Okane, sister restaurant of Omakase, offers approachable and delicious Izakaya-style dining

Okane's Hamachi dish
Fresh Hamachi? Yes, please.

I had the absolute pleasure of dining at SOMA’s now Michelin-starred Omakase last year and was so excited to hear that their team has opened a new casual dining space right next door. Okane is where you want to go if you’re looking for an authentic izakaya dining experience serving hyper traditional Japanese dishes and drinks. A few months after they opened, the restaurant offered a peek into the space and menu.

My friend and I came for a visit after work one day and were greeted with the sounds of Naughty by Nature and Biggie Smalls over the sound system and two glasses of bubbly. If that isn’t a total Bay Area dining experience, then I don’t know what is.

Okane's sushi roll
Okane’s Harajuku roll was delicious and super fresh.
Okane wagyu roll
The Shinjuku roll is definitely a treat for anyone.

We started our meal with some cold sake and beautiful pieces of Shimofuri Hamachi served with an olive oil yuzu shoyu drizzle and jalapeño. The Harajuku roll was delicious and was a roll of salmon, avocado and shrimp tempura topped with tuna, spicy kabayaki and fried lotus root chips. We also indulged in the Shinjuku, a roll of snow crab and avocado, topped with torched wagyu beef, garlic and pepper.

Okane's eel tempura
Who knew Eel Tempura could be so good?

The fish courses that followed were the Saba Karaage, a fried piece of mackerel with daikon and serrano peppers; the Grilled Sake Lees Cured Alaskan Cod; and the Anago Tempura, fried pieces of eel stacked with burdock root and tentsuyu, a Japanese tempura dip. All were delicious and offered a peak into the many fish preparations on the menu.

After a couple palate cleansers of Chawanmushi and roasted seaweed rice with savory tea broth, we both dove head first into a bowl of Black Sesame Ice Cream with a drizzle of Okinawa brown sugar sauce. The meal was totally well-rounded, the fish tasted like it was just caught, and the service was perfect. Not to mention, some of the ingredients are flown in from Tokyo’s famed Tsukiji Fish Market.

Traditional Japanese dining can be pretty intimidating, whether you’re just learning how to use chopsticks or are seasoned eaters looking for more adventurous dishes. The team at Okane, led by vet restauranteur Kash Feng, is making omakase and izakaya-style dining more approachable…while also delicious.

For more information, visit www.okanesf.com.

 

Are you ready for Eat Drink SF 2016?

Eat Drink SF 2015
A photo from Eat Drink SF 2015

Written by and photos by Nadia Ibanez

It’s that time of year when Bay Area foodies come out in droves to spend the weekend rubbing elbows with the city’s finest chefs, wine/beer/booze makers and mixologists. Eat Drink SF is in its eighth year and will be held once again at the Festival Pavilion in Fort Mason Center. Eat Drink SF was the first food festival I went to in the City and still is one of my favorites.

Crab Cakes from One Market
Crab Cakes from One Market

Check out my coverage of last year’s event here.

Founded by the Golden Gate Restaurant Association (GGRA) back in 2009, Eat Drink SF brings together 160+ restaurants offering unlimited bite-sized versions of their claim-to-fame dishes while attendees walk around with their drink of choice or check out demos and classes. (And trust that you’ll find a new favorite drink from one of the 70 bars, distilleries, wineries and breweries in attendance.) If you’ve ever wanted to be under the same roof with all of your favorite restaurants, this is your event.

This year’s event starts August 25 with everyone’s favorite, the Taco Knockdown, and goes into the weekend with four Grand Tasting events. And if you’ve never been to an SF food festival, expect a lot of wandering through rows trying to figure out what to eat or drink next. No wallets, no fuss…just pure culinary fun.

