Jody Robinson

Jody Robinson

When I picture a rest stop, I imagine 18-wheel trucks, a grimy bathroom, and the last of a bag of road-trip snacks. Not the rolling hills of Paso Robles. Green like Ireland in the spring, and tawny golden in the summer months, the pass of the oaks, as it was named by natives who settled the area before the Spanish ever set foot upon the Camino Real, offered rest for travelers of the historic trail. Franciscan priests from the neighboring mission in San Miguel were responsible for the first mineral baths in the area, and so it became a lush respite on a dusty trail.

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Located on the Salinas River north of San Luis Obispo, Paso Robles hosts the California Mid-State Fair, and is known widely for its ranches, vineyards, and orchards. Today, it produces some of the finest wines and olive oils in the state and is home to more than 200 wineries and fine restaurants making it an exciting destination for any oenophile. Just over three hours from Los Angeles, and three more to San Francisco, there’s very little reason to stay away. From hop-on-hop-off wine tasting tours to Hearst Castle to the Studios on the Park gift shops and more. Beautiful city parks (and waterparks!) await if you’re visiting with the whole family. If it’s a quiet weekend away that you’re looking for, search no further than the Allegretto Vineyard Resort (

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A drone is the only way to capture the full scope of this pristine gem, tucked into the heart of wine country on 20 sprawling acres of vineyards and olive and fruit orchards on Paso Robles’ idyllic east side. From the ground, walk through a peaceful sanctuary inspired by Mediterranean architecture and the Italian “dolce vita.” Drawing from wine country’s original heritage in the rolling splendor of Tuscany and the south of France, the resort feels like a sweet plunge into refreshing waters. Lovely gardens, a gorgeous Tuscan-style courtyard, beautifully appointed rooms, relaxing cabanas at sparkling outdoor pools, a French-inspired Abbey and labyrinth sound garden are among the many amenities designed to give each guest a luxury experience they’ll never forget.

Relax in the Spa as you rejuvenate body and mind, take a walk around the vineyard and celebrate in the event spaces; including but not limited to the Veneto Ballroom. If you’re a foodie, walk through the organic gardens with Chef Justin, or simply indulge at Cello Ristorante and Bar. The local bounty lands fresh upon your table in a celebration of every farmer, rancher, chef, and server that makes each dish possible. Combining both domestic and international flavors, Chef Picard marries only the freshest ingredients with artisan cookery. Hop on a tandem bike and ride off into the sunset: at a rest stop you’re not likely going to want to leave behind.

All Roads Lead

Sip, savor, celebrate DAOU Vineyards

My husband and I initially discovered DAOU wine when a friend brought over a bottle for a gathering at our home several months ago. Over the years, this friend has introduced us to several pretty spectacular varietals and DAOU’s 2016 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon was no exception. So when we realized that DAOU Vineyards and Winery ( was located in Paso Robles, we were excited to indulge in its offerings firsthand.

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Standing alone at an elevation of 2,200 feet in the heart of the breathtaking Adelaide District (10 minutes from downtown), DAOU’s Wine Tasting experience more than delivered. The reserve and estate-tier vintages (our favorite was the 2017 DAOU Unbound, which the web site describes as “Petite SIrah, Tannat and Tempranillo Blend shows an inky, violet, aubergine color with a warm, rich nose of blueberry pie, boysenberry jam and crushed mulberries. Cedar shavings with graphite and dried flowers are accentuated by vanilla creme highlights and a subtle hint of mint.” As a novice aficionado, I just know it was lovely and further enhanced by the beautiful mountain overlook terrace, cozy fireside, European-inspired furnishings and impeccable grounds with sweeping panoramic vineyard views.

We tend to be a bit spoiled when it comes to weather in California, especially the southern residents. Year-round, it typically doesn’t drop below 50, hovering even in December in the high 60’s or low 70’s.

Which means we can do more outside when we aren’t stuck in the snow. Which means we’re more fun. Objectively. Harrah’s has just taken it one step further. Already the home of a world-class resort and casino, the #1 spot to indulge is Funner than ever. Officially.

California’s most exciting new city, Funner (, is on the map and ready to greet you with its award winning selection of restaurants, the first swim-up bar in SoCal, and even a 400-foot lazy river. Funner even has a mayor: Hollywood’s recently inaugurated Rob Riggle. Now, fun literally is a destination, and it isn’t that far off. Tucked between San Diego and Los Angeles, you can indulge onsite or head out for adventure. Only 4 miles from Hill Top Winery and just down the road from La Jolla Zip Zoom, you can get from pampered to Palomar Mountain in a jiffy.

Lazy river water fallThere’s only one hotel in this quirky concept destination and it’s a doozy. Harrah’s Resort SoCal boasts 1,087 luxury rooms, 22 wellness rooms and suites, eight restaurants, a trio of pools (and 23 poolside cabanas), eight hot tubs, the aforementioned 400-foot lazy river, fully equipped fitness center AND 1,700 slot machines and 60 table games. Seriously, this resort means it when it advertises that it "isn’t your ordinary escape” whether its guests prefer to pull up a lounge chair, a bar stool or an inner tube - there’s literally something for everyone.

What’s your idea of a poolside paradise? I think it just might look like a trifecta of crystal clear pools, lazy river that “plays on repeat,” a range of sunning options and SoCal’s first swim-up bar - replete with live entertainment poolside nightly Thursdays - Sundays.

