[spotlight series. amanda blakleybeckerman girlsela aldorsson]

[toronto soundtrack. oh sailor]

We first came to Toronto when we were living in London 15 years ago. A quick and easy hop across the pond. The reason for our trip – a visit to see our Toronto insider, Amanda Blakley - who we had met backpacking through Italy that same summer. It was the beginning of a long and lovely love affair with this ‘city of neighborhoods’. A city that reminds us somehow of our own stomping ground, Melbourne Australia. Full of culture (we long for their Film Festival in September each year), great food, good coffee, and an awesome music and art scene. It’s diverse. Its laidback. It’s exceptionally friendly. Canadians are open and warm. We just get each other. Come in summer, when the TDot really turns it on. It’s beautiful here.

They do coffee well here. To caffeinate, we like…

Boxcar Social: 1208 Yonge Street.

De Mello: 2489 Yonge Street.

Ezra’s Pound: 238 Dupont Street.

Crafted: 135 Ossington Ave. 

Mercury Espresso: 915 Queen Street East – a Leslieville staple.

Early Bird Espresso: 613 Queen Street West.

Capital Espresso: 1349 Queen Street West.

Sam James Coffee Bar: 297 Harbord Street.

Rooster: 343 King Street East.

To eat.

Bar Centrale: we love to sit up at the bar here for great Italian coffee and breakfast paninis.

Fika cafe: for all things Swedish.

Woodlot: for unbelievable breads. Honest. Simple. Handmade. 

Soho House: for weekend brunch.

Universal Grill: for weekend brunch

Lucky Red: for Vietnamese bao-centric sandwiches in Chinatown.

Delica: for healthy and delicious sandwiches, soups, salads and baked-goods to-go. Three locations.

Gusto: for dinner (with a great rooftop terrace in summer).

Terroni: for pizza.

And Pizza Libretto (two locations - Ossington and the Danforth).

Kalendar: super cosy institution. An Indian-inspired romantic bistro. Nice brewed coffee made with cinnamon. 

Dailo: only open 3 months. Modern Asian. Nick head chef/owner used to chef at our longstanding favorite modern Thai restaurant in Sydney, Longrain. Wine here is excellent too, thanks to sommelier and co-owner, Anton. 

Dinner at Fat Pasha: Middle Eastern on Dupont Street (same owners as Rose & Sons). Quite heavy. 

For sweet things:

Bang Bang: for the best ice-cream sandwiches in Canada. Home made cookies and ice cream. For us, it’s a toss up between a Captain Peanut cookie (caramelly and crunchy, Salted Virginia peanut butter praline, cereal) or the Rococoa cookie (Cocoa Brit. 70% Callebaut Choc. Maldon sea salt) – filled with their oh-so-peanutty peanut butter and jelly ice. OMG.

Bakerbots: for baked goods. Order the fruit tart with almond crust.

To drink.

Bar Isabel: for dinner or cocktails. Spanish tapas – hole in the wall.

416 Snack Bar: with a rotating menu of mini-things.

People’s Eatery: by the same guys as 416. Dark and oriental-inspired. Try the peking duck.

Lo Pan: the bar above DaiLo.

Beers at Ronnie’s: just off the main drag of Kensington Market. Dirty, dilapidated dive bar!

Beers at Bellwoods Brewery.

To shop.

Narwhal Boutique: our favorite stop for all our favorite designer brands & ela handbags.

For more designer stuff, try Jonathan and Olivia.

Advice From a Caterpillar: a stunning lifestyle store for children, for the most beautiful kids stuff in the world.

Love the Design: for cute gifts and homewares…and for Tuck Shop Co. outpost inside.

For Vintage/designer consignment: try I Miss You Vintage. And Kensington Market.

Mjolk: for Scandinavian/Japanese-inspired homewares.

For coffee and clothes, try Lost and Found. 

To do.

Saturday farmers market at Brickworks.

Personal training with Craig at Catalyst.

Yoga and pilates (incl baby pilates) at 889 Yoga.

For the best blowout: visit Beni at the Blowdry Lounge.

Visit Kensington Market for great market goods (visit on pedestrian Sundays when they close the streets to cars).

Hang out in Trinity Bellwoods Park. Perfect on summer weekends for lounging in the sun. A hipster haven of picnic blankets and good vibes. Beautiful entrance on queen street. 

Visit the city’s largest green – High Park – a paradise each April when the cherry blossoms make an appearance. They also have a zoo with super exotic animals. 

Visit Casa Loma: a lovely Gothic Revival castle built in the early 20th century. 

Stop into the Art Gallery of Ontario: renovated by Frank Gehry back in 2008, the AGO hosts some wonderful exhibits; likewise the Royal Ontario Museum is worth checking out for its standout architecture alone.

To sleep.

The Drake Hotel: located in Queen West, this cute boutique hotel is our favorite place to stay. Good food, good drinks, good beds. What more could you need.

Get outta town…

Muskoka: approx. 2 hours from Toronto. National Geographic Traveler editors recently chose Muskoka as the No.1 summer destination in the world for its 1600 lakes, granite cliffs, and beautiful pine trees. Eat at The Rosseau Grill atWindermere House.

Prince Edward County: approx. 3 hours from Toronto. Ontario’s newest wine region, come here for some award-winning wines and delicious artisan eating options. Must stay at the new Drake by the lake – Drake Devonshire.

Scarborough Bluffs: a little out of the city centre, come here for spectacular cliffs.



[spotlight series. olivia babarczytrevor kinggeorgie abayryan o’keefe]

[sydney soundtrack. Home]

Sydney - Australia’s largest city (with a population of over 4.5m people) – almost always appears at the top end of world’s most livable cities’ list. It is not hard to see why. This breathtakingly beautiful, sunsoaked harbor town, with a near perfect climate (albeit a sticky one), bursts with fit, tanned, healthy bodies and exudes super casual vibes. This energetic beachy town was an easy place to call home for seven years. A glittering harbor, endless beaches, lush forests and nature, architectural delights, good shopping, good coffee and an increasingly exciting food scene … this city will become an obsession.

Having lived in Sydney for such a long time, we find it hard to narrow down our top picks. We have tried our best however, to showcase some of our current faves, followed by a bunch of other loves, divided up by area. Undoubtedly though, this list will only just scrape the surface. We hope you can still find some goodness below, to help you enjoy this spectacular harbor town! You might notice that we don’t really include the obvious tourist haunts (we figure it’s a given that you will visit the Opera House or climb the Harbor Bridge) – the recos here are more about living la vida local!

And when in doubt, check our go-to online newspapers - Broadsheet or Twothousands - for the latest haps around town. These guys have their finger on the pulse.


Coffee: a new find, we love the coffee at Will & Co. We probably love even more the hidden nature of this cute little spot, only open on weekends. Tucked down an aqua-colored lane off Hall Street (#33), Bondi Beach. Otherwise, you can’t go wrong with the caffeine goodness and friendly vibes at the Earth Food Store in Gould Street (just around the corner).

Breakfast (casual): Four Ate Five– consistently delicious food, great coffee and very friendly local service. The owners here are young and perky, and we love this old local of ours, on Crown Street. Great for breakfast, but equally good for lunch. Always busy. Pop into the Organic Café next door afterwards for something sweet (we love their spelt muffins).

Breakfast (for something more special): Bambini Trust– an old favorite. Enjoy the charm of this cosy Italian spot, across the road from Hyde Park. Great egg dishes and good Italian-style coffee. Also brilliant for lunch, dinner, or an aperitiv in the wine bar next door.

Lunch (casual): Çafe Sopra – a huge, light-filled warehouse space, with fresh fruit and veg market downstairs, and Italian grocer / café upstairs – the homemade pasta here is to-die-for. Great bustling atmosphere on weekends. No bookings.

Lunch (more special): Sean’s Panorama– make it a long one – this is our absolute favorite restaurant in all of Sydney. Local and seasonal, Sean’s ever-changing menu is short, but sharp. Always interesting, you will learn from the attentive waiters where each and every product comes from. Excellent wine selection. Cosy. Atmospheric. Across the road from North Bondi Beach. Exsy, but worth every penny.

Dinner (casual): Il Baretto– another local favorite. Along the nondescript end of Bourke Street, this super casual little corner spot has been serving up classic and non-fussy Italian for years. Order bruschetta, followed by either the marinara or carbonara. Mama mia, this is good. BYO.

Dinner (more special): Icebergs – the views from this Bondi institution will impress the socks off you, as well as any guests you drag along. Start with Campari cocktails at the bar, and then move into the restaurant for a delicious dinner. The location alone is worth going back for, time and time again.

Pub: The Forresters or Watsons Bay Hotel – we love both these spots, for different reasons. The Forresters is a great inner-city option. Fun crowd and atmosphere, friendly staff, and a great little Jamaican-ish restaurant upstairs. The newly renovated Watsons Bay Hotel is impeccably perched on the water’s edge in Watson Bay, and offers a fun and relaxed Beach Club (color and style which reminds us very much of the Parker in Palm Springs), as well as some boutique accommodation. This stunning spot is perfect for a few cheeky beers in the sun.

Organic: Earth Food Store– amazing organic grocer and cute little café. Great coffee, green juices, smoothies and our favorite – the “buffin”! A gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free buckwheat muffin, packed full of fresh fruit and nuts (flavors change daily). We dream of these little beauties when we are far away, and they are the first thing we rush back for on any Bondi visit!

Organic Wholefoods & Raw food Cafe: Sadhana Kitchen – check out this newbie in Enmore for seriously healthy deliciousness.

Fish: Fish Face– a tiny neighborhood spot, the fish is always fresh and consistent. We also love Fish & Co – a super laidback café in Annandale, dedicated to serving only certified sustainable catch.

Steak: Porteno (for super cool, super friendly, delicious Argentinian grill) or Rockpool (for incredible meat, more high-end, quite corporate), or $20 steak at theGrand National (this might not be the best steak you ever have, but its good value, reliable, and comes paired, with a good salad, and a good crowd).

Asian: Longrain– a long time favorite. Come here for modern Thai and amazing cocktails.

Italian: A Tavola. Our number one Italian. Authentic, simple and delicious. Great buzzy atmosphere. Request a table in the back courtyard. Exceptional homemade pastas, and desserts.

Hidden dining experience: Table for 20 – the first to bring neighborhood/communal dining to the Sydney food scene, Michael Fantuz is the host with the most. With two long tables of 20, book out the whole restaurant (for 40 people), just one table, or just a few seats. Either way, you will be blown away by Michael’s mama’s authentic, home-style Italian cooking, the impeccable and friendly service, and the live music. Start with drinks upstairs at Sticky Bar.

Wine: 10 William Street - from the same amazing Italianos who brought you Fratelli Paradiso, this cute and cosy wine bar is perfect (especially in winter). Come for a Campari, wine and some antipasti. Nab the window seats.

Bakery: Sonoma (for their incredible range of real-deal sourdoughs) and Bourke Street Bakery (for their world-famous sausage rolls, prepare to queue).

Gelato: Messina. This is the BUSINESS!! No question. Try any of their 3 locations.

Farmers’ Market: Eveleigh Farmers’ Market - this weekly Saturday market is our favorite stop for local NSW based farmers and artisan food producers’ seasonal produce. From fruit and vegetables, to organic meats, fish, dairy, breads, olive oils and fresh flowers – you will find it all here.

City Beach: Tamarama, or “Glamarama” as it is known by the locals. Good surf, plenty of sand and sunbaking opportunities, lovely lawns and bbqs for picnics, and a very beautiful crowd.

Walk: Bondi to Bronte – our most favorite walk in the world. Spectacular views along the coast. Don’t stop at Bronte, keep going if you have time, all the way to Coogee (or anywhere in between).

View: Opera Bar – views to rival most bars in the city, come for a pre-dinner (or pre-Opera House show) drink at this casual harborside bar.

Day trip: Palm Beach – only an hour north of Sydney, this special place is one of the jewels of the Northern Beaches. Swim in the ocean, or paddle on the lake, but whatever you do – eat and caffeinate at the ever-charming and beautiful lakeside Boathouse.

Surf: Blueys Beach, Seal Rocks, Treachery (the best), any of the Northern beaches (try Queenscliff).

Weekend away: Canberra – not normally your first choice I am sure, but trust me on this, HOTEL HOTELhas arrived…and it will make the 3hr drive south from Sydney VERY worth your while.

Bookstore: Ariel Booksellers. Open from 9am until midnight. We have whiled away so many late-night hours amongst the shelves here of art, design, travel and photography books, as well as beautiful cards.

Kids store: KIDO. A one-stop kiddie shopping paradise.

Women’s store: Blood Orange – tucked away in the backstreets of Elizabeth Bay, this was our local favorite when living in the neighborhood, and still is. Loren Abood curates the most classic and beautiful selection of brands. A little treasure.

Men’s store: The Stables– we love the menswear on offer here at The Stables’ flagship store. We also love that there’s a cute café hidden behind the retail section, to grab a salad and a good coffee, in between purchases.

Random bits and pieces store: The Society Inc– the most heavenly corner store, full of swoon-worthy things.

Cinema: Golden Age Cinema & Bar – we adore this relatively new, super rad 40-seat cinema/bar that has been brought to life out of the restored heritage-listed Paramount Pictures Building, showing golden oldie flicks.

Band venue: Oxford Arts Factory – a long-time favorite, we love this intimate venue on Oxford Street Paddington. Mumford & Sons’ first ever Aussie gig here in 2010 was life-changing! We also love 505 in Surry Hills, which was once housed in a sketchy hidden warehouse venue, this artist run performance space, has been showcasing and supporting local and original artists since 2004. Be prepared to be surprised each week by a different fun activity: the 505 crew are impartial to a bit of boogie woogie with their backgammon, or spaghetti western with their poker. BYO booze.

Theatre: we love supporting Australian theatre, and we were frequent visitors at both Belvoir St Theatre and the Sydney Theatre Company. Dynamic, entertaining and inspiring.

Hairdresser: Barney Martin – this beautiful, light-filled and welcoming salon has been keeping Sydneysiders looking lovely since 2004. Run by super-sweet Brit, Barney Martin, and his very friendly team – come here for stylish cuts, colors, and good coffee to boot!

Nails: Paddington Nails – nothing flashy, nothing fancy, but a good, affordable and sociable mani/pedi.

Massage: Venustus – the 4-handed massage here will change your life.



To caffeinate…

The Paramount Coffee Project: a beautifully designed café in the old Paramount film building in Surry Hills.

Harry’s Espresso Bar: super chilled and friendly Bondi spot – good coffee, smoothies and juices.

Tiger Mottle: an old local favorite from our days living in Five Ways - friendly, cosy and tucked into those cute Paddo streets.

Single Origin Roasters: tiny Surry Hills café focusing on single origin, fair trade, organic and sustainable brews.

Reuben Hills: the coffee is great, and the food options are delectable. Mulled wine poached pears & their avocado, coriander & lime on sourdough rye, two of our brekkie favorites.

To eat…


Jackies Cafe: a Sydney institution, Jackie has run this café for years. Popular with the fashion set in Paddo – great people watching, and great scrambled eggs. The sushi here is amazing as well.

Earth Food Store: not just amazing for your organic fruit and veg needs, but breakfasts here are so healthy and delicious. Grab a seat at the communal table, grab a smoothie or a coffee and something to snack on. Yum.

M-Deli: a little local hang, on a street corner in Tama, is off the beaten drag and is great for weekend morning brunch.

Flat White: if you are prepared to wait, you will be rewarded with some seriously good nosh. The setting itself is nothing overly special, but the stuff that comes out of the kitchen sure is.

Brown Sugar: we love this spot. A Bondi institution (that was once in North Bondi, but moved down the hill quite a few years ago). Breakfasts are great, and so are dinners. Friendly, local service and great food.


Kawa: very much a Surry Hills-sceney hang, but the people watching is unstoppable and they do a mean freshly squeezed juice and sanga. Grab a little table on the street. A never fail option. 

The Stables: we love this cute, bright café, tucked behind their multi-brand retail store out the front. Yummo healthy options and good coffee.

Jackies Cafe: Two words. Sashimi salad.

Piadina: Cute little Bondi favorite. We love this tinypiadineria.

Miss Chu: the rice paper roll queen as she is known, pumps out some of the best riceys you will experience on this side of Vietnam. We love the vegetarian ones. Our local was the Darlinghurst one, the original…but there are plenty of other options now as well.


Toko: for slick, contemporary, communal izakaya-style Jap; beautiful crowd and good cocktails.

Thada Thai: this seriously cheap and cheerful Thai is a long-time love of ours. We used to dine here multiple times each week. Fresh and delicious. BYO beers and wine. Grab a messina for dessert from next door.

Fratelli Paradiso: such a great neighborhood spot. Closed Saturdays! But amazing for a mid-week dinner. Dark, cosy, always busy. Good date night spot too. The food here is phenomenal.

Phamish: seriously good, modern Vietnamese. Prepare to wait (or order to-go).

Jimmy Liks: another great Asian option – modern Thai. Long, sleek cocktail bar on one side, communal dining tables on the other.

Nomad: the latest hotspot on the Surry Hills scene, this big, inviting warehouse space is doing good things. Inventive and interesting menu. Great wines.

Deli Bottega: go for mussel nights on Tuesdays. Very Bondi.

To drink…

The Shop Bondi: our number one favorite. Super casual, under the radar little café/wine bar. Pull up a milk crate, and sit on the street.

Shady Pines Saloon: we love this spot! A little slice of Americana tucked down a laneway in Surry Hills. Taxidermy, bourbon, peanut shells – yes.

Love Tilly Devine: one of the first small, laneway bars to open once the Sydney liquor-licensing laws were relaxed, we used to love coming here for a Campari or a vino. Service was always a little ho-hum, but the drinks taste good and it’s a super cute spot.

Stuffed Beaver: another Americano-style bar, blaring nineties music and dishing out free tequila if you can throw your peanut shells into a cup behind the bar. What more could you want!

Wine Library: perfect for a few glasses of red on a not-so-sunny winter’s day.

To sleep…

Diamant: this boutique-ish hotel is conveniently located just behind the famous Coke sign, right in the heart of Kings Cross/Darlinghurst.

We love an Airbnb pad: check out these ones in [Paddington] and [Bondi].

To shop…

Surry Hills: for the Collector StoreKIDOPaper2,Koskelaici et la, and a bunch of vintage stores.

William Street, Paddington: for The Corner Shop, andTrunk (high-end vintage).

Glenmore Road, Paddington: for Scanlan & Theodore,Bassike and other Australian designers.

Elizabeth Bay: for Blood Orange.

To do…

Book out Bite Club: for a private, hidden communal dining experience in a stunning, old Woollahra home.

Brett Whiteley Studio: check out the former studio of Australian twentieth century artist, Brett Whiteley.

Walk the harborside walk from Rose Bay to Watson’s Bay: dotted with beaches.

Pack a picnic and head to Darling Point’s harborsideMcKell Park, an idyllic spot for some harborside lawn action.

Grab a beer on the deck of the CYC (Cruising Yacht Club of Australia) in Rushcutters. Relaxed, sunny fun amongst the boats.

Have a swim in the harbor at the Murray Rose Pool(formerly Redleaf) in Double Bay – with a netted swimming area, there is also plenty of sand and grass for sunsoaking and picnicking.

Camp Cove: a short walk from Watson’s Bay, this quiet little cove has stunning views over the water and back to the CBD.


To caffeinate…

Bambini Trust: a somewhat corporate hangout, but we love it. Be sucked in by the Italian charm.

Workshop Espresso: a hole in the wall espresso bar, right in the heart of the city. Perfect for your caffeine fix.

Marlowe’s Way: this sneaky little hidden café is a challenge to find. Part of the reason we like it. Cosy and great coffee, by Little Marionette.

To eat…

Pendolino: perched at the top of the beautiful Strand Arcade, come here for excellent (more formal) Italian.

Uccello: fun on a sunny day. The Italian restaurant here opens up on to the Ivy Pool Club – a city rooftop poolside spot more reminiscent of one of the rooftop hotel bars in LA, than something in the heart of the Sydney CBD. We love the pops of color, the yellow and white striped awnings, the white leather booths.

Establishment Garden Bar: the sunny back atrium-style courtyard here offers a fabulous Thai-style menu and is a great option for a low-key weekday lunch.

Berta: cute, hidden laneway Italian. Consistently good. Friendly service. Great food.

To drink…

GOOD GOD Small Club: the perfect place to make some shapes! Do yourself a favor and track down this hidden basement bar in the heart of Sydney’s Spanish Corner. Amazing Aussie and international names come through. We were especially excited to see The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, De La Soul and 2 Many DJs.

Grasshopper: this little bar is tucked down a city laneway, and spreads outside with milk crates for seats, old lids for ashtrays and bell jars filled with cocktails. An intimate, but noisy, little drinking hole.

Bulletin Place: with a cocktail menu that changes daily, tapas available from Bar Tapavino next door, and a secret, cosy location – this small bar is the perfect spot for an after-work cocktail.

Island Bar (see below).

To shop…

Pitt Street Mall: Strand Arcade (for great little Australian designer boutiques).

Westfield Mall: if you’re into that shopping center kind of thing (which we’re not really!).

To sleep…

Establishment: boutique accommodation right in the heart of the city, above the Hemmesphere cocktail bar.

Park Hyatt: recently renovated, come to this high-end option primarily for the killer views over the Harbor. Wake up to the Opera House or the beautiful Harbor Bridge. An unbeatable location.

To do…

Get a boat out to Cockatoo Island for drinks at theIsland Bar, made from recycled shipping containers. Seasonal opening times – check website for details.

While away a couple of hours in the beautiful Botanic Gardens – dodge the bats.

Boy Charlton Pool & Cafe: do a few laps, and then grab coffee and a snack at this cute poolside café. A pretty neat location– smack-bang next to the Botanic Gardens and opposite Woolloomooloo Wharf, right on the water.


To caffeinate…

Coffee Tea and Me: we adore this little hole-in-the-wall café in Redfern. Campos Coffee & little treats.

The Grounds Alexandria: always packed, this Alexandria coffee house/roastery does a great brew and some good food to boot. They have a pig called Kevin Bacon (who was sadly stolen back in October, but found again). Doesn’t get much better than that.

1346 Venice: housed in a restored warehouse in Waterloo, come here for a Golden Cobra coffee or to check out the restored 1930s Crocker motorbikes.

Little Indi: we adore this little wholesome café, tucked into the loading dock of a hardware store in Alexandria. A largely local, organic and vegetarian menu – there is a focus here on minimal waste, and all organic scraps are composted in their coffee bean sack-planter boxes! We love the raw granola to accompany our coffee.

To eat…

Eathouse Diner: we love this bright little diner – all turquoise and kitsch and retro and loud. American-style cocktails, nosh and service. Always fun.

Baffi & Mo: busy little Redfern staple, good for coffee and weekend brunch.

