Archive for the Category »southern california «

  Whimsy and Wonder in the California Desert

I absolutely love receiving travel tips and feedback from you all.

My latest example is from a friend who recently visited Borrego Springs in Southern California….

I am a California girl through and through… raised here, been there done that in the Golden State. But I had never heard of this off -the-beaten-path desert town just northeast of San Diego and south of Palm Springs.

Sure, Borrego offers the typical desert activities – golf, biking, hiking…

Courtesy of Diane Salerno

But what really captivated me is Galleta Meadows – a privately owned piece of land open to the public. On this stark desert landscape are 130 exotic-looking steel sculptures by artist and welder Ricardo Breceda.


A round trip of about 20 miles around the area and you can see them all.


Many of the earlier works were inspired by the animals that lived millions of years ago in the area…


and some are just pure fantasy!

Borrego might be a fun 1-2 day stop on a road trip – you can camp or stay at a local hotel. It is surrounded by the largest state park – Anza-Borrego. If you do stay the night, look into the many public astronomy events that take place there – Borrego Springs was the first “Dark Sky Community” – being 55 miles from the super lit up coast, the dark night sky is a perfect place to star gaze.


It is so inspiring to learn about new, whimsical places….I hope you think so too.


  Hotel of the Week: Beach Chic with Awesome Location in Southern California

I had lunch recently with an old college friend who drove up to LA for business. Coincidentally we dined at an old college haunt (Toppers) that has been turned into one of Los Angeles’s hippest restaurants and hotels: The Penthouse in the Huntley Hotel in Santa Monica.

For design-crazed travelers like me, you will appreciate the eye candy this hotel offers. The restaurant is ethereal… a lot of sheer white, with private booth seating overlooking a tremendous view from the top floor of the hotel.

Penthouse Restaurant, Huntley Hotel

California’s coastline here  is always mesmerizing.

The bar is sexy, and always hopping. The Penthouse got voted best decor in the 2010 Zagat Guide… so you be the judge.

Huntely Hotel, Santa Monica CA

The lobby greets you with panache – you are excited to be there right away. It is an eclectic mix of organic woods, with whites and textures – contemporary elegance.

Huntley Hotel

The rooms are more toned down, and some offer views.

Besides the cool design, the location of the Huntley is a strong point. Tucked away in a quiet residential street of Santa Monica,  guests are just walking distance from the beach, shops, and great dining – without the traffic or hubbub that usually accompanies the beach on a summer day.

Right now the Huntley is running some specials – Book two nights and get a third night free… or stay a weekend (one night has to be Sunday) and get 25% off. I always try to stay mid-week or Sunday nights in general for  a better deal.

On that note -  I leave you with one last glance of our Santa Monica coastline. Doesn’t it just scream SUMMER???

  Hotel of the Week: A Rare Gem Re-opens and Dazzles

When you are on the road a lot, many hotels start to seem the same. Then, there are those special ones that leave a mark on your soul. I can’t say that about very many hotels, but Hotel Bel Air is one of them. It is a spiritual and romantic retreat hidden high in the leafy streets of the Bel Air neighborhood in Los Angeles, which is part of its non-chain-hotel charm.

Now, after a two year remodel, (which it did need by the way) it will re-open this month with even more class and exclusivity. The iconic swans in the hotel’s lake are still there, as well as the signature Spanish Colonial buildings in “Bel Air pink,” but beyond the deliberate scene stealers, there are other new charms to disarm you.

The new design is amazing- Hotel Bel Air with a fresh, glamorous, and youthful face-lift in public spaces…

…and rooms.

There are 12 new accommodations, built into the hillside offering sweeping canyon views, expansive sliding glass walls, outdoor fireplaces and spacious decks with private spa pools.

Also new to the hotel:  a 12,000 square foot Spanish mission style structure featuring a new bell tower, fitness studio, three unique “Loft guestrooms” with open floor plans, double sided fireplaces and dramatically high ceilings as well as the brand new 4,134-square-foot Spa by La Prairie, the luxury Swiss beauty company.

I have always enjoyed the restaurants, or late night drinks at the hotel, and now there are expanded dining and drinking options, as well as famed Hollywood chef Wolfgang Puck taking over the restaurant services. Room rates start at $565, with a $100 food credit through the end of the year… If you can’t swing a full stay at the hotel, try to get there for lunch or dinner to experience something so special to LA, it doesn’t feel like LA at all.

If you don’t take my word, just check out the reviews on TripAdvisor. Have you ever seen more 5-star, rave reviews?

