California Dreamin’ Part I

California Dreamin - Great lodging, Wine Country and San Francisco

Alcatraz Island – San Francisco, CA

2017! What do you have in store for me this year?  2016 was amazing.  I got to wrap up 2016 with a fabulous trip that I eluded to in my last post.  It was 4 years since I was last in Napa, California.  It was also 6 months after college graduation, so I was on a post-college budget – which isn’t the best way to do California.  TJ and I were able to maximize our time there and we absolutely fell INN LOVE with San Francisco and Napa Valley.  This post is so jam-packed and loaded with pictures (and food) that we’re doing it in two weeks. Our trip started in San Francisco, so let’s go!

United takes flight with something fresh!

United takes flight with something fresh!

I’m not lying when I say I love to fly. It’s a cool experience. Of course, TSA and terrorists have made it less fun, but it’s always nice when an airline can find a way to WOW you.  I don’t fly United often (Cincinnati was a Delta hub and my new Sister-in-Law, Tracy, flies for Southwest), so maybe this isn’t new to all of you, but they really upgraded these in-flight snacks!  I could have eaten an entire box of these babies.  Apparently, they’re from the Netherlands. GENIUS. The lady told me to let it sit on top of my steaming tea for a few minutes and the insides MELTED.

California Dreamin - Great lodging, Wine Country and San Francisco

UBER Cool – San Francisco, CA

Also amazing was what happened when we got to the airport. OK, when we were leaving. We grab an Uber (not as easy as it should have been, mind you) and the Uber app asks TJ to play in their game. If you didn’t know, Uber started in San Francisco which is a hotbed of technology experts.  While riding in the comfort of your Uber car, they set up this program – if you can “hack” their code, they’ll give you a job! In theory, anyway…. BUT, as we quickly discovered, TJ isn’t a hacker and failed the aspiring-Uber-programmer test. So, moving on…

We finally arrived at our hotel.  We were so fortunate for the chance to stay at the Fairmont San Francisco.  This hotel is ancient and magnificent. Built in 1907, it has withstood earthquakes, fires and significant political & celebrity moments including the drafting of the United Nations Charter. With the history comes the class. The property exudes luxury from the doormen to the décor.  The concierge (yes, they still have those AND she was a Les Clef

California Dreamin - Great lodging, Wine Country and San Francisco

Nob Hill Cafe – San Francisco, CA

d’Or concierge!) pointed us to a “quaint Italian place” around the corner – Nob Hill Café. I was skeptical of the suggestion because she said there wasn’t a lot within an easy walk (it was pouring down rain) but, oh! was it fantastic.  We were able to snag a table in a little window for some hand crafted pizza and salads.

That night, I had the opportunity to take a peak into the lives of the rich and famous. Our party was in the Penthouse at the Fairmont SF. I must say, I will probably never have the chance to return. This room rents for $25,000 a night, I’m told, so it probably won’t be part of our next trip.  (You must check out the Visual Adventure Gallery to see these pics!) Other than the view from the patio, the coolest part of the penthouse is the hidden staircase.  I was caught taking pictures and escorted to the “secret” room.  Rumor has it that JFK snuck Marilyn Monroe out this secret door for a bottle of wine, unbeknownst to the Secret Service keeping watch.  The door itself is sealed off now, but you can still find the secret doorway in the bookshelves!

California Dreamin - Great lodging, Wine Country and San Francisco

Secrets at the Penthouse @ Fairmont San Francisco

Before our last night at the Fairmont SF, we visited the iconic Tonga Room for one of their famous Mai Tais.  I don’t drink a lot of cocktails, but let’s just say, it’s probably best I only had one of these bad boys. Whoooie! It was strong! If you haven’t visited or read about the Tonga Room, it rains inside. You should check it out!

When planning this trip, I had one place I wanted to make sure we saw – Alcatraz Island. I heard mixed reviews, we shouldn’t do it, we should, only if it’s nice out, blah blah blah. But guys, I’m fascinated with Alcatraz and the story of prisoners there.  We were lucky it was 62 and sunny on the December afternoon that we set sail for the island.  Did you know Native Americans inhabited the island after it closed?! I had no idea! You can find signs of this all over the island if you look closely. One of my favorite parts was the Agave Trail (the picture at the top of the post!).  Great views and less tourists. Originally, the Agave was planted to prevent erosion, beautify “the Rock” and specifically chosen because of it’s sharp edges to help discourage escape. While we were touring the penitentiary,we were treated to an unlocking ceremony of the doors, even with all the lights and the tourists around, it was pretty eerie. Check out the video (and make sure your volume is up for full effect!)

I know you’re wondering – “Halle. What is this? Did you not eat while you were in San Francisco – a food mecca?!”  Don’t you worry. We sure did! But, I was there for a conference, so a lot of my meals were provided.  Of course, we found opportunities to eat and I’ve got a list of them for you! As with any major city, it can be really tricky to figure out where to eat. If you’re planning a trip to SanFran anytime soon, in addition to those mentioned above, here are some great places we discovered to help you narrow down the options. OK, maybe we did eat a lot…

Aliment (Lower Nob Hill) – neighborhood restaurant featuring a seasonal menu with local ingredients.

California Dreamin - Great lodging, Wine Country and San Francisco

Hillstone – San Francisco, CA

Top of the Mark (Nob Hill @ InterContinental Mark Hopkins Hotel San Francisco) – Go here for a drink on top of the world. Ascend to the 19th floor for dizzying views, great cocktails and if you’re lucky, an awesome Motown Band (like when we were there!!)

Restaurant LuLu (South of Market) – set in a super cool converted 1910 warehouse, offering seasonal Provencal fare.

Hillstone (Embarcadero) – best choice near Pier 33. There are not a lot of dining options down by the piers. This is an upscale chain, but THAT BURGER. YUM.

Rogue Ales Public House (Russian Hill) – Rogue community hall – TJ likes their beer.

1st Amendment Inc. (South of Market) – Also a brewery, TJ recommends visiting for a great brew and good food.

