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Things to do, see, & eat in colorado springs

Colorado is gaining popularity as both an ideal place to live as well as an Instagram worthy travel destination. Not only is Colorado absolutely gorgeous (I mean come on- it inspired the song “America the Beautiful” by Katharine Lee Bates) but it also has something for outdoor enthusiasts, shoppers, and foodies alike. This summer I was lucky enough to go on a road trip through Colorado and stopped in Colorado Springs, Denver, and Boulder. Since Colorado Springs was my personal favorite and first stop, this guide will focus on what this scenic, vibrant city has to offer. Keep reading for some major travel inspiration and tips.

Things to Do & See

Hike at Garden of the Gods

Photo by Courtney Smith

Garden of the Gods is home to stunning sandstone formations and boasts an array of activities from hiking to Jeep tours. While there is no wrong way to explore this famous national landmark, hiking it is a truly special experience. Upon entering the park are some of the tallest formations that create impressive views both up close and far away as you venture onto different trails. The Perkins Center Garden Trail begins at the main parking lot and is an easy 1 ½ mile round trip journey that is paved and accessible to wheelchairs and strollers. If you don’t have time for much exploring at least do that trail to get up close and personal with some beautiful formations. Other great trails to take include the Palmer Trail (3 miles and away from traffic) as well as the Buckskin Charlie Trail (dramatic distance views). The park is free admission and parking so on top of being a classic Colorado Springs activity it’s easy on the wallet.

Visit the Manitou Cliff Dwellings 

Photo by Courtney Smith

Manitou Springs is located across the highway from Colorado Springs and is an adorable, culturally rich mountain town. It’s also home to Native American architecture known as the Manitou Cliff Dwellings. You are allowed to go inside the dwellings as well as touch them which makes it a really unique and interactive place to visit. Unless you’re a total history junkie the Cliff Dwellings are a pretty quick place to visit and go through which makes this an easy thing to fit into your trip. The cost is only $10 for adults and is free to those in wheelchairs.

Shop in Downtown/Historic Manitou Springs

Photo by Courtney Smith

Downtown Manitou Springs is home to many interesting shops that both locals and tourists can enjoy. Parking is not too hard to find and everything is quite close together which makes this an easy thing to do to fill up a morning or afternoon. The storefronts range from new to old and have a ton of character so it’s never difficult to find a picture-worthy spot or a fascinating store. Mixed in amongst the unique shops are souvenir shops that also allow you to pick up any souvenirs you want or promised to others. The Penny Arcade is a fun stop where you can play old fashioned arcade games for low prices and for all ages.

Drive to the Pikes Peak Summit

Photo by Courtney Smith

Pikes Peak has an elevation of a little over 14,000 feet and has been a Colorado travel staple for years. The drive to the summit includes breathtaking views, places to stop and shop/eat, photo opportunities, and hiking trails. It is extremely chilly at the top (it was 32 degrees when I went in June) so be sure to bring a jacket and dress in layers. Right now there is some construction so there is a park and shuttle system that is explained as you make your way to the top. This is an absolute must while in Colorado Springs and costs $15 per adult.

Challenge Yourself and Hike the Manitou Incline

Photo by Courtney Smith

The Manitou Incline is rated as “difficult” and isn’t for the faint of heart. With 2,744 steps and a 2,000 foot incline in slightly less than a mile, it takes some serious grit. Reaching the summit depends on fitness level and crowdedness on the incline but usually takes around an hour. It can get very steep so if you’re short (like me) or want some extra stability, I recommend hiking poles and good shoes. There are places along the incline to pull off to rest, refuel, and take pictures. The views are incredible and you definitely feel accomplished after reaching the top. After you climb the steps you follow the famous Barr Trail down to the parking lot for about 4 ½ miles. Plan on taking plenty of water, snacks, and a charged phone. There is a shuttle system to take you from Hiawatha Gardens building parking lot to the base of the incline for free. I did this and it was easier than finding a meter. Admission to the incline is also free. Good luck!

