5 Northern California travel specials in 2021

For those ready to receive their vaccination and travel in 2021, here are 5 Golden State staycations in Northern CA, offering perks and special deals for weekday and weekend getaways, as well as future staycation plans.

Property: Harbor Court Hotel in San Francisco, CA
  1. Harbor Court Hotel is a four star boutique hotel located within steps of the Ferry Building. FUN FACT: The waterfront hotel was built in 1926 as an Army-Navy residence. The eight-story architectural brick gem proudly served soldiers returning from war. DEAL: Reserve for stays March 1 – June 1, 2021 and receive a $25 gas card, road maps and a CA trip guide offering directions to wineries, scenic routes and fun spots to explore the best of the Golden Coast. Room prices on Jan. 4, 2021 started at $159 a night. Booking Link: here.
Marin Suites Hotel

2. Marin Suites Hotel in Marin is offering an Essential Workers Special Rate for government, law enforcement, first responder, healthcare, or other essential workers. Not only will you receive a special discount off their best available rate, but also a continental breakfast and complimentary newspaper. Employee ID required upon check-in. FUN FACT: Located in Corte Madera, this area once was famous for producing redwood tree lumber which was used in the constructing the city of San Francisco 12 miles away. DEAL: Room rate on Jan.4, 2021 started at $122 a night .Booking Link: here

The Getaway

3. The Getaway in Carmel is just steps from the white sands of Carmel Beach. FUN FACT: There are no addresses, parking meters or street lights in Carmel. Instead many of the cottages have legendary names such as “Hansel” or “Sea Urchin.” It’s also bad luck to change the name on a Carmel cottage. DEAL: a pet friendly boutique hotel offering 10% off it’s Best Flexible Rates plus receive a bottle of local wine and chocolates upon arrival. Book now and stay by January 31, 2021. Blackouts may apply. Pet Fee: Guest will be asked to adhere to The Getaway’s dog policies upon arrival. All dogs are welcome for a one-time, non-refundable cleaning fee of $83.25 (tax included) for 1 dog and $99.90 (tax included) for 2 dogs, charged upon check-in.  Booking Link: here.

Complimentary bicycles at The Hideaway

4. The Hideaway also in Carmel is a sister property of The Getaway. It is also a pet-friendly property and offers complimentary bicycles for guests to explore the best rated trails in Carmel By The Sea. The front desk provides helmets, lock, and city map. FUN FACT: Carmel-by-the-Sea’s is a charming European Village looking one-square mile village where Clint Eastwood was once mayor. DEAL: Book now and stay by January 31, 2021 to receive 10% off Best Flexible Rates plus receive a bottle of local wine and chocolates upon arrival. Blackouts may apply. Booking Link: here 

Hotel Winters

Property: Hotel Winters is a four-star boutique hotel in Winters, CA offering a Peace of Mind Promise on Covid safety protocols and procedures. The area offers numerous wine tasting spots. FUN FACT: Winters is a small city in rural Yolo County, and the western Sacramento Valley. It has a population a little over 6,500 residents. DEAL: Save Now, Travel Later. Travelers will receive an exclusive $189 rate for any date now through the end of March 2021, plus a daily $25 F&B credit, a bottle of wine upon arrival, and late check-out by 2 p.m. There are no blackout dates. The hotel is also offering an exclusive government, first responders and healthcare rate. Booking Link: here

5 Fun So Cal Weekend Drives

For #saferathome Covid-weary families, getting in the car and going for a drive can renew spirits and over a change of scenery.

Here are some charming towns that are less than a 2 hour drive from Los Angeles, to take a car ride, wear your mask and enjoy the festive lights.

Photo Courtesy of Visit Temecula on IG

Temecula: While the town is known for its wineries, its vibrant Old Town Temecula is ideal for holiday shopping with its festive décor and specialty shops that feature made-in-Temecula products.  With more than 100 shops to stroll, gift givers will find something for everyone on their list. Some favorites include locally made olive oils from the Temecula Olive Oil Company, culinary items from Old Town Spice & Tea Merchants, and handmade lavender products from Temecula Lavender Company. isit Temecula Valley is the region’s official tourism marketing organization and resource for visitors. The Visitors Center is located in Old Town Temecula. For visitor information and assistance, please call (888) 363-2852 or go to VisitTemeculaValley.com.

Idyllwild: Set among tall pines, pleasant smelling cedars and legendary rock formations, The mountain offers a charming town center filled with quaint shops. Pick up some sheepskin slippers to snuggle up in from Wooley’s, or unique handcrafted jewelry at The Sage and The Butterfly. Discover vintage collectibles at Ephemera or pick up an artisan candle made onsite at the Wax Apothecary

Courtesy of Visit Big Bear

Big Bear Lake: With holiday lights aglow in the village and snow falling on the pines, Big Bear Lake transforms into a classic Christmas escape just a couple hours from Los Angeles. On the weekend before Christmas, Big Bear is having a Holiday Farmers Market & Chriskindlmark. Join Wyatt’s for some traditional Christmas and holiday fun Saturday, Dec 19 and Sunday, Dec 20. Enjoy holiday entertainment and shop unique vendor booths. Kids can get into the holiday spirit with arts and crafts and visits with Santa Claus! Settle down to enjoy Wyatt’s full bar and menu and get a peek at imported cookies and candies. Sat. Dec. 19 from 1 PM – 8 PM and Sun. Dec. 20 from 11 AM – 6 PM

Marina del Rey: The holiday season in Marina del Rey will offer locals and visitors a festive atmosphere despite the cancellations of many signature winter events. Just like homeowners are decorating their homes this year, The Holiday Boat Lights Display brightens the waterfront. The public is invited to walk, bike or paddle throughout the harbor to see the boats decorated in holiday lights. Stroll along Fisherman’s Village and enjoy stunning sunsets followed by nightly twinkling Christmas lights throughout December.

