I think we all could use a vacation after experiencing the stress, anxiety and uncertainty of COVID-19. That's why our team wanted to share some of our favorite vacation spots with you! Get ready to pack your bags for some summer travel.
Emily's Pick: Pensacola, Florida
Tell us more: Pensacola beach my home town! There’s not only the beach but also downtown Pensacola, which is influenced by five cities and has a French quarter feel. The best seafood and town that will make you feel like a local!
Paint the scene: You can smell the salt air 24/7. Has a short winter season. Beautiful year-round. Best sunsets and sand on the gulf coast. No question about it.
Where is it?: Pensacola is the westernmost city in the Florida Panhandle, and the county seat of Escambia County, Florida.
Accommodations: There are always beach condos, but I challenge you to stay at the Lee house or near downtown near Palafox street to see what Pensacola really means to the locals. There’s more than just the beach!
Explore: Go for the hometown Blue Angles Show and sit on the gulf side! The Cross Beach is another local secret. If you drive on Via Da Luna past Portofino Beach Resort, you’ll eventually see a building with a parking lot you can use. There are clean bathrooms there and it is rarely packed with tourists! Afterwards, go walk up and down Palafox street for amazing restaurants, vibes, bars and stores.
Eat: Go to Carmen's lunch bar then go to Bodacious Coffee -- grab you a drink and walk up stairs to the balcony hidden in So Gourmet (kitchen store) you won’t regret it. On your way out, try out all the olive oils and dressings at bodacious olive. For a nice night out, go to The District. If you want a nice night out, go to Grand Marlin, which is LITERALLY the best. The brunch is to die for -- try the Blue Angels chips appetizer. If you want to stay in and cook, it is a good thing we have the best local seafood market! And guess what? It’s right next to Palafox street the center of downtown. Joe Patties is your one-stop-shop for anything fresh seafood. You can't go wrong.
Caroline’s Pick: Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia
Tell us more: Smith Mountain Lake holds a special place in my heart! Not only have I been going there since I was little, I got engaged there in 2019 and will be getting married there, too!.
Paint the scene: Picture dark blue water stretching for miles, touching a shoreline of quaint farms, protected land and gorgeous lake houses. This scene is surrounded by green-covered mountains overlooking the lake.
Where is it?: Smith Mountain Lake is a large reservoir in the Roanoke Region of Virginia, located southeast of the City of Roanoke and southwest of Lynchburg. It is about 1.25 hours from Roanoke, VA, about 2.15 hours from Raleigh, NC and about 2 hours from Greensboro, NC. It is not necessarily easy to get to but it is well worth it.
Accommodations: If you’re going to make the trip, find an Airbnb or VRBO on the lake. The side of the lake closest to Union Hall will have more access to grocery stores, restaurants and pharmacies. The Penhook side (where my family resides) is much more rural and requires a 20 minute drive to reach a grocery store or restaurant.
Explore: If you can get your Virginia boater’s license prior to your trip, rent a pontoon boat or jet ski from Crazy Horse Marina. There are tons of remote coves perfect for docking, swimming, eating and drinking on the boat! If you’re into water sports, check out the Bull Run ski course, located on the Penhook side of the lake. When you’re ready for some exercise, make the drive to Peaks of Otter for a great hike and even better views at the top. There is a small apple orchard with great snacks located just off the road on the way home.
Eat: Is there anything better than traveling by boat to dinner? I don’t think so. Make sure to hit Smith Mountain Dock for great food (the greasy, filling foods you’ve been craving after a day of watersports and swimming) and a chance to put peanut butter on your toes and have them sucked by the local bass. You won’t forget it! We love going to Mexico Veijo at the Crazy Horse Marina right at sunset. They have amazing Mexican food and will even make guacamole right at your table! Finally, The Landing Restaurant is the BEST for a nicer night out. The food is absolutely incredible -- get the tuna ceviche.
Caroline’s Pick: Seaside (30A), Florida
Tell us more: 30A is a very well-known Southern travel destination… and for good reason!
Paint the scene: Picture a family paradise. The sand is clean and white, the water is clear, light blue and the sunsets are picture-perfect. There are food trucks (snow cones, too), an outdoor concert venue, a quaint post office, beach bars and tons of cute shops. People ride bikes everywhere and “real clothes” are totally optional.
Where is it? Highway 30A runs on the gulf coast of Florida. It is only about a 4 hour drive from Birmingham. There are multiple beach towns along 30A -- Seaside, Watercolor, Alys Beach, Rosemary Beach and Grayton Beach.
