Ann Laurence

Ann Laurence

My father does not like debt. My father does not like debt in the way that most people don’t like spiders, or brussel sprouts. It irks him. He (and his own father) both worked their way out of debt, and have been fortunate enough to never look back.

But for most in America, the concept of a little debt (or even a lot of it) isn’t too far off from the concept of satisfying a craving for your favorite food. Sure, it might not be the most healthy meal in the world, but you’re balancing it along with a handful of mixed nuts and salads, right? Here’s the clincher though: my father may not like debt, but there are two things in the whole world he would be willing to pay off: the first? School. The second? A house.

Nowadays, most newlyweds can’t imagine the wedding bells ringing, going on the long-awaited honeymoon, and coming back to walk in the front door of their very own home. We live in an apartment-driven economy, especially those of us in larger metropolitan areas. The starter homes that are still affordable are often in expanding markets (read: small towns), and even those can be out of the price range for a young pair who likely just paid for their own ceremony, reception, and honeymoon as well. Vow2Save is out to change that. A new program featured across wedding websites all over the internet, Vow2Save utilizes the incredible power of crowdsourcing to keep couples away from the immediate debt of homeownership - and helps get them in the front door smoothly.

Each couple that registers with the program is assigned their own free website that connects with PayPal, and serves as the platform where friends and family members can contribute to help the pair with their down payment. Anyone can set up a crowdfund: the process has become part of the modern-day internet canon of easy how-tos; like Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat. But Vow2Save takes it a step further, providing template emails, posts, infographics and more to share with loved ones. They’ll help connect you with realtors all over the country so couples are free to roam: and what’s more? There’s no hassle in dealing with the 6pm rush at Bed, Bath & Beyond to return that third salad spinner you got from your Aunt, for a gift card you’d likely spend on a $10 or under gag-gift-as-seen-on-tv in the checkout line anyway.

Rather than furniture or flatware, Vow2Save’s founders see this as an opportunity to help young couples come up with something more substantial and long lasting: property. Your unique account in the bank account of your choice will never expire, and you’ll continue to earn interest no matter what the balance may be. When you’re ready, the team will help you find your new house or condo, and you can start your marriage knowing that the burden of a down payment has been handled, and you have checked off two of the biggest investments in a lifetime, at the same time: marrying the guy or girl of your dreams, and moving into a financially sound future. Even my father couldn’t argue with that logic.


For more info, visit www.vow2save.com

A Listening Ear and an Eye for Design

Stephen R. Covey, one of my favorite authors (nerd alert) famously wrote that “most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” I have met many of these people. I am sure you have as well. Lesser often though, are the ones you meet in the camp of understanding. Even with very few words spoken.

A great many things can come from a good listening ear: the least of which offers clearer communication and a sense of settlement for all parties involved. That feeling of settlement and contentedness cannot be overstated. Which was why when you meet Gina Lauren Hacken (who owns her own interior design studio in Tustin) and she turns out to be an avid listener above almost everything else, you will quickly realize that you’ve finally found the person who would help you get to the root of what you want to change about the functionality and unique style of your personal living space. Gina specializes in residential interior design, kitchen and bath design, furniture, flooring, accessorizing and window treatments.

GINA PRTR 005AMy husband and I certainly could have used her help when moved into our “new” family home a few years ago. We struggled to come up with a cohesive plan for the interior: one especially that would match the tone and tenor of the exterior of the house. We wavered between casual and classic or a stunning, but incredibly-difficult-to-execute (for us) Tuscan countryside aesthetic. We’d poured over interior design books and my Pinterest board was littered with photos of the two, but somehow, the putting together of individual pieces just never gave us that contented feeling we were searching for. What we needed then was the assistance of an interior design professional like Gina who could help us articulate our vision.

“The foundation for each project I take on begins with listening to the client first,” says Gina. “I use this foundation for the design relationship, transforming the details of my client’s dreams into their everyday reality.” With services ranging from commercial to residential, and from simple tasks such as window treatments to full-fledged concept execution (down to artwork selection!) Gina Lauren Interiors is out to change the scope of design services. “I’ve worked for world-renowned companies, and done all the classes, but I wanted to see a wider range of clients: everyday people who may just need help with a color consultation, all the way to the full scope design renovations my background was in.”