Barrell Head Brewhouse (North of the Panhandle) – NOM. NOM. NOM. ‘Nuff said.

The first half of our trip was mostly business and kind of a whirlwind. That’s OK though, because the back end was all wine and relaxation.

California Dreamin - Great lodging, Wine Country and San Francisco

Alcatraz Island – San Francisco, CA

“People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck

Pit Stops – What’s in My Backyard?

Visit this Columbus Landmark, an Historic Hotel of America

Something old, something new @ The Westin Columbus

Sometimes we take for granted what our own backyard has to offer. That’s part of why Staycations have become so popular! In last week’s post, you learned I’ve had a lot of backyards, but this week, we focus on three in our semi-regular “Pit Stops” edition.  Someone said to me this week, “you get around!” I used to take that as an insult, but now I know it means my blog gets around! You might be shocked where I’ve pulled out my laptop to write to you from, or where others have. Just wait until you see where Christi was this week!

But until then, let’s check out some of the neat things going on around Columbus & Greater Cincinnati. I visited all three of these places in the past week. We’ve got a little of the new, a little of the old and a whole lot of Buckeye. That’s right, I said it…

The Blackwell Hotel & Pfahl Conference Center – Columbus, OH 

Buckeye Fans Unite @ this Luxury Lodging in the Heart of Columbus

The Preferred Life @ The Blackwell Hotel & Pfahl Conference Center

“Halle, is that The Shoe? How’d you get that view?!” you might ask.  That’s a Stadium View Suite at The Blackwell Hotel & Pfahl Conference Center! The Blackwell Hotel is located in the heart of campus. As a member of the Preferred Hotel Group family, I was familiar with The Blackwell because of my time at a Preferred sister property, The Cincinnatian, but I hadn’t spent much time there until I moved to Columbus. The Blackwell is very popular for meetings. The Pfahl Conference Center is beautifully appointed and very well laid out for us

Buckeye Fans Unite @ this Luxury Lodging in the Heart of Columbus

The Preferred Life @ The Blackwell Hotel & Pfahl Conference Center

meeting planners. And to top it off, the food here is inventive and delicious.  When you’re a meeting attendee, the grand staircase and open lobby floorplan really makes for an impressive entrance if using the hotel meeting space.  If you’re in the neighboring Pfahl Conference Center, you’ll notice scarlet & gray touches throughout the hallways.  The Blackwell has been gracious enough to host me twice in the past few months for different events.

Buckeye Fans Unite @ this Luxury Lodging in the Heart of Columbus

Art and All Things Nice @ The Blackwell Hotel

Every time the food was something to remember and the service was impeccable. These factors aren’t a surprise though, Preferred Hotel Group sets a high standard.  The Blackwell is an independent hotel, but by being a part of Preferred Hotel Group, they have some backing and support for marketing and sales efforts.

Buckeye Fans Unite @ this Luxury Lodging in the Heart of Columbus

The Preferred Life @ The Blackwell Hotel & Pfahl Conference Center

Although I’ve visited as a meeting attendee a number of times, until this week, I haven’t had a chance to see the sleeping rooms.  The good news is, when you’re an independent property, you can make some fun additions to your room package.  You’re in the heart of OSU’s campus, why wouldn’t you want the ‘O’ to guide you at night? I’m told the hotel will undergo a major room renovation in upcoming years, but in the meantime you can rest assured a visit of luxury and style.

If they’re in your backyard too and you haven’t had a chance to visit, consider stopping by for lunch at The Bistro 2110!

The Westin Columbus – Columbus, OH

Oh, my. Hopefully you’re quick to realize that I love food and historic hotels. You could ask me to spend a week at The Westin Columbus wandering around and I’d be a happy girl.  To be honest, I don’t get there enough.  I was jumping up and down, clapping in my office when I realized I had the chance to

Visit this Columbus Landmark, an Historic Hotel of America

Luncheon of Champions @ The Westin Columbus

visit The Westin this past week for a luncheon.  Why? THAT BALLROOM.  What a dream, to get married in The Westin Ballroom.  Sadly, that dream has passed for me (my band and guest list were too big!), so I take every opportunity to visit it. In the spirit of all things delicious, we find ourselves at yet another

culinary experience.  You will never receive “banquet chicken” at The Westin.  Our table was seasonally dressed to impress and the menu followed accordingly.  After our luncheon was over I asked for a quick room tour.  Luckily, I was led into a complete surprise. I stayed at the Westin well over 5 years ago, so what I thought I was about to see was completely wrong.  The Westin recently began the process of transforming, and I mean transforming, the sleeping room package. When you have an historic hotel, trust me, I’ve worked in two, it can be very difficult to do a remodel. How do you move modern without upsetting the historic charm enthusiasts?  They nailed it. Picture this. You walk into one of the oldest hotels in the state.  From the outside, you aren’t sure what to expect. It’s simple and timeless building that leaves much to the imagination. All I can assume is that what stands on the other side of the doors is dignified. But is it old, or is it new? The lobby, a three story marble room with arching reception area and a chandelier the size of Texas, greets you. The staff is waiting to assist you at every turn.  There are hints of contemporary – a living wall, modern artwork.  You ascend the elevator. The doors open.  The carpet is new. Brand spankin’… This could be a ploy. You open your door and BAM! Never would have expected it. Somehow, the team at The Westin has managed to pull off a feat. Incorporating modern luxury into a (nearly!) 120 year old frame. Just look at it!

Visit this Columbus Landmark, an Historic Hotel of America

Visit this Columbus Landmark, an Historic Hotel of America

Visit this Columbus Landmark, an Historic Hotel of America

Visit this Columbus Landmark, an Historic Hotel of America

But seriously, if you haven’t been to The Westin Columbus recently, stop by and check it out!

Hotel Covington – Covington, KY

Visiting Greater Cincinnati? Check out what's on the other side

Chic as Chic Gets @ Hotel Covington

Yep, I get around!  I’ve been waiting for a chance to check out the new Hotel Covington.

