The Catalina Island Guide For Everyone

My second time visiting Catalina made me fall even more in love with this island just off the Southern California coast. This time around, I was not pregnant and it was one of my first trips away from my infant daughter–meaning MOM WAS OFF DUTY! I was ready to dive into all the experiences on Catalina that I couldn’t do the first time around.

What always gets me is how This island is popular for all types of travelers–from the wee ones to the older set, the luxury seekers to the adrenaline junkies. With 48 hours to enjoy, I chose to do a little bit of everything.

THE OUTDOOR ADVENTURER

Highlights: I enjoyed a whole new perspective of Catalina from the treetops. The Aerial Adventure ropes course has routes for beginners to the experts. The beautifully designed courses subtly blend in with the surrounding nature. Challenge yourself to jump off platforms, maneuver around and balance feet above the ground.

Tips: Work up your confidence by starting with one of the two beginner routes. Once you get the hang of the ropes and clipping/unclipping, you can move on to the intermediate and advanced routes.

Cost: Adults, $49.95, Children/Seniors/Military: $39.95

Also check out: Zipline Eco Tour

THE LUXURY SEEKER

Highlights: The former Wrigley residence, the Mt Ada hotel is only accessible for those staying in one of the 12 guest rooms– unless you have a lunch reservation. Step inside this former Wrigley residence to enjoy a memorable lunch on their wraparound patio, which might be my favorite view of Catalina Island. The three course lunch includes your choice of champagne, wine or beer.

Tips: Take a golf cart up to the hotel for a scenic drive.

Cost: $62 per person

Also check out: the Island Spa Catalina to pamper yourself poolside.

THE WATER BABY

  • Kayaking off of Descanso Beach

Highlights: The waters around Catalina are crystal clear and a stunning turquoise shade of blue. Appreciate their clarity upclose from your own kayak. You can opt for a guided tour or just taking one out on your own and either way, you’ll be rewarded with a breathtaking coastal views and new appreciation for California’s rugged beauty.

Tips: Take the Journey to Frog Rock tour to be treated to insider knowledge on the island and a stop on a breathtaking beach only accessible by boat.

Cost: $22 Single Kayak, $30 Double Kayak; Frog Rock Tour: $54 Adults, Children 25% off

Also check out: Snorkeling

THE HISTORY BUFF

Highlights: I wouldn’t say I seek out every museum when I travel but I am sure glad that I toured the recently built Catalina Museum. The building itself is a work of art and the exhibits are fascinating. Walk through on your own or take a guided tour to learn about the stories that give this island its unique personality. From Hollywood starlets to presidents, baseball heroes to wartime tales–Catalina’s history is truly unexpected and exciting.

Tips: Come for one of their monthly outdoor movie screenings located on the roof. Do not miss the Bird Park exhibit that shares the quirky history of the exotic bird sanctuary that once existed in town.

Cost: $17 Adults/Children (under 15) Free

Also check out: Wrigley’s Catalina

THE FAMILY TRIP

Highlights: Just under the water, there’s a whole new world of marine life. Dive into it without ever getting wet on the Undersea Expedition. It’s a safe, comfortable way for an up close look at the vivid Garibaldi, the impressive kelp forests and maybe an occasional dolphin if you are lucky.

Photo courtesy of Catalina Undersea Adventure

Tips: Be prepared for lots of photo opportunities both in the submersible and above the water when they sail back on the surface.

Cost: $39.95 Adults/$37.95 Children

Also check out: Glass Bottom Boat Voyage

THE FOOD FOCUSED

Highlights: A circular bar, comfortable booths and water views, the Avalon Grille tastes as good as it looks. Menu signatures include the hangar steak and the pan seared scallops and I particularly loved the tempura green beans.

Tips: This restaurant is popular so definitely book ahead. And order yourself a Wrigley Martini for me.

Cost: Appetizers around $18, Entrées around $35

Also check out: Bluewater Grill

IMPORTANT TRAVEL DETAILS

Where to Stay: The Pavilion Hotel

Personally, I wouldn’t want to stay anywhere else. The waterfront location is an easy walk from the ferry and perfectly situated to access all the main spots in Avalon by foot.

I love the tropical courtyard where you can enjoy their included (hearty) breakfast spread in the cool mornings or toast to a fun day next to the fire pits during the complimentary wine hour. The crisp, nautical rooms are spacious and comfortable and the included bike rental was very helpful for getting around.

