A few of my favorite poets & poems: Billy Collins' Aimless Love, Mark Strand's Black Sea, Dora Malech's To The You Of Ten Years Ago, Now, The Complete Poems of Elizabeth Bishop, Selected Poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay, How To Eat A Poem, & Jennifer Chapis' Rain At The Beach.

A few of my favorite poets & poems: Billy Collins’ Aimless Love, Mark Strand’s Black Sea, Dora Malech’s To The You Of Ten Years Ago, Now, The Complete Poems of Elizabeth Bishop, Selected Poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay, How To Eat A Poem, & Jennifer Chapis’ Rain At The Beach.

When I was a middle school Humanities teacher in New York City, poetry was my favorite unit to teach. I loved it mostly because of how much my students loved it. All of a sudden, my most problematic and reluctant students were letting their guards down and opening up to creativity and self-expression. I made it fun for them. I acknowledged that they didn’t have to understand every word or what the poet was trying to say, but just to enjoy the way the words were organized on the page. I pointed out that poems were short, so it didn’t take very long to read them. We read each poem four times because there was always something new to discover.

They wrote emulation poems of William Carlos Williams’ This Is Just To Say and Pat Mora’s bilingual poem The Desert Is My Mother and cinquains and free verse and whatever they wanted to write. We read Langston Hughes, Emily Dickinson, Shel Silverstein, Edgar Allan Poe, Gary Soto, Robert Frost. The tough boys in my class were now writing poems about baseball and football and relating these themes to their families and their dreams. We were reading poetry, writing poetry and reading each other’s poetry. In my planning periods, I’d find myself surfing Poets.org clicking from one poem to the next and relishing in them.

During April’s National Poetry Month, The Academy of American Poets (who run Poets.org) provided educators with a free poetry anthology How To Eat A Poem: A Smorgasbord of Tasty and Delicious Poems for Young Readers (I still have my copy today). After the Foreward, there’s a few lines from Marianne Moore’s Poetry:

I, too, dislike it.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers in
it, after all, a place for the genuine.

I’d write that quote on the board on the first day of the unit and it immediately disarmed my students. I remember being turned off by a lot of fiction and poetry in high school English class when it was applied too heavy-handedly by my teachers. (Wallace Stevens’ The Emperor of Ice Cream, for instance, still sticks in my mind as a poem I didn’t much care for). And I didn’t want to do that to my students. I told them upfront that they didn’t have to like every poem that we read, but they had to at least consider it.

It was around that time that Poets.org started their “Poem A Day” emails. My dad and I both signed up and to this day we forward each other poems with our thoughts, criticisms and inside jokes. Moving to Key West continued to deepen my love for poetry, an island so apt for the art form. I discovered Elizabeth Bishop who spent time in Key West and I devoured The Complete Poems: 1927-1979, loving how much Pleasure Seas perfectly described the natural beauty of the island I lived on and swooning every time I read One Art.

I began working on the event staff for the Key West Literary Seminar and one year the theme was poetry, specifically Clearing the Sill of the World: a Celebration of 60 Years of American Poetry in honor of Richard Wilbur. And Richard Wilbur was there (because he once lived in Key West) whose poem The Writer I love, and so was Rita Dove, Mark Strand, Robert Pinsky, James Tate, Jane Hirshfield and my friend Billy Collins–all of these Poet Laureates and award-winning poets, and they were not stuffy and formal and boring, as one might expect poets to be. They were funny and brilliant.

I am so pleased that poetry has been infused into my daily life for so many years now. Whether it’s clipping out a poem from The New Yorker that particularly resonates with me or forwarding a poem to my dad for his commentary, it’s a treat to have a time out in the day to ponder and enjoy the pleasure of a few lines of poetry.

I’ve also loved discovering new voices like Ada Limon, Sommer Browning and others who I follow on Twitter now. The kernels of great lines of poetry stay in my head and I recall them at different moments. I recite some version of these last few lines of Limon’s Roadside Attractions with the Dogs of America to my dog Rascal on a near-daily basis.

They want to be your only dog,
your best-loved dog, for this good dog of today
to be the only beast that matters.

Another poem that’s stayed in my head as a sort of coda is Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Travel.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

I remember being in Key West on the back of a parasail boat while my captain zoomed out to sea, and I’d look up in the sky and see an airplane, and think of the last stanza of Millay’s poem substituting train for plane.

Another travel poem I find particularly captivating is Elizabeth Bishop’s Questions of Travel, which takes a rather derisive tone  towards that longing to travel, pitting it in existential limbo (which I think every frequent traveler or nomad finds themselves in from time to time). She asks:

What childishness is it that while there’s a breath of life
in our bodies, we are determined to rush
to see the sun the other way around?

and

Should we have stayed at home,
wherever that may be?

