Best Kept Secrets from our Cities (around the World) in 2017

I am really loving the community that exists around travel-blogs. I’ve come across incredible bloggers who share so many of my passions! I am excited to share my first collaboration with fellow bloggers! We were tasked with finding (and sharing) the best-kept secrets of our towns and cities. From New York City to Chiang Mai, Sydney, Illinois, California, Washington DC and Switzerland, Toronto and India - here are the results!

SECRET: Carl Schurz Park
LOCATION:  New York City, NY
Discovered by: Talek Nantes
Blog:
TravelsWithTalek
Instagram: Travelswithtalek
 
Carl Schurz Park built in 1935 in New York City is one of my favorite little-hidden oasis in the middle of busy, wonderfully frenetic New York City. I love being there. It’s peaceful, pretty and has lots of interesting history too. 

These 15 bucolic acres of gardens and trees face the East River. Across the river, you see Roosevelt Island and Hell Gate, the meeting of two streams of turbulent waters. The passage was a strategic crossing point during the Revolutionary War.

On the north side of the park is Gracie Mansion built in 1799. It was the museum on the city of New York at the beginning of the last century.  Since then it has served as the home of New York’s mayors

Nearby, nestled in a circular garden stands the Peter Pan statue. It once stood in the lobby of the Paramount Theatre on 42nd street.

I love these interesting little-known pieces of New York City history. 

carl schurz park.jpg

SECRET: Que SeRaw SeRaw
LOCATION: Burlingame, CA
Discovered by
:Katie Minahan
Instagram: @katie_minahan_

I am so stoked. Since being back in the Bay Area, I’ve struggled to find convenient and healthy food that I can grab when I’m totally unprepared and hungry! On the advice of a fellow yogi I ventured into a small storefront off of Broadway in Burlingame, Que Seraw Seraw. It’s vegan, organic, gluten free, dairy free grab-and-go.

I didn’t know what to expect when I approached, but was greeted by an incredibly friendly staff. There is a cooler where all of their food is prepped and ready for you. Perhaps, most importantly, they have Kombucha on tap.

Did you read that? Kombucha. On. Tap. So sold off of just that.

They make everything fresh that morning, so while they do have a menu, they don’t always have everything on it at the moment you walk in. Which quite honestly, is totally legit.

I opted for the Nori Roll with Same as Salmon and a growler of GingerAde Kombucha. The keg for it, they freshly replaced just for me! So nice!

I walked home completely thrilled that I found such a friendly, healthy spot. My happiness only grew when I ate that roll with my fresh Kombucha. It was freakin’ fantastic. You couldn’t tell me that it wasn’t salmon.

My ONLY regret is that I didn’t buy everything in their shop to try.

I am already planning to go back there tomorrow to pick up some hiking snacks. They had powerballs that looked yummy, as well as cheesecake and other desserts. There was also an almond smoothie that sounded quite good. Again, I wanted to buy everything, but I am on a budget. So spreading it out seems more reasonable!

If you’re ever in the Bay Area, whether it’s to stay or for a long layover, do yourself a favor and stop by Que Seraw Seraw

UPDATE

I just went back the other day and got four items! I got the Poquito Burrito, Kale Salad, Walnut Date Bar, and Sunflower Crisps! The burrito was fantastic, the kale salad was fresh and the dressing was heavenly. But that Date Bar was HEAVEN! It gave me a sweet treat and didn't leave me feeling like crap...so freakin good!

Have I convinced you to go yet?

Que SeRaw SeRaw Instagram story

Que SeRaw SeRaw Instagram story

SECRET: Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens
LOCATION: Washington, DC
Discovered by: Adrienne Barile
Blog: The Haphazard Traveler
Instagram: @thehaphazardtraveler

Most visitors to Washington, D.C. flock to see the White House, Smithsonian museums, and monuments on the National Mall. But tucked into the northeast end of the city, along the banks of the Anacostia River, is a garden straight out of a Victorian postcard.

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens is part of the National Park Service and a lesser-known D.C. treasure. Visitors to the gardens experience an amazing wetland ecosystem including turtles, beavers, fish, dragonflies, and butterflies, along with egrets, herons and other shorebirds. But the real stars of Kenilworth are its large ponds of waterlilies and lotuses that bloom in mid-July.   From paths in the middle of the gardens, visitors are surrounded by enormous green leaves and swaying pink flowers as far as the eye can see.

