#DoBaja: Mexico’s Wine Country

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The courtyard archway at Quinta Monasterio, a winery in Mexico’s Valle de Guadalupe

Traveling the winding desert highways and bumpy, dusty backroads of the Valle de Guadalupe, you might think you’ve wandered onto the backlot of a classic Western movie. Instead of gunslingers, though, you’ll find acres of gnarled olive trees, Cab-Merlot blends, open-air dining at farm/sea-to-table restaurants, and architecture that ranges from the early 1800s to sometime in the distant future – because this here valley is the ruggedly elegant wine country of Baja, Mexico. [Read more...]

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  • wp socializer sprite mask 32px #DoBaja: Mexicos Wine Country

SAVOR the Central Coast: Food & Wine & California

177795display 590x237 SAVOR the Central Coast: Food & Wine & California

Just in time for California Wine Month (or as I like to call it, “The Happiest Month of the Year”), I wanted to give you a heads up that California’s San Luis Obispo County is staging a delicious event from September 25-28, 2014: Sunset SAVOR the Central Coast is a fancy little festival featuring food and wine seminars, adventure tours and an opening night party at the amazingly over-the-top Hearst Castle.

Tickets are on sale now, so don’t wait too long – not only will you miss out on the event, but you’ll miss meeting me there!

[Read more...]

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48 Hours in Boston: Parkland, Prison & Cannoli – Part Two

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Boston’s ivy-draped Beacon Hill

Continued from
48 Hours in Boston: Parkland, Prison & Cannoli – Part One

Our Boston Saturday began with yet more carbs…but please note that we walked six miles the night before. (I know, right? Thank you.) While we enjoyed some salt bagels at local chain Finagle-a-Bagel, which sends its doughy delights along a little conveyor belt, I sipped my hazelnut coffee and gazed upon a view of a probably-unaffordable Beacon Hill row houses draped sumptuously with ivy. I felt some of the vintage allure of the East Coast starting to stir again in my soul, but no…I’m a sun-soaked West Coaster now. There’s (almost) no going back.

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Scenes from Charles Street

Suitably refueled for the day’s adventures, we hoofed it along a few blocks’ worth of Charles Street, popping in and out of some of the most adorable shops I’ve ever seen. There’s Good for jewelry, handbags and homewares; Black Ink for cards, whimsical gifts, and tiny erasers shaped like cats and unicorns; and Flat of the Hill, which sells everything you need to look like you just returned from the Cape – rope bracelets, striped totes, and sea-scented candles. In a stroke of New England spirit, all the businesses on this stretch of Charles have to dangle signs from overhead hooks as if they’re from the late 1700s.

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A portion of the exterior gardens at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

We hopped in an Uber for the long drive to the Fenway area and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, a reproduction of a Venetian palazzo that houses the massive, global art collection of a sassy Victorian-era heiress. While the lush atrium garden here is one of the most beautiful spaces you can possibly imagine, be aware that you can’t photograph anything inside the museum. This nearly crushed me, because it meant that I couldn’t immediately Instagram the heck out of everything I saw, but please take my word for it –  this place is worth its $15 entrance fee and about 90 minutes of your day, because it’s absolutely stunning. On another trip, I’d love to go back and also explore the nearby Boston Museum of Fine Art - home to some of the most skillfully-crafted jewelry in the world – but this time around we had our hearts set on tooling around Back Bay.

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The magnificent Trinity Church in Copley Square

We couldn’t figure out how/where to buy the required Charlie tickets for the nearby Green Line bus (turns out, these generally have to be purchased in subway stations), so we once again Ubered it over to Copley Square. (By the way, our Uber rides in Boston generally cost about $6 apiece.) I marveled at the enormous bronze sculptures outside the Central Library, and flipped a little over Trinity Church, a gorgeously Gothic building that dates to 1773.

