Weekend in LA

Anniversary Escape, part 1

“Weekend in L.A.”

In celebration of our 25th wedding anniversary and my husband’s 50th birthday, we had planned a trip to Hawaii for the first two weeks in September.  Unfortunately, un unprecedented TWO hurricanes also decided to threaten the Hawaiian Islands over Labor Day weekend, so we had to make some last-minute adjustments in the itinerary – substituting a weekend in Los Angeles for our stay in Oahu.

Annie on the beach

Considering the LA portion of the trip was planned on VERY short notice (less than 48 hours prior to departure), it turned out to be a fabulous weekend in a place we probably would never have visited otherwise.  I got a great last-minute deal on a two night stay at the Ritz-Carlton Marina del Rey, which is just 15 minutes from the Los Angeles airport, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone looking for a brief stopover like ours.

Ritz Carlton view

We flew from Boston on Friday morning, and landed at LAX just after noon. First impressions weren’t great, as the Hertz counter was swamped that holiday weekend, and the line wrapped around the inside of the building. When we finally got our car, we tried to hit an In N Out Burger on our way to the hotel, but that parking lot was absolute chaos as well, so we decided to just go check in.

Once we arrived at the Ritz Carlton, all was forgiven!  They welcomed us graciously, upgraded our room, poured us some celebratory champagne, and promised to deliver the bags while we went and had some lunch. The hotel restaurant staff was equally amazing. They chatted with us about LA, gave us some great restaurant recommendations, and were so excited about our onward plans to Hawaii that they treated us to complimentary Mai Tais 🙂 Not a bad way to start the weekend!

Mai Tai #1

After lunch, we freshened up and headed out for a drive south down the coast. We stopped in Manhattan Beach to walk around the pier and the shops, drove through some adorable neighborhoods along the coast (Hermosa Beach, Redondo Beach, Palos Verdes) and then had a quick dinner in a local pizza place and went back for an early bedtime. The hotel had left us a bottle of champagne and a very nice anniversary note 🙂

Manhattan Beach

Not yet having adjusted to the time difference, we were up and out EARLY on Saturday morning for some more sightseeing.  We grabbed breakfast at a nearby Panera and headed into the city to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and the Walk of Fame (touristy, but you have to do it, lol); drove through Hollywood; and visited Griffith Park for the gorgeous views over the city and the obligatory photos of the Hollywood sign (I really wished we were dressed for a hike, as there were tons of people out enjoying some exercise on a sunny Saturday).

Griffith Park view 2 Griffith Park view

After that we wound our way down Rodeo Drive and poked around Beverly Hills; we spent some time sunning ourselves at the Santa Monica Pier, and strolled the Third St Promenade, stopping for fish tacos for lunch.  That afternoon, we took a scenic drive through the surrounding canyons and hills, and then headed back through Venice Beach to the hotel.

Rte 66 santa monica sign Ferris wheel at santa monica pier LA Santa Monica pier

Back in Marina del Rey, we grabbed a quick nap, and then wandered around the marina to daydream about boats. The weather was absolutely perfect (75 and sunny), and we enjoyed a cocktail and some great So-Cal people watching at the pool bar 🙂  We had dinner reservations at Moonshadows  in Malibu, so we took a little drive through Malibu before our sunset dinner overlooking the Pacific.


The food was good, the atmosphere was lovely, and I would definitely recommend it.  The traffic on the Pacific Coast Highway heading back that evening was rough. Couldn’t face that every day, but we really enjoyed being Californians for a weekend!

California Dreamin’

Long-time clients Linda and Fred had a conference in San Francisco and wanted to extend their stay by adding a quick road trip down the coast with some friends. I helped them plot out an “escape” that included a little bit of everything (from food/wine, to Pacific beaches, wildlife and scenery) and it sounds like it was a hit!

Hi Ann – now that I have a few minutes wanted to give you some more details. The trip was absolutely fantastic.  Paso Robles is a beautiful town. Usually we are not big fans of riding in the car but the scenery from SF to Paso was just beautiful — lots of farms and hills.  We had lunch in a small restaurant called Berry Hill Bistro (great Paninis  and good wine.)  Walked around for a short time (wish we had more) but wanted to get to Hearst Castle before it closed and wanted to see the sunset on the Pacific.  The Castle was amazing with spectacular views.


