CHASING AUTUMN IN LAKE TAHOE

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Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America. Spanning the border between Northern California and Nevada, it’s perimeter is 72 miles and it holds 39 trillion gallons of fresh water. Known for its crystal clear visibility, visitors to the lake can see 70 feet or more into the blue depths.

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The Lake Tahoe area was first developed as a summer retreat for wealthy San Franciscans. Today, it maintains its status as a summer weekend destination, but is equally popular in the winter as tourists flock to the many neighboring ski mountains. What many people don’t realize though is that Lake Tahoe is a year-round destination and that fall is an equally beautiful and active time to visit the region. Fondly coined “local summer” and “secret season,” autumn offers up perfect hiking weather without the crowds.

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GETTING THERE

The most convenient airport is Reno-Tahoe International, which is a quick flight on Southwest from San Diego, but not always as easily accessible from other major cities. The drive from Reno to Lake Tahoe is just about 40-60 minutes depending on the area you’re going to. Visitors can also fly into San Francisco International Airport which is about a 3.5 hour drive.

WHERE TO STAY

Ritz Carlton Lake Tahoe is located on the North side of the lake, in the mountain town of Truckee offering slope-side access to Northstar, one of the area’s top ski resorts. With 170 guest rooms suites, as well as several residences, the hotel is ideal for families, offering several onsite restaurants, an outdoor pool and hot tub (both heated year-round), games and an extensive kids club. Couples will also enjoy the resort’s spa and adult-only pool and hot tub. All ages will love the daily “Marshmology” lesson on the history of S’mores, taught fireside by Dr. Graham (complete with samples and home made marshmallows!).

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Virtuoso Perks: As a Virtuoso property, guests that book this hotel through a Virtuoso travel advisor (such as Atlas + Valise) will receive a complimentary daily breakfast credit for two, $100 food & beverage credit, complimentary room upgrade based upon availability (we were upgraded to a suite and it was everything!!), early check-in and late check-out based upon availability, and a welcome amenity (check out all the treats delivered to our suite upon arrival!).

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Edgewood Tahoe is a newly opened resort just outside the town of South Lake Tahoe. The hotel was completed last year to accompany the famed Edgewood Golf Course which borders the resort. Set a few miles away from the South Lake Tahoe gambling scene, guests enjoy an idyllic setting directly on Lake Tahoe. Aside from the stunning design and state-of-the-art spa, my favorite part of this resort is the lakeside infinity pool and the triple sized hot-tub (also both heated and open year-round). Guests are offered a variety of dining options so there’s no real need to leave the hotel, but if you wish to check out one of the hot spots in town, Edgewood will take you there in a complimentary shuttle.

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Advisor Booking Perks: As a premier property, guests that book this hotel through a Travel Edge advisor (such as Atlas + Valise) will receive complimentary daily breakfast credit for two, $75 food & beverage credit, complimentary room upgrade based upon availability, and a welcome amenity (hello free bottle of champagne and birthday cupcakes!)

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WHAT TO DO

In the winter, the mountains are king and in the summer, the lake reigns supreme, but in the fall you can get the best of both worlds!

  • Most Beautiful Drive – The perimeter of Lake Tahoe is commonly known as the “Most Beautiful Drive.” With several picturesque locations to stop for photo ops or hikes along the way, you can easily spend a full day meandering around the lake. DSC02083
  • Hiking – There are tons and tons of hiking trails in and around Lake Tahoe. A few of our favorites were:
    • Spur View Trail & Picnic Rock – 3.4 miles roundtrip, on the North side of the lake closer to the Ritz; the top offers a beautiful view of the lake; we even saw a coyote! DSC02039DSC02045
    • Stateline Lookout Trail – A quick up and back, this trail gives you a panoramic view of the lake and a few signs at the top share information on the history of the lake’s development; also on the North side of the lake. DSC02055
    • Castle Rock – 4 miles roundtrip, easily accessed from South Lake Tahoe; a beautiful forest hike with lake views at the turning point. DSC02211
    • Emerald Bay – This was easily my favorite area of Lake Tahoe. Located on the South Western part of the lake, there are tons of hikes throughout this State Park: 
      • Lower Eagle Falls Trail – If you park at the Vikingsholm parking area in Emerald Bay State Park, you can take a 1-mile paved trail down to the shoreline, exploring the area of Vikingsholm, a historic home which dates to 1929. From the house, you can take a quick hike to the Lower Eagle falls. DSC02229DSC02240
      • Rubicon Trail – After lots of trails with panoramic vistas, I really appreciated that this hike followed the shoreline and offered a close-up view of the turquoise waters. The trail is quite long, but it’s easy enough to do just a portion of it. DSC02222DSC02242
    • Cave Rock Hike – Less than a mile, this is an easy hike to tack on to your drive around the lake. 
  • Thunderbird Lodge – Built in the 1930s by a San Francisco millionaire, George Whittell, Jr., Thunderbird Lodge is a real treat! I recommend buying tickets online in advance as our tour was sold out. Tours last about 2 hours and are guided throughout the property by volunteer docents. While the house itself isn’t massive, the unique architecture, underground passageways, boathouse, grotto, and secret doorways are entirely charming and the views of the lake are breathtaking. IMG_0822DSC02142DSC02119
  • Kayaking – While it’s easy enough to rent your own kayak at several beaches around the lake, I recommend a guided tour with Clearly Tahoe. If you’re staying at Edgewood, they’ll pick you up dockside at the resort and take you on a 2 hour cruise of the shoreline in a clear bottom kayak so you can truly experience the clearness of Lake Tahoe’s water!DCIM100GOPROGOPR0012.JPGDCIM100GOPROGOPR0014.JPG
  • Wine Tasting Boat Cruise – Tahoe Tastings offers a twice daily (midday and sunset) wine-tasting cruise through Emerald Bay. The 2 hour cruise accommodates about 10-15 people and guests are treated to tastes of 8 different wines, all local to Northern California. Once you’ve completed your tasting, you can also order wines by the glass. This was a thoroughly enjoyable way to enjoy a day on the lake and I cannot recommend it enough! IMG_0865
  • Mini Golf – To mix things up a little, what’s more fun than a good game of putt-putt? We stopped at Magic Carpet Golf on the way back from our wine tasting cruise and had a ball.
  • Spa – This vacation was all about some R&R and so I hit up the spa at both the Ritz Carlton and Edgewood. Both lived up to expectations with private, serene relaxation areas and top-notch services. IMG_0583

WHERE TO EAT

  • Chef’s Counter at Manzanita – If you’re staying at the Ritz, why not treat yourself to the Chef’s Counter at the Ritz’s in-house restaurant Manzanita? The Chef made this experience truly amazing for us. Another perk of the “shoulder season” we were the only couple enjoying this unique dining experience with front row seats to all the kitchen action and one-of-a-kind off-menu dishes created for and presented to us by each of the cooks in the kitchen. Top it off with a wine pairing and this is a win-win. IMG_0548IMG_0552
  • The Bistro at Edgewood—The food was delicious, the setting was beautiful and you don’t have to leave the hotel.
  • Izabella Ristorante – Perfect for a casual night out in South Lake Tahoe. We were craving some good Italian food and this place fit the bill. It’s definitely a local favorite though so come early!
  • Edgewood Restaurant – I always save a fancy dinner for the last night of a trip and Edgewood Restaurant is the perfect way to cap off a vacation in Tahoe. Book for sunset time so you can enjoy the rainbow of colors over the lake as you dine on delicious California cuisine. IMG_0880
  • Social House – Behind a fridge door in this casual deli restaurant is a hidden speakeasy, serving up delectable cocktails for the perfect night cap.
  • Sprouts Cafe – An ideal stop for a quick and healthy lunch between hikes. Great for sandwiches, but don’t miss the nachos!

Interested in booking a trip to Lake Tahoe? Contact us today and we’ll handle the rest!

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HOTEL REVIEW: THE GARLAND

Planning a weekend getaway to Hollywood? Whether you’re visiting Universal Studios (as I was) or just looking for an affordable yet chic place to stay in Los Angeles, The Garland is a perfect option.

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Two weeks ago, my fiance and I drove up to LA on a random Thursday to celebrate his birthday at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (yep this is how you celebrate 35!). It’s a bit of a hike from San Diego and so we decided to spend the night up there. Looking for a hotel near the Park, I was immediately disappointed by the plethora of Burbank Airport hotel options. I wanted something cool and unique and worthy of a birthday night away. That’s when I stumbled upon The Garland. Just a 10 minutes’ drive from Universal, this place feels like a world away. Plus they have a complimentary trolley that runs a regular route to/from the park so you can down those Butterbeers without worry!

