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Starved Rock State Park

Starved Rock State Park | Starved Rock | Utica, IL

Starved Rock State Park was my #1 must-see on the outdoor Illinois summer bucket list I created back in May. Guess what? After 21 years of living in the area, I finally made it! One Saturday my mom and I packed up the car with snacks and water bottles, dressed in workout clothes and tennis shoes and headed to Utica, IL to hike through the park.

We picked a hot day to go to the park. When we got back from our hike, the car said it was 96 degrees (probably because it was sitting in the sun, but I would still guess it was in the high 80s). Luckily, most of the paths are covered with trees. That helped keep us cool and protected from sunburn.

Starved Rock State Park | Wildcat Canyon | Utica, IL | Park Review

Before we left for our trip, we made sure to check the Starved Rock website to read up on all of the canyons and overlooks to see which ones we wanted to hit on our hike. My favorite stop was by far Wildcat Canyon pictured above. According to the website, the Wildcat Canyon is the largest drop in the park at 125 feet. When we visited, water was running steadily down the canyon. On such a hot day, there were a lot of tourists playing in the water to cool down.

Starved Rock State Park | Utica, IL | Park Review

Me being me, of course, I did the opposite and sat on a log I found in the hot sun. Just kidding. If I hadn’t wore my new tennis shoes, I would have jumped right in too. I didn’t plan that one out too well. Next time we make a trip to the park, I’m going to wear my old tennis shoes, so I don’t have to worry about walking through water in the canyons.

Also notice that I tried to sneakily hide my water bottle from the shot by putting it behind the rock in front. Needless to say, it didn’t work. Oops!

As a side-side note, I’ve realized I wear this workout outfit so much. In case you missed it, I wore it before in my post about Door County, WI. It’s all because of these Under Armour shorts. First of all, they match my Adidas tennies perfectly. They’re also loose and don’t have that frustrating insert in them, which is much needed in the summer heat. I want to go back and buy them in every color.

Starved Rock State Park | Utica, IL | Park Review

Anyway, side-note over. Back to Starved Rock… While walking on the outer trails, you get a good view of the water. I have to admit: after just getting back from Door County, the water didn’t seem like much to look at. It looked mucky, and an unattractive dam took up a lot of the view. I kept my eyes on the rock formations and trees most of the time. Those views made up for the water view.

The trails were also surprisingly well established. Some paths were dirt, others were man-made with wooden bridges and stairways and some were even cement like sidewalks. We saw families with several small children, families with dogs and expert hikers. There was a trail for everyone.

Starved Rock State Park | Utica, IL | Park Review

As we continued on the trails, we found that you can see Wildcat Canyon from a few different angles. Here, we got to look down on all of the tourists hanging out by the edge of the water. This picture is zoomed in, so you can’t really get a sense of how high up we were. But I was getting vertigo. It was high.

All in all, taking a day trip to the park was a fun experience- and I would definitely go again. We didn’t even see half of what the park had to offer. There are 13 miles of hiking trails!

If you’re coming from a bit farther out of town or want to stick around a while to take a trolley tour or boat cruise, there is a lodge right outside of the park. I’ve never stayed there before, but you can check out the reviews on TripAdvisor!

What is your favorite outdoor activity this summer? Have you ever been to Starved Rock State Park?

Weekend Getaway: Door County, WI

Door County, WI

If we’re being honest, working from home has not been what I thought it would be. It’s a huge adjustment! With that being said, my mom and I decided we needed to get away for a long weekend. This past weekend we drove up to Door County (you can check out our trip from last year here). It was a quick trip, but I swear, it was just what the doctor ordered. My mom and I had so much quality time together, and there was never a dull moment. Even though we were returning to the same place, we explored and did different things than we did the time before. Because how could you ever see a whole county in just one weekend?

Wilson's Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlor in Ephraim | Door County, WI

In case you missed it, last year we stayed at The Inn on Pioneer Lane in Ephraim. We decided to return there this year because we loved it so much. Right down the road from the inn is Wilson’s, which we quickly learned is iconic. How we didn’t go there once last year, I don’t know, because on our short return back we went twice! The best part about Wilson’s is definitely the old-school atmosphere. Of course, the view of the water is second but nothing really compares to the vibe this place gives off. When we went late Saturday night, we could hardly squeeze through the door and had to take a number. The workers were cheerful and energetic even with the place packed wall to wall.