It was in her early studies of Western and Near Eastern Art History that her passion for interior design evolved, eventually leading to a Bachelor’s in French + Art History, and a second in Interior Design. Taking inspiration from her travels all over the world, her business savvy, and the direction of several well-known interior design mentors, Gina cultivated relationships with both domestic and international clients. Applying her knowledge and visual talent to projects was a no-brainer, and working with those who came to her for advice quickly turned into space planning, furniture and accessory procurement, and final installation.

“We always start with a custom floor plan, ensuring the space of each room is designed to its fullest potential.”

Whether you have a specific color in mind, or are completely undecided, Gina can assist with choosing each motif and theme.

“Looking to switch out your sofa pillows, or interested in highlighting the new buffet in your dining room? We never overlook scale and proportion, and can address everything from a simple corner of the house to an entire space,” says Gina. “We believe good design should be accessible, no matter what the budget. Everyone should have a beautiful and comfortable home.” And it starts with listening. “We begin with your dreams and ideas, and then we let quality, passion, talent, connection, and knowledge fill in the rest.”


PastedGraphic 1Gina can be reached directly by calling (858) 220-5264 or visit www.GinaLaurenInteriors.com

Just over the bridge from San Diego, Coronado is a small, quaint, tree-lined retreat characterized by beautiful, rarely crowded white sand beaches, a rich, romantic history and laid-back, small town atmosphere. Although locals refer to it as “the island,” Coronado is really a peninsula connected to the mainland by a finger of land called the Silver Strand. With wide leafy streets lined with Victorian homes and Southern California beach bungalows, the island is small enough to walk almost anywhere (it’s only a mile from the San Diego Bay side of the peninsula to the Pacific Ocean). Once we parked upon arrival for a recent stay at the lovely Glorietta Bay Inn, we discovered that Coronado truly is a “car-optional” environment and were able to easily navigate the relatively flat paths on foot and by bicycle.

We chose the Glorietta Bay Inn (www.gloriettabayinn.com), a beautiful boutique hotel and historic landmark famous for its grandeur architecture, as “home base” during a recent weekend stay. The former private residence of sugar baron John D. Spreckels, the hotel (which features 11 historic mansion rooms in the main original building circa 1908 and 89 contemporary rooms and suites in structures added to the property in later years) is situated across the street from Coronado Beach and a short walking distance from an array of retail shops and restaurants.

Defined by an artful blend of Old World charm and contemporary southern California comfort, the Inn features a scenic outdoor verandah, a storied music room complete with a baby grand piano and a sun warmed lobby that once served as the grand foyer to Spreckels’ home.

Each of the historic mansion rooms are uniquely styled: the Sugar Baron Room, originally the private bedroom of Mrs. Spreckels, features king-bedded room with a large balcony and a spectacular view of Glorietta Bay; the Spreckels Suite the private bedroom of John D. Spreckels, this beautiful room has a living room area with a convenient kitchenette, and a separate bedroom with a king size bed. French doors off the living room open up to a spacious balcony with an equally gorgeous view of Glorietta Bay.

Amenities for all accommodations include a complimentary continental breakfast, daily afternoon refreshments and the complimentary use of beach chairs, towels, and toys for Coronado Beach.

Music Room at Glorietta Bay InnThe best way to learn Coronado Beach is via the Coronado Walking Tour (619-435-5993). The 90-minute guided stroll starts in the Music Room of the The Glorietta Bay Inn and offers walk-bys of castles and cottages, along with a legendary tale or two about movie stars who’ve spent time basking and relaxing on the eternally sunny Coronado Island. I have to say, I learned everything I now know about the Spreckels Mansion and Coronado Island from our tour guide and Coronado Island resident Nancy Cobb, who provided a thorough and entertaining accounting of the island’s history and famous (and infamous) highlights.

