*Sadly edited to update that many of the places I loved have closed down over the last 2 years. Johnny Martins Car Central was supposed to relocate but never opened back up, Over Easy was sold and the new owners completely changed it. Dockside Restaurant was sold and it is unclear what the new owners are going to do with it. Eve and Dee boutique closed their storefront and now sell online only, and have the occasional pop-up boutique*
As my time in Louisiana draws to a close, I have been reflecting on the last few years of my life at all our different duty stations. Moving every 6-12 months is definitely stressful, and if I had the choice I would definitely stay in one place and put down roots. But I would be a fool to not recognize the amazing opportunities I have been presented with by changing addresses so often. When you stay put in one place (no matter how amazing that place is) you are limited in what you can see and do. You are limited to local adventures or quick weekend trips, and maybe one big trip a year using all your vacation time and savings. But when you move a lot, your local adventures change every few months. The day trips are always different, the long weekends are rarely in the same place. You get to see every corner of whatever state you are currently living in, and then when you have seen it all you move to the next place. So while yes, moving a lot is…a lot. You get to see and experience a lot more too.
So in honor of my upcoming 5th move in 4 years, here are my 3 most recent duty stations and some of my recommended experiences at each. Enjoy!
Where to live off post: Lorson Ranch Community. It is right in between the main gates for Carson and Peterson, and is only about 20 minutes from downtown COS.
Where to eat: Johnny Martins Car Central, Over Easy. JMCC is our favorite place in the Springs, it’s part exotic car showroom, part upscale restaurant, part arcade, part bar, part social club, part dance club, part music venue, part cooking school. It is so hard to explain, but just go. It’s more than worth it. And Over Easy is the straight up best brunch you will ever have west of the Mississippi. Their sausage biscuits and gravy still haunt my dreams.
Regional Specialties: Rocky Mountain Oysters. So, I am not even going to tell you what these are, just know they are not actually oysters. Try them though! But don’t Google them before trying them. Trust me.
Local Activities: Royal Gorge Railroad Murder Mystery Dinner, Garden of the Gods, Cave of the Winds, Pikes Peak. The Murder Mystery on the Royal Gorge Railroad was my favorite thing in the Springs. I am a huge Nancy Drew fan, and I felt like I was living one of the books. An amazing dinner onboard a refurbished railcar, zipping through the mountains with spectacular views on all sides while solving a puzzling crime. You definitely don’t want to miss it! Garden of the Gods is a spectacular field of sandstone rock formations that you can drive or hike through. Cave of the Winds is a fun cavern that offers really unique tours. Pikes Peak is the highest summit of the southern Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, at 14,115 feet. You can drive up it (if you are brave, and have perfectly working breaks) or take a railcar up. At the top be sure to grab one of their homemade donuts: everything tastes better at higher altitudes.
Adventures: The Stanley Hotel up in Estes Park is a must-do. It is the hotel that inspired Stephen King to write “The Shining” and it definitely lives up to the creepy hype. We don’t believe in ghosts so the ghost tour didn’t do much for us, but it was entertaining in it’s own way and gave us access to normally closed parts of the property. There are a lot of trap doors and secret passageways to discover, and when we were there they were growing a huge hedge maze. They have a whiskey bar that will blow your mind, and their smoked old fashioned is the stuff dreams are made of. When you get done exploring the property, Estes Park can fill up all the rest of your time.
Where to live off post: Chester. Petersburg is really sketchy, Richmond is overpriced, Hopewell and Prince George are pretty isolated. Chester gives you the most bang for your buck while still being close to base.
Where to eat: Ambrosia Indian Cuisine, Dockside Restaurant. Ambrosia has some of the most authentic Indian I have ever had, at amazing prices. Dockside is a really quirky seafood restaurant with spectacular bay views, and all you can eat crab legs on Tuesday. The service can be slow, but the food is always worth the wait. And the sun setting on the water is absolutely breathtaking.
Regional Specialties: Wine. I say this because Virginia doesn’t really have regional specific items, but the Williamsburg Winery has some decent selections and a beautiful property. Their framboise is out of this world, but it is extremely sweet so don’t order that on top of a dessert unless you want to feel sick.
