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:

calligraphy suzhou

Calligraphy in Suzhou & Trip Giveaway to Suzhou, China!

Garden of Cultivation Suzhou I only returned from exploring Suzhou, China two weeks ago and still am reeling from such an eye-opening, visually stimulating and immersive trip!

Suzhou is just what you expect traditional China to be.

Though there are high-rises and busy modern center, the old town is basically in a time warp. As you walk the cobbled street or cruise down the canals on a wooden boat helmed by a singing local, you will truly feel that you are 2500 years in the past.

I was exploring Suzhou to shoot a series on the ancient arts and traditions. My cameraman, translator, guide and other team members joined me in what would be a jam-packed 4 days of Suzhou culture. Each episode in our series included working with a local artisan or master craftsman.

These are my favorite types of stories to tell–the real stories of the local people.

Through meeting these masters, learning their skills and understanding their stories, I was able to understand what is Suzhou today by understanding its history.

You will be seeing 4 Master Class videos from this culture series: Calligraphy, Bonsai, Dumplings & Silk. These four elements are woven in the fabric of daily life yet have been important in Suzhou’s culture for centuries.

My first episode is released today (!) and it is focused on Calligraphy. We went visited the Garden of Cultivation, an ornate garden with rock formations, caves and a lovely central pond with lily pads. There was also a popular teahouse in this garden and we had a private room inside to conduct our calligraphy lesson. Our master, Fanwu Zheng, didn’t speak any English so he and I used a translator to communicate. But quickly, we were able to understand each other through laughs, gestures and brushstrokes.

Calligraphy in Suzhou

Suzhou was one of the premier places for calligraphy, being home to the Wu School of professional artists and some of the country’s most skilled calligraphers. Calligraphy was considered one of the highest forms of visual art, along with poetry and painting. It is much more than just writing, it is the creation of moving pieces of artwork.

The best way to understand Suzhou, our experience and the significance of calligraphy is through our first episode. Take a look and let me know what you think!

Now the travel giveaway! 

The contest is on Twitter only.

Prize:

  • Roundtrip airfare from the US or Canada to Suzhou, China (You fly into Shanghai then transfer)
  • 4 Nights Accommdations in Suzhou (hotels are nice!)
  • All meals included (YUM!)
  • The 4 Cultural Opportunities that I experienced with Calligraphy, Bonsai, Dumplings & Silk!

How to Enter:

  1. Follow @VisitSuzhou on Twitter.
  2. Retweet: All you have to do to enter is to Retweet my video launch tweet here OR Retweet the launch tweet from @VisitSuzhou.
  3. Enter by October 4th!

My tweet:


One lucky winner will be selected from there. I cannot wait to see who wins because this trip was so special to me and I want others to share it! GOOD LUCK!

Bracelet Compass Coordinates Collection

Travel Gear: The Best Camera Bag, Watch & Travel Bangle

Being a vlogger ain’t easy. It might look like all fun and games, but it is a nonstop hustle, not a lot of job security and usually involves me lugging bags and gear all over the planet. No, I am not complaining, but just wanted to give you an idea why certain traveler friendly products have made a huge impact on my work life. I wanted to share some of my favorite travel related products–from functional to fashionable.

VLOGGER ESSENTIALS: Tenba Camera Bags

When I started off as a travel journalist (back in 2009!), I used to stuff my camera in my favorite bright orange Tumi waterproof tote. That was great until my microphones broke from being wedged in too tightly with my computer, camera bag and toiletries. Frankly, I’m lucky my camera didn’t break! Cameras & lenses are not cheap, so I had to upgrade my camera bag game, BIG time.

tenba roadie hybrid

Being able to use only carryons and avoid checking any bags is something I just can’t give up! After trying out several different bags, I’ve finally figured out how to have a carryon that can safely house all my gear but can also carry my laptop, wallet, notebook, kindle and other personal things I’ll need for the plane (eye mask, ear plugs, gum, headphones etc). I recently tried out a backpack from Tenba, a camera bag company that is built for photographers. I got the Roadie Hybrid II in their larger, 22 inch model. It has completely transformed my shoot travel.

tenba roadie hybrid

This Tenba bag is small enough to be a carryon, fitting easily under the seat in front of me or the overhead. However, it is large enough to give my 2 Canon DSLR cameras, 4-6 lenses, my various GoPros, audio and all the other accessories, the space that they deserve. It has adjustable, padded compartments inside that also just keep everything very organized and safe. I appreciate the interior zipper pockets so I can store extra batteries and SD cards easily.

tenba roadie hybrid

All that is just in the main compartment. There are several, easily accessible exterior compartments which have designated pockets for things like wallets, phones and even a key clip. The padded laptop pocket is a life changer and can fit laptops up to 17 inches.

tenba roadie hybrid

All of my expensive, important equipment not only fits but is protected. The bottom is waterproof and the whole bag is made from water repellant nylon, but they included a water resistant rain cover as well. The best part? This rolling bag also has a backpack straps! I can easily choose how to carry it based on my shoot.

tenba roadie hybrid

The only thing I’d change about it? I wish it came in different colors! I’d love to have my Tenba Roadie backpack in bright orange!

