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!)

 

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

 

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

card

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….

card1

card2

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.)

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

picmonkey-collage2

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.

dinah1

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!

dinah

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 Graceland for the First Time.

elvis

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

elvis1

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.

elvis7

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.

elvis6

gl1

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!

mem

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! 😉

bbq

bbq1

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!

Weekend Getaway on a Budget to Chico, California! #TravelTuesday

At Chico State.

At Chico State.

While I am a City Girl, I could easily see myself retiring (or just moving if the chance came) to Chico, California. A college town loaded with laid back vibes, warm Summer nights and a strong community bond, Chico lays just under two hours out of Sacramento, and is your gateway to Mount Shasta and Redding (home of Turtle Bay and The Sundial Bridge).

Having visited a couple of times to see one of my best friends and her family, Chico is the kind of town with Farmer’s Markets throughout the week, live music in the park and locally grown fruits and vegetables. I love being surrounded by so much nature, and the opportunity to take a hike in Bidwell Park in the morning, then swim in one of the local lakes by the afternoon.

If you are in search of a fun and affordable California road trip, stopping in Chico just might be for you!

Dinner and drinks at Tres Hombres.

Dinner and drinks at Tres Hombres.

EAT

If you want the ultimate Mexican cocktail, head on over to Tres Hombres on Broadway Street. A secret menu item, their Avocado Margarita will have you drinking like a real 530 local. If just Mexican food is what’s more on your mind, Tres is a locals favorite. Just be warned: Their drinks sneak up on you!

For breakfast, the place to go is Morning Thunder Cafe. With massive, share-able portions, you can imagine my excitement that this Mom and Pop’s “greasy spoon” offers many gluten-free dishes, including gluten-free pancakes AND toast! I had their Vegetarian Omelette and, as usual….was a bit skeptical of cream cheese inside the entrée. This would be along with avocado atop, too (I know–I get excited to order avocado anything). I decided to not omit it and was happy I did not. Strange at first, but, went very well with the avocado and veggies.

While my meal was delicious, Eric, Ariel’s fiance, had a less than happy experience and was unsatisfied with his dish. The staff offered to change out his breakfast and while he declined, they did not charge us for his plate.

They also offer original and French Roast coffee. Mmmm…..

Morning Thunder is perfect for families and everyone in between!

Breakfast at Morning Thunder.

Breakfast at Morning Thunder.

And, we all know I can devour a pizza, and luckily Chico has one of my favorite pizza parlors. Woodstock Pizza always makes me think of “college life” as fellow student-ville San Luis Obispo has a location on their main drag, as well. Even Ariel did not think this pie “tasted” like it was gluten-free. Get there before you’re too hungry, though: As they get busy.

PLAY

If you’re wondering why I said Chico is ‘affordable’, their outdoor activities (especially in the Summer) are mostly free or affordable. Making it the perfect NorCal getaway for the camping loving family or the couple looking to bike around town and find some new hiking trails.

Bidwell Park

This 3,670-acre municipal park encompasses both sides of Big Chico Creek Canyon for a full five miles up into the foothills, making it a truly unique and spectacular retreat. There’s really no park like Bidwell anywhere else. The Lower Park gives you the option of swimming in ether the pool or one of the lakes, or head upward and hit their trails. I could spend every day of Summer here!

On their website, they list a total of 17 different trails from minor, easy trails to 10 mile and elaborate hikes. I like a challenge 😉

chico9

Paradise Lake.

In nearby Paradise (which feels a bit like the real thing to me, but, Ariel says it’s a play on words. Paradise used to be known for its gambling and casino community….get it, “Pair of Dice”??) spend the day fishing or reading a book at Paradise Lake in Magalia. Perfect for dogs, too!

Back on Broadway Street in Chico, no stop is complete without a visit to The National Yo Yo Museum. Yes, there is a National Yo Yo Museum, and its in Chico! You will easily see the most yo yo’s in your life. Plenty to buy, play with and even the largest anywhere. It’s about 5 feet tall!

If you are a BEER lover, Chico truly is for you. Sierra Nevada Brewery calls Chico home. While I have not visited the brewery, they do offer daily tours! Get more info HERE.

STAY

After countless adventures of food, hikes, water, bikes, beers and yo yo’s (Oh my!), head back to relax and freshen up at nearby Motel 6. Motel 6 is an oldie but a goody. Less than 3 miles from Chico State University, Motel 6 completes keeping this NorCal trip on a budget. Most rooms are under $100 a night, and boasts all the amenities you have come to expect when traveling.

My 1st Dutch Brothers coffee!

My 1st Dutch Brothers coffee!

GET YOUR COFFEE FIX….

Something in Northern California that is much like SoCal’s In ‘n Out Burger is Dutch Brothers Coffee. Having heard of this widely popular drive thru only coffee-house, Dutch Brothers has really made their fan base with remembering the ol’ reliable: Great customer service. The barista’s are FUN and were just as excited as I was that it was my first visit!  They gave me a frequent stamper card that just needed 1 more for a free drink. When I returned to use my card at the Paradise location, Kyle could not have been more sweet and gave us both our drinks for free!

And, was my iced triple shot latte as awesome as the people? Absolutely!

I could go on all day about Chico and its surrounding areas. Let me know if you get the chance to visit! xo

 

 

A Wine Walk in San Carlos, California. #WineWednesday

wine1

Have you ever been to San Carlos, California? I will admit, I had not even heard of this fun, contemporary town until my “Fresh As it Gets” media tour in San Mateo County last month. Located right in the middle between The San Francisco Peninsula and San Jose, San Carlos is a humble community of about 30,000 and, as of late, is building up their name in a little industry called…..WINE.

