luxury accomodations

South Tyrol Travel Guide

SOUTH TYROL

Happy Tuesday! It's been another week full of travel adventures (I just made it to Reims, France for a few days of champagne tasting, and I'm so pumped). I'm falling more in love with Europe everyday that I'm here and can't believe how much I've already seen in 3 weeks. But one destination at a time. Today's post is all about my second stop in northern Italy: Merano.

 

When I first conceptualized this Europe trip, I had a long list of places I knew that I wanted to go- but I also wanted to leave some room open to discover new places that I’d never heard about. In researching the best places to visit in Italy, I stumbled upon a small boutique hotel in Merano. I had never even heard of Merano before, so I started to do a little digging. It didn’t take me long to decide I had to visit. 

South Tyrol, the region where Merano sits, didn’t actually become part of Italy until after the first World War- which means not even 100 years ago it was part of Austria. Needless to say, over the years it’s experienced  it's fair share of changes: Mussolini tried to impose Italian as the official language, although today, the official languages (yes, two) are Italian AND German. They’ve also separated from the Italian government in Rome and are their own provence with separate leaders.

As if this region wasn’t already compelling enough with such a unique and diverse blend of cultures, did I mention it’s nestled right in the Dolomites- arguably the most scenic mountain range in the Alps? 

Merano is not a popular location to visit if you’re from the United States, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a bustling tourist destination. Given it’s geographic positioning, it’s incredibly close to Austria, Switzerland, Germany and obviously other surrounding areas of it’s home country, Italy- so you’ll find lots of visitors from all the above. Travelers flock here because it's a “wellness destination”: lots of hiking, bikers, spa-goers, scenery lovers, etc. 

By now it should be obvious why I made arrangements to pay Merano a visit, and why you should make plans to do the same. If you read my last post on Lake Como (another must see), this is a great destination to pair with it. It only took us about 5 hours by train to get there from Lake Como/ Milan, and it was one of the most beautiful trips I’ve ever taken (although be prepared to make a few connections and be aware how much time you have in between each- we ended up missing one and it set us back a few hours). When planning your trip, here's what I recommend: 

 

 

STAY

 

 

 

 

IMPERIAL ART HOTEL

imperial art hotel merano south tyrol italy

Imperial Art Hotel was the boutique hotel I stumbled upon that made me ask “Where is Merano?” No two of the 12 elegant rooms are alike. Three South Tyrolean artists created them to be unique in terms of style, materials, colors, features and flair. 

We spent 2 nights in the white crystal room, which I loved because it was bright and airy and had an awesome terrace overlooking the street in front the hotel (which was bustling with energy and pretty views of Merano’s unique architecture).

merano south tyrol italy imperial art hotel crystal room

 

The next two nights we moved upstairs to the Penthouse Thermae room (that had an incredible rooftop view of the mountains and city, along with a hot tub where we loved relaxing). It was great experiencing a variety of rooms and seeing how each one was unique from the other.

imperial art hotel merano south tyrol italy

The hotel exceeded all the expectations I had. Barbara, the concierge was so helpful and went above and beyond to provide us with directions, bus time tables, dinner recommendations and anything else we needed during our stay. Our rooms came with complimentary breakfast (croissants, yogurt, fruit, eggs, cereal, juices, coffee and plenty of other options) so we were well-fueled and well-served on the quaint terrace every morning. 

Rooms are fairly priced (include range), extremely clean, and in an amazing location (4 minute cab or 15 minute walk from the train station and walking distance to just about everything you can do in town.) Staying here made our time in Merano that much more wonderful and I highly recommend them to anyone visiting the area! If you have any questions, send them a note at info@imperialart.it or inquire below:

Boutique & Design Hotel ImperialArt
Freiheitsstraße/Corso della libertà 110 | I-39012 Meran/Merano (BZ) | Italien/Italia
T +39 0473 23 71 72

 

 

 

EAT

 

CASTEL FRAGSBURG

castel fragsburg south tyrol merano italy
castel fragsburg merano south tyrol italy
castel fragsburg south tyrol merano italy

