A day in…the Santa Cruz Mountains & Soquel Cove!

The Santa Cruz Mountains are dappled with houses among wooded forest. This is what I picture Marin County, thirty years ago before it was turned over by tech yuppies looking for a rustic home. The “Mountain Folk” as my friend who lives there adoringly calls herself and her neighbors, are friendly and remind you of a bygone era of early California settlers. The Santa Cruz Mountains are great to slow down and enjoy the serene nature that California has to offer. One hour and a half south of San Francisco, this is a great day trip retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city. 

If you like exploring the bay area in day trips, check out my “A Day in” itineraries for Carmel, Oakland, Berkeley, and the Mission District.

Getting there: Continue on 17 from Los Gatos, CA then continue onto Summit Road and a right onto Soquel San Jose Rd. 

Start your morning by getting a coffee and a homemade treat from the female owned Casalegno’s Country Store (3 Laurel Glen Rd, Soquel, CA 95073). It has been around since 1929 and is a great stop for a coffee on your drive through the redwoods of Soquel en route to… 

Spend a few hours hiking the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park (Aptos Creek Rd, Aptos, CA 95003) which offers over 40 miles of hiking trails through 10,223 acres of wildlife. There are so many variations and amount of time you could spend here, you can check out more information here. With so much land, expect to not see many crowds. 

The iconic Capitola Venetian.

After hiking, drive down to Capitola Village and get a well deserved brunch from Zelda’s (203 Esplanade, Capitola, CA) which overlooks the brightly colored guest suites of the Capitola Venetian  and Soquel Canal. Spend an hour looking around the small downtown area. There is a beautiful and brief (10 minute) pedestrian walk along the Soquel Creek.

For those who prefer a leisurely day you could end here, but for those who would like a little more adventure, you can check out some the Wine Trail. MJA Winery Tasting Room, Wargin Winery (5015 Soquel Dr, Soquel, CA 95073), and Alfaro Vineyard Winery (420 Hames Rd, Watsonville, CA 95076) will not disappoint.

MJA Winery Tasting Room

Cap your wine off with some BBQ from the family-owned and delicious Aptos St BBQ (8059 Aptos St, Aptos, CA 95003), they often have live Blues Music playing. Try the tri-tip and my personal favorite, pulled pork sandwich! Those who want brisket, beware that it sells out quickly. Cheers to a relaxing day in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

A huge thank you to Lolo and Ivan for showing me around their beautiful town!

A day in…Andover, MA.

The urbane, classic New England town is located about 25 miles north of Boston via route 93.   It is home to one of the most prestigious and oldest prep schools in the country, Phillips Academy, colloquially known as “Andover” to its preppy student body. The downtown sidewalks are lined with historic brick buildings and fitted with gas lights. The neighborhoods consist of clapboard colonial houses interwoven with large well-groomed federalists homes and Victorians with wrap-around verandas. 

Andover is sometimes called the “Birthplace of America,” as Samuel Francis Smith wrote the patriotic song, “America,” while attending the Andover Theological Seminary. This Essex County town was originally settled by Cochichawicke Native Americans. Early European settlers incorporated the area in 1646 as Andover for the town in England that most of the settlers were from. Early prosperous industries included powder milling, paper manufacturing, and woolen mills. Now the town mostly serves as an affluent bedroom community. 

Here is your day trip itinerary to Andover, MA to capture the heart of the New England spirit.

For those looking for some exercise and fresh air, kick-off your Andover adventure by walking around Ward Reservoir, Harold Parker State Forest, Deer Jump Reservation or Pomps Pond. For those who prefer two wheels, saddle up for a bike ride on the Bay Circuit Trail, which runs through Andover. 

Enjoy a coffee at one of the local coffee shops. I prefer Ultimate Perk (96 Main St), which has both great iced and hot coffee.  Windowshop the boutiques featuring quaint homegoods and preppy apparel. Stroll through some of the neighborhood streets to take in the artisanry on the beautiful homes surrounding the downtown and campus areas. 

Take some time to stroll the 700 rolling acres of Phillips Academy,, which was opened in 1778 by Samuel Phillips. Two U.S. presidents, five Nobel Prize laureates and six Medal of Honor recipients call Phillips Academy their alma mater. The grounds have the feel of a college campus, rather than a a high school that educates 14-18 year olds. Enjoy a late afternoon at the Addison Gallery of American Art, which is located on campus. The gallery has frequent rotations and may warrant a few hours of your time. 

The Andover Inn hosted Jackie Onassis and sometimes Caroline Kennedy on various occasions when they would visit JFK Jr. in school in the late 70’s. 

End your day with fine dining at Samuel’s (4 Chapel Ave) at The Andover Inn, on the campus of Phillips Academy. The restaurant has recently been renovated and is far sleeker while maintaining  its original grace. Samuel’s serves seasonal ingredients of mostly New England food. I highly recommend the clam chowder for a starter!

For those looking for a night cap, the new Oakland Iron Brewing Company (18 Red Spring Road), is located in a refurbished Riverbend Mill. They have an outdoor beer garden and celebrate a family friendly “Oktoberfest” every fall. The exposed brick and high ceilings harken back to its former use as a cotton, wool, linen, and most recently a textile mill, before its renovation preparing for the production of barley, hops and yeast. Cheers to a day in Andover!

If you enjoyed exploring Andover, you may enjoy A Day in Cambridge.

A day in…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. The 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 luscious gardens rolled into each other in everflowing bloom.

Timing: We happened to visit Carmel during the Concours d’Elegance (“Competition of Elegance”), an annual event in which illustrious cars are displayed and judged.  The event provided an interesting car (and people) watching all around town. My brother, a gearhead, was definitely jealous, I could tell the color of a car but I knew nothing about make or model. The Concours is normally the second week in August. 

If you like exploring the bay area in day trips, check out my “A Day in” itineraries for the Santa Cruz Mountains, Oakland, Berkeley, and the Mission District.

