A First Time Visit to Hearst Castle!

Along on our recent NorCal weekend trek that took us to Thomas Hill and Linn’s, another highlight was my invite to at last visit The Hearst Castle. Being a California native, its a bit embarrassing that the castle has been on my to-do list FOREVER. Michael had not been, either, and off we headed to the gorgeous San Simeon for our Grand Room Tour!

With each tour lasting about an hour, we were due for at 2:20pm. That gave us ample time to enjoy Cambria’s Moon Stone Beach that morning. Nestled in San Simeon, Hearst Castle is about a 30 minute drive from Paso Robles and Cambria. A gorgeous ride over Highway 1 took us to the Visitor’s Center where you not only check in for your tour, but, the center also boasts a great cafeteria-dining style cafe, coffee stand, a beautiful boutique as well as their Hearst Castle theatre.

Reminding me a bit of my recent visit to Graceland, your castle tour begins on a bus ride up a stunning winding hill to reach the top of vista where, you guessed it, the castle lays. During our ride up, our guided tour begins with Paso Robles resident and Jeopardy host himself, Alex Trebek, giving visitors a glimpse into the rich history and the depths of William Randolph Hearst and his remarkable empire.

Arriving at The Visitor’s Center.
Photo: Michael Farah.

These views!
Photo: Michael Farah.

Tennis courts. Photo: Michael Farah.

Once we arrived, our Grand Tour quickly began with our insightful and resourceful host. He had a difficult task right out the gate as to explain where the infamous Hearst Castle pool is. It is indeed there, but, well, empty and under construction. The castle’s pool is so famous that he admitted many visitors are led to believe their tour is simply that of the POOL, and, not much else!

Made legendary (and what many think of when they hear of Hearst Castle) by souvenirs and stock photos, Mr. Hearst was known to simply “patch up” the pool over the years. So much, that major damage had occurred and was causing the grounds to be draining thousands of pounds of water a day. Now that a contractor has been decided by the city, you can rest assured that plans to have the pool restored by this year are under way.

As we moved on, I adored seeing the gardens and some of the guest bungalows where the castle’s staff and help resided. Throughout the grounds, sculptures and art adorn left and right. A very indicator that The Hearst’s were living quite comfortably as they built their home and, ultimately, a museum!

Our Grand Tour highlighted the party and grand rooms of the castle; where the holiday parties were held and the impressive dining room. Immediately, when you enter their grand dining room, you cannot help but have Harry Potter come to mind and, sure enough, the designers from the trilogy themselves visited Hearst Castle for inspiration and even pursued filming there. While the castle was unable to accommodate those Hollywood requests, the essence and looks are nearly un-canny. Hogwarts may just be alive and well on The Central Coast 😉

The Grand Living Room was spectacular. Decked out for Christmas time, each year the castle re-creates just how the Hearst’s had their home sparkle at the holidays…

Photo: Michael Farah.

The Dining Room Photo: Michael Farah.

Photo: Michael Farah.

As our hour concluded, our last stop is an intimate theatre to watch some rare home movies and clips of William Hearst and the family. With all tour admissions, you are also able to watch an hour long film back at The Visitor’s Center.

With the castle as massive as it is, its understandable why their tours are split up into hour tours. Many visitors opt for more than one tour on a visit which can easily be planned. I would definitely recommend this if you are in search of seeing more of the common areas or bedrooms. The Grand Tour is certainly a great first timer’s visit as you get to learn about the pools, the Hearst family and their lavish hosting rooms.

To learn more and plan your visit to The Hearst Castle, mosey on over HERE to learn more! xo

A Gluten Free Haven at Linn’s Restaurant.

During my time living up on the Central Coast of California in the Santa Ynez Valley, I always loved any chance I got to head to Cambria. Cambria is 30 miles north of San Luis Obispo, and 230 miles south from San Francisco. A humble, small town, Cambria is known for their stunning Moonstone Beach, as well as their annual Scarecrow Festival and a great Main Street drag of restaurants.

One of their dining staples is the absolute gem of a cafe, Linn’s. Linn’s Restaurant is known for their “Olallieberry”; a Youngberry crossed with a Loganberry. The primary fruit grown on their beautiful farm nearby, a Olallieberry tastes similar to the Knotts’ famous Boysenberry, or blackberry. While very tart, it did not provoke any crazy  “lip smacking” and was a great sweet treat…on the MANY dishes I recently got to experience on a visit to Linn’s!

Heading in on a rainy Sunday, we were quickly greeted by our Hostess, Kim and while the place was bustling, she assured us it would be less than a 20 minute wait. We were so engrossed with their bakery and gift shoppe that it felt more like a 5 minute wait. All decked out and ready for the holidays, Linn’s shoppe may not be ample, yet, they manage to have enough variety and beautiful adornments that you feel inside a proper department store.

