Category: Travel & Hotels

Palm Springs Thrives Anew, Arts and Cultural Events Drive a Desert Renaissance

Palm Springs Thrives Anew, Arts and Cultural Events Drive a Desert Renaissance

Villagefest in Palm Springs

Villagefest in Palm Springs

 

Don’t worry, if you miss this week’s festival, there’s another one next week, or so it seems in Palm Springs these days.

Music, Theater, Cinema, Photography and other Fine Arts are being celebrated in new, innovative and elaborate ways in this history-rich “small town”, 90 minutes east of Los Angeles. Here are just a few examples, starting with the star-studded Palm Springs International Film Festival in January. MC Mary Hart accurately said from the stage, “Well, nobody is in Hollywood tonight!” The audience included Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Matthew McConaughey, Bono and his U2 bandmates and producers, directors galore. Streep, Roberts and McConaughey all gave moving tributes to cinema and to a reinvigorated Palm Springs as a cultural destination.

Add in the wildly successful Coachella Valley Music Festival, followed by the Stagecoach Country Music Festival, the nearby Indian Wells Art Festival, the Palm Springs Photo Festival and the weekly music events both in central Palm Springs and adjacent venues, well, you get the idea. Palm Springs is reinventing itself!

Recognizing Palm Springs’ rebirth are some savvy business people, some who showed up a few years ago, such as The Ace Hotel, Saguaro and the terrifically popular Tropicale. Other forward-looking hospitality entrepreneurs like the Kimpton Hotels are partnering with developers to continue the revitalization of a slowly re-awakening downtown shopping district. The long-dormant downtown mall is being rebuilt, anchored by a Kimpton property, and unique shops that will hopefully eschew the cookie-cutter, mind-numbing sameness of the stores-we-see-everywhere.

The pool at Riviera

The pool at Riviera

Speaking of savvy moves, the Noble House group bought the old Riviera Resort in 2006, closed it down and remodeled and refreshed the place without losing the character of this old Rat Pack headquarters. Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., Dean Martin and the rest would preview their Las Vegas shows for the locals in the Riviera’s Grand Ballroom. Bob Hope held many a fundraiser in the same vast venue. Now, with the fine-tuning of innovative General Manager Marco Perry, the Riviera Resort and Spa is attracting families, hipsters and weekend couples to the 3-pool and easy-going property. The Riviera is also on the vanguard of bringing corporate gatherings back to Palm Springs, taking advantage of the great air service into Palm Springs International Airport and, like other smart Palm Springs hoteliers, working with

Coachella Valley’s spas are often extraordinary, and the Riviera Spa Terre is at the top of the list. Spa Terre is a full service spa, including a hair and nail salon (great for bridal events). It offers one of the most instantly appealing spa areas you are likely to find. It is centered on the harmony of the Buddha Lounge, adjacent to the facial and massage areas. Plan some extra time before or after your treatment just to relax in this dreamy oasis with the sounds of waterfalls and lovely tubs — you will emerge serene and renewed (we loved Sylvia’s massage work).

Palm Springs Tram

Palm Springs Tram

In addition to the hospitality entrepreneurs, artists have been moving back to Palm Springs again, and where there are artists there are galleries to help them promote their work. Some of the gallery owners like Brian Marki Fine Art and Framing, are artists themselves. An Oakland College of Arts and Crafts graduate, Marki has focused on watercolors in his own work, but chose a career representing regional and international artists and framing their work. His new gallery in the El Paseo blocks downtown, is a great example of the area’s new direction. He represents the new breed of business people who live in town and are putting down committed roots.

While the side trips still abound, such as the 8400-foot elevation Palm Springs Tram, the Joshua Tree National Monument and the popular Indian Canyons trail hikes, central Palm Springs has grown into a great “base of operations” for visitors. With the ongoing revitalizations mentioned above, and the existing shopping and great dining, it’s all here. Fly in, drive in, bike in and have some great desert experiences relaxing in Palm Springs.

By Lucinda Anderson and Frank DiMarco

From Grandeur, To  Grandeur

From Grandeur, To Grandeur

Casa Del Mar Presidential Suite

Casa Del Mar Presidential Suite

Adrian Forty, Professor of Architectural History at University College London insisted, “No design works unless it embodies ideas that are held common by the people for whom the object is intended.” If any grandiose beach club property has achieved this feat, it is Santa Monica’s Hotel Casa del Mar.

In the early 20s, Santa Monica was experiencing an economic boom, and soon became known as the “Atlantic City of the West.” During this time numerous beach clubs sprung up along the coast, including the lavish Hotel Casa del Mar. Constructed in the Renaissance Revival style in 1926 by Los Angeles-based architect Charles F. Plummer for $2 million, Hotel Casa del Mar was originally a glamorous beach club for Hollywood’s A-List, and deemed Santa Monica’s “Grand Dame.” Members paid dues of $10-$12 per month to belong; the club was the hub of L.A.’s “see and be seen” elite social club.

In 1941, during World War II, fear of the Japanese invading the area beaches led the military to enlist the club as military housing. Hence, the US Navy claimed the building and used the hotel for a recreation center for enlisted men. In the early 1960s, the club closed its doors after struggling to regain its pre-war glory. The next 10-year chapter of Hotel Casa del Mar continues its fascinating history, as it served as home to the Synanon Foundation, a drug-rehabilitation program. Synanon was the first of its kind; a self-help (no doctors) drug rehabilitation program founded by Charles “Chuck” Dederich Sr. who directed the program for over a decade. In the late 1970s, Nathan Pritikin purchased the building. He developed a nutrition and health-care facility, the Pritikin Longevity Center, which closed its doors in 1997. Finally, the Edward Thomas Company, comprising brothers Edward and Thomas Slatkin, hailing from a long line of hoteliers, purchased the building and infused it with a $50+ million dollar restoration while working in partnership with the Historic Resources Group. The property reopened as Hotel Casa del Mar in 1999. Today, the property is one of the only remaining examples of the 1920s beach clubs that once monopolized the coast, and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Casa Del Mar Ocean View Room

Casa Del Mar Ocean View Room

The 1996-1999 renovation, which restored Hotel Casa del Mar to its former opulence and grandeur, was led by HLW International, a New York/Los Angeles firm in partnership with Thomson Design Associates of Boston. Leslie “Lale” Armstrong was the project manager and senior designer. An architect for 35+ years, she is also responsible for the renovation of the Chantilly House in Bel Air. Structurally speaking, Hotel Casa del Mar is actually three structural systems in one. The underpinnings are concrete, while the second and third floors are built like wooden framed houses. The renovations included removal of the beach lockers and the beach/basement level swimming pool (where Johnny Weissmuller and Esther Williams perfected their swim strokes). In their stead a large ballroom with side spaces was built including insertion of vertical seismic sheer walls and 60” deep beams to carry and balance the weight of the main salon and terrace above. All the rooms and bathrooms were reconfigured, and all electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems were replaced. It was redesigned to be wheelchair accessible throughout the hotel.  As well, a wading pool was built on the terrace two levels above the beach.

Additionally, the eight-story property features a brick-and-sandstone facade, red-tile roof, brown iron balconies, and elaborate relief work with escutcheons adorning the front door. There are an array of sculpted figures throughout the facade including cupids, angels and Renaissance personalities. The interior design was managed by several Los Angeles firms using a 1920s aesthetic including simple, soft lighting and classic materials that were preferred in the 1920s such as damask and velvet draperies, and fruitwood and bronze furnishings. The color schemes reflect both land and sea. Today the fine finishes are in elegant gold and green hues complimented by shades of blue and apricot.