Addresses: Please note that much of Carmel is a grid system, so most businesses use cross streets instead of a number. 

When I explore a new neighborhood I enjoy exercise, learning about the local culture, and then taking time to replenish and often indulge in some food and drink. Here is how to spend one day in the picturesque Carmel, California:

Morning:

Start your morning at the Carmel Mission Basilica. This is the final resting place of St.Junípero Serra, who founded the first 9 of the 21 Spanish missions in California. You won’t need more than an hour to enjoy this peaceful and well kept historic site. The mission boasts housing the first library of California which started with only 30 volumes in 1778. Those first books and accompanying Franciscan sherpa’s came north from Mexico City’s San Fernando Apostolic College. Many of the original books are far older than the mission itself, having been printed in Spain, probably in the early 18th century and travelled to Mexico and then on to the mission in what was then called “Alta California”. 

After learning about California’s rich mission history of “El Camino Real” (English: “The Royal Road”), enjoy brunch at the nearby Mission Ranch Restaurant. Despite the name the farm is unaffiliated with the mission itself. The restored farmhouse serves as a restaurant and inn. Clint Eastwood owns the 22 acre estate that has views of Point Lobos State Nature Reserve, the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Lucia Mountains. On Sunday’s Mission Ranch offers a jazz brunch. Make sure to take a stroll on the property to see the sheep grazing. If the weather permits, try to sit outside. 

The view of Carmel Riverstate Beach.

Burn off your brunch with a walk along the coastal trail between Carmel River State Beach and Carmel Beach. This should be less than two miles, but feel free to turn back at any point. This is also a great car ride. This seaside walk passes many historic houses, don’t miss any of the beautiful detailing on the houses, for modern lovers there is a Frank Lloyd Wright original. The houses mostly remind me of childhood fairytales with abundant beds of flowers, whimsical architecture, and ornate detailing. 

Afternoon:

Drive or walk back into the downtown of Carmel.  Enjoy walking through the shopping district, with many boutiques and smaller locally owned businesses. Carmel-by-the-Sea’s downtown is an outpost for specialty stores: tasting rooms of local Monterey County vineyards, cheese shops, and small bakeries and restaurants. Established in 1899, The Carmel Bakery (Ocean Avenue, Suite 203), is the oldest commercial building in the town. The original owner even lived in an apartment above the bakery! There is a reason this small bakery has been in business for over 100 years: it offers delicious pastries and suburb sandwiches daily. 

Rub elbows with various vintners while sampling local wines at one of the small tasting rooms.  Most of the shops, like most of Carmel-by-the-Sea, are dog friendly. Three tasting rooms that will not disappoint are: Albatross Ridge Tasting Room (Dolores Street between Ocean and 6th Avenue), Caraccioli Cellars (7393 Dolores Street), or Scheid Vineyard Tasting Rooms (San Carlos Street and 7th Avenue). My favorite is the combined art gallery and tasting room, Scratch Wines Tasting Room (Dolores between Ocean and 7th Avenue). It is female-owner by a UCLA alumni, my alma mater! There is also The Cheese Shop (Ocean and Juniper), with its fun selection of cheeses, olives, and wine. For those who would like to sit down in a quaint lunch spot, Tuckbox (Dolores Street between Ocean and 7th Avenue), housed in a 1927 cottage offers tea and snacks. 

I usually am exhausted at this point in the day, so I would recommend relaxing at your accommodation or down at the beach. 

Late Afternoon:

Spend about an hour and a half before dinner to enjoy a joy ride on the famous 17 Mile Road. While the entrance ticket seems like a rip off; the houses are extravagant, the sunset views are magnificent, and it hosts the ‘golf capital of the world’, Pebble Beach.  On this path is the well-esteemed Pebble Beach Resorts which has hosted the U.S. Open six times. Pebble Beach Resorts has a small visitor center, which is worth the visit to learn the history of the iconic golf course. I would recommend getting a sunset drink at one of Pebble Beach’s sundrenched restaurants that offer outdoor seating: The Bench or Stillwater Cafe. At both, you should expect steep prices and affluent clientele. 

Evening:

For dinner there are many options: Forge in the Forest (Junipero Street and 5th Avenue); order tapas and enjoy live music at Terry’s Lounge at Cypress Inn (Lincoln St and 7th Avenue); if you enjoy farm-to-table asian fusion with a piano bar, Affina (6th and San Carlos Street) is the place to go. Both Treehouse Cafe and Vesuvius offer rooftop dining. Treehouse offers a global menu while Vesuvius (owned by Chef Pepe, who owns the Carmel Bakery) has great italian fare.

While Carmel is not known for their nightlife, you could venture to get a cocktail at one of the rooftop lounges: Vesuvius or Starlight Rooftop Lounge (6th Ave), or get some live music at Barmel which sometimes turns into a dance party. 

A Day in…Oakland, CA!

The once gritty downtown Oakland, has seen a revitalizing in the past couple years to make it one of the hippest areas to hang out in.

Oakland, a melting pot of all cultures. The birthplace of the Black Panther Movement. At one time or another, home to writers Gertrude Stein and Jack London. Continually labeled the Brooklyn of the West, Oakland has been rapidly gentrified with a notable infusion of hipsters and young professionals. Older buildings are being refurbished buildings, as former car dealerships are now breweries, ageing warehouses become art halls, and movie theaters become school and music venues. With far more space than neighboring San Francisco, you can spread out figuratively and literally. While this is only a one day recommended visit, you could easily spend a weekend or more in Oakland itself or throughout the East Bay.

If you like exploring the bay area in day trips, check out my “A Day in” itineraries for the Santa Cruz Mountains, Carmel, Berkeley, and the Mission District.

Timing: I recommend checking out Oakland on one of the first Fridays of the Month, when the city hosts “First Friday” events. An alternative would be to time your visit for a show at one of the famous theaters.

View of San Francisco from the Port of Oakland. The city is still a hub for freight shipments, and the iconic cranes are seen in the harbor.