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Originally built in the 1970s by Hollywood actress Beverly Garland and her husband Fillmore Crank, the hotel was redone in the early 2000s by their son (and now owner) James. I was so impressed with how James and his team were able to modernize the hotel without sacrificing any of the 70’s Retro charm – the orange accents and funky fabrics blend perfectly with modern design touches like unique light fixtures, a hip new restaurant and manicured lawns and parks.

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The Rooms are all well appointed and comfortable – each with a private balcony and your very own paparazzi closet!

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After a long day walking around Universal Studios, we immediately headed to the pool after check-in. We picked up some drinks at The Spritz Hour (a very on-trend happy hour) and relaxed on the chaise lounges poolside before taking a dip in the hot tub.

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We also decided to make it easy on ourselves and eat our meals at the on-site restaurant, The Front Yard. We were certainly not disappointed. The food was innovative and delicious and the service was excellent. Do yourself a favor and save room for dessert – chocolate nutella cake? Yes please.

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I would definitely recommend a stay at The Garland to anyone visiting Hollywood for a trip to Universal Studios. For assistance booking your trip to Universal Studios, please contact us today!

And for those wondering about how magical The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is…

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ADVENTURES IN ICELAND: SPRING EDITION

I rang in 2017 in Iceland, watching the Northern lights dance vibrantly over the frozen terrain. With just about six hours of sunlight a day, winter in Iceland is dark, cold and windy, but also eerily beautiful. While many choose to visit at that time of year to see the Aurora, the spring and summer offer a completely unique experience – with green landscapes, rushing waterfalls, and a never-setting sun.

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Reykjavik and Its Environs

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Where to Stay – The Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Marina is conveniently located at the Reykjavik waterfront, just a short walk from the Old Town city center. The rooms are small, yet comfortable, with touches of Icelanders’ cheeky humor. The property also includes a restaurant with an extensive breakfast buffet, a quaint cafe / bar for a morning cup of coffee or an afternoon cocktail, and a private cinema for a night in!

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Where to Eat – While expensive, the food in Iceland is excellent – using high quality, local ingredients and employing innovative culinary techniques. Lamb and cod frequent the menu, along with lobster soup, salmon, skyr (an Icelandic yogurt), fresh blueberries, and (surprisingly) hot dogs. Guide books also make mention of Icelandic delicacies such as cured whale and shark, however we had a harder time finding these than anticipated.

  • Food Cellar – In Old Town Reykjavik, Food Cellar’s ambiance is unparalleled, with subterranean rooms, live piano music and amazing craft cocktails. They also serve warm pretzels with ginger lemon cream cheese before dinner – just don’t eat too many and spoil your appetite! LRG_DSC01726
  • Kol Restaurant – We saved this for our final meal of the trip and went for the tasting menu – every bite was sublime! Make reservations in advance as it’s extremely popular and on the smaller side. They also have really interesting cocktails, some of which light on fire.IMG_9724
  • Salt Kitchen & Bar – Perfect for a more casual dinner near the hotel. IMG_9293
  • Pylsuhusid – Located at the center of Old Town, this hot dog house is a great spot for a quick lunch and a milkshake. LRG_DSC01727

What to See

  • Hallgrimskirja – The church sits perched atop a hill and is one of the main attractions to see in Reykjavik. You can buy tickets to ascend to the top of the spire for aerial views of the city. LRG_DSC01699LRG_DSC01707
  • Harpa – Harpa concert hall opened in 2011, showcasing an innovative architectural design. It stands out as a major landmark in the city and is worth a quick tour.LRG_DSC01725
  • The Sun Voyager – Designed by artist Jón Gunnar Árnason, the Sun Voyager sculpture pays homage to Iceland’s discovery by the Vikings.IMG_9215
  • Whales of Iceland – If you need a rainy day activity, this exhibition featuring life-sized replicas of the dozens of whale species that call Iceland home is extremely informative. IMG_9224

Excursions – Reyjkavik makes a great home base, especially for a shorter stay in Iceland. Many tour operators offer half day and full day excursions into the countryside with pick-up from your hotel.

  • The Blue Lagoon – The Blue Lagoon is a year-round destination with an average temperature of 100 degrees. As I mentioned in my winter post, it’s definitely a touristy activity, but still worth spending a couple of hours in the warm waters. I definitely recommend the Premium ticket for a more VIP experience and to avoid some crowds. This time I also enjoyed the in-water massage and thoroughly enjoyed it! Located closer to the airport at Keflavik, many visitors choose to stop by the Lagoon upon arrival or prior to departure.IMG_9201
  • Inside the Volcano – This half-day excursion offers the very unique opportunity to descend inside a dormant volcano. About 45 minutes outside the city, the tour begins with a 2-mile hike through lava fields. Groups then take turns descending into the volcano via elevator and spend about 30 minutes exploring the extraordinary geography within. Following a warm bowl of lamb soup, you return back the way you came. LRG_DSC01759IMG_9294

The Golden Circle

The Golden Circle is a popular route with departure from Reykjavik that takes you through the nearby countryside to see some of the area’s most unique geological features. I drove this route on my prior visit, and it was really interesting to see the juxtaposition of the main sites at two very different times of year!

On this trip, we also opted to snorkel through the frigid water at Silfra Fissure – the exact location in Thingvellir National Park where the tectonic plates are separating. This was a truly unique experience! Apparently you can also do this year-round, although I’m glad we didn’t do it in the winter, because it was freezing enough in the spring!

 

The Road North

From the Golden Circle, instead of returning to Reykjavik, we began our trek North and spent one night at Hotel Glymur along the way. The hotel is really in the middle of nowhere but has beautiful water views of an inlet. And while the loft-style rooms are a little unconventional, the restaurant more than makes up for it with gourmet food and an extensive homemade breakfast. IMG_9315

The next stop on our trip was the town of Husafell, where we spent one night at Hotel Husafell, one of the National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World.  Renowned for its sustainable and Scandinavian-style design, the hotel is a modern oasis in the Icelandic countryside.

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The main attraction in Husafell is Into the Glacier, a tour through a man-made cavern/tunnel within a massive glacier. You can either take a special bus to the site, or travel via snowmobile for added excitement and adventure. As an extension of the tour, you can also visit a nearby lava tube for a guided walking tour. While a little touristy in nature, the juxtaposition of the ice and lava formations is very uniquely Iceland.

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From Husafell, we continued our journey North on part of the Ring Road, stopping along the way at The Settlement Center in Borgarnes where we learned about the origins of Iceland, and at Glanni Waterfall for some show-stopping scenery.

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A couple of hours later, we arrived at our destination – Saudarkrokur and Hotel Tindastoll – the oldest hotel in Iceland. While Saudarkrokur is a tiny old fishing village with just 2 restaurants, we spent a night here due to its proximity to Drangey Island – my favorite excursion of our whole trip. From Hotel Tindastoll, we drove 20 minutes North to the end of the road at Reyki harbor and met our guides, a father-son team who had agreed to start their season a day early to accommodate our schedule. The tour began with a 25-minute boat ride to Dragney Island, which serves as a rookery for thousands of seabirds, including puffins! Once docked, we hiked up the steep trail to the top of the island (with the help of a rope!) where we continued our hike, learning about the history of the site and the many bird species that call it home. This was another truly unique Icelandic experience. The puffins were nesting and flew so fast it was hard to get a great picture of them but we still saw a lot of them, along with guillemots, gannets, kittiwakes, seagulls and ravens.

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Akureyri and Its Environs 

Akureyri is Iceland’s second largest city and located at the very Northern part of the island. This is a great home base for your Northern adventures around Iceland and where we headed following our stay at Hotel Tindastoll.

Where to StayIcelandair Hotel Akureyri is centrally located, and comfortably appointed. The rooms are bigger here than in Reykjavik and even the standard rooms feature small seating areas. IMG_9446IMG_9447

Where to Eat – Though the city is smaller than Reykjavik, there are still a number of fantastic restaurants to choose from. And if you’re getting a little tired of Icelandic food at this point (as we were) then the Asian/Icelandic fusion cuisine you’ll find is an unexpected, yet welcome, change.

  • Rub23 – Their extensive sushi menu is a great way to still eat local, fresh fish but prepared in a different way. And don’t miss dessert!IMG_9561
  • Strikid – Located along the waterfront, the view from the dining room (and from the patio during warmer weather) is lovely.

