Kings Canyon National Park: John Muir Lodge and Grant Grove Restaurant @VisitSekiParks #travel

 

photo courtesy of visitSequoia.com
photo courtesy of visitSequoia.com

Our Sierra Region press trip included postcard views and exploration in Sequoia National Park and a lovely stay at Wuksachi Lodge.  Continuing on what some travelers to the area would enjoy as the Majestic Mountain Loop, we ventured to Kings Canyon National park headed to see the third largest tree (by volume) the General Grant.  Just before hiking through Grant Grove, we checked into John Muir Lodge, a newly renovated year-round stone and timber retreat surrounded by picturesque forests and meadows.

photo courtesy of visitSequoia.com
photo courtesy of visitSequoia.com

The lobby catches your eye with leather and wood furniture and a grand stone fireplace that immediately warms you.  Here you can read, work, play games, or enjoy a fireside history/storytelling presentation as we did with cocoa and s’mores!  Last year the 36-room received a renovation that included fresh furniture, carpeting, and bedding along with materials sustainably sourced from reclaimed wood and “green” textiles that adhere with their GreenPath philosophy.  New, thicker walls were updated for a more peaceful sleep and I can attest that we did not hear not a peep.

Kings Canyon National Park: John Muir Lodge @VisitSekiParks

Our room was spacious and comfortable with plenty of seating at the dining table or sofa sleeper.  Wi-fi is best and available in the lobby and pretty iffy in the rooms, signals are minimal, but sometimes that’s best when you’re in the mountains on vacation!  Amenities like new flat-screens do provide comforts of home by way of DirecTV connection as well as delicious Keurig coffee and tea.

Take a stroll just down the parking lot to Grant Grove Village to the Grant Grove Restaurant for American style breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Kings Canyon National Park: John Muir Lodge @VisitSekiParks

Our group dinner included Caprese bites that are so simple and delicious, they’ve become an easy appetizer for parties at home!  Just skewer a cherry tomato, mozzarella ball, and basil leaf and dip it into balsamic vinegar, and ouila!Kings Canyon National Park: John Muir Lodge @VisitSekiParksThe Ribeye is incredible with an herby sawmill butter on top over mashed potatoes and veggies.  I ordered the Chicken Marsala over rice pilaf and the cutlets were melt in your mouth delicious.  Each portion was large and easily shared though we topped off both plates without pause.  I’m not sure how we had anymore room, but we both ordered cheesecake with berries and it was creamy with a perfect blend of sweet and tangy coulis.Kings Canyon National Park: John Muir Lodge @VisitSekiParks

Kings Canyon National Park: John Muir Lodge @VisitSekiParks

In the morning, coffee was piping hot and my husband and I shared the Breakfast Taco with pork sausage, eggs, and potatoes served with pico de gallo and a cilantro crema.  I’m glad we shared, it’s a lot and considering we ate a huge dinner as well.Kings Canyon National Park: John Muir Lodge @VisitSekiParks

The Grant Grove Cabins are available in both timber and tent cabin styles (though the tent cabins do not have heating or electricity). The cabins and John Muir Lodge are all within walking distance of the Grant Grove and world-famous General Grant Tree.  Built in 1910, the oldest structure still standing in Grant Grove Village is Cabin #9, the Honeymoon Cabin..Kings Canyon National Park: John Muir Lodge @VisitSekiParks

For information on Sequoia Kings Canyon National Parks, lodging, and more, visit VisitSequoia.com.

Our stay was hosted as part of a media trip, though all our opinions are 100% our own.

Sequoia National Park: A Stay at the Wuksachi Lodge @VisitSekiParks #travel

Wuksachi Lodge, Sequoia National ParkEstablished in 1890, Sequoia National Park is California’s first National Park and America’s second oldest.  In 1903, 450 people visited Sequoia National Park;  today, more than 1 million people visit the park annually.  The largest living thing on Earth, the General Sherman Tree, is found in the park standing 274.9 feet tall, weighing approximately 2.7 million pounds, and is believed to be around 2100 years old and still growing.  Located half-way between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Sequoia National Park is a must-see, must-visit area for couples and families who love to travel!

