Funny background story here. I was taking a bath on a Sunday afternoon and decided to put on a face mask. That reminded me of a time when my daughter and I were goofing off while wearing face masks on vacation (we often bring face masks with us when we travel). Then I started thinking about how that’s a fun way to relax on vacation and it doesn’t cost anything (at least not while you’re on vacation although you do have to buy the face mask either before you leave home or while you’re on vacation; still, face masks are generally not that expensive). Then I started thinking about all of the many things I like to do on vacation that are free or cost very little.
So now I’m sitting here at my computer post-face mask and bath beginning my list of 50 free or practically free things to do on vacation. I will also add that at one time or another I’ve done every single one of these things while on vacation. I’m always looking for ways to save money, whether I’m on vacation or not, most likely from my upbringing by a single mother without much money. Anyway, here’s what I’ve come up with for my list. I’m sure some will come as no surprise but maybe some things will surprise you. Some things do depend on where you are so you need to make the appropriate assumptions. Here goes!
Go for a walk along the beach and look for cool shells along the way.
When you’re done with your beach walk, put all of the shells you collected into a pile and decide which one is your favorite. Keep just that one as a souvenir.
Go for a hike up a mountain.
Find a small, local grocery store and pick out one snack to buy that you’ve never seen or heard of before.
Find out where the best place is to watch the sunset and do that one evening.
A couple of days after watching a sunset, watch the sunrise one morning then decide which you enjoyed better, the sunset or sunrise. Did they even look different from one another?
Take a blanket or towel(s) with you and lie in the grass to stargaze one night.
Find an antiques store and browse all of the unique finds.
Have a picnic lunch at a place where there’s a water or mountain view.
Find a state or national park and see how many of the trails you can walk or hike in a day.
Go out your hotel or Airbnb property and walk in one direction with no real plan in mind other than to explore the area (make sure you’re in a safe area first).
Strike up a conversation with a local shop keeper.
Find a small local bookstore and browse their section on local books. Bonus if you’re in another country where English is not the first language!
Get a cup of coffee or tea and people watch from an outside table.
Find one of the most expensive clothing stores you can in the area and be amazed at the $4000 pair of wacky pants and $6000 dress you would never in a million years wear.
Eat breakfast from your hotel or Airbnb patio/balcony.
Go for a run with the intention to learn the area where you’re staying better.
If you’re in another country where they speak another language, watch local TV and try to follow along.
Put on a face mask, either one you brought from home or one you bought at a local drug store.
Do your own manicure and pedicure instead of paying someone else.
Go on a free walking tour; remember to tip your guide.
Buy a pastry from a bakery and find a spot outside with a nice view to enjoy your treat.
If it’s a hot day, find a cool stream to dip your feet in.
Play “Pooh sticks” if you have a child, where you each drop in a stick from a bridge over a fast-moving body of water and see whose stick makes it to the other side of the bridge first. Heck, you could do this with someone else even if they’re not a child. It’s still a fun game!
Swim in the ocean.
Find out what the highest point is where you’re staying and hike to the top.
Go shoe shopping but don’t buy any shoes.
Take a series of photos one day with something from each color of the rainbow represented (indigo is hard).
Read a book.
Have your own mini book club if you’re traveling with someone of the same reading ability as you and discuss a book you both read while on vacation.
Find a playground with swings, slides, etc. and play like a child even if you don’t have children.
See how many bridges you can spot in one 30-minute walk through the city.
Have breakfast in bed.
If you’re staying at an Airbnb, make pancakes for dinner and eat them in your pajamas.
Binge watch a show on Netflix or whatever streaming service you subscribe to.
If it’s winter and snowy, go for a walk through the snow.
Savor a cup of hot chocolate by the fire.
Browse the hair care aisle of the local drug store and see if you can find a product you’ve never seen before. If you’re feeling really brave, buy it and see if you like it.
Visit a small local farm and watch as the chickens come running out when called by the farmer (true story; they came running like puppies when the man called out to them. Apparently it’s a thing with chickens).
Walk through the farmer’s market and buy some local produce.
Go to some local art galleries to check out the art work.
Visit an art/science/history museum.
Visit a small local winery that gives free or low-cost tours.
Walk a puppy or dog at a public adoption place that encourages this, otherwise volunteer there for a couple of hours.
Volunteer at a soup kitchen.
Volunteer at a running/biking/swimming/triathlon race (you’ll probably have to sign up in advance).
Browse a local running store and see how it differs from your own local running store.
Join a local running group for a run (check Facebook or Meetup).
Buy a postcard and mail it from the local post office. See if you make it home before your postcard arrives at your friend or relative’s house.
Practice your drawing skills with some paper and a pencil.
I could probably go on, honestly but that seems like a lot so I’ll stop here. Have you done any of these things or do you regularly do any of them on vacation? What is your favorite free or low-cost thing to do on vacation?
Every year in December I like to summarize my year in travel and what I learned from each vacation. This year was a huge one for me in many ways but mainly because I made some major travel-related mistakes that were costly. I guess the more expensive the mistake, the more it’s reinforced in your head and hopefully won’t happen again. Even though I only took a handful of vacations, I learned many things so this is going to be a long one, so hang on.
My first vacation of the year was the first weekend in April when I went to Washington, D.C. for the Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run. Although I have been to D.C. many times over the years, this was the first time I went by myself and it wasn’t work-related. I had airline miles that I cashed in and flew there even though it’s close enough I could have driven there. I just didn’t want to deal with the hassle and chaos that is Northern Virginia/Washington, D.C. traffic. If you’ve ever been there, you know.
Not only is traffic awful in the entire Northern Virginia/Maryland/Washington, D.C. area, parking is outrageous and hard to come by, even if you just drive to the city and leave your car in the hotel garage then take the Metro. You can expect to pay anywhere from $20 to $50 per day for parking at a downtown hotel.
I already knew about the traffic and parking, so what did I learn? Well, I learned no matter how many times I visit this city, I discover new places. I had never been to the International Spy Museum or ARTECHOUSE DC and I loved both places. I wrote a post on the spy museum, which you can read here: The International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.- Is It Worth Going To? but I didn’t write a post on ARTECHOUSE DC. It’s an immersive art place, similar to the Van Gogh immersive display that was touring a couple of years ago. The art surrounds you and is displayed on the walls, floor, and ceiling. Since opening in 2017 in D.C., another ARTECHOUSE opened in Miami and another location in New York City recently opened. I did experience motion sickness once or twice while I was there but when that happened, I just closed my eyes for a moment or looked somewhere else until it passed.
