Category: City Reviews

Iceland

Iceland

hedinsfjordur-auroraborealis-iceland

By Alexandria Ott

Located at Latitude 67 north, Iceland and its recent rise in tourism is befitting: With majestically milky hot springs, blistering and bright volcanoes, landscapes that resemble landing on the moon, unusual scapes for scuba diving and lava fields inhibited by Santa and his elves, this Nordic island has quickly become a top destination for American travelers. In fact, at any given time, more American tourists inhabit Iceland than Icelandic residents. With a surge in travel deals from the US to Iceland, journeying to this ancient land has become a must-do for travel connoisseurs and peace seekers.
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HEAD TO THE NORTH
With a quick flight from Reykjavik to the town of Akureyri, Northern Iceland gives visitors a picturesque look into the nation’s most treasured natural wonders. More familiar is South Iceland’s Diamond Circle, but what many don’t know is that the North also boasts a tour that will take you to Lake Myvatn, the Godafoss waterfalls, the geothermal area called Namaskard, the Jokulsargljufur canyon and much more.

Godafoss (Goðafoss), which translates to “the Waterfall of the Gods,” is a historical monument and stunning sight near ring-road 1. It is named as such from the ancient Viking story about Thorgeir Ljosvetningagodi (Þorgeir ljósvetningagoði), an ex-Pagan Chief who converted to Christianity in AD 1000 by throwing pagan idols of Nordic gods into this waterfall as a proclamation of the new faith.

Lake Myvatn is one of northern Iceland’s most beloved stops. The lake’s birdlife is plentiful with fourteen different duck species (the most gathered in any place in the world) and a Bird Museum worth checking out. Myvatn’s Nature Bath is located just east of Reykjahlid, where guests can enjoy a warm dip in the relaxing natural waters. As the fourth largest lake in Iceland, the Myvatn region also offers visitors many hiking routes, if you’re looking for some cardio after your spa-like experience. The Yule Lads, figures from Icelandic folklore who are commonly identified as the Icelandic version of Santa Claus, also live in the Myvatn area at Dimmuborgir. “Watch out for the little elves,” say the locals.

Namafjall mountain (also known as ‘Namaskard’ or ‘Hverir’) is a geothermal area that looks as celestial as it is serene. With boiling and bubbling mud pools, this high-temperature area is often referred to as “Hell’s Kitchen” for the steam that rises from it and the strong sulfur odor caused by hydrogen sulfide. Take a walk on the Icelandic moon.

Jökulsárgljúfur canyon is home to the roaring and spectacular Dettifoss waterfall. Visitors can travel along the canyon and see the famous Hljodaklettar or “Echoing” Cliffs, named for their exceptional acoustics. Dettifoss is Europe’s most powerful waterfall and is situated in the glacial river, Jökulsá á Fjöllum, which is the second longest river in Iceland. The river originates in Vatnajökull glacier, Europe’s largest glacier.
In the springtime, you can also see cliffs of the Tjornes peninsula and will be met by majestic puffins that nest in the area. While there, drive through the village of Husavik, which is the whale watching capital of Iceland, before heading back to Akureyri.
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WHAT TO WEAR
“If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.” Pack for all seasons and occasions when visiting Iceland, where the weather is often windy and unpredictable. Each day will bring multiple changes in temperature, so preparing for anything is the best way to stay warm and comfortable for your Nordic adventures. A beautiful day can rapidly turn into a windstorm so pack layers that will allow you to go from t-shirt weather to winter weather in the turn of a moment.

