Seeing Beauty and the Beast at The El Capitan Theatre!

A “Tale as old as time” has returned to theatres! Nearly twenty years ago, Walt Disney Pictures released one of their most beloved fairy tales to date, Beauty and The Beast. Breaking box office records and becoming the first animated film to be up for an Academy Award for Best Picture, Disney has gone on to create their smash Broadway adaptation and, now, a live action re-telling of the film has been released.

When The El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood told Michael and me to “be their guest” (see what I did there?) for a showing of Beauty and the Beast, I could not wait to see what both Disney and the theatre had in store for a showing. As someone who can get quite anxious in movie theatres, I always have a great time at The El Capitan. They go beyond your usual day at the movies with a rousing pre-show with LA favorite, organist Rob Richards. For me, Richards has become  my favorite part of heading out to The El Capitan. Each visit, it is such a treat to hear all of your Disney favorites (Under the Sea, Be Our guest, A Whole New World…) brought to life by an ample organ. I can only imagine the shivers it gives the kids!

Following Rob, we were in for an additional surprise as their curtain has been adorned with thousands of sparkly Swarovski crystals, and they presented a remarkable show boasting projections of lights to capture the beauty that is on their curtain. Set against a Beauty and the Beast score, the music and lights will get you pumped to enjoy the film.

As the film starts, we no longer hear that spooky, deep gentleman’s voice. The introduction to our Beast (Dan Stevens) and his castle begins at a masquerade party he is giving (and narrated by a woman’s voice). When the now infamous beggar woman comes to the door, the Beast is infuriated she has crashed his ball, and, of course, kicks her out. While most audiences have always awaited the transformation scene at the end, this new spin on getting an insight to the Prince’s change into a Beast was a welcome change and certainly set the mood for his character.

For our opening number of Belle, we at last meet our heroine, played by Emma Watson. While some quirks and elements to the opening has changed, it basically stayed close to the original. With it being one of my favorites from a musical opening, that made me happy!

I appreciated the character development to this film that both the cartoon and musical lack somewhat. We are introduced to Gaston (Luke Evans) and Le Fou (Josh Gad), of course, in the opening sequence, and they added so many new layers to these beloved characters you love to hate. Especially Le Fou (more on that later).

Stevens was an extremely good choice for the Beast. When we first meet him, he is ferocious, cold and spares no mercy when Belle’s father (Kevin Kline) stumbles into the castle’s garden in hopes to pick Belle a rose. Something he has done on every voyage he takes (another new take. I thought it was an interesting tie in and connection to Belle and the Beast from the beginning). As the tale goes, Belle begs the monster to spare her father and take her prisoner instead. It is soon after we are better acquainted with some of our favorite Disney side kicks, Lumiere, Cogsworth, Babette and the Wardrobe.

One of my favorite Broadway stars, Audra McDonald, hilariously portrays the Wardrobe, and in her former human life, is married to the castle’s piano (Stanley Tucci). Ewan McGregor is an absolute natural at the flirtatious Lumiere. Having just seen McGregor in Trainspotting 2, it reminded me just how diverse and versatile he truly is. Ian McKellen’s Cogsworth is also on spot and he brings more laughs and smiles to the already lovable role.

As far as Evans’ Gaston goes, he is a really good version for a live action film. I have seen Beauty and the Beast live countless times and in those live performances, I have always enjoyed the booming baritone vocals to Gaston, which I felt Evans did not have. Until, the rousing “Kill the Beast” number. Evans redeemed himself to me and I loved how true to the original this song and dance number was. He gave so much cruelty to the role, and was not afraid to be downright sinister. The ultimate “Disney Villain”.

I feel I will be in the minority here, but, my least favorite performance? It was Emma Watson’s Belle. I just do not see her as our Disney heroine. I was hoping she may wow me with her voice, but, alas, I was not too impressed. Luckily for Watson, she was surrounded with such a terrific cast that in my opinion are born naturals at their roles, which assisted in her Belle and adding the support the film needed to make it “dazzle” over the top.

As far as some interesting character development, I appreciated Kevin Kline’s Papa was not as dautering as he is usually portrayed. Both Belle and Papa are inventors, and he appeared to have more legitimate inventions and not chalked off as a “joke”.

