As a female, I may be feeding the stereotype when I pen this, but my first thought when I have to take my car in for service (even for something as simple as an oil change) leads me to feelings of anxiety. A mechanic once told me with a straight face that the reason it felt like my tires were out of alignment was because the Earth was round. I took the car to a family friend a couple days later who has a small shop and he confirmed what I thought originally: that my tires were actually out of alignment.
It’s no wonder then, that I was a bit skeptical when I first learned of the Paradise Automotive Group nearly a decade ago, and the supposedly stunning service they offer to each one of their clients. No auto shop or dealership could possibly live up to a moniker like Paradise, in my mind. But John, Paradise’s President, literally lives up to the name: in fact, it’s his family title, and he wears it well. A Boston native who decided to give the Golden State a try 20 years ago thought he might stay when he found that Orange County residents had more than a passing passion for their cars: in specific, luxury automobiles.
Starting one vehicle at a time, John passed along his own passion for customer service, grew the business, and turned an island of an idea into an archipelago of phenomenal associates giving personalized attention to each client who walks through the doors. Glen McDorman, the on-site Service Manager, is no stranger to the concept of the idyll. A purveyor of the outdoors, he loves to head to the mountains with his wife and two boys for backpacking, fishing, snowboarding and mountain biking. Bringing in a healthy attitude curated outside, Glen counts each of his customers like he would his own wife and sons.
“We understand that everyone makes a choice when they bring their vehicle to us, and if we don’t meet their needs, we may never see them again.” Over the past 20 years, Glen and his team have seen a great many customers come back time and again when they have repair needs, and know that the secret to keeping them around is to go the extra mile: every single time.
“It isn’t just a secret of fishing or backpacking that when you head around that last bend in the trail or walk that extra foot into the river that you’re bound for a better view that you had before, or hook the fish that has been eluding you all day,” says Glen. “The trick to customer service is the same.”
Building a culture of honesty and openness is no small feat. “We give our customers fair advice about repair options, letting them know that even some repairs can wait until a future visit. We never recommend a repair that a customer doesn’t need.”
Specializing in one-stop shopping also makes it a simple equation for their clients. “Folks know they can have it all done here: from buying the model they’ve always wanted - be it hybrid, domestic work truck, or exotic - and then having everything taken care of over the course of the car’s lifespan.”
Oil changes, powertrain management diagnostics, transmission overhauls? No job is too large, or too small for the factory trained, ASE certified expert technicians working underneath Glen. “We only use the latest diagnostic tools and software. That coupled with decades of experience and training lets the techs diagnose and repair vehicles in an incredibly short amount of time. With no hassle: and nobody telling you the reason your car pulls to the right is the Earth’s spherical shape. Sounds like paradise indeed.
Paradise Automotive Group is located at 32592 Valle Road in San Juan Capistrano. For information, call (949) 347-2522 or visit www.jparadise.com
It would be difficult to put Nashville on the list of must see places if you didn’t have some kind of appreciation for music. Dubbed the “music city,” and named one of Traveller U.K.’s “cool places,” Tennessee’s capital city is home to legendary venues, publishing houses, gorgeous hotels, vibrant nightlife, and sprawling college campuses; like Vanderbilt and Belmont University. Founded by James Robertson, John Donelson, and named for Francis Nash (the Revolutionary War hero), the city grew exponentially during the 1970’s, and then again in the 90’s, when urban renewal became the city’s priority, and a handful of urban landmarks were constructed and revamped.
Among the monuments the city chose to renovate was the Country Music Hall of Fame, a museum dedicated to the legends of twang. The first members; Hank Williams, Fred Rose, and Jimmie Rodgers were inducted in 1961. Since, the country music’s trade created the accolade to recognize “significant contributions to the advancement of country music by individuals,” and has ranked among them the likes of Gene Autry, Garth Brooks, and Johnny Cash. Nashville’s downtown area features also an enormous assortment of entertainment, dining, and architectural attractions alongside its love of country music and musicians.
Metonymic with the industry it homes, it is no wonder that the city’s most popular tourist diversions involve the music scene. The Ryman Auditorium was home to the Grand Ole Opry until 1947 when the show moved on down the road to the Grand Ole Opry House, where it has since played several times a week, except for the winter run, (a limited edition, if you will): at the Ryman. If the Opry is what interests you, the best stay in Nashville is the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center (www.marriott.com). Less than ten miles from the airport and a ten-minute walk from the Opry itself, the accommodations and amenities qualify for an adventure in themselves while exploring Nashville.
A world away from the usual stuccoed hotels and motels along the usual strip of tourist trap attractions, the Gaylord Opryland is a step back in time. Boasting both indoor and outdoor pools, nine acres of indoor gardens, cascading waterfalls, an on-site spa, golf course and salon, there is no shortage of luxury to be found. 700,000 square feet of event space guarantee that the resort can host your most elegant, unforgettable meeting, conference, reunion, or reception without blinking an eye. Add to that the superior rooming, dining, and fitness opportunities on-site, and you might not actually ever leave the Opryland’s grounds.