What to Do:

  • Explore the Town – Akureyri has some cute shops and cafes along the main street. You can also walk further afield along the edge of the Botanical Garden to the Old Town, which was the original city center. Plaques highlight historic buildings and explain their former use. IMG_9562
  • Whale Watching in Husavik – Husavik is just an hour’s drive from Akureyri and is the whale watching capital of Iceland. Several operators run tours in the town but we chose to go with Gentle Giants. The boat was small enough to get up close and personal with the whales yet not so small that I had any concern. They also provided dry gear in case of inclement weather. Humpbacks and minke whales are the two most common species to see in this area. You’ll likely see some puffin and arctic terns as well. This tour was my second favorite excursion – we saw DOZENS of whales and it was spectacular.LRG_DSC01937LRG_DSC01951LRG_DSC01979LRG_DSC01971IMG_9663IMG_9734LRG_DSC01938
  • Diamond Circle & Lake Myvatn – While the South of Iceland has the “Golden Circle”, the North is known for its “Diamond Circle,” which centers around the Lake Myvatn region. While you can do a full day tour from Akureyri, it’s also nice to stay in the Lake Myvatn region to minimize driving. Fosshotel Myvatn is a brand new property with stunning views of the lake shore and delightful copper accents incorporated in its interior design. IMG_9668IMG_9664IMG_9716Following the Diamond Circle there are a couple key stops along the way:
    • Godafoss – Another massive waterfall that seemingly appears out of nowhere. LRG_DSC01996
    • Skutustadagigar – These moon-like craters are a unique geological formation caused by steam explosions, found only one other place on Earth. LRG_DSC02003LRG_DSC02008
    • Dimmuborgir National Park – These lava formations are also unique in the world. Several hiking trails offer the opportunity to stretch your legs. And a small cafe provides a welcome break of warm soup and “geysir bread” – a local delicacy, this rye bread is baked in a pot underground near a hot spring. LRG_DSC02021
    • Hverfjall Crater – A massive ash crater you can climb to the top of. There’s not much to look at inside the crater except for a big hole, but gaining elevation offers unparalleled views of the surrounding landscape. LRG_DSC02025
    • Grjotagja Cave – This magical geothermal grotto is actually on private property, but was made famous as a filming location for Game of Thrones. LRG_DSC02027

**Pro Tip: If you follow a similar itinerary, driving North from Reykjavik to Akureyri and don’t want to drive back south, you can take a quick flight from Akureyri down to Reykjavik’s domestic airport before your international departure from Keflavik**

Overall this trip to Iceland was more extensive and allowed me to view more of the country’s otherworldly geological formations, seasonal wildlife (including whales, puffins and other seabirds), and dive a bit deeper into Iceland’s culture, history and cuisine. I would recommend a trip to Iceland at either time of year and would be hard pressed to choose just one, so I’m glad to have experienced both. One thing that I noticed again on this trip is how expensive the country is. While the flights from the US are fairly affordable, be prepared to spend more on the remainder of your vacation.

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SAN ANTONIO ENGAGEMENT MOON

I recently got engaged and while that means lots of wedding planning, it also means lots of “moon” planning. Yes, of course there is the honeymoon, but why stop at one “moon”?! Since my fiancé and I both love to travel, we’re taking advantage of all the new travel trends that come with getting married – engagement moons, early moons, anniversary moons… you get the idea, really just any excuse to hop on a plane!

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Since we met I have been talking about my desire to visit Hotel Emma – a boutique hotel built inside the old Pearl Brewery in San Antonio, TX – so, we couldn’t think of a more perfect place to celebrate!

Getting There

Now that I live in Southern California, it’s relatively easy to hop on a quick flight anywhere in the Southwestern US, but if you can’t find a direct flight to San Antonio from your hub, try looking at Austin. It’s only about an hour and fifteen minutes’ drive from Austin to San Antonio and you actually can Uber between the cities if you don’t want to rent a car.

Where to Stay

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Hotel Emma. Hands down. Not that I stayed anywhere else in San Antonio on my weekend getaway, but why would you need to?! My expectations for Hotel Emma, after reading about this up and coming property in various articles, were pretty high and so I was a tad nervous that perhaps the experience wouldn’t live up to the hype. But I have to say it absolutely did! Here are my reasons for why you should book a trip to Hotel Emma ASAP:

  1. Location, Location, Location! The hotel’s location in The Pearl district of San Antonio is ideal. The Pearl is a seriously trendy area with a bunch of bars, restaurants, shops, a park and an ice cream shop (what else could you need)! It’s also right on the River Walk and not as touristy as downtown San Antonio. IMG_9077IMG_9065
  2. Design. Pearl Brewing Company was an iconic part of San Antonio for over a century, and since it closed in 2001, the developers of The Pearl project really tried to incorporate the brewery’s history and industrial design into the complex’s aesthetic. Everywhere you look in Hotel Emma, there are interesting details that pay homage to the building’s former function.IMG_9046IMG_9037
  3. Service. The customer service is really beyond at this property. Besides the very friendly staff, the hotel really just goes above and beyond with complimentary touches – from fresh baked macaroons from a nearby bakery in the evening and a daily house cocktail in the library, to “sleep kits” in your nightstand and Havaianas flip-flops by the pool – they really have thought of everything you might need to make your stay more enjoyable. IMG_9112
  4. Rooms. And finally, the rooms! The accommodations at Hotel Emma are really quite spacious, with a long hallway complete with entry table, a bathroom with both a shower and a claw-foot tub, a super comfy King bed, a small table and chairs, a flat screen TV and an “Ice Box” which is basically an upgraded mini fridge housed inside a trendy armoire that resembles an old school ice box. IMG_9032IMG_9033

Where to Eat

We were pleasantly surprised to find that San Antonio has some seriously good food! And so naturally we spent the majority of our weekend eating our way through the city.

  • Supper – Hotel Emma’s own restaurant serves seasonal American cuisine with both indoor and outdoor seating. The chef puts an inventive twist on classic dishes. IMG_9040
  • Southerleigh Fine Food & Brewery – If you’ve already dined at Supper but still don’t want to go far for dinner, head to Southerleigh, which adjoins the hotel and is an active brewery that also has sublime food. Seriously we could not believe how good our meal was here. Opt for a beer flight to try multiple brews and don’t miss the deviled eggs with bacon jam. I also loved that they offer a classic cake and milk for dessert! IMG_9072IMG_9073 2
  • Sternewirth – Hotel Emma’s cocktail bar. Very cool vibe (like the rest of the hotel!) – you can also get small plates here for a snack before dinner.
  • La Gloria – Just a stone’s throw from the hotel, this taco spot is located on the river in the former brewery ice house. Great spot for a casual lunch with authentic TexMex eats.
  • Bakery Lorraine – Every evening for turndown service the hotel brought us different flavored macaroons from Bakery Lorraine (across the square) and they were beyond amazing, rivaling even the best macaroons I’ve had in Paris and NYC. IMG_9069.jpg
  • Chisme – Great for brunch with a nice outdoor area. The tres leches pancake was out of this world! And I think we were a bit early but apparently they have a mariachi band that serenades diners. IMG_9120
  • Lick Honest Ice Creams – For a perfect treat on a hot day, head to Lick for a scoop, a cone or an ice cream sammie!

