Eating Our Way through Santa Monica

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This weekend, my fiancé and I spent three days in Santa Monica, California. In town for a wedding, we happily ate our way through some of the best restaurants there. Headed to this lovely beach community soon? Below are some of the best places we went over the long weekend:

  • Ivy at the Shore. The Ivy is a Beverly Hills institution, and we hit this more casual location for lunch. Think colorful decoration, the famous Cobb salad (I enjoyed mine with lobster), attentive waiters, and refreshing berry champagne drinks. The outside seating area filled up quickly, and we loved having a leisurely lunch before strolling down to the touristy Santa Monica Pier.
  • The Penthouse at the Huntley. We joined some friends in a snazzy private booth here for dinner, and what a meal it was! We started with a delish charcuterie plate and marveled over the pâté. For my main course, I selected the truffle lobster macaroni and cheese–to die for!–and shared some of the chocolate panna cotta with my friends for desert. The views were incredible, and the service was excellent.
  • One Pico at Shutters on the Beach. This hotel is gorgeous and worth a visit itself, but I will happily recommend their Saturday brunch. We enjoyed tasty bubbles and their heavenly array of breads in this open and airy space directly next to the beach. Since I was still in a food coma from the previous day, I had a light mealof fresh corn soup with a zesty Caesar salad.
  • Sonoma Wine Garden. This fetching wine bistro sits atop of Santa Monica Place, and their Sunday brunch boasted six unlimited day drinking options (think elderflower mimosas) and noshable treats. Make sure you stake claim on your umbrella quickly, as these were in high demand on a sunny afternoon!
  • Casa Del Mar. This hotel, also directly on the beach, is another Santa Monica staple, yet we were finished stuffing our faces and only enjoyed a glass of wine overlooking the ocean. The atmosphere was quaint, and this was absolutely the most delightful way to cap off a lovely weekend.

The wedding we attended was at the nearby Viceroy–and it was pretty swanky. I would have loved to luxuriate by its cabana-covered pool, and they did a wonderful job with the wedding. We stayed at the Le Meridien Delfina, and while the hotel was not my favorite SPG property, the staff was pleasant, and the spicy truffle popcorn was addicting. It’s a good thing that we danced the night away at the wedding reception and walked all over town, or we would have gained a lot of weight eating our way through gorgeous Santa Monica!

Santa Monica Beach Scene from Casa Del Mar

Santa Monica Beach Scene from Casa Del Mar

Travel Photo of the Month: September 2014

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In 2010, I purchased an around the world itinerary for a month-long long business trip that took me to the Middle East. I was thrilled to visit both Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates–especially Dubai. The trip was so incredible that it deserves its own entry, but for now, I’d like to share a highlight: an evening excursion that included exploring nearby sand dunes and a camel ride. Yes, it was touristy, but yes, it was a great memory. Meet my camel friend in the Travel POTM™ below. Happy September!

Camel Near Dubai

Camel Near Dubai

Business and Pleasure in Beijing

I was thrilled to be invited to meetings in China, and after completing the visa process and studying the professional culture, I headed to Beijing around the time of Chinese New Year. Experiencing the local business customs in person was very interesting…including proper business card exchanges and a traditional hosted dinner with heaping plates of food. Speaking of food, I enjoyed the cuisine I sampled, and absolutely fell in LOVE with Peking duck…the city’s specialty at the famed Da Dong Restaurant. One eats the crispy skin with sugar, and the chef prepares it tableside with a proper duck being cut 180 times.

Sometimes, I can’t believe my blessings, as I was in Beijing during the final days of the spring festival (Chinese New Year). This means fireworks every night and big red lanterns hanging from the buildings all over town. The last day of the festival, a big group of us headed downtown and had a delish dinner before enjoying the view of the celebrations from the penthouse bar of a swanky hotel. Imagine seeing a panoramic view of more than ten full-scale firework displays—underneath your feet! I also enjoyed an hour and a half foot massage for around $20 on Friday evening, as well as gallons of real jasmine tea…both quite the treat!

After the business portion of the trip, Saturday was a tourist day, as my Finnish colleague and I spent the day visiting some pretty famous sites: the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, a silk marketplace, a jade factory, and…the Great Wall. It was astonishing to see some of the ancient parts of the city and learn more about the mythical Chinese animals, like the lion statues that guard the entrances to palaces and buildings. A tour bus was the best way to see a lot in a small amount of time, and I felt completely at ease as discovering some of China.

 

Princess Cruising to Alaska

In my ever-exciting quest to visit all 50 state capitols, one of my dear friends and I set off for Southeast Alaska to hit Juneau via a Princess Cruise. We were thrilled to learn that the Golden Princess departed on a summer Saturday from Seattle during Seafair, and we spent the day prior to the cruise exploring the Emerald City. My friend and I hit the high points: Pike’s Market, a duck tour of Lake Union, Smith Tower, and drinks with a local friend. The following day, we headed for the largest US state as we boarded our ship.

