Category Archives: Hotels

Country bliss – Lajitas, the best of Texas Resorts

Banner for Lajitas Resort

Dawn in Lajitas one of the best Texas resorts

Dawn reveals things magically. We’d pulled into the Lajitas Golf and Spa Resort while the morning sky was still black. In minutes the world came to light, filling the dining rooms’ towering glass windows. That and the strong coffee cleared my head. I’d just started to discover why Lajitas is considered one of the best Texas resorts.

Lajitas golf and spa resort breakfast

It was too early to check in but we dropped off our luggage and went off for a day of horseback riding and paddling the Rio Grande (more of that story here.) Dinner was accompanied by wedding festivities on the terrace. The bridal party was perfectly Texan – the groom’s men wore rhinestone studded jeans and the bride pivoted on embroidered cowboy boots!

Lajitas ranch one of the best Texas resorts

What makes Lajitas one of the best Texas Resorts

The ranch sits center stage. As we wandered the acres, the history of the place opened up. Close to the Terlingua community with its eccentricities, Lajitas offers a quiet and graceful contrast.

Lajitas golf resort and spa arcade

There are shops and a spa of course, but I didn’t take the time to investigate. I wanted to be outside. The Lajitas resort is famous as a magnificent golf course rolling over hills and between mesas. There’s no wonder it’s award winning – voted the #1 most beautiful golf course in Texas by Golf Magazine, Best of Texas resorts for golf by Texas Outside and the Dallas Morning News considers it the # one public course you can play in Texas.

lajitas golf course always beautiful

Once handicaps were mightily challenged – one hole lay across the Rio Grande in Mexico! Those days are gone now but the course still runs along the border and that meandering river. If it weren’t for a light rain, you’d be seeing pictures of me in a golf cart careening along the course trails. Along with trails galore, the resort sits close to a marked nature walk flush with local flora and fauna.

lajitas trail sign

There’s a historic chapel filled with local artists’ work.

lajitas chapel

Nearby, a zip line sat ready, its lines looped up into the highlands. There are nine lines with three different courses for various levels and ages. We met the guides who were getting ready for fall guests. Their shop also manages shooting activities: Five stand sporting cays, a cowboy action shoot full of Wild West arms, a combat course, and packages combining them.

One glimpse of the Lajitas zip line

 

Inside the outfitters shop in one of Texas resorts

My favorite spot, the key to this being one of the best Texas resorts, is Black Jack’s crossing. Don’t let them tell you it’s just a golf shop – there’s much more inside. The owners manage one of the largest collections of Longhorn displays in the West. Rooms are full of the noble horns. Historic pictures, branding irons, log books, and a wide mural surround the golf shop amenities. I don’t play golf but would go out of my way to see this collection.

inside blackjacks crossing

Another historic space that makes this one of the best Texas resorts is the Ocotillo event space. Once a fine dining restaurant featured in Gourmet magazine, now the two-story building hosts private events. It’s worth a stop to climb the tower and admire the views. There’s even a Texas state shaped pond!

ocotillo event space in Lajitas resort

Last but not least are the stables offering equestrian adventures including sunset and sunrise trail rides.

horses in Lajitas stables

As we completed our visit, dining as the stars emerged, I felt closer to the heart of this land in Lajitas, definitely one of the finest Texas resorts.

lajitas resort grounds

If you explore Lajitas golf resort and spa, one of the best Texas resorts:
  • Make reservations for lodging, golf, spa and activities at the resort (http://www.lajitasgolfresort.com/)
  • Getting there: There’s a small airport nearby but most visitors arrive by car.
  • Spend some time on the River with Big Bend River Tours (http://www.bigbendrivertours.com/)
  • The Barton Warnock Visitors Center has lots of information about Big Bend National Park (http://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/barton-warnock)

Escape to a luxury resort – Hacienda del Sol Guest Ranch

Luxury resort vacation at Hacienda Del Sol

Hacienda windows

Escaped. I turned off the news and fled from work to relax with a few friends and indulge in delicious flavors. The beauty of the Tucson foothills did their best. Leaving the manic world behind, I dove into something extraordinary – a few days exploring a historic luxury resort, the Hacienda del Sol guest ranch.

The entry fountain to the Hacienda Del Sol luxury resort

The entry fountain at the Hacienda Del Sol luxury resort

Hacienda del Sol WildlifeA little history

In the 1930’s, Josias T. Joesler was hired to design a girls school on the sixty-acre ranch in the foothills outside of Tucson. He built in the authentic Spanish/Mexican adobe style using tile, stone, hand-hewn beams, thick walls set with deep windows. The non-denominational prep school for girls opened with a staff of six teachers with 28 students enrolled.

HIstoric girls girls at Hacienda del Sol

The girls came from some of the wealthiest American families and most brought their horses to explore the canyons and hills surrounding the Hacienda. The trail riding tradition continues in a more luxury resort style today.

A view of the main hall in the original school wing at the Hacienda del Sol

A view of the main hall in the original school wing at the Hacienda del Sol

hacienda del sol luxury resort courtyard

Tucson is modest about its treasures. Locals don’t boast about being the only UNESCO City of Gastronomy in the United States. They’ve always nurtured their harvests and gardens, and regularly use grains discovered here 4 thousand years ago. My first taste of ancient Mesquite flour was in the cookies waiting for me in my hotel room. They were moist and flakey with a satisfying, grainy texture.

The garden at Hacienda del Sol

The garden at Hacienda del Sol

In the heart of the resort is a net-draped garden where executive chef, Bruce Yim, nurtures plants and trees for the luxury resort Grill and Terraza Patio restaurants. He incorporates seasonal harvests and regionally sourced greens, beans, dairy, meats and even flowers into his menus. Other botanical garden plots and pots flourish across the resort acres.

The ever-mobile, Executive Chef, Bruce Yim in action

Hacienda del Sol Scallops

Coffee service in Hacienda del Sol

Coffee service in Hacienda del Sol

In January the weather is changeable. I woke to the sunshine, then misty rain, then sweeping clouds turned to rainbows at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains. Coming from a drought-plagued region, the mists felt wonderful. My pores opened, each breath filled with fresh, rain-washed oxygen. It made my in-room massage all the more profound and I dozed, waking to quiet and then dinner.

Hacienda del Sol Room

The luxury resort grounds are highlighted with local artist's work.

The grounds are highlighted with local artist’s work.

On my first evening, I joined friends on a terrace above the golf course with views of the peaks. Craftsmen hand-chiseled each rock for the wall and there was a door-sized mural with a little girl facing a sunset vista. It was a workman’s tribute to his little sister. Personal touches transform so many things at the Hacienda del Sol.

Sandy's vista Hacienda del Sol

 

tombstone distillery

The Director of Wine and Spirits, John Kulikowski, passionately introduced the table to local brews. I grew fond of the Tombstone Whisky and each wine pairing was a discovery. Why didn’t I know about the wineries of Sonoita and Elgin, not far from Tucson? Tastings at the distinctive wineries will be another highlight when I return to Tucson.

One of the Sunday Brunch tables at the Hacienda Del Sol Luxury Resort

One of the Sunday Brunch tables at the Hacienda Del Sol Luxury Resort

Hacienda brunch room

At Sunday brunch the waitress generously poured champagne with a colorful splash of blood orange juice. She expertly knew the right proportions and kept them coming. Pastry chef, Cara Valadivia, made certain that tables overflowed with sweets and cakes. Her expertise and the caring staff keep locals returning to fill weekly brunch tables.

Hiking with a naturalist in the wilds near luxury resort Hacienda del Sol

Hiking with a naturalist in the wilds near Hacienda del Sol

Saguaro cacti dot the landscape near the luxury resort

Saguaro cacti dot the landscape

From luxury resort to wild canyons

All was not indulgence. One morning we hiked along a trail into the river basin with Geoffrey Campbell, Hacienda Del Sol’s resident expert hiker, and Assistant General Manager. While sharing highlights of the history, geology, flora/fauna, he pointed out the secrets of the Saguaro sentinels and why barrel cactus tilt, and learned about the entire Tucson basin. With his help, we spied tracks and spotted a bobcat lair above the whitening remains of a coyote. There are trails across the resort for beginners and advanced hikers can venture into nearby Finger Rock Canyon. Saguaro National Park, with acres of the nation’s largest cacti, is close to Tucson as well.

The view from ridge rooms in the luxury resort, Hacienda del Sol Resort

One view from ridge rooms

The days sped by as I learned more about the area, falling in love with the subtle charms and casual luxury of the Hacienda del Sol.

Find out more and put together your own luxury resort escape: Hacienda del Sol Guest Ranch Resort.

Special thanks to Hacienda del Sol management and staff for hosting our small group of travel writers. All opinions and photos are my own.

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Winter getaway to a luxury resort at Hacienda Del Sol Pin

Travel Notes & Beyond

Pebble Beach Golf Resort – Indulge in sustainable luxury

Pebble Beach Golf Resort greeen.
Between the petite village beauty of Carmel-By-The-Sea and the boardwalk diversions of Monterey lies one of the most iconic drives in the world – California’s 17 Mile Highway. The world class golf resort of Pebble Beach is tucked into that drive. The course is usually reserved there is usually reserved for the members, the wealthy and deep-pocketed international tourists. During tournaments, those willing to watch and party with the world’s best golfers can visit for a pittance of the price to play (about $500, if you can get a reservation.) Otherwise, there’s a guard house entry but that needn’t keep you from visiting whether you play golf or not.
Marker in the green commemorating the founding of the golf resort.

Golf course medallion commemorating the founding of the golf resort.

Historic sustainability
Nearly a hundred years old, the Pebble Beach Company has flourished through keen sensitivity and observation. Abundant water is a requirement for any golf course. In the 1970’s, a drought clenched water use throughout the state. Long before saving water became trendy the PBC thought about conservation. The efforts paid off and Pebble Beach gracefully sailed through the recent drought after investing millions in a water reclamation plant. Today it supplies all the water necessary to maintain their idyllic panoramas. Golf courses around the world have taken notice.
The 2017 IAGTO Sustainability Award
The PBC was recognized by the IAGTO for Resource Management, specifically for their water and renewable energy projects. The global golf tourism organization celebrates the outstanding sustainability achievements of golf facilities, resorts, and destinations around the world.
Tournament trophies in the Pebble Beach Golf Resort Lodge.

Tournament trophies in the Pebble Beach Golf Resort Lodge.

I spoke about the award with David L. Stivers, Executive Vice President, and Chief Administrations Officer. Solar panels built above the maintenance building were part of the accolades. A sophisticated sprinkler system helps avoid flooding in low-lying areas and makes sure sun-drenched spots never turn brown. Going green isn’t onerous, Stivers emphasized, “It’s also good business.”

journeys of discovery podcast

Listen here to the NPR Podcast interview about Pebble Beach Resort’s sustainability and conservation efforts

The Executive Vice President and Chief Administrations Officer, David L. Stivers talks with Elaine Masters about the award and the long-term sustainability efforts at the Pebble Beach Golf Resort.

David Stivers in the Lodge lobby of the Pebble Beach golf resort.

David Stivers in the Lodge lobby

At the upcoming AT&T Pro-AM Tournament, thousands of pounds of recyclable materials will stay out of landfills. Pebble Beach Golf Resort is working with partners to make recycling a comfortable part of the event. It’s no simple task with tens of thousands of visitors arriving for the event.

Sea Lions relax near the Pebble Beach Golf Resort greens.

Sea Lions relax near the Pebble Beach Golf Resort greens.

I’m not a golfer but appreciate golf resort landscapes. Scooting around the greens in a cart on a lightly overcast morning, I peered into a cove where sea lions lolled. Deer were munching near multi-million dollar estates bordering the southern greens. They’re such regular visitors that the staff rarely notices them!
The mobile amenities cart is available for players at the Pebble Beach Golf Resort.

A mobile snack and drink cart visits players at the Pebble Beach Golf Resort.

