An attractive Southern belle lined with blooming dogwoods and fragrant azaleas, Atlanta bears the distinction of being as some call it - a small town trapped in a big city or perhaps more accurately, a collection of small towns. In any event, this “capital city of the New South” was surprisingly far more lush with greenery than we envisioned. What was not unexpected were the abundance of historic sites, commercial enterprises, burgeoning art scene and of course, Southern hospitality.
It’s a city that has been known by many names over the years (it was once called Terminus and Marthasville), but resurgence and renewal are no stranger to this thriving metropolis that was burned to the ground during the Civil War only to rise from the ashes like a “phoenix” (the mythological bird that is cyclically regenerated or reborn) that now serves as the city’s motto.
In more recent memory, Atlanta is the birth city of Martin Luther King, Jr. and holds its place of importance during the Civil Rights Movement and its Centennial Olympic Park was the site of the 1996 Summer Games. And of course, the city is home to countless corporations including Coca Cola and Turner Broadcasting.
Since we were only here for 36 hours, we wanted to make the most of our stay by visiting the “must-see” sites on every tourist’s list and stopping by some of the perhaps lesser-known areas of this historic city. So we crafted our checklist to include Centennial Olympic Park, the World of Coca Cola and Skyview Atlanta (the ferris wheel that towers nearly 20 stories above Centennial Park). We took two tours - first a fun trolley ride full of other tourists on to gain a great overview and lay of the land and then a private excursion via an open-air electric vehicle that provided a more in-depth narrative and personal insights from a 30+ year resident’s perspective.
Because many of Atlanta’s top attractions are squeezed into a relatively small area, we chose to stay at The Loews Atlanta, located in mid-town and an easy walk or Uber ride to and from anywhere we wanted to go. Once we arrived, our rental car remained at the hotel until it was time to head home.
The stylish, contemporary 414-room (including 44 suites) Loews Atlanta hotel (loewshotels.com) proved to be the perfect “home base” for our three-day stay. Our accommodation was an exceedingly comfortable, bright space with floor-to-ceiling windows, a spacious bathroom with a soaking tub and a TV and a gourmet mini-bar.
Upscale amenities included a beautifully soothing spa, an expansive state-of-the-art fitness center with such a broad offering of workouts (yoga, spin classes) and equipment that it is by far the most impressive hotel fitness facility I’ve ever seen, a hip lobby bar and innovative restaurant, Saltwood Charcuterie & Bar.
Named for its emphasis on salted, cured meats and cheeses classically presented on rustic wooden boards, the restaurant’s centerpiece is its charcuterie station where diners can sample hand-carved, house-made and locally sourced ingredients. The menu at Saltwood, which encompasses a bar, restaurant, outdoor patio, 125-seat private dining space and chef’s table, showcases small, shareable plates and handcrafted cocktails and local microbrews.
Venturing in for lunch, we found the menu featured something for every palate, including my husband’s “go to” hamburger and fries - albeit this one was far more artfully displayed and infinitely more flavorful than the homemade variety to which he is accustomed. I know this because I felt compelled to take a bite (or two) of his signature burger which arrived piled high with sautéed mushrooms, bacon, clamored stone mountain goat cheese and a sunny side up egg, while I opted for a custom salad from the Cold Counter, where I could select from a fresh assortment of local lettuces, toppings, dressings and an array of stovetop sides, including quinoa with vegetables, couscous and more.
The best feature this luxury hotel has to offer is its prime location in the northernmost corner of Piedmont Park. Atlanta’s Midtown is the second largest business district in the city and is known as the “heart of the arts,” with an abundance of outdoor recreation opportunities, shopping, art galleries and award-winning musical and theatrical performances. Atlanta’s fabulous Fox Theatre is a restored movie palace turned cultural jewel that is the venue for a variety of wonderful live entertainment ranging from dance and Opera to Broadway shows and rock concerts. The Moorish lobby and ballrooms harken back to a bygone era of the opulent 1920s and a highlight of this Atlanta icon is the “Mighty Mo,” a 4,000-pipe organ built at a cost of $42,000 in 1929 that audiences can still hear today before every Broadway performance and the Atlanta Ballet’s “Nutcracker” performance each year. Even if you don’t catch a performance, the Fox Theatre is open for tours.
Another site rich in history is the recently opened National Center for Civil and Human Rights which offers a sweeping, in-depth and moving view of the movement’s darkest moments and greatest achievements. The museum also presents an evolving look at modern human rights issues here at home and around the globe.
A few miles away on Auburn Avenue, visitors can tour the stately yellow structure that is the boyhood home of the movement’s greatest leader, Martin Luther King Jr. Daily entry is free, but get there early as it’s first-come, first-served and tickets are often snapped up early in the day. Run by the National Park Service, entrance is also complimentary into the Martin Luther King Jr. Historic Site which offers a uniquely personal account of a very public life and includes the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church (where King was baptized and where he and his father both served as pastors) and the King Center - the final resting place of King and his wife, Coretta Scott King.
