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Hotel Review: Family Fun at the La Jolla Shores Hotel

Hotel Review: Family Fun at the La Jolla Shores Hotel

Sometimes you don’t need to travel farther than your own back yard for a wonderful family getaway. Recently we had the greatest staycation ever, with tons of family fun in La Jolla at the La Jolla Shores Hotel. With it’s prime beachfront location overlooking the Pacific Ocean, this hotel is well positioned for Southern California beach vacations. Whether you live in the area or visiting from out of town, La Jolla Shores Hotel is one of the best San Diego hotels on the beach.

girl views beach from balcony at La Jolla Shores Hotel

Our room at La Jolla Shores Hotel had this incredible balcony view

Best San Diego Hotels on the Beach

People think California beachfront hotels are a dime a dozen, but they’re not really. There are many amazing hotels on along the California Coast we love to stay in, but not many are oceanfront. In California, “oceanfront” can mean a lot of things. Sometimes the terrain can be hilly and unpredictable, meaning guests cannot typically walk directly out of the hotel and on to the sand. Sometimes “ocean view” can be misleading too. More than once, we’ve been surprised by hotels with “ocean views” from across the road. Or worse yet, a sliver view squeezed between two other tall buildings.

This is definitely not the case at the La Jolla Shores Hotel. This is Southern California beachfront, complete with the iconic boardwalk to boot. And this is why it ranks as one of our best San Diego hotels on the beach. AND THE BEACH IS AMAZING!

You can walk for miles on the beach in front of the La Jolla Shores Hotel.

Great History in La Jolla

Holding court on La Jolla Shores beach for decades, the La Jolla Shores Hotel has been fulfilling guests’ dreams for many years. Generations within families have grown up loving the casual vibe at this hotel. Many continue to come back year after year, now with children of their own and grandparents in tow. In fact, when we were staying here we saw many multi-generational families enjoying the hotel and its offerings.

La Jolla has long been recognized as the jewel of San Diego. It’s an affluent enclave with a beachy vibe, where surfer dudes in board shorts mix nicely with ladies who lunch. Home of Torrey Pines Golf Course, Scripps Aquarium, designer boutiques and bazillion dollar homes, La Jolla is also blessed with a chill vibe. At the center of all this Southern California energy, the La Jolla Shores Hotel holds court.

La Jolla Shores Hotel entrance

Main entrance of La Jolla Shores Hotel

Remodeled Rooms

After a recent room remodel, the spacious guest accommodations at La Jolla Shores Hotel are impressive. Our room had an enormous wrap-around deck and stunning views of La Jolla Shores beaches north and south. We could enjoy watching the waves along Scripps Pier, the kids playing in the surf, and kayaks paddling out to sea. Honestly, we were so close to the sand we could read the words on the sunbathers’ trashy summer novels if we wanted to. But who wants to do that when there are so many gorgeous vistas to take in?

Our room had two queen beds and a fold-out couch, along with sitting areas both inside and out on the decks. Our teen girls have gotten to the point where they refuse to share a bed, so the fold-out was very welcome!  Bathrooms were spacious but not overly luxurious. The emphasis is definitely on the view here, and why not. The La Jolla Shores Hotel is one of the best San Diego hotels on the beach for a reason: THE BEACH IS AMAZING.

hotel room view at La Jolla Shores Hotel

Enjoying the view from our room at La Jolla Shores Hotel

Fantastic Dining at Shores Restaurant

In my nearly 30 years of living in San Diego, I had never eaten at The Shores Restaurant inside the La Jolla Shores Hotel. And after having dinner and breakfast there, I’m asking myself why I’ve not been there before. Not only was the food excellent, but did I mention it is beachfront? And remember, THE BEACH IS AMAZING.

Arriving for dinner, we must have timed ourselves perfectly as we were seated by the giant picture window. Overlooking the beach, ocean, and setting sun, we felt so perfectly San Diegan. Instantly we were all in a good mood, and the rest of the evening was only up from there. As our attentive and knowledgeable waiter got us settled with drinks, we dug into the menu.

La Jolla Shores Hotel patio with roses

Outdoor dining at The Shores Restaurant has killer ocean views.

The Shores Restaurant Menu

Right away, one item stood out that we had to try – Brussels Sprouts with Habenero Sausage, Pecans and Goat Cheese. We love all those things! Never have we had crispy Brussels sprouts served with melted goat cheese, and we could not get enough. Another stand out was the Pesto Ricotta Flat Bread, colorful and delicious with tomatoes, artichokes and spinach. The Chicken Potstickers were also out-of-this-world, and surprised us with their perfectly flavored Asian bite. We were off to a great start.

chicken potstickers at La Jolla Shores Hotel

Chicken potstickers and a cucumber gimlet at The Shores Restaurant? Yes please!