Elizabeth Bishop 1

Elizabeth Bishop 2

There’s something about poetry that gets to the heart of thoughts, feelings and emotion with far more precision and nuance than prose can. In honor of April’s National Poetry Month and Poem in Your Pocket day (which is today!), these are just a few of my favorite poems and an explanation of why I love poetry so much. I’d love to know what poems you love and why. Please share in the comments below!

Also, if you want a taste of more poetry, I highly recommend you checkout Poets.org and sign up for their Poem A Day email. As I’d say to my students, if you don’t think you’ll read them every day, that’s okay (you can always delete them). A new one will pop into your inbox at a moment when you can.

Jennifer Pansa at Acqualina Resort & Spa. Photo: Acqualina Spa by ESPA

Jennifer Pansa at Acqualina Resort & Spa. Photo: Acqualina Spa by ESPA

A private yoga class has always sounded like something reserved for the stars. (Maybe I’ve watched a few too many episodes of E! News over the years with reports of Gwyneth Paltrow and Madonna’s private yoga instructors whipping them into immaculate shape.) It’s not that it sounded unattainable, but perhaps unnecessary. I’ve enjoyed a solid group class practice for over a decade now and I’ve always managed to find studios and teachers just right for me in every city I’ve lived in (exhale Spa in New York City, Shakti Yoga and Bikram in Key West and Green Monkey here in South Beach). I suppose I’ve even indadvertedly had a private lesson or two when I’ve been the only yogi to show up to a group class. And I’m no stranger to private apparatus Pilates lessons as I got to work with my best friend and rockstar Pilates teacher Krista when she was training for her certification many moons ago.

So when I was invited to Acqualina Resort & Spa last week for a private yoga class followed by a fitness massage, I jumped at the opportunity. YOGiiZA, the Miami-based organic yoga apparel and lifestyle brand, has teamed up with the Forbes 5-Star Sunny Isles Beach resort to offer a variety of private fitness and wellness programs for its guests, including yoga, mat Pilates, personal training, and health and wellness coaching.

I was particularly excited for the chance to practice yoga one-on-one because I’m working on ramping up my fitness routine to prepare for my upcoming two week surf trip in June. You may recall that my 2014 travel resolution is to go to surf camp in Costa Rica. Well, I’ve doubled down on that resolution and I’ll be joining a group of friends at a home in Nicaragua by the Panga Drops for a week before making my way to Witch’s Rock Surf Camp in Tamarindo, Costa Rica for another week. I want to get my body conditioned to take full advantage of this opportunity to really learn to surf.

The Yoga Lesson

Prior to my private yoga class at Acqualina, Dawn Oliver (who co-founded YOGiiZA with her husband Mark) got in touch to learn about my current yoga and fitness routine so that she could pair me with the perfect teacher. And that she did! I had a quick and easy connection with my teacher Jennifer Pansa as soon as I met her. We chatted briefly and learned that we’re both from the west coast and grew up loving the outdoors (she in the mountains of Colorado and I at the beach in California). She’d even spent a month surfing in the same town in Costa Rica that I’m heading to.

We practiced inside one of the spa’s relaxation rooms (you can also opt for outside on the oceanfront), and Jennifer led a class that was both vigorous and thoughtful. She’s a knowledgeable and creative teacher, and she used ocean metaphors and identified which muscles I’d be using from my chaturanga and upward facing dog postures when I pop up on the surfboard. The greatest benefit was personalized modifications to draw greater awareness and get me deeper into some of my poses.

Specifically, she helped me lengthen my downward facing dog and I can already feel the difference in my back and shoulders. She also helped me draw awareness to my shoulder carriage when transitioning from upward facing dog to downward facing dog, and she gave me the tools I need to practice crow pose and head stand more effectively. Her upbeat and down-to-earth personality was a perfect match for my style, and she challenged me to go deeper in my standing poses and be even more aware of my alignment.

The Fitness Massage

I worked up a nice sweat with Jennifer and before I could catch my breath it was time to join my masseuse Elica Bendary for an 80-minute fitness massage. Her technique combined deep tissue massage with stretching and compression for a truly tension-melting experience. Her touch was both expansive and precise, soothing my muscles in vast sweeping motions and needling away the most acute pressure points. The end result was feeling loose as a noodle and totally blissful.

The spa’s ESPA body and skincare products are luxurious and effective. Through a scent test at the beginning of my treatment, I selected the body oil that was most appealing to me, and I lavished in a scalp massage with ESPA’s pink hair and scalp mud, which had the most pleasant juicy citrus scent. I also have a bottle of their newly launched proserum at home, which seems to work miracles. It brightens and moisturizes my complexion and magically softens and evens my skintone.