What to Do

  • The Alamo – The #1 tourist attraction in San Antonio is The Alamo, a former Spanish mission located in downtown SA that served as the battlefield for a famous battle between the Texans and Santa Anna’s Mexican troops in 1836. You can book tours in advance in order to get more information on the history of the site and to skip the line entering the church. IMG_9101
  • The River Walk – The San Antonio River runs through the center of the city and years ago, it was preserved and developed into a beautiful park, with walking/biking paths on either side. Along the way you’ll see art installations, gardens, restaurants, bars, wildflowers and a wide variety of aquatic birds. The River Walk is truly a focal point for the city. IMG_9105IMG_9109IMG_9090
  • Pearl Weekend Farmer’s Market – Every Saturday and Sunday, local farmers set up shop in the main square of The Pearl. You can find produce, as well as food to eat for lunch, breakfast or treats. IMG_9163
  • Jazz, TX – Also located in The Pearl, Jazz, TX is an underground jazz club straight out of La La Land. They offer 2 shows nightly – at 5:30 pm and 8:30 pm – which you can reserve in advance. You can order fancy cocktails and even have a meal while enjoying the talented jazz musicians on stage. IMG_9117IMG_9118
  • Explore San Antonio’s Missions by Bike – This was our favorite activity! Swell cycle offers a bike share program dotted throughout the city which can be used to take a self-guided tour of The San Antonio Missions National Historic Park. We took an Uber to the furthest one – Mission Espada – and then biked from one to the next. The full route took several hours but it was a gorgeous day and the park and missions were really beautiful. After the last mission, we rewarded ourselves with a beer and a snack at Blue Star Brewery. This activity just felt very unique to San Antonio – plus was cheap, active and historical/cultural all in one!IMG_9128IMG_9144IMG_9137IMG_9155
  • Relax by the pool – Hotel Emma’s rooftop pool is really peaceful and you can spend time relaxing, reading, swimming and enjoying food and cocktails as you please. We spent at least an hour a day at the pool to take full advantage! IMG_9068
  • Fiesta – Once yearly, San Antonio holds a 10-day party called Fiesta, which started as a military celebration to commemorate the Battle of the Alamo and has expanded from there. We actually had no idea we were visiting San Antonio during Fiesta, but we quickly realized it when we landed at the airport and it was decorated in piñatas. Every day there were parades and park parties with entertainment and food, while the whole town was dressed up in colorful garb and branded “medals” that are part of the Fiesta tradition. IMG_9030IMG_9057

Overall, I would highly recommend a weekend in San Antonio. It’s a beautiful city that often goes overlooked but with a property like Hotel Emma and plenty of good food, good drinks, and sunshine – you can’t help but have a good time here!

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WYOMING WINTER WONDERLAND: JACKSON HOLE

Nestled in Northwestern Wyoming, just a stone’s throw from the Idaho border, Jackson Hole is a postcard-perfect setting. Surrounded by jagged peaks and threaded with rushing rivers, the valley is rich with flora and fauna, while the town itself is still small enough to epitomize our vision of the American West.

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The unique name was coined by trappers and early settlers who had the sensation of entering a “hole” as they descended into the valley from the neighboring Teton Mountain Range in the west and the Gros Ventre Mountain Range in the east. A paradise for outdoorsy types, Jackson Hole is home to world-class skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling in the winter, as well as top-notch white water rafting, fly fishing and hiking in the summer.

Getting There

Jackson Hole has its own airport just 20 minutes from the center of town. Though touted as the busiest commercial airport in the state of Wyoming, that’s not to say it’s large. However, United does offer direct flights from both Newark and San Francisco once per day during peak season. There are also several connection options through Salt Lake City Airport and Denver Airport.

Now that I live in Southern California, we flew Delta on a quick hour and a half flight from San Diego to Salt Lake City where we then hopped on our next flight to Jackson that only took 31 minutes! The Salt Lake City airport is small enough to make connections a breeze. And any stress from travel will immediately dissipate when you land at Jackson Hole Airport and are greeted by locals with complimentary mimosas and granola bars as you wait for your luggage.

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Where to Stay

There are two main areas to stay in Jackson Hole: (1) Teton Village which is situated at the base of the primary ski mountain and (2) Jackson town center, which is located about 20 minutes’ drive from Teton Village. It’s relatively easy to travel between the two even if you don’t rent a car, as the town offers free shuttle service. I discovered that many of the hotels offer their own shuttles as well. Teton Village is just steps from the slopes and has a handful of hotels and restaurants, while the town of Jackson is further to the main ski mountain but offers a wider variety of lodging and dining options… so where you choose to stay is really based on personal preference.

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The first time I visited Jackson Hole (albeit 10 years ago) we stayed at the Alpenhof Lodge, a cozy, chalet-style hotel in Teton Village. This time I was eager to stay in the town of Jackson, and came across Hotel Jackson. Touted as a luxury boutique property, the hotel features: 55 rooms with in-room fireplaces, a rooftop hot tub to soothe your muscles post-skiing, a fitness center, restaurant, and a stunning library. As mentioned above, they also offer complimentary shuttle service to the base of the ski mountain, as well as cookies and tea each day around 4:30-5 pm. Beyond the amenities of the hotel and the comfort of our room, the location was absolutely perfect – just steps from the main town square and less than 5 minutes’ walking distance to everywhere we wanted to eat.

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I was also lucky enough to extend my stay in Jackson Hole for a work trip where I had the opportunity to stay at Amangani – the ultimate luxury property, operating by Aman Resorts. Amangani doesn’t really fit into the two location camps I mentioned above, but instead is located off on its own, perched atop a hillside with stunning views of the surrounding valley and mountains. With just 40 suites (all with terraces overlooking that incredible view), the property is incredibly intimate. While the whole experience at Amangani is stunning, the perfectly heated pool and hot tub on the terrace is really the showstopper.

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What to Do

  • SkiingJackson Hole Mountain Resort is one of the more challenging ski mountains in the United States. With dozens of un-groomed trails and a steep vertical grade, this mountain is no joke. For those looking to ski at the resort, you can purchase passes in advance to avoid ticket lines on the day of. And for those renting gear, I would also highly recommend Door2Door Ski Rental, which can also be reserved in advance and will be delivered straight to your hotel room upon arrival. IMG_8694
  • Heli-SkiingHigh Mountain Heli Skiing is the only heli-ski operator in town and, while they will pick you up in Jackson, their base of operations is actually about 30 minutes away in nearby Victor, Idaho. Heli-skiing is weather dependent and a much more expensive ski option, however the conditions are like nothing you have ever experienced at a standard ski resort. With untouched powder up to your knees, you will glide down backcountry slopes with your guide, winding through evergreen trees, and meeting the helicopter slope-side to take multiple runs through the pristine wilderness. This is definitely a bucket-worthy experience if you can stomach the price tag and are up to the challenge. But get ready for your legs to seriously burn! IMG_8706 2IMG_8680IMG_8697
  • SnowshoeingThe Hole Hiking Experience offers guided hikes in the summer, and guided snowshoeing in the winter. This was my first time snowshoeing but it is basically assisted walking and easy for anyone to try. They offer 2-hour, half day and full day excursions based on your preference. We opted for the full day and that meant that we had a private guide take us snowshoeing through nearby Grand Teton National Park. While the day was fairly overcast making it difficult to appreciate the beauty of the mountains, we were treated to warm weather and some sun/snow showers that made us feel like we were walking through a snow globe. IMG_8738IMG_8739
  • Snowmobiling – On my first visit to Jackson Hole, I did a full-day snowmobiling tour of Yellowstone National Park, which is about an hour’s drive from town. Though this is a longer excursion, it was incredibly worth it and probably one of the most memorable days I’ve spent with my family. This year, as part of my work trip, we took part in a shorter snowmobiling excursion. IMG_8837
  • National Parks – As mentioned above, Grand Teton National Park is only 5-10 minutes’ from the town of Jackson and Yellowstone National Park is just an hour or so north. While both parks are beautiful to visit in the summer, they are equally as enjoyable in the winter where you can enjoy snowmobiling, snowshoeing and spot plenty of wildlife.  LRG_DSC01644
  • National Elk Refuge – Another unique aspect of Jackson Hole is that it’s home to the National Elk Refuge which was founded in 1912 in order to help preserve the area’s elk population. In the summertime, elk disperse into the nearby forests, mountains and national parks, but in the wintertime with colder temperatures and snow blanketing the ground, the elk congregate at lower elevations in search of food. The National Elk Refuge welcomes thousands of elk during the winter months, protecting them from predators and starvation by providing a safe area and supplemental feedings. Guests to Jackson Hole can visit the Elk Refuge on a sled or wagon to learn more about these animals. The elk also shed their antlers every year on the refuge which are then collected and used to create the iconic arches in Jackson town square.IMG_8707

Where to Eat & Drink

Earlier this winter we took a ski trip to Breckenridge, CO and while the food was hearty and satisfying after a long day skiing, it was about what you’d expect from a mountain town. Jackson Hole, however, really blew us away with the diversity of restaurants, the quality of the ingredients and the creativity of the chefs.