Hotel Casa del Mar offers 129 elegantly appointed guest rooms and suites, imparting the ambiance of a chic beach estate, with a historic sense of place. Most rooms boast panoramic views of the Pacific coastline from Palos Verdes to Malibu, while others offer cityscapes of Santa Monica. Hotel Casa del Mar offers 5,100 square feet of meeting space, a sea wellness spa and several restaurants including the newly opened Terrazza where guests can look forward to a unique aesthetic and culinary experience inspired by the classic Italian Mediterranean seaside.

This was an enormous project that restored Hotel Casa del Mar to its original elegance. It’s a magnificent destination for a family vacation, an anniversary getaway or just a quick weekend jaunt. The hotel is right on the sand of the Santa Monica Southern California beach community surrounded by the Santa Monica Bay and the famous Santa Monica Pier. It is walking distance to the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market, the bustling Third Street Promenade, Main Street and the stunning vistas of nearby cliff-top Palisades Park.

In many ways, the architecture and the building itself serves as a link to the past, as the building has come full circle to again host the quintessential grand beachfront club experience. Juhani Pallasmaa, professor of architecture at the Helsinki University of Technology and former Director of the Museum of Finnish Architecture asserted, “A profound design process eventually makes the patron the architect, and every occasional visitor in the building a slightly better human being.” Frankly, who wouldn’t be better for experiencing the grandeur of the Hotel Casa del Mar? Absolutely no one.

Savoring Scottsdale

Savoring Scottsdale

The Omni Montelucia

The Omni Montelucia

By Adrien Field
@AdrienField

Scottsdale has called itself “The West’s most Western town” since its incorporation as a city in 1951. In the intervening 63 years, the Phoenix suburb has swelled in size from 2,000 to over 200,000 and traded in its cowboy boots for the well-heeled patent variety available at its downtown Fashion Square’s luxury boutiques.

While Scottsdale may no longer be the Wild West, it’s on the pioneering frontier of a farm to table movement that’s both elevating the culinary scene and raising consciousness about the provenance of one’s plate. No longer just a spa and golf destination, Scottsdale has forged a place for itself on the foodie map, attracting nationally recognized chefs who work with local small-scale farmers to offer fresh, seasonal dishes.

In nearly all ways, Scottsdale has become a cosmopolitan oasis in the Sonoran Desert with world class dining and accommodations. With its myriad spas, golf courses and the upcoming Super Bowl and PGA tournament in Phoenix – both taking place within a week of each other – there’s never been a better time to visit our neighbor to the East.

GETTING THERE
Scottsdale is just 380 miles from Los Angeles, or an hour’s plane ride into Phoenix with all major airlines providing multiple flights daily. Peak season is January through March, when the weather cools to an average of 70 degrees during the day. Off-season is predictably from June to September, when summer temperatures soar into three-digit territory. Those who don’t mind the heat will find incredible deals on hotel stays and spa packages.

ACCOMMODATIONS
There is no shortage of hotels and resorts lining the city’s 184 square miles, ranging from quaint to opulent. Landmark properties include The Hotel Valley Ho, one of the only mid-century modern resorts built in the 1950s still standing today, the Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain, a luxurious celebrity favorite, and The Bespoke Inn, Scottsdale’s only bed and breakfast.

The Omni Montelucia is a sprawling 35-acre property at the foot of Camel Back Mountain. Influenced by the architecture of Southern Spain, the hotel inspires feelings of grandiosity with its long courtyards and soaring stone archways.

Rooms are comfortable and well appointed with cloud-soft king sized beds, a workspace and sofa. Our room looked out onto the expansive Camelback Mountain with a double door that opened out onto tranquil garden, home to rabbits and hummingbirds

The main attraction here is undoubtedly the 31,000-square-foot Joya spa designed by Sylvia Sepielli. Men’s and women’s lounge areas are complete with a steam room, sauna, Jacuzzi and the only hammam treatment rooms in Arizona. Upstairs is also a private pool for spa-goers with treetop and mountain views.

The Montelucia’s marquee restaurant, Prado, is a stylish and acclaimed breakfast, lunch, and dinner spot serving Mediterranean cuisine. Executive chef Michael Cairns overseas the kitchen that features a wood-burning fire grill. 

Royals Palms
For a romantic getaway, the Royal Palms offers secluded bliss amid lush bougainvillea-scented surroundings. Originally built in 1929 as a private residence, the resort opened its doors to the public in 1997 after an extensive renovation. Couples can lose themselves among the winding stone pathways that lead to intimate garden nooks and fountains.

Each of the property’s 119 guestrooms is situated in bungalow-style casitas with a front entrance and a back patio. Adding to the intimacy are grand four-poster beds and a remote-controlled fireplace in each room.

For a sumptuous dining experience, the hotel restaurant T. Cook’s is not to be missed. The menu by executive chef Paul McCabe features rich continental cuisine with highlights like venison tartare, stone seared foie gras, and a mouth-watering Colorado lamb.

Sanctuary Camelback Mountain

Sanctuary Camelback Mountain

GO LOCAL
Queen Creek Olive Mill
About an hour outside of Scottsdale in neighboring Mesa, the Queen Creek Olive Mill is an example of the small scale farming operations currently changing the food landscape in Arizona. Helmed by husband and wife team Perry and Brenda Rea, the mill farms some 7,500 olive trees on its property and produces a range of flavorful extra virgin olive oils onsite including specialty infusions such as chocolate, vanilla bean and yes, even bacon olive oils.

An afternoon can be easily spent touring of the facility’s production operations, where visitors learn how the olive goes from fruit to liquid, followed by lunch at the café, which serves up an array of Mediterranean-style salads and sandwiches. Make sure to try an olive oil cupcake before perusing the various olive offerings at the marketplace in the form of oils, jarred tapenades, and even beauty products made by Mrs. Rea.

Bink’s Scottsdale
A true local’s spot inconspicuously situated in a strip mall, Bink’s serves locally sourced organic foods that are simply delicious. The ambiance lends itself more to afternoon than evening visits, but dishes like lobster pasta and 5 spice duck breast make dinner too good to pass up.

FnB
The unlikely pairing of a fast-talking Montenegrin/Columbian oenophile and a shy but extremely talented chef make up FnB (Food ‘N Beverage). Situated in the Art Walk district downtown, the restaurant has received national attention for its seasonal menu that puts Arizona produce front and center. In chef Charlene’s hands, Tuscan kale falafels are a soft and savory delight, roasted tomatoes are dynamites of sweetness, and the chicken au jus entrée is a flavorful classic.

Co-Owner Pavle Milivec serves as front of house and educates patrons on Arizona wines, including some of his own blends, each lovingly nicknamed after his children.

The attached shop next door, Bodega, also sells local wines, cheeses, and other fresh farm produce.

Beautiful agave

Beautiful agave

SPOTLIGHT ON SINGH FARMS

For Ken Singh, a second-generation Arizona farmer, “food grown properly is magic.” It may as well be his mantra; since he took the reigns of Singh Farms from his father, he’s transformed his 60-acre farmland into an organic and sustainable operation growing 50 varieties of produce.

A veritable Garden of Eden rising in the middle of Scottsdale’s arid terrain, Singh Farms draws locals every Saturday morning to its farmer’s market where it serves fruits and vegetables harvested from the earth that morning.

It’s the quality of the produce that keeps food conscious patrons coming back week after week to this hidden gem. “It’s simple. Give the soil what it wants and get rid of chemicals.” Mr. Singh says as he surveys the growth of his Moringa trees. In addition to composting his own soil, Mr. Singh has implemented companion growing, which supplants the need for pesticides since each plant naturally has an essence that protects another.