I asked about where to stop for lunch along the 17 Mile Drive to Monterey. It turns out there aren’t any lunch options along the coast drive, so we opted for a window table overlooking the 18th hole in the Bench Bistro.
The bench and plaque commemorating American ownership of the Pebble Beach Golf Resort

The bench and plaque commemorating American ownership of the Pebble Beach Golf Resort

Dirty Harry played here
In 1999 ownership of the resort came back into American hands. Significant among the names on the plaque outside the Bench restaurant (next to the actual bench) is Clint Eastwood, the actor-director who once was the Mayor of Carmel, a long-time resident of the area and a Resort investor.
Extraordinary! Wood-baked strawberries with balsamic reduction sauce at the Bench inside the Pebble Beach Golf Resort

Extraordinary! Wood-roasted strawberries with balsamic reduction sauce at the Bench inside the Pebble Beach Golf Resort

The sun shot rays through dark clouds as we ate and I saved room for dessert – a wood-roasted, strawberry cobbler. It was served directly from the oven in a small ramekin with a warm, balsamic reduction. A scoop of ice cream melted into the crust. I will never forget how the textures complemented each other, the sweet balanced with the sour, the crunch and the cream. It wasn’t a sophisticated presentation. It was simply perfect.
What a day! To quote a song, “I’ll never be royal,” but for a brief time, I felt like an American aristocrat.
Pebble Beach Golf Resort Lodge

The lodge with the Bench Restaurant lower center.

Can anyone visit Pebble Beach Golf Resort?
Yes, even without a reservation to stay (although the packages may tempt you.) There is a fee to enter but not to park. The website is welcoming, noting that, “While dining at our restaurants, please present your gate receipt to your server. With a purchase of $35, your gate fee will be reimbursed.”
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Many thanks to the Pebble Beach Company for hosting our visit and congratulations again on the IAGTO award.
Spread the news! Pin this and thanks.
Pebble Beach Golf Resort Pin
Travel Notes & Beyond

Driving West Texas – Road Trip Planner, Part 2

Trip planning requires proper gear in Texas

Make the Prada art building part of your road trip planner through West Texas

Prada art installation outside of Valentine, Texas

In West Texas extremes play well together. International fashion brands mix with far flung art installations, ghost towns host chili cook offs. Dinner may be chicken-fried, wild boar or resort ranch-groomed beef served with beer, long neck or artisinal. There were more surprises than I have room to write about! Welcome to the second half of my West Texas, Road Trip Planner.

Terlingua Ghost Town Motel

Terlingua Ghost Town Motel – Basic, clean & a decent night’s sleep

Terlingua
A week wouldn’t be enough to explore everything in this ghost town area. While on the road with my sister, we spent a night in the Chisos Mining Hotel before leaving at dawn for a Saddle and Paddle tour organized by Lajitas Stables and Big Bend River Tours. Wander we did though – through oddball delights, (just what I love) with trailer murals, roadside attractions, a hillside full of crumbling, adobe buildings from the last century; all of it hosted by a jumble of sweet-hearted eccentrics. We fit right in.
Starlight Theater - must add to your road trip planner
Starlight Theater Dining – A great hangout but I sense it’s seen better days.
Terlingua Church Texas
Ghost town church that’s been turned into new businesses over the years.
  • Travel Planner Tip

    If you love chili, camping out and camaraderie put one or both of the notorious Ghost Town Chili Cook Offs on your itinerary when visiting Terlingua. Held each November, it’s really not about the chili, but dueling parties.

Lajitas Resort - Badlands Hotel Lobby

Lajitas Resort – Badlands Hotel Lobby Photo by Jack Hollinsworth

Lovely Lajitas:
Luxury refinements and true grit hospitality complement each other at the Lajitas Resort and Golf Course. Reach the spacious settlement by road or via the local airport with charter flights from Dallas. I don’t golf but truly regret the light showers kept me from touring the course by cart. What a gorgeous landscape and undulating greens!
Lajitas Stables and bluff
Lajitas Stables and bluff
Adjacent to the resort are historical sites – the golf shop is set into the old Trading Post. There’s a historical chapel, the Ocotillo Event space has seen its share of shootouts, and the Rio Grande borders the golf course. A decade ago golfers could swing to a green across the border and then back!
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Our first night at the Lajitas Resort, a destination wedding unfolded on the terrace. Not surprisingly, the groom wore cowboy boots and his groomsmen had rhinestones on their jean pockets. Our room overlooked the greens and we toasted to the sunset from Adirondack chairs on the patio.

Ocotillo Event space in Lajitas, Texas

Ocotillo Events – Once the site hosted gunslingers & shootouts but peace reigns now. Photo – Jack Hollingsworth

Lajitas dining room at dawn

Lajitas dining room just before dawn

The menu of services at the Spa was tempting for our sore muscles. The Restaurant offers a full buffet at dawn and dinners feature local game.
Lunchbox canyon with our Lajitas Stables guide, Kelly

Riding through lunchbox canyon with our Lajitas Stables guide, Kelly

If you’re looking for adventure, Lajitas makes a fine home base. Guides will help scheduling ziplining, shooting practice, horse back riding and river rafting trips. My favorite outdoor experience in West Texas was a day spent horse back riding through canyons and up to mesas. Next we floated down the Rio Grande and even swam in rapids. The Saddle and Paddle package is an easy way to get into the countryside. If only we had more time for rafting and camping in the nearby canyons.
  • Trip Planner Tip

    Don’t miss the Lajitas Trading Post and Golf Shop. Inside the historic building is an immense collection of steer horns and walls full of photos. The owner was offered a private collection of over 900 horns and they’re displayed from floorboard to ceiling throughout the space.

The famous beer swilling Mayor of Lajitas & his missus
The famous beer swilling Mayor of Lajitas & his missus
  • Trip Planner Tip

    Stop by and say ‘Howdy’ to the ‘Mayor’ of Lajitas. The old goat and his Missus live in a gated community’ adjacent to the Deli, which is a great spot to pick up sandwiches and souvenirs before heading out of town.

 On the road in Big Bend National Park
Big Bend
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I’d been warned that the best of Big Bend National Park lays off the main road. It may be the case but even a few hours traversing the park is a worthy adventure. The bluffs and mesas are stunning. We spied Tarantulas crossing the road, Turkey Vultures and a family of camera shy, Javelinas turned tail quickly, scooting out of sight. The rock formations are formidable and while early fall was comfortably warm, I imagine the blazing summertime heat could melt tires. We drove through on a cloudy afternoon, which made it easier to stop for pictures… and wildlife.
Ranch signs dot the side roads.

Ranch signs dot the side roads.

  • Trip Planner Tip

    Keep to 45 mph when crossing Big Bend National Park and watch highway speed limits carefully. There are speed traps and we would’ve been in trouble if locals hadn’t warned us. Driving slowly is perfect for spotting wildlife and admiring the landscape.

A National Historic Landmark hotel in Marfa, Texas. Headquarters for the cast and crew that filmed "Giant".

The National Historic Landmark Paisano hotel in Marfa, Texas.

Paisano Hotel, headquarters for the cast and crew that filmed "Giant".

Paisano Hotel, headquarters for Elizabeth Taylor, the cast and crew of the classic film, “Giant”.

Marfa
There just can’t be anyplace quite like Marfa in the world! When New York artist, Donald Judd, moved here after WW2, he brought a minimalist sensibility that is still reflected and cherished throughout the town.
Road trip planner for Marfa must include the Judd Foundation

Entrance to the Judd Block. No pictures allowed inside.

Before arriving one tour operator told me, “There’s not much to do in Marfa.” I couldn’t disagree more. It’s not a family vacation kind of place with adrenaline-pumping distractions and hangouts for the kids, but they’d still enjoy sleeping in Tee Pees or Silver Stream Trailers at El Cosmico. The Tex Mex meals at Mando’s Drive In (or dine in) are inexpensive and cater to the locals. Transplant hipsters eat there too but are spied more often at the St. George Hotel or sip coffee freshly ground at the Do Your Thing cafe. The main street features the Palacio Hotel, by the architect Henry Troost and the City Hall building, all Victorian embellishments, offers views of the flat countryside from the upstairs windows.
Get Go Grocery in Marfa
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Donald Judd’s presence lives on in a spare, adoring manner inside the compound he left one morning and never returned to. After failing health confined him in Germany, then New York, he spent his final months putting his effects into order. One stipulation for his compounds in Marfa was that nothing be moved. To walk the grounds, where no pictures are allowed, is a study of pensive solitude. The main bulding where he lived with his daughter when not traveling, has his sleeping loft and reflects a more homey warmth – barely.
Chinati field sculptures.

 A few of the Chinati Foundation field sculptures.

We spent a morning on the grounds of the Chinati Foundation on the outskirts of town. Pictures are only allowed in the field where 15 of Judd’s monumental cement works are set into the landscape. The play of angle and light, discovering relationships between edges and alignment would be impossible in any other space. These works are site specific and the dimensions are echoed in pieces arranged indoors, inside the large buildings reclaimed by Judd from the military. The largest buildings offer 48 and 50 rectangles, each different and built of steel. They have never moved from the spot they were designed for and will never be rearranged unless the earth heaves. Judd would approve.
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When we weren’t searching for the Marfa Lights (unsuccessfully but with great company) and peering up at the Milky Way, our nights in Marfa were spent in town, courtesy of an Airbnb host. Our little casitas near the high school was well situated for walking to galleries and restaurants. Other accommodations include the Thunderbird Hotel, Bed and Breakfast Inns and the Palacio Hotel. I’d go back in a heartbeat.
  • Trip Planner Tip

    Don’t plan on taking pictures or recording anything inside Chinati or the Judd Foundation. At first this irked me and I rebelliously took notes and sketched. Resistance was futile. I missed out and that’s kind of the point. To stand in those still spaces and just be, is to get a glimpse of what drove Judd to settle in Marfa. There is space and relationship, light and shadow. I surrendered to his vision and was far happier for the experience.

Return to El Paso
We met many Texans on holiday throughout our drive around West Texas. Most were road-tripping as we were and I wished there were time to continue on into the rest of the state. But our short visit came to an end with our return to El Paso. Before flying home to California, we toasted to the journey at Craft and Social while listening to a jazz combo over a happy hour priced bottle of wine.
Texas, we’ll be back.
  • Trip Planner Tip

    There’s no one Texas. The second largest state in the Union, it’s vast regions are influenced by weather patterns, geography, history and proximity to Mexico. Don’t be fooled into thinking you’ll ‘get Texas’ with one visit. I imagine it could take a lifetime to discover everything.

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Links and other Trip Planner tips:
  • Chisos Mining Company Motel – Inexpensive, comfortable and a bit rough around the edges, but one of my best night’s sleep!
  • Lajitas Golf Course and Resort offers hotel rooms, villas and vacation home rentals. There are also camp grounds and RV options.
  • Saddle and Paddle day trip with Lajitas Stables and Big Bend River Tours
  • Marfa, Hotel Paisano – An architetcural masterpiece by the renowned Henry Trost. Fully preserved and updated. Don’t miss the pictures from the making of Giant with Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and an effervescent, James Dean.
  • Hotel St. George – Chic and austere but still comfortable with an inviting lobby restaurant and the best bookstore in town.
  • El Cosmico – Tee Pee, tent and trailer campground on 18 acres.
  • Thunderbird – Hotel and deep resource list for the area.
  • Marfa Chinati Foundation – The open air exhibit and studios founded by Donald Judd . Open by reservation only.
  • Marfa, Judd Block – The home compound of the artist Donald Judd. “Not a slipper moved” since his death, by mandate!
Food Tips:

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Riding Through West Texas Trip Planner Pin 1

Riding through West Texas with a road trip planner
Thank you to Visit El Paso and the Brewster County Tourism Offices for their arrangements and guidance. As always opinions are my own.
weekend wanderlust April 2016
Travel Notes & Beyond

Revealing West Texas – Your Road Trip Planner, Part 1

Make sure that Balmorea is in your road trip planner
Mural in the Gage Hotel, Marathon Texas

Detail of one mural in the Gage Hotel, Marathon Texas

 Brake for Turkey Vultures, Javelinas and Auodads
Americana, escape and wide open places – West Texas is good for what ails the urban spirit. I didn’t know how far gone I was until silence swamped me at a roadstop. A literal road stop. Just before entering Big Bend National Park, I couldn’t help but stop the car in the middle of the road and run out. On a rock cropping, as if posed for a John Huston western, at least a dozen black Turkey Vultures swooped and sat. There were no cars for miles until a Park Ranger pulled his rig close and cautioned us to pull over. The last thing he needed was a pair of tourist road kills.
Texas critters for your road trip planner
Several times we did pull over for Javelinas. First we sped past an almond shaped creature who stood about four feet wide in the road. By the time we’d turned around he’d disappeared. They were good at staying out of camera range but I offer this picture, taken near Lajitas by the resort guide. The family of Javelinas, which are related to Pecaries, were in a canyon just beyond her home.
Spying Javelinas can be part of your Texas road trip

Javelina family spied near Lajitas

Auodads, large brown sheep, were imported into Texas after WW2 when soldiers returned from Africa. They’d learned what a delicious game animal they were. They also quickly learned that Auodads were not easy to keep. The animals escaped the original ranches and have flourished in the wild across West Texas.
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One night in Lajitas, I looked out to the silhouette of a craggy mountain across the Rio Grande. The rocks moved! It was too far to capture on camera but there was a large four footed animal on the crest. I like to think it was an Auodad and so my only sighting.
  • Trip Planner Tip 1:

    Research your options. The best we had for our road trip was a loose schedule. Lodging was set but how to get there and what to see was left up to us. It’s too easy to say that West Texas has something for everyone. I look for the off-beat, the historical quirks, the local hangouts that are usually just off the tourist radar.  I’ve learned to surrender to the fact that you can’t see everything but look for the things that bring you joy and you’ll return home the happier.