Getting there: The best mode of transport in and out of Oakland is by the ferry, which provides beautiful views. The last ferry leaves at 9:25 PM. The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train system is an accessible and reliable alternative.

Novels and movies set in Oakland: The Pulitzer Prize-nominated novel There, There by Tommy Orange won praise for its urban Native American narrative, mostly set in Oakland. Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon is set in a record store located on the main thoroughfare which runs through Oakland and Berkeley. Movies include Fruitvale Station, a tragic biographical drama about the shooting of a young black man by BART police at Oakland’s Fruitvale Station. Blindspotting and Moneyball are also set in Oakland and are popular movies.

Morning: 

Start your day in the northern sections of Oakland before making your way to the waterfront. 

Enjoy breakfast at Rockridge Cafe, a local diner which was established in 1973. I recommend the ricotta pancakes or the challot bread french toast. If you don’t feel like a sit down meal, Beauty’s Bagel Shop in Temescal will do the trick.

Take your time to window shop the quaint neighborhood of Rockridge and the trendy Temescal area. Temescal, originally a town in its own right, is now part of the larger Oakland.  Both neighborhoods are mostly residential with small commercial districts, and are worth the walk-around. Rockridge is home to Market Hall Foods, with many specialty foods and free samples. For coffee lovers, get a cup from Highwire Coffee Roasters. The local public library is one of the few locations where you can actually borrow tools.  Don’t miss Temescal Alley, the hipster epicenter, complete with artists’ spaces, trendy restaurants and a crowd-funded ice cream store. Self-designed tattoos and shaved hair are popular among the crowd here.

Mountain View Cemetery provides cascading views of Oakland and San Francisco (when it’s not foggy.) 

After window shopping make your way to Mountain View (5492 College Ave, Oakland, CA 94618 )…cemetery and the adjacent Church of the Chimes. Mountain View Cemetery was designed by Frank Law Olmstead who also created New York City’s Central Park. The cemetary’s “millionaire row” features crypts of “Merritt” of Lake Merritt, “Folger” of Folgers coffee, and “Ghirardelli” of Ghirardelli chocolate. Among the famous artists and California politicians there are many! Every second Saturday there are docent led tours at 10:00AM. There are clear maps and guides to the cemetery at the office.

Church of the Chimes was designed by Julia Morgan who also designed Hearst Castle. If you are looking through the crematorium (photographed above) make a stop at John Hookers’ grave where visitors have left guitar pics on it.

Afternoon:


Take a walk down Piedmont Avenue. Don’t miss old school, Fenton’s Creamery (4226 Piedmont Ave, Oakland, CA 94611), which was featured in the movie Up. Stop for lunch at Home Room (400 40th St, Oakland, CA 94609) where I recommend their specialty dish, garlic mac n cheese with bacon and bread crumbs. In the alternative, you may want to try Burma Superstar for Burmese food or for pizza lovers you can backtrack to Pizzaiolo.

Continue your walk and burn off those luncheon calories around the picturesque Lake Merritt. If you’ve done enough walking, as I had, rent a Lime scooter for an hour to scoot around the lake. The walkway includes the beautiful Pergola, a Bonsai Garden, and Lake Chalet with its accompanying gondola. On the perimeter, you will notice the iconic Grand Lake Theater, the innovatively-designed Cathedral of Christ the Light, Oakland Scottish Rite Center, and the Camron-Stanford House.  Many buildings reflect Oakland’s rich history, while the ultra-modern Cathedral of Christ the Light and renovated Grand Lake Theater suggest the city’s resurgence. After your tour, you can relax with a leisurely glass of wine and a dozen oysters during happy hour at Lake Chalet (1520 Lakeside Dr, Oakland, CA 94612). 

Your walk towards downtown and the waterfront will become increasingly more congested. As it becomes more urban, you will see refurbished, multi-purpose buildings that cater to the growing arts, music, and restaurant scenes.

Evening:

For evening festivities, choose among First Friday’s festival, pub-hopping, or a show at the Fox Theater!

Option 1: I would recommend going to Oakland during one of the First Friday events, which typically run from 5:00 PM to 9:00 PM along Telegraph Street between 27th and 22nd Streets, and includes food, music and artists. 

Option 2: For those who enjoy the pub scene and favor a relaxed environment, check out one or more of the many bars on Oakland Ale Trail (the full interactive map can be found here): Beer Revolution (464 3rd St, Oakland, CA 94607), Roses’ Taproom (4930 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609), Double Standard (2424 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94612), and Drake’s Dealership (2325 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94612) all have a variety of brews on tap and the last two have great outdoor seating. My female friends and I favored the decor and the vibe at Roses’ Taphouse the most. Cap your visit off with dinner at Mockingbird (416 13th St, Oakland, CA 94612).  It is known for their brunch, but their dinner offerings are also superb. I enjoyed the simple pleasures of a burger and fries, but the menu has much more to offer. 

Option 3: Another evening alternative would be to watch a show or concert at the iconic Fox Oakland Theater or the Paramount Theater. The Fox was constructed in 1928 with a Middle Eastern and Indian inspired architectural look. The Fox eventually fell into disrepair and closed in the 1960s. In 2009, the Fox Oakland Theater reopened after a $75 million restoration project. Its glamour has been restored and it’s now a charter school, music venue and restaurant.

A huge thank you to Denny for giving me all the tips on your vibrant neighborhood! Another thank you to Sarah, Allison, Laurie. Sean, Meghan, Alex, and Alyx for all your suggestions!

If you are looking for other neighborhood guides in the Bay area, check out my guides to Berkeley and the Mission District.

A four day itinerary in the Cotswolds, England.

The Cotswolds, or the “The Wolds” is a southwestern region of rolling hills and quaint English villages. It was designated an “area of outstanding natural beauty,” the British equivalent of National Parks in the U.S.

The rolling green hills are decorated with honey-colored limestone houses with stone shingled roofs. Each village seems quintessentially British with a local pub and tea shops downtown.

