Tag Archives: California 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).

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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.

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California Wine Country ’16 Trip: My Favorite Sonoma & Napa Wineries

Hi friends!

How was your weekend? I flew to Las Vegas yesterday for a work trip and will be in Sin City for the week. But today, I want to back it up a few weeks to my vacation road trip up to Sonoma wine country. I already recapped my favorite eats and reviewed my Sonoma hotel, so today I’m chatting about my favorite wineries of the trip!

Limerick Winery

Whenever I visit a wine region, I like to do my research to find wineries that I want to visit beforehand. During this trip we did a nice combo of tasting at smaller establishments and larger productions. It’s always kind of fun to compare and contrast, and I tend to gravitate towards smaller wineries. While I love wine and obviously appreciate the wine itself, what I also love is meeting the people behind the wine. I’m the same way with food: The people behind the product can really draw me in and make me love it more (or vice versa!).

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Of course, I also live for oohing and aahhing at beautiful vineyards and tasting rooms. There certainly is no shortage of any of this in Sonoma and Napa! Everywhere you look, it’s just gorgeous.

Chateau St. Jean

Chateau St. Jean

Out of about 20 wineries that we picked to visit during this trip over the course of 3 days of wine tasting, here are my top 5 favorite ones:

Kunde Winery. I reached out to Kelly from Made in Sonoma to get her winery recommendations, and one winery that she mentioned was Kunde. Located in the Kenwood area of Sonoma, Kunde has been family owned and operated since 1904. Their wines are estate-grown and sustainably farmed, and they offer a mountain top tasting at 1,400 ft above the valley floor surrounding the vineyard. I wish we had the chance to do that, and the next time I’m in Sonoma, that experience will be high on my list! Instead, we did a regular bar tasting with a lovely Kunde employee, and I really enjoyed their zinfandel and cabernet sauvignons.

Kunde Winery

Kunde also hosts a hiking program, including a group dog hike and a hike & taste option. I’ve never done a hiking excursion that includes wine tasting, and combining two of my favorite things sounds pretty amazing!

Cline Family Cellars. Wine from Cline is typically inexpensive and easy drinking. I buy their wines all the time and have visited their tasting room before, and we made a stop in this time around because we all are Cline fans.

Cline Cellars

Kind of going against the statement I made about friendly people making me love a winery more, our server at Cline was a pretty cranky older woman… but since we already are familiar with their wines, we still loved them and bought a couple of bottles home with us. Plus, tastings at Cline are free!

St. Anne's Crossing

St. Anne’s Crossing. This is the type of place where you can really chat with the wine bar manager and learn more about the company. It’s the type of place where the tasting is inexpensive – how it was before California wine country got really commercialized, and how I think it should be still – or free, if the winery employee at the end says, “You know what? Don’t worry about the tasting fee. Thanks so much for visiting us!”

St. Anne's Crossing Collage

This is the type of winery that I fall in love with. Each wine on the St. Anne’s Crossing Winery menu produces just 150 cases or less, and my favorite varietals were their zinfandel (their 2013 Rowe Reserve was my top pick) and chardonnay.

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Inn at Sonoma Review + My Favorite California Road Trip ’16 Eats

As a California transplant, I’m always in awe of how vast and beautiful this state is. Having been born and raised in New Jersey where you can drive from the top of the state to the bottom in a couple of hours, it’s amazing to me how massive California is. There are so many awesome places to visit and explore, and we’ve gone on many weekend getaways and vacations without even leaving state lines.

Golden Gate Bridge

This was the case two weeks ago, when my hubby and I set off on a California road trip vacation. We traveled from San Diego up to San Francisco to meet my parents, who flew in from the East coast, stayed there a night, then headed into wine country for the remainder of the week.

A gorgeous view of the San Francisco Bay

A gorgeous view of the San Francisco Bay

We elected to stay in Sonoma at the Inn at Sonoma, which I was excited about because while I had wine tasted in the town before, I’d never spent a lot of time there.

{Photo via the hotel website}

{Photo via the hotel website}Wine country is not a cheap place to vacation.

In all of its beauty and awesomeness, Sonoma and Napa wine country are not cheap places to vacation, and nice hotels are usually pretty pricey. Luckily, I found a good deal at the Inn at Sonoma. I did all of the planning for this trip, so I was really hoping that the hotel would satisfy everyone in the group. Luckily, the Inn at Sonoma turned out to be a great choice!

