Exploring American History in Philadelphia - The Outside & In

As I mentioned in the post outlining our itinerary in Washington D.C., part of the vacation involved taking the train to Philadelphia. Since the boys had a) never been on a train before or b) ever been to Philadelphia, we decided to include it as part of our American History trip. Amtrak’s Northeast Regional train makes exploring the cities in the Northeast so easy. The train ride from D.C. to Philadelphia was just two hours and seamless! What a difference from air travel.

Knowing we only had 2 nights in Philadelphia, we really focused in on seeing what we could in the “Old City”, which has all the historic sites in a very small area. Clearly, Philadelphia has a lot more to offer as a bustling and thriving city. But we knew we couldn’t see all of the city, so we wanted to make the most of the time we had.

Exploring American History in Philadelphia - The Outside & In

Taking the train at Union Station in D.C.

Along with New York and Boston, Philadelphia is one of the key places to explore the United States’ early history. Philadelphia was the meeting place for the first and second Continental Congress. The place where Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. Benjamin Franklin’s hometown. The location of the first (two) presidents’ residence before the White House was finished. For a family immersed in Revolutionary History, stopping here felt like diving into a treasure trove of history.

Exploring American History in Philadelphia - The Outside & In

Independence Hall

Where We Stayed:

One of the best (unwitting) moves we made was our hotel. We stayed at the Kimpton Hotel Monaco which basically was catty-cornered from Independence Hall. The view from our hotel room window was the bell tower of Independence Hall which was so cool. We were definitely in the middle of everything we wanted to see. There were historic buildings surrounding the hotel in every direction within a 2 block radius. I would like to say that I chose the hotel after much planning and researching, but it was really just luck. We knew we wanted to stay at a Kimpton property, and just picked this one. I would definitely recommend anyone interested in visiting the historic sites of Philadelphia to stay here.

Exploring American History in Philadelphia - The Outside & In

Dark picture in the room but … can you see Independence Hall out the window?

Now on to the highlights of what we did. I will leave out the parts when we hung out at the Rittenhouse Barnes & Noble and the boys went to the Apple Store while I shopped, because, that’s pretty much standard on all our vacations.

The Constitutional Walking Tour

Since we only had 2 nights and one full day in Philadelphia, we chose to book a Constitutional Walking Tour versus visiting all dozen or so historic sites separately. This 75-minute guided walking tour stopped at a dozen or so historic sites in Old City. Places like the house where Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence and the site of the first president’s residence (before the White House was completed). If you have more time, then you could visit each individual site and get a full tour of each. But for a quick highlights tour, the Constitutional Walking Tour was perfect.

Our particular tour only had one other person, which made it very personalized and interesting. I love being in a small group! We stopped at each site for about 5 minutes to learn about the location and the historical context around it. The boys (ages 8 and 9) did really great at being engaged throughout. I don’t think it hurts that I offered them $5 for the gift store if they could answer my post-tour quiz ūüôā Anything for a souvenir.

Exploring American History in Philadelphia - The Outside & In

Museum of the American Revolution

Hands down, this Museum of the American Revolution was our favorite from our visit to Philadelphia, and maybe one of the top places we visited on our whole trip. The museum had just recently opened a few weeks prior to our arrival. We passed it during the Constitutional Walking tour and the guide highly recommended it, so we decided to give it a try. I’m so glad we did.

The Museum of the American Revolution is the perfect size. Not too big or overwhelming, so you can actually experience the museum in one visit. Being that it is brand new, every exhibit was not only informative, but state-of-the-art. The museum gift shop was beautiful and very well edited with their selection of interesting books, toys and souvenirs. What can I say? The boys are not the only ones who love a good museum gift shop ūüôā

The highlight of the museum comes at the very end in a theater where we watched a film about George Washington during the war. For seven years, his residence was a tent where he planned attacks, wrote letters to congress, and basically did everything. The movie brings to light how difficult life on the battlefield was for all of them. The tent really represented Washington’s camaraderie with his troops since he never left their side. As the movie winds down and the screen darkens, George Washington’s actual tent is up-lit from behind. They have his actual Revolutionary War tent set up behind the moviescreen. Can you say goosebumps?

Exploring American History in Philadelphia - The Outside & In

Super happy with the museum

Exploring American History in Philadelphia - The Outside & In

Museum of the American Revolution – amazing!

Spruce Street Harbour Park

A couple different people had mentioned this waterfront park as a good place to kick back & relax. I would definitely recommend it as a pitstop if you go to Philadelphia as well. One unique feature to this park is the dozens of rope hammocks hanging from the trees. They are bright, colorful and filled with people lounging all around. The park also has plenty of food and drink vendors, plus outdoor games to keep everyone entertained. While we left before it got dark, you can see there are colorful lights hanging from the trees that would look really cool at night.

Exploring American History in Philadelphia - The Outside & In

Spruce Street Harbor Park

Reading Terminal Market

Pretty much anything you read about Philadelphia recommends eating a cheesesteak and going to Reading Terminal Market. Even the girl at the Philly Madewell store told me we had to go.

I imagined Reading Terminal Market to be like Chelsea Market in New York, the Ferry Building Marketplace in San Francisco or Krog Street Market in Atlanta. All of which I love. And it was…kind of. A big space jam-packed with a plethora of food vendors.

