You might not think of train track–adjacent as the ideal environs for a café, but it’s one of my favorite aspects of Martin City Coffee (admittedly, this may be partly because trains feed my undying dream to catch the Hogwarts Express, but still). The coffee shop sits next to the train tracks that run through Martin City, giving the place a unique, slightly gritty (or perhaps old-timey) feel that somehow fits very well with the warm atmosphere. The vibe is more bookworm cozy than minimalist hipster—think dark wood, leather armchairs, golden light, and chalkboard menus. It’s casual, comfortable, and homey, with an authentic feel. Bonus: there’s plenty of seating (often an issue for coffee shops, I find), plus a patio and drive-through. You may or may not add a train whistle to your soundtrack while there, but personally, I think that only adds to the charm.
So, ready to get your java fix? Martin City has all the classic espresso offerings—lattes, Americanos, frappés, and the like—as well as tea, hot chocolate, and spiced apple cider for the non-javaholics. If you’re looking to really celebrate the season (or just treat yourself), they also have a host of creative concoctions. The current seasonal drinks include a butterbeer latte, apple fritter latte, and eggnog chai. Why didn’t the Three Broomsticks think of making a butterbeer latte?
Photo courtesy of Martin City Coffee
As much as I adore pastries (who doesn’t?), sometimes a scone doesn’t quite cut it, and it’s rather rare to find a coffee shop that does coffee and (real) food well. Especially if you like to camp out at a café for a day of work like I do, it’s a major bonus to find a place with a tasty menu. Martin City Coffee fits the bill to a T here. Never fear—they have the quintessential sweet treats, including old-fashioned donuts, homemade pop-tarts, protein balls, cinnamon rolls, and muffins. If you’re looking for something a little more substantial, though, there’s also a pretty extensive menu of yummies made in-house—think breakfast burritos and sandwiches, avocado toast, omelettes, and grilled cheese, plus more unique offerings like arepas, tostones, and yuca fries. Plus: breakfast all day (need I say more?).
As the days get chillier, I’m ready to hunker down in a toasty, cozy coffee shop with a steaming drink. In other words, the folks at Martin City Coffee will be seeing a lot of me (you’ve been warned).
It still feels like summer in Kansas City, but it’s officially fall, and I’m in full autumn mode (admittedly, I’m pretty much always in autumn mode, but now I can really go unapologetically fall-crazy). Mid-September to November for me is all about burying myself in anything and everything that conjures up that aura of crisp, misty days; brilliant fiery colors; earthy charm; and of course, all the spookiness. Even if it’s not exactly crisp outside yet, I’ll be channeling that October spirit — bring on the autumn bucket list.
Explore the fall colors
The stunning reds, yellows, and oranges of fall might be my favorite part of the season. While KC isn’t exactly known for its fall colors, there are a number of spots where the season shows off its hues in spectacular fashion. I’m going to do a full post about finding the best fall foliage around KC, so stay tuned!
Cook something pumpkin
What screams autumn more than pumpkins? There are an embarrassing number of pumpkin-related recipes saved on my Pinterest — here are a few I’m eyeing for this season (sorrynotsorry, no PSLs here):
Paleo Pumpkin Pie Cupcakes (I don’t claim these actually taste like cupcakes (news flash: no “healthy” substitute actually tastes like legit dessert) BUT they are actually quite tasty, very easy to make, and make a great sweet-yet-healthy snack. I top mine off with a poof of whipped cream.)
Enjoy ye olde English autumn at the Renaissance Festival
Weekends through October 17, Bonner Springs, KS
Huzzah! It’s time for pirates, princesses, mead, jousting, and even a touch of magic. Every fall a Renaissance village comes to life in Bonner Springs, Kansas. And yes, I realize that I’m a history nerd, but honestly, there’s a little something for everyone. Food, artisans selling everything from jewelry to beauty products to real swords, costumed performers, music, games, and yes, a jousting tournament. The village looks like it was transplanted from medieval England, and it’s honestly worth a visit simply to see the colorful characters wandering around. You might even run into the queen and her retinue meandering about.
Peruse the Plaza Art Fair
September 24-26, Kansas City, MO
The Plaza Art Fair is essentially a KC institution by now (this is its 90th year!). Every September, artists take over the Country Club Plaza, displaying every type of art you can imagine — painting, sculpture, pottery, illustration, mixed media, jewelry, photography, and more. There’s a taste of everything, from traditional landscape paintings to funky found object sculpture to tongue-in-cheek graphic art. Even if you (like me), can’t afford to buy fine art, it’s worth it to peruse the beautiful array of works, and there’s always a fun crowd, plus live music and food vendors from Plaza restaurants.