The original El Caminio Real lobby

The original El Caminio Real lobby

Dig into El Paso
El Paso brims with energy, history and revitalization. The city is easier to visit than ever with new flights at the El Paso International Airport. At this writing, five major airlines fly in and out. Of all the treasures we discovered, discovering El Paso was our road trip gold nugget. The city is full of urban delights – a restaurant and craft beer scene, theater, classic architecture and contemporary upgrades, sports, concerts, plus outdoor adventures nearby and the percolating exchanges of a long history with Mexico, just across a bridge from downtown. Read more about it in this post.
Enjoying the Balmorea Pool

Enjoying the Balmorea Pool

Splash down in Balmorea
It’s not just the Tex Mex peppers, West Texas gets hot. The summers can be brutal and scorching. It was still warm when we visited in late September, after the monsoons passed, but comfortable. The idea of leaving downtown El Paso and diving into a natural spring pool less than 3 hours away, thrust us into the greening countryside early on our third morning in Texas.
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The BIG Pool:
Part of the sweeping 1930’s New Deal plan brought workers to West Texas where the Civilian Conservation Corps built Balmohea State Park. Nearly eighty years later families, tourists and courting couples cool off in the waters of the ‘World’s Largest Spring Fed Swimming Pool.’ The depth goes from about three feet to nearly thirty and the water shelters small fish plus a feathery green growth coating the bottom. The fish were cute, the green slime bothered me, but the pool was clear and cooling. The reservoir is so unnusual that it’s a Texas Aquatic Science Certified Field Site and school field trips make good use of that in their curriculum. The idea that nearby fracking might impact the water tweaks my heart but it’s still in discussion across the region.
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  •  Trip Planner tip 2:

    Don’t miss the drive from Balmorea to Fort Davis along Route 17. You could blast through in a half hour but leave time to meander and gawk. The canyon road is lined with rugged cliffs and on the afternoon we drove, sweetly devoid of big trucks that dog the main highways. It’s a short 32.4 mile drive but consider pulling over to hike or picnic.

The Drug Store Counter in Fort Davis

The Drug Store Counter in Fort Davis

Fort Davis
This small town is a find. The narrow main street hosts a few gift shops and small hotels. We stayed upstairs in the Drug Store in a large two, queen bed room with our own bath. Downstairs the old time drug store counter menu offers ice cream and milk shakes. A chorus line of round topped, red leather stools fronts the counter and wooden booths fill the dining room. The cash register sits atop a glass case full of fudge.
Fort Davis Drug Store Hotel

Fort Davis Drug Store Hotel

On our morning there I enjoyed a mug of complementary coffee downstairs before heading out for some exercise and to investigate the red rock bluff on the edge of the neighborhood. Turkey vultures caught the morning currents, their shadows crossed mine as I walked past small houses, churches and watched a backyard goat take to a tree. My sister and I had a fine dinner at the Blue Moon Restaurant across the street.
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  • Trip Planner Tip 3:

    There’s an Ice Cream stop on the outskirts of town. The Red Caboose is a local favorite and came highly recommended, plus it’s pet friendly.

  • Trip Planner Tip 4

    History buffs can explore the old fort where Confederate General, Jefferson Davis, held his ground. The managers of Wall Drug Hotel are distant relatives!

Eve's Garden BnB

Eve’s Garden BnB Marathon Texas

Marathon

One of our draws to Texas was seeing Marfa, but we kept it for the end of our trip. Our night in Marathon was like an appetizer of things to come in the ‘art town.’ We swept into town late on a cloudy afternoon and barely checked in before taking off for dinner at the Gage Hotel.
Eve’s Garden is a visionaries delight with bright walls, colorful collections of art and less than 10 rooms, each unique and hand textured from recycled Papercrete blocks.
Seeing is believing, check out my video:
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Gage Hotel Dining Room

Gage Hotel Dining Room

  • Travel Planner tip 5

    Don’t miss the White Buffalo Bar in Marathon. The Gage Hotel nods to shotgun culture but the sophisticated menu and graceful layout make this spot worthy of a celebrity sighting.

Part 2 of the West Texas Road Trip Planner is the next post. Continue the road trip through Terlingua, Lajitas, a bit of Big Bend National Park and Marfa.

Thanks for coming along for the ride!

Road view between Balmorea and Fort Davis

Road view between Balmorea and Fort Davis

Links and other Trip Planner tips:
  • We used GPS but there are other sites with ample route suggestions for drivers and bicyclists, like: Distancesto.com
  • Plan your trip around weather. Check temperatures and weather patterns, then pack for comfort.
  • This list isn’t exhaustive. There’s so much to explore in West Texas like the McDonald Observatory near Fort Davis
  • Balmorea State Park has camping, trailer options and hiking trails as well as the famous natural spring reservoir. Check the website for hours and reservations.
  • Eve’s Garden in Marathon is worth a detour. The hospitality is warm, the organic cooking delicious and the space a unique, artful experience.
  • The Gage Hotel in Marathon is listed as #1 on many noted travel lists.
  • Fort Davis, – Spacious, comfortable and affordable. The upstairs room, with abundant WiFi, couches and tables is a great space for digital nomads!
  • Fort Davis, Lumpia Hotel: Fully restored historic property with a garden begging to be enjoyed.
Food Tips:
  • El Paso Craft and Social – Jazz bar, beer on tap and Texas wines by the glass or bottle.
  • Fort Davis Red Caboose Ice Cream stopna
  • Fort Davis, – They don’t make them like this anymore. Family style cooking and a full service counter.
  • Fort Davis, Hotel Limpia Restaurant – Blue Mountain Bistro a fine dining experience with a full bar menu or dining room. Tapas and much more.

This trip was spurred by an invitation from Visit El Paso and the Brewster County Tourism Offices. Many thanks for their arrangements and guidance. All opinions as usual are my own.

Share please (and thank you!)

Visit West Texas and stay at Eves Garden in Marathon Texas on your road trip

Junp into adventure in West Texas with a stop at Balmorea Springs

weekend wanderlust April 2016

Travel Notes & Beyond

Visit Rosarito – Beach, hotel and fine dining in Baja Norte

Visit Rosarita Beach at sunset
Visit Rosarita Senorita Archway
Long before it was full of Spring Break beach clubs and taco stands, Rosarito was a glamorous hub. Hollywood stars and U.S. servicemen partied at the few great hotels along the strand. I remember it differently as a kid. We often camped near the beach. I loved playing in the warm water with my siblings, a few feet from my parent’s teardrop trailer. One afternoon my mother had a big pot boiling on the back kitchenette and pulled a steaming red alien from the waters. It was my first lobster, caught by my dad who tagged along with locals. Over the years, each time we would visit Rosarito, the city had new amenities and returning now still excites me.
The beach and tower Rosarita Hotel

The Hotel Rosarito tower from the beach.

Camping has moved much further out of town now but finally I had a chance to visit the historical, Rosarito Beach Hotel. My young parents couldn’t afford the luxury then, but today travelers have the benefit of a generous exchange rate. Whether one of the traditional beach rooms, a villa, a suite in the tower or a visit to the spa, the hotel has managed to retain its historical, Spanish Colonial style while upgrading with all the amenities a visitor could want.
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Here’s a glimpse of a rest stop on the coast route to visit Rosarito:
Today, Rosarito is an easy getaway, less than two hours by car from my hometown of San Diego. It’s fairly simple to drive from the border but I prefer being a passenger and watching the changing landscape. The coastal route along the toll road is my favorite ride south. There’s also an interior road from Tijuana which, while more crowded, is actually shorter. Those not wanting to drive have the benefit of bus and van services too. I left the driving to others on the most recent trip while joining a few friends and enjoyed a pleasant, air conditioned Tiketon shuttle van from the border. Before I knew it, we were walking into the historical lobby of the Rosarito Beach Hotel.
Rosarita hotel lobby
We checked in quickly and walked from the historical side of the property to the newer tower. This is the part of the hotel that I’d often seen from the freeway on trips to Ensenada or La Bufadora. The tower lobby ceiling loomed over us and opened to a tempting, spacious pool and bar. I had to pass on a swim as we were meeting soon for Margaritas and a short tour of the spa.

Rosarita Hotel Margarita

Tower Bedroom Rosarita Hotel

Tower bedroom suite

The hotel is partly condos and members have their own pool – on the rooftop with the best views in the region. On one side is the ocean, on the other the hill country of Baja spreads to the horizon. Beaches stretch as far north and south as one can see. It’s a beautiful spot for a swim too!
The Rosarito Beach Hotel, members only, rooftop pool

The Rosarito Beach Hotel, members only, rooftop pool

Tower lower pool Rosarita Hotel

The view to the Tower pool from my room veranda

The original owner’s home has been converted into the Casa Playa Spa and a private dining space. Above the tiled entrance lobby, guest rooms are now service spaces for massages, facials, body wraps and other services. We learned that booking must be done in the spa itself and not to rely on the hotel desk.

Visit Rosarita Hotel Spa

The original home that now houses the spa and event space.

North of the hotel the beach area is spotted with big dance clubs that still roar to life on weekends but now there are more Mexicans partying than boozy, American college students. Weekends find families on the beach where tables can be rented by the hour, with or without umbrellas. Mariachis and food vendors come to you!
Susannas Restaurant
Dinner at Susanna’s
In the evening we went south from the hotel and stepped through a stone archway for dinner at Susanna’s. Susanne Stehr is a California girl who fell in love with the graceful beach style of Rosarito years ago. A natural interior designer, her restaurant is glowing with color and textures. Chairs are deeply upolstered, charger plates gleam as if in a home dining room and fresh creative dishes are served ‘California Style.’ Favorites include the Citrus Fruit and Sonoma Chicken Salad, Strawberry Salmon and Sonora Ribeye Steak entrees. Appetizers updated from local traditions like Jalapeno Cream Cheese Empanadas and Susanna’s Gourmet Tamales are moist and mild. The wine list overflows with vintages drawn from the famous Valle de Guadalupe wine region not 25 miles away.
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You’d think we would never eat again but the next morning found us in the hotel main dining room for breakfast. So hard to choose from so much! Soon after being seated the table filled with platters of (shredded, roasted beef) machaca and eggs, fluffy omelets, home made sauces and delicious breads accompanied by fresh squeezed orange juice and mugs of aromatic coffee.
Rosarita Hotel Dining Room

Rosarita Hotel Dining Room

Luckily there was time for a walk before returning to the border and we sauntered along the main road, passing cafes and restaurants, night clubs and shops. Across the beach road, neighborhoods stretched up to the main highway. Kids in uniforms walked past quickly on their way to school. There were several churches and more cafes full of locals. Here the village life style still works side-by-side with tourism. It’s a big part of why I love Baja and to visit Rosarito.
A food truck on the main street of Rosarito

A food truck on the main street of Rosarito

When you visit Rosarito enjoy the boulevard full of cafes and shops
Watch the video and subscribe to my YouTube Channel!

If you plan to visit Rosarito:
  • Crossing the International border takes a bit of preparation but recent improvements are making it easier and wait times shorter. Here’s a post about what to expect. I update it often.
  • Transportation around the region from the U.S. – Contact Tiketon for van pick up and prices: 619-428-0011 / To and from the Tijuana airport: 683-8113
  • Rosarito Hotel:  Reservations and questions.
  • Visit the spa: Packages and services by reservation only.  Email: spa@rosaritobeachhotel.com, Tel: 61-4-44-10, ext. 11364
  • Reservations at Susanna’s: 661-613-11-87 / Facebook: Suzsanne Stehr / Email: susanne@susannainrosarito.com / Susannasinrosarito.com

Thank you to our Binational Liason, Juan Arturo Saldaña Angulo with Tijuana Tourism and Convention Bureau and tour organizer, Alexa Williams Meisler. The trip sponsors were the Tijuana Tourism and Convention Bureau and Rosarito Beach Hotel with transportation provided by Ticketon and Turismo Express.

