Tag Archives: Hospitality

International Cottages – San Diego, Calif.

6 Jan

You have got to go here…International Cottages – San Diego, Calif.

As a Southern California native I have been to Balboa Park many times but had never had the chance to visit the International Cottages – man was I missing out!


Established in 1935 the cottages were set-up to promote understanding between nations.  Today, 32 countries open their doors every Sunday from noon – 4 p.m. to give visitors a glimpse into a traditional home, a history lesson and an opportunity to strike up a conversation with someone of a different culture.

And that’s not all that is inside…every cottage offers snacks native to their country (please bring small bills as tips are greatly appreciated for these treats!) so bring your appetite!

Oh wait there is more…some countries even have activities for you to partake in!

In addition to the open houses every Sunday each country hosts a lawn program each year that highlights music and dance from their part of the world.


It doesn’t stop there, there are also several other events held throughout the year such as an Ethnic Food Fair and International Christmas Fair just to name a few!

I forgot to mention the best part – all of this is FREE!!!  So bring your friends, bring your family and spend the day immersing yourself in other cultures.

Happy Cottaging,



5 Reasons to Take a River Cruise with Scenic Cruises

27 Oct

I have got to do this…Take a River Cruise with Scenic Cruises

Of course I am sure there are a million reasons why I (and you too!) should float through Europe on a luxury hotel, but I will make it easy and give you the reasons why you HAVE to do this!

Let’s do this David Letterman style:

The TOP FIVE reasons to a take a river cruise with Scenic Cruises are…

5. Make new friends.

The intimacy of the luxurious fleet of ‘Space-Ships’ gives ample opportunities to meet new people from all over the world  and share a once of a lifetime vacation.  You never know how many lifelong friends you may meet!

4. Discover hidden gems.

Do you love to find new things that most others don’t take the time to discover? ME TOO!  Well, Scenic Cruises will make this easier for you.  Go where others may not venture because you will be floating to your picturesque destinations via luxury ship as opposed to planes, trains or automobiles!  The staff at Scenic Cruises has also taken special care in selecting their destinations to make sure they are like no other!

3. Choices, Choices, Choices.

Want to spend your day on a inclusive excursion (you heard me right – all excursions are included in the price of your cruise) with an experienced guide, riding an electric bike through quaint towns, relaxing in the sun on one of the many decks?  The possibilities of what to do are endless and the choice is all yours.

2.Personal Butler.

Need I say more?  Feeling parched and need a drink – have no fear your personal butler will be by shortly with a complimentary beverage.  Think this is the only luxury you will enjoy on your cruise?  Think again!  Rest our head on egyptian cotton linens, bathe with L’Occitaine amenities, use a Nordic walking stick while you are out exploring, listen to your personal GPS tour guide , enjoy a complimentary in-suite mini bar, have a friendly customer-oriented staff at your fingertips and of course taste world-class cuisine daily…just to name a few!

1.  Experience a  sunrise is a new spot each day!

How many people can say that each day of vacation they were able to see a truly new sunrise?  The best part about this is that it comes with no effort to you thanks to the itineraries of scenic cruises .  Just lay your head down at night and while you are dreaming you will be whisked to a new destination in your luxury coach. Nothing excites me more than the fact that each morning I will start my day off with a sight I have never seen before!

OK, so who is ready to go? ME ME ME!  I can already see myself sipping tea after a peaceful nights rest waiting anxiously to go and explore each day!

Happy Cruising,


The City of York – York, United Kingdom

21 Sep

You have got to go here…The City of York – York, United Kingdom.


I knew nothing of the city of York when my tour operator (who thankfully for me specialized is a UK Destination Specialist) Across the Pond Vacations suggested it as somewhere to visit on our first trip to the United Kingdom.  Being the type of person who likes to find hidden gems and get advice from locals, I didn’t do too much research in regards to what to see.  This was both good and bad.  Had I known how much awesomeness there was I would have stayed longer.  BUT our favorite things about York turned out to be places that were suggested to us by our innkeeper.

So, I am going to fill you in on my favorite spots, but of course I won’t tell you about everything…you need to go and discover new things too!

Let’s start with where we stayed.  I am sure that there are many lovely places to stay, but I am not sure that you could get better hospitality than what I received at the Alcuin Lodge. Darren was such a great host.  He met us personally when we arrived and spent time giving us tips on what to do in the short amount of time we had to explore.  Just an fyi – every amazing place in this blog was as a result of a Darren giving us the inside tip.  (I know what you are thinking…he is probably just referring you to the touristy places.  This was not the case, most of the spots he sent us to where off-the-beaten path and places he frequents as a local.)  Not only did we love Darren, but we loved the lodge too!  Super clean, very modern for being such an old home and we had an amazing breakfast cooked for us the next morning.


While the lodge ins’t inside the city walls, it is just a short and beautiful walk through an historic neighborhood, ancient ruins and a magnificent park to get you to the city center.


