Somehow, 2015 sped past me in a blur. When I stop to think back on my year, I can hardly remember what even happened. Weird. I’m not sure if it’s because it was super fast-paced or if I’ve just been hyper-focused on my career and scheming next steps. As it turns out, though, I did quite a lot in 2015.

I went to Europe–twice–for the first time since 2009, discovering Switzerland, Germany and Croatia, and returning to my favorite city Paris. I traveled to South America for the first time, communing with Pacha Mama and scaling Machu Picchu in Peru. I made it to New York, LA and Key West a few times. I visited my best girlfriends in Savannah. I even had my most exciting boating adventure to date in Cay Sal, Bahamas, complete with crazy bull sharks, green flash sunsets, the Milky Way in full effect and mouth-watering yellow jack crudo, permit filets and grilled lobster from the day’s catch–and I got to chronicle it all for a fancy British super yacht publication with an embossed cover called BOAT International.

On the career front, I became the Miami destination expert for The Telegraph and published cover stories in The Miami Herald and Modern Luxury Interiors South Florida that I’m really proud of. Yeah, I guess 2015 was another good year.

With the New Year here, I’m mostly in “keep on keepin’ on” mode. I want to continue to travel purposefully and I hope to plan long term stays in a few different cities in 2016. There are also a handful of travel experiences on my radar that I’d love to have. I doubt I’ll get to all of these in 2016, maybe one or two, but these trips are the top travel experiences of my heart’s desire (in no particular order).

1. Sailing Collective

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Thailand in December. Photo courtesy of Sailing Collective’s Instagram.

 

Okay, I’ve been Insta-stalking these guys all year. The Sailing Collective makes embarking on a weeklong sailing adventure in far flung locales across the globe a cinch by taking care of the logistics (boats, itinerary, food) and the man power (captain and crew). This winter, they’ll be heading to Thailand, Greece, Madagascar and Croatia, to name a few outrageously idyllic destinations to choose from. I’ve long dreamed of a sailing vacation through an exotic locale and a trip with Sailing Collective is what I’m really gunning for in 2016.

2. Glamping

Look, I don’t even care where I do it, although, when I picture glamping, I picture Big Sur: communing with Mother Nature amidst the ponderosa pines (sans WiFi or cell connection), frolicking on the shores of the Pacific Ocean and sleeping underneath the stars inside a temperature-controlled, boho-chic teepee that I don’t have to pitch and with people on staff who do the cooking and the cleaning around the campfire for me. Sign me up. I also hear there’s cool things to see in Marfa, Texas and the California desert.

3. Rockaway Beach surf culture (in season)

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The Rockaway Beach Surf Club in Queens, New York on a crisp September afternoon.

 

Admittedly, I got a taste of the Rockaway Beach surf culture this year with my friend Rebekah, but it was mid-September at the tale end of the season and the beach was practically empty save for a few surfers braving the 59 degree temps with us. I want to see it in its full hipster takeover at the height of summer and catch a few more waves too. On the same note, I’m also super curious about the vibe in Montauk and the North Fork.

4. Yoga retreat

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Yoga posin’ in Peru.

 

Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Bali, you name it, I’m there. Two years ago, I went to my first weeklong surf camp in Costa Rica and I’d love to do something similar with yoga. Surf + yoga? Even better. Some of my favorite Miami yoga teachers, Amy Dannheim and Sharon Aluma, planned incredible retreats last year in Central America, and Amy’s already got retreats in Cuba and Bali on the calendar this year. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll get it together and join one.

5. Burning Man vs. Coachella?

I mean, what do you think? Should I do either? Both? Neither? I don’t even know. My short-lived love of festivals might have peaked at Ultra circa 2013. Although, I do like the idea of losing my mind in the desert for a few days. It would just take some serious planning and the right crew…

6. Cuba

Cuba, I feel like I should’ve made this trip happen by now. As a Miami-based travel journalist, and with the gradual lifting of travel restrictions that played out over the course of the year, it feels like it’s my job to check it out. I’m curious about Cuba on a lot of different levels, from its socio-political issues to the culture that’s so engrained in the city I live in. I also want to retrace Hemingway’s footsteps and recreate the second part of Islands in the Stream where he proceeds to drink daiquiris all day at La Floridita.

7. Kauai

Part of me feels like Hawaii is my destiny, like my soul belongs there, living freely amidst its lush flora, waterfalls, surf and volcanoes. I read a couple of great travel stories this year about Kauai in Travel + Leisure (sorry can’t find the link) and Afar, and I loved the way they depicted this neo-hippy haven of organic farming, simple living and astounding beauty. Maybe one day I’ll have my own little self-sustaining bungalow in the jungle and work on boats again while I write… or at least I could check it out for a couple of weeks. I also have an old friend making a life for himself in Oahu who I’d love to visit.

What about YOU? Any of these trips sound dreamy? What travel experience do you most want to have?