Inn at Sonoma street

The inn is located in the heart of downtown Sonoma, which was great. We were able to casually walk to dinner, and we explored downtown Sonoma one morning during the trip.

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It’s full of little shops, restaurants and wine tasting rooms, and has a nice park and historic museum in the middle of it. I found downtown Sonoma to be a lovely, charming area.

Downtown Sonoma park

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Our room at the Inn at Sonoma was pretty, tidy and clean, complete with a fireplace and a balcony. It was nothing too elaborate, but it had everything we were looking for in a hotel.

Inn at Sonoma room

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Palm Springs Trip Recap: Where We Ate, Drank & Explored

Hi there!

After a long weekend full of Miami sun and bachelorette festivities (and perhaps a few too many drinks!), I’m back home in SoCal. I think it’s going to take me a few days to catch up on sleep and recharge from all of the fun, but it was an awesome girls’ trip celebrating my best friends’ upcoming nuptials!

The whole bachelorette party crew

The whole bachelorette party crew

I’m going to recap some of the awesomeness of the weekend soon, but today I want to share with you guys a post about some of the spots I visited during my Palm Springs weekend getaway with my hubby a few weekends ago. Let’s get to it!

Where We Stayed

Palm Springs is a desert vacation town about 2 hours from my house. We wound up visiting the area for the weekend when the company we own a timeshare with, Welk Resorts, offered us a complimentary villa for a couple of nights at their Palm Springs resort. Neither of us had ever been there before, so I jumped on the chance. The villa we stayed in was really nice and overlooked the resort’s golf course.

Welk Palm Springs

Since we normally trade our San Diego timeshare week for a stay at other locations (for instance, our Austria and Lake Tahoe trips), this was our first time experiencing a stay at a Welk Resorts property. I loved having a fully loaded kitchen, and think it would be an especially nice setup to have for a long trip since I always prefer to make some meals myself when I’m traveling (it’s healthier and cheaper!).

Welk PS Villa

(Photo cred: Welk Resorts)

Where We Ate & Drank

As per usual, I was excited to eat on our getaway and scoped out some eateries beforehand.

Las Casuelas Terraza

When we headed into town, we went straight to Las Casuelas Terraza for dinner. Located in the middle of the hustle & bustle of downtown Palm Springs, this  Mexican restaurant has been open since 1958 and features an extensive tequila list, lots of typical Mexican cuisine and live music every night.

Taco salad bowl

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Wine Tasting in the Santa Ynez Valley

Happy Friday friends!

Since the weekend is almost here, I thought that today I’d talk about one of my favorite weekend activities: wine tasting. Besides just loving to try new wines and compare and contrast different varietals and vintages, I enjoy visiting wineries because I like to hear firsthand the stories behind the wineries and their products. There tends to be so much passion put into winemaking, and I love hearing about it.

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I also am in love with the beauty that typically surrounds wine country. This love affair first started when I studied abroad in Italy in college, met a local restaurant owner who offered to take two of my friends and me on a winery tour, and spent a day in the Italian countryside sipping wine with winery owners who spit their wine out in a seemingly angry matter, spoke too quickly in Italian for me to understand anything they were saying, as they pushed plates of cheese and bread at me. True story.

Sicilian wine country

Sicilian wine country

I find wineries to be romantic and relaxing. Usually the people at wineries are in good moods – I mean, why wouldn’t they be?! Since moving to California, I’ve taken full advantage of all of the wine regions in this state. There have been weekends in Napa and Sonoma and day trips to places like Livermore Valley….oh, and I spent many days at my favorite winery in Santa Clara Valley during our stint of living in the Bay Area. It was only a 5 minute drive from my place, so how could I resist?

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This brings me to last weekend’s getaway in Solvang. Earlier this week I talked about the town itself, and today I’m recapping the wineries that we visited there during our stay.

I did some research beforehand to choose some wineries I wanted to visit. I’ve definitely done wine tasting days where I just have kind of winged it, but sometimes that leads to me tasting at places that specializes in varietals I don’t care for (sauvignon blanc – no thanks!) or have $30 tasting fees (borderline ridiculous). This time, I picked the nearby Santa Ynez Trail and scoped out a bunch of wineries ahead of time. All of the wineries we tasted at were within a 10-minute drive from the hotel, which was great.

Santa Ynez Trail map

(source)

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Exploring Catalina Island

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Last weekend I got a chance to drive down to Southern Cali to spend time with my parents in the Anaheim area. Coincidentally, my hubby and I had flown out of New Jersey on the Sunday after Christmas, and my parents flew into L.A. that Tuesday for my dad’s work. He’s a football coach and was one of the coaches for a football game sponsored by the Marines Corps, called the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl.

