In Best of 2017 [part 1] we posted our picks for best attraction, show, new place, and people. Today, we’re back to share some of the best food, museums, views, and experiences from our year in travel.

Best food –

Chicken fried steak at The Pioneer Woman Mercantile (Pawhuska, Oklahoma)

Chicken fried steak is a dish we’ve never made for dinner at home but enjoy ordering when we’re out. It’s a splurge for sure and if you’re going to take in the calories, you want it to be worth every one of them. The first time we went to Pawhuska, Oklahoma, this summer, it was a given that we’d try Ree Drummond’s chicken fried steak and it did not disappoint. In fact, Steve has tried chicken fried steaks all over the country and says the one at The Pioneer Woman Mercantile is, by far, the best he’s ever had.  It was a fork-tender, thinly sliced ribeye, breaded and fried to perfection, served with a side of delicious mashed potatoes, all smothered in creamy country gravy and five months later, he’s still talking about it.

Chicken fried steak at The Pioneer Woman Mercantile

Honorable mentions: Sunday brunch at College of the Ozarks (Branson, Missouri);  mini chocolate chip cookies at Vala’s Pumpkin Patch; the fresh fish and clam chowder up and down the Oregon coast; soup and salad at Salad Bros. (Rochester, Minnesota); and the garlic bread and steaks at The Peppermill (Valentine, Nebraska).

Sunday brunch, College of the Ozarks, Branson, Missouri

The College of the Ozarks in Branson, Missouri, serves an amazing Sunday Brunch that is prepared and served entirely by students who are working to pay their tuition.

Chocolate chip cookies, Vala's Pumpkin Patch, Gretna, Nebraska

These mini chocolate chip cookies at Vala’s Pumpkin Patch near Omaha were the perfect blend of crunchy, chewy and sweet. Ann had to make Steve count to 30 between cookies so they would last longer.

Clam chowder in Oregon

Ann and Carol tried the clam chowder everywhere we went in Oregon.

Salad Brothers wild rice soup, mixed greens, and ranch pasta salad, Rochester, Minnesota

Ann’s favorite lunch in Rochester, Minnesota comes from a restaurant called Salad Brothers. It’s a mixed green/ranch pasta salad, a cup of wild rice soup and one of their delicious parmesan bread sticks.

Peppermill garlic bread, Valentine, Nebraska

The garlic bread at the Peppermill comes au jus for dipping.

Best museum –

Art Institute of Chicago

We love museums and make a point to go to them when we travel. This year, we visited several museums we’d never seen near our home in Nebraska, including the Benne Museum (Crete), Lincoln County Historical Museum (North Platte), and Homestead National Monument (Beatrice). But the museum visit we enjoyed the most was the morning we spent at the Art Institute of Chicago.

One of the most impressive pieces of work at the museum is Marc Chagall’s American Windows. These stained glass windows have recently been restored and are as beautiful as they are impressive.

Marc Chagall’s American Windows was absolutely breathtaking to see in person.

We also loved seeing the Thorne Miniature Rooms. We couldn’t get over the detail packed into these tiny rooms! Parquet flooring, tiny newspapers left folded on the table and even fruit trees outside the windows of these rooms were just some of the amazing details that made these miniatures look just like an actual room.

Steve looks at one of the many Thorne Miniature Rooms. We couldn’t get over the detail packed into these tiny rooms!

Honorable mentions: Space Center Houston (Houston, Texas); Centennial Museum (Valentine, Nebraska); Columbia River Maritime Museum (Astoria, Oregon); Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (Kansas City); Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum (Ashland, Nebraska); Woolaroc Museum and Wildlife Preserve (Bartlesville, Oklahoma).

Apollo Mission Control Space Center Houston

The Apollo Mission Control room at Space Center Houston helped make history again and again.

Centennial Hall, electric hair curler, Valentine, Nebraska

We had never seen a hair curling device quite like this one we found at Centennial Hall. A number of readers remember them, though.

We spent several hours at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City on our summer vacation with Meghan and some other college students

We spent several hours at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City on our summer vacation with Meghan and some other college students.

Columbia River Maritime Museum US Coast Guard lifeboat, Astoria Oregon

This US Coast Guard lifeboat is on display at the Columbia River Maritime Museum. Nearly impossible to sink, boats like this patrol the often dangerous Columbia River Bar and provide emergency assistance to boaters in need.

SAC Museum hangar, Ashland, Nebraska.

One of the hangars at the SAC Museum near Ashland, Nebraska. The museum allows visitors to walk right up the airplanes on display and even take a peek inside some of them providing a look into the history of military aviation.

