Saguaro Lake

Travel has the power to surprise us in a number of ways. It can change the way we view ourselves. Even destinations themselves can reframe the way we see them. A perfect example of this happened during a long weekend in spring 2021, on a reporting trip to Scottsdale, Arizona and the surrounding Sonoran Desert.

Besides having the opportunity to stand up paddle board with one of my best friends on Saguaro Lake with REI (yes, lakes, rivers, and dams, in the desert!), and touring Frank Lloyd Wright’s meticulously and intuitively crafted Taliesin West, the region’s emerging wine scene intrigued me the most. See, while most people assume the area is all hot, dry, and void of life, certain parts actually offer an ideal wine-growing climate.

According to one Napa Valley Register article, in 1984 Arizona was the first state to establish a U.S. government-designated wine growing region, which is referred to as an American Viticulture Area (or AVA.) As of 2022, there are more than 100 wineries throughout the state.

While I was in town, the one question that came to mind as I tasted the local vino on offer at Carlson Creek Vineyards and Merkin Vineyards’ tasting rooms in Downtown Scottsdale was, ‘Why isn’t Arizona wine more well known than it should be?’ I posed this question to Sam, Carlson Creek’s tasting room manager, whose answers were multi-fold.

Wine and Sonoran Desert views from ADERO Scottsdale

Arizona’s Growing Pains as an Emerging Wine Region

For one, Arizona’s commercial winemaking history is still in its infancy compared to more established and more well-known American wine regions like California or Oregon. According to Arizona Wine Growers Association, the state’s first commercial winery opened in the 1880s. Then prohibition went into effect in 1920 (the law passed in 1919.) Local wine making gained traction again in the late 1970s.

By comparison, by this time California’s wine industry had already gained international acclaim at the Judgment of Paris in 1976, a blind tasting event wherein French wine experts selected California-produced wines in both red and white categories—in context, this was a time when French wines were virtually the only It wines around.

According to Sam at Carlson Creek, take Arizona’s fledgling industry and pair it with the current small production volume and get a combination that makes it difficult for Arizona wine to show up more frequently and widely on restaurant menus and store shelves. There are a few exceptions, such as FnB restaurant which does exceptional things with vegetables and lists a number of locally-produced wines. (And whatever you do, do not miss out on FnB’s butterscotch pudding for dessert.)

The other layer here is a perception issue. The perception that nothing grows in the desert. That other wine growing regions are superior. Whatever it is, I’m looking forward to learning more about Arizona wine country, especially now that I’m armed with a little more wine knowledge after going through WSET’s Level 2 certification program.

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Dispatch from the Pandemic

As of January 2021, San Diego County remains under an indefinite regional stay-at-home order, and restaurants and bars may offer take-out/to-go sales only. Visit the San Diego County website for an up-to-date list of business and services open around the county.

Cardellino’s fried chicken

There’s a new restaurant in Mission Hills without an indoor table in sight. Instead, the simmering hum of weeknight service—a cacophony of disparate conversations, clinking glasses and silverware—disperses into open air. At Cardellino’s slender patio for dinner one July evening, I smile at staff beneath my mask, wider and longer than usual so my eyes crinkle in the way that I hope says, “Thank you so much for serving us in this weird and risky time.”

Since March 2020, San Diegans have been sheltering in-place in some restrictive capacity or other, with March and April experiencing a near-complete stop to indoor business, unless business was considered an essential service. The county eventually allowed some businesses and public areas to reopen in May, only to see many of them, including restaurants and bars, again shutter—partially, or completely—shortly after the July 4th holiday. In September, indoor restaurant dining remained closed, although take-out and outdoor dining was available (which included bars that were able to serve food). As of this publishing (January 2021), indoor and outdoor dining is once again closed under a statewide, regional stay-at-home order.

The coronavirus pandemic is changing our culture—from how we travel, shop, and connect with others. Dining culture is no exception. Ahead is a brief summary of some of these changes, which at once offers new ways to support our local restaurants in this current moment, as well as a glimpse of how we’ll dine in the months to come, and beyond.

