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.

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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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A Visit to Del’Oliva Olive Oil and Vinegar Shop & Giveaway ends 12-11! #AVeryMaryChristmas

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I am an avid olive oil user. Once favored by Chefs and considered ‘fancy’ if you used it regularly, olive oil has become a very common and “it” oil to use in the kitchen, and rightly so. Since I discovered the various uses for it, it has become my go-to. I also love when I stumble upon infused oils that enable me to enhance favorite dishes like  grilled salmon, drizzled not just with olive oil, but, lemon-infused. Heavenly!

You can imagine that I became a kid in a candy store when I headed to Del’Oliva on my IFWTWA tour of San Mateo County, California. Within the region is the adorable town of Birmingham. With a quaint downtown street lined with unique boutiques and eateries, one of the boulevard’s gems is  Del’Oliva; a gorgeous shop that steps you inside to the world of Italy with olive oil and vinegar’s….plus, perfect gifts for hosts and hostesses, and an intimate wine area in the back of the shop.

We soon met with Eddie Sohirad, Del’Oliva’s owner. From the moment you meet Sohirad, you can tell this is a man passionate about the correct ways of olive oils! Not knowing too much about the delicate process myself, it was fascinating to learn important facts such as:

  • Olive oil is very high in Polyphenols. This is a compound found in foods that has been scientifically proven to relieve pain and inflammation nearly the EXACT same way over the counter pain reliever drugs do. And, if that doesn’t sell you: Its been providing pain relief for over 5,000 years! Many people find that ingesting or even applying olive oil to the their temples if they feel a headache coming on, will relieve the pain.
  • While most food products require you to check an expiration date, olive oil actually depends more on the “Pressed Date”.  The sooner the date to when you’re purchasing, the better.  Once olive oil is pressed, those Polyphenols and its benefits goes significantly down. Rule of thumb? Check that Pressed On date, and buy one that was not too long ago.

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Wines to taste, too!

Wines to taste, too!

 

  • Extra Virgin is always the best. Another fun test to see about the oil’s freshness is: Take a small swig of the oil. If it gives you a slight burning sensation,  that usually indicates a fresh Extra Virgin olive oil.
  • Olive oil is best enjoyed, in the perfect world, within 4 hours of it being pressed. (I doubt that has yet to happen in my life yet).
  • You also may notice it should not be particularly, well, oil-y. Fresh olive oil should go down more like a juice.
  • While I’m a fan of infused olive oils, unless you are at a trusted source like Del’Oliva, many brands use infusion oils as a selling point to hide an older, inadequate olive oil.

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  • And, as far as balsamic vinegar, did you know unless it has a European certification, that all balsamic vinegar you’re buying in the supermarket are most likely imposters? Think of it like Champagne; only the real deal comes from France. When I grab a bottle at the pharmacy, it’s a “California Sparkling Wine”. 😉

Along with their gorgeous store, Del’Oliva ships throughout the USA, too. What a great place to shop for the foodies on your list, no?!

I am also excited that Del’Oliva is my kick off for my annual #AVeryMaryChristmas series of posts this month! The series this year will include holiday gift ideas, things to do to celebrate the season…ansd, maybe a giveaway…or afew 😉 Kicking off today, I have a mini bottle of Del’Oliva’s Red Apple Balsamic Vinegar to send to one lucky winner. Make sure to check out my sweepstakes tabs for all rules, and enter using the form below by December 11th. Good luck!

And, in the meantime, visit Del’Oliva at their website HERE.

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5 Goals to Help Launch Your Blog (And #CyberMonday Offer!) #SocialMediaMonday

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Happy Cyber Monday meets Social Media Monday! November has been filled with some very fortunate opportunities that have come my way. Earlier in the month, I headed down to Coronado, California to host a beginner’s workshop to social media at The IFWTWA Conference (The International Food, Wine and Travel Writers Association). While I was extremely honored and humbled (Did I mention, a little terrified??) to share my two cents on social media, I am still absorbing all of the fascinating information and knowledge gained at the annual event.

Following IFWTWA, I next headed over to Sherman Oaks to chat with the lovely LA based “Mompreneurs” of Playdate Connection about the benefits of launching a blog for your small business.

Something that’s been at the forefront for me is being asked Where do I begin to start my blog? So, I decided to share with you 5 goals to keep in mind when beginning your blogging journey.

