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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.

 


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Hotel Review: Hilton Omaha a Great Downtown Option

Hotel Review: Hilton Omaha a Great Downtown Option

*Our stay was graciously hosted in part by the Hilton Omaha, and the opinions expressed here are our own as always.

On a recent business trip to Omaha, Nebraska, I was booked into the Hilton Omaha sight unseen. I didn’t think much about the hotel until my flight landed. Unusual for me, I had not even researched it online in advance. After you’ve seen the inside of as many hotels as I have, you think you know what to expect. Well, it was a pleasant surprise to find the Hilton Omaha a great downtown option in the middle of it all.

Hilton Omaha exterior full length

The Hilton Omaha is new, modern and comfortable – with a connection to Omaha’s convention center via skybridge.

Traveling to Omaha on a direct flight from San Diego could not have been easier, and in true Midwest comfort the airport is less than 10 minutes from downtown. I was in town for a series of immersion meetings at Omaha Steaks, where I am now a proud Omaha Steaks Brand Ambassador.

Hilton Omaha a Great Downtown Option

Omaha is a surprisingly large city, with a sprawling downtown that includes many interesting sights. In fact, Omaha is in somewhat of a renaissance and getting a lot of national buzz for its progressive approach to free time. The Hilton is in an ideal location, connected to the CenturyLink Center Omaha Convention Center via an enclosed sky bridge. Many of the city’s coolest downtown destinations are all within walking distance, making the Hilton Omaha a great downtown option.

Jun Kaneho art installation Hilton Omaha

Outside the Hilton Omaha entrance, this new art installation was commissioned specifically for the hotel with Jun Kaneko.

So Much, So Close

I really liked staying at the Hilton Omaha because so much of what I wanted to see and do was right at my doorstep. Within walking distance are some of Omaha’s favorites:

seating areas Hilton Omaha hotel lobby

See? The design aesthetic and open decor in the Hilton Omaha lobby make it a very inviting space.

Wide Open Lobby

One of my favorite things about this hotel is the lobby design. Not only is it well done, but there actually are plenty of places to sit. At one point I wanted to have a private conversation, and there are chairs tucked away in corners for this very purpose. When our group was meeting up in the lobby to start our day, there were several other places for us to gather comfortably. It’s really quite large, and never seemed too crowded. Oh, and there’s a Starbucks in the lobby which made everyone very, very happy.

Hilton Omaha registration desk

Big open lobby spaces help the Hilton Omaha welcome guests.

Comfortable Rooms with Great Views

Sometimes when I stay in a branded hotel, my room seems straight from a cookie cutter. I could almost walk blindfolded from the desk to the bed to the bathroom, the layout is so predictable. At the Hilton Omaha, our rooms were on the Executive Floor (hey that Hilton Honors program pays off sometimes!). Being on the eighth floor of the building – which is its highest – allowed me some pretty great views of the downtown area and lights at night. My room was super comfortable, with a king bed and soft sheets along with a nice sitting area and loads of extra floor space.

My room at the Hilton Omaha was spacious and clean. It even came complete with a gift bag from Omaha Steaks!

Decent Fitness Center

Crappy hotel gyms drive me crazy! If I am going to be away from my beloved Point Loma Sports Club, I pack my shoes and shorts so I can work out on the road. Luckily, the Hilton Omaha’s Fitness Center is way better than average. By regular hotel gym standards, it’s gigantic. Free weights, equipment and many cardio machines make this a good place for a workout.

Friendly Staff

I can’t really say much about the dining options at the Hilton Omaha, since our meals were handled in partnership with Omaha Steaks. The breakfast buffet did seem extensive, and the restaurant and bar areas were clean and well appointed. But what made it so great was the staff, which were the kind of people you want to invite to sit with you for some coffee and a chat.

Liberty Tavern Restaurant at Hilton Omaha

The Liberty Tavern Restaurant at the Hilton Omaha is brightly lit by big windows and colorful decor.

As I have found throughout Omaha, the team at the Hilton was so wonderfully friendly. In fact, I would like to invite the good people of Omaha to California to conduct lessons on how to treat people. The entire West Coast could use a little of this Midwest mindset.

Bottom line: When in Omaha, the Omaha Hilton is a great downtown option. I highly recommend it.

