Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Frontiers: VIDEO! Playa Viva

If you've read my site in the last couple of weeks, you'll know that I spent a couple days glamping on the Pacific coast of Mexico at an luxury boutique eco-hotel called Playa Viva. I've already written about the experience for both The Rundown and HotelChatter, and posted photo galleries and a video of my room.

However, while I was there, I also filmed a few little segments around the property, highlighting its unique elements, from the special activities, to the environmental features of the hotel and its sea turtle release program, to the wonderful local, organic cuisine they serve up family-style.

I wanted to put all of that into a single video, much like my other Frontiers travel ones, so that you could get a feel for the experience I had there, and why it's so special. It's not very long, but it gives you an inside look at Playa Viva. Who knows, maybe you'll even want to spend your next vacation there too!

Link: http://www.frontiersweb.com/Video/View.aspx?PostID=32916

Monday, November 29, 2010

HotelChatter: Montreal's Hotel Chez Swann

It's been a couple weeks since I posted an article on my trip to Canada in October, and most of what I have written had to do with the organized part of my trip in Toronto. But if you recall, I also spent an evening in Montreal, and I wanted to do one of my signature HotelChatter photo galleries and walk-through videos of the hotel that I stayed in while I was there, the ultra-new, art-focused Hotel Chez Swann.

I mean, I'm a sucker for a good Proust reference, and this hotel didn't disappoint. Especially the humongous shower. Which I'm also a sucker for. I also liked that it's relatively inexpensive (just about $120 a night!) and right in the heart of town in a great shopping and business area on rue Drummond just north of rue Ste. Catherine.

Meanwhile, check out the other room features (and natty decor choices) from my write up and photos by clicking on the link to my story below.

Link: http://www.hotelchatter.com/story/2010/11/23/133635/61/hotels/Swan_ing_Around_Montreal_s_Hotel_Chez_Swann

Friday, November 26, 2010

L.A. Confidential: Power Players, The Semler Family

Though I normally cover dining (and soon travel!) and the occasional Polo piece (tee hee) for L.A. Confidential, I hadn't done one of their "Power Player" pieces...until I was asked if I'd like to do a write up on one of Los Angeles's best known families, the Semlers.

The Semlers, headed by patriarch Ron, are the irrepressibly quirky force behind Malibu Family Wines, and the very classification of Malibu as an American Viticultural Area. Their ranch is somewhat legend as a film backdrop, wedding venue, and all-round fantastical place that's home to prize horses, zebras and buffalo in the menagerie. Ron also has an incomparable collection of vintage automobiles and carriages.

All that's just scratching the surface of this close-knit multi-generational family, and the sprawling ranch that they inhabit way up in the wild hills of Malibu.

Unfortunately my article is not in the online version of the magazine, but I'm pasting the text below, and you should definitely head to the newsstands soon to pick up your copy before the December issue comes out!

Grape Expectations: The Semler Family

“Dad can take anything—a ranch, a property, even a trailer—and make it into something. He has a vision unlike anyone I know of, except maybe Walt Disney,” says Devin Semler of his father Ron. Maybe that’s why visiting the Semlers’ expansive Saddlerock Ranch in the mountains above Malibu feels like stepping into a fantasy world.

There’s a picturesque horse ranch, garages filled with vintage automobiles and carriages (a particular passion of Ron’s), caves with rare Chumash pictographs, a faux trailer park with beautifully restored Airstream campers dubbed Camp Cabernet, a menagerie of exotic creatures including zebras he gave his wife Lisa as a birthday gift, camels and llamas, and, of course, the 65 acres of grapevines that produce Malibu Family Wines.

All this is even more astonishing considering that when the multi-faceted entrepreneur bought the first 300 acres back in 1978, the area was charred and barren from wildfires. However, he envisioned it as a place where his nine children, ranging in age from 10 to 41 now, “could experience the best of nature while still living near Los Angeles and its amenities.”

Tami would ride her horses through the Santa Monica Mountains. Tabitha would “jump off barns, hike, play, and pretend we were the Dukes of Hazzard in golf carts,” a tradition which the younger generation of kids proudly continues today. Six of them, and three grandchildren, still live on the ranch.

