Orange County Travel Guide

This is something I’ve been working on for a long time. Orange County is a place a lot of non-Californians want to visit but don’t really know where to begin. Since moving home and working in a travel agency in Connecticut, I’ve had a lot of people come in and say they want to visit Southern California but they don’t know where to begin.

“What’s there even to do there?”

So much! But if you visit without doing your research, you can definitely miss out on why so many locals love their little piece of paradise.

How to get there and get around:
Flying into Orange County really depends on where you are beginning and ending your trip, and also, where you are coming from. John Wayne Airport (SNA) is Orange County’s main airport, but there isn’t always the best options for flying in and out of the OC.

The Southern California airports are a beast in themselves so much so that I did a post on just the airports a few weeks ago. You can check that out here to see which airport is best for you.

Without a doubt, rent a car. Parking will probably be an additional cost at most hotels so take that into consideration, but there is no easy way of getting around in Southern California besides a car. And plan to be sitting in some traffic at some point during your trip.

Where to say:
There are tons of places to stay in Orange County but again, that really depends on what you plan on doing while you are there. If you are going for the theme parks, there is really nothing better than staying on property at Disneyland, but since there are only three hotels, availability isn’t always the best. (Don’t worry, they’re building another hotel soon so there will be more options.) But staying around Katella in Anaheim is always a good back up. I’ve stayed at a lot of hotels in Anaheim but here are my favorites:

Country Inn and Suites by Carlson
Hotel Indigo Anaheim
Sheraton Park hotel at the Anaheim Resort
Hyatt House at Anaheim Resort
SpringHill Suites at Anaheim Resort
If you’re not planning on visiting Disneyland, staying closer to the beach may be better for you. Key is to stay closer to where you are going to spend the most time. Or splitting your time between Anaheim and the beach. Most of the beach hotels are absolutely amazing. I mean you’re on the Pacific Ocean but here are some of my favorites:

Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort and Spa, Huntington Beach
Hyatt Regency Newport Beach, Newport Beach
The Resort at Pelican Hill, Newport Coast
Marriott’s Newport Coast Villas, Newport Coast
The Ranch at Laguna Beach, Laguna Beach

What to do:
Orange County is really broken down into the Beach Cities, and the rest of the OC. Most people when they think Southern California, they think beach, but if you are willing to explore inland OC, there is so many hidden gems most visitors don’t know too much about.

Inland:
Spend a day or two at Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure Parks (Anaheim)
Eat or go bowling at Downtown Disney (Anaheim)
Enjoy dinner and a show Pirate’s Dinner Adventure or Medieval Times (Buena Park)
Cheer on the home team at a Anaheim Ducks Hockey game (Anaheim)
See LA’s second best baseball team at a Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim game (Anaheim)
Take a bike ride along the Santa Ana riverbed (Anaheim and Yorba Linda)
Take the kids to Discovery Cube OC (Santa Ana)
Check out a show or grab dinner at Anaheim GardenWalk (Anaheim)
Explore some history at the Nixon Library (Yorba Linda)
Ride some roller coasters at Knotts Berry Farm (Buena Park)
Shop or play at Irvine Spectrum (Irvine)
Antiquing and window shopping in Orange Circle (Orange)

Beach Cities:
Explore the art galleries near Main Beach (Laguna Beach)
Eat a chocolate covered banana at Dad’s on Balboa Island (Newport Beach)
Shop the outdoor mall at Fashion Island (Newport Beach)
Rent a Duffy Boat (Newport Beach)
Golf at Pelican Hill or the Ranch (Newport Coast, Laguna Beach)
Have a beach day at Doheny State Beach (Dana Point)
Window shop at South Coast Plaza (Costa Mesa)
Paddle board at Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort (Newport Beach)
Shop island style at Lido Marina (Newport Beach)
Relax on the beach at Main Beach (Laguna Beach)
Go Whale Watching (Newport Beach)
Hike Crystal Cove State Park (Newport Coast)
Watch the surfers or hop on a board yourself at Salt Creek Beach Park (Dana Point)

My favorite restaurants:
There are so many restaurants in Orange County! This is defaintely a great place for big time foodies who love to explore and try new things. These are by no means every option for reastaurants between LA and San Diego. I think I’d be here all day if I listed that, but these are just some of my personal favorite resturants from my three years living there.

