Summer Road Trip 2019 – West Coast

This last summer my husband and I embarked on a 40-day road trip, packed to the gils in our SUV – angling northeast from Arizona, through Las Vegas, Yosemite National Park, Sonoma County and on up the west coast. Making stops in Bandon Dunes, Portland and Seattle before heading across the border into Canada. This second leg of our trip included stops in Whistler, British Columbia and then across the water (Strait of Georgia) to Vancouver Island to spend time in Tofino and Qualicum Beach. Our third leg took us back stateside where we made our way back down through Seattle, east to Coeur d’Alene and into Billings, Montana. Then we began our southernly descent towards home going through Jackson Hole, Colorado Springs and Durango.

Golf, although not the main driving force of this trip, played a major role in how we organized this trip and deciding where we were headed. Our intent was to see as much of our amazing country, and new destinations in Canada, up close and personal, taking major highways only when time was of the essence. We had to pre-book certain parts of the trip, so staying somewhat to a schedule was imperative, but overall the total number days on the road was left to play out however it played out.

A single write-up of this trip would be labeled a novel, so as not lose my readers attention, I will break the trip up into the three different legs so I can share more details of each amazing stop on this bucket-list filled journey.

FIRST LEG – West Coast

Choosing which way to make our way up to NorCal was a challenge coming from the Phoenix Valley. Not many routes across the national forests that line the eastern border of California, from almost the northern tip down to Bakersfield, north of LA. We wanted scenic – so we meandered our way taking in the following amazing destinations on the first part of this leg.

Las Vegas:

Day 1 – Southern Highlands Golf Club was the first stop on our trip to play this beautiful private club. One of only four courses co-designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr. and Robert Trent Jones, Jr.  RTJ, Sr. passed away during the construction of this course and there is a plaque on the 12th hole commemorating his passing – the last hole he finished. For the first time in our 33-year marriage my husband, a 14-hdcp, played really well and beat my score (I’m a 5-hdcp) – so this is now his favorite course!

Southern Highlands – a lush green oasis in the Las Vegas desert, with amazing views. Every tree was planted during the build process.

Day 2 – Ever wanted to put the pedal to the metal and go as fast as you can – legally? Drive whatever your dream sports car is at Exotics Racing in Las Vegas. A track with multiple turns to test your maneuverability and one long straight away to ‘let it out’ and see how fast you can go! Exhilarating – or so my husband said after driving his dream car – a Porsche. He was amazed at how physically demanding it was driving these cars – for just 7 laps, can’t imagine the exhaustion after driving 500 laps for the pros.

We finished off the day, our 33rd- wedding anniversary, with a fun whimsical dinner at Lakeside restaurant at The Wynn – singing frogs et al!

Exotics Racing – Las Vegas – Porsche 911 GT3 RS – powerful – fast. Bucket list item – check!

The Lakeside restaurant in the lower level of The Wynn sits on a man-made small lake, where you are serenade by singing frogs, bouncing balls and flittering butterflies.

Yosemite National Park:

Day 3 – We hadn’t been to Yosemite in over 30-years, so we were anxious to return. There is no easy direct route into Yosemite National Park. Due to narrow, windy, single lane roads – the last 80 miles took 4 1/2 hours, the last 20 miles took 2 1/2 hours. But with the beauty surrounding this whole area, one hardly notices or cares that you are forced to drive slow and take in the overwhelming aura of this park. El Capitan stands majestic to your left as you approach The Ahwahnee Lodge, Half Dome looms large in the distance, a multitude of massive trees line the roadway, rushing waterfalls thunder in their descent. A magical mystical place.

El Capitan – makes Alex Honnold’s free solo ascent even more impressive when you see this iconic rock structure in person.

Half Dome in Yosemite draws in your with it’s unique shape and just out of reach location.

Day 4 – Up early to drive to a high point in the park to witness the sun rise along El Capitan, bathing the Half Dome in sunlight. Driving out of the park, we stopped to walk through one of the many Giant Sequoia groves that dot the park. Standing at the base of these looming, behemoth trees is mind-blowing.

A high vantage point in Yosemite presents a sunrise show with the sun rising behind El Capitan bathing Half Dome in the morning sun.

Giant Sequoias – aka Redwoods – stand out with their size and robust red color.

