Crafts & How-Tos

I’m going to be honest: I do not have the best track record with household plants.

Pets? I can house train a dog within a week and my family once had a carnival goldfish for two years. Babies? I mean, I don’t exactly have years of experience, but Viv is by all accounts thriving.

But a houseplant? This is the last houseplant I had:

RIP

RIP

Not a good look. But when I decided to redecorate our bedroom, I knew I wanted to layer in some texture in the way of greenery.

And that’s how I found my way to succulents.

Like the rest of the millenial western hemisphere, I’ve found myself charmed by this chubby little flora in the last couple of years. But I was wary against bringing them into my home because, to be honest, they look complicated. Fortunately, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Succulents are oft lauded as nearly impossible to kill and for being able to survive in almost desert-like conditions.

Sounds like my kind of plant.

As hardy as succulents are, though, there are still a few do’s and don’ts to keep in mind when growing your own. Here is what I learned:

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1. Choose the right soil.

Most guides agree that you can either opt for a cactus potting mix or make your own by blending equal parts gravel and traditional potting soil. Even though these little plants don’t need a lot of moisture, they do need a good drainage system. A grainier soil will provide that.

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2. Keep the succulents high in their container.

Unlike other plants where you want a bit of space between the dirt line and the top of the pot, succulents do best when they grow right along the edge of their container. In fact, most of the pros recommend placing the plants so that the succulent hangs over the edge a bit (also called a “spiller”). This prevents the leaves from getting trapped under any water and rotting or discoloring.

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I also planted an aloe vera plant in another container. These don’t need to be planted quite so high up in the pot, but they do need the same cactus/gravel-and-soil mixture for proper drainage — they can’t take standing water of any kind. Be really cautious against over-watering both plants. To be safe, only water once a week or so when the soil feels dry.

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3. Get the right light.

Succulents don’t need constant bright light, but it is good to give them an hour or so of sunshine a few times a week. Ours will live on Joey’s nightstand most of the time, but I’ll make sure they spend some time near the window. Aloe vera, on the other hand, need plenty of light. Since our bedroom tends to be a little darker, I’m planning to keep this guy on the window sill full time.

And really, that’s pretty much it! I’ve had the plants for a little over a week, and they both look just as healthy as they did when I planted them. Giving myself a big green thumbs-up over here.

Also, did you notice that cute gold-dipped succulent planner? Wouldn’t ya know it, that’s a DIY post for another day. (AKA, next week.) Stay tuned!

I feel obligated to say that I feel a little silly calling our bedroom the “master bedroom.” In total honesty, there is really very little masterful about it. Unless, I guess, you get all hot and bothered by a 10-by-12-foot shoe box with closet better suited for dolls.

But you’re not here for the “omigawd New York City apartments are small” conversation. You’re here to creep on my bedroom.

I’ve said before that I have always had a hard time decorating our bedroom. (This was the closest I had gotten in the past.) I don’t really know why. I think it’s because, for most of our marriage, we’ve lived in fairly small places where our bedroom also had to serve as storage. Plus, we just don’t spend a lot of time in there outside of bedtime, so it has always been a mental struggle for me to prioritize spending any amount of money on dressing it up.

Up until recently, this is what our bedroom looked like:

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So, you know, not terrible. Just a little…undone. I had added the more colorful bedspread shortly before Vivi was born (thank you, West Elm clearance sale), and the more I looked at it with the blue wall and patterned throw pillows and patterned curtains we had, the more I felt like the room felt too busy to ever be a relaxing, dream-inducing space. I purchased new pillows, shams, and curtains from IKEA, but the blue wall was still tripping me up.

Clearly, the first thing I needed to do was update the room’s color. I did research, stalked my stylish friends’ Instagram photos, and scoured Pinterest for the perfect warm, oatmeal-y shade of beige or taupe. The winner? Benjamin Moore’s Shaker Beige. It is this magical hue that looks a little different depending on the light, alternating between a rich taupe and a cozy tan depending on the time of day. Next, all I had to do was wait for my mom to visit (so someone could hold the Viv while I painted).

A gallon of paint and about 12 hours later, this is what I was left with:

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Much better, right? But something still wasn’t right.

Or rather, two somethings. I’m looking at you, yellow-y night tables.

I had purchased our night stands on Craigslist almost a year ago. Let me tell you, they were a challenge. Given the minuscule size of our bedroom, I needed two tables that were less than 14 inches wide. I wanted them to have a drawer, and they either needed to be white or paintable. Oh, and I’m super cheap, so I wanted them both for under $50.