  • Snake River Grill – A Jackson Hole staple, this is one of the finer dining establishments in town. A local gave us a tip to order the steak tartar pizza and she did not steer us wrong! IMG_8708
  • King Sushi – You wouldn’t think to order sushi in a mountain town, but this tiny spot seriously impressed with the quality of its fish and innovative dishes.
  • The Bunnery – If you’re staying at the Hotel Jackson and walk out the back door, The Bunnery is just across the way – a perfect spot for very quick, yet delicious breakfast.IMG_8713IMG_8710
  • Lotus Cafe – Capitalizing on recent trends in Wellness, the Lotus Cafe offers plenty of healthy options (both vegan and non) in an absolutely stunning space. IMG_8735IMG_8732
  • Bin 22 – Part wine bar, part wine store, this is a great place for a cold glass of wine and some fresh mozzarella. They also have great happy hour deals – perfect for après ski.
  • Piste Mountain Bistro – I love an on-mountain sit-down lunch. There’s no better ski break then kicking off your boots and sitting down to a gourmet meal. This restaurant at the top of The Bridger Gondola offers just that. Don’t miss the cheddar biscuits with honey butter. IMG_8716
  • The Kitchen – Another trendy restaurant in town with interesting decor and a modern spin on traditional American fare. The scallops entrée I ordered was one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten.  And who could pass up a skillet chocolate chip cookie topped with vanilla ice cream? IMG_8807
  • Snake River Brewery – Another great après ski spot, especially if you’re into local beer. You can order a tasting flight (pictured) to try multiple brews. IMG_8720
  • Million Dollar Cowboy Bar – Just off the town square this iconic bar has been around since the 1930s. The barstools are made out of saddles and the bar is full of Western paraphernalia including old cattle brands embedded in the bar top and local taxidermy. Hidden beneath the main bar is a newly opened speakeasy steakhouse serving up some really delicious food. IMG_8717
  • Yippy I-O Candy Company – Your childhood dreams will come true at this traditional candy store filled with barrels and buckets of almost every candy you can think of.

Wildlife

As with elk, big horn sheep and moose also congregate at lower elevations in the winter months making it easier to spot these amazing animals!

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We absolutely loved every aspect of visiting Jackson Hole – from the welcoming locals, to the diversity of activities, the town offers something for everyone and we can’t wait to visit again in the warmer months!

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HIKING THROUGH UTAH’S NATIONAL PARKS

Utah is home to five of the country’s 59 national parks: Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Zion and Bryce Canyon. While all of the parks showcase Utah’s famous red rocks and offer miles of hiking trails, each one has unique geological features and areas to explore. It is possible to do the full circuit in one trip or you can split them in two: Zion and Bryce (also easy to add on the Grand Canyon as these parks are both in Southern Utah) and Arches, Canyonlands and Capitol Reef. For this trip we chose to do the latter route, round trip from Salt Lake City.

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CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK

Capitol Reef National Park is located about a 3.5 hours’ drive south from Salt Lake City and is the least visited of all of Utah’s parks. Originally called “Wayne Wonderland” (after its location in Wayne County), the name was changed in 1937 when the area was designated a National Monument. The dome-like rock structures in the park are said to be reminiscent of the Capitol Building in Washington D.C., while the park’s key geological feature – the Waterpocket Fold – is evocative of a coral reef, hence the unique name.

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Officially established as a National Park in 1971, Capitol Reef encompasses 241,904 acres of canyons, towers, domes, and arches. The Fremont River running through a portion of the park also made the area particularly hospitable for early settlement. Evidence of Native Americans can be seen in the petroglyphs etched into rocks, while early Mormon settlers left behind bountiful fruit orchards that are still in use today.

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Where to Stay

Located just one mile from the main park entrance, Capitol Reef Resort offers a variety of lodging options, from traditional rooms and cabins, to converted Conestoga wagons and teepees. We chose to stay in a teepee for the novelty factor and it was definitely a fun, once-in-a-lifetime experience, albeit a bit chilly at night. The teepees offer all of the luxuries of a regular hotel room, with King-sized beds and flat screen TVs, as well as private bathrooms nearby.

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They are also centered around a campfire with Adirondack chairs, perfect for watching the sunset or stargazing at night. Further resort amenities include a swimming pool, hot tub, dining room, horseback riding excursions and llama adventures.

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Exploring the Park

I always recommend stopping at the Visitor’s Center for additional information prior to starting your day. The rangers can provide hiking suggestions and notify you of any road or trail closures. The Visitor’s Center also typically has small educational exhibits about the key features and historical development of that particular park. For this trip, I also downloaded the REI National Parks Guide App, which was extremely helpful for researching recommended hikes. Here are a few of the highlights from our full day at Capitol Reef:

  • Cassidy Arch – Named after Butch Cassidy who was rumored to have hid out in the nearby canyons, the Cassidy Arch trail is a strenuous 3.4 mile out-and-back leading to a spectacular arch. This was the only arch we visited during our trip that you are actually allowed to walk across, and we even saw a group rappelling down through it. DSC01236DSC01254
  • Hickman Natural Bridge – This 2 mile, moderate out-and-back trail also heads to a natural arch and is very popular. LRG_DSC01258
  • Fruita orchards – As mentioned above, the small town of Fruita located near the Visitor’s Center was settled by Mormons in the late 1800’s. The pioneer community planted about two dozen orchards which are still bountiful today. Visitors to the park are welcome to visit any of the orchards and pick fruit (for free to eat in the park or for a small price to take home). DSC01264
  • Petroglyphs – Driving back towards the Visitor’s Center from Hickman Bridge, there is a small boardwalk area where you can view several Native American petroglyphs carved along the Fremont River.
  • Gifford Homestead – The Gifford House dates to 1908 and currently operates as a small museum and gift shop. Don’t miss the homemade pies and ice cream – perfect for a mid-afternoon snack after a long day of hiking. IMG_7414
  • Scenic Drive – If you’re limited on time or your feet hurt after miles of hiking, the Scenic Drive is an easy way to see much of the park’s impressive geology from the comfort of your car, with scenic viewpoints along the way. IMG_7416
  • Goosenecks Overlook – Less than half a mile round-trip, the Goosenecks trail leads to a scenic overlook of Sulphur Creek Canyon. DSC01267

Where to Eat

The Pioneer Kitchen at Capitol Reef Resort offers affordable comfort food for an easy dinner option. For more of a night out, venture 10 minutes down the road into the nearby “town” of Torrey and grab a table at Cafe Diablo, well known for its exotic meats and Southwestern fusion cuisine.

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MOAB

Moab, Utah is one of the primary adventure centers of the Southwest. A mecca for mountain-bikers and off-roaders alike, the town is also home base for visitors to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. From Capitol Reef, it’s about a 2.5 hour drive to Moab. If you have time along the way, its worth stopping at Goblin Valley State Park, although it was raining the day we made the trip so we skipped this.

Where to Stay

As a huge fan of glamping (glamorous camping), which I feel offers the perfect blend of nature and luxury, I’ve been very anxious to stay at one of the Under Canvas properties that have popped up in the past few years. While the brand now has a portfolio of 6 camps (all located in close proximity to major National Parks), Under Canvas Moab is one of the original sites. The location is ideal – a 5 minute drive to the entrance of Arches and a 30 minute drive to Canyonlands. The property offers several accommodation options, from the most basic “Safari” tent to the “Deluxe” tents or Suites with adjacent tipis (great for families).

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The Safari tent is the most affordable option and includes a King-sized bed, a dresser, table and chairs, side tables with solar-powered lanterns, and a wood-burning stove to keep you warm on chilly nights. Those staying in the Safari tents share a “communal bathhouse” – basically a nearby trailer with individual bathroom stalls that include a shower, toilet and sink. While the bathroom is by no means luxurious, it does provide hot showers and flushing toilets. The Deluxe or Suite tents offer en-suite camp-style bathrooms if your prefer a more private option.

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The camp offers breakfast and lunch food for purchase that can be ordered in advance. For dinner, there are grills and picnic areas where you can cook on your own or, alternatively, you can drive 10 minutes into Moab and check out the dining options there. Every night the camp staff lights the campfire and sets out chocolate, marshmallows, and graham crackers so you can enjoy some fire-roasted s’mores before bed.

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For a more luxurious option, the nearby Sorrel River Ranch is set in a picturesque clearing along the Colorado River. Guests enjoy studio or suite-style cabins, beautifully-decorated in warm woods and Southwestern textiles. In the morning, you can wake up to the sunrise from your private porch swing, then enjoy a plethora of activities, including a pool, spa, tennis, petting zoo, and lawn games, before relaxing river-side with a glass of wine. We opted for 4 nights of glamping with a splurge at the end at Sorrel River.

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Adventures Around Town

Aside from visiting the National Parks, numerous adventure operators, like the Moab Adventure Center, offer a variety of activities and excursions.

