Yes. Yes. Yes. A few steps from the Ferry Building and Embarcadero, a few streets (or short ride) to North Beach, a Marriott Bonvoy point qualifying property… we give this property a resounding yes.
Le Meridien San Francisco is a steal for any last minute SF vacation or the staycation feels. At around $200-$300/night (depending on the lucky lower rate you get), you’ll be smack dab in the city (but far enough from the Tenderloin sketchiness). With modern, bright, and wonderfully spacious rooms (bigger than my old midtown NYC apartment!), there’s a lovely front door staff and cocktail bar downstairs (Bar 333). Although there’s no longer valet, there’s parking for $35 overnight across the street in the garage beneath the Shops at the Embarcadero which works just fine. The room service menu is limited, but okay. One note: there’s no kid’s menu and not much for dessert so we had to Door Dash as my 8 year son couldn’t find a single thing he wanted to eat. What can I say? He’s used to having warm chocolate chip cookies sent up. The Dream Inn in Santa Cruz, California did a nice job spoiling him with their warm chocolate chip cookies. For moms like me, who want to get the little ones something special on a holiday, warm chocolate chip cookies with milk seems like a staple.
Pros: They have Bravo (hotels need to get with the program and get their Bravo TV!), there’s a decent bar downstairs where you can get a nice G&T (or two), the spaciousness of the rooms, and it’s so centrally located you can’t go wrong. Each of the 360 rooms have floor to ceiling windows and you’ll marvel at the remarkable skyline and unparalleled views of the San Francisco Bay. Win win.
Cons: Room service menu needs an option for kids and families traveling with them
Where to begin? Let’s start with the awe inspiring drive to the Carmel Valley from our hotel in Carmel-by-the-Sea. One of my favorite things to do in life is to take the top down on my 911 Carrera Cab to drive the 16 minutes from the ocean to the valley. Long stretches of a relaxing winding road, fresh air that moves it’s way through the low languid mountains, and the warmth of the valley embracing my shoulders as we leave the misty cliffs of Carmel to meet the vineyard and spa retreat that is the Carmel Valley.
During a weekend in Carmel, my partner-in-crime and I decided to book massages as the Bernardus Lodge and Spa along with an All Day Pass to soak up some pool or hot tub time, grab a light lunch, and relax. Unfortunately, we arrived a little too late so only had time for lunch by the pool before our spa appointments were to begin at 3pm (spa closes at 5pm). Alas, we headed to the pool.
Thankfully, it wasn’t crowded. A decent amount of people around gave it some liveliness with couples and a few families. We sat in the full warmth of the sunlight and the spa attendant told us that she would send someone out to take our order. After waiting 20 minutes, we realized that they may have forgotten about us. They had. Instead, they told us to place our orders via a phone by the side of the pool. A little odd that they wouldn’t offer to make the call for us after forgetting about us, but mistakes happen. We dialed in an order for two glasses of New World Sauvignon Blanc and two salads, the Roasted Beet Salad with chicken and a Caesar Salad with chicken.
The wine was cold and the salads substantial, but the chicken, oh the chicken! It was a quarter of a chicken grilled with the skin on, a massive thigh and attached drumstick. Not exactly easy to eat in the hot sun nor as tasty as it may have looked on a salad. We both wished they had served the salad with thin slices of grilled chicken breast. The brunch menu promoted “Where Old World Craft Meets New World Creativity,” but it lacked inspiration or any creativity – Caesar Salad, Burger, Eggs Benedict, Fried Chicken Sandwich, Crab Cake, a few pizza choices, and Huevos Rancheros. Had the chef brought in more thoughtful, interesting seasonal touches like grapefruit, fennel, strawberry, lemon, or kohlrabi and a bit of flair, it has potential based on the beauty and expanse of the property alone, but it wasn’t the sort of menu where you had a hard time deciding what to get because they’re weren’t any stand out choices. It was, for lack of a better word, basic.
