Kauai, Hawaii

I noticed this holiday season that there was a lot of press about the Obama’s holiday retreat to Hawaii. The President is from Hawaii and so am I, originally. Although I have never been to the islands during the winter holiday, I have been many, many times and thought it was a good time to share my love of one of the quieter islands: Kauai.

The Garden Isle

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It is evident why Kauai is known as “The Garden Isle.” It is lush, tropical and green. It is a quiet island, more noticeable for what it is not than what it is. It is not the hustling, bustling Honolulu. It is not the towering hotels or towering anything. There is a building code that limits buildings to three stories. It is not a party mecca. It is not a city crammed on a small island. It is a beautiful natural landscape with gorgeous beaches, jungles and coastlines. It is an island of small, local towns where everybody knows everybody. It is a place where you never need take off your flip-flops nor wear long pants. It is a place I could see living out forever.

Where To Stay

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The island of Kauai has distinct weather patterns – the north part being much wetter than the south. The favorite place to stay on the south side of the island is Poipu Beach.

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There are many accommodations of many types: condos, small hotels, homes, luxury beach hotels. Our go-to is The Kauai Grand Hyatt which has everything you could ever need and is large enough to offer a range of arrangements and prices. It combines old Hawaii charm with modern facilities, numerous pools, gorgeous gardens, a luxury spa, sports facilities, beachfront and a central location. The service is impeccable.

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Resources

An indispensable guide to Kauai is, “The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook/Kauai Revealed.” It takes you to the noteworthy sites but also the less-known and unique places Kauai has to offer. From waterfalls to natural slides in the jungle, this book is a great investment in making the most out of a trip to this unique island.

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As a foodie, I would be remiss not to mention a truly noteworthy restaurant for this small island that could be put up against any worthy establishment in the biggest cities in the country: The Beach House. Consistently crowded (tip: you need a reservation) but always mind-blowing – the atmosphere literally takes your breath away. Waves crash next to you in the open-air dining room. The staff are quintessentially, genuinely old Hawaiian who know their food and their culture. The food is locally sourced and clearly indicated by boat, name and captain on their menu. And the food is not only delicious, it’s beautiful. My picture does not do it justice.

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Do Not Miss This Island

Kauai is a must-see if you are visiting the Hawaiian islands. It is the perfect antidote to Oahu, which I equally love. It is what most people who have never been to Hawaii envision. It is the place to relax and regroup. It is heaven on earth. Paradise.

Winter Foodie Tour of NYC

NYC. Foodie Tour. Winter. YUM.

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For some reason, I have not been to New York City very often and I’m not sure why. But when I had the opportunity to take a short weeklong trip during the winter, I jumped on the Big Apple. For one main purpose. TO EAT.

Katz’s NY Deli

As most Americans know, NYC has some of the best restaurants in the country. And if you’re a foodie like me, you’ve got to get there and try some. The trouble was – which ones? One place we could not miss was Katz’s NY Deli. Famed to have the best pastrami in town, we were not disappointed. The meat was rich, fatty, salty and the rye bread was firm but started to disintegrate almost immediately. No time to waste! The decor looks like it hasn’t changed much since it’s founding in 1888 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, which is all part of the charm. A MUST.

Minetta Tavern

Dinner our first night was at Minetta Tavern, just a few blocks from the apartment we rented through Airbnb. A hip oldy, worldy style restaurant, Minetta was packed, loud and fun. From classic martinis to roasted bone marrow to their signature black label burger with carmelized onions, every bite was indulgent, rich and deeply satisfying. A memorable meal in an interior so dark, no pictures survived!

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A different dining experience that was part snack, part meal was our charcuterie platter at EATALY. An emporium of all things Italian – produce, pantry items, bakery, butcher and cheesemonger – to gifts, wines and restaurants, EATALY is an upscale Italian food lover’s paradise. Be prepared for the crowds!

