Just Back From: Oahu

We just returned from an idyllic few days spent on the North Shore of Oahu, the third year in a row that we've made this trip. While I always love traveling somewhere new, returning to the same place again and again has lots of benefits as well. You know what to expect, what to pack and have a good idea of what you want to do, so there's less planning and more time to just relax.

This time we brought our 3 month old baby - his first flight and first vacation (!) - which made returning to a place we know all the more appealing. We fell into an easy routine of early mornings watching the sunrise, lazy days on the beach and afternoons spent reading (or napping) during tropical rainstorms. We indulged in fresh ahi and yummy pad thai from food trucks and slept better than we have in months. 

{For all the scoop on what to eat and where to wander, check out my newly-updated North Shore travel guide}

If you are planning a trip to Hawaii, I highly recommend checking out Oahu for a local feel of the islands.  

Where to Stay: Carneros Resort & Spa, Sonoma

Wine country is obviously an essential Northern California destination, and living in San Francisco means we are usually lucky to make a day trip to enjoy some wine every so often. But there are some amazing hotels up in Napa and Sonoma counties, and I have a long wish list of places I'd love to stay. The Carneros Resort and Spa has been on the top of that list since we moved out here, and we finally made it happen to celebrate my first Mothers Day! 

We booked a Premier Garden Cottage, arrived on Friday after work and basically never left our cozy room again. With a king sized bed, outdoor deck, lounge chairs, large soaking bath tub, an outdoor shower and a fireplace, we had everything we needed and the ingredients for a perfect weekend. 

We traveled with our young son, so the stunning pool that I drooled over on instagram was off-limits to us (but yes I did sneak in for a photo). However, for us hanging out in our cottage was all we needed for a perfect weekend. We ordered room service from their fabulous restaurant Boon Fly Cafe for all of our meals -- didn't have to wait for a table or worry about our baby crying in the restaurant, plus we got to eat every meal alfresco on our deck (except for breakfast in bed!) Win-win-win in my book. And yes, the Boon Fly Donuts are worth it. Definitely dip them in the chocolate sauce. 

The property is large and very family friendly. It would be a great destination for any trip (romantic getaway, a girls trip, etc), but I really loved it for traveling with a baby. There is a family friendly pool that we spent a few hours relaxing at, and there were lots of other young couples with babies cruising around. 

This can obviously be a great home base for wine tasting in the region -- it is very centrally located on Sonoma County's Highway 12, and is a short drive to my favorite vineyard Scribe Winery

 

 

 


If You Go

Pack... bathing suits, easy sandals, wine tasting-chic dress, and a wide brimmed hat to keep the sun out. 

Good for... traveling with small babies, wine country weekend, girls trip

Plan ahead... wine tasting reservations usually need to be made in advance. The hotel staff can assist with that and any reservations for meals. The staff was very friendly, helpful & accommodating throughout our stay. 

Price... It's expensive, and the price has deterred me from staying a few times before. But if you are in need of a relaxing getaway in a beautiful setting, it's worth saving your pennies for a splurge (we put some old AmEx points to good use).  

Where to Stay: The Line, Washington, DC

In a city that has long lacked hip and trendy places to stay, there's a new kid on the block and its the Line Hotel. Recently opened in late December, you can still score a room at the incredibility discounted preview price. Nestled in the heart of Adams Morgan, a buzzing, diverse neighborhood with tons of great restaurants and bars, the location is a great option for visitors to the nation's capital that are not looking for a fancy place to stay on the National Mall or a chain hotel in Pentagon City. You may be tempted not to leave the hotel during your stay. With 3 restaurants, 2 bars and a coffee shop, and a distinct "see or be scene" vibe in the hotel lobby, its a spot you could easily post up for some impressive people watching all afternoon. We arrived at 2pm on a Sunday and it was packed. Laptops open and cocktails being enjoyed. 

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The hotel was built in a former First Church of Christ, Scientist with a strong emphasis on preserving original details, like the organ that is now deconstructed and hangs from the lobby ceiling as a work of art and subtle light fixture. 

