Top 20 Places I Visited in 2018 (Part 2 of 2)

I am counting down the Top 20 Places I Visited in 2018. My previous post explored numbers 11-20. If you haven’t read that post yet, check it out first here.

Again, these aren’t my favorite states, favorite cities, or even favorite national parks; these are specific locations within those cities and parks.

So, let’s jump into my top 10!

 

10. Freedom Trail in Boston, Massachusetts

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Bunker Hill in Boston!

Who knew there was so much history packed into such a small area? Well, I guess everyone who has traveled the 2.5 mile Freedom Trail in Boston!

Here are just a FEW of the sites along the trail: Paul Revere House (“The British are coming!”), Old North Church (“One, if by land, and two, if by sea.”), Granary Burying Ground (final resting place of John Hancock, Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, and many others), Old South Meeting House (where the Boston Tea Party started), and Bunker Hill (important battle in the Revolutionary War).

While you hike along the 2.5 mile trail through the streets of old Boston (marked with red brick or red paint), take in some of the local cuisine in Boston’s Italian neighborhood. Be sure to check out Mike’s Pastry, where we had the best cannoli and Boston cream pie ever!

 

9. Eataly in Chicago, Illinois

21432994_10214860010590293_1469915531034420_nHave I mentioned my fondness for food? Eataly is a food-lover’s paradise! We also visited the Downtown New York City Eataly location this past summer, but the one in Chicago is much bigger and easier to navigate. Every time we visit Chicago, I have to make a trip or two to Eataly!

Eataly is a shopping mall of Italian food! There are more than a dozen restaurants and food counters in the midst of an Italian grocery store and market!

You know the look that children have on their faces the first time they walk into Disney World? Yeah, that’s what I look like every time I step foot in Eataly!

When you are in Chicago, head over to Eataly (just a block and a half from Michigan Avenue), or visit their locations in Downtown NYC, Boston, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Manhattan’s Flatiron District, or their twelve locations in Italy and eight additional locations around the world!

 

8. Lombardi’s in New York City, New York

37679535_10215768359138439_4315081362286575616_oDo you like pizza? Of course you do! So, you need to thank Lombardi’s, which is the first pizzeria in the United States! Then, hop on a plane and head over to the Nolita neighborhood in Manhattan to find Lombardi’s!

Gennaro Lombardi established the first pizzeria in the U.S. in 1905. Lombardi’s took a 10-year hiatus in 1984 and moved a block and half down the street, but they continue to make the most perfect, smoky-crusted, coal-oven baked pizzas.

When we visited this past summer, there was a long wait at 3:00 PM, so we ordered a simple pepperoni pizza to go and ate it on the bench out front. It was perfection! San Marzano tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, and pepperoni with the perfect amount of spice on a crisp, smoky crust! It is the best pizza I have ever tasted…and you know I’ve had a lot of pizza!

New York is known for amazing pizza, and this is the one that started it all! It is a must for anyone visiting New York City!

 

7. Honor Heights Park in Muskogee, Oklahoma

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Gorgeous azaleas at Honor Heights Park in Muskogee, Oklahoma!

You’re probably asking, “Why in the world is a park in small-town Oklahoma on this list?!” Full transparency: Honor Heights Park is in my hometown, and, well, this post is about MY favorite places I visited last year! However, Honor Heights is a truly, remarkable place.

We visited Honor Heights three times in 2018. The first two were in April for Muskogee’s annual Azalea Festival and again at Easter. Even temperatures in the 30s didn’t stop us from enjoying the natural beauty of the park. Not only is the park full of azaleas of every color, there are tulip and rose gardens, dogwoods, redbuds, waterfalls, ponds, and a playground that can keep my kids occupied for hours!

Our second visit was right after Thanksgiving for the Garden of Lights, where the park is transformed with over one million Christmas lights! What is unique about the lights at Honor Heights Park is that the lights are intended to mimic and complement the natural beauty of the park. Azalea bushes are covered in lights that are the colors of the azalea blooms, trees are wrapped in color, and the water features gorgeously reflect the surrounding lights. It is our absolute favorite place to see Christmas lights!

Any time of year is a perfect time to visit Muskogee’s Honor Heights Park.

 

6. Schoodic Point in Acadia National Park, Maine

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Hiking at Schoodic Point

Acadia National Park is one of the most beautiful places we have ever visited, and Schoodic Point is one of the most beautiful places in Acadia! (Schoodic Point is not the only location in Acadia that made my list!)

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Sunset at Schoodic Point

Schoodic Point is located across the Mt. Desert Narrows from the rest of Acadia National Park. It’s about an hour and 15 minute drive from Bar Harbor, but it is definitely worth the drive!

Acadia is a popular destination because of the gorgeous scenery, which means it can get crowded at times. However, Schoodic Point is isolated from the rest of the park and is, therefore, less crowded. But it is equally beautiful!

Our family did a 2.5 mile hike with amazing views of the mountains and ocean, and we only saw one person (twice) during our entire hike! After the hike, we went down to the water for a breathtaking sunset.