  • Hot Air Ballooning – Every morning at sunrise, Canyonlands Ballooning soars above the canyons and red rocks of Moab. As the only operator in town, you’ll have the sky to yourself with a bird’s eye view of the area’s unique topography. LRG_DSC01294LRG_DSC01301LRG_DSC01313IMG_7509
  • Rafting on the Colorado River – This section of the river is a bit more relaxed than the portion through the Grand Canyon, but the Class 1, 2 and 3 rapids are still a blast and the position on the water offers a unique perspective on the breathtaking scenery.IMG_7627PM
  • Hiking Corona Arch – There are other hiking options around Moab located outside of the national parks and one of the most popular trails is the 3 mile out-and-back to Corona Arch and Bowtie Arch. This is a fun trail with ladders and ropes and the arch at the end is massive and stunning. IMG_7505LRG_DSC01279
  • Wine Tasting at Castle Creek Winery – An award-winning winery just minutes from Moab; visit the tasting room for $1 tastings (of up to three wines).

Where to Eat

Breakfast:

  • Love Muffin Cafe – Open every day from 6:30 am – 1 pm, this is perfect for a quick breakfast before setting off on an adventure. The breakfast sandwiches, burritos and vegan muffins are all to die for.
  • Jailhouse Cafe – Another great breakfast spot, the cafe is located in the original town courthouse (hence the name). Try the ginger pancakes with apple butter.

Lunch:

  • Moab Brewery – The food is decent but the bigger draw is the microbrews, all of which are made locally and have fun names like Porcupine Pilsner. The Dead Horse Ale is a fan favorite.
  • Quesadilla Mobilla – Despite being a food truck, the mobilla has a permanent location in town with tables out front to enjoy your quesadilla (or take it back to camp for a casual dinner).  IMG_7622

Dinner:

  • Desert Bistro – A more upscale option for dinner, the menu encompasses the adventurous spirit of Moab with a fun approach to traditional items, like “Crab Muffins,” a play on crab cakes.
  • The River Grill – Located at the Sorrel River Ranch, the chefs here take a farm-to-table approach, featuring fruits and vegetables from the Ranch gardens. IMG_7744

CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK

Canyonlands is a bit unique in that it is split into three separate districts: Island in the Sky, The Maze, and The Needles, and unfortunately, it’s not easy to travel from one section to the next. From Moab, the most accessible is Island in the Sky and thus this is the most visited district. Established as a National Park in 1964, Canyonlands encompasses 337,598 acres.

Exploring Island in the Sky

The longer hikes here were less enticing, so we opted for a bunch of shorter hikes instead. Each one had something unique to offer, whether in trail features or rock formation.

  • Upheaval Dome – If you hike to both scenic overlooks, the trail is just under 2 miles roundtrip. The main feature of the trail is an enormous crater with rocks pushed up in the center. This geological anomaly has puzzled scientists and two possible theories of formation are presented. LRG_DSC01338
  • Aztec Butte – This was my favorite hike in Canyonlands. At 2 miles round trip, it’s relatively strenuous with some serious rock scrambles. But hikers are rewarded with spectacular views from atop the mesa and close-ups of ancient Native American granaries. LRG_DSC01328LRG_DSC01331
  • Whale Rock – A moderate 1-mile roundtrip hike up Whale Rock, which is said to look like a beached whale, but is really a rounded sandstone fin. LRG_DSC01343
  • Grand View Point – An easy 2-mile out-and-back trail with stunning panoramic views along the cliff edge. LRG_DSC01351
  • Mesa Arch – A must-see for all Canyonlands visitors, this 0.5-mile loop to Mesa Arch is particularly popular at sunrise. LRG_DSC01373

ARCHES NATIONAL PARK

Arches National Park is definitely the most popular of the three mentioned here and there can be lines to enter the park during peak hours. Established as a National Monument in 1929 and later re-designated a National Park in 1971, the 76,679 acre park is home to over 2,000 natural arches! The geology of the area is a result of layers of sandstone deposited atop an underground salt bed. The variation in the durability of sediment combined with the arid climate has created a rock wonderland where arches, fins, and monoliths abound.

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Exploring Arches

  • Delicate Arch – This 3 mile out-and-back is one of the most famous hikes in Arches as it leads to the iconic Delicate Arch, featured on the Utah license plate. The trail passes Wolfe Ranch (an old homestead) and some Native American petroglyphs before climbing to the 60-foot spectacle. Just before reaching the end of the trail, scramble up to Frame Arch for a picture-perfect shot of Delicate Arch.LRG_DSC01397
  • Devil’s Garden Full Lollipop – The Devil’s Garden full lollipop heads out to Landscape Arch then loops around with offshoot stops to several other arches, before returning back along the Main Trail (creating a lollipop shape). If you do the full hike with every side-trail, it’s about 8-9 miles and takes you to: Tunnel Arch, Pine Tree Arch, Partition Arch, Navajo Arch, Wall Arch, Double O Arch, Dark Angel, and Private Arch. This is a moderately strenuous but incredibly fun trail. LRG_DSC01417IMG_7729LRG_DSC01420IMG_0129
  • Skyline Arch – A quick 0.4 mile, easy roundtrip hike to Skyline Arch. You can scramble up the rock into the arch for a closer look.
  • Sand Dune Arch + Broken Arch Loop – From the parking lot, you take a short detour between fins to a secluded sandy area where you can view Sand Dune Arch. Continuing along the trail, you’ll come to Broken Arch and Tapestry Arch before looping back to the trailhead. DSC01489
  • The Windows – This easy 1 mile roundtrip trail (or slightly longer if you take the “Primitive Trail” on the return) takes you to North Window, South Window and Turret Arch.  LRG_DSC01407
  • Double Arch – From The Windows parking lot, this 0.5 mile roundtrip trail takes you to a double arch. IMG_0107
  • Balanced Rock – A short 0.3 mile roundtrip “trail” gives you an up close view of Balanced Rock.  DSC01458

SALT LAKE CITY

From Moab, it’s about a 4 hour drive back to Salt Lake City for the return flight. Given the distance, we spent one night in Salt Lake City and flew out the next day. While we didn’t have a ton of time in Salt Lake, it’s a nice city and definitely worth exploring. We stayed at the Kimpton Hotel Monaco downtown and spent the afternoon walking around downtown and checking out the impressive Temple Square, home to the Mormon Church.

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WHEN TO VISIT

While these National Parks are open year-round, the best times to visit are April – October, with the summer months being the most popular (yet hottest). Late spring and early fall are ideal for cooler temperatures and fewer crowds.

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TIPS

  • Buy good hiking shoes – Many of the trails feature scrambles over slick rock. Wearing hiking shoes with a good grip is key.
  • Bring lots of water – Most of the time, water is only available at the park entrances. The heat and dry weather, combined with strenuous hiking make it essential to bring adequate amounts of water with you for the day.
  • Pack snacks – There are no cafes within the parks either, so be sure to pack fruit, nuts, and bars to snack on between hikes.
  • Buy the Annual Park Pass – Available at any Visitor Center, the annual pass costs $80 and allows for unlimited visits to any of the 59 National Parks, plus the other National Monuments and landmarks operated by the Park Service. If you’re visiting a couple of parks on a trip such as this, its well worth it to buy the annual pass.

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FRENCH CHARM IN QUEBEC CITY

Quebec City, the capital of the Canadian province of Quebec, was founded in 1608 by Samuel de Champlain, the French explorer. Situated on the Saint Lawrence River, Quebec City is one of the oldest European settlements in North America and the oldest city with a predominantly French-speaking population. So if you’re looking for a cultural getaway without traversing the Atlantic, Quebec is an easy option!

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Getting There

From New York, there is a daily direct flight on Delta Airlines to Quebec City. The flight is only about an hour, however the timing options are limited and ticket prices can be a bit pricey. So, if you have some extra time, you could combine your visit with a trip to neighboring Montreal which is only a couple hours’ drive away and offers cheaper and more regularly scheduled flights.

