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One fine San Diego

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A short list of some of San Diego’s best offerings – resorts – restaurants – R-n-R

Before I moved to Southern California, I asked some natives advice on where to live. They told me pros and cons of the major cities, but no one had anything bad to say about San Diego. The more time I spend there, I see why.

There’s a lot to do in this quintessential coastal city, and plenty to recommend it, whether you are looking for a place to land for a short time, or forever. As an LA denizen, I have taken the approximate three-hour road trip to San Deigo many times to explore this laid back metropolis that calls itself America’s Finest City, and here are some of my favorite places to stay and dine.

An Island of its Own

While Coronado is not within the city limits of San Deigo, this quaint resort island, located across the San Diego Bay, is definitely worth a side trip. Coronado owes its enduring appeal to the forethought of its founders who zoned the shoreline to restrict commercial businesses, such as taco shops or souvenir stands. While there was debate among residents when the 1.5-mile bridge that connects San Diego to the island opened the city to tourism, the island remains carefully developed and has avoided the rampant commercialism of many other Southern California beach resorts.

The In-Del-ible Resort

 

One of the main attractions of Coronado is The Hotel Del Coronado, a grand Victoria hotel built in 1887 which has been designated a California Historical Landmark. Renowned for its iconic red-shingled spires and the charm of its original all-wooden construction, this elegant and old-school luxury hotel has hosted generations of families, who come back year after year to celebrate its family friendly traditions.

Its most famous attractions, besides its five-star restaurants, Olympic-sized pool and ocean front location, include an antique elevator with an operator in uniform, an enormous Christmas tree in the lobby during the winter holidays, along with an ice rink over the courtyard, and bonfires and s’mores on the beach year-round. The property was recently acquired by Hilton, but for purists who liked The Del just like its been for the last 130 years, everything has pretty much stayed the same, except for a few 2.0 upgrades, like the video wall behind the check-in desks and the swanky lounge music piped into the lobby.

Glorietta-Be!

 

Also on the island is the Glorietta Bay Inn, across the street from The Del and overlooking the marina on the back side of the island. This hidden-in-plain-site gem offers a similar historical mystique to its more famous neighbor and in fact once served as the residence of the Del’s owner, John Spreckels, an ambitious and inspiring mogul of steamboats, ocean liners and railways.

Spreckels left an indelible legacy with the masterpiece resort he built, and the Glorietta pays homage to him by preserving the original elegance of his home. The inn features a presidential suite, with its own elevator, that sits atop the original building with panoramic views of the bay, featuring a vista of swaying palm trees by day and the twinkling lights of the marina at night. While the historic touches are maintained, the rooms feature modern technology, such as a charging bank with multiple USB ports as well as an awesome hi-fi Wi-Fi Bluetooth speaker combo alarm clock.

While the ultra-luxurious beds and other amenities offer visitors the comforts of home, the Glorietta is set apart from its competition by its small-hotel hospitality, such as the refreshing lemonade offered at check-in, a complimentary breakfast each morning to be enjoyed in the sunny courtyard, a kids’ game room and other communal sitting rooms, along with warm cookies and milk served nightly.

 

Dining across San Diego

One thing there is no shortage of in San Diego is restaurants. Driving through the quarters of the city, there seems to be an endless collection of eateries of every persuasion. No matter what your tastes are, you can find a restaurant to suit your appetite.

Après Surf

If beach casual is your thing, the OB Surf Lodge, located on the corner of Santa Monica Avenue and Abbott Street in Ocean Beach, offers everything you’d expect from a casual beach bar and restaurant. For starters, there’s the spectacular view. The dining room features large open windows overlooking the beach across the street, so diners feel more like they on a patio than sitting indoors. Some nights, the restaurant becomes front row to a free street show of fire dancers and Cirque-du-Soleil-like AcroYoga performers.

Despite the primo real estate, the restaurant does not rely on the draw of the sunsets to bring in patrons but also features a terrific menu of plenty of strong drinks and good food.

They are famous for their Swell Times Mai Tai, topped with a froth of guava foam. The hanger steak and grilled romaine salad are also popular, and for a big finish, the Chef’s Bread Pudding ‘Du Jour” is a regularly changing recipe.

 

JSix Degrees of Delicious

Named for its location at the corner of J Street and Sixth streets in the East Village, JSix features California Cuisine with Filipino influences from Executive Chef Anthony Sinsay. The modern, lofty space with vaulted ceilings and original brick walls lend a cool yet relaxed vibe, with a bar where the drinks are hip, fun and flirty, like the Designated Drinker cocktail of Greenmark vodka, aperol, lemon, vanilla, berries, and mint.

Chef Sinsay has created a menu of many of his favorite personal dishes like Lumpia Shanghai, Filipino crispy spring rolls served with a garlic chili vinegar – served on a homey floral “grandma plate,” wrapped in aluminum foil, in the fashion of street vendors in the Philippines. The chef makes food into works of epicurean art, like the local melon and prosciutto, decorated with tiny edible floral garnishes and farmer’s market melons, with speck, burrata and espelette.

Sinsay says he is writing a book about his culinary arc, from first believing that his Filipino culinary heritage was not “good enough.” Luckily, Sinsay didn’t get discouraged and continued to hone his Filipino recipies, adding his flair and attitude, to create a dining experience one does not have to travel half the world to enjoy.

