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

 

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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

Kelley Ferro Los Angeles Travel & Adventure

Speaking at the LA Travel & Adventure Show: Where to Go NOW!

This past weekend travel lovers descended on Downtown Los Angeles for two days of world exploring without leaving the convention center. The Los Angeles Travel & Adventure Show attracted hundreds of exhibitors and thousands of attendees, the show was bustling and energy levels were high. I totally can understand it–I get excited when I’m planning my next trip too!

 

Both Saturday and Sunday offered a full schedule of speakers, and each gave compelling and useful travel advice based on their own expertise. I enjoyed learning how to better take advantage of my travel points from Brian Kelly of The Points Guy, and of course, learning about travel trends from Pauline Frommer. Other notable speakers were Rick Steves, Samantha Brown and good friends Juliana Broste, Sarah Dandashy and Angel Castellanos.

I was very honored to be asked to lead a session of my own and I was eager to share the top destinations to visit now. Over the past 10 years, I’ve been able to experience many so many incredible, life-changing places all over our world, many of which I’d love to return too. But recounting my favorite experiences wouldn’t be helpful since I find that to be so subjective. My impression of a city would be affected if it were rainy, if I was tired, if my travel companion was cranky, if we were hangry, if we didn’t have a guide… and none of those situations are the fault of the destination! So instead, I took a step back and looked analytically at the 69 countries and hundreds of cities that have impacted me and determined where I think the average traveler should visit SOON.

Certain places are enduring and there’s less of a rush to see them right now. But some may be drastically changed in the next few years and discussed ten locations and types of trips that I think are important to take within the next year or two.

Here I’ll give you a few highlights of where I recommend and why. Note: this presentation was given at the LOS ANGELES Travel & Adventure show so it is focused on the LA based traveler.

 

  1. Eco Friendly Safari

Singita Castleton South AfricaWhy? Your dollars can go to wildlife conservation, land preservation and community development in safari destinations.

 

How? You need to do your research to find camps, lodges and tour operators that are sustainable, responsible and give back to the community.

 

Suggestion: Check out “Africa’s Finest” listing here.

 

  1. EgyptEgypt Giza Camel

Why? The definition of “life changing” and it is safer now than it has been in recent years. The State Department has it at a Leve 2 and it is recommened to “exercise caution.”

 

How? Go with a trusted tour operator.

 

Suggestion: I went with Abercrombie & Kent and not only are they very luxurious, they employ over 300 local Egyptians so their ground operations are on point! They will keep you safe and their guides are excellent.

Watch this video to see why I loved the local guides and traveling with Abercrombie & Kent. 

 

  1. China

Suzhou China Wanjing Garden

Why? With the largest population in the world, China has and will have an ever increasing global impact. Also, with better travel infrastructure, it is now easier to see places outside of the well known, touristy spots.

 

How? Fly to Shanghai for the modern side of China. Get adjusted to the time change, then hop on a 30 minute bullet train to Suzhou for a transporting experience back in time. Suzhou was the capital of culture thousands of years ago and this well preserved, canal city is the ancient China that you imagine.

Check out what Suzhou really looks like in this video!

 

  1. Japan

Itsukushima Shrine Setouchi Japan

Why? With the 2020 Summer Olympics on the horizon, there’s a palpable energy in the country that is about to put itself on display.

 

How? Fly to Tokyo then take a high speed train to see the countryside. I’d suggest going South to the Setouchi region if you want to taste great food (soba, sake & kobe beef), sleep in ancient farmhouses and experience old Japan by visiting their well preserved historical towns like Kurashiki. There’s also so many water adventures, beaches and bike paths!

 

  1. Croatia

Brac Croatia Boats

Why? It is still on the kuna, the local Croatian currency, but this is expected to change by 2020. With rolling hills, incredible islands, historical cities and breathtaking coastline, this truly is some of the best of Europe on a budget!

 

How? I’d recommend looking into Istria, the region that borders Italy if you like food and wine. If you are interested in the beaches and coastal cities, small ship cruises and even charters are a wonderful way to experience Croatia.

