Hotel Joaquin: A Hidden Gem In Laguna Beach, California

More than just a pretty seaside town, though we’re not complaining about the miles of sandy beaches, sea coves and caves, high bluffs, and tidal pools stretching along the Pacific Ocean, Laguna Beach with its art galleries, restaurants, and boutiques, has long been a gathering place for artists of every kind.

The list is long starting with silent and silver screen stars—think Charlie Chaplin, Bette Davis, Errol Flynn, Judy Garland, and Rock Hudson to now (Keanu Reeves sightings have been reported and Diane Keaton had a beachfront home here). Novelist John Steinbeck wrote “Tortilla Flats” when living in Laguna at 504 Park Avenue. Hobie Alter, considered the Henry Ford of the surfboard industry, learned the sport at his parents’ Laguna Beach summer home. If you’ve ever sailed aboard a Hobie Cat, thank Alter. He invented it.

Laguna Beach is that kind of place. So it’s no wonder that Paul Makarechian, founder and CEO of Auric Road, a company that melds history and modernism into petite one-of-kind resorts, decided to turn The Motor Inn Laguna Beach, a 1944 bungalow-style roadside stopover that had decidedly seen better days into Hotel Joaquim, one of the top 25 coolest hotels in the world according to Tablet, the digital guide for hotel curation recently acquired by Michelin.

This relaxing three-tiered resort features 22 rooms with small batch in-room amenities, sweeping views, and bespoke resort-style service, encouraging guests to relax in style.

“The story behind Auric Road is based upon the idea of alchemy and building gold from dust,” Makarechian said in an interview. The Auric Collection of petite hotels includes not only Hotel Joaquim—the name is in homage to the time when much of what is now Orange County was Rancho San Joaquim, a vast track of land granted by the Mexican government—but also Korakia Pensione in Palm Springs, Sonoma Coast Villa Resort & Spa in Bodega, Lone Mountain Ranch in Big Sky, Montana, and Rex Ranch in Amado. The latter is a small town in the Santa Cruz River Valley south of Tucson. Arizona.

Designed by Studio Robert McKinley, the inspiration for Hotel Joaquim derives from a multitude of styles and aesthetics–the French-speaking Caribbean Island of St. Barths, Southern California’s 1950s beach culture, the Mediterranean coast, and even a personal journey Makarechian made along the Camino de Santiago. Also known as St. James Way,  it’s a series of interconnected routes dating back to Medieval times that winds through the mountains and valleys along the coast of the Cantabrian Sea. No matter what passage you follow, the ultimate goal is arriving in the UNESCO World Heritage City of Santiago de Compostela in the Spanish province of Galicia to enter the ornate 11th century Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in the Plaza de Obradoiro. And yes, if anyone can make all this come together—Bette Davis, 1950s SoCal, St. Barths, etc., its Makarechian.

Treat yourself to Laguna Beach’s picturesque setting, where bright blue skies, warm sand and cool evenings mark autumn’s arrival. Relax by the sparkling blue pool where St. Barth’s and the French Riviera meet with custom daybeds and chaise lounges. Guests have access to a secluded beach paired with an all-access pass to the Adventure Outpost—home to city bicycles, bodyboards, Dafin fins, corn hole, football, spike ball, Frisbees, Kadima sets and more. Hotel Joaquin has everything from ocean and beach set ups to morning coffee service, to Mediterranean-inspired menus served al fresco at Saline overlooking Laguna’s stunning coastline.

Starting this Fall, stay at Hotel Joaquin for 2 nights from Sunday-Thursday and receive 15% off your room rate! Want to hang out at pool or beach a bit longer, stay 3 or more nights and receive 15% off your room rate plus a $100 credit to use at Saline Restaurant.

This limited time offer is valid for stays from October 1st – November 30th.*

*Certain blackout dates may apply. SALINE CREDIT only offered to guest staying 3 or more nights Sunday- Thursday, credit cannot be used for alcohol. Offer ends 11/30/22.