Cost:  $180 to $350 per night, dependent on season

Getting There: Catalina Express

The ferry ride is half the fun of going to Catalina, in my opinion. With many departures daily, this hour cruise covers the 22 watery miles in just an hour. Sip on bloody marys in the Commodore’s Lounge or soak up the sun on the outer deck. You might even spot a dolphin or a whale! Cost: $74.50 Adult Roundtrip/ $59 Children Roundtrip/ Under 2 years old Free

Is First Class/Business Class better than Economy for a baby?

This came up as a very contentious question when I asked my followers on Instagram. Many were adamantly against First Class with a baby. Some even said that several airlines don’t allow babies in First Class. Others said they 100% would if they could, or have and loved it.

Now, after having used an upgrade for a first class ticket cross country (from Boston to LAX), I feel like I can weigh in properly with my opinion.

Pros

Priority Boarding & Lounge Access

  • No waiting in lines
  • You are able to board last if you want to maximize freedom off the plane (I always do)
  • Some first/business class tickets include lounge access which is nice for food, changing areas and play areas for baby pre-flight

First Class Baby

First Class Baby

More Space

  • Easier to entertain your baby
  • More comfortable to hold her, share the seat or in our case,
  • Or… give the baby the whole seat and you & partner share the other seat, which we did…

First Class Baby

We even let her play a little on the floor. Not my favorite thing but helpful!

More attention by flight attendants

  • They are there to help you with tissues, ice, plastic cups (Rory loves chewing on them) or WINE FOR YOU (which I recommend on these long hauls).

More privacy

  • You can breastfeed easier. This is huge! 
  • You can sing, play games and pass the baby without disturbing others.

Cleaner

  • I am not sure if this is true, but it seems to be a bit cleaner than economy seats.

Better bathrooms

  • Given that a fraction of the amount of people use the first class bathrooms compared to the economy bathrooms, this is definitely true. Also, flight attendants clean it more often.

Cons

  • Annoying other people that paid up for a better experience.
  • It is expensive!

 

My Summary:

If you are able to afford it (or have an upgrade like I did), I DO think it is worth it on longer haul flights. Anything that can make it a little more comfortable for your little one will make it easier on you as a parent.

I do not think that you should worry about bothering others on the flight. Everyone has headphones and in the higher classes, you are further away from others than normal.

I personally think a sick, coughing person is way more offensive than anyone with a baby!

And I have to be honest, the actual first class on our particular United flight was in no way comparable to other first class/business class experiences I’ve had, particularly on international flights. We flew from Boston to LAX during the first week of January and it wasn’t super clean, few extra luxuries, food was not great and staff were just okay. BUT sure did beat the other options!

 

Other Good Options that I recommend (in order of preference):

Bassinet in Economy Bulkhead (alitalia)

Bassinet in Economy Bulkhead (alitalia)

Economy Bulkhead

  • Extra space to move around
  • Bassinet access for babies under 25 lbs
  • Occasionally only 2 seats so no extra person if you are traveling with a partner
  • Easy access to bathrooms & flight attendants
  • *** If you are going to request a bassinet, you have to CALL. Do not expect them to give you one even if you have a ticket with a lap infant. You have to call ahead as they don’t always have them.

Economy Plus Bulkhead

Economy Plus

  • Any bit of more space is key, especially for active, larger or older babies. Mine has always been active and larger for her age and not interested in napping in bright or loud places.
  • Priority boarding helps!
  • Better access to overhead space

Economy: 3 Seats Together

  • If you can buy an extra seat and have 3 seats together, that might be comparable to first class in my opinion!
  • I wouldn’t rely on getting an extra third seat for free as planes, especially high traffic routes between hubs, are often overbooked. Even if it says that the seat is open at check-in, standby passengers often fill it.

And at the end of the day, flying middle seat economy is HARD but doable and always totally worth it (especially when you land!).

 

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree? Tell me below!

Winter in Vermont at the Woodstock Inn and Resort

Each time I go back to my little Vermont hometown, I am reminded that I basically grew up in a storybook. Woodstock, Vermont is a bucolic little village nestled amidst rolling hills, hugging a charming center green and a briskly flowing river.  Stone, brick and cape houses line the ambling streets that make up this 3000 person town, every bend of it steeped in time.

The Woodstock Covered Bridge

The Woodstock Covered Bridge

It’s no surprise that my fellow New Englanders know of Woodstock, VT. I’d even say, many beyond the Northeast are aware of this popular weekend hideaway. For such a small town, its reputation precedes itself — and for good reason.

