I was lucky enough to spend a long weekend with two of my best gal pals from childhood and we had the best time. There’s something about friends that you’ve known forever – you can go without seeing them for a few months, yet you back up like no time had passed. That’s exactly what this trip was – catching up, sharing stories and just having the great conversation with my favorite people. Like I said, the best time! Given that I was only there for a few days, we shoved in as much as we could, but of course, there are so many places that we didn’t make it to.
WHERE TO EAT + DRINK
Raglan Public House, Ocean Beach: a local spot perfect for burgers & beers. They’ve got an adorable outdoor spot with a huge greenery wall and overhead lights. Ideal for a low-key night.
OB Noodle House, Ocean Beach: Across the street from Raglan, this Asian inspired spot has a great bar with tvs, an indoor/outdoor vibe and a full crowd. Great neighborhood place.
Wonderland Ocean Pub, Ocean Beach: With a rooftop open to the water, this is the local spot to go for killer views. We enjoyed fresh fish, salads and local with a view of the ocean. A bit pricey but you’re paying for location.
Backyard Kitchen & Tap, Pacific Beach: We came here strictly for the beer, specifically the Cali Creamin’ & Benching Beaver PB Milk Stout, both on nitro. The nitro beer scene in San Diego is huge and it was new to me – we enjoyed sampling the delicious beers while sitting outside on their exposed patio. We didn’t eat, but it looked to be standard bar food.
PB Ale House, Pacific Beach: We started upstairs on their huge deck with heat lamps (it got so chilly at night) where we did a local beer flight, but the best spot was downstairs next to the fire pit. We sipped on some brews while watching the sunset. And what a sunset it was! Wow, I forgot how beautiful California is with the red and pink skies.
Café Coyote, Old Town: Hands down some of the best Mexican food I have ever had. The jalapeno margaritas and salsa had the perfect amount of spice. The fish taco & shrimp enchiladas were both outstanding and incredibly fresh. But the real star of the show was the homemade chips – something about local, house made fresh tortilla chips doesn’t even compare to the junk we buy in the grocery store. The ladies were making the chips & tortillas in the window, which was fun to see. The entire Old Town was a lively, upbeat vibe and you really felt like you were in Mexico. I would love to go back and try another spot in this area – I have a feeling you can’t go wrong!
Pure Press, Cowles Mountain: The perfect treat after hiking for an hour or two, this smoothie hit the spot. All of the smoothies, juices & bowls looked delicious and mine was a mix of berries, vegan protein & spinach. So delicious and refreshing! We kept hearing about all of the amazing acai bowls here but this was the closest we got. Next time!
Ironside Fish & Oyster, Little Italy: If you want a trendy spot with great service and outstanding seafood, this is the spot. We absolutely loved everything about Ironside, from the décor to the rose on tap to the oysters. I had seared yellowtail over a fresh Caesar salad for my entrée, which was out of this world. We all licked our plates clean and agreed that this was one of our favorite spots and great for a girl’s night out!
The Prado, Balboa Park: We stumbled across this place while exploring the park and lucked out that it was happy hour on the back patio. With beautiful scenery and an inexpensive happy hour menu, we each had one drink and shared a few small bites. It was the perfect spot to chill for an hour and refuel ourselves.
Great Maple, Hillcrest: Move over smoked salmon plate, I’ve found my new favorite brunch item. Holy sh*t y’all, if you haven’t had Chilaquiles, I recommend that you find some immediately. They’re basically Mexican breakfast nachos and they’re to die for. Again, the local tortilla chips made all of the difference. To balance it out, we shared these and a salad but truthfully, we had a hard time deciding. The brunch menu is amazing and I can see why the place was fully packed the entire time we were there.
Dukes, La Jolla: An ocean front spot in La Jolla, this restaurant did not disappoint. The mahi-mahi fish tacos were so fresh and the view was even better. Make sure to snag a table outside on the patio if you can. The restaurant has a Hawaiian theme and there was a lot that looked great on the menu but I was craving fish tacos – excellent choice.
Poke, everywhere: I couldn’t remember the exact name of the place we went but I know there are a million to choose from. Having heard about poke bowls forever, I was thrilled to finally have one. Let me tell you, this did not disappoint. Basically, a deconstructed sushi roll, if you like raw fish this is the best. Mine had spicy tuna & salmon over lettuce, topped with seaweed salad, cucumber, avocado and spicy soy sauce. Yum!
