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Posts Tagged ‘Escapes’

This week’s travel idea was inspired by the recent NYC marathon.  Watching it on TV reminded me of when I ran the race a few years ago.  Back then I was pretty active in signing up for races all over the city.  While it was great challenging myself physically, what I loved most about those races was the ability to go places I’ve never been before.  The NYC marathon winds through all five boroughs and took me through neighborhoods that I never even knew about.  I think that for those who love to run, a marathon-cation is truly an epic way to experience a city.  There are numerous marathons that give you an up-close-and-personal experience of the location, like the Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, and Disney World (!) marathons.  But I’m sure that one of the most scenic would be the Big Sur Marathon that happens in the Spring.  While the marathon is already full, there are numerous smaller races that you can still sign up for.  What could be more wonderful than spending half a day running along the beautiful Pacific Coastline and then spending the rest of the weekend wining and dining in nearby Carmel?

Featured Travel Idea: Carmel-by-the-Sea

 top: chateau julien, la bicyclette, carmel mission

middle: l’auberge carmel, big sur marathon, mission ranch

bottom: carmel beach, point lobos state reserve, downtown carmel

First off, book a stay at the L’Auberge Carmel, a beautiful boutique hotel that looks like it was plucked straight from the French countryside.  As luck would have it, Voyage Prive is having a flash sale on the hotel in a few days so you may score a great deal!  The race is on Sunday so you may want to take it easy before then.  Go for a leisurely walk on Carmel Beach, one of the most serene and scenic beaches on the Pacific Coast.  Then visit the Carmel Mission and stroll through the poppy gardens.  Or head to charming downtown Carmel where you can shop, eat, and browse art galleries.  You’ll want to fortify for the big race tomorrow so have a delicious dinner at Casanova or La Bicyclette, two restaurants that are known for great food and great atmosphere.  After the race, why not unwind with some wine tasting at Chateau Julien Wine Estate.  Travelzoo also happens to have a great deal that includes wine tasting for 2, a bottle of wine and appetizers, all for $25*.  Cap off the weekend with a visit to the historic Mission Ranch for dinner and music.  If you’re lucky, you may even see Clint Eastwood there.

*disclaimer: I am not in any way affiliated with these discount websites, I just enjoy spreading the word on good deals!

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Last week I heard on the radio that Charleston earned top honors in the 2011 Conde Nast Reader’s Choice Awards.  It was voted the #1 city to visit in the U.S., beating out San Francisco, which has held the top spot for several years running.  Now I may be biased since I now call San Francisco home, but I feel that this city is truly a wonderful city that has a diversity that can appeal to everyone.  I read that ultimately it came down to friendliness with Charleston snagging 90%  versus San Francisco’s 67%.  I guess I can see that travelers would prefer good old fashion Southern charm to our panhandling hippies!  Nonetheless, let’s see what else this city has to offer.

Featured Travel Idea: Charleston, SC


top: bacon cornbread, fried green tomatoes, pork trotters

middle: folly beach, audubon swamp garden, ravenel bridge

bottom: shrimp and grits, fried chicken, oatmeal cream pie

Charleston is one of the top culinary cities in the South.  With a plethora of award winning chefs, fresh ingredients, and a multitude of cultural influences, it’s likely you’d be eating your way out of this city.  Situated in the heart of Low Country, the city is known for fresh seafood like shrimp and oysters, and down home southern cuisine.  Have a craving for seafood? Eat at Pearlz Oyster Bar for what else, oysters or head to Bowen’s Island for their Frogmore Stew which has shrimp, corn on the cob, sausage, and potatoes.  Want to try Low Country cuisine? You can’t go wrong with Jestine’s Kitchen or Virginia’s on King.  If you could try only one southern dish (the horror!), then it must be shrimp and grits, and Hominy Grill’s the place for it.  Serious foodies will love the fresh, local ingredients featured at Husk and FIG.  Whew, with all that food, you’ll want to stay active for the rest of the trip.  Take a leisurely jog, yes I said jog, through historic downtown Charleston towards the water and end at White Point Gardens for a breather.  Oh, you want something less tiring? Take any number of self-guided walking tours, in particular try the Charleston Museum Mile tour for a little bit of culture, good scenery, and historic sites.  Or wander through the cobblestone streets South of Broad and admire the well preserved stately antebellum homes.  Visit the Magnolia Plantation for a glimpse into 19th century plantation life and nearby Audubon Swamp Gardens, the oldest public garden in America.  Go see the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge by bike and enjoy the terrific views at the top.  Finally, spend an afternoon at Folly Beach and kayak, paddle board, surf, or tan to your heart’s content.  Yeah…I’m still not sure whether Charleston deserves the top vote though, I guess I’ll have to visit 😉 !

