Colorado’s Spin Cycle

Colorado's Spin Cycle

August 2, 2019

Colorado The Race

Characterized by high elevations and relentless climbs, the weeklong USA Pro Challenge is too epic for any one city: Ten communities play host to the race’s seven stages, which link Aspen, Crested Butte and Vail with larger hubs such as Colorado Springs and Denver. All test a champion’s mettle. “It’s one of the hardest races I’ve ever done,” says pro rider Tanner Putt of the Bissell Development Cycling team. But legions of fans motivate racers to conquer the challenges. Over the course of the week, 1 million spectators turn out to watch and cheer. “Riders race here and feel like rock stars,” says Shawn Hunter, the race’s co-chairman and CEO. “The only other race in the world that has this level of excitement and energy is the Tour de France.” 

Aspen  

Leave 12,095-foot Independence Pass to the racers. Mere mortals content themselves with the route to the iconic Maroon Bells, which serves up the state’s most celebrated mountain panorama yet demands a relatively modest eff ort (1,600 vertical feet over 10 miles). As an added bonus, the road is closed to cars from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The 20-mile out-and-back ride begins at the roundabout 1 mile west of downtown Aspen. Take the Maroon Creek Road “exit” and pedal uphill past Aspen High School. Rest assured, the hills become gentler as you pass Aspen Highlands ski area. The road climbs gradually, hugging the banks of Maroon Creek as mansions give way to the White River National Forest, where aspenfringed meadows afford glimpses of majestic, 14,026-foot Pyramid Peak. At the road’s end, dismount and walk some 200 yards along the paved path to viewpoints showcasing the Bells’ stunning symmetry mirrored in the blue waters of Maroon Lake. 

Wheel Deals: Ute City Cycles rents drool-worthy Orbea and Felt bikes for 100/day, or get a pro tune for your own ride from the repair crew. Refuel: Peach’s Corner Café tops off your fuel tank with the likes of kale salad or a chicken and avocado panini, served on the outdoor patio. Recover Check into Remède Spa (in the St. Regis) for a stint in its steam caves, stone-lined pools stirred by cascading water and treatment rooms offering wraps, facials and massages featuring local skincare products.

Vail

Like all routes out of the Vail Valley, the 12-mile Daybreak Ridge loop includes a stout climb (1,800 vertical feet) that humbled cyclists in the 2013 USA Pro Challenge. But from the circuit’s high point you overlook the soaring peaks of the Gore Range. And because the upper section of the ride takes place within gated neighborhoods, traffic is scarce. “You’re more likely to spot deer and bear than cars,” says local Brett Donelson. Start in Avon, 11 miles west of Vail, and crank up Village Road, passing through the gated entrance to Beaver Creek Resort. At 1 mile, turn right onto South Holden Road, left onto Borders Road and left again onto Strawberry Park Road. Ogle the luxury residences lining the road, pass beneath the Elkhorn ski lift and pick up Daybreak Ridge Road to top out at a high point affording those well-earned views down into Beaver Creek and Bachelor Gulch. Follow Daybreak Ridge Road as it serpentines down through Bachelor Gulch. Stop to refill a water bottle at the RitzCarlton and then cruise down into Avon via Bachelor Gulch Trail. Venture Sports in Avon rents bikes, organizes group rides and employs the valley’s best bike technicians. Vail Valley riders have long embraced Yellowbelly in West Vail for its all-natural chicken and veggie-laden side dishes Recover.  Spa Anjali (at Avon’s Westin Riverfront) draws from healing traditions in the Alps, Himalayas and Rocky Mountains to create three unique “journeys” that go way beyond a standard massage. 

Colorado Springs: Pikes Peak isn’t the Springs’ only scenic landmark— although cyclists do get to admire this 14,114-foothigh summit from portions of the 18-mile Garden of the Gods loop. It gains 1,200 feet of elevation and visits the city’s other “rock star”: The Garden of the Gods, a pocket of blazing red-rock spires and cliffs tucked among the foothills west of downtown. To taste this eye-candy, get an early-morning start (to avoid crowds and traffic heading into the famed Garden) and head northwest out of downtown via W. Bijou to N. Walnut to Mesa Road. Continue north past Garden of the Gods Country Club and then bike south on the bike path, which parallels N. 30th Street and offers motivating panoramas of Pikes Peak and the Kissing Camels rock, which looks exported from Utah’s Arches National Park. Enter the Garden of the Gods to pedal the one-way loop among its sculpted rock pinnacles, separated from the traffic by a wide bike lane. Exit via a plunge down Ridge Road, then left on W. Pikes Peak Ave., and right on 21st St. to connect to the Midland Trail. This former rail line slopes downhill as it heads back to Colorado Springs. Wheel Deals Criterium Bicycles maintains a big fleet of low-mileage road bikes for riders of every shape and stripe. Refuel The Irish fare at McCabe’s Tavern rewards hard effort with homemade shepherd’s pie, pretzel bread and smoked salmon served on a shady outdoor patio. Recover A Colorado icon, The Broadmoor pampers athletes with therapeutic massage and facials performed in treatment spaces fitted with chandeliers and fireplaces. 

T

T

T

Amalfi Coast Italy

Make Yourself at Home:  Make Yourself at Home Aspen Inspirato’s Signature Residences put you a short bike ride from the racecourse with six homes to choose from including the striking 4,103-squarefoot Castle Creek property along the popular Ute Trail with its four bedrooms and four-and-a-half bathrooms, and the spacious 5,793-square-foot, fivebedroom, five-and-a-half bath Roaring Fork property in the. Aspen Highlands area.  
Snowmass Village Wake up among the aspens groves that blanket the Snowmass ski area from a bedroom in the luxurious Goldenleaf property, one of three Inspirato Signature Residences in the valley. With room for 12, this mountainside retreat features five bedrooms and five-and-a-half bathrooms spread across 4,465 square feet. Ski and hiking trails are a mere 75 yards from its front door.  
Vail Vail Village will be packed with spectators for the start of the pivotal time trial race up Vail Pass. And Inspirato’s Signature Residences at The Solaris will put you in the middle of it all with three- four- and six-bedroom properties ranging from 2,260-square-foot condominums to 4,985-square foot penthouses, all located right in the heart of the village. They’re just a few of the 24 Signature Residences available to members in Vail. 

T

T

T

T

Sight + Sounds; the Travel Gadgets You Need on Your Next Adventure

Garment-Duffel-4

Sight + Sounds; the Travel Gadgets You Need on Your Next Adventure

July 30, 2019

Power Ball

Take your party anywhere you go. Harmon Kardon’s Onyx ($499) is a volleyball-sized speaker that delivers a sensory tour de force. Camouflaged under its cloth-covered grill are four drivers pumping out crisp audio, backed by two, 3-inch woofers for deep base and a pair of 3/4-inch tweeters for clear high-frequency sound. Grab its stainless steel handle and move it where you want, then connect it wirelessly to the music on your iPhone or Android phone for eight hours of nonstop beats. Helping matters is the Onyx’s secret sauce, a so leather backside that adds richness to the sound—and produces a speaker that’s as much a high-end showpiece as it is a complete sound system. 