Lompoc: Some of the most picturesque country roads are found on California’s Central Coast, with dramatic coastline plunging down to the frothy ocean below, and winding paths flowing through gentle hillsides filled with wildflowers. There are four roads in and around Lompoc that are ideal for a day drive. SpaceX launch of a Falcon 9 Block 5 Rocket is scheduled to life off on December 31, 2020 at 4:00 pm – 5:00 pm. Date/Time may change. Click here for details.

Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort reopens

The largest Hilton in the world and Hawaii’s largest resort – Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki reopened on Dec. 15, 2020. Situated on 22 oceanfront acres of Waikiki’s widest stretch of beach, the grand reopening was a celebration. There was a Hawaiian blessing held with Hilton Hawaiian Village staff and tenants, and the first guest group to check-in received a complimentary upgrade to the Niumalu Suite in the Rainbow Tower, a gift bag and beautiful lei. Click here for current specials.

Photo Courtesy of Hilton Hawaiian Village

“We have looked forward to this day for a long time, and our team has worked tirelessly to make our reopening possible,” said Debi Bishop, managing director of the property. “Our guests and Team Members will find that we have created a resort experience that prioritizes safety while retaining the warm Aloha spirit that our islands are known for.”

Photo by Hilton Hawaiian Village

In addition to its prime location on Waikiki Beach, 5 pools, waterfalls and one of the best water slides, the world-class Mandara Spa reopened for treatments. The Waikiki Beach Activities beach concession reopened for guests to enjoy outdoor activities on the ocean or the saltwater lagoon.

Both guests and team members feel safer with the ultimate Hilton CleanStay hospitality cleaning protocols. To ensure the safety of guests and employees, Hilton CleanStay with Lysol protection delivers an industry-leading standard of cleanliness and disinfection in Hilton properties across the world.

Photo by Jill Weinlein

Hilton Hawaiian Village guests will notice the resort is cleaner and safer to stay in from check-in to check-out. Standards for Hilton CleanStay include a Hilton CleanStay Room Seal to indicate that a room has not been accessed since being thoroughly cleaned and disinfected, flexible housekeeping options, and more.

Hilton EventReady with CleanStay provides curated solutions with creative food and beverage, thoughtful technology resources, elevated standards and practices with redesigned spaces for physical distancing, and reimagined ways to meet and gather to create a safe and comfortable environment for event planners and their attendees.

Photo by Jill Weinlein

All transpacific travelers who desire to bypass Hawaii’s 14-day travel quarantine are required to participate in the Safe Travels Hawaii program by furnishing a negative COVID-19 test result from one of the state’s Trusted Testing and Travel Partners 72 hours prior to departure. Travelers must have the negative result in hand prior to going through airport security. This pre- travel test is part of a multilayered screening process that also includes the mandatory State of Hawaii Travel and Health Form, and temperature screening at all Hawaii airports upon arrival. For more information visit HawaiiCOVID19.

Catalina Island Getaway 2020

Looking to get a little fresh air, after two weeks of being cooped up inside (due to the global pandemic and hazardous air quality from the California wildfires), we booked a cruise onboard Catalina Express’ Cat Express from San Pedro to Two Harbors at Catalina Island.

The 300 passenger double hull boat, only allows about 40% of capacity onboard, as a safety precaution due to the global pandemic. Passengers must wear a mask at all times.

It’s just a little over one hour boat ride to Catalina Island’s west end, known also as the Isthmus. The rustic town offers one hotel – the Banning House built in 1910. It was a summer house for the Banning Brothers, who owned the Santa Catalina Island before chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr., purchased the Santa Catalina Island Company and the Island from them in 1919. Guests look out to the Isthmus Harbor and Catalina Harbor from the main house, and two villas (Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz).

There is one general store that sells camping provisions, hand sanitizer, snacks, drinks and souvenirs. There are multiple camp grounds on the island, and many hikers and campers enjoy exploring the 37.2-mile Trans Catalina Trail from one site to another.

At the base of the pier is a dive shop to rent a locker for the day for under $3.50. You receive a tiny key for a tiny lock to keep your valuables safe and dry, while you swim, snorkel, hike, kayak, paddle board and enjoy the Harbor Reef and Harbor Sands Restaurant.

During the pandemic, Two Harbors has gained popularity for day-trippers and outdoor enthusiasts, because there is plenty of space for social distancing. 

Before lunch, we took a hike from the Isthmus to Catalina Island Harbor along a paved dirt path along the half-mile wide Isthmus. Along the way we stopped to take in the beautiful views of two bays.

Stories have been told about how Spanish explorers named the island, Santa Catalina Island to honor Saint Catherine. Pirates arrived on the island to store smuggled treasures in the nearby coves and fur traders used to visit and sell their products.