Sadhana Kitchen: we used to frequent this raw, organic and vegan kitchen in its former backstreet-Enmore digs. Now on Enmore Road, we love coming for their superfood smoothies and raw-sagna!

Moon Park: Bulgogi, bibimbap, kimchi. This minimal industrial beauty, pumps out all these Korean favorites and more. Try their famed fried chicken.

To sleep…

Check out this cute Airbnb pad in Redfern: Cool Tin Shed

To shop…

Doug up on Bourke: take your time to cruise around the huge-array of industrial antiques in this awesome warehouse space.

Great Dane Furniture: the name says it all. Those Danes just know how to do furniture.

A Pair of Chairs: restyled classic and retro furniture selection.

To do…

Carriageworks: a great site for contemporary art and culture (and don’t miss the weekly Saturday Eveleigh Farmers Market).


To caffeinate…

The Little Marionette: a small, breezy hole-in-the-wall café in Annandale. The service here is relaxed and friendly, and the coffee – which is roasted on site – is fresh and delicious.

Coffee Alchemy: an unassumingly great coffee stop in Marrickville.

To eat…

Oscillate Wildly: located in Sydney's vibrant suburb of Newtown, Oscillate Wildly is a small shop-front restaurant situated in an intimate, neighborhood setting, where product sustainability is of the utmost importance. Express passion and creativity through food

Sustainable fish at Fish & Co.: British chef, Tom Kime, opened this simple café with a belief that if we consciously decide to only use certified sustainable catch, we can keep enjoying eating seafood for years to come. If we protect our oceans and marine environments, then the fish will do the rest for us for nothing. The seafood here is so fresh and delicious, and the menu is always interesting. Additionally, Tom Kime is a super passionate, lovely guy.

Cornersmith Cornersmith is creating quite a buzz, due in no small part to the beehives on the roof. One of the most interesting of the new wave of Marrickville cafés, Cornersmith maintains a staunch position on local, seasonal and ethical produce.

Bloodwood: this Newtown restaurant and bar, is about all things seasonal and sharing. A great cocktail and wine list as well.

To drink…

The Welcome Hotel: a great local pub in Rozelle. Come here for some delicious craft brews, or a long Sunday lunch.

To sleep…

Junktique apartment: for something a little different. This cute serviced apartment is located over a retro emporium.

To shop…

Deus Ex Machina & Deus Cafe: the Venice Beach outpost in LA is where we spend a lot of our time – but this is the original. Dare Jennings (“the godfather of fun”) has created an awesome space for food, art, music, surf, motorbikes, movies, clothing: a custom-motorcycle workshop meets uber-cool clothing shop meets great café.

Pigeon Ground: located in the backstreets of Camperdown, come here for vinyl, vintage clothes, books and other random

To do…

White Rabbit Gallery – an amazing private Chinese contemporary art collection in Chippendale.

Balmain ferry hopping – catch the ferry to Balmain East and walk through the suburb to Birchgrove, and then catch another back to the city.

Cucina Italiana: run out of an old Italian-style mansion in Annandale, this authentic Italian cooking class is fun with a couple of friends or a big group. Make a bunch of delicious favorites, and then sit down to enjoy your handywork over a long lunch.


To caffeinate…

We love coffee (and the friendly service) at the tinyBarefoot Coffee Traders in the backstreets of Manly. Cute and friendly, great waffles as well.

Anvil: it’s not just the coffee (by Fat Poppy) that will impress here. The location is unstoppable. Built into the ferry wharf in Kirribilli, this super cute harbor-side spot does amazing brekkie and lunch as well.

To eat…

The Boathouse in Palm Beach– worth the drive! The most beautiful spot for breakfast.

Healthy lunch from Nourished: we used to frequent this Avalon staple in its former life as The Healthy Chef. We get just as much joy now from the wholefoods goodness in its new form, as Nourished.

Balmoral Boat Shed: little sister of The Boathouse in Palm Beach, this is a perfect beachside stop for weekend breakfast or lunch.

Pilu Freshwater: located on Freshwater Beach, with incredibly stunning views – come here for high-end, delicious Italian.

Burnt Orange: this verandah house does a great weekend brunch and also has a cute boutique.

To drink…

Newport Arms Hotel – Sunday afternoon institution, waterfront beergarden. Very laid back.

To sleep…

Barrenjoey House: a 1920s guesthouse and restaurant on Barrenjoey Road. Simple, clean accommodation.Avalon: book a room in this stunning, sunny pad. Home of ex-surfer

We constantly swoon over this amazing getaway inPatonga. Just over 1 hour north of Sydney.

To shop…

Bassike: this Avalon store is the original. Come here for cotton basics, and their cult t-shirts.

Mark Tuckey: one of our favorite Australian furniture designers. Come here for all your homeware needs.

To do…

Taronga Zoo: a beautiful ferry ride will take you to the entrance of the Zoo – one of our favorites in the world – follow up with a swim and a picnic in Mosman’s Clifton Gardens.

Walk around Cremorne Point: with the harbor on one side, and some beautiful residential homes and bushland on the other – this walk is quite spectacular.

Shelly Beach: just a short walk along the coast from Manly, is this special little cove. We love it here. Great for snorkeling and paddleboarding. You will be transported to another place. With Brazilians galore, and more Portuguese being spoken then English, we often used to think we were on some hidden little beach in South America – not a bad problem to have.

Spit to Manly walk: this is a great (but long) walk through bush and hidden beaches. Stunning.

Palm Beach: for TV lovers, this is the beach were Australian long-running soap opera – Home & Away – is set. Sunbake, surf, walk amongst the sand dunes, and up to the lighthouse.

Whale Beach: another great option for sun and surf.

Lunch at Clareville Kiosk: this light-filled and airy cottage sits next to Clareville Beach and is a lovely option for a fancy long lunch or dinner.


We love jumping in the car, winding down the windows and hitting the road to these amazing places…all pretty sublime weekend getaways.

Jervis Bay: for the whitest sandy beaches in the world, crystal clear waters, hidden coves through the National Park. This is nature at its finest. Camp, swim, fish, snorkel, chill.

Pretty Beach: laidback little town, not too far north of Sydney – for stunning beaches and lakeside relax time. Camp, or treat yourself to some luxury digs atBells at Killcare.

Seal Rocks: one of our favorite Australian beaches. Wild, untamed and raw. A great place to camp. Lots of great rentals available as well. Norma’s Beach Housedoesn’t look too shabby, and we love the look of Lot 3.

Bowral: this Southern Highlands town offers lush, green rolling hills, rambling country farms, cute cafes and boutiques. Oh and golf, if that so tickles your fancy.

Thredbo: This Snowy Mountains village has the best skiing Australian can offer. Fun days on the slopes, and après nights.

Blue Mountains: one of our favorite winter weekend getaways. Cosy up by a fire in a cute mountainside pub, drink red wine; do some stunning hikes; check out the local farmers markets, cute restaurants and antique stores. Jump on a horse! The horseback riding out here is pretty spectacular.

Royal National Park: spend a day jumping into the freshwater lagoons, surfing at the beaches, bushwalking and picnicking under a gum tree. Stop into the cute towns of Austinmer and Thirroul for lunch…and whatever you do, please stop at theScarborough Hotel, for a beer in the sun at the best (we think!) cliffside beer garden in the world, with amazing views along the coast.

Canberra: yes, it’s a little sleepy, but Australian’s Capital City is a great stopover on any trip to the Snowy Mountains. We are especially excited for our next visit given the VERY exciting arrival of HOTEL HOTEL: a new hotel/collaboration between designers, artists, artisans and fantasists. This cool lil spot is sure to bring new and colorful interactions and experiences to the Canberra cultural scene.

Sweden - treehotel

sweden - treehotel.

[spotlight series. kent lindvall]

[treehotel soundtrack. crazy little thing called love]

It’s hard to put into words what we recently experienced at the Treehotel in Harads, Northern Sweden, just 60km south of the Arctic Circle.

The sweetest of Swedish hospitality, uniquely beautiful in design, and backed by breathtaking nature and 24 hour sunshine – the Treehotel is like no other hotel experience we have enjoyed.

Our special journey started with a 13 hour night train north from Stockholm, bound for Luleå. After pulling into Boden however (one stop before Luleå), there was a knock on our cabin door and we were greeted by a man introducing himself as Kent. It was 6am, we were a little dazed and confused. Who was this Kent character? Was he one of the train guards? But he shared the same name as the co-founder of the Treehotel? If so, why was he on our train? And weren’t we still one stop away from arriving at our destination? It was all very confusing. It turned out it was in fact Kent Lindvall – co-founder of the Treehotel – who had my train itinerary on email. Kent knew it would be quicker for me to get off in Boden, so he drove to the station, boarded the train, and got me off. He then drove me to Harads. The first, of a number of examples, where Kent (and his wonderful wife Britta) would go above and beyond their duty as hosts to deliver the kindest, most warm and generous hospitality we have ever experienced anywhere.

Harads is a tiny village of just 600 people, approx. 40mins from Boden. On arrival into Harads, you approach Britta’s Pensionat which sits on the main road into town. Britta has run this 30s style Swedish guesthouse for 20+ years. The guesthouse is run in association with the Treehotel, and is where all of the meals for both the guesthouse and Treehotel are served. From the guesthouse, it is a 500m walk through a stunning meadow to get to the Treehotel. On approach, as these amazing hanging structures become visible through the trees, you are immediately transported to some sort of fantasy land. What all childhood dreams are made of. The Cabin (which Kent tells us is the most favoured treehouse by guests) is the first treehouse you see, and also our favourite. With spectacular views of the Lule River valley, and miles of forests, these uniquely sustainable treehouses provide a striking contrast to their surrounding environment. With six treehouses in total, after The Cabin, you come across the Dragon Fly, then the Bird’s Nest, the Blue Cone, the Mirror Cube, and the UFO. Each wonderful canopy room designed by a different leading architect of Sweden. The story of how these treehouses came about is at once amazing and inspiring – the ever entrepreneurial and creative spirit of Kent Lindvall shining through.

It was a great privilege to sit down with Kent one-on-one to hear the full story, and we are excited to share it with you here.

Kent, who has an incredible knowledge and passion for the local region, has spent his whole life here in Harads. Kent and Britta both grew up here, on different sides of the river. A beautiful love story (we will let Kent tell you the details!), Kent was just 15, and Britta 16, when they first met. They became a couple five years later. Three daughters, and their family was complete. Passionate for the environment, their village and their family – these two are a dynamic and impressive team – incredibly special people.

At the Treehotel, guests can do as little or as much as they like. The spectacular natural environment (together with the sauna house) is one that obviously encourages rest and relaxation. Grab a book, hang in the trees, or relax in the sauna.

It is definitely worth getting out to explore the local area as well. In summer, Kent can arrange fly-fishing tours, kayaking tours, the onsite zipline, sightseeing tours and more. In winter, the most popular activity for guests is dog-sledding (we are definitely coming back for this). Northern lights tours are popular, as are ice-fishing…when the river freezes over and you dig holes in the ice, lie on moose skin and drop your fishing line down the hole.

As well as this, the oldest fishery in Sweden is only 20mins away. Kent took me here for a visit. With roots back to the 1300s, the original village is still set up here, and it’s a beautiful and peaceful spot for a picnic and to read up on the history of the area. Jokkmokk is also not far, and less than one hour away, lies Storforsen - a rapid in the Pite River, with an average flow of 250 m3/s (some of the biggest in Europe ). The energy here is amazing.

While at the Treehotel, you will be spoiled with traditional Swedish home-style cooking, using local produce to showcase dishes typical of the Swedish Lapland region. Britta, together with a small team (including Kent and Britta’s daughter Sophia) run the kitchen. An abundant breakfast offering, a huge lunch, and then a 3-course dinner as well - you certainly wont go hungry. Over our two night stay we tried everything from smoked reindeer (sorry Rudolph!), moose balls, and palt (balls of potato filled with pork).  We were even lucky enough to try some of Kent’s homebrew – his very own birch-flavored schnapps, vodka infused with local birch from the surrounding forest.

A visit to the Treehotel is the perfect answer for anyone wanting to escape to a remote fantasy location. An incredibly special hotel, where not only design is key, but sustainability as well. There are very few other places we know that have been so thoughtfully built on nature’s terms.If you get a chance, at least once in your lifetime, please consider a visit here. Kent, Britta and their beautiful treehouses will remain close to our hearts forever.



[spotlight series. yvonne knapp & dion amor]

[stockholm soundtrack. klapp klapp]

valkommen till stockholm!

our first time in sweden’s capital, and we fall in love in a flash. it is easy to see how this beautiful city – spread over fourteen islands of the archipelago – has consistently held a top ten position in the most livable cities in the world list. clean, green, friendly, efficient, easy, accessible, polite, stylish, and full of beautiful things (people, places, architecture and nature)…it’s beautiful here.

a creative urban scene and sense of community. a great mix of history and culture. a rapidly expanding food and music scene. a focus on healthy living. all surrounded by awe-inspiring nature – open waters, parks, endless light (in summer time anyway!) - and beautiful architecture. we admire the strong focus here on equal opportunity – free education, free healthcare – and we certainly noticed more men pushing prams here than anywhere else in the world (besides copenhagen, perhaps).

getting around stockholm is as easy as pie. wander the historic cobblestoned streets of gamla stan (the old town), bike along the countless bike paths, or hang by the water or in any of the beautiful parks. we love östermalm for its shopping and restaurants, but we spend most of our time in södermalm, nytorget (sofo – south of folkungagatan) and hornstull for more bohemian vibes.

with just three nights to explore this glamour, we pounded those cobblestones and did our best to hunt and gather some beautiful things.

to caffeinate…

drop: located near mariatorget subway station in soder, this is our favorite place for a caffeine hit. outdoor seating and a number of cute, pale-wooded rooms inside. a small food offering, its all about the coffee. service can be a little slow, but its worth it. expect to pay approx. usd$6-8 for your coffee.

gilda’s: we love the kitsch and color of this cute and cosy cafe. outdoor seating, across the road from a park, and an indoor room filled with mix and match vintage furniture, random eclectic pieces. good coffee and lunch options.

kaffe: in Söder. for good coffee and good sandwiches.

wienercafeet: a beautiful, old-school bistro-style café in the heart of östermalm (opposite cos!). great for breakfast or lunch.

juiceverket: for when you are craving a fresh juice. this cute pressade frukter & bar has a number of locations around town.

mellqvist: located on rörstrandsgatan (or “little paris”), mellqvist is a bit of an institution. Come here for excellent people watching and some hang time with the locals. One of stockholm’s original espresso joints.

to eat…

bread. our favorite food! and swedes do it well, very well. there are bakeries on every corner, but we liked:

petrus: we were so excited to stumble across this little beauty when looking for drop coffee. we were sad to discover though that they were closing the following day for their 5-week summer break! come here for the raisin frulla! yum.

brod&salt: bread, bread and more bread. Delicious.

reggev: for hummus. this place came recommended by a random australian (thanks stephen!) we met while drinking coffee at drop. the best recommendation of our trip. this tiny, cosy, friendly place pumps our hummus, hummus and more hummus. reminding us of our time living in tel aviv, this is our favorite cheap eats in the city. closes at 9pm, so get in early. lunch or dinner.

pelikan: for your best swedish experience. dion amor brought us here for schnapps and caviar and herring and reindeer and köttbullar(meatballs!) - all the Swedish favorites. Exceptional service in a grand old Swedish beer hall. A must.

östermalms saluhall: opening in 1888, this swedish foodhall is somewhat of an institution. come here for a long lunch, or quick tasty snack. try all of sweden’s favorites.

judit & bertil: a cute little bar in Hornstull that also serves a light dinner. Great music, great atmosphere. Very local.

8t8: raw food store on swedenborgsgaten. Come here for all your healthy staples.

Falafel baren: we like this casual and delicious falafel joint near herr judit.

urban deli: just across the park from gilda’s, this is an amazing stop for coffee, breakfast, lunch…anything. Come here for any of your deli needs as well. fruit, veg, meat, cheese…you name it, you can find it here.

il tempo: this cute corner spot in Söder does a good pizza and pasta.

café bla lotus: a charming little café serving healthy organic food. colorful, homely and kitsch.

pa&co: a tiny corner spot just up the road from the story hotel. always busy. ambitious young chefs serving up great things to an artsy crowd.

other things that come highly recommended from good, local sources, but we ran out of time to try:

linje 10: cute restaurant and bar in Hornstull, same building as Roy & Son.

barbro: bistro, bar and movie theatre

sosta: for coffee.

vurma: in for coffee, pastries and breakfast (a few locations).

snickarbacken 7: in the city centre, this is a café, exhibition space and concept store all in one - they do a good coffee as well.

delikatessen: cosy restaurant in a former fire station.

oaxen skafferi: deli of the renowned oaxen krog.

bio rio: catch a film here in this old-school movie theatre.

matbaren: for something more fancy, come here for a beautiful dinner – often recommended as one of Stockholm’s best restaurants. They open at 6pm, and you will find queues out the door from 5:30pm.

lydmar hotel: for lunch, dinner, drinks.

vassa eggen: great drinks, djs (from thursday to saturday), and stylish crowd.

to drink…

babylon: we were taken here on our first night (after a huge swedish dinner at pelikan) and love this outdoor neighborhood spot. great cocktails and wine. good music. fun crowd. closes at 1am.

mosebacke: come here for drinks at sunset. amazing views from the top terrace bar, and a wonderful beer garden. live music sometimes too.

teaterbaren: for beautiful views over the water and the city.

riche (preferably “lilla”, the smaller bar to the left): a small, cosy and friendly bar, great cocktails, djs. a stockholm institution.

to shop…

nk: this is a beautiful department store in central stockholm, showcasing all of the best Scandinavian (and other) brands…acne, filippa k etc. a must visit for lovers of scandifashion.

cos: owned by h&m, but a slightly higher-end version, this is our go-to swedish brand. great collections, great prices. if you visit towards the end of june, enjoy the huge summer sales.

aplace: probably our favorite store in stockholm. we love the local brands on offer here, as well as other Scandinavian designs incl samsoe and samsoe, and the great range of shoes (adidas, nike etc).

sweden does vintage well. really well. check out some of these favorites:

herr judit: (two different shops in stockholm) a mix between selected clean vintage and some new stuff from brands like barbour, ralph lauren, a.p.c., acne and more lesser known brands. also with a lot of accessories like scarves, sunglasses, ties etc.two stores, one in södermalm  and one in östermalm.

brandstationen:also in södermalm. owned by the same people behind herr judit. situated in an old fire station, this “mad men” inspired store offers vintage furniture, decorations and accessories.

lisa larsson : for well-kept designer clothing at a fraction of the price.

acne: a fashion powerhouse, this is one of sweden’s most iconic and successful brands. many locations, but be sure to visit the flagship store in norrmalmstorg which is located in a building that once housed the bank where the 'stockholm syndrome' heist took place; you can still see the vaults.

acne archive: come here for sample stock and big discounts.

stutterheim: for luxury, handmade raincoats and wellies.

konst-ig: we love this store for their amazing selection of art books and magazines.

grandpa: we love this store in Södermalm (they have two other locations as well). Scandinavian and international fashion and interiors. On the last Thursday evening of each month, you’ll find a dj spinning tunes and complimentary wine.

gram: an adorable new store in södermalm (having opened in june), come to this tiny white-washed space for new kicks.

parlans konfektyr: for deliciously tasty, and beautiful packaged, nougat.

sns: for the best sneakers in town.

for records: try fade or pet sounds.

roy and son: for classic shaves.

adisgladis: for men – organic / recycling / off-grid.

möbelmakeri: a gorgeous, happy and bright interior and design store by mimmi staaf, in Hägersten.  

svenskt tenn: for iconic swedish interior design.

to sleep…

story hotel: this is our favorite sleeping option inÖstermalm. a great location. easy 2min walk from Östermalm T station (50m down the road). self check-in (with a passcode you are emailed before arrival, which also acts as your room key). Buzzing bar and restaurant downstairs. cute rooms. and be spoiled with a delicious and plentiful breakfast each morning – great muesli, fruit, yoghurt, juice, breads, cheese, meat, eggs, etc etc.

scandic malmen: great value rooms – clean and simple, and a fabulous location – right in the heart of Södermalm, very close to nyorget. this is the perfect sleeping option for those on a smaller budget who want to be right in the eating/drinking/more hipster action.

to do…

head north to the swedish lapland to visit the phenomenal treehotel (read more here), our most favorite swedish experience yet.

fotografiksa: stockholm’s contemporary photography museum is housed in a stunning warehouse building on the water. An absolute must.

take a boat to the archipelago. head for the waterfront, jump on a boat to the thousands of islands that make up the archipelago. the closest island if you just want to go for a day trip is calledfjäderholmarna. more traditional (less touristy) island options can be found a bit further away (3 hours plus).

spend an afternoon out on djurgården (with its forests, green parks, rose gardens and bike paths) and don't miss rosendal trädgård for coffee. for the organic garden, rosendals trädgård, “the rose valley”. its plots and greenhouses yield a wide selection of biodynamic greens, most of them sold in theplant shop and the garden shop, or used for cooking in the garden café.

Visit the Moderna museet: stockholm’s contemporary art museum.

millesgården: gorgeous sea views from this lovely haven for art and culture. a cute café as well.

visit sven-harrys: in the vasastan area. a spectacular all brass building next to vasaparken, where locals hang out during the summer.

coffice: co-working space.

for yoga: we didn’t get a chance to try it, but we did like the look of yoga inuti in sofo.

to know…

the airport train is the quickest and most efficient way into the center of stockholm. 250sek one way (or buy two tickets at the same time for only 280sek, a big saving). journey is super easy and takes only 20mins into t-centralen – from there it is only one stop on the red line to ostermalm (and the stop for story hotel in riddargarten).

buy subway tickets from the convenience stores at the subway station (rather than the ticket window) for 36 sek (compared with 44 sek if you buy from ticket window). A small, but welcome, saving!



[spotlight series. samuel woolley]

[seattle soundtrack. window to the sky]


It was only brief, but gosh it was good. A very lovely, very sophisticated little town boasting many of our favorite things – friendly people, good food, good coffee, music, and deliciously beautiful nature. Situated on a pretty harbor, overlooking snowcapped mountains, this very green, very walkable city was a pleasure to visit. With only 24 hours (a quick trip over the border from Portland), we had just enough time to appreciate some of the goodness on offer, but also look forward to returning soon to dig a little deeper. Gastronomically speaking, it is clear to see that this is one of the hottest cities in the US for food – something the Pacific Northwest seems to generally excel at – where local, organic, and farm-fresh food is the norm, not the exception.

Here are some of our favorite finds…

To caffeinate.

Slate Coffee: we had the friendliest chats with expert barista, Kyle Oels, on the day we visited this tiny Ballard coffeehouse. Passionate about coffee and people, Kyle serves up friendly vibes, and an excellent brew, and as much (or as little) coffee chat as you like. Grab a seat at the bar, have a chat, and watch him do his thing.

