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Stayovers: The One&Only Experience You Need in Mexico

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One&Only Palmilla: You had me at guacamole and chips.

Then you piled it on with daily poolside foot massages, conch-shell calls alerting us to whales frolicking in the Sea of Cortez, and hand-over-heart greetings by your super friendly, attentive staff.

Those are just a few touches that have us counting the days until our return trip. Yes, One&Only Palmilla is the resort that has landed so deeply in our hearts that we make an annual pilgrimage to experience this Mexican paradise.

We’re not the only ones smitten by its charms. About 40 percent of its business comes from repeat customers, according to the resort’s general manager. Not surprisingly, One&Only Palmilla is considered one of Mexico’s top resorts.

Our favorite time to visit is in February when whale sightings are plentiful and the cool breezes take the edge off the searing sun. Of course, that’s also the job of the resort’s two infinity-edge pools – one dedicated to adults only.

There are two private beach areas at the resort. One is ideal for athletic pursuits like swimming, kayaking and paddle-boarding. The other is good for exploring tidal pools and watching the waves crash against its unique rock formations.

My modus operandi on a beach vacation is to park it in the sand with a pile of books to peruse as the ocean’s rhythm anchors me in the moment. While there’s plenty to explore outside the resort, I love spending our days here focused on the beauty of our surroundings and celebrating this special time with my hubby.

Now that we’re back home, fond memories will have to sustain us until our next Mexican paradise fix. Save us some guacamole and chips.

imageOne&Only Palmilla even has its own romantic chapel a short walk from its reception area.

imageEach nook and cranny reveals interesting architectural details.

imageSome suites feature plunge pools along with table seating and loungers on their balconies.

imageLight streams through the elegant bathroom.

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imageIt’s fun to watch what the mannequin will be wearing next. Fashions change daily at the boutique.

imageIt’s easy to find peace of mind and to get into your fitness groove at the spa and fitness facility.

imageSunrise poolside

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imageSunbathe in the sand or on the grass by the pool. It’s up to you.

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imageThese stairs lead up to two of the resort’s restaurants - Surviche and the Market by Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. There are plenty of dining options at the resort. You also can arrange for a private candlelit dinner on the beach.

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imageWake up to this view every morning and it’s easy to see what makes this place addictive. See you next year, Cabo.

Thanks to our tour guide, Federico, for recommending this panini-making paradise. The long line at All’Antico Vinaio and our rumbling stomach led us astray one day, but we returned the next a little earlier to make good on our panini passion. Now we know the shop churns out sandwiches well worth the wait.

We spiced up our paninis with sun-dried tomato and artichoke spreads. Other delicious choices included a tomato-based meat sauce, marinated zucchini shavings, smoked eggplant, creamy cheese dressing and truffle paste.

Another nice feature is the self-service wine bar with small glasses you can take to the curb with you as you savor your sandwich. Perfecto!

Hike This: Kick It Up a Notch with Taggart Lake Trail

Variety is the spice of life. For me, that same philosophy applies to hikes.

I like to cover diverse terrain when choosing a trail. It’s not a decision I take lightly. You never know when you might return to a place and there are usually more hikes than time available.

After hearing my husband and I contemplate our choices with the concierge at Jenny Lake Lodge, another guest directed us to Taggart Lake Trail in Grand Teton National Park. It fit the bill.

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We planned to travel the trail in a clockwise direction, but missed our turnoff and ended up taking the counter clockwise path. A lucky turn of events for us.

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I love a trail that leads you through a series of tree groves - like this one of aspens - and rewards you with grand vistas.

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Along the way we followed and crossed a creek.

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We kept walking toward the jagged outline of the Grand Teton range as clouds playfully obscured and revealed its peaks.

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We stopped to smell the huckleberries, harebells and other interesting flora along the way. Knowing my husband was armed with bear spray comforted me as we continued to run across fields of berry bushes.

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We found our own spot to take in the beauty of Taggart Lake in the middle of our hike.