But Semler had bigger plans. He turned the ranch into an avocado farm, and then into a vineyard where Lisa made the first Semler wines in 2000. Thanks to their success, they have since carved out their own registered appellation, the Saddlerock-Malibu AVA.

Devin is no slouch either. He seems like a gleeful poker dealer as he hands out cards for his numerous businesses including Brazilian Blowout, the Argyle Spa and Salon at the Sunset Tower Hotel, a charity for critically ill children called Kids Courage, and his latest project, an artisanal tequila called Karma.

“Dad has instilled passion in all his kids—for business, for family, and for doing what it takes,” says Devin. That means each of the fiercely independent children has been encouraged to follow his or her own path and be productive in individual ways—whether that’s in one of the family businesses or not. Back at the ranch, though, everyone chips in, from setting up wedding events, to coaching the younger kids’ soccer teams, to helping out at harvest and designing the labels for the wine bottles.

“If you’re going to be in the family business, wine is a great one to be in,” says Tami. Sounds like if you’re going to be in a family, the Semlers are a great one to be in.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Frontiers: Santa Barbara & Big Bear Getaways

This week, I got back to basics with travel writing, and covered two fantastic destinations for Frontiers, quite different from one another, right in my own backyard: Santa Barbara, and Big Bear.

Admittedly, I am more familiar with Santa Barbara, so that's why it takes precedence in the article and I give it more space. If you're looking for a great weekend getaway up there, this is the guide for you since I include a bunch of hotels (Canary, Oceana, San Ysidro Ranch), restaurants (La Super-Rica Taqueria, Brophy Bros.), and sightseeing options (the Mission, Karpeles Manuscript Museum, Car Free Santa Barbara), as well as a little tip on where to find the best wine (Urban Wine Trail, and Wine Cask) in the city.

As winter approaches and cools things off, Big Bear is going to heat up as people start planning their ski vacations. I haven't written much about it here, but I do manage to get in a lot of good information including on accommodations, restaurants and activities, so it should give you some great ideas for where to go and what to do. Enjoy!

Link: http://www.frontiersweb.com/Columns/Travel/Story.aspx?ID=1309704

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Rundown: Playa Viva

You might have already seen my write-up of Playa Viva on HotelChatter last week, along with a photo gallery and walk-through video of my deluxe room right on the beach. This week, though, I wrote up the glamping-style eco-resort on Mexico's Pacific Coast for another of my outlets, The Rundown.

Rather than a blow-by-blow account of the resort and its amenities, this piece is more about how to take advantage of Playa Viva as a weekend getaway from Los Angeles, since it's just a 3.5-hour flight (and a world) away! I also managed to sneak in some of the environmental initiatives that set this award-winning resort apart.

Even just talking about it makes me want to be back there now! See what I mean by taking a quick look at my article at the link below.

Link: http://rundown.com/article.php?article_id=1519

Monday, November 22, 2010

Jaunted: British Airways' Galleries Lounge at Heathrow

It's time for another of my Jaunted stories on airport lounges. In the past, I've taken you inside the Qantas First Lounge in Sydney, the British Airways Terraces Lounge in San Francisco, and the Air New Zealand Koru Lounge at LAX.

This time, I take you inside the British Airways Galleries Club Lounge at Heathrow, which I got to enjoy on my last trip passing through London. No video walk-through with this one unfortunately, but there is a whole photo gallery, and a complete rundown of what you'll find not only in the Club Lounge, but also in the three (yes, three!) other lounges in the enormous complex at the shiny new Terminal 5.

To see what's in store for you on your next jaunt through London, go ahead and click on the link to my story below.

Link: http://www.jaunted.com/story/2010/11/17/174625/82/travel/Inside+the+British+Airways+Galleries+Club+Lounge+at+London-Heathrow

Friday, November 19, 2010

HotelChatter: Kicking It Eco-Style at Playa Viva

Many of you have read my reports from Las Ventanas al Paraiso from my trip there last month, but I happened to have the opportunity to go back to Mexico just last week. This time, I flew all the way down to Zihuatanejo-Ixtapa to experience the new eco-luxury retreat, Playa Viva, about 45 minutes south.

