Category Archives: Travel

Weekend Getaway to Idyllwild: Where to Stay, Play & Explore

Last weekend, my husband and I decided to seize the holiday weekend and take a quick road trip together. We both have been super busy and have travel coming up, so we welcomed the thought of getting to spend time together in a relaxing setting.

Having done so many road trips around California, I started looking for a place we’d never been to before. I wound up finding a place we had never even heard of called Idyllwild. Located a few hours from busy San Diego life, Idyllwild is a little town nestled in the mountains with a population of under 4,000 people. It sounded like the perfect getaway spot!

Where to Stay.

After doing some research, I booked us a suite at The Grand Idyllwild Lodge. Described as the boutique luxury lodge, the hotel has a modern but woodsy kind of feel to it. It was a a bit pricier than I usually try to find in hotels, but we had a very positive experience there. It’s owned by a husband & wife team that live on the premises, and you can tell that they put a lot of care and thought into the lodge.

Idyllwild is the kind of place where most of the businesses are mom-and-pop type of places, which I love. We arrived at the hotel in the afternoon and got settled into our beautiful room – dubbed Suite Ambiance.

We brought a bottle of champagne with us, which we popped immediately. I also brought some crackers and snacks to nosh on, and we turned on the electric fireplace, enjoyed our bubbly and watched part of a movie. It was one sweet Friday happy hour!

I adored our bathroom at The Grand Idyllwild Lodge, which had a Japanese style soaking tub and dual rain head spa shower. The bathrooms in my house are older, so I get serious bathroom envy where I stay at places with awesome bathrooms.

The Grand Idyllwild Lodge also has a small gym and sauna, and guests can enjoy complimentary breakfast every day. We were served French toast with fruit (+ chicken sausage for him) on Saturday morning.

Other accommodation options that caught my eye:

Idyllcreek A-Frame Vacation Cabin. Can we talk about how cute this house is?!

Bluebird Cottage Inn. These little cottages are more budget friendly.

Creekstone Inn. I was intrigued by the above “tiny magical cabin” but Creekstone has a number of rooms plus a few other cabins available.

Where to Drink.

After our hotel room happy hour, we headed out for a second happy hour in town. We stopped at Middle Ridge Winery, a cute sister-and-brother owned tasting gallery (tasting room + art gallery).

Continue reading

6 Bridal Shower Party Ideas

My recent trip to the east coast included more on the agenda than just visiting family – it was also to throw a bridal shower for my little brother’s bride-to-be! I’m a bridesmaid in their wedding next month, and I flew in to help celebrate with a bridal shower surprise.

L to R: My sister-in-law Jamie, my sister Kelsey, me, my soon to be sister-in-law Desiree, and my mom

I had fun planning out all of the decorations and little details that went along with their springtime wedding pastel color theme, and today I thought I’d share a few of the fun party ideas that I implemented with the other bridesmaids and my mom.


1.) Photo Balloons.
I absolutely love doing photo projects, and I know that my soon to be sister-in-law Dez also digs them too… so making photo balloons was one of my first ideas for the party. The basic gist is to attach a photo to each balloon and have memories floating around the party all day for guests to check out.

My brother Danny and Dez have a 3-year old boy, so it was fun going back a couple years and including photos from when he was just a baby. I also included shots from when the two of them had just started dating in college, along with some of their first photos as a family.

To do this, I ordered 35 photos, hole punched each one, then knotted the balloon strings around each photo. A few of the balloons started sagging, so I had to cut some of the photos to make them a tad bit lighter to fly free. I decided to go with a mix of gold + white balloons, which wound up looking really pretty.

I also ordered a couple of weighted balloon bouquets to place around the room, including a champagne balloon that we put near the alcohol and an engagement room balloon bouquet that we placed near the present table.

2.) Mimosa Bar. I had seen mimosa bars online of other bridal showers, and was happy to finally have the chance to do my own mimosa bar!