San Deigo Attractions

A major attraction of San Diego is its hospitable climate, making the city and its surrounding area ideal for all manner of outdoor recreation. Visitors who want to take full advantage of the year-round moderate temperatures and sunshine can enjoy a plethora of activities, including whale watching and sailing; bike and kayak tours; yacht cruises; nearby theme parks including Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, Disneyland in Anaheim, LEGOLAND California in Carlsbad, and SeaWorld (which I have forsworn because of the animal shows, but they do have some great rides); pick-your-own strawberry fields; horse racing at the nearby Del Mar racetrack; museums and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park at Balboa Park; and shopping at Seaport Village. The city makes the best of its natural amenities, providing a fine way of life for those call it home and offering visitors many fine options for adventure, earning the city its deserved moniker as one of California’s (and one of the nation’s) finest.

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Dining in Los AngelesEat & DrinkRestaurants

JSix Degrees of Deliciousness

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San Diego’s Jsix offers American-Filipino fare at its finest

Named for its location at the corner of J Street and Sixth streets adjacent to the Kimpton Hotel Solamar in the East Village, JSix is known for its California Cuisine with Filipino influences from Executive Chef Anthony Sinsay.

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The garage-door-sized dining room windows allow guests to enjoy the scenes of the street outside as they dine in the modern, lofty space with vaulted ceilings and original brick walls. The vibe is cool yet relaxed, like the servers. Suited to the swanky bar, the drinks are hip, fun and flirty, like the Designated Drinker cocktail of Greenmark vodka, aperol, lemon, vanilla, berries, and mint; or Morning Thunder, a blend of Pisco encanto, elderflower, giffard banana, malahat spiced rum, chareau aloe, grapefruit, and greek yogurt.

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Chef Sinsay has created a menu of what he deems “honest food and drink,” featuring many of his favorite dishes from his childhood, with a modern twist. The appetizer plates, which he calls “shares,” include Lumpia Shanghai, Filipino crispy spring rolls served with a garlic chili vinegar – served on a homey floral “grandma plate,” wrapped in aluminum foil, just like it’s served by the street vendors in the Philippines; or Foie Gras Short Stack, buttermilk pancakes served with apple-brandy syrup and Foie Gras mousse. Even those foods that one might think are ordinary, the chef can make into a work of epicurean art, like the local melon and prosciutto, decorated with tiny edible floral garnishes and farmer’s market melons, with speck, burrata and espelette – comprising one of the most beautiful dishes I have ever beheld.

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While I am generally not a sushi fan, I swooned over the yellowtail ceviche with its blend of flavors of coconut, citrus, chilis and red onion. Chef Sinsay visited our table and enthralled us with the history of the trading of these flavors and ingredients from the Philippines and how they became incorporated into this classic dish.

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It was no surprise to us that when I suggested he should write a book about this fascinating culinary history, he informed us that he already is. The book is inspired by his journey from first believing that his Filipino culinary heritage was not “good enough.” As a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu and someone who began his career opening restaurants, such as at SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills and in Las Vegas at the Platinum Hotel, he thought that French cuisine was superior.

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Luckily for us, Sinsay didn’t get discouraged and continued to hone his Filipino recipies, adding his flair and attitude, to create a menu and dining experience that is extraordinary and unique, and one that an adventurous diner does not have to travel half around the world to enjoy.

 

 

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Dining in Los AngelesEat & DrinkRestaurants

San Diego’s OB Surf Lodge is a beachy place to eat

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Ocean Beach après surf hangout offers more than expected

If beach casual is your thing, the OB Surf Lodge, located on the corner of Santa Monica Avenue and Abbott Street in Ocean Beach, offers everything you’d expect from a casual beach bar and restaurant. For starters, there’s the spectacular view from the dining room, which features large open windows overlooking the beach across the street, so diners feel more like they on a patio than sitting indoors.

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Some nights, the restaurant becomes front row to a free show of Venice-Beach-style street performers, drum circles, hula-hoopers, fire dancers, neon baton twirlers and a homegrown group of Cirque du Soleil wannabees called AcroYoga, which can be boisterous, but really, this is a place to drink, laugh, and talk loud, so crowd – a mix of local and tourists – do not seem to mind.

Despite the primo real estate, the restaurant does not rely on the draw of the sunsets to bring in patrons but also features a terrific menu of plenty strong drinks and good food.

20180726_023122195_iOSThey are famous for their Swell Times Mai Tai, topped with a signature froth of guava foam. The staff is accommodating, such as gladly squeezing up a tall glass of fresh lemonade that’s not on the menu and providing a carafe on the side with the rest of the batch.

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A favorite entrée is the hanger steak, which was perfectly cooked to order on the rare side of medium rare and served with a decorative medley of diagonal sliced carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, and mushrooms and mashed potatoes.

The Grilled Romaine salad is one of tastiest and most unique Caesar salads I’ve ever had, with a generous coating of shaved Parmesan on top, and sliced cherry tomatoes. For a big finish, the Chef’s Bread Pudding ‘Du Jour” features a regularly changing recipe for this hearty dessert.

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Dining in Los AngelesEat & DrinkRestaurantsThe Left Coast

A little North Italia, in the middle of Santa Monica

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A warm Italian welcoming and abudanza  awaits at Santa Monica’s North Italia restaurant

From first blush I liked North Italia. And yes, that is an allusion to the fine list of vino, but first, let’s talk atmosphere. On a Friday night, the place was bustling. The vibe was lively and friendly. Like a hot night club, there was a line out front door, and the patio and bar were full of stylish people. Luckily, we had reservations, and the hostess escorted us to our table pronto.

While there’s a shiny polish to this restaurant – represented by our party being greeted and seated right away, the ambiance and attitude is casual and genuinely warm. Our server was cheerful and sincerely seemed enjoy getting to know the patrons; in fact, she was so interested in my work as a blogger she sat down with us a while to chat about it.

