Traveling to Sonoma, California with a 4 Month Old Baby

In California, I think the best place to experience the fall season is in Sonoma County. I was craving a little bit of that crisp air, auburn hues and autumnal feeling so I decided that Sonoma would be the perfect getaway with my mother and my 4 month old daughter.

Baby at SFO

Sleepy baby at SFO

TRANSPORTATION: Flight + Rental Car

Just a quick one hour flight from Los Angeles, we landed in SFO and had a two hour drive ahead of us to Sonoma. All things considered, this wasn’t too bad of a commute! I made the mistake of booking an off-site rental car company, but besides that hiccup, we were cruising north, crossing the iconic Golden Gate Bridge and admiring the countryside in no time.

Tip: Call your rental car company and ask for a child safety seat to be added. Ours was only $42 and well worth it since we didn’t have to carry a heavy car seat.

baby with wine!

TOWN: Healdsburg

We chose Healdsburg as our homebase. I had visited only once before for the day but was immediately smitten by the quaint town green, the charming mom & pop shops, along with the fine restaurants and posh hotels. This town has the right mix of class, charm and dose of energy to keep it interesting. It also happens to be smack in the middle of some of the most picturesque areas of wine country.

Tip: Make sure you are in walking distance of a main town so you can pop in and out of the hotel for food, shopping and groceries. It’s great not to have to drive!

Harmon Guest House

HOTEL: Harmon Guest House

The hotel is always very important to me but this time, it was EVEN more important as I knew with a young baby, we’d be spending a lot more time in the room. I also wanted a hotel that was very close walking distance to the town center so it’d be easy for the three of us to get out quickly or go to a nearby restaurant.

Hanging in Healdsburg

I was very happy to discover the brand new Harmon Guest House. The sister property to the well known, high brow Hotel Healdsburg, the Harmon Guest House was just a block away and boasted large suites and a rooftop restaurant. I was definitely interested in a suite as with a 4 month old, bedtime is around 7pm but that doesn’t mean that my mom and I wanted to go to bed then either. Having a separate room allowed us to put her down for bed, then order diner and have a glass of wine together.

Tip: Book a suite or a room type that has two separate rooms. You don’t want to be forced to have lights out at 7pm and you don’t want to put your baby in a bathroom for bedtime!

We opted for their Founder’s Suite. It came with a private outdoor terrace, which was surrounded by bamboo and greenery which helped to make it feel more private, even though it faced the glass hallway and other rooms.

The suite was quite spacious with the living area that had a coffeemaker and sink, refrigerator and countertop area. There was a small desk and a rather small couch and coffee table. Given that there was a lot of empty space, I felt the furniture was a little small in comparison to the room. There was also a bathroom (no shower) out here.

The bedroom as large and had a very, almost too soft, feather bed. There was a tub that worked well for bath time with Aurora, though I had to get in too! The outer sink and vanity area was lovely and the shower/toilet shared a very large separate space. It could have almost been another bedroom, it was so large!

A gift for Aurora from the hotel 🙂

Little details like daily coffee and pastries, sparkling water on tap in the hallway and the rooftop just above, definitely made this stay very comfortable. I have to say, the staff, from the valet to the front desk, went above and beyond to help us in all ways–and felt genuine and sincere in doing so.

TIMEFRAME: Midweek!

We traveled mid week to minimize the crowds even though we were in the high season. The Crush as it is known, draws lots of tourists from the Bay Area and beyond and for good reason. The scenery, the golden light and the activity on all the vineyards made this prime time to visit.

Tip: Travel to Sonoma during the week makes the rates much better and it is far easier to get around. Weekends get hectic!

ITINERARY: 1 Destination per Day

We picked up one big adventure per day and aimed to do that after her first nap. With one good nap down, we at least knew that we were in better shape for the rest of the day, even if her second nap wasn’t as great. Sleeping in the car is hit or miss for our girl, but for others, they can use a car ride for the first nap and get them to their destination sooner.

Cuties

I had a list of vineyards to check out and we stopped at many of them. However, we didn’t stay at all of them. Some were not kid friendly, not as scenic as we thought or were just too quiet. It is hard to gauge that until you see it for yourself! The ones we did stay at though were fantastic. After our wine tasting, we would either have a picnic there or stop somewhere for a bite, before heading back home for an afternoon nap. My mom enjoyed some shopping in Healdsburg while I put the baby down for a snooze.

DINNER: Takeout to the room

Unless you have someone like a nanny or babysitter, you will need to be in the room when baby goes to bed. For us that meant we would start bedtime at 6 or 6:30 and she’d be asleep by 7-7:30pm. So our evening outings were limited! We were able to sneak in a 5pm happy hour here and there, but mostly, we either grabbed food to go at 5pm or one of us snuck out after the baby went to bed to pick up food. As long as you have good food options nearby and a separate room to enjoy them in, it’s actually kind of cozy!

Tip: Choose a hotel that is close to restaurants with takeout options–ideally walking distance!

Hotel Healdsburg

 

Below I have rounded up the most scenic and BABY FRIENDLY stops from our trip to Sonoma:

Arista Winery

You turn off the main road into this stunning property, and wind your way up a hill past rows of grapevines glistening in the sun. At the top, there is a small tasting room that is very elegantly decorated. Though reservations are needed, and we didn’t have one, the obliging winemaker allowed us to sit outside, which was our preference, and conducted a personal wine tasting for us before the reservations came. This was ideal as we could sit and entertain Aurora and not have to worry about her disrupting others.