Immerse Yourself

Thankfully, Aëdle, maker of the premium VK-1 Headphones ($380), opted for understated elegance and luxury, not DJ bling. The on-ear cups are loaded with 40-millimeter drivers and high-end transducers made of a titanium diaphragm and neodymium magnet, wrapped in ultraso, lambskin cushions. The exterior is fashioned from brushed, aircra-grade aluminum, and the headband is formfitting liquid silicon wrapped in supple lambskin. Looks aside, the VK-1’s true beauty shines when the music’s on. Pouring out dark, velvety tones alongside crystal clear mid-range notes, these headphones are designed for music’s most discerning fans. Bonus: The VK-1’s high-quality touch extends to its audio cable; the aramid fiber-wrapped cord houses a microphone for use with a smartphone. 

The Whole Picture 

From the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel to the front rows of Fashion Week, there are many places where you’ve wished you could soak in the surroundings and commit the details to memory forever. But photos, regardless of the resolution, rarely cut it—the crop of the image always cuts out the magic. But the slim RICOH Theta ($399) captures every angle by taking spherical 360-degree snaps using a pair of convex lenses on both the front and back of the device. Shoot and store up to 1,200 JPEG images with the camera, then wirelessly download your images to iOS devices via an embedded Wi-Fi transmitter, or upload files to a PC through its microUSB port, which doubles as a charger for the camera’s battery. Once the image is transferred to a Facebook, Tumbler or Twitter feed, viewers anywhere can zoom in and out, look up, down, and all around the image. Your friends and family may not be able to accompany you on your trips, but when they see your photos, they’ll feel like they were there.

Cinema Buff

Super 16 film is the stock of choice for indie and documentary filmmakers, and if you want your memories to look as good as their silver screen features, you should use it too in the form of the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera ($995). Call it the digital camera answer to shooting in Super 16, albeit one that tips the scales at less than a pound thanks to a lightweight and durable magnesium alloy frame that’s, yes, small enough to fit in a front pocket. For lenses, the Pocket Cinema accepts the industry’s Micro Four Thirds lenses, allowing cinematographers to use a huge array of existing film hardware on this digital shooter. And by capturing video on SD cards, the camera makes it easy to offload clips to your laptop on the fly. No computer? The Blackmagic’s 3.5-inch screen on the camera’s rear makes it easy to see which clips will make the cut on your highlight reel

Sharp Shooter 

While the Sony DEV50 Digital Recording Binoculars ($1,999) look like something out of Star Wars, there’s no science fiction going on inside. Instead it’s stuffed with some of the most cuttingedge imaging technology on the planet. As a pair of binoculars, these lenses are capable of up to 25x magnification, making them ideal range scanners on safaribeach or mountains. But what makes them truly out of sight are two image sensors that allow these binos to shoot 20 megapixel photos, and a pair of high-speed processors that record 1080p HD video in 2-D and, incredibly, in 3-D as well. Assembling images from both the le and right lenses, the DEV-50’s 3-D movies spring to life when viewed through the lenses. A micro-HDMI output lets you move the show to HDTVs. Sony does all this while also cramming image stabilization and auto-focus into the binoculars’ splashand dust-resistant housing to produce a svelte 1.6-pound unit that can admirably replace your digital camera with the bulky zoom lens. 

The Three Best Golf Courses in Hawaii

The Three Best Golf Courses in Hawaii

July 19, 2019

It’s not an overstatement to claim that playing Wailea’s golf courses, all clustered within a 2-mile stretch on Maui’s southwestern shore, is a benchmark experience for mainland golfers. Few places boast as many sweeping ocean vistas from nearly every hole, well-conditioned courses, challenging layouts from highly acclaimed course architects and top-notch service. Not to mention the perfect year-round weather that graces this southwest region of the island. These three standouts exemplify Wailea’s best. 

Old Blue Course

Wailea Golf Club’s Old Blue course is perpetually rated among the most enjoyable on all of Maui, and packs as much vivid scenery and as many wide-open fairways as anyplace you’ll play golf. From its relatively easy, straightaway par-4 first hole traversing toward the ocean to its expansive back nine fairways, Old Blue is an ideal first course to play during your vacation, especially if you’re still in a travel fog or your game is rusty. This 40-year-old gem was designed by Arthur Jack Snyder, who has a reputation for maximizing fun without taking away the challenge of a good design. Holes are forgiving, and you’ll often find your ball rolling back toward the fairway—whether your shots veer right or left. The large greens roll true and are perpetually in terrific condition.

That said, Old Blue is no cakewalk. The afternoon breezes can be brisk, making the open fairways seem like wind tunnels. There are also plenty of bunkers—many of them greenside—but the fluffy sand makes for relatively easy bunker shots. Greens hold the ball well, but beware of the optical illusions: Locals say that all putts break toward the ocean and move faster in that direction, despite how they might appear. You’ll swear that some putts break uphill. 

The front nine feature continual rolling undulations along the fairways and greens, with some uphill tee shots and downhill approaches—many with mesmerizing ocean views. Holes six and seven each have a fairway tree that challenges your drives, particularly if you draw the ball on the tee shot. Speaking of trees, the back nine fairways are nearly all tree-lined. And because this side can be more susceptible to wind, the trees become much more reachable. In fact, the wind can stump even the most-seasoned golfers who may often think that every hole plays into the breeze. No doubt, if you want to play a gorgeous, well-rounded course on Maui with magnificent views from most holes, Old Blue is a must.  

Many of Wailea’s courses offer stunning ocean views, and while the scenery is a major bonus when playing here, the steady offshore breezes—particularly in the afternoons—can pose a challenge to golfers unaccustomed to playing in the wind. Rather than adjust your swing, however, the trick is to “treat the wind as a friend, not as a foe,” says Eddie Lee, a PGA Teaching Professional with the David Leadbetter Academy at Wailea and two-time Aloha Section Teacher of the Year. Lee offers these tips for making the most of Wailea’s breeze. 

Makena Beach & Golf Resort 

The south course at Makena Beach & Golf Resort is among the most challenging on Maui, with narrow fairways and plenty of hazards. It’s a well-rounded course, however, and offers plenty of rewards for golfers who take the risk. 

Another unique jewel designed by Jones, this is a phenomenal 6,914-yard test that can be difficult. There are hills, hazards, tough hole designs and less-than-forgiving terrain that force you to think through every shot before you swing, or you’ll suffer the consequences. Fairways are relatively narrow and are bordered by mature trees—which means they can snag inaccurate shots— and regardless of which tee box you drive from, you will hit traps if you’re not careful with direction and distance. with direction and distance. Aside from the varied distances from one set of tees to the next, you’ll also find the angles of your tee shots, the elevations and the direction to the hole to be completely different, offering a unique playing experience from each tee. Course highlights include the 12th hole, a 185-yarder over a canyon and toward the deep blue Pacific that is, perhaps, the prettiest par-3 in the state. Then there’s the 620-yard, par-5 14th hole that descends 200-plus feet and also plays toward the ocean. The generous greens are not as enormous as those at Old Blue or the Emerald, but they roll perfectly true, smooth and fair. Beyond all the challenges this course presents, you’ll walk away feeling sufficiently tested and with lingering impressions of the dramatic ocean views.

