If you’re looking for a cozy cafe with a Euro/Middle Eastern vibe then head over to the Casbah Cafe in Silver Lake, one of LA’s artsy neighborhoods just east of Hollywood. The decor is adorable with lanterns dangling from the ceiling and eclectic goods imported from around the globe to quaint tables in small alcoves covered with vines outside. Our recommendation – have the walnut baklava and mint tea while people watching. :)
Check out one of the premier ski shops on the West Coast which surprisingly is located a few minutes from Santa Monica Beach. Winter sports fashionistas get ready to see some hot ski apparel!
If you’re in the Big Apple and you’re craving that friendliness and warmth found in the Midwest, head on over to Fedora, a quaint restaurant & bar located in Manhattan’s West Village where everybody knows your name.
New York City is one of the greatest cities in the world. Its historic harbors & Lady Liberty once greeted millions of immigrants to the land of opportunity. Today it boasts a diverse genetic makeup where hundreds of languages are spoken and there’s no shortage of things to do with a wealth of sightseeing from monuments, museums, restaurants & nightlife. It’s also a major financial, fashion & entertainment center. Here are some highlights to help navigate the Big Apple.
When it comes to shopping you could do it until you drop! The West Village has some hidden gems. French jeweler Andre Gas’ handmade costume pieces from Marseilles are housed at Gas Bijoux, a vibrant, quaint boutique on Bleecker Street. A few subway stops away in SoHo is where more fantastic shops await that are not yet found nationwide: Uniqlo, Iradj Moini & Sabon. Uniqlo has basic silhouettes that every wardrobe should have at fabulous prices. If you want chunky baubles stop at Iradj Moini, Mr. De La Renta’s former jewelry designer. His current collection contains jeweled insects. The boutique also carries python handbags and colorful clutches by various designers. When it comes to pampering your body, explore a variety of fragrant, moisturizing products from Israeli based company, Sabon. The products are inspired by the Dead Sea & contain ingredients derived from nature. The best part is being able to sample the scrubs over the stone carved fountain. Their Ginger Orange Body Gel Polisher & Body Lotion are my favorite.
If you’re looking to satisfy your palette, there is an international array of top notch cuisines to choose from. I decided to roam the streets of Little Italy where the scent of garlic & olive oil permeated the air. In searching for a tasty pizza margarita I stumbled across Sofia’s Vino e Cucina which did not disappoint. If you want unbelievable chicken parmigiana or lobster, make sure to stop at The Palm, one of New York’s legendary restaurants.
The nightlife is unrivaled and one will quickly see why NYC has been dubbed “The City that Never Sleeps” as venues stay open into the early hours. No. 8, formerly Bungalow 8, recently re-opened and the evening I stopped by they were playing an eclectic mix of ’80′s & ’90′s music that had everybody dancing. A hop, skip & jump away is The Dream Hotel with two clubs, PH-D in the penthouse with glamorous views of the city & the super exclusive Electric Room in the basement. Darby & One Oak are two must-sees if you’re in the mood for mingling with statuesque models. The Pink Elephant boasts a large plush pink elephant that takes over the dance floor. Employees Only in the West Village, is known for its great-looking bar staff, cozy atmosphere & yummy food. If you manage to stay til closing time they give you a complimentary homemade soup.
If you want to escape the concrete jungle for the ocean opt for a quick weekend getaway to the Hamptons. You’ll find plenty of parties & people dressed in preppy, colorful attire as if they just walked off a Tommy Hilfiger photo shoot. For a more peaceful getaway, travel to the furthest eastern point to Montauk. It’s a tranquil, family-oriented fishing town that’s quickly becoming the next sought after vacation destination. Harvest on Fort Pond has fabulous Italian cuisine served family style. The harvest caesar salad, grilled pizzas, garlic shrimp & spaghetti & vanilla gelato creme puffs are to die for. As you eat you can watch the sun set over the twinkling pond.
