A look at the family-owned Hofsas House located at Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Peace by the Ocean: Hofsas House

A look at the family-owned Hofsas House located at Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Every year, I head somewhere for my birthday. Or at least try to. It all started in 2009 when I was in Atlanta and working in PR. I took the first trip of my adult life — a two week excursion to Croatia — seven years after my first foray into solo travel, which netted me about one month of backpacking with a far-too-heavy backpack around Europe.

If you’ve been reading this site since its infancy, then you know Croatia was the catalyst for all things d travels ’round.

I digress.

Birthday.

Americas California Hotel Reviews Reviews Featured

A Weekend at Laguna Beach’s Pacific Edge Hotel

Escape reality at the oceanfront Pacific Edge Hotel in Laguna Beach. An in-depth look at the property.
“I had to close the door a little more,” Kyla explains to me our first morning waking up at the Laguna oceanfront hotel, the Pacific Edge Hotel. “It was too loud.”

In this case, being too loud is a blissful problem to have since she’s referring to the sound of the Pacific Ocean crashing feet outside of our balcony.

In fact, in the early morning hours I awaken simply to listen to the waves crashing outside of our room.

It’s been a stressful few months and this mini-vacation is exactly what I need to unwind and unfurl myself from my desk long enough to breathe in some deep, salty air breaths.

I lay in my king bed, silent. Listening.

It’s a soundtrack that could be playing at a spa, but it’s real life. 

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Let’s Get Lost

Let's get lost
“What do you want to do now?” he asks as we stand in the parking lot of the foot massage spa somewhere in the Valley.

“I don’t care,” I respond. Because, really, I don’t. All that matters is that I am spending time with my friend in his home.

We stand there, in the early summer evening, wondering what to do. We’d already been biking in Santa Monica, wandered around the impressive Fairfax Flea Market …

“We could go on a drive and just get lost,” I suggest.

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Adventures in Biking from Santa Monica to Venice Beach

Biking in LA
It’s a little green monster, that bike in front of me.

“Where’s the brake?” I ask, scanning the handlebars for the metal clutch to prevent me from bashing into people, or giving me the ability to slow down.

“You back pedal,” the man says, tossing me a look of ‘you’ve got to be kidding me, lady.’

I stand there, surveying the bicycle as my friends begin to climb on their own set of two wheels.

It’s only been two weeks since I re-learned how to ride a bike, and the biking I have done has been through the rural roads in Delaware, not bustling California beach cities. For nearly 15 years, I’ve had a fear of bikes. A  totally rational feel, I assure you.

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The Bacon Bloody Mary Love Letter

D + BBM = ❤

Dear Bacon Bloody Mary,

I had never fathomed such a lovely start to a morning until a recent and gorgeous July Sunday in Napa Valley.

“Here,” Kristin had said when we discussed our post-winery breakfast between she, Abby and I. “The Boon Fly Cafe.”

She read some reviews, and the three of us were off to the cute little farmhouse-style restaurant.

BBM, I never knew you,  such a lovely treat existed. But there, in the air dining room of Boon Fly Cafe, I saw your first mention, written neatly in white chalk on a blackboard.

Bacon. Bloody. Mary

My eyes lit up.

Bacon. Vodka. Tomato. Yes. Please.

And so, we sat down and ordered.

I knew the moment I laid eyes on you … Your crunchy bacon goodness in a sea of spicy tomatoey cocktail. Heaven.

I don’t think I could have paced myself if I tried.

Oh, bacon … You were perfection. And, when dunked into my drink, little crunchy bite after little crunchy bite … There was little I could do to keep from finishing you off before my eggs were served.

And yet, I tried.

And when you were gone, I savored every last bit of the remaining drink. The cold spicy sweetness rolling over my tongue, down my throat.

Oh, BBM. I love you so.

Cheers to being the best momentary pause in Napa wine drinking history.

Yours truly,

D

In case you need more photos of the most adorable breakfast spot in Napa, Boon Fly Cafe, located at Carneros Inn …

Americas Blog California Travel

Photo Essay: Napa Valley

This wasn’t really one of those take-heaps-and-heaps-of-photos-trips (and no, it’s not because I was all glassy-eyed drunky in Napa … cause I wasn’t … for realsies).

