There is no question that San Diego’s Wild Animal Park has taken the concept of safari to the next level. A constant on the leaderboard of fascinating family-friendly activities in one of the prettiest cities in North America, the Safari Park has upped the ante even more, introducing each park goer to a live experience alongside nature, by removing the glass walled enclosures and getting us ever closer to the animals we’ve only ever seen on television.
Visitors can embark on an exciting expedition aboard the Africa Tram, a guided tour that travels along a ride path around some of the field exhibits to give guests a chance to connect with the animals on a closer level or take to the skies in a tethered hot air balloon that can hold up to 30 passengers for unbelievable views of the Sargenti shared only by the birds.
Want to even more personal with your favorite African Plains animals? You can add a customized safari experience: travel in the back of a covered, open-air safari truck to visit at least two field enclosures with an opportunity to feed giraffes (Caravan Safari); meet and greet the star of Cheetah Run - where the sleek cat races on a straight 330-foot-long track that allows it to really stretch its legs and reach maximum speed of about 70 miles per hour (Cheetah Safari); climb like a monkey on a challenging rope-course adventure (Jungle Ropes Safari) or amp up your adventure by adding a dose of adrenaline as you take in a bird’s-eye view gliding along a 2/3 mile zip line over vast animal exhibits (Flightline Safari) or spend the night during a special camping adventure (Roar & Snore Safari).
Taking things one step further, the park just opened its doors to the wilds of the Australian outback with the Walkabout Australia safari in May. Following a backcountry trail through bottlebrush blooms and eucalyptus trees transports you to walkabout down under. Kangaroos, wallabies, cassowaries, tree kangaroos, magpie geese and all the varied plant life of the Australian plain greet each curious pair of eyes along the many trails through the outback.
After our day on “safari," our family looked forward to winding down at the newly “reimagined” hideaway at Hotel Karlan San Diego (858-672-9100) - a Doubletree by Hilton property. Truth be told, our kids couldn’t wait to check in when they learned of the hotel’s signature welcome: a decadent warm chocolate chip cookie. Conveniently located right near the Safari Park, the Hotel Karlan San Diego’s new design is particularly apropos of our visit as it brings a touch of nature indoors.
Set among rolling hills and palm trees, the property features 174 stylish and super comfortable guest rooms and suites distinguished by oversized sleeping quarters - each with a private balcony or patio, two onsite restaurants with indoor/outdoor seating, fitness room, tennis court and outdoor pool. The Asado Grill showcases a delicious array of sustainable seafood and gourmet contemporary American culinary creations. Popular entrees range from a seafood mixed grill (kebab of shrimp, salmon, scallops, farm fresh veggies, aside aioli and served with cilantro rice) and Napa Valley beef short rib (in cabernet sauce and paired with pappardelle pasta) to the signature Asado burger made with 8 oz. of angus, aside aioli. lettuce, pico, avocado, pepperjack cheese and bacon.
This property was the perfect pick for our family weekend away - we couldn’t have asked for a more convenient location, spacious accommodation, dining with something to appeal to every palate (I love seafood, my husband is a meat eater and the kids always opt for kid-friendly eats, of which there were plenty of menu options) and a staff populated by extremely friendly, courteous folk.
Savanna is no longer simply synonymous with the roar of a lion or the wild gait of a giraffe. The zoo’s Safari Park welcomes you into the home of its many bright eyed, keenly aware multi-legged friends. Enjoy a caravan, cheetah, or jungle rope safari, and take in the bird’s view of the park on its ⅔ mile zip line through the park. Whatever the experience you’re looking for, San Diego is sure to make it a wild one.
Defined by Exceptional Service and Personalized Attention
As a female, I may be feeding the stereotype when I pen this, but my first thought when I have to take my car in for service (even for something as simple as an oil change) leads me to feelings of anxiety. A mechanic once told me with a straight face that the reason it felt like my tires were out of alignment was because the Earth was round. I took the car to a family friend a couple days later who has a small shop and he confirmed what I thought originally: that my tires were actually out of alignment.
It’s no wonder then, that I was a bit skeptical when I first learned of the Paradise Automotive Group nearly a decade ago, and the supposedly stunning service they offer to each one of their clients. No auto shop or dealership could possibly live up to a moniker like Paradise, in my mind. But John, Paradise’s President, literally lives up to the name: in fact, it’s his family title, and he wears it well. A Boston native who decided to give the Golden State a try 20 years ago thought he might stay when he found that Orange County residents had more than a passing passion for their cars: in specific, luxury automobiles.
Starting one vehicle at a time, John passed along his own passion for customer service, grew the business, and turned an island of an idea into an archipelago of phenomenal associates giving personalized attention to each client who walks through the doors. Glen McDorman, the on-site Service Manager, is no stranger to the concept of the idyll. A purveyor of the outdoors, he loves to head to the mountains with his wife and two boys for backpacking, fishing, snowboarding and mountain biking. Bringing in a healthy attitude curated outside, Glen counts each of his customers like he would his own wife and sons.
“We understand that everyone makes a choice when they bring their vehicle to us, and if we don’t meet their needs, we may never see them again.” Over the past 20 years, Glen and his team have seen a great many customers come back time and again when they have repair needs, and know that the secret to keeping them around is to go the extra mile: every single time.
