A Day in… Polignano a Mar, Italy

The dramatic towering cliffs contrast the clear turquoise waters of the Adriatic Sea and are perfect for any shutter-happy tourist. Italy’s Polignano a Mar, is one coastal town in the largest region in Italy,  Apulia (or Puglia in English) known for its picturesque mountain top villages and rolling countryside. The iconic beach town is popular with locals and tourists alike but doesn’t get overly touristy which makes it a fun leisurely beach day. The white pebble beach framed by the natural limestone walls of the Lama Monachile Beach (just to confuse you it’s also called Cala Porte) reminds me of the Grecian or Croatian shore. In fact this region dates back to Greece, back when it was part of  mankind’s first democracy as part of Magna Grecia (ancient Greece). For those who may enjoy Sitges, Spain or Hydra, Greece this has a distinctively similar feel while enjoying its own Italian flair. 

Polignano a Mare was our first stop (after a day of transportation in Bari) on a longer Puglia road trip. From Bari we rented a car and explored the Puglia region and the city of Matera in Basilicata. While we chose to drive, the train between Bari and Polignano a Mare is very straightforward and is roughly 30 minutes and around 3 euros. TIckets can be found on Omio here

If you are also going to Bari, I recommend reading my guide to A Day in Bari

The three areas in Polignano e Mar that are worth checking out are the town center, with many beach shops and restaurants; the iconic Lama Monachile Beach; and the vistas from the cliffside roads.

Parking is easiest to find near the train station or near the Museum of Contemporary Art. After parking or arriving by train, walk through the streets towards the main drag. The initial streets left with much to be desired, I wanted to know why this was such a destination. Then we got into the airy open Piazza Aldo Moro. 

Make your way to the Lama Monachile Beach. The pebble beach can be hard on some people’s feet, but the water and the view are well worth it. While we did not have time to do this during our schedule, there is a boat tour which shows guests around the caves that is highly recommended! Tours can be secured at the tourist office (Via Martiri di Dogali, 2). This is also very close to il Mago Del Gelato (Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi, 22), which has great ice cream and coffee.

I tried the Polpo fritto Panini, which did not disappoint! Especially as someone who loves seaside New England food! The girl behind me clearly approves of the food too 😉

The restaurant La Pescaria (Piazza Aldo Moro, 6/8), is a true social scene. That being said, expect to wait to be seated. They have a reasonably priced menu with delicious local seafood, local wines and many people watching. Not to mention that the airy beach decor is great to sit around. This region is large in agriculture and you can eat fresh local produce in all your meals.

After spending some time at the beach or getting a boat tour, I recommend exploring the small town. Both Caffè Dei Serafini (Via S. Benedetto, 49) and La Cueva Cafè (Via S. Benedetto, 49) offers ample outdoor space to enjoy a drink while you can people watch. For those who are interested in art and have more time, the Museum of Contemporary Art Pino Pascali (Via Parco del Lauro, 119) provides a scenic respite from the hot sun.

If interested in the region, here are some itineraries for Matera (in the neighboring Basilicata region), Bari, Locorotondo, and Martina Franca

10 Days in Andalusia, Spain

Andalusia, the heart and soul of Spain, has much to offer visitors to Southern Spain, from flamenco, Moorish architecture, and great food. Tapas, or small plated meals, originated in Andalusia as a free accompaniment to an alcoholic beverage at a bar, but are now offered as a meal of sampling and sharing with friends. Bars in Granada have held on to tradition and still offer free tapas with a drink.  Andalusia has characteristically warm welcoming people, a relaxed atmosphere, and is known for its Pueblos Blancos (white washed towns) which make for a great European destination. If you are planning on travelling to this southern region the highlights are: Sevilla, the birthplace of Flamenco; Granada, with the Moorish Fortress known as the Alhambra; Córdoba, which has the church turned mosque turned church called the Mesquita; Rhonda, with the arched bridge over a deep ravine; and then the port cities of Cadiz and Málaga.

Here is a ten day itinerary for the best of Andalusia. There is so much to see in the region, so I had to narrow down the itinerary to the best of Andalusia for history and culture. Three cities for overnight stays, Sevilla, Granada, and Málaga, are included in the itinerary as are a few day trips. 

Transportation: All of the cities and locations in the itinerary are accessible by train and bus.  Travel by train is far nicer than by bus, and you can get relatively cheap tickets for travel between all the cities if you book in advance (roughly 10 euros in advance versus 40 euros if last minute). As an alternative, you can rent a car for the entire ten days, but most of the cities are very walkable, and you would not need a car once you get to these destinations.

Day 1: Sevilla 

Sevilla, the birthplace of flamenco, gives the visitor a feel for traditional Spain.This quintessentially picturesque city has many tiled buildings, intricate ornate interiors, and horse-drawn carriage rides in plazas bustling with life. 

Arrive in the evening and get settled into your lodging. Take a walk along the beautiful Guadalquivir River which traverses through the city, separating the Triana neighborhood from the more historic sites in the center. The most scenic part of the river walk is between the two bridges, Puente de Sal Telmo and Puente de Triana (also called “Puente de Isabel”). Don’t miss walking by the Torre de Oro (Tower of Gold). You may want to browse in Ceramica Santa Ana, a tile store. After your walk treat yourself to a leisurely paella meal at Victoria 8 (Calle Victoria, 8). While paella is better known in the Valencia region, Victoria 8 does an amazing job with paella and it’s a great way to kick off your Spanish vacation.

Day 2: Sevilla

Plaza de España

Start your morning with a free walking tour , which will give you an understanding of the layout and history of the city. The tour ends at Plaza de España, a beautiful municipal building with an ornately tiled plaza. Both were built for the 1929 World’s Fair. Fun fact: if you have seen the 2012 Sasha Baron Cohen movie, Dictator, this is the setting for the palace scenes. You can easily spend an hour here walking around and taking photos of the building and grounds. While in the area, walk through the Parque de Maria Luisa and Plaza de las Americas both of which are beautiful.

After viewing the tiles in Plaza de Espana, enjoy a leisurely lunch at Restaurant Orizo (Calle San Fernando, 41, 41004 Sevilla, Spain). It is across from an old factory building that is now part of the University of Sevilla.