April was a busy travel month for me because just a few days after I got home from Washington, D.C., my daughter and I flew to Portugal. This trip was a huge learning experience for me. I learned so many travel-related things, some the hard way, meaning I had to pay (literally) for my mistakes. Where do I start here? I suppose I’ll start with some positive things I learned.
I learned that for the most part, driving in Portugal from an American point of view isn’t that difficult of a transition. The highways are in good condition and I had no problems getting from one city to another. I should say I was only in the southern part of Portugal, known as the Algarve. Only when I ventured to some of the city squares in the Algarve did I have any issues with driving, mostly with parking and the lack thereof. I didn’t think the drivers were overly aggressive but again, parking was another story. I got yelled at not once but twice by locals over parking spots (I know, not a positive but overall driving in Portugal was a positive experience).
Another positive thing I learned in Portugal is the food is every bit as amazing as everyone says. An array of fish is commonly seen on menus, along with a plethora of fresh vegetables. I also learned the grilled fresh sardines in Portugal (and I’ve heard in Spain as well) are NOTHING like the tiny, stinky sardines sold in tins here in the US, but they’re enormous compared to ones here and are about a million times tastier. The desserts are also some of the best I’ve had in any country, including their famous pastel de nata (little custard tarts).
One negative thing I learned in Portugal is the people weren’t as friendly as I’d heard they are. I don’t know if it’s a difference between northern Portugal and southern Portugal or it was just me but the vast majority of people I encountered were not friendly beyond being cordial. I’ve traveled to many places in Europe and never have the people come across as so unfriendly as the Portuguese I came across. Even the Germans, who are not known to be especially friendly were more friendly than the Portuguese I met. First Impressions of Every Day Life in the Algarve (Southern Portugal) from an American Point of View
Now the biggest and most costly thing I learned in Portugal is that if you miss your flight and it’s not the airline’s fault, don’t count on TAP Portugal to help you out. When I spoke to someone from the airline and explained that my daughter and I had missed our flight from Faro to Lisbon (and consequently to the United States), I was flat-out told I would have to purchase return tickets on my own to the US. Not only had I lost the money for the return tickets from TAP Portugal, I would have to purchase same-day flights from Faro to the United States, and I would not be reimbursed or even given vouchers from TAP Portugal.
I’ve missed flights before that weren’t weather-related or airline-related in the United States and every single time the airline put me on another flight for no extra fee. I even missed a connecting flight from Barcelona to the Canary Islands and Iberia Airline put us on the next flight at no extra cost, so I don’t think it’s just a European rule. TAP Portugal just sucks. Lesson learned.
Finally, the last thing I learned in Portugal, and the reason I missed my flight back home is because of the strange fluke that happened to my phone and GPS-enabled watch. Both my phone and watch had reset a couple of days before we were to fly home, to what I thought at the time was the local time in Portugal. For some reason that I still have not figured out, both my phone and watch reset only partially, going ahead not the full five hours like it should have but only four hours. So when I looked at my watch and thought it was 5 am the day we were flying back home, it was really 6 am. We had missed our flight by a full hour because of this mix-up. Only when I looked at a clock in the airport after we missed our flight did I realize that both my phone and watch had reset to the wrong time. Going forward, when I travel to another time zone, I will always Google the local time when my phone and/or watch reset to what seems to be the local time. A Couple of HUGE (and Costly) Travel Learning Experiences For Me
Although I’ve shunned guided trips for the most part before, other than multi-day hikes to Machu Picchu in Peru and in Yosemite National Park, I was unsure about driving conditions in Costa Rica especially during the rainy season so I thought having a guide would be the way to go. I learned just how valuable a guide can be in Costa Rica. As I mentioned, we were there in the rainy season when it’s not uncommon for roads and bridges to be swept away by strong currents from flooding. Our guide knew all of the safe roads and alternate roads to take so I never had to worry about our safety. Nor did I have to learn any of the many intricate little nuances involved in Costa Rican driving (two quick toots of the horn mean one thing, one long toot another, if you flash your lights that means something else, etc.). Christian, our guide, also explained some important history and other tidbits about Costa Rica and I learned so many things from our conversations with him. Insider Information As Told To Me By a Costa Rican
I also learned how much I loved quirky San Jose. My daughter and I would take Ubers from our resort to the city and just walk around, popping in whatever stores looked interesting, and that was utterly fascinating. I learned San Jose is also full of museums, theaters, and so many other things to do in addition to the Sodas, or local restaurants that serve delicious and affordable meals where you can just point to what you’d like and they’ll put it all on your plate. I learned my Spanish isn’t half-bad (although I’m far from fluent and not bragging at all) and with the help of Duolingo I was able to brush up on my Spanish enough that I could understand people when they spoke to me and they could understand me. Don’t get me wrong, it was simple, short sentences so we weren’t discussing anything complicated, but it was good enough to get by. Why You Should Spend Time in San Jose, Costa Rica.
One final thing I learned is not to let the rainy season scare you away from an area. If you bring weather-appropriate clothes, you’ll find it’s usually not as bad as you build up in your mind. It rained every day we were in Costa Rica but we didn’t let it stop us from getting out and doing the things we wanted to. A good rain jacket and waterproof shoes go a long way.
In September, I went to Asheville, North Carolina, a place I’ve been to many times over the years but like Washington, D.C., I learned there are still new places to discover even in a place you’ve been to multiple times. I also learned I had been stuck in the hiking and/or Biltmore House rut, two things that Asheville is best known for. When I branched out and did other things, I discovered a new botanical garden, an enormous antique place, and some new restaurants. Digging a Little Deeper Into Asheville, NC
Discovering new places in a city where you’ve been many times should be my theme for 2022. In November, I went to Charleston, South Carolina, another place I’ve visited many times over the years and I learned there’s an enormous tea garden just outside the city. I love tea so this was a place I was looking forward to visiting and thoroughly enjoyed tasting all of the samples in the gift shop, admiring all of the unique tea pots, and of course touring the garden. Charleston Tea Garden, America’s Only Large-Scale Commercial Tea Garden
I also learned it’s a terrible idea to try to strap an inflatable paddle board to the roof of your vehicle without straps made specifically for this or a roof rack . My daughter and I both have inflatable standup paddle boards, which we took with us to Charleston. For some reason I thought it would be a good idea to pump up one of the boards in the hotel room so we’d only have to pump up the other when we arrived at the drop-off point at Shem Creek, where I had paddle boarded before on previous vacations. I used bungee cords to secure the board to the roof and less than 10 minutes later, I saw it fly off the car and land squarely in the middle of the road behind me.