For the mimosa bar, you need a.) champagne, b.) different kinds of juices, c.) a couple of different kinds of fruit. I also bought a ‘Bubbly Bar’ banner online to hang on the front of the table, along with a large chalkboard sign for a festive bar note + smaller chalkboard signs to label the juices.

The mimosa bar was a total hit, and I think we went through 5 double bottles of champagne with 40 guests (+ 3 double bottles of white & red wine!).

3.) ‘Recipe for a Great Marriage’ Activity. I found this idea on Sweet C’s Designs and immediately loved it. Instead of just doing a typical advice book for the bride, you ask guests to write marriage advice on wooden spoons. You gather the spoons up in mason jars, and the bride can take her advice spoons home as fun kitchen decor or to keep elsewhere in her home.

Continue reading

3 At-Home Kickboxing Workouts to Try

Out of all of the workouts that I enjoy doing, boxing is high up on my list of favorites. I just love the intensity and how fast-paced it is. I’ve gone to a few boxing classes at a Title Boxing Club near me recently, and boy are they tough. After the last one I went to, my abs, glutes, and shoulders were sore for a good three days. Every time I laughed or sneezed my mid section would be hurting!

San Diego area readers, I’ve been booking my classes through the Lymber Fitness app – which lets you book classes for a variety of workouts at studios in the area without memberships. It’s great for exercisers like me that like to switch it up a lot! If you’re interested in trying the app out, you can use the code NICOLELYMB-1-21 to get $5 off your first class.

While I love the intensity and hardcore calories burned that a sweat session of hitting the heavy bag brings, I also like doing boxing workouts at home sometimes – especially when I’m crunched for time and am squeezing in a workout in between meetings. Walking into my workout room to sweat it out beats sitting in rush hour traffic to get to a class some days!

That’s why today I wanted to share 3 of my favorite at-home kickboxing workouts. These are workouts that I do all the time in my house, or during weeks like this one where I’m traveling. I’m staying at my parents’ house on the east coast this week, so instead I’m kickboxing in their living room with an audience of family Pit bulls and cats, who like to sit 2.5 inches from where I’m kicking, and also sometimes my nephews, who join in by jumping around and busting out moves of their own. ūüėČ


1.) 30-Minute Cardio Kickboxing Workout with Natalie Yco. This half-hour workout is a great calorie burner and I’ve done it many, many times. Any Jillian Michaels’ DVD fanatics may recognize Natalie as one of the fitness models from a few of her workouts. The workout is done with a jump rope, but I usually just do my own cardio moves instead – such as jumping jacks, lateral hops, squats, etc.

Continue reading

How to Spend a Weekend in Santa Barbara

“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” – Jawaharial Nehru

One of my favorite things about California is how there are endless road trip options within the state itself. Two weekends ago, my husband and I went on our first road trip of 2017. For this little getaway, we traveled up to the charming central California coast city of Santa Barbara. Situated next to the Pacific Ocean and Santa Ynez mountains + wine country, Santa Barbara is a popular tourist destination – and for good reason!

Even though we’ve been to Santa Barbara before in passing through on bigger road trips, this was our first time where Santa Barbara was our end destination.¬†I love¬†planning trips and enjoyed doing¬†research online beforehand to find out the best places to eat, drink and explore in Santa Barbara. ¬†And so, today I’m sharing a guide on how to spend a weekend in this beautiful town!

If you happen to be driving into Santa Barbara from Southern California as we were, you can get your sweet fix en route by stopping at the popular vegan Los Angeles donut shop, Donut Friend.

I happened to find out about this donut shop while reading a travel magazine last month that had an article about road tripping from San Diego to Santa Barbara, and I knew it was meant to be that we stopped in for sweet treats.

Donut Friend makes delicious dairy free stuffed donuts. We ordered two of their signatures: one “Custard Front Drive” – a donut filled with Bavarian cream and topped with chocolate glaze – as well as an “X-Ray Speculoos” donut – which was stuffed with cookie butter and topped with chocolate glaze and sea salt. I think we might have finished our donuts in abouttttt 2.5 seconds! But totally worth the stop off.