Sonoma County:

Visiting Sonoma wine country was another bucket-list item for us. We have been to the Napa Valley multiple times and wanted to see what it’s quieter, smaller sister had to offer. We stayed at the new boutique hotel, MacArthur Place – 5 blocks off the main square in Sonoma. Spacious, well-appointed rooms, a great bar setting, an amazing eating experience at their top-notch restaurant Layla, and friendly attentive service throughout the whole complex warrants a return visit.

MacArthur Place in Sonoma is great new boutique resort that has brought service to a whole new level.

The next two days we were treated to full days of wine tasting and seeing the sights of Sonoma, organized by Val & Mike Marino, of California Wine Tours. Top notch service and wine tour experience!

Day 5 – Wine tours at: Hanzell, Deerfield Ranch and Repris. All had very unique wine caves.

Hanzell, Sonoma – going into it’s seventh decade of making wine, specifically Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, uses a holistic ‘farming’ approach in caring for their vineyards by growing veggies and fruit trees along wine rows, allowing farm animals to mow, dig, and fertilize the cropland. By appt. only.

The rustic stone barn tasting room at Hanzell offers panoramic views of the Sonoma Valley.

Deerfield Ranch, Kenwood – Red Blends are their speciality, with a focus on low amounts of sulfate and histamines, creating a smoother tasting wine while using less tannins, but also reducing additives that many people are sensitive to and can hamper their wine tasting enjoyment. Open to the public.

The wine cave at Deerfield Ranch opens up into an inviting, well lit, living room style setting.

Repris, Sonoma – wines 125-years in the making, is a well-hidden gem – not even known to most locals. The climate of this Moon Mountain Vineyard creates some the highest quality grapes in the region. Their 18,000 sf cave reveals the natural stone walls left behind the big dig to create this natural wine cellar. By appt. only.

No matter how bad the fires got, the wine cave at Repris would safe coat a major portion of their wine supply. Great place for fun wine tastings too!

Day 6 – Wine tours at: A. Rafanelli and MacRostie.

A. Rafanelli, Dry Creek – sits on some of the most pristine property in Sonoma County, focusing on Zinfandels, Cabs and Merlots. Shelly Rafanelli, 4th generation, is the winemaker and her sister, Stacy, runs the financial side of the winery – continuing the Rafanelli legacy of great winemaking. By appt. only.

The Rafanelli family has been on this property for four generations and it shows! Absolutely gorgeous setting!

MacRostie, Healdsburg, is in the Russian River Valley, the go to AVA for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The property sits with an expansive vista that allows you an opportunity to contemplate life of maybe one day opening your own vineyard or winery. Open to public, but reservations highly recommended.

MacRostie Winery – a great place to contemplate life and take in the amazing vistas.

Bandon Dunes:

Day 7 – Back on the road to make our way to our first golf bucket-list destination, Bandon Dunes. The American version of Irish golf links. Upon our arrival at our cottage that sits at the edge of a lily pond, frogs were ‘croaking’ out their mating calls and on cue a momma deer and her two fawns appeared at the base of our balcony. A great start!

A momma deer and her two fawns made an appearance at the base of our deck at Bandon Dunes, right on cue to our arrival.

Day 8 – Up and at em’ early for our first round at the original Bandon Dunes golf course. The cool breezes off the Pacific had our attention quickly with no trees to break the blustery winds.  With 7-holes fully are partially along the ocean, our attention was focused on those stinger shots to keep our balls low and in play on this naturally created course winding through dunes and natural vegetation.

Are we in Ireland? It’s hard to tell the difference – Bandon Dunes does a great job of pulling off a true links golf experience.

Day 9 – Pacific Dunes became our favorite course at the resort. It was more captivating with its layout – challenging, but not in a quirky way. A playable distance, but an emphasis on shot making. With 7 holes fully or partially along the ocean, the 3-club wind had our attention today.

Probably the most photographed hole in Bandon Dunes is the 10th hole at Pacific Dunes.

Day 10 – Old MacDonald only has 4 holes that are directly affected by the ocean, but with some of the world’s largest greens and deepest bunkers there is no shortage of challenges. We were taking full body turns on some of our putts and hitting backwards out of several bunkers.

Our caddies walking off the back of one of the monstrous greens at Old McDonald. I needed a wide angle lens to have been able to capture the whole green.

Only way out – is backwards! Brutally tough and deep bunkers at Old McDonald.


