Downtown Living

I may be a little late on this, but I figured I should still fill you all in ~ we moved.

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We decided we wanted a change from the slow-paced life of the Tech Center; so, we headed straight for the action & now we’re living in downtown Denver!

No, this was not an easy decision. We knew we wanted to get out of the DTC, and we knew we wanted to be closer to the city, but we didn’t know how close we wanted to be. Since Matthew works in the Tech Center and I work downtown, we were of course trying to find a place somewhere in the middle, hopefully somewhere near a park and bike trails (not too hard to do in Denver) and most importantly, somewhere by a lightrail station for an easy commute.

At that time, we knew quite a bit about Denver’s crazy high rental prices (they’re still rising, folks!), so we knew what to expect, and set a higher budget (we decided we didn’t want to go above $1,400/month) than what we had originally anticipated when we first moved to Denver a year and a half ago (when we thought we could get a nice place for under $1000/month).

After touring multiple apartments, we were not sold on any of the ones located between our work places, mostly due to the unreasonable price we’d have to pay for what we were actually getting. We were definitely discouraged when nothing automatically stood out, but we were also determined to find something.

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It was Matthew who insisted we visit the high-rise in the middle of downtown. I was hesitant, but figured I’d give it a look. At the time, the 1-year-old apartment complex was trying to fill their units, as they had originally set their prices too high; so, lucky for us, they were offering 6 weeks free, bringing the rental price below $1,300/month. We were interested in 1 bedrooms and studios (yeah, I guess Matthew & I still love each other enough to share a studio together), and truly loved the studio layout much more than the 1-bedroom, as the windows were so much more prominent, letting in so much more light (& if you know me, you know I thrive off of sunshine). After the tour, we were sold.

Fast forward 3 months and we love this place.

 

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From the rooftop pool, fitness center & terrace, to the younger crowd and community events, this apartment has everything we need for where we are right now. No, it’s not perfect – there have been minor issues with the complex, struggles with fitting our stuff in the new space (even though the studio is a bit larger than our last, there isn’t as much closet space – IKEA furniture was our solution), and the commute, while ideal for me, (3-block walk to work ayyyyyyy!) isn’t the best for Matthew (though we are just 3 blocks from the lightrail station – check!).

Despite the small imperfections, we are incredibly happy with our decision to move downtown.
There’s SO much more to do here at all times – from the nearby parks and events, to the wide variety of restaurants and breweries – and we’re just soaking it all in.

And of course, I’ll try to be better about sharing everything we experience on here too!
Until then…

frugal & free,
Claire

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Trip of Views

Hi! Here I am! Still alive, I promise. I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted, but life got real busy for a second. Not that it’s slowed down much…but today, on this snowy spring day in Denver (yep, you heard that right. It’s snowing. On April 21st), I am happily forced to stay inside, giving me time to update you on our latest travels!

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So let’s go a little back in time to the beginning of March.
At that time, Matthew’s Louisville rotation was coming to an end (YAY!) and we thought: what better way to celebrate than to go to a new place we’ve never been?! So, on Thursday, March 1st to Friday, March 2nd, we drove back to Denver from Louisville – stopping in Kansas City to take a tour & drink some tasty brew at the impressive Boulevard Brewery and of course enjoy some delicious KC BBQ at Jack Stack Barbecue (pictured below)

…and because driving all the way across the Midwest wasn’t enough travel for us, by Saturday morning, we were off to San Francisco!

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If you know a travel nurse who gets to live in cool places for 3 months or more, and invites you to come visit and stay with them in each new spot, then you know how great of an advantage this is from a travel perspective. But, if you don’t know a travel nurse who you can visit in super cool places, then you need to re-evaluate your life and possibly find new friends.

Just kidding. But seriously, Matthew’s brother is a travel nurse and he and his now fiance (yay!) are the reason we’ve been able to have amazing (& reasonable) experiences in Chicago, Los Angeles, and now, just recently San Francisco and Santa Rosa!

Since lodging is totally free when we visit them wherever they are, the only expenses we have to worry about are flights – which are often cheap, thanks to Frontier being based out of Denver – and then just food/drink and fun activities.

