TRAVEL: CHICAGO GIRL'S WEEKEND Guide

I braved my way through the blistering cold January weather of Chicago because my girlfriend wanted to have a girl's weekend out there. While I made my share of complaints prior to flying into the frozen tundra of the Midwest, she definitely rewarded us by picking some of the best restaurants! I was so very impressed by the food scene in Chicago during this trip!  

I fully trust my tastebuds with this friend because she is one of the best cooks and foodies I know. We had an incredible weekend of eating so I'm very excited to provide these recommendations! 

STAY: 

We stayed in an AirBNB in Wicker Park. Great location! Super central and a short uber ride from great restaurants. 

EAT: 

Scone City: Our AirBNB was 1 block away here and holy cow their scones are sooooo delicious! From savory to simple, they had the fluffiest and most flavorful scones. They bake fresh everyday and sell out by 10 or 11am. Get there early to get the good stuff! Also, they have clotted cream and jam! Reminded me of being back in the UK which was fab. 

El Che Bar: Open for dinner only. Beautiful space, really delicious food. Argentine-American focused food. You can't go wrong with anything on the menu. I highly recommend the green beans, smoked chorizo and grilled rib-eye. 

The Allis: Love, love love the styling of this place. Located at the SoHo House we went for brunch but they also offer Afternoon Tea. Get the TOWER of bagels for a fun and delicious eating experience. Nothing but yum here. 

Elske: This is possibly one of the best new restaurants I've had the pleasure to have in a long time.  The space is beautifully minimalistic, quiet and modest. The food is described as modern American but with Scandinavian influences. While portions are small, every plate is a feast for your tastebuds and eyes. End your evening next to the roaring fireplace with a nightcap or steamed almond milk. Simply delicious. 

DO: 

The Spa at the Peninsula Hotel: No girl's weekend is complete without a SPA DAY! It was one of those treat-yo-self weekends and nothing says preems like the Peninsula! Definitely a treat and great for large parties. 

Soul Cycle The Loop: Of course no girl's weekend is complete without your tap backs! We took the Soul Survivor class with Aya and it was one of the best classes! GREAT music and really good pacing throughout the class. 

22 oz. Ribeye from El Che Bar

chicago8
 

TRAVEL: Christmas in Hawaii!

This year we decided on a Hawaiian getaway for our Christmas celebration. We managed to coordinate a cousin's reunion and I got to spend 10 wonderful days with my whole family including my big sis, brother-in-law and nephew who came all the way from Singapore. We rented a beautiful AirBNB in Kahala which was just down the mountain from where my Aunt and Uncle live in Honolulu so it was the perfect central location for everything! 

Here are the highlights and my favorite eats from the trip! I also spent the majority of the time cooking at home so we didn't eat out as much as I would have hoped. Enjoy!

EATS: 

Rainbow Drive-In - Get the mixed plate! Great for a quick, casual bite after a day at the beach. I also LOVE their chili dog rice plate. YUM. 

Musubi Cafe Iyasume - This was such a surprising and awesome find in the DT Waikiki area. There's a ton of different types of Musubis (with Spam) and with fish, chicken, picked radishes, etc. Usually a line there so go during off hours. 

Leonard's Bakery - Famous for Malasadas and Puffs! Try the original or I love getting the Li-hing Mui powder which is a local plum spice. 

Waiola's Shaved Ice - Lots of debate on who has the BEST shaved ice on the island but let me settle it for you. It's Waiola's. :D You won't be disappointed. Love the Azuki Red Bean bowl or just the regular cones. Also have shaved ice with vanilla ice cream. DELISH! 

Diamond Head Market & Grill - Another great option for mixed plates. Go for a hike at Diamond Head then post hike hit up this lunch spot. 

Olive Tree Cafe - Fantastic greek food that is very unassuming from the outside. Only open for dinner and get there early if you don't want to wait for a seat. This place gets really busy but so worth it. Everything is delicious. 

ACTIVITIES: 

Koko Crater Trail - One word... INTENSE. This is the ultimate workout and near vertical hike up a mountain you can get. The view was GORGEOUS but I was also DYINGGG. Haha. I workout at least 4 times a week and this was so intense for me. Make sure you allow ample time to rest as you go up this mountain. It's actually scarier coming down. You'll definitely feel it the next day. :) 

Diamond Head Summit Trail - This is a beautiful hike but very busy and lots of people. Perfectly paved trail to make it easier on your knees and feet. My bro-in-law carried a baby on his back the whole time so this is good for families with a hiking backpack or with kids. View at the top is gorgeous of Waikiki. 

Chef's Luau - We wanted a family-friendly activity so I did a ton of research and settled on Chef's based on reviews on the food and entertainment. While Luaus can be really cheesy and really expensive, I thought this one was actually worth it if you are looking for a luau. I've gone to other ones on the island as a kid and would rank Chef's as the best. The food was actually pretty good considering it's a buffet and the dancing/MC was on point! Aside from getting rained on, it was a really fun time for the whole family.

