Shalom!

Israel has been on my travel wish list for over 20 years. However, early on, I was advised by many to visit Israel on an all-inclusive group trip – and to be honest, I found that suggestion very repellant. Yes, I realize that group travel was the preferred way to vacation for many “back-in-the-day” – but the reality of visiting a destination such as Israel around a tour company’s schedule is not only very limiting (and pricey), it really takes away the freedom of spontaneity which I enjoy when traveling. That said, I now would like to share with you my completely independent visit to Israel.

Timing is everything. For my first visit to Israel, I was fortunate enough plan my first visit around the inaugural launch of Air Canada’s brand new fleet of Boeing 787 Dreamliners. If you are not familiar with this marvel of aviation, I can assure you that this aircraft is a sheer joy to fly for long distances. Check out my Air Canada Dreamliner flight reports for my flights to and from Israel: Premium Economy and International Business Class.

The drive between Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport and Jerusalem is roughly 45 minutes and there are several ways to make the journey: Sherut (these are shared shuttles which are easily accessed once you step outside of the airport terminal building): Relatively inexpensive at 60 or so Shekels (Israel currency), or roughly $15 – or – Private taxi (250 Shekels or $64). Even though Sheruts are great deals, they are designed for average-sized individuals. So, if you are a tall and/or big person like me, I recommend that you spend the money (for comfort’s sake) and hire a private taxi.

Just like other big cities, Jerusalem has many major luxury hotel brands. However, it was recommended to me by another luxury-minded Wanderluster that I should stay at Dan Hotel’s King David Hotel…..and I was wise to follow their recommendation.

King David Hotel

King David Hotel

The Five Star King David Hotel is Dan Hotel’s Flagship hotel and it definies of the phrase “Grand Hotel.” With an unobstructed view facing the citadel that is the Old City of Jerusalem, the King David (its name honoring the most famous King of Israel) is a living monument which has witnessed, and oftentimes played a role in, many of Israel’s historic moments of the 20th century. Beginning with its opening in 1931, the King David Hotel quickly became the home away from home for royalty and world leaders of the time. To this day, dignitaries the world over remain loyal and they continue to enjoy stays at the King David when visiting Jerusalem. In fact, the hotel’s Golden Book reads like a “Who’s Who” of the world! See for yourself:

After I checked in, Jeremy Sheldon (who is a hotel manger of the King David Hotel) proceeded to escort me and my brand new Travelpro luggage to my suite. Along the way to the elevator, I took a moment to peruse the King David’s “Walk of Fame” which highlights the names of some of the hotel’s most famous guests – and it nearly stretches the full horizontal length of the hotel’s lobby level.

I was blessed to receive a very generous upgrade upon check-in – to a sumptuous Deluxe Suite (#428; This suite has been occupied by famous individuals such as: German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Alicia Keys). As Jeremy proceeded to give me a tour of my opulent suite, I marveled at its cavernous size and I couldn’t help but notice that this suite was replete with the finest appointments and luxury amenities (anytime I observe a hotel or resort using Frette products, I know that the experience will be remarkable….it’s those small details which make ALL the difference to me when staying in a luxury hotel or resort). During my room tour, I observed the following: Very, VERY high ceilings, a massive bathroom which included a whirlpool tub AND a steam shower, an abundant amount of closet & storage space, a plethora of tech: Big screen High Definition TVs with Blu-Ray players and surround sound speakers in both the living room and bedroom (the TVs are encased within an aesthetically pleasing framed mirror), an HD TV in the bathroom and electronically controlled lighting & curtains. Plus, there is a restroom near the main entry – and for the ladies: A separate makeup vanity table. Of course, there is fully stocked honor bar complete with top shelf liqueurs, juices and more. Before the tour of my suite was completed, over, Jeremy opened the powered sheer drapes which revealed a balcony that had a perfect view of the Old City of Jerusalem.

Before I go on about my stay at the King David, I must take a moment to tell you about the bed in my suite: I have never had a more comfortable and restful sleep! Please keep in mind that I sleep on a very pricey Aireloom bed at home – but the bed at the King David completely trumped the comfort of even my own bed! Rest assured, you will sleep better than even the most content baby at the King David Hotel!

The view from my bed

It is to be expected that a hotel in the caliber of the King David would have great restaurants – and certainly, you will NEVER go hungry when staying at here. Firstly, the lavish daily breakfast buffet is one of the most impressive I have ever experienced: Premium quail eggs, smoked salmon, herring and other kosher fish, a bevy of artisan cheeses and fresh & flavorful fruits & vegetables. The expertly prepared blintzes, Potatoes au Gratin, Muesli, and a bounty of fresh breads and pastries (including Baklava – which I haven’t enjoyed since I was 9 years old!) are simply a tour de force. In addition, you have the option to enjoy cooked to order egg dishes, Pancakes & Waffles as well as fresh juices, rich & robust coffee and a wide selection of herbal teas.

Since the majority of our audience is based in the U.S., I feel that I should note to those who are used to having the odd numbered sausage links and/or multiple strips of bacon with their breakfasts – you won’t find these items at the King David as it is a hotel which observes Kosher rules, and as such, serving pork is verboten. With all of the good food that is offered at the King David, trust me, you won’t miss having pork (and in the process, your body will thank you for that)….

Anyway…..

The King’s Garden Restaurant is the King David’s casual restaurant – however, it is far from casual with its ethnically diverse fare. I dined here a couple of times during my stay and I was thoroughly impressed with the items which I ordered (especially the Mille Feuille! I haven’t had one this good outside of Quebec!)

I also enjoyed a great meal at King David’s fine dining restaurant, La Regence, which happens to be one of the highest rated restaurants in Jerusalem serving meals with locally sourced ingredients. My meal there was very memorable: The lamb dish was unlike anything I have experienced anywhere!

After spending a day touring and shopping, you can relax in the King David’s pristine swimming pool, play tennis, workout in the fitness center or enjoy a spa treatment. And if you are traveling with the kiddies, the King David has an area dedicated for childern where they can spend their time playing the day away.