Checked into the Pelican Inn — what a wonderful place, right on the ocean — we made it in time to watch the sunset and it was breathtaking.  We were still full from lunch so we enjoyed the complimentary wine, veggies, cheese tray and dessert.  The room was beautiful with a gas fireplace. It was really nice to relax in front of the fire after the hustle and bustle of  San Francisco. Had our complimentary breakfast, walked along the beach, and on to Monterey.


We stopped along the way to see the elephant seals and then went to Big Sur (Julie Pfeiffer Burns State Park, which was recommended by someone in SF) it was beautiful and then we stopped at Nepenthe for lunch ( extraordinary views of Pacific and mountains) which I highly recommend. It is supposed to be beautiful at sunset.


The hotel in Monterey (Monterey Plaza Hotel and Spa) was perfect — overlooking the harbor  with the seals and otters frolicking in Monterey Bay right outside our room.  We had dinner in the hotel and the next day we explored Monterey in the AM and then Carmel in the afternoon. We had breakfast every morning on our hotel balcony overlooking the bay. The hotel was fabulous! I had been told we might be able to see whales in Monterey Bay (one thing I wanted to see was whales) It looked like it wasn’t going to happen but we woke the morning we were leaving and I overheard some people talking about seeing something big in the harbor. I jumped into my clothes, grabbed the binoculars (provided in every room) and ran downstairs.  There they were  3 whales spouting and breaching in the harbor.  I was in awe.


We left and went to Henry Cowell State Park to see the Redwoods. They were beyond my expectations.  We had time before our flight so we headed back to SF for what we hoped would be a walk across the  Golden Gate bridge however it was jam packed and we couldn’t get close.  We still had time so we backtracked to Half Moon Bay which was where you were going to have us stay if we were staying an extra day.  Beautiful trip there — fabulous views of the Pacific.  We found a restaurant on the beach  where we sat for 3 hours enjoying a fire pit  outside and having a very leisurely dinner waiting for the sunset.  We even met a woman from RI who had been in CA for 40 years. We enjoyed our last sunset over the Pacific and headed back to SF for our trip home.

So, again, thank you for  your help and expertise in another trip of a lifetime. The weather was perfect and we thoroughly enjoyed everything in and out of San Francisco. It was perfect.



California Dreamin’

Not sure if you got the memo, but California was BIG this year! I had easily half a dozen clients ask for California coast road trips this summer, and I was more than happy to oblige:) There’s so much to see and do in that stretch of coast from San Francisco to L.A. that it can be tailored to anyone’s specific tastes and interests. Here’s a trip report from Kevin and Sue, whose trip happened to coincide with the August earthquake in Napa:

Hi Ann.  We had a terrific time on our California vacation!  

We did experience the earthquake, but it luckily ended up being—exactly as you put it—just a good travel story.  The “funny” part of it was my wife Sue’s initial reaction.  We were in bed, as the quake happened just before 3:30 in the morning. Sue’s first words as the bed started shaking moderately were, “Kevin, what are you doing?”—said in a slightly annoyed tone!  I sat up and said, in a surprisingly calm voice, “I’m not doing anything, and I’m pretty sure this is an earthquake.”  The shaking lasted for what seemed like about 15-20 seconds.  I do feel bad for the folks up in Napa who experienced the brunt of it, but as far as we could tell, San Francisco itself suffered no damage at all.

The Jet Blue flights were good both ways.  I think they are my favorite domestic airline at this point.  We also enjoyed excellent weather during the trip.  It seemed like every day was a mix of sun and clouds, temperatures during the day in the low 70s, cooling to about 59/60 at night, and no rain.