I know I will be in the minority when saying this, but I didn’t really love it. There were a lot of pastries, donuts, egg dishes (we were there for breakfast), but none of it seemed special in any way. I am sure they tasted good (like all things fried and sugar filled do), but it just wasn’t my cup of tea.¬†So take that opinion for what it is worth. There’s a good chance you would love it if you went. I guess it depends on what types of food you like.

Crispy brussels sprouts with mango and peanut sauce

Bar Bombóm

I will share a place that was right up our alley that all four of us really enjoyed, and that is Bar Bombóm. Part corner bar, part restaurant, this place had a great little atmosphere.

Bar Bombóm takes Latin favorites and transforms them using all plant-based, organic ingredients. We ordered quite a few different things and we all left happy. Brian ordered the Buffalo Cauliflower tacos and gave them two thumbs up. That is saying a lot from someone who is obsessed with pork tacos. I ordered the crispy brussels sprouts with the peanut sauce in the picture above. Yum!

Exploring American History in Philadelphia - The Outside & In

Good ol’ Ben Franklin.

After a quick 48-hours, our visit to Philadelphia was over and it was time to say take the train back to Washington D.C. Despite losing some days from our time in D.C., we really enjoyed exploring Philly for the first time. Imagining Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, George Washington and John Adams walking the same streets we were walking was surreal.

If you have never been to Philadelphia, I highly encourage you to visit. Especially if you have any interest in the founding fathers or the early days of the United States. Next time we visit we will surely explore other parts of Philadelphia.

Have you been to Old City in Philadelphia? What did you enjoy the most?

Click HERE To read more about our time in D.C.

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6 Days in Washington D.C. with Kids - The Outside & In

We recently got back from our family’s summer vacation: a week in Washington D.C. and Philadelphia. Our boys are 8 and 9 years old, so we are finally at the age where they can start appreciating a visit like this. If you have considered taking your school-age kids to visit D.C., I would definitely encourage you to make it happen.

There is so much to do in Washington D.C. Although we spent 6 days in D.C. and 2 in Philadelphia, we could have easily spent the whole time in D.C. – and then some.

I hope this rundown of what we saw and did will help you with your plans.

6 Days in Washington D.C. with Kids - The Outside & In

How We Chose Washington D.C.

This trip originally started several months ago as an idea to do an “American history” vacation which would include taking a train between Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. I loved the idea of walking the footsteps of our nation’s creation with each stop. However, once we started sketching out the timeline of how long this trip was going to take, reality set in. It was adding up to about¬†3 weeks and a very large budget. So, we decided to narrow it down to just Washington D.C. & Philadelphia (for now).¬†We will have to save the New York and Boston parts of the trip for ¬†the near future.

Here’s how our 7 nights broke down:¬†Our first 3 nights were in Washington D.C. Then we took an Amtrak train to Philadelphia for 2 nights. I will do a separate post on Philadelphia soon. Our final 2 nights were back in D.C. So we spent a good 6 solid days in Washington D.C. We all left grateful for the experience, but craving to come back again soon.

6 Days in Washington D.C. with Kids - The Outside & In

How We Prepared:

One of the things I feel strongly about before taking our kids to a popular destinations is to make sure they have a context for what they will be experiencing & seeing. For us, we hoped this trip to be a living American history experience in addition to some fun downtime as a family.

I wanted the kids to go into our visit to Washington D.C. (and Philadelphia) with a good primer in American history. In the months leading up to our visit, I did a bunch of searches to get tips on books we could read and movies we could watch that in some way tied in with historic America. Before you envision these kids sitting in a chair listening to a lecture, you can go ahead and erase that from your mind. I’m talking things like watching Night at the Museum 2 and listening to the Hamilton soundtrack. I will do a separate post on what we found and liked in case you are interested.

I also kept a handy dandy “Let’s Go To DC”¬†board on Pinterest with any interesting tidbits of information I came across on the web. Most articles about DC seemed to cover¬†a lot of the same sights and information. I think it’s because there is so much to do on the beaten path, that unless you live there or plan on visiting for at least a month, you will unlikely be getting off of it.

What We Did (+ Tips):

Ford’s Theatre – Ford’s Theatre lives in infamy as the place our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, was shot. The theatre is run by the National Park Service and does not charge and admission fee, but you do need to reserve a timeslot to go in. Once you are seated in the theatre, the Ranger gives a quick talk about the events of that evening. After that, you can walk across the street and visit the house where Lincoln died the next morning. Being so used to the “untouchability” of our current presidents, it is so hard to fathom a time when president’s just showed up to a theatre of 1,000+ people with just one random bodyguard.

Tip: There are tons of great dining options in this area. Plan to eat at one of the great restuarants in the area before or after your Ford’s Theatre visit.

6 Days in Washington D.C. with Kids - The Outside & In

6 Days in Washington D.C. with Kids - The Outside & In

Inside Ford’s Theater

Lincoln’s Assassination Tour – Upon my sister’s recommendation, we booked this¬†free (gratuity-only) walking tour the same¬†evening¬†we visited¬†Ford’s Theatre. I would highly recommend it to you as well. On the tour, we followed the footsteps of Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth, on the day of he killed the president. Over the 75 minute walk, our tour guide painted a vivid picture of the events of that fateful day.

Tip: Sign up for the tour on the same day as your visit to Ford’s theatre to get the full “Lincoln” experience.

