Posts tagged ‘beaches’

Here’s to a great beach vacation in….Chicago

Summer’s coming to an end and you’re torn. You want a weekend at the beach, but you could also use a little culture, a bit of big city shenanigans.

Why not have it all in the beach town of… Chicago. The third largest city in America has more than 26 miles of free, public beaches (more, in fact, than Bermuda), all with gorgeous views of Chicago’s stellar skyline. Let me just say that Oprah did NOT abandon Chicago because of its summers.

Photo: ©Choose Chicago

But even better than all the beach volleyball, the laidback vibe, the bikes, the piers and the soul-warming sand is that you can walk or ride a bike (look for the powder blue fleet of 700 DIVVY bikes that can be rented for a mere $7 a day) to Michelin-starred restaurants, two world-class conservatories, fabulous museums and shopping that plays in the major leagues with New York, London and Paris.

I’m more of a blue jeans kind of gal so I chose a first night on the town at Second City, the iconic comedy club that spawned everyone from John Belushi and Gilda Radner to Tina Fey and Stephen Colbert. From North Avenue Beach where you can even get WiFi while perfecting your tan lines, it’s a short three-quarter-mile stroll. Can someone say, “piece of cake?” You probably rack up that many steps just walking back and forth from your beach towel to the lake.

I’ve been to Second City several times and it never disappoints. Unlike Saturday Night Live that over the years has recruited more than a quarter of its staff from this Chicago institution and tends to be uneven, Second City is consistently, pee-your-pants funny.

Started in 1959, this comedy improv troupe that holds no cow sacred combines improvised and scripted scenes with new material generated through audience suggestion during the unscripted second act.

On night two of my beach vacation to Chicago, I caught the Tony-award winning Book of Mormon, not an easy feat since it has rolled over Chicago like a deviant tidal wave.

From 12th Street Beach, the beautiful sandy beach where Chicago’s second World’s Fair was staged, it’s a short two-mile bike ride to the Bank of America Theatre where the Trey Parker/Matt Stone send-up of organized religion has been selling out night after night.

The Chicago production that some claim outdoes even the original (Trey Parker did direct when it debuted there last December) runs through October.

So why decide? In Chicago, you can beach and big city in one great weekend.

The Seven Habits of Highly-Effective Beach Bums

A week at the beach is more than a geographic destination. It’s a state of mind, a Zen-like approach to life that lowers blood pressure, strengthens family bonds, promotes peace of mind and elevates joy.

But to fully enter beach consciousness takes practice. Lucky for you, I’m providing this handy dandy cheat sheet for thoroughly chilling in Mexico’s Riviera Maya. Follow these seven steps and in no time, you’ll be living in the moment, following your bliss and moving items like “make a sand castle” to the top of your to-do list:

1. Gather your Blackberry, your Kindle, your Macbook, your I-Pod. After using the device of your choice to make a reservation at one of three Sandos resorts on Mexico’s Caribbean Coast, pack every one of those devices into the nearest carry-on. Deposit said bag in the farthest reaches of your closet. Take a couple deep breaths and back out slowly. Do not, under any circumstances, look back. Grab another duffle, toss in a bathing suit, a pair of flip flops, a couple t-shirts and voila! not only have you mastered the Sandos dress code, but you’re packed for at least a week.

2. Throw away your guilt. I know. You’re making a valiant effort to lead a carbon-lite life and flying to the Yucatan creates anthropogenic greenhouses gases. In fact, you’re probably thinking of getting out one of those devices from step one and googling a scheme to carbon offset. Don’t do it. Instead, assuage the old conscience with this offset: Sandos, a young company headquartered in Spain, lives and breathes sustainability. They’re busy remodeling all their properties, adding solar panels and since 2011, have reduced carbon emissions by 70 percent. There’s even an on-site windmill and an interactive program on Climate Change developed by NASA at the Caracol property.

3. Do your sightseeing in one place. If you’re heading to the Yucatan, you’re practically indebted to swim in a cenote, visit a Mayan ruin, “ooh” and “ahh” over jungle animals and take in at least one Mexican or Mayan cultural show. And, of course, you have everything intention of doing just that. You want enviable vacation photos as much as the next guy. But then the warm ocean breezes and those smiling waitresses bringing free drinks with umbrellas seduce you into staying….just one more colorful drink longer.


At Sandos Caracol, an eco resort on 59 acres, you can do all those things without ever leaving the property. There’s an ancient Mayan ruin right on the property, 16 cenotes and, because the property was built around the jungle, monkeys, agoutis, macaws and all sorts of tropical birds, live right outside your window. As Heidi Verschaeve, Sandos sales manager, told me, “I never know what new animal I’m going to see. Every day, it’s something different.” Sandos Caracol also has a real Mayan herbalist, Mayan bees (they’re considered sacred and their honey, harvested once a year, is medicinal and used at the spa) and a kick-ass Mayan Fire of Life show.