Just a glimpse of their gift shoppe.

 

Gluten Free Olallieberry Muffin

We were soon escorted to our cozy corner table with a great window view of the rain coming down and the locals enjoying a stroll under their umbrellas. Mr. Linn himself, Aaron, soon came over to greet us and was an absolute delight to chat with. A Cambria native, The Linn’s have been operating their restaurant and farm since the 1980’s. If you want to know anything about Cambria and their townspeople, go have a chat with Aaron and he can fill you in on the what/where/when of the town. Great guy!

They’re also not shy to encourage you to try the entire menu. I was very excited to head to Linn’s as nearly everything is gluten-free (or they will gladly assist you if an item is not). Aaron’s Mom has Celiac, so they know first hand the excitement  you feel when you hear “Olallieberry Chocolate Brownie Cake….Gluten Free” or, my personal favorite: warm bread baskets that are gluten-free brought to your table.

We began our food journey with one of their most famous appetizers, their Ocean Rose Farm Abalone. Having not recalled experiencing Albalone, I was anxious to see why this is such a special dish. One bite, and I knew. Locally sourced Albalone from nearby Cayucos is served with two hazelnut encrusted medallions, lemon-thyme beurre blanc and a decadent jicama-jalapeño slaw. While not a gluten-free dish, simply mention if you need it to be, and they adjust the encrusted medallions for you. Perfection!

Albalone.

Moon Stone Beach Omelette.
Photo: Michael Farah.

Hearst Ranch Hamburger.
Photo: Michael Farah.

With so much already having gone down (chats with the locals, gluten-free galore, great coffee, great atmosphere), it was time for Mike and I to make our big decision: Whats for lunch?! I decided to take advantage of a late breakfast (Weekends they serve it until 2pm, other days, 12p) and try one of their favorite omelettes, The Moon Stone Beach with an abundance of Shrimp, Dungeness crab, tomato, green onion, mushrooms and Swiss cheese. While Mike decided on an old reliable: their Hearst Ranch Beef Cheese Burger with fries.

The Moon Stone omelette was to die for. The seafood so fresh, I would imagine it could have been caught that morning, while the flavor combinations of the cheese and veggies enhanced it perfectly. Mike enjoyed his burger, and the presentation was gorgeous and made it hard to want to dig in (Just a little….).

We were very stuffed by the time we had many options for dessert coming our way….check out what Aaron and staff insisted we try….

Photo: Michael Farah.

Photo: Michael Farah.

See all this, folks? Mike and I were able to get it all down…and, as some of you know, I am a Type 1 Diabetic. I am pleased to say with the proper amount of insulin injections that day, I was able to keep my sugars in a  good range! I truly thought this could be my last supper. Death of a sugar rush. And, what a great last supper it would have been! 😉

First up, was that irresistible chocolate brownie concoction, followed by their famous Pecan Chew Cookie Delight with Linn’s Pecan Chew Cookie, Brazilian Coffee ice cream, house made caramel sauce, candied walnuts and just a little real whipped cream. Bravo!

 While I could continue to share my love for Linn’s, I will end here, and trust that you will do yourself a favor and head to Linn’s next time you are in Cambria. Learn more about them HERE and make sure to tell them Along Comes Mary sent you! xo
(*Disclosure: I was a guest of Linn’s Restaurant in exchange for this feature. All opinions are my own and it was a phenomenal experience!)

 

Make it an Easy Morning with Overnight Chia Seed Pudding! #NOSHWithGroceryOutlet

Remember awhile back when I introduced you to Grocery Outlet? Well, folks, since then, I have been an avid shopper. Even with our closest one about 20 minutes away, you will commonly see me braving The 5 freeway to head on over.

While they have always had such a great variety of the types of foods and beauty care products I need, I was especially excited to hear that my favorite aisle at Grocery Outlet, with my gluten free crackers, cereals, and plenty of coconut oil, is officially their NOSH section.

Where else can you get Annie’s products for 99 cents?

NOSH indicates Natural, Organic, Specialty, Health. While alot of discount stores are hit/miss with healthy and organic offerings, I love that Grocery Outlet is devoted enough to make a section of these foods and treats. I headed over yesterday in search of the goods for a recipe I kept hearing I need to try: An overnight chia pudding! Both my friends and Naturopathic Doctor had recommended learning to cook with chia seeds, and I can see why:  A 1 ounce (28 grams) serving of chia seeds contains (1, 2):

  • Fiber: 11 grams.
  • Protein: 4 grams.
  • Fat: 9 grams (5 of which are Omega-3s).
  • Calcium: 18% of the RDA.
  • Manganese: 30% of the RDA.
  • Magnesium: 30% of the RDA.
  • Phosphorus: 27% of the RDA.
  • They also contain a decent amount of Zinc, Vitamin B3 (Niacin), Potassium, Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) and Vitamin B2.