SNORKEL THE SILFRA
When you think of the most ideal places to snorkel in the world, your imagination might fill with images of tropical waters in Hawaii or Indonesia. What many may not know when planning a trip to Iceland is that it’s waters are some of the most clear in the world and offer a rare opportunity to swim between continental plates. Scuba divers and snorkelers are attracted to this freshwater beauty for many reasons but most its geological significance: The Silfra is located between the American and Eurasian tectonic plates.
Offering exceptional visibility, there are three main dive sites: Silfra Hall, Silfra Cathedral, and the Silfra Lagoon. If you’re a newbie or first time snorkeler, this is a great place because the area is shallow upon entry. The “Ice” in Iceland certainly applies to the water temperature, which ranges between 36–39 °F but can be relieved with a dry suit. The lava rocks are constantly filtering the water so it is truly some of the clearest water in the world. It’s so clean that you can drink it while you are snorkeling. You will view underwater majesty for as far as the eye can see while staying more hydrated than you have ever been.
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DO AS THE LOCALS DO
Four-Wheeling to Freedom: Ditching the tour groups can have its advantages. Trekking through Iceland’s highlands and mountain roads through Jeep Excursions can be the best way to break away. The best places to rent a four-wheeler and take off include:

Glymur waterfall (one hour north of Reykjavik): This amazing waterfall, which is the second largest in Iceland, empties into a giant canyon and with such a short hike, the reward is well worth the time.

Seljavallalaug is Iceland’s oldest geothermal swimming pool, which sits at the base of the infamous Eyjafjallajökull volcano. Located in southern Iceland, this outdoor pool is one of the oldest swimming pools in Iceland (built in 1923) and gives you yet another excuse to relax in tranquil waters.

Landmannalaugar (meaning “the people’s pools”) is a steaming volcanic landscape in the Fjallabak Nature Reserve in the Highlands of Iceland. It is at the edge of Laugahraun lava field, which was formed in an eruption that dates back to 1477. With colorful mountains in the backdrop and cute shops in town, this is a great spot to break away and explore with your travel partner.

Relaxing in the isolated countryside is another way to live like a native. Chic cottages on Airbnb start at $53/night and can range from mossy spots that border lava fields to naturally heated hot tubs overlooking volcanoes. When renting in rural areas, you can also have access to fresh, local food including lamb or seafood and produce like strawberries, tomatoes and cucumbers. Dining in may be a better option for the pocket book as Iceland’s restaurant culture is infamously expensive.

If you are a music lover, then Iceland is a great place to follow major international acts like Foo Fighters, who are headlining this year’s Secret Solace. In addition to being home of major musicians such as Sigur Ros, Of Monsters and Men and Bjork, Iceland has a breadth of festivals to check out, depending on the time of year you are visiting.

Launched in 1999 in an airplane hangar in Reykjavík, Iceland Airwaves is the most well-known. The festival, which takes place in November each year, showcases the Icelandic rock/pop/electro music scene along with numerous international acts. Hard rock festival, Eistnaflug, has taken place annually since 2005. An indoor festival situated in a quaint little town on the Eastern coast of Iceland called Neskaupstaður, the lineup consists of 30-40 bands from Iceland and around the world. Dark Music Days is another festival that locals love, consisting of contemporary and new music and takes place at Harpa in downtown Reykjavík during the darkest period of the Icelandic winter. The festival was founded in 1980 by the Iceland Composers’ Society as a platform for Icelandic composers to present their work. Today, the festival is a platform for getting to know new music with an emphasis on Icelandic composers and performers.

Reykjavík Blues Festival opens with “Blues Day” in the city center every year and it usually takes place in March or April. It includes live blues in different downtown venues and highlights include surprise performances in the downtown city center. Blues clubs in the area also liven up and serve as the official after hour venues. The annual Reykjavik Jazz Festival is an increasingly prestigious event on the international jazz scene. The festival hosts performances in a variety of styles, from contemporary jazz and the avant-garde to Latin jazz, gospel and big bands. It features many acclaimed international Jazz players as well as Iceland’s leading Jazz musicians against a stunning backdrop of colorful mountains in the inspiring coastal town.

Finally, Secret Solstice is back in it’s fourth year, bringing “72 hours straight of never-ending daylight”, incredible live acts, and some of the most unique parties nestled in Iceland’s otherworldly landscapes. The 2017 lineup includes headliners Foo Fighters, The Prodigy, Richard Ashcroft, Pharoahe Monch, Foreign Beggars, Dubfire, and Kerri Chandler. With side events that utilize the beautiful and natural terrain, visitors of this festival can expect events such as performances in the Raufarholshellir lava tunnel system outside Reykjavík. Formed over 5,000 years ago during a volcanic eruption, the Raufarhollshellir cave system is a magnificent phenomenon of nature, which instills a sense of wonder in all who journey within it. And for the first time ever, guests can be part of this ultra-special concert, in this natural space.