OK, so we literally had 24hrs in York and if I had to do it all over I would visit these four places again:

1. York Cocoa House

Really Chocolate??? Yes, really!  York has a history rich in Chocolate so I had to try some of the goods.  The trip here was well worth it.  I had the best hot cocoa and chocolate milk that I have ever had in my entire life.  Don’t judge me, yes…I went twice in 24hrs!  No pre-packaged mix here, only fresh real chocolate went into these drinks.


2. National Railway Museum

I have been to several train museums in the United States, but nothing like this.  It is huge and full of so many amazing train cars and history.  OH and it is FREE!!! Donations however are accepted if you feel so inclined!  I highly suggest you pay the small fee and ride on a steam train like we did. In no way is this museum just for kids either, there is plenty of things for the whole family!




3. The York City Walls

I don’t know about you, but this was the first time I walked on something built by the Romans and I was so excited.  These walls line the outside of the city center (only some portions still exist so get a map when you arrive) and are FREE to roam and offer a lovely view of the city.  You know by now that I am big kid, and there was truly something magical about taking the same steps that ancient soldiers took as well.




4. Trembling Madness

What is Trembling Madness you ask?  Only the best pub I visited while on my trip to the U.K.  Located above a unique and very expansive liquor store sits a small and intimate pub that serves delicious food and drinks.  The ambiance is fantastic; I really felt like I stepped back in time.  This is the perfect place to meet locals and relax.  I also have to thank Trembling Madness for introducing me to the most yummy cider my lips have ever touched.


Believe me when I say that these few places I visited are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to things to see and do in York.  I didn’t even touch on the Abbey destroyed by Henry VIII, the boat trip and the amazing shopping.  Do yourself a favor and make York part of your trip if you are ever in the U.K.

Happy Yorking,


El Paca Pastures – Ojai, Calif.

3 Sep

You have got to go here…El Paca Pastures – Ojai, Calif.

Looking for something new to do?  Why not visit an Alpaca farm?

Located just a few minutes from beautiful Ojai, El Paca Pastures is a family run Alpaca farm that is a pure delight for any animal lover!

Upon arrival you can’t help but be drawn to the Alpacas and their guard Llama – yes, you heard me right!

Not only were the animals super friendly (I got to pet one and was so excited), but the family who runs an owns the farm were as well.  They took the time to give us a tour of the farm and taught us all there was to know about these beautiful creatures.  I asked question upon question and they were always happy to answer them.

My favorite part of the day was taking photographs of the Alpacas, they were so majestic and made for a great subject.  After hundreds of shots I was able to something else that I love…SHOP!

The Ranch store has hundreds of products to choose from.  Everything from scarves to purses to socks to toys.  I never realized how soft their fur was.  This is a great place to find a unique and one-of-a-kind gift.  There is something for everyone!

I love to find hidden gems and this is one of them…I mean how many people can say that they have been to an Alpaca farm?

A few other things about this destination – it s FREE to visit and the family who owns it seems to truly love what they do and that makes me happy and want to support them.

So, if you find yourself in the Ojai I highly suggest you stop over to El Paca Pastures and pay them a visit.

Happy Alpacaing,


P.S. – Don’t forget to ask them what the name of all the animals are!  Can you figure out what they all have in common?

The Crumpet Shop – Seattle, Wash.

25 Jun

You have got to go here…The Crumpet Shop – Seattle, Wash.

If you have been to Seattle, you know that there are a plethora of amazing restaurants to tempt your taste buds.  So many, you may have a hard time choosing where to eat, well have no fear I am here to help – at least with one restaurant choice!  Located in The Pike Place Market on 1st Ave., The Crumpet Shop is somewhere not to be missed.

Open for breakfast and lunch seven days a week, The Crumpet Shop hand makes their organic treats every day.

I have had a few crumpets in my day, but never ones that tasted this moist and fresh – my stomach was in heaven.  The choice of toppings for your crumpets range from butter and fresh preserves to green eggs and ham, to cream cheese, to salmon – the possibilities are endless.  No matter what you choose, I suggest you try a few or go back several times like I did!

The crumpets aren’t the only thing on the menu that is a must try.  Specialized organic teas are also something to be sampled.  I had the green iced tea and it was fabulous…shhhh, I will let you in on a little secret – save your cup as they offer FREE refills all day.  Now that is a bargain!

It isn’t only the food that makes The Crumpet Shop somewhere you have to go, the cute and cozy environment has such a welcoming vibe…its is a great place to relax, watch crumpets being made and enjoy a fabulous and reasonably priced home-cooked meal.

Did I mention this is a family run business?  For the past 36 years Nancy and her husband have been lovingly serving the Seattle community.  I was lucky enough to get to meet her and pick her brain about her yummy shop.  This makes The Crumpet Shop even more special in my book – I love supporting mom and pop shops!

If you live in Seattle or are visiting, don’t walk, but run to The Crumpet Shop – you won’t be disappointed!

Happy Crumpeting,


Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar – Disneyland U.S.A.