But, in case you want more Napa pics, here are favorites from our day of wine tasting, starting with The Golden Gate Bridge:

Crossing through the thick fog on the Golden Gate Bridge ... en route to sunny skies and warmer temps

The lush Domaine Chandon:

The famed champagne's grounds

 

The start of the tasting

 

Visitors enjoying the gorgeous afternoon weather.

 

If you didn’t see the last post, after Domaine Chandon, we stopped in to Peju for a quickie tasting:

Peju's entrance.

 

From inside to out ... the grounds of Peju

The airy lobby of Peju.

The colorful stained glass of Peju's tasting room.

Learning about Peju wines.

And then, we’re off to Caymus for our tasting at the rustic building:

Learning about Caymus.

Oh-so good.

Caymus' vineyard.

Post-wine yummy at Gotts Roadside Diner:

They had everything, even grilled cheese.

After checking in to Chardonnay Lodge, the three of us continued our wine-lovingness at Oxbow Market.

Gott's #2. Nearby Oxbow Market.

Oxbow Market ... right around the corner.

The whimsical cows of Oxbow Market

Oysters ...

There was wine to go with all that cheese.

 

Americas Blog California Travel

Photo Essay: Chardonnay Lodge

Chardonnay Lodge is many things. One of which is adorable. So adorable, in fact, that I put together a little photo essay of all of its adorable-ness.

Our adorable corner room.

Roses at the entrance.

The little garden up front.

A little vineyard to enjoy on property.

One day, these delicious little grapes will be all grown up ... and in a pretty bottle. Hopefully in my wine glass.

Perfect for an afternoon/evening sipping new purchases.

Paris Room AKA our room.

The sleeping area. And hand-painted wall.

 

The extra room. And the robe mannequin.

Yes. I took a photo of the tub. There are two. This one rocks.

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Sleeping in Napa Valley

The first time I visited Napa, over President’s Day Weekend in 2008, I became enamored.

The lush, green rolling hills. The yellow blossoms of mustard carpeting the ground not occupied by vineyards. The gorgeous and grandeous wineries. The trailer wineries. The Napa area immediately captured me and held my interest well beyond the days I spent drinking wine.

In the years since I first visited, Napa was never too far from my mind. I had met Kiran Patel, the owner of Chardonnay Lodge, on my first trip to the town.

My best friend from childhood, Becca, and I had decided to stay at her property and were quickly taken with how adorable it was. And Kiran, well, she was just wonderful. When Becca and I checked in, she enthusiastically greeted us and took us on a tour of the rooms. They were in the process of being renovated, and Kiran was not only the owner of the lodge, but also the interior decorator.

“Each room has a theme,” she explained, ushering us in and out of a few of them. “And all of the paintings on the walls are original …”

“They are beautiful,” we had both commented.

She smiled. “I painted them.”

Wow.

Over the years, Kiran and I stayed in touch. I helped her with some PR, and she always offered a room for my next visit to Napa.

Of course, when Abby, Kristin and I were planning our Napa leg of the adventure, Chardonnay Lodge and Kiran came up in my mind first.

I messaged Kiran the night we bought our tickets, and she graciously offered us a room.

After an afternoon of leisurely sipping champagne and wine around Napa, the three of us pulled into Chardonnay Lodge.

From the outside, the place is unassuming … easy to miss, except for the  statue of a girl in the front lawn thick with roses, and the little vineyard on the side of the road. It looks like a motel, but, the interior of the rooms … so beautiful. So lovingly created with little touches of comfort and home (I totally dig the complimentary bottles of water and granola bars placed in baskets in each of the rooms.)

Kiran was out of town, but her husband checked us in. We were in the last room on one side, the Paris Room. Outside our door was a cute little iron bistro table and chairs set-up, next to the vineyard thick with bushels of green grapes.

So. Cute.

Inside, we were greeted with a king bed, two flat screen televisions, a huge jacuzzi tub and, the perfect touch, a hand-painted mural of the Eiffel Tower on the wall.

It was charming, unique, even more luxurious than I had remembered.

The three of us unwound for a little bit before we decided to venture out to Oxbow Market for some wine, cheese and more wine.

It IS Napa after all.

