Behind the Scenes at the Chaminade Resort & Spa in Santa Cruz Farm to Table Dinners

Cover photo: Chaminade Resort & Spa Farm to Table Dinner, Santa Cruz, California Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


Having visited Chaminade Resort & Spa in Santa Cruz previously, we knew attending one of their highly-acclaimed farm to table dinners would be an amazing experience. A luxury resort and spa that also manages to be comfortable and fun, the hotel is surrounded by 300 acres of tall trees and beautiful vistas. Add to that a friendly staff and phenomenal restaurants, and a visit to the resort is a perfect spot for relaxation, some great hiking, and enjoyment of delicious food and beverages.

Invited to attend the fourth dinner of Chaminade’s 2016 farm to table series, I was instantly curious as to how it was all pulled together and asked if we could go behind the scenes for the event. Chaminade agreed and granted us full access to the event… and it was a spectacular evening of food, wine, and new friends.

Chaminade Resort & Spa’s Farm to Table Wine Dinners

A Toast, Farm to Table Wine Dinner, Chaminade Resort & Spa, Santa Cruz, California
A Toast, Farm to Table Wine Dinner, Chaminade Resort & Spa, Santa Cruz, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Now in their ninth season, the Farm to Table Wine Dinners at Chaminade have developed a devoted following of Northern and Central Californians with a passion for the finest in locally sourced cuisine.

Chaminade’s farm to table series includes dinners spaced throughout the growing season, each highlighting the finest ingredients straight from the fields of local farms and expertly paired with wines from a nearby winery. Diners are treated to a delightful evening in an idyllic setting overlooking the Monterey Bay, beginning with a wine reception and followed by a multi-course dinner, with wine poured freely throughout.

Farm to Table Dinner at Chaminde Resort in Santa Cruz
Farm to Table Dinner at Chaminade Resort in Santa Cruz
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

What is Farm to Table?

Fresh produce at the Everett Family Farm Stand
Fresh produce at the Everett Family Farm Stand, Soquel, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

While it seems like nearly every restaurant you enter these days uses farm to table or farm to fork to describe their menu offerings, the concept is more than just a trendy phrase. Twenty years ago, if you asked most five-year olds where carrots or potatoes came from, most would probably have answered “the grocery store.” Fortunately, in recent years, an appreciation for food of higher quality has resulted in a resurgence of farmers markets, farm stands and home gardening.

Peppers at the Everett Family Farm Stand
Peppers at the Everett Family Farm Stand, Soquel, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Obviously, produce picked, transported only a short distance, and eaten quickly is fresher and more flavorful than those harvested too early to avoid spoilage while they are transported long distances. Simply compare the taste of a homegrown tomato from a backyard vegetable patch to one that was picked greenish, then shipped for days before arriving at a store, and it is easy to understand why chefs embrace the farm to table movement.

Locally sourced ingredients are also at their peak nutritional value, healthier and support and celebrate the small farms that strive to deliver premium products.

Lettuce goriwing at Everett Family Farm
Lettuce growing at Everett Family Farm, Soquel, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Farm to table, when crafted by talented chefs, transforms those higher quality ingredients into artisanal cuisine. Typically presented at long tables in stunning surroundings, the farm to table dinner creates a dining experience that is as memorable as it is delicious.

The journey from farm to table

Martin Ranch Winery, grapes on the vine, Gilroy, Califorornia
Martin Ranch Winery, grapes on the vine, Gilroy, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

We decided to begin our behind the scenes look at a farm to table dinner by finding out just how local the food and wine that would be served during the dinner really was by visiting the featured farm and winery. We didn’t have to venture far.

The Farm: Everett Family Farm

Sign at Everett Family Farm
Sign at Everett Family Farm, Soquel, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Located about four miles from Chaminade, just outside the quaint town of Soquel, California, visitors are greeted to Everett Family Farm on Old San Jose Road with signs proclaiming, “Don’t panic, eat it’s organic” and “Buy Fresh, Buy Local Here.”

The farm stand at Everett Family Farm
The Farm Stand at Everett Family Farm
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

A California Certified Organic Farm (CCOF), Everett Family Farm grows fruit and vegetables on 45 beautiful, sunny acres. Rich and Laura Everett, along with their three daughters, have operated the farm since 2001. In addition to offering organic produce, the Everett’s raise chickens which provide fresh eggs, grow flowers, make an apple cider each fall, and produce an estate grown hard cider, Soquel Cider.

Fresh produce at the Everett Family Farm in Soquel
Fresh produce at the Everett Family Farm in Soquel, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Pulling into the farm, lettuce grows in a sheltered building and, off to the left, a charming farm stand awaits filled to the brim with the freshest vegetables, fruits, eggs, and ciders.

The Everetts’ farm stand runs on the honor system. Visitors simply make their selections, then head over to the table to weigh their items, add up what they owe, and leave their payment in the black box.

The honor system at Everett Family Farm, Soquel, California
The honor system at Everett Family Farm, Soquel, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

In addition to the farm stand, the Everetts’ produce and products can be found at local farmers markets and grocers. The Everett Family Farm is located at 2111 Old San Jose Road, Soquel and is open from 10 am to 6 pm, seven days of the week except for holidays.

Tomatoes at the Everett Family Farm in Soquel
Tomatoes at the Everett Family Farm in Soquel
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The Wine: Martin Ranch Winery

Martin Ranch Winery entrance
Martin Ranch Winery entrance
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Martin Ranch Winery sits a short 33 miles away from Chaminade at the southern tip of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Martin Ranch Winery, Gilroy, Califorornia
Martin Ranch Winery, Gilroy, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

A beautiful winery with spectacular views and a peacefulness not found in many spots, Martin Ranch was created by Thérèse & Dan Martin, who were both born and raised in the Santa Cruz area.

Serene lake at Martin Ranch Winery
Serene lake at Martin Ranch Winery
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The couple has owned and worked the ranch for over 30 years, producing award-winning red and white wines, gaining praise and a loyal following of wine club fans along the way. Dan produces under the J.D. Hurley label and Thérèse under the Thérèse Martin brand.

Beautiful views at Martin Ranch Winery
Beautiful views at Martin Ranch Winery
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The sign on the winery building says, “Tradition – Passion – Excellence,” and the wines, the winery and the Martins demonstrate those qualities aren’t just words on a placard nailed to the wall. The Martins have a passion and dedication to producing excellent wines while maintaining a commitment to sustainability and preservation of the environment.

Chickens at Martin Ranch Winery
Chickens at Martin Ranch Winery
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

In addition to the vineyards, the winery has large, raised bed gardens and even chickens on the grounds. Very cool and definitely worth a visit! Martin Ranch Winery is located at 6675 Redwood Retreat Road, Gilroy California and is open to the public every first & third weekend of the month from 12-5 PM for tasting and barrel samplings.

Vineyards at Martin Ranch Winery
Vineyards at Martin Ranch Winery
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The Chef: Nick Church

Executive Chef Nicholas Church With Sous Chefs, Farm to Table Wine Dinner, Chaminade Resort & Spa, Santa Cruz, California
Executive Chef Nicholas Church With Sous Chef Jesus and Pastry Chef Erica, Farm to Table Wine Dinner, Chaminade Resort & Spa, Santa Cruz, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Executive Chef, Nick Church, and his crew created a six-course menu for the evening, celebrating the locally grown delicacies and wines.

With the exception of taking time away from Chaminade in 2014 to open a restaurant, Chef Church has been with the resort’s culinary team since starting as a line cook in 1994. Now Chaminade’s Executive Chef, he has experienced most of the farm to table dinners at the hotel since their inception.

Chaminade Resort Executive Chef, Nick Church, keeping watch on the dinner
Chaminade Resort Executive Chef, Nick Church, keeping watch on the dinner
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

We grabbed a few minutes of his time and asked him to reflect on how he has seen the farm to table movement change through the years and how local sourcing affects his menu development on a daily basis.

After nine seasons of farm to table dinners at Chaminade, how have you seen the farm to table movement evolve?

“The excitement is still there from everyone including the Farmers, Wineries and the staff. I think the guests receive a fantastic and unique experience while learning about the local food, wine, and ingredients. When we run the dishes in Linwood’s that are created for the farm to table events, they tend to be very successful.”

How does your planning and preparation differ for a farm to table dinner versus a typical banquet or wedding?

“Planning a farm to table dinner takes time. Everyone always asks what’s on the menu but I don’t like writing the menu until I know what the farmer can provide. The ingredients are based on what’s in season and then the menu is created. I take the ingredients and use them in all the dishes and help pair the wines as well. The main goal is to make the guests happy. With weddings and banquets, the dishes are pre-selected usually a month or two in advance and of course pre-sold to the clients. We do try to use as many local ingredients as possible when preparing for dishes for weddings and banquet events.”

For the other 360 days of the year when you aren’t doing a farm to table dinner, how do local food choices factor into your menus at Chaminade?

“This is a tough question. Farm to table events are special to me and gets me and my staff out of our routine so to speak. I am naturally a shy person so getting out in front of the farm to table attendees is exciting for me. We are always trying to use local vendors for produce for Linwood’s as well as the fresh fish when in season to create our specials.”

Chef Nicholas Church & Staff preparing the Lamb Entree, Farm to Table Wine Dinner, Chaminade Resort & Spa, Santa Cruz, California
Chef Nicholas Church & Staff preparing the Lamb Entree, Farm to Table Wine Dinner, Chaminade Resort & Spa, Santa Cruz, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The Preparation

We arrived early to catch the staff in motion setting up for the dinner and preparing the two beautifully decorated tables where 96 people would soon gather to enjoy the evening.