There’s a world of discoveries north of Miami where the pace slows down, the crowds dissipate and everything feels familiar, yet somehow different. Hopscotch past Broward to explore Palm Beach, St. Lucie and Indian River counties on this day trip up the coast that takes you from luxury shopping in Palm Beach to hiking through hardwood hammocks in Fort Pierce.

All you need is a tank of gas and your GPS handy. That’s exactly what I did with my mom and my sister Kristy a few weeks ago. We also brought a selfie stick!

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Ready! Set! Go! Let’s hit the road!

 

Stop One: 11:30am | Poolside BBQ Lunch at Four Seasons Palm Beach

Start your journey off on a luxurious note with a poolside lunch overlooking the ocean at the Four Seasons Palm Beach.

Chef Ricky Amezcua hosts a special weekend BBQ series at the oceanfront AB&G Grill, featuring everything from grilled rib eye to freshly caught mahi mahi and lobster, paired with sides like goat cheese horseradish mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli and truffle parmesan fries, while highlighting a selection of Florida craft beers.

If you happen to make your journey on a weekday, AB&G’s lunch menu is inspired by global beach culture, ranging from Mexico to the Middle East.

Lunch at AB&G Grill is served from 11:30am-4:30pm; 2800 S. Ocean Blvd., Palm Beach; 561-582-2800

Stop Two: 1pm | Worth Avenue, Palm Beach

Kristy and Mom at Saks Fifth Avenue on Worth Avenue.

Kristy and Mom at Saks Fifth Avenue on Worth Avenue.

 

Drive north on South Ocean Boulevard where Palm Beach’s impressive limestone mansions with terracotta tile roofs overlook pristine beaches and endless Atlantic Ocean. Feast your eyes on the beautiful excess of intricate facades peeking above tall, manicured hedges on spotless streets with glimpses of private pools and tennis courts beyond.

Turn left on Worth Avenue, Palm Beach’s luxury shopping corridor, and park. As soon as you set foot on the pavement, you’ll notice a palpable quiet that simply doesn’t exist in Miami.

#StreetStyle

#StreetStyle

 

Whether it’s window shopping or power shopping, Worth Avenue has all the spoils in a beautifully landscaped, Mediterranean setting with high arcades, ivy climbing up storefronts and pocket gardens blossoming with bougainvillea. The street is anchored by Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus, with every designer flagship under the sun, as well as boutiques, like Calypso St. Barth and contemporary fashion labels, like Sandro and Maje.

Worth Ave., Palm Beach; 561-659-6909

Stop Three: 4pm | Fort Pierce Inlet State Park

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Judy in the hardwood hammock. Watch out for snakes! And thunderstorms!

 

Settle in for an hour and a half drive to Fort Pierce Inlet State Park and start your exploration with a short hike (roughly 30 minutes, although you can easily do it faster) on their hardwood hammock nature trail, made up of a tangle of live oak, sea grape, wax myrtle and red bay trees. Keep your eyes peeled for marsh rabbits, gopher tortoises, butterflies, snakes and migratory birds beneath the dense canopy.

Selfies on the beach at Fort Pierce State Park.

Selfies on the beach at Fort Pierce State Park.

 

Next, head towards the beach for a leisurely sunset stroll as the sky starts to change color. With its jetty to the south and reef line just offshore, the beach at Fort Pierce is known for its surf break when conditions are right. It’s a totally different vibe from Miami beaches, with a wider shoreline, more consistent waves, darker sand and deeper blue-green sea.

905 Shorewinds Dr., Fort Pierce; 772-468-3985; Open daily until sunset

Stop Four: Overnight | Costa d’Este Resort & Spa, Vero Beach

Gloria! We're here!

Gloria! We’re here!

 

Take the scenic route north on A1A for 13 miles to Vero Beach and Costa d’Este Resort & Spa. Owned by Gloria and Emilio Estefan, this oceanfront boutique hotel brings a little Miami Modern flair to Vero’s largely rustic and colonial style architecture. With a breezeblock fountain and cheese hole facade emblazoned in neon, this stylish retreat is your stop for dinner—and your home for the night, if you’d rather not make the two and a half hour drive back to Miami just yet.

The Wave Kitchen & Bar serves a sophisticated menu of fresh Florida seafood, steak and Cuban classics, like ropa vieja with black beans, rice and plantains, straight from the Estefan Cookbook.

Rooms are chic and modern featuring comfortable beds and oceanfront balconies in natural wood and cream tones with nautical accents like porthole-style windows.

Me & Judy taking a morning stroll on the beach.

Me & Judy taking a morning stroll on the beach.

 

In the morning, wake up early for a walk along the tranquil, uncrowded beach where you can also launch kayaks or standup paddleboards.

Before your drive home, book a treatment at the spa for a tension-melting massage. You’ll return to Miami refreshed, with a new perspective on how much you can do in a day in South Florida.

3244 Ocean Dr., Vero Beach; 772-562-9919; Nightly rates from $193

A version of this story originally appeared in the Miami Herald Tropical Life section.

