Serene sunsets and self-reflection in Southern California

sunsets Who doesn’t love a gorgeous sunset? While nothing compares to seeing one in person, these photos of Southern California sunsets by Nick Chill are just as good, if not better, than viewing a setting sun with your own eyes. According to Chill, the trick is getting away from the developed coastline and clean, sandy beaches.

“You can still find high cliffs, rocky surf, and other beautifully natural settings from which to view the warm Pacific sunsets,” he explains in an interview. “Another challenge to photographing sunsets in Southern California is the inherent lack of clouds. While this is a dream for tourists, photographers aren’t so enthusiastic about a clear sky. Clear blue skies tend to make for less dramatic images.”

While most people can agree sunsets make for moving moments, it can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint exactly why this is.

For Chill, it is a magical time of day. “As the sun gets low in the sky, it casts a warm light over the land that seems to make everything beautiful. It’s sometimes hard to see the beauty of life when you are toiling away, at work or at home, but the magical light of sunrise and sunset is always there to remind us that life is beautiful. To watch the sun set over the horizon reminds me of the impermanence of life. It’s really a very spiritual, self-reflective experience for me, and I do my best to try and share that experience with the viewers of my work.”

To get a better idea of what he means, check out the gallery below.

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Couple to visit most of planet on 424 day tour

coupleDarren and Sandy Van Soye, a couple from Southern California, have started on a global adventure to raise awareness about world geography and make the subject more accessible to children. Visiting fifty countries on six continents in 424 days, they will share the journey with more than 700 classrooms representing 50,000 students.

“Our dream is to educate children about geography and world cultures so we’ve planned the ultimate trek around the world to do just that,” said Sandy Van Soye.

Chronicling the journey on their TrekkingthePlanet web site, they were inspired to plan the year+ trip after experiencing first-hand the positive impact of a previous family journey around the globe. Traveling a total of 12 legs by rail, bus, air and ship, they plan to see some of the most remote and unspoiled places in the world, by visiting sites of cultural and natural significance, to instill a greater awareness and curiosity about Earth geography in as many people as possible.

To make efficient use of their time and set an eco-friendly travel example, several legs of the journey will be traveled using Princess cruise ships.

“We wanted to use cruise ships as part of our travel method because they offer an efficient way to reach all the different stops on our voyage while minimizing our global footprint,” said Sandy in a statement.

Their full at-sea travel itinerary incorporates five different Princess Cruises voyages, totaling 96 days sea. Both the first and last legs of their journey, plus three legs in between, will be aboard a Princess cruise ship.
“We frequently hear stories from travelers who cruise to accomplish a goal – from celebrating milestones with family members to crossing something off their bucket list,” said Jan Swartz, Princess Cruises executive vice president. “Sandy and Darren are a great example of how cruise travel can be both relaxing and rewarding. We’re inspired by their story and we’re honored they’ve chosen Princess to help them achieve their trekking goals.”

Their full 424-day itinerary is available on their web site, where they will be journaling their trip and fans can also follow them on Facebook.

The Van Soyes will complete their global journey in March 2013.


Top 10 Underrated World Travel Destinations

Flickr photo by epitomized1

January is California Restaurant Month

california restaurantsAs a native Californian and longtime former Bay Area resident, I have to confess there’s no place like home when it comes to the American food/dining/wine scene (New Yorkers, feel free to sharpen your knives…).

California’s always been progressive when it comes to food and drink, from the early days of the vaqueros and Gold Rush-era San Francisco, right up to today’s never-ending parade of talented food artisans, chefs, farmers, and mixologists. It’s only fitting then, to feature a California Restaurant Month.

In January, the second annual statewide celebration is back and better than ever. Presented by Visit California, nearly 30 destinations across the Golden State are creating special restaurant week or month-long promotions and deals, including celebrity chef, prix fixe, and wine pairing dinners, and a series of “Dine and Drive Itineraries” that map out the culinary and scenic highlights of specific regions. Included are “Wine Country Fresh,” “Food Lover’s Classic Coast Drive: San Francisco to L.A.,” and “A Taste of San Diego.” Participating regions for events include cities and counties throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, Central Coast, and Northern and Southern California.