The spa’s facilities include a relaxing crystal steam room with light therapy, a Finnish dry sauna, an ice fountain and an experience shower. After my yoga class and massage, I was definitely ready to take advantage of these amenities. And I couldn’t leave before refueling with a fresh bento box lunch outside on the spa’s private pool deck and nibbling cookies and hot tea inside the women’s relaxation room in my robe and slippers.

As a Forbes 5-Star spa Acqualina is placed on a pretty lofty pedestal, especially considering the glut of luxurious spas to choose from in Miami. I think you can distill great hospitality down to the ability to make guests feel like they’re in good,capable hands, and Acqualina definitely delivers on that hallmark.

For a spa experience similar to mine, you can contact Acqualina Spa by ESPA by calling 855-223-4003.

W South Beach Mega Suite. Photo: W South Beach.

W South Beach Mega Suite. Photo: W South Beach.

I’ve never been able to fully wrap my head around the idea of a “staycation.” For one thing, I think the word is ridiculous (hence, the quotation marks surrounding it). For another, I think I’ve always conjured an image of checking into the Hampton Inn near Hwy 41 in Cartersville, Georgia–which shouldn’t be anyone’s idea of a sought after vacation. Mostly, it seems like a silly waste of money. If you’ve already got a roof over your head, why spend money on a hotel when you can just go out and experience the city you live in, and then go home and sleep for free. Save that precious hotel money on real travel.

Well, my experience at the JW Marriott Marquis Miami a couple of weeks ago opened up my eyes to the true value of a staycation. It’s not to discover your city. It’s to stay at a fancy hotel with little to no plans of leaving until you checkout. The objective should be to select a hotel that has its own luxe world within a world. My checklist now includes: a luxurious room with a comfortable bed, a great poolscape and a delicious restaurant. Bonus points if it has a nice spa and/or nightlife option (depending on how hard you want to staycay).

My 37th floor king suite with floor to ceiling views of the Miami River at the JW Marriott Marquis could easily function as a fortress of solitude, a sexy lovers’ den or a girlfriend’s getaway slumber party headquarters. Whatever your reason may be to get away from it all without actually going that far, I get it now. A stay in one of Miami’s finest hotels really is a revitalizing vacation.

And what better city to live in to take advantage of all the fancy hotels? Now that we’re approaching the “off season,” room rates are dropping to their lowest of the year (August and September are your best bets for rock bottom rates in Miami). The JW Marriott Marquis Miami obviously gets my seal of approval for a fabulous staycation and here are a few others:

Top Miami Staycation Hotels I Can Personally Vouch For

Fontainebleau Miami BeachParty and dine in the lap of luxury. Highlights: Beds that feel like you’re sleeping in a cloud, sexy oversized en suite showers, lavish oceanfront poolscape, countless gourmet dining options, LIV nightclub, the scene, enormous spa with every imaginable amenity.

The Raleigh- A cool hideaway in the heart of South Beach. Highlights: Chic Art Deco kitsch decor, beveled swimming pool made famous by Esther Williams, Martini Bar.

Mondrian South BeachEnter the dreamlike world of Sleeping Beauty’s castle. Highlights: High design rooms, bathroom featuring mosaic tile resembling the sky with chandelier rainfall shower, surreal poolscape overlooking Biscayne Bay for prime sunset gazing.

Loews Miami BeachFamily friendly luxe in the center of South Beach. Highlights: Contemporary chic rooms, lavish oceanfront poolscape, newly opened Lure Fishbar restaurant and exhale Spa, stellar hospitality.

Boca Raton Resort & Club- All encompassing resort catering to the rich & fabulous in Boca. Highlights: Pink palace historic grandeur, sprawling resort with every imaginable amenity (marina, golf, beach club, spa), surf lessons, family friendly.

The Ritz-Carlton South Beach- Hallmark hospitality & luxury in the heart of South Beach. Highlights: Luxe rooms, fab spa, oceanfront pool and restaurant with live music.

Top Miami Hotels I’d Love To Staycay At

W South Beach- The Allure: I’ve seen the Wow Suites and other room categories and I’m ready to check-in, The Dutch restaurant, luxurious oceanfront pool, celeb hotspot.

The Biltmore- The Allure: Historic beauty, Mediterranean revival architecture, enormous pool.

Mandarin Oriental Miami- The Allure: 5-Star everyhting, sign me up.

Acqualina Resort & Spa- The Allure: Lap of luxury to the extreme, 5-Star everything, just make sure you roll up in a Bentley.

The Setai- The Allure: Tallest hotel in South Beach with unparalleled service and amenities, a tranquil luxe retreat with Far East influences.

