Travel, United States

A Weekend South of San Francisco

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Point Lobos – Bird Island

For as many times as I had traveled to San Francisco for work, I had only left the confines of the city on a few occasions, and that was usually to see friends for a night or visit my company’s former sister office building.  Yet, secretly, on my phone, I was harboring a bucket list of to-do’s that were within minutes, and even a few hours, of my “second home”.

At the beginning of May, a girlfriend of mine suggested we tack on a girls’ trip to our most recent work trip, offering to accompany me to these places, since she used to live there and had seen the best spots.  Thus, our girls’ weekend trip was born.

Below is my itinerary, including where we stayed at what we did.

San Francisco’s Japanese Tea Garden

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Zen Garden

Ever since my travels to Australia last year, I’ve been a bit obsessed with tea customs in different countries, with the Japanese customs being my favorite.  While a bit touristy, it was amazing to see this peaceful tea garden exist not too far from the city itself.

(It’s $9 per adult to enter – tickets can be found here.)

Below are some of the pictures from the Japanese Tea Garden. It’s definitely worth a visit!

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Winchester Mystery House

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First of all, I’ve been obsessed with the story of this house for decades.  It’s a horrible series of unfortunate events for the Winchester family, which seemed to have been poured into the design of this odd masterpiece.

We purchased the main tour and the extended tour ($54 for both), which was a limited time offer, since some of these rooms were so fragile, they couldn’t take heavy tour volume for more than a few months every few years (click here for tickets).

Throughout the incredibly informative three hours we spent there, we saw almost every room in the house, learned about every minor detail of what went into each room (that they were able to explain), and appreciate the kinds of inventions Sarah had installed to assist her workers in getting tasks done faster. From the indoor/outdoor water recycling system for her plants, to the elevators, the intercom system, the laundry room, and her efficient way of heating her home, it was clear Sarah wanted her workers to feel comfortable and appreciated for the tasks they were doing.  Even their workers’ quarters were well appointed with both cool and warm air apparatuses, along with comfortable beds, and other amenities!

I’ve heard comments from friends on how creepy it must have been to tour it, given that people have seen ghosts of workers there. The truth was, it was incredibly peaceful walking through it (even in the basement and the attic), which told me that those workers who died in the home, weren’t ever in distress – they enjoyed the job security 🙂

Since we were not really allowed to take pictures in the home, I only have a few of the exterior, as well as of the final room, AND the costumes from the movie!

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Our 24 Hours in Carmel-by-the-Sea/Monterey/Pebble Beach

Accommodations

When we arrived to Carmel, it was a bit late in the evening, so we checked into The Wayside Inn and went to bed.  Having stayed at many inns before, I didn’t have high expectations.  When we opened the door to our room, I was blown away.  I felt like I had stepped into a quaint suite in Nantucket, well-appointed with high-end amenities, and  peaceful decor.  The beds were the most comfortable ones we had ever slept in, too!  To top it off, we were also given a free breakfast, delivered right to our door.  It was a fantastic experience from end-to-end, and I highly recommend staying there!

Hiking Point Lobos State Reserve

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Point Lobos offers different length/degree of difficulty of hikes, which given that we wanted to enjoy it, we chose an easy 4-mile, moderate incline here-and-there, hike (click here to view).

For the first 3/4 of the hike, we were walking through thick forest vegetation (on a trail of course), reminding me of my less-than-fond memories of Girl Scout camp and how much I hated potential wildlife surprises.  The difference was, though, the unbelievable reward at the end (which can be seen above).

Once you have made it to the expansive view, you are treated to unbelievable beauty of caves, cliffs, Bird Island (which doesn’t smell pleasant), and seal pups (which were hard to capture).

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Pro Tip: Get to the reserve when the park opens!  If you wait until 10am, there will be only street parking.  If you wait until 11am, the trails will get busy.

Pebble Beach 17-Mile Drive, Monterey

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After leaving the serenity of Point Lobos, we headed to Pebble Beach to do the 17-mile drive ($10.25 in cash, per car, to enter).