Visiting Greater Cincinnati? Check out what's on the other side

Chic as Chic Gets @ Hotel Covington

If you didn’t know, this little gem is located just across the river from downtown Cincinnati.  The Hotel is still finishing up construction, but I needed to see the public space. I’ve read so many articles about it!

The building itself was originally the home of John Coppin’s department store. Located on Madison Ave, it was in the heart of it all. The style of the hotel mimics the

Visiting Greater Cincinnati? Check out what's on the other side

Chic as Chic Gets @ Hotel Covington

buildings history- dripping in lux modern and fashion whimsy, the lobby is

breathtaking. Virtually the entire first floor is enclosed in windows. When you walk inside, you feel like your part of the display case. The stylish lounge chairs and banquets are lined with fur blankets and sparkling pillows. The bar sits in the middle of the lobby, tempting you for an afternoon drink.  Although I was visiting on a Tuesday afternoon, I would bet this place draws the locals and the visitors to the lobby bar nightly.  Stopping by for a drink or listening to some live acoustic, you will be transported to another time and another place. I cannot wait to go back to stay!

And with that, I leave you with some hot spots in my backyard. What’s in yours?

Visiting Greater Cincinnati? Check out what's on the other side

The View @ Covington, KY

“People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck

An Adventure for Your Mouth

Ohio Best Kept Secrets

BEST ICE CREAM EVER @ The Dairy – Mt. Vernon, OH

I like food.

OK, you probably already knew that. A few weeks ago, a friend asked me what my favorite restaurant of all time is.  I panicked.  I actually broke a sweat and I’m pretty sure my heart started racing. What a question! My favorite restaurant? Of ALL TIME? Like, I only get to choose one?  Yikes. So this got me thinking. Fortunately, I’ve been to a lot of restaurants in a lot of places. Why not post about it?  After all, an excellent dining experience is like an adventure… for your mouth!

So let’s get started.  I did have to give my friend an answer, so I’ll give you one too. But, I do live in Ohio, and since I frequent the cities here the most, I’ll also tell you my favorite places in the Three C’s. If you’ve been there too, let me know. Have another place I should try? Share away!!

My first home – Cleveland (sort of… you get the picture)

This is a new favorite of mine and I’ve only been twice.  We’ve all heard of it, or at least the mastermind behind it. Lola (Michael Symon’s restaurant!). It’s located in the East 4th Street entertainment district. First of all, if you haven’t been there, shame on you.  Cleveland has done wonders to transform its social scene over the past few years and this area is the heart of it all. Lola is located on a small section of a pedestrian only street.  This is fine dining, folks. They welcome you in your game attire, but let’s not make a habit of it.  The service is impeccable and the food, top notch. The first time I visited Lola I was by myself. I took some study materials as I was teaching a class the following weekend. NOT RECOMMENDED. It’s hard to concentrate with good wine and low lighting.  Luckily, my food was out in minutes and it was phenomenal.  A sweet corn gnocchi. ‘Nuff said. The second time we visited, the item that stood out the most were the pierogies on the appetizer menu. I married a Pole, so I am required to like pierogies, but these were delicious. Better than any pierogi I’ve ever had – stuffed with beef cheek and mushrooms. YOWZA.

My second home – Cincinnati

Cincinnati has one of the best culinary scenes in the state. My guess is, this is the work of the chefs that led the iconic Maisonette – for the longest time, North America’s highest rated restaurant in our very own state of Ohio. One of its last chef’s Jean Robert de Cheval is still in Cincinnati, perfecting his skills as the owner of The Table. Since, many other great chefs have hit the ground running in Cincinnati and I was fortunate enough to indulge in their epicurean masterpieces for 7 years. Since its fall in 2005, the Maisonette building has at least been resurrected and thank God, not by apartments or a law firm or something boring like that, but a fabulous restaurant that also ranks high on my list of favorites – Boca. The atmosphere is one of my favorites of all time. You just have to go, people. I can’t tell you anything more.

A number of Cincinnati’s chefs have won awards, been on TV and more. But one chef in particular stands out in my mind – Jose Salazar. Everything he creates is amazing. He opened his namesake restaurant, Salazar, almost three years ago.  It is still, by far, my top pick when returning to the Queen City. Jose was nominated and a semifinalist for the 2016 James Beard Award. The restaurant is small and bustling.  Most nights, good luck getting a table. The menu is always changing and I could choose

Best Craft Cocktails in Cincinnati, OH by Mixologist, Andrew Rettig

The Best Cocktail. Ever. @ Salazar – Cincinnati, OH

something blindfolded and not be disappointed. Jose recently opened a second restaurant a few blocks south, Mita’s, named after his grandmother.  This restaurant has distinct Latin flair, but one thing you

can expect no matter which of his restaurants you choose – the food will be amazing, the drinks all handcrafted and beautiful, the service will be impeccable and he will be there, expediting in the kitchen. I swear the man lives at his restaurants, but it’s that love that shines through in everything he does.  If you haven’t been to either of these places, add them to your bucket list. You will not be disappointed.

My home – Columbus

This is a tough one. And I’m a tough critic.  As you can probably tell, I have high food and service standards.  I also do not believe in not taking reservations.  No place that doesn’t take reservations is so good it’s worth an hour or month long wait. Sorry.  There are too many excellent restaurants I’d rather go to that respect my time. In Columbus, this happens more than it should. Luckily, I have some favorites lined up for you (all take reservations!) and one in particular that you probably haven’t been to before! Because, heaven forbid, it isn’t in one of the Columbus entertainment districts.

Columbus is different than Cincinnati in that it has a lot of GREAT, bistro type restaurants. Restaurants that specialize in one thing or another.  Cincinnati on the other hand, has a handful of excellent, hands down best freaking restaurant, fine dining experiences you’ll find. Good news! I can afford more of the quick stops in Columbus.  Some of our standbys are Marcella’s (or anything Cameron Mitchell, really), Wolf’s Ridge Brewing (the brunch… oh, my…) and Hubbard Grille (Gorgonzola & Walnut Gnocchi – every. time.). We also love to brunch, so if you serve breakfast too… and before 11AM? SOLD.

