Park Hyatt Aviara Resort Carlsbad | Tranquil Spa Retreat in California

A welcome retreat this year (and any year, really) for me is the Park Hyatt Aviara Resort in Carlsbad, California.  Right on the edge of the drive versus fly decision from Phoenix, San Diego, California is a quick trip.  When it is just too darn hot, California is close by.  The November trip is our third visit to Carlsbad this year, each was a long-weekend out of town.

Aviara Family pool
Aviara Family pool

The Park Hyatt Aviara is a luxury resort with an amazing spa, great restaurants, good family pool, and a 21 and over adult tranquility pool where we spend most of our time.

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Half Moon Hudson New York | Dining Overlooking the Hudson River in New York

Half Moon Sunset
Half Moon Sunset

When visiting any of the cool spots in New York state, like Lyndhurst Castle, there are many great dining options. Half Moon located in Dobbs Ferry is my favorite mid-range ($20-30 plate dinner) restaurant with spectacular views of the Hudson river. Half Moon is much better than nearby Sunset Cove (great view, lousy parking, and last time a couple people in our group did not feel well after eating the “special”).

There is plenty of parking right out front, and it is walking distance from the train station.

Half Moon Prime Rib
Half Moon Prime Rib

In the low tourist season of autumn, Half Moon is offering daily Blue Plate specials. Fortunately for me, Monday night’s special was Prime Rib with mashed potatoes, asparagus and choice of soup or salad all for $19.95!  Delicious, and prepared a perfect medium rare.

They even served dinner on actual blue plates.

The wine list starts at $10 glass or $35 for a bottle. Overall, they have a decent selection of wines from all over the world at pretty reasonable prices. Half Moon WineThis visit we enjoyed a $52 bottle from Spain, and it perfectly complemented the Prime Rib!

On previous visits, I have enjoyed eating seared tuna, lobster mac & cheese, delicious soups, and various salads. Half Moon serves consistently good food. Service is certainly better during low season, and on crowded nights it can take quite awhile for service.

Inside Dining
Inside Dining

Reservations are recommended, especially during high season in summer. The outside patio is stunning and fills up fast! The patio was too cold for me during my mid-October visit, but we were able to get a table for four with a spectacular view, and without reservations.


Wine Delivery | Experience and Tips for Arizona

I like Wine.  Normally, when wine tasting, if I really like a wine I will buy a bottle or six.  This is fine, if you drive, but for those occasions that I fly to wine tasting the only option to get it home is to ship it.  Many of the vineyards now offer Wine Club shipping.  You sign up to purchase a set minimum bottles of wine throughout the year and they will ship them to you (at a pretty hefty shipping & handling fee).

Wine Delivery
Wine Delivery

Wine delivered directly to your door!  What could possibly go wrong?

I live in a hot climate, so wine sitting at the door for too long will be damaged.  My front door is shaded and expect in the hottest of summer days, wine would be fine for a couple hours.

Ahh, but the law requires a 21 & over signature to release the wine (a tiny bit of information the vineyard forgot to mention).  So, if you are not home (or in the shower) in that 2 minute window the delivery driver is at your house, the wine cannot be delivered that day.  This is a problem for people that cannot stay at home all day of the scheduled delivery.  This also assumes that the delivery is actually made on the scheduled date.  Planning is useless, it may not actually be delivered on the scheduled day, much less advance warning of morning or afternoon attempts.

After the extra shipping expense (wine has specific shipping requirements further driving up the shipping price) and the “at the mercy of the delivery driver” pain is considered, the Wine Club shipping is just not a good idea for me.

I could have driven to California and picked up the wine myself (it is only a 5 hour drive) for as long as I have waited for delivery, both today and the day last week that the vineyard told me it would be delivered.

Update July 15, 2015 – Finally getting the hang of this wine delivery.  Better communication from the winery results in actually being home for the delivery.  Voila!  Wine delivered to my front door is pretty darn fancy.