 

SOPHISTICATED ADVENTURE: One Eleven Watches

One Eleven watches

I am a watch girl. I have always loved watches and I have worn a watch just about every day of my life. I seem to gravitate towards classic, somewhat masculine styles. I also like BIG watches. You know what I hate? Changing batteries.

Watch OneEleven

Made the husband pose with his watch in Venice

This new watch seems to check all my boxes plus it is eco-friendly to boot. One Eleven is a completely solar powered watch brand so no more changing batteries, ever! Why haven’t we seen more of this? It has a sexy, rugged look that looks great on a hiking trail or at a classy dinner out. There have several strap colors, but my favorite was the light brown. The contrast of the rich mahogany leather with the faded black face and stainless steel is just perfect. There is a useful date function and a purposefully scratched look on the face that definitely gives it that rugged, worn in feel. Besides that, the watch is simple, classic and strong.

 

 

 

Though I got this watch for my husband, I sometimes make him let me borrow it. I personally think it looks just as good on a woman!

One Eleven watches

 

TRAVEL MEMORY: Coordinates Collection

“Collect memories, not things.” That has been my motto all my life. Of course, I have and love “things,” but if there was a fire and I had to grab only a few things, it’d be my photos, my cigar box of trinkets from all over the world and my memory box from my wedding in Saint Lucia. Those memories are so much more important than my newest pair of shoes or a cute bag.

coordinates collection bracelet

Cut to Coordinates Collection. This company seems to have read my mind.

  1. Simple: I love simple jewelry that I can wear every day or with a variety of outfits. Perfect for my trips!
  2. Gold: I also only wear gold. The tone of gold just matches my skin and my personality perfectly.
  3. Travel: Now this what completely sold me. The idea of wearing a meaningful location really speaks to me. That location that you choose is transformed on your wrist (or ring or pendant) into coordinates that are so uniquely special to you. Not everyone will know where it is but that’s the beauty of it! It is like your own little secret that you can share, or choose to hold close to heart.

coordinates collection bracelet

Inside the bangles, they also you to customize your own message as well. I went with my initials as well as a heart symbol, which I was impressed they could do!

coordinates collection bracelet

They have a variety of coordinates pieces in their collection but I chose the Legend Bracelet. I loved that it was an easy to wear with other bracelets and I think bangles are super cute. I also find that I wear many of the same bracelets every day so I will get the most mileage out of it!

If you are interested in these bracelets, I have a 15% discount code you can feel free to use! Just type in: Kelley15 for your 15% off at checkout!

coordinates collection bracelet

 

Which of this travel gear would you use? Do you have any questions about it? Feel free to leave comments and questions below!

Happy Travels!

xo Kelley

 

 

Speaking at the #TravelwithMeaning Travel Talk

It was a pleasure to have been asked to speak at last night’s Travel with Meaning Travel Talk in Venice Beach. I was invited by the #TravelwithMeaning founder, Mike Schibel, who has started hosting these monthly talks with prominent individuals in the travel industry. I was honored to have been asked and felt the laidback atmosphere, the candid questions and the positive vibes in the room made for a speaking engagement that is so much different than my others.

travel with meaning venice

The event was held at Outsite, a co-working space/hotel-like house where digital nomads from around the world can connect, work and also, stay over! It was pretty unique and the house reminded me of the interesting Venice bungalows I always pass by.

Our stage was in the living room, with couches, benches and chairs surrounding. And though we were on two high chairs, the vibe still felt very communal, like we were a bunch of friends hanging out. In many ways, we were. Everyone there was united by their passion for travel in some way. It was easy to meet new faces and mingle with old travel friends.

The other speakers truly impressed me. Frank Castro has had an interesting career in the adventure, nature travel space, coordinating tours and on-the-ground logistics for premier tour operators around the world. Sarah Haywood was on the other end of the spectrum–a truly nomadic artist that has developed her passion for light photography into a cool, conceptual brand called Moon Scribe.

When I got up there, I tried to be as open, honest and helpful as I could because I wanted those that attended to get something out of it. I spoke about my beginnings starting a travel magazine in college, interning at National Geographic Adventure and later switching over to travel video in 2008, where I joined a small start up called Tripfilms.

We discussed favorite trips (Papua New Guinea, Cartagena), where I want to go next (everywhere) and places I recommend to everyone (Istanbul!). The questions after my talk were really educated and clever and it was great being in a room of inspired people.

If you are curious about other Travel Talks, head over to the #TravelwithMeaning site for the next ones!

 

Here is a clip of my answer to the first question:

Keep rocking all you travelers out there.

xo Kelley

Jetsetter Style: My Summer Essentials

It is the best time of the year! Personally, summer is my spirit season–I love the beach, the barbecues, the laidback attitudes, summer Friday’s, summer vacation… And even though I’m not on summer break, I still have been bitten by the summer lovin’ bug.

Since we are in the throes of summer, my focus has been on what makes life easier and better for these hot, sandy months. I’ve been traveling a lot at the beginning of the summer and now, finally hitting pause of the far off travel to focus on local fun, catching up on life and seeing my friends finally. Since home is Santa Monica, CA, these 3 products have GREATLY improved my life–in fashion and in fun!Just a quick note: Since traveling is my full-time gig, whatever I buy has to work for my trips & shoots too–I’m happy to say these do!

