During 2013, my travels took me “across the pond” and from coast to coast (several times over) here in the U.S. I had some experiences that changed my life, met incredible people and tasted amazing foods. I thought it might be fun to explore my version of “best travels 2013” through my Instagram photos.
One of my favorite local resorts is Fairmont Scottsdale Princess. I love the luxurious beds, which are perfect after a day at the spa and the pool, followed by drinks at La Hacienda (love the Elderflower Margarita there) and ending with duck fat fries at Bourbon Steak. I can't even begin to tell you what a smooth, luxurious taste those fries have cooked in that rich duck fat. And of course, when you're at the Princess, there are no calories, right? Read about my review of the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess here.
I loved the overnight I spent in downtown Phoenix at Kimpton's Hotel Palomar. It was so much fun to hang out in downtown and watch the people come and go from the LUSTRE rooftop bar. The hotel has fun animal-print robes and I bought a pair of their thick, black socks with zebra print on the bottom. I never did buy that delightful throw that was rolled up on the bed. It is such a fun hotel, with comfort and luxury alongside funky and eclectic. Staying at a Kimpton Hotel is a bit like going to visit an eccentric aunt who knows how to make you feel special.
I headed “across the pond” in February. In this photo, I was somewhere over the Atlantic on a US Airways flight to London Heathrow. I was lucky enough to fly Envoy class, with full flat seats. I had a lovely glass of bubbly to start the trip, enjoyed a tasty meal (yes, on an airplane), had ice cream for dessert and slept until breakfast time, about an hour out of London.
I spent a few days in London and had a delightful stay at London's Capital Hotel just down the street from Harrods. We explored the city, rode the London Eye and had afternoon tea at The Capital. One of my favorite things during the days in London was getting a pot of tea brought to my room each night and watching snow flurries outside my window as I sipped my Assam tea. During one of our outings, I was thrilled to spot this double-decker bus, one of the original red buses for which the city is famous.
After a few days in London, I headed out to this adorable little cottage in the town of Ely. I spent a week there with four other fabulous friends and writers, Shannon Hurst-Lane (and her lovely daughter), Denise Dube and Bridget Blair. We quickly made ourselves at home, cooking in the little kitchen, snuggled up in the sitting room sharing stories of our lives and heading to the pub down the street for WiFi and some of the best fish and chips. It was hard to say goodbye to our little hideaway.
Ely Cathedral was just behind our little cottage. An amazing cathedral with incredible stained glass. I was in awe of the craftsmanship in this gorgeous structure, started in the 11th century. We attended a piano performance one evening in the cathedral. Coming from the U.S. where something from 1900 is “historic,” I'm always amazed by buildings that are so old and filled with living history.
During my trip to England, we spent a day in Cambridge. King's College was everything I imagined. We went “punting” in Cambridge–taking a long wooden boat down the Cam River under the direction of the punter, a young man who guided the boat using a long wooden pole. It was cold, but a gorgeous sunny day, so we snuggled under blankets and watched history unfold as we drifted through the incredibly beautiful college campuses in Cambridge.
I left the blustery British winter and headed to the West Coast for a weekend in San Francisco. There is no other place on Earth quite like the City by the Bay and this time the cherry blossoms were in full bloom. We were there for Chinese New Year and I could mark watching the Chinese New Year Parade with thousands of other onlookers in Union Square off my bucket list. What a weekend!
I was blown away by the street art in Clarion Alley in San Francisco's Mission District. We visited the alley and explored the artwork during our food tour of the Mission District with Avital Tours. The food tours are a great way to experience San Francisco. You spend a couple of hours in a particular neighborhood, learn about the history and culture of the area, taste incredible local dishes and drink a little along the way.