Desert Botanical Garden | Flowering Jewel located in the heart of Phoenix, Arizona

There is so much beauty in the desert.  Some of it is hidden away, just out of sight.  The Desert Botanical Garden is one of those hidden gems.  Located in the very heart of metro Phoenix.  This tranquil garden showcasing the desert beauty.  In addition to daily tours (recommended for October through May), there are evening events for enjoyment year round.

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Taste Chandler | Annual Foodie Festival in Arizona

Last night I attended the Taste Chandler’s Culinary Festival in Downtown Chandler.  Single ticket was $35 and Couples admission was $50.  All tickets included 12 drink tickets, redeemable for 12 drinks! Chandler was smart to offer free bottles of water. You can eat and drink for 5 hours, which was a great value for the price.  We visited both lounges and went back to the Vintage 95 Wine Lounge a few times sampling the different wines.  12 tickets went a long way with the generous pours in the lounge!  Chandler did a good job organizing the event, with hand wash stations, plenty of rubbish bins, and music.

This is a great opportunity for restaurants to showcase their food.  Some of them achieved this goal, while others saved me time and money to ever visit their establishment.  This is a tasting event, about a tenth the size of Taste of Chicago, but a similar concept.  Each vendor brings small plate portion or a small single serving.  This allows you to sample a little bit from everyone.

Places now added to my “skip it” list:

  • Dos Gringos Mexigrill steak tacos tasted like low-quality dog food.  If I step foot into a Dos Gringos it will be to order a drink, maybe.
  • Irish Republic offered Jamison meatballs that went straight into the garbage after one bite.  I fear a second bite would have ended my night right then and there.

If you are going to do one thing, then do it well:

  • Coach & Willie’s lobster bisque was delicious.  We were actually in line for another vendor, when the woman beside me and asked if we had tried the soup.  Then she insisted that we immediately get our soup before they run out.  It was a little salty on the finish, but tasty and flavorful.
  • Grimald’s Brick Oven Pizzeria mixed it up with perfectly flaky cannolis.
  • Latitude 8 Thai Grill quenched our thirst with a refreshing vanilla vodka thai tea, mixed right in front of us.

    Le Cordon Bleu
  • Le Cordon Bleu is a culinary school that I always look forward to.  They served a choice of pasta, salmon with rice, or filet mignon with seasoned mashed potatoes.   It was one of our first plates to taste, and I am glad we arrived before they ran out of filet.
  • Yoli’s cafe served chicken tacos with sweet cabbage slaw.  I had never heard of this little gem, but I plan visit them soon.  She accommodated my special request, and gave me a coupon.


  • Pearl Sushi Lounge served sweet chili edamame, salmon poke with avocado “tacos”, and a crunch roll.  The greeter was informative, provided coupons, answered questions, and gave a complete description of everything we sampled.  I will definitely use the coupon, and plan to wear pearls for the Girls and Pearls Thursday night happy hour special!
  • Bourbon Jacks Bar and Grill started with a pretty good pulled pork sandwich, then finished with a fantastic black bottom pecan pie.  The pecan pie was so good that I ate 2 servings!
  • Udder Delights is the ice cream store for my favorite little local dairy, Superstition Farms.  The pumpkin ice cream was fantastic and served with an even better pumpkin ricotta custard.  The pairing was pumpkin heaven!  Even people that said they really do not like pumpkin agreed it was tasty good.
  • Shimogamo is one of my favorite sushi restaurants in town.  Since they were

    Shimogamo preparing sushi on-site

    preparing and serving food in an outdoor festival, they were did a great job with the delicious salmon and white fish sushi with crunch rolls.  They brought a portable refrigerated case, hand-made everything right there by their best sushi chef, and customized each plate with preferences.  It was by far the

    Sampler plate from Shimogamo

    BEST dish served at the festival, and it is not nearly as good as what they serve in the restaurant.  Seriously, they are that good!


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