And, for Josh Gad’s Le fou, so many elements and layers were added to the infamous sidekick. Much like Gad explained earlier this year in an interview, that as Gaston’s friend, “He sometimes wants to be him, and other days wants to kiss him.” Le Fou clearly has feelings for his friend, and is torn as he is seeing Gaston first make a fool of himself as he attempts to woo Belle, then see his dear friend turn evil and does not know which side to stand on. As for this film “robbing the innocence” of children with the homosexual innuendo’s? Yes, there is a very innocent final scene for Le Fou. It is cute, it is innocent, it is nothing (but awesome). I thought it was a great subtle turn to a character we did not know too much about.

Beauty and the Beast is playing world-wide and is currently the #1 movie in the world. Have you seen it yet? Or, have you seen it a few times?! Special thanks to The El Capitan for having me! xo

Staying at The Oaks at Ojai….

When I was first invited to head out and experience The Oaks at Ojai, I definitely felt like that cliché blogger from Los Angeles. Heading out of town in LA terms (not even 2 hours from home) and going on somewhat of a retreat. What would I find? Are you expected to stay on The Oaks’ grounds your entire stay? Can you bring any of your own snacks? Will you get in trouble if you don’t drink decaf coffee?! I knew I could survive an overnight boot camp if that turned out to be the case. But, what I discovered both after learning more about The Oaks, and while on my stay, is that The Oaks at Ojai has created an extremely unique atmosphere where YOU are in charge of what your idea of a “spa”, “detox” or “retreat” is.

Located in the tranquil Ojai, California (Just a half hour inland from Ventura Beach), The Oaks is one of the several hacienda-style buildings within the city, and from their street, can look very un-assuming. Park your car in their ample parking lot (free and they take up an entire corner on Ojai Street) and enter the lobby. The architecture of The Oaks, especially from the main drag, brought to mind one of the 21 California missions.

I arrived at noon as I had been invited to join the resort for lunch prior to my check-in. When you stay at The Oaks, all of your meals are inclusive, plus many snack breaks throughout the day and drinks available 24 hours a day (regular and decaf coffee’s, teas, water, etc). You can imagine that I was tickled pink when Maria, the courteous and warm Oaks associate who assisted my check-in, informed me that my room WAS indeed ready, and that I could head on in to freshen up before my meal and tour.

My cozy bungalow.

Before I was on my way, Maria also made sure that I chatted with Christine, The Oaks’ Head Chef, regarding my gluten allergy. While we had emailed about the lunch I would be having, she wanted to ensure I was good to go for dinner, as well as give me the lay of the land of their formal dining room (where you can join other guests for lunch or dinner and get table service) and The Libby Lounge.

I must admit, I favored The Libby Lounge. As I get older, I really have found that I NEED my solo time, and work trips like this are real treats I’m grateful for to have some time to myself and let my mind wander. In the lounge, you’ll find a long counter top filled with iced teas, water, a great assortment of tea’s, coffee’s, milks/creamers, fresh fruit and during lunch time, the meals are served in the lounge, as well. Come dinnertime, should you wish to enjoy your dinner on your laptop or reading in the lounge, you can ask the staff to bring it to you there. (You can also eat your meals poolside or back at your room. Entirely up to you!)

The Libby Lounge is also where you will grab your AM fuel whether it be post-morning hike, pre-yoga, or just anytime before 9:30, so keep hitting snooze til then if you wish. The cuisine is definitely along the lines of a health program. Yet, the portions are there. Lunch at my arrival was a tostada salad with turkey and soup of the day was a pumpkin chili (which I really favored. Hearty and nice to enjoy a fall favorite in the spring for a change). For dinner, Christine had several options for me to select from, and I selected their vegan and gluten free black bean noodles stir-fry. It was delicious, and the veggies fresh and cooked in a flavorful tamari sauce. Having enjoyed black bean noodles in the past, they were not as spicy as I have had them, and they soaked in the flavors from the sauce and veggies greatly.

In between your 3 meals a day, there are several snack breaks that include a vegetable broth with magnesium and electrolytes (vital if you’re enjoying all of the activities offered at The Oaks) as well as veggies and dips, and a savory popcorn after dinner.

Each day, The Oaks has countless classes throughout the day for all of their guests. Whether you are a pro at yoga, or a newbie to dance or hiking, the dedicated trainers and teachers at the resort will take great care of you. The daily relaxation yoga at 4pm will be the perfect way to unwind post swimming, walking or shopping downtown. While I was concerned I’d forgotten my yoga mat, I was in luck as such amenities are there ready for you at the fitness center. Pool towels, too!