The hectic, digital day-to-day stresses are buried beneath the quiet splendor of village strolls, breathtaking hikes up Mount Tom or afternoons spent skipping rocks along the river.

Though you do get cell service here now (we didn’t when I was growing up), you just might want to turn off your phone and enjoy the rare and simple pleasures of this place.

When asked about Woodstock, the one word that usually comes to my mind is “quaint.” But don’t get my wrong,  that doesn’t mean it is boring! There’s a lot of energy in this 350 year old town, and every time I return, I see that energy increasing. I’d attribute a lot of that forward progress to the town’s centerpiece, the Woodstock Inn and Resort. (My father runs his jewelry shop in the heart of town, and has for the last 30 years, and he definitely agrees that the Inn is a huge factor in keeping Woodstock so relevant.)

Gillingham’s, the town general store

Some iteration of the Woodstock Inn & Resort has been welcoming guests for 225 years.That is crazy! I’ve traveled all over the world, filming some of the world’s best hotels, and that type of hotel history very is RARE, especially in the USA.

The Inn started out as a small bed & breakfast, and over the centuries continued to expand and gain more and more popularity. In the mid 1900s, Laurance Rockefeller, a former resident of Woodstock, bought the hotel and it was under his leadership for 50 years. He definitely helped to put it on the luxury hotel map, in a big way.

I am very fortunate to have had such a legendary resort in my hometown backyard. It has been part of my family’s story forever, playing host to special dinners, celebratory breakfasts, parties and even prom!

Woodstock Inn during Christmas

It was such a treat to return to the Inn just after Christmas and share this special hotel with my daughter, Aurora. I look for different things in hotels now that I am a mom and I have to say, the Woodstock Inn & Resort surprised me with being exceptionally family friendly. They had undergone expansive improvements when I filmed the property in 2013 for my Get Lost in Woodstock series but now, they’ve added even more luxurious detail to all the public areas and the guest rooms in particular. 

 

Fireside Ambiance

Fireplace at the Woodstock Inn

Fireplace at the Woodstock Inn

Ever since I was a little kid, I was drawn to the oversized fireplace that greets you as walk through the Inn’s entrance. The cozy feeling with the couches and sitting areas, beautiful wall color and attention to detail, makes the entire main area of the Inn so welcoming. I wanted to sit in on each sofa and relax with a cup of tea (you can actually do that during their daily afternoon tea time). We of course didn’t have spare moments for that with a 6 month old, but it was fun to daydream about as I hurriedly walked past these lovely areas with my tired/hungry/active baby. 

 

Legacy Suites

Having a little one with a strict bedtime of 7pm complicates hotel life a bit for us parents. After 7pm, it is lights out (and complete silence) so having an additional room is more than necessary. We absolutely loved the newly renovated Legacy Suite. Ours in particular was the Frederick Billings Suite, the legendary local that was a pioneer in the farm industry and a famous face in Woodstock. It was situated in the main part of the inn and had tasteful decor that highlighted Vermont’s farm history. 

Woodstock Inn & Resort

As you enter, there’s a long tiled hallway to the bedroom and adjoining sitting room. (You can see a walkthrough on my Instagram stories here) I loved how the suite was situated far from the door, with the bedroom set back against a lovely view of the Inn’s snowy backyard. This distance made the whole suite feel more private and like our own apartment as opposed to a hotel room.

Frederick Billings Legacy Suite

The stone bathroom and rain shower with Zents products was modern and chic. The separate sitting room was decorated in rich hues and woods, making it feel like a cozy study. Though it had a wet bar, TV and pull out couch, this room became our daughter, Aurora’s room. The Inn provided a crib and we set up her changing area and toys in here. It was perfect! She happily napped here throughout the day and fell asleep at 7pm each night, and mom & dad could close the door and relax.

We were even able to order room service and hang out for a few more hours with my parents while Aurora happily dozed next door. This is a parents’ dream! We had the best of the Inn’s dining and didn’t have to disrupt our daughter’s sleep. 

Room Service dinner with the parents!

 

Red Rooster

Breakfast at the Red Rooster

What a delicious way to start the day! My parents met us here at The Red Rooster for breakfast and we all followed our noses to the two rooms filled with a sumptuous breakfast buffet. Fresh fruits, made-to-order omelets, a variety of homemade pastries and specially crafted breakfast treats awaited our empty plates. I was especially excited to see the giant, serve yourself maple syrup stand! (As a Vermonter, it runs in my veins of course 😉 

VT SYRUP! YES PLEASE!