The Peachtree Trolley Tour (peachtreetrolley.com) - a 90-minute fully narrated tour provided a wonderful overview of the must-see stops in the city. We boarded the Phoenix (a fully-enclosed, climate controlled trolley car) and settled in for a comfortable and informative ride, rolling by the aforementioned attractions and many others, including the Georgia Aquarium, the World of Coca-Cola, CNN, Turner Field, the golden domed Georgia State Capital, Oakland Cemetery (Atlanta’s oldest) and Underground Atlanta. Originating near Centennial Olympic Park, our guide shared a bit of history, stories and legends surrounding these iconic landmarks.
After hearing our guide’s account of the The World of Coca Cola (worldofcoca-cola.com) experience, we walked over (a mere block away from where you board and disembark) to spend the better part of the afternoon exploring the 92,000-square-foot dynamic, multi-media museum that resides on a 22-acre plot in downtown Atlanta (Coca-Cola donated nine acres for the construction of the Georgia Aquarium and another 2.5 acres to the city for the civil-and-human rights museum and where you can experience “the real stories behind the world’s most famous beverage brand.”
The lobby showcases a Coca-Cola folk art bottle display and several of the bottle sculptures that were created for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games (the company invited artists from around the world to express their country’s unique culture and artistic traditional by decorating their own bottle sculpture). The Loft is home to a mix of nearly 200 historical and international artifacts that represent more than 125 years of Coca-Cola memories, including a Coca-Cola Syrup urn circa 1886 and Coca-Cola beach pants popularized in the 1970s.
We watched a six-minute film celebrating life’s “Moments of Happiness” in the Coca-Cola Theater and speaking for the mothers and grandmothers in the room, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house as we witnessed several milestone moments - big and small, including a mother’s response to her son’s video message from where he was stationed in Afghanistan and his homecoming surprise for his parents. This is a great attraction with something for family members of all ages between the the interactive exhibits and The Vault, where the secret formula is stored and the 4-D sensory movie experience complete with moving seats and other special effects. But the highlight of the tour of the Coca-Cola Tasting Room with features six “freestyle machines” with over 100 different beverage choices - both domestic and international - to sample to your heart’s content (Classic Coke is still my favorite).
Day Two we decided to start the morning with the ATL-Cruzers Electric Car and Segway Tours (atlcruzers.com) for what proved to be a highly entertaining and informative private guided experience from a longtime local’s perspective. Our guide, Mira (rhymes with “mirror,” is worth being mentioned - and requested - by name. She gave our family a truly animated, enthusiastic, knowledgable experience of her home city seen through the eyes of a local. She toured us past many of the now-familiar landmarks and iconic Atlanta tourist stops, sharing an in-depth history and little-known facts about each locale. But we have to say the highlight of this experience was that the route showcased many other “off-the-beaten” path places and residential neighborhoods that we otherwise wouldn’t have discovered on our own - including the lovely Inman Park (where many of the homes are reminiscent of the antebellum era and very “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”) which hosts an annual festival the last weekend in April that is widely regarded among the the city’s most spirited and eclectic events.
Paying homage to an icon, this reinvented Newport Beach restaurant offers a new generation of connoisseurs a world-class culinary experience
In the months since the new Ritz Prime Seafood opened its doors to a new generation of culinary enthusiasts, much has been written about how this reinvented restaurant stacks up against the iconic Newport Beach establishment from which it draws inspiration (founded by Hans Prager in 1977, The Ritz enjoyed a 30+ year run as the go-to special event venue before closing its doors in early 2014).
Where the throwback dining institution was characterized by Old World charm and three-martini power lunches, the new-and-improved version is a contemporary iteration of a classic.
While the décor of the beloved brand was all dark wood, dark tufted leather booths and antique chandeliers, The Ritz Prime Seafood showcases a new address (a 6,800-square-foot space with seating for upwards of 200 in the old Chart House location along Mariner’s Mile), sleek, chic décor, cream and tan leather interiors, upholstered booths, loads of natural light thanks to a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows and the piéce de résistance: a spectacular, sparkling waterfront view and scores of multi-million dollar yachts dotting Newport Harbor.
My husband and I have foodie friends who have introduced us to a number of truly diverse, unique and memorable dining destinations – each month, we alternate with this couple to select and host our respective “picks” for an evening out. I will concede that a few of our choices over the years have been a bit lackluster by comparison, so when we secured a recent reservation (it would be our first experience there as well), it was a highly anticipated event. I am happy to report that The Ritz Prime Seafood more than delivered with exemplary service (our server deserves to be mentioned by name – Matthew Tinnes was amiable, attentive, knowledgeable and unobtrusive), an elegant ambiance and a seafood-centric menu defined by the classics and eclectic dishes with a twist (think extravagant menu items like grilled lobster with burgundy truffles, herbed butter, blistered lemon, truffle foam and levain toast, a succulent chilled seafood sampler dubbed the Ritz Tower, a bone-in fillet smothered in foie gras butter and Ossetra White Sturgeon caviar served with crème fraiche, egg, chives, red onions and brioche toast points).