Working up an appetite, we took our shoes off to wiggle our toes in the sand at Harbor Sands Restaurant. Known for its coconut milk cocktail, stuffed quesadillas, salads, burgers and golden brownie dessert, visitors can sit at a beach front table or reserve a private cabana for up to $150 a day with a bucket of waters and food service, or $30 for two lounge chairs, umbrella and towels on soft imported sand.

Next we rented a double kayak and paddled in crystal clear water, near sandy beaches, caves and nearby coves, before jumping into the refreshing sea water to cool off.

Drying off, we returned the kayak, retrieved our packs from the locker, and boarded the open air Cyclone boat for a 40 minute cruise. Cruising near the coastline by Rippers Cove, Long Point, Toyon Bay, YMCA’s Camp Fox, and Willow Cove before arriving to scenic Avalon with a Mediterranean vibe.

The newest hotel in Avalon is the Bellanca Hotel, from the Eat, Drink, Sleep Hospitality Group. This renovated (former Portifino Hotel) harbor front property, features 40 rooms with brand four new spacious guestrooms.

The open-air, ocean view, rooftop deck is available to guests to relax and enjoy drinks and meal throughout the day. We purchased a half-bottle of rose’ and a charcuterie board from the onsite bar to take up to the rooftop to enjoy the sunset.

Staying in the brand new room #109, the comfortable king size mattress enhanced a good night’s sleep. The sliding door leads out to a street level patio. Stepping outside we looked to the right for a slice of the Avalon harbor view.

The extra large tiled shower has a peek-a-boo window looking into the room. Other amenities include a large flat screen television, mini refrigerator, and multiple charging outlets, however I could not find a safe to store our valuables.

Bellanca Hotel offers complimentary beach cruisers, beach towels and beach chairs for guests to use while sitting by the water or going for a swim.

The onsite restaurant – the Naughty Fox, has Executive Chef Russell Hayden preparing elevated beach favorites such as ahi poke nachos, lobster sushi roll, grilled fish tacos, and a tasty seafood cioppino with crunchy grilled bread. Food and beverage Manager Jose from Eat. Drink. Sleep, made sure every guest was taken care of and enjoyed their culinary experience. 

Right now the hotel is not offering breakfast due to COVID-19, hopefully they will later. Each employee is temperature scanned at the front of the hotel before entering to work. Masks are mandatory to wear in the lobby and while walking to your room and rooftop. It may be removed once you order and your drink and meal has arrived.

For a change of pace for the COVID weary, a boat ride to Catalina Island is a welcome change of scenery. (Next week read my review of 10 hotspots to see when renting a golf cart, riding a bicycle or walking around Avalon).

The Bellanca Hotel is located at 111 Crescent Ave, Avalon, CA 90704 | (310) 510-0555 | http://www.bellancahotel.com.

The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel offers a pandemic break

For those getting COVID fatigue, the iconic Hollywood Roosevelt may just be the answer to renew your spirits. The L.A. landmark built during the luxury Golden Era of architecture has reopened. According to General Manager Don Jacinto, the hotel has pivoted its current offerings and operations to accommodate guests, while maintaining the highest levels of health and safety.

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Photo courtesy of the Hollywood Roosevelt

Named after the 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, the historic hotel used to be home to actress Marilyn Monroe, writer F. Scott Fitzgerald and actor Montgomery Clift while filming “From Here to Eternity.”

Now pandemic weary leisure travelers can escape to an urban destination and reserve a “Work From Home Rockstar” special package offered this summer.  Spend the day in a poolside Cabana Suite starting at 9 a.m., and receive a plethora of perks.

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Cabana Suite – photo courtesy of the Hollywood Roosevelt

This early access to your suite package includes complimentary parking for one car, Wi-Fi, and plenty of coffee, tea and water to drink. Make a reservation to use the gym for complimentary access (based on availability and Los Angeles City and County COVID-19 mandates, reservation basis to limit the amount of guests). After working in your new environment, take a refreshing swim in the David Hockney mural Tropicana pool. You can invite a friend, as the rate includes access for one guest. Rates start at $159 for a Cabana Garden or Balcony room, available Monday-Wednesday. If you want to make it a staycation, extend for the night for $50.

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Photo courtesy of the Hollywood Roosevelt

For those looking for the freedom to drive, become a “Road Trip Warrior” reserve a two night or more trip to explore the heart of Hollywood. In partnership with fashion influencer DJ Lola Angusta, guests can enjoy access to a custom Spotify playlist from Lola and an comfortable room starting at $249 per night. Enjoy complimentary valet parking, and lunch to-go for two guests. Roadtrippers are guaranteed reserved spots at the Tropicana pool relaxing on the socially distanced lounge chairs. A two-night minimum stay is required.

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Tropicana Pool – photo courtesy of the Hollywood Roosevelt.


Rediscovering Big Bear

Even though Big Bear is known for it’s four seasons, summer is one of the best times to drive up to the alpine mountain town. Instead of staying at a hotel, we discovered the WorldMark Resort two blocks from Big Bear Lake. You don’t have to be a timeshare member to reserve a unit. It’s an ideal Covid-cation for couples or families, as each unit has a full kitchen, laundry, outdoor patio or balcony. Some units have forest views with a peek of the lake.


Despite potential quarantines and visitor restrictions, the WorldMark Resort has prepared for local “staycation” getaways since May 26, 2020. They have a cleaning and sanitizing protocol developed by ECOLAB, a global leader in water, hygiene and infection prevention.


