Girls’ Weekend in North Dakota

Have I ever told you about my friend (and former roommate) Crystal? If I haven’t, you are probably not aware of her awesomeness.

Case in point, last spring when she said “let’s book a girls’ trip for a weekend this summer!” I was instantly in and I started thinking about all of the places we could go – Napa. NOLA. Santa Fe. NYC. So many possibilities to consider!

She said “no” to all of them. Her idea? A Girls’ Weekend in North Dakota.

Yes, North Dakota. You see, this was last spring when I was still working on my goal of visiting all 50 US states. At that point, I had four left; one of them was North Dakota (I made it to Mississippi and Alabama prior to us going to ND so ND was #49 for me). She knew it and that is why she made the suggestion. Pretty cool, right? I told you she is awesome.

So away to North Dakota we went. We both flew into the capitol city of Bismarck, rented a car and set out from there.

Our Girls’ Weekend in North Dakota had begun.

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Such a pretty area to fly into
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North Dakota – State 49 for me

You might be asking what is there to do in North Dakota. Well, there is the World’s Largest Buffalo, Dakota Thunder and a live albino buffalo in a field nearby. There’s also a large holstein cow named Salem Sue and Theodore Roosevelt National Park is in the western part of the state.

Our goal was to see them all.

Day 1

Our first stop? A visit to the World’s Largest Buffalo. Dakota Thunder is a roadside sculpture located in Jamestown, ND, which is east of Bismarck along I-94. He is 26 feet tall and 46 feet long. He weighs 60 short tons and is anatomically correct (he is indeed a male). Dakota Thunder was constructed with stucco and cement around a steel beam frame.

For many years, it was customary for members of the graduating class at the local high school to paint his genitalia in the school colors of blue and white. They were not painted special colors when we were there.

When we were done hanging out with and taking photos of Dakota Thunder and the live buffalo next door, we headed north towards Devil’s Lake. I didn’t do much research about the lake before we went there and was shocked to discover how big it was when we arrived! I did not know North Dakota had such a large body of water! It seemed to go on and on and on when we were driving through. We did stop off and find a public beach where we could dip our toes in and admire the sheer size of the lake.

After spending some time near the lake, we turned west en route to Minot, where we planned to spend the night. It was a couple of hours drive and along the way, we drove through Rugby, ND, which is the (disputed) geographical center of North America. They even have a brick monument to mark the spot so of course we had to stop and take some photos!

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Our rental car was this BMW SUV. It was what we got because it was the only small SUV they had left. We were excited to drive it but by the end of the weekend, neither of us were impressed. The shift stick annoyed us both!
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That’s a big buffalo!
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Dakota Thunder and me
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We think this is the albino buffalo. He was in a field next door to Dakota Thunder.
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There was a replica of an old western town near the buffalo and so we meandered through it for fun before leaving the area. This photo was taken there. I hope I never get arrested because I do not have a good mugshot face.


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Our view of Devil’s Lake where we stopped to dip our toes in


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Me at the geographical center of North America 
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Crystal and me

When we finally made it to Minot, we had two goals for the evening:

  1. Find a place to stay
  2. Find a place for dinner.

Turns out, dinner was the easy part. Due to a kickball tournament in town (or something like that) most of the hotels were sold out. So we ended up at a place that was safe enough and sort of clean but with no hot water. Ugh! Oh well, it was an adventure and we survived. Plus, aren’t you proud of me for not planning and just winging it for a change?! (And look how it turned out. I rest my case that planning is good!)

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We had dinner in Minot at 10 North Main.
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And this was there we had breakfast – Charlie’s Main Street Cafe. We loved the old fashioned diner feel of this place.
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North Dakota is known for their caramel rolls so we had to have one while we were at Charlie’s. It was delish!!

Day 2

After breakfast at Charlie’s, we set out for Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park comprises three geographically separated areas in western North Dakota. It covers 70,446 acres and is the only American national park named directly after a single person. We visited the park’s larger South Unit that lies alongside I-94 near Medora. The park was pretty and would be a great place to explore and hike through. It reminded me a lot of the badlands in South Dakota.