Pundole

Ben Pundole, VP of EDITION Hotels at a party at Basement at The Miami Beach EDITION.

 

As far as tastemakers go, Ben Pundole has played a hand in shaping our collective hotel and nightlife experiences for two decades. The London native eschewed a traditional education by taking a job at the city’s infamous Groucho Club at age 19, before moving onto the Metropolitan Hotel’s Met bar. There, a serendipitous encounter with Madonna led to an introduction to Ian Schrager, who would become his longtime employer and collaborator.

Pundole spent over a decade with Schrager at Morgans Hotel Group as VP of Entertainment. With such iconic properties as the Hudson Hotel in New York City and the Delano in South Beach, Morgans arguably heralded in the boutique hotel and the lobby as a social space.

He’s worked with nightlife pioneer Amy Sacco. Famed for Manhattan’s impossible to get into Bungalow 8 in in the early 2000s, Sacco’s vision brought Rec Room to South Beach in 2013. Pundole also refined that particular brand of magical, rustic, surfy glamour that Montauk is now famous for with instant classic hotels The Surf Lodge and Ruschmeyer’s. Aligned with such influential players, his touch has no doubt impacted the way we like to have fun.

Today, he’s back with Schrager as VP of Brand Experience at EDITION Hotels—the much buzzed about luxury lifestyle collaboration with Marriott International—and at the helm of AHotelLife.com, the online travel magazine he founded two years ago that offers up a concise cheat sheet on the most interesting hotels around the globe.

A self-described progressive traveler with a passion for hotels and storytelling, he told me that he identifies as a Millennial at the older than typically accepted age of 40 when we sat down in May at The New York EDITION during its opening weekend—that’s two full months before Kanye’s proclamation at the VMAs.

The forward-thinking hotelier explains, “There was a time, almost two and half years ago, where we were coming out of the recession and travel for Millennials just became a thing that was possible. There were people finishing college during the recession, and then all of a sudden things got better, and there’s this group of 28 to 29 year olds, and no one’s communicating with them in the travel industry, in my opinion. Although I’m 40 years old, I count myself as a Millennial and part of the creative class of Millennials.”

It’s with that taste in mind, and a knack for both creating and seeking out the ineffable, transcendent enchantment of travel that Pundole’s well-suited in the two roles he’s currently undertaken, as both hotelier and hotel critic—and that’s what we discussed in the bright white, Gilded Age-inspired lobby overlooking Madison Square Park one afternoon a few months ago.

Lobby

The lobby of The New York EDITION.

 

Wanderlust Chameleon: I actually came across A Hotel Life before I figured out the Miami connection and your involvement with EDITION Hotels. As VP of Brand Experience for EDITION and Editor-in-Chief of A Hotel Life, it sounds like two full-time jobs. How do you juggle them?

Ben Pundole: EDITION is the full time job. A Hotel Life is very much a passion project. A Hotel Life sprung out of my love for travel and hotels. I have six editors. It’s a passion project for everyone. It’s self-funded. I don’t really work with brands. It came out of something I couldn’t find elsewhere. I couldn’t find it in traditional magazines. Nothing was determined by taste, it was all about a 5 Star grading system. And I thought, it doesn’t matter if it’s a hostel or a palace, if it’s determined by taste, it’s going to appeal to that creative class of the Millenial.

I’m not very tech savvy, but I figured it out. We don’t take it too seriously. We’ve got sections like ‘stealable stuff’ because who doesn’t want to steal stuff from hotels?

The real job is creating experiences and storytelling, and they kind of mesh into one. A Hotel Life is discovering stories from interesting people around the world, and then here [at EDITION] it’s collaborating with great people to create stories and experiences that reach far beyond the literal hotel stay of eat, drink, sleep, hotel.

What role do you think hotels play in travel? How important is a hotel in giving a traveler their first impression of a new place?

It depends on the individual. If you’re a weirdo like me, I travel to places just to go to the hotel. There’s a hotel in the south of France called Hôtel Nord-Pinus in Arles. It was owned by a clown and a cabaret dancer for many years since the 1920s on a square in the South of France. It’s where, in the ‘50s, Picasso used to hang out and party and drink and watch the bullfighting at this 15th century amphitheater nearby. And this hotel is filled with magic. I was reading a book about Picasso and read about the hotel and decided to make a pilgrimage.

Nord Pinus

The exterior of Hôtel Nord-Pinus in Arles. Photo courtesy of Hôtel Nord-Pinus.

 

You split your time between Brooklyn and South Beach. Aside from the common thread of The EDITION, what draws you to these two places ?

I moved from the West Village to Brooklyn about six years ago because I found that Manhattan had been creatively homogenized and I really wanted to be inspired. I find that the emerging galleries, markets, artists and parties happening in Brooklyn are a lot more edgy than the tried and tested party scene or art galleries in Manhattan. So I get very inspired in Brooklyn and I love that. I also love to be outside of my comfort zone.