Why would you, when you can take a boat tour on the indoor river, schedule a massage at the spa, or let the kids decide which one of the three pools to jump into first. The fitness center features your typical free weights and cardio equipment, just in case you’ve indulged in one too many Southern BBQ experiences, but also boasts 3,500 square feet of circuit training and a full body spa indulgence for your cool down. The choreographed show the Delta Fountain puts on is nothing short of spectacular, a feat of engineering that melds the beauty of light, water, and of course: music.
SummerFest featuring Music, Magic & Memories
Through September 3rd, the Gaylord Opryland Resort features SummerFest, an array of kid-friendly activities and attractions geared toward the property’s young guests. There are free events like the Hootenanny Hoedown (where DJ Tyrus gets you movin’and groovin’ with line dancing, limbo and kids karaoke), summer fountain shows (choreographed water, lights and music), a outdoor pool party complete with a summer playlist and the Learning Log (a giant fallen tree, hollowed out and made safe for exploration - crawl inside for a close-up look at the learning terrariums). An array of activities for a fee range from the Haunted History Tour (a PG-rated 40-minute narrated tour of the region’s spookiest tales), Junior Chefs Camp and “Music, Magic & Memories,” Live Atrium Show showcasing music, water, lights and extraordinary performers unite in a heart-pounding extravaganza. Our kids had an absolute ball becoming Tennessee trivia insiders on an interactive adventure exploring the resort to discover all the surprising hidden fun facts to turn in their completed booklets for a special prize.
If the kids somehow grow tired of the river tours, pools, and fountain show, look no further for city history than Centennial Park’s Parthenon. The pinnacle of architecture in the ancient world, Nashville’s version is a gorgeous, full-scale replica, complete with the 42-foot statue of Athena, built for Tennessee’s 1897 Centennial Expo.
Leaving Athena’s home base, travel to Hermitage: the home of America’s advocate for the common man, and the 7th President of the United States: Andrew Jackson. Built solidly on 1,120 acres of farmland, the mansion features tours led by costumed docents, seasonal walking tours through the estate’s state of the art museum, and horse-drawn wagon tours. Our young history buffs were enthralled by “The Duel - Art of the Southern Gentlemen,”a 30-minute new visitor experience and actual dueling demonstration by Hermitage’s historical re-enactors.
Stepping back even further into the past, visit the Italian-style villa and residence of Tennessee’s own steel magnolia: Adelicia Acklen. Constructed in 1853, Acklen’s estate is drenched in history, from the ornate Victorian furnishings, to the history behind the Union’s headquarters during the Civil War.
Cruise through time with the Delta Riverboat Company on a guided tour of the Gaylord Opryland’s 4.5 acre indoor garden. Build up an appetite along the way and indulge in The Old Hickory Steakhouse, and see your fill of water attractions, working both with and against gravity. Three waterfalls, an 85-foot fountain, and a ride through Nashville’s most beautiful resort await.
Water not really your pace? Trade in for a unique combination of music and transportation with the Old Town Trolley Tour. A 1.5 hour guided roll through the streets of the Music City shows you straight to the heart of Fort Nashborough, the Cumberland’s fur trade, and each musicians heart wrenching dream played out from the steps of the bus to the streets of Broadway. A real “transportainment” delight.
From Ryland Auditorium to the steps of the Grand Ole Opry, tour music history and get the backstage story of each musician to walk the stage. Cross paths with the nation’s own country music superstars, and see just what happens behind the scenes of the show that made their names!
The Goo Goo Shop and Dessert Bar
Our kids had a ridiculous amount of fun (and consumed an insane amount of chocolate and other sugary confections) during a hands-on chocolate class and dessert sampling where we all had an opportunity to make our very own version of the Goo Goo Cluster. The world’s first ever combination candy bar as imagined by the Standard Candy Company was created right here in Nashville in 1912. The original version is a roundish mound of caramel, marshmallow nougat, fresh roasted peanuts and rich milk chocolate. Our kids’ iterations also included oreos, pretzels, sprinkles and pecans and were a gooey-chocolate-y delight the effects of which lasted well into the evening and made for one of our most memorable activities while visiting Music City, USA. The Goo Goo Shop and Dessert Bar is located 116 3rd Ave. S in downtown Nashville (googoo.com).
Woolworth on 5th
Calling itself a "welcome table of southern roots and rhythms,” the building this reinvented restaurant resides was originally built in the 1890s and opened for business as one of the country’s first iconic “five and dime” stores in 1913. Today, Woolworth on 5th (woolworthon5th.com) is a registered historic site which honors the history of space with an upbeat atmosphere with food, music and dancing for all. The menu here explores the roots and history of Southern culinary arts, with ingredients and techniques that can be traced all over the globe - and the beverage program is inspired by the building’s previous life as a diner, where guests can order fro a menu of accessible, soda fountain-inspired cocktails, wine and beer. The basement level is home to the “New Era Ballroom,” which hosts a variety of regular music and performances - with emphasis on the sounds of the 1950s, 60s and 70s.