For landlubbers, The Ritz Prime Seafood serves up tender filet medallions paired with grilled broccolini and a wild mushroom demi-glace, a flavorful jidori chicken and the aforementioned grilled to perfection bone-in filet.
As great as these entrees are, the seafood dishes are where this restaurant really shines - from sushi, sashimi and raw bar to the signature cioppino chock full of lobster, scallops, mussels and shrimp, almond-crusted Mahi Mahi and Chilean sea bass enhanced with pepita pesto, sweet garlic puree and braised leeks.
Our friends were so impressed by our “over the top” selection that they have added The Ritz Prime Seafood to their list of “favorites.” For our part, my husband and I would like to thank to the culinary team and wait staff for providing a dining experience that will be a true challenge for our friends to top next month.
Here in South Orange County, we’re pretty lucky to live so close to the coast and have an abundance of wonderful dining destinations to choose from. But for inventive cuisine coupled with awe-inspiring ocean views, there are few establishments that rival RAYA and 180blu.
Both reside in The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel - RAYA boasts a bright, open space with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Pacific while the aptly named 180blu is an outdoor lounge/deck situated 150 feet above Salt Creek Beach, defined by the same breathtaking 180 degrees of blue sky and clear blue ocean water.
RAYA and 180blu’s culinary offerings (dishes on the 180blu menu come from the RAYA kitchen) showcases Pan-Latin Coastal Cuisine prepared with sustainable seafood, local produce, natural and organic meat. Acclaimed Chef Richard Sandoval’s signature Latin flavors define the seasonal menu which draws inspiration from California and Asian cuisines.
RAYA has long been a favorite special occasion “date night” dinner destination - the service here is what you’d expect of the Ritz-Carlton and consistently so: Attentive yet unobtrusive, professional, yet casually friendly. The same could be said of the service at 180blu, the perfect locale to find yourself at happy hour - for the food, the handcrafted cocktails and the spectacular sunsets.
RAYA’s menu encompasses an array of small (appetizer) and large (entree) plates. If you’re having trouble deciding, a great option to start is the restaurant’s signature Seafood Sampler, which arrives with a trio of popular picks from the small plates options, including oysters on the half shell, rock shrimp aquachile, tuna tataki and salmon tiradito.
There is an abundance of gluten-free options (noted by a special label) ranging from a seafood risotto chock full of Maine lobster, prawn, Santa Barbara mussel, calamari, Spanish chorizo, saffron rice and Dungeness crab to the all-natural Prime New York steak accompanied by a Dungeness crab potato puree, grilled pickled onion, chipotle hollandaise and truffle chimichurri.
The Miso Alaskan Black Cod is my favorite dish on the menu - this flavorful fish dish literally melts in your mouth and is perfectly paired with charred asparagus, daikon (Japanese turnip), kabayaki sauce (think a sweet soy sauce) and togarashi aioli.
The menu at 180blu is a more casual affair characterized by refreshing hand-crafted beverages (watch Mixologist Erin Snider demonstrate how to make Tequila Sangria, one of the specialty drinks served here), small plates and desserts from RAYA (our favorite here is the Wild Mushroom Huarache - a variation on flatbread piled with wild mushroom, caramelized onion, black bean, goat cheese and truffle oil. Bonus! Weather permitting, live music Thursday through Sunday from 6 pm - 9 pm.
WE SERVICE WHAT WE SELL!!
It’s always easy to tell a Bostonian. The accent, the big personality, the dry sense of humor can be amusing – even alarming – for we sensitive Southern Californians. But the Bostonian’s tendency to tell it like it is can be more than valuable in certain situations… say, for instance, when buying a car.
Meet John Paradise, a Boston transplant who seventeen years ago brought little more than his young family and his interest in cars to San Clemente, just to give life in the snowless part of the country a try. “A try” turned into “a home” when John started to fully appreciate the passion that Orange County residents felt for luxury automobiles. One car at a time, John found good deals and passed hassle-free savings on to a select clientele. Today, Paradise Automotive Group is a full-sized dealership, specializing in previously owned luxury vehicles and personalized, individual service.
“These days, clients are so well educated and aware of what is available for how much, we don’t get into the hassle of back-and-forth haggling over price,” says John, who far prefers the tell-it-like-it-is tack. “We price the car correctly and fairly, then focus on making it a good experience for our customer.”
It’s the Paradise Automotive service-first approach that inspires the trust that has kept clients coming back year after year, car after car. Many families are on their ninth and tenth cars purchased through Paradise Automotive, having met John seventeen years ago and deciding that they didn’t want to purchase anywhere else. It’s that same professionalism and no-nonsense pricing that have earned John and his staff a niche in servicing professional athletes in the NHL, NBA and MLB, many of whom fly in from all over the U.S. and Canada to pick up their car from Paradise Automotive. Since John and his team make a priority of thoroughly and accurately demonstrating the car via internet, email and phone, many times a client will arrive to pick up their already-purchased car, and it’s the first time they’ve seen it in person. Now, that’s trust.
