The 'Alohilani Resort, Waikiki

"Where are you guys from?" the man across the communal table at Teddy's Bigger Burgers asked.

"San Diego", we replied.

"Ahhhh", he said like he just discovered a secret. "So this is where you guys vacation!"

We probably heard this from 4 or 5 other people. Yes, San Diego is amazing, but it's always good to get away and enjoy different climates, cultures and cuisines. We've taken Essie to Hawaii for 3 years in a row and we've grown to love the islands. I mean, who doesnt??

 Staying at the 'Alohilani, with its beautiful roof top pools and its close vicinity to the beach (literally across the street) was perfect for us.

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We got down to the pool early everyday and Stacy was content reading a book or laying out or wading in the pool. Essie and mama would could back to the room to rest before dinner and I'd stay by the pool.

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I woke up up at sunrise and shot photos of the surfers surfing Queens and surfed at sunset.

After breakfast, we'd wander to the pool where Essie swam all day. She's such a little fish these days and practiced diving for toys at the bottom of the pool. There are two pools at the 'Alohilani - one for toddlers that's only 2.5 feet deep and an infinity pool for advanced swimmers. We all spent time relaxing and floating on the big floating bean bags. The spa was perfect to warm up in as well.

The family's tend to leave the pool area for dinner so it's a perfect time for an evening swim with a near empty pool.

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Although the hotel provides everything you need to enjoy a vacation, we wanted to visit friends and get out and explore as well. One day we went to Waimea Bay on the North Shore and the weather was perfect, the water warm and clear. Another morning I met a friend and we shot sunrise at a local favorite beach called Sandy Beach.

There is so much to do on Oahu and we were lucky to stay at the "Alohilani Resort, which is close to everything. On one of our last nights we walked down to the beach with our friends Seth and Becky and watched an amazing sunset.

What a good way to end a great stay in paradise! Mahalo to 'Alohilani for the aloha!

https://www.alohilaniresort.com/

A quick trip to Albuquerque and Santa Fe

Today’s kids have it easy when traveling (oh Gosh, did I just say that?) – iPad’s, iPhone’s, portable gaming systems, dvd players. Thirty years ago, we were lucky if we had a Walkman (that’s a portable cassette player, young people). A cassette player is…well never mind. That’s why I dreaded the road trip to Santa Fe to visit my relatives. We’d wake up at 3am and pile into the minivan – me, my brother, sister, mom and dad and start the drive. Maybe we slept a few more hours, shaving two hours off the 13 hour drive. But there were 11 hours left, 11 hours of desert - the endless asphalt stretching into the rising sun, Joshua trees, yucca, saguaros, sand, dirt and rocks. My eight year old self simply didn’t have the imagination to sustain that drive – and I’d say, neither does my current self. 11 hours of boredom to a child seems like an eternity.

That’s why I was shocked when as soon as Tom and I reached our “cruising altitude” it seemed like it was time to descend. No time for a full movie – a couple short films on Alaska Airline's free streaming service and we were ready to land. Enough time to finish my research on what we were going to explore in Albuquerque (ABQ) and Santa Fe. How could a drive that seemed like we had been eternally stuck in Hades only take just over an hour by plane?

We descended near 6pm, the ABQ sun still hours away from the horizon, the Sandia Mountains, (which means watermelon in Spanish b/c of the way they light up in pinkish hues in the desert sun) in the distance, the Rio Grande snaking its way through the center of town with green life hugging its banks – a stark contrast of fertility in the otherwise barren desert.

 

Life moves a slower in ABQ than in San Diego. I’m guessing it’s the heat. After what seemed like an hour of waiting in the afternoon heat, we got our rental car and headed to dinner only to find out that the restaurant had changed owners or shut down and Google maps wasn’t quite up to date on this information. No problem. I’d researched the best places to watch sunset and the stylish Apothecary Lounge atop the Hotel Parq Central has a scenic rooftop bar that overlooks downtown ABQ and the distant hills. A warm, dry 90 degrees at sunset, a perfect place to unwind with some food and drinks. A literal warm welcome by ABQ.

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We debated waking up for sunrise but slept in and headed to Slate Street Café a local, urban eatery. The reviews were good and the food even better. I had Katie’s eggs – hash browns topped with white cheddar, diced ham, two eggs smothered in red chile with a side of fruit – berries only. Tom had the Mexican style oatmeal with cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla with a side of green chile turkey. Chile is the specialty in New Mexico. It’s roasted, dried or ground and served with every meal. It’s spicy - even us San Diegan's who love our heat were sweating in the morning. We loved it. 