WHAT TO DO
Hike Cowles Mountain: With beautiful 360 degree view of San Diego (all the way to Mexico), this was one of the most beautiful hikes! Our route was about 1.5 miles each way and took around 75 minutes, including wandering around at the top. The parking is easy, the entry is free and there are bathrooms at the bottom. I heard that locals will do this often and I can see why – it’s quick, challenging & fun!
Explore Balboa Park: This 1,200 acre park is home to over 16 museums, endless gardens, various performing arts centers & multiple shops and cafes. We enjoyed just walking around and exploring. We stumbled upon quite a few gorgeous gardens and had happy hour at an adorable outdoor café. There’s so much to do here and it seems like they have a lot going on for those interested in the arts.
San Diego Zoo: We didn’t go here on this trip, but I have been before. It is consistently voted the number 1 zoo in the world, due to the wide variety of animals. I remember loving it and because the weather is pretty much perfect in SD, you can visit it year-round. It’s definitely worth going to once in your life, especially if you have kids or enjoy animals.
Visit Torrey Pines Nature Reserve: This is where my friend was married on the beach and, wow, it was stunning! We hiked up to the top and then down to the beach, where we walked along for a while back to the car. Having the mountains meet the beach is especially unique and the fact that it’s a well-protected reserve makes it even more beautiful. The golf course is nearby (which you’ve probably heard of), as is downtown La Jolla, so you could really make a day of it.
Walk around Mission Bay: We took the pup for a long walk around the bay which was filled with bikers, rollerbladers, runners, etc. It’s a great spot for locals to go if they want to get some outdoor exercise while avoiding traffic and cars. The entire loop is about 8 miles so I can see why a lot of people who are training for marathons run it!
Well, there you have it – my city guide to San Diego. I’m hoping to visit again and add many more restaurants, bars, beaches & local attractions into my repertoire as I’m sure the list is never-ending. We had a fabulous time and hope to return soon!
It’s no secret that I fly quite often (check out my total 2017 travel numbers). Given the extensive amount that I’m in & out of an airport, often for quick weekend trips, I have a pretty solid routine down. For those of you that don’t travel often, I get that the whole process can be intimidating and overwhelming. I am asked quite a bit how to ease the process, so I thought that today I’d share some tips I’ve picked up along the years.
Make sure everything is charged.
The night before I fly, I charge everything – my computer, my Bluetooth headphones, my ipad, my cell phone. And then I put it all on low battery mode. The last thing you want is to not be able to access your phone or have your ipad die mid-flight. Many new planes have plugs so be sure to have your charging cords within reach (I keep one in my personal item and one in my carry-on bag). Also, it’s usually a good idea to carry a (fully charged) portable charger in case.
Invest in good carry-on luggage.
I’ll be doing a full luggage round up in coming weeks but to me, the 4-wheel spinner carry-ons are the best for domestic travel. They’re lightweight, easy to pack, fit in overheads and they maneuver easily. I always bring my Longchamp bag also as it fits right atop my Samsonite and it fits my laptop, ipad, clutch purse, scarf, water bottle & snacks. Also, it has a top zipper so I can squeeze it under the seat or in the overhead bin without worry of items falling out. I’ve had this bag for over 5 years traveling and it’s still in mint condition, no joke!
Don’t forget snacks & your water bottle.
In a recent post, “How to Stay Healthy While Traveling”, I harped on the importance of staying hydrated on airplanes. Now I don’t know about you, but I’m not looking to spend $7 per water bottle each time I go into an airport. That’s insane! I’d rather bring my Swell and fill it up in the filter station (located outside each restroom) so I can make sure I’m drinking enough while waiting to board and while on the plane. Typically, I’ll pack a Larabar, an apple and some nuts so that I don’t get hangry if there’s a delay or if I missed a meal that day. You can never have too many travel snacks, am I right?
This should go without saying, but I am constantly appalled surprised with what people wear to the airport. The lace up knee high boots, the ten layers of clothing, the pajamas (horrible!) …the list goes on and on. This is public people – let’s dress presentable. Going through security can be stressful, especially if you don’t have TSA precheck (which I cannot recommend enough), so why make it harder by having to take on and off a million pieces?! My “go-to” travel outfit is a pair of nice black leggings, a light sweater layered over a tank and either booties or nice athleisure sneaks that slip right on/off. I always throw a scarf and extra socks in my purse in case I get chilly on the plane. Usually I stick to gray/black as well in case I spill anything!
