From the Archives: Hawaii, Circa 2002

Later this month, we're heading to Hawaii for a friend's wedding. We're going to split our time between Oahu and Maui -- very similar to a childhood trip I took years ago.

Chris has been to Oahu, but never to Maui -- and I can't wait for him to see it! It's certainly more laid-back than Honolulu, although there's still a lively buzz and plenty to explore.

Here are some of the things I'm most excited for this time around! Any must-see's I should add to the list? Please share!

Flowers, everywhere.

From the moment you land, you can just tell it's a lush tropical paradise. I've never seen such vibrant flowers and greenery. As Chicago anxiously awaits our springtime blooms, I can't wait to be surrounded by palm trees and exotic plants.

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Beachfront living.

There's nothing better than having the ocean at your doorstep, and Maui's string of resorts take it to the next level. While we'll probably spend most of our time exploring the island, I'm already looking forward to kicking back with an evening mai tai and watching the sun set over Kaanapali Beach.

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Diverse natural scenery.

Waterfalls, volcanoes, mountains -- Hawaii's got it all, and plenty more. I'm looking forward to revisiting Haleakala, and the Iao Needle, once we get to Maui. There are also so many hidden waterfalls and outposts on the Road to Hana. So much to explore!

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The Aloha spirit.

From luaus to Kukui beads, the best part of a Hawaiian getaway is the relaxation it affords. This time around, I want to soak up as much of the local culture as possible -- and I have a feeling we'll never want to leave.

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New Orleans: Five Must-Do's in the Big Easy

If you're looking for the ultimate in anything goes, New Orleans is for you. Last month, we spent three wonderful nights exploring everything from the Bywater to the city's best brass bands. 

Seeing the sights of Jackson Square, in between coffee at Spitfire and beignets at Cafe du Monde.

Seeing the sights of Jackson Square, in between coffee at Spitfire and beignets at Cafe du Monde.

I'm not sure what I expected out of New Orleans, and after seeing it's eclectic culture, I don't know how it would've really returned on any expectations. It's truly one-of-a-kind --offbeat, aberrant -- a place where you only stand out if you're uncomfortable with kooky. 

Sittin' at the dock of the bay.

Sittin' at the dock of the bay.

I'll be honest -- it took a few hours to adjust. But as soon as I did, I had a magnificent, big easy time. Here are my recommendations of the top five must-do's next time you're in NOLA.

1. Have Brunch at Brennan's.

Even though we stayed in the French Quarter, we spent most of our time elsewhere. But we made it to the newly renovated Brennan's for brunch on our first early afternoon in town, and it was completely worth it.

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Across the street from the courthouse, Brennan's is an institution -- it's been in business since 1946, and prides itself as the culinary inventor of Bananas Foster. Today, it's still holding its own with a best-in-class brunch, and an atmosphere piqued with Southern charm.

It was a little too chilly to sit outside, but the courtyard would be beautiful on a hot summer day. And worth noting, their Hibiscus Pimms Cup was a more complex version of the typically fruit-forward concoction. 

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2. Shop on Magazine Street.

If I lived in New Orleans, I most certainly would be in or around the Garden District. The heavily gentrified neighborhood boasts some of the city's most beautiful historic estates, along with a refreshing mix of boutique shopping and neighborhood cafes.

We had a great time exploring Magazine Street, where we found a mix of houseware and clothing shops with decently priced wares. Some of my favorite boutiques were ah-ha, Hemline and perch.

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3. Find Live Music, Everywhere.

The best event we stumbled into was a Sunday evening festival in Congo Square. On an adventure to find Bar Tonique (highly recommended), we heard the sounds of a brass band in a nearby park, and ventured over to check it out. We found a lazy group of festival-goers enjoying the sounds of Rebirth Brass Band -- probably the best live music we heard the entire trip.

