I am on-the-go in Washington D.C., and it certainly doesn't seem like the middle of March.
I feel so lucky to be visiting when the weather is this pleasant. I remember days as a kid touring the Nation's Capital in the middle of summer, the heat and humidity making the walk from the Monument to the Capital building lose all its romance.
Nice weather is a double-edged sword for me - it motivates me to get out of the house, however once I am under the sun and feeling the breeze I have a tendency to sit very still, to breathe it in very deeply and not worry about moving so much.
Being the Publisher of a luxury travel website is a wonderful thing. You get to experience the finest resorts in the world. You get spoiled. This isn't necessarily the best way to learn about a destination and experience the local culture. I'm embarrassed to admit that I've used the cliché, "I only stay at the best hotels." Silly.
Off the beaten track experiences add depth to a travel painting filled with texture and color. Brush aside your preconceived travel expectations. Let go. Create an authentic travel "study" of your own. You'll be glad you did!
We recently had the opportunity to visit the quaint little town of Carmel-by-the-Sea. It encompasses about a square mile on Carmel Bay. Back in the day, before Clint Eastwood was the Mayor, you'd think that Walt Disney was one of the founding fathers responsible for the building codes. Carmel by-the-Sea looks like Walt's vision of an 18th century English village that meets Hansel and Gretel. It's storybook charming.
Accommodations When it comes to accommodations in Carmel by-the-Sea, it's a family affair. There are forty-five cozy inns to choose from and virtually no luxury hotel brand options. If you're not into experiencing the local color, then stay at the Pebble Beach Lodge just up the road. However, you'd be missing out on a great authentic experience. You'll save a fistfull of dinero too, which can be better spent at Clint Eastwood's Mission Ranch sipping your favorite libation watching the sunset. Then head over to Mundaka Restaurant on San Carlos Street for some amazing tapas and live music. You'll be way ahead of the game!
Hofsas House • Carmel-by-the-Sea
It all starts when you check in at the Hofsas House. This quaint property is centrally located on San Carlos Street, north of Fourth Avenue. From here, you can walk to everything in town.
This family operated hotel has been in the same loving hands for three generations. It's this history and DNA that make the place shine! If you're seeking an authentic lodging experience, it awaits you here. The genuine hospitality and going that extra mile makes guests feel at home. Carrie Theis is the granddaughter of the founder Donna Hofsas. Carrie now runs and operates the hotel. She is all about customer service and goes beyond the call of duty--she helped me gain access to Clint Eastwood's gym so I could work out! It's obvious that she loves her job and takes pride in the family business. Her joyfulness will enable you to prime your brush and begin your "study" on Carmel-by-the-Sea.
Hofsas House • King Room
Hofsas House The property has thirty eight oversized rooms; each with a different floor plan and most have peaking views of the Pacific Ocean. They come equipped with private balconies, wet bars, and kitchens. My favorite touches were the wood stove fireplaces, heated bathroom floors and the Dutch doors. The WiFi is complimentary and works well. It's best to request a room that's centrally located in order to get the best reception. Leave your car in the Inn's parking lot for free. (This is a big bonus since parking is always hard to find in town.)
Rooms range from $139 November through January and $139 - $200 February through October. You can always negotiate a walk-in rate and promotional discounts are honored for AAA and AARP memberships. Dogs are welcome!
P.O. Box 1195
4th & San Carlos
Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA 93921
Carmel Beach One of the cool things to do is to make a fire on the beach just before sunset. Carrie at the Hofsas House will hook you up with a complimentary beach fire kit, which comes complete with a bottle of Carmel Vineyard wine and a S'mores marshmallow package. We highly recommend taking advantage of this as you'll find that some of the locals will come by and chat with you. You'll make some new friends and feel right at home.
The beach is open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. There is a no leash law for dogs and fires are permitted on the beach south of 10th Avenue. You can also plan ahead and join the locals on the fourth Saturday of each month to help cleanup the beach.