Visit Rosarito Beach Hotel

Travel Notes & Beyond  weekend wanderlust April 2016

Plan to visit El Paso, Texas, before it’s discovered!

Refurbished Electricity Sign in downtown El Paso
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“I can’t wait to get back to El Paso,” said the young man sitting in the next seat. He was flying back alone from a long weekend in California with his girlfriend. They’d spent time on beaches, played at Disneyland and relished fish tacos. Still home was calling, ‘There’s so much to do in El Paso,’ he said as we parted at the airport. He was telling the truth.
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El Paso is a city on the verge. It’s not just the edge of the country, a short bridge span over the Rio Grande from Mexico, but it’s poised for glory. There’s an energy in the city that grabs you. The surprises include: a burgeoning craft beer scene, murals, a hillside of Bhutanese architecture, bike and running trails over mountains less than half an hour from downtown, a wine trail and vast green swaths of desert at the end of the monsoon season. The historical architecture downtown hosts bold lobbies by noted architects and retro, neon signs that still look new. Over three days I walked and drove, shopped and ate, drank and marveled from East to West. There’s still so much to see when you visit El Paso.
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Downtown was the biggest surprise. Before I checked into my room at the sleek Hotel Indigo, rooftop lights caught my eye.
Less than two blocks away an expansive neon sign shone. Electricity, spelt out in tall glowing letters, sits on the top of the historic Martin Building. It’s an adaptation of the original neon work from the 1940’s and one example of the revitalization going on. Originally it spelt out: Use Electricity.
Original Use Electricity sign in downtown El Paso

Original Use Electricity sign in downtown El Paso

Today the sign shines proudly from dusk to dawn. Local businessman, Lane Gaddy, is behind the renovation of the sign, and the building it tops, with a small group of local entrepreneurs.

Refurbished Electricity Sign in downtown El Paso

Refurbished Electricity Sign in downtown El Paso

The Martin building has great bones and Gaddy’s turned it into a residential, commercial and retail blend, keeping the best features. He admits, “I love the juxtaposition of historic and old (features) contrasting with future and modern elements.” The Martin is filling up with downtown dwellers taking advantage of the great restaurants, theaters, shopping and services within walking distance of work. While his determination is taking time and persistence there’s still much to savor now downtown.
The original El Caminio Real lobby

The original El Caminio Real lobby

Step into the El Camino Real Hotel, under arches created in an expansion from the 1970’s and you might miss the best features entirely. Walk past the stucco add-on and into a room overflowing with embellishments from the early Industrial Age. The original “Million Dollar” lobby, named for its pink marble and gold leaf, was supplanted and turned into the Dome Bar. Over a circular bar that rises in the center of the room, a giant dome refracts shifting light through petals of glass in faceted jewel tones. It rivals the sister Tiffany dome in Chicago and has been authenticated by the Library of Congress.
Tiffany dome in the El Camino Hotel

Tiffany dome in the El Camino Hotel

When the Camino Real Hotel was new guests could tip bell men and watch the Mexican American War raging across the border fron the rooftop. North American imperialism finally won and over time a wide bridge was built to bring commerce and workers between Juarez and El Paso. Tourists would shop and eat in the Mexican plazas. Goods moved freely. It all shifted, of course, when 9/11 brought border closures and then rival cartels began their reign of terror. Today things have calmed and  business men like Lane Gaddy still move back and forth across the border daily. Gaddy sees glimmers that tourism is returning too. I was tempted to set up a day tour but there was so much more to see and my time to visit El Paso was short.

Dusk building facades in the original downtown El Paso

Building facades downtown in El Paso

Top of the Kress Building in downtown El Paso

Top of the Kress Building in downtown El Paso

One evening just before dusk my sister and I grabbed our cameras and took to the streets. Downtown architecture and vintage signage had me curious. We found a large Kress store facade looming next to one of the first independent Hilton ‘sky scrapers.’ It’s currently under contract with the Hilton Corporation for renovation into a multi-use facility. The days of architect Henry Troost are visible all around the main, San Jacinto Square.
Henry Trost designed the elements inside the Hotel Cortez

Henry Trost designed the elements inside the Hotel Cortez

My favorite find? The Cortez Building. Stepping inside was a time traveling trip. So many details remain and still look new. There were alcoves in the main lobby set with vintage furniture and the elevator exterior was a wonder of artful tile work, brass and sconces.
Nearby the Plaza Theater has been completely renovated and I can’t recommend a tour or attending an event in the vintage performance palace enough.
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A few blocks away the new baseball stadium is open on one side. A wrought iron gate stands between the field and street, where, as part of a compassionate civic mandate, those who can’t afford tickets can watch a game. It’s a short walk from the Chavez Theater, built to resemble a sombrero and the adjacent convention center.
Museum of History El Paso

Museum of History El Paso

Just north of the stadium, the Museum of History looms. It’s no stuffy showcase. Visitors first walk past the Digital Wall where, with a finger tip, they can touch a lengthy collage and open up notes from photographers, historians, culinary experts and artists. The vast art museum sits next to the Plaza theater filled with Texas creative works and rotating exhibits from both sides of the border.
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The Rio Grande River marks the area still. Just outside of downtown since the 1990’s, Heritage Gardens volunteers have been working to preserve wetlands and native vegetation in a graceful park laced with trails featuring sculptures, ponds, and rock walls set with a gallery of mosaic murals. There are play areas and picnic tables, benches to sit and ponder upon, plus a raised platform over tidal pools that fill with migrating ducks and wildlife.
Looming over El Paso is the Franklin Mountain range. It’s inside the city limits! When you visit El Paso you must head for the hills. The mountains above town offer a network of trails and roads and it’s close. The Wyler Mountain Tramway winds up the east side and from the west, the Franklin Mountains State Park is a wildlife refuge. Outdoor experts like Don Baumgartner, founder of Geo Betty Tours, leads groups and bike rides. Climbers are fond of granite outcroppings. When you visit, bring plenty of water and snacks, better yet plan a picnic in one of the many shaded seating areas and scan the hills for goats and other wildlife.
Don Baumgartner, GeoBetty founder and guide in the Franklin Mountain State Park visit El Paso

Don Baumgartner, GeoBetty founder and guide in the Franklin Mountain State Park

Ivonne near the Sneed's Cory climbing rock in the Franklin State Park

Ivonne near the Sneed’s Cory climbing rock in the Franklin State Park

Once the trolley is back in service it’ll be easier to move from downtown to the University District Entertainment Center. The campus stands out from a distance as most of the buildings were built on dimensions from Bhutanese temples. Founded in 1914 the Texas State School of Mines and Metallurgy took its inspiration from Kathleen Worrell, wife of the first dean. She was fascinated with a National Geographic magazine photo-essay about the ancient kingdom and convinced her husband that the new campus be built in the same style.
Bhutanese Temple in the center of University of Texas El Paso

Bhutanese Temple in the center of University of Texas El Paso

The homage is more than skin deep as many Bhutanese artifacts are housed there. The University sponsors bi-annual Bhutan Days and enrolls a growing number of Bhutanese students each year. In the center of campus sits an authentic Bhutanese Ihakhang, house of god, but it’s not there as a working temple. Made with no nails or modern machinery the building was slated for demolition after a show at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. I walked around it and peered in windows. The campus and the temple are things of beauty and the closest I’ll probably get to the kingdom of Bhutan.
Boots inside the Rocket Buster workshop

The biggest boots! Guiness World Record winners inside the Rocket Buster workshop. More about El Paso’s cowboy boot workshops in the next post!

Getting around when you visit El Paso:
From the airport: Visit the Airport Ground Transportation pages for schedules and options.
The Trolley Returns
Once El Paso and its neighbor Juarez, just across the Rio Grande River had reached a detente the two regions and countries worked together. They supplied each other with labor, jobs, shopping, restaurantes, tourism and an efficient transnational trolley line was in use before every family had a car.
Unfortunately once cars and freeways ruled, public transportation declined across the Americas. One reason for the El Paso – Juarez line’s demise is cecause it was “too successful!” A cross-border rivalry between merchants cut the service. Finally, in 1977, Mayor Ray Salazar ordered the El Paso trolley tracks removed.
If only those lines were still intact! New tracks are being laid and stations set. After retiring the line, a half dozen of the original Art Deco cars had been baking in a field near the airport.The good news is that by 2018 the historical Trolley system will be back in service with the line extended from downtown out to the University.
I’m looking forward to returning to ride and discover more when I visit El Paso again.
Next post we’ll be dipping into the craft brewery and food scene in El Paso. Subscribe and don’t miss a story!
Special thanks to Visit El Paso for making this trip possible.As always, all views are my own.
weekend wanderlust April 2016

Chicago pub crawl and the birth of brownies

Downtown Chicago Tulips spied before a historic pub crawl
The map for our Detours historic pub crawl

The map for our Historic Chicago pub crawl

Downtown Chicago is overflowing with classic architecture and a history of high and low culture. Early skyscrapers graciously step up and back as they rise to better allow natural light to reach the street and pedestrians below. It’s just one of the architectural refinements that would’ve escaped me entirely if it weren’t for the Historic Chicago Walking Bar Tour and pub crawl. The promise of insights into architecture, local history, great drinks and company lured my travel buddy and me out on a vibrant Friday night. Over two hours we dipped into hidden lobbies, studied classic facades, historic photos on iPads and explored an underground watering hole. The tour began in the Argo Tea Cafe on Randlolph Avenue, an easy walk from our hotel, the Hyatt Centric on the Loop.
Hyatt Hotel Centric the Loop welcoming gift
Hyatt Centric the Loop Lobby

Lobby sitting area inside the Hyatt Centric the Loop

Hyatt Centric the Loop rooftop bar

Hyatt Centric the Loop rooftop bar with views to the lake.

Given the mild spring weather it was a pleasure to cross the river, enjoying beds of tulips scattered across wide avenues and stop to sip draft Kombucha at the Argo Tea Cafe. The registration fee covered the basics and tip cash was collected at the outset. After that we simply had to follow the leader, Elizabeth. She spoke quickly and began by engaging us in creative guessing games, then expertly herded us over the 3/4 mile walk. The veil of time was pulled aside with every anecdote, as she pointed out a sconce, bricked over window, elaborate carvings and so much more.
The clock inside the historic newspaper building of the Chicago Tribune.

The clock inside the historic newspaper building of the Chicago Tribune.

Through a doorway at the back of the tea shop we stepped into the historic Tribune Newspaper lobby. The towering skyscraper stands as a shrine to news, to a grander era with chandeliers, arched windows and a coffered ceiling that made us hush in respect. The walls and floor were inscribed with quotes with more than 120 stones embedded inside and out from important locations around the world. Most unusual was the tall, muted world map behind the desk. The layout was vertical and pale; mountains and continents stood in relief. Shredded dollar bills had been pulped and molded to create the three dimensional relief!
Out we went to the corner where the Shriners had built their Medinah temple just before the Stock Market crash in 1929. Carved with exotic reliefs with Abyssinian figures and winged embellishments drawn from Islamic designs, the building is topped by a burnished gold dome. Originally, the story goes, it was part of a dirigible docking station before the Hindenberg disaster turned those plans to ash.
Entrance to the subterranean, Billy Goat Tavern, immortalized in a SNL skit.

Entrance to the subterranean, Billy Goat Tavern, immortalized in a SNL skit.

The city is no stranger to ashes. The great Fire of Chicago in 1871 devastated nearly 4 miles of downtown. It created a new slate for the captains of industry to erect a more ideal metropolis. They created an underground where trash and delivery systems still keep truck traffic off the upper downtown streets. Downstairs, just a block from the Tribune building, stood a corner bar, The Billy Goat Tavern, immortalized by an early Saturday Night Live skit. We saw the ‘Wise Guys Corner,’ where early newspaper men and women spent long hours listening and drinking. The Goat is home to single/double/triple burgers and local brews. Our samples were served at an alcove table surrounded by framed photos of the original Billy Goat Siannis and his mascot side by side with media giants, sports figures and celebrities.
Sharing a snack on our pub crawl with Detours Chicago

Sharing a snack on our pub crawl with Detours Chicago

Those were just a few of the stops covered in the Historic Chicago Walking Bar Tour. As it drew to a close, we passed the flagship Dylan’s Candy Bar. Cocktails in candy hues, garnished with gummy bears and sprinkles were on the bar menu (for those over 21.) The rest of the multi-level shop was a play land full of teens and young families, topping their evening with sweet confections of all kinds.
Flagship Dylans Candy Bar on a Chicago Pub Crawl

The flagship store of Dylan’s Candy Bar

Tiffany's Peacock Doors inside the Palmer Hotel.

