Category Archives: United States

Love Rocks Zion

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A few weeks after going to Seattle, I had the opportunity to visit Utah for my cousin’s wedding at Zion National Park. I flew in a few days early to take advantage of the excursions that my cousin planned. Let me tell you, my cousin and her now husband couldn’t have planned a better trip for our family.

I flew into Las Vegas and drove straight to Bryce Canyon National Park for the Astronomy Festival. What started as a flat drive through Las Vegas turned into a mountainous, red rock drive through a gorgeous sunset. I arrived to Ruby’s Inn right outside of Bryce Canyon National Park, which was the perfect rustic hotel to stay at before a day of hiking.

My first day of hiking at Bryce Canyon started bright and early. I was blown away by the stunning rock formations, called hoodoos, which were scattered throughout the canyon. While all of the trails were beautiful, I highly recommend the Navajo Loop, which is moderately strenuous, but gives you a great glimpse of all that Bryce Canyon has to offer. The Queens Garden Trail also gives you more views of the hoodoos which look like figurines of queens when you use your imagination. The Rim Trail is a great option for those with strollers/wheelchairs, or those who are looking for a flat path. In between hikes, I stopped by the Astronomy Festival to view famous telescopes and look at the sun up close. It was fascinating and I wish I could have stayed another night to view the constellations. In the evening I drove to Zion National Park to meet my family.

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Bryce Canyon

Upon arriving to Zion National Park, I’m pretty sure my jaw didn’t stop dropping for days. My Hampton Inn hotel was located in the middle of the red rock formations and I never wanted to stop looking at them. I spent the first evening at the Whiptail Grill, which was an old gas station converted into a southwestern restaurant. If you are looking for a unique dining experience with delicious southwestern food, this is a must see! I also stopped by the Bit and Spur to catch up with some of my aunts, uncles, and cousins who I hadn’t seen in far too long. We had a great time and I knew the next few days of festivities were going to be a blast.

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Angel’s Landing


My next day of hiking was by far the most exhilarating hike I have ever done. I hiked with my family close to the Angel’s Landing point, where we all had to make the grueling decision whether to hike to the top….on an over 100 degree day, with extremely steep climbs, and a metal chain to support us along the way. I am proud to say I was one of the crazy ones who agreed to continue on, and with the encouragement (and lifesaving water in their backpacks) of my cousin and her now husband, I made it to the top! I felt empowered by this hike, reminded that I can do anything that I put my mind to. The full day of hiking led me to jump in the Zion river with my cousin (the bride!), which was a memory I will never forget. After I craved a nice afternoon nap and swam in my family’s hotel pool. My family spent the evening by the pool, catching up as more family came into town for the wedding.

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My cousin and I after our hike!

After an exhilarating hike, we spent the next day doing what I would call a refreshing, but also balance-testing hike…the Narrows. And I have to add that my cousin rented a convertible for the drive into the park, which was such a fun way to start the day. We rented heavy wader boots and hiking sticks, not only to look awesome and official ;), but to be able to trudge throughout a river filled with giant rocks. Each step through the river was a combination of wondering whether we would slip and feeling in awe of the rock walls surrounding us. I felt very refreshed in the water especially with the record high temperatures in Utah. After the hike, my family got dazzled up for the wedding welcome party, where we were greeted with local beers and wine, and cake, overlooking the Zion rock formations. Again, I was stunned and couldn’t believe that people actually lived in such an amazing place!

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The Narrows

 

On my cousin’s wedding day, I had some extra time to explore the farmer’s market and boutiques with Native American heritage gifts, trinkets, and the coolest rocks, bringing me back to my childhood days of collecting rocks. I bought some new rocks representing Utah and was inspired to look back at my old rock collection back in Michigan. I loved them all so much that the rocks are now part of my centerpiece in my Greenville apartment today.