“It isn’t just a secret of fishing or backpacking that when you head around that last bend in the trail or walk that extra foot into the river that you’re bound for a better view that you had before, or hook the fish that has been eluding you all day,” says Glen. “The trick to customer service is the same.”
Building a culture of honesty and openness is no small feat. “We give our customers fair advice about repair options, letting them know that even some repairs can wait until a future visit. We never recommend a repair that a customer doesn’t need.”
Specializing in one-stop shopping also makes it a simple equation for their clients. “Folks know they can have it all done here: from buying the model they’ve always wanted - be it hybrid, domestic work truck, or exotic - and then having everything taken care of over the course of the car’s lifespan.”
Oil changes, powertrain management diagnostics, transmission overhauls? No job is too large, or too small for the factory trained, ASE certified expert technicians working underneath Glen. “We only use the latest diagnostic tools and software. That coupled with decades of experience and training lets the techs diagnose and repair vehicles in an incredibly short amount of time. With no hassle: and nobody telling you the reason your car pulls to the right is the Earth’s spherical shape. Sounds like paradise indeed.
Paradise Automotive Group is located at 32592 Valle Road in San Juan Capistrano. For information, call (949) 347-2522 or visit www.jparadise.com
It would be difficult to put Nashville on the list of must see places if you didn’t have some kind of appreciation for music. Dubbed the “music city,” and named one of Traveller U.K.’s “cool places,” Tennessee’s capital city is home to legendary venues, publishing houses, gorgeous hotels, vibrant nightlife, and sprawling college campuses; like Vanderbilt and Belmont University. Founded by James Robertson, John Donelson, and named for Francis Nash (the Revolutionary War hero), the city grew exponentially during the 1970’s, and then again in the 90’s, when urban renewal became the city’s priority, and a handful of urban landmarks were constructed and revamped.
Among the monuments the city chose to renovate was the Country Music Hall of Fame, a museum dedicated to the legends of twang. The first members; Hank Williams, Fred Rose, and Jimmie Rodgers were inducted in 1961. Since, the country music’s trade created the accolade to recognize “significant contributions to the advancement of country music by individuals,” and has ranked among them the likes of Gene Autry, Garth Brooks, and Johnny Cash. Nashville’s downtown area features also an enormous assortment of entertainment, dining, and architectural attractions alongside its love of country music and musicians.
Metonymic with the industry it homes, it is no wonder that the city’s most popular tourist diversions involve the music scene. The Ryman Auditorium was home to the Grand Ole Opry until 1947 when the show moved on down the road to the Grand Ole Opry House, where it has since played several times a week, except for the winter run, (a limited edition, if you will): at the Ryman. If the Opry is what interests you, the best stay in Nashville is the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center (www.marriott.com). Less than ten miles from the airport and a ten-minute walk from the Opry itself, the accommodations and amenities qualify for an adventure in themselves while exploring Nashville.
A world away from the usual stuccoed hotels and motels along the usual strip of tourist trap attractions, the Gaylord Opryland is a step back in time. Boasting both indoor and outdoor pools, nine acres of indoor gardens, cascading waterfalls, an on-site spa, golf course and salon, there is no shortage of luxury to be found. 700,000 square feet of event space guarantee that the resort can host your most elegant, unforgettable meeting, conference, reunion, or reception without blinking an eye. Add to that the superior rooming, dining, and fitness opportunities on-site, and you might not actually ever leave the Opryland’s grounds.
Why would you, when you can take a boat tour on the indoor river, schedule a massage at the spa, or let the kids decide which one of the three pools to jump into first. The fitness center features your typical free weights and cardio equipment, just in case you’ve indulged in one too many Southern BBQ experiences, but also boasts 3,500 square feet of circuit training and a full body spa indulgence for your cool down. The choreographed show the Delta Fountain puts on is nothing short of spectacular, a feat of engineering that melds the beauty of light, water, and of course: music.
SummerFest featuring Music, Magic & Memories
Through September 3rd, the Gaylord Opryland Resort features SummerFest, an array of kid-friendly activities and attractions geared toward the property’s young guests. There are free events like the Hootenanny Hoedown (where DJ Tyrus gets you movin’and groovin’ with line dancing, limbo and kids karaoke), summer fountain shows (choreographed water, lights and music), a outdoor pool party complete with a summer playlist and the Learning Log (a giant fallen tree, hollowed out and made safe for exploration - crawl inside for a close-up look at the learning terrariums). An array of activities for a fee range from the Haunted History Tour (a PG-rated 40-minute narrated tour of the region’s spookiest tales), Junior Chefs Camp and “Music, Magic & Memories,” Live Atrium Show showcasing music, water, lights and extraordinary performers unite in a heart-pounding extravaganza. Our kids had an absolute ball becoming Tennessee trivia insiders on an interactive adventure exploring the resort to discover all the surprising hidden fun facts to turn in their completed booklets for a special prize.
If the kids somehow grow tired of the river tours, pools, and fountain show, look no further for city history than Centennial Park’s Parthenon. The pinnacle of architecture in the ancient world, Nashville’s version is a gorgeous, full-scale replica, complete with the 42-foot statue of Athena, built for Tennessee’s 1897 Centennial Expo.
