Halloween – like everything else about 2020 – is likely to be very different this year. That said, it provides the perfect excuse to get creative with a facemask!
As bars and clubs remain closed across much of the U.S., and house parties are not advised, those wishing to mark Halloween may be interested in a spooky-themed drive-in drag show set to tour the U.S next month.
Voss Events organize events featuring many of the former RuPaul Drag Race queens. It’s already organized drive-in drag shows featuring Canada Drag Race queens in Canada.
For October, it’s running a U.S. Drive ‘N Drag: Halloween show featuring: Asia O’Hara; Aquaria, Yvie Oddly; Kameron Michaels; Kim Chi; Violet Chachki and Vanessa Vanjie.
It costs $69 per car per two people (with $25 for additional passengers). VIP tickets cost $139, and get your vehicle closest to the stage (which going by comments on online forums, is worth the extra expense). Tour dates are as follows:
The queens will be appearing live on stage, with the action relayed on big Jumbotron screens. Each queen will be playing the part of a trapped soul, recounting how they came to die “from obscure causes … Each soul will share her chilling tale of death in an immersive stage performance that is sure to fright and delight.”
Food will be available from food trucks and there will even be Drag Brunch options for performances earlier in the day.
Producer Brandon Voss said in a statement, “Our wildly popular drive-in productions are proving the drag show must go on even through a pandemic! The show has been adapted to be even more interactive than the original arena production, bringing performances and haunts into the parking lot for an immersive experience we are dubbing a Haunted Parking Lot for a good scare.”
Sorting out the details of booking a vacation can be stressful. Knowing whether we have a good deal, that the destination is right and if it’s worth the hassle can be confusing and stressful. For some people, this uncertainty and added stress may make it feel it’s just easier not to. Plus, we all have busy lives. That looming concern of a last-minute cancelation (find out more about cancellations) can at times feel like too much to handle.
However, traveling is good for the soul. The benefits of travel couples fill up multiple posts on their own. Of course discovering new foods, language, culture and customs are hardly scratching the surface. If you are on the fence about taking the trip to ask yourself these questions.
Total Cost of the Trip
The price of a vacation will certainly impact your decision. It goes without saying we are all more likely to purchase if we feel like we’re getting a good deal. Do not hesitate to look around and see what prices are available. This might mean haggling with your travel agent, using comparison websites or simply waiting for sales. You might also be interested to learn that regularly clearing your browsing history wipes cookies and keeps booking costs from rising. I have experienced prices changing by up to $50 this way.
Cheap is great but always keep in mind you get what you pay for. There are phenomenal accommodations at all price points. Like all things, just don’t pay for the budget-friendly accommodation and expect the luxury experience.
How easy is it to get there
There are a lot of things to factor in with the logistics of a trip. Obviously the various modes of transportation can affect both the timeline and the cost of the trip. Flying is obviously the quickest but also the most expensive. (keep in mind this is not the most environmentally friendly option). Driving gives you additional freedoms in your destination but also means you’ll spend more time in transit. For some the road trip is half the fun so don’t immediately rule it out. I also urge you to consider trains and buses. I’ve taken the bus from Merida to Belize and was shocked at the level of efficiency. I also look at trains in Sweden and sleeper trains in Egypt. The trains feel more like an experience and less like transportation.
As Americans, our annual leave is significantly lower than many places in the rest of the world. Sometimes, deciding to go on vacation can be as simple as whether you have enough annual leave left. If you do – go for it! Asking for the time off can be stressful. We all know that office politics can feel so difficult to navigate. The thing to keep in mind is that you can’t pour from an empty cup. Taking care of yourself means you’ll ultimately be a better employee.
Reviews and recommendations
Word of mouth is my favorite way to learn about a new destination. Hearing a friend or family member passionately describing an experience they had in Thailand makes me want to hop on the next flight. Another good way to tell whether a vacation is right for you is to check reviews. If you’re booking a package deal through a well-known company, there will be plenty of reviews on the website to scroll through. However, most people who leave reviews will either be complimenting or complaining about their experience, so make sure you take the reviews with a pinch of salt. Vacations are deeply personal. What each person is hoping to get out of them can vary drastically. For some people, the dream trip includes a beach chair and a great cocktail, for others it’s climbing Machu Picchu. Both vacation styles are valid and will fill up someone’s cup beyond measure.
In 2019, for the first time, Disneyland® Paris made Magical Pride an official signature event on their calendar.
Magical Pride is a big step for the global company that has previously been hesitant to put its brand on anything LGBTQ+ related. The evening offered something for everyone, making it a suitable event for families, couples, friends or even solo travelers.
Here’s everything you need to know about the event; where it came from, What to do and Whether it was worth it or just another Disney business venture.
In this ultimate guide to Magical Pride I’ll share:
Magical Pride Tickets
Getting to Magical Pride
What to do at Magical Pride
Empowering Event or Pink Pound Collection?
Since 1991, Disneyland parks have seen annual unofficially organized ‘gay days’, where the LGBTQ+ community meets up in the Disney parks in Anaheim, Orland, Tokyo, and Hong Kong together on an agreed date. And since 2014, an organization from the UK has arranged a similar event known as ‘Magical Pride’ at Disneyland Paris.
Until now, Disney has allowed these events to happen, but never officially supported or facilitated them.
However, this year, the first-ever Magical Pride event officially backed by The Walt Disney Company took place on June 1st in Walt Disney Studios Park, Paris.
It was a big step for the global enterprise, who have previously been hesitant to take bold stances when it comes to LGBTQ+ events or representation.
Magical Pride saw the Walt Disney Studios Park open exclusively to pride goers from 8 pm – 2 am and the event was attended by LGBTQ+ Disney fans and allies from across the globe.
And based on the success and popularity, I can only hope it expands to other Disney parks in the near future!
Magical Pride Tickets
Greatdays.co.uk, the original organizers of the Magical Pride, offered a number of packages you could choose from.
All options included:
At least two nights of accommodation (option for 3).
A two-day park hopper passes.
A wristband for access to the pride celebrations at night.
You can choose from any of the Disney hotels, depending on your budget and 2019 packages started at £349 per person based on two people sharing (or £259 based on 4 people sharing).
While this is likely one of the most expensive pride events of the year, when compared to a regular weekend at Disneyland Paris, it’s pretty reasonable. The price is the same as attending on a non-pride weekend, so you essentially get the wristband and pride access FREE.
It is possible to just buy a ticket for Magical Pride if you’re staying in Paris and want to attend for the evening.
Getting To Magical Pride
Getting from Charles de Gaulle airport to Disneyland is simple in theory. In reality, depending on where you land in the airport and at what time, it can take around one hour.
Your options are as follows:
A 9-minute TGV train from Terminal 2 to the park entrance (€17).
If you’re staying in a Disney hotel (highly recommend for the convenience) then Disney run Magic Shuttle buses to and from the airport (€23).
Warning: if you land later than 9 pm at night, the TGV train and Magic Shuttle will have finished and your only option is a taxi for around €60.
What To Do At Magical Pride
Before we begin:There are two Disney Parks in Paris.
Disneyland (the main one with the castle)
Walt Disney Studios Park (the location for Magical Pride).
Dance at the Main Stage
The Main Stage in the Walt Disney Studios Park was the center of attention for the Magical Pride celebrations. Initially used by Natacha Rafalski, the President of Disneyland Paris, for an opening speech, it later transformed into a concert venue for performances by Boy George, Years and Years and the French DJ, Corine.
Meet the characters
Magical Pride had some Disney favorites who ready to meet and celebrate with guests. Dotted around Walt Disney Studios Park were a number of characters including Buzz, Woody, Lilo & Stitch. And of course, the infamous Minnie and Mickey.
Top tip: If this is what you’re coming for, get the VIP pass and skip the long lines to really make the most of your evening.
Enjoy some Pride-themed snacks
Disneyland did what Disneyland does best and offered themed snacks for the occasion. In addition to the regular fast food outlets and restaurants on offer, pop up stalls within the park were selling magical pride-themed doughnuts and cakes.
Ride some rollercoasters
It wouldn’t be Disneyland without the attractions. From 8 PM to 1:30 AM Disney operated the majority of the rides in the Walt Disney Studios Park. This included the massive indoor rollercoaster, Aerosmith, the iconic Hollywood Tower Of Terror, the surprisingly speedy Splash’s Coaster and some smaller favorites like the Magic Carpet and the Toy Soldiers Parachute Drop. And the best bit of all – No wait times! (Ok, maybe some, but like… 15 minutes max!)
Watch The Parade
Disney’s first-ever Magical Pride kicked off in true Disney fashion, with an all-singing, all-dancing pride parade. The March of Diversity Parade is a pretty terrible name for what was actually a super fun pride march. Largely made up of Disney cast members in colorful T-shirts and carrying marvelous rainbow Mickey balloons, it also included some lovable Disney characters and the headline acts of the night. The entire parade was done to a repetitive, but catchy number that I’m still singing weeks after the event.
Hop Over to Disney Illuminations
As hard as it may be to pull yourself away from the pride activities, I highly recommend leaving the Walt Disney Studios Park around 10:30 pm. At 11 pm each night the Disneyland Park puts on a spectacular show called Illuminations. Take advantage of your Park-Hopper tickets and head over for the 20-minute display of fireworks, lights, and music that will leave you feeling like you’re truly living in a Fairytale.
Have a Drink!
Unlike the Disneyland Park, Walt Disney Studios Park is licensed to sell alcohol and there was a colorful pop-up bar right by the Main Stage. Personally, I didn’t fancy doing loop the loop’s and corkscrews on a rollercoaster under the influence, but if you try it let me know how that goes.
Lip Sync your heart out
Now, I didn’t attend this one in person, but from what I’ve seen online, the Disney Magic Lip-Sync-Along and karaoke theatre experience is something I’ll be checking out next year. It was held in the Animagique Theatre opposite the main stage, and contestants could sign up between 8-8:30 pm on the night. The event ran in the form of a knockout competition with 3 finalists taking to the stage shortly before midnight.
Get a Pride makeover
Wella had a popup stall on the night and was offering hair, nail & makeup makeovers as well as giving out fun colorful bandanas. The line was fairly long, so I didn’t check it out for myself, but it was an awesome addition for anyone looking to jazz up their pride look.
