I’m addicted to the spirit of Christmas – so much so that I would happily pull up roots and move to Santa’s Village if the big guy extended an invite.
This ever-present craving for all things jolly, cheery and evergreen-y pulled me to downtown San Francisco two weeks before The Big Day. I wanted a chance for my young son, husband and I to get away for a mini and merry trip before we were absorbed into the loving chaos of our extended family.
While most Christmas themed areas leave me wanting more (more mistletoe, more lights, more hot chocolate, more classic holiday tunes, more wreaths, more red, more green, and more cheer) I left my holiday getaway to SF full of joy, wonder and peppermint flavored spirits.
Have a hankering for your own holiday themed sojourn? Here are events and activities in downtown San Francisco to help you create the ultimate Christmas family vacation.
Boston’s vibrant hub of Kenmore Square is an area rich with history that serves as a favorite hangout for Boston University students, and sits on the doorstep of Fenway Park.
I recently had the opportunity to explore this area on a solo trip to Boston. This solitude allowed the city to be my companion and show me the nuances that make it so special: vine covered facades of Georgia and Federal style buildings, the creatively decorated plots of Fenway Victory Gardens, and the changing leaves that were like bright flames of Fall.
Because exploring a city can easily make one feel hurried and drained, the following guide will help to ensure you absorb the historic adventure the area around Boston’s Kenmore Square has to offer, while tapping into comfort and creativity along the way:
I splurged on a room at the iconic Hotel Commonwealth because I wanted all aspects of my trip to be drenched in Boston vibes. While many hotels feel separate from the heart of the city, because of the often-generic ambiance of the rooms, I felt that I was actually staying inside the heart as I perched in the window seat of my room overlooking Commonwealth Avenue. This cozy space above the chilly and bustling street allowed me to take in the big picture of Kenmore Square at all hours of the day.
The rest of the hotel was filled with adornments that reminded me I was in Boston: large paintings depicting classic events like the Boston Marathon, seats from Fenway Park, and other Boston Red Sox memorabilia.
I was hit with old school charm when I first walked into this large brasserie-style restaurant. The waiters were friendly and eager to discuss the elaborate cocktail menu that read like an ode to the alchemy of mixology. I didn’t understand half of what I was reading, but trusted my waitress to guide me down a yummy path.
The drinkable art, called a Southside Royale, that arrived woke up every one of my taste buds – and they had a raging party. Best. Drink. Ever. I did not have just one.
The food that quickly followed was equally unique and delicious: A Turkey and Bacon Cobb salad that had uncommon Cobb salad accompaniments like roasted squash and cranberries that elevated the dish in all the right ways.
For easy, hearty and mega-tasty breakfasts I would wander over to this New York- style bagel shop that stuff their fresh-baked-goods with generous helpings of classic breakfast ingredients, and serve up coffee strong enough to get me through a full day of city strolling.
This elegant, yet unpretentious, establishment offered similar creative and OMG-delicious cocktails to the ones found at Eastern Standard, and seafood selections so good the noise of the patrons was drowned out by my happy tummy howling “Oh yeah!”
While making my way to a museum I stumbled on these 7.5 acres that house over 500 gardens tended by Boston community members. Each garden featured eclectic décor, vegetables, flowers and more. Curious geese roamed the gardens alongside members who were busy caring for their colorful fares. One woman I talked with has been gardening there for over 50 years in rain, snow and sun.
I had two hours to explore this palace of masterpieces, but I should have allotted two days. This museum is home to almost 500,000 works of art: paintings by masters like Monet, Renoir and Van Gogh, jewelry from ancient Egypt, Buddhist sculptures, thought-provoking pieces by contemporary artists and so much more you could spend years visiting this museum and see something new on each trip.
If you want a dose of female empowerment do not miss these stops: the library tells the story of Mary Baker Eddy, who founded the Church of Christ, Scientist, during a time when women weren’t even allowed to vote, and the awe-inspiring adjacent church shows what a purpose-full vision and dogged passion can produce.
The library also features the Mapparium, a three-story, stained-glass globe you can walk inside, offering a surreal and poignant experience.
To take in this landmark city in all its glory I recommend visiting in October when the vivid colors and crisp air of Fall are present, but the layers of snow have yet to appear.
And don’t forget to take an obligatory selfie in front of Fenway Park!