Wilson’s is technically a restaurant and ice cream parlor, but both times we went, it was only for the ice cream. I had an ice cream called “peanut butter explosion” the first time around; it was so rich and creamy, I almost couldn’t finish it, but it was so good that I had to. The second time around I had plain ole cookie dough because I couldn’t handle another rich dessert. Both were great choices. If you’re in the area, you definitely have to stop at Wilson’s.

Door County, WI

The weather while we were up north was so perfect. My eyes being closed in this picture was a complete accident, but I realized that this photo actually pretty accurately captures how I felt spending the day hiking and biking through Peninsula State Park. In some ways, I’m such a girly girl; I love shopping, painting my nails, blogging, going to wine and paint classes and playing with makeup, but I’m obsessed with hiking and biking and camping and kayaking. I’m learning that it is completely possible to be a girly, outdoorsy girl. There is no where else I feel more relaxed than outside on a bright, sunny day.

Peninsula State Park | Eagle Bluff Lighthouse | Door County, WI

The Peninsula State Park is beautiful on the inside. I can now also say that it is beautiful from the outside too. Mom and I splurged this weekend by booking a Fish Creek Scenic Boat Tour. The company regularly offers tours of Peninsula State Park & Ephraim, Millionaire’s Row & the West Islands or a sunset cruise with live music called the Sunset Live Music & Egg Harbor South Cruise. On the day we decided to take a tour, the routes were altered, so we ended up seeing a combination of Peninsula State Park and Millionaire’s Row and the West Islands. I thought my favorite part of the tour would be Millionaire’s Row (because who doesn’t want to see a bunch of fancy houses?), but it turns out my favorite part was seeing the Strawberry Islands. The island chain has four islands- Adventure Island, Jack Island, Pirate Island and Little Strawberry Island, which are all privately owned.

Strawberry Islands | Door County, WI

Each island was so different and so interesting in its own way. This island pictured above was interesting to see because it was being overrun with seagulls. See all of the black specks in the sky that almost just look like dirt on your computer screen? All of the little dots on the top of the roof? The white speckles in the water and on the ground? They’re all seagulls. The family that owns the island only uses it as a vacation home; they weren’t there when we were taking the scenic boat tour, so these guys were making it their own home! Can you imagine having to clean up all of the droppings these birds leave behind? I’ve never seen that many seagulls in on place. It sure was a sight to see!

After we made it through the Strawberry Islands, we cruised down Millionaire’s Row, which turned out to be less extravagant than I thought. Many of the homes look just like your average home- with a few exceptions, of course- because the land itself is such a prime spot, and there isn’t much room to build!

Door County, WI

I actually have a big fear of boats and the open water, but I’ve been getting out on the water a lot lately and each time I enjoy it so much. I even tried kayaking for the first time this past week. I think it’s okay to have fears, but I’ve always told myself that whatever I do, I don’t want my fears to get in the way of living my life and experience everything this great, wide world has to offer. I still don’t ever see myself going on a cruise in the future, but it feels satisfying to know that I can do little trips like this.

Sunset Beach Park in Fish Creek | Summer 2016 Door County, WI

One thing is for certain, the water sure doesn’t seem so scary when I look at this sunset. It looks warm, serene and breathtakingly beautiful. It’s views like this that sometimes make me think I never want to leave Door County.

Working from home hasn’t been everything I expected it to be. It can get lonely. It can be hard to keep myself motivated when I am feeling down and there is no one else around to bring me back to my peppy, cheerful, go-getter self. But this weekend was just what the doctor ordered. Spending some quality time with my mom and a whole lot of time outdoors reignited my passion and excitement about what I do and where I’m going.

Door County is beautiful and I had the perfect vacation; now it’s time to get back to writing and tackling this crazy thing we call blogging. Until next time, Door County!

Have you ever been to Door County, WI? Where is the most beautiful sunset you have ever seen? What’s your favorite vacation spot? Let me know in the comments below! Also, if you are heading to Door County soon, be sure to connect with me on social media! I’d love to give you my restaurant and attraction recommendations or chitchat about your visit.

PS. If you are looking for the perfect sunset in Door County, the picture was taken at Sunset Beach in Fish Creek.

Outdoor Illinois Summer Bucket List

Outdoor Illinois Summer Bucket List - 7 outdoor activities to add to your Illinois summer bucket list. It's time to get outside and enjoy the warm weather months!