For the historian in you, embark on the Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island tours. I personally enjoyed walking the halls of Ellis Island and learning about the immigrant experience. If you want a more entertaining history lesson, head over to Coney Island in Brooklyn. Take a stroll alongside the beach’s boardwalk and one of the oldest amusement parks in the nation. Check out the historic rides: The Wonder Wheel ferris wheel constructed in 1918 & The Cyclone roller coaster from 1927. (See “Willamsburg’s Hidden Treasures” for additional Brooklyn activities)
To continue on more of an educational tour, definitely check out the MoMA, Met or Guggenheim museums.
Last but not least, for that surge of energy, step into Time Square to be dazzled by the neon lights and catch a Broadway show.
Williamsburg, one of Brooklyn’s trendiest neighborhoods, is where I discovered some great little places. It’s an area of contrasts with glittering modern apartment buildings, juxtaposed with dilapidated structures which are quickly undergoing a rejuvenation process. Bedford, one of the main streets, has fun boutiques. My favorite is Norbu which carries unique jewelry. If you want a cocktail, I suggest grabbing a drink atop the Wythe Hotel, an industrial building that’s been transformed into a rustic boutique hotel with amazing views of NYC! Then head on over to Cafe Mogador for Moroccan food. The chicken tagine is flavorful with traditional herbs & spices along with couscous, followed by a delicious pot of Moroccan mint tea. Finally, you can wrap up the evening with a leisurely stroll on the Northside Piers with views of Manhattan across the East River.
When it comes to travel, people often overlook the Midwest. Here are two destinations worth checking out.
Milwaukee, known as “A Great Place on a Great Lake,” usually conjures images of cheese, beer, Harleys and Happy Days, but there’s more to this city than that. The downtown area overlooks glittering Lake Michigan and has been undergoing many transformations over the years. An area once dominated by warehouses, known as The Historic Third Ward, now has beautiful condos, boutiques and restaurants. Further along the lake one finds scenic biking paths, paddle boat rentals and the beach. The lakefront is also home to summer festivals. Many celebrate the ethnic diversity of the city, but the one that stands out is Summerfest, known as “the largest music festival in the world.” Nightlife is more simplistic compared to other major cities. You can easily hop around from place to place without a hassle.
One of the grand attractions is the architectural gem perched on the lake, the Milwaukee Art Museum, constructed by world-renowned architect Santiago Calatrava. To me it resembles a ship and a bird simultaneously with wings that open & close throughout the day. If you happen to be passing thru the city, you’ll enjoy the main exhibit now on display thru September 9th entitled “Posters of Paris: Toulouse-Lautrec & His Contemporaries.” It showcases bright posters that were once strewn across the Parisian boulevards, essentially the first advertisements which enticed people to go to entertainment venues and indulge in consuming a variety of products.
Up next is the Windy City – Chicago, Milwaukee’s neighbor to the south. Chicago, the third largest city in the States is also situated on Lake Michigan and has one of the greatest skylines. It’s a powerful industry hub with a wealth of attractions. There’s Millennium Park, a great public park with its famous steel sculpture “The Bean” and Crown Fountain, followed by Navy Pier, an outdoor entertainment area with its famous ferris wheel, and we mustn’t forget the Magnificent Mile with its amazing shopping. Another must-see landmark nearby is Buckingham Fountain, one of the largest fountains in the world. If you simply want some R&R, head over to the beach close by.
Then there’s the many ethnic dining districts. My personal favorite is Greektown where I enjoy grabbing gyros with cheese fries. If you want something really unique, head over to Alhambra Palace where you feel as if you’ve been transported to the Middle East with belly dancers, hookahs & ethnic dishes! However, Chicago is known for the deep dish pizza and Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria is where I experienced what is considered to be the best in town. Normally I’m a fan of thin crust pizza like in Europe, but this is the first place I enjoyed the thick crusted pizza pie
Finally, there are the fabulous views! I recommend making a reservation at the Signature Room atop the John Hancock building for a drink & appetizers. The one place I still have yet to explore is Skydeck Chicago, formerly called the Sears Tower. It’s the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and has The Ledge, a glass floor observation area 1,353 feet above the ground!