Indulge in the gift shop
Did you even go to Disneyland if you didn’t get sucked into the gift shop? Naturally, Disney was prepared with dedicated Magical Pride merchandise in both Downtown Disney and the Studios Park. Over the weekend, the rainbow Minnie ears become something of a rare gem as stocks ran low. It’s sadly not clear how much (if any) profits went to LGBTQ+ causes from the Magical Pride merchandise sales. However, the main Disney Store Rainbow Mickey collection does incorporate a donation to various European & American charities.
Empowering Event or Pink Pound Collection?
Every year, when June rolls around we see brands hop on the LGBTQ+ inclusion bandwagon for a month, slap a rainbow sticker on an existing product, collect in the pink pounds (or Dorothy Dollars) and call it a day.
It is exhausting to see companies make a profit on LGBTQ+ targeted products, without doing the leg work for equality or inclusion all year round. This isn’t a new concept to discuss. However, it would be hard for me to talk about Magical Pride and promote all that it offers, without also addressing a critical question to be asked of any corporate involvement pride events:
Is Disney doing enough for the LGBTQ+ community to offset the undoubted profits they made by hosting a pride event?
On this, I have no correct answer. But I do have a few thoughts.
Disney’s Lack of Representation
I was skeptical, when I first heard about Magical Pride, given Disney’s lack of positive (or any) LGBTQ+ representation in their films and TV shows. In the past year, they have made some progress, with the Disney Channel show Andi Mack airing their first ever coming out scene. The conversation occurs between the lead character Andi and his best friend and was handled with taste and in a pleasantly understated way.
But when it comes to film, Disney is failing miserably. They thrive on the rumors of Elsa being a lesbian, without ever making a statement of support or denial. And, we are yet to see if they’ll do anything about it or give her a girlfriend in the upcoming Frozen 2 movie.
The existing LGBTQ+ characters Disney does have in their films are questionable too. After months of hype that Beauty & The Beast would feature a gay character in 2017, fans and the LGBTQ+ community were disappointed when it came in the form of sidekick LeFou. Even then, the film only featured subliminal messages and less than a second of handholding in the closing credits. Beyond that, you really have to stretch to find any queer representation. With the best, you can find is a glimpse of Oaken’s partner in the Sauna during Frozen, or a ‘potentially’ lesbian couple pushing a pram in Finding Dory.
Disneyland’s Inclusive Culture
Whilst they are largely failing the community in their films, Disney has always fostered an inclusive culture in its theme parks. Whether it be by making the parks and attractions accessible to all ages and abilities, or creating a judgment-free zone for children and adults alike to be their most authentic selves. Disneyland is where you can go to escape the real world and live in an inclusive, judgment-free fantasyland, even if just for a day.
Pride as a Safe Space
As I mentioned at the top of the blog, unofficial, ‘Gay Days’ have been occurring in Disneyland Parks since 1991. This is a definite testament to the safe spaces the Disneyland empire has created. In our ever-increasingly scary world, where hate crimes of homophobia, transphobia, and racism are on the rise, so too is the importance of protecting, and nurturing safe spaces for the LGBTQ+ community.
Sure, in an ideal world everywhere would be accepting, and we wouldn’t need to buy a ticket to a Pride event to access that. But sadly, that’s not the world we currently live in.
At the end of our weekend in Disneyland Paris, my girlfriend asked me what my highlight had been. I thought about the rollercoasters, meeting Mickey Mouse, the incredible weather and the yummy food we’d eaten. But none of it stopped being in a safe space for a whole two days, where we could be unapologetically out and proudly ourselves.
I ran about in front of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle with a pride flag, I kissed my girlfriend on ‘It’s A Small World’ and we leaned on each other’s shoulders while waiting in the long lines. We did all this without ever thinking twice about the possible dangers or negative consequences. I cannot say the same about everywhere we have visited.
My highlight of Magical Pride was the ability to be visibly queer without fear of stares, hurtful words or worse. And to Disneyland, for that, I am thankful.
Disney as an Employer
It’s no good to promote LGBTQ+ events and inclusion to customers until you’ve sorted yourself in-house. And Disney has done just that.
According to their website the company has contributed “to diverse communities through service and donations to organizations including Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, Trevor Project, GLSEN, GLAAD, Human Rights Campaign and the Los Angeles LGBT Center.”
In the UK and Ireland, the Disney Pride Staff Network has raised over £18,000 for LGBTQ+ charities in the past few years and was nominated for best Network in British LGBT Awards (2016).
Disneyland Paris has had an Inclusion and Diversity manager since 2007 and the inclusive culture shone through when the hundreds of cast members marched, all singing, all dancing in the colorful opening parade of their first-ever Magical Pride.
Conclusion … for now
It’s undeniable that Disney has miles to go when it comes to TV and film representation. I dream of a world where kids grow up to idolize a non-binary superhero or a trans-Disney princess. When the day comes (and I must believe it will), I will probably cry my Disney-geek heart out.
But when it comes to fostering the critical spaces that we need as a community, where we can feel not only safe but celebrated from who we are, you really can’t blame or judge Disney for being the ones to provide that.
Sure, I hope that there’s a future where these spaces aren’t needed. Pride events should always exist, but hopefully as a celebration and commemoration of the fights and sacrifices of those who got us to that point. But right now, in 2019, when I reflect on the two days of absolute bliss that I had, being out, proud and without a drop of fear that anything would happen to me because of it, Disney can have my money.
I mean we’re beautiful, the island is beautiful that’s a pretty good place to start in my opinion. I visited Puerto Rico for the first time this winter. As an American, specifically and American based on the east coast admitting that sound almost ridiculous. That’s part of the problem, not enough Americans are considering a vacation in Puerto Rico! Sure, we’re going to the Caribbean in huge numbers but why aren’t more of us visiting Puerto Rico?
When we look specifically at LGBTQ travel and lesbian vacations, Puerto Rico stands out even more as an outstanding choice. Many parts of the Caribbean are as well known for their homophobia as they are for their crystal clear waters. It is still illegal to be LGBT in 11 countries in the Caribbean. Many others still remain incredibly difficult for queer people to enjoy when off the big-name resorts. Puerto Rico has had marriage equality since 2015, employment protections and is overall very LGBT friendly, especially in the city of San Juan. If you are looking to enjoy the incredible weather, blue water and white sand beaches of the Caribean as a queer person start with Puerto Rico.
Special thank you to the incredible folks at Discover Puerto Rico for putting this trip together and for being a leader in LGBT travel, especially for lesbian and queer women. Also a huge thank you to the incredible ladies from Once Upon a Journey who always take better photos of me than I do of myself.
Fun Facts About Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico is a US Territory
There are a handful of reasons that make a vacation in Puerto Rico super convenient. Reason one, you don’t need to have a passport to visit as a US citizen. While I certainly encourage everyone to get a passport if you don’t have one and want to visit the Caribbean its $145 per person less to go to Puerto Rico than in other countries.
The second reason, Puerto Rico operates on the US dollar. That means you don’t have to exchange any money or learn an exchange right to understand prices. Even though it is domestic travel I encourage you to set up a travel notice with your bank.
Third, your cell phone will work here. When you’re in Puerto Rico your normal cell service applies. You won’t be forced to pay international data fees.
Jungle Bar Photo by Once Upon a Journey
The drinking age in Puerto Rico is 18 rather than 21.
Roughly 70% of the run in the US comes from Puerto Rico. Casa Bacardi is the largest rum distillery in the world. Yes, you can visit but more on that later.
The Pina Colada was invented in Puerto Rico. Although there is quite some debate as to who the original creator was.
Language in Puerto Rico
Spanish is the language the majority of Puerto Ricans speak. As a US Territory technically both Spanish and English are the official language. Many people understand English is a higher rate than they speak it so do not hesitate to ask questions.
Getting To Puerto Rico
There are tons of flights to Puerto Rico from all over the United States. With so many options of departure times and cities, your Puerto Rico vacation is more accessible than ever. The flight from New York City to San Juan is slightly over 4 hours and from Miami it’s 3hours. That means you spend less time in transit and more time kicking back with a cocktail.
Where to Stay in San Juan
The city of San Juan is relatively compact. If you stay in one area you’ll have little to no issues moving about to visit the attractions you’re most interested in. However to make deciding where to stay in San Juan I’m breaking down three awesome neighborhoods. Again, San Juan as a whole is an awesome lesbian vacation destination. These neighborhoods are just my favorite.
Old San Juan
Old San Juan is probably the image in your head of Puerto Rico. This part of the city is the cultural center. It’s where you’ll find beautiful colonial architecture and cobblestone streets. Staying in an Old San Juan hotel means much of what you’ll want to see is walkable. Both a pro and a con is that this area is set up for tourism. While there are restaurants, bars and shopping it has a bit less local vibe.
Condado is a strip of land that separates the Condado Lagoon and the Atlantic Ocean. In many of the hotels here you’ll see water no matter which side of the building your room is on. It is the most centrally located of all the neighborhoods, just a short Uber ride from both Old San Juan and Santurce. The neighborhood is filled with luxury hotels, oceanfront restaurants, and some really great shopping. It’s a great option for any LGBTQ traveler because there’s a gay beach and some of the best gay bars in Puerto Rico are here. The downside here is that you’ll have to take more Ubers than in Old San Juan.
This is the newest of the San Juan neighborhoods on this list. The area is trendy, with art galleries, murals, and boujee coffee shops. I think it’s fair to say this is San Juan’s hipster neighborhood. The nightlife options are seemingly endless. My favorite part is a mix of locals and tourists. You’ll hear music pumping and see people flowing from bar to bar dancing in the streets. Because Santurce is more local and a bit of a newer destination there are fewer accommodations to choose from. If this is the right neighborhood for you I’d recommend checking Airbnb.
Old San Juan Hotels
Hotel El Convento
You won’t find many hotels with a history as interesting as Hotel El Convento. Yes, you guessed in before becoming a luxury hotel, the building was, in fact, a 16th-century convent. This Old San Juan hotel is right in the heart of everything. If you’re the type of person that likes to wander aimlessly through the city streets this it the perfect location. They also have a beautiful courtyard. If you don’t stay here definitely plan to stop by and enjoy lunch in the courtyard.
La Terraza Hotel
The one and two-bedroom suites at La Terraza de San Juan give you a little extra space to stretch out. The individually styled rooms are located in two Spanish-Colonial Style buildings. Again, located in the heart of Old San Juan you have great access to some of San Juans’ best restaurants, bars, and attractions. If you just want a chill day, take advantage of the plunge pool and stunning rooftop patio.