Tiffany’s Peacock Doors inside the Palmer House  Hilton Hotel.

 After our pub crawl tour goodbyes we chose a different dessert, a late night brownie, in the hotel where they had been invented. The Palmer House stands proudly full of marbled columns, a cavernous central courtyard. The street lobby once once housed C.D. Peacock Jewelers. When the hotel was rebuilt after the great fire, the jewelers drew the elite in through gilded Peacock doors created by Louis Comfort Tiffany. Inside the lofty hotel lobby several bars were in full flow for the Friday crowd. We chose a quiet booth in the restaurant and enjoyed plates of grilled octopus and vegetables before indulging in a brownie, created from the original recipe. (I’d recommend eating in the bar where it’s a bit noisier but there are better prices.)

 

Stepping into the Palmer hotel lobby

Stepping into the Palmer hotel lobby

Brownie created from the original, first ever Palmer Hotel recipe.

Brownie created from the original, first ever Palmer Hotel recipe.

Bertha Palmer, the original owner’s wife, was a savvy business woman and patron of the arts. She ensured that the City’s elite visited the hotel often. The story goes that, for a picnic box lunch with her society swells, Bertha asked the hotel chef to create a dessert that was less messy than sliced cake. The Brownie was born. Nearly a century later we were served a round Brownie made from the same recipe. It sat on a bed of chocolate syrup sprinkled with chips, nuts and cookie crumbles. My verdict? The round brownie was light, and more milk chocolate than the dark full flavor that modern brownies provide. It’s just a matter of taste, I like high cacao content chocolate, still not a crumb went to waste.
It was getting late but the night weather was mild and the street pleasantly peopled. Full of new facts about architecture, full of delicious food and drink, the walk back to our room at the Hyatt Centric Loop was the perfect night cap.
View across the river after our pub crawl. Yes, that's one of Trump's towers.

View across the river after our pub crawl. Yes, that’s one of  Donald Trump’s towers.

Disclosure: Chicago Detours offers many architectural walking tours around Chicago. We loved the Historic Chicago Walking Bar Tour and look forward to returning to sample more of their trips. We also thank the Hyatt Centric the Loop for our media rate. Our pub crawl was complementary but all opinions are mine.
If you go on a historic pub crawl

DeTours Historic Walking Tours. The historic pub crawl was our choice but there are many tours to select from. It was great mixing speakeasy ambiance, meeting locals and out-of-towners, plus the tickle of learning while tippling!  Detours Historic Chicago Walking Bar Tour.

 
Hyatt Centric the Loop: Just steps from downtown attractions, restaurants, the high rail, it’s a new concept in hotel luxury. The lobby is modest but there’s an upstairs lounge, the Corner, with a snack bar, espresso machine, several rooms for dining and meetings. Our room was plush but modest – we had all we needed, enough space, lots of well placed outlets and great WiFi. The staff was courteous, thoughtful and my only regret was arriving a few days before they opened the rooftop bar in the evenings. It’s a perfect perch for a mild evening. The Hyatt Centric the Loop.
Palmer House Hilton Hotel 
There are so many historic hotels to enjoy in the downtown Chicago Loop that it’s hard to focus on just one. For this foodie, when I heard that the Palmer House was the origin of brownies and that they were still baking the original recipe, the chance for a time travel tasting was too good to pass up. (Plus the elegant Palmer was less than two blocks from our hotel.)
Hope you enjoyed this post and get a chance to explore Chicago.
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Historic Chicago bar tour and pub crawl
Chicago pub crawl with Detours Historic Tours Historic bar tour and pub crawl in Chicago

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Hotel de la Cigogne – A romantic getaway in Geneva

Hotel de la Cigogne from the street
The gilded stork guards your getaway
The getaway begins
Once storks migrated through the lake country where the renowned city of Geneva now stands. That past is given a nod in the golden stork that reigns over the entry of the Hotel de la Cigogne. The luxurious hotel is a gem set between buildings and narrow streets. It stands on the plain that sweeps up from the waterfront and into the historic district. While an international business and political hub, the Geneva district is the renowned also for shopping, culinary traditions, historic sites and makes a perfect setting for a romantic getaway.
Lake Geneva getaway

Lake Leman with a glimpse of the historic city in the upper left.

After flying in from London, I arrived at the main train station within a half hour. The sky had darkened and a misty rain was falling, softening lights and window displays. As I walked a patchwork of dark and bright cobblestones in Place du Molard caught my eye. At night the wide street is illuminated. Many of the glass ‘stones’ were lit from from beneath and imprinted with a greeting in several languages from around the world. It made this travel weary tourist feel welcome and was less than a block from my hotel rendezvous.
Place du Molar with its illuminated stones
From the moment the hotel doors opened, luxurious textures, light and color from stone, deep rugs, stained glass, glittering chandeliers and hand troweled plaster acted as antidotes to the outside world of rush and hard modernity. It is partly illusion, carefully created, from the renovation of the 1901 building after it’s purchase by local architect, Mr. Rene Favre. He preserved the facade only, raising the interior and added a metal superstructure. Clever technical touches are embedded. The elevator runs whisper quiet and swift, lighting is placed to illuminate but never intrude. A discreet warmth flows from fireplaces, staged for comforting efficiency. Seasoned flagstones are set strategically.
Hotel de la Cigogne rooms are perfect for business or leisure getaways
This American felt out of her league but that faded fast. The staff were so friendly and made me feel most welcome. The Manager helped me to my room, a junior suite that was perfectly set for a romantic rendezvous. A curling stair led into the suite sitting area and I imagined descending to my sweetheart who would be waiting with a glass of champagne. However this was a solo trip  and the waiting tray of fruit, nutmeats and chocolates were mine alone.
Live like royalty in a suite at Hotel de la Cigogne

Live like royalty in a suite at Hotel de la Cigogne

I freshened up and began a short tour of the other suites. Each was more beautiful than the next. Designer/owner, Mr. Favre was an antiquities connoisseur, who collected furniture from secondhand trades for years. Restored bureaus, sconces and much more were placed in suites and along hallways as if he were decorating a private estate.
His piece de resistance was in selecting fabrics for the hotel. Daring deep, jewel tones flowed from walls into complementary tapestries and brocades upolstering settees and lounges. Polished desks beckoned. The bathrooms were completely renovated and, while not large, featured smooth stone work, designer fixtures, glass shower doors, deep tubs (not in every room) and many had bidets.
Hotel de la Cigogne lobby

Details in the Hotel de la Cigogne lobby

I longed to sit in the lobby drawing room, to sink into an armchair observing the European clientèle, with a book on my lap and a glass of wine beside me. However it had been a long journey from Los Angeles to Geneva and I had a deep bathtub to soak in before resting up for my city tour the next morning. Had I known about this luxury beforehand I’d have extended my visit.
The Hotel de la Cigogne bathrooms are inviting.
A secret about Geneva
Hotel de la Cigogne is often full of business visitors but weekends in the historic district are usually quiet and spared the crowds overflowing other parts of Switzerland. Rooms are more affordable on those days. If planning a tour of the graces of Geneva, I hope you consider a romantic getaway in the hotel guarded by a golden stork.
Set up your romantic getaway
  • More about Hotel de la Cigogne, member of Relais and Chateaux properties and winner of the Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence.
  • This trip was made possible by Swiss Travel System. Itineraries, train/boat/bus schedules are available. Over 300 Museums are included in the pass as well.
Disclosure: I was a guest of the hotel but as always impressions and opinions are my own.
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A California beach adventure in Oceanside

A California beach adventure begins at the Oceanside Pier

A California beach adventure begins at the Oceanside Pier

It doesn’t get much sweeter than this; sun most days of the year, easy to get to and affordable. Oceanside always surprises me. It’s one California beach city that is too often overlooked, but that’s changing.

Tom Cruise's house featured in the movie, Top Gun.

Tom Cruise’s house featured in the movie, Top Gun.

Perched between the military base, Camp Pendelton, and San Diego proper, it’s often just a blip on the GPS for drivers going north or south, but they’re missing out. I love spending a day or two walking downtown, visiting the beach, the museums and discovering new restaurants and happy hours. The harbor area is worth exploring too.

Oceanside heart balloon at the Farmers Market

The city rolls out its best for events year round. A giant heart balloon is seen around town during Valentine’s week. There are multiple charity runs and organized bike rides. Cultural events abound from the Oceanside museum, the Surf museum, the Starlight theater and galleries. The craft brew and gastropub scenes are percolating. Some great sushi and seafood can be found from white tablecloth establishments to casual pizza, health foods and taco stands.

California beach adventure includes a cup or bottle of Kombucha at Living Tea.

Josh Weigel and his draft Kombucha at Living Tea.

Hello Betty restaurant is a fun stop for a California beach adventure

Hello Betty has seating indoor, rooftop or along the sidewalk.

California beach adventure has to include a walk on the pier.

A view from the pier.

Oceanside1

The California Surf Museum, local murals and the Oceanside Art Museum.

My favorite is the beach. The pier is long and worth a stroll whether it’s stormy or the sky is bright. Along the waterfront quaint bungalows line the sea wall. The wide open sand makes dipping into the water a must. If you love surfing or boogie boarding, the waves will make you delirious.

Oceanside Springhill Marriott hotel is poised for a perfect California beach adventure

Views from the Springhill Marriott Hotel in Oceanside

Where to stay for your California beach adventure in Oceanside?

There are several BnB’s in the area and a number of hotels. The fresh, Springhill Suites Marriott, just a block from the water, is one choice. The view from their roof top pool is stunning.

Masters Kitchen and Cocktail reflects the California beach vibe.

Photo courtesy of Masters Kitchen and Cocktail

Where to eat in Oceanside:
  • Wrench and Rodent Seabasstropub is a culinary adventure you’ll savor long after the plate’s clean. Award-winning, Chef Davin Waite features local seafood, produce, and chef-picked ingredients.
  • Zig Zag Pizza Pie lets you pick your ingredients, your drinks out of the cooler and chops salads just steps from the Oceanside pier.
  • Hello Betty Fish House has a California beach theme and fresh eats inside or out.
  • Swami’s on Mission Avenue is one of the first healthy eating cafes in San Diego
  • 333 Pacific is a Cohn family restaurant with a bit more polish than most in the pier neighborhood. Stylish cocktails and sumptuous fare.
  • Masters Kitchen and Cocktail is a few blocks from downtown on South Coast Highway. It’s one of many innovative brew pubs / casual dining spots in the area. (Of course I had to include my namesake!)
  • Living Tea Brewing Company serves fresh, organic Kombucha in their storefront at 302 Wisconsin Avenue. It’s also available bottled around San Diego.
The most recent mural outside of Wrench and Rodent on South Pacific Highway near Cassidy.

The most recent mural outside of Wrench and Rodent on South Pacific Highway.

Getting to your California beach adventure in Oceanside:

Drive: The beach is just west of the Interstate 5 freeway and Pacific Coast Highway off Mission Boulevard.

Ride: The Amtrak station is close to downtown and the beach. There’s a great deal for weekend travelers from Metrolink. You buy a pass for Saturday or Sunday for just $10 to travel anywhere Metrolink goes. It makes visiting Oceanside even easier with the terminus there and access to the Coaster and Amtrak lines throughout San Diego County (a separate ticket.)

Here’s some of the views going into Oceanside along the coast.

Whether it’s a short vacation or a swim stop between destinations, there’s lots to do and explore on a California beach adventure in Oceanside.

Extend your California beach adventure and travel anywhere on the Metrolink system for just $10 on Saturday or Sunday with the Weekend Day Pass. More info:http://www.metrolinktrains.com/news/p…

I hope that you enjoyed this brief California beach adventure and will share these pins.

Oceanside heart balloon is part of a California beach adventure Our lady of the sea chapel in OceansideOceanside murals are part of your California beach adventure

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A romantic get away at the Cape Rey Resort in Carlsbad

cape rey beach sunset is perfect for a get away
Cape Rey resort has fire pits to enjoy on your get away

Cape Rey Resort fire pits make a get away warm and cozy.