Guest service at the King David is genuine and personal – but not overwhelming. There are some hotels which obviously browbeats their staff about “perfection” with the customer experience, and result coming off either disingenuous or trying “too” hard. However, staff of the King David has mastered the guest service experience: The staff is always at ease, personable and can practically predict the needs of every guest before they ask. In short, the King David guest services experience reminds me of what it is like to stay in the mansion of an established family.

After my glorious 3 night stay in Jerusalem, it was time for me to begin my journey back to North America. But before I head back on my amazing Air Canada Dreamliner flight in International Business Class, I spent 2 nights in Tel Aviv.

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Traveling to Tel Aviv from Jerusalem is easy. There are regularly scheduled trains and buses (Train: 25 Shekels or $6.35; Bus: 22 Shekels or $5.60) – or – you can book a Sherut (prices vary based on your location in each city) or taxi (280 Shekels or $71). To be very frank, I suggest that everyone travel this route via taxi or private car service since it’s not cumbersome and it’s far easier and faster to arrive at your destination in this manner.

I was very fortunate to continue my Dan Hotels experience in Tel Aviv for a 2 night stay at the Five Star, beachfront Dan Tel Aviv Hotel. Similar to the King David, the Dan Tel Aviv continues to be the preferred “home away from home” for many VIPs – particularly those who are in the entertainment industry. Stars such as: Madonna, Mick Jagger, Lady Gaga, Jesse Eisenberg and many others stay at the Dan Tel Aviv home when they are in the region – and I totally understand why! While this is a popular luxury hotel, the Dan Tel Aviv is one which remains very conscious about the needs and expectations of its most notable guests. In particular, privacy & security are of the utmost importance and the Dan Tel Aviv accomplishes this successfully in a very discreet manner.

Dan Tel Aviv

Dan Tel Aviv

After check-in, Simona Marcus (Dan Tel Aviv Assistant Manager) escorted me to my luxurious Terrace Sea View Suite (#501) which has been occupied by many famous celebrities including: Actor Leonardo DiCaprio & singer Leonard Cohen. Similar to the adornments I experienced in my Deluxe Suite at the King David Hotel, the Dan Tel Aviv Terrace Sea View Suites are equally replete with blissful amenities and ample closet space. The warm wood finishes, comfortable surroundings and amazing technical wizardry all help to make my stay in Dan Tel Aviv’s Terrace Sea View Suite an amazing experience (and the view of the Mediterranean Sea from this suite is phenomenal!). I should also note that guests staying in this Suite are granted access to the Dan Lounge (which provides complimentary beverages, snacks and more all day).

Dining at the Dan Tel Aviv is an event! The hotel’s intimate dining restaurant, Hayarkon 99, is very unique in that it hosts no more than 40 guests. The meals are thoughtfully prepared with great care and wines are paired by the restaurant’s Sommelier, Norman Gluck. Since my meal included a Filet Mignon entree, Norman recommended a wonderful 2012 Petit Castel from the Judean Hills. This Bordeaux-styled wine was flavorful with strong berry notes – which is perfect for Kosher beef. I particularly enjoyed Norman’s choice since I find the stinging finishes of Syrah or Shiraz too strong for my palate.

When visiting Israel, I highly recommend that you experience a cultural immersion into Shabbat which starts every Friday just before Sunset, and it ends early Saturday eventing. To learn more about Shabbat, please visit
here to learn more on the Israel Ministry of Tourism’s website. Shabbat at the Dan Tel Aviv is an especially wonderful experience – particularly at dinner time!

Growing up in Southern California, I was immersed in a variety of cultures – and due to my mother’s profession, I became aware of many aspects of Jewish culture & customs. What I wasn’t aware of was the Shabbat dinner! The Dan Tel Aviv puts on QUITE a spread with a Shabbat buffet which is nearly bigger than any dinner buffet I have ever seen in Vegas! So take my word for it, you will want to make sure you have a big appetite in order to enjoy all of the goodness that is offered! That said, taking a swim in one of the Dan Tel Aviv’s 2 swimming pools, after you take a walk along the strand immediately in front of the hotel, is strongly advised. Everything I enjoyed – from the prepared salads to the to the Hummus, to the Roast Chicken, to the massive dessert offerings – EVERYTHING was delicious! Even as I’m typing this, I am recalling the amazing flavors and freshness of the food!

For a regional luxury hotel brand, I wasn’t expecting anything outside of the ordinary. But, Dan Hotels completely and pleasantly surprised me! There are many large hotel brands which bandy the word “luxury” in their promotional materials, but the reality is far from it. As a brand, Dan Hotels stands alone and it doesn’t need to “bang a drum” about it’s luxury positioning: Dan Hotels simply delivers the very best effortlessly.

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Israel and I am looking forward to our upcoming production of “andiamo!” there soon. The people are friendly & genuine and they will go out of their way to ensure a pleasant visit.

Please be sure to check out the video on my journey to Israel below:

Air Canada

Dan Hotels

King David Hotel

Dan Tel Aviv Hotel

Travelpro Luggage

Switzerland: Your FIRST Stop in Europe

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As you probably have already gathered from my other posts, I LOVE to travel! Experiencing a new and exciting destination is always a thrill and I especially enjoy repeat visits to certain destinations that have struck a particular chord with me. Based on a recent visit, I’m looking forward to enjoying many visits to Switzerland for the foreseeable future (especially since the country’s air and water are the cleanest I have ever experienced in Europe).

The general American consensus about Switzerland is: Wealthy European capital, mountains and snow. While these things are true, there’s SO much more to this country than you might expect. Let’s get right to it!