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After our sweaty breakfast we went to Old Town to shoot before it got too hot. The mornings are beautiful in ABQ and Santa Fe, 70-80 degrees, perfect for a morning hike, jog or walk. We explored the original town well where the locals hid when invading Apache warriors came looting. We explored the San Felipe de Neri Church in the plaza from the outside as it was under construction, met local jewelry vendors, talked to shop owners, and bought gifts.

Before it was too hot, Tom and I headed back to the Hyatt Regency, uploaded photos and video, did a little editing and worked up an appetite. Walking distance from downtown ABQ are many quality, award-winning breweries. One such brewery is Marble Brewing, about a ten minute walk from our hotel. 

After a few tasters, we convinced the staff to give us a private tour. They were busy canning this day and we were lucky enough to get a tour by one of the head brewers. A couple tasters more and we walked back to the hotel, hugging the side of the street with most shade. After relaxing a while and waiting for the summer to sun cool, we packed our photo and video gear and drove about twenty minutes to the base of Sandia Peak. Dinner at Sandiago's, the restaurant at the base of the mountain, and we took the tram up to the 10,000 foot peak. 

With one of the worst draughts in recent years, some of the hiking trails were closed, but there was still plenty to see. People perched around the decks, waiting for sunset. In the winter, the hills can be filled with snow and it's one of the cities greatest attractions for snow sports. 

 

Sunset is around 8:30 during the summer. With no clouds in the sky, the blue to orange gradient hovers over the horizon long into the night. With the last tram heading down the hill at 9 pm, we took the 15-20 minute ride down and headed back to the hotel, ready to get some rest for our early start the next morning.

Tom O'hara and I have been friends for over 10 years. He even filmed my wedding back in 2009 and has since gone on to become one of the most recognized and demanded videographers in California. With his connections in the wedding industry, we met Seiji - a local videographer from ABQ who showed us an amazing spot to watch sunrise near the Rio Grande. A short ten minute hike and we were on the banks of the river with the Sandia Mountains in the background. 

We made a wrong turn on our walk back and had to trudge through some thick brush but eventually we made it. I invited our new friend to breakfast and we headed to Weck's, a local favorite. I had red chile eggs benedict! I can't even tell you what my buddies had because I was too busy devouring my dish!

Back to the hotel for my nap and then we were off to Santa Fe. I hadn't been to Santa Fe in nearly 30 years but couldn't wait to explore. Having studied history in college, I had a blast visiting the old churches, reading about the history of the city, looking at the old architecture, listening to stories from locals. 

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The plaza is filled with artisans, shops, museums, restaurants, coffee shops, churches, and plenty of things for tourists and locals to enjoy. Tom and I split up and explored the plaza on our own, getting the shots we wanted. We rendezvoused back at a coffee shop, where the owner was kind enough to give us suggestions for food and spots to watch sunset. 

We spent hours walking around the plaza.

After working up an appetite we headed to The Shed, another local favorite. Both of us ordered chile dishes and were sweating again! Carne Adovada is a local dish that comes highly recommended - spicy, slow cooked beef or pork, served with garlic bread instead of tortillas. We had to order some sour cream to cool our mouths down! We sat at the bar as the wait was well over and hour for a table. We made friends with the people around us - a former news anchor now living in Massachusetts, the bar tender who had gone to college in San Diego, another local gentleman enjoying a few drinks and dinner. 

A few minutes from the plaza is the Cross of the Martyrs - a perfect spot to catch the sunset.

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We split up again as Tom wanted to shoot a timelapse in town. So I headed up to the cross. Locals gathered with their friends, families and pets. With the high, wispy clouds, we knew it would be a good sunset. Santa Fe didnt disappoint on our last night.

The short hour drive from ABQ makes Santa Fe a definite stop when visiting New Mexico. We stocked up on some water for the drive and headed back to ABQ.

We were told that we had to visit Frontier restaurant before we left ABQ to get some authentic New Mexican cuisine so next morning we spiced ourselves out again at Frontier before heading to the airport - carne adovada again and red and green chile-stuffed omelette, cinnamon rolls, coffee - the works. Stuffed.

I've always been drawn to the desert - the warm, dry heat, lingering sunsets, the cloud formations and big, open sky.

