Should I Stay, or Should I Go?

IMG_0570I grew up with parent’s who took me on adventures. I do not mean that we always went somewhere exciting or new, but they made even the short walk down the block to get slurpees an adventure. Adventure runs through my veins similarly to the way blood runs through; rushing to my heart quickly, and then my head soon after. However, I never experienced the adventures of constant travel until after I graduated from college. Being bit by the travel bug has brought me through unforgettable experiences and leaves me feverish for more. I guess you could say I really and truly relate to Belle when she sings about wanting “adventure in the great wide somewhere” and wanting it more than she can tell.

Let’s back track a bit to after I graduated from college. I wrote an entire post about it that you can read here, but let’s go over the basics! I went to college in Ventura County and had the time of my life. I then got offered what I thought was a dream job back up in the Bay Area, where I grew up. It was in a small mountain town about an hour from my parent’s house. At first, it was an ideal situation. I was working a job that I thought would be something that would last forever, while also getting to heal from some situations that occurred within my last few years in college. I loved it at first, then suddenly, things took a 180 and now I am doing what I do now. And as wonderful as my life currently is, I am starting to feel way too routined.

But this post isn’t just about having a craving for adventure, but more about what the next step in my life should be. Currently, I am studying for the GRE (which I will be taking mid-September so it’s coming up quickly), as well as applying for my top graduate schools, working for the dance company, building my online health/fitness coaching business, and also volunteering at the hospital and breast cancer center…so it’s going to be a busy fall season! However, I will not be attending school until Fall 2019…so yes, I have an entire year to do more amazing things; and I will not waste that year. I want to travel more, experience life more, and give myself some new beginnings.

Initially, my plan was to move back down to Southern California in January. As of now, the schools I want to attend are down in the LA area and I think it there is a possibility of spending the rest of my life there. I love the communities and friendships I’ve made while down there and I love being able to jump in the car and go to the beach, mountains, and city within 3 hours. Yes, I get that in the Bay Area as well, but I think that I have simply outgrown this area. Especially now that a majority of my closest friends in this area have now moved away. I’m itching to begin a new lifestyle; I am ready to move out of my family’s home (even though they are the best), be on my own, and be living in my twenties!

Like I said before, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the life I am currently living. I have a wonderful family, a great job, I’m getting to work hands on with patients, and I am saving money…but the other day I realized that just because the life I am living is fine, doesn’t mean it is the life I should be living.

IMG_0569In the past, I had a lot of fear when it came to living in new places. I lived in the same house, in the same room, until I moved for college. From there I had living drama and some crappy roommates (but also a really great one <3). It gave me a lot of experience but also made me nervous to live with new people and in new places. However, I overcame my fear when I moved back up to the small mountain town because I worked at a camp and lived on-site in a cabin. Now that cabin barely had electricity, had no bathroom, and no cell phone service. This cabin was basically a studio apartment with no kitchen, bathroom, or balcony. Just a plain room. As much as I loved to hate that cabin, I also loved the experience of living in a new town and making new friends and starting a new life..even if it was just temporary. It made me realize that there is a lot of adventure out there and I am young, single, and in need of living my life to the fullest before settling in on a career.

When I start graduate school, it will be a lot of focusing on getting my career where I want it to be. I finally know what I want career wise and I am ready to work towards that…next fall when I start school. But right now, I am not truly sure what is stopping me.  The main things being:

  • Leaving and failing.
  • Money.
  • Disappointing myself/family if I fail.
  • Falling in love with somewhere that isn’t necessarily CA.
  • Not loving where I am living and hating it all.
  • Not making friends.
  • Getting a job I hate.

But these reasons are all “what-if’s”. They are all things that could happen. I’ve always been a planner, and over the past year, I worked on my becoming so much more spontaneous and I love it! But, maybe this is too spontaneous. Maybe this is too much. But what if it turns out to be one of the best experiences in my life? What if it allows me to grow as a person in absolutely brilliant ways? Again, it is filled with what-if’s.

So, what better way to blurt all my thoughts out than blogging? I have so many wonderful people who follow this blog and email me or comment about what I have written. I am hoping maybe, just maybe, I reach someone who has done something like this before. Moved for about a 5-6 month time span in a place where they know possibly no one and have maybe never even been. What would you do? Would you stay where it is safe, where you can save money, and where you can continue your typical routine…or would you change it all for an adventure that may or may not be successful? Comment below or send me an email!

Advertisements

What I Ate During My 6 Days In New York (and only gained 1lb!)

If you follow me on Instagram (@wellnessandwelldrinks), you know that I went on a crazy, whirlwind adventure to New York (Manhattan and Brooklyn) and I want to share with you as much as I can. Food was of course, a major part of the trip and my family had a great time trying all sorts of New York favorites. Unfortunately for me, I do have dietary restrictions due to my adenomyosis. My body needs certain foods everyday, and I need to stay away from many foods including gluten, most grains, most dairy products, and too much red meat. Anything that can cause an abundance of inflammation is not my friend! I was still able to indulge and enjoy even with my dietary needs. And the best part? I enjoyed myself while only gaining 1lb! Most likely from all the walking I did, and that most days I had my Shakeology for breakfast…but it still impressed me. I did not take a picture or write notes for every meal I ate, but I did try to get as much as I could with all of you in mind! So, I hope you enjoy some of my favorite foods, drinks, and restaurants I discovered while in the city!

The Good

GF Avocado Toast from Grass Root Juicery.

IMG_8522This is probably one of the best things I have ever put into my mouth. I will forever crave this creamy and perfectly spiced avocado toast. The most dangerous part? This place was only one block from where I was staying in Willamsburg, Brooklyn. They had so many goodies, but I knew this was the right choice because ya girl needs her greens to function. I was grateful that they could accommodate gluten-free needs by offering all toast on a gluten-free bread alternative. On the menu, it says the gf avocado toast is topped with sunflower sprouts, crunchy seeds, and aleppo pepper…as you can see in the picture, they were very generous with all of the goods!