Even though my SWISS International Airlines flight arrived into Switzerland’s financial hub of Zurich from Los Angeles, I never stepped outside of the airport to experience this bustling metropolis (which is certainly not the first impression I wanted of Switzerland). Fortunately for me, the very impressive Zurich Airport is the epitome of Swiss efficiency: It has an integrated train station for a transportation system that is, again, very Swiss (clean, efficient and reliable). Within roughly 3 hours from the time I touched down in Zurich, I traveled on the same train in First Class (with a few short stops) toward the center of Switzerland and its lakeside municipality of Thun. Quick note: When it comes to trips that include train travel, I STRONGLY recommend that you travel with Travelpro luggage. Travel can create a great deal of wear & tear on your luggage, and the more your luggage is in movement, the greater the risk for damage. So protect your belongings and make an investment in the fortified luggage of Travelpro.

Thun is in the Canton of Bern (“Canton” is a French word describing a Swiss Member-State) and it is a picturesque city which is unlike any place that I have experienced in Europe thus far. It is truly a place which you need experienced firsthand as no blog post, online video or photograph can properly articulate the sheer beauty that exist here. However, I will do my best to convey my point about Thun: It’s pristine. Rich with lush foliage, rolling green hills, a wonderful city center that’s full of great restaurants, unique traditional architecture and a lake that is the most clean and serene of any I ever experienced. Thun is a destination that can best be described as: “Europe’s most unexpected city.”

My visit to Thun included a stay at the Seepark Thun Congress Hotel. This 4-star property is nestled in park-like surroundings with an amazing view of Lake Thun which will leave you awe struck. While you are here, be sure to take a quick walk through the forest and have dinner at Schloss Schadau Thun. The view of Lake Thun here is so idyllic, you’ll think that you have stepped into a masterpiece by Monet!


Yes, this hotel has a bowling alley! :-)

Yes, this hotel has a bowling alley! :-)

Enjoying lakeside serenity is just one of many things you can do in this region on any given day. So a few days after my arrival in Switzerland, I decided to enjoy my first visit to the Swiss Alps by embarking on a day trip to Jungfraujoch. Suffice it to say, this is not a journey for the faint of heart: It takes about 4 hours to arrive at top of Jungfraujoch by train (which happens to be the highest point for a train to arrive in Europe). Within this timeframe, you will ascend from sea level to 11,000 feet – and you will certainly feel the effects of thin air as you gradually reach the peak of Jungfraujoch. So I strongly suggest that you prepare yourself physically (breathing exercises days in advance and a hearty meal the day of) before embarking on this journey. Once you do, you will be able to focus on your experience a spectacular view which you will find to be breathtaking and certainly worth the journey.

Producer Jason at Jungfraujoch in his The North Face Thermoball jacket!

Producer Jason at the North face of Jungfraujoch in his Thermoball jacket….by The North Face!


Once you leave the excitement of Jungfraujoch, be sure to pay a visit to Interlaken as you return to Thun. Interlaken is known as Switzerland’s mecca for adventure sport – so if conquering Jungfraujoch isn’t enough of a thrill for you (…it certainly was for me!), then you can partake in Wakeboarding, Paragliding and Whitewater River Rafting in Interlaken.

Interlaken: River Rafting in Interlaken - Courtesy: Interlaken Tourism

Interlaken: River Rafting in Interlaken – Courtesy: Interlaken Tourism

Wakeboarding in Interlaken - Courtesy: Interlaken Tourism

Wakeboarding in Interlaken – Courtesy: Interlaken Tourism

Wakeboarding in Interlaken - Courtesy: Interlaken Tourism

Wakeboarding in Interlaken – Courtesy: Interlaken Tourism

Paragliding in Interlaken - Courtesy: Interlaken Tourism

Paragliding in Interlaken – Courtesy: Interlaken Tourism

One thing I wish to note: All of my ground travel throughout Switzerland was accomplished using rail, bus and boat – using Swiss Travel System’s Swiss Pass. This pass is a very cost effective way to journey throughout Switzerland in an unfettered manner and the pass is available for 4, 8, 15, 22 days or 1 month periods. My pass was specifically for 1st Class train travel (where available) and similar to air travel, First Class on Swiss trains provide serenity and comfort – which is most welcome on long journeys. Using this pass provides you with a very efficient way to get around the country and the entire system is very clean and orderly. Additionally, the pass grants users access 470 museums around the country as well as providing a 50% discount on practically all mountain-top trains & cable cars.

After enjoying Thun & Interlaken for several days, I bade these wonderful towns adieu and proceeded to the next stop of my journey, Zermatt (in the Canton of Valais) – which is home of to the Matterhorn. I took the scenic route via train – one which included a stop in Stockhorn, where visitors can board a cable car and ascend to its nearly 7,200 foot peak for a spectacular panoramic view of Thun.


The way to Zermatt: Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn

The way to Zermatt: Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn

My earliest interest in Switzerland can traced back to my formative years living in Los Angeles and annual visits to Disneyland with family. For some, that sentence may seem non-sequitur – so allow me to explain. Disneyland is home to many unique attractions and experiences – each of which are steeped in the following: Adventure and fantasy. One iconic Disneyland attraction that has its roots in Switzerland is the 55 year-old Matterhorn Bobsleds. The adventure with this attraction is that guests careen (and race) in a speeding sled through the Matterhorn while avoiding capture by the Abominable Snowman. For the longest time, I’ve wanted to see if Disney’s version of the Matterhorn was a perfect replica of the real deal in Switzerland. Surprisingly, they are very similar (so kudos to the Disney Imagineers for that!) – however, the scale of the actual Matterhorn is far, FAR greater! Yes, there are speeding sleds at the Swiss Matterhorn, but they don’t travel inside the mountain and they aren’t controlled by steel tracks and computerized braking systems (these are snow sleds which you can rent). Plus, I didn’t witness seeing the Abominable Snowman (…but that shouldn’t be taken as a confirmation that it doesn’t exist… ;-) ).