Castel Fragsburg was easily one of the top moments of my trip so far. If you’re staying in Merano it’s a bit of a drive compared to the other dinner options (15-20 minutes by car) but it is WELL worth the effort to get there. From the moment we arrived, I knew it was going to be an amazing experience. We had an aperitif on the terrace to soak up the view (which was seriously one of the most impressive I’ve ever seen in my entire life). When we sat at our table, I didn’t even look at a men- we just agreed to the chef’s tasting which meant course after course after course of tastings: quail eggs, seared tuna with avocado sauce, quail breast with orange carrot pistachio and cilantro, green apple risotto with beet, venison with cherry + potato, and so many more I can’t even begin to describe (and I even took notes). Everything was mind-blowing. As if it wasn’t already great enough, there was a wine pairing for every course. Our sommelier Riky wasn’t just any somm- he’s one of the 147 level 3 masters in the world. He did an incredible job pairing the perfect wine to compliment each course that the chef prepared. 

If there is ever a time in your life to make the drive, spend the money, and splurge on a meal, it is without a doubt Castel Fragsburg. You won’t regret a second or a penny of it. 

There are lots of great restaurants in Merano that we tried and loved, and lots more I wanted to try that we didn’t have time to explore.  

 

 

SIGMUND

sigmund south tyrol merano restaurant

Sigmund had a beautiful outdoor patio that drew us in for dinner one night as we were aimlessly wandering around. It's an awesome spot if you're looking for high quality food and wonderful ambiance. 

 

 

RISTORANTE KALLMÜNZ

RISTORANTE KALLMUNZ MERANO SOUTH TYROL

Ristorante Kallmünz was a recommendation of Barbara's (from Imperial Art Hotel) and we were so pleased with it. Both the patio and indoor spaces are stunning and create the perfect dining atmosphere. The food  (I loved their salmon risotto) was delicious- even the bread basket! 

 

DO

MERAN BURGGRÄFLER WINERY

meran winery south tyrol merano italy
meran winery south tyrol italy

One of my favorite things we did in Merano was wine tasting at Meran Burggräfler Winery. First, the property is stunning and has the best view I've ever seen at a winery (those mountains!). Valentino, our guide, took us on a tour of grounds and lead our tasting. He did a great job educating us (and spoke great english, which was helpful in an area that's predominately German + Italian!) They had some great wines that I loved drinking throughout the week at other restaurants in town. Be sure to add it to your itinerary while planning if you love wine or incredible views (how could anyone not love both of those!?)

 

TERME MERANO

therme merano south tyrol

To get a true Merano experience, we had to partake in a wellness activity! So we we spent an afternoon at Terme Merano in the heart of town. They offer the townspeople and visitors to South Tyrol an oasis of health and wellbeing, and constitute a new interpretation of Merano’s long tradition as a health resort and spa.  Since the 1960s thermal water containing radon has been pumped from Monte San Vigilio near Merano and used for a variety of therapeutic applications. In the new Terme Merano, thermal water has always been employed for inhalations, individual baths and it is also used to fill the pools.

A variety of therapeutic properties are ascribed to these mineral waters they use (soothing and pain-relieving effects on the central and peripheral nervous systems, positive effects on the respiratory system, improvements for allergy sufferers and  treating chronic disorders of the veins to name a few.) We loved relaxing at the pools and saunas (although PSA: several saunas strictly prohibit wearing any kind of bathing suit and are mixed gender - so if you're not quite comfortable with that you see a lot more than you hope for!) 

Similar to health clubs in the states, you can either attain a membership or if you're just visiting, you're able to buy a visitor day pass. Rain or shine, there's tons to experience here and help you relax.

 

GARDENS AT TRAUTTMANSDORFF CASTLE

traus gardens merano south tyrol italy

The gardens at Trauttmansdorff Castle are stunning. So stunning in fact, they were named the International Garden of the Year in 2013

We were taken on a tour of the grounds by our fantastic guide, Hans. He was so kind and I couldn't believe how much he knew about the hundreds of plants (and that he could tell you in 3 languages!) We loved our time with him and everything he taught us. After our tour, we went to one of their restaurants to have lunch with Ms. Patuzzi (who works in the Castle's marketing department). She was a delight and told us so much helpful information about the property.