 

BEACH WARDROBE: Island Company

Just the name invokes the image of swaying palm trees and endless beaches. I’ve been attracted to Island Company ever since I first read their iconic Quit Your Job slogan. In many ways, I feel that Island Company embodies my philosophy on life and my passion for beaches, islands and warm weather. Though I don’t think everyone should actually ‘quit their jobs,’ I do support the idea that life is too short to waste it doing a job that doesn’t fulfill you. I luckily figured that out early on and struck out on a somewhat atypical career because it inspired me.

Quit Your Job Buy a Ticket

So with that in mind, their clothing is very much on brand with the laidback, carefree island vibe. The materials are often linen and all are lightweight. Sizing is a little on the billowy, flowy side. I feel the cuts are flattering yet very tasteful. And most of all, I appreciate that all the styles are classically chic. They don’t cater to every trend of the moment but focus rather on the classics that always look good. Their linen button down and linen shorts will look just a sharp in 100 years as they do now. They also serve as great travel clothes, being so lightweight and easy to wear in almost any warm weather situation.

Island Company Beach Clothes

If you want to know my specific list of favorites from Island Company, I will have a full blog post on each item. I will list each piece that I’ve tried and why it is considered one of my new summer favorites!

SHADES FOR GOOD: Fello Eyewear

If we all are going to need sunglasses, wouldn’t you rather buy a pair that actually help others in need? For every pair sold, Fello Eyewear donates to VOSH International, a non-profit organization dedicated to bring the gift of sight to people around the world that need it. Not only can you feel good when you buy these still, very affordable glasses, the styles are super cute too!

They have fun bamboo styles, like this blue mirrored lens pair that I love: Beech. Their classic line includes aviators and a retro style, which I really like in this black/gold combo here: Black Konvoy.

Personally, my light hair looks better with brown or tortoise and I knew that I wanted a classic look with a twist. I found my perfect pair in their Konvoy Tortoise. They are very well-crafted and feel sturdy and durable. I like the gold accents and slightly hipster look. They also go with everything!

By the way, all the glasses are polarized so you are keeping your eyes safe too!

 

WEEKEND PLAYTIME: Beachmate

Beachmate

My friend Sally making sand castles in Newport Beach

I go to the beach at least once a week when I’m home in Santa Monica, or more. We usually take our backpack chairs, reading material, towels and lots of water. However, if we are planning on having a drink or two on the beach, we now always bring down the Beachmate. This monogrammed bag is the epitome of compartmentalization. Not only does it have shovels  and sand castle toys, it also has a cooler! We don’t have any kids yet but I can see how this bag will make the young ones, and the adults, both very happy.

Beachmate pup

Sally’s incredible dog, Samson

What are some of your summer must haves? I am always looking for new eco-friendly brands and interesting ways to beat the heat! Leave your tips in a comment below!

Happy Summer!

xo Kelley

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Sunset Beach, Oahu

Oahu, Hawaii Travel Guide

I was positively giddy as I caught sight of those volcanic islands erupting from the expanse of blue out my airplane window. It was only my second time to Hawaii, my first trip being to Maui a few months earlier, and now I was going to be making Honolulu my home for one week. As I was traveling solo, I did a lot of research and created a pretty packed itinerary. I wanted to see, eat, hike, swim and explore as much as I possibly could.

oahu from the plane

Working with the Oahu Tourism Board definitely gave me a leg up on awesome activities and standout restaurants. But I dove in even deeper, reading blog posts from my travel blogger friends, watching videos from travel vlogger buds (thanks Cailin!) reaching out to those that I know visit Oahu often (looking at you Captain & Clark) and profiling all the Yelp and Tripadvisor reviews that I could find.

 

Ready for a day of exploring!

 

WHAT TO DO: 

Explore the North Shore

For me, renting a car and being able to explore was paramount to my whole trip. I found the driving to be relatively easy, though there is more traffic than expected and by the way, the island is big! It especially came in handy when I set off for a day of exploring the famous North Shore. A good hour drive from Honolulu, I took in some incredible mountain scenery and had the freedom to stop and take photos along the way.

North Shore Drive

North Shore Drive

Definitely head into Haleiwa to check out the cute shopping and great restaurants of this cowboy-meets-hippie surf town. I also stopped at beautiful beaches, saw the famous Banzai pipeline, hiked, swam in waterfalls and basically had one of my favorite days!

 

 

Under the Wahii waterfall

Swim under the Waterfall in Waimea Valley

For that waterfall I was talking about, head to Waimea Valley. This is not the hidden, off the beaten path waterfall that I was expecting. It actually is very much on the beaten path, but as I arrived early (around 10am) the crowds were pretty light. The valley spans 1800 acres and is a sacred site in Hawaiian culture. There is an admission to get in ($16 USD), but you also get to walk through a beautiful botanical garden and see ancient archaeological sites.

The Waihī Waterfall

The Waihī Waterfall

However, most people go here for the waterfall. An easy walk on a paved path takes you to a 45 foot waterfall, Waihī. With lifeguards and mandatory life jackets, this is not the rugged waterfall in the woods that I had hoped for, but jumping into the cool water and swimming under the falling water made me forget about all the other tourists, at least for a few moments.