While I waited for my toast, I looked around the store. They had many delicious sounding juices, as well as a ton of different holistic wellness products. Aka, it was my dreamland. Sadly, the service left more to be desired as I waited over 20 minutes in the less than busy shop for my toast. But, I will say that it was 100% worth it. In fact, it was so good, I ended up stopping by again on my last morning. I got their dreamy avocado toast yet again, and I tried their Berry Green smoothie. What I loved most about the smoothie was that it tasted so natural and I could tell there was no added sugars. The ingredients in the smoothie were filtered water, blueberries, raspberries, banana, spinach, organic almond butter, cinnamon Puffins cereal (which is GF…and delicious.) I was stuffed until lunch later that day.

Overall, I would highly recommend this delicious and nutritious place. I have heard that they have a location in San Francisco as well, so I might just have to drive to SF one day (;

GF Roasted Eggplant and Bell Peppers Sandwich and Side Salad from Fabiane’s Cafe.

IMG_8403Another one of my favorites, but I think I will say that to all of the food I ate…but on a real level, this was absolutely to die for. I love eggplant, but I hardly ever cook it (hmm maybe I need to make an eggplant recipe soon..) But, when it is an option at a restaurant, I almost always order it! I am so glad that I did, because this was just WOW! Fabiane’s Cafe and Pastry is located in Brooklyn not far from East River State Park. I loved that they had gluten-free options all over their menu. Not to mention how cute the location was on the corner of Bedford and N 5th street where there was plenty of people watching to do.

I loved the flavors in this sandwich. Along with the roasted eggplant and bell pepper, there was some sort of cheese and sauce that really brought it all together. The salad was a perfect side salad containing a mix of greens and delicious balsamic dressing. What I liked the most was the bread. It was the best gluten-free bread I have ever had and it was toasted like a panini which made it crispy on the outside but still have a soft layer on the inside. My mouth is honestly watering still thinking about this delicious meal and pretty healthy meal!

My mother enjoyed a Greek salad and said it was also to die for, while my older brother indulged on their all day breakfast Strawberry French Toast. I liked the service, the food, and the location, so there is no reason for me to not recommend it to you!

Avocado Cobb Salad from Max Brenner.

Yes, Max Brenner is known for their delicious chocolate, and don’t you worry…later on you will learn what chocolate treat I indulged in. But, we actually went there for lunch and sadly, they were seriously slacking on their food for those with dietary restrictions. However, that does not mean their food wasn’t fantastic. I was craving avocado and a salad even before knowing my limited options, so it all worked out for the better.

IMG_8548I am not usually someone who eats bacon because I am extremely picky with it…and honestly I am just not a fan of pork products in general. But, for some reason, in New York I had bacon not once, but twice. Honestly that’s more times than I have it in an entire year. So, yes, this salad had crispy bacon and grilled chicken (sorry veggie and vegan followers.) I have absolutely no regrets about this order either. The salad also included chopped egg, avocado, mixed greens, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, bleu cheese crumbles, and a side of citrus dressing. That dressing was a life changing dressing. It was tart, but also added some sweet and fresh flavors to the vegetable heavy salad. What I also appreciated was the amount of protein this salad had between the eggs and meat. I would definitely recommend it.

My family all ordered delicious meals too. My younger brother ordered a BLT, my older brother ordered fries and lots of chocolate treats, my dad had their mac and cheese, and my mom had the chicken Alfredo. There was nothing but happiness around the table and the venue was really cool too. I would recommend this place if you are in the mood for chocolate and all sorts of delicious food.

The Bad

Okay, just to clarify, I mean “bad” as in it no health benefits whatsoever aside from the happiness in my soul. They were not bad at all, just absolutely delicious!

Basic Burger from Williams Burger.

Okay, this was a local spot in Williamsburg that was a couple of blocks from our home base. My family was in the mood for warm food after a day of being caught in a storm, but more importantly, we wanted to be somewhere causal, comfortable, and a spot where we could people watch the locals. Williams Burger (we fell in love with the witty name) had high reviews online, so we decided to take the walk over. It was the calm after the storm, and right when we walked in, we knew this was the place to be.

IMG_8521The staff honestly made this experience that much better. They were warm and welcoming the second we walked in. But it wasn’t that fake kind of welcoming, it was genuine and made me want to stay as long as I could. I took a look at the menu and was pleasantly surprised that a small place like this had a gluten-free bun option for their burger. Score! I ordered the Basic Burger with gorgonzola blue cheese on a gluten-free bun. It came with all the fixings (lettuce, tomato, red onion, and house cured pickles) along with a hardy side of fries. I ordered the burger cooked medium and it was cooked to perfection. I loved how juicy and meaty it tasted (again sorry veggie followers) but it wasn’t overly salty or greasy. It was honestly a perfect burger!

A funny experience we had here happened after I had devoured half of my burger. I looked at my mom and dad’s burgers and noticed my bun was the same as my dad’s but my mom’s looked different. Immediately, my family and I panicked because we thought I got the wrong burger (my mom ordered the same on a regular bun.) It was terrifying because my body reacts horribly to gluten now that I am gluten-free and I had eaten so much of it already. We called the waitress over and she immediately went to check with the chef and manager. They had gotten the order wrong, but luckily, it was in our favor. They gave my dad a gluten-free bun by mistake, so it was all okay! And get this, my dad even truly enjoyed the bun lol. But the staff were amazing about the situation and it only made us adore them even more.

I highly recommend this restaurant for a casual, and laid back night. They had a great beer/wine selection (we didn’t drink, but could have!) as well as many options on the menu. It is a cute and cozy restaurant and I hope to one day go back and experience more time there!

Marshmallow Chocolate Chip Shake and Fries from Shake Shack.