Celebrate Weston Applefest
October 2-3, Weston, MO
I just got a flashback from one of my favorite childhood movies, Prancer: “We got apples. We’ll eat applesauce and apple cider and apple pie, stewed apples and baked apples and dried apples. And apple butter.” While I can’t promise Weston Applefest has all of those applecentric delights, it does offer a quintessential fall fest, with artisan vendors, live music, a parade, and food (including, obviously, lots of apples) along historic Weston Main Street. With its storied old buildings and kitschy little shops, Weston alone oozes fall charm. The town dates all the way back to 1837 and is nestled along the Missouri River, and there’s plenty to explore as you munch your apples.
Visit Louisburg Cider Mill
Apple cider donuts. Need I say more? We visit Louisburg Cider Mill every year to pick out pumpkins (usually the lazy way, from the already-picked selection, but you can also venture into the pumpkin patch to pick your own). From a charming general store with tasty local goods to a corn maze to scrumptious homemade cider and donuts, everything about Louisburg screams “fall.” You can even watch the apples going through the cider press (it’s oddly mesmerizing watching hundreds of apples tumble about).
Halloween without jack-o-lanterns is just wrong. And to anyone who dare suggest carving pumpkins is only for kids: I’m sorry your life is so bereft of joy. (Kidding, but seriously, you’re never too old for jack-o-lanterns.) Though I don’t exactly have the patience for extremely intricate designs, I love an excuse to fall down a rabbit hole of fun designs on Pinterest (one year I did Luna Lovegood from Harry Potter). I usually pick out pumpkins at Louisburg, but you can also find them at most grocery stores, and then I put on a spooky movie to set the mood while carving my jack-o-lantern masterpiece.
Venture to a (real) haunted house
It’s that time of year again: everything is getting a bit darker, a bit colder, a bit more mysterious and uncertain, and the boundary between the living and the dead is a little hazy. Or at least, it’s the perfect time for a haunted house. I don’t mean a sensationalist horror house where people lunge out at you from the shadows. I mean a real haunted house, in the spirit of gothic horror tales. Old mansions and buildings with bizarre or tragic backstories and an eerie aura that makes you think that — just maybe — some of their residents have never quite moved on. These places probably won’t make your heart pound, but they are likely to make your spine tingle and your imagination run wild.
For my ghostly adventures, I’m heading to Vaile Mansion, an opulent Gothic-style 31-room mansion in Independence, Missouri. Built in 1881, the mansion has witnessed a family scandal, a tragic death, and a period as a sanitarium. Ghost tours take place throughout October. Let the chills commence…
A few honorable mentions near the KC area: Pythian Castle, an imposing fortress built as an orphanage in 1913 by the fraternal order the Knights of Pythias (does that sound sketchy to anyone else?) with later incarnations as a hospital for WWII veterans, a prison for German and Italian POWs, a social services agency, and a private home. Plenty of scope for ghostly goings-on there. Belvoir Winery in Liberty, MO, which was constructed from 1900 to 1923 by the fraternal organization — and self-proclaimed secret society — the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (don’t ask me how they came up with that name) and served as a residence for the elderly, indigent, and orphans; a hospital; and a school. It now hosts events, including murder mystery dinners and paranormal investigations. And Majors House, a KCMO homestead built in 1856 by entrepreneur Alexander Majors and now apparently home to the ghosts of a restless blacksmith and a caretaker who refuses to leave.
Visit a historic cemetery
Gothic spookiness doesn’t get much better than a historic graveyard. Is it a little odd that I love wandering around cemeteries and looking at old gravestones? Maybe, but in this instance it fits the Halloween spirit. One of my favorites is Union Cemetery, a beautiful hilly, tree-filled space built in 1857 and housing many famous Kansas Citians. Laurel Hill Cemetery in Weston (established circa 1840) is also gorgeous, and I might have to check out Elmwood Cemetery (est. 1872) in Northeast Kansas City as well. To really amp up the creepy vibes, the Coterie Theatre is performing live renditions of Edgar Allen Poe‘s The Pit and the Pendulum and The Tomb of Ligeia Thursday/Friday/Saturday nights amid the tombstones of Union Cemetery.
Ghost story galore!
To fully set the Halloween atmosphere, I like to go all-out on ghostly tales in October. Disclaimer: horror and gore is not my thing. As with haunted houses, the October/Halloween mood for me is all about spookiness, gothic horror, and eerie mystery. In other words, no slasher flicks or exorcisms (instead, think Dracula and haunted castles). As usual, I went a little overboard in investigating ideas here, so I’m writing a separate post in a couple of weeks with all the books, movies, and podcasts to fill your spooky gothic October.