Enjoy some down-time before a late-evening dinner, keeping in mind that the Spaniards eat dinner around 9:00 pm. Start your evening by walking around Las Setas de Sevilla, a huge wooden structure that resembles a mushroom. I recommend dinner at Becerrita (Calle Recaredo, 9) before heading to La Carboneria (Calle Céspedes, 21, A,) for a flamenco show. Flamenco can be found in the rear covered terraza and is free when you order a drink.

Day 3: Day trip to Cadiz

Take a morning train to Cadiz, roughly an hour south of Sevilla, and one of Europe’s oldest cities. Cadiz is a port city on the Costa del Luz (“Coast of Light”), which is the part of Andalusia that faces the Atlantic Ocean. Grab a coffee and some fresh produce from Mercado Central (Plaza de la Libertad) and take a walk around the city, which has a great tourist center and well-marked trails through the downtown area. Don’t miss the Cathedral, including its crypt in the basement, located in the aptly named Plaza de la Catedral. I would recommend climbing the belltower of the Cathedral and then making your way over to Torre Tavira (Calle Marqués del Real Tesoro, 10) for a 360 degree view of the city.

If the weather is nice, you may enjoy going to the beach at Playa de la Caleta, which is located between a castle and a fort. For those with an adventurous side: you can jump off the bridge of the fort into the water!

After relaxing at the beach, get some lunch from Casa Manteca (Calle Corralón de los Carros, 66). It has a very authentic feel, fully-stocked with hundred year old bottles of sherry and eclectic photos of bullfighters on the walls. I personally loved their cheese (“Queso” in Spanish). Take a late afternoon train back to Sevilla. 

Upon your return to Sevilla, relax and get ready for a tapas tour in the center area. I recommend starting at Bar Alfalfa, then continuing to El Garlochi, Los Coloniales, El Rinconcillo, and Taberna Manolo Cateca. None of these tapas restaurants are more than a ten minute walk from each other.

The restaurant at Bar Alfalfa (Calle Candilejo, 1) has great outdoor and indoor seating. I suggest that you try the bruschetta con salmorejo. Next stop is the unique bar, El Garlochí (Calle Boteros, 26), which is dedicated to a year-long celebration of Semana Santa (‘Holy Week’), and is completely decked out in statues, paintings, candles and other religious memorabilia. Some visitors may find El Garlochí to be creepy, but most find it interesting and certainly memorable. When heading to Los Coloniales (Plaza Cristo de Burgos, 19), be aware of which address you are using because there is also a place called Taberna Coloniales. At Los Coloniales, I recommend the roquefort cheese with raspberries and the Chorizo a la Asturiana.  Take a three minute, three block walk to the next stop, El Rinconcillo (Calle Gerona, 40). This restaurant/bar was opened in 1670 before America was a country! When I was there, the proprietors were into their 8th generation of ownership. I highly recommend the ortiguillas fritas and olives. Our last stop is Taberna Manolo Cateca (Calle Sta. María de Gracia, 13) for a glass of sherry from this local tavern. Before heading home, I suggest walking through Plaza Salvador, where many young people enjoy botellón (the colloquial word for drinking in the street) and people flow out of the restaurants and bars that surround this lively plaza. It is interesting to see how the locals socialize.

Day 4: Sevilla

Start your morning at the Seville Cathedral, the world’s largest Gothic Church and the third largest Cathedral in the world. As with most of Andalusia, this Cathedral and later the Alcázar of Sevilla has switched hands between Muslim and Christian rule, and much of the architecture reflects the different times of rule. Many famous people are buried here, including Christopher Columbus and his son, Ferdinand.  Make your way up the sloping ramps of the tower, Giralda, which was once the minaret when this site was a mosque. Ramps were built instead of stairs, so horseback riders can easily ascend to the top. Enjoy your exit from the Cathedral through the Patio de Naranjos (Patio of Oranges), which is a beautiful creation.

Take a one minute stroll to the Alcázar of Seville, a Moorish royal palace and fortress. It has extensive fountain-filled gardens, ornate arches and tiles. This is where Game of Thrones filled The Water Gardens and Sunspear, the seat of House Martell in Dorne. You might compare it to the Alhambra in Granada, although the Alhambra is more impressive.

Treat yourself to a well-deserved lunch at Casa Robles (Calle Álvarez Quintero, 58) near the Cathedral. After lunch, I recommend getting lost in some of the center streets. For those who want to relax, consider booking an appointment (in advance) at Aire Ancient Bath House (Calle Aire, 15) an Arab spa housed in an historic mudéjar-style palace.  The lighting, soft music and scent of jasmine will make this massage a mystical and memorable experience.

In the evening try a tapas tour in the Triana neighborhood. Betis Street, which overlooks the Guadalquivir River, is known for its nightlife although it may cater to a younger crowd. The three restaurants Taberna Sol y Sombra (Calle Castilla, 147), Blanca Paloma (Calle San Jacinto, 49), and Vega 10 (Calle Rosario Vega, 10) all offer great dining options in the area. After sampling your fair share of tapas, head to Casa Anselmo (Calle Pagés del Corro, 49) which provides live music, mostly flamenco shows, with your choice of beverage. If you are interested in getting up and dancing, the lively bar Lo Nuestro (Calle Betis, 31) has live music and the crowd does flamenco dancing. Keep in mind that the Spainiards eat dinner around 9:00 pm, so many of these bars will not have many patrons until well after that.

Day 5: Granada

Granada is the impressive former Moorish stronghold on the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains known for the Alhambra, the Moorish palace and fortress complex that is a UNESCO world heritage site. Catch an early morning train to Granada. Get settled into your accommodations and regroup before heading out to the Albayzin neighborhood. The Albayzin, which is an ancient Moorish village, is now a world heritage site. The winding streets with various vendors may remind you of a medina in Morocco. I highly recommend stopping in at least one of the many artisan shops and then getting tea at one of the teterias.