New this year at Eat Drink SF 2016:

  • A Sunday Grand Tasting event will celebrate GGRA’s 80th anniversary and honor Bay Area bars and restaurants that have been open for at least 20 years.
  • A personal favorite, Buena Vista Café will be pouring their famous Irish Coffees at all four Grand Tastings.
  • The SF Brewers Guild will be in attendance and pouring local brews in the Backyard Bites section.
  • A new “Bay Bar” will feature cocktails from the city’s hottest cocktails bars, like Hard Water, The Treasury, Whitechapel, and more.
  • Look out for a Milagro Margarita Mix Off added to the Thursday Taco Knockdown event.
Tyler Florence of Wayfare Tavern
Tyler Florence serving up a Corn and Prawn soup at the Wayfare Tavern booth.
Executive Chef, Danny Kou, of La Mar Cebicheria Peruana
Executive Chef, Danny Kou, of La Mar Cebicheria Peruana
Eat Drink SF Souvla
Souvla serves up their AMAZING lamb

Ready for an indulgent weekend? Get your tickets now at www.eatdrink-sf.com. See you there!

 

image courtesy Indian Springs Calistoga

A modern guide to the historic Indian Springs Calistoga

 Written by and photos by Meaghan Clark

In stark contrast to the crystal clear blue skies sits a shimmering white road, a welcome aura that elicits feelings of comfort and familiarity.

Indian Springs’ historic property nestled amongst the vineyards and mineral springs of Calistoga, California is the quintessential site to embrace nature, wash off your worries, and disconnect. A pristine oasis in the hustle of today’s social angst, the 17-acre property that dates back to 1862 celebrates regional flavor with a nod to history.

Indian Springs Calistoga mineral pool
The entrance to the historic (and recently renovated) pool

 

Upon entrance, settle in to a spacious room that overlooks some of the property’s best features, like a lagoon complete with lily pads, graciously green grasses or even a reflecting adult pool. While the property itself features everything from private bungalows to cottages and a lodge, size mean nothing to guests here — each individual retreat feels like a solo expedition.

Start your day with a quick jaunt through the neighborhood, where if you’re a jogger like me means traipsing up and down two-lane roads nestled between local vineyards. Wineries are tucked between residential homes in this part of town, just make sure to make a mental list to any places that pique your interest (my favorite is Tedeschi Family Winery).

Sam will hook you up
A delicious charcuterie plate prepared by the team at Sam’s Social Club

 

On your way back into the resort, stop for a quick cup of fresh coffee, set aside at the property’s Terrace Room adjacent to the resort entrance, where bocce courts and property chickens reside. A roaring fireplace and fresh, locally brewed coffee will be awaiting your arrival. Or, if you’d prefer, brew your own cup of Joe in your room supplied by Equator.

Head into the property’s restaurant, Sam’s Social Club, where you’ll find an assortment of spot-on morning trends like avocado toast and staples like a mushroom and leek scramble to curb your appetite. It’s essential to be a breakfast person today, as your next adventure awaits — the spa.

Locally brewed coffee in your room
Brew your own coffee in each spacious room with local beans from Equator

 

While the property is vast in its acreage, the spa is a quaint and friendly reminder of Indian Springs’ antiquity. The mud bath, a signature treatment of Calistoga, which combines local volcanic ash and mineral water, is without question the one treatment on the must-try list. Not much has changed over the years, from the stream room to the claw foot tubs or cucumber water, but why mess with a good thing?

Any of the treatments in the spa are on point but just make sure to give yourself some time to explore the surrounding Buddha pond, a retreat for those robe-clad individuals. With outdoor fireplaces, cool cucumber water, lounge chairs and umbrellas, it’s another serene space for any post-spa treatment. The constant humming of the mineral water churning will leave you mesmerized for hours as big puffs of smoke fill up the sky at all hours of the day.

view from the room
The view from a lagoon-facing room at Indian Springs Calistoga

 

You come to Calistoga for the mud and the waters, and Indian Springs delivers both.

Like the central figure in any blockbuster film, the resort’s Olympic-size mineral pool is the shining star. Nearly a century old, the recently restored pool (which was renovated this year and reopened July 25, 2016) steps up the tranquility level. Massive in size and ambient in temperature, the water isn’t dominated by faint hints of chlorine and temperate isn’t monitored by machine, but rather nature. As should be a requirement for any spa retreat in Calistoga, Indian Springs also provides an adult-only oasis that’s private and all grown up.

The small town feel that Calistoga is known for predominates its dining scene. Fear not, as the top restaurant in the city is within walking distance.

