Jody Robinson

Jody Robinson

It’s exceptionally rare to find hair artists who truly cares about their customers’ needs and are dedicated to finding the perfect solution – and have the skill and experience to actually achieve your desired results.

With years of experience helping women and men who have fine and thinning hair challenges, Debora Routhe and Elizabeth Nunez are the dream team behind Mission Viejo based Full Strands Inc. They are the go-to professionals for clients seeking non-surgical hair replacement options.

Debora is an American Board Certified Haircolorist and a cutting specialist, while Elizabeth is a skilled and experienced barber and cosmetologist. Haircutting and hair extensions are her forte.

“When it comes to hair extensions or hair restoration/replacement, it’s not one size fits all,” says Debora. “What sets our business apart from others is our dedication to continuing education. We continually seek to discover better products and techniques to give our customers the hair of their dreams. Further, we are full-time behind the chair hairdressers. We are well versed in all aspects of color, design, and styling.  This experience allows us to make all hair systems and extensions look incredibly natural and undetectable.”

Eight years ago, after an increasing number of her clients came to her with fine and thinning hair concerns, Debora made it her mission to find ways to help.

“I sought out solutions and became certified in numerous techniques,” she says. “Our business in the non-surgical hair replacement industry has grown by word of mouth from our satisfied customers. We are truly making a difference for women and men who felt for so long that they had nowhere to go and could find no acceptable solutions for their fine and thinning hair.  We have seen self-confidence come back for the clients we serve. They no longer feel self conscious or embarrassed of their appearance. We are excited to come to work every day and transform our clients into the best version of themselves. We live to make people feel beautiful!”

Equally passionate about giving back to the community, Full Strands supports South County Outreach, a non-profit organization dedicated to preventing hunger and homelessness by helping people help themselves with a food pantry, homeless prevention counseling, and rapid re-housing programs.

“The most rewarding aspect of owning this business is that we get to do what we want to do,” says Debora. “We get to choose the products, the hair systems, extensions, and the tools we work with. We selected the salon decor and pick the music we listen to. We have created a relaxing, private environment for our clients to enjoy and in which our creativity can flourish.”

Book online at fullstrands.com.

elizabeth deborahFull Strands is located at 27741 Crown Valley Parkway, Suite 201, Studio 23 in Mission Viejo. Debora and Elizabeth can be reached by calling 949-300-3625.

According to a recent LA Times article, “the Southern California housing market is red-hot again.” 2015 was the second-busiest year since the 2008 recession, and experts are calling for 2016 to be the year that the peak returns to Orange County. With so much hype in the forecast, it can be difficult for both buyers and sellers to track market trends, sift through all the numbers, and forecast what may or may not happen over years to come. I know I’d rather choose a new paint color or build my dream wraparound porch than pore tediously over CoreLogic statistics. And that’s where Sheri Normandin comes into the picture.

Often, determining the difference between one’s skill set and one’s passion leaves much to be desired: a rift not many of us have the luxury to cross over in our professional lives. For Sheri, seeing her skill set and passion collide in the real estate market has revolutionized hers. With over 25 years of executive level management and marketing in over 26 countries, Sheri’s transition to luxury property management was as smooth as can be. In fact, it doesn’t get much smoother than earning herself a top 4% spot in the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Agents nationwide: and an entry in the 2014 and 2015 President’s Club.

Yet, unlike a great many OC brokers, Sheri doesn’t hail from Orange County.

“I grew up on a farm,” she notes with a smile. “I’m interested in Orange County in the same way my buyers and sellers are interested: I came here to buy a house for myself, I dealt with the same process, the same negotiations; and I think that makes me uniquely suited to welcome folks to the area.”

With the increased global reach of real estate, understanding and appropriately providing services to meet the various needs out there are constantly added to the equation of buying or selling a home. Sheri services all of South Orange County, not just the city she resides in, and she is willing to go the extra mile to help her clients understand what it is they are really achieving with her at the helm of their housing project.

“The needs of a buyer are vastly different than those of a seller,” she says. “We have seen a strong recovery over the past few years, but with low inventories, it continues to be a sellers market.”

So what questions are you asking as either a buyer or seller in the current market? You may have the perfect paint chip in hand, but what kind of wall would you like to decorate? You may be approaching retirement, and are looking to downsize. Do you have specific square footage in mind? Do you have a budgetary cap? Is there room for the family dog? A yard?

“Floor plans and functionality of a home can vary greatly and rearranging the current use with minor changes can have a much bigger value to a buyer, if they can see it,” says Sheri. “Not all agents can provide that vision. I look for areas I can make the process easier for my clients and actively take things off their plate to reduce stress.”

Listing price: $1,439,000. 28442 Calle Pinon, San Juan CapistranoListing price: $1,439,000. 28442 Calle Pinon, San Juan CapistranoBecause everyone’s motivations are different, a good realtor connects with clients and can manage the expectations on the table, while successfully maximizing results. Finding a broker that will offer more than a minimum level of service however, can be painstaking. With her background in marketing and negotiation, it is no wonder that Sheri has found such success - invaluable when navigating the market and its constant fluctuations.

“When I’m looking for a prospective agent to sell my home, I’m asking if they do this as a full time job - I’m asking for reviews and references - I’m asking what sets them apart from other agents. Professional photography, quality marketing materials and online exposure are base requirements these days to provide great results for the seller. I go beyond what is expected, which changes with each client. I’ve planted flowers, moved couches. Selling or buying a home can be an emotional experience, and making it as positive as possible is my goal.”

 

They say those who can’t do, teach. But they also say that while we teach, we learn. In fact, Seneca said that. The Roman philosopher Seneca. (Not Seneca Crane from the recent Hunger Games films.) So which is true? Stephanie Frisch hails from a family of teachers. And she would have to agree with Seneca. “I’m always learning. I want to know everything there is to know.” In the world of insurance, the demand is high for those who are dedicated to teaching the consumer, rather than taking them simply as a commission.

What do you really know about your insurance policies? Has anyone ever sat down and explained insurance to you in a way you really understood? Medicare. Prescription drug coverage. Covered California individual family plans. The chances are about as slim as Katniss escaping the Hunger Games alive. As the owner of Insurance 101, Stephanie is taking an industry norm and turning it on it’s head.

“I come from an all-teacher family. I learned a long time ago how to properly and thoroughly inform my clients. And I believe that a personalized, caring approach is what it takes to garner trust with folks who at a base level, have no idea what the terms are, or what the provisions of the plans mean.” Specializing in senior needs - such as Medicare plans and prescription drug plans for South County residents, Stephanie is faced with unique situations daily. “As the demand grows for this type of service, I find that my successes lie in earning the trust of my clients. The actual business is just one factor. Caring for the whole person is the key.”

I’ve been told that my method of explaining insurance makes it easier to understand than any other way my clients have been told before. And I’m really trying to help them, not sell them.