WHEN TO GO
Visiting Iceland in winter can impede your adventures with a sliver of sunlight each day, but this is also when some of the best deals can be found. Tourism is most popular in the summer months where the month of June can see 24/7 arctic daylight. If you are looking to miss the high-traffic months of July and August, where the weather is best and most predictable, try booking your trip in the early fall months. This will allow you to enjoy all that Iceland has to offer before the snowy season arrives and even gives you the best chance to catch the enchanting Northern Lights.

Brussels

Brussels

Grand-PLace

Brussels
Equal parts tough and adorable, Belgian comic book icon Tintin and his faithful hound Snowy, brought the sophistication, style, and exuberance of Brussels with them on their adventures—and focused the world’s attention on this cosmopolitan city. That’s just fine with locals, who are proud to show off why their city of a million people is not only the capital of Belgium, but also the entire European Union. That means immersing oneself in the some of the world’s best beer, chocolate, waffles, and fries—served “in German portions, but with French finesse,” as the Belgian saying goes—all the while discovering gorgeous Art Nouveau architecture, vintage markets, puppet shows, pop-up parties, and comic book art.
French and Flemish may be on the tips of local tongues, but Brussels is a true polyglot, making it hard to find a person who doesn’t speak English. Commuting into the city is just as easy as communicating, with six hourly trains running from the airport to Brussels Central Station, and taking just 18 minutes. From there, a vast network of subways, trams, and buses weave through the tightly-knit neighborhoods. In many cases, your foot-power will be enough, starting with the city’s most famous icon, the Grand Place, just five minutes walking time from the station. Like most of Brussels’ primary sights, hotels, and restaurants, the Grand Palace is found in the City Center, or in easy striking distance in the surrounding neighborhoods of Ixelles, Saint-Gilles, Anderlecht, Laekan, and Saint-Josse-ten-Noode. Tap into the pure spirit of Brussels at these ten sites:

Palais Royal
Théâtre Royal de Toone
The actors who take the stage at this theatre may be wooden in composition but not in expression, thanks to nearly two hundred years of history, starting in 1830, when Antoine (Toone) Genty founded this marionette theater. With more than 1,300 hand-carved figures in the inventory (each with its own tailored costume), there’s a huge cast of characters to draw from for spoofed-up classics, like Romeo & Juliet, Cyrano de Bergerac, and The Three Musketeers. The stage itself is nestled under angled eaves upstairs, but don’t leave without seeing the charming downstairs café and bar filled with vintage puppets, posters and an impressive menu of Belgian beer.

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BELvue Museum and Coudenberg Castle
After fire engulfed the castle of Coudenberg in 1731, the 700-year-old residence of central Brussels soon disappeared from existence altogether, buried from view under the Place Royale and surrounding neighborhoods. It wasn’t until the 1980s that serious excavation commenced, and today, several parts of the ancient castle are open to the public, including stairs, passages, cellars, a chapel, warehouse, and the former Rue Isabelle. Flesh out the history above the ruins at the BELvue Museum, where two floors of striking exhibitions present the history of Belgium in a bright, modern way, with many interactive elements, including cartoons, making it fun even for those who generally hate museums.
Cantillon Brewery
Enjoy a sip of Brussels’ revered lambics, gueuze, and kriek beers, especially those concocted at this legendary brewery, the last of its kind in in the city. Opened in 1900, it is truly Old School, utilizing the original 19th-century equipment to produce the world’s original style of beer. Guided tours run every 30 minutes, taking visitors through the production floor, where antique belt-driven machines continue today, milling, mashing, boiling, and cooling the brew. Inhale deeply in the aging room, as the fruity, woody aroma of beer brewing in chestnut wine casks perfumes the air. Abundant spider webs don’t prosper from neglect, but rather are encouraged to keep the brewery naturally bug-free. The Brewery’s admission fee includes one glass of Cantillon’s coveted stock, but few visitors stop at just one glass.
Belgian Chocolate Workshop at Zaabär
Although you can’t actually dive into a vat of Belgian chocolate, it’s still possible to get up close and personal with it at this chocolate factory in the center of Brussels. Every Saturday afternoon (plus Wednesdays during school holidays), one-hour workshops facilitated by the chocolate maker instruct up to 30 guests in the fine art of making truffles, bars, and traditional “mendicants,” named after the four mendicant or monastic orders. There is plenty to taste, too, and your delicious creations are yours to take home…if you make it that far. Be sure to snap your selfies before slipping off your compulsory hairnet, apron, and gloves.