IMG_8638Okay, I know some of you might think this is nothing special, but Shake Shack is an East Coast delicacy and I come from the land of In-N-Out…aka it was necessary to go here and experience a shake for all that it is. This day was my favorite. I ended up seeing Spongebob: The Musical with my best friend Anissa, and after the show she took me to her local Shake Shack. I have absolutely no regrets about the amount of calories I consumed here and can proudly say I will probably never pass up one of their shakes. They are just too darn good!

I ordered the Marshmallow Chocolate Chip shake which I believe was one of their specials. Wow, that baby was sweet. It was the brilliant flavor of marshmallow without the sticky mess, and the chocolate chips added a nice crunch and depth of flavor. The whipped cream wasn’t that gross, “fake” tasting whipped cream, it was delicious and tasted so fresh. (I am not even trying to be dramatic when I write this; I am seriously analyzing their food!) I also ordered their fries because why not? My immediate reaction was that it tasted what I imagine frozen fries will taste like when I cook them…but they are actually crispy. I appreciate good fries because if I am going to indulge in something like that, I want them to leave me feeling on top of the world. That’s what crispy In-N-Out fries do to me, and luckily Shake Shack’s did the same. Not to mention I got to enjoy it with some really amazing company.

Of course Shake Shack is recommended. definitely one of the best shakes I’ve ever devoured!

Coppa Catalana from Cannoli King.

IMG_8512
This was another really hilarious and fun experience. My family is Italian by marriage (my grandmother married into a HUGE Italian family), so we wanted to expereince Little Italy. We wanted authentic food, the delicious smells, the warming accents…we wanted all the cliche and fun. We were not disappointed when we entered Cannoli King. We decided to go here because we wanted some delicious sweets, and I am so glad that we came. The service was awful, but the experience was one of it’s own.

IMG_8513We read the menu probably about 5 times (it’s HUGE!) and we each decided to get something unique. I initally wanted creme brûlée (I know it’s French lol), but fate was not on my side…they were out! So, I tried something that I honestly did not know what it was…but it was gf and I was going for it! Coppa Catalana is essentially creme brûlée, but theirs was a frozen custard and it was absolutely refreshing and amazing. It was a hot day, so the creamy and cold custard cooled me down quickly. The topping (aka caramelized sugar) added a great flavor and texture to the custard. It was different than anything I have ever had, so I really enjoyed every bite! My mom had some sort of homemade coconut sorbet (I tried it and WOW!) while my dad got a sampler of their cannolis. He wished they were bigger, but he still said they were yummy!

But what made this experience the Italian experience we wanted was the owner. I mean this in the best way that he was just like The Godfather. His accent, personality…it was perfect. Overall, I recommend this dessert palace for all of the Italian goods. I wish I got to try their gelato, but during my next trip I will have to!

The Naughty

As you know, I drink. I mean obviously because part of my blog name is “well drinks”…so of course I had some alcoholic treats while in NYC and wow they were one-of-a-kind deliciousness.

Watermelon Margarita from West End Bar & Grill.

IMG_8424My mom, older brother, and I met up with my best friend Anissa before my mom and I headed to my first official Broadway show: Chicago (yes, I was lucky enough to see two shows!) We decided to find a place where we could share some appetizers and get drinks. We came across West End Bar & Grill because it was right near the subway AND theatre. The atmosphere of this restaurant gave me bougie yet modern city vibes and I was loving every moment.

The watermelon margarita was part of their happy hour and wow was it delicious. Not too strong, not too sweet, but just what you look for. The salt around the rim made it even more delicious. In fact it was so good, I had two. We also ordered a Mediterranean plate with cucumber salad, hummus, some sort of dip, and olives…and it was so refreshing and delicious. Plus, their fries and siracha aioli (my obsession tbh) were just as amazing. We actually devoured one round of fries and needed more! Our server was very kind and made our time their even better. It seemed to be busy after work spot for most, but it was one of those places where you just feel really great about the vibes.

I would definitely recommend this place, however I will warn you that their food is pricey. We actually didn’t even look past the appetizer section of the menu, but judging the price and portions, it’s a little bit more than we typically spend. Worth the deliciousness though!

Dark Chocolate Martini from Max Brenner.

IMG_8549I told you would let you know what chocolate treat I indulged in. Again, Max Brenner is a restaurant dedicated to chocolate goodness. I loved how diverse their chocolate menu was, especially that they had dark, milk, and white chocolate choices on nearly everything. They understand the chocolate taste bud diversity!

So, my mom, older brother, and I decided since it was his graduation day (and because we are us) that we would get a drink to celebrate. Now, I am not a sweet drink kind of girl to begin with, so this was really stretching my limits. But, I was there and I wasn’t going to bail out on my drinking pals, so I chose a martini because in the past I’ve had decent martinis. Now, I used to be a huge vodka gal…until I discovered tequila and realized alcohol doesn’t have to taste horrible, but I do occasionally have a drink with vodka in it. I am also not someone who likes the idea of creamy alcohol, in fact it really grosses me out, but again, I was here to try it. I do not know the specifics, but what I do know is that it came in a dark chocolate or milk chocolate option. I will never not choose dark chocolate.

When I was served this delicious drink, I was in awe of how pretty it was and how amazing that chocolate covered strawberry looked. I took a sip of the martini and that baby was strong. It wasn’t awful though, it was chocolatey and good for what it was, but it definitely wasn’t my thing. But, that strawberry is something I will dream about for the rest of my life. It was covered in chocolate with crunchy, crispy hazelnut pieces. I literally savored every bite and was close to tears when it was gone (again, I am not being dramatic…) That was one of my absolute favorite foods I have ever tasted. Just WOW.

Again, I would recommend Max Brenner for a fun, chocolatey experience! If you’re there and drink, try one of their specials for the fun of it!