Our entrees were also delicious and well prepared. We sampled the Maine Diver Scallops, Dynamite Wild Shrimp with Forbidden Rice (why is it forbidden when it’s sooooo good?) and more. Everything was superb – well seasoned, not too fussy and extremely well prepared and plated.

And in the midst of this amazing meal, the sun set over the blue Pacific Ocean directly in front of our table. Honestly a postcard-perfect view and by the way, the view of THE BEACH IS AMAZING!

Sunset at La Jolla Shores Hotel

Watching the sunset from Shores Restaurant at the La Jolla Shores Hotel.

We finished with The Shores Restaurant version of Banana Split Mudd Pie, a sinfully delicious concoction we shared along with the Passionfruit Layered Cheesecake. Ridiculously rich and tasty.

Banana Split Mudd Pie at Shores Restaurant La Jolla

This Banana Split Mudd Pie was gone in 60 seconds.

La Jolla Family Activities

After all that feasting, we had to get up and be active the next day. There are so many thing to do in the area, we came up with a list of things for a fun family day at La Jolla Cove.

Or you can simply stay put at the La Jolla Shores Hotel. With so many activities right there, you may not want to leave.

sunset over pool at La Jolla Shores Hotel

View looking west towards Pacific Ocean from La Jolla Shores Hotel.

Booking Details

For room details and pricing, visit The room we stayed in starts at approximately $499 during high season, and other rooms can be booked starting at around $319.

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Family Fun in the Florida Keys

Family Fun in the Florida Keys

Everyone raves about vacations in Florida, a state we have not visited much together. Recently we spent a long weekend in the Florida Keys, and now we see why people love visiting here so much! Spectacular weather, warm waters and plenty of interesting flora and fauna make this a really amazing place for vacation. With so much to see and do here, we made a list to share with you of our favorite fun family activities in the Florida Keys.

Honestly, there is so much to do here we didn’t even scratch the surface. With the help of friends, advisors, experts and our own kids’ spidey senses, we found some really amazing things for our first visit here. We left so many other things on the table, we’ll just have to go back and tick more things off the list. Until then, here are some of the highlights!

family at southernmost point marker Key West

Ava gives eyebrow at the southernmost point marker in Key West.

Fun Family Activities in the Florida Keys

From our home base at the gorgeously remodeled Hawks Cay Resort on Duck Key, we plotted our agenda of fun family activities in the Florida Keys. Tearing ourselves away from the hotel pool and lagoon was not easy, but it was really sweet to return here each day. More on the Hawks Cay Resort below.

Feed the Tarpons at Robbie’s

Probably one of the most fun things we did while visiting the Florida Keys (and most alarming!) was feeding the tarpons at Robbie’s of Islamorada. First and foremost a restaurant and marine activities center, Robbie’s has become famous for the schools of giant tarpon that swarm their docks. Tarpons are saltwater game fish common to these waters, and can grow up to 350 pounds and 8 feet in length. Their mouths are enormous caverns of hungry  darkness.

family feeds tarpons at Robbie's in Florida Keys

Triton and Ava jump back as a giant tarpon grabs their bait.

So at some point, Robbie himself started feeding these gargantuans of the sea. Now when you visit Robbie’s, you can buy a bucket of bait fish for $2.25 and feed the tarpons yourself. The fish seemed to sense our presence and start to get rambunctious in the water next to the pier. Holding a fish by the tail over the water, we each took turns slowly lowering the fish towards the water. Suddenly, a bold tarpon will rise out of the water with its mouth open wide.

feeding fish to a tarpon at Robbie's

The soundtrack to this photo is a high pitched scream (from me). Look at that mouth!

I don’t know what happens if you hold on to the fish while the tarpon closes its mouth around your hand. Instead, we all screamed like little girls and dropped the bait fish as the tarpon jumped up. Damn things look prehistoric when they are coming at you with that hungry look in their eyes!

feeding the tarpons at Robbie's of Islamorada

Those tarpons can jump high out of the water at Robbie’s of Islamorada!

Robbie’s also offers great food in a casual environment with full bar. Activities offered here include jet skis, parasailing, kayaks, snorkel cruises and plenty more. It was too windy the day we visited to embark on any of these activities. Just another reason to come back and see our tarpon buddies!

Restaurant at Robbie's of Islamorada

The indoor/outdoor vibe at Robbie’s of Islamorada in the Florida Keys

Check out the Robbie’s website for times, costs and details.

Turtle Hospital in the Florida Keys

One of the only turtle rescue hospitals in the world dedicated to rehab and release programs, the Turtle Hospital in Marathon is exceptional. Dedicated to helping turtles injured by humans, other creatures and disease, the hospital staff comes to their rescue. Visitors are invited to come to the Hospital for educational tours, with proceeds from ticket sales supporting the organization’s non-profit mission.

green turtle rescue at Turtle Hospital Florida Keys

Sage the teen turtle rescue at the Turtle Hospital in the Florida Keys

For our animal-loving kids, this visit was an emotional highlight. Both Sophia and Ava fell in love with these sweet creatures, some very badly injured in boating accidents and shark attacks. With battered and broken shells, turtles are nursed back to health here. Ideally, turtles recover fully and are released back into the wild. Unfortunately some do not fully recover, and are no longer able to care for themselves outside the hospital. Those creatures live here for the rest of their days, pampered and loved by staff and visitors alike.