With so much going on outside your door, you may find it hard to want to leave your suite. I was so excited to stay in one of The Oaks’ famed bungalows. Boasting a sun deck to tan with lounge chairs and a patio perfect for sipping your morning coffee or un-winding after your facial, I could have easily moved into my room! I felt like Georgia O’Keefe at her New Mexico hacienda. Inside, I had a cozy living room and a spacious bed room and double bathroom.

All I kept thinking is how many people my suite can hold; easily 5 guests as the living room has a pull-out couch, pillows and blankets, and many rooms have double beds.

So, while this is definitely a great place to detox, you can keep in mind living it up, too. Just steps outside of The Oaks  you will stumble into Downtown Ojai where there are delicious cafes, wine bars, shopping and even The Ojai Valley Trail. A fantastic 15 mile loop that goes throughout Ojai. I had no idea such a gem of a town existed in Ojai!

Next week, I will share with you my experience at their spa. From hair care and nails, to facials and massages, The Oaks has you covered there, as well. In the meantime, learn more HERE and plan your own visit to The Oaks! xo

(*Disclosure: I was invited to stay at The Oaks on their behalf for this feature. All opinions are my own.)

The Final Weekend of Descanso Gardens’ Cherry Blossom Festival is Upon Us!

The place to be in Los Angeles this weekend will be Descanso Gardens Cherry Blossom Festival. This annual event has drawn such crowds each year that the gardens are now requiring reservations, and, alas, is sold out. If you are lucky enough to have that golden ticket for this weekend, read on as Michael and I were able to snag tickets last minute to the first weekend!

While purchasing tickets in advance is usually not required, Descanso has now installed ordering them online or by phone. Once you select a time, you are welcome to join in on the festivities anytime after that. One element that was a bit confusing is that even with your ticket, you must still get in line to check in when you arrive. You’re then given a fun hand stamp for entry that says “Happiness” in Japanese.

The event was definitely was at capacity, yet the gardens did not feel “mobbed” or that we were navigating overwhelming crowds. With several Japanese-inspired food stands to check out, Michael decided to make a bee line for some chicken curry…..

“Happiness” hand stamp

Nearby, you could also grab a glass of wine, beer or BBQ specials. While the festival events took place at Descano’s Japanese Gardens section, the cherry blossoms are beginning to bloom throughout the grounds, and, while some definitely had a little more ways to go, we nevertheless saw some absolute beauties.

We stumbled upon a traditional Japanese band on stage, Minyo Station, and they were about to launch into a celebratory song. When they asked if anyone was celebrating a marriage, engagement, birthday, I was quick to raise my hand that I am about to be married, and we were one of the couples the song was dedicated to. It was absolutely lovely and the vocals on the lead singer were beautiful. After the performance, they invited attendees to take part in learning the art of the Obon dance. Between my good friend, Alex, who dances each year at the Obon Festival in Portland, and, Mike and I loving Kubo and the Two Strings, it was awesome to see them teach just how Obon is done. Did we participate? No….we were the shy kids in the back observing!

Happy couple.

With it being Mike’s first time at Descanso, I wanted to check out their famous Boddy House and their “Bloom” art gallery. After that, we decided to do our own thing and found a fantastic (and a little deserted) hiking trail that ended us up at the top of a gorgeous hill overlooking La Canada Flintridge and The San Gabriel Valley. Complete with a bench that had “Love” painted on the back, it was a fun surprise to find and to listen to the Japanese music being played down at the festival.

IF YOU GO….

Parking is free and ample

You can buy your own cherry blossom tree! Many were under $50, but, sell out early, so grab yours first thing when you enter (they are available out front of the gift shop)

If you have little ones in tow, the train looked really fun. you can buy your tickets for a ride at the entrance for $3.

Their cafe is now serving brunch on weekends….need we say more?!

Pack a bag of your essentials. Its a lot of walking, so, wear comfy shoes and remember your water.

You can learn more HERE and if you are unable to snag a ticket this weekend, rest assured as the cherry blossoms should be in bloom for awhile and you can go anther time soon! xo

(*Photos: Michael Farah.)

 

 

 

 

A Sunday Brunch at Copper Blues Oxnard!