It was a guilty pleasure to spend a night away from home in the middle of the week. So close and yet so far away! I drove north from downtown San Diego for meetings and pulled into the Carlsbad Cape Rey resort before returning. What made it doubly sweet was that my beloved joined me for dinner and a romantic evening. Mixing up the schedule can be such fun and this mid-week get away had us smiling.
Cape Rey get away is across from the Carlsbad State Beach
The Cape Rey is set across from the beach on Pacific Highway 101 in Carlsbad but south of the busy downtown business district. From our room, I watched the sun set over the ocean and woke the next morning to admire a peachy sky as dawn broke. The resort is laid out to take advantage of the views and most rooms face the waves.
Beach view on a Carlsbad Cape Rey get away

A room with a view.

If I’d arrived earlier the kitchen would have gladly packed a picnic lunch and pointed out the best beach spot to enjoy it. What a beach it is too! When conditions are favorable surfers skim the waves. A State campground butts up to the strand and before leaving I watched dolphins surfing but they were camera shy.
Lobby alcoves for your Cape Rey get away
For those of us needing more luxury than camping offers, the Cape Rey has lots to offer. The wide entry is set with soft lighting and comfortable alcoves. Several bikes wait for riders near the front door. The large pool is poised for perfect afternoon sun-bathing. There are terraces to lounge on and several fire pits perfect for cozy conversations.
Morning set up inside Chandlers for your get away dining
Ferdinand inside Chandlers helped me get away

Ferdinando inside Chandlers

I especially enjoyed Chandler’s restaurant and bar. The decor is warm but not in the over-crowded style of many bar/restaurants. At dinner, we sat side-by-side in a cozy corner booth where we could people watch. There were locals and business clients in conversational clutches at tables and counters. The staff was cordial and genuinely seemed to like their jobs. I was able watch them interacting. How well everyone gets along speaks volumes about the management.

Starry night cocktail is perfect for a get away

The shimmering Starry Night Cocktail

I ordered a cocktail that actually shimmered. The ‘Starry Night’ is a blend of Absolut Mandarin Vodka, Viniq Liquer, Lemonade and Proseco. It was a mellow Martini, filled with a dancing Viniq mist that swirled in the Proseco bubbles.
Delicious bites for a get away

Breakfast, welcome gift and dinner bites at the Cape Rey Resort & Chandler’s Restaurant

Next we shared a plate of fresh Burrata Mozzarella with vine ripened Heirloom Tomatoes. It was artfully plated with arugula, grilled vegetables and asparagus spears.  A side of herb bread and cheese crusted cracker triangles made it almost a meal in itself. But we managed to finish that along with a Spinach Quinoa salad before our Wild Mushroom Pizza arrived. I have a weakness for wild mushrooms (see my previous post about hunting them locally) and this was a slice (well, three) of bliss. Just enough garlic Alfredo sauce was dotted with smoked Gouda, Beechwood and Oyster Mushrooms. I’ll exercise it off tomorrow, I told myself!
Morning came too soon and while I elected to work out in the gym and tour the Spa, my beloved soon headed out to his office. For breakfast we found that Teri, the Cape Rey chef, had filled the slim menu with traditional options alongside creative, light and healthy choices. We sipped a Healer Smoothie full of peaches, ginger, turmeric and pea protein (one of eight to choose from!) and shared the Farmer’s Sunrise Biscuit plate.
 Daylight shadows for my Cape Rey get awayThe sun was overhead before I pried myself away from the Cape Rey. On the ride home it was easy to smile. Romance, beauty, great food and drink – What’s not to love in a get away?
Disclosure: I was a guest of the Cape Rey Hilton Resort for my room and breakfast but as always opinions are my own.

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Fort Lauderdale beach hotel – Lux at the Atlantic

Deck pool at the Atlantic Hotl Fort Lauderdale

Deck pool Fort Lauderdale across from the beachBeach, sand, balmy breezes – all present and expected when visiting a Fort Lauderdale beach hotel. What I hadn’t counted on was the luxury and sensory pleasures I’d discover at the Atlantic Hotel & Spa.

lobby at the Atlantic Hotel, Fort LauderdaleThe joy of any visit to Florida rests on where you lay your head. Mine was luxuriously treated to featherweight comfort at the Atlantic Hotel, just steps from the waves on the waterfront. Notorious Fort Lauderdale spring break crowds have long since moved on and the city has stepped quietly in to establish a fine food culture, support an arts district, a science and arts center to linger in and encouraged construction of gorgeous hotels that take advantage of the long, sandy beaches. The canals host luxury yachts. There are restaurants and bars to please all manner of visitors and budgets. I was fortunate to check in at the Atlantic Hotel as part of the TBEX Food FAM Trip and couldn’t have been happier.

Audrey Hepburn multi-media artwork in the lobby at the Atlantic Hotel, Fort Lauderdale

Audrey Hepburn stars in multi-media artwork in the lobby at the Atlantic Hotel

While waiting for my room, there was abundant WiFi and cooling fruit water to be enjoyed in the lobby. Color surrounded me from the rotating gallery of paintings by local artists to textures from wood grain to gilded mirrors.

Double room at the Atlantic, Fort Lauderdale

Double room at the Atlantic, Fort Lauderdale

 

Atlantic Hotel amenities, Fort Lauderdale

Atlantic Hotel amenities, Fort Lauderdale

Room view, Atlantic Hotel, Fort Lauderdale

Room view, Atlantic Hotel, Fort Lauderdale

Bathroom Atlantic Hotel, Fort Lauderdale

Bathroom Atlantic Hotel, Fort Lauderdale

The room was opened onto a small veranda where I was treated to a light show every morning as the sun rose over the waves and as it happened, to the full moon rise on my last night. The bathroom was spacious with two sinks, a full bathtub and separate shower plus water closet.

Sunrise from the Atlantic Hotel, Fort Lauderdale

Sunrise from the Atlantic Hotel, Fort Lauderdale

But the real surprise was the hotel restaurant, Beauty and the Feast. On the Sunday I checked in a buffet overflowed with brunch treats and a crowd filled tables inside and out. That evening as the bar sprang to life, I met my group of foodies. We sat in a private area as a series of small plates and one large platter rotated around the table.

A few plates from our dinner at Beauty and the Feast, Atlantic Hotel, Fort Lauderdale

A few plates from our dinner at Beauty and the Feast, Atlantic Hotel, Fort Lauderdale

TBEX foodies taking pictures at the Atlantic Hotel

No one eats till each dish is documented! With apologies to my TBEX foodie friends.

From sunrise to sunset, a winning location and attention to detail, the Atlantic is one Fort Lauderdale beach hotel I’d happily return to.

Street view Atlantic Hotel, Fort LauderdaleMy stay in Fort Lauderdale was partially underwritten by the Fort Lauderdale Visitors Center and part of the TBEX Food FAM trip. Regardless, the opinions shared are all my own.

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A Fort Lauderdale, Atlantic Hotel view

Waking up in New Orleans – Whitney Hotel Review

Whitney hotel dining room
Hotel room at the Whitney

Our spacious, two-bed Hotel room at the Whitney

The first light slipped through a crack in the thick, panel curtains. Before going to sleep I’d considered closing them completely but jet lag would’ve had me missing half the next morning and I didn’t want to squander a minute of the trip.

There were a few new sounds from the street below. Listening closely I could make out the faint warning of a cross-walk audio but it was nested in a murmuring bustle that was new to this suburban, California gal. It was my first time waking up in New Orleans.

That excitement alone would’ve had me bounding out of bed and getting ready for the day but our room at the Whitney was so comfortable. My sister and I had requested two beds and were given two rooms separated by a double door. It was just a part of the discrete and luxurious service we experienced during our two nights at the hotel.

The Whitney is a Beaux Arts beauty listed on the National Historic Registry. The building was originally the Metropolitan Bank and designed by one of the most prestigious architectural firms of the post-Civil War era. Today if you peer into the dining room past the marble columns and its huge mural, there’s a mystery.

whitney hotel dining room

The Whitney Hotel dining room with the bank beyond.

A room beyond is brightly illuminated and separated by a vault door but the two spaces share marble columns and a tall, embellished ceiling. I wasn’t allowed to take pictures of what’s beyond. It’s actually a branch of the Whitney Bank and still in full service.

Valet entrance, the Whitney Hotel

Valet entrance, the Whitney Hotel

When we arrived by cab from the airport (about a 20 minutes ride,) he dropped us off at a formal, side entrance and a valet brought our luggage inside. We signed in at an old tellers desk and on the way to the elevator passed the bank vault, now a banquet room.

The Whitney Hotel vault banquet room.

The Whitney Hotel vault banquet room.

As part of the New Orleans Collection of historic hotels, the Whitney is well situated for exploring the French Quarter but just far away enough to be quietly accessible. Around the corner, there’s a St. Charles Line Trolley stop. That couldn’t be more convenient. It goes out through the Garden district and to the Audubon Park and loops back to Canal Street before returning. It was perfect for our walking vacation.

One night we ventured to Frenchman Street, on the far side of the French Quarter, for music and dinner. Returning to the Whitney was simple. Ready for a stroll, we slowly walked to the hotel. Taxis were everywhere but even at the late hour there were so many people out on the street we felt relaxed about taking our time and walking, two gals enjoying a late, fall evening.

Whitney Hotel Reception

Whitney Hotel Reception

The Whitney exudes its historic background but isn’t stuffy – the amenities are up to date and always being upgraded. We enjoyed coffee in our room, the bathroom was generous enough for two gals to spread out and we each had our own TV. I loved having fast, complementary WiFi. The only thing missing was a place to sit and discuss our plans for the day – One of us sat in an armchair, the other on a bed bench. It was a minor rub.

Federal Treasury Museum

Inside the Trade Finance Museum

Being on the edge of New Orleans’ Financial District explained the neighborhood hush the weekend we were there. Offices were closed and workers were home. A park is around the corner next to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta which houses the Museum of Trade Finance on the first floor. Getting in required a security clearance as stringent as any airport but little museum was charming and interesting. Little bags of shredded bills came home as souvenirs.

In the Museum of Trade Finance a label reads: “The shreds in this bag are of unfit currency.” Now we know where old dollars go to die.

New Orleans is overflowing with charm and discoveries. I look forward to returning to find more and resting my head on those perfect pillows at the Whitney Hotel.

Our stay was partially underwritten by the New Orleans Collection of hotels, but the opinions are my own.

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Pinnable Whitney Hotel

Visiting Paris in Petaluma – Metro Hotel and more

Metro Hotel in Petaluma
Metro Hotel in Petaluma

Metro Hotel in Petaluma

Not many realize it but most everyone’s seen Petaluma in movies like American Graffiti and dozens of TV shows. Once the “Egg Capital of the World,” today the city’s well out of it’s carton. The small downtown’s saved the best of its 1800’s architecture. Storefronts house culinary exploits befitting a burg on the edge of the wildly popular Napa-Sonoma wine region and proximity to San Francisco. There are shops full of handmade clothing, retro to modern arts and crafts, and bakeries are full of locals in the mornings. Personality burbles onto the sidewalks. A river runs through it too.

Storefront in Petaluma

Cuddly critters spied in a Petaluma storefront.

I thought I had a handle on the place after visiting dozens of times over the years. So it was a revelation to pull up to the Metro Hotel and be transported into an eccentric version of Parisian culture.

Metro Hotel garden in Petaluma

Metro Hotel garden

There’s no question why accolades have been heaped on the inn. It’s in the top twenty most unique hotels in the country with awards from Sunset and Vacation Ideas magazines. Trip Advisor fans can’t speak highly enough.

Cafe in Metro Hotel in Petaluma

Cafe in Metro Hotel

Why the French accent? The couple behind the place took over the 1870’s building in 2004. The wife makes regular trips back home to France and can’t stop returning with retro remnants of her home country. Her husband runs the place and is doing well competing with the bigger hotel chains closer to the freeway.

My family stayed upstairs in a two bedroom suite with one bath. We had a claw foot tub with a shower and deeply comfortable beds. The staff was more than happy to give me a tour and I couldn’t stop taking pictures.

Bedroom in Metro Hotel in Petaluma

Bedroom in Metro Hotel

There’s a cottage to rent too and most amazingly, several shiny Airstream guest rentals on the property. I’ve heard they’re fun but can be chilly in the winter but would love to test the theory. A bocce ball court beckons just outside the back door.

