Ojai, California is a quaint and rural community that has been attracting visitors for years with its charming downtown known for its bohemian shops, art galleries, wine and olive tasting, and expanding culinary scene.
I’m constantly sharing places that I visit but today I thought I’d share my town with you. In my opinion, I have the best of both worlds. I live in the midst of Silicon Valley ~ high tech capital of the world ~ and yet the town I live in, Saratoga, CA, is still reflective of small town America.
Saratoga was established in the mid 1800’s and is listed as a California Historical Landmark. The quaint downtown offers numerous restaurants, coffee shops, boutique stores, a couple Inns and some wine tasting rooms.
A little fact I like to share is that Hollywood scouted Saratoga for one of my favorite movies, It’s a Wonderful Lifewith Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. Who doesn’t want to live in Bedford Falls?! See images of Donna Reed on the cover of Life Magazine and checking out the town (here).
One of my favorite reasons for living here though is that connection to community and the small town feel and spirit that is still apparent here…and no more so than during a holiday. So what better way to pay my respect to our veterans than to attend Saratoga’s Memorial Day Parade. The parade commenced at the WWI Memorial Statue at the beginning of town…
…and then with a short walk through a historic neighborhood we headed to the local cemetery to begin the memorial.
The Madronia Cemetery
Future Silicon Valley Entrepreneur selling lemonade and dog sitting services (dogs not allowed in) at the gate to the cemetery.
Token dive bar everyone likes to hang out at with a great history.
So the next time you’re in or around the Silicon Valley, you might want to check out my idyllic little town…stay at one of the Inns, have dinner on a summer eve, and then head up to an outdoor concert series at The Mountain Winery. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
And lest you think we’re stuck in the past…the City Council did manage to pass this!
See you in Saratoga!
(click first image for slideshow – additional images below)
I will fully admit it’s hard not to become a little spoiled when you have the opportunity to stay at some of the most luxurious hotels in the United States and beyond. With each trip I take, I find a new, indulgent feature that finds its way onto my fantasy list for, what I would consider, the makings of the Ultimate Luxury Hotel.
Mandarin Oriental Hotels
Four Seasons Hotels
The Ritz Carlton
Sure there are the no-compromisestandards for me such as:
Service*Service*Service: My saying is that just as location, location, location is to real estate, so is service, service, service to the luxury hotel industry: in my book ~ No. Compromises. Ever. Good service is the first and foremost attribute that defines any luxury hotel ~ bar none.
Chateau du Sureau
Decadent Beds: This is a must for me because a big part of a vacation is being able to relax and sleep well in order to rejuvenate yourself ~ which is what a vacation is all about, right? Many hotels are very aware that this is a growing request among their guests and are now going to extreme lengths to provide this luxury. The Four Seasons Hotel brand has gone as far as to implement custom-designed beds for their guests’ comfort, Travel and Leisure printed an interesting Battle-of-the Beds article on this trend, and hotel beds are now even making “Top 25” lists. Great news for all of us!
Chateau du Sureau
Ritz Carlton Dove Mountain
Aside from the expected standard-of-excellence at a luxury hotel, I relish in the fine details and the little extras that many places offer. These touches are what can make or break a hotel. Throughout my travels, I have accumulated afantasy list of what I wish every resort would offer, so here are some of the top items on my list:
A Great Welcome: I love arriving at a resort and having the staff greet me by name. Sometimes I’m not even sure how they know it but it certainly makes me feel special. I also love a nice Welcome Amenity. There is something about walking into an unfamiliar room and finding a little treat awaiting you with a welcome note that immediately makes you feel special and at home. It’s a small gesture that goes a long way. The Rosewood Mayakoba is memorable to me in that the staff have a stealth way of communicating with one another throughout the property, ensuring that you are always greeted by name. The Rosewood Mayakoba also offered me one of the best welcome amenities, when upon my arrival, I was presented with a custom-monogrammed napkin with a welcome drink, as well as monogrammed pillow cases, a tote bag, a tequila set and a baseball hat placed in my room…talk about feeling special!