We liked that the wine tasting was an abridged version so we got the “cliffnotes” on all the wines. Also, we were outside and enjoying the Japanese inspired landscaping while two of us were on sipping delicious wine and one had a her own lovely bottle.

 

Dutcher Crossing Winery

Aurora had fallen asleep in the car and not wanting to wake her, I actually went in, explained the predicament and they allowed me to shuttle a wine tasting outside so my mom and I could enjoy together, even though we were in a parking lot.

Eventually the curious little bugger woke up and we all went into the tasting room. It was bright and airy, but the real selling point here is the well landscaped vineyard. You can tell they take great pains to keep every detail in line. It was truly breathtaking. The wines happened to be big, bold and wonderful as well. We had a great winemaker, Collyn, guiding us through the tasting in an unprententious and fun way. I ended up joining the wine club and now when I sip those special bottles, I am reminded of such a wonderful afternoon with my best girls.

 

Dry Creek General Store

This is THE place to get lunch in the area but guess what, it is actually delicious. We checked out the funky shop that is a mix of old time general store and fancy provisions, while we waited for two excellent sandwiches. My barbecue chicken was the perfect to go meal for lunch at a winery. It’s also well located right in the middle of a lot of great vineyards and just 15 minutes from Healdsburg.

 

Bella Vineyards & Wine Caves

At the very end of a lovely road is Bella Vineyards, famous for its tastings in the wine cave. The cave goes into the side of a mountain and is very interesting inside, but I loved the outside even more. The farmhouse, the views and the laidback atmosphere made this a place you wanted to linger.

MacRostie Vineyard

Perched on a hilltop with unobstructed, sweeping views, this one called to us every time we passed it. We finally stopped and while we loved the greeting with a taste of chardonnay and the intimate setting, we didn’t stay as it was too quiet and a bit serious for a baby. We were going to loud, up and down, singing songs and playing with toys and we felt the other guests there would be bothered by that…

 

Other favorite spots in Healdsburg…

 

Hotel Healdsburg

We came here for happy hour and enjoyed it at their modern, ivy clad outside decks. It was just a few steps from the Harmon Guest House so it was perfect for a quick drink before bath time!

 

Campo Fina

You’d never guess that this a bustling bar, bocce court and outdoor seating if you stepped in the front door. But clearly, word got out as when we got there around 5:30pm, the back area was packed. We grabbed a drink and ordered takeout to be enjoyed later at the room. It was really a delicious meal and fun atmosphere.

 

Pizzando

We had take out from here two times in our four nights and we were glad we did. The pizzas and pastas were incredible–I especially loved that bolognese. Their arugula salad had a tasty lemon dressing too. Perfect for an easy meal in the room.

 

The Shed

It might be overhyped but we did stop by to grab some bread, cheese and a cupckae for a little late lunch on our suite’s terrace. The bread was fantastic but that cheese.. I still think about it.

 

Oakville Grocery

We grabbed salads here and took them to go, to be enjoyed at a vineyard! They had a lot of great wine and some nice local products as well.

 

The Toy Chest

I had to include this back-in-time toy store as a must stop for anyone traveling with kids. They had a great mix of modern toys and old-time classics. I love family run toy shops and it was nice to see one in action!

 

Noble Folk Ice Cream & Pie Bar

The pumpkin ice cream was out of this world, and all the other flavors at this artisanal ice cream shopped looked amazing as well. The apple pie wasn’t our favorite but definite come her for some ice cream!


Overall, we felt Sonoma County was very baby friendly since it was relaxed, very welcoming, and had a nice, slow pace. Many of the streets we drove on were so breathtaking, we had to pull over just to admire the beauty in all directions. I am so happy that we did this trip and though we couldn’t see and do everything at the fast pace we wanted too, it was nice to slow down and appreciate the simple beauty all together.

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Babymoon Ojai Valley Inn

Where to take a Babymoon

Let’s face it. Of all times in your life when YOU (or your partner, bestie, sister, daughter) deserves a vacation, it is when she is carrying around another human life in her belly. Babymoons are necessary and relieve a lot of pressure, put mom-to-be in a great mood and can be a unique way to see a destination in a different way.

For me, it meant slowing down. Not the action-packed itineraries, with lots of outdoor pursuits, physical adventures and the evening wine or cocktail hour. Babymoon meant relaxation, early bedtimes, delicious foods and a more nurturing approach to travel. Honestly this change of pace was great! I feel like I experienced each location in a whole new way.

Babymoon Kauai

Whom do you take on a Babymoon?

So, who is coming? The most common person to escort you on this babymoon is obviously your partner. (They got you in this mess in the first place right!? KIDDING) It is an important time away from the routine of normal life to really focus on the two of you. If you are first time mom-to-be like me, it’s especially important to take to appreciate your remaining weeks together as a couple before you become a family. Your partner also knows you best and will pamper you, which is what you need now more than ever.

I also recommend babymoons with close friends. You won’t be able to take time like that away from your newborn to hang out with friends the way you used to so it can be very rewarding to spend that extra QT with those close friends that are important in your life.

I also LOVED going on a babymoon with my Mom. What better person to help me transition into motherhood than my own mother! Plus, I knew it was one of the last times that I’d get to travel just with her, even though bringing my daughter on our yearly adventures will be just as fun too. Consider bringing a supportive family member that you want to spend time with and whom will enjoy the slower pace that babymoon offers. 

