Tagged boutique hotels

Playa Del Carmen, Mexico: A Gem Not To Miss

Scuba Playa del Carmen
Scuba divers will absolutely love this story. Keep reading…

Written by and photos by Michael A.

We often don’t lump Mexico in as being an exciting international getaway destination. You need to stop this mindset immediately. Born and raised in Los Angeles, but a mere three-hour drive away from the Mexican border, I too was a culprit of this belief. I love my food and I love me some good international travel. I’ve traveled to roughly 40 countries, and other than a brief stint where I got stranded in Tijuana with a donkey painted zebra, I never had any intention of really making a vacation out of Mexico. However, I was absolutely blown away by the food, scuba diving, clear waters, and most importantly, how incredibly affordable Playa Del Carmen is.

Where to stay

The pool at Hacienda Real del Caribe in Playa del Carmen.
The pool at Hacienda Real del Caribe in Playa del Carmen.

For just $33 a night (yes you read that correctly), I’d recommend staying at Hacienda Real del Caribe. It has a beautiful salt-water pool and very spacious rooms. I’m a big fan of flat screen TV’s, which it was lacking, but the location of this hotel is just so perfect that you’ll forget all about that detail. This hotel is literally one block away from all of the night life, a plethora of great restaurants, and only a 5-minute walk to the beach. Ummmm, I think I also mentioned that it was $33 a night…so, yeah…if you’re on a budget, this is an amazing place to go.

A scuba diver’s paradise

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Cozumel constantly gets all of the hype for being one of the most amazing diving spots in the world (and rightfully so), but you have to make sure you don’t miss the Cenotes. I’ve been on some cool dives in the past, but the Cenotes….well….just look at these pictures for yourself. You won’t see much sea life down there, but the colors and the fact that you’re 35 feet under the surface of Earth is a pretty cool and special feeling in its own right. You are literally below the bottom of tree roots.

Ditch Cozumel and stay in Playa Del Carmen

The best chile relleno I've ever had.
The best chile relleno I’ve ever had.

Don’t make the mistake that my buddy and I made and get a hotel on this island. There really isn’t all that much going on there other than the best chile relleno you could possibly imagine! Cozumel is known world-wide as being one of the top dive locations in the world because of its ridiculously clear waters and visibility. However, I strongly suggest just staying in Playa Del Carmen and paying the extra $5-10 to the dive shop to take you to some diving out there. If you really want to spend some time on the island, it’s literally a $20 35-minute boat ride that leaves every hour from two different ports in Playa Del Carmen. Don’t bother renting a car either, since you won’t see very much other than the port and undeveloped areas.

Lionfish
Don’t touch the Lionfish…

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Do make sure that you go on some dives out there though as the swim-throughs are spectacular and plentiful. If you go within the next couple of years, be ready to see a lot of Lionfish and don’t be an idiot like me and get too close. Yes, they’re beautiful, but they are also extremely poisonous. Enjoy them from afar but don’t try to take that coveted selfie with one. Your underwater selfie can wait until you’ve entered one of the very few shipwrecks in the area. Look for the slightly dirty restroom and make sure you keep your eyes open for some of the biggest eels you’ve ever seen hanging underneath the cracks of the floorboards.

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Overall, Playa Del Carmen is definitely a place you don’t want to miss. The food is great, the stay is cheap, and there is beauty all around you — and under you in the case of the Cenotes.

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You’re not a true SF foodie until you try legendary restaurant, Campton Place

Campton Place3

Written by Meaghan Clark, Photos by Kingmond Young

I’m the first to admit I’m a bona fide foodie. I like my restaurants sealed with a “hot” or “new” label, and have waited in line for cruffins, snapped Instagram photos of side-street tacos, and stayed up late to secure OpenTable reservations for State Bird Provisions (to no avail).

So when an opportunity came around to try a decades-old restaurant in the heart of Union Square, I was skeptical. There’s no line around the corner and the place had a small digital footprint.

I deserve to be slapped.

For anyone with Bay Area connections, ask about Campton Place. With its rich history, the restaurant has opened the kitchen door for many of the Bay’s renowned chefs like St. Helena’s Todd Humphries and James Beard award winner Bradley Ogden.

The beauty behind the restaurant, located within Taj Campton Place, is that it defines fine dining in a way that “hot” places like Al’s Place and Petit Crenn only wish they could replicate. I’m talking about a wait staff that refills your water at just the right time without making you feel like they’re hovering, or tossing your cloth napkin aside when you’ve stepped to the restroom to get you a new one. Each little detail that accompanies your visit to Campton Place is refreshing and “new” in the sense that we don’t see this kind of service anymore…and I haven’t even begun to describe the food.