 

 

Macao – Looking Forward In A Historical Place

Macao – Looking Forward In A Historical Place

Colors of Macao

Colors of Macao

In the opening scenes of the 1952 movie “Macao,” starring Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell, the announcer describes Macao as “the Monte Carlo of the Orient.”  If that movie were to be re-made today, we would likely hear, “the Las Vegas of the Orient.”

On the reclaimed land of Macao’s Cotai Central district, a new gaming paradise is glittering up the region and gamblers from all over Asia (many with their families) are showing up for vacations and testing their luck at lavish casinos. The Venetian, The Sands, The Galaxy, MGM Grand, Wynn have arrived with more to come. And, yes, there will be an Eiffel Tower in Macao by 2015, in the new Parisian resort. In 2012 the gambling revenues of Macao exceeded the total gaming revenues of the State of Nevada.

We will come back to all this new-ness later, but first, a little history and a little geography. Macao (or Macau) is comprised of both a peninsula and an island on the south side of the vast Pearl River Delta. Hong Kong, to the northeast on the other side of the Pearl River, is a one-hour trip by fast ferry and arguably a world apart.

While evidence shows human presence dating back over 4,000 years, early Portuguese traders arrived in the early 1500s and Macao’s long and fascinating history is rife with clashes between the Chinese and the Portuguese. Things became stable in 1582, with an annual “lease” arrangement. The agreement also established the Portuguese administration of Macao, which lasted until 1999, when it became, like Hong Kong, a Special Administrative Region (S.A.R.) of the People’s Republic of China. Portuguese influence lives on today, with many families having mixed cultures in their histories. Macanese cuisine reflects this culture as well.

Artful Details

Artful Details

Gambling (politely called “gaming”) became legal in the 1800s to help the local economy. Gambling is illegal in Mainland China but resonates in the cultural makeup of many Asians, as they themselves happily acknowledge. If you build it, they will come. They did, and they did.

A few words about getting there:  Our EVA Air flight from LAX to Taipei was interesting for some comfortable reasons. What EVA has done is create what they are calling Elite Class premium economy. They have managed to create unique comfort with a chair that reclines as though in a socket. This accomplishes two things:  It allows you to get the feeling of more recline — with the use of the foot rests — and does not cramp the passenger behind you as much as a regular recline. We thought it was clever and reasonably comfortable (as much as a 12-hour flight can be called reasonably comfortable). The crew on the clean B-777 aircraft worked very hard to demonstrate an appreciation of our business and was clearly trying to deliver the best onboard product they could. The plane was full (one of two departures from LAX-TPE within 20 minutes of each other) so the Elite Class really helped. An easy EVA Air connection to Macao followed uneventfully…the best kind of flight. The Taipei Airport is modern, clean and traveler-friendly, as is the newish Macao airport.

So, we wondered, what are they doing in Macao’s Cotai Strip to attract families, other than the lavish, elegant casinos? For one thing, resorts like the Sheraton Macao Hotel are innovating with a connection with DreamWorks. Take in the “Shrekfast” — a lavish buffet which surrounds a stage full of bigger-than-life characters such as Shrek, Puss in Boots, the cast of Madagascar, with Alex the lion, penguins and many more.

Whether or not you know these characters already, they become even more lovable when surrounded by a lavish buffet of fresh and exotic fruits (dragon fruit!), juices, breads, pastries, dim sum, Macanese dishes, omelettes made to order, bacon and sausage, excellent coffee and tea — pretty much everything you might want for breakfast or brunch, and then some.

We watched tables full of youngsters dazzled as the characters came to their tables and posed for photos with them. Further, the Sheraton Macao has themed some rooms, with bunk beds and other fun amenities for kids, all related to the DreamWorks animated characters.

Chef at the Sheraton

Chef at the Sheraton

The Sheraton has nearly 4,000 guest rooms and suites and frequently is 100% booked, so some trip planning is important. There will soon be a fast rail line from the heart of Guangzhou to Macau, which will greatly increase accessibility from major parts of Mainland China. Convention and event business is growing as well and The Sheraton Macao has vast, beautifully appointed ballrooms that can handle meetings and events on a large scale.

As we have always suggested to our readers, become a Starwood Preferred Guest and be eligible for benefits and upgrades such as access to the lounge for breakfast or cocktails. SPG membership is free and the benefits are a real value. The roomy Starwood Club Lounge at the Sheraton Macao is a major enhancement to the resort experience here, and includes an elaborate breakfast buffet, a bar, indoor and outdoor seating and orchids everywhere. Packages are offered that include some great Starwood benefits. The staff at this property is simply wonderful.

The Sheraton’s restaurants are excellent and include Bene (Italian), Xin (hot pot and seafood) and Feast (international). Poolside dining in the semi-tropical air of Macao is offered from the Sheraton’s healthful menus.

The Sheraton Macao is linked to the other elegant resort casinos by covered walkways, taking you through multi-storied shopping areas with all the top global names represented. You could arrive in your bathing trunks with a credit card and emerge from these halls of retail in a gorgeous suit or dress, with an elegant new watch or necklace and spectacular shoes, carrying the rest in a new handbag or roll-aboard.

Be sure to get tickets for “The House of Dancing Water” in the adjoining City of Dreams. This aquatic/acrobatic love story extravaganza will leave you breathless — a treat for all ages.

And what about seeing the sights of Macao? From the ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral (built 1582-1602) to the A-Ma Buddhist Temple (1488) and all the wonderful vibrant streets and parks in-between, Old Macao has a rich experience waiting for the visitor. The old Red Market is a chance to see where local Macanese shop for fresh fish, poultry, beef, pork and vegetables. Chinese cooking culture demands freshness so be prepared to see live chickens looking on as their freshly-butchered brethren leave, under the arms of home and restaurant chefs. There are two fresh fish deliveries per day so a great deal of slapping and flapping can be witnessed at the Red Market as well.

We also enjoyed two museums that share the same address. The first is the Macao Grand Prix Museum, which celebrates the annual world-famous Formula Car race through the streets of Macao. The Grand Prix marked its 60th year in 2013. The museum is full of classic race cars of various vintages and detailed dioramas of pit crews and drivers at work. Outstanding historical racing photographs line the walls and videos show dramatic highlights of past races.

Its neighbor, the Macao Wine Museum, is a surprise and a delight. The museum goes on and on, with real winemaking equipment from another age on fascinating display. Mannequins in vintage regional dress of Portugal line some of the hallways. Because of the continued relationship with Portugal, and her influence on Macao culture, the museum’s tasting room offers dozens of varieties of Portuguese wine to visitors. These two museums are world-class in how they present their subjects. It is clear that a great deal of time and money went into their development.

Macau is small, unique and diverse. It could be “China for beginners.” We were told, more than once, by China experts that it is not “the real China.” We understand that to mean that Macao is not the huge, overwhelmingly vast mainland and, yes, it has westernized aspects. That can be a good thing, especially for first timers. You can stay in contemporary luxury in Cotai Central while also having easy access to the culture and history of old Macao. It is a delightful and friendly destination.

Tokyo in San Francisco

Tokyo in San Francisco

Hotel Kabuki Lobby

Hotel Kabuki Lobby

 

So you have visited San Francisco many times? Seen the wharf, walked through the Ferry Building, enjoyed the Bay? Well, for a completely different international spin, try out a stay at Joie de Vivre’s, Hotel Kabuki located on Post Street in Japantown. For an extra special treat, request one of the signature suites, which come with a sauna and a Japanese-style soaking tub. The hotel also features an Izakaya restaurant with a large selection of skewers and small plates for happy hour. Japantown is like a trip across the Pacific, featuring many traditional Japanese shops and restaurants. You can pick up a great esoteric English language Manga comic novel (we sampled a comic series explaining Japan’s traditional cuisine, for example) at Kinokuniya Book Stores, a new bento lunch box at Nippon-Ya or elegant hand-made ceramics at Shiki. The center has regular special events, such as Kimono shopping days, the J-Pop festival and drum performances by the world famous Taiko Dojo. Sundance Cinemas theater allows you to reserve individual seats and enjoy evening shows with a full service bar and private screening rooms if that’s your pleasure. The city has so many facinating neighborhoods to experience; it’s a fun way to take a break from the routine.