If you’re worried about the calories, California Restaurant Month also offers travel tips on where the best skiing, surfing, hiking, and other outdoor activities are to be found, regardless of your itinerary. And that’s the thing about California. As my dad always said, “What other state offers so much diversity?” Whether bagging peaks, scuba-diving, camping in the desert, or having a blow-out shopping spree is your thing, California’s got it.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Stuck in Customs]

Family travel: chatting with Poshbrood’s Elizabeth Thorp

luxury family travel poshbroodChildhood vacations have a way of becoming an adult’s fondest memories – stories re-hashed time and again at the dinner table, destinations revisited during adulthood to see if they’ve changed. Of course, these trips become slightly less magical when you, as an adult, manage the wrangling of the entire family onto a plane, train or automobile and attempt the feat of herding the family towards a vacation destination.

Of course, the planning begins long before the trip – between setting budgets and deciding on a location, limited information is often available about higher-end destinations that make a great escape for kids. Enter Poshbrood, a family travel website and blog that focuses on luxury family travel.

We stat down with founder Elizabeth Thorp to seek her advice. Check out the Q&A, below:

Why did you start Poshbrood?
I’m a mom of three young girls and a nationally-published writer. Along the way, I had amassed a ginormous folder of fantastic family hotels, resorts and villas. Some savvy girlfriends suggested corralling the family travel findings in one since a lot of the really good places are found through personal recommendations or by word of “mom.” So I put online password protected for a small group of friends. I kept getting requests so we decided to make it a public site. It’s a huge amount of work but I just adore it! My husband has to close my computer at night or I’d be editing reviews, contacting hotels, coordinating bloggers and uploading blog posts 24/7.

What makes Poshbrood different from other family travel sites?
I like to say that “Poshbrood puts out.” All of the properties in our curated catalog, our blog and other information on the site can be accessed for free. All of the Posh Picks are personally experienced and reviewed by myself or one of our Poshbrood parent bloggers. The reviews are in our bloggers’ real voices and capture the nuances of traveling with kids. If our kids are throwing up on the way to our destination or throw at tantrum in the lobby of the Peninsula, you’re going to read about it. We also don’t have any ads or pop ups, moms are busy enough and I wanted a very clean, chic site with no distractions.What has been your favorite part about getting to travel the world with your family?
I’ve loved meeting other families during our travels and we still keep in touch with some friends we’ve met at different spots. It’s always fun when the parents AND the kids of a family both connect. Also, I’ve been taking some shorter jaunts with one child at a time. It’s so nice to really be with just one child, so you can focus on them and get to know them better. Recently, I went to Beverly Hills with the four year old and took seven year old Lucy to London. It was a trip of a lifetime for her and she was so glad to have me all to herself. I’ll take our eight year old to the Hamptons in early August.

What’s the worst part about traveling with kids? Do you ever want to just get away without them?
The worst part is probably the extra planning, extra packing, anticipating needs of each child while en route. And God forbid you experience a plane cancellation or pile up on I-95 (it’s happened and it’s not pretty…there are only so many princess movies young girls can watch!) Yes, we do want to get away without them and we do.

One of the rare times I am able to “sleep in” on vacation! We also try to do close by adult weekend jaunts –we’ve stayed at The Inn at Little Washington, The Borgata (what, no baby gambling?) and The Mercer Hotel NYC.

Obviously – you’re “posh”. But what budget-friendly family planning tips would you suggest?

Posh doesn’t always have to mean five-star or expensive. For example, there is a Quality Inn in Chincoteague, VA in our catalog. I would have NEVER thought to stay there but a friend suggested it for these reasons: 1.) Adjoining rooms 2.) Free breakfast 3.) pool 4.) pet-friendly (we were bringing our dogs) 5.)Two doors from the famous Island Creamery Ice Cream Parlor and the kicker for us was 6.) An on site Chincoteague pony — our girls were BEYOND. The hotel was immaculate, the price was amazing and the rooms were cool wood paneling, Mad Men retro. We’d definitely go back! As far as tips to saving money, we prefer cottages, villas or suites with a kitchen or kitchenette.

You can save loads and loads of money by not having to each every meal in a hotel or resort restaurant. At upscale resorts, a lunch at the pool grill can set you back $100 or more for a family of four, so having the option to make your meals in your accommodations is a great way to save. We also tend to bring our own juice boxes, snacks, wine, etc. The hotel and minibar markup is extraordinary! Finally, seek out the off-season deals. We always go to Round Hill in May because after the busy Spring Break season, the rates are drastically reduced April 15th. This is typical of most tropical hotels. Try St. Barth’s in August when occupancy is low and the most amazing hotels in the world on the most “champagne dreams and caviar wishes” island are offering incredible deals.