Many of the towns in the Cotswold sprung from the wool industry, with historical mansions built for the wool merchants and smaller homes for the workers. 

With the industrial revolution and the development of cotton this region saw a major economic decline and many people left the countryside for the city. Now it’s a favorite seasonal get-away for Londoners and tourists in the mood for manor house nostalgia.

The Cotswold’s attracts many walkers for the long hiking trails known as Cotswold’s Way, St. Kenelm’s Way and Monarch’s Way. Many of which pass through English farmhouses and property.

Getting in: We rented a car from Robinson Gross (Tredington Park, Tredington, Shipston-on-Stour CV36 4RN, United Kingdom) just outside of Moreton-on-Marsh.  If you plan ahead and give them ample notice, they offer reasonably priced-rides to the train station. We took the train from  Gatwick Airport (directly to the right when you exit arrivals) to Reading and transferred to a second train heading to Moreton-on Marsh. You can also take the train to Oxford and transfer from there. 

The Lion Inn, in Winchombe was one of the coziest locations!

Accommodations: We wanted to stay in a charming older inn, and we had a car and could stay in a town that wasn’t a transportation hub. We chose The Lion Inn, (37 North Street, Winchcombe, Cheltenham) which proved to be a good home base after a day of trekking and exploring nearby villages.

Day 1: Enjoy a meal at your Inn or local gastropub. After a few hours of navigating the train system or driving in from London, get settled into your lodging. We stayed at the Lions Inn in Winchcombe and enjoyed our first meal at their delightful gastropub. We enjoyed a nightcap in front of their roaring fire. To celebrate your arrival and initiate your adventure, I recommend getting dinner at your local Inn, or a local village favorite that is within walking distance. This way you can still get up early the next morning and start exploring.

Day 2: Hike, Explore Broadway Hike, Explore Hailes Abbey, Broadway and Chipping Campden:

I like to get some exercise in before each adventure. Start your morning off by hiking either Cleeve Hill or Broadway Tower. If you choose Broadway Tower don’t bother paying the 5 pounds to go the three flights up, you have an equally beautiful cascading view from the hilltop.  After getting your hike in, feel free to go about your day in your hiking clothing, the area is very sporty. Check out Hailes Abbey, Chipping Campden and Broadway. Hailes Abbey (Hailes, Cheltenham GL54 5PB, United Kingdom) embodies the reminiscent ruins of a 13th century abbey. The heritage site includes a free audio guide and an intact church showcasing medieval paintings.  It also offers a great place to picnic or take a leisurely stroll. Next up on the itinerary is Broadway. I loved Broadway, with its expansive center and many shops and tea parlours.

We had high tea and snacks at Tisanes Tea Room (Cotswold House, 21 The Green, Broadway WR12 7AA, United Kingdom), which was affordable and low key. Tisanes attracts tourists as well as locals, and we noticed a local knitting group meeting for tea and conversation while we were there.

We had high tea and snacks at Tisanes Tea Room (Cotswold House, 21 The Green, Broadway WR12 7AA, United Kingdom), which was affordable and low key. Two of the grand hotels: The Lygon Arms and The Horse and the Hound, offer great options for a more upscale high tea experience. Spend an hour or so strolling through the town’s various shops. Don’t forget to snap a photo in front of the iconic red telephone booth. Next stop on the village itinerary is Chipping Campden, which is a fifteen minute car ride. For those on foot, it is a five mile walk.

Don’t miss an opportunity to walk down Chipping Campden’s High Street and experience the old Market Square, which was a sheep marketplace in an earlier era.

You can also saunter down to Broad Campden and back up, which provides a quaint respite. The walk is decorated with some iconic thatched roof houses. Once back in Chipping Campden, I recommend getting dinner at The Huxley (High St., Chipping Campden, United Kingdom) in the middle of the village center. Check out if they have a live music event, and in good weather,eat outdoors and get a feel for the village and its people. If you are in the mood for a nightcap at the end of your day, I recommend a visit to Hollow Bottom Beer Garden (Guiting Power, Cheltenham GL54 5UX) for a refreshing local brew from among the many beers on tap.

Day 3: Sudeley Castle, Lower Slaughter, Borton-on-the-water, and Stow-on-the-Wold:

Start your morning by exploring Sudeley Castle (Website,10:00AM-4:00PM, ~17pounds). Get your fill of centuries worth of English history! Next head over to Lower Slaughter. En route to Lower Slaughter, drive through small and underwhelming Upper Slaughter, which is not worth the stop. Once parked in Lower Slaughter, walk around the town and enjoy the beautiful running mill and attached cafe. We had the luxury of arriving just as they were putting some scones into the oven! After walking around Lower Slaughter, follow the 1.5 miles path to the left of the river to walk to the neighboring town of Bourton-on-the-water.

Bourton-on-the-water is absolutely beautiful, but does cater more to tourism. The village is known as “the Venice of the Cotswolds”. Enjoy a leisurely lunch and window shopping in Bourton-on-the-water, like the name entails a river runs through it. I loved just walking over the various bridges downtown. Take the leisurely walk back to your car and end your day in Stow-on-Wold.

The charming village of Bourton-on-the-water with it’s idyllic river through the center of town.

In Stow on the Wold, walk around the center of town, which is more “bustling” than the others. The multipurpose St Edward’s Hall is a library, tourist office and museum. If it peaks your interest, check out the English Civil War artwork on the second floor. The building was built in 1878 from unclaimed funds at the local bank. Don’t miss the medieval St. Edward’s Church.

Stow-on-Wold is home to St. Edward’s Church, which back door seems to have inspired J.R.R. Tolkien with the door to Moria.

End your day with dinner at Porch House (1 Digbeth St, Stow-on-the-Wold, Cheltenham GL54 1BN, United Kingdom), publicizing itself as the oldest Inn in England. On their hearth, they have witches’ blessings engraved in the 1700s fireplace. Most of the area has fresh local produce and a seasonal menu. When I was there they had butternut squash risotto, it was amazing!

