What you should know before visiting St. Paul

Give Me The Mike received promotional consideration from Visit Saint Paul

Saint Paul, Minnesota may be the smaller twin of the Twin Cities, but it has a whole lot of charm and plenty to do. Here’s some advice for planning a trip to Minnesota’s capital city.

Getting there and getting around.

From Minneapolis-St.Paul International Airport, downtown Saint Paul is about a 10 minute Lyft or Uber ride away. You can take Metro Transit’s light rail (blue line to green line), but it would take you a really long time — like over an hour. It’s not worth it.

Once you’re in Saint Paul, Metro Transit’s green line can be really helpful. It runs from Union Depot in Lowertown all the way through Saint Paul into Minneapolis (it ends at Target Field on the west side of downtown Minneapolis). A non rush hour ride is only $2.

Metro Transit does operate a bus system, but you’re probably better off renting a car, especially if you want to explore the rest of the Twin Cities.

When to go.

Minnesota is cold about 9 months of the year.

So Saint Paul embraces it.

At the end of January, Saint Paul hosts a Winter Carnival. Every year, you can count on a big parade, ice sculptures and a snow park. The Winter Carnival has royalty and during some years, has built larger-than-life ice castles.

For multiple years, Saint Paul has also hosted Red Bull’s Crashed Ice, an extravagant course where professional dare devils go downhill skiing but on ice skates. It’s a spectacle.

I’m not a big fan of the cold and snow, but don’t automatically rule out a winter trip to Minnesota.

Now, there aren’t many places better than Minnesota in the summer. The sun stays up late and people know they need to embrace these summer nights. Downtown Saint Paul, in particular the area around Mears Park, has some great patios for dinner or a nightcap. Check out an evening baseball game at CHS Field since you’re in the neighborhood.

Where to stay.

Across from Rice Park in downtown Saint Paul is where you will find The Saint Paul Hotel. The luxurious hotel first opened in 1910 and offers top-notch amenities. Their restaurant, The St. Paul Grill, is great for brunch and is a popular spot before shows at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts or the Xcel Energy Center.

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Stay at a floating bed and breakfast on the Mississippi River!

I recently stayed at the Covington Inn, a floating bed and breakfast on the Mississippi River. The tug boat was converted into four rooms and is a perfect spot for a romantic getaway. It’s docked on Harriet Island, which is across the river from downtown Saint Paul. If you stay at the Covington in the winter, you definitely will want a car as it’s a considerable walk from downtown.

If you’re looking for something more conventional, hotels around Kellogg and West 7th Street will get you close to many bars and restaurants.

What to do.

Outside of downtown, here are some neighborhoods worth checking out:

  • Grand Avenue is full of restaurants and shops. On the first Sunday of June, they host Grand Old Day, a one-day street festival that draws upwards of 250,000 people. When you’re on Grand Avenue, check out accessory company J.W. Hulme.
  • Cathedral Hill is the area behind the Cathedral of Saint Paul, just west of downtown. It’s home to Moscow on the Hill, a spot voted as having one of the best patios in Minnesota.
Moscow on the Hill    Photo by Bre McGee
Moscow on the Hill has a hidden patio which happens to be one of the best in Minnesota. Photo by Bre McGee
  • Some may consider it downtown, but the West 7th neighborhood is definitely worth visiting. Starting at the edge of downtown Saint Paul, West 7th is full of bars, restaurants and coffee shops. It’s also home to Keg and Case West 7th Market, a collaboration of over two dozen Minnesota-based companies in an indoor market. It’s also home to In Bloom, an upscale restaurant without a conventional oven. Instead, they use wood fire to cook everything on their menu.

Here are other Saint Paul highlights:

Greetings from MN
The Minnesota History Center is well worth the visit, even if you’re not from Minnesota.

Top Saint Paul restaurants:

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Two of the five restaurants voted as serving the best Mexican food in Minnesota are located about three blocks from one another.

Before you head to Minnesota, make sure you know how to talk like a Minnesotan. Brush up on your Minnesota slang with this guide.

Get a guide of what you need to know before visiting Minneapolis by clicking here.

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What you should know before visiting Minneapolis

This article was updated in May 2019 with current information.

Minneapolis, the largest city in Minnesota, often gets overlooked. It’s considered ‘flyover worthy’ by some and ‘too cold’ by others.

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U.S. Bank Stadium hosted Super Bowl LII in 2018 and NCAA’s Final Four in 2019.

Despite the stereotypes, the city won bids to host big events. U.S. Bank Stadium hosted Super Bowl LII  in February 2018. ESPN’s X Games are repeatedly held in Minneapolis and the NCAA Final Four was here in April 2019. And you don’t get those big ticket events by just applying. You need to have culture.

As a native Minnesotan who has lived in Minneapolis proper for years, I have a list of tips you’ll want to know about the City of Lakes before you plan a trip.

It’s easy to get downtown Minneapolis from the airport.FullSizeRender 246.jpg

Your best and cheapest way to get from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to downtown Minneapolis is by light rail. Operated by Metro Transit, light rail trains run frequently throughout the day and most of the night. Currently, peak time rides cost just $2.50 one way; $2.00 outside of rush hour. You’ll be able to catch the train from either Terminal 1 or Terminal 2 at MSP. If you’re heading downtown, you will take the blue line train northbound.