Where are you dying to visit?
The GREEK Islands! I’ve got my eye on the Blue Palace Resort & Spa in Crete and Vedema Resort in Santorini. I would also love to rent a villa or farmhouse in the Dordogne region of France. I’m dying to see the prehistoric caves and brush up on my French.

Any family travel trends you think are important to note?
I do see an increase in boutique hotels and upscale hotels and resorts catering to families. For example, we stayed at The Goring and they were incredibly kid-friendly with kids’ menus, adjoining rooms, free breakfast, discounts to families who need a second room. Trump Hotels has an amazing Trump Kids program and The Peninsula’s Kids’ Academy program is very special. Who doesn’t want to learn how to make pastries with the Peninsula chef?
I also think that many families are now into exploratory travel, choosing destinations that have offer some culture and history to learn about while visiting instead of automatically choosing Disney.

What are your favorite places for family travel?

Round Hill, Jamaica: Round Hill is one flight away from most major airports. No one wants a layover with the littles. The resort is a quick 25-minute drive from the Montego Bay Airport. The beach is shallow, soft white sand and turquoise blue Caribbean water, perfect for families. The accommodations, designed by Ralph Lauren, are tropical chic but not so upscale and fancy that you’re nervous that the brood might break something.

Snowmass, CO:
Snowmass is just a 15-minute drive from Aspen airport and 25 from Aspen’s town. It is a lower-key atmosphere and a better mountain for families and kids. Snowmass Mountain boasts a two-story 25,000 square foot Treehouse Kids’ Adventure Center located at the base of Fanny Hill.The Treehouse is the hub of ski school and summer camp programs and features a family-friendly climbing gym, teen activities, kids’ retail and a host of themed rooms for ages eight weeks and older. Our poshkids have all done the ski school and cried when we came to pick them up at the end of the afternoon.

The Tides Inn, Irvington, VA

We’ve recently fallen in love with this Leading Hotel of the World. It’s three hours max from our home in Washington DC and feels a world away. The resort is charming but not too fancy or stiff — and feels like you’re staying in a wealthy family friend’s compound. It is an excellent value for the location and amenities offered. The property is enclosed and very navigable for younger children. We love that once you’re there, all activities are free.

Southern California
Traveling with kids got a whole lot easier for us with Virgin America. The whole culture of the airline is family friendly from the competitive fare, pre-boarding for small children, kids meals and inseat entertainment and games. Our girls sometimes don’t leave their seats for five hours. I can even take a nap or watch a chick flick. In Los Angeles, we like to stay at Montage Beverly Hills. You can walk to everything, there is a park (green space) next door and a playground a short drive away. Once you’re in Southern California, there are so many wonderful family attractions including: Santa Monica Pier, (I got engaged on top of the ferris wheel!) Knott’s Berry Farm (much more manageable than Disney), The Long Beach Aquarium, and Legoland. The Resort at Pelican Hill and the St. Regis Monarch Beach are two Orange county resorts who offer amazing family amenities and experiences for the perfect SoCal beach vacation for parents and the kids.

London, England
London is a great family destination. Why? No language barrier, ease of access and finding a deal on flights is easy because of how many airports and carriers service the London area. Also, there are so many parks and green spaces (no cost, obviously) in London. We spent hours at St. James Park feeding the ducks, playing at the playground and doing cartwheels on the expansive lawns. Same at the Princess Diana playground at Hyde’s Park. Also, there are so many attractions perfect for families with kids of all ages including: Changing of Guard (again, no cost), Double Decker Bus Tour, Thames Cruise, The London Eye, The Tower of London (our favorite), The Wobbly Bridge (Millennium Bridge), The Shakespeare Theatre tour, The Royal Mews (seeing the Royal horses and “princess carriages” was a dream come true for a seven year old girl), The British Museum among others. It’s also very easy to find inexpensive family food at local pubs and tucked away in cobblestone mews.

We stayed at The Goring Hotel, the family-owned luxury hotel where Kate Middleton stayed before her wedding to Prince William. It is a beautiful, intimate hotel but very family friendly offering adjoining rooms at a discount and often children eat free. The hotel is centrally located right across from Buckingham Palace and 100 yards from the Victoria tube station.

