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)
Let’s face it. Traveling with kids can be a nightmare. I often need a vacation from the vacation because it’s not like parents can really be “off” when the kids are screaming that they don’t want to go to bed, they’re hungry, or they simply want to play with you 24/7.
Enter The Rosewood Sand Hill in Menlo Park. It’s a favorite of Silicon Valley execs due to it’s close proximity to the major VCs, Stanford, and San Jose. Reflecting a mix of California Ranch and Tuscan architecture, the main lobby rises up from terraced land with large balconies overlooking the gardens, mountains, and pool. The grounds are, quite simply, stunning with a pool largely unmatched by other local properties. They also have poolside food and cocktail service right now so that means… get me to the Rosewood!
My first order of business? Poolside cocktails. Obvi. They make a delicious Aperol Spritz.
Yes, their drinks are delicious, but expect to pay a small fortune for food and drink (anywhere from $22-$28 for a single cocktail). Inspired by San Francisco’s world-renowned cocktail culture, Madera’s menu consists of a mix of classic favorites and innovative concoctions (like a modern take on the Gin and Tonic with Elderflower Liquor) created by cocktail craftsman Oreste Catenacci to emulate the spirit of the Bay Area.
The hotel charges anywhere from $650-$800/night for a standard room, so this isn’t a place you go to save money. It’s a place you go to splurge. However, they do have deals like the one I took advantage of — 3 nights for the price of 2 — with two nights where you get $100 resort credit (to help ease the pain of spending $24 for a cocktail and $25 for a bagel with lox). It worked. On top of the lovely cocktail service and even lovelier staff, they also deliver cocktails to your room. Do you notice a trend with this mom of two young boys?
This little Negroni delivered by room service held enough for two cocktails and was one of the best Negronis I’ve had in years. It’s now my go to summer/early fall beverage. If you’re also like me and your favorite part of staying at a hotel is holing up in the room, they offer luxe Le Labo bath amenities and amenities for kids like this cute miniature robe, backpack, and water bottle.
My friend and I ate dinner in the Madera Lounge one of the last nights there and we enjoyed the warm night and beautiful grounds. The Artichoke with valbreso feta, almond, and naan ($14) was tasty and I also ordered the Farmers’ Market Bowl ($20) with grilled brentwood corn, brokaw avocado, tomato, cotija, cilantro, harissa, and lime vinaigrette. I added salmon, but would skip that part next time as they couldn’t quite get the salmon cooked to my taste. It was far too raw the first (and second) time around when I had to sent it back again. The couple sitting at the table next to us also sent it back for the same reason. That said, the next day when I ordered the Smoked Salmon Tartine ($25) with ricotta, celery, caperberry, and dill it was so good that my friend and I were still thinking about it the next day. My mouth is watering thinking about it now.
All in all, for a quick local escape with a clean stunning pool, delicious drinks, and superb staff, I give it a big thumb’s up. Look for deals where you get a free night or resort credit and you’ll live like a Queen or King for a few days without regretting it.
Cézanne, Van Gogh, Chagall, and Matisse all drew inspiration from the storied beauty of Provence, and now savvy travelers can as well on a new, affordably-priced 12-day small group tour with Odysseys Unlimited: Discovering Provence with the French Riviera. From billowy lavender fields to rose-hued salt marshes, hilltop villages to medieval towns, and traditional cowboy ranches to the French Riviera, the small group tour relishes la vie Provençale with visits to Aix-en-Provence, Arles, and the quintessential Provençal villages of Lourmarin, Rousillon, Les Baux ,and Saint-Rémy; along with the Camargue region, Avignon, and Nice.
Six-time honoree of Travel +Leisure’s World’s Best Tour Operators award, I like Odysseys Unlimited approach with small groups, limited to 12 – 24 traveling companions, and led by top-rated tour directors with a balanced mix of guided tour and time for independent exploration. There’s nothing worse than never having a moment to relax. The company’s tour directors illuminate historic sites such as Cézanne’s atelier in Aix, the Pont du Gard and the Palais des Papes (Papal Palace) in Avignon, and the UNESCO sites of Roman Arles, while also allowing ample time to stop and smell the sunflowers. Or the lavender.
Small group highlights abound, including a private cooking class from a local Provençal chef, dinner and a wine tasting at a vineyard, a visit to a working manade (traditional ranch) in the Camargue, and a stay at a converted 17th-century convent.
Priced from $3,997 total price from Boston and New York ($3,495 air and land inclusive plus $502 airline taxes and departure fees), and slightly higher from other gateway cities, Odysseys Unlimited’s 12-day Discovering Provence with the French Riviera debuts April 6, 2020, and has 12 departures through October 12, 2020. There is an optional three-day/two-night extension in Nice on the French Riviera, from $245.