Norfolk, VA [Travel Guide]

I've (almost) officially lived in Norfolk, Virginia for one glorious year. To celebrate, I compiled a travel guide with all my favorite restaurants, cafes, and things to do in town!

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FOOD

BREAKFAST

Yorgo's: If you're looking for top notch bagels or vegan breakfast items, you need to go here. Do yourself a favor and order The Peterman, a tofu egg scramble with hash browns, vegan sausage, daiya cheese and red onion. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

Fruitive: I love Fruitive's juices and smoothies, but they also have delicious superberry bowls, supergrain oatmeal bowls, and gluten-free waffles.

For sweet potato biscuit sandwiches, check out Handsome Biscuit. For a farm-to-table brunch experience, check out Commune.

LUNCH

Zeke's Beans and Bowls: Poke bowls and acai bowls and cold pressed juices, galore! I'm obsessed with Zeke's. The PB&J acai bowl is my typical order (with watermelon juice), but you can't go wrong with anything on the menu.

Jack Brown's: If you're looking for a unique burger, Jack Brown's is the place to go. They offer a huge variety of beer (both bottled and on tap) along with some very interesting burgers. My personal favorite is the Greg Brady, which comes loaded with macaroni and cheese, crushed barbecue chips, and their special house sauce. For an extra bang, add bacon. And if you really feel like having a heart attack, order a fried oreo for dessert. (80/20 is another phenomenal burger bar in the area.)

Grilled Cheese Bistro: This place is more popular than ever now that it's been featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Their grilled cheese sandwiches are incredible (they offer vegan cheese and gluten-free bread, too!), and their truffle french fries are just as divine.

For traditional sandwiches, check out Pendulum Fine Meats and Taste Unlimited.

DINNER

Orapax: My hunt for savory gluten-free/vegan pizza finally ended with Orapax, and I wasn't disappointed. Their pizza is incredible. They also have traditional Greek dishes, like gyros, dolmades, spanakopita, and hummus. SO GOOD.

Leone's: Jared and I went here for some authentic Italian food, and man oh man, it was divine. The cook is from Italy, and each dish is prepared fresh, from scratch. They also offered gluten-free options, which was great. If the weather is nice, request a table on the rooftop patio.

Press 626: This wine bar in the wonderful Ghent neighborhood has an intimate atmosphere, and the food is delicious (their truffle fries are my favorite). The menu changes on a seasonal basis, but they consistently use fresh, local ingredients. Press is an ideal date night restaurant, and when the weather is nice, make sure snag a table on their small front porch.

For an upscale dining experience, check out Nouvelle, Omar's Carriage House, LeGrand, and Voila.

DRINKS

The Birch: One of the main reasons I love The Birch is because they serve mead. I LOVE MEAD. It's tasty. They also have a ton of craft beer, cider, and beautiful charcuterie boards...and the atmosphere is so warm and cozy. I dig it.

Mermaid Winery: This charming little winery offers wine flights, cheese platters, and delicious entrees. The baked brie is UNREAL.

For fancy cocktails, check out Saint Germain. For rooftop drinks, check out Grain. For craft beer, check out O'Connor, Benchtop, and Coelocanth.

CAFES

Cure Coffeehouse: Good coffee is truly the way to my heart, even though I can't drink it on a regular basis. I love Cure's location in Freemason, and the vibe is on-point when I need to get work done. They also have great food. (Afterwards, head over to Hummingbird for some French macarons!)

Cold Pressed: This place has incredible superfood lattes. The matcha latte is my favorite, but I'm slowly working my way down the menu...I need to try everything! They also serve cold-pressed juices, smoothies, immunity shots, and a variety of awesome food.

Cafe Stella: Stella has great coffee and food (the brown rice salmon bowl is my go-to order!), but my favorite part of this cafe is the warm ambiance. I love sitting outside when the weather is nice.

For dessert-style lattes, check out Fair Grounds (I'm obsessed with their hazelnut almond milk latte).

