Bay Area Exploring: St. Helena

I’ll take any excuse to drive the 1.5 hours to wine country over a weekend. So when my friend invited me to stay at her parents’ house in St. Helena, I of course exclaimed, “yes!”

I had been to St. Helena once before when my boyfriend and I drove from Yountville up to Calistoga for my birthday weekend, but I had never spent a full weekend there. I’m so glad I did though, as this quaint little town is so perfect in every way.

St. Helena and the surrounding towns are filled with great wineries—you really can’t go wrong with any one. We ended up going to Frog’s Leap Winery, which I will definitely be coming back to, and Alpha Omega. In between, we stopped for delicious sandwiches and salads from Dean & DeLuca and then closed out the night with dinner at Farmstead. Pro tip: If you buy a bottle of wine during your tastings, bring it with you to dinner and they’ll open it for only $5!

The next day, we grabbed coffee and pastries at The Model Bakery and then strolled down Main Street, popping in and out of shops as we pleased.

If you’ve never been to Wine Country before, I hope this will inspire you to make a trip of it sooner rather than later!

These Days

Nothing better than a sunny morning in SF (and this porch isn’t bad either).

If you ever find yourself without an agenda in the Bay, head to Mill Valley.

You’ll find houses like this to ooh and aah over.

Headed home to LA for the holiday week and loved every second of it.

So into the brick + white wood fence + layered plants in my sister’s patio.

London Travel Diary

Believe it or not, I had never been to London before! So when I found out that our cruise docked just outside of the city in Dover, I couldn’t resist the chance to stay a few extra days and explore all that it has to offer. Ideally, we would have stayed for much longer and given ourselves plenty of time to not only explore London, but also the English countryside. But because we had already been traveling for 10 days on the cruise, we didn’t want to push ourselves over the edge. Instead, we booked a long weekend in London and tried to pack in as much as possible—keep reading to see what we did!

Tower of London: Three words: The crown jewels. We were so happy we carved out the time to tour the Tower of London, and would highly recommend adding it to your itinerary as well.

London Bridge: Another bonus of the Tower of London? The views of the London Bridge.

Museums: London is filled with amazing museums, and lucky for us tourists, most of them are free. During our extended weekend in the city, we were able to visit the Tate Modern, Victoria & Albert, The Wallace Collection, and Churchill War Rooms. The British Museum was also on our bucket list but we unfortunately didn’t make it this trip. Pro tip: Definitely reserve your tickets for the Churchill War Rooms in advance, otherwise you’ll have to wait for several hours since it’s a very small space.

Historical Sites in Westminster: Within about a 3-hour window, we were able to see the Buckingham Palace (and the changing of the guard’s ceremony!), Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and the House of Parliament. Unfortunately, Westminster Abbey was closed the day we were in the area but I’ve heard it’s just as spectacular on the inside as it is on the outside. As you’re making your way from one spot to the next, I’d highly recommend walking through St. James’ Park—the oldest royal park in the city—for a gorgeous place to rest your legs.

St. Paul’s Cathedral: An iconic feature of the London skyline with its huge dome, this cathedral is not to be missed.

Notting Hill: This was, by far, my favorite part of London that we visited. Simply put, it’s perfect in every way. The houses are jaw-dropping, the food is delicious, the shopping is top-notch. I easily could have spent an entire day just weaving through the streets, and wish that we had found a hotel or Airbnb in this area so we could have spent as much time as possible. With our limited time though, we were able to experience a lot—we started our Saturday morning at the Portobello Road antiques market and then made our way to St. Luke’s Mews and Chepstow Villas for beautiful pastel homes. Of course, we also did a lot of shopping so check out that section below for more.

Hyde Park and Kensington Palace: Looking for a peaceful way to spend a couple hours? Look no further than Hyde Park. The park is absolutely huge and there are so many pleasant spots, but we really enjoyed sitting on the lounge chairs by the pond and passing by Kensington Palace.

