American Travel to Cuba: A Guide to Traveling to Cuba

Cover: Havana, Cuba at night
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


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Sitting on the tarmac in a Southwest Airlines jet, I looked out the window as an American Airlines plane rolled by. Across the runway, passengers were disembarking from a Frontier jet and next to it a United Airlines plane was parked.

Havana, Cuba airport
Havana, Cuba airport Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

From the look of the airport, we could have been in any Caribbean destination – but we had just landed at José Martí International Airport in Havana. For the first time in over half a century, commercial air service to Havana from the United States was once again underway.

The lure of Cuba

With the easing of travel restrictions to, we knew we wanted to get to Cuba before the crowds.

We wanted to experience and photograph Cuba in its authentic state before American tourism took its toll on the country where much of life remains tied to 1959 and the time before Castro’s revolution and the embargo.

What did we find? Havana is a vibrant, charming city filled with friendly, welcoming people. Not yet overrun by tourists, everyday life plays out before you in the narrow streets lined with colorful buildings.

Was it what we expected? In some ways, yes; in others, no, but in a good way.

Can all Americans travel to Cuba?

No. Tourism is still officially prohibited for U.S. citizens with travel only permitted for those journeying to the island nation for a purpose that falls into one of the approved 12 general categories, which are listed below.

We were asked our purpose of travel when obtaining a visa and at the Southwest Airlines ticket counter when checking in, then never again. Per U.S. government requirements, travelers must keep a schedule of their activities for five years after their return from Cuba.

Southwest Airlines Havana, Cuba counter in Fort Lauderdale
Southwest Airlines Havana, Cuba counter in Fort Lauderdale Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

In other words, your activities log shouldn’t include catching rays on the beach or dancing away the nights in Havana clubs.

Visas are available for purchase online at the time of ticket booking (recommended, as it speeds up the process) or they can be acquired at the airport. At the time of our flight, the cost was $50 per person.

The Visa has two parts, which need to be completed carefully. If you have an error in filling out your name and date of birth, you have to purchase a new one. One part will be taken at immigration in Cuba, the other is kept with you while in the country and then retrieved at immigration upon exit.


Update: Due to changes implemented in 2017, check the US State Department for current travel restrictions.


The 12 approved categories for American travel to Cuba

  1. Family visits
  2. Official business of the U.S. Government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations
  3. Journalistic activities
  4. Professional research or meetings
  5. Educational activities and exchanges
  6. Religious activities
  7. Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic/other competitions, and exhibitions
  8. Humanitarian projects
  9. Support for the Cuban people
  10. Activities of private foundations, research, or educational institutes
  11. Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information material
  12. Certain authorized export transactions.

Before heading to Cuba

Get and bring cash… and more than you think you are going to need.

Credit cards issued by U.S. banks and U.S. ATM cards do not work in Cuba. Americans rely so much on plastic – you will be surprised how much cash you need that you’d normally just pull out a card to pay for. Taxis fares, food, beverages, tips, internet access and more all add up quickly. When traveling, things don’t always go as planned and the last thing you want to do is be stuck in Cuba with no money, so bring double or triple what you think you may need.

A few hotels can be booked and prepaid online. We found some of the room prices are significantly higher than rack rates displayed when arriving at the hotel. For example, for one hotel where we stayed, only had suites available for purchase online, with standard rooms available at the hotel for almost half the rate.

The benefit of prepaying is the ability to pay in advance with a credit card. If you do so, make sure the reservation is clearly identified as prepaid as some hotels take credit cards to hold the room but require cash payment at the hotel.

Getting to Cuba

Major cruise lines and airlines began regular service from the United States to Cuba in late summer 2016 with flights to cities in the outer areas of Cuba such as Varadero and Santa Clara. Prior to this change, flights had been via much more expensive charters.

In December 2016 commercial flights to Havana with bargain prices –mostly around $150 roundtrip from Fort Lauderdale or Miami. We booked our flight on Southwest Airlines for a few thousand points during the second week of their service to the capital city.

Local Cuban health insurance is required by the Cuban government and, at least with Southwest Airlines, was included in our airfare. Your boarding pass is proof of health insurance so don’t toss the boarding pass into the trash once you land.

If you go – arrive at the airport a minimum of two hours in advance. We flew from Fort Lauderdale, where Southwest has set up a check-in counter on a separate floor for Cuba departures. Stop by the visa counter near the main counter and pick up a visa prior to heading to the main check-in counter.

Nearly everyone in line had piles of large duffel bags to check for the flight. It was the holiday season, so we’ll assume they were taking a vast amount of Christmas presents to family and friends in Cuba.

As with any new service, there are generally bugs to work out in the process and it appears new flights to Cuba apply here. We departed nearly an hour late – primarily due to the vast amount of stuff people were bringing with them.

The instant the wheels touched down on the 45-minute flight cheering erupted from the passengers. Before we reached the gate, an elderly man rushed to the front of the plane and quite a few others quickly followed him.

After a quick immigration process, we departed to the arrival area to a crowd of hundreds waiting on arriving passengers outside a barricaded area. A family rushed to greet an elderly woman who made her way with a walker to the end of the barricade. Watching the families reunited it was well worth the delays and slight chaos associated with the short flight.

Currency exchange

The Cuban Convertible Peso, or CUC, is the currency of Cuba. The exchange booth at the airport is located near the arrival check in area and was the place where we received the best exchange rate of 90 CUC to 100 U.S dollars. At the hotels where we exchanged currency, the rate was 87.3 CUC to 100 U.S. dollars.

Getting around Cuba

Cuba is a huge island, with a land area of 42,426 square miles or 109,884 km2. If you are considering venturing into areas other than Havana, make sure to calculate the estimated cost of the transportation before arriving on the island to ensure you have sufficient funds.

For example, the resort area of Varadero, which is also an alternative airport to Havana, is about two hours away from Havana. Cab fare between the locations runs between 100 and 120 CUC.

Cab fare from the Havana airport to Old Havana in an official cab runs 25 CUC. Negotiate taxi fare, whether in a metered taxi or not, prior to departing.

The most common word heard when walking in Havana is “taxi?” and there are numerous taxi options…

Official taxis are yellow, newer automobiles that can be metered or flat rate. They are a good choice to and from the airport as they are typically air-conditioned and the ride is about 20-30 minutes. The standard fare to a major hotel is 25 CUC.

Unofficial or illegal taxis are the older cars that can be found in popular areas and outside hotels. Fares are fully negotiable.

The convertibles are a great way to tour Havana while snapping some photos and are available by the hour for a flat rate. We found the range between 30 and 60 CUC.

Greg and Kim Hull in Havana, Cuba
Greg and Kim Hull in Havana, Cuba Photo: © Chasing Light Media

Little yellow cocotaxis are a scooter-powered rickshaw-type vehicle for two plus the driver. They are cheaper and, albeit zipping around the Malecón can be a bit harrowing, they are fun and a bit cheaper than the cars.

Bicitaxis are quite prevalent in Old Havana. The three-wheeled, human pedaled vehicles are also a less expensive method for short trips around the city.

Additional transportation options include buses, horse carriages and, of course, walking – which is truly one of the best ways to explore the city.

Communication

As far as coverage from your existing phone provider, check with your cellular provider prior to departing for Cuba to determine coverage and rates. Upon landing in Cuba, I turned off Airplane Mode to check if I’d receive the standard text we typically receive from Verizon advising of rate information in the country where we are visiting.

It came through immediately. At the time of our trip in 2016, Verizon’s rates on our plan (provided only as an example) were $2.99 per minute for voice calls, $ .05 text sent or received and $2.05 MB for data. My phone went back into Airplane Mode.

WiFi in Cuba is through ETECSA, the government-owned telecommunications provider. Cards providing one hour of internet time can be purchased at most hotels and at Cyber Cafes. Rates vary – at the Hotel Nacional cards were 7 CUC and at other hotels, the rate was typically 2 CUC.

Lobbies of the hotels, and outside on the curbs, are typically filled with countless people looking at their phones. The reason is that the coverage doesn’t extend to hotel rooms so, if you want to get on the internet, you do it in the lobby.
As far as television, we were surprised with the variety of television coverage at hotels. Available channels including CNN, BBC, and the Denver Broncos were playing on the big screen in the café when we stopped by for a pizza and a beer.

Where we stayed

We choose to split our time in Havana between two hotels – the historic Hotel Nacional de Cuba and the Iberostar Hotel Parque Central Havana. Both were wonderful hotels and deliver a completely different experience.

Hotel Nacional de Cuba

The Hotel Nacional de Cuba was built in 1930 and on a hill next to the sea in the middle of the Vedado section of Havana. The most famous hotel in Cuba, it has been declared a National Monument and proudly displays numerous photographs throughout the hotel of the many famous personalities that have stayed at the facility throughout its history.

We stayed in a large room on the seventh floor with sweeping ocean views.

Iberostar Hotel Parque Central Havana

Located across from Havana’s Central Park along the Paseo del Prado, the Parque Central contains two buildings, several restaurants, shops and a rooftop pool and restaurant area that offers stunning views of the city.

Rooms are located in either the modern tower or the colonial section, with the building linked by an underground tunnel. Our time at Parque Central was in a large suite in the modern tower.


View our Havana, Cuba photo gallery


Disclaimer: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. We received no compensation for this article. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.

Kansas City Plaza Lights, a spectacular holiday tradition

Cover: Kansas City Plaza Holiday Lights
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


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While there are many spots around the world that transform into winter wonderlands during the holidays, the Midwest is home to one of the United State’s most beloved annual holiday traditions – the Plaza lights in Kansas City.

Plaza lights in Kansas CityPlaza lights in Kansas City Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media


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Dating back to 1925 when a single strand of lights was hung at the nation’s first suburban shopping district, the Kansas City Plaza lights have grown into a magical display that is now known worldwide for its beauty and grandeur.

Tower decorated with lights at The Plaza in Kansas City
Tower decorated with lights at The Plaza in Kansas City Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Beginning on Thanksgiving, when the lights are illuminated in a huge lighting ceremony complete with fireworks, the Plaza lights shine brightly through mid-January. Each night beginning around 4:30 the 15-block shopping district is filled with festive, twinkling lights. Stores stay open late during the season and the shops are decked out with dazzling window displays.

Plaza lights after dark in Kansas City Plaza lights after dark in Kansas City Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Visiting during the Plaza lights season is also one of our favorite times for a stop in Kansas City, having done so numerous times over the past decades. While planning our December calendar this year, we discovered some available time between Cabo and Cuba, and happily scheduled a Kansas City Plaza lights visit.

Visiting Kansas City at Christmas
Visiting Kansas City at Christmas Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Having stayed at the Intercontinental since it was the Alameda Plaza in the 70s, it is always our hotel of choice when visiting Kansas City. Conveniently located across from the Plaza, the hotel has a great staff, large stately rooms and stunning views of the Plaza lights.

Hotel Intercontinental at Christmas in Kansas City Hotel Intercontinental at Christmas in Kansas City Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Strolling through the Plaza in the crisp early evening air is a wonderful time to simply enjoy the joy of the season.

Carriage rides at The Plaza in Kansas City Carriage rides at The Plaza in Kansas City Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The clip clop of the horses pulling carriages, the sound of laughter as friends headed for drinks and dinners, the wide eyes of children as they marvel at the magic of it all, and, of course, the shoppers as they bustle from store to store – it’s as if a holiday card has come to life.