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But being in New Mexico has a different feel than other places - the history and Native art, the turquoise and Navajo designs, the old architecture and adobe homes. I felt the history of the Natives, of Mexico, the U.S., New Mexico. This place has traded hands many times and every culture had left their imprint. These marks leave New Mexico as unique - somewhere with a sense of place and identity, somewhere I will return. 

Our Day at San Diego Museum of Art

Walking the galleries of the San Diego Museum of Art, I was reminded of my college days. I thought I was so old and mature then, like my 20 years of life had made me wise enough to experience and understand the depths the artists took to create their masterpieces. I connected to the pieces. I wanted to be an artist.

 

Young college students perused the halls, some in pairs, some took notes, all with the vibrant and hopeful glow of youth. Probably on assignment for an introductory drawing, painting, design or photography class to critique several pieces, I felt a bit nostalgic thinking back to those days – painting in my garage, long nights in my drawing class, experimenting with color in design, meticulously cutting wood and paper for 3-d design class. I should’ve continued in my art degree, I thought.

 

I want Essie to choose whatever course makes her happiest, whatever makes her feel alive and excited and fuels a passion in her. Some nights I teach her to draw. We talk about which colors to combine to make other colors. Right now she is coloring a big cat in her coloring book with colored pencils (purple eyes and a gold body) and singing and looking out the window as we fly to New York. I want to breed a sense of curiosity and wonder in her – to explore the world, to teach her mathematics and logic and history and philosophy while feeding the creative and expressive side of her as well. Whatever path she takes, I want to feel that I’ve done my best to pass on all my passions and talents to her and to leave her future up to her choice.

 

Funny how a stroll through a museum can trigger these thoughts.


 

“Let’s find the two foxes. Where are the two foxes Essie?”

 

“Are you guys doing the scavenger hunt?” An attendant politely asked us.

 

“Can I give you a hint?” she said. “You’re going to find that half of this exhibit is Korea and the other half is Japan, she said as she led us from …. Back to the East Asia exhibit.

 

I was clearly lost since I wasn’t using the helpful map on the back of the scavenger hunt as was suggested.

 

“The foxes are in Japan.”

 

Essie wanted to finish the scavenger hunt as fast as possible, like it was a race. What a brilliant way to keep young kids engaged at the gallery. The assignment was to find certain animals in the East Asia gallery. There were hints and map and questions that triggered their imagination. Questions along the lines of “How do you think the artist was able to get the colors on the camel?” What do you think the cat will do next?” Essie was eager to find the next animal and answer the question so she could hand in the completed scavenger hunt for a prize.

 

We strolled through the halls into the American Art exhibit.

 

“That looks weird!” Essie said as she saw a painting of a duck that had recently been killed hunting. She pretended to be scared by the painting of a skull and she was fascinated by the sculpture of two horses that was made out of found metal – one lying on the floor, one standing above looking down on the other.

 

“is it dead?” She asked.

 

“It could be,” Stacy said. “Or maybe it’s just resting.”

 

Like any good piece, it left us to interpret.

 

We made our way to the “Motion Pictures” exhibit by Gjon Mill and I lifted Essie to get a better view. The black and white photos filled the long hall and Essie and Stacy were drawn to the graceful images of dancers frozen in midair as they transitioned from one movement to the next.

 

In the Visible Vaults room, Essie found some scratch paper and practiced her own drawing and writing as Stacy helped her. There were drawers to explore and comfortable chairs to sit in.  A bright, clean room contrasted the moodier and dimly lit exhibits we had visited.

 

I spent some moments in front of a piece by my favorite artist – Salvador Dali. My first tattoo was an interpretation of St. John of the Cross by Dali. I was 18 when I discovered the work of the surrealist. In college, his works decorated my room and still, a variety of books about him decorate my book shelf. I consider him the greatest and most influential surrealist. His paintings, sometimes 8 to 10 feet tall tower above you with the ethereal image of Jesus on the cross looking down on you. A master of perspective, you feel like you’re part of the image. A true surreal experience.

 

We finished our tour by handing in the scavenger hunt. The attendant praised Essie for finishing the hunt and for being so well behaved and led her the old style candy dispenser. She got her prize (not candy) and we thanked our hosts for the day.

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We planned on eating at Panama 66, the restaurant adjacent to the museum with outdoor seating, but it was unfortunately closed because of rain. Essie loves to play in the sculpture garden. It’s perfect for families. Good food, craft beer and cocktails and space for the youngsters to explore. We will definitely be back for dinner.

