North America

San Francisco and the Wine Valleys

Union Square, San FranciscoOk, so I’ve decided that San Francisco is one of the few places that I could realistically pick up and move to. It’s not a fantasy that could never become a reality. I think I could actually do it and be really happy with that decision. Aside from the beauty of San Francisco, it’s the lifestyle that I fell in love with. I love that the locals are active, and have a laid back enough attitude where they can still be successful in life but can step away and see that there is more to life than work. I love the balance between a large city and the waterfront. I love that in the middle of the afternoon, people are hiking, biking or running. I love that just outside of San Fran, there are vineyards that provide a break from life. Have I sold you on San Francisco yet? Well then, let me keep building my case.

Union Square: Simply awesome.  Large department stores border around this massive city square that hosts a number of local events. When I was there, a number of localsYountville gathered to dance and listen to live music.  Can you believe that? I couldn’t!

Cable Car Ride:It’s a must if you’re in San Fran! Jump on the trolley and let it take you to your destination.  Unless it’s during peak hours, it’s pretty easy to find yourself a seat and enjoy the ride. And on a side note, no you can not hang off the side of the trolley like you see in the movies!

China Town:Just cool. It’s like a mini city within the city. Full of culture, good food, and great souvenirs. If you’re going to eat there, try Capitol Restaurant. It’s kind of pricey compared to other restaurants in China town. But delicious.

AlcatrazAlcatraz: I think this is pretty obvious and really don’t need to list the reasons for seeing this. What I can suggest is buying your tickets online beforehand. Depending on the time of year you visit, it could be sold out.

Napa & Sonoma Valley:You have to do a wine tour. It’s kind of waste if you don’t. Usually hotels can help you out and recommend wineries to visit. At the very least, they can get you in touch with several of the tour companies. Make sure that you stop off in Yountville. Crazy expensive if you eat lunch here, but so worth the visit!  Need suggestions on which wineries to visit? I preferred the smaller wineries like Sutter Home, Madonna Estates and Cline Cellars. The experience is just as important as the wine!

Golden Gate Bridge:Another obvious choice, but it’s actually really easy to forget since there is so much to do in San Fran!

Fisherman’s Wharf:  If I were a local, I would come here daily for inspiration.  You can buy blown glass bottles from street vendors, enjoy a meal along the water, walk to Pier 39, or just take in the view. You really aren’t short of options.

Appreciate:I don’t say this very often, especially about cities in North America. But there is something to be said about the architecture, color pallets and roadways of San Fran. Just walk, get lost, explore. The streets will just take your breath away.

There is much more to do in San Francisco, and I suggest staying here for at least three or four days to really get a feel for this beautiful city.Streets of San Francisco

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Maui: The Real Paradise Island

What can I say about paradise? Where to even begin? Hawaii, specifically Maui is probably the closest I will come to heaven….and I mean that literally.  I spent 2 short days in Maui, and I am certain I will be back at some point in my life just to see this beautiful island paradise again.

So where to begin? That’s a good question. There isn’t one place better than another in Maui.  When I thought one thing wouldn’t top the next, I was wrong.  There isn’t enough time to see all that this tiny island has to offer. You just have to go, explore and be open to anything and everything you come across.

So here goes:

 Haleakala Sunrise: You may think I’m insane waking up at 3AM and partially taking a bus and hiking up a 10,000+ foot mountain. Maybe. But there is no experience that has even come close to getting to the top of this mountain, to only see clouds above me and below me. At first, it’s cold, dark, even a little eery. But when that sun starts to rise, and the park ranger starts his ritual sunrise chant as the sun peaks out of the horizon, I will promise you that you will not feel more connected to this planet than in that moment. When I say it takes your breath away, I think that’s the biggest understatement of them all. (beware: it’s cold when you make the climb, but it is well worth it!)

Wailea Beach: You really didn’t think I wasn’t going to plop on the beach for a day, did you? Wailea is considered one of the best beaches in the world, so of course I had to go see that for myself.  This beach is between two of the swankiest hotels in town – the Four Seasons (where a salad is $41) and the Grand Wailea.  If you’re hungry and didn’t happen to bring wods of cash with you to the beach (because that’s normal!), I suggest taking a scenic walk to the shops at Wailea. Meal prices are a little bit more reasonable, and the view although not quite as enjoyable is still a nice one.  As for the beach itself, I can safely say it’s probably one of the top beaches I’ve been to, and I’ve seen my fair share of beaches. Sigh. 