I think it is safe to say I love me a great Sunday fun day brunch. There’s nothing like knowing you can enjoy that extra hour (or two) of sleeping in and lounging, then still be able to catch a great late breakfast or early lunch paired with a Mimosa or Bloody Mary. Michael and I were able to do just this when Copper Blues Rock Pub and Kitchen invited us out to see what makes their brunch ROCK harder than any others!

Following a gorgeous drive up Highway 101 to Oxnard, we arrived at the city’s beautiful shopping center. Boasting department stores, movie theatre, top notch dining and, of course, Copper Blues and their partner, Levity Live Comedy Club. Which are conveniently located next to one another.

Entering Copper’s feels more like a rock club than a restaurant, but don’t be fooled: They know how to do both, and how to do it right. Murals and portraits of famous musicians adorn every wall (Amy Winehouse, John Lennon, Keith Richards, just to name a few) while the ladies room had framed song sheets of such hit songs as Blondie’s Call Me. Everywhere you turn in Copper’s, there is something to see. And, that is to say nothing of their food.

Beautiful fountain and views out front. Photo: Michael Farah.

Copper’s is very gluten free friendly! Photo: Michael Farah.

Getting to chat with the Management team, I was fascinated to learn that EVERYTHING at each Copper Blues is made daily from scratch. From the Bloody Mary mix  to their apple and fennel sauce, it is made with love in house. Thus, making each bite taste more like a home-cooked meal than a restaurant.

While I opted for an order of their endless mimosa (which I was warned is mostly champagne. I wasn’t complaining), Michael was eager to take advantage of their Build-Your-Own-Bloody-Mary bar! Your server brings you your glass with ice and alcohol, then you’re off on your own to make your concoction however you like. Less mix, more bacon? More spice, less celery? It is all up to you. Not being a big fan of the spicy favorite, I had to try Michael’s (which mind you had bacon in it. I tried that too and it was an epic moment of flavor) and for once, I found a Bloody Mary tolerable. I think it is all about the mix and Copper’s does an excellent recipe.

While we awaited our main dishes, the team insisted we try their brunch staple, Bibimbap. Having not had this dish much, I was intrigued. At first look, it appeared to be some hot rice with an egg on top. After one bite? I could have ordered 2 more bowls of this! Filled with savory flavor and spices, kimchi and the option of bacon (Vegetarian for me), their Bibimbap was delicious and certainly a signature dish.

Bibimbap. Photo: Michael Farah.

Cajun Shrimp Benedict. Photo: Michael Farah.

While we awaited our breakfast plates, the live music set began. At Copper’s, they are not joking when they say they are a Blues Kitchen. Behind their full bar that looks out onto the restaurant, a stage rests there, right in the middle of the action. As the great Sunday morning band began, they combined dynamic energy while taking great takes on popular covers that made them their own. An energetic and fun cover of Sunshine in my Pocket while sipping my 2nd (or 3rd) Mimosa made for a great afternoon!

Michael ordered The Cajun Shrimp Benedict while I tried out the Smoked Salmon Omelet with a side order of their Potato Latkes. That is correct, friends, they have Potato Latkes that ARE gluten free! Along with that apple and fennel dipping sauce, I had to ask if the accompanying sour cream was also made in house. I was shocked its one of the few items that is not! Not being a huge sour cream fan, this was delicious and fresh.

Both our seafood dishes were hearty and just what we needed given the bottomless alcohol we were enjoying. Along with Copper’s weekly brunch, make sure to check them out for their “Wine Down” evenings, karaoke and fun to be had before and after you catch some comedy next door.

I am so excited to have a new go-to spot for brunch, and can’t wait to return to Copper’s. Visit them HERE and make sure to let them know Along Comes Mary sent you! 😉 xo

 

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.)

 

 

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!)

 

 

 

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 😉

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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

 

 

Support Friends of Griffith Park at Nordic Noir LA!

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On September 25th, join me at The Greek Theatre for Nordic Noir LA, a one-of-a-kind benefit for Friends of Griffith Park, a non-profit charitable group, at the Greek Theatre here in LA! This world-class concert is hosted by internationally recognized film composer Jacob Groth and the Danish Film Harmonics as they offer the LA community an opportunity to experience the acclaimed soundtrack for the film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Come and take part in the effort to conserve our beloved city’s environment and urban wildlife. Doors open at 6:00 p.m. Concert begins at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are selling fast HERE.

I’m so honored to have had the opportunity to interview Groth, and learn a bit more about himself and his incredible music career.