Sink your teeth into this
Hungry? The rib-eye at Sam’s Social Club in Calistoga is a feast

 

While we aren’t typically ones to suggest dining on site for two meals at day, the eclectic and surprising unique menu at Sam’s Social Club is a rare delight. The seasonal menu changes often, and rarely disappoints. Featuring fantastic starters like a ceviche and octopus, or main courses like the ever-present cauliflower steak, it’s impressive no matter the season. And while your visit to Indian Springs serves as a retreat to your mind and body, don’t forget to leave room for dessert.

 

Indian Springs Calistoga 

1712 Lincoln Avenue
Calistoga, CA 94515
707-942-4913

To enjoy the spa or make a reservation, visit Indian Springs Calistoga online.

Chicago Tours for History Buffs, Foodies, Cocktail Fans and the Sexually Explorative

Written by and photos by Nadia Ibanez

I never used to be one who would attack a brand new city with a bunch of touristy things. But when you’re trying to tackle a city like Chicago in just a few days, sometimes you just gotta sign up for a tour and go along for the ride. During my trip to the Windy City, I went on a handful of Chicago tours both within the downtown area and beyond.

From tame architecture and history tours, to sexy red light district tours, here’s a list of some of the Chicago tours you can go on while exploring this amazingly beautiful city.

Historic Chicago Walking Bar Tour with Chicago Detours

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History lessons have never been my strong suit. I have trouble listening to someone chatter about history while I’m in a new city, let alone a classroom, because I’m busy looking around at all of the sights. But, Chicago Detours is a company you want to get to know if you’re seeking a Chicago history lesson with some booze and bites.

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We started our tour at the Tribune Tower and the Intercontinental Hotel where we learned a brief history of the city, who helped to build commerce in the area, what industries fared well during growth, and more. After wandering the streets and learning more about the secret life of drinkers and booze during the prohibition era, we stepped inside the original Billy Goat Tavern.

Outside of the Billy Goat Tavern in Chicago.
Outside of the Billy Goat Tavern in Chicago.

Billy-Goat-Tavern

Any old school Saturday Night Live fan will immediately yell, “Cheezborger, Cheezborger! No Pepsi…Coke!” in their heads upon hearing about this pit stop. The Billy Goat Tavern was definitely my favorite stop on this tour mostly because of the people watching, the fantastic bar and bartenders, historic memorabilia all over the walls, and of course, the cheeseburgers.

By the time the tour was over, not only did we learn about how booze shaped the city in nearly every decade, but we also boozed at every stop. From beers at Billy Goat, to wine and appetizers at the Tortoise Club and a historic mansion, we experienced the booze culture in nearly every way imaginable.

Pizza & Cocktails Tour with Chicago Pizza Tours

Pizza and booze in Chicago is like peanut butter and jelly to the rest of the country; it just goes together and there’s no explanation. Chicago’s deep dish pizza is globally famous and I had to get my hands on all of the pizza I could. If you’re in town for a short period of time and want to try all of the famous pizza spots in the area, I highly recommend booking a Pizza & Cocktails Tour with Chicago Pizza Tours.

Pizza from Flo & Santo's.
Pizza from Flo & Santos.

Our group met at Flo & Santos, a thin-crust pizza spot favorited by local Chicagoans. We ordered up some cocktails and local brews while our table was flooded with huge thin-crust pizzas with toppings inspired by local tastes. The Flo’s Polish was topped with Polish Kielbasa, sauerkraut and bacon, while Marco’s Italian Beef was topped with shaved beef, giardiniera, caramelized onion and roasted tomatoes. We all shared our stories and what brought us to Chicago, before we headed to the next joint.

Pizza Serio's Margherita pizza
Pizza Serio’s Margherita pizza is to die for.

Throughout the evening, we stopped by Pizzeria Serio in the Lakeview neighborhood for Neapolitan-style pizza, the famous Lou Malnati’s in the Gold Coast neighborhood for a taste of history, and Pizano’s for Oprah’s favorite deep dish and dessert. The drinks continued to flow throughout the night and we all naturally befriended each other by the end of the tour.

Lou Malnati's Sausage pizza.
Lou Malnati’s Sausage pizza.

If you’re traveling solo, this tour is perfect for you. There’s nothing like a few too many gin and tonics to open up even the most timid of travelers. The pizza was all fantastic and I totally get why people have Chicago pizza shipped to their homes after visiting these spots. Not only do you get a taste of Chicago history on these tours, but you also get a sense of why this city attracts all walks of life.