One Bal Harbour- The Allure: Great restaurant and views, luxury and relaxation away from the scene.

The Epic- The Allure: Epic views, epic spa, epic restaurants, I bet the rooms are epic too.

The view from a 37th floor suite. Note the yacht docked in the foreground. Yes, that's a helicopter on its aft deck.

The view from a 37th floor suite. Note the yacht docked in the foreground. Yes, that’s a helicopter on its aft deck.

There’s a little something I love to do, and that is luxuriate. It’s a way to approach life. It’s a state of mind. It’s lounging in comfortable environs, savoring every morsel of a gourmet meal, reveling in a beautifully written sentence, relishing the touch of a fine silk or cashmere (even George Costanza said he’d drape himself in velvet if it was socially acceptable). It’s akin to the art of doing nothing. I’ve always said that I’m not much of a napper, but I can lounge like the Queen of Sheeba. And while you can luxuriate anywhere (I’ve tried to create a home built for it), it’s best done, of course, in a luxurious setting, like say, in a fluffy robe on a king size bed with lots of pillows and a fresh down comforter sipping a glass of chilled Champagne as you gaze through floor to ceiling windows looking out at sailboats and yachts cutting through the Miami River and Biscayne Bay from a 37th floor suite at the JW Marriott Marquis Miami. See what I mean? It’s a picture perfect place to luxuriate.

The Room

Yes, I can get quite comfortable here.

Yes, I can get quite comfortable here.

I checked in last Saturday afternoon, and my room had a definite wow factor as soon as I stepped through the threshold. The color palette is rich in chocolates, caramels, honey and gold. Plush carpeting in a sunburst pattern radiates from underneath the bed. For the business traveler, there’s a large desk with all the accessories, and for the lounger, a pair of chairs and  an ottoman in dark chocolate await.

Galena stopped by for dinner and a bathroom selfie.

Galena stopped by for a luxe bathroom selfie and dinner

I love a luxurious bathroom and this one was large with honey-gold marble his and her sinks with a glass shower and separate tub. The television inlaid into the bathroom mirror along with a cushioned stool to sit on makes doing your hair and makeup far less of a chore. I appreciated the special touches, like a bathroom stocked with quality bath products, bergamot bath salts by the tub and a small vile of essential oil aromatherapy at turn down with instructions to use in the shower to invigorate you in the morning.

The Spa

Shortly after check-in, I headed down to the enliven Spa on the 20th floor for a deep tissue massage. While amenities are minimal (a dry sauna and shower in the ladies locker room), those floor to ceiling views (and high ceilings, at that) were something to marvel at in robe and slippers while munching on a green apple and sipping water in a cushy chaise lounge awaiting my treatment.

Between years of working on boats and hours spent in front of a computer screen combined with an old yoga injury, my muscles manage to kink up into pretty extravagant knots. My masseuse Rosie didn’t mess around. It’s fabulous when a masseuse has a real knowledge of the body’s muscle tissue and is observant of individualized needs. She tackled some tender tissue that I wasn’t even aware of and figured out my yoga injury without my telling her. My only mistake was not upgrading from 50 to 80 minutes. You can’t rush luxuriating, after all.

While the spa itself may not be flush with amenities, the rest of the hotel certainly is. A spacious clean gym (floor to ceiling views, again) with state of the art equipment shares the 20th floor with the spa, and one floor down is an outdoor pool, full court basketball gymnasium, bowling lane and media room. The athlete and the sunbather has plenty of ground to cover in luxuriant pursuits.

The Restaurant

JW Marriott Marquis Miami is also home to celebrity chef Daniel Boulud’s db Bistro Moderne, a modern interpretation on the classic French bistro. The dining room is gorgeous (high ceilings here, too) with cushy cloth upholstered banquettes in slate grey, white table cloths and playful models of the Eiffel Tower as decor.

The Original db Burger

The Original db Burger

But enough about the dining room, let’s dig into the menu. The restaurant is particularly famous for its $34 Original db Burger made with sirloin stuffed with braised beef short rib stuffed with black truffle foie gras served on a parmesan bun with pomme frites. That falls under the category of decadence to the extreme. As a lover of burgers, I knew I had to try it and it did not disappoint.

Db is also noted for its Burgundy escargots prepared in garlic, almond and parsley with potato croquettes, and they were positively sumptuous. We were also delighted with our salad course (my dinner guest Galena loved the red mustard greens in her Swank Farm tomato salad and I loved the garlic sausage in my Beaujolais salad). And as if all of that were not enough, my bourbon chocolate fondant dessert with caramel sauce upstaged the entire affair. A swoon-worthy meal, to say the least.