Thanks so much to the San Diego Museum of Art for the hospitality. Leave about your favorite artist comment for a chance to win one Dual Membership for a giveaway ($85 value). This includes free museum admission for two adults plus a total of four guest passes, among many other membership benefits. Click the link for more details  http://bit.ly/sdmajustin 

 

 

 

A Family Friendly Adventure to Mammoth Lakes, CA

Essie was yelling as we made our final descent into Mammoth Lakes.

“Dada look! It’s snooooow! Real life snooooow! Mama look!”

It was her first time seeing snow in person and what a beautiful way to see it. Flying over the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains, I told Essie to come over to the open window seat next to me to. The jagged ridges reached high into the sky. The snow glistened like glitter and for as far as we could see, a blanket of white laid snuggly into the cracks and crevices. Essie Was ecstatic.

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We booked this trip a few months ago and I was a little concerned because it hadn’t snowed much and the weather was unusually warm. But when Alaska Airlines asked if we’d like to go to Mammoth as a family and snowboard, I jumped at the offer. I was checking my weather app everyday, hoping the weather would turn and we’d experience some good snow.

Well, a week before we got there it dumped! The weather shifted and we arrived to a snow-laden mountain. A short walk from the tarmac and Essie was jumping in the snow. I waited for our luggage and Stacy had the tough job of trying to keep Essie out of the snow because she didn’t have her snow clothes on.  

After we got our rental car and luggage, we headed to town for some lunch at Burgers Restaurant. Huge portions and good food left us stuffed. We needed some goggles for Essie so we went to Footloose and she got the cutest pair of Frozen goggles. Then we met Zach from Mammoth Mountain at the Main Lodge who hooked us up with lift tickets and passes for Wooly’s Tube park. We checked in at The Village Lodge and got ready to head out for some photos and a little hike in the snow at Mammoth Lakes Basin and hike around Mono Lake.

Just like babies are attracted to water, Essie is attracted to snow. I urged her to stay on the worn, hard-packed path, but her little mind kept leading her to the fluffy powder pillows just off the path. Actually, everywhere we went, Essie was in the snow, kicking, stomping, throwing, slipping. We quickly learned that our walks would take twice as long….

Getting to the mountain from The Village is super easy. Hop on the free gondola and cruise over to Canyon Lodge. Friday morning we got to the mountain early (8 am) so Essie could get her rentals and checked into her first snowboard lesson. Chase was her instructor and he was amazing. By the end of the first day Essie was going off “jumps.” Her first ever run down the bunny slope and she made it without falling once. She had mastered her balance by the first day and on the second day of lessons she learned to stop.

I learned to snowboard in Mammoth in high school. As a child I took ski lessons on a family trip and loved the snow. My friend Adam has a cabin there next to Canyon Lodge – what used to be called Warming Hut 2. Over Thanksgiving break, we’d pile in his Toyota van with his dad behind the wheel and drive up as soon as the last bell rang for the day, arriving just in time for dinner at Shoguns. An early breakfast at Schats and we were on the mountain for the rest of the day.

I watched Essie in her lessons and was so proud. Stacy stayed behind and I took off for some runs. I came back towards the end and was able to see Essie go off her jump.

 

Essie wanted to keep snowboarding that day but after her three hour lesson, we had lunch at Shelter Distillery – a kid friendly, newly opened distillery in the Village. Pizza, papas bravas, chicken tacos, a sampler of their own beer and cider and we went to Wooly’s Tube park.

Stacy screamed as she and Essie flew down the first run. It must’ve felt like 100 mph because she screamed the whole way down, which made Essie scared as well. I followed closely behind.

After a few runs Essie wasn’t as scared. We all went down as a family, spinning, laughing, screaming, holding onto each others tubes. By then end I asked if Essie wanted to go by herself. She said no.

The next day was filled with more adventures. At the mountain again early, Essie was back in lessons. This day she learned to stop. Feeling more confident about leaving Essie alone, Stacy and I made our way up the mountain. We cruised the runs around Canyon Lodge and came back around noon for Essie. Lunch on the mountain and we took Essie out to the bunny slopes.

“Daddy, are we going to go down the rabbit holes?”

“Oh you mean the bunny slopes Es?” Ha.

I hiked up the small slopes with Essie and encouraged her that she could make it down.

“You remember how to stop, Es? Can you show me?

