DSC_8013

One of the things I love about living in San Francisco is how much there is to see and explore in the 7 x 7 mile city. Last week, I took my mom on a surprise day trip to the SF Conservatory of Flowers located in gorgeous Golden Gate Park. Not only are the exterior grounds scenic, inside is just as beautiful and peaceful. There are a total of 5 rooms located within the conservatory all hosting different plants from around the world. Each room is temperature and climate controlled based on the region of where the plants are from. The featured exhibition right now is called “The Wild Bunch: Succulents, Cacti & Fat Plants,” which happen to be one of my favorite groups of plants at the moment.

This is a great place to come and escape the busy city life during the week. The entrance fee is $8 for adults and $6 fee if you’re in SF resident. To plan your trip, check out their site here.

DSC_7967DSC_7948DSC_7980DSC_7958DSC_7966DSC_7932DSC_7940DSC_7939DSC_7961

IMG_3781I recently visited New York City after a 3-year break. I couldn’t believe it had been that long! NYC is and has always been one of my favorite destination cities. I’m sure any one that’s been, can attest to the vibrant energy and culture of this special place. It truly is the city that never sleeps…

This trip was most unique compared to my previous trips because I had already done a lot of the “touristy” things (Empire State Building, Central Park, 9/11 Memorial Site, Hudson River Cruise, etc.). I was able to explore the local and underground scene. It was also really nice not to have the pressure to try and squeeze so many things into one day. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even make it to Times Square!
I wanted to share some of the things I did that it made it so great whether you’re visiting soon or are already a local!
 
BODEGA NEGRA
A festive night lounge and restaurant serving Mexican street food and the most delicious Meszcal Margarita cocktails you’ve ever tried in your life! It’s on the ground level of the Dream Hotel. I came on a Monday night where they played the best dance music — a mixture of latin and hip-hop!  There’s no cover charge at the door for the lounge which is nice, but the place does get pretty packed so be prepared to stand/dance unless you make a reservation to eat.
*Highlight: At 12AM, they feature live performances (everything from circus acts to burlesque). If you love to dance, this is definitely a spot you can’t miss! Photo Courtesy of: NewYork.com
 2-bodega-negra-dream_650
PUBLIC THEATRE
This is by far the best theatre experience I’ve had to date (and I’ve seen a lot of shows!). I was so happy at the end of this performance I wanted to cry from the sheer experience. I mean it helped that my husband bought me a phenomenal front row center ticket so I was practically sitting on the stage.
The Public Theatre is a unique experience because it showcases the work of many up-and-coming playwrights and performers. It feels like an incubator for plays before they make their Broadway debut. In fact, many performances have had their first run here!  Also, in the particular play, I saw “The Total Bent” (which I highly recommend), the actors were very interactive with the audience which makes for a very intimate setting. Each production runs for a limited amount of time so I recommend purchasing your ticket in advanced because they do sell out! If you get to the theatre early, check out The Library (restaurant upstairs inside of the venue).
*Side note: If you come here and are an American Express Cardholder, you can book amazing front row seats without having to be a member of the Public Theatre. All the seats are great, but I highly recommend getting a front row seat if you can and love theatre!
To check out more information about The Public Theatre, click here.
IMG_3734
EATALY
The first thing I thought when I walked into ‘Eataly’ was…how have I not been here before?!  Eataly is an Italian marketplace located in Madison Square Park. Inside you will find a variety of food and beverage vendors, baked goods, retail items, sit-down restaurants and cooking classes. It’s a one-stop-shop for Italian food.  If you’re local, you might come here to shop for your wines, cheeses, fresh pasta and more. If you’re visiting, you definitely have to try one of the 9 restaurants. Naturally, I thought I was going to try the creamiest  and freshest pasta, but instead opted for something healthier — seafood!
 Tip: On your way out, make sure to grab a caramel maciatto espresso and gelato!
Plan your visit to Eataly here.
 IMG_3742
SMALLS JAZZ CLUB
This spot is a tiny hidden gem located in Greenwich Village. This club has so much grit and history, it’s a true jazz lover’s dream. It’s not fancy inside at all and has that neighborhood “everyone knows your name when you walk in the door” vibe. When the club originally opened in 1994, it was a $10 cover charge, stay as long as you’d like, and BYOB since the owner had no liquor license. His only concern was…the music. Since then, the club has undergone many changes, which you can read about here. The club only fits  50-60 people max inside and is now $20 cover to get in. You can expect a very intimate listening experience from some of New York’s best Jazz ensembles.
Find out who’s preforming tonight here.
 IMG_3737
THE CELLAR (HAPPY HOUR)
I found this wine and cheese room inside Beecher’s Handmade Cheese New York. The best part…I found it during happy hour (3-7PM daily)! The HH menu features $7 wine, cocktails and food. It’s a great ambience downstairs and gets pretty lively after work hours. Come here for a glass of wine if you’re visiting the Union Square area.
BLOOMINGDALES 59TH STREET
I thought I had it good in SF until I walked in to the the holy grail of all Bloomingdales. Although I typically prefer to window shop the streets of Soho or Meatpacking district, I was completely floored when I stepped into this beautiful gigantic showroom. Yes, I’ve been to SAKS on 5th, Barney’s and Bergdorf Goodman department stores, but something about this Bloomingdales had my fashion heart swooning. It was so decadent inside, but still practical like I could possibly afford something small. Even if you’re not a shopper, it’s definitely worth walking through even if it’s just to use the bathroom in their lounge!
PS. My favorite floor was the Home Goods section. If you’re into that stuff, be sure to check it out!
Find out store hours here.
OTHER NOTABLE MENTIONS:
  • Chef’s Club by Food & Wine (in NoLita) – a gourmet curated culinary food and wine experience. This place is fancy yet unpretentious and serves the best dishes from chefs around the world.
  • Cabana Midtown – Fantastic Cuban restaurant (close to Bloomingdales on 59th street)! If they have salmon special with coconut rice (you have to ask for it) — GET IT!IMG_3755
  • The Lobby Lounge (inside Mandarin Oriental Hotel) – If you’re in Columbus Square, make a reservation and unwind at one the most elegant lounges in the area. Located on the 35th floor of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, this sophistcated lounge has panoramic views of Central Park and the Manhattan skyline. Make sure to come during daytime hours to take it all in.