If you can’t afford a lavish getaway, why not opt for a quick weekend trip. A few friends and I were on a budget and time constraint so we decided to explore California’s breathtaking Santa Ynez Valley and surrounding unique towns along the Central Coast. Here are some of my recommendations if you find yourself in the vicinity.
We started off our excursion with tours and wine tastings at two of the local vineyards, Talley and Edna Valley. For less than $20, you could taste a handful of flavorful, fragrant wines and take tours which explained the vine to bottle process and gave us a great appreciation for winemaking.
A nearby must-see destination is San Luis Obispo, voted “The Happiest Place in America” and I quickly saw why! The sun was shining, it was located near vineyards, the ocean and was essentially constructed to be a pedestrian friendly, commute free town. Main Street runs thru the center with fun shops and restaurants. A unique landmark sits right off of it named Bubblegum Alley, which is a narrow pathway that has decades of gum piled the length and height of the walls. As I walked thru, I noted that the surrounding air had a scent that ranged from fruity to minty. I couldn’t resist so I added my own piece of gum to the wall so that I could be a part of this strange ritual.
Another one of my favorite places was Solvang, a small Danish town that was established in 1911. The architecture was beautiful and made me feel as if I was in a small European town with quaint shops and windmills. The bakeries and restaurants serve native dishes. If you have a sweet tooth then you have to indulge in the Danish waffles. They’re a crisp puff pastry with buttercream and raspberry filling – need I say more Definitely skip the Hans Christian Anderson Museum as it was tiny and uneventful. Instead, take a leisurely stroll along the streets or a horse drawn carriage to explore the town.
Foodies can indulge their taste buds in a wealth of ethnic cuisines in the Big Apple, but with so many amazing choices, it can feel impossible to decide where to go. Walking down the busy NYC streets I kept overhearing people chatting about Eataly, a 50,000 square foot marketplace for all things Italian and it sounded like the perfect place to explore.
Upon entering the space, which houses specialty counters, stores and restaurants with food from every Italian region, it was a bit overwhelming with swarms of people, but definitely worth it!
I did my share of taste-testing and found that I just couldn’t go wrong! Some of my recommendations: the eggplant dish from the vegetable restaurant, the parmesan cheese & prosciutto from the counters nearby & hazelnut gelato from the gelateria.
Planning for New Year’s Eve can be a bit stressful every year. Do you A) go all out and ring it in with a bang in some exotic locale or B) stay at home with loved ones to avoid sky high prices, large crowds and chaos. Nothing is wrong with either option. I’ve done the big productions and the low-key route.
Tanja and I had nothing planned when three days prior to the ball dropping on the arrival of 2011 we were presented with an unbelievable opportunity! A friend invited us to the Grand Opening of the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas where we would get to attend the Jay-Z & Coldplay concert! It didn’t take too long for us to make a decision as next thing I knew, we found ourselves in Sin City.
Everything seemed magical upon arriving at the Cosmopolitan. There was a fragrant scent emanating from the lobby and beautiful sky-high pillars that projected artistic images that dazzled the entryway. The hotel was beautiful and two of the must-see areas within it were The Chandelier, a stunning multi-story chandelier which housed various cocktail lounges and the Marquee Nightclub, with it’s massive LED screens by the dance floor.
The NYE concert was a black tie, star-studded affair. Gwyneth Paltrow, Cameron Diaz and Oprah’s BFF Gayle King were some of the celebs in attendance. The performances did not disappoint. Jay-Z tore the house down with numerous surprise collaborations with Kanye West, Beyonce and John Mayer and Coldplay mesmerized the audience with its amazing sounds.
All in all, it was an unforgettable once in a lifetime experience and we feel blessed to have been allowed to partake in the event.