Category Archives: fifty countries and counting
May 17, 2016
Palm Springs is the perfect Southern California weekend escape. It’s a short-drive away from most SoCal cities, has over 300 days of sunshine each year, and has countless glamorous hotels, restaurants, art galleries, and shops, as well as beautiful hikes, bike trails, and outdoor activities. It has something for everyone.
Where to Stay
The Parker Palm Springs is classic Palm Springs post-modern glam. Designed by Jonathan Adler, the hotel is colorful, bright, and incredibly chic. It also has incredible grounds. Set on 13 acres, the complex features restaurants, three pools, tennis courts, a spa and fitness center, and fun lawn games. That being said, the rooms were a bit worn and outdated, and if we were to do it over again, we’d love to try out the Ritz Carlton Rancho Mirage, which just opened in 2014.
What to Do
Palm Springs is the perfect place to relax. Lay by the pool. Book those couples’ massages. Read a good book on the lawn at the Parker.
If you’re more adventurous, we loved the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. The tram takes you two and a half miles over the gorgeous wilderness in the Mt. San Jacinto State Park. At the peak, there are several restaurants, an observatory, and great hiking trails – all with a view of the desert from 8,516 feet!
Take a stroll down Palm Canyon Drive – there is great window shopping!
We also ventured over to El Paseo in Palm Desert for plenty of high-end stores (we spent some time in Williams Sonoma – our favorite!) and great restaurants (we can’t pass up Tommy Bahamas’ world famous coconut shrimp!).
Where to Eat
We loved Spencer’s Restaurant for dinner! The restaurant is gorgeous, high-end, and romantic, and the outdoor patio is incredible. We sat outside under the stars with lit lanterns hanging from the trees and a fire pit adjacent to our table. The menu had a wide variety of items – mostly of American cuisine with steak, chicken, and plenty of fish options.
April 24, 2016
We had a great 24 hours in Nashville earlier this month. It was a quick trip – but we managed to do and see everything we wanted to in just one short day!
Where to Stay
The Hermitage Hotel – It’s the nicest hotel in Nashville, and also the priciest! The hotel is in Downtown Nashville, a few blocks from the Ryman and honkeytonk row. The rooms are a bit dated, but are elegant and classic in their design. We had a great view towards the Bicentennial Capitol Mall.
Where to Eat
5th and Taylor – Located in a glamorously refurbished warehouse, 5th and Taylor is Nashville’s hottest restaurant. It has great food, a romantic atmosphere, candles everywhere, modern art, and beautiful design. We love barrel ceilings! This restaurant deserves a “Spaces We Love” article…
What to Do
Country Music – If there isn’t a great performance at the Ryman or Grand Ole Opry when you’re in town, not to worry! Nashville has the best country music in the world – and you can hear it at all hours of the day on Broadway. Our favorite country bar was Honkeytonk Central – the bands we heard were incredible!
Visit Franklin – We took a quick drive to Franklin (a half hour away from Downtown Nashville) and loved it. It’s a cute little town without much to see other than cute shops, greenery, and quiet country roads. We enjoyed The Iron Gate, Haven Sanctuary of Style, and White’s Mercantile.
Draper James & Sprinkles – Located next door to each other on 12th Avenue South, this is a fun quick trip from Downtown. Draper James is adorable, and you can never go wrong with a cupcake from Sprinkles!
Country Music Hall of Fame / Hatch Show Print – The Country Music Hall of Fame is a beautiful building with lots to see and explore! If you’re a country classics’ fan, this is a must do. We also enjoyed visiting the Hatch Show Print Museum and Store. It’s a great place for souvenirs too!
Frothy Monkey – Best coffee shop in Nashville, hands down.
Thanks for a fun trip, Nashville!
March 19, 2016
Santa Barbara, just an hour and a half drive north of Los Angeles, is a picturesque beach town with incredible character, history, and old-world charm. It is glamorous, quaint, classic, quirky, and everything in between…and did I mention beautiful? Even though the city is just a few hours away from home, it took me twenty-five years to really experience it, and I am so glad that I did!
Our weekend started with an easy train ride from San Diego to Santa Barbara – a 4-hour journey. It was a stress-free way of traveling without worrying about traffic or weather.