 

On top of the pillbox

On top of the pillbox

Hike Lanikai Pillbox Trail

Diamond Head gets all the fame but I much prefer the Lanikai Pillbox trail. The dusty trail starts steep but once get to the top of the ridge, all you have are 365 degree views. The Pacific and postcard worthy Mokulua Islands are on one side, and the lush Oahu interior on the other. And of course, you have to check the colorfully graffitied pillbox. These WWII bunkers have been given a facelift by local street artists, and I personally think that the graffiti added to their charm. You can climb inside of them, climb on top or just snap a photo, but they definitely added to the magic of this hike.

What a view!

What a view!

 

Go to a Luau 

Hawaii is known for luaus and having never done one, I was excited to start at the top. With the Royal Hawaiian being one of Oahu’s most famous, historical hotels, I was so excited to get to experience my first luau here. Oh, and did I mention this luau is oceanfront! The hotel has a special grass lawn that rolls out onto the beach for this Hawaiian feast and performance.

Aha Aina Luau at the Royal Hawaiian

Aha Aina Luau at the Royal Hawaiian

I suggest paying up for the premier seating so you can have full view of the fantastic dancing and performances. This show is called “Aha Aina” and it actually tells a story of the Helumoa, the ancient playground of Hawaiian royalty on the ground where the show takes place! In addition to the talented performers, there was a lovely live band and an entertaining emcee. Not only that, nature puts on a show as well when the setting sun turns the sky a beautiful shade of pink over the ocean–not unlike the iconic pink of the Royal Hawaiian Resort itself.

Quite the plate

Quite the plate

This certainly is a feast too. The buffet spread was impressive in size and in quality. It included fresh, Hawaiian dishes like locally caught fish, poke and kalua pork. I felt that each offering was just as delicious and well presented as a made to order restaurant and the dessert spread was the cherry on top. All the drinks were great too–I loved the mai tais but was glad to see top shelf wines and spirits available too.

I attended a Monday evening show, but they also now have Thursday night shows. I highly suggest you book early and show up early to guarantee that you’ll get the best spot!

Experience the luau with me in my video below!

 

WHAT BEACHES TO VISIT:

Sunset Beach, Oahu

Sunset Beach

Sunset Beach

You know when you look around you and literally gasp at how beautiful some place is? That place is Sunset Beach. It was hot and I had just hiked so I was in desperate need of a dip in the ocean. Using my Google maps, I pulled off on what said Sunset Beach, having no expectations. I was simply blown away by this magical slice of paradise. Crystalline, white sand, turquoise gentle waters and very few people scattered around–I couldn’t believe what I’d found! Needless to say, I stayed on this beach for hours. I didn’t have time to stay for the sunset, but I know I’ll be returning to this beach some day.

Kailua Beach

Kailua Beach

Kailua Beach

This was my go-to beach–I came here twice during my week on Oahu and found it to be just right both times. I loved that it is mostly populated with locals and travelers “in the know” as it the entrance is somewhat hidden. On the beach, I saw a high school girls outrigger team practicing, which I decided is the coolest high school sport around. The main attraction though was the clean, white sand, the crystal waters and lack of waves. It was very calm and the water is so clear you can see the fish darting by your toes. I also have to mention that the view of the two islands from the beach really adds to that remote tropical paradise feel. Parking on the residential streets near the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it entrance is free and usually pretty easy to find.

Sunset on Waikiki Beach

Sunset on Waikiki Beach

Waikiki Beach

Of course you will see Waikiki Beach and you should. The sunset there is simply stunning. However, it is a crowded beach in the water and on the sand. Hotels and restaurants line it so it can be tricky to walk the whole thing without being blocked by a hotel. However, if you need a quick dip and some refreshing sun, it does the trick. I also was told the waves there are a great for beginner surfers.

 

WHERE TO EAT:

Mahina & Suns

Located in the trendy, impeccably decorated Surfjack Hotel, Mahina & Suns is the type of place you want to go to every week. I felt like I was in a living room of a really cool, stylish friend. Located just off the pool, the restaurant was busy, mostly with locals and outside guests. The word about their food is out! I’d love to try their breakfast and lunch next, but I was blown away by their dinner. This is a casual restaurant with serious food. The menu focuses on “elevated home-cooking,” which basically means the type of stuff Hawaiian mamas make, but even better.

Incredible cocktails at Mahina & Suns

Incredible cocktails at Mahina & Suns

Having a hard time choosing between Kauai Shrimp & Grits, the Kuahiwi Ranch burger or the Naked Pig Pizza, I caved and ordered the Mahina family feast. This feast starts with kualoa oysters, then moves on to a whole snapper, either steamed or fried, plus a slew of local sides like delicious roasted roots. I opted for the steamed preparation, which had an Asian flair in it’s soy dressing.This snapper was a beauty to behold and even more delicious to eat. It was more than enough food for two people–I had to take some home in a doggie bag. I didn’t even get to the second best part, the dessert! The macadamia nut pavlova with fruit and cream was like eating a heavenly cloud. The only frustrating part was at this point, I was already quite full.