Matthew’s brother & his fiance are temporarily living in Guerneville, a small, rustic town in Sonoma County, so we were able to get a taste of multiple parts of northern Cali. From San Francisco and Guerneville, to Santa Rosa and the coast of Sonoma, the one thing that stood out in every place was the views.

GoldenGateBridge_VistaPoint1In San Francisco, the views were those I had only seen in movies or on travel sites. To be there, seeing them in person was unreal. Traveling from park to park (including Lands End and Battery East Vista) and more spots throughout the city, we saw nearly every perspective of the Golden Gate Bridge.

On top of this, we also enjoyed unobstructed views of the whole city from other great parks, including Twin Peaks. Every single view was different, and absolutely stunning – and not to mention, free.

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Twin Peaks

Aside from the views, we of course did all of the touristy things in San Fran as well. We walked down famous Lombard Street, grabbed a sourdough bread bowl in Fisherman’s Wharf, strolled around Pier 39, and trekked across the Golden Gate Bridge.

The drive from San Francisco into Guerneville presented amazing views as well, as the sun set behind us, lighting up mountainside farms and vineyards. One of the best parts about Guerneville is that it’s nestled right in the midst of unbelievably tall redwoods. William & Megan’s long-term Airbnb was just 5 minutes from Armstrong Redwoods National Forest, where not only did we get to walk among centuries-old redwoods, but we also got to watch a magnificent sunset from Vista Point in the forest.

Another great vista stop was Goat Rock Beach, right near the mouth of the Russian River. Home to a colony of seals and a scenic shoreline, Goat Rock Beach was one of my favorite stops during the entire trip – and will also forever be one of William & Megan’s favorite spots, as this is where William asked Megan to marry him! Such a beautiful spot for a beautiful moment ~ a thousand congrats to the both of them!

As always, we couldn’t visit William and Megan without getting our drank on a good bit! Like us, they’re always up for a good brew, so we hopped on Groupon and grabbed some deals at local breweries, which is always a fun way to explore a new city you’ve never been to! We also went to some wineries (we were in Wine Country after all..), including the famous Korbel Champagne Cellars, where we went on a free tour and enjoyed free tastings.

While our trip was truly a blast, that doesn’t mean it was perfect – per usual with any great trip, there was a mishap. But, just like many of our mishaps, this one turned out for the best. Here’s a short summary of what happened:
William & Megan have been staying long-term in an older cabin in Guerneville, and the night before we arrived, their gas tank had run out completely – which meant no heat…which, in the redwoods of Guerneville that get pretty chilly at night through the morning, no heat is not exactly okay (especially for someone like me..who likes her warmth).

Guerneville_Hot Tub in Fairy RingLuckily, their sweet neighbor came to our rescue, allowing us to stay in his charming, family-owned cabin for a night. Not only was this adorable cabin specially decorated with family treasures passed down from multiple generations, but it also had an amazing backyard space with plenty of seating, a fire pit, and a hot tub – but not just any hot tub – this hot tub sat in the middle of a fairy ring, which forms when a redwood is damaged and its offspring sprout around it to protect it. What a beautiful concept, and an even more beautiful spot to spend our time while in Cali!
Overall, we had a great trip full of great drinks, tasty food, unique experiences, and overall, memorable views.

If you’re planning a trip to San Francisco or Santa Rosa, here are a few frugal tips:

  • Check Groupon before you go! This goes for all of your travels, as you’ll almost always find a great deal for a fun activity, tasty eatery or good brews!
  • Try to stay with a friend or family member for free lodging, as rentals can be a bit pricey in these cities; however, if you don’t have that option, go for a vacation rental just outside of the city for a more reasonable price
  • Research free activities to do and of course, partake in some of the free activities I mentioned, including going to parks, free wine tastings, and simply walking around the main tourist attractions!

Feel free to leave a comment with any more advice or questions you have about cheap travels to San Fran and Santa Rosa!

frugal & free,
Claire

How I Feel About Louisville

At the moment, Louisville holds a conflicting place in my heart.

For one, it has stolen my best friend for 4 months, as Matthew is required to complete a rotation in one of his bank’s regional offices, which just happened to be Louisville.
But at the same time, it’s somewhat like a temporary second home to not only him, but to me as well. Though I’m not living there right now, Matthew is; so day in and out, through phone conversations and texted photos, I experience Louisville with him. Plus, 3 weeks out of the 4 months he’s there, I’ll be working from home to spend time with him in Louisville; therefore, we’ll be making the most of the time we have together while exploring everything the city has to offer.