We’re getting to that point of the year when the snow and chilliness has ceased being charming and magical and started to be … well, just cold. Or is that just me? After single-digit temps and negative wind chills this week, I’m officially ready for spring. But in true Kansas City fashion, the weather will probably flip-flop between balmy and frigid until May, so I’m gearing up for weathering more wintery days. Luckily, Kansas City has some excellent foul-weather friends — I rounded up my top five picks for passing the chilly days. Bring on the winter weather (I’m kidding, please give us spring).
You’ve probably gotten the memo by now that I’m a tad bit obsessed with the Nelson. But hey, it’s justified. And when you’re itching to get out of the house but it’s frigid outside, wandering the grand halls of the museum is a perfect option. Whether you’re into Asian artifacts, classic medieval paintings, or a slice of ancient Greek life, there’s a little something here for everyone. And when you’ve exhausted your wandering, there’s the lovely Rozzelle Court restaurant or cozy Quay Coffee for an extra bit of yummy fuel.
If you can’t actually take a trip to the beach, why not at least pretend you’re somewhere exotic? With everything from vibrant tropical fish to sharks to a starfish petting tank, the Kansas City aquarium is a great way to transport yourself to the sea (even better when it’s decidedly less than tropical outside). And trust me, it’s not just for the kids. The aquarium is surprisingly impressive and entertaining for ocean-lovers of all ages. Wander through and pretend you’re on a snorkeling expedition — you may not get a fruity cocktail in a coconut at the end, but I promise you’ll have a good time anyway.
Enjoy a Cozy Brunch
I’m not sure if the brunch craze has quite hit KC the way it has NYC and Philly, but it’s getting there. In any case, what could be better on a bone-chilling winter day than a cozy cup of coffee and fluffy pancakes (or whatever yummy treat floats your boat)? Plenty of restaurants in KC could satisfy this craving, but I highly recommend Blue Bird Bistro or Our Daily Nada (or both — go wild). It might be due to a snow day mother-daughter brunch in high school, but I’ll always associate Blue Bird with snowy days. The Westside eatery is part rustic, part hip and thoroughly charming, with scrumptious organic, locally sourced food. If you’re a bookworm, Our Daily Nada serves up homemade bites and creative drinks to enjoy as you peruse a carefully curated selection of books in a warm brick-walled River Market spot. The best part of winter is cozying up inside, right?
Explore Crown Center, Union Station, and the Link
When it’s freezing out, you want to minimize your outside time. Luckily, with the Link — a glass walkway — you can walk all the way from Union Station to Crown Center without ever setting foot outside. On top of that, Union Station and Crown Center are both definitely worth visiting in their own right (and offer plenty of warm inside fun). Built in 1914, Union Station is worth visiting simply for the Art Deco grandeur of the old train station, but it also offers Science City (again, not just for the kids!), a planetarium, a movie theatre, restaurants, and Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory (enough said). Then make your way over to Crown Center for shopping, theatres, and more yummy eateries (did I mention there are multiple candy shops there also?). You can have a full day of wandering without risking frostbite.
Ok, so this one doesn’t exactly keep you out of the cold. It’s undeniably festive, though, and a not-to-be-missed winter activity. When you’re finished perusing Crown Center, stop by the ice rink out front, rent a pair of skates, and spend a while gliding away. There’s always music playing, and when it starts to get too chilly, you can grab a cup of hot chocolate at the snack bar to warm up.
It’s probably the history nerd in me, but I’ve always been fascinated by ancient Egypt. The storied history, the incredible achievements, the mysticism — something about it captivates me. Unsurprisingly, Egypt is high on my travel bucket list. I haven’t made it there yet, so haunting the Egyptian exhibits at museums in my second best option. Given this Egyptian obsession, it’s probably not surprising that when I heard the theme for this year’s Party Arty was the current Queen Nefertari exhibit, I knew I had to go. I’m not an especially big party person, but I am a big museum person, and well, I mentioned the Egypt obsession, right? The Queen Nefertari exhibit in of itself is worth visiting (if you’re in the Kansas City area, definitely check it out), with an astonishing array of artifacts and information on Egyptian tombs. But I digress — we were talking about a party. Party Arty is an annual gala hosted by the Nelson-Atkins Museum for its Young Friends of the Museum, and it’s a go-all-out sort of deal. This year, the theme followed the Queen Nefertari special exhibit, so it was an Egyptian extravaganza. I happen to be a Young Friend of the Museum (and clearly an ancient Egypt nerd), so I obviously couldn’t pass this up. A party might not exactly be wandering, per se, but it was definitely an experience — and great people-watching — so I’m calling this a wandering recap of sorts.
