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: Yacht Week in Antigua

Hey guys! It’s been awhile since I put out a new Travel Guide and since our little bambina has restricted our travel this year, I figured I would share a little bit about a trip Russ and I took a few years back. It is Yacht Week in Antigua and I thought ya’ll might want a behind the signs look at all the fun!

Antigua, also known as Wadadli by the native population, is one of two islands in the West Indies. This Caribbean nation is an island oasis with plenty of historical and adventurous journeys to set off on. Russell and I planned a 7 day vacation full of sun and sand and we knew just the place to set up shop. We decided to stay at the all-inclusive and luxurious, Sandals Grand Antigua Luxury Resort in St. John’s.

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With over 11 restaurants to choose from and a plethora of frozen tropical drinks, Russell and I enjoyed the sunsets from a different cabana each night. The food was phenomenal at all the dining options. We enjoyed Eleanor’s and Mario’s Italian Cuisine for dinner most evenings. Barefoot by the Sea featured the comforts of home while Bella Napoli had some pretty great pizza for lunching by the pool. Our favorite meal took place at the Soy Sushi Bar. We had a little bit of everything and then lounged in one of the nearby hammocks. I highly recommend the coconut gelato!!

One day, we choose to take a Circumnavigation Tour around the island. We opted for the Antigua Adventure, a 360 Xtreme Circumnav Boat Tour and could not have been happier with the results. Our first stop was to the Devil’s Bridge, an interesting archaeological site on the eastern side of the island. This trip included a visit to Stingray City. Though Russ was brave and jumped in, I just took photos from the dock!

The next stop on the tour included a private lunch at Green Island. We munched on fresh seafood and rested on the beach for a good part of the afternoon before setting back out on the water again. Word to the Wise: Now is a good time to PUT ON MORE SUNSCREEN!

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Before heading to the infamous Nelson’s Dockyard, we made our way to the Pillars of Hercules for a guided snorkeling trip around the volcanic boulders beneath the surface. Again, I am a chicken so this was more of a Russ thing. I swam close to the boat.

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 Our next and last stop was Rendezvous Bay, an exclusive and extremely secluded beautiful part of this exotic country. We managed to spend 8 hours touring our way around the entire island. This boat ride was worth every penny guys!

Nelson’s Dockyard is the largest of Antigua’s National Parks. In the early part of the eighteenth century, this Dockyard was used by the Royal British Navy because this particular harbor provided a safe place to dock your boats during the hurricane season. What can you do here? Well, I recommend taking a tour of the Admiral’s house, grabbing a bite to eat or just taking a gander at the sailboats and yachts that find their way into this historical landmark.

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Half Moon Bay Beach is beautiful stretch of crystal pink sand beach. We chose to leave the resort for a day and head out to somewhere more secluded and this happened to be one of my favorite parts of the trip. The views were outrageous and it was nice to get away from the resort crowd for a little bit. Our driver dropped us off with a cooler of beers and we posted up in this quiet. After a few hours of swimming and lounging out, a rain storm hit and we ran for cover at a nearby restaurant, The Harmony Hall and managed to grab some appetizers and a few glasses of wine for lunch.

Ffryes Beach had some of the most beautiful waters we saw on the entire island. It was bright turquoise and the snorkeling opportunities were out of this world. We saw so many different types of marine life. We had a wonderful time exploring this crescent of the island. Where to eat: Dennis Beach Bar and Restaurant . Try the grilled lobster or if you are lucky, try to attend the pig roast. You won’t be disappointed.

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Though we stayed close to Dickenson Bay, a fairly popular area on the island,  Runaway Beach was idyllic. Located on the Northwest coast, we enjoyed the exploring the rocky Corbinson Point. If you are looking to make a day out of visiting this beach, make sure to grab some jerk chicken off the side of the road before you get there. We had no trouble finding a local vendor and I still dream about this chicken.

What most people don’t know about this island is that several celebrities have chosen to make this island getaway their own private getaway. The late Whitney Houston, Oprah Winfrey and even Eric Clapton have contributed greatly to the island community. In fact, Eric Clapton owns a crazy gorgeous property near Hercules Pillars and helped found the Crossroads Centre. The Crossroads Centre is a 12 Step Treatment Facility dedicated to drug and alcohol rehabilitation in a therapeutic and supportive environment. The locals had a lot of positive things to say about this centre and the impact Eric Clapton has made on the island.

We spent our last day in Antigua by venturing to Shirley Heights. This famed lookout point featured a Jamaican steel drum band, a Sunday BBQ and yummy rum punch. We had the pleasure to meet new friends to share the sunset with and after all these years, we still keep in touch. We watched the sun set over the harbor and said goodbye to our time in the sun.

We hope to travel back to this beautiful island one day and soak up more sunsets, rum punch and jerk chicken!  Until then, stay tuned for more Travel Guides in our #Travel Tuesday Series. Coming up soon…A Weekend in New Orleans, Fall Break in Idaho Springs, Colorado and Farallon, Panama.