Then, we started the long drive back to Bismarck, which seemed like the longest straight driving part of the trip. We decided to pass the time by logging into my Tinder account. If you don’t know what Tinder is, it is a dating app that finds other people who are on the app within a certain distance of your current location. We were curious because we had read that due to the oil fields in North Dakota, the proportion of men to women in the state is greatly disproportionate – meaning there are a lot more men than women. Seems like that would be a good thing for me. 🙂

I was driving during this stretch so Crystal did the work on the dating app, posing as me. We had several matches and spent the rest of that drive and the evening messaging back and forth with the matches. It was the source of lots of humor to close out the day.

Just before Bismarck, we stopped to see Salem Sue, the large holstein cow near New Salem, North Dakota. Holsteins are the breed of cows my parents’ had on our farm when I was growing up so I am very familiar with them. This one could have fit right in…if she was actually alive that is.

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Me at the entrance of Theodore Roosevelt National Park
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This area of the park is rumored to be the most photographed spot in North Dakota


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Such a beautiful background

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I am not sure if we saw more oil derricks pumping oil while we were there….
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or round bails used to feed animals like the ones to the right of the building in the photo above.


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Salem Sue and me
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Crystal and me with Salem Sue
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My favorite meal of our Girls’ Trip to North Dakota was here – at Butterhorn in downtown Bismarck. The food and drinks were yummy. The dinner included a broken wine glass (not me) and then a left behind credit card (me) that involved a drive back to the restaurant in a torrential downpour. Such a fun night!! 🙂
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Cheers to a great dinner in Bismarck!
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Our last meal of the trip was brunch here.
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I loved these light fixtures above the bar area at The Starving Rooster. They are made from the snout of the corn head of a combine.

Day 3

The biggest surprise of our Girls’ Weekend in North Dakota for me came right before we headed back to the airport to head home on Sunday when we decided to stop by the North Dakota state capitol building. I had been to the capitol buildings in Mississippi and Alabama a few weeks earlier so it seemed like the logical thing to do since we were so close by.

We followed the instructions GPS gave us but when we got to our destination, we got out of the car and wondered if we were in the right place. I couldn’t help but think “Where is the dome?”

It turns out, there is no dome on the capitol building in Bismarck, North Dakota. The capitol building doesn’t look like a capitol building at all. We saw the building in the photos below and had to confirm with a woman walking her dogs nearby that this was indeed the capitol building. It was definitely not what we were expecting. The women told us that it is the “least expensive capitol building in the US.” Yes. We can believe it.

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The North Dakota State Capitol Building
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Crystal and me in front of the state capitol building

And with that, our Girls’ Weekend in North Dakota came to an end. I had a great time and am so thankful for the time I got to spend with Crystal that weekend. We had many good conversations and lots of laughs too!

I know North Dakota isn’t on the top of many people’s “must visit” lists (South Dakota seems to be the go to and for a reason – you can read about my family trip to South Dakota here and here) but there are definitely things to do and see in North Dakota so if you get the chance to go, you should go. As we all know, the company can make a trip even better so grab some friends and make it a group trip!

One fun fact before I go. My parents trekked around the US last summer on a two week road trip that took them through North Dakota the week before I was there. ND was also my dad’s 49th state to visit. They stopped by the see Dakota Thunder and also had brunch at The Starving Rooster when they were in Bismarck.

The only state my dad hasn’t visited to date is Hawaii.

Summary of the places and restaurants mentioned in this post and that I think you should check out during your Girls’ Weekend in North Dakota: 

  1. Dakota Thunder, the World’s Largest Buffalo in Jamestown, ND
  2. Devil’s Lake, North Dakota
  3. Geographical midpoint of North America, Rugby, ND
  4. 10 North Main in Minot, ND
  5. Charlie’s Main Street Cafe
  6. Theodore Roosevelt National Park
  7. Salem Sue, the holstein
  8. Butterhorn
  9. The Starving Rooster





Girls’ Weekend in Chicago featuring Jimmy Buffett

Fun. So much laughter. Lots of good food and drinks. Girl talk….

All of these can be used to describe the weekend I had with my sister and our friend Meagan over the past couple of days. I was so excited for them to come visit!

They got in on Friday afternoon and we headed out for dinner that night at Cafe BaBa Reeba. If you’ve followed my blog, you know this is one of my favorite restaurants and my go-to when friends visit. It’s a tapas (small plates) restaurant near Halsted and Armitage in Lincoln Park. It never disappoints and didn’t this time either.