In the past decade, public attention has shifted to focus on the matter of how we obtain our food, and what exactly is going into the making of our favorite meals. While not a new concept to the chefs we hold in high esteem, diners’ focus has made those chefs offerings more and more coveted. It isn’t just ambiance or candlelight anymore: it is locally sourced ingredients, quality extras, artisanal cheeses and handpicked wines. Located in the gorgeous Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel and designed in the spirit of a time-honored classic American steakhouse, enoSTEAK pays as much attention to its decor as to its fare.
The elegant eatery harkens back to an earlier era - a time steeped in tradition and attention to detail. Its interior is defined by rich wood, marble flooring and upholstered furnishings. With works by critically acclaimed painter Sandra Jones Campbell adorning the wood-paneled walls, everything is intentional: everything is intimate. An ambiance that pairs beautifully with its exquisite culinary offerings and expansive list of highly-rated California vintages (on impressive display as the centerpiece of the dining room is a floor-to-ceiling glass wine cellar).
My husband, Tim, and I recently met with friends here to celebrated his 50-something birthday (enoSTEAK is consistently his special occasion restaurant of choice). We all indulged in a glass of fine wine and beautifully presented, delicious dishes made from the highest quality ingredients … including what are arguably among the best steaks in Orange County featuring prime and grass-fed, pasture-raised beef. The organic produce is locally grown and harvested at the peak of the season. The majority of the herbs used to enhance each specialty appetizer and entree are gathered from the resort’s organic garden. The fish is sustainable and either farm raised or pole/troll caught. enoSTEAK also highlights artisanal cheeses, charcuterie and of course, the aforementioned selection of varietals.
The menu changes are based on the essence of the season. enoSTEAK’s menu in May featured noteworthy starters, including its signature cheese and meat board enhanced with farmer’s market accompaniments, beef tartar perfectly flavor paired with goat cheese, crispy salsify, watercress and horseradish and the Dungeness crab beignet that is as delicious and decadent as it sounds.
When given the choice, my husband almost always opts for meat-and-potatoes and he didn’t deviate on this night. He selected the prime filet (grilled to a perfect medium rare and accompanied by a spring onion gratin). I, on the other hand, typically steer toward seafood selections and opted for the butter basted scallops with carrot puree, charcoal and snap pea.
Other showcased entrees range from a 42-day dry-aged 18 oz. prime ribeye chop and coffee-rubbed Wagyu NY Steak (a more marbled cut than the filet) to pan-seared Una’s salmon and Mary’s roasted chicken with polenta cake and marsala reduction.
Accompanying the handcrafted meats and seafood are a selection of five signature compound butters including creamy horseradish, herb and garlic butter/truffle butter, cognac green peppercorn, béarnaise and enoSTK sauce. Enhancements to the entrees include sherry cream sauteed mushrooms, truffled white cheddar cavateli (the chef’s inspired spin on “mac and cheese), Yukon potato mash and Caesar brussel sprouts.
Highlighting the light end of the dining spectrum is enoSTEAK’s Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel counterpart: 180blu. Offering breathtaking views of Salt Creek Beach over 100 feet below, the outdoor dining venue gives restaurant goers a lounge-like setting in which to relax into the heady Southern California evenings. Featuring small plates and desserts from Raya, and the culinary mind of acclaimed chef Richard Sandoval, 180blu’s culinary offerings showcases sustainable seafood, local produce, natural and organic meat dishes that draws inspiration from California and Asian cuisines.
180blu complements the focus on intentional quality with handcrafted beverages from the bar’s expert mixologists. Views of the sunset go down almost as smoothly as their signature cocktails, offering the quintessential Laguna Beach experience to all who indulge.
The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel at One Ritz Carlton Drive in Dana Point.
For more information or reservations, please call (949) 240-2000 or visit www.ritzcarlton.com/lagunaniguel
Relax, Reconnect and Retreat to the Bernardus Lodge & Spa
Someone once told me that Carmel was about the “same driving distance from Orange County as it is to Mammoth Lakes.” What they failed to mention was that this picturesque seaside city but is a world away from the rugged peaks of the Eastern Sierra - particularly when planning a romantic retreat defined by gourmet cuisine, fine wine, panoramic ocean views and a languorous pace.
Situated on the southern bend of the Monterey Peninsula, Carmel is 120 miles south of San Francisco, and is an historic nod to the independent and creative spirit of California’s early residents. The last time we visited the region a few years ago, we spent time in Monterey with a mind toward family-friendly fun and the town’s arguably incomparable aquarium. This trip, however, wasn’t about the area’s early inhabitants, cultural significance or family attractions. This was an escape - for grownups only. Pure and simple.
On foot, or by car, there is no lack of activities in Carmel - a quaint, seaside town chock full of fresh air, quaint breakfast nooks, boutique shopping, art galleries, and antiques: all tucked into corners lined with California Cypress or tracked through by cobblestone pavers. The Scenic Road - just off the far end of Ocean Avenue - offers views to transfix, of both stunning homes and the Pacific seascape below.