First of all, and most importantly, as I noted before, anything goes at Party Arty. People were decked out in everything from ball gowns to full pharaoh costumes to gold lamé dress suits. Think lots of gold and glitter, fancy headdresses, ankh and eye of Horus accoutrements, even an Anubis head. Add to that the Quixotic dancers weaving through the crowds in their slinky gold outfits, and it was quite a scene. As with all wanderings, people-watching is a must, and this definitely didn’t disappoint. It was an eclectic, artsy set, and simply observing was enough entertainment in of itself.
Now, to set the scene. The Bloch building lobby (the new-ish modern addition to the museum) became an energetic dance area full of club-like beats and moody colored lights, a DJ spinning tunes throughout the night. Set against the stately columns and Art Deco grandeur of the museum itself, the entire scene was somehow a bit surreal. In the main hall of the museum, exotic Egyptian music from a live band echoed in the grand columned hall. Throughout the night, Kansas City Ballet II (the junior ballet troupe) put on performances in the hall. With heavy drum beats, trippy lights, and dancers in foamy white gowns, the spectacle was all a bit like a (very graceful) sacrificial dance, which added even more exotic gravitas to the scene. (If you’ve ever been in the main hall of the museum, you’ll understand how this created quite a dramatic setting — if not, visit the museum immediately).
And of course, we mustn’t forget the refreshments. In keeping with the Egyptian theme, the museum’s Rozzelle Court restaurant served gyros and little Egyptian date cookies (a 1000-year-old recipe, we were told). The open bars also had themed drinks going, courtesy of Tom’s Town distillery — slightly wicked ones, to my taste, but then I’m a booze wimp.
All in all, it was a night to remember. Perhaps a bit different from a true trip to Egypt — we’ll keep that on the bucket list — but the Nelson certainly knows how to throw a party. I’m not sure what the Nelson Party Arty theme is for next year, but it’s safe to say that will be quite the affair as well (I would highly recommend going if you can). In the meantime, the Nelson museum is consistently on my list of top-recommended things to do in Kansas City, so if you’re in the area, don’t miss it. The Queen Nefertari exhibit is showing until March 29, 2020 and is definitely worth a visit, especially if you’re an Egyptophile like me (yes, I made that up). As always, happy wandering!
When it comes to coffeeshops, quaint and a bit quirky is my sweet spot. Hip, sleek and modern is all very nice, but give me a funky hole-in-the-wall any day. Though it’s gaining a name as one of the mainstay local coffee sources in KC — hardly a hole-in-the-wall — Quay Coffee somehow manages to be both hip and homey. Named for the River Quay, the former name of the River Market, Quay (pronounced “key”) is a cozy, brick-walled spot in the heart of the eclectic River Market district. (If you’re strolling through the Nelson-Atkins Museum and in need of a caffeine fix, they also opened a location in the museum, but I highly recommend visiting the original.) Small but with plenty of seating, the place is always bustling with people working or chatting over a cuppa. In short, it’s a friendly, festive spot. It seems like sometimes it’s difficult to find beautiful latte art and a smile (thus the snobby barista trope), but Quay truly manages to do both. They definitely know their coffee, but I’ve never been greeted by anything less than genuine cheer and friendly banter.
But of course, the main draw: the coffee is good. Very good. Quay puts fastidious attention into choosing top-notch direct trade roasters, and the coffee never disappoints. With housemade syrups in scrumptious flavors like Old Overholt Caramel and Spice Brown Sugar, inventive seasonal drinks, and fresh local baked goods, the menu is classic but never boring.
River Market in of itself is worth exploring, and my go-to is fueling myself with a good caffeine dose from Quay as I do my wandering. Then again, it’s worth making a trip there just for the coffee and warm atmosphere. Bring a book, some work, or a friend and settle in with a delicious latte — you won’t want to leave.
Possibly an unpopular opinion, but I like winter. Crisp air, moody grey skies, a fluttering of snow — it’s magical. That said, as I stomp through the slush of three-day-old snow, I have to admit that a tropical vacation doesn’t sound so bad (this is why spring break was invented, right?). Though I do have a warm locale on the books, that’s not for a couple of months, so I’m looking back to spring break last year and a belated but much-deserved coffeeshop feature: South West Collective in the Cayman Islands. If you’re planning a trip to the Caribbean, both this little group of islands and this hip coffeeshop are definitely worth a visit. If not, just pretend you can feel the warm tropical sun on your face and a tasty latte on your tongue.