Upon arriving in Zermatt (which turns 150 years old in 2015), I was whisked away by electrical automobile (as gas powered vehicles are not allowed in Zermatt) to the CERVO Mountain Boutique Resort. With its lush natural surroundings, this luxury resort is is the envy of Zermatt hoteliers, especially with its breathtaking views of the Matterhorn. The CERVO sets the standard for modern boutique mountain resorts and no detail has been overlooked by the resort’s owners. Each of the luxurious guestrooms and suites include world class amenities: Heated bathroom floors, Molton Brown toiletries, massive bath tub with separate shower, complimentary ensuite beverages and a very high end audio/video system (and of course, there’s free high speed Wi-Fi).

A journey to the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise takes about 45 minutes from the cable car station in Zermatt (and the resulting trip will place you at the highest cable car station Europe). This is also the location where you are provided the finest views of the Matterhorn’s south face. Once I arrived at the Matterhorn’s Glacier Paradise, part of the environment was quite reminiscent to my visit & overnight stay at Quebec’s Ice Hotel. This is also the summit of the international ski area (which is open year round), and it’s also the gateway to Europe’s largest summer ski area. Mountaineers and hikers (accompanied by mountain guides) set off to scale the Breithorn which is a 2-1/2 hour trek. On some days, the views from the observation platform are so clear they seem to stretch as far as the Mediterranean. Unfortunately, my visit was hampered by blizzard-like conditions, so my docent advised that I stay indoors to avoid the weather conditions – which I did…..with a mug of hot chocolate!

Just a short trip from the Matterhorn is the home base of the Switzerland’s popular Blacknose sheep which are professionally shepherded by the Julen family. Before interacting with the sheep, current generation “shepherd,” Paul-Marc Julen, told me that these sheep are very tame and love being around people. It is very clear to me that the sentiment is mutual since Paul-Marc and his team have quite a bond and they take great care of these woolen Swiss treasures.

From Zermatt, I journeyed to Martigny (also in the Canton of Valais) – which is a particularly art-minded French city (I honestly thought I was in France at various points of my visit). Martigny is rich in history – some of it dating back to times of the Roman Empire. Martigny is best known as the city which Napoleon Bonaparte marched through (with 40,000 troops) to reach Marengo, France (using the Great St. Bernard Pass) for an epic battle with the Austrians. Of course, Napoleon being what he was, claimed Martigny as part of one of his republics for a period. In addition, Martigny’s Abbey of St. Maurice is a Swiss heritage site and it stands as a Swiss time capsule of sorts. With roots dating back to 1st Century BC, it continues to stand the test of time – even with its structure being built and rebuilt over a period of 15 centuries. Part of the Abbey continues to undergo an excavation as a portion of its tract was once used as a Roman shrine.

Today Martigny continues to make history – especially for its flavorful wines. There are many wineries in the region, so I visited the Gerald Besse Winery for a wine tasting which was hosted by Mr. Besse’s daughter, Sarah. I sampled several of the Besse wines and my favorite is their Fendant Les Bans Martigny, which is a crisp & clean tasting white wine which has hints of pineapple, and it is the perfect wine to pair with Raclette or Fondue. With the ideal Spring & Summer climates for growing graps, perfect soil and extremely pure Swiss water, it’s no wonder that the Swiss wines are the best I have enjoyed in Europe. Unfortunately, only 1% – 2% of all Swiss wines are exported (trust me, you won’t find this Gerald Besse Wines at BevMo). According to WineVibe.com, the Swiss love their wines so much, there’s very little left behind to export. I think Swiss wineries are smart to keep their supply as-is (this way, the quality of their product doesn’t suffer). All the more reason to visit Switzerland!


One MAJOR highlight of my journey to Switzerland was the experience walking a St. Bernard dog. I was able to do this, but it was a bit of a journey to reach St. Bernard’s Monastery (where this breed has its origins dating back to the 1700’s) – so I recommend that you plan a solid day for for a visit so that you don’t shortchange your interaction time with these amazing dogs (plus, you’ll be able to experience some breathtaking views as you face the Italian border).

The present-day St. Bernard dog is a actually a cross-breed between the “classic” St. Bernard (dating back to the 1600’s) with a Newfoundland. The earliest version of the breed was originally used for property protection before it was discovered that these canines were skillful for successful mountain rescues. Today, St. Bernard’s Monastery continues its duty educate the public as well as to preserve the legacy, lineage and heritage of these magnificent & loyal creatures.

If you have never traveled to Europe, I strongly suggest that you take my advice and choose Switzerland as your first stop. Here’s why: 3 cultures of Europe dominate here: German, French & Italian – and you can get a taste of each culture as you travel throughout Switzerland, even if you only speak English (as it is widely spoken in Switzerland). Switzerland’s accessibility and safety are only matched by its scenic beauty and lush surroundings. It bears repeating: The fresh air, great water and pleasant people also provide a wondrous experience – one which I am looking forward to enjoying on a regular basis.

Swiss Alps Horns

Swiss Alps Horns

Switzerland Tourism

Thun Tourism

Interlaken Tourism

Zermatt Tourism

Valais Tourism

Martigny Tourism

SWISS International Airways

Swiss Travel System

Travelpro Luggage

Seepark Thun Congress Hotel

CERVO Boutique Mountain Resort

Jungfraujoch

Matterhorn Glacier Paradise

Julen Family (Blacknose Sheep)

Musée et Chiens du Saint Bernard

Fondation Barry (St. Bernard Dog)

Southern California Wine Country

Cheers to Southern California Wine Country

The mere combination of the words “California” & “Wine” typically have most folks concluding that “Napa Valley” will be discussed. Yes, while Napa Valley is known the world over for its popular Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon varietals, wine aficionados are increasingly being drawn to a place in Southern California that, at one time, could be considered the model for Knott’s Berry Farm’s fictional Ghost Town.

Welcome to Temecula Valley!

Temecula Valley, California is an unsuspecting place that not many would consider, at first glance, to be a wine destination: It’s rich history has key elements which should be culled for a dramatic & adrenaline infused TV series storyline. While this cozy little corner of California embraces its past, it also looks forward to a bright future with its booming wine industry (which has become a bit of a modern-day “gold rush” of sorts), unique experiences for travelers and its farm-to-table approach to cuisine.