As an extension of their commitment to zero hassle, Paradise Automotive Group also provides full-service maintenance, detail and body shop repairs and paint needs on site, so customers can conceivably stay with one trusted entity for the life of their car. With ASE-certified technicians for all makes and models, Paradise’s unequivocal goal is to make you a customer for life.
Paradise Automotive Group is housed in a welcoming facility in San Juan Capistrano right off the 5 Freeway. If you’re in the market for a new-to-you vehicle with style or your vehicle needs servicing or body repair, make a point of checking their website for news. Or simply stop in to meet John or any of the service oriented team at Paradise Automotive Group.
Asnowy wonderland in winter and a water enthusiast’s dream in summer, there’s never a bad time to visit the spectacularly scenic South Shore of Lake Tahoe. Split by the massive, magnificent alpine lake in the middle, both the north and south shores are easy to navigate and offer an abundance of outdoor (and indoor) attractions and activities year round.
Our family has always been partial to the south side of the lake and some of the best memories we’ve made over the years have been on those vacations we have taken here with friends.
So I was really looking forward to our family/friend trip to South Shore last month. Our kids – at ages 8 and 9 – were old enough to enjoy much of what Tahoe has to offer and because a family of friends (ranging in age from 8 to 78) who reside in nearby Reno and Carson City were driving in to spend the entire day from mid-morning to early evening during our stay, we went with a much more comfortable, cozy and convenient accommodation option. Rather than book a traditional hotel room, we decided to rent a privately owned vacation home rich in amenity for all ages. The Tahoe Keys Resort and Lake Tahoe Reservation Bureau (www.tahoevacationguide.com or 800.698.2463) offers an extensive selection of rental homes, condos and cabins to suit your specific needs and budget – whether you’re a couple looking for a romantic retreat, a family of five or a large group of friends.
As anticipated, this trip more than delivered. Driving into the region, the views of deep gorges, craggy mountains and the tall green trees are singularly beautiful. We couldn’t have asked for a better place to stay - the home we selected, located at 950 Balbijou Road, is a super spacious newly renovated, professionally decorated four-bedroom house centrally located to everything - grocery stores, shops, the casinos at stateline. The views are incredible - a large deck on the second floor overlooks a private residential beach below, the master bedroom windows face the lake (imagine waking up to the beauty of the lake each morning) and the back door opens out onto a beautiful downstairs deck steps from the water’s edge.
The home’s luxury accommodations are characterized by beautiful furnishings, high-end finishes and a feature few rental properties can boast - a lakefront location with its own private beach, waterfront access and steps from a wooden pier perfect for strolling. Bonus! Two houses down the beach was a place to rent kayaks ($25 an hour for a single and $35 an hour for a tandem), which made it completely unnecessary (but for a few hours aboard a paddewheeler - more on that in a moment) to ever leave the property since we had literally everything we needed on site.
Between the private beach, the large, open concept living space and multiple dining areas, renting this particular house for our four-day stay proved to be the perfect choice – we had plenty of space to stretch out and everyone had their own rooms to retreat to (the master features a king bed and private bathroom; queen beds in the second and third bedrooms and two sets of twin bunk beds with a shared bathroom was ideal for the younger set). The home sleeps 12 with an queen size sleeper sofa in the den. We saved time and money by being able to cook our meals and dining in rather than eating out three times a day. Several cozy fireplaces provided the perfect ambiance for cool nights and a pool table in the bonus room for apres summer fun.
Other than kayaking, if you’d like to spend time out on the lake, another unique option is to book a daytime scenic cruise or an evening dinner cruise aboard one of two spacious paddlewheelers - the M.S. Dixie II or the Tahoe Queen (800-23-TAHOE). Our group opted for the family-friendly Tahoe Queen boat tour of Emerald Bay – an absolutely must for amazing photo opportunities. Take in some of the most incredible scenery in the world, enjoy lunch, hot cocoa and a good dose of South Lake Tahoe history with the Captain’s live narration. The kids had a ball exploring the boat’s three decks while the adults sat back, relaxed and enjoyed the view.
Unlike vacations where we schedule a series of specific activities designed to keep everyone occupied and entertained away from the hotel room, this trip was all about taking full advantage in all the rental home had to offer - the kids were in and out of the house all day long, spending hours at the water’s edge building a sand castle “village,” hunting for seashells, kayaking with the grown ups and strolling the pier. Evenings were filled with board games, billiards and “movie nights” with kid-friendly programming on Netflix and big buckets of popcorn. Lunches and dinners were either easy outdoor affairs - steaks, burgers, hot dogs and grilled corn cooked on the barbecue or on the last evening, a multi-course meal prepared in the chef’s gourmet kitchen - and for the adults, “happy hour” on the upstairs deck was a nightly highlight sipping a glass of fine wine while watching the sun slip over the horizon - a perfect end to each fun-filled day in one of the prettiest places on the planet.
In 1957, Walter Bregman completed a two year stint in Germany with the U.S. Army Signal Corps, and began his professional career stateside as a media research analyst with the Leo Burnett Company.