Nine Reasons Not to Miss Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas

Various Scenes from Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas Presented by Humana on December 17, 2021 in Pigeon Forge, TN © Curtis Hilbun/Dollywood

Last week Mindy Bianca @mindybiancapr.com introduced her newest employee, an elf named Jolly Jinglebutton who, I have to admit, had some great holiday travel destination. Well, it turns out the elf is back and, as he puts it, excited as a reindeer in a carrot patch because “I get to tell you all about one of my favorite places on the entire planet … Dollywood!”

File this under “who would have thought” but it seems Dolly Parton, owner of Dollywood, is an elf favorite, having recently been voted as their Very Favorite Human Ever. I wonder how Santa and Mrs. Claus feel about that as they’re humans too—I think. But anyway, everyone loves Dolly Parton and they’ll probably love her a lot more when they find out about all the special fun things going on at Dollywood from now until January 1st. By the way, in case you didn’t know, Dollywood has been awarded the title of Best Theme Park Christmas Event a whopping 14 times,  

Various Scenes from Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas Presented by Humana on December 17, 2021 in Pigeon Forge, TN © Curtis Hilbun/Dollywood

Here are nine reasons not to miss Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas.

Lights!

Six million of them, to be exact … spread across 160 acres. I’m not very math-y, but I’m here to tell you that it equates to A LOT of lights. They introduced a million new lights this year, so a park that already glistened and gleamed now also shimmers and shines. Hooray! There’s something bright and festive around every corner, which means that a walk around Dollywood will make you as giddy as a double espresso with a chocolate chip chaser. Every themed area of the park gets its own look and feel, so it’s kind of like you’re taking a stroll through a series of magical winter wonderlands.

Opening of Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas and Glacier Ridge held on November 9, 2019, at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, TN. © Curtis Hilbun / Dollywood

Fireworks!

As if the lights all over the park – in every tree and on every surface – weren’t enough, on Friday and Saturday nights, they put a bunch of lights up in the sky … in the form of the “Merry and Bright!” fireworks show. The colorful display is set to upbeat, contemporary holiday hits and it’s quite a way to end a weekend night in the park. It warms my little heart to see kids try to make it to the end of the day so they can be awake for the whole show. I guess it gives them good practice for trying to stay up late to see Santa, but we all know how that works out …

Trees!

There are hundreds of trees throughout the park – and they decorated even more this year, just to literally up the voltage – but I have two favorites. One is the 50-foot giant evergreen in Glacier Ridge. This magical tree does a whole synchronized music and light show that ends with – wait for it – snow falling! I didn’t think anything could get better than that, but this year they really decked out the part of the park called Adventures in Imagination. The lights here are pink, platinum and gold – VERY Dolly – and they introduced a new 20-foot tree in an area they’re calling “Dolly’s Christmas.” Guess what else you’ll find there? About 60 LED butterflies! What reindeer are to Santa, butterflies are to Dolly. They’re her spirit animal.

Opening of Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas and Glacier Ridge held on November 9, 2019, at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, TN. © Curtis Hilbun / Dollywood

Santa!

Speaking of Santa, I don’t think it’ll surprise you to know that he and Dolly are pals. They’re so close, in fact, that she talked him into getting himself a little Smoky Mountain cabin so they can be neighbors! His cabin magically appears inside Dollywood throughout the month of November and right until Christmas Day.(After that, as you can imagine, Santa gets to take a little vacation.) You can get a sneak peek inside the cabin to watch Santa at work and – bonus – if you look closely enough, you can actually see if YOUR name is on his Naughty or Nice List! I have personally witnessed kids turn from grumpy to grand in a matter of seconds so they can be assured that they’ll show up on the correct list!

Music!