Breakfast:
Kimmie’s Coffee Cup, multiple locations around OC
Bruxie, Brea
Latte Da Bagelery, Anaheim Hills
Pepe’s Finest Mexican Food, Brea

Lunch:
Slaters 50/50, Anaheim Hills
House of Blues, Anaheim
Kopan Ramen, Fullerton
The Hat, Brea
Carmelita’s Kitchen de Mexico, Laguna Beach

Dinner:
Salt and Ash, Placentia
Reunion Kitchen + Drink, Anaheim Hills
TAPS Fish House & Brewery, Brea
Roman Cucina, Fullerton
South of Nick’s Mexican Kitchen + Bar, San Clemente
Bruno’s Italian Kitchen, Brea
Cha Cha’s Latin Kitchen, Brea
Napa Rose, Disneyland
The Ranch, Anaheim

 

Temecula Day Trip

One of my favorite parts of living in another part of the country from where I grew up is that I was able to explore areas of the US that I wouldn’t have normally gone to. El Captain Canyon campground, Pismo Beach, Catalina Island, and one of my favorite places, Temecula, were just a few of the places I was able to explore in my seven years living on the west coast.

Temecula is a little wine region, about an hour north east of San Diego that is still a great little find for anyone living or visiting Southern California. It is definitely much lesser known that it’s big sisters to the north, Paso Robles, Napa, and Sonoma, but it my eyes, Temecula sure holds her own. If you are heading to San Diego, or even Orange County soon, take a trip inland to the desert. There’s so many fantastic restaurants, wineries, and breweries any food would be happy.

The wine is fantastic, the views are amazing, and the community is amazing and supportive. Visiting Temecula pretty often, we got to meet and know a lot of the wine makers, pourers, and employees at the wineries we visited often.

My favorite part of Temecula is that each winery had it’s own feel and style. There were a few that were great for socialization, sitting outside, grabbing a bottle of wine, and relaxing with either snacks you brought on your own, or something you grabbed there. Then there were the wineries we would visit if we wanted to try multiple wines, sit along the bar in a tasting room and talk about the wines. And then there were wineries that we would visit if we just wanted to sit in the corner of the wine club’s lounge and relax alone.

Where to Drink Wine
My absolute favorite winery is Wilson Creek. Wilson Creek is owned by the Wilson family, with the matriarch and patriarch living on site. If you hang around enough, you will see the Mr. and Mrs. scooting around the property on their golf cart with their labs following. Wilson Creek has it all. They have a fantastic staff that know their wine, and can tell you exactly what you are tasting but is also a fantastic space where you can bring your own food and sit at one of their many tables outside, have the kiddos play at their play ground, or go inside their restaurant and enjoy an amazing early dinner, or late brunch.

Across the street is Weins, a great small winery with fantastic reds. To be honest, if you don’t like reds, this probably isn’t your place, but I love reds! While they don’t have a hugely fantastic outdoor space, you can grab a bite from one of the food trucks they usually have during the weekends, and sit at a table over looking the Palomar Mountains.

Along the De Portola Wine Trail there are smaller wineries that have fantastic spots to enjoy a glass on your favorite wine. Doffo, Masia de la Vinya, and Robert Renzoni are some of my favorites. But my absolute favorite along the De Portola Wine Trail was Danza del Sol. While if you want to hang out and eat here you’ll have to sit outside, and bring your own food, I love each and every one of their wines. Whites, reds, they’re all good here.

Where to Eat
After a long day of drinking, you definitely need to stop for a good meal before heading home. There are a ton of restaurants along the wine trail. Many of the wineries have their own restaurants including Robert Renzoni, Wilson Creek and Ponte Winery.

But most of the wineries’ restaurants close pretty early, so I like to head down to Old Town where you have plenty of options for meals. Public House, the Bank Mexican Restaurant and Bar, and 1909 are some of my favorites. And if you’re heading into Temecula earlier in the day and want to start your winery hopping of with a good brunch, you need to check out Blackbird.

Where to Drink Craft Beers
Temecula, and inland San Diego county are not just known for their wines, but also their beers. One of the largest craft breweries in the country is headquartered just 30 minutes south of Temecula along Route 15, Stone Brewing. I love that I can still find Stone at most restaurants, bars, and stores here in Connecticut. Whenever I want a little taste of the west coast, this is my go to.

A much smaller winery in Temecula is Ironfire Brewing Co. I heard about this winery because an old coworker’s son was their beer master. My favorite is the super hoppy 51/50 IPA.