Temecula's Farm to Table culinary experience

I had the opportunity to visit Temecula Valley recently and I was surprised that this region existed in Southern California. Who knew that such beauty and serenity existed about 90 minutes from Los Angeles? Honestly, I felt as if I had been transported to a place that was several thousand miles away from the metropolis that I presently call home! During my visit I had the chance to enjoy many sides of Temecula Valley including their annual Balloon & Wine Festival (which takes place late-May every year), great wines from vintners such as: Oak Mountain Winery (which is currently constructing a massive underground wine cave), Robert Renzoni Vineyards (which not only produces a phenomenal Malbec, they have cornered the market with a Marinara sauce that puts anything that’s mass produced to shame!) as well as Wilson Creek Winery (which is known far and wide for their delicious Almond Champagne) – and I also enjoyed a visit to one of Temecula Valley’s finest spa resorts (which happens to be winery as well)……

South Coast Winery Resort & Spa

Judged Best Winery in the State of California for three out of the past six years, it’s little wonder why South Coast Winery Resort & Spa was ranked #1 in the Reader’s Choice Awards. This decadent 39-acre winery resort in Southern California Temecula Valley grows and produces approximately 60 exquisite wines from four distinctly rich and sustainable vineyards. South Coast Winery is one of only 57 wineries in the state certified as Sustainable by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance. In addition to a real working winery and tasting room from which to taste South Coast’s award-winning wines, this showcase winery resort features 76 private villas for luxurious overnight stays and another 50 suites in its decadent Hotel Tower; a four-time WINE SPECTATOR AWARD OF EXCELLENCE title holder: the Vineyard Rose Restaurant; as well as a three-story 15,000 square foot GrapeSeed Spa serving up vine-based spa treatments along with a glass of wine with each service. For those looking to add something new to their wine tasting experience, the resort also offers “Behind the Scenes Wine Tours” daily and the highly popular Vino Vinyasa, which is a “group therapy” yoga and wine tasting session like none other. FYI: Advance reservations are required for these sessions.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Temecula Valley is also home to the most flavorful olive oil. Temecula Olive Oil Company is internationally known for producing its vast selection of robust artisan olive oils – some of which are smoked and spiced – as well as vinegars, spreads and tapenades (they even produce soap and candles made from olive oil!). A visit to Temecula Valley is not complete without a visit to Temecula Olive Oil Company’s tasting room which is located in a very historic building in Temecula Valley’s Old Town.

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The panoramic views, amazing wine and food along with a great resort all make Temecula Valley a memorable getaway destination which you will want to visit again and again. That said, between July 31, 2014 and August 30, 2014, you can enter for your chance to win a vacation to Temecula Valley with a 4-night Villa stay at South Coast Winery Resort & Spa, including airfare provided by Orbitz.com! Also, the fortunate winner will attend the Annual Blessing of the Wines Grape Stomp & Harvest Festival where they’ll dine on Chef’s special harvest feast, enjoy tractor rides through the vineyards, enjoy live musical entertainment, dancing, clowns and face painting, PLUS grape stomping contests and tried-and-true fun family games – designed to have you and your family up on your feet all night long!

Blessing of the Wines Grape Stomp & Harvest Festival

To Live & DINE in L.A.

LAX Pylons

Living in Los Angeles provides very unique experiences. Of those experiences, food is always one that comes to mind for both residents and visitors alike. However, there are misconceptions about our dining scene: Many people think that L.A. & SoCal (Southern California) is full of pricey & trendy restaurants that caters solely to a Bohemian crowd, and fills its overstyled plates with Arugula and Endive accompanied by a sliver of protein hidden in the midst of all that greenery (Delicious? Hardly.). While those type of restaurants DO exist in this town (unfortunately), as a resident, I don’t patronize those places – for this simple fact: I WANT TO EAT WELL AND I NEED NOURISHMENT! Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a very healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables (along with the frequent visit to Jamba Juice, but when I go out to eat, twigs & branches are only acceptable as an appetizer. However, if that madness is placed in front of me as the entrée, trust me, in the words of the late-Bernie Mac: “There will be a misunderstanding!” That said, I have assembled the following list for all of you who appreciate great meals that leave you with positive memories and a full stomach. Rest assured, I will not lead you astray.

Sidenote: Unless otherwise noted, this list is compiled from my own personal experiences at the listed restaurants. With every restaurant listed, there has been ZERO coercion or lobbying to be included on this list. Lastly, please click each restaurant name to be directed to their websites.

Breakfast

Du-Par’s (3rd & Fairfax)
For some reason, every time I walk into Du Par’s, I expect to see the cast of “I Love Lucy” to walk through the door! Seriously. Even with a recent renovation, this restaurant still retains its charm and spirit of a bygone era. In my opinion, this restaurant is tied with the Original Pancake House for BEST pancakes in Southern California (Du-Par’s has very rich and buttery pancakes!) and their eggs, hash browns and bacon are of the best quality worth the drive from anywhere in SoCal!

Original Pancake House (Redondo Beach & Anaheim)
This restaurant is only open for Breakfast and is (in my opinion) tied with Du-Par’s for best pancakes (plus, they have a wider Pancake variety than Du-Par’s). Additionally, their eggs, hash browns and bacon are so wonderful and they have THE BEST coffee in L.A.

Uncle Bill’s Pancake House (Manhattan Beach) Truth be told, I’ve never been to this place – but everyone I know that has been here (including Donna) LOVES it! I will be trying Uncle Bill’s soon and I’ll update this post when I do.

American – Lunch & Dinner

The Larchmont (Hollywood)
Located on Melrose Avenue near Larchmont Blvd., this restaurant was originally introduced to me a few years ago by a friend (who happens to be an Editor at nearby Paramount Studios). I was thoroughly satisfied with the cuisine when the restaurant was known as The Larchmont Larder (which specialized in powerfully tasty American comfort food). Now under new ownership, the restaurant’s menu has been re-conceptualized to a Farm-to-Table format. It’s not “L.A. trendy” – but rather, a classy non-pretentious establishment which every visitor to L.A. should experience.