Amid a forest of giant Sequoias lies a beautiful retreat for National Park travelers to wind down.  Panoramic views of the Sierras and the peaks of the Great Western Divide envelop the cedar and stone building and makes Wuksachi Lodge an ideal accommodation when visiting Sequoia National Park.  Growing up, my husband’s family was far more outdoorsy than mine, tent camping during California summers across the state including this area.  This visit, a first for me, had us exploring during the park’s 125th anniversary year and staying in a place more familiar to me and how my family vacationed.Wuksachi Lodge, Sequoia National ParkWhen entering the National Park you’ll receive a park newsletter with shuttle routes listed for the free service, you’ll be happy to learn Wuksachi Lodge is a route stop.  This great feature allows guests the option to drive or be driven about the park from your home base during your trip.  This can certainly be handy after a long hike, skiing, or if you’re traveling with children.  Location is the highlight of the lodge as it’s convenient to park attractions like the Giant Forest Grove of the Big Trees and Giant Forest Museum, Big Trees Trail, Crescent Meadow, Wolverton Recreation Area, and the Lodgepole Visitor and Market Center.  The Wuksachi name is derived from one of the Native American Indian tribes that first inhabited Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

Wuksachi Lodge, Sequoia National ParkThe lobby isn’t always someone’s favorite part of the lodge experience, but it was ours.  Reception is front and center when entering the lobby for checking in and out and any questions during your stay.  The staff was courteous and helpful and will also run the adjacent gift shop (clothing and collectibles, and even local wine) as needed.  The most comfortable arm chairs surround the rock-rimmed fireplace that feels amazing in the cool summer evenings and winter nights!  Grab a cup of hot cocoa or some wine and this is the neatest spot to meet new arrivals, chat with other guests, or unwind after exploring.

photo courtesy of visitsequoia.com
photo courtesy of visitsequoia.com

You’ll find that if you need to use your electronics or work a little while on vacation, the free wi-fi connection is best here.  There’s also tables and chairs to use your laptop or play board games.  Nearby is the bar and lounge area just outside the full-service restaurant, Peaks.

Forest views at breakfast are breath taking and the buffet is abundant and delicious!Wuksachi Lodge, Sequoia National Park

Lunches during our stay included deli sandwiches and more in boxed lunch style from the restaurant and dinner was a huge highlight.  Wuksachi Lodge, Sequoia National Park

Brandt Beef flat iron steak with chimichurri and wild rice pilaf left my husband satisfied and wanting to replicate that sauce upon returning home.  Linguini Pomodoro had just the amount of garlic mixed in olive oil with rather juicy Roma tomatoes.  Wuksachi Lodge, Sequoia National Park Wuksachi Lodge, Sequoia National Park

Cheesecake with caramel sauce needs no explaining, it was creamy with just the right amount of sweetness.  Now I know lavender plants have relaxing properties and I use lavender essential oil on a daily basis.  But lavender ice cream is completely over the top delicious! If it has those same relaxing tendencies, I’ll be happy to replace my oils with nightly ice cream! It was a beautiful light purple in color and was served in a edible waffle cup.  Perfection as far as dessert is concerned! Wuksachi Lodge, Sequoia National ParkOpen year-round with convenient ski-in and ski-out access, guests staying at Wuksachi Lodge have plenty of recreation activities to enjoy anytime of year, from cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and sledding – to hiking, biking, fishing, and horseback riding.  The Alta Market located downstairs from the lobby has rental equipment available for those activities, as well as food, drinks, and any necessary toiletries you may have forgotten at home!Wuksachi Lodge, Sequoia National ParkThere are 102 spacious mountain lodge guest rooms with modern guest amenities at Wuksachi Lodge, offering spectacular mountain or forest views.  In 3 buildings, the guest rooms are located 100-200 yards from the main lodge building and can be accessed by simply walking or driving your car from the main parking lot.  The rooms feature upscale, natural décor highlighting native granite rock, oak, cedar and hickory woods, private bath, flat panel television, a small table and chair plus sleeper sofa, hair dryer, coffee maker, iron/boards, mini refrigerator, ski racks, central heat, and daily maid service.  Our Superior room added an alcove seating area with chairs, couch, coffee table, and sliding door for privacy.  Superior rooms can accommodate rollaway beds and cribs, perfect for families.Wuksachi Lodge, Sequoia National Park Wuksachi Lodge, Sequoia National ParkWuksachi Lodge, Sequoia National ParkThe room was an end unit and on the 3rd floor of the building (note: there are no elevators in the buildings) so you do need to carry your luggage upstairs or opt for the bell service.  It was quiet and the Spring views from the room were beautiful as snow still covered many areas. The bed, sofa, and chairs were are comfortable and the room was very spacious.  The only downside is the wi-fi connection was minimal at best.  It would work for just a few hours at a time in the evening and then not at all during the midday, the lobby is still the best spot for consistent connection if needed.  Thank goodness for iMessage and Face-time, cellular connection is also minimal in these parts.

We would come back to this spot with family and look forward to it’s comfort and chance to unplug when not exploring the National Park.  To learn more or make reservations, visit http://visitsequoia.com.