Herkimer: come here for more excellent coffee, roasted in-house (three locations). Cuppings available by appointment.

Analog Coffee: serving Herkimer coffee, we love this cute space in Capitol Hill.

Milstead and Co: we entered this light and airy space on North 34th in Fremont, to the most warm and lovely welcome (ad the hugest smile) of the barista. The team at Milstead want nothing more than to serve excellent coffee, and to make their customers happy. They certainly succeed in this.

Streetbean Espresso: this coffee shop on 3rd avenue is worth visiting alone for the fact that it is a non-profit multi-roaster café that provides a platform for street kids and at-risk youth to get on their feet and learn valuable career skills by working in a specialty coffee environment.

To eat.

Arabica Lounge: check out his cute corner spot in Capitol Hill for breakfast. We can’t go past their “omelettes au fromage”. So thin, so French!, so delicious.

Ba Bar: lunch or dinner at this awesome Vietnamese spot is a must. Be prepared to queue, but be rewarded with amazingly crispy imperial rolls, banh mi, vermicelli noodle salads, and pho (order the beef).

Westward: head to this great spot on North Lake Union for dinner. A “water-inspired full service restaurant”, we recommend ordering (among other things) the Braised Anderson Ranch Lamb Shoulder (if meats your thing) with Herb & Onion Salad, Pomegranate, Tzaziki, and flatbread If meat’s your thing, we recommend sharing the lamb shoulder. You wont regret it.

Rain Shadow Meats: for lunch. Excellent locally sourced, meat-intensive sandwiches (try the roasted pork shoulder on sourdough), along with charcuterie plates as well.

Il Corvo: only open for lunch, get there around 2pm to try and nab a seat. This is the perfect pasta spot. Handmade pastas (famed for their pappardelle), we recommend trying the lasagna Bolognese.

The London Plane: is a bright and sunny café/boutique in the heart of Pioneer Square. Come here for a spectacularly delicious breakfast or lunch. Seasonal fresh soups, salads, sandwiches, cakes and more…it is not only the food here that will impress…the setting, the service and the well-curated little in-house store make this an even more worthy visit.

Whale Wins: for supper (we are still dreaming about their Roast Chicken). So fresh, so delicious. Watch as everything is prepared to order, on the open kitchen bench in front of you. Pop over to nearby Fremont Brewing for a drink, before or after dinner.

To drink.

Black Bottle: located just near the ACE in Belltown, this is a dark and cozy, dimly-it gastropub that serves small plates, great wines and cocktails.

Innkeeper Seattle: this little spot, a low-key friendly bar, is just down the road from Black Bottle. A simple space dishing up carribean-latino drinks (think rum punch) and small plates.

Fremont Brewing: grab a beer here while in Fremont. A good option before or after dinner at Whale Wins.

To shop.

E. Smith Mercantile: a lovely boutique for house­made perfumes, Imogene & Willie jeans, delicacies (coco­nut jam), and old-­fashioned can­dies (black licorice). At the back of the shop there is a tiny speakeasy­style bar that flaunts classic cocktails, as well as more creative concoc­tions made with horehound­ infused bourbon, fir­-tip vodka, and Byrrh.

To sleep.

ACE, and only the ACE. The original (opened in 1999), and in our mind, quite possibly the best. This is where the ACE Hotel’s roots lie. Its basic, but its perfect. Unfussy luxury. The feeling here is more of a home, not a hotel. Amiee, the general manager, was the first person we met, and was easily the most friendly and hospitable of all hotel front desk staff we have come across anywhere. Perfectly located in Belltown, a quick and easy walk into the center of town, this place is unpretentious and friendly. Rooms and services are minimal, but with plenty of the standard ACE touches that we are used to– exposed brick walls, Pendleton blankets, a well-curated minibar and shop, and exceptionally reasonable rates to match. Just make sure you request a room with a private bathroom, if that’s your thing. The Seattle outpost completed our quest to stay at all ACE properties within the US (and London), and although we read that some think it has lost a little of its luster…despite it being basic, we think its the best. It definitely hit the spot for us.

To do.

Melrose Markets: during the day. Cute for a wander (and you will find a Rain Shadow Meats here as well).

Pike Place Markets: a little too touristy for us, but still worth a look. The lower levels often get forgotten about (the market is four layers deep), so explore from top to bottom. We loved the Greek yoghurt shop on the corner. You will also find the original Starbucks there as well.

Ballard Farmers Markets: come here on Sundays. Have breakfast at Bastille, and wander around the Farmers Market, the boutiques, the little coffee bars and boîtes. A little slice of Paris perhaps, in Seattle.  

Visit Golden Gardens Park in Ballard: only 10 minutes from the center of the city, come to this beautiful timberland to be surrounded by towering evergreens, with views out over the Pugent Sound, and the snowcapped Olympic mountains. A perfect escape from the city, with walking trails and marshy beaches.

Yoga: we managed to squeeze in a couple of classes at Core Power, and found this not only an awesome workout, but also a super friendly vibe. Three locations around town.

/// And, with more time, we can’t wait to check out:

Orcas Island: “the emerald isle” of the nearby San Juans islands. We hear this is a green paradise – a “happy combination of stunning shoreline, the highest mountain in the islands and a handful of charming hamlets.”



[spotlight series. Kalle Carranza & Lucy Mejia]

A modern beach bohemia on the Nayarit Peninsula, an hour north of Puerto Vallarta, Sayulita was once an impoverished but picturesque fishing village when the first American surfers appeared there in the early 70s. Amid dense jungle, scorpions, and wild parrots, these brave adventurers basically had to hack their way to what would become known as one of Mexico’s most sensational boarding waves.

Not so remote or hidden anymore, Sayulita still has a super chilled vibe (and good waves). Christmas and New Year are chaos, but outside of that week (as well as the first week of April for Mexican Spring Break, apparently), the beaches are clean and beautiful, and only lightly sprinkled with bronzing bodies. Sayulita savors a slower pace. This low-key getaway lures all sorts of sun-seeking tourists from around the world who gather here to recharge on vitamin D, yoga, and surf.

Cobblestone streets circle the central plaza – where tourists and locals gather – and Huichol Indian artists sell their handwoven crafts. You will pass taco carts, fresh-squeezed juice stands, bread and pastry sellers, churro stalls, and local musicians. The streets here are tired, dusty, and somewhat bedraggled… but we don’t mind this kind of scene. And the locals are super friendly – they greet you before you greet them, but don’t harass or bother you in anyway.

Beautiful sunsets are enjoyed daily by the fisherman, the fisherman’s wives, their children, the surfers, the beach bums, the retirees, the locals, and tourists alike. It’s a fun little place to chill and recharge, or party, or both. The margaritas flow freely… and somehow, they are hangover-free. Just the way we like it.

1. To eat…

Although small, this town has a lot to offer by way of food. Eating is oftentimes the focus when livin' la vida Mexicana, and Sayulita’s weekly organic farmer's market (held each Friday) was the highlight of our foodie experience. We fell in love with Sandrita’s healthy and delicious baked treats (try her vegan slice, her blue corn & banana muffins, and her gluten-free chocolate brownies) – also available at her restaurant,Tacos on the Street. It is at the market that we also met (and instantly fell head-over-heels for!) Lucy, a beautiful Australian girl from Byron Bay, who moved to Sayulita with her Mexican husband to start La Esperanza, a delicious wholefoods café. They sell some of their healthy delights at the weekly market, including their unbelievable raw cacao balls, delicious dhal, and quinoa salads. Look out also for great breads, amazing falafel, fresh fruit & veg, and organic kombuchas. For the weeks we were there, Friday could not come soon enough.

2. For tacos…

Try these 4 spots for our absolute favorites:

* For the best fish tacos look no further than Miguel’s Fish Tacos (opposite Paninos). Miguel and his friendly crew dish up fresh and healthy grilled mahi-mahi, snapper, and shrimp tacos, day and night. Try one of Miguel’s delicious blended margaritas as well.

* For delicious vegetarian tacos, head to Naty’s Kitchen. There is always a big queue down the street at this super clean and healthy taco joint. Get there early; the fillings sell out and your options start diminishing the later you go. We love the pulled chicken (it’s not all vegetarian!).

* For our favorite, and the most wholesome and delicious, try Lucy’s fish tacos at La Esperanza.

* Finally, for the most local experience, head north on Avenida Revolucion until you spot the tacos al pastor vendor selling his marinated pork on the vertical rotisseries outside Carniceria Trunco's. Watch this grill master at work. Notice the piece of fresh pineapple on top of the meat (a Mexican tradition); its sweet juice drips over the meat, breaking down the protein and making it very tender. After you order, he'll thinly slice the crusty meat directly on a small, homemade corn tortilla and cover it with onion, cilantro, lime juice, salsa, and a small slice of pineapple.

3. For breakfast…

La Esperanza again takes the cake for their healthy spin on Mexican cuisine, with all sorts of deliciousness including quinoa bowls with coconut yoghurt and fruit, and delicious buckwheat pancakes. Another favorite isYah Yah’sfor their fruit salad, yoghurt, and granola (try this on a waffle as well!), and great lattes (choose from rice, soy, and almond milk). Just be careful of the bees!

4. For the best smoothie in town…

Go and say hi to our mate Isaac at Smoothies Mi Buenon the bridge. Isaac worked in the hospitality industry until opening his smoothie stand 3 years ago. He makes healthy and delicious concoctions that will fill you up perfectly and provide a nourishing start to your day. We were somewhat partial to the “Perfect Breakfast” – banana, spinach, oats, coconut, almond milk, and whey protein. So good!! He also knows how to spin a good tune from his ipod.

5. For lunch…

La Esperanza (again!) is our favorite, for an ever-changing menu of home-made, wholesome goodness. Think homemade dhal, quinoa salad, and Mexican slow-cooked beef. Also, amazing juices (watermelon and mint - our favorite), and delightful sweets (we love their cacao balls packed with dates and nuts). Be sure to visit the organic market on Friday mornings as well, where Lucy has a few of her offerings for sale.

6. For an afternoon coffee and snack…

Head to Taco’s on the Street (on Avenida Revolucion, across the street from the International School). Don’t be deceived by the name! Sandrita is known as Sayulita’s leading baking lady! Sandrita’s apple and blackberry crumble, her vegan bar, and her blue corn, mango, coconut, and banana muffins are all to die for. She also does a great coffee and some killer smoothies. Wifi also on offer.

Always full with gringos, and known as Sayulita’s original coffee shop and café, Choco Banana is good for a quick drink stop. A good people-watching spot right on the plaza, we kept going back for their Choco banana frappe: frozen coffee ice cubes, banana, and chocolate – blended with milk. They also do a mean frozen banana dipped in chocolate!

7. Best sandwiches….

Can be found at Paninos. They have a great range of fresh and homemade bread and pastries, and do some great baguettes – perfect if you plan on doing a day trip at another beach.

8. For dinner, our favorites include…

Green Grill: new this season, head there for a beautiful ambience (think fairy lights, open kitchen and bar, living green wall) and great, simple, healthy food. The grilled salmon and the filet mignon were standouts. Choose your sides (grilled veggies) and salads. All delicious. Great wines as well.

Pizza Venezia: (BYO) be prepared to wait, but worth it, the wait shall be! The most authentic Italian-style pizza to be found in Sayulita. Perfect thin base. Gluten-free option as well, and good salads and pasta. We love this little strip – less touristy, more laid-back and friendly. Another great spot is the Argentinian grill across the road. Say hi to Nano, the hard-working Argentinian working the outside grill on the street!

Miro Vino: for home made pasta, decent pizzas, and great fish dishes. Lovely outdoor setting, just steps up from the main square.

Don Pedro: on the main beach. This upscale restaurant (for Sayulita, anyway) is where we spent our Christmas dinner. Beautiful views and a lovely ambience, the food here did not disappoint. The highlight was the whole snapper. More expensive than most, this makes for a beautiful (more fancy) night out.

9. Others that we tried, and liked…

Café Sayulita: located on the main street coming into town, half a block from the plaza. We loved their beef fajitas and grilled fish dishes. The margaritas here are also something special!

Don Juan: slightly out of town, but lovely, romantic setting.

Mar Platain San Pancho, 15 minutes from Sayulita, but amazing food and ambience. Great seafood. 

10. To drink…

La Zouave de Hotel Hafa…our absolute favorite! Next to Le Petit Hafa, Christophe’s cute adjoining bar is the perfect place to while away a night after dinner. They make a killer cucumber margarita!! Or try their delicious berry caiprinha. Good tunes as well.

El Barrilito is a cute little red bar on the corner of the square. Fun for an evening drink, or even a quick lunch. The coconut shrimp was delicious.

11. To sleep…

Petit Hotel d'Hafa: owned by Christophe and his Spanish wife Marina, this gorgeous six-room boutique hotel is a winsome bit of Morocco in the middle of town, just steps from the water, with barrel-vaulted ceilings, chartreuse polished-cement floors, and pierced-tin wall lights in the shape of angel wings. Our favorite place to stay in town.

Casablancawe liked the beachside location of this white-colored resort. A great pool that hugs the beach, the hotel is perfectly situated away from the hustle and bustle of the centre of town.

Villa Amorsweeping ocean vistas from these hill-hugging suites, and a sexy room concept that does away with outside walls and invites you to see Sayulita through a rustling fringe of palm fronds.

Haramara: a serenely stylish, magnificently groomed yoga-and-meditation compound that accepts nonpractitioners without making them feel like second-class guests. Sixteen palapas scattered on a jungle bluff overlooking the Pacific a few minutes out of town have no electricity, only kerosene lamps and candles.

If you are looking for something more budget-friendly, we highly recommend both Hostal Casa Amistad and the Sayulita Trailer Park & Bungalows. The private rooms at the Hostal are spacious, clean, and accommodating (USD50 per night); and we had a great 2-bedroom apartment at the Sayulita Trailer Park, with sunroom, bathroom, kitchen, and living room, for only USD80 per night.

Another option: check out for a wide variety of Spanish-style vacation homes, apartments, and villas.

12. To do…

* Hire paddleboards/surfboards from Kalle at Lunazul Surf School, and book in for some surf lessons as well. We loved nothing more than starting our day with an hour-long paddleboard session out from the main beach. On our last morning, we were completely blessed to be out in the ocean with two enormous, peaceful humpback whales playing in the waters just 100m in front of us. We named them Esperanza and Fortuna! Awe-inspiring creatures. Kalle (half Mexican/half Finnish) and his team are super friendly and can offer up some sweet recos for surf spots off the tourist map. Kalle gave us a great tip about La Lancha - a surf beach 20mins south of Sayulita.

* Day trip to La Lancha (700 peso/USD55 return trip in a cab) – great surf spot 20mins south of Sayulita. The only catch is you have to have a board to enter this spot. The entrance is guarded by security, and they wont let you in unless you have a surfboard or boogie board. Grab a board from Lalunazul. Stop at KM5 (in Higuera Blanca) on the way home, for a beer and guacamole on the rooftop. Great tunes and views over the jungle.

* Yoga, yoga, and more yoga. We recommend the beautiful yoga classes and yoga shala up on the hill (with breathtaking views over the ocean) at Mexifit. We also love Nara’s classes at Yoga Paraiso.

* Massage: try a Thai massage with Nara at Yoga Paraiso (USD65), or any variety of massage at the more commercial Nirvana, in the centre of town, just one block from the square.

* Weekly Organic Food Market (Mercado del Pueblo): every Friday on Calle Miramar.

* Arrange a private chef: Carlos Rojas works for catering company ITAKATE. He is an excellent chef and extremely professional. Our tastebuds were spoiled by his delicious homemade shrimp ravioli, sautéed sea bass with cauliflower puree, and red wine pears with homemade ice cream. For more information, email:

* Rent a car / golf buggy / boat!

* Day trip to San Pancho: just 10mins north of Sayulita (200 peso/$15 return cab ride). A smaller, somewhat quieter, version of Sayulita. A beautiful long, white, sandy beach and some cute spots to eat/drink.

* Walk and explore! Continue along the beachside road in Sayulita to visit the city's cemetery. On many of the graves you'll see decorations and flowers from the Day of the Dead, when local families go to visit their dead relatives. If you go to the cemetery, pack your bathing suit and walk through to the secluded beach called La Playa de Los Muertos. It's where local families like to go, and the surf is calm. Nice place for a picnic.

13. To shop…

Gypsy Gallery is our favorite store in town. Colorful, chaotic, and jam-packed full of Mexican tiles, pareus, antique oriental rugs, textiles, leather bags, Day of the Dead papier-mâché figures, plates, tray, jewelry, and Frida Kahlo-inspired anything and everything.

Pachamamathis colorful, gyspet boutique is on the main brick path down to the beach. Inside you’ll find cute leather bags, jewelry, beach towels and homewares. Sininen Surf Shop, a few doors down, has some good surf-friendly bikinis on offer.

El Revolution del Sueno for home goods embroidered in ultra neon colors. Think tees, hoodies, cards, posters, bags, beach towels, sarongs, jewelry, and sunglasses.

14. Things to note…

Getting there: From Puerto Vallarta, you can take a taxi for approx. 650 pesos (USD50) one-way. Otherwise, walk over the pedestrian bridge outside the entrance and get the bus (for only 25 pesos, USD2). This only takes a little longer than a cab, and drops you off near the centre of town. Another option is to organize ashuttle service from Sayulita for about USD130 round trip.

Money: There are several ATMs in Sayulita – but they often run out of cash! A bit of a problem, given Sayulita is almost entirely a cash economy. You can use US dollars at some stores, but it's definitely better to use pesos. Try to grab pesos at the airport first if you can.

Weather: Winter is a perfect time to visit: clear skies, highs in the low to mid 80s, and lows in the high 60s or low 70s. Summer is the rainy and hotter season (crazy humidity at times) – but still paradise.

Tourist Cards: This applies for any trip to Mexico. Do not lose this card. You need it to leave the country. You will get one on the plane going to Mexico and it will be stamped by Mexican immigration upon entry. Should you lose the card a new one will be issued at the airport, but it will take time and cost money.

Santa Barbara

santa barbara.

[spotlight series. nic george | lindsey ross | andrew elialinnea villegas]

[santa barbara soundtrack. sugar man]

Santa Barbara. A place of perfect, idyllic beauty - nestled between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean – and the place that became my home for a big chunk of 2013. The eternal sunlight, the endless blue sky, the starry nights, the beaches, the mountains…the seamless harmony and perfection. This is what draws people here…but it’s the people themselves, that keep them here, and keep them coming back. A friendly, welcoming and nurturing community – the energy here is one of love, creativity and encouragement.

A popular tourist and resort destination, playing home to many of Hollywood’s elite, Santa Barbara is also home to university students (University of California Santa Barbara is nearby), artists, surfers, yogis, families and retirees alike. There is something very special about living in a small community where every barista knows you by name, where you can walk or cycle everywhere, where you bump into friends at the weekly farmers market, and where each morning you wake deciding which hike, or which beach you should walk that day.

Ninety miles north of LA, Santa Barbara is a leisurely (and scenic) drive up the PCH, beside the ocean, which makes for a perfect day trip or weekend away. You will be completely hooked after your first visit, so be prepared to get used to that drive…

We have had endless happy moments here in Santa Barbara. Long, sun-drenched, beach-filled, jam-packed-full-of friends, wonderful moments. This is a special place.

To caffeinate.

French Press: a Santa Barbara staple, and our daily coffee or chai fix. Grab a seat outside in the sun, a coffee, a pastry…and set up shop for a couple of hours. On Tuesdays and Saturdays, grab a loaf of bread from the friendly boys at the Genuine Bread Co. who sell their seriously luxe sourdough loaves out the front of the cafe. Two locations. We favor the bigger one, on the corner of Anacapa and Cota Streets.

Handlebar Coffee: our other go-to. This daily coffee stop (where all coffee is roasted in-house, and served with all organic milk from Straus Family Creamery), offers super friendly service, great coffee, delicious pastries (and vegan muffins) and seating in the sun.

Lucky Penny: a new and wonderful addition to the Funk Zone scene. This cute copper coin-covered shack is next to the Lark, and dishes out tasty La Colombe coffee. A small menu, and only a few outdoor tables, but the perfect spot for a coffee to-go, or a quick bite (their wood-fire pizzas are the business - if you are drinking at the neighboring Figueroa Mountain Brewery, Lucky Penny can also deliver food to you there at no extra charge).

To eat.

Via Maestra: we love nothing more than a weekly Saturday morning breakfast here, after the Farmers Market. A cute and cozy, authentic Italian resto – run by the most lovely of Italians, Renato – tucked away near Loreto Plaza on Upper State Street. Come here for brunch, lunch, dinner, gelato, or coffee. By far the best Italian food you will find in these parts (amazing homemade pasta), plus the most entertaining and wonderful service you will find in Santa Barbara (courtesy of one Mr Andy). Get ready to be wowed!

Sama Sama: for the best Indonesian food in California. Sama Sama is a MUST on any vissie to Santa Barbs. Delicious Indonesian (order the Gado Gado salad to start), great cocktails, super cute setting. Nab a seat in the outdoor courtyard.

D’Angelos: great breads (we love their olive loaf, or the Rudolph Steiner bread)… great for weekend breakfast or lunch.

Backyard Bowls: our go-to spot for a healthy breakfast to-go. Think big bowls of acai, fruit, granola, yoghurt etc. Also delicious smoothies on offer, and friendly service. Just around the corner from Yoga Soup. 

Kotuku Elixir Bar & Superfood Store: go and visit Olly, an expert in Chinese Tonic Herbalism, for a superfood hit. We are huge fans of his fresh juices, cold brew coffee smoothies, spicy hot chocolate, chia puddings for breakfast, and his awesome salads for lunch. Not only that, Olly is always up for some deep and insightful chat, and would love to meet you.

Mesa Verde: for incredible organic, plant-based vegetarian food. Every dish on the menu is perfect. One of our favorites: the grilled polenta with braised garbanzo, beet greens, grilled kale, asparagus, harissa, romesco and muhammara.

Santa Barbara Public Market: another exciting new addition to the Santa Barbara food scene in 2014, the Public Market is a one-stop shop for all things groceries, wine, ice cream, bread etc…plus an impressive selection of quality purveyors, from who you can grab a quick and easy lunch or dinner (we love The Pasta Shoppe, and the Empty Bowl Gourmet Noodle Bar).

To drink.

We find it hard to go past the bar at Sama Sama for a delicious wine or cocktail, but other good options include:

Paradise Café: our favorite bar in town. Serving locals for over 30 years! This cute corner spot – housed in a 1915 brick and stucco building – has an art deco feel and is reminiscent of a 50s diner. Choose a booth or prop yourself up at the bar, nurse a cocktail or two, enjoy the tunes. We love it here.