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Les Apéros Urbaines
When the mercury rises high enough on the thermostat, Brussels’ denizens love to get outside and celebrate the warm weather together, and some have converted this rite into an art. One citizen’s attempt to get a few friends together for drinks transformed into Les Apéros Urbaines, a festival of large scale “apéros” on Friday nights throughout the spring and summer. Enormously popular, each event attracts hundreds of locals to chat, drink, dance, and meet friends old and new. The pop-up parties travel throughout the city, and are found in parks, squares, rooftops, and forests during the season—always with the doctrine of “Simplicity, Happiness, Originality, Friendliness.”

Belgian Comic Strip Center
Belgium claims more comic strip artists per square kilometer than any other country, and the evidence is overwhelming — if not in your childhood memories of Tintin and the Smurfs, then in Brussels’ numerous venues for comic book art. The most important is the Belgian Comic Strip Center, where the rich history and production of the “ninth art” pack several floors of permanent and temporary exhibitions. The Grand Poohbah of comics and creator of Tintin, Hergé (aka Georges Remi) are featured in a dedicated area. The Center’s Art Nouveau home, a former textile warehouse built by Victor Horta, is a work of art itself, and the iron-and-glass ceiling bathes the contents in defused light. Outside the center, enjoy more of Belgium’s comic culture along the “Comic Book Route:” a path through the city marked by dozens of large-scale, comic-style murals painted on buildings.
Brussels Vintage Market
Fashionistas visiting Brussels should aim for the first Sunday of each month when the vaunted vintage clothing market opens its doors to nearly 2500 shoppers in need of retail therapy. The remedy is in ample supply, with 40 or more second-hand vendors, and more than 20 designers, filling the charming space in Halles Saint-Géry, a neo-Renaissance brick-and-wrought-iron former meat market. A central obelisk is the point from which all distances in Belgium are measured. Shopping for vintage clothes, furniture, tableware, and accessories, however, is only part of the fun. Meeting friends, snacking on delicious cakes, and possibly shaking your hips to the live music provide the rest — all with a retro flavor.
Royal Greenhouses of Laeken
Brussels’ passion for flowers culminates every two years, when one million artistically arranged begonias fill the Grand-Place with a “Flower Carpet,” stretching 250 feet. Equally coveted by budding botanists and stop-and-smell-the-flowers guests, is the annual opening of the sumptuous greenhouses on the grounds of the royal palace in Laeken, which lasts only three weeks every spring. Established in 1895 by King Léopold, the complex of art nouveau pavilions, cupolas, and arcades is capped by the massive, domed “Winter Garden,” filled with rare and valuable plants, many belonging to King Leopold II’s original collection. The gathering of camellias (over 100 species) is especially prized, as the largest and oldest of its kind in a greenhouse. Afterwards, head to Hallerbos Forest, located 10 miles southwest of Brussels. Here, an astonishing carpet of bluebells covers the forest floor every spring, as if from Arthurian fantasy.