Our stay was hosted as part of a media trip, though all our opinions are 100% our own.

Fairmont San Jose: Luxury and Romance Found in Silicon Valley

For nearly 30 years, the Fairmont has been hosting presidents, dignitaries, celebrities, CEOs and noted scholars in the community and partners with San Jose’s finest charitable and social organizations for events.  With the total number of rooms and suites at 805 and 65,000 square feet of  meeting space, the Fairmont San Jose is a well-traveled business professional’s dream hotel.  But being local it’s always been a gorgeous hotel that’s intrigued me.

During the holidays we’ve come to Christmas in the Park downtown with the family and we’ve walked through the lobby to see the hotel’s gingerbread house display and last year’s life-sized Grinch, while next door there is always the fun ice skating rink.  On a recent press trip I had the chance to stay at the Fairmont and brought my husband along for a stay-cation if you will.   While it’s located near fabulous shopping, museums, and any type of food you can dream of, the Fairmont has it’s own luxurious amenities, entertainment, dining, and hospitality that will have us making it an annual getaway!

Fairmont San JoseWith a parking garage beneath the hotel, valet is the only choice for overnight guests.  I prefer it honestly, and knowing there’s so much to walk to in the area, I love handing over my keys and not worrying about parking for the weekend!  Fairmont San JoseStrolling through the lobby to reception you pass the Lobby Lounge.   The space has tables and chairs along with cushioned banquette seating to dine on appetizers and cocktails while you watch the game, and live entertainment seven nights a week.  We made a mental note to come back later in the evening and enjoy one of their 500 different martinis!

Fairmont San Jose We collected our keys to the room by the happiest staff and were asked (a second time) if we needed help with our bags.  Our deluxe king suite was amazing and would be perfectly roomy had we brought our three children with us.  Alas, this was a birthday weekend for me, so it was just a huge treat to have so much room. Our bedroom suite had a heavenly king bed with a comfortable easy chair/chaise perfect for night time reading.  Fairmont San Jose Fairmont San JoseThe decor and patterned furniture in the parlor were a yellow and black contrast, simple and elegant.  A dining table and chairs was in front of the window and perfect for a meal or a meeting, along with a 32” HDTV, working desk, a speakerphone with multiple lines, a cordless phone, a separate modem connection and perfectly functioning wifi throughout the room and the entire hotel.  A vacationing family or a business team could easily enjoy this style room!Fairmont San Jose

We had a great view of the city as well as the swimming pool area, unfortunately the few days it’s rained all year fell on this weekend, so we didn’t get to enjoy it this time.Fairmont San JoseFairmont San Jose

I don’t speak too often on the bathrooms while we travel, normally they are uneventful.  Yet, I fell in love with the Fairmont’s modern marble bathroom that boasted a separate walk-in shower and bathtub.Fairmont San Jose On top of that, It’s not me who is usually fascinated with technology, but being that we were in the heart of Silicon Valley, our bathroom mirror was genius.  Have you seen a television built directly into a mirror?  I surely hadn’t.Fairmont San JoseWine, a good movie, and bubbles had me in the tub enjoying an hour to myself.  Only chocolate could have made it better!

As promised we hit the Lobby Lounge for that evening cocktail.   Even though it’s in the center of the lobby, it’s a quiet and intimate spot.  fairmont21Fairmont San JoseMy husband had a standard beer while I had the Royal Grapefruit Cosmopolitan. Okay I had 2.  A bit on the sour side, but I loved them.  Music and even dancing lasted a few hours and we just loved the entertainment with only a short elevator ride to our room.  When we returned, we were surprised by a  birthday bottle of wine, cheese, and nuts that was such a lovely touch on the hotel’s part.  The wine was from Napa, one of my favorite spots in California! Fairmont San JoseWe nibbled and retreated to the bedroom to a welcoming turndown.  Slippers, water, and chocolate for both my husband and I was a lovely addition, another first!Fairmont San JoseAfter an amazing sleep on what felt like clouds, we woke and found ourselves ready for a breakfast buffet at Fountain Restaurant.  Sunday brunch as well as standard breakfast and lunch is served daily just down the hall from the Lobby Lounge. Fairmont San Jose, Fountain RestaurantLet me tell you, guest of the hotel or not, you need to stop in for Sunday brunch if you’re in the area.  It’s downright incredible and your mouth waters just as you walk in the door and witness the selections of food they present!  Fairmont San Jose, Fountain RestaurantHot dishes, cold salads, a beef carving station, an omelet station made to order, oysters, sushi, cheeses, chicken, veggies, and pastries, oh the pastries!Fairmont San Jose, Fountain Restaurant Fairmont San Jose, Fountain Restaurant Fairmont San Jose, Fountain RestaurantWe may have been there over an hour, I’m not going to tell you how many times I walked back to the buffet or how many croissants I had! But can you blame me?