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Babbo

We had another truly memorable dinner at Babbo – Mario Batali’s rustic yet refined, much beloved Italian Enoteca. Seated at a beautiful booth with a view of the center of the restaurant, the dishes were familiar, yet with unique twists using seasonal and local ingredients that made them their own. We had the grilled octopus antipasti, which is perhaps the best octopus preparation I have ever tasted, and the pappardelle with wild boar ragu. Although the wine service was a little pretentious, everything about the food and atmosphere was superb.

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Non-Food Entertainment and Shake Shack

Although it sounds like it, I promise we did not eat the entire duration we were in NYC (although we tried)! We walked through as many neighborhoods as we could, though the snow made it a little more slow going. We saw a Broadway Play (“Book of Mormon”), went to the Metropolitan Museum (a first!), went to a Jazz show, did a little shopping at the Strand Bookstore, ABC Carpet and Home, Fishs Eddy, Henri Bendel and others. In between we stopped for a bite at the infamous burger joint, Shake Shack – waiting no less than an hour, in the winter, for a burger. It was pretty good – but coming from the land of In-n-Out, we’re pretty hard to impress!

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9-11 Memorial

A very, very meaningful excursion, totally un-food-related that made our whole trip was a visit to the 9-11 Memorial. We stumbled upon it while it was still under construction, but we were fortunate enough to see a portion of the museum and the beautiful monuments of the two towers.

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It had begun to snow while we were there, and the snow resembled ash – a surreal experience while wandering around the footprints of Tower 1 and Tower 2. We were so moved by the beautiful, haunting statements to the tragedies that took place there not so long ago and to the many victims and heroes honored by name.

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More Foodie Mentions

Some additional honorable foodie mentions on this trip included April Bloomfield’s, The Spotted Pig – a wonderful British gastropub that was perfect for a post-theater late-night eat. Our favorite bite from the whole week we had here – her famous deviled eggs. Doughnut Plant was a fun stop for unusual and square-filled donuts. And many food emporiums made our list, including The Plaza, Zabar’s, Citronella, Chelsea Market, Russ & Daughters, Grand Central Market and our favorite of all time – Dean & Deluca. We visited Dean & Deluca in SoHo no less than every other day and I still could not get enough of it.

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This place had my name written all over it and if I could have figured out a way to hide and spend the night there, I would have. REALLY.

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Every section and every case was spectacular. It took seemingly hours to narrow down what to take home on each visit. One of our favorite memories of this trip to NYC was a Dean & Deluca picnic we had in our tiny apartment, watching the snow fall outside and inside watching an important (to my hubby) British rugby match. Another meal to remember!

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There were more meals, snacks, adventures and sights that were too numerous to mention. One meal I can’t believe I almost forgot to relay was a lunch at the highly acclaimed seafood restaurant, Le Bernadin. Everything about this meal was impeccable – the freshness of the ingredients, the modern and sleek decor, the potential of seeing Eric Ripert emerge from the kitchen! I must say though, the experience was a little austere for us. Less relaxing and more formal than we prefer. But wonderful in it’s own way, nonetheless.

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I don’t really know how to summarize NYC. As a west coaster, a Californian – it’s a different world. But NYC does not disappoint. It’s a place unto it’s own. It waits for no one. It takes no BS. And I love it. I don’t think I could ever pass as a New Yorker, but I love to visit. Hopefully for longer periods in the future and at different times of the year. I LOVE NYC.

 

Austin BBQ Crawl

As part of our research on opening a BBQ restaurant, my Husband & I decided to visit Austin, Texas, considered to be the BBQ capital for Texas style BBQ. There were about 10 establishments that consistently came up in any Google search that I did on the subject. One that is always at the top of any list is Franklin BBQ, considered to have the best BBQ brisket in the country. I wasn’t sure before going to Austin if this was self-proclaimed or it truly was a fact. However we were prepared to stand in the reported 5 hour wait line to find out. We booked a trip for 6 nights to give us enough time to visit at least two BBQ joints a day and sample their menus. Joining us, was a friend of ours who we have designated to manage the restaurant.