Me Doing the S'mores Marshmallow Thing
Getting There Carmel-by-the-Sea is a two hour drive from San Francisco on Highway 101 South. If you'd like to fly, the Monterey Peninsula Airport is a short drive from downtown Carmel-by-the Sea. The airport has direct flights from San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, Phoenix and Las Vegas. Rental cars are available at the airport concession. If you're driving, please be aware that there is a two hour in-town parking limit. If you happen to park in a green curb zone you'll be safe for only 20 minutes! It's a $45 fine. Yikes.
We are always excited to share our discoveries of local restaurants. If you are planning a trip to the Monterey Bay area Tarpy's Roadhouse is an authentic find. It’s located directly off of the Monterey Salinas Highway, and next to the Monterey Airport. It’s the perfect off the beaten track choice and only a ten-minute drive from Carmel. Drop by before your flight leaves. Plan ahead.
The building resembles a Tuscan villa. Set on five lush landscaped acres the gardens, hanging plants and vines provide a beautiful backdrop while your enjoying your meal. Tarpy's is a casual American country dining experience. You’ll have many different seating options to choose from including the The Stone Room,The Shell Room, The Courtyard , and my favorite the outdoor covered patio aptly named“The Front Porch.” It’s a delightful setting to enjoy great food and the glorious weather. The day we were there it was 70 degrees and sunny. Bring your sunglasses. Here’s a sampling of what we were served:
Crab & Shrimp Cabbage Salad $14.95
Shrimp & Lobster Quesadilla $9.10
Fresh Chesapeake Bay Oysters $13.75
Cobb Salad W/ Chicken, Goat Cheese & Beats $14.95
From Carmel, CA:Take Ocean Avenue east, away from the ocean to Highway One North. Take Highway One North To Highway 68 East to Salinas. We are four miles on 68, left side, bottom of the hill, one mile past the airport.
From Downtown Monterey: Take Del Monte Avenue going North for approximately 3 miles, the Ocean will be on the left. Turn right on Canyon Del Rey (218) Proceed on Canyon Del Rey until reaching the Highway 68 intersection. Turn right towards Monterey. We are located five hundred yards from the intersection on the right side of the road.
Had I been here before? Was I experiencing dejavu as I turned up Old Golf Course Road in Monetery, California on my way to the Hyatt Regency Hotel? Is this possible? Everything seemed so famililar. As it turned out, I had visited this property 25 years ago. I'd been traveling for a week during the holiday season and had stayed in a myriad of accomodations. I remembered saying to my girlfirend, "Let's stay at the Hyatt-- at least we know it will be comfortable and the service will be good too..." The Hyatt is a brand you can trust day in and day out. This oldie but goodie doesn't disapoint. Especially with the recent multi-million dollar renovations.
Hyatt Regency Hotel Monterey Suite
We stayed in a Monterey Suite this time ($385 - $499 per night) and it was a very well thought out setup. The design was contemporary art deco influenced. The earthtone decor matched the craddle-to-grave recycled materials used to create eveything from the drapes to the coffee table.
The generous 685 square foot suite sported one and a half-baths. It featured a functional living room area with a sofa you'd actually like to lounge on. Thanks, Hyatt!
You enter the bedroom though art deco sliding doors and the first thing that hits you is the stylish King size Hyatt Signature Grand Bed. I must admit that it was very comfortable with the thick down blanket pulled over me.
The bathroom was over-the-top. Kudos to the Hyatt designers. It had everything a modern bathroom should--including an dual Grohe® hand-held and 18" waterfall shower heads, Portico bath products, marble flooring and countertops and a raised sink.
Unique indoor & outdoor settings for weddings and social gatherings
Innovative catering for onsite and offsite events
Expert planners and AV company on-site
Del Monte Golf Course
Golf your thing? Then this deal is for you! You and your golfing buddy can play a round on Del Monte Golf Course (Pebble Beach Company's championship Course) and stay for as little as $199.00 per night. That's an amazing offer. I'll put it in perspective for you. Just up the road is the famous Pebble Beach Golf Links. It costs over $400.00 to play a round with no accommodations included. Del Monte Golf Course is owned and maintained by the very same greens keepers and crew that service the PGA players and major championships like the US Open. Needless to say, the course is in tip-top shape.