Where to Play
It may not seem like it but there is a lot more to do in Temecula besides just food and drinks. (Those are just my favorites =]) For the golfers in the family there is Temecula Creek Inn. A beautiful resort with a huge golf coarse.

If you are a gambler, want to spa, or even just relax by the pool there is also Pechanga Resort and Casino at the south end of town. Not too far away is also Harrah’s Resort Southern California which is known to have one of the best pool parties in So Cal.

For the adventurous and hikers there are a ton of nearby trail heads and hikes to go on and explore the area. One of my favorites is the nearby Lake Hodges Trailhead for Dam Trail. Located right between Rancho Santa Fe and Escondido there are hikes for the most experienced to the most novice of hikers.

Where in Temecula would you want to visit first?

Weekend in Lincoln, NH

Here along the coast in Connecticut, we have had a pretty mild winter. I mean, it’s been beyond cold here, but this week was only our fourth snowfall of the season. So last weekend a few friends and I decided to head north to Lincoln, NH, a small town at the base of White Mountain National Forest known for their ski resort, Loon Mountain, and their Ice Castles.

Besides the New Hampshire location there are also ice castles in Midway, UT, Stillwater, MN, and Dillon, CO. You can also check out the Canadian locations in Edmonton and Winnipeg.

When you visit the Ice Castles I would recommend buying your tickets ahead of time as they do sell out. We took one of their last time slots and spent about an hour wander the castles, taking pictures, sliding down the ice slide. I am so happy we decided to go at night. The lights add so much beauty to the structures.

I loved that the Castles were sold out, but it never felt busy. There were definitely people there but you didn’t feel it. I don’t know what it would have been like during the day with kids around. I’m sure the feel at night is much more chill since everyone is just wanting to grab their photos and move on.

Where we ate

The Riverwalk Resort has an amazing Italian restaurant where we ate dinner: La Vista Italian Cuisine Restaurant. A-maz-ing. We started with Maine lobster ravioli, fried risotto balls and a duck confit flatbread special. For dinner I had probably one of the best chicken piccata with fresh pasta I’ve ever had but I was also able to taste their scallop pasta special. Literally delicious! But if you are visiting, without a doubt make a reservation. There aren’t many restaurants in town and this place is packed!

La Vista Italian Cuisine Restaurant also serves Riverwalk Resort’s own winery’s wine, Seven Birches. Before dinner we ran into the tasting room, just down the hall, for a quick tasting of some of their wines. I even ended up buying their Curico, a Chilean Malbec that is amazing. (So much so that I’m drinking a glass right now.)

For breakfast we woke up early and made out way over to Flapjack’s Pancake House, a local breakfast spot that was worth the 45-minute wait. Besides the breakfast special, a chorizo and hot pepper omelet, we also split the cranberry, buttermilk pancake that was absolutely amazing.

After breakfast we headed across the street, to the same parking lot that the Riverwalk Resort is in, to One Love Brewery where we had a quick tasting and headed out of town.

Being that I am not a skier, I think Lincoln is defiantly a place that I would want to visit in the summer. There seems to be a ton of different hikes and places to visit in the White Mountains that a warm weather lover like myself would love. But for now, I am glad to have found Lincoln because of these georgous ice castles.

Tips for Lincoln

  • Buy tickets to the Castles ahead of time! The Saturday we went they sold out and had very little standby availability. Also, if you’re going with a group and buying tickets separately, make sure you pick the same time for entrance.
  • Bring a DD if you’re going out at night: there’s no Uber here. The hotel we stayed in recommended a shuttle service, which seemed to be the only service in town, and it was pricey! I’m talking $5 per person no matter where you go pricey, and the town is maybe a half a mile long. We used it to get to and from dinner and drove ourselves after that.
  • Make dinner reservations. There aren’t many restaurants in town and with everyone wanting a good dinner after a day of skiing or snowboarding, restaurants get busy.
  • Riverwalk Resort looks absolutely amazing, but they had a two night minimum and unfortunately we only had one night to stay there, so the Holiday Inn had to do for this trip. But good news was it was steps outside of the entrance to the Ice Castles.
  • Riverwalk Resort had sleigh rides and ice skating but they closed during our day trip due to the rainy weather.