45 years later, Mr. Bregman concluded his professional career having been Worldwide President of International Playtex, Inc., Vice President of E & J Gallo Winery, Chairman and CEO of two different ad agencies and the Founder, President, and Owner of the Cormorant Beach Club. He authored Spray the Bear; Reminiscences from the Golden Age of Advertising, co-authored Seven Friends, Sixty Years Later and My Box of Chocolates, an Anecdotal Biography.
A graduate of Harvard University, Mr. Bregman lived all over the world, consulting on numerous corporate boards, and lecturing on advertising and marketing. But roughly six years ago, his college sweetheart and wife of 59 years developed serious spinal scoliosis and stenosis, confining her to a wheelchair, and it became necessary for Walter to become her primary caregiver. Appointments with doctors, surgeons; shopping and meal preparation took the place of board meetings, lectures and consulting. Anyone who has had to care for a loved one knows the strain, and just one of the dilemmas that follow: do we go out for dinner or order take-out, or do I take time away from caring for my wife and plan out our meals, shop for the groceries, and make them myself?
As wives are wont to do, Walter’s wife came through with a solution she’d seen in the newspaper: DineInLagunaWoods, a service that delivers meals to the house five nights a week. Suddenly, Walter said, “with delicious and easy dinners arriving at the house, time with my wife compounded exponentially. For $10, we received a thermal bag between 4:00-6:00 pm, ready to eat or save for later. I have not only consumed them on the day they were delivered, consumed them two or three days after I put them in the fridge, but even a week or more after I put them in the freezer.”
Unfortunately, Walter’s wife passed away, but he continues to use DineInLagunaWoods regularly, finding it helps him alleviate the stress of planning, prepping and cooking. While visiting a friend recently at Laguna Woods (an adult community that celebrated their 50th anniversary in 2014), it occurred to Walter that the dining delivery service would be perfectly suited to the retirement community, where folks are often unwilling or unable to cook seven nights a week, and similarly, would prefer not to indulge in weeks worth of expensive dinners at restaurants. He approached the owner of DineInLagunaWoods and suggested a partnership. “After all, shopping in supermarkets is not really that simple or convenient”, Walter notes, “plus, the number of economical and convenient restaurants is limited.” So, starting August 1st, DineInLagunaWoods will be supplying meals to Laguna Woods five nights a week for $10 a meal or two for $16.
May gray and June gloom are finally burning off (thank you summer gods!), and with the sun finally shining all day long, it’s the perfect weather to get to the beach - and really, what better way to spend a fun-filled day with family and friends than when everyone is in “vacation mode” and the kids are out of school? The rest of the summer is calling for clear blue skies and temperatures in the low to mid-80s at the beaches (truly temperate relative to the triple digits expected inland).
But getting to the coast can seem a daunting proposition: hauling a cooler, beach chairs, towels, umbrella, packed lunch, sand toys, and the latest beach read: which is why I believe the bungalows at the Pacific Edge Hotel are the best kept secret for the most unique, enjoyable way to experience the surf and sand.
Situated steps from the sand along a scenic stretch of Laguna Beach, the Pacific Edge Hotel features five themed beachfront suites, each with its own signature design and atmosphere and characterized by stunning interior decor that includes a comfortable living room overlooking the ocean, a VIP Bungalow Host, a private bathroom with shower, bar area, valet parking, catered food and beverages, air conditioning, flat screen televisions, and a private deck area with direct access to the beach. For our family, getting to the beach in the first place is a bit of a holiday in itself. Having discovered the luxury service of a private bungalow to relax for the day by the waves (and host my husband’s recent birthday soiree with family and friends) seems like a fairy godmother granted all my wishes at once. Typically, hotel beachside service includes a branded hotel umbrella, chaise lounge, mai tai, and some toys for the kiddos. Pacific Edge has taken the concept a entirely new level.
The hotel itself, set on the South Coast Highway, is just a mile and a half from the shops and art galleries in Laguna Beach, and twelve miles from Newport. Working with Billabong, Fox, Sailor Jerry and Gorjana + Griffin, the hotel designed a series of signature bungalows perfect for any type of gathering: corporate meetings, birthdays, engagement parties, rehearsal dinners, or even just the perfect “day cation.” New to the lineup is the XS Bungalow, also known as the COF, or Center for Optimal Fun. Designed to give guests the best of both adventure and opportunity, the Bungalow has partnered with the Eco Warrior foundation, offering surf lessons, snorkel and free dive tours, mountain biking, hiking, and Stand Up paddling. After a long day of adventuring, what better setting to relax at than your private deck with a cold XS cocktail in hand?
If you just can’t see outdoor adventure and relaxing beach day going together, try the Billabong Bungalow. My favorite of the five, offering a soothing color palette and laid back beach vibes, is the perfect spot to grab some sand and laze the day away. The reclaimed wood accents and epic images of surfers riding waves on the walls certainly add to the ambiance, making the bungalow the most divine daycation yet. With five bungalows to choose from, there’s something for everyone: the day we were there, an entire extended family were on hand in honor of their matriarch’s 80th birthday; a group of motocross racers and enthusiasts were celebrating a recent win; even a band of boys (men who went to high school together 20 years prior) were gathered for a day in the sun that was “reminiscent of a grown up version” of their childhood man fort. From glamorous Gorjana + Griffin to the fierce Fox Head bungalow, summer is waiting for you at Pacific Edge.