Mahina & Suns Family Feast

Mahina & Suns Family Feast

Their cocktails were the best I had on the island. Do yourself a favor and order the Unkle’s Rum Punch. If you need any more convincing, they also have live music every night!

 

Pioneer Salon

After my hike up Diamond Head, I was looking for a nearby restaurant that offered the signature Hawaii Plate Lunch. I wanted something fast, fresh and casual. Step in: Pioneer Salon. From the start, I loved this place. Maybe because of the quirky taxidermy and laidback, tongue-in-cheek vibe of the interior or maybe it was because half the menu is scrawled on scraps of paper and slapped on the wall. But I could see that this was a local favorite and for a Tuesday lunch, it was quite busy.

Pioneer Saloon

Pioneer Saloon

You order at the counter and there are an overwhelming number of options. As the menu skews Japanese, I went with a local Miso Black Cod plate, which came with rice and a side. You can pay extra for brown rice, which I’d recommend as it had delicious little beans in them. I found the fish to be fresh and flavorful and the portion was a good size. Note that since it’s all made to order, it is not the quickest lunch around but it is definitely high quality. Though it was expensive, I felt like it was worth the money.

 

Kono's on Kailua Beach

Kono’s on Kailua Beach

Kono’s

I still think about this kalua pork on a regular basis. There are several Kono’s on Oahu but I checked out the one in Kailua. Known for their surfer atmosphere and 12 hour slow roasted kalua pork, I stopped in for a lunch to-go. Though the “Breakfast Bombers” looked tempting, I had the “Pig on Grass,” which was a mesclun salad with a pile of kalua pork on top. I brought this to the beach and enjoyed every last bite on the sand.

 

The Local's natural shave ice

The Local’s natural shave ice

The Local Shave Ice

Nearby in Kailua is The Local shave ice shop. I actually entered a surf shop to find that The Local shared a space next door. Attracted by their cute logo, I walked over and I’m very glad I did. I was told by the friendly staff that The Local uses only fruits grown on the island and all their syrups are homemade and natural. I have to say, I was previously turned off by the brightly colored, artificially flavored shave ices I had tried around Hawaii and this one was a breath of fresh air. Getting to choose three flavors, I tried Kula Strawberry, Pineapple and Ginger. It was extremely refreshing and not too sweet. Thank you for changing my mind about shave ice, The Local!

 

Leonard's malasadas

Leonard’s malasadas

Leonard’s Bakery

Friends told me I had to go to Leonard’s to try their malasadas. What is a malasada? Good question. This doughy, sugar covered dessert is a Portuguese specialty and basically, a really good, large donut. I waited in line at the retro, pink and white striped bakery for a chance to taste these treats. I chose three flavors out of their many–chocolate, coconut and cinnamon. Still warm, I tried each one in my car and got sugar everywhere, but it was worth it. The cinnamon was classic and delicious but the rich chocolate filled one was my favorite. I didn’t like the coconut because it had an artificial taste to it. Overall, these were good but knowing that they weren’t very natural with their flavors definitely made me dock a point.

 

WHERE TO DRINK:

 

Maui Brewing Company

An upper level, huge restaurant right on the strip in Waikiki, the Maui Brewing Company was popping on a Wednesday night. I had been to their Maui location and had enjoyed the calm, dark bar scene and a flight of beers. This restaurant was a whole different animal. Huge, modern and jam-packed, I couldn’t believe this was the same chain. However, busy usually means good and in this case, it definitely did.

The watermelon martini and fish taco

The watermelon martini and fish taco

The only seat I could get was at the bar, but as I was dining solo, this was perfect. As I am not a huge beer fan, I was attracted by the coral colored martinis the bartender was pouring. When I inquired, I found out that they were spicy watermelon martinis called “The Street Fighter.” Yes please! These were so good, I had to order a second one.

The food was also incredible. They have a more robust menu than the previous pub menu I experience on Maui and I was impressed with all the options. Wanting something lighter, I opted for the Fresh Mahi Tacos. I could taste how local the fish was and it was only elevated by being on homemade, soft corn tortillas, with a healthy dollop of guacamole. And they give you 4! Overall, I had a great experience with the food and would come back with friends for a rowdy, tasty night.

 

Duke's Waikiki mai tai

Duke’s Waikiki mai tai

Dukes Waikiki

It’s touristy, it’s crowded but it IS right on the beach and the mai tais are incredible. I’ve been to three Duke’s at this point: Duke’s Malibu, Duke’s Maui and now, Duke’s Waikiki. I was pleasantly surprised with the nice service and the mai tais are the best here. My fish tacos were a little lacking but did the job. The ambiance is fun and happy–people seem ready to party here!

 

Drinks with a view of surfers at The Point

Drinks with a view of surfers at The Point

The Point, Turtle Bay Resort

I made a point (pun intended) to check out this resort around sunset when I was on the North Shore. I have to say, the resort itself was a bit underwhelming, but the location of the outdoor bar, The Point, was spot-on. I had front row views of this perfect surf break and took in an expensive cocktail as the surfers caught wave after wave in front of me. The location alone gets this on the list.