Where to Stay
We stayed at The Four Seasons Resort at the Biltmore and loved it. It is beautiful, grand, luxurious, and has an air of old-Hollywood charm about it. It is across the street from Butterfly beach, and as such has incredible ocean views, with beautifully landscaped grounds.
If we were to do it over again, we would have preferred to stay at the Belmond El Encanto. The Four Seasons is located on the south side of town, about a 15 minute drive away from the shopping streets, great restaurants, and main activities that Santa Barbara has to offer. It is relaxing and pleasant in part because it feels a bit more isolated – but it is not quite as convenient when you don’t have a car! Belmond El Encanto is a short walk away from shopping, restaurants, and the Santa Barbara Mission – but interesting enough feels much more remote given its location on the hill overlooking the city. The hotel itself is “Spanish Colonial Revival meets Craftsman” – and is absolutely breathtaking.
Where to Eat
For breakfast, a trip to Backyard Bowls is a must. Backyard Bowls is a healthy breakfast chain serving a variety of Acai and Pitaya bowls, and they do not disappoint! The restaurant itself does not have the best ambiance – it reminds me of a Jamba Juice – but it is just a short walk away from the beach (and Stearns Wharf), a great place to take your food to go with a blanket for a picnic! Another great breakfast spot is Belmond El Encanto. Eat on the outdoor patio overlooking the coast for one of the most beautiful breakfasts in the city (photo below)!
For lunch, we thoroughly enjoyed Bella Vista at the Four Seasons. It’s pricey – but a beautiful venue overlooking Butterfly Beach with a fantastic appetizer menu. A must-try is the sweet potato fries – they were incredible! C’est Cheese is another great lunch option. Part cheese shop, part restaurant, you will find every type of comfort food here! Be wary of the cheese and charcuterie platter though – we were a bit disappointed that we couldn’t pick which cheeses we wanted to try (their board is a pre-set board) when there were so many that looked delicious!
For dinner, we highly recommend Bouchon on West Victoria Street. It’s a cozy, cute restaurant – and has been voted one of the most romantic restaurants in the country! There are plenty of great menu options – from fish to steak to yummy salads.
No vacation review would be complete without a thorough directory of the city’s best sweets and treats! If you are a coffee lover, then Handlebar Coffee is a must try.
McConnell’s Ice Cream is headquartered in Santa Barbara – and their ice cream shop on State Street does not disappoint!
Lastly, the Patisserie, also on State Street, is a gluten-free treat sanctuary. I was overwhelmed by the amount of delicious options on display here – from gluten free cookie dough cheesecake to lemon bars and more!
What to Do
During our short time in Santa Barbara, we loved exploring the great shops and restaurants on State Street. It’s a high-end shopping area with GREAT window shopping and is incredibly pedestrian-friendly! We also loved the “Red Tile Walking Tour” (link here) as it gave us the opportunity to see some of Santa Barbara’s historically significant sites. The Santa Barbara Mission is a must-see – and in large part because of the incredible views, walking paths, and trails surrounding it! We enjoyed walking from State Street to the Mission and to Belmond El Encanto. It was a challenging hike (largely uphill) but with gorgeous views and quiet streets.
If you are looking for souvenirs, check out the Santa Barbara Souvenir Company! It’s a little way off the beaten path from the center of town – but well worth it for unique gifts, cards, ornaments, etc.
And last but not least, you cannot miss Butterfly Beach. It is a beautiful snapshot of the California coast – and was the perfect way of ending our weekend trip in Santa Barbara.
November 17, 2015
Catalina is the ultimate getaway for anyone who lives in Southern California. A quick ferry ride away, Catalina is an enchanting retreat with amazing outdoor activities, the best candy shop in the world, and a whole lot of charm.
When to Go
My husband and I visited Catalina in the off-season – in January – and weren’t quite sure what to expect. Like most California winters, we were met with 70 degree and sunny weather – the perfect hiking weather. The warmer months of the year are great for water activities (snorkeling, stand-up paddle boarding, etc.) – though we were told to expect bigger crowds during the summer season.
How to Get There
The Catalina Express ferry leaves out of Long Beach, San Padre, and Dana Point. For those who experience sea sickness like I do, or are afraid of deep water like I am, fear not! It is a short and painless ride. If I can do it, so can you!
