When in San Diego

Last month, my husband and I were fortunate to spend a week in San Diego, soaking up the sun and beautiful Spring weather. While he was in a conference for three days, I was able to lounge around the hotel – catching some rays poolside, working out on the balcony, and strolling around the bay.

If you have the opportunity, I’d recommend staying at the Loews Coronado right on Coronado Bay. It’s pricey, but they have so many things to do on-site that you never have to leave! I will forever miss my morning fruit smoothie and chocolate chip scone followed by a dip in the pool and some of the best tacos and flautas I’ve ever had for lunch. Vacation life is sweet, isn’t it?

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Below are four fun places to visit if you happen to find yourself in America’s Finest City.

San Diego Zoo

Usually, I’m not a zoo person. I’ve been to the Bronx Zoo exactly 3 times in my almost 30 years of life and went to a drive-through safari zoo in Florida once about 10 years ago. That’s the extent of it. But, I must say that this zoo surpassed my expectations. Most of all, I loved learning about the company’s mission to save species around the world. This zoo isn’t about holding the animals captive for visitors’ pleasure – it’s about providing optimal care and preservation of species. That’s something I can fully support.

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The San Diego Zoo is situated on 100 acres within Balboa Park, a very large area that houses many other attractions including the Japanese Friendship Garden and the Air & Space Museum. The zoo is home to over 3,700 rare and endangered animals and over 700,000 plants. It’s open all year, and you can even book your next party there. The best part – it’s not just for kids.

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$56 will buy an adult one-day pass, which provides admission to the zoo, a 35-minute guided bus tour (which was actually very cool), access to buses and an aerial tram within, and all regularly scheduled shows. You can also add on a 4-D theater experience for a little extra.

Visit zoo.sandiegozoo.org to learn more, purchase tickets, or donate. You can even adopt an animal!

La Jolla Beach

Pronounced “la hoy-ya,” this beach is actually pretty large and each location along the coast has something different to do.

  • The Children’s Pool Beach (in the video above) is a prime spot for viewing sea lions and taking photos of the crashing waves. But don’t get your hopes up, the water is pretty cold (especially if you are used to Florida beaches) and the air smells very salty and fishy.
  • La Jolla Cove is surrounded by cliffs and is home to a lot of marine life. It’s a good area to snorkel and scuba dive.
  • La Jolla Shores has the best sand and is the prime spot if you want to swim or launch a kayak.

The Shout House

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To be honest, the food here was just okay, but the real reason for a visit is the entertainment. The Shout House is a dueling piano bar for the 21+ crowd. Two performers play face to face with requests provided by the audience. There’s a cover charge most nights and reservations are encouraged as it tends to fill up fast. It’s a great place for a date night, but you can also book parties. Either way – you’ll have fun requesting songs and singing along.

Visit theshouthouse.com for more info or to book a table.

The Gaslamp Quarter

This is the place to go when you’re hungry. They have everything from Japanese to Italian and Peruvian to American cuisine. Not to mention clubs and the SUNBURN Pool Lounge at the Hard Rock Hotel. We even booked a ghost tour that stopped at a few places at the Gaslamp Quarter which were rumored to be haunted. Whether you believe in that stuff or not, the tour was entertaining for the fun facts and rich history of the San Diego area.

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One last note…

Uber and Lyft are BIG in San Diego – at least much more so than in my hometown. The rides are pretty cheap and all of the drivers we encountered suggested fun places to visit. You can also rent electric scooters (which can be found on practically every corner) through the Uber and Lyft apps.

Happy Traveling!

Going to Universal Studios FL? You NEED an Annual Pass!

I’ve been wanting to do a write-up on Universal for ages. My husband and I love it there, and I mean LOVE in every sense of the word. We’ve gone 1-2x a year since 2014 and it’s like our second home….1,000 miles away. Sometimes we drive and other times fly (they both have their benefits), but we always end up spending a good chunk of our vacation time in the sunshine state.

Actually, in four days, we’ll be on a plane headed back. I just can’t live without frozen Butterbeer and few dozen rides on The Mummy.

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This is, hands down, my FAVORITE ride!

In the past, only Florida residents were able to invest in an Annual Pass. But, not this year! Get this: for less than the price of a 2-park 3-day ticket*, you can get access for the ENTIRE year. Sign me up and take my money!

The Preferred Pass**

This one right here is your ticket to fun. It’s the mid-tier annual pass that gives you a year of access to both Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure.

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The Perks:

  • 10% off all restaurants, photos, and select merchandise
  • 15% off at Hard Rock Cafe
  • 20% off Blueman Group & City Walk Party Pass
  • $3.00 off Admission at AMC Universal Cineplex 20
  • Free self-parking (after your first visit; a $22.00 savings each visit)
  • And so, so much more

Be aware that Universal Express or Express Unlimited passes need to be purchased separately at each visit.

Is a Universal Express Pass upgrade worth the price?

Universal Express grants you one-time front of the line access for each ride, while Universal Express Unlimited lets you go again and again until you toss all that carnival food you just ate. (Sorry, not sorry for the visual.)