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Where to Stay

The iconic Fairmont Chateaux Frontenac dominates the skyline of the old city.  With 611 rooms and suites, the castle-like hotel was built in the late 19th century by the Canadian Pacific Railway as a stopover for railway guests. The property has 4 distinct dining options, an indoor pool, fitness center and small spa. Guests looking for an even more VIP experience can book rooms on one of the Fairmont Gold concierge floors, which offer access to a dedicated lounge that has a private check-in/concierge desk, complimentary continental breakfast, coffee and tea throughout the day, and a daily cocktail hour with hors d’oeuvres and an honor bar. Fairmont Gold rooms are also on higher floors so they offer sweeping river and city views. We had a gorgeous corner room in one of the turrets that felt straight out of a Harry Potter novel. IMG_719037C64F3D-ADB6-4A3E-A275-EB758946FE38661BD4FC-5969-4E17-83DC-102A32ED30D5CE636B43-178B-4510-B2A5-6F0E5AAE31C2

What to Do

  • Learn about Old Town’s history with a historic walking tour – Tours Voir Quebec offers a very affordable 2.5 hour morning tour that departs directly across from the Fairmont. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable about the complex history of Quebec City, including influences from French, English and Canadian rule, which are easily visible today in the architecture of the city.  2A023E50-18AE-481E-A317-92E3A386370EDFBFDC3B-DA84-41BC-9406-0E634F8E355B
  • Cruise the St. Lawrence River – A great way to gain a new perspective of the city, the 90 minute cruises offered by AML also include narration on the history of Quebec as well as views of the surrounding area. 5F482902-3C0D-4ABE-B56A-5B26377A8116
  • Shop around Vieux Quebec 353A9809-24D1-4C23-B533-CBF049E6528E
  • Watch street performers along the Terrasse Dufferin IMG_7211
  • Visit la Citadelle de Quebec – A short walk from the hotel along the Terrasse Dufferin, you can tour the fortress and watch the Changing of the Guard (daily at 10 am in the summer). IMG_7203

Where to Eat

  • Le Champlain – After a travel day, I always like to enjoy a nice dinner on-site at the hotel if they have an appealing option. Le Champlain, the landmark restaurant in the Frontenac hotel, did not disappoint. With beautiful views of the sunset, we were served a fantastic meal complete with amuse-bouche. Don’t miss the wine room on the way out which has complimentary cheese and ice cider tastings. IMG_7186
  • Chez Muffy – Located at the Relais & Chateaux property, Auberge Saint-Antoine, Chez Muffy is set within a historic maritime warehouse dating to the early 1800s. The intimate atmosphere perfectly complements the local farmhouse cuisine, which is almost too beautiful to eat. IMG_7199IMG_7200IMG_7201
  • L’Escale – Casual lunch spot / creperie in the main shopping area of Old Town. IMG_7194

While I visited in the summer, I think Quebec would also be magical in the fall (hello foliage!) and the winter. I’d especially love to return for the Winter Carnival.

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RETRO R&R IN PALM SPRINGS

Palm Springs, California is a desert oasis located about a two hours’ drive from Los Angeles and San Diego. A popular getaway for the Hollywood elite in the early-mid 1900s, Palm Springs is renowned for its mid-century modern architecture, plentiful golf courses and dry climate. In the past several years, the city has seen a resurgence of tourism partly due to Coachella, the annual music festival which takes place nearby in the Coachella Valley. As a result, many historic hotels have undergone million-dollar renovations and dozens of restaurants and bars have popped up to cater to the vacationing crowd. Luckily, the majority of these restorations and new developments have maintained the design-focused, eclectic character of historic Palm Springs. All in all, this resort city makes for an ideal weekend retreat to soak up some sun and relax.

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WHEN TO VISIT

Prime season in Palm Springs is winter, January through March, when you’re freezing your tail off in New York and temps in Palm Springs are a lovely 70 degrees and sunny. As a result, some airlines, like JetBlue, offer seasonal direct flights from East Coast hubs (like NY) to Palm Springs. Unfortunately, this also means you’ll pay top dollar if you decide to visit then and likely encounter larger crowds. Shoulder seasons (fall and spring) can be slightly more economical while still offering ideal pool-side weather. The summer (June-August) is the low season in the area and many restaurants and shops close for about a month to escape the heat which can hit 100-115 in the peak of the day. However, the humidity is still low-to-non-existent so if you can handle a little heat, the prices in the low season are worth it. Besides, when you’re floating in a pool with a cocktail, who cares if it’s 100 degrees out? I chose to visit in early August as a last minute long weekend getaway and had a blast. Plus a $200/night price tag on a 5 star resort can’t be beat!

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WHERE TO STAY

There are so many hotels to choose from in Palm Springs! And many of them house awesome restaurants, so even when you stay at one place, you have an easy excuse to visit others. We chose to stay at L’Horizon Resort & Spa, an adults-only hotel just outside of town, with 25 custom-designed bungalows. The property was originally developed as a private residence in the 1950s by famed architect William Cody and the compound’s 20 guest houses were frequented by Hollywood A-listers, Presidents and business tycoons. In the past few years, it was redesigned by Steve Herman and quickly named one of 2016’s Best New Hotels on the Planet by Travel + Leisure.

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Tucked away behind a high privet hedge, the resort entrance is one small lobby building. Greeted with a glass of champagne in the library, guests are ushered through a large wooden swinging door into a verdant oasis centered around a luxe pool, spacious lounge chairs, daybeds and fanned cabanas. The bungalows are spread around the 3 acre property, each with their own private patio and some with an outdoor shower. Nestled around the estate is a large fire pit, a bocce ball court, an open-air spa and an abundant number of water and fire features (42 water and 14 fire, to be exact). Adjacent to the pool is the pool bar serving top-notch cocktails poolside (or literally in the pool in case you’re floating around there for an hour or two) and food. There is also a full-service fine dining restaurant, SOPA, for a more upscale dinner option, although this was closed while we were there.

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Everything about our stay at L’Horizon was top notch: The bartenders bring you frozen grapes and cold towels by the pool. Turndown service includes a small tray of freshly-baked cookies. They provide complimentary yoga on Saturday mornings. There are Apple TVs in every room so you can maintain your Netflix habit on vacation. And did I mention how they serve you cocktails IN the pool?

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WHERE TO EAT

Aside from sipping cocktails by (or in) the pool and some activities (see below), we certainly did a lot of eating. This was a highly researched topic before the trip and I largely referenced these two blog posts for tips and recommendations:

So here’s where we ate:

  • Appetito Deli – A cute Italian deli/restaurant with awesome risotto and a nice outdoor patio. Great for lunch.
  • Workshop Kitchen + Bar – One of the nicer spots in town, the menu is filled with interesting options and everything came out looking like a work of art. See below for the masterpiece that is the octopus carpaccio! Our favorite dishes were the heirloom tomato/burrata/pesto number and the homemade bread with truffle butter. Unfortunately I don’t have a photo of either one because we scarfed them down too quickly.  IMG_7099IMG_7101
  • Barn Kitchen at Sparrow Lodge – We actually got this tip from one of our Uber drivers who was a Palm Springs local. Barn Kitchen at Sparrow Lodge (also a recently renovated hotel) is a hidden gem. The chef hails from The French Laundry and he serves up killer sandwiches for lunch. Plus everything in the barn was so cute I couldn’t stop taking pictures of all the little details. They also serve a family-style steak dinner every Saturday night which is supposed to be amazing and also pretty fairly priced. IMG_7113IMG_7117IMG_7115
  • Reservoir at ARRIVE Hotel – It’s California so you must eat tacos and guacamole. This spot has large portions and a nice outdoor patio, plus after dinner you can pop next door to the Ice Cream Shop(pe) and top your homemade scoops with goodies from the DIY sprinkle bar (a personal favorite). IMG_7118
  • Norma’s at The Parker – This place is a bit overpriced but still worth a visit for brunch and to check out the famous entryway to The Parker’s lobby. Make sure to reserve a table in advance since this is a brunch hot spot. IMG_7124IMG_7129
  • King’s Highway Diner at Ace Hotel – A converted Denny’s, King’s Highway Diner evokes an old timey roadside diner and is perfect for a casual brunch or lunch. The soft egg & grilled corn cazuela is one of their signature breakfast dishes and though our waiter sort of tried to convince us not to order that, we loved it and scraped the dish clean.

Ok so that’s a lot of food but we were there for 4 days….