Historical perspective

Sugar Baron John Dietrich Spreckels did more than any other individual in San Diego’s history to help the city prosper. His visionary leadership put the port city on the map of national and international commerce. Convinced by local civic boosters that San Diego was ideally located for commerce, Spreckels at the age of 34, began investing in the community. He bought the utility company, street car system, water company and established the San Diego & Arizona Eastern railroad, which opened San Diego to the east.
Spreckels dedicated much of his energy to building San Diego, but his love was Coronado Island. As a part of his many acquisitions, Spreckels invested $500,000 in the Coronado Beach Company which had developed The Hotel del Coronado, and by 1890 he held controlling interest in the hotel. Within the next decade he owned all but five parcels of Coronado Island and North Island. Spreckels gave the city its library, several parks and its largest commercial building - the Spreckels Building on Orange Avenue.

It was on Coronado Island that Spreckels built his dream home on five acres of land overlooking Glorietta Bay across from the Hotel del Coronado. In 1906, Spreckels, 53, contracted Architect Harrison Albright to design and build the Mansion. The building, designed with the simple, classic lines of Italian Renaissance, was complete in 1908 with six bedrooms, three baths, a parlor, dining room and library at the cost of $35,000. At that time, Spreckels’ Mansion featured a brass cage elevator, a marble staircase with leather-padded handrails, skylights, marble floors and some of the Island’s most spectacular gardens. The home was built with reinforced steel and concrete, an earthquake precaution Spreckels insisted upon after living through the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

In 1913, Spreckels, a dedicated musician and pipe organist, added a spectacular 800-square-foot Music Room with an enormous 41-rank Aeolian Pipe Organ. The horseshoe-shaped Music Room, which can be enjoyed today with its player piano and as the starting point of the aforementioned historic tour of Coronado, boasts nine French doors which lead out to the breakfast patio overlooking Glorietta Bay and the Hotel del Coronado.

Made famous by Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe in “Some Like it Hot”, the Hotel del Coronado was built by hand (literally … with 300 laborers from China) in the early 1900s in the Queen Anne Revival style. With whimsical turrets and asymmetrical design, “The Del” has evolved into a world-class resort. If you enjoy history, the lower level of the hotel offers a historic overview of the creation of the hotel with its genesis as a tent city with 1,000 tents along the Coronado Strand.

Touring today

As our family discovered, it doesn’t take much planning to have a perfect day in Coronado.

We rented bicycles from PeDels at the Hotel Del Coronado and started off along Coronado Beach - a picturesque stretch of sand and surf that stretches for over a mile along Ocean Boulevard in front of historic and glamorous houses. Voted in the top 10 beaches in the USA by the Travel Channel, this long and wide beach is great for walks, runs, beach volleyball or sandcastle building. If you bring along a furry friend, there is a leash-free dog zone at the far end of the beach where pups chase each other in the waves.

The Wizard of Oz author  L. Frank Baum homeFans of author L. Frank Baum’s iconic classic “The Wizard of Oz” will enjoy pedaling past the quaint yellow Cape Cod-style home (located right across from Star Park) that he rented during his stays and the place where he penned three of the books in the Oz series.

003coronadoWe spent the better part of an afternoon tooling around town, along the Bayshore Bikeway, past Glorietta Bay and the Coronado Golf Course and under the Coronado Bridge (if you continue following the well-marked bike path, you’ll end up at the Coronado Ferry Landing, where a ten-minute ride would bring you to downtown San Diego.)After returning the bikes, we strolled Orange Avenue, a beautiful commercial boulevard that curves back to the Glorietta Bay Inn, and stopped in Bay Books where staff members leave heartfelt handwritten recommendations under their favorite reads and stumbled upon MooTime Creamery - where locals and tourists alike were lined up for what they all (accurately) claimed was “the best handcrafted ice cream and hand-rolled cones” in town.