We arrived in Austin in the early afternoon and after getting our rental car, headed to our first BBQ location, La Barbecue which operates out of a trailer in the Good Life Food Park.

la-barbecueWe arrived at about 3:00 pm and were told they were sold out of everything except chopped brisket sandwiches which is the leftover brisket from the morning’s sliced brisket offerings. We got our order and sat at one of the many communal picnic tables they had set up in the park and ate a delicious brisket sandwich. If was about 6 ounces of chopped brisket on a plain white hamburger bun topped with dill pickle chips and white onions. There were two kinds of runny BBQ sauce on the table. One was sweet and the other was a vinegar based sauce. The sandwich was delicious. Tender beef with some peppery bark scattered throughout. A good start to our research. In addition, the employees and owner of the place showed us around their smoking pits and explained how their briskets, ribs, turkey breasts and sausages are cooked and a little bit about the BBQ business. They told us that their Beef ribs are a specialty which usually sell out by 11 and if we wanted to taste the rest of their menu, we should pre-order a few items for pick-up at 10:45 am on Friday morning which we did. On the way to La Barbecue, we were told by our cab driver about his favorite BBQ spot and he assured us it was the best in town. The Salt Lick BBQ wasn’t on our list of must visits but after we settled into the condo we were staying in, we decided to drive out of town to visit this recommendation for dinner. Our drive was about 45 minutes outside of Austin to get to The Salt Lick in the Driftwood area of town, one of three of locations. It is truly out in the sticks among some expensive master planned communities and is about the size of a mini-Knott’s Berry Farm. It is designed for large parties and we were told had we arrived about a half hour earlier that we would have had to wait 2 hours for a table. We were seated at a picnic table in their patio area and ordered Brisket with a couple of sides which in almost all of the BBQ joints we went to, consisted of Potato Salad, Cole Slaw and Pinto Beans. When you walk in the door of The Salt Lick, there is a large horseshoe grill with a couple of guys grilling briskets, sausages, chicken and ribs and it looks impressive. But after getting our orders of brisket, we realized that the brisket we were eating was not smoked and wasn’t even very good. The sides were not even worth finishing. A surprising disappointment considering how our cabbie had raved about it.

The next morning was the only time we had to visit Franklin BBQ and we arrived at about 9:30 am and took our place at the back of the already about 50 person line. The line very quickly started getting longer and by the time the restaurant opened their doors at 11:00 am, the line was around the block.

Franklin3Once the doors opened, it took another 1 1/2 hours to get up to the counter to order. Visiting Franklin’s is a real event. You make friends with the people in front of you and behind you in line. People bring chairs and stream movies, listen to music, read or throw Footballs in the street while waiting. By the time you get to the counter you figure you might as well try one of everything on their menu because this is going to be a once in a lifetime event. My plate could hardly hold everything that I ordered but after the first bite of brisket, we understood why Franklin’s is considered the best. The meat melted in my mouth and took no effort to chew it. The bark was crispy and perfectly seasoned without being overpowering. Their Pork ribs were fall off the bone tender and the homemade sausage was divine. The sides were good as well. I never thought I would say that waiting in line for something for 3 1/2 hours was totally worth it.

Franklin2I also got my picture with Aaron Franklin who was very gracious and took us back in his smokehouse to show us his custom built smokers and explain how he cooks his meat.

The next morning we went out to Lockhart to visit three of the four oldest BBQ places in Texas. We visited Black’s BBQ and had some of their brisket and sides.

BlacksUnlike most of the other BBQ joints who only offer potato salad, coleslaw and beans for sides, Black’s offers about a dozen sides and desserts in a cafeteria style format. Although we rated Black’s brisket as a #3, we weren’t enamored with their sides except the Mac and Cheese. We didn’t eat at Smitty’s BBQ which was the coolest establishment we visited with their black walls coated by many years of smoke and the wood fire that fueled their smokers blazing away on the floor without any security barrier around it. We also went to Kreuz Market.