Columbia Road Flower Market: Depending on where you’re staying in London, this might be quite the trek for you but it is so worth it. After all, just think about all of the Instagram photo ops you’ll get while you’re on the subway over! If you do want to go, take note that it happens on Sunday mornings and it’s best if you get there early when the flowers are fresh. After admiring and smelling all of the flowers, you can then explore the Shoreditch neighborhood (more on that below in the shopping section).

Redchurch Street: Located in Shoreditch, a hip neighborhood in East London akin to Williamsburg in Brooklyn, Redchurch Street is filled with cool shops. We spent a couple of hours popping into stores like Labour and Wait, Modern Society, Goodhood, and Aida, and exploring through this up-and-coming part of town.

Spitalfields Market: Not too far from Shoreditch is Spitalfields market—a very cool indoor market filled with lots of vendors and delicious food.

Harrods: Wow. Just, wow. Never have I ever been in a such a chic and upscale department store. While you’re roaming through the halls, be sure to not miss “Shoe Heaven” or the food court.   

Notting Hill: While you’re in Notting Hill, definitely walk up and down Westbourne Grove for great shopping opps.

Chiltern Street: This quaint street is very small but is filled with some amazing spots—including clothing shops and restaurants.

Breakfast and Coffee:

Coppa Club: Not only does this spot have delicious food, but also unbeatable views of the London Bridge. Plus, just look at the comfy set up of their pods!

Farm Girl: I had seen this place all over Instagram before coming to London and knew that I wanted to check it out for myself. And let me tell you, it did not disappoint.

Albion: While we were in Shoreditch, we popped into Albion for some coffee and light bites, and loved it!

Lunch:

Borough Market: I’d give this market, which is one of the largest and oldest in London, an A+. Come for the grilled cheese from Kappacasein, and stay for just about everything else you could imagine.

Ottolenghi: As a lover of the Plenty cookbooks, I was very excited to learn that Ottolenghi had several restaurants throughout the London. As we were walking through Notting Hill, we stumbled into one and picked up a few goodies for the road.

Pubs: It goes without saying that a crucial part of the authentic London travel experience is pubs. With one on just about every corner, you’ll have many options to choose from on any given day.

Dinner:

Chiltern Firehouse: Upon learning that this is where Kate Moss comes for a glass of wine with friends, I knew I needed to check it out too. We made a reservation for dinner in the restaurant, but you could also just go for drinks on the patio.

The Palomar: Speaking of places that require a reservation, The Palomar is no exception to that rule. With tasty Middle Eastern bites right in the middle of the Mayfair neighborhood, this trendy spot will not disappoint.

Dishoom: I had read about this Indian restaurant on just about every single travel blog I encountered, so I made it a priority to try. While Indian food isn’t my favorite cuisine, I still really enjoyed our meal (and the ambience!) here.

High Tea:

High tea is an absolute must when in London—it’s just so fun to do something you wouldn’t ordinarily do. Sketch is the spot that just about everyone and their mom talks about, and while it’s certainly worth the hype, Charlotte Street Hotel is an excellent (and more affordable) option.

All in all, London was absolutely perfect. We could not have asked for better weather and left the city feeling oh-so-excited to return someday.

Lisbon Travel Diary

After making our way around Spain and Gibraltar, the next destinations on our cruise were in Portugal. I had already been to Portugal once before and loved all that I had seen, so I was very excited to have the chance to experience it again—though this time a little bit older and wiser.

While we stopped in two Portuguese cities, Lisbon and Porto, we had very limited time in the latter so I’ve decided to focus this travel diary strictly on Lisbon. If you find yourself in the area though, definitely check out Porto for a smaller town feel only a couple hours away by car.