Sheerwater Restaurant at  the Hotel del CoronadoWe kept the “enjoy the outdoors” theme going through the end of the day by dining at the refined, yet casual Sheerwater restaurant in the Hotel del Coronado (619-522-8490). We were able to watch the sun set while relaxing on the umbrella-dotted patio overlooking a spectacular ocean view. The menu, which showcases California coastal cuisine, offers something for every palate - from fresh local seafood and delicious smoked meats with house made barbecue sauces and slaws to sandwiches, salads and a special kids menu. The sweet pea and Feta salad is not a dish you’ll find on many menus and if you’re a vegetarian or gluten-free, you’re in for a real treat with this salad that arrives with a sweet pea and cashew hummus, shaved heirloom carrots, radish, asparagus, fresh green peas, petite New Zealand spinach and Valbreso feta. Popular entrees include the 12 oz. New York Strip (fire-grilled with the eatery’s signature spiced smoked salt and cracked pepper rub, finished with a red wine demi and accompanied by roasted wild mushrooms and shallots) and the peppercorn and coriander crusted Ahi Tuna with apple fennel slaw.

Protecting Wealth and Fulfilling Retirement Dreams and Goals

In 2008, I worked in an after-school program and one of my favorite “duties” was to lead “story time” for the elementary-aged children we served. One of my favorite books to read aloud was Flat Stanley, which follows the adventures of the titular character, Stanley, who had been accidentally flattened one day, but makes the most of his situation, and is soon unlocking locked doors by sliding underneath them, and traveling around the world in a postal envelope.

It was while working there that I first heard whispers of the massive financial crisis the U.S. was headed into --from a colleague who was in her late 50s and could no longer count on what she had saved for retirement to last her. In one short year the financial crisis of 2008 had wiped out $12.8 trillion dollars of investment assets in America. My friend decided she would have to continue working, well--indefinitely, and was devastated. In my early 30s at the time, I couldn’t really fathom the heartbreak, her retirement plan gone sideways faster than you could finish reading Flat Stanley.

In the eight years since, many fingers have been pointed: to regulators asleep at the financial wheel, at credit-default swaps and the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, as well as the housing market. In the eight years since, many Americans have tried to crawl out of that devastating financial slump and recover what they lost (many up to 50-60% of their investment value). There are over 10,000 Baby Boomers that will be retiring EVERY DAY over the next decade. Many are wondering if they will have enough money to retire and whether or not they will have enough to last them during their lifetimes.

Many times people THINK they know what their goals are, but as you sit and discuss what they want out of retirement, they really haven’t crystallized what they want from retirement.

 

I had the opportunity of sitting down with Dan Ohlwiler, owner and CEO of Sterling Financial Advisors and discussing the challenges many people face when they begin to approach retirement. His experience as a retirement planner over the past 30+ years helping individuals and couples develop a safe and secure retirement income plan has helped hone his conservative philosophy in planning for retirement. He has seen the devastating impact the financial crisis of not only 2008, but the Dot-Com bubble of 2001-2002 has had on many people’s retirement plans. Through these experiences he has come to learn that “it’s not how much money you make that counts—it’s how much money you keep that matters.” Dan says that his (and his company’s) approach to retirement planning has helped his clients with what he calls S.W.A.N.—Sleep Well At Night.

Sorbet: So Dan, you have been helping people plan for their retirement a long time—for over 30 years. How have things changed over that period of time?

Dan: I started out in the life insurance business in 1981. Full financial planning as a profession was fairly young at the time and in 1984 I decided to get securities licensed and move my business into full financial planning and helping people plan for retirement. Everything was going great—I was in my early 30’s, my business was growing, and life was good. Then in 1987 there was a big stock market crash called “Black Monday.” The stock market dropped 25% in ONE DAY! That event had a great impact on me and my business. A lot of my client lost money and blamed me for it. I hadn’t done anything wrong or illegal, but it’s human nature to blame your brokers or advisors because they lost money. Needless to say, my business suffered and I struggled to keep my business going. To make a long story short, that experience (along with many others) helped me to step back and look at what I was doing and then making a decision that if I people were going to trust me with their life savings, then I can’t afford to lose their money.