Flowers for table at Chaminade Resort & Spa Farm to Table Dinner
Flowers for table at Chaminade Resort & Spa Farm to Table Dinner
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Casual flowers arrangements of sunflowers, daisies, eucalyptus and purple status provided bursts of color along the long white tables. Small jars of wildflower honey from Carmel Honey Company welcomed each guest to their place setting. There’s something about a beautifully set table that evokes excitement and anticipation.

Tables set with flowers at Chaminade Resort & Spa Farm to Table Dinner
Tables set with flowers at Chaminade Resort & Spa Farm to Table Dinner
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Vats of white wine chilled, bottles opened, glasses arranged, and a frenzy of activity occurred in the kitchen and prep areas. With precision, the Chaminade staff expertly pulled all the pieces together and, as the guests arrived, the makings for a perfect evening under clear Santa Cruz skies were all in place.

Martin Ranch Wines await the guests, Farm to Table Wine Dinner, Chaminade Resort & Spa, Santa Cruz, California
Martin Ranch Wines await the guests, Farm to Table Wine Dinner, Chaminade Resort & Spa
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The Dinner

First Course: Reception
Flat Bread, Padron Peppers, Ahi Poke, Scotch Egg, Seascape Strawberry with Blue Cheese, Sliders

As the guests arrived, they selected their choice of wine and chatted casually as an array of appetizers were passed.

Guests arrive at the Farm to Table Wine Dinner reception
Guests arrive at the Farm to Table Wine Dinner reception
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

From delicious strawberries with blue cheese to a mouth-watering ahi poke, the crowd loved the morsels of goodness as the reception kicked into gear. I chose to begin the evening, as I typically do, with a Sauvignon Blanc, which was delightfully crisp and bright.

David pouring Martin Ranch Sauvignon Blanc, Chaminade Resort & Spa
David pouring Martin Ranch Sauvignon Blanc, Chaminade Resort & Spa
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

As I chatted with the winemakers, Thérèse & Dan, Dan told me they use acacia wood barrels, which I found fascinating as acacia trees are what giraffes eat in the Serengeti. How cool! The conversations that occur at dinners like this are priceless.

Dan & Thérèse Martin of Martin Ranch Winery with Kim Hull, Chaminade Farm to Table Wine Dinner
Dan & Thérèse Martin of Martin Ranch Winery with Kim Hull, Chaminade Farm to Table Wine Dinner
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

With wines pouring, guests mingled, old friends reacquainted and new ones were made, as the fun crowd enjoyed the gorgeous late evening views at the resort which reach to Monterey Bay.

View towards Monterey Bay from Chaminade Resort & Spa in Santa Cruz
View towards Monterey Bay from Chaminade Resort & Spa in Santa Cruz
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Second Course: Starter
Heirloom Tomato & Fresh Mozzarella Salad

Course two: Heirloom Tomato & Fresh Mozzarella Salad, Chaminade Resort & Spa Farm to Table Dinner
Second Course: Heirloom Tomato & Fresh Mozzarella Salad, Chaminade Resort & Spa Farm to Table Dinner
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Taking seats at the communal tables, the first course of an heirloom tomato and fresh mozzarella salad arrived. A showcase of the freshness of the late summer produce, the perfectly ripe tomatoes and fresh mozzarella were brimming with both color and taste.

Third Course: Soup
Sun Gold Cherry Tomato Soup

Rod Serving the Soup Course, Chaminade Farm to Table Wine Dinner
Rod serving the Soup Course, Chaminade Farm to Table Wine Dinner
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

A huge fan of tomato soup, I was ready and waiting for this course and it was absolutely wonderful! The soup was fresh, lively and filled with flavor.

As we progressed through the evening, our hosts addressed the group, relating their take on the farm to table experience and what it means from each of their perspectives. Dan Everett talked organic farming. Thérèse Martin brought the winemaker’s take.

ThérèseMartin of Martin Ranch Winery addresses the dinner guests
Thérèse Martin of Martin Ranch Winery addresses the dinner guests
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

And, the very talented, super nice, and uber-cool Kirsten Ponza, Food & Beverage director for Chaminade and former tour chef for the Rolling Stones, relayed Chaminade’s commitment to sustainability and toasted the crowd.

Director of Food & Beverage, Kirsten Ponza speaking to the diners at the Chaminade Resort Farm to Table Dinner
Director of Food & Beverage, Kirsten Ponza speaking to the diners at the Chaminade Resort Farm to Table Dinner
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Fourth Course: Salad
Bambi Little Gem Lettuce, Smoked Goat Cheddar, Honey Crisp Apples, Pistachio, Cider Vinaigrette

Chef Nicholas Church & Staff prepare the salad course
Chef Nicholas Church & Staff prepare the salad course
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The Everetts are well-known and highly praised for their Honey Crisp Apples, so it is no surprise the fruit stole the show with this salad. The crisp, juicy apple that has a devoted, and well-deserved following, so perfectly paired with the smokey cheese and the pistachios gave the salad just the right pop of added flavor.

And, another interesting tidbit picked up from the farm to table dinner. Each of the purveyors has a “his and her” collection in addition to their joint efforts. The above-mentioned Honeycrisp is Rich Everett’s focus, while Laura targets heirloom apples for her ciders. With the Martins, each has their own wine labels, while also a combined winemaking focus.

Fifth Course: Entree
California Lamb, Oven Roasted Yukon Potato with Purple Garlic, Roasted Baby Carrots, Baby Vegetables, Syrah Reduction

Course Five: California Lamb at Chaminade Farm to Table Dinner
Course Five: California Lamb, Oven Roasted Yukon Potato with Purple Garlic, Roasted Baby Carrots, Baby Vegetables, Syrah Reduction at Chaminade Farm to Table Dinner
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Not one, but two thick, juicy pieces of lamb were the stars of the fifth course. It may have been the first time I’ve seen diners high-five over an entrée.

High fives at the table when the lamb arrived at teh Chaminade Resort Farm to Table Dinner
High fives at the table when the lamb arrived at the Chaminade Resort Farm to Table Dinner
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Served alongside Yukon potatoes, baby carrots and with a Syrah reduction, the guests were ecstatic as the dish was presented, and then a hush fell across the tables as they devoured the entrée. For the vegetarians in the group, an exquisite stuffed pepper rounded out the savory portion of the evening’s menu. Served alongside the entrée course, the Martin Ranch Thérèse Vineyards Syrah was sublime. Luscious and spicy, it was elegant and is truly a special wine.

Sixth Course: Dessert
Crème Caramel

Crème Caramel Dessert Plates, Chaminade Farm to Table Wine Dinner
Crème Caramel Dessert Plates, Chaminade Farm to Table Wine Dinner
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Who could think after all that food that we could even entertain dessert, but managed to devour the creme caramel. Rich, smooth and with great caramel flavor, it was a perfect finish to an amazing dinner!

The guests

Guests enjoying the Chaminade Resort & Spa’s Farm to Table Wine Dinners
Guests enjoying the Chaminade Resort & Spa’s Farm to Table Wine Dinners
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

There’s another element to any fabulous party or event – the guests!

Guest enjoying the Farm to Table Dinner at Chaminde Resort in Santa Cruz
Guest enjoying the Farm to Table Dinner at Chaminade Resort in Santa Cruz
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Arriving early and staying late, the Farm to Table guests were there to enjoy the food and wine and simply have some fun – and have fun they did!

Chaminade Resort Farm to Table Dinner guests
Chaminade Resort Farm to Table Dinner guests
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

With a strong contingent from the Martin Ranch Wine Club, groups getting away for the weekend from the bay area, and Santa Cruz locals, the mix of guests made for a lively evening filled with interesting conversations and a relaxed, vibrant atmosphere.

Chaminade Farm to Table Wine Dinner guests
Chaminade Farm to Table Wine Dinner guests
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Many of the guests have attended numerous Chaminade farm to table dinners over the years, creating an experience that feels like a comfortable dinner party given by a talented host. Guests wandered from table to table and even into the prep area, chatting frequently with the Chaminade staff and even giving some of them friendly hugs throughout the evening.

And, speaking of the staff, true hospitality is both an art and skill – and there’s one final element that must not go unmentioned.

Dulcie & Wine Dinner Guest, Farm to Table Wine Dinner, Chaminade Resort & Spa
Dulcie & Wine Dinner Guest, Farm to Table Wine Dinner, Chaminade Resort & Spa
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The Chaminade staff

Rob delivering the entree course at the Chaminade Farm to Table Wine Dinner
Rob delivering the entree course at the Chaminade Farm to Table Wine Dinner
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

From our previous visit and this one, we’ve observed a culture at the resort that focuses on delivering quality in a comfortable, friendly atmosphere. This culture of hospitality is more than serving good food and providing efficient service – it’s what makes the food creative & exceptional and the service not perfunctory, but flawless and generous.

Marshall serving the soup course at the Chaminade Farm to Table Wine Dinner
Marshall serving the soup course at the Chaminade Farm to Table Wine Dinner
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The Chaminade staff delivered a perfectly orchestrated dinner, executed flawlessly. The food was amazing and the service was friendly, with needs and wants anticipated and handled with care.

David pouring the Martin Ranch Winery 2015 Sauvignon Blanc at the Chaminade Farm to Table Dinner
David pouring the Martin Ranch Winery 2015 Sauvignon Blanc at the Chaminade Farm to Table Dinner
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

High praise and thanks to all that worked so hard to make a remarkable dining experience for 96 people on a picture-perfect evening in Santa Cruz!