21 Jun

You have got to go here…Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar – Disneyland U.S.A.

So you think you have already discovered all the best places at the Disneyland Resort?  Well, I may just have a place that you haven’t been to – Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar.  After a long day on your feet, this is a perfect place to pull up a chair and relax!

Located in the Disneyland Hotel, Trader Sam’s is like stepping into a tropical bar in a far away place.  Once you walk through the doors and are greeted by the crowd with an “ALOHA”, you will never want to leave!

Where to start…get a table right away and let the fun begin.  Don’t for get to follow the rules!


There are tons of  tropical drinks (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) to choose from along with tasty appetizers.  I suggest trying out one of their specialty drinks as they often come with a show too – you will see what I mean…go ahead, I dare you to order one!  Watch out for fire and rain (wink, wink)!

OK, so you have your drink ordered, now take some time to look around and enjoy the scenery (even the bathroom is themed).  The bar is full of tropical artifacts and the walls are covered in decor that is a must see!

Did I mention this place is also fun?  From the witty bartenders, to the erupting volcanoes, to the live music…this bar is truly a gem!

You would never know that you were in the center of the hustle and bustle of the Disneyland Resort.  Trader Sam’s allows the kid in you to jump out and do the happy dance – don’t be shy, join the party – you will be glad you did!

Oh and for all you Disney enthusiasts…don’t forget to look for  the hidden Mickey!

There is no cost to enter Trader Sam’s.  If you park in the Downtown Disney District, the first two hours are free and you can receive an additional three hours free with validation.

Happy Tiking,


Abel Tasman, New Zealand : The Boot

29 Jan

Located between Nelson, NZ and Abel Tasman National Park, The Boot Bed & Breakfast is a page straight out of a fairy tale awaiting the arrival of its next royal guest: you!

Surrounded by lush greenery, you feel like you're in your very own Enchanted Forrest

Having both vacationed and lived in New Zealand, my husband and I are no strangers to New Zealand’s beauty. When we found out two fantastic friends planned to marry in Nelson we began looking for new and interesting destinations for our return trip. Following a trail of internet breadcrumbs I stumbled across the website for The Boot and was instantly charmed. The adorable fantasy setting was impossible to resist.

We booked our stay online; I was more than excited*! This one night of Fairy Tale magic was double the price of every other room we considered–something that required cajoling to convince my husband. We can assure you, though, that it was more than worth it.

The owner, Steve, was prompt with email responses and more than accommodating to any dietary restrictions. He even offered to put together a BBQ platter for us upon our arrival since their restaurant, The Jester House Cafe, would be closed.

Waking up to this made me never want to leave!

Upon our arrival, Steve personally lead us to The Boot where our night of fairy tale romance would begin. Disheveled and tired after day of kayaking in Abel Tasman, we were instantly rejuvinated by The Boot’s charm and attention to detail. Warm, enveloping wood tones; fresh flowers in every room; shoelaces wound up the outside of the boot; a lounger with plenty of reading materials in front of the fireplace; a spiral staircase leading to the sleeping quarters. And, best of all, no television and no internet. It truly is a fairy tale! This little Boot shaped cottage made us feel like enchanted characters from a children’s book, just waiting for the wildlife burst into song.

The Official Greeter of The Boot, New Zealand

We were welcomed with High Tea, a nice English Breakfast with coconut macaroons, on the patio. While enjoying this little treat, I was greeted by one of the local cats who just stopped in to make sure everything was up to par.

The rest of our evening was filled with romantic sounds of piano concertos via the provided CD’s and stereo, cleaning up in the dual-headed and large-enough-for-two shower, and relaxing by the outdoor fire pit curled up with a good book.

Perfect place to curl up with a book and relax the night away

Kiwi Style French Toast (prepared GlutenFree!) and a Big Kiwi Breakfast, so good there wasn't a single bite left!

The next morning, we awoke to the gentle sound of rain and decided to stay cozied-up in the most comfortable bed we’d experienced in weeks. We slept the morning away, and within minutes of awakening were greeted by our friendly innkeeper, arriving with breakfast at so perfect a time it seemed as though he had some magical sense of when we would awaken.

As if the enchantment of The Boot Cottage weren’t enough, there’s also a magical play area open to the guests of the restaurant as well as those staying overnight.  The play area is the physical manifestation of childhood dreams: a wooded area complete with entryway, majestic flags, and a throne, a teater-totter made from fallen tree branches, and an over-sized chess board with a knight who’s height reaches your knees.

Taking over the Throne, curious if the woodland creatures will show themselves.

If you’re looking for an escape from reality, a stay at The Boot is certain to do the trick. Stay longer than a week and you just may never return to reality!

*This was my first stay at a B&B. I’d always been a little uncomfortable with the idea of staying where someone permanently lives. Steve had the perfect balance of interest and discretion throughout our entire stay. I’ll definitely be staying at more B&B’s!

Jessica is a Graphic Designer and Owner of little Hinka Design.