The pool is the thing for kids, when it comes to a hotel. Parents want the serenity, views and convenience. Imagine getting all of that at once, as in a hotel located nearby all the attractions you want to visit, with a pool beside a harbor with views of beautiful sailboats passing by. That’s The Portofino Hotel & Marina. My family stumbled upon this quaint boutique property on the water, on its own peninsula, off the beaten path, and we were glad to find it not overrun by tourists but occupied with other appreciative visitors who value its unique locale and attendant amenities.
While this hidden gem is in plain sight in Redondo Beach, a waterfront community flanked by other, more-crowded beach cities, it remains subdued and quiet – unless you count the barking sea lions (hence the sea lion plush animal in every room). It offers just about everything you would want when visiting a hotel in a coastal city — a harbor view; ocean breezes; plenty outdoor activities, like boating, paddle boarding, biking and other recreational activities; and easy access to shopping, dining, nightlife and places you want to be around LA.
The hotel itself is an oasis in the area, with its nautical-chic décor, ocean- and harbor-view rooms with private balconies, and a laid-back luxury vibe, where guests are encouraged to relax and breathe in the Southern California lifestyle. Visitors can unwind in the large lobby lounge, boasting floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the King Harbor and marina, or enjoy fresh California fare at the hotel’s own fine casual dining restaurant, BALEENkitchen, which features its own front-row seating to the Pacific Ocean.
The Portofino has become a haven for both business and leisure travelers, who relish its location on the water but out of the crush and stress of some of the jam-packed LA beach cities. Redondo over the years has relaxed and mellowed with age, attracting those who seek an escape but also those who appreciate the city’s history and its potential for revitalization.
A $300 million waterfront project was recently stalled, but swells of locals and visionary developers see the Redondo Beach area, and it’s historic pier and waterfront, as ripe for new life. Residents and business developers continue to advance plans to recapture some of the city’s history as a renowned vacation spot and create a new look and vitality that will propel the area into the future, as a magnet for those who gravitate to all that the waterfront can offer.
The Portofino is poised either way, to serve as a port for those passing through or those seeking a staycation, where guests can feel the ocean air and look out from their room – or from a chaise lounge by the hotel’s harbor-side pool — and see the sail craft gliding across the water, among paddle craft, and of course, the harbor’s resident sea lions.
Expect to see more of those adorable polka-dotted VW bugs on LA’s side streets, as Pink Dot is buzzing again. The LA-unique uber-convenience delivery service that delivers milk, baby wipes, or even a casual dinner to your door, within minutes, is expanding its offerings and keeping Angelenos stocked up with just about whatever they need, day or night.
For the busy parents, workaholics and other shut-ins, Pink Dot brings the goods to keep you going. If you noticed a few more of the branded bugs on the road over the last few years, that’s because new owner Sol Yamini has dedicated himself to reviving the service that he had grown up on. With a new website in 2017, and a brand refresh, Yamini has focused on Weho and LA delivery areas, operating out of the flagship store on Sunset Boulevard.
The service has adding upgraded items, like sandwiches made with Boar’s Head deli meats and Clark Street bread, and first-ever delivery options, such as a Cocktails on Demand kits.
A bit of history: Before there was Amazon Express, there was Pink Dot. The original owner, entrepreneur Bill Toro, launched the concept in 1987, and by 1999 he had opened 12 locations.. As happens with many great ideas, the company expanded too soon too fast, and by 2001 the darling of LA side streets was on the verge of bankruptcy.
Yamini acquired the stalled out business and gave it some gas. Now Pink Dot is hitting the streets of WeHo and LA again, with a vengeance. With the same buggies but a new look and improved technology to make ordering easy, and tons of new products, the polka-dotted bugs are back, zipping around the city from 9 am to 2 am, getting LA loafers what they want, when they want it, within 45 minutes.
The approximate three-hour drive from Los Angeles to San Diego can stretch to four or more hours, in the wrong conditions, like on a Friday after work, but in the Cadillac XT5 (2019 model starting at $41,695), even the peak of rush hour is comfortable and pleasurable ride.