Lincoln Park Food Tour with Chicago Food Planet

I’m always one to try and discover hip and up-and-coming neighborhoods while traveling and I had been hearing a lot about Lincoln Park. Located about 20 minutes outside of the Chicago Loop and downtown area, Lincoln Park is an adorable neighborhood offering culture, historical sights, delicious food, shopping and more.

Chicago Food Planet
Cupcakes galore on the Lincoln Park Tour with Chicago Food Planet.

I signed up for the two-hour Lincoln Park Food Tour with Chicago Food Planet, which specializes in walking tours of Chicago’s best neighborhoods outside of heavily-touristed areas. This tour company takes guests around Chicago’s neighborhoods while educating travelers about how the local food culture came to be and how artists, immigrants, students, professionals, and everyone else has shaped the area.

Bacino's Spinach Supreme stuffed pizza.
Bacino’s Spinach Supreme stuffed pizza.

Deemed one of Chicago’s most diverse and largest neighborhoods, we learned all about Lincoln Park’s history with our tour guide, Jackie. We heard about the area’s history and people, while tasting specialty, locally-made items like popcorn, cupcakes, bagels, luxury chocolate and stuffed pizza. (PS: The pizza from Bacino’s was out of this world!) Lincoln Park is a great city for eating, drinking and shopping so if you feel like you’ve tackled downtown Chicago and want a glimpse into the ‘burbs, make sure to add this neighborhood to your list.

Chicago Food Planet operates tours in other parts of town, including the Gold Coast, Old Town, Bucktown, Wicker Park and Chinatown. Our guide, Jackie, was absolutely lovely and super smart and we couldn’t have asked for a better guide. If you fall in love with one of the stops on the tour, Chicago Food Planet offers discounts at the shops or restaurants for purchases after the trip concludes.

Red Light District Tour with Weird Chicago

If you really want to see a part of Chicago with the perfect blend of grit, boozy history and scandal, check out Weird Chicago tours immediately. This tour brought some light into the sex and kink scene of today and the bygone era. Fancy a trip to a sex dungeon? Ever wanted to meet a man who custom manufactures bustiers and thigh-high leather boots? Or, do you need to freshen up your education on today’s sex toys? Then look no further than the Red Light District Sex Tour.

Weird Chicago Tours
One of several incriminating photos from an evening with Weird Chicago Tours.

This Chicago tour is a bit difficult to put into words, especially if you’re tame at heart, because the intel that I gathered on this trip would make anyone blush. Join the group as an open-minded individual, with your friends, or significant other. And be prepared for some silly, while also incredibly intriguing, narration. Let’s just say that by the time the tour was over, I found myself in a swing in the middle of a sex dungeon, tried on some vintage-inspired bustiers, and got a glance into electro-magnetic stimulation at a sex shop.

I guarantee you’ll end the night all hot and bothered with a new wealth of information about the Chicago local sex industry. But if sex dungeons and toys aren’t totally your thing, Weird Chicago also offers tours about the city’s ghosts, criminal history, gangsters and “Murder Castle.”

Architecture Tour with Shoreline Sightseeing

Chicago skyline
Checking out the Chicago skyline with Shoreline Sightseeing.

If you’re looking for a relaxing Chicago tour of the downtown area’s architecture and skyscrapers, I suggest an Architecture Tour with Shoreline Sightseeing. This 75 minute tour, great for those in a time crunch, takes you down the Chicago River and among the most notable towers and skyscrapers. You’ll learn about the engineering of these buildings, who made them, who occupies the space now, and so much more. Ever wondered about the uniquely-shaped round parking structure in the middle of the Loop, or the Aqua high rise apartment building that mimics the image of waves when viewed from atop each balcony? Or the history behind the champagne-bottle shaped Carbide & Carbon building? You’ll learn all about these landmarks and more on this tour.

Chicago skyline Marina City
From the stunning to peculiar, Shoreline shows off all of Chicago’s tallest assets.

Chicago skyline

I hopped on the Architecture River Tour, which launches off from two different locations, and we saw more than 40 different, distinctly Chicago landmarks. I highly recommend going on the tour right around sunset, or at least while the sun is out, as the boat is uncovered and offers amazing views.