Onto the spa where the environment was an almost perfect Pottery Barn beige sense of calm. We were kindly welcomed and the spa attendant pointed out candied ginger to aid with digestion, assorted teas, fruit-infused water, and salted nuts as she ushered us inside. When we asked about our lockers and a robe, we were told that daytime spa guests didn’t receive them. That was when, after the large cavegirl leg of chicken on our salads and the spa forgetting to call the server, I realized that Bernardus, as stunning as the property may be nestled in the cozy rustic chic of Carmel Valley, isn’t quite at the level of service nor luxury that you would find at a Ritz Carlton, St. Regis, or Four Seasons.
We headed to the spa for the treatment, took a quick 10 minute dip in the deliciously heated small pool, and were then called to our appointments. The treatment did not disappoint. We had the Bernardus Essential Massage for 50 minutes ($185, approximately $250 with tip; it’s included). My therapist was excellent and the massage was just the perfect amount of Swedish relaxation with a bit of pressure. When we went to pay, the spa director told us – Strike 3 of the experience – that she noticed we had enjoyed the spa pool (this was a mere 10 minutes prior to the massages) and, although trying to be nice, both my friend and I felt slightly scolded when she said, “It’s okay this time, but next time, if you booked a spa appointment for the day, daytime spa guests aren’t permitted to use the facilities.” Not your standard 15 minutes prior nor following the massage that is custom at luxury properties? Que raro! After our confused looks, no doubt because my friend and I, in all of our jaunts to 4 and 5 star properties, had never heard of such a ridiculous rule before, the spa director mentioned something about Covid. It didn’t make much sense as the mask mandate was ending and capacity was minimal. There was no one in the spa pool and we only saw two others in the spa throughout the entire time we were there. It seemed as if it was one of those poorly drafted “rules” that properties implemented to cut corners during Covid to charge the same for less.
Net net: we had a lovely time because the environment was well kept and beautiful, but we’re not sure we would come back for a meal or a massage. Perhaps if I brought my kids for a mini-vacation as the pool was nice. Apparently, the spa facilities are complimentary for hotel guests. Note to Bernardus Lodge & Spa: you have all the makings of greatness, so leverage seasonal California ingredients and bring thoughtfulness to your menu. Don’t disregard the value of loyal Bay Area locals with stingy spa rules that feel a few stars less than what you’re aiming for.
Rating: 8-/10 for the massage and nice spa amenities (points deducted for the chunk of chicken leg and odd very un-luxe spa limitations for day spa guests)
Our favorite time of the year is around the corner! Also known as snow crab, champagne, and slope season! So, when this news hit our inbox we thought, ‘what better way to inspire others than to share these winter wonderland vibes? Sometimes we like to report on a town with a roundup, other times, we like to share property specific news because we’re a bunch of hotel hounds.
Enter: The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe. A luxe winter wonderland nestled mid-mountain at Northstar California Resort, they’re also presenting a veritable winter world of activities like après ski, gourmet dining, a Claus family meet and greet, Menorah Lighting ceremony, and traditional Christmas dinners.
As the only ski-in/ski-out destination in Lake Tahoe, the resort is also perfect for families because you can indulge with world-class ski valet services (yes, please!), award-winning dining and culinary offerings (let the diet start on Monday), and, of course, some of the finest hospitality in the world. Insider secret: they’re trained to always say hello to you in the hallways. It’s a small detail that pays off with kindness. The hotel will also host Holiday Days of Magic, special extravaganzas elevating the holiday vibes further. We just love the whole seasonal thing!
In addition to deluxe guestrooms and suites, the resort’s two and three-bedroom Luxury Residences are available to book for the ultimate home-away-from-home winter getaway.
Check out this year’s winter and holiday amenities and events below:
RESORT & DINING EXPERIENCES
Northstar California Resort
Guests of The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe have privileged access to Northstar California Resort for all their on-mountain plans with its ski-in/ski-out access and ski valet services. This year, Northstar will not require advanced reservations for on-mountain activities, but face masks are required for all indoor activities. Additionally, proof of vaccination and advanced reservations are required for indoor dining.