3 Nights, 3 Different Hotels

Vacation. The time to relax, to go on grand adventures, and to wash all your worries away. Traveling can be fun, or to some like myself a little stressful, but what really seems to make or break a trip is one detail. Where you are staying. How many times have you stayed at a hotel and left feeling like you needed a vacation from your vacation? Or that you couldn’t wait to sleep in your own bed again? Or maybe you left feeling like you never wanted to leave and could live in that simple hotel room? Trust me, I have felt a good mixture of both and I am sure my love for traveling will continue to bring me that mixture again and again.

Hotel stays are honestly an important part of my traveling experience because I am someone who travels alone so often. It is a home base even if it is only for one night, and it acts as somewhere stable during that time. I love when hotels allow me to relax, but also give me a space to get some work done on the go! I also take cleanliness into consideration. I am a bit of a germaphobe, so if I find hairs all over my sheets or a used condom on the dresser (yes, this has happened!)…I freak the heck out! Remember, you are paying for a room that should be cleaned at least up to health standards, so it is okay to politely say that something is wrong (especially if it is that extreme!) Another added benefit is when they have a complementary breakfast option so I can grab some fruit, eggs, or oatmeal before running to my next destination (also a really great way to save money!)

When I went on my most recent trip, a large graduate school exploration down the Southern Californian coast, I stayed at 3 very different hotels. I was lucky enough to stay in nicer hotels due to my work bonuses, but what I was most curious about was how they would truly differ based off of what they offer to their guests. Now, I am sure everyone’s experiences and preferences are different, because let’s face it, we are human. However, I made my own list and rating score based off of what is important to me, especially as a female traveling alone.

  1. Location: Where is this hotel in regards to my trip? Is it out-of-the-way or along the way? Are there restaurants nearby? Is it in a safe area?
  2. Parking: Is parking available? Is it free for guests? Is it safe?
  3. Customer Service: Are staff greeting me as well as answering any of my questions? Am I easily able to speak to a staff member if I need assistance?
  4. Room: How comfortable is this room? Is it clean? Is it private? Do I feel safe?
  5. Price: Was it worth the price? Where there added benefits?

I drove from my wonderful home in Los Gatos, CA to multiple stops in places like Santa Barbara, Woodland Hills, Fullerton, and back up to Ventura. I visited a few graduate school options, loved a handful of my dearest friends, and spent some much-needed time with myself. I stayed at 3 different hotels (and two nights with my girl Christina in her dorm) but what I found so interesting was how incredibly different each hotel experience was. I am excited to share with you my discoveries, reviews, and things that I learned while doing this road trip solo!

The Cliff House Inn – Ventura, CA.

IMG_6671I am not going to lie, this hotel was one I have had my eye on for a long time. I always drove past it when heading back up to my hometown from my college (CSU Channel Islands in Camarillo), but I never knew too much about it. After looking online, I saw that this hotel was within my budget for my trip, as well as in the area I would be looking at 2 schools, so I decided to go for it! I booked this room for Monday, April 2nd, and I could not wait to experience this beautiful place.

My trip started at 7am because I would be meeting with my first grad school at 1pm in Santa Barbara. It was a long drive, longer than usual, but still beautiful and how I always remember it. However, I was exhausted after my 2 hour meeting, so I could not wait to get to The Cliff House Inn. It is about 15 minutes south of Santa Barbara, which was fine with me. It’s a gorgeous drive next to the ocean so honestly it was calming and set the mood for the experience I was going to have.
I arrived at the hotel around 3:30pm and I easily found parking in front. It was right next to the entrance, and later I discovered I would be able to see my car from the window in my room, which was a huge plus. I was greeted when I walked into the lobby by a friendly woman and she helped me check-in. She told me how to get to my room and told me I could ask her anything if needed. This is always reassuring for me, because I often have questions about the area I am in, if their hotel accommodates dietary needs, and if I ever felt uncomfortable, I would want to be assured someone was there for me. I can confirm this statement: The staff at The Cliff House Inn are some of the best I have ever met. I never felt like I was less important than any guests and they truly accommodated all of my needs. If you want to stay in a hotel where staff truly treat you with kindness and respect, this is the place to go.

IMG_6677I entered my room and realized immediately how perfect this hotel was for me. A lot of my readers know that the beach is my favorite place in the world. I love the ocean, the sand, the sun, the sounds and smells…everything. I looked out my window and this, this was seriously my view?! I was in heaven! Apparently all their rooms overlook the ocean and yes, it is really this beautiful! Not to mention how cute the room was too. Not overly updated, but charming and clean. I looked around and noticed that all surfaces seemed wiped down, the bed smelled clean, and the shower had no questionable hairs or marks. I was excited and ready to spend a night in my paradise. I unpacked what I needed from my car, and got settled in.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

IMG_6734I decided to go on a walk, as I was told there was a nice beach nearby. This beach was stunning and I was completely alone as I walked along the shore. I had plans to leave and drive to a yoga studio, but instead I decided to do some yoga on the beach. Wow, what an absolutely wonderful experience this was. If you have never ventured outside of your yoga studio or backyard, I highly recommend it. I felt so incredibly at peace, and the sand added an extra balancing obstacle. I think it is really great when a hotel has places to explore nearby, and this beach hit the spot! I collected some gorgeous shells, and headed back to get ready for dinner.

IMG_6713I went back to my room and grabbed my notebook to write as I ate dinner. The restaurant is attached to The Cliff House Inn called The Shoals Restaurant and it was recommended to have a reservation, which I did not have. So, I went early and hoped for the best, especially because it was a Monday night. Luckily, the server said she could definitely seat me, and she actually sat me outside at her favorite table. The view was perfect. I watched the sunset as I indulged in a glass of Sauvignon Blanc (Brander, 2016) and decided what to eat off the menu. I am sure that everything on the menu is delicious, but I wanted to keep it lighter and get my greens in (let’s face it friends, this isn’t a shock.) I ended up ordering the Organic Mixed Greens Salad, and this salad did not disappoint. I ate every single piece of it and it left me craving more, but IMG_6715
absolutely stuffed. The desserts sounded incredible (they even had a flourless cake aka Emilee friendly option) but I decided to stick to the salad and wine. The service was amazing and I was able to write some reflections about my grad school meeting and watch the sunset.