Her old-school approach is unrivaled. Rarely does a broker find the time to spend one-on one with a client, let alone achieving any sort of true human interaction in the world of text messaging, multi-password online applications, and automated 800-number customer service recordings. “I keep contact information and notes from past conversations with all of my clients. When someone calls me, I see their name pop up on my phone and I greet them personally. I love helping people, and bringing a personal touch to the impersonal world of insurance is key. You can’t rush when you do what I do.” Having the knowledge and savvy to navigate the insurance world is one thing. Having the patience to wade through the headlines and get to the heart of the issues speaks to a deep desire to do right by her clients. “It’s my responsibility,” she notes.

Sifting through the sludge of government issues, printed articles, and healthcare propaganda is enough to drive any American toward feeling as if the premium they are really paying is in lifeblood, not dollars.

“What I provide is ‘value added’ to what customers pay in their insurance premium,” says Stephanie. “I don’t personally charge for my consulting service. I’ve been told that my method of explaining insurance makes it easier to understand than any other way my clients have been told before. And I’m really trying to help them, not sell them. I want to know everything about the products I offer to people and what is going on out there. 65 looks and acts a lot younger than it used to. They want the information that will help them be proactive about their lifestyle, and I help them find that.”

Be it working, traveling, parenting, surfing, running marathons, practicing yoga, or training for the next Hunger Games - you should be informed. If you’d like to understand your options and benefits better, Stephanie’s the one to call.

Question: How long have you been doing this and do you have an office?

Stephanie Frisch: I have been licensed and working this business full time since May of 2006. Initially I would make house calls and meet people in a common area. Two years ago my client base and amount of prospective clients made is necessary for me to open an office in San Juan Capistrano and have people come to me. It’s worked out very well. We can spread documents out on my desk, it’s quiet without distractions and I have access to my printer and the internet which is very important these days. I do still make house calls for my Medicare clients, many times they’re housebound or just don’t get around easily.

Question: Do you have set office hours?

SF: No, I work by appointment only. If I don’t have appointments with clients many times I work out of home. My attitude with my career is that I’m basically working 7 days a weeks at least a few hours a day. I’d never be home if I was always working out of my office.

Medicare

Question: We know you work a lot with Medicare beneficiaries, is there any new information they should know about?

SF: Well a big change was to the Medicare Part B standard premium. For years it’s been $104.90 a month. Several months ago people that were new to Medicare or that were already on Medicare but not taking Social Security had a premium increase. The premium adjusted up to $121.80 a month. Also, many people aren’t aware that they will pay MORE than $121.80 a month if they make more than $85K a year as an individual or $170K as a married couple. That sometimes translates to sticker shock. I have a worksheet that I share with new Medicare beneficiaries so they’re not taken by surprise.

Question: What choices do people have during Open Enrollment?

SF: From October 15th to December 7th people with a standalone drug plan and/or a Medicare supplemental plan can shop to see what Medicare Advantage plans have to offer. This is the time for them to learn about plans that have a zero premium and include RX coverage too. If they do end up wanting to enroll in a Medicare Advantage with Prescription drug plan, they don’t need to worry about health conditions because enrollment is not subject to underwriting and is guaranteed issue (unless they have end stage renal disease). For people already on a Medicare Advantage plan, this is the time they can look at changing to another like type of plan that may be richer in benefits and/or meet their needs better than their current plan. Or, these people may want to go back to Original Medicare and purchase a standalone drug and Medicare supplemental plan. Drug formularies (the list of covered drugs in an RX plan) can change every year, so if someone is taking a lot of medications it’s important for them to be aware of any changes that may affect their out of pocket costs. The only time to change drug plans during the year without some special circumstance is during Open Enrollment.

The only time to change drug plans during the year without some special circumstance is during Open Enrollment.

Question: Do you still find a lot of confusion exists for people when they go onto Medicare for the first time?

SF: Oh, absolutely! Those consultations generally take an hour and a half to two hours. There are so many factors to cover. Many times they or their spouse may still be working, so we need to look at the cost of their current group insurance and what it covers versus what they’ll pay for Medicare. If they’re still working and their income is high, many times it’s more expensive to go on Medicare and they should wait until they retire. We have to take into account past and current income, researching doctor participation in medical networks if they want a Medicare Advantage plan, and look at what drug plan gives them the lowest copays for the medications they’re currently taking. If I’m meeting with a husband and wife we are basically going through this whole process twice.

The Insurance Marketplace and Covered California

Question: You specialize in Medicare, but you also help people with their health insurance that are under 65, what advice would you give them for their Open Enrollment that starts November 1st?

SF: Don’t try to figure it out on your own. I get paid by the insurance companies that I repre sent and it costs nothing to take advantage of my knowledge and experience. This is a very busy time for me because open enrollment coincides with Medicare open enrollment, but I’m able to help most non-Medicare prospective clients by scheduling a phone appointment or two with them and enrolling them online. The deadline enrolling in a new plan for 1/1/17 coverage is 12/15/16. The deadline for changing your current plan with your existing insurance provider for 2017 is 1/31/17.

Question: What do you think is the biggest change in insurance plans offered for 2017 for those who buy insurance from Covered California or directly from the insurance companies?

SF: Well, Anthem is going back to their 2015 model of an EPO vs. the Tiered PPO that they had last year. Any hospitals that were in Tier 2 may now be out of network and people won’t be able to access care in those hospitals. So for example, last year an Anthem Tiered PPO member could go to Hoag, Mission, St. Joseph and St. Jude hospitals here in Orange County and still be in-network, they just wouldn’t get as good of a negotiated rate as they did by going to a Tier 1 hospital such as Saddleback and U.C.I. In 2017, with the change back to an EPO plan structure, they have NO coverage out of network. It is much like a HMO, but they don’t need to have a referral to specialist, just like with a PPO. I’m told the network of doctors shouldn’t change any more than the normal shuffle, it’s just the hospital in network participation that is being affected.

Question: So are there less choices this year than last year for people?

SF: Actually as of this interview there are more. Blue Shield has decided to bring a HMO product to Orange County and Molina Healthcare is expanding their service to Orange county. I’m still waiting to see what Cigna and Healthnet PPO will do. They had very slim offerings last year and their prices were much higher than the other companies. However, they had broader networks, and for some people it’s worth it to them to be able to continue seeing their doctors.

If you’re interested in learning more about what Stephanie can do for you, contact her at (949) 351-2443. If you need help with the next stage in your life or have any questions about insurance, you can count on her to point you in the right direction.

Call me old fashioned, but I believe that physical photos are a medium worth preserving. When I recently sat down to put together my daughter’s baby book, I thought of how printed images might at times seem like a thing of the past. But then I can’t imagine showing off my family photos by scrolling through all the images I posted to Facebook once upon a time.

Scott and Diana Schmitt, co-founders of the San Juan Capistrano-based San Juan Photo and Digital and Accents Portraits by Diana understand the desire for individuals and families to preserve their most precious memories in more than merely a digital format.

Scott and his wife have long shared a love of photography. So when a then-Moto Photo franchise became available for purchase in 1989, the couple jumped at the chance to pursue their professional passion.