I’ve found that when it comes to LGBT hotels you can almost never go wrong with Hilton. The Caribe Hilton is a wonderful choice for any queer traveler visiting San Juan. This oceanfront spot went through a total renovation that was completed in 2019. There are six restaurants and bars on-site, one of them even claims to have invented the pina colada.
Consistently considered one of the best hotels in San Juan The Gallery Innprovides ocean views that simply can’t be beaten. This boutique hotel is set up on a hill in a Spanish Colonial-style building. Everything about the Gallery Inn is oozing with personality and charm. One of the coolest parts is the panoramic city view at night.
If you’re looking for “the” gay San Juan hotel, look no further than La Concha. You can always expect to see other queer people during your stay. Much of that has to do with its location directly next door to the most popular gay beach in San Juan. The beautiful infinity pool and poolside bar make for the perfect place to relax. They also offer free bike rentals so make sure to take advantage of that.
Serafina Beach Hotel
The Serafina Beach Hotel is bright, airy and modern. The rooms have floor to ceiling windows letting you take advantage of the incredible ocean views. The stunning infinity pool is a great place to take a dip or get a tan. They also have a beautiful restaurant that makes some great cocktails. This is a great option for LGBTQ travelers because its close to the gay beach and LGBTQ nightlife.
Atlantic Beach Hotel
Another great beachfront Condado hotel option is the Atlantic Beach Hotel. The vibe is chill and laid back the kind of place just inviting you to kick back and relax. There are a bunch of good food and nightlife options within walking distance so you can skip the Uber.
AC Hotel by Marriott
The AC Hotel by Marriott is within a short walking distance to much of San Juan’s LGBT Nightlife. The rooms are big and comfortable to come back to after a night out. The rooftop pool and bar is a really cool switch up from many other hotels in the area.
Things to Do in San Juan Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico is approximately the size of Connecticut making it totally possible to see multiple cities in a week’s stay. It is easy to rent a car from the familiar rental car companies and explore all over. While places like Culebra and Rincon have their own stories to tell I’ll be continuing to focus on all the incredible things to do in San Juan.
Old San Juan Things to do
Old San Juan is the kind of place you take your camera in and out of the bag a hundred times before stringing it around your neck and embracing the tourist look. There are just too many beautiful nooks and crannies begging to be photographed. The Spanish Colonial architecture and splashed with colors of the Caribbean make Old San Juan absolutely stunning. Simply wandering through the cobblestone streets popping into shops and restaurants is enough to keep you happy for days on end.
History in Old San Juan
For very good reason el Morro and Castillo de Cristobal are two of the most popular attractions on the island. Two massive and stunning military fortresses designed to protect the city. They are both incredibly rich in history. While completely stunning to see from land try getting out on the water for a completely new perspective on their size.
Take a walk along Paseo de la Princesa on the Southern side of Old San Juan. Along the walk, you’ll see historical statues, beautiful gardens, and handcraft kiosks. Especially on the weekends, there is a really fun mix of locals and visitors.
There are also a ton of phenomenal museums in Old San Juan. Some of the best include the Museum of the Americas, National Gallery, and San Juan Museum. For a full detailed list of museums in Old San Juan check here.
Best San Juan Beaches
It is a well-known fact that the beaches in Puerto Rico are world-class. They are known for the incredible white sands and bright blue waters. A vacation in Puerto Rico just isn’t complete without some time on the beach. While there are no beaches located in Old San Juan there are many incredible spots in other parts of the city. I listed some of my favorites but keep in mind Puerto Rico has 248 official beaches.
Isla Verde Beach
For a peaceful and exceptionally clean beach option visit Isla Verde Beach. This San Juan beach gives you plenty of room to spread out even on a busy day. It’s a great spot for swimming and even surfing. If you’re looking for a little adrenaline rush look into renting some jet skis.
Looking for some good snorkeling, look no further than Escambron Beach. By all accounts, this is one of the best beaches in all of San Juan. Big palm trees overhead make this beach visually impressive while also offering some much-needed shade. Escambron Beach is within walking distance to the historic Bateria El Escambron and Third Millenium Park (tons of good food).
Playa Ocean Park
Without a doubt, the most popular of the San Juan beaches are Playa Ocean Park. This beach is perfect for pretty much everyone. There are times when it gets busy with tourists but there is distinctly fun energy found here. The sands are white, the water is super blue leaving you feeling like you’re living in a postcard. Try to grab a couple of empanadas from the local vendors. They are super delicious.
For me, this is absolutely a case of best for last. Condado Beach is the gay beach in San Juan. It is located directly in front of the Atlantic Beach hotel. The beach itself is easily accessible and you can rent umbrellas and sun loungers once you’re there.
As a gender non conforming person trips to the beach can be stressful. For me, most of that stress comes from often being perceived as male. Obviously, once I am in a swimsuit it quickly becomes clear that is not the case. At times that moment is met with wandering eyes other times with anti LGBT slurs. While I found Puerto Rico to be incredibly welcoming to LGBT people being on the gay beach gave me additional peace of mind. I knew I could splash in the waves with my friends without worrying. As mainstream acceptance continues to grow more and more queer spaces like our lesbian bars disappear. This is just another example of why queer spaces are so important.
Once Upon a Journey
Try Puerto Rican Coffee
When you think of Puerto Rico chances are your mind instantly transports you to one of two places Old San Juan or a pretty beach. Both of those images are correct but what you might not know is the middle is quite mountainous. The interior of the island is filled with mountains and a thick rainforest also known as perfect growing conditions for coffee beans. Puerto Rican coffee is known to be a touch sweet and really smooth.
There are three great ways to experience Puerto Rician coffee during your visit. The first is to visit a coffee plantation directly. During your visit, you’ll get a better understanding of the history, process and of course a taste. The second is to buy some coffee and make it for yourself. These are the best Brands of Puerto Rican coffee to look for. Not only is it nice to sip on in the mornings it’s the perfect souvenir for you or someone back home.
The third option and probably my favorite are to sip your way through as many coffee shops as possible. These San Juan coffee shops know how to handle the beans perfectly and will undoubtedly deliver a great cup. The most common way to enjoy Puerto Rican coffee is to order a cortadito or cafe con leche. Below are a few of the best coffee shops in San Juan.
Gusto’s Coffee Company
Gusto’s Coffee Company is serving up in house-roasted beans. They have a great espresso-based menu for you to relax and enjoy. If you’re with a group I encourage everyone to try something different.
Hacienda San Pedro
The beautiful Hacienda San Pedro is located in the heart of the arts district. They are serving coffee straight from the farm in the Jayuya Mountains. One of my favorite things is that after you have a cup you can buy a bag of coffee to take home.
Cafe Cola’o is located right in Old San Juan so drop a pin for when you’re out wandering and need a midday to pick me up. Some of the best baristas in the city work here so get ready for some latte art made Instagram stories. It is tiny inside so finding a table can be tricky if you hit it when it’s busy. Everythings locally grown and delicious so even a to-go cup makes it worth the stop.
Cafe Dan Ruiz
More locally roasted beans, hopefully you’re catching on to the theme here. Cafe Dan Ruiz has great coffee and some really delicious breakfast options. The vibe is super chill and the prices are great. The roasting facility is on-site so the first thing you’ll notice is that incredible coffee smell.
Santurce is San Juan’s coolest neighborhood. The first thing that catches your eye is the murals. Practically everywhere you turn in here there are murals to check out and of course, take photos of. You can take a tour of the murals but I recommend just wandering and seeing them on your own. There is something special about turning the corner to find one of these massive, vibrant murals. Before you even ask, yes, Santurce is safe. The neighborhood is a bit more local and has a bit more grit than what you’ll see in Old San Juan. In the same way that Brooklyn has more grit than Midtown. In my opinion a good thing.
Santurce is trendy and artsy. With great restaurants, coffee shops and art galleries sprinkled throughout. When the sun goes down the nightlife gets rolling. The parties often spill into the streets everyone happily dancing with a drink in hand. The vibe in Santurce is just different, in a good way. I’d recommend blocking off a whole day to spend here.
Visit the Bacardi Factory Tour
Over 70% of the rum in the US comes from Puerto Rico. It’s not surprising that Casa Bacardi is the largest rum distillery in the world. I am by no means a rum connoisseur. The truth is I drink very occasionally. I say this because as a non-drinker I still had an amazing experience at the Bacardi Factory. Even if you’re thinking “rum isn’t my thing” I encourage you to give it a try.
The Bacardi Factory offers multiple tour options. Each of various lengths, focal points and of course prices. The Historical Tour, of course, talks about the history of the family-owned business and the distilling process. The Rum Tasting tour gives you the opportunity to taste six of the premium rums. If you’re curious to learn about rum on a deeper level this is the tour for you. The last tour offered at the Bacardi Factory is the Mixology Class. In the mixology class, you get the full bartender set up and learn to make three classic drinks. I did the combination of the Historical Tour and Mixology class which ended up being perfect. I can’t recommend the mixology class enough. While I probably won’t get hired as a bartender for any upcoming events I had so much fun. Make sure you have a little something to eat before getting there. The Historical tour comes with a welcome drink and the Mixology class gives you three airplane bottles of rum per person.
Taste Puerto Rican Food
Eating is an integral part of understanding a new culture. Puerto Rican food is no different at all. The blend of ingredients and cooking techniques begins to tell the story of the island’s history. You’ll have ingredients like yucca that are indigenous to the island, the Spanish brought olives and cod. When Puerto Rico became a hub of slave trade African spices and cooking techniques were introduced. Puerto Rican food is bold, it’s vibrant and incredibly flavourful. There is a full food guide on its way but for now, here are a few Puerto Rican foods you have to try.
Tostones are thinly sliced and fried plantains. They’re easy to find and can be dipped in all sorts of things from ketchup to garlic aioli. You’ll typically get them as a side dish. Cafe El Punto makes some great ones but honestly, they’re pretty easy to find.
Trying to explain mofongo is tricky especially if you’ve never had a plantain. For starters, mofongo is a heavy dish. It is made using green plantains that are fried and then mashed. Once they are mashed a variety of broth, spices and flavors are added. The most typical include salt, garlic, and olive oil, of course, this is when many people get creative. That mixture is pressed in a tight ball and served with roasted meat and broth. Check out El Jibarito in Old San Juan to dry a delicious mofongo.
Whole roasted pig is an essential part of events in Puerto Rico. Taking a prized position at the table for all big celebratory events. The best way to taste it is to get out of the city. Take a bus or uber and visit Ruta del Lechon or Pork Highway. It’s exactly what you think an entire road lined on both sides with open-air restaurants. Enjoy your Lechon and all sorts of incredible sauces and sides.
