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When Doing Less is More, in Kaua’i

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To each her own Kaua’i, the Hawaiian Island where adventure beckons and leisure reigns  

They say that each of the Hawaiian Islands has its own personality, and it did not take more than a few hours for me to figure out the character of Kaua’i.  Just ask any Hawaiian and you will get schooled on their state. As I traveled the island, I was amazed at how every local, usually a transplant, possessed encyclopedia-worthy amount of knowledge about the island.  I learned that each of the state’s eight main islands is very different, and each has their own history, culture and pride.  When a native of Kaua’i wanted to tell me what his island was all about, he said to truly experience it, I should do nothing.

Kaua’i is the laid back, decompressed island.  The oldest and fourth largest island is a surfer’s haven that embodies the lifestyle where locals chill and invite visitors to do the same. Everyone who lives on Kaua’i has a story of what brought them there and how they ended up staying.  I heard countless tales of those arriving with round trip airline tickets that became a one-way ticket to a new life. I also spoke to many locals who were born on the island, and several had never been off the island, and they had no desire to leave.

While tourists are welcome to kick-back and relax, for type-A visitors, Kaua’i hosts a plethora of activities for non-stop action.

Doing Kaua’i

Kaua’i is famed for many things, including its lush mountainous terrain, which has starred as the backdrop for every Jurassic Park movie. It is also known for its legendary surfing beaches, such as the surfing area off Makua Beach called Tunnels, which became infamous as the spot of a 2003 tiger shark attack on Bethany Hamilton’s in which the top-ranked surfer lost an arm.

Many of the beaches are beautiful to look at but are not for frivolous frolicking in the waves. The day we attempted to swim in the ocean, our shuttle driver from the Hanalei Resort reported that he had tried to surf that morning, but he turned around because the swells were too big.  That same day, we heard from another beachcomber a tale of a young man who narrowly escaped an attack by mounting a tiger shark and punching it in the eye after the shark toppled him by biting his surfboard. The quick-acting surfer then jumped back on his board and paddled to shore, limbs intact.

The many faces of Kaua’i

As different as each Hawaiian island is, each side of each island can have its own culture, climate and topography. To really get a feeling for each island you need to explore all its coasts. On the sunny side of Kaua’i, we visited Aston at Poipu Kai resort, a beachfront condominium community.  It was a hot and humid night when we arrived late, well after check-in time. I was worried the room would be muggy  when I learned the resort had no air conditioning, and I was skeptical when the management sent two room fans; but with the balmy ocean breeze coming through the windows, we slept comfortably and soundly.  The condo was nicely furnished with bamboo furniture and tropical printed draperies, with an open loft style upstairs master suite and two baths. Outside our window were beautiful bright pink flowering vines and a cute blue tile-lined swimming pool with an ocean view, where we were the only users. The grounds were quiet even though it seemed from the abundance of cars in the parking lot that the resort was at capacity.

 

The resort is near the Grand Hyatt Kaua’i, which was hosting the last evening of a cultural celebration, so we walked to the hotel to peruse the hand-carved jewelry and crafts displayed and to watch hula performances of children as young as five years old who confidently and gracefully told the stories of the island’s history with their interpretive dance.

We learned a good lesson about Kaua’i that night, when we walked home in the dark. We observed that total darkness that engulfs the island after sundown is incredible for star gazing, though it is hazardous for pedestrians. We nearly stepped on a dozen frogs and wished we had brought a flashlight and bug spray.

All about Po’ipu

By daylight, Poipu is a great place to stroll around and a central location for many activities Close to our accommodations we found a darling boutique shopping center, the Shops at Kukui Ula, where we found great prices on Tungsten and Koa wood ring, which we had set out to find after we spotted them in an ad in the Hawaiian Air inflight magazine.

The mini mall also had a great café offering a decadent turnover pastry chock full of warm melty coconut flakes, and a very cool Italian eatery, Pizzetta, with a delightful patio overlooking a garden and a lively happy hour with half-priced appetizers, including my fave, calamari, and $4 Mai Tais.