After six years of hard work building their initial business together, they opened a second, separate studio entity in the same shopping center to provide their clients a “one stop shop” to fulfill all facets of their clients’ photographic needs.

Scott continues to oversee the operation of San Juan Photo and Digital, while Diana focuses her attention and talent to in-studio and on location professional photography at Accent Portraits by Diana.

The pair initially launched their entrepreneurial endeavor with a fun and a creative outlet in mind, and the exploding photography industry and advancements in technology over the course of the subsequent two decades helped them continually evolve their business.

“The industry has changed dramatically since the inception of digital photography in that people continue to take more and more pictures as photography becomes increasingly accessible,” says Scott. “But a sad byproduct of this trend is that the focus on digital photography is creating a ‘lost generation’ of people who don’t and won’t have any printed family photos.”

The “Chief Historical Officers” of the home (usually the wives and mothers) comprise a large component of Scott’s clientele, women who feel strongly about preserving their family’s history and photography in physical form.

Toward that end, Scott is truly your “hometown digital expert” specializing in prints from your camera and phone, photo/slide scan, photo restoration, passport photos, camera repairs, digital camera classes, film/video to DVD and photo books, posters and canvas prints and they even still process film!

“We are so fortunate to have an amazing team who have been with us for so long that they are family,” says Scott. “Harvey Tarango is a master at photo manipulation and our lab manager Cheryl Wayland was with us before our children were even born – they all know her as ‘Auntie Cheryl’ and she’s been an amazing asset to our company for over 25 years.”

For her part, Diana has spent the better part of 30 years specializing in family portraits, wedding photos and capturing the most priceless of moments in all types of life celebrations.

With nearly 30 years of experience, Diana’s focus is families, and she always aims to deliver “extraordinary customer service.”

“Diana is amazing,” says Heidi Hitt. “She has taken so many special pictures over the years for me and my family. They all turn out so beautifully. I am so blessed to have someone I can trust to help me capture special moments in time. Everybody loves when we send out our Christmas cards; they can’t believe how beautiful the pictures are. Thank you Diana for all the beautiful memories.”

“The best part of working together is that we have been able to take a hobby that we love and turn it into a successful, long- running, thriving business in this wonderful community,” says Scott.

For South County Magazine readers, Diana is offering a complimentary photo session with a free 8” x 10” print for high school seniors and for a “Kids’ Birthday Club” where kids can schedule a complimentary photo shoot during their birthday month.

Accent Portraits by Diana and San Juan Photo and Digital is located at 32281 Camino Capistrano, Suite C-104 in SJC. They can be reached at (949) 661-6465 or online at www.accentportraitsbydiana.com or visit www.sjcphoto-digital.com

A simple solution for life-changing results

If your child has flat feet, feet that turn in or turn out or complains of foot, knee, leg or back pain, the solution could be as simple as custom orthotics inserted into their shoes.

Ivar Roth, DPM of the Newport Beach-based Concierge Podiatry is the only podiatrist in Orange County to offer the latest technology in custom orthotics for children with a NEW generation of inserts - that are Concierge Podiatry for Kids

A simple solution for life-changing results by Jody Robinson • photography by Lana Farfan, Caught in the Moment Photography Iunobtrusive and do not require special shoes to fit. These custom orthotics are calibrated to your child’s weight and results in nearly 100% correction of common foot alignment problems.

flat feetIf left untreated, “flat feet” (also described as “fallen arches,” “rolle in ankles” or “excessive pronation”) can lead to a lifetime of foot, leg and backproblems.

If your child complains of pain, it often means the muscles in the feet and legs are under pressure. Tripping or falling or general clumsiness are often signs that your child’s foot and surrounding musculature is not able to support itself properly.

And what many well-meaning practitioners diagnose as “growing pains,” may be alleviated altogether simply by looking at how your child walks or runs and treating any imbalances.

ankles turned inFor Melissa Forrester’s seven-year-old daughter Olivia, the custom orthotics Dr. Roth fit her with were “life-changing.”

“At the age of four, Olivia was experiencing recurring leg pain and her doctors thought it was ‘growing pains’ and couldn’t determine a specific cause,” says Melissa. “The pain would keep her awake at night and at the end of the day, she would literally be crying because of how much her calves hurt.

“Our pediatrician referred us to Dr. Roth who examined Olivia’s feet, took X-rays and knew immediately that she would benefit from the custom orthotics. Olivia was fitted for the orthotics and we got them back within a couple of weeks and within a week of wearing them, we noticed an amazing difference – Olivia stopped complaining of leg pain completely. The orthotics are wafer thin and slip right into the bottom of her shoes. It’s been over three years we are on our second set - Olivia refuses to wear any shoeswithout the orthotics because she knows how it makes her feet
and legs feel when she doesn’t wear them for a day or two. The results were so simple and simply life-changing for our daughter.”

Suzanne Robinson, whose 16-year-old daughter Katie also wears Dr. Roth’s custom orthotics, agrees with Melissa’s assessment and adds “I noticed that Katie’s foot was turned in and our pediatrician recommended that we see Dr. Roth. Katie’s been wearing the orthotics for about a year now and it’s made a tremendous difference in the wear and tear on her knees and performance in sports.”

In the following interview with Dr. Roth, we asked Dr. Roth to share his thoughts on common questions parents might ask when considering having their child evaluated to determine whether custom orthotics would be of benefit.

South County Magazine: What are foot orthotics and how do they work?

Ivar Roth, DPM: Foot orthotics are much like glasses in that when you wear them, they will change the poor foot posture into normal or a much-improved position so that ergonomically the foot functions like it should. Once the foot works properly, thebody responds. This means tired legs/ feet and inside knee discomfort, hip and lower back ache/pain improves or goes away If your child has flat feet, they HAVE a problem whether you are aware of it or not.

South County Magazine: What conditions do custom orthotics help alleviate in children?

Ivar Roth, DPM: Flat feet for sure, but also any complaint of tired legs or not wanting to participate in sports or if your child suffers from knee pain, hip pain and/or lower back pain.

For parents who want to help their child improve their performance in sports and avoid future problems, this new generation of orthotic is a must.

big toesIf your child currently has orthotics, I would strongly recommend that you come in for an examination to see if the new generation orthotics will help them more. The VAST majority of children COULD use corrective orthotics to optimize their feet. Just as most kids need vision correction or orthodontics, the same holds true with feet.

South County Magazine: What are the benefits of custom orthotics vs. the prefabricated ones on the market?

Ivar Roth, DPM: Custom orthotics of the type I use are vastly different from prefabs. The foot is corrected to nearly 100% of correction and these orthotics are calibrated to the child’s weight and so act as if they are wearing springs in their shoes.

South County Magazine: What should a parent look for in their child's feet, gait, etc. to determine a possible need for orthotics?

At what age?

Ivar Roth, DPM: If your child has flat feet or a foot or feet that point outward or have ankles that are collapsing inward, they would benefit from these orthotics. The earlier you start the better around 3 years of age and DEFINITELY before their growth spurt. If started before their growth spurt, these orthotics have the potential to help grow the feet into a better permanently corrected position, not unlike braces for the teeth.