Those 3 weeks are probably the only time I will actually like Louisville. Otherwise, I’m not a fan, because, like I said, it stole my best friend and life is lonely without him here in Denver. But this post is not to dwell on my personal dislike of Louisville. Rather, this post will highlight all of the things I’ve come to like and appreciate as we’ve ventured through the city.

~ Like the incredibly cheap flights when flying Allegiant into Cincinnati. Although it is an hour-and-15-minute drive from the CVG airport to Louisville, it is well worth the less-than-$80 round trips from Denver to CVG we constantly score when visiting one another. + it gives us a reason to explore Cincinnati a bit as well (some fun spots below)!

~ Or how about Louisville’s bridges. One thing that both Atlanta and Denver are lacking is a river ~ a BIG river that allows for the construction of impressive bridges that are either car-friendly, pedestrian-friendly, bike-friendly, or all in one ~ bridges that separate 2 completely different parts of town, or in this case, 2 different states.
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Or how about its numerous neighborhoods. From NuLu and downtown, to Old Louisville and  The Highlands, there’s an abundance of different scenes to explore. Denver is definitely superior in this aspect, since I feel that Denver’s unique neighborhoods are much easier to get to (thanks to the rail, bike paths, and easier navigation via car), but Louisville has a diverse set of spots that are honestly worth the drive.
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Louisville also has some cool museums, but since Matthew & I aren’t the biggest history lovers, there’s only one that we took the time to visit, and of course, it was free. The 21C Museum Hotel has a super cool, free multi-venue contemporary art museum right in the city that I believe is a must-see while in Louisville.
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And since Louisville is known for their bourbon (Matthew & I are not fans..but we did try the Jim Beam experience!), who would have thought that Louisville has some awesome breweries? – not anywhere near as many as Denver, but there are some cool spots in the neighborhoods that are worth checking out. A few of our favorites are 3rd Turn Brewing (resides in an old church built in the late 1800’s), Great Flood Brewing (they offer SO many fun, daily events + a killer coffee beer), and Gravely (a music brewery with a great stage set-up!).

Lexington_West6thBrewing2And although it’s not really a Louisville brewery, as it’s located in Lexington, KY, West Sixth Brewing has got to be our favorite one of all! The brewery shares its space with multiple non-profit and donates a good chunk of their profit to them! Plus, they offer a great, free, hour-long tour with several tastings and a take-home glass (pleasant surprise when we stumbled upon this spot).

Along with breweries, Louisville also offers a fantastic food scene. Not to mention some fantastic deals. I have become increasingly impressed with the selection of restaurants and the happy hours, Groupons and other random deals that went along with them. From an awesome Groupon for The English Grill at the Brown Hotel (inventor of the original Hot Brown), 1/2 off all burgers during happy hour at Stout Burgers, and happy hour with a free nacho bar at Chuy’s Tex-Mex , to enjoying the must-try Pazzo’s Pizza in Lexington, trying the reasonable and incredibly cheesy Skyline Chili, and re-visiting a tasty childhood favorite, Zaxby’s, the food we’ve had has been delicious!

On top of the restaurants we visited, we also had fun cooking up our own food at Cooking at Millie’s, a small cooking event venue offering all of the ingredients, cookware and instruction to create a tasty 3-course meal! Matthew actually gifted this cooking class to me as one of my Christmas presents, and we had a blast preparing & eating crab-stuffed mushrooms, blue cheese encrusted salmon, & a black cherry lava cake, all while sipping a bottle of wine.

All in all, Louisville is a sweet spot to explore and we’ve made a lot of fun memories there; thus, it holds a sweet spot in my heart. But definitely not sweet enough for us to live there.

Matthew and I both have agreed to say: no thanks to the cloudy weather (granted I know we are visiting at the worst time possible), no thanks to the lack of public transportation, and undoubtedly, no thanks to us being apart any longer (1 MORE MONTH!).

frugal and free,
Claire

Camping in Colorado

I’ve never been a big camper, but Matthew has always been a fan.
So when I came home one day to him laying in our new tent that he had just set up in our living room, I knew that we were both going to have to be all in.