Fortunately it was a quiet Sunday morning so no one was right behind me and I was able to pull over, jump out, grab the board, deflate it in a parking lot, and throw it in the back. Of course I had to pump the board up again when we got to Shem Creek, only to discover I had left the fin back at home. Not at the hotel, but back at home where I live. I knew this because it wasn’t in my board bag and I knew I hadn’t left anything back in the hotel room. We took turns on my daughter’s board and it all turned out in the end but it was a big lesson for me that could have turned out much worse (my board was fine).
If you actually made it to this point, thank you for sticking with me and I hope you enjoyed reading about the crazy travel journeys I went on in 2022! This has to be one of my longest posts so far. It was a huge year for travel for me and one where I learned so many important things in life.
Care to share something you learned from travel in 2022? Were there any mishaps that happened when you were traveling this year?
Towards the end of every year, I always like to go over how my year in running went and take a look at not only the good things but also some bad things that happened. I was coming off a high from 2021, that being the year I finally ran a half marathon in state number 50, New Mexico, in November of last year. How do you top that? Well, in my case, you don’t.
I originally had two races scheduled for 2022, the Krispy Kreme Challenge in February and the Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run in April. The Krispy Kreme Challenge was canceled and we had to option to run it virtually or defer to 2023. If you missed my post on the Krispy Kreme Challenge, you run 2.5 miles, eat a dozen Krispy Kreme donuts, and run back 2.5 miles, preferably without throwing up. I’m sure it sounds like the last thing many of you would like to do but the uniqueness of it caught my attention and the fact that the proceeds go to the UNC Children’s Hospital, a place that holds a special meaning to me was the real reason I wanted to run it. Of course I deferred to 2023, because really, the attraction is in participating in this challenge surrounded by others, not doing it virtually. Having that race canceled was a low because I was looking forward to it but there will always be next year!
The Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run in Washington, D.C. is by lottery only and when I saw I had gotten in, I was excited. This race coincides with the blooming of the cherry blossom trees in early April, as you may infer from the race title, and they were most definitely a sight to behold. The prettiest spot along the race course was the Tidal Basin area, with the water and some of the monuments all lined by cherry blossoms. I loved running this race and found it well-organized and one of the most scenic races I’ve run. Getting to run this race was a high for sure. Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run
In May I ran my first night race, the Catching Fireflies 5k and loved it. It was local’ish, which isn’t common for me. Of all of the approximately 60 races I’ve run, only four have been near where I live. It was about 45 minutes away and was only the third timed 5k I have run (the other one I ran with my young daughter, so really this was my second real timed run). I was anxious to see what I could do and was pleased when I came in first in my age group. I also had friends that were at the race, plus my daughter, so it was fun to talk to everyone before and after the race. This was a high for me. Catching Fireflies 5k- My First Night Race!
After the Catching Fireflies 5k, my racing schedule kind of went downhill quickly. At the beginning of the year I had hoped to start running some half marathons in Canada, with my first one in June. Multiple reasons stopped me from doing that race (for one, Canada still required a covid test) but I still hoped to run a half marathon in Quebec in August, only to see that for whatever reason it was not meant for me to go to Canada this year. My goal of running a half marathon in all of the Canadian provinces got pushed back to 2023, so we’ll see how that goes next year. That was a low not being able to start on my Canadian running quest, but I know it’s for the best and eventually I’ll get there.
Since it’s so hot and humid during the summer months here, there are pretty much no races from June through August (or at least not any that appealed to me), so I waited until September to find my next race. None of them sounded fun or unique to me until I saw the Pups and Pastries 5k. This was a race that benefited a local rescue group, a cause near and dear to my heart, and the pastries part was just the icing on the cake for me (pun intended).
Since I had barely run any 5k’s but did well at the night race in May, I was curious to see what I could do at that distance, after spending 22 years focusing on the half marathon. Everything was going great and I was getting faster, only to start getting stabbing pain in my right shin. It got so bad that I had the pain when I wasn’t even running. I would just be lying in bed and my shin would suddenly start to ache. In college I had experienced shin splints so I knew what could happen if I didn’t stop running.
So I stopped running completely and even had my leg checked out twice, once to confirm it was indeed shin splints and nothing worse and the other time to make sure my bone density is good. The doctor confirmed it was shin splints and not a stress fracture and my bone scan came back normal. I took a few weeks off running completely and had FOMO while I watched others run races. I decided to make lemonade out of lemons and volunteer for the Pups and Pastries race and that was fun watching all of the cute dogs running with their owners. My Very First DNS (Did Not Start) for a Race EVER
When I tentatively went on a short run to test out my leg and saw everything was fine, I gradually began running again, careful not to over-do it. Unfortunately it meant I had missed my window of opportunity to run any half marathons in Canada this year. I made the most of things and signed up for my first turkey trot, also my first 8k with my daughter. We had fun and declared we should make it a tradition to run a turkey trot together every year. It was a good way to close out my racing for the year. Two Firsts in Running For Me- My First Turkey Trot and My First 8k!
Overall, I would say there were more highs than lows when it came to running in 2022. Although I wasn’t able to run any half marathons in Canada, there will always be next year. I’m just happy I was able to take time off running early enough that my shin splints didn’t turn into something much worse that required me to take months off from running. Even though I only ran three races, they were all unique and memorable ones so it was a good year for me when it came to running.
How did your running go in 2022? Any highs or lows you care to share?
Even though I’ve been to Charleston, South Carolina many times over the years, I only recently discovered there is a tea garden in the area. I’m a huge tea-lover so how I missed this little tidbit is beyond me. I blame it on poor marketing by the tea garden so here I am trying to spread the word about this fabulous hidden gem on Wadmalaw Island, about a 40 minute drive from Charleston.
First a brief history lesson. In 1888, Dr. Charles Shepard founded the Pinehurst Tea Plantation in Summerville, South Carolina (about 25 miles from Charleston) after he and others tried for many years unsuccessfully to cultivate the first tea bushes, known as Camellia Sinensis, which were brought to the United States from China in the 1700’s. In 1963, a 127 acre potato farm located on Wadmalaw Island in the Lowcountry of South Carolina was purchased and Shepard’s tea plants were transplanted from Summerville to the current tea garden on Wadmalaw Island. In 1987, William Barclay Hall purchased the land. Hall, a third-generation tea taster who received his formal training during a four-year tea apprenticeship in London, England, converted the research and development farm to a commercial operation and founded the Charleston Tea Garden.
In 2003, seeking additional financing, Hall reached out to his longtime friends, the Bigelow family. A partnership arrangement was worked out and the Bigelow Tea Company bought the garden. On June 9, 2020, the name was changed from the Charleston Tea Plantation to the Charleston Tea Garden. Despite the partnership with Bigelow, Bigelow Teas are not made from any of the tea leaves grown or harvested at the Charleston Tea Garden. They emphasize that Charleston Tea Garden Teas are the only teas made from the tea leaves produced by the Camellia Sinensis plants grown in the fields of the Charleston Tea Garden.