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The magical brown rice bowl (with chicken) at 29 Newbury

Plan A was to have lunch at Stephanie’s on Newbury Street, but the enormous crowd waiting for tables changed our minds right quick. We headed instead to 29 Newbury, an art-filled, vaguely 1980s space with comfy little booths and the perfect, healthy brown rice bowl with spicy black beans, corn, grilled romaine, avocado and a citrusy vinaigrette. I had mine with chicken, Katharine had hers with shrimp – and boy, were we happy.

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Swans are easy to find (and photograph) in Boston’s Public Garden

You could easily spend the day poking through the high-end clothing boutiques along Newbury Street, but we opted to stroll into the heart of the Boston Public Garden, hunting for swans. To clarify, one of Katharine’s favorite travel activities is taking photos of swans, and the Public Garden has plenty of them – both feathered and in the form of historic pleasure boats. While we wandered along the central pond’s grassy shore, Katharine snapped some great shots of birds and I gazed out at the water, smiling and watching the boats glide silently past.

Opened in 1837, the leafy Public Garden feels like a sprawling public park, but was actually the first botanical garden in the country. The landscaping here is gorgeous, and while much of the statuary is pure Victorian (e.g., there’s an ornate marble monument devoted to, I swear on my life, the first American use of ether as anesthesia), an especially beloved collection of bronzes depicts the momma and baby ducks from Robert McCloskey’s truly wonderful picture book, Make Way for Ducklings. To pair your visit to the Public Garden with an audio tour read by a man with a fantastic Boston accent, click here.

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The Massachusetts State House, across the street from Boston Common

Wending our way out of the gahden and along Beacon Street (past the exterior of the Cheers bar, a stop that should be avoided unless you like to hang out with busloads of tourists), we entered the iron gates of Boston Common, the first public park in the United States. At the center of the hilly, green Common is a shiny carousel and a big wading pool that on a summer-warm Saturday was full of kids and parents splashing around in bathing suits. You couldn’t have paid us cash money to put our feet in that water, but we nonetheless found it a heartwarming scene.

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One of many antique tombstones at the Granary Burial Ground

Here we picked up the Freedom Trail once again, which led us past the golden-domed Massachusetts State House (and its hilariously named General Hooker Entrance) and into the 17th-century Granary Burial Ground. Despite being surrounded by lovely oaks and brick and copper-faced buildings, this cemetery is filled with so many stunningly old and dilapidated tombstones that it looks like the set of a Halloween-themed movie.

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Follow the rainbow-striped road (into downtown Boston)

Across the street is the Omni Parker House Hotel, home of the renowned (and buttery) Parker House Rolls, and it’s a few blocks farther on to a road crossing painted like a rainbow, symbolizing Massachusetts’ historic legal support for its own LGBT community and gay marriage in America. We resisted the urge to skip along it, but it made us smile all the same.

Pausing in front of Boston’s oldest building, the 1713 Old State House, we marveled at its fancy British symbols, a unicorn and a lion. Minutes later, we were brought abruptly into the present as we waded across a long line of people waiting for (inexplicably) free Wahlburgers and checked out the dizzying array of lobster-themed souvenirs strewn all over the Faneuil Hall Marketplace. What we really sought was a clean public restroom without an endless wait, but we weren’t successful until we hoofed our way to the waterfront and into the surprisingly snazzy Boston Marriott Long Wharf; here on the second floor, you’ll find the sparkling, semi-empty bathrooms of your (and my) sightseeing dreams.

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Behold, the glory of the perfect cannoli, from Maria’s Pastry

A mid-afternoon dip in energy prompted our stop at the cannoli heaven of Maria’s Pastry in the North End. Maria’s makes ricotta filling at its finest: the perfect balance of cool and soft, lemon-tangy and lightly sweet. The bakery is only open until 7pm most nights (5pm on Sundays), but if you plan carefully, you can take some chocolate-dipped cannolis back to the hotel with you for dessert. Or get some as an afternoon snack and eat them right away. Or better yet, both.