As summer approaches and the final weeks of school wind down before the crazy chaos that defines “family vacation” days descend upon our household, my husband and I decided to coordinate a romantic weekend to celebrate (both of our birthdays are in the same month). We were looking for a locale no longer than about an hour away by plane, with plenty of outdoor activities and indoor recreation, a temperate climate and fine wine and dining. And ideally an all-inclusive experience so that once we checked in, we wouldn’t want (or need) to leave until it was time to head home.
The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay (1 Miramontes Point Road, Half Moon Bay) proved to be the perfect two-night stay at an idyllic retreat situated between forested hills and a stretch of coastline that is arguably among the most beautiful scenery in northern California.
A mere 23 miles from San Francisco International Airport, this secluded, luxury hotel feels worlds away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. Perched atop a cliff on a crescent-shaped stretch of California coast with panoramic views of the Pacific, this luxury five-star, six-story resort is more akin to a European castle than a California hotel property. Spread out across the main building with several adjacent guesthouses, the 261 rooms are defined by marble soaking tubs, Egyptian cotton linens and large picture windows. From the moment we stepped into the lobby to the time we checked out, our experience was an unforgettable escape to another time and place.
From dramatic lanterns greeting guests on the front drive and glass of local wine offered upon check-in to indoor fireplaces throughout the property and wine tasting in Cork Wine Bar (the resort’s custom-built wine room), fire and wine define the “theme” of the guest experience here. Curl up with a good book at the communal firepits against a backdrop of breathtaking views and relax to the sound of waves crashing on the beach below. Enjoy a glass of wine at sunset or roast s’mores (gourmet kit available for purchase).
Rich in amenity and thoughtful touches range from a luxurious 16,000 square-foot spa, a trio of dining experiences (more on that later) and the Cork Wine Bar featuring Vintner Series wine tastings, local cheeses, expert sommeliers and over 5,000 bottles of wine. But our most favorite feature was hands-down The Ritz-Carlton Club Level. Often referred to as a “hotel within a hotel,” guest rooms and suites on this concierge level (available for an additional fee) allows access to an elegant, sprawling lounge characterized by sweeping ocean views (think waves crashing on the sand below and the signature 18th hole of one of the resort’s two championship golf courses), wood-burning fireplace and complimentary beverages and exceptionally delicious culinary delights served throughout the day.
We loved being able to pop in pretty much anytime during the day for a quick bite during the food and beverage presentations (Club Breakfast, Light Snack, Hors d’ourvres, Evening Desserts) - showcasing regional specialties made with locally sourced ingredients, whole fruit and freshly baked cookies. The lounge was the perfect place to unwind at the end of the day with a glass of wine, champagne or made-to-order cocktails paired with artisan cheeses and cured meats and a farm-fresh casual menu.
Take a long hike following the Coastside Trail which follows the ocean bluffs between Pillar Point Harbor and Poplar Avenue. If you’d rather take to the water, California Canoe and Kayak and Half Moon Bay Kayak Company rent kayaks and offer lessons and tours. Sea Horse Ranch offers trail rides on the beach every day (except when it’s storming) and you don’t need a reservation. Just drop by (wearing long pants) and they’ll do the rest (there are horses of every temperament for the novice to the experienced rider).
Dining is also a special experience at the resort, the recently renovated upscale Navio Restaurant serves coastal-inspired California cuisine against a backdrop of panoramic views of the Pacific. Meaning “ship” in Portuguese, Navio’s wooden ceiling resembles a boat hull and its menu changes with the seasons - dishes here are true farm-to-table appetizers and entrees. The Brandt Farms Prime Grilled filet was cooked to perfection and the Fort Bragg Black Cod served with serrano ham, Half Moon Bay Artichoke, fava beans and spring onions was melt-in-your-mouth heavenly - and that’s high compliment from a girl who’s half-Japanese and knows her way around black cod (aka butterfish). Other popular picks included the Diver Scallops which arrived with English peas, pork belly and Little Gem lettuce and the Olive Oil Poached Halibut accompanied by heirloom carrots, puffed wild rice and snap peas.
Cork Wine Bar: Stop by the resort’s signature wine room for flights of wines, cheese and chocolate, as well as wines by the glass or bottle. Sommeliers specialize in introducing guests to interesting new wines and in providing education on every aspect of the wines.
Vintner Series: For the curious beginner to the seasoned wine connoisseur, the resort’s Vintner Series brings California wine country and wine educators to Cork Wine Bar every weekend. Each month, a different California winery is featured and representative from the winery is on property each weekend to educate guests about their wines and wine in general.
Monthly Vintner Dinner: On one Friday each month, the Chef de Cuisine of Navio creates a custom four-course dinner menu, meticulously paired with wines from the monthly vintner. Ingredients for the vintner dinner, including produce, meat and fish, come from producers in and around Half Moon Bay.