Since I first published this article in 2017, car sharing services like Lyft and Uber finally figured out how to get travelers to and from the airport. A $6 airport surcharge is now gone. The queue for drivers waiting to be matched is closer to the arrivals doors than it previously was. The airport is adding signage so you can get to the car sharing pickup zone faster (note: it is a bit of a walk). At the zone itself, they created ‘Door A’ and ‘Door B’ to help spread things out. Typically, a ride from the airport to downtown Minneapolis in a Lyft will set you back around $20-25. Since the drivers have to wait off-site, secure your ride BEFORE you get close to the pickup zone. I hit confirm when I walk out of the gate area.

Hotels are quickly popping up in downtown Minneapolis.

Thanks to the Super Bowl, Minneapolis saw a boom of new construction, especially when it comes to hotels. The Hilton Minneapolis is the largest hotel in Minnesota and in 2017, finished a complete renovation to their lobby, resulting in a much improved, more open concept, dragging it out of the early 1990s.

For something more boutique, look at the Hewing Hotel, which opened late 2016. The former warehouse in the North Loop neighborhood has completely unique rooms with vibes of “the north.” From the patterns on the wallpaper to what you’ll find in the mini-fridge, the Hewing lives Minnesota luxury.

Like the Hewing, the Hotel Ivy is on the more luxurious end and gets high remarks.

I’ve had good luck at the DoubleTree Hotel in downtown Minneapolis, located just a block off of Nicollet Mall. Their rates are cheaper.

If you’re coming to town for something at the Minneapolis Convention Center, consider the Hilton, the Hyatt Regency or Hotel Ivy, as they’re all attached to the hotel by skyway (keep reading for more on these sidewalks in the sky).

Minneapolis and Saint Paul aren’t conjoined twins.

Saint Paul, Minnesota’s capital city, is separated from Minneapolis by the Mississippi River. However, if you’re planning a trip from downtown to downtown, it’s not a simple walk across a bridge. There’s a 12 mile trip by car, and a light rail trip will take over 45 minutes. However, don’t let that stop you from taking a trip over to the Capital city.

Never pay more than $6 for parking downtown Minneapolis weeknights or weekends.

I repeat this message to people who live in the Twin Cities, too. There’s a huge scam when it comes to what is being charged for parking downtown Minneapolis. If you’re headed downtown after 4:00 p.m. on a weekday or on a weekend, please don’t pay more than $6 to park. Seriously. You’ll frequently see event rates for $10 or $12. The $6 after 4:00 p.m. and all day weekend lots are located near 8th Street and LaSalle Avenue. Another ramp, attached to the Crown Plaza Hotel at 7th Street and 2nd Avenue, charged me $4 when I headed downtown for a Sunday evening dinner, and there happened to be a concert that evening at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Be on high alert with meters. Minneapolis meters run by zone. On one side of a street, meters might have a two hour limit, and on the other side, you can park there for eight hours. Some end at 6:00 p.m., others go until 10:00 p.m. If you are within a mile or so of U.S. Bank Stadium, you’ll hit meters following event parking rates. Right before I found that ramp for $4, I was at a meter asking me to pay $25 to park on the street.

Summers are epic. And in the best way possible.

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Mid-June to Labor Day is the perfect time to visit Minneapolis. The Twin Cities, along with surrounding suburbs, plan a plethora of outdoor events. A big highlight is the Minnesota State Fair, a 12 day event ending on Labor Day.

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Just a small dose of food from the Minnesota State Fair.

If you like to bike or run, check out The Grand Rounds Scenic Byway. Both Minneapolis and Saint Paul have their own routes, which take you along the river and through parks. (The Minneapolis route is much more established, so start there). Trails are well-marked, too.

And you can’t forget Minnesota is the “land of 10,000 lakes” (actually, there are 11,842 lakes which are 10 or more acres). Minneapolis is home to many lakes featuring beautiful views of the downtown skyline. Bde Maka Ska (Lake Calhoun) in the Uptown neighborhood is your best bet for time on the water, sunbathing, hammock-lounging and people watching.

Skyways are a blessing and a curse.

If you’re walking around on street level in downtown Minneapolis or Saint Paul and notice it’s a ghost town, look up. Both cities feature miles of skyways which shield Minnesotans from rain, snow and more importantly, cold. There’s another world on the skyway level, including businesses with second level locations you wouldn’t see from the outside (Starbucks, Chipotle, etc).

I love the skyways because they are a great way for downtown workers to leave their winter coats at their desks and walk three buildings over to get lunch. The biggest issue I have is that they’re not visitor-friendly, especially on the weekends. Downtown Minneapolis doesn’t regulate the skyways; the individual building owners do. The effect: they don’t have consistent hours — some don’t even open on Sundays. If you stay near the Convention Center, you’re fine, but don’t venture further north of the IDS Center.

During the 2016 Vikings season, the Minnesota Vikings and downtown businesses created a route spanning the skyways across downtown. The problem: not all the business owners caught that memo, meaning locked doors and a waste of time. I still don’t recommend the Vikings’ skyway route on game day as they haven’t figured it out.

Some Minneapolis business owners and citizens are calling for the end of the skyway. They claim it makes downtown look less populated. I’m not calling for their end, but they definitely need some regulation.