The land for Kenilworth was purchased in 1880 by Walter Shaw. From his native Maine, Shaw brought an assortment of waterlilies, which he planted in the ponds of his new family home. Through the years Shaw and his daughter Helen added more flowers to their thriving gardens. In 1912, Shaw opened the park to visitors as the W.B. Shaw Lily Ponds.

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens is unique and beautiful in every season: colorful autumn foliage, the dramatic frozen winter landscape of its boardwalks, and an explosion of spring flowers including cherry blossoms, dogwoods, and daffodils. But Kenilworth is most alive during the summer when its greenhouses, ponds and gardens are filled with waterlilies and lotuses in full bloom.

In the summer, you’ll see a number of tourists, but also locals painting watercolor landscapes or enjoying a picnic with family.  I love Kenilworth because of its dreamy, peaceful setting... and because every photo you take looks like you’re an Instagram superstar!

Hours: April - October 9AM-5PM, November - April 8AM-4PM
Admission and parking: Free
To learn more about the park’s programs, including ranger walks and the summer Lotus and Lily Festival, visit https://www.nps.gov/keaq.

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens 1.jpg

SECRET: Wat Tham Chang Dao or Chang Dao Cave
LOCATION: Chiang Mai, Thailand
Discovered by: Fearless Travel Gurus, Gina and Zeke
Blog:
Jet Set and Forget
Instagram: @jetsetandforget

We live in Chiang Mai, Thailand and there are more things to do here then we could have ever imagined.

The best-kept secret in the Chiang Mai Province is Wat Tham Chang Dao or Chang Dao Cave. The cave is located 75 kilometers north of the main city of Chiang Mai. 

You can rent a scooter, car or even hail a songthaew (local red bus) to take you north from the city. There is an actual temple located inside of the cave so be sure to dress appropriately (no knees or shoulders showing for both men and woman). It costs 40 baht each to enter, 200 baht to rent a guide (per group) that will take you through the caves and another 200 baht as a tip for the guide.

You cannot walk through the caves alone. There are no overhead lights and you need to crawl through three small holes to get to larger rooms. In each room you will see stalagmites, bats and maybe even a snake like we did! We also suggest wearing closed toe shoes and no purses or a backpack as you need to duck down through the small holes.

It is surely an adventure to say the least. The caves are one of the coolest things you will see in Chiang Mai and not to miss!

 

Wat Tham Chang Dao.JPG

SECRET:  Haw Par Villa
LOCATION: Singapore, Malaysia
Discovered by: Aaron Teoh
Blog:
 https://aaronteoh.com/
Instagram: @aaront_90

Haw Par Villa, on the southwestern fringes of Singapore’s city center (https://aaronteoh.com/southwest-singapore/), has got to be one of the most bizarre parks in the region. Once touted to be an ‘oriental Disneyland’, this park, filled with colorful (and at times morbid) statues portraying scenes in Chinese mythology, has in recent times faded into obscurity. Unknown to most, while the rides no longer run, the sculptures are still being maintained and refurbished, and the park is open to public for free (yes, there are free attractions in Singapore).

The best-known attraction at Haw Par Villa is the 10 Courts of Hell. It is brimming with vivid, gruesome scenes depicting what one might experience in Hell as is known in Chinese mythology, especially for adopting morally objectionable behavior. Kids from the 90s, when the park opened to much fanfare and was hugely popular with locals, would remember nightmares induced by these and other morbid sculptures throughout the park.

Apart from learning about Chinese mythology and admiring the never-ending display of handcrafted sculptures, you can stand at the spot where once stood a family villa, overlooking the sea (slightly obscured now by one of the world’s busiest ports). And of course, escape the huge crowds of tourists surrounding Marina Bay.
 

 

Haw Par Villa.JPG

SECRET: The Standard
LOCATION: Miami Beach, Florida
Discovered by
:Gregory Bret-Harte
Instagram: @a_trail_blazer

When it comes to having drinks, I'm not really looking for loud breweries with tequila shot deals. I am more of the, "let's talk about existential shit while we look out into the water” type. Lighting is also a big factor for me, I like dim lights placed in interesting places. For music, some minimal techno in the background is my preference. 

All that being said (and you can confirm once you visit), it should be no surprise that I immediately took a liking to "The Standard” in Miami Beach. The Standard is a boutique hotel & spa with a pool/bar area past their gardens. At first, I thought it was another South Beach tourist trap, but I was proved wrong when I stepped out of the hotel lobby into the gardens. You walk through a lush tropical maze touched-up with Caribbean decor, guided by the lights dangling over your head, until you reach the open pool area with a view of the city. 

