TAHOE SKI TRIP

A few weeks ago, before this COVID-19 pandemic had us all homebound, my husband and I snuck up to Lake Tahoe for a couple days’ skiing at Northstar California ski resort and The Ritz Carlton Lake Tahoe.

GETTING THERE

If you’re not based in the Bay Area or within driving distance of Tahoe, you’ll want to fly into Reno-Tahoe International. From San Diego, it’s a quick one hour twelve minute flight on Southwest Airlines. From the east coast, it’s a little trickier since Reno is a small airport. Out of NYC’s JFK, JetBlue operates seasonal direct flights a few days a week. Otherwise, you can make an easy connection on American Airlines through Phoenix or on Delta through Salt Lake City.

The Lake Tahoe area is quite large; the coastline of the lake itself has a 72 mile circumference, and there are a variety of ski resorts to choose from, all positioned various distances from the airport. For this trip, we stayed in North Lake Tahoe and skied Northstar, which is just about an hours’ drive west from the airport. If you plan to hop around to various ski resorts, I’d recommend renting a car for the most flexibility. If you’re planning to stay put at Northstar and enjoy the Ritz and the nearby town of Truckee, I’d recommend just getting airport transfers, as the parking prices are quite steep and it works out to be about the same cost (if not cheaper!). We used Reno Tahoe Limousine and they were great!

SKI-IN SKI-OUT

The Ritz Carlton Lake Tahoe is a ski-in, ski-out lodge located mid-mountain at Northstar. I stayed here once before in the autumn and while we loved the mountain setting, at the time we wished it had been a bit closer to the lake (which is the main draw for this area spring through fall). That said, in the wintertime this hotel is the *perfect* location. You are literally on the mountain, they have a ski rental shop on-site, and a slope side ski valet that will store your skis, poles and boots overnight. Once you finish breakfast, it takes about 10 minutes to get dressed, geared up, and ski down to the nearest chairlift. The convenience is just so incredible – it takes all the hassle out of skiing!

NORTHSTAR

As far as ski mountains go in the Tahoe area, Northstar is one of the more family-friendly options. It’s not massive, not insanely steep and has a nice mix of blues and blacks to please any range of ski levels in your group or family. They also have a wonderful ski school and tons of private lessons with pick-up right from the hotel (if you’re staying there). While views of the lake are fairly limited to one peak, you do still have them! And there is a small snow tubing facility on the mountain as well.

Heavenly, on the south side of Lake Tahoe, and Squaw Valley, on the west side of Lake Tahoe, are next up on my Tahoe to do list!!

RITZ CARLTON LAKE TAHOE

The Ritz Carlton Lake Tahoe is as fabulous as Ritz Carlton’s come. The rooms are well furnished with all the amenities: juliet balconies, gas fireplaces, deep soaking tubs, robes & slippers, oversized King beds and seating areas, as well as plenty of storage space for your bulky ski clothes. I also love the combination of rich wood and warm-toned fabrics that perfectly accent the snowy winter backdrop and give you all the cozy ski lodge vibes.

CLUB LEVEL

For this most recent stay, we opted for King rooms on the Club Level of the hotel, and I cannot recommend this enough, especially if you are skiing with a group. First off, the spread they put out five times a day is everything you could ever want. The breakfast buffet is not just a bagel and fruit – they have eggs, sausage, pancakes, and even an omelet station on Sundays. It’s the perfect “ready-to-go yet hearty” breakfast option when you’re looking to get up, fuel up and hit the slopes. At lunchtime, you can escape the crowds and overpriced food on the mountain and cozy up with a bowl of soup, a salad bar, sandwiches and freshly made quiche in the lounge. (Bonus – you can then easily go back to your room to add or shed a layer if needed before heading back out!). Between meals, they offer numerous snacks – popcorn, trail mix, nuts – and a never-ending supply of cookies. In the evening, they set out hors d’oeuvres, and post-dinner, they have your sweet fix waiting for you. To top it off, all day there is an (all inclusive) self-service bar with wine, beer, soft drinks, prosecco, liquors and even cordials in the evening.