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As always, somehow Matthew worked out an amazing deal buying our gear online at Backcountry according to Matthew, Backcountry offers significantly better prices than other places and they price match. He had a coupon, and from there, he managed to get another percentage off, so our awesome gear was high quality, yet heavily discounted.
Rough estimated cost of our gear:
Marmot Tent: $130
Sleeping Bags: $70 each
Camping Backpacks: $130 each
Camping Stove: $10 (from Amazon)

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Camping Trip #1
Although we got a steal on all of our gear, our first Colorado camping trip didn’t go as planned (no surprise there).
Early one May morning, we set off on a trail near Nederland with our new sleeping bags strapped to crappy old book bags (we had yet to receive our new camping bags). Little did we know that May in the mountains didn’t mean that there wouldn’t be any snow, or more importantly, ice.

We waded through some water (melted snow) that led us to a big slab of ice going straight up a hill. That’s where I, the cautious one who hates ice with a passion, drew the line. So, we turned around and headed back to the car.

Of course we weren’t going to be total wimps and go all the way home due to the ice mishap. Instead, we found another campground nearby that we didn’t have to hike too far to get to. Although this campsite right off the West Magnolia Trail was nothing like the more secluded, wilderness spot we were hoping to find, it was a good start for our first Colorado camping trip and was close enough to Nederland that we could easily drive into town to pick up some drinks for the night.
When we chose our site among the marked tent sites, we set up camp and then roamed the trails all around it until it was too dark to do so anymore. Then, my least favorite part of camping rolled around: night. Random noises. Rustling. Not being able to see anything on the other side of the tent. Those are some of my worst fears when it comes to camping, and as expected, I slept horribly. However, we made it out alive and woke up to a beautiful sunrise that made it all worth it.

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Camping Trip #2
Rather than settling down at a campsite, the most intriguing thing to me about camping is actually the journey to the campsite: backpacking. As a total endurance junkie and a hyperactive person who doesn’t know how to slow down, I want nothing more than to walk and walk and walk with the challenge of having extra weight on my back.
So, our second Colorado camping trip included just that.

We set off on a part of the Colorado Trail that we mapped out to be 24 miles long. Originally, we planned to do half one day, and the other half the next, but of course it didn’t work like that. The first part of the hike was all uphill, which was difficult, but stunning, as we crossed over rivers and tread on lightly traveled ground. While I gladly accepted the challenge, Matthew, unfortunately, was wearing his new hiking boots that were not broken in enough, so he ended up taking those off to hike in flip flops instead. That’s right. He hiked about 20 miles in flip flops. Hard.Core.

So, we ended up hiking about 18 beautiful miles the first day, pausing for 15-minute breaks every hour to have small snacks along the way, and setting up camp just as the sun was setting. After cooking a tasty meal with the fire that was way too easily made and extremely hard to put out (we’re not used to dry weather camping, as Georgia’s damp weather provides a whole other challenge), we popped some melatonin (that’s right, I made sure to bring some this time), and fell right to sleep.

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The next day, backs and feet in pain, we set off to hike the remaining 6 aspen tree-filled miles, running into some other campers along the way who had run out of water. We gave our last bit of water to them, hoping that we were truly just a couple miles from the car. Thankfully, we were, and we could not have been happier to see Matthew’s Scion TC, and even happier to snack on the Oreos we had left waiting for us as rewards.

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Overall, both trips were fun, and the tranquility coupled with the views of Colorado’s mountainous woodlands made every second worth it.
& now that we’re all geared up and familiar with camping in Colorado, I’m looking forward to our future trips when summer rolls around again!

frugal & free,
Claire

1,000+ Instagram Followers!

It’s been a week or so now, but I didn’t want to jinx my numbers by speaking too soon…but I think it’s now safe to say, Frugal & Free has 1,000+ Instagram followers!

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A little over a year ago, Frugal & Free started as a simple blog that Matthew, our families and I could look back on to simply remember and reflect on special moments.
While this still holds true, Frugal & Free has also become so much more ~ it’s a way for me to share these moments with other people ~ to share the deals I stumble upon, the frugal travels I embark on, and the random, free moments that make me smile enough to hopefully make you smile too.