Leaving Athena’s home base, travel to Hermitage: the home of America’s advocate for the common man, and the 7th President of the United States: Andrew Jackson. Built solidly on 1,120 acres of farmland, the mansion features tours led by costumed docents, seasonal walking tours through the estate’s state of the art museum, and horse-drawn wagon tours. Our young history buffs were enthralled by “The Duel - Art of the Southern Gentlemen,”a 30-minute new visitor experience and actual dueling demonstration by Hermitage’s historical re-enactors.
Stepping back even further into the past, visit the Italian-style villa and residence of Tennessee’s own steel magnolia: Adelicia Acklen. Constructed in 1853, Acklen’s estate is drenched in history, from the ornate Victorian furnishings, to the history behind the Union’s headquarters during the Civil War.
Cruise through time with the Delta Riverboat Company on a guided tour of the Gaylord Opryland’s 4.5 acre indoor garden. Build up an appetite along the way and indulge in The Old Hickory Steakhouse, and see your fill of water attractions, working both with and against gravity. Three waterfalls, an 85-foot fountain, and a ride through Nashville’s most beautiful resort await.
Water not really your pace? Trade in for a unique combination of music and transportation with the Old Town Trolley Tour. A 1.5 hour guided roll through the streets of the Music City shows you straight to the heart of Fort Nashborough, the Cumberland’s fur trade, and each musicians heart wrenching dream played out from the steps of the bus to the streets of Broadway. A real “transportainment” delight.
From Ryland Auditorium to the steps of the Grand Ole Opry, tour music history and get the backstage story of each musician to walk the stage. Cross paths with the nation’s own country music superstars, and see just what happens behind the scenes of the show that made their names!
The Goo Goo Shop and Dessert Bar
Our kids had a ridiculous amount of fun (and consumed an insane amount of chocolate and other sugary confections) during a hands-on chocolate class and dessert sampling where we all had an opportunity to make our very own version of the Goo Goo Cluster. The world’s first ever combination candy bar as imagined by the Standard Candy Company was created right here in Nashville in 1912. The original version is a roundish mound of caramel, marshmallow nougat, fresh roasted peanuts and rich milk chocolate. Our kids’ iterations also included oreos, pretzels, sprinkles and pecans and were a gooey-chocolate-y delight the effects of which lasted well into the evening and made for one of our most memorable activities while visiting Music City, USA. The Goo Goo Shop and Dessert Bar is located 116 3rd Ave. S in downtown Nashville (googoo.com).
Woolworth on 5th
Calling itself a "welcome table of southern roots and rhythms,” the building this reinvented restaurant resides was originally built in the 1890s and opened for business as one of the country’s first iconic “five and dime” stores in 1913. Today, Woolworth on 5th (woolworthon5th.com) is a registered historic site which honors the history of space with an upbeat atmosphere with food, music and dancing for all. The menu here explores the roots and history of Southern culinary arts, with ingredients and techniques that can be traced all over the globe - and the beverage program is inspired by the building’s previous life as a diner, where guests can order fro a menu of accessible, soda fountain-inspired cocktails, wine and beer. The basement level is home to the “New Era Ballroom,” which hosts a variety of regular music and performances - with emphasis on the sounds of the 1950s, 60s and 70s.
In the past decade, public attention has shifted to focus on the matter of how we obtain our food, and what exactly is going into the making of our favorite meals. While not a new concept to the chefs we hold in high esteem, diners’ focus has made those chefs offerings more and more coveted. It isn’t just ambiance or candlelight anymore: it is locally sourced ingredients, quality extras, artisanal cheeses and handpicked wines. Located in the gorgeous Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel and designed in the spirit of a time-honored classic American steakhouse, enoSTEAK pays as much attention to its decor as to its fare.
The elegant eatery harkens back to an earlier era - a time steeped in tradition and attention to detail. Its interior is defined by rich wood, marble flooring and upholstered furnishings. With works by critically acclaimed painter Sandra Jones Campbell adorning the wood-paneled walls, everything is intentional: everything is intimate. An ambiance that pairs beautifully with its exquisite culinary offerings and expansive list of highly-rated California vintages (on impressive display as the centerpiece of the dining room is a floor-to-ceiling glass wine cellar).
My husband, Tim, and I recently met with friends here to celebrated his 50-something birthday (enoSTEAK is consistently his special occasion restaurant of choice). We all indulged in a glass of fine wine and beautifully presented, delicious dishes made from the highest quality ingredients … including what are arguably among the best steaks in Orange County featuring prime and grass-fed, pasture-raised beef. The organic produce is locally grown and harvested at the peak of the season. The majority of the herbs used to enhance each specialty appetizer and entree are gathered from the resort’s organic garden. The fish is sustainable and either farm raised or pole/troll caught. enoSTEAK also highlights artisanal cheeses, charcuterie and of course, the aforementioned selection of varietals.
The menu changes are based on the essence of the season. enoSTEAK’s menu in May featured noteworthy starters, including its signature cheese and meat board enhanced with farmer’s market accompaniments, beef tartar perfectly flavor paired with goat cheese, crispy salsify, watercress and horseradish and the Dungeness crab beignet that is as delicious and decadent as it sounds.
When given the choice, my husband almost always opts for meat-and-potatoes and he didn’t deviate on this night. He selected the prime filet (grilled to a perfect medium rare and accompanied by a spring onion gratin). I, on the other hand, typically steer toward seafood selections and opted for the butter basted scallops with carrot puree, charcoal and snap pea.