Southern California Airport Guide

Flying into a new city can be pretty intimidating. Where is baggage claim? How do you find your Uber? Were is the rental car desks? And then once you finally get out of the airport, you actually have to drive where you’re going. People unfamiliar with a city, especially a city like Los Angles would just assume to fly in and out of LAX but if you are going to Orange County, Ventura County, the Valley or North OC you may save yourself a big headache and a lot of time flying in and out of another airport.

During my seven years that I lived in Southern California I used all of the local airports to fly in and out of, depending on where I was going and where I was living at the time. Today I’m going to help you figure out which airport will work best for you.

BUR – Hollywood Burbank Airport (Formally Bob Hope Airport)
Serves: With easy access to the 5 Freeway, the 170, 134, and 101, Burbank airport is easy shot to Glendale, Pasadena, Ventura County, Santa Clarita and the Valley. Honestly Burbank is even pretty easy for to get to the other side of the hill into Hollywood and Beverly Hills. Basically if you can fly into Burbank, do it.

Airlines: Mostly Southwest and my favorite is the one flight a day on Jet Blue roundtrip to JFK.

Where they fly: Pretty much most of the West Coast, Las Vegas, and once a day to New York City.

Transportation to and from the airport: Just outside of the airport is a train station where you can catch both an Amtrak or a Metrolink train. There are simple car rental options right at the airport and it is super simple for anyone, especially from the Valley or Burbank to pick you up. And of coarse Uber is really easy to get.

LGB – Long Beach Airport
Serves: Los Angeles and North Orange County. Once I moved to Anaheim I switched my favorite airport from Burbank or Long Beach. So simple!

Airlines: Jet Blue and Southwest are the two airlines that mainly fly in and out of LGB.

Where they fly: West coast flights, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, and a few flights between Boston, JFK, and Fort Lauderdale.

Transportation to and from the airport: While there isn’t any public transportation too close to Long Beach Airport, there are car rental options around the airport. It is also a super simple airport to pick up or drop someone off at. Just don’t need to travel around rush hour. This airport is right off of the 405 so if you don’t have an easy route to the airport on surface streets your going to have to add an extra hour to your drive.

SNA – John Wayne Airport
Serves: Orange County

Airlines: Southwest, American and United are the airlines that have the most traffic in and out of SNA.

Where they fly: West coast flights are the most popular out of Orange County. They even fly into Santa Rosa for those Southern Californians flying up to wine country. But they also fly to Dallas, Las Vegas, Salt Lake, Denver, Chicago, Houston and Vancouver.

Transportation to and from the airport: Car rentals and ride shares are all super easy from this airport, just off of the 5 freeway. It’s location also makes it so easy for pick up and drop off but not around rush hour… per the usual. And if you’re heading to the OC for a Disneyland vacation, check into the Disneyland Resort Express.

LAX – Los Angeles International Airport
Serves: All of LA, Ventura County and Orange County

Airlines: Everyone and anyone. If you’re flying from somewhere I haven’t mentioned above, check here. You can pretty much go anywhere nonstop from LAX. (Pretty much.)

Where they fly: Again, anywhere and everywhere. Domestic and international.

Transportation to and from the airport: Any and all car rental companies have a location at or around LAX. There are plenty of Uber and Lyft options to pick you up at LAX, but good luck asking a friend. I’ve picked people up at LAX at 11:45 at night and there was still traffic getting into the airport. Don’t be fooled if your Google Maps app says there’s no traffic. The 405 may be clear but there’s only one way in and one way out so that is where you get backed up. But the Flyaway is always another option. Living in the Valley, many friends used the Flyaway to the Van Nuys parking lot but there are a few other drop off points around the county, including one at Union Station.

 

 

Weekend in Boston

Growing up in Connecticut you are one of two types of people. Red Sox or Yankees, Pats or Giants (ok, there are the few, like my family that shamefully love the Jets also), Boston or New York. I have always been a New York girl. My family are hardcore Yankees fans and the quick 90-minute train ride into the city always made it easy to go watch a play on Broadway, explore China town, or window shop on Fifth Ave.

I can count the number of times I’ve been to Boston on two hands, and each time I was with someone else who knows Boston much better than I do. I always took the back seat on planning, exploring, and leading the way. So basically, I feel like I have never been there until last month.

In December my sister and I took a weekend trip up to Bean Town to experience their winter activities, check out the historical sightsee, and find some amazing foodie spots. It was the perfect, preholiday getaway.