The Porch House, known as the oldest Inn in England.

Day 4: Daylesford, Woodstock and Blenheim Palace, and local favorite Falkland Arms:

Blenheim Palace

Start your morning off with brunch at Daylesford Organic Farm (Daylesford, Kingham, Moreton-in-Marsh GL56 0YG, United Kingdom) in Gloucestershire. In the United States we have John Deere farm equipment, in England they have JCB, started by Joseph Cyril Bamford in 1945. Anthony Bamford, succeeding his father as the current owner of JCB, was appointed a Lord in 2013. He is also a collector of antique Ferraris and other luxury cars. The Daylesford Organic Farm was started by his wife, Carole. This upscale farmstand is a must see, as it represents a positive outcome of a recent tourism movement in the Cotswolds: sleek, clean, and new. Focusing on organic farming and clothing, this farmstand is the definition of country chic. Spend some time walking around the farmhouse and shops.  Those who prefer to be pampered can get a massage at the spa.
 

 Spend the rest of the day at Blenheim Palace. It has a quirky place in history in that on November 30, 1874, Jennie Churchill was attending a party here when she began to go into labor and gave birth to Winston (what a surprise to the guests and the Churchills alike).

Blenheim Palace is the only English palace that is not in royal rule at this time; those “nonroyals” include Winston Churchill, Consuelo Vanderbilt, and Princess Diana before she married Prince Charles.

 In 1702, Queen Anne gave John Churchill the title of Duke of Marlborough and the Blenheim Palace after a successful victory over the French in the eponym, Battle of Blenheim.

I highly recommend the audio guide to enhance your Blenheim Palace visit. Grab a snack and a coffee from the cafe to sustain you through this expansive tour.

After spending the day at the luxurious Blenheim Palace and garden, enjoy a meal in the Village of Woodstock. I recommend the Black Prince (2 Manor Rd, Woodstock OX20 1XJ, United Kingdom), which has elevated pub food and a beautiful riverside dining area.

If you are looking for a long weekend out of Boston or New York, you may enjoy a weekend itinerary in Mexico City, Mexico; St. Augustine, Florida; or Barcelona, Spain.

A weekend in St. Augustine, FL

Palm trees and sunset in St. Augustine.

St. Augustine, the oldest European settlement in the United States, was founded by the Spanish explorer Pedro Menendez de Aviles in 1565. It was originally called La Florida (“Land of Flowers”) by Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon, who claimed the land in the name of Spain on March 27, 1513. The Land of Flowers still seems to fit this beautiful old area of Florida.

Growing up in America’s northeastern seaboard, I recall someone jokingly referring to Florida as “a sunny place for shady people”and I avoided the state for other southern destinations such as New Orleans, Savannah or Charleston, with rich culture and history and comparably warm climates. Yet, St. Augustine, Florida has been on my American bucket list for a number of years and now I finally got to see it. It was worth the wait as I found the city to be charming, historic, full of good restaurants and genuinely friendly, welcoming people.  Here is a brief weekend itinerary for anyone interested in visiting.

When to go: 

Living in New York City, I would highly recommend going during our cold months (January, February, or March) when you want to get out. The summers in Florida are too hot and humid for me. So anytime from December-March is ideal.  I had the luck of visiting during a festival called “Lincolnville Porchfest” which is a grassroots neighborhood festival featuring local artists at different porches in the Lincolnville section of St. Augustine over President’s Day weekend.

Friday:

Get settled into your accommodations and go out for dinner either at one of the many seafood places along Avenida Menendez with views of the Matanzas River, or go over the Bridge of Lions and try one of the popular restaurants on A1A Beach Boulevard. Having just arrived in St. Augustine, I chose Sunset Grille, arriving at the peak of Friday Night Happy Hour.  I admit that I chose the Sunset Grille based solely on the name and the proximity to St. Augustine Beach, which is across the street. Unfortunately, there are no ocean views due to tall buildings and a berm being in the way. While the Sunset Grille had no romantic sunset views, it had a really lively Happy Hour attended by friendly, ebullient locals who were celebrating the end of the work week and the beginning of the weekend. In sum, while the food was okay, and there are no sunset views, the Sunset Grille is a fun place to kick off the weekend.

Saturday:

Grab some fresh,local produce and rub elbows with the locals at the St. Augustine’s Farmers Market.

Drive over to the St. Augustine’s Amphitheater Farmer’s Market (1340C A1A S). Open Saturday 8:30-12:30pm.

Late morning: Window shopping Aviles St and St Georges St (both of which cater to tourism), check out the Cathedral, the main square, and the gardens at the LIghtner Museum.

Try to get a table outdoors and enjoy a healthy brunch at the Floridian Restaurant.

Afternoon: take a tour of Flagler College (74 King St, historical tours are offered at 10:00AM and 2:00PM and last about an hour).  This elegant college campus was formerly the Ponce De Leon Hotel, built in the late 1800s as a winter resort by Henry Morrison Flagler with the interior designed by Louis C. Tiffany. Flagler was an industrialist, railroad pioneer and oil magnate. The school store doubles as the ticket office and the college students who run the store also serve as the tour guides, so the school store/ticket office is closed from 10-11 AM and 2-3 PM while the tours are going on. Try to get tickets ahead of time because in high season they sell out. The engaging tour guides are very knowledgeable and humorous.

An artist at Lincolnville’s Porchfest.

We stayed at an airbnb in the historic Lincolnville neighborhood near downtown St. Augustine during porchfest, so we walked around Lincolnville and enjoyed the music and banter with the neighbors. Lincolnville is an historic black neighborhood where Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke and stayed over during the Civil Rights Movement.

Evening:

Rose on the rooftop of San Sebastian Winery after the end of a “long” day of window shopping.