For fruity cocktails and cabanas selling fresh fruit juice, the beach is a pretty sure bet. But this may not be exactly where you’d expect to find a hip coffeeshop. Luckily, South West Collective fills all of the aforementioned needs (and considering the size of the Cayman Islands, it’s pretty easy to make a trip there no matter where you are on the islands). Located in Georgetown, the capital of the largest island, Grand Cayman, this hip, light-filled spot is right in the middle of most of the hustle and bustle going on in the islands. In case you’re (unsurprisingly) not familiar with the Caymans, this tropical paradise is a trio of tiny islands in the Caribbean Sea, just west of Cuba. A British territory, they’re known for their beautiful beaches and abundance of sea turtles. Hardly a wonder, then, that many cruise ships stop off on Grand Cayman. South West Collective is right in the middle of Harbour Place, the bustling, colorful area of Georgetown where the cruise ships come to dock. As you sip your coffee, peek into the many shops nearby, or take a look at the local markets going on most days (trust me, there’s more than enough to look at!).
The coffeeshop itself is on the second floor of a collection of shops and restaurants. With naval-inspired blue and white décor, comfy seating, and stunning ocean views, it’s the perfect place to take a shopping break and watch the magnificent cruise ships glide into port. The menu is stocked with all your favorite hot and cold coffee drinks, plus fresh juices and smoothies and a mouthwatering selection of housemade toasts, sandwiches, soups, salads, and more. There’s even a chill bar and foozball area in back if you’re in need of something stronger than coffee!
I know hot coffee isn’t exactly tropical, but even in the heat, it was well worth ordering a latte, in my opinion — it was delicious enough to be worth a little extra sweating. And Cayman may not be the most common tourist destination (though I would argue that equals extra points in its favor), but I would highly recommend adding it to the vacay list. With a surprisingly diverse crowd, gorgeous beaches and water, and lovely hotels and restaurants (and of course, those turtles), it’s definitely worth a stop. And hey, you already know where to get your coffee there.
It’s that time of year — the manic dash to find the perfect gift for everyone on your list. Frenzied shoppers, mile-long to-do lists, packed stores … it’s the most wonderful time of the year! Ok, actually, it is my favorite time of year, and I have to admit I even love crazy holiday shopping (though my wallet doesn’t as much). But I always get stressed out trying to find that “just right” gift for each person (what can I say — I’m a perfectionist) and part of that is that so much out there is so generic. When I’m looking for a gift, I want something unique and special. Luckily, the local and craft market is booming these days, and there are an increasing number of sources to find decidedly un-basic gifts. I’ll admit it: I’m a craft market addict. In case you’re still on the prowl for gifts, I rounded up a selection of the best spots to shop local in Kansas City (some also have online stores, if you’re not in the KC area). With local and handmade items, these are the perfect places to find outside-the-box gifts for that special someone (and maybe a treat for yourself as well).
Made in KC is essentially the Mecca of local KC goods. They now have several locations across the city, each a marketplace stuffed with local foods, clothes, accessories, and more. Each item comes from a local maker or small company, and with a variety of different makers in one market, there’s a little something there for everyone. From jewelry and clothes to candles, plants, and liquor, you can find nearly everything here. The Plaza location even has a coffeeshop, beer on tap, and an ice cream counter inside, so you can sip or munch as you shop!
If you’re looking for a unique gift, Cherry Pit Collective has you covered. Cherry Pit Collective, a communal workspace for women artists, makers, and creatives in KC’s Tower East district, is getting merry this year with a special holiday pop-up shop at the nearby Objects space. Check it out weekends through December 23rd for one-of-a-kind handmade jewelry, ceramics, fine art, vintage goods, and more, plus pop-up eats like Swoon Cookies and Dead Beet Tacos (hey, shopping requires fuel!).
Pleasant as they are, the suburbs aren’t exactly known for their unique, non-chain shopping (hey, I can say this — I grew up right in this neighborhood). That said, Leawood is getting a little extra local flair this holiday season with an artisan pop-up in the Town Center Crossing shopping center. Stop by on weekends until Christmas for fine art, jewelry, and more from a selection of local makers. If you have a creative or art lover on your list, this is the perfect stop. And don’t forget to treat yourself as well: yummies from Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, Auntie Anne’s Pretzels, and Midnight Espresso Coffee Liqueurs are available as you shop!
Strawberry Swing leads the pack when it comes to craft fairs — each season they host a pop-up extravaganza of handmade, local, and vintage goods in a spot around Kansas City. These fairs are perfect for gift-shopping (or, ahem, treating yourself), but they only happen a few times a year. Never fear — the Internet is here. In case you missed the holiday craft fair, Strawberry Swing now has an online marketplace to shop many of its creative goodies. Clothing, jewelry, home and bath goods — you name it, they likely have it. It’s not exactly the same experience as visiting a cute little shop, I know, but it is local, handmade, and a plethora of unique gift possibilities.