And where better to retire to after luxuriating over a three hour long dinner paired with martinis and rosé Champagne? Back to my 37th floor suite and right in the middle of that king size bed. Sweet dreaming.

Shayne, Dad & Kristy on their balcony at Loews Miami Beach

Shayne, Dad & Kristy on their balcony at Loews Miami Beach Hotel

Last month, my dad paid my sister and me a visit in South Beach after a business trip in Naples. We selected Loews Miami Beach Hotel as our “staycation” destination. A spacious oceanfront resort (790 rooms, including 52 luxury suites) on Collins Avenue and a mere block south of Lincoln Road, Loews is positioned smack dab in the heart of South Beach. While not overly trendy like some of its neighbors, Loews offers plenty of luxury and spot on hospitality for a fantastic vacation experience. They’ve also upped the ante with a brand new restaurant Lure Fishbar straight from New York City’s Soho neighborhood, and exhale Spa just opened its doors on April 1st.

The Room

A guest room at Loews

A guest room at Loews. Photo: Loews Miami Beach Hotel

For a hotel built in 1999, the rooms feel contemporary and updated with plush carpeting in shades of turquoise offsetting white furniture (a comfy king size bed, desk, chairs and couch) with white-washed wooden accents. The marble bathroom is modern and spacious, and plush robes hang from the large closet. Perhaps best of all, our spacious balcony had magnificent south-facing views of the sparkling Atlantic Ocean for gazing at sailboats and cruise ships criss-crossing the horizon.

The Hospitality

We were welcomed with a cheese plate and complimentary bottles of Fiji water, making nice refreshments for an in-room catch up session (my sister and I brought the wine and Champagne) before setting off to Lincoln Road for dinner. From the bell staff to the valet to the beach attendants, service was on point and sincerely friendly. A particularly nice touch? Complimentary water bottles offered at the valet upon retrieval of our car.

This Miami Vice is no vice at all.

This Miami Vice is no vice at all.

The beach attendant (managed by Boucher Brothers) also went the extra mile by finding us prime spots on the sand for three chairs later in the day. We wanted to see the ocean from our lounge chairs, not rows of other lounge chairs (the Benowitzes are serious about their sunworshipping rituals). Our attendant Edward was on it. It was 1 p.m. and he explained that the best spots are usually scooped up by 10 a.m. Same goes for the pool. We lucked out, though, and were happy for Edward’s help as we enjoyed our spot in the sand until about 5 p.m.—fruity frozen drinks and all.

The Amenities

While staying at a large resort may require some maneuvering for a prime beach chair, it also provides its own world within a world for the ultimate in convenience—and to me, convenience means luxury. Preston’s is the resorts main restaurant serving tasty breakfast, lunch and dinner. In the main lobby, there’s also a bar, sushi bar, Starbucks and ice cream shop, as well as a fancy hotel shop with designer clothing and tasteful gifts. In the late night hours, the bar hosts live musicians beckoning guests to enjoy a nightcap (or pre-party drink, depending on your point of view).

We also tried the new Lure Fishbar. I loved the nautical décor and the impressive cocktails created by Robert Ferrara, all with clever maritime names (Catch & Release, Full Mast, Kissing the Gunners Daughter). While seating was somewhat cramped and we were plagued by a perpetually wobbly table, our waitress was wonderful and the food superb. Some menu standouts include kumomoto oysters dressed with fresh wasabi leaf and lemon, a melt-in-your-mouth yellowtail carpaccio, spicy tuna tartare on crispy rice cakes, deviled eggs with caviar and butter-poached crab bucatini pasta with uni crema.

The hotel gym is an important feature for my dad who rarely misses a workout. He said this one was “just okay,” but it served its purpose (his favorites are at Aria Resort & Casino Las Vegas and Fontainebleau Miami Beach). There’s good news for yoga and Core Fusion devotees, though, as exhale Spa just opened inside the resort’s historic St. Moritz Tower. A powerhouse brand that began in New York City, exhale now has 23 locations across the country (including downtown Miami at the Epic Hotel) and they’re beloved for their fitness classes, as well as their exceptional spa treatments.

Loews has also struck a partnership with Fiat this year offering complimentary chauffeured car service in the stylish Italian cars to anywhere in Miami for up to three hours at a time.

What To Do Nearby

We walked Lincoln Road both nights with stops at Books & Books and All Saints. When Dad’s in town, we like Shake Shack for dinner and a movie at the Regal. While Lure is fantastic for fine dining, a few casual spots nearby are amongst my dad’s favorites: Jerry’s Deli for classics like heaping corned beef sandwiches and matzoh ball soup and Pizza Bar for, well, pizza (great for takeout on a night in).