Kevin Grady 2

The Prescott Hotel in San Francisco was fine for our purposes—good central location, clean accommodations, friendly and helpful staff, comfortable bed, plus continental breakfast and a daily cocktail hour included.  (We only took advantage of the cocktail hour one day because we were out and about so much).  It is an older building and some of the furnishings are a little dated, but we were content there. I would rate it overall as about a 3.8 or 3.9 out of 5 stars.  Sue and I both loved the city of San Francisco.  It felt a lot like Boston to us, except for all the steep hills there!  One thing we learned is that the famed cable cars are not at all useful on summer weekends.  Lines to get on a cable car during the weekend ranged from about 30 minutes to 2 hours!   

Kevin Grady 1

We enjoyed Fisherman’s Wharf; Alcatraz was great; we took an enjoyable Segway tour; walked down Lombard Street (it was not as pretty as it apparently is in the Spring, but it was still cool), went across the Golden Gate Bridge a couple of times, had lunch one day in Sausalito; and walked through Muir Woods.  We absolutely would go back!  Here are a few restaurants we liked—Scoma’s (seafood at Fisherman’s Wharf), Jeanne D’arc (good reasonably priced prix fixe French food including a soufflé—but it’s a small and very quirky setting–located in  the basement of a hotel and decorated like a cross between a castle and a church); and Ristorante Milano (very small neighborhood Italian restaurant, with excellent homemade pastas including lasagna and gnocchi).

We very much enjoyed the drive south to Monterey!  The Jeep worked out fine.  We loved our accommodations at the Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa.  The room and bed were very comfortable; we had a great view of the ocean right below (including sea otters frolicking); and the staff were all friendly and helpful!  The spa there was excellent—we took advantage of the two rooftop hot tubs each day and each of us had a massage on the last day!  The restaurant in the hotel had good food and a first class ocean view.  I would rate the hotel overall about a 4.3 or 4.4 out of 5. 

Kevin Grady 3

We enjoyed the Monterey Aquarium; we went horseback riding on the beach; we walked around Carmel and had a drink at Clint Eastwood’s Mission Ranch (he apparently shows up a lot and plays the piano there, but we did not see him that day); we loved the 17-mile drive at Pebble Beach and then the drive down to Big Sur (had lunch on the way at a restaurant called Rocky Point—good food (not exceptional but good) and just an outstanding/fantastic view, where we saw a number of whales from our table!)


Kevin Grady 4

Bottom line—our trip was an unqualified success!  We are very glad we went; we would do it again; and we would recommend it to anyone!

Thanks again for your help putting it together, Ann!!

Maybe it’s time to think about planning the NEXT vacation!!!





Our Group Escape to Napa

cabernet season

At long last, the details are all in place for our “Group Escape” for 2014  —  a delicious exploration of Napa Valley, California — from September 21st to the 26th!  [Napa flier]

As always, this will be an intimate group of clients/family/friends (no more than 12 people total), with a custom-planned itinerary that you can’t find anywhere else. We’ll be staying in a luxurious boutique hotel in the heart of Napa (the Andaz Napa), and we’ll spend three full days touring the region with a very knowledgeable guide, indulging in all sorts of food- and wine-related activities. Because there’s only so much sipping and tasting you can do, I also built in a full day at leisure in Napa for shopping, spa, etc.  And it would be very easy to add on your own pre- or post-tour weekend stay in San Francisco.

The $2,350 per person price includes five nights’ hotel accommodations (double occupancy), daily breakfast, two dinners, one lunch, and three full days of touring (transportation, guide, admission fees, etc.).  Space is limited, and our group trips typically sell out, so give me a call to reserve your spot. 401.270.4834





You provided excellent guidance for us. I appreciated that you really had us think about what was most important to us when we were selecting the right cruise – and not to totally focus on what other people had to say. THANK YOU for helping to make this a memorable trip for our family! It really was a trip of a lifetime!

Clare and Mark (family cruise to Alaska)

The level of service we experienced was out of this world (and we did NOT make it easy on Ann). We weren’t quite sure where we wanted to go, when we would be able to go, or what “vibe” we were going for. After asking us some key questions (what we liked, didn’t like, why, etc.) Ann helped us narrow down our trip details and planned the honeymoon of our dreams. She helped book some of our excursions, answered some emergency questions while abroad and was always available/willing to help. I think it’s safe to say we won’t be using anyone else for future travel planning – Ann is a rockstar!

Carli (Italy and Spain)