Like I said, a challenge.

Fortunately, I like a challenge, and after a couple of months of searching, I found these beauties on my favorite home decor outlet, Craigslist, for $40 for the pair. SOLD.

The only trouble was that they were not white. They were, however, paintable. So I put them in the room, fully intending to paint them as soon as we had a nice clear day.

Then I had a baby. And, you know what? Babies keep you super busy. So light yellow the night stands stayed.

Until NOW.

I started by removing the hardware and sanding down each piece lightly with a fine grit sandpaper. Then I wiped them both down to remove the sanded dust.

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Next, it was time to paint. I used the same paint I had used to paint our old kitchen table (SAVINGS!) and a small brush. I wasn’t terribly concerned about creating a super smooth surface, plus the table legs had a lot of detailing, otherwise I would have used a roller.

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Two thin coats later, the tables were white. Yay! But I wanted to jazz them up a bit more. I realized I could unscrew the bottom part of the legs, so I decided to create a dipped effect by spray painting them (and the knobs) gold.

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The nice part about the spray paint was that it dried very quickly and gave the legs and knobs a more metallic finish. Ready for the result?

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Not bad, eh? Certainly worth an 8-month wait. (Cough.) Here’s what the room looks like now:

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(Sorry the lighting is always kind of terrible. Our bedroom is basically a cave, so there is very little natural light to be found.)

But, you guys? In person, this place is so cozy and serene. The wall color made such a huge impact, and all of the details really fell into place.

Speaking of details, you may have noticed there were quite a few little accessories on the night tables that I didn’t mention. Never fear, there will be more on that later. (OMG PROJECTS!)

It’s amazing how much joy having a decorated bedroom brings me. I literally take a second after I make the bed every morning just to take it in. (But just a second…then Vivi demands something of me.)

Can you believe it only took me five years of marriage to decorate our bedroom? I’m not sure if I should feel accomplished or embarrassed. Either way, I’m ready for a nap on that pretty bed.

My mom has been in town for the last few days (and my dad over the weekend), so I’ve been able to accomplish a lot around the apartment that I’ve had on my to-do list for a while. One of those big tasks was redecorating our bedroom. I’m going to do a full reveal, but I also want to share a few of the smaller projects that make up the whole room. Today, we’re talking floral arrangements.

One of the most fun jobs I’ve ever had was when I was the Flowers Editor for a wedding magazine. I know a fair amount about flowers already from my mom, but my job was basically to look at beautiful bouquets all day, forecast the trends, schmooze with the top florists from around the city, and receive bouquets occasionally from vendors who wanted to impress us. I’ve never had so many fresh flowers around in my life.

And while I love the idea of surrounding our home with fresh flowers on the daily, it’s simply not practical. But I do love the look, which is why I’ve embraced silk or artificial blooms.

The trouble with artificial flowers is that, often times, they look…well, fake. And that utterly defeats the purpose. So I’ve come up with a few rules to selecting the best-looking faux flowers for your home.

Don’t forget to pay careful attention to your color choices.

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In general, I have a really hard time finding flowers in primary shades that look realistic. It’s just a tough job to create a dye the same color as what you find in nature, and the primary hues lack the depth you see in the real thing. It works for wreaths or displays that need to be seen from a distance, but otherwise, I say skip reds, blues, yellows (except in the case of sunflowers), and even most oranges.

Do embrace pastels and jewel tones.

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Pastels are almost always a safe bet when it comes to faux flowers because — surprise! — they closely resemble a lot of real flowers. But if you’re looking to make a statement, go for something in the jewel tone family. At least it’s another natural color.

Do opt for texture.

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Big fluffy flowers are easier to fake than anything more architecturally shaped. The softer petals will all blend together in a big puff of flowers, give the appearance of softness and texture without triggering anyone’s attention that they’re not real.

Don’t be afraid to think beyond flowers.

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Cherry blossoms, pussy willows, and other stick-like options are great for adding height or finishing off more modern decor. Plus, they just tend to look more authentic. This is a great option for first-time faux flower buyers because it’s really hard to mess up.

Don’t forget your greens.

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Real life flowers always have greenery, so your faux displays should too. Greenery is also another option if you’re not ready to jump on the flower bandwagon just yet. Plus, they tend to look more real as well.