One you make your way into Santa Barbara itself, check into your hotel room, throw your bags down, and get ready for a fabulous day! There are tons of hotel options in downtown Santa Barbara. We stayed at the Hyatt Centric Santa Barbara, which had a nice location right next to the ocean and was within walking distance of the downtown action.

If it’s a nice day out (chances are it will be!) and you want to soak up a bit of sun, head over to the beach or to one of Santa Barbara’s parks. A few that were nearby our hotel were Cabrillo Park and Chase Palm Park. You can explore your walkable¬†options on the City of Santa Barbara’s website.

Santa Barbara is about a 4-hour drive from San Diego, so by the time we dropped our dog off at the kennel, stopped for donuts, drove up to Santa Barbara, and checked into our hotel, it was after noon and we were ready for some wine tasting!

While there are numerous wine tasting routes and gorgeous¬†vineyards outside of the city of Santa Barbara, including ones that I’ve visited like the Santa Ynez Wine Trail and in the Danish town of Solvang, there’s also wine tasting right downtown. Called the Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail, it offers many¬†wine tasting rooms that are¬†all walkable.

While I tend to like to visit the vineyards themselves, wine country is a bit of a further drive out, so we opted to keep it easy and experience the urban wine trail for the first time.

Continue reading

2016 East Coast Holiday Vacation Recap: Cookie Baking, Christmastime in Philly & More

Hi friends!

How did your first week of 2017 go? I was fighting an annoying cold all week (not my favorite way to start off a new year!) and feeling pretty worn out, and I’m happy that I’m starting to¬†feel more like my energetic self again in week 2 of the year.

Today I’m looking back at my 2016 Christmas to share what I’ve been up to lately. My holiday trip to the east coast included lots of family time and good food, with some¬†workouts sprinkled in, and a day in Philly! ¬†

My hubby and I kicked off our Christmas celebrations with our annual early gift exchanging prior to our holiday travel. I made us a picnic in the living room and we enjoyed some food and wine while opening presents and watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas. He gave me a new camera for Christmas, which I’m excited to learn how to use well for my food and travel photography!

The next day, I tired my holiday bow wearing fur baby out on a hike, brought her to the pet resort, then off we went on a flight to Philadelphia!

Our trip was a typical whirlwind of visiting with different sides of our families across New Jersey, and here were some of the highlights:

Our annual cookie baking tradition continued on! My aunt, mom, cousins, and I baked our butts off – and Adam even helped roll out doughs for the first time ever.

We used my¬†grandma’s kitchen to bake – which has THREE ovens – so it was a busy scene as per usual. I think I counted a dozen types of cookies that we made to share with friends and family, and I did my fair share of tasting! My pictured favorites are peanut butter cookies, 7-layer bars, and chocolate kiss peanut butter cookies.¬†I might be a tiny bit bias, but I swear, our tried-and-tested cookie recipes are the best (tasting-wise, not health wise….!).

Christmas morning was spent at my parents’ house with my parents, siblings, sister-in-laws, and nephews, plus all of my parents’ and sisters’ fur babies – which equals 2 dogs + 4 cats (plus a bearded dragon and a pet rat that didn’t participate in the festivities).¬†We are all animal lovers!

We exchanged gifts, drank mimosas, and I made my healthy apple crumble. Adam gave my sister, soon to be sister-in-law and I the above pictured ridiculous, fun¬†animal onesies as a joke. He’s going to regret it when I start actually wearing my wolf onesie around the house!

Christmas dinner was spent at my grandpa’s with all of the above mentioned family, plus my aunt, uncle, cousins and grandpa. We all made a couple of dishes, and my favorite eat of the day?

Cream puffs!! My grandma made it a tradition to make these every Christmas, and we’ve kept many of her food traditions, including cream puffs, going since her passing. I’ve actually never made them myself, so I’m thinking that perhaps I need to learn and share the recipe with you guys this year!