Accommodations: I have only ever rented large houses for myself and my family. If you want to go this route, which I do suggest, make sure to book way in advance! We try to stay somewhere new each time we visit, which is a lot of fun. Staying in Grayton Beach will be a lot more affordable than staying directly in Seaside, so be sure to shop around.
Explore: I rarely do much “exploring” when I am at the beach, unless eating out or hitting up a snow cone truck counts. I do recommend renting bikes for this trip, though, because the sidewalks are flat and perfect for morning or evening rides. If we’re staying for a week, my dad and I will get short-term passes from a local gym, like Grayton Beach Fitness. I’ve also done a hot yoga class at Otium 30A, which was amazing. There is a cute coffee shop right next door, so you can grab a coffee when you’re finished! If you’re looking to shop, head to Seaside Circle and explore the stores.
Eat: My favorite beach tradition is to wake up before the sunrise, go on a long walk, then ride my bike over to Juice Truck on Seaside Square. It was here where I first learned of Spirulina -- that blue/green algae people put in their smoothies! The food truck is a “must” for anyone who likes delicious, clean food and drinks. They serve lunch and dinner as well. For a more “put-together” night out, head to Caliza for drinks and apps. Bring your camera because this place is a designer’s heaven for inspiration. Then, head to George’s for a southern, coastal dinner.
Britney’s Pick: San Diego, California
Tell us more: My favorite summer vacation spot San Diego. The weather is beautiful year-round there and the views of both the water and the landscape are breathtaking. It has a laid back vibe if you are wanting to relax and recharge, but it is also full of attractions if you are in the mood to get out and explore.
Where is it?: San Diego is a city on the Pacific coast of California known for its beaches, parks and warm climate.
Accommodations: The Pendry is my favorite place to stay while I’m there. The hotel has lots of natural light and beautifully decorated interiors.
Explore: There are so many things to do there, it is hard to know where to begin. One of my best memories is learning to surf with my daughter off of one of their beaches there. The San Diego Zoo is a must. I also recommend renting bikes from Pacific Beach Bikes and riding your bike along the coastline.
Eat: Having Sunday brunch at the Crown Room in Hotel del Coronado is such a fun experience.
Sarrah’s Pick: Lake Martin, Alabama
Tell us more: I have gotten to travel a good bit, but honestly, my favorite summer spot is my best friend's lake house at Lake Martin. Her family purchased it when we were in high school, and for years, it has been the place all of our friends gather when we can. We have our own routines - each morning, we silently drink coffee on the porch until the last friend wakes. Jenna makes us blueberry pancakes, and then we spend the day on the lake until evening pulls us to board games and a hodgepodge dinner prep. Most nights end with us together, on couches, watching old VHS tapes while eating Bluebell homemade vanilla ice cream. I love these summer days because our old routines continue, but they are always blessed with the new faces of tag-a-long friends or current crushes.
Where is it?: Lake Martin is located in Tallapoosa, Elmore and Coosa counties in Alabama. It is a 44,000-acre reservoir with over 750 miles of wooded shoreline.
Accommodations: I suggest staying with a friend, if possible, or renting a home on the lake through Airbnb or VRBO!
Eat: Bring some goodies to cook in your Airbnb or home! Cooking at the lake is the best.
Personal Story: One Sunday morning, Jenna, Michael, and I decided to stay for the rest of the day instead of leaving at noon. This decision made morning Sunday Mass a priority for Michael and Jenna who would have normally driven home for evening Sunday Mass. With only bikinis, Chacos, and pajamas to choose from, Jenna and I were forced to look through closets for additional clothing. Jenna found a poncho, and I found a dress. Both would have put any thrift store find to high shame. They were a solid three sizes too big, speckled with holes left by decades of moths, and printed in bright floral patterns. With Sunday Mass set firm on the horizon, we tossed the oversized articles over our swimsuits and tightened our lake stained Chaco straps. We met Michael in the car. Michael, an apt couch surfer, selected a floral button down from his truck closet completing the eye sore. Once together, we drove the 25 miles to the local Catholic church. About 20 miles in, a summer rain let loose pounding the car and threatening ruin to our curated outfits. We pulled into the parking lot, waited for what ended in only a slower rain, and rushed to the doors of the county church. We walked into the one room church and found seats about 3/4 of the way from the front. 15 sets of eyes sporadically glanced our way as water dripped from our hair, across the floral print pressed against our skin, and down the frayed hemline pooling the sacred floor. Though wet, we shuffled our feet, stood in song, kneeled in prayer, and sat for preaching all for Sunday Mass.