• Middle East Travel, Wadi Rum, Jordan

    Packing for the Middle East

    Wondering what to pack for your trip to the Middle East? Check out my list of 15 things to throw on your checklist!

  • Lima, Peru

    Underwhelming Travel Experiences

    Not every trip leaves you wanting more. Here are my top 5 underwhelming travel experiences.

  • Israeli-Palestinian Books, Israeli-Palestinian Documentaries, Israeli-Palestinian TV Series

    Israel + Palestine // Best Books + Documentaries

    Heading to Israel and Palestine? Here are some documentaries, TV series and books to check out before your trip!

  • Dead Sea, Israel, Middle East

    Middle East: The Countdown Begins

    The countdown is on! Three weeks until we depart for the Middle East and I'm excited for what's in store.

  • Dining LV Header

    Dining in Las Vegas

    Dining in Las Vegas on a quest to find the perfect birthday dinner locale for an extra special birthday celebration.

Middle East Travel, Wadi Rum, Jordan

Packing for Israel, Jordan + the West Bank

Today marks the official two week countdown before we’re on our way to Tel Aviv. In honor of our upcoming trip, I thought I’d share my preliminary packing list for the region with others that have the same wardrobe questions that I’ve had. Before I put together my own list, I scoured other websites, blogs and books to see what expats and frequent travelers to the area suggested. The results were mixed and generally very practical (e.g. many websites said wear tennis shoes or Tevas). Now, there’s nothing wrong with tennis shoes or Tevas, but I’m not really a tennis shoe or Teva kinda girl. I found myself having a hard time relating to some of the lists. Where are the twenty and thirty-something travelers wanting to find a blend of practical and – dare I say – fashionable? So, after scouring a variety of websites and trying to find a wardrobe that blends function with a bit of fashion, I’ve come up with the following list. Keep in mind, we’re going in late October when the weather will be in the mid-70s to low-80s depending on our location. It’s not humid (it’s the desert, after all) so what we’ll be able to wear during this time of year is entirely different than what I may be able to wear in July when the heat is at its peak.