This leads me to my favorite restaurant, situated on a busy little corner in Powell, OH – Kraft House No. 5 (KH5). KH5 was an accidental discovery. See, there’s this winery. It stole my heart. We go there A LOT. I don’t even drink that much, people, but set me up with a bottle of Jeff & Gina’s wine at Powell Village

Winery and I’m set… for life.  (The picture below is one for the history books. Who thought we could sit on the patio — without a fire and a coat — the last weekend in October?!) If you’re going to try KH5, you need to make this part of your trip. Great news, Powell is small. Park your car at one place or the other and you can easily walk between the two. Anyway, we’re here for food. KH5 has so many good things, it’s hard to pick out what to discuss. Here’s what you have to try: KH5 Burger, Muscles & Fries, and

Brunching in Columbus

Chicken & Waffles @ Kraft House No. 5 – Powell, OH

seasonally, if they have it, this quinoa, lima bean salad thing on the menu with skirt steak. MUST TRY. One of my favorite dishes at KH5 comes after the savory.  There is this dessert, that is mind blowing – their S’mores Creme Brulee. It’s seasonal. But when it’s there, they’re in trouble. It goes so fast. We actually went there once (for my birthday, of course) and it was gone. Ask when you get there if they have it and make that server hold it for you!!! OK, so I mentioned brunch. it’s important.  TJ and his man friends swear by KH5 brunch. Not only do they serve excellent craft beer, but look at the Chicken & Waffles!  If you plan it right, you might catch them on a Distillery Tasting morning. Gin and Breakfast?

OK, OK.  At this point if you haven’t already abandoned this post to find something to eat then you’re probably thinking, “And none of these are your all time favorite?” You’re right. They’re not.

How does a girl choose her all time favorite restaurant? Is it somewhere I frequent? Somewhere where I can always name my favorite entree or dessert? No. For me, it was somewhere that I always tell people to go. I’ve actually only been there twice. My first experience was so impactful that when I think about my first visit, it makes me smile.  Does this restaurant know how it makes me feel? Probably not.  Could it be skewed because of the time in my life that I found it? Maybe. But either way, I know if you go, it’ll make you happy too, or at least your belly.

My one-time home! – Charleston, SC

Slightly North of Broad (S.N.O.B.)

There! I said it!  That’s it. Kind of a funny name, right? Or at least its nickname is. Guys. This place is magical.  If you’ve ever traveled by yourself, you know what it’s like to eat alone. Sometimes it’s hard.  A restaurant quickly moves to the top of my list when they cater to solo diners. So here’s the story –

I lived in Charleston, SC for 4 months.  I was still in college and I was on the last week of an internship. My roommate had left a month ago. I was so homesick. I wanted to go home so bad. Don’t get me wrong, Charleston is my favorite city in the US, it wasn’t Charleston’s fault. I missed my family, friends, my boyfriend.  I decided I would treat myself that last week to what our hotel told people was one of the best low country dining experiences you could find.

I had a reservation, so they knew I was a loner, but I always find it hard to admit “it’s just me” when at a restaurant.  This is the moment of truth, folks. Where do they seat you? It’s the make or break of the experience. The hostess smiled at me and said, “would you like a regular table or would you like to sit at the community table overlooking the kitchen?” WHAT?! You mean, I get to watch the crew without paying for a chef’s table? You’re rewarding me for being alone?! (Well, that’s probably not what she was thinking, but whatever). I almost squealed at the opportunity.

This table overlooks the kitchen and had neat little stacks of books about Charleston. I flipped through

Best Low Country Fine Dining in Charleston, SC

My Favorite Restaurant of All Time – Slightly North of Broad (S.N.O.B) – Charleston, SC

some of them, but was immediately interrupted by a member of the kitchen staff who wanted to see how my evening was going.

This was at least 6 years ago, so I do not remember what I ate. I know, I wish I had a memory that good. But, I’m in the service industry, and that is what stood out to me the most. It’s why it’s my favorite restaurant. They took better care of a solo, not-yet-of-age diner with a very low bill than they would a royal family. It meant so much to me. Over the course of my dinner, multiple members of the kitchen staff stopped by to talk to me.  I left and quickly returned on my next trip to Charleston one year later with my friend, Sam (the same one that asked what my favorite restaurant is!).  This time, I know exactly what I had. My favorite was a Pork Belly appetizer that was the perfect balance of sweet and salty.  The wine was exceptional.  Needless to say, the service paid off, and this time, my tab wasn’t so low!

If you’re ever in the low country, make a stop at S.N.O.B. I hope that it gives you the same feeling it gave me.

And with that – I hope you can discover some great epicurean adventures and share them with me!

Best Local Winery in Ohio!

Wine. @ Powell Village Winery

“People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck

A Spectacular Start to Fall – Luxury in the Smoky Mountains

I’ve had some people comment recently that it looks like I travel a lot for work, you’ve got that right! But, I also travel A LOT in my personal life. It’s a good thing I love travel, wouldn’t you say?  The month of September was grueling for the hubby and me – between the two of us, we slept in 6 different hotels in 4 different states (South Carolina, Ohio – but not at home!, Nevada and Tennessee) in 5 days. That can get exhausting. Luckily, the end of our month of travel chaos ended in the most perfect way.  Our last stop was a wedding in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee.  Backtracking a bit, the bride’s brother was married in Telluride, CO 2 years prior. We FELL IN LOVE with Telluride in the fall. My heart aches thinking about it and when I will get the chance to return.  Good news, this wedding was just as beautiful.