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A foodie? Grab-and-go delicacies or the delightful elegance of linen tablecloths - with bountiful options designed to please event the pickiest eaters. For the former - Earl of Sandwich, Robeks Fresh Juices & Smoothies, Smash Burger and Starbucks - and for the latter Fiore Steak + Seafood (winner of Wine Spectator’s “Award of Excellence” 10 years running) and everything in between. KJ Chinese Restaurant, ‘ritas cantina brings Baja to you “one bite at a time,” Cafe serves up casual fare and Buffet is spelled like it sounds: a world tour for your taste buds.

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The bar scene is not to be trifled with - Spiked’s mixologists blend classic recipes with a signature twist and Corked offer a craft beer list ensured to impress any hop head. Did I mention live entertainment? Aside from poolside pursuits, Harrah’s Resort SoCal showcases a monthly event calendar packed with comedy and concerts that will surely pack the house. Upcoming performances include The Wallflowers, Experience Hendrix, Chicago, Don’t Look Back (Boston Tribute) and the Eddie B: I’m Already Professionally Developed Tour.

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Add to all this the newly renovated Spa at Harrah’s, on-site barber shop, and SR76 Beerworks, home of the original Native American owned brewery that offers a little history with every taste. Named after the original trail the tribe migrated on, the beers cultivated within showcase the history and agriculture of the region. What could be funner? Come see for yourself.

Zenfully Suite

Numbers 11 and 17 on the Periodic Table of Elements are pretty important to Amy Boriack. They have been for a long time now. Not separately, of course. Together. Representing a 1:1 ratio of sodium and chloride ions, sodium chloride is Amy’s bread and butter. Or, more approximately: her table salt.

Introduced to the concept of halotherapy by a friend, Amy and her daughter sought out the treatment a few years back to help kick a lingering cold. “Sure enough, a couple of sessions sent it down the road, and since then with regular use, we’ve managed to avoid many bugs altogether.” Amy was sold. Avoiding the more unnatural over-the-counter remedies and finding the therapy interesting was all it took. In business now for a few months, Amy opened the doors to Coastal Salt with high hopes of minimizing her client’s stress, opening up their airways, and clearing out bacteria and inflammation from their skin.

“Salt has incredible healing properties”, says Amy. “It brings moisture to your top dermal layer, stimulates microcirculation, impacts oxygen levels, and boosts cellular activity.” It sounds too good to be true, honestly. Breathing salt-infused air deeply into the lungs enhances cellular activity in the smallest tubules in your respiratory system, boosting oxygen levels and settling gently on your lips and skin. Impossible to see or smell, your time in the cabin is free of anxiety, “and you’re welcome to read, meditate, or simply relax.”

“The salt is heated and ground by a halogenerator,” says Amy. “The microparticulate is absorbed or respirated and opens the airways, loosens any latent mucus, removes any airborne pathogens, like pollen, and preps the body for more rapid healing. What was I the most surprised by? Breathing deeply with “The salt on my skin helped me clear up my acne.”

Pharmaceutical grade salt - not Himalayan (more for eating than breathing) - seems like an April fool’s joke. But Amy’s grand opening this past spring was no prank, and she’s loved seeing skeptics become believers. “Some of my clients suffer from terrible allergies or asthma, and have found such relief. It’s affordable and convenient, and it’s great for all ages so the whole family can use it together.”

Family is first for Amy, and when she started doing salt therapy with her daughter, it just wasn’t convenient to the location of their home. “As far as I could tell, there weren’t resources for this type of healing in South Orange County.” After more research, she decided it would be an incredible experience bringing halotherapy to the community. Backed by more than 50 years of scientific research, halotherapy originated in Europe. Well documented in clinical trials in St. Petersburg, Russia, and most recently the New England Journal of Medicine, halotherapy has been long hailed as the leading aid in the naturopathic treatment of cystic fibrosis.

In fact, long term salt treatments reduce respiratory edema and pulmonary exacerbations without negative side effects. Coastal Salt is bringing the science out of the salt caves. Hard to find these days: a means to a cure without combining a scary amount of squares on the periodic table. “Halotherapy is a drug-free, natural therapy used to promote better breathing, healthier skin, decreased stress, sounder sleep, improved physical fitness and endurance and overall wellness. All with two of the simplest elements known to mankind: NaCl.”

Amy BoriakAmy BoriakTo connect with Amy directly, call (949) 449-4449 or visit

When I was younger, my Mom loved to read me the book “If You Give A Mouse A Cookie.” The plot essentially revolves around an ever-growing list of to-do’s that had to be accomplished, all set into motion by the simple act of giving a mouse a cookie. This tale came back to me recently when I purchased a new television at Best Buy.

What was a simple shopping trip ended up being an adult’s version of that circular tale. If you give a grownup a television, they’ll have to measure their wall. When they measure the wall, they’ll realize they may actually have room for a bigger television. When they buy the bigger television, they’ll find out they have no idea how to mount it to the wall. When they start mounting it to the wall, they’ll see that the power outlets are all in the wrong places. When they realize the outlets need to be moved, they’ll call an electrician. (This could go on forever.)

Luckily for clients who have been on the receiving end of ReelTime’s patient, intelligent, and personalized service, the rabbit hole of home automation doesn’t have to swallow you entirely. With the help of their independent certified Control4 dealer, it’s easy to update your home without upending your entire life. After all, the true luxury of an integrated entertainment system is really dependent on its ability to deliver seamless entertainment. By placing every control at your fingertips, the team at ReelTime helps homeowners manage everything from how brightly lit your family room is, to your streaming devices - all with a single remote. And best yet? You can control your whole home from the comfort of your couch- even seeing who is at the front door, without ever leaving your seat. Simple, clean, and uncluttered.