And now for the #LoveRocksZion wedding…my cousin and her now husband planned the most intimate, personal ceremony. All the guests had shade umbrellas to help us keep cool for the outdoor ceremony, again, overlooking the Zion rock formations. No cell phones were allowed, which was a refreshing way for all of us to stay in the moment. I felt so connected to the ceremony. For the reception, we enjoyed a Southwest inspired dinner with geodes decorating our tables, and a cake in the shape of a geode! We danced on the outdoor dance floor with the sun setting around us and beautiful decorative lights overhead. One confession…I caught the bouquet that my cousin (the bride) threw. This was the second time this has happened to me…and I still don’t have a groom :). If anyone has any insight into this, I’d love to hear it :)! To me, there is no better feeling than having many of my loved ones in one place, at one time, dancing together. I will never forget this incredible wedding.

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My brother and me at the reception

My last day in Utah involved a drive back to Las Vegas, where I strolled the strip for several hours before flying home. No, I didn’t gamble or do anything else Vegas-y, except enjoy the views of what I like to call the lifesize adult Disney World. I look forward to going back to Vegas to experience all of the wild adventures they have to offer :).

I hope my stories help you if you happen to visit Utah one day. I can’t wait to go back!

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Seattle’s Best

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Next up on my list of travel reflections is Seattle, Washington. I had the opportunity to visit Bellingham for a wedding in May and combined the trip with a visit to my preschool best friend who lives in Tacoma.

When you have the opportunity to visit the Pacific Northwest, I highly recommend going to Bellingham, Tacoma, and Seattle. Below I captured some highlights from each of the places.

Bellingham: Ideal for a quaint, romantic getaway surrounded by beautiful yachts in the Pacific Ocean, and an adorable downtown. You can’t go to Bellingham without visiting the Yacht Club for spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean. Make a point to try local Washington wines, both red and white. Stroll through the streets of Downtown Bellingham, where you will find unique boutiques and restaurants with some of the best seafood in the country. The nightlife is a lot of fun too, with live music, craft beer, and speakeasy style clubs. If you enjoy skiing, visit Bellingham for the world famous Ski to Sea Race in May. I happened to be there at the time of the race and the locals were proud to share stories of Ski to Sea Races in years passed.

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View from the Bellingham Yacht Club

Tacoma: Just 20 minutes outside of Seattle, Tacoma is rated as one of the most livable and walkable cities, with beautiful views of Mount Rainier in the distance. I tried some of the best chowder and seafood I have ever had at Duke’s Chowder House. Stop by the hip coffee shops for brunch or a quick pick-me-up, especially the Anthem Coffee Shop. There are cute boutiques and restaurants scattered throughout the city, so be sure to take a stroll one afternoon. If you’re up for a hiking adventure, you have several options around you. I hiked at Olympic National Park and was amazed to go from 70 degree weather to 30 degree weather along the 4-mile hike to one of the summits. I can’t wait to go back to this park and other parks near Tacoma.

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View from Duke’s Chowder House

Seattle: One of the most unique cities I have visited, with gorgeous snow capped mountains in the distance, fresh flowers and vegetables everywhere you go, gourmet coffee shops, free spirited people, and some of the cleanest air I have ever felt. The first must-see is the Pike’s Place Market, which has some of the largest, most vibrant flowers I have ever seen. Fresh fish samples are available at many of the booths, and you can watch the famous fish tossing show. Shop for artisan goods, fruits and vegetables, and local delicacies. I could have spent a whole day just at the Pike’s Place Market.

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Another fun opportunity is to tour the Starbucks Reserve, where you can learn about the coffee making process and the history of Starbucks, and try the latest coffee creations. I enjoyed an espresso with mint ice cream in it and it was to die for! I spent one afternoon in Capitol Hill, which was very proudly LGBTQ and open to all people. Capitol Hill is conveniently located near the Starbucks Reserve, so I would recommend that you stroll the streets there and make a stop at Unicorn bar – one of the wildest bars I have ever seen.

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If you’re into architecture and want to laugh like crazy, you have to try the Seattle Ride the Ducks boat tour, which gives you cityscape views through the pier…and yes the boat can both drive on land and go in water. Shoutout to my mom who did the same tour many years ago and it was still the same amount of fun that she had. After the boat tour, make a point to walk around the Space Needle, which I didn’t actually tour, but enjoyed seeing from the outside. Also, stop at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation museum, where you can learn about the inspiring acts of Bill and Melinda Gates through Microsoft and beyond in the communities throughout the world.