**Read to the end of the article for a special CYBER MONDAY DEAL, too!**

DECIDE ON YOUR BLOG’S NAME

Easily the most difficult part for me when I started blogging, selecting a name you cannot change is no easy task. Sure, you can re-create your page, but, do you really want to get a flow going then up and re-brand, as you’re establishing a community? So, think a bit about the title for your website. Do you want it to simply be your name? Do you want it to reflect the genre you’re covering? The sky is the limit and its important to not only love the name you decide on, but also ensuring it is something catchy to grab one’s attention.

Why am I Along Comes Mary? I knew I wanted my blog to reflect my adventures, yet I also dreamed of being a music blogger. Drawing inspiration from The Association’s hit single of the same name, I knew that could easily make my page very music-friendly. Yet, there was space there to grow as I decided my niche was more in the Travel field.

And, before you have your heart set on a name and URL, make sure the domain is available!

PICK 10 DREAM CLIENTS TO WORK WITH

No matter what subjects you want your blog to be about, I am sure we ALL have those dream people to collaborate with. If you’re a foodie blogger looking to partner with food brands, think of 5-10 ideal companies you would love to have on your blog. If you’re a writer looking to share your short stories, think of a handful of authors you would love to interview on your blog or get feedback from. Having some role models in mind could mean a sponsored post, a product review, affiliate program. Think of those “dream” posts and work towards a goal.

ARE YOU LOOKING TO MONETIZE? BUY YOUR DOMAIN & HOST

I began on the free WordPress platform. My old URL included .wordpress.com and I had to oblige to the rules of WordPress. When you are not self-hosted, you cannot safely post giveaways and/or any sponsored content on your page as WordPress has the right to shut down your page. You own nothing and can lose all of your work.

GET ON TWITTER

When asked what my favorite platform is, it is always Twitter. Fast and simple, to the point, Twitter is the inventor of the #Hashtag yet is also an astounding communicating tool. Everyone from Astro Physicist Neil Degrasse Tyson, to our President-Elect, know how to utilize Twitter and get their community’s attention. You can easily tweet to that company or person you want on your blog, and begin a relationship. Many brands and celebrities manage their Twitter pages effectively and will pay attention if you’re a devoted tweet-er.

STAY ACTIVE

This one is hard for me to swallow. I am about to tell you the importance of staying active on both your blog and platforms, while this is my first post in nearly 3 weeks. When life gets insane, I at-least stay very active on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.  You can also schedule posts for your Facebook page on the page itself, as well as try out scheduling websites like Hootsuite. With Hootsuite, you simply load in your tweets and posts, designate when you want them to go live and bam, you’re good to go for a week.

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As some of you know, I offer social media consulting as well as complete management of your accounts. For Cyber Monday, I would like to offer you any service at $100 off through December 10th! Simply send me an email at alongcomesmary26@gmail.com to get started.  Not sure what exactly you need? Maybe just some crash courses? No matter what your social media goals are, I would love to help bring them to fruition. I hope to hear from you soon, and Happy Monday shopping! xo

 

A Day at The Huntsville Botanical Gardens. #TravelTuesday

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On our fantastic trip to Memphis last month, I admit that our following destination was not thrilling me as much as arriving to Tennessee did. Next up, we headed to Alabama. I was THAT person that believed there must be NOTHING to do in Alabama. Well, folks, if my post on all my gluten-free finds while there is any indication of just how wrong I was, events and sights to see are also in there, too.

Little did I know that I would spend a gorgeous afternoon at a railroad station, have delicious sushi and see a movie at one of those 21+ theaters and even get my Target shopping fix in (Just like home!). One of my favorite outings we had in Huntsville, though? A trip to their Botanical Gardens.

Bringing to mind The Huntington Library or Descanso Gardens here in LA,  these gardens rest on 112 acres and are the absolute playgrounds for kids young and old alike.

When we arrived, one of the first stops is The Hobbit House! A home easily under 3 feet tall, this Lord of the Rings-esque bungalow is the gateway of what is to come and just how FUN the botanical gardens are…..

THE FAERIE GARDEN

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As someone who loves mythical subjects (and collects garden gnomes), I truly could have moved into this land in the gardens! The majestic trees each have small doors on their bottom, while the small house (I could just about fit in there) has its trusty homeowner gnome at the ready to give you a warm welcome, and there are countless bird feeders and trays for both the critters and the faeries to munch on.

This is an ideal area of the gardens for a fun, faerie tea party photo shoot, or for your little ones as everything will be their size!