 

WHERE TO STAY:

 

Holiday Inn Express Waikiki

I can’t say enough good things about the budget friendly, brand new Holiday Inn Express Waikiki. Just a few blocks back from Waikiki Beach, the location is close enough to the action for easy walking but removed enough for a less hectic feel. The open air lobby is inviting and well designed and the rooms were simple but great. I loved the clean, plush bed and the water views. The coffee maker, mini fridge and modern, all white bathroom were definite standouts.

Holiday Inn Express Waikiki rooms

Holiday Inn Express Waikiki rooms

 

Daily included breakfast was consistently solid, with fried eggs, make your own pancakes, cereals, yogurts, fruit and more. Plus, the dining area featured a lovely, lush patio.

Skydeck at the Holiday Inn Express Waikiki

Skydeck at the Holiday Inn Express Waikiki

Definitely the highlight of this hotel is the 5th floor skydeck. A large swimming pool, whirlpool, deck chairs and cabanas await you and make it easy to lounge here for the day. The kid in me also loved the miniature golf and shuffleboard set up. On this level, there is access to a very well-equipped, spacious fitness center as well.

Mini Golf at the Holiday Inn Express Waikiki

Mini Golf at the Holiday Inn Express Waikiki

Overall, I think you get a lot of bang for your buck by staying here when you visit Honolulu.

 

Honolulu from the top of Diamond Head

Honolulu from the top of Diamond Head

 

This pretty much sums up my favorite things on Oahu. That was quite the week!

If you have any questions, please leave a comment and I’d be happy to give my personal opinion and more tips. Just writing this has made me start to wonder how soon I can get back to that island…

I love you Oahu!

I love you Oahu!

 

xoxoxo

Kelley

BEST JOB ON THE PLANET FINALIST!

I am so excited to share this with everyone! So back in March, numerous friends from all over, kept sending me this think link to ThirdHOME’s Best Job on the Planet. This job entailed going to 12 different destinations and staying in 12 luxury dream homes for one week each, profiling each through social media, blog and video. Expenses and a nice salary included. It’s no wonder that this job listing caused quite a stir in the media, across blogs and across the world. It seemed to good to be true…

Wait, before I go any further. Have you heard of ThirdHOME? Before then, I’d heard about it through my brother, as it’s a luxury house swap website for people with… luxury houses (my Santa Monica apartment doesn’t cut it.) I have to admit, I did spend time drooling on their website at some of the ridiculously awesome homes available for swapping.

But back to the job: I know that these contests get tons of applicants and often end up a hoax or a waste of time. However, after reading the job requirements, especially:  “Must have the ability to understand and appreciate luxury and share your experiences with the world via blogging and vlogging along with other social media outlets,” I realized that this job was meant for me. Not only have I been a full time travel video creator since graduating, but I also have honed my focus on luxury travel. My shows focus on the best hotels in the world, bucket list experiences, high end tour operators, world class food and once in a lifetime travel moments. So… I grabbed my camera and submitted my video to apply. That was round 1.

A few weeks later, a wonderful email popped up in my inbox telling me that I’d beaten out 17,000 other applicants to make it to round 2! HOORAY! Now things were getting more real! I actually let myself dream about winning the job at this point and put all my energy into submitting the next round of materials which included photos, writing samples & answering questions.

best job on the planet finalist

Now, just a few days ago, I received the email I’d been waiting for–Congratulations! You are in Round 3! YEEHAW! The wait was long and I had started to think it was no-go, but I’d always held out a little hope. This email was a relief but let me tell you, now it’s really real. I feel like I’ve been preparing my whole life for this role and I want it BAD! My final task includes making a video which will be put out to a public vote on June 15th. I have to go back to prepping for my video shoot but I wanted to share that with you all so you can follow along with this journey.

Once the video is live and contest has started, I’ll share how to vote. Please check back on June 15th–every vote is going to count!

Local Life in Cuba

I’ve been intrigued by Cuba ever since I could remember, mostly because my dad was always playing Cuban records around the house. And as I grew up to be a travel journalist, my fascination with this musical, vibrant island nation only increased. Finally, I was given my chance to see Cuba for myself. We based ourselves in Havana for a whirlwind 48 tour of the city.
The best part was all of our experiences were taken from recommendations from locals. Cuba Travel Services facilitated these interaction so we could meet several locals each day, ask questions and get to know Havana through their eyes.
This video should give you a little more insight than guidebooks, as we went off the beaten path. We met local children in an afterschool program, where they practice and perform circus acts. We cruised the Malécon in vintage American cars at sunset. We also danced, drank and ate throughout our days and nights in this exuberant city.

Get Lost in Munich

Get Lost in Germany with Kelley Ferro web series sponsored by Germany Tourism

From the highest peaks, to the rowdiest beer halls to the loveliest outdoor gardens, Kelley takes her show to Germany to discover the best sights, bites & things to do in Munich, Bavaria and Cologne.
THIS EPISODE: Kelley explores the Bavarian capital city of Munich and shows her top picks for what you must do in this historic, beer filled, cultural city! From the Eisbach surfing wave, to the Viktualienmarkt, to donning a dirndl at Lola Paltinger, or even digging in to some pretzels & beer at Hofbrauhaus–she takes you to Munich’s finest!