Begin your tour of Albayzin at the Albaicín district with its narrow streets and small houses reflective of its Medieval Moorish past, and then explore the smaller Realejo or Jewish quarter. There are a number of restaurants  centered around the Campo del Príncipe, which is a good spot to use for navigation. Get some churros con chocolate from the local favorite, Café Fútbol (Plaza de Mariana Pineda, 6). After your sweet treat head to the Cathedral of Granada (Calle Gran Vía de Colón, 5) and Royal Chapel, which is the burial place for Queen Isabella I and King Ferdinand. Spend an hour or so looking at the Cathedral and Chapel.  The 5 euro entrance comes with an audio guide. After exploring the Cathedral, grab a pick- me-up from Mercado San Agustín (Plaza de San Agustín), a 3 minute walk from the Cathedral. Mercado San Agustín has many stalls which sell tapas, and you can also find fresh produce and hams.

For those who want a little more history and culture, you can stop into the Centro Jose Guerrero, Centro Federico Garcia Lorca, or Huerta de San Vicente (Federico Garcia Lorca’s house and gardens). Make your way to Mirador San Nicolás for beautiful sunset views of the Alhambra. I recommend getting dinner in the area to complete a memorable tour.

Day 6: Granada

Make reservations in advance for a timed ticket to see the extensive Alhambra, and you might want to visit the remains of the Generalife. This will end up being a half day tour to explore the magnificent fortress and all it has to offer as well as the beautiful gardens. The Alhambra was built in AD 889 on the remains of a Roman fortress. It was renovated by the Moors in the mid 13th century, and then went on to house the Catholic Monarchs, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. This is the site in which they gave endorsement for Christopher Columbus’ expedition. The Generalife, built in the 13th and 14th centuries, was the summer palace and country estate of the Nasrid rulers of the Emirate of Granada in Al-Andalus.

The Parador de San Francisco is one of the few places near the Alhambra that serves food. If you are ready for a break and a meal or snack after touring Alhambra and the adjacent grounds, I would suggest that you visit the beautiful Parador hotel.

After your time in the Alhambra, I would recommend walking along the River Darro. You will pass by many churches and 17th century stone bridges. Afterwards, you might want to explore the Albaicín neighborhood, above the River. Don’t miss Calle Caldereria Nueva with its many artisan shops, tetarias (teashop), and hookah lounges. I would recommend stopping at one of the tea parlors for a break from window shopping and store browsing.

In the evening, make it to the Barrio del Sacromonte, the old Gitano (Gipsy) neighborhood to explore the many cavernous Flamenco shows. Cueva de la Faraona (Calle Santo Sepulcro del Sacromonte, 51), Zambra María la Canastera (Camino del Sacromonte, 89), Cueva de la Rocio (Camino del Sacromonte, 70) or Venta El Gallo (Barranco de los Negros, 5,) all provide interesting music in the area.

Day 7: Málaga

Málaga is a relatively small port city, which can mostly be toured in a day. The main streets are beautiful, marble and clean! Who has marble streets?  I chose the last three days in Málaga as a stepping stone to get to other locations, and to have a manageable homebase.Málagat is the birthplace of Antonio Banderas and Pablo Picasso and its place on the art and culture scene is on the rise. Located in the Costa Del Sol, Málaga is the gateway to many beach communities such as Marbella, Nerja, and Fuengirola.

If you are using public transit, you can take the train or bus from Granada to Málaga. I recommend starting your visit with a walk to Calle Molina Larios, as the streets are marble-lined, and this is the central walkway through the downtown shopping district. Walk through Plaza Constitution and make sure you go all the way to Plaza de La Merced.  The Picasso Museum is here, which cannot compare to the Museums in Madrid, but it is worth a visit.

Get a cup of coffee and people-watch at Café Central (Plaza de la Constitución, 11). Postcards naming and describing their various coffees, depending on the espresso-to-milk ratio, are a cool remembrance. Walk by the Cathedral, colloquially called “La Maquita” which means the one-armed lady. Legend has it that at the time the church was being constructed, the Queen could either finish the other steeple or fund the explorations of Christopher Columbus, and thus the second steeple on this church was never completed. In the same plaza as the Cathedral is a restaurant called “Cheers,” and Spain had their own spin-off of the Boston landmark pub.

After working up an appetite, head out east for a late lunch at Chiringuito El Tintero. A chiringuito is a small waterfront eating-place which may range from a tiki bar to a full-service restaurant. Most of the chiringuitos I have tried in Málaga buy freshly-caught fish from local fishermen which are then cooked on pitfire in the sand. One of the best-known local restaurants is called El Tintero (Av. Salvador Allende, 340), which is a large restaurant with abundant patio seating located in El Palo, a fishermen’s town just east of Málaga. Customers order “auction style,” where waiters walk around calling out the dishes that they have in their hand. Customers then flag the waiter down to get that dish. I would recommend the well-known Málaga dish espeto, consisting of sardines cooked by a fire in the sand. Enjoy the nearby beach. Chiringuito Baños del Carmen/El Balneario (Calle Bolivia, 26,) is also highly recommended and is a slightly more upscale alternative to El Tintero.

On your return, enjoy a stroll around the port and the Paseo del Parque. The port was completely industrial until the city renovated it into a chic shopping and eating district in 2011. Paseo del Parque, which is a pretty tree-enclosed waterfront walkway which is also scenic . This walkway is also scenic along the city side, with views of gardens and the town hall.

In the evening get some tapas in the center of the city. There are many fine choices and  one that comes to mind is called Pepa y Pepe (Calle Calderería, 9).

Day 8: Day trip to Ronda + sentinel de las bodegas + el pimpi

The gorge(ous) bridge in Ronda

This is the only day trip for which I would suggest renting a car, but if you choose to take public transit you may want to skip Sentenil De las Bodegas.

Start your morning in Sentenil de las Bodegas.  Houses in this iconic town were uniquely constructed within rock overhangs overlooking the Rio Guadalporcún. The name Setenil is believed to originate in the latin septem nihil (‘seven times nothing’) and it references the seven sieges that were needed for the Christian forces to conquer this city from the Moors in the 15th century.

If you opt to visit Sentenil de las Bodegas, your next stop should be Ronda. For those using public transportation, you can skip Sentenil de las Bodegas and take a bus from Málaga directly to Ronda. Ronda is a mountaintop city featuring a dramatic gorge with a beautiful bridge running through it.