My piece on HotelChatter covers all the environmentally friendly details like the solar panel, the water recycling, the local organic farming, the sustainable building materials, and the sea turtle sanctuary on the grounds. It also has a photo gallery and video walk-through of the room, so that you can come along on what amounts to my first (wonderful) glamping experience on the shores of the Pacific!

Link: http://www.hotelchatter.com/story/2010/11/16/12451/511/hotels/Kicking_It_Eco_Style_at_Playa_Viva

Thursday, November 18, 2010

L.A. Confidential: The Old Place

I got a really interesting assignment for the Dining section of the November issue of L.A. Confidential: head out into the hills of Malibu to check out the scene at The Old Place.

Before this, I'd never even heard of The Old Place, but it's been around for over 40 years, and has a fascinating history. It's up in the mountains off Kanan Road, in a flyspeck town called Cornell. The restaurant is housed in a historic building dating back to the turn of the century, and was started in the late '60s's by a man named Tom Runyon (the canyon is named after his family). Despite serving just oak-grilled steaks and clams, with a baked potato if you were lucky, The Old Place became a backwoods landmark favored by celebrities laying low like Steve McQueen, as well as Hell's Angels, and cowboys working on studio backlots out there.

Tom passed away a couple years ago, but his son and a business partner who started the next-door Cornell Winery have revived the restaurant, expanded the menu (minimally), and breathed new life into the place. They still have the same 40-year-old oak grill, but these days, in addition to the celebrities and bikers, you'll find surfers, Malibu families, and even the occasional Eastside hipster chowing down. While I was there, I also talked to a singing cowboy named Billy who, between musical interludes, regaled me with hard-to-believe tales of the area's salacious past.

All this makes The Old Place one of the most authentic places I have ever experienced in Los Angeles, and I'm sure it will be for you too. My article isn't posted online, but you can find the text below, and if you want to see it in all its glory, be sure to pick up your issue of L.A. Confidential soon!


There are precious few places left in Los Angeles where you can find an authentic piece of the city’s checkered past, let alone have dinner. Welcome to the Old Place, which has been serving steaks to Hollywood starlets, Hell’s Angels and Malibu cowboys for over four decades.

Tom Runyon and his wife Martha opened the grill in 1970 in the hill town of Cornell in a turn-of-the-century building on the Mulholland Highway that once housed the post office and Hank’s Country Store. The Kerouac-like Runyon grew up in L.A. during the 1920’s, served as an Army pilot during World War II, and studied writing at Columbia University. He returned to California and eventually opened the Old Place, constructing a saloon-like fa├žade, and decorating it with an eclectic mix of found and salvaged objects including wooden doors from the Santa Barbara Mission. “That’s why the Old Place has true depth and texture,” explains Tim Skogstrom, who owns the neighboring Cornell Winery, and who reopened the restaurant with Tom’s son Morgan after Runyon passed away in 2009.

Stars like Steve McQueen and Robert Mitchum would come here to get away from Hollywood—though old TV and film sets litter the nearby hills. They’d settle into a booth for a dinner of steak or clams cooked over an oak fire, with a potato on the side. That was the entire menu.

These days, local characters and L.A. hipsters alike crowd the bar, and the new menu includes a wild mushroom skillet, rosemary pale ale chicken, and berry cobbler among other dishes. It’s the taste of the real Los Angeles that most folks come for, though.

29983 Mulholland Highway, Agoura Hills, CA 91301, (818) 706-9001; oldplacecornell.com.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

LowFares: Hawaii's Gorgeous Beaches

I have an upcoming Los Angeles Confidential piece on Hawaii to look forward to in the December issue, but I also just wrote a quick hit guide to some of Hawaii's best beaches for LowFares. Not only did I include some old favorites like Waikiki on Oahu (and the Royal Hawaiian), Kaanapali on Maui, and Hanelei Bay on Kauai (and the St. Regis Princeville), but I even found some remote spots on Lanai and the Big Island to enjoy on your own.

As winter sets on, the days get shorter, and the temperatures fall, I dare you to read this without starting to plan your own Hawaiian getaway (at least in your mind)!