South County Magazine: How do you fit the child's feet?

Ivar Roth, DPM: Making the orthotics is simply maneuvering the foot into a special corrected position and making a foam impression. It is painless and simple to perform.

South County Magazine: How long do custom orthotics typically last?

Ivar Roth, DPM: The orthotics are good for between two and three shoes sizes of growth or 15% increase in wt gain. Generally they are good for several years with yearly tune ups done in the office to keep them working in peak performance.

South County Magazine: Will they fit into all my child's shoes (i.e. can they be worn during athletics) and will wearing orthotics require that I buy my child a larger shoe?

Ivar Roth, DPM: The orthotic will work in all of their existing shoes.

However, if the shoe is broken down, new shoes will be required for use with the new orthotics.

South County Magazine: If it is determined that orthotics can benefit my child, how long will my child be required to wear the orthotics?

Ivar Roth, DPM: Like vision correction, orthotics are a lifelong commitment if you want to continue to achieve the benefits you receive by wearing them.

Foot health is very important and will not only help your child today, but will mean less adult-acquired problems in the future. Parents - look at your own feet - if you have any problems, it’s highly likely that your child will as well. You have the opportunity to help your children perform better and avoid future foot conditions and other health problems by having them examined to determine if they would benefit from custom orthotics.

Connect with Dr. Roth by calling (949) 650-1147.
Concierge Podiatry is located at 351 Hospital Road, Suite 407 in Newport Beach.

Established in 1565, St. Augustine is a paradise for history buffs and arguably the root the nation’s oldest city’s appeal as a popular destination. When my husband, Tim, and I mapped out (pun intended) our plan to visit all 50 states as a family by the time our son (now aged 9) graduates from high school, we decided to select cities to visit that would yield opportunities for what Tim calls “retention questions.” These are questions we would craft from interesting facts about each destination designed to help our kids remember key points about the places we explore. And as the oldest European settlement in America, St. Augustine proved to be a veritable treasure trove.

Residing along the banks of the Matanzas River on the northeast coast of Florida, the charm of St. Augustine is found along its narrow cobblestone streets, the fabled Fountain of Youth, the stretch of white sand beaches of Anastasia Island (a protected wildlife sanctuary) and the coquina (unique locally quarried material comprised of small seashells) bastions of the Castillo De San Marcos fort. A relic of Spain’s early exploration of the Americas, this historic landmark bears the distinction of being the best-preserved Spanish colonial fort in the United States and the country’s only existing 17th century masonry military structure.

Completed in 1695, the formidable Castillo De San Marcos was besieged by English colonial forces in 1702. When they weren’t able to destroy the structure, British forces burned the then-surrounding city to the ground upon retreat, which is why no other building in St. Augustine today dates back to prior to that time. The site occupies about 20 acres and at night, the Castillo’s watchtowers are uplit from the moat below, giving the fortress a truly foreboding appearance from afar. Take a self-guided tour or schedule a tour with park rangers - expect to stay about 90 minutes to thoroughly explore the two floors, which include a chapel and single cell used as the city’s first jail, exhibits and grounds.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here … let’s start back at the beginning when in 1513 Ponce De Leon (a former shipmate of Christopher Columbus) became the first European man to set foot in what is now the mainland of the United States of America. It is said he came in search of an island with mysterious healing water. Whether he found it at the 15-acre plot of coastal property that is now home to the Fountain of Youth Archeological Park is up for debate, but the grounds today is a must-see attraction complete with a museum packed with authentic artifacts (including one of only two existing Jolly Rancher flags), a real working cannon (which they set off to our son’s delight at scheduled intervals) and of course the signature “fountain” from which you can sip a free sample of natural spring water that has been flowing here continuously since the native Timucuan Indians called this place home - thousands of years before the arrival of the Spaniards.

Starting at the Old City Gates and stretching for several picturesque blocks, St. George Street is the heart of St. Augustine’s Old Town (pedestrian-only except for some street crossings) lined with a series of old or re-created buildings in Spanish Colonial architectural style currently occupied by restaurants, boutiques, art galleries, specialty shops, souvenir stores and attractions including the evocative Colonial Spanish Quarter whe-re visitors can take an immersive journey through centuries of St. Augustine’s rich history, including its era as a 17th-Century Spanish fortified town. Our kids loved climbing the 35-foot watchtower and watching a military gunsmith repair all of the garrison’s weapons.

St. Augustine is also home to the Oldest Wooden School House, which dates back to sometime around 1716, was built from bald cypress and red cedar using wooden pins and iron spikes. Visitors can take a self-guided tour of classroom on the first floor (the second floor where the schoolmaster and his family would have lived is inaccessible to the public) or learn more about daily life at the schoolhouse via a robotic teacher and student.

The city’s original sightseeing tour, Ripley’s Red Train Tour (an 80 - 90, fully narrated tour that runs continuously from as early as 8:30 a.m. until 5 p.m.) allowed us to step off and re-board the open-air sightseeing train at our leisure - the train continually loops 7 miles and stops at dozens of historic sites. And a fun bonus is that Red Train riders can play Florida’s oldest mini-golf course (located at the City Marina) for only $1. The St. Augustine Municipal Marina is home to various sightseeing boat tours, including a narrated tour on the Scenic Cruise on the “Victory III” for a different perspective of this coastal city taken from its tranquil waters.

Relive the Golden Age of Piracy at the St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum where visitors are transported to the time of plundering pirates and swashbuckling adventures. This museum is home to the world’s largest collection of authentic pirate artifacts; fun, interactive exhibits like the spine-tingling Disney Imagineer-designed Below Deck sound experience of Blackbeard’s last battle; and one of only two existing 17th century Jolly Rogers.


Destination dining

untitled 8970An artsy and inspired farm-to-table establishment, The Floridian (39 Cordova St.) features innovative Southern fare for “omnivores, herbivores and locavores” crafted from regionally-inspired and locally-sourced cuisine. Dishes here are a “synthesis of down-home Southern Comfort Foods and lighter, healthier, vibrant and creative dishes.” The Cornbread Stack is worth a special mention and arrives as a cheddar and veggie stuffed cornbread topped with a choice of blackened fish or tofu and served with sweet pickled veggies and chili-cumin aioli. Another popular pick was the Dixie Burger with all the fixings (options include pepper jack cheese, sautéed onions and roasted peppers).

Our family also thoroughly enjoyed the eclectic European and Asian fusion fare at the Gypsy Cab Company (828 Anastasia Blvd.) on nearby Anastasia Island just over the landmark Bridge of Lions. According to owner Pat Morrissey, the daily menu (or “cab fare”) is prepared by a creative culinary team who “borrow” from Italian, German, Cajun, Mediterranean, classical European, Asian, Southern and other “Floribbean” cuisines. Popular with the locals, this longstanding eatery serves up something for every palate - on the evening we visited, menu items included a flavorful “Gypsy Chicken,” braised lamb shank, a delicious blackened Mahi Mahi with Crab Florentine, Texas beef brisket and Eggplant Parmagiana.