Chia seeds are also high in fiber (which actually comes from the carb content), protein and a powerhouse amount of anti-oxidants. Whats not to love, right?

I found a great HUGE bag of chia seeds on the NOSH aisle, as well as everything else I needed  to try out the pudding. And, thats not all I found on my trek….

And, want to know a secret? This was all under $40!

Not only was that maple syrup under $5, but, that was also an idea for the pudding. I ended up holding off, but, feel free to add a tablespoon of maple syrup or agave to your concoction, too!

OVERNIGHT CHIA SEED PUDDING

You will need:
2 tablespoons of chia seeds
1 cup of milk (I used Almond Breeze, also on the NOSH aisle)
A glass jar (I used an old Kombucha glass bottle. Mason jars are awesome, too)

Optional:
A dash of cinnamon, vanilla
A tablespoon of maple syrup or agave

Toppings:
Berries
Peaches
Nuts
Chocolate chips

Simply mix the first 2 ingredients, shake VERY well and put in the fridge. At about a half hour, take out for one more good stir and shake, then leave in fridge til the morning. Its pretty amazing how chia seeds expand, and in the morning, you will have this:

I was in a simple blueberry mood, but, you can get as creative as you like with the AM toppings. Having just finished that bowl this morning, I will say that I feel extremely satisfied and that I had a wholesome breakfast to start my day.

Make sure to mosey on over to THIS LINK and get a $3 off coupon for Grocery Outlet to see for yourself how awesome Grocery Outlet is. What will you create? 😉

 

(Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Grocery Outlet, but, the content and opinions are my own.Products and prices featured may not be available at all locations. Please check your neighborhood store for more info.)

Love Trumps Hate Benefit Night with Silversun Pickups Coming to The Bootleg Theatre

So, unless you have been living under a rock (and even then, I bet you would know), you are aware that our next President of the United States is Donald Trump. While I could say that most do not want him as our Leader, the electoral college certainly resulted in a different turn and I definitely have scrolled by my share of Facebook connections who also find this Election a terrific turning point.

Among millions of other concerned people of the nation, I am also appalled and still somewhat in disbelief that Mr. Trump is the best The USA could do for our President. A term that has become popular in the wake of this frightful Election is Love Trumps Hates, or, hash tagging #LoveTrumpsHate.

On January 14th here in Los Angeles, The Bootleg Theatre is proud to present (along with The LA Safety Coalition) Love Trumps Hate. This exciting charity event will benefit Planned Parenthood and The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). And, did I mention the stellar lineup of performances?

Los Angeles bred band, Silversun pickup’s.

Silverlake favorites,  Silversun Pickups, will be headlining the night with a full band acoustic set (and, having seen them perform acoustic, I can assure you you’ll be in for a real treat), as well as sets from YACHT, James Supercave, Nick Waterhouse (special 4 piece set), Bloodboy, Expo 86 and a DJ set from Grant Owens (of WFNM).

In addition to these fantastic musical acts, there will also be a silent auction with the opportunity to bid on items autographed by Fitz and The Tantrums, Leon Bridges, Young The Giant, Family of The Year, Mac DeMarco, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Angel Olsen, Børns, YACHT, Run River North, How to Dress Well, Counting Crows as well as a raffle for a gift card from Amoeba Music.

Together, we will stay strong and ensure our voices are heard as we make this unfathomable transition in Washington DC. Music is a mighty tool and brings us together! Get your tickets to Love Trumps Hate with Silversun Pickups, YACHT and more HERE before they sell out! xo

A Farm to Table Evening at Thomas Hill Organics.

A term I have noticed suddenly coming to the front burner is “Farm to Table” dining. This means that your meal is sourced from locally grown (usually organic) produce and locally raised meats. I find it especially exciting when your dish is from right outside the door of a restaurant. I was lucky to try some remarkable restaurants offering Farm to Table experiences on our trip last month to Paso Robles and The Central Coast. First up? Dinner at Thomas Hill Organics.

After an afternoon at The Hearst Castle (recap coming soon!), Michael and I were in for a real treat when we headed to Downtown Paso Robles to be guests of Thomas Hill Organics. Founded in 2009 by Debbie Thomas, Thomas Hill Organics is actually one of the first restaurants to launch with that now infamous “Farm to Table” as well as source primarily organic ingredients that are brought to your table.