Arroz Con Gandules
The national dish of Puerto Rico has to make it on the list. You can find Arroz con gandules all over the island. It’s made with white rice, pigeon peas, capers, olives, tomato sauce, and sofrito. The sofrito is made of cilantro, onions, peppers, this is the foundation of flavor in the dish. It’s worth a try even if you aren’t much of a cilantro fan.
Adventure with El Yunque Tours
Puerto Rico is home to the only tropical rainforest in the national park system, El Yunque. While there are plenty of things to do in San Juan I encourage you to escape into the jungle even if only for a half-day. There are tons one El Yunque tours to choose from. Some of the highlights include waterfall treks, ziplining and riding ATVs.
While I was there I visited Rainforest Zipline Park. The zipline track was beautiful and the guides were incredibly helpful. It was so much fun to hear them encouraging the more nervous members of our travel party. A park is a great option for someone who is doing a zipline for the first time. The first few lines are pretty tame eventually building up to a couple longer and faster.
After a morning spent on the ziplines getting the adrenaline pumping, we decided to keep it going at Carabali Rainforest Adventure Park. They offer ATV and horseback riding tours through the jungle. It’s important to note that you do need to show your driver’s license in order to drive the ATVs. I am terrified to drive anything so luckily I was able to hop hop on the back with my friend Alysse from Ready to Stare. Our guide for the hour-long ride was awesome. He even graciously offered to play photographer while we took all sorts of group shots. Plus he scooped up some passion fruit along the way for us to try.
Gay Bars in Puerto Rico
There are undoubtedly more gay bars in Puerto Rico than in many much bigger US cities. Like pretty much everywhere in the world these gay bars welcome all shades of the LGBTQ rainbow however it is a much more male leaning crowd. You can find lesbians sprinkled about more so attending specific parties than specific bars. Here are a few of the best places to check out.
Lesbian Bars in Puerto Rico
Flavor, A Pedir De Boca, El Cojo, and La Esquina de Polo are a cluster of bars located side by side a bit further south in San Juan. The crowd is young, queer and local. We danced, sipped the local beer Medalla enjoyed flowing from bar to bar. The crowd seemed to be very similar in each but it’s worth checking them all out. The other great resource for queenright life is Jhoni Jackson. When we visited she was in the process of opening a new queer bar and host a ton of parties. Check her out on Instagram for more information on what might be happening during your visit.
Oasis Tapas & Lounge
Oasis is a really cool and welcoming local bar. It’s a great place to stop in for a few drinks during their happy hour. They have a whole bunch of two for one special so it’s a perfect place to start the night.
Ciro Bar is the most popular and crowded of all the gay bars in Puerto Rico. Circo Bar has really popular drag shows featuring some of the most popular queens in Puerto Rico. Keep in mind you’re in Latin America and bar nights start late. Don’t plan on showing up to this Santurce hot spot before 12-1.
El Bar Bero
If you’re into great drinks, think about a stop at El Bar Bero. My favorite part is that the decor makes you feel like you are in a barbershop which happens to be one of my very favorite places.
In 2019, there was a huge push to eat more local, in-season produce and of course live a more sustainable life. Something that Grand Rapids has been doing well before this year. When Meg Ten Eyck and I were invited by Experience Grand Rapids to visit this midwest city I knew almost nothing about the food.
I found out that Michigan grows a greater range of produce than any state except California. That fact means eating locally grown, fresh and in-season produce has been a way of life for well, forever. By blending hearty and heavy midwestern food with a focus on fresh and seasonal you get some incredible combinations. I have no doubt you’ll enjoy eating your way through these Grand Rapids Restaurants as much as I did.
Say Yes to Breakfast in Grand Rapids
San Chez Bistro
Our first meal after getting to town was breakfast at San Chez Bistro. It set the tone for all the deliciousness we came to expect during the rest of the trip. The restaurant itself is two-tiered and brightly colored. The decor speaks with the same fun tone as the food at this Latin American meets Mediterranean spot. The breakfast empanadas with chorizo were to die for. The pro tip is to go ahead and double your order or the harissa sour cream, you’ll thank me later. They also serve tapas-style lunches and dinners!
When you visit Wolfgang’s you can expect to leave absolutely stuffed. This homestyle breakfast and lunch spot is serving up some massive portions. If you go on the weekend expect a bit of a wait but trust me they have the fluffiest eggs I’ve ever seen. They also make homemade hash browns which I happen to believe is the highest form of potato.
A visit to Anna’s House means everyone in the crews getting exactly what they want. The breakfast menu here is gigantic. That big menu allows them to have options for all sorts of dietary restrictions. Vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free you name it Anna’s House has you covered.
That Early Bird
If you’re looking for good vegetarian food in Grand Rapids look no further than That Early Bird. I think the coolest part about this spot is that the menu is super eclectic. Sure they have the traditional french toast and breakfast sammies but they also have vindaloo hash! The horchata iced latte is to die for. If you haven’t tried horchata its rice mike beverage popular in Latin America.
Coffee in Grand Rapids
Brick walls and, big windows and a lot of sunlight. Beautifully designed packaging. Knowledgeable baristas probably wearing beanies and or Blundstones. This place is oozing cool in every way. MadCap Coffee has three locations in Grand Rapids and we visited two of them. I really enjoyed getting to learn about the beans and the process from the Downtown Market location.
Jam’n Bean Coffee Company
Struggling to decide if you want coffee or ice cream? Jamnbean is all about having both. The vibe here is cozy. It’s the perfect place to just chill with friends. I’m a coffee enthusiast but there’s a contingent of people who claim the ice cream is even better than the coffee. You’ll have to try both and decide for yourself.
Beautiful women eating one ice cream in the street. Youth concept.
Outside Coffee Co
Outside Coffee Co is queer-owned, instantly making me fall in love a little more. As the name suggests Outside Coffee Co is well outside. They have fireplaces scattered about the space giving that perfect fall vibe. When it gets cold they put out adorable clear domes to stay warm in. I had what they call “chider” a chai tea and apple cider combo that was life-changing.
Grand Rapid Brunch Spots to Indulge
Social Kitchen & Bar
Grand Rapids brunch lists will all include the trendy and vibrant Social Kitchen & Bar. The bunch menu has comfort food done in an elevated way. The thick-cut pork belly in bourbon vanilla glaze is sinful. Consider taking an Uber here because the bunch cocktail list is phenomenal.
I have a weakness for root beer the more unique the better. When I found out Electric Cheetah offered a full root beer menu I was sold. The brunch menu has a lot of American food favorites. The mac n cheese is what they’re known for so make sure to try it. This cool mural was just a few minute’s walks so I snagged a few pictures while waiting for a table.
This Grand Rapids farm to table restaurant has a wonderful brunch menu. The Terra GR egg menu is a mile long but the woodfire pizzas grabbed my attention. They have a strong focus on being sustainable and serving local ingredients which is the type of business I love to support. They also have one of the best bloody mary’s I’ve ever tasted.
Brown Butter Creperie & Cafe
When you come here expect a wait. I don’t mean that as a bad thing, I say to emphasize this place is so good people will wait! Brown Butter Creperie & Cafe is completely worth the wait. Crepes had a very important place in my early travel story so I think of myself as somewhat of a crepe critic. The crepes are thin and come in both sweet and savory options. They even have a crepe making class which I would 100% be doing if I live in the city.
Great Restaurants Downtown Grand Rapids
The Old Goat
The Old Goat has a rustic-chic vibe that you could probably use the word hipster to describe. The place is the definition of stylish and chill. The service is great and makes for a good lunch or dinner stop. If you’re looking for food recommendations consider the cast iron pot pie or the garlic and white balsamic brussel sprouts.
HopCat is a brewery, in fact, it’s a great brewery in one of America’s leading beer cities. It’s no surprise that the menu here is everything you’d want to eat while drinking beer. Think chicken tenders, burgers and Fish and Chips. The food is great and no I wasn’t drunk when I had it. Pro Tip: their Cosmik fries were named the top 10 french fries in America by Food Network Magazine.
The walls are covered in graffiti and there are 80’s arcade games to play. Everything about Stella’s Lounge is fun, including the food. It’s mostly a pub menu serving some killer sandwiches. They also have some vegan comfort food options, like a sweet potato burrito. If you’re into whiskey Stella’s has 200 varieties.
Ando Sushi & Bar
Veggie sushi is one of my favorite things in the world and Ando Sushi & Bar serves the best I’ve ever had. The restaurant is modern and minimal with a really pretty bar. My eyes were about 7 times bigger than my stomach so I got to taste a lot. The udon was rich and a massive portion and all the sushi was super fresh. Seriously, you’ve gotta try one of the veggie sushi options.
A former service station serving up Mexican street food-inspired dishes. Donkey Taqueria has a large outdoor patio for sipping a cocktail on the warm days and the garage door flood the interior with light year-round. Their taco menu is awesome but I recommend ordering at least on the order of flautas. They also have a really fun cocktail menu.
Meat eaters only! Not really but carnivores are going to thrive here. The menu itself has a strong international influence which is always fun. Butcher’s Union offers a big shareable menu which I love. In my opinion, it’s the best way to try a bunch of the option. Some of the shareable options include beef tartar, Caribbean meat pies, and roasted pork belly.
I love me a great market and the Downtown Market is just that. One of the first things I learned about the market as they have a garden on the rooftop Which I think is awesome for so many reasons. Once we got in I was stoked to find so many different food stalls. Almost all offered an option to take food to cook at home or eat there. That includes the seafood stand frying up and serving some of the freshest fish sandwiches. There are also 3 full sit down restaurants connected to the market. If you have time I highly recommend finishing your meal with the MadCap coffee flight and a cupcake from Sweetie-Licious Bake Shoppe.
We were able to spend a long weekend discovering all the best things to do in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Both Meg and I have been chasing summer for the better part of two years. So when Experience Grand Rapids invited us for a long weekend in the fall we were ecstatic. We’ve had a mutual obsession with hot beverages so we couldn’t wait to get our hands on all the cider, coffee and tea.
Let’s be honest, many of us have no clue what to do in Grand Rapids. It is time for that to change. There are so many cool Grand Rapids activities and attractions. I always like to set up a list of the best things to do before we touch down in a city. Of course, making time to add in as many suggestions as we can get along the way. I can’t tell you how many great travel tips we’ve received from various Uber drivers. I took the original list, mixed in what we found along the way to give you 15 Best Things to Do in Grand Rapids.