A social and entertaining activity to enjoy after a day on the slopes, après ski in The Backyard is a guest favorite at The Ritz Carlton, Lake Tahoe. This year, beginning November 18 and running throughout the ski season, the hotel will host a Whiskey & Waffles Cabin where guests can savor premium, select whiskeys from around the world paired with warm, fresh waffles loaded with gourmet toppings. OMG!! For an even more elevated après ski experience, weekend guests can also check out the Champagne & Caviar Bar, serving a selection of champagne complemented with an exceptional collection of caviar (we are ALL about caviar these days with interesting flavors from Uruguay and California).
The spa at The Ritz Carlton, Lake Tahoe will also be offering seasonal treatments like the Chocolate Decadence Facial.
The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe offers a great selection of exceptional dining spots on site, from the casual Café Blue and The Backyard Bar & BBQ to The Living Room and the resort’s upscale restaurant, Manzanita.
The Manzanita menu serves up delicious California mountain cuisine like rustic “Woodlands” entrees such as branzino with Caponata, fennel and cucumber chimichurri, pork ossobuco, venison accompanied with sweet potato, blackberry demi and roasted heirloom carrots, braised lamb, and more.
With ski-in/ski-out access, The Backyard Bar & BBQ serves up Texas-style BBQ from Thursday through Sundays. Beef brisket, pulled pork and chicken, all smoked in-house with the resort’s onsite smoker and served with an array of traditional sides and house-made sauces. Yeehaw!
The Living Room, for when feeling like you’re at a posh hotel in the mountains and deserve fun posh fare. It will feature elevated, shareable dishes including cheese and chocolate fondue and creative seafood towers from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. You can also sip delicious cocktails here.
Another fun idea they’ve added to the “make it special and easy” vibe: the little ones in the family can enjoy a daily dinner buffet curated just for them with their favorite foods in mind. Priced at $35 per child, the rotating kids’ menu will consist of one cold dish option, choice of two kids’ favorite meals, and two entrée selections.
If that’s not cool enough, located at the Fireside Terrace, the hotel will be featuring an outdoor airstream bar – open daily – where guests can stop by to enjoy a warm bowl of soup, while sipping on their favorite winter-inspired cocktail.
HOLIDAY DAYS OF MAGIC – December 18 – January 2
Full Holiday Days of Magic Schedule
Manzanita & The Ballroom | November 25
Advance reservations required
A pre-fixed five-course festive meal will be offered at Manzanita for resort guests only. Menu items include roasted Brussel sprouts, heirloom roasted carrots, roasted turkey, porcini and coffee rubbed-roasted prime rib, and more. The five-course menu is priced at $180 per person.
A holiday buffet with chef-action stations, harvested vegetable dishes, artisan pastries and kids’ selections will be offered in the resort’s ballroom. Priced at $180 per guest adult; $50 per child the buffet option will be served from 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Menorah Lighting Ceremony
The Living Room | December 5 at Sundown
Manzanita & The Ballroom | December 25
Advance reservations required
Manzanita will be presenting a five-course Christmas menu. Dishes include baby beet salad, seafood duo – featuring scallops and sea bass, Piedmontese filet and more. Priced at $180 per person, guests can book dinner reservations from 4:00 – 9:30 p.m. Kids’ menu option available.
The holiday buffet will also be offered at Christmas and feature harvested vegetable dishes, artisan pastries and kids’ selections offered in the resort’s ballroom. Priced at $180 / per guest adult; $50 per child the buffet option will be served from 12:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
New Year’s Eve Dinner
Manzanita | December 31 | 4:00 – 9:30 p.m.
$210 per person (bubbles included) | Advance reservations required
Pre-fixed, five-course meal in Manzanita. Kids menu option available.
New Year’s Day Brunch
Manzanita | January 1, 11:00 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.
$225 per person | Advance reservationsrequired
Guests can start the new year off right and savor a special recovery brunch menu featuring unlimited bottomless drink selection.