It’s another beautiful drive (with jaw-dropping homes along the way).  It’s highly recommended to do this drive, not just because of the multiple places to stop and take amazing pictures, but also to see Seal Island (highly recommended during pupping season in early May).

Hanging Around Downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea

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Anton and Michel

First, I am definitely coming back for a weekend… to shop and relax.  Every single store, restaurant, inn, coffee shop, and wine bar are so charming, so elegant, and so much fun to explore.  Below are my list of recommendations.

Basil

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Grapefruit Spritz

We came here for lunch and drinks, and it certainly didn’t disappoint!  I’d recommend the asparagus puree soup and basil house salad with chicken.   I wouldn’t recommend the cocktails unless you like a strong pour! (Gluten-free rating: 10/10)

Anton and Michel

If there is one restaurant you can get to for dinner, this needs to be it.  From the service, to the food, to the wine, to giving us one of the best tables in the restaurant (see the pool image above), it was a five-star experience the whole way through! I kept it light on dinner (so I could make it to dessert, so if you want the same, I’d recommend the Wild Mushroom Risotto, Wedge salad, and selection of ice creams (they brought me sundae toppings on the side.  I’d also recommend the 2015 Domaine Drouhin Williamette Valley, Oregon Pinot Noir.  (Gluten-free rating: 10/10)

Carmel Valley Coffee Roasting Company

I love non-commercialized coffee shops!  Their coffee and other caffeinated drinks are absolutely fantastic.  They also offer a small menu of gluten-free treats as well!

Cottage of Sweets

This place is an adult child’s dream!  Not only do they sell rare candies we all had as kids, they also sell an amazing array of house-made chocolates, fudges, and other sugary confections!

Kris Kringle of Carmel

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I am not ashamed to have gone in there and purchase several ornaments… at the beginning of May 🙂  They have some beautiful pieces I’ve never seen before, along with a large collection of unique Nutcrackers!

Diggidy Dog

The toys are a bit pricey but are so worth it. I brought home the one on the right (which was all but destroyed in a week).  They also have a wide variety of homemade treats!

Additional Notes

  • Friar Tuck’s and the Tuck Box only accept cash
  • It’s a bit cold and rainy in early May – I’d suggest late May
  • The drive to/from the airport is about 2 hours – plan accordingly if you leave later!
Date Ideas, Fun, Travel, United States

Date Night: Tulips

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Who doesn’t love free champagne?  A few weeks ago, before we headed to The Improv to see Vir Das, we had dinner at Tulips – a new restaurant, by the well-known D.C. restauranteur, Reese Gardner.

Formerly Irish Whiskey, the space was transformed into a light, airy, yet cozy three floors of great craft cocktails, a drool-worthy menu, and refreshingly chic spaces.

Having spent time in Irish Whiskey, I was surprised to see there was actually a basement level, which is where their restaurant goers are led to.  Given the name of the restaurant, there were tulips in every nook, mini crystal chandeliers above every table, and of course, champagne glasses on every table.

Our waiter was fantastic – he was sensitive to my gluten-allergy, walking me through the menu to make sure I ordered correctly and then poured us complimentary champagne!

We started with cocktails and an appetizer: Cuban Night and Midway (which we highly recommend) and the deviled eggs with caviar (which we also highly recommend). For entrees, my other half ordered the Lobster Roll (which he still raves about) and I ordered the spaghetti squash (which I still crave).  We would have ordered dessert but we were both pretty full.

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There have been comments online about portion size. If you have a large appetite, yes, this place may not be for you.  However, given portion sizes in most of D.C.’s finer restaurants, it’s right on par, if not, a bit more generous.

We highly recommend this place for date night, brunch, dinner, drinks, and events.  We’ll certainly be back!

Gluten-friendly score: 10

Date Ideas, Fun, Travel, United States

Date Night: DBGB

Tarte Tatin Sundae
Tarte Tatin Sundae

A few weeks ago, I took my better half to DBGB for Part 1 of his birthday celebrations, and we left there agreeing we’re going to be repeat customers!

DBGB has been given glowing reviews, since it opened in City Center a few years ago, and we can see why.  From the customer service, to the food and drinks, we were super impressed across the board!  As an added bonus, they are sensitive to dietary needs, which means (for me) they were careful to check that the items I ordered were 100% gluten-free, even making sure to give me my own gluten-free crackers as a starter!