Utilizing the 10 acre farm on the restaurant’s property, Thomas Hill Organics is on the tree-lined Park Street in Downtown Paso. Strolling by, the restaurant is quite un-assuming from the window front. Once you head on in your greeted warmly by an intimate wine bar that houses the front of the bistro. With cheery holiday music playing, our Hostess quickly took us to our cozy table in the back of the building, where the restaurant action takes place. While there was an outdoor area, we opted to stay in to hide from the brisk cold, but, guess what? Walking by on our way out, it felt perfectly toasty as the heat lamps burned on. I would gladly opt for the patio, next time.

Our adorable table for two was next to a window and despite it was dark outside, there still is something fun about that window seat, am I wrong? We began our evening with a glass of their house white wine (Chardonnay that night) and it was really fun to see Michael, who usually is low-key about food and wine (as to where I am pretty straightforward if I like or dislike something), say “Thats a really good glass of wine!”

With a menu that changes nearly weekly, according to what is in season and available, (what could be more fun than never knowing what you would be able to order at your favorite eatery?!) Michael and I both had our eyes on the Weekend’s specials. He ordered their spare rib while I chose the Sole fish over a bed of veggies and cream sauce. Mike’s beef was atop roasted potatoes and some of the best carrots we have ever had. Yes, carrots! Easily, one of the most memorable sides we tried there. That is how fresh and flavorful their food is; we do not usually find carrots that memorable.

The presentation to these dishes were gorgeous, and while the meal appears compact, we were FULL by the time we left…..dessert may have been involved.

Incredible Sole dinner

Mike’s spare rib.

Panna Cotta.

The moment I heard that their sweet special was a Panna Cotta with freshly picked mint leaves and mango, there was no doubt we were ordering one of my favorite desserts. The dairy favorite was sheer perfection, and the cream easily some of the most fresh I have had. It complemented both the wine and our meals perfectly.

During the week of our visit to their Paso Robles location, Debbie and her team were busy launching the second location of Thomas Hill Organics in San Luis Obispo. A half hour from Paso, this is a such brilliant addition to “SLO” that will give both residents and visitors the chance  to experience Thomas Hill’s Farm to Table approach.

Next time you find yourself in Paso Robles or San Luis Obispo, do yourself a favor and make a reservation. Learn more about Thomas Hill Organics HERE.

 

(*Disclosure: I was provided a meal in exchange for this feature. All opinions are my own.)

 

 

My Word of the Year!

So, it is the final week of 2016. Where did the year go?! It feels like yesterday that I was scrambling to decide on a good word for the new year. And, well, friends, nothing has changed in that department and I only just chose my word for 2017 over the weekend!

This has been a great year for me, personally. Our country? Our society? Not so much. The voids we have felt throughout the year as we have seen several of the greats from the artistic world suddenly pass away, the slap in the face millions of us felt with the election results….definitely a lot of heavy moments. I feel extremely lucky that this was a good year for me and my family and I am still standing.

The beginning of 2016 found me searching, or following, more so, my Bliss. Bliss was my word of the year and it found me doing adventures, enjoying the everyday life, giggles and silly moments.

This year? I have so much I want to accomplish and excel at. I want to continue to build my social media services and blogging empire (Or, at-least, my blogging “life”), be a great employee and asset for my day jobs, help people learn the basics to dominating social media and get everything I set out to do, DONE.

Thus, my word for the new year is…..

FOCUS, folks. 2016 was incredible to me for learning more about the ever-changing, ever-evolving Social Media industry, as well as wonderful opportunities for Along Comes Mary and speaking engagements on the basics of Social Media. The time is NOW for me to be leaping as forward as I can to excel and grow in these fields. I am passionate about them both, and that is a really exciting feeling.

But, why FOCUS? Well, if you know me at all, it may not surprise you that I can be a little ADD. My mind is hardly ever at peace or if I am even sitting enjoying some TV or playing music, I am most likely still thinking and dreaming about posts I’ve not yet written, or places I want to go.

I am the Queen of to-do lists, and hope to utilize that good quirk of mine as I attempt to stay FOCUSED throughout my work week. My first focus goal? Working on my blog and/or something that benefits Along Comes Mary each day before I start working. Just an hour. I can do it.

So, 2017 will hopefully be all about my FOCUSING on my passions, as well as those I love. Do you have a word for the new year? What will yours be? xo

 

I ‘Member! My Year in Pictures 2016.

(*This post may contain affiliate links.)

For the past couple of years, I have loved when I come across “Year in Pictures” articles at the end of the year. It gives me a chance to remember some fun times and think about how far I have come with opportunities blogging.

For this year, I am giving me annual Year in Review a theme: To celebrate the 20th season of South Park (one of my favorite shows) coming to Comedy Central, an exciting exhibit hit Comic Con and The Paley Media Center in LA to commemorate their best moments over the years. Michael and I were there (of course) and I got these moments…..

