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The Left Coast

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One fine San Diego

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

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

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

An Island of its Own

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

The In-Del-ible Resort

 

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

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

Glorietta-Be!

 

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

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

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

 

Dining across San Diego

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

Après Surf

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

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

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

 

JSix Degrees of Delicious

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

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

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

San Deigo Attractions

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

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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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Dining in Los AngelesEat & DrinkLifestyleRestaurantsThe Left Coast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dining in Los AngelesEat & DrinkThe Left Coast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Eat & Drink

Locando del Lago roasts up a beast of a communal dinner

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Regulars and newbies make a night of the Northern Italian restaurant’s authentic Morso Della Bestia feast of a whole animal

When you think of Italian hospitality, you think of the kind of warm familia ambience that welcomes guests at Locanda del Lago; and when you think of the heartiness of a satisfying Italian dinner, it is a table filled with generous servings of meat, pasta and wine, like that of the restaurant’s monthly feast, Morso Della Bestia. If you are not familiar with this Italian tradition, translated as “Bite of the Beast,” it is a banquet that is the epitome of Italian cuisine – a celebration of food, family, friends and life, Italian style.

The last Thursday of every month, Lago hosts this communal, four-course dining experience, featuring a different animal roast each month, along with rustic Northern Italian dishes for which the restaurant is known, with recipies originating from Italy’s Bellagio on Lake Como, an homage to the hometown of restaurant’s founder.  Of course, to complement the meal, diners may also select wine pairings.

As is the case with all of the menu items at Lago, the fare is fresh-sourced locally from farmer’s markets and other purveyors with whom the restaurant has long-term associations, as this business places a high value on trusted relationships, doing business the way it was done in the Old Country.

The restaurant usually seats between 30 to 40 guests to this RSVP-required event, at which the main course has featured whole-animals, such as boar and venison, or on occasion lesser daunting beasts, like rabbit, goose, or even tuna. Chef George Pincay endeavors to use all parts of the animal for a variety of dishes, featuring generous portions, served throughout the night, giving time between courses for guests to pace themselves and preserve an appetite while they socialize.

 

 

Guests who come as couples or even solo diners will find by the end of the evening they have made new friends; and in fact, one group of wine aficionados has attended the event together for many years, adding to their club and their friendship circle each year.

The staff have become part of the meal as well, with the owner, West Hooker-Poletti, and his wife, Karin Fumagalli, and general manager Megan Heritage, who is lovingly referred to by staff as the restaurant’s “soul,” often joining the gathering, and many regulars call their servers by name, and joke like family, such as one patron who elbows Lago’s tall, lean and handsome resident mixologist, Mirco Pallotti, in the ribs and teases, “I order the six packs, but he wears them.”

While Morso Della Bestia is one of Locanda del Lago’s most popular events, the restaurant hosts an ample crowd most nights, with the restaurant dining room and outdoor seats filled nightly at the location on Santa Monica’s bustling Third Street Promenade.

If the Bite of the Beast is not your taste, say if you are vegetarian, Lago hosts another night, Meatless Mondays, that may be more your style.  Or if you prefer to stick to libations, check out the bar for local flavor and stocked with a curated wine list of more than 400 vinos from across Italy, along with organic, local liquors. The restaurant keeps a full calendar of events and celebrations and is open to serve its extended family of regulars, tourists and new friends seven days a week.

Locando del Lago is located at 231 Arizona Avenue in Santa Monica. Street parking and several Santa Monica public parking structures are walking distance, with 2-hours free or $3 flat rate on weekends.

 

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Dining in Los AngelesEat & DrinkRestaurantsThe Left Coast

Fred 62 – They’ve got your number

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Iconic Los Feliz diner serves up everyday, anytime food for everyone

I was afraid my picky, eats-like-a-bird 10-year-old son would not find anything to nosh on at Fred 62.  Trained by his health-conscious dad at a young age to have a taste for only healthy, gourmet food, he generally scoffs a restaurant fare, but we were in for a huge surprise.

For a sure bet, we ordered one of my son’s favorite appetizers, Crispy Calamari, served with sriracha and remoulade; and for the grown-ups we got the Avocado Toast with chili flakes and Chickpea Fritters.  But when the food arrived, the tables were turned, and my son devoured the toast and fritters first, then did damage on the calamari, and that just whetted his appetite.

His eyes lit up as he slurped up the Noo Deli noodles, a steaming bowl of vermicelli, in spicy lemongrass broth with Thai veggies, which was followed by a “freshwich” of seared ahi tuna, wrapped in rice paper and served with a Japanese dipping sauce.

He then began sharing off our plates of “Pastramid” Short Rib combo of short rib slow smoke short ribs with coleslaw, jalapeno pickles and spicy mustard on a potato roll, served with French fries, and Moroccan Tajine Eggs with harissa, Castilian sausage, and green olive tapenade. He polished it all off with a Chocolate Peanut Butter shake.

All of this food was consumed by a boy who basically eats every other day.  He declared, “Let’s definitely come back to this place.” And of course, we will have to, as we didn’t even try the famous griddle treats, like the Bearded Mr. Frenchy, a fluffy brioche French toast with cornflake crust, or the hearty comfort food meals like the Partridge Family, a dinner of pan-friend chicken, mashed potatoes, corn pudding, gravy, sautéed greens and a mini waffle.

 

This 20-year-old funky retro-themed restaurant, easily recognized on Vermont Avenue in Los Feliz by its bright lime green exterior and orange awning, is known as LA’s coolest all-nighter diner, open 365 days a year, where hard partiers can get munchie-satisfying delights from the Stoners & Drunkards menu, like F-Bomb Mac n Cheese Balls, Falafel Sliders or Frito Pies, anytime in the wee morning hours.

 

It is a rare diner that has a cook called a “chef” and that promises food prepared “mindfully and with care,” which is what makes Fred 62 an anomaly in the diner universe. Owner and chef, Fred Eric, had a unique vision of Fred 62 when he opened the restaurant with the concept of a diner serving food that people want to eat every day, serving it all day and all night, every day of the year.  Two decades later, he’s still cooking with gas and expanding his menu of enlightened diner food with more healthy menu offerings for vegetarians, vegans and gluten-free patrons.  For those who love a surprise, he offers daily “Fred Plate” specials.

After enjoying a meal at Fred 62, make a day of exploring the hood, including a variety of eclectic stores selling everything from clothing and rare books to housewares and jewelry made by local artisans, or stop in for a flick at the vintage cinema house, Los Feliz 3, or see a live production at Skylight Theater.  Fred 62 is located at 1850 N. Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles.

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