Catching Katy

Reads, Eats, & Everything Else


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Palm Coast

July 4th can be a tough holiday because it sometimes falls in the middle of the week and most people just get the one day off. Luckily this year (and for the next couple of years) it fell on or near a weekend. So it was easy to take one day and make it an extra long weekend.

My father-in-law has a condo on the beach in Palm Coast, Florida, just south of St. Augustine, and we try to get down as much as possible (free beach and visit family? no brainer!). That usually ends up being just a couple times a year since it is about a 6 hour drive, but we decided to make an extra long weekend of it for the 4th this year.

I grew up going to the gulf almost exclusively, so I remember my first time to Palm Coast very distinctly. The beach looked so weird because there are tons of rocks. You can only be out on the beach during specific times (lower tides) because otherwise there’s not really a beach. But there’s still plenty of beach time and it’s kind of remote, so it’s never crowded, even during the July holiday. Our dog Royal loves the beach and he would run and splash and chase the ball and roll in the sand all day if he could.

We usually eat out when we go to visit and get around to different places, but there is one restaurant we go to every single time. Osteen’s Restaurant in St. Augustine has THE best fried shrimp you will ever eat. I’m sorry (but not sorry) I cannot speak to anything else on the menu but I’ve never gotten anything else on the menu. The shrimp are giant, the sauces and hush puppies are delicious, and the sides are always fresh. My go to sides rotate between green beans, coleslaw, and fries. Pro tips: cash only and no reservations; there will be a wait so either go at an odd time or get there between 7:30-8pm (they stop seating at 8:30); or get it to go!


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DC

We’ve been talking since before our wedding (yes, over a year ago) about getting to DC because we both have friends there. I really wanted it to be during baseball season so we could hit up one of the nearby stadiums. We finally made it happen a few weeks ago and it was perfect timing.

We stayed with friends in the Capital Hill area, which was beautiful and close to so many things. Flying in on Thursday night gave us the whole days Friday, just the two of us, to explore. We walked almost everywhere (with the exception of one Lyft ride towards the end of the day because our legs were wore OUT). We had both been to DC before, but I hadn’t been since elementary school. One completely free day obviously isn’t a whole lot for DC, but I feel like we made the most of it.

We hit up Bullfrog Bagels for a quick, delicious breakfast, then continued walking towards the mall. We made tentative plans the night before and it was actually nice to not be on a strict schedule. We just talked and took in the sites. The weather was beautiful too, albeit a little too windy for my liking, especially coming from the summer weather in Atlanta. We saw the Capital and made our way down the mall.

Our first official stop was the National Museum of American History. It’s so great that the Smithsonian museums are free because we didn’t even make a dent in all there was to see in just one of them. But we got to see some great stuff, mainly covering all of the wars. It sounds depressing but it’s really interesting seeing how men and women have fought for our country to make it what it is today.

We then made our way to the National Portrait Gallery, which was top of my list. They had a really cool women’s suffrage installation and then of course, the presidential portraits. Each president’s portrait is so unique, especially seeing them all together. I definitely recommend it.

On Saturday we hit up the International Spy Museum. I failed and took no pictures, but I definitely recommend it. It’s a private museum, so it’s not free, but it’s worth it. It’s great for families and very interactive. The only downside was that it’s so new (only opened a few months ago) that it was very crowded. So we didn’t do a lot of the interactive things because we didn’t want to wait and fight for space. But it was fascinating to hear and see stories of international espionage, techniques used in specific cases, and just how long spies have been used for various things.

Our final stop was, of course, a Nationals game and like I said earlier, it was perfect not only because they were playing the Braves, but it was the DC Vanderbilt alumni chapter game for the summer (go ‘Dores!). We added another new stadium to our lists (that makes 7 for me…8 if you include just a stadium tour for one). The stadium reminded me a lot of the Braves new(ish) stadium and it was a great time seeing lots of friends!


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Sonoma

For our one year anniversary last month (sorry for the delay – the past month is a blur) we jumped coasts to check out Sonoma. I LOVE wine and my husband will enjoy wine with me. He has been to Napa before but I had heard amazing things about Sonoma. We spent 3 full days and had 2 travel days, but the day we flew out was essentially a full day with an early flight and gaining time. I loved our itinerary so I thought I’d share. We had a wonderful and relaxing trip, even days before closing on selling a house and buying a house.