Smithsonian Air and Space Museum¬†–¬†Despite there being 19 different Smithsonian Galleries, we knew we would have to select just a couple to visit on this trip and leave the rest for future visits. The Air and Space Museum was top on our list. It was our first stop on our first full day. We got there right before it opened and there was a big ol’ line. However, once they opened the doors, we got in quickly. Brian and I split up to follow each boy as they wandered through whatever interested them. We joined forces an hour later to watch a movie at the planeturium. We actually came back to Air and Space Museum again on our last day to catch another planetarium movie.

Tip: The IMAX and planetarium movies are really good and serve as a relaxing for weary kids (and their parents).

6 Days in Washington D.C. with Kids - The Outside & In

Smithsonian National Museum of American History – Being that we were in such an American history kick, the National Museum of American History was our second museum stop of the first day in Washington D.C. We spent a majority of time in the Presidents and First Ladies exhibits. We were all curious about the presidential china which was all on display. Each first lady is responsible for picking a pattern for the the term of her husband’s presidency. What do you think will happen when there is a woman as president? Do you think the First Gentleman will be picking the new china pattern?? That will be interesting to see.

Tip: Keep an eye out for the TV screens showing short films from the History Channel throughout the exhibits. The boys really seemed to “get” what they were looking at after watching the videos.

Monuments Night Bike Tour – Visiting the monuments around the National Mall is pretty much a “must” when visiting DC. Problem is, the monuments are quite a bit of a trek from each other. So we knew a bike tour would be a perfect way to see them in one fell swoop.¬†A night bike tour? Even better! The boys appreciated getting to ride bikes to each monument and learning a little about each one. And we appreciated not listening to any whining about walking to each one ūüôā Win-win.

Tip: Do this instead of walking to each monument. No tired legs and lots of great info from the tour guides.

6 Days in Washington D.C. with Kids - The Outside & In

6 Days in Washington D.C. with Kids - The Outside & In

Cruise to Mount Vernon РOur visit to Mount Vernon is definitely a highlight from the trip. We took the 1.5 hour ride on the Spirit Cruise down the Potomac River. The boat arrived at the dock in Mount Vernon and we walked up from the opposite side of the property from all the tour buses. Instead of walking the grounds and going to see the house, we headed to the museum first. If you visit Mount Vernon, please do not miss this museum. Between this one and the American Revolution Museum we visited in Philly, they were the pinnacle of our museum experiences on this trip.

The organizers at Mount Vernon have done an exquisite job of bringing George Washington to life for us at the museum.¬†If you go, stop and watch the films they show. They made all the difference for us in humanizing this great man. We actually had to rush through and leave the museum with about an hour left on our visit because we hadn’t even been to the house or explored the property. I wish we could have stayed longer.

On a different note, I am undecided on whether I would do the cruise again. It’s not that it was unpleasant. It’s just that the trip to Mount Vernon took 1.5 hours each way. Versus a 20 minute drive from DC. And when I think back on why we loved our visit to Mount Vernon, it was the museum and property we loved. Not necessarily the boat ride. I guess you would just need to weigh the time you had to spend on getting there.

Tip: Do not miss the museum! Apparently most people skip this in exchange for walking around the property. I am now a George Washington super-fan thanks to this museum (and the one in Philadelphia).

6 Days in Washington D.C. with Kids - The Outside & In

George Washington’s house

6 Days in Washington D.C. with Kids - The Outside & In

Museum at Mount Vernon

6 Days in Washington D.C. with Kids - The Outside & In

Gardens in Mount Vernon

Smithsonian’s¬†National Zoo – If you are visiting Washington D.C. with kids, I would highly recommend breaking up the museums and monuments with a visit to the National Zoo. The wide open paths for walking and the large variety of animals makes it a perfect place for your children to run around and explore. We arrived shortly after it opened and had the whole place practically to ourselves. Until the buses of school kids and visitors arrived around 10am. Then it got a bit more hectic.

Tip: Go to the zoo as soon as it opens (8am) and you will have the whole place to yourselves for a few hours.

6 Days in Washington D.C. with Kids - The Outside & In

Seals at the National Zoo

Tour of the Capitol – We arranged the tour of the Capitol a couple months before we went. One of the Senate office interns took us around for a private tour. She had enough juicy gossip and stories to keep us captivated the whole time.¬†We loved seeing the spot where George Washington was supposed to be buried (before they saw his will which insisted on Mount Vernon). The boys will never forget that little detail in the John Trumbull painting in the rotunda which shows Thomas Jefferson stepping on John Adams’ foot. On the day we were there, the Capitol was packed with people there for tours and there were no tour options for people walking up that day. So plan ahead! It’s definitely worth it.

Tip: Make sure to contact your state representative’s office well in advance of your visit to secure a private tour.

6 Days in Washington D.C. with Kids - The Outside & In

Heading to tour the Capitol

National Archives – We almost didnt make it to the National Archives. You can reserve a timeslot to get in on their website, but we were too late for that by the time we looked into it. All the timeslots were taken. When we attempted a visit on the first leg of the trip, the line wrapped around the block. Luckily, when we came back to DC, we walked by and the line was not too bad so we jumped in. We headed straight for the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights. I’m pretty sure having just come from Philadelphia where these documents were written plus listening to the backstory behind them made all the difference. It was truly inspiring. These barely-legible, 240-year old pieces of paper created a nation.