Municipal Winemakers: “handmade, honest wines”. One of our other go-to’s. Great local wines and a fun atmosphere. Often host fun events, like October’s Kinfolk gathering- to release the new Kinfolk Cookbook; the holiday season’s “Pies for the people”: the vision of private chef Lori Stern – three classic Thanksgiving pie flavors (old-fashioned apple, pecan, and pumpkin), all made to order and available for pickup on Thanksgiving Eve – with 10% of proceeds going back to the Santa Barbara Foodbank; and the Chinese New Year dinner – celebrating all things pork!

Elsie's Tavern: this neighborhood hangout is low-key, divey and always a good time. Cash only.

Funk Zone bars…take your pick. New bars seem to be popping up in the funk zone on a regular basis these days. Start near the Lark and then cruise around from there.

To shop.

Make Smith Leather Co. : come here for the best handmade leather goods in town. Stevie is an incredible leather craftsman, and we love coming here anytime we need a gift of any sort. Leather bags, wallets, belts, key chains, home goods…you name it, Stevie can do it.

Whistle Club: we were so excited when this beautiful store popped up in Santa Barbara in 2014. Come here for a perfectly-curated mix of emerging designers and industry favorites. We especially love that we can find one of our Aussie favorites, Zimmerman, on their shelves. A coffee bar, serving Stumptown coffee, makes this cute stop even more appealing. It's beautiful here.

To sleep.

El Encanto: recently renovated and reopened, this luxe property provides magnificent views over Santa Barbara, offering hilly seclusion, and a lovely option if you are wanting somewhere fancy to rest your head. We love the Damien Hirst installations inside, and the 60-foot-long infinity pool.

Four Seasons Biltmore: see Montecito guide.

El Capitan: just 20 miles north of Santa Barbara, this simple, nature lodging experience is the perfect place to unwind.

Canary Hotel: a beautiful boutique hotel, perfectly located halfway along State Street (in walking distance to everything) – this spot offers a stunning rooftop bar and pool, with spectacular views across town to the ocean and the mountains.

Oceana: the hotel may be a little dated, but the beachside location is unbeatable. In easy walking distance to the beach and State Street, this is a good option.

To do.

Saturday Farmers Market: our favorite way to start any weekend. Swing by the Cota Street market for live music, fresh fruit (be sure to try the cherimoyas) and veg, flowers, delicious homemade breads, organic almonds, olive oils, etc. (also held on Tuesday afternoon, in lower State Street). Some of our go-to stops include: Roots Organic Farm, and Fairview: for all our greens and veggies (we love Roots’ heirloom cherry tomatoes as well). BD of Earthtrine Farm: for all our herbs. Baba Hummus: for homemade hummus in more flavors than you could possibly imagine. Fat Uncle Farms: for blistered almonds. Red Hen Cannery: for artisanal, small-batch jams using fruit and herbs from local Foley Farm and Bailard Ranch. We love their spicy orange marmalade.

Butterfly Beach: after grabbing some goods from the market, pack a picnic and head to Butterfly Beach for lunch in the sun and some swim time.

Funk Zone: artsy industrial district – swan around the galleries, vintage stores, city wineries and bars.

Surf…plenty of options if you feel like catching a few waves. Known as the “Queen of the Coast” – Rincon Point is a good option, while Hammonds Point offers a powerful right-breaking wave. Leadbetter Point is good for beginners. As are Butterfly, West Beach and East Beach – calm, and good for stand-up paddle boarding as well. Additional breaks can be found at El Capitan, Jalama Beach and Santa Claus Lane Beach. Treat yourself to a custom hand shaped surfboard - made with the most environmentally friendly materials available - from our dear friends at Free Range Surfboards.

Municipal Winemakers: as above.

Catch a show at the Santa Barbara Bowl. One of our ultimate favorite things to do in these parts. We were completely WOWED by Icelandic dreamboats - Sigur Ros - one of the most beautifully hauntingly beautiful shows we have ever seen. This historical, outdoor amphitheater, tucked amongst the trees, is an idyllic setting for any live show. Aussies Tame Impala supported the Flaming Lips back in November. Sting also appeared. Coming up – be sure to nab ticks to The National (with Portugal.The.Man) on 25 April; and Jack Johnson on 31 August. We will be.

See a band at SOHO – we recently saw local boys, Gardens & Villa, doing their thing.

Santa Barbara Fish Market: come here for the freshest of fresh fish, oysters, prawns, scallops, mussels, and very friendly, local Santa Barbara service with a smile.

Wander around the Santa Barbara Mission.

Yoga Soup: do what the locals do, and limber up at Yoga Soup.

La Playa Pilates: try one of Kristen's classes (it might just kill you! in the very best way!), or book a private session with our favorite Pilates trainer, Colleen Ferguson (

Linnea Villegas: after your Pilates workout, book in a massage with this divine massage therapist in downtown Santa Barbara. You will leave feeling light, and full of love. 

Rock climbing: Australian-turned Santa Barbara-local Josh Gold swears by this place. So get rock-ready and have fun hanging from the walls.

Drive-in: mix up your film-going experience, and enjoy some good ol’ fashioned drive-in action in nearby Goleta.

KCHEN Project: a recent culinary startup – thanks to a kickstarter campaign – the KCHEN Project is a supper club offering themed dinners – multiple-course meals of locally grown ingredients paired with complimentary cocktails – held at various locations around town.

Out of town…

Potter around the antique stores in nearby Summerland:

Cold Spring Tavern on a Sunday: Established in 1886, the Cold Spring Tavern is an essential Sunday afternoon experience. Only 30mins from Santa Barbara, hidden away in the mountains, come here for the best damn tri-tip sandwiches, mountain brews and a bikie crowd. Big slaps of meat of a bread roll with sauce. Bang! Nothing better. Grab a table under the trees, and enjoy the live music. We especially love it when the Rainbow Girls are playing.

Take a trip out to the Santa Ynez Valley. Remember one word - Demetria. Think blush-coloured bottles of Rose, shared under big shady trees overlooking incredible rolling hills and vineyards. 

San miguel de allende

san miguel de allende.

[spotlight series. harmeet kaur sidhu & jim blakley]

[our San Miguel soundtrack]

The timing could not have been better…the day after returning from my first trip to San Miguel this past October, Condé Nast Traveler announced the winners of its 26th Annual Readers’ Choice Awards. As they do each year, CNT readers vote on a number of different travel-related categories, including the world’s best cities. Paris, for example, was surprisingly down the bottom of the “Top 25 Cities in the World” list at number 22, however quaint little San Miguel came in as number 1 !! A big call, perhaps, but it certainly was love at first sight, when I arrived in this special sixteenth-century city. I was completely swept away by the magic.

This artist colony town – only 4hours North-West of Mexico City - is full of beauty and romance, cobblestoned streets, art galleries, beautiful churches, amazing views and great restaurants. It is also heaving with expatriates (particularly Canadian and American retirees) – largely the reason San Miguel was on my radar in the first place. One of my oldest and best friends from Canada’s father - Jim - has lived here for the past eight years. And it was on invitation by Jim, that I made my first trip to San Miguel in October. The Mayor of San Miguel, as I like to call him. There was no better tour guide.

Always alive with color and sound – expect to be woken by the ringing of church bells, firecrackers, brass marching bands, or if you are there in December – the sounds of Las Posadas. Christmas is always our favorite time of year – but especially so in San Miguel – where the streets are aglow with fairy lights, Christmas decorations, nativity plays, stalls selling brightly red poinsettias, las posadas, food markets, Christmas trees and so on. There is a special magic in the air.

Having been given the opportunity to sublet a friend’s casita for a couple of months, I decided to make San Miguel my temporary home in the lead up to Christmas... here are a few of my favorite things.

1. For breakfast and coffee…

Start the day with coffee and an omelette on the rooftop at Buen Dia Cafe. Carlos the owner/barista, has a kind face and warm smile, and does the best lattes in town. We love the William omelette (egg whites, cheese, mushrooms, spinach and avocado) with your choice of salad, potatoes, beans, and then fruit juice or fruit salad, as well! This is our daily stop.

For something a little more special…venture beyond the red façade of this hidden gem. Posada Corazon is a beautiful B&B and organic garden, serving healthy and high quality, organic breakfasts (available to non-guests as well), using fruit and vegetables from their own garden. All sauces, tamales, bread, granola, yoghurt and orange marmalade (a traditional San Miguel recipe) are homemade at the Posada. For 165 pesos ($13)…you will be offered tea, coffee or homemade Mexican hot chocolate (which is a must: this rich, creamy, sweet sensation, is quite possibly the best cup of chocolate you will ever experience), freshly baked cookies, homemade tamales and then your choice of main meal (eggs (try the “divorced eggs”), homemade granola and yoghurt, oatmeal etc).

2. For lunch…

Mesa Grande is a cute corner bakery/café with amazing homemade breads (we love their sourdough baguette), pastries, salads, sandwiches and wood-oven pizzas. Decent coffee as well. They also open for dinner some nights, check menu on the door.

El Café de la Mancha: cute little place, tucked away on Recreo Street, just two blocks from the Jardin. Run by young and friendly locals. Great coffee, delicious chai, juices, smoothies, paninis etc, and very happy service.

Café Rama: down the street from the Rosewood Hotel, Café Rama has a lovely ambience. Open fireplaces keep the space warm in winter. Big, comfy sofas you can relax on. Interesting and diverse menu. Good juices too.

Via Organica: this cute organic café and providore, is a fabulous healthy option. Part of the not-for-profit Mexican organization – Organic Way AC, whose mission is to promote healthy eating through organic agriculture, fair trade, a healthy lifestyle and protecting the planet. Local farmers provide organic produce. Come here for lunch or dinner. Great soups, salads, vegetarian lasagna and other delicious healthy options. Alcohol served as well.

Rent bikes (see below) and pedal out to: La Temporada– an organic farm and restaurant, 20mins out of town. Be warned that it’s a bumpy ride along the cobblestoned streets to get there…but the ride is worth it. You will find a lush and sprawling organic farm, with a cute store selling organic greens, and a little café (made from shipping pallets) with a changing organic menu. Friendly service, in a quiet and peaceful setting. A lovely afternoon outing.

3. For an afternoon treat…

Stop by Helado Italiano, for all-natural homemade ice cream, just meters from the Parroquia. My friend was a happy man when he discovered their mantequilla (peanut butter) flavor! A delicious range of yoghurt and sorbets as well.

4. To drink…

Visit the rooftop terrace of the Rosewood Hotel at dusk, for a sundowner. Watch the beautiful colors of San Miguel change in front of you. There is no better view. If it is summer when you are visiting San Miguel, be sure to spend a day by the pool: non-guests can use the pool if they spend USD20 per person on food and drinks.

Happy hour at Hanks (previously known as Harry’s!) - a mainstay (according to Jimbo!) on any San Miguel Itinerary. Owned and operated by an American expat. Known for its two-for-one specials – sit amongst other expats, enjoy a couple of Coronas (the complimentary popcorn) during happy hour! Very gringo, but a busy and fun atmosphere. A good place to start the night.

5. For dinner…

La Sirena Gorda (The Fat Mermaid) is a must. Originally a cantina in the 1800’s – where women, members of the military and police officers were not allowed – this old-style gentlemen’s club still has its swinging bar doors, dim light and the original urinal in the wall of the bar (so men didn’t have to stop drinking in order to relieve themselves). Great tacos. We favor the marinated octopus on flour tortilla. also loved the white fish ceviche tostadas. shared an artichoke as well - the biggest thing I have ever seen so far!! and fish tacos were great as well. Super strong margaritas (order their signature ginger or tamarind ones), great cosy little vibe.

Or, street tacos…there are dozens of taco carts to choose from. We favor the big taco stand on Insurgentes, near Calle Relox. Order tacos, carnitas, tortas and tamales!

The Restaurant: Donnie Masterton is the well-renowned chef/owner of this high-end restaurant, with its “ultra-urban-hacienda” décor, and famous for its “burger night” each Thursday. The burgers are delicious. We love “La Hippy” – the veggie burger with quinoa, carrot, garlic, onion, sprouts, cucumber, tomato and tahini yoghurt; the “La Griega” – ground lamb with roasted tomatoes, feta, pickled onions and spinach; or the “El fillet o fish” – a wasabi salmon burger with apple-jicama slaw, sesame ginger mayo and sweet potato chips. All burgers are served with house cured pickles and crisp potatoes. Be sure to hit up Hotel Matilda for a post-dinner drink, to take advantage of the Thursday night “ladies’ night” drink specials!

La Parada: a beautiful space, La Parada is a Peruvian bistro on Recreo serving up some seriously good ceviche! Our favorite, the house ceviche is a lovely combo of white fish, sweet potato, corn and coconut milk. We also love the “arroz afrodisiaco”: the Peruvian version of paella, jam-packed full of delicious seafood. Good selection of wines. Nice, airy room. Attentive (but somewhat over-bearing) service.

Fenicia: a great option when you are craving something from the Middle East! This little Lebanese restaurant is nothing fancy, but offers great hummus, babaganoush, falafel…and all the other mainstays.

6. To market, to market…

Visit the Organic Market, held near the Instituto Allende, each Saturday morning from 8:30am-2:30pm. Make sure you are hungry for lunch, as you will find some delicious tacos, tamales and burgers on offer. Grab a seat at one of the long tables, and hang out with other locals. You will find stalls selling everything from organic ice cream to cheese to chocolate to olive oil to fruit and veg, plus a lot more.

Natura: visit this cute organic store (opposite the Instituto Allende) – for all your organic groceries – their granola is a stand-out. Also, home made peanut butter, soups, and salads.

7. To sleep…

Casa Calderoni: we love the location of this cute Bed and Breakfast, opposite Buen Dia Café, in a cute cobblestone street. Lovely views from the rooftop terrace, Travel and Leisure Magazine ranked Casa Calderoni “one of the two best valued accommodations in all of San Miguel”.

Rosewood: if you are looking for something more high-end, this large-scale luxury boutique hotel is perfect. The rooftop terrace/bar here offers undeniably the best vantage point over San Miguel – the views are insane. There is a large pool, with comfortable daybeds, gym, spa, yoga etc.

Hotel Matilda: this modern boutique hotel – with 32 rooms and suites – is nestled among the brightly colored houses of Calle Aldama. Featuring an eclectic collection of art – including a Diego Rivera portrait of the hotel owner’s mother Matilda in the lobby – this hotel was voted one of the best hotels in Mexico by Conde Nast Traveler Magazine in October 2013.

La Cocina Cooking School and B&B: we found this cute spot on AirBnB. Located in San Antonio, one of San Miguel’s neighboring suburbs (only 15mins walk to the center), this is a nice, more local and quiet alternative. Kristen Rudolph (an American) and her Mexican partner are lovely hosts. Their colorful casita has a few lovely, well-appointed rooms with views over the mountains, comfortable beds and spacious bathrooms. Kristen has lived in Mexico for many years, and has been running La Cocina Cooking School for sometime. La Cocina offers one day classes in Mexican cooking – from basic guacamole, to more complex moles. Kris generally teaches classes twice a week, by reservation only (

8. To do…

Rent bikes and explore San Miguel and its surrounds.

For some pampering, visit the Jasmine Day Spa: run by a lovely local guy – Carlos Ortega (whose art adorns the walls). Come here for a massage, waxing or nails. Lovely staff. Nice, airy space, upstairs in the centre of town.

Visit Fabrica La Aurora: a former textile factory that has been turned into a beautiful art and design center – housing artist studios, contemporary art galleries, antiques, and cafes.

Learn Spanish!!...take some private lessons with Griselda. A lovely, gentle local woman, and wonderful tutor – Griselda charges 130 pesos per hour (for one person), or 150 pesos per hour (for two). You can choose where you meet for your lesson. My pick: Buen Dia Café, on the sunny rooftop, with a Carlos latte in hand.

Jump on a horse…we highly recommend getting out into the countryside on horseback. No better way to experience the amazing rivers, canyons, mountains and stunning vistas of San Miguel’s surrounds – alongside local cowboys. We suggest booking with Beth at Leisurely Country Horseback Riding. Originally from New Jersey, Beth has lived in San Miguel for 8 years, and started this horseback riding business, working with a local community, about 2 years ago. For a 2.5 hour trail ride (tailored to your experience level) expect to pay USD60. Beth and her team of local cowboys, will take you on a wonderful journey. For an extra 70pesos (USD5), enjoy a delicious home made lunch of fresh homemade chaya (a green superfood) juice, home made corn tortillas, quesadillas, cactus salad, guacamole, rice, and beans.

Do yoga…plenty of options available, but our favorite is Alejandro’s 8am class (Mon/Wed/Fri) at the Arthur Murray Dance School. A bargain at 70pesos (USD5)for 1.5hours. A Hatha yoga class, this is a beautiful way to start your day. We also tried an Ashtanga yoga class at the Rosewood Hotel – held in a small, sunny room inside their gymnasium.

Spend an afternoon by the pool at Shanti San Miguel. 20mins out of town, this Indian-style haveli is run by an American woman, Brett, and is a lovely place to sit and chill and enjoy the sunshine. Brett can pick you up from the Mega supermarket in town, to drive you out to her property.

Do what the locals do, and hang out in the Jardin. Park yourself on a park bench and watch the world go by…witness locals selling ice cream or blackened corn; balloon-sellers; tourists taking photos of the Parroquia; old men in cowboy hats soaking up the sun; and the mariachis playing their tunes. There is always something going on. I am still completely awe-struck every time i look at the beauty that is the Parroquia, my most favorite church in the world. I could sit there and stare at it for days! 

Day trip to Guanajuato: a colorful (even more so than San Miguel) university town, less than 2 hours away. Get a bus or cab. Wander the steep streets. Grab lunch at the huge undercover market (Mercado Hidalgo) and meander through all the stalls – from food to handicrafts and everything in between.

Getting there…

The closest airport is in Leon/Guanajuato…one hour from San Miguel. Alternatively, fly into Mexico City and then take the bus. We love the buses in Mexico. More comfortable (and more leg room) than a first-class flight, you will travel in comfort and style, receive a lunch bag, and have wifi for your journey! There are many different bus companies to use: a one-way trip will cost you around USD30-40. From the bus station in San Miguel, it is a short 5-10min cab ride into the town center.


portland - updated.

[spotlight series. brent deboerleela cyd, & timo kaemmer]

[portland soundtrack. loud places]


Perhaps it was the instant familiarity we felt to our hometown of Melbourne, but this friendly, laid-back city stole our heart on our first visit here back in March 2012, shortly after moving to the US.

Portland, we share the same passions. With your seriously impressive food scene – local, seasonal, creative; amazing coffee (the best you will find in the States); good people; good music; and awe-inspiring wilderness and nature; its so beautiful here. This unpretentious, easily navigable town is filled with a mix of fix-geared biking, bearded and tattooed hipsters, and laid-back, friendly types who come from all over the US (and the world) to reside in this special place (largely drawn here by either Nike or Adidas), as well as an ability to live well and affordably.

Despite the frequent rain and cloudy days, there is no better place than Portland when the sun is shining. Bike paths, food trucks, amazing outdoor music venues (we love Edgefield), farmers markets, gardens…and when Spring rolls around, the eye-popping, fluffy pink cherry blossom trees that burst alive along the banks of the Willamette River. The perfect town to cruise on foot or by bike. Not only that, but with the stunning Oregon coast only an hour away, and Mt Hood the same distance – there is plenty to keep you occupied. Stunning beaches, awe-inspiring mountains, rivers, waterfalls – Oregon is nature’s playground.

To caffeinate.

Good Coffee: opening in late 2014, this became our new favorite spot on our trip to Portland at Christmas time. Owned and run by Nik Purvis, an old friend from Santa Barbara, Good Coffee is exactly that – and more. Friendly vibes and great coffee. We want to steal the two antique black leather chairs they have in the corner of the space. Their custom-made sofa is beautiful as well.

Courier Coffee: a tiny spot. We love the coffee here. Grab the window seat.

Heart Roasters: excellent coffee and roaster on East Burnside. Delicious baked goods fromBAKESHOP.

Barista: three locations, the Pearl one is our pick.

Coava: we love the brew bar on SE Grand, a beautiful space.

Case Study Coffee: a few locations, great almond milk lattes.

Stumptown: a few locations across Portland, but the ACE one is our go-to. Locations also in Seattle, LA and New York City.

Ristretto: also a few locations across town, but our favorite is in NW Nicolai Street, in the Schoolhouse Electric Building.

Water Ave Coffee: on the banks of the Willamette, this factory is both a roasting and retail space.

To eat.

Sweedeedee: we visited here for the first time at Christmas (2014) and only wish we had have found it sooner. This is our heaven. A cozy, adorable corner cafe in a former kaleidoscope factory, next to Mississippi Records, Sweedeedee is a pie paradise. Come here for all things sweet – cakes, pie, desserts – as well as ginormous salads and sandwiches. You will be surrounded by colorful cookbooks, warm and sunny vibes, white walls and wooden floors. And you’ll find Mexican coke as well.

Salt & Straw: come here for Portland-style “farm-to-cone” handmade, small-batch, all-natural ice cream. Made from local, sustainable and organic ingredients – do as the locals do, and order two scoops of the Sea Salt with Caramel Ribbons (their best selling flavor). Also look out for the Honey Balsamic Strawberry with Cracked Pepper; and the Coffee and Bourbon. Four locations.

Blue Star Donuts: bypass the super touristy Voodoo (and their crazy queues) and head straight for Blue Star for doughy donut goodness.

Little T’s: mighty fine breads, pastries and cakes from this cute little outpost in Union Way.

Bake Shop: we were introduced to our friend Beth, who once ran the kitchen here. A little out of town on NE Sandy Blvd, come here for their peach hand pies.

Check out these other sweet spots as well: TheSugar Cube bakery on Alberta Street; Ken’s Artisan BakeryRoman CandleTabor Bread;Sprinkle FingersQuin Candy Shop. MUST SEES/EATS for all lovers of good bread/pastry/candy. Oh and Maurice! Try Maurice as well!!

Broder: our all-time favorite brunch spot. This Swedish restaurant is so crazy busy on weekends, be prepared to wait for hours (literally). The wait is worth it though. Order the baked eggs in the skillet. So good.

Irving Street Kitchen: we loved our brunch here recently. Try the Moroccan Poached Eggs with Garlic Rubbed Toast, or the (super sweet and decadent) Oatmeal with Glazed Apple and Cocoa Nibs.

Grassa: for a quick (handmade) pasta lunch, this place on Burnside is perfect.

Tasty N Sons: a Portland institution. Be prepared to queue…around the block.

Portland Farmers Market (near PSU) held every Saturday morning from March through December. Grab breakfast to-go, as you cruise the stalls. Everything from coffee to bread to dairy to fruit to meat and fish. Seasonal, local, often organic, and always delicious.