For more information on Japantown, go to sfjapantown.org.

Punta Cana, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Simon Mansion & Supper Club

Punta Cana, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Simon Mansion & Supper Club

Punta Cana, Hard Rock  Hotel & Casino

Punta Cana, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino

Tropical white-sand beaches, the best rum known to man, world-class cigars, and fine dining in a bathroom — you really can have it all in the DR! (That last part about the bathroom will make sense soon, I promise.) While historically the Dominican Republic hasn’t enjoyed the same influx of tourism as many of its Caribbean neighbors, scores of new resort construction and development along its picturesque east coast is rapidly increasing its appeal to the western traveler. And with culture as rich, people as friendly and indulgences as decadent as the DR has to offer, we’re astounded it’s taken this long to catch on.

Having opened just three years ago, the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Punta Cana has bolstered that effort by providing us Americans a recognizable brand with a reputation we can trust. In true Hard Rock form, the entire compound is immaculate and looks like it could’ve opened yesterday — which is no small feat, considering the acreage over which it sprawls. Whether you’re taking a short stroll or riding one of the shuttles clear across the grounds, you’ll be hard pressed not to stumble upon someone scaping the land.

Hot tub in the bedroom

Hot tub in the bedroom

Equally gorgeous as the landscape of the property are the over 1,700 rooms which scatter across it. Picture white marble floors offset by luxurious dark-hued walls, gigantic bathrooms with party-sized showers, not to mention a Jacuzzi in every suite; it’s hard not to feel like a rock star at the Hard Rock. Even though the LCD TV’s, ridiculously comfy beds and fully-stocked mini-bars could’ve kept me happily holed up for as long as I’d desire, there’s way too much going on at this resort to be staying in for long.

When it comes to play at the Hard Rock Punta Cana, all I have to say is good luck trying to do it all. If relaxation’s your thing, they have twelve swimming pools, many of which are equipped with a swim-up bar (heyo!), but I say why bother with a pool when you have nearly half a mile of turquoise Caribbean coastline at your disposal. In case of sunburn from excessive lounging, the Hard Rock has your indoor entertainment covered. With one of the largest Casinos in the Caribbean, dim light and A/C will have you forgetting that you look like a lobster in no time! Once recovered and ready to get back at it, there’s an 18-hole Jack-Nicklaus-designed golf course (and also mini-golf, in case you find the full-sized version as intimidating as I do), a rock climbing wall, multiple tennis courts and a fitness center that’ll put your local Equinox to shame. Should you be outlandish enough to exercise while on vacation, please feel obliged to reward yourself with a treatment at the 60,000 sq/ft Rock Spa. Complete with 35 spa suites and the most complete hydrotherapy circuit in the Caribbean, there’s not a kink in your body they’re incapable of fixing.

After a day of activity there’s nothing better than a delicious meal to top it all off, and when we say the dining options are limitless at the Hard Rock, we mean just that. Featuring nine all-inclusive restaurants and three café/deli style eateries, it’s nearly impossible to try them all. Not because of the quantity, simply because of how arduous the task is to explore other options once you’ve fallen in love with your first sampling. And though the all-inclusive dining choices are equally revered and nothing short of delectable — the experience of dining at their signature restaurant is not to be missed.

Simon Mansion & Supper Club

Simon Mansion & Supper Club

Designed to mimic the eclectically-chaotic beauty of a rock star’s abode, Simon Mansion and Supper Club’s décor beckons you before even entering the front door. With seven distinct dining areas, guests can feast on fixtures of American-Caribbean cuisine from Chef Kerry Simon’s menu in either the Living Room, Library, Studio, Patio or Dining Room — or come with a group and dine privately in the Bedroom or aforementioned Bathroom; don’t worry, there isn’t an actual toilet. With a variety of sections ranging from fresh local seafood and sushi rolls, to twice-fried chicken, basil-crusted racks of lamb and Kobe beef hamburgers, even the most discerning of foodies will feel catered to. The next best part: after dining like a rock star, you can party like one at Oro nightclub just a few steps away.

Star Alliance Lounge

Star Alliance Lounge

Star Alliance lounge outdoor seating

Star Alliance lounge outdoor seating

As you know from reading LAX Magazine, Tom Bradley International Terminal is undergoing a massive, $1.5B renovation — the biggest public works project in the history of Los Angeles. The first passenger lounge to open in the new space has just been unveiled from Star Alliance. The lounge is gorgeous with fire pits, mountain views and experience zones. The lounge is welcome to all First, Business and Star Alliance Gold Card passengers who are departing on a Star Alliance airline from Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT).

The 18,000 square foot facility was built to host up to 400 people with a special section for First Class passengers. Built by global architectural firm Gensler, the lounge boasts an outdoor terrace with views from the northern runway where you can watch planes land as well as views of the Hollywood Hills. The terrace includes fire pits and a huge water feature.

Star Alliance lounge

Star Alliance lounge

The space is designed to provide comfort for all types of passengers. If you’re looking for a social scene, there’s a bar or if you are looking for some quiet time then you can head to the library. There is a den, a study and a media room. With USB and power ports throughout, you can be assured that your devices will be can charged and they have iPads available to borrow if needed. Eight shower rooms are available to freshen up before or in between flying.

The décor of the lounge is inspired by modernist architecture in L.A. during the 50s and 60s. New guidelines for Star Alliance branded lounges call for introducing a local flavor into each location. Our new lounge in Los Angeles features black and white L.A.-inspired photos, shot by renowned photographer, Peter Lik. Star Alliance used locally sources products and furniture where possible and the walls are lined with gorgeous glazed ceramic tiles created by local artisans. They are currently working towards their Gold LEED Certification.

Eight Star Alliance carriers operate out of Tom Bradley International Terminal including ANA, Asiana Airlines, EVA Air, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, SWISS, THAI and Turkish Airlines. Air New Zealand was selected to manage the lounge, as they will be moving from Terminal 2 to TBIT next year.

One of the benefits of Star Alliance Gold, First and Business class customers is access to this lounge and thousands of lounges throughout the world. Day passes are not available for purchase.

www.staralliance.com

ST JULIEN HOTEL & SPA

ST JULIEN HOTEL & SPA

St. Julien cuisine

St. Julien cuisine

The St Julien Hotel and Spa in Boulder, Colorado is the perfect place to stay while visiting the idyllic college town located at the base of the Rockies. With breathtaking views of the magical Flatiron rock formations, the hotel is situated in the best part of town, right off the Pearl Street Mall. And better yet, within walking distance to such drinking and dining staples such as the Rio Grande Mexican restaurant (best margaritas on earth!) and other fantastic area bars and eateries.

When you’re ready to explore Boulder even further, a great way to see the area is on bike. The St Julien offers guests a selection of cruiser bikes available at no extra charge, allowing you to tour the city the way the locals do. Not a biker? No problem, the hotel offers a courtesy chauffeured shuttle service within the Boulder city limits to all guests! The hotel is also located within driving distance of the nation’s best ski slopes and hiking trails.