THINGS TO DO

Catch the sunset. If you want a killer view of the sunset, go to Pagoda Garden or Plum Point Park. From these vantage points, you can watch the sky morph into beautiful shades of pink, orange, and red. There's something about a good sunset that makes me feel hella lucky to be alive.

See a concert at The Norva. The Norva was voted one of the best music venues in the country in 2014, and for good reason. The venue is small and intimate, and their lineup is consistently fantastic. I've seen dozens of shows here, but my favorites so far have been Grouplove, Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, Passion Pit, Foster The People, The Shins, and Jon Bellion.

Visit the Chrysler Museum of Art. I'm not a huge art fanatic, but there's something so calming and peaceful about walking around art museums. I've seen some pretty cool exhibits at the Chrysler. They currently have a "First 100 Years at NASA Langley" exhibit that I'm dying to go see.

Take a walk around Town Point Park. When the weather is nice, I love strolling around Town Point Park. It's right on the water, and the saltwater breeze is so relaxing. In the summer, live music events are held here (I saw The Revivalists last year!). 

Go shopping along Colley Ave. There are so many cute boutiques on Colley! A. Dodson's, Le Marche, and Bridget's are some of my favorites.

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Hot Springs, Virginia

When my boyfriend, Jared, found out he was deploying right before the autumn and winter holidays, our first thought was: road trip! (Well, my first thought was, "DON'T LEAVE ME!", but the shock eventually subsided.) He was lucky enough to get some time off before he left, so we decided to spend a long weekend in the mountains. 

Our drive to Hot Springs was lovely. After getting off the interstate near Staunton, we drove through winding roads overlooking green pastures and lush mountains. Our journey took over an hour, and the landscape was stunning. When we arrived to our AirBnB, we were delighted by the quaint decor and the breathtaking scenery right outside our bedroom window. It was a breath of fresh air (literally!) to have four relaxing days together, without any interruptions or obligations.

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Hot Springs is right smack dab in the middle of the Allegheny Mountains. It's a tiny town (population: 738), and the "downtown area" is comprised of a few small buildings that line a single street. There are only a few restaurants in town, and the nearest major grocery store is an hour away. Barns and farm animals are abundant, and cell phone reception is spotty. Basically, it was an excellent escape from real life.

Our time in Hot Springs was a perfect mixture of crisp mountain air, refreshing nature, rich history, and a feeling of peaceful contentedness I haven't felt in a long time. We soaked in the ancient mineral waters of the Jefferson Pools, hiked Bear Loop Trail (which is located right near Ingalls Field Airport, the highest airport East of the Mississippi), took pictures at Lake Moomaw, absorbed the breathtaking view of Falling Springs waterfall, explored the historic Omni Homestead (where 24 U.S. Presidents have stayed), watched the sunset on Deerlick Trail, and had a delicious, romantic dinner at Waterwheel Restaurant (which served as a flour mill from 1900 to 1970). It felt like a dream, honestly...from the small herd of deer that timidly approached us while we were hiking, to the bright pink sunset that we pulled over to photograph after jumping up and down in a tiny food market because they carried gluten-free bread (it's the little things, guys).

And it wouldn't be a true travel experience without a few epic fails. We got lost af on the way to Lake Moomaw, missed a turn on Bear Loop Trail and walked two extra miles in the wrong direction, and became hangry on multiple occasions. But overall, the trip was a success. It was our first experience traveling together, and we had a wonderful time.

P.S. Shout-out to Jared for driving to a gas station at midnight to buy me chocolate because I told him I was craving some while I was half asleep, hahah. When he got back, I woke up to eat my Milky Way...and then I passed right out again. I love him (and miss him) so much, and I love our adventures together. I can't wait for him to come home.

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From Seattle to Virginia Beach

Hello, friends! It's been awhile. I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season. I can't believe it's already 2015.

I thought I'd pop in and tell you guys what I'm up to these days!

Back in August, I moved to Seattle. It was a dream come true. I had always wanted to live in a big city, and Seattle fit the bill perfectly. I had several incredible adventures on the West Coast. However, I decided to move back to Virginia in December. Living in Washington was a great experience, but it was always temporary. My gut told me Seattle was a short stop on my long and winding journey, instead of the final destination. So, I packed up my belongings (again), booked a one-way plane ticket, and arrived back in my hometown right before Christmas.

