Category Archives: southern california living
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 That being said, the rooms were a bit worn and outdated, and if we were to do it over again, we’d love to try out the Ritz Carlton Rancho Mirage, which just opened in 2014.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.
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)!
August 23, 2015
Chino Family Farm
Even after spending the bulk of my childhood in Rancho Santa Fe, I never really realized how special it is to have such high quality produce right in my own backyard…that is, until today after my first visit to Chino Family Farm!
When you pull off of Calzada Del Bosque into a small dirt parking lot, you’d never expect to see such a display of vibrant color and fresh fruits and veggies…and the most perfect heirloom tomatoes might I mention. We can’t wait to make a yummy caprese salad with them tonight!
Be sure to visit their website for hours and their seasonal specials. Today, we chose heirloom tomatoes and a rainbow watermelon (I had never heard of it…but spoiler alert, it’s not rainbow! It’s yellow.). We will certainly be back for more in the coming weeks!
San Elijo Lagoon Trails
For years, I’ve driven by the trail head to San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve off of El Camino Real and La Orilla – but for some reason or another had never explored it! The lure of an oceanfront walk at Torrey Pines had always prevailed. The La Orilla trail was prettier than I had ever imagined! Nestled into the lagoon, the trail is one of the quieter and more peaceful places I’ve been in quite some time.
At times we were walking on a narrow trail nestled in a forest of hundred year-old trees, and at other points in the trail we were over looking a huge expanse of a marshy swampland (or at least the California-version of it).
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