Spicepot at Campton Place
Spicepot at Campton Place

Without hesitation, we decided to take on the Spice Route menu, a six-course display of some of executive chef Srijith Gopinathan’s signature creations. It was ambitious, yes, but when else do you get the chance to spoon tamarind chutney out of a terra cotta pot that’s sitting on a bed of acorns and pinecones whilst dry ice delivers a mist of “San Francisco fog”? The spice pot alone is enough to venture away from your social circle; it’s a dish you aren’t likely to come across on your latest hunt for what Thrillist calls “the best” macaroni and cheese in the city.

Surprisingly, the audience wasn’t as stuffy as I’d expected on a Wednesday night. And while I’m not the first to describe the lackluster décor often associated with hotel-based restaurants (the Chronicle called is “fusty” last year), and a restroom hidden within the lobby alongside overstuffed lounge chairs and a giant crystal chandelier, I came here for the cuisine.

Of course, it was truly the food that stood out. Celebrating a second Michelin star this year, Campton Place would be nothing without the visionary talents of executive chef Srijith Gopinathan, who joined the culinary powerhouse in 2010. Upon his arrival, the Southern Indian native earned the restaurant its first Michelin star, which he’s followed up with one every year since then.

The beauty behind Srijith’s menu isn’t just the continued excellence, but the expectation that there’s constant innovation – like his incorporation of seasonal ingredients. As an SF foodie I’m used to enjoying changing menus and daily dishes, but for an institution like Campton Place – and signature dishes like the spice pot that have been on the menu for years – I was pleasantly surprised to see that the menu still keeps diners on their toes. This winter, everyone has squash on the menu but Srijith’s addition of Indian spices to a ladle of squash puree complimented the rest of the menu while adding a touch of modernism.

Campton Place

Without hesitation I can claim that I’ve never tasted a better pairing than the one I did at Campton Place – the cod and Riesling were like peanut butter and jelly; for once I finally understood what it meant to taste a complementary pairing. The cod exploded with flavor after a sip of my wine, a varietal I usually don’t enjoy for its sweetness but made my taste buds explode with happiness after just one sip/bite.

I could parade about the variety of each specific dish, but it’s all been documented before. Campton Place should still be where the foodies, bloggers, and PR stars go, and not because it’s new or hot or because the latest listicle from some newbie online publication tells you to go there.

The beauty behind great San Franciscan cuisine is that it has a history, and Campton Place is one of those places that has kept history alive. For more information, visit www.camptonplacesf.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moonstone Beach, Cambria roadtrip travel

San Francisco Weekend Getaway to Cambria

Written by Meaghan Clark

Anyone who has visited a small coastal California city will likely feel an odd sense of nostalgia when visiting Cambria – narrow streets lined with locally owned antique shops, a sprinkling of ‘for lease’ signs, and a hodgepodge of restaurants offering up everything from Mexican to Italian.

Though bite-size, Cambria is the perfect counterpart to any hectic city lifestyle. Don’t worry about packing the latest fashion trends for your evening outing, making an endless stream of reservations, or book excursion after excursion. Cambria’s appeal is the anti-city where long afternoons spent watching 5,000-pound elephant seals or strolling along Moonstone Beach make you forget about “FOMO” (at least for the weekend).

El Colibri Boutique Hotel, Cambria
Image courtesy El Colibri Boutique Hotel

We escaped for a getaway that began at El Colibri Hotel, a contrast of sorts from the traditional beach motels or bed & breakfasts that line Main Street. Despite its youth (the hotel opened in 2010), El Colibri delivers comfort with in-room fireplaces, a luxurious spa complete with Jacuzzi tub, and educated staff that make it feel right at home in this rustic town.

WHERE TO EAT

Linn’s

Quintessentially small town appeal is the bread and butter at Linn’s, or rather the olallieberry at Linn’s. This mogul family owns much of the West Side in the shape of various restaurants, gift shops and packaged goods. Linn’s Easy as Pie, Linn’s Restaurant and Linn’s Fruit Bin are all equally comfortable in setting as they are hearty in country samplings. As cliché as it might seem, no one here will bat an eye – order up an olallieberry pie, warmed, or a breakfast pastry to savor the sweet local flavors of Cambria.

Indigo Moon, Cambria fine dining, best restaurant

Indigo Moon

For any San Franciscan, finding an outdoor space is an anomaly, In Cambria, Main Street is lined with patio after patio, but Indigo Moon isn’t just packed because of its tree-lined deck and star-filled views. The food or is equally as spectacular for both lunch and dinner (plus weekend brunch), with hearty portions and favorable pricing. Highlights from brunch included the eggs benedict, grilled chicken, brie and apple sandwich, and spice rubbed wild salmon salad.