Woolaroc Museum mosaic, Woolaroc, Oklahoma

Located near Bartlesville, Oklahoma, the Woolaroc museum is loaded with art and artifacts from the collection of Frank Phillips. Mosaics like this one show the high level of artistry you’ll find there.

Best view –

Off the stern of the Carnival Valor in the Gulf of Mexico

There is nothing more calm and relaxing that watching the wake (and the world) go by from the stern of a cruise ship. Let’s just say, this is Steve’s “happy place.” We’ve taken six cruises so far and one of our favorite things to do on each one is simply sit back, relax, and watch the water. The views are spectacular and the weight of the world just seems to drift away with every wave.

Wake of the Carnival Valor

Steve loved watching the wake of the Carnival Valor on our trip across the Gulf of Mexico.

Honorable mentions: The shoreline at DePoe Bay (Oregon); from the top of the lookout tower at Nebraska National Forest (Halsey, Nebraska); from the blind at Rowe Sanctuary during the annual Sandhill Crane Migration (Gibbon, Nebraska); from the air while flying into Key West (Florida); from the deck of the lodge at Drummond Ranch (Pawhuska, Oklahoma).

Oregon Coast, Depoe Bay, Oregon

We stood and watched whales in the Pacific Ocean in Depoe Bay, Oregon.

View from Scott Lookout Tower, Nebraska National Forest

The view from the top of the Scott Lookout Tower across the Sandhills at the Nebraska National Forest. You could see for miles.

We watched thousands of Sandhill Cranes gather at sunset on the Platte River near Gibbon, Nebraska.

Florida Keys from the air, near Key West, Florida

Passengers on flights into Key West get to see views like this as they approach the airport; views that tell them they made a good choice in going there.

Pioneer Woman's lodge view

The view from the lodge across the Drummond Ranch near Pawhuska, Oklahoma, is absolutely incredible.

Best experience –

Watching the total solar eclipse from our own back yard

Of the hundreds of new new things we did while traveling this year, none compares to experiencing our first total solar eclipse from our own yard. We spent the day with family, college students, old friends, and new people we met that day. We were all in awe as we watched the sun go behind the moon and for two minutes and thirty-six seconds, we experienced one of the rarest occurrences in the universe. It was absolutely spectacular.

Steve and his dad, John Teget, watch the total solar eclipse from our front yard in Crete, Nebraska.

Steve and his dad, John Teget, watch the total solar eclipse from our front yard in Crete, Nebraska.

Total solar eclipse photo by Ronald D. Koch of Crete, Nebraska.

Total solar eclipse photo by Ronald D. Koch of Crete, Nebraska.

Honorable mentions: Whale watching in the Pacific Northwest; judging the National Indian Taco Championships (Pawhuska, Oklahoma); tasting Pinot Noir while feeding llamas at the Rain Dance Winery (Newberg, Oregon); traveling with our parents (Nebraska, Key West, Oregon, Oklahoma, Kansas); swimming in a cenote in Mexico; and throwing our boys off a tube on Table Rock Lake (Branson, Missouri).

Whale watching, Depoe Bay, Oregon

Visitors to Depoe Bay, Oregon, can stand along this wall and watch whales breaching in the water below.

Indian Taco fry bread being cooked in oil at the National Indian Taco Championships in Pawhuska, Oklahoma.

Indian Taco fry bread being cooked in oil at the National Indian Taco Championships in Pawhuska, Oklahoma.

Rain Dance Vineyards, feeding a llama, Newberg, Oregon

Meghan sips Pinot Noir while feeding a llama at Rain Dance vineyards near Newberg, Oregon.

Smith Falls, Valentine, Nebraska

We had a wonderful trip around Nebraska with Steve’s mom and dad this summer. Here we are at Smith Falls near Valentine, Nebraska.

We had such a good time with Ann's mom, Carol, on a trip to Oregon to see the coast and watch the Nebraska Cornhusker football team play the Oregon Ducks.

We had such a good time with Ann’s tiny mom, Carol, on a trip to Oregon to see the coast and watch the Nebraska Cornhusker football team play the Oregon Ducks.

Meghan and Steve swam in this cenote (can you find them) on our family vacation in Mexico this summer.

Meghan and Steve swam in this cenote (can you find them) on our family vacation in Mexico this summer.

Tubing on Table Rock Lake, Branson, Missouri

Michael, Josiah, and Davron loved tubing on Table Rock Lake near Branson. Steve loved driving the boat and making them fly off the tube.

What were some of your “bests” of 2017? Let us know in the comments. We’d love to hear from you.