The legendary hotel is officially reopening October 14- but it is accepting dinner and room reservations now. I look forward to the return of something special…don’t we all? Life is too short. Enjoy it and have a great weekend wherever you are.

  Hotel of the Week: A Picture Perfect Setting for Romance… or Rug Rats

View from Terrenea Resort

This was the ocean view from my room at Terranea resort in Ranch Palos Verdes, CA… about 30 miles from downtown Los Angeles. That’s one of the things that makes this Mediterranean style 582 room resort special – all of the rooms offer private balconies, and most have ocean views. I could have stayed there all night and watched the sun set on this gorgeous only in So Cal summer night.

The setting for this huge-but-doesn’t-feel-too-big resort is spectacular – on one of the most gorgeous parts of the California coast… and it really is secluded from major developments or traffic, as it sits right at land’s edge on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Although it is along the coast, the stretch of beach for guests is not that large, but pretty.

At certain times of year you can see the sun both rise and set thanks to it’s location…. you have views from the pools as well as the guest rooms.

My favorite place to catch the view is at one of the restaurants: Nelsons, which sits right on the cliff. It is a casual environment… with an outdoor deck that also boasts a fire pit.

We went at sunset – the best time – but you really do need to get there early as it fills up fast. We were told it was a two hour wait to eat… but it ended up only being 30 minutes.

Like most of the restaurants at Terranea, Nelson’s has a children’s menu. The upscale resort could easily have catered more to an elite, adults only crowd, but the management was smart enough to realize more adults are traveling with their young children.

They have a number of activities for kids – My kids spent all day at the family pool with a 140 foot water slide and a water play area…. they barely came up to our lounge chairs for a break.

There is also a kids camp where you can drop in,  a family-friendly Par 3, 9 hole ocean front golf course, and a s’more party at night by the pool. (By the way for you golfers – the 9 hole course is brilliant in my opinion. When traveling, golf can eat up a big chunk of your day – 9 holes allows you to have a great round, then leave some time for relaxing too. If you want a longer course, Trump National Golf Club is a public course about three miles away.)

As a critic, I often see hotels that try to do too much – Terranea gracefully can accommodate and satisfy couples as well as families – There is an adult only pool that is quiet and has ocean views, and also a spa pool near the 50,000 sq foot very-adult indulging spa.

Another nice touch for adults and couples: You are welcomed at check in with a glass of champagne. They won me over right there – a really nice touch.

Another nice touch was a bottle of Paraiso Pinot noir and incredible chocolate covered strawberries in our room!! (Note: sorry – but that was a personal touch from the manager.) But you can order the Pinot in the restaurants and although I’m not a huge Pinot fan, it was darn good.

If you rent one of Terranea’s two, three, or four bedroom villas, you can keep the wine in your kitchen. These rooms are great options for families, or groups traveling together.

There were a lot of locals at Terranea – especially for dinner- and with good reason.

If you are visiting Los Angeles, and want to take in all the sights of Beverly Hills, Hollywood, Universal Studios, Santa Monica and Malibu beaches, Getty museums – Terranea is not the most convenient location, especially since  – shocker – Los Angeles has a little traffic problem.

But what I always do when booking a trip to a big city is find a relaxing resort or waterfront hotel that provides a balance in your trip. If your budget allows, I would add a few days here to stay planted, unwind, and enjoy the golden sunshine on our stunning coastline.

Why can’t summer last forever?

  A Way to Experience Ultimate Summer Before it is Gone: Carefree and California.

I’m a summer girl through and through. So it pains me to realize we only have half of the best season ever left.

Had to maximize the summer fun this weekend and do quintessential So Cal summer stuff… the LA Times wrote a good article about the very same thing in Sunday’s Travel section.,0,1394619.story A nice primer for out of town visitors.

First, my summer fling: my favorite thing to do along the beaches of Los Angeles: ride bikes on the 8 miles of trails along the sand from Temescal Canyon in Santa Monica to Venice Beach. The sun kissing your cheeks… and the sea breeze blowing your hair. Carefree and California.

Great for kids, or go with a friend. Park your car in one of the public lots along Pacific Coast Highway (PCH)  in Santa Monica. Parking will cost you about $8.00.

If you park close to California St incline, there are bike rentals a short walk away on the beach-side bike path. Perry’s in Santa Monica carries everything from tandem bikes to the kiddy carts. I would recommend carts for any child under 7 – they get tired and If you head south, you are riding against the wind on the way back. Perry’s has eight locations along Santa Monica and Venice.

