Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Traveling Trail Ridge Road Through Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park

No trip to Denver is complete without venturing a few hours into the mountains. I highly suggest renting a car for your trip and visiting Rocky Mountain National Park. The drive up is gorgeous and the views are breathtaking - literally. It was so cold I could not breathe. But it was also awe inspiring.

Upon entering RMNP you stop at a ranger's booth and pay $20 for park access. Once you enter you can stay on the Trail Ridge Road the entire time, the main road throughout the park, or venture off onto little trails that fork off. Since there was a lot of snow, we opted to stay on the main road. The trip from one end to the other was about three hours with a few stops for photos.

Rocky Mountain National Park snow-capped trees
Rocky Mountain National Park in fall

Fun facts about Trail Ridge Road:
-Highest continuously paved road in the continental US
-Crosses the Continental Divide
-Altitude reaches just under 13K feet

Not so fun facts about Trail Ridge Road:
-It's really, really high
-The road does not have a guardrail
-It may cause sweaty hands and panic attacks

Rocky Mountain National Park Alpine Visitors Center
Trail Ridge Road

I don't want to scare anyone off this amazing journey, so let me clarify. I had altitude sickness during my trip to Colorado. I was out of breath and light headed as soon as I started walking around in Denver. That combo with my fear of heights was a disaster. Going up the road wasn't bad at all, until we got to Alpine Visitors Center. It's a huge overlook point where you can get out, walk around, and realize just how high you are. Throw in the wind and cold temps (it was 30 degrees and covered with snow when we were there the first weekend of October) and it's a bit rough just getting out of the car to take pictures. Once we saw how far we'd journeyed up the mountains, getting back on the road was tough. The rest of the ascent was on the cliff side of the mountain. Remember the no rails part? Pictured above is the drop off. It's not straight down, and doesn't even look bad in the picture, but in person it is scary.

There are two ways to enter RMNP, Grand Lake and Estes Park. We opted for the Grand Lake entrance because we wanted to spend time at The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park. Driving this direction meant being closest to the edge of the mountain. So keep that in mind if you are not a fan of driving on cliffs. But, the scary part of the drive isn't for all that long. The benefit of selecting the direction that we did was that we avoided a lot of traffic. As we made our way back down the mountain we saw a lot of cars headed up.

Estes Park was more of a tourist trap than I'd imagined. We only stopped for food and it wasn't great, but it was the only place we could find parking. That was quickly forgotten as soon as we saw an elk and deer! My favorite moment of the trip. They were just chillin' at a city park. I don't see them in Los Angeles so I was super excited.

Elk rut season in Estes Park
Elk in Estes Park, CO
Elk rut season in Estes Park, CO

A must when visiting RMNP or Estes Park is The Stanley Hotel. This grand mansion served as the inspiration for Stephen King's "The Shining". Being a big horror fan, we stopped for a drink at the Whiskey Bar, also featured heavily in the story. I got a very cliche REDRUM beer and was perfectly content as we listed to a few ghost stories provided by the bartender.

The Stanley Hotel
The Stanley Hotel Whiskey Bar
The Stanley Hotel REDRUM beer

Despite the terror on some parts of the Trail Ridge Road, this was my favorite part of the trip. The amazing views, wild animals, and spooky hotel were the perfect representation of Colorado. If you visit the Denver area, you have to take this day trip!

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Banjo Billy's Denver Ghost Tour

Banjo Billy's Bus Tours

I love a ghost tour! Every new city I visit, I try to take one. It's a great way to learn local history and have fun at the same time. A few of the many tours I've been on include New Orleans, Seattle, Atlanta, and Melbourne, Australia. When researching them in Denver I came across Banjo Billy's Bus Tours and knew it was going to be a must during my visit to the Mile-High City.

Banjo Billy's Denver Ghost Tour
Banjo Billy's Denver

As opposed to walking through various parts of town, which can sometimes be sketchy at night, Banjo Billy's boasts a tricked out school bus that resembles a hillbilly shack on wheels - in the best way possible! Upon boarding, we were greeted with a mishmash of seating from comfy recliners to  arm chairs, a disco ball, and colorful lighting strung throughout. We instantly knew we were in for a good time!