Where to Stay
Snug Harbor Inn is the best bed and breakfast on the island. It’s in the heart of Avalon with the picturesque view of Avalon Harbor that all Catalina goers hope for – and it’s as high-end of a bed and breakfast as any five-star hotel. We stayed in the San Nicholas room which overlooked the harbor. It was beautiful, cozy, and had a fireplace – what more could we hope for? The inn’s staff brought breakfast to our bedroom, and we also enjoyed afternoon snacks (complimentary).
What to Do
The Hermit Gulch hike is a must. The hike itself is about 4 miles long – but if you walk to the trailhead from Avalon (and back), it ends up being a total of about 7 ½ miles. Walk from Avalon to the Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden, and you’ll see the trailhead from there! It’s a tough hike with a lot of uphill climbing, but the views are breathtaking and absolutely worth it.
The Catalina Zip Line Eco Tour is also a must-do for those adventure lovers! It’s extremely safe, gets your heart racing, and allows you to experience some of the best views on the island. There are five zip lines on the tour, for a total of about ¾ mile of travel, reaching speeds up to 40 miles per hour!
Where to Eat
Our favorite restaurants on the island are Steve’s Steakhouse and Bluewater Grill. Steve’s Steakhouse is known for, well, great steaks. It has a diverse menu and an old-world charm with its arched windows and romantic ambiance. Bluewater Grill has some of the highest quality seafood I’ve tasted – and it’s setting is as classic Catalina as you could imagine! The pastel blue-painted wood building sits over the water in the town’s historic “waterfront terminal building.”
Where to Indulge
Lloyd’s of Avalon is arguably the best candy shop…ever. Their homemade fudge and saltwater taffy are to die for. We frequented Lloyd’s about ten times during our short weekend stay in Catalina – so for anyone with a sweet tooth, you’re in for a treat (literally)!
March 16, 2015
With the Euro now at a nearly 12 year low, and technology enabling us to work from anywhere with an internet connection, there has never been a better time for Millennials to take advantage of vacation days by venturing abroad. Here’s how savvy Millennials use technology and other life hacks to plan for travels, make the most of their money, and create memories to last a lifetime.
*Use Exchange Rates for Determining Your Destination
If you’re torn between a trip to Europe or a trip to Asia, consider the current exchange rates. Since the Euro/US Dollar exchange rate is the most favorable it has been in more than a decade, you’ll probably get more bang for your buck if you opt to head to Europe.
*Be Smart With Seasons
Traveling during the off-season can save you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. Summer travel to Europe is notoriously expensive, with July being the busiest and most expensive month of the year. Why not try an early autumn trip instead? Not only will hotel rates be lower, but you won’t have to fight through throngs of tourists at every site you visit.
*Charge Carefully, and Make the Most of Air Miles
If you have a credit card that doesn’t award you with points or miles, get a new one. There is no reason to be using a credit card that doesn’t offer at least some perks. If you plan to travel even more as years go by, it’s worth signing up for a card that offers air miles. Here is a list of many credit cards that reward you with air miles.
*Take Advantage of Trains
Europe is way ahead of the U.S. when it comes to public transit. Their train system is highly developed, inexpensive, and allows you the opportunity to get some work done as you travel. In addition, you’ll spend far fewer vacation hours waiting in lines at airports.
*Pack Purposefully and Practically
If you’re not careful with your packing you’ll wind up paying an arm and a leg for your luggage. It’s far smarter to design a “fashion itinerary” ahead of time. Bring key pieces that can easily be mixed and matched to create different looks, while also leaving room in your suitcase to bring home souvenirs, artwork, or new clothing.
*Get Immersed in the Culture of the Country
There’s nothing more fun than immersing yourself in the culture of the country you’re visiting. If you’re heading to Paris, plan a cooking class to learn a bit about preparing French cuisine. Heading to Portugal? Take a kite surfing lesson, and hit the water like a local. Get in touch with the whole experience of a foreign country by trying something new!
*Document the Details
You might consider setting up a blog before you even leave, so it will be ready for you to upload photos, videos, and your thoughts on various travel, as you’re experiencing it. The link can easily be emailed to family and friends back home, to say nothing of the ability to share it via social media.