The Aqua apartment complex in Chicago.
The Aqua apartment complex in Chicago.

Design your own Self-Guided Tour at the Art Institute

Art Institute of Chicago
Just one of the many rooms filled with art from around the globe.

The Chicago Art Institute tops everyone’s list of must-see places but with almost a million square feet of explorable space, the idea of seeing everything can be daunting. From modern art and photography, to marble sculptures and Picassos, there’s something here for everyone. I only had a few hours to spend at the Art Institute and luckily there were a few options to help maximize my time.

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Before you visit, check out the website’s section for themed mini tours. Or, download the Art Institute app or opt for an audio guide. Whatever your speed, you’ll find a ton of interesting exhibits.

Editor’s Note: Thank you to ALL of the tour companies who allowed me to join your group outings! Thank you for your generosity and hospitality. See you soon!

 

Hotels in Chicago: Places to Stay and Play

The view from Cerise at the Virgin Chicago.
The view from Cerise at the Virgin Chicago.

Written by and photos by Nadia Ibanez

Chicago is one of those cities where you can find a perfect blend of old and new; modern and traditional; super luxe and tastefully simple. I’d like to think these dualities are also found in Chicago’s food, people, neighborhoods and hotels. I decided to take a solo trip to Chicago where I wasn’t going to meet up with a group of friends and colleagues, or travel with girlfriends or my main squeeze. This trip was perfectly timed so that I could clear my head after turning in some crazy projects at the office and also reflect on personal relationships and whatnot.

I visited Chicago right before the start of the warm season and found hotels that not only offered comfy places to rest my head after touring the city, but also offered enough amenities on-site where I’d actually want to just chill out and enjoy the property. All three of these hotels are situated among the hustle of the city, but also offer nooks and crannies where I could just get away and forget I was in a major metropolitan area. If you’re looking for hotels in Chicago that are perfect for the young at heart or the business person who wants to add some extra excitement to their accommodations, look no further.

For the hip, tech-savvy crowd

I was initially intrigued by the Acme Hotel Company when I started reading about how this property made news with all of its in-room gadgets and techy toys. Oh, and these guys are also touting the fact that they’re the first hotel ever to offer Google Glass to guests who book directly with them. Whether you’re an international traveler or just more cognizant about how much data your smartphone is using, you’ll absolutely love the fact that you can ask for a Hotspot To-Go so that no matter where you are, you’ll always be connected while a guest at the hotel. This perk is only offered to guests who book a room directly so make sure to keep this in mind if you plan on using a third-party vendor to book your stay.

And if that wasn’t enough gadgets to keep you connected, you can now borrow an Apple Watch from the front desk during your stay!

Located in the River North neighborhood and just a couple blocks away from the Mag Mile, the Acme is a great place for guests of all ages. My room was the perfect hideaway when I had to take a couple conference calls and it was also walking distance from some awesome Chicago eateries. My room had all kinds of smart TV hookups, both Apple and PC hookups, wireless audio systems, and super fast Wifi. Oh, and don’t even get me started on the adorable bathroom with the lipstick neon light. So freaking cool.

If you’re looking for hotels in Chicago with all of the conveniences, the Acme offers one of the coolest morning coffee services. I ordered my coffee service the night before with my specific delivery time and the cutest coffee thermos showed up at my doorstep in the morning. There’s no more putting on of real clothes to go to the hotel lobby to retrieve your caffeine, or having to fumble with an in-room coffee maker. You have your own thermos! (Just don’t forget to leave it behind everyday, or you will get charged extra.) Also, don’t forget to bring workout clothes and your bathing suit because the caged gym (yes, caged!) and hot tub are definitely worth checking out.

The Berkshire Chicago
Grab a seat at the Berkshire and booze it up with locals.

The hotel’s bar, The Berkshire Room, is definitely not one to miss. I grabbed a nightcap after checking in on the first night and I highly recommend going for the Dealer’s Choice (where you tell your bartender the spirit, flavor profile and glassware you want) and ordering up a couple light bites. The hotel’s cafe, West Town Bakery, offers coffee, pastries, sandwiches and snacks to get you through the day when you’re not stuffing your face with pizza, beef sandwiches and hot dogs from Portillo’s.