It was fascinating to see the operating room, holding tanks, and dedicated staff caring for these turtles. Most are green sea turtles, some are loggerheads and others are Ridley’s. There were little baby turtles, teen turtles and all the way up to ancient old man turtles. Some live to be as old as 80 years, so caring for them 24/7 is a huge commitment!

staff bandaging injured turtle at Turtle Hospital Florida Keys

The staff bandages an injured turtle brought to the Turtle Hospital for recovery.

Touring the facility, we were able to learn about, observe and even feed the turtles. Our girls were in heaven, and there was even talk of veterinary school in their futures. We’ll see about that, but their commitment to animals runs deep.

Tours run every hour, and admission cost is $25 per adult, kids 4-12 are $12, and children under 4 are free. For more information, view the Turtle Hospital website.

operating room at Turtle Hospital Florida Keys

The operating room at the Turtle Hospital was impressive.

Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory

In the heart of Key West at the very southernmost point in the US, the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory holds court. Fun for all ages, this butterfly zoo is a menagerie of colorful winged creatures and plants. With more than 50 varieties of butterflies on site, there are also moths, tropical birds and two very friendly flamingos (but more on them later).

family viewing butterflies in Key West

Butterflies of every color of the rainbow flit around the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory

As we walked through the thick tropical jungle of plants and flowers, swarms of butterflies swirled around us. Bright blues, deep oranges, hot pinks and vibrant yellows were mixed in with pretty much every other color of the rainbow. It was so peaceful to just sit on a bench and watch as some even landed on us for a moment before floating away again. For kids, there is a great educational video and lobby with caterpillars munching away on their favorite plants. This place is just magical.

Here, the staff is very knowledgeable about all the different species of butterflies, moths, birds and plants. With docents positioned throughout the enclosure, we had tour guides all around as we meandered through. Visitors exit through a very well themed gift shop, where our girls had a field day. We came home with so many butterfly themed gifts for family and friends!

butterfly on pink flower in Key West

Gorgeous butterflies and flowers at the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory.

The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory is open 365 days a year, 9-5 daily with the last admission at 4:30. Ticket prices  are $12 for adults, kids 4-12 are $8.50 and children under 3 are free.

Flamingo Encounter in the Florida Keys

The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory has a special event called Flamingle, offered only to a very small group of people a few times per week. After closing time when all the guests have departed, this small group is led into the enclosure to sit on benches inside the arbor. And then, the two resident flamingos are released from their pen to walk freely around the entire enclosure. Their names are Rhett and Scarlett.

flamingo preens man's hair at Flamingle Encounter Key West

Scarlett the Flamingo was fascinated with Triton’s grey locks.

The most fun part of this? Rhett and Scarlett love people and are very sociable, so they come running right up to check out their new guests. And by right up, I mean up close and personal. Instructed not to touch the flamingos, we sat with huge smiles while they sniffed, preened and tickled us with their gorgeous bills and bright pink features. Really, this is one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences we will be talking about forever.

Ava was a little freaked out at Rhett and Scarlett’s very friendly behavior, and sensing this they left her alone. The rest of us were showered in attention and love. Rhett did this weird thing with his bill, vibrating it on my legs, arms and neck in a way that tickled enormously. He took a liking to me, and kept trying to stretch his long legs and climb into my lap! Scarlett preferred to preen Sophia and Triton’s hair with her bill, separating each hair carefully in her effort to show attention and love. It was very sweet.

flamingo tickling laughing man in Key West

Rhett reeeeeaaaally wanted to get in Jon’s lap.

We can’t recommend this highly enough. In order to reserve your spot, you must contact the team at Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory far in advance. For rates and more information contact Clarisa Fluker at (305) 296-2988 ext. #11 or

Ernest Hemingway’s Home & Cats

Right down the road from our butterfly experience, we walked on to the grounds of the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum. Hemingway is famous for his novels such as For Whom the Bell Tolls, A Moveable Feast, The Sun Also Rises and more. Many were turned into movies of great acclaim. Deceased since 1961, Hemingway’s estate is now a museum filled with his memorabilia and writings. Ever the man of the hour, Hemingway lived an outsized life while traveling the world. On his adventures he collected many things of beauty, and a few oddities as well. Quite a few are on display here.

Hemingway's typewriter at Hemingway Home Key West

Oh the stories Hemingway’s old typewriter could tell.