Despite her taking a bit of extra time at our table, this diversion didn’t impede with the flow at this restaurant, which is a well-oiled machine. Perhaps the orderly management owes to the fact that North Italia is not a concept that’s just off the boat. North Italia has 17 locations, four in California (Santa Monica, El Segundo, Irvine and soon San Diego), though the management doesn’t like the term “chain,” because they don’t feel like one. Unlike many concept restaurants that feel manufactured and generic, Norte Italia feels fresh and genuine.

There were so many appetizers it was hard to choose. We started with the Zucca chips, which were delicately thin sliced and served heaping in a bowl, warm and salty. We also had the Chef’s Board with prosciutto di parma, artisan cheeses, marinated eggplant, roasted pepper, castelverano olives and Marcona almonds. Since three is a charm, we also had the crispy calamari, which was very lightly breaded and grilled and served on a bed of arugula and lemon vinaigrette, making it almost like a salad.

Next came choosing entrees, for which we relied upon recommendations of our server. She advised we must try the house specialty of Bolognese – made by a ranch in Bologna – served with a traditional meat sauce, tagliatelle noodles and grana Padano cheese. After the big build-up on this dish, we were not disappointed. It was zesty, hearty and highly satisfying.

The manager had her own favorite dish to recommend, so we tried that too – the Short Rib Radiatori, served with parmesan cream, fresh horseradish, wilted arugula and herbed breadcrumbs. From the main dishes we chose the diver scallops, served with sweet corn risotto, asparagus, crispy shallots and a pancetta gremolata.

The seasonal vegetable salad was also a must-try, clementine, golden raisins, quinoa, goat cheese, roasted cauliflower and kale, tossed with a spicy Sherry vinaigrette that balanced out the sweetness. Lastly, because the restaurant is well known for their pizzas, particularly their margarita pizza, we had to try at least one, which was the daily special, a delicious variety featuring eggplant thinly sliced on top.

The menu is complemented by a terrific wine list with great Italian wines, from which we chose a bottle of Sangiovese, Il Poggione “Brancato,” from Tuscany.

 

In addition to the wines, the restaurant offers a full array of designer libations, such as the popular Julietta, made with ginger-infused Smirnoff, with homemade vanilla, fiorente elderflower, lime and prosecco, and served with a beautiful orchid flower that you could even eat if you wanted.

And for true Italianos, they offer a delicious limoncello for sipping. For the nondrinkers at the table, they also had a delicious strawberry lemonade infused with real strawberries and lemons.

While it seemed we ordered half the menu, there was much more to try, which due to limitations in appetite during a single sitting, will have to wait for another timer. Our table was rather demanding, posing many questions about the menu, which our very professional, apparently indefatigable and extremely accommodating staff answered astutely. At the end of the evening, our server boxed up our leftovers with a smile, sending us home with the next night’s dinner and a great feeling to last until the next visit to North Italia.

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Travel

A vacation back in time at the Hotel Del Coronado

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Guests retreat to the historic The Del to visit an era of simple pleasures

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Visiting Hotel Del Coronado on Coronado Island is like a step back in time, with all the amenities of modern life, in surroundings that remind you that others came before you — epochs before — to enjoy this same, timeless fresh sea air.

The Del, as it known locally, has expanded and renovated over the years, since 1888 when it was first built, to a vast property of contemporary guest rooms, villas, restaurants and meeting spaces, but the original Victorian wooden building is the place to stay to experience the energy and aura of the true Hotel Del.

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The rooms smell old, in a nostalgic way, with a sea smell that harkens back to the days when families threw wide their shutters and opened their rooms to the ocean breeze for a shore vacation, to which they took a long arduous journey to arrive.

Yesterday meets the digital age

Throughout the hotel, the old meets the new, such as Toto toilets in bathrooms with 130-year-old 12-foot-tall floor-to-ceiling vented wooden doors, and a state-of-the-art gym featuring an aerobics and spin studio, which overlooks a bamboo garden and Japanese Zen fountain at the spa, just below a hand-laid red brick patio that is over a century old.

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At an outdoor restaurant by the beach, stylish white wicker chairs with a nod to midcentury design sit underneath a veranda across from an herb garden mixed with succulents. Hotel Del keeps pace with its discerning Southern Californian clientele and their demands for eco-conscious hospitality yet delivers an authentic feeling historical experience.

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The bright wide corridors, easily twice as wide and high as typical hotel halls, leads guests to bright white wooden doors to the rooms. Electronic key cards have replaced the old locksets, and furnishings that are fresh styled yet complementary of the architecture create a comfortable environment that respectfully appreciates the antique tongue-in-groove construction that surrounds them.

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IMG_5337While the interior of The Del, with its opulent chandeliers and glorious wood-paneled walls, is filled with discovery, the grounds around the hotel provide equal wonderment. Just in front of the hotel, before guests reach the sand, is an enormous grassy plaza that is one of the centerpieces of the hotel.  In summertime, the lawn is a place for children to run, or it is the setting of an enchanted wedding, gatherings of families, or corporate events — for business people lucky enough to hold conventions at the resort. In the winter, the hotel places an ice rink at the site, decorated with millions of holiday lights, transforming the hotel into a true winter wonderland by the sea.

A family tradition

Each time I have visited Hotel Del, it is a lively place, with families of all generations visiting together, many returning your after year, in some cases decade after decade, to this place that guests often describe as “magical.”

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For kids and adults alike, the intrigue and mystery of the turret at the top of the hotel adds to the mystique. Is it occupied? Could it be haunted even? Is it a place where only monarchs, Presidents or heads-of-state – who indeed are frequent visitors — are allowed to go?

