Phoenix 2016.

Boy oh boy this post has been a long time coming. We took our first trip to Phoenix last month and due to all kinds of phone/computer issues I’ve had THE most complicated time getting all of my photos into one spot. So here we are, better late than never!

This was probably the most organized and well planned trip we’ve been on yet. The possibility/option of moving to Phoenix (to be closer to the majority of my husbands business) made this trip different than most because rather than going with just the intent of having a good time, there was also the intent of feeling it out to see if it could potentially be a good fit for our family in the future (don’t worry family and friends, this would be way further down the road, if at all). While we are going to have many many more visits before we make up our minds, I wanted to make sure that our first experience with this city was as positive as it could be since we will be spending a lot of time there regardless.

To give you a little insight on my trip planning, I have a pretty simple 3 step process. Here’s a brief glimpse at the workings of my planning/organizing obsessed brain:

1. Yelp
-I am a major lover of yelp. There is no place I go to that I haven’t thoroughly explored on yelp before I go. It allows you to not only read reviews,  but you can also see photos of the atmosphere and menu, which are super helpful when trying to find places that will make the whole family happy. It’s great for hotels too because rather than getting the fluffed up professional photographs that the hotel websites offer, you get to see real life images of what the room will actually look like when you get there (great for if you’re on the fence about a hotel). I spend several days combing through all the possible hotels and restaurants to choose from, and narrow down the best by bookmarking them.

2. Maps
-once I’ve narrowed down our hotel(s) and top restaurant picks , I run them all through maps to see how far they all are from each other. This helps when it comes to making the itinerary because it’s far easier to stick to exploring one area each day, rather than dodging all around in a new city (especially a big city like Phoenix). If you are really unfamiliar with the area and don’t even know where to start, Yelp can be really helpful for this part as well. Often times I will just enter the address of my hotel into yelp, filter my results based on distance, and sift through the places that I had bookmarked. Combining this method with maps will get you a really accurate idea of where everything is at and will make the adventure a bit less complicated.

3. Itinerary
-after I have my spots picked and have them all grouped based on proximity, I start my itinerary. I break it down by day, followed by a list of several potential activities and a restaurant choice for each meal of that day. I know there are plenty of people out there that prefer the spontaneity of a less organized trip but when you’re planning around your husbands meetings + your toddlers mood swings, an organized itinerary makes everything so much smoother and less stressful. We have run into situations far too often where we have no idea where to eat lunch, barely ate breakfast because my husband had a meeting, and now come 1pm we are all cranky and irritable because we are starving and have no idea what restaurant options are even in the area. Itineraries completely solve that problem and allow you to actually enjoy your time. We don’t always stick exactly to the plan, but having that plan as a backup to go off of is a total life saver.

Our first two days in Phoenix we stayed at the Arizona Grand resort. The rooms and service weren’t exactly my favorite but the grounds were really sprawling and beautiful. There’s a Mexican restaurant on the property with amazing enchiladas (and sangria). Sadly the hotel’s water park was closed during weekdays because we went after the high summer season but there were several pools that were still accessible and still plenty of fun for the little dude.

The second half of our trip we stayed at the AC hotel in Tempe, and I absolutely loved it. The property has only been open for a few months so everything is nice and new. There is a rooftop pool with beautiful views and the location is prime. There is a long walking path along the water and tons of restaurants within a 5-10 minute drive.