Other showcased entrees range from a 42-day dry-aged 18 oz. prime ribeye chop and coffee-rubbed Wagyu NY Steak (a more marbled cut than the filet) to pan-seared Una’s salmon and Mary’s roasted chicken with polenta cake and marsala reduction.
Accompanying the handcrafted meats and seafood are a selection of five signature compound butters including creamy horseradish, herb and garlic butter/truffle butter, cognac green peppercorn, béarnaise and enoSTK sauce. Enhancements to the entrees include sherry cream sauteed mushrooms, truffled white cheddar cavateli (the chef’s inspired spin on “mac and cheese), Yukon potato mash and Caesar brussel sprouts.
Highlighting the light end of the dining spectrum is enoSTEAK’s Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel counterpart: 180blu. Offering breathtaking views of Salt Creek Beach over 100 feet below, the outdoor dining venue gives restaurant goers a lounge-like setting in which to relax into the heady Southern California evenings. Featuring small plates and desserts from Raya, and the culinary mind of acclaimed chef Richard Sandoval, 180blu’s culinary offerings showcases sustainable seafood, local produce, natural and organic meat dishes that draws inspiration from California and Asian cuisines.
180blu complements the focus on intentional quality with handcrafted beverages from the bar’s expert mixologists. Views of the sunset go down almost as smoothly as their signature cocktails, offering the quintessential Laguna Beach experience to all who indulge.
The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel at One Ritz Carlton Drive in Dana Point.
For more information or reservations, please call (949) 240-2000 or visit www.ritzcarlton.com/lagunaniguel
Relax, Reconnect and Retreat to the Bernardus Lodge & Spa
Someone once told me that Carmel was about the “same driving distance from Orange County as it is to Mammoth Lakes.” What they failed to mention was that this picturesque seaside city but is a world away from the rugged peaks of the Eastern Sierra - particularly when planning a romantic retreat defined by gourmet cuisine, fine wine, panoramic ocean views and a languorous pace.
Situated on the southern bend of the Monterey Peninsula, Carmel is 120 miles south of San Francisco, and is an historic nod to the independent and creative spirit of California’s early residents. The last time we visited the region a few years ago, we spent time in Monterey with a mind toward family-friendly fun and the town’s arguably incomparable aquarium. This trip, however, wasn’t about the area’s early inhabitants, cultural significance or family attractions. This was an escape - for grownups only. Pure and simple.
On foot, or by car, there is no lack of activities in Carmel - a quaint, seaside town chock full of fresh air, quaint breakfast nooks, boutique shopping, art galleries, and antiques: all tucked into corners lined with California Cypress or tracked through by cobblestone pavers. The Scenic Road - just off the far end of Ocean Avenue - offers views to transfix, of both stunning homes and the Pacific seascape below.
So we set our sights on the 28-rolling acre estate that is home to the Bernardus Lodge & Spa in Carmel Valley (bernarduslodge.com), for a taste of romantic perfection. Rooms replete with seagrass wall coverings, bathrooms with heated floors and ash wood throughout were just what the doctor ordered. We would achieve our slow ambulations through the Lodge’s gardens and vineyards, and enjoy a VIP wine tasting, farm-to-table fare and garden-to-glass experiences (Bernardus produces its own honey and wine to give its food and drink menu an added personal touch - take a guided hive walk in the property’s new apiary, flush with 180,000 Italian honey bees). Because Bernardus Lodge & Spa has an extensive range of organics on site, from herbs to veggies, vineyards to fruit trees, the estate produces much of its seasonal menu on-site: a dream for a couple of amateur foodies.
Lucia Restaurant + Bar, named after the eponymous mountain range that runs southeast from Monterey County, features an eclectic and airy space, perfect for afternoon drinks or in-between meals, and a bar chock full of craft cocktail specialties. We enjoyed a round of drinks in the bar, and followed it with a hearty entree from Chef Cal Stamenov. A graduate of the California Culinary Academy, Cal moved across the country to test his skills at New York’s famed Four Seasons, then worked his way west again to perfect his talent in restaurants all along the coast. At home in the rustic-ranch decor of Lucia, the communal table is never bare of a local, artisanal favorite straight from the garden.
Indulge in the VIP Experience at the Bernardus Winery - an exclusive private tasting with a personal host of Bernardus’s smaller production vineyard designated wines paired with three of my favorite things in life: Artisan cheeses, charcuterie and chocolate.
The city of Carmel might well be a photo reference for Merriam-Webster’s definition of “intimate” - and the property at Bernardus is no different. We were consumed by the solitude, and not at all surprised by the fact that the valley was recently named one of the top ten most romantic places in Travel + Leisure. The roaring surf nearby, more than 300 days of sun, and world-class amenities at hand were more than enough to set all of our cares aside and soak into the weekend. Having a spa onsite where we could practice yoga, surrender to all-natural treatments at the salon, and relax poolside was almost too decadent. Needless to say, we somehow managed. We’re looking forward to our next visit - to enjoy another glass of wine or two out on the bocce lawns. I’m owed a rematch anyway.
When I was 24 and planning a trip with a girlfriend to Cabo San Lucas, our families thought the idea sounded, well, fine. They didn’t know much about the destination other than it was resort town, and that some people they knew owned a timeshare there. So as we boarded the plane to fly down, my friend and I had little inkling that we would spend much of the next decade reminiscing about Cabo as one of our best vacations ever. Annoying, it must have been, to hear all about the pools and the sun and the hammocks and the food. At least that’s what my husband told me. Right up until he suggested that we take our kids.