Day 11 – Our first trip ever to Portland – lush green rolling hills welcome you as you wind along the Willamette River and it’s tributaries, which make it very challenging to get around. There are no direct routes to cut through rivers and hills, but tour circuitous route allowed us to experience the beautiful Oregon countryside. We were treated to play on an old course – circa 1896, Waverley Country Club, along the banks of the river. A tight, heavily treed course with wrist breaking rough.

The picturesque 16th hole at Waverly Country Club – aptly named the Punch Bowl. Long shots end up in the Willamette River.


Day 12 – Seattle is similar to Portland in having to work your way around waterways and hills. We stayed at The Edgewater where we were upgraded to The Beatles room – where apparently they stayed back in the 1960’s. After walking to get our morning coffee at the original Starbucks, we headed to our second golf bucket-list experience – playing the famed Sahalee Country Club. Even the greatest players have been brought to near tears with fairways tightly lined with thick stoic stands of woods and greens harder to hold than my living room glass coffee table. Some greens were so tough to hold we just picked up our balls and walked to the next tee.

Evening view from our room at The Edgewater Hotel in Seattle, show cases the Seattle highlights with Mount Rainier lurking in the background.

Does anybody have a chainsaw?? As if the greens aren’t hard enough, they have to line the fairways with these monstrous trees, just to test your golf mettle a bit more.

Can you say tight? It’s hard to envision trying to pipe down the tight fairways at Sahalee CC, just outside of Seattle.

Almost a third of the way through our road trip, my husband and I were still talking to each other, we had already experienced enough amazing adventures to fill a life-time, but were energized and excited about the next two legs of our trip to visit new destinations and revisit old favorite destinations.

Check the Global Gallery in the near future to see more pictures from the first leg of our summer 2019 road trip. And stay tuned for ‘leg two’ of Summer Road Trip 2019.


Winter – a bountiful banquet of beverages and eats: KS, AZ, Las Vegas

The first month of winter began with a holiday season full of frivolity, festivity and feasting. A lot of that great feasting took place at home. Surf and turf Christmas Eve. Christmas ham and scalloped potatoes on Christmas Day. A buffet full of appies to ring in the New Year. And an alka-seltzer punch on January 1st to help bring the first day of 2015 into focus.

Filling up on the basics - beef tenderloin, giant king crab leg and extra creamy mashed potatoes - at home on Christmas Eve.

Filling up on the basics – beef tenderloin, giant king crab leg and extra creamy mashed potatoes – at home on Christmas Eve.

We are a family of foodies who enjoy venturing out to test the abilities of chefs everywhere to see what they can do with many of the same every day ingredients found in our own kitchens and found in the same restaurants over and over. Today, chefs are artists. Incorporating color and texture in plating their dishes has become as important as infusing tantalizing flavors to these same dishes.


Chaz on the Plaza, in The Raphael, a boutique hotel in Kansas City, Kansas, provides one of the finest dining experiences in the Kansas City metro area. The setting – intimate, warm and inviting seating areas orchestrated around the bar. Food and drinks – served by a professional wait staff. This restaurant in the heartland of America integrates a little southern flare to its fare.

Savannah Style Crab Cake - smothered with poached local egg, pea greens and dijon mustard on Chaz at the Plaza, KC.

Savannah Style Crab Cake – smothered with poached local egg, pea greens and dijon mustard on Chaz at the Plaza.

A Maple Manhattan, straight up, with a candied bacon garnish - to wash down that crab cake at Chaz.

A Maple Manhattan, straight up, with a candied bacon garnish – to wash down that crab cake at Chaz.


Sumo Maya, one of my new favorite restaurants in Scottsdale, serves up Asian-Mexican fusion cuisine. While you chew on that combo, let me tempt you with some visuals we experienced in this energized, hip, and modern themed eatery:

Miso Chilean Sea Bass - Sumo Maya, Scottsdale.

Miso Chilean Sea Bass – Sumo Maya, Scottsdale.

Vietnamese Style "Shaking Beef" - filet mignon, upland cress, dark soy, scallions, mirin + serrano chili-lime sauce.

Vietnamese Style “Shaking Beef” – filet mignon, upland cress, dark soy, scallions, mirin + serrano chili-lime sauce.

Another local Scottsdale favorite is AZ88, which is located in Old Scottsdale. Know for their martini’s and unique Christmas trees, the sterile feeling of this modern design restaurant is offset by their hearty-sized ‘must share’ appetizers:

St. Petersburg Potatoes - housemade potato chips topped with sour cream, smoked salmon and crisp julienned veggies.