Happiest Hour

A favorite of my parents’ for decades, Richardson’s Tavern has not lost any of its signature warm ambiance. The dimly lit room is where you want to be to unwind fireside after a wintery day, holding a drink and enjoying pub style bite.

Red Rooster Cocktail Bar

Red Rooster Cocktail Bar

I also was impressed by the newer bar at the Red Rooster. A brighter version of the tavern, the bartender makes excellent cocktails here and I loved the elegant style of this space and its marble bar.

 

Retro Game Room

Game Room at the Woodstock Inn

Retro Game Room at the Woodstock Inn

Even in the game room, the Inn retains its personality here. This classy area showcased working vintage pinball machines and a long wooden shuffleboard table. There was a pool table, a fireplace and more–no wonder it was packed! These games might have been out of Aurora’s age range, but hey, they sure entertained her competitive parents very well.

 

Woodstock Athletic Club

I am very familiar with the Woodstock Inn’s Athletic Club as I used to be a part of the Woodstock’s high school tennis team and these were our home courts. All guests of the Inn have free access to the pool, gym, tennis courts and workout classes. We opted to take a dip in the pool as Aurora finds pool time SUPER exciting. I think she thinks we are all taking a big bath with her. We splashed around and enjoyed ourselves for a morning.

 

Suicide Six Ski Area

We left Aurora with her grandma and myself, my husband and my dad hit the slopes of Suicide Six! My first time of skis was on this bunny hill and I spent too many afternoons and weekends skiing all these trails with my dad and friends throughout the years.

Located just 15 minutes from the Inn, this mountain is perfect for those that are into a fun, laidback day on the slopes. A brand new quad eliminated any lines for us and their snowmaking and grooming made for excellent conditions on the trails that were open.

Skiing with my dad at Suicide Six, like I did as kid!

By no means is this a large mountain, but its trails are beautifully cut through the forest (I even saw animal tracks as I skiied down). The classic lodge makes you feel like you are back in time and reminded me that this is one of the oldest ski areas in the country.

 

Billings Farm & Museum

Aurora did join us for a tour of Woodstock’s signature Billings Farm & Museum. It was so nice that the Woodstock Inn provides all guests with free entry to this unique local historical site and working dairy farm.

We did a self guided tour of the stables, the goat shed, chicken coop and cow barn. DO NOT MISS THE BABY COW NURSERY. It might be one of the cutest, up close experiences I’ve ever had baby animals. The baby cows were unbelievably friendly and social–they kept licking Aurora and nibbling on my clothes. She (and I) was shrieking with delight!

We were fortunate to make the talk about cows with a farmer in the dairy barn. Aurora’s eyes widened as she viewed her first full grown cow. The farmer on site gave us a lot of amazing information about these cows, how Billings Farm cares for them, their breeding, and their personalities! Aurora and I even got to brush one! 

It was with a heavy heart that we checked out and had to bid farewell to Woodstock. However, just like it has been throughout my life, the Woodstock Inn & Resort was the perfect backdrop to so many special memories with my parents, my husband and especially, our daughter.

I still cannot speak more highly of this resort’s appreciation for its out-of-towners as well as its locals. 

There’s something about the energy of this hotel that just brings about the most joyful times, no matter what time of year.

On our next visit, Aurora will be walking (!) and I am sure that we will have a whole different story to tell! Hopefully, more baby cows and maple syrup will be included. 

 

 

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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Best (and worst) Food in Setouchi, Japan

I am not ashamed to admit that the quality and variety of food factors greatly into my overall impression of a place. As someone that seeks out groceries and restaurants that are as clean and close to the source as possible, I have high expectations when I travel. To be honest, I often find that international destinations actually do have less processed cuisine than use over here in America.

Miyajima street eats

Well my experience in Japan took local food to a whole new level. I had been to Japan once before, exploring the Tohoku Region with CNN. It was there that I realized that Japanese food is not just sushi. However, the sushi still is really good but on this 2 week exploration in Setouchi, I had two very good reasons to push the boundaries of the culinary side of Japan.


Firstly, we were shooting one entire episode just on the best local food and local drinks in the Setouchi region. Secondly, I was pregnant during the entire shoot, which greatly limited my fish intake to those with low levels of mercury (and I hate to say it, a lot of seafood around the world is very high in mercury). So I was ready to dive into noodles, tempura, local game, river fish and various wild looking snacks that I grabbed from street vendors on the way.