And on the home entertainment front … when you started planning for your ultimate home theater set-up and sound system, could you find the right media cabinetry for your particular space – cabinetry that wouldn’t catch on fire from the heat of the equipment, or that would simply look good in the room? Did you understand half of what the televisions, receivers and other devices could do, and did you have anyone to hold your hand to make sure you weren’t overspending for what you wanted?

We’re here to make sure you get the equipment that will give you what you want and the system that will work with that equipment, without leaving you to fend for yourself.

Big box retailers, the professed champions of value, are happy to sell you any home theater and sound equipment you think you might like, and send you off to figure it out at home. That’s what they do. And that’s all they do.

If you want the home theater system that you envision, seek the services of Skip Myers and his team of experienced professionals at ReelTime to take you from start to finish for the home theater or sound system of your dreams.


“Usually there is a part of the job that you find you just can’t do by yourself,” says Skip, who has overseen the design and installation of thousands of home theater and sound systems over the course of 40-plus years in the business. “You get your brand new television home, you’re so excited, then you realize you need to move an outlet or none of the cabinets you can find will fit your space. We’re here to make sure you get the equipment that will give you what you want and the system that will work with that equipment, without leaving you to fend for yourself.”


Skip opened the doors at ReelTime in 1983. Today, the technicians and designers that Skip assigns to clients are all ReelTime employees, knowledgeable in all home theater and sound technologies. First, they work closely with you to determine what you’re looking for. Then they custom design every aspect of the project, from wiring to custom-built cabinets, frames, or built-in wall designs. Finally, licensed, in-house contractors install your entertainment system with care and precision.

There are a couple of things that people may not think about when they embark upon the road to their own home entertainment system.

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“You need to think about your home theater goals,” says Skip. “You don’t have to do everything at once – you can do it bit by bit – but if you know where you’re going, you’ll save money and when it’s all said and done, you’ll have exactly what you want and what you will actually use. We’re here to help you determine your goals.”

Skip is also an advocate for getting what you’ll use, which is part of the design and planning process.

Connect with Skip Myers and ReelTime by calling (949) 240-0555, stop by their beautiful new showroom at 26381 Via De Anza in San Juan Capistrano or visit

Owner Carolyn Franks sells ZOOMARS and takes guinea pig mascot to Hollywood!

Gillie ClothedMAINI don’t know that I’ve ever uttered the phrase “it all started with a guinea pig.” Certainly, this is the first time I have ever personally written the phrase. But I’m more than tickled by the notion that a whirlwind of events which has started the former owner of ZOOMARS iconic San Juan Capistrano petting zoo down the path of adventure was with, you guessed it: a guinea pig. Not just any guinea pig. Gillie Guinea Pig. Carolyn Franks, couldn’t stop smiling before. Now, I’m betting it would take an incredible feat to curb her enthusiasm.

Former owner, you ask? The success of Carolyn’s first book has opened the door to an unimaginable adventure - one that has been 15 years in the making since she first envisioned an innocent, affordable family entertainment opportunity. A petting zoo named ZOOMARS in the historic Los Rios District of San Juan Capistrano resulted, and is the stuff of history now. A “backyard barnyard” from the start, the zoo buildings date back to the 1800’s, and its property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Home to a vast number of creatures and critters alike, the llamas, ponies, goats, sheep, bunnies and of course, guinea pigs will soon be in the caring hands of local developer Dan Almquist whose own children and wife Lindsey are longtime friends and fans of the beloved zoo. And, most importantly, who wish to keep it, enrich it, and bolster its already sterling reputation for years to come.

Almquist will be one of only a handful of owners of the property in two centuries. The land was once part of the Mission, then a Mexican ranch owned by the Rios family, then the Nieblas family (both relatives of the native inhabitants, the Acjachemen), then granted to Delfina Olivares, the town matriarch. In 1980, Gil and Millie Jones bought the parcel and opened the Jones Family Mini Farm. Gil served as a two-term mayor. They sold the property to Carolyn when they retired in 2005.

IMG 5189“Like me,” Carolyn notes, “the original Jones Family would only sell the petting zoo to someone who would promise to keep it a zoo. I believe that after 15 years, I have taken ZOOMARS as far as I can on my own. I see how much Dan Almquist and his company Frontier Development, truly care about historic restoration and preservation in San Juan and they have the investors and the construction know-how to revitalize old buildings. It’s great to showcase these 1800s structures for all to enjoy, but no one realizes the enormous amount of money it takes to preserve and continuously repair them. Dan’s projects in town inspire growth and yet are in keeping with our old town charm. There is no one I trust more than Dan to pass the torch to.”

As a former San Juan Mayor, Gil Jones also supports Dan’s vision for growth in town and his approval was also important to Carolyn. “I wanted to make sure I had Gil and Millie’s blessing before selling and called to ask them for it before I approached Dan. I told them I knew he would keep their ‘farm’ alive and that it would be in good hands. The property was never listed for sale as I only approached Dan privately.”

Carolyn with Gil and Millie Jones, founders of the mini-farm, for whom Gillie is namedCarolyn with Gil and Millie Jones, founders of the mini-farm, for whom Gillie is namedThe property holds four listings on the National Register of Historic Places - the Olivares House, the Owner’s Cottage, the San Juan Springs Bathhouse and River Street, which Dan purchased 50% of when he bought the Ito Nursery next door a few years ago.

“Dan has a proposed project on the nursery site (pending City Council approval on July 2nd), which was another reason I felt he was the ideal person to approach,” says Carolyn. “Should the River Street Marketplace be voted in, the petting zoo would be incorporated into their plan, constructed in a California craftsman design.” The project can be viewed at


Carolyn, in the meantime, will be taking Gillie straight to Hollywood. For as it turns out, her literary agent loved Gillie and his friends so much, she suggested an animated series for television, which Carolyn is in the process of writing now. With preliminary interest from a few studios already, due to its uniqueness, the show would be based on many of Carolyn’s real-life stories at ZOOMARS intertwined with an imaginary place called GUINEAPIGVILLE. It would also incorporate two original soundtracks Carolyn produced, “We Are Not Hamsters,” and “Ponies Don’t Surf.”