As a mother who enjoys carting my family around in a larger car, a crossover like the XT5 is an ideal alternative to a heavier SUV. I haven’t gone off-roading yet on any of my vacations nor my grocery trips or work commute, and don’t plan to, so why pay for the gas consumption and endure the rougher handling of a heavy SUV?
The XT5’s lightweight design and structure make it hundreds of pounds lighter than its competitors in the class with no comprise to body rigidity and crash performance, but with far more agile driving dynamics and fuel economy. There’s also no giving up of power, with the XT5 sporting the same 3.6-liter V6 engine that debuted in the 2017 ATS and CTS sport sedans, and is currently used in the CT6.
For someone like myself who enjoys a luxury ride and loads of technology features to make the ride enjoyable, this vehicle is outfitted with everything a mom and kids could want, and more. Long trips and busy commutes pass by quickly with the diversion of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibilities; and as a modern family car, the XT5’s mobile friendliness is evident with storage for both phones and tablets in the center console, with complementing 4G LTE WiFi capabilities and charging ports conveniently accessible in the front and rear seats.
The entertainment tech aside, the XT5 also has safety features that now I don’t know how I lived without. Cadillac’s patented and industry-leading Rear Camera Mirror system enhances the driver’s rear vision by 300 percent, using a video display applied over the conventional inside rearview mirror. A camera records wider images behind the car, streams the image to video processing software which “removes” obstacles such as the roof, rear pillars and rear seat passengers, projecting an unobstructed view to the display.
Then there’s always the creature comforts and touches that make “Cadillac” synonymous with quality and luxury, such as the auto-heated steering wheel. Like its luxury sedan brethren, the XT5 has sophisticated design throughout its spacious interior, with modern elegance and craftsmanship. Even the detail of the stitching in the seats and the leather-covered peripherals are painstakingly crafted, with an interior that is assembled with cut-and-sewn wrapped panels, rather than molded surfaces typical of mainstream vehicles.
Looks is one thing, but comfort is equally considered. Not just for the driver and front passenger but also in the rear, there is extra legroom, and rear seats that recline and adjust forwards and backwards, so even adults riding in back can stretch out. There’s also ample room for luggage.
So, back to my drive to San Diego, to visit the indelible Hotel Del on Coronado Island. The long drive was a breeze in the XT5, and even stuck in traffic for four hours I didn’t mind, because I was streaming an awesome playlist from Amazon Music, using voice controls to text friends, and I didn’t have to worry about burning my gas allowance, because the XT5 has Active Fuel Management cylinder deactivation technology, which allows the engine to automatically switch to a fuel-saving 4-cylinder mode under low or moderate loads.
Cadillac’s Stop/Start technology automatically stop and start the engine when the vehicle is at rest in traffic stops, saving fuel and reducing emissions and noise. As with all Cadillacs, there is a premium on the quiet ride, which is why they engineered the Electronic Precision Shift to reduce noise and vibration.
The only tricky feature of the XT5 was the shifter, which has a button on the side for putting the car in gear. I sat in a parking spot trying to figure this out for at least five minutes before locating the button. While this was frustrating for a few minutes, I considered that this might be a good thing, to deter a curious kid or car thief tried to make a quick getaway. Despite this one hitch, I had no complaints about this fully equipped crossover.
Four hours after departing LA, we arrived safe and sound at the lovely Hotel Del, rested and relaxed, ready for more rest and relaxation.
Before I moved to Southern California, I asked some natives advice on where to live. They told me pros and cons of the major cities, but no one had anything bad to say about San Diego. The more time I spend there, I see why.
There’s a lot to do in this quintessential coastal city, and plenty to recommend it, whether you are looking for a place to land for a short time, or forever. As an LA denizen, I have taken the approximate three-hour road trip to San Diego many times to explore this laid back metropolis that calls itself America’s Finest City, and here are some of my favorite places to stay and dine.