One of these oddities was his pet cat, Snow White, who was polydactyl. This means she had six toes instead of the normal five or four. Now the Hemingway estate is teeming with her descendents, all with the unusual six toe signature. Over the years, this DNA has spread and there are at least 50 cats on the grounds. Our kids went wild trying to lure these cats into their arms, petting them madly and cooing. Honestly, I think they would have tried to smuggle one out in their backpacks were it not for the eagle eyes of a nearby docent.

girls petting polydactyl cat at Hemingway House Key West

Sophia and Ava wanted to bring all the cats home in our suitcases.

By everywhere on the grounds, I mean these cats are all over – inside and out. Curled up asleep on Hemingway’s bed, a sweet long-haired tabby was dozing . Splayed out across the bathroom windowsill, his cousin napped nearby. In the garden, dozens of their family members roamed about. Definitely not a place for cat-haters or those that are allergic!

polydactyl cat at Hemingway Home in Key West

All the cats at the Hemingway Home in Key West are polydactyl with six toes.

The house is open every day of the year (even holidays) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets include a guided tour, and cost $14 for adults and $6 for kids ages 6 to 12. Children 5 and younger are free.

Hawks Cay Resort

During our visit to the Florida Keys, we stayed on the water’s edge at Hawks Cay Resort on Duck Key. Located at about the halfway point on the Keys, the resort is easy to get to from either Key Largo near the mainland or Key West at the very tip. Perfect jumping off point for visiting fun family activities in the Florida Keys.

Sunset Villas at Hawks Cay Resort

Our room was in the Sunset Villas at Hawks Cay Resort

Our suite was incredibly spacious, with a kitchen, dining area, living room with fold-out couch and large decks both downstairs and upstairs. Upstairs, there were two bedrooms each with ensuite bathrooms. But the views, oh the views! Our deck had stairs down to a grassy area and then the bay, right there in all its glory. We watched boats whizz by pulling waterskiers, jet skis and kayaks and all kinds of aquatic sports. Best of all, the sun set over this view each night and we witnessed a daily light show from our suite.

Sunset at Hawks Cay Resort Florida Keys

Sun sets over the Florida Keys as we watch from our deck at Hawks Cay Resort

Hawks Cay Resort has everything a family would hope to find in a vacation spot. The pool was enormous and serpentine, with areas for play or relaxation. We loved the saltwater lagoon nearby, warm and calm with stand up paddleboards and canoes. Around this lagoon, chairs and umbrellas are positioned for extra lounge areas dedicated to guests who wanted more quiet solitude.

pool view at Hawks Cay Resort

The pool was hopping at Hawks Cay Resort during our visit.

There is even a dolphin encounter on site, located in a private bay where guests can reserve the opportunity to swim with the dolphins. We opted for family time in the gym instead, and loved the fitness facilities connected to the spa.

Rooms at the Hawks Cay Resort start at around $230 per night and go up from there. Our two-story, 2-bedroom suite was approximately $380 per night.

So Much to See and Do

The list of things we share above is only the tip of the iceberg. There are so many fun family activities in the Florida Keys, we think we need to go back for more experiences. Stay tuned for Chapter Two of this story!

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Best Hotels in Mendocino

Best Hotels in Mendocino

Mendocino holds a special place in our hearts. My family had owned property in nearby Fort Bragg for many years, and I grew up with memories of vacations spent on that grassy bluff overlooking a private beach. When my Dad passed recently, we traveled back to the area to honor his wishes to join Mom as ashes in the sand. Of course as we planned the trip, we looked for the best hotels in Mendocino for a long weekend stay with the kids.

Back in the day the family did not have much money. We stayed in motels that did not appeal to our modern standards. Today there are far more suitable options, and plenty of low cost choices that look very nice. We drove past those, heading for two places we consider to the among the best hotels in Mendocino. Mom and Dad would approve. So we packed up the car with snacks for the road trip, and headed up the coast from a stay in San Francisco.

hazy sunset in Mendocino

Watching the sun set through the haze in Mendocino.

Best Hotels in Mendocino

Mendocino is a quaint little town on the Northern California coast, brimming with beauty and creativity. An artist colony since the 1960s, Mendocino has kept its charm and lack of pretense. Visitors are drawn to the area because it’s so laid back and downright beautiful. Here the great California Redwoods descend almost down to the rocky cliffs. Oh, and the local wine from Anderson Valley is award-winning the world over.

clover in the redwood grove Mendocino

Along the redwood forest trails in Mendocino.

There is a ton for families to do in this area. I wrote about all that in a post for The Points Guy entitled Mendocino Activities for the Whole Family.

As for place to stay, let me tell you about our two amazing experiences.