Tip: Go online way in advance to reserve your visiting time so you do not have to wait!

6 Days in Washington D.C. with Kids - The Outside & In

The National Archives building

Jazz at National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden¬†– The National Archives building happens to be right across the street from the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden. Since it happened to be Friday and almost 5pm, we headed right over to check out the Jazz concert. A friend of mine recommended this and even though we didn’t have it scheduled as a hard itinerary item, we stumbled across it on just the right day at just the right time. This could not have been a¬†more enjoyable experience. People gather all around the fountain and the surrounding grass to listen to the live jazz band. All while soaking in the sunshine and the refreshments available. We took off our shoes, and just relaxed for about 2 hours. If you can make it, I would highly recommend you try to catch this.

Tip: Come around 4:30pm to find the perfect spot to settle down. Whether it be a shady patch of grass or a primo fountain spot.

6 Days in Washington D.C. with Kids - The Outside & In

Arlington National Cemetery РWe visited Arlington on our last day. With only a few hours left before we needed to catch our flight, we were debating between the Newseum (which everyone says is INCREDIBLE) and Arlington National Cemetery. It was a tough decision, but we ended up choosing Arlington. We knew that the boys would never have experienced anything like this and that the visit would help them see the magnitude of the sacrifice earlier generations have paid for our way of life.

The night before, we went on the website and realized that they open at 8am. We decided to get there are early as possible. This is our M.O. if you haven’t noticed yet ūüôā ¬†I am so glad that we did. Similar to the National Zoo, the throngs of people seemed to arrive around 10am. ¬†We stayed about an hour and half.¬†Walking through the shady paths that led to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, we were surrounded by the iconic white headstones that seemed to go on infinitely. We stayed a while to watch the changing of the guard (which happens every half hour). After stopping by John F Kennedy’s gravesite, we started walking back towards the exit. That is when we realized how many tour buses had arrived. It was a good time to be finishing up.

Tip: Get there as soon as it opens to benefit from the peace and tranquility of the property.

6 Days in Washington D.C. with Kids - The Outside & In

White House Tour¬†– One other reservation we made through our Congressman was a visit to the White House. They notify you via email about a week before the date you requested if you got in or not. We were happy that we did. This description will be the shortest of all our site visits, because I didn’t get in ūüôĀ Apparently, when they warned not to bring any bags with you, they were serious. When the security guard saw that I had a (teeny tiny) purse, my expectations of going in were dashed. Brian went in with the boys and we met up about 20 minutes later. When I asked them what they thought, everyone seemed a little “meh” about it. I think it is because they were seeing rooms that were mainly there for tour purposes and not rooms that actually get used. Or maybe that’s just what they told me to make me feel better.

Tip: Do NOT bring any bags or purses to your scheduled visit or you will not get in.

Top 3 Washington DC Highlights:

It is very difficult to narrow down our favorites, but I will try for the sake of helping you decide if your time is limited. These are the first three places I would tell you to not miss if you are visiting Washington DC

  1. Monuments Nighttime Bike Tour
  2. Mount Vernon
  3. Lincoln Assassination Walking Tour

Where We Ate:

While DC certainly has a thriving food scene, I can’t really say we were able to take advantage of all the great restaurants as much as I would have liked to. With so much to see, we prioritized visiting the sights over the restaurants. With that being said, the following were the places we dined during our visit. Several of them are fast casual chains that are ubiquitous in the Northeast, but for us are exciting.¬†I will put an asterisk next to our favorite 3.

Founding Farmers

Sweetgreen

Le Pain Quotidien 

Slipstream*

Oyamel* 

Beefsteak*

Ted’s Bulletin

Shake Shack

Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe at the National Museum of the American Indian

 

Where We Stayed:

We booked two different Kimpton hotel properties for our stay. With as much walking and sightseeing as we were doing, staying in a comfortable & welcoming hotel was key.  We definitely liked one better than the other, so I will give you the scoop.

For the first leg of the trip we stayed at the Kimpton Mason and Rook hotel. Mason and Rook is in the Logan Circle neighborhood of Washington D/C. We loved the location of the hotel. There was a Whole Foods one street over, which was super convenient for picking up a cup of tea and stocking up up on healthy food. The Mason and Rook was only a 10-minute Uber ride from the National Mall which was very convenient. Our room was comfortable. While I am sure there are dozens of great hotel options when visiting D.C., I would definitely return to Mason and Rook.

On our second leg of the trip we stayed at the Kimpton Glover Park Hotel. While it was still a clean and stylish property (and had the most comfortable beds ever), we were not crazy about the location. It was by the Naval Observatory and the National Zoo, which meant the Uber ride to the National Mall area was more like 20 minutes.

6 Days in Washington D.C. with Kids - The Outside & In

Mason & Rook Hotel in Logan Circle

So there you have it. Our itinerary and thoughts on Washington D.C. with kids. If you have been thinking about visiting our nation’s capital anytime soon, I would definitely go for it. Make sure your kids are up for walking – a lot. And try to prep them a bit before going (without them noticing, of course). Everyone will enjoy it so much more.

Have you been to Washington D.C. recently? What were your favorite sites?

Up for more travel posts? Check them out HERE.