WHAT TO DO:

  • Joshua Tree National Park: Just 45 minutes from Palm Springs lies the West Entrance to Joshua Tree National Park, home to the Dr. Seuss-like Joshua Tree, desert wildlife and miles of hiking trails. Summer is also low season in the park but you can still visit earlier or later in the day. There was actually a nice breeze the day we were there. Park rangers recommend shorter hikes for the summer months, so you can combine a couple of 1-mile loops with breaks in-between to soak up some AC in your car. We did Hidden Valley, Barker Dam and Skull Rock for a total of about 4 miles. The landscape here is very surreal and well worth a visit. I’d love to come back and camp overnight to see the stars.  IMG_7145DSC01151DSC01139DSC01155DSC01136DSC01131DSC01132
  • Palm Springs Aerial Tramway – The world’s largest rotating tram car! I honestly had no idea what to expect from this but it seems to be one of the main activities offered in the town of Palm Springs aside from golf. For $25, you can hop on this massive tram, which runs every 10 minutes to the top of Mt. San Jacinto. The two-and-a-half-mile ascent brings you to 8,500 feet where the temperature is 20-30 degrees cooler. In the winter, you can be playing golf in shorts in Palm Springs and then ride up the tram for sledding and cross country skiing. In the summer, it is a welcome break from the high heat. At the top, you can dine at Peaks Restaurant or explore Mt. San Jacinto State Park which encompasses 54 miles of hiking trails and campgrounds. We spent a few hours hiking and enjoying the wilderness and cooler climate. DSC01168IMG_7132
  • R&R – Aside from morning hikes and yoga, we really came to Palm Springs to relax and get away from it all. We spent afternoons by the pool reading, evenings watching Netflix in our bungalow and just generally being lazy. Palm Springs is the perfect place to indulge a little and enter full-on vacation mode.

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LONDON CALLING: A WEEKEND IN THE UK’S CAPITAL

A few weeks ago, I was booking flights for a business trip to London and (naturally) decided to hop across the pond a few days early to spend the weekend exploring the city with a friend. I had visited London only once before and that was about 16 years ago so I was long overdue for a return trip.

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Where to Stay

Given the time since my last London visit, I wasn’t all that familiar with the city’s different neighborhoods. But after a little research, I stumbled upon Covent Garden, a quaint area of cobblestone streets, local shops and plenty of sidewalk cafes, just a stone’s throw from London’s vibrant theatre district.

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I booked a room at the Covent Garden Hotel, operated by Firmdale Hotels – a group that specializes in boutique stays in both London and New York. The rooms offer everything you’d expect from a luxury hospitality brand, but what really made our stay so special were the unique touches: the lavender room mist they left at our bedside during turndown service, the Honour Bar (complete with mini pints of local ice cream) adjacent to the wood-paneled drawing room, the adorable brasserie off the lobby with its (surprisingly affordable) breakfast buffet and afternoon tea, and (of course) the private screening room.

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Eating & Drinking Around Town

  • Afternoon Tea at Sketch – Well if you’ve read any of my prior posts, you probably know how I feel about afternoon tea. So this was one of the primary activities I wanted to fit into our weekend. And when two people recommended Sketch, I knew I had to go. The place did not disappoint – it was like stepping into a scene from Alice In Wonderland. Though a bit on the expensive side, the food was delicious and the whole experience was one surprise after the next. IMG_6884IMG_6895IMG_6897IMG_6898
  • Sunday Roast at The Princess of Shoreditch – Another iconic British tradition is Sunday Roast – basically a full Christmas dinner every week: roasted meat, veggies, potatoes, yorkshire pudding, and of course sticky toffee pudding. The Princess of Shoreditch was a friend’s recommendation and once again we were in food heaven. Luckily we’d been on our feet all day so this was a well-deserved meal. IMG_6938IMG_6940
  • The Culpeper Roof Garden – I’ve dubbed Shoreditch the “Brooklyn” of London. With trendy restaurants and bars on every corner, this seems to be the neighborhood where every young professional in London is living these days. Our first night in town, we grabbed drinks on the roof of The Culpeper, which offers amazing views of the London skyline. And their Aperol Spritz (aka the cocktail of the summer) was on point.IMG_6910IMG_6908
  • Flight Club Darts – Flight Club is basically the British alternative to an American bowling alley. With two locations – Shoreditch and Bloomsbury – Flight Club is a great option for an evening out with a big group. Each group gets their own “Oche” (ie. bowling lane of darts) with a digitized dart board offering a variety of popular dart games and a waitress to order food and drinks. Despite being a terrible dart player this place was still really fun, offering a modern twist on a traditional British past time (plus they served up a great Pimm’s Cup). IMG_6949

Cultural Sites

The first time I visited London, I hit all the must-see tourist destinations. Since this was a second visit, I was less concerned with checking off the to do list and more interested in just enjoying the city. One of my favorite ways to do this is to go for a long walk or run first thing in the morning. It helps you get your bearings, get in a little exercise and also see a lot of the major sites before the crowds. From our hotel, we were able to easily see all of the following:

  • Buckingham Palace – The Royal residenceIMG_6882
  • Piccadilly Circus – Famous road junction near the theatre district
  • Hyde Park – Large park in central London (don’t miss the rose garden)IMG_6926
  • Westminster Abbey & Big Ben – British houses of Parliament and the famed London clocktowerIMG_6923
  • The London Eye – Ferris Wheel with sweeping views of the city
  • River Thames – Main body of water that runs through the city. It’s lovely to walk along the bank of the river and across the bridges.

We also booked a historical walking tour with City Wonders UK. This particular tour offered a 1.5 hour walking tour of Westminster and the surrounding areas with a guided history pertaining largely to World War II and Winston Churchill.

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Following the walking tour, our ticket granted us access to the Churchill War Rooms (without waiting in the very long line!), a series of rooms in a bunker under the heart of London from which Churchill conducted the British war effort during WWII. The museum has audio guides and includes a full chronology of Churchill’s life, in addition to the restored “war rooms” from the 1940’s. Both the tour and museum were fascinating and though we looked a lot like tourists with our headsets, audioguides and cameras, we learned a lot about British history during the war.

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Other Recommended Things to See

If you have more than just a weekend and/or it’s your first time visiting London, I definitely recommend these sites:

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HOTEL REVIEW: BERNARDUS LODGE & SPA

A couple of weeks ago, I was in California for a work retreat and we were lucky enough to have rooms booked at the idyllic Bernardus Lodge & Spa in Carmel Valley. An easy escape from San Francisco, the lodge is set in the valley hills, about 2 hours’ drive south from SFO, and just 15 minutes from the coastal towns of Carmel and Monterey (the setting for the mini-series of Big Little Lies – for all the fans out there!).

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The Rooms

The lodge’s 73 guest rooms are nestled among the property’s 28 acres of vineyards, orchards and gardens. And even the most basic room includes a sitting area, dining table, and fireplace. For larger groups or families, there is also the option to book larger suites or 2-bedroom villas. The furnishings evoke rustic California charm with a modern twist.

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Around the Resort

Off the main patio, the Bernardus has a manicured lawn offering guests the opportunity to play bocce ball, croquet, or practice their putting.

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Just a short walk from the game field, guests will find themselves immersed in a magical garden, growing flowers in addition to vegetables and herbs used by the kitchen. I was lucky enough to visit when the roses were in full bloom.

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The Bernardus even has their own resident honeybees which produce local honey for guests to enjoy.

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In the on-site restaurant and bar, guests can sample a variety of Bernardus wines made from grapes grown and harvested right on the property. Or, take a trip down the road to the Bernardus Winery for a more formal tasting.

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Lucia Restaurant & Bar serves delicious farm-to-table cuisine with both indoor and outdoor seating options. As mentioned above, many of the vegetables and herbs are sourced directly from the on-site garden.

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After dinner, guests can enjoy a glass of wine by the fire pit, adjacent to the pool.

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Or take an early morning dip in the Bernardus pool.

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And of course, no visit to a resort would be complete without a trip to the spa! Unfortunately I didn’t have time to visit the spa on my trip, but I heard wonderful things from other guests.

Outside the Grounds

Perhaps the most amazing amenity offered by Bernardus Lodge is the complimentary Mercedes that guests can ‘rent’ for a couple of hours. These cars are perfect for an afternoon exploring the Monterey Peninsula and the famed 17 mile driveIMG_6443IMG_6505

Don’t miss the iconic ‘Lone Cypress’, thought to be almost 250 years old.

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In keeping with the car theme, you can also book a lesson with the nearby Land Rover Driving School.  One of three in the country, instructors will teach you off-roading techniques in top of the line Land Rover models.

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And of course, California is full of wineries, so don’t miss sampling some wines in the Carmel region. My favorite was Folktale Winery which offers a very affordable wine tasting alongside curated cheese and charcuterie platters and live music in a comfortable outdoor setting.

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The Carmel Valley is a perfect escape from city life and Bernardus Lodge & Spa is the ideal setting to unplug and relax for a few days.

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