So while in the summer or fall, you may be out and about exploring more, for a ski trip, you’re relatively on site, which makes the club lounge incredibly convenient. And honestly, the incremental cost is worth it for the value. I also love that the lounge can serve as a meeting place for a group or family that are staying in multiple rooms.

WHERE TO EAT

We kept things fairly easy on this trip, so aside from all the “free” meals we ate in the Club Lounge, we also enjoyed dinner at:

  • Manzanita – Located in the hotel, modern American cuisine with a steakhouse vibe.
  • The Living Room – Spread out in the main lobby around the large central fireplace; the casual comfort menu is perfect for a more chill evening.
  • Pianeta Ristorante – Quaint and cozy Italian spot in Truckee with delicious homemade pasta. *Tip: If you don’t rent a car, the Ritz has a complimentary shuttle to and from Truckee on the hour.

Now that we’re at home for the foreseeable future and most ski resorts are closed for the season, I am so grateful that we were able to squeeze in this ski trip last month. I highly recommend Northstar and the Ritz Carlton Lake Tahoe for a luxurious and stress-free ski trip. Please contact me if you’d like to plan a stay for 2021!

WINDING DOWN IN WINE COUNTRY

Napa and Sonoma are some of the most beautiful areas in California. While known for their excellent wines, this area just north of San Francisco has a plethora of resorts, lovely spas, incredible cuisine, and a variety of other activities to enjoy in between wine tastings. It’s the perfect spot for a relaxing getaway.

GETTING THERE

From San Francisco or Oakland airports, it’s just about a 2 hour drive north to wine country, depending on where you’re headed. If you live in San Diego, LA or other close cities, there is a small airport in Santa Rosa that has regular direct flights.

WHEN TO GO

There really isn’t a wrong time to go to California wine country. Peak season is June through November, but keep in mind that the summer (July & August) can often get quite hot (some days will have highs in the 90s) and the fall (especially October) has a risk for fires. For the best value, don’t discount winter (December – March, excluding holidays). You’ll find cooler temperatures and some rainier days at this time of year, but the hotels and wineries are still open and there are far fewer crowds as well as some great deals. For the best weather, May and September are generally pretty spectacular!

NAPA VS. SONOMA

This is an age-old question and there’s really no right answer here… my advice is simply to combine them both!! Sonoma County is massive – larger than the state of Rhode Island – and home to over 1,600 wineries. It is also closer to the coast and so offers a wider diversity of activities (hiking, coastal drives, paddle-boarding). In Sonoma, you’ll also find a lot of family-owned wineries that have been passed through generations. Over in the much smaller Napa Valley, you’ll find a bit more of a social scene with a higher volume of Michelin starred restaurants, and some exclusive wineries.

WHERE TO STAY

On my recent trip, we stayed at two very different but equally fabulous Virtuoso properties.

First was The Farmhouse Inn, a family owned boutique hotel in Sonoma County. With just 25 rooms in small cottages, the property feels intimate and homey. You’ll also find a lovely boutique spa, an outdoor pool and hot tub, and a Michelin-starred restaurant on site with farm to table cuisine. There are a variety of room types but I had the opportunity to stay in one of the King Deluxe rooms which have a gorgeous farmhouse luxury style. The rooms are spacious with large walk-in closets, massive jetted bathtubs, heated floors in the bathroom and outdoor patios with indoor/outdoor fireplaces.

Aside from exclusive Virtuoso amenities, there were a couple reasons why I LOVED this resort:

  • No resort fee; free parking! (When you get here, you relax. No nickel and diming!)
  • Lots of little personal touches (complimentary bath bar amenities available in the reception area or delivered to your room, glass of wine (or two!) at check-in, homemade chocolate chip cookies at bedtime, etc. etc.!)
  • Extensive team of 5 concierges and wine partner program: The concierges will help you plan your full Sonoma itinerary, including complimentary tastings and enhanced experiences at 25 hand-selected winery partners. This is a tremendous value!!
  • Complimentary 1 hour wine tasting hour daily

This hotel is perfect for:

  • Couples looking for a romantic retreat
  • Wine lovers looking for unique and boutique wineries to discover
  • Foodies who love a good farm-to-table dining experience
  • Adventure seekers that may want to incorporate some hiking, paddle-boarding and other activities into their wine country itinerary

Farmhouse Inn has a year-round 4th night free promo for Virtuoso clients, which is amazing! So please contact me to plan your stay!