Road to Hana: A scenic highway that twists through the spectacular rainforest, cascading waterfalls, and the coastline. As you drive there are some sharp turns, so if you aren’t comfortable driving, pay for a professional to get you there. Again, if you are a nature lover, this drive will be worth it. The drive doesn’t put you at ease, but the view sure does.

Red Sand Beach (Kaihalulu): Just one of the many reasons why I need to return to Maui. This beach is apparently very memorable just based on the red sand itself. This exotic beach has vibrant colors because of the eroded volcanic cinders and contrast with the crystal blue waters.  The only drawback? It’s a 10-minute hike down to the beach. But to see such a unique site, I would hardly call it a drawback.

Sea Turtles: I’ve seen some pretty interesting creatures, I’ve been to the San Diego Zoo! But, I have never seen see turtles quite so large or unafraid of humans. If they spot you in the water, don’t be alarmed because they will come close to say hello. They’re odd creatures, but kind of cute!

So there you have it. Just a few reasons to go to Maui. Personally, Maui was one of the nicest islands I’ve been to, and I definitely plan on going back. If you can afford the time, stay here for at least a week, it will be well worth it!

Safe travels!

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Wailea Beach

Wailea Beach

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California Dreamin’: Hollywood

Hands down, West Hollywood is my favourite place in the U.S. Prior to my first time here, I would hear horror stories of how awful it is and its either super dangerous or you have to be incredibly rich to enjoy yourself. Lies, lies and more lies! I’m not going to recommend venturing out of West Hollywood or Santa Monica – I didn’t partially for safety reasons, and partially because everything was at my fingertips when I was here. I know that one wrong turn can get me into trouble. But if you have a GPS, you’re fine!

So why do I love LA so much? Well, for many reasons. It’s a fairytale land where Hollywood starlets mingle with regular folk. It’s bizarre that you can go into a Club Monaco and possibly run into Sandra Bullock, or dine at a steakhouse beside Kobe Bryant.  I’m from a suburb, so living amongst the rich and powerful isn’t something that happens often! Aside from the countless famous or wanna-be famous people that you may run into, LA (and again I’m only addressing West Hollywood and Santa Monica) is actually a very tiny little town with great weather and tons of things to do. Here are some itinerary items to consider on your trip:

 The Grove: If you watch entertainment shows, they are always “Live from the Grove” so it should sound relatively familiar if you’re up-to-date with pop culture. I have had a few celeb spottings here, but mainly the Grove is just great for an afternoon of leisure. It’s an outdoor shopping center with great stores like Neiman Marcus, J.Crew, Forever 21 and much more. If you’re hungry, stop off at Morel’s French Steakhouse & Bistro and order the Cobb Salad. It’s also the perfect place to people watch.

 Rodeo Drive: If you aren’t going to buy anything, go for the experience! Rodeo drive is a short street full of high-end designer shops. Don’t feel intimidated when you walk into stores (ala Pretty Woman), the sales staff know who is there to shop and who is there for free champagne (Ya, that’s right! You get free bubbly while you shop!). Once you’re done, head to N. Beverly Drive or Robertson, it’s much more affordable!

 Andaz Hotel: Chic, no check-in desk, contemporary décor, free wine, free hors d’euvres, across from Skybar and has a rooftop patio with unbelievable views. What else do you need in a hotel? I recommend the Andaz without hesitation.

 The Comedy Store: Right across the street from the Andaz Hotel, the Comedy Store is where comedians like Bernie Mac and Chelsea Handler got their start. I was extremely fortunate when I went as I had the privilege of being entertained by the then unknown Whitney Cummings and Chris D’Elia. Whitney was a rising star who tested her David Hasselhoff Roast jokes on the crowd and Chris opened for the headliner. Both, had the crowd in tears and in my opinion stole the show. No wonder they now have a hit TV show!

 Santa Monica: If you want to take advantage of the heat, then pay a visit to Santa Monica. There is everything from the Santa Monica pier, to cute shops, to great restaurants, and beaches. I suggest getting there first thing in the morning or else you will get stuck in the unbelievably busy LA traffic and parking is not easy to find. Is it worth it? Yes!