Lemonade (Hollywood)
Even though some may consider Lemonade another trendy L.A. restaurant with a simple name – but this restaurant lives up to its name. Bottom line: GREAT lemonade and a bevy of comfort food dishes in contemporary cafeteria-like setting.

Steaks

The Capital Grille (Beverly Center)
Some of you are probably thinking “Why Capital Grille? I have this in my town!” Well, I have yet to visit steakhouses such as Nick & Stef’s as well as Mastro’s (although, Donna has been to both and LOVES them!). Once The Capital Grille opened their restaurant at Beverly Center, I had to pay them a visit since I heard nothing but great things about their steaks from friends in other U.S. cities. The atmosphere, choice of steaks, sides, salads and amazingly pleasant and non-pretentious service all give me reason to return The Capital Grille when I’m “jonesing” for a steak. :-)

Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar (Throughout SoCal)
Fleming’s is what I consider to be a great “California casual” steakhouse (from the same “Fleming” that co-created P.F. Chang’s and Paul Martin’s American Grill) has an AMAZING Bone-in Rib Eye and their Chocolate Lava Cake – DIVINE!

BBQ

Lucille’s BBQ (Torrance & Long Beach)
If you like ribs, this is the only local “chain” restaurant in L.A. that does them right! And the fresh lemonade is a delight! Besides the Jalapeno Cheese Grits, their side dishes could use a bit of an “amp-up,” but if you’re more into meat dishes, you’ll be QUITE happy!

Asian

Jitlada Restaurant (East Hollywood)
As you know, I have traveled to Thailand many times and this restaurant is The BEST Thai restaurant in Greater L.A. that specializes in bold & spicy Thai dishes. Native Thais that live in L.A. swear by this place – so that’s a solid endorsement as a far as I’m concerned.

Ayara Thai Cuisine (Westchester)
When it comes to Thai cuisine in the South Bay or near L.A.X., there are MANY horrid places that should be avoided with a vengeance. Make a note and don’t ever forget the following recommendation: Ayara Thai is the only authentic and on-point Thai restaurant in the surrounding South Bay area. It’s so authentic in fact that Thai Airways flight crews have been known to have their inflight meals catered from this restaurant. And that, my friends, speaks volumes.

City Wok (Studio City)
Sure, Chinese-styled restaurants are plentiful in L.A., but there’s NO place like City Wok! Everything here is FRESHLY PREPARED & AMAZING (read: No steam tables)! I especially LOVE the City Wok Rice (Curried rice, pineapple, shrimp and veggies) as well as the Potstickers!

Mexican

El Cholo (L.A. & Santa Monica)
As an Angelino, this is one of 2 Mexican restaurants I recommend to visitors. Nothing here tastes “typical.” In fact, the flavors of El Cholo dishes are decidedly authentic. And if you visit between May and October, be sure to try the Green Corn Tamales! OMG! For a meatless tamale, it is very satisfying and the flavor is so very rich!

Freebirds (Throughout SoCal)
I used to be a fan of the “large national burrito chain that’s based in Colorado” until I visited Freebirds. Besides having a variety of flavored tortillas (I enjoy the Cayenne Pepper tortilla), their portions are QUITE generous and a simple thing like their tortilla chips have a wonderful texture and flavor.

Burgers

Slater’s 50/50 (Throughout SoCal) With L.A. being “Burger Town” and all, this is the only restaurant that impresses me from an innovation standpoint (their 50/50 burger patty is a glowing example of this). In my opinion, Slater’s will become the preeminent burger restaurant for all America once they finally take a cue from The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge’s burger which has a patty made from Ground Prime Rib!

Farmer Boys (Throughout SoCal)
Burgers take center stage here, but their Fried Zucchini & Onion Rings are very noteworthy! Breakfast is served all day, which is a bonus for a Quick Service Restaurant (one thing though: I REALLY wish Farmer Boys would make an effort to give real butter and HFCS-free syrups with their breakfasts – hence why I strongly recommend that you stick to their burgers and side dishes)

In-N-Out (Throughout SoCal)
This is the popular burger restaurant which put L.A. on the map as a “Burger Town” and draws travelers from all over the globe for its simplicity, quality and great taste!

Original Tommy’s Hamburgers (Throughout SoCal)
Tommy’s and In-N-Out are both VERY distinctive. Tommy’s stands alone for its Chili Burgers and you cannot go wrong here.

Fatburger (Throughout SoCal)
What draws me to this place are their Fat Fries. Yes, I enjoy their burgers and you will as well. However, whatever you do, DO NOT order their burgers well-done – they’ll overcook them EVERY time! It’s best to tell the cashier “Medium-Well” (the meat will be cooked thoroughly, but the meat will still be juicy).

Italian / Pizzas

Palermo’s (Los Feliz)
This is by far the best place in L.A. for amazing, authentic Southern Italian cuisine. I dined here often when I worked at the nearby Prospect Studios in the late 90’s and it was ALWAYS a treat to order Palermo’s Antipasto Salad and their Pizzarosa (the pizza crust…they should patent it. It’s unlike anything I have ever enjoyed anywhere else!)

Fresh Brothers (Throughout L.A.)
This local pizza “chain” is known for their fresh ingredients (as its name implies), EXTREMELY hearty pizzas with bold flavors and their great “create your own” salad menu! Just a heads-up: Fresh Brothers is more of a take-out restaurant, so don’t plan on dressing up dine here…..it’s not that kind of place. But they do have modest in-restaurant dining available.

PizzaRev (Throughout L.A.)
Best description: Think Chipotle – um, rather, Freebirds – meeting Pizza. ALL GOOD STUFF here! Premium ingredients. LOVE this place a lot!

Taste Chicago (Burbank)
This restaurant is about as authentic Chicago comes here in L.A.! From outstanding deep dish pizzas to chopped salads, you can’t go wrong with this quality minded restaurant, which happens to be owned by actor Joe Mantegna and his wife.