The truth is, I’m graduating college in 8 days, and I don’t know where life is going to take me. I might be in Illinois for the next few years, or I might fall in love with a job halfway across the country… or the world! So, my goal for this summer is to spend as much time enjoying all of the wonders my home state has to offer with my friends and family. To keep my focus on being active and adventurous, I’m making a list (because how else would I stay organized without a list, right?)! I’ve searched the internet for the best outdoor hidden gems in Illinois, and I found some places I have been before and want to revisit (like Galena and Anderson Japanese Gardens) and others that I want to explore for the first time.

Garden of the Gods

Outdoor Illinois Summer Bucket List - 7 outdoor activities to add to your Illinois summer bucket list. It's time to get outside and enjoy the warm weather months!

Garden of the Gods is in the Shawnee National Forest (not to be confused with the other Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, CO). Shawnee National Forest offers the typical recreational activities-  camping, hiking, biking, fishing, swimming, boating, hunting- which make the trip to the Shawnee National Forest an enjoyable experience, but the highlight of the national park has to be this view right here. Visiting Garden of the Gods may be even more enjoyable in the fall with the changing colors of the leaves, but whenever you go, you’re bound to get a nice picture or two. Just make sure to look where you are walking… those rocks make me nervous! You can see the visitors standing out on different ledges in the picture above. Eek.

[X] Galena

Outdoor Illinois Summer Bucket List - 7 outdoor activities to add to your Illinois summer bucket list. It's time to get outside and enjoy the warm weather months!

I’ve talked about my trips to Galena on the blog before. Ty and I went horseback riding and sight seeing last May. We honestly had the best day. Galena is a small town with a lot to offer. It’s the perfect place to roam around, checking out the shops, take a painting class, eat way too many sweets, go horseback riding, or go kayaking. One thing that I liked so much about our trip to Galena last May was that for the first time ever (and I’ve been to Galena a lot), we stopped to see Ulysses S. Grant’s house.

Starved Rock

Outdoor Illinois Summer Bucket List - 7 outdoor activities to add to your Illinois summer bucket list. It's time to get outside and enjoy the warm weather months!

This is the #1 must-see place on my bucket list for this summer. It’s not too far from home, and I have heard so many great things about taking a day trip to Starved Rock that I just can’t put it off anymore! It was even voted the #1 attraction in the state of Illinois, so it seems like everything I have heard is pretty accurate… Starved Rock has 13 miles of hiking trails and 18 different canyons to check out. Planning which trails to cover is going to be a tough decision. Luckily, if you can’t decide, there is a nice lodge (and campgrounds) in the park, so you don’t have to miss anything!

Meeting of the Great Rivers Scenic Bypass

Outdoor Illinois Summer Bucket List - 7 outdoor activities to add to your Illinois summer bucket list. It's time to get outside and enjoy the warm weather months!

Does driving down a scenic bypass count as being outdoors? Maybe not but it still connects you with nature, so roll back the sunroof, and I think we can let this one slide. Honestly, this picture does not do the bypass justice. The images on the Meeting of the Great Rivers website are breathtaking. This bypass runs 33 miles where the Mississippi, Missouri, and Illinois Rivers come together. Driving straight through takes about an hour, but there are a number of attractions that you can stop to see. If you’re driving past the area, I genuinely think this will be worth the detour… even if it adds some time onto your trip. It will be fun, and you can even download mp3 files for an audio tour in your very own car!

[X] Anderson Japanese Gardens

Outdoor Illinois Summer Bucket List - 7 outdoor activities to add to your Illinois summer bucket list. It's time to get outside and enjoy the warm weather months!

The Anderson Japanese Gardens just reopened for the season on May 1, and I am going to make it a point to go. I have kind of been to the Anderson Japanese Gardens before; I’ve never walked through the actual gardens, but I have eaten at Fresco at the Gardens and had an incredible view of the area. If you are going to walk around the gardens, I highly suggest going on an empty stomach so that you can enjoy brunch at the restaurant. When I went, I tried the City Market Frittata and the Strawberry Orange Juice, which is fresh squeezed for you! The best part about Fresco at the Gardens is everything is organic and local, and you can tell. Your meal tastes fresh!

If you are looking for a more structured trip than a simple brunch and walk through the gardens, there are always special events going on, so make sure to check the calendar before you go. A few events coming up in May are Tai Chi, meditation, yoga, origami, flower arranging, and calligraphy.

Green City Market

Outdoor Illinois Summer Bucket List - 7 outdoor activities to add to your Illinois summer bucket list. It's time to get outside and enjoy the warm weather months!