Last month we packed the car and drove less than two hours from Los Angeles up 7,000 feet above sea level, to escape the heat and breathe clear mountain air. At WorldMark Big Bear, they offer spacious one and two bedroom units that comfortably sleep four to six guests. We received a second floor spacious two bedroom unit. There are no elevators at this resort , so we accessed our unit by a walking up the 13-step staircase.

Each one has a private bedroom with one king bed and ensuite bathroom. Two bedroom units have a queen or two twin beds in the second bedroom and a queen Murphy bed to pull down in the living area.


Traveling with our two daughters, we all appreciated the privacy of separate bedrooms. Since we brought our own food and beverages, we found the fully equipped kitchen convenient for meals. Once we noticed a barbecue grill on the private balcony, we made one trip to the grocery store two blocks away to purchase salmon and corn on the cob to grill in the evening while watching the sun set.


This resort does not have air conditioning, however the family room and bedrooms to have overhead fans. At sunset we opened the windows to allow the cool mountain air inside to sleep comfortably. Daily housekeeping is not included and may be added for an additional fee.

Centered around the sparkling waters of Big Bear Lake, there are plenty of fresh air activities among blue skies, sunshine and crisp mountain air. Some of the on-site activities at the resort are open such as the large outdoor swimming pool, however others are closed due to CDC requirements. The play areas for children, ping-pong and arcade areas are closed. Outdoor covered hot tubs, horseshoe pit and tennis and basketball courts are also closed due to CDC requirements.


Within walking distance from the WorldMark is Big Bear Lake, shopping and the 1.6 mile Stanfield Marsh nature trail. It’s an easy walk along a wooden boardwalk. Some areas are above the water to look down and see an array of wildlife and birds. We discovered other fun outdoor activities during our two-night stay.


Across the street is the beginning of the 5.4 Alpine Pedal Path along the north shore. The paved path begins across the street from Stanfield Cutoff near the lake towards the Big Bear Solar Observatory. It is easily accessible for walkers, skaters, joggers, strollers and wheelchairs.


We cooled off on the lake at Captain Johns Marina in Fawn Harbor for an hour of kayaking and paddle boarding. John the owner, is a great guy and will get you all set up for a fun day on the lake. He also has canoes and boats to rent. He also has a food stand that opens for lunch, and offers live music on the weekends. There is plenty of parking, a hammock, boat dock and boat launch ramp, plus lots of areas next to the water’s edge to set up your chairs and overlook the lake. Due to Covid-19 mandated restrictions his Big Bear Tarzan Boat waterpark is closed. Hours are weekdays 8a.m. to 5 p.m. and weekends 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.


We also took a SkyLine View lift ride to the top of Snow Summit to enjoy lunch at the top of the hill. There is a grill at the bottom of the hill with plenty of seats to eat and watch the mountain bikers blaze down the trails, however the lifts are open for an forest top ride to a grill at the top. When you get off the lift, the staff are cooking up burgers, sausages and vegan options served with Cole slaw or potato salad. Beverages include soda, seltzers, ciders and beer.


We saw a lot of mountain bikers pedaling over the 60 miles of cross-country trails through the San Bernardino National Forest at Snow Summit. They loaded their bikes on the lift and rode up to the top to take one of the six trails down. Trails are for riders of all ages and ability levels. The longest trail is named Going Green and is 2.5 miles long. Terrain: 50% Beginner, 10% Intermediate, 38% Advanced, 2% Pro.

Since we didn’t have bikes, after lunch we hiked along trails and terrain to the bottom base.  For non hikers, you can take the lift back down to enjoy the same exquisite forest and lake views. Other activities at Snow Summit include a 30-foot climbing wall, zip line, Euro Bungee trampoline, and tube slide.


Early the next morning we drove less than two miles from our condo to race laps in Formula 1 SODI RT8 karts at the Big Bear Speedway. Drivers first watch a safety video, complete a waiver form, receive a protective head sock and helmet, before getting into a mini race car to drive the course. The cars go up to 30 miles an hour around hairpin turns while other cars try to pass you along the way. It’s great fun for all ages. When the race is over, drivers gather around the winner result display board to see who is the winner.


Afterwards kart racing, we tried our skills on the challenging Big Bear Ropes Course at Big Bear Speedway. It’s a new attraction that towers 35 feet above the ground and stretches over 6,400 square feet. This aerial adventure features 42 obstacles with suspension bridges, open gaps, cables to scramble across, and more. It also includes a Sky Rail Zipline to go airborne. Each participant is fully secured in a five-point, full-body harness that connects to a safety line. There is a slider puck inserted and taken out of the track by a certified operator at the entrance and exit of the ropes course. Each participant is fully secured at all times.

Getting hungry we drove to The Village to explore the open stores and restaurants offering an outdoor patio. It was a little too crowded for our comfort and North Pole Sweets & Treats had a line going down the sidewalk, so we got an ice cream at Ben & Jerry’s and drove back to our condo. The Village has free parking in multiple city lots and in front of shops on Village Dr. and Pine Knot Ave. Be sure to wear a mask.

Another fun spot that was a little too busy for our comfort level during the pandemic is the The Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain. It offers multiple family activities including a slide course, water park, new zip line ride and soon to open the Soaring Eagle coaster. Go early in the morning before it gets too crowded. The park has implemented new cleaning and disinfecting procedures and encourages guests to wear face coverings, maintain 6 feet distance, wash hands frequently, however many of the children weren’t following these guidelines.


