Heather's Hangout

Sharing the people, places & little moments that make a difference.

When I fell in love with San Francisco April 26, 2017

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View from our room!

One of my big goals this year, in keeping with my “Best Year Ever” theme, is to get back into traveling more often. Whether weekend road trips to northern Michigan, longer getaways to somewhere in the U.S. or extended adventures around the world. Or all of the above!

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In keeping with that theme, I was super excited when my friend and I decided on a whim to book a trip to San Francisco and Napa Valley. I explored northern California years ago through the Redwood Forest but hadn’t made it to San Francisco, which I’ve been anxious to visit. So many people love the city and the destinations north of the busy city.

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We were able to book our flights with airline miles (bonus!) so that started the trip on the right path. We found a great deal on car rental, then hotels. My friend is a wine club member at some of the Napa Valley vineyards, which provided free tastings. Needless to say, I was pretty giddy by the time our plane landed in San Francisco (who doesn’t love the opportunity to explore new places and experience new adventures??).

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We easily picked up our car rental and headed to the Marriott Marquis in the South of Market (or SOMA) District of downtown San Francisco. The Marriott has 39 floors, with the top floor a restaurant/bar called The View, aptly named for the amazing 360-degree views of the city and beyond. Our room was on the 23rd floor, also providing outstanding views. We did a quick peek out the windows of The View, appreciating the stunning views of the busy city and mountains beyond. Then we headed to explore that bustling city.

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The weather was perfect with temperatures in the high 60s and sunshine. We were

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A talkative sea lion.

already hungry when we left the hotel so headed to The Grove. The funky, fun décor matched perfectly with the fresh food choices. We split a delicious salad and hummus tray and ordered our first drinks to toast the adventure. After re-energizing ourselves, we set off to simply explore. We window shopped, people watched and took in the sights of the district and surrounding areas. We eventually made it to Fisherman’s Wharf, where we came across a small market of artists, fresh flower stands, fresh fruit and vegetables and more near the Ferry Building. I love talking to local residents when I travel so enjoyed meeting so many people at the market. Then we made it to the pier (where we walked some more!). It was awesome to take in the beauty of the water, mountains, sailboats and more. I felt the stress of everyday life falling off as I walked and the fresh air and sunshine breathed new energy into me. This is why I love to travel.

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We continued to Pier 39 where we came across a very busy, definitely tourist area of Fisherman’s Wharf. Souvenir shops, restaurants, wine tasting, fishing boats, bike rentals and more populate this area. Despite it being a popular tourist area, I loved the energy, things to see, food to smell, activities to watch, and scenery to soak in. So we decided to be tourists and visit Wines of California wine bar overlooking the marina. We did a wee bit of shopping after our drinks, then we rounded a corner and I spotted the Golden Gate Bridge. I had two tourist items on my San Francisco bucket list – see the Golden Gate Bridge and ride a trolley. So I was definitely ‘that tourist’ who did a little hand clap when the bridge came into view on our walk (the trolley ride was another day so stay tuned). You can also see Alcatraz Island from the pier (and tour the facility).

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Loved this church in the city.

As we walked, I heard the noise. The sea lions! The sea lions first arrived at Pier 39 K-Dock in 1990 after an earthquake in 1989. While marina tenants at first didn’t like the sea lions taking up so much space, there wasn’t much that could be done as sea lions are protected by the Federal Marine Mammal Protection Act. Plus the sea lions were attracting crowds of people (which increases revenue for surrounding businesses). At one point, more than 1,000 sea lions “docked” at Fisherman’s Wharf! Now the mammals are a regular feature of people’s visit to the area.

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After watching and laughing at the antics of the sea lions, we headed back toward the hotel for a brief rest and relaxation before the evening fun. We checked out the views of Yerba Buena Gardens from Samovar Tea Lounge….it was a trendy, fun crowd hanging outside this place. I loved the perfect view of a pretty church residing in the midst of a bustling, tall city. It was a reminder to me that you can find peace and calmness anywhere in your life if you simply pay attention.