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It is the place one never wants to leave. A place that feels like not just an escape from the nearby cities of San Diego or Los Angeles, but a departure from the stresses of modern life. It is a way to step out of time and into the 1900 House, but in this case a grand hotel, with fine dining, yoga on the beach, Wi-Fi and its own InDelible electronic magazine.

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For luxury seekers, the service is impeccable — the same as you would experience at any spanking-new five-star hotel, where the front desk personal and phone operators speak to you with a polished formality that makes you feel like royalty.

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Old-school history lesson

As a native of Virginia, I always chuckle at the joke: “How many Virginians does it take to change a light bulb?” Answer: “Five, one to change the bulb and four to talk about how good the old one was.” I see the same love of tradition in Hotel Del as in my home state of the Old Dominion. The Hotel Del appreciates the honor it has of preserving antiquity. It understands that the squeaks of the wood stairs, the unevenness of the floor boards, and the worn wood columns covered with thick paint from years of polishing up this gem by the sea are part of its glory.

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They say that the third time is a charm, and this third visit in my lifetime to Hotel Del, its history has never been as charming and appreciated by me. Maybe it is because I have ripened as a person, that I truly cherish the history with in its walls. Maybe in my own age of a half century, I have genuinely come to know, that some things do indeed get better with age.

 

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Dining in Los AngelesLifestyleRestaurantsThe Left CoastTravel

Five best little hotels in Los Angeles

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Small but grand hotels for travelers looking for a home-away-from-home in LA

Los Angeles is a vast city full of diversity, where visitors and denizens can get whatever they want, whenever they want it, including hotel amenities.  As a leisure or business traveler in LA, you can find lodging from the most over-the-top in extravagance to the adorably quaint, where you can rest your weary soul, as you like it. Here are a handful of the city’s top-rated boutique hotels with something to suit every type of traveler.

Hotel H – LAX

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“Airport hotel” does not usually call to mind visions of a luxury property, but Hotel H, residing just adjacent the famous colored silos of Los Angeles International Airport, is challenging that notion. This chic hotel offers an option for visitors to the city — or those just passing through — who want a good night sleep in an upscale environment.

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Featuring modern styling and furnishings, the well-appointed rooms have handy amenities for travelers like a 24-hour fitness center, a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf in the lobby, an outdoor pool and an expansive 12th-floor rooftop patio boasting incredible views of the city and LAX.

There’s also little details, like doorbell buttons outside guest rooms that illuminate red when the deadbolt is locked — replacing those annoying do-not-disturb placards, individual reading lights on the bedsides, and multiple outlets with built in USB ports around the room.

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Throughout the hotel are aviation-themed art and sculptures, including vintage airline posters of perky stewardesses that would make Austin Powers purr.

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In true Jetson’s style, the hotel’s Waypoint Kitchen offers touch-screen ordering from your table, and room service featuring a robot that delivers to your door.

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Hotel Erwin

13_gallery_epic_view_king_room_balcony_viewGet local at the center of Venice Beach culture at Hotel Erwin, a retro-meets-surf-style boutique hotel with plenty of ocean-view rooms, a rooftop lounge, and a lobby decorated with surfboards. Host a beach party overlooking Venice’s colorful boardwalk in one of the enormous suites featuring fun house mirrors and an in-room bar.

34_gallery_red_bull_suite_champagne_barThe main suite area features a pull-out bed to accommodate additional overnight guests, and the bathroom is divided with a separate door for the shower, ideal for sharing with family or others; and for those who blend play with work, there’s an alcove with a desk for a workspace.

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The décor is a reflection of the hipster urban beach lifestyle of Venice, with bright and artsy nuevo mid-century décor, including a bedroom wall paper of traced hands in a variety of “expressive” gestures.

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The Erwin’s vibe may be laid back, but the service is uber professional and buttoned up, yet relaxed. The hotel’s Barlo Kitchen + Cocktails serves fresh SoCal fare and offers an outdoor seating option adjacent the lobby, overlooking the sidewalk and across the driveway, so you can enjoy drinks and the street life at once.

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Beverly Hills Marriott

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The Beverly Hills Marriott has gone through recent renovations taking it from a convenient, passable hotel to an affordable luxury property on the edge of Beverly Hills.

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IMG_8148It’s within walking distance of trendy restaurants — and for those who are sturdy walkers — to the famed shopping of Rodeo. It features all the modern amenities for business travels, such as a bedside alarm clock with duel USB ports and many outlets for devices, an extra-long lounger sofa for relaxing or working.

20170716_180156475_iOS20170716_180217922_iOSFor platinum guests there’s a club lounge off the lobby to grab a quick snack or hold an impromptu meeting. Like a true efficiency studio, there’s no closet, just coat hangers on pegs, and instead of a dresser there’s a couple drawers hidden away under a bench.

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For the eco-conscious, the hotel offers certified pure rooms. This means the room has undergone a seven-step process to sanitize the carpet and upholstery to reduce bacteria and mold, bedding consist of a hypo allergenic pillow and mattress encasements, and there is a in room air purifier with a tea tree oil cartridge designed to promote serene sleep.

Mosaic Hotel

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Mosaic Hotel Beverly Hills remodeled in July 2015 to become a tiny gem in the city, if you can find it. The entrance into the lobby has the feel of a side door, leading to an intimate reception area where you are immediately face-to-face with the front desk. The shiny white marble and polished chrome lobby is a preview of the rooms – bright, clean and elegantly appointed in modern style and decor, making the most of the compressed space.