Wind In a cross-breeze situation where the wind is blowing from left to right, open up your shoulder slightly and position your toe-line, in relation to your hips and shoulders, slightly left of the intended target line. Take dead aim at the target with your club face, and your body will naturally align in that direction. “That’s the key,” Lee says. “Aim with the club face, not your body.”

The opposite is true in this case. Keep your toe-line aligned slightly right of the intended target, aiming your club face directly at the target.

Downwind shots offer a tempting situation—when else can you hit a Tourworthy drive? But beware of overpowering your swing. A general tip: “When it’s breezy, swing easy,” says Lee. The wind will flatten the launch angle and your ball will go out, not up. It’s also a good idea to select one club down from what you’d normally use at the given distance. In Hawaii, says Lee, every 10 mph of wind generally equates to a one-club adjustment.

Headwind shots generate drag, which sends the ball upward. To avoid losing yardage, play your ball position from your normal setup, widen your stance and focus on maintaining rhythm and balance on your backswing. Your downswing is the key. Slightly arch and raise your left wrist bone so that your hands lead the clubhead, and keep the clubhead low to the ground through the hitting zone (approximately 10 inches before and 10 inches after you hit the ball), which will send the ball on a lower trajectory with less curve.

Emerald Course

Your next stop should be one of Old Blue’s two sibling layouts. The nearby 6,825-yard Emerald Course is an outstanding Robert Trent Jones Jr. design and plays in the same fun spirit as Old Blue— but with a bit more of a bite. Jones’s self-described mission at the Emerald, which opened in 1994, was to make it up to “24-karat gold” standard. Mission accomplished! The fairways are narrower than Old Blue’s, the greens are large and the pace of play is nice and breezy. There are ocean views from every hole, which often compete for your attention when you’re trying to make quality swings at the ball. In fact, many shots seem to play longer than they appear on the Emerald because of these expansive views. But fear not, the fairways slope toward the middle, coercing mishits safely into the short grass. Texas Wedgers will rejoice in the well-manicured fairways that practically goad them to putt from far off the green, as the aprons roll just as smoothly.

As an added touch of generosity by Jones, many of the tee boxes are elevated so that drives travel downhill and pick up some added distance. Bunker sand is even softer than Old Blue’s, making for fairly predictable play. Greens hold well, too, so you needn’t worry about shots bouncing and rolling well beyond their landing points. Emerald also boasts Maui’s only double green, which serves holes 10 and 17. A greenside lake can also come into play on both holes. As is the case at many resort courses, Jones made the 18th hole relatively easy—in this case a par-5—to allow golfers to end their round on a high note. 

There are ocean views from every hole, which often compete for your attention…. In fact, many shots seem to play longer than they appear on the Emerald because of these expansive views.

Where the Pros Go for Bonefishing​

Where The Pros Go For Bonefishing

July 18, 2019

I catch a nearly imperceptible flash out of the corner of my eye, like a shooting star. A silvery shimmer, the tip of a fin or even a dark shadow creeping along the alabaster seafloor is usually all that betrays the stealthy bonefish who come to feed in these shallow saltwater inlets. Of course my guide, Teddy, is the first to spot the actual fish. “He’s right over there,” he says. “Cast about five yards out at 3 o’clock.”

I strain through my polarized sunglasses and try to make out the silver-sided bonefish cruising off our bow. I squint into the early-morning sunlight and send my line arcing in the general direction, trusting my guide’s eyes more than mine. “Too close. You scared him off,” he says. “You have to lead him a bit, and lay your line out there gently so you draw his attention without spooking him.” I’m with my father and several other men on a guy’s trip in the Abaco Islands, a crescent–shaped cluster of sun-drenched isles in the northern Bahamas. We’re taking a break from our usual daily routine of deep-sea fishing into the early afternoon, followed by evenings filled with booze and seafood, to angle for bonefish in the intertidal flats that pocket the islands.

Our group is separated into two boats, and my father and I have a feeling that our hosts, who have fished here many times before and were sounding a bit too cocky about their prospects this morning, have claimed the veteran guide for themselves, leaving us with the younger and presumably less experienced guide for our first bonefishing experience.

We’ve scarcely had a strike despite hours of spotting and casting, and we fear our inkling may prove true. However, we’re steadfast in our resolve, and take turns standing poised on the small casting deck at the bow while Teddy silently poles the aluminum-hulled skiff across the water from an elevated platform mounted at the stern.

Unlike deep-sea fishing, going after bonefish isn’t a cast-and-wait proposition. It’s an all-in affair that’s more akin to hunting with a fishing rod. To fish effectively, an angler must know where the fish are likely to be, and keep a keen eye out at all times—first spotting his prey in the water before launching a strategically placed and well-presented cast that, with any luck, entices the fish to take the bait. But that’s only half the game.

These skittish fish, nicknamed Grey Ghosts, are known for their cunning nature, and—pound for pound—fight with a strength and speed that far exceeds their modest size. Once on the line, most will shoot off on a dead run like a sprinter out of the blocks, then stop on a dime and reverse direction, or zip under the boat and give themselves just enough slack to spit the hook. It’s no wonder that bonefish are among the world’s most prized saltwater game fish to catch on a fly rod, and many anglers consider landing a trophy-sized bonefish to be the pinnacle of the sport. But first you have to find one. Capt. Rick Sawyer, 55, has made it his life’s work to know where the fish are. An island native, he’s been guiding professionally on Abaco since he was 15, and concentrates his fishing area on the 75 square miles or so of water that ring his home on Green Turtle Cay, a small island just north of Treasure Cay.

“Bonefish like to be the first fish on the flats and the last fish to leave,” he says. “I make my decision on where to fish based on the tide and the wind direction, and there’s certain areas I fish at different stages in the tide that I know are likely to produce fish.” Seasonality also plays a role. Smaller fish congregate in large pools—sometimes as many as several hundred—during the spring and summer. Beginning after the first full moon in November, the big schools of smaller fish leave and the larger fish come in.

Sawyer says a good day of bonefishing on Abaco means catching four to five fish— sometimes as many as 20 small ones in the spring and summer. However, it’s also just as easy to spend a long day and not catch a thing. To maximize clients’ chances of enjoying a productive day of fishing, Sawyer recommends that they practice casting before arriving on the island and heed their guide’s advice when it comes to finer points such as how to cast the line quickly and accurately, especially in windy conditions.