Miami, I love because it can be whatever you want it to be. It can be a true bastion of hedonism or it can be the healthiest experience. You can wake up and run on the beach, do yoga and go paddleboarding, and I love that because I do both. I unashamedly do both. I do trips to Miami sometimes where I don’t see anybody. I run on the beach, I do yoga, and there are other times where I go and it’s the III Points Festival and I’ll go bonkers for three days, and I’m totally okay with that. Miami has become this amazing place. The creativity in Miami is amazing.

Which hotels and hoteliers do you think are doing exciting things today?

The Upper House in Hong Kong. It is the best example of modern luxury. I love what Liz Lambert does at Bunkhouse Group in Austin and Marfa [Texas]. I love what Avi Brosh does at the Palihouses in LA. I love what the guys Carlos [Couturier] and Moises [Micha] do with the group Habita. They have the Hotel Americano here [in New York].

Where have you been recently that you loved?

I’ve done two trips this year. Peru. It is probably the most exciting, interesting and wonderful place I’ve been ever. Cusco’s amazing. Then, we went up to the Sacred Valley and did a huayasca ceremony. It’s quite a wild ride. That was one of the most interesting, exciting things I’ve ever done. I loved Cusco. I have this strange fascination with being somewhere where no one else in the world knows where I am. I went to this hostel to meet the shaman and then drove up to this mountain house. It was just phenomenal. The whole experience was phenomenal. Loved it. I went to an amazing hotel in Lima called Hotel B. It’s like 16 rooms in the Relais & Chateaux group. Absolutely loved Hotel B.

Pundole on the ancient streets of Cusco. Photo courtesy @Ahotellife.

Pundole on the ancient streets of Cusco. Photo courtesy @Ahotellife.

 

The other trip I did was Cuba, just for three or four days, because I’m so culturally curious. I love the road less traveled, so we went out to the Bay of Pigs, a couple of hours outside of Havana, and that was fascinating. Even in Old Havana, we stayed out of the touristy parts, and I took a bunch of old pairs of sunglasses with me, and we walked into the bad parts and handed out sunglasses to the kids playing soccer.

A portrait from Pundole's travels in Havana. Photo courtesy @Ahotellife.

A portrait from Pundole’s travels in Havana. Photo courtesy @Ahotellife.

 

Where do you turn to for travel advice?

I get my travel advice from the less known blogs and magazines. There’s this great blog called 12hrs.net, and they do these 12 hours in any one city. I like Suitcase. I like Fathom Away. I like Afar. Interesting stuff.

Do you have a city that you love that you return to again and again?

We are here once. I went to Berlin about eight times in three or four years. I’ve been to Tulum about 10, 11 times. But I’m telling myself, I can’t do that anymore. No more.

You mentioned you love the idea of being in a place so remote nobody else knows where you are, where have you felt most off the grid?

Peru. Or the Burning Man Festival, best thing I’ve ever done in my life.

On the Playa at Burning Man. Photo courtesy @Ahotellife.

On the Playa at Burning Man. Photo courtesy @Ahotellife.

 

Okay, last question, what makes a great hotel experience?

It’s creating an environment that makes people feel like they’re a better, more exciting version of themselves. Creating stories.

A version of this story originally appeared on Miami.com.

From Jenifer Altman's Polaroid Notes.

From Jenifer Altman’s Polaroid Notes.

Frankfurt Airport, September 13, 2015, 8:54 a.m.

I’ve gotten into the habit of staying awake on red eyes to Europe. A habit, if you can even call it that, based on my last two flights here. The last time was Zurich in March. Now, here I am in Frankfurt on a layover to Croatia.

There’a a certain anticipation cycle that comes with travel. I’m going to skip over the whole process of actually picking a destination and  planning a trip and get straight to the actual act of travel.

At some point on the plane ride, I’m seized with a sense of dread, a second-guessing of why I’m even going anywhere. Why am I disrupting and uprooting my life? Wherever I’m going, the landscape and customs will be unfamiliar. Will I fit in? Will I get it? Will all of the locals immediately know that I’m a foreigner? Will I be as chic, as down-to-earth, as well-informed as everyone else? Will I be able to navigate? How many steps ahead should I calculate in my mind right now?

This anxiety then melts into a sort of dreamlike paralysis. I’m captive and confined on a flight, after all. And as uncomfortable as that may be, there’s a certain pleasure that comes with succumbing to it. Whatever it is: sleep, work, watch a movie, read, eat. It becomes so sublime at a certain point that the thought occurs to me, I never want the journey to end. I want to sit here forever and keep reading or turn on another movie and eat another airplane meal.

Then, inevitably, the landing ritual begins. Announcements over the loudspeakers, tray tables and seat backs up, organization of belongings, cabin lights on, window shades up. The subtle feeling of the plane’s descent. And that’s when I see it, a whole new terrain outside my window, either foreign or familiar. And with it comes a feeling of exhilaration. Every time. No matter whether I anticipate it or not. Without thinking about it, in an instant, any insecurities fall by the wayside, and I’m filled with the sublimity of endless possibilities, reminded of just how big the world is and how little of it I’ve seen, that I’m about to discover another small corner of it, and how exceptional that is.