After our stay at Farmhouse, we headed to Meadowood Resort & Spa over in Napa Valley. This “grand dame” of the valley is part of the Relais & Chateaux portfolio, just outside of St. Helena. The 85 rooms are nestled in various cottages across a 250 acre estate so it has a much larger and woodsy feel. On-site you’ll find several pools, tennis courts, a fitness center, a brand-new state of the art spa, a 9-hold golf course, croquet, hiking trails and several dining options, including a 3 Michelin star restaurant. While the room types vary widely, it’s hard to go wrong, as every room has a King bed, private terrace and fireplace. Many rooms also have the option to connect to a shared living space, creating little villas – perfect for groups or families. I had the opportunity to stay in a 3-bedroom Hillside Suite and the large family room and kitchen area was perfect for our group. Yet when we wanted to retreat to our rooms for privacy, we couldn’t hear the others at all and enjoyed our own private entrances.

There are a couple reasons as well why I really loved this hotel:

  • The spa treatment rooms are all suites with their own bathroom, locker and changing areas ensuite – no communal locker rooms. 60-minute treatments are booked in 90 minute slots to allow plenty of time to enjoy your suite, and all treatments start with an aromatherapy steam shower.
  • The on-site sommelier can host a variety of tastings, including a sensory evaluation which we did, and a lesson in champagne sabering! Highly recommend both of these.
  • A lot of activities are offered on-site from tennis to golf, croquet to cooking lessons.
  • No resort fee; no parking fees!
  • Wine connoisseurs and collectors can visit the exclusive Promontory Winery
  • Meadowood offers delectable picnic lunches for wine tasting days

This hotel is perfect for:

  • Groups and multi-generational families looking for a communal space to gather, along with the amenities of a 5-star resort
  • Families or couples looking for a wider variety of resort-style amenities offered onsite
  • Foodies looking to dine at the bucket-list-worthy (and nearby) French Laundry or The Restaurant (onsite)

TASTING

We also had the opportunity to visit a couple of different vineyards on our trip. They were all so unique and different!

  • Flowers Vineyard – Flowers wine has been on the map for quite some time and they are well known for their Pinot Noirs, but their tasting space is brand new and should be in an Architectural Digest magazine. In the warmer months, they have incredible outdoor space as well. They offer food pairings with their wine tasting and their chef is an absolute star. Highly highly recommend!
  • Lambert Bridge Winery – The beautiful barrel room or private cellar are the perfect cozy spot on a cooler day, but this winery also has a lovely picnic area out front for warm weather. Their wine cannot be purchased unless you become a club member (or someone in your group does) which makes this a unique opportunity to try some exclusive wines.
  • Promontory Winery – Located in Napa Valley and owned by the Harlan family (who own Meadowood), the scenery when you enter this newly opened tasting room is jaw dropping. The tasting ($200 per person) is a full-on experience with a tour of the wine making facilities and the chance to try some incredible (and very expensive) Cabernet Sauvignons with an unbelievable view over Napa Valley.
  • Gamble Family Vineyard – In stark opposition to Promontory, we visited this lovely family-owned winery with a tasting room located in a historic farmhouse among the vines on the valley floor. A totally different vibe but equally enjoyable and so, so charming.

I’d love to help you plan your next getaway to California wine country. Please contact me to get started!

SAN DIEGO GUIDE: WHERE TO STAY

There are plenty of great hotels to enjoy for a stay in San Diego, but I have a few favorites that I think work best for certain vibes and occasions.