So we set our sights on the 28-rolling acre estate that is home to the Bernardus Lodge & Spa in Carmel Valley (bernarduslodge.com), for a taste of romantic perfection. Rooms replete with seagrass wall coverings, bathrooms with heated floors and ash wood throughout were just what the doctor ordered. We would achieve our slow ambulations through the Lodge’s gardens and vineyards, and enjoy a VIP wine tasting, farm-to-table fare and garden-to-glass experiences (Bernardus produces its own honey and wine to give its food and drink menu an added personal touch - take a guided hive walk in the property’s new apiary, flush with 180,000 Italian honey bees). Because Bernardus Lodge & Spa has an extensive range of organics on site, from herbs to veggies, vineyards to fruit trees, the estate produces much of its seasonal menu on-site: a dream for a couple of amateur foodies.
Lucia Restaurant + Bar, named after the eponymous mountain range that runs southeast from Monterey County, features an eclectic and airy space, perfect for afternoon drinks or in-between meals, and a bar chock full of craft cocktail specialties. We enjoyed a round of drinks in the bar, and followed it with a hearty entree from Chef Cal Stamenov. A graduate of the California Culinary Academy, Cal moved across the country to test his skills at New York’s famed Four Seasons, then worked his way west again to perfect his talent in restaurants all along the coast. At home in the rustic-ranch decor of Lucia, the communal table is never bare of a local, artisanal favorite straight from the garden.
Indulge in the VIP Experience at the Bernardus Winery - an exclusive private tasting with a personal host of Bernardus’s smaller production vineyard designated wines paired with three of my favorite things in life: Artisan cheeses, charcuterie and chocolate.
The city of Carmel might well be a photo reference for Merriam-Webster’s definition of “intimate” - and the property at Bernardus is no different. We were consumed by the solitude, and not at all surprised by the fact that the valley was recently named one of the top ten most romantic places in Travel + Leisure. The roaring surf nearby, more than 300 days of sun, and world-class amenities at hand were more than enough to set all of our cares aside and soak into the weekend. Having a spa onsite where we could practice yoga, surrender to all-natural treatments at the salon, and relax poolside was almost too decadent. Needless to say, we somehow managed. We’re looking forward to our next visit - to enjoy another glass of wine or two out on the bocce lawns. I’m owed a rematch anyway.
I giggled my way through my first yoga class. I took one in college, alongside two of my girlfriends, and we just couldn’t keep a straight face, as the instructor talked us through our poses in one of the phoniest, most nasally voices we’d ever heard. (We’d all heard him talking on the phone before class: his actual voice sounded nothing like what we heard when the lights dimmed!) We laugh at ourselves now, years after, as all three of us have been (on and off over the years) enthusiastic practitioners of the highly touted, extremely popular workouts that originated in the East over five thousand years ago.
Full disclosure: For my part, I’d been more off than on in recent years so I was particularly excited to hear that the five-star rated Montage Laguna Beach had started offering classes to the public on-site at its acclaimed oceanfront spa.
My friend, Kathryn (who is a complete hoot and a newbie to yoga) and I recently headed down to see if we could stretch into a few poses without dissolving into giggles. What we found was certainly no laughing matter. Spa Montage offers an entire series of classes designed for all ages and abilities - in an amazing studio space defined by spectacular ocean views.
We signed up for the Power Yoga class, which offers a dynamic combination of strength, sweat and spirituality, with an emphasis on strong standing poses while toning muscles and calming the mind. Because this was Kathryn’s first experience of the ancient practice, the instructor incorporated Vinyasa Flow linking breath and movement.
Open now to the public as well as resort guests, the practice is both morning and afternoon, covering everything from Gentle Flow, Vinyasa Flow and Power Yoga to Sound Meditation and Restorative Flow; releasing stagnant energy and building a strong support system through joints, blood flow, and connective tissue health. Signing up is as easy as popping open the MindBody app, and if you’re hooked, like we are, you can purchase monthly passes or package deals that even offer access to other spa amenities such as the whirlpool, sauna and steam areas. Grab your girlfriends (or anyone, for that matter) and flow into your week with Spa Montage (for information, call 949-715-6010).
Following the yoga class, we still had a couple of hours to while away before picking our kids up after school, so we each signed up for a signature spa treatment - Kathryn chose the Laguna Glow Massage - a warm, soothing, stress-relieving salt stone massage (after which she claimed she wanted to adopt the therapist - who was that good). I opted for the Laguna Beach Body Rescue (which I thought particularly appropriate given my extended absence from regular yoga practice). My therapist was equally skilled - my deep tissue massage enhanced by aromatherapy was a wonderfully relaxing mid-day indulgence.
When I was 24 and planning a trip with a girlfriend to Cabo San Lucas, our families thought the idea sounded, well, fine. They didn’t know much about the destination other than it was resort town, and that some people they knew owned a timeshare there. So as we boarded the plane to fly down, my friend and I had little inkling that we would spend much of the next decade reminiscing about Cabo as one of our best vacations ever. Annoying, it must have been, to hear all about the pools and the sun and the hammocks and the food. At least that’s what my husband told me. Right up until he suggested that we take our kids.