Summer travel: best U.S. cities for localized food lovers

best cities food loversWhat’s that you say? Summer’s half over? Those of us living here in the Pacific Northwest had no idea, given the lack of sun in these parts. But even if you’re getting slapped by the mother of all heat waves, it’s still early in the season for the best produce summer has to offer. As for where to get great food featuring locally-sourced ingredients? Allow me.

Some cities are inextricably linked with food; they’re destinations unto themselves if you’re the type who plans trips around meals. I do. Museums are great and all, but personally, I’d rather eat.

As a longtime proponent of sustainable agriculture, I want to support local growers as well as get a sense of place when I take a trip (that the food be good is still number one). That’s why a city like Santa Fe is so intriguing to me. The cuisine is rooted in the state’s history, indigenous peoples, and native foods, and there’s a fantastic farmers market. The fact that Santa Fe is beautiful in its own right seals the deal.

If you also let your appetite guide your vacation-planning, I’ve listed my favorite U.S. cities in which to stuff my face, based upon repeat visits or previous/present residency. It’s like choosing a favorite child, but someone had to do it.

Seattle
I currently reside in Seattle, and work at a cheese shop in the 14-month-old Melrose Market in Capitol Hill. So perhaps I’m a bit biased when I say that Melrose rocks. But really, I don’t think I am. It’s the best thing to happen to Seattle since Pike Place opened in 1907 and became the model for public markets nationwide. But Melrose isn’t a tourist trap, and you won’t find anyone hawking crappy t-shirts. It’s housed in two adjacent, restored historic automotive shops built entirely of reclaimed materials; there’s a soaring cathedral ceiling, and lots of exposed brick.

[Photo credit: Flickr user La Grande Farmers’ Market]

The Benefits of Buying Eco-Friendly Local Foodbest cities food loversAlthough home to just four dedicated retail spaces and a wine bar, sandwich shop, and restaurant, Melrose has garnered lots of national media attention. The Calf & Kid (aka My Day Job) is a European-style fromagerie, while Marigold & Mint is a lovely little nook full of antique apothecary jars and cut flowers and produce from the owner’s organic farm. At Rainshadow Meats, without question one of the finest local/sustainable butcher shops in the nation, there are hard-to-find cuts like pork cheeks, and excellent housemade charcuterie.

There’s also Bar Ferd’nand, a miniscule wine and tapas bar, Homegrown Sustainable Sandwich Shop, and the jewel in the crown, Sitka & Spruce. Chef/owner Matt Dillon’s farmhouse mod space features an open hearth, room-length communal farm table, and rustic but refined, hyper-localized cuisine–this time of year look for foraged mushrooms, local goat cheeses, halibut, and Juan de Fuca spot prawns. Do.not.miss. Next door, Taylor Shellfish Farms–one of Washington State’s most beloved growers of oysters and Manila and geoduck clams–just opened a retail shop where you can scoop live shellfish from tanks, or puchase live Dungeness crab or housemade geoduck chowder.

Should you make it over to the Scandinavian-flavored Ballard neighborhood, be sure to dine at La Carta de Oaxaca (get there early or be prepared for a very long wait). Seattle can’t do Mexican food to save its life (I speak as a native Californian), with the exception of this Oaxacan treasure, where everything is made the slow, traditional way. Best of all, two of you can fill up–including beers–for under 30 dollars. For a more upscale treat, hit Bastille, a truly beautiful bistro featuring produce and honey from its rooftop garden.
best cities food lovers
Portland, Oregon
Portland has a vastly different vibe from easy-going Seattle. And while the attitude may be a bit much at times (do not raise the ire of a barista), it’s also got a phenomenal food and mixology scene (and yes, better coffee than Seattle). There’s no one neighborhood with all the great eats; they’re scatted throughout the city: Southeast, Pearl District, Alberta Arts District

Carnivores won’t want to miss Beast or Olympic Provisions (which also makes its own charcuterie for retail). There’s Cheese Bar, which specializes in beer parings, six glorious farmers markets, distilleries, artisan ice cream, and new favorites Lovely’s Fifty-Fifty (wood-fired pizza in the former–and much-missed–Lovely Hula Hands space) and Little Bird Bistro, the sister restaurant from former Food & Wine Best New Chef Gabriel Rucker of Le Pigeon.