Illustration by Michele G. DoddsIllustration by Michele G. Dodds“I lost everything I owned to keep the zoo afloat after the economic crash in 2008, and a divorce in 2009. Thankfully, a local San Juanian and close friend lent me an inordinate amount of money to keep things going and I struggled for every dollar to pay her back. My bookkeeper would run to the bank at 4:45 to ensure every check would clear. Through years of tough times, using creative ideas to promote business, countless Groupon deals, free pop-up petting zoos, a summer camp, and even a disastrous dino extinction; the stars aligned.” A mom who’d taken her daughter to ZOOMARS had illustrated a kid’s book, and wanted Carolyn to see it. “I couldn’t type fast enough: ‘Can you draw a guinea pig?’” The rest is a 32-page masterpiece. All 5,000 books sold within a few months, Gillie won a prestigious award, and after 15 years, Carolyn feels like passing the ZOOMARS torch is the best possible gift to her community.

Gillie Book TransparentGillie, meanwhile, is getting ready to load into a vintage Airstream Motorhome, which Carolyn always dreamed of owning and recently just purchased, and start doing shows locally. The series, called “Go Gillie Go!” is set to follow Gillie and his friends (the ones he met in the book at Mr. Parker’s Pet Shop) as they do pop-up shows around the country benefiting animals in need. “I can’t tell you all the juicy details about Gillie’s Roadshow, or Sheriff Gillie will arrest me, but I can tell you that his Airstream holds a ‘secret’ that takes him and his friends on some wild rides,” Carolyn says with a smile. “And maybe … we’ll even meet Juan the Dinosaur again.”

“My heart will always be here with my animals. I’m staying on before, during and after the sale to serve as a consultant, cheerleader and guinea-pig petter. It’s in the contract! Dan and I both want the transition to be seamless for our ZOOMARS community. Those familiar staff faces, like Nina, Gerald and Angel the emu, who have been with me from the beginning, will still be here.” And all the allure of ZOOMARS will continue to come with parties, pony rides, bunnies, goats, sheep, bunnies and chickens. And of course, their signature 100 guinea pigs! And to think, it began with one. As Carolyn likes to say “Anything’s possible with love and a carrot stick.”

There are extroverts and introverts. There are loud personalities and reserved ones. Those who love dinner in with a few friends, or a real lollapalooza with everyone they know. The common ground between both types?

oth like a good party, no matter the size or shape. “At the center of all good gatherings is the sense of celebration,” notes Candy Hirte, owner of Costa Mesa’s Where’s The Party? store.

Candy knows her way around a celebration. In business since 1990, she and a cadre of incredible ladies have been making every occasion special for their customers with everything from invites to home decor. “Customer service comes first, but that’s pretty simple when we all love the idea of celebrating every holiday.”

PT Party AnimalNowadays the competition is building online, but even with expedited shipping, nothing really helps set the tone of a party like talking through a theme or decor details with an expert. “Each one of the wonderful women (there are 17 of them!) who work here can walk you through the process and share our etiquette gleaned from 29 years in business.”

Paper goods, balloons, and home decor weren’t Candy’s original business plan. “I kind of stumbled into the party,” she notes with a chuckle. “I met a darling girl at a class I was taking and she said she was interested in opening up a party store in Orange County! I jumped in with both feet, not knowing a darn thing about this business. Well, except that I do lo-ve parties.” Quickly growing to love chatting with each and every customer who walked in the doors, Candy soon realized that on a very personal level, the business was about the personal friendships she was developing, and the small and large moments that made up each individual’s lives.

“Maybe getting involved in the industry was a fluke, but knowing how much I love people, it just made sense to celebrate every occasion with them!”

PT Timeless BirthdayCandy and her husband love their community, and often take the time to go out with their friends and family. “Obviously we love movies or relaxing with a good book, but giving back to those who surround us is so important to us. Through the store, through loving what I do every day, contributing to our local schools and philanthropies in the area. They’re our big supporters, and I must say, I come to work every day loving who I work with and excited to help a customer with their party.” Bridal, baby, and kids. Greeting cards, business, or personal stationery. Wedding invitations and essentials: no category is off limits or out of reach.

PT Spots StripesSome might question why I would make the drive to Costa Mesa from my home in San Juan Capistrano to peruse Candy’s wares. My answer is quite simply that I’m not aware of a store in South County quite like hers - Where’s the Party? would be worth the drive if it were twice the distance. I could honestly spend hours wandering around the store looking at all the amazing hostess gifts, home decor and unique presents for weddings, baby showers, holidays and all of life’s other occasions. I’m already envisioning retro party ideas (think 80s, western, disco, Roaring 20s or other era-themed events where only a paper invitation will do).

Mention this article for $25 OFF your purchase of $50 or more
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For a more curated experience, all you have to do is see what’s coming up on the events list. From taking a modern calligraphy workshop to spotting the team at a wedding show, there’s something for everyone, even those of us with little or no decision making skill to speak of. You’ll feel directed and taken care of: ready to take on your next party, be it baby’s first birthday or your boss’ retirement bash. Even personalization on your favorite Crane or Rifle Paper Co. stationery.

If it’s time to celebrate someone, or maybe it’s just been too long since you threw a good dinner party, Where’s the Party can help you find that common ground and let your passion take over. Introvert or extrovert. “Where’s the party? You tell us!”