I woke up in Miami, but now, here I am, in Europe, in Germany.

Whether it’s airports and air travel that are the great equalizer or, simply, humanity itself, I fit in here just as well as I fit in anywhere. And the parade of people around me, no matter where they’re from are, yes, all different, all disposed to their own cultures, languages and mannerisms, but they’re all just variations on a theme, and that theme is humanity. All of us just striving to live, to be happy, to make it from Point A to Point B, and hopefully encounter kindness and compassion along the way. And, of course, have people to love, lots of people to love, scattered at all the places where we’ve been before.

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A couple of months ago I embarked on what was easily one of my most exciting adventures yet. I joined Chapman Ducote and his crew on a three-day spearfishing exhibition from Miami to The Bahamas’ Cay Sal Bank on assignment for BOAT International. The story is in their November issue on newsstands now and you can read it here.

It opens with: “In spearfishing the action happens fast.” And that pretty much sums it up. It was three action-packed days aboard a fast boat on nearly uncharted waters filled with sharks, big fish, lobster, conch, green flash sunsets, the most stars I’ve ever seen in the night sky, uninhabited islands, dolphins and unbelievably clear blue water.

Scroll down for some behind the scenes pix and please read my story in BOAT. It’s some of my proudest work yet.

Day1Catch

Fresh catch from Day One on the water. From Left to Right: Ian Miller with a yellowjack, Chapman with a lobster and permit  and Rodrigo Franco with lobster. It made for a delicious dinner of yellowjack crudo, permit filet and barbecue lobster.

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Posing with the fresh catch.

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The Delta 54 Carbon, our vessel for the excursion.

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One of the guys with a fish on his spear.

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Learning the ropes with a spear in hand.

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We came across a wreck at the eastern edge of the bank.

Sharks

The most death-defying moment of our trip. Here, Franco fights off three bull sharks darting after him and the fish he just shot.

DeltaCaySal

A peaceful moment off Cay Sal Island.

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Those are “we just swam in the Gulf Stream with dolphins and saw the green flash” smiles.

Sunset

The sunsets at sea were unbelievable. Don’t forget to read the full story in BOAT.

All photos by Ian Miller.

My friend and fellow fabulous writer Kara Franker asked me to share my insights on how I get off the beaten path while traveling to her readers at Orbitz. Here’s what I had to say:

“I’m a big believer in slow travel to truly uncover hidden jewels and understand a destination on a deeper level. And by slow travel, I mean exactly that: slowing down the pace and staying for awhile. For me, whether it was studying abroad in London or spending two consecutive winters in Paris, long-term travel was when I truly uncovered the unexpected, met locals and, for a short time, masqueraded as one of them. Even throughout the years I lived in Key West, I sort of felt like I was there on one long trip, observing the lifestyle and the people, while also participating in it. Those are some of my most enriching and cherished travel experiences, and whenever I discover a new destination that I truly love I always wish I could spend at least a month there.”

Exploring Dubrovnik and the Adriatic Sea at a spot called Buza, which literally means "hole in the wall."

Exploring Dubrovnik and the Adriatic Sea at a spot called Buza, which literally means “hole in the wall.”

 

My Travel Tip: “Just go for it. One of my favorite travel writers Pico Iyer said in a talk I attended last year, ‘All you need to travel is wonder and a Swiss Army knife.’ I loved that because, to me, it gets at the heart of the joys of travel: a wonderment about the world, different cultures and societies. Forget the lists of ‘must-dos’ or ‘best ofs’ and just travel with wonder and, of course, be prepared for anything—that’s where the Swiss Army knife comes into play. At that same talk, travel writer Barry Lopez explained that there are two ways to approach a place: analysis and awe. He prefers the latter. And so do I. That’s where the ‘off-the-beaten path’ discoveries are found and savored.”

For more off-the-beaten path tips by other intrepid travel bloggers, check out the full post on Orbitz.

FacadeZoom

The facade of the oceanfront Hotel Erwin in Venice Beach.

140 Character Overview:

Funky SoCal vibes with a touch of grit in the heart of Venice Beach. Rooftop bar with killer ocean views & sunsets. Easy walk to everything.

Beachprofile

A view of the surf from right outside the hotel.

 

Roomreveal

The hotel mimics the neighborhood’s mural art with its decor.

 

The Vibe:

As my Uber pulled up to the Hotel Erwin on Venice’s Pacific Avenue, I was overwhelmed with a serious feeling of familiarity, although I’d never been here before. Was I getting Tamarindo, Costa Rica vibes with all the funky mural art and casual beach bars? Did the madness swirling on the Venice Beach Walk bring me back to Key West and Duval Street? Finally, it hit me. The blue-brown Pacific and its golden sand beaches full of surfers in the water and sailboats on the horizon reminded me of my childhood home Newport Beach, just a few miles down the coast. While I haven’t lived in SoCal for 20 years or even visited for the last four, arriving in Venice felt like a powerful homecoming.