Don’t do this…ever:

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Natural colors, remember? Just trust me on that one.

Now…for the arranging!

Do select a variety of flowers in the same color family.

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Don’t worry about matching your flowers exactly — that’s not how it happens in nature! A variety of blush shades creates a romantic blend that looks more realistic as well.

Do trim your stems to fit your container.

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Just like you would a real bunch of flowers, use wire cutters to trim the stems to fit your container for easier arranging.

Do pick a focal point.

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Create cohesive bouquets by picking a showstopper centerpiece (in my case, a large peony) and arranging your supporting flowers around it. Then tuck in a bit of greenery to finish off the look.

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Ta da! I’m pretty pleased with how the whole thing turned out.

Do you decorate with faux flowers? What are your best tips for making them look more realistic?

Or, How I Organized My Desk Drawer for Less Than $15

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Yikes. Am I right? Just looking at a picture of our desk drawer stresses me out. So you can imagine how I felt actually living with that mess.

But despite being a fairly organized person in general (okay, I’m a little bit of a freak), there was something about our desk drawer that had me stumped for, well, let’s call it a calendar year.

While this drawer is actually significantly better than the one on our old desk (which was tiny), the bigness of it tended to backfire on my organization habits because it was essentially one big space, meaning everything in it shared that space all willy-nilly like. As a result, it became the bane of all type-A types: the junk drawer.

Finally, I decided enough was enough. On my recent trip to IKEA, I kept my eyes peeled for desk organization items. But I also knew I didn’t really want to spend a million dollars on a fancy organizational system. I just wanted something simple, pretty, and budget friendly.

That’s when I spotted these. These cute little bowls would have worked well enough on their own, but I decided to try to think of a way to personalize them/make them look more expensive if possible.

I also started to peruse IKEA’s vast selection of silverware drawer organizers (a great option for office supplies and jewelry, as well as cutlery), when I suddenly remembered that I actually had a silverware organizer tucked away in a closet at home. We had used it at our old apartment, but it was too wide for the drawers in our new place. So I bought two of the bowls and decided to simply upcycle everything else I needed.

And that, my friends, is the definition of budget friendly.

A few days later, I dug up the old silverware drawer. It was totally fine — no broken parts, the right size — but the bronze color clashed with the mint bowls.

And THAT was when I decided this was a job for gold spray paint.

I am no stranger to spray painting things gold. (Cough.) In fact, my husband has said, on occasion, that everything in our apartment is gold. (This is a gross exaggeration. But I get it.) So at this point, I consider myself a bit of a pro in what to do. I purchased some primer and some metallic gold spray paint and got ready to get in to it.

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Cue my instant disappointment when I realized that the primer I had purchased was defective. Any attempt to spray the paint resulted in the can just spurting paint everywhere. Not cute.

I was about to give up on my project for the day (and had started racking my brain for a new project to fill this week’s post) when I decided to, you know, actually read the instructions on the gold paint’s can.

And, wouldn’t you know it, Krylon gold spray paint boasts the ability to stick to virtually every surface, INCLUDING PLASTIC AND METAL.We were back in business.

Three thin coats later, and I was left with these beauties:

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Note: I taped off the bottom of the bowls to keep them white, and I am very pleased with the effect.

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The one thing that was kind of annoying was that the gold spray paint dripped a bit, which was only really noticeable in the bowls:

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This could probably be avoided by a) using a can with a more even spray nozzle or b) being more careful, but ultimately I decided the bowls would be full anyway, so no one would ever know.

Then I set to work organizing the aforementioned junk drawer desk drawer.

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Not bad, right? Let’s get a close-up:

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Now, not only do I not dread opening the drawer, but it actually feels a little bit luxe. And I got that feeling of luxurious organization for less than $15! Not bad at all.

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You guys know how much I love a project. It doesn’t even have to technically be my project — I’m willing to help with any kind of makeover or DIY. So when my dear friend Cynthia (you may remember her as the mastermind behind the annual tea party and my “Once upon a time”-themed baby shower) decided to redecorate her sons’ room, I was excited to help out any way I could.

And when she found out I was looking for projects to blog about, she immediately asked me to assist her in painting a lacquered wood and laminate bookshelf for the room. Naturally, I was game.

I’ve painted a few pieces of furniture in my time, so fortunately I already had most of the materials we needed on-hand. Here’s how we handled this mixed-materials piece.

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Step one: Clean your piece of furniture thoroughly. The majority of the bookshelf was wood with a thin lacquer, but the back panel was a laminate.