Luc Lac: this would have to be the best, most delicious (and reasonably priced) Vietnamese we have found so far in the US. Fresh, healthy and humungous serves. Amazing pho! If you don’t do pho, order the grilled chicken or grilled prawn with rice and salad. SO good. Friendly, quick and consistent. The best option for a quick downtown lunch.

¿Por Que No?: our favorite taqueria with a focus on sustainable (line caught fish and local meats) Mexican food. Order Bryan’s Bowl with Micheladas. A few locations. We prefer the one on N Mississippi.

Cedo’s: head to this falafel joint on NE Martin Luther King JR Blvd for a serious hummus hit, and for the best falafel and gyros in town! Tender meat, fresh vegetables, and minty tsatziki.

Canteen: one of our favorite vegetarian stops. A cute black box of a building, with a small, but delicious, menu. We love popping in here for healthy and organic bowls, salads and smoothies. Try The Portland Bowl (organic kale, quinoa, black beans, maple-baked tempeh, “Northwest sauce,” hazelnuts and carrots) and the Walnut Taco Salad (organic mixed greens, avocado curry sauce, shredded carrot and cabbage, house-made pico, walnut taco crumbles, cashew nacho spread and avocado). YUM.

Food trucks: Portland loves a food truck. Recently recognised by US News as “the city with the world’s best street food” it is home to 475 of them! You will find a bunch downtown, some on N Mississippi Ave at Skidmore, and even more at the corner of SW 10th Avenue at Alder Street. Its hard to pick a favorite, but we do like El Nutri Taco on SE Woodstock Blvd for vegan tacos and burritos at a little food card parked in the front yard of a family home.

Woodsman Tavern: so hipster it hurts. Opened by the founder of Stumptown Coffee, Duane Sorenson, this place is beautiful. Waiters with scraggly beards; waitresses with messy ponytails and dainty aprons. All wear plaid. This couldn’t be more “Portland” if it tried. We love it here. The ham plate is always a great place to start…

Ned Ludd: this seasonal and rustic American craft kitchen is housed in a cute little industrial cabin on NE MLK Blvd. Jason French serves up simple and seasonal farm food, out of a wood-fired oven. We love this space, with its walls filled with hanging branches, flowers, old botanical prints and historic Portland photos. Like everything here, the beer, wine and cocktail menus change seasonally. Coffee by Heart. ** Check out also Ned Ludd's new gathering space - ELDER HALL - focused on gathering people and ideas through communal gatherings around the table. We love this **

St Jack: previously on SE Division, now locatedon the corner of NW 23rd and Raleigh. A cute corner French bistro, serving up excellent rustic French cuisine.

Urban Farmer: come here for local, organic and delicious steaks.

Biwa: for ramen. We love this cute little underground spot. Great Japanese.

Navarre: come here for seriously good tapas and delicious wine (with over 50+ wines by the glass). It’s all about sharing. Let your waiter pick the menu for you.

Clyde Common: this European-style Portland classic is part of the ACE, and is always a fun and buzzy option for dinner and cocktails. Try the popcorn with truffle oil, grana padano and black pepper.

DOC: Italian-inspired, northwest ingredient-focused fare. Fresh, local produce with great wines and delicious cocktails.

Pok Pok: everyone seems to love this little Thai institution (now with multiple locations, including New York City and Brooklyn). Also try their new one, Sen Yai, for noodles.

Olympic Provisions: bring your carnivorous cravings here. Meat, meat and more meat. Hit up the SE location (not to be missed, under the glowing MEAT sign)!

Dove Vivi: if you like your pizza deep-dish, this is the place to be. Famous for their cornmeal crust – you can also request your pizza be available par-baked, to take it with you to cook at home. A great option if you don’t feel like eating it immediately. – for deep dish pizza with a cornmeal crust.

Little Bird: cute little bistro serving up French fare with a Pacific Northwestern influence. Order the burger.

Smallwares: modern Asian tapas-style food, with creative spice-infused cocktails. Try the chicken lollipops! And have a drink at Barwares (out the back) first.

Luce: a lovely space on E Burnside, next to Heart coffee. The same people behind Navarre.

Bamboo Sushi: the first certified, sustainable sushi restaurant in the world. Great Japanese.

Sizzle Pie: for pizza. Perfect for a late night, post-gig snack. Opposite Powell’s.

Caffe Allora: this cute little neighbor Italian, in the Pearl, dishes up super fresh and authentic pasta dishes with super friendly service. Pop in for a Campari, and say hi to Paolo.

To drink…

Multnomah Whiskey Library: this relatively new whiskey-forward ‘clubhouse’ is tucked down a 20-foot corridor and up some stairs hidden off Alder St. With a library-meets-British gentleman’s club vibe, it is a spectacularly impressive space. Dark, and surrounded by brick walls, aged wood, and seventeen bookshelves holding 1500 spirit (mainly whiskey) bottles, it’s a whiskey lover’s paradise. Watch as the bartenders pull bottles off the wall and wheel them around the room on carts – its whiskey on wheels. A must.

Teardrop Lounge: one of the city’s pioneering craft cocktail bars, come here for impeccably professional and experimental cocktails in the Pearl.

Prettyman’s General: a specialty beer and wine bar, and general market, on SE Hawthorne.

The Richmond Bar: pop in here before or after dinner at Pok Pok, and drinks at Whiskey Soda.

Pepe Le Moko: is the perfect place for great cocktails after dinner at Clyde Common (its just downstairs).

Pok Pok & Whiskey Soda: a good eating/drinking combo.

Spare Room: check out this converted bowling alley space for live-sax karaoke and its endless charm.

Beech Street Parlor: pop into this restored Victoria home, off MLK Blvd, and head up to the second story nook for cozy herb-infused gins, whiskeys and tequilas.

Barwares: cocktails and sake out the back of the Smallwares resto.

Doug Fir: for live music and good times.

Departure: it might be a tad touristy, but the knockout views from this top floor restaurant and bar of the Nines Hotel can not be denied.

Tannery: come to this North Tabor spot for craft cocktails.

Ava Genes: a cute spot for dinner, or just a drink. Good cocktails.

To shop.

Frances May: our favorite PDX boutique. Conveniently located, just around the corner from the ACE, come here for a beautifully curated designer threads, jewelry and shoes. Beautiful one-off pieces.

House of Commons: we love this new retail and gallery space, centered around one specific theme that changes every couple of months. A beautifully curated space. Beautiful brands and artists.

Alder & Co: a little bit of everything. A collection of carefully curated and beautiful finds from the owners’ travels – from locally, or across the US.

Beam & Anchor: we love this space – part shop, part work studio – housed in a beautiful warehouse in North Portland. A beautiful range of aesthetic influences, ideas and concepts – come here for lovely rugs, blankets, mugs, leather goods, jewelry, candles, furniture and so much more. Partner store to our favorite Austin TX shop – Spartan – as well as Voyager in San Francisco.

Powell’s: a Portland institution, and the world’s largest bookstore – taking up an entire city block.

Nationale: located on E Burnside, part art gallery, party specialty shop – promoting the arts through exhibitions, performances and a selection of carefully curated goods.

Lowell: on N Russell. For a bit of pretty.

We love cruising the shops on NE Mississippi, SE Hawthorne and SE Division.

Appetite Shop + Studio: we love popping into this little textile store on E Burnside with our Heart coffee in hand. Come here for cute homewares (many handmade in-house), antique furniture and more.

There is a cute vintage dress store we love – opposite Broder – but we can’t remember the name. You will have plenty of time to check it out while waiting for your table…

Schoolhouse Electric & Supply Co: an old favorite. Come here for beautiful handmade vintage lights, bedding, letterpress cards and art. A stunning warehouse space that was once a building for hardware storage than wool storage and then paint supply storage. The Schoolhouse Electric & Supply Co took over in 2010. Even better, Ristretto Coffee have an outpost within the building as well…and there is a super cute florist. We love the off the beaten track location, amongst other dilapidated warehouses, by the river.

Union Way: opened in the summer of 2013 – a bright alleyway that connects the West End with the Pearl district (opposite the ACE). Grab ramen from Boxer Ramen, coffee and cake from Little T’s, and then shop your heart out at the cute boutiques that dot this indoor alleyway. You will find a Danner store, Steven Alan, a Spruce Apothecary for beauty, and Quin for sweet stuff (popcorn-flavored caramels anyone?).

If you are wanting to take home something really “Portland”, check out any one of these mainstays:

Tanner Goods: quality Oregon-made leather goods (both here and in LA).

Danner: come here for a pair of one of Portland’s most infamous hiking boots.

And Poler, too. For all your outdoor stuff!

To sleep.

There is only one option in our mind. The ACE. A longtime Alex Calderwood fan, his PDX outpost is one of our favorites (along with Seattle and LA). Testament again to Calderwood’s understated cool design aesthetic, this “hipster-chic” hangout is perfectly located downtown, just a block from the Pearl. You can bike, bus and train everywhere from here. Or walk. Take out one of the ACE’s beautiful handmade bikes. Grab cocktails and dinner at Clyde Common next door, and of course, coffee from Stumptown. Free Wifi. Good vibes. Always.  

Other sleeping options: ModeraThe Tiny House Hotel, or many awesome Airbnb apartments. 

To do.

Wander around and hang out in the beautifulJapanese Garden, and the Rose Test Garden(especially when in bloom).

Pearl District: pound the pavement through this industrial part of town. Our favorite hood. Renovated warehouses full of cafes, boutiques, interiors stores, galleries, bars, restaurants, yoga studios and more.

Rent bikes: cruise the city by bike…over bridges, along the river, and through all the different neighborhoods. Portland is small and easy to navigate. The best way to explore.

Check out the Portland Farmers Market (near PSU) held every Saturday morning from March through December. So many awesome local farmers and artisan goods on offer. And pop into the Portland Art Museum while you are there (the seventh oldest museum in the United States and the oldest in the Pacific Northwest).

Check out galleries, homewares stores and vintage shops in the area near North Mississippi Avenue (often being referred to as Portland’s equivalent to Williamsburg in NYC).

Catch a film at one of Portland’s many old theatres: $4 movies at the Laurelhurst – old classics and new-ish releases with craft beers and good pizza.

Live music at: Doug FirCrystal Ballroom,Mississippi Studios and Holocene.

Yoga: lots of yoga and Pilates classes on offer. We like YAS (our go-to when we are at home in Venice, LA), Core Power, and Yoga Pearl (more for the delicious vegetarian café than anything else).

Mt Hood: only an hour from Portland, a trip out here is essential. Ski in winter, hike in summer. At over 3000m high, fresh air and stunning views await. A beautiful day out of the city. Check outTimberline Lodge.

Check out the Falls: also only an hour outside Portland, on the way to Mt Hood along the Colombia River Gorge, check out Multnomah Falls (quite touristy), or hike the short distance toWahclella Falls (less touristy and spectacularly beautiful). The power and beauty of the water here will motivate and inspire you.

Visit the Willamette Valley: a region with over 300 wineries that produce 72 varieties of wine. Famous for their pinots.

If visiting in winter (and if massive lovers of real-deal Christmas trees like we are), check outSauvie Island Farms to choose and chop down your very own tree! Our most favorite Portland experience to date. Come to the same farm in summertime to pick strawberries instead.

Clackamas River Gorge: Hideaway Lake.

And don’t miss our guide to the Oregon Coast (incl Crater Lake) for more Oregon inspiration, including our favorite coastal spot Manzanita.The Oregon Coast offers hundreds of miles of beautiful sandy beaches, great waves, rocky shoreline, incredible mountains to hike, and thousands of waterfalls and rivers. It’s a nature wonderland. Read our guide for more.


peniche [portugal].

[spotlight series. Tim Latte]

[peniche soundtrack. it’s you]

Just a short 45 minute drive north of Lisbon lies the sleepy fishing town of Peniche. Regarded as one of the best surfing spots in Portugal, it may not be the prettiest town, but what it lacks in beauty, it certainly makes up for in good waves and, as of recently, the best boutique surf accommodation we have found so far.

It was the Surfers Lodge Peniche that attracted us here in the first place.

We arrived in Peniche by bus from Lisbon and were met at the bus station by John Malmqvist, the super sweet Swedish (ex-national surfer) owner/designer of the Lodge. As we pulled up, we were wowed by the beautiful design of this all glass and wood building which sits on a street corner in Baleal. With a Nordic-inspired, 1960s surfer style aesthetic, the Lodge is full of beautiful reclaimed wood, floor-to-ceiling windows, bespoke furniture, and an amazing Moroccan-inspired rooftop (complete with pool, hot tub, comfy lounges and bar).

The vibe here is totally laidback and friendly, and the feeling is more of a home than a hotel. Bedrooms are simple, chic and cosy, and the lodge offers surf, food and yoga packages. We met some amazing people during our 3 night stay – pro-surfers, beginner surfers, or not surfers at all – just cool people wanting to chill out and enjoy the slower, friendlier pace that the lodge has to offer. Once a DJ, Malmqvist has also nailed the music – perfect beats drifting through the Lodge all throughout the day.

We were lucky enough to have daily surf lessons with three of the Lodge’s awesome, local surf instructors – Pedro (who bizarrely talks with an Australian accent!), Marlene and Francisco. After a massive breakfast (think all things healthy – fruit, yoghurt, muesli, eggs and homemade breads with cheese and ham, plus the best coffee we found in Portugal) – we would meet downstairs at 830am, put on our wetsuits, grab our longboards, and then walk the 10 minutes down the road to get to the little beach, Prainha, where the lessons were held. 

The rest of our days were then spent either doing Pilates on the deck (I was lucky enough to be traveling with expert Pilates trainer – Colleen Ferguson of Atwill Wellness), grabbing lunch at the Lodge restaurant (try the gazpacho – amazing!), reading, working, doing some yoga, checking out some of the other nearby beaches, or going for big walks along the beach and cliffs of Baleal beach.

At dusk, it was time to hit the rooftop deck – a totally chilled out space filled with beautiful Moroccan rugs and cushions – to watch the sun go down. If you are lucky, there might be a live band or dj spinning some tunes. The restaurant – which is open all day – dishes up incredibly fresh, local and seasonal food, and was such a lovely place to hang out. We tried everything on the menu.

There is no honestly no better place to stay. Malmqvist has created the perfect boutique accommodation experience - high-end, yet super relaxed and bohemian. Good vibes. It’s beautiful here.

Highlights: the design, the food (we love the fresh, local and seasonal menu), sunsets on the roofdeck, the beats throughout the day, the surf lessons and instructors, and the friends we made.

To eat.

Surfers Lodge: every meal.

Bar Do Bruno: for a laidback lunch with beachy vibes and ocean views.

Sushi Fish Baleal: we were shocked to find such fresh, delicious and amazing sushi in such a sleepy beach town like this. Highly recommend.

Cantina de Ferrel: for authentic and delicious Italian, just up the road from the Surfers Lodge. Come here for great pasta and pizza.

To drink.

Surfers Lodge: on the rooftop at sunset, or downstairs on the comfy lounges. Cold beers, local wines and cocktails. No need to go anywhere else.

If you are wanting a change of scene though…check out Bar Da Praia (Largo amigos do Baleal) for sunset drinks.

To shop.

You definitely don’t come here to shop! But we were super impressed to discover (only on our last day however) A’Mercearia: a cute little grocery store for organic fruit and veg, snacks, fresh juices, surf art and more.

To do.

Surf: so many waves to choose from. For beginners, grab lessons at the Surfers Lodge.

Skate lessons: also from the Surfers Lodge.

Walk the beach and cliffs at Baleal.

Check out Supertubos: renowned as one of Europe’s best beach breaks, and home to the annual ASP World Tour Championship presence each October.

Hire a boat: pack a picnic and venture out to the beautiful Berlenga islands. Sunbake, swim, snorkel, kayak.

Yoga: try a post-surf yoga class (or get a massage) at the Yoga Center Peniche. 12 euro classes.


beautiful, stylish and jam-packed full of hidden treasures, history and romance…paris is one of (not alone on this we realise!) our favorite cities in europe.

ever evolving, always buzzing, the energy here is one of creative inspiration; a juxtaposition of old and new.

wander, cycle, get lost. eat cheese, drink champagne, dance, shop. get cultured. find secret gardens hidden behind big old doors. sit by the river. picnic in the park. soak it up. and repeat. every little thing. it’s so beautiful here.

we spend most of our time in the 10eme (canal st martin: by the canal – young, laid-back, fun, creative, arty, kind of boho) and the 3eme (marais: beautiful cobblestoned streets, boutiques, cafes, restaurants, galleries). only 10mins apart.

here are a few of our favorite things right now.


Paris soundtrack

all i want









to caffeinate…

boot: still very new, this adorable pint-sized (literally just 4m2) storefront in the marais is one of our new favorites. an old shoe repair studio, come here for amazing coffee by belleville, fresh coconuts, banana bread and sunny, friendly vibes. 3eme.

fondation café: run by an amazing aussie, chris, and designed by his equally amazing swedish wife,emelie, come to this cute spot in the marais for great coffee, cakes and lunch. 3eme.

ten belles: for great coffee (belleville) and ridiculously amazing, freshly baked cakes and scones. 10eme.

holy belly: seriously good breakfast and really great coffee. a must. 10eme.

tuck shop: in the same street as holy belly, and bob’s, come to tuck shop when you cant face another croissant. avocado toast, and other australian favorites on the menu. great coffee as well. 10eme.

bob's juice bar: cute stop for green juice and healthy options. 10eme.

telescope café: good coffee in a quiet and charming little area. 1eme.

** we just read that a whole bunch of our favorite parisian places right now have been designed by the same amazing paris (via cali and nyc) duo,david rager and cheri messerli (under the nameweekends – responsible for ten belles, le mary celeste, broken arm, candelaria and  glass…among others). no wonder they are all so beautiful. no wonder they are all on our list of favorites (without knowing the design connection).

to eat…

café pinson: a gorgeous vegan café, great for lunch, right in the heart of the marais. in the same street as nanashi. 3eme.

rose bakery: love this famed organic bakery (kitchen opens at 11am on weekdays – amazing lunch, or 10am on weekends – brekkie is delicious!). come here for tantalizing baked goods, savoury tarts, pizzas and more. all dishes prepared using organic and seasonal produce. two locations. we frequent the one in the marais.3eme.

hoja: this adorable scando-style café has only been open a few weeks, but is already impressing with their ‘jus presses frais’ and delicious healthy treats (as well as the bright and happy scando design – look upstairs). 3eme.

breizh cafe: for the best crepes in all of paris. a true destination. people come from all over the world to try this spot! book a table or go at a weird time like 3pm. 3eme.

lunch at merci: for delicious salads and quiche, in a seriously beautiful setting. see more below. 3eme.

le bon marche: for lunch on the run. aside from the incredible shopping upstairs, the downstairs food court is amazing. grab picnic stuff, and eat it in the park nearby. a beautiful thing to do. 7eme.

les marche des enfants rouges: another great option for lunch on the run. this is the oldest covered market in paris, a true hidden gem. be spoiled for choice with incredible food options from around the world. 3eme.

le mary celeste: our favorite dinner spot right now. cosy, fun, and ridiculously amazing food and cocktails. try the deviled eggs (sounds weird, but trust us on this), the tacos, the quinoa cake, and the grilled cauliflower with aubergine. All so good. Note: on monday and tuesday they don't have their full menu, just bar snacks. 3eme.

bones: very popular right now. australian chef – james henry – leading the charge. very meat (and offal) focused. small plates. cosy. if you cant get a table, grab a seat a the bar. 11eme.

frenchie: a super cute tiny spot, down a laneway in the 2eme. hard to get into (i.e. they are booked out for months), but you can always try the wine bar across the road, or the new ‘frenchie to go’ for take-out instead. 2eme.

la pulperia: cosy and charming, argentinian/french-influenced shared plates. great wine list. must book. 11eme.

au passage: cute spot for an interesting menu of small plates. can book. 10eme.

le comptoir generale: come here for coffee or lunch during the day, or for dinner and drinks in the evening. this “temple of ghetto culture” offers up african-inspired food, a vintage shop, and vines that grow up the walls. its weird and its wonderful. 10eme.

clown bar: great food, excellent wine and beautiful terrace if the weather is kind (as recommended by bones’ chef, james henry).

le verre vole: this is a fun neighborhood spot in canal st martin. traditional french. cosy and casual. great organic wine list, and excellent food. 10eme.

derriere: this is an unexpected, hidden gem. start late, and finish late. a mash up of vintage furniture and flea market finds, come here for a fun night out, interesting food, and a great terrace. 3eme.

l'office; and richer: both great french bistros, with a modern twist. 9eme. 

le baratin: come here for traditional french food, mama and papa style - soo good. the chef here, raquel carena, is argentine and cooks from the heart. her husband, matali crasset, looks after the wine. a beautiful experience. 20 eme.

roseval: traditional tasting, must book. Cool young chefs doing really interesting and inventive food. 20eme.

robert et louise: looking for a good steak? look no further. steak from the open fire inside the restaurant. delicious, and always packed. 3eme.

benoit: for classic paris, but expensive. 4eme.

cafe dei cioppi: if you are sick of french, come here for incredible pasta. great italian food. 11eme.

nanashi: a super cute, modern japanese if you are still sick of french. come here for organic Japanese-french style bento. fun and colorful.the chef used to be at rose bakery. can book. 3eme.

guilo guilo: come here for high-end japanese, with a no-choice seven course changing seasonal menu. Located on a quiet road, this tiny restaurant is a little gem hidden away from the craziness of montmarte. 18eme.

clamato: it’s no reservations here at Chef BetrandGrébaut and Théo Pourriat’s seafood tapas bar. Already a local favorite, having only opened in November. Grab a seat at the long bar, or at one of the cute tables at the far end of the room. A changing daily menu. Delicious. 11eme.

to drink…

candelaria: channeling nyc’s la esquina’s-hidden-mexican-joint kinda vibes, this cosy cocktail bar in the 3eme is at the back of a cute tacos to-go shop. come here for cocktails, tacos, nice tunes and romance! voila. 3eme.

le perchoir: on sunny afternoons, come to this amazing rooftop. It’s beautiful here. 11eme.

le mary celeste: as above. most delicious cocktails in paris (we think!). try the cucumber martini, or the campari cocktail. 3eme.

verjus wine bar: cosy and beautiful. come here for delicious wines and great food as well. 1eme.

lockwood: brought to you by christophe, olivier and thomas lehoux – three brothers who have done amazing things in the drinks world so far (thomas, with coffee at ten belles in paris; and christophe in sydney at pocket bar, button bar and stitch bar)! lockwood is a great option not only for coffee during the day, but great for drinks at night. 2eme.

glass: for great beers and fun tunes. in the pigalle. 9eme.

little red door: for cocktails in the marais. 3eme.

to shop…

merci merci: it’s a must (for beautiful fashion, interiors and food and coffee). spread over three levels. the basement is amazing for lunch as well. 3eme.

broken arm: we adore this gorgeous concept store on a marais street corner, with a very, very cute café attached. 3eme.

colette: a mad-house, but a must-see (for high end, quirky and amazing merchandising). 1eme.

le bon marche: amazing one stop shop for everything. two buildings. check out the beautiful building next door (grand epicerie - the fancy food market they own). 6eme.

violette et léonie: for a well curated mix of vintage and modern labels. 3eme.

ofr.: for art and fashion books. 3eme.

and…just wander the charming little streets of the marais: we especially like the stores in rue vielle du temple, rue du temple, and rue de francs-bourgeois (and the streets that interconnect these). too many stores to mention…but all our french favorites (isabel marant, vanessa bruno, sandro, maje, apc, etc…plus so many other cool little independent labels).

to do…

check out the flea markets (marché aux puces), especially at clignancourt. the best place to roam if you are in the market for interiors. expensive, but has it all. the saint-ouen flea market is the largest concentration of antique dealers and second-hand goods dealers in the world. located in the 18eme, the markets happen here on saturdays, sundays and mondays.

marché raspail: come to this huge organic market on a sunday morning, for your weekly fix of incredible produce (fish, meat, fruit, veg, cheese, wine etc etc). nibble on everything along the way. so fun. 6eme.

walk, sit, hang along canal st martin. nothing better on a sunny sunday afternoon. byo wine. 10eme.

check out these galleries/exhibitions:

yvon lambert: in the marais. we love the mario testino exhibition on now until 24 july 2014.