Other Miami Spots

It’s tempting not to venture too far from Collins Avenue and Lincoln Road on a brief South Beach stay over. However, we headed to Yardbird Southern Kitchen & Table for breakfast (it was already packed on a Sunday at 10:30 a.m.). We managed to snag a table near the bar and feasted on flaky buttermilk biscuits, thick cut bacon, and outrageously delicious shrimp ‘n grits.

We love the beach, but we’ve also got a penchant for art and culture. What better time to visit the newly opened Perez Art Museum Miami than with the man who took me to my first museum as a little girl? We enjoyed the stunning views of picturesque Biscayne Bay, Ai Wei Wei’s exhibit and spotting works by  masters of Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art and emerging contemporary artists.

Why Stay Here

With its heart-of-South-Beach location, spacious, comfortable environs and amenities galore, this is an ideal resort for families of all ages who are after a luxurious beach vacation. You’re perfectly positioned to walk everywhere you want to go by night, and the beach and lavish poolscape are impossible to resist by day.

shayne benowitz

Guess who just called me one of the nicest people she’s ever met in South Florida? Fellow travel blogger Ashley Vaccarino of Arrive Chic. I was thrilled to have the chance to take part in her Travel Style interview series on her site and dish on all the ways I like to travel.

She’s got a great travel blog, as well as an e-commerce store for all of your travel essentials. I took a look and picked my top three items from her store:

  1. Every travel writer needs a travel journal. The Jonathan Adler Fish Scales one is cute.
  2. The Euro Traveler looks pretty sleek. I can always use a nice travel bag.
  3. I’m all about a nice sleep mask and this Paper Flowers one looks pretty.

I really enjoyed participating in this fun Q & A where I shared my favorite travel shoes of all time, the hotel I’d stay at if I had an endless budget and what restaurant I’d fly to just for dinner. To see my answers to these questions and more, check out her feature Arrive Chic with Shayne Benowitz.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A gust of wind whips around the first tower jutting heavenward 764 feet. In an attempt to stay balanced on two wheels, we dismount from our bicycles and gaze up at the hypnotic steel beams slicing through the thick fog. They’re painted an arresting “international orange.” The surface of the San Francisco Bay is 200 feet below and the current churns swiftly against a red channel marker. Sail boats appear miniature from this vantage as they tack upwind. We snap a few pictures. There’s still more than a mile to cover before we’re in Marin County and on the other side, so we get back on our bikes and keep pedaling across the majestic Golden Gate Bridge.

In San Francisco, it doesn’t take long to understand why bicycling is such a popular pastime amongst locals. Trails abound from the San Francisco waterfront, across the Golden Gate Bridge and throughout Marin County’s coastline offering resplendent views of the picturesque Bay Area.

Rent your bikes from Blazing Saddles at Pier 41 in Fisherman’s Wharf. They offer 24-hour rentals starting at $32 and a free ferry ride back to San Francisco is included in the price, so you can check the harbor tour off your To Do List.

Bike-Map-PublishYou have three options for your bike ride across the Golden Gate Bridge. You can simply bike across it and turn right back around to where you started, or venture onto Sausalito and even farther to Tiburon. Take your time and walk around these bayfront towns and then catch the ferry back to San Francisco from either location.

Option 1: The Golden Gate Bridge, 9 Miles Roundtrip

Start out on the meandering beachside trail of Presidio National Park where you’ll spy some of San Francisco’s most coveted Victorian era homes, many of which are owned by celebrities. Stop for the occasional scenic photo opp as you make your approach to the bridge. Upon arrival, get the gears clicking and pedal up the mild incline towards the spindly orange steel of the 1.7 mile-long suspension bridge.

The Bay Area’s microclimate leaves San Francisco chilly and blanketed by fog even in the summer months. You’ll experience this in full force, along with a gusty wind as you pedal across the bridge. At a midway point, stop and gaze behind you at San Francisco’s rolling pastel topography. Ahead, the golden, craggy cliffs of Marin County’s rocky shoreline awaits.

Krista on the Golden Gate Bridge

Krista on the Golden Gate Bridge

Once you’ve accomplished the feat of bicycling across the Golden Gate Bridge, you could turn right around and make your way back to Blazing Saddles–but then you’d miss out on all that North County has to offer.

Option 2: Sausalito, 8 Miles One-Way

Miraculously, the bone chilling fog of San Francisco has burned off and the climate in Marin County is more akin to warm and sunny Southern California. It was this side of the Bay where Otis Redding penned the lyrics, “Sitting in the morning sun, I’ll be sitting when the evening comes…” In the warmer clime of Marin County, you can imagine doing just that.

Continue downhill on a path along the freeway towards the idyllic harbor town of Sausalito. Here, lock up your bikes and take a stroll along the water by houseboat row. You can window shop at boutiques and art galleries or dine outside at a cafe.

