Travel Guide: New Orleans, Louisiana

A few weeks back, I took my first MOM-cation. This is big guys. I left my sweet baby at home with Russ and hit the road with my bestie for a weekend in the Big Easy and I have been dying to tell you all about it. Mainly because I have never eaten so good in my life but also because I am a firm believer in maintaining your own mental health. Though I missed our sweet girl terribly, I cannot accurately express how relaxing it was to just rest and laugh and stroll the streets of New Orleans with my friends.

This particular Travel Guide is not going to be a wrap up of a Hangover infused trip to a town notorious for debauchery.  This trip was all about walking the picturesque streets, savoring the fine foods and spending our nights glued to whatever street musician was up next in the lineup for the French Quarter Festival. So, get ready, this Travel Guide is a collection of my Top 10 Musts during a short stay in NOLA!

1. Make sure you experience the debauchery a bit and hit Bourbon Street. Day One, we made our way down to the Plymouth Rock of sin.

Did I head to Pat O’Brien’s for a Hurricane? You bet I did. How was it? Ehhhh, not a fan. Did we get a little crazy? Yes. I actually fell. Twice. I’ll own up to it. I know we got a good laugh about it. I’m a lightweight these days and thankfully my only Bourbon Street Battle scars were a few scratches. Overall, a win in my books. Our favorite Hidden Gem: The 21st Amendment. It was hands down, the best bar. Great drinks, amazing live music and the crowd wasn’t wild though we did run into our fair share of bachelorette parties.

2. Eat at Deanie’s! We had a few drinks on Bourbon and decided that it was best that we get some food in our stomachs before we went out on the town. We ordered New Orleans BBQ Shrimp, Crawfish Etoufee and Fried Calamari. I honestly cannot tell you whether it was the french bread that we drowned in the BBQ sauce or the helpful locals dropping hints about where to head to next but this place will always be a NOLA staple for me.

3. The Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone. We headed here before the night got wild and it was the perfect spot to get away from the drunkards on Bourbon and have an adult cocktail. The 25 seat Merry Go Round Bar is festive and classy in a way that hints at the nostalgia of being at a carnival or circus. We enjoyed the Pimm’s Cup, the Vieux Carre and the French 007.

4. Ahhh, the perfect breakfast. Cafe du Monde. God love the man (or woman?) who came up with the beignet! These powdered sugar covered fried treats paired with a classic chicory infused Cafe au Lait may or may not have magic powers. If they don’t cure your hangover, the sweet and crispy texture of the beignet will at least take your mind to a happy place! Words of advice: Don’t wear black, bring cash and try to hit this spot at an odd hour. Mornings are crazy so head there early or at the end of the night.

5. Immerse yourself in the culture that is New Orleans. We were spoiled because we happened to be visiting the Big Easy during the French Quarter Festival. Unlike Jazzfest, this particular festival is for the locals and NOLA goes all out for their own. Throughout the weekend, we were surrounded by a plethora of musicians, vendor booths for the all-star creole cuisine and too many local artists to count. We ventured into the crowd and made sure to experience a little bit of it all!

6. Head to Jackson’s Square and soak it all in. St. Louis Cathedral towers over this cultural  confluence and we got lucky and managed to catch the end of the Palm Sunday service. Besides attending a Mass, you could take gander at the local artists work outside the church, get your palms ready by the neighborhood clairvoyant or take a stroll towards the great Mississippi River for a glimpse pf the majestic riverboats!

7. Take a Witches Brew Tour. No lie, this was the #1 thing I wanted to do while in Louisiana and I am so happy that we did. I am a bit of a history nut so I was glad we got to squeeze in some time strolling the streets and learning a bit about the ghosts and voodoo queens! Our guide Doug was 1-dressed like William Wallace (FREEDOM!) and 2-was the best tour guide. He was funny, kind and made sure to leave room for plenty of drink stops and photo ops.

8. Two words. Chargrilled Oysters. My Gosh! How did I go my whole life without sampling these delicious morsels?! After much debate with the locals about Acme or Felix or Drago’s, we chose to head to Felix’s Oyster Bar. We may or may not have order 5 dozen different kinds. My personal favorite style was the Bienville (mushrooms and crawfish in some creamy sauce baked on top the oyster). TO DIE FOR. We also tried the alligator and all I can say is that the 30 minute wait was worth it.

