Ligaya Malones floating in pool at The Saguaro Hotel in Palm Springs, California
Staycation vibes in Palm Springs, California (photo: Alina Mendoza)

When it comes to vacation planning, there is nothing like the attractive power of a best places to visit list. You know the ones: lists like New York Times’ annual 52 Places to Go, Travel+Leisure’s 50 Best Places to Travel, Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel List and the like. For readers, these lists offers a curated snapshot into the trendiest destinations and a learning opportunity to discover the towns, cities and countries worth traveling for. They can be valuable travel planning tools, even for a travel writer like me, who finds herself in a new destination virtually every month (see: Nashville in January, the Central Coast in April, North Carolina in May.) I enjoy skimming through best-of travel lists; I’ve always gleaned several new-to-me destinations every year one of these lists publishes.

How Does a Destination Make a Best of Travel List?

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A classic car in Havana, Cuba

Update: June 5, 2019—Yesterday, the Administration reversed a number of exceptions that have encouraged increased travel to Cuba by Americans in recent years. NPR reports that cruise ships and other recreational vessels will not be granted travel licenses, as are most people traveling under the “people to people exchange” allowance. However, those traveling for educational purposes are exempt. Since the news is still fresh, most reports quote sources who say that they will continue to monitor the ruling to better understand how these tighter travel restrictions will play out. Currently, national media outlets like Time are reporting that travel under the “support for the Cuban people” visa category is possible, provided your itinerary includes “meetings with the local Cubans, attending cultural events and staying at a Cuban family’s home, a “casa particular,” instead of a hotel.”

Cuba is a complicated country. Before traveling to Havana in 2018, I consumed anything that would provide even a fraction of context to help me understand a place worlds and decades away from my life in southern California. Inspired by the format of a recent travel guide I wrote for New York magazine, and the steady stream of questions from friends, family and acquaintances about my experience to the communist island nation, I’ve compiled a list of articles, a Netflix documentary and a podcast episode worth listening to as a (mostly food-focused) primer to Cuba.

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Fletcher Cove in Solana Beach, California
Solana Beach, California

Maybe you’ve noticed, but I think it’s safe to say that the concept of wellness and its expanded definition in modern times (as a verb, and more broadly and perhaps more recently, a social construct) has gone mainstream, beyond spa services and retreats. We now live in an age where wellness, also known as self-care, can mean everything from yoga, to the latest plant-derived face mask, meditation to dedicated no-tech time. Though wellness isn’t anything new—the commercialization of it is. According to one citing, the Global Wellness Institute traces wellness back to ancient civilizations, where traditions and rituals were just… part of life.

For all that today’s wellness opportunities offers, my version of wellness tends to fall into quiet, intimate moments; mostly surrounded by nature and my favorite humans. And I think that’s the point; to sift through the barrage of options and find what works for you. And in San Diego’s northern regions (and my home base), for example, there are numerous opportunities to define what wellness might mean for you. That said, call me a typical Millennial if you want, but I am one of those people drawn to seamless, approachable experiences like the ones I’ve highlighted below. Bonus points for personalization. I’ll plan to update my picks as I discover them, but for now, these are my go-to wellness activities in North County, San Diego.

My Wellness Picks in North County, San Diego

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Waiheke Island, Aotearoa (New Zealand)
Waiheke Island, Aotearoa (New Zealand)

Weekend Reads is a weekly-ish series of new and old articles I’ve enjoyed reading around the web about travel, food, and wellness. For more brain snacks, read past Weekend Reads posts.

Raise your hand if you’ve recently traveled to Iceland, Lisbon, or Barcelona. What did you think? If you thought you could use a little more elbow room, you are… definitely not alone. According to travel experts, travel today is more affordable, more accessible. So much so that the travel industry coined a new term: Overtourism. And that’s been on my mind since I’ve dropped in on some of the coolest cities in the world over the years.

Auckland, New Zealand
Auckland, New Zealand

I grew up in Kauai, Hawaii––it’s gorgeous, of course. It’s also a place that relies almost exclusively on tourism. In 2017, a local tourism official told The Garden Island, “With the demise of the sugar industry many years ago, tourism has grown into the top economic driver for the island of Kauai.” I don’t live in Kauai anymore, but anecdotally, friends and family members who still live in the Aloha State tell me traffic, trails, and beaches gets worse every year. Part of that is due to a year over year increase in visitors to Hawaii, according to a report released in January.