The next day we took a break from eating BBQ, and drove to San Antonio for the day and visited the Alamo and had dinner somewhere along the river walk. Back to our BBQ research the following day with a visit to Lexington to visit Snow’s BBQ that is run by a 73 year old woman Pitmaster named Tootsie. We didn’t think her BBQ was anything close to Franklin’s, La Barbecue or Black’s. Not very tender or flavorful. We then went to the place that most of the Pitmasters in Austin apprenticed at in Taylor, Texas, Louis Mueller where we had our second best BBQ of our trip and a lengthy conversation with Wayne Mueller, one of the Grandson’s of Louis who is the closest thing to a BBQ whisperer I have ever met. He was so passionate about his product, methods and the legacy of his family on the BBQ circuit, we left very inspired about going forward and seeing where this BBQ thing will lead us.

Mueller2After visiting eight BBQ places and eating at six, we came up with our rankings from best to not so good. Franklin’s, Louis Mueller, Black’s, La Barbecue, Snow’s and The Salt Lick. All the BBQ places we went to had some things in common. They all with the exception of The Salt Lick, smoked their meats slow and low in old fashioned smokers with Post Oak. They all had pretty much the same combination of sides with the exception of Black’s and they all furnished the eating areas in very simple decor. It is all about the meat.

We did other things while in Austin including going to the famous White Horse Saloon, driving out to the German influenced town of Fredericksburg and playing chicken shit bingo at Ginny’s Longhorn Saloon.

Austin is a fun city to visit if you like fantastic Texas BBQ, friendly people, great dive bars, honky tonk music and culture with a quirky sensibility.

The Desert, CA

When the weather starts to turn colder, a favorite place to go for a long weekend is “The Desert”. Located about two hours east of Los Angeles, the Desert communities include Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, La Quinta and Indian Wells among others.

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The Desert’s popularity is largely due to its temperate and dry climate. The average high temperature in December is 69 degrees – the coldest month of the year. Average highs go up to 108 degrees in July and August but otherwise are pleasantly in the 70’s, 80’s and low 90’s for most other months.

Although the Desert communities in the past were known as a haven for retirees, they are now considered a year-round destination for people of all ages. With more than 350 days of sunshine per year, a popular outdoor activity is golf at one of the 125 golf courses that make this a premier golfing destination. Other outdoor activities include tennis, hiking and horseback riding in the canyons and visiting the natural mineral water wells. A good place to start a trip is at the Palm Springs Visitor Center on Highway 111  at the turn for the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, another popular attraction in the Desert.

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There are many events and activities year-round that bring visitors to the Desert. Along with PGA golf events, the BNP Paribas Tennis Open is held every March and draws top professional tennis talent from around the world.  The Palm Springs International Film Festival is held annually in January and the Coachella Music Festival is held two weekends in April. There are art festivals held throughout the year as well as theater performances, fund raisers, museum events and architectural and design events. The Desert has world-class restaurants, accommodations of all types and an international airport. And there is shopping for everyone – from high end designers on El Paseo Road in Palm Desert to prime outlet shopping in Cabazon.

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Palm Springs is also home to one of the world’s largest collections of mid-century modern architecture. A magnificent example of this is Sunnylands Estate in Rancho Mirage. Formerly the home of the Annenberg family and designed by A. Quincy Jones, it recently opened for tours to the public. It has hosted numerous dignitaries and Heads of State including President Obama’s most recent meeting with Chinese President Xi  Jinping. It is considered “a West Coast ‘Camp David,’ where global leaders seek to advance international agreement.”

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The Desert landscape is unique and breathtakingly beautiful. Jutting layers of mountains against a crisp, blue sky and endless palm trees. In addition to it’s beauty, gorgeous weather and tranquility, the Desert has evolved over recent years to really offer something for everyone. Although we have visited many times, there is still so much to explore and do. Or not do. That’s the beauty!

Santa Fe, New Mexico

One of our favorite places to visit for a long weekend is Santa Fe, New Mexico. It is unlike anywhere else we have been to in this country.

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Santa Fe has a unique style and charm. You cannot get very far without seeing these beautiful chile ristras. The southwestern architecture is unique and the gardens are abundant and flowing.