SNOOPY’S DOG HOUSE

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Now, this was a surprise to stumble upon! Near the playground and picnic tables, you will come up on a giant size red dog house and large bones. It becomes clear as soon as you see the Peanuts characters on the house, that this is none other than ol’ Chuck’s BFF, Snoopy.

Since The Great Pumpkin just had his big night, soon Charlie Brown will be learning the true meaning of Christmas from Linus. Making it such a great time to pay a visit and snap some holiday pictures, no?

THE CHILDREN’S GARDEN

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To me, the entire grounds of Huntsville Botanical Gardens is one big Children’s Garden! But, they’re pretty cool and have a designated garden for the young and young at heart. Remember when we started at The Hobbits House? In this garden, most decor is gigantic and you can even go down the yellow brick road……oh, yeah.

When you first arrive in the Children’s Garden (Which is actually more like EIGHT gardens in one), you can stand in an actual Space Station node….and play with Lego’s in there, too! Then, you can play in mazes and get your picture with an awesome wooden statue of Mr. Rabbit (from Alice in Wonderland).

THE BUTTERFLY HOUSE

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While The Butterfly House has now closed for the season (Until May), I was eager to see Huntsville’s exhibit after my amazing experience at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Gardens butterflies in Claremont earlier this year.  Much like entering a greenhouse, this pavilion boasts a beautiful, intimate lake with exquisite flowers and orchids. All while the butterflies flutter around. While I appreciated its more ample size, I still appreciate that Claremont’s butterfly exhibit had an extremely knowledgeable staff inside with you to answer questions and teach you more about each of these stunning creatures.

GALAXY OF LIGHTS AND WEDDINGS, TOO…..

The gardens always have something great planned for each season. While there is bird watching and garden activities to explore, through December they will be hosting The Galaxy of Lights which brings to mind The LA Zoo Festival of Lights; a larger than life event, walk (or drive!) through the gardens to see animated, lit up displays as well as the popular icicle village!

Photo: Michael Farah.

Photo: Michael Farah.

This made me miss LA!

This made me miss LA!

The coolest thing? Select nights will be a walking tour, while others, driving AND, select nights will invite you to bring your dog along, as well! Get all the info HERE.

This was such a great visit, and I already look forward to returning again. If you’ll be in the Huntsville area, make sure to plan your visit HERE! xo

Staying at Dinah’s Garden Hotel in Palo Alto, CA

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Sometimes, don’t you find that lodging while away can be a bit, repetitive? Check in, acceptable room with the basics that you will need. Many times, we travel just to see the sights, and don’t necessarily mind if our accommodations are nothing to write home about.

That is why, I have a rule at Along Comes Mary to only tell you about the hotels that are daring to be different. To make you savor your time in your temporary bedroom, admire the art work, and feel like you are staying somewhere with great history.

Dinah’s Garden Hotel of Palo Alto is one of these unique locations. In the  1950’s, we were at the height of Americana and a legion of”motor touring.” motels, were popping up along all the highways. Dinah’s owner Raymond Handley and his partners were not interested in building another cheap “in and out” style motel along a highway. Rather they set out to create a truly unique lodging experience that would offer an “oasis of serenity and peaceful hospitality to every class of traveler”, says their website.

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A koi fish pond awaits you at Dinah’s, too.

And, that they certainly did. It also didn’t hurt that Handley and his wife, Milla Louise, were avid art and antique collectors. Dozens of their pieces are right within the rooms and guest cottages of Dinah’s.. You can find everything from a pair of 19th century life-size Indian processional elephants at the entrance of the hotel to my favorite piece seen: a 2nd century A.D. Gandharan stone Buddha in the lagoon area. Surrounded by the sounds of the waterfall and lake, this tranquil lagoon is one of the examples of how Dinah’s was conceived to take you away from the hustle and bustle just moments away.

You will find genuine, unusual works of art throughout the hotel and gardens. Check out this wooden bench!

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While Dinah’s made it hard for me to want to leave my room (Great view from my patio), my presence was requested at a fabulous drinks and appetizer soiree at the pool that gave visitors a chance to relax, mingle and hear some great live music while taking a swim in the pool or munching on some delicious small bites and wine.

You probably have a good guess what I enjoyed partaking in. Fess Parker Syrah and Morgan Wines Pinot were on hand, and I can never resist a Parker varietal.