The Gardens of Trauttmansdorff Castle, located on the eastern outskirts of Merano in the Italian province of South Tyrol, are multifaceted and visually stunning. South Tyrol’s most popular tourist attraction is simply enchanting: this twelve-hectare botanical paradise features more than eighty garden landscapes and plants from all over the globe. Gardens based on historical models, colorful collections of plants, and a variety of Experience Stations round out the offering. 

The contemporary and stylish feel of the botanical gardens, a mix of new and old architecture, and the historical role that Trauttmansdorff Castle played as a retreat for Empress Elisabeth of Austria have all been important factors in Trauttmansdorff’s success. 

There's literally so much information I could throw at you about the gardens, but the important part is that they are beautiful and you don't want to miss visiting them during your time in South Tyrol.

 

MERAN 2000

MERAN 2000 SOUTH TYROL ITALY

We originally were set to do a Via Ferratta (which I was so excited about!) but unfortunately due to rain in the Dolomites we had to cancel (but I still recommend looking into it!) Fortunately for us, we still got our fair share of time on top of the world thanks to Meran 2000- a hiking and recreation area up in the mountain terrace overlooking Merano. Take a short 7 minute cable car to the top and before you know it, you have a breathtaking view of the Ortles range and the Dolmites. There is a playground area for kids and families, or if you're like me- a terrace at Panorama Bistro for lunch and some wine.  We did a little bit of hiking but because of time I didn't even scratch the surface of all I hoped to see. Regardless of how long you stay, you're sure to love the views and experience for an alternate perspective of Merano. 

 

I'm so glad I ventured to this "hidden gem" of a town in South Tyrol!  I adore big cities and lots of destinations that are full of tourists, but there was something special about going someplace that felt like a well kept secret that you don't experience everyday. I would go back in a heartbeat and advise anyone else to visit as well! As always, if you have any questions, give me a shout: theblondeatlas@gmail.com.

 

SOUTH TYROL TRAVEL GUIDE

 

That's all for today! I'm off to drink some champagne right at the source here in Reims, France. Au revoir until next time!

xo, 

Whitney

New Orleans Travel Guide

NEW ORLEANS TRAVEL GUIDE

I've heard some wild stories about New Orleans. Who hasn't?  But if I'm being perfectly honest, I was guilty of letting those tales mold my overall thoughts toward the city (which I had never visited) to be ones that I turned my nose up to a bit. In my mind, New Orleans was a dirty place in a perpetual state of Mardis Gras and debauchery.

But I also heard wonderful things about it: that it was rich in history, brimming with beautiful architecture, and home to some of the best restaurants around. These attributes intrigued me, and I decided it was time I experience it myself. So I set out with my friend Danica for a weekend getaway to explore all the great things I had heard so much about. 

I left Nashville with dozens of unanswered emails and missed deadlines hanging over my shoulders that I was sure would haunt me all weekend. And while I didn't doubt we would have fun, I never anticipated to have as much fun as we did. But living up to it's proverbial title of "The Big Easy", it's like there's something in the water that transforms you into a more easy-going way of life the moment you arrive. I didn't think about any of those emails for a second. 

From it's delicious food, to it's bluesy jazz music, to the stunning architecture at every turn, New Orleans romanced me all weekend long.  I fell in love with so much about it that I legitimately had trouble shaving down my recommendation list below (and I know wasn't able to hit all the great places it has to offer in my short time). But I hope that whatever you choose to do during your time in New Orleans, you'll find it to be just as wonderful as I did. 

 

stay

CATAHOULA BOUTIQUE HOTEL

catahoula boutique hotel new orleans
catahoula boutique hotel new orleans

I love all kinds of hotels, but there's something about discovering a great boutique hotel that makes my heart pitter-patter, and The Catahoula Hotel was no exception. Their philosophy is simple: to keep it casual, cozy, and above all, human. The style of hospitality isn't flashy or exclusive, nor is it predictable or contrived. The building was once a home, and that's what drives their ethos – to welcome guests as they would someone into their own home, to care for them and do whatever it takes to ensure their time with us is as memorable as possible.