And as much as I love company, solo babymoons can be very personally fulfilling. Sometimes you need time to yourself, to read, get a pedicure, talk to the new life growing in your belly and appreciate the remaining quiet moments before your bundle of joy arrives.

babymoon ojai

Where should you go?

Babymoons also tend to be closer to home. Most pregnant ladies don’t want to sit on an extended plane journey so keeping it under 5-6 hours by plane is usually the most comfortable. Ideally, the closer the better!  (I didn’t follow that advice entirely and did fly to Europe for a 3 week trip while 20 weeks pregnant as well as Japan for a 2 week film shoot at 16 weeks, but you can read about those two trips here.)

Driving distance or short flights are best in the earlier stages of pregnancy. When you get to the third trimester, I’d suggest limiting your babymoon destinations to those within an hour or two home.

 

If you only have time for one babymoon, make sure it is the type of trip that you are craving now. Those pregnancy cravings can even apply to travel, ladies! I outline 5 types of babymoons in this post and where you can go to get your FIX!

 

If you are craving…something TROPICAL?

Go to KAUAI!

Lush, quiet, healthy and untouched: Kauai might be the most perfect of the Hawaiian islands for an expecting mother. The rhythm of nature dictated our stay here, with early mornings spent snorkeling Poipu Beach, leisurely days shopping in Kailua, picking shells on a secluded beach on the North Shore and grabbing fresh açai bowls topped with pineapple and passion fruit. By evening, the islanders stop to hold their breath as the sun sets in a dramatic fashion, sending up a fiery finale before nightfall.

Hanalei Beach Bump

My mom and I traveled to Kauai when I was at 23 weeks and I felt great. It was the right pace and I had a lot of energy in that second trimester to handle full days at a leisurely pace. The 6 hour flight didn’t bother me at all and I made sure to stay hydrated and walk the aisles frequently. There’s a lot of “mother energy” on this island too so it felt like the right place to be!

Where to Stay:  Ko’a Kea Resort

This intimate, boutique hotel is classy but cool. You won’t feel pressure to grab a pool seat and staying on the property to eat will result in some of your favorite island meals. Poipu’s famed calm waters are perfect for floating with sea turtles and catching those all-star sunsets.

Tip: Get a prenatal massage in their waterside cabana!

Where to Eat

Java Kai, Kailua: Healthy salads, delicious coffees & teas and Instagram-worthy breakfasts

Little Fish Coffee, Poipu: Fresh smoothies, pitaya bowls and bagel sandwiches bring in the customers but linger with the chickens at this rustic, local favorite.

Fresh Bite Kauai, Hanalei: Seek out this Hanalei food truck to grab a to-go organic salads, hearty sandwich and side of sweet potato fries.

Plantation Gardens, Poipu: Set inside a resort without feeling commercial, this restaurant is laidback but top quality, serving up local fish dishes like banana leaf snapper and coconut shrimp.

Postcards Cafe, Hanalei: A charming Hawaiian bistro feel with pastas, fresh catch and great salads. Grab one of the outdoor tables for an intimate feel.

 

What to Do

Snorkel with sea turtles in Poipu, stop at a crafts market in Hanalei, get a drink at the St. Regis Princeville, see a luau and take a boat tour of the Na Pali coast.

 

If you are craving…something NATURAL?

Go to OJAI, CA

As a Santa Monica local with a serious travel addiction, I cannot believe it took me 4 years to get to Ojai. It is only an hour and a half drive away into the valley of the Topatopa Mountains but if felt like a whole different world. My husband surprised me with a midweek Mother’s Day getaway and even though this babymoon was only one night, it was exactly what we needed!

The quaint village has delightful bookstores, ice cream shops, hippie boutiques and mom & pop restaurants. There are easy walks, creekside (paved) bike paths and just so much lavendar scented fresh air, mom and baby bump will feel the benefits of all this healthy energy.

Ojai Valley Inn Babymoon

Where to Stay: Ojai Valley Inn & Spa

Not the most affordable option, but if you want to splurge, I highly suggest this resort. Their adults-only pool is where I posted up for the majority of the day, alternating between a pool floatie and a mountain facing lounge chair, with my cucumber spa water in hand. The expansive grounds are lovely for strolling or biking and their spa is like a mini village wiht a juice bar, free yoga classes and all the treatments. While our room didn’t stand out, it was the location that really made this place special.

Tip: Grab picnic supplies in town and pull up an adirondack chair by the fireplace to watch the “pink moment,” Ojai’s famously hued sunset magic hour.

Babymoon Ojai Valley Inn

Where to Eat

The Nest: We almost went back the second day, it was THAT good. Whether you want fish tacos or a fried chicken sandwich or a salad, this outdoor hotspot is the place for lunch. Order the meaty Tireman if you are ravenous.

Osteria Monte Grappa: Talk about locally sourced! The menu here features salads from local farmers, handmade pastas and wood fired pizzas, plus excellent friendly service.  

Ojai Deer Lodge: Fun for a beer (for your travel partner) and live music, this is a kitschy, cowboy stop with some wild decor located a little bit outside of town.

Babymoon Ojai Valley Inn

What to Do

Browse the boutiques, relax by the pool, take a bike ride, have a honey tasting at the local honey shop Heavenly Honey and explore the outdoor Bart’s Books.