The first time we went, we were novices. I was shocked by the prices; a 2-park 1-day base ticket will set you back $170*, so we decided to forgo the upgraded Universal Express passes, which were almost the same price as the tickets.

Oh, what a rookie mistake. We ended up standing in some lines for over an hour in the hot sun. It sucked a lot of the joy out of the day and I left with a mean sunburn.

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That step count, though…

If you want a truly enjoyable experience, it’s ESSENTIAL to splurge for the Express Unlimited pass, even just for one day of your stay. Imagine all of the rides you could take if you weren’t standing in line all day. We always get our money’s worth. Last month we went on every ride at least twice (some as many as 25! Not joking.), spent over 11 hours walking around, and racked up almost 30,000 steps. Per day.

Now go out and get your annual pass. Trust me, you won’t regret it.
*Ticket prices change almost daily. Please visit Universal’s site for up-to-date pricing.
**Other pass options available, visit Universal for more details.

Dining in the Dark

To me, Montreal is one of the most magically beautiful places on the East Coast. The old-timey buildings, cobblestone roads, and wrought iron fences make it look like a page straight out of a storybook. It’s also one of the few places where I can practice the six years of French I have under my belt.

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First visit to Montreal in 2012!

Last year a coworker told me about a restaurant he went to in Montreal – O.Noir, where you dine completely in the dark, served by wait staff who are visually impaired.

The idea is two-fold – gain an understanding of what it’s like to be blind AND experience heightened senses of taste and smell, while mindfully eating your food. This definitely piqued my interest.

I haven’t made it back to Montreal, but two weeks ago my husband and I spent a long weekend in Toronto. Lo and behold, I noticed a restaurant called O.Noir a few blocks away from our hotel. I was stoked and made reservations as soon as I could!

The Restaurant

We almost walked right past the restaurant. It was easy to overlook the awning with the O.Noir logo over a set of steps leading down to a cellar of sorts. Of course! To be completely in the dark, it would make sense to have a space without windows.

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The wall in the waiting room.

We were immediately greeted by a woman who heard us coming and offered to take our coats. At check-in, we were given menus (in the light!) and then recited our orders to the server. After, we were led into the pitch black dining room, holding right hand to right shoulder. Finally, we were seated, offered bread, and served our drinks.

The Food

We both started off with two refreshing glasses of pineapple juice. The shared starter was a “surprise meat.” I’m still not completely sure what it was, but I’m going with a seasoned sausage over rice. It was tasty. For a main dish, I had the shrimp risotto with mushrooms and garlic. It was so delicious. I made sure to slowly swirl the food around in my mouth so I could taste all of the flavors. It almost reminded me of wine tasting. For dessert, my husband and I split fruit sorbet, which was very citrusy and topped with chunks of pineapple.

The Experience

Well, let’s just say that I didn’t expect anything other than loving the visit to O.Noir. Never in a million years, did I think that I would have a small panic attack from being in the dark. And yet, that’s exactly what happened.

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Earlier that day.

As soon as we were led into the dining room, I started feeling something in my chest – like a tiny ball of fear. Nothing worse than walking through a dark maze at a haunted house. That feeling quickly spread over my entire body as we were seated. I broke out into a cold sweat and could hardly catch my breath. “I don’t think I can do this,” I gasped and felt for my husband’s hand. He asked if I wanted to leave. I did, but I definitely didn’t want to chicken out and ruin the entire experience. After all, I was the one who wanted to do this!

He was able to calm me down by having me feel my surroundings, so I would know that I wasn’t as enclosed as I felt. I kept sipping the cool juice, did some deep breathing, and reminded myself that we were doing something fun and once in a lifetime.

After what felt like an eternity, but was probably only a few minutes, I was able to semi-relax and begin to enjoy the experience. But I can’t tell you how overjoyed I was when I could see the light again.

The bottom line: This was one of the most expensive meals I’ve ever eaten, and I’m sorry I don’t have a picture of it. (Check the sites below for a list of prices.) It’s worth mentioning that I have a newfound appreciation and respect for those who are visually impaired – whether they were born blind or lost their sight later in life. I don’t think we can truly appreciate what we have until we’ve lost it – senses included. As always, I encourage you to try new things and see for yourself. And, I don’t want to be biased, but I do have to mention that the Montreal menu looks more enticing!

For more information on O.Noir, visit their Montreal or Toronto sites.

Breakfast in Vegas


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Today I did something I’ve never done before. I really stepped out of my comfort zone. I…wait for it…ate breakfast at a restaurant…alone.

While this might not seem like a huge feat to most, it was to me. I’ve always been too pre-occupied by the disparaging thoughts that say “people will stare,” “they’ll wonder why you’re sitting alone,” “they’ll laugh.”

This week I’m in Las Vegas for the first time. While my fiancé spends the majority of the day at a class for his job, I’ve been using the “free” time to write. After spending two hours diligently focused on my project, I started to get hungry.

My plan to run to the food court and get a power smoothie was foiled when I realized that said food court wasn’t what I had expected. No problem! I remember seeing an ad for French toast (that looked absolutely amazing) at one of the hotel’s restaurants, and after walking by three times, decided to venture in.