You can watch the video to go deep into all the top dishes, restaurants and traditional cuisine of Setouchi. However below, I’m going to recap my personal favorites.

 

Udon Noodles: Thick and Thin

I got quite the education in Japanese noodles. I had no idea how many types of noodles this country could lay claim too! Also, many of the regions in Japan have their own signature noodle. In Setouchi, it was udon. To understand the intricacies of this chewy, satisfying, slurpy noodle, we went to the source: the Nakano Udon School.

Nakano Udon School

 There, classroom style, we learned about udon, from the ingredients to the finished product. Our very entertaining teacher was strict, in a funny way, and she required that after we prepared our noodle dough out of flour, salt and water, we had to wrap it and dance on it to make it soft. Yes, dance. She blasted “YMCA” and other 70s dance hits, all while yelling at us to keep dancing.

I definitely burned off the calories to eat my creation, which we did at the end. After the dancing, we flattened and then folded the noodles so we could cut into long, even strands. Mine weren’t as perfect as hers, but they did taste good!

Hiroshima Udon

We also ate super thick, gelatinous Shinsho-ji Udon at a Gokando, a beautiful garden in the Hiroshima prefecture. The was a whole different style of udon, rolled as thick as 3 straws and placed in a communal hot water pail. From there, we used wide chopsticks to fish out one long noodle strand and place it in our own bowl. There was a selection of delicious toppings, which you can add to your taste. I loved the salts and chilis!

Shinshoji udon

 

Soba Noodles (Handmade by a singing mountain local)

I love all sorts of noodles but I think that Japanese soba noodles are my favorites. I love the buckwheat flour used in them, giving them that earthy flavor and grainy texture. I also usually love the salty broth that they are served in. 

My favorite soba noodle award goes to the lovely woman below, who cooked a lunch feast for us in her home/restaurant in the Iya Valley.

Handmade Soba in Iya valley

Located on the edge of a cliff road, we took off our shoes and walked into what felt like her home (her home actually was attached). She watched us with delight as we ate all the deliciousness that she had prepared for us, including heaps of these soba noodles.

Our dessert? A song! She was a famous singer and unprompted, she stood up and starting singing a ballad in Japanese. Now that is a memorable way to end a meal.

 

Matcha Tea

Matcha tea iyaI drank copious amounts of tea while in Japan–it is served at every meal! But I developed a new love of matcha tea when we tried it at a roadside stop of another tiny mountain town in the Iya Valley. We were welcomed in with song, dance and costume by the proprietor, a spry, smiley older woman that is known for her enthusiasm.

Matcha Green Tea Iya Japan

She showed me how to grind the matcha using a traditional grinder, then she placed heaping spoonfuls in my cup, covering them with hot water.

As I sipped this rich, green liquid, she pointed out the window at the verdant mountainside across the river. That was where the tea leaves of this same matcha were grown. It only made it taste that much better.

 

Tempura

I’d had tempura before in the States so I thought I “knew” tempura. Well, I was wrong. Tempura in Japan is not the thick or greasy style that I’d had before. It is instead, delicately battered and just lightly fried, which only brings out the flavor of whatever delicious vegetable, starch or meat that was lucky enough to be “tempura-ed.” I loved all the tempura vegetables that we tried specifically the lotus, pumpkin and squash.

Tempura Shrimp Onomichi

However, I think my favorite was the tempura shrimp which we enjoyed in Onomichi (see above). The most exotic? Tempura wild deer. It was actually delicious!

 

Shabu-shabu

What a perfect meal! Shabu-shabu is also known as hot pot. It is when a large pot of lightly seasoned broth is served boiling with various raw vegetables, starches and meats. The meat is usually very thinly sliced beef to make for quick cooking. Not only does everything taste so flavorful, it is prepared exactly as you like it! And I love that it felt relatively light since no oil is used!

Shabu Shabu JapanWe enjoyed Shabu shabu feast up in the mountains of the Iya Valley, at our kominka. A local woman prepared so many dishes, in addition to the shabu, all from locally grown, raised and hunted sources. I never wanted to stop eating!

Shabu Shabu Japan

 

 

Kobe Beef

Of course this beef has international acclaim but I have to say, it lives up to the hype. I enjoy a good steak every now and then, but the grass fed, tenderly aged kobe beef is a totally different dish.