A while back, I shared how I was getting back on the one-room-per-month home update wagon. January and February were all about letting go of stuff and playing the Minimalism Game. So starting in March, I was ready to tackle some home updates. The room I chose¬†to focus on was our master bedroom. It actually went on into April too. But that’s okay, right? At least I stayed focused on one room instead of ADHD-ing all over the place as I typically would do and have nothing to show for it. Today, I am happy to bring you the results of a little dedicated time and attention.

Master Bedroom Update - The Outside and In

The Master Bedroom 2 Months Ago

Let’s go back for a quick visit to where we started. In this post, I went through all my thought processes and what I wanted to change. My main focus was on breaking up the matching bedroom furniture, neutralizing the color¬†a bit, and adding some styling details. The bedroom furniture dates back over 15 years, when I used to work at Pottery Barn. I got a great discount there, so I pretty much purchased most of our furniture there when we got married. But the dark wood everywhere was driving me crazy.

Master Bedroom Update - The Outside and In

Here’s the inspirational moodboard I put together for the direction I wanted to go. Lighter, brighter and fresher:

Master Bedroom Refresh Plans

 

I pretty much stuck to the plan. I picked up a few more accessories, and never really quite found some other things. But overall, it came out as I envisioned. Except for the one month deadline part.

Once I was coming to the end of March (my deadline to quit and move on), I couldn’t get over one thing. The chaise in the corner was really bothering me. I’ve had that thing forever. And it is actually very functional. I often work from my laptop on it. Or the kids will sit there as we study for a test, etc. But the mustardy tan color just didn’t work. So I decided to give myself the extra month to purchase some fabric and get it reupholstered. You’ll see below how it came out.

Master Bedroom Updates

Master Bedroom Update - The Outside and In

One of my first purchases were the nightstands. I loved that they brought in some of the brass element from the ceiling light, and also had space for open storage. We always have tons of books and magazines on our nightstands, so the shelves come in handy. ¬†The next easy purchase was the gray ceramic gourd lamps from Target. My love for Target lighting is not new as I’ve shared in the past. So any excuse to purchase more of my favorites is a good one. In fact, every lamp in this room is from Target.

The bedding I actually picked up at the West Elm in Charleston when we visited. I knew I liked a mostly-white bed, but I wanted more texture. And I was completely over the coral accents I had before. It was too candy-like with the color of the walls. I kept the gray and white striped pillows because I still love them. And I picked up a new sheet set from Target which I debated on forever but I am so happy I went with them.

Master Bedroom Update - The Outside and In

Master Bedroom Update - The Outside and In

Master Bedroom Update - The Outside and In

Master Bedroom Update - The Outside and In

I love the way our little seating area came out. It’s just a corner, but it is a corner that gets a lot of use. I found this fabric at a great price and got it reupholstered here locally. The new fabric¬†definitely brought it back to life. Everything else I pretty much had before.

Master Bedroom Update - The Outside and In

mirror / lamp / vases / frame / plate

Master Bedroom Update - The Outside and In

The dresser got a paint job last summer when my campaign against the matching furniture reached its peak. The biggest difference this time around came from the mirror. As you can tell by the “before” picture above, I still had the old wood mirror. I replaced it with this one which is quite large and modernizes the space.

The “Rest” plate is one of my favorite pieces in the room. My extremely talented friend and ceramic artist, Mandy, made it using a gorgeous sgrafitto technique. I fell in love with it at first sight and that word in particular is a very important reminder for me. She also deserves the credit for the “Explore” art above the bed. I am so thankful to have such a soulful and talented artist as my¬†friend. Having meaningful pieces in this room makes the room special and unique to us.

 

Master Bedroom Update - The Outside and In

 

And there you have it. My March/April home project is done and I am moving on. The perfectionist part of me wanted to keep going because there is still quite a bit I would like to update. Window shades, new bed, area rug. But the reality is, if I want to continue to do this on a regular basis, the slow and steady approach will take me further. I am content with the progress for now.

In case you are wondering, my next home update focus is….the living room. I actually did some updates in the living room last year. May and June will be dedicated to sprucing up some of the things I didn’t get to.

What home improvement projects have you been working on lately?

Before and After: Amanda's Light and Bright Living Space - The Outside and In

Over the past year and a half, my friend Amanda has been working on renovating their new (to them) family home. When they purchased the 1970’s home back in the Fall of 2015, Judd and Amanda fell in love with the layout of the home as well as the property that surrounded it. They knew they would want to update it to fit their family’s style and needs though.¬†Slowly but surely, Amanda and Judd have been working on transforming the space to a light and bright living space for their family of five. I have some great “before and afters” of the space for you today as well as an interview with Amanda about her experience with this process.

The Listing Photos

To give you an idea of what it looked like when it was for sale, I pulled these images from the real estate listing. You can tell the house was spacious, well-taken care of, and had well-made finishes. It was just time for some updates.

Before and After: Amanda's Light and Bright Living Space

Before and After: Amanda's Light and Bright Living Space - The Outside & In

Before and After: Amanda's Light and Bright Living Space - The Outside & In

Before and After: Amanda's Light and Bright Living Space - The Outside & In

Before the Reno Began

A little while after Amanda and her family moved in, I came by to check out their new digs. I brought my camera with me so we could document the beginning of the journey. Here’s what it looked like when they moved in.¬†This is also a testament why I never take pictures of homes with the lights on.