Where to Stay

Ideally situated on Matanzas Bay within easy walking distance to bayfront restaurants, attractions and historic downtown, the Bayfront Marin House (bayfrontmarinhouse.com) is a luxury bed and breakfast inn offering its guests spectacular views of the water, full Southern breakfasts each morning (with entrees such as blueberry waffles, banana pancakes and bacon stratas) daily happy hour with homemade appetizers, sangria, wine and beer in the early evening, complimentary use of beach chairs and umbrellas and loaner bikes available for day trips. Originally built in the 1790s, the stately two-story home features wraparound porches, outdoor seating, a small gazebo and 15 individually styled rooms with private entrances - each named after a historical figure or location in town. Charming antique furnishings mix with modern amenities (free WiFi, smartphone docking station and flatscreen TVs).

But I have to say that the best part of our stay was the unparalleled level of personal service we enjoyed - owner Sandy couldn’t have been more accommodating in coordinating our reservation and her staff warm, friendly and highly attentive. Although every room was occupied, we felt as though we were the only guests on property.

In the 1960’s, a man named Roger W. Sperry developed a theory: that the human brain goes about thinking in two very different ways. Having worked in the field of psychobiology for years, he’d noticed that one side of the brain saw the big picture - processing information in an intuitive and simultaneous fashion. The other, putting sequential pieces together like a puzzle, parts making a whole. We all use both sides of the brain - complementing logic with creativity. But ask any dancer, writer, sculptor, or painter and they’ll tell you they’re “right brained.”

Controlling three-dimensional spatial reasoning, creativity, and artistic ability, right brain dominance certainly has given us some of the world’s greatest art forms. And South Coast Conservatory is finding more and more ways to celebrate it.

Director + CEO Jena Minnick-BullDirector + CEO Jena Minnick-BullFounded in 1992, the Conservatory is heading into its 25th year of operation. Specializing in individual and group dance in classical, contemporary and commercial, they provide programs for kids from age 2-18. Programs to help children grow, programs that train “the heart and soul of every dancer,” says Director + CEO Jena Minnick-Bull.

Formerly known as Mission Viejo Dance, South Coast Conservatory now has locations in San Clemente and Laguna Niguel. Offering eight separate programs, from Pre-Academy to Competitive Dance Teams, South Coast continues to expand into new communities.

“We start kids in our ‘Pre-Academy’ program to introduce them to a range of dance styles, such as ballet, tap, jazz, tumbling, hip hop, and song and dance,” says Jena. “Once they grow into the ‘Academy’ program, they receive a more in depth training, also beginning to learn contemporary, break dancing, pilates, lyrical, acting, and pointe.” With one-fifth of South Coast’s kids joining the competitive level of dance, their program structure is set perfectly to grow with them: accelerated training with elite coaches in either its “Ballet Conservatory” division, or the “Elite Academy” - prepping kids for the commercial world of dance. It isn’t just for kids either: Christina Portillo has been attending the Conservancy for over ten years as an adult, “engaging in various dance styles, performing with the Ballet Conservatory, and even competing with the adult hip hop team: Moms Crew.”

Linking up the left and right brains is an automatic function of the body - synthesizing even to the smallest degree what we are seeing out of our left and right eyes, and putting the picture together as a whole. Because each student learns differently, South Coast has set up a compassionate and individualized teaching philosophy. “We take the time to understand and aid the goals of our students.”

And dance, really, isn’t just about processing information intuitively, as most might think. The analysis of sequential movements, for example: choreography. A projected kinetic trajectory on an angled plane: leaping. Symmetry, patterning, geometry - group theory and permutations. Left brain and right brain working together to create beauty, community, and create a passion for learning that will persist for years beyond any single dance class.

Parents learn about passion alongside their children too. Adriana Escobar notes that she loves South Coast Conservatory because it introduced her daughter to such a passion: musical theater. “[The Conservatory] provided her with the place and people she needed to take a chance to dance, sing, and then to act.

Today, it’s her passion and she is comfortable on any stage.”

Roger Sperry went on to be awarded the Nobel Prize in 1981 for his work in psychobiology - and certainly, while South Coast is preparing kids for a lifetime of creative, right-brained pursuits, Jena notes that “all of our graduates go on to pursue many diverse degrees and careers using the lifelong skills our school provided them.”

The South Coast Conservatory studio is located at 27652 Camino Capistrano in Laguna Niguel (949) 367-0099 and its San Clemente studio is located at 400-C Camino De Estrella (949) 682-7977. For more information, visit scconservatory.com

You wouldn’t expect to find an urban chic lifestyle hotel amidst the towering office complexes in the heart of Orange County’s business district. Even when the Hotel Irvine (hotelirvine.com) was recently recommended as an ideal weekend “stay-cation” option, I envisioned a property geared more toward the needs of business travelers. While it certainly does a brisk business with travelers looking for a hotel experience that is the antithesis of cookie-cutter corporate, the Hotel Irvine attracts a surprisingly diverse demographic: business travelers to be sure, but also area professionals who frequent the hotel’s hip bar and expansive lounge, local residents who enjoy the “twists on classic cuisine” offered on the menu at its signature restaurant EATS Kitchen & Bar and families with children of all ages.

The sprawling lobby lounge is characterized by vibrant colors, sleek furnishings and a nine-panel TV used to view multiple sporting events, combined to make presentations or view a movie (as expansive as the space is, a testament to its popularity was the standing-room only crowd both nights the weekend we stayed with all available seating in the lounge and common areas occupied by an eclectic cross-section of SoCal culture from casually dressed dot.com millennials and hip young fashionistas to the more conservatively attired corporate professionals) and hotel guests.

Although we can appreciate the appeal of the Hotel Irvine’s hip, high-energy scene, my husband, Tim, and I fall firmly in the latter two categories.

With two kids under 10, “nightlife” takes on an entirely different meaning these days. We had heard about the hotel’s summer “Movie Night in the Backyard” series and booked a stay with the intention of taking the kids to watch a family-friendly film on the large outdoor movie screen. What we discovered was that in addition to this fun event, the Hotel Irvine’s “backyard” boasts a 6,000-square-foot pavilion dedicated to hosting live music, movie nights and food and wine festivals that will be open to the public throughout the year.

While the kids camped out on a blanket to watch the movie, their parents enjoyed a glass of wine and appetizers at a table nearby. After the film, the kids played table tennis and Tim challenged our son to a game of chess on a “board” spread out on the lawn with game pieces that were easily two feet tall.

The hotel’s literature claims a goal to lure guests who are interested in a “unique, customized experience” and the Hotel Irvine more than delivers. The lobby, restaurants, bar embraces a hipster vibe and although there are 536 guest rooms, each accommodation boasts a “boutique” look and feel. Our room was a super comfortable space defined by a plush, pillow top bed, down duvets and soft linens, a 42” flat screen, Bluetooth speakers and a sweeping OC view.