Places to Eat

Garden of the Gods Market & Cafe

Photo by Courtney Smith

Not only is this the perfect stop on the way to the park itself but it has an incredibly nice aesthetic inside. If you’ve ever been to Magnolia Table in Waco, Texas, this cafe has a similar feel. It’s light, airy, and perfect for brunch. The menu has a lot of tasty options and includes things like a daily quiche (my selection), hash, pancakes, french toast- basically all of your brunch essentials. Pricing is definitely moderate (about $13 per plate) but the quality and quantity of the food is well worth it. 

Urban Steam

Photo by Courtney Smith

Okay…maybe I’m brunch obsessed, but maybe Colorado Springs has an awesome brunch scene. Urban steam describes itself as selling “espresso, waffles, whiskey, [and] good times.” While it isn’t in the heart of downtown and you will need to drive or Uber it still packs a major brunch punch. The waffles were some of the best I have ever had and the coffee was smooth and delicious. With menu item names like “monkey-wrench” and “greasy granny” you know it’s going to be good. My waffles came with Nutella, bananas, whipped cream, walnuts, caramel sauce, and chocolate sauce. Needless to say it was an easy 10/10. Urban Steam also offers plenty of other items and cocktails to make it worth your while.

Sahara Cafe

Photo by Courtney Smith

Located in Manitou Springs, Sahara Cafe serves up tasty Middle Eastern cuisine. They feature all of the classic items you’d expect such as falafel, gyro, delicious salads, hummus plates, and chicken/beef shawarma. Pricing is really affordable here- make any sandwich a combo for $10.99 including a drink and a side. Portions are great for fueling your day or for sharing. It’s conveniently located near all of the shopping and sightseeing to do downtown as well.

Josh & John’s Ice Cream

Photo by Courtney Smith

What’s better than ice cream that’s slow churned with high quality ingredients? Nothing. Literally nothing. Josh & John’s Ice Cream is full of satisfying, dense flavor- but be prepared to wait if you go at a peak time. Locals love this place and once you have their Colorado Cookies and Cream or other signature flavor, you’ll be hooked too. 

Colorado Springs is a perfect destination for those looking to beat the Texas heat, get out in nature, do a little shopping, or explore a tasty local food scene. While Colorado is the perfect road trip destination, flight costs aren’t bad either, making it a solid choice for spring or summer travel on a college budget.

Saving Money and Looking Great

The temperatures are rising, the sun is out longer, it’s almost spring and that means a new wardrobe is needed.

It’s time for new spring outfits, but these days it’s hard to find great clothes without breaking your bank – unless you’re looking in the right places. Here is a list of some great places in Austin to find cheap and cute clothes.

Savers

5222 Burnet Rd #600, Austin, TX 78756

Thrift stores have been on the rise for years now. The clothes are vintage and allow for creative outfits to help standout. Savers sells a variety of good quality, cheap second hand clothing and shoppers can donate to help their community.

Photo by Lauren Breach

Blue Elephant

4001 N Lamar Blvd #510, Austin, TX 78756

A high-end boutique for women’s apparel, they have cute graphic t-shirts of Austin and other designs. Their prices are around the medium range with most of their shirts priced at around $30. A great stop for lovers of graphic tees.

Photo by Lauren Breach

Uptown Cheapskate

3005 S Lamar Blvd #110-A, Austin, TX 78704

Another thrift style store with great clothes and low prices. Shoppers can donate their clothes and receive to potentially go buy more clothes. The store features brands like Nordstrom, Urban Outfitters and Nike.

H&M

The Domain

This clothing chain has been popular for their affordable clothing for both women and men. Shoppers can find tops at prices as low as $10 with fun and simple designs. They also have business attire at comparably low prices.