Airstream at Metro Hotel in Petaluma

One of the Airstreams at Metro Hotel

In the morning we helped ourselves to pastries and pour over coffee. The WiFi was great. There were comfortable places to sit and relax, to work or read indoors or out, but the creative distractions kept me savoring the space with every sip.

Banquet room at Metro Hotel in Petaluma

Banquet room at Metro Hotel.

There’s plenty of free parking, tandem bikes to enjoy on the flat terrain and it’s a short walk to restaurants (within a few minutes drive from downtown.)

Foundry Wharf in Petaluma

Foundry Wharf

Sadly we were there for just one night. For dinner we walked two blocks towards the riverfront and listened to a theater company doing a reading of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar while we supped on salads and pizza.

Bakery cafe in Petaluma

Bakery cafe in Petaluma

It was a perfectly unique sojourn and I look forward to returning to Petaluma again. Especially when the renovations at the historic and much larger, downtown Petaluma Hotel are complete.

Historical Petaluma Hotel

Historical Petaluma Hotel

What else might you find in Petaluma?
Graffiti rest stop in Petaluma

Elaine takes a breather at a graffiti yard in Petaluma

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This was a completely independent trip, and all opinions are too.

Lanai adventure – A different Hawaii

Mural in the Four Seasons lobby on Lanai
Mural in the Four Seasons lobby on Lanai

Mural in the Four Seasons lobby on Lana’i

Humpback whales breech, hurling themselves out of the water and crash down again. The yearly migration drama happens all around us in the channel between Maui and the island of Lana’i. Our forty-five minute ride across the strait between the islands was transport to another realm. I soon discovered that a Lanai adventure is far from the Hawaii I knew of crowded hotels, raucous luaus and flashy Polynesian floor shows.

Lana’i is full of contrasts: spare landscapes and teeming waters, green fields and dusky canyons, red dirt and blue bays. They bless the gentle island with a unique presence. The differences begin with the wind which keeps the island unusually dry. Moist clouds are blocked by the neighboring islands of Maui and Moloka’i. Tradewinds push through the channel between them. Those winds crossed over 2,000 miles of open ocean to squeeze through the seven mile channel between the islands. Still our crossing was surprisingly gentle.

Lana’i has transformed in recent history and continues to. The sloping volcanic landscape is the one constant. Comb-like tips of conifers line the crests again. Most of the trees were cut down when the island was planted with pineapples. The trees are being replanted now that most of the pineapples are gone after markets were flooded with cheaper Indonesian imports.
The original Dole hunting lodge.

The original Dole hunting lodge.

Dole Corporation built a plantation town to house workers. A lodge built for hunters and the administration still sits on a slope looking East to the blue horizon. A recent change in ownership has closed the buildings temporarily as housing for contractors working on renovations at the Four Seasons Resort. Above the lodge front entrance a tall pineapple mural faces horses, the golf course and the ocean beyond.
Lana’i Village
Richard's Market, Lana'i

Richard’s Market, Lana’i

Lanai village shop

One colorful Lanai village shop

The village’s Dole Park and the lodge are most of what’s left of the original developments. The town remains a warren of plantation bungalows and small businesses on a grid of narrow streets. There are no chain stores or even a stoplight. Galleries, cafes, small markets and gift stores line the central park. You can walk it in less than an hour.
Hotel Lana'i

Hotel Lana’i

While the island has a reputation for luxury, high thread count charm can be found at the Hotel Lana’i. It was built in 1923 by James Dole to house his plantation executives and until 1990 this was the only hotel on the island. National Historic Registry status continues with 11 only guest rooms. Henry Clay’s Rotisserie and Grill hosts live music on Thursday nights.
Four Seasons Lana'i Resort

Four Seasons Lana’i Resort

Lobby in the Four Seasons Lana'i

Lobby in the Four Seasons Lana’i

High end luxury continues at the Four Seasons Resorts Lanai at Manele Bay. There’s a multi-million dollar renovation underway that should be complete by the next holiday season. The resort is set a respectful distance from an ancient burial ground. It offers members and guests exceptional service, state-of-the-art smart suites and villas full of bespoke furnishings and commissioned works. Several restaurants compete on-site with extraordinary culinary experiences. Beyond the newly renovated pools and volcanic cultural site, picture perfect Manele Bay often fills with dolphins in the afternoons. Indigenous birds and wild turkeys feed on the edge of the bramble. The luxury is quiet and complete.
Birds at the Four Seasons Lanai

Birds at the Four Seasons Lanai

For those wanting more immersion the Cultural and Heritage Center, the Art Center and the Tourism Board offer classes that visitors won’t find elsewhere. Most come for the restful beauty and return for a Lanai adventure of a different kind of Hawaii. I know I want to come back.
Many schemes have been hatched to bring the island jobs and sustainability. Today residents work in the service and tourism industries. Each year they help hunters keep the Axis deer population under control with lodging, supplies and guides. In the last few years the majority share ownership of the island transferred to Larry Ellison of Oracle Corporation billions. His influence has been slowly evolving with hotel renovations and a push to find more sustainable utilities for the community. There’s a wary progression but the locals have a voice and Ellison appears to be listening.
Subscribe and don’t miss the next post: Visiting Lanai – Shipwrecks, mud and the wilds.
If you go:
Lana’i Culture and Heritage Center – www.lanaichc.org Educational and cultural workshops for locals and visitors. Located in the village.
Lana’i Art center – www.lanaiart.org Art and cultural experiences for vistors and locals.
Trilogy Lana’i and Maui Adventures – www.sailtrilogy.com
Fifth Friday Lana’i, Chamber of Commerce – Fifthfridaylanaii.com
Lodging:
Hotel Lana’i – HotelLanai.com
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Lanai Sunset

Mahalo to the Lana’i Visitors Bureau for hosting my overnight adventure. I look forward to returning. Aloha. Proudly joining a superb group of travel bloggers on the Weekend Wanderlust, Weekend Travel Inspiration and the Weekly Postcard linkups. Explore their posts!

Visiting Guadalajara – The magical Tlaquepaque Market

Mural in Tlaquepaque, Guadalajara

mural in Tlaquepaque, Guadalajara

Mexico loves holidays and celebrations. Year round there are days devoted to family and music, feasts and remembrances. It’s a mix of history, revolutions won, church holy days and family celebrations. I was lucky to be in Guadalajara for Mother’s Day and to play with the locals.
Tlaquepaque sign, Guadalajara

Tlaquepaque sign, Guadalajara

The art district of Talaquepaque isn’t far from the city center. The name Tlaquepaque derives from Nahuatl and means “place above clay land”. Historically it refers to a large part of the city, but today is focused in a shopping and restaurant area filled with galleries and markets, high and low.
A cobble stone path led me past restaurant courtyards spilling over with patrons. The lilt of guitars, accordions, and singing rose and mixed above quiet groups taking pictures and visiting. Women walked arm in arm, young men strutted with strollers, their broods following, and grandfathers carried babies. Everyone seemed to be eating and shopping. It was a uniquely Mexican crowd. Very few appeared to be foreigners.
dancing sculpture, Guadalajara

The spirit of Mariachi, Guadalajara

The central market, filled with flowers and fruit, cheeses and crafts, was closing as my girlfriend and I crossed the cathedral courtyard. We were on a mission to find something cold to drink and try out the chairs that are indigenous to the area.
Tlaquepaque chairs
The chairs are built of wooden slats criss-crossed to form the base and back. Smooth leather is slung across the seat. We found them near the plaza of El Parian, inside the block-wide arcade. Cafes and bars surrounded a center open to the afternoon sun. A gazebo was crowded with musicians. The vocalist, dressed in ruffled red, worked the crowd, flirting and waving from one table and another.
Singer in El Parian

Singer in El Parian

Before I left the avenue there was just time to walk through the Sergio Bustamente Gallery with it’s beautiful garden and rooms full of whimsical, strange and anthropomorphic creations. The renowned artist was born in Culiacan, Sinaloa, Mexico, but has lived in Tlaquepaque area since early childhood. Inside was a bright maze full of bronzes and brightly painted sculptures, canvasses and glass cases with fantastical jewelry. It was a little universe unto itself and a magical discovery. I’ve been charmed before by his large public sculptures along the Malecons in La Paz and Puerto Vallarta.
Bustamente Gallery, Tlaquepaque

Bustamente Gallery, Tlaquepaque

As we wandered back to join our group for dinner, we passed an inviting courtyard. It was an entrance to a small, bed an breakfast inn. Hotel Casa Campos was once a convent that has been turned into a guest house. My glimpse of the rooms off the patio convinced me that I’ll have to return and stay there one day.
Casa Campos Courtyard

Casa Campos Courtyard

The day was wearing towards twilight. It was time for dinner and we joined friends at the Santo Coyote cafe. Again the pattern of a modest entrance leading to a large space filled with art, people enjoying food, drinks and music opened to us. You just have to know where to enter!
Santo Coyote, Guadalajara

Santo Coyote, Guadalajara

It was a magical day, warmed by the embrace of all the families enjoying their time together. Guadalajara warmed my heart and I slept dreaming of Bustamente’s mythical creatures twirling with me on cobble stone streets in the moonlight.

Thank you to NATJA and the Tourism authority of Jalisco for organizing this introduction to the treasures of Guadalajara.

Indulge royal dreams in Vienna historical hotels

Schonburnn Palace, Vienna
Schonburnn Palace, Vienna

Schonbrunn Palace, Vienna. Photo: Jeff Bechtel via Trover

Westerners may think of Vienna as the city of tiny sausages, a famous boys’ choir and a Billy Joel song. It’s also the ‘City of Music’ with grand waltzes and symphonies but also considered the ‘City of Dreams’ as the world’s first psycho-analyst, Sigmund Freud practiced there.

Dreams may well rule in the historic city center where Baroque castles and gardens still flourish. The grand buildings, monuments and parks of the late 19th century Ringstrasse host some of the grandest hotels in Europe. If you’re looking for royal treatment, consider one of Vienna’s historical hotels.

Theresien Platz in the city of horses. Vienna historical hotels

Theresien Platz in the city of horses. Photo: Maria Theresien via Trover

Stay in the Imperial Riding School Renaissance Vienna

Housed in a former military riding school dating back to 1850, the hotel near Belvedere Palace has been renovated with the latest luxuries. A study in contrasts, there’s an indoor pool with a sunbathing area and a garden offering BBQ facilities as well. When you book an Imperial Club room you’ll be offered wine or champagne in the elegant Lounge each evening. All guests are treated to a sumptuous daily breakfast buffet.

Hotel Regina

The palatial Hotel Regina was built for the Hapsburg family and the royal vibe still reigns inside and out. There are exquisite meeting and event rooms, a lobby that wears the hotel’s 4-stars well and a restaurant featuring Austrian and Viennese dishes. The complimentary breakfast offers Kaiser cake and a wide selection of pastries, breads and cheeses. The rooms are draped in grand swaths; many have coved ceilings with large windows looking across to the park and the stunning Votive Church.

Hotel Imperial

Feel like a Queen (or King) for a day enjoying the pampered elegance at Hotel Imperial. Marble and gilded furniture holds court alongside world-class contemporary amenities in what Travel and Leisure calls one of the world’s best hotels. Treat yourself to an afternoon tea in the 1893 Bar on the weekends while listening to the grand piano or sip one of the elegant cocktails in the evenings. Service and an old world pace make this a perfect place to unwind after busy days in Vienna.

Statue of Johann Strauss in Vienna.

Statue of Johann Strauss in Vienna. Photo: Algirdas Sidiskis via Trover

Radisson Blu Style Palais

With fewer than 100 rooms, the Radisson Blu Style is a sensuous retreat of color, light and contemporary design inside a historic twentieth century building. The five-star treatment begins as you enter to register, then enjoy a pillow top bed and access to a spacious gym and spa. While centrally located across from a park and next door to the famous Café Central, don’t miss the award-winning hotel restaurant, Sapori, and the H12 bar.

Palais Hansen Kempinski

Five star elegance and tradition have morphed into modern luxury at the Palais Hansen. Located on the famous Ring Boulevard, the hotel was originally built during the World Exhibition in 1873. Enter past towering columns and archways into the main hall. The staff prides itself on service and maintaining a quiet atmosphere. The Michelin Star restaurant, Edvard, focuses on the freshest of regional ingredients with modern interpretations.