Looking for something to do when you’re in Minneapolis? Check out what’s happening at these venues:

Looking for a place to eat? Here are my best bets:

$$$ — make reservations for all these spots

$$ and $

If you need to plan a dinner in a private setting at a restaurant, check out my guide.

If you are planning a trip to both Twin Cities, get my guide on what you should know before visiting Saint Paul.

You’ll want to talk like a Minnesotan, and I don’t mean sounding like a character in Fargo. Get a list of Minnesota lingo here.

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Take Lyft and earn free SkyMiles on Delta

I’m a big fan of Delta’s SkyMiles program. The miles you earn never expire, and they can add up quick. I just used some to book a flight for a friend who ended up giving me cash for the ticket.

There are a few ways to earn SkyMiles points without having to hop on a plane. Delta has a dining program where you can get miles when you have a meal at select restaurants. Even better — they have a partnership with Lyft (the carshare service) that lets you earn miles for every ride you take.

I was on KSTP-TV’s Twin Cities Live to explain the Delta-Lyft partnership. I also share other travel hacks, including why you should take the first flight of the day.

Links featured in the segment:

Delta Lyft partnership

TSA PreCheck

Minneapolis St. Paul Airport Terminal Map

Exploring Sagrada Familia and La Rambla in Barcelona

October 2017 marked my third trip to Barcelona, Spain. For this excursion, I produced a series of stories for Twin Cities Live (KSTP-TV, ABC) showcasing the best of the Western Mediterranean.

On this journey, I was lucky to travel with three people who never experienced Barcelona before: Twin Cities Live co-host Steve Patterson, his wife, Lu, and Twin Cities Live photographer Seth Holst. Determining where I should take them was easy; there are some absolute musts to visit when in the Capital of Catalunya.

Watch this story Seth edited showcasing our visits to Sagrada Familia, Plaça de Catalunya and La Rambla.

Meeting the Barbary macaques in Gibraltar

I traveled with Twin Cities Live co-host Steve Patterson, photographer Seth, Steve’s wife, Lu, and 40 Twin Cities Live viewers on a 11-night Mediterranean cruise. It truly was the trip of a lifetime. One highlight was meeting the Barbary macaques in the British territory of Gibraltar. They get real friendly.

After watching the video, click here to read more about my overall thoughts of the territory of Gibraltar.

 

Wisconsin, Unplugged: “Water Meets the Soul” in Bayfield and on Madeline Island

First featured in Lavender Magazine
September 14, 2017

A summer’s weekend at your college friend’s parents’ cabin can be a blast. For starters, there’s sleeping six to a room, cooking your own meals, washing all those dishes…oh, and there’s no air conditioning.

Folks, it’s time to start a new tradition.

Bayfield, Wisconsin is four hours northeast of Minneapolis, and the drive along Lake Superior to get there is beautiful. Don’t let the town’s population of 487 and its total area of one square mile fool you. You’ll find amazing farm-to-table restaurants, nightlife, and plenty of ways to connect with nature. A short ferry ride away from Bayfield is Madeline Island, which is quickly becoming a hotspot for city slickers looking to get out of town.

This trip was a blessing in disguise for me. My phone struggled to get service, so by the end of my getaway, I forgot about my obligation to Facebook, and instead, was able to unplug and unwind.

If you haven’t ventured to northwest Wisconsin, you’re in for a treat. Here’s a roadmap for planning the perfect excursion.

Getting There

Going up Interstate 35 through Duluth means you’ll take Wisconsin’s Lake Superior Scenic Byway to Bayfield. It’s a simple drive, and the road was recently repaved, making for a smooth ride. If you head up after work, take a minute and pull over to snap a photo of the sun setting over the lake.

Despite Bayfield’s small population, there are plenty of options for finding a place to sleep. I got cozy in a lakeshore condo from the family-owned Winfield Inn and Gardens. Bayfield is not home to chain hotels. Instead, you can rent your own house or stay at a bed and breakfast to submerge yourself in local charm.

Not One, but Two Destinations

Bayfield is the starting point to the 22 Apostle Islands on Lake Superior, home to the largest collection of historic lighthouses in the nation. The biggest Apostle Island is Madeline Island, the only one with inhabitants. Vacations to Bayfield and La Pointe (the town on Madeline Island) go hand in hand.

When planning, determine if you want to head up to Madeline Island’s two parks, located side-by-side on the east side of the island. Big Bay Town Park is the better option for most; there’s no fee to get in. Both the Town Park and Big Bay State Park offer walking trails and beaches. Big Bay State Park is well-known for cliff jumping.

For those camping on Madeline Island, you’ll definitely want to take your car over on a ferry ride. The Madeline Island Ferry takes 20 minutes and it’s the only way for tourists to get from Bayfield to the island. To bring your car, you’ll pay $25 to go round-trip. That doesn’t include the $14 round-trip ticket cost per adult. Plan extra time to take the ferry—on the Saturday morning I headed over, I waited nearly 45 minutes on land before my car even boarded.

