Review: La Costa Resort and Spa

Family Travel Contributor

This week, Family Travel Contributor, Hillary Helsing, takes us to La Costa Resort and Spa for more stelllar family fun. No stranger to surf luxury, Hillary, an ex-pharmaceutical sales executive and one-time Quiksilver employee, resides in Huntington Beach and lives for luxe family vacations that don’t always have to cost a pretty penny.

A great family getaway that won’t break the bank, La Costa Resort and Spa, less than an hour from Orange County and 10 minutes from Legoland, is nestled in the hills of Carlsbad. Forget the beach on this trip. Drive, valet and stay. Bring the baby or the tween, and leave the nanny at home. Your family is well taken care of at this resort. There is a water play area, 7 pools, water slides (2 that are toddler safe), sandy beach pool that is 3-4 feet deep! Mom, this means you do not have to get in if you don’t want to. Sip a mai-tai and watch your darlings frolic in the shallow, huge kiddie pool.

I hear ya…Where is the luxury? First, ask for a renovated room or suite, they are beautiful. Second drop the kiddos off at Kidtopia. Kidtopia is a 6000 sq. ft. recreation center of indoor fun for ages 6 months to 12 years. It is adorable; slides, games, huge fish tank, lighted dance floor, and a bevy of young enthusiastic staff.

La Costa's Big Kid Slide

Grab your hubby and play tennis, golf, or go to the spa. They tout the spa is rated #1 in Southern California, I beg to differ. It is, however, newly designed and very nice.  I do agree with Travel Magazine, this resort is clearly #2 in Family Friendly Resorts! Last but not least, “Ask! Ask! ask!” Ask for discounts, vouchers, or upgrades. They are more than willing!

Rooms start at $229 and go up and up!

La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club

 Family Travel Contributor – Hillary Helsing

This week, we welcome our first Family Travel Contributor, Hillary Helsing, as she takes us to sweet SoCal for some stelllar family fun. No stranger to surf luxury, Hillary, an ex-pharmaceutical sales executive and one-time Quiksilver employee, resides in Huntington Beach and lives for luxe family vacations that don’t always break the bank. If a destination is going to cost a pretty penny, she believes that quality must reign supreme. After all, her little darlings are worth it.

Grilling with the Family

Location, Location, Location… with laid back luxury in kiddie heaven! A historic icon, La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club first opened in 1927, but today still carries with it that classic clout. With newly renovated rooms and suites, I recommend the north end of the private cove and an ocean front suite. The suites all have full kitchens (make bottles, pb&j, butter noodles… because I hate paying for that crap), and living/bed rooms all have cruise ship views.

Don’t expect opulence or marble tubs – sandy feet are welcome. The club includes: kiddie pools, big pool, private beach, hot cabana boys, best tennis ever, pitch and put 9 hole golf, minutes to downtown La Jolla, a playground with swings and slides and all the other resort hoopla you would expect. Leave your Burberry bikini at home and save that for the Montage in Laguna when you’re on vacation with your nanny. To stay here you have money, but there’s no need to flaunt it.

Wear your kid friendly outfit, forget the bling because you’re going to want to hit up the complementary sand toy box and dig in the sand with your kids. Reserve a BBQ (they set it up for you on the beach) grill away and go buy the s’mores kit from the gift shop. Your kids will love it! If I am going to leave the OC with my kids it better be great, and this is, in one word, great!

La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club

Rates from $339-$1629/night



Ms. Fitness Greta Blackburn


Oh Malibu… you sure do conjure up images of Pamela Anderson in her red hot one piece and Cindy Crawford  building castles in the sand with her gorgeous kiddies and hunky husband, Rande, don’t you?


How dare you? Well, if you want to roll with the taut and tanned, it’s time to tone up, slim down and learn the secrets of longevity with the one and only Ms. Fitness Greta Blackburn (check out those guns <–).

Along with leading scientists, physicians and fitness pros from around the globe, Blackburn, founding editor of Ms. Fitness Magazine and originator of the “boot camp” concept, will join forces for FITCAMP Malibu—a health and fitness experience from Nov. 17-21, 2010, at the Steven Breuer Conference Center in Malibu, California.