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Studios are tight on walking room but not skimpy in luxury amenities, such as a 50”-screen television and a rainfall shower head in the marble shower, which to maximize space is separated from the toilet by a glass pane.

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IMG_8171Plantation shutters let in light while offering privacy, and some rooms open to their own semi-private patio. A small heated pool adjacent to the lobby lounge is welcoming, with cozy deep seating sitting areas and chaises, for relaxing after a dip in the water, or people watching.

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The Orlando Hotel

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If you love shopping and dining out, the Orlando Hotel is your place to stay in LA. This family-owned boutique is blocks away from The Grove shopping center and nearby to plenty of excellent eateries, including Joan’s on Third, Mercado, Son of Gun, The Little Door and Little Next Door. If you want to dine closer to home, the hotel’s own Cleo restaurant offers a modern Mediterranean cuisine and a social hour with tasty appetizers like lamb sliders and mushroom flatbread.

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The guest rooms feature comfortable contemporary furnishings and a mood-lit modern black-marbled bathroom with dual designer sinks and a tall stand-alone soaking tub.

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Known as one of the most reasonably priced hotels in the neighborhood, The Orlando offers several special packages, such as a Shopping Package and an American Girl experience for girls and their dolls which includes a $50 American Girl Store gift card and a doll-sized bath robe, slippers, bed and blanket to take home.

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AdventureDining in Los AngelesEat & DrinkLifestyleOutdoorsRestaurantsThe Left CoastTravel

Marina del Rey: Beach-going made nice and easy

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LA Locals and visitors adore this low-key family friendly waterfront area that offers a little bit of everything

Marina del Rey is one of the mellowest beach communities in Los Angeles. With 600 acres of protected natural wetlands on its southern border, making its landscape unique and everlasting, it is quieter and more calm than its neighbors Venice and Santa Monica. For natives and tourists who discover it, Marina Beach is a sandy gem of a waterfront destination that combines nature, watersports, and family friendly venues, making it a welcome departure from the busier adjacent beaches.

Water Play

The Marina is known as the area’s center for boating and fishing excursions, but it is also popular as one of the best places for kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding around Los Angeles. On a typical day, the sandy cove at the end of the Marina is stripped with paddle boards and kayaks lined up by the shore, coming in from outings about the marina and awaiting someone new to rent them.

Paddleboard yoga, a sport which originated in Marina del Rey, created by the founder of YOGAqua, has also taken off as a favorite Marina activity, where sessions begin with a warm-up lap around the Marina and progress to a series of stretches and poses – on anchored boards, ending with the most-experienced participants in headstands on their boards.

The big boats in the Marina and their diminutive paddling brethren exist like sharks and the feeder fish that follow around them. Though occasionally a paddler or boater will get annoyed at the other for encroaching on their territory, mostly they exist symbiotically. Paddle boards and kayaks are available for rental by the hour or day at Marina del Rey Boat Rentals, Pro SUP Shop, and the UCLA Marina Aquatic Center.

Why families love it

At the popular Marina Beach, known locally as Mother’s Beach, children can play in the confines of a roped-in shallow swimming area, or families and parties can enjoy gatherings in the covered pavilion, where community barbeques and tables are available for reservations. If you don’t feel like packing along your picnic, you can get food to go at Beach Eats, and all-summer weekly food truck event with live music on Thursdays evenings.

If you do make a day of hanging at the beach, be warned that the bathroom facilities are not posh by any standards, but they are convenient, just a brief walk from the water’s edge, and there are outdoor shower stations for a quick rinse-off.

Beach cruising

The popularity of the Marina recreation area during peak season can mean scarce parking, with only one major lot by Marina Beach that costs $12 for all-day parking. Another option is to hop on the Free Ride shuttle, which operates noon to 9 pm and offers stops all around the waterfront area. For those who want to cruise at a slower speed, bike rentals are available in Fisherman’s Village, where cyclists can ride along the beach on the Marvin Braude coastal bike trail, all the way from Will Rogers State Beach to Torrance Beach.

Water ways

The Fisherman’s Village, a New-England style promenade by the docks, offers a variety of shops and restaurants with great views of the boats.  It is also the launch pad for boating experiences, from seasonal whale watching and hard-core deep fishing tours to gondola rides and pleasure yachting. For those who want a truly high-level look at the area, Marina Del Rey Parasailing offers tours of the Venice and Santa Monica beaches, gliding under a kite from 500- to 800-feet up. Other experiences departing from the Marina, such as private yachting cruises and fishing adventures, are available from private boat owners who loan out their sea vessels, with or without captains, through Airbnb off-shoot Boatsetter.

See food

Dining experiences around the Marina range from the causal to the classy. TonyP’s Dockside Grill, overlooking the Marina, serves up consistently good seafood – including legendary fish and chips, as well as steaks, sandwiches and salads in a friendly, family restaurant atmosphere that appeals to local and tourists alike.

El Torito at Fisherman’s Village offers one of the best views of the Marina, which is why the place is packed at sundown, full of boisterous diners who come for the sundown spectacle and some of the best tequila drinks in town, like the George Clooney strawberry margarita, best enjoyed with the restaurant’s signature table-side-prepared guacamole and fresh-made chips, along with the ultimate appetizer of bacon wrapped jumbo shrimp.

For causal family dining a bit more inland, Fresh Brothers at the Waterside Marina del Rey shopping plaza offers deep-dish, skinny, thin and cauliflower crust pizza and hearty meatball and chicken-parmesan sliders, as well as big bowl salads and delicious fresh garlic bread knots.