…Which leads me to one of my favorite parts of traveling: the food! Phoenix has a ton of amazing spots to choose from.  My favorites included:

1. Snooze AM (fun/hip/eco friendly college student breakfast spot with an awesome staff)
2. Culinary dropout (unique/trendy decor and delicious small plates/appetizers)
3. Olive and Ivy (great ambiance, even better food and cocktails)
4. The Hash Kitchen (quirky breakfast spot with an interesting twist on classic dishes)
5. Zu Izakaya (traditional Japanese. Lots of sushi, Saki, and grilled teriyaki to choose from)

As for activities, we checked out Scottsdale quarter (which has a really cool/unique splash pad area and tons of shopping), explored the downtown Phoenix area, and checked out a couple of pretty parks. We did a ton of driving to just get familiar with the area and had a lot of fun looking at the versatile range of adobe-esque houses in the area. If you’re as into home design as we are, I highly recommend just driving through the neighborhoods of Scottsdale for a while, even if you have no intent of ever moving there…if anything you’ll spot some really pretty houses and some of the biggest cacti you’ve ever seen.

We left the trip with a good feeling about Phoenix and all of the possibilities + adventures that it holds. It is such a cool desert city with so much to do and so much that we have yet to explore. While this is just the beginning of our Arizona travels, our first taste was certainly a sweet one.

Cheers,

The Whine Connoisseur

 

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Palm Springs 2016.

My husband and I have not been on a solo vacation since several months before I got pregnant with our son. That’s almost 4 years you guys. 4 years of not one single true vacation. Don’t get me wrong… I have so much fun traveling with our son. But as every parent knows… a vacation with a toddler is rarely a true vacation. Since becoming a mom, I could not help but fantasize about a vacation in which I could sleep in until whatever time I wanted… lay out by the pool relaxing with a drink in my hand without having to keep anybody entertained… pick restaurants based on trendy atmosphere rather than the children’s menu… and so on. Well, that vacation finally came and it came in the form of Palm Springs last week.

Several months ago I got a promotional email from hotels.com, which is really what sparked this whole thing. I sat there for a few minutes thinking about how great a romantic summer vacation with my husband would be, if only we could find a convenient time. And then it dawned on me… there would never ever be a “convenient time”. Whether it be work, money, lack of babysitting, or a million other variables… it is so easy to always find a reason not to take some much needed adult time to yourself. The truth is, it will extremely rarely (in fact probably never) be easy to find someone willing to watch your super high energy toddler for two whole nights while you run off to a desert oasis to lay by the pool and drink mimosas all day with your spouse. It’s just not going to happen until you make it a priority. So, that is precisely what we did. I booked the hotel right then and there, texted my saint of a sister begging/bribing her to babysit, marked it in our calendars, and just like that… we at last had a romantic get away set in stone.

Not surprisingly, Palm Springs turned out to be everything that I needed. We spent our stay at the Ace Hotel/Pool club and couldn’t have been happier with our hotel choice. Our room had a really cool private patio entry, the decor was spot on to the bohemian desert oasis vibes of the hotel, and possibly the best part… it was about 15 steps away from the pool entrance. The great thing about Palm Springs in the summer is that it is so absurdly hot and dry that there is almost nothing to do other than relax by the pool, so the place just has vacation written all over it. I really don’t know how anybody gets anything done around there because I know I personally found myself just wanting to be in the pool at all times. The small fraction of time in which we weren’t being total sloths by the pool, we were able to check out a few other cute spots around town, like the beauty that is the Moorten Botanical Garden, as well as the stunning ‘Alice in Wonderland-esque’ grounds of Le Parker Meridian Hotel.

After that vacation with my husband, I can confidently say that every couple with kids should make it a priority to do a “no kids vacation” every so often. Whether it be to Palm Springs (which I would highly recommend) or just a fun staycation in your own city, child free bonding time is so very important. Not only did I return from the trip feeling refreshed and relaxed and ready to be a good mom again, but I also came back feeling closer than ever to my sweet husband.

And as for my son? He apparently hardly noticed that we were gone. No matter how guilty you may be feeling for leaving your little one(s) for a couple of days, the truth is, sometimes they need a change-up in the schedule and a little bit of time away from you as much as you need a little bit of time away from them. My husband and I got a relaxing vacation, and my son got some quality bonding time with his aunt, so it was really a win-win.

I have no idea when the next opportunity for another romantic little getaway will be, but I sure am happy with the time that we got. Until next time, Palm Springs.