With that being said, I just want to thank each of you for being one of my 1,000+ followers. Thank you for following, for interacting, and for caring enough to read my content.

I look forward to sharing more of my frugal finds with you all as I continue my journey and you continue yours! 🙂

To reflect & celebrate, below are just a few of my favorite Frugal & Free moments:

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frugal and free,
Claire

Midwest Road Trip

Colorado → Nebraska → Iowa → Illinois → Indiana → Louisville

Two weeks ago, Matthew and I took a road trip through the Midwest. Although it was a road trip through many of “The Forgotten States,” I still feel that it was a road trip worth documenting.

As part of Matthew’s bank’s work program, he has to complete rotations in different departments, and one of those rotations is in a regional office, which is why we ended up in Louisville, Kentucky – home to his new office for the next few months. Although the objective of the trip was not our favorite thing (to move Matthew way too far away from me), that didn’t stop us from making the most of the drive from Denver to Louisville.

Since we already stopped in Kansas City and St. Louis on our way from Georgia to Denver a little over a year ago, we decided to take another route, which was a bit longer but much more appealing to us, as we’d never been to Nebraska or Iowa, or what I like to refer to as “The Forgotten States.”

After researching these states a bit more, I realized that this name wasn’t far from the truth. According to Thrillist, both Nebraska and Iowa are a part of the “Least Popular States to Visit,” which isn’t entirely surprising. However, we had a great experience spending time in these states.

Our first stop was Omaha, Nebraska where we stayed at the Hyatt Place right next to the Old Market downtown, easily Omaha’s most lively, historic neighborhood.
Honestly, there wasn’t much to do in the city, but we were only there for a night, so we found plenty of things to fill our time. We walked through pretty parks to reach the Missouri River, where we went across the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge. Then, we met up with one of Matthew’s co-workers for a drink at Brickway Brewery & Distillery, and then walked around Old Market, where I happily convinced convince Matthew to try Indian food at Himalayas (we split butter chicken, garlic naan & soup ~ sadly not pictured), which we both agreed was delicious.

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The next day, we ate our complimentary breakfast at the hotel (which was actually really great), and walked around the city a bit. It was extremely windy so our walk didn’t last long, but we were pretty much ready to leave anyways. Omaha was a lot of fun for a night, but I don’t think we’ll be going back anytime soon.

Then, we were off to our next stop: Davenport, Iowa.
Because this was a road trip, everything wasn’t expected to go perfectly. So, we weren’t entirely surprised when we got a flat tire as we made our way to Des Moines. Luckily, Matthew happened to have 4 tires in his car (which he bought about a year ago..don’t ask) and he knows just about everything about cars, including how to calmly change a tire in 38-degree weather with a pretty crappy carjack in under 20 minutes.

DesMoines_Pho3After our flat tire incident, we stopped in Des Moines to get lunch, and may I say that Des Moines is pretty dang cool for one thing in particular: their skywalks! For a place that gets so chilly during the wintertime, these skywalks seem to be lifesavers – I know they were for us while we were walking around in the biting wind. To warm up, we got pho in the city (completely forgot the name of the spot) and happily ate every bite before continuing our drive to Davenport.

In Davenport, we stayed in a fancy historic hotel, Hotel Blackhawk, which was surprisingly inexpensive (not only because of Matthew’s work discount, but also simply because Davenport is such a small town).
Despite being a small town, Davenport seemed to have a lot of great restaurants, plus it was riverside, lending for great views and an awesome path along the Mississippi River. We walked across the Davenport Skybridge (which doesn’t go over the water for some reason) and then grabbed dinner at Front Street Brewery, Iowa’s oldest brewpub, where we split spinach artichoke dip, along with baked mac ‘n cheese with a side of brussels sprouts, and of course a beer.

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After a fun night in Davenport, it was time to make the last long stretch to Louisville. We passed through Peoria, Illinois, Indianapolis, Indiana and more cities in between, before finally ending in Louisville.

Overall, I think my favorite part of the trip (aside from reaching each stop) was the difference in terrain. With each mile we drove, the scenery changed entirely. Of course eastern Colorado and Nebraska were flat and full of windmills..not entirely exciting. But then, Iowa had rolling hills with endless cornfields and farmland, along with many bridges crossing rivers – truly more beautiful than I thought it would be. Then, the trees really began to appear in Indiana and Louisville – the large, full trees we’ve always been so familiar with from the southeast. And the leaves! Fall was still very much present in Kentucky, a state that shows off the colors in a bright & magnificent way.