Flights get delayed, you’ll get stuck in a middle seat or next to a crying baby, the airplane televisions won’t work…it happens. Best to come prepared and that means with a bag full of tricks – mine always includes my ipad, a book/magazine, a crossword puzzle & pen, extra headphones, sleep mask and snacks.
Be nice to airline workers
Travel can be stressful but remember, we can only control our reactions. So, you may as well come with the expectation that something will be annoying, but it’s always best to have a good attitude. Everyone is (usually) doing their best and so there’s no sense in getting snippy with the flight attendant or gate agent. In fact, having a patient, kind attitude can often times result in a free upgrade or glass of wine (believe me – it’s happened to me many-a-times). Trust me on this one.
Keep boarding passes & reservations on your phone.
(This, of course, only works if your phone is fully charged…hence #1!) Again, the tips to traveling are making everything as seamless of a process as possible. Don’t waste your time printing out boarding passes, keeping stacks of papers – everything can be stored on your phone these days in your Apple Wallet. It stores and scans so simply. And let’s be honest, your phone is probably in your hand anyway!
So those are my top 7 travel tips for you when traveling domestic!
What’s your best travel tip?
Guess what y’all? We’re going to Ireland!
We’ll be spending a week in Ireland this May – remember my 2018 travel bucket list? Well, we’re checking places off, one by one. Ireland is up first but we’re just in the initial planning stages so there are a LOT of logistics to figure out:
Should we travel into Northern Ireland / Belfast?
How many nights should we stay in Dublin?
Should we skip the Cork / Waterford region?
What hotels should we stay in?
As you can see, we’ve got a lot of planning to do. Ireland is tricky because while it’s pretty small, there is a lot to see and it’s spread out. Here are a few places that are high on our list so we’re trying to build our trip around this:
Have you been to Ireland?
What suggestions / tips / recommendations do you have for us?!
When my friends over at these two Seaport hotels contacted me to stay, I knew I was in for a treat. As a lifelong, loyal SPG girl, I always try and stay at their brand hotels when I travel. They have been consistently comfortable, well-managed and within my price range. At first, I wasn’t sure which hotel would be a better fit for my husband and I so we opted to stay one night at each. The two hotels are similar in many ways but have distinct differences so I want to provide an honest comparison of the two, to help you determine which is the better fit for you next time you’re here in Boston.
Since the hotels share a parking lot, they’re practically in the exact same location. Located on D street (pretty much smack dab between Southie & Seaport), the location could not be better. Especially for summer. Their front yard is “Lawn on D”, which is a huge summer attraction with food, drink, games and live music. It’s definitely the spot to be when it’s nice outside!
If you go left out of the hotels you hit the West Broadway region of Southie which has a variety of awesome bars and restaurants: Capo, Loco, Coppersmith (killer roof deck), Lincoln and more. You could even jog or bike over to Castle Island and hit the beach!
If you go right out of the hotels you’re at the Seaport waterfront which not only has a ton of restaurants (By Chloe, Row 34, Flour Bakery, Committee, Legal Harborside) but also has quite a few new gyms (Equinox, Soul Cycle, Core Power) and attractions (ICA museum, Harpoon Brewery, Laugh Boston, Blue Hills Bank Pavilion).
My initial reaction to both hotels was the welcome feeling I received from the friendly staff. The check-ins were quick, easy & painless. Both have a wide variety of amenities that I believe all hotels should include: free WiFi, full access 24/7 gym, indoor heated pool, complimentary coffee & water bottles and a refrigerator in your room.
The best part? They were both dog friendly! In fact, Mela was set up with an adorable dog bed, dog blanket, food & drink bowl, a tennis ball, frisbee, some extra bags & treats. It was so cute and they really thought of everything to make Mela feel at home!
While the hotels shared some similarities, they were very different.
The Aloft room was small but functional. It felt very New York – tiny closet, minimal space and wouldn’t be comfortable for more than 2 nights. The Element room was huge – we had a living space, a full kitchen and an oversized bedroom. This is obviously better suited for families and those looking for an extended stay.
The Aloft had a variety of “grab and go” options – good for someone on a work trip. We didn’t eat breakfast here since it wasn’t free but I did grab a coffee in the morning. The Element, on the other hand, had a full complimentary breakfast full of hot options, yogurt, fruit, baked goods, etc. Again, it was clearly targeted toward families. The downside was that they didn’t refill things when we were there at 10am so we didn’t have a chance to try it.