Check out the three bridges, Puente Romano, Puente Viejo and Puente Nuevo or “New Bridge” which was actually built in the 1700’s and which is the most dramatic. When you tour the city, I would recommend walking around the patio of The Hotel Parador, which has great views of the mountains, and then see Puente Nuevo. Try the restaurant bar El Lechuguita (Calle Virgen de los Remedios, 35), a local gem which offers inexpensive and traditional tapas, with a surprising view of Puente Nuevo. Also in Ronda is the cavernous and historic Bull Ring at Plaza de Toros de Ronda. The city is home to the Romeros, a famous bullfighting family, who are referenced in Ernest Hemingway’s classic novel, The Sun Also Rises. For those who are looking to get their heart rate going, you can hike down to the scenic viewpoint at La Hoya Del Tajo, which provides beautiful views of the gorge(ous) city. Be warned that the slope of the terrain is quite steep.

Head back to Málaga and regroup at your lodging before setting out to dinner. Enjoy a late meal at El Pimpi (Calle Granada, 62, 29015) which is a fun place to “see and be seen.” Andalusia is known for its fried fish (pescaditos fritos), and I suggest that you try the fried fish platter. If you are outside on the patio, you can see the Teatro Romano (Roman Theater) and above it a Moorish fortress, Alcazaba. I recommend getting a bottle of the sweet wine to share for the table.

Day 9: Day trip to Córdoba

Córdoba is a beautiful city located one hour and fifteen minutes north of Málaga. Every spring, Córdoba bursts into fragrant bloom with the famous Feria de los Patios Festival, and the month of May brings the “Battle of the Flowers,” in which labyrinth-like streets with white washed homes compete for the most beautiful flower boxes. The main attraction in Córdoba is the Mesquita, which is a uniquely ornate building that is both a Mosque and a Cathedral, drawing to life the back and forth rulership between the Islamic Moors and the Christians. The entire tour will take a few hours.

Get some lunch at either Taberna Salinas (Calle Tundidores, 3) or Taberna San Miguel Casa El Pisto (Plaza de San Miguel, 1). Spend some time strolling around the city center and exploring the sights and sounds of Córdoba.

Return to Málaga to get a late dinner at Chiringuito Gutierrez Playa (C/ Pacífico, 29). This is located near the beautiful Parque del Oeste and Chuiringuito, along with most other restaurants, is located on the beach. After dinner, if you are looking for a treat, take a ten minute walk to get ice cream from the Málagano favorite, Heladería Inma (Calle Moreti, 15).

Day 10: Málaga

An evening view from the Parador de Málaga Gibralfaro

Start your morning with a hike to the Alcazaba, a fortress built by the Hammudid dynasty in the 11th century. There are magnificent views of the city, the sea and the beaches from the top! If you are looking for a coffee break, walk to the Parador de Málaga Gibralfaro. In Spain, a parador is a state run hotel located in castles or fortresses.  After your hike head out to the airport, to the end of your fun-filled vacation in Andalusia!

A weekend in Nashville, TN

Nashville, nicknamed “Music City,” as the birthplace of country music, gave rise to such stars as Taylor Swift and Billy Ray Cyrus. With its southern charm and famous music scene, Nashville has become a tourist destination and not only for country music fans. The city has blown up for group destination travel celebrating milestone birthdays, bachelor(ette) parties, and getaway weekends. Tourists are drawn to Lower Broadway, which offers much in the way of night life and Music Row, the historic district which is at the epicenter of Nashville’s burgeoning entertainment industry (recording studios, radio stations, etc).  Many bars cater to honky tonk, country and karaoke. Don’t be surprised to hear record-label worthy singers at karaoke bars.  And for those looking for debauchery, don’t worry, you will also hear late-night cringe-worthy singing from the plentiful bachelorette parties. Here is a weekend itinerary for a fun, music-filled group destination. Please note: this can be tweaked for couples travelling too.

Friday:

Get settled into your accommodation. Get into the spirit by trying a pulled pork sandwich at Peg Leg Porter BBQ (903 Gleaves St).

Saturday:

Start your morning with BlueGrass Brunch at The Sutler Saloon (2600 8th Ave S). Stroll around and browse 8th Ave and nearby 12th Ave. Draper James, Reese Witherspoon’s shop, is on 12th st which I would recommend that you check out while you are in the area! If you need an pick-me-up, I love Frothy Monkey’s coffee on 12th St. 

In Nashville, even the bike racks have musical meaning.

After brunch, head downtown for a walking tour of the city. You will enjoy Nashville’s rich history and pop culture. I, like many others, went for a bachelorette party. We loved taking a private line dancing lesson, and it included a routine and a video for the future bride. 

Kick off your live music-filled evening with dinner at Acme Feed and Seed (101 Broadway). Unfortunately, Ame, like a lot of downtown establishments, doesn’t take reservations.  However, Acme has great food and a gorgeous rooftop bar, where you can hang out until your table is ready. After dinner, tear up Broadway! There are a number of fun bars in which to celebrate, including The Stage, Honky Tonk Central, Tootsie Orchard, Robert’s Western World, and Paradise Park, as well as the karaoke bars: Santa’s Pub and Ms. Kellis. 

Sunday:

Start your morning off at Centennial Park, which has its own Parthenon, a full scale replica of the one in Athens. Grab a coffee and some breakfast and go for a walk around the Vanderbilt Campus. 

Cheers to a great music-filled weekend in Nashville! 

A weekend in Santa Ynez Valley, CA

Santa Ynez Valley is a picturesque destination, known for its rolling hills dappled with vineyards, western-style storefronts, and the iconic Danish-style architecture in the town of Solvang. Ronald Reagan, Dolly Parton, and Fess Parker, who played Davy Crocket, have all had homes in this region. Fess Parker loved it so much he even created an inn and vineyard that you can visit today. Pioneers developed the land around a stagecoach stop in the mid 19th century, and much of the feel still has elements of the rustic early settlement. The scenic valley of roughly 20,000 residents is known for its agriculture (mostly wine), horse ranches, and friendly people. It is also the setting for the comedy, Sideways, which I recommend watching!  Located just over the mountain range from Santa Barbara and two hours north of Los Angeles. Santa Ynez has many wineries, boutiques, restaurants and galleries to make it a relaxing weekend getaway. 

