together in this recap video of our time this Winter on Oahu. Enjoy!
We are off to experience something we’ve wanted to do for a long time and that has been on a lot of my travel wishlists over the years. Finally, we’ll be heading to LA to take in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter for ourselves! I’m so excited to try Butterbeer and wander around all that the theme park has to offer!