At this lifestyle hotel, they mean business with a splash of pleasure. “You know those meeting-filled days that turn in to lounging at the pool, toes dipped in the water and sunshine lifting your spirit? That’s our every day at Hotel Irvine. We’re redefining the way you travel with complimentary Wi-Fi, family friendly activities and fresh ways to indulge,” including a 24-hour marketplace with a Starbucks stand and ready-made food (including sushi and salads) that can be delivered to your room. The Club 12 Lounge is an exclusive 12th floor lounge where can relax with residential-style seating and flat-screen TVs, unwind on the terrace as you take in dramatic OC views and enjoy a bevy of personalized amenities including breakfast (served from 6 am - 10 am), evening wine, beer and bites (from 5 pm - 8 pm), premium WiFi for quicker downloads and an Apple computer station with printer to work in style.

Eating In

Featuring expansive indoor and outdoor spaces, cozy booths and an alfresco patio with fire pit, EATS Kitchen & Bar draws inspiration from all over the world. Chef Jason combines international flavors with local, farm-fresh ingredients to create a menu that is decidedly original and delicious. The signature EATS burger was worth writing home about - and that’s really saying something since my husband is quite the connoisseur (his burger arrived on a brioche bun with bacon, aged-white cheddar, herb aioli and pear jam - wonderful flavors you might not think to pair (pun intended). My steak salad was a equally flavorful, inventive blend of organic greens, chimichurri steak, roasted cherry tomatoes, shaved radish, ciabatta croutons and feta cheese with a sun-dried tomato and basil vinaigrette.

Kids (12 and under) eat free every night during dinner time and our kiddos loved digging into some of Chef Jason’s favorite childhood dishes including chicken strips and fries and penne pasta with marinara sauce and parmesan cheese.

Hotel Irvine is located at 17900 Jamboree Road in Irvine. For reservations or more information, call (888) 230-4452 or visit hotelirvine.com

Since my husband and I started our family’s admittedly ambitious endeavor to visit all 50 states as a family by the time our son (now aged 9) graduates from high school, we have captured vacation photos posing by major attractions across cities in 15 states. This summer, we crossed Georgia off the list by spending 36 hours in Atlanta, which bears the distinction of being as some call it - a small town trapped in a big city or perhaps more accurately, a collection of small towns.

An attractive Southern belle lined with blooming dogwoods and fragrant azaleas, Atlanta was surprisingly far more lush with greenery than we envisioned. What was not unexpected were the abundance of historic sites, commercial enterprises, burgeoning art scene and of course, Southern hospitality.

It’s a city that has been known by many names over the years (it was once called Terminus and Marthasville), but resurgence and renewal are no stranger to this thriving metropolis that was burned to the ground during the Civil War only to rise from the ashes like a “phoenix” (the mythological bird that is cyclically regenerated or reborn) that now serves as the city’s motto.

In more recent memory, Atlanta is the birth city of Martin Luther King, Jr. and holds its place of importance during the Civil Rights Movement and its Centennial Olympic Park was the site of the 1996 Summer Games. And of course, the city is home to countless corporations including Coca Cola and Turner Broadcasting.

Since we were only here for 36 hours, we wanted to make the most of our stay by visiting the “must-see” sites on every tourist’s list and stopping by some of the perhaps lesser-known areas of this historic city. So we crafted our checklist to include Centennial Olympic Park, the World of Coca Cola and Skyview Atlanta (the ferris wheel that towers nearly 20 stories above Centennial Park). We took two tours - first on a fun trolley ride full of other tourists on Day One to gain a great overview and lay of the land and then a private excursion via an open-air electric vehicle that provided a more in-depth narrative and personal insights from a 30+ year resident’s perspective.

Accommodation of distinction

The Ritz-Carlton Buckhead, located in the upscale Atlanta suburb of the same name, showcases 517 rooms and suites and proved to be a wonderful “home base” for our two night, three-day stay. Our accommodation was an exceedingly comfortable, bright, elegant space with bay windows, a huge bathroom with rainforest shower heads, 37-inch flat-screen TVs, iPod docks and super plush linens - and an added benefit is its location near the MARTA transit stop if you want to leave your vehicle behind and bypass parking issues in town.

Ritz-Carlton BuckheadRitz-Carlton BuckheadUpscale amenities include 24-hour room service, beautifully soothing spa, big indoor four-lane lap pool, a opulent lobby and dining room with oak finishes, contemporary lobby bar, high-end cafe and regal dining room. The Café is a five-star restaurant featuring American cuisine splashed with the flavors and colors of coastal Italy, France and Spain. a wine cellar brims with unparalleled premium selections and a menu with dishes sourced from the freshest local Georgia ingredients. The appetizer of sliced meats (including bresoala, prosciutto, mortadella and country sausage) and cheeses (thomasville tome and drunken goat) was a delicious start for mom and dad while the kids enjoyed the chicken quesadilla made with grilled chicken, peppers, onions, cheese, avocado cream and fire-roasted salsa. The classic turkey sub on multigrain bread was a hit as was the organic Scottish salmon accompanied by crispy quinoa, cauliflower, spinah and golden raisins.

RCBUKHD 00369The Lobby Lounge features live entertainment Thursday through Saturday evenings - artists include singer and trumpet player Joe Gransden; innovative jazz and pop player Nick Longo and his cutting-edge quartet; singer, songwriter, pianist and harmonica player James Patrick Morgan and jazz/pop ensembles.

Touring the city

We started our excursion into the capital city in Atlanta’s Midtown, the second largest business district in the city known as the “heart of the arts,” with an abundance of outdoor recreation opportunities, shopping, art galleries and award-winning musical and theatrical performances. Atlanta’s fabulous Fox Theatre is a restored movie palace turned cultural jewel that is the venue for a variety of wonderful live entertainment ranging from dance and Opera to Broadway shows and rock concerts. The Moorish lobby and ballrooms harken back to a bygone era of the opulent 1920s and a highlight of this Atlanta icon is the “Mighty Mo,” a 4,000-pipe organ built at a cost of $42,000 in 1929 that audiences can still hear today before every Broadway performance and the Atlanta Ballet’s “Nutcracker” performance each year. Even if you don’t catch a performance, the Fox Theatre is open for tours.

Another site rich in history is the recently opened National Center for Civil and Human Rights which offers a sweeping, in-depth and moving view of the movement’s darkest moments and greatest achievements. The museum also presents an evolving look at modern human rights issues here at home and around the globe.

MLK- Ebenezer Baptist Church MuralMLK- Ebenezer Baptist Church MuralA few miles away on Auburn Avenue, visitors can tour the stately yellow structure that is the boyhood home of the movement’s greatest leader, Martin Luther King Jr. Daily entry is free, but get there early as it’s first-come, first-served and tickets are often snapped up early in the day. Run by the National Park Service, entrance is also complimentary into the Martin Luther King Jr. Historic Site which offers a uniquely personal account of a very public life and includes the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church (where King was baptized and where he and his father both served as pastors) and the King Center - the final resting place of King and his wife, Coretta Scott King.