A few days after Christmas, we journeyed into Philadelphia to check out the holiday scene in the city with my father-in-law.

I love walking around cities like Philly, and it was the first time I got a chance to experiment with using my new camera.

Growing up, I lived closer to New York City and visited it way more than Philly, but in recent years, I’ve spent a lot more time in Philly whenever I visit the east coast.¬†I love how historic of a place¬†Philly is, and it was fun to just walk around and soak the city in a bit.

It was chilly, but not too cold that it was uncomfortable being outdoors exploring Рwhich I thought was better in comparison to the last time I was in Philly last summer, when it was about 100 degrees with disgusting humidity. It was like a sauna then!

We checked some things off of Visit Philly’s 20 must-see holiday attractions list, including visiting city hall’s Christmas tree, The Rothman Ice Rink and Christmas Village at Dilworth Park.

Continue reading

The Best of 2016: Favorite Recipes, Workouts, Adventures & More

Happy New Year!

happy-2017

I hope that 2017 is off to a great start for you. I’m back in California after a week and a half on the east coast for holiday vacation, and ready to see what wonderful things this year has in store for me. Since I love to reflect on the positives of the year at the start of a new one, today we’re looking back at my 2016 favorites!

Recipes.¬†When I think about favorite recipe posts, what pops into my¬†mind are the recipes that I shared with loved ones, made numerous times and couldn’t get enough of! My top 5 recipes of 2016 that were popular on the blog are…

pretzels-4

Mini Pretzel Twists with Honey Mustard Dipping Sauce. I had a thing for soft pretzels in 2016! 

mediterranean-feta-hummus-dip-5

Mediterranean Feta & Lemon Hummus Dip. After creating this dip for a health coaching event, I made it several more times throughout the year. I love Mediterranean ingredients like artichoke hearts, cherry tomatoes & feta cheese! 

Moving onto the sweeter side of things, these were my favorite healthy snacks/desserts of the year (all vegan + gluten free!):

choc-pb-brown-rice-crispy-squares-5

Chocolate Peanut Butter Brown Rice Crispy Squares. I like to think of these as a more wholesome,¬†adult version of those blue wrapper rice crispy treats we’re all familiar with! ¬†

raw-choc-pb-cookies-7

No-Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Cookies. Because the chocolate + peanut butter combo has my heart every year. 

chocolate-peppermint-snack-bites-6

Peppermint Chocolate Chip Snack Bites. I‘ve been obsessed with all things peppermint this winter!¬†

Travel. I got to do some awesome traveling in 2016! Here are my favorite adventures of the year:

cliffs-of-moher

Visiting Ireland was definitely a check off of my bucket list, and it also marked the first time that I ever spent time in Europe with my family. I met them in Ireland and got to experience the country with my parents, sister, grandma, aunts, uncle, cousin, and brother during the whirlwind trip. I had the chance to visit the Cliffs of Moher, experience some awesome Irish pub nights, and ate lots of yummy vegetarian food.

Continue reading

Chocolate Pumpkin Spice Cereal Bars [gluten free]

As a¬†traveler, I’m not usually the person that seeks out the best shopping spots in a given area. I’m not huge into shopping and my husband absolutely loathes it, so shopping is never on our vacation checklist. While I prefer making memories, taking photos, and going on adventures while traveling, I do enjoy nabbing a souvenir that reminds me of the trip and is unique to the area.

chocolate-pumpkin-cereal-bars

For instance, I picked up coasters in New Orleans that have the city’s symbolic fleur-de-lis design on them. When I put my drink on one, memories from my time there come to mind.