Although Kentucky is far from my favorite place right now (as it has taken my best friend for the next few months), I’ll admit that it’s definitely an interesting state ~ one that I’m looking forward to spending time exploring when I visit Matthew throughout the future months.

More adventures to come!

frugal & free,
Claire

The Real LA Experience

This past October, Matthew and I were finally able to return to LA for the ‘real LA experience.’ You know – sunny weather, blue skies, lazy beach day, bottomless mimosas on Hollywood Boulevard, a free improv show, and of course, an appearance on the Price is Right.

Thanks to Google Flights, we were able to find a cheap round-trip flight on United, and thanks to William & Megan (Matthew’s brother and his brother’s girlfriend), we had a free spot to stay and some great company throughout our trip!

Since they were living right down the block from Hollywood Boulevard, we had a prime spot to explore the area – unlike last time when our Airbnb canceled on us, and we ended up in Koreatown (still a fun experience!) – and since they knew the area pretty well and had a car to drive us around – last time we took the bus and train everywhere (still had a blast) – we were able to see a lot of different things!

Because we arrived late Friday night (you have to sacrifice some sleep for those late-night flights ’cause they’re cheaper!), our trip didn’t truly start until Saturday. We began our morning with a hike up Runyon Canyon for a view that was more than worth the steep, steady incline.

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Views from Runyon Canyon

After that, the whole day was dedicated to the beach and a significant level of laziness. So, with 2 bikes, beach towels, games, Subway sandwiches (we had coupons 🙂 ), and a cooler full of beer, we drove from LA, through Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Bel Air, and to Santa Monica – a place we visited last time we were in LA, but one that we weren’t fully able to enjoy due to the cold, rainy weather.

What a difference the sunshine makes! We spent all day on the beach, biked to the Santa Monica Pier and to Venice Beach, and ended the day watching a beautiful sunset over the water – all without rain, chills, and a care in the world.

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Santa Monica sunset

Sunday began with a nice stroll around the Hollywood Reservoir, an easy 3-mile trail around ‘Lake Hollywood,’ from which we were able to enjoy great views of the Hollywood sign.

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Hollywood Reservoir

Then, it was time for bottomless mimosas at Jameson’s Irish Pub, an Irish bar on Hollywood Boulevard. $12 for bottomless mimosas, bellinis & bloody mary’s while watching football and playing beer pong – a fun time until, like always, it isn’t. Everyone was practically dead after a few hours of sugary alcoholic drinks, so we walked over to Matthew’s favorite spot, In-N-Out, which I must admit is incredibly good, especially given how cheap it is.

IMG_2169After In-N-Out & a much-needed nap, we went to an improv show at Upright Citizens Brigade, where you can catch a free show on certain Sunday nights – just check their calendar to find a free show & get there a little early so you’re guaranteed a seat!

 

 
The next day, our last day in LA began with a run up Runyon Canyon for an even better view with clear skies enabling us to see for miles from the top!

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Clear views from Runyon Canyon

After that, the rest of our day consisted of our participation in The Price is Right. We were super stoked about this (even though I’d never seen the show until we watched it the night before..). It really was a true LA experience, but one that lasted all day, taking up the final hours of our trip. I urge everyone to go ahead and try it, but only if you’re super into the show and if you have all the time in the world – because it is free, and anyone can be an audience member by grabbing tickets here. BUT just be prepared to be there at least 6 hours, and be ready to act obnoxious so that you may get a chance to be a competitor and have a chance at winning some crazy prizes.

IMG_2163All in all, it was a great trip! But, we agree with William & Megan when they say they couldn’t live there for very long – the traffic is ridiculous, the city is way congested and there’s just too much going on. However, I totally think it’s worth a visit or 2, as both of our LA experiences were fun and eventful, and full of opportunity to partake in unique activities you can’t find elsewhere.

Not sure if we’ll be back after we got our fill of sunshine, but now I’m even more interested in seeing more of that sunny state – stay tuned for more adventures!

frugal & free,
Claire