Situated between the sloping hills of the Santa Ynez Mountains and San Rafael Mountains, the Santa Ynez Valley has six charming towns: Solvang, Los Olivos, Santa Ynez, Buellton, Ballard and Los Alamos.  All with their own distinct character. But please be warned these are small. 

When to go: I would recommend going in the springtime, after the rainy season, when the landscape is lush, green and abundant.

Where to stay: You can not go wrong staying in any of the villages, although both Solvang and Los Olivos have quaint downtowns that are fun to walk around. There is something to be said for staying in Solvang to avoid the midday crowds. I went on a girls trip, and we were able to actually rent a historical house that was part of Mattei’s Tavern (an original tavern from when it was a stagecoach stop) in Los Olivos!

Friday:

If you are coming from southern California, I recommend getting dinner en route at Cold Spring Tavern (5995 Stagecoach Rd, Santa Barbara, CA 93105). This mountainside Western saloon, will remind you of the true west. For those who would like to stretch their legs before dinner, there is a one mile hike to the abandoned Knapp’s Castle ( parking can be found roughly at 3880 E Camino Cielo Santa Barbara, CA 93105). It’s a great spot to see the sunset through the stone arches of the original structure. The trail is completely downhill on the way there, so be prepared for the uphill on the way back. 

Saturday: Wine tasting

I recommend starting your morning with breakfast at the Corner House Cafe (2902 San Marcos Ave, Los Olivos, CA 93441) in Los Olivos. For those with a sweet tooth, the local favorite God’s Country Provisions Donut Shop sells their donuts in the tower next door on the weekends. 

After your breakfast, walk around the small downtown for a little bit before starting your wine tasting with a “chaser” of cupcakes at Saarloos and Sons Winery (2971 Grand Ave, Los Olivos, CA 93441). The family owned winery frequently names and labels their wine after ancestors.. You may get the opportunity to meet snarky, yet family-oriented son #1, Keith, who will share a bit about his elders that he honors in all actions he takes.

We had planned on spending the day wine tasting at different vineyards but ended up spending the whole time at our first stop, Demetria Estates (6701 Foxen Canyon Road, Los Olivos, CA 93441). We packed a picnic to eat outside at Demetria’s which resembles a Greek villa. The Greek-American owners named the vineyard and their daughter after the Greek goddess of harvest, Demeter. We had a local, Raymond (805-757-2342, ~$25/ hour) drive us around and give us the oral history of all the vineyards and the region in general.

After wine tasting we had a suburb dinner on the patio at S.Y. Kitchen (1110 Faraday St, Santa Ynez, CA 93460). They have a great farm to table italian food and cocktails. 

For those who aren’t quite ready for the party to end, consider a nightcap at country western, Maverick Saloon (3687 Sagunto St, Santa Ynez, CA 93460).

Sunday: Solvang, a Danish village

Spend Sunday morning walking around the Danish village of Solvang. Danish-American’s moved west in the early 20th century to avoid the long midwestern winters and created this village. Start with a hearty breakfast from Paula’s Pancake House. Enjoy window shopping, the many small boutiques, year round christmas stores, and art galleries. For those with a sweet tooth grab a danish pastry to go! 

If you are looking for more weekends away, check out my weekend itinerary for Santa Barbara, San Diego, Napa Valley, and San Luis Obispo.

A weekend in Seattle, Washington

Seattle, named the Emerald City for its lush evergreen forest, is the birthplace of Starbucks, Microsoft, and Amazon.The whole Pacific Northwest has the trifecta of natural beauty: water, mountains, and forests, and Seattle has it all. Seattle, what I think of as the cleaner and greener San Francisco, is also a city of seven hills. That being said, prepare to get those calf muscles moving while walking around this manageable and iconic city!  What other excuse do you need to visit?

I enjoy reading and watching movies about a place before visiting. For those who enjoy reading, I recommend Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford; Where’d you go Bernadette By Maria Semple; Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown. I am embarrassed to admit all of the Fifty Shades of Grey movies and the Twilight series, which use Seattle as the backdrop. Sleepless in Seattle is a classic and crowd pleaser. 

Day 1: Downtown

Start your morning off at Pikes Place Market (85 Pike St, Seattle, WA 98101), walk around the many stalls of fresh food and artisan goods. Even see the famous flying fish! You can easily spend over an hour perusing the market. Don’t forget to check out both Bubblegum Alley and the first Starbucks Coffee. After Pike’s Place Market make your way UPHILL to the Starbucks Reserve (1124 Pike St, Seattle, WA 98101) which offers flights of coffee to try, quite an experience. From here you can walk over to the Amazon Dome and grab a free banana from the banana stand. 

Grab lunch at Ivar’s Seafood (1001 Alaskan Way, Seattle, WA 98104) for lunch, great waterfront views and great fish and chips.

Head to Pioneer Square for an Underground Tour, which starts every hour on the hour. It’s a great way to get to know the city’s history before the tech companies put it on the global map. En route do not miss the modern architecture and quick walk around the Seattle Public Library.

After a jam packed day, enjoy a delicious dinner at Kedai Makan (1802 Bellevue Ave, Seattle, WA 98122) for creative cocktails and amazing Malaysia food!

Day 2: Hike Rattlesnake Ledge + Fremont/Ballard

Start your morning off by renting a car and heading to Rattlesnake Ledge or Snoqualmie Pass (updated information on directions can be found here). While I put this on day 2 of your trip, I would try to go on whatever day is not the weekend, to avoid crowds. 

After the hike and with the luxury of your car, drive to the Ballard District to enjoy a beer and hard earned grub. Enjoy window shopping at the many independent stores on Ballard St and Market St. For those interested in Seattle’s quirkier side, stop in at Fremont Troll.

End your evening with a lively dinner at the Pink Door (1919 Post Alley, Seattle, WA 98101) for dinner and a jazz, cabaret, or burlesque show. Make sure to get there early because seating is on a first come first serve basis.

Day 3: Queen Anne neighborhood

Take it easy on your last day and start your morning with a walk to the beautiful views at Kerry Park (211 W Highland Dr, Seattle, WA 98119), with sweeping views of the city (on a clear day!) Enjoy a leisurely walk through the Queen Anne neighborhood.