 


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Hotel Review: Live Aqua Urban Resort in Mexico City

Hotel Review: Live Aqua Urban Resort in Mexico City

I hadn’t been to Mexico City for about 25 years, and that initial trip was not my favorite. (Suffice to say I had eaten something that did not agree with me.) All I can remember from that trip is a pink sea of Pepto Bismol. So I was really excited to visit Mexico City again, knowing the city has changed and advanced so remarkably. We booked rooms at the luxurious Live Aqua Urban Resort in Mexico City for our recent trip, and I can’t wait to go back.

In fact, many friends have visited Mexico City recently and every single one comes back singing rave reviews about the food, people, culture, and architecture. And it’s all true. 26 million inhabitants, and somehow CDMX (Cuidad de Mexico) makes it all work.

 

seating area in Live Aqua lobby CDMX

There are plenty of nooks and crannies in which to sit around the lobby of the Live Aqua Urban Resort in Mexico City.

 

Mexico City is World Class

This world-class city reminds me of a cross between New York and Paris. There are huge areas of the city crisscrossed by wide avenues with parks and tall trees down the middle. Sidewalk cafes spill out from buildings of historic architecture, with sophisticated and extremely well-dressed men and women strolling, dining and discussing.

book column at Live Aqua Urbam Resort

This interior column in the lobby of the Live Aqua Urban Resort is artfully decorated with books as a design feature.

 

Interspersed with all this, tall and architecturally significant skyscrapers of gleaming glass and impossible angles dot the skylines of this surprisingly hilly city. Yes, like any large city there are areas of poverty. Driving through the roadways from the airport into town, we viewed neighborhoods of working people struggling to create better lives for themselves and their families. There is a broad difference in Mexico between the have and the have-nots, and many good residents of Mexico City and other areas are working hard to close this gap.

Live Aqua Urban Resort Location

In the Bosques de las Lomas neighborhood just near the famed restaurants, galleries and history of the Polanco area, Live Aqua Urban Resort welcomes discerning guests. Urban Resort is a good moniker for this hotel, because its location connected to a mall and business park is not a typical tourist experience. In fact, the hotel is more geared for international business people. No pool, no playground, no kids.

 

Live Aqua Urban Resort bar patio

Just off the main lobby of the Live Aqua Urban Resort, the patio bar is stylish and private.

 

Connected via glass-enclosed footbridge to a high end shopping mall with world- class restaurants, Live Aqua Mexico City delivers a 5-star luxury experience.

High Design

The lobby and public areas in Live Aqua are just stunning. Entering the lobby, I didn’t know where to look first since there were so many interesting things to see. Gigantic columns are wrapped into the design with whimsy, including one surrounded by seating and sheathed in a stack of real books. An interior reflecting pond and open seating areas are located to the right near the registration desk. To the left, the lobby bar spills out on to an outdoor deck with interesting wood accents. Enormous billowing drapes of cloth hang in curvy rows from the ceiling, a design feature that made me feel under-the-sea. And in the back, the hotel’s signature restaurant and open kitchen are tucked behind impressive florals.

Really, I could have sat in this lobby to drink in the design for hours.

 

lobby Live Aqua Urban Resort

The gorgeous lobby at the Live Aqua Urban Resort is a feast for the senses.

 

Spacious Rooms

Not to be outdone by the lobby, the guest rooms continue this theme of high design. More subdued than the public spaces, the rooms are decorated in warm woods and muted colors. Since the views from the large windows don’t offer anything exciting, the room takes over in the visual department. Every detail was perfect, every corner, every cabinet latch, every amenity – all perfection. At check-in, the staff even asked me what organic scent I would prefer in the room – mint, chamomile or citrus. I chose chamomile for relaxation.

Live Aqua room scents

Guests are asked if they would like to pick the scent of their room at Live Aqua. I chose “Relax”.

 

I don’t know about you, but I’m really picky about hotel beds. The mattress has to be the right combination of hard and soft, and the linens have to feel like butter. Oh and the pillows? When they are too hard, it feels like I’m trying to rest my head on a sand bag. Too soft, and my neck gets zero support so I wake up with a crick. But Goldilocks would have been happy with this bedding, and so was I. It was juuuussst right.

Live Aqua Urban Resort guest room

Muted colors and warm woods are accented by soft white bedding at Live Aqua Urban Resort.