 

If you are craving… something ALPINE?

Go to Northstar at TAHOE

My husband and I took our LAST flight together before the baby to have a wintry weekend. Just an hour flight from LAX or Long Beach and you are in the heart of the snowcapped peaks of Tahoe.We landed in Reno and took a 40 drive over to Northstar Resort, one of the most luxurious of the Tahoe resorts. The village is completely self contained, making it a one stop destination and easy for a weekend escape. We spent time exploring the village, doing yoga and even taking the gondola up to the slopeside Ritz Carlton Tahoe to indulge in some complimentary s’mores at their outdoor fire pit.

Note: Our babymoon fell during the winter but Tahoe is amazing in the summer, spring or fall as well!

Tip: Plan your weekend escape for a Mountain Table Dinner to enjoy an incredible, multi-course meal at the peak of Zephyr Lodge.

Where to Stay: Northstar Lodging

I loved our mountain chalet which we reserved through Northstar Lodging. It had a balcony, fireplace, kitchen and cosy living room. It was exactly what we wanted for a babymoon weekend!

 

Where to Eat

Inxpot Cafe: Grab a breakfast burrito at this village hotspot next to the gondola. It is best enjoyed outside by the firepit!

Rubicon Pizza Co.: An easy lunch in the village right next to the ice skating rink. It might not be the best pizza you’ve ever had but it is a solid choice and moderately priced.

Tavern 6330′: We loved dinner here with its live music and classic menu choices like iceberg wedge salad and steaks. Definitely split that lobster mac n cheese!

Babymoon Northstar Tahoe

What to Do

Take a guided snowshoe tour, grab a stick and roast marshmallows at the Ritz’s “Marshmology,” curl up by the fireplace with a good book, do yoga in town at Tahoe Yoga.

 

If you are craving… something Mediterranean?

Go to Catalina Island, CA

I enjoyed this babymoon with a group of friends in early March. It was so nice to go on a group trip like this so everyone could do exactly what they wanted to do. Since I was the only one pregnant, my activities were more mild compared to the parasailing, ziplining and jeep tour options.

Selfie View Catalina

However, I still had a blast exploring this incredibly unique island that is just about an hour off of the coast of Southern California. The main town of Avalon is the ideal hub with seafood restaurants, shops and lovely walking streets. I am so happy that I rented a golf cart, the main mode of transportation, to cruise around the rolling hills that surround Avalon Harbor.

I also spent time at the Descanso Beach Club, a secluded, sandy area of beach which also offers kayaking and SUP.

Tip: Definitely do the Frog Rock Kayaking tour if you have time!

Where to Stay: Pavilion Hotel

Located on the main street, across from the water, this gem of a hotel offers an ample daily breakfast and evening wine & cheese hour, both complimentary. The rooms are clean, nautical and cute, plus the courtyard area has quiet lounge spaces and firepits.

Where to Eat

The Lobster Trap: A local favorite with no-frills fish dishes and a lively atmosphere. We all loved the ambiance here.

Bluewater Grill: Great for a light lunch and lemonade out on the water, this is the most waterside restaurant you will find in Avalon!

Avalon Grille: Excellent dining with a fun bar scene, this is definitely THE place for dinner on the island.

Kayaking Catalina

What to Do

Cruise around in a golf cart, book a prenatal massage at the Island Spa Catalina, rent a kayak at the Descanso Beach Club

 

If you are craving… EASY.

Go to Santa Barbara, CA 

It’s not just because it is easy, Santa Barbara is a beautiful coastal California city with a stunning beachfront. But it also is easily accessible by train, meaning NO CARS NEEDED! That is what sold my husband and I on this one night, weekend trip. We hopped on a train in the morining from LA and enjoyed the ocean views before we disembarked just a couple hours later in the heart of SB.

We stayed near the water, kayaking with sea lions, eating at a beach bar, hanging by the pool and exploring the Funk Zone. Great food, great sunshine and just an easy, breezy, stress-free getaway. Isn’t that what you want for a babymoon?

Where to Stay: Hotel Californian ($$$$) or Harborview Inn ($$)

The swanky Hotel Californian is brand new and just steps from the water. The service, the style and the location make it hard to beat.

But if you want something more affordable, just next door is where we stay: the Haborview Inn. We loved the pool and water views and how convenient it was to the beach!

Lucky Penny SB

Where to Eat

Lucky Penny: Sister to The Lark, Lucky Penny is an order at the counter/sit outside at communal table pizza joint. Spoiler: this is some of the best pizza in California!

Shoreline Beach Cafe: Located RIGHT on the beach, the classic California food and sand-in-your-toes location made this an A+++ for me.

Sambo’s: A perfect spot for huge pancakes, egg burritos and even more. The menu is huge, the coffee is flowing and the atmosphere is what you want from a popular diner.

surrey bike SB

What to Do

Rent a Surrey Bike and cruise along the beach path, take out kayaks in the marina and see sea lions, go to Figueroa Brewery* for live music, explore the eats and wineries* of the Funk Zone, pack a picnic for the Amtrak train back!

*(your partner can enjoy the booze for you but it is still fun sober, trust me!)