Factory tours are free and self-guided, with signage and videos explaining the process and equipment that you can view through the large glass windows where the teas are processed. The tours are up the stairs in the gift shop, where you can also sample several types of teas at no charge and purchase tea both in bulk and tea bags, along with tea pots, mugs, and other tea-related merchandise.
The only charge for anything at the garden unless you buy something from the gift shop is the trolley tour, which is $15 per person but well worth it. Although you don’t go far on the trolley, you get an in-depth explanation about tea bushes, the different types of teas, how they’re grown and processed, and you drive by the tea plants in the garden. When you reach the greenhouse, you go inside and see all of the baby tea plants and learn about the propagation process.
When I took the tour, it was emphasized that the Charleston Tea Garden is the only tea garden in operation in the United States. However, when I did my own research online afterwards, I found several places in the United States where they grow and sell tea, including Table Rock Tea Company on the northwestern corner of South Carolina near the border of North Carolina. There are also tea gardens in Washington, Alabama, New York, New Jersey, California, Georgia, Hawaii, and more but these all appear to be tiny compared to the one in Charleston and in some cases they don’t actually grow their own tea onsite.
Upon closer look at the Charleston Tea Garden website, they do state, “We’re the only tea garden in North America where you can see hundreds of thousands of tea bushes stretching out acre after acre for almost as far as the eye can see.” When I dove deeper, it appears that the Charleston Tea Garden is the only large-scale commercial tea garden (hence my very-specific title here) so perhaps our guide just embellished that a bit and made it seem like they were the only tea garden in the United States and left it at that. However, there is this sign that further confuses the matter:
Maybe the sign was posted before other tea gardens existed in the United States
Misleading propaganda aside, the Charleston Tea Garden was worth the short drive from Charleston to spend an hour or so in this peaceful setting. After trying every single tea that was available for tasting, my daughter and I both agreed we liked the raspberry tea the best, which is a black tea infused with raspberry flavor. I can buy Earl Grey, plain black tea, and some of the others they offered anywhere but there is no place near where I live where I can buy loose leaf raspberry tea (and certainly not from tea leaves grown onsite), so not only was it delicious, it’s something unique so I bought a bag to take home with us. I also bought my daughter a cute mug with a matching spoon.
Also nearby on Wadmalaw Island is Deep Water Vineyard, with self-guided tours for $15 from Tuesday through Saturday. In addition to their South Carolina-grown muscadine wines, they partner with a grower in California to produce many traditional wines like Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, but also some unique ones like Winter Blues, made with local blueberries, or Palmetto Pepper, made with fermented jalapeño peppers.
Finally, you should stop at Angel Oak Park on nearby Johns Island to see the enormous oak tree believed to be the oldest living oak tree east of the Mississippi at an estimated 300-400 years old. Angel Oak Park is open every day except holidays and has free admission. There is also a gift shop nearby. No food, drinks, blankets, or tripods are permitted on or around the tree.
Have you been to the Charleston Tea Garden or did you know this place existed but you just haven’t been there? Have you toured another tea garden where they grow and sell their own tea like this one?
If you missed part one, you can read it here What I Learned From Every Half Marathon I Ran. TLDR? I went through the half marathons I ran in all 50 states beginning with my first one in North Carolina in 2000. I briefly state what I learned at each race, since after all, life is a learning process. In my first post, I stopped at a half marathon I ran in Mississippi in 2010 so that’s where I’ll start here.
Picking back up where I left, although I was struggling with health issues at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Half Marathon in November of 2010, my health continued to deteriorate for another reason. By the time of the Arbuckles to Ardmore Half Marathon in Oklahoma in March of 2011, I had full-blown anemia. This was my 21st state (and 23rd half marathon) but my first experience with anemia. I was borderline in need of a transfusion but my doctor chose to prescribe heavy doses of iron pills along with B12 and other vitamins to help with absorption. She also told me not to run. I learned it is indeed possible to run a half marathon if you don’t mind going slowly (but I certainly don’t endorse this).
At the Missoula Half Marathon in Montana I learned to be better prepared for drastic changes in weather at races. Although it was supposed to be mid-50’s at the start of the race, a cold front had moved in the day before the race so it was predicted to drop to the low 40’s that morning. For some people, that’s shorts and short-sleeve weather but not for this southern gal. I went to a running store in search of running pants but the closest they had was capris, in a size smaller than I normally wore. I bought them anyway and while not ideal, at least my legs weren’t freezing.
I learned having elite runners at a race can have its perks for everyone else. When I ran the Kaiser Realty Coastal Half Marathon in Alabama, elite runners Deena Kastor and Johnny Gray were speakers there (they didn’t run the race) and we were treated to one of the best post-race spreads I’ve ever had at a race. At the Shamrock Half Marathon in Virginia Beach, I learned it’s possible to have fun and not be overwhelmed at big races as long as they’re well-organized like this one. I learned just how hot it gets in Chicago in June at the Chicago 13.1 Half Marathon.
At the Amica Half Marathon in Newport, Rhode Island, I learned just how much of an underrated state this smallest of the US states is. The Covenant Health Knoxville Half Marathon showed me just how insanely hilly Knoxville is (one of the hilliest races I’ve ever run). I learned how amazingly scenic the islands off the coast of Washington are when I ran the San Juan Island Half Marathon.
I learned that all-women’s races have a different vibe than coed races do when I ran the All Women & One Lucky Guy Half Marathon in Newburyport, Massachusetts. The New York City 13.1 showed me how many fun half marathons (and other distances) New York State and New York City has and you don’t have to run the bigger, better-known races to have a great race (this was in Queens). When I ran the Shipyard Old Port Half Marathon in Portland, Maine, I learned just how hot and hilly Maine is in July but since it’s so beautiful, it’s worth it.
The Roller Coaster Half Marathon in Branson, Missouri showed me it’s possible for someone who had never even finished in the top three in her age group before to finish first. After I ran the Frederick Running Festival Half Marathon in Maryland and learned the race director was my daughter’s teacher’s niece, I learned what a small world it truly is. The Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon in South Dakota showed me two things: 1) South Dakota is entirely different in many ways than North Dakota and 2) I love races that start at the top of a canyon and you run down it.
In September of 2015, I learned that some race directors were still not using timing chips at the Dixville Half Marathon in Colebrook, New Hampshire. At the McKenzie River Half Marathon in Eugene, Oregon, I learned just how intense runners are in this part of the country. I asked someone at the packet pickup about the hills and was told, “they’re not that bad,” only to find out the only flat portions were the first two miles and the last mile, with none of the hills going down, only up. The Boulder Rez Half Marathon in Colorado showed me what I already suspected, that running at altitude is no joke.