After a quiet March, I headed to Fredericksburg in the Texas Hill Country. For anyone who has never been to the Hill Country, you're missing out. The rolling hills and buildings made of the limestone rock that is native to the area create picturesque towns. Fredericksburg seems more German than Texan, thanks to its German immigrant beginnings. Alongside delightful country stores and cafés, there are some elegant restaurants and surprisingly tasty Texas wines. This was a delicious strawberry shortcake I had at Cabernet Grill. If you have a chance, visit during peach season. There are no better peaches than the ones you'll find in Fredericksburg.
My visit to Fredericksburg included a morning spent soaking up the gorgeous wildflowers at WildSeed Farms. I love WildSeed. It's more than just a seed company. Yes, you can buy the famous WildSeed wildflower seeds there, but you can also wander through the fields of wildflowers, which are usually covered with butterflies. They have a great gift shop with fun things for the house, pretty jewelry that doesn't cost a fortune and even a few clothes. I had a barbecue pulled-pork sandwich for lunch there and it was a good taste of Texas barbecue.
In mid-April, I was able to spend a few days in Baja, Mexico, where my brother-in-law owns a home. This photo is on the beach at Cabo Pulmo, about 90 minutes north of Cabo San Lucas on the Gulf of Mexico. The area is great for scuba diving and snorkeling (it's a protected preserve) and boating. We went out on the boat for the afternoon, had a chance to swim with the sea lions, saw massive schools of fish and exchanged ceviche recipes with the young man piloting our boat.
I headed back across the country in May and spent a week with family. This was taken at Altillo Vineyards in Hurt, VA. The vineyard is sitting on land that my father (and his father and grandfather before him and many generations back to the 1700's) used to own. In fact, the tasting room is right where my mother always wanted to build her house. The house at the bottom of the hill in this photograph was the Lanier family home where my father and his 11 siblings grew up. I've heard some amazing ghost stories sitting in that house and had some crazy adventures as a child.
Heading back to the West Coast, I spent a long weekend with my husband in San Diego. This is the sun setting over the marina at Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina. We spent the weekend exploring the coast. We walked along the shore and watched the boats come and go. The hotel is across the bay from Coronado Island, so we watched Navy ships arriving. We spent one afternoon on the Jada, a historic wooden sail boat that is still one fast boat.
I criss-crossed the country several times during May 2013, and ended up this time in Scarborough, Maine. This is a view of the sun setting from Black Point Inn at Prout's Neck. Black Point Inn is one of those rare places that just feels good. My room was a 2-room suite with a fabulous patio, all ready for me with a chaise lounge. I walked to Winslow Homer's studio that looks out over the water. The best part is that you feel a world away in this quiet enclave, but you're really only a few minutes from Portland.
I took time off from my travels to check out the grand opening of Renegade by MOD in Scottsdale. I had a MOD Peach Fizz. Loved the decorative ice cubes, too.
I paid a visit to the Kansas City, Kansas area and was so surprised at how much fun I had while there. One of my first stops was at the Kansas Speedway. I loved my ride on the track! The entire facility is gorgeous and it's close to the Legends shops, great restaurants and hotels and across from the new Hollywood Casino.
I stayed my first night in Kansas City at Chateau Avalon in Village West. This was just a part of my breakfast the next morning—a cinnamon roll for two. Check out my story about my stay at Chateau Avalon, with its eclectic themed rooms.
During my Kansas trip, I headed to Topeka for a couple of days. I thought Gage Park, shown above, was one of the most beautiful parks I've seen. I had a fabulous tour of the Kansas State Capitol while I was there. It has just undergone a major renovation and the gorgeous shiny brasswork, colorful murals and intricate lights make it one of those classic old buildings that has so much history you can feel it as you walk the hallways.
I fell in love with Lawrence, Kansas. The University of Kansas campus in Lawrence is picturesque, the people are friendly and the downtown has such great shops and restaurants. I stayed at historic Eldridge Hotel. The hotel has its own colorful history–as does Lawrence itself–because of its role in the Civil War. There were some bloody battles in the town and experiencing that history brings a deeper appreciation for this town that would not give up.