The rooms are thoughtfully designed with an eclectic mix of art hung on the walls, textiles throughout and most importantly, a comfortable bed. After checking we inquired about switching rooms to one that had a bathtub (I'm 7.5 months pregnant over here!) The staff was more than happy to accommodate, a bellhop came to our room to move our bags and the manager personally greeted us to escort us to the next room. This turned out to be a suite (room 406 for the record) with a stunning view of the entire city, the Washington Monument and Capitol building peaking out above the buildings. The helpful attitude to make this switch, with only a small increase in the nightly price, was service I've rarely encountered at similar hotels. Our new room provided a spacious area to enjoy the views as we watched the sun set and also take a relaxing bath. It was so comfortable that we debated ordering room service for dinner, but with one of my favorite restaurants, Mintwood Place, just 2 blocks away, I couldn't resist an opportunity to indulge in their Tagliatelle Bolognese. 

The Line call their hotels a place for community, culture and exploration, and I'd say they hit the mark. I lived in DC for years, and am so excited there is finally a place I'm excited to stay when I come back to visit. 

 

 

A Day in the Neighborhood: Outer Sunset, San Francisco

I am slightly biased, but the Outer Sunset might be the best neighborhood in San Francisco. And it's not just because I live here! It's definitely a hidden gem and there is so much to explore. 

Easy access to the beach and lots of good coffee shops are what first sold me, but the addition of new restaurants, bars and shops that have been popping up all over the place is a sure sign that other people are catching on to the secret. Its easy to get to the heart of the city, but when you're out in the Sunset you feel like you're a world away. I like to pretend I live in a small beach town instead of in one of the biggest cities in the country, and most days it feels like that - as long as the weather is cooperating! 

I've put together an itinerary for my perfect day enjoying the neighborhood. Hope it inspires you to come visit! 

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Start your day at Andytown on Taraval & 47th. They have a few locations in the neighborhood but this one is closest to the beach! Window shop at Tunnel Records before heading down to Ocean Beach with your coffee in hand. Watch the surfers from the dunes, then head north on the beach for a leisurely morning walk. 

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Head to Noreiga Street for a breakfast sandwich at Devil's Teeth Baking Company. Their sticky buns are the size of my head and equally delicious. 

Make your way to Judah Street along the ocean-front path. No trip to the Sunset is complete without a stop at the famed General Store. Browse their vintage finds, pick up a candle or get inspired in their back garden. Some of the best outdoor space around. 

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Then, pop in to Black Bird Bookstore next door. They have a well-curated selection of adult books, an amazing kid section in the back and a thoughtful selection of home goods.

While you are probably not hungry after a filling breakfast sandwich, Trouble Coffee will tempt you with some of the best toast around (and that's saying something in San Francisco!), plus their delicious coffee. 

A few blocks up on Irving, you'll grab lunch at Hook Fish Co. Place your order (I usually go with the fish tacos but everything is local and sustainably caught), then snag a seat outside in the sun. 

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Across the street, pop in to chat with local artists Eric Rewitzer and Annie Galvin 3 Fish Studio and pick up one of their famed "I Love You California" prints. Mollusk Surf Shop is on the corner and is a fun place to browse for beach goods. They can also outfit you with a surf board and gear if you are looking to hit the waves. 

Finish your day with a date-night worthy dinner at Outerlands and enjoy the ambiance, local wines and seasonal menu. This is also a very popular weekend brunch spot if that's more your speed. 

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While you're in the neighborhood, here are some of my other favorite spots worth checking out:

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Go Now: Portugal in the Off Season

There’s a reason it feels like everyone you know traveled to Portugal in 2017. The country has been exploding as a popular destination over the past few years, and shows no signs of slowing down. With the allure of delicious food, gorgeous beaches and charming towns, U.S. travel to Portugal increased 22 percent in 2016. And while June - September is peak tourist season in Portugal, here are 5 reasons why you should consider visiting in the off-season. That means now!

Constantly popping up on travel lists from Travel & Leisure naming it destination of the year for 2017 and the New York Times including in their 52 Places to Travel last year, there is no shortage of arguments for why you should book a flight asap. And while summer is the peak tourist season in Portugal, here are 5 reasons why you should consider visiting in the next few months:

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Weather - Portugal’s weather is consistently mild. With highs in the summer reaching into the 80s (Fahrenheit), the winter low rarely gets below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, with daily averages in the low 60s. These mild temperatures make for especially pleasant sightseeing. Layer with a scarf and light jacket and you’ll you’ll be sufficiently prepared for your days of exploring (but also be prepared for rain, just in case!)