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On a recommendation, we found Anchor & Hope restaurant. And I say found because it took a little bit of looking to find the restaurant that is tucked away on Minna street (it looks like you’re walking down an alley). Admittedly, we may have passed the street twice because I was absorbing everything else around me! It was worth the search effort. It was still happy hour so we sat at the bar, which turned out to be a great place. The bartender and staff were so nice. We enjoyed drinks and delicious salmon cakes.

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Enjoying views from Fisherman’s Wharf.

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When we left Anchor & Hope, we passed Thirsty Bear Brewing Company so decided to check out the local craft beer scene. Thirsty Bear is San Francisco’s only organic craft brewery. (To be honest, I had no idea what that meant and I couldn’t tell the difference in the beers, but I’ve since learned it means that the beers are made with all organic ingredients.) We once again sat at the bar and once again met some great people. The beer was good and the tapas awesome.

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Our final destination of the day was back at The View at the Marriott. By then, the sun had set and the lights of the city were on, providing another great view. Luck was with us as we snagged a spot by the windows to enjoy the views, our drinks and conversations with other patrons.

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It was a great, busy, first day in San Francisco! We were fortunate for the beautiful weather. I loved meeting many friendly people and seeing so many sites. I definitely went to bed a tired, happy girl, ready for our next day’s adventure (stay tuned).

 

Jolly time visiting downtown Detroit February 24, 2017

Filed under: Life Lessons — Heather @ 4:35 pm
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detroitriverDetroit has been blessed with some beautiful warm, sunny weather days. Great reasons to head downtown to explore the city.

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On a recent exploration, a friend and I first stopped at the river walk to wander along the Detroit River, wave to our Canadian neighbors in Windsor (okay, maybe I’m the only one who does this!) and learn a little history while we soaked up some much needed vitamin D. There were several others with the same idea – I love seeing people getting outdoors to enjoy the downtown area.

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After a nice walk in the fresh air, we headed north on Woodward Avenue. We checked out the progress on the new Little Caesars Arena where the Detroit Red Wings and Pistons will soon play. As we neared Wayne State University, we stopped on Canfield Street to explore some more. And we did a little daydreaming as we wandered through the Shinola store. This Detroit-based company makes me pause beside soft leather handbags, awesome custom built bicycles, fun accessories and of course cool watches. I admit that I eyed a watch (or two) before willpower kicked in and made my wallet stay tucked inside of my purse (for now).

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jollypumpkinWe next wandered into Third Man Records, offering great selections of music. Originally founded by Detroit-native Jack White (of The White Stripes), the store showcases an array of vinyl records from amazing artists, record players, accessories and more. A listening booth, record booth, stage, and lounge were highlights for me. I love the eclectic vibe of this store.

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Next door to Third Man Records is Jolly Pumpkin Brewery. We of course needed refreshments after all the wandering! I love visiting Jolly Pumpkin on Old Mission Peninsula in Traverse City, and have also dined at the Ann Arbor location. This was my first visit to the Detroit location. Jolly Pumpkin serves their own craft beer plus North Peak Brewing Company. They also have a variety of spirits. Oh and food. I enjoy both Michigan-based brands of craft beer, plus the relaxed atmosphere at all of their locations. I will definitely return.

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It was fun to check out the Michigan companies and enjoy the great weather with great company. All in all it was another fun adventure in downtown Detroit. Get there when you have the chance to explore, eat, drink and have fun!

 

A few of my favorite Michigan products December 11, 2016

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So many good Michigan wines to drink!

If you’re still looking for some holiday gift ideas for family, friends, or yourself (no judgement here!), consider shopping local. I love to support local and state-based companies as often as I can. Thankfully, Michigan is full of great companies providing food, beverages, clothing and more. And for my out of state readers, most of these companies ship their products!

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This list only scratches the surface of the variety of food, drinks and other products made in Michigan. This is just enough to whet your palate!

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Traverse City cherries. I LOVE summer time in Traverse City, one of my favorite cities in the northern Lower Peninsula. I also love eating fresh cherries from this beautiful area, and admit there have been many times I’ve earned a terrible stomachache after eating a bag of cherries on the way home. But it’s been so good!