This is the first point along the way where ferries shuttle back and forth to San Francisco, but I urge you to forge on. Turn those eight miles into sixteen and continue your ride to Tiburon.

Option 3: Tiburon, 16 Miles One-Way

Tiburon

Tiburon

This stretch of the trail follows a horseshoe-like path as Richardson Bay cuts into the land. The scenery feels like a nature preserve with mallards and their ducklings following the leader  while elegant egrets and herons sun their long necks in the shallow marshlands.

Tiburon lies at the tip of the peninsula with spectacular views of Angel Island State Park, Alcatraz and downtown San Francisco’s skyline. And this is where the payoff awaits. While away the afternoon at Sam’s Anchor Café. A mainstay in Tiburon since 1920, the place is almost always packed. Tables on the spacious outdoor waterfront deck are available on a first-come-first-serve basis and they’re absolutely worth the wait. The cioppino is to die for with Dungeness crab, clams, prawns, mussels and fresh local fish all simmering in a spicy tomato broth and the ahi tuna burger with wasabi aioli hits the spot. Order their famous and refreshing pink lemonade vodka cocktail and enjoy the views, the sunshine and the buzzy scene.

Harbor Tour Back to San Francisco

After a cross-county bike ride and a languorous lunch, go ahead and loll in the green belt next to Sam’s awaiting the next ferry to chug along transporting the masses back to San Francisco. There’s a nearby ice-cream shop to sweeten the deal after lunch.

Once you board the ferry, a deckhand will help you stow your bicycles down below, so you can enjoy the harbor tour on the upper deck unencumbered. Take in the sweeping views from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Tiburon Peninsula and relish in the journey you’ve just completed. As the ferry rolls towards San Francisco, you might even find yourself blissfully whistling along to “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay.”

margarita

If you think Cancun is all about margaritas, Coronas and frozen drinks–well, you’re right. While, of course, you can imbibe all of the above in abundance, Cancun’s spirits also have a sophisticated side. Locals will be the first to tell you that tequila shots with salt and lime were created for the tourists. If you want to know how the locals enjoy a good drink distilled in their native Mexico, you have to dig deeper than the swim up bars and all night discos.

The Real Deal on Tasting Tequila

Herradura Silver, Reposado & Anejo

Herradura Silver, Reposado & Anejo

Begin your journey with a proper tequila tasting—and leave it to Cancun to have a museum dedicated to the spirit. You can visit the Tequila Herradura Sensorial Museum or have a rep set up a tasting in your hotel’s lobby. Produced in Jalisco, tequila has the same regional distinction as French Champagne. If it’s not made in Jalisco, it’s not tequila. And if it’s not made of 100% blue agave, it’s not the good stuff.

You’ll learn about the history of the spirit, how it’s made and then taste blanco, silver, reposado and anejo varietes. You’ll also learn about the other agave-based spirit, smoky mezcal. Once you’ve been guided through the complex flavor notes—citrus, vanilla, anise—of the different aged tequilas, you’ll think twice before you toss back your next shot. In fact, Mexicans enjoy sipping their tequila the way you would a fine Scotch.

Sipping Sangrita at Casa Magna

Sipping Sangrita at Casa Magna

One of the best ways to do this is with sangrita, a sweet and zesty tomato juice served in a separate glass. Bar manager Omar Lopez at the JW Marriott Cancun makes a mean one with lime juice, orange juice, Worcestershire sauce, grenadine, salt, pepper and Tabasco. You’re meant to take a sip of tequila (served neat) and then a sip of sangrita, and swirl the mixture in your mouth before drinking it. If all this tequila talk has made you thirsty for a traditional margarita, the hotel’s lobby bar also makes a delicious frozen margarita with fresh raspberry and other upscale twists on the classic.

The Next Napa?

When you think of wine country, Mexico might not be the first place that comes to mind. However, Baja California’s Guadalupe Valley and neighboring regions are producing high quality wines in a terrain similar to California’s Napa Valley. When dining in Cancun at fine establishments, like Gustino’s or La Capilla, flip to the Mexico section of the wine list and try something you’ve never had before. Cában’s 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, made in Mexico’s San Vicente Valley is an excellent place to start.

Coffee, Mayan Style

Mayan coffee preparation at La Habichuela Sunset

Mayan coffee preparation at La Habichuela Sunset

At the end of a delicious meal, coffee and dessert are usually in short order. At La Habichuela Sunset, order off the menu and ask for Mayan coffee. The recipe dates back to the ancient civilization and the dramatic presentation is almost as satisfying as the drink itself. Made by flambéing brandy and local D’Aristi Xtabentun honey liqueur (produced in the Yucatan Peninsula), the concoction is mixed with coffee and poured over vanilla ice cream in a sugar-rimmed glass. It’s the perfect digestif to cap off a day in Cancun—and the setting on the outdoor patio designed to mimic Mayan ruins overlooking the lagoon is pretty spectacular, too.