TAKE ME TO THE BEACH: Hotel Del Coronado. This National Historic Landmark and San Diego icon dates to the late 1800s. While this is a perfect option for history lovers, the hotel’s biggest appeal is its proximity to the beach. Somewhat surprisingly, there aren’t too many resorts in San Diego with direct beach access, and the beach at the Del is wide and picture perfect. So if you’re after playtime on the sand and gorgeous sunsets over the Pacific, this is the place to be. The hotel also offers plenty of dining options, family-friendly activities and a spa. Don’t miss the famous Sunday brunch in the Crown room. For those willing to splurge a little, I recommend the “Beach Village at the Del” which sits just adjacent to the historic building and offers more spacious, luxury accommodation and a private pool area, concierge and club room. 

ALL ABOUT THOSE CITY VIBES: Pendry San Diego, the first hotel opened under the Pendry name (operated by the Montage Group) is located in the Gaslamp district of downtown San Diego. The Pendry brand is all about hip, urban chic, and caters to a slightly younger crowd than Montage. Yet you’ll find here the same level of service you’d expect from any Montage. The location downtown means you can easily walk to many restaurants and bars, as well as grab a quick Uber to San Diego’s main attractions like the Zoo or Balboa Park. Yet, this urban hotel still has many features of a resort – several different restaurants, as well as a rooftop pool, fitness center and spa. 

FOR FESTIVE OCCASIONS: While there are plenty of reasons to stay at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar, the old world luxury and elegance of the property makes it perfect for holidays and special celebrations. In the wintertime, the Fairmont features a winter village of sorts, complete with fire pits and s’mores, champagne bars and even sledding for the kids (with snow!). In the summer, they have weekly fireworks shows and BBQs on Fridays.

FUN FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY: The Park Hyatt Aviara located in North County in Carlsbad has something to offer for everyone in the family. Golf enthusiasts can hit the links while wellness gurus can enjoy the award-winning spa and fitness programs. And kids will love the Camp Hyatt Aviara Kids Academy. In the summers, they have fun extras like movie screenings by the pool and wood-fired pizza nights. The location up North also means it’s ideally located near Legoland and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. 

GOLFING THE DAY AWAY: Any serious golfer is familiar with the famous Torrey Pines golf course and so they would naturally want to stay at The Lodge at Torrey Pines. The original property dates to 1961 but an almost complete renovation in the early 2000s brought it to where it is today. The California Craftsman style architecture has a real “lodge” vibe with dark wood paneling, crackling fireplaces and beautiful stained glass panels. While the golf course is public, guests of the hotel get priority access to the best tee times. 

FOR THE GARDEN LOVER: Ok I’m biased because I got married here, but the Inn at Rancho Santa Fe in Rancho Santa Fe (just East of Del Mar) is one of the most idyllic settings you’ll find. Smaller than some of the other resorts I’ve mentioned, the property’s 80 rooms are spread out on the grounds in different casita-style buildings. There are 3 different decor themes – from country chic to farmhouse glam. Along the meandering paths you’ll find beautiful aged trees, hidden rose gardens, and flowering jasmine. I also love that you can walk just across the street into the quaint little town of Rancho Santa Fe to pop-out for a coffee or a pastry. 

ROMANTIC GETAWAY: Another more boutique resort up in Rancho Santa Fe is Rancho Valencia. While the style of resort is similar to the Inn, this Relais & Chateaux property has a more private and romantic feel. For one, the grounds are tucked away in horse country. For two, the 49 rooms are all hacienda-style suites, with large living areas and private patios – perfect for a romantic sojourn. And as part of the Relais & Chateaux brand, you know you’ll find incredible cuisine.

SAN DIEGO GUIDE: WHERE TO EAT

NORTH COUNTY

  • Veladora Coastal Ranch – Located at Rancho Valencia resort, this fine dining restaurant infuses Mediterranean cuisine with California coastal influences.
  • Jake’s Del Mar – There are a few restaurants located directly on the beach, and Jake’s is one of them. Serving up fresh fish with a Hawaiian flare, save room for the Hula Pie for dessert.
  • Viewpoint Brewing Co. – San Diego is well known for its craft beer scene and newcomer Viewpoint Brewing has a great location in Del Mar, right on the San Dieguito lagoon with a huge open air space. When it comes to beer, go for a flight to try different options, but don’t miss the food either – this isn’t your average brewpub fare. Definitely order the mac & cheese and the pork belly bites.