Get a happy hour drink  at San Sebastian Winery (157 King St, Monday-Saturday, 10 AM – 6PM and Sunday, 11 AM – 6PM). San Sebastian Winery is in Henry Flagler’s East Coast Railway Building. They have complimentary tours and wine-tasting starting every 20 to 25 minutes. The highlight was making it to the rooftop bar that offers live music most nights.

The charming restaurant called Preserved (102 Bridge St) is housed in a renovated Victorian house. If possible try to get seating outside on the patio. They serve locally sourced ingredients at this southern restaurant.

Sunday

Brunch at Maple Street Biscuit Company or Blue Hen Cafe.

 Spend an hour checking out the beautiful Mission of Nombre de Dios (Saturday 9:00AM- 5:00PM, Sunday 12-4:00PM) and the great cross. The beautiful mission and its grounds present a nice place to enjoy a morning stroll.

A few blocks from the Mission of Nombre de Dios is the beautiful Magnolia Avenue. Definitely worth the two block hiatus from the Mission to drive, bike, or walk down.

Get a coffee fix from Crucial Coffee Cafe before heading to the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument (9:00 AM – 5:00 PM) They do cannon reenactments on the top level. Try to sit close to where the cannon, so you can hear the history lesson, but you may want to block your ears for a moment as the cannon is fired.

For Sunday night dinner, I highly recommend that you try the large Columbia Restaurant. Call ahead for reservations.  This old-time restaurant has been in the same family for over 100 years. The wait-staff, ambiance and food are phenomenal. I recommend the sangria, paella and the salad.  In my group, we ordered varied entrees, did some sharing and found the food to be consistently excellent.

If you are based on the east coast and are looking for a weekend getaway consider looking at my Barcelona, Cotswolds, Mexico City, or San Diego itineraries.

6 Churches to check out in NYC during the 6 weeks of Lent

In honor of Lent I am going to feature one church for each of the six weeks to check out. While this isn’t meant to be religious proselytizing, it is meant to show off the amazing architecture that New York City offers us. Check out some of these gems.

#6 Plymouth Church

The Statue of Henry Ward Beecher in the Plymouth Churchyard. “Hold yourself responsible for a higher standard than anybody expects of you. Never excuse yourself.“- HWB

#6 Plymouth Church (57 Orange St, Brooklyn, NY 11201) known as the “underground railroad depot” in the 1800’s. While many African-Americas sought their own freedom in the north, this became a rest stop before moving on to Canada. The congregation held slave auctions, in which communally congregants would give money to buy an enslaved person their freedom.

#5 St. Peter’s Church

The beautiful piano and natural light at St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church.

#5 St. Peter’s Church (619 Lexington Ave, New York, NY 10022) is known as the “jazz church” for its weekly jazz vespers. This super modern church doubles as an art gallery and musical event space. This church has occupied the current site since 1904, and is the world’s only relationship between commercial property and a church; in the 70’s when National City Bank (now Citigroup) wanted to create condominiums on the site and the church negotiated 5% ownership of the whole site (and the building of a new church!) Jazz Vespers are Sunday’s at 5:00PM.

#4 Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral 

Don’t let the outside of Basilica of Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral fool you…its stunning inside.

#4 The Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral (263 Mulberry St, New York, NY 10012) It is so hard to try to start a “creative project” right now, while everything seems so surreal. I am struggling because it feels inappropriate to post about something “normal”, I am pushing myself to post this just to keep on some semblance of normalcy, so in the future weeks when I KNOW it is going to get worse, that I will have something to do besides have anxiety/depression about the at-risk population and our healthcare system as a whole.

Basilica of Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral has the only catacombs in New York City.

 Without further talk of the coronavirus, and in honor of St Patrick’s Day tomorrow, I want to write about The Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, dubbed the “sexiest congregation” by Elizabeth Hasselback from Fox News.  Martin Scorsese was an alter boy here and featured some of the anti-catholic sentiment in the movie, Gangs of New York. There is actually a tunnel from the Bishop’s house across the street to the Cathedral to protect against Nativist violence in the 1800’s. This church was used for filming where the “godfather” became THE Godfather. Built 50 years before the new and far better known St.Patrick’s Cathedral that was way out in the country when it was built. 

Rehearsal practice on the 150 year old Erben Organ! The organ needs nearly $200,000 worth of upkeep, you can donate at the website, https://erbenorgan.org/

Somehow this “side project” seems more important than ever while we keep talking about having faith during a trying time. But I want to push people further, I believe in “prepare for the worst and hope for the best” so we must have faith but ALSO we must all do our best to protect our elders and vulnerable populations.

#3 Trinity Church

#3 Trinity Church (75 Broadway, New York, NY 10006). The stunning Trinity Church is nestled between skyscrapers, on the corner of Broadway and Wall St. Third time’s the charm for this Episcopal church: the first structure burned down in the Great New York City Fire of 1776, the second was torn down because of snow damage, and the third and current building was consecrated in 1846.

The ornate reredos and altar were created in honor of William Backhouse Astor, Sr. This historic house of worship was a welcome site of refuge from the massive debris in the aftermath of September 11th. Trinity’s burial grounds are the final resting place of Alexander Hamilton, Albert Gallatin (Founder and first President of NYU), and Robert Fulton (credited with creating the first commercial steamboat).

#2 St. Patrick’s Cathedral (5th Ave, New York, NY 10022)

Happy Palm Sunday. If you believe in a higher power now more than ever is the time to send global prayers. St. Patrick’s Cathedral is thought of as the St. Peter’s Basilica of the United States. Skeptics initially thought of the proposed construction project as “Hughes Folly” after Bishop “Dagger” Hughes had the idea to build this huge cathedral in what was then mostly farm or uninhabited land.  He knew that New York City was going to expand north and he would need a large church to house the parishioners. It was designed by noted architect James Renwick, Jr., who also built the Smithsonian in Washington D.C., the Renwick Gallery in D.C., and Grace Church and City College in NYC. It is situated across the street from Rockefeller Center, this 5th Avenue iconic Roman Catholic cathedral is on many NYC top ten attractions list.