Perry’s is also a cafe – music playing and a buzzy environment with a kids’ menu. TIP: It is cash only.

**TIP:f you stay in a hotel, get a map of Santa Monica because there are often bike rental coupons in the tourist map.

Once you are set with wheels and a meal, the adventure begins. The Ferris wheel of the Santa Monica pier is always in your view, (background of above photo) so chances are if you are with kids, they will beg you to stop there. Pacific Park Amusement Park has rides and arcade games. Personally, I find it crowded and trashy – especially in summer, so limit your time. But the kids like it and It is a pretty setting right on the pier.

Farther down the road you will come to Venice Beach – always an entertaining area. There’s never a shortage of people watching – from musicians to muscles to magicians – Venice Beach’s street performers attract many. Nearby Abbot Kinney Blvd is one of the only strolling streets in LA that isn’t inhabited by chain stores and still maintains it’s unique character.

The LA Times article briefly mentions the new Santa Monica Place… it is a three-story outdoor mall of sorts with a view of the ocean. The top floor has many restaurants – check which ones have kids menus.

The Market is an exciting new addition – 45,000 square feet with a French chocolatier, a wine shop, and a cooking school for starters. It is helping turn this local into a foodie destination.

True Food Kitchen, Santa Monica

True Food Kitchen has a nice kids menu, and for the total over the top healthy Cali meal, you can’t beat this. The kids’ pizza has a whole wheat crust, and I had an organic glass of chardonnay from Mendocino.

Movie theaters nearby and lots of fun shops makes this a bustling place to stroll.

Live from So Cal… The weather is beautiful and I wish you were here.

  Where Can You Go For Free?

Yes… you heard me – FREE. There are many sites you can visit for free on  your travels. Just gotta seek them out!

I am here to help. If you live in or near Los Angeles…. or plan to travel there anytime soon, check out a segment I did on KABC-TV’s weekend magazine show “Eye on LA.”  The segment is “Free in LA.” and it airs Saturday June 4  6:30PM. We visit two interesting and historical places you may have never known about.

If you don’ t live in the LA market, you can always visit after Saturday. Lots of good archived shows there but he “Free in LA” segment airs in the Home and Fashion episode.

Have a fantastic weekend…

  An LA Icon That’s Great For Kids..And Free!

Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles

I recently took a field trip with my UCLA architecture class to the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles. I had been to the hall before for performances, but this time I got a tour led by a docent…and you can too.

Frank Gehry Designed Walt Disney Concert Hall

If you have seen photos or been yourself, I don’t have to tell you how stunning the stainless steel-clad building is.

The inside is breathtaking too – but not in such a grand way – it is simply gorgeous wood, mixed with white walls, steel accents, and a lot of light from large windows and sky lights. (Of course, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, but most would agree the structure is a beauty.)

If you are visiting LA, or are a local – this is a fantastic place to visit on the weekend.  Many locals eat lunch in the beautiful garden area on weekdays, and it is a quiet time to take a tour, but on some weekends there are free musical concerts and arts and crafts activities for the kids. (Look up “Phil the House” activities on  the WDCH website.)

In my opinion, it’s one of the best cultural experiences for the little ones in all of my travels. The concerts don’t happen every week so plan ahead. The kids are also able  to create a masterpieces at art tables set up outside.

If you don’t have children along, take the docent led tours…or if you prefer, a self-guided audio tour. Both take about an hour. The tour leads you throughout the inside of building, and some outdoor spots like the garden or public balcony.

Along the way you learn the story of how the magnificent downtown centerpiece came to be – Lillian Disney donated $ 50 million for a concert hall….there was an architectural contest … Frank Gehry’s design won, it is supposed to resemble a ship’s hull…the grand opening was in 2003.

Walt Disney Concert Hall

The tour goes into a little more detail, but I have to be honest, I would have liked more in depth information from the docent. If you are someone who only wants to learn more, I’d recommend the book that tells the whole story – makes a nice coffee table topper. Concert/dp/0810949814

Unfortunately, the tours don’t go inside auditorium because there are rehearsals. Disappointed?  It is still a worthwhile tour, but if you are dying to see the auditorium, why not go back for a LA Philharmonic performance? Here’s a tip:

If you are a student or a senior, buy rush tickets – show up two hours before concert time and get discounted tickets for $10 – $20!!! (Good seats normally can go for more than $100)

And don’t park in the hall’s parking lot – it is cheaper on the street, or in some of the lots nearby.

Check the WDCH’s website for schedules of both the self-guided and docent-led tours.