I learned sometimes race directors try to cram too many events into one race at the Silver Strand Half Marathon in California. In addition to the half marathon, there was a 5k, 10 miler, and half marathon for skaters, handcyclers, and wheelchair racers and the course was extremely crowded. I learned it can be so cold in Utah in February that despite wearing gloves, my fingers were still cold at the end of the Dogtown Half Marathon and my feet were numb for the first couple of miles. The Superhero Half Marathon in Morristown, New Jersey showed me how much fun it was to see other people’s costumes at a race (I didn’t dress up).
The Marshall University Half Marathon in Huntington, West Virginia showed me how cool it was to run with a football on a football field at the end of a race. The Famous Potato Half Marathon in Boise, Idaho showed me how life often doesn’t turn out how you think it will but that can be a good thing. For years I thought I’d run a half marathon in Coeur d’Alene for my Idaho race but the timing was never right so I signed up for this race in Boise and loved it. I learned it’s possible to have a not-so-unique race even in such a beautiful state as Alaska at the Skinny Raven Half Marathon in Anchorage. The course was primarily on greenways, with little water views and overall not that scenic in my opinion.
I learned it’s possible to have a blazing fast course, plenty of amazing volunteers, boatloads of food before and after the race, huge medals, and quality shirts for finishers at small races like the White River Half Marathon in tiny little Cotter, Arkansas. At the Seashore Classic Half Marathon in Lewes, Delaware, I learned running on crushed gravel is killer on the legs and a frozen strawberry daiquiri really hits the spot after a tough race. I learned it’s possible to PR at high elevation if the race has a downhill start like the Star Valley Half Marathon in Thayne, Wyoming.
The Hot Cider Hustle Half Marathon in Omaha, Nebraska taught me to tie my shoelaces better before a race. I had double-knotted them but they still came untied and that 20-something seconds it took me to tie them likely cost me a third place age group finish. At the Circle of Life Half Marathon in Lake City, Minnesota, I learned that “Minnesota nice” is real. Those were some of the friendliest and nicest people I had ever chatted with at a race.
I learned it’s possible to PR at your 51st half marathon at the IMT Des Moines Half Marathon in Iowa. This race also showed me that Des Moines knows how to put on a half marathon right, with so many little touches and big additions as well. The Albuquerque Half Marathon in New Mexico showed me life truly is all about the journey. Although many things went wrong or not exactly ideal before, during, and after this race and it didn’t end on such a high point as I would have liked, I learned running a half marathon in all 50 states isn’t just about state number 50, but the point is every single state along the way that adds up to all 50 states.
So that’s it- 53 half marathons in 21 years and what I learned along the way. Every single race taught me something, sometimes big things, sometimes smaller things but they were all lessons nonetheless.
I saw an article by Fodor’s Travel about the most overrated tourist attractions in the world and it made me pause. For the article, see https://www.fodors.com/news/news/the-most-overrated-tourist-attractions-in-2022. For a quick summary, there were places mentioned ranging from The Grand Canyon, The FRIENDS Experience New York, cities like Los Angeles, Las Vegas, but apparently the most popular places listed were Disney World and Disneyland. The reasons listed shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s been to Disney- too crowded and too expensive. Rounding out the poll’s top 5 most overrated tourist attractions were The Leaning Tower of Pisa, The Eiffel Tower, Times Square, and The Louvre.
I’ve never been to The Leaning Tower of Pisa, The Eiffel Tower, or The Louvre so I can’t comment on my personal feelings about those places but I have been to Disneyland and Disney World, The Grand Canyon, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Times Square. I agree that Disney is hugely expensive and crowded so I can see where people would rank those places as overrated. There wasn’t a reason or reasons listed why people thought Times Square was overrated but I can also understand how it could be a letdown for people expecting some sort of magical experience or inflated expectations.
I started thinking about what I would list as the top 5 most overrated places I’ve traveled to. Travel can be a subjective subject so I understand that places I may have hated or just generally disliked are places that other people love. Likewise, I’ve been to places that I loved that others have hated. For example, I’ve heard people say The Grand Canyon National Park is nothing but a big hole in the ground with a bunch of rocks and trees around. I thought the Grand Canyon was an amazingly beautiful part of our country and loved hiking there. Not everyone likes being out in nature, though.
Probably my number one place that I would list as overrated is Las Vegas, Nevada. I’m not a gambler and both times I went there I didn’t gamble even once, not even to play the slot machines. I really could care less about gambling. The first time I went to Las Vegas I was in nearby Laughlin, Nevada for a half marathon and thought I should see what all the fuss was about in Vegas. Needless to say, I was not impressed. Sure, the enormous themed casino hotels (The Venetian, Paris, Bellagio, etc.) are cool but I wouldn’t go there just for the hotels. I’m also not a big drinker or partier so you could see where Las Vegas would not be a great choice for a person like me.
The second time I was in Las Vegas was when I was running a half marathon outside St. George, Utah and it was cheaper to fly into Las Vegas and drive from there. Since we landed in the evening I thought we should at least walk through some of the hotel lobbies and watch the fountain displays with our teenage daughter to show her the sights. Would I ever purposely go back? Maybe to watch a Cirque du Soleil show but that’s the only reason (I’m a big fan of their shows).
Next on my list of overrated tourist spots is Gatlinburg, Tennessee (not including Great Smoky Mountains National Park). Like Las Vegas, I’ve been here twice, once as a teenager with a friend of mine and her family and more recently to go hiking in the park with my daughter last summer. On my more recent visit, we skipped all of the super-touristy places like Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum, Guinness World Records Museum, and the Salt and Pepper Museum. I didn’t hate it here and there were some shops and restaurants I enjoyed but it’s definitely not a place I would go out of my way to go to. See my post: Gatlinburg, Tennessee “Myrtle Beach in the Sky”
If you read my post on Gatlinburg, Tennessee, it may come to no surprise that next on my list here is Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Like Gatlinburg and Las Vegas, this is a place I’ve been to more than once, the first time as a child and later as an adult. This is also a place I personally know many people go to every summer with their friends and/or families and love it here. I find it crowded with people and traffic and touristy shops and restaurants full of fried seafood (which I don’t like). The water is murky and there is often trash littered around the hotels and beach areas. I would hands-down rather go a little further south to Charleston, South Carolina, which in my opinion is about 1000 times better in every way imaginable than Myrtle Beach.