Looking for a luxury cabin experience, great for groups and families? Check out Brother's Cove in Pigeon Forge

Weddings @ Brothers Cove – Pigeon Forge, TN

We drove. I’m not always a huge fan, but flying wasn’t going to be much more efficient.  We arrived late in the evening and battled a dark winding rode up the mountain side.  We were far later than we had hoped, missing the community dinner for guests not attending the rehearsal dinner. Luckily, my mom and dad were there and scavenged some food.  See, the original plan was for us to meet for dinner in Sevierville.  That plan was quickly tossed aside when my parents arrived. My mom called exclaiming, “we are not going back down that hill at night!” We laughed, because, it was night and we had to take the road she was referring to! As we entered the Brother’s Cove property, we were amazed at the size of these

Looking for a luxury cabin experience, great for groups and families? Check out Brother's Cove in Pigeon Forge

cliff hanging cabins.  They are MASSIVE and all supported on stilts.  From the outside, I could tell these were not your typical “ruffing it” experience.  We definitely didn’t need to question if there were going to be linens provided at this cabin experience. We popped out of the car and walked into the most immaculate “living room” I’ve ever seen

Looking for a luxury cabin experience, great for groups and families? Check out Brother's Cove in Pigeon Forge

– cabin or not. This cabin sleeps six, but apparently you can squeeze ten.  It is three stories! My mom says they gave us the more secluded room on the third floor, I assume what she meant was, we gave you the third floor room because you two have the best knees in the group.  That’s fair, we were sharing the room with my parents and a mother/daughter duo from my hometown.  The mother is probably 70 or 80, so I didn’t complain.  We climbed that spiral staircase and found the most beautiful “tree house” room.  We didn’t have a whirlpool like the others, but wow, did we had a view! It was hard to see at night, but when you woke up, you could see for miles.  The rooms were built with three walls of floor to ceiling glass. It was so beautiful. Each room also came with its own private porch.  We were there with family, so I wanted to join my parents for a hot tea in the morning, but if I were there with a bunch of friends – it would be a nice way to peacefully start the morning in privacy.

Looking for a luxury cabin experience, great for groups and families? Check out Brother's Cove in Pigeon Forge

Wake up to this view @ Brother’s Cove – Pigeon Forge, TN

We only had a day to spend at Pigeon Forge so we wanted to make the most of it. The cabin had a full kitchen, much nicer than my own, so had we planned accordingly, we could have easily cooked breakfast for an army.  We set out to find a local place that cooked up some good Southern breakfast fair and we found it at Grandmother’s Kitchen. The sign outside advertised “Cathead Biscuits” which piqued my interest.  What the hell is a Cathead Biscuit? I was willing to find out. Turns out, “cathead” refers to the size of the biscuits.  They were colossal and delicious. If I wasn’t always concerned about not looking like I eat as much as I do, I would have eaten more than one of those!

My dad was acting as our guide.  We set off to find the Laurel Falls Trail.  Apparently one I’ve walked before as a kid, but I didn’t remember it.  You probably could have guessed, but cell phone reception is sub par in this area. Had I needed to find this place on my own, we’d probably still be looking. Luckily, I think my dad has a detailed world map inside of his head – he can always find everything. The trail was great – fairly easy for the hiking newbie, but had some elevations for sure.  The falls were lovely, although there were a lot of people there.  Sadly, I think a bus of tourists had been dropped off prior to our arrival, because they were traveling in pac…herds. My mom doesn’t make too many appearances here, so here

Hiking in Pigeon Forge

Laurel Falls Train @ Pigeon Forge, TN

you go! We made it back just in time to make a pitstop for some lunch food and to hit the pool.  If you’ve ever spent time driving down the main drag in Pigeon Forge,you might have thought for just a second! that you were in the over commercialized area of Myrtle Beach, if it weren’t for the mountains. YIKES!  It was too much for me.  Luckily, we came across a great Tennessee BBQ join that had a big smoker out front and someone was actually using it!  Boss Hogg’s BBQ was amazing.  TJ and the ‘rents got ribs and I chose the brisket.  Everything was perfect. We headed over to the pool to catch the last of the Tennessee rays before preparing for the wedding.  Honestly, I have no idea why more people weren’t at the pool. OK, it was a little chilly. I don’t believe it’s heated and by September, the nights are just too cool, but again, that view!  I could have sat there all day, but we had a wedding to get to!

In researching Brother’s Cove, I knew that weddings were the money maker for them and now I can see why. The backdrop for the ceremony was jaw dropping and the

Looking for a luxury cabin experience, great for groups and families? Check out Brother's Cove in Pigeon Forge

Weddings @ Brothers Cove – Pigeon Forge, TN

reception was top notch.  They turned out delicious food, but even if the food was awful, you wouldn’t haven’t noticed if you just stared out the windows.

Kudos to the staff and the property at Brother’s Cove.  Our visit was far more than we expected and I’m pretty sure the bride and groom were quite pleased.

We cannot wait for another opportunity to escape to Pigeon Forge and we know exactly where we will stay.  With a hottub, grill, and full kitchen all wrapped up in a luxury cabin atop a mountain with a spectacular view, how could you not come back?

Thank you for kicking our fall off with a bang.  The Smokies are truly Great!

Hiking in Pigeon Forge

Laurel Falls Train @ Pigeon Forge, TN

“People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck

A Final Splash of Summer – North Carolina

Looking for a Myrtle Beach Alternative? Check out this North Carolina Coastal Beach

Serenity @ Sunset Beach, NC

If you haven’t noticed, I travel a lot. Not just for work, in my personal life too.  I love it, so that’s good, but in 2016 we had 6 weddings to attend, two are out of state.  This year, I got to attend my first ever beach wedding in Myrtle Beach, SC.  Now, you might be able to guess this, but I’m not a huge fan of the big touristy destinations.  I don’t know, something about the flash of Myrtle Beach doesn’t scream relaxing weekend away to me.  But! Never fear, I was determined to find something unique on our trip and I found it.  My family has made the trek to the North Carolina border for 29 years.  We stay in an ocean front house every year, so we are never looking for lodging accommodations – we know where we’re headed. When we heard this wedding was going to be in Myrtle Beach, just 50 minutes from our annual summer vacay spot, we thought we’d take that opportunity to see what was around.  I quick Google search of inns brought me to a love I didn’t know existed… The Sunset Inn. The Sunset Inn is located on Sunset Beach, NC an island nestled between Ocean Isle Beach and the border of North & South Carolina.  It’s an island I’ve gone to a number of times, but I never knew this little gem existed.  How fortunate we were for this opportunity.