Breakfast Included: I know this might seem basic but I find this a nice perk as breakfast is my favorite meal of the day….and not any ol’ breakfast, let’s make this a gourmet breakfast! The Post Ranch Inn offers one of the most delicious breakfast meals I’ve ever had, not to mentioned it’s served in their Sierra Mar restaurant with stunning views of the Pacific. At Chateau du Sureau, a Relais & Chateaux property, I was awakened as the aroma of breakfast cooking seeped in through the floor boards and engulfed my room. It doesn’t get any better than that and obviously made for a memorable experience.
Outdoor Shower: I’m no exhibitionist but I adore an outdoor shower. There is something so invigorating about taking a shower outdoors in the fresh air. This has become one of my favorite amenities. Calistoga Ranch offers wonderful outdoor showers located under the beautiful mighty oaks on their property. It’s exotically rustic and decadent at the same time.
Luxury Car Program: Many luxury resorts offer a house driver that will usually take you anywhere within a few miles radius which is an extremely convenient service ~ and let me tell you, nothing feels more celebrity-like then when a place like the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills picks you and your besties up at the hottest restaurant in town in their stunning Rolls Royce.
But what is even more fun, is when a hotel offers a luxury car loaner program that allows you to complementarily use the car for the day. I’ve done this at many resorts but one of my favorite memories is when I rented a convertible Mercedes at Solage Calistoga and spent a gorgeous California day driving through the beautiful vineyards in Napa’s Wine Country. I can still feel the wind blowing through my hair!
Pool Amenties: Pool time is always a priority for me on my trips. So for that reason, I absolutely love pool amenities. Not just the water buckets, Evian spritzers, or occasional popsicles ~ although nothing wrong with any of those…but I’m talking about complimentary cabanas, having my sunglasses cleaned, my neck massaged, and yes, even a Margarita bar rolled over my way. To me, there is nothing more luxuriously self-indulgent than pampering pool amenities.
Valet Closet: Many of you may not even know what this is, and it’s probably not what you’re thinking, but it is one of my very favorite features and I wish that every hotel I stayed at had one these. This is a small pass-thru cabinet with a door opening from the hotel hallway and then another door opening from inside the hotel room that allows room service or other personnel to slip items into the cabinet and then you can retrieve the item from your room without having to open the main door to hotel personnel. Brilliant!! How many times have you been in your room relaxing, not appropriately dressed and someone knocks on the door with something for you? Too many times for me to count, so I really appreciate this privacy feature that allows me to remain in complete comfort when my room service order is delivered. The Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas is one of the few hotels that I have been to that has this feature ~ other resorts please take note!
This is just the tip of the iceberg of what I would like to see at my Ultimate Luxury Hotel…complimentary minibars, Club Level perks, downloadable hotel apps, resort bikes are just a few others that come to mind as well. How about you? What defines your Ultimate Luxury Hotel? I would love to know.
Have you ever considered applying for the Global Entry Program? Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States.
This program is one step above the TSA Pre-Check program in that it not only allows you to skip through the long lines but also helps with customs when returning to the US – it does not work on customs for entering other countries.
I had thought about this for a long time but thought the application process would be cumbersome so I never followed through with it. However, when an opportunity presented itself for me to waive the $100 application process fee for a 5 year pass, I decided I might as well give it try.
Low and behold, the process was surprisingly simple. You start with a short online application by answering some personal questions, and assuming you don’t have any legal issues on record, you are immediately pre-approved.
You then need to schedule a time for an in-person interview at the closest Global Entry office – usually located at most international airports. I was a little concerned at what questions would be asked or what the process might be, but it is really just a formality of checking your ID (you bring your passport and driver’s license) and they scan your fingerprints. After that, you receive your card in the mail in 7-10 days!
I can tell you this, I have certainly gone through more inconvenience going through the TSA check on my travels then it was to apply for this program so I think I will be enjoying this benefit! If you travel frequently, I highly suggest looking into the Global Entry or TSA Pre-Check program.
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