“People ask me all the time, ‘How was the fishing?’ and I say, ‘The fishing was great, but the casting sucked,’” Sawyer says. “If you have a really good fisherman, then you’ll have a really good day of fishing. But if you have someone who can’t see the fish, can’t present the fly or can’t get the line out there far enough, then you’re in for a long day.” And while luck favors the well prepared, there are no absolutes on the flats.

Even after you find the fish, you might “spend two hours chasing them and they won’t eat,” Sawyer says. “And then you might get a slack tide or a change in the wind, or the sun shines at just the right angle, and they’ll start biting. “I like to say that bonefish are like women—unpredictable.” All you can do is present yourself well and hope for the best.

Back on the boat, the sun has reached its zenith and beats down relentlessly on the small skiff. We’ve scarcely had a nibble all morning but are determined to keep our attention sharp, despite the baking heat. We decide to try one more location before calling it a day. Teddy cuts the motor, and we set about the now familiar routine of scanning, casting and waiting when suddenly I get a strike. I set the hook as the fish takes off on a run. I enjoy a brief fight before bringing him close enough to the boat for us to net, snap a photo and release. My next cast also nets another fish, and when my father takes a turn he lands several as well. It seems we’ve found a school of bonefish feeding nearby, and for whatever reason the fish are striking at seemingly every cast. “I’ve never seen them quite like this,” remarks Teddy. “This is special.”

We’re in high spirits on the boat ride back, with the long morning all but forgotten. Our crew in the second boat is unloading their gear as we glide up to the dock. “How was the fishing?” one asks. “Catch anything?” We learn that, despite having three fishermen in their boat, they’ve landed only two small fish all day. “It was fantastic. We caught a ton,” I say, barely suppressing a grin. “Beginner’s luck, I guess.”

The Travel Bag You Need For Your Next Vacation

Vessel-Hero-4

The Travel Bag You Need For Your Next Vacation

July 16, 2019

Weekly business travelers, travel hobbyists, and annual vacation takers have more in common than one might think. Regardless of how often you travel, the desire to have everything go smoothly from start to finish is universal, and the ability to pack completely and efficiently is necessary. And while there’s no way to ensure a quick airport experience or a timely arrival, there are ways to optimize your experience and make it as relaxing as possible, and it starts with the right travel gear.

Traveling pros shouldn’t be the only ones enjoying the reassurance of the best travel products. So before you head out on your next vacation, do your research and be sure to invest in gear that combines the functionality and portability you need to ensure the most efficient travel experience from the moment you step out of your front door.

One travel bag in particular stands out among the rest: the Signature 2.0 Garment Duffel from Vessel Bags.

This duffel’s unique functionality allows travelers to pack every type of garment they’ll need on their trip. Even materials that wrinkle easily are no match for the Garment Duffel’s design and interior. Now you don’t have to worry about finding an iron the moment you get to the hotel or restoring your clothes to their pre-packed glory: the Garment Duffel is specifically designed to keep everything looking as fresh as it did before you traveled across the world with it packed in your bag.

The superior single-zipper system allows the bag to be opened up flat, like a traditional garment bag, so travelers are able to pack and unpack their clothing with ease. And when it’s time to hit the road again, the Garment Duffel can be zipped back up to act like a standard duffel bag.

Worried the Garment Duffel isn’t large enough to hold your stuff? With the capacity to hold up to three full suits, two separate, interior shoe compartments and additional space within the duffel itself, travelers will be able to pack everything they need. And if you’re just making a quick trip, the Garment Duffel comes equipped with a shoulder strap for quick and easy carrying, and it meets international carry-on requirements so you don’t have to go through the hassle of checking a bag.

Experienced travelers aren’t the only ones who deserve the ease and convenience of thoughtfully designed luggage. If you have a vacation coming up and you’re intrigued by the idea of efficient packing and opening your luggage to wrinkle-free clothes, invest in a Garment Duffel before you take off. Whether you’re packing that new dress, an extra pair of shoes or your freshly pressed suit, they’ll fit perfectly in your new bag.

Garment Duffel 2

Enjoying your travel experience begins with the right gear. Inefficient packing and overstuffed luggage are a thing of the past. With the Garment Duffel’s highly functional and sleek design, you won’t have to worry about bulky luggage at the airport, on the train or as you make your way up to your hotel room. And when you arrive at your destination, you won’t have to do laundry or seek out an iron to restore your clothing to its pre-packed state. Instead, you’ll be able to settle in and relax knowing that your things were taken care of from start to finish.

It really is easier to enjoy your vacation when you have everything you need, and one of the best ways to ensure that is to use the best gear—like the Garment Duffel. It doesn’t matter how often you travel, your desire to have everything go smoothly and to pack efficiently and completely likens you to a travel pro. Whether you’re heading into town or traveling far away, with the right gear, you’ll feel right at home.

Experience San Francisco Like a Local

Experience San Francisco Like a Local

July 15, 2019

Universally considered one of the greatest cities on the globe, San Francisco has an irresistible and international allure. So what’s the best way to enjoy her world-famous splendor? With the wide eyes of a visitor and the leading hand of a knowledgeable local (ahem, that would be me).

I confess… I cannot remember the last time I roamed Fisherman’s Wharf, climbed to the top of Coit Tower or said hello to the chatty sea lions relaxing at Pier 39. However, I have been gleefully shopping, eating and cocktailing my way around town—from South of Market to Pacific Heights and the Mission District—for the better part of 17 years. Ding, ding, ding! Precisely why you should take my proverbial hand and let me steer you toward some of my favorite neighborhood haunts, buzzy dining spots, amazing boutiques and cool cocktail bars not plastered in every guidebook known to man. What of all those world-famous icons, museums and attractions? Absolutely worthy of their acclaim—and a visit. But you don’t need me to tell you that. The ultimate goal of this insider’s tour to the City by the Bay is to help you experience the mind-blowing hills, stunning Victorians and mouthwatering chocolate through the eyes of a still-smitten local—New Yorker by birth, San Franciscan by choice

Get Your Shop On

San Francisco often gets a bad rap for its fashion sense. But one thing is certain: it’s impossible to impeach the city’s shopping scene – one I have been successfully mining over the years. Indeed, the city is a buyers’ paradise, stuffed with an eclectic mix of boutiques and department stores. Here’s an introduction to some of my favorite local shops in neighborhoods you may not know. 

Hayes Valley 

Meet my hands-down favorite place to score giddy-inducing fashions. Think of this neighborhood, anchored by Hayes Street, as the SoHo of San Francisco, except teensier and without a recognizable chain store in sight. In other words, welcome to the coolest cluster of independent boutiques in town. You’ll find hip and sophisticated women’s, men’s and children’s clothing, fabulous footwear, and funky housewares and home furnishings all within five square blocks. The best way to tackle it? Just wander—and lust. 

This airy and still-newish boutique woos both genders with an ultra-chic bounty of coveted clothing from the likes of Comme des Garcons, Acne and Alexander Wang. Excellent customer service and amazing accessories by local artists add to its allure.