What to Wear in the Israel, Middle East Travel Style

15 checklist items for your trip to the Middle East

  1. Tank Tops/Sleeveless Shirts // Sleeveless tops alone are a no-no when it comes to visiting holy sites, but when we’re walking around Tel Aviv, and sailing the Sea of Galilee, a well-chosen tank top is a staple. I’m packing a handful of lightweight tanks in a variety of colors, some dressier versions and some more athletic tanks for hikes.
  2. Shawls or Lightweight Cardigans // I have one shawl/wrap and one cardigan that I’ll be taking with me for this trip, and they’ll be serving two functions: firstly, they’re part of my ‘modesty kit’. Groups often recommend bringing lightweight accessories to ensure that shoulders and knees are covered in holy areas. Secondly, while days will be warm, nights can get cool (some night are slated to be in the low 60s). For going out at night, a shawl is easy to throw over a dress or tank top to stay warm.
  3. Lightweight Blouses // Living in the Caribbean where it’s always hot and somewhat humid, I swear by lightweight blouses to keep cool and still look somewhat professional and cleaned up. My go-tos are the Portofino shirts by Express and I can’t recommend them enough. I have them in about 10 different colors and each of them gets worn regularly!
  4. Maxi Skirts // I’m toting two maxi skirts with me – black and a satiny neutral like the one pictured above. On hotter days, I much prefer a maxi skirt to pants to stay cool, and they can easily go from walking around a city by day to dressed up for dinner at night.
  5. Pants // I’ll be honest: a girlfriend of mine who has just returned from Israel told me not to pack pants at all. During her trip in July she didn’t wear pants once during her 10 day stay and said her jeans (a go-to normally) were not comfortable in the heat. We’re going in late October with a different climate so I am taking pants – one pair of jeans and one pair of lightweight harem pants (an H&M steal at $10).
  6. Footwear // Friends who know me know that I am not a flats person.  I own one pair of flats out of pure necessity and a few pairs of flip flops (which I purchased after moving to the Caribbean). When someone tells me to put on flats, I put on my wedges which are my equivalent for comfortable walking shoes (otherwise you’ll see me in heels). That being said, I realize that walking around ancient cities with cobblestone roads becomes a bit more difficult when wearing heels. I’m bringing a few pairs of shoes: tennis shoes for hikes, flip flops for day-to-day walkings (my friend who just returned confirmed she wore flip flops regularly without any issues), a pair of nicer flat sandals for going out and… a pair of wedges. YES, I HAVE TO HAVE MY WEDGES. Even if I don’t wear them, it makes me feel much safer knowing that they’re there for a nicer night out.
  7. Athletic Wear // I don’t know that we’re going to do a ton of hiking on this particular trip, but photos from friends’ experiences (mainly on birthright), showed image after image of them hiking in the desert, stumbling upon waterfalls and enjoying all sorts of athletic pursuits. I don’t think that this particular trip will involve the same amount of outdoorsy activities but to be safe, I’ll be toting a pair of athletic shorts, yoga pants, a lightweight sports bra and a couple of easy tanks.
  8. Shorts // In addition to my pants and skirts, I’m bringing shorts for day time. I’ll probably tuck these away when we’re in Jerusalem, but there are other days and areas where shorts will be more appropriate. I typically opt for shorts that can be worn in the day and easily dressed up with a belt and accessories at night.
  9. Belts + Accessories // Especially when I have maxi dresses in tow (see bullet point 11), belts are a must. I find that the same breezy dress worn during the day without a belt can be dressed up with a cinched waist. The same can be said about accessories broadly – I always like to bring a simple set of silver and gold jewelry that I can wear together, plus a statement necklace to dress up simple clothes. Don’t forget sunglasses!
  10. Hat // On the accessory front – but deserving of its own section – hats are a godsend for protecting your face from the sun and – let’s be real – for hiding a really bad hair day. Dry shampoo can only go so far, amiright?
  11. Maxi Dresses and Jumpsuits // I have about 4 super lightweight maxi dresses selected for the trip, most of which are tank tops. I’ve come to discover that maxi dresses are the easiest wardrobe item – a single piece that you can throw on in the morning without concern about finding a matching counterpart. Plus, like maxi skirts, they transition super easily from day to night with the right accessories and footwear. I’m also throwing in a jumpsuit for good measure. I love jumpsuits… even though Scott thinks they make me look like a Mario Brother. You better believe I’ll be wearing it for a night out!
  12. Scarf // Okay, so along with the shawl that I mentioned (point 2), scarves are a super versatile must. I’m hoping to buy one in Israel that will be functional and a great keepsake from our journey. Scarves are easy to throw in your purse and can cover your shoulders in lieu of a shawl, cover your head when you’re entering more conservative areas, or can add a little warmth on a crisp night. Plus, they always have this way of making you look 1000 times more chic.
  13. Bathing Suit // If you’re headed to Israel, Palestine or Jordan, the Dead Sea is probably on your list of places to visit. Lest you miss out on coating yourself with mud (classic Dead Sea pic) or floating in the Dead Sea whilst reading a newspaper (the other classic Dead Sea pic), pack a bathing suit! A word of advice from my girlfriend who just returned from her trip: bring a suit that you don’t mind trashing. Between the mud and crazy amounts of salt and minerals, your suit won’t be looking as good as it once did after departing.
  14. Electronics // This will mean different things to different people. For me, it means laptop, laptop charger, Canon T2i and charger, iPad, iPhone and their respective chargers. In addition to those, grab a converter (their outlets are like the rest of Europe’s) so you can actually charge your stuff.
  15. Passport // This goes without saying – at least I think it does – but don’t forget your passport. Obviously you need it to travel internationally, but don’t forget to check and ensure that its good for up to 6 months after your date of arrival. Most places aren’t crazy strict on this, but some are so make sure your legal docs are in line. Worried about getting that Israeli stamp in your passport? Apparently there’s no more stamping to be concerned about as they now issue tourist visa cards on entry (read here for more). Also, don’t forget to call your credit card companies and your bank to let them know that you’ll be traveling out of the country! Trying to pay for something only to discover that your card has been frozen is terrible and dealing with it from overseas is equally awful.

I haven’t included the obvious – things like toiletries, socks, bras, etc. as I hope you’ll remember to pack those! Is there anything that I’m missing that others should include in their Middle East packing list?