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Horta Museum
The “father of art nouveau”—Victor Horta—lived and worked in Brussels, endowing the city with many of its most beautiful buildings, including his private home and studio. Inside the tall and slender house are many exquisite examples of the style, including tile mosaics, stained glass, wrought iron fixtures, a spiral staircase, and furniture designed by Horta himself. Horta believed material and design should harmonize like a beautiful piece of music, and no one doubts he achieved harmony here. UNESCO called it a work of “human creative genius.”
Bois de la Cambre
On the eve of Waterloo, three miles to the south, British soldiers played a cricket match on the grounds of this park before marching to hand Napoleon his final defeat. The playing field, La Pelouse des Anglais, now makes up but one part of this 300-acre park at the edge of the Sonian Forest. One of Brussels’ favorite escapes, the Bois de la Cambre offers tons of green space, playgrounds, walking and bike paths, a theater, roller-skating rink, row boats, and even its own island, home to one of Brussels’ swankiest restaurants, Chalet Robinson, reachable by ferry only. Make your visit even sweeter – enjoy a Belgian waffle from one of the numerous food trucks.

Getting there – nonstop service from Dulles International Airport (IAD) to Brussels Airport (BRU) is available on Brussels Airlines (5 times per week) and United Airlines (daily).

Thompson Beverly Hills

Thompson Beverly Hills

Thompson Beverly Hills hallway

Thompson Beverly Hills hallway

The Thompson Beverly Hill is the perfect blend of Hollywood glitter and Beverly Hills elegance. Located near the heart of Beverly Hills, the Thompson has that Hollywood excitement of a chance encounter with the glitterati. The hotel is in the shape of a big black box with a great, fine-dining restaurant on the main floor called Caulfield’s and a pool bar on the rooftop. The rooftop is an especially great place to hang out drinking and enjoying the sun. With so many great restaurants within walking distance you’ll have exciting culinary options to choose from. The hotel décor is very modern and sleek. The luxurious rooms are outfitted with the latest technology amenities and included a bed so comfortable that you’ll be requesting a late check out.

9360 Wilshire Blvd
Beverly Hills, CA 90212
(310) 273-1400
www.thompsonhotels.com/hotels/la/thompson-beverly-hills

Perfect Pasadena

Perfect Pasadena

City Hall at Dusk in Pasadena

Surrounded by rolling hills, and set apart from the hustle, bustle, and grime of downtown Los Angeles sits the urban oasis of Pasadena. With wide streets, mature trees, and stately homes, it’s easy to see why Pasadena is the film location of choice for those wanting suburban perfection. Host to college football’s world renowned, Rose Bowl, Pasadena has held the event every January — on New Year’s Day — for the past 90 years. The Bowl is a huge event drawing fans from wintery weather to the delightfully mild 65-degree temperatures and sunshine. While the city does have excellent educational facilities, making one incredibly fortunate to go to school in Pasadena, it should not be mistaken for just another college town; the community is more Perfect Family Life versus College Scruff.

The cultural facilities in Pasadena are refreshingly satisfying while maintaining it’s locally rich flavor. Stage productions, at the 100-year old Pasadena Theater, are performed in a setting of historical significance and wonder. What it lacks in sophisticated plumbing, it makes up for in architectural detail. After enjoying a show, there are plenty of interesting options for food and drink.

And then there’s the The Langham Huntington, Pasadena (formerly The Ritz-Carlton). This is a very special hotel, built in the early 1900s with east coast residents in mind, looking to vacation in the perfect climate of Pasadena during their unbearable winters.  The hotel has stood the test of time and is now very much a destination hotel where you can easily take a six-person family and thoroughly enjoy the grounds for days. The region of Pasadena has a heavy Asian influence. At The Langham Huntington this is evident in the ridiculously cool Japanese tree and pond garden featuring a red bridge, perfect for lingering and pondering. Additionally, the spa at The Langham Huntington offers Chuan Body + Soul treatments used to help soothe your specific element whether it be fire, wood, water, metal, or earth. By asking a series of questions, therapists determine your element and base your massage treatment and aromatherapy scent on these findings.

Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens offer a historical and artistic experience. It’s much like walking into the time of Dowtown Abbey. The Huntingtons — who also built the The Langham Huntington — were a colorful couple with Mrs. Huntington drawing inspiration from Marie Antoinette. The grounds of the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens include their actual home preserved for our historical pleasure. The Huntington also has a really impressive exhibit on the history of the written word, which spans from the time of The Canterbury Tales to modern society and everything in between with a focus on the rights and struggles of those marginalized such as American Indians and American slaves.