After an incredible peaceful rest, I awoke eager to try something Dinah’s Pool Side Restaurant is known for: their orange juice. Fresh squeezed daily, this glass was another perfect example of just why San Mateo County prides itself on being as “Fresh As it Gets”. I have had some great OJ in my day, but, I can see why this is their go-to favorite beverage. Even the color was more, well, “orange” than usual.

Breakfast of Champions at Dinah's Pool Side restaurant.

Breakfast of Champions at Dinah’s Pool Side restaurant.

Having continually been named “Best Hotel in Palo Alto”, Dinah’s is an ideal location for those passing through, visiting students of Stanford (or maybe you are a potential student) or, even a great alternative to staying in San Francisco or San Jose. So much is at your fingertips in San Mateo County, and Palo Alto is one of the gateways.

I cannot thank Dinah’s enough for my wonderful, hosted stay. Visit them HERE and book your trip now! xo

Visiting Harley Farms Goat Dairy….

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Confession time: While its pretty clear that I adore dogs, another furry friend close to my heart are GOATS. Easily my #1 favorite barn yard animal, many think they will get kicked in the behind if they even glance at a goat-ee (my nickname for them). In reality? They can be some of the sweetest animals around, as well as producing some awfully delicious milk often used for incredible cheese. What is not to love?

On my press trip to experience as “Fresh As it Gets” in San Mateo County (right outside of San Francisco), I was delighted to spend a morning in Pescadero where we headed to the historic Harley Farms Goat Dairy. With humble beginnings over 100 years ago as a dairy farm, Dee Harley purchased the farm over 20 years ago, and, thus Harley Farms Goat Dairy was born!

Arriving onto the farm, not only did I feel as if I had died and discovered a goat heaven existed, but I was interested as to HOW Dee and her family have managed to be raising over 200 goats on their farm?! It turns out that by a chance meeting with Nancy Gaffney, is how the farm had its re-birth. Gaffney had a herd of about sixty goats in Davenport. Seeing the available pasture, Nancy asked if Dee would overwinter six goats. A few years later, this herd grew to include all of Nancy’s goats, and after some lessons in how to make cheese, Gaffney retired from the goat trade.As their website says, “It was the perfect ending for her, and the beginning of Harley Farms.”

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Photo: Lisa Richardson.

Harley Farms has become the known spot tin San Mateo County for all of your gourmet goat cheese needs as well as milk and, coming soon, an aged cheese. I had the pleasure of experiencing some of these award winning cheeses paired with local and fresh strawberries. Let me just say: I still can taste how flavorful it was.

Another awesome touch? Their own line of Bath and Body products, with goat milk as the main ingredient! What better a place to shop in San Mateo County than Harley Farms. Their gift shop has several bits and baubles and ensures you can shop for everyone on your list this season.

Along with hundreds of goats (and even some kitties) on sight, Harley Farms offers group tours to get up close and personal with their main stars as well as the opportunity to see how fresh and delicious their food is with monthly dinners hosted upstairs in their barn (with a view to boot). While group tours will fill up by their date, the dinners sell out almost instantly so keep an eye on ones planned for the new year if you’re interested in this unique dining evening.

Something I have been asked is: Didn’t the goats bite?! And my answer is….absolutely not. While it is advised you do not bring anything in with you, and maybe take off any scarves/jackets, these goats were the absolute sweetest, and very acquainted to socializing with adoring fans. I cannot wait to return!

Next time you find yourself in The California Bay Area, make sure to say hi and buy some cheese at Harley Goat Farms! xo

Visiting Graceland for the First Time.

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Who doesn’t love Elvis Presley? I grew up watching this pop idol turned legend with my Grandma in his classic films like Girls Girls Girls, Fun in Acapulco and Change of Habit. When we weren’t watching his teenybopper movies, I was maybe listening to him on “My First Sony” boom box.

A bucket list item has always been to visit his Graceland mansion. I remember watching Full House and being intrigued when Uncle Jesse (John Stamos) said he wanted to be married there. When I found out we would be heading to The South, I was thrilled to be invited for a day at Graceland in Memphis!

Pulling into the Graceland entrance ($10 parking, FYI), it was more “theme park” vibes than a musical legend’s home. Adjacent to their ample parking lot, they’re remodeling and soon unveiling a brand new hotel.