This art installation might catch you off guard if you're not expecting it.
This art installation might catch you off guard if you’re not expecting it.

Although the pièce de résistance might be the hidden art installation which is only seen if you have an interior room. Ten painted mannequins, which resemble colorful flying trapeze artists, are suspended from different heights and it’s absolutely beautiful. If you have a room facing the window, ask one of the front desk workers if you can get a peek of this thing. The juxtaposition of color and brick is definitely something you want to ask about.

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For the business professional who really knows how to play

I’m a very loyal customer of Virgin America so when I found out that their only hotel was in Chicago, there’s no way I would have missed spending a couple nights at the property. The Virgin Hotel, located right in the Loop, is one of those hotels in Chicago that is designed for the traveler who needs to get a little bit of work down during the day and who wants to party at sun down.

Get some work done at the Library with a coffee or a cocktail.
Get some work done at the Library with a coffee or a cocktail.
Commons Club at Virgin Hotel Chicago
Just one of the many seating areas at the Commons Club.
ommons Club at the Virgin Chicago
An adult-sized swing greets you as you enter the Commons Club at the Virgin Chicago.

I can’t say enough nice things about this place. The check-in was super easy, the service was impeccable, but the best part of the hotel is its communal areas. If you’re trying to get some work done while traveling, make sure to find a spot on the second floor at The Commons Club. One side of the floor is where you can belly up to the bar for a cocktail (did I mention there’s a daily hosted social hour where the hotel picks up the bill?!). But the other side offers a library with plush seating, outlets, desks and all kinds of nooks where you can take phone calls, hold meetings and have a quiet space to get work done.

I was lucky enough to stay at the property on one of the warmest nights of the month so it’s no wonder why the rooftop bar, Cerise, was going off. Apparently there was a line to get up to Cerise in the lobby, but the DJ was starting up, craft cocktails were pouring, and the crowds were thoroughly enjoying the weather and the company.

Virgin Hotel shower
Shower buddies and awesome bath products found inside the shower at the Virgin Hotel.

The guestrooms at the Virgin Hotel were so incredibly comfortable. The linens, the huge bathroom, the dressing room, the adorable messages, coffee station and everything were perfect. Drinks and snacks in the mini bar were actually priced the same as any other convenience store so it was a godsend not getting charged up the wazoo for items. And don’t forget to download the Virgin Hotel app to order room service from anywhere on the property, set your room’s temperature, communicate with concierge, and more.

For the person who really just wants luxury

Thompson Chicago
The view from the room at the Thompson Chicago.

I’ve stayed at luxury hotels all over the place and it’s definitely a treat and vacation all on its own. There’s nothing like opulence in your guestroom and five star service and the Thompson Chicago sets the bar pretty high. Located in the Gold Coast neighborhood aka Viagra Triangle (Google it!), The Thompson is perfectly perched in the middle of amazing restaurants, shopping and people watching. I was only able to spend one night at the hotel at the end of my trip, but I definitely found myself not wanting to leave. Rather, I spent most of my time in pajamas enjoying the amazing King-sized bed and stellar city views from my Superior Cityview room.

Salone Nico Chicago
I could have spent the entire day and night at Salone Nico.

Upon check-in, I received a couple drink vouchers to use at the hotel bar, Salone Nico. Just steps away from the check-in desk lies the most beautiful hotel bar I’ve ever seen. Salone Nico has an impressive cocktail list, but what’s even more impressive is the actual design of the bar. An entire living wall makes up for the main centerpiece of the space, along with a second level that overlooks the bar and its patrons. Velvet seating, dim lighting, light bar bites, I mean, how could you go wrong? I found myself hanging out at Salone Nico in the morning and evening and you’ll probably find yourself doing the same.

The service at the Thompson was bar none. I wanted to explore the hotel and lobby late at night and enjoyed conversation with the concierge for awhile. We chatted for close to 30 minutes about places I should walk to for coffee and lunch the next day and it honestly felt like I was just chatting with a friend.

While food, tours, shopping and drinking are plentiful, staying at amazing hotels in Chicago might have been my favorite part of my stay. Not only did I find time for leisure and relaxation at each of these properties, but all three of these places offered their own special perks and amenities crafted by their own distinct design and style.

Thank you to all of these hotels who really rolled out the red carpet!