The hotel, itself, is laid-back with a bright, “Millenial” design scheme. Formerly a Best Western, Erwin has updated the space with design-forward ambitions aiming to meet the needs of today’s modern traveler. The vibe skews young and funky rather than mature and upscale, but that’s totally cool.

Bed

The room is spacious, bright and colorful.

 

Balcony

A no frills balcony offers partial ocean views (and partial parking lot views).

 

View

A glimpse of the ocean from my balcony.

 

Bath2

The former Best Western hotel has been updated with a modern bathroom design.

 

The Location:

You really can’t ask for a better location in Venice. The hotel is oceanfront, with the Venice Skate Park and breakwater directly outside. You’re within walking distance to Muscle Beach, the Venice Pier and all the chic shops and restaurants of Abbot Kinney.

Venicesign

Hotel Erwin (on the far left) is within the same block as the iconic Venice sign.

Boardwalk

Smack dab in the heart of the madness that is the Venice Beach Walk.

 

F & B:

The hotel has an onsite restaurant, which I didn’t get a chance to try during my stay, but it serves a menu of creative comfort food. The rooftop High Bar draws a cool, casual crowd for sunset and gets the seal of approval from all the LA lifestyle pubs.

Sunset

Bruh! Sunsets from High Bar are pretty badass.

 

The Specs:

119 rooms
Free WiFi
1 restaurant
1 bar
Free passes to nearby Gold’s Gym
Nightly rates from around $320

Surfsup

Serious surf during my visit. Also serious undertow.

 

The Verdict:

While the hotel is not exactly the lap of luxury, it’s plenty comfortable with its own personal style that works. The selling point for me is the ideal location and affordable price point in one of my favorite neighborhoods anywhere.

AlohaBros

Post-surf sess with my bros at Aloha Brothers up the block.

Shayne’s Checklist:

Bathrobe: Yes.

Conditioner: Yes.

Bed Comfort Level: 3 Stars (out of 5)

This destination gets Shayne’s “I’d like to live here for at least one month” seal of approval. I connected to Venice on a deep level.

EDITIONfacade

The New York EDITION occupies a historic clock tower originally built in 1909 that once housed the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company.

140 Character Overview:

Understated elegance by Ian Schrager, master of boutique cool, & Marriott International. Golden Age NYC inspo. Modern, sexy lobby scene.

Room

The rooms are simple and understated… and absolutely luxurious.

 

ViewDay

The most captivating part of the view was that you can see both the East and Hudson Rivers outline Manhattan.

The Vibe:

This place is cool, sexy and luxurious. The New York EDITION is what modern hospitality is all about.

Lobby

The lobby lounge features low slung lounge chairs, a fire place and that sculptural spiral staircase leads to the Clocktower restaurant.

 

LobbyBar

The lobby bar drew a crowd every night I was there over opening weekend.

 

The Location:

Perfectly situated on Madison Square Park in the Flatiron District, you’re a stone’s throw from the original Shake Shack and Eataly, and everything else that makes this neighborhood cool right now. It’s an easy walk to my other favorite Manhattan hoods: Meatpacking, West Village, Union Square, etc. Plus, the subway’s right on the block.

ViewNight

That view was stunning day and night.

 

RebRobes

Bathrobes, minibar champs & room service cheeseburgers. This is how me and Reb pre-game for the hotel’s opening party.

 

F & B:

Celebrated London chef Jason Atherton helms The Clocktower restaurant, named for the hotel’s historic building, on the second floor. With mahogany wainscoting on the walls and molded Venetian plaster ceilings, the dining room’s elegance matches the decidedly fine dining menu. The sourdough roll with fresh clotted cream at the start of the meal is one of the best bites of food I’ve ever had. With four distinctive color-coded rooms, the restaurant also has a bar and billiard room. Downstairs, the lobby is a multi-faceted, inspired space for cocktails and schmoozing.

Clocktower1

The elegant dining room at Clocktower.

 

Clocktower2

Each of the restaurant’s dining rooms featured unique chandeliers.

 

The Specs:

273 rooms
1 restaurant
Lobby bar
Gym and spa
Free WiFi
Rates from about $625

Billiards

The billiard room. Who wants to break?

 

The Verdict:

I’m sold. I really love what The EDITION brand stands for. It’s modern, sexy and elegant.

Selfie

The EDITION’s bathrobes are gossamer soft and so are all the bath towels. So luxurious!

 

Shayne’s Checklist:

Bathrobe: Yes. So soft, plush and luxurious. Amongst the best in the biz.

Conditioner: Yes. A proprietary bath product by Le Labo.

Bed Comfort Level: 4 Stars (out of 5).