Upon immediate exploration, we decided to make the most of our time at sea and filled up our days at sea with activities galore: TRX classes at the gym, treatments at the spa, bingo, shopping classes, card games (literally 15+ hours of Spite and Malice at the boat’s wine bar), and enjoying the ship’s big band music. Some things we learned about Alaskan cruising Princess-style: “all-inclusive” barely covers anything, never do the set dining (dull table mates), pack for warmth with layers, and always buy the full bottle of bubbles/make friends with the bartender. We loved the relaxation that we found away from it all, though, and we achieved Princess’ mantra of “escape completely.”

We hit Juneau on a drizzly Monday morning, and we immediately took off through the downtown area towards the state capitol. Upon arrival, a kind volunteer gave us a wonderful tour–did you know that Alaska has the only state seal with a seal on it?–and shared some wonderful stories about Elizabeth Peratrovich, one of the first civil rights activists. Shopping and a whale watching excursion completed our time in the capitol city.

Next stop was Skagway, which was a little town rich with gold rush history. We opted to go on an close-by adventure to a musher’s camp (picture: Alaskan sled dogs made famous by the Iditarod) to experience nature and cuddle the baby huskies. This was especially well-worth the trip when we came across a bear less than 30 feet away. Rar! We also stopped in the famous Red Onion Saloon–a former brothel!–and enjoyed the scandalous tour. The next day, the cruise ship sailed around Glacier Bay, and we happily shelled out more money to sit in the adults-only Sanctuary and watch the beautiful glaciers calving (breaking apart and falling into the water with a loud clap, which the Tlingits called “white thunder.”)

Our favorite stop was in Ketchikan, where we decided to forgo the tourist stops and do Stray Boots‘ art walk scavenger hunt. We saw wonderful galleries, watched the seals play near Creek Street, and discovered the best bar in town: the Arctic Bar, home of the lovely Paula and the best Bloody Mary in Alaska. My friend and I enjoyed going off the beaten path (read: away from fellow cruisers) before getting back on board and cruising onward to Victoria, BC. Having journeyed to beautiful Victoria before, we spent some time people-watching near the harbor during our quick stop in Canada before heading back to the Golden Princess for one final round of Spite and Malice.

 

Travel Photo of the Month: August 2014

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The famed Pike’s Place Farmers Market is in downtown Seattle, a stone’s throw away from the original Starbucks. Here at the market, one can buy gorgeous fresh flowers, and experience the energetic and charming fish-tossing gentlemen made famous in the Fish! book. I spent the summer of 2006 living in the Queen Anne neighborhood of the Emerald City, and I greatly enjoyed my adventures on foot in this walk-able urban area.

Pike's Place Fish Market

Business Trip to Bangalore

Although I’ve had the pleasure of journeying to India before (you can read about my trip to Delhi here), I was thrilled to go on a business trip to Bangalore last month. Part of my excitement was visiting the tech hub of India, and after my previous visit to “Incredible India!”, I wanted to experience more. The similarities: the hustle and bustle of daily life, the kindness of the people I encountered, and the incredibly delish cuisine. Speaking of cuisine, I enjoyed some of my favorites–masala, paneer, dosas!–multiple times throughout the visit. I also learned to love Indian tea.

With a packed agenda of meetings and not much time to see the city after it took nearly two days for me to arrive, I hired a driver to take me into the city center on a Sunday afternoon. I visited the quaint Bangalore Palace, which had guided tours and quite a bit of history to learn about the families that lived there in the past. (Note: if you are vehemently against the shooting and displaying of wild game, I’d skip it.) My driver also took me to Shiva Temple, and he was kind enough to tour it with me to explain some of the Hindu traditions. It was there that I took the majority of my photos in Bengaluru, and it–along with some religious history from a kind colleague–I got the best picture of local worship.

The majority of the week was spent in cars going to and fro my hotel–the swanky Zuri Whitefield–and the many meetings I had. The negative side of the Zuri: I did take the opportunity to go to the hotel’s spa (where the masseuse asked me if I ever exercised…I cringed); and the positive:the kind waiters tried to show me which foods were spicy. The one late afternoon I had off, I got to explore a local mall and try on some fabulous clothes at Biba, where I bought a really pretty shirt.

The main difference between this trip and my 2011 trip to India was sadly time: I did not have near enough of it to explore as I would have hoped.

 

Travel Photo of the Month: July 2014

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This month’s favorite stems back from a trip I took to Washington DC for work in July two years ago. Much like the weather this week in Las Vegas–where I have learned there is an actual monsoon season–the day started … Continue reading