close

Travel

Travel

Your own private peninsula at Portofino Hotel & Marina

20180726_234948093_iOS

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.

read more
Eat & DrinkLifestyleRestaurantsThe Left CoastTravel

One fine San Diego

IMG_5489

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

kayak

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.

read more
LifestyleOutdoorsThe Left CoastTravel

Camp Beverly Hills – Glamping SoCal Style

IMG_1236

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.

DSC_0919

DSC_0925

DSC_0909DSC_0930

DSC_0941

DSC_0942

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.

20140831_103550

IMG_2681

20140831_115842

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.

IMG_2701

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.

IMG_1990

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.

IMG_1236IMG_1218

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.

IMG_1986

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.

IMG_1233

20131221_163905

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.

IMG_1993

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.

IMG_1220

read more
Dining in Los AngelesEat & DrinkRestaurantsThe Left Coast

A little North Italia, in the middle of Santa Monica

20170805_023609644_iOS

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.

read more
Travel

A vacation back in time at the Hotel Del Coronado

IMG_5387

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

20170412_202804789_iOS

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.

IMG_5344

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.

IMG_5427

IMG_5426

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.

IMG_5418

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.

IMG_5340

IMG_5352IMG_5351

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.”

IMG_5409(1)IMG_5414IMG_5403

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?

IMG_5356

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.

20170413_174118658_iOS

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.

IMG_5395

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.

IMG_5433

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.

 

read more
Dining in Los AngelesLifestyleRestaurantsThe Left CoastTravel

Five best little hotels in Los Angeles

13_gallery_epic_view_king_room_balcony_view

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

20171206_155112951_iOS

“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.

20171206_052232082_iOS20171206_053256308_iOS

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.

20171206_052020702_iOS

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

20171209_212601895_iOS

20171206_053338745_iOS20171206_053418254_iOS

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.

20171206_152844611_iOS

20171207_003427442_iOS

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.

20170731_221056557_iOS

07_gallery_city_view_king_suite_honor_bar

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.

20170731_222439819_iOS

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.

home_hotel_erwin_balconies

Beverly Hills Marriott

IMG_8121

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.

IMG_8152

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.

20170716_181859064_iOS

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

IMG_8190

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.

IMG_8203IMG_8209IMG_8200

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.

IMG_8175

IMG_8182

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.

IMG_8188

The Orlando Hotel

IMG_3467

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.

IMG_3446

IMG_3456

IMG_3471

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.

IMG_3452

IMG_3453

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.

IMG_3459

read more
AdventureDining in Los AngelesEat & DrinkLifestyleOutdoorsRestaurantsThe Left CoastTravel

Marina del Rey: Beach-going made nice and easy

7V8A9038

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.

 

read more
DecorEat & DrinkFamilyLifestyleOutdoorsRestaurantsShoppingThe Eastern SeaboardTravel

Making family memories to last for generations at the Greenbrier

20180304_160019145_iOS

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.

read more
Eat & DrinkFamilyLifestyleOutdoorsShoppingTravel

Ogden’s small-town charm and big-time skiing

20150304-PowderMountain-LightningRidge-FY1A3683_full

The amiable Utah city that never stops making a name for itself hosts an epic spring snow sports season

There’s no equivalent to “Indian summer” for a winter that lingers into the next season, but mountain resorts in Utah would be using that phrase a lot this year. Spring skiing, usually when the snow pack melts and ski conditions are marginal, is anything but typical in 2018; in fact, it’s quite a phenom. With heaps of powdery snow amounting in several weeks to the total of what the entire winter season produced, Utah’s ski slopes are experiencing peak conditions that promise to continue through at least late spring.

In order to enjoy this wondrous windfall, ushering in a spring break of epic proportions, I headed to the slopes-less-traveled, in Ogden, the best-kept secret of Utah ski country. This tiny town 40 miles north of Salt Lake City, at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains, borders a trio of local ski areas that offer everything Park City, Deer Valley, Sundance and their other better-known neighbors do, and they do it in a charming and humble way.