She dug her heels into the snow.

“I’ll be right behind you.”

Stacy stayed at the bottom and I followed closely behind as Essie cruised down the hill. Soon enough, she was cruising down by herself. After what seemed like hours of walking up and down the hill with her, mama was worn out. Essie wanted to keep going but she and mama headed back to the village.

My friend Wes from my JiuJitsu gym Atos was up with his girlfriend and brother so I met them for a few runs. For the last hour of the day it snowed. I managed to take my camera up for a few runs and not kill myself.

I texted Stacy that there was going to be a parade in town for kids with dancing, face painting and characters. Once again, Essie had a blast. Anytime she can be active she is happy – jumping, dancing, snowboarding. That’s why this trip was so good! She could stay active in the snow. Even swimming in the pool at the Lodge.

One of the coolest things about this trip is the free lift ticket you get on the day of your departing flight with Alaska Airlines. On Sunday, we drove to the Main Lodge. I showed my boarding passes to the ticket attendant and he gave us our tickets. Up to the top we went in the gondola.

At the top of the mountain there’s an interactive, educational station that’s perfect for children. Real stuffed animals – mountain lions, bears, foxes etc. Essie loved petting the real fur and could’ve spent hours there as well. Her and mama stayed up top and explored and I went down some runs. We met up later at the bottom. Stacy and Essie took the gondola ride down. Essie isn’t quite ready for the top. Ha.

Growing up in San Diego surfing, swimming, endless days at the beach, I imagine our experience in Mammoth would be similar to someone from the Midwest coming to San Diego and jumping in the ocean for the first time. There’s an awe from nature that you can’t experience any other way than by being immersed in it – feeling the crunch of the snow beneath your boots, smelling the sweetness of the pines, the tickle of the snow falling on your face, the exhilaration of speeding down a mountain with a board strapped to your feet.

I think we just had the best family trip yet. We will be back.

 ______________________________________________________________________________

 

Recommendations:

 

Flights:

Direct from San Diego with Alaska Airlines  – about an hour. So Easy. Be sure to get your free lift ticket!

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Under garments/ base layers: Ridge Merino. They are a local mammoth company offering quality, comfortable goods. They kept us warm up.

 

Dining:

Burgers Restaurant. Good burgers. Big portions. Shareable. Close to the Village $$

Mammoth Tavern: We got Essie some mac and cheese and Stacy and I practically ate it all. Poor thing. Kale salad was phenomenal. Craft cocktails and beers. Don’t let the word Tavern scare you – it’s kid friendly with great food options.  Get there early or you’ll wait. $$$

Schat’s bakery. Great pastries, croissants, baked goods. $

Black Velvet Coffee: a must for any coffee freak. Craft coffee with a wine bar upstairs, a few beers on tap $

Gomez’s Mexican and Tequileria – fun environment, nice sized portions. We shared two salads after having a big lunch. $$$

Shelter Distillery – cool environment, craft cocktails, limited beer selection, one cider, food needed seasoning $$$. New to the scene.

 

Food court at Canyon Lodge – good selection of food, burgers, Asian, Mexican, pasta, kids options, salad bar. Expect to pay for convenience since you’re on the mountain $$$

Starbucks – Can get super crowded on the weekends in the Village. Expect to wait 30 minutes in the morning. Their oven wasn’t working so no hot food was served that day. $

Hugs Ice Cream – Why not have ice cream when it’s 30 degrees out? We had it twice! Ha. $

Bear Creek Pizza – Good pizza. Good options. Took a little while to get our pizza but I think they only had one cook that night. It snowed so Essie just wanted to play outside. Ha $$

Side Door Café and Wine Bar: Panini’s, crepes, café. Somehow they lost our ticket so we sat for a while and watched in hunger as others got their food, but the server was nice and discounted our bill. Kids options. Good sized paninis. Stacy and I shared the chicken pesto, goat cheese panini.

Rentals: Rent from the mountain. Get there early. So much easier that lugging your gear around.

Car rental:  Enterprise (through Costco Travel) We only rented a car because I wanted to drive and shoot different places. There’s great transportation in Mammoth. You can get shuttles to and from the airport. And the airport is only about 15 minutes from the Mountain.

Shopping: There’s good shopping in Mammoth. We didn’t visit the outlet stores but got what we needed (Mammoth memorabilia) at Footloose. Tons of snowboard/ski stores that have everything you need for the mountain.