Our just-turned 10-year-old daughter is still obsessed with Disney’s Moana, so we had to fudge a bit when we were explaining that while it wasn’t Hawaii, we would be swimming in the same ocean (and we could definitely still sing “You’re Welcome”) while sunning on the sand under the palm trees. Our 11-year-old son is excited about anything involving the ocean and when he learned that there would be a “kids” and “teens” club chock full of age-appropriate activities, he was beside himself in anticipation. Cabo, on the razor’s edge of sand and surf, offers an inspired, elegant destination vacation a quick two hours by plane from Orange County. As such, the Los Cabos Corridor has become a prime escape year round. And the AAA Five Diamond Award winning Grand Velas Los Cabos (grandvelas.com) might just be its crown jewel.
Offering beachfront vistas from the balcony of every luxury suite, its tranquil setting on the shimmering shores of the Sea of Cortez makes simple work of forgetting the bustle and vibe of Cabo San Lucas, just beyond the Carreterra Transpenninsular. This is the fifth resort in the Velas Resorts family of hotels. Once here, you feel utterly removed from your everyday life. That utter removal can be of just about any flavor – we were making a four-day family vacation with a focus on adventure, rejuvenation and simple togetherness, but golf aficionados, outdoor enthusiasts, couples, girlfriends and foodies will all find something exceptional at the all-inclusive luxury beachfront resort.
Incomparable accommodations & amenity
The resort offerings include 304 oceanfront suites (with more than 100 connecting rooms - ideal for families with kids or even multi-generational family members vacationing together).
For spa enthusiasts, the Grand Velas offers one of the most luxurious sanctuaries for the spirit. Naturally it features a comprehensive menu of holistic, wellness-inspired treatments, cleansing facials and therapeutic massages, based on age-old rituals and treatments; but it also offers a world-class experience, with 20 spa suites, a lavish Water Ceremony, beauty salon and spa boutique - in an environment defined by the breathtaking beauty where the desert meets the sea on the Baja Peninsula.
The dining experiences at the Grand Velas stand on their own and are likely the reason that many travel long distances to visit. Seven on-property dining venues offer something for every taste, mood and interest. For more sophisticated palates (by that I mean parents vs. younger children), the Grand Velas features an incomparable pair of dining destinations: the French-influenced Piaf and the resort’s signature restaurant - Cocina De Autor, a elegant-casual dining experience for guests 18+ led by celebrated Two Michelin Star Chef Sidney Schutte of the Netherlands and characterized by “creative cuisine” - each meal an extraordinary culinary journey - presented with exceptional service.
Family-friendly eateries include Azul (casual buffet and a la carte menu), the pool-casual Cabrilla for ceviche and seafood, and a trio of resort casual eateries: Velas 10 (steaks and seafood), Lucca (Italian-Mediterranean) and Frida (gourmet Mexican). From its restaurants to its in-room dining, from its robust wine program to its seasonal menus, the Grand Velas has something for every epicurean.
All about perspective
Most adults think of Mexico and see visions of bikini’d spring breakers, but I knew better. My 24-year-old brain took me immediately back to the magic of paradise- and that, without the built in amusement of Grand Velas’ Kids Club and Teens Club. Reserved especially for children, the resort serves up an impressive, all-inclusive platter of activities for the kids to choose from in their very own 1,000-square-foot retreat (for kids ages 4 to 12) replete with storytelling, board games, arts and crafts, bingo, movies and more for the younger set. Teens (ages 13+) enjoy their own state-of-the-art 2,700-square-foot facility to partake in everything from healthy cooking classes, movies and foosball to Xbox and Wii. Each day’s worth of activities are tailored to the child’s age and interests, so there isn’t any chance of that dreaded summertime phrase: “I’m bored.” Open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., the Club is complimentary with the resort’s standard package, including dinner every evening and group activities that stretch well into the night hours.
All-inclusive resort and babysitting on-site? My husband could truly experience the incredible paradise of one of my favorite vacation destinations, and our kids could too: with the added bonus of anytime activity at the Club. We took full advantage, discovering the Baja outback, and explored all that Cabo had to offer we two novice oenophiles (read: wine lovers) while our kiddos formed new friendships and played at the Club. They had no clue that Mom and Dad (during part of our vacation anyway) were busy soaking - literally - in red wine, red wine leaf extract, and post-winemaking grape marc in warm water. The antioxidants and bath temperature provide the body with penetrating nourishment and revitalization that seeps into each and every pore. Perhaps next time we’ll take advantage of the Wine Lover’s Getaway: hopping on a private jet transport to Baja California’s top wineries to make our own vintage.
This time, though, was largely about family bonding and adventure so we scooped up the kiddos and experienced the surf and sand together, letting our imaginations run wild: pretending that Poseidon himself was the king of the resort, but mostly just imagining what it would be like to never come home. Not hard to pretend when sailing, scuba, snorkeling, fine dining, fitness, and fishing charters are the theme of the day, nor when the family suites feature private terraces, bathrobes and slippers in mini sizes, and kid-friendly evening turndown. Perhaps never was there a resort that actually understood the need for families to get away together, and still have ample time and space for personal reflection and relaxation.
With all that the Grand Velas has to offer in activities, amenities, services and dining, the delight of being there is ultimately of the atmosphere, and that comes down to two things: beauty and people.