Kayaking Santa Barbara

***

Most of my babymoons favor the West Coast since that is where I am based, but I have other recommendations for East Coasters! Here is my short list: 

  • Charleston, North Carolina
  • Chatham, Cape Cod (MA)
  • Vero Beach, Florida
  • Woodstock, Vermont (my hometown!)
  • Greenport, Long Island (NY)
  • Skaneatles, NY

 

Catalina Island Avalon Harbor

Escapes from LA: Catalina Island

I have to be honest. If you asked me to hop on a plane anywhere for a quick getaway, I’d say ‘take me to the Mediterranean!’ Who doesn’t love indigo water, crystalline shorelines, charming villages, locally made food and abundance of outdoor cafés? However, European destinations along the Med tend to be quite pricey, not to mention a long flight for us Americans (especially for other Californians like me). But that’s why I couldn’t be more surprised, delighted, and borderline obsessed with this European-esque destination that I recently discovered in my own backyard.

Avalon Harbor Catalina Island

Catalina Island is not exactly “new.” It’s been inhabited for at least 8000 years, originally by the Native American tribe, the Pimungans. More recently, William Wrigley (yes, like the chewing gum) owned the island and brought his baseball team there for their annual spring training from 1921-1951. And of course, Hollywood also fell in love with Catalina, using it as the location for many early films as well as the playground for the stars and show biz elite. After visiting for myself for the first time, I can see why this island has been so popular for so long.

 

WHEN TO GO

I visited with a group of friends in early March, far outside of Catalina’s high season, which typically runs from June through September. Off season, or shoulder season travel is one of my all-time favorite travel hacks. It generally results in a much better experience overall because you aren’t battling crowds, lines and high prices. My tip would be to travel in either March through May or late September through November, to maximize best weather and least amount of people. However, don’t forget that it is Southern California so even December or January could have perfect weather!

Avalon Harbor Catalina Island

We also opted for a weekday stay as opposed to the popular weekend trips, arriving on a Monday and departing on a Wednesday. Like off-season travel, weekday travel usually means better rates and less people so you can focus on enjoying the destination without as much hassle.

Catalina Express Ferry

GETTING THERE

Catalina Express

Catalina Island is visible from Santa Monica all the way down to Laguna Beach, but this large SoCal island is actually much further away than it looks. The Catalina Express offers daily shuttles via high speed catamaran that whisk you out into the Pacific and get you onshore in about an hour. It’s also a fun ride! We departed from Long Beach and I sat outside, enjoying the salty breezes and the watery views. We even had a dolphin sighting! Note: there is a full bar for those that want to start the party the moment we leave the mainland.

Luxe Tip–> For those that have less time and the itch to splurge, there are helicopters that can bring you over in just 15 minutes!

 

WHERE TO STAY

Though it is possible to experience Catalina for the day, I would recommend staying at least one night, ideally two. During the day, the main town of Avalon is usually busy with other daytrippers and the cruise passengers. However by night, the town empties out and you can enjoy the calm, quiet beauty of this island gem.

Pavilion Hotel Catalina Island

Pavilion Hotel

As I am the “Hotel Snob,” where I stay is very important and I would stay at the Pavilion Hotel again in a heartbeat. The well appointed property is located right on the main street, in the center of Avalon. It has water views, as well as a sunny complimentary breakfast and daily wine hour on the patio.  I particularly loved all the outdoor seating areas, fire pits and secluded loungers in the garden. This small hotel felt tranquil and private, even though it is just steps from the hustle and bustle of downtown Avalon.

 

The rooms are crisp and sea-inspired. New and clean, I wouldn’t call them extravagant in any way, but I wasn’t left wanting for anything. The separate sink and vanity area also served as a mini kitchenette with coffee and mini fridge. Of course, I would have loved it if the hotel had a pool but that is a rarity on Catalina Island in general.

 

WHERE TO EAT

Avalon Grille Catalina

Avalon Grille

This is one of the nicest options on the island and I’d recommend that you book it for one special dinner. The elegant menu has everything from well cooked steaks to local seafood to a mouthwatering burger. Definitely order the fried green beans to share! Also, as I’m always all about the atmosphere, I felt that the classy interior makes it work for a romantic night but the wraparound bar also makes it accessible for cocktails and appetizers. It was even busy on a Monday night, proving that the islanders love this spot as well.

 

The Lobster Trap Catalina

Image courtesy of Catalina Chamber of Commerce

The Lobster Trap

Another great dinner option at a lower price point is The Lobster Trap. This seafood joint is an institution in Avalon and you will be overwhelmed by the local “Cheers” vibe the minute you walk in. The owner was handing out shots, our makeshift table was on top of a pool table and there was a live lobster running across the table. However, the service couldn’t be friendlier and the no-frills seafood plates were fresh and delicious. I could see how a dinner here might turn into an all night affair as the bar was hopping, even on a Tuesday at 7pm.

Catalina Bluewater Grill

Image courtesy of @darinainwanderlust

Bluewater Grill

This one wins for best location as it is set on top of the water. We came for a sunny lunch and had a tremendous view of the Avalon Bay as well as fun, casual fare like shrimp caesars and fish tacos. I’d definitely go back for dinner or to check out their bar in the evening. Just like Europe’s sunny outdoor patios, the Bluewater Grill is a place you’d want to hang out for a few hours with a coffee or a cocktail.

 

Lloyd’s of Avalon

You have to give a lot of credit to a candy shop that’s been in business since 1934. They make all their own chocolates, salt water taffy and fudge, and even claim to have served Marilyn Monroe.