Our stay was perfection.  The hotel was beautiful, comfortable, and luxurious and the food was scrumptious.  The hotel and restaurants host events all year, the website lists what’s up and coming.  Don’t forget this is a fabulous hotel for business events or even weddings, but we just loved it as a romantic getaway for two and so close to home!

So thankful for our hosted stay and meals.  Our opinions are 100% honest and our own.

Glide into the Silky Mineral Pools at The Sunburst in Calistoga @VisitCalistoga

Glide into the Silky Mineral Pools at The Sunburst in CalistogaWith the Napa Valley so close to home, we can easily make a day trip out of wine tasting and exploring in Calistoga. Honestly though, I jump at the chance to make a romantic weekend out of any trip no matter how close. On a recent getaway to Calistoga we stayed just a short walking distance to downtown at The Sunburst a freshly remodeled boutique hotel.

Though very stark white and relatively plain looking on the outside, never judge a book by it’s cover!  Step into the lobby for check-in and see that the color and patterns start there.  We were greeted warmly by the person at reception, with an offer of hot tea and coffee,  as well as the cozy warm fire below.

The Sunburst, CalistogaAll rooms are on street level and there’s plenty of parking on the property.  With room keys in hand, we got back into the car to drive around the property to just outside our room door.  The bright green doors give a pop of color alluded to in the lobby, we were anxious to see what was behind it.

The Sunburst, Calistoga

It’s like we took  a time capsule back in time, we admired our King Suite’s fun, bright, and clean retro-modern decor with both carpet and hardwood adorning the floor.

The Sunburst, CalistogaNothing was short on comfort, the chairs, couch, and especially the bed were soft and supportive.  Doubling as sleeper, the sofa could easily accommodate a few children if this wasn’t a romantic getaway.

The Sunburst, Calistoga

Is it just me or does anyone think the bedside lamps mimic the Pixar logo?  Maybe I watch too many kid movies!  Also included in the suite was a desk/chair, flatscreen, and mini-fridge in the sitting room and a mini-bar, chair, and flatscreen in the bedroom.

The bathroom was gorgeous decked out in black and white tile.

The Sunburst, Calistoga

Aside having ample room for two, the best (romantic) part was the rainfall shower head coming from the ceiling!The Sunburst, Calistoga

The room had other great little touches that I love in a hotel.  If you’re a light sleeper, any possible neighbor noise (or husband snoring) is softened by a pair of earplugs in the desk drawer.  Single serve coffee machines mean I can bring my favorite flavor from home if need be, an iHome alarm clock charges our iPhones, and free wi-fi is a social media addict’s best friend!

The Sunburst, Calistoga

Now, one of my biggest challenges when I travel is fitting time to wind down during a press trip.  My schedule is usually go-go-go and then crash in bed at the end of the day.  During this trip not only did I have time to relax (a few hours even), but I was able to do it in the most soothing way!  Where some hotels in wine country have mineral spring tubs, the Sunburst has mineral spring pools!  One lap pool, one wading pool, and even a mineral spring jacuzzi!

The Sunburst, Calistoga

Once you glide into the water it envelops you like silk and your swim is never the same.  The view from the water was glorious as the evening was upon us, we had the pools to ourselves.  While it was a cool February day, the 80 degree water was delightful.The Sunburst, Calistoga

The mineral spring jacuzzi is a luxurious skin treatment and massage all at once, there’s nothing like it.  After a day of wine tasting, this is the way to relax!The Sunburst, Calistoga

For those who want to take a ride through Calistoga, bike rentals are available to guests for free with your stay!

The Sunburst, Calistoga

After a great night’s sleep we headed downtown for breakfast at the Calistoga Roastery, the hotel offers vouchers for a continental breakfast of coffee or tea and your choice of bagel, toast, muffin, or scone.  Sunday morning crowds let you know that the place is delicious.The Sunburst, Calistoga

One think I loved about Calistoga is their shuttle system.  The Calistoga Shuttle is at your service when you stay at any of the city’s 43 properties, FREE!  During your stay you can dine, shop, and wine taste via the shuttle and not worry about driving, getting lost, or needing a designated driver.  Passes are provided in the lobbies of the hotels upon request, then you dial the number for the shuttle and they’ll take door to door within city limits.The Sunburst, Calistoga

Once you’ve experienced The Sunburst you’ll be telling everyone you know about those pools, I know I have!  For more information on visiting Calistoga, finding accommodations to fit your travel style and budget and planning a trip, visit VisitCalistoga.com.