Link: http://www.lowfares.com/blog/2010/11/12/insiders-guide-to-hawaiis-gorgeous-beaches/

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

LowFares: San Francisco Destination Guide

My most recent Destination Guide for LowFares happens to be about one of my favorite destinations: San Francisco.

Not only do I cover some of the hotels I've gotten to stay in recently like the Crescent, the Vertigo and the Frank, but also some of the great restaurants I've experienced (and want to experience, like Frances), and the lovely ladies of Carried Away, who showed me some of the city's best hidden treasures like Hooker's Sweet Treats Cafe. That totally sounds dirty, but it wasn't at all--the day I spent with them was enlightening, and that's the adjective I'm sticking with!

Meanwhile, to find out all my picks for SF and what to do there, take a look at my destination guide at the link below!

LowFares: http://www.lowfares.com/blog/2010/11/12/destination-guide-san-francisco/

Monday, November 15, 2010

Jaunted: Barbados Food, Wine & Rum Festival

I know I was just enjoying tropical splendors of Playa Viva in Mexico, but now I'm dreaming of the Caribbean, and one island in particular: Barbados!

That's because this paradise is hosting a Food, Wine & Rum Festival next weekend that's being headlined by celebrity chefs like Tom Colicchio, Marcus Samuelsson, Fergus Henderson and Ming Tsai.

The only downside? That I can't make it there myself! But take a look at my quick post on it tonight--which also has a nice little section on the celebrity chef trend that seems to be colonizing the Caribbean and the moment--by clicking on the link to Jaunted below.

Link: http://www.jaunted.com/story/2010/11/12/2827/7920/travel/Follow+Top+Chefs+to+the+Caribbean+for+Foodie+Festivals

Friday, November 12, 2010

HotelChatter: Photo & Video of London's Athenaeum Hotel

I think from the sheer volume of pieces I've already written about my recent trip to London, you can tell what a fantastic time I had there (thank you, Visit London!). I've already covered various aspects of it for Jaunted and LowFares (with another city guide to come), but earlier this week, I also posted a story about the hotel I stayed in, along with a photo gallery and room video, on HotelChatter, much like my recent posts on 21212 in Edinburgh, and Las Ventanas al Paraiso in Cabo.

From the images, you'll be able to see what a truly special property this five-star, family-owned luxury hotel in the heart of Mayfair truly is, and how much I enjoyed staying there.

Link: http://www.hotelchatter.com/story/2010/10/28/1415/8320/hotels/Inside_The_Athenaeum_Hotel_in_London

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Jaunted: Flights on a Flight, Air New Zealand's Wine Program

With this story, I got to combine two of my favorite interests, travel and wine! I got to write a bit about the food and beverage programs for V Australia and LAN based on trips I took with those airlines in the last year, but I'm hoping to begin a series for Jaunted specifically on wine programs starting with this one about Air New Zealand's.

I wrote it based on my experiences flying with them between Los Angeles and London, as well as on the selection of wines in their Koru Lounge at LAX. Not only were the wines pretty solid, but the airline produces and distributes a very handy little wine guide that talks about the particular wines they are serving at the moment, as well as about New Zealand's wines in general, and the country's individual wine regions. I found the whole experience to be quite educational...and it was just plain fun to get to try all these wines.

To find out more about the airline's wine program, take a look at my story by clicking on the link below!

Link: http://www.jaunted.com/story/2010/11/8/182933/910/travel/Flights+on+a+Flight%3A+A+Guide+to+Air+New+Zealand%27s+Wines

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

HotelChatter: 6 Hotel Jobs That Are Better Than Yours

This was definitely one of the more fun HotelChatter stories I've written in a while. Basically, I had a little brainstorm about a few of the hotels I've stayed in lately and those I've learned about, and focused on ones with unique, quirky amenities, then zeroed in on the people who bring them to life.

That's how I started to make my list of the coolest hotel jobs out there, including the Reader in Residence at Andaz, the Whisky Sommelier at London's Athenaeum Hotel (which will also be featured on HotelChatter later this week), and the Ocean Butler at the St. Regis Princeville on Kauai.