The Miyako Hybrid Hotel

The Miyako Hybrid Hotel

The Miyako Hybrid Hotel Lobby

The Miyako Hybrid Hotel is where the elegance and hospitality of the Japanese culture meet the 21st century. This luxury Japanese style hotel is conveniently located close to the I-405 and minutes away from top beaches, attractions, shops and business centers in Torrance, California. The hotel features 208 deluxe guestrooms and 12 superior suites. Whether you’re on a business trip or a getaway, this hotel is a destination poised on the fine line between your imagination and reality.

The boutique luxury Miyako Hotel caters to business travelers with over 80% of guests being in the area on business. The South Bay is the United States capital of Asian business with national headquarters such as Toyota, Honda, and Panasonic; as well as many of the firms who provide support to the auto industy, are located. The Miyako is the preferred place to stay for Japanese businessmen and women, and the premier Asian Hotel in the South Bay.

The Miyako Hybrid Hotel Guest Room

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Miyako Hybrid Hotel opened in December 2009 and is owned and developed by the Kinetsu Company who own railroads and have many hotels in Japan. The Miyako Hotel in San Francisco inspired the property. Repeat business is the anchor of The Miyako; once Japanese visitors discover the gem of a hotel, their satisfaction has them coming back at every opportunity.

More than just a place to sleep, The Miyako Hybrid Hotel is an opportunity to experience some components of the traditional Japanese lifestyle and hospitality. It is where the East meets the West. Every room incorporates details imbued with the traditional culture of Japan, mixed with western style amenities that provide everything you need to function for business, and relax for pleasure. All the guestrooms are spacious and high-style, furnished with a 46” flat-screen LCD HD television, a DVD player, alarm clock with iPod dock and a Pioneer stereo system. Each room is a smoke-free environment, tastefully decorated with warm colors and natural materials. Every bed features sumptuous down comforters, custom duvets, cotton-rich linens, and luxurious pillows so you can sleep in total comfort.

The Miyako Japanese style bathroom is a regenerating experience for both the body and mind that you won’t forget! The rain shower and the ofuro (the deep Japanese style soaking tub) are the perfect place to pamper yourself with complementary natural organic bath products. It is easy to understand how Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai could easily fall in love with the beauty and purity of Japanese traditions. Sit on the stool, turn on the shower, and start scrubbing. When you’re clean, pour the crystals into the bath, and enjoy the lyrical Japanese ritual of bathing, cleaning the body from impurities, soaking and soothing in hot water. The toilet, located in a separate room, features a washerette personal hygiene system that perhaps at first glance you will find strange and hard to understand. But we guarantee once you try this Japanese standard you will want one in your own home!

The Miyako Hybrid Hotel Bathroom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The eco-minded travelers will be happy to know that the Miyako Hybrid Hotel is setting the standard for cutting edge green luxury with sustainable building materials, solar power, energy efficient lighting, and water saving fixtures. The Miyako achieved a Leeds Silver designation, which is one of the highest levels of environmental efficiency and conservation in development and operations. The interior designs are based on eco-friendly principles, and all the decoration materials reflect and are inspired by natural elements, making the hotel extremely comforting and welcoming. The suave color of cork wall gives a sense of total serenity and it is a perfect example of style; comfort and concern for the environment can go hand in hand.

Gonpachi Restaurant

Gonpachi Restaurant is the stellar Japanese restaurant that has received wide critical acclaim as one of the premier restaurants in the entire South Bay. We had an opportunity to experience the restaurant for both lunch and dinner. The food quality was splendid and the service superb.

For lunch we sampled the Temptation Platter featuring a combination of incredibly fresh sushi and sashimi, served with a side of Handmade Soba Noodles in a delicate fresh flavorful broth. The fish was some of the freshest we have enjoyed in Los Angeles. The Soba noodles are handmade fresh daily by the Soba Master who skins the buckwheat husks, grinds the buckwheat then kneads and rolls the dough by hand. The aroma and crisp taste is incredible, especially when dipped in Gonopachi’s homemade dipping sauce (tsuke-jiru). The lunch Katsu bowl featured the signature noodles with dipping sauce and Katsu Pork delicately prepared. The Tendon Bowl included tempura vegetables lightly fried and full of flavor.