Brewery Gulch Inn

This sweet little Bed and Breakfast Inn is incredibly charming. Perched on a hill overlooking the craggy seas of Mendocino, Brewery Gulch Inn is one of those special places we will always remember. The owner has done an outstanding job creating a cozy environment with just 12 rooms and a great room/lobby/dining room. Designed in an Arts & Crafts style from original growth salvaged local redwood, this qualifies on our list of best hotels in Mendocino because everything is just impeccable. Design. Style. Cleanliness. Attention to detail. We loved it.

Brewery Gulch Inn gardens

The gardens at Brewery Gulch Inn are pretty spectacular

Cozy Living Room

Entering the hotel lobby, guests are met with a roaring fireplace, comfortable leather living room furniture, and a bank of windows with views for days. We could have sat on that sofa for hours, but there was so much to see! Very high ceilings give the room an expansive feel along with gigantic windows all around. French doors open out on to a spacious deck with comfortable seating in the sun or shade.

Brewery Gulch Inn great room

The great room at Brewery Gulch Inn is designed in the Arts & Crafts style.

Ocean-view Deck

Just off the living room, the deck is positioned perfectly to take in the ocean views. Rocky shorelines surround nearby Smuggler’s Cove, with waves spraying high on the rocks when the tide is high. Nearby, a grassy hill is dotted with adirondack chairs in the warm sun. We watched deeply colored Blue Jays swoop down to grab seeds from a well-placed bird feeder. Flowers and shrubs sway in the breeze, and it’s sooooooo peaceful.

bird feeders in Mendocino

We loved watching the birds on the deck at Brewery Gulch Inn

Spacious Rooms

We stayed in the Meadowview suite, a second story room with two bedrooms so the kids could enjoy some privacy. Every space at Brewery Gulch Inn is pristine and spotless, and our suite was no exception. With a king bed in the main room and two twin beds in the second bedroom, our family was very comfortable. The room had a fireplace, coffee machine, small frig, sink and microwave. The bathroom was stocked with spa-like soaps, lotions and treatments for relaxation. To say we were extremely comfortable is an understatement.

Meadowview suite at Brewery Gulch Inn

Our bedroom in the Meadowview suite.

Delicious Breakfast

With a focus on fresh, local and organic ingredients, the kitchen at Brewery Gulch Inn is doing it right. Although we did not taste the simple dinner included with our room booking, it looked delicious. Dinner is served buffet style in the great room, where guests are invited to eat as they please and sit at one of the comfortable tables.

And breakfast. Well the chef knows what she or he is doing, because the food is out of this world. We started with a freshly baked scone, still warm from the oven. Topped with butter and jam, it paired perfectly with a steaming mug of coffee or tea. With table service at breakfast, we were presented with a menu offering a variety of delicious dishes. I chose the huevos rancheros, Ava enjoyed the pancakes and Triton loved the eggs and sausages. Sophia chose to stay cozy in her feather bed upstairs, so we brought her a chocolate chip muffin to eat in the room.

breakfast bar at Brewery Gulch Inn

The breakfast scones at Brewery Gulch Inn were out of this world.

Beautiful Grounds

During our Springtime visit, the grounds of the Brewery Gulch Inn were ablaze in color. Blooms in all shapes, sizes and varieties were opening in the sun  to greet us. As we entered the drive off the main road, a picturesque old wooden water tower looms over a small pond. From the looks of it, this pond must be home to a few friendly frogs and turtles. Nestled against a nature preserve, there is nothing beyond the Inn except meadows, trees and sky. Beautiful.

Little River Inn

Just down the road a bit, the Little River Inn was one of my parents’ favorites. When they would return to Mendocino after they sold the property, this is where they would stay. The Inn itself has a rich history, and has been in the same family for five generations!

family on Mendocino beach

On the beach near Little River Inn.

Generations of Hospitality

Little River Inn is celebrating 75 years in business. The amazing main home was originally built in 1857 by Silas Coombs, and was converted to a hotel by another generation of the family. Situated on 225 wooded acres, the old Coombs home is now the reception area and lobby sitting room. On the property are 65 ocean view rooms, a dining room and bar, nine-hole golf course with pro shop, and day spa.

Little River Inn entrance

The original house now serves as main entrance at Little River Inn.

Cottage-style Rooms

The rooms here are housed in buildings old and new, all designed in the classic Victorian architecture of the original home. Lattice work and gingerbread top many of the buildings closest the ocean, and all rooms face this tremendous view. Rolling lawns tip down towards the coast to give great vantage points from virtually any spot. We stayed in a double room with giant balcony, positioned at the top of the hill near the golf course. What a treat it was to wake up each morning and sit on that patio, watching the sun light up the gardens.

ocean view Little River Inn

The view from our balcony at Little River Inn

Our room was comfortable and well-appointed, with a fireplace and club chairs as well as a dining table. And the bathroom was huge! Full soaking tub with jets, as well as a nice shower with good water pressure. The girls loved having a nice hot bath at night. After all, the Northern California coast is still chilly in the Spring.