BM3V8934 Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza at Christmas Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The Plaza is a beautiful setting for a beautiful season. Happy holidays!


Disclosure: 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. Some posts on this website may contain links to our partners’ websites and Chasing Light Media may be compensated by those partners.

Kansas City Plaza Lights
Kansas City Plaza Lights Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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Disclaimer: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. We received no compensation for this article. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.

Quito, Ecuador - Old Town

Travel to Ecuador: Things to do in Quito

Travel to Ecuador: Things to do in Quito
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


Surrounded by the volcanoes of the western Andes, some of which are active, Quito sits near the equator at an elevation of 2,850 meters/9,350 feet making it one of the highest capital cities in the world.

Balcony art, Old Town, Quito, Ecuador
Balcony art, Old Town, Quito, Ecuador
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Dating back to 1534, the historic center of Quito, Old Town, lies on top of the ruins of an Incan city and is considered to be the best-preserved colonial city in South America. Quito was placed on the World Heritage List by UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization) in 1978.

La Compañía Church, Quito, Ecuador
La Compañía Church, Quito, Ecuador
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Now a sprawling city and home to over two million people, Quito is a bustling metropolis with many hotels, restaurants, cafes, shopping centers, and parks.

View of Quito from Mirador El Panecillo
View of Quito from Mirador El Panecillo, Quito, Ecuador
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Getting to Quito

The main entry point for international arrivals into Ecuador is Quito’s Mariscal Sucre airport (airport code: UIO). A quick four-hour flight from Miami or Ft. Lauderdale, Mariscal Sucre also welcomes visitors to Ecuador from numerous international destinations and serves as the largest hub of the Ecuadoran airline, TAME. Transportation into the city, which is approximately 18 km from the airport, is available via bus, rental car or taxi. Taxi fare is $25.

Bird's eye view of Quito, Ecuador
Bird’s eye view of Quito, Ecuador
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Things to do in Quito

Old Town

There are many things to do in Quito, but the place to start is Old Town. The bustling historic district of colorful buildings lining hilly cobblestone streets are decorated with flowers, flags and, on occasion, artwork.

Hilly streets of Quito, Ecuador
Hilly streets of Quito, Ecuador
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

A mix of markets, Ecuadorian food vendors, cafes, shops, government buildings, museums, and churches, exploring Old Town is a true immersion into the culture of Quito.

Food vendor, Old Town, Quito, Ecuador
Food vendor, Old Town, Quito, Ecuador
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Old Town food vendors, Quito, Ecuador
Old Town food vendors, Quito, Ecuador
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Vendors at tables in markets sell goods ranging from handcrafts to food to toys, while others roam the crowds offering bananas, ice cream or lottery tickets.

Things to do in Quito: El Pasaje Amador, Old Town
Things to do in Quito: El Pasaje Amador, Old Town
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Home to dozens of cathedrals, museums, and squares, a stroll through Old Town provides an immersion into Ecuadoran history.

Things to do in Quito: El Arco de la Reina
Things to do in Quito: El Arco de la Reina
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Colorful historic buildings line the cobblestone streets, as crowds scurry along the narrow sidewalks and traffic slowly navigates the narrow passageways.

Colorful streets of Quito, Ecuador
Colorful streets of Quito, Ecuador
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Plaza Grande – Plaza de la Independencia (Independence Plaza)

Things to do in Quito: Independence Plaza
Things to do in Quito: Independence Plaza
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

In the heart of Old Town is Plaza Grande, also known as Plaza de la Independencia. Surrounded by the Presidential Palace, the Archbishop’s Palace, and the Metropolitan Cathedral, the plaza is also a central gathering point for locals and tourists.

Things to do in Quito: Plaza de la Independencia
Things to do in Quito: Plaza de la Independencia
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

On the northwest side of the plaza, is the Palacio de Gobierno, or the Presidential Palace. Serving as both the president’s home and office, the building can be toured when the president is not in residence. Formerly the Archbishop’s Palace, the Palacio Arzobispal has now been converted into an arts center and is also home to shops and several restaurants.

Things to do in Quito: Metropolitan Cathedral of Quito
Things to do in Quito: Metropolitan Cathedral of Quito
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Continuing around to the southwestern side of the plaza is the Metropolitan Cathedral. Established as the Diocese of Quito in 1545, the Cathedral was elevated to the archdiocese in 1849.

La Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús

Interior of La Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús, Quito, Ecuador
Interior of La Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús, Quito, Ecuador
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Considered to be Quito’s most ornate church and the most beautiful church in Ecuador, La Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús is located close to Plaza Grande in Old Town on the Calle de las Siete Cruces (Street of the Seven Crosses). With a large sanctuary lavishly decorated with gold leaf and carvings, La Compañía took over 160 years to complete, with construction beginning in 1605 and not completed until 1765.

Things to do in Quito: La Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús
Things to do in Quito: La Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Mirador El Panecillo

Virgen de Quito at Mirador El Panecillo, Quito, Ecuador
Virgen de Quito at Mirador El Panecillo, Quito, Ecuador
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

High atop a hill above Old Town called El Panecillo an immense statue of the Virgin of Quito (La Virgen de Quito) keeps watch over Quito.

Things to do in Quito: La Virgen at the Mirador El Panecillo
Things to do in Quito: La Virgen at the Mirador El Panecillo
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Constructed between 1955 and 1975, La Virgen de Quito is a Madonna with a crown of stars and wings, holding onto a chained dragon.

Interior, Mirador El Panecillo, Quito, Ecuador
Interior, Mirador El Panecillo, Quito, Ecuador
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Stained glass at Mirador El Panecillo, Quito, Ecuador
Stained glass at Mirador El Panecillo, Quito, Ecuador
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Inside the statue, stairs lead to several floors offering a historical account of the construction of the monument. Climbing to the top, it’s interesting to note the numbers on the backs of the panels used to construct the statue of La Virgen de Quito.

Mirador El Panecillo interior panels, Quito, Ecuador
Mirador El Panecillo interior panels, Quito, Ecuador
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Interior, top of Mirador El Panecillo, Quito, Ecuador
Interior, top of Mirador El Panecillo, Quito, Ecuador
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

At the top of the stairs, visitors enjoy open access to a viewing platform providing panoramic views of Quito and the surrounding mountains.

View of Quito, Ecuador
View of Quito, Ecuador
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Basílica del Voto Nacional

Things to do in Quito: Basílica del Voto Nacional
Things to do in Quito: Basílica del Voto Nacional
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The largest neo-Gothic church in the Americas, Basílica del Voto Nacional is a spectacular church that technically remains unfinished to this day. Adorned with Ecuadoran animals such as Galapagos tortoises, iguanas, and penguins instead of the traditional gargoyles, construction on the church began in the 1880s.

Legend has it that when the church is finished a cataclysmic event will occur, and so, parts of the Basilica remain unfinished to the day. Visitors can climb to the top of the towers providing views of the city and the surrounding volcanoes.

Tower of Basílica del Voto Nacional, Quito, Ecuador
Tower of Basílica del Voto Nacional, Quito, Ecuador
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Centro de Arte Contemporáneo

Things to do in Quito: Centro de Arte Contemporáneo
Things to do in Quito: Centro de Arte Contemporáneo
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Housed in the Old Military Hospital of Quito in the San Juan district, the Contemporary Art Center hosts a wide variety of exhibits in painting, sculpture, photography, visual and digital arts as well as theater and dance.

Quito, Ecuador street art
Quito, Ecuador street art
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Additionally, don’t miss the excellent street art in the areas surrounding the Contemporary Art Center.

Street art, Quito, Ecuador
Street art, Quito, Ecuador
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

La Mariscal / Plaza Foch

Restaurants and bars of La Marsical and Plaza Foch, Quito, Ecuador
Restaurants and bars of La Mariscal and Plaza Foch, Quito, Ecuador
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

A popular meeting place, La Mariscal in north central Quito is home to numerous bars, discos, coffee shops, cafés and restaurants and Quito’s nightlife. At the center of La Mariscal is Plaza Foch, also called Gringolandia, which translates as hummingbird, because of a statue of a hummingbird in the area.

El Ejido Park

Things to do in Quito: El Ejido Park
Things to do in Quito: El Ejido Park
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

South of La Mariscal, El Ejido Park transforms into a large market on the weekends with vendors and artists offering jewelry, crafts, and paintings. On the north side of the park near Amazonas Avenue, the Arch of the Circassian, also called The Circassian Gate, serves as the entrance to the park. The arch originally served as a gateway to the gardens of the Palacio de La Circasiana in the northern center of Quito.

Jardín Botánico and Parque La Carolina

La Carolina Park Skateboard Park, Quito, Ecuador
La Carolina Park Skateboard Park, Quito, Ecuador
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

North of the Mariscal, the Parque La Carolina is a large green space where Quiteños gather to participate in sports and relax in the outdoors. The park includes a pond with paddleboats and a skateboarding park. Quito’s botanical garden, Jardín Botánico, is located in the park as well. The Jardín Botánico encompasses 18,600 square meters with plants representative from regions across Ecuador.

Kiddie tram, La Carolina Park, Quito, Ecuador
Kiddie tram, La Carolina Park, Quito, Ecuador
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Where we stayed

Wyndham Quito Airport

On our way to the Galapagos, we stopped for one night in Quito, staying at the Wyndham Quito Airport. Built in 2016, the hotel is modern and luxurious, with large, well-appointed guest rooms, beautiful marble baths with rain showers, a bar and restaurant, 24-hour room service, and WiFi. A free airport shuttle is available (requires a call to the hotel to have shuttle sent).

JW Marriott Quito

JW Marriott Quito pool area, Quito, Ecuador
JW Marriott Quito pool area, Quito, Ecuador
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

On our return from the Galapagos, we spent two days in Quito at the JW Marriott. One of the top hotels in the city, the JW Marriott is a beautiful, luxury hotel located in the Mariscal district. The hotel is filled with tropical plants and flowers, especially roses, in abundance. A waterfall cascades from the lobby level down to the lower level, where one of the restaurants, the spa, and access to the pool are located.

View of JW Marriott Quito from pool area
View of JW Marriott Quito from pool area, Quito, Ecuador
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The resort-size pool and hot tub are surrounded by multiple waterfalls, tropical gardens and immense palm trees – amazing considering the hotel is at an elevation of most ski resorts in the United States.

The JW Marriott Quito’s rooms are large with wood floors and accents, a marble bath, upscale bedding, an in-room safe, bathrobe, flat panel TV and sweeping city views. The coffee shop near the shops is a great spot to begin your day with a cappuccino and pastry and is very reasonably priced. We also had sushi in the bar and an excellent dinner in La Hacienda restaurant.


JW Marriott Quito hotel room
JW Marriott Quito hotel room
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Know before you go

Luigi Stornarono, Plaza de los Cappelanes, Quito, Ecuador
Luigi Stornarono mural, Plaza de los Cappelanes, Quito, Ecuador
Photo: Kim Hull © Chasing Light Media

Getting around. Licensed taxis are yellow and marked with a green placard. Some taxis are not metered so inquire what the fare will be before leaving for your destination. Your hotel should be able to provide you with an estimate of cost. Quito also had a double decker tour bus running on a three-hour loop to many of the major attractions for a very reasonable fee of $15 per day.