A hipster favorite—it’s all about promoting and selling new, emerging and ecofriendly local designers. The perfect spot to purchase gifts, edgy tees with San Francisco graphics, fun jewelry and decidedly cool baby and kids clothes.

The MO of this happy little shop: sleek and simple with a Scandinavian twist. Cool kitchen gadgets, jewelry, home accessories and unique gifts are stylishly displayed along with products by Marimekko, Design House Stockholm and Alvar Alto.

The whimsical windows of this cavernous menswear spot will demand that you enter, while the Americana vintage vibe and fresh mix of denim, sportswear and workwear are sure to keep you interested. Styles run the gamut from fullon fab Zig-Zag shoes for $20 to investment pieces by Rag & Bone and Paul Smith. Crazy-cool curios with a manly-man slant add to the fashion fun.

Don’t forget to cure your shopping munchies! Refuel at these hotspots before you get back to the main course–shopping!

Blue Bottle: A new cult of java lovers can’t get enough of this local, organic coffee. Look for the kiosk (and the queue). 

Miette Confiserie: Kids of all ages will eagerly get their sweet fix on here. Scrumptious candies by the pound, cupcakes and macaroons will have you sufficiently sugar rushed in no time.

La BoulangeThis French cafe is the perfect stop for an au lait and chocolate croissant, salad Nicoise or croque monsieur.

How about a side of Bar – bary Coast history with your shopping? Situated in the shadow of the Transamerica Pyramid (north and west of the Financial District), this little-known enclave has an Old World feel with its beautiful brick and ornate cast-iron buildings dating back to the Gold Rush days. It’s home to the city’s finest arts and antique dealers, as well as modern design stores and two of the best women’s boutiques in the city. Meandering these historic blocks is a wonderful way to spend a couple of only-inSan Francisco hours. Grab a bite at Bix—a San Francisco institution—or the more casual but equally historic Old Ship Saloon. Prefer a champagne break? Pull up a couch at The Bubble Lounge.

Whether you’re in the mar – ket for a new masterpiece or just window-shopping, take a whirl through this almost-30-year-old gallery, one of the city’s finest, specializing in 19th- and 20th-century European and American paintings with a focus on California artists.

Ladies, prepare for 4,000 square feet of uber-chic fashions in a landmark building, formerly occupied by Ernie’s restaurant, featured in Alfred Hitch – cock’s Vertigo. What’s being served up nowadays is a meticulously edited menu of sophisticated designer clothing. Name-dropping just a bit to whet your appetite… Helmut Lang, Rick Owens, Viktor & Rolf. Throw in gorgeous accessories and footwear? Swoon-worthy is an understatement.

La Boutique L’art et la Mode

A relative newcomer, this insouciant boutique continues to make a positive impression on local stylistas who flock to the bright bi-level space for innovative European designer collections. Another plus: It’s also part contemporary art gallery and event space. Ooh la la!

Even though the best way to sop up the local flavor is to hit the boutiques and neighborhoods, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give Union Square a proper nod. It is, after all, the city’s central shop – ping hub overflowing with department stores (Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Mar – cus, Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Barneys New York and Nordstrom) and designer storefronts (Prada, Gucci, Hermès, Bottega Veneta, Louis Vuitton and just-opened Mulberry). Also noteworthy: Maiden Lane, just off the square (between Geary and Post Streets from Stockton to Kearny Streets), a cobble – stone, pedestrian-only street clustered with more luxury stores (Marc Jacobs, Chanel, Diptyque and Tory Burch) and outdoor cafes. Local highlights include Manika Jewelry, Glory Chen and Gump’s, the 150-year-old legendary retailer that sells artful objects, jewelry and home décor. (Just look for the red awnings.) 

Around the City in 5 Plates: 

San Francisco is a veritable foodie heaven with an innovative and ethnically diverse restaurant scene, an excess of superstar chefs and a gastronomic reputation that rivals the best in the world. The perfect way to get a taste? Eat like a local and chomp your way through the city from taco truck to Tony hotspot, one palate-pleasing meal at a time.  

Chef Thomas McNaughton brings us upscale Cali cuisine married perfectly with a desirable location in the center of culinary hipsterdom—the Mission District’s 20th Street corridor. The bright space has a rustic-urban feel with equal parts indoor and outdoor dining. Refined yet simple dishes with an emphasis on local ingredients will have you at first bite. Two to try: ham, greens, herbs, marinated bread and white cheddar; and squid, avocado, celery and pine nut mousse. More adventurous types should go for the daily tasting menu—you don’t know what you’ll get until it’s served.

Location, location, location. That and a mean latte have made this coffee-shop-cum-bistro the go-to hangout for venture capitalists, techie bloggers and tech rockstars themselves. It all makes sense when you consider that the eatery sits across from the Caltrain station (the commuter hub between the city and Silicon Valley), nearby AT&T Park and a slew of startups. The deal-making all goes down in a hip industrial space (carved from the refrigerated room of a one – time creamery) with both indoor and outdoor seat – ing. Best bets on the menu: breakfast sandwiches, salads and savory crepes. Also find a selection of beer and wine.

All hail the city’s first permanent food truck pod. Finally, we truckie devotees can stop stalking and obsessively checking Twitter to find out what abandoned space or hidden alley is the location du jour for scrumptious falafels, tamales, pies or po’ boys. The park is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, and you’ll find a rotating group of six to 10 trucks at any given time. (Curry Up Now is my fave.) No doubt, this is food truck dining deluxe— there’s covered seating, free WiFi and on-site park – ing, regular movie night screenings for clarity and a soon-to-open beer garden.

Finding a tasty burrito in San Francisco, especially in the city’s Latin-meets-hipster Mission hood, isn’t exactly like discovering the Holy Grail. But if dining among locals at an authentic, colorful and comfort – able taqueria that delivers consistently fresh and flavorful food sounds appeal – ing, this one’s for you. You can’t go wrong with anything on the extensive menu— enchiladas are universally lauded, but I say fish tacos all the way. And make sure to order one of the signature (yummy) agua frescas.

I have a special place in my heart for Charles Phan’s Vietnamese restaurant, which opened the same year I moved to the city. There is one reason I have remained loyal over the years as it moved locations and welcomed siblings and accolades galore—the food has never failed me. Now, long settled in its stunning Ferry Building location, with breathtaking views of the Bay and its namesake bridge, it has solidified itself as one of San Francisco’s culinary gems. What to order? Daikon rice cakes, shaking beef and cellophane noodles with Dungeness crab. And that’s just for starters.

San Francisco 101: A Nugget of History

Right around the same time those 13 colonies were declaring their independence, Spanish settlers were building a church near a beautiful bay, 3,000 miles away. That house of worship was dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi, nicknamed San Francisco. Fast-forward 75 years or so and the Gold Rush was on, Levi Strauss was selling his first jeans to the miners and California became the 31st state (1850). The 20th century began with a tragedy: the 1906 earthquake and fire that destroyed 80 percent of the city. But the tide had turned by 1915, when a newly reconstructed and grander metropolis debuted at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. 

