Thursday, July 21, 2011

Pacific Highway 1: Big Sur, California

The drive along Pacific Highway 1 from San Francisco to Los Angeles is one of the most picturesque road trips in the United States and the Big Sur coast alone is worth the trip. 

Big Sur is a gorgeous coastal area (as well as the name of the local town) in central California located about 145 miles south of San Francisco and 300 miles north of LA. 

The views are stunning: the two-lane highway snakes through rolling green mountains of lush forest, perched atop jagged cliffs that plunge into the Pacific Ocean. It's a beautiful drive, especially if you own or rent a convertible. And a lovely, relaxing weekend getaway into nature. 

In the Big Sur area, there are several camping grounds with cabins, but there are also two resorts worth mentioning that are very worth the price: Ventana and Post Ranch Inn. Post Ranch is on the coast, Ventana is in the forest just across the road. Both have amazing restaurants, which pride themselves on local/seasonal fare, and fantastic spas! So you can relax, enjoy some amazing food, a good spa session, peaceful walks in the mountains or on the beach and you feel like you really get away from it all! 

Ventana Inn & Spa -- This resort is all about serenity. The rooms are simply decorated and located in different buildings spread across the property, which blend into the mountain side. A trail through the forest leads from your room to the yoga studio, restaurant, spa. There are also two pools -- one of which is "bathing suits optional."

48123 Highway 1
Big Sur, CA 93920
Phone: 831-667-2331

Post Ranch Inn & Spa -- This luxury hotel is one of the more unique ones I've seen. There are 39 rooms and two private houses and the design fuses beautifully and organically into the surrounding environment. Some of the structures are built into the side of the cliffs and others are built up into tree houses.  

47900 Highway 1
Big Sur, CA
Phone: 800-527-2200

A couple of other amazing points of interest not to be missed along the drive:

Pebble Beach: Located near Carmel about 30 miles north of Big Sur and home to one of the most beautiful and famous golf courses in the world. 

Piedras Blancas Rookery: Beaches just south of the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse, located about 60 miles south of Big Sur, which are home to more than 15,000 elephant seals throughout the year. Best time to see them is mid-March to mid-September. 

Friday, June 10, 2011

Summer Salad with Fresh Mozzarella and Radishes

I'm obsessed with this salad! It's so easy to make, so fresh and simple and perfect for summer. Great for a dinner party or a quick lunch for one. It's made with mâche (pronounced "mosh"), also known as lamb's lettuce. It's not found in every grocery store but I've been able to find it at Whole Foods. 

3.5 ounces of mâche, rinsed
8 ounces mozzarella, sliced then cut into long strips and then cut in half
8 radishes, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons of olive oil 
coarse salt (preferably Fleur de Sel)

Place mâche on a platter or in a large bowl. Place mozzarella and radishes on top. Drizzle with olive oil and generously sprinkle coarse salt and serve. 

Recipe adapted from the "Spring Salad with Fresh Mozzarella" in "Martha Stewart's Dinner at Home" cookbook

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Montauk, NY

Of all the places I've traveled in the world, Montauk and the Hamptons are by far my favorites. It's a place I feel most at home. Montauk in particular has a special place in my heart, I fell in love from the beginning. From the constant sound of ocean waves crashing to the beautiful sunsets on the bay side, from the wild overgrown hedges to the wide stretches of white sandy beach, from the surfing to the fresh seafood and restaurants, I love it all. Montauk is at the very east end of Long Island, New York hence it's nickname "The East End."

Some say it's part of the Hamptons, some say it's beyond the Hamptons as it doesn't quite fit the rest of the other towns... I fit into the latter school of thought. As soon as you leave the Hamptons (Amagansett is the last town) and enter Montauk, it feels just a little different. It feels like a vacation. A small beach/surf town. The lawns are a little less kept, the houses a little less picture perfect. No cute inns or picket white fences. There are old motels and diners, fishermen, surfers, and vacationers from all walks of life. There is a light sea breeze with a faint smell of fish. Montauk is a place where you can relax, surf, fish, bike, lay out at the beach, but if you're up for going out, there is plenty of great nightlife for young and old! 

Here are some of my favorites restaurants and activities in Montauk:
9 Edison Drive
(631) 668-3663

Anyone who's been to Montauk enough times knows that Joni's is the best place for breakfast and lunch. Joni turns out delicious, fresh wraps, sandwiches and salads. Go for the breakfast wrap with eggs and a fresh assortment of fillings like goat cheese, roasted tomatoes, spinach, avocado, bacon, and more. For lunch, try the chicken salad wrap or the hummus wrap -- but really, anything you get will be yummy -- and a lot of it is organic! Great, easy stuff for kids to eat too.

