Christmas in Key West

My dad was lucky enough to land a job transfer to Key West back in October, so my parents are currently living in paradise as I freeze in Virginia's frosty winter. Actually, last Monday was the first day of spring, so that's not an accurate statement. And it's currently 63°F, so I shouldn't complain. (Honestly, though, I don't mind cold weather. I'm just sayin' - You can layer and layer to stay warm, but you can only take off so many articles of clothing until it's no longer socially acceptable...Actually, in Key West, those rules might not apply. I'm pretty sure anything goes down there.) I was sad that my parents were moving, but I was excited for their new adventure. I was also counting down the days to visit them for Christmas!

After weeks of anticipation, my brother and I flew down to Key West a few days before Christmas Eve. It's always a surreal feeling bundling up for a plane ride, reaching your destination, and having to change in the airport bathroom because the climate difference is so drastic. I went from wearing a warm Patagonia sweater to slipping on a summer dress and sandals. It was heavenly. The palm trees were swaying in the breeze, the sunshine was warm and bright, and roosters ran across the street and crowed loudly. It's amazing that four hours on a plane can get you to a totally different environment. 

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Our week in Key West was filled with delicious seafood, boat rides, pina coladas, an abundance of Florida sunshine, snorkeling in turquoise waters, and plenty of laughs with my brother and parents. We took a tour of Harry Truman's Little White House, spent hours in the Butterfly and Nature Conservatory, saw my dad's new office on base, explored every inch of Duvall Street, and rode beach cruisers along South Roosevelt Boulevard on Christmas Day. We also spent ample time relaxing, reminiscing on memories from the past, and playing with my parents' new kitten, Ginger. It was a perfect combination of sight-seeing and quality family time. One week in paradise wasn't nearly enough time, so I can't wait to return to Key West again.

Portland, Maine [Travel Guide]

I've been wanting to visit Maine for years. The Northeast has always seemed magical to me. Something about the fall foliage, winter snow, lobster shacks, and endless lighthouses seemed so dreamy. When I realized I had too many vacation days saved up and needed to use some before the end of the year, I immediately booked a trip to Portland.

During my five days in the Northeast, I did a lot of road tripping, lobster-eating, picture-taking, and exploring. In the process, Maine stole a little piece of my heart. I can't wait to return, hopefully when it's warm.

Are you planning a trip to Portland, Maine in the near or distant future? If so, here are some noteworthy things you don't want to miss. 

FOOD

Duckfat: I love french fries. They make my little ol' heart skip a beat. The french fries at Duckfat are fried in duckfat (who knew?!), classic Belgian style, and are mouthwateringly delicious. They also come with a variety of dipping sauces. I tried the truffle ketchup and the thai chili mayo, and both were good on their own, but mixed together? AMAZING. Duckfat also has some really neat drinks. I tried the Berry Mint Soda and Maine Tonic (made with maple syrup, honey, and apple cider vinegar), and both were awesome.

Gilbert's Chowder House: I think I went to this restaurant three times during my time in Portland. The first time, I tried a lobster roll -- My first lobster roll evah. Literally a toasted bread roll stuffed with giant chunks of tender lobster meat and a small dollop of mayo, it was just as exquisite as I'd imagined it to be. I also tried some of their award-winning chowder. The fish chowder was my favorite.

Becky's Diner: I was craving another lobster roll, but I wanted to mix it up, so I stopped into Becky's Diner when I returned from my day trip to Boston. I ordered the plain lobster roll with a side of melted butter, and it hit the spot. 

The Holy Donut: The only thing I might love more than french fries is donuts. Unfortunately, since cutting gluten out of my diet last year, I've had trouble finding gluten-free donuts. Lucky for me, The Holy Donut offered a large variety of gluten-free flavors. My favorites were apple cider, chocolate sea salt, and cinnamon sugar. The secret ingredient that makes their donuts so damn good? Mashed potatoes.

Two Fat Cats: I stopped here on my last day in Portland, on my way to the airport, just to get a slice of their blueberry pie. It was AMAZING.