Candy and Kurt HirteCandy and Kurt Hirte

Where’s the Party? is located at 270 E. 17th Street in Costa Mesa.
Candy and her team can be reached directly by calling (949) 722-1803 or visit

There are a million fitness choices you could make. Maybe more. Food, drink, fasting. Juice cleanse, cold tolerance. Pilates, yoga, sauna, HIIT. But almost nowhere can one find a studio focusing on total health and wellness. Enter Sweat Sanctuary. Offering pilates, yoga, infrared saunas, and nutritional coaching, Sweat Sanctuary works on the whole person. Owner Shellie Thomas has been involved in fitness, personal training, and holistic health for her entire life. Fifteen years ago she found pilates and became certified to teach.

Image 2Sweat Sanctuary has been in business over ten years - the fruit of Shellie’s laboring through the minefield of personal fitness. “We not only offer fitness classes, but offer an infrared sauna experience with chromotherapy light to detox the body, drop cortisol levels and increase oxygen flow to your tissues and joints,” says Shellie. “We also have different supplements to help balance the internal systems in the body that can help with sleep issues, pain, anxiety, and different hormonal imbalances.”

Shellie believes that a great many health issues can be solved by “integrating a holistic solution, alleviating pain, solving sleep problems, and most importantly, keeping the body moving.” Toward that end, heated yoga can help increase flexibility to circulate oxygen and energy throughout the body and protect against injuries, build muscle strength and vitality. Pilates concentrates on developing core strength to build stamina and improve posture - and bonus! create well-toned muscles without bulking up.

Wholeness is healing, and we love having a creative, dynamic space to offer options in fitness, nutrition and preventative health care.”

Image 3“The relaxation techniques incorporated in yoga, infrared heat that acts as the sun from the saunas and the strengthening and lengthening of pilates can lessen chronic pain, such as lower back pain, arthritis, headaches and carpal tunnel syndrome, lower blood pressure and reduce insomnia,” says Shellie. “Aside rom the physical benefits, one of the best benefits of sweating is how it helps a person manage stress, which is known to have devastating effects on the body and mind.”

Offering a donation-based Pilates class and a free Teen Yoga class, Sweat is dedicated to the practices and commitments necessary to learn life-coping skills and improve every aspect of your daily routines.

“I love seeing clients come in to work on their health,” says Shellie. “We have a wonderful community, and every day someone tells me how much they love coming in, or just how much the work they have done has lifted their spirits. Wholeness is healing, and we love having a creative, dynamic space to offer options in fitness, nutrition, and preventative health care.” With the best instructors around and a living education, all you need is a dose of sweat … Sanctuary.

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Connect with Shellie directly by stopping by her studio at 657 Camino de los Mares, Suite 137 in San Clemente, calling (949) 218-4834 or visit Mention this article to receive One Week of Unlimited Sauna, Yoga and Pilates for only $49 (new clients only)!

2019 is a big year for Southern California’s southern gem: San Diego. Marking the 250th anniversary of the eighth largest city in the nation, the oceanside pearl known for gorgeous beaches, distinct communities and a rich cultural history dating back tens of thousands of years. An exciting time for an exciting place: first found by the Kumeyaay Nation, and then the sailors of 1542 who renamed the land Alta California. Now, overlaid against the backdrop or native trails, the city celebrates its past, present, and future.

Old Town sign San Diego courtesy Edelweiss Melanie StockerIt doesn’t take a history buff to appreciate the legendary quality of Don Juan Bandini’s Cosmopolitan Hotel ( Returned to the glory of its 1870’s glory, the once adobe home-restaurant-stagecoach office-olive cannery is now an updated San Diego staple. Antique furnishings and what feels like service from a truly bygone era are the benchmarks of the hotel’s Victorian-style bedrooms and baths. Our stay here proved to the perfect place from which to explore the area. Easy walking distance to entertainment, art galleries, family-friendly restaurants, and a locale literally adjacent to the historic Old Town Presidio: where California began (more on that in a minute).

20170416For breakfast, enjoy a bed and breakfast style coffee, tea, or homemade pastry (the scones with yummy blackberry jam are worth writing home about) in the salon. Take in the Old West decor and enjoy an afternoon tea on Saturday or Sunday until 5pm. Grab a bite in the restaurant from the Cosmo’s seasonal menu. Fresh vegetables, local ingredients, and exceptional cuts of meat to whet any appetite. Choose from a private dining room, the Orchard Terrace, Grand Sala, or Bandini Room. And if you’re looking for something to do after dinner, try out the Cygnet Theater: Historic Park at its finest.

Presenting the best of California culture, San Diego’s Old Town State Historic Park gives visitors the opportunity to experience the history of its early connections to our storied present. Restored buildings from the interpretive period are complemented with early twentieth-century buildings designed in the same mode. Original adobe buildings are part of the park, which remains a favorite place for social gatherings and family-friendly historic activities, like the park’s working blacksmith shop.

At elementary schools all over California, fourth graders have been making missions from craft supplies for years. My son constructed Mission San Diego Alcala (the first of 21 established in the state) a couple of years ago, which made our visit all the more exciting and impactful. The city’s first downtown area and the true birthplace of California, San Diego is now famous for its pristine stretches of sandy shore and hip shopping and bar crawls through Pacific Beach. But once upon a time, San Diego was known for the historic sites, cultural lore, and the nearby Mission San Diego de Alcala.