Peachtree Trolley TourPeachtree Trolley TourThe Peachtree Trolley Tour (peachtreetrolley.com) - a 90-minute fully narrated tour provided our family with a wonderful overview of the must-see stops in the city. We boarded the Phoenix (a fully-enclosed, climate controlled trolley car) and settled in for a comfortable and informative ride, rolling by the aforementioned attractions and many others, including the Georgia Aquarium, the World of Coca-Cola, CNN, Turner Field, the golden domed Georgia State Capital, Oakland Cemetery (Atlanta’s oldest) and Underground Atlanta. Originating near Centennial Olympic Park, our guide shared a bit of history, stories and legends surrounding these iconic landmarks.

World of Coca-ColaWorld of Coca-ColaAfter hearing our tour guide’s account of the The World of Coca-Cola (worldofcoca-cola.com) experience, we walked over (a mere block away from where you board and disembark) to spend the better part of the afternoon exploring the 92,000-square-foot dynamic, multi-media museum that resides on a 22-acre plot in downtown Atlanta (Coca-Cola donated nine acres for the construction of the Georgia Aquarium and another 2.5 acres to the city for the civil-and-human rights museum and where you can experience “the real stories behind the world’s most famous beverage brand.”

The lobby showcases a Coca-Cola folk art bottle display and several of the bottle sculptures that were created for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games (the company invited artists from around the world to express their country’s unique culture and artistic traditional by decorating their own bottle sculpture). The Loft is home to a mix of nearly 200 historical and international artifacts that represent more than 125 years of Coca-Cola memories, including a Coca-Cola Syrup urn circa 1886 and Coca-Cola beach pants popularized in the 1970s.

We watched a six-minute film celebrating life’s “Moments of Happiness” in the Coca-Cola Theater and speaking for the moms in the room at least, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house as we witnessed several milestone moments - big and small, including a mother’s response to her son’s video message from where he was stationed in Afghanistan and his homecoming surprise for his parents. The kids had a ball at all the interactive exhibits, posing with the Coca-Cola polar bear mascot and visiting The Vault, where the secret formula is stored and the 4-D sensory movie experience complete with moving seats and other special effects. But the highlight of the tour of the Coca-Cola Tasting Room with features six “freestyle machines” with over 100 different beverage choices - both domestic and international - to sample to your heart’s content (our son’s favorite was a mint flavor offered in Africa, while our daughter preferred a fruity variety popular in Asia).

Day Two we decided to start the morning with the ATL-Cruzers Electric Car and Segway Tours (atlcruzers.com) for what proved to be a highly entertaining and informative private guided experience from a longtime local’s perspective. Our guide, Mira (rhymes with “mirror,” is worth being mentioned - and requested - by name. She gave our family a truly animated, enthusiastic, knowledgable experience of her home city seen through the eyes of a local. She toured us past many of the now-familiar landmarks and iconic Atlanta tourist stops, sharing an in-depth history and little-known facts about each locale. But we have to say the highlight of this experience was that the route showcased many other “off-the-beaten” path places and residential neighborhoods that we otherwise wouldn’t have discovered on our own - including the lovely Inman Park (where many of the homes are reminiscent of the antebellum era and very “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”) which hosts an annual festival the last weekend in April that is widely regarded among the the city’s most spirited and eclectic events.

Full disclosure: I am a mom. It’s a fact that may belie my bias when I tell you that sometimes a girl simply needs a break. Children, husbands, work, the unending demands of every single day… it catches up with you. Even the oft-offered advice, “You must make time for yourself!” can feel like just another pressure.

The anecdote to the mayhem? A few relaxing days away in wine country, visiting family and friends. With our two young children in tow, my husband and I headed to Napa and neighboring Yountville, where we whiled away the days wining, dining, playing tourist and spending quality family time.

Visitors travel here from all over the globe to experience picturesque scenery and wine, paired with fine dining, entertainment and adventuring. For Orange County families, it’s a little getaway with a lot to offer: Far away enough to be really away and close enough to keep your separation-from-responsibilities anxiety in check.

For the ideal family vacation that leaves you refreshed and enriched, pack a little bit of everything into your visit.

Napa Valley Wine Train

Napa is known for its panoramic vistas, fine dining and history. So what better way to experience the views and vintages, enjoy a gourmet meal and step back in time to the days when rails ruled as the preferred mode of travel than to step aboard the Napa Valley Wine Train (www.winetrain.com)?

The Napa Valley railway dates back to the late 19th century and eventually became part of the Southern Pacific Railroad (the original passenger service was discontinued in 1929). Sixty years later, when Southern Pacific petitioned to abandon the line, a group of local investors formed the Napa Valley Railroad (NVRR) and purchased the right of way. Since that time, the NVRR has evolved into one of the most popular excursion trains in the country. The Wine Train’s gourmet lunch and dinner trains began service in 1989 and the line, which now includes 36 miles of track, rolls by 26 different wineries at about 10 miles an hour (the trip, which lasted just shy of three, started and ended at the downtown Napa station).

Three onboard kitchens allow Napa Valley Wine Train chefs to create culinary works of art from scratch using “fresh seasonal ingredients as well as humanely raised, hormone-free meats and line-caught fish” in creating gourmet meals for lunch and dinner.

Meals are served at tables laid out in the opulent dining cars with white linen, beautiful china and silverware. The meal starts with a selection of artisan cheeses and finely cut meats, followed by a choice of grilled and roasted beef tenderloin or the Chef’s fresh selection of seafood.

And now with the addition of a 36-seat Pullman railcar, for the first time in its 27-year history, the iconic Napa Valley Wine Train will make several stops along the route, allowing guests to spend time tasting and touring four wineries. If you’re contemplating this new indulgent "Quattro Vino tour,” plan to carve off six leisurely hours with stops at the Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville, and the V. Sattui, Merryvale and Charles Krug wineries in St. Helena (the Quattro Vino tour runs daily on separate tracks from the regular three-hour tour train tour).

Napa Vineyard House

We really lucked out in discovering a wonderful accommodation within easy driving distance to downtown Napa, tasting rooms and wineries. Because we have family friends who live in the area, we’ve been blessed to be able to visit the region fairly frequently, generally staying with our friends or in one of the nearby hotel properties.

The charming two-bedroom cottage at the Napa Vineyard House (www.napavineyardhouse.com) proved to be a tranquil retreat convenient to everything and yet just far enough away from the bustle of downtown to make you feel like you were really “getting away from it all.” On their web site, owners Kevin Hall and his wife claim that from the moment you arrive to the moment you leave “we’ll do our best to make you feel at home” and our family can attest that they certainly deliver on this promise.

Conveniently located to great wineries, restaurants and shopping and with wonderful vineyard views to the north and south ensures that you know that you are in the Napa Valley wine country. The cottage features two separate bedrooms, each with its own bathroom on either side of a common area complete with a kitchenette, dining table and chairs and lounge area. As lovely as the accommodation is, it’s the thoughtful touches that really made our stay memorable - from the fragrant L’Occitane bath products and bottle of wine and beverages chilling in the fridge to the daily morning delivery of breakfast on our doorstep (delicious pastries, fresh seasonal fruit and juice from the renowned Bouchon Bakery - where you’ll find a line out the door of locals and tourists alike no matter what time you stop by).