Kirsten & Marshall, Farm to Table Wine Dinner, Chaminade Resort & Spa, Santa Cruz, California
Kirsten & Marshall, Farm to Table Wine Dinner, Chaminade Resort & Spa, Santa Cruz, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to Chaminade Resort & Spa for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.

Chaminade Resort & Spa Farm to Table Dinner September 2016
Chaminade Resort & Spa Farm to Table Dinner September 2016
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

 

Reunion Tower Observation Deck, Dallas, Texas

Dallas CityPASS: Save some cash when exploring Big D

Cover photo: Downtown Dallas at sunset
Photo: Greg K Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


We visit Dallas multiple times each year and, on a visit a few months ago, we found ourselves discussing how much it has changed in the past ten years. The downtown, West End, Victory Park and uptown areas have nearly grown together, with dozens of new high rises, commercial districts, parks, and museums now in the area.

Dallas CityPASS attraction: Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Dallas, Texas
Dallas CityPASS attraction: Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Dallas, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull , Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

One of the biggest additions came in 2012 with the opening of the beautiful Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Victory Park. The museum joins many other top Dallas attractions, from iconic destinations, such as the Sixth Floor Museum and Reunion Tower, to long-term spots of tranquility and beauty, such as the Dallas Arboretum.

Dallas CityPASS: Save some cash when exploring Big D
Dallas CityPASS: Save some cash when exploring Big D
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Deciding we would like to spend a day reacquainting ourselves with the city where we lived for nearly two decades, we paid Dallas CityPASS a visit to develop an agenda for a day of exploring Big D.

Save some cash with Dallas CityPASS

Dynamic Earth Hall, Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas
Dynamic Earth Hall, Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

If you are new to CityPASS, here’s how it works. CityPASS offers discounted admission to popular attractions in numerous cities across the U.S. Each CityPASS booklet contains pre-paid vouchers for the attractions, which don’t have to be used in any specific order, just sometime within 9 days of their first use. CityPASS booklets can be purchased online or at the ticket offices of any of the attractions.

We first tried out CityPASS in Chicago and, since then, we have recommended it to all of our traveling friends. CityPASS saves time and money and is simple to purchase and use.

The CityPASS attraction choices in Dallas (and their individual admission fees) include:

  • Perot Museum of Nature & Science ($27 – general admission $19 + one film $9)
  • Reunion Tower GeoDeck ($16 general admission)
  • The Sixth Floor Museum ($16 general admission) OR the Dallas Zoo ($15 general admission)
  • Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden($15 general admission) OR George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum($17 general admission)
Flowers at Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, Texas
Flowers at Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Purchasing each of the attractions individually totals $73 – $76. The Dallas CityPASS booklet price is $46. That’s a savings of $27 – $30 per adult or about 40%.

For the optional attractions, we selected the Sixth Floor and the Dallas Arboretum.  If you have the time and can’t decide on the attractions that require a choice, there’s a coupon in the back of the CityPASS booklet for a discount on regular admission to those attractions you didn’t select to visit using the CityPASS voucher.

Sunset view toward Ft Worth from Reunion Tower Geo-Deck
Sunset view toward Ft Worth from Reunion Tower Geo-Deck
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Exploring Dallas with CityPASS

Perot Museum of Nature and Science

Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Dallas, Texas
Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Dallas, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Located near the Dallas Arts District in Victory Park, the Perot Museum of Nature and Science has 11 permanent exhibit halls to explore. From hands-on interactive displays to a 3D theater, the museum has something of interest for all. Visitors can discover the wonders of Earth, marvel at gems and minerals, ponder what it means to be human, and explore fossil finds in the Life Then and Now Hall.

Dallas CityPASS includes general admission to the museum and entry to a 3D film.

Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Life Then and Now Hall
Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Life Then and Now Hall
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Reunion Tower Geo-Deck

Taking in the sunset view at Reunion Tower Geo-Deck
Taking in the sunset view at Reunion Tower Geo-Deck
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

An iconic part of the Dallas skyline, Reunion Tower is one of the most recognized structures in Dallas

The Geo-Deck is located on one of three floors in the Reunion Tower “ball” and offers unobstructed 360° views of the DFW area. Free telescopes are available on the outdoor deck and zoom cameras are provided on the inner deck.

Dallas CityPASS attraction: Reunion Tower Observation Deck, Dallas, Texas
Dallas CityPASS attraction: Reunion Tower Observation Deck, Dallas, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The tower is also home to two restaurants. The rotating Cloud Nine Café on the floor above the Geo-Deck offers lunch and is open for private events at other times. On the top floor of the ball, Five Sixty by Wolfgang Puck serves drinks, appetizers, and dinner in the evening with Dallas skyline passing by as a backdrop as the restaurant rotates. We visited Five Sixty early evening for some great social hour drinks and food, then headed down to the Geo-Deck for sunset shots at dusk.

The Dallas CityPass booklet includes general admission access to the Geo-Deck. The last elevator up the tower is 30 minutes before closing. A Day/Night upgrade is also available for an additional $5, allowing two visits within 24 hours.

Reunion Tower Observation Deck, Dallas, Texas Photo: Greg K. Hull © Chasing Light Media
Downtown Dallas at sunset from Reunion Tower
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza or the Dallas Zoo

Dallas CityPASS attraction: Sixth Floor Museum, Dallas, Texas
Dallas CityPASS attraction: Sixth Floor Museum, Dallas, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

We had not toured the Sixth Floor Museum for decades, so we decided to pay it a visit versus the Dallas Zoo. That said, we’ve been to the Dallas Zoo, a wonderful place for a family visit, which dates back to 1888, and is the largest zoo in Texas.

Entrance to the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas
Entrance to the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Located in the building that housed the former Texas School Book Depository, the Sixth Floor Museum has numerous historical documents and artifacts relating to the events surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963.

View from window directly above the Oswald perch at The Sixth Floor Museum
View from window directly above the Oswald perch at The Sixth Floor Museum
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The sixth floor, where Lee Harvey Oswald’s rifle was found, is home to the museum’s main exhibit, John F. Kennedy and the Memory of a Nation. Special exhibits can be found on the seventh floor and the museum’s gift shop is located on the first floor. Photography is not allowed on the sixth floor but is permitted on the seventh floor.

Dallas CityPASS provides museum entry and includes an audio guide.

Exhibits on the seventh floor of The Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas
Exhibits on the seventh floor of The Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Sixth Floor Museum exhibits, Dallas, Texas
Sixth Floor Museum exhibits, Dallas, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden or the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum

Duelberg Sage, Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, Texas
Duelberg Sage, Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The next selection on the Dallas CityPASS agenda is a choice between the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden or a visit to the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum.

Quiet morning at the Dallas Arboretum & Botanical Garden
Quiet morning at the Dallas Arboretum & Botanical Garden
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

We opted for a morning at one of the prettiest spots in Dallas, the Dallas Arboretum. With 66 serene, beautiful acres on the southwest shore of White Rock Lake, a quiet morning at the Arboretum was just too enticing to pass up.

Rabbit at Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden
Rabbit at Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Visitors are treated to vibrant displays of seasonal color as they stroll the tranquil paths that wind through expansive lawns and meticulously maintained gardens. With 19 named gardens, allow plenty of time for a visit. The Arboretum has several dining options available or visitors can bring a picnic or order food to go and enjoy their meal on the grounds.

CityPASS includes general admission and the Hoffman Family Gift Store offers 10% off your purchase to CityPASS holders.

CityPASS attraction: Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, Texas
CityPASS attraction: Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Should you get a Dallas CityPASS?

While Dallas attractions aren’t as expensive as those found in some large cities, you still save $27-$30 per adult and that’s enough to enjoy a nice dinner with the savings. CityPASS is easy to use – purchase ahead of time online or at the first attraction – and you are good to go. The booklet is good for 9 days following the first use, so you have plenty of time to get to the four attractions you select.

Want to know more? Find out all the details on the Dallas CityPASS website.


Disclosure & Disclaimer: We received complimentary Dallas CityPASS booklets for this review. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.

A great way to get around in Dallas: DART train in downtown Dallas
A great way to get around in Dallas: DART train in downtown Dallas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
A Brainerd Zip Line high flying adventure

A Brainerd Zip Line high flying adventure

Cover: A Brainerd Zip Line high-flying adventure
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


Ready for some high-flying fun in the Brainerd Lakes area? Head over to Brainerd Zip Line at Mount Ski Gull for a few hours of soaring over the treetops while enjoying spectacular views of Gull Lake!

We’d wanted to try ziplining for years, so when Explore Minnesota presented the opportunity to try out the newly built zip line course presented itself, we were all in – and it was a blast!

Greg Hull, Zip Line Brainerd
Greg Hull, Zip Line Brainerd
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Gearing up

Caitlin Rick gearing up at Brainerd Zip Line Tour, Brainerd Lakes, Minnesota
Caitlin Rick gearing up at Brainerd Zip Line Tour, Brainerd Lakes, Minnesota
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

After signing waivers, we headed out to gear up. Gear is provided by Brainerd Zip Line Tour and includes harnesses, gloves, and a helmet.

Gear is provided by Brainerd Zip Line Tour
Gear is provided by Brainerd Zip Line Tour, Brainerd Lakes, Minnesota
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

After getting into our harnesses and helmets, we selected gloves, which are for braking along the line. Ready to go, we boarded a van and headed to the training course.

Boarding the van to go ziplining at Brainerd Zip Line Tour
Boarding the van to go ziplining at Zip Line Brainerd
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The guides

Amanda & Hollie, Brainerd Zip Line Tour, Brainerd Lakes, Minnesota
Amanda & Hollie, Zip Line Brainerd
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Each group has two guides – ours were Hollie and Amanda, who were professional and, it was obvious throughout our adventure, they had been well-trained to have our safety in mind.