Travel Day/Day 1

We took an early flight so we would have most of another day. We landed in San Francisco around 10am. After getting our luggage and car, it was lunchtime and the obvious first stop on the west coast is In-n-Out Burger. Every time eat there it is just as delicious as I remember. Sonoma is about 1.5 hours from the airport and we had no set plans for that day, so we made a pit stop on the way at Muir Woods.

Redwoods are amazing trees. They are old and massive and just really cool. Nowadays, you have a reserve a parking time – a 30 minute window – before arriving. We actually waited to do it until we arrived in San Francisco just in case something happened with our flight, which was easy to do since it was a Thursday. On a weekend, though, I am pretty sure parking slots sell out. Once you’re there, you can spend as much time as you want. There were a good number of people there, but once we got into the woods a little there weren’t many people around. You can take the paths, hiking trails, take lots of photos. We spent 1-1.5 hours walking around and it was a beautiful stop to make.

We continued to Sonoma – where the weather was significantly warmer – and checked into our AirBnb. The cozy guest cottage was perfect. It wasn’t a huge space but we weren’t planning on spending a ton of time there anyway. It had a little kitchenette, a comfy queen bed, a tv, it was private, and the host had a wonderful welcome basket with snacks. We had dinner at El Molino Central, which had delicious authentic Mexican cuisine.

Day 2

We wanted to have one day that we didn’t have to worry about driving and too many tastings. So for months I checked out different tour companies and driver services and kept an eye out for different deals. I don’t remember how I stumbled across Valley Wine Tours, but they seemed to be the best deal so I booked a semi-private tour (not knowing how many people would actually be on the tour with us). I will say they are a very simple operation, so if you want a lot of details about your day, you have to ask questions. But we were happy to be surprised with the exact details.

David picked us up around 10am in a mini van and then we picked up a mother-daughter pair and that’s who we spent the day with! David asked what kinds of wines we liked and what we were expecting out of the day. He had a tentative plan but wanted us to have input if we had any, which was nice. We went to 4 wineries: Larson Family Winery, Loxton Winery, Little Winery, and Muscardini Winery. We had more than enough time at each one and had a delicious picnic lunch (included in the tour, with actual china!). Wine tasting fees were not including in the tour price, but many wineries will waive the fee if you buy wine and we obviously bought wine. I was pleasantly surprised by the prices of bottles at most wineries! We were back at our AirBnb around 4pm. It was really a great day! We took a rest then went to Mary’s Pizza Shack for dinner (which was delicious).

Day 3

Our last full day in Sonoma we wanted to hit up a couple more wineries but take more time and maybe do an actual tour since we only did tastings the day before. We started the day with a yummy breakfast at Picazo Cafe. So we did a leisurely morning tasting at B.R. Cohn Winery, grabbed lunch in the little town of Glen Ellen, then headed to Benziger Winery. Benziger was definitely the largest winery we went to and we wanted to do an interesting tour, so we went with the Tribute Estate Tour & Exclusive Wine Tasting. The winery is biodynamic, which is one step higher than organic (which I didn’t even know existed), and it was really interesting to hear about how the winery works. Then we did a tasting in the wine cave. Very cool. It was a perfectly chill winery day.

We wanted one nice dinner, so we had made a reservation months before to The Girl & The Fig in downtown Sonoma, which was recommended to me by a friend who lives in San Fran. And it lived up to the hype. The atmosphere was great and the food was delicious. We also walked about downtown Sonoma before dinner which is a really cute little square with a park in the middle.

We absolutely loved our trip to Sonoma. There are SO many wineries so you could visit numerous times and have a different experience every time. All the wine was delicious (although I can’t say I am picky). All the food was delicious. All the service was great. I highly recommend it.

Day 4

We spent our last full day in San Francisco seeing a friend for brunch and going to a Giants baseball game (we try to hit up different baseball stadiums when we can). Since the post is getting long – the baseball game was fun and food before and after the game was great (highly recommend the nachos at Public House next to the stadium).

All in all, it was the perfect one year anniversary trip. I have done a quick itinerary below in case that is helpful to any planning a trip to the west coast and looking for pointers. Enjoy!