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Michigan wines: While Michigan may be considered ‘young’ when it comes to wine-making, our wineries have been holding their own at competitions as they create some great tasting beverages. Some of my latest favorites include Black Star Farm Riesling, Chateau Fontaine cherry wine, Peninsula Cellars Homework and Detention, and Verterra Winery’s Chaos Red Cuvee. I recently became a wine club member at the Michigan By The Bottle tasting room, which partners with Michigan wineries to serve and sell a variety of wines in metro Detroit (there are three locations). This has been a great way to try many new wines.

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Better Made chocolate covered potato chips: ‘Tis the season for Better Made to release their tin of potato chips covered in milk or dark chocolate (both are good but I prefer and love dark chocolate). It’s a perfect balance of salty and sweet. And fairly addictive so beware. (Note: Sanders also makes chocolate covered potato chips, which are also delicious.)

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bettermadetins

So delicious!

Michigan Awesome: If you’re looking for cool shirts, mugs, pint glasses, or fun gift ideas with a Michigan theme, check out this Holland-based company. Their products can be purchased online and at various stores throughout the state.

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Craft beer. We’re fortunate to have some fabulous breweries right here in Michigan. Enough that I can’t list just one. Some of my favorite beers brewed in my home state include (keep in mind my favorites lean toward wheats and Belgian Ales): Kuhnhenn’s White Devil, Black Lotus Apricot Wheat, Short’s Brewery Anniversary Ale and Power of Love, Griffin Claw Brewing Screamin’ Pumpkin Ale, Founders Rubeaus, and North Peak’s Archangel.

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McClure’s bloody mary mix: McClure’s uses their pickle brine, dill, garlic, black pepper and a bit more to make a bold bloody mary mix with a kick. Their popular pickles and kettle chips are great snacks.

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Cherry Republic Hiker’s Mix and dark chocolate covered cherries. If you’ve visited one of these stores, you know to come a little hungry as the array of samples is…..well, delicious. I like to make my own trail mix for hiking, biking and simple snacking, but this trail mix pulls me in with the mix of dried cherries, cranberries, roasted peanuts, raw pumpkin seeds and more! And mixing dried cherries and dark chocolate? Yes, please.

 

10 fun things about Mackinaw City, Michigan July 25, 2016

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The “Mighty Mac” bridge connects Michigan’s lower and upper peninsulas

Every summer, my family and I plan a getaway to a location in our great state of Michigan. Family vacation is something that we all look forward to very much as we love family time and vacations! We’ve been north, south, east and west throughout our state. We chose to head north for this summer’s adventure – to Mackinaw City and Mackinac Island.

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Located approximately four hours north of metro Detroit, Mackinaw City is at the northern tip of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula on the Straits of Mackinac. During the summer, the town is packed with tourists staying or stopping through on the way to the Upper Peninsula or Mackinac Island (it’s often listed by AAA as the most popular tourist city in Michigan!).

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Some years we have relaxing vacations where we simply hang out, unwind and make no plans. We were more on the go this year as we explored the area and enjoyed various activities. It was a fun time filled with laughs and, like every year, we wished for ‘one more day.’ We had a great time exploring the city and the island (more on the island in my next blog post). Here are some items that stuck out in my mind:

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  1. Mackinac Old Time Trolley tour: After a snafu with our suite, the manager offered to comp our entire group on the evening trolley tour so we said yes! The 1.5 hours trip took us along the water to learn about Colonial Michilimackinac, the city, bridge and more. Then we crossed the Mackinac Bridge to St. Ignace on the Upper Peninsula during sunset (gorgeous!). The tour driver was very informational and the views were beautiful.
  2. Last stop before the Mackinac Bridge: Known as the “Mighty Mac,” this five-mile suspension bridge is the only connection between Michigan’s lower and upper peninsulas. It’s the longest bridge in the western hemisphere, and was built to withstand 400 mph winds!
  3. Pier at Straits State Harbor: At 1,200 feet long, this pier is one of the longest
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    Pier in the morning.

    barrier-free piers in the state. It has a 500-foot long fishing pier with benches, railings and lights. I took some walks in the morning and evening to the end of the pier, which offers beautiful views of Mackinac Bridge and Island.