For more information, visit ritzcarlton.com or call (650) 712-7000.
TESLA DRIVING EXPERIENCE
Ocean View accommodations
Drive Tesla Model S during stay
Daily breakfast for two in Navio
Resort Fee, including guestroom internet access
Overnight valet parking
Valid through May 31, 2016 -
Starting at $959 USD per night
McDonnell’s “masterpiece fighting jet,” the F-4 Phantom, rolled off the production line in December 1960, as a fleet defender built to intercept nuclear foes. Delivered to Miramar Naval Air Station, the jet was eventually bound for nearly four decades of service in the U.S. military.
For a rookie pilot, the F-4 could be a little hard to handle, its two-seater capacity requiring a little more of a team effort than fighter pilots were used to; and a nose that rose notoriously slowly off the deck of an aircraft carrier. For those of us who know nothing about planes, let alone what Mach 1 or 2 mean, a slow-going-nose doesn’t sound like much. But for Colonel Gregory G. Raths, USMC (RET) it was as much of a trial as any: with a bit of speed, that slow nose could over rotate to a stall. A rather rude initiation to the Marine Corps, if you ask me.
Luckily, meeting Col. Raths is nothing like stalling out over the deck of a 45,000 ton aircraft carrier, even though his sights are currently set on becoming a U.S. Congressman this year - perhaps a task equal to lifting off the deck in a multi-million dollar war machine.
A charming, well-spoken man, the Colonel speaks lovingly of his parents, and the four brothers and three sisters he grew up with in Phoenix, Arizona. The fifth of eight children, Col. Raths had an early view into the life of a serviceman. His father served in the Army Air Corps from 1941-1945, as a bomber pilot during WWII, and flew combat in the European theatre in the A-20, a night fighter and adaptable light bomber mostly used by the Allied forces in World War II. His mother stayed home full time with the family, keeping the household running.
“As a kid, I mowed lawns, delivered handbills, went door to door selling anything from light bulbs to Christmas lights,” he says. Each step around the neighborhood was a step towards a life of service: to his community first as an Eagle Scout, class president, and multi-sport athlete, and eventually to his country - joining the Marine Corps Officer Candidate Program in 1972 after his freshman year at Arizona State University (ASU).
“Why am I running for Congress? The answer is quite simple. ... We have a government with a 6% approval rating from the American people. Six percent. Congress members even now are receiving pay raises and huge benefits when Social Security recipients have not received a cost of living increase in 3 of the last 7 years. Hospital bills are rising. We need to make a decisive move.” -
Col. Gregory G. Raths
Enduring summer training at Quantico during the summers of 1973 and 1974, Col. Raths also received his Bachelor's Degree in Business in 1975. By the time he graduated flight school in Pensacola, FL, “Vietnam was over, and the military began drawing down its forces, and reducing its budgets. My first assignment was in Orange County, CA - at El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.”
Closed now, El Toro was long part of the vision of a developing community - a vision that Col. Raths would like to see brought back to American towns. Dwight Whiting, Boston-born founder of the town of El Toro, helped establish the first church, negotiated the arrival of the Santa Fe railroad through the valley, and saw the future of the community in its gentleman farmers: working hard and living off the wealth and proceeds of their walnut and apricot groves. Replaced now by shopping malls and a new town moniker, the vision Whiting and Col. Raths share for the country is fading, and Col. Raths believes it is time for a change.
“The American people have had enough,” he says. “We have been deceived, betrayed by our elected officials. We need new leaders with honesty and integrity” - two traits Col. Raths learned en force through his tours aboard the USS Midway, and later as squadron commander off the carrier USS Abraham Lincoln. “Washington D.C. has proven its ineptitude, and we must not allow this dreadful sequence to continue.”
His new assignment is a personal one: One he believes must be based on solutions, not politics as usual. Courage, rather than the opinion of a special interest group, or the hope of reelection.
Col. Raths has no aspirations to become a career politician - he’s already completed a 30 year military career and spent the past twelve years in the private sector as a commercial airline pilot, president of an automobile parts distribution firm, and is currently an author and publisher. He volunteers within his community of Mission Viejo as a member of the Elks Lodge, the Rotary Club, American Legion, VFW, St. Kilian Knights of Columbus and serves as President of the Board of Directors for the charity Patriots and Paws, a nonprofit organization that provides companion dogs, furniture and home goods to veterans and active duty members at no cost.
He is running for office because he simply believes that “a drastically new course for this nation must be drafted" and is committed to leading that charge on behalf of his friends, neighbors and fellow citizens in California's 45th Congressional District.
When asked what types of current policy he sees as going in the wrong direction that he would correct if elected to office, Col. Raths points to the "fiscal mismanagement of programs such as Medicare and Social Security."
"Why are members of Congress receiving pay raises and huge benefits when Social Security recipients have not received a cost of living increase in 3 of the last 7 years?" he asks. "Medicare co-payments, prescriptions and hospital bills are skyrocketing. I will focus on our seniors and see that they are taken care of.