Say Hello to the Restaurant/Upscale Market Hybrid

As of January 2021, San Diego County remains under an indefinite regional stay-at-home order, and restaurants and bars may offer take-out/to-go sales only. Visit the San Diego County website for an up-to-date list of business and services open around the county.

With the state of indoor dining here one day and gone the next, restaurants have been forced to reimagine their spaces to keep their doors open. One result is the hybrid cafe and market, which isn’t a new concept, but has been sprouting up all over the county during the pandemic. What is most interesting to me, is the range of upmarket, specialty offerings from North County to Downtown. 

In North County, consider Homestead in Solana Beach, where guests can now pick up fresh produce, eggs, canned goods, and deli meats alongside their menu of sandwiches and salads. The Gluten Free Baking Co. in North Park went a similar route, offering gluten-free pantry items, locally made hot sauce, and dry pasta, to pair with its sweet and savory baked goods. All-day cafe Herb & Eatery in Little Italy expanded their shelves to include more cookbooks, glassware, and condiments, as well as a curated selection of boutique spirits, canned and batched to-go cocktails, and bar tools to complement their pre-covid wine selection. As of January 2021, their Instagram account says they are currently closed for renovations.

Sit-down Restaurants Try Take Out

The pandemic has also highlighted all of the take-out options available, especially from restaurants you typically wouldn’t consider partaking in this format. These are the restaurants you go to specifically for the entire culinary journey, from pre-dinner cocktails and appetizers, to the main course, and dessert because maybe you’ve planned for a night beyond the usual surroundings—read: monotony—of your home. And maybe, for one evening, you’d like to peel off your work-from-home uniform of yoga pants and actually slap some make-up on your face (and when I say you, I really mean me, but maybe you can relate). And as much as you might enjoy cooking your own meals, it’s always a joy to be served in a welcoming space and not have to contend with dishes afterward. 

For now, sit-down restaurants like Blade 1936 in Oceanside, Barbusa in Little Italy, and Jeune et Jolie all offer menus you can enjoy at home. 

Al Fresco Dining—Here to Stay?

In a move to keep businesses open during the second shutdown order, while maintaining social distancing during, then-Mayor Kevin Falconer signed an emergency executive order in July 2020 allowing restaurants to expand onto sidewalks, parking lots, and on-street parking spaces. As a result, cities including La Jolla, Downtown’s Gaslamp Quarter and Little Italy neighborhoods have intermittently closed their streets to vehicle traffic to allow for expanded, open air dining. 

I’ve also seen businesses sharing patio space, like Dija Mara in Oceanside, whose Balinese-insipred dishes were, for a time, served next door at neighbor Exhale’s covered patio. In North Park, French bistro The Smoking Goat expanded outdoor dining thanks to neighbor Blue Foot Bar. And in University Heights, Madison’s new patio parklet takes over on-street parking stalls with enough room to accommodate guests at Parks & Rec. With ideal weather nearly year-round, I hope this European-esque, convivial sidewalk dining culture that’s emerged is here to stay, long after the pandemic has gone.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, we are, at best, doing what we can to adjust—our routine, mindset, future plans—amid a rapidly shifting landscape. Imagine trying to cook a dish when the recipe instructions keep changing every other step, or running a marathon without a finish line, or (in keeping with the culinary theme) firing up the grill using damp charcoal. That the world can again change in an instant perhaps heightened the experience of the evening out on Cardellino’s patio. Maybe it made the fried chicken crispier, the pizza cheesier, the tender meatball even more savory. Or maybe it’s because the hospitality team at Cardellino, like the rest of San Diego’s food makers, growers, wranglers, and producers are doing what they’ve always done. After all, everyone’s gotta eat, pandemic or not.  

Photos: Ligaya Malones for The Curious Passport // Cardellino restaurant, Mission Hills, San Diego

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Fruits and vegetables from Imperfect Produce displayed on kitchen island.
Fruits and vegetable from Imperfect Foods

When California’s stay-at-home orders were implemented in March, it seemed like we were at peak no-contact, coronavirus vigilance: All but essential businesses like grocery stores and hospitals were permitted to stay open, while everything else–restaurants, gyms, salons, malls–were ordered closed. In response to limiting my (and risking others’) exposure in grocery stores, I thought it would be practical to sign up for a produce delivery service. This is particularly relevant today, several days into California’s latest modified stay-at-home order. 