Long story short, for some of the freshest air, stunning mountain and coastal views, best seafood, most beautiful flowers, and delicious coffee, visit Seattle, Tacoma, and Bellingham!

Serendipity in Savannah

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Now that I am back down south and in the process of decorating my apartment with travel trinkets, I can’t help but reflect upon the trips I have taken over the past several months.

I want to start by sharing my trip to beautiful Savannah, Georgia. If you have been to Charleston and loved it, then Savannah will also be your cup of tea. If you have not been to either city, both Charleston and Savannah should be at the top of your travel list of Southeastern U.S. cities.

Why Savannah?

Go back in history, where you will be reminded of the majestic architecture and charm of a European coast town. Walk along cobblestone streets, with the most beautiful public squares surrounded by large trees that will remind you of a fairytale. If you have the opportunity, stay in one of the stunning, colorful historical homes throughout the city. I had the opportunity to stay in a historical home through AirBnB. It was amazing to see the historical exterior with an interior that included modern appliances and a modern layout. It gave me a taste of the “local” Savannah lifestyle.

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Experience the haunted stories of Savannah. Did you know that Savannah is one of the most haunted cities in the United States? With its longtime presence in the history of the country, significant trade with influxes of people, and presence during times of slavery, there are many people who have left their spirits in Savannah. You can go on ghost tours, grave visits, or haunted pub crawls. I went on the haunted pub crawl through Ghost City Tours and highly recommend it. I tried local cocktails (key lime pie shot was amazing!) and beer while learning the haunted history of residents and visitors past. Some of my favorite pubs were Tondee’s Tavern and the Six Pence Pub.

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Enjoy delicious Southern cuisine, ranging from shrimp and grits and other seafood, to barbecue. If you are into the haunted scene, the Old Pinke House has delicious food and swanky cocktails in the basement. The Pirate’s House will give you all the seafood you could ever want, tropical drinks, and a real pirate might visit your table.

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Basque in the sun on the beaches of Tybee Island, a short 15-minute drive away from downtown Savannah. The pier has an incredible walkway where you can order an ice cream and watch fisherman work their magic. I happened to see a fisherman catch a shark and another one use a net to catch crab.

Stroll through Forsyth Park, with path after path of beautiful trees, fountains, and open fields to throw a frisbee, have a picnic, or lay down and read a book. I spent one afternoon throwing the frisbee with my boyfriend and walking through the farmer’s market.

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Visit the home of the Girl Scouts of America. If you love Thin Mints and Samoas as much as I do, you can buy Girl Scout cookies for a discounted price at the museum.

Learn the Irish heritage by visiting the breathtaking cathedrals (by morning, and pubs by night ;)). And if you’re looking for a wild time, visit Savannah in the month of March, especially on St. Patrick’s Day. I visited during my spring break, which was the weekend before St. Patrick’s Day and so much fun. Everyone was wearing an ounce of green, the restaurants, bars, and stars were speckled with shamrocks and leprechauns, and the fountains were spouting green water!

Go through all of these experiences and you might, just might get a sense of serendipity. I know I did. The telltale example for me was walking along River Street and a mother and daughter pair asked if my boyfriend and I wanted a picture together. They asked us to be sassy and romantic, so we went along with it and had a fun little photo shoot. It also turned out that the daughter was my age and had just moved to Greenville. She invited me to her birthday party the following week, which I ended up attending as I was touring apartments in Greenville. I had a comforting feeling that I was exactly where I was meant to be, and my new chapter I was about to start in Greenville was exactly where I was meant to be. That serendipity brought an endless smile to my face and propelled me through my last semester of graduate school.

I hope that you can also experience the serendipity that Savannah brings. It may surprise you and provide you with the exact reassurance you need for your return trip home.