 SkyBar: An awesome place to unwind at the end of the night. It really is the stereotypical LA “hotspot”. Very dim lighting, faint music, with cabanas and private booths that surround the well-lit pool. It’s a tough place to get into and likely the reason why so many celebrities hang out here. If you think you can get in, it’s totally worth a shot!

Hollywood: You can’t go to West Hollywood and not see the Hollywood sign! Go to the Kodak Theatre (which by the way is strange that the Oscars are held here, seeing as it’s a shopping center!) and go to the very back of the building. Gaze out the open space, and voila, there it is!  On your way out, notice the stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and famous handprints beside the Chinese Theatre.

 Jimmy Kimmel: It can be any show, but I’m going to be bias since I went to see Jimmy Kimmel. His studio is across from the Kodak theatre so you can make an entire afternoon of it. Visit his website a few weeks beforehand to order tickets.

Boa: The only bust in West Hollywood. It’s one of the most famous restaurants, but incredibly overpriced for the quality. I’ve been here twice, and the first time I loved it, so it could have just been a bad day my second time around. If you choose to eat here, make sure to get the Caesar Salad – they make it from scratch.

Mulholland Drive: This secluded area is a fair drive through the winding roads and atop the mountains of LA. This is where celebrities call home. Filled with gated communities and obscenely sized mansions. It’s no wonder that celebrities feel superior to the rest of the world! The roads are very narrow so keep an eye out for the speeding paparazzi in SUV’s.

 There are way more things to do while in LA then I have mentioned, but hopefully this can start you off on your adventures. It really is a nice town and I’m not at all surprised that this is where big names call home. Although heavily populated, LA is very tiny with lots to see. Give yourself a few days here, you’ll need it!

 Until next time….safe travels!

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Boston: Bean Town

Just got back from a lovely weekend in Boston, and have to say that it was much better the second time around than the first time I visited.

Needless to say, Boston is s major Sports town. They live, eat and breathe sports. And why shouldn’t they? They are home to Super Bowl champions New England Patriots; NBA champs the Boston Celtics; Major League champs Boston Red Sox; and most recently the Stanley Cup champions, Boston Bruins.  So first thing I would recommend for your agenda if you plan on travelling to Boston is take in a game or two.

Last time I was here, I did a tour of Fenway and took in a football game. This time, I did a hockey game and football game. Whether you’re into sports or not, you wouldn’t want to miss out on an experience like this. There is a great energy in these sporting events – especially if you’re in a city that’s used to seeing their team win!

There is so much more to do in Boston, although sporting events would and should be a highlight. Some other things to do include:

· Newbury Street – ok, so if you don’t like sporting events, why not shop? This street has everything from H&M to Gucci.

·  Summer Shack – like seafood? This sports bar style restaurant located in the Back Bay area has unbelievable food! Order the lobster bisque, fra Diablo mussels and the pan-seared lobster…I’m sure everything else on the menu is just as great!

·  Hotel Marlowe – a pet-friendly hotel connected to the Cambridge Galleria Shopping Mall, in walking distance of PF Changs and the Cheesecake Factory, and serves free wine in the lobby? Do I really need to convince you to stay here?

Feeding the squirrels·   Boston Common – The “Central Park” of Boston. A lot smaller, but also a lot more quaint.  It’s right off of Newbury and close to Copley Square.  So peaceful in the heart of the city.

· Quincy Market – A small cobblestone area that has a balance of shopping, restaurants and markets. Definitely worth a visit.

·   Back Bay – If you like old antique shops and brownstones, walk on St. James and through the Back Bay area. It really does capture some of the city’s most beautiful residential areas.

Boston is small city, but a lot to do.  It’s filled with some great restaurants, shopping and nightlife. Everything is within reasonable walking distances. Go any time of year and enjoy yourself!

Until next time….

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Okanagan: Wine Country

If you haven’t noticed I love to travel. Most of my travels are overseas, but who would have thought that my own country would be home to some of the most beautiful places that I have ever visited.

The Okanagan Valley is just an hour outside of Kelowna, British Columbia, and is the home to the many vineyards in the province. When you land in Kelowna, be sure to ask your taxi driver to avoid the highway and take you through the back roads.  You will see many homes with their own private vineyards and spectacular views of the mountainside and lake, it really is incredible.