Then, when South Park premiered their newest (highly political!) season, a little hilarious group of ‘Member Berries made their unveiling….

These fictional fruits do nothing but dwell on the past, “‘Member Ghost busters? I ‘member!” but, it made me want to make this a funny post and theme it: I ‘member! 😉

FOOD

‘Member San Francisco? The LA Food and Wine Festival? The Taste of LA? I ‘member!

I got to sip some of the finest wineries around and sample some of the best food on the West Coast, while I could never pick a single favorite, my brunch at Linn’s Restaurant in Cambria (story coming soon), my taste of Cafe Del Rey in Marina Del Rey at The LA Times taste Weekend, and La Costanera in Half Moon Bay. These mentions are all in California and truly represented what “great food” or “a good meal” means.

NATURE

‘Member Carmel Beach? Burney Falls State Park? The Pacific Crest Trail? I ‘member!

While I can never get enough travel and time in new surroundings, I made out pretty well getting around, if I do say so myself. As Michael and I continue to find the most fun and unique places in our home state of California, we got a real treat dodging a horrible LA rain storm our January weekend in Carmel-by-the-Sea, and I still think of my August trip to Chico and Mount Shasta many times a week. From walking the halls of Chico State University to discovering Burney Falls and walking a small portion of the Wild infamous Pacific Crest Trail, I truly discovered a favorite new part of California.

We also got to explore the South and spent a week in Tennessee and Alabama! I found out its not at all what I had thought, and they have an amazing Botanical Gardens in Huntsville.

MEETING ICONS

Sometimes, I surprise myself at how accurate my tagline is: You never know where I will show up. Between interviews with Robert Redford, Anna Kendrick and Jack Black, I would say it was a pretty high honor to sit in the same room with music icon, Justin Timberlake, and have him answer my questions regarding the music production process of a film (He starred in this year’s Trolls as well as having written the film’s soundtrack and arranged.). I ‘member! 😉

And, I am extremely grateful that I got to attend an amazing press preview of Mr. Garry Marshall’s last film, Mother’s Day, and, as you can see, meet this movie legend….

Mary and Garry.

He was so sweet to each one of us, and it was heartbreaking to have him among those we’ve lost in this heavy hearted year of 2016.

MUSIC

Speaking of icons, little did I know how amazed I would be at seeing Elton John in Las Vegas…

And, thanks to LA Explorer, I have a new favorite LA hot spot at Rockwell Table and Stage!

Not a bad year for Along Comes Mary. I know many cannot wait for this “cursed” year to end and I hope its a wonderful, magical and PEACEFUL 2017 for all. I ‘member! xo

 

 

Staying a World Away at Fairmont Grand Del Mar.

Having stayed at some of fantastic hotels throughout California, I thought I had an accurate idea of what to expect when staying at a luxury resort. Little did I know that when I pulled into The Fairmont Grand Del Mar, I was about to be blown away and discover the true meaning of a “Luxury Resort.”

With an impressive slew of awards (Including multiple times on Forbes’ Best 5 Star Resorts in the World and separate mentions to their spa and Addison, the property’s restaurant as well as TripAdvisor’s #1 California Resort), The Fairmont Grand Del Mar lays within the hills of San Diego in Carmel Valley amidst Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve. Yet, after arriving onto their 400 acres, I could have easily been in The Mediterranean or the South of France.

While I am not one to want a fuss upon my hotel arrivals, it was hard to resist the warm welcome from the Del Mar’s staff as doors were immediately held for me, offers to park my car and take my bags were given and warm cloths were graciously handed to me for a quick refresh with the resort’s signature lemon scented soaps.

Attempting to get over the fact I felt as if I were thousands of miles from home in France or Spain, but instead just barely two hours away from Los Angeles, I made my way to guest room and could not wait to relax. I had over 500 square feet of room waiting for me!

My bedroom

My bedroom

Since I had hit the road a bit early to take in some sights and beach time in Oceanside, I had stumbled upon a great Thai cafe and took some take out to The Fairmont with me. When I inquired about a microwave in my room, the front desk no sooner ordered one to arrive right away for me, and it was there by the time I walked into my room. Every amenity I could possibly need was there and ready for me: microwave, fridge, espresso machine, mini bar, water bottles, fruit basket. And, lets not forget how exquisite my room was….

My patio view.

My patio view.

Bathroom vanity

The highlight: Nespresso machine.

After enjoying my take out, I decided to take a stroll around the lobby a bit and take in as much as I could during my visit. Downstairs, I discovered a gorgeous library and study, a lively bar and several conference rooms and banquet halls. Back in my little haven (my guest room)? I was completely oblivious to the hustle and bustle as my suite was quiet and tranquil. The fountain below my balcony cradled me to sleep!