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Now that I'm back in Virginia, life is good! As far as travel plans, Kyle and I are traveling to the Bahamas on his spring break in March. I don't have a camera right now, so I probably won't post about our vacation...but I figure that will just give me more time to relax, rejuvenate, and refresh my soul.

I hope you all are well, wonderful, and happy! 

xo, Shelby

Harrisonburg, Virginia

Harrisonburg holds a very special place in my heart. When I first stepped foot on the James Madison University campus as a college freshman, I was skeptical of the city's small town charm. The four hour drive to school, laden with rural scenery and empty fields, slightly worried me. Interstate 81 held acres of farmland, herds of cows and rolling mountains. Deer were scattered along the side of the highway. Semi-trucks thundered down the road, and every exit seemed to lead to the middle of nowhere. It wasn't very enticing. I became so disheartened that I considered transferring to a different university after fall semester. I decided to give it another shot, however, which turned out to be the best decision I've ever made. Three years later, when I walked across the stage at graduation in my purple cap and gown, Harrisonburg had morphed into my home.

Being a college freshman was hard. I wasn't allowed to bring my car to school, which limited my ability to explore - something I really loved to do. Fortunately, sophomore year presented freedom. I moved into an apartment off-campus and returned in the fall with a trusty set of wheels. Along with transportation came glorious convenience. I finally realized small towns can hold just as many opportunities for adventure as big cities do, especially when you have a way to get around. I used this fact to my advantage and began to explore all that Harrisonburg had to offer.

One of my first discoveries was Downtown Harrisonburg. I quickly grew enamored with its large variety of small cafes, clothing shops and rowdy bars. The area was small but incredibly charming. Some noteworthy local favorites were: The Artful Dodger for a cup of coffee, Jack Brown's on a Friday night for their mind-blowing Greg Brady burger, and Clementine Cafe for live music and cocktails. The area was cozy and quirky and beautiful, especially when the leaves started changing colors in the fall. And when it snowed? Don't even get me started. My apartment was located a short drive from the area, which I loved.

My second discovery was Harrisonburg's close proximity to several unique landscapes. The most memorable was Skyline Drive in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Michael and I spent weekend after weekend driving through the narrow mountain roads, admiring the skyline at every overlook and eating lunch at various campsites. We also managed to visit the Natural Chimneys, Lake Shenandoah, the Natural Bridge, and Reddish Knob. In addition, Charlottesville and Washington D.C. were close enough to visit frequently. We traveled around the state of Virginia often, exploring various cities and constantly researching new places to see.

The best discovery of all, however, took place throughout the duration of my three years in Harrisonburg. I discovered the beauty in simplicity. I discovered that in order to be happy, you must bloom where you are planted. I discovered how deeply I had fallen in love with JMU's gorgeous campus. The bluestone academic buildings, the newly renovated football stadium, the train that regularly rolled through campus, Open Mic nights at TDU, the phenomenal dining halls (they're ranked #2 in the nation!), East Campus Library, and the picturesque Quad. It felt like home. It was home. I couldn't imagine being anywhere else. 

Even more important than my surroundings were the amazing friendships that developed. My roommates felt like sisters, and my capacity to meet new people soared. JMU's remarkably friendly environment drew me out of my shell, and by senior year, I found myself participating in activities I never would've imagined when I was a timid freshman. JMU taught me how to learn and how to love, but best of all, JMU taught me how to feel alive. 

During my college career, my passion for adventure amplified. I learned how to explore when opportunities for exploration seemed scarce. I learned how to adjust to a new city with new people, and I fought through inconceivable difficulties before emerging victoriously on the other side. I learned how to nurture lifelong friendships and create new ones from scratch. I learned how to care for myself while simultaneously caring for others. I went through an incredible period of growth, one that changed my life forever. I have Harrisonburg, and JMU in particular, to thank for that.