Po’ipu Beach Park was a three-minute drive from the Aston, but we could have walked in less than 10. There we ran into some handsome and friendly lifeguards who warned that swimming around the island could be treacherous where no lifeguard are present. They noted that there had been 11 drownings last season. With that cautionary bulletin, we decided to forgo swimming and sunbathed instead, in front of Marriott Waiohai Beach Club, which was a popular spot for snorkelers and stand-up paddle boarders.

Determined to find the beach less-traveled, we ventured on where the danger of no lifeguard didn’t bother the hard-core surfers at the secluded Kihili Quarry Beach, where we took our Avis rental car down a quarry road so obscure that it was not even on our GPS navigation map. While we only got our feet wet, we enjoyed the view of the surfers until the sun started to set.

Another day of Kaua’i   

Don’t worry if you forget to set your iPhone alarm clock in Kaua’i, the roosters will wake you up bright and early, each morning, afternoon, and in fact all day long.  The gorgeously colored wild roosters and their chicken mates can be seen strutting and pecking everywhere on the island, running amuck in parking lots, on sidewalks, in stores and restaurants and even in the halls of our hotel.

Evidentially too tough for human consumption – and without natural predators, and out-numbering the feral cats which have given up hunting them, the feathered pests have proliferated in Kaua’i, necessitating “Please do not feed the chickens” signs throughout the island.  As with everything else in Kaua’i, the natives have a live-and-let-live attitude and have embraced the phenomenon with abounding rooster souvenirs and artwork art at the local galleries and gift shops.

Accommodating Kaua’i

To gain an appreciation for many parts of the island, we changed accommodations, staying at a few different resorts and condominiums. Our goal was to explore each of the regions and its highlights, such as the cliffs of the Napali Coast on the North Shore, the coconut groves of the East Side, the Wailua Falls of Lihue, the commercial center of the island, the beaches and history of the South Shore, and the art community of Hanapepe Town and the scenic vistas of Kokee State Park of the West Side.

Our second stop on our whirlwind six-day trip was the Hanalei Colony Resort, a quiet and comfortable resort, situated in an area of pristine natural beauty on Kaua’i’s lush north shore. The resort holds the distinction of being the only commercial property existing in this spectacular setting. The resort also features ocean front dining at the Opakapaka Grill and Bar and the Napali Art Gallery and Coffee House, where you can enjoy your morning java and shop for treasures created by local artisans.

Next we lodged at the Kaua’i Beach Resort, called Kaua’i’s most authentic resort, with breathtaking ocean views of the eastern shores of the Garden Isle and an expansive property of 25 acres which features four swimming pools, including two lagoon pools with waterfalls and a sandy bottom.

We found many excellent places to dine, starting with Postcards, the most-recommended restaurant, where we feasted on the famous Postcards Platter of pupus including crunchy seafood-filled rockets with coconut curry, crab cakes, spice-encrusted seared ahi, the Hanalei taro fritters.

We also enjoyed the lively atmosphere of Tortilla Republic Grill, serving fresh Mexican fare with an expansive selections to tequilas at their margarita bar.

Other mentionable restaurants on the island include the Kaua’i Grill at St. Regis Princeville, which is fantastic but not the cheapest place; Bar Acuda, for excellent tapas dining; the Tavern at Princeville, known for its gorgeous setting and good food; Common Ground, offering awesome organic farm with the best breakfasts you’ll ever taste; and Hanalei Coffee Roasters, serving up scrumptious breakfasts and great coffee.

Waterfalls, waterfalls, everywhere

What else can you do in Kaua’i, you ask? Everything, if you don’t take the natives’ advice and just chillax. You can test your bravery at Zip N’ Dip Expedition at Princeville Ranch Adventures, where you can soar over breathtaking jungle valleys on ziplines and stop for a dip in a waterfall swimming hole. The thrill was intense, especially when the guide told us to get a running start on one platform over a 60-foot ravine because there was a wasp nest in a tree near the cable. I kept thinking about tracker-jackers in Hunger Games, but our party made it to the other side unscathed.