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There are many ways to keep busy in Santa Fe. Often there is an art show or festival going on. There are great museums, including the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum which is a favorite. Santa Fe is an enclave for artists and has many galleries to browse. Canyon Road is well known for it’s galleries and restaurants. Seeing the opera at the Santa Fe Opera House is a highlight due to it’s notoriety and it’s open air venue.

As much as the architecture, culture and style of Santa Fe are unique, so is it’s food. There are many, many wonderful restaurants to choose from. On our most recent trip, we had a memorable dinner at La Boca – a gourmet Spanish-style tapas restaurant with incredibly creative and flavorful dishes.

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A somewhat touristy spot but fun for people-watching is Coyote Cafe. We sat on the 2nd floor balcony for a drink and some ceviche, overlooking the busy street below in the center of town.

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I loved this sculpture of The Virgin of Guadalupe. In Santa Fe art is everywhere.

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Two of our favorite stops on this trip were the famous Cafe Pasqual’s Restaurant and the candy and curiosity shop – Todos Santos.

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Cafe Pasqual’s is a Santa Fe institution and once you’ve been here, you’ll know why. The food is the epitome of southwestern home cooking and is comforting, warm and inviting as if your southwestern grandmother was cooking just for you. We had avoided it in the past because of the long lines but got there early this time and waited it out. It was worth it!

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Todos Santos is primarily a candy and confectionary shop but it’s really so much more. The chocolates were handmade with interesting southwestern flavors and beautifully wrapped. But it was the decor, artwork, crafts and odd items that made this worth the trip. Something they are known for are their PEZ dispensers that are transformed into works of art. I had seen them at a friend’s house in her collection and had to bring some home.

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There is much more to Santa Fe than can be included in one visit (or one post). Suffice to say that if you haven’t been to Santa Fe, it should be on your list. And even if you have been more than once like me, there are many reasons to go again. Next time I am going to try to stay at Ten Thousand Waves, a Japanese spa that a friend told me about.  And I’m sure that there will be no problem finding more amazing places to eat and beautiful art to view.

Honolulu, Hawaii

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What can I say about Honolulu, Hawaii? So many things. I was born here and lived here my earliest years. Once we moved to California, I visited every summer. I feel like a native and this is my home. It is one of the most beautiful places on earth. And the ALOHA spirit is real.

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Growing up, I was lucky to have grandparents who lived in Honolulu. I would visit each summer for weeks, soaking up the sun, hospitality, spirit and culture of the islands. To me it was home. Some of my favorite memories are food memories. Rainbow Drive-In’s lunch plate – beef, chicken and shrimp with a scoop of macaroni salad and 2 scoops of rice. A Hawaiian classic.

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And Duke’s at the Outrigger Hotel on Waikiki Beach – ahi poke and their famous mud pie. A restaurant honoring the famous surfer, statesman and representative of the islands, Duke Kahanamoku.

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There are many beautiful places to stay in Honolulu. We like to stay in Waikiki just for a few days to take in the full experience. And although we have tried many of the hotels, our favorite is the Sheraton Moana Surfrider – an old, Hawaiian-plantation style hotel right on Waikiki Beach. It has a quiet elegance and a sense of being back in time. Here is the view from our room in the tower.

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Around the island of Oahu, one of our favorite activities is to visit the beach in Kailua – a vision of untouched beauty and not far too far from Waikiki.

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Our kids especially love Hanauma Bay, now a Nature Reserve Park. A cove protected by coral reef, Hanauma Bay offers amazing snorkeling, warm water and gorgeous views. It is a must on any visit to Oahu, Hawaii but you must get there early. Admission is limited to protect the reef and attendance can sell out early.

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Most visitors, including myself take a day to visit Pearl Harbor and the Memorial. It is a moving experience as you re-create what happened one morning almost 75 years ago. A boat ride takes you to visit the Memorial which has been built on top of the USS Arizona. It is difficult not to appreciate the sacrifice of the crew who gave up their lives and an important history lesson to children about the true devastations of war.