 

Much like in Barcelona, we hit the ground running in Lisbon as soon as we were able to depart the boat in the morning. Since we were right by the water already, we decided to start our itinerary in Alfama, one of Lisbon’s oldest and most charming neighborhoods. Atop the tallest hill in the city is the São Jorge Castle, which offers stunning views of the city and of the peacocks roaming around the grounds. And if you remember from my Mexico City travel diary, the peacocks at the Dolores Olmedo Museum were the cherry on top for me so I was very excited to take even more peacock pics 🙂

After weaving in and out of the charming alleyways and streets leading to and from the castle, we made our way to three additional historic sites: Lisbon Cathedral, Santo António Church, and Praça do Comércio. All three are very close together and can be done within about 30 minutes—perfect for the tourist trying to squeeze as much into a day’s travels as possible!

My boyfriend’s sister and her fiancé are quite the foodies, so it came as no surprise that they found a more casual restaurant by one of the most famous chefs in Lisbon: Bairro do Avillez. The whole restaurant is beautiful, but the patio is a real show-stopper. Even if you’re not the biggest foodie, I’d highly recommend this central spot for the ambience alone.

Once we wrapped our lengthy lunch, we all could have easily headed back to the boat for a nice siesta. But because we only had the one day in town, we powered through it and made our way to the Bairro Alto neighborhood. Filled with cobblestone streets, gorgeous tile, and interesting graffiti, this neighborhood gives you an excellent sense of Lisbon’s architectural beauty. From the Church of São Roque to the Miradouro de São Pedre de Alcantara, there are also several attractions to not be missed, especially if you’re seeking more panoramic views paired with some sweet sangria.

Hope you found this travel diary helpful, and can’t wait to share my full London travel diary with you tomorrow!

Barcelona Travel Diary

Barcelona has been on my travel bucket list for years now, and I was thrilled to learn it would be the first stop during our cruise. While we only had about 12 hours in the city, we made the most of it by doing our research ahead of time and making reservations when we could. Keep reading for a full list of where we shopped, ate, and toured!

Knowing we didn’t have much time in this incredible city, we hit the ground running in the Gothic Quarter to start. Between walking along Las Ramblas, viewing Gaudí architecture like Casa Battló, and shopping on Passeig de Gracia, we spent close to 3 hours wandering through this part of Barcelona.

One of my favorite shops that we popped into was called La Manual Alpargatera and was filled with every kind of espadrille you could ever imagine. I easily could have left with 5 pairs, but made myself pick just one (no easy feat!).

After a quick lunch at the beautiful (and healthy!) Flax and Kale, we took an Uber up to one of Gaudí’s true masterpieces, Park Güell. Because we had purchased our tickets in advance, we were able to walk right into the park and up to the infamous scenic mosaic bench. While it was extremely crowded and pretty overwhelming, it was still spectacular and I’d highly recommend making this stop if you’re in Barcelona.

I guess you could say we were on a Gaudí kick because the touring didn’t stop there. Once we had finished taking in all that Park Güell had to offer, we strolled down hill to Sagrada Familia, a massive cathedral designed by Gaudí himself. Though I knew the cathedral would be striking from the outside, I didn’t expect it to be so magical on the inside as well. Hands down, it was one of the most stunning sites I’ve ever visited and am so thankful that we managed to fit it into our tight itinerary.

With only a few hours left in the day, we decided to unwind in Parc de la Ciutadella. It really was the most perfect green oasis and an ideal spot to rest our legs after walking 10+ miles (!!). Finally, we bid the city farewell over tapas and gelato at Bar Cañete and discussed how we would be coming back very soon—though next time for much longer than 12 hours.

SFO –> European Cruise

Earlier this month, my boyfriend and I spent two weeks traveling around Europe by boat—something neither of us had ever done before! Alongside several of his family members, we boarded the boat in Marseille, France and made our way all the way up to London, England.

As you can imagine, we stopped in some beautiful coastal cities along the way and I will be sharing travel diaries for the ones that we spent full days (or more!) in: Barcelona, Lisbon, and London. Stay tuned over the next week as those posts go live and feel free to ask any questions about my cruise experience in the comments below.