Surf Lodge
183 Edgemere Street
(631) 668-2632

The Surf Lodge, located on Fort Pond, has a small hotel, a restaurant, one indoor bar, and a couple outdoor bars, a small boutique shop, and is probably the most happening night spot in town. Although you'll find more New Yorkers here than locals, it's a great place to go out on the weekends. On Saturdays and Sundays, they have (free!) outdoor concerts that start around 7 pm. Great place for friends, couples with kids, to relax, enjoy cocktails and live tunes. The entire place has a beautiful, beachy casual feel with lots of driftwood, yellows, whites and turquoise. Great outdoor space including a bonfire at night.

Navy Beach
16 Navy Road
(631) 668-6868

Opened last  summer and located on the bay side, it's the best place to catch the sunset. Try the warm lobster roll (1 pound of fresh lobster meat on a buttered roll) and the hamburger.

Gosman's Fish Market
484 West Lake Drive
(631) 668-5645

Montauk may have some great restaurants, but it's known best for its fresh, off-the-boat seafood: striped bass (in season after July 1), tuna, scallops (amazing!!), halibut, lobster, mako, blackfish, tile fish, fluke, and more.

South Edison
17 South Edison Street
(631) 668-4200
*Reservations recommended
photo by
Another great restaurant that opened last summer. Amazing raw bar, delicious food (focus on seafood), great wine selection. Across the street from Joni's in town.

Harvest on Fort Pond
11 South Emery Street
(631) 668-5574
*Reservations recommended

photo by Harvest on Fort Pond
View from the pier at Harvest
Harvest is one of the best places to eat in town for a big group or family. The Mediterranean menu is family-style so you only need a few entrees for the whole gang! Try the pork with apricot apple chutney, the skirt steak and the pastas. There's outdoor patio seating that's first-come first-serve. After dinner or while you wait, take the kids out on the pier to feed the ducks and swans or check out the huge catfish swimming around!!

Inlet Seafood Restaurant
541 East Lake Drive 
(631) 668-4272
View from the deck at Inlet
This seafood restaurant is really the only place in Montauk to get sushi but they are known for their fresh lobster and fish. Worth it for the sunset alone as you watch the rest of the fishing boats come in for the evening. 

Cyril's Fish House
2167 Montauk Highway
(631) 267-7993

This seafood "shack" is located on the Montauk Highway several miles out of town. You won't be able to miss it in the late afternoon on summer weekends as there is always a line of parked cars stretching for what seems like a mile in each direction! This is THE place to be around 4-5 pm for a post-beach, pre-dinner drink (or booze fest!). It has an outdoor patio that serves relatively decent food where the crowd of New Yorkers in their 20s and 30s spills into the parking lot and onto the street. Famous for their BBCs (Bananas Baileys Colada -- it's a boozy calorie bomb so be careful!). CASH ONLY.

Ditch Plains

Best beach to surf in the "East End." In the summer, it's a great place to learn to surf because the waves are manageable. Plenty of local instructors for first-timers. Be careful of parking -- you need a permit so walk, bike, or cab!

Surf Equipment Rentals: 
Air and Speed Surf Shop
795 Montauk Highway
(631) 668-0356

Bike Rentals:
Montauk Bike Shop
725 Montauk Highway #A
(631) 668-8975

Love Yoga Montauk
83 S. Elmood Avenue
(631) 668-8068

Montauk and the Hamptons are the perfect place to do yoga. It's a great way to stretch after a long day of surfing (or sun tanning!) or get a little workout in before going out. Located across the parking lot from Joni's, this yoga studio is new as of 2010. It has a great schedule of various classes and teachers. My favorite is Erika Halweil, who used to teach at Mandala Yoga in Amagansett Square, and is now here! She is known for a little tough love in her Ashtanga 2/3 yoga classes. You'll sweat more than anything but feel so great afterwards!

There are TONS of places to stay in Montauk, especially motels in town and along the Old Montauk Highway. But the best and most comfortable deal for a larger group is to rent a house. Try Vacation Rentals By Owner ( Many choices in different sizes, locations and budgets.

Otherwise, two hip places I recommend are:

90 Second House Road
(631) 668-2105

107 S. Emerson Avenue
(631) 668-6700

These two boutique hotels have been recently renovated from an old inn (Sole East Resort) and an old motel (Sole East Beach). Sole East, located near Fort Pond, features 61 hip, simple, bungalow-style rooms done in mostly white, 8 garden cabana suites, a hedged-off private pool with a DJ spinning during the day and night, the Backyard Restaurant and free bike rentals for guests while Sole East Beach is located in town near the public access beach and features 26 vintage style rooms. Both are pet-friendly. Note that Sole East Resort can get a little loud at night with party-goers hanging out pool-side until late. On weekends, there is a 2-night minimum stay on holidays, it's a 3-night minimum stay. 