 

Scoops Catalina Avalon

Image courtesy of Scoops Instagram @scoopscatalina

Scoops

As always, I sought out the best local ice cream on Avalon and all locals pointed here: Scoops. This is the place to go for the best homemade ice cream and gelato. Beware though, in the summer the lines can get long!

 

WHAT TO DO

There is a LOT that you can do on the island, ranging from outdoor exploration, hikes, shopping, scuba, water sports and more. Normally the adventurer, I toned it back to focus more on relaxed, soft adventures as I was 7 months pregnant and I am happy that I did.View of Avalon Harbor Catalina

Golf Cart

Not only is the golf cart THE mode of transportation on the island, I find driving them to be so fun. It feels like you are on vacation! There are self guided routes that you can take to access the best vistas of the island and to take in a variety of landscapes.Golf Cart Catalina Island

 

Island Spa Catalina

Island Spa Catalina

This secluded hideaway is located at the end of Avalon’s main drag and it really is an oasis. When you step inside, the private courtyard has sun deck, a beautiful pool, a lounge area with sea views, and even a spa café. Take a class in their Wellness Studio or indulge in a massage at their spa. Or just grab a day pass for a day of R&R.

Descanso Beach Club Catalina

Descanso Beach Club

Just a 15 minute walk from the center of town along the water, the Descanso Beach Club was probably my favorite experience in Avalon. The sandy beach is bookended by natural cliffs on one side and the Catalina Casino on the other, making it feel like your private beach oasis for the day. If you come early, you’ll have it all to yourself but as the day wears on, the beach club kicks it up a notch. The outdoor bar and restaurant definitely becomes the place on the island to party!

Kayaking Catalina

The crystal clear water is not just perfect for swimming, you can hit up Descanso Beach Ocean Sports to rent an SUP or kayak. Take it a step further and go on a kayaking tour. I highly recommend the guided 2 hour kayak tour to Frog Rock. Our morning paddle out on the glittering water was breathtaking and I loved learning more about the life under the water from our knowledgeable guide. We stopped on a beach only accessible by kayak to rest, take photos, and enjoy some freshly made cookies. Pebble beaches, giant rocks, arid cliffs and glittering ocean–were we sure this wasn’t the Mediterranean?

 

Catalina Casino

Catalina Casino Tour

I am not going to lie, this walking tour was a bit a slow for me as it is geared towards an older set. But if you are a history buff, you will definitely appreciate the access to the first theatre in America that was “designed for talkies” as well as the pink art deco ballroom. From the top of the Casino, the views of Avalon and the bay might be some of the best on the island, so for me, that was the highlight. Plus, the Casino is the icon of Catalina so it important to understand its significance.

 

And More Adrenaline-Pumping Adventures

Many of my friends were able to partake in the more adventurous activities and the best reviews came from the East End hummer tour where my friends saw the island’s famous wild buffalo, parasailing 800 feet above the water, ziplining through canyons, and tight rope walking along the tree top ropes course.

East End Adventure Catalina

Image courtesy of the Catalina Island Company

Though I’ve mentioned the popularity of Catalina Island, I am actually most awed by the fact that the island is mostly untouched! 88% of the island is a nature preserve and the town of Avalon, the main hub of Catalina, is only home to 4000 residents. The rest of Catalina belongs to the bald eagles, the bison, the fox and the rest of the flora and fauna that live on or around its shores. For an island that is in plain sight of one of the US’s busiest cities, I am so impressed that it has retained its natural landscape and retro charm. Though you don’t need a passport to get here, it surely feels like you step off of the ferry into another world entirely.Selfie View Catalina

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Stay tuned for my video of this incredible island oasis COMING SOON!

 

xoxo

Kelley

A Sky High Dinner Party at the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown

It’s not difficult to find the brand new InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown. All you have to do is look up. Soaring 73 floors high, in the tallest building west of Chicago, this sky scraping hotel has a bird’s-eye view over Los Angeles. And in a city where buildings are usually shorter than the palm trees, the InterContinental LA Downtown literally stands out above the rest. The backdrop of the the 70th floor lobby, the open air Spire 73 bar, and each individual room, is naturally , the panoramic views of this expansive city. And each window has it’s own display of LA’s starlets: the Hollywood sign, the Staples Center, LA Live, Echo Park, and the San Gabriel mountains. Of course at night, all these stars twinkle across the skyline.

Spire 73 InterContinental Downtown Los Angeles

I’ve been lucky enough to check out some of the brands within the IHG family of hotels, staying at the brand new Holiday Inn Express in Waikiki and covering an event last year at the business focused Crowne Plaza near LAX. This time I was eager to see what the posh InterContinental brand was bringing to the table. I knew that InterContinental has been a leader international luxury brand for over a century, and this DTLA opening puts the property count at 190 InterCons worldwide. As you might have guessed, my expectations were almost as high at this 1100 foot building. Not only was the architecture notable, but the impressive listing of dining and drink options within hotel has had LA buzzing about it since its opening in June of this year.

Spire 73 InterContinental Downtown LA IHG

Last week, I was finally able to experience the dizzying heights for myself as a guest at the IHG Rewards Club and Mastercard #PricelessExperiences dinner. My ears popped as the high tech elevators transported us up 70 floors in the air, in just under 40 seconds. As the doors opened, we stepped out into the chic lobby, with reservationists standing in front of floor to ceiling windows. Up 3 more floors and we were standing under the stars at Spire 73, the highest open-air bar in the entire Western Hemisphere! Its no wonder every seat was taken with all the classy cocktails, tantalizing appetizers and DIY s’mores plates I spied passing by. The twinkling lights of LA wrapped around glass walls, hugging the bar with the most impressive backdrop. I couldn’t believe that I was actually looking down on all the skyscrapers and helipads of downtown.