Next on my list is a place I’ve only been to once: Los Angeles, California. I went here during my trip to Long Beach, California, when I ran a marathon and explored the area afterwards. Personally, I found the Hollywood Walk of Fame to be a complete waste of time (it’s exactly what you think it will be, a bunch of famous people’s names on gold stars on the sidewalk) and the tour of celebrity homes was also a waste. What I remember from that tour is driving around in a van, going by a bunch of huge fences and shrubbery while the host talked about the celebrity who lived in each of the homes we couldn’t even see. Maybe I just chose a bad tour or maybe they’re better now since that was several years ago. Sunset Strip, the Hollywood Sign, and every single other thing I saw or went past was entirely a waste of time to me.
The final place on my list of overrated places is a city I was surprised I didn’t like it as much as I did and I found it disappointing overall- Athens, Greece. For all of the details, you can read my post: I’m Sorry but I Just Didn’t Love Athens. In short, I found it to be hot, crowded, and dirty and many of the ruins were in such a poor state you could barely even see anything there. That being said, it might be more pleasant during the spring or fall when it’s not so crowded or hot. It’s also a place despite the fact I found it overrated, I would still recommend everyone go there just once to experience it for themselves.
In fact, I don’t want to imply that I think no one should go to any of these overrated places. Like I said earlier, I know many people who go to some of these places year after year and love them. Also, with the exception of Myrtle Beach and Gatlinburg, these are unique places that I encourage everyone to see for themselves for the experience. There truly is no other place (at least not that I’ve been to or heard of) like Las Vegas, Los Angeles, or Athens, each of which has unique qualities that some people are drawn to.
What about you? Do you love any of the places I listed as overrated? Do you have your own list of overrated places that you’ve been to?
Life is really just a learning process, right? If you don’t learn as you go along, you don’t make progress and grow as a person. Looking back at the half marathons I’ve run, I realized I learned something at each and every race. Sometimes the things I learned were life-changing and with others it was just minor things I probably knew already but they were re-emphasized to me.
Let’s take a look back at the half marathons I’ve run over the years, going back to the very first half marathon I ever ran, way back in 2000, up to the present day. For most of these, I’ll keep it brief but for the truly life-changing races, I may dig a bit deeper. Hopefully this will be fun, so let’s see!
My very first half marathon, the Battleship Half Marathon in Wilmington, North Carolina in November 2000 was quite a learning experience for me. The weather was crazy, with freezing rain and even snow, which is almost unheard of in this southern coastal city. By the time I finished, my arms and shoulders were so tired I could barely lift them to take my sports bra and running shirt off. I learned several things after this race but the top ones were: 1) I needed to start lifting weights, concentrating on upper body exercises, 2) I learned what a huge factor the weather can be and I knew I could run this race faster under more ideal weather conditions, and 3) I learned I was hooked on running half marathons and wanted to do more.
When I ran the 2001 Battleship Half Marathon, sure enough, I cut several minutes off my finish time and the weather was a beautiful day for a race! I learned the importance of being prepared for a half marathon with strength training and a training plan. The Gold Rush Half Marathon in Concord, North Carolina taught me that heat, hills, and humidity is a nasty combination when it comes to races and to avoid the possibility of the 3H’s at all costs when signing up for a race!
The Kona Half Marathon in Hawaii (at least when I ran it) was on the same course as the Ironman running portion. It was hot and hilly (but not humid) and beautiful. I loved every second of it and I learned having great views along a course goes a long way! When I ran the Philadelphia Distance Run, I learned big races can be fun as long as they’re well-organized, which this one was.
Kiawah Island Half Marathon in South Carolina is very flat but also tends to have strong headwinds. I learned races along the beach can be difficult despite being flat because of the winds. When I ran the Valley of the Sun Half Marathon in Phoenix, I learned it’s possible to run a half marathon when pregnant as long as you follow your doctor’s recommendations and advice.
The Columbus Distance Run was a race I never should have run. I had been suffering from Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS) before this race and had pain in my knee after running only a couple of miles at a time but I ran it anyway. I couldn’t run for months after the race and I learned sometimes you should DNS (did not start) a race if you’re injured.
After running the Louisville Half Marathon in Kentucky, I learned to research my races better because like the race in Columbus, Ohio, this race was just OK with nothing exceptional about it. The Naples Daily News Half Marathon in Florida taught me there are plenty of fun races in Florida besides Disney and they don’t have to cost a fortune and you don’t have to get up at 3 in the morning on race day either! Covered Bridges Half Marathon in Woodstock, Vermont taught me how much I love Vermont and left me wanting to see the rest of the New England states.
When I ran the Marathon of the Americas and Half Marathon in San Antonio, Texas, I learned the importance of working in some vacation days after a race; San Antonio is a fun city to explore. The Laughlin Half Marathon in Nevada showed me you can’t always trust the website descriptions for a race (I didn’t find it scenic at all) and packed dirt with gravel on top is horrible to try to run on. Stratton Faxon Half Marathon in Fairfield, Connecticut showed me that even the New England states can get extremely hot during the summer.
The Evansville Half Marathon in Indiana showed me that sometimes taking that leap of faith to run in small towns you’ve never heard of can be worth it (it was my fastest half marathon to date and I loved every minute of the race). Run the Reagan in Snellville, Georgia taught me it’s not fun at all to run along a freeway and even more miserable when it’s raining and cold. The Bayshore Half Marathon in Traverse City, Michigan showed me popular races are popular for a reason (this one sold out quickly when I signed up) and I loved the scenic course.
Kroll’s Diner Half Marathon in Bismarck, North Dakota showed me it can be tough to find a half marathon that fits in with your schedule in some states, with North Dakota being one. When I was looking for a half marathon there, I could only find a few races and to this day there are only a handful. Ole Man River Half Marathon in New Orleans showed me even a fun, quirky city like New Orleans can have plain and ordinary races like this one. The Olathe Half Marathon in Kansas showed me some race directors aren’t thoughtful at all when planning a race course and will take you through industrial areas and past neighborhoods with just ordinary houses (or maybe that was just the best they had to offer for a safe course).
The Madison Mini-Marathon in Wisconsin showed me when you run a half marathon in August, even in a state as far north as Wisconsin, it’s going to be HOT so you’d better be prepared for slower race times. I learned a couple of things when I ran the Mississippi Gulf Coast Half Marathon: 1) just because you’re running in a cool place like a space center doesn’t mean you’ll see actual rockets and 2) it sometimes gets cold in Mississippi in late November (I was not expecting it to be in the 30’s).
I’m going to stop here since I still have several half marathons to go and this post is already pretty lengthy. I’ll continue with the rest of the half marathon lessons in another post.
What about you? What lessons have you learned from half marathons or other races you’ve ran?