Grand Rapids Fun Facts: Aside from being the beautiful city that it is, Grand Rapids is the second-largest city in all of Michigan, it has a population of almost 200,000 (1+ million in the Grand Rapids metropolitan area). It may surprise you to learn that the “River City” is a haven for the arts and culture community. Plus, as its name and the nickname would suggest, next to the city you will find the Grand River.
Everything about Robinette’s AppleHaus and Winery is storybook fall. The pumpkin patch, corn mazes, and hayrides were everything we’d hoped for when we took an Uber ride just a bit outside the city. While we loved the fall vibes it’s a cool place to visit year-round especially because of the winery. If you have the opportunity to try the donuts, do it! The day was cool, the donuts were warm. Meg and I sat on a hay bail away from the crowds laughing and enjoying more than our fair share.
Fulton Street Farmers Market
Make sure you are in Grand Rapids on a Saturday because that means you can head down to the Fulton Street Farmers Market. This market has been running for close to 100 years and features over 200 vendors every week. Most are local farmers and artisans. We’re suckers for a good market, any country selling anything well probably want to check it out. As a bonus, this market is tented so you will be covered, no matter the weather.
Grand Rapids Public Museum
You need to visit the Grand Rapids Public Museum. This museum is over 150 years old and has shown no signs of slowing down since the day it opened. With over 25,000 pieces in the museum, you can wander for hours. Expect to be amazed at just how much amazing Michigan history there is. Everything from antique cars, to fossils and more. Plus, the collections and exhibits change regularly so you can always find something new if you’ve already visited
If you are planning your Grand Rapids trip, you might consider heading over in the months of September or October. Lucky for us that was exactly when our trip took place and Project 1 by ArtPrize was in full swing. ArtPrize is a biannual art contest that transforms the city into an open-air art gallery for 19 days every year two years but the same folks who put on the contest have blessed Grand Rapids with art you can experience year-round.
Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park
Another must-visit art activity in Grand Rapids is the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park. This park is well known for featuring some of the best and most unique cultural pieces throughout the entire Midwest. With over 150 acres you will find such beautiful natural art as a rock garden, indigenous plants, and a waterfall, plus over 300 sculptures from local and world-famous artists alike. Regretfully the day we planned to go it poured so the pictures didn’t turn out.
Grand Rapids Art Museum
Pencil drawings, paintings, print work, sculptures and more fill the approximately 20 thousand square feet of The Grand Rapids Art Museum that is dedicated to exhibits. With all of this space and countless types of art, there is something for everyone. They even have pieces that date all the way back to the Renaissance period!
Located between the children’s museum and the public library you’ll find a strip of road painted rainbow. We’ve been traveling in search of rainbows for a few years now and this is one of the best. If you’re looking for Instagram spots in Grand Rapids make time to stop here. The address we used to find it is 11 Sheldon Ave. Check out the photo I got and hear a bit of my coming out story here.
Gerald R. Ford Museum
Grand Rapids, Michigan was the birthplace of U.S. President Gerald Ford. The Gerald R. Ford Museum is a place to celebrate the life and achievements of the President and Mrs. Ford. The main exhibit is an interactive video and holographic presentation of President Ford’s life and experiences and allows those watching to feel as though they are traveling around the world with the president.
Grand Rapids Downtown Market
It’s a well-documented fact that I love to eat like really love to eat. So there was no chance I was skipping the Grand Rapids Downtown Market. Downtown Market is located south of Heartside Park and features over 20 vendors, two full-scale restaurants and more. It was super hard to narrow down what we were going to eat with each stall offering fun options. My favorite part was the three-part coffee tasting we did with MadCap Coffee. Obviously it was fun to drink but I also really enjoyed learning about the beans. We sat at the bar, enjoyed a couple of cookies and quizzed each other on random facts from our lives. Ten out of ten would recommend as a go-to Grand Rapids date spot.
John Ball Zoo
The John Ball Zoo is arguably one of the best zoos in the country. It is home to over 1,000 animals and has received awards for its habitats which are created to mimic the animals’ natural habitats. There are other activities within the zoo as well such as camel riding, zip-lining and more.
The Pump House
If you love the nostalgia of an old fashioned soda shop, you need to head to the Pump House during your visit. Porch swings, wooden benches, sorbet, artisanal yogurt, gelato and over a hundred toppings to choose from? Yes, please! The Pump House makes this a visit worth making.
Rumors is an LGBTQ nightclub that’s a huge part of the Grand Rapids gay scene. We had a bunch of people reach out encouraging us to visit while we were in town. It’s the perfect spot to dance, support the drag queens or just meet local queers. The community found in smaller city gay bars is always special.
Grand Rapids Children’s Museum
The Grand Rapids Children’s Museum is an absolute must-visit for families that are visiting. The museum is designed for children ages 2 through 12, and many of the exhibits and displays are interactive. Some of the favorite exhibits include a replica farm, a children’s theater, and an awesome treehouse.
Additionally, the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum is housed inside one of Grand Rapids’ most beautiful buildings. The entire front of the building is made completely of glass so passers-by can watch all of the interactive exhibits from outside.
There is a reason that one of Grand Rapids’ nicknames is “Beer City.” There are so many great breweries and options for you to enjoy and Brewery Vivant is one of the best. Brewery Vivant is popular because of its extensive beer list and its unique history. We heard the building was home to daycare and then a funeral home before it became a brewery. The food is also absolutely delicious with a Belgian and French-inspired menu.
Meyer May House
If you are an architecture enthusiast, or if you simply love Frank Llyod Wright, you need to head on over to the Meyer May House. This house was designed for local businessman Meyer May in the early 1900s by the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright. This house is built in a Prairies style and has been restored through the years back to its original glory. It is open to the public and features original furniture and other collections of antiques that are original to the home.
Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts
Another Grand Rapids must-visit location for art lovers is the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts in Grand Rapids. Truthfully we stumbled in here as a way to dip out of the rain and fell in love. The exhibits were interesting and thought-provoking plus the space is absolutely beautiful. The entryway with all the signs was stunning.
This post is sponsored by Experience Grand Rapids. As always all opinions are our own.
We spent five full days checking out Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The weather was perfect and we explored what felt like every inch of the city on foot. We were invited by Visit Pittsburgh to check out the city’s amazing arts and culture scene. We were both blown away by how much the city had to offer. From the robust collection of Carnegie Museums to the stunning Andy Warhol museum and of course all the quirks of Randyland there is no shortage of things to do in Pittsburgh.
This western Pennsylvania City known is known as the City of Bridges because of the 446 bridges there. Yes, it’s the most of any city in the world. The city is situated on three rivers the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio all intersect to create ample unique opportunities for exploring the Steel City even by water. Whether you’re looking for art, history, sports or food, you’ll find it here. If you plan anything like me you’ll start by deciding what to eat in Pittsburgh, then decide what to see and do in Steelers country. This list includes 20 of the best things to do in Pittsburgh.
Before digging in check out our 1-minute highlight video of all our favorite moments from the week.
Randyland might be the best place in Pittsburgh for Instagram photos. This free outdoor art museum is exploding with colors. They’ve managed to turn everything from plants, tires and broken benches into an interactive art display. We got there early afternoon on a Tuesday and had the whole place to ourselves for the better part of an hour. Be prepared to get creative.
The Best Sunset Dinner Cruise in Pittsburgh
Set sail aboard the Gateway Clipper on a weekend night for a sunset dinner cruise while a DJ plays of your favorite songs from the 90s. Guests on the Gateway Clipper fleet of boats enjoy a dinner buffet during this 2-hour cruise. The Gateway Clipper tours run from May through November and include several seasonal sailings and special events throughout the year. Visitors can also take advantage of holiday specials, parties, and events for kids like the Princess Cruises
Visit the Andy Warhol Museum
The Andy Warhol Museum is a must-visit if you’re looking for some of the best things to do in Pittsburgh. Rotating exhibits are featured here alongside the largest collection of Warhol art. Get hands-on here and try to create your own Andy Warhol-esque work of art.
Meg Ten Eyck had some beautiful things to say about the queer community’s impact on the arts. It opened my eyes in many ways. Check out her thoughts here and if you aren’t following her duh now is a good time to do so.
The Strip District in Pittsburgh the Best Spot for Pierogi
If you’re coming to Pittsburgh, not grabbing some Pierogi while you’re here is almost illegal. The Strip District is located just north of the downtown area and serves up international grocery stores and restaurants where you can find the best Pierogi in the states. Settle in for some of the best affordable, filling and delicious comfort food in Pittsburgh. If you’re not familiar I’d start with the classic potato filling topped with sour cream and chives.
The Best Views in Pittsburg Can be Found At Mount Washington
Mount Washington extends across Grandview Avenue overlooking the Pittsburgh skyline. Here you can visit Restaurant Row and enjoy a delicious meal with the skyline as your backdrop. Mount Washington is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike and is a must-do when visiting the city. The vantage point is one of the best views in Pittsburgh.
While you can drive or catch an Uber to see this view the best way to get here is on the incline. These wooden cable cars are charming and uniquely western Pennsylvania. The Duquesne Incline gives the best views out of the two in my opinion.
The Pittsburgh Tour Company – Just the Tour
For those not wanting to get off and on The Pittsburgh Tour Company bus, consider just staying on. This will allow you to map out a future itinerary or just learn more about the city before you dive in. The Just the Tour Pass includes a narrated historic tour of the area and lasts for 2 hours and 15 minutes.
It’s one of the best ways to spend a fun afternoon in Pittsburgh. Learn about the city on this fun tour and get an insider take on what makes it great. This tour is great for families with young children.
History and Beauty Come Together at Point State Park
Point State Park is located at the center-point where all three rivers merge; it is a National Historic Landmark that chronicles the history of the area during the French and Indian War. The park commemorates the people, places, and events of the time and is also a great spot for an afternoon stroll.
Carnegie Science Center
Of the four Carnegie Museums, the Carnegie Science Center is my absolute favorite. What makes this stand apart from the rest is that it a totally interactive experience. From the Nasa exhibit to the beat the robot sports games its a place that just makes you want to play. We also had the privilege of touring the Mummies of the World exhibit before it opened. What we loved most about it was they include so much more than just the mummies from Egypt.