#1 Church of the St. John the Divine

#1. Church of the St. John the Divine (1047 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY 10025)

The 6th largest church in the world! When you walk in, you realize the ENORMITY of the space. I personally love stained glass dedicated to different professions, especially sports and education. Both are rare to see inside a Cathedral.

If you enjoy learning more about NYC, consider checking out some of my A Day in itineraries in Red Hook and Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

A day in…Red Hook, Brooklyn!

Red Hook’s waterfront cobblestone streets give this refurbished neighborhood the ambiance of a quaint, seaside town. It is the home to numerous pre-civil war maritime warehouses converted to art galleries, restaurants and Ample Hills, Brooklyn’s favorite ice cream shop. 

Red Hook was settled by the Dutch in the 17th century.  During the American Civil War, Red Hook was the location of Fort Defiance, and later was a hub for international trade. Remnants of this era are still evident today.

Much of Red Hook was built in the mid to late 1800’s when William Beard, an Irish immigrant, purchased the land for a shipping business. He had made his fortune as a railroad contractor and continued to grow his assets by creating the Erie Basin. Now much of the estimated $170 million Red Hook warehouses are owned by a former Drug Cop, Greg O’Connell. O’Connell bought the formerly abandoned warehouses from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for $450,000. I wish I had that foresight!

Eventually, the bustling shipping industry went elsewhere, and Red Hook went into disrepair in the 1950’s with the creation of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway (“BQE”) and Battery Tunnel which cut the neighborhood off from the rest of Brooklyn. Red Hook is also home to one of the largest public housing complex in New York City, having over 2,800 apartments; one of which is the birthplace of basketball player Carmelo Anthony. 

Red Hook is a peninsula jutting out into Upper New York Bay.  It is distinct for its equal parts of fisherman’s village, artist enclave and rehabilitated multi-use warehouses.  While Red Hook can be enjoyed any time of the year, the best time is during the warmer months from April through October. 

Transportation: my favorite means of transportation to Red Hook is either by ferry or bike. Here is a one-day itinerary:

Morning:

A “healthy” morning pastry…

Start your morning off at the quaint pastry shop, Baked (359 Van Brunt St), for coffee and a pastry. To burn off the pastry, walk the three blocks to Louis Valentino, Jr Park where you can rent free paddle boards and kayaks through the Red Hook Boaters during summer months. Spend a few hours taking in the breathtaking Panoramic views of the Statue of Liberty, the Manhattan skyline, and the Brooklyn Bridge.  

After kayaking indulge in a slice of key lime pie from Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies. The family owned business has been around for 23 years. The proprietor and namesake, Steve ensure quality by using fresh squeezed limes and homemade crust. 

Window shop along Van Brunt St. Red Hook is home to a number of boutique stores, art galleries and even a record shop.  

Whiskey tasting in Red Hook.

Sip some whiskey with a tasting at  Van Brunt Stillhouse (6 Bay St, Tasting room hours: 2-9 on Saturday or 2-8 on Sunday, Tours 3-7PM on Saturdays) and/or Widow Jane’s (218 Conover Street Tasting room hours Sat and Sun 11-7, Tours 12, 2, 4, and 6pm). Soak up the malted barley with a lobster roll from the Red Hook Lobster Pound. 

Early Evening:

If it is the second Sunday of the month check out Pioneer Works, an artist run community center. Located in a former Iron Works building from the 1800’s that has been redesigned. They host free ‘Second Sundays’ with music, food, and a cash bar. Visitors are able to see the artists-in residency at work. More information can be found by clicking here. Most of the artists utilizes the cross section of technology and art, so don’t expect typical paintings instead its virtual reality-esque projections and social justice themed artwork. 

Red Hook has two iconic dinner spots:

Hometown BBQ (454 Van Brunt St), offers southern style pit smoked meats. 

Brooklyn Crab (24 Reed St, Brooklyn, NY 11231) three story seafood shack with corn hole and mini golf on the ground level. If you already got a lobster roll, I would go for the BBQ!

Evening:

After dinner relax with a movie under the stars back at Valentino Pier. At 8:30 PM in the summer, the Red Hook Flicks screens different movies on the pier. 

Savour a nightcap at Sunny’s:

Me and some girlfriends posing in front of Sunny’s!

As the website accurately describes it, the “knickknack-adorned Red Hook saloon that’s been around in one guise or another since the 1890s. Live music is a staple at this Brooklyn landmark.”

For those who do not want to indulge in libations, I recommend a scoop of ice cream from Ample Hills Creamery (421 Van Brunt St). The factory is able to churn out 500,000 gallons of ice cream in a year! 

Other unique bars, that are enjoyable with a group of friends: Brooklyn Winery (with great sunset views) and Sixpoint Brewery.

If you enjoy learning more about NYC, consider checking out some of my A Day in itineraries in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

A leisurely day in…Martina Franca, Italy!

Walking around the center of town in Martina Franca. Take in the beautifully crumbling baroque facades.

Located in the Puglia region of Italy, at the top of the heel, Martina Franca is an ancient town known for its fine food, home-grown wine, textiles, soccer and opera music. The white sandstone buildings are tanned with age and rooftop crevices provide space for wildflowers to grow. The green and blue shutters provide a contrast to the white and tan marble  buildings. Where some see signs of decay and decadence, most tourists will enjoy the genuineness of Martina Franca. This beautiful town provides a wonderful site for a leisurely day in the Puglian sun. 

Start your morning at Bar Adua for a coffee and pastry. The family owned business has been around since 1936. If you have the chance, try capocollo, a kind of cured ham that is the pride of the town.

Walk along the alleyways in the center of town and take in the beautifully crumbling Baroque buildings. In the ‘Centro Storico’, don’t miss the Palazzo Ducale, Piazza XX Settembre, Piazza Maria Immacolata, and Basilica di San Martino, a church built in the 18th century in the Late Baroque style.