Sound interesting? Those are just the first few that came to mind! This particular story has three more jobs in it, but there are dozens more out there, so I'm hoping to turn this into a little series that highlights some very special people in the hotel industry from around the world. For now, enjoy this first entry, and don't try to tell me that if you got offered to be the chocolatiere in residence at a hotel that you would turn it down!

Link: http://www.hotelchatter.com/story/2010/11/3/19512/1376/hotels/Six_Hotels_Jobs_That_Are_Way_Cooler_Than_Yours

Monday, November 8, 2010

LowFares: Colorado's Winter Park Ski Resort

I'm not much of a snow bunny--in fact, this SoCal native was almost fifteen before I saw snow for the first time! So it's not often, if ever, that I write about ski destinations. I usually prefer sunshine, beaches and wine.

This week, though, LowFares asked me to write a quick roundup piece on the lodging options and activities at Colorado's Winter Park Ski Resort, so I got down to work researching slopes, lift tickets and hotels.

And now that I know what I'm missing, I might just have to plan ski vacation for myself this winter!

Link: http://www.lowfares.com/blog/2010/11/05/exploring-colorado%E2%80%99s-winter-park-resort/

Friday, November 5, 2010

HotelChatter: 21212's Restaurant With Rooms

Whatever you do, don't call Edinburgh's 21212 a "bed and breakfast"! As was pointed out to me in no uncertain terms, they prefer to be called a "restaurant with rooms." So...breakfast and bed?

Well, whatever you call it, you can be sure of finding a fabulous meal there and some sumptuous accommodations, as you'll see from this story I posted yesterday on HotelChatter.

My recent trip to Edinburgh has proven to be a very rich source of story material for me, and I've already written about 21212 as part of an article I did for Jaunted about where to eat in Edinburgh now, as well as in my LowFares guide to the city. This time, I take you upstairs to experience the room I stayed in with both a photo gallery and a walk-through video I filmed, just so you can get a better sense of being there yourself (and see just how big that bathroom really is!). Definitely consider 21212 for a stay on your next visit to Scotland, or at least a meal!

Link: http://www.hotelchatter.com/story/2010/11/2/175036/084/hotels/Edinburgh_s_21212_is_Proudly_a_Restaurant_with_Rooms_

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Jaunted: Video Interview with Air New Zealand In-Flight Concierge

Yet another Jaunted story from my recent trip to London on Air New Zealand!

This one is a video interview with one of the airline's "In-Flight Concierges," Michele, whom I met prior to my flight in the Koru Lounge at LAX. Not only does the lovely lady explain her job and all its fun responsibilities, but she also gives me some of her recent picks of what to do and see in Los Angeles and London.


Link: http://www.jaunted.com/story/2010/11/3/125413/908/travel/In+the+Sky+and+on+the+Ground+with+Air+New+Zealands+In-Flight+Concierges

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Frontiers IN/LA: Rama Thai

I was particularly excited about the opening of a new Thai restaurant near the Grove a month or so ago since we don't have too many great options around West Hollywood. I was even more excited to learn that it's a new LA edition of one of my favorite Thai places in San Diego, Rama.

In addition to talking about the cool design features, and the specialty menu items, I've also included a little guide on some other Thai restaurants around Los Angeles that I enjoy, like: Cafe Talesai, Galanga Thai Fusion, Jitlada (spicy!), Natalee Thai, and Palm's Thai (for the Elvis impersonator).


Link: http://www.frontiersweb.com/Nightlife/Restaurants/Story.aspx?ID=1302801

Monday, November 1, 2010

Frontiers: Melbourne's Eureka SkyDeck

My Frontiers videos continue with this cute little one I made in the all-glass elevator at the Eureka SkyDeck in Melbourne while I was in Australia last May. The Eureka Tower is the tallest residential building in the Southern Hemisphere, and the SkyDeck is the highest public vantage point in the SH as well. As you'll see, it's also just a plain, fun, wacky experience to have in Melbourne, and one of the city's most popular tourist attractions. I hope you enjoy as much as we did!

Link: http://www.frontiersweb.com/Video/View.aspx?PostID=31429