If you’re visiting Madeline Island for the day, you could forgo a car if you don’t want to visit the state or town parks. Madeline Island offers bike rentals, but be warned, the island is deceiving: it’s about the size of Manhattan. You’ll bike about six miles one-way from where the ferry drops off to arrive at the campgrounds and walking trails found at Big Bay Town Park and Big Bay State Park. All of Madeline Island’s restaurants, shops, and activities are within walking distance of the ferry dropoff.

If you took everything at your uncle’s garage sale and dumped it all out under a big top tent, you get Tom’s Burned Down Cafe.

When to Go

According to locals, September and October are the perfect months to travel to Bayfield and Madeline Island. Prices for overnight accommodations lower dramatically and it’s easier to find a place that fits your personality. Plus, because of their location on Lake Superior, temperatures stay more summer-like than other destinations in northern Minnesota or Wisconsin.

Come the first weekend of October, farms and vineyards in Bayfield’s “Fruit Loop” are producing a top-notch harvest; the city is the berry capital of Wisconsin. The town celebrates with the Bayfield Apple Festival, an event featuring an evening fish fry, live music, and a carnival.

Typically, the number of visitors dwindles quickly after mid-October. The two towns stay relatively quiet during the winter months; on average, Bayfield racks up 89 inches of snow. However, the Apostle Islands hosts an annual sled dog race in February and Bayfield turns into a jumping point for those looking to experience the ever-popular sea caves on Lake Superior if the ice cooperates.

The BLTE from The Fat Radish.

A Foodie’s Paradise

I had great meals in Bayfield and on Madeline Island. Don’t fuss with buying groceries and cooking in your condo. Instead, start with this list of restaurants.

The Fat Radish
200 Rittenhouse Avenue, Bayfield, WI
www.thefatradish.weebly.com

Pad out your schedule with extra time for a visit to The Fat Radish in the heart of Bayfield’s downtown. They stress they’re not a “food is cooked in seven minutes” type of restaurant; instead, items are made to order. In fact, that’s the vibe I got from all Bayfield and Madeline Island establishments. They’re on “island time” and it moves a bit slower. Your patience will pay off.

The Fat Radish’s BLTE showcases local bacon, lettuce, tomato, eggs and garlic aioli served on a ciabatta roll. It was a great way to start the day.

Farmhouse Madeline Island
858 Main Street, La Pointe, WI
www.farmhousemadelineisland.com

Farmhouse Madeline Island serves breakfast, brunch and lunch everyday until 3:00. [Edit: Their hours fluctuate through the year and in the fall, they are only open Thursday through Sunday. Check ahead.] Like The Fat Radish, Farmhouse focuses on local, organic, and sustainably sourced food. Gluten-free, vegan, and vegetarian options are prevalent on the menu. The owner suggests you get the Kimchi Rachel. Oh, and check out their Facebook page for evening pop-up dinners—they recently held a four-course ramen experience.

Owner of the (now closed) Madeline Island Bakery, Alyssa Larsen.

Madeline Island Bakery
101A Middle Road, La Pointe, WI
www.madelineislandbakery.com

I frequently check Google reviews before I visit businesses and restaurants in a new city. Typically, when a score is 4.2 to 4.7 (out of 5), it means the place is worth a visit. It’s rare I find spots that get anything above 4.7. Madeline Island Bakery has a perfect rating and it’s well deserving of the praise. From cookies to pies to coffee cake, everything owner Alyssa Larsen is baking in her teeny-tiny kitchen is top-notch. A must visit. [Edit: Be sure to get there before October 22, 2017 when the Madeline Island Bakery will be closing permanently.]

Shopping and More

Madeline Island Candles (LGBT owned)
219 Colonel Woods Avenue, La Pointe, WI
www.madelineislandcandles.com

After a kitchen experiment making candles soon took over their entire house, Michael Childers and his husband, Glenn, started a new chapter in their lives and opened a candle factory in La Pointe, Wisconsin in 2012. Their soy candles come in clean, well-styled packaging and make for great gifts. Their current shop, inside a historic home on Madeline Island, is one of the first spots you’ll see off the ferry. And if you can’t make the trip, their online store is booming.

Madeline Island Candles are now an obsession. I have three just in my bedroom.

Woods Hall Gallery and Studios
712 Main Street, La Pointe, WI
www.woodshallcraftshop.com

A small, yet hearty group of residents call Madeline Island home year-round. The boom in visitors over the summer keep them busy, with many working in the service industry. However, providing for themselves and their families during the off-season can be a struggle. Enter Woods Hall, an association of over 70 artisans. In the front on the building, visitors will experience a showroom with beautiful hand-loomed rugs and scarves, jewelry, pottery, and more. In back rooms and upstairs, locals are hard at work creating these stunning pieces. Residents pay a small fee to access the workrooms, which stay open year-round.

Tom’s Burned Down Cafe
274 Middle Road, La Pointe, WI
www.tomsburneddowncafe.com

Located in the middle of Madeline Island’s business district is something that looks like an old circus tent held together with road signs. That would be Tom’s Burned Down Cafe. The owners do not have a permanent structure on their land, so you could consider it more like the ultimate pop-up bar that’s always there. The foundation of this “bar” is made of junk automobiles (look close enough and you’ll see them). There’s no shortage of charm and quirkiness there. It’s definitely a spot you’ll want to visit at the end of the day for a drink and live music.

Local goods available at Bell Street Gallery on Madeline Island.