Before and After: Amanda's Light and Bright Living Space - The Outside & In

Before and After: Amanda's Light and Bright Living Space - The Outside & In

Before and After: Amanda's Light and Bright Living Space - The Outside & In

Before and After: Amanda's Light and Bright Living Space - The Outside & In

During that first year or so of living in the house, they tackled some of the really big projects – removing all of the wallpaper, painting all of the walls, and refinishing the wood floors. This past year, Amanda has focused on furnishing and decorating the main living space.

Since she knows how much I enjoy anything to do with styling and decor, she brought me along for the ride on this phase. The process has been so much fun. Pinning stuff like maniacs. Debating finishes, lighting, fabrics. Styling the built-in shelves in the corner. Photoshopping furniture contenders to see which looked best. This is my idea of a good time, people. Don’t laugh.

A year later, I think the room looks light years better! There are still a few pieces Amanda is looking for, like a buffet or console next to the dining area. But all in all, she is practically there. ¬†I’m so excited to share the “afters” and an interview with Amanda with you today!

Before and After: Amanda’s Light and Bright Living Space

Before and After: Amanda's Light and Bright Living Space - The Outside & In

Before and After: Amanda's Light and Bright Living Space - The Outside & In

What initially inspired your family to purchase this home? What features sold it for you?
The property and the unique character of the house.  We particularly love the main living space with the huge windows and the breakfast nook with the wood ceiling.
Your renovation has a come a long way since you moved in. How did you prioritize your projects?
We lived in the house for several months before we did anything.  After living here for awhile, we had a better sense of which projects were most important to us.  For example, I had always assumed that we would update the kitchen relatively early in the process, but it has proven to be such a functional space, so now it is at the bottom of the list. The main family room/dining room space ended up being our top priority because it is the first thing you see when you enter our house and we really wanted a place to hang out as a family.
What was your biggest challenge in getting started?
Probably trying to figure out where to start.  We wanted to update the house without changing its character.   We probably spent a month debating about whether we should paint the wood trim white.  We ultimately took the plunge, and I am so glad that we did. 

Before and After: Amanda's Light and Bright Living Space - The Outside & In

Before and After: Amanda's Light and Bright Living Space - The Outside & In

Before and After: Amanda's Light and Bright Living Space - The Outside & In

Before and After: Amanda's Light and Bright Living Space - The Outside & In

Before and After: Amanda's Light and Bright Living Space - The Outside & In

Before and After: Amanda's Light and Bright Living Space - The Outside & In

Before and After: Amanda's Light and Bright Living Space - The Outside & In

What words describe the way you wanted this main living space to “feel”?
Comfortable, homey, and uncluttered
What is your approach to making decorating decisions?
I look at lots of pictures, read blogs, scour Pinterest and run ideas by my friends.
What is something you have learned through this process?
I realize that I do better making a change and living with it for a while before doing the next thing and making more changes.

Before and After: Amanda's Light and Bright Living Space - The Outside & In

Before and After: Amanda's Light and Bright Living Space - The Outside & In

Before and After: Amanda's Light and Bright Living Space - The Outside & In

What recommendations do you have for someone about to start a full house renovation?
We have greatly benefited from living in our house before making any changes. ¬†Of course, that comes with its own set of challenges, but it has allowed us to figure out how to best utilize the different spaces for our family. ¬†¬†For example, we moved the laundry room from near the kitchen to the other side of the house with the bedrooms. ¬†I thought that we would use the former laundry space as a mudroom/home office. ¬†But, after living with the space for a while, we realized that we actually want to use it as a butler’s pantry. ¬†¬†
When it comes to furniture and decor, what are your “go to” sources?
Ballard Designs, Restoration Hardware Outlet in Jacksonville, Koontz, Studio McGee, Shannon Roth Collection, and Foliage Design Systems for live plants and arrangements.
What projects are coming up next?
We are currently putting in a pool.  After that, we will probably work on our master bath.

Before and After: Amanda's Light and Bright Living Space - The Outside & In

Before and After: Amanda's Light and Bright Living Space - The Outside & In

Before and After: Amanda's Light and Bright Living Space - The Outside & In

Before and After: Amanda's Light and Bright Living Space - The Outside & In

As a bonus, there is one other “Before and After” from this¬†house I want to¬†show you today. The kitchen eat-in nook. Judd and Amanda will be renovating the kitchen in a couple of years, but the dining space in there has had quite the transformation already.

Here it is in the listing photo:

Before and After: Amanda's Light and Bright Living Space - The Outside & In

Here it is shortly after they moved in:

Before and After: Amanda's Light and Bright Living Space - The Outside & In

And here it is now:

Before and After: Amanda's Light and Bright Living Space - The Outside & In

What testament to the power of paint and lighting, right? The table, rug and chairs are exactly the same.

Thank you for taking me along on this journey, Amanda. And for sharing what this experience has been like for you. I feel like we both have learned so much along the way. I cannot wait to see the next phase!

Before and After: Amanda's Light and Bright Living Space - The Outside & In

Amanda with her daughter Vivian

What are your thoughts of living in a home as you renovate? Could you do it? Amanda certainly is showing it can be done and the benefits to doing so!