Discover Pebble Beach Company's historic Del Monte Golf Course at the Hyatt Regency Monterey
Reserve By: March 30th, 2012
Stay: January 3rd, 2012 - March 31st, 2012
Knuckles Sports Bar
With the big game coming up check out Knuckles Sports Bar, voted #1 sports bar on the Monterey Peninsula seven years in a row. They've got a flat screen to patron ratio that can't be beat. Best Buy watch out! We also thought the Tap Table was very cool too. Here you can pull your own favorite brand of draft beer by the ounce. Domestic $.37/oz and Craft $0.39/oz. You can also try your luck every Tuesday night ! Toss a coin and if you win Hyatt will pick up the tab! Here's a sampling of what we were served:
Knuckles Sports Bar Shrimp Quesadilla
Monday – Friday, 4:00p.m. – 2:00am / Kitchen open until 11:00p.m.
Saturday and Sundays, 11:00a.m. – 2:00am / Kitchen open until 11:00p.m.
We also had a chance to check out the Accista Spa. It's a bit of a walk to building #7 but the valet will fire up one of the covered golf carts and quickly zip you over there. Just ask. The spa has a facebook page so you can view the latest news and offers. Visit Them on Facebook.
I enjoyed my 60- minute sports massage. The cost was $135.00.
Muir Woods National Monument Mill Valley, California
Happy New Year from Muir Woods National Monument in Mill Valley, CA. I woke up this morning and this magical place was top-of-mind. It was beckoning to be the first place I visited this year. I'm so happy it was too.
Walking amongst the majestic Sequoias is a moving, spiritual experience. Some of the trees have been standing since before Christ was born. I'm moved and amazed when I'm hiking in their presence. It's nature's cathedral--I'm always welcome.
Muir Woods National Monument was established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908. The park is constantly blanketed by fog that rolls in off the Pacific Ocean. This fuels the Sequoias constant thirst for water and enables them to soar to the heavens. Daytime temperatures range between 40 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The park is named after John Muir, a Scottish-born American naturalist and founder of The Sierra Club.
Come alone. Bring a friend or the whole family. If you're planning a visit to the San Francisco Bay Area, this will certianly be one of the high points of your trip. Don't miss it.
The entrance fee to Muir Woods National Monument will be increased from $5 to $7 beginning on January 1, 2012. Children 15 years and younger will continue to enjoy free admission. On weekdays, getting to Muir Woods via public transportation requires hiking into the park from the nearest bus stop. Muir Woods is open everyday at 8 AM, including holidays. For visitor information, please call (415) 388-2596.
Muir Woods is located 12- miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Take Highway 101 to the Highway 1/ Stinson Beach Exit. Follow the signs to Muir Woods. Roads to the park are steep and winding. Vehicles over 35 feet long are prohibited. Parking is very limited and space fills quickly on most days. There are no RV parking facilities.
It doesn't surprise me that many travelers shrug their shoulders at the mention of Nassau.
Most people come in on a cruise, stay for a day or two, walk through the straw markets and visit Atlantis. The harbor area is very busy and geared to sell trinkets to tourists, not something you would necessarily want to experience more than once.
When I was in the Bahamas I spent a few days on the island, and I was hellbent on finding something to connect with, a reason to come back on a plane rather than allowing it to be nothing more than a cruise-ship stop.
Famtripper.com sets off on a dream voyage to Antarctica onbaord the expedition ship Antarctic Dream with contributor Bruce Northam. He heads through the Drake Passage to Deception Island to marvel at icebergs and ogle at penguins. Read the story.
Even though a good portion of Orient Beach in St. Maarten is dedicated to those wishing to strip away all the barriers and let the sun shine where it normally wouldn't, the beach does offer plenty to people who want to keep their clothes on.