Use caution when exploring the city. Theft is common in the streets of Quito, so strap your camera or bag around your body and be aware of your surroundings. If possible, don’t venture out alone and consider taking a taxi instead of walking, especially at night.

View of Mirador El Panecillo, Quito, Ecuador
View of Mirador El Panecillo, Quito, Ecuador
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Altitude sickness. At such a high elevation, many people may experience some effects of the altitude – especially if arriving from sea level only a few hours before. Keep hydrated, avoid excess alcohol and take it slow when you arrive.

Rooftops of Quito, Ecuador
Rooftops of Quito, Ecuador
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Use sunscreen. Quito’s location near the equator and high elevation can result in sunburn quickly so don’t venture out without sunscreen – even on a cloudy day.

Poor air quality. As with most large cities, Quito has significant pollution, especially in the narrow streets of Old Town, where the bus fumes can be considerable.


Disclosure & disclaimer: 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.

Andean woman selling candy, Quito, Ecuador
Andean woman selling candy, Quito, Ecuador
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
View of Madden's Resort from Gull Lake, Brainerd, Minnesota

Exploring Brainerd Lakes Minnesota

Cover: Exploring Brainerd Lakes
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


As we continued on our journey around Minnesota with Explore Minnesota, we discovered an outdoor paradise in central Minnesota, a beautiful region just a couple of hours north of Minneapolis-St. Paul: Brainerd Lakes! The region has luxury resorts, gorgeous golf courses, fine dining, spas, and an abundance of activities and fun things to do, from zip lining to yacht cruises to amusement parks. And, watching a spectacular Minnesota sunset is a truly amazing way to end the day in Brainerd Lakes.

Exploring Brainerd Lakes Minnesota: Take in a sunset
Exploring Brainerd Lakes Minnesota: Take in a sunset
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The Brainerd Lakes area is located in the center of Minnesota and home to multiple cities and several countries. With over 500 lakes and rivers, including beautiful Gull Lake, it’s no wonder that the Brainerd Lakes region is so widely known as a premier vacation destination.

Exploring Brainerd Lakes, Minnesota: Gull Lake
Exploring Brainerd Lakes, Minnesota: Fun on Gull Lake
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Things to do when exploring Brainerd Lakes

While the list of things to do in Brainerd Lakes is long, there are a few adventures that are “must do” activities and attractions when visiting the area.

Cruise Gull Lake with Destiny Cruises

Explore Brainerd Lakes with Destiny Cruises
Explore Brainerd Lakes, Minnesota with Destiny Cruises
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Our cruise aboard Destiny Cruises’ luxury yacht was one of the highlights of our time spent exploring Minnesota.

A relaxing afternoon enjoying delicious food and beverages while gazing at the shimmering, blue waters of Gull Lake, it was the perfect way to explore Gull Lake and view the beautiful coastline. The Destiny Cruises crew is fun and provide excellent service, delivering an authentic Minnesota welcome aboard their beautiful boat. While we experienced a lunch cruise, Destiny Cruises also offers happy hour, dinner, brunch and sunset cruises, as well as private charters.

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

Get an adrenaline rush at Brainerd Zip Line

Once you’ve seen Brainerd Lakes from the water, you need to see it from the air.

Exploring Brainerd Lakes: Brainerd Zip Line
Exploring Brainerd Lakes, Minnesota: Greg Hull at Brainerd Zip Line
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Ziplining at Brainerd Zip Line Tour is exciting, fun and offers some of the most amazing views you’ll find in the Brainerd Lakes area. With 7 zip lines of varying lengths, a 65-foot suspension bridge, and an optional 50-foot free fall jump, Brainerd Zip Line Tour will have you soaring at top speeds over the trees at Mount Ski Gull, while taking in spectacular, panoramas of Agate Lake and Gull Lake.

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

Spend a day playing at a lake

Exploring Brainerd Lakes Minnesota: Water sports
Exploring Brainerd Lakes Minnesota: Water sports
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Celebrate the natural beauty found in the state of 10,000 lakes with a day of water activities and family fun. Whatever your water sports preference may be – boating, paddleboarding, snorkeling, tubing, water skiing, fishing, canoeing or simply floating on a raft – the crystal clear waters of the Brainerd Lakes region is the place to play on the water.

Hit the links

Hit the links at The Classic Golf Course at Madden's
Hit the links at The Classic Golf Course at Madden’s
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Nationally recognized by leading golf publications as a top golfing destination, the Brainerd Lakes area is home to courses that are nestled amidst tall trees and set against a backdrop of stunning lakeside landscapes. Emerald greens and fairways, resorts with vast amenities, and a variety of courses playable by all skill levels attract golfers from across the nation to this section of central Minnesota.

Madden’s Resort on Gull Lake is home to four courses, including Minnesota’s oldest 18-hole resort golf course and the top-rated Classics course.

Brainerd Lakes: A top golfing destination
Brainerd Lakes: A top golfing destination
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Put on your plaid shirt and pay Paul Bunyan & Babe a visit

Exploring Brainerd Lakes Minnesota: Paul Bunyan, Paul Bunyan Land
Exploring Brainerd Lakes Minnesota: Paul Bunyan, Paul Bunyan Land
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

No visit to the Brainerd Lakes area is complete without a visit to see and talk to the legend himself, Paul Bunyan. Greeted by the giant Babe the Blue Ox in the parking lot, a visit to Paul Bunyan Land offers a full day of family fun with 40 amusement rides and attractions, Paul’s petting barn, The Pioneer Village, and of course, the famous 26 foot tall lumberjack with eyes that blink and a head that swivels, that greets you by name as you enter.

Babe the Blue Ox, Paul Bunyan Land, Brainerd, Minnesota
Babe the Blue Ox, Paul Bunyan Land, Brainerd, Minnesota
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Where to stay at Brainerd Lakes

Town Hall Conference Center at Madden's, Brainerd, Minnesota
Town Hall Conference Center at Madden’s, Brainerd, Minnesota
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

With accommodation options in the Brainerd Lakes area ranging from campgrounds to luxury resorts, there’s a perfect place to stay for every taste and budget. A fabulous choice for the utmost in relaxation and amenities is Madden’s on Gull Lake. From time on the fairway to luxuriating at the spa, to enjoying fine dining, Madden’s is the spot for enjoying all that Minnesota has to offer in peaceful, laid-back luxury.

Read our review of Madden’s Resort »

Where to stay when Exploring Brainerd Lakes: Madden's Resort
Where to stay when Exploring Brainerd Lakes: Madden’s Resort
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Know before you go

Location

Brainerd Lakes, Minnesota is approximately 200 miles north of Minneapolis-St Paul in central Minnesota.

Climate

Summer temperatures (June-August) in the Brainerd Lakes area range from 76°F to 80°F, with average lows between 52°F to 57°F. January is the coldest month of the year, with average daytime highs of 20°F and average lows of -4°F.


Disclosure & Disclaimer: Special thanks to Explore Minnesota and the Explore Brainerd Lakes 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.

The MinneSODA Ice Cream Fountain, Park Rapids, Minnesota

Park Rapids Minnesota: Small town charm at the gateway to the Mississippi River

Cover: The MinneSODA Ice Cream Fountain, Park Rapids, Minnesota
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


The center point of north central Minnesota, Park Rapids is abundant with natural beauty, outdoor adventures, and a relaxed charm.

With over 400 lakes in the region, hiking, cycling, numerous events to explore, and its close proximity to Itasca State Park, Park Rapids is a perfect retreat for a few hours or a few days. Add to that an inviting small town ambiance and the good eats found in the area, and you may want to stay even longer.

Things to do in and around Park Rapids

Go shopping in Downtown Park Rapids

Shopping in Park Rapids, Minnesota
Shopping in Park Rapids, Minnesota
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Small town America is alive and well in Park Rapids. With a downtown district filled with cute shops and an abundance of friendly locals, Park Rapids is a great spot to spend an afternoon browsing the specialty shops and boutiques filled with gifts, fashion, antiques and more.

Molly Poppin's Gourmet Snacks, Park Rapids, Minnesota
Molly Poppin’s Gourmet Snacks, Park Rapids, Minnesota
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

One foot in the door at Molly Poppin’s and you know you won’t be leaving anytime soon. The aroma is, well – I bet I gained weight just inhaling. Then you taste the samples and it’s all over, as bags of deliciousness fly into your arms and out the door with you.

Moving down the street, we spent the rest of our time in the quaint town exploring all the shops and dining options, having a throughly entertaining and casual afternoon on one of America’s classic main streets.

Artisan balsamic vinegars, Park Rapids, Minnesota
Artisan balsamic vinegars, Park Rapids, Minnesota
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Visit Dorset, the “Restaurant Capital of the World”

Trading Post, Dorset, Minnesota
Trading Post, Dorset, Minnesota
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Every visit to the Park Rapids area must include a lunch or dinner at the nearby “Restaurant Capital of the World,” Dorset, Minnesota. Home to 22 people and 5 restaurants, Dorset lays claim to the title, with the restaurants per capita ratio being 1 restaurant to 5 people.

We dined at Dorset’s Italian option, La Pasta – a lovely lunch and the breadsticks were out of this world.

La Pasta, Dorset, Minnesota
La Pasta, Dorset, Minnesota
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

But, before lunch we had a tour of the town with the mayor, James Tufts, and his older brother and former two-term mayor, Bobby Tufts, who now serves as the town’s ambassador (you may have seen them on the Today Show and in other national news).

Elected at the age of three, as was former mayor Bobby, it’s safe to say that Dorset has a unique political system. Quirky, fun and definitely not to be missed, Dorset is so deserving of the hashtag #OnlyInMN. Learn more about our visit to Dorset, Minnesota »

Mayor James Tufts & Former Mayor Bobby Tufts, Dorset, Minnesota
Mayor James Tufts & Former Mayor Bobby Tufts, Dorset, Minnesota
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Hike or bike the Heartland State Trail

While in Dorset, we noticed an awesome bike and hiking path passing through the town.

The Heartland State Trail is a 49 mile, paved multi-use trail reaching between Park Rapids and Cass Lake and was one of the first rail to trail conversions in the United States. The flat trail runs along the abandoned railroad the entire distance except for a four mile segment that uses a roadway north of Walker. 49 miles of paved bikeway? Sweet – we’ll be back.

Cross the headwaters of the Mississippi at Itasca State Park

Greg & Kim Hull crossing the headwaters of the Mississippi
Greg & Kim Hull cross the headwaters of the Mississippi
Photo: Caitlin Rick

Itasca State Park is a nature paradise just 26 miles from Park Rapids. The 32,000 acres of soaring pines and over 100 lakes are reason enough to visit, but it is also home to the Mississippi Headwaters. Truly a cool adventure – learn more about Itasca State Park »

Itasca State Park, Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center
Itasca State Park, Jacob V. Brower Visitor Center
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Attend Legends & Logging Days each August

Legends & Logging Days logo

Get your plaid shirt ready and head to Legends and Logging Days each August in Park Rapids. A summer festival that includes Lumberjack action, Water Wars, Chainsaw sculptors, music, food and much more, it’s fun in the summer and a celebration of the rich heritage of the region.