Heading into the lobby, prepared to be overwhelmed with EVERYTHING a “hunka hunka burning love”. This is a shrine to The King! We proceeded to grab our tickets. We had The Entourage Tour that featured a multimedia iPad tour of Graceland Mansion and grounds, Graceland Archives Experience, self-guided tour of Elvis’ two custom airplanes, self-guided tours of Elvis’ Automobile Museum, The’ Tupelo Exhibit at Graceland Crossing, as well as Elvis in Hawaii: Concerts, Movies and More, at The Crossing.

Living room

Living room

All tour options include the main attraction (and what I was most excited to see): the mansion. Yes, friends–it’s as stunning as you  can imagine. It is also a bit overwhelming, and for that I am glad that the tour is self-guided to go at your own pace.

As you walk through Presley’s home and see such heirlooms as his furniture, instruments and the china filled dining table his daughter,  Lisa Marie, and her family still enjoy when they visit, the beauty has no parallel.

Built in 1939 and named after a relative named Grace, Presley bought this 500 acres of land in 1957 from The Toof Family at the ripe age of 22. While it doesn’t scream “Neverland”, it certainly has some unusual, odd decor. There was “The Conga Room”, with its 70’s classic “green” carpet not only on the floor, but, wait for it– on the walls! As well as another unique room with bright, neon decor and a statue of a white monkey (Below. This is when I thought of Neverland).

Parents bedroom

Parents bedroom

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A devoted family man, one of Elvis’ biggest dreams was to take care of his parents. Growing up in the humble town of Tupelo, Mississippi, The Presley’s struggled to keep food on the table and nothing made Presley more proud, than rewarding his parents with living at Graceland. We got to take a peek at Mr. and Mrs. Presley’s room. It looked just like it did in the 1960’s.

If you want to see nearly every single gold record of Elvis Presley’s, as well as movie posters and memorabilia, Graceland will not disappoint. Entering his room of records and achievements was a startling reminder at why this man has been hailed, time and time again, as The King.

You will also get to visit his Vegas room. Presley was the pioneer of entertainment in Las Vegas and after the success of his short run,  was one of the first to pave the way for a residency show in Sin City.

Lisa Marie's swing set.

Lisa Marie’s swing set.

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As you continue through the tour, you will eventually wind up outside and get to see some of the most beautiful gardens and landscaping ever. I was not expecting to be taken aback at the roses and trees that adorn the back yards of Graceland.

As you make your way past the pool, we enter some very sobering territory. Elvis, as well as his twin brother, Aaron, and his parents, are buried on the grounds and fans flock for a picture of The King’s grave.

Something I loved hearing on our audio tour were words from Presley’s only child, Lisa Marie. Speaking so highly of her Dad, she insists she just knew him as “Dad” and not the super star. She also discusses just how KIND Elvis was. “We all come from the same God, and we need to take care of each other” Presley himself once said. If you were a local in need, or one of the many charities he supported, Presley was always quick to share his fortunes with others.

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Seeing many of the entertaining rooms (kitchen, Conga Room, pool room), it looks very clear that The Presley’s loved to surround themselves with friends, family and great people for some laughs, drinks….maybe a banana peanut butter sandwich?

With many new improvements to The Graceland tour, one of their best moves has got to be their audio tour guide. It S indeed, no other than Uncle Jesse himself, John Stamos! While no references are made to his alter-ego’s love for Presley, you definitely feel like a pro is leading you around the legend’s home (even if you did not know the Full House connection).

With so many more stops to see, we were glad we got a fairly early start to Graceland. Touring the mansion easily can be enjoyed for 2 hours, or, more, if you enjoy reading every little tid bit and checking out those suits and records. If you have little ones in tow, the Graceland staff is very accommodating to help you get strollers down or up stairs or taking it outside for you should the space be narrow (A few parts of the home have very tiny stairwells) .

Tip: They like you to snap your pictures after the tour, and before you line back up for the shuttle.

Tip: They like you to snap your pictures after the tour, and before you line back up for the shuttle.

If you need ADA/Wheelchair accessibility, you’ll be happy to hear that Graceland is accessible except for the 2 basement rooms (with that tiny staircase) and the airplanes.

With so much more to see and share, I will be doing a Graceland part 2 article all about my experience seeing his automobiles and trains. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, check out their website HERE to start planning your own visit. You will not be disappointed. xo

(Disclosure: A huge thank you to Graceland for providing me with media credentials to support this article. All opinions are my own.)

Southern Hospitality and Plenty of Gluten Free in The South!

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I have been so fortunate to take some pretty awesome trips recently, and, you know what has been the icing on the cake (sometimes, literally)? The abundance of GLUTEN FREE options I have come across at most of my stops!