We cannot wait to get back here, and you shouldn’t wait to visit here, either!

 

5. Independence Hall & Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

IMG_2315This one really surprised me. I had no idea that I would enjoy Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell as much as I did!

Honestly, we debated whether or not to wait in line to view the Liberty Bell. The line was long, the day was hot, and from the outside, you can see the Liberty Bell through a large window. Ultimately, we decided to wait in line (which took about 45 minutes), and I am so glad we did!

The feeling of standing face-to-face with such a famous symbol of American history was similar to seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time. You can see countless pictures and listen to others describe it your entire life, but until you see it in person, you cannot comprehend the experience! It was truly impressive to be standing in the presence of the Liberty Bell.

IMG_2986The experience was similar just across the street at Independence Hall. Many important historical events have taken place here, most notably the drafting and signing of both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.

Before our trip to the Northeast, the boys and I watched the movie National Treasure. Sure, it’s a little cheesy and inaccurate, but it got my boys excited about history and our trip! They could not wait to see one of the sites used in the movie. However, we soon found out that you have to have a ticket (they’re free) to enter Independence Hall, and they were all out for the day.

I talked with one of the park rangers, who hated National Treasure but loved my boys’ interest in history. He was able to get us on the next tour, and he was an incredible guide! He not only knew the history, but he made it exciting, even to our young kids! And after the tour was over, he actually let the kids go past the rope and up the stairs, just like in the movie! Well, only halfway up the stairs, but our kids still thought it was awesome!

Every American should visit these important sites in our country’s history. Make sure you get to Independence Hall early enough to get a free tour ticket, and if you are wondering if the Liberty Bell is worth the wait, the answer is “YES!”

 

4. Central Park in New York City

37641094_10215752079331454_5982604729945948160_oI love parks. (It’s literally my name.) And Central Park is the quintessential urban park in the United States. It is America’s first major landscaped public park, it is the most visited urban park in the U.S., and it is the most filmed location in the world!

With all the noise and business of big city life, Central Park provides a welcome respite to locals and tourists alike. It is hard to believe, but you don’t have to walk very far into the park before the buildings and clamor of the city disappear.

Central park is filled with walking and biking paths, lakes, woods, beautiful bridges, fountains, sculptures, and gardens. There are playgrounds, ball fields, tennis and handball courts, a swimming pool, row boats and gondolas, a zoo, theatres, a castle, a carousel, and even an ice skating rink and two ice hockey rinks in the winter. You will find several restaurants, cafes, snack bars, and food carts throughout the park. Grab a snack and sit on one of the 9,000 benches in the park. Central Park is great for people watching, but it’s not hard to find a secluded spot for some peace and quiet!

Our first visit to Central Park was after visiting the amazing American Museum of Natural History across the street. We grabbed some sandwiches at a nearby deli and had a wonderful picnic in the park. With Central Park being the most filmed location in the world, we had fun discovering locations from some of our favorite movies and TV shows!

We visited in the summer, but anytime of year seems like a great time to experience the varied activities and beauty of the park! When visiting New York City, carve out at least an hour or two to enjoy the history, beauty, and serenity of this spectacular park!

 

3. Bass Harbor Head Light in Acadia National Park, Maine

Bass Harbor Head LightThe Bass Harbor Head Light is the reason I wanted to visit Acadia National Park. Yes, there are many compelling reasons to visit Acadia: the unique terrain of ancient mountains, pine forests, and ocean mingling together; hiking, biking, and swimming among some of this beautiful scenery; fresh seafood everywhere you turn and the popovers at the Jordan Pond House. But photos of the Bass Harbor Head Light drew me there like, well, a ship to the harbor.

We arrived at the Light after lunch at the Jordan Pond House (mmmm……popovers!) and a hike to Eagle Lake. We rushed and prayed to make it there before sunset and arrived just in time!

It’s a steep descent from the parking lot to the seashore via a wooden staircase. There were at least 50 people crawling on top of the boulders, trying to secure their viewing spot. There might have been more than that, actually. I rushed past all of them and got the closest spot available without getting in the water. Shelly was certain I was going to fall in, and I have to admit my setup was a bit precarious. But it was totally worth the occasional splash from the breaking waves!

I have seen hundreds, maybe thousands of sunsets all over the country: beach sunsets in San Diego; mountain sunsets in Colorado, New Mexico, and Wyoming; desert sunsets at the Grand Canyon and southern Utah; prairie sunsets in western Oklahoma; forest sunsets in Missouri and Tennessee; and city sunsets in New York and Chicago. However, the sunset at the Bass Harbor Head Light may have just topped them all! (The sunset at Schoodic Point in Acadia—#6 on this list—is also near the top!)

The photographs are gorgeous, but they do not fully capture how the light from the setting sun interacts with the trees, the rocks, the clouds and sky, undulating sea, and the picturesque lighthouse.