Spend some time on one the area’s 400 lakes

Spend some time on one of Minnesota's lakes
Spend some time on one of Minnesota’s lakes
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

No time in Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes (which I hear is actually 11,842), is complete without some time on the water and there are plenty of opportunities near Park Rapids. A wonderful spot for family vacations, the Park Rapids Lakes area offers a chance to explore the pristine lakes of Minnesota and engage in the water sports that abound in the region. Climb aboard a speedboat, kayak, paddleboat or pontoon for a sunset cruise or a spend the day on the water fishing for your own aquatic adventure.

 

Downtown Park Rapids, Minnesota
Downtown Park Rapids, Minnesota
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Know before you go

Location

Park Rapids, Minnesota is 186 miles northwest of Minneapolis-St Paul and 85 miles east of Fargo, North Dakota.

Climate

July is the warmest month in Park Rapids with average daytime highs of 82°F / 28°C and average lows of 56°F / 13.5°C. January is the coldest month with average daytime highs of 17°F / -8°C and average lows of -21°F / -6°C.


Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to Explore Minnesota and the Park Rapids Chamber of Commerce 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.

Sun setting on Little Detroit Lake, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota

Fun awaits in Detroit Lakes Minnesota

Cover: Detroit Lake, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


Home to a wide variety of outdoor activities, events, festivals, shopping, and dining, Detroit Lakes is the place to be for year-round fun in Minnesota.

As one would anticipate, a city with “Lakes” in their name is the center of water pursuits and Detroit Lakes definitely delivers in this category. Outdoor splendor awaits on the sparkling waters for boating, fishing and water sports enthusiasts, with over 400 lakes within 25 miles of the city.

Detroit Lake at sunset, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Detroit Lake at sunset, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

For those that prefer their water activities in the city, Detroit Lake’s pristine mile long beach is perfect for beach fun, while also providing access for launching boats and water activities.

Things to do in and around Detroit Lakes Minnesota

When you manage to tear yourself away from the clear blue waters of the Detroit Lakes region, so many activities await on land. From shopping to mountain biking to events, Detroit Lakes has something for everyone from sunrise to sunset.

Downtown Detroit Lakes

Downtown Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Downtown Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

A stroll through downtown Detroit Lakes is a perfect way to spend an afternoon. Offerings range from antiques to boutiques and everything in between, with lots to see and explore. Stop for a bite, find a place for a beer, or just enjoy viewing the historic buildings and chatting with friendly locals.

Along the way, swing by the library and check out the cool sculpture of a child reading a book out front, which was created by local artist, Hans Gilsdorf.

Child reading a book sculpture by Hans Gilsdorf in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Child reading a book sculpture by Hans Gilsdorf in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Then, head down to the Washington Square Mall for more shopping and dining options, perhaps to take in a movie and to snap a shot with your catch of the day.

Kim Hull, Washington Square Mall, Detroit Lakes
Kim Hull, Washington Square Mall, Detroit Lakes
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

What’s the deal with those pretty fish around town?

In 2002-2003, 50 sunfish were created and designed by local artists, with several of the fish auctioned to cover the artist’s expenses. All 50 were then placed around Detroit Lakes in public places and have since become a favorite of locals and visitors alike.

Want to see them all? Detroit Lakes has created a Sunny in Detroit Lakes map with locations of all of the fish statues – which assists with locating them, as the fish are moved from summer to winter locations and back each year.

Detroit Lakes Sunfish, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Detroit Lakes Sunfish, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Festivals & events

Detroit Lakes hosts numerous festivals and events throughout the year ranging from markets to sporting events to concerts – so many that, according to the mayor, Detroit Lakes averages one event per week. Check the Detroit Lakes events calendar for a full list of things to do throughout the year.

Street Faire at the Lakes

Street Faire at the Lakes, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Street Faire at the Lakes, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Summer in Detroit Lakes kicks off with Street Faire at the Lakes and we were in town for the 2016 edition.

Food court & live music at Street Faire at the Lakes, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Food court & live music at Street Faire at the Lakes, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Photo: Greg K. Hull © Chasing Light Media

Located across six blocks of downtown Detroit Lakes, the Street Faire includes 125 juried artists, live music, a food court, and children’s activities. Free to attendees, Street Faire at the Lakes is held annually in early June.

Children's activities at Street Faire at the Lakes in Detroit Lakes
Children’s activities at Street Faire at the Lakes in Detroit Lakes
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Andy Rogers trying out the chairs at Street Faire at the Lakes
Andy Rogers trying out the chairs at Street Faire at the Lakes, Detroit Lakes
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

WE Fest Country Music Festival

Each August since 1983, country music fans gather in Detroit Lakes for one of the top events of the year in the genre, the WE Fest Country Music Festival on the shores of Lake Salle. Held at Soo Pass Ranch, the natural amphitheater, which has a permanent stage and sound towers, holds over 50,000 people. Adjacent to the facility are 10 campgrounds that can accommodate up to 35,000. Past performers have included Vince Gill, Faith Hill, Brooks & Dunn, Carrie Underwood, Rascal Flatts and many more.

Other things to do in Detroit Lakes

Detroit Mountain

Detroit Mountain, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Detroit Mountain Resort, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Here’s a really cool story. Detroit Mountain was the local ski hill for half a century until it fell into disrepair and closed in 2004. Missing the swoosh of the slopes, the local community pulled together, formed a non-profit, the Detroit Mountain Recreation Area, Inc., and began raising funds to bring skiing back to their community.

Talking with Jeff Staley of Detroit Mountain
Talking with Jeff Staley of Detroit Mountain
Photo: Greg K. Hull © Chasing Light Media

After raising $8.5 million dollars in private donations, the new lifts outside the all new lodge began to turn a decade later in 2014. Now a year-round facility, Detroit Mountain offers skiing, snowboarding, tubing, a terrain park, cross-country ski trails in the winter and summer mountain biking with flow and downhill trails and a skills course.

Learn more about Detroit Mountain »

Detroit Mountain's fat tire bike rentals
Detroit Mountain’s fat tire bike rentals
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Hiking

Hiking at Itasca State Park, Park Rapids, Minnesota
Hiking at Itasca State Park, Park Rapids, Minnesota
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Lace up your hiking boots and get ready to hit the trail because Detroit Lakes has multiple state parks and hiking options nearby. Maplewood State Park, Buffalo River State Park, and Smoky Hills State Forest are all within a 30-minute drive and Itaska State Park, where you can cross the headwaters of the Mississippi, is only an hour away.

Or how about a hike through Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge’s 43,000 acres? Located about 18 miles from Detroit Lakes, the refuge provides a chance to explore 20 lakes and three rivers, view 250 bird species, including bald eagles, and includes a segment of North America’s longest scenic trail, the North Country National Scenic Trail.

Let’s Go Fishing

Of course, fishing is huge in Minnesota and now that I’m an expert fisherwoman (I caught my first on our very first fishing excursion earlier in the week in Minnesota), I can tell you – I get it. Fishing in Minnesota is super fun and I am hooked (pun intended).

But, for our evening in Detroit Lakes, “Let’s Go Fishing” had a different meaning and we met some people who are the definition of “Minnesota nice.”

Dave Hochhalter, Ron Zeman, Betty Hochhalter, Cleone Stewart, Let's Go Fishiing, Detroit Lakes
Dave Hochhalter, Ron Zeman, Betty Hochhalter, Cleone Stewart, Let’s Go Fishiing, Detroit Lakes
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

“Let’s Go Fishing” offers lake adventures to seniors, veterans, youth and the physically challenged free of charge and we were fortunate to explore Little Detroit Lake by pontoon as their guest. Fully staffed by volunteers, our hosts for the evening were captain Dave Hochhalter, first mate Betty Hochhalter, and city council member, lake historian and comedian, Ron Zeman.

Momma Loon and her baby, Detroit Lake
Momma Loon and her baby, Detroit Lake
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

In addition to learning about the history of the area and their organization on our spectacular sunset ride, we saw a momma loon with her baby on her back, found a very talented SUP fisherman, and, of course, waved at everyone we passed by along the way.

SUP fisherman on Detroit Lake, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
SUP fisherman on Lake, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Such a beautiful way to end the day in Minnesota! Learn more about Let’s Go Fishing in Detroit Lakes Minnesota on their website.

Where to stay

Where to stay: Best Western The Lodge on Detroit Lake
Where to stay: Best Western The Lodge on Detroit Lake
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Detroit Lakes has a wide variety of accommodation options to suit all preferences and budgets. For our visit, we stayed at the beautiful, lakeside Best Western Premier Lodge on Lake Detroit.

The Lodge has an upscale feel with rustic accents and a relaxing atmosphere. Our spa suite was fabulous, with spectacular lake views, a jacuzzi, and a fireplace. The Lodge also has a day spa, fitness center, comfortable seating areas both inside and out, a delicious complimentary breakfast, and a friendly, helpful staff.

Spa Suite, The Lodge on Lake Detroit, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Where to Stay: Spa Suite, The Lodge on Lake Detroit, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Learn more about The Lodge Detroit Lakes »

Places to dine and enjoy a beverage in Detroit Lakes

Zorbaz

Zorbaz Pizza Shack, Detroit Lakes
Zorbaz Pizza Shack, Detroit Lakes
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

There’z nothing like a cazual evening zipping Bobbin’ Blue Margaritaz while chowing down on nachoz and pizza as you gaze out at the beautiful blue waterz of Detroit Lakez at Zorbaz.

Kim Hull & Caitlin Rick at Zorbaz in Detroit Lakes
Kim Hull & Caitlin Rick at Zorbaz in Detroit Lakes
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Zince 1969, gueztz have flocked to the eclectic bar and reztaurant that substitutez every “s” for a “z.” Arriving by boat, car, foot and bike, people pack the iconic beach bar acrozz from Detroit Lakez beach. Zpecializing in Mexican food and pizza, Zorbaz haz a huge azzortment of tap beerz, live muzic on the weekendz, and a great patio. On the way out, head to the zhop next door and grab a t-zhirt. Not to be mizzed.

Huge assortment of tap beers at Zorbaz, Detroit Lakes
Huge assortment of tap beers at Zorbaz, Detroit Lakes
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Lakeside Tavern

Lakeside Tavern, Detroit Lakes
Lakeside Tavern, Detroit Lakes
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Just a couple of blocks down from Zorbaz, Lakeside Tavern serves 24 tap beers, burgers, pizza and other fare. And, if you feel someone brush against you as you sip your beer but, when you turn, no one is there – no worries, that may be just one of six reported ghosts that hang out at the Tavern as well.

Located in the former Lakeside Hotel, which was built in 1891 and has a colorful past filled with stories of bank robber owners, vanishing patrons, and ghosts, the present day Lakeside Tavern is reportedly haunted by a little girl, two men and three women. When we stopped by, no hauntings to report – just quite a few patrons enjoying some late evening sun, cold beer, pizza and stunning lake views.

Sunset on Detroit Lake
Sunset on Detroit Lake
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Know before you go

Kim and Greg on a pontoon on Detroit Lake
Kim and Greg on a pontoon on Detroit Lake
Photo: Caitlin Rick

Location

Detroit Lakes is about 205 miles northwest of the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St Paul and 45 miles east of Fargo-Moorhead.

Climate

Summer time is ideal in Detroit Lakes, with average daytime highs reaching just under 80 F (27 C) then cooling off in the evenings to the 50s F (13 C).