The book process alone made my heart flutter.  There were individual rooms, all with a story.  We (I mean, I) sifted through endless photos and descriptions until I settled on the one I wanted – the Live Oak Room.

Looking for a Myrtle Beach Alternative? Check out this North Carolina Coastal Beach

Sand, Sun and Southern Hospitality @ The Sunset Inn

When we crossed the massive new bridge to Sunset Beach (the old swing bridge was in operation until 2010!) we immediately spotted The Sunset Inn, situated right on the Intracoastal Waterway.  We pulled up and I was already excited.  It was exactly what I had pictured from a Southern Inn – a massive wooden

staircase approaching a broad porch and light, airy colored siding.  The porches amassed in flowers.

The reception area was a light, breezy space where Andrea, the innkeeper, greeted us.  She walked us to our room which was located just off of reception.  Our room was (tastefully!) decked out in sailing themed decor.  My favorite part of the room was the peaceful, private porch

Looking for a Myrtle Beach Alternative? Check out this North Carolina Coastal Beach

Beach Chic @ The Sunset Inn

that sat overlooking the waterway. It was screened in, so no fear of mosquitoes! There were two rocking chairs where I was able to enjoy a tea first thing in the morning.

Andrea told us that we could easily walk to the beach from the inn, so we set out soon after arrival to discover the beach. Much different than what I have experienced during peak season. I imagine most of the people there were locals or retirees, enjoying the setting sun on the beach.  We took a long walk admiring the beautiful beachfront home, noting how much cooler the water is than in July!

Another problem we often run into while visiting this area is a good place to eat (bet you saw that one coming!).  After 29 years, I cannot believe we have never found the place TJ and I stumbled upon – the Brentwood Restaurant & Wine Bistro. They are on OpenTable (woo – points!) and we were able to make reservations for two last minute.  I didn’t know what to expect. Sadly, many places in this area seem great on paper, but they’re overpriced and the quality just isn’t that good. So we were shocked to discover something just the opposite.

The building itself was awesome – so there is no other way to describe it. Built in 1910, it was originally a

Great Food Near Myrtle Beach, the Grand Strand and the North Carolina Beaches

“Corky” Decor @ The Brentwood Restaurant & Wine Bistro

B&B for fisherman and located across the street. Travelers could pay $1 per night ($.50 extra for breakfast!)! Now, the Brentwood chef, Eric Masson, is serving up phenomenal low country French food that you must try. The inside is quirky and classic at the same time. The walls are lined with wine corks and odd pieces of history. Our waiter was from the UK and so fun to interact with.  I chose the 4-course Prix Fixe Menu which was a crazy deal ($39)!  It included French Onion Soup (one of my all-time favorite things), a House Salad, 6oz Filet Au Poivre and Creme Brulee. I cannot explain to you how ideal this menu was and for $39! you know I’ll be back.  TJ chose similar items, but started with the Escargot – a new favorite of his. We were able to enjoy a wonderful bottle of wine and the hum of conversation from a packed restaurant.  We cannot wait to bring our entire beach house there next summer!

Great Food Near Myrtle Beach, the Grand Strand and the North Carolina Beaches

A Toast to History @ The Brentwood Restaurant & Wine Bistro

OK, so back to the Inn! Sometimes, you end up calling it an early night – French food will do that to you! The Sunset Inn is perfect for just that.  With access to movies, a microwave and popcorn, it was a perfect end to a busy day of travel.  The following morning, I was up early, ready to get my workout in.  The mornings in September are surprisingly cool (unlike July!) and I was able to sneak in a run.  I set off down the main road, in search of the end of the island.  I came upon a small path tucked away that had a number of piers running to nowhere.  (Top picture!) It was a perfect halfway point to reflect and enjoy nature.

It’s sad that I won’t have very many opportunities to enjoy The Sunset Inn with a pre-set, annual vacation just up the road, but I certainly hope I’ve convinced you! My guess is that most of their visitors are there for multiple nights, if not an entire week. Sunset Beach is a great vacation spot for couples or small families looking for a quiet, family beach.  So with that, my friends… plan a trip to North Carolina’s coast – you won’t be disappointed!

Looking for a Myrtle Beach Alternative? Check out this North Carolina Coastal Beach

Point of Paradise @ Sunset Beach, NC

“People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck

Curious about Curio? Explore this Historic Masterpiece with Me!

Discovering America's History in Roanoke Virginia in the Heart of the Blue Ridge Parkway

A Tudor Revival Masterpiece @ The Hotel Roanoke @ Conference Center

I know, there’s been a lot of hip-hopping around.  But, I grew up traveling and there is no stopping me! One of my all time favorite places to visit is the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway. We have stopped a number of times in the town of Roanoke, Virginia to enjoy its culture and of course, food!  More times than I can count, I have stayed at The Hotel Roanoke.  There have been some changes though, and I’d say, for the better.  The Hotel Roanoke was built in 1882 by the Norfolk and Western Railroad with an astounding…. 34 rooms. Over the past 134 years, it has continued to serve travelers while expanding and changing.  When I first got to know The Hotel Roanoke, I was young and really only cared about their awesome pool in the hot July sun.  At the time it was an independent property. Then, it became part of the Hilton family, where it has stayed for the past 20 years.  I started to remember it as “the place with the cookies!” because after all, it was a DoubleTree by Hilton.  But, I had the chance to revisit The Hotel Roanoke this year and was so happy to see it had (almost) returned to its independent charm.

Discovering America's History in Roanoke Virginia in the Heart of the Blue Ridge Parkway

A Modern Touch on Historic Perfection @ The Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center

The Hotel Roanoke remains a part of the Hilton family, but has adopted its Curio brand. Curio is Hilton’s version of what we visited a few posts ago in Wytheville, VA (The Bolling Wilson Hotel, an Ascend Collection hotel) – an “independent brand.”  In fact, Hilton describes its Curio brand as, “a collection of independent, remarkable hotels whose only unifying characteristic is their glorious individuality.” I think this is a great way for the Hotel Roanoke to mix the standards its guests have come to know through Hilton with its historic individuality. In Ohio, Curio is new to us.  We have a few of them on the horizon in Columbus and around the state, so let’s take a look at what makes Curio…Curio!