Two weeks until liftoff!

Shannon Kircher

Header photo courtesy of Neil and Kathy Carey via Creative Commons.
Lima, Peru

5 destinations that didn’t leave me wanting more

There are some travel experiences that are utterly amazing, that exceed your expectations and stay with you forever when you look back on trips that had a serious impact. On the flip side, there are some trips that do a bit of the opposite. I’ve never left a trip wishing I hadn’t gone, but I have departed feeling like I missed something; like the experience wasn’t totally what I expected and left me underwhelmed.

Below are five places that left me feeling a bit of that sensation. I should also say that for some of these experiences the lackluster feel may have been the timing of my trip (going during peak season vs. low or shoulder season), being on a budget (grad school budgets don’t always lend themselves well to certain destinations), or not experiencing it with the right person/people (some romantic locales may evoke a different feeling when experienced with a friend or family member).

Athens, Greece

Checking out the Acropolis in Athens, Greece.

1Before moving to Europe, Greece was #1 on my European bucket list (with Turkey being a close second). Perhaps I’d envisioned something entirely unrealistic as I was in the planning process; perhaps my hopes were just too high. Don’t get me wrong, the history is incredible and the thought of Athens is magical, enveloped with an spirit of mythology and an amazingly rich history. Still, I was shocked by the grime. I’m not sure if was beyond the typical big city grit (graffiti, people peeing on the walls, trash all over the ground, and a palpable layer of filth) or if it was the fact that this amazing city, with all of its history and its draw, let itself deteriorate to this grimy level. Either way, beyond the historical components, I found myself rather unimpressed, and I was truly disappointed that I left feeling that way. The islands on the other hand make up for Athens’ shortcomings. Read More

Israeli-Palestinian Books, Israeli-Palestinian Documentaries, Israeli-Palestinian TV Series

Homework before a trip to the Middle East

The histories of Israel and Palestine are very complex, and represent two distinctly different narratives and perspectives. I have long been interested in the history of the region but our upcoming trip to the Middle East served as encouragement to boost our knowledge of the area’s history, religious foundations, and key sites. Since the beginning of the year, we’ve taken time regularly to watch documentaries and television series highlighting Israel and Palestine. Some focused on the conflict, some focused on the food. Some touched on politics, some on religion (though these things can be woven together quite a bit). The majority attempted to be unbiased, some were clearly biased. We devoured all of them, with the hope that going into our coming journey we’d have a better understanding of the area and a better understanding of the people.

For those interested in great reads and films, below are a few that we found beneficial as a little primer before our journey.

Books

Books on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Son of Hamas
by Mosab Hassan Yousef

During a long flight, I decided to start Son of Hamas, hoping it would live up to the reviews I read online. I couldn’t put it down. The book is an account by the son of one of Hamas’ founding members, where he shares his insight on the organization, his rise to power within Hamas, as well as his impetus in working as a double-agent with Shin Bet. Pretty incredible information and a relatively quick read.

The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East
by Sandy Tolan (2006)

I’m about half way through this book and already I can’t recommend it highly enough. The book’s name is derived from a house (with a lemon tree in the backyard) that is originally occupied by a Palestinian family and later becomes home to Ashkanazi Jews that fled from Bulgaria during the Holocaust. The book is factual, based on two real families and a real home in al-Ramla, and weaves an incredible story that somehow integrates two distinct narratives. Aside from the great story of these two families, it’s an incredible primer on the history of Palestine and the creation of Israel.

Lonely Planet // Israel and the Palestinian Territories

Beyond reading other blogs and trying to hear personal recommendations before heading on a trip, I also look to Lonely Planet. Frommer’s, Rick Steves, and others are fine, but LP is without a doubt the most rich and relatable text I’ve found. They’re information on Israel and the Palestinian Territories touches on various regions of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, plus stretches beyond that to touch on Petra and the Sinai Peninsula as both areas are often wrapped into a trip to Israel. Beyond the travel-focused elements (where to stay, where to eat), there’s such great historical documentation and information on the conflict, political parties, etc. I’ve read it cover-to-cover multiple times for inspiration, plus the visuals are stunning!