Other Spots in Bayfield and Madeline Island Worth Your Visit

Bayfield Inn
20 Rittenhouse Avenue, Bayfield, WI
www.bayfieldinn.com

Featuring a rooftop deck with live music, head there to witness a beautiful sunset over Lake Superior.

Bell Street Gallery
807 Bell Street, Bayfield, WI
www.bellstgallery.com

Walk inside to experience Wisconsin’s smallest bar and live music.

Dockside (LGBT owned)
190 Colonel Woods Avenue, La Pointe, WI
www.docksidegifts.com
Featuring gifts, housewares, and souvenirs.

Island Eats Food Truck
Located next to Bell Street Gallery
www.facebook.com/LSGHFoodtruck

Personal recommendation: get the whitefish tacos.

Look closely: the base of Tom’s Burned Down Cafe is made of junk cars.

Resources

Bayfield Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Bureau
www.bayfield.org

Bayfield Berry Farm and Orchard Report
www.bayfield.org/orchards
Updated twice weekly during the summer with berries and fruit available for picking at 15 farms and orchards.

Bayfield Wine & Spirits (LGBT owned)
13 South Second Street, Bayfield, WI
www.bayfieldwineandspirits.com

Madeline Island Chamber of Commerce
www.madelineisland.com

Madeline Island Vacations (LGBT owned)
852 Main Street, La Pointe, WI
www.madelineislandvacations.com

Featuring vacation lodging options.

The can’t-miss activity in New York City that won’t peg you as a tourist

The list of iconic, must-visit spots in New York City runs long: there’s Central Park and Times Square, of course. You can’t forget about The Stonewall Inn and a trip to Harold Square to see the world’s largest store (by the way, that Macy’s is big enough to keep THREE Starbucks in business). There’s no shortage of things to do.

So what do you choose to see in one trip?

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A last-minute suggestion of a ferry ride sounded cool, but I was worried it was expensive and would gobble up a lot of my three-day maiden voyage to the Big Apple. I was wrong.

This is the NYC Ferry.

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I hopped on the East River route, which runs from East 34th Street all the way down to Governors Island and Wall Street. Another route takes New Yorkers and tourists from Wall Street to South Brooklyn; and a third goes from the Financial District to Rockaway, a popular beach getaway. In 2018, they’re adding routes to and from the Lower East Side, Astoria and the Bronx.

The boat I boarded was really nice. It has two decks, including an enclosed lower level that’ll keep you cool and protect you from the wind. You’ll also find a bar serving beer and wine, plus they’re about to add WiFi on-board.

What shocked me the most: the price. A one-way ticket is just $2.75, the same cost as a ride on the subway. And it’s much cheaper than going to the top of a skyscraper like Rockefeller Center or the Empire State Building.

After spotting a long line to get a ticket, I used NYC Ferry’s phone app to buy a pass and could easily scan my credit card without any hassle. I’m glad I did; if I would have waited in line, I would have missed the boat.

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The views are breathtaking. I had a clear view of Midtown Manhattan and the River helped me take some awesome photos. I caught a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty and since I was on a weekend cruise, we stopped at Governors Island. And I soaked in some unique views, including a pass underneath the Brooklyn Bridge.

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The East River route will take you about 40 minutes for the one-way trip. Once you’re off, you’re within walking distance to the New York Stock Exchange and the famous Charging Bull (and Fearless Girl).

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Your ticket is valid for 90 minutes once your trip starts. The East River ferry makes six pit stops, so if you want to hop off at Governors Island and walk around, go ahead.

Tips if you take the NYC Ferry:

  • Sit on the top deck of the boat in the back to get the best skyline views.
  • Download and buy your ticket on the NYC Ferry phone app; it accepts credit cards and you’ll be able to skip the line to purchase a spot.
  • Traveling with kids? Measure them before you go. Kids 44″ and shorter ride for free when accompanied by an adult.
  • If you are biking around NYC, your bike is welcomed aboard, but does cost a $1 extra.

ASAPtown: Why a Trip to the Tip of Cape Cod is a Must

Originally printed in Lavender Magazine June 8, 2017

Provincetown, Massachusetts holds a pivotal part in America’s history. It was there that pilgrims made their first landing (yep, not Plymouth) back in 1620. In the 20th century, it served as a getaway for the LGBT community. Its role was to be a town where individuals could be themselves without judgement.

Today, Provincetown — commonly called Ptown — is a melting pot of all sexual orientations and cultures. And it’s hard to find another place like it. Here are my top ten tips for planning a perfect trip to the tip of Cape Cod.

Go between Labor Day and Halloween.

Provincetown is expensive. During peak season months of June through August, many hotels require a two- or three-night stay and cost hundreds of dollars.

To save cash, business owners recommend visiting between mid-September and Halloween. The cost of a hotel room drops considerably, and it’ll be easier for you to get a table for dinner. And bonus: it’s still warm.

Another option: New Year’s Eve. Efforts by Ptown community leaders to create buzz during the winter can’t be ignored, with special events and a handful of restaurants and bed and breakfasts open year-round. Ptown’s average high in December is 40-45 degrees, resulting in a warm(er) weather destination for Minnesotans. You’ll want to plan a New Year’s trip well in advance, as many places do close off-season.