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Step two: Sand it down. We started with a medium grit sandpaper, and then followed up with a fine grit. You don’t need to go crazy; just go over each section for about five seconds to remove the shiny finish and smooth out any divots or nicks from previous use. For the laminate, we just needed to provide a bit of roughness for the primer to stick to, so we primarily used the fine grit sand paper.

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This photo gives you an idea what the sanded wood should look like. Not unlike your T-zone, you don’t want any shininess remaining.

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Step three: Wipe the whole piece down with a damp rag. You could also use turpentine or something stronger, but, honestly, a wrung-out washcloth will do the trick to remove any grit or dust. Let dry completely (should only take a few minutes).
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Step four: Time to prime. Or you could save time like we did and use a paint+primer. Either way, you should end up doing 2-3 thin coats.

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We used a small mohair roller for the flat areas. For the first coat, you should also use a small angled brush or foam brush to coat the corners and get between any grooves in the wood.

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Don’t worry about the evenness too much, that’s what subsequent coats are for. And don’t glop on too much paint, even though it’s tempting. Thin, even coats are the key to a smooth finish and faster drying times.

Step five: Repeat step four up to two more times. Really, it shouldn’t take more than three coats to cover the wood/laminate evenly. If you do end up with any bumps or drips, use your fine sandpaper to smooth them out before the next coat. Let dry completely in a cool, dry environment for 24 hours before putting anything on the surface.

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Didn’t it turn out great? The boys’ new beds, desk, and shelves are white, so this bookshelf ties in perfectly with the new look.

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If you’re worried about any remaining tackiness on surfaces where you will put books or other heavy items, you can also seal the paint with a water-based polycrylic. In this case, though, it wasn’t needed.

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Go, Cynthia! You are the coolest mom.

Side note: How much fun is it decorating rooms for kids? They get all the coolest stuff.

What have you been working on lately?

I’ll admit, when I first got pregnant, I didn’t really think I would travel all that much after the baby was born. Well, at least not for the first year or so.

It’s not that I thought I would suddenly stop wanting to see new places — I just wasn’t keen on schlepping eight million baby accoutrements onto a plane or across the country.

Then I was reminded that babies fly free for only the first two years of their life (and so does their carseat and stroller and apparently all the carry-on liquids you want). And after that, we would have to start budgeting for flights for three. On one full-time salary and one work-at-home-mom salary.

HAHAHAHAHA.

Needless to say, I now don’t really think we will travel all that much (at least by plane) after the baby turns two. Well, at least not until she’s old enough to remember where we go.

The point is, we’re trying to get our free flights’ worth while we can. So as our fifth wedding anniversary approached, Joey and I started making plans to visit the place where we got engaged.

Now, those of you keeping score at home may remember that I actually got engaged in Vancouver, so WHY AM I TALKING ABOUT SEATTLE? Well, if you were a true long-time reader, you would also remember that the vacance d’engagement* began and ended with a few days in Seattle, whereupon it became one of my favorite cities. So simmer down.

*not a real French term.

The point is, we began our anniversary trip in Seattle as well. We only spent a couple of days there, but I thought it might be helpful to share our favorite spots (new and old) that are also baby friendly, in case you are considering a trip with a little one.

NOTE: I am not calling this “The most original list of things to do in Seattle.” These are simply mom-tried-and-true places where you won’t feel out-of-place or unwelcome when you stroll in wearing a Baby Bjorn. Just wanted to clear that up before someone gets all snarky and superior in the comments. It’s Seattle; I know you’re hipper than I am.

We begin our adventure with dinner on our first night after touching down around 5:30 p.m….

Get dinner at…Ba Bar.
Vietnamese street food gets an upscale twist in this cozy haunt. The food is fresh with Pacific Northwest ingredients, the drinks are fresh-as-heck versions of your favorite classics, and the atmosphere is noisy enough to accommodate a fussy, jet-lagged baby while still intimate enough to make you feel like a cool mom out with her friends.

After dinner, go to bed. It’s after midnight your time. (Probably.) The next day…

Get breakfast at…Top Pot.
I’ll be honest, this is not where we got breakfast. We got breakfast at this place called Ludi’s that Yelp told us was really good. But, I’ll be honest, Yelp and I are on tenuous terms after that recommendation. Because it was fine, but not somewhere I would recommend for a vacation breakfast. You know what I WILL recommend? Doughnuts. And maple bars. And other magical breakfast confections you can find at Top Pot. Go there. And, for the love of sucrose, get something with sprinkles and take an adorable Instagram photo with your baby.