 

If you're looking for a place to stay that's conveniently located downtown (we walked everywhere), competitively priced, and more unique than your standard hotel, then you'll love staying at Catahoula (I also swooned over their open-air showers- straight outta someone's Pinterest board). 

 

catahoula boutique hotel new orleans
catahoula boutique hotel new orleans
international house hotel new orleans

If you're looking for a chic, design-forward hotel where every detail feels like a luxury (like fresh lemon infused water and delicious illy coffee available in the lobby) then be sure to look into International House Hotel. Also conveniently located downtown, IHH reflects a contemporary New Orleans style that I loved. The staff was incredibly hospitable, provided us with great recommendations, and did everything in their power to ensure we had a great stay. And the bed was one of the most comfortable I've slept in that I can remember (slept like a baby). 

international house hotel new orleans
international house hotel new orleans
GALATOIRE'S NEW ORLEANS RESTAURANTS
galatoire's new orleans seafood ettouffe
GALATOIRE'S NEW ORLEANS FRENCH 75

Galatoire's was our very first stop when we arrived in town, and it set the bar high. This New Orleans staple was founded in 1905 by Jean Galatoire, who brought recipes and traditions from Pardies, France to create their menu and ambiance of the internationally-renowned restaurant. 

Start with a French 75 and some appetizers: the Galatoire Goute (crabmeat maison and shrimp remoulade) and Oysters Rockefeller (the best oysters I've ever had) are a delicious assortment of seafood with a New Orleans touch. If you're feeling adventurous (which I have been a lot these days) try a cup of the Turtle Soup au Sherry. For your main course, I recommend the Shrimp Etouffée (when in NOLA), but be sure to save room for dessert. Order the Caramel Cup Custard, but then be sure to ask for the "coffee special" (not on the menu).  I'll save the surprise so you still get a wow factor, but if you dislike fire or alcohol then I'd stick with Starbucks for your post-meal caffeine.  

 

 

COMPÈRE LAPIN

compere lapin cocktails new orleans
compere lapin new orleans
compere lapin new orleans restaurant

Top Chef Nina Compton started Compère Lapin in the Warehouse Arts District in New Orleans, and we can all be glad she did. The inspiration for the menu comes from the traditional Caribbean folktales featuring a mischievous rabbit named Compère Lapin that Compton read during her childhood in St. Lucia (and you'll find the brilliantly-marketed rabbit all over the restaurant and menu). Drawing on the story's themes of exploration and play, she mixes the indigenous ingredients and rich culinary heritage of New Orleans with those of her Caribbean roots. 

Start with the Crispy Dirty RIce Arancini (with chicken livers, house made sausage + fontina). Then move on to the Marinated Shrimp / Roasted Jalapeno Jus with bell peppers, red onions + cilantro (insanely delicious) and the Cold Smoked Tuna Tartare with Avocado, Crispy Bananas +  Caviar (even more insanely delicious). For the main course, try the Duo of Beef / Pan Seared Sirloin + Braised Short Rib withEnglish Peas, Carrots and shaved Foie Gras (did I mention I'm definitely not a vegetarian anymore?) Finish your meal with the Roasted Banana Zeppole with Rum Caramel or Lime Cheesecake with Mango Granita and Cashe Krokant. Oh, and then get a Miami Vice to go (because you can do that in New Orleans... #BestCityEver).

 

Compère Lapin was easily one of my favorite meals in New Orleans, our wait staff was incredibly knowledgable and warm, and the atmosphere was perfect. Be sure to make a reservation during your trip so you can experience it for yourself. 