If you’re looking for a summer getaway, check out the list of Ptown’s various themed weeks, ranging from a women of color festival in June to bear week in July. Many Provincetown residents told me the best week is their Pride celebration, Carnival. The mid-August event attracts nearly 90,000 visitors, which is quite impressive considering only 3,000 people live in Ptown year-round.

Your priority should be finding a place to sleep.

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Secret Garden Inn.

Bed and breakfast spots are common. I stayed at the Secret Garden Inn, located in the epicenter of Provincetown. It was my first B&B experience, and it was refreshing to have a quiet spot to recharge. The owners, Chip and his partner, David, start you off with breakfast (score!) and plenty of restaurant recommendations. And I quickly became acquainted with the other houseguests who were happy to give suggestions.

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8 Dyer.

Boutique hotels are scattered about, most with fewer than 40 rooms. 8 Dyer, located in Ptown’s East End, boasts a modern flair. See if you can get the corner room on the second level; it has a jacuzzi in the loft.

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The Brass Key.

The Brass Key was the swankiest of hotels I visited. It has a Palm Springs vibe, where outdoor courtyards are common. It would be easy to spend a whole day on the property.

If you’re traveling with a group, consider renting a condo or house. Airbnb and VRBO have options.

Noteworthy: there’s no way for you to use your HiltonHonors points to get a room in Provincetown. Chain stores, or “formula businesses” as they’re legally referred to, are banned. And it’s not just hotels: you won’t find chain restaurants or big-box retailers, either. The Ben & Jerry’s on Commercial Street was grandfathered in to the law.

When plotting where you want to stay, MacMillan Pier and the center of Ptown are located around 310 Commercial Street. Be aware that a block in Ptown is not like a block in your neighborhood. To get from 300 to 400 Commercial Street, it’s nearly a third of a mile. Most of the action is from 160 to 400 Commercial Street.

The bars close at 1 a.m., but the party doesn’t end then.

All bars in Ptown close at 1 a.m. but for those wanting to party past then, no worries.

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Spiritus Pizza is the epicenter of PTown after 1 a.m.

After bar close, you’ll find an overflow of people looking for a late-night slice at Spiritus Pizza, located near many of the gay bars. The slices are big and only a couple dollars. When the weather cooperates, the party moves out onto their front steps where people watching is prime.

And when I asked Ptown residents about the nightlife, multiple guys told me you’ll find an after party somewhere. They’re not publicized, so ask around.

Experience Ptown from (or near) the water.

The main drag in Ptown, Commercial Street, has plenty to offer, but don’t forget to head out and enjoy the beauty of Cape Cod.

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Art’s Dune Tours offers excursions on the Cape Cod National Seashore. Take the last tour of the day to experience stunning views of the sunset over the Atlantic.

A dune tour was a highlight of my trip. Art’s Dune Tours, an LGBT-owned company, has guided excursions out to the Cape Cod National Seashore for over 70 years. You’ll be part of a small group (up to eight) in an SUV with a tour guide who will point out the untouched beauty of the land, which was dedicated by President John F. Kennedy in 1961. The sunset tour is well worth the $49 fee. Your tour guide will pack you a camping chair and Mother Nature provides the entertainment. Make sure your phone is charged to capture the stunning views of sunset on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean.

When the water heats up, you’ll find kayak and paddleboard rentals along the shore. Explore on your own, take a guided tour, or join a class.

Another way to get out on the water: a whale watching tour. It was my first time going on one, and it was the most tourist-like activity I went on during this trip. The guide on the Dolphin Fleet was knowledgeable, but the path whales take is unpredictable, meaning it’s a risk as to whether you’ll see many whales and snap a photo of a humpback to make your Facebook friends envious. The $47 ticket price is steep for what I saw and the overall entertainment value.

Pack good walking shoes.

Virtually the last thing you need in Ptown is a car, because it’s incredibly easy to navigate the city by foot. Commercial Street is jam-packed with food, shopping, and bars for about a mile. Parking along Commercial is scarce and it’s a one-way, narrow street with lots of pedestrians.

Wooded bike trails connect the city to the National Seashore, so if you’re looking to head up there, a handful of businesses will rent you a bike for the day (check out Arnold’s Bikes located near the pier).

From Boston, it’s about a two-and-a-half hour drive to Ptown via US 6 (it runs from the end of Cape Cod all the way to the California coast). But driving is not recommended, noting traffic can be brutal, especially in the summer. The best bet: the Fast Ferry. Bay State Cruise Company offers 90-minute trips from Boston to Ptown multiple times a day during their season, which runs mid-May through mid-October. The $88 round-trip price is well worth avoiding the hassle of driving, and there’s a bar on-board.

Another way to travel to Provincetown: Cape Air. You’ll be able to board their small aircraft in Boston for the 20-minute flight. But be advised, a one-way ticket is commonly more expensive than a round-trip Fast Ferry.

Eat as much as you can.

The most common question when I got back from Provincetown was, “What did you eat?” From seafood to burgers, the locally owned, independent restaurants in Ptown offer a wide variety of food.

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The Lobster Pot is the most kitschy restaurant I dined at, but the food gets high remarks. Ask to sit on “the top of the pot” to get a panoramic view of the shore. Try the seafood fettuccine or the Portuguese fish (Portugal has an influence in Provincetown going back centuries).