Wishing you fair winds in all of your travel!
image via wavenuelife.com
January 4, 2014
This winter, I had the amazing opportunity to visit Central and South America with my family – starting with Panama! I’ve learned about Panama over the years during school from a macro-perspective, focusing primarily on the economy and politics, but couldn’t have been more surprised by my experience visiting what I thought would be a very industrial city. I knew that Panama City was founded in 1519, but is really only 14 years old as of December 31, 2013 (the United States gave the Panama Canal and surrounding land back to the Panamanians on December 31, 1999). I knew that the Panamanian economy has expanded by over 50% in the past 5 years. And I knew that the canal itself is currently undergoing a $5+ billion expansion that is expected to double its capacity. What I didn’t know, or expect, was that this trade-focused city would be a beautiful, picturesque, modern city by the sea, clad with dozens and dozens of beautiful, cutting-edge high-rises directly on the water.
We only spent two nights in Panama, with one full day dedicated to exploring the city, and got an amazing vibe from the city, the people, and the culture, even in such a short amount of time!
We had a great private car tour of the city with PBA Tours (Panama Holding Group). Their team is the go-to travel company in Panama (they just toured Usher through Panama City a few weeks ago!). They can arrange your tour – or they will take you on a customized tour to your liking.
what to see
1) The Panama Canal – this is of course a must when in Panama! I was blown away by the mechanics of the canal. We visited as a large cargo ship was entering the canal, so we were able to witness firsthand the use of the lock system to feed the ships through the canal as smoothly as possible.
2) Ancon Hill – Ancon Hill is the highest elevation point in the city and offers a spectacular panoramic view of the canal, beaches, high rises, and Casco Viejo! This was a highlight for us.
3) Puente de Las Americas – this is the unofficial dividing line between North America and South America. Very cool!
4) BioMuseo – scheduled to open in April 2014, this is Frank Gehry’s first and only masterpiece in Latin America.
5) Casco Viejo – Casco Viejo is the “old town” of Panama City. We drove through the town admiring the French-inspired architecture! Fun Fact: Quantum of Solace (James Bond) was filmed here!
where to stay
The Trump Ocean Club, Panama City is a multi-use high-rise and architectural masterpiece featuring high-end residences, a luxury hotel, restaurants, meeting facilities, and more. It is currently the largest and tallest building in Latin America (rising 70 stories) and is only a few years old. It’s in one of the nicest neighborhoods in Panama City with nearly panoramic ocean views from all rooms. If traveling with family, the one major issue to consider is that the majority of the rooms and suites offer little privacy for families. The layout is very open – so open that the bathroom is completely open to the rest of the living area and bedroom. The Trump Residences, on the other hand, have a much more family-friendly layout with bathrooms that are separated from the main living area.
where to eat
The restaurants at the Trump Ocean Club are fantastic – and the hotel has a variety of cuisines too! From sushi, to grilled fish, to hamburgers, to tapas, you can find it all in this one location. We ate all of our meals at the hotel and thoroughly enjoyed them! One recommendation: the sloppy joe at Azul. There’s nothing like American comfort food in Panama City!
how long to stay
We had one full day to explore the city – and for our fast-paced style of travel, that was the perfect amount of time.
May 13, 2013
Every once in a while, it is so nice to get out of town – even if for 24 hours. It’s amazing how a quick drive up north can completely refresh someone! All it took was some yummy food, window shopping, a good driving partner, and a carefully planned itinerary, and I felt relaxed. It almost made me forget that I’ve spent the past several weekends cleaning, scrubbing, organizing, and putting some serious sweat equity into my condo. It was time for a break!
twenty-four hours in l.a.
4:30pm Finally making our way up north! We brought these Table Topics – which I happen to love – and it made for the fastest 3 hour drive ever. I know a lot of people might find them dorky, but to nerds like me, it is a BLAST talking about your favorite era in history, your dreams and goals, and who you most admire. Highly recommend these.
7:30pm Arrive in L.A.! We stayed at SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills – which is VERY trendy (almost a bit too trendy for me!) but beautiful, modern, and in an amazing location. I felt very “cool”. “Cool” enough to wear my new Fashion Star dress out to dinner!