What I see out there right now is there are a lot of young stock brokers, advisors, or other people who have never experienced a downturn in the economy during the time they’ve been in their profession. Many got into the business after the 2008 crash and the only thing they’ve experienced is a bull market. They are a lot like I was when I was starting. Business is great and life is good. They think that this market is going to go on forever. The philosophy of “buy and hold” is one philosophy the stock market. But that philosophy probably no longer applies as we get older. The time frame for investing is much shorter and in many circumstances we don’t have the time to recover what we’ve lost. The stock market today is not the same as it was when Baby Boomers were growing up. It’s much more volatile.

Sorbet: Tell me about your company Sterling Financial Advisors? How long has it been in business and explain how you might be different from others in your profession?

Dan: Well, as I mentioned earlier, I myself, have been doing this for over 30 years, but I was in a partnership for a portion of that time and decided to sell my half of the business around 10 years ago and go out on my own—so to speak. That’s when I formed Sterling Financial Advisors. Many people ask me—why the name Sterling? I just felt like I wanted a name that reflected a sense of quality and class, and sterling silver seems to reflect that.

A lot of companies talk about having a “family atmosphere” or that clients become part of their “extended family.” Well, we really are a family business. My wife and I have five children—four boys and one girl. Three of our boys along with my son-in-law work in the business make up our staff (along with my wife, Marilyn). So it actually is a family run business. So when we tell clients that they become part of the “Sterling Family,” it really is part of our extended family.

Sorbet: That is amazing. You really do have a family business then. How do all of you get along?

Dan: We have been lucky and we are a really close family. All five of our children live in south Orange County so we’re able to get together a lot. Keeping everyone happy is sometimes a challenge, just like it is in every family, but it seems to work so far. Overall we all get along very well and enjoy getting together—even outside of work.

Sorbet: So if someone comes to one of your retirement workshops or is referred to you from one of your clients, how would they go about working with you and your firm?

Dan: Well, the very first meeting is really just to get to know them and what their hopes and dreams are for retirement. Many times people THINK they know what their goals are, but as you sit and discuss what they want out of retirement, they really haven’t crystallized what they want from retirement. Most of the time they just want to make sure they have enough money to last them the rest of their lives and they haven’t thought much beyond that. That’s what we try and help them understand—what is it that they really want in retirement, as well as going forward? There is no pressure or commitment that they need to make in the first meeting—other than to decide whether or not they’d like to meet again. It’s simply a “get-to-know-you” meeting. There’s no cost or charge for the first meeting because we might not be able to even help them. We just want to find out if their retirement goals and dreams are consistent with our philosophy. This is as much of an interview on our side as it is for them.

Sorbet: Assuming they want to come back and see you, what happens then?

Dan: The purpose of the second meeting is to lay the foundation for our relationship going forward. That foundation is built around what we call our “Retirement Weather Report.” I wrote a book about retirement planning called Protecting Your Retirement From The Financial Perfect Storm.”

How we invest our money at age 35 is significantly different than how we should invest it at age 65 or 70.

The basis of that book is that there are a number of factors that can affect our retirement (just like the movie) and so we have put together the Retirement Weather Report” that “forecasts,” so to speak, what people’s retirement income is projected to be for the next 30 years—based upon their current situation along with certain assumptions. We prepare these reports at no cost just to give both sides a foundation to base our further discussions. If at the end of the second meeting, they like what they’ve learned and seen, we then establish a working relationship based upon their individual needs.

Sorbet: Do you have specific investments or tools that you use with your clients?

Dan: One of the things we tell people in our first meeting is that we don’t have any monopoly on any of the investments or insurance products we use in the planning process. They can probably get the same types of things from any other broker or advisor. What we do have a monopoly on is the integrity we have and how we treat our clients. That’s what we have a monopoly on and sets us apart from other firms. We had client come in a few months ago for their annual review after being with us for a little over a year. As they were leaving, the wife said to me—“Dan, the thing we appreciate about you and your company is that you treat us the same AFTER we became clients as you did when we were first in the process of becoming clients.” They said that so many times in the past when they’ve dealt with other brokers, as soon as they became clients the broker almost seemed to forget about us and move on to the next prospect. Things like that just reconfirms to me that how we’re running our business and the culture we’ve established on how to treat clients is right.