That said, as I reflect on the impact I’ve knowingly and unknowingly had during my travels, I am increasingly interested in how destinations will manage the influx of visitors so that, ideally, tourists (like me, and you) have the opportunity to enjoy all of the reasons that motivate us to experience something new and different––without burdening the local way of life.

For example, this Conde Nast Traveler article rounds up the top 15 destinations grappling with overtourism (including Amsterdam and Boracay, in the Philippines.) It also offers suggestions for being a more mindful traveler, like visiting during shoulder season. Similarly, one writer for New Zealand-based newspaper Stuff highlights a handful of under-the-radar spots to consider, including Indonesian islands that aren’t Bali.

For example, this Conde Nast Traveler article rounds up the top 15 destinations grappling with overtourism (including Amsterdam and Boracay, in the Philippines.) It also offers suggestions for being a more mindful traveler, like visiting during shoulder season. Similarly, one writer for New Zealand-based newspaper Stuff highlights a handful of under-the-radar spots to consider, including Indonesian islands that aren’t Bali.

Photogenic destinations like Bali are all over Instagram, and it’s this kind of social media attention that’s been drawing visitors, and catching these places off-guard. Instagram is a powerful marketing tool, though for some, it’s worked too well. Take this National Geographic article about how social media is changing travel. “People engage with Instagram 10 times more than with Facebook, which is why an estimated 48.8 percent of brands in the United States are on Instagram,” the article reports.

In response, Bali and other heavily trafficked cities like Barcelona are experimenting with tourist taxes to manage overtourism’s effects, and according to a Quartzy article, slow the role of certain––meaning lower spending––visitors. For example, Quartzy explains, “Bali—which has seen a huge uptick in visitors since it starred in Elizabeth Gilbert’s 2006 travel memoir Eat Pray Love—is one of the destinations mulling a tax. The roughly $10 fee will be used to preserve the environment and Balinese culture, which has been overrun with yoga retreats and acai bowl cafes.”

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Canned wine on the beach in Grover Beach
Golden Hour at Grover Beach, California

Over one long weekend, I sipped and tasted my way through the terroir of San Luis Obispo County’s agriculturally-rich, coastal towns and valleys. The area is known for its sommelier-approved wines and excellent farmers markets, but the artisanal spirits distilled by local vintners and winemakers were news to me. And if you don’t live in the area, it’s probably news to you too.

Below are some photos from the central coast, including its burgeoning distillery trail, as well as Farmstead ED––a series of fun, educational workshops and events hosted by local farmers and purveyors. The beauty of local makers getting organized? Easy access to handy resources to point you in various directions on your next trip, especially if you’re into where your food comes from (I am!) Plus, a few makers I talked to during my visit mentioned locals are still discovering all of the bounty available to them at home, so before everyone else catches on, consider yourself an insider 🙂

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San Diego spot prawns, Juniper & Ivy (named a 2019 top restaurant for a big night out by OpenTable)

Unless you’ve booked one of those spontaneous vacation experiences where you don’t know where you’re headed until you land, chances are you’ll need to some level of travel research and planning before you pack your bags and jet off.

Whether you travel for the food (a dimly lit tasca with a hearty petiscos spread in Lisbon? A polished order of fresh local spot prawns at Juniper & Ivy in San Diego?), the adventure (Canyoning in New Zealand, maybe?), or for pure relaxation, how can you make sense of all of the travel information at our fingertips?

Today, social media and travel go hand in hand, which can be great for travel planning, and not so great. The beauty and curse of having access to real-time travel content on social platforms like Instagram means we have more options to guide our travel decisions. It also means that with more options comes the overwhelming frustration of sorting through the deluge of content. Below, I offer up several ways I tame my social media feeds in service of an efficient, organized way to plan my travels.

How to Use Instagram to Plan Your Vacation

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Landscape of Central Coast, California
Photo stop in the Central Coast, California

Weekend Reads is a weekly-ish series of new and old articles I’ve enjoyed reading around the web about travel, food, and wellness. For more brain snacks, read past Weekend Reads posts.

While researching a possible story about Reiki, the ancient Japanese practice of healing touch, I skirted down many adjacent rabbit holes reading the following stories. While it took me off my research track for a bit, maybe I wasn’t that far off.