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A trip to Honolulu for us would not be complete without a visit to Leonard’s Bakery, a Portuguese Bakery that has been a standout in Honolulu for many years. The classic item that is unbelievably delicious is the malasada or Portuguese donut.

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There is so much more to Honolulu and the island of Oahu than I have touched on here.  The North Shore. Local neighborhoods. Punchbowl. Makapuu. The Fish Market. Ala Moana. Sam Choy. Alan Wong. Mai Tais.

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There will definitely be a follow-up to this Honolulu, Part 1 post. But, suffice to say – if you haven’t been there yet – GO. If you have, you know what I’m talking about and you can’t wait to go again. ME, TOO.

Mammoth Lakes, California

Have you ever been to Mammoth, California? I suspect many of you will say no. Why? Well, access may be one reason. It’s not that easy to get to. But it’s also not that hard to get to. You’ve heard of it but don’t know much about it? Fair enough. I’ll tell you what I know.

Mammoth Lakes, California is in the Eastern Sierra and is about a 5 hour drive from Los Angeles or a one hour plane flight. It is located less than an hour south of Yosemite. It is a year-round resort although it is most popular for it’s winter sports activities. Mammoth Mountain offers 3,500 acres of terrain for avid skiers and snowboarders. The average snowfall is 400” per year. It is a family-friendly resort with activities for everyone, including snowmobile adventures, a tube park, snowcat tours, scenic gondola rides and cross country skiing.

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Some of the most beautiful views of Mammoth are just after a big snow storm.

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A gorgeous, sunny day on the slopes in Mammoth. This weather is typical of many of the winter days.

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A beautiful, open and wide run on Mammoth Mountain. There are many like this as well as terrain for every level of skier and snowboarder.

The summer season in Mammoth, although much quieter offers stunning and majestic views as well as a plethora of activities. The beauty of this season is in it’s quietness and tranquility.

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In late summer, the foliage changes color. You don’t need to travel all the way to the east coast to see the changing colors!

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One of our favorite summer activities is hiking. With it’s proximity to Yosemite, Mammoth has vistas and scenery that rival those of the famous National Park next door. There are more than 2 million acres of National forest land to explore. Endless trails, bike paths, lakes and camping sights abound in the area. Fishing, horseback riding, mountain bike riding, zip lining and rock climbing are some of the many summer activities that Mammoth has to offer.

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There are many choices of places to stay in Mammoth, especially in the rental condominium category. Having tried different places over the years, our favorite is Snowcreek Resort. In addition to beautiful properties that you can search for and choose on-line, the overall property is surrounded by scenic landscaping and gorgeous views. Rentals through Snowcreek Resort include the use of the Snowcreek Athletic Club – a 30,000 square foot facility that has recently been remodeled. There are tennis and raquetball courts, a full basketball and volleyball court, a full gymnasium, indoor and outdoor pools, spa, restaurant and numerous classes. There is also a 9-hole golf course and driving range which guests may enjoy at significantly reduced fees.

What else is there to do in Mammoth? The dining options in Mammoth continue to grow. There are established restaurants that thrive and new ones that open each season. The Mogul, Petra’s and the Tamarack Lodge are upscale steak and seafood options of quality that have stood the test of time. Some exciting newcomers include Mammoth Tavern and The Brasserie, located in the new Mammoth Rock and Bowl Center.

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There are events year-round in Mammoth including a Jazz Festival, Food and Wine Festival, and a Beer and Blues Festival to name a few. The Night of Lights Festival on Mammoth Mountain in December kicks off the holiday season and includes music, fireworks and a torchlight parade down the mountain. It is a beautiful site to see. Many sporting events take place as well – from mountain biking to fishing to mud-runs and triathlons. There is truly something for everyone.

So, now why haven’t you been to Mammoth Lakes, California? I hope you’re making your plans now.

Aspen, Colorado

Traveling is one of our favorite family activities. And while we love the adventure of traveling around the world, there are also many majestic sites to visit here in our own country. With this in mind, by the time my youngest child was 11 and my oldest was 18 (2009), all 5 members of our family had visited the 50 United States of America. An amazing experience and so grateful that we did it.