We just got back from a gorgeous Fall trip to the south. With stops in Memphis and Huntsville, I admit I was a little skeptical for this trek. I had images of the south being lots of fields and not much to do. Boy, was I wrong! Not only is Memphis quite the metropolitan city, and Huntsville combines the small town life with plenty for the family to do, but, nearly all restaurants we dined at had gluten-free menus!

After our day at The Memphis Zoo (I don’t know where to start at telling you about this amazing zoo and aquarium), we were famished and I encouraged Michael to pick where he would like to go. I knew he had one thing on the brain: Southern BBQ! We all know this was not a thrill for me, but, seeing him so happy made me happy 😉

Central BBQ is a small local chain with many awards under their belt for “Best Ribs” and “Best BBQ.” Its a fast casual diner with a small dining room of tables and chairs, and lots of room on their patio to enjoy  their smoked delights.

What. Will. I. Order. Here? Were my main thoughts. I figured people in the south are all about the BBQ and fried foods, I bet they won’t know what gluten-free is! were my ignorant thoughts.

Well, folks–I was pleasantly proven wrong! The cashier was super helpful and when she realized I was attempting to order my Portobello Mushroom Sandwich without as bun due to my gluten issues, she showed me their gluten-free and allergen menu! Granted, the only dishes that could be prepped gluten-free were the meat items. I went ahead and tried the mushroom sandwich without the bread….or, the sauce….or the slaw. These were indicated as not safe on their specialty menu. I got a sad but humongous smoked and BBQ mushroom with a slab of amazingly smoked Gouda cheese on top. I piled up on the french fries much more, but, I know Central sandwiches must be delicious.

It was Michael approved and I did end up with a southern souvenir! 😉

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On Saturday, we were in Huntsville, Alabama and headed out for lunch. When we pulled up at Jason’s Deli, once again, gluten-free anxiety attack going on here. A sandwich shop?!!?? I never go to deli’s! They’ve got bread in there!

And, guess what? The southern folks really had my back. Jason’s Deli proudly offers Udi’s Bread for those with gluten concerns and even a display of their Snickerdoodle cookies. I chose their Caprese Panini along with baked chips. I was mistaken and thought the chips were baked in-house. I inquired if they are also gluten-free, and they searched the entire back to check on this for me. When I discovered its their tortilla chips made in-house and the chips are simply Lay’s, I felt so bad for sending them on that goose chase (Lays are gluten-free).

The Caprese was spot on. It rivaled my usual I get in Santa Monica. Before it was ready, the cashier found me to alert me that my bread would be cross contaminated in the toaster, would I prefer the oven which is safe? I opted for that and loved every bit of it. Jason’s Deli is my go-to from now on when in Alabama!

For a fun date night and on the town in Huntsville, we headed to a local favorite, I Love Sushi. Once again, I was prepared for taking a risk but at-least having my gluten-free soy sauce bottle in tow. The menu at I Love Sushi was filled with “GF” symbols and GF soy sauce.  See a pattern here?! We shared a bunch of savory, delicious rolls and a highlight for me was The Tropical as it had mango on it. It sounded like a great idea, yet, I did not get much of the tropical taste I had hoped for. I did heart the Philly Roll. It had a great balance of cream to the fresh salmon.

Gluten free Red Velvet Cake. Photo: Mason Dixon's website

Gluten free Red Velvet Cake. Photo: Mason Dixon’s website

Did I mention its my birthday month? I happen to share my birthday with our friends son, Ryan (he calls us “Birthday Buddies”) and we decided to have an early celebration on our trip with a gluten-free cake from Mason Dixon.

Mason Dixon is proudly the only gluten-free dedicated bakery in Alabama. They also can make dishes vegan, too! I was surprised with a Rammer Jammer cake. When I first saw it on the table, I thought it looked yummy and the kids would be lucky to be enjoying that. When I realized it was gluten-free, I could not WAIT to try this baby!

Let me tell you, it was sweet as hell. You could easily share this cake with 6 or more guests as a small slab is aplenty. The cake was moist and filled with flavor, but, what really made it was the cream cheese frosting. If I were handed a bowl of this, we’d be in trouble.

On top of these wonderful eateries, you’ll be happy to know that all of the local stores have a gluten-free selection. From Target to Walmart and Publix, all my favorites were there.

Well done, Alabama and Tennessee. Well done!