The quickest and easiest way to plan your Big Bear vacation is to go online at WorldMark Wyndham Vacation Clubs for non-timeshare guests to rent a mountain getaway.


Gelato Festival Opens in West Hollywood

Walking into the new Gelato Festival Gelateria on Melrose Ave., I met with Master Gelato & Pastry Consultant Filippo Cianciosi to learn about Gelato Festival’s concept store. Recently established in West Hollywood on Melrose Ave., the purpose is to celebrate and share the craft of making gelato with the community.


Inside the 3,000 square foot scoop shop, is also a museum, gelato lab and classroom in lively bright colors, fun Instagrammable moments, interactive touches, and a rotating contemporary art installations. The first is a wall of enormous giant, recycled plastic spoons created by celebrated Italian artist Simone d’Auria.


There are four different delectably indulgent areas to the inspire creativity:

  • The ROTATING MENU of award-winning, artisan gelato includes 15 flavors. Visitors can come in an try 10 of the flavors that are from recipes created by master gelato chefs from around the globe. These chefs won awards at Gelato Festival’s worldwide championships, including Strawberry & Red Pepper and Pecorino Cheese with Caramelized Pear & Honey. The store’s in-house gelato chef creates five additional flavors, as well as gelato cakes, gelato popsicles, Italian coffee and affogatos. 
  • Visitors can come in and view the process of making fresh gelato daily in an open-concept LAB equipped with state-of-the-art machinery.
  • Take a class inside the CLASSROOM for fun, weekly interactive gelato and coffee workshops open to the public. This space is also available for private events and parties.
  • Along the wall is a GELATO MUSEUM highlighting the history of gelato with gelato cone lights displaying an array of gelato history, starting with its founding in the 16th century in Florence, Italy. Florentine architect, Bernardo Buontalenti in 1559 added milk, cream, and egg yolk to sorbet at the Medici Court.  Learn that the first public place to consume gelato was in Paris in 1686. Display cases include artifacts such as a famous spoon, and an antique Florentine gelato maker. 
  • The calendar of lively COMMUNITY EVENTS, including special visits by award-winning gelato chefs, kids’ juries, and all-you-can-eat gelato challenges.IMG_5058.jpg

This weekend local and visiting International gelato artisans are gathering at West Hollywood’s Pacific Design Center on Sept. 28 and Sept. 29 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.  Every ticket-holding guest gets a vote and opportunity to participate in gelato eating contests, scoop stacking, and other fun family games. The gelato artisan who earns the most votes, wins the coveted gold medal and continues the journey towards the industry’s ultimate stage, the Gelato Festival World Masters 2021. Tickets are available on Eventbrite. https://www.eventbrite.com/e/gelato-festival-america-west-hollywood-2019-tickets-61930715437#pdc.


Gabriele Poli, Founder & President of Gelato Festival is enthusiastic about the upcoming two-day festival. Gelato Festival has partnered with Project Angel Food to create a number of initiatives that will launch next month to support the organization. To start, Gelato Festival created an exclusive, limited edition flavor for Project Angel Food’s 30th Anniversary Angel Awards on September 14. It is available in the store. Proceeds from the sale of each scoop will go directly to the organization, which prepares and delivers medically tailored meals to feed people impacted by serious illness throughout Los Angeles County.


Gelato Festival’s flagship store is open Sunday through Thursday 12-10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday 12-12 p.m. Visit gelatofestival.com/store and follow along on Instagram @gelatofestival. (424)249-3966.




Couples Getaway at Carter Estate Winery & Resort

Early in the morning, colorful hot air balloons fly right over the grapevines at the Carter Estate Winery and Resort in Temecula Valley. Each of the Tuscan-designed villas on the estate have an outdoor patio to sip coffee and watch enormous balloons soar by.


Temecula Valley is the ultimate couples getaway for wine tasting, bicycling, golf, and relaxation. Rolling hills, mountain views and a warm climate make Temecula a popular destination for those needing an escape. It’s less than a two-hour drive from San Diego, Los Angeles, Orange County and Palm Springs.


Each villa has a large sitting area and fireplace to sit by with a glass of wine. The expansive marble and granite bath offers an over-sized soaking tub, separate shower and upgraded bath amenities. There are luxurious robes and comfortable slippers to slip into after a day of wine tasting.


A king size pillow top mattress with elegant bedding and multiple pillows, under a vaulted ceiling with a ceiling fan, offers a quiet night’s sleep.


Upon check in, guests receive a door hanger with a list of items to select for a complimentary continental breakfast for two. Once completed, leave the hanger outside for a Carter Estate staff member to collect and deliver breakfast to the room in the morning. Guests at the resort also receive two complimentary tasting tickets to experience.


The wine tasting room offers pours of spectacular still and sparkling wines. Their Méthode Champenoise sparkling wine is the only style wine produced at Carter Estate Winery’s wine production facilities. There are three different sparkling wines to taste or purchase by the bottle. The 2014 Blanc de Blanc offers a classic bright green apple and pear essence made from Estate Chardonnay grapes. The 2014 Blanc de Noir is a pretty pink, with notes of strawberry and raspberry with just a hint of sweetness.