We followed Cafe BaBa Reeba with some drinks at Merkles. Merkles is a Hawkeye bar on N Clark St in Wrigleyville. The sign behind us in the photo below says “This is Hawkeye country.” I agree but Meagan may not since she is a Cyclone.

Brunch at Tuco and Blondie (on the corner of Southport and Roscoe in Lakeview) is quickly becoming one of my favorite weekend activities. I had been to Tuco and Blondie once before and really enjoyed it so I decided to take Meagan and Amber there on Saturday morning. I’m glad I did because was a hit! I had to laugh when we first got there at 10am because I opened the drink menu and Amber commented “You’re going to have a margarita at 10am with breakfast?” Yes, I was, and I did. And they did too. Apparenty, I previously failed to convey proper brunch etiquette to Amber. ????

I had the passion fruit margarita, Amber had strawberry and Meagan had the regular margarita. All were great and not too sweet (which can sometimes happen with flavored margaritas).

I had the gringo omelette and their famous potatoes. Their potatoes are more like a crispy on the outside but creamy on the inside potato casserole. Delicious!

Amber had the breakfast burrito

We finished brunch with the obligatory photo in front of the mural on the outside of the restaurant. Amber and Meagan coordinated their colors to the mural very well!

Next up, the Jimmy Buffet concert! This is one day I look forward to each summer. I have been to a Jimmy Buffett concert almost every year with my friend Joe since I first moved to Chicago in 2002. I would say that this was probably my 15th concert of his then. Does that make me an official parrothead? ???? It was Amber’s second Buffett concert and Meagan’s first. I was so excited to go with them!

We started the evening with a Buffett preparty drink at Sports Corner. (Nice photobomb by the gentleman behind us. He was very proud of himself for it).

Fins Up!

After a quick stop at the Sports Corner, we headed over to Brickhouse to meet my friends Joe and Chris. Brickhouse is a new bar that opened as part of the Park at Wrigley just west of the stadium (Clark and Waveland for street reference). I was skeptical as we were walking over but I ended up really enjoying the bar and our time there. The music was great! The wait staff was friendly and attentive. The food was good. The drinks were tasty. And it was steps to the entrance of the stadium. Wins all around!

Quick selfie in front of the marquee on our way to Brickhouse

Brickhouse is two stories. We were on the second floor patio pictured here. I highly recommend it if you’re heading to a game or concert or even just in the neighborhood not going to Wrigley.

I love this hula girls headband. (I should have left my sunglasses on for this photo).

Chris and me

My favorite Parrotheads, Joe and Chris

Quick photo with Ronny Woo Woo and my friend, Laura, at Brickhouse.

Time for the concert!

Tuco and Blondie gave away beach balls to its brunch patrons heading to the concert. Pretty neat marketing idea!

Joe and Chris opted for rooftop tickets to listen to the concert rather than be inside the stadium. As luck would have it, they are in the rooftop directly behind us. How funny!

Pretty sunset behind Wrigley

Cool coloring of the crowd during the show

It was such a great weekend. I miss Amber and Meagan already. I’m so glad we had the opportunity to spend the weekend together and have a ton of fun! I hope they come back soon!

Girls Weekend in Portland, Oregon

Welcome to Portland

Portland had been on my travel wish list for several years. I have heard so many great things about it and was anxious to check it out. Luckily for me, I have a great friend who moved from Chicago to Seattle a few years ago who was willing to drive down and meet me for a girls weekend in Portland.

Liz was one of my first roommates when I moved to Chicago so I have known her for many years. She is married now and has two adorable kids so I was very excited to see her and catch up!

Day 1

I flew from Chicago to Portland on a Thursday night. Liz didn’t drive down to Portland until Friday morning so I had several hours on my own on Friday morning to sleep in and then walk around the city to get the lay of the land before she arrived. Portland is a small, very walkable city. While we walked everywhere, there is also a light rail train system that seemed to come quite often to take people to various other areas around Portland.

After Liz arrived and we dropped her stuff in the hotel room, our first stop was Mother’s Bistro and Bar to get brunch and some mimosas. Mother’s is a well known restaurant in Portland. I read about it several times as I was doing research before the trip so I was excited to eat there. It was good (I had the French toast) and probably worth the 45 minute wait to get a table but it wasn’t my favorite brunch place in Portland.