St. Julien bathroom

St. Julien bathroom

After touring the town, you can unwind at The Spa at St Julien, which features twelve treatment rooms outfitted with the latest spa therapy equipment and personal care and an inner relaxation lounge. By incorporating fresh herbs from St Julien’s on-site herb garden, the Spa at St Julien has created a variety of unique treatments and products found nowhere else in the world. The Spa at St Julien offers a full-service salon that includes the latest hair care, makeup, nails and also body, facial, massage and anti-aging treatments. It also contains a 60 ft. indoor lap pool and relaxing hot tub, offering mountain views and high-altitude patio relaxation; and a complimentary fitness center featuring the latest aerobic and cardio equipment. Sunday mornings at the St Julien are kicked off with a complimentary yoga class offered daily at 9 a.m. Yoga sessions are led by an on-staff therapist and yogi who guides guests of all ability levels (novice to intermediate) through an hour-long yoga class.

One of the ideal benefits of the St Julien experience is dining at the unique and popular Jill’s Restaurant.  Showcasing contemporary American cuisine, Jill’s places a special emphasis on sustainable, organic farming, providing the highest quality meals. You can eat in the restaurant, dine al fresco on their patio, or better yet order it for room service!  An annual recipient of Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence, Jill’s Restaurant is fantastic and they have a great Sunday morning brunch offering their new Tableside Service featuring dramatic creation of select dishes adjacent to each party’s dining table.

Every Saturday, you can enjoy St Julien’s Afternoon Tea, which takes place by the fireplace in their Great Room with lovely views through the floor to ceiling windows. And bonus, Grammy-award-winning pianist Ralph Sharon entertains guests during Afternoon Tea! Held in the lobby from 2 to 4 p.m., guests and locals are invited to a modern tea service featuring teas from Tea Forte as well as scones, tea sandwiches, and a selection of seasonally inspired fare. During the summer months, iced teas are offered in addition to hot teas, and often feature ingredients from the herb garden. During the holiday season, Gingerbread Teas are featured and include gingerbread decorating for children along with the usual selection of teas.

St. Julien exterior

St. Julien exterior

And let’s not forget a main perk of staying at the St Julien……drinks! The hotel offers live music on most nights in the T-Zero Lounge, which is a fun place to enjoy music and cocktails. It also offers one of the best wine programs in Boulder as well as handcrafted signature cocktails and martinis, many made with local Colorado liquor. Or sit outside at The Terrace at St Julien, which showcases one of the most breathtaking views of Boulder’s famous Flatiron Rock formations with the Rocky Mountains in the backdrop. You can dine on the Terrace for lunch, happy hour and dinner, and it is an ideal location for private parties.

The St Julien experience is a luxurious, yet comfortable, and most importantly, authentic to Boulder.

900 Walnut St

Boulder, CO 80302

(720) 406-9696

www.stjulien.com

Visiting Vancouver

Visiting Vancouver

Beautiful Vancouver

Beautiful Vancouver

Ah, Canada. Where everyone is so civilized. One of my favorite cities in Canada has got to be Vancouver. It’s like the North America version of Hong Kong with water, mountains and skyscrapers. There is so much to do in Vancouver from checking out the food truck movement to exploring all of the public art on display to incorporating some physical movement into your visit with a jaunt or a saunter around Stanley Park — a massive park located in the middle of the city with water on all sides.

There’s so much to do in Vancouver, BC but first let’s talk about where to stay. There are four different versions of fantastic Fairmont Hotels in Vancouver; Fairmont Vancouver Airport (luxury at the airport), Fairmont Waterfront (with the honeybee apiary), Fairmont Hotel Vancouver (the historic one) and the latest and most exciting, Fairmont Pacific Rim. We recently checked out the Fairmont Pacific Rim and we found it to be cosmopolitan and modern with a kind and talented staff who make you feel right at home.

Fairmont Pacific Rim Lobby

Fairmont Pacific Rim Lobby

The architecture of the Pacific Rim is quite stunning. Done by well-known Vancouver architect James K. Cheng, the structure is a mass of glass and metal. Stretching to 44 floors with diagonal cut outs at the top, the building offers incredible views of the North Shore Mountains, Stanley Park and Coal Harbour. Set along Coal Harbour, adjacent to where the cruise ships dock and looking out over the roof top garden of the convention center sits the Fairmont Pacific Rim. The rooms offer beautiful views, Japanese soaking tubs, gorgeous Stearns & Foster beds and bedside touch-screen controls for lighting, temperature, curtains and entertainment.

Culinary Options

The Fairmont Pacific Rim is blessed to have an incredible chef running their food and wine program. Chef Darren Brown was born and raised in B.C. and has established solid relationships with farmers, fishmongers and purveyors of fine cuisine. The Fairmont Pacific Rim is his playground and he’s making the most of it with several dining outlets. He’s even perfecting the craft of large wedding or convention dining using the latest technology to eliminate dry chicken.

Darren is just fabulous and has experience cooking for some of the most distinguished palates in the world. He was the chef for Merv Griffin’s 150-yacht. They would summer on the Mediterranean and winter in the Caribbean, hosting celebrities and dignitaries. He traveled the world and prepared meals from ingredients gathered from the local markets. “I learned that the food needs to speak for itself,” says Darren. “Guests would be paying up to one million dollars for a week’s stay. I would have two hours on shore to purchase whatever I could cook. This forced me to play with the food and cook with what was appropriate and available.”

Fairmont Pacific Rim Bathroom

Fairmont Pacific Rim Bathroom

After spending a few years at sea, Darren became the Executive Chef at our own Trader Vic’s inside of the Beverly Hills Hilton. Then in 2002, Darren headed to Vegas to open Rumjungle at Mandalay Bay. While overseeing operations at Mandalay Bay he was responsible for China Grill, Blue Blanc Rouge Bistro and Red Square. Darren caught the eye of legendary Michelin chef, Alain Ducasse. From Ducasse, he learned about sourcing and “being true to the product, knowing where it comes from, doing the right thing and the least with it,” says Darren.

In 2004 he opened the exclusive Mix Restaurant, and in 2005 he was appointed Assistant Executive Chef of the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, which required him to oversee the culinary operations of 1.8 million square feet of event space, in-room dining for 5,500 guest rooms and more than 20 restaurants.

Upon hearing about the impending birth of his son, Darren decided to raise his family back in Vancouver. He headed home. Darren brings his global culinary experience to Fairmont Pacific Rim in the form of several interesting restaurant and a booming event business.

At the base of the hotel is Giovane, an Italian eatery offering morning coffee and pastries to wine tastings and pasta in the evenings. Adjacent to the restaurant is a fabulous market stocked with the best ingredients out of Vancouver and Italy, such as a beautiful Salsa di Pomodoro from Viragi. They have an extensive charcuterie program at the hotel, which is available for purchase at the market.

On the second floor is upscale, Japanese style restaurant, ORU. The ORU team has developed a culinary journey with a new menu, offering an abundance of flavors ranging from British Columbia’s coast, to the French Polynesian Islands, and all the way down the southern regions of Chile. The setting at ORU can feel intimate or party central, as huge tables are available to be set up in front of their grand open kitchen. Seafood is the main draw offering the latest and greatest out of the nearby waters. Huge platters of sushi and creative shrimp broth soups prepared tableside in beakers and flasks add to interesting dining experience.

At the lobby level of the hotel, you’ll find the people-watching epicenter of the Fairmont Pacific Rim. From happy hour until 2AM, you’ll be amused and entertained by all of the interesting characters there enjoying delicious cocktails prepared by award-winning bartender, Grant Sceney. It’s fun to people watch Vancouver’s flashy crowd with distinguished men in classy suits and fortune seeking women putting it all out there.

Trendy Restaurants Galore 

Vancouver is like a Canadian version of Portland, Oregon when it comes to their food scene. With better access to seafood direct from the Harbour and Pacific Ocean, Vancouver restaurants are also embracing urban gardens located within the city blocks to feed their guests the latest seasonal fare. Restaurateurs in Vancouver are using DIY tactics to build tables, chairs, and lighting to offer an eclectic, made-with-love feel to the décor.