8:30pm An even “cooler” dinner at CUT Beverly Hills. Wow, is this place expensive! Be prepared for a slightly outrageously expensive menu…but if you’re in the mood to splurge, it is delicious. The restaurant itself was beautiful, and it was definitely a treat.
10:00pm Time for bed. This girl can’t stay up past ten – even on vacation!
10:00am After checking out of the hotel early the next morning, we headed to the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel. It was the quintessential L.A. brunch! We loved the pink walls with the green and white striped awnings.
11:30am And the home shopping begins. Pom Pom Interiors, here we come! For those of you that like the rustic, French country style homes, this is your dream. Every inch of the store is immaculate, so romantic, and a treasure chest of amazing antiques – it was hard to leave with only two items (a night stand and a big vase – pictures to come!).
12:00pm Time for a break from shopping. Our next stop was Griffith Observatory. It was an absolutely gorgeous day to spend overlooking Los Angeles at one of the prettiest city views I’ve seen. The perfect addition to our time at Griffith? A big bowl of frozen yogurt. Delish.
1:00pm Time to add a little culture to the mix! One of the neatest places I’ve been in L.A. is Bergamot Station in Santa Monica. It’s such a great concept from a commercial real estate perspective – a group of industrial buildings turned high-end art galleries. It has an amazing vibe.
I loved this “Cartoon” art. It’s so fun!
It is only in such a creative place as Bergamot that you find flower arrangements in the traffic cones. This made me happy!
2:00pm The last stop of this fun weekend was visiting my favorite store in the world, Rachel Ashwell Shabby Chic Couture, in Santa Monica. It’s ultra feminine, ultra country, and ultra romantic. The best way to end a long weekend in L.A.!
4:30pm Back home to beautiful San Diego. Just in time for Mother’s Day!
April 25, 2013
Despite years and years of international travel, as of 6 months ago I still had not visited our nation’s capital. This last December – just days before Christmas – I finally had that chance.
The moment that we landed in D.C. for the first time, and began the winding drive from Dulles Airport to the heart of D.C., I realized what I had been missing all of those years.
We are so lucky to have what I believe is one of the world’s most beautiful capitals. The luscious green parks. The gorgeous, historic buildings. The clean streets and sidewalks. Monuments galore. There is so much character, class, and beauty in this city, and needless to say, it more than exceeded my expectations.
April 15, 2013
A stay at the Four Seasons Istanbul at Sultanahmet is truly a once in a lifetime experience. From the moment you enter the century-old revived Turkish prison, you experience the deep character, rich history, and incredible culture of the “Old City.”
The impeccable service, gorgeous décor, and location just minutes away from the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, and Topkapi Palace are only a small part of what makes this hotel so unique. It is rare for a hotel to have so much personality and livelihood, which can in part be attributed to the centuries of blending of the Southern European and Middle Eastern cultures.
When I first arrived in Istanbul, I was reminded of the historical towns of Portofino and Positano off the Amalfi Coast…but as the taxi took us deeper and deeper into the city, up the narrow cobblestone roads leading to the Sultanahmet, I realized there was much more to Istanbul than meets the eye. I arrived at the landmark yellow hotel and was immediately whisked away into a world of classic Byzantine culture, snacking on traditional Turkish candies on my walk through the elegant halls of this historic building. As I entered the exquisitely furnished room, I was immediately drawn the to beautiful, pale pink, enormous structure outside my window, and an intimidating white and blue tiled mosque with towering minarets. Yes, this hotel has views of the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque – right outside the bedroom window. The Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque experience was amplified by the prayer services booming from the minarets five times a day, waking all within a few miles of the mosque at five in the morning. Every single day. While the early wake-up call wasn’t always welcomed, it was definitely an incredible experience.
Istanbul is such a vibrant city – a mix of beauty, history, color, spice, and vibrancy. From the halls of the Grand Bazaar (where I bought a pretty pink patchwork purse…for $3) to the Turkish cafes bustling with activity (and home to the best kabobs in the world), it is a city for all to enjoy. My favorite part was walking through the streets of the Old City…admiring the history in each cobblestone, stopping at food carts to enjoy traditional Turkish delicacies, and imagining what life would have been like hundreds of years ago in the bustling city center of Constantinople.