 

Delicious Ambiguity

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deliciousambiguity

Earlier today I read Melibee Global‘s blog and came across a post about delicious ambiguity. For some reason, everyone in my life (including myself) is facing ambiguity. We are facing many changes, new beginnings, and uncertainties related to the future. As a planner similar to many of my loved ones, it is easy to feel anxious and constantly worried about what will happen next.

With summer vacations underway, longer days, and more opportunity for reflection, I wanted to pass along some Melibee Global words that strongly resonated with me.

“While we all go through shifts in our lives at home, they often seem to be even more difficult because we’re HOME. We are in our own culture and in the US culture, planning and forcing an outcome is our norm. We are goal setters. We live with the burden of constantly progressing. We forget about the fine art of BEEing sometimes.

When we are abroad, we are often more excited and open about embracing the ambiguity. Waking up in a new place and not knowing exactly what the day will bring, what will inspire, what will be learned (even if it means getting lost in the process) somehow holds value to us. It becomes a great traveler story for later!

But in our home culture not knowing can be excruciating. It causes us to lose sleep. To make poor decisions. To lose our composure. To cry. To be frustrated.

Yet somehow in those moments of uncertainty when we’re abroad, we learn how to embrace that delicious ambiguity.

Know that we all go through these moments in life where we want to resist change, myself included. Instead of beating ourselves up, we can ask ourselves what we’ve learned from the experience. There is always a lesson.

Choose to learn the lesson and to take the adventure. Life is so much more beautiful when we do.

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Source: theleadershipcontract.com

As you travel and return home, consider what grounds you and makes you feel comfortable with the changes you will face in the near and distant future. I have found that spending time in nature, reading, going to church, yoga, and most other forms of alone time help me feel grounded. I hope that we all will perceive our future changes as delicious ambiguity, the essence of life.

Life Abroad in the Military

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Let’s take a quick trip across the world to learn an interesting perspective about life abroad in the military. I asked my cousin, Michael Spoelstra, who is a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy and based in Okinawa, Japan, to provide us with insights about living as an expat deployed in Japan. He provides a thoughtful and honest perspective about the challenges of living abroad. Thank you, MP (my nickname for him!), for writing for inspirNational!

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Photo Credit: Michael Spoelstra


 

It is difficult to put together the sentiments one feels. I think there are stages people experience in being removed from what they’ve been so accustomed to, so I’ll try to address the three stages which I’ve experienced – the Vacation, the Rut, and Reality.  Keep in mind this disclaimer; my experience is not the same of the typical traveler.  I had no choice where I ended up, due to military orders, nor any say in the duration of my tour.  I’m also writing this on a birthday, alone, on a grey, gloomy day – so some context may shed light on the tone of this post.

Stage one, in relocating to Okinawa, Japan is the Vacation phase.  I am approximately 7,307 miles, 14 hours in time zone, and thousands of years steeped in culture away from home.  Fighting through jet lag one is overwhelmed by the alien feeling of it all.  The sun feels different.  Flora and fauna are different.  The stars in the night sky seem rearranged.  And for once in my life – I am the one who is different.

Excitement courses through your veins – you want to try all the food, you want to see all the cultural sites, you want to engage these strange new people.  The deeper, more complex human needs are shelved while you figure out how to get places, what your routine is, how to stay out of trouble, who to go to for help…etc etc etc.  This phase lasts approximately 3-4 weeks, or as some say, long enough to break a habit.  Stage one is a “yes” stage, a stage overflowing with optimism, opportunity, and adventure.

A routine is developed, novelty erodes and a foreign national enters into the Rut phase, developing a deeper understanding of where they fit in this new culture, and what’s expected of them.  This second stage is highlighted (or low lighted) by the fact that a routine is developed.  Loved ones from home message less – the novelty has worn off that you are away and messaging is inconvenient and sporadic.  The time difference is most debilitating.  Everything familiar that you followed back home is on an opposite schedule.  The distance you feel isn’t just physical, it is a cultural and emotional distance – you hear about an epic football game with a close ending – the world could end for those poor fans on the losing end – yet it is inconsequential here.  You wonder whether those same people that stopped messaging you think of you often – if everything will be different when you come back.  Coping with this comes in the form of planning travel, understanding new people and melding with new social groups.  These friends aren’t just friends.  They replace your family, friends, and are the tie you have to what you have always known.  The uniqueness and cultural differences among the locals you once found humor in suddenly becomes obnoxious.  This stage persists for different amounts of time among different individuals, and sometimes the lines between the Rut and stage 3, Reality.