Wildebeest is run with hipster flair. Cool characters describe their meaty specials. A vegetarian could get by at Wildebeest but you’ll enjoy more if you can eat meat for the night. Typical vegetable pairings include seasonal offerings of hearty root vegetables that are marinated and cooked to work with rich meats or seafoods.

Another notable restaurant new to Vancouver is PiDGiN, which is operating in a part of town that is best not walked alone. Once you pass through the doors you are safe and ready for your dining adventure. PiDGiN offers a variety of Asian inspired dishes that are perfect for sharing. Exotic flavors abound and check your inhibitions at the door. Also available are interesting cocktails and an expansive sake list.

General Information

Vancouver has a light rail system that is easy and cost effective. It will take you from Vancouver International Airport and drop you in the center of town where most hotels are within a walkable or a $5 cab ride away. Stanley Park is your playground and backyard. It is THE place to enjoy a bike ride or a morning jog. It’s beautiful and green and surrounded on three sides with water, think of a miniature, unpopulated land mass like San Francisco. Trails abound. The main downtown area is just southeast of Stanley Park. This area includes the seaplane airport with flights to Victoria, the convention center, cruise ship docking, and two Fairmont hotels including the Pacific Rim.

One of the best ways to take in the beauty of Vancouver BC is to explore the area in a seaplane. Soar above the water and try to spot whales and huge shipping boats. One a clear day the islands between Vancouver and Victoria are a mass of green and blue. It’s an exhilarating ride capsulated by a dramatic landing right into Coal Harbour.

There is a lot of public art in and throughout Vancouver and you’ll find yourself staring and smiling whimsically at a sculpture of a happy Asian man.

¡PURA VIDA!

¡PURA VIDA!

Sweeping views from the private residences are a highlight at Four Seasons Peninsula Papagayo. Photo by Frank DiMarco

Sweeping views from the private residences are a highlight at Four Seasons Peninsula Papagayo.
Photo by Frank DiMarco

 

Costa Rica’s Dreamy Peninsula Papagayo: Relaxation, Environmental Stewardship and World Class Golf in an Audubon Sanctuary

By Frank DiMarco

“Costa Rica!” That’s what Christopher Columbus called it in 1502 when he showed up on Costa Rica’s east coast, looking for gold in the New World. Greeted by beautiful maidens bedecked in gold, cleverly sent out by the local chiefs to greet him, “Rich Coast” immediately came to Columbus’ mind and the name stuck.

“Ticos” (Costa Ricans) love their country, and rightfully so. This flower of democracy amid the banana republics of Central America has no army and no navy. Their “Guardia Civil” receives less funding than their schools and their roads. The right to vote is treasured and public education through college is free, as is universal health care for citizens and permanent residents. Their National Parks are legendary and eco-tourism basically started here. Everyone speaks English from passable to articulate and Costa Rica’s literacy rate is over 90 percent. Of particular interest: Costa Rican presidents can serve unlimited, non-consecutive 4-year terms.

Costa Rica is divided into provinces and this trip takes us to a beauty:  Guanacaste, on the northwest coast, just south of Nicaragua. It is here, on the breathtaking Peninsula Papagayo that Four Seasons Costa Rica coexists with the natural habitat and, equally important, with the local residents.

Most guests fly into nearby Liberia’s Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport, on one of the many daily flights from the United States. Schedules can be seasonal but service is regular. Delta begins non-stop service from LAX in December 2013. The terminal is new and clean, immigration officers are polite and friendly. The Four Season folks will make arrangements to meet you at the airport outside the arrivals door. I was met in the terminal by Four Seasons representative, Eddy, who escorted us to their van, piloted by Esteban. All the guests in the van checked in on a provided iPad via SKYPE en route to the hotel, so no front desk rigmarole was necessary. Nice.

After a scenic 30-minute drive beside sugar cane fields, pastures and out along the spine of the Peninsula Papagayo, I was greeted at the hotel entrance by the charming Pascal Forotti, General Manager and his colleague, Yerilyn, and presented with a small glass of “Juego de Bienvenido” (“Welcome Juice”), a tasty mixture of orange juice, cilantro and ginger.

Four Seasons staff member Oscar Aguilar dressed as “El Pipero” serves up some coconut water. Photo by Frank DiMarco

Four Seasons staff member Oscar Aguilar dressed as “El Pipero” serves up some coconut water.
Photo by Frank DiMarco

To behold the entire Four Seasons Peninsula Papagayo, I suggest giving yourself over to the experience of The Spa, the Trail of Giants Tour along the Arnold Palmer Signature Golf Course (set in a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary) and the plethora of water sports available. The latter includes kayaking, paddle-boarding and boat rides on the beautiful Bahía de Culebra. Custom trips are easily arranged with local, licensed boat captains.

Serious surfers can head over to numerous, seasonally good, surfing spots, including nearby Playa Tamarindo. Four Seasons partners with Tropicsurf, staffed on-site with experienced guides and instructors. Tropicsurf can set up customized surfing experiences with local, licensed boat skippers, for those not familiar with the best surf spots.

Costa Rican wildlife is abundant and, seasonally, you’ll see tribes of monkeys, iguanas and amazing avifauna (birds). In fact, nearly 900 bird species have been identified in Costa Rica — more than in the United States and Canada combined.

The resort wants you to relax and enjoy yourself. It is obvious that they want you to come back, and go to great strides to make the experience incredible. Hence the activities. No shortage here. For example, the schedule for Mondays through October 31 includes: Guided Kayaking Tour, Spa Exercise Class, Bay Cruise Tour, Spa Boot Camp, Guided Morning Hike, Coco Water Taxi, Cardio Tennis, Spinning, Beach Volleyball, Cooking Class, Dance Class “Latin Rhythms,” Explore Scuba Diving, Guided Snorkel Tour, Artisan Market and a Guided Nature Hike.

One of my favorite activities is Quiet Poolside Sitting. And then along comes staff member Oscar Aguilar as “El Pipero,” the guy who lops off the top of a coconut with a machete, pops in a straw and hands you a delicious fresh container of coconut water with a smile.  !Pura Vida!

A word about the Spa and its facilities at the resort. I chose the Rainforest Aromatherapy Massage with one of the 15 professionally-licensed staff. It was a very tranquil experience, with choices of ambient music and scented massage oils. The hydrotherapy pools, hot and cold and gender segregated, are part of the Spa facilities. They are open, free of charge, to all registered guests, as are the dry and steam saunas. The menu of Spa services is extensive and catalogued nicely in the brochures provided in each room.

Children. They are more than welcome, as demonstrated by both the Kid’s Club or the Camp Papagayo Program (these for the age 4-12 group) and the Tuanis Teen Center (12 years and up). These supervised activities and locations give kids a great place to bond and be engaged and are a credit to the meticulous thinking and attention to detail of the resort. It is one of the reasons families return to Four Seasons Peninsula Papagayo year after year.

Early one night during my stay, some Four Seasons staff gathered children on the beach and launched paper lanterns, taken aloft by small flames. The staff explained that the early local tribes used this custom to send off the souls of departed tribal members. We all made a wish as the lantern kites were launched and the sky filled with ethereal bright objects as they drifted off in the night breeze.

Food. Yum. Drink. Yum Yum. Because of its central location right below the stairs from the main lobby, Tico’s Lounge is a natural place for guests to congregate for lunch, cocktail hour and beyond. They’ve got a zesty drink here called the Guajito, made with Cacique (“chief of the tribe”) rum, mint, Midori and lemon juice. Wow, where did that first one go? Like that. The local brews are respectable, with rich ales and pilsners. Tico’s features a mixology class I found to be fun and a good way to meet your fellow guests. A couple I met at the class was on a journey to play the most beautiful golf courses around the world and agreed that they picked a good stop.