Read More

Dead Sea, Israel, Middle East

Thoughts and objectives heading into the Middle East

We’re headed to the Middle East in exactly three weeks and I find myself about 9 parts excited and one part nervous. Not too long ago, rockets were hitting Gaza daily, and flights to Tel Aviv were halted due to safety issues. ISIS has become a household acronym as news networks feed a constant stream of information about instability in the region. Certainly, the notion of the Middle East as a safe and secure travel destination isn’t the conception for most travelers. Issues have persisted in the area since the beginning of recorded history, but this is certainly an interesting time at which to be visiting.

To say that I’m entering this trip with no concerns would be disingenuous. Whether the daily dose of Foreign Policy blurbs sent daily to my inbox provide me with greater or fewer concerns is debatable. Still, I’m entering into this journey with an open mind, excited to explore a new region, experience a bucket list trip, and take the opportunity to share my experiences traveling in an area that many travelers see as somewhat unapproachable, especially at this moment in time.

For the past few weeks, I’ve received calls, texts and emails from a number of concerned friends and family members: are you still going to the Middle East with everything that’s happening? Do you think it’s safe to be over there right now? Can you reschedule your trip for another time? To be sure, I appreciate each and every one of those concerned voices, and I understand them because a small part of me shares that concern. Is this really the best time to be visiting this area? Probably not, no, but when will it ever be a good time? Also, lumping all of these countries into one homogenous group doesn’t provide an entirely accurate picture. To say that Jordan and Syria are essentially the same or suggest that happenings in Iraq are the same as happenings in the West Bank would provide a false sense of reality. Jordan is generally a very safe destination for tourists, and while the situation in Israel has been strained as of late, it remains a largely secure destination for visitors outside of the Gaza border (and perhaps the somewhat contentious area of the Golan Heights). I’ll be honest: I wouldn’t do this trip solo, not right now and probably not ever. We’ll be exploring Israel with a decent sized group, and our West Bank journey will take place with Abraham Tours, a small group with native guides. In an area where I lack knowledge of the language and am not entirely certain about the ever-changing political and social landscapes, I feel 1000% more confident visiting with individuals that know the region, know where to go, and understand the genuine importance of safety. I trust that if there were serious concerns about safety of travelers in the area (not just travel warnings from the US), that birthright groups would be halting their trips, church groups would be rescheduling, and tour groups would be sending out courtesy warnings and re-bookings for their guests.

This trip, perhaps more than any other, I see as being an incredibly eye-opening experience; a chance to encounter a distinctly different area of the world and genuinely reflect on my thoughts and emotions, providing some honest feelings and guidance for those considering visiting. I’m looking forward to evaluating where my expectations lie preceding this adventure, during this journey and after we return. How safe will we really feel while touring? Are there any areas that provide palpably different sensations? Are there any areas that I would distinctly return to or avoid if I were to do it again?  How do experiences in Israel, the West Bank and Jordan all differ?

While it can be difficult to carve out the time on a daily basis to recap and journal, that’s exactly what I hope to do. I intend to take the time each night, after a day of adventures and experiences, and share not only what we’ve done, but also provide an authentic summary of emotions, highlights, and concerns, where they exist. I’m thrilled to be sharing this journey with everyone, and very excited to be working with the Israeli Tourist Board, Abraham Tours and other groups to experience what the region has to offer. I hope to complete our time in the area with fresh eyes, an enhanced outlook and a more holistic perspective on the region after spending time with Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians.

The journey begins mid-October so be sure to check back for regular updates and photos. You can stay up to speed with updates by checking out my Facebook page, following me on Twitter or glimpsing photos from the trip on Instagram.

Have you visited the Middle East recently? Are you headed on a trip to the region? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below!

Love from the Caribbean,

Shannon Kircher

Dining LV Header

Dining Faves + Scouting for Group Dining

This isn’t a secret: Las Vegas is the land of excess. Pure and utter excess. You want fancy Cirque Shows? There are handfuls to choose from. Looking for daytime pool scenes? Yes, plenty of those. Nightclubs? Endless, plus the promoters keep sending me tweets about bottle service. Casual dining? You can find a fast food meal for $5, or an upscale casual burger joint doling out $17 burgers (still affordable and casual by these standards). Looking to wine and dine a girlfriend? There are countless fine dining options from French and Mediterranean to Japanese and Southwest, begging you to spend $100+ a person. Above that, there are a number of places offering tasting menus that soar over $200 per person for dinner, not inclusive of drinks.