This is where the hotels really differ, and it’s evident from the moment you walk in. The Aloft has a modern, hip vibe. The lobby is warm and inviting with music playing and a huge lounge area, including a cool bar, a fireplace, a pool table and various board games. The furniture has a CB2/West Elm feel – a lot of grays and blues with pops of color and abstract art. We had a nightcap here and found that a lot of other people had our same idea. It was a fun place to be!
Fun Fact: They host “paint night” here every weekend evening, which is a wildly popular and fun event for a girl’s night out!
The Element, however, did not have a warm or gathering feel. The hotel is hyper focused on being Green and minimal. There is no lobby bar, no lounge area, no music playing. You just want to get to your room and then get out. It’s definitely not the place to be if you want to hang out of meet other guests. The good news is the Aloft is right across the parking lot so you can walk right over if you’re craving that type of environment
Both of these hotels are good options for those of you looking for a weekend Staycation or coming to visit Boston for the weekend. Neither has a spa, a full-service restaurant or an outdoor pool (very few Boston hotels do) so they’re fun weekend getaways but definitely not “resort” feeling or super high end. While we enjoyed our Staycation and one night at each hotel, we definitely preferred the Aloft over the Element. It was the right fit for us and we really enjoyed the vibe and the lobby area. If I were traveling with children, however, the Element would have been the better fit.
Thank you to the Aloft & Element Hotels for sponsoring this post. While the accommodations we received were complimentary, the honest thoughts & opinions were my own. I always am 100% transparent and truthful with my reviews.
If you’ve been following along for a while, you’ll remember the California road trip we took last year from LA to SF, stopping along the way. We spent a few days around LA, got engaged in Santa Barbara, drove up the coast to Sonoma where we spent a lovely weekend sat the Cottage Inn & Spa. I realize that one part I forgot to share was probably the most scenic, beautiful part of all – the drive from Santa Barbara through Big Sur to Carmel to San Francisco.
Perhaps it was the blissful high from being engaged less than 24 hours, or the warm feel of the California sun on my face, but this drive was spectacular. We drove almost the entire way up the PCH (lucky for us, this was before the PCH closure near Big Sur) and though it took a bit longer, the scenery was absolutely breathtaking. I wanted to pull over every 10 minutes to take a picture – it was that unreal. To me, the coastal views of the Mid to Northern California area rival that of the Amalfi Coast and West Cape Town. They’re that good, y’all.
My only regret is – and I cringe to say this- that I didn’t time this trip properly. I truly think I was just ridiculously giddy because Terry had just proposed, but I had it in my head that the drive from Santa Barbara to Big Sur was two hours. Well, halfway through our 2pm leisurely ice cream stop at McConnell’s in SB, the woman at the counter stopped me and said “umm 2 hours? Try 4 hours…without traffic”. Womp, Womp. This will go down as one of my worst travel mistakes of all times (and I’m usually super thorough) because this meant that we would be passing through Big Sur right at sunset. Our goal was to drive the entire thing in the daylight and catch the sunset in Carmel on the water, sipping a celebratory glass of Veuve. Life – 1, Alexis – 0.
As expected, it took about 4 hours to get to Big Sur, where we pulled over and caught the most stunning sunset of all time. We also came thiclose to running out of gas, so if you’re doing this drive be sure to fill up before you enter the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park area.
Side note: I was dying to stay at the Tree Bones Resort but it apparently sells out over 6 months in advance. Though it is
ungodly expensive a bit pricey, I will definitely splurge and stay there next time and I hear it’s one of the most unique, beautiful hotel experiences that there is.
From Big Sur, we drove about another hour to Carmel-by-the-Sea, which I am convinced is the best town in the whole entire world and where I will 100% retire to if I ever get so wealthy. This places is HEAVEN. The Cyprus trees, the rocky beaches, the sound of the waves crashing, the Spanish tiled roofs…everything is just perfect. Every turn is another photo opp and the scenery just gets better and better. There’s not a bad view in the town! Even the adorable street signs are made of carved wood. The homes here are so unique, it’s like they are all perfectly built ranch homes (that are deceivingly large), made of stone and tile and built into the rocks. I was blown away by home after home. Too bad they come with a median price tag of $1.5M. Like I said…one day!