St. Petersburg Potatoes – housemade potato chips topped with sour cream/cream cheese, smoked salmon and crisp julienned veggies.

St. Germain Martini at AZ88

St. Germain Martini at AZ88

Another must visit is in south Phoenix, at Quiessence at South Mountain, a farm to table fine-dining experience that is all about the food. Set in the middle of working farm, the menu is minimal, the ambience basic, but the flavors are big and the waiters are knowledgeable and friendly:

Potato Gnocchi - Duck Confit, Summer Squash, Corno di Toro Peppers, Garlic Chives, Mint.

Potato Gnocchi – Duck Confit, Summer Squash, Corno di Toro Peppers, Garlic Chives, Mint.

If you want a lot of bang for your food buck – check out the authentic Mexican food restaurant: Los Dos Molinos – with several locations in the valley. Known for their spicy dishes and the pork they slow-cook all day long so it literally melts in your mouth – all washed down with their Kick Ass margaritas. Make sure you have a driver after having one of these two fisters!


Head to Red Rock Buffet at Fort McDowell Casino for all you can eat crab legs. The wait in the long line is well worth the $15.95 on Wednesday and Thursday from 3-9 pm; or Snow Crab Legs for $14.50 on Friday and Saturday from 3-10 pm. Accompanied by a full buffet of other food choices.

Las Vegas:

While winding your way from the Venetian to the Palazzo, you pass by several tempting restaurants. Being a whiskey/bourbon drinker – the bourbon bar at the Yardbird restaurant caught my eye. The bourbon menu isn’t expansive, but it is unique. Try a ‘Yardbird Old Fashioned’ – bacon infused Buffalo Trace Bourbon served over a 2″ spherical cube. And the appetizers have a true southern flare: try the ‘Fried Green Tomato BLT’ – pork belly, tomato jam and house-made pimento cheese.

Fried Green Tomato BLT at Yardbird in Las Vegas. (Picture by

For an authentic Italian fine dining experience, check out Zefferino’s. The food prices may seem high, but the dishes are plentiful, the service prompt, and the choices abundant. I had the Caprese salad and the Linguini Gamberi e Capesante and could only eat about half of each.

Emeril Lagasse’s Delmonico Steakhouse offers up one of the better steak dinners I have experienced anywhere, and they boast an expansive wine selection to rival any top-notch restaurant.

A great wine to pair with a great cut of steak at Delmonico Steakhouse in Las Vegas.

A great wine to pair with a great cut of steak at Delmonico Steakhouse in Las Vegas.

For a good pizza and casual atmosphere, check out Otto’s Pizzeria in St. Mark’s Square between the Venetian and the Palazzo. You feel like you are sitting outside on the banks of the canals thanks to the sky blue painted ceiling (well kind of.)

Although we spent most of our time in the Venetian, it is well worth the effort to head over to Caesar’s Palace and walk through the Forum Shops. Just like the Venetian and pretty much the rest of Las Vegas it is all over the top – but yet a must see. Sit and have a drink at the bar at the Trevi Italian Restaurant while looking out on Vegas’ version of the Trevi Fountain.

The Trevi Fountain in the Forum Shops of Caesar's Palace, outside the Trevi Italian Restaurant.

The Trevi Fountain in the Forum Shops of Caesar’s Palace, outside the Trevi Italian Restaurant.

Overall I find the restaurants in Las Vegas like the whole of Las Vegas, overpriced, over the top, but all so entertaining!

Vegas – more than just a gambling mecca!

I was 47-years-old before I made my first trip to Las Vegas. My husband and I wanted to take a 3-week trip to Italy to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary, but we just couldn’t make our schedule work to be gone for that long, so we settled for 3 days at the Palazzo at the Venetian in Vegas!

Check-in desk at the Palazzo at the Venetian

Check-in desk at the Palazzo at the Venetian

Having no idea what to expect other than what we had seen on TV or in movies, we tried to keep an open mind. Our anniversary is in the hottest time of the year, July, but we decided to make the 4 hour drive from Phoenix so we could feel the wind in our hair having just bought our first convertible. Unfortunately no amount of wind cooled off temps reaching 110+. So it was top up and the AC cranked high the rest of the drive.