Fish & Seafood

Killer Shrimp (Throughout SoCal)
This fast casual restaurant is abundant with freshness and flavor! There’s no need to go to a fancy seafood restaurant in L.A. to enjoy a premium fish or seafood. In fact, this restaurant bests all the traditional seafood restaurants in both price and quality.

Fisherman’s Outlet Restaurant (Downtown L.A.)
By absolutely NO stretch of the imagination is this restaurant in a tonier part of Los Angeles. However, Angelinos of every ethnic and socio-economic background flock to this restaurant for the best and freshest fried fish and seafood. For me, the fish is just the beginning, but their savory coleslaw is my primary focus when visiting. It is THE BEST IN THE WORLD (I have traveled around the globe and I have not had coleslaw that nears the amazing flavor of the Fisherman’s Outlet Restaurant!).

Killer Shrimp (Marina Del Rey)
The only place in L.A. where Shrimp is King!

Killer Cafe (Marina Del Rey)
Owned by Killer Shrimp and appropriately next door to Killer Shrimp. Wonderfully hearty breakfasts and oh so much more!

All-Day American Dining

Roscoe’s Chicken & Waffles (Hollywood location)
A visit to Hollywood is not complete without a meal at Roscoe’s Chicken & Waffles on Gower (this is the location that started it all!). Some advice: This place tends to get VERY busy on Friday nights and weekend evenings (with people waiting in droves outside of the entrance), so visiting during the week midday is more apropos in my opinion.

Tub’s Chili (Culver City)
The ONLY place in SoCal for REAL Texas Chili. Very kitschy & eclectic – and the Chili is very addictive. They have seasonal Chilis – and if you visit during the Winter, be sure to try their Sweet Potato Chili. EPIC!

Harold & Belle’s (Mid-City L.A.)
Creole food at its best! Everything here is AMAZING!

Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen (Anaheim at Downtown Disney)
The very best Cajun food this side of New Orleans! The BBQ Shrimp & Grits entrée and Southern Garlic Cheese Bread are a MUST as well as the Double Chocolate Bread Pudding!

Mendocino Farms (Throughout L.A.)
Simply stated, unless you’re visiting Langer’s Deli near Downtown L.A., this is where you go for a REAL sandwich.

Larchmont Bungalow
This restaurant is in Larchmont Village, next door to a Chase Bank branch. It is frequented by celebrities who live and/or work in the area. A great breakfast can be had here and it’s the only restaurant in Larchmont Village that serves hearty meals at a fair price.

Pacific Dining Car (Los Angeles & Santa Monica)
One thing about L.A. that really chaps my hide is the fact there has been an aversion to late-night dining. New York City has mastered this, so why they heck cant the City of Angels do this? Enough of my rant. Pacific Dining Car “gets it” – it’s 24 hours of sheer opulence and great food……and trust me, it comes with a hefty price tag, but it’s worth it! From Breakfast to Dinner, you CANNOT go wrong with this outstanding restaurant!

BON APETIT!

Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board

Utopia = Singapore

Merlion Park
Singapore is one of my most favorite destinations to visit in Asia. Even though it is a very wealthy, business-centric city-state republic, I have always enjoyed Singapore’s ability – as a whole – to effortlessly maintain an air of class, safety and cleanliness.

While having a conversation with Prema Irangani (Manager of the Pacific Club at the Pan Pacific Singapore), I learned a lot about Singapore and its success story. Unlike most countries, Singapore has no natural resources – to the extent that even its municipal water comes from Malaysia! The only thing that Singapore has which continues to be of appeal to a global economy is their people. As a global financial, business and trade hub, Singapore has proven itself to have the brightest, the most organized and some of the smartest people in practically all areas of business. Prema told me that at even at a young age, Singaporean children are taught to be respectful, fiscally responsible and frugal – the latter of which are things which most Western countries have overall failed to teach their children (the impetus of recent economic crisis is evident of that as well as the freewheeling excessive spending habits of some celebrities). Additionally, the Singaporean Government takes great strides to maintain and protect its model near-perfect society and cultural heritage only helps with its image. Nowhere else on Earth does a place like Singapore exist. Typically when there are no natural resources in a country, that country is unable to compete in the global marketplace and it suffers. It is the sheer will and determination of the people of this tiny republic which make it a global success story. Singapore is truly a nimble country with very regimented citizens who expect nothing but the best from themselves.

Prema Irangani - Manager, Pacific Club - Pan Pacific Singapore

Prema Irangani – Manager, Pacific Club – Pan Pacific Singapore

It has been nearly 15 years since my first visit to Singapore and much has change since then. When we produced our Singapore episode of “andiamo!” several years ago, I was astonished by how much Singapore had grown with its number of high-rises and luxury hotels. However, my most recent visit was TRULY shocking since I have never seen a city grow so fast in such a short length of time.

I live in Southern California and the Winter holidays here tend to have a certain “flair” all its own. Once Christmas passes, SoCal gets pretty boring as New Year’s Eve approaches. So as of Winter 2013, yours truly decided that he will not celebrate New Year’s in SoCal ever again. When I found out that Singapore puts on a grand display for its New Year’s Eve countdown celebration, I made up in my mind that Singapore is where I would ring in 2014! Check out the following video to see it for yourself:

Before I go further, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that I flew THAI Airways International from the U.S. on this journey. The service on THAI Airways was MONUMENTAL and I strongly recommend that you fly THAI when visiting Singapore (and of course, Thailand!). Please see my flight reports as follows as well as the following video which will give you a taste of what you can expect to experience on your upcoming flights on THAI Airways:

THAI Airways International – Royal Silk Class – (USA-Asia)

THAI Airways International – Royal Silk Class – (Asia-USA)

My desire to celebrate New Year’s outside of the U.S. originates from my days of working at ABC News and experiencing the 24 hour New Year’s celebrations that the network aired (ABC 2000). I found it to be rather interesting to see how the world rang in the new year at each hour and to hear the commentary of the late-Peter Jennings as he observed each celebration.