For dinner we enjoyed the delicate preparation and strong flavor profile of the Gindara Saikyo (miso marinated black cod), the Hamachi Kama (yellow tail collar with yuzu ponzu sauce), and the Lamb Chop with apple ginger sauce and freshly grilled vegetables. All of these dishes were excellent in both flavor and presentation.

Our Gonpachi experience was fantastic as the cuisine, quality, and service was impeccable.

Spa Relaken

For those looking for an oasis away from it all, the Spa Relaken is a real gem; a peaceful sanctuary for body relaxation and soothing for the soul. Located in Torrence’s vibrant Miyako hybrid hotel, Spa Relaken features a traditional Japanese-style hot stone bath (Ganban-Yoku) and offers an extensive menu of wellness-focused massage and treatment services in a haven of the calm, warm, and inviting Japanese setting.

For those longing for peace, quiet, and meditation, where detoxing and rejuvenating the body are combined with enhancing weight loss and the immune system, the Ganban-yoku–or hot stone spa -— is the perfect place. Ganban-yoku (bedrock bathing) is a bathing method that does not use hot water but involves lying down on a mat on top of hot stone heated to about 40-45 degrees. The Ganban-yoku slabs used at the spa Relaken are rare, natural mineral, super-growth energy stones from the mountain areas

Kyushu, Japan. Warmed by a heater installed under the slabs, these stones emit far-infrared rays and negative ions that penetrate the body and are absorbed by cells causing a number of reactions such as dilation of blood vessels, which improve blood circulation and speeding up the metabolism to help eliminate toxins. All this, and it is really relaxing too!

Relaken’s operational concept is Omothenashi, the heart of Japanese hospitality that guarantees a multi-sensory relaxation for recovery of mental and physical health. This spirit of service embodies everything from ensuring that the guests feel relaxed and happy, to the hosts’ polite attitude, genuine smile, and attention to details.

Between business meetings, or in leisure time, the treatments at the spa Relaken are detailed and customized to match the current physical condition of each person. Those who lead a physically active life should indulge and spoil themselves with a deep tissue massage. This truly effective deep tissue massage provides relief from tension and increases range of flexibility. Relaken is the place to revitalize your mind, body, and spirit. It’s a calm haven with luxurious body treatments and sublime skincare.

The Miyako Hybrid Hotel offers its guests the very best of Japanese and western hotel luxury in the heart of Torrance, California. Come try them out and we guarantee you will not be disappointed.

MALIBU

MALIBU

MALIBU

Saturday morning. Only 20 minutes out of town, but a world away from your work week! Malibu’s natural beauty, 27 miles of coastline and rugged Santa Monica Mountains will breath fi re back into your life! Malibu is king of Saturday and Sunday mornings. Get into town early when the fog is still around. Twist up the coast and dig the misty atmosphere. Snuggle up with your hot coff ee in your fuzzy fl eece. When the coast is clear, your sunglasses are in place and you’ve resumed your journey, make your fi rst stop brunch or lunch. You’ll need to fi ll up for the hike and wine tastings ahead.

Malibu has some of the best breakfast “joints” in the country.Don’t miss the Country Kitchen located on PCH in a tiny brick shopping center across from Duke’s. It’s small on size — only about 10 feet of store front, but huge on taste. Morey has been serving up the best breakfast sandwiches in North America for decades. Sit outside and sip the sea fi lled oxygen and fresh coffee. Too early for lunch? We think not. Their PCH burger has been voted “The Best Burger in L.A.” numerous times and is a notorious favorite of Hollywood’s young superstars.

A mile up on PCH in the center of town is the Malibu Country Mart shopping center which holds the must see Malibu Kitchen (I know it’s a little confusing, but the Country Kitchen in Malibu is NOT in the Malibu Country Mart!). To call it a deli is like calling the Louvre an art gallery. It is a gourmet sandwich shop, deli and bakery rolled into one. Gourmet coff ees and a long list of delectable ingredients for made to order omelets. Well, made to order, as long as you order exactly what’s on the menu. Part of the charm is the rudeness of the cook, his impatience with your indecisiveness, and blunt infl exibility when you try to customize your order. The wait can be 20 minutes, so get there early to get on with your hike in the local mountains and wine tasting.