Now that spring is almost here, you can enjoy a clear view of downtown from various places on the tour. As much as LA is criticized, this landmark will leave one in awe, and hopefully inspire some appreciation for the City of Angels.

  Tours That Brad Pitt Would Love

I figured that title might get your attention.

If you read any tabloids at all, you know that Brad Pitt is an architecture aficionado…he reportedly loves and studies different building designs. I totally get that.

I am back at my Alma Mater taking an architecture class. Right on campus again. Loving it. For one of my assignments I had to visit a significant type of architecture for a region, photograph it, and write about how the social, political, and cultural elements of the time influenced the design.

Eames House, Pacific Palisades CA

I chose Mid-Century Modern as my style to research, and luckily for me, a friend of mine is a real estate agent for architecturally significant properties in Los Angeles.  He let me come and photograph his Mid-Century Modern house for sale. (Call Jonathan Ruiz at Rose and Chang for the coolest houses on the market! (

In studying the modern movement between the 30s and 60s, I learned so much about Los Angeles.   It made me realize, an architectural tour of a destination is not only aesthetically pleasing, but a way to really understand the development and signature style of a place. Architecture as zeitgeist.

There are many fabulous architectural tours available around the world. Here are some ways to get started if you are considering visiting any of the following cities:

The Chicago Architecture Foundation is a great place to start for boat tours on the Chicago River, or walking and bus tours through the city. Two significant architects that have works in Chicago are Frank Lloyd Wright, and Mies van der Rohe – the foundation has individual tours just for their creations.

Architectural Tours of Savannah, Georgia:  Savannah’s downtown area is one of the largest National Historic Landmark Districts in the United States.

Los Angeles Walking Tours – The LA Conservancy is a good place to start – this city is a cornucopia of styles – form Art Deco, to Renaissance… there is a modern committee that supposedly gives tours of Mid-Century Modern as well.

London- In Front of Big Ben

London Architectural Walks: Choose among a number of tours – including one that focuses on Royal London.

New Orleans Garden District

New Orleans architecture – from the French Quarter to the lovely Garden District… by boat or bike, this website lists other websites that give all kinds of tours:

As Frank Lloyd Wright once said: Every great architect is – necessarily – a great poet. He must be a great original interpreter of his time, his day, his age.
Time to go see those interpretations.

  A Fun Way to See the Harbors of Southern California

If you live on the east coast, this is a warning before you read on. It may be hazardous to keeping your envy in check, considering all the snow you all have been under, to read about the utterly summer time activity we So Cal locals can do in January. (And all year long I might add.)

Cruising Newport Harbor

Cruising the harbors lining the coast of Southern California makes for an enjoyable way to see some of the Golden State’s most beautiful areas. You don’t have to own a boat – there are places in various beach towns to rent a small electric boat, known as the Duffy, named after the man who invented it – Marshall Duffield. The boats are quite quaint – going only 5 mph and topped with a canvas canopy, ranging from 14-22 feet in length.

All aboard!

Just last week a group of about 20 of us was down in Newport Beach, California, for our daughters’ soccer tournament. Between games, the families rented a couple Duffy boats from Duffy Electric Boat Company ..where you can see in the photo below, they have quite a few boats.

Duffys at Duffy Electric Boat Company in Newport Beach

We then journeyed out on Newport Harbor. Our Duffy fit about 10 adults comfortably….and they come with Ipod hook ups, life jackets for kids, and a map to help you navigate the waterways…which is very helpful.

There are tables on board for food and drinks…came in handy to hold the “adult beverages,” or wine. Note: A cocktail cruise at sunset is highly recommended.

The kids on the other hand, appreciated the novelty of the whole outing, and used the table to complete a game and some challenges based on what they see in the harbor – provided by the Duffy Electric Boat Company.

What you see in the harbor is picturesque… I grew up right in this part of the state, and still don’t get tired of the view or the experience. If you love real estate you are in for a treat because you cruise by lovely homes… some famous owners are pointed out on the map – i.e. the former home of John Wayne. It may inspire you to rent a home in Newport for the summer.

If you appreciate the beauty of nautical architecture, it is interesting to look at the private yachts and sailboats docked here in the marina. The kids enjoyed the marine life along the way.

There are public docks in front of some restaurants where you can pull up and eat… but since you are renting by the hour, you may want to maximize your time on the Duffy, unless you are willing to pay more and rent for a longer amount of time. I wouldn’t rent for less than two hours. I’ve seen rental prices vary from $75-99 an hour.. so if you have a large group, or a bunch of couples, it can be as low as $15 per person for a two hour tour. Worth every penny too. Peaceful and pretty, the cruise relaxes you (or is it the wine?), melts all your troubles away, and makes you appreciate life. How often can you say that?