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No crowds - One of the best perks of traveling anywhere in the off-season is enjoying a city without fighting the crowds. The convenience of this alone is a huge selling point for me. Restaurant reservations (or just walking in) are much easier to come by. The more touristy spots, such as museums or the Tower of Belem or the Palace of Pena in Sintra, are so much more enjoyable when you aren’t stuck waiting in long lines. There is even a noticeable difference, allowing for a more pleasant experience, when you are just wandering the streets without fighting crowds.

Money - In that it goes further. Always a main consideration when planning a vacation, budget is super important and Portugal tops of my list of awesome and affordable destinations! There are plenty of flight specials and hotel deals to be found this time of year. We flew on TAP Portugal which offers a flight direct flights from the U.S. as well as the free stopover option that played a role in driving tourism to Iceland. We also found very reasonable pricing for Airbnbs. As a bonus, now is a particularly good time to visit Europe with the dollar strong against the Euro.

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That winter light - Hear me out on this one. Yes, days are shorter this time of year and while some could argue that gives you less time to sightsee, there is something about the light in the winter that is magical. Crisper and sharper, the scenic vistas of Lisbon will be all the more breathtaking in the glowy winter light.

Authentic Portugal - Last but not least, traveling at less popular time for other tourists opens you up to experiences you may likely not be exposed to other times of the year. Sleepy beach towns, quiet restaurants and nearly empty hotels create space for connections with locals that busier seasons wouldn’t allow. One of the most powerful experiences of travel is connecting with people living in a different place and in a different culture than you. It expands your horizons and forces you to get outside of your comfort zone. In seasons when the hospitality industry is focused on catering to tourists they don’t have the time to have a meaningful conversation with you, but in the off-season they aren’t as worried about serving everyone staying at the hotel or working through a mile-long wait list. Space naturally opens up for authentic connections, which has the chance to leave a lasting impression on you as a traveler.

Where to Stay: Sublime Comporta

Often the road less traveled leads you to exactly where you need to be. And the road to Comporta, Portugal in November is certainly a less traveled path. Known as a popular beach escape for many Europeans, Comporta is increasingly a popular destination with new hotels opening up over the past few years.

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Visiting in the off-season gave us a chance to see the sleepy beach town without tourists, or really many people at all. With most of the town was closed for the season, we enjoyed a relaxing few days at the new-ish Sublime Comporta hotel and leisurely explored the area without fighting any crowds or traffic. Within an easy hour drive from Lisbon, we were happy to escape to a nice hotel for the last few days of our trip. 

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Located on 17 acres, the Sublime Comporta is built to blend in with the natural surroundings. We stayed in a Cabana Suite that included a cozy king bed, and a full kitchen, fireplace and living area in a separate room, plus a deck and private pool give you the option to never leave your cabana! 

A spa, pool, fire pit, on-site organic garden, yoga pavilion and tennis courts offer plenty of activities to keep you busy during your stay. We, however, found it hard to leave the cozy couch in front of the fire (and the staff was happy to frequently re-stock our wood supply). It was so pleasant to hunker down and enjoy our minimalist but comfortable cabana. 

The on-site restaurant Sem Porta uses lots of local ingredients and offers an upscale dining experience. While the restaurant was good, it's very pricey, and we really enjoyed eating a more causal meal in the lobby bar one night.  

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The hotel is not right on the beach, but it can be reached in a quick 10 minute drive. We ventured out several times for meals during the day, and while a lot was shut down for the season, we found a few noteworthy spots. Have I mentioned the amazingly delicious seafood that we encountered at most meals on this trip? Enjoy!  

  • Comporta Cafe - One of our best meals of the trip. We ate on the deck right off the beach, filled up on clams and seafood spaghetti and enjoyed the ocean breeze.
  • Restaurante Dona Bia - A popular restaurant but was unfortunately closed for the season.
  • Eucalyptus - We had a casual meal here - a good place for a simple sandwich and coffee. 

Japan

Japan is a destination that sticks with you.