Americas Blog California Reviews

Napa, wine and girlfriends

I was raised on Manischewitz, so I like to think it is a miracle I like wine.

I remember very well the too sweet, too sugary grape “wine” I used to drink growing up in a (not really) Jewish family … the Friday night Shabbat dinners; the bar/bat mitzvahs; Passover with the four glasses. In fact, the first time I was ever buzzed was thanks to the purple stuff.

In my early 20s, my friends and I drank wine because we thought it was “grown up.” Except, we would get those huge wine goblets (think Courtney Cox’s monster glass on “Cougar Town”) and dump a bottle into two glasses. I couldn’t tell you if it tasted good or bad. If we were drinking $2 or $20 wine. I wasn’t drinking it to enjoy it. I was drinking it to get a little bit saucy.

OK, a lot saucy.

Fast-forward to my mid- and late-20s. Suddenly, I realized wine is good. It should be enjoyed. It pairs well with breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and, best of all, moments. Some of my best memories in my late 20s are sitting outside in the Las Vegas night, sipping wine with my friends, just talking about life.

Today, oh, I love my wine. Like LOVE. Yeah, I’m on a budget, so you won’t see my buying any super expensive bottles, but, I never turn a good glass of wine down.

In fact, some of the best “grape juice” I’ve had has been from the gorgeous Napa Valley.

Thankfully, Abby and Kristin also happen to like wine, so our trip to Napa this go ’round was full of yummy tastings and general awesomeness.

Our first stop?

Domaine Chandon.

 

The entrance to Domaine Chandon

OK, so we didn’t drink wine. We drank the bubbly, light, crisp and super fine champagne. But, still. It was delicious. The largest facility of the three vineyards we visited, Domaine Chandon offers a wide range of champagnes for the tasting (and the buying). They also make still red and whites, but we stuck with what they do best for this tasting.

The winery is set on a gorgeous plot of land, complete with pond, tasting room and restaurant, etoile, which offers dishes that are perfect for pairings, and a large outdoor terrace. If you have time, check out the rotating art exhibits around the property.

The three of us purchased our $20 three-course champagne tasting and headed for a seat in the early afternoon sun. We sat for a good hour-plus, sipping and chatting. Of course, while I was there, I ran into people I knew from my previous amateur wine drinking days of yore. From Maryland.

 

One of the gorgeous trees on Domaine Chandon's terrace

Thanks to my boss, the next winery we were scheduled to hit was Caymus to have a private tasting. We had about 30 minutes between the Chandon and Caymus and drove down the hand-crafted iron gates of Peju.

“Oooo,” I breathed, looking out the window at the gorgeous countryside and wineries, “Peju is supposed to be really good.”

We pulled in to determine if it is possible to go through a tasting in under 30. It could be done.

Napa Tasting #2: Peju.

 

The beautiful Peju entrance

Unlike other wineries I have been to, we waited with others in a bright and airy room, and then were ushered into a gorgeous tasting room with stained glass windows and a gift shop. The tasting was more of a presentation, with a staff member who was ridiculously knowledgeable about the wines (as he should be). We tried four wines and I think its pretty safe to say, both Abby and I really liked what we tasted.

I don’t like Merlot, but damn. The Peju Merlot was fantastic. Of course, I had to purchase it.

Then, we rushed on to Caymus and were sent straight to the private tasting room where a representative guided us thorough four tastings.

 

The rustic Caymus winery

And, another bottle was purchased.

At that point, it was about 4 p.m. and we needed to add some food to the day, so we headed to a roadside burger joint for hot dogs, grilled cheese, milkshakes and general yum.

The three wineries we went to, I loved.

I would also recommend the following wineries for additional tasty Napa goodness:

Darioush: This place is palatial. I wore jeans and a little sporty jacket, but would have felt more comfortable wearing something a bit more dressy. It is gorgeous. And, so are the wines.

Black Stallion: Rustic atmosphere and lots of natural lighting inside. The wines are great, and the staff is really friendly.

Chimney Rock: I liked the wines from Black Stallion more, but this winery scored major points for its gorgeous courtyard and grounds. Little touches like trickling fountains, towering trees and plenty of ground to have a picnic, make it one of my favorites to go for some relaxation. And good wine.