Reality is, I think, the most mature stage there is in being so far from home, a long term resident in a different part of the world.  A self-subsistent state occurs when you are alone or so long.  You become emotionally hardened, locked-up, and accept the world as you’ve observed it.  The differences between myself and the Japanese are nothing to be annoyed with.  Annoyance is a form of refusal or inability to understand why people do what they do.  The reality in being away from home here is the same it would be if you moved 80 miles down I-94.  Change is inevitable in life, and the attitude you bring to the table shows what substance will come from the heat of your crucible, whatever that may be.

I miss home.  There are great opportunities here that I cannot miss despite that. The experience of living in Japan has been humbling, it has been challenging, and it has been acculturating.  It tests your mettle, your mental fortitude, and the relationships you have had.  While this isn’t a ringing endorsement for relocating across the world, it isn’t a damnation either.  I am thankful to understand myself more.  I am thankful for the mental toughness I’ve developed.  I am thankful for my parents.  Mostly, I am thankful to have become the person I am through these experiences.  You can never know your country’s greatness until you have truly experienced another country.  On the flip side, you can never know your home’s faults until you have made another home.


Michael’s last point is what really “hit home” for me. I think it is so important for all of us to experience travelling (and ideally living) abroad to appreciate our home country and become open to other ways of living throughout the world.

 

What Makes the Fall Season So Special in the United States?

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Meeting people from around the world, I have noticed that they are often surprised by how much Americans love the fall season. To many people (at least in the northern hemisphere), fall means the end of summer and the beginning of winter. In the United States, fall is arguably the best season of the year. Why?

1. Throughout the fall season, tree leaves change colors for some of the most beautiful natural views of the year. Along with the brightly colored trees, the air is crisp and sweet, making it very inviting for you to go outside and explore.

Source: Picstar

Source: Picstar

2. Fall flavors are warm and comforting. In the United States, you will find pumpkin-flavored everything. Pumpkin pie is typically a family favorite, but you will find pumpkin-flavored coffee, pastries, and more! Apple flavor is also popular. The flavors of Thanksgiving are some of the most memorable, including turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, and sweet potatoes.

Source: bpkwesthartford.com

Source: bpkwesthartford.com

3. Fall activities bring your family and friends together. Apple picking is a great way to get outside with your loved ones and pick apples that you can eat right off the tree or use in recipes, such as apple crisp or apple pie. Common in the Midwest and Northeastern United States is visiting cider mills, which serve fresh apple cider, homemade donuts and pastries. They also often have farm animals and outdoor activities for you to enjoy while eating your treats. Carving pumpkins is another fall favorite, as you can make a jack-o-lantern to decorate your porch and you can bake the pumpkin seeds for a nice snack!

My favorite cider mill in my hometown, Rochester, Michigan!

My favorite cider mill in my hometown, Rochester, Michigan!

4. Halloween (October 31 every year) provides the perfect opportunity to disguise yourself as your favorite character or silly costume that is guaranteed to make your loved ones laugh. Along with wearing costumes, you can eat your favorite candies with little remorse, visit haunted houses, experience hayrides, and go to Halloween parties. Children also have the opportunity to go trick-or-treating, where they visit their neighbors and ask for candy while dressed up in adorable costumes.

One of my favorite personal pumpkin carvings!

One of my favorite Halloween pumpkin carvings!

5. American football, played in the fall, has more spirit than any other sport in the United States. You will see football spirit at all levels, from middle and high school to college to professional football. Americans enjoy tailgating before football games, which involves eating barbeque food, drinking beer, playing games such as cornhole, and cheering for your favorite team. The spirit exists every weekend and has created tremendous rivalries across the United States. I have had an interesting experience with football having moved throughout the Midwest and now to the Southern United States – my loyalties have shifted, but I will always root for my alma mater (University of Michigan) first!