Various Scenes from DollywoodÕs Smoky Mountain Christmas Presented by Humana on December 17, 2021 in Pigeon Forge, TN © Curtis Hilbun/Dollywood

Let’s face it: Dolly Parton isn’t going to have a theme park with lousy entertainment, is she? Dollywood is legendary in the amusement industry for having some of the best performances and performers. There are so many shows here, in fact, that the park uses both indoor and outdoor venues. The headliner is called “Christmas in the Smokies,” and it’s a show that has been featured here every Christmas since 1990. Music is an incredibly important part of life here in the Smokies – and obviously something that Dolly loves – so get ready to tap your toes as part of your visit. MY toes are clad in special little booties with bells on the end, so you’ll know when I’m in the audience near you!

Various Scenes from DollywoodÕs Smoky Mountain Christmas Presented by Humana on December 17, 2021 in Pigeon Forge, TN © Curtis Hilbun/Dollywood

Food!

We elves may be small, but we have big appetites … and I’m here to tell you that Dollywood puts out quite a spread. Let’s see if I can make your mouth water by mentioning some of my favorite hyphenated foods: herb-roasted turkey breast and citrus-glazed carved ham. Or how about chicken pot pie in a bread cone? Yeah, I said it … BREAD CONE! I love to carb load before a long night of delivering gifts, and I can promise you that I’m taking this recipe back to Mrs. Claus. There are also eggnog cupcakes and gingerbread-dusted funnel cakes, and I think I’ve convinced my favorite North Pole barista, Spazzy Sparkleshots, to start serving those at her café.

Rides!

Let’s not forget that this is a theme park, and most of the rides operate even in these cooler months. That means you can race through the night sky while millions of lights twinkle below. And you know what? I can tell you from first-hand experience that it’s a lot like how Santa feels when he takes his sleigh ride on Christmas Eve!

Opening of Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas and Glacier Ridge held on November 9, 2019, at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, TN. © Curtis Hilbun / Dollywood

Gifts!

Some people love Christmas shopping, others dread it. I’m an elf, so we don’t shop … we MAKE gifts. And so do the craftsmen at Dollywood, who – if they weren’t so tall and didn’t enjoy life in the Smokies so much – could probably be recruited for Santa’s Workshop. Everything they create would make a perfect gift, and they’re also preserving some of the greatest arts of these mountains. Sometimes they even let YOU do the creating, like when the glassblower coaches you in how to make your very own glass Christmas ornament!

Stay!

If you’re thinking there’s a lot to do at Dollywood and you’ll need more than a day here to take it all in, you’re absolutely right. So, it’s kind of perfect that in addition to this award-winning theme park, there’s also a beautiful resort. Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa offers families plenty of food, entertainment and décor during the holiday season. I love the two-story Christmas tree that greets you as you enter the resort. It’s very sparkly … just like me!

Whew! That was a lot to share, but I feel like I barely scratched the surface.

Remember … this Christmas, keep it holly, keep it jolly, keep it Dolly!

Holiday Cheers,

Jolly

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Grand Geneva Resort: Fall fun, frights, and culinary delights

More than a year-round destination for adventure, fun, and relaxation, Grand Geneva Resort & Spa in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin should also be on every serious foodies list as well. That’s because, under the direction of Food & Beverage Director, Nelly Buleje and new Executive Chef Dustin Urbanik, this popular resort is dishing up exceptional seasonal flavors on their new fall menus.

From the resort’s popular elevated Saturday brunch which are focusing on such autumn delights as pumpkin pancakes and fall flavored mimosas to in-house made desserts like apple crumble to seasonal soups and sides such as lobster bisque with Maine lobster sherry, tarragon, lobster brodo, sourdough crisp and caviar; truffle creamed spinach with black truffle, mornay, and farmstead cheese; and rainbow carrots and parsnips with bourbon and maple glaze, the resort and its collection of restaurants are bursting with fall flavors.