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According to a pamphlet we picked up at the trailhead, the Hayden Survey party of 1872 named Taggart Lake after one of its members. Located at an elevation of 6,902, the lake was formed by a glacier flowing from Avalanche Canyon. When the glaciers emerged from the mountains, they gouged out basins and deposited ridges of rocks and soil, called moraines, around their edges. As the glaciers melted and retreated, water filled the basins damned by the moraines.

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Like a canvas, the lake’s crystal clear water beautifully reflected its surroundings.

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After a bit of an ascent as we left the lake area, fir- and pine-paved paths led us to another stunning meadow and views.

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The next time you find yourself in Grand Teton National Park and crave some variety, kick it up a notch by hiking Taggart Lake Trail. For this hiker, it’s the whole enchilada.

Put Your Hiking Boots to the Pedal in Grand Teton National Park

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It’s hard to beat the views that roll by when biking in Grand Teton National Park. With ample bike paths, it’s easy to get lost in the moment when faced with this much beauty.

We rented our trusty steeds from Dornan’s in Moose, Wyo. From there we headed toward Jenny Lake.

At the end of our ride, we rewarded ourselves with some memorable pizza at Dornan’s Pizza Pasta Company. 

New drink favorite: Nolet’s gin, kumquat syrup and lemon juice in St-Germain elderflower liqueur-rinsed coupe glass. Cheers to @FSSantaBarbara.

New drink favorite: Nolet’s gin, kumquat syrup and lemon juice in St-Germain elderflower liqueur-rinsed coupe glass. Cheers to @FSSantaBarbara.

Olympic-size pool at the Coral Casino Beach and Cabana Club - a legend since 1937. #SantaBarbara

Olympic-size pool at the Coral Casino Beach and Cabana Club - a legend since 1937. #SantaBarbara

Santa Barbara’s Sunny-Side Celebration

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The summer solstice has a special meaning for my husband and me. It’s the day we chose to marry seven years ago.

More than just a convenient way to remember our anniversary date, we love long summer days. But maybe not as much as the residents of Santa Barbara.

Every year since 1974, this coastal community has celebrated the event with its Summer Solstice Parade. It actually began as a birthday celebration for a popular artist and mime named Michael Gonzales.

Today, about 100,000 gather over the weekend to watch the spectacle unfold. Bubbles, steam-snorting dragons, Carnival-style dancers and psychedelic fish lined State Street and proceeded to mesmerize the crowds. The 1,000 parade participants delivered and excelled on this year’s “creatures” theme.

How nice of Santa Barbara to make our anniversary extra memorable.

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South Beach belly alert

Beware: It’s easy to get your belly on in South Beach. Our culinary exploits extended past the South Beach border, but we easily could have had our fill here. However, our venture out landed some tasty finds.

First, let’s talk burgers. I’m always amazed at how much range in taste a burger offers  from their seasonings and heft to the condiments and bread choice holding it all together in a perfect package of yumminess. Yes, I’m a burger fan.  

We got our first fix at Five Napkin Grill with its original burger. Gruyere cheese, caramelized onions, rosemary aioli  need I say more? Yum!

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imageFive Napkin Grill

Yet we were told there was even a better place to try at the Burger & Beer Joint

Our gut demanded some exercise before our next feast, so we pedaled our way to lunch. Side note: One of the best ways to see South Beach is by bike. Despite traffic challenges in parts, some streets have an entire lane dedicated to putting your feet to the pedal.

Now back to lunch. With names like Stairway to Heaven, Mustang Sally, Turning Japanese and Fly Like an Eagle, I knew I’d be singing this place’s praises. As if the ample burger combinations didn’t give you enough options, you could build your own burger from a choice of prime angus, wagyu, turkey, chicken and ahi tuna. The bun, cheese and sauce options are just as impressive. There’s brie, prosciutto, pan-seared foie gras, red onion marmalade, black truffle demi and walnut pesto  to name a few sidekicks. Heck yeah!