We went to Kobe Misono, the restaurant that launched the worldwide chain known as “Benihana.” It was fun because we were able to watch the expertly trained chefs prepare and cook the kobe beef right in front of us. What was impressive was how little was need to transform these perfectly cooked morsels into some of the best meaty bites I’d ever have. Just a little salt, a drop of oil, a sear on all the sides and done. Pop that in your mouth and you’ll know why kobe beef has such a big fanclub.

kobe beef kobe misono

 

Arima Cider Teppo Water

Arima Cider Teppo Water

In the hot spring town of Arima, everything revolves around the legendary hot springs. Not only do you soak in these therapeutic waters, but you can DRINK them too! Grab a bottle of the Arima Cider, made from the local hot spring water, and you’ll feel like a kid again with that bubble gum flavor! I don’t love soda but I did love this drink!

 

Favorite Meal: Kaiseki at Ryokan Kurashiki

There wasn’t one dish that I loved here–it was all of them. The whole 4 hours of this tasting menu experience was made memorable by the exquisite service and talented chefs behind each bite. I shouldn’t be surprised, the Ryokan Kurashiki is known to be one of the most luxurious ryokans in Setouchi! There was no detail overlooked.

Ryokan Kurashiki Kaiseki

The menu is seasonal and since it was late fall, early winter, we enjoyed root vegetables and wild game, as well as locally caught fish. The presentation of each course was mind-blowing. Tiny personal grills allowed us to grill our own meat, individual shabu hot pots and ornate bites displayed in fruits. There was even a wasabi root on the table with a grater so we could grate our own fresh wasabi!

 

….Dishes that I did NOT love:

Just for fun, I wanted to include a few things that I tried that I did not love so much. Every culture is bound to have food that you don’t like (see you later, France’s foie gras) and there are many American dishes that I despise too. But in Japan the list was short. Here are a few.

Kakiwai Miyajima

Fermented Oysters

Miyajima is known for having fresh oysters and you see them in every style. While I don’t go crazy over an oyster, I don’t mind them. However, I found out that I do not like them fermented. We went to a lovely coffeehouse overlooking the slope down to the sea on this magical isle. It was there that I tried their signature fermented oyster. Not only was the visual not appetizing to me, I did not enjoy the taste. I ate it to be polite and of course, for the camera, but to be honest, I did not go back for another bite. Those I was with did like it a lot so clearly it was just a matter of taste.

 

Salt Ice Cream with Red Bean

Salt Ice Cream Red Bean Paste Japan

Ice cream is everything to me so I had to try the popular salt ice cream with red bean paste when we stopped at one of Japan’s roadside food marts (they are incredible by the way!). So the verdict? It definitely looks better than it tastes. This soft serve ice cream is extremely salty–so much so that it was hard to swallow. The slightly sweet red bean paste had little flavor and was an odd textural combo with the ice cream. I didn’t despise it but I definitely didn’t see the appeal, particularly with how much sodium must be in each lick!

 

Calpis Water

Don’t be fooled, this is not water. This opaque, white drink is actually made with milk and lactic acid, so it is fermented milk water. It has a strange, slightly fizzy feel on your tongue and the flavor was not enjoyable in my opinion. I prefer the green teas or sparkling waters that I found at the food marts instead!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Have you tried any of these before? Tell me what you thought!

 

xo

Kelley

Kauai Sheraton Aulii Luau

Top 5 Things to do on Kauai, Hawaii

Hawaii and I are in a serious relationship. We just met last spring, when I first landed in Maui with my husband. We spent 10 days roaming her grassy hills, sand swept beaches and lush jungles. Eager to return and explore more of Hawaii’s shores, I returned to Oahu, just a few months later. This time I was on a film assignment so it was I was accompanied only by my camera. Together with our rental car, we saw all ends of the most populated island–from Waikiki to Kailua to the North Shore.

Maui sunset

Just recently,  exactly one year from my first trip to these paradisiacal islands, I flew back to Hawaii yet again. This time I was visting Kauai. What made it even more special was my mom was joining me. I couldn’t wait for her to experience the state that I loved so much. An added bonus was that since I am pregnant, this was a little mother/daughter babymoon!

Babymoon in Kauai

I’d heard all the rumors that Kauai was “the best” and I assumed that there was a reason that this verdant island was the top pick for honeymooners. But I thoroughly loved Maui and Oahu, both for different reasons; how could Kauai really compete?

From the moment I stepped outside of Kauai’s Lihue airport, I felt a big difference in just the air! The air was fragrant and more humid than other islands. As we drove to the South Shore for our stay at Ko’a Kea Resort, we passed through many lush landscapes which could have been out of Jurassic Park (it was filmed here after all!).