When you pull up to The Hotel Roanoke, you won’t know it’s a Hilton.  In fact, you’ll never know (unless you read my blog!).  You’re greeted by a spectacular Tutor Revival building housing nearly 400 rooms, 2

Discovering America's History in Roanoke Virginia in the Heart of the Blue Ridge Parkway

Welcome! @ The Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center

restaurants and a conference center. The valet is something out of a movie, with sweeping staircases, bronze railings and flowers EVERYWHERE. The lobby is just as mesmerizing – with an open floor plan

Discovering America's History in Roanoke Virginia in the Heart of the Blue Ridge Parkway

Welcome! @ The Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center

and comfy places to sit and soak it all in.  I loved the added touch for the weary traveler – a table of fruits, snacks and other goodies.  This is such a simple addition, but it meant a lot to me after wrapping up a 7-hour car ride.

We hurried through check-in so we could maximize the evening sunlight poolside.  The pool at The Hotel Roanoke is perfection.  There is a poolside bartender, offering up classic cocktails and fun Southern creations. After a few hours enjoying the pool and hot tub, we were ready for dinner.

The Hotel Roanoke is separate from downtown Roanoke by a number of train tracks.  The city built this super cool skywalk to connect the two areas, making downtown Roanoke easily accessible by foot. The skywalk is full of fun, interesting facts and history about the city. As I mentioned, we have visited Roanoke a number of times before and the dining scene there is excellent.  There are so many good places to choose from!  Our dinner reservations were a bit later, so we decided to find a nice place for an adult beverage.  We stumbled across a place called Fortunato.  It was hip, fun and bustling.  What I

Discovering America's History in Roanoke Virginia in the Heart of the Blue Ridge Parkway

Getting Crafty @ Fortunato Roanoke

enjoyed most about Fortunato was the mixologists (I’m going to say this, because they didn’t look like your typical bartenders!) were whipping up amazing, clever drinks.  I stole a copy of the creative drink menu the waitress had drawn herself.  To me, it screamed coloring page and I can’t wait to put a colored pencil to paper. I tried The Estate which was to-die-for. Eventually, we wrapped up there and ventured down the street to dinner.  If you haven’t been to Roanoke, you might not guess that in the evenings there is free entertainment everywhere. This town is literally jamming in every corner of town.  Just walking between streets, we heard live music pumping out of open door after open door.  But we had a dinner reservation to get to and you know where my priorities lie!

So we made it to our restaurant. My mom can take full credit for finding this gem – Lucky. Located in the heart of downtown, this little place was definitely a hot spot. We had reservations, but the owner was sitting in as host and let himself get a little backed up and for good reason.  This restaurant was bringing in people from all walks of life. I wouldn’t say this was a hipster hangout or a businessman’s restaurant – they were there to serve everyone Great. Food.  We only waited a short bit and he had us seated quickly.  We looked at the menu and I felt conflicted.  What do you do when you want everything on the menu?  Luckily, in the Runion (maiden name!) family, we were raised on ‘don’t duplicate orders at the table.’ We are the sharing sort, passing forks, harmonious “Mmm!”s and comparing notes.  Luckily, we did all agree on one thing – we needed that Bread Plate!  Packed with goat cheese and olive tapenade. So that’s how our food journey started.

Don’t worry, I didn’t completely embarrass myself, I did choose something from the menu.  It really wasn’t hard when my eyes finally made it to the last item on the list – Mushrooms and Gnocchi. Because, see, this girl has 2 weaknesses in life: 1) dessert 2) gnocchi. It was amazing.  It was a perfect blend of the richness of homemade gnocchi with the earth taste of mushrooms.  I was in foodie heaven. If I remember correctly, TJ and my sister ordered the Rib Eye, my dad the Buttermilk Fried Chicken and my mom, the Leaping Water’s Pork Shoulder.  Everything was perfect. I can’t remember the owner’s name who greeted us that evening, but thank you! for one of the best dining experiences I’ve had on the road. I think we were truly…Lucky!

We made it back to the hotel, just in time to lay weary heads and full bellies to rest, but not before deciding on how and when to tackle breakfast in the morning!  Dad and I are the early birds of the group so we agreed to find a good spot before the others woke.

Discovering America's History in Roanoke Virginia in the Heart of the Blue Ridge Parkway

Charming Downtown Roanoke

So by now, you know when I travel I eat like a king and then run it off in the morning.  I do love to discover a new area on foot – it’s really the only way to do it!  I laced up my shoes and set out to run to the Roanoke River. Luckily, the City of Roanoke has a ton of great Greenway Trails you can follow. I set out in the early morning sun and headed through downtown to the trail – who do you think I spotted on the way? My dad, walking looking for “good coffee.” (Not to suggest the hotel doesn’t have great coffee, this is just my dad’s ‘thing’)  We were able to scout out a few breakfast places including one place that’s been around since 1930 and advertises $.75 coffee & $1.40 hamburgers – The Texas Tavern – Roanoke’s Millionaires Club!  We settled on Scrambled which served up all kinds of scrambled egg combinations.  We were able to snag a seat outside and enjoyed a delightful breakfast before heading home.

My favorites parts of downtown Roanoke were the little things that

Discovering America's History in Roanoke Virginia in the Heart of the Blue Ridge Parkway

you don’t always catch the first time around. The hidden door in an alley (cool speakeasy?), the bridges switching back and forth over the railroad tracks, or the chicken mosaic on the sidewalk.  Each time we come back, there is always something new to discover. But sometimes, when there is an everchanging landscape, it’s nice to have an old standby that you know will be there year after year in all of its grandeur.  I will always look forward to returning to The Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center and hope you’ll try it too!