Ringing in the new year in another city or country provides a unique and rarefied milestone experience. What better way to start the year than to celebrate it in a place where you can be surrounded by a great deal of positivity, great people and wonderful surroundings – and Singapore has all of that, and then some!

After enjoying all of the New Year’s Eve revelry, I took a day of rest and explored all of the goodness of the newly renovated Pan Pacific Singapore. We featured this Five-Star property in our Singapore episode a few years ago and even though it was most impressive then, the hotel is now experiencing a new renaissance.

There are many great benefits to staying at the Pan Pacific Singapore. Besides being centrally located to everything and having some of the best dining in Singapore, the hotel has a great value option which is very attractive to me: The Pacific Club. Now a lot of people may think that “Club Level” is the same here as it is elsewhere: Continental Breakfast, a free newspaper every morning and free in-room internet. Well that would not be a factual conclusion. The Pan Pacific Singapore’s Pacific Club is far more than a lounge, it’s an actual club…..with staff at your service 24/7. Some of the benefits that come with the Pacific Club include: Upper floor accommodations, priority check-in, full daily breakfast room service or full buffet breakfast in the Pacific Club lounge (where snacks and beverages throughout the day and cocktails and light refreshments in the evening are offered to Pacific Club guests) and so much more!

The last time I visited the Pan Pacific Singapore, I stayed in a Pacific King Room which was very spacious and quite comfortable – and the bathroom seemed to be designed for someone my height (as the bathtub was very big!). However, this time around, I stayed in a Pacific Harbour Studio with Balcony (I shot the New Year’s Countdown Celebration video from my balcony….while in my pajamas!). There are only 2 words to describe this room: Opulent and cavernous! You’d think that a hotel room being large and elegant would be enough – oh no….there’s SO much more: 32″ LCD IP television with local and cable channels, integrated bathroom speakers, Hans Grohe bathroom fixtures including rain shower and Kaldewei Bathtub. But the main point of staying in any hotel is to sleep – and the bedding at the Pan Pacific Singapore is simply exquisite! Every night promised a great night of sleep. Take a look at Part 2 of my “andiamo!” Destination Spotlight video to learn more:

One amenity which I particularly appreciate with a Pacific Club stay is the fact that complimentary bottles of Evian are provided in each room daily – as well as non-alcoholic beverages (including fruit juices) are stocked in the refrigerator daily!

For the duration of my stay in Singapore I wanted to explore some of the “newness” of Singapore. Similar to the London Eye, The Singapore Flyer is a giant Ferris wheel with 28 air conditioned observation pods, each of which provide stunning 360 degree views of Singapore as well as parts of Indonesia and Malaysia from its 541 foot apex! From the Singapore Flyer, you are also able to view a considerable amount of the racing circuit of the Singapore Grand Prix.

I found the 121 acre Resorts World Sentosa to be quite a brilliant destination within Singapore which provide leisure offerings the residents of Singapore (as well as international travelers). There’s something for everyone at Resort World Sentosa with it 6 hotels, a casino, a plethora of dining venues, high-end shopping and the world’s largest aquarium, S.E.A. Aquarium, there’s never any excuse for boredom. Specifically, Singaporeans no longer need to feel that they must travel outside Singapore in order to enjoy theme park amusements…..since they’ve been blessed with Universal Studios Singapore at Resorts World Sentosa! Living in SoCal, we have Universal Studios Hollywood and I am very familiar with the rides and attractions that amusement park had to offer. It was truly a treat to visit Universal Studios Singapore to see how Hollywood is celebrated there. Even though the day I visited was quite rainy, I managed to enjoy a few attractions including: Transformers: The Ride (which was AMAZING!), Jurassic Park (which a FAR more psychological experience than what is offered at Universal’s parks in Hollywood and Florida) as well as The Mummy (the ride is much longer and has more “scenes” throughout the ride than Universal Studios Hollywood). Universal Studios Singapore was thoughtfully developed and it is kept immaculately clean! I really wish that Universal Studios Theme Parks division would make a conscious effort to market their non-U.S. parks (specifically Universal Studios Singapore) to their U.S. audience. The nuances of each park are not widely known – but if they did provide this information to their U.S. audience, the attendance at all of their parks would increase exponentially.

Please review Part 1 of my “andiamo!” Destination Spotlight here to get a visual “taste” of my recent visit to Singapore here:

Before I forget, I should mention that the Pan Pacific Singapore has a GREAT spa! A visit to The St. Gregory Spa is a welcome feature after a long flight or touring throughout Singapore. Since I performed a great deal of walking during my visit here, a foot massage was much needed. After I checked in at the spa, I was greeted by my therapist who then escorted me to one of the St. Gregory’s well-appointed treatment rooms. The foot massage experience was sheer Heaven! I had no idea just how tight my foot muscles were – and the treatment not only provided relief for that problem, but it removed also tightness in my lower back.

Singapore is a MUST visit for every international traveler. Even if you have never traveled to Asia, Singapore should be your first stop. There’s no culture “shock” (which first time travelers to rural destinations tend to experience), it is cleanest destination on the planet, English is the official language, all Asian cuisines are well represented, the water is quite clean, it’s an ultra-modern and fashion forward destination and it is very welcoming of visitors. My suggestion to first time travelers to Asia is this: Visit Singapore for 6 days and then spend 4 days before visiting a totally different destination in Asia during the same trip. This way, you can help yourself ease into the regional sensibilities rather than just “plunging in.”

Suffice it to say, I will celebrate New Year’s in Singapore again at some point down the road. Nevertheless, I hope that you consider visiting Singapore for this year’s upcoming New Year’s Eve celebrations! I’m sure that it will top what I experienced a few months ago!

THAI Airways

Singapore Tourism Board

Pan Pacific Singapore

Resorts World Sentosa

Universal Studios Singapore

Singapore Flyer

Ya Kun Kaya Toast