Hot dates

Night life is hopping at many of the local bars, but for a truly local experience, grab a cord of wood and some food to grill and head for the firepits on Dockweiler State Beach, where early-birds stake out one of 40 first-come-first-serve concrete pits early in the day for a DIY bonfire parties that go until late at night.

Besides the watersports and dining, Marina del Rey has many other entertainment options and special events, such as the new ARTsea Community Festival, and outdoor free movie nights at the Burton W. Chase Park.

Stay and play

If you are visiting from out of town, there are many accommodations from a variety of price points, including the Foghorn Harbor Inn, Jamaica Bay Inn, Hilton Garden Inn Marina Del Rey, Marina del Rey Hotel, and Marina del Rey Marriott. The premier luxury property in town is the marine-themed Ritz Carlton Marina del Rey, which features the world-class Sisley Paris Spa. Even if you don’t stay overnight, its worth getting a spa treatment, which entitles patrons to use the hotel pool all day.

The low-key vibe of Marina del Rey makes it one of LA’s most endearing waterfront areas, with many activities and experiences that are unique to the Marina, due to its boating and watersports culture and the city’s quaint size, relative to the vast city surrounding it. For beachcombers looking for a seaside destination that is scenic but not a scene, Marina is a the perfect port.

 

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DecorEat & DrinkFamilyLifestyleOutdoorsRestaurantsShoppingThe Eastern SeaboardTravel

Making family memories to last for generations at the Greenbrier

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A visit to the indelible resort steeped in tradition, where families come together to enjoy the grandest things in life

Our Greenbrier adventure began with a bit more excitement than our family had anticipated, when we voyaged to the world-renowned resort on a dark and blustery night.

We decided it was best to travel a day earlier than scheduled, since weather forecasters were predicting a windstorm with 50 mph gusts on the day we had planned to drive. Luckily, the Greenbrier was able to accommodate our request for a day-early arrival, so we headed out at 8:30 PM on a three-and-a-half-hour journey through the Allegheny mountains, from Northern Virginia to White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

The route past my alma mater James Madison University on Interstate 81 and over the alpine thoroughfares was a bit treacherous, with the gale-force winds pushing our car out of our lane several times, but even more frightening was the caravan of 18-wheeler big rigs passing us, swerving on the verge of tipping from the gusts.

A welcoming to remember

After our harrowing drive, the small quiet town of Sulfur Springs was a welcome sight. As we pulled into the gated entrance to the Greenbrier, the magic began. It was the first day of March, but still the resort was dressed in its winter splendor.

Tree branches aligning the gardens in front of the hotel were adorned with tiny sparkling white lights, giving the hotel the appearance of an enchanted palace. As we cruised into the front roundabout, road-weary and wind-battered, we were greeted warmly by the valet, whose energy seemed unaffected by the squall and the late hour.

The check-in staff facilitated a quick registration and off we went, following the valet’s Lincoln Town Car as he led us through the village of white wooden cottages to our accommodations. Upon entering the cottage, we could not contain our oohs and ahhs. The Legacy Florida Cottage, one of the original guest villas on the perimeter of the main resort building, was a spacious and stately yet an inviting home-away-from-home.

Our intergenerational party, spanning eight decades, from two pre-teen boys to an octogenarian grandmother, all found something – in fact many somethings – of delight.

The housekeeping staff had prepared for our arrival by warming the home to a comfortable temperature and turning on lamps in every room, illuminating the charm and hominess of the residence. After the boys did a quick survey of rooms to pick their favorite — a corner king suite with wild jungle-like draperies with a matching bedspread and upholstered chairs, the adults choose their rooms.

Each of the rooms was distinct in its decor, with vibrant colors, like carpets in hues of fairway-green, velvety purple and royal red, paired with bold and bright stripped, plaid and floral bedding and lounge chairs, each with its own strong character and unique appeal.

 

Worth the drive

Even though it was approaching 1 AM by the time we settled in our cottage, the family sat down at the green-lacquered dining room table for a late-night snack of kettle corn and brownies, that my mom had brought along.

The sugar boost was a guarantee the boys would not be going to sleep anytime soon, so despite the night slipping into early morning hours, we sat and chatted at the table, reliving our treacherous trek to the hotel, relieved now that the storm was in our rearview mirror.  We sat up talking and laughing, relating stories of other memorable road trips, and marveling at our surroundings. It was the kind of stuff that family memories are made of, and the preciousness of those moments did not escape me.

The Greenbrier symbolizes this to me, and I’m sure to many. It is a place that families go to spend quality time, to bond, relax, dine out, play, and just be together, sharing and creating  memories in a beautiful and elegant-yet-approachable environment.

Everywhere around the hotel are sitting spaces that encourage gathering and socializing. These lounge spots come in every variety, from sunny alcoves with floral high-back chairs to dimly lit nooks where masculine leather club chairs surround backgammon tables and chessboards.

 

Strolling the grounds and exploring the massive corridors, elegant parlors and ubiquitous lounges and sitting areas of this old-school resort, built in 1778, one feels transported to another time and place.  Here it would not seem out of the ordinary to see a princess ambling in the garden or strolling the hallowed halls, as in fact Princess Grace of Monaco did, when she visited for an impromptu summer vacation, commemorated by a portrait of her in one of the many great rooms of the hotel.

 

The active life

While the Greenbrier is drenched in opulence, it still presents a relaxing environment for its guests, especially for families. As a place where wellness seekers once flocked to bathe in and imbibe the area’s natural mineral springs, believed to contain healing properties, the resort, while giving way to modest modernization, retains its intention to provide a setting for restoration of mind and body.