Even though Champagne can only be made in the Champagne region of France, from grapes only grown there, their 2015 Brut Méthode Champenoise is a fermented sparkling wine with a hint of melon and a wonderfully smooth finish.


Owner Jim Carter proudly owns 400 verdant acres in Temecula Valley, located at the Carter Estate Winery and Resort, and at the larger South Coast Winery across the street. Together with his head wine makers Jon McPherson and Javier Flores, they have garnered over 2,000 distinguished awards and medals. In June of 2016, South Coast Winery broke records with its fourth win in the California State Winery of the Year Wine Competition.


The heated swimming pool for Carter Estate Winery and Resort guests is ideal to enjoy during the day after wine tasting. Another before dinner activity offered to couples is an indulgent in-room 80-minute custom couples aromatherapy and deep tissue massage. It also includes a scalp massage and reflexology. A bottle of pre-selected wine is poured after the service. Take a glass out onto your patio to watch the sunset, or to the soaking bathtub for a warm bath and before dinner across the street at The Vineyard Rose Restaurant.


The natural beauty of gardened landscape and acres of picturesque vineyards make Carter Estate Winery and Resort a relaxing couples getaway to indulge all of your senses.

This review was featured in JustLuxe.






GRAPE STOMP at South Coast Winery

During September Wine Month in California, harvest season at the South Coast Winery begins with an annual Grape Stomp. Participants enjoy wine tasting, a sparkling wine harvest blessing toast, buffet dinner and live music. Upon check-in “stompers” register, sign a waiver and receive a competition instruction sheet. It’s an ideal couples or friends activity, as one person stands in a wine barrel stomping grapes, while the other stands outside the barrel collecting the grape juice into an empty wine bottle.


The winners of each round compete in The Stomp Off, and the first team to fill a bottle of grape juice up to the top, wins bragging rights as the stomping champions, and a one night stay in a villa at the South Coast Winery Resort & Spa, plus dinner for two at the award-winning The Vineyard Rose Restaurant.


After a night of wine and stomping, the winemakers at South Coast Winery and their team wake up around 2:30 a.m., to start harvesting the grapes in the cool vineyards to make their award-winning wines.


Guests staying overnight gather at the 17,000 sq. ft., South Coast Winery Resort’s GrapeSeed Spa to enjoy a variety of therapeutic treatments in a tranquil setting. Besides a heated 83-degree saltwater pool, there are two whirlpools, private lockers, spa dining menu and a full fitness center.


The South Coast Stone Massage with heated black stones is ideal to melt away tension, ease muscle stiffness from stomping and increase circulation. Not only do warm stones expand blood vessels, they encourage blood flow throughout the body. After each massage at the GrapeSeed Spa, guests receive a choice of South Coast Winery’s award-winning Chardonnay or one of their red wines.


During harvest season GrapeSeed Spa offers two Fall specials that include Chardonnay Bliss and a Fall A Peel Facial. Spa guests receive a locker, luxury robe and spa sandals. For the Chardonnay Bliss spa package, guests receive a 50-minute massage infused with Olavie’s signature Chardonnay Oil. The artisan hand-blended botanical oil offers long-lasting repair and nourishes dry skin. The package also include a poolside lunch and glass of Chardonnay.


The Fall Peel Facial takes away summer lifeless cells and enhances skin with a Jessner peel that exfoliates skin to be smooth, bright and hydrated. This package includes a glass of wine, lunch poolside and deluxe samples to use at home. Both these specials are available Monday through Thursday all September through October 31, 2019.

Make a reservation at South Coast Winery. This review is featured in JustLuxe.

Girlfriend’s Weekend at Pechanga Resort

Meeting friends for a Girl’s Weekend Reunion at Pechanga Resort nestled in Temecula Valley, this destination that offers a multitude of activities that appeals to everyone.


Besides the 20,000 square foot gaming casino, there is an event theatre showcasing sell-out concerts. This Las Vegas style resort has a water oasis featuring four-acres of pools, waterslides, a swim up bar, restaurants and spacious cabanas. Next door is a world-class spa facility, and fitness center.


Recently, Pechanga recently completed a $300 million expansion, nearly doubling its guest-rooms. The new luxury Pechanga’s Tower offers spacious Junior Suites. The bedroom offers a king or two queen beds, and a separate sofa bed in the living area. The quartz countertop bathroom has a large rain dome shower and in-shower bench, with an array of luxury bath products.


The tastefully decorated rooms feature indigenous and locally created artwork among floor to ceiling windows looking out to the verdant Journey at Pechanga golf course or Temecula valley and hills.

During the day, there are three swimming pools, including a zero-edge main pool with a swim-up bar. The family pool has two waterslides and a splash pad. Throughout the 4.5 acres there are five whirlpool spas.


There are plenty of lounge chairs and cabanas for friends to catch up while enjoying the topical oasis called The Cove. Day Beds accommodate four friends, while pool cabanas seat up to six people. The Cove also offers seating in the Premium Cabanas for up to 8 guests. All day beds and cabanas include sun care amenity, bottled water, and cabana services.


Golf course architects, Arthur Hills and Steve Forrest, created a par-72, links-style Journey at Pechanga golf course (The course will be closed for overseeding beginning September 23, 2019 until October 14, 2019).  After a round of golf with girlfriends, the acclaimed Journey’s End restaurant offers a healthy lunch and dinner menu inside the modern club house and outdoors with firepit and golf course views.