 

WILLA JEAN

willa jean crawfish biscuit new orleans restaurant

Willa Jean is a contemporary bakery in the Central Business District in downtown New Orleans, and served me one of the most indulgent brunches I've ever had in my life. The bakery adds a modern and elegant touch to iconic southern food that anyone with a savory-loving pulse will adore. And they specialize in my favorite vice: carbohydrates. Biscuits. Banana bread. Corn bread. Desserts. Pastries. It's all incredible. And if you're one of those terribly annoying people who's trying to be healthy, they even have a delicious avocado toast option for you. Or, you can be like me, and try everything on the dessert menu. I know which option is more fun. 

willa jean brunch desserts new orleans restaurants
josephine estelle new orleans restaurant

Inside the new Ace Hotel, Josephine Estelle combines the philosophy of Italian cuisine with the flavors of the American South. Embracing it's Italian background, I recommend starting with Guanciale Meatballs. And representing the American South? Those Brussels Sprouts, though...

They also offer a wide variety of delicious cocktails and wines, and seal the experience with killer ambiance. Whether you visit for Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner or Brunch on the weekend- you won't be disappointed.

 

KENTON'S

kenton's new orleans restaurant

Head a little outside of the downtown chaos over to Magazine Street, and you'll find Kenton's- an American whiskey bar and restaurant. Their menu is filled with smoked, grilled, and charred flavors that have an affinity for bourbon. To capitalize on all those delicious flavors, I opted to forgo the traditional set lunch menu and instead, try a chef's tasting instead (which I highly recommend). Everything was delicious and I loved taking our time because the restaurant's aesthetic was incredible. 

 

DRINK + DO

ALTO AT ACE HOTEL

ALTO AT ACE HOTEL NEW ORLEANS COCKTAILS

Head to the roof of Ace Hotel and you'll find yourself at ALTO, their rooftop garden featuring poolside dining, cocktails, and panoramic city views. We met Josh, the manager, for drinks and opted to let him order for us.  Naturally, he gave us a taste of their take on a New Orleans staple: frozen drinks. Both options were delicious (although I preferred their play on a bramble with blackberries and gin- called Purple Rain). No matter what you order, you're sure to love your drink and dig the vibes.

ace hotel frozen drinks purple rain alto
CANE AND TABLE NEW ORLEANS BOSS COLADA

All the cocktails I tried at Cane & Table were fantastic. I opted for the Boss Colada (which was obvi the most Instagram worthy- duh). I was slightly nervous it would be too sweet for my palate, but they did an incredible job of blending and complimenting ingredients so that everything was delicious. If you can, sit outside because the patio is all kinds of dreamy. 

 

 

 

SALON BY SUCRÉ

salon by sucre new orleans cocktails
salon by sucre cocktails new orleans french quarter

After a long day of shooting content, exploring, and drinking (all before 2pm) we stopped in Salon by Sucré in the heart of the French Quarter... to drink some more. But I fell in love with their picture-perfect ambiance, delicious desserts and courtyard views. Take a load off and enjoy a treat for your eyes and your tastebuds.

 

 

 

CAFÉ BEIGNET

cafe BEIGNET
cafe beignet new orleans
cafe beignet new orleans

I couldn't leave New Orleans without trying beignets (carbs are my love language- remember?) Everyone raves about Cafe Du Monde- which while delicious in taste, I (personally) find somewhat lacking in atmosphere. I opted to indulge at Café Beignet instead. The beignets were outrageously delicious, the ambiance was cozy and quaint, and there weren't nearly as many tourists. You do you- I'll be over here indulging in the cutest little cafe I've ever laid eyes on. 

new orleans beignets cafe beignet

 

 

SHOP ON MAGAZINE STREET

NEW ORLEANS SHOPPING MAGAZINE STREET AZBYS
new orleans french quarter travel guide

Magazine Street is a six-mile long stretch from the Garden District to Uptown New Orleans, and features some of the best antique stores, art galleries, craft shops, and boutiques to be found anywhere in the city. My favorite? Azby's (across from Whole Foods). This one-stop shop has everything from evening wear to casual wear (all my outfits featured in this post came from there). 

CITY SURF FITNESS NEW ORLEANS

Every vice I indulged in during my time in New Orleans was absolutely worth it. But I did start to feel pretty terrible toward the end of our trip. So in attempt to make up for the immense damage we had done, we went to City Surf for a sweat session- and I'm so glad we did. I grew up spending summers surfing (as best as a Nashvillian could) in San Diego, and it was so fun to be back on a board (even if it was on bosu balls instead of in the actual water). 