  4. Mackinac Island Brewhouse: Tucked inside of the Mackinac Bay Trading Co. building on Huron Street is this beverage house. There are at least 10 micro beers on tap or you can purchase bottles from more than 350 craft breweries. Beer tastings are available.
  5. Mackinac Island Winery tasting room: If you’re checking out the beer options inside the Mackinac Bay Trading Co., you might as well taste some wine too. You get a souvenir wine glass with five samples. Lots of wine bottles from Michigan and beyond are also available for purchase. My choices were the Mackinac Red and Sweet White wines.
  6. Fudge options: There are so many fudge shops within walking distance of the hotels. It’s easy to eat your dessert simply from the free samples offered. I highly recommend Joann’s chocolate cherry fudge (made with cherries from Traverse City). Yum!
  7. Fort Michilimackinac: This historic fort was built by the French in 1714, where it became a colonial community until the British took it over. The fort was located to Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island in 1780 and the remaining structures burnt to the ground. When Mackinaw City was formed in the 1860s, the area became a park until a replica was built in the 1930s. Reconstruction continues every summer, making this the longest running archeological dig in North America. Live demonstrations, programs and tours are available.
  8. U.S. Coast Guard Icebreaker Mackinaw: This ship was once known as the largest icebreaker on the Great Lakes. Decommissioned in 2006, she now is docked as a museum that the public can tour. You can see this impressive ship as you walk along Huron on the water. Very cool.
  9. Lodging options: Multiple hotels and motels line the main strip along the water. Most are easy walking distance to the shops, restaurants and activities. Parking gets crazy busy during peak summer season so it was great to be able to walk everywhere.
  10. Shopping options: From tourist t-shirt shops to Michigan-made products to collectibles, the shops offer something for most people. Mackinaw Crossings is a cute, well-maintained shopping area complete with evening entertainment, fountains and kids’ play activities.
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While I love exploring new cities, states and even countries around the world, I do love my home state. We’re lucky to have such beauty, history and natural wonders within hours of home. And, of course, sharing these adventures with family makes it that much more fun and memorable!

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Do you have a favorite destination in Michigan? Share with us!

 

5 Michigan craft beers for summer tasting July 18, 2016

Ah, summer in Michigan. It’s a good time to relax and unwind with a refreshing, cold beer (er, every season is possibly a good time to do this!). My home state is home to many great craft breweries, with many of these receiving national recognition for their beers. I know several people who share beers across the country and Michigan beers are often in demand.

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I like many of the summer seasonal beers that Michigan’s craft breweries offer since I like to drink a lighter beer. Wheat beer still reigns as my favorite craft beer choice, and in the summer I usually expand to fruit-forward beers (similar to my summer choices for wine).

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If you consider yourself a ‘craft beer snob’ and really into craft beer, you may not agree or like my choices (a lot of craft beer drinkers prefer stouts, etc – too heavy for me!). If you like a lighter choice of drink, you may enjoy trying some of my favorites.

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foundersbeer

Founders brews some delicious fruit beers.

Archangel, North Peak Brewing Company, Traverse City – This limited edition beer is only brewed during summer, which makes me a little crazy searching for it down state as it seems to disappear off of shelves much too quickly. It’s a great light wheat made with Traverse City cherries, giving it just a hint of fruity tartness. (Available in bottles)

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Rubaeus, Founders Brewing Company, Grand Rapids – Brewed year round, the raspberry-laced Rubaeus now comes in cans, making it even more perfect for summer outings! (Available in bottles and cans)

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White Devil, Kuhnhenn Brewing Co., Warren – I have enjoyed this beer for many years and it continues to be one of my local ‘go-to’ beers for a refreshing, light yet tasty liquid indulgence. This Imperial White Ale has a hint of coriander and hop (but it’s not ‘hoppy’ tasting). It’s available year-round in their taproom (on draft) and I heard rumors that bottles are coming soon. (Available on draft; maybe in bottles)

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Power of Love, Short’s Brewing Company, Bellaire – This newly released beer combines a raspberry and rosemary-brewed wheat with lemonade to create a sweet, yet tart taste. (Available in bottles)