University of Michigan Football Stadium - holds the largest crowd (over 114,000 people) in the United States!

University of Michigan Football Stadium – holds the largest crowd (over 114,000 people) in the United States!

I hope this gives you a taste of all the special qualities of fall in the United States. Just writing about it makes me grateful that fall is here. I would be grateful to hear why fall is (or is not) your favorite season and how it compares to other seasons throughout the world!

Why Visit Charlotte, North Carolina

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Charlotte, North Carolina has been mentioned a lot lately in “best of” rankings throughout the United States:

  • No. 3 Top Moving Destinations, January 2015 United Van Lines of all states
  • No. 1 Most Entrepreneurial Cities, December 2014 Global Trade Magazine of 50 cities
  • No. 2 Fastest-Growing Big Cities in the U.S., December. 2014 U.S. Census Bureau of 34 cities
  • No. 2 Best Cities for Recent College Graduates, April 2014 Apartments.com of 100 cities with highest apartment availability
  • No. 4 Most Affordable Destinations for 2015, December 2014 Priceline.com of 15 cities
  • No. 9 Best Cities to Start a Career, May 2014 Wallethub.com of 150 largest U.S. cities

Earlier this month, I decided to see for myself what all the hype is about! Even in my short day long trip, I was impressed with how modern Charlotte was, with city parks, sustainable transportation options, great restaurants, and fun nightlife.

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Below are some highlights of “must-sees” and “must-dos” when you plan your next trip to Charlotte, North Carolina:

The Epicentre: What an amazing idea! It’s like a mall, but includes all entertainment options you could ask for in an open air space (restaurants, a bowling alley, piano bar, country bar, rooftop dance floor, and more!). I most enjoyed dancing to my favorite songs from the 90’s at the Howl at the Moon Piano bar and today’s hits at the 210 rooftop bar.

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Fine Dining with a VIew: Experience all of Charlotte from the sky with spectacular views and delicious cuisine at Bentley’s on 27. I had a surprise dinner date here and was taken aback by the Charlotte sunset and cityscape, incredible French onion soup and goat cheese salad, French wines, and beautiful old-fashioned candles!

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Run through the City Parks: When I first arrived to the city, I knew I had limited time and wanted to explore the surroundings. Running is a perfect way to do just that! I ran through the center city and the local parks, including Independence Park (one of Charlotte’s original city parks from 1904) and Arequipa Park (has a decorative fountain and beautiful mature trees). Charlotte strikes a nice balance between a modern city and nature preservation, with several trees and greenscapes scattered throughout the city. As a nature lover who also likes to be in the center of a city, I really appreciated the combination! The parks advertised several city events, which made me excited to go back and visit.

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The Brewery Scene: Charlotte has several popular breweries, including NoDa Brewing Company, Birdsong Brewing Company, Heist Brewery, Growlers Pourhouse, and Salud Beer Shop. It also has one of the best beer gardens in America (VBGB), with a giant sized chess and Connect 4 and a frost rail to keep your beer cold. I enjoyed sampling some of the beers, including the very unique (and spicy!) Birdsong Jalapeno IPA at the Ri Ra Irish Pub. Charlotte’s tourism website has a whole beer city itinerary designed for you!

Nascar Hall of Fame: Feeling the need for speed? Charlotte is famous for its speed racing heritage. The Nascar Hall of Fame is one of the world’s most interactive and high-tech halls of fame in the world with four floors of 31 cars and close to 1,000 artifacts. In my quick trip, I was not able to visit this, but would love to go back and visit one day, especially with my Motor City roots!

Source: charlottesgotalot.com

Source: charlottesgotalot.com

I had a wonderful time in Charlotte and now understand why it is one of the hotspots in the U.S. I look forward to going back in the near future! If you have any other recommendations for a visit to Charlotte, please add them in the comments below!