Bathrooms To Die For

A true design feature in itself, the bathroom in my room at Live Aqua Mexico City was as large as some bedrooms. The wall and corner facing the bedroom was floor to ceiling glass, covered with wooden slat shades you can raise or lower at your whim. I positioned the louvers open to let in natural light, and checked to see that no one from outside could see me naked. (They couldn’t).

Live Aqua Urban Resort guestroom bath

Even the bathrooms at Live Aqua CDMX are stunning examples of design.

 

Also floor to ceiling glass on two sides, the enormous walk-in shower had a rainshower head and luxury bathroom amenities. If you like baths, you will love this bathtub which would easily fit more than one person.

The Little Things

For me, the signs of a good hotel are the little things we sometimes take for granted. At Live Aqua Mexico City, the elevator lobbies on each floor have a refreshment center complete with turntable and spinning vinyl. On the table next to that, morning refreshments include an urn of fruit infused water, fresh coffee or tea, and apples. In the evenings, the coffee is replaced with a bottle of Mezcal and some shot glasses. (You know, in case you need a quick pick-me-up before hitting the lobby bar.)

 

Mezcal sampler at Live Aqua

A little sip of 400 Conejos Mezcal is available in the elevator lobby of each floor at the Live Aqua Mexico City.

 

In my room, filtered water was served in a colored glass bottle with cork. Nearby, a zen-inducing sand box with rake was available in case I needed stress relief. All the appropriate plugs and outlets are available to charge my devices, and the hotel WiFi is free.

If You Go

Rooms at Live Aqua Urban Resort start at $174 USD. The hotel is located on the other side of downtown Mexico City from the airport, so plan on about an hour with light traffic to get there. Traffic in this city can be pretty jammed, so give yourself proper time to get anywhere.

If I return to Mexico City on business, I will absolutely book at Live Aqua again. I learned they have hotels in other Mexico destinations, so I’m absolutely going to take a look at those too. Can’t say enough good things about this fantastic hotel.

 

Live Aqua CDMX breakfast buffet

Each morning, the breakfast buffet they set out at Live Aqua Urban Resort is overwhelming and delicious.


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Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort Great for Families

Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort Great for Families

* We were guests of Hilton Hotels & Resorts for this stay and as always, these are our own thoughts and views.

Santa Barbara is one of our family’s favorite places, and over Memorial Weekend we visited this beautiful beach city along the California Coast for a little getaway. We were told the Hilton is a Santa Barbara beachfront resort great for families, and we set out to see for ourselves.

We have actually stayed at this property a couple of times before, when it was formerly known as the Fess Parker Doubletree Resort. With a recent remodel and room upgrade, the property has been reborn as the Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort. And as Hiltons go, this is one of the best we’ve experienced in the US.

SUP in Santa Barbara

A stand up paddle board lesson on the calm waters of Santa Barbara Bay, taken from Stearns Wharf.

SANTA BARBARA BEACHFRONT RESORT GREAT FOR FAMILIES

There’s a bunch of reasons why the Hilton is a Santa Barbara beachfront resort great for families:

Fantastic Location Across from East Beach

I lived in Santa Barbara years ago, and one of my favorite beaches was always East Beach. The Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort is directly across the street from this beach, with green lawns on either side. A short walk down the sand is Stearns Wharf and the base of State Street. Triton and I got up each morning, grabbed a Starbucks from the lobby and enjoyed a nice quiet walk at the waters’ edge. Later in the day when things warmed up, that same beach served as the ideal spot for some sunbathing and splashing around in the Pacific Ocean.

Helpful Hint: Ask for a room on the third floor for the best ocean views.

sunrise East Beach Santa Barbara

This little seagull friend helped us greet sunrise at East Beach in Santa Barbara.

Activities to Keep the Entire Family Busy

The pool and spa at the Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort are spacious. Families with kids of all ages played in the water and lounged poolside with cold drinks. Nearby on property, the bicycle rental beckoned us to go for a spin down the boardwalk. We happily rode along under the palm trees, watching a band of standup paddle boarders practice their moves. Out on Stearns Wharf, visitors can spy the occasional dolphin swimming among the sailboats headed out to the Channel Islands. Or pop into the Natural History Museum’s Sea Center to see some ocean life up close.

Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara

From Stearns Wharf, you can see the beach, the Santa Barbara Riviera and mountains beyond.

Later, we enjoyed a stroll on Lower State Street, checking out the cool shops, restaurants, and historic train station. Also not to be missed is the gigantic Moreton Bay Fig Tree – awarded as the largest and oldest in the country.

Moreton Bay Fig Santa Barbara

This Moreton Bay Fig tree in Santa Barbara is thought to be the largest and oldest in the US.

Helpful Hint: Right next to the train station, pop into the lobby of the little known Ronald Reagan Museum. Right inside the front door, they have the largest piece of the Berlin Wall in existence outside of Berlin.

Fresh New Rooms

The remodeled Hilton Santa Barbara has all the bells and whistles, and our kids are the ones that notice the most. Both girls inspect a hotel room as though they were the management. We find them looking in every drawer and opening every closet and cabinet.

Balcony view at Hilton Santa Barbara

Our balcony at the Santa Barbara Hilton overlooked a grove of olives, a string of palm trees, and the Pacific Ocean.

My pet peeve is when there are not enough outlets for charging our many (many!) devices. These new rooms had plenty of options. Now if we could just get our girls to stop draining the batteries on their phones from overuse!

Helpful Hint: Each room has a nice mini fridge that fits snacks and drinks. Just down the street is a produce market, where you can buy fresh-picked organic fruit for snacks in the room.

Friendly Staff That Remembers Your Name

To me, hotel staff makes all the difference in the quality of our stay. When team members remember us from previous visits and go out of their way to remember our names? Well, that is hospitality at its finest. From the valet to the doorman to the housekeeper, the team here is exceptional. Real authentic smiles from people that look you in the eye are so rare these days, and our entire family was impressed by this team.

Helpful Hint: Valet park your car. It’s only $6 more per day, and the staff is so wonderful you will appreciate them having your car ready when you want to scoot out.

Close to all the Action

Want to play some beach volleyball? It’s right across the street at East Beach. Or perhaps try some of that famous Santa Ynez Valley wine? There a scores of wine tasting rooms scattered throughout Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone, the coolest neighborhood in the city. The Funk Zone is filled with trendy restaurants, fun cafes, craft breweries, galleries and shops, all within walking distance of the Santa Barbara Hilton.

Wine tasting in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone is a blast when you’re with your friends.

A short car ride away and we were able to reach downtown Santa Barbara in minutes. The shops of State Street, the gorgeous architecture and gardens of the County Courthouse, and the historic adobes of the original settlers are all here. Up the hill a bit is the gorgeous Santa Barbara Mission and its ocean views.

Helpful Hint: If you visit the County Courthouse (and you really should) go all the way to the top for views from the tower. This historic landmark has some surprisingly beautiful tile work and other adornments that make it a must-see for any Santa Barbara visitor.

How to Get There:

  • Car: 2 hours from LAX (without traffic) and 3.5 hours from San Diego.
  • Train: 3 hours from Union Station in downtown LA.
  • Air: Santa Barbara International Airport welcomes flights from many major US cities and beyond.

Where to Stay:

The Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort offers rooms starting at $ and suites starting at $.

 

East Beach Santa Barbara

Sunning in the warm sand at East Beach in Santa Barbara, looking cool in my new StitchFix clothes.

 


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Hotel Review: Berkeley’s Historic Claremont Hotel

Hotel Review: Berkeley’s Historic Claremont Hotel

When I was a kid, we drove by Berkeley’s historic Claremont Hotel all the time on the way to Cal football games and other events in the East Bay. It certainly stood out – stark and white on its perch overlooking the entire San Francisco Bay. Backed up on a hillside covered with fragrant and green eucalyptus trees, the Claremont became a backdrop for many of my early memories.

Now the Claremont Hotel is reborn under the guidance of Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, and it’s stunner. On a recent visit, our family loved the lux surrounding and comfy rooms tucked into the eaves. Berkeley’s historic Claremont Hotel is back on top.

The Claremont Hotel views

This was literally the view from our room atop the Claremont Hotel in Berkeley. Wow!

Berkeley’s Historic Claremont Hotel

The Claremont Hotel is positioned beautiful on the hills overlooking the San Francisco Bay, and on a clear day can be seen from downtown San Francisco. Pearly white against the green hills, The Claremont has been a part of my own family’s history for as long as I can remember.