So when it comes to planning current trips around our country, sometimes we are at a loss for where to go. One place we hadn’t been is Aspen, Colorado.

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We usually associate Aspen with the winter season and winter sports. And since we spend our winters in Mammoth, CA and Lake Tahoe, CA, we decided to visit Aspen in the summer.

We included Aspen on a road trip that we took through the southwest. Heading east through Utah, we drove into Colorado through Grand Junction. When you enter Colorado it’s immediately evident what a breathtakingly beautiful state it is. There is scenic beauty in every direction and we felt fortunate to be experiencing this by car in the summer, as many visitors fly in during the winter.

Our visit was brief but we were fortunate to stay at the Kimpton Sky Hotel, located at the base of Aspen Mountain. A boutique, chic hotel with an inviting outdoor pool and restaurant, we enjoyed spending afternoons lounging and basking in the sun.

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Not bad for pool snacks: kale salad with pine nuts, goat cheese, currants and beets and ahi tuna tartare tacos in fried won ton shells. Creative and unexpectedly gourmet.

One thing Aspen is known for are its’ music festivals. After leaving dinner one night in town, we stumbled upon an impromptu concert on a corner.

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As we love to hike, we decided to explore Aspen this way – on foot! There are foot and bike trails all around the city. We viewed amazing homes, flora and fauna on our 5 mile trek through town.

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We thought these were Aspen trees, but weren’t really sure. They’re beautiful nonetheless!

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Our next destination on this road trip was a favorite city of ours, Santa Fe, New Mexico. Coming from Aspen, we took Highway 82 South as the most direct route. We had no idea how winding (and nerve-wracking!) the two-lane drive would be. But a wonderful surprise we received on the ride was crossing the Continental Divide at Independence Pass @ 12,095 feet elevation.

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Our only regret was that our stay in Aspen, CO was a bit too short. But we know we can always go back and I hope that we will. It reminds me of how many absolutely wonderful places we have to experience in our own backyard of the United States of America.

 

 

 

Portland

My husband and I had to go to Oregon for a Memorial of a friend of ours who passed away in December.  We decided to make it a mini vacation and visit Portland for about 5 days and then drive down to the Memorial which was in Williams, Oregon.  Neither of us had ever been to Portland but I have a friend who recently relocated there so we made  arrangements to have dinner together the evening we arrived.  I have always heard that Portland was a culinary delight.  So I did some research about where the great restaurants were and also got some recommendations from my friend who lives there now.  On my list was Pok Pok, a Thai restaurant with Andy Richter at the helm and is supposed to be one of the best Thai restaurants in the U.S.  Also Andina, a Peruvian restaurant, Voodoo Donuts and Stumptown Coffee.  We met my friend and her Significant Other for dinner at The Firehouse in Northeast Portland.  We were staying in mid downtown at the Westin and we immediately discovered that the Public Transportation system in Portland was very convenient with multiple options for getting all around Portland so we took the Max to the restaurant which was about 6 miles away.  The Firehouse is over 100 years old and their menu is seasonal with many salads, interesting entrees and Wood Fired Pizzas.

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I ran my list of must eat restaurants by my friend and she gave her opinion on which ones were good and which ones were hype.  She said forget Andina for Peruvian food because we certainly had better Peruvian fare in Los Angeles, Voodoo Donuts was way overrated and the wait for Pok Pok was ridiculous.  Her recommendations for restaurants included Veritable Quandry, The Aviary, Bijou Cafe for breakfast and Blue Star Donuts all of which we went to.  Her suggestions for things to do in Portland were The Rose and Japanese Gardens, Pittock Mansion and Michican Avenue for interesting shops and breweries.

The second day we were in Portland, the weather was nice so we went to the Rose Garden after a fantastic breakfast at Bijou Cafe which was about an 8 block walk from our hotel.  They serve great omelets and creative hashes and the service is very friendly.  Next door is Stumptown Coffee, a Portland landmark for great coffee where I picked up a pound of coffee to take home.  Down the street is Voodoo Donuts which I took my friends advice and skipped but had to take a picture of it with the long line waiting to order.