This destination gets Shayne’s “I’d like to live here for at least one month” seal of approval. Obvi! Prime location in my favorite city.

Looking for a quick getaway to Key West? Now until mid-October is considered the off season, making it the perfect time to snag rock bottom hotel rates, get out on the water (go with my peeps at Fury!) and enjoy the island sans the crowds. There’s also a slew of brand new Key West hotels to check out, plus I’ve included one of my favorite classics below.

The New

The Marker Waterfront Resort

A guest room at The Marker.

A guest room at The Marker. Photo courtesy The Marker.

 

A stone’s throw from the historic seaport and in the heart of Old Town, The Marker hotel opened in December 2014 as the first new hotel build in Key West since 1994. Owner Pritam Singh, the developer behind Truman Annex and the Key West Golf Club, has taken great care to ensure that The Marker blends seamlessly into its tropical, historic surroundings.  With 96 guest rooms, a courtyard pool and Cero Bodega restaurant, it embodies Old Key West in new lux digs. $$$.

The Gates

Bonus: The Gates is dog friendly!

Bonus: The Gates is dog friendly!

 

Appropriately named The Gates, this is the first hotel to greet you once you turn onto the island from US 1. The New Town hotel opened April 2015. While it’s a 15-minute hike to the attractions of Old Town, shuttle service will soon be provided to guests. They’re aiming to create a destination resort with island-chic rooms, a pool, cigar bar, food truck and weekly parties courting locals. $$.

NYAH

Conch cottage & beach cruiser at NYAH.

Conch cottage & beach cruiser at NYAH.

 

Short for Not Your Average Hotel, this wallet-friendly guesthouse is tucked away behind a charming conch cottage in Old Town. Perfect for those traveling in large groups, each of NYAH’s 36 unique rooms can accommodate up to six people comfortably thanks to flexible configurations. The rooms are bare bones and clean, while also offering a courtyard pool, complimentary Continental breakfast and happy hour in a setting that couldn’t be more Key West. $$.

The Classic

Casa Marina

The Casa Marina boasts one of the best pools on the island.

The Casa Marina boasts one of the best pools on the island. Photo courtesy Casa Marina.

 

Conceived by oil tycoon Henry Flagler who built the Overseas Railroad originally connecting Key West to mainland Florida, the 311-room Casa Marina, A Waldorf Astoria Resort is a historic South Florida gem. The lavish Mediterranean Revival property situated on the Atlantic Ocean is fully updated with an elegant poolscape, private beach and waterfront dining. $$$. 

A version of this story originally appeared on Miami.com.

The Porch and The Other Side. Photo by Nick Doll.

The Porch and The Other Side. Photo by Nick Doll.

 

There’s a classic way of doing Key West. It involves dinner at Louie’s Backyard, drinks and live music at Sloppy Joe’s, photo ops at the Southernmost Buoy, a stop at the Hemingway House, spotting Key West chickens and sunset at Mallory Square. And, of course, plenty of key lime pie, conch fritters and margaritas.

But a younger, hipper Key West has emerged thanks to a few longtime locals turned entrepreneurs and restaurateurs who are shaping the culture of the island and swiftly solidifying new classics.

Chris Shultz, originally from Minneapolis, moved to Key West in 1999 after college in Boston and a stint in Los Angeles. In 2003, he co-authored the book Quit Your Job & Move to Key West (now in its 8th edition). A cult classic still sold in gift shops today, it’s a comedic take on the magnetic draw of this bohemian, anything-goes island mixed with a dose of practical advice that’s tempted many a daydreaming tourist.

Owner Chris Shultz at The Porch. Phot by Livi Lavery.

Owner Chris Shultz at The Porch. Phot by Livi Lavery.

 

And that’s how many local’s stories go: “I came here on vacation, fell in love with the place, and never left.”

“You really just can’t beat your daily life here,” says Shultz. “You probably have the best collection of people from all over the place that get along that you could ever have.”

Craft Beer on The Porch

In July 2010, after a decade as a writer, publisher and irreverent tastemaker (after all, he threw the first TuTu Tuesday party during October’s Fantasy Fest in 2009, now one of the local’s most anticipated events), Shultz opened his first brick and mortar establishment, The Porch (429 Caroline St.; 305-517-6358), with business partner Keith St. Peter. A bar dedicated to craft beers and fine wines inside a historic sea foam green Victorian mansion overlooking Duval, the property’s large front porch and garden begs to entertain.

“I always wanted to own a bar. My grandparents owned a bar,” says Shultz. “And I felt like something was missing on the island. There wasn’t really a place with a focus on good beer, good wine, good music and a good atmosphere. We wanted to make a place that we liked to hang out in.”

With 18 beers rotating through the taps, 50 more in bottles and about 40 wines, The Porch became an instant hit catering to an eclectic mix of locals—from fishermen to performance artists to off duty bartenders—who swing by to snag a spot on the porch, sip on suds and watch the tourists stream by. And soon, savvy tourists joined the party, too.