DRINKS

Urban Farm Fermentory: This is one of the coolest places I've ever been. Similar to a brewery, Urban Farm had a huge selection of cider, kombucha, and mead on tap. I tried a flight of blueberry kombucha, ginger kombucha, chai cider, blackberry cider, and mint mead. The mead was incredible, and now I'm addicted. It's difficult to find in Virginia, but I discovered two local bars/cafes that serve it! Also, if you go to Urban Farm, you have to try the Fire in the Hole shot. It's a combination of raw apple cider vinegar, locally-grown garlic, horseradish, ghost chili and habanero peppers, local wildflower honey, ginger, and turmeric. It's a shock to the system, that's for sure.

CAFES

The Crooked Mile: Located in Old Port, The Crooked Mile is a cute little cafe/sandwich shop that serves a bunch of speciality lattes. The barista created an apple pie latte just for me, since they were all out of apple cider. It was tasty!

Coffee By Design: I needed a jolt of caffeine before driving to Bar Harbor, so I stopped at Coffee By Design on my way out of Portland. This was, hands down, the best coffee I've ever had. I ordered a hazelnut cappuccino, and it was on point.

LIGHTHOUSES

Portland Head Light: This is one of the most famous/photographed lighthouses in the country. It's absolutely stunning. Words, and even pictures, don't do it justice.

Spring Point Ledge Light: I loved this lighthouse because there's a long, rocky jetty that leads out to the lighthouse. The view is so serene and beautiful. I honestly could have spent hours sitting on the rocks and taking pictures/reading/pondering life/all that good stuff.

Bug Light: This is another one of my favorites. I went in the morning and there was a pleasant foggy glow over the water, but I bet sunset would be beautiful there.

Rockland Breakwater Light: A friend suggested I stop here on the way to Bar Harbor, and I'm so glad I did. The jetty that leads to the lighthouse is half a mile long, and the water was surrounded by trees with gorgeous fall foliage. I only walked halfway to the lighthouse, but the view was breathtaking.

DAY TRIPS

Boston, Massachusetts: Boston is less than two hours from Portland, so I couldn't pass up the opportunity for a day trip. While there, I explored Beacon Hill and Acorn Street, ate a delicious lunch at Clover Food Lab, photographed massive, friendly squirrels at Boston Common, visited the Granary Burying Ground, ate pastries and drank coffee at Tatte Bakery, and walked around the Harvard University campus.

Portsmouth, New Hampshire: I stopped here on my drive to Boston, and it was such a quaint, charming little town. I only walked around the harbor and browsed some shops, but I would've liked more time to explore.

Kennebunkport/Ogunquit, Maine: These small towns are only 45 minutes from Portland. I drove through both on the way to Boston, and just like Portsmouth, I wish I had more time there. 

Bar Harbor, Maine: This was my favorite day trip. My main purpose in driving to Bar Harbor was to visit Acadia National Park, and it was one of the most beautiful places I've ever visited. Staring out over Jordan Pond was out-of-this-world surreal. And the sunset over Cadillac Mountain? A memory I'll never forget. {If you plan on driving from Portland to Bar Harbor, take Route 1. The views are incredible.)

Camden, Maine: This town is a must if you're planning on driving to Bar Harbor. It's often referred to as "The Jewel of the Maine Coast", and for good reason. If you drive up to Mt. Battie when fall foliage is thriving, you'll be met with an incredible, rich, orange-and-yellow view.

SHOPPING

L. L. Bean: If you visit Portland and you don't go to L.L. Bean, did you reallyyyyyyy visit? ;) But really, L.L. Bean is awesome. It's located in Freeport, about 20 minutes from Portland, and it's open 24/7. They have different stores for different things, like home goods, clothes, and hunting/fishing. The home store was my favorite. I wanted to buy everything.

Sherman's Book and Stationery: The front desk clerk at my hotel enthusiastically suggested I go here after I told her I love to read, and it was a fantastic tip. They had so many different books, cards, gifts, knick-knacks, and stationery. The book nerd in me was delighted.

Whole Foods: Okay, I know Whole Foods is not exclusive to Portland, but go here and pick up a bottle (or two) of Ram Island Chai Mead. Trust me. You won't regret it! I ended up buying bubble wrap and stuffing a few bottles in my suitcase for the flight home because I knew I wouldn't be able to find it in Virginia Beach.

There were a bunch of restaurants/breweries I wanted to visit while I was in Portland, but I just didn't have enough time. Guess that means I need to plan a trip this summer! And you should, too. Maine is freaking amazing.

Have you ever been to Portland? Do you have any additional suggestions?