The nude beach is definitely a sight to see (just don't be a creep), yet what surprised me was the ridiculous amount of activity going on, both on and off the water. Jet skis, small sailboats, kite surfing, windsurfing, kayaks, floating docks, parasailing, boogie-boarding - the ocean was, for sure, in motion.
Lining the beach are cafes and restaurants that offer specials, usually a beach chair, a drink, and bathroom access for $7-$10. Buckets of 6 beers are $10-$12, and the vibe is very social and happening - I'm not afraid to label it as the busiest beach on the island.
It's big enough where you can find solace if you wish, though - and the beauty of the bay is what stole the show for me. Even if you don't stay at one of the nearby hotels, it's a must-do day trip when you're on the island.
The Caribbean was the first place that really infected me when I was a kid - I simply wanted the sun and the sand and the weather in my life every day. Not just one week during the summer - every day.
When I was here in 2005, I discovered an amazing spot at the entrance to a cave where the water rises and falls about two feet in a matter of seconds. Back then I would sit and have a beer almost every day, watching the water and thinking about how good I felt.
Of course, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Almost seven years have passed since my last visit to St. Maarten, yet there I was back in the same spot - drinking a beer, watching the water, thinking it all over. It was an absolutely gorgeous sky last night, perfect for a writer to sit and ponder.
Here are a few photos. More coverage to come - I'm here the next two weeks.
The temperature may have been in the teens, but the cold air was no match for the warm winter vibe pouring out of Quebec City's European streets and the friendly smiles of the French Canadians.
I've heard of cultures embracing the seasons, yet I don't believe I've seen a city go crazy for winter quite like Quebec. Between the largest outdoor winter carnival in the world, a cross-country ski trail downtown by the river, and small shops serving up hot chocolate, it became hard to imagine the place without a few inches of snow on the ground.
I snowshoed, slept at the Ice Hotel, and watched grown men and women canoe through an ice-infested river (see photo). Factor in that French is the number one language in an otherwise English-speaking country, and a trip to Quebec City becomes far more than a trip to Canada.
Streets of Old Quebec.
Streets of Old Quebec.
Aerial view of Old Quebec and the St. Lawrence River.
Ski and walking trails on the Plains of Abraham.
Cross-country skiing on the Plains of Abraham.
Ice skating and cross-country skiing on the Plains of Abraham.
Sorry I've been so distant in terms of a lack of words - time constraints have made photos essays the go-to thing to post lately.
It's somewhat annoying: As a writer, it's hard to support the notion that a photo says more than I could with a thousand words, but these sure come close, and I refuse to rush my words if I simply don't have the time.
It only took a half second to push the button on my camera and capture these moments, yet the feelings pour out of the images, as if I had spent half the day trying to express myself. I stare into that glowing orb and can't look away - something that's not possible in reality, even with the best of sunglasses shielding my eyes.
Even though the moment is special, sometimes the true beauty doesn't come out until after the fact, when we have a chance to sit back and appreciate it.
Robert Lewis Stevenson said that the coastline between Pebble Beach and Big Sur, California is... "the greatest meeting of land and sea in the world." Some of America's most treasured photographers such as Edward Weston and Ansel Adams made their homes here because of the spectacular natural beauty.
My first encounter with Big Sur was during the holidays in 1985. We left San Francisco on New Years Eve with no particular plan on where we were going to stay. We'd figure it out... We ended up at the Big Sur River Inn and hung out with the locals by the fire, drinking beer and laughing our faces off. They were super friendly and, of course, many of them were growing Cannabis and living by the crashing surf in mobile homes like Jim from the "Rockford Files." It was cool. Big Sur is a magical place.