Trying to muster up a little restraint, I opted for the turkey burger with cheddar and grilled jalapeños on a whole-wheat bun. It was pure delight without the guilt. My hubby went for the Thunder Road with bourbon barbecue sauce and smoked Duroc pork belly bacon. Need I say more?

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imageThe Burger & Beer Joint has an impressive selection of beers  even one that’s gluten-free

imageLove the joint’s graffiti-covered brick columns

For a more refined taste, plan to visit to the Miami Design District around lunch at Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink. This place is worth the taxi ride for lunch or dinner. Fresh, simple and pure it promises and delivers with locally sourced food. Even a simple salad had me savoring every bite.

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imageSimple greens with heirloom tomatoes

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Short rib and fontina cheese panini with heirloom tomato chutney

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The slow roasted berkshire pork pizza with mission figs, grilled onions, fontina cheese and arugula

After an rewarding lunch, walk around the Design District to find more stylistic inspiration. Lighting, tiles and funky furniture collections, art galleries and specialty clothing stores are fun to explore. Still in development, the neighborhood intentionally combines shopping, cultural and culinary experiences. 


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Anya Ponorovskaya boutiqueimage
Bobby Berk Home storeimageWalking down N.E. 2nd Avenue in the Miami Design District 

If steak is calling, Prime 112 is the place to dine. We were warned that even with reservations, you’re likely to wait, which we did for about 45 minutes. If you’re able to score a seat at the bar, the wait is worth it. Need a snack to tide you over? Help yourself to a slice of bacon, the bar snack fancifully displayed in a cocktail glass. 
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Looking for some down-home comfort food with an upscale twist? Head to Yardbird Southern Table & Bar, a James Beard Foundation Award for Excellence semi-finalist for best new restaurant and best chef (south) for 2012. From start to finish and despite the hefty servings, each course leaves you wanting just a taste more as they remove your plates.

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Cocktails before dinner at the Yardbird Southern Table & Bar 

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Fried green tomato BLT with tomato jam and house-made pimento cheese, mama’s chicken biscuits with pepper jelly, and a heavenly pasta dish served with duck meatballs were a few highlights. Add to it the fun, lively vibe and it’s easy to see how this could quickly become a regular dining spot if your lived in South Beach.

Zuma, a Japanese restaurant in downtown Miami offers a modern, fresh taste and feel. The spice yellowtail roll with serrano pepper and wasabi mayo was a meal favorite. It’s definitely worth the visit and was a nice contrast to some of our heavier meals.

Next up, Casa Tua offered a cozy and tasteful dining experience. As you enter the iron gates and step into the villa, it feels like you have a special invitation to a dinner party. OK, so it’s a dinner party where you don’t know anyone and you’re likely seated just inches away from strangers that you’re expected to ignore. That aside, the meal was fabulous. We enjoyed dishes of pappardelle lamb ragu with pistachio crumble and tagliatelle with mushroom, Burgundy black truffle and parmesan cheese fonduta.

For one of our last culinary acts, we chose to have lunch at Joe’s Stone Crab. The restaurant has stood the test of time, recently celebrating a 100-year anniversary and still owned by the original family. Stone crab claws were in season, so we decided to go for it. If you like crab claws, I’m sure they’re great, but in the words of my husband, “Why would you love crab claws?” They weren’t bad, just not worth the work or price of admission. Next time for a splurge, I’m sticking to king crab legs and not getting lured into a seasonal trap.

Like our meal choices, most of what we found in Miami and South Beach we thoroughly enjoyed. While our first impression left us questioning why people regularly flock here, the more we explored, dined and appreciated its beauty beneath the surface, the more we could see ourselves returning. Find a bike, get off the beaten path and be open to the surprises that unfold. 

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South Beach view through our almost half-full water bottle at The James Royal Palm hotel

Deco’d out in South Beach

One thing I didn’t expect upon arrival in South Beach is the massive amount of Art Deco architecture lining its streets. 