It seems all adventures in Kaua’i involve a swimming hole. At Silver Falls Ranch, we trotted through the mountains on horseback, breathing in the fragrance of the yellow ginger and cooled by the balmy trade winds, on a journey to a waterfall where we could swim in the chilly, refreshing pool below. That outing proved particularly exciting when I, the least experienced rider, lucked out by getting the most spirited horse, who reared up when we hit some deep mud he didn’t like. Thanks to the attentive and quick acting guide, I stayed in the saddle, and I walked away with a good story.

Down the road a bit, will also enjoyed the exhilaration of unpredictable twists and turns on an ATV course, courtesy of Kauai ATV. Suited up with rather unflattering one-size-fits-big nylon gym shorts and T-shirts, which we donned in order to spare our clothes from the mud onslaught, we traversed the jungle in our mud buggies, which resemble giant go-carts with awesome shocks.

 

Our caravan of about eight buggies slogged through a muddy fire road through Jurassic Park country – also the setting for nearly 200 other movies — through sugarcane fields and under the Wilcox Tunnel, Kauai’s only drivable tunnel. Our buggies took a beating, rattled over rocks, ripped through ditches and mud puddles and griped the ground through steep off-road trails before arriving at a midpoint rest stop where stripped to our bathing suits under our clothes and jumped into – you guessed it – a swimming hole of refreshing mountain water from a cascading waterfall.

Our afternoon was made more exciting by the resounding boom of repeated gun blasts from a local neighbor who was hunting boar on his land adjacent to our rest stop.  A couple of the locals along on the ride, two 20-something women, guessed at the fire power, “Sounds like a 35 to me.” It was either that, or maybe some baby T-Rexes out playing.

Oceans of fun

No trip to Kaua’i would be complete without a snorkeling adventure, and Blue Dolphin Charters was glad to oblige us with a Napali Snorkel Adventure with Captain Andy. Being that it was a time of year when the waves can get rough, we were glad we took the advice of a shop keeper at the marina and downed Dramamine before boarding. Forewarned, we were not among the 10 people aboard who barfed, including a few kids, who were very unhappy for the duration of the cruise.

Due to the choppy water, the captain changed up the schedule, which was supposed to end with snorkeling, and instead anchored us at a secret spot where only one other boat was within eye shot. I bought an underwater sea camera at the marina but should have practiced with it before diving in, as I missed a money shot of a giant sea turtle that swam less than two feet under me and then came face-to-face with my snorkeling buddy.  After about 35 minutes we were ready to come up, as stinging plants had started to cling to our legs and other exposed skin. Obviously, this was a common occurrence, as when we emerged from the water, the crew was waiting with a spray that quickly cooled the sting.

Listening to the natives

We packed in as much activities as humanly possible in our week-long visit to Kaua’i, but I had one regret before leaving.  I wished we had been able to follow the advice of the natives, and just do nothing. While I wouldn’t trade our adventures for anything, I longed to just hang out on the beach, sip coffee at an ocean front café and watch the water, spend an entire afternoon browsing at the local shops, sit atop a cliff and take in the beauty all around me. The most important lesson I learned from our travels was that to truly experience the islands you need to stay a while, if not forever.

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LifestyleThe Left CoastTravel

Luxury lodging without the Beverly Hills Markup at Hotel Elan

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Boutique style and comfort close by WeHo and Beverly Hills

Elan Hotel is a rare find in Los Angeles – lodging smack-dab in the middle of some of the city’s most desirable attractions – yet reasonably priced. For a luxury boutique hotel at the crossroads of Beverly Hills and West Hollywood, one would expect a commiserate price tag, but this stylish, five-star-service hotel offers everything a business or pleasure traveler could want, including the comforting assurance of no hidden fees.