Over the course of the next two hours our tour guide, Scott, did a fantastic job entertaining us. He is a lively storyteller, and great at keeping the guests involved. There were literal moans, groans, and "No!" screams from the riders for the entirety of the tour! As he took us to various locations throughout the city, he shared several tales at each stop. Even my friend, who doesn't believe in ghost stories, commented on how much she enjoyed the history we were presented with and the theatrics in which they were presented.

Because our Banjo Billy's ghost tour was at night, we went back to some of the stops to get good pictures of a few spooky locations in better light including the Croke-Patterson Mansion which may be the most haunted home in Denver. Don't let these gorgeous facades fool you, something sinister lurks inside of each!

Croke-Patterson Mansion
Capital Hill Denver Haunted Homes

I HIGHLY recommend Banjo Billy's Denver ghost tours. The ghost tours are only offered in October though, so be sure to book in advance to secure a spot. Other Banjo Billy's tours include a Boulder ghost tour (also seasonal), brewery and history tours in Denver and Boulder, and even private bookings.

Book directly with Banjo Billy's Bus Tours online or call (720) 938-8885.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Travel Tips for a Weekend in Denver

Beautiful Denver, Co

Over the weekend I visited Denver for the first time and since I over plan vacations, had a long list of things to do while there. Most of the activities were great, unfortunately almost all of the food options were not. So to help aid others, below are my Denver travel tips with reviews on all I did - including (my opinion) of what to skip.

Sam's No. 3
Featured on Diners, Drive-In, and Dives, this unassuming restaurant boasts a large menu and even larger lines. Expect to wait an hour or more, even on a week day. I went with a pretty simple veggie omelette that was featured on the show and my friend tried a chili burger that was recommended by the server. Unfortunately neither meal was very good. We overheard two other patrons complaining about their food too, so it wasn't just the two of us that left unsatisfied. My veggie omelette had a piece of bacon in it. When I told my server she immediately took it off the bill. So I applaud the customer service. My parents actually ate here when they were in Denver and had a good experience so maybe it was just an off day. I wouldn't go back, though.

Colorado State Capital
State capital buildings are always gorgeous, and Colorado's is no exception. We decided to take a tour and were pleasantly surprised to learn it is free! For about an hour we walked throughout the building as we were told stories about the structure and state history. The last 15 minutes or so include a visit to the dome where visitors can take in sweeping city views. Unfortunately the elevator is out of service (and sounded like it has been for some time) so I was unable to experience that part of the tour due to my debilitating fear or heights and the narrow staircase that I was convinced I was going to fall off of. It's unfortunate that there isn't access for those who cannot make the climb. Despite missing the best part, I'd still recommend a visit.

Molly Brown House Museum
I knew nothing about Margaret Brown, other than she is referred to as "The Unsinkable Molly Brown" who survived the Titanic, played by Kathy Bates in the film. So after the capitol we walked a few blocks to see her home. Tickets for the hour-long guided tour are $11 for adults and $5 for children. If you're not into architecture or history, this may be a take it or leave it experience for you. Time was spent mostly learning about the architecture of the home and it's contents, some of which were owned by the Browns, with some knowledge of Molly's life. I didn't get to fully enjoy it because there were a lot of people on the tour, making it difficult to see and hear at all times. Despite that our tour guide was fantastic and I am glad we went.

The view at Viewhouse, Denver

Great views, cool atmosphere, solid beer selection, bland food. If it weren't for the food it would've been the perfect spot. This bar and eatery is located right next to Rockies stadium and has three floors, with a large outside area containing cornhole and fire pits, and a rooftop that boasts a picturesque Denver view. When we ordered we were informed our fish tacos would be bland and need seasoning. Thanks? We probably should have believed his honesty because it was pretty blah. So was my ahi. Being a pescatarian my options were limited, so I can't speak much on the food. I think this would be the perfect spot to catch a sporting event or grab some night drinks.