The last time I was in Italy, I bought a bracelet from a street vendor. Every time I wear it, I think of the magic of Venice.

wicklow-honey

During my trip to Ireland a few months ago, the souvenir that I took home was a jar of locally made honey. I nabbed it at a health food store during my excursion to the Cliffs of Moher, and every time I use some of that honey, I think of the rolling hills of Ireland. Now I wish I had bought more of it!

chocolate-pumpkin-cereal-bars-3

Recently while I was spooning my Irish honey into my green tea, I got the idea to make pumpkin spice cereal bars that are glued together with the goodness that is honey.

chocolate-pumpkin-cereal-bars-10

I’ve always been a big cereal lover. I eat it with protein powder mixed in & with banana or blueberries; sprinkle it on top of my smoothie bowls; and sometimes I eat it dry with a handful of dried cherries & chocolate chips for a healthy dessert. There’s something about chocolate with oat cereals like Cheerios that is just so yummy!

chocolate-pumpkin-cereal-bars-6 Continue reading

Life Lately: A Wedding Extravaganza East Coast Trip

Hi there!

Long time no talk. I have been crazy busy lately! An anniversary, 2 weddings, a bachelorette party & visiting family on the east coast have all taken place… and today I thought I’d back it up a few weeks to share with you guys just what I’ve been up to!
anniversary-champagne-copy

At the beginning of the month, my hubby and I celebrated 7 years of marriage! I was traveling to the east coast two days later, so we elected to celebrate lucky #7 locally.

anniversary-chargers-game

First up, we went to a San Diego Chargers game. They played the Saints and the game was so much fun….until the Chargers totally blew their 13-point lead in the last 4 minutes and lost the game. Whomp whomp. 

chargers-vs-saints-game

Let’s just say that there were many die-hard fans that were not too pleased after the game. Even we were bummed out about it, and we are both really fans of other teams (the Giants for me, the Eagles for him).

il-fornaio-view

After the game, we headed down to Coronado to have dinner at Il Fornaio. It’s an Italian restaurant I’ve mentioned on the blog before that offers great views of downtown San Diego. It was a gorgeous day, so we sat outside to enjoy our meal.

downtown-sd-view {Pasta pomodoro for me for dinner}

il-fornaio-pasta

{And gelato + a boozy coffee to split for dessert}

il-fornaio-gelato

It was such a fun day together! I especially appreciated it since I knew we’d be apart for a few weeks, and since A has been so insanely busy with work & school lately.

anniversary-dinner

A few days later, I headed cross country to NJ. Even though I was just in my home state of NJ over the summer, this east coast trip came up when I found out that two of my friends were getting married in the same weekend. One of my close friends works for JetBlue and was able to hook me up with free flights, which was awesome!

airplane-terra-chips

complimentary snacks on my JetBlue flights = a happy traveling me

It was actually the first time I’ve ever flown JetBlue (they don’t fly a lot of routes that I do… yet!) and I absolutely loved them. Free wi-fi, free TV, free snacks, enough space to sit so that I don’t feel completely claustrophobic… it’s the little complimentary things that make me a happy traveler! I was able to work the entire flight out with easy wi-fi access, and the 6-hour flights flew by (pun intended!) both ways.

ashleys-wedding-2

The first wedding was for the friend that I’ve had the longest in the world. Ashley and I started cheerleading together at age 7 and were carpooling buddies our senior year of high school, and now as adults, we keep in touch & meet up whenever I’m in the area. She looked so happy and stunning at her wedding!

ashleys-wedding

Sans my hubby, my friend Danielle was my date for the night. It was fun to get to catch up with her the whole night and crash at a hotel together!

Continue reading

Visiting Ireland’s Cliffs of Moher {Travel Recap}

Hello, hello!

Today is my last recap from my trip last month to Ireland. So far I’ve talked about my favorite attractions & fun in Dublin and my Dublin vegetarian eating guide… and today I’m back with a recap of my visit to the Cliffs of Moher!

vegetarian-eating-in-dublin

Funny enough, I’m putting together this travel post as I’m currently 40,000 feet in the air en route to NYC. I’m heading east to my home state of New Jersey for lots of wedding festivities: I’m attending ¬†2 friends’ weddings this weekend and a bachelorette party the following weekend, and also have some bridesmaids dress shopping from my brother’s upcoming wedding planned.