 

Suggestion: I also thoroughly recommend a bike tour as the landscape is stunning by bike!

Watch my bike tour experience in Croatia with VBT.

 

  1. Mediterranean Cruise

Viking Star Monaco Cruise

Why? You can see some of Europe’s most famous locations on a budget! It’s great for multi-generational travel too–from children to grandparents!

 

How? Look into the itineraries and be mindful of the distance between ports. If you want to maximize your time on land, opt for itineraries that have shorter travel distances.


Suggestion: If you want some exceptional cruise lines in the Med, check out: MSC Cruises, Viking Ocean, Crystal Cruises and Silversea.

 

I recently sailed on the Viking Star and had a fantastic time! You can see the ship and our ports here.

 

  1. Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu Sunrise

Why? This world wonder is NOT overrated. It is beyond belief to see it in person, and up until recently, there were very little restrictions. Now, new regulations actually allow in 2000 more visitors per day so this iconic location might change…

How? Fly into Cusco and enjoy this vibrant city and its history as you get used to the altitude. Get up EARLY to take the first bus up to the site. You won’t regret exploring without the hordes of tourists and your photos will be better too!

Suggestion: Hike up the peak across from Machu Picchu, Huayna Picchu for a unique vantage point on the city.

See how we explored Machu Picchu & our Shaman experience here.

 

  1. Mexico

Zihuatanejo La Ropa Beach

Why? It is a quick flight for us LA folks and it is a world away!

Plus, in light of the recent earthquakes, Mexico City is depending on tourism income to help rebuild the city. Spend your travel dollars to impact change! And your money will go far since now there are deep discounts at many high end hotels.

 

How? Check out Mexico City and a plan a trip outside of the very hot summer season. Need a beach getaway? Check out Zihuatanejo or Sayulita for laidback, bohemian vibes and more authenticity than some of Mexico’s more famous beach towns. Zihua even has a direct airport!

You can take a peek at Zihua in this local guide video that I made!

 

  1. The Immersion Trip

Maui Road to Hana Coco Glen's

Why? This one is the easiest to put off as it is less about checking off an itinerary and more about finding a local community and staying put. The goal of this trip is to LIVE in a place, versus just seeing it.

How? Use Airbnb or a similar home rental site to book a home for at least a week. Go to local markets to pick up food to cook, establish a routine based on where the locals go and talk to people!

Suggestion: Hawaii is a great option for an immersion trip. As a US state it offers so many little comforts like same currency, cell phone service and Uber. Also, it is one of my favorite tropical destinations in the world, and for the West Coast, it is not too far!

 

  1. The Road Trip

Joshua Tree Cowboy Town

Why? It is too easy not to take this trip! Weekends are perfect for a quick getaway–even a day trip!

For those based in LA, we have way too many amazing options not to take advantage.

 

How? In LA, you can go to beach towns along the coast, camp in the desert, ski in the mountains and hike in hills, all within a couple hours or less. If you don’t feel like driving, check out Amtrak to see nearby stops and enjoy a car-free escape.

Another idea is to rent a JUCY Campervan and drive to any scenic destination you’d like! We took ours to Big Sur, California. See the Big Sur Road Trip experience here. 

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Where do you want to go now? I’d love to hear where has caught your eye. Leave comments below.

 

Happy Travels,

Kelley

48 hours in Tokyo: Unexpected Eats in the City’s Trendiest Neighborhoods

 

Tokyo is a massive city and if you only have 48 hours, you aren’t going to see all of it. The city can be overwhelming with its sky high buildings, intimidating language and maze of concrete. But you can crack this Japanese edamame pod, you just need to start small. My best advice? Instead of trying to criss cross the city like a pinball, stick to one or two neighboring areas and DIG IN.

 

On my first trip to Tokyo, I did not follow my own advice. When I boarded my return flight to California, I carried a mental snapshots of standout locations (Asakusa, the top of the Park Hyatt, the Shibuya Crossing) but I had trekked across the city in my limited time to get these, which meant that my most prominent memory was navigating the metro system. The metro is super efficient and clean, but they aren’t always easy during rush hours, those cars will be packed so tightly, you’ll think sardines have a room life.