Can you tell me a bit about life growing up in Denmark? Whereabouts do you hail from?

I was born in Copenhagen,grew up with 2 younger brothers, and 3 kids from my fathers first marriage.

So, A lot of noise and …sometimes a little fighting too! I was a teenager before I found an interest in music, but, when I found music,I knew that that was the right thing for me.

2) I think any artist will agree that performing at The Greek is always a ‘bucket list’ venue. What makes The Greek a special place for you?

The Greek is special to me because its in that very same park that I am supporting with my concert,and because its an iconic venue where the greatest artist have performed.
Me  and my orchestra “The Danish Film harmonics” cannot wait to go on
stage this weekend!
Do you have any particular influences for your music, when writing for a film score?
Its always the story that inspires me,the mood ,the acting,the pictures…

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 What can your audience expect at this performance?
The Audience is coming with me on a journey into 9 different  Groth scores performed as one symphony.Its both action,thriller,love and everything in between. We also have a back screen showing scenes from feature-film like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo mixed with more abstract images.
Whats next for you and your music?
I am gonna stay in LA for a while doing the score for an amazing new TV-Show called Midnight Texas and also write the score for Flatliners,a very cool remake of that film from the 90’s.
Hope to see you this Sunday at The Greek! Mange Tak! 😉 (That means Much Thanks in Danish and is about how much Danish I can speak. I try to practice, but, have yet to learn it better. ) xo

Hiking at Escondido Falls Trail in Malibu….

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Picture: Michael Farah.

So, granted, when I returned home from my Chico trip? I could not stop talking about Burney Falls. To see such a giant waterfall before me, and that setting, it took my breath away. Anxious to continue on my nature “kick”, Mike found us a great hiking trail in nearby Malibu.

Escondido Falls Trail is right off Pacific Coast Highway in the trendy beach community. While you need to clearly read all street signs, it is quite easy to find parking right off the highway (and thank goodness for porta potties before you start your journey–that will be your only chance for a restroom, FYI!).

As we began up the hill, we were surrounded by gorgeous houses, some in the midst of being built. The beach views were to die for. Then, to your left, you will see the sign leading you to the trail (See my picture above)

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While I huffed and puffed a bit up to the beginning of the trail (I think it’s because I’d been at The LA Food and Wine Festival the evening before–way too much wine and food and fun), I got into my groove and the trail was, overall, flat and easy, except for a couple of inclines but its laid out well enough that even if you have restrictions, you can still easily navigate through without too many high lifts, squats and no climbing at all.

You will hit a point when you need to choose whether to take the high or the low trail. We stayed low and hung a left. While it was a good 2-3 miles, we at last found our way to the “Falls”. Sadly, the drought has definitely effected the amount of water here, but, nonetheless, it still was a great ending place to chill-lax with other hikers, dogs and enjoy being surrounded by nature.

Black and white vibes.

Black and white vibes.

While you could take your chances and not take the same direction back out of the trail, we played it safe and followed our same way. If you’re looking for an ultra fun outdoors environment to take some pictures, Escondido is a great option….

Picture: Michael Farah.

Picture: Michael Farah.

Picture: Michael Farah.

Picture: Michael Farah.

As we made our way back down to PCH, guess where we had to dip our toes?

beach
With the beach right there, that was a welcoming break and cool down!

IF YOU GO

Make sure you’re comfortable with the weather. This is an “easy” hike in that it is mostly flat walking, but, you’re still looking at 5-6 miles on the trail. Pack water and sunscreen. I would call this a great hike for beginners or those who don’t do intense hiking/jogging.

Have you ever been out to Escondido Trails? 🙂 xo

Weekend Getaway: Half Moon Bay, CA. #TravelTuesday

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Having loved The San Francisco Bay Area since I was very young, this past month was a real treat for me as I headed out on The Fresh As it Gets Media tour with my fellow IFWTWA members and our hosts from The San Mateo/Silicon Valley CVB. I spent a week up north exploring and learning so much about this beautiful county that boasts lush vallies and mountains on one side, and, the other end? The bay, baby. From visiting Harley Goat Dairy Farm to Pillar Point Harbor, from beautiful wine tastings to world-class meals, I cannot wait to tell you about these excursions in the coming weeks.

Our first stop in this series? Half Moon Bay. A town that’s been on my radar, but I had no idea just how gorgeous the often dubbed, “Seaside Hamlet”, truly is.

Sidewalk sale on fabric!