Grab some coffee and a look around at La Marzocco Cafe in KEXP radio center (472 1st Ave N, Seattle, WA 98109) before going to a museum. The Museum of Pop Culture or Chihuly Gardens are both amazing, and it just depends on your personal preference.

Enjoy some oysters from nearby Taylor’s Shellfish (124 Republican St, Seattle, WA 98109).

The space needle is in this area, for those who want to go up and look at the city.

Cheers to a great weekend in Seattle!

If you are interested in other weekend getaways on the West coast, check out my itinerary on San Diego, San Louis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Napa Valley.

Three days in Reykjavik, Iceland

The iconic blue lagoon, the meeting of plate tectonics and the first known Geyser make Iceland a unique long weekend getaway for East Coasters. Iceland’s location and the sub 6 hour flight makes it an easy layover for a further European destination or quick getaway. The locals are friendly, kind, helpful, and most are fluent in English. The well oiled tourism industry has fine tuned all aspects of travel for a very straight forward trip. We found a very inexpensive, $340, roundtrip flight leaving Thursday night and arrived early on Friday morning and returning Monday. You can always find these deals through Norwegian Air.

Please note: at the end of your trip you can declare your tax payments and at the airport kiosk they will reimburse your credit card for any taxes on purchases made during your trip. 

Day 1: City Tour and Puffins

We started our trip with breakfast at the eccentric, Grai Kotturinn (“Grey Cat”, Hverfisgata 16a, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland) across from the National theatre.  It was down stairs a half flight. 

After breakfast we got a free two hour city tour, which starts at 11:00AM daily. Similar to other “free” tours the guides work on tips, which often gives you a far more animated and interesting guide. The tour starts at Austurvöllur (Parliament Building) and ends at City Hall. It is great to understand some of the Icelandic history and get a better understanding of the lay of the land.

After your tour taking in the views from the iconic Lutheran church, Hallgrimskirkja (opening hours 12:00pm-3:00pm). It’s a 15 minutes walk from City Hall. While expensive, I would recommend splurging on the elevator ride for 360 degree views of the city. 

From the church make your way back down to the waterfront. Grab a hotdog from Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur hot dog stand (Tryggvagata 1, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland). The stand has been around since the 1930’s and even boasts President Clinton as one of it’s previous patrons! Add crunchy onions to make it a treat. A block away is the Kolaportið (Tryggvagötu 19 , Old Harbour Grófin Reykjavik Kvosin, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland), the local flea market. While this is a true flea market, in which you can find a few good items but the majority is junk. I recommend spending an hour looking around and interacting with the locals. 

Make your way to the harbor for a puffin tour, which runs every hour and half. This would be a great late afternoon tour to do. Due to the extended daylight in spring, do not be discouraged with a 5:00pm tour. Please note timing based on the time of year you are in Iceland, given that we went in late Spring, we had daylight until very late in the night. 

For those who like seafood, check out Sægreifinn (Geirsgata 8, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland), a no frills seafood joint down by the harbor. I highly recommend the lobster bisque!

Day 2 : Golden Circle Tour

We started our morning off with a hearty breakfast from trendy Bergsson_mathus (Templarasund 3)

The Golden Circle Tour normally encompasses the first geyser, their double waterfall, and the rift valley between North American and Eurasian continents (the only plates that meet above water). Tickets are at the visitor center. The Tour bus starts and drops off at the visitor center. Tours generally run around 8 hours. The bus drives through the countryside with magnificent views of the ocean and unique landscape of basalt volcanic rocks that makes up most of Iceland. Expect strong winds between the plate tectonics.

End your day with a leisurely meal at a cozy French restaurant,  Le Bistro (Laugavegur 12, Reykjavik 101 Iceland). The scallops were amazing. I tried shark and whale here to mediocre reviews (would recommend it only for the adventure and note for the flavor.)

Day 3:  Blue lagoon EN ROUTE  to the airport.

We had breakfast at a wonderful French bakery, Bakari Sandholt (Laugavegur 36, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland) before getting picked up for the blue lagoon. The bus picked us up just beyond there on the corner. For our drive to the Blue Lagoon. 

While I generally enjoy sleeping in, I highly recommend trying to get to the Blue Lagoon when it opens. We did this because we had a late afternoon flight. When we arrived, we had the place to ourselves. Then every half hour or so, a new wave of people came in with their timed entrance. Tip: the Blue Lagoon sells out, so get your tickets in advance, Cheapest tickets can be found at the Visitor Center. Your belongings can be safely locked up, then you wear the key on a wristband. It was a very clean place and since we were the first group of people, everything was dry, etc. Don’t forget to take all jewelry off. 

Cheers to an easy weekend getaway in Reykjavik!

If you are looking or other international long weekends from the east coast consider looking at my Mexico City, Barcelona, and Cotswolds itineraries.

5 Seaside Getaways from San Francisco, CA

  1. Sausalito, CA

This artists’ village is just off the Golden Gate Bridge in upscale Marin County. Most of the small city offers a spectacular view of the Golden Gate Bridge, Richardson Bay, and many houseboats in the bay. It’s a popular day-trip destination, with sheer cliffs and a rugged shoreline dotted with trails and villages. Personally, Sausalito reminds me of the Pacific version of the Amalfi Coast! You can use this as a jumping-off point for many of the nearby hikes such as Mount Tamalpais (“Mt. Tam”), the leisurely Tennessee Valley Trail, and Alamere Falls. Spend some time checking out the many galleries, stores and restaurants. Any trip to Sausalito, I love perusing handmade dinnerware at Heath Ceramics (400 Gate 5 Rd, Sausalito, CA 94965)

  1. Carmel, CA

Carmel-by-the-Sea is a small beach city on the Monterey Peninsula, two hours south of San Francisco. Historically a Bohemian artists’ village, Carmel-by-the-Sea has been home to many famous people such as Doris Day, John Madden, Ansel Adams, and John Steinbeck. Clint Eastwood was not only a resident, he was elected Mayor of Carmel. This picturesque city of less than 4,000 residents features unique homes including many cottages with minute detailing valued in the millions because of the location. One house which we viewed was decorated with heart-shaped cut-outs decorating the picket fence, the shingles, and gracefully furbishing the interior decorative trim. The lush gardens roll into each other in ever flowing bloom. This is worth a day-trip for a coastal walk and a stroll around the interesting shops, restaurants, and homes.  For a more in depth itinerary check out A Day in… Carmel, Ca!