Four Seasons will cater a romantic sunset  dinner  on the beach for you. Photo by Frank DiMarco

Four Seasons will cater a romantic sunset dinner
on the beach for you.
Photo by Frank DiMarco

Adjacent to Tico’s is Papagayo Restaurant with a great breakfast service. If you want to dine a little more formally, Di Mare Restaurant, also at the resort, is an elegant, Italian-influenced establishment with some creative platings of local, fresh seafood.

Another equally elegant restaurant is Caracol, located at the dramatic Ronald Zürcher-designed Golf Clubhouse. At Caracol I had a remarkable comparison offering of local and imported grilled beef, prefaced by a poke-like Ahi dish, and a mouthwatering salad with greens locally-sourced, many right from the restaurant’s nearby herb garden.

Overseeing all the menus and preparation at the resort’s five restaurants and lounges is Executive Chef Mario Alocer, who shares nearly 25 years of Four Seasons experience with his guests.

Another highlight of this trip was a Chocolate Making Class, conducted at the resort by Henrik Bodholdt, owner of the nearby Beach Chocolate Factory.  You’ll be taken through the history and the preparation of making chocolate, which I found both interesting and informative.  Very hands-on and delicious.

Be prepared to experience what returning guests have found:  Four Seasons Peninsula Papagayo doesn’t fit into any traditional resort niche. Sure, there is the usual attention to detail that comes with a world-class destination; but beyond this is the destination itself.  The feeling of inclusion in the culture and the environment of this treasure of a country, even during a short stay, is palpable. The “Ticos” really love that you are visiting their country and want to let you know it. ¡Pura Vida!

Four Seasons Peninsula Papagayo 

Playa Tamarindo

Tropicsurf

Costa Rica Surfing Spots

The Beach Chocolate Factory

 

 

Stay Here Now – Ritz Carlton Marina Del Rey

Stay Here Now – Ritz Carlton Marina Del Rey

The Ritz-Carlton, Marina Del Rey

The Ritz-Carlton, Marina Del Rey

The closest luxury hotel to LAX is undoubtedly the Ritz Carlton Marina Del Rey. Located just ten minutes away with no traffic and boasting all that you know and  love about Ritz Carlton hotels: an amazing spa, great pool, bar and restaurant and the highest quality rooms with views of the marina. The rooms themselves are perfect to prep for your trip or enjoy a few days while checking out Los Angeles. The hotel is good for singles, couples and families with active pool days, tennis and kids camps as well as a fun restaurant and bar scene at night. They are about to undertake a huge renovation in their dining program and this January we’ll have a new restaurant to enjoy. In the mean time the current restaurant offers upscale dining, a casual patio area perfect for happy hour with friends, surrounded by the boats of Marina Del Rey. If it’s cold then they will bring around heat lamps and fluffy blankets.

The Ritz-Carlton, Marina Del Rey

The Ritz-Carlton, Marina Del Rey

Both the hotel and the spa offer packages specifically for LAX travelers. The hotel will arrange for a town car pick up at LAX, transportation to and from the hotel, a room for a half-day and a dining voucher. The spa offers a separate package that is directed to the weary traveler whose body may be stiff from 10-hour flights. The spa package includes an incredible massage (ask for Carlo), lunch with selections such as lobster Cobb salad with huge chunks of lobster prepared by the Ritz Carlton dining team lead by Executive Chef Umit Kaygusuz. The package also includes a glass of wine, access to the pool and spa facilities, and a gift bag including product such as tonics to spray on your face while flying to help eliminate dehydration of your skin.

 

The Ritz-Carlton, Marina Del Rey

4375 Admiralty Way

Marina del Rey, CA 90292

(310) 823-1700

www.ritzcarlton.com

STATE-OF-THE-ART Aircraft Gates at LAX

STATE-OF-THE-ART Aircraft Gates at LAX

gates3

Los Angeles World Airports and Singapore Airlines executives unveiled the north concourse and three gates of the New Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport. The gates are the first of 18 to be built at New TBIT.

Nine of the 18 gates — including two of the three unveiled — can accommodate the larger, new-generation aircraft, such as the Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental and Airbus A-380 super jumbo jets. All 18 gates will use state-of-the-art, laser-based, visual guidance docking systems. Computerized passenger boarding bridges automate the operations between the terminal and aircraft doors. LAWA is installing three passenger boarding bridges at all of the new A-380-compatible gates, which will greatly improve the amount of time to load and unload an aircraft.

More charging outlets

More charging outlets

At the boarding gates, electrical outlets and USB ports for charging personal electronic equipment, such as cell phones, tablets, and laptops, are installed at each bank of seats.  Free Wi-Fi service -— already accessible throughout LAX terminals — also is available.

“We’re investing in LAX because it isn’t just a travel hub, it’s the gateway to the Pacific Rim and a central driver of our regional economy,” Mayor Villaraigosa said. “With these modernizations at the New Tom Bradley International Terminal, LAX will showcase our City’s innovative spirit and ensure we  remain competitive in the global market for years to come.”

“The overall goal of the LAX Modernization Program is to dramatically improve the passenger experience with a building designed to capture the spirit of Los Angeles, while establishing new levels of passenger convenience and comfort,” said Gina Marie Lindsey, executive director of Los Angeles World Airports, the City department that owns and operates LAX and two other Southern California airports.  “We are creating an airport that is safer and more secure, more energy-efficient, and customer-friendly with the types of services and amenities passengers demand today.”

Demonstrating how the new gates operate, Singapore Airlines’ daily flight SQ 12 from Singapore (on A-380 aircraft) arrived and docked at Gate 134, the northern-most gate of the new terminal.

Singapore Airlines Regional Vice President-Americas C.W. Foo said, “Singapore Airlines salutes LAWA’s commitment to developing this world-class facility for travelers, and for using innovative technology to further enhance the safety and efficiency of this important point in our global network. This state-of-the art terminal is an ideal fit for SIA’s long-held philosophy of providing our customers with the industry’s best service, amenities and facilities. We salute our partners at LAWA for their innovative, forward-looking use of efficiency-enhancing technology to benefit international travelers.”

 

Carmel-by-the Sea: Art, History and the Sea

Carmel-by-the Sea: Art, History and the Sea

 

Carmel

Carmel

by Frank DiMarco

Carmel-By-The-Sea! Oh, how that rolls of the tongue so easily. If you’ve been there, you know what I mean. Nestled in the shore of Carmel Bay, on the south end of the larger Monterey Bay, one of Northern California’s natural wonders and marine life habitats. With a heritage of the Old World, this natural artist’s colony, hub of wealth, comfortable homes and culturally engaged society still manages to throw open its arms to visitors from all over the world.

With big brother Monterey just over the hill to the north, and the enchanting Highway 1 route to Big Sur to the south, Carmel simply says, “stay and rest awhile.” It is very easy to comply. All are welcome here.

Having weathered some criticism for “commercialization” over the years, if the easy-on-the-eyes architecture and brilliant merchandising skills in the shop and gallery windows is to be criticized, then drive down to your local strip mall before if you make a judgment. Sure, we all miss the truly funky artists colonies that flourished along the California Coast, but let’s face it, things change, and sometimes they get better. Carmel is a case in point.