I nestled into a JetBlue Mint seat the morning after the 2016 election results rolled in. I was tired, and in need of nourishment. I was ushered to my space by a flight attendant who smelled like a fresh-linen candle and quickly handed me a “refreshmint” (hehe, good one JetBlue) cocktail.
My first twenty-ish minutes in a plane are usually laced with anxiety, but not this time. As I settled into my cushy airplane nest (a Mint “seat” is much more than a seat) I felt safe, cared for and free of my usual need to wring my hands and breath deeply (in a kind of creepy way) until we reach cruising altitude.
The alchemy of the following Mint elements is what made my experience so… well, minty.
I walked onto this flight with a bone deep yearning to bury myself in blankets and check out, and was hoping I wouldn’t be met with the standard itchy, thin and strange-smelling airplane blanket. My nest came with a comforter-esque blanket and full-sized pillow. “Oh yeah,” was on repeat in my mind and body as I laid my seat flat (!), sunk my head into the pillow and cocooned myself into the blanket that easily covered my entire body.
And the partition between myself, and the kind lady seated next to me, saved her from being exposed to my drooling-sleep-face.
As I slid my seat out of the supine position, my candle-scented flight attendant re-appeared to ask what food I wanted from the small plate menu created by the NYC restaurant Saxon + Parole. The menu read like an ode to edible art, each item unique and begging me to have a try.
After an embarrassing amount of time hemming and hawing (and salivating) over the menu I ordered the Tuscan kale salad, goat cheese tortellini soup and pan-seared halibut with roasted cauliflower.
Then I ate, and it was everything.
Most wines served on airplanes make me feel hung-over before I reach the bottom of the plastic cup. But JetBlue’s wine-service, curated by wine expert Jon Bonne, only offers the good stuff, like really good stuff; the stuff that makes your taste buds happy, body warm and fuzzy and mind strangely more creative and capable. And the bubbly is just as lovely. (Yes, I tried both. And had them put Bailey’s in my cappuccino.)
The blue glow of the large screen situated in my nest knew how to tickle my fancy. Unlimited access to programs I could watch without conferring with another adult and my three-year-old? Yes, please. Although I usually sink my airplane time into work, I let my laptop stay in its case and binged on movies with ratings naughtier than a G, as I took tiny bites of Blue Marble Ice Cream.
My persona can usually be summed up by the words “stale, tired and cranky” halfway through a long flight. So, I wanted to bear hug the flight attendant when she handed me a Hayward “designed for her” kit right as I was entering the “stale” realm. The denim clutch (that is so chic I now use as a clutch) was filled with an orange towelette, lip balm, breath mints, screen cloth, earplugs and a non-itchy eye mask.
Oh, and then there was the farewell gift box of chocolaty, buttery, uber-yummy treats from Mah-Ze-Dahr Bakery that served as my dinner when I arrived at Hotel Commonwealth. The apple was nice too.
The Lack of Arrogance
I adore the “Mint Experience” term versus “business class” or (bleh) “first class.” The lack of snootiness in the terminology employed by JetBlue conveys the message that they offer a special experience I can choose to treat myself to, not an area of the plane I deserve to be in because I’m somehow “better than” the folks sitting in the more affordable seats (the seats I’m usually sitting in.)
As a mom, my alone time usually equals being squished in my car during traffic, but no more. This mama is skipping those daily fancy coffees in favor of saving up for a Mint experience on my next solo flight, because I deserve it, and so do you.
There are many ways to enjoy the views of Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, Hawaii- by airplane, boat, foot or car. But, what do you think it would be like to take in the turquoise textures of the water, the swaying palms popping out of fluffy sand and the yawning sky disappearing into the Pacific Ocean while rappelling down a 40 story (more than 400 feet!) building?
The Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach is providing this high-thrill vantage point, via an event called Over the Edge on Saturday November 5th, to adventure-seekers able to raise more that $1,000 for the Special Olympics Hawai’i. They hope to raise $130,000 for Special Olympics Hawai’i with all funds used to benefit local athletes.
The Over the Edge event has raised over $900,000 (!) for Special Olympics Hawai’i since it was first held in 2009. The proceeds have provided services to more than 3,700 athletes statewide.
Did you know that the yum factor of coffee and beignets ramps up exponentially after grooving your groove thang to a few sets of live music?