Sorbet: So when you say “culture” of your firm, what do you mean by that and what can a client expect from you?

Dan: Well, as I mentioned earlier, we really do consider our clients part of our extended family of Sterling Financial Advisors. I’ve instilled in my sons and son-in-law that our clients come first and that helping our clients reach their retirement goals is our number one mission. I have found over the years that it is much easier to keep existing clients than it is to get new ones. We will sponsor anywhere from 4-6 client appreciation events per year along with another 3-4 educational events. The social events have been to Broadway plays, Angels baseball games, harbor cruises, golf tournaments and many more. We have a year-end Christmas event that all of our clients are invited to. We have live entertainment, raffles, door prizes, etc. We also sponsor a local charity and as a company match the funds raised at the event. Last year we donated over $11,000 to the Jessie Rees Foundation. We really do treat our clients like family. These are just some of the ways we treat our clients and it’s a way for us to just say thanks to for trusting us with their life savings.

Sorbet: Finally, what makes you continue doing what you do? What is it that keeps you going in this profession?

Dan: I would say that the thing that keeps me going and motivates me is helping people protect their money at this stage in their life. How we invest our money at age 35 is significantly different than how we should invest it at age 65 or 70. Helping people understand how just one bad year in the market can have a devastating effect on their retirement for years to come. It can take just one year—like 2008, to impact your life for a long, long time. It took only one year for the market to drop over 50%, and then another seven years just to get back to where they were. So helping people set up a secure and dependable foundation for their retirement has become a passion with me. Not everyone is a fit for us, but for those who are, we’re going to do everything we can to help them have the kind of life and retirement they’ve worked a lifetime for.

043 Sterling Financial AdvisorsSterling Financial Advisors is located at 25950 Acero, Suite 310 in Lake Forest. Connect with Dan by calling (949) 859-8900 or visit www.sterlingfa.com

Boston feels like a small town where you can’t turn around without bumping into a gravestone of a Son of Liberty, running into an historical landmark or stumbling upon a legendary building. It’s the Cradle of Liberty full of lessons from history; it’s Beantown, heavy with cultural significance; it’s America’s Walking City, full of pedestrians who dig their rickety old subway cars because they’re the oldest and the coolest.

Boston famously offers its Freedom Trail, a path of bricks that takes a walker throughout the city past its most significant sites. The Freedom Trail Tour took us from Boston Common to Faneuil Hall, past the Granary Burying Ground where Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, John Hancock and others are buried, including all five victims of the Boston Massacre; and past the Old State House where those five were slain and where the Declaration of Independence was first read aloud to the public.

Along the Freedom Trail are the most politically significant landmarks but also several “oldests” and “firsts” such as the Omni Parker House and the Union Oyster House, the longest continuously running hotel and restaurant in the country, respectively. The Freedom Trail makes it easy to discover your nation’s history on your own, but there are also excellent tours that are educational and entertaining – for our two “professional tours,” we chose to travel by land and by sea on the Boston Duck Tour (www.bostonducktours.com) and strictly by sea aboard a Boston Harbor Cruise (www.bostonharborcruises.com).

Boston Duck Tour

For a particularly fun tour of the city by land and water, hop aboard one of the candy-colored fleet of duck boats that roll through the city before splashing into the Charles River.
The name “duck boat” is derived from DUKW, the acronym given to a six-wheeled amphibious vehicle developed by General Motors during World War II. The “ducks” were used by the Army and Marine Corps to carry ammunition and supplies from ships to shore during the invasions of Normandy and Sicily. Once they were phased out, they were modified to cater to the tourism industry.

duck tourThis tour is great all ages. Our 65-minute excursion started in front of the New England Aquarium (the other two departure sites are the Museum of Science and at the Prudential Center) and every seat was sold out as the jaunts are a popular draw for tourists and locals. The sightseeing tour starts on land then continues on water, where the “conDUCKtor” lets the youngsters sit up front and spend a few minutes steering the amphibious vehicle.