City Surf offers a wide-variety of classes, pulling inspiration from barre, yoga, spin, bootcamp and more. We took Becky's Beach Body Bootcamp and loved it. It takes a little getting used to at first to balance, but is fun the entire time. And when you're done? Total validation to reward yourself with some more vices.

 

 

TIPITINA'S

TIPITINAS NEW ORLEANS JAZZ BAR

Ending up at Tipitina's wasn't on my original travel itinerary (hence my extremely professional photoshoot aka saved Snapchat) but I'm sure glad it happened. At the time, I wasn't as concerned about note taking and providing well informed travel feedback for all of you, as I was dancing to awesome jazz music and enjoying my buzz (sorry about that). But it was one of the most fun nights I've had in a while, so I won't let the lack of stellar content keep anyone else from experiencing the same. Check it out and thank me later. 

 

 

Overall, I was blown away by not only how beautiful New Orleans is, but how fun (no matter what fun looks like to you). The city has so much to do that I didn't even touch on, and you're sure to have a great trip no matter what's on your itinerary.  If you have any questions about planning a trip of your own, talk to my friends at Visit New Orleans or shoot me a note at theblondeatlas@gmail.com.

 

NOLA TRAVEL GUIDE
blonde atlas logo

Southern California Weekend Travel Guide

laguna beach sunset
laguna beach montage
laguna beach montage

While Nashville may be the place I call home, my roots run back to southern California. I’ve been dozens and dozens of times over the course of my life and have more memories there than probably anywhere else in the world. I’ve recently had several people ask me where they should stay if they're visiting the area for a long weekend since "they know they can't do it all." While I certainly recommend taking your time to explore places like LA, San Diego and Orange County, I also believe you can easily cover a lot of territory in a short time if you want to see them all. So I took a trip last week to accomplish just that. 

 

I’ve pulled together this “Greatest Hits” if you will, of my absolute favorite places to eat, where to stay, and what to do if you want to see the highlights of Southern California but don’t have an extended amount of time to dedicate to each destination. I must disclaim that I have plenty more recommendations that I wanted to include, but  I'm trying to be realistic about what you could actually accomplish (and save the extended recommendations for future posts that are dedicated to each city). So here are my top picks for San Diego, Orange County and Los Angeles:

 

SAN DIEGO: North County 

Given my soliloquy above about wanting to recommend everything but having to pick my favorites, I highly suggest focusing your time in San Diego on the north county area. Not only will it be the most convenient in terms of driving, but it also happens to be where all my favorites are (of course, I’m biased because this is  where my family is from and where I’ve spent the majority of my time).

 

STAY: 

 

 

 

 

FOUR SEASONS RESIDENCE CLUB AVIARA

Four Seasons Residence Club Aviara  is nestled in Carlsbad, one of the many great beach towns in northern San Diego. I've always stayed with family for as long as I can remember when I've visited, so this was one of my first times staying in a hotel here (and it was also one of my most memorable hotel experiences by far). The property is wrapped by a lush + idyllic setting that will send you into a tranquil oasis from the moment you arrive. We were greeted with a fresh juice tasting (pressed locally on site and also available for purchase at their barista bar) followed by a tour of the grounds. The Palmera Pool at the Meadows Clubhouse is the perfect central point to connect Seasons restaurant, Driftwood Fitness Center and Driftwood Spa. 

four seasons aviara
four seasons residence club aviara

 

We stopped for manicures at Driftwood Spa to unwind from a long day (where we sipped delicious champagne from the prettiest flutes I've ever seen). The spa was relaxing and uplifting at the same time and our technician was so kind and fun to talk to. We stayed in the Summits Village, which had sweeping views of Carlsbad (and we loved sitting out there to enjoy our room service). 

four seasons residence club aviara

As if they hadn't already sold me enough, we went to Seasons for their interactive chef’s table inside the working kitchen for a signature one-of-a-kind “Taste the Senses” experience with Chef Ball at the Kitchen Counter and a well-appointed private dining room. It was incredible. Gracie is gluten free and dairy-free (except goat cheese + manchego) and they still wow-ed us with one of the most delicious 5 course meals I've ever had (including watermelon gazpacho, guianciale and poached egg with micro-kale, local halibut with coconut polenta and topped it all off with mango passion fruit sorbet with raspberry beignets). And to make all of that even better, each course came with a carefully selected wine pairing. 

seasons restaurant four seasons carlsbad
four seasons aviara residence club

I definitely intend to stay here again when I come back to San Diego. The entire experience was incredible, the staff couldn't have been more kind or hospitable, & I highly recommend them if you're staying in the area. 