If you don’t need the extra space, the property also offers a number of smaller, signature suites - all outfitted with the same luxurious Restoration Hardware furniture and linens, automated shade system, heated tile bathroom floors, complimentary wireless Internet, Bouchon Bakery breakfast and private vineyard views.

It’s easy to imagine a wedding taking place on the perfectly manicured lush green lawn. For our part, we chose to take full advantage of an adjacent space and unwind with a glass of wine in front of a crackling outdoor fireplace and step into the farmhouse-style lounge for a family board game.

Nearby Yountville ranks among the country’s most scenic communities. The postcard-perfect landscape surrounding this wine country town is reminiscent of the rolling French countryside while its downtown (on either side of its two-lane main drag - Washington Street) is defined by a collection of quaint structures built of brick, stone and wood adorned with ivy. These buildings are home to a concentration of one-of-a-kind boutiques, art galleries, wine tasting rooms, informal eateries and gourmet restaurants.

Arguably the epicenter of Yountville shopping, V Marketplace features a number of specialty shops - highlighted stops include Scents of Napa (skin and beauty products inspired by the Napa Valley scents of lavender, French oak barrels, grape skins and rain water), Tay & Grace (‘wine country casual’ fashions) and Knickers & Pearls (a pink and frilly store stocked with beautiful lingerie and bridal accessories).

For our Yountville portion of our Napa Valley getaway, we chose the Mediterranean-inspired North Block Hotel (northblockhotel.com) Situated around a social courtyard, this boutique property features 20 sophisticated, comfortably chic guest rooms - all with either a patio or balcony, oversized bathroom with heated floors, a large soaking tub and separate rain shower, espresso machine, flat-screen TVs, music system and a mini fridge.

We loved the Superior King guest room, located on the hotel’s second floor, for its abundant natural light, plantation shutters, warming gas fireplace, balcony above the social courtyard and its proximity to the gorgeous pool area where the kids spent the better part of an afternoon while their parents enjoyed - you guessed it, a glass of fine wine - from the shaded vantage point of the cushioned lounge chairs.

The hotel is home to Redd Wood, a superbly stylish Italian-inspired eatery by renowned Chef Richard Reddington which “brings a new sensibility to this laid-back wine country destination” with a voguish vibe, osteria-styled restaurant menu and locally-favored wine list.

Speaking of wine … one of the most frequently visited landmarks in the valley is located within easy walking distance from downtown Yountville: on a knoll shaded by ancient oak trees on one of Yountville’s premier pieces of real estate. Visitors to Domaine Chandon (chandon.com) can stroll the stunningly beautiful grounds across a bridge over ponds to a patio fronting the tasting room of the first winery to be established in the United States by a French wine and spirits producer, Moët Hennessy. Today, as America’s leading sparkling wine producer, Domaine Chandon applies meìthode traditionnelle techniques to showcase the ripe fruit and vibrant character of California. Over the course of its 43+ year history in Napa Valley, the winery expanded its portfolio to include still wines, including Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Our tour provided a casual, informative education on the winery’s history, its winemaking process and grape-growing regions followed by a tasting that offered further insight into the world of sparkling wines and the grapes used to make them (tastings are offered daily from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the Tasting Room or on the terrace).

Destination Dining

Following our tour, we strolled back through town to dine at Bistro Jeanty (bistrojeanty.com) - the genteel iconic Michelin-star restaurant - and only French owned and operated dining establishment in Napa Valley - serving traditional French countryside dishes including Mussels au vin rouge, Cassoulet (baked beans, duck confit, toulouse sausage and apple smoked bacon), the famed rich and tasty tomato soup in golden brown puff pastry and coq au vin (chicken, mushrooms, apple smoked bacon and red wine stew). Between the four of us, every category was covered: seafood aficionado and meat lovers alike. The sole meuniere was perfectly prepared - Petrale sole fillet well cooked, moist throughout with lemon caper butter sauce atop a bed of mashed potatoes. My husband thoroughly enjoyed his Fliet au Poivre (Black Angus tournedos with a black pepper crust, haricots verts and a creamy mushroom sauce). The atmosphere was quaint and charming, the dishes delicious, the service attentive - all in all, an ideal ending to our culinary sojourn that day.

The next night, we opted an entirely different and equally enjoyable dining experience: this time at Lucy Bar and Restaurant at Bardessono (bardesonno.com) where the menu, derived from the seasonal offerings in and around Napa Valley, is characterized by fresh, innovative, garden-inspired cuisine, artisanal cocktails and of course, fine wine. Every dish is truly “field-to-fork” fare - all the cuisine starts in Lucy’s Garden, located onsite at Bardessono (an atmospheric hotel and spa with a sustainable, modern-theme that translates through to its signature eatery) only steps from the restaurant kitchen and proteins are sourced from local farmers and purveyors, as well as a majority of seasonal seafood from the bay area.

By focusing the menu on what is in the garden or grown at local farms and picked at peak ripeness allows the culinary team to create the most flavorful of dishes. We started with “shared plates” of baby beet salad (flavored with fried goat cheese, wild arugula mousse and gargen sprouts) and the rich, melt-in-your-mouth hand-rolled gnocchi with kale pesto and tartufata.

Two standout dishes among a menu of standout cuisine was the Diver Sea Scallops paired with English pea puree, pancetta, crispy beets and tarragon butter and the Dry Aged Striploin which was cooked to perfection and flavorfully enhanced by foraged mushrooms, truffled “rosti,” duck liver and smoked beef belly bordelaise.

According to its web site, Bardesonno is “built upon the possibility of a meaningful exchange between the traveler and host.” Every diner in our party would wholeheartedly agree that it was a spot on assessment of our evening at Lucy Bar and Restaurant, due in large part to our server, Frankie, who deserves to be mentioned by name. Clearly a seasoned professional, she more than delivered with exemplary service that was amiable, attentive, knowledgable and unobtrusive.

Napa Valley Art Museum

Just across the St. Helena Highway and again, an easy stroll from downtown Yountville is the Napa Valley Museum (napavalleymuseum.org), housed on the grounds of the California Veteran’s Home. A great way to gain an understanding of the region’s storied past is to view its permanent art and artifacts - from the

1950s Napa City Limits sign (population then: 13,155. Now: 77,000+) and photos of the pioneers of wine, the museum chronicles the history of Napa Valley, its people and geology, along with the wine industry that put the region on the map.

The Museum’s Main Gallery showcases a changing array of exhibitions featuring regional, national and local artists as well as treasures from local private collections. The newly opened current exhibit, scheduled to remain at the museum for the next six months, is entitled “Down the Rabbit Hole: Innovated Video

Games” where visitors can explore the world of independent video games with an interactive experience of 10 fully playable gaming stations featuring both well known and fringe creators.

If you don’t feel like walking, you can always hop aboard the free Yountville Trolley that runs from downtown to the museum and back every half an hour.