FITCAMP Malibu will build on the momentum of FITCAMP Cancun, held in April 2010, and will feature physical and mental challenges, which include the powerhouse Sprint 8 20-minute anti-aging exercise protocol featured in Blackburn’s upcoming book “The Immortality Edge” co-authored by Michael Fossel, MD, PhD and David Woynarowski, MD.

FITCAMP Malibu workouts will include:

•    Yoga for Stiffies: Hard-core practice designed to increase flexibility for new, intermediate and seasoned mat practitioners;
•    Pilates: Pioneer Mari Windsor will showcase her at-home system to help FitCampers develop a strong, sleek, toned body;
•    A mix of Hell Hikes, Power Walks, and Mixed Martial Arts-style workouts;
•    Ropes Course that will challenge entrenched fears, help with goal-setting and foster team-building; and
•    FITCAMP favorites: Butt ‘N Guts and indoor cycling with RealRyder bikes.

Physical offerings will complement FITCAMP Malibu’s “Nuke Aging” program, featuring seminars led by noted health experts recognized for their contributions to the field of anti-aging medicine. Presenters include Michael Fossel, MD, PhD, and author of Reversing Human Aging and The Immortality Edge; and David Kekich, founder and president of The Maximum Life Foundation.  David will outline his 7-step Life Extension Express program and give an insider’s overview of the conclusions from last fall’s Manhattan Beach Project.  Top Masters Athletic Performance Coach, Phil Campbell, of Ready Set Go Synergy Fitness; Fulcrum Adventures, which provides Transformational Learning Experiences; Mari Winsor, Pilates pioneer; Robert Martin of; and Taryn Bagrosky, Ms. Fitness USA, will also appear.




Together with Blackburn, this group of medical and fitness visionaries will declassify the secrets behind the science to help FitCampers change their physiology at a cellular level.

FITCAMP Malibu seminars will include:

•    Teleomere Basics and Beyond with Michael Fossel, MD, PhD;
•    Think and Grow Young with Dr. Kat Cotter, a certified clinical hypnotherapist; Look Great Naked at Any Age with Robert Martin;

•    Supplements That Work and Advanced Hormone Replacement Therapies, led by Dr. Kent Holtorf, Founder of The Holtorf Medical Group and a leading expert in the field of Endocrinology;
•    Life Extension Express with David Kekich;
•    The Genius Diet, a nutritional GPS to living a healthy 150 and beyond;
•    DETOX/Cleanse; an A to Z look at a process designed to fine-tune your metabolism; and
•    Meditation Secrets for the Hyper-Active Mind.

Rates for FITCAMP Malibu start at $1595 and include food, accommodations, classes, and camp-sanctioned events; previous FitCampers will receive a $100 rebate.

Airfare, airport transfers and extra nights at the resort excluded.  Registration fees are non-refundable.

So what are you waiting for? Pamela to swim out and save the beached whale?

To Nourish and Consume

Ryan O'Reilly, Author of Snapshot and To Nourish and Consume

Ryan O’Reilly is the author of the travel novel Snapshot and his latest book, To Nourish and Consume, which examines the awkward journey of returning home after a long period of being away. A freelance contributor to various newspapers and periodicals throughout the country, O’Reilly divides his time between his business in Austin, Texas and a small farm in Clever, Missouri.

-Why did you decide to become an author and world-traveler?

Like any good lifestyle change I just kind of fell into it. Prior to vagabonding, I was all about the conventional. In the summer of 2004, I was working in an office, had a fiancé, and a little house with a picket fence. I played golf on the weekends, had a few extra pounds and was heading towards a quiet existence as an everyman. Thus was the hour of my discontent. In August of that same year I visited a college buddy of mine, who was living in Austin, Texas and working for a touring band. After a weekend on the road with him, I went back home and within a month I had broken off my engagement, sold most of my belongings, quit my job and moved to Texas. Somewhere around the Oklahoma/Texas border, with a backseat full of books and suitcases, I stopped at a rest stop and cried for a half hour. At the time I thought it was regret, but now I think it was my body purging the illness of a long-lived life that hadn’t been my own. Since then, I’ve seen the entire country and many countries beyond, started two successful businesses, written two books and many articles and essays. Though I gave up a lot to live this life, I have never once looked back.

Frontier Rodeo Days - Cheyenne, Wyoming

What is the most thrilling place you’ve ever visited?