Holiday Inn Express Waikiki Poolside

Oahu Hotel Review: My Stay at the Holiday Inn Express Waikiki

Six hours of flying over nothing but blue, it was almost a surprise to see the dark, jagged peaks shooting out of the Pacific Sea. These tiny islands were Hawaii and I was going to spend a week on one of them, Oahu. As we passed over the capital city of Honolulu, I got very giddy and was eager to start exploring. Luckily, the commute from the airport was fast and already I was in the bustling beachside Waikiki, pulling up to my hotel, the Holiday Inn Express Waikiki.

Oahu From Above Honolulu Waikiki

I am a hotel snob. I also produce and host a show by the same name, (check out an episode here: Hotel Snob). I’ve been able to stay, experience and review some of the world’s most famous and luxurious properties. Needless to say, it takes a lot for a hotel to impress me. This will be the first Holiday Inn Express stay ever and I have to say, I sure hope it is not the last. I was blown away by my overall experience. I know that when I return to Oahu, I’d stay at the Holiday Inn Express Waikiki in a heartbeat.

Holiday Inn Express WaikikiFrom the get-go everything was just easy. First of all, as I’m a IHG Rewards Club member, I booked this stay all on points, with 35,000 points a night. No money spent! There is another property that I could have stayed at all on points, the Holiday Inn Resort Waikiki Beachcomber. However, I found that my points went further at the Holiday Inn Express Waikiki and as it is a brand new hotel, I figured I’d enjoy the brand new rooms and facilities.

Holiday Inn Express Waikiki Room

Parking was right in the hotel, I had a quick check-in with the cheerful front desk attendant, and many friendly alohas as I walked through the modern lobby. A lightning quick elevator ride to the 42nd floor took me to my room in no time. It was tasteful, spotless and sizable. I even had a welcome basket waiting for me in my room with local Hawaiian treats like li-hing mango and taro sticks!

Holiday Inn Express Waikiki room View

As is my ritual, I went straight to the window and drew the curtains to check out the view. I could see curve of Waikiki Beach, glittering cityscape and the iconic shape of Diamond Head framing this perfect snapshot of Honolulu. As your room is basically your temporary apartment, it is so important that you feel comfortable. I knew after seeing my new Hawaiian homebase that it was going to be a good week.

 

THE ROOM

Holiday Inn Express Waikiki Hotel Room
Holiday Inn Express Waikiki Mirror SelfieI had two queen beds and both gave a great night’s sleep–yes, I rotated each night! The mattress was not too soft or hard, and there was even a labeled soft and firm pillows, giving me a choice out of the 4 pillows on each bed. No tacky or dirty bedspreads here, just crisp white sheets and duvet covers. Thoughtful reading light fixtures framed the bed, which came in handy at night when I was plotting the next day’s itinerary. A large flat screen faced opposite the bed with a surprisingly wide variety of channels. A funky oversized lamp hung over the stylish indigo armchair, which served as my catch-all of the day’s adventures. And the full size mirror was so useful before I scooted out each day. I even featured it in my Instagram stories with each days’ outfits!

 

A second area housed the cutest little closet I’ve ever seen. It fit all my hanging items with ample hangars. In the same unit was a mini fridge, microwave and coffee maker. I was impressed with how it was all very compact yet it lacked nothing.

The bathroom had an illuminated mirror which was a nice touch, along with Bath & Body Works products. I always had enough towels and they were promptly replaced each day. The shower was pleasant and a good size. I especially appreciated the built-in clothesline which was perfect for drying my bathing suits at the end of each day.

 

 

BREAKFAST

Coffee and banana in the morning and I’m good to go. However I was impressed to see that this free breakfast spread went well beyond that. Cinnamon rolls, DIY pancakes, bagels, yogurt, cereal, sausage, eggs—this was a full on breakfast! I try to eat pretty healthy on the road so I was happy to see nonfat Greek yogurt, apples, bananas, whole wheat toast and even egg whites available. I won’t lie though, I did try the cinnamon roll one day and it was delicious!

Holiday Inn Express Waikiki Breakfast

I especially enjoyed the seating area. This was not a typical cafeteria setting with bad lighting. There was a nice mix of high top and low tables, some larger and some for one or two. Inside, you could sit among palm decor or next to street front windows. However, I chose to sit outside each morning in the exact same spot. It was under a patio umbrella, next to the lush landscaping and with a view of the street. Since I had fast wifi, I could check email, eat breakfast and still be outside in the Hawaiian warmth to start the day. By the way, to-go coffee cups are available if you are like me and want to take a cup on the road. All you have to do is ask the courteous staff and they are more than happy to hook you up.

WIFI
As an IHG Rewards Club, all wifi is free (as it should be). Whether I was in the room, the lobby or the breakfast area (indoor and out), it was also very speedy. I could even upload videos! Too often hotels have poor wifi which can be really frustrating when you have limited time to be online.

PARKING
As I mentioned, parking was a big asset as this area of town can be challenging to find parking spots. The same elevator takes you to the parking lot and off you go to explore. It fills up at the end of the day but I always managed to find a spot–even on the day that I returned later from the North Shore and hunted out the very last space available.