The Law of Least Effort

“Conventional wisdom tells you not to give up—ever, no matter what. But people tell you all the time that good things tend to happen when you stop trying so hard to make them happen.” I’ve heard this piece of advice in many ways and by different people within my circle and not, and lately, it has helped to keep me motivated as I attempt to create a sustainable career out of this freelance writing thing. This entire article, published on Medium*, is packed with insights, and will challenge you to define for yourself the difference between giving up and persevering. As the author writes, “The law of least effort is more than a productivity hack.”

Forest Bathing and Mindfulness

At women’s health and lifestyle magazine Self, one writer pens her personal experience of Shinrin-yoku, otherwise known as forest bathing. Like Reiki** (healing touch, to be super brief), the Japanese practice connected to ancient Shinto and Buddhist practices has only recently entered the Western wellness psyche. By my interpretation, it’s rooted in mindfulness and exploring nature with all of the senses, which is supposed to be good for our wellbeing. Maybe you’re aware that nature’s benefits have been scientifically backed, which isn’t particularly groundbreaking in my opinion (or maybe, if you haven’t been exposed to the outdoors much?)

For instance, haven’t we all at some point felt stuck or anxious and thought, “I just need to get some fresh air,” or, “I need to take a walk,”? So you do, and you feel much better afterward? These days, I’ve been ultra-receptive to practices, products, and activities that help me break away from my computer or iPhone to recalibrate my perspective, and even pause to eat something (believe it or not, it is possible for this food writer to forget when I’m jamming away on an assignment, or furiously chasing after one.) Whether or not the cold, hard science is there, I’m immediately intrigued if I read about credible, emerging science sounds promising. That said, it’s interesting to read how others approach similar novelties with a discerning eye.

Can Napping Be Bad For You?

Over on Quartzy, global business publication Quartz’s lifestyle site, five experts weigh in on the pros and cons of napping during the day. Spoiler: most experts say an afternoon nap is a good idea, to an extent. For example, while napping does help improve alertness, mood, and memory, napping it out does not make up for an overall sleep poor hygiene. Read on for the full expert breakdown, including why one expert says you don’t need a daytime nap.

Landscape of an olive grove farm in Paso Robles, California.

Not quite a forest, but I wouldn’t mind wandering through this olive grove for some R&R.

Photo: Kiler Ridge Farms, Paso Robles, California


*I’m published on Medium too. Read my beginner’s guide to visiting an art museum, or as I like to call it, creative stimulation.

**To be clear, Reiki was developed in the 1920s (compared to Shinrin-yoku, which the Japanese government designated “a thing” in the 1980s). And according to the International Association of Reiki Professionals, the practice was not meant to be affiliated with any one religion.


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Downtown Nashville skyline.

This year, I’ve made it a goal to focus on exploring more ways to illuminate destinations from across the country. Though I’ll never not jump on an opportunity to write at length about Portugal––my trans-Atlantic fave––recent efforts are going well. In January I flew to Nashville as a guest of Hutton Hotel to preview its new songwriters retreats. Songwriters retreats will launch summer 2019 and offer budding musicians an intimate opportunity to receive mentoring from top industry professionals, and maybe even record a demo, if that’s what you want.

Nashville Hotels Are Ambassadors of Music



Musical banter and manifestation take place over several days in one of Hutton’s writers studios. There are two, and each is kitted out by names you might recognize. The warm, Southwestern-inspired studio with guitars hanging from the wall is partly designed by country music singer and songwriter Dierks Bentley––an homage to Bentley’s Arizona roots. The other studio sports a extra long leather couch that swallows you up on contact, and feels like a modern, urban loft thanks to One Republic frontman Ryan Tedder’s influence. The writers studios, which launched in 2018 has already hosted some star-studded names; “The Middle,” that dance pop earworm by Zedd, Maren Morris and Grey was partly recorded at Hutton.

And while songwriting workshops, seminars and retreats are offered elsewhere in Nashville, that a hotel is equipped with the space, equipment and experts needed to produce this type of experience is unique. But this is Music City after all, so it makes sense for the hospitality industry to tap into something that permeates every corner of town. Which is why it’s no surprise that Hutton Hotel also sports Analog. Its own live performance venue was transformed out of a former parking garage and is draped in jewel tones, features a stage situated lower than most to create accessible performances at eye-level, and a full bar for most imbibing whims.

Cambria Nashville Downtown and Dream hotels have dedicated performance venues too.