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Last Friday, the hubs and I took advantage of Outback’s free steak dinner promo.  While Outback certainly is delicious and can make a great date night (I love me some bloomin’ onions and wings), it’s a popular chain so I’m sure most of you guys don’t need me to tell you about the food.  Not to fret though, I had the pleasure of trying the famous Hog Island Oyster Company for lunch the following day so I’ll tell you about that experience!

Those of you who have visited or live in the San Francisco Bay Area know that going to the Ferry Building Farmers’ Market on Saturday is a must for any food lover.  And it’s even better when it’s a gorgeous day.  But of course that also means that there’ll be tons of other people there so be prepared to wait!  My friends and I ended up waiting close to 1 hour, but we were able to snag an outdoor table with views of the Bay Bridge so it was all worth it.  Since there was 4 of us, we decided to split the Oyster Bar Mix.  Our server made sure we had 4 of each kind of oysters for a total of 2 dozen so we’d all be able to try everything.  The oysters were a-mazing!  Each one was so tasty and refreshing.  The highlight for the whole table was the New Zealand oysters (sorry, I can’t remember the exact name).  My friend is from New Zealand, which is known for some of the best oysters in the world, and even he thought it was especially good!

We also ordered the grilled cheese sandwich, the clam chowder, and a light mixed greens salad.  I didn’t try the grilled cheese but my friend, who loves cheese, said that it was really delicious.  The clam chowder was also tasty.  It’s thinner than what you’d typically expect of New England clam chowders, but it did have an abundance of fresh clams (with the shell and everything!).

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Needless to say I would highly recommend Hog Island to anyone who’s an oyster enthusiast.  If you ever get the chance though, visit their oyster farm up in Tomales Bay (about an hour and a half north of SF) for a true farm-to-table experience.  You can buy fresh oysters to go, shuck them on-site at their picnic grounds, or have a meal at The Boat, which offers various shellfish, cheeses from Cowgirl Creamery, and charcuterie from Fatted Calf, all good stuff!

Hog Island Oyster Company

1 Ferry Building, Shop #11

and

20215 Highway 1

Marshall, CA

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I hope everyone is enjoying their extra hour of sleep, drinking, tv-watching, whatever, tonight! I know I’m a bit late with this post, but better late than never right?  So a few weeks ago, my friend and I trekked up to Napa Valley for a biking tour.  I was a bit apprehensive at first, mainly because of 1) the early meeting time and 2) drinking and riding sounded like it could be hazardous.  But I’m so glad I did it!  It was such a great experience and it really gave me the chance to appreciate the beautiful scenery between wineries.

There’s a number of bike tour companies in Napa Valley, but we ended up selecting the explicitly named Napa Valley Bike Tours since they offered half day tours as well as full day ones.  We liked that we’d be able to visit 2-3 wineries with the tour and finish in time to have lunch wherever we wanted. Also, the half day tour allowed us usage of the bikes for the rest of the day so we were able to visit more wineries at our own pace as long as we returned the bikes by 5:30 in the evening.  I would highly recommend this option since you have more flexibility while still getting some of the tour benefits.

We started the tour in Yountville, which is a really charming town (check out my travel inspiration post!).  I grabbed some coffee and a few muffins from the Yountville Coffee Caboose, about half a mile down from the bike shop, for breakfast and snacking throughout the day (I highly recommend the morning glory muffin!), although that proved unnecessary since the tour provided energy bars.

The first stop was to the spot of the first winery in Napa where our guide, a highly energetic 60 year old lady, gave us the history of California and Napa Valley.  It was interesting and informational, but for those of you who aren’t interested in that kind of stuff or have a short attention span, you can amuse yourself with the cow pasture across the way, as I did.

Afterwards we visited Sawyer Cellars, a small family owned winery that has tastings by appointment only.  One of the benefits of the tour is that the guides really know the area and they are able to recommend the less touristy wineries.  We then headed to St. Helena Olive Oil Company, which is a really cute store full of different kinds of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pasta sauce, mustard, and more, all of which you can taste with bits of bread.  And boy did I try them all!  I really fell in love with the truffle olive oil but at $45 a bottle, I really couldn’t justify buying it then, but maybe I’ll take the dive and buy it the next time I visit.  Finally, after what seemed like a long bike ride, we visited our last winery, Rutherford Hill Winery, which as you can guess by the name, is on a hill.  So while it made for great views, it was quite an effort reaching it.  After that, my friend and I returned back to Yountville on our own since the rest of the people on the tour paid for the full day.