MoCHA cat cafe

For my second trip, I did it right. Harajuku and Omotesando are two iconic Tokyo neighborhoods that seem to be on the pulse of the city’s modern culture. They also are scenic, walkable and have a slew of fantastic shops and restaurants. And in two days, you will have time to wander the pedestrian friendly streets, check out some notable hotspots, snap photos of Japanese fashion and maybe even pet a cat or two.

 

Day 1: Harajuku

 

Harajuku is synonymous with the wild, often cartoonish, street fashions of Tokyo and Takeshita Street is the epicenter of it all. It is a shiny, bubble gum pink, cute overload — just people watching makes it worth the visit. Wander through the out-of-this-galaxy shops and pick up some unique gifts for friends at home.

Takeshita Street

Forgo the more gimmicky crepe and rainbow colored ice cream shops to indulge in the very popular Japanese trend right now: pancakes. These aren’t just any pancakes—they come in every shape, size, color and flavor. Go to Gram, on a side street just off of Takeshita. Don’t bank on sitting right away, they only serve 20 every time, starting at 11am, 3pm and 6pm. I came at 11:30am and was able to get a reservation for 3:30pm. Nothing like a mid-afternoon snack of pancakes! More on that later..

Gram Pancakes

While on Takeshita, you can experience another famous Japanese trend: the cat cafe. Cat Cafe MoCha is one of the highest rated with very clean facilities and well taken care of kitties. You leave bags and shoes in lockers at the front and head in with your cameras. The whimsical decor looks straight out of Wonderland, but I was too distracted by the orange, grey, brown and black fluffy patrons sauntering by. The cats here are VERY used to people and are not too interested in having you pet them, unless you catch them asleep. I did notice that if you have treats, you instantly become their best friends. As they charge by the 15 minute interval, make sure to check your watch every now and then.MoCHA Cat Cafe Tokyo

 

Since pancakes will be today’s dessert, have a solid lunch to start. I opted for The Great Burger, a vintage Americana style burger joint, located on some winding streets in between Harajuku and neighboring Omotesando. Their homemade milkshakes are simple and just right, while their 35+ options for burgers will definitely make choosing hard. There are plenty of other options, including vegetarian friendly meals, but if you eat meat, do yourself a favor and get one of their perfectly crafted patties.

Great Burger Tokyo

Dessert time! Gram’s signature pancakes here are not what you’d expect.  The originals are served in threes, and they are thick, almost souffle like quality. The airy softness of the cake jiggles as they are presented in front of you, topped with a mound of butter and sidled with a carafe of maple syrup and healthy helping of whipped cream. The restaurant was very quiet because everyone was too absorbed in each melt-in-your-mouth bite —or they were busy Instagramming their plates. I managed to do both at the same time.

Gram Pancakes Tokyo

Shops in the area stay open until late so work off your delicious day with retail therapy. Personally, I found Kiddyland to be a fun, uniquely Tokyo spot that was perfect for gifts for all the nieces and nephews in my life. Each of the 5 floors was dedicated to different Japanese characters and popular animated figures. Don’t miss the Hello Kitty and Star Wars sections.

Keio Plaza Tokyo

For a comfortable stay, I chose the Keio Plaza, a large hotel located right near a metro station just a few stops from Harajuku. Though it might not have the most character as a boutique, the rates are good and the views from the upper level rooms are jawdropping. Plus, the restaurants inside are quite impressive!

 

Day 2: Omotesando

 

If you are taking the Metro, get off in Omotesando for breakfast at Bills Pancakes. This Australian eatery is located many floors up in the Tokyu Plaza Omotesando. Though very popular, it’s worth the wait for the fresh green juice, the melt in your mouth omelettes and the caramelized banana pancakes. Actually, every single thing that went by looks too good so don’t worry about what you order. For a kick, their flat whites are a must though.

Bills Pancakes Tokyo

After, head over to Cat Street where you won’t actually find any cats but you will find a lot of trendy stores, both international and local boutiques. The alleys twist and turn, but don’t worry, just get lost. There’s an adorable mom & pop artisanal store or a high end clothing shop around every corner.