Winter daily highs average in the teens and 20s F (-7 C), perfect for skiing and winter sports. At night, ramp up the fireplace and grab some hot chocolate, when temperatures hover around 0 F (-18 C).

Prepare for the outdoors and changing weather

As many summer activities in and around Detroit Lakes are outside, remember to bring sunscreen, mosquito repellent, good walking or hiking shoes, a rain jacket and a sweater or jacket for the evenings when the day begins to cool.


Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to Explore Minnesota and the Detroit Lakes Chamber of Commerce 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.

River Walk, San Antonio, Texas

San Antonio: So much more than the Alamo

San Antonio things to do: River Walk, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


Mention you are headed to San Antonio and nearly always the reaction is, “Oh, you can visit the Alamo.” Yes, the famous fortress is a mainstay on all “San Antonio things to do” lists, but there is so much more.

In addition to a rich historic past, San Antonio has museums, lively districts, shopping, great dining, outdoor activities and the beautiful River Walk. The second most populated city in Texas is also one the cleanest and most well-cared for cities you’ll find, with fountains, waterfalls, flowers and massive cypress trees around every turn.

San Antonio: Where to stay

Hotel Contessa from the River Walk, San Antonio, Texas
Hotel Contessa from the River Walk, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

When in San Antonio, you, of course, want to stay on the River Walk, but not all locations along the river are the same. A hotel with a perfect spot, close to everywhere you want to be, but also in a quiet segment of River Walk, is Hotel Contessa. An all-suite hotel, Hotel Contessa is a beautiful hotel with large contemporary suites, a rooftop pool and hot tub, spa, a fabulous restaurant and bar, and a stellar staff.


Learn more about Hotel Contessa »


Cork Bar at Hotel Contessa on the River Walk, San Antonio, Texas
Cork Bar at Hotel Contessa on the River Walk, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

San Antonio: Things to do

The River Walk

Marriage Island on the River Walk, San Antonio, Texas
Marriage Island on the River Walk, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

There’s so much to love about the River Walk. Also known as Paseo del Rio, the River Walk is 15 miles of walkways lined with restaurants, bars, hotels, and boutiques, that wind through San Antonio next to the San Antonio River.

River Walk near Arneson River Theatre, San Antonio, Texas
River Walk near Arneson River Theatre, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

A stroll along the River Walk is a visual delight, with bright colors accenting the way as the paths lead to different areas of the city, looping through the downtown and beyond. With towering cypress trees overhead, the paths meander through arched stone bridges and lush gardens as squirrels and birds play in the heart of the city.

Double-Crested Cormorant along the River Walk, San Antonio, Texas
Double-Crested Cormorant along the River Walk, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Rio River Cruises

Casa Rio on the River Walk, San Antonio, Texas
Casa Rio on the River Walk, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

A guided cruise down the San Antonio River is a wonderful way to experience the River Walk while also learning about San Antonio’s history and landmarks.

The narrated boat tours are about 40 minutes and allow visitors to relax and take in the beautiful scenery as they glide along the river in San Antonio’s downtown district. In addition to the tours, Rio Taxi service stops at 39 spots continuously throughout the day. Taxi boats are identified by the checkered flags displayed on the back of the boats.

River cruise, River Walk, San Antonio, Texas
River cruise, River Walk, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

La Villita Historic Arts Village

La Villita, San Antonio, Texas
La Villita, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

One of San Antonio’s first neighborhoods, La Villita was transformed in 1939 and today is a charming arts community located in downtown San Antonio.

La Villita Historic Village, San Antonio, Texas
La Villita Historic Village, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Adjacent to the River Walk and the Arneson River Theatre, La Villita is home to galleries, boutiques, restaurants, plazas and courtyards and hosts many events, festivals and concerts.

La Villita Church, San Antonio, Texas
La Villita Church, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Culinary delights

Cafe Ole on the River Walk, San Antonio, Texas
Cafe Ole on the River Walk, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

San Antonio has a diverse food scene, with culinary options to satisfy every palate. As no visit to Texas is ever complete without at least one Tex-Mex fix, a stop by long time standouts like Mi Tierra is always on the agenda (be sure and get take home pastries from the bakery).

Mi Tierra Cafe and Bakery, Market Square, San Antonio, Texas
Mi Tierra Cafe and Bakery, Market Square, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

But, far from just great Tex-Mex and barbecue, San Antonio’s restaurants are gaining widespread notoriety for their farm to table offerings using fresh local ingredients. Innovative eateries abound in the city, from the growing number of restaurants at Pearl, to the countless River Walk options that deliver creative cuisine against one of the most beautiful dining backdrops around.

Lunch along the River Walk, San Antonio, Texas
Lunch along the River Walk, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Briscoe Western Art Museum

Wells Fargo Stagecoach, The Briscoe Western Art Museum, San Antonio, Texas
Wells Fargo Stagecoach, The Briscoe Western Art Museum, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Named in honor of the late Texas Governor, Dolph Briscoe, Jr., the Briscoe Western Art Museum is a beautiful museum focused on the art, history and culture of the American West.

Saddles, The Briscoe Western Art Museum, San Antonio, Texas
Saddles, The Briscoe Western Art Museum, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Located in the former San Antonio Public Library building along the River Walk, the museum has nine galleries on three levels. Highlights of the collection include Pancho Villa’s saddle, an Alamo diorama, a Wells Fargo Stagecoach and works by Frederic Remington.

Walkara-Hawk of the Mountains, Greg Kelsey, Briscoe Museum, San Antonio, Texas
Walkara-Hawk of the Mountains, Greg Kelsey, Briscoe Museum, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Buckhorn Saloon & Museum and Texas Ranger Museum

The Buckhorn Saloon, San Antonio, Texas
The Buckhorn Saloon, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Seventeen-year-old Albert Friedrich first opened the Buckhorn Saloon in 1881 and soon discovered that patrons liked to partake of a beverage even when their pockets were empty. Coming up with a creative solution, Friedrich began accepting horns and antlers in exchange for drinks in the saloon. Albert married and his bride, Emile, decided jars of rattlesnake rattles would also be a good form of barter for a whiskey or beer. Interesting couple.

Polar bear exhibit, Buckhorn Saloon and Texas Ranger Museum, San Antonio, Texas
Polar bear exhibit, Buckhorn Saloon and Texas Ranger Museum, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

So, the collection grew and grew and grew. Legend has it the Buckhorn is where Teddy Roosevelt recruited Rough Riders and where Pancho Villa planned the Mexican Revolution. Today, the Buckhorn Saloon features over 520 species of wildlife from around the world, displayed in over 40,000 square feet, with multiple museums and attractions under one roof including a Carnival of Curiosities, the American Sideshow and the Texas Ranger Museum.

Wildlife, Buckhorn Saloon and Museum, San Antonio, Texas
Wildlife, Buckhorn Saloon and Museum, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

At the Carnival of Curiosities, Dr. Phineas Phiasco welcomes visitors to the attraction, where curiosities await ranging from a mystery mine where water flows upwards to an elephant the size of a tiny peanut. PT Barnum and Buffalo Bill holograms shares stories at the American Sideshow, which features shrunken heads and two-headed calves.

Buffalo Bill exhibit, Buckhorn Saloon and Texas Ranger Museum, San Antonio, Texas
Buffalo Bill exhibit, Buckhorn Saloon and Texas Ranger Museum, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Mystery Mine, Buckhorn Saloon and Texas Ranger Museum, San Antonio, Texas
Mystery Mine, Buckhorn Saloon and Texas Ranger Museum, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The newest of the exhibits, the Texas Ranger Museum is home to hundreds of Texas Ranger artifacts, a recreation of San Antonio in 1900 called Ranger Town, and a Bonnie and Clyde exhibit with a replica of the couple’s getaway car.

Bonnie and Clyde replica car, Buckhorn Saloon and Museum, San Antonio, Texas
Bonnie and Clyde replica car, Buckhorn Saloon and Museum, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Shopping San Antonio style

Garcia Art Glass, San Antonio, Texas
Garcia Art Glass, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

For those seeking some retail therapy, San Antonio has a vast array of shopping options from boutiques, to galleries, to malls. While large shopping malls can be found throughout sprawling San Antonio, if visiting downtown, Rivercenter Mall is a prime shopping spot, located along the River Walk with over 100 retailers including major department stores, restaurants, a comedy club and an IMAX® theater.

Rivercenter Mall, San Antonio, Texas
Rivercenter Mall, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Market Square – El Mercado

Shopping at Market Square, San Antonio, Texas
Shopping at Market Square, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

El Mercado, or Market Square, is the largest Mexican market in the U.S., with over three blocks of restaurants, shops, and produce stands.

Market Square shops, San Antonio, Texas
Market Square shops, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The place to find everything from decorative items to leather goods to toys, Market Square is a vibrant center celebrating the sights, sounds and flavors of Mexico. In addition to the shops, Market Square has several restaurants and is home to numerous working artists that set up along the plazas creating pottery, jewelry, paintings and other works of art.

El Mercado - Market Square, San Antonio, Texas
El Mercado – Market Square, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Mi Tierra Cafe, Market Square, San Antonio, Texas
Mi Tierra Cafe, Market Square, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

San Fernando Cathedral

The San Fernando Cathedral, San Antonio, Texas
San Fernando Cathedral, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The seat of the archbishop, Cathedral of San Fernando is one of the oldest cathedrals in the United States and the oldest continuously functioning religious community in the State of Texas.

Founded in 1731, the church is located on the west side of the San Antonio’s Main Plaza. The walls of the original church form the sanctuary of the cathedral as it stands today.

San Fernando Cathedral Altar, San Antonio, Texas
San Fernando Cathedral Altar, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The cathedral has played an important part throughout San Antonio’s history. At the Battle of the Alamo, the Mexican army’s General Santa Ana flew a red flag from the church tower to signal no mercy to the Texas Army. The cathedral has also been reported to house the remains of some of the men who died at the Alamo.

A beautiful cathedral, San Fernando is especially brilliant in the twilight just following sunset. For those seeking a bit more modern adaptation, a multimedia video show, involving light being projected onto the structure, is held after dark a few days of the week. The Main Plaza is also home to periodic events, festivals and evenings of music.

San Fernando Cathedral Altar, San Antonio, Texas
San Fernando Cathedral at night, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Pearl Brewery

Texas Transportation Company's Engine #2, Pearl Brewery, San Antonio, Texas
Texas Transportation Company’s Engine #2, Pearl Brewery, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Home to a weekend farmers market, dining, shopping and the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) San Antonio, Pearl is a vibrant neighborhood community located in the area that formerly was the sight of the Pearl Brewing Company. While at Pearl, be sure and stop by Local Coffee, a hot spot in the trendy urban district that serves up premium coffee creations using beans from their own roasting facility, Merit Roasting Co.

Pearl Brewery District, San Antonio, Texas
Pearl Brewery District, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

King Williams Historic District

Nix House in King William Historic District, San Antonio, Texas
Nix House in King William Historic District, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Meandering the tree-lined historic streets of the King Williams District provides a glimpse into San Antonio’s elegant past. Built by affluent German immigrants who originally settled in the area in the 19th century, today the elaborately designed homes of the area are used for cafes, art galleries, and museums, as well as many remain occupied as residences.

King Williams Historic District, San Antonio, Texas
King Williams Historic District, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

While visiting the area, the Edward Steves Homestead, an elegant three story Victorian home built in 1876, is open for tours, allowing a glimpse into life in the late 1800s.