Visit the Quirky Mattress Factory Museum in Pittsburgh
A contemporary art museum in Pittsburg, The Mattress Factory is one of the best, unusual stops in Pittsburgh. Visitors will delight in the changing art exhibits throughout this sprawling museum. Artists in residence create art directly within the space itself. The Mattress Factory Museum is comprised of three buildings in the Mexican War district and well worth a visit. It’s also a super fun place to grab some photos for your social media.
Explore American History at Fort Pitt Museum
The Fort Pitt Museum offers several exhibits and displays that preserve this history of Pittsburgh and parts of Western Pennsylvania. This indoor-outdoor museum is run by the John Heinz History Center.
Westmoreland Museum of American Art
Located in Greensburg a bit outside the traditional downtown tourist area you’ll find the Westmoreland Museum of American Art. This beautifully renovated American art museum has a heavy focus on art from Southwestern Pennsylvania. They also have some great interactive exhibits. There is a wonderful little cafe on-site so plan to make an afternoon of it.
The Frick Pittsburgh
You can find The Frick Pittsburgh in the Point Breeze neighborhood about 30 mins from where we stayed in at the TRYP hotel in Lawrenceville. The Frick is a series of museums and stunning gardens based around the Frick family residence. The car and carriage museum was our absolute favorite part. Meg grew up with a grandfather who rebuilt cars so it was fun wandering and hearing their stories.
The Pittsburgh Tour Company Hop-on Hop-off Tour
One of the best ways to get your bearings when visiting Pittsburgh is to take advantage of The Pittsburgh Tour Company’s bus tours. The Hop-on, Hop-off tour brings visitors to 21 stops within the city. From the Duquesne Incline to Heinz Field or the Andy Warhol Museum, you can choose your own adventure of sorts.
Visitors can board at any stop along the way and ride the entire course along the river to The Strip and through the Oakland neighborhood. It’s a great way to get acclimated and familiarize yourself with the sights, sounds, and tastes of Pittsburgh.
Stroll Through Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
Located in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh, the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens include 15-acres of orchids, bonsai trees and a variety of flowers and plants. With 23 gardens to explore and a stunning greenhouse, the sights, sounds, and smells of this historic landmark delight visitors at every turn.
We got there with only about an hour before close and had practically the whole place to ourselves. It was the perfect place for a date or just some quiet time with a friend.
The Ultimate Bicycle Museum is in Pittsburgh
If you like bikes, you’ll love Bicycle Heaven. It’s the biggest transportation museum in the world strictly related to bikes. This personal collection of Craig Morrow’s also includes the bicycle from the 80s Pee Wee’s Big Adventure Movie. I learned while I was there that the city of Pittsburgh is currently investing a ton of money into bike lanes. It’s absolutely becoming a very bikeable city.
Discover the History of Pennsylvania at Heinz History Center
The Heinz History Center incorporates the history of Western Pennsylvania, encompassing everything Mister Rogers Neighborhood items to a Heinz Tomato Ketchup tour. The guided tour chronicles the company’s 150 years of innovative products.
Check out the Pirates at PNC Park
Baseball fans can enjoy a Pittsburgh Pirates game at PNC Park Field. From PNC Park fans can see glorious views of the Pittsburgh skyline. Whether you’re interested in watching the game or not, be sure not to miss the PNC Park food courts. Smorgasburgh features an eclectic mix of food found throughout the city and Pop’s Plaza serves more traditional baseball park food like nachos and hot dogs.
This was actually our first professional baseball time together and we had the best time. We made a whole evening out of it complete with buying to jerseys to dress the part. We’re not big baseball fans but sports is such a huge part of what makes Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh. I’m glad we got to experience all the black and gold.
Visit the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh
This contemporary art museum in Pittsburgh features works by Monet, Van Gogh and Picasso among others. This vast collection is inspiring to both artists and art fans. Founded in 1895 by Andrew Carnegie, it features a wide range of art and is well worth a visit on your next trip to Pittsburgh.
See What Steeler’s Country is All About at Heinz Field
Until 2001, The Pittsburgh Steelers home field was Three Rivers Stadium. Once Heinz Field was built, it became one of the top stadiums in the NFL. Like PNC Park Field, Heinz is also horseshoe shape which allows for sweeping views of the Pittsburgh skyline. Situated on the Allegheny River, it is a must-visit for football fans, whether Steelers fans or not.
One of my first memories from college is meeting a ton of kids from Pittsburgh. On Sundays, it’s like everything would come to a screeching halt so everyone could watch the Steelers. I’ve never been to a place with more passionate sports fans.
Southern Pennsylvania World War II Memorial
Take some time to visit the Southern Pennsylvania World War II Memorial and learn about the sacrifices that citizens made during this tumultuous period in history. This outdoor museum chronicles the lives and activities of residents during wartime. Panels and enclosed art displays create a timeline of events leading up to the war and its outcome.
This conversation is sponsored by Visit Pittsburgh. As always all opinions are our own.
For a long time, Pittsburgh was considered an upping and coming food city and maybe even city in general. Those days are over, Pittsburgh has arrived in all the ways. The Pittsburgh food scene is thriving right along with the rest of this beautiful city. Narrowing down the truly top restaurants in Pittsburgh is tricky. Luckily I went to college in a nearby town and have multiple friends who call the city home. Each one was seemingly more excited than last to offer up recommendations on where to get that good Pittsburgh food.
Possibly the most famous Pittsburgh food, a Primanti Bros Sandwich overflowing with coleslaw and fresh-cut french fries. All the meat and toppings are slapped between two pieces of white bread. It’s one of the Pittsburgh restaurants you can’t miss. I also highly recommend ordering a deli-style pickle to go with it.
The other Pittsburgh classic is the Pierogi. This Eastern European classic has become a favorite in Pittsburgh. So much so they have a Pierogi race between innings on the Pirates games. If you haven’t had one you have to go with the classic potato topped with sour cream and chives.
Amazing Diners in Pittsburgh
Pennsylvania, in general, has strong diner culture and that certainly can be felt here in Pittsburgh. If you’re looking for a hearty breakfast or lunch look no further than these top-notch diners in Pittsburgh.
There’s always a hot cup of coffee on and the floors are checkerboard. The vibe hasn’t changed in years but neither has the food and that’s a good thing. This Pittsburgh institution has been serving one of the best breakfasts in the city for over 60 years. In the mood for banana pancakes or an omelet with homefries, head here.
Pamela’s Diner is adorable. It’s so good it practically feels like it was designed for a photoshoot but then you realize it’s just that authentic. Everything is a shade of teal pink with family photos covering the walls. The claim to fame here, super-thin crepe style hotcakes. I’m more of a savory person so I went for the Trash Hash which is basically hash browns topped with sloppy-joe, cheese, and jalapeno. It was to die for.
Fluffy stuffed pancakes help make breakfast the real star of the show here. One of the best parts of Micro Diner is the fact that is open late. Making it the perfect place to grab a great meal after a night out with friends.
The young gun standing strong among the other Strip District restaurant legends, DeLucas and Pamalas. Once you say, Diner, Drive-in and Dives made a stop here there isn’t much more that needs to be said. The featured dish on the episode was the haluski, I always follow the experts lead.
Best Breakfast Spots in Pittsburgh
If you’re looking for breakfast in Pittsburgh but feeling a bit more than the dinner vibe, I got you. I happen to travel with a big-time breakfast lover so we’re always on the lookout.
The name alone makes you wanna go, right? Stay with me, it gets better. They also serve all-day breakfast and boozy coffee cocktails. As you’d expect they do serve a lot of pie and quiche but there is more to the menu if you want something lighter.
Made to order, fully customizable waffles. Of course, they have some house favorite sweet and savory combinations to lead you in the right direction. The available toppings list is pretty extensive leaving you to get super creative if you want. I’m a massive chicken and waffles fun but the sausage gravy over a waffle, heart eyes.
Meg and I are massive crepe lovers. In fact, we actively search them out all over the world. The french style crepes at Cafe Moulin were absolutely delicious. The menu has a good selection of both sweet and savory offerings. The atmosphere is cozy and clearly French-inspired.
The Vandal is just as cool, well designed and delicious as you’d expect from a Lawrenceville restaurant. The menu is unique and utilizes ingredients in super unique ways. There is a distinct farm to table vibe. We stopped in mid-afternoon and enjoyed some of their delicious cups of coffee in the window seats.
Best Italian Restaurants in Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh’s Little Italy neighborhood can be found in the Bloomfield neighborhood. However, you’ll find Italian restaurants ranking highly on many “where to eat in Pittsburgh” lists all over the city.
When you go to Alla Famiglia expect to have the full Italian fine dining experience. You can very clearly taste the intention behind each ingredient. The food is served family-style while offering some great appetizer options like the Burratta. Plan ahead for a visit and make sure you have reservations.
We sat at one of the tables outside sipping on a couple of glasses of wine. When the food hit the table the first words out of Meg’s mouth were “theses are little pillows of heaven” after a bite of gnocchi. The restaurant and connecting market are beautiful and the food is insane. You can even go in that afternoon for some sandwiches with incredible meats and cheeses. If you’re going for dinner be sure to make a reservation it fills up quick.
The best way to describe this spot is pit beef and a taco shop had a baby. It’s as delicious as you’re expecting. The nachos are baked in a cast iron pan and have more cheese than I can describe, add brisket for extra magic. They also make in house sodas which always win me over.
I always appreciate a brewery of offers bomb food and Cinderlands does just that. The beers are award-winning but the brussels sprouts stayed on my mind. Monday is all day taco day if you’re down for that.
The lobster rolls are the house specialty at this Lawrenceville gem. You can also pick from an extensive selection of oysters hailing from the east and west coasts. When the cool weather rolls in keep in mind they have four different kinds of chowder daily.
Consistently ranked as one of the best restaurants in Pittsburgh, Morcilla won’t disappoint. Serving elegant Spanish food in an approachable way. The food is served small plate style so you can try all sorts of things. If you don’t know where to start, I’d recommend the charcuterie and croquetas
Market Square Pittsburgh Restaurants
Downtown Pittsburgh restaurants weren’t supposed to wow us based on what I’d read. However, I was super pleasantly surprised at the quality options located in this part of the city. I would even consider some to be my favorite restaurants in Pittsburgh.
At Tako Mexican street food and Japanese food are mixing it up. There is playful window seating ready for the warm days. The street-style tacos are best when you get a platter and can try multiple types of meat. I highly recommend going with the octopus, it was cooked perfectly.