LA JOLLA

  • Herringbone – This Californai coastal restaurant is perfect for groups who want to share a lot of small plates with interesting flavors and fresh ingredients. I also love the decor at their La Jolla outpost which really brings the outside in.
  • Puesto – This taco hotspot has several locations in San Diego now, but La Jolla is the original. The taco options are extensive and are made from scratch daily, as are the guacamole and margaritas.
  • George’s at the Cove – A mainstay in La Jolla for its Pacific Ocean views, George’s has 3 different levels. Level 1 – California Modern – is the fancier and most expensive option, but the food is divine. Book early to get a table by the window and watch the sunset during dinner.
  • A.R. Valentien – Located at the iconic Lodge at Torrey Pines, this French-inspired restaurant focuses heavily on seasonal fare. It’s perfect for special occasions and even offers outdoor seating with views over the famous golf course.
  • Prep Kitchen – The La Jolla location of Prep Kitchen has only a few tables inside, but I much prefer to dine outside in the small courtyard under the heaters. The menu here is very innovative and changes frequently.
  • Wayfarer Bread & Pastry – Located in Bird Rock, this bread & pastry bakery is perfect for a Saturday morning scone or a gourmet sandwich. And on Wednesdays, they have pizza night which is a must-have.
  • Wheat + Water – Another Bird Rock favorite, Wheat + Water features wood-fired pizzas, salads and small plates to share, along with plenty of local brews on tap.

DOWNTOWN

  • Juniper & Ivy – Founded by Top Chef All-Star Richard Blais, Juniper & Ivy is probably my favorite restaurant in all of San Diego. The dishes are all so unique and playful. Juniper & Ivy’s take on the yodel is legend and the flavors change with the seasons. We’ve dined here a few times, but my favorite was when we sat at the dessert counter and watched the pastry chefs prep their creations while we ate.
  • Herb & Wood – Just down the block from Juniper & Ivy is another Little Italy hotspot featuring an indoor/outdoor space, quality cuisine and market fresh ingredients.
  • Crack Shack – Completely different from the above two options yet in the same neighborhood, the Crack Shack is a casual order-at-the-counter establishment serving fried chicken and egg fare. The outdoor space is fun with corn hole and other lawn games available adjacent to the picnic tables.
  • Kettner Exchange – Featuring Progressive American cuisine, this restaurant in Little Italy has a really cool space, fun for date night or a group outing.
  • Ironside Fish & Oyster – A large selection of raw bar options along with small plates and fresh catches of the day.
  • Cowboy Star – Solid steakhouse fare with a Western flare.
  • Mister A’s – Tucked away at the top of a tall office building, this restaurant has the best views of the San Diego skyline. Dine outside under the heat lamps and watch as planes fly over the city lights. Perfect for a romantic date night.
  • Lionfish – Located in The Pendry Hotel in the gaslamp district, this seafood restaurant has gorgeous design details and an interesting dessert menu that shouldn’t be skipped.

BEACHES

  • Breakfast Republic – Now with several locations in San Diego, I frequent the one in Pacific Beach which is located just a block from the beach. Entrees here are massive, and they have some delicious pancake and french toast flavors.
  • Sushi Ota – Located in a shopping mall off a main road just outside of PB, it’s difficult to even get a reservation at this traditional Japanese sushi spot. Chef Ota was born and raised in Japan and takes pride in serving the freshest fish you’ll find in San Diego.
  • Baked Bear – Custom-made ice cream sandwiches. No other explanation needed.
  • The Patio on Lamont – Pet-friendly indoor/outdoor restaurant that serves brunch and happy hours daily.
  • JRDN – Pronounced “jordan,” this restaurant is located just across the boardwalk from the beach, in the Tower 23 hotel. The fresh, modern atmosphere matches the food, which includes contemporary takes on steak and seafood.
  • Crushed – Another great brunch spot! This place is always packed so come early and order a mimosa flight.
  • Hammond’s – Gourmet ice cream from Hawaii. You can get a cup or a cone or even a mini cone flight to try several different flavors.