After brunch, we set out to explore the city and walk off our food comas. We didn’t really have a destination in mind but we ended up at Powell’s Bookstore, which touts itself as the world’s largest independently owned bookstore.

Let me tell you, it was HUGE! You could get lost in there for days. I love books and it was fun to explore all the different genres and nooks and crannies as we wandered about.

The Donuts

When I told people I was heading to Portland, inevitably I would hear “you need to try ____ donuts. They’re the best!”

One of two places filled in the blank – Blue Star or Voodoo.

A block or so from Powell’s was Blue Star so we decided to make that our next stop. Blue Star has many donut flavors to choose from. It was a bit overwhelming! We ended up going with the “popular local favorites” – PB&J and Blueberry Bourbon Basil. Both of them were delicious!

Between the French toast for breakfast and these donuts, I was beginning to get loopy from too much sugar.

Dinner Adventures

After walking about and exploring the city for a few more hours, we headed back to the hotel to rest and get ready for dinner. We decided we wanted Asian food for dinner. We chose a Chinese place several blocks from our hotel that had good reviews on Yelp. Along the way, we got thirsty so we stopped at a bar for a drink to hold us over for the rest of the walk.

While enjoying our drinks, we started chatting with the bartenders and asked them where we should go for Asian food. Locals usually know best after all. They threw out several suggestions and after discussing it, we decided to change course and set out for a place a few blocks away in a different direction. It was a Chinese place with “ducks in the window” for reference because the bartenders couldn’t remember the name.

Away we went, chatting merrily along. As we walked, I looked out for happy yellow duck decals in the window of a restaurant. We walked a few blocks and Liz stopped and said “there it is.” I twirled around a couple of times but didn’t see it. “Where? I don’t see the ducks” And then she pointed to the restaurant right in front of me and I realized how far the expectation in my head was from reality.

They weren’t happy yellow duck decals in the window….they were real ducks, with the bills still attached roasting over a flame on the other side of the window.

I was mortified by what was in front of me and told her I couldn’t eat there but then I couldn’t help myself from a fit of hysterical laughter as we walked away.

Could I have been any more wrong about what “ducks in the window” meant?!?! Even as I type this story three weeks later, I cannot help but laugh at myself and the look that must have been on my face as realization dawned. (UPDATE: 2020 Carmen here: I actually love duck. There is an amazing place that serves a Beijing Duck Dinner in Chicago called Sun Wah BBQ. If you visit Chicago, you should check it out).

As we were walking away from the place with the ducks in the window, we encountered a woman as we were waiting for a stop light. She heard us discussing where to go from there. She recommended a Thai place…so that’s where we ended up going for dinner…and it wasn’t good.

So after all of that, we had my least favorite meal of the weekend. It was a fun adventure with lots of laughs though so it was worth it!

Day 2 of our Girls Weekend in Portland

The next morning, Saturday, our girls weekend in Portland continued. We consulted Yelp again for breakfast ideas and chose a place called Tasty n Alder. The place didn’t open until 9:00 am. We got there at 8:45 am and the line was already around the corner from the entrance. We considered leaving but decided instead to get some tea and coffee from the coffeehouse across the street and wait it out.

I am so glad we did.

This place served my favorite meal in Portland. In fact, we liked it so much, we went back on Sunday morning. I would have it again now if I could. My favorite of their brunch dishes was the Bim Bop bacon and eggs. It was delicious. It was so flavorful and the rice at the bottom was crispy, giving it a great unexpected crunch. If you go to Portland, you must go here! You will not regret it. I am now on the lookout for good bim bop in Chicago.

After breakfast, we continued our girls weekend in Portland by setting out to exploring the surrounding area. Our destination? The amazing Multnomah Falls. You can read about our time at the falls here.

Mothers Bistro in Portland Oregon
Waiting for a table outside of Mother’s Bistro.
Girls Weekend in Portland Oregon
So many unique options to choose from at Blue Star!
Tasty n Alder in Portland Oregon
One of my favorite brunch dishes of all time – Bim Bop Bacon and Eggs.
Girls Weekend in Portland
Drinks before dinner
Welcome to Portland!

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