Acadia National Park is worth the trip just to visit the Bass Harbor Head Light at sunset (but don’t miss out on everything else the park has to offer). When you go, get there early—at least an hour before sunset—and dress warmer than you think you need. The wind blowing across the water can be quite chilly, even in the summer for a hot-natured guy like me!_MLP6317-2

 

2. Preservation Hall in New Orleans, Louisiana

img_5440.jpgI mentioned earlier that my grandfather (“Papa” to my family) was born and raised in New Orleans. My grandfather used to have a framed photograph he took of the “stage” at Preservation Hall. It intrigued me from a very young age. I would often gaze up at the instruments and try to imagine the experience of being there in person.

I finally got my chance this past June. Shelly and I took a quick little getaway to Memphis, Gulfport, and New Orleans. We only had one night in New Orleans, which has myriad entertainment opportunities, but this is the place I most wanted to experience.

Preservation Hall was established in 1961 to preserve New Orleans jazz music. It is no grand music hall; it’s little more than a shack with benches and floor cushions for 40 people and standing room for another 60. There is no air conditioning, no snack bar, and no stage. And it is perfect.

Tickets are $20 for a 45-minute show. “Big Shot” reserved seating up front is available for $35-$50. (We were fortunate that they hadn’t sold all of the “Big Shot” seats and allowed us a front-row bench!) Shows run nightly at 5:00, 6:00, 8:00, 9:00, and 10:00. I would easily drop $200 next time Shelly and I are in New Orleans and catch every show!

There was no set-list; the band just decided what to play on the spot. The band leader was Charlie Gabriel, a fourth-generation New Orleans musician who has played with Aretha Franklin, Tony Bennett, Brenda Lee, and Frankie Avalon. He looked to be at least 80 years old, but he had the energy of a 20-year old!

It was incredible to listen to this multi-generational band improvise and, yet, blend so well together. They put their heart and soul into every note of every song. These are some of the best musicians in the world, and it was like we were invited to hang out with them in the band leader’s living room…or maybe more like the garage.

Preservation Hall is now a must for me every time I visit New Orleans, and it should be for you, too! Be sure to get there early; people start lining up about an hour before showtime. And bring a plastic bottle of water, especially in the summer!

 

 

Okay, are you ready to see what my #1 favorite spot was I visited in 2018? Here it is!

 

 

 

 

1. Sand Beach Overlook in Acadia National Park, Maine

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Sand Beach Overlook in Acadia National Park. The perfect spot for a family picnic!

I was fortunate to visit 20 different states and Ontario, Canada in 2018, and the Sand Beach Overlook in Acadia National Park was by far my favorite spot! It had it all: beautiful weather (sunny and about 70 degrees), gorgeous scenery (sitting under the pine trees with the ocean waves crashing on the rocks and beach below), and my favorite people (my wife and kids).

IMG_9644We spent the morning hiking around Cadillac Mountain (the highest mountain on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States). For lunch, we headed to Sand Beach for a picnic of cheese, crackers, and salami. One of my favorite meals of 2018, too, and it had nothing to do with the food!

Acadia National Park is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited, and this was one of the most beautiful places in Acadia. Like most national parks in July, Acadia can get crowded, but we had our own secluded spot. It was a peaceful hour of enjoying my family in God’s beautiful creation. These are the moments I long for throughout the year!

Did I visit more beautiful and exciting places? Maybe. Did I enjoy more tasty meals? Absolutely! But I will remember this moment forever, and everytime I think back on this memory, I smile.

I definitely think you you should visit the overlook at Sand Beach in Acadia National Park. But, more importantly, I believe you should seek moments like this wherever you are. You, your family, and God’s creation. Stillness, slowing down, focused time with God and your family. And some cured meats.

 

Get out there and explore God’s green earth with your family—whether it’s in a National Park 23 hours away or at the park down the street from your house. You don’t have to travel very far to have an awesome Dadventure!

 

 

Honorable Mention

We visited a lot of places in 2018. A whole lot. Here are few more that deserve a little recognition.

  • Holiday World in Santa Claus, Indiana – Free soft drinks and free sunscreen. Awesome water park.
  • Niagara Falls in New York and Ontario, Canada – Maid of the Mist boat tour was incredible!
  • Cape Cod, Massachusetts – Beautiful houses and gorgeous views on the water.
  • Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park, Maine – Highest mountain on the Eastern Seaboard of the united States.
  • Willis Tower in Chicago, Illinois – Formerly, the “Sears Tower.” Whose bright idea was it to have people stand in a glass box hanging on the side of the second-tallest building in the Western hemisphere?!
  • Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans, Louisiana – Cafe au lait, beignets, and copious amounts of powdered sugar. Perfection.
  • Coney Island in New York City, New York – Nice beach retreat and delicious hot dogs from the original Nathan’s Famous. But if you want to enjoy some rides, save your money and go to Six Flags or Disney. Probably cheaper.
  • 9/11 Memorial in New York City, New York – Not a site you “enjoy” seeing, but it is very impactful.
  • Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York – The place that invented Buffalo wings, and the best I’ve ever had.
  • Diana’s Baths in Conway, New Hampshire – The water was freezing, but that didn’t stop us from enjoying this amazing water feature in the White Mountains!

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