Note: If you don’t eat much, the soup is quite filling on its own.  I’d suggest ordering either the soup or the salad, but not both.  Also, the dessert is to die for!

This is a great place for date night, lunch, dinner, happy hour, and brunch.

Enjoy!

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Date Ideas, Fun, Travel, United States

What It’s Like Cooking At The #1 Hotel Cooking School in the World

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It’s no secret that I love to cook – it’s one of my favorite de-stressers of all time.  There’s something cathartic about chopping vegetables, mixing together the right spices and sauces for new flavors, and seeing a finished product.

A few weeks ago, myself, some of my company, and some of our customers took a cooking class at Cavallo Point Cooking School, in San Francisco, and it was amazing.

Led by Head Chef Tony Adams (who has an impeccable sense of humor), walked us through the multi-course meal we were going to cook, before we were counted off into four teams.

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The menu is set close to the day of, after Tony has gone to the market to see what is fresh for the day.  The result is a custom menu full of fresh ingredients, and it was amazing.

We learned cutting techniques, cooking techniques, how to plate things the way they were intended, and used new totally helpful cooking utensils that I now seemingly can’t live without (my cabinet space is begging to differ on that one).

Our team did a pretty incredible job with dinner, and it was amazingly delicious!  I highly recommend taking a class from here if you are in the area.  After, grab a drink at the bar downstairs and certainly, take in the beautiful views of the Golden Gate Bridge!

Below are some more pics of the event.  People have been left out of them, since this was a company event 🙂

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Australia, Fun, Leo the Dog, Travel

Handmade Chic Dog Collars? Yes Please!

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As I was walking down an open air market at The Rocks in Sydney with my mom, we came across a tent with dog collars of different patterns and styles – some were plaid, some were polka dot, and others were striped, all in charming fabrics and styles, for both male and female dogs.  I had selected a handmade collar that looked much like the top of a shirt collar, for Christmas, for my dog Leo.

Upon getting ready to purchase the collar, one of the team members came up to me and told me it was still unbelievable to him that people from all over the world would stop by the tent and pick one up for their pet.  He was so gracious and so passionate about not just the collars, but the business as a whole.  I had no idea that this tent was actually just a small part of the sales strategy for dharf.com – a growing international pet company that strives to make beautiful collars, leashes, harnesses, and other accessories for pets!

I left there so excited to put this on Leo, that it was hard to wait until Christmas.  Somehow, I survived.  If you’re looking for unique, custom pieces for your pets, check out their site – they ship internationally!  Leo certainly isn’t disappointed.

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Date Ideas, Fun, Travel, United States

Date Night: Harold Black and B Too

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Anyone who knows me, knows I have a HUGE love of speakeasies.  A few weekends ago, we decided to try Harold Black, and we were definitely not disappointed.

Like most speakeasies, you either spend quite a bit of time looking for the entrance, or you look it up (like we did).  Below are the directions on how to find the speakeasy, including a video!

Directions: To the left Acqua al 2’s patio is a nondescript wooden door.  It looks as though it’s locked, but it’s not.  You go up the staircases, open another door, and up another staircase.  At the end of the hallway is a table with instructions.

Once inside, you’re transported into a genuine replica of a 1920s speakeasy.  From the furniture, to the lighting (which makes the atmosphere that much cooler), to the decor, and even the bathrooms, they left no detail out. (Note, bathroom lighting makes great selfie lighting 😛 )

As for the drinks/food – both are amazing.  We spent two hours tasting some of the appetizers, and each choosing two cocktails from the menu.  (The menu changes often enough that it’s hard to recommend anything.)

Out of the three I’ve been to in D.C. thus far, PX, Harold Black, and Captain Gregory’s I’d recommend, in that order.