What’s your favorite winery in the Napa region?

 

Americas Blog California Travel

The San Francisco Foodgasm: Off the Grid

Living in Las Vegas means there are tons of amazing food options. You name it, we’ve got it. Five-star restaurants. Michelin rated. Celeb chefs with numerous outlets across town. But, what we don’t have a lot of is food trucks.

Yes, there are some. Las Vegas has, what you could say, a burgeoning street food scene. But, step outside of Las Vegas and into another city, and holy. cow. The street food options are overwhelming.

Abby, Kristin and I had planned on having a low-cost San Francisco/Napa weekend. Before Abby and I even stepped foot on the amazing Virgin flight, we had discussed, at length, our dining options for the weekend.

We were for sure hitting: Oxbow Market in Napa. And, Off the Grid in San Francisco.

I’ve never really been into the street food scene, mostly because I work in the back of a restaurant and I eat, sleep and breathe restaurant food. But, this … this street food orgy, sounded pretty fantastic.

It started with a conversation between us and the awesome blogger, Spencer Spellman, a recent newbie to San Fran. His goal? To eat his way through the food trucks at Off the Grid.

Naturally, we decided to join him on this adventure.

The day of our flight, also the day of Off the Grid, Abby and I were messaging each other back and forth. Apparently, the weather in San Francisco was not what we were used to in Las Vegas.

Low 60s. Drizzle. Which, in Las Vegas/desert life translates into “holy shit, it’s f#$%ing cold.”

“What do we wear? What does 60 degree weather even feel like?” We asked each other.

“It’s soooo cold.” We lamented.

So, when we finally arrived to town, the clouds were thick and the threat of rain hung in the air.

Abby pulled her winter coat tighter, and  I, clad only in jeans, Chucks and a cardigan, wondered what the hell I was thinking when I packed.

Quick enough, Kristin was at the BART station to pick us up and drive us over to our hotel, the historic and palatial Fairmont Hotel.

We quickly re-grouped. I grabbed a sweater. Then, we headed down to grab a tiki cocktail with some PR ladies from the hotel. And then, it was getting late. And we were hungry.

The three of us headed over to the marina and Fort Mason, where we were greeted with the ultimate street food festival.

Our first stop: The Taco Guys

Yes, we had heard about it. But, what we encountered was immense.

An entire huge parking lot was converted into a food festival. Trucks. Tents. Smells. Plates. In all about 30 trucks were parked there offering just about everything under the sun.

Off the Grid, founded by Matt Cohen, is a rotating street food market. Monday through Saturday, it stops in various locations across the city, with anywhere from a few to a little more than 10 food trucks. But, Friday night is the Grand Daddy of all Off the Grid’s. It’s when people flock to the street food scene. The love the city feels for the event is apparent.

Entry is free, and then it’s a free-for-all. Want tacos? No problem. How about a new drink concoction (I tried hibiscus cinnamon tea)? OK. Gourmet rotisserie? Cajun? Korean? Artisan burgers? Check. Check. Check. Then, there’s the desserts. Creme brulee. Cupcakes. Cakes.

You want it, Off the Grid has it.

Plus, there’s a beer and wine tent and live music.

Our group ended up being six total, and we took turns going to trucks and getting food for everyone to taste.

Somehow, between the mix of plates and wine, I tried duck.

On accident.

I have sworn up and down I would never eat the cute lil’ guys. Every night at work, I see them hanging, featherless, ready for consumption. And, I have just never been able to convince myself to try the game.

We were eating tacos, and they saved one for me. I rolled the meat around in my tongue.

“This … tastes … not like chicken,” I said.

Abby and Spencer looked at what I was holding. The not-chicken-colored-meat glared back at us.

“It’s my duck!” Abby exclaimed.

One of each

I washed it down with some red wine, then we headed over to the infamous creme brulee stand where Nutella strawberry and french vanilla with honey was being offered.

Of course, I had to sample both little bowls of yum.

Sinful.

And, then it was 10 p.m. and the stalls were closing.

We wrapped up our night with some drinks at a local Japanese restaurant, then Abby and I headed back to the Fairmont.

Stomachs full. Ready for our Napa leg of our whirlwind NoCal weekend.

 

 

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