“Why am I running for Congress? The answer is quite simple. We have a government with a 6% approval rating from the American people. Six percent. We need new leaders who are not worried about the next election or pleasing special interests groups. We can't count on the same politicians who got us into this mess to get us out. There is only one special interest group I am interested in serving: the people of the 45th Congressional District."
Col. Raths brings a unique experience and perspective to negotiating Washington’s political scene. Serving as Chief of Staff of the White House Military Office during Clinton’s administration taught Raths much about how career politicians function, and he’d like to be a force that changes those functions.
At Mach speeds, most modern aircraft must compromise in order to maintain handling ability. Supersonic speeds create shock waves, and the stronger the shock wave is, the greater the pressure difference, which causes a sonic boom. While those outside the cockpit are witness to the boom, those inside the aircraft cannot hear it. America is at the edge of Mach speed right now, cruising into the path of governmental dependence and the “damaging impact of complacency and apathy.” Col. Raths would like to take back the controls.
Overseeing military support from the White House is no small task, especially after serving in the military at such a volatile and unpopular time, and Raths is all too familiar with the stresses and victories surrounding military legislation coming from Congress.
He would like to make it clear that his next battle is back in Washington, fighting for the people of the 45th Congressional District where he’d like to “fix the mess that has been created by politicians invested in maintaining their power, rather than doing what they know is right based on the principles that made this nation great to begin with.”
For our future and that of our children and grandchildren: the time to survey the scene has passed. Start those engines, ladies and gentlemen.
Content approved by Supporters for Gregory G. Raths for Congress.
Hospitality has its origins in antiquity, with the first records of guest baths in Greek villages in early biblical times. Over the last two thousand years, the simple act of offering care for others has grown into a massive industry: from the first French and English rural inns and stables for travelers, to the splendor of the Plaza Hotel in New York.
Caring for others can be complicated, or it can be simple: and the San Clemente Villas are looking to keep it simple.
Aileen Brazeau and her husband Paul own and operate the Villas, and they’d like to think that hospitality is simply about listening. Listening to its residents, namely. “If we are successful at providing superior senior care and lodging, it is for that reason - we listen closely to what the residents tell us.” According to the U.S. Census Bureau, seniors will represent 20 percent of the U.S. population by 2030. As demand for senior housing rises, the Villas are ready to meet it with their signature recipe for success: hospitality.
Villas’ residents enjoy a level of service and care often missing from senior communities. Care plans are specifically tailored to residents’ daily individual needs, and with 24-hour assistance every day of the year, the center fosters as much independence as possible while still maintaining the highest level of comprehensive care. The staff, including an Assisted Living Care manager, Licensed Nurse, and Executive Director are involved on a daily basis with the well-being of each resident, ensuring that the safety, health and comfort of each resident comes first. “The first thing that Paul, I, and our staff focused upon when we opened our doors was that each resident has a story to tell, as well as unique needs. We are interested in their stories, and we care about their needs.”
Walking into the “grand hall” of The Villas is like walking onto lido deck of a cruise ship - minus the cruise director and napkins folded to look like chimpanzees. Clearly, Paul and his wife know exactly what they’re doing, and are excelling at it, as there are smiling seniors everywhere you look: chatting amongst themselves, or with visiting relatives or staff. If it isn’t Happy Hour on Tuesday or Thursday, there is bound to be a Luau, or Karaoke Birthday Party. And if that wasn’t enough to keep you entertained, The Villas host an annual “Villas’ Got Talent” show.
Taking a peek into the kitchens is an experience in itself, where a team of chefs prepare several entrees, side dishes and desserts at breakfast, lunch and dinner. “Our residents look forward to every meal”, Aileen states, noting that it is not unusual to see a home baked pie or cobbler on the menu, following a fresh, home-style lunch or dinner. “Casual “cafe-style dining is available, as is formal. Residents can even reserve a private dining room for family visits”. But balance and moderation are keys to offering a tailored care experience, and so the Villas also boast an exercise gym and beauty salon, a library, and a game area. Nightly movies are one of the most popular venues for the residents, showing on the “big screen” in a roomy theater setting.
Like any five star hotel, the Villas rely on the services that an on-site concierge offers. Through telephone and personal interactions, the Concierge provides exemplary customer service: allowing the residents to focus on the meaningful moments they have throughout their days, instead of stressing about what the day’s schedule looks like, worry about how to pick up a prescription off site, or how to challenge themselves to keep mind and body active. The “cruise ship that never sails” couldn’t be more accurate a way to describe the Villas. As cruise directors, Paul and Aileen operate the fully-staffed community. She, her Executive Director, Karen Milroy, along with long-time Marketing Director, Diana Sanchez, work magic in the Public Relations, Networking and Marketing arena, often hosting events at The Villas that are open to local businesses and the community.
On-site presence is what sets this community apart, and what keeps the ship afloat. Most senior residence communities operate through a parent corporation, run by hired representatives. Taking hospitality to the next level, Paul and Aileen have made it a point to keep their offices onsite at The Villas, and can be seen regularly participating in activities during the week. If you see them on-site, say hello, ask a question, and expect to be hosted like you are a part of the San Clemente Villas family.