4. Say, “Yo queiro tequila!” Despite its reputation as a fire-breathing shot to be swallowed with a lick of salt and a squirt of lime, tequila is a serious spirit with a 500-year-history and aficionados who pay thousands for a good bottle. Greenhorns in the U.S. tend to drink mixto tequila, a shabby wannabe with a mere 51 percent of blue agave. Like wine, the good stuff is aged in oak barrels and savored like a glass of fine cognac. At Sandos, included in the all-inclusive price, you can sample the good stuff. And after an afternoon of blanco, reposado, joven and anejo, four classes of the smooth, aromatic elixir, beach bumming came as natural as saying, “Ohmmm.”


5. Enjoy a liquor-infused cupcake. To further cement your new laidback attitude, head to Sandos Playacar that just opened an adults-only Cupcake Café. I sampled a vodka-infused cupcake (yes, it’s all part of the all-inclusive) that set the stage for one of the best massages of my life. And speaking of food, Sandos’ chef Angel Ibarra has been incorporating local ingredients, things like chaya (tree spinch grown in the Yucatan Peninsua) and flor de calabaza (it’s an edible flower suffed with cheese or used as fillings for quesadilla) into the Sandos menu.

6. Indulge in an indigeneous spa treatment. Each of the Mexican Riviera Sandos has a fabulous spa and each incorporates Mayan rituals and indigenous medicine into its treatments. The Playacar property, for example, added a Temazcal which is a Mayan sweat lodge and Caracol offers a wide range of Xcalacoco treatments from skin regeneration with Mayan honey to hydration using chaya and savila.

7. Build a sandcastle. Grab a lounge chair or a beach towel or make a sand snow angel and relax into the loving arms of this legendary sand that’s white as a newborn’s bottom and soft as the baby powder that’s applied there. And while you’re at it, toss the Ambien in the nearest bin. At Sandos, you’ll sleep like you did in first grade before money, before responsibility, before members of the opposite sex moved in our your mental turf.

Top six reasons to fall in love with Santa Barbara

My answer used to be wishy-washy. “Oh well, I’d probably pay off my credit cards or donate it to Greenpeace or maybe take a trip around the world.”

Now, when someone asks what I’d do if I won the lottery, there’s no hesitation. I simply smile and say, “I’d move to Santa Barbara.”

I always knew the city known as America’s Riviera had to be pretty. It’s on a beach, it’s rimmed with mountains and John and Jackie Kennedy chose to honeymoon there, for God’s sake. But even armed with all that knowledge, I was totally unprepared for how smitten I would become on a recent trip to Santa Barbara.

In fact, calling Santa Barbara pretty doesn’t begin to cover it. Perfect might be a better word. As for climate, well, weather forecasters could probably just make a recording—sunny with temperatures in the mid-70’s–and play it every day. The beaches, too, are about as perfect as you can get with southern exposure, swaying palm trees, a bike path, open-air cafes and cute guys in skimpy shorts playing volleyball.

If you follow State Street a few blocks up from Stearns Wharf, you find a perfect historic downtown with cobblestone streets, open air paseos, fountains, cobbled arcades covered in bougainvillea and practically every cool store known to mankind. Keep going for seven miles and you run into the foothills of the almost-purple San Ynez mountains which not only make for good scenery, but provide lots of camping, hiking and birding. More than a third of the county is protected as national forestland.

Following are six other arguments for forsaking Greenpeace and using my lottery money to finance my move to Santa Barbara:

1. Everything in Santa Barbara either has a garden or is a garden. Naturally, there’s a Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, an official 65-acre garden with five miles of trails. But there are also gardens at the zoo (in fact, this seaside home of 500-plus animals is not called a zoo, but Santa Barbara Zoological Gardens), gardens at the Santa Barbara Mission (it’s considered by many to be the prettiest of California’s 21 missions), gardens at the beach, gardens at the dozens of parks and even gardens at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse, the second most photographed public building in the United States. The first most photographed public building is, of course, the White House.

2. I could have a second career as a paparazzi. Oprah, Steve Martin, Michael Douglas, Charlize Theron, Ellen Degeneres, Jeff Bridges, Rob Lowe and Kevin Costner are just a few Hollywood luminaries with homes in Santa Barbara. It’s not unusual to spot local Kenny Loggins and his son at Batty’s Baseball Cages or to attend a wine and cheese gathering at the Wine Cask with transplant John Cleese. Plus, the list of celebs who go there to marry could keep my camera clicking until death do us part. Jim Carey, Sondra Bullock, Clark Gable, Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Debra Messing, Will Farrell, Heather Locklear, Halle Berry and Rock Hudson are just a few of the stellar somebodies who pronounced, “I do” in Santa Barbara.