I slept wonderfully with the window open, and woke up to the sound of the waves crashing gently against the rocks. They had a great continental breakfast, and they even brought out gluten-free toast for me! I was so excited to spread some all natural peanut butter on that bread and eat it all up! Their fruit options were also great, and the coffee was strong and bold without being too bitter. It was a great start to my day before another long meeting. I would 110% recommend this hotel and restaurant. I had an amazing time and I hope that I can visit again sometime. If you need a getaway, consider booking a room at this hotel for around $190 a night. Again, I was blessed to have my work bonuses saved up, but this hotel is worth every dollar!

The Hilton Hotel – Woodland Hills, CA.

Screen Shot 2018-05-03 at 4.52.08 PMAfter a long meeting, a quick trip down memory lane, and a drive along the Pacific Coast Highway then through Topanga Canyon, I made it to my next hotel. I have never stayed at The Hilton, but I know that this location in particular is renovated and very modern. I was curious to see the difference between this hotel and the one from the night before. The location was ideal as I would be seeing some friends from the area, and it was next to the mall where my friends and I were going to grab dinner. There were a lot of restaurants nearby to choose from which was nice.

When I pulled up, I first parked in the loading zone. I entered the building and began the check-in process. This is where I felt uncomfortable. The staff left me feeling very insecure and treated me like I did not belong. I was staying in a more expensive room (the 10th floor; $200/night), and I later found out there were a lot of perks to go along with that, but I was never told this information. I also asked a couple of questions and the staff member acted like it was completely ridiculous for me to be asking her anything. It was not busy, but even if it was, I should be allowed to ask about where to park, how much it costs, and what charges would appear on my card. But, I let that brush off my shoulders because I wanted to enjoy my time in such a nice hotel.

Parking was absolutely awful. Not only was I having to park in a parking garage (as a solo female traveler, this is definitely not ideal), but it was also a decent walk away from the nearest hotel entrance (and I had to pay $20/night). I took my bags inside but realized I left my phone in the car, so I went back downstairs to get it. This is where my fears became real. I was alone and trying to get back on the elevator in the parking garage to go back to the hotel. 5 men were exiting as I was entering and started cat calling me and asking me where I was staying. Great. I luckily was able to smile and ignore it while the elevator doors closed. I reminded myself not to go to the parking garage in the dark. I hate this about the world we live in as it adds extra stress to a female’s life, but I am glad that I am aware and recognize that I need to do what I can to stay safe.

I finally got to the room and had the chance to appreciate its beauty. It was huge! It was the corner room, but honestly felt like a suite. It included a kind size bed, a huge bathroom, a whole desk space perfect for work, and a seating area. I was in love with the chic art and sleek feel. It was very clean, and I liked that I felt luxurious and well taken care of. I would’ve stayed in that room for 2 weeks honestly. My friends ended up coming to check it out and they were just as in awe as I was. The only worry we talked about was the fact that it was a corner room and directly next to stairwell exit. Again, over thinking safety, but I would be an easy target if anyone wanted to kidnap me or something crazy like that. However, I didn’t think too much about that. I was too in love with this room!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In the morning, I realized there was not a free breakfast option which is always tough. So, I ate one of the bars I brought with me and took my time getting ready for the day. I loved the shower and the fact that they had the hairdryer in the room (I’ve found a lot of hotels you actually have to ask for them which I didn’t know). I was able to enjoy my last hour before check-out by just lounging in my room and getting caught up on some blogging work. When it was time to leave, I went to get my car first because I didn’t want to carry my luggage all the way to my car. I parked in the same place in front of the hotel as I had before, and the valet drivers were actually quite rude. They didn’t bother to ask if I needed help, but instead helped the men and women dressed in business suits…I am just not about that kind of favoritism. Especially when I paid the same amount, if not more, for my room. I should receive the same service. Checking out was quick and not recognizably pleasant, but just felt like a routine. I did not mind it though, because I was ready to leave the service behind. Overall, the room was by far the best part of my experience. I would recommend this hotel if you do not mind a little colder of staff, or walking to and from the parking garage.

Amanzi Hotel – Ventura, CA.

IMG_6954After staying in Fullerton for 2 magical nights, driving back up the coast through Marina Del Ray, Venice, and Malibu (my favorite secret beaches are there), I was back in the beautiful Ventura for just one more night of fun with my friends. Amanzi Hotel is located conveniently in Downtown Ventura, and I had a simple time parking for free and even easier time checking in. The staff was kind and actually asked me if I had any questions. I love good customer service (and I get customer service because I have been working in the business for years). I felt reassured of my safety and I was able to go straight to my room with ease.

I walked into the room and it was pretty clean. There was a chair that looked a little funky, but overall the appearance was great. I had a small, yet effective view of the ocean from my window which is a nice touch. The beds and the bathroom looked great, so I was excited about that! I was so excited that I actually took a nap for an hour and woke up feeling so refreshed. I took a nice, long shower and even soaked in the bath for a couple of minutes. I then got dressed in some comfortable clothes and took a walk downtown to a classic beach taco joint, Snapper Jack’s. It was great to be able to enjoy something familiar and unique to Ventura County. If you have never been downtown, it is a great place to explore!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I went back to my room and took my time getting ready to go out. My friends ended up coming over and pregamming before hitting up my favorite bar of all time. Tavern was my college bar, but I plan to always go, even when I’m 80. We had a great time and made some interesting memories (; It was great that my friends were able to come hangout with me without the hotel getting upset or telling me I couldn’t have guests come into my room. None of my friends stayed the night, which was nice because I was ready to sleep and not have to wake up until it was time to leave in the morning.