While I have access to a number of worthy produce delivery options in San Diego, I chose Imperfect Foods for their mission to “rescue” misshapen and discolored, or excess fruits and veggies otherwise earmarked for the dumpster. Unfortunately (and rather ironically), as food insecure as the U.S. is, including in San Diego, Americans create a comparable amount of food waste. 

And since receiving my first produce box in May, I’ve learned a few things about their goods, and their delivery process that I both enjoy and am more mindful of when I’m meal planning for the week—which doesn’t always happen because I live an obscenely short walk to a Mexican restaurant that makes a tasty California burrito, and easy no-cook dinner option. If you’re considering replacing or supplementing your in-person grocery trips with a grocery delivery service like Imperfect Foods for social distancing reasons or otherwise, I’ve gleaned the following takeaways after shopping and cooking with Imperfect Foods produce for six months that might prove insightful. 

How It Works

In brief: Choose from a weekly box template of conventional or organic produce, which is made up of surplus inventory and completely edible, yet “imperfect” fruit and veg. Then, receive an email indicating when it will be time to make your produce selection. Typically, you have several days to edit and confirm your order. Each week, you’ll be able to view what Imperfect Foods has filled your box with, though you can totally remove items from your box, increase the number of existing items; or add new items, including meat (ground beef to pork chops), seafood (like lump crab and trout or salmon fillets), grains (I’ve added wild rice once), and dairy products (including eggs). You can also choose to skip a week as needed, as well as donate a box of produce on occasion, like I did during Thanksgiving week.

Things To Know When You Sign Up for Imperfect Foods

  • Customization: When available, you can choose to always have certain items delivered (in my case, that’s shallots, avocados, garlic, lemon, and limes). On the other hand, you also have the option to never have a certain item included in your box. Regarding the delivery schedule itself, you do have the option of skipping a week (or weeks) if necessary, which I opt for when I know I won’t be cooking as often. This was the case during summer, when San Diego County reopened some semblance of restaurant dining. 
  • Shelf Life: I’ve learned that produce tends to spoil quicker than produce purchased at the typical grocery store, so I’ve found it helpful to have a plan for them in the several days immediately following my box delivery. Or if I don’t plan to use produce up right away, I’ll chop it up and throw it in the freezer for another time. Conversely, I was surprised that some fruits (such as the red pears, and blueberries when available) lasted a bit longer than expected.
  • (Free?!) Extra Produce: Occasionally I’ll receive a few extra shallots, avocados, and squash from what I originally ordered. Is it a mistake? Or are they trying to move inventory? Whatever it is, I’m not complaining; though this means I sometimes end up dumping the additional produce because I didn’t have enough time to work it into my weekly meal plan before they spoiled. One week, I unexpectedly received a bunch of slightly withered kale that I did not use because I picked up greens from the grocery store just days before. As efficient as I try to be with the food I bring into the house, sometimes waste does happen.

Edible Things I’ve Made So Far With Imperfect Foods:

  • Bon Appetit’s carrots with avocado and mint as a side dish to baked chicken
  • Pears with peanut butter and cinnamon snack
  • Green goddess (shallot) kale salad with sweet potato, avocado, pepitas
  • Hot chocolate with oat milk and cacao powder
  • I doctored store-bought marinara with summer squash, shallots, mushrooms
  • Guacamole using limes + avocados (which were smaller than what the grocery stores usually stock)
  • Sinigang, a tangy Filipino stew traditionally flavored with tamarind, using kabocha squash

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“If there was a definitive end date to all of this, I can at least wrap my head around it,” I told my Dad last weekend, taking a swig of Ballast Point’s pale ale. We were in my parent’s backyard, sitting six feet apart. That weekend in April, the San Diego sky dried up after days of rain. The sun warmed my skin, and the sensation felt restorative––a simple pleasure that, when coupled with a brief, socially distanced visit to my family after only brief (masked and gloved) human encounters at the grocery store, I know is critical to maintain my optimism and sense of order right now. Lately, I’ve felt unmoored; like I’ve been holding my breath for a month, waiting to exhale. It’s uncomfortable, daunting, and I don’t like it.