This “duck’s-eye view” of the city includes include a humorous yet informative narration pointing out Boston facts, along with an ample amount of its fables and legends (for the land part of the tour, we rolled by The Beantown Pub, which is across the street from the Granary Burying Ground, final resting place for Paul Revere, John Hancock and other notable patriots, the Old State House, Faneuil Hall, through Government Center and over toward the north side of Beacon Hill).

The transition from land to water is the most exciting part as we splash down in the Charles River and float past landmarks like the Hatch Shell while we enjoy skyline views of Boston and Cambridge.

Boston Harbor Cruises

Stroll down to the waterfront and climb on board a boat to feel the ocean breeze, taste the salty air, and enjoy the city’s spectacular skyline.

boat cruiseBoston Harbor Cruises (BHC) offers a full roster of sightseeing tours on a double-decker passenger ferry. From April through November, the USS Constitution Cruise gives passengers the chance to get off the boat and explore the Charlestown Navy Yard (home to the U.S.S. Constitution, aka “Old Ironsides”) and Bunker Hill. Both are worth a visit for history buffs and the area around Bunker Hill has a number of quaint streets.

From May to early September, other options include longer sightseeing cruises, sunset cruises and brunch cruises. Longer cruises might head further out to the Harbor Islands, including a view of the historic Boston Light. Cruise during the day for best expansive views, set sail in the evening for a spectacular sunset; or opt for a night tour cool cocktails and city lights.

Where to stay

We couldn’t have picked a better “home base” than The Langham, Boston (www.langhamhotels.com). Housed in Boston’s former Federal Reserve Bank building (which originally opened in 1922), this AAA four-diamond hotel is a national architectural landmark that fashionably blends history with a contemporary style featuring “classic interiors with hints of its 1920s Renaissance Revival heritage” (more on this later).

where to stayKnown as the “Cradle of Liberty,” the city of Boston played a crucial role in the story of America. Dozens of historic Boston Attractions and structures have been preserved and maintained so that visitors can experience both colonial and contemporary Boston.

The same could be said of The Langham, Boston. Its location in the heart of downtown made it super convenient to access virtually every destination on our sightseeing “wish list” – from the waterfront and historic sites to iconic attractions like Faneuil Hall Marketplace and Boston’s North End (aka “Little Italy).

The property features 318 classically styled rooms and suites characterized by pale cream and gold interiors complemented by upholstered sofas and dark wood furnishings. Each room offers dramatic and expansive views of downtown Boston including historic Norman B. Leventhal Park at Post Office Square, the bustling Financial District and the city skyline. The service was nothing short of spectacular from start to finish – from the warm welcome at check-in to the friendly (daily) assistance of the hotel’s knowledgeable concierge.

The hotel’s signature “Blissful” beds were just as advertised and the in-room amenities and thoughtful modern conveniences made this a particularly relaxing, pampering retreat and a quiet escape in the bustling city. 

Dining out

PIER6 006During our stay, we sampled many great “eats” – from casual farmer’s market fare to more formal dining – but two establishments are worth a special mention: Salvatore’s in Boston’s Theater District (www.salvatoresrestaurants.com) and Pier 6 (www.pier6boston) in the Charlestown Navy Yard.

Pier 6 is a three-story eatery perched on the pier it’s named for and boasts windows overlooking the city skyline and water below, but the rooftop deck was the place to be. We sat down to dinner about a half an hour before sunset to take in the spectacular views of the harbor and downtown Boston by day and dusk – that coupled with the great atmosphere, attentive service and great seafood made our dining experience one to remember.

We started with a dozen delicious oysters on the half shell – Wellfleet from Cape Cod and Freeland Creek from Canada.