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Pineapple 🍕 + Nduja… ‘nuff said

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Outside the writers studios, there is food, of course. Over a few days, there is dinner at Folk for seamless service––the kind where every dining need is anticipated; another glass of wine, an extra spoon, a gracious explanation of a sunchoke––and a pineapple pizza I can’t believe I eat and wholly enjoy because I do not believe in cooked fruit (yes, pies are…difficult). There is also Hattie B’s banana pudding, which must be––after sampling what is probably the entire menu––its ringer.


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Nillaaaaaaaa Pudding #HattieBs

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Evenings manifest in two terribly entertaining outings. The first is Big Beer-only karaoke bar (trailer?) Santa’s Pub. The cigarette smoke is thick and jarring (hi, I live in California) and the heavily graffitied bathrooms make interesting reading material while you wash your hands. I also love the tall, young man who does what I wish I could do but don’t because sometimes I’m paralyzed by social norms: drink beer from a straw. The other unforgettable experience happened later that evening, but by then I am several beverages in so it is the beginning of a new day when we enter the sparsely populated, boogie-inducing cardio party of Motown Monday night at The 5 Spot. A quick internet search surfaces The Office in San Diego’s North Park neighborhood offers Motown music on Mondays, so maybe I’ll keep that in my back pocket in the event I want to relive the evening closer to home.

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Afternoon at Waikiki Beach from Moana Lani Spa in Honolulu.
Waikiki Beach from Moana Lani Spa, Honolulu

After a brief moment in the sand with eyes closed and legs crossed, we step away from the chanting and let the froth wash over our feet. It’s dawn and serene in Waikiki; the perfect environment for a Ho’ala sunrise ceremony. Or, at least it was. As the sun floats up to illuminate Diamond Head, Waikiki again becomes the bustling, selfie-stick wielding destination that attracts more than 9 million visitors annually to the Hawaiian Islands. Of them, and according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority 6 million arrive in Oahu. And since all visitors land or port in Honolulu, Waikiki––Hawaii’s most storied tourist district––is a natural stopover.

This is the Waikiki I’ve always known (though selfie-sticks weren’t yet a thing). I grew up in Kaua’i which lacks the urban density of Honolulu, so a 20-minute flight to Oahu was the closest thing for a taste of city life. At the same time, Waikiki draws huge crowds to its powdery shores. Several underground, freshwater streams flow from the mountains, under some of Waikiki’s most-loved hotels and into the bay. The mix of freshwater with ocean helped create the bay’s sandy bottom, making the area a forgiving place to surf. It’s also a coveted place to sunbathe, jump on a catamaran and people watch.

Ho’ala morning ritual in Waikiki

Where to Get a Massage in Waikiki

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Lychee at Polihale State Park, Kaua'i.
Lychee keep the day sweet.

Southwest Airlines begins service to Hawaii

Earlier this week, plucky budget carrier Southwest Airlines finally began selling tickets to my home state––Hawaii! In a statement, Southwest announced service to the Hawaiian islands of Oahu (Honolulu), Hawaii Island (Kona), Kauai (Lihue––shoutout to my hometown) and Maui (Kahului). Nonstop service to the Aloha State on Southwest begins with California cities including Oakland and San Jose with more information about flights from San Diego and Sacramento to be announced in the coming weeks.

Currently, reservations through June can be booked via the airline’s website.

Of course, you can still get to Hawaii from other Southwest gateways, but you’ll have to purchase separate, connecting flights if you want to fly Southwest. The airline continues to build out its schedule.

Southwest had this to say, as reported by USA Today, “As we continue to add service to Hawaii and increase some of our technical capabilities, we will only see more cities gain connections to the state.”


Hanalei Bay, Kauai

In the meantime, if you’re planning a trip to Hawaii, I’m resurfacing some of my favorite bylines to help inspire your time in the islands regardless if you’re flying Southwest or not:

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Last week, #HaapsandBarleyXCuriousPassport brought you this tasty recipe for Avocado Egg Salad. This week, we’re taking it to the miso-marinated streets with this protein and fiber-packed clean feast.

I’m a big fan of miso-glazed salmon and lentils, so I’m excited to try this recipe that combines the two! Plus, the prep work sounds pretty manageable for a culinary newbie like me. Looking at the list of ingredients I’ll need, I could probably get them all at Sprouts and Trader Joe’s – though, does anyone know if TJ’s carries miso? If not, a trip to the nearest Asian market should do it.