While hospitality professionals are typically welcoming, the staff at the Grand Velas are authentically convivial. So much so that either the resort has found hundreds of matchless thespians dedicated to guest satisfaction (from the seamless check-in process upon arrival to 24-hour in-suite room service) - or the Grand Velas’ team truly enjoy being there. I believe it is the latter. The personal concierge service here sets a new standard in hospitality excellence.
As to beauty, the Grand Velas is simply an exquisitely designed place with lovely spaces; starting with its majestic, tiered architecture opening out to panoramic views of the Gulf of Mexico where the golden sand embraces turquoise waters, from the grand, fifth-floor open-air lobby to the well-appointed suites, you cannot escape a floor-to-ceiling sense of unrivaled beauty. And so at every turn you are inspired to tranquility and delight. Ultimately, that is how our family spent a few days away and what we’ll remember most – enjoying time together against what is arguably among the most magnificent of backdrops.
Let’s do the math: two cities, a pair of longtime girlfriends, two husbands, five kids. Jobs, bills, school, parent teacher conferences, sports teams, coffee dates, dinner guests. Totaling out to terribly long stretches between “girlfriend get-togethers” with a close friend who lives across the county, but might as well be across the country for as infrequently as we seem to be able to catch up in person.
Enter the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel. Poised on the bluffs above Dana Point, the resort’s casual air lends itself to an oceanfront dream that just won’t quit. Afternoon surf lessons and nearly 400 suites replete with airy layouts and coastal views, on-site gourmet dining at Raya, enoSTEAK, or 180blu to tempt the palate with fresh, innovative cuisine or tapas and cocktails at sunset were more than what my friend and I needed to get away for the weekend and slow down the hectic pace we’ve grown accustomed to.
When your goal is to unwind, there is always a strong case for a stay-cation, which means there is always a strong case for the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel.
Since a weekend at the Ritz offers OC locals all the “away-ness” a vacation promises without the attending hassle, it’s an especially attractive option for an uncomplicated getaway for girlfriends seeking a short respite from the obligations of home, husbands and kiddos. Within a half hour, you’re in paradise, with no need to leave it until you’re headed home.
Of course, if you find yourself at any Ritz, you find yourself in luxury; but our Ritz has some special advantages. Most rooms offer breathtaking ocean views from private patios or balconies, and the entire southwest side of the property is ocean-facing, with nothing but sand interrupting the space between building and water. This factor alone transports you; but then it’s all the ritzy little things that make it a getaway.
Every guest, and every group of girlfriends, at the Ritz-Carlton has a multitude of ways to vacation. Yoga or Pilates classes and an ocean-front fitness center start your days off in wellness; free use of the sauna and steam room at the Ritz-Carlton Spa settles you in for rejuvenation; a Beach Butler Service provides beach recreation equipment including fins, towel service, umbrellas, and beach chairs; access to tennis courts, including rackets, is unlimited.
A girlfriend getaway to the Ritz-Carlton arguably would not even be one without a rendezvous with relaxation at the Ritz-Carlton Spa, where therapeutic excellence meets an ocean-inspired approach, using rich minerals, sea salt, algae and water as common treatment elements. The broader resort is an energetic place; stepping into the Spa, the outside world – even the lively Ritz, even the best of friends – fades away to quiet personal peace. The therapists at the Spa are second to none, providing therapeutic and beauty treatments as extensive as the whole body, or as specific as hands, face or feet. The relaxation massage I received was one of the best I’ve ever experienced.
Dining at the Ritz-Carlton is itself a worthy reason to pay a visit any day of the week, but for a girlfriend getaway, you could have a different experience for every meal, each appropriate to the moment: a light, casual breakfast at the Market Place (try the quinoa bowel for a guiltless treat); a poolside snack while lounging midday (the fresh pita and house-made hummus from the Dana Pool Cafe is surprisingly finger-licking); a late drink at the outdoor, oceanfront lounge, 180blú (the Tequila Sangria is a specialty). Raya, however, is the dining experience that mustn’t be missed.
Raya showcases Chef Steve Wan’s Pan-Latin coastal cuisine, prepared with sustainable seafood, local produce, and natural and organic meats. You can find breakfast and lunch here, but we opted for an indulgent dinner overlooking the Pacific as the sun set brilliantly. At Raya, every detail of each dish is lovely to the eye as well as the palate, and every detail of table service is expertly executed – all a fitting counterpoint to nature’s exquisite display just on the other side of the glass.
Over chardonnay we shared the lobster tacos, Hamachi tiradito (served on a jicama “tortilla”) and petite lamb lollipops, all succulent ways to start a slow meal with a good friend. One of the menu’s most popular offerings, the miso Alaskan black cod is a delicious dish that should not be missed. The New York prime is cooked-to-perfection and accompanied a la carte by the Dungeness crab mashed potatoes (a special recommendation by our server that was the perfect complement to all our main courses).
The cod at Raya, the ocean-inspired spa experience, the floor-to-ceiling views, and the prime beach location are all uniquely OC; but take away the “Laguna Niguel” and you still have “Ritz-Carlton,” which is always a compelling option for a vacation-away-from-vacation – with girlfriends, or otherwise.
This Summer at the Ritz-Carlton
You don’t have to stay overnight to enjoy the beauty of the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel this summer.