I woke up and headed straight to the continental breakfast. Not as great of a spread as The Cliff House Inn, but still delicious! It is hard to find breakfast foods that I can eat at something like this because there are always a lot of baked goods filled with gluten, and very few gluten-free options overall. I ended up grabbing some oatmeal and fruit. The check-out process was quick and easy. I was treated with respect and the staff seemed to genuinely care how my experience was. Even if he didn’t truly care, I appreciated him making me feel like he did. I loaded up my car, stopped by my favorite smoothie shop (Blender’s) and enjoyed a nice drive home! For $150/night, I would definitely recommend Amanzi Hotel to anyone looking for some Ventura flavor. The location, staff, and rooms are completely worth it!

Ratings

The Cliff House Inn:

  1. Location: 5/5
  2. Parking: 5/5
  3. Customer Service: 5/5
  4. Room: 5/5
  5. Price: 5/5

Total: 25/25 – I would HIGHLY recommend a night in this paradise! Or a week if you’re lucky (;

The Hilton Hotel:

  1. Location: 5/5
  2. Parking: 2/5
  3. Customer Service: 2/5
  4. Room: 5/5
  5. Price: 4/5

Total: 18/25 – This hotel room was luxurious, but the parking and customer service were NOT worth the price. I would recommend this for business trips, and groups, but not for solo females. I was surprised by this experience.

Amanzi Hotel:

  1. Location: 5/5
  2. Parking: 5/5
  3. Customer Service: 5/5
  4. Room: 4/5
  5. Price: 5/5

Total: 24/25 – The room had a gross chair, but that is my only complaint! I think otherwise it was nice and cheaper than the others. The location is perfection and I would stay there again anytime!

Barrel Tasting in Sonoma, CA.

Introduction

About 2 months before I graduated college, I was told by multiple professors to get myself a job that allowed me to take time to travel and explore. They said, “Take what you learned and apply it to places around the globe.” Sadly, I have yet to go overseas and apply all the knowledge I gained in the course of 4 years, but I do travel. In fact, the week after I graduated I booked a last minute flight to Colorado for 5 days, and surprisingly it turned out to be one of the best trips I’ve ever experienced. I love going places and not having specific expectations. I need to do that more often.

I am blessed to have some strong female friends in my life. So, when my girl Alicia suggests we all come over and spend a weekend doing some pretty extreme wine tasting, how can I say no? A weekend with my girls, wine, and sleepovers? Count me in! So, Kara, Kaitlin and I agreed to drive up to Sonoma on Friday night and spend the rest of the weekend at Alicia’s house. We paid around $50 for a wristband that would get us into some of the top wineries in the county for the entire weekend. Not a bad deal considering it typically costs around $35 to wine taste at a single winery. We were also lucky because Alicia and her housemates graciously allowed us to stay the weekend for free. So, a cost break down of what was needed?

  • Tickets to the Barrel Tasting event (~$50)
  • Gas for traveling (carpooling works great too!)
  • Food (breakfast, bring your own snacks, and dinner)

Honestly, I probably spent under $200 the entire weekend. Yes, I did end up buying 3 bottles of wine at the wineries, but we also didn’t eat out during the day and instead brought ingredients to make sandwiches, and brought easy snacks. I highly recommend always bringing your own food. As someone who has a restricted diet, I try to bring as much of my own food as I can. Of course I generally splurge on dinner, but bringing my own gluten-free bread and snacks was a life saver considering most wineries do not have gluten-free nibbling options. Let’s face it, we were drinking wine all day, we needed to make sure we had something in our system to soak up the alcohol.

Friday (Day One)

Kaitlin picked me up from work around 6:15pm. We headed over to our favorite Greek restaurant, Opa!, to eat dinner before driving. This was a great choice because we ended up driving for about 2 and half hours before finally getting to Alicia’s house at 9:30pm. Kara drove on her own and was also there, so the fun began! We had a classic sleepover that night with a movie and some popcorn. We were all exhausted from work and school and life, so we fell asleep quickly.

Saturday (Day Two)

We woke up and instantly, and I mean instantly, all needed caffeine. We took a quick Starbucks run before getting ready. Let me tell you, we did a great job getting ready so quickly because we were all chatty and trying out new makeup. We also all tried on a variety of outfits and options that we had packed. We knew there would be many picture opportunities, so we wanted to feel as confident as we could!

After getting ready, it was time for some morning mimosas. If this doesn’t tell you how extreme our weekend was, I do not know what else will. We literally pregammed before going wine tasting for 5 hours. Anyways, I actually opened my first bottle of champagne ever! It was a plastic cork so it took me awhile, but when I got that baby off, it FLEW! This moment was pinnacle and I just had to share (;

More of Alicia’s friends and roommates joined us. We had a designated driver and after a couple mimosas (coffee for her), we were ready to go! We packed into the car and started the 20 minute drive to our first stop where we would be picking up our weekend wristbands and getting our wine tasting glass. We had food in the back ready for anytime we needed it, and we had some really great music blasting. The excitement was building!

Rued Winery

IMG_5816

This was literally my first taste of Sonoma County wine. We checked in which took little to no time at all, and then we began tasting. Now, I have never “barrel tasted” before. What this means is we were tasting wine that was not fully developed yet, aka the wine still in the barrel. We also tasted bottled wine, but this just added something special to the entire tasting experience. We were tasting something that most do not get the chance to. Rued had great views, some amazing chocolate treats being sold (and sampled), and some great wines.

Top wine: 2016 Petite Syrah

Geyser Peak Winery

IMG_5843

Say hello to an absolutely wonderful place to take pictures! Yes, the wine was good as well, and they were selling a variety of tempting knickknacks and jewelry, but the lighting at this time of day was just stunning. The way the clouds had a peek of blue and made the grass look incredibly green…we had a full on photo shoot! These women clearly make me so incredibly happy!