With an early morning ahead of me to Coronado, I decided to get some shut-eye and melted into my bed. Thank goodness for my wake-up call or I may still be resting. With time to enjoy a morning walk my next morning, I enjoyed my more “laid back” second night’s sleep and awoke eager to have one last Nespresso espresso (Ok, it may have been more like a double or triple shot) and take advantage of all the amenities of my bathroom. A jacuzzi tub, marble tile shower and plenty of boutique soaps and shampoos were awaiting me!

Taking a mile loop around the grounds, there were moments I felt in the French Riviera. Then, suddenly, one of the villa’s made me feel in the Mediterranean. Stunning sculptures and statues abound. One, of Saint Francis, was in my villa’s courtyard and not too far behind was a dog station. Making me very happy that The Fairmont is pet friendly.

Beautiful statue of a Siren by one of the pools.

View of the golf course.

Gift shoppe all decked out for the holidays.

When I returned to the entrance and lobby, I had the chance to check out their numerous award winning spa center, as well as their gorgeous gift shoppe and coffee house/deli. While I stopped to consider a Starbucks drink, I did recall all the Nespresso I had already had to buzz me up. While I declined, I was so appreciative at how personable and friendly the Barista was. Everyone on staff at The Fairmont treated me like an old friend, and I felt they genuinely hoped I was enjoying my stay, and, if I were not, I can assure you they would have gone above and beyond to make everything right.

Which is one of the top reasons why I would gladly give 5 stars as well, to The Fairmont Grand Del Mar. Another perk was the diversity of their guests. I saw couples, young and old, families, with young children to grown, business professionals like myself and some girlfriends who looked to seriously be enjoying some girl time R&R. While I have certainly stayed at resorts and hotels that seem deemed “family friendly” more than others, The Fairmont ensures the entire family can stay and have a fabulous time at the resort, while all other kinds of parties would equally have the same amount of enjoyment. A definite win-win resort for all!

Something else that makes The Fairmont a must-stay is, of course, the golfing. Golfers from around the world have flocked to San Diego’s Carmel Valley. Along with their courses, you can also plan your wedding on the grounds (Hear that, Michael?! 🙂 )

No matter what your reason (or budget) for staying at The Fairmont Grand Del Mar, I cannot recommend this resort enough. Their selection of rooms (ranging from a 500 square feet guest room to a villa at 4500 square feet) make it affordable for different budgets while the amenities and activities make The Fairmont Resort a vacation in itself.

You can visit The Fairmont HERE and make sure to like them on Facebook and follow on Twitter!

(*Disclosure: I was provided with a stay at The Fairmont Grand Del Mar in support for this feature. All opinions are my own and I cannot thank them enough for their hospitality!)

 

 

 

Visiting The Top Rated Zoo in the Country….

Photo: Michael Farah.

Photo: Michael Farah.

When it comes to zoo’s, I am always torn. While I fiercely will not support any circus featuring animals, I do not feel as harsh when supporting most zoo’s. So, when we were down in the South earlier in the Fall, the opportunity came up to spend the afternoon at The Memphis Zoo. Fun, I thought. Little did I know that this would easily become the best zoo I have ever visited, and that it has been awarded, numerous times, The Best USA Zoo (Including by TripAdvisor and national surveys.)

Greeted by fantastic larger-than-life statues of the resident animals, you cannot help but be struck by the strong Egyptian influence at the entrance gates. Following in the suit of Memphis, Egypt, the famous Southern city (and home to Elvis!) went through a controversial makeover in the early 90’s that found many buildings and architecture paying homage to their middle eastern roots. While it struck me as a little random, it indeed makes for a striking arrival.

Once we were inside, we soon found ourselves checking out the apes and monkeys at The Primate Canyon, with some of them able to say hi from the huge glass windows at the cafe next door! How fun would that be for a child, munching on their French fries with a monkey saying hi?

Photo: Michael Farah.

Photo: Michael Farah.

Photo: Michael Farah.

Photo: Michael Farah.

Across from the apes, we were able to get (fairly) up close and personal with a couple of majestic lions. While I can recall many zoo’s I’ve visited requiring a bit of a trek to get to the exhibits, The Memphis Zoo wastes no time with an array of animals and sights to see from the beginning of your visit.

Traveling on from the Egyptian entrances, I appreciated never quite knowing whereabouts your Memphis Zoo visit will take you. Soon after checking out some incredible white tigers and taking a break to see the sea lions get their daily exercise and lunch (A really cute, interactive show that is also the perfect break if you or your kiddo need one), we found ourselves in China among traditional houses and even the opportunity to rub good luck man himself, Budai (Or kiss him on the  head, which I did since Michael thought was the secret trick to his luck!).