Live Music & Sushi @ 180blú
Fridays and Saturdays, music from 5–8pm, sushi from 6–9pm.
Thursday, May 10, 2018 | 5 to 8 p.m.
Thursday, June 14, 2018 | 5 to 8 p.m.
Thursday, July 12, 2018 | 5 to 8 p.m.
Thursday, August 9, 2018 | 5 to 8 p.m.
For people and their pooches! Cocktails, beer and a selection of barbecue items available for purchase. Proceeds support The Veterans Initiative of Canine Companions for Independence.
Festival of Arts Exhibit:
45 Years of Contemporary Art
May 11 - September 4, 2018
Honoring the oceanfront resort’s long-term partnership with Pageant of the Masters and Festival of Arts, guests are invited to view the exhibit featuring 13 contemporary artworks from the Festival’s Permanent Collection.
I love the concept of consignment - finding a true treasure for which someone else paid full retail and I get the benefit of acquiring the same item sans the depreciation. But I have a friend for whom the word “resale” is synonymous with sketchy deals on Craigslist. Suffice it to say that it took some doing to convince her to explore the offerings of the San Juan Capistrano-based Revel Consignment.
We were on our way to lunch and had some time before our reservation so we walked in and got so caught up perusing the beautifully displayed furniture, art and home accent pieces that very nearly missed meeting our friends on time. Selling both new and consigned furniture is just the tip of the iceberg; eclectic decor, accessories, and design inspiration ensure a unique and ever-changing shopping experience for each customer who walks through the door.
Owners Kathleen “Katie” Dabney and Sam Gaylord came from relatively disparate backgrounds to start Revel Consignment. Their mutual love of design and flair for creativity blossomed out of years in the finance and marketing industries, reflecting in the detailed care and management of San Juan’s showcase consignment shop.
“We wanted to create a one-of-a-kind store, full of beautiful treasures our customers would be delighted to take home,” says Katie. “We’re upscale, but accessible: and we think that’s the main reason folks love shopping with us.” Revel’s inventory is updated daily, and covers everything you might want in your dream home: from quality furniture, lighting and wall art to accessories such as throw pillows, mirrors, and statement decor pieces.
Sourcing from all over the world, Revel takes only the best, and offers personal and quick delivery right to your home for a nominal charge.
“Some interior design firms offer up only full scale services, costing thousands of dollars,” says Katie. “We bring it home to you: one piece at a time, or everything you want at once.”
My friend is almost never actually looking for anything specific. She is one of those shoppers that seems to perennially window-shop. But, given the reins in this gorgeous store, she shopped like a stealth bomber flies: silent and deadly. We wandered around Revel chatting and laughing as casually as if we were walking down the street, until she saw something she liked. It was all over after that.
“We’re not an antique mall,” Katie says with a laugh. We would heartily agree. My friend walked through Revel like she had been let into a museum full of fine art that she could take home and show off to the ladies in her garden club.
“We’re here providing quality that lasts, for a style and design sense that will survive trends and fast fads. Yes, it is eclectic, and edgy, but there is a piece for every room, no matter what vintage or vision our customers have.”
We walked out of Revel with a pretty pewter serving tray, complete with scrollwork edging and the weight of history behind it. Headed for a life on an antique steamer trunk in my friend’s receiving room, the tray had not one thing to do with her image of Craigslist deals in supermarket parking lots. In fact, you’ll have a much easier time finding brass and crystal accents or the latest spring combinations within the walls of Revel Consignment.
“It isn’t enough to provide a single space with a few beautiful elements. Walking into the home of your dreams requires following the golden rule of decorating from William Morris; ‘Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful’”. And my friend and I would agree: there’s certainly no shortage of either here.
Revel Consignment is located at 31896 Plaza Drive, Suite E3 in San Juan Capistrano. To connect with Katie and Sam directly, call (949) 388-9070 or visit www.revelresale.com
Assisted Living facilities have struggled with their reputation for a great many years. The emotional understanding of what those facilities actually do is mired in miscommunication. Ivy, or rather Hedera, as it is known in the scientific world, has also suffered from a bad rap for years. An immigrant to the States, Hedera is a genus of 12-15 species of evergreen that climbs or creeps, loves rocks, and is native to western central, and southern Europe, Africa, Asia, Japan, and Taiwan. Making the list of best air-freshening plants, ivy also takes one of the headers in place of non-native invasives that threaten wildlands. But, what things connote aren’t necessarily what they denote, as I learned a number of years ago in my tenth grade English class.
I’m dating myself here, but about the time I was attending that English class, the company dedicated to residential senior care that would eventually become Ivy Glenn opened its doors for the first time. Including the 14 bed home originally opened on Venice Island in Florida, it has been over a quarter century since Ivy began taking care of seniors in Laguna Niguel. Plenty of time to disprove the negative connotations that go hand in hand with assisted living, and plenty of time to perfect each service in its handbook of home assistance. Hospice care, end of life care, Alzheimer’s, and dementia fall under the truest definition of what Ivy Glenn provides. Yet, mention any of these words by themselves and their denotations fall short of the meaning of loving care and kindness, which Ivy Glenn actually specializes in.