Sidewalk sale on fabric!

EAT

Something is mighty clear when you run away to the coast: You can usually, always, find delicious food. I was reminded that when we headed to lunch at local fave, Pasta Moon.  A “Fresh As it Gets” award winner, Pasta Moon is the brain child of local Kim Leddes; “Pasta Moon started out as a passionate concept where I could keep myself busy and enjoy the lifestyle of a small coastal town.” Kim explains on her website, “Originally Pasta Moon was a place for people to dine on cuisine derived of locally grown organic produce, fish, meats and cheese supplied from local ranchers and dairies. Soon however my love for Italian cuisine compelled an ever-growing compulsion to express my creativity in the kitchen and had me composing variations on classic Italian dishes.”

Known for the best lasagna around, every single dish I saw go by me, looked fabulous, and with our starter salads and soups (I had a tomato based veggie soup that bursted with flavor), it was very clear just how dedicated Pasta Moon is to bringing their diners the best, and most local, ingredients.

Pasta Moon lunch.

Pasta Moon lunch.

Seafood Paella at La Costanera.

Seafood Paella at La Costanera.

And, my #1 priority: Good gluten-free pasta! I was in luck as I was immediately asked if I would like brown rice linguine or corkscrew pasta. I chose linguine with seasonal veggies tossed in olive oil. Often, I find that even if I enjoy a gluten free pasta noodle dish, the noodles tend to get dried out, and downright sticky. At Pasta Moon? They were moist, tender, and tasted like the real deal down to my last bite. Bravo, Pasta Moon!

For dinner, I would be experiencing Peruvian cuisine ocean side at the popular La Costanera. With countless awards under their belt, this Montana Beach eatery combines slick, ocean side dining with a unique blend of flare. Much of which is the result of South Peru native, Chef Carlos Altamirano. Whether its their Churrasco (Grass fed Creekstone Black Angus Ribeye steak, Yucca Fries, chimichurri andino) you’re in the mood for, or their Vegetarian fave, Quinotto  (Quinoa-pumpkin stew, choclo, veggies, parmesano Crispy tomatoes and anticucho de hongos), La Costanera has expertly crafted the ultimate hot spot in Half Moon Bay to accommodate all of their diner’s wants and needs.

And, no visit is complete without getting their signature drink:  A Pisko Sour…..

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I admit, I enjoyed some amazing glasses of wine, and just stole a sip of the Pisco. Thoughts? It had an egg in it, which was intriguing, but, a bit too frothy for an alcoholic drink, for my preference. If you are a Pisco Sour fan? You will love it.

SIP

Before dinner, we began our evening at  nearby Pacifica’s A Grape In the Fog Wine Bar. Unbeknownst to us, we were arriving in the middle of the many weekly Farmers Markets. This was a true reminder that San Mateo County is “As Fresh As it Gets”. The tomatoes were gorgeous colors of scarlet red to lighter shades of rose, as well some yellow’s to take note of.

At A Grape in the Fog, Redding native Beth Lemke had a dream of opening up a coffeehouse to create a space for the locals to gather, socialize, hear some good music and enjoy some drinks. Change those dreams from latte’s to wines from around the world, and you’ve got yourself Grape in the Fog! With a menu that is always changing, Lemke has indeed made an environment that could easily find a student getting some reading in while enjoying a glass of Pinot Noir, or meeting up for an online date to break the ice over a Chardonnay and hear a local musician perform.

Beth Lemke, Owner, Grape in the Fog.

Beth Lemke, Owner, Grape in the Fog.

I loved this mural in Half Moon Bay!

I loved this mural in Half Moon Bay!

 

STAY

When I arrived at Half Moon Bay Lodge, I loved the laid back vibes….and, even cookies during check-in! Half Moon Bay Lodge is nestled 5 miles outside the hustle and bustle of the main drag and mere minutes from the water. Something I rarely get to take advantage of is a pool and Jacuzzi when I travel. Had I remembered my swim suit? They offer a heated pool, outside fireplace and chairs and tables aplenty for the ultimate stay.

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If you are in search of a banquet or event hall, they have you covered with a fantastic meeting room that opens out to the pool. (Great nook to enjoy your breakfast, too).

Half Moon Bay is only a half hour from The San Francisco Airport, and 45 minutes from San Jose. It is such a romantic getaway, and enough to do right in the area that you will easily not even leave the city limits! xo