Photo by Lauren Breach

Target

5621 N Interstate Hwy 35, Austin, TX 78723

Everyone knows that Target is a good place to buy groceries, but did you know they also have cute cheap clothes? Their clothes are chic, great quality and inexpensive. They also have nice purses for women and sunglasses for women and men. Don’t just get your groceries at Target, get some clothes as well.

Affordable Graduation Gifts

Graduation is the next big step in adulting. Once students cross the stage they go on to do a number of things: some will go off to a new place to work, some may travel, some will get married, and others may head back home. Four (give or take) years of lectures and finals pay off with the diploma and it’s an overall exciting time for both the graduate and their loved ones. Usually this also leads to something nearly equally as exciting for the graduate- gifts! If you have someone close to you graduating and want to get them something without breaking the bank, these ideas are for you based on their plans (or lack thereof) after walking the stage.

If They’re Moving…

Monogram Mug

Photo courtesy of Target

Help add a personal touch to the graduate’s new home without giving them something too big that makes it hard for them to show their own style in the new space. A mug is a classic go-to, especially for coffee or tea enthusiasts, and is aesthetic enough on its own. This mug is only $5.99 at Target, but similar styles could be found elsewhere too. If they aren’t much for flowers there are also similar more minimal designs. Bonus? Add a gift card to Target or another home store to help them out a bit.

Succulent/House Plant

Photo courtesy of Etsy

Nothing says trendy like a succulent gift for a new apartment. These plants are low maintenance and can be purchased alone at an outdoor or grocery store for $5 or less. If you have a bit more room in the budget you can get them a cool planter like this sloth one for $18 or a personalized gift box for only $22 that you can check out here.

If They’re Traveling/”Finding Themselves,” etc…

Travel Size World Scratch Map

Photo courtesy of Amazon

Help the new explorer track their travels with a travel sized world map that they can scratch off after visiting each country. If they’re staying local, US maps are also available. Either way, this gift comes in at under $20 and is both thoughtful and aesthetic.

DIY Option: Travel Must Have Set

Photo courtesy of Amazon

To keep your gift personal and low budget, try this cool DIY option. Basically, find a cute travel sized bag/pouch (think the size of a makeup bag or wallet) and fill it with a few travel goodies like gum, candy, bandaids, travel charger, sleeping mask, whatever suits your fancy. You can make it as basic or as unique as you want. If they love Starbucks or McDonald’s there’s practically one everywhere so you could even put a $5 gift card in there to get them a drink/meal. These sets  can also be purchased, but I think it’s a cuter gift when it’s done personally.

Mini Backpack

Photo courtesy of Target

This travel essential is not only trendy, but super useful. Mini backpacks offer all of the same features as a regular sized one (including compartments to tuck away valuables) but with less of the bulkiness. They may not be the number one pick for an avid hiker, but if someone is just out exploring a few new cities, it’s a perfect pick. Prices vary on these tremendously, but you can purchase this one (either white or black) at Target for $20. I also recommend looking in-store at places like Urban Outfitters and American Eagle to shop their sale rack!

If They’re Moving Back Home…

A Book

Photo courtesy of Barnes & Noble

Hear me out! It isn’t super exciting, but books can be super helpful and a nice motivator or de-stressor. Finding a job is tough and even if they have one but have opted to live with their parents again, it is a big adjustment. “Almost Adulting” by Arden Rose has everything from sex to traveling alone to making friends, which sounds useful no matter what stage of life anyone is in, tbh. You can purchase it at a local bookstore or on Amazon here. Another great pick is Unfu*k Yourself by Gary John Bishop. It’s basically about…well what it sounds like. Pick up a copy here.

Lap Desk

Photo courtesy of Amazon

Whether it’s for job hunting, freelancing, or watching Netflix- a lap desk comes in handy for hours spent on the go and at home. I personally recommend going to HomeGoods or something similar to find a good deal, but a reasonably priced one can be found here.