B Too

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I’ve been to B Too before, but it was so good I had to come back! Bart Vandaele has created a Belgium concept that has become something of a staple in Logan Circle.  If you have ever been to Belgium, you know that there’s primarily two sides to the country: French and Dutch.  Known for mainly mussels, chocolate, and waffles, (and cheese on the dutch side), a lot of authentic Belgium food can seem bland.  Bart has managed to take many common dishes and put a tasteful flair to them.  It’s one of the reasons it’s so popular.  We ended up with a three course meal for each, and out of that, only one dish got a picture (we were so hungry, we sort of forgot).  Below are my recommendations:

Starters:

  • Salade Van Bietjes (Red beet salad) – gluten-free – highly recommended
  • Wafel Van Kreeft (Maine lobster waffle) – highly recommended

Main Dish:

  • Poulet Rôti Père Maurits (Roasted Amish chicken) – gluten-free – highly recommended
  • Belgische Filet Pur Met Friejtes (Center cut filet with fries) – The steak was decent but the fries were amazing!

Dessert:

  • S’mores dish (cannot remember the actual name of the dish) – Isn’t recommended – the waffle dessert is better
  • House made ice cream and sorbet – gluten-free – Isn’t recommended – I wasn’t a fan of the taste of any of the flavors

 

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Date Ideas, Fun, Travel, United States

Steve Martin and Martin Short at Wolftrap

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Two of the funniest men on the planet came to Wolftrap last Friday night, and it made for one of the best variety/comedy shows I’ve ever been to (and one of a start to the weekend).

Steve Martin and Martin Short are on their “An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life” tour, and they had two back-to-back Wolftrap performances this past weekend, to sold out crowds.

From SNL, to “Father of the Bride”, to their individual performances in their own films; these two are are considered the epitome of classic sketch comedy that’s both relatable and appreciated at any age.  With their quick wit (cue Three Amigos skit with participating audience members, and Martin’s on-the-fly responses), their love of a good roast (Martin Short can deliver some great jabs), and physical comedic acting (both had their share); they prove that their talent is unique, as well as rare.

But, what made this show even more special, is Steve Martin’s love of Bluegrass.  His band, “Steep Canyon Rangers” delivered an amazing mini concert, some of which featured Steve’s unbelievable banjo playing skills.  All around, I laughed so hard I cried, I tapped my foot so hard it was sore, and I smiled so big my cheeks hurt.

If they come to your area, make sure to grab your tickets before they are sold out!

Check out some of my pictures below (excuse the graininess – we were in box seats high up).  Video was prohibited, so I couldn’t take any.

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Date Ideas, Events/Performances, Fun, Travel, United States

Richard Marx and Rick Springfield at Wolftrap

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“… so after three days of recording the album with N’Sync, they had to sneak out the back door, because there were 800 girls waiting in the front, and I, not being known, went out the front… to my car… in the main parking lot. Out of no where, a smoking hot girl runs up to me and asks, ‘Are you Richard Marx?’ To which I reply, ‘Why yes I am!’  She responds with, ‘My mom LOVES you!’…” (Richard Marx on his age.)

This is just a small snippet of how wonderful the evening was with both Richard Marx and Rick Springfield.  They are (self-deprecating) funny, relaxed, and prove that they are still willing to tour, solely because they love their fans, and they love performing.  While I agreed to accompany my mom to see her longtime heartthrob (Rick Springfield), I found myself truly enjoying the show they put on separately, as well as together.  The entire thing was done acoustically.

Check out some of my videos and pictures below.  More videos can be found here.

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Events/Performances, Fun, Travel, United States

I Love the 90s Tour at Wolftrap

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A few weekends ago, I relived junior high school, high school, and college, all in one night, at Wolftrap.  When I heard a 90s tour with artists, such as Snap!, C+C Music Factory, Kid n’Play, Montell Jordan, Rob Base, TLC, and more were coming, I had to go.

The downside to going to these concerts is a. Realizing how old you are, and b. Realizing how old the artists are now, and how they no longer look exactly like they did in your childhood memories.  (To put it in perspective, Kid n’ Play’s “House Party” is 25 years old, and Kid is 53.)

The upside was that it was fun to hear the old songs again, and hear of what these artists are now up to.

Check out my videos and pictures below (more videos of each can be found here).

Snap!