The Rosenthal Tasting Room (www.rosenthalestatewines.com), is small and strangely situated in the middle of a slab of blacktop. Don’t be alarmed by it’s size. It’s tiny, but delicious! Fine wine in Malibu? Huh? The Surfrider Blend 2004 was our favorite and wins gold medals around the country. Rosenthal donates a portion of the proceeds from each bottle sold to the Surfrider Foundation to protect the delicate seaside environment of Malibu.

There is an expansive stretch of south-facing surf awaiting your long walk just west of Rosenthal. Stop along the way and breathe in the relaxation. If you’re a local Angeleno, this is your backyard! Visit any time, and please tread lightly. It’s one of the most spectacular places on the earth. For visitors, we know you’ll understand why we love living here.

Philadelphia

Philadelphia

Philadelphia
Amy Sciarretto

Philadelphia — the sixth most populous city in the United States and the center of the original 13 colonies, having served as the nation’s first capital before Washington,

D. C. took over the title — is known as the city of Brotherly Love, in addition to being one of the toughest yet most passionate sports towns in the United States. The city enjoyed its first major sports championship in 25 years this October when the Fightin’ Phillies won the World Series at home! But Philly offers so much to its visitors and non-residents, including delicious cuisine like the quintessential Philly cheesesteak or TastyKake snack treats, where Butterscotch Krimptets and Coconut Juniors may ruin your diet, but are sure to delight your palette! Run, don’t walk, to Geno’s Steaks at 1219 South 9th Street in South Philly or to Pat’s King of Steaks, located at 9th Street where it crosses Wharton and P assyunk Avenues.

As if all these factors weren’t enough, the city is also considered the historic epicenter of the country, with figures like Benjamin Franklin and flagmaker Betsy Ross having called Philly home during their lifetimes, which just so happened to shape our grandparents’ lifetimes, our parents’ lifetimes, our own lifetimes and the lifetimes of future generations! The city combines a visible, tangible old world charm, thanks to colonial architecture which is still dispersed throughout the hustling, bustling city, with a distinctly modern feel. A weekend getaway won’t do the city justice, since there is so much to do! Additionally, if you’re an out of towner or Left Coaster headed East for a few days, Philly is situated about two hours from New York City, three hours north of D.C., and about 6 hours south

o f Boston, so it’s sitting in the hub of the East Coast.

While by no means comprehensive, we’ve selected some key things to do when you hit Philadelphia! SIGHTSEEING If you want to give yourself a cultural history lesson, visit the Liberty Bell at 6th and Market in the historic district of Independence Hall. Tradition states that the Bell, which features a significant crack, had been used to summon locals for the reading of the Declaration of Independence. Take a stroll near Betsy Ross’ house, which sits at 239 Arch Street, between Second and Third Streets.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art — yes, this is where the stairs made famous in Rocky, when Sylvester Stallone ran up them, are located — is a massive institution filled with over 225,000 priceless works. Works from B.C. all the way through modern times are housed here, featuring Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp and Sol LeWitt. Located in the Fairmount Park section of the city, at Benjamin Franklin Parkway and 26th Street.

HOTELS You can get cozy at the Rittenhouse Square Bed & Breakfast or you can stay in style at the Hyatt Regency at Penn’s Landing, which is a stone’s throw from the water and South Street. There’s also a cost-efficient Best Western Independence Park if you’re simply in need of somewhere to hang your hat, er, unpack your suitcase!

SHOPPING While South Street isn’t as quirky as it once was in the 1990s, several blocks are lined with shops you can’t find in your local mall, such as Guacamole, a youthful yet hip young women’s boutique, which sells everything from tops to handbags to shoes. These shops share elbow room with bars, piercing boutiques and tattoo parlors, as well as music venues, like the TLA. Old City in Center City boasts local shops like Sugar Cube, Third Street Habit and Vagabond. There are tons of other cute and quaint shops in this area, so bring your credit cards!