An Island of its Own
While Coronado is not within the city limits of San Diego, this quaint resort island, located across the San Diego Bay, is definitely worth a side trip. Coronado owes its enduring appeal to the forethought of its founders who zoned the shoreline to restrict commercial businesses, such as taco shops or souvenir stands. While there was debate among residents when the 1.5-mile bridge that connects San Diego to the island opened the city to tourism, the island remains carefully developed and has avoided the rampant commercialism of many other Southern California beach resorts.
The In-Del-ible Resort
One of the main attractions of Coronado is The Hotel Del Coronado, a grand Victoria hotel built in 1887 which has been designated a California Historical Landmark. Renowned for its iconic red-shingled spires and the charm of its original all-wooden construction, this elegant and old-school luxury hotel has hosted generations of families, who come back year after year to celebrate its family friendly traditions.
Its most famous attractions, besides its five-star restaurants, Olympic-sized pool and ocean front location, include an antique elevator with an operator in uniform, an enormous Christmas tree in the lobby during the winter holidays, along with an ice rink over the courtyard, and bonfires and s’mores on the beach year-round. The property was recently acquired by Hilton, but for purists who liked The Del just like its been for the last 130 years, everything has pretty much stayed the same, except for a few 2.0 upgrades, like the video wall behind the check-in desks and the swanky lounge music piped into the lobby.
Also on the island is the Glorietta Bay Inn, across the street from The Del and overlooking the marina on the back side of the island. This hidden-in-plain-site gem offers a similar historical mystique to its more famous neighbor and in fact once served as the residence of the Del’s owner, John Spreckels, an ambitious and inspiring mogul of steamboats, ocean liners and railways.
Spreckels left an indelible legacy with the masterpiece resort he built, and the Glorietta pays homage to him by preserving the original elegance of his home. The inn features a presidential suite, with its own elevator, that sits atop the original building with panoramic views of the bay, featuring a vista of swaying palm trees by day and the twinkling lights of the marina at night. While the historic touches are maintained, the rooms feature modern technology, such as a charging bank with multiple USB ports as well as an awesome hi-fi Wi-Fi Bluetooth speaker combo alarm clock.
While the ultra-luxurious beds and other amenities offer visitors the comforts of home, the Glorietta is set apart from its competition by its small-hotel hospitality, such as the refreshing lemonade offered at check-in, a complimentary breakfast each morning to be enjoyed in the sunny courtyard, a kids’ game room and other communal sitting rooms, along with warm cookies and milk served nightly.
Dining across San Diego
One thing there is no shortage of in San Diego is restaurants. Driving through the quarters of the city, there seems to be an endless collection of eateries of every persuasion. No matter what your tastes are, you can find a restaurant to suit your appetite.
If beach casual is your thing, the OB Surf Lodge, located on the corner of Santa Monica Avenue and Abbott Street in Ocean Beach, offers everything you’d expect from a casual beach bar and restaurant. For starters, there’s the spectacular view. The dining room features large open windows overlooking the beach across the street, so diners feel more like they on a patio than sitting indoors. Some nights, the restaurant becomes front row to a free street show of fire dancers and Cirque-du-Soleil-like AcroYoga performers.
Despite the primo real estate, the restaurant does not rely on the draw of the sunsets to bring in patrons but also features a terrific menu of plenty of strong drinks and good food.
They are famous for their Swell Times Mai Tai, topped with a froth of guava foam. The hanger steak and grilled romaine salad are also popular, and for a big finish, the Chef’s Bread Pudding ‘Du Jour” is a regularly changing recipe.
JSix Degrees of Delicious
Named for its location at the corner of J Street and Sixth streets in the East Village, JSix features California Cuisine with Filipino influences from Executive Chef Anthony Sinsay. The modern, lofty space with vaulted ceilings and original brick walls lend a cool yet relaxed vibe, with a bar where the drinks are hip, fun and flirty, like the Designated Drinker cocktail of Greenmark vodka, aperol, lemon, vanilla, berries, and mint.