This is a place where anything is possible and any budget and desires can be accommodated. In some ways, it’s the most incredible thing ever; in other ways, it’s the most overwhelming thing ever. How ever do you choose when you have three nights in Vegas and have to select three dinner spots out of about a million? The key is to make a selection, enter into the experience with full commitment and not think about the path not taken (I’m being dramatic, but I sometimes have some buyer’s remorse with choosing experiences, dining and otherwise). Also, when you find a place you love, there’s no harm in going back despite the fact that there are other restaurants begging to be experienced. There’s something to be said about knowing what you’re in for in terms of quality and service. Below are some of the spots we tried, plus some thoughts on our scouting mission for my grandmother’s 90th birthday bash in Vegas.

Sushisamba

SUSHISAMBA

Located in the Palazzo, Sushisamba was our first dinner of this trip to Las Vegas. Having been there before, we knew we loved the food (Brazilian + Peruvian meet Japanese), and the service. The service this time was admittedly a bit rushed but the food was better than we remembered. They serve up sushi rolls for the Japanese lovers, plus seafood off the robata grill (the sea bass is to die for). Here’s the hot tip: they’re not great about coursing things out for you, so order gradually to enjoy the evening and not feel too rushed. We had food out within 5 minutes of ordering. Yes, I was hungry, but I would have liked to have not been done eating within 45 minutes of sitting down. Still, I was enamored with the private dining space and have been especially impressed with the responsive service in my communications with their team. Sushisamba is one of our finalists for my grandmother’s 90th birthday; our biggest task is creating a menu that finickier palates (read: non-sushi lovers) can enjoy. Read More

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In the sea of travel-focused apps available for your mobile device, which apps do you prioritize? Which are actually useful to you as a traveler? A couple of years back, I created a list of 9 travel apps that I love while traveling; they’re varied and for use in different capacities (e.g. booking, capturing, and sharing). Some are still my go-tos, but with the ever-changing landscape of tech, it’s in need of a facelift. I was recently introduced to the Flying app, and was intrigued enough to download it prior to our West Coast adventure.

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The app serves a few different functions, though it’s primary use is to track your flights, with information being available to you even when you’re offline. I found this particularly useful as we set off in wifi-less zones and while up in the air. When’s our next flight? How long is that flight? When are we due to land? All of that information is stored in the app once you’ve put in a few bits of information about your flight path.

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It provides interesting visualizations of the data to make the tracking component a bit more interactive, and has a social piece that allows you to connect with friends, see their flight paths and total miles flown. They integrate gamification by giving users ‘stamps’ for certain achievements in flying. As we all have learned by now, gamification works in a big way. Remember when FourSquare came out and we were all rushing to be mayor of every establishment that we loved? I’m always a bit wary about connecting with friends on platforms like this (it crosses into the oversharing category for me a little bit), but I can see it being an enticing component. It’s not that we really care where our friends are going for the most part; rather, it’s that the competitor inside of us wants to see that we’ve somehow ‘won’ in travel time, length, most interesting routes, etc.

When my first flight from St. Maarten to Miami landed, I was able to pull up this information while still on the plane waiting to disembark. I could see when my flight was scheduled to take off, the gate from which it would depart (including the updated info), along with the flight number.

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Whether or not you use the social piece of the app, the functionality is certainly still there. Just having a list of flights, flight numbers, times, gates, etc. at my fingertips was incredibly useful. Yes, you do have the take a moment while connected to input the relevant info, but that’s a relatively small task. All in all, I’m a fan, and I appreciate the constantly evolving travel tech industry. Keep it up, techies!