Beyond the tangible harm coronavirus has caused, experts agree that the root of our collective anxiety is grounded in the unknown. “This is an invisible threat: We don’t know who is infected, and anyone could infect us. This is an ambiguous threat: We don’t know how bad it will get … we don’t know how long it will last. And this is a global threat: No community is safe,” Roxane Cohen Silver, a professor of psychological science, medicine and public health at the University of California, Irvine, told Mother Jones in an interview.

As we enter another week of self-isolation and social distancing, and wait for health and government officials to signal a phased return to the way we moved through the world before coronavirus, I’ve turned to consuming media offering different, more positive ways to think about universal themes of change and uncertainty. It’s just one of many ways I’ve been trying to exert control during a time when I feel like I have none. Here’s what I found:

Reinvention episode, TED Radio Hour

In 2020, Manoush Zomorodi takes over hosting duties of the TED Radio Hour from Guy Raz. She’s the author of Bored and Brilliant, which is all about how boredom and idleness helps creativity—I’ve read it twice. This TED Radio Hour episode is Zomorodi’s inaugural show, and through a number of thought leaders like the former UCLA Women’s Gymnastics coach and the mayor of Stockton, California, listeners are asked to consider themes of collaboration and empathy in order to reframe how we think about success and transformation.

Is That Nostalgia You’re Feeling? by The Atlantic

Reading about how and why we miss our pre-pandemic lives as a form of nostalgia, even though the past wasn’t that long ago immediately made me think of the Portuguese concept of saudade. In simplistic terms, I’ve come to learn that saudade probably feels like nostalgia—a longing for something (a person, a place, a moment) that may or may not happen again. 

A particularly encouraging thought in The Atlantic piece reads that nostalgia “…can help you remember that there are people in your life who care about you, that you have felt better than you do now, and that you will be able to feel good again in the future.”

Finding Connection and Resilience During the Coronavirus Pandemic, The New Yorker 

Nothing beats in-person connection (I’ll take a socially distanced coffee date in my parent’s garage over a phone call any day), but if this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s underscored humanity’s need to be with, and live for each other. Even though the end of this New Yorker article is unsettling, I love this quote from Agustín Fuentes, an evolutionary anthropologist at the University of Notre Dame, “One of the amazing things about the human species—once harmless critters not much more than monkeys running around—is that, over time, we have become very creative. We’ve adapted to survive. That’s what people will rely on now—coming up with incredibly imaginative ways to find connections even when they’re not in the same physical space together.”

What about you: Have you read, listened to, or watched anything lately that has offered an uplifting perspective on making sense of the coronavirus pandemic? Let me know in the comments.

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If you’ve been following the daily White House press briefings, you may have caught Dr. Deborah Birx’s earnest call to non-action. “This is the moment to not be going to the grocery store, not going to the pharmacy, but doing everything you can to keep your family and your friends safe,” she said over the weekend. And while grocery stores and pharmacies remain open as essential businesses, the point experts at all levels of governments have emphasized these last several weeks is to limit contact with people who aren’t our family members, or members of the same household to slow the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus.

With this in mind, if you’re looking for a way to get fresh, local produce and products, a number of established companies and newly formed offerings are selling farm boxes for delivery or pick-up across San Diego County. I signed up for Imperfect Produce a few weeks ago myself. They are––understandably––running a few weeks behind schedule, so I appreciate that I am still in a position (at the moment) to support local farms while minimizing exposure to others.

Elsewhere, check out these other food boxes available for delivery or pick-up around San Diego:

Behneman Farm

The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that this Valley Center-based farm recently began offering farm boxes for delivery. While it appears they don’t have a website, their Instagram page shows that they’ve been delivering everything from avocados, oranges, to salad mix.  

Craft Box SD

Also through Instagram, I learned about Craft Box SD via fellow food writer Michelle Stansbury. For $50, you can get a box of local products delivered to your door. Products include: Maestoso Roman pinsa crust, cassava flour tortillas from Coyotas, Surf’s Up salsa, coffee from Seven Seas Roasting, tempeh from San Diego Tempeh, and more.