  1. Santa Cruz Mountains and Capitola, CA

The Santa Cruz Mountains are dappled with houses among wooded forest and many trails to hike. Skip the honky tonk in Santa Cruz proper, and instead head to Capitola Village. Capitola Village developed as a seaside resort when the Soquel Mountains were a thriving location of the lumber industry.  The small downtown area is worth a stroll to look at the Soquel Canal, and iconic Capitola Venetian with it’s brightly colored guest suites. There is a beautiful and brief (10 minute) pedestrian walk along the Soquel Creek. One hour south of San Francisco, the Santa Cruz Mountains are great to slow down and enjoy the serene nature that California has to offer. For a more in depth itinerary check out A Day… in the Santa Cruz Mountains & Soquel Cove!

  1. Half Moon Bay
Part of the walk Coastal Walk near Moss Beach, CA

Half Moon Bay is a charming seaside town approximately 45 minutes south of San Francisco. I enjoy the beautiful Coastal Trail, which is about 11 miles of leisurely coast side walking roads with beautiful waterfront views. The Ritz Carlton in Half Moon Bay offers free parking for the public who would like to visit the beach. Walk all the way north to Cypress Ave on Moss Beach and back. I enjoy grabbing a beer from Half Moon Bay Brewing company in Princeton Harbor. When the pandemic ends, watch the sunset with a glass of wine and dinner over the fire pit at Moss Beach Distillery, situated on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Beware: Moss Beach Distillery is supposed to be haunted by the ghost of the “Blue Lady”. 

Please note: On the coastal trail, Princeton Harbor does not have a trail and you will have to walk on the streets.

  1. Tomales Bay
Outdoor seating at Hog Island Oyster in Marshall, CA

Road trip along east coast of Tomales Bay. From San Francisco our first stop on Route 1 was Point Reyes Station, the small town which developed around a (now) bygone railroad station. The whole town reminds me of the “Wild West”, with mostly country roads surrounding it. The town prides itself on local produce, agriculture, and organic food. We bought lunch at Cowgirl Creamery in the picturesque Tomales Bay Foods, which has been renovated from an old hay barn. The tiny town has Bovine Bakery, which is worth a delicious pastry! The area has a Farmers Market on Saturday Mornings. Second stop on our coastal road trip is Hog Island Oyster (Marshall, Ca), to relax and shuck your own oysters. It is surprisingly a lot harder than I thought! We brought our CowGirl Creamery picnic here. We spent quite a bit of time relaxing and enjoying the views. Last stop on our road trip was: Nick’s Cove, with renovated historic seaside cottages and restaurant. We ended our road trip here for a glass of wine and a little snack. The beautiful Point Reyes National Seashore is a great day getaway that is often overlooked. The natural landscape also provides many options for hikers, bikers and beach side day trippers. Next time I make it up there, I am going to try to bike!

Cheers to your summer getaways!

5 Seaside Getaways from Boston

5 Seaside Getaways to take this summer from Boston, while safely Social Distancing:

Nobska Lighthouse in Falmouth, MA
  1. Cape Cod, MA
Cahoon Hollow Beach, Wellfleet, MA

No matter where you are coming from, Bostonians always call it “the Cape.” Cape Cod is known for beautiful beaches along its 400 miles of shoreline.  My favorite beaches are the ones along the Cape Cod National Seashore, especially Cahoon Hollow Beach in  Wellfleet on the Lower Cape. While the surf is rough, there are lifeguards on duty, a parking lot, and The Beachcomber, one of the best beach bars/restaurants in America. For family fun, you may want to try one of the more tranquil beaches on the bay side of The Cape. I have always enjoyed the Cape’s great bike trails, such as the Cape Cod Rail Trail, which runs from Yarmouth to Wellfleet or Shining Sea Bike Trail in Falmouth. For a scenic ride, take route 6A or “Old Kings Highway” (just to remind you are in New England) from Bourne to Provincetown, a distance of about 65 miles.

  1. Portsmouth, NH
View of Portsmouth, NH

One of the many charming New England seaside cities, I love biking from historic and vibrant Portsmouth, NH along scenic Route 1A, also known as Ocean Boulevard, to the honky tonk locale of Hampton Beach and back. The whole New Hampshire shoreline is less than 20 miles long, and is worth a drive.  Portsmouth has a few well-preserved museums dating back to the early colonial days of the 17th century. Portsmouth is surprisingly lively considering it’s in low-key New Hampshire. The downtown has many restaurants, bars, galleries and street performers.

  1. Portland, ME
Lobster roll from the Bite Into Maine food truck, located on Cape Ann near the Portland Head Lighthouse. This makes a great biking destination!

This quaint New England seaside city has converted numerous pre-war maritime warehouses to art galleries, restaurants and bars. This among other coastal state capitals is a walkable historic city that now has many breweries and is flush with colonial history. I love shopping in the quaint city center, biking down to the lighthouse and grabbing a lobster roll from the food truck. 

  1. Gloucester, MA

The North Shore city of Gloucester is known as a fishing port and it’s the setting for the book and subsequent movie The Perfect Storm. In fact, The Crow’s Nest dive bar is still located in downtown Gloucester.  I enjoy a beach day at Good Harbor Beach. For cyclists, the Essex Scenic Route is a beautiful bike route through seaside Essex, Gloucester, and Rockport. 

  1. Newburyport, MA
The pedestrian Inn Street in Newburyport, MA

This charming small city is also located on the North Shore. The stately brick Federal-style houses and the brightly- colored wooden houses come right out to the edge of the sidewalk, attesting to the early history of Newburyport, before cars were prevalent. The Essex County Superior Courthouse, designed by Charles Bulfinch and built in 1805, is a beautiful brick Federal-style building overlooking a pond. In the downtown waterfront area are many interesting shops and restaurants.

A weekend in Santa Barbara, CA!