Discovering America's History in Roanoke Virginia in the Heart of the Blue Ridge Parkway

Roanoke LOVE

 “People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck

Ascending to New Heights in Wytheville, VA

Virginia is for Lovers

Virginia is for Lovers

We are taking this ride off-road a bit! Every now and then I actually go on vacation. Every July, my family makes a trip to one of my favorite places on Earth, Ocean Isle Beach, NC.  This was our 29th year visiting the same beach on North Carolina’s southern most coastline. When you’ve made this trip 29 times, you know you could drive it blindfolded (not that we would actually attempt that).  The trip is always the same –  who can spot the golden Charleston dome first?, a swing through Tamarack for a little shopping & lunch, and without fail, we can always spot hundreds of Ohio plates with “pods” trekking down the highway.  We jokingly call this the “Great Migration” – Ohioans traveling to the Carolina coast for vacation every summer.  Although it’s always the same journey, we find ourselves asking each year, “but where should we stay?”  We’ve made the trip in one day – 9 hours of driving doesn’t kill anybody, but we like to stay one night out on the road. The logical place to stop is just shy of the Virginia/North Carolina border.  There’s only one problem THERE IS NO WHERE TO STAY. Sure, there are your old standbys dotting the exits, but we always prefer something we can’t get at home while on vacay. But this year…we found it.  We found the holy grail.  It changed our experience.  We talked about it for days.  It made that one extra night of traveling actually part of our vacation.  Nestled in little old Wytheville, VA is the Bolling Wilson Hotel, and this my friends, is perfection.

Great new hotel find in the middle of Virginia. Great stop along I-77!

Ascending to new Heights @ the Bolling Wilson Hotel

The Bolling Wilson Hotel is actually…a chain.  It sure doesn’t look like it!  There has been a resurgence of the independent, boutique hotels and brands are finally picking up on it.  For Marriott, you have an Autograph Collection; for Hilton a Curio Collection and for Choice an Ascend Collection.  If you visit one of these properties, the

Great new hotel find in the middle of Virginia. Great stop along I-77!

Ascending to new Heights @ the Bolling Wilson Hotel

only way you will know it is part of a brand is you can a) collect your loyalty points and b) the standards of service you’d expect from one of their sister properties.  In Ohio, we don’t have any Ascend properties, so this was new to me and I loved it. The lobby is like a piece of art. Simple and to the point, but with a little pizzazz. If you aren’t a history buff and you haven’t caught on yet to the significance behind the name of the hotel, I’ll fill you in. The hotel pays homage to it’s most famous citizen, First Lady Edith Bolling Wilson (President Woodrow Wilson). If you take a closer look at the lobby, you’ll find some of the First Lady’s

Great new hotel find in the middle of Virginia. Great stop along I-77!

Ascending to New Heights @ the Bolling Wilson Hotel

favorites smartly entwined in the beautiful decor. Her love of orchids can be found everywhere in fresh flowers throughout the lobby and her love of canaries is displayed in the tiny birdcage, just behind registration. If you’re up at the right time in the morning, the birds wake up to greet you.

I don’t want to forget to mention the fantastic restaurant the Bolling Wilson Hotel has on site, Graze on Main. We were able to enjoy dinner here when we first arrived and I am so glad we did.  Our family loves to eat, if you haven’t gathered that from other posts.  Just like our preference in hotels, we like to find something unique when we’re dining out.  And, like our search for an ideal resting place on this long trip down I-77, we’re hard pressed to find good restaurants as well.  What a godsend that we found both in one place. I knew the week ahead would be full of carbs as most vacations are so I was wise in my dinner choice. Luckily, I saw a server walk by with a salad piled high with bleu cheese and I knew instantly what I wanted.  I had the Chopped Salad (with chicken!) and as usual, TJ indulged in a Ribeye which was cooked perfectly.  If you have a chance to stop by Wytheville and you can’t stay, I’d at least swing through this fabulous restaurant for lunch or dinner!

Great new hotel find in the middle of Virginia. Great stop along I-77!

A Step Back in Time on The Heritage Walk in Wytheville, VA

What stay at an historic hotel would be complete without a little sightseeing?  I set out for my morning run as the sun

Great new hotel find in the middle of Virginia. Great stop along I-77!

was coming up and was pleased to find downtown Wytheville alive with others enjoying the Heritage Walk. The trail was a mix between brick sidewalks downtown, weaving between cool, old buildings; paved paths through the park and hidden walkways.  It was a great way to start the morning and you can pick up the trail right in front of the hotel. When I finally returned to the hotel, I was warmly greeted by the front desk employee who shared with me the story of the canaries and the love story behind the Bolling Wilson Hotel.  I slowly made my way back up to my room to find my breakfast waiting for me outside the door.  The Bolling Wilson Hotel does something I’ve never seen before –

Great new hotel find in the middle of Virginia. Great stop along I-77!

taking “breakfast in bed” to a whole new level. They provide these great little baskets that they fill up each morning with breakfast for guests.  In all of my time in the hotel industry, I’ve never seen this before. What a great idea for a small place that also wants to accommodate breakfast for its guests!

We are so glad we discovered the Bolling Wilson Hotel and cannot wait to make it part of our yearly migration to the North Carolina coast!

 

Great new hotel find in the middle of Virginia. Great stop along I-77!

Canaries @ Bolling Wilson Hotel

 “People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck

Setting Sail

This is my first time venturing into the blogging world.  I want to set some expectations on what you’ll find here:

What I can promise:

  • We’re going to have fun.
  • We’re going to learn about an area we’ve never been.
  • We’ll learn about a place we didn’t know existed in our own backyard.
  • We’re going to find experiences.
  • We’ll learn some tools of the trade.

I’m not a writer, I’m a reader.  But – I like to try something new and want others to try it with me.  I take risks and I like discovery.  I would jump out of a plane, dive off a cliff, or try to pet a tiger before I’d volunteer to speak in front of a crowd.  I hope that I learn something about myself in this process and you learn something too.

Together, I hope we can Discover Ohio and the US  – one room at a time.

Saddle Up, Hop On, Jump In – this is going to be a hell of a ride.

This is a Room with a Viewpoint.

This is Inn Love.