Of course, there will be lots of family time as well. I usually try to see my parents and the rest of my east coast-based family every couple of months, but I’m on a roll because this will be the third month in a row that I’ve seen them. Yay for family time!

ireland-trip-recap

But I digress, back to my most recent Euro trip! When I planned my trip to Ireland, I knew that I wouldn’t have too much time to do sightseeing outside of Dublin. One place that I really wanted to see during my trip was the Cliffs of Moher. I had seen plenty of travel sites and movies featuring it, and had visions of the beautiful green cliffs.

Since the Cliffs of Moher is a solid 3+ hours away from Dublin, I decided to do a travel tour. With a pretty busy trip schedule, it seemed like it would be my only chance to see the Irish countryside. An all-day tour became the plan, and my sister Kelsey and cousin Alanna joined me for what became a memorable travel day!

With my sister and cousin on our Ireland tour

With my sister and cousin on our Ireland tour

I decided to book a tour with Paddywagon Tours, which seemed like a popular Irish tour company that offers a variety of options. I easily booked with them in advance online. Early morning, we walked to a meeting spot in a Dublin city center point and were greeted by a very prompt tour guide who was full of one-liners throughout the day, including: “How do you know an Irishman is lying? If their lips are moving!”

Continue reading

Where to Eat Vegetarian in Dublin [Travel Recap]

Hello, hello!

ireland-trip-recap

Last week I talked about my favorite adventures in Dublin on my recent trip to Ireland, and today I’m back to share a guide to vegetarian eating in Dublin.

vegetarian-eating-in-dublin

I initially¬†didn’t have very high expectations for plant-based eating in Ireland because I know that the traditional Irish diet is very meat-and-potatoes-ish, and also because of my previous experiences in meat heavy European countries like Austria and Germany.

dublin-airport-food

Falafel with arugula at the Dublin airport

But when I started doing research on eating vegetarian in Dublin, I found that healthy eating in general is becoming more popular in Ireland. I did not have a problem coming up with¬†a list of restaurants to potentially dine at, and I thought that I’d share some recommendations for where to eat¬†veg in Dublin. Here are my favorite meals that I enjoyed in Dublin!

Cornucopia.¬†I learned from my Lonely Planet travel book that Cornucopia is recognized as¬†Dublin’s best-known vegetarian restaurant. I ventured there with my parents and sister one night, and it did not disappoint!

cornucopia-1

Placing¬†an emphasis on locally grown & organic ingredients, Cornucopia offers lots of wholesome options – from salads and sandwiches to a variety of hot dishes like red onion, leek and sundried tomato polenta cakes with mushroom sauce. The salads weren’t your standard boring classics either: they were items like bulgur, fennel, chard and cherry vine in a green chilli vinaigrette.

We were all starving, so we just mixed and matched a bunch of hot dishes with different salads, then dug in and shared all of our plates. I could not even tell you what the below & above pictured dishes actually are, but everything was fresh and flavorful!

cornucopia-2

The restaurant has a ton of seating and is located in the heart of downtown Dublin.

johnnie-foxs-exterior

Johnnie Fox’s. The very first night in Ireland, we ventured maybe half an hour out of the city to one of Ireland’s oldest traditional pubs called Johnnie Fox’s. Situated in Glencullen on top of the Dublin mountains, it’s famed for being the highest pub in the country.

johnnie-foxs-bread

Johnnie Fox’s¬†was my first experience with the deliciousness known as Irish bread. I’m a sucker for yummy bread, and whoa, it’s so good — grainy, fresh, and just wholesome tasting. This turned out to be a theme in Ireland: awesome fresh bread everywhere!

johnnie-foxs-2

Most of the menu is not vegetarian, but the couple of items they offered that were veg-friendly sounded awesome. With my sister on the trip who’s also a vegetarian, it was nice to just split meals with her¬†a lot and get to try multiple items. At Johnnie Fox’s we ordered their vegetable lasagna + the above pictured bean & veggie stew. Both were delicious, and tasted even better after a day of not really eating real food & just snacking while traveling!

Continue reading