Miso-Marinated Salmon by Haaps & Barley
Photo: Haaps & Barley
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Photo: Alina Mendoza

I’ve been thinking a lot about the way I consume information. Like many of us, I spend a lot of time online on my computer and smartphone reading the news, watching videos, scrolling through my social media feeds. That’s a lot of screen time, and for someone who relies daily on email and Google docs and internet research to do my job, and as someone who appreciates good storytelling, I’ve turned to podcasts to inform and entertain me while my eyes catch a break.

Similarly, I’ve increasingly become interested in digital wellness* and how our relationship with technology continues to evolve. In some small way, I consider podcasts an act of self-care; a form of creative nourishment on one hand and an opportunity to unplug from emails and scrolling on the other.

Below are some of my favorites that have served to inspire, teach, entertain and challenge me to consider perspectives beyond my own and immediate surroundings.

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Lebanese food in Brussels

Given the strength of Europe’s obvious culinary powerhouses like Paris and Barcelona (and practically the entire country of Italy, it seems), Brussels may not immediately jump to mind as a foodie destination. But, there’s more to the city’s food scene than Belgian (not French! As is the common refrain in the city) frites and waffles, as I learned during a recent trip with Visit Brussels.

Case in point, the Lebanese feast we tore through in the Ixelles neighborhood that was one of the most memorable meals of the brief, four-day visit. Think creamy hummus, beets, greens and yogurt-based condiments to drizzle or dollop over it all. Don’t forget the pita, and generous pours of Lebanese wine (my first taste).

Eat, converse, imbibe, repeat. It was glorious. And then the meat course came, and for that I was…not prepared. I should have slowed my roll with the hummus!

And yet, the smell of perfectly charred meat––chicken, lamb, whatever––is painful to resist.

Other culinary moments included stopping for Pasteis de Nata (yes, more than one) in between Art Deco and Art Nouveau tours, amusing myself over Brussels’ “Perfect Egg” dish obsession (like the city’s avocado toast, it seemed like the appetizer was everywhere) and stumbling into chocolate mousse by the scoop near Grand Place, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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You can’t go to Brussels and not have chocolate.

In short, would return, highly recommend and next time, I’m hitting up some of these dishes.


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The advantage of living in southern California is that a weekend escape feels like somewhere completely different. From San Diego, I could be in the mountains to the East, in Mexico’s buzzy Valle de Guadalupe sipping on wine, or eating my way through Los Angeles to the North in a few hours more or less.

At Joshua Tree National Park, two hours from Los Angeles or San Diego by car, desert vibes are in reach too.

To get there, head East on I-8 toward Palm Springs and take CA-62 toward the high desert.

There are several entrances to the park, which requires an entrance pass for purchase at any of the visitor centers.

Accommodations vary, from your standard Holiday Inn, to camping in the park and a spectrum of basic to desert chic Airbnbs. We stayed two nights in a charming red casita (an Airbnb – rent it here) near one of the park’s three entrances, meaning we were conveniently located less than 20 minutes from the park.

We traveled to Joshua Tree in June, or the beginning of the area’s off-season. Though, with an estimated 3 million visitors predicted for the area this year, Joshua Tree is on track to becoming a year-round destination–despite the heat that hammers down on you by 9am.

Due to rising summer temps, the park ranger at the visitor center counseled against the four-mile hike I bookmarked. Instead, he recommended a number of shorter nature walks to complete before the afternoon became too brutal. Had we visited in the fall or winter, I’d be inclined to book at least three nights in Joshua Tree to complete longer hikes, or to even camp one night (max, because I’m high maintenance like that) in the park.

Below are some photos from the weekend:

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(Cholla Cactus Garden, late afternoon)

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(Part of our Airbnb in Joshua Tree)

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(Sunrise breakfast at our Airbnb in Joshua Tree)

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(Corned beef and hash brunch at Crossroads Cafe in Joshua Tree)

A mere glance will do you in. On every corner, there they are. In every cafe and restaurant , at all hours of the day their temptation never ceases. They expose themselves in full view of anyone who dares make eye contact; daily commuters, wandering tourists, weekend lollygaggers. They are shameless, and we are weak. No use fighting it, might as well give in.

Beneath clear glass domes they taunt, with their velvety chocolate frosting or custard filling just begging to be devoured alongside a café con leche.

Whether you’re attempting to crawl back home after an enormous menu del día or are on the hunt for the first meal of the day, they do not care. They pay absolutely no mind to your calorie-counting, low-carb, no-sugar, salad-eating ways.

They are shameless, and we are weak. No use fighting it, might as well give in.

TCP_Brunch and Cake BCN

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