Lodging:

 The Village Lodge. A classy, woody, lodge. Big central fireplace with comfortable chairs and couches to relax. We stayed in a one bedroom room/apartment with a full kitchen. This is a great option if you’re looking to save money on food. We saw a few families rolling in coolers of food, stocking up for the weekend. Also, the pool is heated! We couldn’t keep Essie out and of course, the hot tub was refreshing after hours on the slopes.

Activities:

Ski/snowboard/snow-play at Mammoth Mountain or June Lake.

Woolly's Tube Park – tubing and snow play. Great for kids and adults (there's even a little bar for the adults)

Hike the lake basin – beautiful scenery, frozen lakes you can walk on.

Tufas at Mono Lake: Hike around Mono Lake and see these weird, other worldly structures reaching out of the water.

Snow mobile – take a tour with a local, get the behind the views no one else gets

Natural Springs -  Relax in natures hot tub. Need I say more?

 

Days Like These

These are the days I hope Essie remembers.

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I remember very little from when I was 4, almost 5 – the smell of Mrs. Park’s Korean BBQ wafting through the apartments, buying my first skateboard with my dad, my first fight and the eye patch I had to wear because of the piece of stick that got stuck in my eye, winning the jog-a-thon at school, the night when we thought we’d encountered the “Night Stalker.”

 

But I hope Essie remembers our nights at the beach, the 50 sea anemones she made me touch, when I swooped her up from the incoming rogue wave, the giant sea slug, running barefoot through the sand playing tag, taking pictures of her on the tide pools, eating ice cream on our daddy daughter date – bubble gum and dulce de leche.

 

One of my biggest fears is that I will let her down as a father – not in the teenage way like “I hate my parents and I know what’s best for me” way. She may or may not go through that stage. I fear I will pass down the idiosyncrasies I can’t stand in  myself– my mean tone, my short temper, my propensity towards anger. I’ve seen it happen in my own family.

 

I hope it’s days like these that outweigh my shortcomings.

A family friendly guide to Austin, Texas

I barely made the boarding time for our 30-minute train ride around Zilker park in Austin.

 Austin

Austin

 

Stacy and Essie were already on board the little train so I ran from the car right after I put the drone away – a minute sprint. Stacy kept calling me but I was busy flying my drone using the app on my phone to fly the aircraft.

 

I finally answered.

 

“Hurry up! I really want you to ride this with us,” she said. “We are leaving in a few minutes and you still need to buy a ticket.”

 

“Well I was using my phone to fly the drone and I couldn’t answer!”

 

But I made it, just in time.

 

The slow train ride curves around the park, hugs the river, winds through a tunnel, turns around and comes back. Moms, dads, aunts and uncles, kids, friends and family all slowly cruise through the park, sitting on wooden benches, tugged along by the green train.

 

We came across a party of about 40 people, probably in their thirties, celebrating the birth of one of their friends. The music playing. Adults sipping their red Solo cups. Smiling. Laughing. Chatting.

 

And they all stopped and turned toward us and waived like they were family at the gate of the plane, eagerly waiting for us to return home from a long trip abroad.

 

And it wasn’t just them. The whole ride, people stopped and waived.

 

Everyone was just so….. friendly.  

 

The nonstop flight from San Diego with Alaska Airlines was a breeze. Super convenient and not too long - perfect for Essie. Just over 2 and a half hours and we were there.

 

At first glance, Austin isn’t very inviting. The twenty-minute ride from the airport to the Hyatt isn’t anything to marvel at. 

 

But perched up on the 20th floor overlooking the Colorado River into downtown, we looked out and were excited to get out and enjoy the city.

 

The city is green - big oak trees that canopy the streets. We were surprised by how pretty it was. We even stopped and looked at an open house in a darling neighborhood near the iconic wall that reads "Before I die..." And the art is fantastic. Murals everywhere.

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 Congress Street Bridge looking down to the capital

Congress Street Bridge looking down to the capital

 

Traveling with Essie, we had to plan activities that she would enjoy – the train ride through Zilker Park, the bats tour under Congress street bridge, visiting the state capital, pool time, park time, shopping, museums.

 

But scattered between all her outings we filled our stomachs with some of the best food experiences we’ve had - ever. Barbeque, Texas comfort food, fine dining, cute brunch spots, hip coffee shops, breakfast tacos…literally, Austin has it all!

 

Go for the food and music. Delight in the southern hospitality. Cruise around the parks. Swim in Barton Springs and you’ll be just as amazed as us.