Fantastic Dining

The Little River Inn is known for its restaurant and bar, and rightly so. Not only did guests enjoy dining there, but locals and guests from other hotels also came for the inventive menu. Executive Chef Marc Dym certainly knows his way around the kitchen. We loved breakfasts here the most. I became so addicted to his thin and delicious Swedish Pancakes that I ordered them two days in a row. I even tried to replicate the dish at home, but did not reach his level.

For dinner, I tried the Chicken and Gravy which was superb. Tender, juicy and served with mashed potatoes, the dish was so comforting. Triton liked his fresh, locally caught salmon very much, rubbed with spices and herb and cooked to perfection. For dessert, the girls begged for chef’s famous olallieberry cobbler. We held back though, so there’s another reason to return here for further feasting.

Ole's Whale Watch Bar at Little River Inn Mendocino

Locals and visitors love Ole’s Whale Watch Bar at the Little River Inn in Mendocino.

Golf Course & Spa

At some point in its history, Little River Inn added a 9-hole golf course. Improbable as it sounds, the course winds up from the coast and through the redwoods. Not golfers we, so we did not play but saw that many others loved it. I think if we were to take up golf (again) this might be a great place for us. Not too difficult, gorgeous, and conveniently located next to a renowned spa for relaxation afterwards!

Speaking of the spa, we were so busy sightseeing we did not have time to indulge. The services offered here look inviting, with massages, body treatments, facials and more. From the looks of the spa menu, a number of treatments are seaweed based – how appropriate. We love hotels with spas onsite, so we can stagger to the room after our treatments rather than get in a car and drive somewhere.

iris blooming in Mendocino

The flower beds at Little River Inn were so colorful

Spectacular Views

One of the things that kept my parents coming back to the Little River Inn were the views. This area of California is so picturesque, with literally dozens of gorgeous scenes from sun-up to sundown. Pines twisted and bending from the ocean breezes. Rocky cliffs tumbling into churning blue and white oceans. Beaches made of sea glass, and others offering tidepools full of sea life. Fishing boats bobbing in the ocean with their catch of the day. Gorgeous blooming rhododendrons and azaleas in bright colors. Towering redwood trees and fern-covered trails.

All of these views are available either from your lounge chair at Little River Inn, or in very close proximity. This is one of the primary reasons people love to visit the Mendocino area. There is no amusement park, no cineplex, no shopping mall. This is nature at its finest, and places like Little River Inn have continued to grow in popularity because of the surrounding natural beauty.

calla lily Mendocino pond

This pond was full of pollywogs and tadpoles.

Well worth the leisurely drive up the coast from San Francisco, the Northern California coast is like no other. And now you know where to stay when you visit – at the best hotels in Mendocino! (In our humble opinions anyway).





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Hotel Review: Grand Velas Riviera Maya

Hotel Review: Grand Velas Riviera Maya

Visiting an all-inclusive resort can sometimes be a juggling act of remembering what you paid for. These resorts often encourage guests to upgrade and get more perks. Sometimes guests wait to be seated at dinner because their all-inclusive level isn’t as high as their neighbors. None of these are worries at Grand Velas Riviera Maya which, in my opinion, is the best luxury all-inclusive resort in Mexico.

Grand Velas Riviera Maya poolside suites

The architecture of the rooms and buildings at the Grand Velas Riviera Maya is outstanding.

Best All-Inclusive Resort in Mexico

Located on the Mexican Riviera Maya, you get what you pay for at Grand Velas Riviera Maya, in all the best ways. At first it might seem like the prices are high, and they are. Rooms begin at around $800 USD per night for two persons with a jungle view, $1,200 per night with a pool view, and $1,400 per night with an ocean view. However, these prices include all your food plus access to five AAA Diamond rated restaurants.  Also included are 24-hour room service, a fully stocked mini bar, all drinks including beer, wine and liquor as well as a personal concierge. At Grand Velas Riviera Maya, you get a lot for your money.

Mayan Connection

One thing I liked so much about the resort was how Grand Velas Riviera Maya embraces the Mayan culture of the region. The ceiling of the lobby areas and the walkways are designed in a palapa style, reminiscent of the ancient culture. One of the restaurants is named Chaka after local trees important in Mayan mythology. The spa treatments begin with a drink of ponche (a traditional Mayan drink) along with a Mayan blessing.  And the resort even offers a mezcal tasting, which Mayans considered a gift from the gods (and so do I!). Incorporating the heritage of the indigenous people of this part of Mexico, the resort helped me learn more about the Mayans, making my stay even more special.

covered walkways at Grand Velas Riviera Maya.

Palapa-style covered walkways link the buildings of the Grand Velas Riviera Maya.

Spacious and Luxurious Rooms

The resort is broken up into three sections: Grand Class Experience, The Ambassador Experience and The Zen Grand Experience. Each experience is unique and geared towards a different vacation style.