Since then, Shultz, 39, has become an island mogul, following up The Porch with 2 Cents restaurant in January 2013, The Other Side cocktail bar in May 2014 and the forthcoming Waterfront Brewery set to open April 2015 inside the old Waterfront Market at the historic seaport.

“I can’t help myself,” he laughs.

In each new endeavor, the formula has been the same: fill a void on the island and get the local’s stamp of approval.

A Gastropub is Born

At 2 Cents (416 Appelrouth Ln.; 305-414-8626), a creative gastropub with steampunk light fixtures and intergalactic mural art, tucked away on a quiet lane off Duval, Shultz and St. Peter partnered with Chris Otten, chef-owner of the popular organic burrito stand Bad Boy Burrito.

The at 2 Cents. Photo by Michael Marrero.

The patio at 2 Cents. Photo by Michael Marrero.

 

“We wanted to do pub fare at an elevated level,” Shultz says. “It’s high end food in a comfortable place where we try to use the freshest, highest grade, best ingredients possible.”

The menu is modern and constantly changing, executed by chef de cuisine Brad Schwing. Influences range from Spanish tapas to Southern comfort, featuring fresh caught fish and local ingredients in a mix and match of small and large plates. Think, playful, yet gourmet spins on classic bar food, like nachos with duck confit, chicken wings marinated in sweet chili sauce, brioche grilled cheese with tomato-basil jam and next-level jalapeno poppers wrapped in bacon.

A Proper Cocktail Bar

The Other Side (429 Caroline St.; 305-849-0930) was the next project to launch. The name is fitting as it’s located on the other side of The Porch in the same historic building. You enter a grand foyer where on one side, a door opens to the sudsy conviviality of The Porch and on the other side, a door leads to, well, The Other Side, a refined cocktail bar with a speakeasy-library vibe decorated with tufted leather chairs, a mounted jackalope’s head and original photography by Michael Marrero.

The beauty is, no matter what your party is in the mood for—beer, cocktails, wine—you can head to either bar and then meet outside to drink together on the porch.

Head bartender Tim Rabior at The Other Side.

Head bartender Tim Rabior at The Other Side. Photo by Nick Doll.

 

Under the guidance of head bartender Tim Rabior, The Other Side is Key West’s first bar truly devoted to classic and creative cocktailing with attention to spirits, fresh fruit and herbs. Classics range from a Hemingway Daiquiri to Champagne Cocktail No. 2, and creative concoctions include the Smokin’ Piña made with Cutty Sark Scotch, grilled pineapple, basil and sugar. There’s a different featured cocktail every night or you can tell the bartender what you like and he’ll whip up something special just for you.

Craft Brewery On the Horizon

Along with business partners Joe Walsh and George Esdensen, Shultz is opening the long-awaited Waterfront Brewery (201 William St.). Located in the iconic, and enormous, Waterfront Market covered in a Wyland mural, The Waterfront Brewery is one of the island’s most ambitious projects to date.

Brewskies in Key West. Photo by Nick Doll.

Brewskies in Key West. Photo by Nick Doll.

 

“It’s a huge weird space,” Shultz says of the former grocery store that’s stood vacant for the last five years. The brewery will feature a 2,500 square-foot tasting room featuring live music on an outdoor deck, as well as two restaurant concepts: fine dining upstairs and laidback pub downstairs.

They’ve recruited Justin Stine of Tampa’s Cigar City Brewing as head brewer to create Key West micro-suds like the Crazy Lady Honey Blonde and Key Lime Witness using honey, key lime, star fruit and mango amongst other locally sourced ingredients.

Legal Rum Running

Craft beer isn’t the only locally distilled libation in town. In December 2014, Paul Menta, longtime chef, professional kiteboarder and former owner of the still popular Cuban Coffee Queen and Amigo’s Tortilla Bar, went out on a limb to create the island’s first legal rum distillery inside an old Coca-Cola bottle factory. With seven year-round rum varieties, 16 seasonal and some aged inside an American oak barrel, soaked in the ocean for salty local flavor, the distillery and tasting room is open to visitors daily.

Paul Menta with his salt-soaked barrel of rum. Photo by Rick Iossi.

Paul Menta with his salt-soaked barrel of rum. Photo by Rick Iossi.

 

Key West Legal Rum (105 Simonton St.; 305-294-1441) is served at bars throughout the island. “We can’t keep Sloppy Joe’s stocked,” Menta says of the high demand. New hotels, like The Marker and The Gates, are also putting his rum front and center in welcome cocktails and bar menus.

Key West has remained an attractive destination over the years because of its people, a free-spirited and creative crew. And this new class of movers and shakers is honoring that history. “I like providing a platform for people to do their talents,” Shultz says, referring to his team of chefs, bartenders and business partners. “They make me look good.” And the whole island is better off because of it.

A version of this story originally appeared in The Miami Herald’s Tropical Life section, p. E1.