Santa Barbara, known as “the American Riviera”, is a beautiful ritzy beach town with a mountain backdrop. Every year in college I participated in an event called the All Sorority Volleyball Tournament (ASVT) at UCSB; all I witnessed was beautiful college students taking their beach cruiser to the beach to play volleyball or surf. Playboy even ranked it on its top ten party schools list.  After each weekend I vowed to transfer. Luckily, the sentiment wore off once I got back on my own campus, UCLA (go Bruins!)  As an adult, I appreciate the Spanish style red roof buildings, palm tree lined streets and 360 degrees views of either beach or mountains. Needless to say it’s a beautiful destination, for an easy weekend getaway to refresh from the hustle and bustle of city life.

Friday: Tackle the Tacos

Get settled in your accommodation. Start your evening with what I call the Battle of the Burrito or Tackle the Tacos (mostly based on your favorite Mexican food, nerdy alliteration is clearly based on my work as an educator). Milpas, a largely Latino neighborhood, brings to light the diversity that Santa Barbara has that sometimes goes under the radar. My two favorite restaurants are La Super-Rica Taqueria (622 N Milpas St) and Los Agaves (600 N Milpas St). Be prepared for lines. Super-Rica, Julia Child’s favorite taco spot, is a no-frills restaurant that has been well publicized. It even got a shoutout in the Katy Perry song, “This is How We Do it”. While Los Agaves is less famous, still expect a line. They have many flavorful sauces!

Saturday: Rattlesnake Canyon, Hendry’s Beach and the Funk Zone.

Start your morning off with a hike through Rattlesnake Canyon hike (named for its hatchbacks, not the reptiles!)

Enjoy an afternoon at Hendry’s Beach:

Grab some brunch at the iconic Santa Barbara restaurant, the Boathouse at Hendry’s Beach (2981 Cliff Dr, Santa Barbara, CA) with it’s beautiful views. After eating, soak up some rays on the eponymous beach. If the weather does not permit a beach day, you can check out the Santa Barbara Museum of Art (1130 State St, Santa Barbara, CA) which has a great collection of sculptures. 

Evening: Harbor view seafood dining

Enjoy waterfront seafood dining at either Brophy Bros (119 Harbor Way), which is crowded but has great fresh seafood and spectacular harbor views OR Santa Barbara Shellfish Company (230 Stearns Wharf), which is on the end of the tourists Stearns Wharf with seasonal fresh seafood waterfront views. For those who do not like Seafood, I love The Lark (131 Anacapa St), a converted fish market converted into a trendy american new restaurant. Sit in antique Spanish church pews. 

After filling up on your fair share of seafood, santer over to the neighborhood called the Funk Zone, which has a lot of art galleries, tasting rooms for Santa Ynez Valley wines, and restaurants for evening festivities.

Sunday:

Start your morning off exploring (and window shopping) downtown Santa Barbara. The main drag runs down State Street. Don’t miss Santa Barbara Public Market (38 W Victoria St, which is one block off the main street and Alameda Square. Walk up to the Santa Barbara Mission, Rose Garden and Cemetery. You can easily spend two hours at the Mission and its surrounding environs. 

In the afternoon, pack your car and grab a burrito for the car ride home from FreeBirds World Burrito (879 Embarcadero del Norte, Goleta, CA). A UCSB college favorite. 

Enjoy the drive through Montecino, the luxurious neighborhood where the celebrities have their homes. Be on the lookout for Oprah, Ellen DeGeneres, and Drew Barrymore. If hunger pains are getting to you, enjoy a pastry from Jeannine’s Restaurant and Bakery (1253 Coast Village Rd, Montecito, CA 93108). 

For those commuting back to Los Angeles, I recommend stopping at Carpinteria State Beach, where you can see the seals. 

I hope you enjoyed a relaxing weekend in Santa Barbara, CA!

If you are looking for more weekends away, check out my weekend itinerary for San Diego, Napa Valley, Santa Ynez Valley and San Luis Obispo.

A weekend getaway to San Luis Obispo, CA

San Luis Obispo (or SLO for short), is a small city in California’s Central Coast. SLO’s location makes it a popular and manageable weekend getaway for Los Angelenos and San Franciscans alike, as it’s 3 hours from LA and 3.5 hours from San Francisco. SLO was originally developed around the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, a 300 year old Spanish mission with a museum. It is known for its rich history and as the location of Cal Poly SLO, but is a Central Coast gem that can be enjoyed at any age!

Accomodations: Definitely the most iconic stay would be in the eccentric pink Madonna Inn (100 Madonna Rd), it seems like a hotel that you would find in Las Vegas 30 years ago… You can also find accommodations on airbnb or booking.com. 

SLO was a great location for a low key Bachelorette weekend or romantic getaway.

Friday night:

If you are able to arrive a little early, Wolff Vineyards stays open for sunset views. Otherwise arrive and check into your accommodations and get settled. 

Saturday:

Hike the Bishop’s Peak, which takes about two hours. 

Enjoy a well-deserved brunch at Mint + Craft (848 Monterey St); they have small outdoor seating in a pedestrian alley.

Avila Beach

After brunch relax at Avila Beach. Avila Beach paddleboard and other sports offers first come first serve kayaks and paddleboards. If you remain for sunset, Pierfront (480 Front St, Avila Beach, CA 93424) Mr. Rick’s (404 Front St, Avila Beach, CA 93424) and Ocean Grill (268 Front St, Avila Beach, CA 93424) offer great sunset views. For those who are not beach goers, the Paso Robles region offers an abundance of wineries that you can check out. 

The outdoor patio of NOVO. (c) Arizona Foothills Magazine

Get dinner at Novo (726 Higuera St), the restaurant is walking distance to all the bars downtown. They have a beautiful tiered outdoor seating, which overlooks the San Luis Obispo Creek. You can hear the faint sound of the stream and birds while dining. It’s dining in a real life upscale rainforest cafe! Try to get a reservation for outdoor seating in advance.

Sunday:

Luna Red in the evening. (c) The Wedding Spot

Start your meandering day off with  brunch at Luna Red (1023 Chorro St), they have a peaceful outdoor patio seating. The restaurant is located next to the Mission San Luis Obispo de Toloso, which is worth an hour to check out. Spend the rest of your time window shopping the quaint downtown, don’t forget to walk down the infamous bubblegum alley.

Head back home after a relaxing weekend getaway in SLO!

If you are looking for more weekends away, check out my weekend itinerary for Santa Barbara, San Diego, Napa Valley, and Santa Ynez Valley.