Edward Steves Homestead, San Antonio, Texas
Edward Steves Homestead, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Guenther House

The Guenther House, San Antonio, Texas
The Guenther House, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Also located in the King Williams Historic District, Guenther House is a popular restaurant, museum and store in the former home of Pioneer Flour Mills founder Carl Hilmar Guenther. Built in 1859 as Guenther’s private residence, the Guenther House sits along the San Antonio River in the shadow of the Pioneer Flour Mills and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places in Bexar County, Texas.

Guenther House and Pioneer Flour Mills, San Antonio, Texas
Guenther House and Pioneer Flour Mills, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Blue Star Arts Complex

Blue Star Arts Complex, San Antonio, Texas
Blue Star Arts Complex, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Home to the Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum, art galleries, shops, studios, restaurants and a micro-brewery, the Blue Star Arts Complex is a mixed-use development in former warehouse buildings on the edge of the King Williams Historic District. With over 20 exhibitions each year, featuring both emerging and established artists, Blue Star is the city’s creative hub, enriching and inspiring visitors to explore San Antonio’s contemporary art scene.

Mural near Blue Star, Lead muralists: Jane Madrigan and Jose Cosme, San Antonio, Texas
Mural near Blue Star, Lead muralists: Jane Madrigan and Jose Cosme, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Tower of the Americas

Tower of the Americas, San Antonio, Texas
Tower of the Americas, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Panoramic views of San Antonio await at the 750-foot tall Tower of the Americas in downtown San Antonio. Built in 1968 for the World’s Fair, the Tower of Americas is home to the revolving Chart House Restaurant, an Observation Deck, and a 4D Theater ride.

View of San Antonio, Texas from Tower of the Americas
View of San Antonio, Texas from Tower of the Americas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The Alamo

The Alamo at night, San Antonio, Texas
The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

On February 23, 1836, General Antonio López de Santa Anna arrived in San Antonio with his Mexican army, launching an assault on the Alamo Mission. The siege continued for the next 13 days, with the Texians and Tejanos willing to give their lives rather than surrender in a battle they considered to be critical to the defense of not just the Alamo, but the State of Texas.

Courtyard outside Long Barrack, The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas
Courtyard outside Long Barrack, The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

On March 6, the Mexican army scaled the walls of the Alamo and the defenders were unable to fend off the final attack. According to historical accounts, nearly all of the estimated 189 to 250 men died in defense of the Alamo. The nearly 20 women and children in the Alamo during the siege were spared.

Today, the Alamo remains hallowed ground serving as a memorial to those who died in their fight for freedom.

The Alamo History Walk, San Antonio, Texas
The Alamo History Walk, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Over 2.5 million people visit the Alamo each year. The complex covers 4.2 acres with a variety of exhibits covering the Texas Revolution and Texas history in addition to the tours of the Shrine. Photography is not permitted inside the buildings and admission is free.

Flowers at The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas
Flowers at The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Know before you go

Getting around. We rented a car, drove it to the hotel, and never used it again until we returned to the airport. The River Walk makes the city highly walkable, so bring a pair of comfortable shoes and get out and enjoy San Antonio at your own pace. To get to locations a bit further out, such as Kings Williams District or Pearl Brewery, several hop-on, hop-off buses depart from Alamo Plaza. We used City Sightseeing San Antonio, which covers all the major sites in downtown area and nearby districts.

San Antonio Bcycle, San Antonio, Texas
San Antonio Bcycle, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Other transportation options include water taxis and Bcycle bike sharing, where you can rent a bike at various kiosks throughout downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods to explore the city. Horse drawn carriages are also available in the downtown area.

Horse drawn carriages, San Antonio, Texas
Horse drawn carriages, San Antonio, Texas
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Climate

  • In the winter months (December-February), days average in the 60s (62°-67°F/17°-19°C) with lows averaging around 40°F/4°C.
  • The spring months (March-May) are wonderful, with average highs ranging from 74°F-86°F/23°C-30°C and lows normally getting down to 50°F-65°F/10°C-18°C.
  • The summer (June-August) is hot. Highs average 91°F-95°F/33°C-35°C and lows are typically around 73°F/23°C.
  • Fall is beautiful (September-November). While summer tends to hang around in September with highs averaging 90°F/32°C and lows around 69°F/21°C, it soon cools off and by November highs average 71°F/22°C and lows run around 49°F/10°C.

Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to the San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau and  Hotel Contessa San Antonio for hosting us as their guest. Additional thanks to City Sightseeing Tours San Antonio, Rio San Antonio Cruises, and Tower of the Americas. 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
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
Santa Cruz, California

10 Things to do in Santa Cruz County, California

Cover: Santa Cruz, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


Well-known as one of the top surfing spots in the world, Santa Cruz is also a vibrant community along the California central coast with great hotels and resorts, restaurants featuring dishes crafted from fresh local ingredients, fabulous hiking trails amidst the area’s natural beauty, amazing wildlife viewing, and beautiful beaches.

Santa Cruz Harbor, Santa Cruz, California
Santa Cruz Harbor, Santa Cruz, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Situated along scenic Highway 1 just 70 miles/112 km south of San Francisco, Santa Cruz is the perfect spot for a quick getaway or a longer retreat. The warm sun, low humidity, and plentiful activities attract visitors from both the region and the world to the scenic destination.

Santa Cruz: Where to stay

Chaminade Resort & Spa, Santa Cruz, California
Chaminade Resort & Spa, Santa Cruz, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

With a wide selection of lodging options from quaint coastal lodges to luxury resorts, Santa Cruz has something for every vacation style and budget.

Our choice when visiting the area is Chaminade Resort & Spa. Recently renovated, Chaminade is the perfect combination of quiet retreat, with top amenities, numerous on-site activities, a full-service spa, great food, a super staff, and gorgeous views of the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Monterey Bay. Learn more about Chaminade Resort & Spa »

Chaminade Resort & Spa, Santa Cruz, California
Chaminade Resort & Spa, Santa Cruz, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Santa Cruz: Things to do

1. Stroll the Santa Cruz Wharf

Santa Cruz Wharf, Santa Cruz, California
Santa Cruz Wharf, Santa Cruz, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Located between Santa Cruz Main Beach in front of the Boardwalk and the popular surfing spot, Cowell Beach, Santa Cruz Wharf is the longest wharf on the west coast of the United States at a length of 2,745 feet /836.68 meters.

Built in 1914, the Wharf today is a hub of activity with shops, restaurants, boat tours, kayak rentals, fishing, and a great spot for watching sea lions.

Santa Cruz Wharf, Santa Cruz, California
Santa Cruz Wharf, Santa Cruz, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

2. Play at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk

Santa Cruz Boardwalk, Santa Cruz, California
Santa Cruz Boardwalk, Santa Cruz, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The famous seaside amusement park, the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, is just down the beach from the Wharf and is home to the Looff Carousel built in 1911 and the Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster, which dates back to 1924. Both are National Historic Landmarks, as is the entire Santa Cruz Boardwalk, which has been operating since 1907.

Admission to the amusement park is free, with small fees charged for rides. In addition to the rides, the Boardwalk has the largest selection of games in Northern California and a wide variety of food choices ranging from corn dogs to deep-fried artichokes.

Santa Cruz Boardwalk, Santa Cruz, California
Santa Cruz Boardwalk, Santa Cruz, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

3. Shop or take in a movie in downtown Santa Cruz

Downtown Santa Cruz, California
Downtown Santa Cruz, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

An eclectic shopping area centered around Pacific Avenue, downtown Santa Cruz has over 100 boutiques, restaurants, movie theaters, and art galleries, attracting a diverse mix of patrons in an outdoor mall atmosphere. The pedestrian-friendly small town is a great place to grab a coffee or ice cream and people watch, visit the weekly farmer’s market, or browse the monthly Santa Cruz Antique Faire.

4. Visit the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Exploration Center

Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Exploration Center, Santa Cruz, California
Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Exploration Center, Santa Cruz, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Established in 1992, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary stretches along the coastline from San Francisco to Cambria and is one of the United States’ largest marine sanctuaries, with a vast array of wildlife including seals, sea lions, sea otters, and whales.

Located near the Santa Cruz Wharf, the Sanctuary Exploration Center features a variety of displays and interactive exhibits for visitors to explore to gain a better understanding of the marine sanctuary and how they can help protect this underwater treasure.

5. Explore the Santa Cruz Harbor area

Santa Cruz Harbor, Santa Cruz, California
Santa Cruz Harbor, Santa Cruz, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The Santa Cruz Harbor area is a great spot to take a walk along the beach, have lunch, visit the Walton Lighthouse and watch the boating activity in the harbor.

Santa Cruz Harbor, Santa Cruz, California
Santa Cruz Harbor, Santa Cruz, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

With over 800 permanent slips, the Santa Cruz Harbor also serves as a launching point for kayaks and paddleboards. Bring a camera and stroll along the harbor area as a kaleidoscope of colorful boats and pleasure craft navigate the harbor.

Adjacent to the harbor on the east side of the water, is Santa Cruz Harbor Beach, a popular spot with volleyball courts, kayak rentals, restaurants, and shops.

Santa Cruz Harbor Beach, Santa Cruz, California
Santa Cruz Harbor Beach, Santa Cruz, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

If visiting on a Saturday morning, grab a coffee at the Java Junction and enjoy the music of the Ukulele Club of Santa Cruz, a talented group of locals that have a great time playing tunes on the beach.

Ukulele Club of Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, California
Ukulele Club of Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Time your visit near mid-day, then head to The Crow’s Nest for lunch. Located on Harbor Beach and frequented by locals and visitors alike, The Crow’s Nest has been serving great food with spectacular views since 1969.

The Crow's Nest, Santa Cruz Harbor, Santa Cruz, California
The Crow’s Nest, Santa Cruz Harbor, Santa Cruz, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Across the harbor are Walton Lighthouse and Seabright Beach.

Seabright Beach, Santa Cruz, California
Seabright Beach, Santa Cruz, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

A paved walking path leads out to the Walton Lighthouse, also known as Santa Cruz Breakwater Lighthouse, built in 2002 on a jetty at the harbor entrance has been the site of a light station of some form since 1964.

Santa Cruz Harbor, Santa Cruz, California
Santa Cruz Harbor, Santa Cruz, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Walton Lighthouse, Santa Cruz, California
Walton Lighthouse, Santa Cruz, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Huge waves crash along the jetty, which is lined with tetrapods, structures that look like giant concrete jacks. Tetrapods, which in Greek means four-legged, dissipate the force of the waves, allowing water to flow around the structures, rather than against it.

Walton Lighthouse, Santa Cruz, California
Walton Lighthouse, Santa Cruz, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The view from the lighthouse back to the coastline is beautiful in both directions, with great views of Santa Cruz Harbor, Harbor Beach, Seabright Beach, Santa Cruz Main Beach, Santa Cruz Boardwalk, and the Santa Cruz Wharf in the distance.

Santa Cruz, California
Santa Cruz, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

6. Watch the surfers

Surfing, Santa Cruz, California
Surfing, Santa Cruz, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Nicknamed “Surf City,” Santa Cruz consistently nears the top of all surfing destinations lists.