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Sun-Ra American Wheat, Black Lotus Brewery, Clawson – This fun, refreshing wheat beer tastes awesome on the outdoor patio at Black Lotus while indulging in BBQ chicken nachos. Bonus: If you like fruit beers, as obviously I do, Black Lotus also offers a Cherry Poppin’ Wheat that goes down nicely. (Available only on draft)

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BONUS: Blushing Monk, Founders Brewing Company, Grand Rapids – Another shout out to Founders for a delicious, refreshing fruit beer. This raspberry-filled beer is part of Founders “Backstage Series” and was last brewed in 2015. (Available in bottles, where you can find it).

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What beers do you enjoy drinking during warm months?

 

Gratitude Project – week 2 February 14, 2016

Week 2  of my Gratitude Project ended yesterday. I’ve discovered a fun part of doing this project is that I have a lot to be grateful for – from my health to my family, friends, coworkers and kind strangers to my education and so much more. I already knew I was fortunate for so much in my life, but this has been a good reminder to enjoy each day and not become a bystander in your own life.

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What are you grateful for today?

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Go back in time at the Michigan Renaissance Festival September 25, 2015

festivalKids may be back in school and Fall officially started, but there is still plenty to do outside in Michigan’s beautiful weather! And we’re still in the midst of Michigan’s busy festival season. In my quest to be outdoors as much as Mother Nature shares this nice weather, my husband and I decided to check out the Michigan Renaissance Festival this past weekend.

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The Michigan Renaissance Festival started in 1979 in Clarkston, Mich., but has been hosted in Holly for the past 37 years. Each year the festival welcomes attendees to travel back in time to the 16th century to experience life during this time. A 17-acre village showcases reproductions of Renaissance shops, taverns and a castle. More than 300 artisans display their work. Ongoing entertainment, including full-contact armored jousting, comedy, music, games and more, occur throughout the event days.

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I haven’t been to the festival years so when I received some free admission tickets, I thought it would be a fun outing. So my husband and I headed north to Holly. The weekend’s theme was Harvest Huzzah, which was perfect for the kickoff of the fall season. Parking is free, which is nice since it’s a bit costly to get into the festival. We were stunned at the size of the crowd! It was much more crowded than either of us remember from the past so it’s obviously gained in popularity. Some people get really into the Renaissance theme – dressing in full costumes from the time period. There are some beautiful, detailed costumes worn by some. We also saw some zombies and a few random people who used the opportunity to dress in outrageous costumes not at all related to the time period. It was entertaining!

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festivaljoustThere is so much happening throughout the day! With 17 stages, there is ongoing music and entertainment. There are also entertainers wandering through the ‘village,’ including jugglers and people playing period games. A full-armor jousting contest drew a large crowd. There are games, such as archery, toss tomatoes at the insulting jesters, and knife throwing. There is a children’s area filled with age-appropriate games and activities. The marketplace was bustling with activity too. There are many clothing and costume vendors, as well as pretty jewelry, musical instruments, and fun toys for sale. You won’t go hungry, as there are tons of food and drink vendors (including the famous big turkey drumsticks!). You may go broke though, as there are many items to purchase. Plus, we noticed that many (maybe all?) performers pass baskets around to collect ‘donations’ from the crowd.

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Overall, it was an interesting afternoon. Frankly, it was a bit too crowded for us to really enjoy as we couldn’t wander through the village without being bumped. I’m not sure I’d recommend for small children. I’m glad we experienced it after many years away and it was nice to see so many people having a festive time. It was a beautiful day to spend outdoors with my husband. We ended the adventure with a delicious meal at the Union Woodshop in Clarkston, which serves great barbecue food! We waited about an hour for a table, but the restaurant opened an upstairs bar for waiting patrons. I love their wood smoked pizza.

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The Michigan Renaissance Festival ends Oct. 4, 2015. That weekend’s theme is Sweet Endings, featuring free samples at the Chocolate Festival, cupcake baking contest, craft beer tasting, many activities for kids and adults, and more.

 

 
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