There’s also an impressive new fall cocktail menu with selections like Wisconsin Apple Old Fashioned; Smoked Maple Mile; a White Pumpkin cocktail; Espresso S’MORES-tini; and more (check out the fun visuals here). By popular demand, the resort’s seafood boil and Midwestern prime rib roasts will run every Friday and Saturday through November 12.

In addition to the new fall flavors, here are some new autumn offerings and programming guests and families can expect:

  • Seasonal outdoor adventures including hiking, biking, an indoor pool and waterpark, horseback riding, championship golf, skiing and snowboarding in the winter, and more.
  • One of the best ways to get around and explore the 1,300 acre-campus and beautiful Lake Geneva as well as Wisconsin’s scenic backroads is by the resort’s scooters and new this year, e-bikes. Rent one for a few hours or take a guided tour around the area with. The perfect way to spend an autumn afternoon with family or a group of friends (must be 18+, check out rules here).
  • Hayrides and waterslides! The resort campus is also home to Timber Ridge Lodge & Waterpark. Both Grand Geneva and Timber Ridge offer guests on-site haunted hayrides, haunted barns, apple picking opportunities and seasonal packages. Check out Grand Geneva’s packages here; Timber Ridge packages can be found here.
  • Families will also enjoy new programming such as pumpkin painting; DIY caramel apples; excursions to Pearce’s Farm (local farm with fresh produce, kid’s activities and corn maze); and a Grand Escape – the resort’s very own pop up escape room.

Keep an eye on the Wisconsin Fall Color Report for optimal leaf-looking opportunities. 

Photos courtesy of Grand Geneva Resort.

West Baden Springs Resort: Southern Indiana’s calming oasis

By Special Guest Blogger Kathy Witt.

It is fitting that West Baden Springs Hotel, a magnificent domed resort built in 1902 in the manner of the grand spas of Europe, sits along an Indiana Historic Pathways route. The roads tell the story of Indiana and the country, beginning with the hoofs of the bison and moving through time to the wheels of the stagecoach, the tracks laid by the railroads and the cars meandering along today in search of a historic resort that looks more Bavaria than America’s Crossroads.

Located in the southern part of the state, West Baden Springs’ own story begins in the mid-nineteenth century with a stretch of marshland, a hidden natural spring and one man’s dream to create a holiday destination that would ultimately overshadow the prestigious French Lick Springs Resort, built in 1845 and located just a mile down the road.

It is a story of intense rivalry between two visionary hoteliers, devastating fires and full-scale renovations and expansions that brought each resort to national prominence as luxurious health resorts. Both properties took advantage of their location amidst the natural mineral springs of the area, promoting the springs for their medicinal value and successfully marketing the “curative” water as Pluto (French Lick) and Sprudel (West Baden).

Today, the hotels are part of French Lick Resort, a classic, family-friendly destination with three golf courses, two spas and plenty of activities and entertainment to fill a long weekend. While the onsite casino, bowling alley, arcade and children’s activities give French Lick Springs a kickier vibe, West Baden Springs is a calming oasis that retains its Old World charm with European architecture, fairytale towers and a bricked entrance road that rolls out alongside the hotel’s formal gardens.

Favorite pastimes at West Baden Springs are lounging, dining, sipping cocktails and enjoying afternoon tea in the enormous atrium, a light and airy gathering space, once known as a Pompeian Court, with comfy, cushy seating scattered throughout. It is topped by the free-spanning dome, a steel and glass marvel measuring 195 feet in diameter and 130 feet in height and the reason the hotel was branded the “Eighth Wonder of the World” when it opened.

Guests naturally gravitate to this stunning space, where they can see remnants of the mosaic terrazzo tile flooring that, when originally installed in 1916, consisted of two million squares of marble, plus a fireplace that looks like a piece of art and passageways that spoke off to various parts of the hotel, including registration, dining and the pool and spa.