Afternoon:

Visit the I Pastini winery. Out in the rolling hills of the Valle d’Itria, I Pastini offers tours and wine tasting at reasonable prices and sells wine to take home or to be shipped. Take the tour and learn how the farming community has lived in Southern Italy for thousands of years, and how wine is made. This region is known for red-wine grapes called “Susumaniello,” which is one of the world’s rarest wine grapes. The vineyard uses the region’s iconic truli in its original capacity, as a farm shed.

Similar to the Italians, take a siesta before the evening. 

Take a passagiata, or evening stroll to Cafe Tripoli. Enjoy an ice cream, coffee, or pastry (or all three!). Cafe Tripoli is the oldest cafe in Martina Franca.  It is the most bustling, and is very popular with the locals, which is always reassuring to tourists. I visited during Easter week, and enjoyed a zeppole, fried dough Easter pastry that is filled with custard and topped with confections and jams. Get a seat outside to soak in the ambiance and watch the locals on their passagata.

End your evening wining and dining at Ristorante Torre di Angelucco. Angela the chef and owner will take pride in explaining the whole menu to tourists, and she will make recommendations based on each diner’s desires. This quaint place will not disappoint you! The wine was inexpensive and the food was fabulous and reasonably priced. All of the fish entrees are great, along with the seasonal local vegetables.

If you are exploring the Southern region of Italy, check out my itineraries for the Locorotondo and Matera.

A day in…Cambridge, MA!

The view of the Charles River (with the iconic Citgo sign in the background) from the MIT Sailing Pavilion.

Located just across the Charles River from Boston, Cambridge is easily accessible by public transit, with multiple stations on the MBTA’s red line and one station on the green line. As the home to Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.), Cambridge attracts many academics and hosts many high-tech companies.  It is the “City of Squares,” with cerebral Harvard Square, techie Kendall Square, yuppie Porter Square, eclectic Central Square, and trendy Inman Square. These are a few of the urban centers that encompass Cambridge’s bustling food and drink scene, not to mention small businesses, independent bookstores, and boutique shopping. Cambridge is a bastion of progressive politics and is very pedestrian and bicycle-friendly.  The city has become so popular, and the real estate so expensive, that it overflows into neighboring Somerville, and can be confusing at times when streets have the same names. Somerville offers a vibrant scene in its own Davis Square with restaurants and bars, live music, and independent movie houses. 

Morning: 

Breakfast: You may want to start your morning off with a quick stopover in Central Square. The area is gentrifying, as startups move into the square, and it has some interesting shops and ethnic restaurants along with stately City Hall and Post Office buildings.  An option for morning coffee would be a coffee to-go from the 1369 Coffee House at 757 Mass Ave and then walk down Mass Ave toward Flour Bakery at 190 Mass Ave, to get some delicious French pastries. If you would rather sit down for brunch I would recommend Cafe Luna at 612 Mass Ave, or try Zoe’s, a classic fifties diner, located at 1105 Mass Ave,  which offers a great, reasonably priced brunch. 

(c) Boston Globe’s 2019 photo of the Captain America Great Dome!

After breakfast, take a tour of the MIT campus, which is famous for its brainy students and also its daring architecture. The iconic Great Dome is reminiscent of the Pantheon in Rome. It is known as “the center of the universe” by MIT students, and has been the site of many MIT student pranks over the years: http://hacks.mit.edu/Hacks/by_location/great_dome.html

Do not miss the audacious Stata Center building designed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry and located at 32 Vassar St.

Afternoon:

Continue your day along the north bank of the Charles River to Harvard’s campus. Keep in mind that Cambridge is a very walkable city, and also has ample public transit. For those who enjoy a morning run, I would say this is one of the best routes in the Boston/Cambridge area, as you can enjoy the views of the river, the bridges and the boat houses along the way.

Photo of the John Weeks Footbridge during the Head of the Charles Regatta. The bridge connects Cambridge to Allston. Annually in October, the Charles River hosts the Head of the Charles Regatta for rowing, the largest two-day regatta in the world.

Upon your arrival in Harvard Square, grab a hot chocolate from L.A. Burdick at 52 Brattle St. and window-shop the boutiques in Harvard Square. There are many independent bookstores but my favorite is the Harvard Book Store at 1256 Mass Ave. Directly behind it is the quaint, Grolier Poetry Book Shop. As you enter the Harvard campus, you may want to join in a tourist tradition of rubbing the left show of the statue of John Harvard.  Harvard offers free student-led tours  from the Harvard University Visitor Center, in the Smith Campus Center.  See website:  https://www.harvard.edu/on-campus/visit-harvard/tours.  You can do a self-guided tour in which case you should buy a Harvard tour booklet for $3.00. Also available are privately-run guided tours with positive reviews: https://www.trademarktours.com/harvard-tour/

Evening:

For dinner there are many options. I will separate the restaurants by location. Mr. Bartley’s in Harvard Square is a casual and fun burger place. The walls are plastered with posters from college concerts and photos of celebrities who have dined there. The menu in this bustling restaurant is a political satire with such items as Brexit, Trump Tower, and Taxachusetts.  PARK Restaurant & Bar, Alden & Harlow, the Russell House Tavern, and Forage all provide good service and ambiance with a broad menu. Grendel’s Den is a student bar that offers half priced food for Happy Hour. (Massachusetts has some Puritanical laws that do not allow happy hour prices on alcohol.)

Inman Square and Kendall Square offer a variety of restaurants with good vibes and great cocktails. Inman Square has a Tiki-themed BBQ place, Highland Fried (1271 Cambridge St) or if you are craving upscale Mediterranean, Oleana (134 Hampshire St) is great!  To cap off the night with a sweet treat, I recommend going to Christina’s (1255 Cambridge St) for an ice cream and an evening stroll.  A personal favorite is the burlesque-themed tapas restaurant, Cuchi Cuchi, in Kendall Square.

Thank you to: Eli, Olga, Hannah and Chris for all your great suggestions. Especially Olga for taste testing our way through Cambridge starting with the bread at Bertucci’s back in 2005.