I turned 50 during 2013 and I spent my June birthday in Las Vegas. I was there for IPW 2013 Conference and enjoyed a birthday dinner at the Eiffel Tower Restaurant in Paris Las Vegas. The meal was everything you could hope for on a 50th birthday and we sat in a booth looking out over Bellagio's fountains and the brightly lit Strip. This chocolate soufflé was divine and worth the extra wait to get this fluffy perfection.
During my Las Vegas trip, I toured the Spa at Encore Las Vegas. I didn't have a treatment there (yet) but loved the Treatment Hall with all of its gold and the giant Buddha. The entire spa at Encore is over-the-top extravagant and the smells from the botanicals were definitely calling to me.
I took off again for the East Coast in late June, heading for an isolated cabin on the Damaraiscotta River with three other writer friends. It was record temps in Phoenix while we were gone, but in our little cabin, we sat in front of a fire, bundled in blankets and wrote for days as the rain poured outside. We took turns preparing healthy but delicious meals, drinking wine and hot tea and laughing like teenagers. Our host placed a couple of soft-shell lobsters in a trap for us on our dock. It took a bit of doing to catch the lobster bare-handed and bring it back up the hillside to the cabin, but we succeeded and enjoyed delicious fresh lobster for dinner.
July was hot in Arizona, so I was thrilled to spend a long weekend on the California coast in Carmel with my husband. We stayed at Hofsas House in Carmel-by-the-Sea and had lovely days walking in the charming town. We had delicious meals the entire time we were there, including a lunch at Grasing's and tapas dinner at Mundaka. We headed to Monterey one day and had a chance to explore the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It's huge but has a great collection of sea life.
Even though it was still over 110 degrees in Phoenix, the weather was perfect in Sedona, Arizona. The beautiful red rocks are magical and I always have a sense of calm when I arrive in Sedona, about 2 hours north of Phoenix. We walked along the fun shops in downtown and took deep breaths of the fresh mountain air.
During our Sedona getaway, we stayed at L'Auberge de Sedona and enjoyed drinks and dinner by the creek. We had a creekside cabin, complete with a fireplace, four-poster bed and an outdoor shower. We had an incredible deck on the front of the cabin and spent hours simply relaxing. One of my best weekends of the entire year.
Back home in the Valley, we headed to Fairmont Scottsdale Princess for some fun in the pools and a meal topped off with duck fat fries at BOURBON STEAK. I almost feel as if I'm coming home when I arrive at the Princess. It was 25 years old in 2013, and a complete gem on Scottsdale's northern edge. There's nothing better than walking out to the Lagoon after dinner and sitting by one of the firepits. Even in summer, it was great to walk under the moonlit sky. I even heard the howl of coyotes in the distance.
August took me to Rockford, Illinois for the 2013 Travel Media Showcase. The folks in Rockford rolled out the red carpet for dozens of journalists from across the country. I spent one afternoon exploring fun things to do in Rockford and had a chance to rally my inner child while playing games at Volcano Falls Adventure Park.
After we left Rockford, I had a chance to explore Illinois a bit more. I spent a few hours at the Chicago Botanic Garden and could have stayed all day. It's one of the most beautiful gardens I've ever seen. There were flowers in every color of the rainbow. You can get on a bike and explore or take to the trails by foot. Features include the Japanese gardens, flower gardens, butterfly pavilion and so much more that shows the diversity of plant life.
In September, I headed back to California to spend a few days exploring Beverly Hills. The city famed for its Hollywood stars and Rodeo Drive shopping turns 100 in 2014. I stayed at the Beverly Hilton and I had tuna tartar at Circa 55 in the hotel not once, but twice. A delicious appetizer with a wonderful citrus kick and an avocado mousse is one I still crave. I had a gorgeous room with a wrap-around balcony. It was great fun to stretch out on my chaise lounge and watch the cars go by down below.