Lay of the Land 

San Francisco proper consists of 40-plus diverse and distinct neighborhoods, plus an ever-evolving crop of trendy, new micro-hoods. Daunting for visitors? Perhaps. But the good news is that many of the must-explore neighborhoods are clustered together and easily accessible by car, taxi and public transportation (bus, cable car, streetcar and underground). Most areas are walkable, but hills of varying steepness will greet you at some point during your travels. Here are your options: Inhale and take it one block at a time; find an alternate route to your destination (there usually is one); or hop back in your car (or hail/call a cab).

When to Go

The best time to visit is between September and November, when Northern California is at its warmest and sunniest. Of course, every time of year has its own appeal. The holiday season through February is the least touristy, most rainy and best for fog watching (you have to see it to believe it). Spring is lovely and dry although still quite cool. Summer is the busiest time with visitors, so be sure to make reservations for must-do, -eats and -sees well in advance of your trip. Warm layers are another must. That famous quote about the coldest winter being a San Francisco summer is so brilliant because it’s true. 

The Clock Strikes Cocktail Hour

San Francisco has long loved its cocktails. Today, it’s home to an ever-burgeoning scene where cocktails-from classics to cuttingedge and complex varieties – are stealing the spotlight. Thirsty? Mix and mingle at this trio of utterly unquenchable nightspots. 

Slip on your fedora and take a trip back in time to Prohibition days at this stunning speakeasy. An incognito entrance, passwords and a revolving bookcase are all part of the fun… and kitsch. Bourbon and Branch is known for its curated offering of hand-selected spirits and an extensive menu of cocktails, from old-school classics to market-fresh varieties made with produce from the morning run at local farmers’ markets. Knowledgeable slingers are always game for creating personalized libations (order a cosmopolitan at your own peril). Reservations and taxis are highly recommended; food is not served.

Lion Pub

It’s always a roaring good time at this unmarked lounge, beloved by pretty much all who know about it. You’ll find a chill scene complemented by a cozy fireplace, dim lighting and non-blaring dance music; things tend to get more hopping as the night progresses. But the ambience wouldn’t mean much, of course, without the signature libations (ahh! those cocktails) made with fresh-squeezed juices (orange, grapefruit, cantaloupe, strawberry, mango and watermelon). Mojitos, margaritas and, my favorite, the fresh basil vodka gimlet are all simply delish.

Après work to late night, every hour is happy at this Financial District favorite. Lots of wood, exposed brick walls, a fireplace and vaulted ceilings decorated by 300 Kentucky-imported whiskey barrels add to the cozy-slash-hip ambience. Bourbon lovers, especially, will be in their element as it’s the bar’s raison d’être. Not a fan of the hooch? No worries. The massive menu is loaded with amazing local beers, superstar artisanal cocktails and boutique California wines. Like me, most regulars flock for the specialty punches, intended for four, served in oversized glass bowls. Cheers!

Treat Yourself to These Top Spa Experiences

Treat Yourself to These Top Spa Experiences

July 8, 2019

After a day of air travel or a long stint in the car, a trusty deep-tissue massage is just the ticket for relieving sore muscles or working out tight knots. Lately, however, I’ve been trying to expand my horizons a bit when I travel—especially since resort spas are an ideal place to try new treatments. After all, what better place to pamper yourself than on vacation, with a treatment you just can’t find at home? Following are some spa services to consider on your next trip. Some of them are trendy (will we still see diamond facials on the menu in five years?) and others are timeless (ancient Thai techniques have been practiced for centuries). But all are worth experiencing.

The Diamond Standard

Do minute amounts of diamonds, gems and crystals in lotions and oils truly help purify, brighten and polish your skin? Personally, I think the jury’s still out on that one…but if you have a free hour on vacation, plus a couple hundred dollars to spare, a diamond facial or gemstone massage may leave you with baby-smooth skin for the rest of your trip.

At Trump SoHo in New York City, the Harmonizing Gemstone Treatment will feed your body with essential trace elements, while semi-precious stones are applied to each chakra to rebalance the body’s energy. The Five Diamond Gemstone Facial at ARIA in Las Vegas features a special serum rich in micronized diamonds and extract of pure orchid to smooth fine lines.

Asian Influence

You don’t need to travel halfway around the world to experience the soothing and spiritual influence of therapists well schooled in the art of Thai massage. East meets West in many resort spas, where traditional European-style facials are on the menu right alongside the ancient Chinese art of reflexology, Javanese Lulur ritual or Hindu Ayurvedic massage.

Interestingly, there is a vast array of Asian therapies in the Caribbean’s Six Senses Spa in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. Herbal packs with turmeric and lemongrass are applied to the skin in the Thai Herbal Compress treatment (which is said to improve one’s qi flow).

Indigenous Ingredients

Using locally sourced products that feature extracts made from area plants, fruits and flowers has become the norm at spas worldwide. You’ll find seaweed concentrate at oceanfront resorts and essential oils infused with alpine wildflowers at mountain spas. Same goes for clay, mud and salts used in body wraps and scrubs

The Transpiration treatment at Spa Montage in Deer Valley, Utah, ends with a rhythmic massage using nutritive aspen-bark extract. Spa services at Le Sereno on St. Barts use skincare products by Ligne St. Barth, manufactured on the island.

Whole-Body Wellness

Instead of offering isolated treatments that make a guest feel good, many resort spas offer wellness coaching, nutrition counseling and personal training that can help vacationers effect beneficial changes in their health long after they’ve returned home. While you might not be able to fit in a visit to the dietitian during a busy workweek, perhaps you can take some time out of a beach day to seek counsel on a long-lingering health concern with an expert practitioner.

At Hualalai Resort on the Big Island’s Kohala Coast, book a session with a chiropractor, acupuncturist, physical therapist or even a holistic sound/energy healer.

Just for Men

More often than not, I’ll walk into a resort spa’s co-ed relaxation room to find robed men waiting for therapists to call their names. Indeed, spa services are hardly just for the girls; men find therapeutic massages hugely beneficial to sports performance and overall well-being. Gentlemen’s facials cater to male skin with non-perfumed products, and special shaves hark back to the classic, old-fashioned barber shop.

I love that the Esperanza Resort in Cabo San Lucas appeals to men’s tastes with the Mexican Beer and Lime Facial, which features steam – ing hot towels to open pores and a massage that eases tension in the neck, shoulders and scalp.

A spa treatment can be a microcosm of an entire vacation: local ingredients, new experiences and a willingness to sit back and submit to the ministrations of trained professionals. Step outside the norm and relax into a new space.