Then wander…Pike Place Market.
Yes of COURSE it’s cliche, but hear me out: The market is a fantastic place for babies. They can be as loud as they want (a local fishmonger is guaranteed to be louder), there are tons of things to look at, and you will never find someone more fascinated by the gum wall than an ankle-biter.

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Get lunch at…Matt’s in the Market.
To me, a trip to Seattle without a stop at Matt’s is sacrilege, so there’s no way it wasn’t going to end up on this list. Fortunately for you, trusting reader, it really and truly is a good place to take a baby. (Who knew??) It’s got a buzzy atmosphere that won’t be broken up by a few tiny shrieks (noticing a pattern here?), and the waitstaff is pleasantly patient with littler guests. There are also a ton of windows, which is a plus if you’ve got a baby who needs lots of things to look at or she gets bored and cries. Speaking hypothetically. The one flaw? No changing tables in the bathroom. (What’s up with that, Matt’s?) But there is a counter where they put the hand towels where you can set up shop without too much fuss.

Then visit the…Seattle Great Wheel.
Relax, I’m not recommending you take your baby on to some wobbly wheel of doom. The Great Wheel really is pretty great, with each seat actually being a little pod/room that you can get all to yourself if you want. The ride around lasts about 15 serenely quiet minutes, perfect for sneaking in a nursing session or a nap. And the views can’t be beat.

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And while you’re there, head left to the…Seattle Aquarium.
Um, hi. Why did no one tell me how perfect aquariums are for babies? Here I was, all like, “Babies can’t appreciate science.” When, in reality, they don’t have to. (And, actually, they probably can.) All they have to appreciate is looking at cool stuff. And aquariums are PACKED with cool stuff. They are already designed for kids, so everything from running to touching to getting raucous is actually ENCOURAGED in most areas. The Vivster could not have been more charmed by every single creature she met. Still not convinced? Consider this: Those giant walls of fish? They look exactly like TV screens, meaning your baby’s eyes will be drawn to it like a magnet. Except your mom group isn’t going to secretly judge you for letting your kid stare at one for an hour. Everyone wins.

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Get coffee (and charge your phone) at…Seattle Coffee Works.
Honestly, you can get coffee anywhere. This is Seattle — it’s all pretty decent. I’m only including this particular spot because it also had outlets and bench seating where, if you spread a blanket, a particularly obliging baby could spread our and catch a few Z’s. This is not true of every coffee outlet. (Lookin’ at you, Starbucks across the street.) And if your baby won’t sleep here, grab a latte, plop the kiddo in a baby sling or carrier, and hit up a few shops on 5th avenue (Seattle-version). If your kid is anything like mine, she’ll be out like a light in no time.

Then grab dinner at…Local 360 Cafe & Bar.
When you first walk into this place, it won’t scream “baby-friendly” to you. (That would wake the babies. YUK YUK YUK.) The main floor is all bar and tiny tables packed pretty close to their neighbors. But never fear! There’s a whole second story, where somehow all the noise seems to blend into a pleasant hum of conversation (even if your baby’s contribution to that hum is just a lot of whining). Plus, the wait staff LOVES babies. At least, everyone we encountered did — and nothing makes you feel more comfortable than that. Plus, the actual food? To. Die. Do not skip dessert.

Now, go home and put that baby to bed. You’re both jet lagged, remember?

The next morning, get brunch at…Six Seven Restaurant at the Edgewater Hotel.
I know you probably didn’t actually sleep in (you have a baby), but let’s call this breakfast “brunch” just so you feel like a semblance of your pre-baby self, shall we? This gorgeous hotel might feel a bit formal for an infant, but if you book an earlier reservation (we started around 9:30 a.m.) you’ll avoid a rush of people looking for an adults-only meal in favor for a mostly empty dining room and spectacular views you can enjoy sans judgy eyes. Tip: Order any egg specialty with crab in it, feed your kid a squeezy pack, and high-five your fellow adult for scoring a grown-up meal. After breakfast, take a jaunt along the coast to work off the food and get you all some fresh air before you head out.

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So, technically that’s two days, right? Feel free to mix and match the recommendations to fit your own timeline.

Did I miss your favorite baby-friendly place? Share it in the comments. And happy trails!