I don’t know about the most thrilling, but the most surprising has been right here – America. For the longest time I equated serious travel with going to Europe or Africa or the Far East. I thought those who restricted themselves to traveling in their own country were limiting their exposure to different cultures. Now, I see that I was wrong. Having been all over the world – and all over the United States – I can definitely say that the most thrilling and surprising thing one can do is to expose themselves to the separate nuances of their own country. Everyone knows that America is a melting pot and that our culture is about diversity. But until you see it, you don’t really understand the extent. I’m not talking about seeing the statue of liberty, hiking the grand canyon, or walking down Sunset Blvd. in LA.

I’m talking about having a beer at the Stockman bar in Walden, Colorado; going to the weekly farmers market in Livingston, Montana; Going to Frontier Rodeo Days in Cheyenne, Wyoming (the one Kerouac wrote about); or sitting front row at a Key West drag show wearing a pink stole. It’s all there, and it’s all thrilling.

Yellowstone National Park - Wyoming

-Where is the best place in the world to have a blast on a dime?

For me, the national park system, for sure. For $80, one can purchase an annual pass that includes admission to every spot in the park system (The daily use fee is much less, but I like to buy in bulk). My favorite, by far, is Yellowstone National Park. With YNP you have 33,000 square miles to explore. You can tour Old Faithful Geyser and the Firehole River with the multitudes in the morning, and by evening you can be in a place so far removed from the civilized world you think yourself on another planet. Plus, Yellowstone is a place covered with geysers, mud pots, fumaroles and other geothermal features. Nowhere else in the United States are you reminded of the temporary nature of the ground under your feet. At Yellowstone, the traveler is constantly reminded that the most stable thing we have, the earth, is a living, breathing and evolving thing. Perspective is YNP’s most valuable resource as far as I’m concerned.

-When was the last time you returned home thinking, “I probably shouldn’t have survived that trip”?

Most worthwhile adventures yield at least one come-to-Jesus moment. I have a short list of things I’m good at, and the ability to identify potential threats isn’t one of them. Whilst on the road, you’re more likely to find me adapting to a given situation rather than planning ahead to avoid it. One example of that would be a couple of years ago when I paddled all 2,341 miles of the Missouri River in a 16-foot canoe. The river itself isn’t technically challenging – the little whitewater it has never goes beyond Class III – but it goes on and on and on through some fairly sparse parts of the heartland. Once I was stuck on the side of an isolated beach for almost four full days while the wind blew at 40 plus miles per hour. There were no clouds, no trees and the temperature didn’t get below 80 at night. A weather radio probably could’ve prevented falling into this situation but it was ultimately one of the most cathartic periods of my life. On the second day, I went for a walk. Less than a mile from camp I heard a rattle, took a step back and felt a sharp, searing pain in the back of my heel. I won’t give away the end of that story quite yet, but I’ll simply say that I made some fairly extravagant promises to God.


Other than that I’ve contracted malaria, had a gun pointed at me, broken my ankle severely while alone in the woods, watched someone wave a knife in my face, ridden an out of control airplane off the end of a runway into some trees and fractured my scapula in a motorcycle wreck. If we’re given nine lives, I may have used most of mine already.

Which locale inspired your latest novel, To Nourish and Consume?

TNAC is set in the fictional town of Charleton, Michigan. Charleton is loosely based on the real town of Charlevoix, Michigan. Charlevoix is a town I’ve been to once, but have heard stories about for a long time. The first time I ever fell in love was in college with a girl whose family frequently summered there. Her descriptions of the town and of spending summers there could’ve been taken straight out of an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel – Possibly the most passionate descriptions of any town I’ve heard.

It wasn’t until years after that relationship ended that I finally went there myself. I spent a week just walking around the town and letting my imagination swirl around the beaches and the buildings. Of course, finally seeing the town brought the memories of that first love flooding back, so I hold a sense of nostalgic romance about Charlevoix that I’ve never felt anywhere else. And I’ve only been there once! I just knew, once I saw its lazy streets and quiet houses, that there was a novel there.

-What travel memoir are you working on now?