Why the Tetons in Wyoming Are a Must-Visit for Adventurous Travelers

Tetons-Jackson-Hole-Wyomin-Featured

Why the Tetons in Wyoming Are a Must-Visit for Adventurous Travelers

June 21, 2019

Reaching the summit of Buck Mountain, the hard work should be done. Over two days, you’ve climbed 5,000 feet from the valley floor. Last night you camped—in a tent, in a snowfield—near one of the highest lakes in Grand Teton National Park, Timberline Lake. At sunset, you watched the Teton Range throw its profile—a shadow of it—down on Jackson Hole. This morning, you tackled the final 2,000-some feet to Buck’s summit, negotiating a knife-edge ridge that, to the north, fell away thousands of feet. It was as exhilarating as it was terrifying. 

Now standing on your school bus-sized aerie with the dozen other members of your group, the South, Middle and Grand Tetons loom to the north. To the east, on the far side of the valley, mountain range after mountain range stretches into the distance. Winding through the valley floor, the Snake River lives up to its name.

Of course you want to take photos. Using a trick learned two days prior, on another, less-exposed but equally beautiful summit elsewhere in the range, you carefully take off your backpack and secure it to the slope using webbing and a carabiner. It’s important your backpack doesn’t go over an edge. You don’t want to lose the snacks in it. More importantly, you don’t want to lose your skis, which are tightly lashed to its exterior. You didn’t climb 11,938-foot Buck just to climb it. You’ve climbed Buck to ski its East Face.

One of a handful of skiers in Exum Mountain Guides’ annual four-day Live to Ski Camp, you’re already a seasoned backcountry skier, able to handle 6,000 feet a day of climbing, familiar with the use of an ice axe, crampons and basic knots, and confident skiing steep slopes with pitches of up to 45 degrees. You’ve applied—all applicants have to submit a skiing résumé, and Exum guide and camp co-founder Zahan Billimoria says less than half are accepted—to this camp because there’s even more out there you want to explore. But this exploration you want to do requires climbing and skiing skills beyond what you currently have; the Tetons provide an ideal setting for such a high level of education.

Grand-Tetons-Jackson-Hole-Wyoming

“There’s a huge gap between being a proficient backcountry skier who hunts for powder all winter long and developing the skills to go ski steep, high-consequence terrain that might involve a rappel or some belaying,” says Billimoria. “That’s what this camp was designed for—to help backcountry skiers bridge that gap to becoming solid ski mountaineers.”

Ski mountaineering, as its name suggests, combines skiing with mountaineering. General backcountry skiing involves skiers skiing up (also known as skinning) a mountain before skiing down. Ski mountaineers do the same, but often rely on technical gear such as ropes, harnesses, crampons and ice axes to navigate the trickiest parts of a route. While ascending, ski mountaineers might transition from skinning to carrying skis on their backs so that they can climb up an ice waterfall. (For the final 2,000 feet up Buck, you have your skis on your back; not because you had to ice climb, but because it is too steep to skin.) Skiing down, ski mountaineers might rappel a section that is unskiable (such as a cliff band or ice waterfall). General backcountry skiing has little objective danger aside from the current avalanche hazard and obstacles such as trees. Ski mountaineering is often in high-consequence and steep terrain where a slip or fall, on the ascent or descent, may result in serious injury or death.

A ski mountaineer might ski on belay, with a rope attached to her climbing harness while a partner above works the other end to prevent significant sliding after a fall. Mail Cabin, a lovely valley on the west side of Teton Pass that has tree skiing and numerous open bowls (and where Exum does single-day guided trips) is backcountry skiing. The North Face of Spalding Peak, which you skied on day 1, Skywalk above Avalanche Canyon (day 2) and the East Face of Buck, your final exam for the camp, are all considered ski mountaineering.

“The reason we’re so stringent about participants’ experience and skill level is that we’re really committed to delivering an A+ experience for the people who are ready,” says Billimoria, who grew up in Switzerland and has been rock and ski guiding for Exum for six years. “There are lots of learning and skill-building opportunities for intermediates, but really none for high-level people who want to take it to the next level and eventually tackle alpine-style objectives like Denali, Shuksan or the Grand Teton.” The applicants who made the cut for the camp range in age from early 20s to early 60s. The majority are in their 40s. In my camp, I was one of two women.

While Buck involved a night of camping, the first two days focused on instruction and skill development like constructing anchors or skiing on belay. Each of these days we were back in Jackson in time for dinner. We could have learned about anchors to belay off or rappel from in a conference room, but that’s not how this camp goes. Instead, guides found a giant boulder in the middle of the Meadows, a flattish area at nearly 10,000 feet up Garnet Canyon and beneath the Middle Teton, and had everyone practice building anchors. 

First, though, we climbed 12,240-foot Spalding Peak and skied its 1,500-foot North Face, practicing skiing on belay at its very top, where the pitch approached 50 degrees. Skiing on belay, one end of a rope tied into your harness and the other end in the hands of Exum guide and co-owner Nat Patridge above, wasn’t as burdensome as you expected. Patridge asked that you count out loud to three. “Turn every time you get to ‘three,’ ” he said. (Turning at consistent intervals sets up the belayer to smoothly feed out the rope, rather than getting hung up and having the rope pull you backwards.)

The next day we learned more about skiing on belay—and got to belay some of our fellow campers—while skiing runs off the north face of Albright Peak. Each day, camp guides challenged us to think more and more for ourselves, a skill necessary in the mountains. “There’s no one correct way to do this stuff,” Billimoria, and the four other instructors, repeated over and over. “We want to show you several different ways and then you can make the choice that works for the specific situation.”

Stepping into your skis on the summit of Buck, you know the hard part is not over. Also, you’ve decided that skiing the top part of the face on belay works best for you. Considered one of the classic ski mountaineering routes in the Tetons, the top of the 1,200-foot East Face nears 45 degrees in pitch. About two-thirds of the way down, the face is bisected by a 200-foot- tall cliff band. To the left of the cliff band there is a break in the rocks you can ski through, but a fall high on the face, when you’re still above the cliffs, is disastrous. There’s little likelihood of being able to self-arrest before flying off the cliff. You’re fairly certain you’ve got the skills to ski the top without falling, but, since falling has such high consequences, why take the risk? “A rope isn’t a weakness, but a really valuable tool,” Billimoria says.

Making your first turns off Buck’s summit, you’re smiling. Actually, no. Smiling doesn’t do it justice. You’re beaming. A goofy grin owns your face. You’re still concentrating and focused and don’t want to fall—being on belay saves you from the cliffs below but not from the ribbing of fellow campers— but missing is the steely taste of fear you’ve had before at the top of intimidating lines. You’re going to enjoy this. Four turns in you let loose a yelp. The Haute Route was great and so is heading out of bounds from the top of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s tram, but carving turns through the corn snow—spring conditions, when avalanches are less likely, are the best for ski mountaineering—on a ginormous mountain face, that from the valley floor looks vertiginous, is something else entirely. You wonder if you’ll ever be truly happy skiing “usual” runs and routes again. You want to climb and ski every peak and line in the Tetons.