 

POOL

Holiday Inn Express Waikiki Pool Rooftop
To me, a rooftop pool is major sign of luxury. I was absolutely amazed when I stepped out on the Skydeck. I was greeted by a large, deep pool with adjacent rectangular hot jet spa. The jet spa could fit a number of people without being cramped and was nice if you were in the shade and needed to warm up.

Holiday Inn Express Waikiki Poolside

Cute turquoise lounge chairs bookended either side of the pools, giving you many options of where to relax. There were a number of chairs so I could find my own quiet area and never felt stressed about getting a chair. You could also opt for one of the intimate cabanas for more shade and privacy. Decorated with bougainvillea and palms, I felt the pool area was classy, simple and chic. The pool attendant was more than helpful, providing extra towels and making sure the pool area was cleaned and orderly.

 

MINIATURE GOLF

Holiday Inn Express Waikiki Mini Golf Rooftop
I absolutely love miniature golf and I have played in quite a few places. You could say, I’m a bit of mini golf snob as well. I was very pleasantly surprised that the 9 hole course on the roof was not tacky or worn out, which they often can be. Rock features, palm trees and a giant faux pineapple gave the tropical ambiance and each hole was actually a fun challenge. It didn’t feel childish in any way, actually I only saw adults playing! The attendant just hands you a club and your bright ball and off you go.

 

GAMES

Holiday Inn Express Waikiki games Rooftop
Next to the mini golf, the outdoor giant chess and shuffleboard add to the Skydeck amusements.
On the other side of the roof there’s also foosball and ping pong tables, which I plan to utilize on my next visit when I bring a partner.Holiday Inn Express Waikiki games Rooftop

Inside, there’s also a game room but not the kind with old board games. Personal leather couch seats faced large flat screens each with WII consoles. With 4 seats, there could be a group challenge or Mariokart race in here. Holiday Inn Express seems to know what the kids today really want.

 

GYM

Holiday Inn Express Waikiki Gym
Dark, stuffy, old— hotel gyms are often disappointing. The Holiday Inn Express’ gym was the opposite. Light, airy and brand new, the many types of equipment were housed in a large L shaped room, lined with floor to ceiling windows. The equipment seemed to be top of the line with ellipticals, treadmills, bikes and an erg machine—all within viewing distance of one of the multiple flat screens throughout the gym.

Holiday Inn Express Waikiki Gym

A separate weight area was perfect for abs and strength training, with a number of matts, benches, weights and medicine balls. I also liked that the gym had a pretty view of the pool! It is open 24 hours so I was happy to sneak in some early morning workouts before I set out for the day’s adventures.

 

SERVICE

The housekeepers were some of the sweetest and chattiest I’ve ever encountered. They always were pleasant in the elevators and my room was always cleaned promptly, giving me extra toiletries, coffee refills and towels. The breakfast staff was more than helpful and the food & beverage manager himself gave me some great personal tips for exploring the North Shore. All the staff were so friendly but it didn’t feel forced. Everyone genuinely seemed filled with the Aloha spirit.

 

LOCATION

Holiday Inn Express Waikiki Location
What a perfect spot! Not only could I easily walk to the shops and restaurants of Waikiki, there was a trolley stop outside the door. I also liked that there was a small food market and coffee shop right next to the hotel. I think the Holiday Inn Express Waikiki actually benefits from being a block or two away from the crowds, cars and noise of the Waikiki strip. It was a nice oasis to come home to each night, without fighting herds of people. I also took a morning run, and with the ideal location, I could run along the nearby canal and the beach.

 

SAFETY
As a female solo traveler, I found the area to also be very safe. There were always people around, bright lights, a trolley stop nearby and UBERS/LYFTS were always available.
Even when I was getting in the car to go somewhere, the highways were very close by. Though the lobby is open air, it was always monitored by security guards and plenty of staff members.

 

EXTRAS

Holiday Inn Express Waikiki market
The little things really added to my experience. A filtered water dispenser so you can refill water bottles. An orchid garden and bubbling pond at the entrance. A lobby mini market with useful toiletries, beverages, snacks and even make in your room meals. There were even a bunch of fresh waters in my mini fridge when I checked in. The Holiday Inn Express has you covered before you even realize what you needed.

Holiday Inn Express Waikiki market

The IHG Rewards Club also applies to other hotel brands, like Intercontinental and Kimpton. There are 5000 hotels in almost 100 countries actually. Though I usually keep all my points for hotel stays, I was excited to see that I could also redeem for flights or even donate to a charity. There’s also number ways to earn points like signing up for cards, using UBER, shopping or dining. Seems like there’s a reason it is the largest loyalty program.

Diamond Head Crater Hike

Traveling can be tiring and as I do it for a living, a quality, safe, comfortable and convenient stay becomes more and more important. I feel the Holiday Inn Express Waikiki set me up very well for such a memorable trip to Oahu. Mahalo!

Have you been to Oahu? Have you stayed here? Let me know about your experiences in Waikiki, Oahu and more below!

Note: I’ll be sharing a video of the stay soon! Check back for the link here.

 

**This post was sponsored by IHG.