Zen Room at Grand Velas Riviera Maya

Spacious and cozy, my Zen Room at Grand Velas Riviera Maya was a perfect combination of luxury and simplicity.

I stayed in the Zen section. Every room in Zen faces the jungle area of the resort and is exactly what the section says it is. I’ve rarely stayed at a hotel where you barely see the housekeeping staff, but that’s what happened at Grand Velas Riviera Maya. It was like magical fairies made up my bed every day and did a turn down service at night. At over 1,000 square feet, my room was larger than some of the first apartments I’ve rented! There was even a private terrace with lounge chairs to relax on.

Closer to the beach are Grand Class, which is the adults section, and Ambassador Experience, which is a family-friendly area. Shuttle vans are always available and can get you anywhere in the resort within 5 minutes.

Zen Room with jet tub at Grand Velas Riviera Maya

My Zen Room even had a jet tub with louver doors looking into the room and patio.

Top-Drawer Amenities

Part of the beauty of Grand Velas Riviera Maya is the majority of the amenities are included in the all-inclusive pricing. That includes wi-fi (which was strong and never slow), the fitness center, beach & poolside food and drink service, kayaks, fully stocked mini-bar in each room and the fully supervised kids clubs, which are open late to give parents the break they deserve.

Beach activities Grand Velas

Beach activities are included in the all-inclusive cost at Grand Velas Riviera Maya.

One thing not included in the all-inclusive pricing but something every guest needs to take advantage of is Se Spa. Located in the Zen portion of the resort, Se Spa is an experience unlike any other spa trip I’ve ever had. Even if you don’t get a massage try the Water Ceremony – you get 80 minutes of therapeutic treatments like sauna, clay room, steam room and the water therapy pool. I think it’s the best spa in Mexico and since I’ve tried a lot of them, I’m a pretty good judge.

Se Spa at the Grand Velas Riviera Maya

Se Spa at the Grand Velas Riviera Maya is truly a work of art.

Gourmet Food and Drink

Imagine having access to five AAA Diamond rated restaurants in one place and not having to pull out your credit card.  This is what you’ll experience at the restaurants at Grand Velas Riviera Maya.

Lobster ceviche with avocado and lime salsa

Lobster ceviche with avocado and lime salsa was one of my favorite dishes at Grand Velas Riviera Maya.

I was lucky enough during my stay to experience meals at the AAA 5 Diamond restaurant, Cocina de Autor, and the AAA 4 Diamond restaurant, Frida, along with several of the other restaurants at the resort. While all the restaurants were excellent, my top favorite had to be Cocina de Autor. With no set menu, each night guests are served courses based on the chef’s inspiration and what’s available from in-season items. A meal that takes advantage of all your senses, Cocina de Autor is based on molecular gastronomy or the science of physical transformation in food. All eight (yes, eight!) courses were smaller than you’d usually expect but well worth every bite. I couldn’t get enough of how the flavors were so large even if the servings weren’t. I also had the honor of meeting Chef Nahúm Velasco and he invited me into his kitchen!

Chef Nahúm Velasco at Cocina de Autor Grand Velas Riviera Maya

Chef Nahúm Velasco invited me into his kitchen at Cocina de Autor to witness the master at work.

Beaches and Pools

Sitting on the Caribbean Sea, Grand Velas Riviera Maya has a view of the sunrise that you won’t mind waking up early for. In fact, I highly suggest you do that at least once during your stay. It’s a peaceful way to start your day. Afterwards have breakfast at Azul, one of the Grand Velas Riviera Maya restaurants – you won’t be disappointed. During the day the beach has activities, lounge chairs and concierges to get your drink orders.

There are three pools at the resort. The pool at Grand Class is for adults only, and the pools at Zen Grand and Ambassador sections are open to everyone. While each pool is slightly different, all offer chaise lounge chairs, umbrellas and cushy towels. Poolside concierges are on hand to bring your choice of drinks and appetizers. Because when you’re half asleep from relaxing, who wants to get up to go to the bar, right?

Zen at Zen Grand Velas Riviera Maya

The Zen Pool at Grand Velas was just that – so relaxing and zen-like.

Can’t Wait to Return

Overall I can’t say enough great things about Grand Velas Riviera Maya. I know it sounds like I’m gushing and I am. Because the service at this resort is impeccable, the food delightful and the architecture splendid. I’ve visited many resorts in Mexico and think this is the best all-inclusive resort in Mexico. I highly recommend this visit for singles, couples, families and groups. You won’t find better service anywhere else. I can’t wait to return!

Se Spa Grand Velas honey vanilla scrub

Everything at Se Spa is done impeccably, like the set-up for my honey vanilla scrub massage.