After traveling there last fall, I came back completely enamored with a beautiful country and culture. I had the same questions about the language barrier and communication, but in the end any of those challenges were out weighed by the beautiful culture and connections I made with the people. It was extremely rewarding and eye opening to spend time in a place so drastically different than home.

It was a popular destination in 2016 and shows no sign of slowing down in the lead up to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. I've already had several friends travel there in the past few months, so I thought it would be helpful to gather my thoughts -- and recommendations -- in one place to share why this is such a special and unique destination. 

Specific recommendations for Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and Hiroshima can be found in my Travel Notes.  

1. The Food. This should already be obvious to you. Travel to Japan for the freshest sushi you'll ever have, but stay for the many varieties of ramen, udon noodles, gyoza, tempura, rice, Kobe beef and tonkatsu. Go out of your comfort zone and try something new - seafood you've never heard of, many pickled vegetables options, and have fish for breakfast. Don't forget the fabulous pizza and croissants that Japanese chefs have mastered. Be sure to slurp your noodles (a sign to the chef that you are enjoying your meal) and finish everything that is served to you (out of respect for the chef). 

2. The language barrier isn't that scary. Even with limited communication abilities, everyone I met was extremely helpful and friendly. My biggest tip is to rent a pocket wifi (which you can pick up on arrival at the airport) to carry with you everywhere you go. Having access to Google Maps won't make you immune from getting lost, but will dramatically improve your changes of successfully navigating your way and boost your confidence.

3. Train travel. To me, traveling by train is infinitely more enjoyable than getting on an airplane. In Japan, the trains run on time, are convenient and a great way to see the country. Get yourself a Japan Rail Pass before you leave home (they are only available for purchase out of the country) to make your train experience affordable and flexible. Don't miss a ride on the Shinkansen, Japan's bullet train that travels at 150-200 mph. I only got in a car once on our trip from the airport to the hotel on arrival, and honestly we could have easily taken the train and saved ourselves a lot of yen. 

4. Mix of tradition and modernity. Japan does old and new like nowhere else. Simultaneously honoring the rich culture of the past, the country is hurtling into the modern area faster than practically anyone else. It is utterly fascinating. Tokyo is the largest metropolitan city in the world, while Kyoto is home to some of the deepest history. Just check out a modern toilet in Tokyo if you have any doubts. 

5. Respect. There is a sense of decorum and respect that permeates the culture. Whether politely queing up for the train, dressing well on a daily basis, or properly disposing of their trash (seriously the cleanest place ever), the Japanese set the bar on respect. The surgical masks people wear shouldn't alarm you. They are considerately worn to shield germs from others. Even the school children are impressively well behaved. 

6. Stay in a Ryokan. One of the most unique and memorable experiences I've ever had while traveling. Arrive open minded and be ready to try (and eat) anything. Bathing in a traditional onsen is an opportunity not to be missed. 

7. Shopping. From traditional hand made ceramics to electronic super stores, there is literally something for everyone here. I wish I had spent some more time exploring some of the small shops, especially in Tokyo, but that is what a return trip is for!

8. Clean & Safe. Even as one of the largest cities in the world, Tokyo is one of the cleanest places I've ever been. This extends across all cities in Japan (that I visited), including all public areas. The bathroom one of the Kyoto subway stations is seriously the nicest public restroom I've seen. While you should always be vigilant and careful when you travel, I felt safe all day every day. From early morning pre-dawn runs to late night subway rides. One of my favorite customs are the warm hand towels you receive before every meal. That is a small touch that I really appreciate and enjoyed. 

And there you have it! I could easily go on and on about the vending machine situation (kind of amazing) or how to approach the Tsukiji Fish Market, so feel free to reach out with any specific questions. And go book that flight! 

 

 

How to Enjoy A Day to Yourself In New York City

New York City. Where you can simultaneously feel connected to the center of the world and completely anonymous. My love affair with this city is fed by way too infrequent trips to visit. But that may be part of the allure for me. Since I never have enough time to do everything on my ever growing list to check out and see everyone that I’m long overdue to catch up with, I always leave feeling slightly haggard from rushing to try to fit as much as possible in (or over celebrating when I do see dear friends). You can lose an afternoon just trying to get across town, so a poorly planned schedule can seriously throw off a visit.