9. This is my last restaurant recommendation and I am not lying when I say that this place is the #1 reason I will be heading back to New Orleans. Mr. B’s Bistro Sunday Jazz Brunch was the cherry on top of our trip to the Big Easy. We were celebrating our friend’s birthday and the service went above and beyond to make our meal extra special. The live music was endearing and I still haven’t stopped humming “La Vie en Rose”. The real winner though was the New Orleans Barbecue Shrimp served with fresh french bread. The waiter actually came out into the dining room and put a bib on me. It was messy but worth the struggle. I will be dreaming about this dish for awhile now.

10. Last but not least, please do yourself a favor and hop on the trolley and head to the Garden District. The trolley fee won’t break the bank at $1.50 and the views are simply stunning. Every home exuded southern charm with their black wrought iron fences, the vibrant lantana swaying in the breeze and the leftover Mardi Gras beads dangling from the cypress trees. We got a tip from our Witches Brew Tour Guide and managed to stumble across Anne Rice’s house and I fangirled a little bit.

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Well that concludes this Travel Guide and I hope this helps you plan your next big trip to the Magnolia state. Where would you like to see The Rustie Nail head to next? The beach, the mountains, an island, a cruise? Let me know in the comments!

Travel Guide: 12 Things to Do in Tucson, Arizona

Hey guys! I know it has been awhile since I posted a Travel Guide but I am so psyched to share some of the details from my first trip out west! I hope this inspires you to head out into the desert and do a little adventuring of your own. Instead of the usual, Day One, Day Two rhetoric, I am going to just list off a bunch of the fun stuff we got to do while we were visiting the Tucson and Phoenix areas in hopes that you’ll check a few of these places off your bucket list!

#1 SAGUARO NATIONAL PARK WEST: GO SEE THE PETROGLYPHS

We headed to the Tucson Mountain District (WEST) side of Saguaro National Park in Tucson for a glimpse at some of the oldest petroglyphs in America’s history. Left there over 800 years ago by the Hohokam people, this distinctive rock art can be found at the top of the Signal Hill hiking trail off of the Bajada Loop Drive. Be prepared to take a few dirt roads to get here but the picnic area below makes for a wonderful afternoon exploring over 200 prehistoric Native American relics.

#2 ARIZONA-SONORA DESERT MUSEUM

We made a short pit stop here and man am I glad we did. The museum is set up in a way that you can take your time in each different section without feeling overwhelmed. We got to see a lot of animals, everything from Big Horn Sheep to Bobcats to Otters as well as explore a small aquarium full of snakes, scorpions and fish. At just $22 per person, admission is a steal for all that this museum encompasses. Head here for information on Natural History, plant and wildlife or to just a take a walk through the Desert Cactus Loop!

#3 OLD TUCSON STUDIOS: A Glimpse into the Wild, Wild West

This place was just fun! This family friendly park serves as an amusement for all ages and a studio for many Hollywood flicks, including classic Westerns such as Tombstone, Three Amigos and The Outlaw Josey Wales. Head here for a glimpse at old saloons, cowboy shootouts, stagecoach rides and try your luck panning for gold! At $20 for admission, this is a great place to kill a few hours and pick up a sweet souvenir!

#4 GATES PASS: The Only Place to Watch the Sun Go Down

You want to see a typical Arizona sunset? Too bad, nothing is typical here. Everything is indescribably beautiful from this vantage point and the added bonus, each night there’s a different view on display! This easy 5-10 minute hike was well worth the drive up the mountain. Everyone said that we had to stop here and now I’m telling you, you WILL regret it if you don’t catch a glimpse of a sunset from Gates Pass.

#5 COLOSSAL CAVE MOUNTAIN PARK: A Creepy 7 Story Climb Towards the Center of the Earth

My longtime bestie Laura, found this place and I am so happy she did because the Colossal Cave Mountain Park was the perfect afternoon adventure. We beat the heat and stepped back in time by journeying into this massive cave system. We did the Classic Cave Tour ($18/per person) which offered an extensive look into the first inhabitants, the Hohokam people, and the generations that helped make this park accessible to the public as well as an informative lesson on the rock formations found within the cave system. Though we arrived during the wrong time of year, these caves are usually full of bats and can easily be seen if you are on the hunt for some winged night creatures.