Do your taste buds, and ears, and eyes, and heck, your everything a favor and head to New Orleans for one (or all!) of the following music festivals, sure to leave you blissed-out and figuring out how to extend your trip by a few days.
“Sorry boss, (cough cough) I think I pulled my hamstring doing a wicked version of the Cajun Jitterbug and couldn’t possibly sit on an airplane.”
The following festivals offer audible treats for every palate, so pick your pleasure and book your flight.
Playful and poetic British vocalist and composer Joanna Wallfisch shirked the bus aspect of her latest West Coast tour in favor of a bike. The tour was aptly named The Great Song Cycle.
Joanna pushed through challenge and triumph while traversing the coast with only her body and two thin wheels propelling her forward; what transpired was a tour full of music made richer by the beautiful struggle Joanna intentionally created.
As you’ll discover in the following interview with this unique songstress, her journey was not passed through without contemplation and growth; it birthed it.
Why did you decide to pass on “traditional transport” in favor of a bike for this portion of your tour?
J: The main reason was freedom. Life on a bicycle is to be completely self-reliant and self-sufficient. I carried all that I needed for my multi-faceted month; my instruments, my home, my clothes, food, water, and myself. When traveling by car, train or plane one can easily forget that you have to carry yourself with you wherever you go. On a bike, you become so attuned to the body you live in and how mind, spirit and flesh can actually exist simultaneously together and also as separate entities. It was a complete thrill to know that the only way I was going to get from A to B was by the strength of my own body and mind…. Read more on Huff Post!
The world’s second largest barrier reef surrounds the island of Roatan, a tropical rock located off the coast of mainland Honduras. Roatan’s warm waters are pulsating with life so colorful, playful and exotic your curiosity and lust for discovery could have you swimming in the water for hours.
While lauded as one of the most appealing destinations for scuba divers, Roatan also offers physical intrigue and mental solace for those content with a snorkel, goggles and fins, or even just a cocktail, beach chair and “I just can’t quit you” book.
Come one come all to the island you might not be able to leave; I moved back to Roatan three weeks after my initial visit, and stayed for three years.
When (not if!) you make it to Roatan, here are the top spots to dive, sleep and eat.
Did you know there is a quirky haven tucked in the mountains above Reno, Nevada where you can watch camels and ostriches race, spy on ZZ Top bearded locals sipping pints of brew under colorful chandeliers and explore mines where millions of dollars worth of gold and silver were precariously pulled from the Earth in the mid-1800s?
All this goodness is living in Virginia City, Nevada.
When the mining industry went bonkers in the 19th century, Virginia City provided the means for forlorn prospectors to become mining-millionaires. Subsequently, many of their wives became widows- the average life expectancy of miners in this time was 45 (if they breathed some luck in with all the dust.)
If you’ve been looking for a watering hole in the sky, whose waters are swirling with unpretentious grandeur, family friendly thrills and mega-yummy food, pack up your swim suits (or snow suits) and hoof it to North Lake Tahoe.
To minimize the stress pangs birthed from figuring out the logistics of a vacation (especially when humans under the age of 21 are involved!) I’ve collected my North Tahoe faves, and those of my nearest and dearest who called North Tahoe home for over ten years, so you can slide into this haven with nary a worry in sight (just a bunch of pine trees in sight.)
I find the Florida Keys to be synonymous with simple living, tranquil vibes and landscapes so hypnotic you’d be happy to just sit and stare for a few hours- maybe even days. Because traveling with children breeds a special brand of stress, you might as well travel to a land where everyone (children included) can’t help but chill out- in warm waters.
Here are a few Florida Key destinations sure to infuse your family vacation with a unique blend of easy-going fun and introspective ponderings.
When you have a baby it can be a struggle just to put on some pants and walk to the mail box. Well, Sarah Bowman and Rene Coal Burrell of the band Famous Octoberhad the baby, put on the pants and didn’t just make it to the mailbox, they went on tour for the “One Day Baby” album they also birthed. Sarah and Rene are a living testament to the fact that creative passions, career and parenthood can harmoniously coexist as they travel through the United States sharing their music and nurturing their young family.
I was able to get a glimpse into their journey thus far, and gleaned plenty of inspiration for my own journey through motherhood.