How now, Pow Wow

My first stop was Powder Mountain, also known as “Pow Mow,” the apt-named high-altitude playground that owns no snowmaking machines and relies completely on nature’s precipitation. The quaint Sun Down Lodge, with only one ticket window, looks more like a family cabin on the mountainside than a lodge, and the staff there treat you like an old friend. Because Powder Mountain limits lift tickets to 1,500 per day, even on a busy day, there is never a crowd or a long wait at their nine chairlifts. And because fewer skiers and boarders means less stress on the terrain, the runs stay preserved long after a dump of snow.

Purists favor Powder Mountain for its dedication to providing a next-to-natural experience, down to its use of CAT snowmobiles to transport skiers and riders to areas of the mountain where chairlifts are inaccessible. Powder Mountain is the place that many of the locals go, because of its mom-and-pop feel, and it’s known for its family friendly atmosphere, where people are courteous to each other, especially the staff, just like a small town where everyone knows each other.

In keeping with their reputation as a family ski destination, Powder Mountain has lots of mellow runs over their approximately 8,500 acres of terrain, with 167 runs with a variety of slopes for learners and skiers and riders of all levels, with 25 percent beginner runs, 40 percent intermediate and 35 percent advanced.

Laid back luxury at Snowbasin

For those who enjoy a more extravagant ski vacation experience, the Ogden area offers Snowbasin. While some of the local mountains are distinguished as ski areas, Snowbasin is unmistakably a resort, and the difference is notable from the moment you drive up. The large luxury Earl’s Lodge resembles an alpine country club, with a flagstone exterior, giant hearths in the entryway, floral wallpaper worthy of a ballroom, and large padded leather chairs under massive chandeliers.

Like its decor, Snowbasin’s service appeals to the luxury-loving crowd, with such amenities as bins for guests to check in their belongings, versus the lockers found at most ski venues. These handy receptacles not only add an element of convenience for visitors, they keep the lounge areas uncluttered with ski jackets, boots and other accoutrement that guests tend to pile up while they are unwinding in the lodge.

Another popular amenity that speaks to Snowbasin’s service orientation is their cell phone recharging service, which allows guests to securely leave behind their smartphones to get a quick battery boost, since most guests don’t come equipped with a chargers or spare batteries. All around, the staff is eager to serve, making everything easier for guests, with full-services touches like loading guest’s’ skis for them on the gondola.

Snowbasin is also renowned for its chef-driven culinary excellence. A far cry from the standards of chili, burgers and fries of many ski lodges, the resort features a plethora of restaurant options, and each cafeteria has their own signature gourmet burger. During my visit to the Needles Lodge, 9,000 feet up at the top of the Needles Gondola, I tried the “Bum Burger,” loaded with corned beef, sauerkraut and Russian dressing. The burger was a satisfying meal by itself, but I was persuaded to also try an oversized chocolate chip cookie, made with a family recipe of the resort owners, which was well worth the calories.

All the extraordinary service aside, Snowbasin is most famous for its world-class skiing, literally, as the site of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games men’s and women’s downhill, super G and combined races. For Olympics enthusiasts, the gondolas are each named after an Olympic competitor, which can make the ride to the summit a fun game of name spotting.

While there’s plenty of Olympic-level double-black-diamond territory for the brave, for the rest of us, the 3,000 acres of terrain incorporates 106 trails with breakdown of 10% beginner and 60% intermediate runs, with the remainder of 30% designated as advanced trails, covering every level of skier and rider.

Third’s a charm

During my trip out to the Ogden area, the region’s third ski area, Nordic Valley, also known as Wolf Mountain, had called the season early, but this little recreational oasis, renowned for its quaintness and family-friendly atmosphere, along with its legendary night skiing and cross-country ski experiences, is definitely on my list to visit on my next trip to Utah ski country. It’s tiny, with approximately hundred 120 acres of terrain, with just a few chairlifts, but it’s big on heart. It’s also big on accommodating skiers at the intermediate level, with about 50% of its 22 runs designated as blue; but they have plenty of terrain for all levels, with approximately 20 percent of the mountain designed as appropriate for beginners and 20 percent for advanced skill levels.

In town

Ogden may seem like a small town, but there’s plenty of après ski options for those who like to come off the mountain and warm up with a cold beer or a cocktail. And for those who don’t hit the slopes, there’s lots of other exploits in Ogden, for those with a taste for adventure or just those with taste.

For a quick history tour combined with good food and shopping, there’s the 25th Street strip.