April 8, 2013
Spending Christmas in Rome has been on my bucket list for years – I always thought it would be incredible to hear the Pope speak on Christmas Eve at Midnight Mass.
This last Christmas, my family and I had the incredible opportunity to sit inside St. Peter’s Basilica when Pope Benedict XVI addressed Rome and the Catholic world. Though my family and I couldn’t understand much of what was said at the mass, it was an incredibly powerful experience. And especially timely given the Pope’s recent resignation!
Our stay in Rome was wonderful – albeit short. For those considering visiting Rome at the holidays, I hope you find this helpful!
We arrived in Rome at 7:00 am on Christmas Eve – off of two red-eye flights in a row! Needless to say, we were exhausted. We stayed at a beautiful hotel at the top of the Spanish Steps – Hotel Hassler – which we first learned about years ago when Julia Roberts and the cast of the Oceans 11 series stayed at the hotel! If it was nice enough for Julia Roberts, then it would definitely be nice enough for me!
The hotel exceeded my expectations in every way. The rooms were beautiful, luxurious, and immaculate. They were small – but incredibly tasteful, and very European. The beds were beautiful (and comfortable), the linens of the finest quality, and the decor high-end. Every last detail was taken care of – from the treats that greeted us when we arrived in our rooms, to the small Christmas gifts that the hotel generously gave its guests (including Hotel Hassler-branded hats and totes), to the tiny Christmas tree in our room. It made us feel right at home.
The service at the Hotel Hassler was impeccable. Within moments of arriving, the concierge had informed us that they obtained five tickets to sit inside St. Peter’s Basilica for the Midnight Mass…I had mentioned over email when reserving the hotel rooms that it would be amazing to see, but did not expect the hotel to get tickets to go inside!
Upon hearing the great news, we took short naps to gear up for the long night ahead. After poking around through the Christmas Markets – which are an amazing way to spend Christmas Eve – we made our way back to the hotel for a quick dinner before Mass. Fortunately the hotel’s restaurant was open – as most restaurants close at noon on Christmas Eve!
The hotel had a driver meet us at the hotel and take us to Midnight Mass – three hours before it was set to begin! We stood in line for all three hours waiting to enter the cathedral, talking to our neighbors through broken English. The energy was incredible.
We arrived inside, taking our seats just a few rows back from where the Pope stood to address his audience. It was overwhelming – and an experience that no words could ever do justice.
After an amazing night, the driver took us back to the hotel (you won’t find any taxis out at Christmas Eve at midnight!), and we fell asleep dreaming of much, much more than sugarplum fairies.
On Christmas morning, we awoke very late after our long night with the Pope! We were clearly very sleep-deprived. We had lunch at one of the only restaurants that were open – though in hindsight we would have preferred to order food from room service! Because nearly everything was closed, we spent the day wandering around the beautifully-decorated shopping streets near the Spanish Steps.
We found a little tea room that was open on Christmas Day – which was PACKED – and enjoyed some chocolate cake and cannoli before retreating back to our rooms to relax together as a family. And pack up – as we were leaving for Jordan the very next day. We travel fast!
a few recommendations
1. Make dinner reservations well in advance (and research which ones are open on Christmas Day and Christmas Eve). That is, if you do plan on eating outside of the hotel! Most restaurants close early on Christmas Eve (if they open at all), and nearly all restaurants are closed on Christmas Day. It’s definitely smart to do your research ahead of time – instead of showing up starving and delirious!
2. Make sure to arrange transportation for any far-away activities on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day – as it will be a struggle to find taxis!
3. Stay at a hotel you are happy in. It’s such an important occasion – and because so many attractions are closed during the holidays – you will undoubtedly spend some time in your room! As you could probably tell, I LOVED the Hotel Hassler and highly recommend it (though it is on the pricey-side of hotels). We’ve also spent a lot of time at the Westin Excelsior Rome – it too is an incredible hotel. While the area surrounding it was not as vibrant as the Spanish Steps, the hotel is beautiful, classic, and spacious.
- enjoy the journey
- fifty countries and counting
- good clean living
- martha in the making
- southern california living
- working girl under thirty