Daily Harvest

Daily Harvest farm boxes are packed with fruits and vegetables from a number of small local farms, like Sundial and Stehly farms. Delivery within San Diego County is free with a $25 order. Choose a one-time delivery, or sign up for a weekly or bi-weekly subscription, which also includes options to add eggs and cheeses, pasture-fed beef, bread and tortillas, and snacks.

Imperfect Foods

Misshapen produce need love too. Sign up for a conventional or organic delivery box from Imperfect Foods, which works with local farms. You can shop for your box several days before scheduled delivery, and add or remove items each time.

Market Box

In addition to selling produce online a la carte, Market Box’s weekly harvest box includes 11 items of the week for $40. Organic produce from JR Organics range from kale to apples, cilantro to broccolini. Local photographer and friend Alina Mendoza captured a gorgeous look at one of the boxes below:

Schaner Farms 

Pre-packaged weekly produce boxes from Schaner Farms are sold on a first come, first served basis at Prager Bros. in Carlsbad, or by pre-order via Instagram DM or emailing annemarie@thefishery at The Fishery in Pacific Beach. 

Specialty Produce

Pre-order a $20 Farmers Market box from Specialty Produce for pick-up Thursday–Saturday at their front desk. Add ons include eggs, honey, jams, and cheese.

Yasukochi Farms

Weekly CSA farm box deliveries from Yasukochi Family Farm are available throughout San Diego County (except Temecula, Jamul, Alpine, and Valley Center, according to its website) in two sizes. Boxes begin at $25 and $35, and delivery dates are grouped by zipcode. For example, Oceanside and Carlsbad receive boxes on Mondays; San Marcos, Vista, Escondido and Fallbrook receive boxes on Tuesdays, while Wednesday and Thursday are reserved for San Diego and coastal cities deliveries.

If you know of or represent other farm boxes for delivery or pick-up and would like to be included in this list, please email me at: thecuriouspassport (at) gmail (dot) com.

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Lisbon, Portugal, 2016

If a decade of travel has taught me anything, it’s that change is the only guarantee we can really count on. Destinations evolve, technology advances, motivations to move or root down rise and settle like the tide. And after ten years, the evolution of how and why I travel has also shifted (to note: I’ve loosened my grip—a lot—on trying to control everything), and I imagine it will continue to do so in the future. As someone who has had enough means and opportunity to traverse the globe for both work and play, below are ten lessons I’ve learned from a decade in travel, with a heavy dollop of nostalgia, ahead of 2020:

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Sometimes, it’s less about where you’re going than who you’re with. Unless you really got to pee, then it’s all about that bathroom. Melina, Shannon, this one’s for you—Merry Christmas and cheers to 2020!

Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California

By the time we groaned across the border into San Diego, a welcome stretch of U.S. highway open in front of us like a first spring bloom, it was 5 p.m. At 9 a.m. one hot summer Sunday in Tijuana, our 4Runner pulled into a line leading up to U.S. border control that snaked around street corners and across bridges. And then we stopped, completely. We were optimistic, naive rather—maybe we’ll have time to squeeze in brunch before some of us continued north, we thought. After eight hours, interminable stops and starts, time wore us down, but not enough to wipe away weekend memories created just days before. While we waited, and waited, we dipped into this fresh well of memories from a long weekend in Baja California—the eponymous state and peninsula that slices through the Pacific and Gulf of California—to sustain us.

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Admittedly, I knew very little about the power struggle over Kashmir before I read The Far Field. So I dug. Completing the book led me to this Al Jazeera video illustrating how the subcontinent of India has changed since 1947, the year India gained independence from Britain. Reading The Far Field also piqued my interest in watching the movie Viceroy’s House, currently on Netflix, about the final events leading up to Britain’s retreat from its colonies that year, and how religious conflict between Indians lead to partition, the event that would initially create Pakistan, for India’s Muslim minority. This decision would also cause the largest mass migration in history, according to the BBC. An internet search for more information about Kashmir results in reporting as recent as August 2019, describing frequent clashes in the area.

The Far Field is a lyrical historical fiction novel, and stories that string moving prose rooted in real events are my favorite. Narrated by a now 30-year-old Shalini, our protagonist, the book shifts between her privileged childhood, and adolescence. When the book opens, we meet our protagonist at home in Bangalore, who feels adrift following her mother’s death. She is barely an adult, working her first job out of college. 