Our just-turned 10-year-old daughter is still obsessed with Disney’s Moana, so we had to fudge a bit when we were explaining that while it wasn’t Hawaii, we would be swimming in the same ocean (and we could definitely still sing “You’re Welcome”) while sunning on the sand under the palm trees. Our 11-year-old son is excited about anything involving the ocean and when he learned that there would be a “kids” and “teens” club chock full of age-appropriate activities, he was beside himself in anticipation. Cabo, on the razor’s edge of sand and surf, offers an inspired, elegant destination vacation a quick two hours by plane from Orange County. As such, the Los Cabos Corridor has become a prime escape year round. And the AAA Five Diamond Award winning Grand Velas Los Cabos (grandvelas.com) might just be its crown jewel.
Offering beachfront vistas from the balcony of every luxury suite, its tranquil setting on the shimmering shores of the Sea of Cortez makes simple work of forgetting the bustle and vibe of Cabo San Lucas, just beyond the Carreterra Transpenninsular. This is the fifth resort in the Velas Resorts family of hotels. Once here, you feel utterly removed from your everyday life. That utter removal can be of just about any flavor – we were making a four-day family vacation with a focus on adventure, rejuvenation and simple togetherness, but golf aficionados, outdoor enthusiasts, couples, girlfriends and foodies will all find something exceptional at the all-inclusive luxury beachfront resort.
Incomparable accommodations & amenity
The resort offerings include 304 oceanfront suites (with more than 100 connecting rooms - ideal for families with kids or even multi-generational family members vacationing together).
For spa enthusiasts, the Grand Velas offers one of the most luxurious sanctuaries for the spirit. Naturally it features a comprehensive menu of holistic, wellness-inspired treatments, cleansing facials and therapeutic massages, based on age-old rituals and treatments; but it also offers a world-class experience, with 20 spa suites, a lavish Water Ceremony, beauty salon and spa boutique - in an environment defined by the breathtaking beauty where the desert meets the sea on the Baja Peninsula.
The dining experiences at the Grand Velas stand on their own and are likely the reason that many travel long distances to visit. Seven on-property dining venues offer something for every taste, mood and interest. For more sophisticated palates (by that I mean parents vs. younger children), the Grand Velas features an incomparable pair of dining destinations: the French-influenced Piaf and the resort’s signature restaurant - Cocina De Autor, a elegant-casual dining experience for guests 18+ led by celebrated Two Michelin Star Chef Sidney Schutte of the Netherlands and characterized by “creative cuisine” - each meal an extraordinary culinary journey - presented with exceptional service.
Family-friendly eateries include Azul (casual buffet and a la carte menu), the pool-casual Cabrilla for ceviche and seafood, and a trio of resort casual eateries: Velas 10 (steaks and seafood), Lucca (Italian-Mediterranean) and Frida (gourmet Mexican). From its restaurants to its in-room dining, from its robust wine program to its seasonal menus, the Grand Velas has something for every epicurean.
All about perspective
Most adults think of Mexico and see visions of bikini’d spring breakers, but I knew better. My 24-year-old brain took me immediately back to the magic of paradise- and that, without the built in amusement of Grand Velas’ Kids Club and Teens Club. Reserved especially for children, the resort serves up an impressive, all-inclusive platter of activities for the kids to choose from in their very own 1,000-square-foot retreat (for kids ages 4 to 12) replete with storytelling, board games, arts and crafts, bingo, movies and more for the younger set. Teens (ages 13+) enjoy their own state-of-the-art 2,700-square-foot facility to partake in everything from healthy cooking classes, movies and foosball to Xbox and Wii. Each day’s worth of activities are tailored to the child’s age and interests, so there isn’t any chance of that dreaded summertime phrase: “I’m bored.” Open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., the Club is complimentary with the resort’s standard package, including dinner every evening and group activities that stretch well into the night hours.
All-inclusive resort and babysitting on-site? My husband could truly experience the incredible paradise of one of my favorite vacation destinations, and our kids could too: with the added bonus of anytime activity at the Club. We took full advantage, discovering the Baja outback, and explored all that Cabo had to offer we two novice oenophiles (read: wine lovers) while our kiddos formed new friendships and played at the Club. They had no clue that Mom and Dad (during part of our vacation anyway) were busy soaking - literally - in red wine, red wine leaf extract, and post-winemaking grape marc in warm water. The antioxidants and bath temperature provide the body with penetrating nourishment and revitalization that seeps into each and every pore. Perhaps next time we’ll take advantage of the Wine Lover’s Getaway: hopping on a private jet transport to Baja California’s top wineries to make our own vintage.
This time, though, was largely about family bonding and adventure so we scooped up the kiddos and experienced the surf and sand together, letting our imaginations run wild: pretending that Poseidon himself was the king of the resort, but mostly just imagining what it would be like to never come home. Not hard to pretend when sailing, scuba, snorkeling, fine dining, fitness, and fishing charters are the theme of the day, nor when the family suites feature private terraces, bathrobes and slippers in mini sizes, and kid-friendly evening turndown. Perhaps never was there a resort that actually understood the need for families to get away together, and still have ample time and space for personal reflection and relaxation.