Koa Kea Resort Kauai pool

Our resort was a stylish boutique and it was small–which I loved. It felt totally laid-back and manageable–not a huge box style hotel. Poipu Beach was calm, clean with a good amount of sunseekers, but it not packed to the gills. There was even room for the seals that nap on the beach just about every afternoon.

Driving on Kauai

To me, Kauai is the more rugged, natural and chill version of the other islands. I’d maybe describe it as the hippie little sister with a lot of wild beauty and spiritual depth. In just 6 days, my mom and I put over 1000 miles on our car so it’s safe to say, we covered a lot of ground. However since my mom and I were not in a condition to hike, we limited activities to those accessible by easy walks, drives or boat rides. The following were the five highlights of our trip that I’d recommend to everyone–suitable for all ages and abilities. And next time I return, I plan to embark on some epic hikes, cruise the rivers on kayaks and take to the skies by helicopter.

 

  1. Snorkel with Seals 

Underwater snorkeling Poipu Beach

Poipu Beach is located in the sunny south of the island, which has the least rainfall on the island and thus the best conditions for snorkeling. It also helps that the waves are generally mild, making it family friendly and easy to see the world that is brimming with life just under the water.

Seals on Poipu Beach

I was staying just steps away from this beach at the Ko’a Kea Resort, so it made it easy to head out there each morning when the water was at its glassiest. To my surprise, the schools of brightly colored schools were just steps from the shore. I was barely standing in 4 feet of water and all I had to do was look down to see hundreds of multi hued fish! To be immersed in the marine life, snorkel between the shore and the small island off of the beach. But definitely try to get there early as many tourists know about this spot as well.

Since the seals seem to love to sunbathe on this beach, you might get lucky and be in the water as they pass by. These graceful creatures are still wild and respect them by giving them their space. If one comes near you, don’t try to touch it or swim near them. We are the outsiders in their home so we need to be good guests.

 

  1. Experience a traditional Hawaiian Luau

Aulii Luau Kauai

I love how Hawaii’s history, traditions and stories are still such a strong part of the islands today. The vibrant culture unlike any other state in the USA, let alone any other place in the world. It is so special to see how it is still alive and I think one of the best ways for mainlanders to understand it is through a luau.

Aulii Luau Sheraton Kauai

It was our first night on Kauai, we were lucky enough to attend the Aulii Luau on the South shore. My mom was giddy –this would be her first luau ever and she’d always wanted to experience one. The outdoor party was taking place at the Sheraton Kauai, just steps from their pink sand beach, in a prime spot for one of Poipu’s signature sunsets. The gold, pink, purple and orange of the sunset was just the opening act for a memorable, Hawaiian evening.

Sunset at the Aulii Luau Kauai

We had Premier seating, which allows you reserved seats at one of the front tables. General seating is at one of the long tables further back and it is first come, first served.  I recommend the Premier if you are most interested in dancing. You might be the farthest from the food, but you are closest to the stage and thus can appreciate all the details, especially the expressions on the dancers’ faces!

Kalua Pork Buffet Aulii Luau Kauai

The buffet dinner included a lot of fresh, local dishes and Hawaiian specialities. I tried the purple poi for the first time and enjoyed the kalua pig. Following the meal, there is a whole dessert table. The pineapple upside down cake was the winner there for me! We had to walk to get our own drinks which included mai tais, blue Hawaiian’s and beer and wine options. As I was pregnant, I did not indulge but my mom enjoyed a mai tai and the white wine.

But not surprisingly, the show itself was the best part. The talented dancers gave skilled, emotional performances, each one very different from the one before. The bright and wild, costumes and the tiki stage design was a sensory overload. I particularly loved the coed performance with the grass skirts. And of course, the fire dancer brought the audience to gasps, oohs and ahhs. What a way to spend our first night in Kauai!

 

  1. Cruise the Na Pali Coast by Boat

Na Pali Coast Holo Holo

This might be one of the most well-known areas of the island but no one lives here and there are no roads. The 15 miles of coastline is nature at its most beautiful. Sheer, jagged cliffs, soaring mountains and rocky coves meet the swells of the sea along this magical stretch. It is no wonder that it is such a sacred part in Hawaiian legend.