I mentioned my trip down the Missouri River. That’s the story I’m working on now. The first draft is finished, and now I’m heading across country to take a break before revision time. In 2008, I started at the Missouri River’s headwaters in Three Forks, MT with a canoe and paddled for two months and 2,341 miles to the river’s confluence with the Mississippi.

Aside from the tried and true travel motifs (adjusting to life outside the modern world, learning to live with the self, and adapting to the trials of the natural world) I tried to get into why a person is mentally and emotionally drawn to wander. To figure out why people are drawn to the adventure, and to the adventure story.

One of my favorite writers, Joseph Campbell, says that the adventure story is the symbolic expression given to our unconscious desires, fears and tensions that underlie the conscious patterns of human behavior.

We have only to read it, study it’s constant patterns, analyze its variations, and come to an understanding of the deep forces that have shaped man’s destiny and must continue to determine both our private and public lives.

That’s why people are drawn to the adventure story. We are attracted to adventure stories not necessarily because of what they say about the characters in them, rather it is how those aspects relate to the reader’s own experience and journey. If we are all really drawn psychologically to the adventure story, and if the adventure is a lens that give us an alternative perspective through which to view our own lives, then perhaps travel stories and memoirs can act in part as a cloth to polish that lens.

Ryan’s book retails for only $9.95 and is available at: or through Amazon

Palm Springs: Hotel Zoso’s Keeping it Hip

With a new decade upon us, Hotel Zoso, already a hip hotspot in Palm Springs, has undergone a complete makeover that will make it even more of an exclusive hotel than before. A regular of the Palm Springs Film Festival circuit and Angelenos seeking a chic escape from Tinseltown, an estimated $1.5 Million renovation has transformed the hotel into the ultimate trend-setting Palm Springs destination.

Zoso, meaning “balanced restored” in Greek, is the true definition of this desert gem. Located on four acres, Hotel Zoso offers a serene and sensual setting at the base of the foothills. In fact, if we come into town and we’re not staying at the property – located smack dab in the center of town on Indian Canyon Drive – we sigh and promise to fork over the dough for our next visit.

So now we’ll mention the top-of-the-line amenities because who doesn’t love top-of-the-line amenities? Kohler rainfall shower heads, Herman Miller Aeron chairs, 350 thread-count Frette sheets and down comforters, 42″ high def televisions in every room, and a brand new front entrance where sexy landscaping has been developed to entice consumers – and those strolling the streets of downtown Palm Springs – to pop in for a cocktail or a few nights.  A live plant wall lines the reception area, surround sound has been installed for guests to enjoy while lounging poolside or dining outside at the restaurant, and the restaurant, Olivz, transformed into a Greek and Mediterranean inspired dining experience with unique savory dishes, creates an energetic atmosphere when everything else about Palm Springs is desert ease.  Stylish Jordan Wave furniture surrounds double chaises and three signature red cabanas. When night falls, flames rise from the bronze glass chips in the seven-foot, quartzite fire pit to warm the cooler evenings.

And no… that’s not all! A brand new fitness center will also provide guests with state of the art fitness equipment for their daily routines, along with early morning yoga and pilates classes near the outside pool area. Did someone say early morning? Oh well, tell me you had a good workout. I’ll be curled up beneath that fluffy white comforter.

Or, better yet, I’ll be holed up at their spa, either getting a facial, a massage, reflexology, or a body wrap.  For all you party animals, there’s ZLounge, located on the main floor, the setting for live performances and dinner shows.  For larger events, themed nights and promoted parties, their ZLoft also provides guests with dancing throughout the night.

All in all, Hotel Zoso is clearly bringing Palm Springs up to speed.

Rates from $200-$400 (approximately)

150 North Indian Canyon Drive
Palm Springs, CA 92262, United States
(760) 325-9676

Eagle Castle Winery, Paso Robles

Managing Editor, Candace Poole, spent a busy week of Golden Globe hopping and reports back to us with her ‘treats from the suites.’

I’ve often said, “In my next life, I’ll grow the grapes that make all the dates in my life worthwhile.” For myself, a winery is a sacred place so, when I caught wind of the Eagle Castle Winery in Paso Robles, just a three hour drive from LA, I was planning my next trip. This particular winery is situated high on the hills of Paso Robles and looks like a path to heaven. A vintner is not only a seller of wine, but one whom truly wants to serve a product that pleases.  A unique person is one who desires to give their very best.