Cheers,

The Whine Connoisseur

 

Santa Barbara 2016.

I have to admit that up until now, I never truly appreciated Santa Barbara. Our last trip there was a little more than a year ago. It was off season, it was cold, our son was pretty moody the entire time, we stayed pretty close to the hotel, and I never got a true taste of the area. This time was different and I can now say that I completely understand what the Santa Barbara hype is all about.

What’s great about Santa Barbara is that it’s within 40 minutes of every activity we could have ever wished to do as a family. There’s the beach, there’s plenty of diverse food options, there’s hiking, there’s wine tasting, there’s tourist attractions. I’m telling you, we could have had a whole two weeks longer and done something fun/different every day.

We stayed at Hotel Milo, which is right on the beach and is situated on some pretty stunning property. The appeal mostly ends there however and I’m not sure I would actually recommend staying there (although I’m admittedly super picky when it comes to hotels and I’m sure there are plenty of people who would love this spot). If you’re looking for an affordable property close to the water/pier with plenty of food options within walking distance, then it might be the hotel for you.

Our first day in the area, we went for a morning hike at Nojoqui Falls, which is about 30 minutes out of Santa Barbara. Super short hike, easy for kids, beautiful area, nice and secluded. Only downsides were the not so comforting mountain lion warning sign (had us paranoid the entire time) and the fact that there was no waterfall at the end… Not sure if we went at the wrong time of year for it or what, but the hike was beautiful regardless of its missing waterfall. About ten minutes from the trail head is the Main Street area of Solvang, a quaint tourist town that personally felt like it could make an interesting setting for a horror film… A unique town to say the least. We had lunch at a Nordic cafe there, then we ended the day with a swim/mimosas at the hotel pool, which was probably one of the best features of Hotel Milo.

The second day of our trip after my husbands meetings, we went on our first ever wine tasting adventure. The Santa Ynez area is covered with beautiful sprawling vineyards and is only about a 40 minute drive from Santa Barbara. After doing my research to find the most child friendly vineyard options, we ended up at the Zaca Mesa winery. I was feeling a little hesitant to bring my toddler (who regularly enjoys testing his vocal range) to a wine tasting room, but it actually ended up being totally fine. We were told people bring their kids all the time and the tasting room even had a friendly puppy to keep my son entertained. We got to try six wines, bought a bottle of the Sauvignon Blanc, got some beautiful pictures of the vineyard as a rain storm rolled in, and just had an overall really lovely time. It all left me with an itch for more wine tasting and I’m totally mentally planning a trip to Napa.

The third night of our journey was spent in LA at the Hollywood Roosevelt. The epitome of ‘hip’, the hotel’s target audience is certainly not families with young children, but that didn’t stop us from having a good time and taking over the flamingo floaty at the pool.

Traveling with the little dude typically leaves me so exhausted that I need a vacation from my vacation, but this time was overall about as relaxing as you could hope for while traveling with a toddler . As Liam gets older and more familiar with travel, taking him on all kinds of adventures gets undeniably easier, and for that I am so thankful. The entire way home he begged for “hotel, hotel!”, so I think it’s safe to say he enjoyed our travels as much as we did.

Until next time, California.

Cheers,

The Whine Connoisseur

 

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Newport Beach 2016.

At 3 months old, we took our son to Newport Beach for the first time. I was so excited for him to breathe in the ocean air and listen to the sound of the waves at the same beach that I had spent so many summers at as a child. Being a wee little newborn however, he mostly cried the entire time and we packed up and left about 20 minutes into the whole experience. Sadly, our beach ventures have gone pretty much the same way every time since then, with our son either crying, whining, or trying to run away from us the entire time. This time however, was different. Finally old enough to appreciate all that is Newport Beach, the little dude ran around playing in the sand as happy as could be and has even asked to go to the beach several times since we left.