There are so many amazing restaurants in San Diego! So just as with my “What to Do” Guide this is by no means a comprehensive list, but just a few of my top recs for any visitors. Enjoy!

SAN DIEGO GUIDE: WHAT TO DO

About a year and a half ago, I moved across the country from the tall buildings and hustle and bustle of Manhattan to the sandy beaches and chill vibe of San Diego. There was definitely an adjustment period, but I have to say it wasn’t a particularly hard one. San Diego is known for its perfect weather, gorgeous coastline and excellent Mexican food. In the next three blog posts I’m going to share with you my best tips on what to do, where to eat and where to stay in “America’s Finest City.” This is in no means a fully comprehensive guide, but just some of my favorite recommendations!

ALL ABOUT ANIMALS

  • San Diego Zoo – The San Diego Zoo is most well-known for its pandas, who unfortunately just returned to China this past Spring. But there is SO much more to see at this zoo, which houses 3,500 animals of 600+ species. The San Diego Zoo was also a pioneer in open-air exhibits and continues to develop new and exciting ways to showcase and educate about diverse animal species around the globe. Similar to other zoos, proceeds from admission tickets also support conservation efforts on the ground.
  • San Diego Zoo Safari Park – I mentioned the San Diego Zoo’s pioneering approach to open-air exhibits, but the Safari Park takes it to the next level. Located North of the city, visiting this 100-acre park will feel like you took an exotic trip to the African savanna without hopping on a plane.
  • Seaworld – Though Seaworld has been under a lot of scrutiny in recent years, it is still one of the major attractions in San Diego. The orca show is focused on how learnings from captive animals have helped scientists’ understanding of these creatures, allowing us to better support them in the wild. Plus, there are a ton of other aquatic animals to see, as well as some rides.
  • Visiting the La Jolla Seals & Sea Lions – My favorite time to visit the resident population of seals and sea lions in la Jolla is during “pupping season” in the spring. It’s so cute to see those little babies sunbathing on the rocks! La Jolla Mom has a really fantastic guide on the best places to visit these amazing animals.
  • Whale watching cruises – San Diego is a great spot for whale watching! With chances to see migratory and resident pods of Gray whales and Blue whales, as well as Humpbacks, Pilot Whales, Fin Whales and even Killer Whales. Whale watching cruises depart year-round from downtown San Diego. One of the best operators is Hornblower Cruises.

HISTORY

  • USS Midway – This aircraft carrier museum is massive and a must-see for any Top Gun fan!
  • Old Town – Though a bit touristy, Old Town is still worth a visit. Dating to 1769, Old Town San Diego was California’s first settlement and still retains a lot of the historic charm with old buildings featuring Spanish-style architecture. Come here to shop for souvenirs, enjoy some hearty Mexican food, and experience living history programs.
  • Gaslamp Quarter – The Gaslamp Quarter is the heart of downtown San Diego. The Victorian architecture speaks to the history of the area, but today the real attraction is the nightlife – with plentiful bars, clubs and restaurants around, as well as many hotels.
  • Cabrillo National Monument – This monument explores the discovery of San Diego by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo. Visitors can learn all about Cabrillo’s life, as well as the 16th century exploration industry. This is also a great spot to whale watch from land.
  • Hotel Del Coronado – While I’ll mention this hotel again in my “Where to Stay” guide, the history of this property is so rich that it’s worth mentioning here as well. Built in 1888, this National Historic Landmark is the second largest wooden structure in the United States. Made famous in the film, Some Like it Hot, the hotel is an icon in San Diego. Even if you don’t stay at “The Del” (as it’s referred to locally), I’d recommend coming for a cocktail by the sea, or for its famed Sunday brunch.

THE ARTS + SPORTS

  • La Jolla Playhouse – One of the things I thought I’d miss most about NYC was the world-class theatre right at my doorstep. However, the Playhouse is a breeding ground for Broadway and features about a half a dozen shows a year (a mix of plays and musicals) with enormous talent. Tip: Don’t miss the chocolate chip cookies at the concession stand!
  • Padres Game – No explanation needed here, but I do love the fact that the stadium is right in the heart of the city.
  • Del Mar Racetrack – Del Mar, in North County, is horse country and going to the race track is a San Diego tradition. The racing season in Del Mar runs from mid-July through Labor Day and then again from early November to early December.