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Hotel Review: W Hotel Fort Lauderdale is Breezy Chic

Hotel Review: W Hotel Fort Lauderdale is Breezy Chic

I’m always disarmed when entering a hotel lobby only to discover it’s not the lobby level. The lobby at the W Hotel Fort Lauderdale is actually located upstairs on the fourth floor, and guests must take an elevator to reach it. However, the W Hotel Fort Lauderdale is breezy chic in a fun and comfortable way that makes up for this minor inconvenience. In town for a quick business conference, my time was limited in this beautiful city and the W Hotel Fort Lauderdale was a great front door.

patio at W Hotel Fort Lauderdale

On a break from my conference, I wandered out to the patio off the lobby and thought about sitting in one of these chairs for 4 or 5 hours.

W Hotel Fort Lauderdale is Breezy Chic

Beach Vibe

I think we can all expect that a W Hotel located right on the beach in Fort Lauderdale is going to have a great vibe, and this one did. The lobby was bright, airy and full of interesting and colorful art. I heard many different languages being spoken by guests on their way to and fro, including French, Portuguese, German, Spanish and proper British. All were there for the same reason though – the cool beach vibe. And the W Fort Lauderdale delivered.

Lots of windows and balconies to enjoy the ocean views and beach scenes, including a huge lobby terrace and sun deck for people watching. The see-and-be-seen gang is alive and well here, and looking good. Definitely the W Hotel Fort Lauderdale is breezy chic.

At sunset, the balcony view from my room at the W Hotel Fort Lauderdale was a combination of blue ocean waters and warm golden sunset colors.

Chill Decor

W Hotels always have a way of incorporating the surrounding environment into their design. Since this is Florida beach front, it’s natural the decor would be beach-themed. In this case, we’re not talking shells and fishing nets. It’s a much higher vibration of that ilk, with light colors, washed fabrics, natural woods and lots of bright, natural light from huge banks of glass windows.

The bars and seating areas are comfy with soft furniture and places to relax. I sat down here in between meetings and just relaxed, breathing in the salt air and the beautiful surroundings. At night the beats play at just the right levels for slinky dresses, open shirts and tanned skin.

W Hotel Fort Lauderdale lobby bar

The lobby bar area at the W Hotel Fort Lauderdale is spacious and bright.

Cush Rooms

My room was on the ninth floor (of 23 floors total) but did not feel lowly to me in any way. I liked it immediately upon walking in, with white linens, white surfaces, white furniture and blue swirling carpets. It felt very indoor/outdoor so I immediately opened the sliders all the way and let in the slightly humid evening air. With lounges and tables on my balcony, it felt like the space was far bigger than it’s actual square footage.

guest room interior W Hotel Fort Lauderdale

Degrees of blue with white accents make my room at the W Hotel Fort Lauderdale beachy and modern at the same time.

Rather than go out by myself, I just ordered room service and enjoyed the quiet. With a pretty limited menu, room service was ok but not earth-shattering. I did devour my buffalo chicken wings, which were just the right amount of spicy. The caesar salad was a flat no-go. Food downstairs in the restaurants and banquet facilities was far better.

In what seems to be a very common hotel trend these days, the shower in my room shared a glass wall with the bedroom. Etched in the right places, the shower gives the room just a hint of mystery. I liked this design solution better than some in which the shower shows everyone literally everything you’ve got.

bathroom at W Hotel Fort Lauderdale

The bathroom design in my room at the W Hotel Fort Lauderdale is clean, bright and white.

Sweet Location

Situated right on Fort Lauderdale Boulevard with the beach just right there, the W Hotel Fort Lauderdale is ideally perched at the edge of the Atlantic. Just down the street is all the crazy mix of bars and restaurants, drawing tourists and locals from all over. It reminded me of my hometown San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter, with people spilling out of restaurants on to open-air balconies. Music thumps, hips grind and laughs are loud and infectious. I like all that, just not directly next to the hotel where I am staying. Luckily, the W is down the block a bit – close enough to walk but far enough for a peaceful slumber.

Across from the hotel, the white sand beach is long and wide. The ocean is very tame here, with warm waters lapping at the shore in non-threatening rhythms.

W Hotel Fort Lauderdale exterior

The architectural design of the W Fort Lauderdale is impressive, with almost every room offering an ocean view.

Kids or No Kids?

Ah, this is always the question with a W Hotel. However, the W Hotel Fort Lauderdale is one that can go either way. It’s not such a club scene that I would be uncomfortable bringing my kids. The pool is fun and big enough for playing around, and there is always the beach just right there. I saw some families in the hotel, and the kids seemed to be having a blast. If I have the chance to come back to this cool city, I’d love to visit with my family and stay at the W again. I know they would like it just as I did, and there are a lot of things to do with kids in Fort Lauderdale.

See you soon, Fort Lauderdale. You’re the kind of Florida experience I could enjoy on the regular!

Map showing W Hotel Fort Lauderdale

Positioned right on the beach, the W Hotel Fort Lauderdale is in a pretty awesome location.