Catie – Northern California – Sonoma County and Monterey County
Sonoma County is about 1.5 hours from the San Francisco airport. Monterey is 90 minutes from the other direction.
I always stay in the town of Healdsburg when I visit Sonoma. It’s a quaint little town where you can walk around with great food, shopping, and wine tastings. We stayed in Harmon Guest House in Healdsburg. It is the newest addition to the acclaimed Hotel Healdsburg and H2 Hotel family. The rooftop bar is the perfect location to gather with friends and take in the Healdsburg views. This boutique hotel offers an urban sophistication with clean lines, and it is eco-friendly. It’s charming and makes you feel right at home. Breakfast is included when you stay at the Harmon Guest House, H2 Hotel, or Hotel Healdsburg properties. (It’s a great value as each room has espresso machines and complimentary snacks. Plus, they have bikes you can use to pedal around town and go to yoga on Sundays.)
TheSonoma Canopy Tour is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will take you ziplining, hiking, and possibly staying overnight, in a treehouse in the Redwood Forest. Get ready for 7 ziplines, 2 sky bridges, a spiral staircase, and a rappel back to the forest floor. One of the ziplines is over 800 feet long! We stayed overnight and made memories that will last a lifetime. Gourmet dinner and breakfast are served in your treehouse if you stay overnight. (Every Yurt has its own bathroom in case you were wondering. There is no shower, but there is a sink and toilet.)
The Fairmont Mission Inn & Spais located in the heart of wine country with luxurious accommodations and a European vibe. There are numerous pools and indoor baths, as well as a sauna and steam room. The WIllow Stream Spa was a much needed treat for all of us. We secured a private cabana with a jacuzzi to use before and after our spa treatment. The elegant mission style Spa is located on top of an ancient thermal mineral spring, flowing from 1100 feet below the surface. Give yourself enough time here before or after your treatment. It’s worth it.
Bricoleur and MacRostie are both family-run boutique wineries in Sonoma County with rose garden views of the Sonoma Mountains.
We stayed at Bodega Bay Lodge right on the ocean and kayaked in Bodega Bay with Sonomads looking for seal pups.
Hyatt Carmel Highlands in Big Sur is located in Monterey County and the town of Monterey. The Hyatt Regency Monterey and Spa is newly renovated, so check it out!
The local restaurant called Mezzaluna isfamily-owned and all the locals go there. It’s 5 minutes from Pebble beach.
We hiked Big Sur and rented electric bikes through Mad Dogs & Englishman and biked Carmel by the Sea. It’s such a great way to see the town. We took a ride to Pebble Beach and had lunch at the Bench. It was perfect.
Colleen – Southern California – Dana Point and Laguna Beach
These two locations are only about 10-15 minutes away from each other.
We stayed in Dana Point at the amazing Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel. We had an Ocean View Suite with 2 king beds. It looks over Salt Creek Beach. Their spa is open 9 am to 5 pm daily. Reserve online or by phone.
We also had our dinner at RAYA, Pan-Latin coastal cuisine by the famed chef Richard Sandoval. The table had direct ocean views. Finally, breakfast at The Market Place is the casual and easy grab-and-go option. It is open on weekends at 7 am. Check The Ritz out on Instagram and Facebook at @ritzcarltonlagunaniguel, and Twitter at @RCLagunaNiguel.
We took a 2-hour Whale & Dolphin Watching Tour with Dana Wharf. We saw a pod of dolphins and even a white dolphin, which is a rare sighting! Two hours was the perfect amount of time. Dana Wharf offers whale and dolphin watching, dinner cruises, sunset cruises, and even school field trips.
The world-renowned Aquarium of the Pacific has been fully reopened at 25% capacity and with safety precautions. It is open Monday-Friday from 9-6 pm and Saturday-Sunday until 8 pm.
We also stayed atMontage Laguna Beach. The cabana reservations at the Mosaic Pool were amazing. Big compliments to the Manager, Renzo! You can also check out the Mosaic Bar and Grille. Additionally, The Drake is a well-known restaurant and is a must-dine-at! You can follow Montage on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter at @MontageLaguna.
Ashley Johnson of Visit Laguna Beach shares that the Laguna Beach ecosystem is highly protected. Along with rules and regulations, there is a kelp reforestation initiative happening.
The Laguna Ocean Foundationis actively doing research to help preserve the Laguna coastline ecosystems. Laguna beach is comprised of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)
Some zones prohibit ALL commercial and recreational activities which involve disturbing the ecosystem and taking wildlife/fishing.
Other zones only allow for fishing for/catching of certain species.
Ashley Johnson also tells us that to get to Laguna Beach, you can fly into the John Wayne Airport. Their free trolley system resumes in late June. You can also rent a car or get an Uber. Their arts festivals, including the Pageant of the Masters, start on July 7th and run through Labor Day. July and August are the busiest months at Laguna, and after Labor Day until about October is when many tourists return home. On June 15th, you can visit with no restrictions.
We love supporting local businesses, so this week we wanted to give a big shout out to Sophy Hotel in Chicago.
A 4-block walk to the L stop, this boutique hotel is surrounded by casual dining and shopping. It is located a mile from both the University of Chicago and the Museum of Science and Industry.
Vibrant, modern rooms featuring colorful artwork and hardwood floors come with seating areas, flat-screen TVs, and work desks, plus marble bathrooms with walk-in showers. The suites have dining areas, minibars, sofas, and workstations. Upgraded suites have kitchens and soaking tubs. Room service is available.
There’s a fireplace in the lobby. Other amenities include a refined restaurant and a cocktail bar with a library lounge. Breakfast is available for a fee.