*Bonus Points: We exited the lobby with Kate Hudson! 

IMG_3743

*Drink pictured: “The Royal Tea” — a delicious blend of Meyer lemon juice, Ginger Oolong honey, beet juice, vodka and candied beets. Get the official recipe here!

sfgate

*Photo courtesy of SFGATE

I’ve been to many different spas in the last few years, but nothing quite like “The Refuge” in Carmel, CA. Tucked away in the beautiful mountains and lush greenery of Northern California is a therapeutic silent oasis. My husband and I were graciously given gift certificates as a wedding gift to experience the healing powers of this unique spa.

12688114_10154029879563534_8754742891243314898_n

Here’s what you can expect when visiting “The Refuge”

To make the most out of your trip, arrive early and book a treatment. Our gift certificates included entry and a massage. When you first arrive, you’ll check-in at the front desk where the spa staff will greet you with your locker key, tip envelope (if you’re getting massage service) and a brochure on the spa. If it is your first time, you’ll be given the option to have an orientation of the spa and how the thermal cycles work best to maximize health benefits during your stay. Since the spa is “silent,” it’s encouraged to leave all of your electronics in your locker. This message was clearly directed towards my husband, who showed up with laptop in tow ready to ask for the wifi password.

The spa is co-ed which makes it a perfect couples get-away or it can equally be a really relaxing retreat with close friends. Before entering the facilities, you can slip into your swimsuit in the locker room and also retrieve your robe, towel and complimentary bottle of water. One thing to remember is to bring your own sandals or else you’ll be walking barefoot (like I did -__-). The locker room isn’t anything too lavish, but comes equipped with the basics to shower off and get ready afterwards. After placing your stuff in your locker, you’ll walk out to the thermal pool area and have a brief consultation on how to effectively complete the cycle for maximum results (it is also printed handy on your water bottle).

Basically, the goal is to get your body to it’s highest heat tolerance and then to the lowest cool temperature you can withstand. It sounds painful and it can be at first, but like most things it’s mind-over-matter and the benefit outweighs the temporary discomfort. The purpose for this you may be asking yourself (as I did) is to: eliminate toxins from your body, improve blood circulation, reduce stress, alleviate pain and inflammation among many other healing benefits. It is the same reason that athletes take ice baths to heal muscles soreness and wounds. It also has similar effects to cryotherapy. If you’ve ever been to a Korean spa (my favorite), you’ve probably noticed that they also practice “contrast bath therapy” also known as “hot/cold immersion therapy”.

11312666_796980423749331_8930843509431603704_o

Photo Refuge Facebook

The 1st stop in the cycle is a choice between the eucalyptus steam room or the dry cedar sauna. I prefer dry saunas, but it’s nice to try both while you’re there. After sitting in the sauna for 10-15 minutes, you’ll go immediately into 1 of 2 cold water options: “cool” (Pacific ocean water temperature) or “cold” (ice water temperature). The goal is to stay submerged for at least 10-60 seconds or as long as your body can handle. The longer you can stay in the cold, the greater the healing effects. I was convinced from the beginning that I would not make it in the cold pool by the end of our trip, but I couldn’t resist the dare from my husband!