* the grand palais…for robert mapplethorpe’s highly stylized black and white portraits, nudes and still lifes (until 13 july); and most celebrated video artist, bill viola (until 21 july 2014).

galérie blumann in the place des vosges for their current rolling stones photo exhibition. we also love the tribute to brigitte bardot.

la maison européenne de la photographie.

musée d'orsay.

take a ride on the bateaux mouches. what may seem a little touristy, is actually quite magical.

to sleep…

*hotel paradis: this is our favorite sleeping spot in paris right now. a super cute and charming boutique hotel, perfectly located in the 10eme…close to both canal st martin, and the marais. walk and cycle everywhere from here. with design features reminiscent of the ace / marlton (in nyc) hotels…we love every single little detail here, from the stunning wallpaper (different on every floor), the mid-century furniture, the letterpress coasters, the toiletries by malin + goetz, the full breakfast each morning. it has it all. It’s beautiful here.

*hotel amour: once pretty sketch, the red-light district of pigalle is slowly cleaning up its act, and fast becoming cool – especially thanks to the likes of this great boutique hotel. designed by swedish-born, paris-raised graffiti artist and nightclub entrepreneur andre saraiva (the guy behind le baron in london and paris, as well as le bain at andre balazs’ nyc standard) – a great sleeping option, and beautiful lush courtyard as well for lunch or aperitif.

*mama shelter: located in an unlikely part of town (the northeast of paris), this philippe starck-designed beauty, is an affordable sleeping option which attracts creative types on a budget. You can find mama shelters now in marseille, lyon, istanbul and bordeaux as well (with la to come).

airbnb: there are some seriously amazing apartments to be found. we recommend looking in the 10eme (canal st martin – boho, laidback, young, fun vibes), or the 3eme (marais – fun, beautiful streets, restaurants, boutiques, cafes – only 10mins walk from canal st martin).

Palm Springs

palm springs.

[spotlight series. natasha casemarlene marchewka]

[palm springs soundtrack. love like a sunset]


There’s nothing quite like escaping LA’s urban sprawl for a weekend in the desert. Driving east on the open road, past endless windmills and retro dinosaurs, to the sun-kissed oasis that is Palm Springs. Blues and browns dominate the desert scenery here. Mid-century architecture, roadside motels, color pops, and our favorite thing of all – The Parker Hotel. We first visited the Parker in 2010 on our maiden voyage to the Coachella festival. It was love at first sight. A colorful, kitsch and calm oasis amongst palm trees and manicured lawns. There are lush swimming pools, bocce ball courts and a lemonade stand. In winter, the firepit will keep you warm. Once here, there is no need to leave. If its springtime in Palm Springs, the desert flowers are in full bloom, and pink is everywhere. Hummingbirds, too. Come to the desert to rest and recharge. If you want more action though, there is definitely enough to keep you busy for a few days. Here’s how to spend a perfect desert weekend.

To caffeinate.

For easily the best coffee in town, check out Ernest. They serve Stumptown, and they get it.

If a juice is more your thing, head to Palm Greens Café. It’s not fancy, and it’s in a strip mall, but they do a mean smoothie or green juice if coffee’s not your thing.

And for something totally unhealthy and again, not so fancy, order the s’mores shake from Great Shakes. I mean, come on. You know you are in America when you can get s’mores in a cup.

To eat.

Brunch at Norma’s: for a breakfast bigger than your head. The food here is consistently good. The French toast will blow your mind. Even the fruit bowl will impress. Its not cheap, but it is wonderfully delicious. A perfect terrace to enjoy the sunny desert light.

Cheeky’s: this laid-back Palm Springs brunching institution is always busy. Be prepared to wait. The food is fresh and organic. Order the breakfast tacos, and try the “flights” of bacon.

Lunch at the ACE: the perfect poolside lunching (or casual dinner) spot. We always stop by here on our drive into Palm Springs. Order the lentil burger, or the kale salad with chicken. Great poolside-party-people watching.

The lemonade stand at the Parker. Need we say more.

King’s Highway at The Ace: housed in a retrofitted Denny’s, this is a cute retro-luxe diner, especially busy during Coachella. Come here for farm-to-table brunch or dinner offerings. DJ sets and live music, sometimes.

Birba: the same owners as Cheeky’s, this is a good alfresco dinner spot. Enjoy pizza and cocktails under the palm trees. Live music as well. Closed Monday and Tuesday.

Workshop Kitchen and Bar: our favorite desert dinner option. This impressive minimalist space, all concrete and wood, is the spot for fresh, seasonal and local food. The outdoor seating is tempting, but can get pretty hot out there, so go for a booth.

S’mores by the firepit at the Parker: the ultimate way to end your dreamy desert day. Order the s’mores tray and roast your own marshmallows over the fire, layering them in dark chocolate, and sandwiching them between graham crackers. This is insanely good. BYO bottle of red, and meet new friends by the fire. The perfect end to a perfect desert day.

To do.

Hang at the Parker: there is so much (or so little) to do here, you seriously don’t ever have to leave. Pool time, bocce, croquet on the lawn, ping-pong, s’mores by the fire pit, spa treatments or gym time.. It’s all here, and it’s all amazing. Our happy place.

Rent bikes (or borrow from your hotel) and cruise around downtown Palm Springs. Check out some of the design stores.

Visit the Kaufmann House for mid-century modern at its finest. Arguably Palm Springs’ most famous home, designed by architect Richard Neutra in 1946. Continue by taking yourself on a self-guided tour. Or time your visit with Mid-Century Modern week (February) for open home visits, architecture tours, talks, and cocktail parties.

Take the Aerial Tramway to the top of the San Jacinto Mountains for some knockout desert views of the Coachella Valley. Once there you can also hike Mount San Jacinto State Park.

Palm Springs Art Museum: visit here for western American art and craftworks. Free admission on Thursday evenings.

Coachella: a no-brainer if you like music, and you find yourself in the desert in April (along with most of LA). Founded by Paul Tollett in 1999, the festival (now held over 2 consecutive weekends) takes place at the Empire Polo Club in Indio (about 45mins from Palm Springs).

To sleep.

The Parker Palm Springs: sometimes described as an “adult-playground”, this Jonathan Adler-designed hotel is a lush and private oasis. A favorite at any time of year, we like to visit every other month. Once inside, there is no real reason to leave. Rest and recharge with poolside hang time, a good book in the hammock, a spa treatment, a round of croquet on the lawn, bocce ball, maybe take out some bikes, or the s’mores tray, with some red wine, by the fire.

Sparrows Lodge: one of the original restored getaways for Hollywood elite, this completely restored 1950s retreat, is somewhat hidden off the main road and has a charming modern rustic vibe and wonderful feeling of simplicity. An outdoor fire pit, veggie garden, swimming pool, and bar…it has everything you need for a totally restful Palm Springs stay. We love it here.

Airbnb: we stumbled across this boutique little airbnb rental when planning our recent visit (February 2015). A desert-chic hideaway, perfectly tucked away behind the city’s center. Behind its bright orange door lie five refurbed apartments surrounding a pool. Simple and clean, with colorful design touches, these rooms make a perfect base. You can choose to rent one room only, or book out the entire place – perfect for a group. There’s an awesome bbq, and plenty of sun lounges to lie poolside in the sun.

Ace Hotel & Swim Club: this is where you stay if you are wanting party, not rest. Swamped at Coachella time, these mod-retro desert digs is another good option for your Palm Springs visit. Think Navarro rugs, earthy tones, and vintage furniture. Live music, poolside parties, that kind of thing.  

Korakia: this gorgeous Moroccan-style pensione is a private and calm oasis tucked off the main drag. Known to host evening movies here, there is also a lovely pool. A good option if you are wanting something quiet and low-key.



[spotlight series. paul blackthornechris sewell & lori anna stern]

Just one and half hours north of LA, and a short skip south from Santa Barbara, Ojai is a magical and spiritual mecca, often referred to as “The Shangri-La of Southern California”. A haven for hippies and healthy living, Ojai has long been home to artists and bohemians, and is one of our favorite stopovers.

Ojai’s charms are many, from the changing colors of the mountains (get ready for the “pink moment” at sunset, whereby the fading sunlight creates a brilliant shade of pink over the Topatopa Bluffs), to the stunning oak-shaded laneways, the horse stables, the rambling country properties, and the warm and friendly people – life moves at a slower beat here, and the energy is intoxicating. An equally charming hideaway for a romantic weekend getaway, or a well-needed rest.

While living in Santa Barbara, we would come to Ojai on a weekly basis – mainly for our dose of chai and cookies, or smoothies and salads at the Farmer & The Cook – but also for hikes, or visits to Meditation Mount. One of our most favorite times to visit however, is on the first weekend of December, when the Ojai Rancho Inn hosts an amazing, artisanal pop-up Christmas market known as “Deck the Halls”. The Rancho’s 16 rooms get taken over by more than 50 seriously cool and creative local vendors, as well as live music, a fully stocked bar and food stalls. The best way to kick off the holiday season.

1. To eat…

Farmer & The Cook (actually located nearby in Meiner Oaks, not Ojai itself): is our firm favorite, and a quintessential Ojai experience. Soulful, healthy, wholefood paradise. Vegetarian, and renowned for its hand-made Mexican food, salad bar, smoothies (try the avocado ones!), chai, and baked goods (we cant go past the “birdfeeder cookie”). People travel for miles to feast here. This is a special place. Forever indebted to you, Paul Blackthorne, for introducing us to the chai here back on our first trip to Ojai in December 2012! The start of a long and illustrious love affair with this magical spot.

Hip Vegan Café: tucked off the main drag, this super cute spot offers seriously classy vegan food at friendly prices, with outdoor seating.

Deer Lodge: originally a gas station and market that opened in 1932, the Deer Lodge, is now a local watering hole and a great spot to grab some local farm fresh organic tucker, as well as to hear some live tunes.

2. To sleep…

Ojai Rancho Inn: the only place (in our minds) to sleep when in Ojai. The Rancho is brought to you by Chris Sewell and Kenny Osehan – the ever-talented husband and wife duo behind the Shelter Social Club – also responsible for other boutique shelters including the Agave Inn, and the Hamlet Inn; as well the most legit Indonesian restaurant California has to offer, Sama Sama Kitchen, our favorite place to eat when in Santa Barbara. Reminiscent of an old summer camp, this laid-back, affordable, oasis is hard to get into, so make sure you book early. Simple, stylish and understated cool. We love it here.

As a back-up option, the Capri Hotel has recently undergone a renovation, and offers modern, mid-century-esque guest rooms and pool cabanas.

3. To shop…

Mosey along Ojai’s Spanish style shopping arcade, and pop into cute boutiques and vintage stores. Lori Stern recommends the thrift store across the street from the Ojai Roasting Company on Signal Blvd. We also love Modern Folk: for a beautifully curated selection of homewares, clothes and jewelry.

If it’s a book you are looking for – pop into outdoor bookshop, Bart’s Books – to see what goodies are on offer. We love their 24/7 honor system as well, where you can choose a book to buy from their outdoor shelves. So sweet.

4. To do…

Experience the “pink moment” at sunset, from the serene garden of Meditation Mount.

Hike: there are so many special hikes to choose from in this area, but we do love the 6.5mile Last Chance Trail, which winds through the Santa Paula Canyon. Dramatic valley views, through the lush forest, await.

Meditate: our favorite time to do this is at dusk, as the sun is going down, from the beautiful rock platforms atop of Meditation Mountain. The views over the valley here are spectacular, and there is an incredibly powerful spiritual energy from this vantage point. Even my most non-spiritual friend, was swept away from a feeling she had never experienced before, when atop the mountain. A very powerful place.

Drive: the mountain road back from Ojai to Santa Barbara (about 45mins). You will pass Lake Casitas (swimming is not allowed, but you can rent a boat, or a kayak, or do some fishing!). Stop at one of the vista points on the hill, and look back over the stunning lake. It may just take your breath away. Pure magic!

Spa treatment at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa: detox and recharge.

Bike ride along the Ojai Valley Trail: from Ojai to the coast (9.5miles).

Go horseback riding into the foothills.

Hot springs: natural hot springs located in the hills of Matilija, just minutes from Ojai.

Visit the Ojai Farmers’ Market: held each Sunday morning. Local produce and friendly vibes.

New Mexico

[spotlight series. ibrahim loeks]

[new mexico soundtrack. take me to church]

New Mexico, it was hard not to be seduced by you. You weren’t named the Land of Enchantment for nothing. Your magical desert vistas, expansive sky and stunning light, the sweet smell of sage and burning pinon, your crisp mountain air, ravishing wilderness, river gorges, and breathtaking rocky mountains. Full of wild splendor, you are. And Santa Fe, the City Different, yes you are different, but wonderfully so. We love your spiritual energy. A creative and eccentric melting pot. Thank you for casting your spell on us. We will be back.


We were lucky to spend Thanksgiving in Santa Fe with a lovely local family, who shared with us the love of the town they call home. A friendly and somewhat eccentric place, Santa Fe proudly celebrates its cultural heritage, paying homage to its Native American and Spanish roots. People here embrace diversity. They are open. They are colorful. They are kind. Colorful strings of chili hang from the flat-topped adobe buildings – an endless sea of brown and turquoise – and locals hang in the Plaza, where rows and rows of jewelry sellers display their silver and turquoise handiwork. You’ll be impressed by the vast array of historic churches, the hundreds of galleries and museums, and you will be awed by the spectacular sunsets that fall over the Sangre de Cristos mountain backdrop. Over Thanksgiving we were also fortunate enough to be a part of a house blessing ceremony with 10 visiting Buddhist monks. Anything can (and will) happen in Santa Fe! The City Different. Not only that, but get ready to breath a bit heavier – you will be over 7000 feet above sea level here.

These were some of our favorite finds:

To caffeinate.

Ikonic. This was our favorite. In a location slightly out of town, Ikonic roast their own beans and do a damn good latte. They have a great little food offering as well. They even offer live music some days, and we were excited to stumble across a group of cowboys from a local bluegrass band playing one Sunday when we stopped by.

Ohori’s: a Santa Fe favorite since 1984, Ohori's has a few locations and does a great brew. We tried their coffee for the first time at Ten Thousand Waves (see below), and then hunted down one of their city locations wanting more.

To eat.

Start your day by drinking tea and eating oatmeal* at the Teahouse on Canyon Road. We had been recommended this dish from about five different friends in Santa Barbara, and it did not disappoint. *Gluten-free oats, buckwheat groats & forbidden rice, served with maple cream (yes! Maple cream) & whipped cream + strawberries or bananas. YUM.

For lunch, try the quinoa burger at Café Pasqual’s(which we once heard described as the “Chez Panisse” of Santa Fe). Breakfast here is also good (order the huevos rancheros – obviously). The smoked trout hash is also worth trying.

If you’re watching your pennies, the best cheap and cheerful lunch will be some fajitas, tacos or burritos from the El Molero fajita truck on the Plaza (at the corner of East San Francisco Street and Lincoln Avenue).

A little out of town, try the Tesuque Village Market – a pub/produce market – for decent Mexican grub. Our local friends introduced us to the “Frito Pie” – corn chips, ground beef, chicken, pinto beans or texas chili topped with cheese, red or green chile. Not the healthiest thing you will ever eat, but tasty!

Maria’s: supposedly Robert Redford’s favorite spot when visiting Santa Fe, locals love this as well. Come here for authentic New Mexican cooking and tequila (over 300 varieties on offer). Eat blue corn enchiladas and drink super-strong margaritas. What more could you want!

For dinner, we love The Shed. This Spanish/Mexican spot is a definite favorite, so you will likely have to wait awhile for a table. It might appear touristy, but don’t let that deter you. The margaritas are good and strong, and the blue corn burrito and green chile dishes make it worth the wait.

Our most hilarious and random night however was spent at the Compound – a pretty stiff and fancy restaurant just off Canyon Road. It’s all about the bar though. This was the first “conversation pit” bar of its kind. Where the restaurant is quite formal, the small bar seats only 12 people and is loud, rowdy and fun. Make sure you make a reservation in advance (Friday nights are best). The advice to sit at the bar was given to us by the lovely restaurant manager when we called to make our reservation. She assured us that the bar was a “great place to meet interesting people and since its so small and intimate, you really get a chance to engage in some wonderful conversation”. This could not have been more true. We ended up meeting and hanging out with some very colorful and entertaining locals, where the night carried on to the Cowgirl for cocktails and tequila shots.

To drink.

Margaritas at the Cowgirl: this New Mexico-meets-Texas BBQ joint is a Santa Fe institution. We had a very fun night here involving far too many margaritas and tequila shots. Come here for the BBQ brisket, the margaritas, and the live music.

To shop.

You can really get into vintage mode here, with all the great little vintage shops scattered around town. Our favorite store of all though, was Shiprock Santa Fe. Come here for awesome Navajo blankets, native American weavings, homewares, vintage and new clothes.

To do.

Visit the Saturday Farmer's Market in the Railyard District, renowned for being one of the best in the country. The Railyard District is home not only to the farmers market, but also some great galleries exhibiting work of emerging artists as well.

Ten thousand waves: be at one with the clouds and the pinon trees, and soak all your troubles away in the Japanese onsen-style outdoor tubs tucked into the ponderosa forest here at this luxury mountain retreat. Be pampered. We had an incredible facial here. Hidden in the hills, this is the perfect hideaway. Make sure you save time after your treatment for coffee (they serve Ohori) and lunch at Izanami, the deliciously authentic onsite Japanese restaurant.

Book in a massage with our dear friend and bodywork specialist, Ibrahim Loeks. This experience will be life changing. Trust us.

Cruise along Canyon Road (a little touristy/predictable) but you will find a tonne of galleries and stores. Take a tea break at the Teahouse (see above).

Check out the Monroe Gallery downtown. This black and white photo gallery was our favorite of the lot.

Get lost in a bevy of museums. We especially liked theMuseum of International Folk Art, and the O’Keefe Museum. Even more so, we would have loved to visit artist Georgia O’Keefe’s home and studio in Abiquiu. In 1949, O’Keefe moved from New York City to New Mexico, whose stunning vistas and stark landscapes had inspired her work since the late 20s, and its her home and studio which is now open to the public. A beautiful insight into the life she led in Abiquiu. “I have lived on a razors edge. So what if I fall off – I’d rather be doing something I really anted to do. I'd walk it again. (Georgia O’Keefe). Unfortunately the O’Keefe home and studio closes for winter however, so it was already shut for the season when we visited.

Check out contemporary art space, SITE, a nonprofit which opened in 1995 and was modeled after a European kunsthalle. The space, curated by Irene Hofmann, is renowned for bold and collaborative shows.

Hike through the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument (one of the highlights of our trip). Just over an hour from Santa Fe, this awesome national park has a three-mile trail that winds you along a desert track through slot canyons and crazy cone-shaped rock formations, up to the top of the canyon with wide, sweeping views from the mesa overlooking the Jemez mountains and Rio Grande River Valley.


Taos, only an hour and a half north of Santa Fe, is an easy (and essential) overnight trip. If you have time, take the High Road. You will drive through spectacularly differing landscapes – low hills and plains, deep gorges, vertical cliffs, mountains, and valleys. The wide expanse of the Taos landscape is truly breathtaking.

To eat.

We sadly struggled to find a good coffee while in Taos…but we certainly had one of our most memorable meals at the Love Apple (see below).

Before dinner, hit up Doc Martin's, the bar at the Taos Inn. Order (strong) margaritas and sit by the fire, where you can hang out and listen to the nightly live music. It’s a cosy local spot.

Book dinner (reservations essential) at The Love Apple, a super cosy and friendly spot that is housed in an 1800s chapel just outside of town. This is local and seasonal home cooking at its finest. We also enjoyed a memorable Pinot Noir (Erath) from Oregon. Cash only.

To shop.

There are a few cute stores dotted along the main street of Taos, but our favorite of all was Logan Wannamaker Pottery. Moving from Colorado to Taos in 2006, Wannamaker came with a purpose - to create a ceramics community. His beautiful work is on display and available for sale in this lovely gallery space. 

To do.

Only 10 minutes from Taos is the Taos Pueblo. It may seem a bit touristy (which it kind of is), but it is worth a quick runaround (it does cost $17 to get in though). A maze of sand-colored adobe buildings that have been inhabited for over 1000 years. The Sangre de Cristos mountains in the backdrop make it especially scenic and wonderful.

On your way out of town, drive seven miles north (enroute to your earthship – see below) to cross over the Rio Grande Gorge. Park your car and walk over the gorge bridge to marvel at the amazing grandeur of the mighty waterway 565 feet below. Drive on to find your desert earthship…

To sleep.

In our minds, there is only one place to stay on any trip to Taos, and that is completely off-grid in something known as an earthship. Designed by Michael Reynolds, these fully sustainable homes use local resources such as the sun and are made entirely from natural and recycled materials. Walls are lined with old tires, bottles, and tin cans mixed with concrete. With thermal/solar heating and cooling, the earthships also produce their own electricity using a prepackaged photovoltaic/wind power system. This energy is stored in batteries and supplied to all the electrical outlets. Earthships use and reuse all household sewage in indoor and outdoor treatment cells. Toilets flush with greywater that doesn’t smell. And water from the sky (rain and snow melt) is harvested/caught and used four times. In addition to all of that, the earthships are filled with plants that hold hundreds of gallons of water from sinks and the shower and are a great place for raising some of the fresh produce people would expect to find during winter. Earthships can be built in any part of the world, in any climate and still provide electricity, potable water, contained sewage treatment and sustainable food production. A perfect example of self-sufficient, green living. There are a number of earthships listed to rent on Airbnb. We stayed in thisone, and had an awesome experience. Angela was a super helpful and passionate host.