The architecture of this artsy area has been well preserved, giving the place the look of an old-style western film set, where one can easily imagine the town’s former gun slinging inhabitants raising a ruckus in the saloons and brothels where now stand fashionable boutiques, restaurants, galleries, bookstores and coffee shops.

Our lunch party stopped into Roosters, which we found was all that Yelpers crow about. Housed in the former Eccles Lumber Company building, this bustling brewhouse offers their own home-brewed beer and root beer and features inventive appetizers, like Beehive Cheese Curds, a variety of hearty Mexican entrees, generously portioned salads and stacked sandwiches, along with pizzas and some signature dishes, like Roosters Beer Battered Fish and Chips. In addition to the flavorsome food, the upper floor offers a great view into the windows of the historic Belle London building, now an ice cream shop, where in Ogden’s early days women of the night tossed beans onto passersby below to get their attention, and maybe their patronage.

For authentic Italian, Rovali’s Restorante Italiano on 25th Street offers homemade pastas, a vast drink selection and homemade desserts from their own bakery. They also feature live music every weekend, with local and national musicians.

Guns and cowboys

The 25th Street district is flanked by Union Station, a landmark holdover from the days when Ogden was frequented by railroad carloads of bankers from all over the US, who flocked there for the liberal lending laws, which made Ogden once notable as the city with the most millionaires per capita.

The old train depot now houses four museums, chock full of exhibits commemorating the town’s history as a hub for gun making, trains, cars and cowboys. The cavernous hall recently began hosting a winters farmer’s market with local sellers offering crafts, foodstuff, collectables and gift items amid a festive atmosphere with entertainment and art displays.

Another notable venue in town is the Eccles Conference Center, a modern and impressive complex that hosts large events, such as a jazz dinner that I attended, where I was served a fabulous steak and lobster dinner that rivaled any five-star restaurant and which was absolutely the best meal I’ve ever had at a convention hall.

Indoor adventure

Ogden’s just the right size town to get around in on foot, if the weather’s decent, or by taking a quick Lyft around to explore its sights. In a small metro area, Ogden is dense with some exciting attractions, all grouped within a radius of a few blocks. The Solomon Center in the middle of town features indoor skydiving at iFly, wave pool surfing at Flowrider, indoor rock climbing at iRock, and an arcade full of activities at Fat Cats, including bowling, billiards and miniature golf.

One local attraction that I was thrilled to discover was Social Axe Throwing, which is everything its name promises. Similar to a bowling alley, but with chain-link cages with a huge target painted on plywood at one end of each lane, this venue offers patrons the opportunity to sling sharp metal hatchets into a wall. With a short lesson in safety and technique, within minutes I was nailing it with a satisfying slice into the wood bullseye.

I was intrigued to learn that patrons are permitted to bring their own alcoholic beverages, which they can imbibe behind the saloon doors in the back of the establishment, but because the range resides within 600 feet of a Mormon temple, serving alcohol is prohibited. This got me thinking that maybe it’s just as well that booze is tightly managed when it comes to hurling razor-sharp implements across a room.

The real deal

If retail therapy is what gets your adrenaline pumping, there are some adorable independent shops along 25th Street downtown as well as the 85-store Newgate Mall and some big box stores in town. Determined to get a fitting Ogden souvenir, I scouted every outdoors clothing store in town for a flannel shirt when I stumbled upon Recreation Outlet, a mammoth discount outdoor war and gear warehouse.

Crammed with surplus goods, including a basement wall-to-wall with boxes brimming with merchandise, on the shelves, tables and floors, this clearinghouse could overwhelm even the most seasoned bargain shopper. Here I finally found a pink plaid women’s flannel shirt, along with a few things I didn’t really need, like four pairs of premium ski socks, a couple face guards, and my best bargain, pliers and a screwdriver for $0.89 apiece.

Another find for bargain hunters, particularly those renting ski equipment is the Outdoor Equipment Rental Center at Weber State University. If you can locate the unassuming shed-like building on the college’s campus, you can get great deals on ski gear packages, for as little as $25 a day, or less if you are a student. The staff is friendly and helpful, though you won’t find experienced professionals like you might get at a resort or a sporting goods rental shop; but if you know what you need, you can save some bucks.