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C+C Music Factory

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Montell Jordan

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Kid n’ Play

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Each of them were having so much fun… until…

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TLC

My mom and I left the concert after their second song, because it was that bad. T-Boz seemed incredibly unhappy to be there, and while Chili looked amazing, you could tell she was doing her best to carry the now duo.  They were singing along to recorded tracks – the whole thing was just awful.  I feel for them, but I’m unsure I’d recommend staying for their performance, or even going to one of their concerts.

Overall, it was a great night, and I’m so happy I got to relive the best part of that decade!

Australia, Travel

Australia – Exploring Sydney

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Sydney is much different than Melbourne, in that it reminds me of many other large cities I’ve been to in the world, namely San Francisco.  In walking the streets, you will recognize a lot of large company names, including tech/consulting business, shops, and restaurants.  But, what sets it apart is its location, and some of the most iconic architecture in the world.

Below is my itinerary for Sydney, including how to get around, what I saw, and where I dined/drank.

Transportation

Getting to/from the airport

Sydney has a multitude of easy ways to get to/from the airport.  Cabs are the most convenient (and most expensive – about $55 AUD each way – Lyft might be cheaper).  There is also a train that takes you to/from the airport, to virtually any destination.  If you aren’t lugging a ton of stuff (like I did), then I recommend the train.

Getting to/from destinations across Sydney Harbor

To get to anywhere, away from Sydney, such as Manly Beach, Bondi Beach, Coogee, Taronga Zoo, etc., you have to take the ferry at Circular Quay.  The rides provide the best views of Sydney, are equipped with free Wi-fi, and for the longer rides, a cafe.  There are many different ferry companies.  I used those that the Opal Card supports, which also happen to be cheaper (about $15 AUD roundtrip to most places).

NOTE: Make sure to take one ferry ride, back to Sydney, at sunset, and sit at the front of the boat, no matter how cold.  I failed to do this, and missed the sun setting, which would have provided more spectacular pictures than the one below.

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Accommodations

Since it’s winter, almost all hotels are highly affordable.  The Four Seasons had a pre-paid deal of less than $200 AUD a night, which put me smack in the middle of the city in decent accommodations.

Places to Dine/Drink

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View from Ripples

Ripples – I love recommendations from local inhabitants.  This one came from a guy that my mom sat next to on a plane, and while it doesn’t look like much from the outside, it sits right on the water, under the Sydney bridge, and serves up five-star meals.  It’s my best recommendation in this city for any time dining.  NOTE: The pork belly and short ribs dishes are AMAZING!

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Pork Belly

Abode – Nestled in the middle of many corporate offices is Abode.  It serves up all sorts of amazing food (their sweet potato fries are THE BEST) and drinks, in a chic, upscale setting.  It’s a great place for happy hour!

Palmer & Co. – Imagine stepping into a Prohibition Era bar filled with swing dancers, clinking glasses, loud laughter, and bartenders serving up the best cocktails, all while feeling like you just transported yourself back to the 1920s.  Being a sucker for this era (with a secret wish to transport back in time for a week), my jaw hit the floor when we walked in.  This was everything I had ever wanted to see in a Speakeasy, and it didn’t disappoint.  It is a MUST-SEE in Sydney!

Felix – Down Ash street (and many other alleyways) is a string of eclectic fine-dining restaurants.  Felis is a French Bistro, nestled down this alleyway, offering both indoor and outdoor seating.  It instantly transports you into Europe, and it’s food didn’t disappoint.  I recommend it for lunch, and highly recommend the beetroot salad.

Opera Bar – There are several restaurants and bars that line the pathway up to the Opera House, with the Opera Bar being one of the biggest.  It offers the best views of the water, city, bridge, and Opera house, with almost all of the seating being outdoors.  Their food selections are great, with plenty of gluten-free options, including the best gluten-free pizza I’ve ever had (try their Margherita one).  Note that ordering is different.  You grab your own table, and go to the bar to order food and drink.  You’ll receive a number and a server will come bring you your food.

The Morrison – Tucked behind the raucous pub, is the restaurant portion of The Morrison.  It’s in this quieter area that my mom and I had dinner.  It’s not a bad place to go for dinner and dessert (especially for a date night).  My recommendation is the  Chicken Maryland.