Gansett Lane
6 S. Etna Avenue
(631) 668-8050

A beautifully curated home store specializing in coastal decor, furniture, lighting, accessories, and gifts.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Charm Necklaces from Helen Ficalora

Helen Ficalora, who started out in Montauk, is a jewelry designer who makes very simple but beautiful charm necklaces. I love the alphabet charm, either for yourself or as a gift. It's also nice to collect the letters, such as one for each of your children's first names. 

She makes other designs too like flowers, seashells, specialty charms like "xox" and "mom" but the alphabet ones are by far my favorite and the most personal. It's one of the few pieces of jewelry I wear and never take it off. The charms come in yellow, white and pink gold. 

The simple alphabet charm in yellow gold is $145, and $155 for white or pink gold. The 16" chains are $85 for yellow, $110 for white and $120 for pink. 

Definitely a beautiful gift for a birthday, graduation or other special occasion. 

Helen has stores in Bridgehampton, NY; SoHo, NYC; Beverly Hills; Lincoln Park, Chicago; Dallas and Palm Beach.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Lake Como, Italy

When traveling to Italy, most people go to Tuscany or Rome or the Amalfi Coast. But Lake Como is a beautiful spot not to be missed!! The lake is nearly 30 miles long and shaped like a "Y" with gorgeous, elaborate villas dotting the shore. It's about an hour drive north of Milan (a little over 30 miles/50 km) or an hour train ride from Milan to Como (at the southern tip of one of the lake's arms). It's known as a weekend retreat for Italians and wealthy Europeans.  And it is by far one of the most romantic places I've been to. Nestled in the mountains, the lake has dozens of tiny villages one next to another built up into the hills that you can access either by car or by ferry. The scenery is simply breathtaking. And the food here was probably some of the best I've ever had. Fresh pastas and produce, delicious wines, decadent desserts. 

My favorite of the towns is Cernobbio, which is just 5 km north of Como. The town is beyond quaint and charming, and within a few days, you'll know all the locals! It is also home to the famous Villa D'Este, one of the most elegant and exclusive hotels in the world. In the small town itself, there are many little restaurants, cafes, boutiques and antique shops. Do not forget to take your own private tour of the lake. On the water right in town, you can rent a small motorboat with only your passport and an American driver's license! So Italian! You can ride around on the entire lake, get up close to the villas and take in the magnificent views. 

There are tons of other towns that have plenty of charm and character, however, I would say that Bellagio by far was the most touristy. Stepping off the ferry was somehow like walking into a town removed from the States. Practically everyone was American. And it is one tourist shop after another. I personally prefer a place that's more authentic filled with local shops and cafes, Italians and Europeans, much like Cernobbio. 

Here are my recommendations for Cernobbio. 

Villa D'Este - Simply a must-see. One of the most extravagant and amazing hotels and properties in the world. A perfect spot for a special occasion, whether it's a honeymoon or simply a celebratory dinner, or just an exclusive spot for lunch. Food is fantastic, service is white glove. Truly an insight into the life of aristocrats that have been vacationing here for centuries. 

Villa D'Este
Via Regina 40
22012 Cernobbio
Phone: +39 031 3481

Walk up to the tennis courts

Ravioli with freshly shaved local truffles

Harry's Bar - Located right on the water, wine selection is fantastic, staff very knowledgeable and friendly (if you are too of course!), and the pastas... well, literally the best I've had. Fresh truffles were in season when I visited, and were like a taste of heaven on freshly made pasta. I came here several times in my trip, it was so good! 

Harry's Bar
1 Piazza Risorgimento
+39 031 334 7057

That would be the freshly shaved truffles - to die for!

MdL - A great boutique filled with clothing from Italian, Spanish and French designers as well as home accessories and antiques. 

Via Regina 49A
Phone: +39 031 342 362

Tomasso Elli -- Gorgeous, exclusive antiques from all over Europe. Owner is extremely knowledgeable in history of each piece and so very friendly! Two locations -- one in town, one directly across from the entrance to Villa D'Este. 

Via Regina 93
Phone: +39 339 596 4363

La Piazzetta -- Gourmet shop with wonderful wines, meats, cheeses, salts, vinegars, oils. 

Via Regina 83

Pasticceria Poletti -- a great little pastry shop with great coffee, ice cream, sandwiches and obviously delicious pastries!