An original version of this story originally published on Travel + Escape

Photos by Luisana Suegart

Surf's up!

Surfers search the world over for “the perfect wave,” and Costa Rica’s Pacific coast is a destination on everyone’s list. With legendary breaks, like Witch’s Rock and Ollie’s Point, and laidback surf towns, like Tamarindo, Jaco, and Dominical, lining the coast, there’s always a gnarly wave to catch. The endless black sand beaches and warm waters of the Pacific Ocean also make Costa Rica an ideal destination to learn to surf.

Brett Schroeder of Brett’s Board Rentals is an American ex-pat from Houston, Texas who’s made Esterillos home for the last decade. He spends his days surfing and teaching others how to surf.

The Lesson

Stay in Esterillos Este at Alma del Pacifico, a boutique resort with 20 private oceanfront bungalows, and Schroeder will bring the boards and the instructors to you. The student to teacher ratio is about two to one, so that means lots of hands-on help.

Your two-hour beginner lesson starts on land where Schroeder will get you oriented with the art of popping up. That’s the transition from on your stomach, to on your feet. You’ll determine whether your stance is regular (left foot forward) or goofy (right foot forward), and learn some basic steering maneuvers, like front side and back side turns. After a few practice pop ups, it’s time to strap your leash to your rear foot and hit the surf with your long board.

In the water, Schroeder and his team will show you how to position your body on the board with your toes reaching down towards the board’s tail. In the beginning, they’ll help you with timing and push you into the wave, telling you just when to “paddle, paddle, paddle!” Once you’ve caught the wave, it’s time to pop up with a wide stance on the board, knees bent, and arms out for balance. Wiping out is part of the sport, and there’s no need to worry because with beginner waves, you’re not going to get too beat up.

Once you catch that first wave and ride it into shore, you’ll soon realize the rush that surfers get hooked on. You’ll be eager to paddle back out and catch another one. As the lesson goes on, Schroeder and his instructors will challenge you to time out the waves and paddle into them on your own. He says that by the end of a beginner lesson, you should be able to stand up and ride a wave into shore. If you opt for a second intermediate lesson the next day, you’re well on your way to becoming a proficient surfer.

Surfing Season in Costa Rica

Costa Rica’s seasons are divided into rainy season (May to November) and dry season (December to April). While surfing is a year round sport, conditions in the dry season are ideal. This is also the peak tourist season, which can mean higher rates and beaches with larger crowds. Rainy season calls for bigger and sometimes “messier” surf, as well as afternoon rain showers, but there’s always a beginner break to be found.

Pre-Surf Lesson Tips

Surfing is an athletic sport, and Schroeder says “you’ll use muscles you never knew you had,” such as the neck, back, and shoulders for paddling. If you want to get into peak physical condition before your surfing vacation, he recommends swimming and building cardio endurance.

Post-Surf Lesson Tips

You’ve surfed in Costa Rica and now you’re hooked. How do you keep it up once the vacation’s over? Yes, it definitely helps to live in a coastal area with waves. If that’s the case, contact a local surf school to find out where they’re surfing for the day, and then head to that spot. Make sure you’ve got a big enough board, which for beginners is at least nine feet. For safety reasons, always surf with a partner.

If you don’t happen to live at the beach, you might just have to join the rest of the nomadic surfers of the world in search of the perfect break. What’s next? Southern California’s Huntington Beach, Oahu’s North Shore, Australia’s Bondi Beach? Surf’s up!

A version of this story originally appeared on Travel + Escape

Oasis Culture Blog

A notorious blogger and girl-about-town–me? Who knew?

Well, that’s the way the Oasis Culture Blog introduced me in a fun Q & A feature all about my favorites in Miami and travel. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to dish on my top restaurants and cocktail bars, what it’s like to live in Miami and some travel what ifs. I also shared my all time favorite Miami memory, and you’ll just have to read the article to find out what that is.

Oasis Collections is an incredible hospitality company that manages high-end, high-design properties for short term vacation rentals in South America and Miami. If you’re planning a getaway to Argentina, Brazil, Colombia or Uruguay, they’re a fantastic alternative to a traditional hotel, and their properties give you the opportunity to live like a local–a very chic local with great taste, that is.

They’ve got about 20 properties in Miami, as well, and I plan to shack up in one in April for a little staycation fun, so stay tuned here and on Miami.com for my experience.

In the meantime, check out their stunning properties and my “Miami low-down” on their Oasis Culture Blog.