With all that the Grand Velas has to offer in activities, amenities, services and dining, the delight of being there is ultimately of the atmosphere, and that comes down to two things: beauty and people.
While hospitality professionals are typically welcoming, the staff at the Grand Velas are authentically convivial. So much so that either the resort has found hundreds of matchless thespians dedicated to guest satisfaction (from the seamless check-in process upon arrival to 24-hour in-suite room service) - or the Grand Velas’ team truly enjoy being there. I believe it is the latter. The personal concierge service here sets a new standard in hospitality excellence.
As to beauty, the Grand Velas is simply an exquisitely designed place with lovely spaces; starting with its majestic, tiered architecture opening out to panoramic views of the Gulf of Mexico where the golden sand embraces turquoise waters, from the grand, fifth-floor open-air lobby to the well-appointed suites, you cannot escape a floor-to-ceiling sense of unrivaled beauty. And so at every turn you are inspired to tranquility and delight. Ultimately, that is how our family spent a few days away and what we’ll remember most – enjoying time together against what is arguably among the most magnificent of backdrops.
My husband recently discovered that there are certain restaurants in our area which have a “ghost menu.” Items the chefs are willing to whip up for guests, but only if you know what to ask for. His immediate request? A grilled cheese sandwich. I couldn’t help but laugh. All the choices in the world awaited, including some of the best kept secret recipes of city’s cooking elite, and he picks a grilled cheese. His response? “You can’t ever go wrong with comfort food.”
He was right. And that’s exactly what EATS Kitchen & Bar at the Hotel Irvine offers: except that instead of a ghost menu, the entire regular menu is chock full of comfort-food-gone-gourmet. Forget the stale pub-concept eatery and remix the classics with the chef’s creative take on all your favorite staple foods - his culinary passion is evident in his mouthwatering signature burgers, regional specialties and tapas-style small bites. Right alongside delicious craft beers, intriguing wines, and signature handcrafted cocktails. Featuring indoor and outdoor spaces to lounge and linger, including an outdoor fire pit, EATS takes the foods your Mom fed you on your birthday and family holidays, and serves them up with vibrant decor and a circular bar centerpiece.
Featuring expansive indoor and outdoor spaces, cozy booths and an alfresco patio with fire pit, EATS Kitchen & Bar decor draws inspiration from all over the world. Chef Jeff combines international flavors with local, farm-fresh ingredients to create a menu that is decidedly original and delicious. For starters, we opted for the Butcher’s Board - the chef’s selection of artisan meats, grilled sourdough and house pickles.
The signature EATS burger was worth writing home about - and that’s really saying something since my husband is quite the connoisseur (his burger arrived on a brioche bun with smoked bacon, Tillamook cheddar, house aioli and onion bacon jam - wonderful flavors you might not think to pair. My steak wedge was a equally flavorful, inventive blend of grilled sirloin, pancetta, blistered tomatoes, capers, pickled red onion, chives and Point Reyes blue cheese dressing. House specialties range from the steelhead salmon with beluga lentils, wilted spinach and lemon caper butter and red wine braised beef short ribs accompanied by house fries and coleslaw to the prime flat-iron steak paired smoked bacon, fingerling potatoes, broccolini and chimichurri.
We sampled each of the three “sweets” - a warm brown butter chocolate chip cookie with vanilla ice cream and hot fudge and a chocolate mud pie with nutella creme anglaise. I’m not generally a fan of butterscotch, but the butterscotch pot de creme with salted caramel was smooth, rich dessert worth writing home about.
EATS Kitchen & Bar
in the Hotel Irvine is located at 17900 Jamboree Road in Irvine.
For reservations or more information, call (888) 230-4452 or visit hotelirvine.com
I love the concept of consignment - finding a true treasure for which someone else paid full retail and I get the benefit of acquiring the same item sans the depreciation. But I have a friend for whom the word “resale” is synonymous with sketchy deals on Craigslist. Suffice it to say that it took some doing to convince her to explore the offerings of the San Juan Capistrano-based Revel Consignment.
We were on our way to lunch and had some time before our reservation so we walked in and got so caught up perusing the beautifully displayed furniture, art and home accent pieces that very nearly missed meeting our friends on time. Selling both new and consigned furniture is just the tip of the iceberg; eclectic decor, accessories, and design inspiration ensure a unique and ever-changing shopping experience for each customer who walks through the door.
Owners Kathleen “Katie” Dabney and Sam Gaylord came from relatively disparate backgrounds to start Revel Consignment. Their mutual love of design and flair for creativity blossomed out of years in the finance and marketing industries, reflecting in the detailed care and management of San Juan’s showcase consignment shop.
“We wanted to create a one-of-a-kind store, full of beautiful treasures our customers would be delighted to take home,” says Katie. “We’re upscale, but accessible: and we think that’s the main reason folks love shopping with us.” Revel’s inventory is updated daily, and covers everything you might want in your dream home: from quality furniture, lighting and wall art to accessories such as throw pillows, mirrors, and statement decor pieces.