Reno has been percolating with opportunity that is now being realized in community-focused gentrification- and I’m loving it. I used to think of Reno as a gateway to Tahoe, but a recent trip to “The Biggest Little City in the World” has flipped my script. I now view Reno as a trendy and entertaining stand-alone destination that allows me to carry a cup of wine around my neck as I walk along the river flowing through its center. I struck gold when I “discovered” Reno.
Here’s a few reasons you should shimmy into a plane seat headed for a Reno vacay, or maybe even score in their real estate market before it’s gobbled up by hipster Millennials.
*I did not write this entire piece but contributed many of the tips. Happy travels!
You never know how easy solo travel is until you have kids. Family travel numbers are lower than you would expect considering all the great benefits to traveling with children. The top reasons why families aren’t traveling with their children are the cost and not feeling comfortable and confident. This collection of 82 tips will help travelers be prepared and confident to take their children on a vacation regardless of their age.
But traveling with kids doesn’t have to be as overwhelming as you’re imagining right now, and travel can be extremely beneficialfor your kids. In fact, there are families — with kids as young as infants and as old as grumpy teenagers — traveling around the world every day. These 82 tips are compiled from travel bloggers and parents that have become experts on the topic of traveling with children, and they’re guaranteed to improve your family travel experience.
Food prep has always been the metaphorical poison oak rubbing on my leg when I go camping- my main criteria being “what will be the least fussy food to make?” After spending half a day using my mad-Tetris skills packing my car with half my house, I have no desire to be a short order cook of crappy food when I get to the camp site.
But, what if campfire food could be both easy and delicious? (I would go camping more.)
I spoke with Shane Hammett, avid camper and chef de cuisine at the Lone Eagle Grille in the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, to get the (beefed-up) skinny on how to make campout eating a (easy) fine dining experience- albeit fine dining a la fold out chairs, dust and bug spray.
Here’s how to jazz up your campfire cuisine without having to skip the hike because you need to clean up after lunch and start prepping dinner.
1. Build the Right Kind of Fire.
Trying to cook on a campfire without the right kind of fire is like trying to scale a mountain trail in heels- you can do it, but it will take a long time- and it will suck.
Mother nature has planted a special kiss on Nicaragua, blessing it with balmy oceans, lush vegetation, affordable food, drink and accommodations, and smiling people ready to enhance your vacation with kindness and a reminder to relax and move slow.
My family has fallen so deeply in love with Nicaragua we’ve decided to purchase a property on the Pacific coast, ensuring we have the opportunity to infuse our lives with the uplifting vibes of this vibrant country on the regular.
If you and your family plan to explore this hidden jewel of Central America, fertile with adventure and chances for enlightenment, follow these suggestions to help ensure your trip is a success.
1. Hire a Chef.
Parents spend a hearty amount of time preparing meals and cleaning up after meals- then rinsing and repeating. If you’ll be renting a house, make it a true vacation by hiring a chef to prepare your breakfasts, lunches or dinners (or all of them!) Chef services in Nicaragua are inexpensive, and you can request they do all the shopping for you! In addition, you’ll be supporting the local economy and gaining a chance to get to know someone who is likely a native of the country.
Holy acrobats-light show-unicycles y’all- Ringling Brothers brought it. And now, they’re bringing it to you. “It” being their new show, Out of This World. I went to Florida (to the 580,000 square foot complex that houses the Ringling Brothers family!) to preview a few of the acts, and the opening of the show – oh my wow. I thought I was going to see some hoops, a bit of flying trapeze shenanigans and popcorn- but saw so much more.
I left this experience totally star-struck by these obscenely talented people. I’m not even sure they’re people- they’re so skilled they may actually be from someplace out of this world. (I also left with videos of me jumping rope and unicycling with the Saint Charles Troupe- and when I say “unicycling” I mean “me being held up on a unicycle and pushed around by two strong men.”)
There’s a rare form of magic in the crisp air along the California Coast, which is why it’s best enjoyed outdoors. Camping along these beaches rich with ancient trees, active sea life and a bounty of activities (for all ages!) will support you in creating the ideal vacation for your entire family. To ensure it’s more fun than frustrating, follow these tips.
1. Find the Perfect Spot.
It’s hard to go wrong when finding a site to camp along the West Coast, but depending on your family’s specific needs, some locations will suit your family better than others. Take your preferences for sites (e.g., not near cliffs, activities for young children and a beach with a mellow break) and find a few spots that meet your needs.