This trip was a major reminder of how blessed we are to travel so regularly as a family. I think I often get overwhelmed by all that goes into traveling with a young child and I forget to stop and simply be thankful for the experience. With the calmness of this trip, my husband and I were mostly able to sit back and watch as our son happily ran around exploring his surroundings. This kid has experienced places and things that I never could have imagined providing my child with, and I am forever thankful for the opportunities that my husbands job has blessed us with.

We stayed at The Island Hotel Newport Beach and just like our last stay there, it was everything we could have wanted. This time we had a corner ocean view/balcony suite, which was perfect for our family and gave us enough space to not drive each other crazy. The hotel has a beautiful pool with an outdoor bar, is a five minute drive from the beach, has some of the sweetest staff members we’ve ever encountered….And don’t even get me started on the delicious patio breakfast at the hotel’s restaurant-Oak Grill (ordering a round of mimosas is a must).

After a couple days of beach going, swimming at the pool, and walking around fashion island (probably a few too many times), we capped off the trip by visiting a few of my sweet family members in the area, who even babysat Liam so that we could end our trip with a baby-free dinner at one of our favorite spots in Irvine (The Lazy Dog). Our time in Newport had a little bit of everything and was certainly one for the books. It’ll be rough topping such a beautiful trip…but you can sure bet we will try!

Cheers,

The Whine Connoisseur

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A Winter Wonderland: Park City 2k15

I feel fairly certain that every Christmas song ever written was inspired by the winter wonderland that is Park City. And while that is definitely a very fabricated exaggeration and while I most certainly will not fact check that statement, you get the picture. This was the second December in a row that we have been blessed enough to visit park city during its most magical season and once again, it did not disappoint.

We started off the trip with a plane ride that ended up being far more enjoyable than one would expect when traveling with a toddler. Everything went smoothly (despite leaving the house 30 minutes late), the airport was amazingly accommodating towards travelers with young children, and Liam only had about 2-3 minor fits on the plane, which I deem a major success.

Park City is about a 30 minute drive out of Salt Lake, but the drive is so scenic that it really feels like 10 minutes. A quick stop at a business meeting for my husband, lunch at an awesome BBQ joint, and a few too many tantrums later and we were at our hotel. We chose to stay at the Westgate Park City thanks to our incredibly enjoyable experience there last year. They have a one bedroom villa that is perfect for families, is in prime location for just about anything that one would want to do in the area, plus the balcony view and fire place provide the perfect setting for a vacation full of cozy bundled up evenings.

Our first night there was spent with a lot of middle of the night wake ups. And our second night. And our third night. How is it that somehow a three foot-ish human being can manage to take up 75% of a king sized bed?

Minus the poor sleep however, I would have to say the trip was a great success. My husband had several business meetings in the area that show potential, we ate a ton of delicious food, and went on long drives through the beautiful snowy mountainsides. We drove through neighborhoods full of dreamy homes, walked around with coffee as the snow fell on us, and got to frolic around main street for a while. On our second night there, Liam fell asleep in the car on our way back to the hotel with some take out. My husband somehow managed to quietly ninja walk him back up to the room and put him into bed without him waking, creating the most relaxing of evenings for us. Curled up on the couch in front of the fire watching Elf with pizza, beer, and my husband, all I could think was “man…someone up there REALLY loves us”.

It was the kind of trip that did nothing but remind me of how incredibly blessed we are. There were tantrums and there was not quite enough sleep. My son threw a water glass all over me at a restaurant while it was snowing outside and on a couple of other occasions judgy uptight old people stared us down with the wrath of god in their eyes while we tried to get our two year old to behave. But none of that mattered because I was with my two favorite people in the whole wide world exploring a winter wonderland that looked like something out of a magical fantasy novel or a snowglobe. The pictures do not even do this place justice, so I highly recommend that you all put this place on your travel to-do lists.