Local Activities: Busch Gardens, Colonial Williamsburg, Hunt Club Farms in Virginia Beach. Dave and I are total amusement park people, so of course I am going to suggest Busch Gardens (and its sister water park, Water Country USA). We buy season passes because we go pretty much every weekend, but if you only want to go once Waves of Honor give service members and their family one free pass a year so you don’t have to pay. I suggest using your free passes on Howl-O-Scream, their Halloween festival. Roller coasters and haunted houses, what more could you want? Colonial Williamsburg is beautiful and educational, and can easily fill up a day (or two or three) with new things to see and do. And there is obviously a theme here (I love Halloween! And Virginia does Halloween the best!) because the next stop is Haunted Hunt Club Farms in Virginia Beach. In October this private horse farm turns into an amazing Halloween festival with pumpkin patches, hay rides, corn mazes, haunted houses, escape rooms, and so much more.
Adventures: Tangier Island is one place you may never hear of living in VA, but is definitely worth a visit. Tangier is a tiny slip of an island out in the Chesapeake Bay, with a total population of less than 800. The island is only accessible by boat or plane, so not many people go out there. We rented a plane with friends and flew in, and we all spent the day dining on fresh shellfish and playing on a massive, completely deserted beach. It was like being on our own private island, and it was amazing. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity!
Where to live off post: Ideally in one of the developments off of Tank Trail Road. Avoid living in Rosepine and Deridder unless you are okay with a long commute and never having company.
Where to eat: Hazel’s Tea Parlor, Bistro on 3rd. Hazel’s is a hidden gem in Leesville, it has some of the best food and atmosphere but most people don’t even know it’s there. Their crawfish chowder is one of the best things I have ever had, and their chicken salad wraps and roast beef melts are droolworthy. They also have an extensive tea menu that will satisfy the pickiest customer. Bistro on 3rd is brand new as of this post, and offers organic, farm to table items as well as wine and tapas evenings.
Regional Specialties: Cracklins, boudin, crawfish. Cracklins are my favorite, they are basically just huge chunks of melt in your mouth bacon, covered in spicy seasoning. I get them at Quebedeaux’s in Alexandria, and The Best Stop near Lafeyette. Boudin is a French/Creole style pork sausage, and crawfish are little shrimpy critters that look terrifying but taste delicious.
Local Sights: Eve and Dee Boutique, Downtown at Sundown. Eve and Dee is quite literally my favorite boutique on the planet. They carry high quality women’s clothing for a really reasonable price, and they rotate their entire collection every couple of weeks in order to stay on trend. The ladies there are so amazing, they make you feel so welcome and are never pushy. When I was reducing to a capsule wardrobe they really went above and beyond to help me select timeless, staple pieces that I could wear for years to come. Downtown at Sundown happens on Friday nights during the spring and summer. They take over a park in downtown and set up gourmet food trucks and bring in local entertainers. It’s a great way to hang out with friends in a different setting and get to meet new faces from around town.
Adventures: If you don’t go to New Orleans, you are insane. The Big Easy is an absolute must-see, plan to go at least once for a weekend. You can probably squeeze everything into a two night trip if you arrive early and leave late, but I would budget three nights to be safe. The Omni Royal Orleans is our favorite hotel due to its great location and rooftop pool with 360 views of the city. For dinner we are diehards for The Bombay Club, an amazing prohibition era style speakeasy. For drinks and late night entertainment my favorite spot is the Famous Door, they have an amazing classic rock cover band that plays all night. Dave’s favorite spot is the Bourbon O Bar with their insane whiskey collection and live jazz. You have to try chargrilled oysters at the Royal House, Ramos Gin Fizzes at the Roosevelt, and beignets at Café Beignet (Café Du Monde is historical and touristy but the beignets are not actually that good.) Check out the St. Louis Cathedral and Jackson Square, Lafayette Cemetery #1, go for a paddle boat ride on the Mississippi River, stroll the river walk, try High Tea at the Ritz, and of course check out Bourbon Street in all it’s crazy glory. Skip the ghost tours, they are just a tourist scam.