DayActivity/WineriesRestaurant(s)
Thursdayo early flight ATL > SFO
o drive to Sonoma
o Muir Woods
o In-n-Out Burger
o El Molino Central
FridayValley Wine Tours:
o Larson Family Winery
o Loxton Winery
o Little Winery
o Muscardini Winery
o Mary’s Pizza Shack
Saturdayo B.R. Cohn Winery
o Benziger Winery
o Picazo Cafe
o Garden Court Cafe
o The Girl & The Fig
Sundayo drive to San Francisco
o Giants game
o MarketBar
o Public House
Mondayo early flight SFO > ATL


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Swimming Pigs

Since my previous post about our honeymoon was getting long, I promised to write one specifically about the excursion. As I said, there were plenty of free activities at Sandals Emerald Bay, but there were also optional excursions and we decided to not be completely lazy every single day.

Now I may have been – at first – a little underwhelmed going to the Bahamas (a feeling that was completely unfounded and wrong), but when my husband told me what excursion we would be doing I almost cried. Ever since I was little I have loved pigs. Don’t ask me why and I don’t know where that love came from (mom? dad? anyone know?), but I love pigs. So you can imagine my excitement when I found out we would be SWIMMING WITH PIGS. Even now, almost 9 months later, I am reliving the excitement. I had also seen this excursion on The Bachelor so I had a pretty good idea of what to expect.

The tour was done by Great Exuma Water Sports. They had 2 time options – a morning and afternoon. We decided we could suck it up and set an alarm one morning, knowing that the weather would be more mild than the middle of the afternoon on a boat. I want to say there were about 25 of us on the tour but that could be way off. There was a short bus ride to the other end of the island where we boarded the boat and took a nice little ride through the Exuma islands. The guide was great – telling us stories and history about the area and specific islands. And just riding around in a boat was fun enough!

But of course we were there for more. The first stop was Pig Island and it is definitely something you need to experience. As the boat nears the island, pigs literally begin running into the water. They swim to the boat, amidst sting rays swirling around below the surface. (You can see some of it in the video on my last post). We jumped out of the boat, into the water, and began feeding the pigs chicken hot dogs. Only the big ones really swim out into the water but there are little ones too that hang out at the edge of the water on the island. I guess eventually they learn to swim because that’s where the treats are. They also bring a bucket of leftovers to feed to both the big pigs and little pigs to make sure everyone gets some grub. We hung out with the swimming pigs in the water for a bit then made our way up onto the island where I immediately found a cute little friend. I held him like a baby and he fell asleep in my arms. Once again, I was almost in tears.

I could talk about the pigs for days. I was in love and would have brought that little piggy home if I could. But there was more to the tour! Our next stop was a little island that bordered both the Atlantic Ocean and the Bay where there is a cool blow hole. It also had beautiful views. I think you would typically do some reef snorkeling there as well but the Atlantic was very choppy that day and it would not have been a pleasant snorkeling experience.

Our guide found a live starfish along the ride, which we passed around the boat (then returned to the water). We stopped at another island to see and feed Bahamian Rock iguanas (who eat grapes). And our last stop was by the little island to do a little snorkeling since we couldn’t do it at the reef.

I would definitely recommend this tour if you visit Great Exuma. It was nice to get out of the resort for half a day and we still got some good nap time by the pool after we returned. I cannot imagine a better honeymoon – my husband did a FANTASTIC job planning – and Sandals definitely set the bar high for all-inclusive resorts.

 


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White Sandy Beaches

Since I took a hiatus from the blog, I want to go back and cover some things that happened during that hiatus. Our wedding was a major part of the time which could cover many, many posts. Those posts are TBD. But the honeymoon was definitely the best part of my hiatus (besides the vows of course, honey) and I definitely want to share that.

My husband planned the honeymoon with a little help from Jennifer at Epperly Travel. Regardless, it was one thing I did not have to think about at all and yes, I completely trusted him with this planning. And he actually succeeded in keeping it a surprise! Jennifer was very helpful with the details and it was nice to know there was someone there to handle any last minute details or unforeseen disasters. He had some parameters we discussed together – beach, all-inclusive, and not somewhere that took a lot of travel time (have to maximize that vacation time). I definitely recommend going the travel agent route for your honeymoon and Epperly Travel was fantastic.

We ended up at Sandals Emerald Bay Resort in Great Exuma, Bahamas. I won’t lie – when I heard we were going to the Bahamas, I was a little underwhelmed. When I think Bahamas, the only thing I picture is Atlantis and super water slides and tourists. But that image could not have been further from the truth. Great Exuma is further south than Grand Bahama, Nassau, and the better-known parts of the Bahamas. It was a 2 hour non-stop flight from Atlanta (perfect) to the quaint little airport in Georgetown then we were shuttled the mere 20 minutes to the resort.