“After” Photography: Ale Cretul

My "Go To" NYC Recommendations

New York City is one of my absolute favorite places in the whole world. I don’t care how many times I have been, within one year of my last visit, I am always¬†itching to get back. There are always new things to discover and places to explore. You can’t ever “finish” seeing and experiencing New York in my opinion.

When people say they don’t like New York or they’ve already “done” it, I know they haven’t fallen in love. In my mind, that must mean¬†they must not have experienced it the right way. I can never get enough of NYC.

A friend of mine recently asked me for some NYC recommendations for an upcoming trip she has planned with her husband. Immediately, I started thinking of all my go-to recommendations for first-timers or those who haven’t been in a long time. In the past, I have written these down in emails, or rattled them off to whomever is asking. I figured it was time to get them down in a post.

Times Square

Places I Generally Avoid:

I hate to start with a negative, but it seems like many¬†people go to New York City only to visit a dozen or so sights, all within a (very crowded) 10 block radius. St Patrick’s Cathedral, Fifth Avenue, Rockefeller Center, the Today Show, and the Southeast corner of Central Park are common stops on the list.

I am always baffled as to why people go to these places just crawling with tourists when there are so many other lovely places to explore.¬†It seems like the goal is to get a picture at these places so you can post them on social media and other people can recognize that’s where you are. That’s my guess. But are you actually enjoying it? Or enjoying the idea of it?

Times Square deserves its own mention as the worst part of Manhattan. The bad chain restaurants, the swarms of tourists, the giant mega stores. I avoid it all cost. The only hiccup in this plan is when you have tickets to a Broadway show and there is no getting out of being there.

With that being said, the rest of Manhattan is definitely changing and becoming “Disney-fied” so the chances of uncovering the “real” New York will be more likely¬†in one of the other boroughs.

My Go-To NYC Recommendations - The Outside & In

My Go To NYC Recommendations

Despite the pockets of crowds and cheesiness, I still love this city more than any other. With each visit, I like to repeat some tried and true favorites, and of course explore & discover more. Certain experiences stand out among all the trips. And these are the ones I have recommended over and over again with great feedback.

Foods of New York Tours ¬†– If I could only recommend one activity I would say this is it. These food tours are awesome. I’ve done all of the Manhattan ones except for the Gourmet Chinatown tour which I would love to try on my next visit. You can’t go wrong with any of them. The reason I love recommending these walking tours is not only because you get to try such a variety of foods in one fell swoop, but ¬†the tour guides really make it special. The guides are extremely knowledgeable on the history, culture and architecture of whichever¬†neighborhood you are exploring. Walking, learning and eating. What better combo is there?

My Go-To NYC Recommendations - The Outside & In

Your ride for the Sunset Sail

Sunset Sail Aboard Schooner Adirondack –¬†Another one of my very favorite NYC experiences. This is a 2-hour sail on a beautiful replica of a 1890’s sailboat. It takes you down the East River with the skyline of lower Manhattan on one side and New Jersey on the other.¬† Your destination? The Statue of Liberty. If you want to see the Statue of Liberty in all her glory (at sunset nonetheless) but are not interested in standing in a line to do so, this is the way to go. The boat seats only about 20 people which adds to the intimate experience. Your crew¬†sails the boat and serves drinks¬†while you are soaking it all in. I highly recommend!

My Go-To NYC Recommendations - The Outside & In

Get Up and Ride Bike Tour РA bike tour is always an awesome way to see and experience a city. I posted about our experience on a Brooklyn Bike Tour with Get Up and Ride on THIS post. Although I am sure there are other good bike tour companies in NYC, we were very happy with this one.

Get Up and Ride¬†tours max out at 10 people, which is so nice. In our case, we happened to be the only ones on the tour, so it felt like a private tour. Each person is outfitted with a headset and microphone so not only are you learning about what you are seeing, but you can also ask questions as you ride. Our specific tour explored graffiti art in the neighborhood and made a few stops for pizza and beer. We didn’t do the Manhattan tour, but I would totally be interested in giving it a try next time.

My Go-To NYC Recommendations - The Outside & In

Chelsea Market & The High Line – I like to combine a visit to The High Line and Chelsea Market together. The High Line was built onto an elevated train track on NYC’s west side. It runs north-south with beautiful gardens and tons to look at along your way. If you are interested in checking out the High Line, this map outlines where it starts and ends, plus some of the highlights. Towards the south end of the park is Chelsea Market – a food hall with some pretty darn amazing eating options. On our last 3 or 4 visits, we’ve managed to always carve out some time for Chelsea Market.

If you take the Chelsea Market / Meatpacking District Foods of New York Tours I mentioned above, they will give you the history & behind the scenes scoop of Chelsea Market, plus they will take you on the High Line too. So that might be a good option if you have limited time and are interested in both. Another good option to consider if you are interested in the Sunset Sail which takes off a few blocks north of Chelsea Market, is to pick up your picnic dinner from Chelsea Market to enjoy while you sail.

My Go-To NYC Recommendations - The Outside & In

A few “go to” shops:

I never really go to New York City with the purpose to shop the whole time. Too much to see and do to waste it inside. Especially in chain stores. But, there are a few places that I enjoy popping into whenever I visit:

ABC Carpet & Home – I can’t remember exactly, but this mega store has 7or 8 stories filled with everything you can imagine for the home. Even if you are not planning on buying anything, I highly recommend you visit the first floor just to see the amazing merchandising. It’s always an inspiring stop.