Meeting briefly with some of the staff from Eagle Castle, I was once again shown that the idea of serving is alive and well. Jeannie Beattie, the Marketing and Publicity Director, was warm and friendly, inviting me to taste the wines they were presenting at a pre-Golden Globes charitable gifting event called ‘Madison & Mulholland’ artfully put on by Jane Ubell-Meyer, CEO of Madison & Mulholland. The lively, fun-filled atmosphere was a welcome break from the usual flurry of celebs and throngs of journalists that frequent crowded Award Season Gifting Suites. Following my introduction to Ms. Beattie, I had a chance to meet with Executive Chef, Ryan Swarthout, from The Crown Room (located at the winery), a sweet young man who seems at top of his game. After feeding me a bite of Dungeness Crab Cake, I was all in!  An elegant woman nearby suggested to close with their 2007 Gold Medal winning Chardonnay ($18) as I made a mental note to drive up the coast for a taste of their 2008 Syrah Rosé ($14) which won BEST of SHOW – 2009 at the San Diego International Wine Competition. A bouquet of strawberries, spice, and a multi-award winning rosé… what’s not to love? I was also privy to the inside scoop on their 2008 Viognier ($25), reminiscent of a tropical breeze and pineapple with a hint of apricot to liven up the palette. The first in a series of new discoveries, I’ll be sure to re-visit.

More to follow on Paso Robles as, just like every frustrated writer, I’m long overdue for another Sideways-like adventure where I wax poetic about the virtues of Pinot Noir.

Eagle Castle Winery ~ A Flagship Winery on the Central Coast of California.

Happy Hour in San Francisco

We miss Happy Days. And no, we’re not talking about The Fonze (though there was something about Fonzie, wasn’t there?).

We’re talking about the days when people strolled outta work at 5pm for Happy Hour

These days, “Happy Hour” in San Francisco isn’t just for office workers marking the end of another day’s work.  At the bars and lounges located in the city’s hotels, it’s also a chance for visitors to celebrate their good fortune just to be in San Francisco.  Fortunately for both visitors and locals, several hotels are offering special drink prices and nibbles to make those hours even happier.  Since we’re huge fans of hotel bars, here are a few top picks:

Bar 888 – The InterContinental 888 Howard St. at 5th St.

Bar 888 features in San Francisco’s newest hotel features classic and contemporary cocktails – including specialty grappa-based drinks – and pour fine wines from both the Old and New World. Happy Hour is Mon.- Fri. from 4-8 p.m. with $5 and $6 beer specials, $7 wines, cocktails for $8.88 and delicious bar bites created by Chef Dominique Crenn of newly Michelin-starred Luce restaurant.

345 Club Lounge / MO Bar – The Mandarin Oriental 222 Sansome

In the tradition of great hotels, MO Bar is the social center of the Mandarin Oriental, in the heart of the Financial District. The bustle of city streets gives way to an intimate setting perfect for enjoying cocktails with taste. 345 Club Lounge offers a “VIP Happy Hour” Mon.-Fri., 4:30-8:30 p.m. with specials that include $3 bottled beers, $5 Sangria and $7 premium wine selections. Guests may enjoy watching sports or joining others for one of the bar’s fun event nights including Poker Night, Ladies Movie Night and more.

BAR 1915 – Larkspur Hotel 521 Sutter St.

BAR 1915 in the heart of Union Square, offers half-off wines by the glass and draught beer along with specials on pizzetta, panini and hand crafted salumi. Low key, Chef Robert Helstrom of Kuleto’s Restaurant has designed an interesting menu to appeal to visitors and locals alike. Happy hour is 4:30-6:30 p.m. daily.

Caruso’s – The Westin St. Francis 335 Powell St.