The tagline on their website states simply, “residential senior care reimagined.” Matt Posselt has a much bigger picture in mind than that tagline states at surface level. Matt’s mother Gail, and father Tod lent him the unique privilege of not only growing up in a senior care home but also learning the value of life and family. Growing up in the service field, “I learned how to make the important decisions to keep my elder care homes consistently delivering quality care while working to truly improve the lives of the seniors in my care.”
A job too important to do all alone, Matt relies on the expertise his mother - now retired - has provided him over her time in the industry. “My mother continues to believe that the growing senior community is in desperate need of quality homes,” says Matt. “This means an entirely different thing to us than most.” Setting the benchmark for care in senior living is no small task, and upending the reputation assisted living has garnered over the years? Even larger.
“Ivy Glenn is the pinnacle of my mother’s experience, love, and dedication to her residents,” most of whom are still high functioning. Residents are often still extremely alert and independent when they come to assisted living homes.
“We’re also just equipped and qualified to care for every sort of condition that comes across our plate,” says Matt. Keeping individuality and independence intact is the first task, and maintaining the family’s respect for their care and maintenance as a human being means each one of our residents can continue to live life to the fullest. “I believe, and have heard from our families, that the reason they love Ivy Glenn is due to the fact that we treat our seniors like family; not only living in an environment that feels very much like home, but being taken care of, waited on.”
Residents enjoy a variety of scheduled activities each week and furry friends visit regularly as Ivy Glenn has coordinated with a provider of “pet therapy.” From the beautifully appointed rooms, to the exquisite grounds, you won’t find another home that combines all the amenities of a four star hotel with the comfort of one’s own living room.
“The most important work we do is provide our seniors with a loving home.” Love, like ivy, grows exponentially with the proper care and attention. It can strengthen walls and rebuild that which has begun to crumble. That’s a connotation worth fighting for, a distinction Ivy Glenn finds worth defining.
To connect with Matt directly or to schedule a complimentary tour, call (949) 697-1410 or visit www.IvyGlennRSL.com
There is something powerful about true, deep calm. The spread of quiet. Perhaps the draw of it is why so many seek the peace of the woods, the white noise of the ocean, the exquisite contentment a great yoga class can bring. People are drawn to it, animals can’t get enough of it. Ryan Furlet is the possessor of a powerful calm. With the laid back aesthetic of a Bob Marley fan and the grace of a Zen master, Ryan is perhaps the gentlest soul I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. And what’s even more important than my first impression was that of our family dog Bella.
I have never seen anyone elicit such a serene demeanor out of our otherwise rambunctious labrador retriever pup than Ryan did when we signed on for a Life Center Evaluation, and then a Private Life Center Session. But what sold me on Ryan’s unique abilities was watching him train Charlotte, the six-month-old golden retriever belonging to the owner of the jiu jitsu dojo my kids attend. In front of the dojo, while class was in session. Which means 20-some-odd children were actively sparring just on the other side of floor to ceiling windows while their parents are lined up outside chatting and watching their kiddos work - all of which should have been a major distraction for the pup and an increased challenge for the trainer.
Ryan, who had brought along his own five dogs in order to train Charlotte with the aid of his “pack.” As the pack leader, Ryan put his own pups into “down stay” at one end of the walkway, then sat with Charlotte 15 feet away, murmuring instructions to her. Amidst all the activity and noise, his dogs watched Ryan intently, awaiting his next command. He quietly called each over, one at a time to join he and Charlotte while the remaining dogs held position until it was their turn. Suffice it to say the other parents and I were slack jawed as we watched him work.
From that day forward, the other moms and I referred to Ryan as the “dog whisperer,” which it turns out is an apt moniker as Ryan occasionally assists Cesar Milan as one of his trainers. Ryan truly is a K-9 guru. And he is looking for new pups to join the pack.
“Here at the Life Center, we understand that just as parents may differ in their method of directing their children,” Ryan notes, “so do our pet parents with their K-9 companions.” Their mission is to provide the healing and rehabilitative process needed to improve on the standing expectations between pets and their parents. What is actually reasonable to want from one’s pet? What can your pet expect from you? Ryan is a firm believer that creating better pet behaviors makes a happier home life. Now expanding his services to include nearly the entire South Orange County area, from Aliso Viejo to Laguna Beach, the K-9 guru is literally willing to go the extra mile to help you and your canine compadre reach the powerful center of true, deep calm.
Offering one or two hour private Life Center sessions, group classes, or two or three-hour private sessions at your home, each pet and parent will “move forward from their own foundation, tap into a required understanding, and create positive energy.” Home sessions are built around the balance of communication between pet and parent, and maximizes the training experience by allowing the trainer the insight into the way parents nurture, and pets respond.
And boy, do pets respond. Not many people can take over 10 dogs to the park, off leash, and put just one into stay and walk away with the rest of the pack and have the dog patiently wait until called. Going out of town and want your pup to relax just as much as you are while on vacation? At the Life Center in San Clemente, Ryan will board and train your dog at the same time. Keeping Bella overnight the first time cemented our family’s belief in his methods - Bella came home a more well behaved, more calm canine. So much so, that we regularly leave Bella in Ryan’s care when our family travels.
From a wee pooch to those looking for more intermediate or advanced training options, no dog is too much for the deep well of calm that comes from someone as dedicated to their craft. With 5 rescue dogs of his own, it really is no wonder that Ryan has found himself as the guru of South Orange County when it comes to pups and their parents.
To connect with Ryan, call (949) 449-9618 or visit www.k-9guru.com