3. I’d look forward to paying taxes and going to court. Okay, so this argument leaks a bit of water, but at least going to the courthouse would be a delight. Not only could I enjoy its meticulously landscaped grounds and sunken gardens, but I could climb to the top of the 85-foot clock tower and gloat at the panoramic view of my new home. Tours of the courthouse with it carved doors, wrought-iron chandeliers and historic murals are given several times a week. Bet you can’t say that about your county courthouse?

4. The place is an entrepreneur’s dream. Or at least it spawned the success of Motel 6, the largest company-owned and operated lodging chain in the United States (started in Santa Barbara in 1962, the first Motel 6 rented rooms for $6), Zog’s Sex Wax (don’t worry, it’s a surfing accoutrement), Big Dog Sportswear, (this t-shirt shop was launched by a couple Santa Barbara college students on a raft trip) and Kinko’s which was started in a taco stand on the UC-Santa Barbara campus with a single copy machine.

The country’s first major film studio, Flying A Studios, once sat at the corner of State and Mission Street. Started by the American Film Company in 1909, Flying A produced more than 1200 films, mostly westerns and black and whites. Cecil B. Demille worked as a carpenter there and Charlie Chaplin, who liked the area so much, moved to Montecito and built the still-popular Montecito Inn.

5. I could become a gourmand.Julia Child was partial to La Super-Rica Taqueria, a casual local favorite for 20 years, but Santa Barbara has restaurants for every taste from uber posh Restaurant Miro to Joe’s Café, a laidback diner with the only neon sign in town. And remember that great climate I gushed about? Santa Barbara has lots of al fresco dining, both on the waterfront, downtown and in little-known hideaways. The Endless Summer Bar and Café, named after the cult classic surf movie, is a great place on the harbor to watch sailboats and luxury yachts.

Santa Barbara County also has a much-deserved reputation as one of the world’s premium wine-producing regions. Within the county are more than 100 wineries, known for their quaint settings, friendly vintners and starring role in the 2004 hit movie, Sideways. In fact, Paul Giamatti’s character Miles raved so profusely about the Santa Barbara pinot noir that, after the movie, sales of his beloved drink shot up 16 percent. A free, self-guided Sideways tour map spotlights 18 movie locations including Kalyra Winery where the bachelors meet Sandra Oh’s character and Fess Parker’s Winery where Miles guzzles the communal spit bucket.

6. There are lots of free things to do. Even after winning the lottery, I’m probably going to have to pinch pennies. I heard cemetery plots in Santa Barbara go for as much as $56,000. Luckily, Santa Barbara offers lots of freebies. Some of the ones in which I’ll undoubtedly partake are Sunday’s Arts and Craft Show (more than 250 local artists set up displays along the beach), the Santa Barbara Museum of Art’s free Thursdays, whale watching at Shoreline Park and the Red Tile Walking Tour, a 12-block walking tour of Santa Barbara’s unique Spanish-Moorish architecture.

Although I truly hope you come visit, I’m giving out the contact particulars with some reservation. After all, I don’t want my new home to get too crowded. Contact the Santa Barbara Conference & Visitors Bureau at 1601 Anacapa Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101-1909,

The French call it St. “Too Much”

Figaro, a French newspaper, once said that the French Riveria’s Saint-Tropez has more “famous faces per square mile” than anywhere else on the planet.

Ever since the 50’s when paparazzi began trailing the just-discovered Bridget Bardot, this provincial maritime village has been pulling in the yachts, the Ferraris, the private planes and the flesh and blood versions of the faces we see on the magazine covers.

Beyonce & Jay Z recently pulled into the Cote d’Azur paradise in their 180-foot Italian yacht where they were spotted all over the town: on its narrow, cobblestone streets, on its dazzling beaches and even in its decadent discos.

A breathtaking coastal footpath winds from the original fishing harbor to the hard-partying beaches and their non-stop nightclubs and yet another winds back through pines and eucalyptus to the famous Place des Lices shops selling Armani, Prada, Dior, Pucci and the SuperdryStore where David Beckham and Formula One racing champs hone their hunky images. If it’s a Tuesday or Saturday before noon, the open-air Marche de St-Tropez sells baguettes, Provencal olives and linens, cheeses, herbs and silk brocades.

Hotel Sube, overlooking the famous port, is the town’s oldest and has long been a hangout for artists, writers and other Bohemians. Back in the 20’s, for example, French author Collette fell in love with the sunsets, the Muscat grapes and the rustic wisteria-covered pastel houses.

Or there’s Hotel Byblos, where in 1971 Mick Jagger proposed to Bianca (in room 401, if you must know). They later tied the knot at the Chapel of St.-Anne with scads of paparazzi-snapping away. Jagger and Bardot sightings have tapered off (she still lives here, but mainly in seclusion), but this mythic playground is still good for a glimpse of the entourages of P. Diddy, Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts, Naomi Campbell, Bruce Willis and Ivana Trump.

Just remember, the real stars are the beaches.