I was a bit surprised, and very intrigued, to find out that our wine and beer walk with my IFWTWA peeps would take us to the streets of San Carlos to experience their wineries and brewery.

Beginning our journey on Washington Street, we arrived at Cuvee Wines and I must say, I was immediately a fan as their modern, loud colors to their couches and decor was very Mary approved….

wine1

I always appreciate the clever use of displaying barrels……so inviting, no?!

Cuvee has built their following with releasing several Bordeaux inspired wines that do bring to mind what we love about the French reds, while you can also appreciate the California roots brought to you from Cuvee owner, Paul Rogerville.

Starting out with a Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc, I chose this white as it was produced in stainless steel, and, I have found that repeatedly is my jam. This was an interesting glass since on first nose it had stronger, vibrant notes; especially of lemon and tropical fruits. On my first sip? Much more mellow, a bit too light for my taste, even.

Realizing I was in the mood for something more on the bold side, I gravitated towards a ’11 Merlot. It made me absolutely CRAVE a great pizza. This Merlot had jam and preserve notes after a swirl and sniff, then, downright pungent notes of cheese on the palette, with some subtle pepper-y moments. It was a heavenly red!

While I thought that was THE red for me that day, and it would be hard to find another favorite….who was I kidding? We were only at stop #1 and now on our way to visit Russian Ridge Winery. An adorable “Hole in the wall” style winery, The Townsend Family opened up shop on Washington Street in 2011 and have been producing around 1,000 cases of wine a year ever since.

Spencer, Joan and Dwayne Townsend.

Spencer, Joan and Scott Townsend.

The Russian Ridge’s 2012 Concerto quickly took over my heart. A Cabernet dominant red blend of the 5 Bordeaux varietals, this blend made me feel at home. Bold? Yes. Huge? Nope. Just right. Good, full-bodied, yet great even if you’re not in search of a particularly bold glass. The addition of Merlot to even out the tannin’s is brilliant, and leaves you with a slight spiciness, and some fruit.

The Townsend’s truly know how to make their customers feel at home and usually you will always have at-least 2 of the family members on hand to answer any wine-y questions you may have, or keep you in the loop on the latest San Carlos skinny.

Next up we headed to the adorable and family friendly Flying Suitcases Wines. I cannot think of a better winery for a group of travel writers to visit! Flying Suitcases is all about celebrating life and adventure. With bright, air-y colors to their walls, and travel quotes to go with their Hans Christian Anderson inspired name, Owner Vikki Vinther and her husband came to San Mateo from Denmark and decided to open a winery that would be perfect for people like themselves: Parents!

While mom and/or Dad can sit back and relax with a glass of their Nostalgia (Chardonnay) or Wanderlust (Zinfandel…did I mention all their labels have fun names?!) the kids can check out their play room with plenty of books and toys to keep them busy.

wine3

wine5

Adults and kids alike love the paintings at Flying Suitcases

After so many great wines, we decided to change things up a little and head to Devil’s Canyon Brewery. I was so impressed with the size of this brewery. Gotta love its humble beginnings as a warehouse! Boasting a stage that makes it a great concert venue, Devil’s Canyon also has access to a handy alley way that has become the Friday go-to in San Carlos to catch a food truck or two!

While most wineries in town are only open on weekends, Devil’s Canyon is open solely on Fridays while the other six days a week are reserved for crafting and brewing their award-winning beers. While you can’t grab a cold one too often at the brewery, not to fear: Devil’s Canyon beers are the ales of choice in San Mateo County and distributed locally! 😉

Are you still with me?! We’ve got one more awesome spot to go! After we said our goodbye’s at the brewery, we took a quick stroll over to Domenico Winery. From their website:

Dominick and Gloria Chirichillo’s choice of name for their winery is a reflection of their commitment to their Italian heritage and the tradition of family winemaking. Dominick (Domenico in Italian) was introduced to these traditions by his Nonno (grandfather), Domenico Giovinazzo in New York in 1955. In the basement of their home was a wine-press that Nonno showed Dominick, passing down from one generation to another the love of handcrafting wine. For the love of his Italian heritage, Dominick specializes in Cal-Italia varietals; Primitivo, Aglianico, Montepulciano, Barbera, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Dolcetto, Nero d’Avola and Sagrantino. Domenico currently produces more than 20 varietals.

Dominick’s passion for wine making took him from amateur competitions while he lived on the East Coast, to commercial status after moving to Northern California. Moving to California has enabled Dominick to choose his grapes hands-on from selected vineyards in Napa Valley, Sonoma’s Central Coast, Alexander Valley, Russian River Valley, Amador County and the Lodi District. In 2001 Dominick established his own vineyards in Amador County, where he planted 5 acres of Syrah and 3 acres of Primitivo that go into his award-winning, hand-crafted wines. Additionally, he is a member of the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association, where he sources Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. As of 2016, the wines of Domenico have won 350 Medals for wines produced from these various regions!

Like Devil’s Canyon, Domenico got its start as an “Ugly, empty warehouse” (Chirichillo’s words) and can easily hold a party or event in a unique, dimly lit setting as you enjoy your award-winning vino’s.

We were also treated to a fun tour of where he magic happens and the wines are made, as well as chatting with one of Domenico’s team members, Matt Hall, while he literally made wine!

wine

Yes, I may have tried this straight from the bin!

Yes, I may have tried this straight from the bin!

If you find yourself up in Northern California, do yourself a favor and pay a visit to some or all of these wonderful bars. Its a labor of love and you can truly taste it in every glass! Huge thank you to all of the above San Carlos establishments who made this day possible. xo