 

Here are some recommendations, our own, where the locals and chefs eat and where they like to hang and our crazy itinerary! Haha:

What to do in Austin:

Food:

Uchi $$$$

Uchiko $$$$ (Favorite restaurant in Austin! YOU HAVE TO GO!)

La Barbeque $$ (Favorite BBQ in ATX, they are former staff from franklin's BBQ)

Franklin’s BBQ

Ramen Tatsu-Ya $$ (Voted best ramen in the country)

Josephine House $$ (I love their brunch)

East Side Show Room $$ (Gastropub, Cocktail Bar)

East Side King - Thai Kun at Whisler’s $ (Food Truck, awesome food!)

Whisler’s $$ (Cocktail Bar, Thai Kun is in the back patio)

Olamaie $$$ (top 50 best new restaurants in the country. One of my favorite meals ever!)

Justine’s Brasserie $$ (AWESOME late night eats and Live Music!)

Contigo $$ - Central Texas comfort food in a rad patio setting

Emmer & Rye $$$

Fixe $$$

Mickelthwaites BBQ – hot spot (they even gave us free cider as we waited in line!!)

Amy’s ice cream

Lamberts, Jester King, Easy Tiger, Pinthouse Pizza, Salt Lick friendly to kids and parents alike.

 

Coffee:

Fleet Coffee 🙌🏽, Epoch, Flitch, Figure8, Patika, Houndstooth

 

Cocktails:

Small Victory - speakeasy, good luck finding it

King Bee - neighborhood bar with badass cocktails

Half Step - The Varnish's (LA) sister bar

Townsend - A cathedral to the cocktail

Whisler's - Low key vibes and killer food truck

 

Beer:

Craft Pride - close to half step, only Texas beers

Hops & Grain - a favorite “local” brewery

Hi Hat Public House - hidden gem!

Blue Owl - so many sours

Drafthouse - Old as dirt, surly staff, great selection

 

Barbecue:

La BBQ - when you don't have time for Franklin (1 hour wait)

Micklethwait Craft Meat - (30 min or less) When you don't have time for La

Lockhart - a small town about 45 minutes south of town. Make that trip for Blacks, Smitty's, and Kreuz Market

 

Also, BBQ is for lunch, don't go to these places and try to get brisket at 6pm. You'll be sad.

 

Evening BBQ:

Stiles Switch - great tap selection as well

Terry Black's - best sides

 

MOOOOOORE Food:

Odd Duck/Barley Swine - literally the best

Olamaie - Southern Food, damn good biscuits

Swift's Attic - Favorite happy hour

Laundrette - Cute space, great food. Instagram

Buffalina - Neapolitan pizza, amazing

Sway - Modern Thai cuisine

 

Tacos:

Veracruz All Natural

Las Trancas

El Primo

Pueblo Viejo

Rosita's Al Pastor

Mi Madre's

Valentina's Tex Mex BBQ

Taco Deli (breakfast tacos)

 

Attractions: Bats under Congress Bridge, Barton Springs, Zilker Park

 

Brunch: South Congress Café – cool area

 

Thursday:

Flight: Alaska SkyWest - Nonstop from SAN to Austin

Get car, check in

Friday: Sunrise at..? (didn't happen. haha.)

Bfast: Cafe No Se

Cruise to Barton Springs - take aerial shots

Lunch: Mickelthwaits BBQ

Hang at Pool

Cruise/ Bats under Congress Bridge At 4:30

Dinner: Contigo - 6:30 pm

Night shooting Lamar Street Bridge (car side) bring tri pod

 

Saturday:

Bfast: Pastries and Coffee

Photos: PennyBacker Bridge 360 loop.

Lunch: Le Politique

Walk around Austin

Dinner: Emmer and Rye 6:15pm

Whisler for a drink

 

Sunday:

Bfast: Hillside Farmacy

Photos: Mama and Essie at pool

Lunch: Launderette

Dinner: Uchiko 6:30pm

Jacuzzi

 

Monday: Check out

Return car

Flight Alaska Skywest at 7:50 am -Non-Stop to San Diego

 


 

 

Thanksgiving and Anniversary in Puerto Vallarta 2017

What was supposed to be a big family vacation to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico turned out to be a trip just with us three. FYI - dont wait too long to get your plane tickets or else the price goes up exponentially!