The highlight of Memphis Zoo’s China exhibit is, of course: The giant panda. With only being one of four USA zoos to have these endangered species (San Diego Zoo, Zoo Atlanta and Smithsonian’s National Zoo being the other three), it was magnificent to see either Le Le or Ya Ya (the respected residents names) that day, yet, also a bit humorous:

Photo: Michael Farah.

Photo: Michael Farah.

Maybe it was just us, but this guy (or gal) just looked like they had a major food coma or hangover happening!

Another reason I was so impressed with this zoo were for the opportunities to get up close and personal with some of the (friendly) animals, along with the front row access to see the seals frolic, you can also take a ride on a camel, and feed a giraffe! Here I thought I would be a pro at riding a camel, but-little did I know you ride ON the guy’s hump. Why did I think it was between?! At first, it was a little uncomfortable and I was worried I was going to hurt him (Even after being told he can hold up to 3,000 pounds on that back!). But, by the time my little ‘excursion’ came to an end, I was ready to do that circle around the pen, again 😉

I am riding a camel, in Tennessee! Photo: Michael Farah.

I am riding a camel, in Tennessee! Photo: Michael Farah.

While Michael, on the other hand, took a turn with feeding a giraffe….

Photo: Michael Farah.

Photo: Michael Farah.

Lions! Photo: Michael Farah.

Lions! Photo: Michael Farah.

Another exhibit that took me by surprise was The Teton Trek. This inclining trail takes you above some of the most  gorgeous animals commonly found in The Rocky Mountains, just below you in their habitat. The timber wolves were stark and haunting, while the elk were laid back and adorable.

The Memphis Zoo lies on 70 acres, and to cover all of the exhibits (as well as their aquarium, which we did not get the chance to explore) it will be about a two-mile walk. Throughout the grounds you will find resting areas, restaurants, cafes, a tram to also get around, and beautiful gift shops. If I were a local in Memphis, this would be the perfect place to have a years’ membership and take a stroll through; while saying hey to your animal buddies!

If you’ll be traveling with OR without kids, I highly recommend The Memphis Zoo. While Michael and I were with friends children, we know we would have had as much fun had it been a “date night” or a stop while in town. Gorgeous and fun for all ages! xo

(*Disclosure: This is not a Media sponsored post. All opinions are my own.)

Spreading Some Holiday Cheer with Stationery Studio! #AVeryMaryChristmas

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I don’t know about you, but, I always think I am ready for December and the Holiday season, then, guess what? It becomes a week before Christmas and I am scrambling. This year has been no different. Where did this month go??

Something I always try to make time for, though, is sending out Christmas cards. I vividly remember being very little and helping my Grandma get hers ready; it usually included my ‘autographing’ the picture she would include of me with Santa Claus.

Fast forward some years later, and I was so excited to be offered personalized Christmas cards this year from my new favorite paper company, Stationery Studio. Having not heard of them, I could have spent all afternoon searching all of their cards and paper products. It was an extremely difficult decision, but, I at last decided on their “Lagoon Holiday Collage” photo….

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I am all about more than one photo on my cards. So much happens in a year, how can you possibly select A picture?! I tried to pick a fun, playful variety this year: Michael and I at the South Park exhibit, in Huntsville, Alabama, on a larger than life lawn chair, us arriving at the Memphis Zoo, our engagement day….which, yes, was last year, but, my cards had already been ordered by the time Mike proposed (How inconsiderate of him!) and, of course, a few precious moments with Hammy and Nova (since they run the house).

While I usually order a photo card from the drug store, Stationery Studio is an amazing upgrade. The paper is sturdy and “Happy Holidays” is printed with real foil, adding to the sparkle and shine.

I didn’t get these cards without some delivering difficulty…thanks to my great postal service. Luckily, The Stationery Studio has a fabulous customer service team who were at the ready to assist me when the delivery service decided to return them to sender….with no note or alert to me. At all. It truly is the holiday season when there’s some postal confusion, no?!

When you’re not in need for holiday cards, The Stationery Studio is there year-round for any and all of your paper needs. From party supplies (like gorgeous napkins) to everyday stationery (perfect for my holiday thank you’s) and wedding invitations (Hmmmm….), Stationery Studio is a wonderful source and I was so happy to work with them to help put my holiday memories on paper!

Visit them HERE! xo

 

(*Disclosure: I received holiday cards from Stationery Studio in support for this feature. All opinions are my own.)