Let’s talk a little about Carmel’s history. As with many California coastal areas, tribes of Native Americans, the Esselen and Ohlone along the Central Coast, flourished before the Europeans showed up in the early 1600′s, claiming the area for Spain. Carmel Valley was named for Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The big names showed up in the mid-1700′s: Gaspar de Portolá and Father Junipero Serra, and soon the historic Carmel Mission was established. As usual, in spite of some frequent good intentions, European diseases decimated the Native Americans and they either died out from illness or fled to the mountains to the south due to the treatment by the Spaniards. Father Serra died in 1784, but not before helping to establish the famous chain of missions throughout California. Highway 1 is called El Camino Real, “The King’s Highway.” as many have known it, and many old missions can be visited along its beautiful route. In 1848, after the Mexican-American war, Carmel became part of the United States, ceded by Mexico, with California becoming a state two years later.

An art colony was born, seismically, if you will, after San Francisco’s disastrous 1906 earthquake. Artists of all disciplines fled San Francisco for the south, coincidentally supplementing another growing art community in Los Angeles, which continues to enjoy world-wide renown; but many artists simply stopped, agog, in Carmel, and there they stayed and worked. New venues such as The Arts and Crafts Theater and The Forest Theater evolved and a visual arts community that included early photographers such as Arnold Genthe, Edward Weston and Ansel Adams, arrived and thrived. Musically, among other events, the Carmel Bach Festival has been celebrating J.S. Bach since 1935. The feeling of an artist’s workplace still permeates the quiet streets.

Cypress Inn

Cypress Inn

It would be hard to imagine a more “connected” place to stay in Carmel than The Cypress Inn, wonderfully linked to the town’s history, warmly preserved by the ownership of Doris Day and Dennis Le Vett and managed with a big smile by the very capable Fiona VanderWall and her accommodating staff.

Checking in to the 44-room establishment, at the corner of 7th and Lincoln, is to step into a 1920s building suggesting a Mediterranean-Moroccan style, rich in wood, window treatments hung from forge-twisted iron rods and venerable tile floors. Doris Day memorabilia are tastefully displayed in the lobby and other parts of the Cypress Inn and are enjoyable to review. Our suite overlooked the Lincoln Street and had a delightful balcony facing west and a spacious circular jacuzzi tub in the large bathroom. Top shelf linens and a lovely inset fireplace also set an elegant tone.

If you travel with your dog, The Cypress Inn especially welcomes you, as one of California’s most pet-friendly establishments. While we were sans pet, we thoroughly enjoyed the well-behaved dogs who came to the abundant continental breakfast with their owners. Dogs and their humans also showed up for the afternoon “Yappy Hour” at Terry’s Lounge, the Cypress Inn’s great bar/restaurant. You could feel the popularity with the locals who gather daily for some libation and the fun of sharing their pets. Some of you might turn your nose up at this, but it is fun, clean and remarkably quiet. And the dogs are hilarious and real characters.

Terry’s Lounge, named for Doris Day’s late son, music producer Terry Melcher, is a cozy, elegant place to eat and drink. Mixologist Will Larkin, whose family roots are deep in Northern California history, has an amazing grasp of wines and liquors with a solid knowledge of beers. Not to be missed is the cocktail menu, which features wonderful quotes from famous movie stars. My favorite is Mae West’s, “Why don’t you slip out of those wet clothes and into a dry martini.” Cocktails at Terry’s Lounge are fun.

We ate at the bar two nights in a row and Will was generous in sharing his knowledge of food and drink. Food and Beverage Manager Jonathan Bagley has made the most of a small-plate concept in keeping ingredients as local as possible and Terry’s Lounge is signed on with the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program, which monitors species threatened with overfishing. Among the items we enjoyed were delicate, briny Miyagi oysters from the Hog Island Oyster Farm at Tomales Bay, seared Ahi Tuna with a light butternut squash cream sauce, house-roasted beet salad with goat cheese and a stand-out watercress & apple salad. The burger and fries on the menu is enough for two! Finally, Will recommended a delicious Hahn Winery 2010 Santa Lucia Ridge Pinot Noir, a smooth, fruit-forward vintage that rivals any California or Oregon Pinot Noir we’ve tasted. Terry’s Lounge has a comfortable, local feel to it and it became our favorite place to eat in Carmel.

Now for a nice walk. You won’t find too many more picturesque strolls than along Scenic Drive in Carmel-by-the-Sea. With the Cypress Inn being located right in the middle of Carmel, it is a short drive or walk down the hill to Carmel City Beach.

Scenic Drive takes off to the south and the walk, either on the easily accessible beach or on the lovely street-level path, is dreamy. Kelp, Cypress trees, a distant fog bank, the odd sea lions and sea otters make Carmel Bay a signature of this part of the California coast.

Along Scenic Drive, oceanfront homes, some modest, some daringly cantilevered over the water dazzle; but the sea is the real star. The fresh ocean air is a tonic for the soul and this walk is one of the things that draws visitors back time after time. Forget your other concerns for a while, breathe in this air and enjoy the moment. Hug your partner a little closer and feel the gratitude for being able to be right there. You’ll find shared smiles among strangers along Scenic Drive.

Returning to the center town, possibly via a big loop including Mission Ranch and the Carmel Mission, nosing around the art galleries can be a lovely way to spend an afternoon. The bar for art in Carmel, as historically noted above, is set high. Gallery representation is precious to working artists and the vetting process for exhibition in this artist’s colony is comprehensive. Explore! The surprise of looking down a small alley and seeing a metal sculpture studio or finding the precise seascape for your living room in a gallery window awaits.

Unless you’ve decided to stay forever in Carmel-by-the-Sea, the time comes to leave.  When you do, please do yourselves a favor and pay the fee to drive the world-famous 17-Mile Drive through Pebble Beach to Pacific Grove. The sea vistas, the famous Del Monte Lodge, the Inn at Spanish Bay, Del Monte Forest, the generous turnouts along the rugged shoreline and the spectacular estates that speak of wealth, old and new, make this trip worthwhile. We gazed at the breaking waves for what seemed a very long time on The Drive. Two sea otters were busy in a cove, acting like the clowns they are and a couple of deer ambled along, completely used to passing cars.

Carmel remains a very special place in the hearts and minds of world travelers and locals alike. And when you go, here are some references:

http://www.carmelcalifornia.com/

http://www.cypress-inn.com/

http://www.stayincarmel.org

http://www.pebblebeach.com/

Granada Hotel & Bistro in San Luis Obispo, California

Granada Hotel & Bistro in San Luis Obispo, California

The Granada Hotel and Bistro

The Granada Hotel and Bistro

 

The Granada Hotel and Bistro, which opened last year, is the first modern boutique hotel in downtown San Luis Obispo.

The soulful property is housed within an historic 19th century exposed brick building. The hotel includes 17 rooms and suites, a full-service restaurant, spa services and the city’s first rooftop lounge, welcoming a new level of urban chic to California’s Central Coast.

The Granada Hotel and Bistro

The Granada Hotel and Bistro

Granada is housed within an original 1920’s exposed brick building in downtown San Luis Obispo. A $5 million renovation restored the space’s original exterior character while offering a fresh and modern luxury experience within. The hotel’s 17 accommodations, including four sunny balcony suites, feature exposed brick walls, wood floors, marble top vanities, nickel-plated fixtures, Fili d’Oro Italian linens, goose down duvet and pillows, and signature seersucker robes. Custom art installations crafted by local artisans adorn each guest room the hotel’s public spaces.

At the heart of Granada is its inspiration: the beloved, pre-existing Granada Bistro, which has been re-imagined in industrial chic. The restaurant’s menu will include Spanish, Cuban and South American-inspired farm-to-table dishes, as well as tapas, small plates, Al Pastor, charcuterie and the freshest local seafood. The cuisine will be complemented by an eclectic range of Spanish and Latin American wines, and quintessential California varietals from local boutique producers.

1126 MORRO STREET
SAN LUIS OBISPO, CA
805-544-9100
granadahotelandbistro.com

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