Popular small plates range from an Antipasto Board which arrives as an assortment of Italian cured meats and cheese, olives and dark rye and the herbed Feta dip, sundried tomato and basil hummus, vegetables and warm pita to the Rhode Island-style calamari accompanied by spicy aioli and the grilled octopus paired with fingerling potatoes and charred scallion vinaigrette.

For the main course, we went with the Grilled Half Chicken with rosemary potatoes, kale and black trumpet cream sauce and the signature Pier 6 Burger – cooked to perfection and topped with Vermont cheddar and bacon.

Situated directly between the Opera House and Paramount Theater, Salvatore’s served up casual, classic Italian dishes with an international twist. The cuisine, which incorporates seasonal flavors and emerging food trends, is defined by an ever-changing menu – from popular pastas and scrumptious salads. Our table sampled a bit of everything – I opted for the grilled salmon salad which arrived with chopped mixed greens, gorgonzola, grilled asparagus and red onion while my husband chose the Saltimbocca, a delicious entrée of all-natural chicken, prosciutto, provolone, white wine sage sauce and accompanied by seasonal vegetables.

Day Tripping in nearby Newport, Rhode Island

One of the country’s oldest cities, Newport was founded in 1639 and transformed into a major port city in the 18th century. The picturesque city of around 25,000 residents once served as the “Summer White House” for Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy. Known for its stately historic mansions, waterfront shops and dining, Newport made for a wonderful day trip (www.discovernewport.org is a great resource to find attractions, recreation, dining, etc.).

The Vanderbilts and Astors have been gone for decades, but the town that was once the quintessential summer playground of the uber-wealthy continues to draw tourists of all ages and life stages to its dramatic seaside attractions. Located along Newport’s eastern shore, “Cliff Walk” is world famous as a public access walk that combines the natural beauty of the New England rocky shoreline with the architectural history of Newport’s Gilded Age.

If you’d prefer to experience the opulence of the 10 colossally beautiful homes that make up the historic Newport Mansions from the inside, The Preservation Society of Newport County offers guided and self-guided tours (visit www.newportmansions.org for operating schedule).

Visitors can either follow a tour guide or pace themselves with an audio tour where you can listen to detailed personal accounts of the residents and servants.

001rhode islandIf you only have time to tour one, The Breakers mansion is the crown jewel of Newport Rhode Island mansions and is the most popular attraction in the entire state with 300,000 visitors annually.

Designed by Richard Morris Hunt for Cornelius Vanderbilt II, President and Chairman of the New York Central Railroad, The Breakers is a 13-acre estate overlooking the Atlantic. Decorated with both

French and Italian fashions, the mansion has 70 rooms (33 for the help) and the Great Hall has 45-foot high ceilings. Open daily year-round except for Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, Cornelius

Vanderbilt II’s great-grandchildren still live on the third floor of the mansion (closed to visitors) during the summer.

Newport Harbor is one of the most historic, exciting and beautiful harbors in New England and a harbor tour or late afternoon Smugglers Cocktail Cruise on Rum Runner II is a great way to “relive the speed and thrill of the chase of the smuggler boats from the days of Prohibition.” Classic Cruises of Newport (cruisenewport.com) restored Elco Motor yacht cruises through local waters by Newport mansions and former speakeasies that were fueled by seaborne smugglers back in the 1920s and 30s.

Ghost Tours of Newport

For something different, the “Olde Town Ghost Walk” is one of two tours offered nightly by Ghost Tours of Newport (ghostsofnewport.com). Take a lantern-led guided evening stroll down historic

ghost tourNewport’s shadowy lanes and discover the ghosts, ghouls, and legends of this haunted city by the sea.

Who haunts George Washington’s Revolutionary War headquarters? Was Lizzie Borden acting on her own accord... or just following in her family footsteps? Why do people continue to hear a mysterious drum beat as they walk the bricks of Blood Alley? What are the strange winged skulls crowning the tombstones of New England’s dead?

Tours depart nightly, rain or shine, from Fathom’s restaurant at the Newport Marriott hotel, 25 America’s Cup Avenue.

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