Top wine: 2016 Walking Tree, Cabernet Sauvignon

Mill Creek Winery

IMG_0134

Yes, this is really what Mill Creek Winery looks like, and yes, it is in California. I felt like we were in a small, European town, but sure enough we had only traveled a little bit up the road. This winery brings up an important point, that most wineries are family owned and have been passed down from generation to generation. They told us the history of the winery and gave us delicious wine! A really great combination if you ask me, especially because I love knowing history of places.

Top wine: 2016 Roller’s Song, Cabernet Sauvignon

Armida Winery

IMG_0024At this point of the game, I had consumed more wine within an hour and a half than I ever had before, and I was starting to really feel it. However, I could not believe the view! This was one of my top 5 favorite wineries due to the view, food for sale, and the wine variety! We tasted about 10 different wines here, and they were a variety of red and white which was a nice change. I was also surprised how many barrels they had to taste from as well. I think part of it is that they are a bigger winery, which generally means they have more wine. There was also a food stand where they were selling chips, popcorn, drinks, and Alicia’s choice…hot dogs! This was a great reminder that we were going to need some food soon. So, we took some IMG_5818pictures of the absolutely stunning food and headed back to the car where we instantly started munching on the goodies that we had brought. Again, I highly recommend bringing your own food so that when you get hungry, you can just have your own mini tailgate in the winery parking lot.

Top wines: 2017 Chardonnay; 2017 Zinfandel; 2017 Estate Field Blend

Matrix Winery

IMG_5820

This was definitely one of our longest stops. We all needed more food, so we decided this was where we were going to make and eat our sandwiches. So, tailgate round 2? Oh yes. After snacking, we went in for more wine. At this point, I knew I needed a bit of a break, so I only tasted 2 wines. They were however, very delicious! Afterwards, Kaitlin and I took a walk and explored the vineyards a bit. The temperature was cool but perfect for a refreshing walk with some water (; We all needed some time to breathe at this winery, so we took our time and enjoyed it for all it was.

Top wines: 2017 Pinot Noir, 2017 Petite Syrah

Soda Rock Winery

We decided to drive to the opposite end of Heldsburg for the next few wineries. Soda IMG_5823 Rock is another one of my top 5. I absolutely loved how quirky and charming the winery itself was, not to mention how delicious their wine tasted! I wanted to buy a bottle, but it did not come out until 2019 (the downside of barrel tasting) and I don’t know where I will be for half of 2019. I will say that I also really enjoyed the winery workers. I enjoyed most of them at the previous wineries as well, but here, they made us feel like we were worth getting to know. Now, my favorite part is their rustic barn. It is so stunning and I think we were IMG_5842there at the most gorgeous time of day because the way the light when through the cracks and allowed us to take amazing pictures was just unbelievable. I could have spent hours just enjoying the inside of that barn.

Top wines: 2016 Twisted Rail, Cabernet Sauvignon; 2017 Runway, Malbec Reserve; 2017 Rockpile, Petite Syrah Grand Reserve; 2017 Los Amigos, Primitivo*

*This was the wine that will not be available until 2019…I am still heart broken about not coming home with a bottle.

Alexander Valley Vineyards

We were all really feeling that wine by the time we got to this winery. I was feeling it so IMG_5831much that I literally only took three sips of two wines before convincing myself to switch it up with some water. We were exhausted, but this winery was very comfortable and seemed to be family owned. They had a cute picnic area and even cuter gifts. The weird part about this winery were a couple of kids running around, but hey, they didn’t disturb us. Alicia and I found the door to the celler that was quirky and locked…but we still had a nice rest before the final winery stop.

Top wine: 2016 Alexander School, Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

Lancaster Estate

IMG_5833Last, but certainly not least, we visited the Lancaster Estate. Talk about gorgeous! We had to take some small, and a bit confusing, roads to get there, but it was so worth it in the end. The vineyards made Kara and I want to run through them, but the ground was uneven and we were IMG_5834full of wine so, that was not going to happen. It was the end of the day, so the way the sun was hitting the hills was beyond how a picture could justify it. We spent some time trying some wines, then decided to rest up a bit and drink some water. The workers were kind and took the time to talk to us about the wine even if we barely tasted it. This ended up being such a calming way to finish up our day of extreme wine tasting.

Top wine: 2016 Lancaster Estate, Cabernet Sauvignon

Nap and Dinner Time

We drove back to Alicia’s house and it was time to take some naps. We all tore off our nice clothes and instantly put on something comfortable, wiped off all our makeup, and knocked out for a good hour. When we woke up, the wine hangover was real (and I am totally keeping it real by saying so). We decided we needed some greasy food and good atmosphere to fuel our bodies before heading to bed. Alicia took us to a restaurant a few minutes down the road called The Jaded Toad. This restaurant was wonderfully casual, fully equipped with corn hole and good music, but sadly our service was all over the place. It took awhile for someone to greet us and then when we were seated our waiter was barely there. However, the burgers were amazing (even Kara’s mushroom!) and the fries were perfectly filling. Overall, it was a great and much needed meal. We headed back home, took showers, and went to sleep quickly.

Sunday (Day Three)

Waking up on Day Three was much harder than Day Two. Kara and Kaitlin did a Starbucks run and Alicia and I started to get ready. We all went way more casual and comfortable on Day Three because at that point we were all so tired and not fully ready for the day. However, that quickly changed with some espresso and then some mimosas (again, I am unsure what we were thinking, but it truly put us in the wine tasting mood).

Chalk Hill Winery

IMG_5857First stop was Chalk Hill Winery. This was in the Windsor area and wow, was it stunning. The sun was shining and we were all happy to be there with delicious wine and gorgeous views. I could not believe the sights! The staff at this winery were very chill and informative. I really enjoyed most of the wines I tasted, and would definitely go back on a nice sunny day and enjoy what this winery had to offer!