I first wrote a post about my experience with the language-learning website and app Duolingo in Review of Duolingo, which I published in 2017. Since I hadn’t been to any Spanish-speaking countries in quite some time, and I didn’t feel the need to learn Portuguese other than some important words and phrases before my trip to Portugal, I hadn’t used Duolingo in a few years. However, I had a trip planned to Costa Rica and I wanted to start brushing up on my Spanish again before I went there.
Let me just say, the Duolingo that exists now is much better in my opinion than the version I used a few years ago. But first, let me give a little background info before I go any further. Duolingo launched in November of 2011 and now has 106 courses in 41 languages and has around 42 million users. Duolingo is free (with ads) but there is a premium service called Super Duolingo (previously called Duolingo Plus) which is ad-free, lets you accumulate unlimited hearts, and lets you review your mistakes for $6.99/month.
In my first review of Duolingo, I wrote that because of so many multiple choice options, I felt it was too easy and could give users a false sense of security that they were “fluent” in the language they were learning. Now, I’m not seeing nearly as many multiple choice options, although there are still some. There seems to be more speaking required now and definitely more listening options. Now, you can listen to a short story in the language you’re learning and answer questions afterwards. I don’t remember having that option before so I believe it’s relatively new.
I have the free version and it seems like there are many more ads now than before. I won’t lie, the ads are annoying. I’ve learned to just put my phone down and walk away for a minute and come back when the ad is over, although some of the ads are shorter than others. I’m not sure there was a pay version in 2017 but if not that could explain why they’re playing so many ads now, in a hope to get people to pay to skip the ads. The ads I’m seeing are mostly for gaming apps but there are plenty of others as well.
While we’re on the subject of annoying things, another annoying feature is the reminder about the daily streak. Some people might be drawn to this idea of practicing a language on Duolingo every day without missing a day but it’s just annoying to me. I feel like I’ll use the app when I have time and I don’t need reminders that I’m about to lose my daily streak. I don’t care if I’ll lose my streak, Duolingo. I did eventually learn how to turn these reminders off, so at least that’s an option.
I also don’t like how you can’t “test out” if you’re already relatively fluent at your current level, at least not at the free level. Before, you could take a proficiency test and if you passed, you could skip ahead to the next level quickly. Now, as far as I can tell, that option is only if you have the paid version. Well, supposedly. My daughter did the free trial of the paid option and said she took the test to skip to the next level and it wouldn’t let her do it even though she didn’t miss any of the questions.
Back to some of the basic features. There are many sections broken down into units. For example, unit 1 has intro, phrases, travel, restaurant, family, shopping, present tense 1, school, and people. Then there is a checkpoint before you can move on to unit 2. Unit 2 has some of the same sections as unit 1 including family, travel, and people but some new sections like emotions, preference, and describe, for example.
One area I didn’t discover until I had used the app for a while was under the profile icon. There’s an Achievements area and until I clicked on the achievements I had earned, I didn’t actually get the gems and other achievements I had earned on earlier days. You also have the option to follow other friends who also use the app in the profile section. If you’re competitive, there’s a shield icon that will show you what league you’re currently ranked in, based on points. There’s another icon that looks like a gem where you can buy gems (using real money) to be used in the app or you can bump yourself up to Duolingo Plus.
Overall, I find the Duolingo that exists now to be a useful tool for learning another language. The ads are annoying but I’m just not willing to pay for the app so I guess that falls on me; the option is always there to skip the ads if you’re willing to pay for that. I guess the real question was how well did it prepare me for my trip to Costa Rica? Pretty well! I didn’t have any trouble speaking to anyone (and more importantly getting them to understand me) and I could follow along when they spoke as long as they knew I only knew a little Spanish so they could slow down and use more basic words.
Have you used Duolingo either when it first came out the end of 2011 or more recently? If so, what do you think of the app? Do you use another learning app or tool to learn or refresh a foreign language?
I realize this could go one of two ways, either fun and interesting or poorly, so I’m depending on all of you who read this (no pressure) for it to go the former way. My idea is this: everyone who regularly follows my blog knows I just finished my quest of running a half marathon in all 50 states, with my last race in Albuquerque, New Mexico in November of 2021. If anyone is new to my blog, now you know too. Many of you regulars, especially the long-timers (and a HUGE thank you if that’s you) probably already know or think you know many other things about my quest. However, I’m guessing there are still some unanswered questions out there that you may be curious about.
This is your chance to ask me absolutely anything and everything you ever wondered about what it was like for me to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Really, nothing is off-limits, too nosy, too trivial, or too silly. If you’re wondering something, someone else may also be wondering the same thing, and even if you’re the only person in the world with the question, it’s still a valid question.
What I would like is for everyone to ask some questions below and if all goes well, I’ll write up a post to answer the questions, rather than just answer them below; that way I can expand on anything that might need more than just a sentence or two to answer. If someone else has already asked your question but yours has a slightly different spin on it, ask it again in your words. That will also clue me in on the more popular questions that need more explanation than others.
Your questions can be broad such as running-related or more specific like half marathon-related, or they can be travel-related, logistics questions, race bling questions, traveling with kids or family, state-related, specific race-related, etc. These are just some examples but certainly not meant to limit you just to these. Questions like favorite/best/worst/most scenic are all fine as well. Creative questions are highly encouraged.
OK. Let’s see how this goes! Thank you to everyone who asks questions! If you never see a follow-up post with the answers, well, we all know what that means, but I’m confident that won’t happen.
I believe many people have a preconceived notion of what a place will be like before they ever step foot there. Many people think of three things when they think of Iowa: football, farmland, and corn. What I discovered when I visited Iowa for my first time was these things are definitely huge here but what’s missing is pride and family. Iowans are fiercely proud of their state and for them family comes before anything else.
For my first trip to Iowa, I chose to go to Des Moines, the capital of Iowa. The population is relatively small at only around 215,000 people or just over 700,000 if you include the suburbs. Des Moines is the most populated city in the state too so this is most definitely considered the “big city” in these parts.
That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of things to do in Des Moines, especially in the downtown area. Just don’t expect a big city vibe when you come here or anything even close to that. I highly recommend staying in the downtown area. Most things are within a mile of downtown and it’s a very walkable city plus there are multiple places where you can rent a bicycle. I chose not to rent a car when I was here and it turned out to be a wise decision, saving me on parking fees not only at the hotel but also the metered spaces all over the downtown area. There’s also a free bus called Des Moines Regional Transit Authority (DART) that runs every 10 minutes between the East Village and Western Gateway Park Monday through Friday.
What’s There to do in Des Moines?