It is not crowded or loud, in fact the people are very calm, almost in a romantic mood. The cocktails are great and the music is just right. Order your favorite drink (a Negroni for me), and enjoy the wonderful view as the perfect Miami breeze takes you away. 

I've lived in Miami for quite some time, and just found this place a few months ago. Enjoy!

The Standard Instagram story

The Standard Instagram story

SECRET: Parc Esplanade de Montbenon
LOCATION: Lausanne, Switzerland
Discovered by: Nisha Dalal
Blog:
And There She Goes Again  
Instagram: andthereshegoesagainblog

Overlooking Alps and the beautiful lake Leman (also known as Lake Geneva), Park Montbenon is locals favorite place to picnic and enjoying sunsets in all seasons. Located in front of the Palace of Justice, this park presents the best views over the multi-storeyed city of Lausanne. From the castle-turned-hotel at the Ouchy port in Lausanne to Evian-Les-Bains, the small city in France which marks the other end of the lake, you can treat yourself to the stunning panoramic views in this park. In Summer, you can find people playing with their kids and/or reading books while getting a layer or two of tan. My favorite thing to do is to enjoy sunsets here, especially the long and colorful autumn sunsets! Entrance to this park is free and there is a brewery nearby where you can drink beer or even take away. But to mix well with the locals, pack a small picnic sandwiches cheese, beer/wines and sip away the sunny afternoons in the beautiful park. When visiting this student city of Lausanne, you should not miss an afternoon or late afternoon visit to Parc Montbenon.
 

Parc Esplanade de Montbenon.jpg

SECRET: Allerton Park and Retreat Area
LOCATION: Central Illinois
Discovered by: Roxanna Keyes
Blog:
Gypsy with a day job
Instagram: gypsywithadayjob

One of Central/Eastern Illinois best-kept secrets is the Allerton Park and Retreat Area, located near the small town of Monticello, Illinois.  Monticello is about dead center of 3 of Illinois’ downstate cities, Champaign, Bloomington, and Decatur.  

Allerton Park is known among educators and ecologist.  It has been referred to as one of the Seven Wonders of Illinois, and one of the most significant natural areas in Illinois.  A portion of the natural areas have also been named as a National Natural Landmark, due to the old-growth floodplain and over 500 acres of contiguous forest.  

On the other hand, among culture lovers and locals it is known for the historic buildings and unique gardens.  The parklands were originally the private residence of industrialist heir Robert Allerton, who built the Georgian Mansion, and laid out the gardens with painstaking precision and artistic flare.  It has been said that he painted with plant and flowers, rather than oil and canvas.    

Today the property is owned by the University of Illinois, and is used for to benefit the surrounding community.  Local 4H groups have designated space.  Educational events are held regularly, including everything from bird watching, DIY natural wreaths, starlight hikes, and armchair travel.  Free tours of the gardens are held on the third Saturday, April through October.  A concert series is held each summer as well.  Otherwise, the park and grounds are open free to the public.  

Many locals visit the park regularly., venturing out on the 14 miles of interpretive and primitive hiking trails. Others prefer the more serene walk through the .25 mile formal garden area, or the 1.25 mile sculpture walk.  The diversity is surprising, as the gardens include 8 different sections, ranging from an herb garden to a Chinese maze garden, with features such as the Fu Dog statues, a replica of the Sunsinger, and a number of other surprises. Of course, some visitors find a lot of fun photo ops among the sculptures!

Travelers in the area, or in one of the surrounding cities, will find Allerton Park has a surprise at nearly every turn of the path, and that it was worth driving a few miles to see.  Be sure to check the events calendar for a unique experience, participating alongside the locals.  Lodging is also available onsite for a quiet escape from urban bustle.  

 

 

Allerton Park.jpg

SECRET: Turimetta Beach
LOCATION: Sydney, Australia
Discovered by: Sarah Trevor
Blog:
World Unlost
Instagram: world_unlost

 In a city renowned for its beaches — the world-famous Bondi and Manly among them — Sydney’s best-kept secrets are easily the scores of hidden beaches tucked away along its coastline, often frequented only by locals. And really, on a hot summer’s day, you can’t go wrong at any of them. 

But one of my favorite secret Sydney finds of 2017 is Turimetta Beach, also known as Little Narrabeen, in the city’s Northern Beaches region. Just 300 meters long, it's a secluded little bay tucked in between two rocky headlands, surrounded by bushland and bordered by steep cliffs. 