Has anyone else tried this app yet? What’s your go-to travel app? Why are you a fan?

xo from somewhere in the air,

Shannon Kircher

 

Santa Barbara

Our trip from Santa Barbara to Las Vegas was a long one. In hindsight, we could have easily rented a car and made the drive from Southern California to Nevada in less time. We booked a flight out of LAX to Las Vegas for a 2PM departure, perhaps a bit ambitious considering we had to get to Los Angeles in the first place, and our travel day was the day after a wedding (read: a late night). We had initially considered taking a cab since all online estimates led us to believe it would be around $100 for a cab. When we talked with Angelenos that were at the wedding, they confirmed that the drive to the airport from Santa Barbara could be upwards of two hours, and that cabs may not even go that far. If they did, it would be far more than $100.

Time to rethink our plan.

SB Airbus

After a quick search for buses or trains to get us from Point A to Point B, we discovered the Santa Barbara Airbus, a no-brainer for travel to the airport from the Santa Barbara area. For $40 each, we were picked up at a central point in SB (at 8:50AM, ugh) and driven directly to the Los Angeles Airport. The drive was estimated to be roughly two hours, and we arrived far ahead of schedule, leaving us plenty of time to get through security, and have lunch before heading to our gate.

For anyone looking for a way to get from Santa Barbara to LAX, this is the way to go if there are one or two of you. The ride was smooth, the bus was comfortable (reclining seats, a restroom, A/C, friendly driver, plus snacks + beverages for purchase), and the views for part of the journey were quintessential Southern California vistas. We got off the bus at our final destination and were both incredibly impressed with the experience; I would use the service again without a second thought.

Vegas Bound

Vegas

I had never for a second considered that there may be weather considerations when flying into Las Vegas. San Francisco, yes; the East Coast during the winter, yes; but Vegas? Not for a second. Of course our first fateful day in Vegas was met with thunderstorms (apparently not uncommon), creating weather that was unsafe for air travel in the area. We were stuck in LA until further notice. We boarded a plane, were told to deplane, and then waited again until Scott finagled us two seats on another plane bound for our destination. We were delayed before departure for an additional 30 minutes and then when we actually arrived in Vegas (praise the Lord!), we had to wait another 25 or so to find a gate. By the time we made it to our hotel, our 3:30PM arrival was actually 7PM. Still, we were in Vegas, and the excitement of being in the city was enough to make us forget the hours-long wait fueled by Starbucks’ iced coffees and football. Plus, the sunset had the Strip lit up in cotton candy hues through our drive (terrible iPhone photo below).

Vegas Sunset

Birthday Bash Scouting Trip

This trip, beyond being a fun weekday break and an escape from the sky-high prices of hotels in San Francisco and Santa Barbara, was in part a scouting trip. I’ll talk more about this and some of our discoveries in an upcoming post, but we are currently in the process of planning a birthday bash for my grandmother who will be turning 90 in 2015. What better place for family and friends with a varying list of likes and priorities to celebrate than in Vegas? We spent some time each day talking with potential sites and vendors to put together what we think will be the ultimate tribute to my grandmother as she enters her tenth (yes, TENTH) decade of life. I’ll be sharing that info here shortly so stay tuned, especially if you’re in the process of planning a celebration of your own in LV.

Shannon Kircher

Santa Barbara

Snapshots from CA + Las Vegas

I’ve finally carved out a bit of time to sit down and recap some of our adventures on the West Coast. We experienced zesty margs in Scottsdale; the beach, sunshine and quaint vibe in Santa Barbara; a dose of glitz, glam and gluttony in Vegas; and revisited city living in San Francisco. Our experiences were diverse, and each brought us a new set of memories with friends and family. Here are some photos that I shared on Instagram that capture some of our experiences Stateside.

Hyatt Regency, Scottsdale, ArizonaHyatt Regency, Scottsdale, Arizona

{Snapshots from the Hyatt Regency in Scottsdale, AZ}

Santa Barbara, CASanta Barbara, CABrophy Bros., Santa Barbara DiningRestoration Oaks Ranch, Santa Barbara, CABlueberry Farm, Santa BArbara, CA

{Five days in sunny Santa Barbara with a gorgeous wedding at a blueberry farm in the mix.}

Pantry, Mirage, Las VegasBeatles LOVE, The Mirage, Las VegasLas Vegas, Caesar's PalaceSLS Las VegasLas Vegas Dining, SLS Las Vegas, SBE