12362656_882291038551602_9083686673840241121_o

*Photo Refuge Facebook

Although it was extremely hard to handle, there was power in my self-control and endurance to overcome the chilling temperatures. I eventually got the hang of out it and learned that the key is once you get in, not to move around too much. After emerging from the cold pools, you have an option to relax by the group fire pits, hammocks or in 1 out of 3 rooms that have anti-gravity lounge chairs. The suggested time in these areas is 15 minutes. Many people take time to read or fall asleep in these areas.

After relaxation, you’ll enjoy warm or hot thermal pools with jets and natural looking waterfalls. This was by far my favorite part of the cycle. Again, you can spend as much time here as you’d like. After you’ve finished enjoying your time in the thermal pools, you’ve officially completed 1 cycle. The average time per cycle varies based on your pace. It is recommended you complete 3-5 cycles in your visit at the spa and to drink 1 full bottle of water per cycle (yes, you’ll probably be using the bathroom frequently which is why you should definitely bring sandals). The average stay at the spa is around 2-3 hours. I think we were there about 3 hours including our massage treatments and it was plenty of time to get 4-5 cycles in at our leisure.

copycatchic

*Photo CopyCatChic

The best way to break up the cycles is to arrive early and book a massage in between. My recommendation is that you don’t come when it’s too hot. You’ll really crave being in cooler weather with all of the heat you’ll be putting your body through. If you choose not to book a massage, you can have access to the facility for $44. Massage treatments start around $119 for a 50-minute massage which include access to the facility and a robe. The spa offers three different types of aroma therapy massages: swedish (the relaxing one), deep tissue and sports. If you want complete and deep relaxation while falling asleep drooling — go for the Swedish!

*Important things to know before you visit (which are also available on the website’s FAQ’s):

  • Spa is open from 10am – 10pm daily — rain or shine
  • Complimentary water bottles are provided (or you can bring your own)
  • No glass water bottles
  • There’s a station to refill your water bottle between cycles
  • Bring your own sandals
  • 2 towels are provided in your locker, robe is available for $12 rental or you can bring your own white one
  • Swimsuits are required
  • Must book your massage treatments in advanced

To read more FAQ’s and visit the spa website click here.

Rancho San Carlos Road, Carmel. (831) 620-7360

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1038.

This post has been a long time coming and is the last part of our honeymoon. As always, I like to plan all of our trips with the best for last and of course in Greece, that means Santorini! It is one of the most beautiful and picturesque landscapes of the 70+  islands. About an hour flight from Athens and a 2-hour ferry ride from Mykonos, it’s a stop you simply can’t miss.

My husband and I chose to take the ferry and were not disappointed. Our hotel (Sophia Luxury Suites), arranged transportation for us at the port upon arrival. It was a 20-minute drive up the rocky caldera through Fira (the capital) into Imerovigli, the highest village on the island.

We debated whether we wanted to stay in Oia, another popular town for vacationers or Imerovigli, which is quieter and has more boutique hotels. We ultimately ended up choosing Imerovigli because it was central and gave us a fantastic 90% view of the unique crescent shaped island. It was also a peaceful area for honeymooners!

We loved our stay at the Sophia Luxury Suites! The staff was super friendly and the chef made fresh breakfast delivered right to the room every morning. This is common at the nicer hotels in Santorini. If complete privacy is very important to you, make sure you do your research on the hotel or place you book beforehand. Since all of the hotels in Santorini are on a cliff, it’s almost impossible to achieve this. However, that’s part of the beauty of the island so I suggest embracing it!

Despite how relaxing Santorini may look from pictures online, there are actually many things to do on the island to keep you busy!

Things you MUST do in Santorini:

  • Rent an ATV and drive around the island ($40 for 24 hours)
  • Try a Greek Gyro in Fira ($3)
  • Take a Yacht Tour around the island (they have several ones at different prices, around $150 per person)
  • Fish pedicures ($20)
  • Dinner with a view of the caldera (varies)
  • Hike Imerovigli to Oia (free)
  • Shopping at the markets in Oia (free)
  • Watch the sunset in Oia (free)
  • Visit the white, red and black sand beaches (free)
  • Wine tasting at the vineyards (varies)
  • Endless photo taking on beautiful rooftops (free)

With all of the activities plus R&R, I would recommend staying a minimum of 4 nights up until however long you can. There’s no question that Santorini was our favorite stop!

Here are some additional tools to help you plan your trip! 

Hotel recommendations site: www.SantoriniDave.com

Santorini Yacht Club: http://www.santoriniyachtingclub.com

Airlines: http://en.aegeanair.com

Ferry (from Mykonos to Santorini: https://hellenicseaways.gr/en/booking