Where we stayed:
If you’ve been around here a while you know I love me a good hotel and here we hit the jackpot. Since becoming a travel agent, I have become quite the hotel snob. We spent two nights at Boston Park Plaza hotel, a AAA Four Diamond hotel that is registered with the Historic Hotels of America. We had a Deluxe Room that gave us an amazing view of Park Plaza and sunrise views over Boston Public Garden and Boston Common.

For the most part, everything was within walking distance to our hotel which was great because I don’t like driving through cities I don’t know too much. Also, lucky for us, it was easy on and off of the Mass Pike (Route 90) and Route 93. And while they had easy Valet parking just outside the door to the hotel, there was also an off-site garage about a half a block down the street where we parked.

Where we ate:
Directly next to our hotel was an awesome little Irish pub, MJ OConnors where we ate the first night we got there. Staying true to Boston’s Irish roots I got Fish and Chips. Okay, okay, I know this is a little more English but I’m an Italian girl so that’s as close as you’re getting me to meat and potatoes. While the food was great the drinks were just okay. Stick with what the Irish like and you’ll be good: beer and whiskey.

The next morning, we started with a cold brew from Ziggy’s Coffee Bar before eating an early lunch at 21st Amendment on the north-east corner of the Common. This little, prohibition era themed, whole in the wall reminded me of anyone’s neighborhood bar. I had the 21st Hangover Burger which was topped with a fried egg. Put a fried egg on a burger and I am a happy girl. But they also had a braised short ribs grilled cheese which is defiantly what I will be trying next time.

That night I wanted Italian. Boston is supposed to have fantastic Italian food and I wanted a taste. We headed down Newbury St. to Papa Razzi Trattoria where I started with a Caprese salad. Stepping outside of my normal, penne ala vodka for my first time at a new Italian restaurant, my sister and I both ended up having Porcini Agnolotti, a lightweight pasta with wild mushrooms in a sherry sauce. A. Maz. Zing. UH! Literally probably one of the best dishes I’ve had in a long time. The food was amazing, the service was fantastic. We had to wait a while for a seat, but in the city on a Saturday night, we didn’t expect anything less. Hands down most fantastic meal of the weekend.

We spent the night at Sip Wine Bar and Kitchen and then headed over to Off the Common, our hotel’s lobby bar for a night cap. The next morning, we headed back over the Newbury St. to the Thinking Cup. A cut little local coffee shop with three locations throughout the city.

What we did:
Saturday morning, we woke up pretty early and started exploring the city. We walked through Boston Public Garden and Boston Commons. The cold weather kept the Swan Boats out of the water but was perfect for the ice skaters on the Frog Pond.

We headed east out of the Common. past Granary Burying Ground where Sam Adams and Paul Revere are both buried, past the Old South Meeting House and to Faneuil Hall where we browsed the shops and debated on stopping for another cup of coffee. Tip: If you are visiting Boston to explore the historical aspects of the city, get a Freedom Trail map. We pasted by a lot of important spots like the Boston Massacre Site and the Old State House and had no idea until we were looking at a map later on in the day. Also go out near Faneuil Hall at night. It was freezing so we stayed pretty close to our hotel at night but I’ve been out in that area before and it’s a ton of fun. The Black Rose is fantastic and so much fun.

Across the street from Faneuil Hall is Boston’s City Hall where just behind there was a holiday market with an ice skating rink built for visitors. Boston Winter is open through February and has booths selling all sorts of homemade goods. Olive wood kitchenware, family crest historical pieces, homemade lotions, soaps and candles, and so much more. I loved it.

After spending the morning walking around and exploring, we took an Uber over to the Sam Adams Brewery for a quick little afternoon tour. While I have been on much more in depth brewery tours (Hey Guinness Storehouse!) the tour ended with a half hour long tasting which was super informative and delicious. Super interesting: the Boston brewery on Germania St. is the smallest location of all Sam Adams’ breweries. Because it’s so small, they can’t mass produce much so they use the location to test experimental beers on guests that sometimes go to make bigger batches, and sometimes don’t. We tried a Marzen style nano brew, which I loved.

Boston is a perfect getaway for anyone from New England or even just flying in for a couple of days before heading over to Europe. The food options in Boston were way better than I had anticipated and the coffee shops and little bars were perfect. And for the historians out there, is there anything more historical than Boston? Where’s your favorite spot in Boston? I’m hoping to get up there again this summer and would love some more recommendations!