Robin’s Restaurant

Robin’s is the Ritz Carlton of Cambria. Precocious (but not too pricey), Robin’s Restaurant offers unique cuisine in a fantastic setting. A landscaped deck offers prime outdoor seating for brunch, lunch, and dinner and the eclectic menu caters to every taste bud in your party. Don’t be concerned about sharing a pasta special, Thai noodles or a curry alongside artisan cheese plates or spring rolls – the flavor combinations are always on point.

WHAT TO DO

Upon arrival, kick off your shoes and take advantage of your proximity to Moonstone Beach Boardwalk where locals typically enjoy sunset. The rocky beach is breezy and warm, and the perfect welcome to your Cambria stay.

Image courtesy Hearst Castle
Image courtesy Hearst Castle

Cambria often gets overlooked. Its seaside neighbor, San Simeon, boasts one of the world’s largest estates in the States. Hearst Castle is a short drive away and well worth the visit. Book your tickets for a Sunday morning Grand Rooms Tour (extend your stay with a Cottages & Kitchen Tour) and forget the crowds or lines.

As your bus tour winds down the road back to ground level, keep an eye out for Piedras Blancas Light Station, your next destination. Reserve a tour and escape into history alongside the rocky shores.

While you’re in San Simeon, stop at the vistas to view the elephant seals where, depending on the season, hundreds or thousands of elephant seals bask in the warm sand and sunshine of W R Hearst Memorial State Beach.

Nitt Witt Ridge, Cambria tourist attractions

If you’re ready for an unusual encounter that’s been marked as a historical landmark, escape to the Nitt Witt Ridge a collectors obsessed-turned museum that offers daily tours. After your experience, sample the day’s tastings from local brewery Cambria Beer Co. (open daily).

WHERE TO SHOP

Cambria shopping, Garden Shed

Garden Shed is an oasis within walking distance of downtown, offering an eclectic collection from local artisans. With DIY in their blood, everything in the 6,000 sq. ft. indoor/outdoor space is appealing in their unique displays, friendly faces and original collections. Peruse for the afternoon, or if you’ve got a green thumb and ample outdoor space, find something for the garden.

Wineries are ingrained in any city dweller escape, and Cambria offers a great selection of local vineyards offering weekend tastings on State Route 46.

Stolo winery Cambria wine tasting

Local favorite is Stolo Family Vineyards, located just off the beaten path. The Stolo family lives on the property where their 94-point Syrah was created, as well as refreshing and ceremoniously scrumptious Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer. The $8 tasting fee is a steal compared to any Napa getaway, and bottles ranging from $25 to $50 are a must, as they can’t be purchased anywhere else.

Thank you again to El Colibri Hotel for hosting us and Archer and Hound for setting up our destinations. Feel free to check out more things to do at Visit Cambria.  

Calistoga and Saint Helena: Sun, local food and wine at your fingertips

VGS Chateau Potelle.
The starting lineup at VGS Chateau Potelle.

Written by and photos by Nadia Ibanez

After more than five months in the City, I’m starting to finally feel like I have a handle of the neighborhoods, my commute and my watering holes. But like any other restless traveler, I’m constantly looking elsewhere to explore. After my first trip to Napa Valley a couple months ago, I was long overdue for some wine tasting, farm-to-table eating and legit wine country sun. Thankfully a trip to Calistoga was just what the doctor ordered.

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Downtown Las Vegas: Where to stay and play

Downtown Vegas
Get off the Strip and check out all that Downtown Vegas has to offer.

Written by and photos by Nadia Ibanez

Las Vegas and I have a solid understanding: We’re good with seeing each other only once every few years. From the squashed streets, gambling that I never knew how much I loved and “inventive” ways to spend my time and money, I thought I reached max Vegas capacity in my late 20s. However, after a recent visit to Downtown Las Vegas, my interest in Sin City has since blossomed into a full blown love affair.

The pool at Oasis in Downtown Las Vegas.
The pool at Oasis in Downtown Las Vegas. Photo credit: Emily Wilson

My last trip to Vegas was more than three or four years ago and I was craving the desert heat since moving to San Francisco. I knew that I wanted a weekend in Vegas with excitement, bright lights, music and a young crowd so Downtown won me over. The Oasis at Gold Spike , Downtown’s newest boutique hotel, graciously invited me to check out their digs. Read more