Enroute we stopped at the Hoover Dam to witness the amazing engineering marvel of a dam built back in the 1930’s. The new bridge system spanning the dam had recently opened to traffic, but it blocks the view of the dam from the road, so we made the windy trek down to the top of the dam. Once back up on the highway it was about an hour into Vegas, which sits literally in the middle of a dirt desert. I can see why the original builders of the city were so intent on using bright lights to bring some life to this desolate area.

Hoover Dam, just outside of Las Vegas

Hoover Dam, just outside of Las Vegas

The Strip‘ or main street runs through the heart of the luxury casino hotels which grew in numbers dramatically back in the 1990’s on into the early 2000’s – with hotels like the Bellagio – think water show, Venetian – think Gondola Canal rides, Wynn – think of a $500 round of golf. Las Vegas growth came to a near standstill during the recession – but now, while Atlantic City casinos close down there is renewed life in Vegas.

Grand Canal - along the walkway between the Palazzo and the Venetian

Grand Canal – along the walkway between the Palazzo and the Venetian

Neither my husband or I are big gamblers, so Vegas has never been high on our priority list of places to visit. But at some point we figured you need to experience what Vegas is all about. We played the slots, a little black jack and my husband flirted with the idea of playing poker, but in the end it was just as entertaining to sit back and people watch. The rooms are amazing – a room like the one we stayed at in the Palazzo for about $300 would run you over $1,000 in NYC. And the restaurants are world-class. We took in a concert in a specially designed theater at Caesar’s Palace with highlights such as a hologram visit from Stevie Wonder doing a duo with Celine Dion during her live concert.

It took me 3 years to return to Vegas to experience one of the other reasons a lot of people go to Vegas – no not to get married, or to do things that married people shouldn’t be doing (“…what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas…”), but to attend several conventions. A friend and I attended the Design Home Show at the World Market, housed in three buildings with 10-16 stories each of vendors; then we attended the KBIS (Kitchen & Bath Industry Show) and the Builder’s Show at the Builder’s Convention which was showcased in four humongous warehouses.

With a “surfaces” – i.e. granite, tile convention and a gun show convention, there were an extra 200,000 people milling around this city with a population of roughly 2,000,000. My husband and I are in the middle of building a new home, and this trip was a great opportunity to see everything from plumbing and lighting, to hardware and furniture in one concentrated area. Although there no new ‘wow’ products that we came across, we came across a lot great leads on companies to find what we want to help make our home a house.

A unique vendor showcases their rustic and distressed barn doors and hardware

A unique vendor showcases their rustic and distressed barn doors and hardware

Traveling between the Venetian and Palazzo was like rush hour in LA – a swarm of people so thick you couldn’t pass from one side of the walkway to the other – they need stop and go lights in the casinos during major convention times. Interestingly the slots and tables at the Venetian were packed, the bells ringing, the dealers shouting, the patrons cheering – but the Palazzo was subdued. Most of the tables were empty, every other bank of slot machines would have a single soul pulling at that magic pull bar.

To get to Vegas this time I took the 55-minute flight from Phoenix to Vegas, allowing beautiful views of the western edges of the Grand Canyon and of Lake Mead. The flight was shorter than the taxi line at the Vegas airport. Luckily the city is replete with ample taxis and the line moved fairly consistently but it still took almost 45 minutes to get a taxi. I would highly recommend finding a car service. It’s a few bucks more, but beats standing in line with all your luggage.

Western edge of the Grand Canyon heading towards Las Vegas from Phoenix

Western edge of the Grand Canyon heading towards Las Vegas from Phoenix

Lake Mead just east of Las Vegas

Lake Mead just east of Las Vegas

I’ll expand more about restaurants to check out in next weeks end of the month restaurant reviews, but if you’re into bourbon, the Yardbird makes one of the best Manhattan’s I’ve ever had – and I’ve had a few. A smooth but robust flavor served over an extra-large spherical shaped ice-cube. Great appetizers too – a real true southern flare and my travel partner, a native Atlantan confirmed authenticity of these appies. She was duly impressed!

Vegas may not be everybody’s prime destination, but this little oasis in the dirt desert has something to offer every body. You can’t help get caught up in the energy that is Vegas. I left exhausted, but with a smile on my face.

Las Vegas - an oasis of vibrancy in an otherwise lackluster landscape

Las Vegas – an oasis of vibrancy in an otherwise lackluster landscape