Visiting one of these Vienna historic hotels will turn your fantasies of living like royaltyl into reality.

Written as part of the Hipmunk City Love Project.

Boutique hotels in Puerto Vallarta – Petite to palatial luxury

Villa Premiere Hanging Beds, Boutique Hotels Puerto Vallarta, tripwellness
The Cathedral in Puerto Vallarta's old town. Boutiqu.he hotels in Puerto Vallarta. Trip wellness

The Cathedral spire towers over Puerto Vallarta’s old town.

My heart jumps at an opportunity to stay in a unique place on vacation. The little hotels, BnB’s and Villas that have grown out of circumstance and the passion of owners instead of reliance on corporate business plans, inspire me. A big resort is perfect for certain kinds of trips but on a recent visit to Mexico, I found that the boutique hotels in Puerto Vallarta are swoon worthy.

Location. Location. Location.
Banderas Bay is post card gorgeous. The Spanish colonial old town district skirts the water and slopes up towards lush green mountains. Tide pools and gentle waves kiss the Malecon boardwalk, with its treasure of fantastical sculptures. Over sixty years the area has been a magnet for expats, artists and film makers.
Tripwellness. Boutique hotels in Puerto Vallarta. old and new mingle.

Old and new mingle in Puerto Vallarta.

In the 1950’s director John Huston was mesmerized by the natural beauty – even though originally there was no electricity or running water in the area where he filmed ‘The Night of the Iguana.’ In the film actor Richard Burton´s character declares, “This is Mismaloya, garden spot of the west coast. You will be grateful to me until your dying days for bringing you here. In all of Mexico, there is nothing equal to this.” Burton proved it as the world witnessed his love affair with co-star, Elizabeth Taylor. They married and returned many times to Puerto Vallarta.
Site of the 'Night of the Iguanas,' the John Huston film. Boutique hotels in Puerto Vallarta. Tripwellness

Site of the ‘Night of the Iguanas,’ the John Huston film.

One of hotels where the Burtons and friends would dine is still open. The Rosita Hotel is across the street from the Malecon. Originally it was built with only 8 rooms but as it’s grown has retained the original Mexican architecture with tiled floors, archways and fountains. With 114 rooms looking out across the sea, and just steps from the heart of the city, the Rosita Hotel remains a favorite vacation place for visitors.

A room with a view - the Velas Vallarta resort. Boutique hotels in Puerto Vallarta. Tripwellness

A room with a view – the Velas Vallarta resort.

While staying in Puerto Vallarta for a writers conference, I had a suite at the Velas Vallarta Resort in the Marina District where a row of towering hotels offer deluxe accommodations and all the amenities you’d desire. The beachfront breakfast buffet was full of temptations, peacocks strolled the grounds and huge iguanas lounged in the sun by the pool. It was a slice of paradise but what lured me to the colonial part of town was an invitation to visit the glamorously eclectic Rio de Rivera Villa Bed and Breakfast.

Rio de Rivera Rooms, Boutique hotels in Puerto Rivera, trip wellness

Rio de Rivera BnB rooms in Puerto Vallarta

The building rises three floors above the street and is directly across from the shallow waters of Rio Cuale about four small blocks from downtown. The original owner, ‘Silver’ Maria Cortez, hailed as one of the world’s top architectural lady designers, spun her magic through a series of suites, each with their own kitchen, sumptuously painted and furnished.
'Silver' Maria Cortez, Founder of the Rio de Rivera Bed and Breakfast , Boutique hotels in Puerto Vallarta, trip wellness

‘Silver’ Maria Cortez, Founder of the Rio de Rivera Bed and Breakfast

N.Y Interior designer Billy Baldwin called her eclectic abode “the house of dreams” and since the 1960’s many famous visitors have dreamed there. Others, like the actor Kevin Costner, have relaxed between takes in the suites. Several movies have used the textured walls and antiqued furniture for scenes.
Rooftop pool at the Rio de Rivera. Boutique hotels in Puerto Vallarta. Trip wellness

Rooftop pool at the Rio de Rivera.

Today the romantic rooms are lovingly managed by Silver’s grandson, Alejandro. The building with it’s luxuriously painted surfaces takes constant maintenance. Hungarian artist, Christina Molnar, is on-site weekly to update the gold leaf, the textured walls, resurfacing furniture and touching up murals.
Nemi Eco Villa pool. Boutique hotels in Puerto Vallarta. Trip wellness

Nemi Eco Villa pool.

Conscious Accommodations
Of all the luxury villas tucked into the hillside around Puerto Vallarta none is quite like the Nemi Eco Villa. The luxurious property has 6 individual bedroom pods in four tiers that hug the hillside in Amapas. Each room has their own expansive ocean and mountain views.  They are completely constructed from re-purposed, sustainable or locally sourced materials.
View from the Nemi Eco Villas. Boutique hotels in Puerto Vallarta. Tripwellness

View from the Nemi Eco Villas.

The architects are dedicated to providing an ecologically responsible experience without sacrificing luxury. The 40 foot pool is filled with chemical and salt free water, filtered water is provided for drinking, solar panels keep the lights, as well as the ice-based air conditioners, on. Locally sourced foods fill the tables. Staying at the Nemi (along with a dozen friends!) is high on my bucket list.
Adult only Luxury
Steps from the downtown district the Villa Premiere Hotel and Spa rises above the beach. Over nine years it’s won the Four Diamond Award and in the top ten of the Conde Nast Travel Readers’ Choice Awards. I saw why as soon as I entered. The staff is kindly welcoming, the lobby is filled with art. The meal I had in La Corona was one of the most creative and delicious I’ve ever enjoyed.
Lunch at La Corona inside Villa Premiere, Boutique hotels Puerto Vallarta, Tripwellness

Lunch at La Corona inside Villa Premiere

The pool lies sparkling near a tall Palapa and suspended beds are shaded by palm fronds. I could spend a day there! The suites face the ocean with the afternoon heat tempered by sea breezes. The Master suites are stunning with large patios featuring a private hot tub, lounging area and full kitchen.
Villa Premiere Master Suite patio, boutique hotels Puerto Vallarta, tripwellness

Villa Premiere Master Suite patio

With Mexico being so affordable, returning to spend several days in one of these boutique hotels in Puerto Vallarta is high on my bucket list. Where will you be staying ?
Elaine fools around on the Malecon. Boutique hotels in Puerto Vallarta. tripwellness

Fooling around on the Malecon. Sculpture by the artist, Bustamante.

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Live Like a Local in a Toronto Short Term Rental

Downtown Toronto fountain.
Downtown Toronto fountain.

Fountain in downtown Toronto. Photo: Elaine J. Masters

If I’d looked into short term rentals, my visit to Toronto would’ve been so much more fun. While in Toronto for a conference, I chose a private hostel room for my stay (it was a short walk from the Convention Center.)  However if I’d shared a two-bedroom space with a travel buddy the cost would have been the same or lower. It’s hard to argue with having your own kitchen, more comfort, and plenty of privacy when you stay in a Toronto short term rental.

Here are a few Airbnb options for share rentals in Toronto:

Stay in a High-Rise, Queen Street West Apartment

Enjoy one of the coolest neighborhoods (according to Vogue magazine.) The space is sleek and minimalist with a bedroom separated from the living area. Sip a glass of wine from the balcony while you savor the view of the city skyline. Transportation is easy, with the 24-hour street car and taxis just a few feet from the front door. There’s a four-day minimum with rates starting at $99 a night.

A King Street West Loft on the Edge of the Fashion District

Urban and compact, the loft décor is hip with great views of the city. It comes with high ceilings throughout and a full gym with an outdoor pool on the property. Union Station and the airport shuttle are a short walk away. Public transportation and taxis are close, but enjoy walking when you can to really discover all the neighborhood offers. Rates start from $116 a night.

Toronto street scene.

Street scene. Photo: Elaine J. Masters

Venture into Little Italy From a Spacious Loft Apartment

Furnished with antique flair, the apartment exudes plush, old-world charm with all the amenities you’d expect. There’s one bedroom with a bathroom and powder room, plus two cots. The building houses just a handful of apartments on a quiet street. It’s just a block from the bustling College Street district. Parking is included so you can walk everywhere. Rates go from $99 a night.

Savor Lake Views From this Downtown Sky Rise

Walk to this downtown sky-rise in five minutes after taking the train to Union Station from the airport. Grocery stores, the CN Tower and great nightlife are all within walking distance. If you need more exercise, dip into the indoor pool or work out in the gym. Rates go from $112 a night.

OCAD University arts building

OCAD University arts building. Photo: Elaine J. Masters

City Hall, Queen Station and the Eaton Center Are All in the Neighborhood

When you stay in this stylish condo, you’ll stretch out in this large, bright and open apartment. Revel in luxury, decorator furniture, and a renovated bathroom. Parking lots with daily rates are nearby. Rates start at $141 a night.

While hotel rooms can run from $200 and up, a Toronto short term rental may help stretch your budget without compromising on comfort. Another plus is owners who will enthusiastically share their recommendations on their favorite eateries, bars, and sites.

Published as part of the Hipmunk City Love Project.

Splash and Sip – San Diego’s Hotel Pools

 

Marriott Marquis hotel pool. Best San Diego luxury pools. Trip Wellness

Marriott Marquis hotel pool. Photo: Jason Zite via Trover

There’s nothing like jumping in the deep end, then letting the sun dry you while sipping a tall, cool cocktail. San Diego hotel pools are some of the most luxurious – especially if you’re a big kid at heart. These are waters for the 21+ crowd.

Paradise Point Resort and Spa

One of the most beautiful hotels for views and island charm is at Paradise Point in the Mission Bay area. The true beach is a few feet away, but once you slip onto a poolside chaise, you’ll be in tropical bliss. Island-style bungalows are scattered across the Vacation Village. Built in the 1960s by film producer Jack Skirball, careful upgrades have left touches from its founder’s movie days. There are five pools set among ponds and gardens. The adult Lagoon Pool is secluded from the rest with lush greens and cascading waterfalls nearby.

Hotel Andaz Rooftop Pool. San Diego luxury pools. Trip Wellness

Hotel Andaz Rooftop Pool. Photo: Dave Parsons via Trover

The Andaz San Diego

Staying downtown and looking to soak up some sun? Take the Andaz elevator to the top and one of the most luxurious of San Diego hotel pools. The contemporary vibe extends to a lovely view across town. It’s the perfect deck for relaxing. Nightlife comes to you as the club beat heats up late in the afternoon and fire pits blaze into the night. If you feel like exploring, stroll to hundreds of restaurants, the waterfront, and theaters.

Lafayette Swim Club and Bungalows. San Diego luxury pools, trip wellness

Lafayette Swim Club and Bungalows. Photo: Elaine J. Masters

The Lafayette Swim Club and Bungalows

Not far from Balboa Park and the zoo stands a grand dame of a hotel. Step past the towering columns into the cool world of the Lafayette Swim Club and Bungalows.  The silver screen glamour comes naturally as Bob Hope and various starlets once partied there. The original Hollywood Tarzan and Olympian, Johnny Weismuller, helped design the central pool. A curtained bungalow and party area stands at one end. The hotel lobby opens to the graceful waters from the other side. Recent upgrades have the latest tech in the rooms and new embellishments to the two bars and restaurants.

A bit further from the city center are two of San Diego’s best hotel pools for splashing in style:

La Valencia Hotel

Venture into La Jolla Village and the Spanish Colonial charm at the historic La Valencia Hotel. Suspended above the postcard-perfect La Jolla Cove, the pool is large enough for laps or a cooling dip. Order drinks and appetizers while lounging beneath white umbrellas, or enjoy a quiet retreat next to tiled fountains. Take a break from the sun to shop in galleries and designer shops throughout the neighborhood. The lobby happy hour includes music drawn from the grand piano accompanied by a baritone on the weekends.

L’Auberge Del Mar

Tucked into the Old Del Mar Village, L’Auberge is just across the street from pounding waves. Spare yourself the sandy feet by lounging by the Olympic-sized pool. Servers wait to fill your glass while you enjoy the light. The Village eschews retail chains, so dozens of restaurants, shops and bars hold curated style and menus overflowing with California cuisine to ethnic varieties. The Del Mar Racetrack and Fairgrounds are less than five miles away, but are a world removed from the quiet elegance in Del Mar Village.

Featured photo of San Diego Convention Center Pool by Carla Quimson via Trover.

Created as part of the Hipmunk City Love Project.

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