Surfing, Santa Cruz, California
Surfing, Santa Cruz, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

While donning a wet suit and grabbing a board may not be on your to-do list, heading to one of the popular spots around Santa Cruz County to watch the skilled surfers is an activity not to be missed.

Top spots to check out the surfing action are Pleasure Point, Manresa State Park, Steamer Lane, Waddell Creek, and 26th Avenue.

Surfing, Santa Cruz, California
Surfing, Santa Cruz, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

7. Kick back at the beach

Santa Cruz, California
Santa Cruz, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

29 miles of coastline along Santa Cruz County provides a wide selection of beaches to choose from.

Whether you are looking for a quiet place for a picnic, a dog-friendly beach, or the perfect spot for some volleyball or water sports, there’s a beach in Santa Cruz County that will fill the bill.

Santa Cruz, California
Santa Cruz, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

8. Sip some wine

Santa Cruz wineries
Santa Cruz wineries
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Home to over 70 wineries and tasting rooms, the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA is mostly well-known for Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon varietals.

One of the oldest wine growing regions in the United States, wineries range from small, boutique locations to larger operations including David Bruce Winery in Los Gatos, Ridge Vineyards’ Monte Bello Estate in Cupertino, Bonny Doon Vineyard in Davenport, Byington Vineyard in Los Gatos, and Bargetto Winery, which has a tasting room in Soquel. Many wineries in the region offer visits by appointment only or only on specific days of the week, so call ahead before visiting.

9. Take a hike

Hiking, Santa Cruz, California
Hiking, Santa Cruz, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The abundant natural beauty of Santa Cruz beckons one to get out and hit the hiking trail. The only question in Santa Cruz County is which one.

From the popular Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park with its giant Redwoods to California’s oldest state park, Big Basin Redwoods where you’ll find the largest continuous stand of Ancient Coast Redwoods south of San Francisco, Santa Cruz County’s 14 state parks has a hike for everyone. Find yours by visiting the California State Parks website – just select “Find by County” and choose “Santa Cruz” for a great list of options.

10. Pay a visit to Capitola Village

Capitola Village, California
Capitola Village, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Founded in 1869, charming Capitola Village sits beside the sea, drawing visitors with its colorful buildings, beach, boutiques, antique stores, galleries, restaurants, and wharf.

Capitola Wharf, Capitola Village, California
Capitola Wharf, Capitola Village, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The oldest seaside resort town in California, Capitola Village is home to outdoor movies in the summer, numerous festivals throughout the year and the Capitola Historical Museum.

Capitola Wharf, Capitola Village, California
Capitola Wharf, Capitola Village, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Know before you go

Climate: Average daily high temperatures in the winter and early spring months (November – March) range in the neighborhood of 60°F, with daily highs from April to October reaching into the 70s. Nighttime temperatures drop into the 40s in the winter and 50s in the summer, so a sweater or light jacket is a good idea for evenings year round.

Driving: In northern and coastal areas of California, it normally takes longer than in other areas due to winding rows and heavy traffic. Allow extra time. Upon arrival, do not leave any valuables in your car and watch out for pedestrians.

Poison oak. When hiking, be aware that poison oak is prevalent in the Santa Cruz mountains.

Conserve water. California is in a historic drought, so re-use hotel towels and conserve water whenever possible. Restaurants generally do not bring water to tables without it being requested, so don’t think its bad service – simply ask the server for a glass.


Disclaimer: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. We received no compensation for this article. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.

Chaminade Resort & Spa, Santa Cruz, California

A relaxing retreat at Chaminade Resort & Spa in Santa Cruz

Cover: Room at Chaminade Resort & Spa, Santa Cruz, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


Nestled amidst towering Redwood and Eucalyptus trees, the Chaminade Resort and Spa sits atop a mountain overlooking the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

Chaminade Resort & Spa, Santa Cruz, California
View of Monterey Bay from Chaminade Resort & Spa, Santa Cruz, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

As we drove up the tree-lined road to the resort, we anticipated a rustic lodge – the typical upscale resort in the woods with dark woods and lots of leather furniture. Boy, were we wrong.

Drive into Chaminade
Drive into Chaminade 
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The rooms & suites

Entrance of Chaminade Resort in Santa Cruz, California
Entrance of Chaminade Resort in Santa Cruz, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The Spanish mission style resort is spread across 300 acres, with 156 rooms and suites in 11 buildings, and has recently undergone a huge renovation. Arriving at the door of our junior suite in building 11, a smile crossed our faces as we were greeted with a room number plate created from dominos.

Room number plate at Chaminade
Room number plate at Chaminade
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Opening the door…warm colors and an eclectic sense of playfulness filled the room – so appropriate for a community well-known for its vibrant lifestyle.

Chaminade Resort & Spa, Santa Cruz, California
Junior suite, Chaminade Resort & Spa, Santa Cruz, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The clever, bohemian decor ranged from a cabinet styled like an antique refrigerator that housed the mini-fridge to the measuring stick inspired coat rack. But the pièce de résistance was the headboard – an abacus!

Headboard, Chaminade Resort in Santa Cruz
Headboard, Chaminade Resort in Santa Cruz
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Coat rack, Chaminade Resort in Santa Cruz
Coat rack, Chaminade Resort in Santa Cruz
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Each item in the spacious room seemed to have been carefully selected for both form and function. Underneath the coat rack was a bench with built-in cubbies – perfect for storing backpacks and shoes, as well as providing extra seating.

Jr Suite, Chaminade Resort in Santa Cruz
Jr Suite, Chaminade Resort in Santa Cruz
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

No matchy-matchy nightstands here. Each side of the bed had different tables – both with a cool factor, plenty of built-in power, and bright red lighting accents.

In one corner, an oversized leather chair with a stylish reading lamp and a laptop table provided a comfortable spot for catching up on email or watch the huge flat panel TV. On the opposite side of the room, a nook with a sectional couch & rustic coffee table was the perfect place for enjoying a glass of wine.

Sitting area, Chaminade Resort in Santa Cruz
Sitting area, Chaminade Resort in Santa Cruz
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The bath was sleek with a clean, fresh feel, natural wood accent pieces, BeeKind – Gilchrist & Soames toiletries, and fluffy white towels.

Bath, Chaminade Resort in Santa Cruz
Bath, Chaminade Resort in Santa Cruz
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Industrial-inspired shelving, drawers, and racks in an alcove outside the bath provide plenty of storage and a full-length mirror turns it into a great dressing area. An oversized safe, bathrobe, hair dryer and coffee/tea maker rounded out the amenities.

Dressing area, Chaminade Resort in Santa Cruz
Dressing area, Chaminade Resort in Santa Cruz
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Our first-floor room had a private patio overlooking the forest – a tranquil spot to relax and enjoy nature.

View from patio, Chaminade Resort in Santa Cruz
View from patio, Chaminade Resort in Santa Cruz
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The resort

Walking paths
Walking paths
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Paths meander throughout the resort, leading from each of the guest room buildings to the main building, spa, pool and other amenities. We thoroughly enjoyed the short strolls to dine in the main building, but for those not desiring to do so, the hotel has a van to shuttle guests back and forth.

Each morning, we headed over to the main building where coffee was available in the lobby. Numerous seating areas are scattered throughout the main building, from small intimate tables for two to larger sections for groups.

Lobby seating area, Chaminade Resort & Spa, Santa Cruz, California
Lobby seating area, Chaminade Resort & Spa, Santa Cruz, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

After coffee, we’d wander out to the back of the resort to watch the day come to life and take in those stunning views of the Santa Cruz hillside and Monterey Bay in the distance.

Fountain at Chaminade Resort
Fountain at Chaminade Resort
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Sunrise over the Monterey Bay
Sunrise over the Monterey Bay
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Things to do

With a wide variety of activities available throughout the resort, it’s easy to understand why Chaminade is well-known as a great getaway spot. Guests can choose between hiking trails, a spa, a heated outdoor pool, hot tubs, tennis courts, a volleyball court, and a great fitness center to create their own special retreat.

3 miles of private hiking trails

Greg Hull hiking the blue trail
Greg Hull hiking the blue trail
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Chaminade has three hiking trails on the resort’s 200+ acres: the short half-mile green loop near the main building, the 1 1/4 mile red trail or the 1 3/4 mile blue trail, which was our selection. The hiking trail map can be downloaded on the Chaminade’s website and one is provided at check-in as well.

The red and blue trails wind through soaring Eucalyptus & Redwood trees, a babbling stream, miles of lush greenery and past the Lindwood Lodge where Judge Curtis Lindley built a summer home in the early 1900s on the property.

Lindwood Lodge, Hiking trails at Chaminade
Lindwood Lodge, Hiking trails at Chaminade
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Fitness center

Chaminade's Fitness center
Chaminade’s Fitness center
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

There’s no excuse for missing a workout at Chaminade. The fitness center is large, with a great selection of top of the line equipment and machines including treadmills, ellipticals, stair machines, and bikes. If group sessions are more your style, yoga, Zumba, Pilates, or circuit training classes are offered most mornings and some evenings.

Spa at Chaminade

Spa at Chaminade, Santa Cruz, California
Spa at Chaminade, Santa Cruz, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

No retreat is complete without a visit to the spa and Chaminade’s is 1,700 square feet of luxury and serenity.

Treatment room, Spa at Chaminade, Santa Cruz, California
Treatment room, Spa at Chaminade, Santa Cruz, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Alluring aromas, tranquil sounds, and beautiful artwork await at The Spa at Chaminade – which definitely is a splurge-worthy way to relax and recharge the senses and deserves a spot on your retreat agenda.

Featuring handmade, all organic products, The Spa at Chaminade offers a full menu of innovative services administered in rooms named after essential oils like Jasmine, Rosemary, Sage. Following treatments, spa guests are invited to relax on the private spa patio next to the koi pond overlooking the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Koi pond, Spa at Chaminade, Santa Cruz, California
Koi pond, Spa at Chaminade, Santa Cruz, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Tennis anyone?

Tennis courts, Chaminade Resort
Tennis courts, Chaminade Resort
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Chaminade has four lighted tennis courts and equipment is available by loan at the fitness center.

Swimming pools and hot tubs

Swimming pool, Chaminade Resort & Spa, Santa Cruz, California
Swimming pool, Chaminade Resort & Spa, Santa Cruz, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Whether you want to soak up some California sun or go for a swim, Chaminade’s heated 50-foot outdoor pool and hot tub are available daily from 7am to 11pm. For a special day at the pool, cabanas and poolside food and beverages are also available seasonally.

Dining & beverages

Linwood’s Bar & Grill, Chaminade Resort & Spa, Santa Cruz, California
Linwood’s Bar & Grill, Chaminade Resort & Spa, Santa Cruz, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

While at Chaminade Resort & Spa, we had drinks and appetizers at the bar, dined at Linwood’s Bar & Grill, attended a special event, and experienced Sunday brunch at the Sunset Restaurant – and the food and the service were spectacular.

Linwood’s Bar & Grill

With a menu featuring local, seasonal fare, Linwood’s Bar & Grill is a casual meeting place popular with hotel guests and locals alike. At the bar, the sautéed prawns stole the show, accompanied by a mean lemon drop martini. For the main course, the scallops were seared to perfection and the grilled eggplant in a fig reduction was sublime.