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Strangers & Saints is a great option for late-night food and drink.

Strangers & Saints, located on the East End of Commercial Street, is where you’ll find Ptown’s locals after ending a work shift. Their craft cocktail list is impressive, many named after historic events in the city’s past. They serve food late-night, too, which isn’t common. The roasted eggplant with tahini sauce was a highlight.

On the West End, Cafe Heaven serves up a tasty lobster hash with poached eggs for breakfast.

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The Canteen was the most recommended spot I heard during my time in Provincetown. Next door, its sister property, Happy Camper, serves up ice cream and other treats.

Throughout the trip, I asked people where to eat, and kept getting the same answer: The Canteen. Owned by a former newspaper journalist, Rob, and his partner, Loic, the restaurant has a walk-up counter serving up lobster rolls receiving high praise. I had a fried oyster roll served on perfectly toasted thick-cut bread. Delicious. Hidden gem: take your food and eat behind the restaurant where you’ll find a communal table (you got to know it’s there because it’s hard to spot from the street). Loic is expanding that area (on the seashore, by the way) to include a fire pit and additional seating. In the winter, they turn it into a Christmas village.

And there are plenty of snacks up and down Commercial Street. Check out the Penny Patch; they’ve made fudge on-site for decades.

Pack for any situation. Seriously.

You’ll want to strategically plan for what you’ll wear. Definitely bring shoes you’re comfortable walking in. During the whale watching tour, I wished I had packed gloves, because I quickly found out it gets really cold when you’re cruising the Atlantic at 23 miles per hour. For the sunset dune tour, I was glad I grabbed a sweatshirt and would have enjoyed a fourth layer.

Bring cash. Lots of cash.

I hate paying additional ATM fees. My bank already charges me, so when an independent ATM wants me to pay another $3, I get bitter. From what I noticed, Bank of America is the only national bank with an ATM along Commercial Street. My advice: bring cash, and take out more than you think you’ll need. Ptown is becoming increasingly expensive, and since it operates as a seasonal destination, you’ll find places operating cash-only.

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Ptown’s version of a happy hour: Tea Dance at the Boatslip.

Explore the gay nightlife.

Provincetown is a thriving culture for the gay community.

The Crown & Anchor boasts a hotel, restaurant, cabaret, and various bars. It’s home to Miss Richfield 1981 during the summer and draws plenty of big acts including Leslie Jordan and Margaret Cho.

The Boatslip Beach Club is home to Tea Dance, a daily outdoor dance party right on the oceanfront. It’s definitely worth paying cover to get in.

The Atlantic House (or A-House) claims to be one of the oldest gay bars in America. Late night, their Little Bar opens up to become a full dance floor. Upstairs is the Macho Bar, a leather-friendly spot. Heads up: the A-House is cash only.

The Gifford House, known as The Porch Bar, is an oasis for locals and is home to a piano bar.

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Say hello to strangers.

Remember those who live in Provincetown are the ones serving your dinner and also the same people dancing next to you at A-House. Be friendly and introduce yourself. I received my best recommendations from them.

Commercial Street is perfect for people watching. If you’re looking to mingle, take your eyes off your phone and make eye contact with passersby. Chances are you’ll see them again, and you never know how the night will end.

4 essentials to pack for your next vacation

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I have traveled by myself, in a 15-passenger van on a youth mission trip and as a chaperone of elementary kids on a tour overseas. With every trip, my packing list gets more and more defined. Here are four items I can’t forget in my suitcase.

I wouldn’t know what to do without a portable phone charger. But the free ones you might get as promotional items don’t cut it. You need to invest. My brand pick is Limefuel, and I have used them for years.

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Limefuel Blast charger.

Their Blast charger can charge up to four items at once and its own battery can last for days. I usually get my iPhone 7+ charged from 0 to 100% twice before having to recharge the Limefuel battery.

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Limefuel Rugged charger.

I also own their Rugged charger, which has two ports, but is very durable. The USB port has a snap cover to prevent the ports from getting dirt or water inside when they’re not in use. It’s great is you’re camping or like me, are hard on items.

Limefuel products do not accommodate laptops, but can juice up tablets, phones, digital cameras and gaming devices.

The oontZ Angle 2 Speaker (on sale for $32.99 on Amazon)

I received an oontZ speaker as a gift a few years ago because I was taking my phone from room to room in order to hear what I was playing off of my phone. The oontZ hooks up via Bluetooth and it can get pretty loud. It also is waterproof, which was helpful after a buddy of mine dropped mine in a hot tub in Palm Springs. The oontZ speakers are small, easily portable, and can hold a charge for a while. Beyond traveling, they’re perfect for backyard parties and days at the beach.

The three-pack of Tide To Go pens are lifesavers.

This pick isn’t the most revolutionary, but Tide To Go sticks are in my suitcase, backpack and fanny pack — just kidding on the last one, but seriously, I stock up on every trip. They don’t dry out and do not leave a ring like Shout Wipes do. There’s always a sticker shock when I see how much a three-pack costs, but it’s well worth it.

 

2.5 gallon resealable bags will change how you deal with dirty laundry while traveling.

 

Okay, plastic bags aren’t fun electronics, either, but they come in handy.