Chef Sinsay has created a menu of many of his favorite personal dishes like Lumpia Shanghai, Filipino crispy spring rolls served with a garlic chili vinegar – served on a homey floral “grandma plate,” wrapped in aluminum foil, in the fashion of street vendors in the Philippines. The chef makes food into works of epicurean art, like the local melon and prosciutto, decorated with tiny edible floral garnishes and farmer’s market melons, with speck, burrata and espelette.
Sinsay says he is writing a book about his culinary arc, from first believing that his Filipino culinary heritage was not “good enough.” Luckily, Sinsay didn’t get discouraged and continued to hone his Filipino recipies, adding his flair and attitude, to create a dining experience one does not have to travel half the world to enjoy.
San Diego Attractions
A major attraction of San Diego is its hospitable climate, making the city and its surrounding area ideal for all manner of outdoor recreation. Visitors who want to take full advantage of the year-round moderate temperatures and sunshine can enjoy a plethora of activities, including whale watching and sailing; bike, kayak and other adventure tours; yacht cruises; nearby theme parks including Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, Disneyland in Anaheim, LEGOLAND California in Carlsbad, and SeaWorld (which I have forsworn because of the animal shows, but they do have some great rides); a hot new adrenaline park; pick-your-own strawberry fields; horse racing at the nearby Del Mar racetrack; museums and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park at Balboa Park; and shopping at Seaport Village. The city makes the best of its natural amenities, providing a fine way of life for those call it home and offering visitors many fine options for adventure, earning the city its deserved moniker as one of California’s (and one of the nation’s) finest.
Forget everything you know about Indian food when you step into Tumbi. On a trendy stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard, where a common Indian restaurant would not survive the what’s-next Westsider crowd, this upscale craft Indian kitchen is bustling, even on a typically slow week night. Certainly, the food itself is an allure, but the cool ambiance and outstanding service at this Santa Monica Indian eatery round out an excellent dining experience.
Chef Imran Ali Mookhi’s modern twist on Indian faire is inventive and daring, but of course first you must figure out what to order on a menu that seems exotic even to Indian food fans. Luckily, the serving staff is eager to help.
As our server was quick to note, Tumbi is unlike any other Indian restaurant. The menu is a mix of Indian gourmet foods and traditional street food, organized in categories equivalent to appetizers, entrees, and sides, listed as Start, Street, Tandoor, Dosa, Pot, and Side. With a quick primer, we learned that on average people order about five different items from the menu to share.
Even for someone like myself who is intimidated by Indian food, due to my lack of knowledge about it, the server’s enthusiasm and warm manner was inviting, and her descriptions of the food and its preparation made the menu intriguing yet accessible. When the chef learned I was a newcomer to Indian cuisine, he came out to give his recommendations.
We started with a bursting-with-freshness heirloom tomato and caramelized pineapple salad with turmeric yogurt and mustard oil. This we enjoyed with a side of garlic naan. Our server relayed that the nanna bread here is known as “phenomenal,” in varieties of traditional, garlic, and malai.
We followed with a signature dish called Butter Chicken, figuring you can’t go wrong with any dish with both ‘butter’ and ‘chicken’ in the name. The savory boneless leg meat is simmered for 10 hours in a in mildly spicy tomato curry sauce, which adds to the rich vegetable flavor. The laborious process to cook this dish was well worth trouble.
Next we had Apricot Curry Patagonian Toothfish Masala – a soft and flakey seabass steak, which was cooked in the tandoor Indian clay oven. This method cooks the fish at a high heat, with the fat dripping onto the coals at temperatures of up to 900 degrees Fahrenheit, preserving the juices and sealing in the flavor. Again, the means were worth the end result. This fish steak was delectable.
From the Street category, we munched on the Vada Pav & Ildi Fries, which are spiced potato patties with gun-powder seared pav bread, along with rice fries, which are sticks of steamed rice that is breaded and deep fried into satisfyingly crispy treats.
We wrapped up our meal with a delicious crunchy empanada-style dessert, a hard-shelled pastry filled with sweets and nuts and drizzled in chocolate and served with a small dollop of barfi Indian ice cream.