{Delicious food, Cirque adventures and poolside relaxation in Vegas.}

Presidio, San Francisco, CAGolden Gate Club, San Francisco, ViewGolden Gate Club WeddingBridesmaid - Nana + ShannonFamily Photo - Spoonemore WeddingBalboa Cafe, San Francisco, CA

{Revisiting our former home of SF and enjoying some family time during a wedding & birthday celebration.}

More photos and posts are on their way! If you don’t follow me on Instagram already, pop over and say hello on IG: @lavidashannon. Also be sure to follow my account for snapshots from our upcoming trip to Israel, Jordan and the West Bank. I’m excited to be sharing some incredible new memories from an exciting bucket list region!

xo from 35,000 feet in the air,

Shannon Kircher

Santa Barbara

6 Reasons to Visit Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara has long been one of my favorite cities in California, and our time spent there over the course of five days reinforced my love for the quaint seaside town. We flew directly into Santa Barbara airport, a tiny little building with classic Santa Barbara architecture (Santa Barbara is heavily dominated by a Spanish/Mission-style architecture) located about 20 minutes from State Street and the harbor.

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So, what is it that makes Santa Barbara extra special? It is California. That is to say, Santa Barbara arguably embodies the essence of California – or at least the way California is perceived by most – more than any other city in the state. Here are six reasons to visit Santa Barbara to get a hearty taste for California livin’.

6 Reasons to Visit Santa Barbara

The Weather is Perfect.

1When visitors to California dream up what their experience in the state will be, this is likely it. By most standards, the weather is perfect. A steady 65 – 75 most of the year, the mornings bring in cool, fresh air; the days are sunny without being too steamy; and the nights are crisp. It’s weather that makes you want to walk all day and explore on foot.

There’s the Beach + So Much More.

Santa Barbara Beach

2Though California beaches aren’t generally the world’s best, seaside towns remain the hallmark of California. Surrounded by picture-perfect palm trees,  you’re just as likely to see college-aged kids lounging on the beach as you are to see older SB residents taking a nap on a towel. The sand is classically Californian; golden hued with remnants of palms dotting the sand.

Beyond the beach, Santa Barbara also embodies other quintessentially Californian elements: you can wine taste in the region, pick fresh berries at a local ranch, and horseback ride in the hills.

It’s clean with Postcard Perfect Architecture.

3One thing that strikes me about Santa Barbara is how clean it is. No, it’s not the size or type of city that San Francisco or LA are, but many seaside towns do inherently have a bit of a grunge/beach bum factor. Not that you’re not going to find that in Santa Barbara (there’s definitely a bit of that), but it remains strikingly clean and has a palpable dose of luxe infused into the main areas. In terms of similar vibe/cleanliness (on a smaller scale with lower temperatures), Carmel-by-the-Sea, on the California Central Coast has a similar feel.

As I briefly alluded to, while the architecture that you’ll see in Santa Barbara isn’t necessarily representative of California as a whole, it certainly looks like the paragon of Californian perfection. Spanish and Mission-style architecture is everywhere. From homes to shops, you’ll see terracotta roofing and whitewashed facades all around.

Hotels are Quaint.

4We stayed at a little hotel called Brisas del Mar, part of the Santa Barbara Hotel Group. Lavender Inn sat across the street, the Eagle Inn was a couple of blocks away, and Hotel Milo and Harbor View Inn were around the corner. That represents perhaps a quarter of the hotel offerings within a mile of State Street. None of these hotels are big; rather, most of the best located properties have a warm, homey feel and serve as a home base for exploring SB’s biggest draws. Our hotel could use a bit of updating, but the location and service were great, plus they offered complimentary bike rentals, breakfast, wine + cheese in the afternoon, and cookies and milk in the evening. There’s no debate on this front: Santa Barbara is an expensive city. Even a smaller, mid-range hotel will run you $250+ per night, with many going far beyond that.

For larger hotels, check out the Four Seasons, Bacara (located in Goleta) and Belmond El Encanto.

Great Boutique + Department Store Shopping.