Fast forward about twenty years and we're back staying at the Ventana Inn & Spa. Steve McQueen was one of my favorite actors. He founded the resort with his manager Hillard Elkins back in the day. He used to come up to the resort and stay with Academy Award winning actress Ali MacGraw to make up after one of their famous spats. This resort property is surrounded by some great wilderness and hiking trails. We set out on a hike one morning with Big Sur Hiking and Guides:
Big Sur Guides and Hiking
Steve Copeland is the owner of Big Sur Guides and Hiking. The moment you meet Steve there's something about him that draws you in and makes you feel like he's an old friend. Maybe its how he breaks the ice with his funny jokes or the authentic way he connects to the Big Sur wilderness since growing up there as a child. He's a modern day Renaissance Man.
If you close your eyes and think about Big Sur, you'll smell the California sage and hear the crashing Pacific Ocean. Relax. Rejuvinate.Refresh. Anybody can partake in these hikes--including kids and seniors. It's an amazing way to ease into some great early morning exercise and experience a wide variety of nature. You'll also learn about the mystical energy the native Americans were able to tap into and that still lives on today. More about that later...
There are a couple of easy routes and we'd recommend the "Henry Miller Walk." The cost is $90 per person that includes a bag lunch ($75 without). If you like heading out on your own, an easy path that's suitable and just a ten minute drive from Carmel-by-the-Sea is Garrapata State Park in Carmel. Use the Westside Trail, which very few people know about and and is less traveled. The walk takes about an hour and you can self guide by parking your vehicle on the South side of California Highway 1.
The trail is well worn, but is not necessarily marked. Be sure to wear hiking shoes or boots and dress in layers. The wind can blow up to 20+ MPH. Be careful not to take any unnecessary risks by getting too close to the cliffs and crashing surf. It's dangerous.
Me and Steve Copeland
Summit Whale Watching
This is a great bench to sit on to watch the California Grey Whales migrating down to the protected waters of Baja, Mexico. They are on their way to give birth. Traveling south the whales move faster than when they're heading north. That's because the cows have given birth. The calves can't swim as fast or hold their breath longer for than five minutes.
Summit Ocean Views
The Magical Big Sur Feather
The Native American Indians believe that birds of prey have mystical powers to heal and provide strength. Braves would venture out into the wilderness and through their journeys, they'd find feathers that they would bring back to their chief. The full regalia headdresses of the American Indians are made from these feathers. During my walk in the forest with Steve Copeland, I came across a rare Spotted Owl feather. These owls molt for a mere two week period every year. I lent this feather to a friend who had stage-four cancer and today he stands looking healthy as a horse. Thanks Steve--for the walk and the feather too.
There's not a firm agenda yet, however I will be staying at and reviewingthe Affinia Manhattan, which just underwent a $25 million renovation and is located across the street from Madison Square Garden.
Affinia Manhattan hotel recently unveiled a $25 million renovation in the fall of 2011 designed by the internationally acclaimed Rockwell Group. The design reflects the hotel’s playground, New York City, and the casual, comfortable lifestyle of Affinia Manhattan’s guests.
The dining room provides nice views of either the water or the city, depending on which side you are seated (the port and starboard dining areas are mirror images of each other). It's definitely an upscale environment: White tableclothes, prompt/friendly service, and impressive menu items in both taste and diversity (entrees average about $30 each).
We shared Kobe Beef Sliders for an appetizer after the waiter recommended them. For dinner, my friend had the scallops and I ordered the trout stuffed with braised short rib. All the food was delicious - the trout/rib combo truly unique. When I saw it on the menu, I couldn't help but be curious.
After dinner we wandered the ship - too bad it's winter time. It seems like an incredible summer spot when the top deck opens up and you can dine outside, or have cocktails at the bar and take in views of the city and bridges.
I apologize: I failed on the photo portion of this experience (the lighting inside was tough and most of mine did not come out well), but here are a few to give you an idea.
Uffizi Gallery The Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy is packed with Renaissance paintings. To avoid an artistic overload, please consider seeing the entire collection over two visits. Rooms 1-15, which highlight the Florentine Renaissance, would be for the first visit. The second visit could be devoted to rooms 16-45 which emphasizes High Rensaissance to later Italian and European paintings.