Of the 21 missions in California, San Diego de Alcala marks the birthplace of Christianity on the West Coast. Providing an important cultural and significant look at the start of Catholicism, the mission, which was founded in 1769 serves as an active community hub, parish church, and grandiose placeholder for the migration of faith from Spain to the United States. The California olive was first cultivated at the Mission in San Diego, and many thousands of children’s appreciation for California history.

Cosmopolitan Hotel 7Designated as a historic house museum over sixty years ago, the Whaley House Museum ( has been open to the public ever since. Ranked right up there with some of California’s national parks, the home receives over 125,000 visits a year, managed and operated by SOHO- the Save Our Heritage Organization. A perfect example of Greek Revival architecture from the mid-nineteenth century, the house pays tribute to Thomas Whaley and his historic presence in San Diego’s old town. But what makes this tour even more intriguing is the folklore surrounding this former family home and its bygone residents.

According to the Travel Channel’s America’s Most Haunted, the house is the number one most haunted house in the country. The alleged hauntings began with ghostly sightings of “Yankee Jim,” a convict who was hanged in 1852 on a gallows of the back of a wagon on the site where the house now stands. The local newspaper reported that he “kept his feet in the wagon as long as possible, but was finally pulled off. He swung back and forth like a pendulum until he strangled to death.” Although Thomas Whaley had been a spectator at the execution, he did not let it dissuade him from buying the property a few years later and building a home for his family there. According to the San Diego Union, “soon after the couple and their children moved in, heavy footsteps were heard moving about the house. Whaley described them as sounding as though they were made by the boots of a large man. Finally he came to the conclusion that these unexplained footfalls were made by Yankee Jim Robinson.”

Ghost TrolleyTrek through town on the Ghosts and Gravestones Tour ( and hear stories about how the city’s most beautiful daytime spots have a darker side when the sun goes down. This trolley/walking guided tour takes visitors into Pioneer Park (now a park in the middle of Mission Hills, the site was once the final resting place for thousands of people and is still home to a small cemetery at the back edge of the trees and pathways - said to be peaceful by day, but an altogether different experience after the sun goes down), the adobe walled El Campo Santo Cemetery circa 1849 (where “Yankee Jim” is interred) and culminates at the aforementioned Whaley House - chock full to the brim with spooky sounds, sights, and encounters. Well known ghosts with reputations for leaving disembodied footprints and a small child that cries out in the night are the norm at San Diego’s most haunted attraction.

Authentic and Innovative Eats (& Drink)

A full menu at Casa Guadalajara ( leads to a full belly, and there isn’t anything better before a night out in historic San Diego - providing a vibrant and colorful entrance to Old Town, Casa Guadalajara is defined by its festive decor, trumpeting mariachis, lush patios, “Birdbath Margaritas” and authentic Mexican cuisine. Using only the freshest ingredients, the food is prepared daily to ensure each customer who walks through the doors (since 1995!) leaves satisfied. Serving up the best traditional and regional dishes, you can choose from seasonal specials (such as the Sopes Surtidos - which fills three traditional cornmeal cakes with refried beans and your choice of carnitas, shredded chicken or beef) and popular favorites (like the Camerones ala Diabla which arrives as tasty large shrimp in a rich and spicy chipotle salsa or the Enchiladas Suizas, prepared with seasoned shredded chicken and green chilies).

Casa Guadalajara Waiter Courtesy Ted WaltonNew on the block in Old Town is Tahona, on a mission to “educate and give reverence to the complexity and beauty of the Mexican culture through its most iconic beverage: Mezcal. Tahona Bar ( achieves this by serving up a most delicious menu Oaxacan-inspired bites at its warm, beautifully appointed tasting room that makes guests feel as though they’ve been transported to a modern Mexican hacienda: from the hand painted tiles and the handmade rope seats to the traditionally crafted fabric brought from Oaxaca in its banquettes to the unique furnishings - each piece crafted by a local artisan or an artisan across the border.

DSCF3217 HDRSharing bites populate the menu (think gourmet Carne Asada, Chicken Tinga and Pork Belly Quemado tacos), a modern take on a Tres Moles tasting flight and favorites that range from the Camaron Aguachile (shrimp, chipotle and citrus sauce further enhanced by cucumber, red onions and cilantro) and the Pulpo and Pipian (grilled octopus, kale, broccoli, pork belly, pepitas and pipian sauce. It was all my husband and I could do to manage a taste of the churro s’mores before the kids dove in to the sweet treat - crunchy churros with chocolate ganache and marshmallow fluff.

Tequila Lime Shrimp Courtesy Casa GuadalajaraBut make no mistake: at its heart is over 120 different varieties of the agave-based spirit - both for simply sipping and those incorporated into flavorfully creative cocktails (the Whaley House Punch pairs Domingo Espadin Mezcal with lime, pineapple, salted watermelon, Campari and Absinthe while the Campo Salto, named for the iconic historical landmark next door is made with Espolon Blanco, passionfruit, coconut water, fresno chili, Contreau, agave and lime).

Very few working professionals can say that they care for someone specific their entire life. Very few can say that those they care for bring their families along, or that they end up spending time responding to their client’s needs with engineering, artistry, and clear communication.

And I’ll bet that if I asked you right now what field you thought I was referring to, you wouldn’t think dentistry first. Dr. Lincoln Parker, DMD has made it his life’s work to change what people see in their mind’s eye when they think of the dentist. Turns out, it’s a wonderful field to be in.