As someone who used to live just outside of Beverly Hills, I have a fondness for the area. The Grove, the ultimate SoCal lifestyle shopping center, is within walking distance, as are several other shopping hubs, including the Beverly Center, and the discount department store plaza, the Beverly Connection. There’s plenty of great restaurants close by too, including several of my very favorites in LA – Fig & Olive, Fogo De Chão and Little Next Door.

If you don’t feel like going out, no worries, the hotel has an excellent continental breakfast, complete with Wolfgang Puck coffee, all complimentary with your stay. Likewise, in the evening, the hotel hosts a lovely wine and cheese reception in the lobby, which not surprising many guests take advantage of, making the lobby lounge a lively and social place around 5 pm daily.

To make cruising to the Sunset Strip, Mulholland Drive, or the legendary Pacific Coast highway a breeze, the hotel features a rental car package deal with Enterprise, the Élan’s California Cruisin’ Package, which includes an expanded continental breakfast, an overnight stay in an Executive King Room, valet parking, nightly turndown service, complimentary Wi-Fi, and a mid-size car rental from Enterprise Rent-A-Car. The car rental arrangement includes complimentary delivery of the car to the hotel and unlimited mileage within California.

 

 

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Travel

Your own private peninsula at Portofino Hotel & Marina

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Redondo Beach’s boutique hotel offers visitors what they want from a waterfront hotel

Sometimes the road less traveled is the simply the one that others have not yet discovered, and that’s fine with me, if I get to keep the best-kept-secret of The Portofino Hotel & Marina to myself. Well, maybe it’s not just I who stumbled upon this quant boutique property on the water on its own peninsula, off the beaten path of tourists, but I was glad to share it with other appreciative visitors who value its unique locale and attendant amenities.

While this hidden gem is in plain sight in Redondo Beach, a waterfront community flanked by other, more-crowded beach cities, it remains subdued and quiet – unless you count the barking sea lions (hence the sea lion plush animal in every room). It offers just about everything you would want when visiting a hotel in a coastal city — a harbor view; ocean breezes; plenty outdoor activities, like boating, paddle boarding, biking and other recreational activities; and easy access to shopping, dining, nightlife and places you want to be around LA.

The hotel itself is an oasis in the area, with its nautical-chic décor, ocean- and harbor-view rooms with private balconies, and a laid-back luxury vibe, where guests are encouraged to relax and breathe in the Southern California lifestyle. Visitors can unwind in the large lobby lounge, boasting floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the King Harbor and marina, or enjoy fresh California fare at the hotel’s own fine casual dining restaurant, BALEENkitchen, which features its own front-row seating to the Pacific Ocean.

 

 

The Portofino has become a haven for both business and leisure travelers, who relish its location on the water but out of the crush and stress of some of the jam-packed LA beach cities. Redondo over the years has relaxed and mellowed with age, attracting those who seek an escape but also those who appreciate the city’s history and its potential for revitalization.

A $300 million waterfront project was recently stalled, but swells of locals and visionary developers see the Redondo Beach area, and it’s historic pier and waterfront, as ripe for new life. Residents and business developers continue to advance plans to recapture some of the city’s history as a renowned vacation spot and create a new look and vitality that will propel the area into the future, as a magnet for those who gravitate to all that the waterfront can offer.

 

The Portofino is poised either way, to serve as a port for those passing through or those seeking a staycation, where guests can feel the ocean air and look out from their room – or from a chaise lounge by the hotel’s harbor-side pool — and see the sail craft gliding across the water, among paddle craft, and of course, the harbor’s resident sea lions.

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Eat & DrinkLifestyleRestaurantsThe Left CoastTravel

One fine San Diego

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A short list of best places to visit around the city called America’s finest

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 Diego 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 Diego, 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 Diego Attractions

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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, kayak and other adventure 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); a hot new adrenaline park; 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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LifestyleOutdoorsThe Left CoastTravel

Camp Beverly Hills – Glamping SoCal Style

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Taking it easy while roughing it

Many of my fondest childhood memories are from summer camp — minus the time a huge hairy spider jumped onto my sleeping bag. That traumatizing incident aside, I loved camping as a kid; but as I have gotten older, and dare I say more delicate, my favorite thing about camping has been coming home and taking a real shower and sleeping in the clean sheets of my own bed.