A Long History

As a little kid the Claremont seemed monolithic. It was so huge and imposing to a child, like a monument or ancient cathedral cut into the fabric of an ancient city. It was simply The Claremont, as though it had always been there.

Later when I was old enough to drive, I hung out with friends in her ballrooms and snuck into the occasional guest room to for a party (or three). In high school it was a thing – a badge of honor even – to sneak over the back gate and then up to the rooftop seven stories up. The hotel had a famed fire escape system shaped like a corkscrew slide, and “some people” would slip and shoot their way down in hysterical laughter. (Note: those slides were removed a long time ago, so no more teen shenanigans for you!)

lobby at The Claremont Hotel

Full of art and natural light, the Claremont Hotel lobby is both historic and modern.

As a college student at Cal I attended official events there, quaffed drinks in the bars, played tennis on the courts. But The Claremont fell into disrepair over the years, and became a shadowy version of her former self. Rugs went threadbare, paint faded, and the whole place smelled of mildew and old ladies. Oh come on, you know that smell as well as I do and it ain’t pretty.

But never in all those years – through highs and lows – did this grand dame look as good as she does today.

Art collection at The Claremont Hotel

The art collection at The Claremont Hotel in Berkeley is stunning, including these blown-glass baubles bigger than our heads.

Reborn as a Fairmont Hotel

Fairmont Hotels has done a spectacular job renovating this historic property to its proper glory. Our room in the eaves of the roofline on the top floor was cozy, large and comfortable with dormer windows looking out over the Bay, San Francisco city skyline, and the Golden Gate Bridge beyond. The girls loved the bench seats under each window, and promptly parked themselves there while peering out at the endless views. We all four fit quite nicely.

Top floor room at The Claremont Hotel

Our room at The Claremont Hotel was tucked into the eaves, including dormer windows for light and views.

And the bathroom – oh that bathroom – was enormous, with both bathtub and large shower. Sometimes when we travel as a family of four, the bathroom is the hardest part. Everyone’s many beauty products and accoutrements that take up a great deal of counter space. Plus you should see the way our girls go through towels. You’d think they were disposable or something. The bathroom at The Claremont, however, could have held a small dance party.

Now I love a good hotel lobby, one where I can sit and people watch. I love to spy an unsuspecting guest and make up an entire life for them in my head. I decide where they are from, what they do for living, and their darkest secrets known only to Match or Grindr. The Claremont lobby and public spaces are sumptuous, well-designed and extremely comfortable. And PERFECT for people watching. I could have hung out for hours.

Claremont Hotel lobby decor

The lobby lounge at The Claremont Hotel is full of sitting rooms with stylish decor and amazing views.

Activities With Kids

There is much to do nearby for families with kids. The Lawrence Hall of Science is a great museum dedicated to inventions and discoveries, with hands-on exhibits for kids of all ages to play and learn. Just up the hill in Tilden Park, acres and acres of rolling hills and old-growth redwoods and oak trees abound with hiking trails. We visited the Tilden Park’s Little Farm, where livestock is kept happy by daily visits from families. Those animals enjoy LOTS of treats hand-fed by kids of all ages. Our girls giggled with laughter while feeding celery to the goats and heads of lettuce to the pigs.

Tilden Nature Area Little Farm

Tilden Park’s Little Farm is a sweet little working farm with a variety of livestock and animals for the kids to pet and feed.

Just down the path from The Claremont is the amazing little Domingo Street with a couple of restaurants, a coffee shop and the Fournée Bakery. Judging from the line out the door, we knew we had stumbled upon a local favorite. Once inside and staring into the cases of pastries, we had a hard time choosing. The girls opted for chocolate croissants, while Triton and I chose more the more exotic bacon and cheese scone and a delicious rhubarb concoction.

pastries at Fournée Bakery in Berkeley

The pastries at Fournée Bakery in Berkeley are out of this world.

Family Friendly

Our kids were treated beautifully by the Claremont Hotel staff, as were we. Our little family enjoyed our stay immensely, and look forward to returning for a round of tennis on those pristine courts. The weekend stay was well worth the price, which was definitely on the higher end of the spectrum. Save your rubles and put The Claremont on your list – it’s modern luxury with an historic flavor.