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The Mattapan-Ashmont trolley on Boston’s Green Line

Naps are for amateurs, so after a quick turnaround back at our 13th-floor room at former prison and now city hotspot The Liberty Hotel, we were soon off on the Red Line to pick up the Ashmont-Mattapan Green Line heading towards Milton. Katharine had said this part of the trip would be amazing, and having now enjoyed it for myself, I absolutely agree. Surprisingly tricked out with air conditioning, this gleaming orange, old-fashioned trolley runs down a green, woodland track and delivers you two whole blocks from a wonderful restaurant.

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Steel & Rye – and Susan & Stella & Katharine

For dinner at Steel & Rye in Milton, we met up with our friends Susan, Seth and Stella, who are lucky to live nearby. For its delicious cocktails, creative cuisine, open kitchen, manageable noise level, outdoor patio, friendly service, neighborhood feel and impossibly hip bar, I swear I’d be at this place all the time…if only it was anywhere near me. Standouts include the pink Hothouse Cocktail with tequila, Thai chile, and grapefruit-rose liqueur; fried olives; a bowl of mussels in garlicky-chorizo broth; and the burrata with arugula-walnut pesto.

The next morning, Susan, Seth and Stella joined us again for Sunday brunch at The Liberty’s Clink restaurant (where you’d earn up to five Starpoints for each dollar charged to the SPG American Express), and afterward we headed out into a serious, no-holds-barred East Coast rain.

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Boston’s SoWaSundays – food trucks, a vintage flea market, yours truly in a Galvanized creation, and a fun market find

Damp to the core and happy to be in each other’s company for one last afternoon, we headed South of Washington and explored almost every inch of the weekly SoWa Sundays extravaganzawhich features local artisans, a slew of food trucks, several floors’ worth of art studios, and a sprawling indoor flea market full of vintage fabulousness. Some of our favorite finds here were the pop-culture-themed artwork of Brian Gubicza, and a delightfully wacky/elegant hat shop called Galvin-ized Headwear, where we were all (aside from Seth) made to feel like the fancy ladies we are.

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The delicious lobster roll from the new Stephanie’s at Newbury at Logan’s Terminal B

Our flight was (theoretically) leaving that evening, so after many hugs for our friends and a quick jaunt on the Silver Line to Logan Airport, we were pleased to eat at Stephanie’s on Newbury, after all – one opened earlier this year in the stylish new Terminal B. It’s a good thing I had a huge lobster roll, because we’d soon learn that our flight would be delayed by bad weather in Hartford, and we found ourselves with hours to wait for our flight home, both on and off the runway. <sigh>

I only wish we could have a little more time in Boston proper…and both Katharine and I can hardly wait to go back. I’ve been dreaming of cannoli ever since we left!

____________________________________________________________________

Our room at The Liberty Hotel and our airfare to/from Boston were sponsored by
The Starwood Preferred Guest Card from American Express,
which earns one Starpoint for every dollar spent on the card and double Starpoints on stays
at participating Starwood Hotels & Resorts, such as The Liberty Hotel.

Please note that all opinions and observations expressed here are my own.

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48 Hours in Boston: Parkland, Prison & Cannoli – Part One

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The Liberty Hotel on Boston’s Beacon Hill was a prison until the early 1990s

Over 48 short hours in late July, I let go of an old dream and (re)discovered my new crush city: Boston, Massachusetts.

I traveled with a girlfriend who makes me laugh, and we walked miles on end each day, ate our weight in carbs, hung out with people we adore, and stayed in a former prison. I’d call that a summer weekend very well spent. [Read more...]

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Rain And Shine: A Friends’ Weekend In Seattle – Part One

13191120703 df082567db z Rain And Shine: A Friends Weekend In Seattle   Part One

A chocolate Space Needle and the real thing, glimpsed from the Westin Seattle

Any two given days in Seattle will bring a combination of sparkling sun and pouring-down rain, with a high chance of natural beauty, a bayside Statue of Liberty, and some ridiculously good food. Back in March, one of my dearest friends and I found all of this on a weekend getaway to Seattle, the Pacific Northwest’s “Next City.”

Along the way, we also discovered the sweet beauty of a chocolate Space Needle. [Read more...]

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