Top wines: 2016 Syrah; 2017 Sauvignon Gris

Roth Estate

Right across the street was Roth Estate Again, stunning views, beautiful weather, and IMG_7152even better wine! We had a blast exploring the different areas along with eating a delicious polenta cake of some sort (it was gluten-free and I almost cried about it). The staff were professional and did not short us on tasting. It felt like there was always more and more to taste, and to learn. We spoke to so many different employees and all of them seemed so happy and proud of the wine they were selling. That honestly makes a huge difference in the quality of the winery. Overall, this winery is one I’d love to come back to and taste even more of their wine.

Top wines: 2017 Pinot Noir; 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon

Merriam Vineyards

IMG_5893Merriam had some unique features. They actually had two very separate tasting rooms. This was also the first winery to have cheese and olive oil instead of just bread or bread sticks (again, another way to make my gluten-free body happy!) Their wine was absolutely delicious, but we ended up eating more cheese than wine, I am sure of it. The first tasting room had the actual barrel tasting and the second had wines that were available to buy that day. Of course, Kara and I noticed that they had their rosé on sale for only $10. We tried it and ended up actually liking it (which I was impressed by because I am super picky with rosé), so Kara bought a bottle…and I bought two…with no regrets.

Top wines: 2016 Malbec; 2016 Cabernet Franc; 2016 Bordeaux Blend; I bought their 2016 Rosé of Pinot Noir and have no regrets.

Christopher Creek Winery

I absolutely loved this winery and every single wine that I tasted. We were given a tour IMG_5895
guide who was absolutely wonderful to us. He was casual, yet professional, and informative without making me feel weird about asking questions. By the time we got to Christopher Creek, we had enjoyed a lot of wine. But their wines tasted so different that it was enjoyable even if we were already buzzed. They had a Port that Kara actually ended up buying and it was phenomenal. I regret not buying any of their wine, but it was a bit out of my budget.

Top wines: Literally all of their 2017 Pinot Noir variations. I would seriously recommend any and all of their wines.

Vizlay Winery

IMG_7153Tucked away and overshadowed by Christopher Creek, Vizlay Winery opened their barn to us and it was again, some of the best wine I have ever tasted. They also had a variety of snacks (score!) so we ate a lot of different cheeses, and then got to tasting. While tasting, I said how much I truly enjoyed the Port at the previous winery. A woman tasting next to me said that their 2015 Zinfandel tastes just like a Port. Surely enough, it did. And just like that I was sold on the $28 bottle of delicious wine. I still have yet to enjoy it, but I am hoping soon an occasion will come up where I can share it’s beauty and relive the taste!

Top wines: 2016 Zinfandel; 2016 Petite Syrah; 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon; I bought their 2015 Zinfandel and again, I have no regrets.

Harvest Moon Winery

IMG_5901We drove a little further for this one, and honestly I am so glad we did. Not only did we pass a goat farm on the way there (my very favorite animal!) but, it was a nice change of scenery. Of course, you could still see the hills but what was fun about this area was that it was flatter and more ranch style. This winery in particular was a really great place for events. There was a gorgeous private pool area and they had a lot less barrels to taste, and a lot more of their premium wines. The tasting room was nice and had a lot to look at and a lot of room to stand. The employees took their time and made sure that we tasted everything while they explained their processes and how they go from grape to glass. Kara and I really enjoyed their bottle of dessert wine that was sweet yet savory and not too overwhelming like the Ports started to be. I was very close to buying that bottle, and honestly I am so sad that I didn’t! $32 just felt like too much at that time.

Top wines: 2017 Sangiovese; 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon; The delicious wine I wanted was the 2017 Estate Late Harvest Zinfandel!

Hook and Ladder Winery

IMG_5902Ah, the very last stop. The exhaustion was so real, and the weather was suddenly hotter. But I was ready to conquer this final destination. Sorry I didn’t capture a better picture, but I was so over it by this time! I actually didn’t end up tasting too many of their barrel options (they had so many!) but more of their bottled wines. I liked what I tried in the barrels so Kara and I went inside to explore their bottles and see if we liked any enough to make another purchase. Sure enough, I did! This wine part of their “vintage” collection and was smooth to sip but left me wanting more and more! I was hooked (see what I did there (; ) on their wine. But, none the less, I was also exhausted and ready to chug a gallon of water and eat some food. See, today we weren’t as great about eating, and I was really feeling it. But, it was a great ending to the day and a cute winery to end the weekend at!

Top wines: 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon; 2016 Zinfandel; 2017 Chardonnay; I bought the 2013 Zinfandel for only $15 and I cannot wait to drink it again!

Resting and Driving Home

Like I said before, I was exhausted…okay and I was drunk…but what do you expect after drinking as much wine as we did!? I ended up staying behind with Kara and Alicia because Kaitlin was ready to drive back, but I was too overwhelmed to sit in a car for a long period of time. So, Kara graciously agreed to drive us later that night. We ended up getting Taco Bell, and before you judge me, that is one of my top 3 favorite fast food chains and I refuse to ever say otherwise. It was also just what I needed at the end of this long day. We went back, took some naps, and had some serious girl time. But then, it was time to go home…at 9 PM (oops!) But, we got home safely, and I completely crashed the instant I got home.

Final Thoughts

IMG_5838Sonoma is unique and has  a lot to offer but for a lot cheaper prices. If you are a vino and live anywhere that you could get to the Bay Area without spending too pretty of a penny, there is another Barrel Tasting event in May. I highly recommend looking it up and considering a girls trip, you will not regret it. Prepare to drink wine, prepare to bring your own food, and prepare a list of places that you want to go! I am so grateful for these wonderful women and the new friends I made this weekend. I had such a great getaway and I cannot continue to go through life with their support and love. Until next time, cheers!