  • What a privilege to be in @visitbentonville this weekend to celebrate the opening of @themomentary and our friend, @addie_roanhorse. Addie’s Osage ribbon work- inspired design is featured on this tower at the Momentary and it is just fabulous! 
This new space opens to the public Feb. 22 and general admission is free, thanks to the generosity of the @waltonfamilyfdn.
  • In @visitmasoncityiowa, you'll find the boyhood home of famous composer Meredith Willson. Perhaps best known for his musical, "The Music Man," Willson based the show in large part on his experiences growing up in his hometown.⁣
Mason City has kept Willson's memory alive through an extensive museum and convention space, which we got to see on our hosted tour of the town, called The Music Man Square. A part of the experience at Music Man Square is a tour through Willson's childhood home.⁣
Now is the perfect time to head to Mason City for a visit. Hugh Jackman is set to play Professor Harold Hill in a Broadway revival of, "The Music Man." With that show opening in 2020, all eyes will be back on Mason City.⁣
@thehughjackman @musicmanbway
  • When the @museumofamericanspeed invited us to come for a complimentary visit, we weren't sure what to expect. ⁣
Yes, the museum is chock-full of race cars, engines, history, and car-related memorabilia. But it also houses other collections like one of old lunch boxes.⁣
We had so much fun standing and taking in the lunch boxes, looking and trying to find the ones we had when we were kids. Ann had "Charlie's Angels" and Steve had "Super Friends." ⁣
If you're ever near Lincoln, Nebraska, check out the Museum of American Speed. It's a true hidden treasure in the midwest. ⁣
What kind of lunch box did you carry to school? Any kids of the 70s and 80s who had the ones we had?
  • Sometimes you find things in your own backyard.⁣
Just up the road from our home in Crete, Nebraska, we found the National Museum of Roller Skating. Our curiosity piqued, we stopped in and took a look around. There we found the world's largest collection of historical roller skates, costumes, and memorabilia. ⁣
It took us back to our childhood and spending time at the roller skating rink (do kids even skate anymore?). We remembered crossing over on the turns for the first time and bending at the knees for "Downtown" by Petula Clark. So many great memories. ⁣
Sometimes, we focus so much on getting away that we forget that we have some really interesting places close to home, as well. The next time you feel a hankering to go somewhere, maybe try going down the street. You never know what treasure you might find and what memories it evoke.
  • This was our Valentine’s Day dessert last year. Chef Kurtess Mortensen at The Pioneer Woman Mercantile created this memorable dish he called “Fat Elvis.” It was a chocolate bread pudding, served alongside banana brûlée and caramelized peanuts then topped with marshmallow cream, homemade peanut butter ice cream, and a candied bacon garnish. We are giddy with anticipation to see what he comes up with tonight! We are budgeting our calories accordingly. 😉
  • “Actually, the best gift you could have given her was a lifetime of adventures.”
– Lewis Carroll
  • It's been a long winter. I need to see flowers again! Are you with me?Let's talk about these flowers. ⁣
We are often asked about our favorite place we've ever visited. While that question is hard to answer, we almost always mention Tallinn, Estonia, as a contender.⁣
Estonia has an interesting history. Conquered in 1227 by Denmark, it never again enjoyed independence until  1920. That freedom was short lived, however, as the Soviet Union occupied the country in 1940. Finally, in 1991, Estonia regained its independence and has remained free ever since. The country joined NATO in 2004. ⁣
Visiting Estonia, we could see the remnants of Soviet control. Large block buildings dominate the landscape. They are of Soviet Communist design: utilitarian in nature with no thought given to design. They look just like the buildings you've seen in movies about the Soviet Union. ⁣
Now free, Estonians have done what they can to erase the gray days of Soviet control. The Soviet-style buildings are painted bright colors, and flowers abound in the streets. The people are warm, cheerful, friendly, and welcoming. ⁣
Yes, Estonia is a wonderful country, and we can't wait to return.
  • Each year from late February to early April, hundreds of thousands of Sandhills Cranes migrate through Nebraska on their way north to their breeding grounds. It's considered one of the greatest spectacles in nature, so thousands of people come to experience this incredible time.⁣
We traveled to Kearney, Nebraska, one of the best cities for crane viewing, last year. Because the best times to view the cranes is sunrise and sunset, we found ourselves with some free time during the day. It turns out that Kearney has a lot to offer in terms of things to do.⁣
Scroll across our highlights on Instagram, and you'll find the stories highlights we made during our time there. On our blog (link in bio) you'll also find a post we wrote with ideas for 20 things to do in Kearney while you wait on the cranes. ⁣
Put crane viewing on your bucket list. It really is one of the most amazing experiences we've ever had in nature. And don't worry about being bored between sunrise and sunset--Kearney has too much to offer.

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