InterContinental Downtown Los Angeles

Just opposite Spire 73, the other half of the rooftop was reserved just for our IHG Rewards Club and MasterCard Priceless Table event. An al fresco party with 180 degree views all to ourselves–my excitement levels continued to rocket up.

Alex Ott alchemist InterContinental Downtown Los Angeles

The evening began with the probably the most creative libations I’ve ever seen firsthand, courtesy of “sensory ringmaster,” Alex Ott. Alex started off by introducing us to a special elixir, pure Spilanthes flower extract, which claims to be a miracle food, aiding in everything from hangovers to cancer.

Spilanthes Flower Alex Ott alchemist InterContinental Downtown Los Angeles

At $800 per drop, we were careful not to spill as Alex placed just a few milligrams of this golden liquid on our fingertips. But one drop was plenty to feel an unusual tingling on my tongue, which apparently was the stimulation of my salivary glands. I half expected to turn into Wonder Woman and fly off the rooftop, but I’ll settle with having our palates cleansed. Tastebuds prepped, we now were able to fully appreciate the complex flavors in Alex’s curated list of signature cocktails. Ingredients like kava kava tea, levigated pearl and R-Lipoic Acid infused each cocktail with beneficial properties that ranged from improved memory, increased energy and calming relaxation. Benefits aside, the ones we tried were perfectly balanced, not too sweet and thoroughly enjoyable.

 Alex Ott cocktails InterContinental Downtown Los Angeles

Appetites whetted, we still had a dreamy, 4 course dinner awaiting us, courtesy of Chef Ray Garcia. As this year’s Esquire chef of the year, I was familiar with Chef Garcia but had never tasted his cooking. I was impressed that IHG had not only secured such a notable “chef of the moment,” but they also selected someone who is such a big part of the burgeoning local scene. Downtown LA has quickly grown to be a foodie hotspot, with new openings and star chefs, like Ray Garcia.

Chef Ray Garcia

I couldn’t resist snapping many photos of the two long tables, perfectly set for our dinner. They were meticulously adorned with a collection of exotic flowers, hued in graduating colors from vibrant reds to vivid corals, then on to bright oranges and popping yellows. The elegance of the tables was only elevated when the masterful string quartet began by playing familiar pop songs in a soft, classical style.

Priceless Tables IHG Rewards Club InterContinental LA

With the full moon beaming down on this truly #Priceless scene, I grasped how moments like these were what the IHG brand was all about. This evening’s magic could not be recreated, and that was precisely the point. The ambiance, the quality and setting was all carefully crafted in order for each member attending to experience an exceptional night. The same way that the InterContinental focuses on the highest level of luxury, tonight was all about pampering, surprising and delighting. Overwhelmed with the breathtaking scene, I felt grateful to have a seat at this table and be part of something so special–and I hadn’t even tasted the food!

As I mentioned, my hopes for dinner with as high as our tables and Chef Garcia’s menu went ever further above and beyond. A vegetarian ceviche, using cauliflower, was a surprising and flavorful start. It was very delicate in preparation and I didn’t even miss the fish!

Cauliflower Ceviche Chef Ray Garcia

The second dish that followed, ended up being my personal favorite of the whole night. We enjoyed a giant scallop with molé blanco, sunchokes and hazelnuts. Each bite of the seared, locally caught scallop, literally melted in my mouth. Chef Garcia paired it so beautifully with the earthy flavors of the nuts and sunchokes. And though you think one scallop might not be enough, think again. This was easily the largest scallop I’ve ever seen, or eaten.

Scallop Chef Ray Garcia

For the main, Chef Garcia played on typical “carnitas” with a meaty combination of prime beef short rib, foie gras, truffle and bone marrows. Does it get any more carnivorously decadent than that? I enjoyed this dish but did find myself overwhelmed by the richness of it all.

Carnitas with Truffle Foie Gras Chef Ray Garcia

We ended with a not-too-sweet profiterol, topped with unique pale green, fig leaf ice cream. I’d never thought about tasting fig leaves but in ice cream form, it was delicious! Each bite of this dessert was an adventure of different flavors, like brown butter, stoneground chocolate and juicy raisin.

profiterol Chef Ray Garcia

As we toasted to new friends, delicious food, healthy cocktails and a stunning hotel, one word came to mind: hospitality. Strangers sitting next to me felt like friends. A top chef and a famed alchemist engaged in open conversations with the guests. The staff anticipated all our needs before we even realized them, including bringing me a blanket as the evening temperatures started to cool.

InterContinental Downtown LA IHG

Of course, IHG is a diverse family of hotel brands, each with it’s own traveler type and personality. The Holiday Inn Express brand has modern efficiency, the Crowne Plazas offer upscale convenience, and the InterContinental hotels celebrate their location through luxury. But as much as they are different, all the hotels share an intense feeling of hospitality. This goes beyond the requisite greetings and smiles that you find in the “hospitality industry.” There’s a genuine sincerity in every interaction, an actual desire to make your stay as welcoming as possible. That is not easy to find at most hotels around the world. With the IHG Brands, you are more than just honored guests, you are family.