Okay, let’s be honest: there are a lot of farmer’s markets all over the state. With that being said, there probably isn’t one that reigns superior and justifies driving half a day to get to, so let’s put an asterisks next to this one and say my goal is to go to a farmer’s market I’ve never been to before, but after doing extensive research, it seems safe to say that if you are in the Chicago area, you should check out the Green City Market. If you want to know what to expect, you can of course  browse the Green City Market website, but Yelp also has 114 pictures showcasing all of the yummy food the market has to offer!

Tunnel Hill State Trail

Outdoor Illinois Summer Bucket List - 7 outdoor activities to add to your Illinois summer bucket list. It's time to get outside and enjoy the warm weather months!

Biking is my absolute favorite. I could bike everyday; although, I did just recently sell my bike because I had outgrown it, so I am in the market for a new one. Add to my bucket list for this summer: save up for a new bike. I love the look of beach cruisers, but I also want something that is functional and can change gears, so if you have any suggestions for a decently priced, functional beach cruiser style bike, let me know in the comments below.

As for the Tunnel Hill State Trail, I would definitely pair this biking trail with a trip to the Shawnee National Forest to see Garden of the Gods, because they are super close by each other. The trail is 55.6 miles long, so there is no need to worry that you won’t have far enough to go or enough to see. According to TrailLink.com when you ride down the Tunnel Hill State Trail, you’ll pass by ghost towns, a park, bridges, and, of course, the tunnel it is named after. The trail also has great reviews!

What should I add to my outdoor Illinois summer bucket list? Have you ever been to one of these stops? Where do you want to explore? What are your favorite things to do outside during the warm weather months?

Where to Eat in Naples, Florida

 

Where to Eat in Naples, Florida | Ali in Bloom

This is my last post about my vacation, I swear! But with below zero temperatures and classes starting again, it’s hard not to think about it. Naples has so many things to do and also so many places to eat; I could never claim to be an expert on the local eateries even after all the years I’ve visited, but I have definitely formed some opinions during my time in Naples. So here are my restaurant recommendations for your next trip to the Naples, Florida area.

A casual meal – Pelican Larry’s

Pelican Larry’s has a laid back bar atmosphere with walls lined with TVs, friendly service and great food. Although it may look like any other ordinary bar, Pelican Larry’s website is packed with awards they have received for their food, service and atmosphere. Try anything from the Chili to the Buffalo Chicken Wrap – or my mom’s favorite: the Grouper Sandwich.

The favorite – Bonefish

I’ve been to Bonefish a number of times and have never been disappointed. They offer great food, fair portions and a decent price. Nothing to complain about there! The Bang Bang Shrimp, Shrimp Pad Thai, Crème Brûlée and Filet Mignon are all delicious!

Straight off the airplane – Cheddar’s

Cheddar’s is a chain, but I’d never been to one before, so it still felt like a novelty to me. The best part? It’s located nearby the Fort Lauderdale airport, so you don’t have to go far after landing. The menu is huge, with a wide variety of different styles of food to choose from, so it is bound to please your whole group. I had the Key West Chicken & Shrimp, because I was in the Florida spirit. So good!

The special occasion – The Turtle Club

The Turtle Club is my grandpa’s favorite for an extra special meal. It’s also great for first time Florida goers, because it’s quite the experience. You just might be dining a little early, because you’ll want to make it there before the sunsets, so you can look out across the ocean to view it from your table on the sand.

Breakfast – Skillets

I’ve never personally been to Skillets, but a fellow sorority sister and good friend swears by it, so I’m listening to her (and my grandpa seconded her opinion, so I thought it was safe)! Need a Sunday brunch or early breakfast? This place is the place to be for tourists and locals alike.

Lunch with a view – CJ’s on the Bay

The atmosphere and view at CJ’s on the Bay is one of my all time favorites. Sitting outside on the patio during lunch is such a relaxing experience. CJ’s on the Bay is actually on Marco Island, where we always go to the beach. Lucky for you, CJ’s on the Bay is on the way back to Naples from the beach. Stop in! You won’t be disappointed.

A quaint cafe – Amigo’s

Amigo’s serves (according to their website, because I can’t really be one to judge) authentic Mexican in the most quaint, adorable cafe on Tamiami Trail. The atmosphere is fun, the food is good and most importantly, the owner and staff are friendly. My family and I ate dinner at the bar and had a blast laughing and chatting with the owner. I’ve only been twice, but I’ll definitely be going again.

Have you ever been to Naples, Florida before? What are your favorite restaurants in southwest Florida? Let me know in the comments below. I always need suggestions for my next trip back!