Our stay was hosted as part of our media visit, all opinions are 100% ours.

Avila Lighthouse Suites: Perfect Oceanfront Hotel for Families

Avila Lighthouse Suites, Avila BeachThere will always be something about the ocean that just grounds me.  I love hearing the crash of the waves, feeling the sand in my toes, and smelling the salty air.  Any chance I get I want to be near the beach and this winter we found a perfect, I mean totally fun and perfect family spot in Avila Beach that I’m dying to get back to!  Avila Lighthouse Suites is an all-suite hotel just mere steps from the Pacific Ocean on California’s gorgeous central coast and is an ideal family spot to enjoy for a night or a luxurious spot to spend a week’s vacation!

Whether you’re in the area for adventure (beach activities, biking, golf), wine tasting, visiting Hearst Castle, or just getting away from it all, Avila Lighthouse Suites is close to some great hot spots.  Lots of great restaurants line the main street within walking distance, along with some great wine tasting opportunities for mom and dad.  The area reminds me so much of Catalina Island, it’s uncanny.Avila Lighthouse Suites, Avila Beach

Sure you can drive to San Luis Obispo or Paso Robles or sightsee, but park your car and enjoy all that Avila Beach has to offer, family fun can be found in abundance on the hotel property alone!  Avila Lighthouse Suites, Avila BeachChecking in, you’re greeted with fresh, warm cookies that had our kids smiling from the get-go.  Next best was finding out our oceanfront room was not only across the street from the beach, but right next door to a life-size checker board, ping-pong table, and the pool and hot tub!  Avila Lighthouse Suites, Avila BeachAvila Lighthouse Suites, Avila Beach While my son and daughter played ping-pong, my husband and I tried our luck at the fun checkerboard as we gazed into the late afternoon sky.  We could watch our kids play from our patio that captures amazing views all day long!Avila Lighthouse Suites, Avila Beach

Our deluxe oceanfront suite had two queen beds in the main room, then a full-sized sofa bed in the living room.  Each room included a flat screen tv, Bath & Body Works toiletries in the large bathroom, and there was plenty of space for the five of us to move around as well as have our own space.  A wet bar, fridge, microwave and Seattle’s Best coffee round out the in-room amenities.Avila Lighthouse Suites, Avila Beach Avila Lighthouse Suites, Avila BeachThe nautical themed decor was so perfect matching the blue and yellow hues in the rooms, unique and fun.  Exactly what I envision decorating my future beach house!Avila Lighthouse Suites, Avila BeachBefore dark, my youngest was so excited to jump in the pool and spa, the view from the pool couldn’t be more spectacular!  Avila Lighthouse Suites, Avila Beach Avila Lighthouse Suites, Avila Beach

We had one happy girl.  Avila Lighthouse Suites, Avila BeachSun-setting and the view from our bed. Yes, there’s a parking lot just outside but there is no noisy through traffic. We slept with the screen door open all night and were lulled to sleep by the soft sounds of the waves lapping at the shore.  Pretty incredible.Avila Lighthouse Suites, Avila Beach

 

Morning came and we decided to take a walk along the beach and the weather was perfect.  Did I mention it was December and we had hardly a sweatshirt on?  Avila Lighthouse Suites, Avila BeachYour stay includes a large continental breakfast for the family that included cereals both hot and cold, muffins, bagels, breads, fruit danishes, hard boiled eggs, juices, hot cocoa, and of course delicious coffee.Avila Lighthouse Suites, Avila Beach

If the property wasn’t enough, there is a community park adjacent to the hotel.Avila Lighthouse Suites, Avila Beach

Avila Lighthouse Suites, Avila Beach

The view of the property from the beach.Avila Lighthouse Suites, Avila Beach

As luck would have it, my husband and I walked around the corner to Alapay Cellars wine tasting room and ran into family!  Our cousins were in town celebrating their anniversary so we joined in for a sip or two!Avila Lighthouse Suites, Avila Beach

With an extended check out, more pool time, checkers, and relaxation was had.  We were really not ready to leave, you’ll find that’s the case and immediately want to extend your stay for a week.Avila Lighthouse Suites, Avila BeachWe have relatives with a timeshare just up the hill from this property and we’ve already asked to join their next trip to the area where we’ll be sure to stay again at Avila Lighthouse Suites.  Let’s not forget there’s a Day Spa on site for an ultimate vacation perk!  For more information, visit http://www.avilalighthousesuites.com/.

Our stay was hosted in exchange for this review, all opinions are 100% our own.