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We ate an early dinner at Veritable Quandry which was fantastic.  Seasonal dishes in a relaxed but elegant setting by the Willamette River before you cross the bridge taking you to the Eastern side of Portland.  The next day we explored Michigan Ave. which was quite a hike uphill from where the Max let us off.  There was a closer route by bus which we discovered after we were ready to go back to our hotel.  The Avenue is located in a neighborhood like so many in Portland that has undergone some gentrification where young hipsters have moved in and started renovating some of the old houses and opened up eclectic and interesting shops and restaurants that none of the old time residents frequent or can afford.   The most glaring thing for me about Portland was the lack of diversity of people eating or working in the restaurants or shopping in the stores outside of the downtown area.  A real deal breaker for me as to where I would choose to live.  The next day, we decided to visit Pok Pok for lunch and was pleasantly surprised to find no lines and great Thai food.  Pok Pok is heralded as one of the best Thai restaurants in the world and both my husband are connoisseurs of Thai cuisine, having spent many trips traveling all over Thailand.  It was great food with very nuanced and complex flavors and could well be one of the best Thai food places we have eaten.  It really took us back to time spent in Thailand because it is located in a residential area and just a wood shack with Thai music playing in the background.  The only difference was that the servers were not Thai and the food prices while not outrageous for America were about 5 times as much as in Thailand.

Our last day in Portland, we visited Pittock Mansion which was at one time owned by the owner of the Oregonian Newspaper and now belonged to the Parks department.  It was magnificent, located in a wooded area of Portland with many hiking trails around.  It was a bit of a schlepp uphill from the highway where the bus lets you off so wear comfortable shoes.  The property had a fantastic view of the Portland skyline and is a great way to spend a couple of hours.  You can hike down one of the trails back to the highway where the bus picks up to take you back downtown.

Pittockl_edited-1In the evening, we dined at The Aviary which was suggested by my friend and it was great.  The next morning before we rented a car to drive to our friends Memorial, we grabbed a couple of donuts at Blue Star and again we were blown away by the freshness and creativity of flavors offered.

We drove to Jacksonville, Oregon which was about 10 miles from where The Memorial was being held and where we met our friends Barbara and Allen who were also going to the Memorial, at a Bed and Breakfast called the Touvelle House that we were going to stay at for 2 nights.   It is one of the grandest Craftsmen houses in the town which was once owned by Judge Touvelle and is now owned and run by Phil and Gary, who happened to be married in Canada.  The rooms and house were charming and every need was attended to.  Early morning coffee, fantastic breakfast, comfortable beds entertaining hosts.  I would highly recommend this place if you are looking for a place to stop on your way to somewhere else.

Touvelle

While the town has a couple of good restaurants and a charming Main Street, there isn’t much going on although it does have an annual Brit Music festival where many big names in music play.  It is held at an amphitheater in the Summer and the whole town is totally booked with people coming to hear some great music.

 

San Francisco

Everyone LOVES San Francisco. I am not biased, but I am. To come clean, I am originally from Hawaii, but I grew up in the Bay Area. San Francisco, and specifically Marin County is where I spent most of my growing-up years. And although I am fiercely loyal now to LA, there will always be a piece of my heart in San Francisco.

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We visit our beloved city on average of at least once a year. And there are some favorite places we visit every time, including Chinatown and Yank Sing for dim sum.

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We usually try to visit Fisherman’s Wharf, although touristy but with some of the freshest crab anywhere – and sold right on the street.

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Lately we’ve been exploring new areas, like the up and coming Mission District. Some of the best restaurants in the city can be found here in this newly revitalized neighborhood. It is also home to the beautiful Mission Dolores.

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Any visit would not be complete without a trip to the infamous and uniquely San Franciscan Buena Vista Cafe – known for their Irish coffees and beautiful view of the Bay.

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San Francisco is truly a magical city for adults and children alike. It’s charm, character, ethnicity and walkability are only a few of it’s many, many unique attributes that make it so lovable.