Back in 2013, Dr. Parker ran with a new idea: to create a sense of community in an industry that brought positive change for those that worked in it, sought care in it, and created their lives in the surrounding space. Parker Dentistry began with a vision for more: and more is exactly what they’ve received. “We’ve been able to care for so many wonderful people since the practice initially opened,” says Dr. Parker. “Individuals who have become more than just customers, clients. Friends and family come here, and have responded so wholeheartedly to the work we’re doing that we had to search out another dentist to join the office.” Taking care of people for work is a huge blessing to Dr. Parker and his new partner, Dr. Tyler Hales, DDS. Creating a legacy of real restorative work is no small challenge, but with their combined talents and passions (cosmetics, development, airway, sleep apnea!) life-improving treatment goes far beyond any other typical commitment.



Their combined expertise and scope of services covers virtually all aspects of the dental field from cosmetic dentistry (porcelain veneers, dental implants, Invisalign clear braces, same day porcelain crowns, teeth whitening), sedation dentistry, general and family dentistry and orthodontics to restorative dentistry, TMJ treatment, sleep apnea treatment, gum disease treatment and emergency dentistry.

“Our competition is not other dental offices, but the perception of what a dental office is, or can be,” says Dr. Parker. “My team is what helps change that perception.” With a consistent drive to improve, the folks at Hales Parker Dentistry train to streamline their communication and clinical skills, leading to an exceptional experience both in and out of the chair. “I can truly say it is a joy to work every day alongside our group of professionals. People are what give me joy, so having a team full of people who come to work intending on changing lives makes an enormous impact on everyone we come into contact with.”

Scores of happy clients have been so pleased with their experience here that they’ve taken the time to share their positive comments: “Best dentist I’ve ever been to, hands down,” Michael L. posted on Yelp and Heather G.’s review reveals that “Dr. Parker and his team have been exceptional! I was a very fearful patient and from the first interaction, everyone has been compassionate, friendly, professional and understanding of my previous experiences that caused my fears. I never imagined that dentistry could be easy or virtually painless …”

It all started with Dr. Parker’s own family dentist, Dr. Kris Robinson. “He was friendly, humble, nice, and full of hilarious Dad-jokes.” Not your typical mad-scientist-like-crazy in a lab coat, as the media often depict dentists. “I got the sense he really cared about me. I remember the feeling of walking into that office, a setting which can be terribly awkward and intimidating, and he made it personable.” Hales Parker has taken a page out of that book, and run with it. Asking about your parents, kids, siblings, school, work: car trouble to community activism. You name it, they’re invested. “Some of our clients stay with us for decades! What kind of people would we be if we didn’t connect with them?”

Any relationship founded on trust takes time, and no less so when it’s an issue as sensitive as your smile. “I learned to serve as a kid, and to look at the community with open eyes as an undergrad, when I volunteered at a domestic violence shelter. It really impacted me talking and hanging out with the kids of these women who were in this situation. You had to move slowly, take your time and really let them come to you.” Dr. Parker still has a heart for the community, donating all of the office proceeds from professional whitening for four months of the year to charity. Over the years, they’ve raised more than $30,000. “What we do is humbling, it is special, and it is what dentistry should be.” I couldn’t agree more.

Lincoln Parker, DMDLincoln Parker, DMD Tyler Hales, DDSTyler Hales, DDS

Hales Parker Dentistry is located at 777 Corporate Drive, Suite 100 in Ladera Ranch. For information, call (949) 429-0049 or visit

One of my favorite things about Salt Lake City is its abundance of trees. In fact, the University of Utah campus, on the bench of the city’s foothills, is a designated State Arboretum, with over 8,000 trees. Boasting 300 plus varieties, including almost 40 different types of conifer, the city, and the campus in particular are an incredible sight in the early days of spring as the beech, elm, oak, and Japanese flowering cherry trees begin to bloom.

Downtown Salt Lake CityDowntown Salt Lake City

It is said that you can experience all four seasons in a day, and that is certainly true if you’re planning on venturing up any of the myriad canyons that flank Salt Lake’s downtown sprawl. Sun in the morning and snow in the afternoon (winter into late spring) makes for beautiful days exploring all that the city has to offer: bookstores like The King’s English with its incredible storytime workshops; classic diners like Ruth’s with plates for the kids and biscuits as big as your head; or the gorgeous City Creek Center, with over 100 stores and eateries in a walkable open air floor plan. The Hogle Zoo’s Wildlife Connections give parents and kids alike one-of-a-kind animal experiences with interactive feedings. An events calendar that is positively bursting at the seams has activities for everyone: from Tot Tuesdays and Wild Wednesdays to Behind the Scenes Tours.

Salt Lake City TempleSalt Lake City Temple

Historic Temple Square tops the list of “must see” sights when in Salt Lake City. Home to the global headquarters of The Jesus Christ Church of Latter-day Saints (popularly known as Mormons), the 35-acre property contains more than 15 attractions, including the impressive Salt Lake City Temple (which took 40 years to build from1853 - 1893) and is one of the oldest attractions in the area, the Tabernacle - home to the world-renowned Tabernacle Choir, beautiful gardens, art exhibits in the Church History Museum and the Salt Lake City Temple.


Completed in 1867, the Tabernacle is one of the most “acoustically sound and architecturally awe-inspiring buildings on earth.” Brigham Young directed the building should be designed so people could see and hear the speaker without impediment. To do this successfully, bridge-building techniques used to construct the roof so that support pillars were not necessary. Every Thursday evening from 7:30 pm - 9:30 pm, the Tabernacle Choir rehearsals are open to the public to view at no cost. Monday through Friday at 12 pm, visitors can enjoy a 30-minute organ recital by Tabernacle organists and guest organists.


Built in 1854, the Beehive House was home to Brigham Young (Utah’s first governor) and later other Church leaders. The large representation of a beehive on top of the structure symbolizes the strong sense of community and diligent work ethic of the Latter-day Saints who settled in Salt Lake City.