Sourcing from all over the world, Revel takes only the best, and offers personal and quick delivery right to your home for a nominal charge.
“Some interior design firms offer up only full scale services, costing thousands of dollars,” says Katie. “We bring it home to you: one piece at a time, or everything you want at once.”
My friend is almost never actually looking for anything specific. She is one of those shoppers that seems to perennially window-shop. But, given the reins in this gorgeous store, she shopped like a stealth bomber flies: silent and deadly. We wandered around Revel chatting and laughing as casually as if we were walking down the street, until she saw something she liked. It was all over after that.
“We’re not an antique mall,” Katie says with a laugh. We would heartily agree. My friend walked through Revel like she had been let into a museum full of fine art that she could take home and show off to the ladies in her garden club.
“We’re here providing quality that lasts, for a style and design sense that will survive trends and fast fads. Yes, it is eclectic, and edgy, but there is a piece for every room, no matter what vintage or vision our customers have.”
We walked out of Revel with a pretty pewter serving tray, complete with scrollwork edging and the weight of history behind it. Headed for a life on an antique steamer trunk in my friend’s receiving room, the tray had not one thing to do with her image of Craigslist deals in supermarket parking lots. In fact, you’ll have a much easier time finding brass and crystal accents or the latest spring combinations within the walls of Revel Consignment.
“It isn’t enough to provide a single space with a few beautiful elements. Walking into the home of your dreams requires following the golden rule of decorating from William Morris; ‘Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful’”. And my friend and I would agree: there’s certainly no shortage of either here.
Revel Consignment is located at 31896 Plaza Drive, Suite E3 in San Juan Capistrano. To connect with Katie and Sam directly, call (949) 388-9070 or visit www.revelresale.com
The word ‘omni’ is the root of a great many words in the English language. From Latin, it means ‘all, every, the whole’, and can be attached to both ‘omnis’ and the more simple root: ‘op’. Abundance. Wholeness. What a magnificent pair of adjectives to describe a weekend away. Omni La Costa Resort and Spa takes those adjectives very seriously, as well as the root word they came from. An all-inclusive location in gorgeous, sun-kissed Carlsbad, California, the property has everything one might need for a girlfriends retreat, family vacation, or romantic getaway. You name it, Omni provides it: all within easy reach of long beaches, popular tourist attractions, and just thirty miles from San Diego International Airport. It’s all there: luxury omnipresent.
With upwards of 600 rooms on-premises, Omni La Costa has exactly what you need for a good night’s sleep, and an abundance of in house amenities to make your stay more comfortable. Choose from a variety of guest rooms, or upgrade to a villa. From vibrant hues matching the championship golf courses to the deepest blues of the Pacific: relaxation made thoughtful. A plush bed all you need? Look no further than the elegant furnishings in each room. Close to the centre of the hotel or overlooking the golf course, or even upgrading to a room as expansive as the views it offers, no ask is too great.
If you’re more interested in turning your weekend away into an athletic adventure, the world class golf and tennis, athletic club with yoga, pilates, body sculpting, spin, and zumba classes, or even the mind expanding exercise of meditation and the rejuvenative properties of the Carlsbad Spa offer guests the chance to up their fitness game and recover in style. Customize your day with an early or late start, and surrender stress, whatever your routine may be, with a facial, massage, aromatherapy consult, or salt soak before your mani/pedi.
Eat up at VUE, where fresh, local, earthy fare, craft beer and fine wine abound. Featuring creative dishes inspired by the magnificent “vue” of northern San Diego, the restaurant has a unique selection of cocktail options to offset its morning favorite: daily pancakes and a chef’s calendar or Benedicts over a sunrise breakfast. If you’re not an early riser, check out the all day menu for a long lunch, or family dinner. Also on-site? Bob’s Steak and Chop House, where the mission is simple: prime steaks, big pours, exceptional service. Bob’s tees up on simple elegance and lively atmosphere and hits a homerun every time.
I know when I’m headed out for a relaxing weekend, the last item I want to look at is a calendar, yet, Omni La Costa’s weekly events download is the best resource out there for adding some unexpected flair to a luxury weekend. Headed to the resort with your best girlfriends? Perhaps a spin class is just what you need to get going. Have the kids in tow? Kidtopia Kid’s Club is just the thing. A full and rotating list week-to-week gives you just the amount of flexibility needed to feel untethered yet still occupied. If the kids’ need a bit more on their plate, perhaps the mention of the resort’s Splash Landing Pools will do the trick.
Our kids literally lived at the pools - where they spent several hours plunging down the two 100-foot water slides next to the family pool. Splash around in the water play area or wade into the Splash Cafe, where sandwiches, salads, cocktails and sweet treats await each hungry family member. Eight different pools, cabanas, gazebos, heated garden pools and jacuzzis: even a sandy beach pool for the young ones. All-inclusive luxury was never so easy, or omnipresent.