The Umami Burger’s Holiday Menu! #AVeryMaryChristmas (Guest Post)

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(Editor’s Note: I am so lucky that when Along Comes Mary is invited to a great event, I often am lucky enough to get one of my favorite bloggers, Melanie from LA Explorer, to cover for me. Today, she tells us about her experience at The Improv Comedy Club’s  Umami Burger. Take it away, Melanie! xo, Mary)

When I was a teenager the Irvine Spectrum opened and it was a big deal for us OC kids. It had a 21 screen movie theater! With IMAX! There was a Dave & Buster’s! And a Cheesecake Factory! Now, I don’t get quite as excited when a shopping center opens but the Irvine Spectrum continues to intrigue. While most center have highs and lows this one just gets bigger and bigger. There’s a Ferris Wheel! A Hello Kitty Cafe! And the Irvine Improv with an Umami Burger! In fact, I had no idea the center had an Umami Burger until I was invited to stop by and try their new holiday menu.

The Umami Burger at the Spectrum is located at the Improv. I like that. Comedy clubs have long been associated with greasy chicken fingers and cheap booze and it’s nice to see a spot where you can get a good meal and a show all in one. On my visit, I didn’t watch any comedy but I did manage to sample the menu.

There was a trio of small bites that included pot roast, grilled lemon chicken and tuna tartare.

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My favorite was the tuna. Served atop a bed of rice and drizzled with a tangy ginger sauce it was a delicious morsel.

Umami is know for their burgers and this night we tried the new Falafel Burger.

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I love falafels so I was eager to try it and it did not disappoint. The crunchy falafel was served on a brioche bun with lettuce, tomato, avocado, pickled onions and tzatziki sauce. I love it and would definitely order it the next time I’m at Umami.

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We finished the evening with a taste of the creme brulee cheesecake and it was a sweet end to the meal. Now I know that when I want a fun night out with a good meal I can just head to the Improv for some comedy and tasty treats from Umami Burger.

(Melanie Kaminski is the Editor of the blog, LA Explorer, where you’ll learn of her explorations around Southern California and beyond. Visit her on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.)

Wearable Art by Miz Meliz and Giveaway ends 12-11! #AVeryMaryChristmas

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Sometimes, an opportunity too fun to pass up comes along. Even if it seems a bit zany, you just have to trust your gut and go for it. Lucky for me I did just that and met the fabulous (and now dear friend of mine), Melissa Reyes, back in 2013.

I had been blogging for just shy of a year, and whilst scrolling through one of my Facebook blogging groups, I noticed a post from Melissa looking for a road trip buddy to run up to San Francisco that coming weekend. I told her I would love to. I had met her….maybe, once, and barely. I was basically going on a 6 hour road trip with a total stranger. These thoughts went through my mind as I later found out, Melissa was getting a back up plan for what to do and where to stay if I turned out to be nuts.

As we all know, neither of us are crazy (Just crazy FUN when we get together!) and since our blogging venture almost 4 years ago, it has been amazing to see Melissa evolve and accomplish so much. She has published a book, launched her weekly live online series, Tinsel Town with Miz Meliz and, latest expertise to add to her never-ending resume of curiosity? Artist.

One of Melissa’s latest projects is her arts and crafts online store, Miz Meliz. Making “Wearable Art” (how catchy is that term?!), as well as jewellery and decorative artistry, Melissa pours her heart and soul into these pieces and I just cannot get enough of them.

Lucky for me, Melissa now has the perfect gift box set plan for art junkies like myself. Miz Meliz recently launched a monthly plan subscription enabling her community to purchase jewelry gift sets sent to your mailbox for $40 per month. (Psst, a single gift set is $45). I got to experience the introductory month and let me tell you: It did not disappoint! Check it out:

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And, we all know half of the fun when you get a package is opening up your treats, no?

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Since Melissa does know me, I could not wait to see what she had in store for my box. I ended up with an adorable rope-style chain necklace with one of her beautiful bauble glass designs (my favorite), a butterfly pendent perfect to make a pin or make a choker-chain style necklace, a bracelet and a pair of earrings. The coolest part? These pieces would go perfectly all paired together, or, pick and choose which to mix and match…or, share the love by sharing a piece, too 😉

That is just what I would like to do! Would you or someone you know like to win these gorgeous handmade earrings?

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Perfect for that holiday party, or even to glam up while out in the shopping bustle, I cannot wait to gift these to one lucky winner in part with my #AVeryMaryChristmas giveaways! See the form below to enter and, make sure to check out my sweepstakes tab. Enter by December 11th. Good luck and remember to check out Miz Meliz for all of your feminine and artistic holiday gifts. Bonus points? Melissa is donating 10% of her proceeds to St. Jude’s Hospital all December long! 🙂

Good luck! xo

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