On the drive back to Santa Fe, take the route over the Chama River.

Stop at Ojo Caliente to visit the natural mineral hot springs. Soak in the natural spa, book a treatment or take the short and lovely hike through the surrounding mountains (about 30mins round trip). The restaurant here is quite good as well.

Alternatively, drive back via the spiritual stomping ground of Santuario de Chimayó, a small Roman Catholic shrine and National Historic Landmark that attracts over 300,000 visitors each year. People travel far and wide to visit the site of el pocito, a small pit of soil believed to have curative powers.

And for next time…we are for sure going to hit up these places that we ran out of time to see on this visit:

+ White Sands National monument

+ Bandelier National monument

+ Ghost Ranch

+ And skiing.

So much to do here, so little time. The Land of Enchantment is truly that. We can’t wait to return.



[spotlight series. taiana giefersky gilbarjill nelsen]

[Montecito soundtrack. California sunrise]

Tucked perfectly between the mountains and the sea, and boasting constant sunshine and a near-perfect climate all year round, it is no surprise Montecito is considered one of the most beautiful communities in California. A very special place, we feel lucky to have called this coastal beauty our on-again-off-again home (one of many) for the past couple of years.

We are so grateful to our three Montecito insiders - all of whom have spent the most part of their lives here – for their insider knowledge and recommendations. Be sure to check out their favorite spots. In the meantime, here are some of ours…

To eat.

Weekend brunch at Tre Lune: order poached eggs, and fresh oJ.

For lunch on the run: grab a burrito from Little Alex’s (the vegetarian one –add avocado – is amazing), or a big, delicious sandwich fromPanino.

Great sushi at Sakana Sushi Bar, just next to the Montecito Country Mart on Coast Village Road.

Grab a seat at the bar, and order a steak and glass of red at Lucky’s: a Montecito institution. Amazing people watching.

Cocktails and dinner in the stunning sandstone courtyard at the San Ysidro Ranch: this is our most favorite spot in all of Montecito. A beautifully private retreat at the food of the mountains – surrounded by manicured lawns and a stunning garden of lavender, rosemary and pink bougainvillea – this is heaven. Request a table in the courtyard, and sit under fairy-lit trees (wrapped in blankets if its cold), and enjoy the most amazing meal and incredible cocktails (the Blood Orange margarita is always our guy). Oh and make sure you try the chocolate soufflé, or the fresh (from their very own garden) mint/choc chip ice cream. If it was good enough for JFK and Jackie…

A cocktail on the outdoor patio at the Four Seasons Biltmore is always a good idea. Order Oprah’s Pomegranate Martini, and look out over the Pacific Ocean and out to the Channel Islands.

Ice cream from Rori’s. This place will blow your mind. Hand-crafted and organic ice creams – made from only whole and simple ingredients (Straus Family Creamery organic milk, cream (from Grass-fed cows) and eggs) – we cant resist their dairy-free coconut and chocolate; and the fresh mint chip. Oh and our current favorite – the chunky peanut butter with home made choc/peanut butter cups.

To sleep.

San Ysidro Ranch will always be our #1: a splurge, yes, but one of the most beautiful and luxe retreats we know. Channeling old-Hollywood (JFK and Jackie Onassis honeymooned here)…the 21 private cottages are scattered among acres upon acres of manicured lawns and beautiful gardens. Private terraces, stacked firewood by the door, even your own personalized stationary once inside. This is a treat worth investing in.

Understandably though, if the budget wont quite stretch that far, there is always Airbnb. You will find so many awesome options, including this super cute “surf shack” right near the lower village.

And lastly, you could always try the Montecito Inn(conveniently located on Coast Village Road, right near Lucky’s).

To shop.

Upstairs at Pierre Lafond is the perfect stop if you need a gift. Books, homewares, candles, clothes, kids stuff, and more. In the upper village.

Also in the upper village, the Jenny Kayne home store has some beautiful things. Likewise, check out Elu – for beautiful clothes and our all-time favorite felt scarves by Taiana.

At the Montecito Country Mart (same owner as the Brentwood and Malibu ones as well), we loveHudson Grace – for beautiful interiors – andSpace NK for all things skin and delicious fragrances.

To do.

Start the day with a hike. So many amazing trails to choose from. Some of our favorites including the Hot Springs trail (up to Saddle Rock), theCold Springs trail, or the trail that starts at the entrance to the San Ysidro ranch. All pretty steep in parts, but stunning views over the mountains and the ocean, and a great workout.

Hang on the beach – Butterfly, Hammonds – or any of the others nearby. These beaches are peaceful and beautiful, and sometimes get decent waves as well.

Pilates at La Playa: this is the most beautiful Pilates studio we have found so far, with exceptional trainers as well. If you have time, be sure to book a private session with Colleen Ferguson (of Atwill Pilates), or founder, Kristin Turner – both brilliant trainers, who will work you hard. One visit will not be enough.

Visit the Friday morning farmers market on Coast Village Road: for fresh flowers, organic fruit and veg, nuts, cheese and more.

Check out Lotus Land.

Visit the antique stores in nearby Summerland.



[spotlight series. zachary lynd and agnes rizzo]

[montauk soundtrack. lose yourself to dance]

Montauk… we have a major crush on this old fishing village town, just a quick 3-hour drive from New York City, at the easternmost point of Long Island. This is the Hamptons’ most hip and laid-back outpost. We come here to getaway from the scorching summer city days…for surf, for fun, for food, for friends, and just to chill. It is a blissful place, sort of daggy but sort of cool, and definitely a summer staple (we also love it in the off-season when most things shut down, and the crowds depart).

Long, sandy dune beaches, good surf, fresh produce, great restaurants, stunning sunsets, yoga, fishing, biking, walks…everything you need for a low-key summer getaway.

We list some of our favorite things below (including a couple of things we love outside of Montauk as well).

To caffeinate…

Jack’s in Amagansett: by far the best coffee on Long Island. Only a 10min drive from Montauk, its worth the extra effort to get to Jack’s in super cute Amagansett Square. Jack’s organic brews are super delicious, and you will also find some great breakfast options and good drink options as well, like Kombucha. The queues can get pretty long, but make sure you stick it out. A gorgeous little nautical-flavored store with vintage buoys and hanging driftwood.

To eat…

Joni’s for breakfast: people go nuts for the breakfast wraps at this Montauk institution. We think they are good, not earth-shattering, but there are lots of other great healthy brekkie options as well. Always busy, it’s a good spot to check out – post-yoga, surf or swim. Grab a juice or smoothie, and sit out the front on the coloured picnic tables. You are sure to bump into a bunch of people you know.

One of our favorite Aussie chef’s, friend Chris Rendell, is doing spectacular things at the Surf Lodge Restaurant at The Surf Lodge. Chris’ food never fails, and you will be treated to simple and delicious organic-market driven fresh fish, salads, curries and more, in the super-hip and beautiful Surf Lodge setting. We love it here for breakfast, lunch or dinner…and anything in between. Fun times guaranteed.

Ruschmeyer’s hotel: this revamped fifties estate, is one of our favorite Montauk hangs. You feel like you are on summer camp here. Come to stay (see below), or come to eat, drink and dance. Fresh, delicious food, by The Smile crew in the city, and fun dj beats.

Tacos at La Brisa: we love Tacombi in the city, and so were super pumped when their Montauk outpost – La Brisa – opened last summer. A fun corner taqueria, come here for tacos, ceviche, and icy-cold modelos, and margaritas.

Lobster rolls from TURF: it doesn’t get much cuter than Zach’s 1967-renovated airstream-turned-lobster-roller. The most perfect Montauk experience, you can find Zach and his to-die-for lobster rolls set up in the ‘Dirt Lot’ at Ditch Plains beach. These are hands down the best lobster rolls we have ever eaten – plump, juicy, generous portions of lobster, not too much mayo and fresh bread rolls. Such a good post-beach lunch. Make sure you pop your head in and check out the stunning artwork inside the airstream that Zach’s creative wizard of a lover – Kelly Framel – did last summer. It’s beautiful here.

Dosas from the Hampton Chutney Co.: a trip here for dosas and mango lassis is not only recommended, it’s essential. A staple for us on any trip to the Hamptons. Run by an American couple, who met at an ashram in India, these authentic doasa are huge and delicious savory crepe-like creations, filled with non-traditional fillings. So tasty and even gluten-free (for our non-wheat eating friends out there). Grab them to-go and sit outside in the gorgeous Amagansett Square.

Bread and supplies from the Amagansett Farmers Market: supporting local farmers, this is a great (but quite shockingly over-priced) option for lunch on the go. We come here most mornings for their amazing fresh bread. Deli goods, pastries, fresh juices and fruit and veg. An easy place to stop on the drive into Montauk.

Fancy lunch at Pierre’s in Bridgehampton: if you are looking for something a little more up-scale, maybe a fancy long lunch with the girls, or visiting parents, bring them here. Classic French bistro. Oysters, steak and frites, and rosé. Yum.

South Edison: for great fish and good cocktails. We are never disappointed here. Delicious seafood, and amazing cocktails. Try the Montauk Mojito with mint and berry puree. Always busy and fun.

Navy Beach: come here for a burger and a cocktail. Beautiful location (on a private stretch of beach), and gorgeous views. Lunch on the beach, or just a bottle of rose as the sun goes down. A cute nautically-themed dining room. Try the Southside cocktail (vodka, mint and lemon). Best at sunset.

To drink…

For sundowners…Crows NestNavy Beach orThe Surf Lodge.

For party…Ruschmeyer’s…or The Surf Lodge. Good vibes, good tunes (look out for their weekend gigs), good views and boho beach bunnies.

To sleep…

The Surf Lodge: a nonstop beach bonanza, come to this cute boutique hotel to eat, sleep and play. Looking over Fort Pond, it’s beautiful here. Hang in a hammock, chill out on one of the giant outdoor beanbags, or try one of their weekend yoga classes on the back deck. Cocktails, sundowners, summer weekend gigs (catch bands like The Drums, MS MR, Portugal.The.Man). We love it here.

Ruschmeyer’s: it’s the little things we love at this grown-up summer camp. 1950s cedar cabins, filled with beautifully coloured rugs, wicker beds, hammocks, and classic touches like ingredients for s’mores set up in the fridge. The “Magic Garden”is filled with ping-pong tables and bocce ball courts. At night, paper lanterns swing from its trees. The food here is amazing (thanks to the culinary team at The Smile – one of our favorite spots in the city) as well, and the cocktails never fail.

Sole East Resort: the first place we stayed on our maiden voyage to Montauk five years ago. Cute, airy (small) rooms, a quaint little restaurant, bikes for hire, and a great pool (complete with daybeds, and a dj spinning pop tunes throughout the summer).

To shop

Cute pop-up boutiques at The Surf Lodge andRuschmeyer’s:

Gorgeous stores in Amagansett Square. We especially love Jack’s for coffee, the dosas from the Hamptons Chutney Company, and cute bits from LOVE adorned.

Melat Mercantile in Montauk.

To do

Yoga (Heather’s class) at Love: our favorite yoga teacher from the city, takes clasess here in Montauk through the summer. No better way to start your day.

Surf at Ditch Plains.

Walk along the beach at Hither Hills.

Catch a band at The Surf Lodge.

Go for a drive: check out the mind-blowingly beautiful homes in Amagansett, East Hampton etc.

Parrish Art Museum: this striking barn-like building by Herzog and De Meuron, stops in our tracks everytime we drive past on the Old Montauk Highway heading from the city down to Montauk.

Wölffer Estate Vineyard in Sagaponack: originally a potato farm, this 55-acre winery was founded in 1987. Classically European, Wölffer is a beautiful place, producing some delicious wines. Stock up on some of their delicious, light Rosé.

Visit Shelter Island (Sunset Beach): about an hour drive (plus a couple of ferries) will get you here. Book a night at the super cute André Balazsboutique hotel…and settle in for a long lunch on the beach, with a couple of bottles of his André Balazs collection of rosé's. Only open for summer from May until September.


spotlight series. susanna brambillaChiara faloppa andpaolo passoni]

[Milano soundtrack. Volare (but, of course!)]

Our love affair with the North of Italy began at the age of 18, when a strapping, young Italian boy from Milan, named Diego, came and lived with our family in Melbourne for a few months. Quickly becoming our Italian “brother”, we have since spent the next 17 years going back and forth between our hometowns.

Perhaps not as aesthetically pleasing and romantic as say Florence, or Venice…and with fewer secrets to uncover than in Rome…what Milan lacks in history and beauty, she makes up for in wealth and style. We love Italy’s largest city for the smell of jasmine in the air, the beautiful green spaces, the Milanese food and way of life, her style, the aperitivo, the coffee, the shopping, and the close proximity to the lakes region, and the coast. Oh and the Duomo – how could we forget Europe’s third largest church (after St. Peter’s Basillica in Rome, and Seville’s cathedral) – this Gothic beauty dominates the great piazza, and is a feast for the senses.

La Dolce Vita.

For coffee and breakfast…

Al Buon Convento Bistrot Caffetteria: this cute little spot was located at the bottom of our apartment building. Great coffee and delicious pastries. We also found another great local spot two doors down from Al Buon Convento (walking away from the Duomo) as well.

Gattullo: this is our favorite place in the city. Gattullo has been a Milanese institution since 1961. Come to this incredibly beautiful corner pasticceria for excellent coffee, delicious pastries and incredible old-school decor. Check out the staff uniforms. Supremo. Great sandwiches as well.

Marotin: we love this super cute and colorful corner bakery. Great croissants to-go.

Giacomo Pasticceria: in the same area as Marotin, another excellent option for a breakfast croissant on-the-run.

Bastianello (near our favorite shoe store): for great coffee and breakfast.

Pandenus: a few locations around town. Good coffee and cakes.

Sant'Ambroeus: it has been in the heart of the Milan Fashion District forever: a real classic, anytime of day.

Pavé: very popular at the moment. Desserts are amazing. Brunch is good too.

Sissi: for croissants.

For brunch…

Radetzky: it's been the bohémienne Milanese circle's meeting point forever. Always packed at aperitivo time. A beautiful spot for a late lunch on sunny Sundays.

Al Fresco: for brunch, lunch or dinner in a beautiful outdoor courtyard.

California Bakery: there are a few of these in town. A chain, yes, but great for an easy lunch – we like to grab a picnic basket from the Sant'Eustorgio one and take it to a park on a sunny Spring afternoon.

Ceresio 7: owned and designed by the twins from DSquared - on a rooftop with a pool, in the building of their DSquared HQ.

For lunch….

Baretto: a classic. Perfect for a lunch break on a shopping day

Al Mercato: for a break from pasta and pizza…come here for great burgers!

Eately: this amazing food and beverage company was founded in Turin, Italy, but has made waves in a whole host of other countries. We have been regular visitors at the NYC outpost…and were blown away by this, eately smeraldo – their most impressive retail showcase – located here in Milan. Located at the teatro smeraldo, this is a gourmet paradise. Come here and grab lunch to-go…or check out the in-house library for amazing cook books, or even try a cooking class. It’s all here, and it’s amazing.

Excelsior food court: another great spot for lunch to-go…this beautiful food haven, in the basement of the Excelsior, is worth checking out even if you are not hungry. Super impressive.

Il Salumaio: come here for the amazing courtyard.

Paper Moon: a traditional restaurant in the heart of the Fashion District. Nice pizza. Also try the beef with artichokes.

Martini Bar: located within Dolce&Gabbana’s men’s boutique. A nice verandah and great (people-watching) crowd. Perfect for a casual (Milan-style) lunch.

Refeel (Porta Romana area): also nice for aperitivo and breakfast

For the best gelato in town…Gelateria della Musica. Second best, try Rivareno.

Great for an afternoon break: Biancolatte. Come to this gorgeous spot for coffee or gelato.

10 Corso Como: always beautiful on any afternoon. Great for afternoon tea in the magnificent courtyard.

For dinner…

The Small: our favorite dinner spot at the moment. A cute, colorful and kitsch bistrot. The owner Alessandro is unbelievably friendly and hospitable and will ensure you have an amazing night. More a “home”, than a restaurant. Great food. Grab a table outside.

U Barba: we love this spot. Located as part of a bocce ball court that is still operating. Serving amazing food from Liguria. Grab a table out the back, and play a few rounds of bocce throughout your meal.

Petit Bistro: always busy, grab a table outside and enjoy the people watching (and good food).

Head to Navigli for lots of cute bars and restaurants dotting the canals…. a few favorites:

Pont de Ferr: for something more high-end. Influenced by Ferran Adrià, among others, chef Matias Perdomo is a friendly Argentinian who favors molecular gastronomy. This kind of cooking can be a little fancy for our tastes these days, but this one Michelin restaurant offers a beautiful experience and gorgeous setting along the canals of Navigli.

Rebelot: for great tapas and sangria, and good vibes.

Erba Brusca: for a beautiful farm-to-table dining experience. Come here and grab a table on the beautiful garden terrace, surrounded by their veggie patch, and enjoy delicious Italian favorites.

Temakinho (there are two in town – one in Navigli, and one in Brera): Japanese/Brazilian fusion. Come here for an awesome combo of Japanese temaki + caipirinhas! Great cozy atmosphere.

Finger's and Finger's garden (weird name!): but more great Japanese/Brazilian fusion, an amazing location and amazing service. Finger's Garden offers a beautiful Japanese garden for Summer time.

Yuzu: a tiny spot, offering some of the best sushi in town.

Giacomo Bistrot: this great bistrot is loved by the Fashion industry. Giacomo all’Arengario: located right on Piazza Duomo, next to Museo del Novecento, has a unique and stunning view over the Duomo. Same chef as Giacomo, but super chic and elegant. Not to be missed.

Osteria del Corso: for soccer player and showgirls spotting. Traditional Italian food. The Sicilian owner, Mimmo, is a Milanese classic.

Mimmo Dondup: same owner as Osteria del Corso. Great for lunch as well.

Porteno: very cool Argentinean restaurant.

La Briciola: a Milanese classic – best cotoletta and meatballs. Located in Brera area. Also check out “Il Giallo”: same owner, same area and same food, though slightly more casual and open till late at night.

To drink…

For apertivi (our favorite time of day!).... you can find a great little bar on every corner, sometimes the more low-key the better, but here are a few we also recommend:

Straf (next to Rinascente): cool crowd and music. Everybody stands out on the street, pretty casual.

Hotel Bulgari: always very chic. Love the garden in Summer time, a beautiful oasis under the trees in the heart of Milan.

Bar Rinascente: come here for the amazing views of the Duomo, if nothing else. A great rooftop.

Diana Majestic: grab a table in the beautiful garden.

N'Ombra de Vin (Brera): nice enoteca. A favorite among the banker/lawyer crowd.

Bodega del Tasca: according to our local friends, this is popular with the Milanese bohemian and wealthy crowd.

Rita (Navigli): best cocktails in town, fun after dinner as well.

For after dinner drinks…

Bar Principe di Savoia: this is the place to be during Fashion Week…but ONLY during Fashion Week. Rest of the year is not recommended.

Frank: (Porta Venezia area).

To shop…

The Excelsior: our new favorite department store, reminiscent of Colette, Merci etc. This luxury hub opened its doors three years ago, taking over a former movie theatre along the Galleria del Corso. Amazing luxe brands – cosmetics, apparel, shoes, accessories. All brands sourced by Antonia Giacinti – the talented buyer behind renowned Milanese boutique, Antonia. An amazing food court downstairs as well.

Antonia (Brera): do it.

Marni outlet: our favorite of all the Italian designers, this hidden-away outlet store (at the bottom of a residential building in the middle of a non-descript neighborhood), is an essential stop on any visit to Milan.

If you are an outlet-shopper, check out: D-Magazine; and Il Salvagente.

For shoes: La Vetrina di Beryl.

For everything, including a coffee break in the gorgeous courtyard, check out 10 Corso Como.

Others… Gio Moretti (Via Sant’Andrea); Banner (Via Sant'Andrea); Biffi (Corso Genova): and by the same owner of Banner, Antonioli (Navigli): best selection of Givenchy, Rick Owens etc; Profumeria Mazzolari: any beauty or hair products you need can be found here.

To do… 

A day trip to Lago di Como (A MUST): for apertivo at Villa d’Este in Cernobbio, followed by lunch atTrattoria del Glicine. This is quite possibly the most beautiful place we have ever laid eyes on in our life. Spend the day (or lots of days) cruising the lakes…by car, by foot, by boat…or all of the above. Heaven on earth.

Teatro alla Scala: come and experience a show at this, Italy and Milan’s world renowned, Opera House.

Visit the Naviglio antique markets that take place once a month; also check out the Saturday markets in the old streets of Brera.  

For Spa and Beauty…Violette: for the most chic manicure in town. A Vogue favorite. The Studio by Davide Diodovich: amazing peaceful hair salon. Best colorist in town. A fashion industry favorite. Hotel Bulgari, if you want to splurge on a spa treatment. Hotel Armani, for another amazing spa experience (on the rooftop).

To note…

Malpensa Airport is a long way from the center of town (a cab will cost 90euro). Much better to jump on the train, super easy.

City bikes easy to use, and a great way to get around town.

Aperitivi (6-10pm) is crucial to the Milanese day: be sure to embrace this daily routine, Campari and bar snacks. The best.

Coffee etiquette: caffè/espresso is a single shot, doppio is a double shot, Americano is a long black. And if you request milk in your coffee after lunchtime, you will get some strange looks. Cappuccinos and lattes are only for breakfast!

Mexico City

mexico city.

[spotlight series. “isra” jesus ortega  & andres isoardarrangoiz]

[our Mexico City soundtrack]

Someone once said, "Mexico City, like tequila, is an acquired taste"...for me, it was a taste I liked immediately.

Sure it can be loud and congested – and potentially overwhelming for some – but this city, packed full of high culture and lowdown fun, is exciting, lively and impressive – and the energy is intoxicating.

Lush green parks and gardens, sprawling tangles of wide European boulevards, stunning colonial architecture, modern design, an up-and-coming food scene, friendly locals, hundreds of galleries and museums, and enviable fiestas! Mexico City sure knows how to party.

Having not made a visit since 2005, it made complete sense to spend a few days in this energetic city on my way back to LA, after a short visit to the Pacific Coast in October. Three nights was just enough time to re-scratch the surface; to pound the pavement; and to unravel some new and exciting finds. Enough time too, to work out I need to get back here fast. This city has a whole lot more to offer.