 

EAT: 

LAS OLAS

las olas mexican cardiff by the sea

Whenever I've played "Last Meal" with my friends (where you all share what you would eat if you knew it was your last meal) I've always included a course at Las Olas. I grew up coming here with my family for dinner for as long as I can remember, and it's one of my favorite restaurants on earth.

Sit on the patio for lunch or to watch the sunset, drink a margaraita (or 12 because they are delicious) and enjoy the most delicious fish tacos you've ever had in your entire life. 

 

 

PIPES

PIPES CAFE CARDIFF BY THE SEA ENCINITAS CA

Are you picking up on all my nostalgic vibes yet? If not, here's some more. I spent mornings in the summer going on runs from my aunt's house to Pipe's for breakfast before heading to the beach. This cash-only, hole-in-the-wall is a local gem that's crawling with surfers, dogs and happy beach-town residents that love starting their day with a yummy breakfast (don't we all?) Sit on the porch with your coffee + breakfast burrito and take in the local scene while the marine layer (aka that calming grey dreariness) burns off. 

ALSO TRY: 

POSEIDON

KI'S

FIDEL'S LITTLE MEXICO

 

BEACHES:

MOONLIGHT BEACH

CARDIFF STATE BEACH

encinitas

 

 

ORANGE COUNTY: LAGUNA BEACH

After your time in North County San Diego, work your way up I-5 to Orange County. There are tons of great towns like Newport Beach or Dana Point, but sticking to the "Greatest Hits" I recommend focusing on Laguna Beach. This beach town is the ideal for art lovers (TONS of great shops and festivals throughout the year like Sawdust), nature enthusiasts, and anyone else who enjoys incredibly epic views (the gorgeous coastline will trick you into believing you've somehow transported to Spain).

LAGUNA BEACH

 

STAY: 

When we were initially planning, we almost booked a new property that I was really excited about (The Ranch at Laguna Beach) but we ended up staying with friends both nights that we were in Orange County. If you’re looking to book a hotel, I recommend checking them out (I’m planning to go back someday!) You can also find great spots on Airbnb or splurge with one of the following resorts:

THE RANCH AT LAGUNA BEACH

MONTAGE LAGUNA BEACH

SURF & SAND RESORT

 

EAT + DRINK 

LAS BRISAS

laguna beach las brisas patio
las brisas guacamole
las brisas shrimp cocktail
las brisas ahi tuna poke

When I think of restaurants with a beautiful view, Las Brisas has always been one of the top on my list. But once you try the food you'll have a difficult time deciding which of the two is better. Nestled on a cliff in Heisler Park, the Las Brisas cuisine is inspired by Mexico's west coast and prepared with California freshness and innovation. We started with champagne (obviously), then ordered some fresh guacamole and margaritas (because #SundayFunday). From there, we split the shrimp cocktail (with jumbo Mexican prawns) and the Ahi Poke Tower (with South Pacific ahi sashimi, avocado, jicama and delicious chili-lime chips). I was stuffed before we could even get to an entree (which I've tried those before, and they're epic as well) but we couldn't turn down the Berry Tostada (fresh berries in an almond Florentine shell with vanilla ice cream and fruit liqueur). If you follow me on Snapchat (blonde_atlas) you'll understand why #YouCan'tBeASkinnyTravelBlogger. I'm okay with it. 

LAS BRISAS BERRY TOSTADA

 

Las Brisas is sincerely one of my favorite restaurants of all time and I can't recommend it enough. But I'm not the only one with this opinion so call ahead or book a reservation online.