Fish’s Eddy – while you are at ABC Carpet & Home you should definitely pop into the much much smaller Fish’s Eddy. What? You say you didn’t come to NYC to look at plates? You have to check these out. They have the quirkiest designs you just don’t see everywhere. In fact, I dare you not to pick up something here to take home.

John Derian Company – I had been wanting to visit John Derian on several visits before I actually got to go. You see, it’s located in the East Village, an area that we¬†seemed to never make it to. But on our last visit, we combined it with a visit to Morgernstern’s (the most amazing ice cream experience ever). John Derian is famous for his eclectic decoupaged plates and decor. His work is sold all over, but it is created in New York. Visiting his¬†store is almost like visiting a museum of curiosities. Picking up one of his pieces would be a much cooler souvenir than a Big Apple coffee mug.

My Go-To NYC Recommendations - The Outside & In

Museums & some alternatives:

New York City has some of the best museums in the world. Whatever you’re into, there is probably a world-class museum there you can visit. If you love museums, you have hit the jackpot for sure.

If you are not a museum person, and your time is limited, there’s no need to force it. Most likely you will find yourself with art installations and special cultural experiences everywhere you go.

If you do go to one of the “big” museums in New York, I recommend either booking a tour or selecting one exhibit to dive deeper. Trying to “do” the Met will surely leave you dizzy and overwhelmed. One tour company I am dying to check out is Museum Hack. Apparently, they take a fun and irreverent approach to sharing the stories behind the art.

Here are a few other ideas if you want to have a museum-like experience without the time commitment :

Grand Central Terminal¬†– Grand Central is a quintessential Manhattan landmark that you can soak in like a museum.¬†It’s perfect for a family visit because you can eat and be loud. Get on one of the staircases in the main hall and watch the travelers going in every direction under the beautiful constellation ceiling. Then, head downstairs to the whispering gallery. Stand facing¬†one corner of the bustling intersection and get someone else to stand at another corner. Whisper into the wall and you will actually be able to hear the other person in the middle of the chaos. It’s fun!

NY Public Library – If you went to Grand Central, you will be super close to the main headquarters of the New York Public Library. This landmark building is definitely worth a visit. Made of pure marble and flanked by two regal lions, the architecture and grandeur of the library is one of a kind. You can pop in the Rose Reading Room or even visit the original Winnie the Pooh characters from the 1920’s. Read more about this special branch of the New York Public library HERE. Then go visit!

Rooftop Sculpture Garden at the Met РIf you want a place to slow down with great views of Central Park, make a stop at the rooftop sculpture garden & cafe at the top of the Metroplitan Museum of Art. All you have to do is take the elevator to the top floor and enjoy the sculptures and the vistas. There are usually not too many people up there, and they serve drinks as well. This could be a great late afternoon stop before heading to dinner or a show.

My Go-To NYC Recommendations - The Outside & In

Quiet street near the Courtyard Marriott Soho

When choosing where to stay:

There are hundreds of hotel and AirBnB options in New York City. All expensive and some of the smallest rooms you ever did see. I could never say this is “the” perfect hotel because there are just so many great options.

With that said, my main goal these days is to avoid staying in midtown. It might seem counterintuitive. Staying in the “middle” should make everything closer, right? Well, remember the list of places I steer away from? They are all in midtown. Along with all the tourists who want to stay near those places.

An approach that has worked well for us lately is to go uptown or downtown. As long as you are near a subway stop, you can go up or down quickly wherever you need to be.

We’ve recently really enjoyed staying at the Courtyard Marriott in Soho¬†and the Hotel Beacon in the Upper West Side. Both are situated in great neighborhoods. We also stayed in a good AirBnB in Little Italy, but it is no longer available. Again, I am sure there are a bunch of great places, I’ve just found that as long as they’re not in midtown, you will experience a bit more of the special New York vibe you probably went for.

My Go-To NYC Recommendations - The Outside & In

Other tips:

  • Don’t eat at places just because they are “famous”. You’ll most like only see other out-of-towners there getting a picture by the sign. Not usually the best places to eat. So how do you find interesting places to dine? One option is to ask your guide on the food tour. They will give you suggestions in whatever neighborhood you want. Also, I jot down ideas from blogs I read on a regular basis (like THIS one and THIS one), and then save them on my NYC Pinterest board.
  • If you like the idea of Central Park, but not the hoards of people:¬†Go in further and deeper into the park. Most tourists only visit the fringe. Or, visit the other parks in Manhattan, like Riverside or Rockefeller Parks. They are on the water and so much quieter. Even better, make an afternoon of it and¬†go to Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Designed by the same person who designed Central Park, Prospect Park is just as big and beautiful.
  • If you do happen to be in Times Square to watch a show and want to eat dinner beforehand, do not eat in Times Square. Instead, go to Hell’s Kitchen, one block over for much better food options. Just do a quick Zagat’s search for whatever you are in the mood for and I guarantee it will be way better than any places in Times Square.

So there you have it. My “go to” NYC recommendations and more advice than you ever wanted. I could do a whole post on visiting with young kids and finding great restaurants. I will save that for another time.

Have you been to NYC lately? What are your favorite neighborhoods or experiences in the city that never sleeps?