Stay around

Where to stay in Ogden will not be a decision that takes you long to make, because options are limited, but there is some variety in the handful of inns. I stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn, in the heart of downtown Ogden, directly across from the Solomon Center. The hotel has all the amenities a short-term traveler needs, and if you book early you might be lucky enough to reserve one of the seven suites with a fireplace and jacuzzi. Other options for accommodations include the only luxury property in town, the Bigelow Hotel, as well as many offerings of bed and breakfasts, vacation homes, and when in season, RV parks and campgrounds.

Ogden Culture

The town once known as a den of gunslingers and card players has evolved over the last century to its current cosmopolitan state, and as someone who had not traveled to the Salt Lake City region in a while, I was amazed to see how much the culture has transformed.

The Mormon church still has a strong influence on the area, though unlike many years ago, there are now very few restrictions on alcohol consumption. One leftover of the old days however is that on Sundays most establishments are closed. Our party was fortunate to find Sonora Grill downtown was serving dinner on a Sunday night, or else we might have gone hungry.

Besides the remnant blue laws, Ogden resembles and feels like any other small town, where the folks are friendly, and visitors are welcomed warmly. By the end of my five-day stint in the town, I knew my way around, and I walked the streets in the evening without a worry. I got on a first-name basis with some of the shopkeepers and hospitality hosts, and even some of their family members. It was no wonder to me that many of the locals told me they had never wandered far from Ogden, nor did they need to or want to.

For some the appeal of Ogden is the fresh air, the outdoors attractions, and of course the epic skiing and snowboarding. For others, it’s the close-knit community and the low-key, laid-back lifestyle.

It’s a place with a lot of history and a lot of progressive changes, yet it’s a place that very much wants to stay the same. It’s the kind of place where you can leave your front door unlocked and trust thy neighbor, and where the robberies and crimes you read about in Ogden are those in the history books.

 

read more
AutomobilesBusinessLifestyleThoughtTravel

The share economy teaches us a lesson we learned as toddlers

palm-beach-yacht-rentals

Letting others use our stuff, sharing experiences and our space with strangers is creating new livelihood and a new of life for those who care to share

All aboard a Boatsetter yachting experience in Marina Del Rey, California, where boat owners host guests for a private cruise experience for an evening or overnight

Our parents told us it was good manners to share our toys when we were kids. Taking turns and letting others play with our treasured possessions kept things peaceful on playdates. As we got older though, most of us stopped this practice. We lived by, “What’s mine is mine and yours’s is yours,” that is, until recently.

With the dawn of the share economy about a decade ago, when people began to accept money to share rides and even their homes with others, society started to look differently at personal assets, regarding them as opportunities to enhance our lives, both monetarily and personally.

The truth is, there’s plenty to go around, and in an ideal world, if we just let others use our things when we aren’t using them, then no one would be without. Imagine the resources we could save by not buying stuff that we only need occasionally.

Consider the freedom of using things for which you do not have to assume risk and responsibility or need to store, maintain, register or license. It seems so logical, but until five years ago, there was no such thing as a share economy. Now, you can share just about anything, and just like when we were kids, everyone wins.

Uber was the first ride share service to take off. This innovative company built an app that allowed just about anyone with a street-legal car to connect with riders who would pay drivers for sharing their ride. The idea was to give transportation to people who were already going your way, and those passengers would compensate you, essentially sharing the cost of the gas and upkeep on your car. It was such as great idea, ride share companies like Lyft, Opoli and others soon got on board.

An Opoli driver takes a client out for a ride in style

Of course, it ended up that more cars, not fewer, ended up on the road, and Uber and the others became basically cheaper and less-regulated taxis. But the sharing economy was born, and a new mentality emerged, whereby society began sharing all sorts of things, and sharing opened up new realms of possibilities and experiences that continue to evolve into a new way of living for tens of millions of people.

Not only does sharing eliminate the need for ownership of expensive things that we only use occasionally, it provides unique opportunities between people of all backgrounds, and in some cases it can be an equalizer between the have and have nots, and it can open up new markets where none existed.

Airbnb allows people to sublet or share their homes, providing a new source of income for hosts and opening up affordable travel to people for whom the cost of hotels was prohibitive. In some cases, Airbnb might be the only accommodations in remote areas where there are no hotels, bringing visitors to previously off-the-grid destinations.