Caruso’s was named after the Caruso the distraught opera singer who moved from The Palace Hotel to the Westin St. Francis after the Great Earthquake and Fire in 1906. He walked over in his bathrobe wit his entire entourage. Caruso’s, located in the historic Westin St. Francis, is offering a new signature social experience, The Unwind Hour, featuring the tastes, sights and sounds of Napa Valley and beyond. Sample premier wines paired with fine hors d’ oeuvres. Tues.-Sat., 5-7 p.m.

cityhouse – Parc 55 Hotel 55 Cyril Magnin St., second floor of Parc 55 Hotel

“Cityhouse” restaurant and bar, located on Parc 55’s renovated second floor, presents a modern take on American Classics, specializing in steaks, chops and seafood flame-seared on the hotel’s signature wood-fired grill, while the lounge provides a hip and convivial setting for relaxing, connecting with friends, sharing small plates, and enjoying selections from the extensive wine and cocktail list. It scored 4 1/2 out of 5 stars on as well! From 3 –7 p.m. Tues.-Sat., buy any drink or bar bite and get a second round for just 55 cents.

Infusion Lounge – The Hotel Fusion 124 Ellis St.

Infusion Lounge is an Asian-inspired sub-rosa lounge located in the heart of Union Square with one of the coolest designs around. Happy Hour Special: Tues.-Fri., 6-8 p.m., $3 beers, $5 wine and $5 mixed drinks. A three-course prix fixe menu is also available for a reasonable $33.

Knuckles – The Wharf at the Hyatt at Fisherman’s Wharf 555 Northpoint

Knuckle’s Happy Hour (Mon.-Fri.) is 5-7 p.m., with half price draft beers and house wines. Also featuring Thursday Night $6 House Martinis, as well as themed buffet nights and monthly winemaker events.

Kyo-ya Restaurant at the Palace Hotel

2 New Montgomery St.

Located in the heart of downtown San Francisco in one San Francisco’s historic hotels, Kyo-ya is the perfect place to meet friends, relax and unwind – all in a beautiful modern setting. Happy Hour in Kyo-ya is Mon.-Fri., 5-7 p.m., with complimentary Bar Bites, $3 Sapporo beer and $6 specialty cocktails, and award winning sushi at affordable prices.

La Scene Café & Bar – The Warwick Hotel 490 Geary St. at Taylor

La Scene is a personable yet vibrant bar in the heart of the Theater District, steps away from Union Square. Happy Hour specials Tues.-Sat., 5 -6:30 p.m., with $2.99 beers, $4.99 house wine and $5 well cocktails.

Lobby Lounge – The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco 600 Stockton St.

Located convenient to the hotel entrance and to The Ritz-Carlton Bar and Dining Room, the popular Lobby Lounge offers striking floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the city. The popular gathering spot for guests and locals is set in a landmark Nob Hill building which is currently home to The Ritz-Carlton and recently celebrated its 100th anniversary.The hotel’s weekly Raw Bar menu features a generous selection of fresh oysters and shellfish, complemented by optional paired wines, Wed., 5-7 p.m., and The Lobby Lounge features a new diverse farm-to-bar Bloody Mary menu available daily.

Redwood Room – The Clift 495 Geary St.

The Redwood Room, a haven for San Francisco bon vivants since the 1930s, is now offering a different specialty cocktail each week for $8, available during 5 p.m.– 2 a.m. Sun.-Thurs.; 4 p.m.–2 a.m., Fri.-Sat.

Roots Restaurant – The Orchard Garden Hotel 466 Bush St. at Grant Ave.

Roots at the Orchard Garden Hotel serves contemporary American cuisine with a Mediterranean flair and is committed to featuring local produce, naturally raised meats and sustainable seafood whenever possible; its cozy bar is a great spot for enjoying organic cocktails. Happy Hour special: Receive a complimentary appetizer with the purchase of a glass of wine or signature cocktail between 4 -7 p.m. daily.

Urban Tavern – The Hilton San Francisco Union Square 333 O’Farrell St.

Urban Tavern is a newly transformed modern gastropub serving approachable food in a casual but sleek setting. Happy Hour specials include: half-priced cocktails, wine by the glass and $4 beer 3-5:30 p.m. A food menu of burgers and small bites are also available.

XYZ Lounge + W Café –  The W San Francisco 181 Third St. or

Keen to be green? W San Francisco’s eco-licious cocktail menu uses local, organic, sustainable and seasonal ingredients whenever, wherever possible. Five at Five for Five– five days a week. Happy hour includes a selection of handcrafted organic cocktails, micro brew beers and biodynamic wines paired with organic bar bites by executive chef Paul Piscopo, all for $5 each. Mon.-Fri., 5:00-7:00 p.m. at the W Café or XYZ Lounge.