And that’s the stoke Exum is hoping this camp brings you. “Every big mountain skier wants to ski the Tetons. They are kind of without comparison. They’re certainly the greatest of all the accessible ranges in the U.S.,” Billimoria says. “Pair that level of terrain with the history of Exum Guides and also with skiers who have the desire and curiosity to learn how to safely explore serious mountains and you’ve got something unlike anything else offered anywhere.”

Teton-Jackson-Hole-Wyoming

Ski mountaineering has no single inventor or father, but, in the U.S., Bill Briggs, who first moved to Jackson Hole in the late 1950s, is pretty close. In the 1960s and early 1970s, he did first ski descents of the Middle Teton, South Teton, Mount Moran and Mount Owen. But it was his 1971 ski descent of the Grand Teton that really showed what was possible with the sport. In 2008, Briggs, who still lives in Jackson, was inducted into the U.S. National Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame.

Closer to the present, few people have done more to promote and celebrate ski mountaineering in the Tetons than Steve Romeo, who, before his death in March 2012 at age 42 in an avalanche in Grand Teton National Park, blogged about ski mountaineering adventures big and small in the range on TetonAT. com. (Although no new “trip reports” are being added to the site, Romeo’s family and friends maintain its archives.) “He helped put the Tetons on the map for our generation as the premier destination in North America to test your skills as a ski mountaineer,” says Billimoria, who was a former ski partner of Romeo’s. This camp took its name exactly from Romeo’s motto, “Live to Ski.” “We wanted to be part of Steve’s legacy,” Billimoria says.

Back on Buck, you’re past the section where a fall would take you over cliffs and about to enter the couloir that lets you ski through them. You feel like you’re doing nothing so much as living to ski. Pointing your skis into the 15-foot-wide swath of snow, you vaguely remember responsibilities and to-dos and meetings and annoyances, but those intrusions last a mere millisecond. You’ve still got nearly 3,000 feet of turns before you’re back in the real world … if you can ever fully be in it again after having had your eyes opened to what you’re capable of.

Orange County’s Best Golf Courses

Orange County's Best Golf Courses

June 14, 2019

There are few places in the world nicer than Orange County, California. The Pacific lined stretch from Huntington Beach down through Dana Point is scenic. Filled with world-class restaurants and shopping, it’s bordered by wide, soft-sand Southern California Beaches. When people say they’re traveling to Newport, they typically mean this heavenly belt of Orange County, the geographic center of which is Newport Beach.

Not only is the area gorgeous and brimming with culture and activity, but the golf here is simply impeccable. While courses are sprawled throughout the vast 791-square-mile county, it’s the links in the southern region that everyone raves about. There are courses along the water with ocean-resort ambience and inland courses with a tranquil, rural farm feeling just miles from the coast. There are enough world-class courses in the area to fill your next golf vacation—or two.

Through the 1980s and early 1990s, the area experienced a boom of upscale, daily-fee courses. Twenty years later, many of these courses have matured nicely into beautiful and challenging layouts for all skill levels. Plus, they’ve been well-maintained all along: The golf facilities do everything they can to keep golfers coming back. And the draw is difficult to resist. Add in the fact that the average Newport Beach temperature is 68 degrees year-round and you quickly realize you have the perfect golf climate, no matter when you want to play.

Pelican Hill is the area’s crown jewel, but there are other outstanding courses in the area, too. Here, we detail three of the finest courses in Orange County to entice you toward your next golf getaway. We’ll give you the lay of the land, but if you want to know which way the greens break, you just have to find out for yourself.

Monarch Beach Golf Links: This 6,601-yard, par-70 gem in Dana Point—just south of Newport and Laguna beaches—is a Robert Trent Jones, Jr. design modeled after a typical Scottish links-style course. Its quick, small, rolling greens and tight fairways are challenging, no doubt, and the sloping rough gets thick, which can balloon some scores.

That said, the course is a destination of sheer beauty. Two holes play right down to the ocean, but all 18 have some view of the Pacific. And there’s a perpetual breeze that somehow brings alive the entire experience. Back in 2001 and 2002, Monarch Beach hosted the Hyundai Team Matches with top players from the PGA, LPGA, and Senior PGA tours. That’s when Tom Watson compared the greens to Augusta National’s. Yep, they’re that good.

Pace of play is emphasized here, so you will likely see marshals driving about during the course of a round to keep this moving. If the course and its jaw-dropping, sweeping ocean views aren’t enough of an attraction, then consider that the 1,200-square-foot pro shop has been named among America’s Top 100. The grand clubhouse is also a perfect place to watch a post-round sunset while enjoying a drink. Best of all, the course’s friendly staffers treat everyone like they’re members for a day.

Strawberry Farms Golf Club: While the entire Newport Beach area can sometimes feel like a bustling big city, there are several nearby escapes for golfers. Locals love this par-71, 6,700-yard, Jim Lipe design in Irvine, just inland over the hills from Newport Coast. Located in peaceful farm country—complete with big red barn—this course truly feels like another part of the country. Set amid canyons and wetlands, the rural-style course affords golfers picturesque views across a 35-acre reservoir on the back nine, plus massive undulating greens throughout that are enveloped by wildlife and natural vegetation.

Surrounding hillsides are replete with large boulders and natural waterfalls. The course itself is player-friendly, with no overbearing hills or drastic doglegs to combat. Five holes on the back nine play alongside the lake. Chances are you’ll score well as the course plays with a tendency of forgiveness. And it’s perpetually in good shape.

The facility was developed by Doug DeCinces, a former California Angels infielder. When opening the venue in 1997, he insisted that it house a good restaurant. And in this case, he hit a home run. The Farmhouse Grill serves some of the best breakfast burritos and burgers in town and is frequented by non-golfers for breakfast and lunch.

Oak Creek Golf Club: Tom Fazio-designed courses have a reputation for being forgiving to golfers of all skill levels. Balls hitting the edge of the fairway seem to roll back toward the center. Those straying into the rough never become completely buried. And putts tend to roll truly, without surprise breaks.

All of that is encompassed in this par-71, 6,834-yard Irvine course that meanders around a former orange grove with rolling, well-manicured fairways, bull nosed bunkers, guarded greens, and serene lakes. Since the venue opened in 1996, the dynamic trees and flora have matured with such grace that the course feels like it has been around for decades. It’s a true sanctuary that was built with environmental sensitivity and preserves a trace of the past— exhibited by the fact that you never see a house nor a road from any hole. You may, however, catch an owl, hawk, egret or heron, thanks to Oak Creek’s participation in the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf Courses.

The first few holes can deceive you into thinking you’re bound for a personal best, but hang on as the layout gets increasingly more difficult throughout the round. The state-of-the-art practice facility–which has been rated by local publications as the finest in the county–features 65 natural turf tees, a nine-acre all terrain landing area, two practice greens, and a large practice bunker. There’s also a club-fitting company permanently housed at one end of the range. Truly … what more do you need?