Our guide, Amanda, with Greg at Zip Line Brainerd
Our guide, Amanda, with Greg at Zip Line Brainerd
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Hollie and Amanda helped us gear up and taught us ziplining basics at a training course site. Once we were trained, they sent and caught us, as we moved from tower to tower along the zip line course.

Caitlin Rick and Amanda, Brainerd Zip Line Tour
Caitlin Rick and Amanda, Zip Line Tour, Brainerd Lakes, Minnesota
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

They also were a lot of fun and shared facts about the area and the course throughout the experience.

Kim Hull and Amanda at Brainerd Zip Line Tour, Brainerd Lakes, Minnesota
Kim Hull and Amanda at Zip Line Tour, Brainerd Lakes, Minnesota
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Zipline training

Amanda demonstrating on the training course at Brainerd Zip Line Tour
Amanda demonstrating on the training course at Zip Line Tour, Brainerd Lakes, Minnesota
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

For anyone that would have any anxiety before ziplining, the training course sets those fears to rest. Amanda and Hollie first explained the basics, like how to hold on and how to brake, and answered any of our questions. Amanda then demonstrated how to zip line.

Next up, we each gave it a try. Low to the ground, the training zip line gives everyone a chance to try out their new skills before encountering heights. Amanda and Hollie took time to make sure everyone was comfortable before moving on.

Caitlin Rick on the training course at Brainerd Zip Line Tour
Caitlin Rick on the training course at Zip Line Brainerd
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Training completed, we walked a short distance to the zip lines. Arriving at the course, we climbed up a five-story flight of stairs to the first tower. The reward for the climb – aside from getting to begin your zip line adventure – are the views. From the tower, you can see for miles across Agate Lake and Gull Lake.

View of Agate Lake and Gull Lake from Brainerd Zip Line Tour tower
View of Agate Lake and Gull Lake from Brainerd Zip Line Tour tower
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Let’s go ziplining!

The Brainerd Zip Line Tour course consists of 7 lines of varying lengths, a 65-foot suspension bridge, and an optional 50-foot free fall jump. Everyone is clipped in during the experience – even while waiting on the towers. Getting things started, Hollie went first to be on the receiving end tower at the end of the line. From there, she guided us as we approached on when to begin braking and was there to catch us and assist with our landing.

Hollie, Brainerd Zip Line Tour, Brainerd Lakes, Minnesota
Hollie, Zip Line Brainerd
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Now it was our turn. Amanda secured us, communicated with Hollie on the other side via radio, and when we were clear – away we went! As with repelling when rock climbing, the first step off is the most difficult and then, it is just a blast.

Greg Hull takes off of tower one at Zip Line Brainerd
Greg Hull takes off of tower one at Zip Line Brainerd
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

So, what’s it like zipping along above the trees? Check it out…

Navigating the suspension bridge

Caitlin Rick navigating the suspension bridge, Brainerd Zip Line Tour
Caitlin Rick navigating the suspension bridge, Zip Line Brainerd
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

In addition to the seven zip lines, the Brainerd Zip Line Tour includes a trek across a 65-foot long suspension bridge. Even though it sounds easy, the boards get further apart near the uphill finish, making it a bit challenging – although I did manage to pose for a photo opp…

Kim Hull on the suspension bridge, Brainerd Zip Line Tour, Brainerd Lakes, Minnesota
Kim Hull on the suspension bridge, Zip Line Brainerd
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

A 50-foot free fall finale

As our zip line adventure drew to a close, there was just one more thing to do – the optional 50 foot free fall jump!

Caitlin Rick in free fall at Zip Line Brainerd
Caitlin Rick in free fall at Zip Line Brainerd
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

After arriving at the last tower, there are two ways down. Walk down the stairs or opt for a 50-foot free fall finale. Of course, we jumped. Not a bungee jump, it’s a controlled free fall and a great way to end a fabulous zip line adventure!

Kim Hull doing the free fall jump at Brainerd Zip Line Tour
Kim Hull landing at the free fall jump at Zip Line Brainerd
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Know before you go

Dress for the adventure. Unless lightning or high winds are present, zip line tours are conducted regardless of weather conditions, including rain and snow. Given you will be zipping through the air above the tree line, dress appropriately. Additionally, closed toe and heel shoes and shirts are required. Long pants are recommended because the safety harness straps can irritate your skin. Hair should be tied back.

Mosquito repellent. Even though you don’t think about mosquitos when soaring above the trees, in the training area there were mosquitos, so put on some repellant before going to the mountain.

Age and weight restrictions. Brainerd Zip Line Tour participants must be between 70 and 250 pounds and 10 years old or older.

Photography. While we were allowed to bring our cameras during the experience for this article, guests are not allowed to bring cameras with the exception of a GoPro (which we also used) with a helmet mount, which Brainerd Zip Lines provides. If you do not have a GoPro, Brainerd Zip Lines rents units for $20.

Time. Arrive at least 30 minutes before your reserved time and allow 2 to 2/12 hours for your zip line adventure.

Wait until after your adventure for a beer.

Reservations are recommended. Find out more and reserve your spot for a Brainerd Zip Line Tour on their website.


Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to Explore Minnesota, Explore Brainerd Lakes and Brainerd Zip Line Tour for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.

Warm welcome aboard Destiny Cruises, Gull Lake, Brainerd Minnesota

Enjoying beautiful Gull Lake aboard Destiny Cruises in Brainerd Minnesota

Cover: Captivating views aboard Destiny Cruises, Gull Lake, Minnesota
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


A couple of hours gliding on clear waters, while enjoying delicious food and a beverage under clear blue skies, makes for one of our favorite ways to spend an afternoon.

When the lake is Gull Lake, one of the largest in the Brainerd, Minnesota area, with 38 miles of picturesque coastline and sparkling waters, and the boat it is the luxury Destiny Cruises yacht, the North Star, the experience is elevated to a superb afternoon of relaxation and leisure.

The beautiful Gull Lake coastline, Brainerd, Minnesota
The beautiful Gull Lake coastline, Brainerd, Minnesota
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Destiny Cruises on Gull Lake

The North Star, Destiny Cruises, Gull Lake, Brainerd, Minnesota
The North Star, Destiny Cruises, Gull Lake, Brainerd, Minnesota
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Our two-hour lunch excursion aboard the beautiful motor yacht began at the docks at Ernie’s on Gull, about six miles north of Brainerd. Welcomed aboard with a warm, Minnesota welcome, guests have the option of relaxing downstairs in the air-conditioned, glass-enclosed cabin, or opting for the open-air upstairs deck. We headed straight upstairs to bask in the Minnesota sunshine.

Warm welcome aboard Destiny Cruises, Gull Lake, Brainerd Minnesota
Warm welcome aboard Destiny Cruises, Gull Lake, Brainerd Minnesota
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The yacht is large – 65 feet long and 22 feet wide – providing guests plenty of room to spread out, get comfortable and enjoy the captivating views.

Custom built by SkipperLiner in LaCrosse, WI for Destiny Cruises, the North Star took a year to build and was delivered in 2014. Now in her third season on Gull Lake, the North Star was the first public cruise vessel to operate on the lake for many years. The elegant boat’s public cruises, which include lunch, brunch, happy hour, dinner and sunset cruises, have been warmly welcomed by the community and visitors to the area. The yacht is also a popular venue for private chartered events and weddings.

Cash bar on the North Star, Gull Lake, Minnesota
Cash bar on the North Star, Gull Lake, Minnesota
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

With two cash bars, one upstairs and one down, guests can partake of a beverage, as we did, selecting a refreshing cocktail to enjoy as we pulled away from the dock and headed out on the sparkling waters of Gull Lake.

Enjoying beverages before lunch, Kim Hull, Caitlin Rick, Destiny Cruises, Gull Lake, Minnesota
Enjoying beverages before lunch, Kim Hull, Caitlin Rick, Destiny Cruises, Gull Lake, Minnesota
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

One of the largest lakes in the Brainerd area, Gull Lake is three miles wide and fifteen miles long. Along the way, our captain provided some of the area’s history and facts about the lake itself. Gull Lake is 70 – 85 feet deep in most places and contains most types of fish common to Minnesota’s waters.

Our cruise aboard Destiny Cruise was entertaining & informational
Our cruise aboard Destiny Cruise was entertaining & informational
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

As the relaxation and fun continued, we took turns “diving the boat” and I even donned the captain’s cap while at the helm.

Kim Hull driving the boat, Destiny Cruises, Gull Lake, Minnesota
Kim Hull driving the North Star
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Lunch was a delicious selection of BBQ chicken and salmon, baked beans, cole slaw, potato salad and turtle pudding for dessert.

Dining aboard the North Star, Destiny Cruises, Brainerd, Minnesota
Dining aboard the North Star, Brainerd, Minnesota
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

We made our way around the lake, passing Hole in the Day Bay, where an ice fishing championship is held each winter with 20,000 pre-drilled holes created in advance for the competition. On this warm, sunny day as the lake sparkled in a thousand shades of blue, it was hard to imagine it being cold enough for ice fishing a few months earlier. The magic of Minnesota.

View of Madden's Resort from Gull Lake, Brainerd, Minnesota
View of Madden’s Resort from Gull Lake, Brainerd, Minnesota
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

There are 19 resorts on Gull Lake, including Madden’s, where we stayed while visiting the Brainerd area, and which we highly recommend. A beautiful, sprawling resort, Madden’s has five restaurants, four pools, two lounges, three golf courses, spa, full-service marina and so much more. If you are staying at Madden’s and would like to schedule a private Destiny Cruise for your group, Destiny Cruise can even pick you up at the resort.