Now that I have a child of my own, I didn’t want to deprive him of the wonders of camping, but just the thought of sleeping on the ground makes my back hurt. Thankfully, I learned about the compromise of communing with nature by day but slumbering comfortably in a cozy bed at night through an experience called “glamping.”

There’s no room service, though glamping resorts are designed for those who love nature but also crave creative comforts. If five-star accommodations under the stars sounds like your sort of outdoor adventure, here are some SoCal campsites to check out.

Ventura Ranch

At the recently revamped Ventura Ranch, the camping experience includes deluxe cabins featuring indoor bathrooms, kitchens, AC and heat, and other hotel-like amenities, all surrounded by Mother Nature. Guests can rise from their comfy accommodations, walk out onto their private deck and gaze upon a sunrise over a mountain range of greenery, and perhaps be greeted by one of the many colorful peacocks that roam the property.

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KOA’s Ventura Ranch’s glamour camping is the best of both worlds for the whole family.  While parents relax at the climate-controlled cabin, the kids have plenty to do, from swimming at the site’s new huge pool; ziplining across the camp; bouncing on an enormous trampoline-like Jumping Pillow; tie-dying T-shirts, painting planter pots, launching home-made rockets or otherwise getting creative at one of the camp’s organized crafting sessions; or just running wild or hanging out on the grounds and hiking trails.

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The camp and programs were designed with families in mind, with daily opportunities for kids and parents to participate together and have fun as a family, many of which are complementary, such as BYO-blanket outdoor movie nights and a flashlight-guided Big Foot tour.

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Though you may be off the grid in spirit, KOS features Wi-Fi at most campgrounds, and even an app that lets you find a campground easily filter by amenities and location and make reservations on-the-go.

 

El Capitan Canyon

The scenic El Capitan Canyon on Santa Barbara’s coast has sunsets to relish nature abounding all around. It’s the perfect setting to rock climb, hike, swim and enjoy a multitude of outdoor adventures; but for those who want to get dirty all day but clean up and retreat into their own comfy cabin at night, El Capitan Canyon has just the accommodations, from fully furnished yurts to luxurious cabins, with all the comforts of home.

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They may be called cabins, but most folks could live in the little cedar home structures at El Capitan Canyon. There are cabins to suit ever taste with features including front porches, vaulted ceilings, master bedrooms with a vanity and separate entry, full baths, ample closet space, luxury bed linens, kitchenettes with a microwave oven, mini-fridge, wet bar sink and coffeemaker. Some cabins offer upstairs lofts accessible by a ladder – where kids love to “camp in.”  Upgraded cabins feature a skylight, dual sinks, large indoor shower and access to a unique outdoor shower.

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Catering to the glamping crowd, El Capitan offers a number of packages to suit their clientele, with amenities such as cabins with an indoor gas fireplace, a large soaking bathtub. Their packages also include items such as marinated tri-tip delivered to your cabin for a DIY fireside dinner, paired with a bottle of Santa Barbara wine along with wine glasses, a bundle of firewood and a throw blanket, for enjoying a romantic night of stargazing.

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Other options include aromatherapy or hot stone massage with essential oils blended from the Canyon Spa Garden. For the kids, there are s’mores kits, mugs of hot chocolate and throw blankets to cuddle up by the campfire telling stories.

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And don’t worry, you don’t have to pack all the cookware and supplies that can make camping a hassle. With the fireside meal package, beverages, tableware, and the grilling tools and firewood needed to cook over the fire pit. Or if you prefer you can enjoy gourmet meals prepared at the Canyon Market and Deli.

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And unlike camping experiences where a good night’s sleep is something you have to return home to get, at El Capitan Canyon quiet time is enforced as of 10 pm each evening until 9 am, so you can turn in early and sleep in if you wish. It’s just like the Ritz, though you wake each morning to the sweet sound of birds singing.

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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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