Gong Cha Tokyo

While here, grab an iconic bubble tea at Gong Cha. Schoolchildren and fashionable elite all congregate here for cups of the sweet, caffeinated teas. I loved that they are completely customizable, down to the amount of ice, type of milk and sweet level.

Mmmozza Tokyo

After, nearby Mmmozza is a sliver of an Italian panini shop whipping up delicious mozzarella and prosciutto sandwiches on freshly made bread. Certainly a different flavor profile than most Japanese cuisine, it’s a tasty change and won’t hold you up on your day of exploring.

 

For a sweet treat, Dominique Ansel’s bakery is just a few twisty turns away! The chocolate chip cookies or legendary Cronuts will out a smile on your face.  

Fuerza Bruta Wa!

Bonus: For a wild night, head to Fuerza Bruta Wa! Though not in either neighborhood, this new artistic spectacle-meets-show-meets interactive play art is sure to awe. You might get wet but you won’t be bored for a second of this non-stop performance. To understand more about what Fuerza Bruta Wa is like, take a look at my video here or below!

 

Tokyo is always changing but this eating guide should make sure you dine well and enjoy the experience! Don’t worry, in a few months, there will be more trendy spots to try out!

 

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

US Japan Seminar Japan Embassy Tohoku

SPEAKER: Japan – U.S. Tourism Seminar on Tōhoku

Japan has always fascinated for its mix ancient history and cutting-edge modernism. It has such a defined unique culture and sense of tradition.  I was very fortunate to be able to travel to the Tōhoku region of Japan in April of 2016 for an assignment. This was my first trip to Japan and I was hired by CNN Asia to host a video that focused on some of the main highlights of this Northeast region of Japan. (Check out my CNN Video of Japan here!) 

This June, I was able to relive this dream trip and share it with all the attendees at the Japan-U.S. Tourism Seminar. I flew to D.C. for this event, which was sponsored by the Embassy of Japan and the Japan National Tourism Organization.

The evening was focused on bringing awareness about the state of tourism in Japan and to share more of this dynamic country with an audience of 300 US journalists. When I first arrived, I was in awe of the tranquil yet grand residence of the Japanese Ambassador, the setting for this wonderful night of celebrating Japan.

I was asked to speak on my experience in Tōhoku; detailing where I visited, what we covered on our shoot and my impressions of the region. Since I spent 6 days, from before dawn to way after dusk, I managed to see a lot in almost all of the 6 prefectures of the region.

After our host, H.E. Kenichiro Sasae, the Ambassador of Japan to the US, welcomed us all into his home, the guests mingled and interacted with the Japanese food, drink and travel products that were on display.

My presentation came at the middle of the event, and it was such a pleasure to explain what it was like to experience Japan for the first time through the Tōhoku region. I spoke about 5 key themes that we covered throughout the visit: Landscape, Arts, Traditions and Pastimes and Cuisine. I told the stories of meeting the locals and experiencing each of these as not only an American, but as a female traveler as well as a travel blogger. I had some funny stories to relate regarding the competitive eating of Wanco-Soba or trying to paint a Kokeshi doll with a master craftswoman. I also detailed the experience on the stunning Sanriku Coast and at Ginzan-onsen, a hot spring town.

Curious? Check out my full presentation here (don’t worry, it is mostly photos and bullet points!)

We also heard from the esteemed individuals such as Mr. Ryoichi Matsuyama, the president of the Japan National Tourist Office, as well as Mr. Hiromi Tagawa, the chairman of the JATA and Mr. Keith Kirkham, the Incoming Minister Counselor for Commercial Affairs at the US Embassy Japan.

Overall, I met wonderful representatives of Japan and talented journalists in the DC travel community. We later visited a party at the National Geographic headquarters, which rounded out this impactful 2 days in DC. It still is such an honor to be an “ambassador” of sorts for this incredible country and the stunning region of Tōhoku.

Have you been to Tōhoku? If so, leave me a note!

xo Kelley
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