5If I have four days in Santa Barbara, I could peruse State Street each and every day and not be tired of doing so. Sure, there’s way more to SB than shopping, but if you like shopping (ladies, are ya with me?), this is heaven. There are the usual suspects (Nordstrom, H&M, Sephora, etc.), but there are also loads of boutiques for clothing, accessories, housewares, jewelry, and more. Last year, I picked up an awesome necklace from Afghanistan in a rather nondescript boutique. As someone who lives outside of the US now, I can appreciate being in a place with solid shopping options to get my fill before heading back home.

It’s Active.

6This is something that I fundamentally associate with California living, and an element that I greatly appreciate: active lifestyles are encouraged. Head into Santa Barbara (or any number of other towns in CA), and you’re likely to see people kayaking, surfing, running, biking, rollerblading or skateboarding. Head down to the beach, and you’ll see people throwing a frisbee or playing volleyball in the sand. Perhaps it’s the weather that begs people to be outdoors, but it’s fabulously wonderful to see people enjoying their environment.

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Have you been to Santa Barbara? Do you love it as much as I do? 

xo from the West Coast,

Shannon Kircher

Scottsdale

Layover in Phoenix

En route to our ultimate destination in California, we had an overnight connection in Phoenix. We toyed with a variety of flight routes, all of which had a number of connections due to the facts that a) we were booking on miles (the routes at the lowest point scale aren’t always the most desirable), and b) we were headed to Santa Barbara, home to an airport about the size of Anguilla’s. In the end, we found an overnight layover in Phoenix the best option. Neither of us had spent any time in the area, and we thought it may be a nice way to break up the flying. After a 9:30PM arrival, lost luggage, and a $50 cab ride, we made it to our final destination: Hyatt Regency Scottsdale.

The property is stunning and the service matches. Our first thought? If only we had more time here… Considering we hadn’t spent any time in Scottsdale before, this would have been the perfect place to call home while exploring had we had the extra time. Plus, after a long day of travel and a minor hiccup with the luggage, this was a very welcome surprise from the team (who had already heard about our luggage issues):

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It’s pretty incredible how those extra touches can completely boost your mood. Being in the hotel industry ourselves, experiences like this are also a great reminder for us about how something like this can have such a great impact on guests. Somehow, the travel, the luggage, and the tiredness dissipated.

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Despite our late arrival (even later for us, considering our bodies were operating on East Coast time), we suited up and headed down to the lobby bar to meet our friend who lives in the area and works at the Hyatt. Armed with prickly pear margaritas, we got a late night tour of the property before heading out into Scottsdale. Also, that cactus (above) is the largest cactus I’ve ever seen; it’s the oldest and biggest cactus on the property. Apparently, each arm on a cactus represents a decade of life. This one’s about as old as my grandmother. Update: Our friends from AZ informed us that each limb represents quite a bit more than a decade; apparently the lifespan on these guys can be hundreds of years and it can take half a century before they even sprout arms. There’s a lot about cacti I clearly don’t know.

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Now, for me to make any real observations about Scottsdale based on our 12 hours in the area would be superficial, at best. Still, a few things that struck us during our night there:

1. I’d never been to Arizona but have heard about the AZ heat like everyone else. We exited the airport at around 10:30PM and the temperature was still hovering close to 100°F. Residents were wearing pants in this weather. Clearly your body adjusts. I’m all for the sun and warmth, but whoa.

2. We didn’t get to spend any real time in Downtown Scottsdale, but we did get a quick driving tour of the area. What I’d envisioned was something entirely different from reality. I had dreamed up a main downtown strip with one or two main streets, dotted with independent restaurants, cool bars, and live music making its way into the streets. What we saw looked more like a strip mall. Next to these go-to local bars, I half expected to see a Target, Michael’s and Jamba Juice. It wasn’t exactly the downtown feel I’d imagined. Perhaps we missed something?

3.  The sensation that we’d landed in a place that embodied Southwest culture was almost immediate after landing. I haven’t been to New Mexico, which I imagine has a somewhat similar feel. While we were exiting the airport there were stores doling out dreamcatchers, Native American-inspired everything, and cookbooks with recipes that could be in a Bobby Flay series.

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All in all, we were happy to have had a night there to briefly experience a sliver of Arizona. Have you been to Scottsdale before? What were your thoughts? Any must-try restaurants or bars?

xo from the West Coast,

Shannon Kircher