Relaxation time at Spa Pechanga is inside a 25,000-square foot sanctuary designed for year-round rejuvenation of the mind, body and spirit. Amenities include a warm indoor whirlpool and another whirlpool spa outdoors with a flowing waterfall. Inside are steam rooms, saunas, and relaxation areas for napping. Upstairs, the luxurious treatment rooms offer tranquil hillside views.

Inside the hotel there area a variety of international dining venues including The Great Oak Steakhouse, Umi Sushi & Oyster Bar, Paisano’s, Bamboo, and Blazing Noodles. There are also a handful of casual options, bars and lounges.


In the evening Pechanga Resort and Casino has the largest casino floor with over 4,500 slot machines, 154 table games, a non-smoking poker room with 38 tables, and an ultra-modern, 700-seat bingo.

Pechanga is a winning destination for all to enjoy fun, sun, and relaxation.





Weekend Fun at Fashion Island Hotel in Newport Beach

One on the highlights of staying overnight during Labor Day weekend at Fashion Island Hotel in Newport Beach, was dining under towering trees on the al fresco deck at Oak Grill.


Every Sunday through October, 2019 locals and hotel guests are enjoying an elevated multi-course barbecue dinner by the talented Executive Chef Brittany Valles. She oversees seasonal menus at both Oak Grill and Aqua Lounge inside the hotel. As a strong proponent of using locally produced ingredients, this talented chef utilizes the whole plant or animal for creating bold and bright flavorful dishes.


Earning her Associate of Arts degree from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Los Angeles, Pasadena, she served as chef de cuisine for seven years with one of LA’s hottest chefs – Michael Voltaggio at ink.well (now-closed). Her skills gained a prestigious nomination for Star Chefs’ Rising Star Chef in 2017 and she was the named “Sandwich Queen” in an episode on munchies on Chef’s Night Out.


On Sunday’s the bar makes a Hometown Punch for $10. It’s a blend of Old Forester signature 100 proof, housemade oleo-saccharum syrup, water, and fresh lemon juice. They also make a “Smoked James Dean” that has become an Instagram favorite. It arrives in a glass case, and once the door opens, your senses are awakened with pleasing aromas  surrounding your table.


Three of us dined on a Sunday night, so two of us ordered the special Slow Smoked Sundaze BBQ special, while our daughter ordered the Tuna Poke served with Taro Chips.


On the menu each guest receives a flavorful cheddar cheese biscuit with a side of  fresno chili jelly and garlic herb butter, as well as a few house-made seasonal pickles. A bread basket also arrived with three different types of elevated bread: pretzel, olive and country rolls.

Next our friendly server Mike brought to our table a smoked salmon deviled egg, near a clear bowl holding a watermelon salad sprinkled with feta cheese, sorrel, basil and a squeeze of lemon. Both were delicious. Also on the plate was a pleasing fried green tomato topped with burrata, chopped country ham, and a herb chipotle aioli.IMG_3918

For our entrees we had a choice of two proteins that are served with Texas & Carolina style bbq sauce. My husband ordered the smoked chicken, cedar plank atlantic salmon, while I ordered the tender and flavorful bbq brisket and salmon.


Our plate with two proteins arrived with a choice of three sides that included roasted corn & barley salad, carrot slaw with poppy seeds and dried cranberries, heirloom potato salad dressed in a champagne-mustard vinaigrette with red onion, fennel, and celery.


This dinner special culminates with a choice of grilled peach melba on top of almond cake, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and side of raspberry coulis to pour on top, and an apple pie à la mode made with cinnamon spiced apples, and served with a scoop of caramel ice cream on top. We ordered one of each and thought the peach melba dessert was a quintessential Summer treat.


This multi-course summer bbq dinner at Oak Grill is $45 per adult and $17 per child 5 – 12.

Walking back to our room, we stepped out on our balcony just before 10 p.m., and watched fireworks illuminate the sky from Disneyland in the distance.


Staying in the spacious corner room number 1408, there is a large living area with a queen size sleeper sofa, and double doors leading into a premium king-sized bed and oversized marble bathroom with a full size bathtub, separate shower and plush, oversized bath towels and white bathrobes.


This room offers two step-out balconies, one with two chairs and a table overlooking the Newport Beach Country Club golf course.


Guests staying at the stylish Orange County resort can renew, repair and rejuvenate during their vacation by upgrading to the Island Club up on the 20th floor. Enter with your key card into a comfortable lounge offering various flat screen televisions, dining tables, iMac computer work area, a variety of nerwspapers, and a wall of windows looking out to the Fashion Island Shopping and Entertainment Center, Balboa Island and Pacific Ocean beyond. Step-out onto one of the balconies, for the best coastal view in all of Orange County.


Benefits include a full enhanced Continental-style breakfast with hot and cold items. Later in the afternoon snacks and beverages are offered before “Wine Down” hour at sunset offering five different wines, beers, sodas, hot and cold hors d’oeuvres and desserts.