Every visit to Beverly Hills should include a visit to the Beverly Hills Hotel. You really should book lunch at The Polo Lounge. Look around. Which celebrities do you spot? You'll almost always find at least one. After a leisurely meal, be sure to take a stroll outside, past the pool and into the gardens. Find Bungalow #1 that was Marilyn Monroe's favorite.
I left the coast of California for the midwest and the picture-perfect town of Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. The days were gorgeous and I could smell fall in the air. We did a lot of walking, which was so welcoming for me after the desert heat. The leaves were starting to turn and evenings were crisp and clear. I stayed at the Osthoff Resort with this gorgeous view over the lake.
October had me heading back to California again. My husband and I spent an unforgettable weekend at Paradise Point Resort & Spa on San Diego's Mission Bay. We spent a morning sailing on Mission Bay and I had an incredible two-hour Island Origins spa treatment at The Spa at Paradise Point. The most amazing thing about Paradise Point is that it's a tropical paradise with hundreds of exotic plants from all over the world. It's bursting with color almost any time of the year. You can find out all about the spa and my treatment that let me explore all the island's botanicals here.
Another great trip in October took us to San Antonio. We stayed at Hotel Contessa on the Riverwalk, where we received these delicious chocolate-covered strawberries. The rooms at Hotel Contessa are spacious and welcoming. We had an incredibly relaxing weekend that included a ride on the Canal, incredible meals, great margaritas and, of course, a visit to the Alamo. We walked everywhere and loved that the hotel was so centrally located.
We enjoyed a lot of great food in San Antonio, plus a few darned tasty margaritas. One of our highlights was dinner at Little Rhein Steak House on the Riverwalk. The steakhouse has been around San Antonio for many years and it serves up some of the best steaks anywhere. The service was friendly, atmosphere was welcoming and this Texas Hill Country brownie was one of those perfect bites. The richest, darkest chocolate ever.
We started off December with a trip to Grapevine, Texas. Known as the Christmas Capital of Texas, Grapevine is a gorgeous little town just minutes from Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. We happened to be in Grapevine during a freak ice and snow storm, and we couldn't have asked for more welcoming hosts. We had a chance to make blown glass ornaments and laughed hysterically during a performance by the Texas Star Dinner Theater.
The Gaylord Texan, located in Grapevine, was all decked out for the holidays. I had a chance to see ICE! while there and loved the gorgeous ice sculptures. It's so much fun to watch the children at ICE! They laugh and run. One of the favorite spots is the ice slide. Even a few adults are known to give it a try.
I ended the year by heading back to my roots. I spent a week in Roanoke, Virginia. This beautiful little town just off the Blue Ridge Parkway was so welcoming that I didn't want to leave. I walked through stalls in the market and sampled local wines, beer and honey. This beautiful star shines down on the city from the top of Mill Mountain and I had a chance to snap this photo on a very chilly morning when the air was crisp and sky a breathtaking blue. At night, I could see the star with its shining lights from my hotel room at the historic Hotel Roanoke.
I had no idea growing up there that the railroads played such an important part in the area's history. There are some great trains and plenty more to see for audiences of all ages at the Virginia Museum of Transportation. For me, it was like taking a step back into my childhood and I saw so many things that were a part of my own history.
What would December be without something sweet? We had a chance to sample cupcakes–including these Peppermint ones–at Viva La Cupcake in Roanoke. What a great way to end 2013.
I am so excited to see what is in store for 2014. I keep getting the question of where I would like to visit in 2014. After much soul-searching, my husband and I have decided that our big trip for the year will be to Vienna. All of our 34 years together, my husband and I have wanted to see Vienna. He used to play Billy Joel's song Vienna for me and tell me to slow down. As the song says, Vienna is waiting. But after all these years, it's time to head to Austria. Be sure to keep watching WanderWithWonder.com and follow along on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+ and Pinterest to catch photos of all the other great places I plan to visit this year.