Don’t expect to find the facilities you’d take for granted at Sydney’s better known coastal icons, like a surf club, toilet facilities, lifeguard patrol or nearby cafes; a fresh water tap is as good as it’s going to get here. But that’s part of the appeal: Turimetta is a scenic spot ideal for those who just want to relax and take in the beauty of the coastline as Mother Nature intended. Look out for little rock pools along the southern edge, and sea eagles and a local paraglider or two overhead in the sky above. 

Photo credit: Courtesy Pavel and Wikimedia Commons. 

Photo credit: Courtesy Pavel and Wikimedia Commons. 

SECRET: The Adalaj stepwell
LOCATION: Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India
Discovered by: Mokshta Chauhan
Blog:  www.misswithmigratorywings.com
Instagram: @misswithmigratorywings

The dry western region of India encountered scarcity of water since centuries. While over the year’s technology facilitated humans with alternate sources of water but the circumstances were different earlier. The Adalaj stepwell located 20kms away from the city of Ahmedabad, Gujarat is famously known as Adalaj ni vav. This stepwell was constructed to restore groundwater for survival in yesteryears due to water scarcity in this part of the country. The construction of this stepwell began in 1498 by a Hindu King Rana Veer Singh and was completed by a Muslim King Mahmud Begada who killed Rana Veer Singh in a battle.

The temperature inside the well is said to be about five degrees lower than the outside hot temperatures which encouraged the women who came to fetch water to spend more time in the cool climes here. The motifs of flowers and graphics of Islamic architecture blend very well with the symbols of Hindu and Jain gods carved at various levels of the well. The walls are carved with women performing daily errands such as churning of buttermilk, adorning themselves, scenes of the performance of dancers and musicians, and the King overlooking all these activities. Adalaj stepwell has unfortunately not gained the recognition it deserves in the list of Indian Heritage sites or perhaps that’s the reason it’s so well preserved as it’s not commercialized, unlike other such sites. Every year during the world heritage week, this stepwell set stage for local and folk musicians and dancers to celebrate this striking heritage famously known as water festival at Adalaj ni vav. It was during this event that I experienced this well-kept secret jewel of the Indian state of Gujarat

 

 

Adalaj Ni Vav.jpg

SECRET: The Path
LOCATION: Toronto, Canada
Discovered by: Erica Cosentino
Blog:
Treading Wander
Instagram: treadingwander
 

The largest mall in North America: 1200 stores, 4 million square feet of retail space, visited each day by over 200,000 people, and…completely underground?

Welcome to the lesser-known Path, waiting to be explored below the hustle and bustle of downtown Toronto.

Lined with a variety of stores and food courts and connecting over 50 buildings (including the CN Tower, the Toronto Union Station, three museums, and six subway stations), the Path provides pedestrians a unique shopping experience as well as a welcome escape from the winter cold and summer heat.

The Path first opened in 1900 when the Eaton’s department store wanted to create an underground link to its bargain annex. By 1917, there were five tunnels through Toronto’s downtown core. Now, 100 years later, the Path is comprised of over 30 km of connected walkways.

How to visit The Path: Perhaps the Path is still largely a secret to tourists because it can be very hard to find.

The easiest and most surefire way to access the Path is to enter through one of Toronto’s main downtown tourist destinations, like the Hockey Hall of Fame, the CN Tower, the Eaton Centre, etc. Alternatively, you can also enter through many of the office towers lining the streets. Follow the multicolored PATH logo on overhead signage to find the entrance to the mall.

Once you’re in, do some shopping at any of the variety of stores (from bargain-hunting to high-end luxury), grab a coffee or lunch, or use the tunnels simply as an alternative to getting around during poor weather!

Toronto_PATH.jpeg

SECRET: The Alchemist
LOCATION: Wilton Manors, FL  
Discovered by: Yours truly  
Instagram: @thisgiantworld

We discovered The Alchemist coffee shop by accident. We were so excited to have found it! We were just around the Wilton Manors area doing a service project with our Rotaract Club. The Alchemist is a rustic and super cute coffee shop – a true gem of south-Florida. They serve artisanal coffees, yummy breakfast food and a different variety of sandwiches. I also really love their garden seats. It’s perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon with friends.

TheAlchemist.png

A million thanks to all the bloggers who contributed to my very first collaboration post. Let's keep exploring and finding new secrets in 2018. Tell me in the comments which secret you liked the most!