Caminetto – Nestled down a historic street in The Rocks, is a great indoor/outdoor Italian restaurant that serves a great breakfast!  My mom and I went there before walking through the open air market and little shops.  It looks like it would be great for dinner as well, but if you head there for breakfast, try the omelet or porridge.  If you’re gluten-free, they have gluten-free bread available!

Whitewater Restaurant – Along S. Steyne are many restaurants, most of which have a “beachy” feel to them.  My mom and I stumble upon this, while walking towards our hike.  It’s a chic, upscale restaurant, right across from the beach, offering all sorts of great food and drink.  I recommend the Truffle Waygu Beef burger (without the bun for me).  I’ve also heard the vegetarian pasta is good as well!  While I know they are open for all meals, my suggestion is to go there for breakfast or lunch, so you have the view of the beach.

Things to See/Do

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View from Sydney Harbour Bridge

Sydney Harbour Bridge – The very first thing I did was walk the one mile over the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and into Milson’s Point.  In fact, if you have never been to Sydney, make this the first thing you do.  It’s a “pinch me” moment to see all of Sydney, including the Opera House!

Luna Park/Olympic Pool

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Once we walked over the Sydney Harbour Bridge, we headed to Olympic Street to eat at Ripples.  Along the way, we stumbled upon both the Olympic Aquatic Center (it once housed the Olympic swimming competitions), and Luna Park.

Luna Park is slightly creepy to walk through at night, but an unbelievable sight.  Still in operation today, it’s their version of Coney Island in New York.

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Queen Victoria Building – Built in the late ninetieth century, this mall hosts all sorts of shops, cafes, and historical clocks. The well-preserved architecture transports you back to Sydney’s early beginnings.  It’s a must-see on your way to Westfield Tower.

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Sydney Tower Eye – For about $30 AUD per adult, you can head up to the top of the Sydney Tower Eye for some of the most spectacular 360 views of Sydney!  It’s definitely a must-do!

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Darling Harbour / SEA LIFE Sea Aquarium – A short walk down Market Street (from the Sydney Tower), will land you on the foot bridge to Darling Harbor.  It’s a GREAT place to shop, dine, take boat rides, and see some of their famous places, such as SEA LIFE Sea Aquarium.  For $30 AUD per adult, my mom and I spent a few hours, wandering through one of the best aquariums I’ve been to (what sold me was the penguin exhibit).  It’s absolutely worth the walk (and cost) to get there.  My suggestion is to make  day of the Harbour to enjoy all it has to offer.  Since we didn’t get there until late afternoon, we didn’t do much.

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Taronga Zoo – I’m still raving about this experience, because I’ve never been to a zoo quite like this!  For $46 AUD per adult, we spent a full day interacting with animals in open enclosures (I’ve never been THAT close to a roo or a wallaby), as well as taking in the sights of getting very near every other species in Australia and Africa.  This is an absolute must-do in Sydney, although I recommend you spend the extra money to go “behind the scenes” and pet the kangaroos, and other animals.  It’s something I wish I had done.

Note: Eat at Views for lunch – it has spectacular views of Sydney, from across the water.

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Manly Beach – Our final stop was to Manly Beach, which is reminiscent of almost any main beach town, with the one exception that there is a hiking path that takes you along the water, and into rain forests.

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Manly Beach in the winter.

According to most, Manly beats out both Bondi and Coogee.  Next time I travel here, I’ll still visit the other two for my own comparison.  But, definitely put this on your list of things to see!

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Visting The Rocks – One of the most historic sections of Sydney, as it’s the home to the first European settlement, it’s a charming walk for dining, shopping, and sightseeing!  My mom and I walked through this section of town on our last morning in Sydney.

Almost all of the settlement buildings are still in-tact, and if you wander into any of the shops, you will see how these working-class families lived.  One such shop, which had my attention for both it’s jewels (I got very large peridot earrings for $125 AUD) and its history, was Hathi Jewellery.  If you see the old safe above, it’s little pieces of history, like this, that makes you want to wander into every building to see what it still has.