Other Island Club benefits include complimentary premium Wi-Fi, complimentary bicycles to ride around for two hours, a special pillow menu and 20% off spa retail. The Spa has multiple treatment rooms, a sauna and steam room. Guests receive a plate of frozen grapes and flute of champagne before or after a massage or facial. Spa specialists offer a new state-of-the-art technology, HydraFacial 30, 60 or 90-minute treatment. This non-invasive, non-surgical resurfacing treatment thoroughly cleanse skin, while boosting collagen and elastin, and reducing the signs of aging.
The large tropical pool and 20 person hot whirlpool are located in lush gardens with fireplace seating, lounge chairs, food and beverage service, and weekend music. Near the pool areas is a ping-pong table, and an all day fitness center offering 28 machines, free weights, and flat screen televisions.
Fashion Island Hotel in Newport Beach transports guests to a tropical paradise that reminds one of a luxury Hawaiian hotel, yet it’s only 60 minutes from downtown Los Angeles. Click on Fashion Island Hotel to learn about the hotel’s specials.

Catalina Island’s Hotel Atwater is better than ever

There are three ways to arrive on Catalina Island – helicopter, airplane and boat. The most economical mode of transportation is taking one of the high speed Catalina Express boats from Long Beach, San Pedro or Dana Point.  Within one hour, your will be transported to a more laid back vibe, rich in history, and abundant in water and land activities.


Recently I was invited to be one of the first guests to stay overnight at the newly renovated Hotel Atwater. Originally opened in 1920, the hotel is named after Helen Atwater Wrigley, wife of Philip Knight Wrigley, and daughter-in-law to chewing gum industrialist, William Wrigley Jr.  In 1919, Wrigley became the owner of the Santa Catalina Island Company. He improved the island with public utilities, providing new steamships to transport visitors to the island to hear Big Bands perform inside the Casino Building, and stay in this hotel.


Walking into the soaring lobby, one can immediately see the exceptional attention to detail in the elegant beach decor and design. Soothing marble floors, and a color palette of cream, green and blues create a relaxing lounge area. Soon Avalon’s newest restaurant PKW Eatery + Bar, honoring island developer Philip Knight Wrigley, will open inside.


Completely renovated in 2019, this historic hotel stays true to the Wrigley family legacy with nostalgic photos, vases filled with colorful flowers and splits of Napa sparkling wine in each guest room. I learned that Helen Atwater Wrigley loved fresh flowers in her home and sipped a glass of bubbly every evening before bed.


Staying in guest room number 330, I appreciated the rich wood accents, luxury linen bedding with bright colored decorative pillows and ocean-inspired finishes. This room is a little larger than a standard room, offering a comfortable king sized premium mattress.


Since the hotel is not fully completed, my room had a notice apologizing that the mini-refrigerator hasn’t been installed yet, and that the shower water temperature may not be as hot as desired. After taking a shower in the large tiled shower with two shower heads, I felt the temperature was ideal and wouldn’t want it any hotter.


Next to the bed is a digital concierge tablet displaying an array of activities, dining options, tours to book and messages from the front desk. Each room also offers high-speed Wi-Fi, a safe in the closet and a flat screen smart television.


The hallways and inside guest rooms display color enhanced family photos and historic brochures creating a unique and memorable “Island Deco” experience.


Suites feature king beds, one and a half baths, a separate living space with sleeper sofa, bar and desk, and views of the ocean, town of Avalon or surrounding mountains. An elevator, ADA-compliant rooms, meeting and event space, and other resort-style services and amenities further enhance the guest experience, making Hotel Atwater one of Catalina’s premier lodging destinations.


Staying overnight at the newly renovated Hotel Atwater, guests receive a lot of perks when paying the $30 destination fee:


1. A $40 food and beverage credit per day at one of the Santa Catalina Island Company’s dining venues including lunch at Mt. Ada ($67 per person), Avalon Grille, Bistro at the Atwater, Encanto Cafe at the Island Spa Catalina, Descanso Fresh and Descanso Beach Club.

2. Guests can get a complimentary certificate at the reception desk to take a glass bottom boat voyage.


3. Take a fitness complimentary class at the Island Spa Catalina. Want to stay longer and use the pool and jacuzzi, there is a ($75 fee) or book a spa treatment for full use of the spa.


4. The Hotel Atwater staff will offer striped beach towels to guests to use while swimming in nearby Avalon near the Green Pleasure Pier.


5. Obtain tickets to the Discover the Casino Tour for a historical exploration of the magnificent Catalina Casino. Never a gambling casino, but a dance pavilion with some of the best Big Band orchestras performing while guests dance the night away. Also inside the Casino is the island’s only movie picture theatre, and it’s an Art Deco masterpiece.


6. When using your $40 food and beverage credit at Avalon Grille, dine between 5 to 6 p.m. and get a free movie ticket at the Casino per paid entree. This time give you enough to enjoy a leisure meal, before walking along the waterfront to the Casino.


7. Get two complimentary hours of bike rental and a map of Avalon. In the morning, request your free bike pass at Brown’s Bikes from the front desk at Hotel Atwater. Walk over to Brown’s Bikes and receive a multi-speed cruiser bike. The map they give you will alert you to flat and level roads, intermediate slight hills and those that are recommended for advanced riders, mountain or electric bikes due to it’s steep hills.


Catalina Express offers up to 30 departures daily and year-round service to Avalon and Two Harbors from San Pedro, Long Beach and Dana Point. Click on this link to learn how to upgrade to the Commodore Lounge. It offers even more comfortable airline-style seats, a drink, snack, grouped table seating, and first on and first off privileges.

Click on Visit Catalina Island to learn more and make a reservation.

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