Since my dad was busy during the days with game preparations, my mom and I did some exploring of the area together. One day we went to Disneyland to walk around and check it out. I’ve been to Disney World a bunch of times, but this was my first time to Disneyland. They still had the park all decked out for the holidays, which naturally, I loved.

Disney castle

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We both love the It’s a Small World ride, so it was one of the only things we waited on line for. Even the ride was all holiday themed. The park was pretty crowded and I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many strollers in my entire life!

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Disney-3

My favorite thing that we did was journey to Catalina Island, which is located southwest of L.A. I’ve been wanting to go there since I moved to California, but this was the very first time I got the chance to visit. To get there, we drove to Long Beach, then took an hour-long ferry over to the island.

Long Beach

Long Beach

When the boat came up to the island, I immediately was in love with Catalina.

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It reminded me of a little European getaway right here in California. One of the big reasons that I love California so much is that there are so many beautiful areas and places all over this gigantic state.

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We arrived in the Avalon section of the island, which was full of cute little beachy houses and pretty inns. There were golf carts around everywhere, which people rent to get around the island easily.

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We walked from the harbor up to The Wrigley Memorial & Botanic Garden. Originally we planned to go for a short hike once we got up there, but the hike up to the garden area, which was a couple of miles, mostly uphill, took longer than we thought it would. Since we were only there for the afternoon, we decided to take our time exploring the gardens and memorial, then head back into town.

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The centerpiece of the botanic garden is the Wrigley Memorial, which honors the memory of William Wrigley Jr. He played an instrumental role in the history of Catalina Island, and passed away in 1932. I thought it was fitting that he’s honored in a spot on the island with a beautiful view of Avalon Bay.

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A neat aspect of the memorial: Their goal was to use as many Catalina materials as possible, including many of the stones and rocks used.

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With my little mama:Catalina-12

Fact: I’ve been taller & bigger than her since I was in middle school (and so have all of my siblings). She makes me look like a giant, but I’m only 5’6″!

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On our way back into town, we stopped at the Catalina Island Conservancy nature center. The non-profit’s mission is to be a responsible steward of the lands through a balance of conservation, education and recreation, and they protect 88% of the island. I love learning about the animals that live in different areas and thought it was neat to pop into the nature center to read some cool facts.

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A few neat things about animals living on Catalina:

1.) In 1924, a film crew brought 14 bison to the island for the making of a movie. By 1969, that number had multiplied to 400 bison roaming the island. The conservancy determined that such a large number of bison was threatening the island’s plant communities and the bison as well, and a program was developed to manage the herd size.

2.) Because of DDT contamination from companies dumping chemicals off of Southern California shores (GRR!), the bald eagle population on the island was almost wiped out. The conservancy began to assist by actually taking eggs from nests, replacing them with fake eggs (apparently the mother doesn’t even notice), incubating the real eggs themselves, then returning the healthy chicks to their mother to be raised. The contamination has lessened/ceased in the last couple of years, but the non-profit still closely monitors the bald eagle population on the island.

Speaking of bald eagles, I spotted one on the pier:

bald-eagle

And here’s my favorite animal shot that I got on the island:

bird

This bird sat so majestic and still for awhile, and I thought he was fake until he finally moved!

After all of the hiking around that we did, we were starving for some food. After some restaurant scouting, we settled on CC Gallagher, an interesting place right near the pier. Their menu features Mediterranean fare including sandwiches on focaccia, salads, and pizza, and they also have a full sushi and sake menu. The inside of the restaurant is a store with all kinds of trinkets, gelato, and other desserts, as well as a wine bar. A little bit of many things!

We first ordered some hummus with crunchy flatbread crackers. I also enjoyed a glass of riesling while we sat in the sunshine.

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For my lunch, I ordered a gourmet grilled cheese that had brie, fig & caramelized onions, and it was pretty tasty.

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People who go on getaways to Catalina Island have the option of doing a lot of fun activities, including scuba diving, snorkeling, parasailing, helicopter tours over the island and Jeep safari tours. I really would love to get back to the island with my hubby for a weekend trip to go hiking and zip lining, then stay at a cute inn by the water!

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“…An island Utopia in a modern, busy, everyday world. A land where there are neither rich nor poor. A heaven on earth – without a fence around it.” – William Wrigley, Jr., describing Catalina Island