With about 750 Art Deco buildings within a square mile, South Beach is home to one of the world’s largest concentrations, according to our tour guide with the Miami Design Preservation League. The organization’s daily tour is worth the $20 fee and provides insights not just into the characteristics of this architectural style, but also the history of this beachside neighborhood.

imageOur tour group assembles outside the Art Deco Welcome Center

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The Beach Patrol Headquarters resembles a cruise ship with its nautical deco design

Historical Perspective
What started out as a snake-thriving, mosquito-infested locale turned into a coconut-producing plantation in the late 1800s. That is until the employees decided the working conditions were a bit too inhospitable, leading to its eventual demise. 

Many other investors followed recognizing South Beach’s potential as an avocado farm, a bathhouse and eventually a resort and shopping destination. Its mark on the map came after investors built a bridge connecting it to Miami and dredged the Biscayne Bay making it more accessible to tourists. Fill from the bay now serves as the foundation of some of Miami’s exclusive island neighborhoods.

Fast forward several decades. With construction stalled during the winter months on the East Coast, unions workers migrated to South Beach in search of employment. In the 1920s and 30s, they found ample opportunity to apply their skills to this booming playground for the rich. 

Recalling the fine weather and hotels they constructed years earlier, many of the workers returned to retire and live in the same residences they built, according to our guide. As some of the buildings fell into disrepair, developers threatened to tear them down before the Miami Design Preservation League stepped in to save them.

Learning the lingo
So how did Art Deco get its name? Its origins come from the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris, where the century’s first 25 years of architecture and design were celebrated. Our guide told us the “frozen fountain” motif, which resembles a spouting ionic column and is found on some Art Deco buildings, is a symbol from the exposition.

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The Congress Hotel features a frozen fountain motif, eyebrows and a wavy frieze along its roofline

Features of the Art Deco buildings include their symmetrical, three-story construction. Keeping them to three stories kept costs down by eliminating the need for elevators. Without air conditioning, eyebrows to help keep out the sun and casement windows allowing for maximum ventilation became a functional part of the design.

Reinforced concrete construction also minimized expenses. Decorative friezes with waves reflected the local environment. 
What you won’t find in an Art Deco building are balconies  unless they’re part of an addition.

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Known as the place to see and be seen, The Carlyle has been featured in movies including “Scarface” and “The Birdcage”

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Several Art Deco buildings are empty or under construction in the area

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Lobby of the Victor Hotel

imageRay gun light fixture

imageAnother interior shot of the Victor

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Taking part in the tour gave us a better appreciation for the Art Deco, Mediterranean Revival and MiMo (Miami Modern) architectural styles that give a visual, historical context to the neighborhood. If you find yourself hungry for more cerebral pursuits while in South Beach, get your fill with the league’s 90-minute walking tour that begins at its headquarters at 10th and Ocean Boulevard. It’s worth every step.

Miami vice? You can find it in South Beach

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If you want to let it all hang out, come to South Beach. You certainly won’t feel underdressed sporting a bikini as you stroll Ocean Boulevard. However, I applied the rule of it never hurts to overdress for the occasion.

Described as an outdoor Las Vegas, we fully anticipated its party vibe. The Sin City crowd is definitely a target audience. As we looked toward the surf, floating billboards and airplane banners crisscrossed the beach to promote Vegas’ hottest nightclubs. At one point on a Saturday afternoon, six airplanes dangled their messages overhead as we walked along the beach.

We didn’t stay up long enough to see the Saturday night Ocean Boulevard scene unfold. Based on the energy displayed by 5 p.m., I have no doubt it’s a spectacle. Even at that time, pimped rides from reconditioned Bel Airs to souped-up Ferraris dragged the street with dueling beats of rap, rock and techno music pounding from their speakers.

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Fortunately, the beach front is protected as a public park with a beautiful wending path filled with racks of bikes to share, volleyball courts and open-air gym areas  all for a fit and beautiful to entertain and be entertained.

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First impressions are lasting ones. But the next few days revealed a side to South Beach and Miami that I hadn’t anticipated. It’s another reminder not to let your first impressions blind you to the deeper charms and beauties that lie within a place.