Firepits on the roof of InterContinental Downtown LA

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG). The opinions and text are all mine.

If any of my musings has made you want to experience an IHG hotel for yourself, I encourage you to enter their trip giveaway! Share a #TravelFirsts on Instagram or Twitter to be entered to win a trip to NYC, Las Vegas, New Orleans, or here to LA. Let me know if you enter and I’ll cross my fingers for you! Link to learn about the contest is here.

More photos from the evening below:

My Coachella Journey with GoPro

2 Friends + 2 GoPros + 1 Jucy Campervan = 1 epic weekend at Coachella Music Festival 2015. Explore more of this magical, musical, camping journey and see why Coachella is best done by camping!

 

The Monkey Tree Hotel in Palm Springs

If you haven’t visited Palm Springs yet, you need to go. It is like no other place I’ve ever been. And this little boutique hotel is the perfect oasis for your exploration in the desert. The Monkey Tree Hotel has retro charm, spacious & stylish rooms, great breakfast, fun pools & ideal location in Palm Springs. I have a perfect weekend away, lounging in the floating flamingos, enjoying free Sangria at the tiki bar, using their hot/cold tubs & sauna and just hanging our 1960s theme room.
This hotel has a whole lot of history too! Designed in 1960 by Albert Frey, the Monkey Tree Hotel was a favorite among the Hollywood glamorous set. JFK, Marilyn Monroe, Lucille Ball, Bob Hope, Katherine Hepburn, the Beatles… the list goes on. Ask the husband & wife owners about this–they know all the 60s gossip!

Harry Potter World & Grinchmas at Universal Studios Hollywood

Universal Studios Hollywood has a lot of celebrities at Christmas time: Harry Potter, The Grinch, Jurassic Park Dinosaurs… and I spent the day visiting them all and filming on my GoPro! Harry Potter World just opened earlier in 2016 so I spent a magical day checking out Hogwarts, Hogsmeade, the rides, the foods, the wands and the Butterbeer!

And since it was Christmas season, they even had Who-Ville, with the Grinch, the famous Who Christmas Tree and many Who’s walking about, ready to speak with you.
We even snuck in a Jurassic Park ride!
I hope this GoPro vlog guide helps you make the most of your trip to Universal! Tip: Don’t bother with the butterbeer!

MacArthur Place in Sonoma, California

Recently, I checked out the MacArthur Place, a boutique property just steps from downtown Sonoma in

Recently, I checked out the MacArthur Place, a boutique property just steps from downtown Sonoma in wine country of Northern California.. I very much enjoyed the layout of the property with all the rooms in cottages throughout a nicely manicured lawn and garden areas. The pool was a refreshing treat, as was the daily wine & cheese hour. The little luxuries here made our stay that much better and the rooms were very well appointed. Don’t miss Saddles Restaurant when you go–their steakhouse is one of the best dinners in town. For all the details: the good, the bad and the ugly, watch my review!

What to do for the 4th of July in Los Angeles

July Fourth is one of my favorite holidays (#2 on the list to be exact.) I mean, what’s not to love about a holiday that a). includes a day off from work, b.) involves hanging out all day with friends & family, c.) every American, regardless of religion, can participate and d.) promotes barbecues, cocktails and being outside. To me, it also marks that it is full blown SUMMER season. Oh, and Fireworks are just a cherry on top.

As an LA transplant, I scoured this little town for the best goings on this Fourth of July. Take your pick.

1. In a Pool

This partyparty pool at Mondrian will definitely make your Fourth one to remember (albeit hazily).  The Skybar is hosting all day DJs, cocktails, fun pool floaties and jaw dropping LA views–what’s not to love? Tickets are reasonable at $25 and available here. I was sold by the photos of their recent Memorial Day party.

2. On the Water

Whiskey Red's

Hit up Marina del Rey’s Burton Chace Park, make a reservation at a waterfront restaurant or find a friend with boat. You won’t get better sunset or fireworks views and as the nearest host of the fireworks on the beach, the atmosphere will be festive to say the least. If you are going the picnic in the park route, get there EARLY. Spots are usually filled by 6pm for the 9pm fireworks.

Whiskey Red’s, located right along the scenic marina, is hosting a buffet barbecue and reservations are being taken now for patio ($62.95) or indoor seating (52.95)–but come on people, you want the patio.

3. On a Roof

erwin

High, the rooftop of Venice’s funky hotel gives you unobstructed views of the fireworks, the sunset and the pretty people that are sitting at the tables next to you. A table reservation gets you 2 beers, a cocktail, a gourmet sausage and DJ to complete the perfect summer evening. What’s more American than that?

4. On a Boat

queenmarycunard

The Queen Mary is welcoming revelers on board for a day filled of events–from a circus to a Great Gatsby party, each decade from the 1940s will be represented, letting attendees party through the ages. The ticket gets you on board and access to the events, plus prime viewing of the Long Beach fireworks from the deck. Purchase your tickets here for a hefty discount ($26 vs $44 on their website).

 

The Parker Palm Springs

The Hotel Snob goes to the shishi Parker Palm Springs to see what all the fuss is about. She indulges her way through Norma’s, the Lemonade Stand, saltwater pools and the various lawn games, all underneath the swaying palms and bright blue sky of the desert. Watch her review.