Madden's Resort on Gull Lake, Brainerd, Minnesota
Madden’s Resort on Gull Lake, Brainerd, Minnesota
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

As our wonderful time aboard the North Star drew to a close, we savored the last moments of peaceful relaxation and stunning views on Gull Lake.  The entire two-hour cruise was perfect thanks to the beautiful surroundings, the large, elegant yacht, and the excellent crew.

Kim and Greg Hull, Destiny Cruises
Kim and Greg Hull, Destiny Cruises, Gull Lake, Brainerd, Minnesota
Photo: Caitlin Rick

Know before you go

Prepare for changing weather. Except when severe weather conditions are present, cruises depart rain or shine. Wear sunscreen and a hat, and bring a light jacket, especially in the evening or on a cloudy day.

Cruises. Destiny Cruises offers public brunch, lunch, happy hour, dinner and sunset cruises. Private charters for events such as weddings, rehearsal dinners, family gatherings or corporate getaways are also available. Visit the Destiny Cruises website for more information and to book your cruise or private event.

Bring some cash. The crew provides excellent service and gratuity for the onboard staff is not included in the ticket price.


Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to Explore Minnesota, Explore Brainerd Lakes and Destiny Cruises for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.

Vintner's inn, Sonoma County, California

Vintner’s Inn Santa Rosa: A luxury Sonoma wine country hotel

Cover: Vintner’s Inn Santa Rosa
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


Quietly tucked away amongst the vineyards just off the 101, Vintner’s Inn in Santa Rosa treats guests to a luxurious and relaxing wine country retreat when visiting Sonoma.

Vintner's Inn Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, California
Vintner’s Inn Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

A four-diamond luxury hotel owned by Don and Rhonda Carano of Ferrari-Carano Vineyards, the wine country inn exudes casual elegance.

Our Vintner’s Inn stay was in conjunction with the Rodney Strong Master Blender experience, one of our all-time most enjoyable adventures, with fabulous wine, amazing food, vineyard visits led by the winery’s viticulturist, sessions with Rodney Strong’s winemakers to learn about the winemaking process, a blending seminar led by Rodney Strong’s head winemaker, and luxurious accommodations at Vintner’s Inn.

Rodney Strong Master Blender Experience, Sonoma County, California
Rodney Strong Master Blender Experience, Sonoma County, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The rooms

Vintner's inn, Sonoma County, California
Upstairs fireplace room at Vintner’s Inn Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

As we opened the door to our upstairs fireplace room, sunlight flooded into the warm, inviting spot we would call home during our time in Sonoma wine country.

With a big Cal King bed outfitted with a featherbed and down bedding, two overstuffed chairs, an electric fireplace, flat screen TV, desk, a small refrigerator, and a complimentary half bottle of wine, the spacious room was a delightful haven.

French doors led to the balcony with a table and chairs that overlooked the gardens – and prompted me to pop a bottle of wine into the fridge for late afternoon enjoyment.

Vintner's Inn Upstairs fireplace room, Santa Rosa, California
Vintner’s Inn Upstairs fireplace room, Santa Rosa, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Luxuriously appointed upstairs fireplace room at Vintner's Inn in Santa Rosa
Luxuriously appointed upstairs fireplace room at Vintner’s Inn in Santa Rosa
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The large bathroom with a vanity separated from the shower and tub was furnished with white fluffy towels, olive oil themed toiletries and bathrobes.

Vintner's inn, Sonoma County, California
Vintner’s Inn, Sonoma County, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The hotel

Fountain at Vintner's Inn, Sonoma County, California
Fountain at Vintner’s Inn, Sonoma County, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Arriving early afternoon, we had plenty of time to explore the hotel before dinner.

The 44 rooms and suites at Vintner’s Inn are set in three buildings encircling a fountain and connected by brick pathways.

Walking paths at Vintner's Inn Santa Rosa
Walking paths at Vintner’s Inn Santa Rosa
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Such a beautiful Sonoma afternoon behooved a stroll, so we set out on the two-mile hiking and jogging path that winds through the 92 acres of vineyards.

Along the way, we met up with some local residents, who seemed to be enjoying the gorgeous weather as much as we were.

Goats along Vintner's Inn hiking and jogging path
Goats along Vintner’s Inn hiking and jogging path
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Vintner's Inn vineyards, Sonoma County, California
Vintner’s Inn vineyards, Sonoma County, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Arriving back at the hotel, we stopped by the Bocce ball court – a beautiful area with an assortment of tables and chairs under towering redwoods.

Bocce ball court at Vintner's Inn, Sonoma County, California
Bocce ball court at Vintner’s Inn, Sonoma County, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Quiet enclaves are scattered about the lavishly landscaped gardens and courtyards, perfect for sharing a glass of wine, stories from the day, and plans for the next.

Vintner's Inn, Santa Rosa, California
Vintner’s Inn, Santa Rosa, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

For those that don’t believe a day of wine tasting is a form of exercise, a fitness center is located near the edge of the vineyards, along side a hot tub and lounge chairs.

Vintner's Inn workout room
Vintner’s Inn fitness room
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Vintner's Inn hot tub and lounge chairs
Vintner’s Inn hot tub and lounge chairs
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Arriving back at our room, the wine was chilled, the doors of the balcony were open, and it was time to enjoy a bottle of Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Chardonnay. Cheers!

Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Chardonnay on the balcony at Vintner's Inn
Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Chardonnay on the balcony at Vintner’s Inn
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The restaurants and bar

John Ash & Co at Vintner's Inn, Sonoma County, California
John Ash & Co at Vintner’s Inn, Sonoma County, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

John Ash & Co. and the Front Room Bar & Lounge

When we lived in Santa Rosa briefly a few years back, we’d become frequent patrons of John Ash & Co. and the Front Room Bar & Lounge. It quickly became our go-to-spot for happy hours, birthdays, holidays – any excuse is a good one to head to John Ash.

Vintner's inn, Sonoma County, California
Vintner’s Inn, Sonoma County, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

A showcase of the best of Northern California cuisine, John Ash & Co. prepares fresh, local, creative food in a gorgeous setting.

From appetizers in the Front Room (the rosemary nuts and fish tacos are amazing) to dining excellence at John Ash & Co., the restaurant delivers some of the best food found in Sonoma County.

Rodney Strong Master Blender Experience dinner at John Ash & Co., Sonoma County, California
Rodney Strong Master Blender Experience dinner at John Ash & Co., Sonoma County, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

After an amazing evening at John Ash, only made more enjoyable by dining with the Rodney Strong team including winemaker, Justin Seidenfeld, we walked back to our room admiring how pretty the grounds at Vintner’s Inn look in the evening.

Vintner's Inn, Sonoma County, California
Vintner’s Inn, Sonoma County, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Vintner’s Inn Café

Vintner's Inn lobby, Sonoma County, California
Vintner’s Inn lobby, Sonoma County, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

After enjoying our morning coffee from the coffee service, which is available in each of the hotel buildings every morning, we headed over to the hotel’s main building for breakfast.

A great place to have a coffee or tea, read, or spend time with friends, the lobby has multiple seating areas in a cozy environment.

Lobby of the Vintner's Inn
Lobby of the Vintner’s Inn
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Vintner's inn, Santa Rosa, California
Vintner’s Inn, Santa Rosa, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Various items are available for sale in the lobby, such as hats, cookbooks, and the estate’s award-winning olive oil.

Vintner's Inn Estate Olive Oil
Vintner’s Inn Estate Olive Oil
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Also located in the lobby is the Vintner’s Inn Café, which serves breakfast weekdays and brunch on the weekend.

Vintners Inn Café
Vintner’s Inn Café
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Diners can enjoy a wide variety of breakfast specialties and beverages to start their day in the cheerful indoor dining room or on the heated terrace overlooking the gardens.

Vintner's inn, Sonoma County, California
Vintner’s Inn, Sonoma County, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Getting there

Vintner's inn, Sonoma County, California
Vintner’s Inn, Sonoma County, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Vintner’s Inn is located in Santa Rosa, California. From the 101, take the River Road exit and head west to Barnes Road. Turn left on Barnes Road and Vintner’s Inn is on the left.

Vintner's Inn, Sonoma County, California
Vintner’s Inn, Sonoma County, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Vintner’s Inn, Santa Rosa

Vintner's Inn, Sonoma County, California
Vintner’s Inn, Sonoma County, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Location: 4350 Barnes Rd, Santa Rosa, CA 95403

Design: Italian architecture set in Northern California wine country

Rooms: With the exception of service animals, pets are not allowed.

Toiletries: CALI from Italy

Additional services and amenities: On-site Event Center with private banquet rooms and full-service banquet kitchen that can accommodate small groups, meetings with up to 300 participants, and receptions of up to 500 guests.

Vintner's Inn Event Center
Vintner’s Inn Event Center
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

WiFi: Free in lobby and public areas, for a fee in rooms

John Ash & Co. at Vintner's Inn
John Ash & Co. at Vintner’s Inn
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Restaurants & bars: John Ash & Co., Front Room Bar & Lounge, Vintner’s Inn Café

Parking: Free


Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to Rodney Strong Vineyards for hosting us as their guest for the Rodney Strong Master Blender Experience. The content & opinions expressed in our Vintner’s Inn Santa Rosa review are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.

Kim Hull at Vintner's inn, Sonoma County, California
Kim Hull at Vintner’s Inn, Sonoma County, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Sierra at Tahoe Ski Resort

Sierra at Tahoe Ski Resort: Great skiing & boarding for all levels

Sierra at Tahoe Ski Resort, Lake Tahoe, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


Sierra at Tahoe is a resort that covers both ends of the skiing continuum, from beginner to expert and everything in between.