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On this first evening, Abita's in hand, we fell in love with the expressive culture New Orleans embodies. Later that evening, we explored even more live music on Frenchman Street, including an impromptu outdoor street performance (beer vendors included). If you're making a trip to New Orleans, make live music your priority -- although it's nearly impossible to miss, from the street performers to surrounding late-night music joints.

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4. Hit up BJ's on a Monday Night.

The Bywater has a spirit all its own, and I totally embraced its vibe. My husband's good friend lives in New Orleans and owns a successful restaurant on St. Claude. He was generous enough to take us to one of the coolest bars I've ever been -- BJ's Lounge -- on its infamous Monday night. 

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Apparently, King James and the Special Men perform every Monday night, and the bar felt a mixture between a hipster hangout and a forbidden sixties sock-hop (think Dirty Dancing) -- mostly thanks to the lively music, and the the crowd's enthusiastic atmosphere. Such a fantastic experience! If you're in New Orleans on a Monday night, there's no better place to spend your time.

5. Eat Your Way Through Town.

Like most vacations, I returned home a good five pounds more than when I left -- but for very delicious reason. We expected good food in New Orleans, and we most certainly got good food in New Orleans. Not surprisingly for the locale, some of the best meals came in a simple setting. Here are some of the highlights:

The Joint

This Bywater staple knows barbecue -- and great cocktails. We had a fantastic lunch here and would highly recommend the pulled pork. 

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Coquette

This upscale establishment on Magazine Street specializes in small plates, and their wine list was pretty extensive. We had three desserts here, and each were equally good. You really can't go wrong with anything on their menu, as it's created fresh every day based on the meat and produce available via their local suppliers.

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Kebab

Sure, we checked it out since the owner went to high school with my husband, but his doner kebabs would easily make the cut for the most discerning critic -- and in fact, they have, recently featured on every Best Eats list from Eater to Thrillist. Single-best menu item: Their quadruple deep-friend french fries.

Cochon Butcher

It's very well known, but for good reason. We had to cancel our reservations at Cochon due to a late-evening sailing adventure, so the next day we hit up Cochon Butcher -- and it was great. We sat outside and savored sandwiches and cocktails on our last afternoon in town.

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How Celebs Do Spring Break

Wondering where the rich and famous are getting their spring break kicks this year? Not surprisingly, most vacationing celebs are hanging poolside at sunny destinations from Miami to Maui. Here are some of the highlights.

Britney Spears: Hawaii

Everyone's favorite pop princess took some well-deserved time away from her successful Vegas residency for a family trip to Hawaii's world-renowned waves. She managed to squeeze in plenty of bikini-clad mother/son bonding time with Sean Preston and Jayden.

Source: InStyle

Source: InStyle

Source: Instagram

Source: Instagram

Tom Brady & Gisele Bundchen: Costa Rica

Tom Brady made every Patriot fan's heart skip a beat, and not just from shirtless Instagram pics. His daredevil leap off of Costa Rican cliff didn't catch on; Brady said he's "never doing that again."

Jessica Alba & Cash Warren / Chrissy Teigen & John Legend: Carribbean

Jessica Alba, Cash Warren, Chrissy Teigen and John Legend on one pool deck: none of us stand a chance. The couple besties passed the time on a beautiful sun-filled spring break somewhere in the Caribbean. 

Source: PopSugar

Source: PopSugar

Source: Huffington Post

Mariah Carey: St. Barts, France

Ms. Carey celebrated a fabulous firework-filled 45th birthday on a chic getaway with friends in St. Barts. Any truth to the Bret Ratner romance rumors? Mariah's staying mum.

Source: TimeInc

Source: TimeInc

Gigi Hadid: Miami

Gigi Hadid did spring break just like most girls her age: partying poolside in Miami alongside boyfriend Cody Simpson and fellow models at the Victoria's Secret Pink Spring Break soiree, of course.

Source: DailyMail

Source: DailyMail

Source: Fabzz

Source: Fabzz