All the courses were presented with artistry that matched the extravagant flavors and spices, inspired by tastes from Rajasthan, New Delhi, Goa, Chennai, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Tumbi is a hot mix of authentic street food with Indian haute cuisine, with a laid-back chic vibe that makes an Indian food newbie’s epicurean journey across India an inviting experience. If Tumbi – named after an Indian musical instrument – is the music of Indian food, play on.
Many of my fondest childhood memories are from summer camp — minus the time a huge hairy spider jumped onto my sleeping bag. That traumatizing incident aside, I loved camping as a kid; but as I have gotten older, and dare I say more delicate, my favorite thing about camping has been coming home and taking a real shower and sleeping in the clean sheets of my own bed.
Now that I have a child of my own, I didn’t want to deprive him of the wonders of camping, but just the thought of sleeping on the ground makes my back hurt. Thankfully, I learned about the compromise of communing with nature by day but slumbering comfortably in a cozy bed at night through an experience called “glamping.”
There’s no room service, though glamping resorts are designed for those who love nature but also crave creative comforts. If five-star accommodations under the stars sounds like your sort of outdoor adventure, here are some SoCal campsites to check out.
At the recently revamped Ventura Ranch, the camping experience includes deluxe cabins featuring indoor bathrooms, kitchens, AC and heat, and other hotel-like amenities, all surrounded by Mother Nature. Guests can rise from their comfy accommodations, walk out onto their private deck and gaze upon a sunrise over a mountain range of greenery, and perhaps be greeted by one of the many colorful peacocks that roam the property.
KOA’s Ventura Ranch’s glamour camping is the best of both worlds for the whole family. While parents relax at the climate-controlled cabin, the kids have plenty to do, from swimming at the site’s new huge pool; ziplining across the camp; bouncing on an enormous trampoline-like Jumping Pillow; tie-dying T-shirts, painting planter pots, launching home-made rockets or otherwise getting creative at one of the camp’s organized crafting sessions; or just running wild or hanging out on the grounds and hiking trails.
The camp and programs were designed with families in mind, with daily opportunities for kids and parents to participate together and have fun as a family, many of which are complementary, such as BYO-blanket outdoor movie nights and a flashlight-guided Big Foot tour.
Though you may be off the grid in spirit, KOS features Wi-Fi at most campgrounds, and even an app that lets you find a campground easily filter by amenities and location and make reservations on-the-go.
El Capitan Canyon
The scenic El Capitan Canyon on Santa Barbara’s coast has sunsets to relish nature abounding all around. It’s the perfect setting to rock climb, hike, swim and enjoy a multitude of outdoor adventures; but for those who want to get dirty all day but clean up and retreat into their own comfy cabin at night, El Capitan Canyon has just the accommodations, from fully furnished yurts to luxurious cabins, with all the comforts of home.
They may be called cabins, but most folks could live in the little cedar home structures at El Capitan Canyon. There are cabins to suit ever taste with features including front porches, vaulted ceilings, master bedrooms with a vanity and separate entry, full baths, ample closet space, luxury bed linens, kitchenettes with a microwave oven, mini-fridge, wet bar sink and coffeemaker. Some cabins offer upstairs lofts accessible by a ladder – where kids love to “camp in.” Upgraded cabins feature a skylight, dual sinks, large indoor shower and access to a unique outdoor shower.
Catering to the glamping crowd, El Capitan offers a number of packages to suit their clientele, with amenities such as cabins with an indoor gas fireplace, a large soaking bathtub. Their packages also include items such as marinated tri-tip delivered to your cabin for a DIY fireside dinner, paired with a bottle of Santa Barbara wine along with wine glasses, a bundle of firewood and a throw blanket, for enjoying a romantic night of stargazing.
Other options include aromatherapy or hot stone massage with essential oils blended from the Canyon Spa Garden. For the kids, there are s’mores kits, mugs of hot chocolate and throw blankets to cuddle up by the campfire telling stories.