#6 MISSION SAN XAVIER DEL BAC: The White Dove of the Desert

Easily one of my favorite things we did on this trip. Founded as a Catholic Mission in 1692, Mission San Xavier del Bac has served this community for hundreds of years. The Church construction was completed in 1797 and the inside of this establishment still maintains original murals and statutes. We wandered the grounds in awe of the raw beauty of this place. I even purchased a candle from the gift shop to light on the alter and you are welcome to as well! If you have any religious background, this is a beautiful place to stop and affirm your faith. This place has made it through political adjustments, earthquakes and even lightning strikes and still retains the purpose of ministering to the religious needs of its’ parishioners.

#7 SAGUARO NATIONAL PARK EAST: the Rincon Mountain District

At just $15 per vehicle, you NEED to enter this part of the park! We opted for the Jeep Wrangler rental and we road top down through this 8 mile Cactus Forest Drive over the Tanque Verde Ridge, but more on that later.  We were in awe of the Saguaros. These massive giants can grow up to 22 feet tall and live to be almost 250 years old. We hiked around the desert admiring the flora and fauna and spent a majority of the afternoon just taking picture after picture of the environment.

#8 CACTUS FOREST DRIVE: Take a Picture Next to a Giant 

If you do nothing else while in Tucson, DO THIS! Take the drive and take a million photos  of you and your friends next to the tallest cacti ever. I only included two pictures because  the reel goes on and on. We had too much fun just walking around admiring the lush landscape. For more information on this mesmerizing place, head to www.saguaronationalpark.com.

#9 TANQUE VERDE RANCH: A Room with a View + Horses + Massage Therapists 🙂

With a 150 years under their belt, you can see why this place gets voted Best of the Best year after year. When researching for our 30th Birthday Getaway in the Arizona desert, I was on the hunt for an adventure and this place provided it all. Tanque Verde is a Dude Ranch set smack dub next to Saguaro National Park East. In fact, most of the riding trails lead straight out your backdoor and into the immense landscape surrounding the property. This place had everything we were looking for, all-inclusive southwestern cuisine in a fine-dining atmosphere, horseback riding experiences and the Sonoran Spa, the perfect place to get a massage and relax in the pool after a long hike or ride through the park. I loved it so much that I have every intention on bringing my husband back here sometime! Just look at the sunsets I managed to capture right outside our Cabin door.

#10 CORONADO NATIONAL FOREST

I wish I had more to tell you about this place but the truth is, the drive was a little too much for us. We began our journey in Tucson with every intention of heading to the Mount Lemmon Sky Center and Observatory and Biosphere II (think classic Pauly Shore movie gone right). Both backed by the University of Arizona and tucked away at the peak of the Santa Catalina Mountains, each place had so much potential for a great day or evening. But, the drive up the mountain proved to be a little sickening. My companion and I made it about 30 minutes up before we decided to turn back around. The switchback roads and deafening heights were just a tad too rich for our blood. But, we do have every intention on giving this a go next time we are in this neck of the woods.

#11 TRAIL DUST TOWN: A Step Back in Time 

Plan B: Head to a replicated Wild West town and wander the abandoned streets before opening hours. We literally had this whole place to ourselves and it was great. If you manage to come during open hours, try taking a spin on one of the amusement rides, head to the saloon for a pint of ale or try your luck at the Ravenhearse Classic Haunt!! For a more educational tour, head to the Museum of the Horse Soldier to learn more about the history of the men, women and horses in the United States Military. This place is family friendly so plan on seeing lots of kiddos running around.

#12 SUPERSTITION MOUNTAINS: Outdoor Playground near Phoenix

On our way back to Phoenix for our flight home, we arranged a pitstop for a glimpse at the famed Superstition Mountains. Encircling the Tonto National Forest, these beauties provide a border for the suburb of Mesa, Arizona. For an introduction to the hiking in this area, head to the Lost Dutchman State Park near Apache Junction. We researched this place a bunch and found out that you can kayak here in certain areas, Butcher Jones Recreation Site on Saguaro Lake to be exact, but unfortunately for us, it was the wrong time of year. We watched the sunset against the red rocks and talked about all our favorite parts of this trip before heading to the airport.

Hands down, one of my favorite trips of all time. Not only did I get the chance to have 4 uninterrupted days of solitude with my best friend since kindergarten, but we both got to explore an amazingly beautiful part of the United States. The Southwest provided the ultimate get away for two girls who wanted to shut off their phones, kick up a little dust and explore a new place. I hope this article helps you in planning your next adventure and as usual, email me if you have any questions about our trip (therustienailhead@gmail.com).

Pictured Above;    Left: Us in 2018      Right: Us in 50 Years