She seems apathetic, and I’m not sure if it’s because our protagonist generally lacked ambition, or because young adults are generally unsure of themselves, or if her current state was a product of grief. We also sense distance between Shalini and her father, who is considering re-marrying. Amid the upheaval, as if Shalini were either running away from her issues, or conversely, confronting them directly, she sets off for Kashmir solo, seeking answers to her mother’s death.

Shalini’s childhood is set against the background of decades-old conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. When she decides to pursue her mother’s past, and specifically, the charismatic salesman who used to visit their home in Bangalore, Shalini finds herself caught up in tensions. Throughout the chapters, we wince at how her blinding lack of self-awareness and nuance cost the people around her much more than what she thought she had to lose.

Shalini’s present-day journey to Kashmir and her interactions with the people she engages with along the way illuminate India’s stark and complex social dynamics. Yet, what resonated with me the most were the familial scenes, the flashbacks to moments with her mother and her struggle to understand a woman who had the capacity to lift her up and destroy her in the same breath. In one instance, Shalini describes the power her mother had over others, “…she had an exquisite instinct for zooming in on his frailties.” To me, these moments, sprinkled throughout the book, felt psychologically exacting and, most unnervingly, eerily familiar.

Learn more about The Far Field.

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Photo: Alina Mendoza

I hear jetlag is brutal traveling west to east. And for my first trip to Asia, like an archaeological dig, I’m excavating all possible remedies to ensure I can hit the ground running once I land in Japan. Before that happens though, I’m packing my carry-on with my favorite moisture-locking skincare products of the moment. I’ve been using the products below months now, and have already repurchased some of them, or plan to:

La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Facial Moisturizer UV ($20)

After leaning on La Roche-Posay’s sunscreen all summer in Portugal during 2017, I recently picked up its facial moisturizer with UV protection at Ulta on a whim. The lotion is spreads like cream cheese, smooth and substantial, yet absorbs quickly into skin (without making tan skin look ashy, according to this Allure magazine review. But I can attest to that too, as a person with brown skin). And, after editing a number of beauty articles for MyDomaine recently, I’ve learned a lot about the moisturizing and soothing benefits of ceramides and niacinamides; key ingredients in La Roche’s double repair moisturizer. Another thing it’s got going for it is its wide and slim packaging, which slips easily into my makeup bag while also saving on space.

…spreads like cream cheese, smooth and substantial, yet absorbs quickly into skin…

La-Roche Posay Double Repair Moisturizer UV

Laneige Water Sleeping Mask ($20)

Over La Roche-Posay’s double repair moisturizer, I’ll slather this light yet ultra-hydrating (and pleasantly scented) gel from Laneige, a popular Korean skincare brand. My sister gifted me this product for Christmas in 2018, and a little goes a long way. Although I began using Water Sleeping Mask in spring 2019, it is October and I still have product left nearly six months later. The only downside? The product’s round jar isn’t travel-friendly, so I’ll scoop the gel into something more sleek. Sometimes, if I haven’t gotten around to meditating during the day, I’ll close my eyes after applying Water Sleeping mask to my face, and inhale the gel’s scent for a few breaths—a brief moment of aromatherapy.

Laneige Water Sleeping Mask

Peach & Lily Glass Skin Refining Serum ($40)

However, before I pat on the moisturizer and gel mask, my face is getting one squirt of this Peach & Lily serum first. Another K-beauty favorite that, New York magazine writes is “hoarded by [beauty] editors and redditors alike,” is brimming with hydrating and inflammation-fighting niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, and peptides. Like many internet reviews, my skin feels protected from dryness, as if it were vacuum-sealed, and looks dewy, not shiny.

Peach & Lily Glass Skin Refining Serum

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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 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 discovered several new-to-me destinations every year one of these lists publishes. I’ve also been curious about the process of putting together one of these lists, and more broadly, how does a lesser-known destination jump from obscurity to destination darling? Let’s take a look.

How Does a Destination Make a Best of Travel List?

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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.

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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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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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.

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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