Last week I was in the city to celebrate a girlfriend’s upcoming wedding and extended the trip by a few days to visit my brother. I ended up with a blissful day completely to myself. Here’s how I spent it:

 

9AM - Wake up late

Jetlag after travel from the West coast is real. I couldn’t pull myself out of bed before 9am.

 

9:30AM - Walk

After checking a few quick emails, I headed outside and was pleasantly surprised with a gorgeous fall day. I love how much you walk in New York, weather you have a destination or are wandering aimlessly.

 

10:30AM - Workout at SoulCycle

Would a trip to NYC be complete without a quintessential workout experience? Don’t be intimidated, come to work hard and be prepared to sweat. And if you can’t take the intensity for 45 solid minutes, the good news is it’s nice and dark in the studio.

 

12PM - Manicure at tenoverten

This salon offers a relaxing, enjoyable experience while focusing on natural products.  The bright and airy location in Soho feels like you are in a friend’s chic apartment, not at a nail salon. A nice pick-me-up and rejuvenating experience.

 

1:30PM - Lunch at Jack’s Wife Freda

After seeing this place all over instagram, I decided I needed to check it out for myself. If you are lucky enough to snag a spot at the cozy bar at the Soho location, warm up with a cup of tea and their famous avocado toast.

 

2:30PM - Shop

Because no trip to New York is complete without some shopping. I spent some time wandering down Elizabeth Street in Soho, my new favorite shopping street, and came across some of my favorite brands. Clare V, Cuyana, Steven Alan, Kit & Ace….among many, many others. I also tracked down my new obsession, the workout apparel Outdoor Voices. Their shop in Soho is just so much fun. I basically tried on everything. Their new colors are so good.

 

6PM -  Dinner at The Mercer Kitchen

This cozy spot in the Mercer Hotel is a perfect place for an intimate, yummy dinner. I am still thinking about the Angel Hair Pasta with mushrooms and parmesan.

 

A Birthday Surprise

I'm lucky I married a guy who loves exploring and experiencing new places as much as I do. And he is also one heck of a good planner himself. Bonus points for his undying love of a good surprise. 

To mark my recent milestone birthday, my lovely husband secretly packed an overnight bag (bathing suit, running shoes - the essentials) and loaded it into the car without my knowledge. As we set out to do some Saturday errands we were in fact (and still unbeknownst to me) on our way over the Golden Gate Bridge for a night away!

The Cavallo Point Lodge has been on my radar for awhile. My parents visited a few years back and had a wonderful time. It is also just a quick 10 minute drive from our apartment and we've driven past the exit often. But when we actually turned off the highway I still wasn't sure what was up.

 A room with a view. 

A room with a view. 

However, from the minute we arrived and the valet whisked away our car, I was blown away.

The service was top notch throughout our entire stay. We had one of the eco-friendly, contemporary suites with views of the Golden Gate Bridge just steps from the main restaurant and bar, but we felt completely removed and secluded. Our room, with a large gas fireplace separating the bed and the sitting area, was a perfect place to relax with some wine and watch the fog roll in and out of the city. We didn't get a peek into the historic lodging, though I can report they are completely charming from the outside. I would definitely recommend a stay in the contemporary lodging - especially as most of them have the unbeatable Golden Gate Bridge views!

After arriving and settling into our room, we explored the property a bit, stopping by the pool and the spa to soak in some sunshine (all with a glass of wine in hand, naturally). We didn't take advantage of any spa services but the aptly named Healing Arts Center & Spa definitely has me itching to plan a return visit. 

Before dinner we stopped in to the Farley Bar. This is one of those cozy wooden bars that you could spend hours in cuddled up by the fireplace. We had a reservation at the hotel's Murray Circle restaurant so we didn't stay long. But there are no complaints here. Dinner was a highlight - one of those meals that exceeded our expectations, all the way through to dessert. We indulged in local oysters, kale salad, duck ... and enjoyed it all. 

A lazy breakfast on the patio the next morning was a perfect way to wrap up our quick getaway. Cavallo Point Lodge is one of those fabulous hotels where you can relax and be pampered but also feel close to nature and enjoy breathtaking views no matter where you are on the property.

For us, it was such a treat to get away without actually having to travel. I loved every minute of my birthday surprise. Can't wait to go back!