When I was a member of the Minnesota Boychoir, we had choirboys pack their clothes in 2.5 gallon-sized bags. They would put their underwear, socks, and specific uniform items for the day in the bag, compress the air out, and seal it up. Then you could label the bag with the date (and a note from mom and dad). Bonus: when the day was over and the clothes were stinky, the socks and underwear could go right back in the Ziploc bag to prevent suitcases from getting stinky. And since everything is compressed, it saves room in the suitcase, too. Here’s their video tutorial teaching boys how to pack (it’s entertaining).

Today, I use Ziploc bags to hold receipts and loose change — before, they were all over the place between pants pockets, my backpack and suitcase. And obviously they’re good for storing anything that’s liquid (I once had sunscreen explode in my bag on my way home from Guatemala and had to be pulled aside…a somewhat nerve-wracking moment considering I had no clue the sunscreen exploded and I was getting called by gate agents).

Do you have an item you can’t travel without? Let me know!

The more you know: None of the items featured on this page paid me to talk about them. However, I do benefit financially when you click some of the links on this page.

It’s not scary to travel alone

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Eating lunch alone in the cafeteria is a fear middle schoolers everywhere face. And frankly, it’s nerve-wracking for many adults, myself included.

I’m sure the eighth grader in me would disagree with this, but it’s okay to eat alone. Who cares what others in the restaurant think. Chances are you’ll never see them again. And along the same line, it’s just fine to travel alone. It challenges your comfort zone and as I’ve found out, it is a great way to escape from it all.

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Pro tip for traveling solo: jump in on a group activity. I joined a whale watching tour off the coast of Cape Cod in May 2017.

I’ve taken two solo trips in the last year or so. One, a week to Phoenix, Arizona; the other, a three-night media trip to Provincetown, Massachusetts. And I’ll do it again. Here’s advice on making sure you make the most of your solo adventure.

Eating and nightlife

  • Not every meal needs to be at a sit-down restaurant. For my week in Phoenix, I stayed in a townhouse rental with a full kitchen. My first stop was to Trader Joe’s for groceries. I had breakfast at the house before taking off for the day.
  • Use Facebook to your advantage. For my Arizona trip, I looked up to see which friends lived in the area and was surprised with the number of results. I messaged them and booked meals so we could catch up in person. They loved showing me the city they lived in.
  • If you’re gay, use Grindr or Scruff to your advantage. In Provincetown, I changed my name to ‘visiting’ and received messages from many curious guys. You can use those apps for whatever you’d like, but I’ve found them great for getting dinner and nightlife recommendations from locals (whether you’re single or traveling as a couple or with friends). After chatting with one local for a while, we met up for a drink and it turned into a great night.
  • If you want to check out a restaurant, pull a chair up to the bar. Bartenders and the wait staff will strike up a conversation with you (just don’t have your face buried in your phone the entire time). It’s a great alternative to taking a table for two and looking like your date flaked on you. Another good option: seek out restaurants with communal tables.
  • You don’t need to go out every night. It’s just fine to buy a pint of ice cream and watch a made for TV movie in your room.

Overnight accommodations

  • To avoid lonely nights in a hotel room, stay at a bed and breakfast. Based on my experience in Provincetown, the owners will make an effort to get to know you and they have plenty of recommendations for what to do. Plus, you get breakfast, too, which helps knock out another meal by yourself.
  • In the same line, book a place to sleep through Airbnb. Look for a place where the owners most likely will be home or if they have a shared commons. If you can’t tell in advance, ask.

Activities

  • Look for small group activities and tag along. In Provincetown, I joined a small group on a dune tour of the Cape Cod National Seashore. There were five of us in a Chevrolet and thanks to our guide striking up conversation, we all got to know each other, finding out we were from different parts of the world (one person was from Japan). Lo and behold, the next day, one of the people in my tour group spotted me and came up to chat.

Flying and ground travel

  • It can actually be a perk to fly alone. Depending on the airline and if your timeline allows, ask to get bumped and you could cash in big. Helpful tips: don’t check a bag and make sure to tell the gate agent you’re willing to get bumped about an hour before you board. Check out more advice, including what you will need to negotiate before giving up your seat, from the team at The Voyage Report (scroll down towards the end of the article).
  • Plan in advance for how you’ll get around. The time of the day can make a difference. Safety does become a concern when you’re traveling by yourself. Make sure you have a sense of your surroundings.

Other advice

  • Pack that book you’ve wanted to read for a while but just haven’t had the time. Guess what: you’re traveling alone and can do whatever you want!
  • Make a goal to be extra friendly. Strike up conversation with retail workers, bartenders and passersby. Chances are you’re not the only one traveling alone in the city you visit. You might meet a new travel buddy!
  • Take lots of photos! Since no one will hold you back, you’ll be able to accomplish and see a lot. If you run into some of that awkward alone time in public, take a minute to scroll through (and edit) the photos you’ve taken.
  • Going abroad? Learn simple phrases in the local language. It’s the effort that counts.
  • Do plenty of research beforehand. Get recommendations from friends and travel blogs for places to eat (don’t forget about a good coffeeshop), museums, activities and sightseeing. Having a packed itinerary will keep you busy and will help you forget you’re traveling solo.