The activities around the hotel are designed to promote recreation and enjoyment, from the spa, salon and shopping plaza to the seasonal ice skating rink, bowling alley and arcade.

As an ex-pat from Los Angeles, where many ultramodern hotels are steeled in chrome and glass, exuding a hardness and coolness that pervades even the people that inhabit them, I relished the aura of the Greenbrier, where a soul can meld with its beauty and feel at ease, in laid-back luxury.

The small gymnasium overlooking the indoor swimming pool was a place I keenly felt this sense of ease. There a person could exercise and watch children play in the pool, as parents with averagely toned bodies walked comfortably in their swim suits, in a tranquil setting, without the bombardment of loud music and the intimidation of hard-bodied models parading about in bikinis; but, perhaps I am extrapolating too much from my last Palm Springs vacation.

 

Living history

As a historic landmark, there is plenty to see at the Greenbrier, from galleries of fine artwork and portraits of presidents, royalty, celebrities, sports stars and other distinguished Greenbrier guests, to salons designed by the legendary Dorothy Draper and remnants of political and social history, including a cold-war bunker, which is the subject of one of the most popular tours on the property.

On the Bunker Tour, guests can explore the once top-secret fall-out shelter under a wing of the hotel, comprised of spartan barracks and living quarters created for Congress in the 1950s, in the case of a nuclear attack on the nation’s capital.

Among the most popular activities and a Greenbrier tradition since the 1930s is afternoon tea, served daily in the grand upper lobby, where guests can enjoy a sophisticated tête-à-tête while nibbling gourmet pastries and listening to the soft strains of live classical piano music.

Other favorite experiences include rides in a horse-drawn carriage around the property, cooking, painting and knitting workshops, or, for the athletic, sporting activities at world-class facilities for golf and tennis – which have hosted sports greats such as tennis superstars Serena and Venus Williams and the late golf legend Sam Sneed, who served at the pro emeritus in his last years.

Other resort activities include adventure offerings, such as horseback riding, falconry, skeet shooting, fishing, kayaking, and paddle boarding. For those who want to try their luck at gaming, the resort hosts the world-class Casino Club, where guests are treated to a champagne toast and a choreographed waltz performance at 10 pm nightly, and guests and bust a move themselves at the 42 Below dance club.

For kids, there’s a plethora of activities, from laser tag in the Bunker space to family friendly movies in the on-property cinema. The Adventure Zone center provides a number of experiences, such as an Alpine Tower for climbing and an Aerial Adventure Course, which we braved as a family activity, tight-rope walking and crossing a series of swinging and dangling challenges 60-feet in the air, with safety harnesses, of course.

In all, there are about 55 activities at the Greenbrier, so it would be hard to find yourself doing nothing at all, unless that is what you choose, which is also a popular option at the resort.

Dining to celebrate

Of course, one of the most celebrated activities at the Greenbrier is dining. The resort features six restaurants and three seasonal restaurants and cafés and five bars and lounges, along with 24-hour room service.

Each day of our visit we enjoyed the lavish breakfast buffet, which included omelet and Belgian waffle stations and just about every breakfast entrée imaginable, from the basics of fruit and yogurt to egg casseroles, keeping trays of bacon and sausage, and a good southern standby of chipped beef gravy and biscuits.

The former Main Dining Room, for which guests must adhere to the resort’s dress code, i.e., jackets and ties for the gentlemen and cocktail attire for the ladies, is known for its exquisite service and menu.  Certainly, the five-star service and the famed Prime Filet of Beef Tenderloin should not be missed in the Main Dining Room, though several other restaurants on the property have outstanding fare.

Our party was most impressed with our delectable meal at Prime 44 West, the high-end sports restaurant and steakhouse named after the legendary West Virginian NBA player Jerry West, who wore the namesake’s number on his uniform. The atmosphere, service and our meal at 44 West was extraordinary from start to end, beginning with the Seafood Platter, progressing to the perfectly cooked Bone-in Rib-Eye and Lobster Mash Potatoes, to the big finish of the flaming Dark Cherry Flambé with Kirsh, prepared tableside.

 

The kids loved the causal Draper’s cafe, not just for the generous frozen scoops of heaven at the ice cream bar, but also because they serve the best Fried Green Tomato Sandwich and Creamy Chicken Pot Pie this side of anywhere. There’s plenty excellent offerings there for adults as well, like the signature Dorothy’s Chicken Salad and the comforting Country Shrimp and Grits. Besides the food, the atmosphere and décor is pure fun, featuring high-backed pink-and-white-striped booths, an homage to Dorothy Draper, the designer whose audacious color schemes give the resort its distinctive flair.

Service with a smile

At the restaurants and at every venue within the resort, the service was exceptional, attentive and friendly. In speaking to the staff, many voluntarily expressed their pleasure to work at the Greenbrier, where they said they were treated like family.

One of the maîtres told us she had been with the Greenbrier just three months, which made her a “embryo” compared to the staff who had been there for decades, some for generations, following in the footsteps of their parents, and their parents before them.

I told her the Greenbrier reminded me of Downton Abbey, the fictitious British castle featured in one of my favorite TV shows, in which the loyal employees-for-life were an intrinsic part of the estate. The analogy made her smile widely.  “I love that comparison,” she said. “The people who work here feel that same kind of love for the Greenbrier.”

A few days at the Greenbrier is not enough to fully explore and appreciate all that the destination called “America’s Resort” has to offer, but it was a good start.

Our last night, after a wonderful, leisurely dinner in the Main Dining Room, at nearly 10 pm, we called up the porter to help light our fireplace. It was late to start a fire, which we would have to stay awake to tend until it burned out, but we wanted to make the night last.  And so, we did.  We stayed up all night, relaxing by the hearth, retelling stories of our adventures of the past days, into the next day.