 

 

URTH CAFFE

urth caffee laguna beach

Urth Caffe is one of my favorite California breakfast spots. Back when I worked at an ad agency based in LA, I'd start my mornings at the Santa Monica location (so when our friend Kelsey told us to meet her at the one in Laguna I was totally on board.) No matter which location you visit, you're sure to find healthy, fresh food in a quintessential California setting. 

 

 

BANZAI BOWLS

banzai bowls laguna beach

California KILLS the açai bowl game. We made a pit stop at Banzai Bowls in Laguna for lunch before heading to the lookout on Oak street to soak in these views. Gracie had a Pitaya Bowl and I had the traditional Banzai Bowl (both were awesome). Stop in for a quick, healthy lunch or snack for the perfect break from a day at the beach. 

 

 

THE CLIFF

the cliff laguna beach restaurant

If you're looking for a place to have a drink and soak in the views of Laguna, look no further than The Cliff. This relaxed atmosphere offers stunning panoramic views of the beach and has some delicious cocktails and appetizers to enjoy while you pass the time. Their guacamole hit the spot and made us happy campers. 

 

 

LOS ANGELES

After your time in Laguna, hop on the 405 North to Los Angeles. This city is HUGE and has way more to offer than I could even begin to dive into in a single blog post. So again... sticking to the greatest hits here. 

STAY:

HOTEL ANGELENO

HOTEL ANGELENO LOS ANGELES
hotel angeleno los angeles brentwood

If you’ve ever been to LA, you know it’s a sprawling metropolis (and can take a while to get from point A to point B with traffic.) I loved staying at Hotel Angeleno in Brentwood (which is conveniently located between Santa Monica and West Hollywood, so if feels central to a lot of the places I recommend). They've been undergoing a huge renovation and the new rooms are incredible (My favorite part? Remote blackout shades all from the simple touch of a button so you can sleep in pitch black any time of day). Head up to the roof for dinner + drinks at West for sweeping views of the city, delicious food, and awesome service (and be sure to order the brussels- they're fantastic!)

west hotel angeleno
west LA pool hotel angeleno

Hotel staff is always a huge factor to consider, and these guys were awesome and extremely accommodating. Aside from being kind and hospitable, they went out of their way to showcase room features and be sure we had everything we need. I have no doubt that they provide a wonderful stay to everyone who visits them. 

 

 

EAT + DRINK

LEMONADE

lemonade LA

Casual, cafeteria style dining but with delicious, healthy and unique options. Lemonade is one of my staple lunch spots in LA (and they even have a location in LAX, which was super convenient when we landed at 8pm PST and were starving). Be sure to order the cucumber mint lemonade, or another yummy flavor while you're there!

 

GRACIAS MADRE

gracias madre LA

Hands down one of the coolest places I've been in LA. Gracias Madre serves Mexican food comprised of locally grown organic ingredients (as well as the most delicious snow cone margaritas you've ever had in your life). Not to mention, the ambiance is killer. 

 

ALFRED {COFFEE}

If you're looking for delicious coffee (or matcha) to start your day, be sure to check out Alfred {Coffee} on Melrose (although they have multiple locations, I'm told this one is the best). The vibes are way cool, the coffee and matcha are delicious (I had both) and they also have lots of great snacks and breakfast treats. 

 

MALIBU FARM

malibu farm restaurant
malibu farm restaurant

This was hands down the most delicious (and nutritious) meal I've had in LA. Obviously, Malibu is a dream so the views will take your breath away, but so will the food. The cauliflower crust pizza, salmon niçoise salad and the burger all get an A+ in my book (so do the cocktails). 

 

BUNGALOW

bungalow LA

One of my long time favorites in Santa Monica is Bungalow (part of the Fairmont Hotel). This breezy, Baja-style cottage has awesome decor and pretty much all the chill vibes you can imagine (think surf boards, ping pong tables, and a beach view). I love coming here for margaritas during happy hour-- I think I could do it just about every single day. 

 

 

Southern California is FILLED with wonderful things to do and you'll have no problem planning a trip wherever you go and however long you stay. If you have any further questions about booking details, shoot me a note! theblondeatlas@gmail.com

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