I said the dreaded words, “table for one, please” and then took a seat by the window. I browsed through the menu and ordered a watermelon bellini and pork belly skillet. Both were to die for.wp-1489519114732.jpg

And, you know what? No one stared, or laughed, or wondered why I was there alone. Everyone was pre-occupied by what they were doing – eating and spending time with the people around them. There were even a few others who came in after me that sat down, ordered, and ate alone.

The world didn’t end and I started the day with some pretty great food!

 

 

When in Denver

It’s cold and snowy outside, but pretty toasty inside. Reminds me of my trip to Denver in December when the temperatures dipped down into the 5s at night and the roads were blanketed with a sparkly coat of snow each morning. What a fabulous trip filled with amazing friends and delicious foods. It might come as a shock, but Colorado is known for more than just “kale.” (At least that’s how they refer to it in the Netflix Series “The Ranch.”)

The following are some of the best restaurants I visited in the Mile High City.

Old Major

This quaint eatery serves farm inspired American dishes that are sure to satisfy any craving. While I was there, I was lucky enough to meet the General Manager, Gene Fereda, and talk with him for a few minutes during the busy dinner shift.

Let the Beet Drop (cocktail)

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A yummy mix of gin, beet juice, lime, and simple syrup, garnished with a sprig of basil. This is such a fun cocktail, and it has to be healthy if it has fresh beets, right?! Definitely a creative way to start the meal.

Nose to Tail (entrée)

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Dinner was a hard pick because I wanted about five different things on the menu. I finally settled on the Nose to Tail because it sounded the most interesting and I honestly thought it would be cool to say “I tried pig ear.”

This meal is one of the best I’ve had in my life. The sausage, pork belly, crispy pig ears, and pork shoulder ragù were bursting with flavor. I also loved the gnocchi with perfectly seasoned turnip and carrot puree. Have you ever eaten something so good that you didn’t want the experience to end? Like, you know you only have so much left on your plate, but you wish that more would just materialize? That’s how I would describe this meal.

And pig ear? Well, it’s freakin’ delicious.

Bacon Peanut Toffee (dessert)

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The perfect combo of salty sweet. This was a surprise dessert for my birthday dinner that arrived alongside a glass of champagne. A fabulous end to a wonderful meal and experience.

Bottom Line: This restaurant lands at the top of my list for freshness, quality, and excellent service. If you’re in the area of Tejon Street, this is one place you’ll want to check out.

Voodoo Donut

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I’ll be honest, when it comes to donuts I don’t like anything crazy. I could, however, demolish about a dozen glazed in less than 5 minutes. So, even though I was at one of the most famous bakeries in the country known for their crazy concoctions and trademark voodoo donut, I still went with the glazed. And you know what? It was really, really yummy and I don’t regret a thing.

Bottom Line: If you’re in an area that has a Voodoo Donut Shop, stop in to awe at the funk displays, treat yourself to a specialty donut, and snap a photo with that pink box. You’ll be glad you did.

Snooze: an A.M. Eatery

Let’s just say that there wasn’t anything on the menu I didn’t want to try, but after much internal debating, I landed with a meal that has been my favorite for almost 20 years now – eggs benedict.

Benny Duo

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I feel like this restaurant caters to indecisive people, such as myself. I ended up choosing two different styles of eggs benedict – Ham Benedict III, which was the safer classic option, and Bella! Bella! Benny, the daring choice complete with prosciutto, Taleggio cheese, on ciabatta with cream cheese hollandaise with balsamic glaze. Both were completely delicious and I was so full that I couldn’t even finish my neat little stack of hash browns!

Bottom Line: If this place opened in NY, I would be the happiest little foodie on the planet. I would also probably weigh about 25 more pounds, but that’s another story. If you’re big into breakfast, and you live in or are traveling to Colorado, California, Arizona or Texas, make a plan to stop here. You won’t be disappointed.

Denver Biscuit Co.

When I found out we were going here for our last meal, I was ecstatic! There are few foods I love more than traditional biscuits and sausage gravy.

Biscuits & Gravy

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My first thought was “is this going to be enough?” Then the platter came. My next thought? “Oh shit.” All jokes aside, this meal was seriously delicious. The biscuit was perfectly flaky, soft, and squishy in all the right places. The gravy was creamy, savory, and very generously ladled over the biscuit. And, of course I had to top it with a fried egg. I just wanted to keep eating and eating, but my stomach pumped the breaks before I could clear my plate.

Bottom Line: Denver Biscuit Co is the bee’s knees. Everything on the menu is HUGE, but you’ll want to finish it anyway because it’s so damn good. It’s also pretty cool that the property is co-owned by two other companies – Atomic Cowboy bar and Fat Sully’s Pizza. That means if you want beer with your breakfast, you’re having beer with your breakfast. No qualms about that!

So, if you’re out and about in Denver, and aren’t sure where to grab a bite, check out some of these great places. It’s always fun to eat at a new place. Many of the little hole-in-the-wall places pack a big punch and have a lot to offer.

Until the next adventure…

Happy Eating!