Penticton and Okanagan are fairly small areas, but there are tons of things to do:

  •   Penticton Lakeside Resort: If you’re looking for somewhere to stay in the area, I would recommend the Penticton Lakeside Resort.  It’s along the beach, has a tapas restaurant and sports bar/dining patio on the property and tons of water sports.
  • Penticton River Channel: Also nearby is the Penticton River Channel; where you can bring your floating device and just float along Penticton! You float so far that there are a row of taxis that wait at the end of the river to drive you back to the beginning. It’s pretty incredible!

You really can’t go to the Okanagan without visiting the many wineries. Here are a few that are worth the visit:

1. Nk’Mip: This winery has some of the most spectacular views of the valley.  Stop in here to have small bite to eat and sip on a glass of wine, while overlooking the Osoyoos Lake.

2. Sumac Ridge: If you have the opportunity to do a wine tasting here, jump at the chance. This is one of the larger wineries, and there is plenty do here than just sip on wine. Enjoy a meal, tour the caves and there are tons of things you can purchase at the gift shop.

3. See Ya Later Ranch: My personal favourite; this winery is at the top of the mountain and the views are incredible. This winery has quite the story behind it which makes it fascinating. For the wine “connoiseur” you will likely  enjoy the quality of wine that See Ya Later has to offer.

If you’re in British Columbia and have some free time….visit the Okanagan Valley! Happy travels!

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Chicago: Chi-Town

 In my opinion Chicago is probably the nicest U.S city I have visited, often comparing it to New York City but without the hustle and bustle.  Residents of Chicago seem a little more approachable and a little bit more conscious of work-life balance. 
 I was fortunate to visit Chicago on my one-year wedding anniversary which happened to be the same day of the Chicago Blackhawk Stanley Cup parade. Our taxi driver had to drop us off a few blocks away from our hotel, The Hard Rock Hotel on North Michigan and Wacker because all the streets were shut down.  The hotel is the perfect homebase to explore all things Chicago.  Very trendy in its décor this well-kept hotel is a block from the water and at the tip of the Magnificent Mile and attached the best steakhouse Morton’s.

Stanley Cup Parade

 So what else is there to do in Chicago? Here are some obvious and not-so-obvious things to do:  
Hop-on-Hop-off Tour – For $30 per day, this double decker bus will take you to all of Chicago’s hotspots. This is a great way to get around and learn about Chicago’s history.

 Segway Tour – If you are a bit more daring try a Segway tour through the city. You follow your guide around Chicago while getting a history lesson.

 Shedd Aquarium – I’m the first to admit that this didn’t excite me when I included it in my itinerary but I will be the first to admit how wrong I was. This was probably one of the highlights of my trip. The dolphin show was incredible and the 4-D auditorium is amazing! It’s a great place to visit if you have kids or visiting Chicago with a friend.
 Howling Moon – If you’re looking for an entertaing night I can not stress how much fun you will have at the Howling Moon.  This dueling piano bar plays the best oldies and top 40 while the packed house sings along.

Magnificent Mile – The obvious highlight of Chicago. The Mile has an array of shopping both affordable and not affordable. Just walking up and down N. Michigan Ave. is fun!

 Morton’s – I touched up on the fact that this steakhouse is attached to the Hard Rock, but besides that – the steak and service is unbelievable. I was hear on my one-year anniversary and the staff went as far as taking a photo of my husband and I, printed it on a card and individually signed with the staff’s best wishes. Great service isn’t even the word.
 Mike Ditka’s – I’m not one for bar food. But this was a great place to stop and have lunch. The portions are good and the food is very tasty.  You don’t have to like sports to enjoy the atmosphere.

 Some places that I found to be a little overrated:

 Millenium Park – across from the Hard Rock, if you have 15-20 minutes to spare, take a stroll through the park. It’s nice, but it’s a park. There isn’t too much that impressed me here.
 
Navy Pier – I probably was expecting more, but I found the pier to be a little boring. There isn’t much to do other than walk on a pier and go on a few rides. Honestly, if I didn’t see it I would have been ok.
 
Giordano’s Deep Dish Pizza – everyone talks about Chicago’s deep dish pizza and say that Giordano’s is the place to go. I will be honest, I really didn’t think it was that good and it was very overpriced.  There are plenty of other places that I’m sure make a better pizza.
 
Chicago is the perfect place for a weekend getaway. There are tons of things to do whether you’re a single traveler or travelling with a family.  It’s a great city and I highly recommend it.
Until next time……
 
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