And don’t worry, you don’t have to pack all the cookware and supplies that can make camping a hassle. With the fireside meal package, beverages, tableware, and the grilling tools and firewood needed to cook over the fire pit. Or if you prefer you can enjoy gourmet meals prepared at the Canyon Market and Deli.
And unlike camping experiences where a good night’s sleep is something you have to return home to get, at El Capitan Canyon quiet time is enforced as of 10 pm each evening until 9 am, so you can turn in early and sleep in if you wish. It’s just like the Ritz, though you wake each morning to the sweet sound of birds singing.
From first blush I liked North Italia. And yes, that is an allusion to the fine list of vino, but first, let’s talk atmosphere. On a Friday night, the place was bustling. The vibe was lively and friendly. Like a hot night club, there was a line out front door, and the patio and bar were full of stylish people. Luckily, we had reservations, and the hostess escorted us to our table pronto.
While there’s a shiny polish to this restaurant – represented by our party being greeted and seated right away, the ambiance and attitude is casual and genuinely warm. Our server was cheerful and sincerely seemed enjoy getting to know the patrons; in fact, she was so interested in my work as a blogger she sat down with us a while to chat about it.
Despite her taking a bit of extra time at our table, this diversion didn’t impede with the flow at this restaurant, which is a well-oiled machine. Perhaps the orderly management owes to the fact that North Italia is not a concept that’s just off the boat. North Italia has 17 locations, four in California (Santa Monica, El Segundo, Irvine and soon San Diego), though the management doesn’t like the term “chain,” because they don’t feel like one. Unlike many concept restaurants that feel manufactured and generic, Norte Italia feels fresh and genuine.
There were so many appetizers it was hard to choose. We started with the Zucca chips, which were delicately thin sliced and served heaping in a bowl, warm and salty. We also had the Chef’s Board with prosciutto di parma, artisan cheeses, marinated eggplant, roasted pepper, castelverano olives and Marcona almonds. Since three is a charm, we also had the crispy calamari, which was very lightly breaded and grilled and served on a bed of arugula and lemon vinaigrette, making it almost like a salad.
Next came choosing entrees, for which we relied upon recommendations of our server. She advised we must try the house specialty of Bolognese – made by a ranch in Bologna – served with a traditional meat sauce, tagliatelle noodles and grana Padano cheese. After the big build-up on this dish, we were not disappointed. It was zesty, hearty and highly satisfying.
The manager had her own favorite dish to recommend, so we tried that too – the Short Rib Radiatori, served with parmesan cream, fresh horseradish, wilted arugula and herbed breadcrumbs. From the main dishes we chose the diver scallops, served with sweet corn risotto, asparagus, crispy shallots and a pancetta gremolata.
The seasonal vegetable salad was also a must-try, clementine, golden raisins, quinoa, goat cheese, roasted cauliflower and kale, tossed with a spicy Sherry vinaigrette that balanced out the sweetness. Lastly, because the restaurant is well known for their pizzas, particularly their margarita pizza, we had to try at least one, which was the daily special, a delicious variety featuring eggplant thinly sliced on top.
The menu is complemented by a terrific wine list with great Italian wines, from which we chose a bottle of Sangiovese, Il Poggione “Brancato,” from Tuscany.
In addition to the wines, the restaurant offers a full array of designer libations, such as the popular Julietta, made with ginger-infused Smirnoff, with homemade vanilla, fiorente elderflower, lime and prosecco, and served with a beautiful orchid flower that you could even eat if you wanted.
And for true Italianos, they offer a delicious limoncello for sipping. For the nondrinkers at the table, they also had a delicious strawberry lemonade infused with real strawberries and lemons.
While it seemed we ordered half the menu, there was much more to try, which due to limitations in appetite during a single sitting, will have to wait for another timer. Our table was rather demanding, posing many questions about the menu, which our very professional, apparently indefatigable and extremely accommodating staff answered astutely. At the end of the evening, our server boxed up our leftovers with a smile, sending us home with the next night’s dinner and a great feeling to last until the next visit to North Italia.