Kansas City’s artists and makers have another home base in CollectiveEX, a workshop and store for local artisans to create and sell their work. You’ll find a host of locally made items here, from clothes and accessories to fine art. For a little extra shopping fuel, stop by Thee Outpost, the latest coffee creation from Thou Mayest’s Bo Nelson, also located inside CollectiveEX.
Venture into the eclectic Westside neighborhood for this funky little shop housed in an old 1920s dry goods building. With over 20 local artisans and makers, plus vintage goods, you never know what you’ll find in here. Cheeky enamel pin? Check. Classy handmade candle? Check. Vintage sword? Check. On top of that, Westside is its own little adventure in of itself, so it’s well worth making an afternoon of this one. Stop by the cheerful Bluebird Bistro for a scrumptious organic brunch, grab coffee at the charming Goat Hill Coffee & Soda, and wander around the wonderfully bizarre medley of houses in the area after you do your shopping.
An ancient castle, perched on top of a rocky island surrounded on all sides by the sea — sounds like a fairy tale, right? And really, Mont Saint-Michel is a bit like something out of a fairytale. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, go Google Mont Saint-Michel — I’ll wait. Stunning, isn’t it? I took a day trip from Paris, and I would highly recommend adding it to your bucket list.
Located in northern France where Normandy and Brittany meet, this ancient island settlement dates back over a thousand years. As the story goes, the Archangel Michael told Aubert, bishop of nearby Avranches, to build a church on the island in 709. A community of Benedictines settled on the mont in 966, and the Romanesque abbey church and first monastery buildings were built in the 11th century. In the following centuries, the spot became a great spiritual and intellectual center and a major pilgrimage site. The monastery and surrounding town were built up throughout medieval times, including protective ramparts added during the Hundred Years War. It was even used as a prison during the French Revolution! Today, the monastery is once again a working religious community, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage site that welcomes over 2.5 million visitors a year.
As you might have guessed, the only caveat is that by these days, this site is a big tourist attraction. That said, it’s still spectacular, and I would highly recommend it. I went in the off-season — in October — and while it was definitely full of tourists, it wasn’t nearly as packed as it would have been in the summer (though prepare for rain if you’re there in the fall). In any case, the crowds really didn’t dim the magic of the place. The trick is to get off the beaten path of the little town (after you’ve grabbed your crepe and souvenirs) and up into the winding paths of the upper town and monastery. The village is mostly one narrow cobbled path lined with bustling souvenir shops and restaurants — like something straight out of Harry Potter (think Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley). All around this area, quaint little homes and hotels perch on the hillside, all the way up toward the monastery at the top.
But as charming as the town is, the real magic is in the narrow cobbled paths that snake up the cliffside toward the monastery. Pick a path and start exploring — I can guarantee you’ll get lost, but that’s the fun of it. Wander past charming little homes with colorful shutters, peek into an ancient graveyard, say hello to a meandering cat, and the next thing you know, you’ll be standing on top of ramparts looking out over the steely grey ocean. It’s a maze of unexpected discoveries, and while you’re likely to bump into fellow explorers, the entire area is surprisingly peaceful.
Once you’ve gotten your fill of wandering, climb to the monastery at the very top of the island (you’re likely to end up there anyway if you keep heading upward). Honestly, I almost skipped this part, reluctant to pay extra to get in. Luckily, I went for it anyway — don’t miss this. Yes, I have a penchant for turning everything into a Harry Potter reference, but I promise, this looks just like Hogwarts. You wander through a maze of vaulted stone ceilings, spooky corridors, and a stunning church, all nearly a thousand years old (some of it older). Even with other tourists around, the entire place is hushed and almost haunted, like stepping back into history. You half expect a monk to amble past or a medieval knight to be waiting in the knight’s hall. At the end, you emerge from the dim corridors onto a platform overlooking all of the village and surround ocean — the highest point visitors are allowed to go — with only the bell tower looming above you. It really was spectacular, and definitely worth the 10 euros to get into the monastery.
If you’re feeling adventurous on the way out, you can actually venture out into the ocean at low tide. The entire mont is surrounded by a flat plain of grey muddy sand at low tide that you can wander across. In all honesty, this was a little too messy (and cold) for me, but many people were pulling off their shoes and doing it when I was there. I’m not sure how high the water rises at high tide, so it’s worth checking the tide times before heading out, but if climbing the mont doesn’t quite satisfy your adventurous streak, it’s definitely worth a try. Just only go if you don’t mind getting a bit muddy!