We were fortunate enough to get tickets from Alaska Airlines far in advance so although we wish the rest of the family was there, it was a good week just to relax by the pool and on the beach.

When you think of Mexico, what comes to mind? For me it's TACOS!! We live in San Diego so we have some of the best tacos in the world, but there's something about eating tacos in Mexico that's so satisfying. 

The beach. Mexican beaches are beautiful. Puerto Vallarta (PVR) in the fall and winter is the best time to visit. The water is 74 degrees, the weather is 85 and there's sunshine all day. 

 Looking south towards Old PVR

Looking south towards Old PVR

Adventures. In PVR there's no shortage of adventures. Snorkeling. Scuba. Sailing. Ziplining. Horseback riding. Surfing. Swimming. Food tours. 

We decided to go on a pirate ship for Essie. This was so much fun. For a whole day, you take a "pirate ship" out to sea. You can choose from snorkeling, swimming, canoeing, hanging on the beach and many others. They feed you breakfast and lunch - and I have to say, the food was awesome. Chilaquiles, pancakes, fruit, coffee, water juice and for lunch, a choice of salmon, chicken, steak and shrimp and vegetarian. You take the boat out in the morning and the pirates perform on the ship. There's a mutiny and some of them have to walk the plank (which actually really scared Essie haha). But don't be scared, the good pirates win in the end! Yay!!

The best part of the trip was watching Essie find the hidden treasure on the beach, which is on a private island we stopped at. When she found it, a pirate was asked if she was a good pirate or bad pirate. If she was a good pirate, she would share her treasure with the other kids. We were proud that she shared all the gold coins with the other kids.

This week was also the week of our 8 year anniversary so we took Essie to our favorite restaurant - Barcelona Tapas. A beautiful restaurant built on top of the chef/owners house, this 4 story restaurant offers beautiful views of PVR. Go before sunset and sit close to the glass railing. We sat on the balcony and enjoyed the warm breeze as we watched the sun set. We had to keep Essie busy so we brought her journal and pens and let her draw. 

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A lot of the days we got breakfast in the hotel (Sheraton) and then went to the pool. I also cooked breakfast for Stacy for our anniversary. For lunch we just ordered food at the pool. But every night we went out to eat.

One of our favorite restaurants was The Barracuda, right on the beach and on the edge of the old town. Fresh fish, craft beers and cocktails and very reasonably priced. Definitely check it out. We ordered tacos, which we both enjoyed.

What else? 

Tips: Essie is 4 and half and gets bored easily. We've found that she loves to do things with her hands. She's creative. She likes to build legos, draw, work on writing, play with dolls and to stay active. For the plane ride, we downloaded the Alaska Airlines app and she watched a movie for free. 

But she also spent time drawing in her journal and asking us how to write names - Dad, mama, Erin, Lady etc. She absolutely loves flying and likes to see the Alaska Air planes when they fly over her school in Point Loma.

Packing tips: Pack twice as much as you think you need in tropical places. You'll sweat through one pair of clothes during the day. If you're out adventuring, you'll sweat. Be ready. If you're at the pool or beach and can stay in your bathing suit all day, then you'll be fine. But pack a lot. Stacy and Essie shared a bag because we took Essies car seat down (we got dropped at the airport in a Lyft) to save on the amount of bags we dragged around. 

Suggested restaurants and activities:

  • The Fiesta at the Sheraton (we went on Thanksgiving and they had an amazing Mexican buffet, American Thanksgiving food and an open bar). $$$
  • The Pirate Ship Vallarta - fun day with an open bar on the way back. The boat does rock slightly so be aware. $$$$
  • Barcelona Tapas - classic Spanish tapas in a beautiful setting. The food is amazing. $$$
  • Walking the Malecon at night - enjoy the breeze and the shops
  • Drinks or dinner at La Palapa and Vista Grille - both fine dining on the beach $$$$
  • The Barracuda - a fish forward restaurant on the beach serving fresh plates and tacos, craft cocktails and beers. Good prices $$
  • River Cafe - fine dining restaurant on the river. Enjoy the sounds of the river with a fine dining meal $$$$

San Diego on Air

There's no better way to see San Diego then by cruising over in a plane or helicopter. I've lived here my whole life and have just recently been able to take a few flights over San Diego. If you ever visit, I highly recommend it

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Mextures interview

I was lucky enough to be featured by the award winning app Mextures in the app and on the website recently.  you can read more about it here:

http://app.mextures.com/justin-halbert-feature/