A family business from Wisconsin. They support local schools and teachers, even providing worksheets that teachers or parents can download on their site.
Specifically tried out:
Dab & Dot Markers: Markers are water-based, which means safe and mess-free for the kids. They are washable and non-toxic. Easy-to-use.
NOYO Crayons: 3-in-1 crayon, pastel, and watercolor. All you do is add water and your crayon art becomes watercolor art! Also washable.
Endangered Species Coloring Books: Not only teaches kids about endangered species, but 10% of profits are donated to support endangered animal relief organizations.
Shop by age on their website: Whether you are a kid or an adult, Doodle Hog has arts supplies to keep you busy on your next road trip!
Other available products: Watercolor pens, paint kits, sketch pads, tie-dye kits, scrapbooking, etc.
Perfect to keep the kids busy in a long car or plane ride.
What’s the tip?
Colleen’s tips for whale watching
What season to go whale watching at Dana Point in California? According to Dana Wharf,
“January to March are the peak times for gray whales…Blue whale season runs from May until November.”
You can catch a glimpse at any time of day…but the calmer waters occur in the morning.
Waterproof clothing is a must. Closed-toed shoes, like tennis shoes–or even better, waterproof boots! Something with grip on the bottom since the deck will be slippery. Check the weather forecast if you’re looking to go on a sunny day.
Have your camera ready. Because dolphins and whales can be quick and elusive, try a fast shutter speed, or if you’re using an iPhone, hold down the camera button for a burst of photos. Charge your camera/phone. The trips can be a couple of hours!
Bring binoculars if you have them.
If you get motion sickness, keep hydrated and look at something stable, like an object on the boat or the horizon. Or take medication.
The Marine Mammal Protection Act has a rule to keep 100 yards away from whales, but both whales and dolphins may just swim alongside the boat!
Catie’s tips for traveling to Northern California
It’s all about layering. Bring and wear layers as the weather can shift from town to town.
I packed for this trip with a local store called Luxe wearhouse. They had everything I needed when it came to layering. They are a women’s small business boutique in Vernon Hills and Deer Park. Great prices too.
Do the big touristy activities during the week day, like hiking Big Sur or walking the town of Carmel by the Sea. It can be busy and you may want more room to spread out when touring.
Also, pace yourself at the wineries. In my opinion, pick 2 locations each day of wine tasting. Any more and it takes the enjoyment out of it. Relax and take in the views at places like MacRostie and Bricoleur. Always call ahead early and make reservations!
We stayed at the Hay Adams Hotel. It’s a Leading Hotel of the world and located across the street from the White House. You can book dinner or lunch upstairs and see the magnificent view of the White House day or night as well. https://www.hayadams.com/
We did not rent a car, instead took the Big Bus to site-see and a Water Taxi took us to Mount Vernon . You can also do the Capitol Bike Share.
Water Taxi – Pick up at the wharf and drop off at Alexandria VA.
Big Bus – The red loop is a hop-on, hop-off option Night tour after dinner. The Night Tour begins at 7:00 pm from L’Enfant. Download the app for live bus tracking, stop locations and times for each stop.
Indoor & Outdoor waterparks. Waterpark passes are included with overnight stays. There are 26 waterslides…altogether it’s 1.5 miles of fun!
Spa del Sol is the perfect way to treat yourself while the kids have some fun at the waterpark.. They offer 5 different types of massages, facials, aromatherapy, mani/pedis.
Golf Course and miniature golf available.
An all-day pass to the 18-hole miniature golf course is just $9.95+tax
Poolside cabanas available. Good to reserve ahead of time.
They feature a TV, refrigerator, place to dock iPhone, and even a personal assistant.
The beach, wave pool, kiddie river, and sport pool are currently closed. However, you can still ride the extreme slides, explore the splash pad, or relax in the lagoon.
We went to the steakhouse 2 nights in a row…the best steak ever!
The Dells Zipline Adventures is filled with rope courses and ziplining. Their newest 10-story zipline, Soar Like an Eagle, is a racing zipline that takes you flying down the course, head-first.
We stayed in a beautiful suite with 2 rooms. And it was dog friendly! One of the only Water Parks that allows dogs to stay with you. There is beautiful nature surrounding the waterparks: a perfect place to walk the dog.
Social distancing guidelines:
Furniture has been grouped and moved 6 ft apart
Clear queue lines and social distancing markers
All equipment and amenities are continuously disinfected to keep everyone safe
Easy-to-use fire starter, made with waterproof packaging & 89% recycled material
No need to bring out your matches or lighter fluid when gathered around your backyard bonfire — Just pull a string!
Has it rained? No worries. It will light wet or dry wood. No kindling required.
30 minutes of intense flame… rain or shine, windy or calm nights.
Found at REI, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Camping World, Sportsman’s Warehouse, Amazon, and more.
Easy and efficient for the teens to use, too!
What’s the tip?
Catie- Tips for Visiting Washington DC
Map out your travel.
See what museums are open and book reservations at the museum as well.
6 Smithosonian museums open in Washington DC plus National Zoo opening by May 21 ( national gallery of Art).
Book now for Memorial day, 4th of July or Labor Day
Collen- Tips for Visiting Wisconsin Dells
Plan ahead of time: Take a look at all the packages and deals, and make your reservations early so that you don’t miss out on a thing!
Have a blast at the waterparks…but remember to check out all the other attractions they have. The plentiful tours, the spa, the golf, and so much more will add a diversity of fun to your visit–and will certainly please everyone’s interests.
Grab a map! It can be easy to get lost in those miles of waterslides and ziplines…