Banjo Billy's Bus Tours

Banjo Billy's Bus Tours
Ghost tours are my jam. It's a great way to see the city while learning the local history with some fun stories mixed in. This tour was fantastic! Tickets are $27 for adults and $20 for children which includes a two-hour ride on an eclectic hillbilly shack on wheels with an abundance of ghost stories delivered in a theatrical manner that was equally scary and funny. I'll have a more in-depth recap on Monday, but the takeaway is it's really well done and we loved it. While ghost tours are only offered in October, the company also offers history and brewery tours that I can imagine are just as entertaining.

Denver Biscuit Co.
Hands down THE BEST food we had on the trip. The "Strawberry Shortcake" may be a top five food I've ever consumed - and that's saying a lot because I'm an eggs for breakfast girl. The biscuits were so incredibly fluffy it was almost like cutting into cake. The strawberries used were super fresh, and the whipped cream tasted a bit like butter and has a thicker texture than regular whip. It's no joke! The lighting at our booth was bad, which stinks because I wish you could see the masterpiece. There are a few locations, but I visited the one on Colfax. It was a bit hard to find since it shares space with a pizza joint. It'll be the place with the long line. Get there early!

Denver Botanic Gardens
It was meh. I'm not mad I went but I've been to better botanic gardens. I was looking forward to lots of flowers but it was a mix of everything from succulents to small orange trees. It was a nice stroll on a beautiful day but probably would be more appreciated by a lover of plants as a whole. The building on the grounds that are used for offices was a stop on our ghost tour so it was fun to see that up close. If you have extra time add it to your list. If you're too busy, don't fret if you miss this stop.

Denver Capital Hill homes

Exploring Capital Hill
Since the Botanic Gardens are in Denver's Capital Hill neighborhood, we took advantage of being in the location and drove around gawking at the amazing historic homes. And I'm talking HUGE houses. When Denver was developed the wealthy lived in the area so there are mansions scattered throughout. Several of these big brick structures with perfectly manicured homes were featured on our ghost tour. While so spooky at night, during the day they are awe inspiring...OK and maybe a little creepy. But it was the perfect relaxing activity before catching our plane home.

Head on over to my pal Austin's blog PeaceJoyAustin, for even more things to do in Denver!

Additional tip: you'll probably want to rent a car. The airport is quite a ways out of town, plus there is so much to see outside of Denver. We also explored Rocky Mountain National Park, which is a must. Review on that majestic journey coming next week!

Monday, October 2, 2017

Two a Tea, a Delightful Afternoon Tea Room in Glendora, CA

Two A Tea in Glendora, CA

I found the cutest afternoon tea room! Located in Glendora, CA, Two A Tea provides a darling Victorian-inspired setting and delightful selection of teas and treats. Hidden off main roads, the location is an equally proper and inviting escape from the hustle and bustle of Southern California. For the afternoon, I enjoyed feeling like an adult playing tea party.

Two A Tea afternoon tea in Glendora, CA
Two A Tea afternoon tea room
Two A Tea in Glendora, CA

I'm not a big hot tea person, I stick to basics like English breakfast and Earl Grey, so I was more excited to go for the experience...and the tea sandwiches. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that maybe I am a tea person! The selection to chose from is large so I went with a pretty safe choice, maple cream (so good!) and my friend selected the more adventurous peach apricot that I loved just as much. Who knew? Oh and the rest of the food? Just wow. The warm homemade scones and jelly, curd, and clotted cream spreads were divine! From start to finish we enjoyed every bite.

You can purchase items a la carte or buy a package, which we did. We opted for the Queen's Tea that includes (per person) a pot of tea, freshly-baked scone, sorbet, assortment of finger sandwiches, and several desserts to chose from. The price for this package is a very reasonable $24.95. For $7 more you can bump up to The Royal High Tea that includes all of the aforementioned items plus salad and soup. There are also smaller packages to choose from, so there is something for everyone.

Also worth mentioning, the staff was wonderful! They helped me pick the perfect tea and made sure we were taken care of the entire time. Their service definitely added to the charm of our visit.

Two A Tea freshly-baked scones
Two A Tea finger sandwiches
Two A Tea afternoon tea

If you are in Southern California I highly recommend a visit to Two a Tea. You'll love the experience!

185 N. Vermont Ave.
Glendora, CA 91741