As we were checking out the next day, I picked up brochure in the lobby.  It described the Greenbrier, as “Life as few know it.” I would have to agree that the splendid experience of a Greenbrier getaway is not something that everyone can do all the time, just as we cannot, and would not want to, eat caviar every day, or it would lose its specialness; but it is an extraordinary treat. 

A visit to the Greenbrier is among those experiences that one can truly call marvelous, and one that our family will always remember, and hopefully come back to enjoy, again, and again.

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Dining in Los AngelesEat & DrinkLifestyleRestaurantsThe Left Coast

Il Picollo Verde offers LA diners small-town Italian with a big heart

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Il Picollo Verde is fine Italian dining that is approachable in price and atmosphere. The restaurant is relatively small, occupying a long and narrow storefront on Barrington Place in Brentwood Village. The heated patio overlooks a relatively quiet street, and is almost as large as the cozy restaurant inside. For those opting for the dining room, The ambience inside is mellow and romantic, with low lighting and tables lit by small oil lamps.

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It was the perfect atmosphere for a date night, or in our case, an intimate family dinner.

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The restaurant and staff are welcoming, and like the menu, very approachable. Chef Pablo Merida prepares the made-to-order from-scratch Italian specialties in an open kitchen, along with his able and friendly crew.

In addition to many traditional dishes, the restaurant features a Verde Naturale menu with a number of health-conscious, low-calories options made with organic, unrefined, raw and pressed oils and organic gluten-free grains and leafy greens and vegetables.

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We first tried a family favorite, the App Calamari Friti, which was lightly fried and not overly greasy, served with a tangy marinara sauce. While it was not an appetizer per se, we decided to have the Ravioli Casarecci before our entrées, because we didn’t want to miss the restaurant’s favorite famous homemade pastas, but we all had our minds set on non-pasta dishes.

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For our main courses, we had the Lemon Chicken Naturale, grilled with garlic, herbs, vegetables, lemon juice, millet Verde, which was very similar to the Petto Di Pollo Al Limone chicken breast, though the former served in a lighter sauce.
My nine-year-old was in the mood for seafood indulged in the Cioppino, a seafood stew of clams, mussels, calamari, shrimp, fresh fish, and served with Crostini for dipping. We also had the Salmone, a grilled salmon fillet served with broccoli and roasted potatoes.
Though the restaurant was out of gelato the night we visited, we had two other delicious desserts from their dessert menu of a custard pie with almonds and a ricotta cheese pie.
While we didn’t have the appetite for it the night we visited, the restaurant is known for its New York style pizza, which our table neighbor had ordered and which looked tantalizing. In particular, the Bianca E Neve pizza looked appetizing, covered with mozzarella and ricotta cheese and spinach. For that, we will have to come back, which we surely will.

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Dining in Los AngelesEat & DrinkThe Left Coast

Downtown LA’s Miro offers a brunch for worth a trip into the city

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The restaurant known for its downstairs whiskey bar gets its early on with a delightful Saturday morning brunch

It used to be that Downtown LA was like Wall Street on the weekends, vacant and quiet, especially on Saturdays, but slowly and steadily, chic and inviting restaurants like Miro are changing that. Because no other premiere restaurant was serving brunch to hungry DTLA dwellers on Saturdays, Miro smartly introduced its upscale late-morning, mid-day meal offerings with inventive dishes that give late-night clubbers something to crawl out for and those outside the center city a reason to drive into it.

Miro’s Chef Gavin Mills has created an imaginative menu featuring pan-Mediterranean entrées, along with some modern Italian regional offerings, such as a pastrami-rubbed Smoked Salmon with pickled beet, ale mustard and crème fraiche, served with fries or a salad. For a heartier lunch, there’s a selection of house-made pastas like the Strozzapreti lamb ragu with dark chocolate, mirpoinx, garlic, mushroom and chili flakes. On the lighter side, there’s Farro Salad with roasted squash, black truffle pecorino, arugula and balsamic.

At the center of the concept for Miro are dishes that are made with locally sourced foods from sustainable farms, and a presentation that invites shared-plate dining style. As the sophisticated new breed of DTLA denizens inspire, the atmosphere is decidedly fashionable, with touches such as hand-made pottery dishes that adorn round brass cocktail table tops and fine wood benches and picnic tables, with a centerpiece in the main dining area of a thick white marble slab bar with chic Saarinen-esque wood tulip bar stools, under modern chandeliers of blown glass balls. The ambiance is swank but approachable and comfortable, like the strains of strains of Marvin Gaye and 80s and 90s tunes that played in the background during my recent, visit, perfect for a lazy Saturday morning.

So far, this Brunch remains undiscovered by the culinary masses, but as more of those working in the city return to it to play, Miro expects this lunch offering will continue to grow, a welcome oasis for those who desire an elegant downtown setting for a relaxing and sophisticated brunch. With the recently opened InterContinental Hotel across the street, the traffic is starting to increase, as Miro is among the first with confidence to build it, knowing that the brunch bunch will come.

While many know Miro as an excellent upscale farm-to-table restaurant with an impressive menu for a business lunch or after-hours dinner, or as a hot happy hour spot with a legendary hidden-away whisky lounge downstairs, -to-impress restaurant, their brunch will be sure to put them on the map for those who find themselves in the city overnight,

Saturday brunch is served 11:30 am to 3 pm. Menu items are subject to change, so check online for the latest brunch menu at http://www.mirorestaurant.com/menu-brunch.php

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