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

 

Travel Guide: Lake Murray & Turner Falls, Oklahoma

Hey guys! It’s been awhile since I put out a Travel Guide so I figured I would let you in on our mini sort-of staycation in Ardmore, OK. Just a little under 2 hours north of Dallas-Fort Worth, this spot would serve as our anniversary getaway (3 Years Y’all). Mr. Norris and I recently made our way into Okie country to check out the scene at Lake Murray and boy am I glad we did. With its’ Caribbean-like waters and newly-renovated cabins, we felt like we had escaped to our own private oasis.

After settling into our cabin, we made our way down to the docks to sign up for the sunset cruise that evening. For $12, this seemed like an easy excuse to get out on the water. After feeding a few carp and one koi fish from the docks, we made a point to walk around the resort property. Cozied up to the shoreline is the 28 million dollar recently renovated resort. It has clean lines, an industrial feel and the landscaping makes the property stand out in all the right ways. This would be a fantastic setting for a wedding or even a family shindig!

After heading to a swim beach (Marina Beach) to toss the football around and listen to a little Bluegrass on the Beats, we set up our camp for the night and headed out to grab a quick bite before the boat trip. Every search kept leading us back to Cafe Alley and what a treat. The service was perfect and the setting was in this restored warehouse full of rustic charm. The staff had great recommendations and the manager even stopped by our table to make sure we enjoyed our meals.

I had the Cook Shack Chicken with Mashed Potatoes and Iron Skillet Cornbread….ummm let’s just say that delicious is an understatement. Russ had the Mustard Crusted Pork Chop with Apple Onion Compote and the Mac n Cheese. We left with a piece of the famous Carrot Cake to have by the fire later that night. It was smothered in candied pecans and I am still thinking about it.  Here’s a look at their dinner menu.

We made it back just in time for our Sunset Cruise with Lake Murray Watersports. Larry, our driver and owner of the recreation facility near the resort, gave us an inside look at the lake that was created in the 1930s. His establishment, which is located a short walk from the resort, is open to any and everyone looking to get out on the water. You can rent kayaks, canoes, jet skis or sign up for a round of mini golf. For a small fee, the kiddos can go jump on trampolines or take a ride down the slide in the bay.

Larry took us out on the crystal clear water for about an hour and half . We had the opportunity to view Tucker Tower, a geological museum, and the Nature Center. We got a first hand look at Lake Murray’s famous “floating cabins” and Larry even took us for a short ride around the marina to check out some of the fun houseboats that are docked there. We ended our ride on the pontoon boat by watching the red sun set over the west end of the lake. After stoking the campfire and then shortly thereafter devouring the carrot cake, we decided to hit the hay!

Day Two, we woke up bright and early and started en route to nearby Davis, Oklahoma. Our plan was to spend the day at a natural attraction known as Turner Falls. Just a short 20 minute drive north of Ardmore, this leg of our journey was a piece of cake.

After winding through a plethora of roads into what can only be described as a canyon of sorts, we made it to our destination. After parking the car, we started our trek to Dr. Collings’ Rock Castle. Built in the heart of the Arbuckle Mountains during the Great Depression, this castle is believed to have been part of a bigger plan for a dude ranch  but due to the sign of the times, the building has remained an abandoned tourist attraction.

After snapping a few photos of the castle, we made our way down to the 77 foot waterfall that stems from Honey Creek! It was a sight to see from far away but as we made our way closer, I was in awe. How could I have not known about this place? I could only imagine how beautiful it must be in the fall when all the leaves are changing colors. We swam for a long while before deciding to find a spot to settle down for lunch. We had packed sandwiches and lemonade for a small picnic by a creek though there were lots of options for food to purchase on the property.

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After lunch, we jumped in the car and decided to take a ride around the campgrounds. We wanted to see the aerial view of the falls and maybe even hike a few trails. We headed out on Butterfly Road and we managed to get a birds eye view of the stream system that feeds into the waterfall and the aerial view of the water going over the edge of the rock face. There were caves and rocked paths that would make for the perfect engagement shoot. Just saying!

Before we headed back in the direction of Dallas-Fort Worth, we snuck in some time at the Blue Hole.  There were slides, diving boards and a huge swimming hole for everyone who was hanging in the park to enjoy! I am happy to sat that our $12 admission fee was well worth it!

Our last stop was on our way out of the canyon. We made it to the overlook to grab a few pictures before I realized that people were zip lining over the falls. How neat, right? Has to be expensive, right? Nope, for $12, I braved the ridiculous heights for an amazing view of this part of south-central Oklahoma. My stomach felt like it was in my throat but it was totally worth it. Kind of like a rollercoaster.

After hanging hundreds of feet in the air, we jumped in the car and began our trek back to Dallas-Fort Worth. We stopped at a QuikTrip on the way and grabbed ourselves a few Red Box movies to enjoy on the couch later that night.

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It really was the perfect getaway. We got to get out of town for a few days and make it back in time to throw our laundry in the washer, order some pizza and relax on the couch! Watching the sun set over the plains of Oklahoma during our drive back wasn’t half bad either! We are really looking forward to heading back here in the fall! Stay tuned!

Guess what guys? In just a few short days, Russell and I are headed out on another adventure. This time we are heading to Yellowstone National Park! If you have got recommendations or suggestions, please feel free to comment below! Don’t forget to check back for more Travel Updates!