Lush

Photo courtesy of Lush

Give the gift of relaxation after a long four years and go with a classic, vegan friendly option: Lush! They have gifts for both guys and girls alike and are super affordable. This “Happiness” gift set comes in at $19.95 and “Bath Art” is slightly cheaper at $18.95.

No matter what your budget or the graduate’s after college plans, there is definitely a thoughtful and useful gift you can give them. Especially if you’re having to buy multiple gifts, this list can be a life saver. Happy shopping!

Featured image courtesy of Pixabay.

Weekend Getaway: Magnolia Market

Exploring new places isn’t always easy on a college budget with constant deadlines and org meetings, but luckily there are so many places that are worth a day (or even weekend!) trip from campus. Recently I decided to go to Magnolia Market in Waco to see what all the hype was about- and to see if only HGTV fans would be there thanks to Chip and Joanna Gaines’ show that inspired the marketplace. Below are my tips and review of the infamous Waco weekend getaway. You can look at the overall scores for each of the things I’ll be covering (right), but keep reading for a more in depth look at the trip.

Getting There

One of the best things about getting to the market is that it’s only an hour and a half away! I stayed in Waco from Friday to Saturday afternoon, but it’s close enough to do all in one day. Magnolia Market also has free parking which is a huge bonus compared to, well, pretty much anywhere. You have to either get to the market early in the day or late to snag a spot, though. If not, Waco also has a FREE trolley system. Either way, getting to Magnolia Market (and parking) is overall quite easy and inexpensive.

Insta Worthy Moments

All photos by Courtney Smith

Given that Magnolia Market was literally designed by an infamous design and house remodeling duo, it’s no surprise that every inch of it is super aesthetic. The grounds themselves have flowerbeds, cute lawn chairs, and plenty of eye pleasing white walls for a photo backdrop. The shops are also just as instagrammable and include a home decor/souvenir store, garden shop (check out the mini greenhouse for a cute picture) and a bakery. All of that on top of the picturesque food options make Magnolia Market a top notch place for photographers and amateur influencers alike.

Food

One of the most important things about any trip: food. Luckily at Magnolia Market there was equally as much thought put into the food as into the design. There are several food trucks at the market itself and, out of those, I definitely recommend the tea from The Alabama Sweet Tea Company. For $8 you get a 24oz souvenir mason jar with a reusable straw and some great tea- plus it’s only $2 for a refill. It seems pricey, but the reusable factor and the size makes it an okay value. The Magnolia Table food truck also is at the market and features some of the same items from the actual sit down restaurant, The Magnolia Table, but with less than a third of the wait time. I got the avocado toast from their food truck and while $8 is a bit hefty, it was also the best avocado toast I’ve ever had, TBH. So take that however you want. If you have the time/desire to wait for a seat at The Magnolia Table, it’s worth it. You can technically leave the restaurant while you wait (check out Spice Market downtown or go back to the market!)  which makes the long wait bearable. You absolutely must get there early if you want to eat there- the waitlist often is closed off by noon. The Magnolia Table also has a takeaway market with some of their products and grab-n-go food which makes a picnic or road-tripping back home easy and delicious. At the restaurant I ordered the skillet oatmeal and it was super satisfying. The pancakes, pastries, and hash-browns are all also worth ordering and very tasty. If you’re looking to grab food somewhere else in Waco, the Health Shack (definitely a sarcastic choice) and Bubba’s are two good options nearby that are also pretty budget-friendly.

Cost

Visiting Magnolia Market is definitely worth it, but it isn’t exactly the cheapest. While admission and parking are free, souvenirs and food in the market itself can set you back quite a bit of money. However, if you plan ahead and eat some meals/snacks outside of the market you won’t spend as much on food. Buying souvenirs at Spice Market is also an alternative to the pricier items at the shops on the market grounds. That being said, whether you’re a mega-fan of “Fixer Upper” or just looking for an eye-pleasing couples/friend getaway- Magnolia Market is definitely worth it.