Gentle green runs, a great ski school, over 100 acres of terrain dedicated to beginners, and four beginner-only surface lifts make Sierra at Tahoe Ski Resort a popular destination for those just getting started on the hill.

Sierra at Tahoe base area and Broadway
Sierra at Tahoe base area and Broadway
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures  © Chasing Light Media

Top notch tree skiing and 320 acres of expert level backcountry terrain at Huckleberry Canyon have accomplished riders and skiers heading to the resort with frequency.

Huckleberry Canyon at Sierra at Tahoe Ski Resort, Lake Tahoe, California
Huckleberry Canyon at Sierra at Tahoe Ski Resort, Lake Tahoe, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures  © Chasing Light Media

Anything for intermediates? Half the trails are rated blue, with a wide selection of groomers of varying grades and plenty of fresh corduroy.

Lower Main at Sierra at Tahoe
Lower Main at Sierra at Tahoe
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Sierra at Tahoe: Skiing and snowboarding

Top of Grand View Express at Sierra at Tahoe Ski Resort
Top of Grand View Express at Sierra at Tahoe Ski Resort
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

With 2,000 acres and a 2,212 ft vertical drop, Sierra at Tahoe’s 46 trails cover some ground across the mountain.

Three high-speed quads, five cozy doubles, and one triple whisk skiers and boarders up the mountain, with several separate areas on the mountain primarily defined by how they are accessed: Grandview, Huckleberry Canyon, Backside, Nob Hill and the West Bowl.

Sierra at Tahoe Ski Resort
Sierra at Tahoe Ski Resort, South Lake Tahoe, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Grand View

Grand View Express lift, Sierra at Tahoe, Lake Tahoe, California
Grand View Express lift, Sierra at Tahoe, Lake Tahoe, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures  © Chasing Light Media

The Grand View Express lift, located behind the ski school, serves the east side of the mountain, delivering skiers and riders to spectacular views of Lake Tahoe.

View of Lake Tahoe from Sierra at Tahoe
View of Lake Tahoe from Sierra at Tahoe
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures  © Chasing Light Media

At the top of the lift, 360 Smokehouse BBQ is a great spot to grab lunch, head up to the rooftop deck for a photo opp of the lake, and check out Huckleberry Canyon.

360 Smokehouse BBQ at Sierra at Tahoe
360 Smokehouse BBQ at Sierra at Tahoe
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

On the front side of the hill, skiers and riders will find a wide variety of terrain including bumps, groomers, and glades.

Top of Grand View lift, Sierra at Tahoe Resort
Top of Grand View lift, Sierra at Tahoe Resort
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Just under the Grand View lift are some nice advanced runs or for a gliding groomer, head off toward the west to tackle the longest run on the mountain, Sugar n’ Spice, a 2.5 mile green run that winds down from the top of Grand View Express all the way to the lodge.

Sierra at Tahoe, Sugar n'Spice
Sierra at Tahoe, Sugar n’ Spice
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Sugar n'Spice at Sierra at Tahoe Ski Resort, Lake Tahoe, California
Sugar n’ Spice at Sierra at Tahoe Ski Resort, Lake Tahoe, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The Huckleberry Gates

Huckleberry Canyon at Sierra at Tahoe
Huckleberry Canyon at Sierra at Tahoe
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

A short hike from the top of the Grandview lift, the Huckleberry Canyon backcountry terrain can be accessed from five gates.

Hike to Huckleberry Canyon at Sierra at Tahoe
Hike to Huckleberry Canyon at Sierra at Tahoe
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The 320 acres of Huckleberry Canyon delivers some of the most challenging inbounds backcountry skiing and boarding at Lake Tahoe.

Expert skiing and boarding at Huckleberry Canyon, Sierra at Tahoe, Lake Tahoe, California
Expert skiing and boarding at Huckleberry Canyon, Sierra at Tahoe, Lake Tahoe, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

With cliff drops, chutes, bowls, glades, and cornices, it’s steep, it’s deep, and it’s definitely an experts-only adventure.

Boarding at Huckleberry Canyon, Sierra at Tahoe
Boarding at Huckleberry Canyon, Sierra at Tahoe
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures 
© Chasing Light Media

While the extreme riding of Huckleberry Canyon is out of reach for most of us – it’s fabulous to watch some of the best in the sport tackle the incredible terrain. In 2016, Sierra at Tahoe held the inaugural Huck Cup, an IFSA Free World Qualifier event.

Men's skiing finals, Huck Cup, Sierra at Tahoe
Men’s skiing finals, Huck Cup, Sierra at Tahoe
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures  © Chasing Light Media

For two days, more than 50 of the top freeride skiers and snowboarders from around the world competed for Freeride World Tour qualifying points and a share of $5000 in prize money. It was an awesome display of tricks, thrills, and spills on the natural, rugged terrain. Be sure and mark your calendars for the annual event!

Backside

Heading off the back of the mountain from the Grandview lift, the Backside has some fun trails and is home to Sierra at Tahoe’s boarder cross features. Located on the south side of the mountain, the sunny Backside is best skied in the morning once spring rolls around.

Skiing at Sierra at Tahoe Ski Resort
Skiing at Sierra at Tahoe Ski Resort, South Lake Tahoe, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Nob Hill

Terrain off Nob Hill lift at Sierra at Tahoe
Terrain off Nob Hill lift at Sierra at Tahoe
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Popular with riders of all levels, Nob Hill departs near the base area and delivers skiers and riders to a variety of challenges, including access to the very wide and somewhat steep intermediate run, Lower Main, that ends in the base area.

Lower Main ski run, Sierra at Tahoe Resort
Lower Main ski run, Sierra at Tahoe Resort
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures  © Chasing Light Media

West Bowl

Moving to the west side of the mountain, West Bowl is a great place for intermediate and advanced skiers to play.

The high speed quad, West Bowl Express, accesses terrain ranging from long, fast cruisers to beautiful glade runs amidst the magnificent Red Fir trees for which Sierra at Tahoe is so well known.

Sierra at Tahoe Ski Resort
Sierra at Tahoe Ski Resort, Lake Tahoe, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures  © Chasing Light Media

Terrain Parks

Sierra at Tahoe has six terrain parks, the Smokey BoarderX course, and a halfpipe.

Designed with an emphasis on advancing skill levels in appropriate conditions, Sierra’s Burton Progression Park was created with first-timers in mind. From there, freestylers can tackle jumps, boxes, rails and build their trick repertoire at the various parks located throughout the resort.

Adventure Zones

Skiing for all ages at Sierra at Tahoe
Skiing for all ages at Sierra at Tahoe
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The kiddos love Sierra at Tahoe’s on-mountain themed adventure zones. With animated characters, educational signs and pint-sized terrain features, children are entertained as they learn their way around the snow.

Adventure zones at Sierra at Tahoe Ski Resort, Lake Tahoe, California
Adventure zones at Sierra at Tahoe Ski Resort, Lake Tahoe, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures  © Chasing Light Media

Sierra at Tahoe Ski school

Along with a highly-friendly environment for those just finding their way around the slopes, Sierra at Tahoe has a great ski and snowboard school for riders of all ages and all abilities.

Parents rave about the Wild Mountain children’s program, which both gets kids on skis and entertains them at the same time. Located next to the Main Lodge, programs are grouped by age and ability and are designed to encourage children’s love of the sport and their progression through skill levels.

Wild Mountain Ski School at Sierra
Wild Mountain Ski School at Sierra
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures  © Chasing Light Media
Yoda's Riglet Park at Sierra at Tahoe
Yoda’s Riglet Park at Sierra at Tahoe
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Sierra at Tahoe: Dining & drinking

Sierra has some tasty options for dining and drinking, both on-mountain and at the lodge…

Golden Bear Terrace at Sierra at Tahoe
Golden Bear Terrace at Sierra at Tahoe
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

At the Main Lodge & Solstice Plaza

Solstice Plaza outdoor seating at Sierra at Tahoe
Solstice Plaza outdoor seating at Sierra at Tahoe
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Java Junction – Serving a wide variety of coffee selections, as well as breakfast and lunch items

Mama’s Kitchen – With fare from breakfast burritos to soups, sandwiches, pizza and mac and cheese

Aspen Café – Grilled items and a variety of lunch options served with one hour of free WiFi access

Golden Bear Terrace – Located outside the Main Lodge, specializing in burgers, sandwiches, craft beers and goggle tans

Golden Bear Terrace at Sierra at Tahoe
Golden Bear Terrace at Sierra at Tahoe
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Solstice Eatery – Specializing in tasty wraps, salads and whole wheat and gluten-free pizzas

Lunch at the Sierra Pub & Deli at Sierra at Tahoe
Lunch at the Sierra Pub and Deli at Sierra at Tahoe
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Sierra Pub & Deli – Serving sandwiches, nachos, and pizza – a great spot for après with live music, happy hour specials and “local bar” atmosphere.

Happy hour at Sierra Pub & Deli at Sierra at Tahoe
Happy hour at Sierra Pub & Deli at Sierra at Tahoe
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures  © Chasing Light Media
Live music at the Sierra Pub
Live music at the Sierra Pub
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures 
© Chasing Light Media

And perhaps the best beer bargain around – join the Sierra Pub Club and get happy hour prices all day long.