1. To sleep...

Roma Norte (think art-nouveau mansions, tree-lined streets, artists aplenty, and cute boutiques) or Condesa (Mexico City’s answer to the West Village in New York City) are our pick of the neighborhoods for somewhere to rest your weary bones. We often favor an Airbnb rental (over a hotel), and there is no better place than in Mexico City. We have rented apartments in Condesa, Roma and the Hippodrome over the past few months…and can especially recommend any of the apartments on offer from Fernando. Check out some of his cute pied-a-tierres here.

If you would prefer a hotel experience, we recommend the cute, boutique hotel CondesaDF – tucked away in a quiet, tree-lined Condesa street, across from the Parque Espana. Part of the Mexican hotel group, Habita, there is a great rooftop bar, restaurant and spa. We have a penchant for some of their other properties as well – their one Downtown, simply named Downtown Mexico - two blocks from the Zocalo, is a former palace which has 17 rooms, many with exposed brick walls and wood-beam ceilings, as well as a great rooftop pool and bar. Hotel Habita – in ritzy Polanco – is super minimalist, glass and lots of white-on-white. It also has a killer rooftop pool. Our favorite though is definitely CondesaDF, firstly for its perfect location and next, the aesthetic. We had also been recommended Hotel Brick in Condesa, but were sad to find it was all holed up and no longer operating when we went to check it out.

2. Start your day... 

With a fresh fruit “jugos” (juice) from one of the local jugos stands on the street. For approx. 18 pesos (US$1.40), you can fuel up on any combination of fruit, or even a “Licuados” (a shake/smoothie).  Choose your potion – fruit, milk, oats, nuts, granola, protein powder, cinnamon etc. There are stacks of these around town. We seemed to frequent a great little one however, near the corner of Puebla y Orizaba, in Colonia Roma.

3. For breakfast...if we are not eating Mexican tortas from the friendly street vendors (we voted the senorita on the SW corner of Alfonso Reyes and Tamaulipas in Condesa, as best on ground – the queues for her juicy bollilos (crusty bread rolls) packed full of slow-cooked pork, chicken or steak, refried beans, queso, avocado, jalapeno etc – speak for themselves) – try the chilaguiles and milanesa combo; we found a couple of cute cafes, for a more Western fix.  We liked the ambience and delicious homemade breads at Delirio Monica Patino on Alvaro Obregón. We also just discovered their little sister– Abarottes Delirio –located on the tree-lined Colima Street, which offers similar fare and great coffee as well. Panaderia–  across the road on Colima Street – is our new favorite though! A tiny little hole in the wall, sit at the bar and order delicious lattes, and the most spectacular bread and pastries in the city! We also love their fruit plate, with granola and yoghurt.

Another surprise - a cute, new Sunday brunch pop-up concept. American Juliet Lambert, owner of Spice Catering, decided to open a temporary Sunday brunch spot in the basement of Hostel 333 in the Roma Norte district. Open only on Sundays from 10am-4pm, Spice Everywhere, is a great place to hit up if you are feeling slightly hungover after some fun Saturday night shenanigans. Think Bloody Marys and American-style brunching. Perhaps the “Straight Up, No Bullshit” eggs will tickle your fancy, or in our case, Papa Richard’s Eggs Benedict hit the spot. All dishes come with a side of seasonal fresh fruit, and if you like your fruit Mexican style, there is always the option to add some Tajin (tah-HEEN), powdered chili prepared with salt and lemon, to sprinkle on top! A cute concept and a cute spot.

Lastly, we love a Saturday morning spent rambling around the markets and street stalls in Coyoacan. Start by caffeinating at Café Alleveneda (see below)…one of our most favorite lattes in the city. Next, swing by the food court at the top of Calle Higuera for a fresh jugos, and then wander around the Jardin and markets. Stop for brunch at Papalotl – healthy, organic, super healthy and lovely local feel.

4. To caffeinate...(aside from Panaderia), there are only two options in our mind. Firstly – check out Café Alleveneda. Always in search of the best artisan coffee on our travels, we had heard a whisper about this great little espresso-based coffee house in Coyoacan, off the beaten track a little, not far from the Museo de Frida Kahlo. We loved Coyoacan - a beautiful, bohemian neighborhood filled with narrow cobblestone streets, small plazas, and beautiful colonial mansions in tree-lined streets. A relatively quiet place during the week, the neighborhood becomes packed on the weekends, with locals and tourists alike. There are some fantastic market stalls nearby, live music in the plaza and a really great buzz in the air. Apparently, this is the most-visited place in Mexico City after the Zocalo. Café La Alleveneda (is a tiny spot, with limited seating), but a big heart and warm soul. We make sure we stop by on every visit to the city, and each time there are always 4-5 baristas working the tiny room, all super friendly and helpful. They make a killer latte (they even do a flat white!), with their own blend of beans from Oaxaca. Their chocolate brownies are probably the best things we have ever tasted! They do a few delicious tortas as well (we love the turkey one).

The other contender for best coffee in the city: Café Passmar. Tucked away in the Mercado Lazaro (a food and nic-nac market, about 30mins walk from Condesa) – this tiny café and brew bar, has a big reputation amongst locals. Be sure to try their specialty, a “natilla de espresso”: a shot of espresso, with a big whack of condensed milk! More like a dessert than a coffee. We love the ghetto-style nature of this spot, tucked away amongst the piñata stalls, the dried prawns, the torta joints and a hair salon! A mission to find, but worth it. This market is also great for fresh fruit and veg, Christmas decorations (if it’s the season!), juices, even a haircut – we had a wash, cut and blowdry here one day for approx. USD$11!!

5. Foodtrucks!!

We love that food trucks are now starting to take off in Mexico City. We were excited to find a couple of trucks, roaming the chaotic streets, serving some seriously good and interesting chow. The bright red and yellow Ñham Ñham Food Truck, parks near the Plaza Rio de Janeiro, and serves up amazing Banh Mi (Vietnamese-style torta) and Pho. A nice break from the taco grind! Tostaderia Barra Vieja’s, which pulls up in a parking lot in Pedregal, serves up some amazing fresh ceviche tostadas: pulop and callo de hacha (scallop). Seafood tacos are also on offer, and on weekends, a paella as well. Worth hunting down if you have the time and desire. Follow them on twitter for location details.

6. Our favorite taco joint...has to be El Pescadito CondesaDF: a cute, corner taqueria in Condesa. Packed full of locals.

7. For the best seafood lunch...(and some seriously good people watching)…a mid-week lunch atContramar is essential. Only open until 6pm, this is not a dinner spot. A beautiful, light and airy space – the seafood here is exceptional. We loved the tuna tostados, as well as the people watching! Likewise,MeroToro (owned by the Contramar crew), serves up Baja Californian fish dishes, and offers some impressive wines from the Valle de Guadeloupe area of Baja (now being compared to the Napa Valley circa 50 years ago).

8. Treat dinner at the 17th Best Restaurant of the world: Pujol, where 33-year-old chef Enrique Olvera reinvents Mexican street food for sophisticated tastes at this chic little Polanco bistro. The 10-course set menu is shockingly good value at 794 pesos (US$62).

9. Others restos we like and recommend:

Maximo Bistrot and Felix (more a bar, than restaurant, but still great food).

10. When you need a break from Mexico City food staples such as Mexican and Italian, head to the only (apparently) decent Thai joint in the city…Pad Thai. Their Pad Thai definitely represents.

11. For home made ice cream and sherbet, go to the local’s favorite: Neveria Roxy (a number of locations around the city). We are a sucker for the old-school, aqua blue, diner-style set-up.

12. To drink…so many options…but we don’t mind if we do at any of these guys below:

* Anywhere along Alvaro Obregon in Roma Norte…but our favorite: Felix. Arrive early and claim one of the sidewalk tables, prime for people-watching along Colonia Roma’s main drag. Locals burst out on to the streets, and the dark and cosy rooms inside are always full. Order cervezas, delicious cocktails and the oversize sliders.

* La Nacional: For mezcal cocktails, aguardiente (firewater), and local microbrews beneath an undulating brick ceiling and Edison bulbs.

* MOG and El Paquieunto – also on Alvaro Obregon.

* For drinks and a dance…try La Pulqueria Los Insurgentes – three levels, and often live music.

* Drink mescal on the open-air terrace of Corazon de Maguey. Order “Tlayudas” (Mexican-style flatbreads) to go with your drinks. 

11. For live music…check out the Imperial. A great bar – both upstairs and downstairs – and an ever-changing roll up of bands.

12. To shop…our favorite place to shop is in Colonia Roma. Check out Calle Colima – full of great boutiques, and lots of places to stop for caffeinate hits when needed (see above). Some of our favorites: 

Goodbye Folk: vintage and reconstructed vintage, and their own line of classic, handmade shoes. The prices, compared with New York, are not expensive at all. And there’s also an old-school barber out the back. Get a haircut or blow-out while you are there! Follow them on instagram here: @goodbyefolk

Lucky Bastrd: street wear labels from NYC and around. We swooned over awesome caps, tees and sweaters. We are loving our 10.DEEP hoodie.

Tatujes: if you are in the mood for a tattoo (and why wouldn’t you be?), walk a little further down Calle Colima to Insurgentes, and visit our dear friend Isra (see Spotlight Series). Clean and super professional, this is the only place to get inked in Mexico City – and Isra is the man!

13. To do…culturally, there is so much to do in this City. Museums and galleries galore. Here are a few of our picks: 

* Visit the Centro Historico – easy to spend a full day wandering around here, if that’s your thing. Lots of monuments and sights to check out. 

* We love the Museo Frida Kahlo: Frida Kahlo and Diego Riviera’s blue house in Coyoacan. Even if you are not fans of their artwork, this is a beautiful casa (and neighborhood) to cruise around. Frida Kahlo was not only a revered artist, but a fashion icon as well, and appeared on the cover of American Vogue in 1937. As she said "Not all Mexicans are picturesque Indians in big straw hats".  We particularly love her quote, "Who needs feet? I've got wings to fly".

* Rising from the ground like a silvery cloud, the glittering Museo Soumaya has cemented itself as one of Mexico City’s few iconic architectural landmarks. Built by business mogul Carlos Slim Helu in memory of his wife, this aliminium-tiled Museo is like a modern-Mexican version of the Taj Mahal. The "impossible to build" facade, covered by silver honeycomb tiles, was designed by Helú’s son-in-law. Free admission.

*Dolores Olmedo first modeled for artist Diego Rivera when she was 20. At her eight-acre estate, now theMuseo Dolores Olmedo, visitors find one of the world’s largest collections of Rivera paintings, drawings, and lithographs as well as 25 pieces of his wife, Frida Kahlo. 

* Architecture fans, add this one to your list (but don’t be fooled by the concrete exterior) - Casa Luis Barragan is the midcentury home and studio of the Pritzker Price winning architect Luis Barragan. Inspired by Barragan’s travels through Europe and Morocco and by the work of the designers Le Corbuiser and Ferdinand Bac, the home became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2004. 

* We also love the long walk back from Polanco to Condesa, along beautiful Paseo de la Reforma, and past the Botanical Gardens. On the way, be sure to stop into the Museo de Arte Moderno in Chapultepec Park, to check out the exhibitions of national and international contemporary artists.

* If you happen to be in Mexico City in October, and if you are music lovers like we are, be sure to grab tix for the Corona Capital festival. The line-up in 2013 included some of our favorites: The XX, The Dandy Warhols, The Arctic Monkeys, Phoenix, Portugal.The.Man, MS MR, Sigur Ros, Matt and Kim, Vampire Weekend and Blondie…to name just a few. Sunny days, fun crowd and good set-up (just be prepared to walk, a bunch). Do it. 

14. To market, to market…for a seriously local market experience…visit the La Lagunilla Sunday market. Get the metro to Lagunilla/Garibaldi early on Sunday morning, and get ready to experience the craziness and chaos of this weekly institution. The market is one of the largest in the city and consists of three sections: one for clothing, one for furniture and one for foodstuffs, mostly selling to lower income customers. 

Also check out Mercado de la Nueva Viga – the largest seafood market in Mexico, and the second largest after the famous Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo - be blown away by ocean goodies here from every port of Mexico  - the Gulfs, Caribbean, and the Pacific. Pretty much every chef in the city shops here, and you will be able to sample fish dishes at most of the stalls. Get stuck into ceviche or caldo de pescado (fish soup). Also try the chocolate clams (sounds weird, yes); their shell is brown like chocolate. Top with fresh cilantro, chopped onion and lemon! Trust me.

15. Stroll around…it is worth having a stroll around the green, leafy streets of Polanco. Definitely more fancy than any of its neighbors, Polanco is bustling with cafes, bars, restaurants, book stores and boutiques. The Hotel Habita (see above) has a cute bar downstairs in its lobby, as well as on their rooftop terrace - overlooking the pool - where movies and music videos are projected on the wall of an adjacent building; there is not so much a dayspa here, whereas just one small, white room that is used for treatments. We treated ourselves to a heavenly facial, and a deep-tissue massage, perfect after another day walking the streets. 

16. Drive out to…the Teotihuacán Pyramids. Just an hour outside the city, these pretty amazing feats of engineering are both humbling and impressive. 

17. Get cultured…and spend a night at the Opera in one of the most beautiful theaters in all of the Americas, the Palacio de Bellas Artes. A grand experience. Art Nouveau dominates the exterior of this grand old 1930s palace, while Art Deco dominates the interior.


Having heard endless praise for the Yucatan’s capital of Merida – seemingly so rich in culture (architecture, food, design and music) - it seemed the obvious choice whereby to hang for a couple of days, as the rain continued to fall relentlessly in Playa del Carmen back in November. Only 200 miles (approx. 4 hours) from the coast, Merida is an architectural jewel. Peaceful, sleepy and full of colorful, restored Yucatecan haciendas, hidden courtyards, wide and beautiful tree-lined avenues and green plazas...this friendly, walkable town is one of the safest in Mexico.

A magnet for both Mexican and expatriate artists – as well as those travelers who want to venture off the Riviera Maya’s beaten path - Merida was listed in 2005 by Fortune, as one of five foreign cities in which “to invest and live one’s golden years”. Most likely the reason an astute group of early adopters (mainly artists, architects and designers) are flocking here to scoop-up nicely priced real estate, with the view to transform dilapidated haciendas into boutique hotels, casas and gourmet food retreats.

We only had two short nights here, but in that time, were able to suss out some great little corners of town – enabling us to confidently share these recommendations:

1. To sleep…

Hotel Hacienda Merida VIP: given we had arrived into town, on a whim, with nowhere to stay – we thought we would head straight for Hotel Hacienda, after reading they were named in 2013 as one of Conde Nast’s best new hotels in the world under USD200. Unfortunately however, fully booked, the sincerely friendly and welcoming staff at the hotel happily recommended us their VIP property instead, a little further down the street. At first, somewhat out of our budget, the lovely staff (Julio – who works the weekend shift!) offered us an incredibly generous deal, and upgraded us to their upstairs, poolside suite for a price we couldn’t refuse (the fact that it was low/rainy season, certainly helped). Hidden behind a beautifully restored colonial façade, this little gem of a boutique hotel has only 4 rooms, and a lovely little swimming pool, which runs the length of the manicured garden. Close to the town center – on Calle 62 – this hotel is perfectly located. When the electricity went out on the first night we were there, the generous and hospitable staff provided us with plentiful candles, complimentary bottles of wine and margaritas, and a cheese plate! Breakfast is served by the pool, or to your room, each morning – freshly squeezed orange juice, coffee, eggs, and fruit –bountiful and delicious.

Rosas y Chocolate: located on Paseo de Montejo, this hard-to-miss, hot pink, 17-room luxury boutique hotel is a calming oasis, housed in two 1930s renovated mansions. Designed by Mexican architect Salvador Reyes Rio, guests are lavished with (as the name suggests) fresh roses on arrival, as well as rich organic chocolate from local chocolatiers (we only recently learnt that chocolate derives from Mexico! It was the Mayans who first discovered the cacao plant!). A small pool, set within the interior courtyard, is edged by palm trees and is perfect for a quick dip. An inviting boutique – offers organic chocolate by label, Ki’Xocolatl (whose owners have their own cacao plantation about 2 hours from Merida), and other tempting goodies. On top of that, Rosas y Chocolate has a well-renowned restaurant (see below) – whose Executive Chef is ex-Pujol – and a fabulous rooftop terrace, where there is often live jazz in the evenings.

Coqui Coqui: this dreamy one-suite hideaway, is located above the Coqui Coqui perfumerie in the middle of Merida’s Centro Historico (just around the corner from Hotel Hacienda Merida VIP). Laden with vintage marble floors, gilded mirrors and the wafting scents of tobacco and orange blossoms, this terribly romantic and heavenly suite, surrounds a small, but inviting interior courtyard. We were completely awestruck by the dual vintage clawfoot bathtubs - a central feature of the suite – and the stunning vintage four-poster bed, ornate tiles, and red velvet sofas. Completely blissful.

La Hacienda Xcanatun: although we didn’t get a chance to visit La Hacienda Xcanatun: an 18th century farm-turned 18-suite luxury hotel, we believe a trip out to this oasis (just 15 minutes from the city center) is worth it. If you don’t fancy staying at the property, we suggest dinner at their much-lauded restaurant - Casa de Piedra – serving up modern international cuisine with Yucatecan flair – showcasing local providores.

2. To eat…

La Chaya Maya: somewhat touristy, but also full of locals - on arrival, you will be greeted by a Mexican woman donned in traditional Mayan dress (hui­pil ), making corn tortillas in the window. This is your best bet to sample authentic dishes such as salbutes (fried tortillas with chicken or turkey and pink pickled onions) or cochinita pibil (slow-cooked pork marinated in achiote and sour orange) served in banana leaves. We loved the house specialty - Los Tres Mosqueteros (The Three Musketeers) - which combines three classic Yucatecan dishes: relleno negro (a black sauce made from burnt chiles and spices) over pork; papadzul (an egg dish); and pipián (a sauce with a pumpkin seed base) over turkey. Affordable, fun and great margaritas to boot. A good Yucatecan experience.

For a traditional street breakfast, try tacos and tortas from the Wayan’e street stand – which has been operating for over 20 years. Popular fillings include smoky chicken; scrambled eggs with acelgas (Swiss chard) or chaya leaf; and castakan (twice-fried pork belly). A bargain at only 60c a pop! Locals come early, to stock up for their biggest meal of the day. And for Merida’s best fish tacos, check out El Cangrejito: an elbow-room-only hole-in-the-wall. Soft tortillas stuffed with shrimp, bacalao, lobster, and octopus. Yum.

For something more fancy, there is Rosas & Xocolate– more high-end – this is modern new-Mexican cuisine. Think roast duck with local longaniza sausage, chilixcatic, and melon; or deconstructed fish panuchos with cured nopales; and tuna tartare with cocoa butter, pepitas and quail egg. Also popular,their fish of the day prepared on a fried tortilla accompanied by prickly pear salad or duck served with singed corn, local sausage, melon compote and a chile and raisin sauce. Enjoy scrumptious homemade bread as well.

Nectar: this high-end restaurant is well known for one of the best formal dinners in town. We were impressed to hear that Roberto Solis, the young chef and owner, travels to a different country each year to apprentice in an important kitchen—think Per Se, Noma or The Fat Duck—all in the service of expanding his cuisine.

3. To drink…

Cantina la negrita – our favorite and most friendly neighborhood cantina. This cute corner spot offers artisan beers from the Yucatan region, as well as “Micheladas” – these spicy Mexican cerveca drinks, are served chilled with tamarind around the rim, lime juice and assorted sauces, peppers and spices. Sit up at the bad and enjoy good tunes, a fun hip crowd, friendly bar staff, and great drinks and bar food.

Piedra de Agua hotel – for mojitos by starlight – the outdoor bar here has a spectacular view of the brilliantly lit cathedral. Local groups play jazz and blues on Fridays. Try a mojito (or two), and one of their basil-infused, lemon daiquiris.

4. For dessert….

With a few locations around town, Dulceria y Sorbeteria Colon is the only place for something sweet. Enjoy ice cream, sorbets, soft merignues, and champolas (milk shakes containing vanilla ice cream and coconut milk)! A Meridan institution since 1907. Ice creams are so fruity and delicious, and as well as all the favorites, you will find other tasty flavors such as tamarind and peach.

5. To do…

Mercado Fresco de Slow Food: every Saturday from 9am-1pm: A little hard to find (located on Avenida Reforma, just north of Colon), we were happy we eventually stumbled across this quaint little organic market. The purpose of the market is to promote Slow Food values in the Yucatan, by nurturing organic production and supporting regional culinary traditions. Our advice is to arrive early because the vendors tend to sell out fast! Think organic herbs and greens, French cheeses, breads, pastries, fresh organic tofu, organic peanut butters and local honeys, organic kale, juices, etc. regional produce that comes from no more than 50km outside Mérida. We got sucked in by the French patisserie guy’s accent and passion for his craft, and ended up walking away with terribly decadent almond croissants and beautiful bread from his stall (Monique’s Bakery). We also loved the homemade almond milks, and the fresh juices of watermelon and mint.

Wander along: Paseo de Montejo - an elegant tree-lined boulevard, often referred to as Merida’s “Champs Elysees”. Home to the Monumento a la Patria (Monument to the Fatherland) – this magnificent structure built in 1956, is responsible for telling the story of the Yucatan and the country throughout its carved stone surfaces. 

Stroll through the Plaza Grande in the evenings, and watch this beautiful plaza come alive – it seems the whole city tends to congregate in this leafy plaza, under the towers of Merida’s 16th century Cathedral of San Ildefonso. Horse-and-buggies wait for potential customers, and musicians play guitars and maracas and are available for rent (you can pay them by the hour to play for your loved ones!!).

Check out the shops and galleries: art galleries are everywhere, but there is a cluster around Calle 60 from Calles 41 to 47. Admittedly, we were a little underwhelmed by the offering here…but its worth a wander nonetheless.

Coqui Coqui Perfumeria: one of our most favorite spots. Enjoy succulent scents, romantic jewelry and beautiful candles. The boutique also features the Bonatos and Ravagnan Hacienda Montaecristoaccessories line, which includes locally hand-crafted gold filigree necklaces and even hand-crocheted hammocks.  

Visit the Cenotes: just one hour from Merida, these cenotes are located at the Mayan site of Dzibichaltun. Meaning “old village”, it is an open ground level cenote, perfect for swimming. It is more than 140ft deep at one end.

Live music on the city stages: every Saturday, enjoy folk dancing, comedy, mariachi, marimba and romantic trova music. You can watch from the street or have a drink on the terrace of the Hotel Casa San Angel.

Visit Chichen Itza: 1.5hrs from Merida (halfway between Cancun and Merida), this impressive architectural site was built by the Mayan people c.AD 600-900. A number of different architectural styles are exhibited here.

To get there…

We took the bus from Playa del Carmen…200 miles (approx. 4hrs) west. An easy ride…we love Mexican buses! Super comfy, affordable and complete with wi-fi.