We chose to explore the coastline by boat. We embarked with Holo Holo Boat Tours, a highly rated  boat tour company that operated out of nearby Port Allen harbor. Our vessel was a 65 foot power catamaran– the island’s fastest tour boat. It was very spacious and had plenty of spaces to sit, which came in handy on this 4 hour tour.

Na Pali Coast Holo Holo Charter

The route was up to the coastline and then back, but along the way, we had quite a surprise show. Whales were jumping out of the water, slapping the surface and diving down deep, showing off their tales. I have been on whale watches before I’d never seen so many whales, so close!

Na Pali Coast tour with Holo Holo

Once we made it to Na Pali, the boat slowed down so we could fully appreciate the drama of this place. Our captain told us more about the landscape, pointing out sites of importance for the Hawaiians and even spotting a sea turtle swimming in a cave. As we cruised back down, the sun was setting and an onboard dinner was served–chips, guacamole, cheese and crackers and some delicious kalua pork tacos. This was a memorable way to spend an afternoon on Kauai and we were happy to have sailed with Holo Holo. Just note, it is a bumpy ride so be prepared for a roller coaster style ride and to get wet!

 

  1. Wake up with Waterfalls and Breakfast Bowls

Acai Bowl Kauai

The island has hundreds of waterfalls in its rich jungles, but there are five that are the most well known for their grandeur and convenience. Since we were not hiking on this trip, we chose the easiest one to drive too: Opaeka’a Falls. Located just near the cute town of Kapaa, you drive just off the main Highway 56 to a convenient parking. From here, you can view the falls from above. The 151 foot falls are 40 miles wide and lovely for a photo opp.

Opaekaa Falls Kauai

After, make sure to stop for breakfast or lunch in Kapaa. I strongly recommend the salads and coffee at the trendy Java Kai. Or if you want a cute back patio vibe with banana trees and chickens running around, EatHealthy Cafe was as delicious as it was adorable. My coconut bowl there was very memorable but their entire vegan menu looked great.

EatHealthy Cafe Kauai

 

  1. Explore the North Shore

Hanalei Bay North Shore Kauai

We stayed on the South Shore, but I had to check out the legendary North Shore of Kauai. My mom and I drove up early on a Saturday, knowing that it’ll take over an hour and it did! We headed to the town of Hanalei, nestled at the foot of vibrant green mountains and next to the surfer’s paradise of Hanalei Bay. The town had a laid-back, slightly touristy vibe, with charming shops, cafes and restaurants. We snagged a few t-shirts and some coffee before settling on a food truck for picnic lunch to go.

Fresh Bite Kauai Hanalei

Don’t be fooled, the Hanalei food trucks are excellent and we loved Fresh Bite, which served up locally grown greens and organic meats in their salads, sandwiches and poi bowls. I highly recommend grabbing your lunch to go so you can enjoy it on the sand of one of the nearby beaches. (Need more info on the food trucks? Go here.)

Mai Tai at the St Regis Princeville

After your beach day, check out a hotel icon and have drinks at the St. Regis Princeville. We were hit with a sudden rainstorm, a common occurrence on this side of the island, but that didn’t dampen our outdoor happy hour! We had a dry seat overlooking the bay and were delighted to witness a complimentary Hawaiian song and champagne sabering just before sunset.

Happy Hour at St Regis Princeville Kauai

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Kauai is a stunning island and for us, it was restorative, natural and just uplifting. It has an overall ambiance that is very positive if you are open to it. For a babymoon and a mother/daughter trip, it was PERFECT. But I would recommend it to all sorts of groups of friends, families, couples and adventurers! If you have any tips, please let me know for my next trip!

 

xo

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:

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

 

 

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!

Napili Kai Beach Resort: Tropical Boutique in Maui

Maui has no shortage of hotels, resorts, and B&Bs, but if you want a truly unique, natural, boutique resort that has as much history as it does coastline, Napili Kai might be the right fit.
I stayed here in February for 3 nights and I couldn’t get over the location! The Polynesian resort occupies a beautiful oceanside cliff and sandy bay–with postcard-worthy palm-tree studded beach. Plenty to do, there’s an 18 hole putting course, massage, a number of pools, and the delicious indoor/outdoor Sea House Grill, which serves up local catch & creative takes on Hawaiian dishes.

I really loved our oceanfront studio room, which had its own kitchen and a balcony that gave us front row seats to the sunset each night.

The resort is intimate enough that you can make it your own and walk through lush grounds felt like a step in the jungle. I’d definitely recommend this resort to couples, families, and groups of friends. When there, I noticed that many guests return year after year, and I can understand why.