Linwood’s Bar & Grill, Chaminade Resort & Spa, Santa Cruz, California
Linwood’s Bar & Grill, Chaminade Resort & Spa, Santa Cruz, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Chaminade special events

Patrón Tequila tasting party, Chaminade Resort & Spa, Santa Cruz, California
Patrón Tequila tasting party, Chaminade Resort & Spa, Santa Cruz, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Throughout the year, Chaminade hosts special food & beverage events ranging from their popular Farm to Table Wine dinners in the summer, to holiday dinners, to events featuring a specific beverage like… tequila!

We were fortunate to make the Patrón Tequila tasting party while visiting, where Chaminade unveiled their own bespoke barrel (about 27 cases) of aged Patron tequila unique to the resort.  The Reposado had been aged for 9 months in a Hungarian Oak barrel and was featured throughout the event in specialty cocktail flights.

Patrón Tequila tasting party, Chaminade Resort & Spa, Santa Cruz, California
Patrón Tequila tasting party, Chaminade Resort & Spa, Santa Cruz, California
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Sunday brunch at Sunset Restaurant

Sunday Brunch bubbles in Santa Cruz at Chaminade
Sunday Brunch bubbles in Santa Cruz at Chaminade
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Always a fan of a Sunday that begins with bubbles, the Chaminade Sunday brunch is an indulgence extraordinaire.

As with Linwood’s, Sunday brunch at Sunset Restaurant was once again a blend of locals and guests, which is always a good indication of great food and service.

Sunday brunch in Santa Cruz at Chaminade
Sunday brunch in Santa Cruz at Chaminade
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Chaminade Sunday brunch
Chaminade Sunday brunch
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The food was superb and plentiful doesn’t quite describe the multitude of offerings. Raviolis smoked salmon, eggs Benedict, a carving station, custom omelets, waffles, an array of vegetables – and the list goes on, and on, and on.

My personal favorites – the raviolis in an arrabbiata sauce and the stuffed french toast. Oh my – heavenly.

Bubbly & mimosa at Chaminade in Santa Cruz
Bubbly & mimosa at Chaminade in Santa Cruz
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Sunday Brunch at Chaminade in Santa Cruz
Sunday Brunch at Chaminade in Santa Cruz
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The top 5 things we loved most about Chaminade

  1. The staff at Chaminade was exceptional – helpful and friendly from morning to night, throughout every area of the hotel.
  2. The guest rooms are large, well-appointed, creative, and functional with plenty of seating room.
  3. The food is outstanding and the Sunday brunch was one of the best we’ve experienced.
  4. The on-site, private hiking trails are beautiful and convenient.
  5. The resort reflects Santa Cruz’ casual charm in a beautiful, tranquil setting – the atmosphere is upscale, yet comfortable.

Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to Chaminade Resort & Spa 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.

Chaminade Resort & Spa, Santa Cruz, California
Chaminade Resort & Spa, Santa Cruz, California
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Harbour Village Beach Club, Bonaire

Bonaire – More than just a diving island

Cover: Relaxing in Bonaire
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


The island of Bonaire is known for diving and, even though we’ve been to the Caribbean upwards of 30 or 40 times, we don’t dive so we’d never been to Bonaire. But, this year, we wanted to check it out and see what the island had to offer.

Known as one of the top spots in the world for diving, Bonaire is a paradise for those seeking to explore the colorful kaleidoscope that lives below the sea. For years, we’ve wondered if the “B” in the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao) was worth a visit for non-divers.

The answer – if you like a relaxed island with 22 quiet beaches, turquoise waters, fabulous resorts, and so many activities you can’t fit them all in during your visit – then, yes, Bonaire is a true resort vacation destination – above and below the water.

A Bonaire resort vacation

Harbour Village Beach Club, Bonaire
Harbour Village Beach Club, Bonaire
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

We believe that the perfect resort vacation should include a fabulous hotel, some beach time, a bit of island exploration, a few local activities, and, of course, some island flavors in the form of food and drinks. Here’s how we put our Bonaire resort vacation together.

Bonaire iguanas
Bonaire
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Bonaire: Where to stay

Harbour Village Beach Club, Bonaire
Harbour Village Beach Club, Bonaire
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Bonaire has a wide selection of hotel options, ranging from locations offering an intimate retreat to world-class resorts with full amenities. For our Bonaire resort vacation getaway, we stayed at the upper end of the luxury scale with a visit to the Harbour Village Beach Club.

Harbour Village Beach Club, Bonaire
Harbour Village Beach Club, Bonaire
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Situated on a private beach of powder white sand, Harbour Village Beach Club is the definition of beach resort vacation with luxury rooms and suites, a great restaurant and bar overlooking the water, a spa, marina, an attentive staff, and a long, private beach.

Our stay at Harbor Village Resort was fabulous – learn more about Harbour Village Resort and check out the photos »

Harbour Village Beach Club, Bonaire
Harbour Village Beach Club, Bonaire
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Bonaire: Things to do

Harbour Village Beach Club, Bonaire
Harbour Village Beach Club, Bonaire
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

While it was quite tempting to laze away under the blue skies and warm Caribbean sun, we also wanted to fully experience Bonaire while on the island, so we pulled ourselves out of our beach chairs and headed out for a few cool adventures.

There’s no shortage of things to do on Bonaire – hiking, biking, horseback riding, sailing, snorkeling, canoeing, and, of course, diving.

Swimming with horses at Rancho Washikemba

Rancho Washikemba, Bonaire
Rancho Washikemba, Bonaire
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Neither of us had ever ridden a horse before (yeah, who would have figured), so we decided a first-time horse riding experience on a Caribbean island was a good place to start.

What a fabulous morning with the folks at Rancho Washikemba! Experiencing Bonaire on horseback, including a swim through Lagoon Bay while on your horse, was simply amazing. Learn more about horseback riding and swimming with horses in Bonaire with Rancho Washikemba »

Rancho Washikemba, Bonaire
Rancho Washikemba, Bonaire
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Watching the Bonaire sun set with Compass Bonaire

Compass Bonaire Sunset Sail
Compass Bonaire Sunset Sail
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Always a fan of sailing, we next headed to Compass Bonaire for an afternoon sail and sunset dinner cruise.

Captain Wim and his crew entertain guests with an open bar, snorkeling, a delicious BBQ dinner and a beautiful Bonaire sunset. A sail with Compass Bonaire is not to be missed while visiting the island!

Learn more about Compass Bonaire’s snorkeling, sunset and dinner cruise »

Compass Bonaire Sunset Sail
Compass Bonaire Sunset Sail
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Exploring the island

After a leisurely breakfast, we set out on a drive to explore Bonaire.

To the north of the capital city of Kralendijk is a winding road along the coastline with numerous spots to park and take a short hike down to the water.

Bonaire
Bonaire
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The clear waters provide ample opportunity to view a vast assortment of the colorful fish in the warm Caribbean.

Bonaire fish
Bonaire
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Bonaire fish
Bonaire
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

At the northern end of the island is Washington Slagbaai National Park and Brandaris, the highest peak on Bonaire at 241m / 784 ft, which provides beautiful views of the island. With multiple trails for hiking and mountain biking, Washington Slagbaai National Park has a wide variety of terrain ranging from flat roads near the coast to steep, rugged hills. Not for the faint of heart or out-of-shape, the temperatures can get very hot in the exposed environment and require lots of water and sunscreen.

Bonaire
Bonaire
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Thousands of donkeys roam freely on the island of Bonaire. Originally brought to the island by the Spaniards in the 17 century to perform labor, the donkeys must fare for themselves, which can be difficult with many facing starvation, dehydration and the threat of being hit by cars.

Bonaire wild donkeys
Bonaire wild donkeys
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

When driving in Bonaire, be sure and use caution as you may round a curve only to find a couple of donkeys standing in the road. If you stop and roll down the window, don’t be surprised if they stick their head in the car – many are very accustomed to people, others are much shyer and may run to hide.

Donkey Sanctuary Bonaire has rescued over 600 donkeys and a visit to the sanctuary, which is located south of the airport, is a great way to spend a few hours up close with the donkeys, along with iguanas and tortoises. The sanctuary is open daily and can be toured by car, scooter, bike or on foot.

Bonaire wild donkeys
Bonaire wild donkeys
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

In addition to donkeys, iguanas, goats, and other animals that call the island home can be seen scurrying across the road, so stay alert and keep your speed low when driving.

Bonaire iguanas
Bonaire
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Bonaire iguanas
Bonaire
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

On the east side of the island at Bara di Karta, several hiking and biking trails offer the chance to explore the rugged side of Bonaire. Like other trails on the island, the trails are very exposed and can take a toll in the hot sun, so early mornings with a good amount of water and sunscreen are a must.

Washikemba Hiking Trail, Bonaire
Washikemba Hiking Trail, Bonaire
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Flamingos can be spotted around the island and, on the south side of the island, The Pekelmeer Flamingo Sanctuary is one of only four areas in the world where flamingos breed.

Bonaire flamingos
Bonaire
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Near the salt pans, the water appears pink from the many brine shrimp in the water. The brine shrimp are the flamingo’s meal of choice and are what gives flamingos their pink color.

The Pekelmeer Flamingo Sanctuary is home to thousand flamingos, but unfortunately, most of them cannot be seen from the road and the sanctuary is not open to the public. However, a few wandering flamingos may make their way to viewing distance on occasion.

Bonaire flamingos
Bonaire
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Further down the road from the salt pans, are several groups of small, structures – one set yellow, one white, pinkish/red. We couldn’t figure out what these little buildings were for – they are near the sea turtle breeding beaches, so we thought maybe they’d built them for that.

When we returned to the hotel that evening, we asked the bartender, and he had one of the staff that had lived on the island his entire life tell us the history. The structures were slave houses. Five or ten people would call this “home” while they worked at the salt pans. Once a week, they would be allowed to walk to home to Rincon, about 35 km away, to see their families. The slaves, the majority of them government “owned”, were freed on 30 September 1862.

Bonaire slave huts
Bonaire slave huts
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Just a bit further down the road at the southern end of the island stands a beautiful lighthouse, Willemstoren, also known as Lacre Punt Light, which was built in 1837.

Willemstoren lighthouse, Bonaire
Willemstoren lighthouse, Bonaire
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Visiting Klein Bonaire

Klein Bonaire is an uninhabited island just off the west side of Bonaire and home to many snorkeling and diving sites. Klein Bonaire is about 800 meters / 1/2 mile from Bonaire at its closest point and can be accessed via boat, water taxi, sailing tours or kayak. As part of the Bonaire National Marine Park, Klein Bonaire is protected and subject to the park’s fees, rules, and usage regulations.

Bonaire
Bonaire
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Snorkeling at Klein Bonaire, Bonaire
Snorkeling at Klein Bonaire, Bonaire
Photo: Greg K. Hull © Chasing Light Media

Bonaire: Know before you go

Languages: The official language is Dutch. English and Spanish are widely spoken on the island.

Climate: Bonaire’s average temperature is 83º F /30º C, with the trade winds keeping it quite comfortable. The average water temperature is 80° F. Located so close to the equator, the sun is very strong and sunscreen with a high SPF should be worn and reapplied frequently.

Currency: The U.S. dollar is Bonaire’s official currency.

Electricity: 127 volt, 50 cycle.

Rental cars and driving: Multiple car rental companies are located at the airport. Driving in Bonaire is on the right side of the road.


Disclaimer: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. We received no compensation for this article. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.