One of my favorite things to do when I travel is to visit botanical gardens. The Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden was the first place I visited here. For $10 admission, I saw the Conservatory, Bonsai Gallery, Wells Fargo Rose Garden, Dorothy and Max Rutledge Conifer Garden, Koehn Garden with reflecting pool, Ruan Allee walkway, Water Garden, Lauridsen Savannah, and my favorite part of the garden, the Hillside Garden and Waterfall. Inside the conservatory there was a Desert Garden, Rainforest, and Horticultural Exhibits area. There is also the Trellis Cafe but I didn’t eat there. Multiple seating areas are all around the outdoor spaces in addition to inside the conservatory. I walked through every garden and it took me about an hour. It is one of the smaller botanical gardens I’ve been to but worth coming here if you enjoy gardens. https://www.dmbotanicalgarden.com/
Close to the botanical garden is the small but free Robert D. Ray Asian Gardens. It’s a peaceful spot beside the Des Moines River. You can easily see the entire area in 10 minutes or less if you’re just passing through.
Also nearby both gardens is the Lauridsen Skatepark, the largest skatepark in the United States. The park has five skating areas and runs adjacent to Principal Riverwalk Park. A unique part of the park is a bright red “WOW” sculpture (seen in the first photo above) 80 feet long and 12 feet high that was designed to be skated on but has become an Instagram hotspot for people just walking through.
If you have children or are a child at heart, there’s the Blank Park Zoo with the typical zoo animals like lions, tigers, giraffes, rhinos, and penguins. There are also behind the scenes tours, which are quite pricey for non-members but half the price for members. The zoo is open daily from 10 am to 4 pm and admission is $14 for adults and $8 for children. https://www.blankparkzoo.com/The Science Center of Iowa and Blank IMAX Dome Theater is also a fun place for families. SCI has numerous hands-on exhibits designed to spur interest in science and learning along with live science demonstrations, a planetarium, and IMAX theater. SCI is open Thursday-Sunday and admission is $11 for adults and children. https://www.sciowa.org/visit/
Salisbury House and Gardens is a 42-room mansion built in the 1920’s modeled after the King’s House in Salisbury, England in the style of Gothic, Tudor, and Carolean Architecture. The house is filled with original art, tapestries, and antique furniture from around the world. One of my favorite things was learning all of the background information about the Weeks family that lived there. Carl Weeks made his fortune by combining cold cream with face powder and began his own makeup company, The Armand Company. Salisbury House is open for tours Wednesday through Sunday from 12 to 5 pm. Self-guided tours do not require reservations and are $10; guided tours at 1 and 3 pm are $15 and reservations are recommended. https://salisburyhouse.org/
If you enjoy history, the Iowa Hall of Pride is a fun way to learn about Iowa. There are displays about some sports legends from Iowa like gymnast Shawn Johnson, track and field Olympian Lolo Jones, professional football player Kurt Warner, plus many others. There are also displays and information about musicians, farming, wind farms, bike trails, just to name a few. Most of the displays are touch-screen with multiple videos to watch. There’s also a game area where you can play arcade-type games for a fee. It is open Monday through Friday and costs $10 for admission. https://www.iowahallofpride.com/
The Farmer’s Market is a fun place to stroll around if you’re in Des Moines on a Saturday from May 1 through October 30 in the mornings until noon. Several blocks downtown are closed off to cars so you can leisurely browse from over 150 vendors. I saw everything from meats, cheeses, breads and other bakery products, tea, artwork, handmade jewelry, fresh flowers, and a wide variety of produce. There were also some bands and musicians scattered throughout the area. https://www.dsmpartnership.com/desmoinesfarmersmarket/saturday-market
For art lovers, the Des Moines Art Center is a wonderful place to explore for about an hour or so, plus admission is free. There’s mostly modern and contemporary art, which I’m usually not a huge fan of but I enjoyed many of these pieces of modern art and could appreciate them. One of my favorites was a temporary display by Justin Favela and is running through January 2022. Using only tissue paper and cardboard, he designed enormous food-related pieces of art that I found intriguing. There were also some paintings by famous artists like Van Gogh, Georgia O’Keeffe, Salvadore Dali, and Renoir. https://desmoinesartcenter.org/visit/
An outdoor art exhibit that’s also free, the Pappajohn Sculpture Park includes artwork by more than 25 artists on 1330 Grand Avenue in downtown Des Moines. There are walkways around most of the sculptures and grassy areas in others. The park is open from sunrise to midnight daily. https://desmoinesartcenter.org/visit/pappajohn-sculpture-park/
Where to Eat
There is no shortage of bars in downtown Des Moines, some of which also serve pub-style food. There isn’t a huge selection of restaurants in the small downtown area, but there are still quite a few including The Spaghetti Works (affordable especially for what you get), Court Avenue Brewing Company, Buzzard Billy’s (cajun), Exile Brewing Company, Hessen Haus (German food), Pho Real Kitchen and Bar (really good Vietnamese food), Royal Mile (British Pub-style food), and one of my favorites, Fong’s Pizza which has Asian-inspired toppings like Crab Rangoon or ramen noodles if you’re adventurous plus more traditional toppings. There are of course more restaurants in the area if you have a car or aren’t staying in the heart of downtown. All of the above restaurants are within a mile of one another if you are staying downtown and are easily walkable, however.
Where to Stay
I stayed at the Hampton Inn Downtown and found the location to be perfect for me. Since I could walk to most places I wanted to go to with the exception of a couple of places I didn’t even need to rent a car. However, the hotel walls are thin and the doors so heavy they slam loudly when closed so be advised and bring earplugs. There’s also a Residence Inn right beside the Hampton Inn; both are on Water Street. For a non-chain hotel in the downtown area, there’s the Des Lux Hotel and the Surety Hotel. If you want to stay closer to the Wells Fargo Arena and Iowa Events Center, there’s a Comfort Inn and Fairfield Inn and Suites nearby.
You may be wondering how many days would be the right amount for Des Moines. I stayed five nights and thought that was a day too many; four nights would have been plenty or even three nights. A long weekend would actually be just about right and give you plenty of time to explore the major sights. Since I was running the IMT Des Moines Half Marathon on a Sunday morning, I decided to stretch out my time a bit more in case I needed to take it a bit easy after the race, plus I wanted to give myself a buffer in case of flight delays before the race since there aren’t many flights from where I live to Des Moines.
I realize Des Moines, Iowa isn’t on most people’s list of places they want to visit, but honestly, it’s a nice city with friendly people and some unique offerings. If you ever find yourself in the area, try to forego any preconceived notions you may have and you might find yourself pleasantly surprised.
Have you been to Des Moines? If so, what did you do? I’d love to hear anyone else’s thoughts on the area!