If street food is your thing, Portland is swarming with food trucks, carts, and stands: Mississippi Avenue and downtown are both hot spots; check out Food Carts Portland for the inside scoop. If you feel the need to work off some calories in between food cart visits, (this is one of the best cities for outdoorsy types, after all), sign up for the Grub on the Go bike tour with Portland Urban Adventures.

Santa Barbara
I grew up near Santa Barbara, and have lived there a couple of times. It’s truly one of the most picturesque cities in the world, and over the course of 30-plus years, I’ve watched it evolve from sleepy small town to L.A. North. Spendy boutiques aside, Santa Barbara really didn’t start turning into a sophisticated dining destination until about five years ago.

The original hidden gems focused on locality–Bouchon, and the venerable Wine Cask (which recently changed hands and is now co-owned by the very genial owner of Bouchon) are still going strong. The executive chefs at both restaurants now lead farmers market tours, which I highly recommend. Both the Saturday and Tuesday farmers markets are major community events, and the sheer breadth of offerings–dozens of varieties of citrus, tropical fruit, olive and walnut oil, goat meat–is dazzling. Seafood lovers won’t want to miss the Saturday Fisherman’s Market, held at the Harbor.

The Hungry Cat
is my favorite restaurant in town (it also has a raw bar), followed by the superbly fresh Arigato sushi. Milk & Honey makes fantastic cocktails (and the small bites aren’t bad, either), as does Blue Agave. My true addictions, however, are Lilly’s Taqueria–a downtown hole-in-the-wall where for under five dollars, you can stuff yourself senseless on the best street tacos this side of the border. I also never fail to get an adovado or carnitas burrito at Taqueria Rincon Alteño. The same guys have been running the place for at least ten years, and it always feels like coming home.
best cities food lovers
Oakland, California
Nearly a decade of living in Berkeley, on the Oakland border, has enabled me to see this much-maligned city grow up, both aesthetically and culinarily (it’s always had a great Chinatown and taco trucks). In the gentrified Temescal neighborhood, you can literally hit a different restaurant every night of the week on the block between 51st St. and 49th St. on Telegraph Avenue. There’s Asmara for Ethiopian, Chez Panisse alum eateries Bakesale Betty and Pizzaiolo; Doña Tomas, and the new outpost of San Francisco’s wildly popular Burma Superstar (delicious). On 44th, late night chef’s haunt Koryo has great, cheap Korean bbq. Just around the corner: the wonderful Sunday Temescal Farmers Market.

Nearby, on 51st and Shattuck is the new Scared Wheel Cheese Shop, while down on Grand Avenue, by Lake Merritt, is Boot and Shoe Service (sister to Pizzaiolo), Camino (chef/owner is longtime former Chez Panisse chef Russ Moore). Don’t miss Market Hall Foods in nearby trendy Rockridge.

Brooklyn
I admittedly don’t know Brooklyn well; I couldn’t tell you how to get from Point A to Point B. But I know that some of the best food in New York lies within this dynamic borough. In Williamsburg, keep an eye out for Leeuwen Ice Cream’s roving, butter-colored truck–after you enjoy the heavenly pizza at Fornino. I also love the Brook Farm Genbest cities food loverseral Store, which has all manner of lovely vintage and vintage-inspired items for the kitchen and dining room. Bedford Cheese Shop and Stinky Bklyn (in Cobble Hill) are two of the country’s finest cheese shops, full of esoteric domestic and imported selections.

Over in Bushwick at Roberta’s, chef Carlo Mirachi, a 2011 Food & Wine Best New Chef winner, fires up pizza and other treats in his wood-burning oven, and utilizes produce from his rooftop garden. If you’re still hungry, other tasty stops: Fatty Cue or Fette Sau (both in Williamsburg) for barbecue, Saltie for crazy-good sandwiches, (Williamsburg), and the oddest ice cream flavors ever at Sky Ice (Park Slope). Be sure not to miss the various weekend Brooklyn Flea markets, where you’ll find all manner of good-to-eat treats, artisan beverages from Brooklyn Soda, and retro kitchen equipment. Note: every Saturday is the Flea’s new dedicated food market, Smorgasburg, in Williamsburg.

My other top picks for great food, made with local ingredients:
Chicago
Denver/Boulder
Santa Fe
Portland, ME
Drop me a line and I’ll be happy to give you some tips on where to get your feed on!

[Photo credits: Portland, Flickr user qousqous; courthouse, Flickr user Silverslr; Vietnamese food, Laurel Miller; pizza, Flickr user h-bomb]