GET OUTDOORS

  • Hike Torrey Pines – This State Reserve is famous for its rugged coastline and Pacific views. There are plenty of hiking trails to choose from and you can even walk down to the beach.
  • Go Surfing – Surfing is California’s favorite pastime and you will find no shortage of enthusiasts in San Diego. There are plenty of surf shops offering classes and lessons but if you’d rather just spectate, head to any ocean pier and you can watch locals take on the waves.
  • Mission Bay Boating – Mission Bay is a man-made saltwater lagoon just south of Pacific Beach. The area is massive and with calm waters, its the perfect playground for water sport rentals – from paddleboarding, to jetskis, pontoons and speedboats – you can find almost everything here!
  • Beaches – This is an obvious one, but the top beaches central to San Diego are: Ocean Beach, Pacific Beach, La Jolla Shores and Coronado.
  • Biking – While everyone is scootering around these days, I’m still partial to my old fashioned beach cruiser. The boardwalks by the beach are perfect for biking!

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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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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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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HOTEL REVIEW: RITZ CARLTON HALF MOON BAY

Located just 30 minutes south of San Francisco, serene Half Moon Bay is an ideal weekend getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city. And for a luxurious accommodation in the area, look no further than the Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay. Perched upon a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, this resort features two iconic golf courses, a world-class spa, and postcard-perfect sunsets.

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The Rooms

Ritz Carlton accommodations never disappoint, but the rooms at the Half Moon Bay property are incredibly spacious and luxurious. The muted blue palette is peaceful and perfectly reflective of the tranquil ocean setting. Feather beds are adorned with 400-thread count Egyptian cotton linens and 100% goose down pillows. After sunset, guests can shut their blinds electronically from a switch at their bedside. And in the morning, guests can enjoy a fresh cup of coffee from the in-room Nespresso.

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The roomy marble bathroom includes an oversized soaking tub, a standing shower, a large vanity area complete with Asprey London bath products, and plush terry-cloth robes.

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Resort Amenities

The resort is well known for its two championship golf courses: The Ocean Course and the Old Course. Guests can also pursue athletics by renting one of the six lighted tennis courts, swimming laps in the indoor heated swimming pool, running or walking along the Coastal Trails, or enjoying the on-site fitness center. For guests looking for some more R&R, the 16,000 square foot spa and beauty salon offer a variety of treatments.

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In my opinion the most enjoyable activity at the resort is sitting out on the back lawn at one of the three large gas fire pits with a glass of local wine, listening to the bagpiper as the sun sets over the Pacific.

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Dining

  • The Ocean Terrace: Open 12 pm – Sunset, the ocean terrace offers ideal alfresco dining for lunch or an afternoon snack and cocktail
  • The Conservatory: Open 11 am – 11 pm, The Conservatory highlights fresh, organic and community-grown ingredients as well as cocktails crafted with ingredients from the living wall
  • Navio: Open for dinner Thursday-Sunday, Navio offers a more upscale dining experience featuring seafood and coastal Californian cuisine
  • Cork Wine Bar & Library Bar: Adjacent to the lobby, the Cork Wine Bar offers an intimate setting to sample California wines. The adjacent Library Bar is often used for events.

Area Activities

The resort offers a whole list of area activities to enjoy. On prior trips, I have spent time exploring the small town of Half Moon Bay, eating at the local fish shacks along the main wharf, and walking along the famed Half Moon Bay beaches.

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On this most recent visit, I also had the opportunity to hike in a young Redwood Forest, located just 10 minutes drive from the hotel.

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I also highly recommend taking advantage of the Coastal Trails adjacent to the resort. I thoroughly enjoyed my morning run at sunrise.

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The Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay is a truly magical place and if you’re looking for a romantic (or even a family or solo getaway), you will find peace and indulgence at this hotel.

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