Overall we really enjoyed the tour, however I do wish it had been better organized.  Since my friend and I were the only ones on the half day tour, we were placed with the full day tour and was expected to leave after lunch.  The full day tour group is of course able to take things more leisurely so I felt like we were shortchanged since we only visited two wineries which went about an hour and a half over the estimated time.  If the tour had been organized specifically for the half day, we probably would’ve finished on time or been able to squeeze in a 3rd winery.  The only other thing I feel I should mention is that while the website lists the bike tour as easy and on flat to rolling roads, I would say it’s moderate with some uphill roads.  I’m pretty fit, yet I found myself exerting quite a bit of energy on the trail.  Nonetheless, I would still recommend this activity.

 Sawyer Cellars vineyard

view from inside St. Helena Olive Oil Company

view from the picnic area at Rutherford Hills Winery

along the Silverado Trail

What: Napa Valley Bike Tour

Where:  6795 Washington Street, Yountville, CA

Activity: Biking (~20 miles round-trip; Moderate)

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I heard Jason Mraz’s I’m Yours on the radio the other day and no matter how many times I hear it, it always manages to bring a smile to my face.  This song is just so wonderfully happy and calming that it brings back memories of my vacation in Kauai last year.  In fact, I’m pretty sure the hubs and I played this song every time we were on the beach!

Featured Travel Idea: Kauai, HI


top: treehouse, na pali kayak, pat’s taqueria

middle: hanalei beach, hanakapi’ai falls, monkseal

bottom: jo jo’s, waimea canyon, taro fields

Kauai, also known as the Garden Island is probably the lushest of all the Hawaiian Islands.  Rather than stay in a traditional hotel, why not stay at The Treehouse, a vacation rental located in between the North and South shore of the island, making it the perfect home base for exploring the whole island.  Although not really a treehouse (although that would be way cool!), it is a 2 bedroom stilt house with a wrap around Lanai and a tropical garden and lily pond, ensuring that you will experience the Hawaiian lifestyle as soon as you step foot on the property.

For the active travelers, make sure you go there between April and September so that you can kayak along the Na Pali coast, one of the most breathtaking coastlines in the world and best viewed from sea.  If that’s not enough of an adventure for you, hike the 11-mile Kalalau Trail (one-way), which follows the Na Pali coast and takes you to numerous waterfalls and beaches accessible only by foot.  The whole trail is strenuous, requires a permit, and most likely an overnight stay at Kalalau beach, but you will be rewarded with dramatic views and total seclusion.  For those desiring just a day hike, you can still hike 2 miles (no permit) on the Kalalau Trail to Hanakapi’ai beach and falls.  For a different vista, head south to Waimea Canyon, also known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific.  While it is certainly grand, the lush landscape and colors make it maybe even more beautiful than the stateside canyon.  On your way back from Waimea, stop by the small town of Hanapepe for lunch at the Shrimp Station.  No visit to Hawaii would be complete without some shave ice so go to the Original Jo Jo’s Anueanue Shave Ice or the not so original but still good Jo Jo’s a few blocks away.

Of course you have to squeeze in a beach day.  Go North to the famous Hanalei Beach.  Have lunch in the little town center or better yet, stay on the beach and grab some delicious tacos at the taco truck, Pat’s Taqueria.  If you prefer the South, head to Poipu beach.  If you’re lucky, you may even see some Monk Seals on the beach!  For lunch, grab a Puka dog, Hawaii’s version of a hotdog, and then some ice cream from Lappert’s Hawaii.

Finally, for something a little bit more unique, take a Kauai Photo tour, or for the artistically inclined, a Kauai Paint for the Day tour.  The photo tour provides you with the opportunity to see Kauai through the eyes of a local photographer.  You can rent and learn how to use a DSLR, ask the photographer all sorts of questions, and visit scenic spots, like the taro fields and king kong mountain!  There’s numerous other activities available (helicopter tour, ziplining, river rafting) making Kauai the perfect vacation spot to do everything or nothing at all.  Can someone please go there now and take me with you?

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