The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch
Take yourself out of the ordinary and spend a few hours in one of nature’s wonders; a place where kids can run and adults can linger. This 50 acres of extraordinary color is in bloom on a hillside overlooking the Pacific Ocean and offers a special nursery, garden, and gift shop by Armstrong Garden Centers in addition to festivals throughout the season.
California Water Sports at the Carlsbad Lagoon
There’s something for everyone here … if you’re looking for a relaxing time out on the water, they rent kayaks, canoes, peddle boats, aqua cycles and standup paddle boards (including kid-size kayaks and paddle boards). If you’re looking to add a little more horsepower to your visit, they offer a few different motorized options: a runabout, waverunners or a pontoon boat (that accommodates up to eight guests) that you are able to drive around the lagoon yourself. For info, visit www.CarlsbadLagoon.com
The Omni La Costa Resort & Spa is located at 2100 Costa Del Mar Road in Carlsbad. For reservations, call (760) 438-9111 or visit www.omnihotels.com
All the stars were in alignment in early April. Our kids and our family friends’ children (who live in Napa) ended up with the same spring break schedule AND all the grownups were able to arrange time off of work to spend a few days away in one of the prettiest places on the planet: Lake Tahoe’s South Shore.
Since we’ve been back, our children haven’t been able to stop raving about the trip. In fact, they’ve been talking it up so much that friends here at home joked that someone must have put them on retainer while they were there: “they must be on commission, right?” No, no. It was just that much fun.
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 there with friends.
With some of the world’s best skiing, restaurants, nightlife, and family friendly fun all within a stones throw of what is arguably one of the most beautiful alpine lakes south of the Canadian border, it isn’t a wonder that we found more to do in a weekend than most visitors experience over a two-week vacation.
Situated on the California-Nevada Stateline, South Lake Tahoe of the only destinations in the country with all the outdoor adventure of a national park, and the amenities you might find at a world-class resort, there is something for everyone. Especially coming into the most beautiful time of year in the American West. Late season skiing at Heavenly, with virtually no lines and open runs beckoning to get the day started, and an apres ski cocktail or hot cocoa to end a day on the slopes – you couldn’t ask for a more idyllic way to spend the day.
Local hiking to snowmelt filled waterfalls in the early months of summer or a family camping trip in the crisp mountain air await, with most RV-parks and campgrounds open mid-May through October. Then, of course, the region’s well-earned distinction as a world-class winter (and spring) ski destination.
Heavenly Ski and Ride School
Although my husband is an experienced skier (and the only one of the adults qualified to attempt to teach the collective four enthusiastic first-time snowboarders ranging in age from nine to 12), he was more than a little overwhelmed at the prospect. So we made what turned out to be the BEST decision by signing the kids up for private snowboard lessons at the Heavenly Ski and Ride School (www.skiheavenly.com).
Our very own world-class instructor, Ryan Goralski, went way, way, way above and beyond our (and our kids’) wildest expectations in terms of amping up the fun factor and turning two half days of private lessons on the slopes into the adventure of a lifetime.
Ryan’s personalized attention and approach to customizing his lesson to match their individual goals and abilities allowed each child to grow at the speed and level they were comfortable with and made for what just might be the most memorable trip to date!
While parents can structure a private lesson “however you like” for a unique mountain experience, we left the kids in Ryan’s completely capable hands and they came back regaling us with tales of “conquering the mountain,” building their very own “Snowdawg” mascot, skipping the lines (exclusive ski school lift lanes provide quick access to the slopes) and “chowing down on burgers and fries” at lunchtime and spectacular, panoramic views of the lake from their vantage point atop the mountain and on the roundtrip gondola to Heavenly Village.
If sleeping under the stars just isn’t your cup of tea, there are myriad hotels and motels all around the South Shore. But for our family – who enjoy meeting up with extended family or friends with their own kiddos on a semi-annual basis - we have found the comfortable, cozy and convenient accommodation is to bypass a traditional hotel room and opt instead 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 deluxe mountain home we selected, located at 2203 White Sands Drive in the Tahoe Keys, is a super spacious newly renovated four-bedroom waterfront house centrally located to everything - grocery stores, shops, the casinos at stateline.
The mountain and water views from many of the rooms are breathtakingly beautiful and the back door opens out onto an expansive deck steps from the water’s edge. Between its location, 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 and second bedroom both feature a king bed and private bathroom) and a queen bedroom that shares a bathroom with fourth bedroom outfitted with a pair of twin beds was ideal for the younger set.
We saved time and money by being able to cook our meals and dining in rather than eating out three times a day. A couple of cozy fireplaces provided the perfect ambiance for cool nights and a foosball table in the bonus room kept the kiddos occupied indoors.
Unlike vacations where we schedule a series of specific activities designed to keep everyone busy and entertained away from the hotel room, this trip was all about taking full advantage in all this rental home had to offer – after returning from the slopes, the kids were in and out of the house all afternoon and early evening, spending hours tossing snowballs and making snow angels in the yard. Evenings were filled with board games 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 - and for the adults, “happy hour” on the 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.
From winter sports to water sports and everything in between, who needs a commission?