Happy hour at the Sierra Pub
Happy hour at the Sierra Pub
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures  © Chasing Light Media

On mountain

Baja Grill – At the foot of the West Bowl Express, the spot for fresh fish tacos, quesadillas, burritos, and tacos

360° Smokehouse BBQ – Located at the top of the Grandview lift at 8,852 feet, specializing in soups, BBQ and stunning Tahoe views (they have a veggie burger as well)

360° Smokehouse BBQ at Sierra at Tahoe
360° Smokehouse BBQ at Sierra at Tahoe
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Where to stay

A wide variety of hotels and resorts are available in South Lake Tahoe which is about 17 miles from Sierra at Tahoe.

The complimentary South Shore Shuttle provides transportation from South Lake Tahoe to Sierra at Tahoe – shuttle times and information can be found on the Sierra at Tahoe website or by calling 530-659-7453.

Getting to Sierra at Tahoe Ski Resort

Sierra at Tahoe Ski Resort
Sierra at Tahoe Ski Resort, South Lake Tahoe, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Sierra at Tahoe’s address is 1111 Sierra at Tahoe Road, Twin Bridges, CA 95735.

Sierra at Tahoe is located 74 miles, or about 1 hour 45 minutes, from the Reno Tahoe airport. From Sacramento, Sierra at Tahoe is 91 miles, or about 1 hour 45 minutes, on Highway 50.

From the San Francisco airport (SFO), Sierra at Tahoe is 188 miles or about 3 1/2 hours.

Sierra at Tahoe Ski Resort
Sierra at Tahoe Ski Resort, South Lake Tahoe, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Know before you go

Greg Hull at Sierra at Tahoe Ski Resort
Greg Hull at Sierra at Tahoe Ski Resort
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures 
© Chasing Light Media

Check on the Sierra at Tahoe website for discounts before you head to Sierra at Tahoe – the resort is known year after year for affordable lift tickets and great discounts on first timer lessons.

Reserve lessons and day care in advance. The kids programs are very popular, so reserve a spot for the little ones in advance. On the day of the lesson, drop off parking is available directly in front of the school.

Check the road conditions before you go. Chains are required frequently on Highway 50 so check the road conditions before heading to the resort at the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans).

Plan on traffic on the weekends and holidays. Sierra at Tahoe draws a big Sacramento and Bay area crowd, so arrive early to spend more time on the slopes and less in your car. Or, better yet, come midweek for no lift lines and plenty of untouched pow.

JW Marriott Starr Pass in the morning light, Tucson, Arizona

JW Marriott Starr Pass Tucson Resort: An oasis of luxury in the desert

Cover: JW Marriott Starr Pass Tucson Resort
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


Overlooking miles and miles of massive saguaro cacti, JW Marriott Starr Pass Tucson Resort welcomes visitors to a beautiful resort filled with luxurious comforts, creating a unique dichotomy in the Sonoran Desert.

JW Marriott Starr Pass Tucson Resort entrance, Tucson, Arizona
JW Marriott Starr Pass Tucson Resort entrance, Tucson, Arizona
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The vivid green golf course dotted with white carts and brightly dressed players winds through the arid landscape of majestic plants and fauna.

Golfing at JW Marriott Starr Pass Tucson Resort in Tucson
Golfing at JW Marriott Starr Pass Tucson Resort in Tucson
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The azure blue waters of the pools and the lazy river sparkle against the rugged Arizona countryside.

JW Marriott Starr Pass Tucson Resort pool, Tucson, Arizona
JW Marriott Starr Pass Tucson Resort pool, Tucson, Arizona
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Tranquilly perched on a hill above the city, the resort offers stunning panoramic skyline views of bustling Tucson.

Sunrise on the morning hike at Starr Pass, Tucson, Arizona
Sunrise on the morning hike at Starr Pass, Tucson, Arizona
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

An oasis of luxury in the middle of the desert, JW Marriott Starr Pass Tucson Resort is truly a destination resort, with three nine-hole golf courses, countless non-golfing activities, an array of dining options, a full-service spa, and a helpful, friendly staff – all in an upscale, relaxed atmosphere. Thank you to JW Marriott Starr Pass Tucson for hosting us as their guest.

JW Marriott Starr Pass Tucson Resort in the morning light, Tucson, Arizona
JW Marriott Starr Pass Tucson Resort in the morning light, Tucson, Arizona
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The rooms

Living area, Executive Suite, JW Marriott Starr Pass Tucson Resort, Tucson, Arizona
Living area, Executive Suite, JW Marriott Starr Pass Tucson Resort, Tucson, Arizona
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

We’d never been to Tucson before this trip, so we gladly accepted the invitation to stay at such a gorgeous resort and explore the beautiful Tucson area – both which far exceeded our expectations. During our visit to Starr Pass, we enjoyed a luxurious executive suite with a long balcony overlooking the golf course and stunning western mountain views.

View of Starr Pass Golf Club from our balcony
View of Starr Pass Golf Club from our balcony 
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Upon entering the room we were greeted with a welcome note and an assortment of delectable chocolates and cookies. What a sweet arrival!

A sweet welcome treat from Starr Pass, Tucson, Arizona
A sweet welcome treat from Starr Pass, Tucson, Arizona
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Our 900 square feet/81 square meters of relaxing bliss included a huge living area with a couch, chairs, desk and a large flat panel TV.

The large bedroom featured a king size bed with a comfy pillow-top mattress and duvet, an oversized chair and ottoman, and another flat panel TV. Both rooms accessed the balcony seating, which included four chairs and two tables.

Bedroom in Executive Suite at JW Marriott Starr Pass Tucson Resort in Tucson, Arizona
Bedroom in Executive Suite at JW Marriott Starr Pass Tucson Resort in Tucson, Arizona
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The marble bathroom included a separate bathtub and shower enclosure, stacks of big fluffy white towels and divinely fragranced Aromatherapy Associates toiletries. The room also had large closets, three robes, a coffee and tea maker, a mini-fridge, an iron and ironing board, and a large safe.

JW Marriott Starr Pass Executive Suite bath, Tucson, Arizona
Starr Pass Executive Suite bath, Tucson, Arizona
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The resort

Salud Terrace, JW Marriott Starr Pass Tucson Resort, Tucson, Arizona
Salud Terrace, JW Marriott Starr Pass Tucson Resort, Arizona
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Having stayed at JW Marriott hotels and resorts around the world, we knew that Starr Pass would deliver the exceptional service and quality for which the brand is known, but Starr Pass also included some surprises, adding their own unique flavor to the visit.

The gorgeous, expansive lobby has comfortable nooks for small groups, larger ones, and couples to share moments from the day or for those seeking a little solitude for reading or catching up on email.

JW Marriott Starr Pass Tucson Resort lobby, Tucson, Arizona
JW Marriott Starr Pass Tucson Resort lobby, Tucson, Arizona
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Staying hydrated in the desert is crucial and Starr Pass has multiple flavors of water to make sure you do so – plain, spicy (there are jalapeños in there!), citrus and soothing melon.

Spicy, citrus and melon waters, JW Marriott Starr Pass, Tucson, Arizona
Spicy, citrus and melon waters, JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort, Tucson, Arizona
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

A sprawling resort brimming with activities, Starr Pass offers something for everyone in a relaxed, casual atmosphere.

Starr Pass Resort pool, Tucson, Arizona
Starr Pass Resort pool, Tucson, Arizona
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The huge terraces outside Salud, one of Starr Pass’ restaurants and bars, are the gathering point for the hotel from the beginning of the day to end.

While the early bird may get the worm, the early risers at Starr Pass truly get the treat each morning in the form a majestic sunrise.

Sunrise by the fire pit at JW Marriott Starr Pass Tucson Resort, Tucson, Arizona
Sunrise by the fire pit at JW Marriott Starr Pass Tucson Resort, Tucson, Arizona
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

After grabbing a beverage from the Starbucks just inside, a spot near one of the fire pits is the place to be for a time of tranquility and beauty before the day’s adventures begin. As the darkness disappears, the Arizona sky transforms into a vast array of oranges, reds, golds, pinks, and purples.

Sunrise on the terrace at Starr Pass Resort, Tucson, Arizona
Sunrise on the terrace at Starr Pass Resort, Tucson, Arizona
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

For those wanting to start their activities while experiencing the sunrise, Starr Pass also offers a guided hike each morning on trails that begin just outside the front door of the resort.

Morning sunrise hike

Sonoran Desert sunrise, JW Marriott Starr Pass, Tucson, Arizona
Sonoran Desert sunrise, JW Marriott Starr Pass, Tucson, Arizona
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

A trek through the beautiful Sonoran desert as the morning sky comes to life is an amazing way to start the day.

Greg Hull on Sunrise hike at JW Marriott Starr Pass, Tucson, Arizona
Greg Hull on Sunrise hike at JW Marriott Starr Pass, Tucson, Arizona
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Winding through the Tucson Mountain District in the crisp morning air, the one hour hike is an easy trek against the backdrop of the brilliant morning colors.

The guides are great – taking the time to explain the Saguaro cacti, the native plants, and the animals that reside in the region. A not-to-be missed activity – so the night before when you are contemplating setting the alarm – do it!

Learning about the saguaro cactus on the morning hike at Starr Pass
Learning about the saguaro cactus on the morning hike at Starr Pass
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Following a morning of desert adventure, the hike arrives back at the resort just in time for the Mitakuye Oyasin morning ritual.

Mitakuye Oyasin morning ritual

Mitakuye Oyasin morning ritual, JW Marriott Starr Pass, Tucson, Arizona
Mitakuye Oyasin morning ritual, JW Marriott Starr Pass, Tucson, Arizona
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

One of the key elements of enjoying travel is gaining an appreciation for the culture of the area visited.

Tuscon’s unique and rich cultural fabric is woven from a blend of the Hispanic, Old West and Native American traditions that have been passed down through the generations. Starr Pass celebrates this history each morning, inviting guests to participate in the Mitakuye Oyasin morning ritual.