We stayed the night at the Colonial Terrace Hotel, a cute boutique style hotel near the heart of downtown. Though the rooms could use a little updating, the property was pretty and the place was very charming. It had a “bed & breakfast” feel with coffee, fruit & scones served in the lobby around oversized chairs in front of the wood burning fireplace. They served happy hour and homemade cookies. All in all, the perfect choice for one night in the area. We grab dinner at Dametra Cafe, which was so good! Located in the heart of downtown, they serve authentic Mediterranean food – we had schwarma, rice, salad & more. A great spot for dinner if you’re in the area.
The next day we drove another two hours in San Francisco where we met my brother for lunch, before heading to Sonoma for the weekend. (Fun Fact: My brother was the first one to see us after we got engaged!) Of course, no trip to Carmel is finished without seeing the world famous Pebble Beach golf course. We opted to do the 17 mile drive around the Peninsula to soak in as much as we could before walking around the property. If only we could have stayed longer!
This drive was one of my favorite road trips of all time – the scenery, the food, the people, the views – it’s all not to be missed! In fact, this is one trip that I would love to do again, maybe from SF to LA this time. The second go round, I would definitely allot more time for the Carmel/Big Sur area and try to spend another night or two there. It is so beautiful that it was sad to rush through it. Hopefully next time will come sooner rather than later!
Those who know my travel style know that I’m not one for repeat traveling. There are so many incredible places in this world to visit that it’s hard for me to go to the same place twice, especially when I’ve got limited time and funds. I am, however, breaking my own rule here as there are five locations, in specific, that I am eager to travel to again.
One of my best friends (whose father is Chilean) married a man from Chile so they had their wedding on a winery near Viña del Mar in one of the most beautiful and fun weddings I have EVER been to. In fact, apart from my own (obviously I’m biased) I have to say it was my favorite! She was married in March 2013 and five of us spent two weeks traveling around Chile, as it was summer down there and the country is huge! We covered so much ground – from hiking Mount Villarrica (an active volcano!) to sunbathing in Puerto Montt (Lake District) to white water rafting in Pucon (Patagonia) to wining and dining in the German influenced Puerto Varas. You name it, we did it. Chile really has it all and I cannot wait to go back (we’re all going back for said bride’s 10 year anniversary!)
So really I would prefer to go back to ALL of Italy; however, there is a lot in the North that I haven’t explored yet. Back in 2011, I went with two girlfriends on an epic vacation to Greece and Italy, where we spent a few days exploring Sorrento, Positano, Capri, etc. The Amalfi coast is absolutely stunning and has some of the best coastline in the world, in my opinion. It is incredibly romantic and I would love to travel there with my husband (who has never been to Italy). This trip is actually a top contender for our one year anniversary trip (will share more on that in a future post) so hopefully I’ll be planning my trip back sooner rather than later.
When I traveled to Greece, I spent three days in Athens and three days in Mykonos. This island is one of those out-of-this-world beautiful places that pictures don’t even do justice to. The white washed buildings, the bright blue accents, the turquoise water. Mykonos is known for the golden sand beaches, the party nightlife and, of course, the delicious Greek salads. While I would definitely return to Mykonos, I would also love to explore Santorini, Rhodes, Corfu, Milos & more. It seems that a Mediterranean cruise may be one of the best options to hit as many islands as possible. Future family vacay?
When I was in middle school, my parents and I took a trip with my Uncle and his two daughters (around my age) to Machu Picchu. The girls were actually living in Bolivia at the time so I guess everyone figured we’ll go to them! While I remember bits and pieces of the trip, I was definitely too young to appreciate the beauty of this mountain top ancient city. There is so much great hiking and rafting down in Peru that I think this would be a great adventure trip with friends.
The only located in the United States on my repeat travel list (mainly because there are so many places within the USA that I have yet to go to – but that’s another post for another day!), wine country is, well…fabulous. I’ve been to Sonoma twice (remember my hotel review and city guide?) but would love to go back. What I love most about wine country is that the slow, easy pace is good for anyone – a romantic couples trip, a friend trip, a family trip, a work trip, etc. Sure there are endless wineries, but there are also excellent restaurants, adorable small towns & plenty of outdoor activities. We really enjoyed going in late fall so I’m hoping to return either this year or next around the same time (Thanksgiving in wine country, anyone?)
Where is somewhere you want to repeat travel?