How to Get There
In the art of full disclosure, I should mention that this journey wasn’t what I would call stress-free (in my experience, at least). The trip itself isn’t complicated, but in my experience French train and bus stations aren’t always the most clearly marked. I certainly wouldn’t consider this a reason to forgo this trip, but I would recommend giving yourself plenty of extra time and not being afraid to ask for help (even if your French isn’t perfect).
As for the nitty-gritty details, the trip is about three to four hours (depending on your connections) each way from Paris by train and bus. There’s no train station actually in Mont Saint-Michel, so the last leg of the trip will be a bus ride. Visit raileurope.com and search for tickets from Paris to Mont St.-Michel. There are usually several time options and various price options — most tickets are around 70-100 euros round-trip. I left from Paris Gare Montparnasse in the morning, took a shuttle bus, a train, and another bus to get to Mont Saint-Michel around noon for 78 euros (obviously, the more flexible you are with times and the more you’re willing to pay, the better connections you can get). Both the buses and trains are actually quite comfortable, and the trip isn’t difficult. Again, I would just recommend you give yourself plenty of time, especially if you’re leaving from a major Paris train station.
Once you get to Mont Saint-Michel, you can either take a shuttle or walk the 30-minutes or so on the bridge out to the island. Remember that the buses out of Mont Saint-Michel leave from where they drop you off, so pay attention to where you are when you arrive and leave plenty of time to get back to the bus stop from the mont (I’m not speaking from personal experience or anything here…).
What would a trip to Paris be without le café? Despite Paris’s vibrant café culture, it’s generally accepted that the coffee itself isn’t all that great. But in the past few years, the third-wave coffee movement has hit the city — with vigor — and these days there are legit roasters and more coffeeshops than even I could manage to hit in one trip. That’s not to say I didn’t try — I had a mile-long list going into my trip, and I drank enough coffee to fuel endless trekking around the city (which is a lot). Though I don’t want to think about how much of my trip budget went to coffee breaks, this did leave me with a pretty good sampling of the Paris coffee scene. Unlike years past, it’s pretty easy now to find a good latte or filter coffee in Paris (and the list of places offering alternative milks is also growing), not to mention that there’s a collection of friendly, charming cafés to visit. My list was a good one — I don’t think I drank a bad cup of coffee on my trip. That said, I narrowed it down to my top five picks for the best Paris coffeeshops (though the full list of spots I visited is included as well — all of which I would recommend, honestly). Thankfully, there’s never a need to wander Paris under-caffeinated again!
This might just be the tiniest coffeeshop in Paris — it’s also one of the cutest, and serves up delicious coffee to boot (no pun intended). Nestled in an old cordonnerie, or cobbler’s shop, in the Marais, this petite blue café has just enough room inside for the counter and a couple of tables. They manage to fit a lot of charm into a small space, though, with rustic-chic décor, art on the walls, and fresh flowers — plus delicious coffee and pastries, of course. Get a flat white to go as you meander through the Marais, or take a moment to perch on one of the outside seats and enjoy the charming street.
Books and coffee — what’s not to love? Near Bastille in the hip 11e, this charming café is stocked floor to ceiling with books and filled with plants. It’s definitely worth taking your coffee to stay here — grab a seat at one of the eclectically mismatched tables or sofas and enjoy the tranquil vibes as you sip your café from a pastel-hued cup and munch on a house-made treat (I highly recommend the carrot cake — it was scrumptious). Though I generally think the rude Parisian stereotype is a myth, it’s also worth noting that the staff here are lovely (not a surly waiter in sight).
It should tell you something that I went out of my way to return to this little café several times during my trip. There are actually two locations, though I only checked out the bustling café near the Latin Quarter. This was one of the few places where I found a nearly-American-size latte (which is likely a point against me in javaholic cred but was a plus in my book). In any case, the coffee is delicious and the space lively and inviting. If you’re feeling peckish, definitely try the brownie, which is essentially death by chocolate and worth every bite. Strada is a little out of the way of the typical tourist spots, but if you’re exploring the Left Bank (which I highly recommend) — especially Jardin des Plantes or the ancient Roman Arènes de Lutèce — it’s definitely worth a stop (or two).
You can’t visit Paris without stopping into this friendly spot in the Marais. It’s the sort of place where the patrons are regulars and the baristas chatty. I was barely there a minute before I was chatting about my trip with a fellow patron and the baristas, and the owners themselves are often behind the bar, making drinks and talking to people. With Aussie and New Zealand roots, it’s a favorite gathering spot for the expat crowd in Paris, and for good reason. Don’t miss the delicious waffles with your flat white, and if you’re looking for a little guidance around Paris, they also host bike tours around Paris and Versailles.