Here are some rental companies for Oceanside, Long Beach, Marina Del Rey, and Newport Beach. Summer books up, and so does Christmas in Newport Beach, so book ahead.  (Duffy Electric Boat Company where we rented.)

  Make 2011 Your Year for Travel.

“We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day.”

No matter where I am in the world, I wake up Dec. 26 ready to roll. I mean take stock of my life, move forward, clean my office, closet, and my world – get rid of things that don’t work literally and figuratively. And of course, I am energized by the possibilities of the new year.

“What would make me happier?” is a question many of us ask ourselves as we consider resolutions… most of the time, we know, we just don’t always follow through and act on it.

Maybe it is simply making time for something you love to do, like traveling. Maybe you haven’t done a lot of it recently because of financial pressures… the hassle of today’s airports… a young family… or a job that just won’t let you get away.

Lately, I’ve been inspired by a Lee Ann Womack song – you may have heard it on a TV commercial during recent football games… and appreciate the lyrics also.

“I hope you never lose your sense of wonder…. get your fill to eat, but always keep that hunger. May you never take one single breath for granted….”

Take away: Make a list of the places you really want to go. Remember your dreams, even though they can get buried in every day living. It may take just 10 minutes to google a destination online that gets you fired up again about seeing the world. Tap into that lost desire.

Time will slip away, and you could be thinking about the same place for years… make a plan to go. You aren’t getting any younger.

“I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance. NEVER settle for the path of least resistance. Living might mean taking chances, but they’re worth taking….”

Take away: There may be something holding you back. It might be a challenge – finances? Young children?  Don’t get complacent. Stand for what you want and need.

With a little thought, planning, and adjustment you can make it happen. If you are out of a job, it may be hard to think about traveling, but ironically, this is the best time. I can’t tell you how many times I have been between jobs, and plan a shorter trip than I would have liked because I am preoccupied with getting back to find a job – when really, getting away was the best medicine to clear my head, and redefine my goals. If you have money saved, you can travel very frugally and have a great trip. If finances aren’t making it possible, plan this trip for next year, and give yourself a goal to save for it.

If you’ve never traveled with children, and just don’t want to face the extra work, you ARE settling for the path of least resistance. You only have kids around for so long, and a trip is a great way to spend time and teach your children about the world, and how to behave in different settings!

“I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean. Whenever one door closes, I hope one more opens.”

Take away: If you have small children, you might not be taking the same trips you used to take, or staying at the same hotels. But you can rediscover a whole new world.

There are some places I call my “starter kit vacation” destinations that are easy trips for families – renting a beach house being one of them. The ocean provides hours of entertainment for kids… and having a house for meals and snacks, quick diaper changes, etc is easy for families. If that doesn’t sound exciting – try a twist and book a beach house on the opposite coast for a new flavor – for instance, if you live in the west – try Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket. ( I heave heard unofficially that there were more houses available in these areas due to the economy…) or if you are near the east, try Santa Barbara, Santa Monica, or San Diego.

Other easy destinations:

—With young families, try all inclusive vacations that provide almost everything after you pay one price – including entertainment. Club Med, cruises, or for the more adventurous, check out Backroads…a bicycle touring company. (I can’t be a hypocrite – this has been on my list for years, so now I have to plan it.)

–Another with young children – FDR Resort in Jamaica  – each room comes with a vacation nanny to help!

–If you want to spice it up and visit a foreign country, Canada is close and English speaking. There are fabulous destinations on the east – Montreal..and the west – Banff (Gorgeous!!) and Vancouver. Banff is a national park with plenty of outdoor activities, while Vancouver is an urban trip.

–Travel to cities where there is plenty to do, and close to an airport…Santa Fe, Las Vegas, Boston…

“Don’t let some hell bent heart leave you bitter. When you come close to selling out, reconsider. Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance. And if you get the choice to sit it out or dance…..I hope you dance.”

Take away: Dance. Unquestionably, dance.

Don’t let anyone stop you – a demanding boss or a spouse or partner  who doesn’t share your desire to travel. Make time away from your job. Grab a friend, cousin, neighbor, or go alone.

I could go on with many platitudes to try and inspire you – life is too short, etc. But really – we only have one shot. What are you waiting for? If not now, when?

“Time is a real and constant motion, always rolling us along. Tell me who wants to look back on their youth and wonder where those years have gone?”

Happy New Year.