Additionally, the resort will play host to special appearances from Mr. and Mrs. Claus, daily live music, and gingerbread house-making activities for families. The resort will also display a giant replica of the resort made entirely of gingerbread in the lobby, crafted by the resort’s talented pastry team.
I made plans for my escape to Tomales Bay in May. I knew I needed something on the books later in the year to break up the monotony of being a shut in during the pandemic. I’d fallen in love with the charming cottages at Nick’s Cove on a day trip long ago, but the waterfront cottages book up so far in advance that I never had the timing right. My plan? Come back one day to spend a night or two here and soak up the salt and rocks. In a rare stroke of luck in 2020, I was able to secure a reservation for two nights during the Halloween weekend. Even luckier, the weather was gorgeous.
We hit the road on a Saturday morning, driving further and further away from the crowded communities, each town smaller than the last along the windy country roads leading away from the Bay. Despite stopping for a pleasant lunch at Two Bird Cafe in San Geronimo, I knew we needed oysters immediately upon arrival. I booked a post-lunch snack at the Hog Island Boat Oyster Bar on Resy. It’s a pilgrimage of sorts to eat these shellfish where they are pulled fresh from the sea.
I had avoided the ubiquitous Hog Island in the past as it was always a crowded mess of people shucking their own oysters and fighting for table space. Now, they required reservations and had shucking service. The vibe was festive as I think most people were as overjoyed as we were to be sitting on the water on such a gorgeous day.
We ordered drinks and Sweetwater oysters at the bar and settled in to enjoy the view. Inexplicably, my husband isn’t a huge oyster fan so I ordered just six, but after trying one I had to order another round just to have more Hogwash, their distinct rice wine vinegar mignonette with jalapeno and cilantro. I could have stayed the entire afternoon sitting there on the bay but the bar was closing, and we had to check into the hotel.
We booked Al’s Cottage, one of the rooms directly on the water. The decor was deliberately rustic, but had modern amenities like heated bathroom floors and a fully stocked minibar (a glorious rare joy in COVID days). The cottage had a living room with a big leather couch and fireplace, and a bedroom with a comfy king-sized bed, both with a direct view out onto the water.
At the end of the long pier at Nick’s Cove, there is a little boat shack designed for parties, complete with an old piano and a phone to call for food and beverages. Someone was hosting a gathering and the sound of laughter and clinking glasses in the distance made it feel like life was normal again. As the fog arrived, the merry party departed for the evening. The silence set in as the sun faded, and I felt very far from home, even though I was only an hour’s drive away. I headed inside for a nice soak in the deep claw-foot tub.
Given the pandemic, there was no dining service, so we ordered at the front window and ate outside on the deck with the heaters. The food was unremarkable, but the bar was still serving and the martini I ordered was the perfect ending to a beautiful day.
The next morning, we took a short drive to Dillon Beach, a small community tucked away down a rambling road. A new resort of sorts dominates the town with its tiny houses, overlooking an expansive beach with expensive parking. We spent the day reading on the beach and had takeout lunch from the Coastal Kitchen.
For our second dinner, we drove up windy Highway 1 to the town of Tomales for dinner at William Tell House. That night it was just us and another table braving the cold outside dining. The heat lamp helped, as did the amazing fish tacos. The menu was simple, but what lacked in description made up for in flavor – the most
perfectly crisp battered with a mix of vinegary and spicy toppings.
In no rush to get home the day of our departure, we stopped at Tony’s Seafood for lunch, which is also owned by Hog Island. It had a more extensive menu than the Boat Shack so I tried the Earthquake Bay oysters for the first time, which are grown in bags that tumble the oysters as the tide rises and falls. The result is the most tender oyster. We paired this with the decadently rich Cowgirl Creamery grilled cheese sandwich and sipped our wine watching the sun reflect off the water. In that moment, I was filled with gratitude, for the oysters and sunshine and a dream weekend fulfilled.