If you’re looking for a mean flat white and a tasty bite in the up-and-coming Oberkampf district, look no further than Café Oberkampf. This Aussie-inspired café serves up top-notch coffee and fresh, healthy eats in a bright, friendly setting. It’s another tiny spot, but it’s definitely worth grabbing one of the few tables and staying for brunch or lunch. Their specialty is the tartine (an open-faced sandwich or toast) — a perfect accompaniment to a delicious cup of coffee.
There you have it — the best Paris coffeeshops! Here’s the list of all the coffeeshops I visited. Anyone fancy a cuppa?
Without a doubt, one of the best parts of visiting Paris — of traveling period, in my opinion — is the people-watching. I do this everywhere I go, but the Parisians are, after all, known for being a particularly stylish set. Now despite my *ahem* proclivity for shopping, I certainly wouldn’t call myself a fashion expert. But as I watched the busy Parisians clip along the streets, I picked up an idea or two about the ingredients of a chic Parisian look (or at least, the modern Parisian look, which is essentially the same thing). This isn’t to say that everyone in Paris is a fashion model — not at all. But the majority definitely have a style and flair that I couldn’t help noticing. As a dedicated people-watcher and Francophile, I had to take notes on Parisian style. As such, this isn’t so much a guide on how to dress Parisian as it is a few observations about how the Parisians of 2019 go about the city in their enviably Parisian way.
*Disclaimer: This is mostly centered on the women (sorry, guys), though I will say that Parisian men are also quite well-dressed!
Despite the prevalence of cobbled streets in Paris, there are (somehow) a lot of high heels clicking around the city. However, don’t imagine Sex and the City stilettos — these were more chunky heels and platforms, though still plenty high (granted, it was fall, but still). That said, I saw a lot of sensible loafers and sneakers as well, especially flat white Adidas sneakers. One thing was certain: no matter how high the heels, Parisians know how to walk. Everywhere in the city, clearly to get somewhere (and not car-to-door), often with groceries or other bags — and quickly. And I didn’t see a single person stumbling or acting as if her feet hurt.
Scarves, scarves, and more scarves! Yes, it was getting chilly when I was there, but even on the warm days, nearly everyone was wearing a scarf. Bigger seemed to be better here — large scarves, wrapped all around the neck in a big bundle. I saw all colors and patterns, though in general I’d say the Parisians seem to favor neutrals over bright and crazy colors. A great benefit of this: all I had to do was throw a scarf around my neck, and I immediately felt more French!
Cloth Tote Bags
I’m really not exaggerating here — everyone, men and women, carried a cloth tote bag. Seriously, I started to get bag envy. I’m not sure if this is a fashion trend or part of rising eco-consciousness in France (which is definitely a legitimate trend there), but in any case, tote bags everywhere. Women usually had a purse or other bag as well, but always a cloth tote bag slung over a shoulder. This may have also been part of the reason I bought three while I was there …
Despite the dropping temperatures, midi skirts are definitely in in Paris. Usually worn with sneakers or boots, and with tights if it was cold, they were everywhere, in every style and color. Pleated and a-line seems to be the main look. I may have (literally) bought into this trend as well — did I mention there was a lot of shopping involved in this trip?
This is something I’ve heard before and found to be true when I visited — French women don’t seem that into coiffed hair. I saw both a lot of messy buns and a lot of hair left loose, but barely any perfectly hairsprayed ‘dos. Up or down, hair wasn’t usually straightened or perfectly styled but more loose and natural. The French may have a reputation for effortless beauty, but in this case it seems to be true. Maybe a sign for us all to loosen up a little?
The Teen Uniform
Maybe no one else cares about this, but I found it amusing that the teen girls of Paris had a very distinct uniform. I made the mistake of hitting some vintage shops on a Wednesday afternoon (French students have Wednesday afternoons off school), and I felt like I was trapped in a chattering mob of clones. This (unofficial) uniform is very particular: straight-leg, ankle-length jeans or leggings, Adidas sneakers, and a big ‘80s- or ‘90s-style jacket. Ok, maybe the clone reference is a bit dramatic, but I swear the uniform is a thing! In fact, ‘90s style seemed to be big in general, especially in the thrift shops I popped into. The youth predicting the big style trends of tomorrow?
Well, there you have it — certainly not an expert analysis, but straight from the streets of Paris in any case. Whether you buy into the hype about French beauty and fashion or not, people-watching is practically a national pastime there, and you can’t deny the Parisians provide plenty of fodder. I know I picked up plenty of ideas, at least. Anyone want to go shopping?