Butcher and Rye ooze cool from the moment you step in. The unique marriage of rustic and vintage decor is some of the best I’ve come across. The food is no slouch either. The contemporary take on modern classic completely knocks it out of the park. All that before I even mention the 8 shelves of whiskey.
Just steps from Market Square you’ll find Revel and Roost. Roost is the upstairs event space and Revel is the downstairs event space. They have a versatile dinner menu with tons of dishes meant to share. Bacon-wrapped scallops or braised beef quesadillas are always a good move.
Or, the Whale by the Travel Channel as one of the Hip Pittsburgh Destinations Where You’ll Want to be in 2019 for good reason. Located in what was previously a gymnasium the dining room is large and bold. The food is exactly what you’d hope for in a farm to table or sea to table restaurant. They are not taking any shortcuts that would sacrifice freshness.
A vegan restaurant that was recommended by both vegan and non-vegan friends. There is a very clear but intentional simplicity in the design. The food is all vegan with a strong eastern European influence. A few years ago the concept started with a Pierogi Pop up Restaurant and you bet those perogies are still on the menu.
A Mediterranean spot offering a full vegan menu. They even have seitan which I appreciate being able to find. On Sunday’s you’ll find a beautiful brunch with the likes of latkes and thick-cut toast with cashew cheese.
This completely vegan restaurant has a punk side. You’ll hear the distinct sounds of heavy metal playing as you devour your cabbage and shiitake dumplings. They specialize in making both Asian and American comfort food but in a seriously creative way.
It’s illegal to be LGBT in 70+ countries. Some of these countries hold the most incredible wonders, brightest adventures, and most sought after travel experiences. We believe that all people, regardless of their identities, deserve to see the beauty and wonder of the world. We’ve written at length about why we choose to travel to anti-LGBT destinations, but I’ll briefly summarize our feelings by saying this if local people have first-hand experience with LGBT people they’re more likely to think favorably of our community. People cannot be expected to accept that which they have no positive experiences. That being said, not every traveler wants to be an activist and you shouldn’t have to be. Traveling with a group is always safer in high-risk countries because it allows you to blend with a crowd and gives you direct contact with bilingual people in case there are any complications. Which is why we put together this list of incredible experiences LGBT people can enjoy on the next holiday.
Hike to the Treasury in Petra
Jordan might be a lesser-known travel destination but it is emerging as a true powerhouse in recent years. At this point, everyone has seen the stunning photos taken on the hill from above the Treasury on Instagram. A night spent sipping tea at a desert camp with the Bedouin people followed by a hike to the Ancient City of Petra. You can imagine that would be the highlight of visiting Jordan. This UNESCO World Heritage Site looks like it’s been ripped straight from the pages of an Aladdin fairytale book. With the camels, gorgeous carpets, and beautiful sandstone colored buildings. However, if you ask anyone who’s been there what their favorite part is and everyone will tell you the people. There’s really nothing more magical than that.
Spot the Big 5 in the Serengeti
Have you thought about visiting Tanzania yet? We’ve all watched the magic of the Serengeti through the eyes of the National Geographic Channel for years. Everything from the lions hunting for prey to the vultures cleaning up the mess was documented for us. However, there is no substitute for being right in the middle of it all. With the rhino growing closer and closer to extinction the time is now to go see these majestic animals. Just in case you didn’t know the big five includes the lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, and rhino all five can be found in the Serengeti.
Haggle for goods at the Medina of Fez
The Medina in Fez is a swirling center of hectic chaos that has not changed for centuries. Your senses will but absolutely overloaded in all ways when you visit Morocco but the Fez is the peak of that beautiful chaos. When you think you simply can not take anymore you’ll pop up to a rooftop terrace to sip tea overlooking everything. Fez is bright, it is colorful and it’s loud but there is an energy there that is nearly unmatched. Once you’ve had your tea, navigate the narrow streets and negotiate a good price on something for the home. Don’t take it easy, these merchants are seasoned veterans and drive a hard bargain. Getting a good deal here is a notch in your traveler belt you can proudly claim forever.
Visit the Splendor of the Taj Mahal
A visit to India undeniably belongs in a prominent place on all travel bucket lists. While the whole country is spotted with beautifully unique cities any trip would be incomplete without making a stop at the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal is a physical gift symbolizing an emperor’s deep love and appreciation for his wife. The Taj Mahal complex is very large with massive gardens and outbuildings but the mausoleum is the highlight. It is an architectural blend of Persian, Islamic and Indian design. The Taj Mahal and its surrounding complex are one of the Seven New Wonders of the World. It is worth noting that while there are efforts being made to protect the Taj, pollution is harshly affecting the stunning white marble.
Marvel at the wonder that is the Pyramids of Giza
Only one of the Ancient Seven Wonders of the World still exists. That wonder is, of course, the Pyramids of Giza. The pyramids are located on the outskirts of the bustling metropolitan city of Cairo. In fact, you can see the skyline from the Pyramids, a crazy blend of old and new. A visit to Egypt just is not complete without taking time to kiss the Sphinx. Built almost 5000 years ago the Pyramids of Giza are a truly exceptional architectural feat. While there are still many theories on exactly how and who built the Pyramids there is no doubt it belongs on every travel bucket list. Seeing the way the dust kicks up off the camels’ hooves as they pass through the desert is truly any photographer or travelers’ dream.
Tour the historic walls of St. Basil’s Cathedral in Russia
Close your eyes and picture your self visiting Russia. There’s a really good chance you pictured the colors, patterns, and shapes of St. Basils Cathedral. Located at the southern end of the famed Red Square. St Basil’s Cathedral has become Russia’s most iconic building. A UNESCO World Heritage site that was ordered to be built by Ivan the Terrible in 1561. The interior of the cathedral is smaller and more compact one might expect. However, while visiting the ornately decorated nine chaples you will often find choral groups singing.
Explore the Magnificent Petronas Towers in Malaysia
Malaysia was home to the tallest building in the world from 1998 to 2004. Located in Kuala Lumpur, the Petronas Towers are still the tallest twin towers in the world. To get a birds-eye view you can buy a ticket to go inside or view this stunning architectural feat from the ground. On the 41st floor, you can walk the sky bridge, the highest of its kind. From there you’ll keep traveling upwards to the 86th-floor viewing platform where you’ll see the whole city. Built by an Argentinian architect there is a distinct touch of Islamic influence. With five tiers of the building representing the five pillars of Islam. Make time on your visit to Malaysia to check it out in the evening, they are truly stunning lit up at night.
Snorkeling the Belize Barrier Reef
The world’s second-largest coral reef is located in Belize. No matter if you are an expert scuba diver or snorkeling for the first time, Belize is right for you. There are over 500 species of fish that call this reef home. If you are interested in becoming PADI certified this is a great destination to do so. If snorkeling is more your speed, you can expect to spend lazy days under the sun spotting more sea life than imaginable. If you’re looking for a Caribbean destination Belize is a great option.
Trek with Gorillas in Uganda
Be prepared to get a little sweaty and dirty on this adventure in Uganda. You’ll be hiking though the thick mountains of Uganda looking for the mountain gorillas. With nothing between you and these massive animals, your anticipation will be building with every step. While there is no barrier between you and the gorillas they are very familiar with humans. Take the time to observe them with their families in their most natural habitat. When you’re packing for this one don’t forget to pack some patience. Even with an experienced guide, it can take hours to track the gorillas down.
Figuring out what to take on a safari is flat out intimidating! There are undoubtedly more “rules” for what to wear on safari than almost any other trip I’ve taken. Going on an East African safari has been a dream for years. I wanted to follow every suggestion out there that would lead me to see the most animals possible. But let’s face it, I also wanted to feel good about what I was wearing since these are photos I’ll treasure for a lifetime.
From the Maasai Mara in Kenya, Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania and hundreds of bumpy dusty roads in between. I needed things to be practical, comfortable and stylish in that order. This safari packing guide includes the main things you’ll need. I’m going to assume you already know things like a toothbrush need to be packed.
Where and when are you going
Africa is a continent ya’ll and a big one at that. When you’re packing you’ve got to look at the weather in the place you’ll actually be going. Sounds simple but the often overlooked idea that, yes, it gets cold in Africa can sneak up on you. Game drives consistently start as the sun creeps above the horizon, meaning you’ll be eating breakfast in the cool brisk morning air.
Keep in mind there are pros and cons to all off-season travel.
Best Time To Visit: Mid August – late October to see the Great Migration of wildebeest in the Masai Mara. Kenya is close to the equator, therefore, it does not experience a real summer or winter.
Dry Season: June to October temperatures 75-50°F
Wet Season: March to May temperatures 83-60°F
Best Time To Visit: Since you’ll likely be there for the incredible gorilla trekking, visiting during the dry season is pivotal. The temperature in this tropical climate remains virtually the same 81-60°F year-round.
Dry Season: June-August and December-January
Wet Season: March-May and September- November
Best Time To Visit: October to January are ideal times for the chimpanzee tracking. The temperatures stay in the 70-50°F year-round.
Best Time To Visit: May to September, there is a long dry season here and the animals tend to stay close to larger watering holes.
Summer: October- April temperatures ranging from 45-77°F
Winter: May-September 60-84°F
Best Time To Visit: June-October, although the most popular “northern circuit” is spectacular year-round. Wildebeest calves are however born in January.
Dry Season: June-October temperatures 65-86°F
Wet Season: November-May temperatures 73-85°F
What type of African safari vacation are you taking
Just as diverse as the destination you’ll take them in safari vacations come in all shapes and sizes. If you are looking for full luxury, budget, family-friendly, private or group there’s a safari that is right for you.
The accommodations will vary based on price point. Typically there are two main sleeping options the tent camps which are, as you’d expect canvas tents. The other being safari lodges, typically more of resort vibe. Here is an example of each that we stayed in during our 13 Day East African Safari with Contiki.
One of the key differences to look at when it comes to packing is with the luggage allowance. With a luxury safari, you are likely to be taking small bush planes from one destination to the next, the strict weight allowances on these flights are usually non-negotiable.
On a group safari, there is obviously a limited about of space in the back of the jeep. For our trip, we were limited to 33 pounds of the total weight in a soft-sided bag.
If a walking safari or trekking is on your itinerary. You will have to take greater consideration with footwear, including hiking boot.
When and where we Traveled
Our trip was a total of 29 days. We spent 13 of those as part of the Contiki East African Safari through Kenya and Tanzania. Check out our review of the trip here! Followed by a week-long private safari with family and friends and lastly a week at the beach in Zanzibar.