The hotel’s six stories and their 243 guestrooms and suites encircle the atrium, with about 40 of these inviting retreats featuring a balcony that opens up to an incredible view of the dome and everything beneath it. Like the atrium itself, the balcony rooms are a perfect nook for relaxing and listening to the piano player as his fingers travel through a playlist of familiar melodies each evening.

Relaxation

Also relaxing is a visit to the spa, designed using historic photographs to capture the resort’s original two-level natatorium layout. Like the resort itself, the spa combines that Old World sensibility with European elegance to create a tranquil retreat. The spa offers a number of different treatments, including massages, facials and body scrubs.

Hidden History

Hidden off the registration area is the library, a hushed spot that brings to mind Agatha Christie novels, brandy snifters and hound dogs dozing by the fire with its plump chairs, dark paneling and classic rolling library ladder. Another one: The museum gallery tucked off a first floor corridor. It is a history lesson, arranged in glass cases and on the walls, of West Baden Springs as seen through its early hotel décor and dishware, promotional posters and vintage pictures.

Acitivities & Events

West Baden Springs Hotel offers numerous activities – onsite shopping, historic and horse-drawn carriage tours, strolling the formal gardens, indoor and outdoor swimming pools and indoor hot tub, fitness center access, horseback riding, golfing and a variety of scheduled events and concerts.

It also inspires slowing down, relishing being in the moment and appreciating all the stories told through the architecture, activities and traditions of one of the country’s most beautiful and historic resorts.

Plan Your Travels

The AAA Four Diamond West Baden Springs Hotel is a National Landmark Hotel and member of Preferred Hotels and Resorts. Its 243 luxury guest rooms and suites are each individually decorated. The room rate comes with a number of complimentary items: valet and self-parking, resort-wide shuttle service, two bottles of water daily and Wi-Fi/Internet. It is also a pet-friendly hotel. Note that daily housekeeping and nightly turn-down service are currently suspended.

A trolley, running seven days a week, takes guests back and forth between West Baden Springs and French Lick Springs hotels. At West Baden, the depot is located adjacent to the gardens; at French Lick, it is near the casino.

Information and reservations: 888-936-9360, www.FrenchLick.com/hotels/WestBaden.

Packages

The resort offers a number of special packages (www.FrenchLick.com/hotels/packages for details), including these:

  • Mother’s Day (May 7 and 8) – includes overnight accommodations at West Baden Springs on Saturday or Sunday and Mother’s Day Brunch for two in the Atrium on May 8, featuring omelet, waffle and carving stations, chilled seafood bar and more.
  • Romance – includes resort accommodations, red rose on check-in, bottle of house wine and special welcome gift, plus a $105 French Lick Resort dining credit.
  • Happy Birthday – includes resort accommodations, welcome gift, birthday cake, $20 in ice cream credit and a $75 dining credit.

About Kathy Witt

Kathy Witt is an award-winning travel and lifestyle writer who writes a monthly syndicated travel column for Tribune News Service, is a regular contributor to Kentucky Living, Georgia and Travel Goods magazines and RealFoodTraveler.com as well as other outlets like County. She is the author of several books, including Cincinnati Scavenger (Fall 2022) Secret Cincinnati and The Secret of the Belles, and is working on another travel-themed book for Fall 2023 release. Kathy is a member of SATW (Society of American Travel Writers), Authors Guild and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

Her writing has led to many cherished experiences and memories, including glacier walking in the foothills of Denali; being a Guardian on an Honor Flight from Louisville, KY to Washington D.C.; interviewing Dolly Parton several times; sailing with Oprah with Holland America Cruises; riding BOLT!, the roller coaster aboard Carnival’s Mardi Gras; and attending the 70th Anniversary Re-Premiere of Gone With the Wind, hosted by the Marietta Gone With the Wind Museum, where she got to enjoy the company of actress Ann Rutherford (“Carreen O’Hara”) and the “Three Beaus” – Mickey Kuhn, Patrick Curtis and Greg Giese.