“I’m bored” is a phrase you’ll never hear if you purchase a Salt Lake Connect Pass (, which allows access to 16 of the region’s best family-friendly attractions at significant savings. From the Clark Planetarium and Natural History Museum of Utah to Discovery Gateway Children’s Museum, the aforementioned Hogle Zoo and Tracy Aviary, there’s no shortage of kid-friendly sight-seeing opportunities. A two-day pass runs $46 - $54 which saves you 50% - 80% off regular admission prices to the included attractions - from elephants to apes and sweeping mountain scenery to historic Temple Square, you can do it all at your own fun-filled pace.


From American classics to multicultural eateries, award-winning chefs and inventive restaurants, Salt Lake City scores on all counts. Located in downtown SLC at 418 E. 200 South, HSL ( evolved from the restaurant group’s first establishment in Park City and features a carefully curated menu driven by the seasons - Chefs Briar Handly and Matt Nelson strive to source local and regional ingredients the height of freshness. The charcuterie arrived with a flavorful selection of artisanal meats, farmstead cheeses, pickles, signature sourdough, lavender honey and roasted hazelnuts. Popular dishes include a Hamachi Crudo with spaghetti squash, almonds and lemongrass ponzu; General Tso-style cauliflower accented by fresno pepper and sriracha vinaigrette; a delicious wild rice and quinoa tostada. Heartier entrees range from the Niman beef short rib (with molasses and maple jus, sunchoke and celery root, pickled romanesco and purple cauliflower) and New York steak (cipollini demi-glace, duck fat yukon gold potatoes and charred broccolini). For a great go-to for the kids, try the woodfired pizza (my plain cheese pizza-eating daughter discovered she absolutely adores pesto and burrata thanks to HSL) and you simply can’t go wrong with the eatery's signature fried chicken accompanied by salt and vinegar fries.

The Grand America HotelThe Grand America Hotel

In nearby Cottonwood Heights, we opted to expand our kids’ palates sampling Vietnamese "street food” at the newly opened Saola ( (owners are putting the finishing touches on the space, which will showcase a beautiful sushi display and full bar, several semi-private dining areas and an expansive dining room). A fan of Pho? You’ll have your work cut out for you in choosing which of the three Hanoi-style rice noodle soups (house made versions here are simmered for 12 hours with their family’s special spice blend): Pho Beef (beef bone broth, choice of grass-fed brisket, rare round-eye beef or beef meatballs); Pho Chicken (poached chicken in chicken broth with fresh rice noodles, spices, ginger, onion, cilantro and scallions); Pho Vegan in vegetable broth with bean curd. Prefer a heartier meal? Try the Banh Mi (a stuffed baguette sandwich made in the French-Vietnamese style): the French Dip was filled with tender roast beef, melted cheese, grilled onions and a flavorful pho dipping sauce. Our son, who generally isn’t our adventurous eater, had two helpings of everything - Xien Nuong (traditional Vietnamese marinated and grilled chicken skewers), chicken fried rice and crispy pork spring rolls (rice paper, pork, bean thread noodle, carrot, mushroom and jicama) that are worth writing home about.

Accommodation of Distinction

If you’re looking for the perfect home base to anchor your stay in the Beehive State capital, The Grand America ( has something for everyone. 775 decidedly generous with space, elegantly styled and well-appointed guestrooms await the entire family, with floor-to-ceiling windows for the best views in town. The Executive Suites offer an indulgent 880 square feet of warm, cultured decor (from plush down bedding to the rich tones of the thick English wool carpet to handcrafted cherry wood Richelieu furniture and Italian marble soaking tub and glass-enclosed shower). Elegant French doors separate the living area from the bedroom and did I mention two flat-screen televisions? So the kids can watch cartoons while their parents view their own favorite shows.

Grand America Hotel Indoor PoolGrand America Hotel Indoor Pool

Indoor (open year-round, this world-class pool provides a tranquil setting for lap swimming or relaxation in the whirlpool) and outdoor pool (open seasonally), an expansive fitness center with state-of-the-art cardio machines and a full array of workout equipment (accessible 24/7 with room key), grand lobby lounge for live entertainment and afternoon tea and luxury spa complete even the best of hotel amenities lists, but waiting behind the doors of the tallest hotel in the city lie some of the finest dining and kid-friendly activities you’ll find anywhere in the state.

Grand America Hotel La Bonne Vie Pastry Store DisplayGrand America Hotel La Bonne Vie Pastry Store Display

Ten minutes or less in any direction puts you at the Children’s Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Leonardo, or Clark Planetarium. Five will send you to one of Utah’s many award-winning theatres for an off-Broadway experience you’re not likely to forget. Extraordinary spring skiing, both cross-country and downhill, await at one of Utah’s seven world-class ski resorts: less than 45 minutes from the hotel. Indulging in an apres afternoon treat has never been so simple with La Bonne Vie. Pastel macarons, golden croissants, and creamy gelato all in one place. Order up to your room or have dessert before dinner while browsing beautiful gifts and unique trinkets including holiday decor, cookbooks and tea sets. Speaking of tea, tie up your stay with afternoon high tea, or brunch on Sunday with fare from the hotel’s exemplary food and beverage team. For the former, enjoy the a traditional English afternoon tea (seatings at 1 pm and 3:30 pm) replete with strawberries and creme chantilly, English scones with clotted cream, finger sandwiches and an assortment of tea pastries paired with English tea - a centuries-old ritual set in perfect European glamour.

To take advantage of a truly “Grand” experience for the whole family, all you have to do is contact the reservations department. There may not be as many varieties of fun as there are trees blossoming in the city, but a stay at the Grand America will certainly get you close.