Airbnb allows anyone with extra space to rent it out to strangers, and visitors can find affordable accommodations in cities or places where no other lodging is available

Even travelers with ample budgets often opt for Airbnb accommodations, preferring the privacy of renting of an entire home, the experience of staying embedded in a cool neighborhood, or the companionship of residing with a host, who might share a cup of coffee in the morning or even take guests on a shopping outing, site-seeing tour, surfing adventure or other paid experience.

Soon riffs on home sharing evolved, like Boatsetter, a peer-to-peer boat rental marketplace which connects boatowners with guests who want to enjoy an adventure on the water. The owners can invent experiences in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami and Barcelona, where boatowners host guest on experiences such as deep sea fishing, whale watching or a Live Like a Star party boat ride on a yacht or even a sleepover on a boat with breakfast included.

Though not quite as glamourous as a yacht cruise, TravelCar, which has a fleet of hundreds of cars available in Los Angeles and San Francisco, offers users the opportunity for travelers to rent a car at a discounted rate from a private owner, usually while the owner is traveling. The host receives a portion of the rental fee and gets free airport parking and a car wash in exchange for lending out their vehicle, and if they host as part of TravelCar’s monthly program, TravelCar provides routine maintenance, such as oil changes, wiper fluid, and tire rotation.

Of course, you don’t have to own a home, boat or even a car to be part of the share economy.  Pavemint allows those with parking spaces to lease them out short- or long-term. In Los Angeles, where the company recently launched, already hosts with more than 4,000 parking spaces have signed up to loan out their driveways and unused office building parking lots. Besides bringing in a little spending money to the hosts, utilizing empty parking spots and offering guaranteed parking to visitors has helped boost business in city neighborhoods, like Hollywood, where safe parking – or any parking — is scarce.

Pavemint allows those with a parking spot to let others use it for the hour, day, week or longer

The success of Uber, Airbnb and spinoffs has spawned many other types of share services, particularly in large cities, where companies vie to be the Uber of their lot, like Bird, a Southern California company that rents stand-up electric scooters through a mobile phone app, allowing riders to find and activate scooters that are at depots throughout Santa Monica, Venice and other neighborhoods in Los Angeles and San Diego, for a cost of $1 per ride and 15 cents per minute.

Then there’s LimeBike, a smart bike sharing company with more than 35 regional locations in cities and college campuses across the US including  Seattle, Washington D.C., Dallas, and Miami. Even Uber, through its subsidiary Jump Bike, has gotten into the two-wheeler share space, offering hosts the opportunity to lease out their bikes in San Francisco, with a fleet of 250 bikes and growing, and plans to soon to expand into other cities.

Bike rentals by the hour or day allow tourists to cruise like locals

With all sharing propositions, there are pros and cons, for both hosts and users. While hosts and their properties are supposed to meet certain standards, sometimes they all short. Likewise, guests and leases are bound to rules of conduct and care that they do not always follow. There are risks to personal property and personal safety in some cases, that both parties accept, which is stated in the fine print of the terms of service to which they agree before participating in the service.

Not only are there risks of letting others use our things, but there are risks to sharing our identity and financial information when we participate in the share economy. According to cybersecurity expert, David Thomas, CEO of Evident ID, “While the sharing economy makes services and goods more accessible than ever, it also asks users to interact with people they do not know and may not trust. That’s why it is important to understand the level of verification and security a sharing economy provider has in place for its community.”

While there are isolated horror stories, with the extreme of Uber driver murders and reports of Airbnb thefts and vandalism, for the most part, sharing works. The benefit of sharing is not just new sources of passive revenue for property owners and wages for many people in need of flexible hours – the old retort when someone in LA claims to be an actor, “Really? What restaurant?” is now, “Really? Uber or Lyft?” – it is also a cleaner environment, a healthier lifestyle, accessibility of affordable transportation and accommodations for travelers, and the advent of new ways for us to interact with each other as a society.

When our parents encouraged us to share as kids, our playdates were more enjoyable and peaceful, and everyone was happier. It has taken us generations as a society to learn that truth that we accepted as young children. Sharing is caring. When we share, we all benefit, in untold and immeasurable ways. As we continue to invent new ways to share, we expand our economy and our minds, and we might not just make some extra money but make a new bestie.

 

read more