My next recommendation for an all-inclusive trip is to splurge at least once for the butler service. It just makes your trip feel that more special and personal. Our butlers made our dinner and spa reservations, claimed beach chairs for us every day, brought drinks and snacks to the beach, brought dinner to the room if we wanted to dine in, and just made sure we had everything we needed at all times.

So how was it?! The beach was beautiful and about a mile long, private just to the resort guest. The weather was perfect – not too hot and I think I wore a sweater one evening while we were there. April is a great time to go. Two pools – the party pool and the quiet pool gave good options depending on your mood. The food was delicious. There are 11 restaurants and we ate at 10 of them. One is just coffee and desserts and some are just for lunch. Our favorite was definitely La Parisienne, the French restaurant. It was so nice to not have to worry  about paying for anything.

There are also plenty of activities included if you are not the lay and do nothing on the beach type. We do enjoy laying doing nothing (at the beach at least), especially after the wedding, but we made sure to try out a couple activities. There is a cruise-ship type schedule of activities every day (corn hole tournament, karaoke, etc.) if that’s your thing. There are water sports included. We went out on a hobie cat (like a sailboat) and took a kayak out one day. There are also swings and hammocks along the beach which was a nice change of pace from the lounge chairs. This resort also has golf if that’s your thing!

I realize this post is getting long so I am going to save our excursion for a separate post because there is plenty to say about that as well. It really is like a cruise on land! We also hit up the spa for a couples massage and it was wonderful and relaxing. You have to treat yo’self on your honeymoon!

This was my first all-inclusive and my first Sandals experience and I really have nothing but good things to say about it. Sandals Emerald Bay was perfect for us. We have a list of others we would like to visit because we will definitely be repeat Sandals customers.

I leave you with a little video I made. It was fun to have a Go Pro on the trip to get some extra memories and water pictures and video. Look for the excursion post to come – it was definitely the icing on the cake.


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Adios, Atlanta

The time has come! Seven new wonderful friends and I are leaving for Nicaragua this weekend! If you missed my first post, click here to learn what this trip is all about and why I’m going. A big thank you to everyone who supported me financially and made this trip possible. We have worked hard to prepare a VBS curriculum for kids in the area as well as put together 120 hygiene kits for those kids (with a wash cloth, toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, a comb, and cup). These, and so many things we take for granted having readily available will be a huge gift for the kids we come into contact with. We will also be helping with some home improvement projects in the area.

I’m so excited for this experience – personally and for us as a group – and prayers this week are appreciated (especially for no volcano eruptions or tropical storms 😉 ). I’ll do a post or two when I get back, but while we are there I will be keeping our trip blog up-to-date. Visit the site and follow it if you want daily updates and pics! Can’t wait to share stories and [lots of] pictures! Adios!

nicaraguanadv


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Fairhope, AL

Although I visit Alabama regularly to see family, I realized I’ve never posted about it! Granted, a lot times we are just hanging out at home, which is totally fine, but we do some fun stuff too!

My last trip down, we had some amazing food. My brother and sister-in-law live in Daphne, AL but her parents live in Fairhope and we spend a lot of time there as well. Especially because Fairhope has an adorable little downtown on the bay and has some great restaurants. That’s also where my last triathlon was a couple years ago!

We had a kid-free dinner on Friday night at Camellia Cafe. Their website is down (and has been), so I apologize for not remembering everything we ordered (which was a lot), but it was all delicious. We started with beverages and appetizers (yes, multiple appetizers). My sister-in-law and I got a delicious drink (sorry, can’t remember what it was!), though it was maybe a little sweet to have more than one. For appetizers we got fried green tomatoes and pot stickers (I can’t remember what was in the pot stickers – I think it was pork belly – but they were very good). My entree was amazing: pan seared duck breast served on polenta (I think it was cheesy) and asparagus.

 

Saturday morning, we took a girls morning and went out for breakfast and errands. The Warehouse in Fairhope is my new favorite place. If you know me at all, you know that breakfast/brunch is my favorite meal, so that is saying something. They have a great menu, whether you want a quick coffee and donut, or to sit and enjoy a filling breakfast. I had chicken and waffles that were to die for. The chicken melted in my mouth and the whipped sriracha butter was a perfect little kick. Highly recommend. Oh and the cold brew coffee was also great – you can have it with milk, chocolate milk, almond milk – pretty much whatever your heart desires.

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