An interconnected world, Mitakuye Oyasin morning ritual, JW Marriott Tucson
An interconnected world, Mitakuye Oyasin morning ritual, JW Marriott Tucson
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

As the sun begins to warm the day, the traditional Native American ceremony pays tribute to the world view of interconnectedness.

Sage prayer tie, Mitakuye Oyasin morning ritual, JW Marriott Starr Pass, Tucson, Arizona
Sage prayer tie, Mitakuye Oyasin morning ritual, JW Marriott Starr Pass, Tucson, Arizona
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

With words of wisdom, the playing of the Native American flute, burning of a sage prayer tie and receiving of the eagle feather blessing, the ceremony is a beautiful time for reflection and connection for all.

Kim Hull, burning of a sage prayer tie, JW Marriott Starr Pass in Tucson
Kim Hull, burning of a sage prayer tie, JW Marriott Starr Pass in Tucson
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Activities, activities and more activities

Flowers on hike at Starr Pass
Flowers on hike at Starr Pass
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The only challenge with regard to activities at Starr Pass is how to fit them all into your stay.

For those that didn’t set their alarm for the sunrise hike, multiple trails leave from the front of the hotel (remember water and sunscreen – the Arizona sun is very strong mid-day). Trails can be used for hiking or mountain biking and when out in the desert, be sure to keep an eye out for rattlesnakes and javelina, which look like wild pigs, but are actually members of the peccary family.

Hiking trails, JW Marriott Starr Pass, Tucson, Arizona
Hiking trails, JW Marriott Starr Pass, Tucson, Arizona
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

If lounging poolside or splashing about is more what you have in mind, Starr Pass has a multi-level outdoor pool, the Starr Canyon lazy river, and the Monsoon Falls waterslide. All are heated and towel service is provided.

The fitness center is located at the Hashani Spa, with a wide variety of cardio equipment, free weights, and a lap pool.

JW Marriott Starr Pass resort fitness center, Tucson, Arizona
JW Marriott Starr Pass resort fitness center, Tucson, Arizona
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Speaking of spas, the Hashani Spa offers a full range of services, including massages, wraps, and other rejuvenating treatments.

Hashani Spa, JW Marriott Starr Pass, Tucson, Arizona
Hashani Spa, JW Marriott Starr Pass, Tucson, Arizona
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The shops at Starr Pass go way beyond bottles of water and some aspirin. Items range from local artisan wares to clothing to cycling kits.

Starr Pass Resort shops, Tucson, Arizona
Starr Pass Resort shops, Tucson, Arizona
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

And, last but certainly not least, is the renowned Starr Pass Golf Club.

Golfing at Starr Pass

Starr Canyon lazy river, JW Marriott Starr Pass, Tucson, Arizona
Starr Pass Golf Club
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

72 holes across three courses deliver a lush golfing paradise for those with a penchant for swinging a club.

Starr Pass Golf Club, Tucson, Arizona
Starr Pass Golf Club, Tucson, Arizona
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The Arnold Palmer designed Rattler Course (3,490 yards/par 36) is considered the most challenging of the three and offers stunning views and the exceptionally challenging 5th hole. The Roadrunner Course (3,241 yards/par 35), which is closest to the resort, offers ambitious holes, impressive elevation changes, and more gorgeous views. The Coyote Course (3,512 yards/apr 36), is more tranquil, surrounded by natural beauty and is frequently visited by wildlife.

A good spot for more shopping for golfers and non-golfers alike, the Starr Pass Golf Club pro shop has a great assortment of clothing and accessories.

Pro shop at Star Pass Golf Club, Tucson, Arizona
Pro shop at Star Pass Golf Club, Tucson, Arizona
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Be sure and download the Starr Pass Golf Club app, where you can book a tee time, get the weather forecast, keep score, and even connect with Starr Pass on Facebook and Twitter within the app.

Arriba, Abajo, al Centro, al Dentro, Salud!

Arriba, Abajo at JW Marriott Starr Pass, Tucson, Arizona
Arriba, Abajo at JW Marriott Starr Pass, Tucson, Arizona
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Each evening as the sun winds down for the day, Starr Pass guests gather on the Salud terrace for a tequila toast and the nightly telling of the legend of Arriba, Abajo.

Toast to the legend of Arriba, Abajo at JW Marriott Starr Pass, Tucson, Arizona
Toast to the legend of Arriba, Abajo at JW Marriott Starr Pass, Tucson, Arizona
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The story is one of love and one of tequila, of which Salud has over 150 artisan varieties, with the fable ending with a toast – “Arriba, Abajo, al Centro, a Dentro, Salud!” (Up, down, out and in). I won’t spoil the story – so you have to visit to learn the legend and enjoy one of the infused tequilas. Salud!

The restaurants

Signature Grill bar at Starr Pass Resort, Tucson, Arizona
Signature Grill bar at Starr Pass Resort, Tucson, Arizona
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

We had the opportunity to try most of the Starr Pass restaurants while visiting. Casual & comfortable, each restaurant offered fresh, modern dishes and outstanding service. We loved them – so much so that we never left the resort, visiting some of the restaurants multiple times because they were so tasty!

Here’s a day’s worth of favorites…

Breakfast at Starbucks

We love hotels that have Starbucks. We are usually up early to catch the sunrise and we don’t typically eat a large breakfast, so having the ability to grab a chai tea and a muffin fits our routine perfectly.

Starbucks at JW Marriott Starr Pass, Tucson, Arizona
Starbucks at JW Marriott Starr Pass, Tucson, Arizona
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

For those looking for something more substantial – Signature Grill serves breakfast specialties both a la carte and on a buffet.

Breakfast buffet at Signature Grill at Starr Pass Resort, Tucson, Arizona
Breakfast buffet at Signature Grill at Starr Pass Resort, Tucson, Arizona
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Lunch… and dinner at Signature Grill

Dining on the patio in the evening at Signature Grill combines stunning starlit views as Tucson twinkles in the distance with outstanding cocktails and cuisine.

Night view from Signature Grill, JW Marriott Starr Pass, Tucson, Arizona
Night view from Signature Grill, JW Marriott Starr Pass, Tucson, Arizona
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Starting off the evening with lemon drop martinis, we then progressed through salads (try the Knife & Fork salad – it’s seriously good), and on to expertly prepared main courses of Ahi Tuna and Salmon. Both were splendid! After dinner, we lingered, savoring our wine next to one of the patio fire pits before retiring for the evening.

Lemon drop martini, Signature Grill, JW Marriott Starr Pass, Tucson, Arizona
Lemon drop martinis, Signature Grill, JW Marriott Starr Pass, Tucson, Arizona
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The next day we were back at Signature for lunch at the bar (which is really cool) for the incredibly delicious vegetarian enchiladas.

Appetizers and drinks at Salud

Salud at the JW Marriott Starr Pass, Tucson, Arizona
Salud at the JW Marriott Starr Pass, Tucson, Arizona
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The de facto meeting place for the hotel, Salud, is lively all day long both inside and out on the terraces.

Cantina-style cuisine, signature cocktails, and the 150+ tequilas are the specialties. The open faced quesadillas are killer and the nachos looked fabulous as well.

Salud Terraces at Starr Pass, Tucson, Arizona
Salud Terraces at Starr Pass, Tucson, Arizona
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Dinner at Primo

Primo, JW Marriott Starr Pass, Tucson, Arizona
Primo, JW Marriott Starr Pass, Tucson, Arizona
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

James Beard award-winning chef, Melissa Kelly, serves up local, fresh and modern cuisine at Primo – it even says it on the door – and I couldn’t think of a better description. Farm to table fresh, with many of the ingredients grown at the resort.

Primo bar at Starr Pass, Tucson, Arizona
Primo bar at Starr Pass, Tucson, Arizona
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Having enjoyed appetizers at Salud a bit earlier, we headed straight into main courses of scallops and bass. So good and creative!

Whether you dine at one or all of the Starr Pass restaurants, the artfully crafted cuisine and fabulous service will be a culinary experience you won’t forget.

Primo dining room, JW Marriott Starr Pass Tucson Resort, Tucson, Arizona
Primo dining room, JW Marriott Starr Pass Tucson Resort, Tucson, Arizona
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Top 5 things we loved about JW Marriott Starr Pass Tucson Resort

Tucson Mountain District, Tucson, Arizona
Tucson Mountain District, Tucson, Arizona
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
  1. Stellar staff. The staff was friendly, helpful, and went above and beyond to get it right, without intruding.
  2. Stunning location. I love how it’s as if someone delicately picked up a luxurious, grand resort and oh so carefully placed it in the middle of the natural beauty of the Sonoran Desert.
  3. A celebration of the local culture. The unique activities – the guided sunrise hike, the morning ritual, and the tequila tasting – all highlighted the pride in the local culture and surroundings.
  4. Great dining options. The food was stellar, with multiple restaurants and options, so we didn’t have to get the car out once.
  5. Not stuffy. The atmosphere is upscale, casual without the pretense and stuffiness found in many high-end resorts. Visitors can simply relax and enjoy their time at Starr Pass.
Starr Pass resort pools, Tucson, Arizona
Starr Pass resort pools, Tucson, Arizona
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Disclosure & Disclaimer: Special thanks to JW Marriott Starr Pass Tucson for hosting us as their guest. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.

Kim Hull at JW Marriott Starr Pass Tucson Resort, Tucson, Arizona
Kim Hull at JW Marriott Starr Pass Tucson Resort, Tucson, Arizona
Photo: Greg K. Hull © Chasing Light Media