There’s nothing to put you in the Christmas spirit quite like a trip to a small snow covered mountain town. With Christmas next week, I go into the holiday feeling blessed blessed blessed and am greatly looking forward to seeing my little man’s excitement on Christmas morning. Wishing all of you and your families a whole lot of loving, smiling, eating, cheersing, relaxing, laughing, and celebrating as Christmas rolls around.

Cheers,

The Whine Connoisseur.

 

Taking California. Again.

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Going on a family trip to Southern California may not have been the best thing for my diet, and it certainly was not the best thing for my workout schedule, but it was great for my soul, so it all balances out, right?

Going into this trip, I felt like I needed to get out of Las Vegas… like, yesterday. I am not a winter person. At all. I enjoy the winter months from Thanksgiving until New Years, and as soon as those winter events have come to an end, my brain moves into summer mode. So in other words, this trip came at a much needed time. Between a memorial service for my great grandma in San Clemente, and my husband needing to take care of some business in Santa Monica, this trip just fell into place perfectly.

We spent the first portion of our trip at the Ocean View hotel in Santa Monica. Directly across from the beautiful beach/Santa Monica Pier, and right up the street from the Third Street Promenade, we couldn’t have asked for a more prime location. I have seen master bathrooms larger than our hotel room and the walls were so thin that it sounded as though each passing hotel guest was standing in our room… but when you can open your balcony doors to the smells and sounds of the ocean, you are quickly reminded that there really isn’t much to complain about.

When my husband tended to business and meetings during the day, I took my son on long walks on the Santa Monica bluffs over looking the ocean. When my husband was done working, we strolled through some of the most stunning beach neighborhoods that I have ever laid eyes on, we spent time on the beach as the sun set, and we went to some of the most delicious restaurants in the area. We did have a breakfast incident in which Liam threw his sippy cup at my coffee cup, sending coffee all across the table and into my lap… But hey, after the mess was all cleaned up my avocado/mushroom/goat cheese omelet was so great that it was impossible to care too much.

As beautiful as Santa Monica was, after several awful nights of sleep due to Liam waking up from all of the noises outside, the second half of our trip was welcomed with open arms. Moving on to stay with my god mother in Irvine, our family fell nothing short of being totally and completely spoiled. Upon arriving in Irvine, my husband and I were hitting our parenting limit. Liam had been great for most of the trip, but after the bad nights of sleep and a terrible experience with him (involving 10 too many hysterical fits) at a restaurant that day, we were in great need of a break. Little did we know, my real life fairy god mother and her dear husband had already planned on babysitting Liam for the night so that we could go out to an ‘adult’ dinner. Who knew how relieving a two hour dinner could be! We found a lovely restaurant down the street, shared some delicious sangria, then came back to a sleeping baby and the good company of my amazing God mother and her family.

The following day, we attended a lovely memorial service for my great grandma in San Clemente. At my cousin Kelly’s beautiful home overlooking the ocean, the family came together to remember our great Gammy and to celebrate the long life she lived. Liam found joy in chasing a bunch of the little girls around the house, while simultaneously draining my husband and I of the small amount of energy that we had left.

Returning to Irvine that night, my god mother had one more grand surprise up her sleeve: a hot tub date for my husband and I in her backyard. Not only did she create the loveliest ambiance of candles and light fixtures surrounding the hot tub, but she also put Liam to bed AND treated us like royalty, bringing us drinks and Liam updates as we enjoyed the peace of the perfect California night.

Heading home on Sunday morning, we were feeling relaxed, thankful, loved, and pretty freakin stoked about the lack of traffic. Our trip was everything we needed it to be. We got to relax, my husband was able to secure some important meetings, we were able to spend quality time with our loved ones, and Liam was better behaved than we’ve ever seen him be on a trip. The year has been off to an interesting start to say the least and it has already presented its fair share of challenges. However, sitting in the comfort of our home, relaxed and refreshed, I can’t help but to feel as though we are one very blessed family.

Cheers,

T.W.C.

 

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