Our trip started mid-July and ended in Mid August
The 33lb weight requirement seems to be the standard. This is the weight for everything, carry on included. It is important to have something that is soft-sided aka squishable as well as durable. These bags will be loaded and unloaded from your safari jeep multiple times almost always in dirty or dusty places. Leave the full size hard-sided checked bag at home, it’s more hassle than it is worth.
Meg bought the REI Ruckpack 65 Travel Pack right before we left. She’s about 5’3” so finding a full size pack that fits her well took some time and persistence. The REI pack is built specifically for women (or people) with shorter torsos.
It is a two-part pack system that includes a day pack big enough for her laptop and essential. Overall She was really happy with the performance and comfort of the new backpack and i think it will be joining us on my more trips.
I carried my go to Tortuga Pack. This bag has been by my side for nearly two years now and I’m consistently impressed with its versatility. If I’m being honest I was looking for reasons to upgrade my pack for the trip. Mostly for aesthetic reasons but couldn’t bring myself to spend the money with the Tortuga Pack does the job for nearly every situation. I did find a similar bag at a significantly lower price point here.
I love the interior pockets for keeping my clothes separate and the thick padded back sleeve to protect my laptop.
If you don’t love backpacks bringing a duffle if perfectly doable for this style trip. One of the guys I traveled with did all 13 days in a simple Hershel duffle. While it was a bit small for me it was a great way for him to only bring the essentials.
Worth noting when buying bags specifically from travel- bright colors are always easier to locate. Whether you’re looking in the offloaded safari luggage pile or the airport baggage carousel, black bags are hardest to locate.
Meg carried the daypack portion of her REI bag. She lover every part of having it. It was the perfect size to fit what she needed but small enough to keep her from overpacking.
Since most of your day is spent in the car you have a couple daypack option in my opinion.
The safari outfit stylish or simple practicality. My all-time favorite daypacks are these two from Herschel Supply Co and Jansport . They hold up great with heavy use and when they’re filthy just toss them in the washer.
Honestly, on most days the only thing our daypacks needed to carry was camera gear and bug spray.
Contiki had sent the whole group a simple canvas backpack like this one and many members of the trip were super happy with how convenient it was.
Camera Bags for safari
I carried the Manfrotto Medium Camera bag for this trip. It fit two SLR bodies, three lenses and various small accessories in the side pockets. The top was big enough for me to bring an extra battery pack, hat, and any snacks I felt necessary aka Haribo gummy bears and Stoney Tangawizi, the incredible local ginger beer.
For the safari, I found having a camera bag to be more important than on a lot of other trips for two main reasons. First, the amount of dust and dirt. Having a clean place to store my camera was so important. Second, the roads are bumpy and our bags bounded right along with us, the padding in the bag was used hard. Lastly, having a waterproof bag will eliminate any stress if a storm rolls in.
First and foremost you do not have to rush out and buy an entire wardrobe based on various shades of khaki. Earth tones are recommended but not required at any point on my 3-week safari. Our Kenyan guide often sported a red t-shirt and many other drivers were dressed in the traditionally bright Masai clothing. **read about our visit to the Masai Village**
Laundry was an offered service at every place we stayed. So no matter if your trip is 4 or 14 days your packing list will look similar.
Planning to bring items that are easily layered is important because the weather changes drastically throughout the day. Being able to add or subtract on the fly is crucial.
The most important fact when it comes to color is the tsetse fly is attracted to blue and black. You will even see what looks like a small blue and black flags hung in some bushes, it turns out they are tsetse fly traps. The flies can bite through your clothing and are linked to sleeping sickness.
Five or six t-shirts, in my opinion, is the right number. After hours of a game drive, you are covered in a pretty decent level of dirt so rewarding might not always be an option. We both went with simple cotton t-shirts. No fancy fabrics, just things already found in our closets
I did pick up a Columbia Sportswear Shirt that felt like peak safari shirt. It has a bunch of pockets, SPF built in and was ideal for tossing on in the early mornings. The sleeves are designed to roll up but I usually just tossed in on over a tee and took it off when I got warm. The one thing I really appreciated about this shirt over the other long sleeve tee tucked in my bag was how easily the dirt brushed off.
A hooded sweatshirt for the early mornings was nice. There were a few mornings that seemed extra cold plus when the top opens up having a hood to block the wind is nice. I’m sort of obsessed with this colorblock one Meg pickup for my birthday.
Pack a rain jacket! Who knows if you’ll use it but if you need it there is really no substitute. Meg and I each have this one from North Face. It takes up almost zero space and has saved us on a bunch of different occasions.
A last-minute decision had me headed to REI the night before the trip to get some safari pants. I flipped back and forth between wanting to wear stuff I already had and wanting something specific for this trip. I ultimately decided to pick up some pants because I was worried if I wore jeans the midday temperatures would have me uncomfortably hot. I tried on a whole bunch of pants and ended up with the Prana Essex Pants. They ended up being PERFECT! The dust and dirt brushed right off them plus they were warm enough for the morning and light enough for the middle of the day heat. They also don’t wrinkle, no matter how twisted in a ball I packed them they came out of the bad ready to wear. I did size up a bit to give them a slightly more androgynous vibe that I prefer with my clothing.
The two pairs of jeans I pack could have easily been left behind. They’re hot and frankly not that comfortable for long hours sitting in the car.
I’ll list some of the other pants I tried on and like here. The Prana pants were the winners based more on fit than anything else.
We also both took some Adidas sweat pants and leggings for hanging around the camps in the evening. There was no need to get dressed up for dinners at any of the places we stayed in. So most nights we tossed on something cozy.
Meg prefers dresses over pants in all situations. She knew that short dresses would be tough with getting in and out of the jeep a bunch of times every day. So she opted for longer earth-toned dresses and jumpsuits. All of her outfits we one piece so in the morning she didn’t have a ton of options to choose from.
She had lavender and a yellow jumpsuit that were PERFECT! As well as rust and an olive dress that buttoned up. With the dresses, she put a t-shirt under them so they remained more modest.
Go big or go home! Seriously, if you want that big safari hat of your dreams go for it. You’ll see plenty of other people wearing them and they make for great photo props. Pro tip: make sure it had a drawstring to keep it from blowing off when the jeep is in motion.
A regular baseball cap works just as well. Really its whatever keeps the sun off your face and covers off the crazy wind blow hair look. I took a simple this simple khaki Adidas Strapback Cap.
Shoes for Safari
Shoe selection is WAY more important if you are doing a walking safari or a gorilla trek. Both of those experiences require much more specific footwear. Since I haven’t had that experience I linked to a great packing guide specifically for a gorilla trek.
We were in our safari vehicle most of the time so the shoes for our safari were way less specific. For your primary footwear having something that is comfortable, easy to wear when climbing in and out of the car and easily cleaned is important. You will also find yourself taking your shoes on and off a bunch of times. Reason for that, climbing up on the jeep seats to take pictures. They let us climb all over the car but asked that our shoes were off to do so. Super reasonable in my opinion.
I love the look of these canvas boots plus they are all day comfortable. If you decide to go with boots for any reason definitely check these out. I wore them on our trip to Peru and got tons of compliments on the look plus the performance was awesome.
Every big trip I seem to obsess over one item I “have to have” and then make Meg buy it too. For this trip it was the slides. I wasn’t sure about the shower situation (they were remarkably clean) and to wear around camp. Meg and I both wore them a bunch to dinner, the pool and even a few times on long car rides. They’re easy, comfortable and versatile.
Best Camera for Safari
This list could be an entire blog post in itself. If you are a professional photographer you probably already know what you need. So for the rest of us, here are a few guidelines I felt were helpful when making sure you have the right camera for safari.
Yes, you can take photos on your phone. Yes, the animals will walk close enough on occasion to get some good ones on your phone. However, there are a ton of situations that you’ll wish your camera had a bit more zoom.
Meg traveled with a Sony A7iii with a 28-70mm kit lens. This is a powerhouse of a camera and it is amazing what we do as travel bloggers. Its mirrorless shoots incredibly high-quality video and is overall our go-to camera. That being said we both wish we would have bought or borrowed a more powerful lens.
I traveled with our Nikon D3400, the first DSLR camera we ever bought. Until we bought the Sony this the camera we used for everything. I think its the perfect beginner DSLR Unfortunately when we were shooting these awesome shots in Oxnard, California we smashed our trusty 18-55mm lens. So for this trip, we packed a 35mm f/1.8 prime lens that I am hooked on. It was amazing for all the shots in markets and around the camps. The other lens I took was a 70-300 f/4 that I kept on the camera a majority of the time.
You the DSLR is not the right fit for you there are some great point and shoot cameras like the Canon Powershot G9 that will be much better than your phone.
Some additional accessories for the camera
Memory Cards: You’re going to go through way more than you think because you’ll be shooting in bursts as the animals are near you.
Extra Battery Sony and Nikon : We did stay at one camp that did not have outlets in the tents. So for that day having the extra battery was crucial.
Hard Drive: Having a way to back up your photos is important. It doesn’t matter if you’re traveling for work like us or on a vacation. Most new cameras now have wifi so you can send the photos directly to your phone. This one from LaCie is specifically designed for travel.
Tripod: It’s great to have a tripod if you’re shooting anything like a sunset that requires a longer exposure. It’s also the ideal way to get photos with your travel companions. Asking some to take a picture is fine but be prepared to see heads or feet cut off. If you want particular shots its best to set them up for yourself. Important to note, when walking away from your camera be sure to keep an eye on your surroundings.
Miscellaneous Safari Gear
Power Strip: Tons of places only have one outlet, this way you don’t have to set an alarm to
switch devices. This was our first trip with one and we’ll never travel without one again.
Binoculars: Yes you’ll want them, no they don’t have to be crazy expensive ones.
Books: Download books, music or games to your phone. There are a ton of long car rides involved in a bunch of safaris. When you’re going from one park to the next you’ll just be hanging out. No matter how much you love your travel companions a little something to entertain yourself will be nice. Plus, most of the accommodations only have wifi in the dining area. So a book is nice for that downtime as well.
Bug Spray: Get one with a high percentage of deet. The wipes are a good option so you’re not getting in the mouth and eyes of everyone in the car with you when you reapply.
Chapstick: My lips were dry to the point they were painful most of the trip. I absolutely swear by this Aquafina lip balm.
Eyedrops: The dust does not mix well with your eyes. I tried to wear contacts one day but they felt terrible. Even while wearing glasses I found myself using the drops each day.