Hanauma Bay - We wanted to go snorkeling and I honestly haven't been back to Hanauma since I was a kid. I gotta say I was pretty disappointed! I remember the water being so much more clear and more fish. There was still stuff to see but wasn't as beautiful as I remember it. If you want to go, arrive early (like 7am) if you want a parking spot. Parking fills up by 8:15am then you'll have to wait. 

 
Chef's Luau

Chef's Luau

Leonard's Bakery - Malasada Puff

Waiola's Shaved Ice - Azuki Bowl

 

TRAVEL: Big Sur Anniversary

It was quite embarrassing that the hubby and I live in beautiful Southern California and haven't once driven up the coast together. We've definitely had our share of family trips up the coast more specifically in those all-inclusive Chinese tour buses! For our one year anniversary we decided to head up to Big Sur based on being told for years that it's possibly one of the most magical and beautiful places in California. After a 6 hour drive and short pit stop in Solvang, we arrived to paradise. 

The California coastline absolutely takes my BREATH away. The entire drive up I couldn't help but think I am so incredibly lucky to live within a tank of gas of all this. Not only is it the most beautiful drive we've done together, but can we talk about all the amazing food up in Big Sur? Holy cow. Every meal was mind-blowing. We visited the week of Thanksgiving so the weather was perfectly chilly and sunny. (Aside from the day we drove up which was a little cloudy/rainy.) 

I'm so thankful for all the amazing recommendations from friends below because we had the best time ever. If you have the opportunity, please make time for this drive and at the least head to the Big Sur Bakery for some delicious eats. You won't regret it! As for us, we've told ourselves we want to go back every year. I can't wait. :) 

STAY: 
We found a really good deal at the Ventana Inn and that provided a very preems/luxury getaway for the two of us. Love their comfy cabin-esq vibe and beautiful grounds. This place will cost you a pretty penny so a great option if you're going to treat yo-self. 

EAT: 

Big Sur Bakery - By far my FAVORITE place and an absolute must for breakfast AND dinner. Check the hours/days of operations and make sure to make a reservation in advance for dinner. You'll experience a deliciously rustic meal with all the right comfort foods. The pizza is to die for and since it was Thanksgiving, we went with the Pumpkin pie. I was licking the plate clean it was so friggin' good. Breakfast was just as delicious but if you're going for pastries, make sure to arrive early as they sell out of the good stuff FAST. 

Deetjens - Feels as if you are having an intimate candlelit dinner in someone comfortable cabin home. We went for dinner but they also offer brunch/breakfast. Food was fantastic. 

Sierra Mar at the Post Ranch Inn - Very upscale dining for Big Sur. Feels much "fancier" if you're looking for that but the food again is so so good. We went for lunch. You need to get the prefix course meal if you want a good table with a view. Burger was sooo yummy. 

The Restaurant at Ventana Inn - Fine option. We wanted something easy so stayed at the hotel for dinner one night. Can order a la carte just ask them for that option since the menu looks like prefix only. Enjoyed our meal but wouldn't go back. 

SEE / DO: 

You can seriously just drive North or South on CA-1 Highway and stop at dozens of viewpoints. There is no shortage of vistas so keep your camera ready. 

McWay Falls in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park - This is a SUPER simple walk that will take about 30 minutes to see a beautiful beach/waterfall. Look for parking on the street so you don't have to pay $10 at the gate. Really pretty views throughout the walk. 

Monterey Bay Aquarium - Drive North on the CA-1 for an hour and can spend a day in Monterey at Fisherman's Wharf or at the Aquarium! We went specifically to see the Sea Otters because they are the cutest little guys, EVER! Had fun seeing all the Finding Dory inspiration there, too! 

 
Lunch at Sierra Mar

Lunch at Sierra Mar

Henry Miller Library
Big Sur Bakery Pumpkin Pie

Big Sur Bakery Pumpkin Pie

 

TRAVEL: Guide to Tokyo, Kyoto, Okinawa Eats & more!

Japan is one of the most exciting countries to visit because of the explosions of culture through art, music, entertainment and FOOD. Every time I go to Japan I'm left with this immense feeling of wanting to live there because there is SO much to explore and never enough time. Kelvin and I decided to explore Japan in the Spring because we were on the hunt for Cherry Blossom season! We spent most of our time in Tokyo, then stopped by Kyoto just in time to see some trees in bloom and finished with a trip down to Okinawa to meet my bestie who was living there at the time. 

Pretty sure I gained 10 lbs from the non-stop eating during this trip but that's what made it so awesome! Ramen, sushi, yakitori, unagidon, shabu shabu, tonkastsu, and so much more. And while I am fortunate to have wonderful Japanese restaurants throughout the LA, nothing compares to the sushi you can get out there. Take me back NOW. 

WHERE TO STAY: 

We stayed in the Cerulean Tower Hotel in Shibuya and then at the Westin in Ebisu areas during our trip and thought it was great and both very easy to get all around to neighboring cities. Cerulean was one block again from the train which made getting around so easy.  I would recommend Shinjuku if you like the fancier areas… or Daikanyama area is like the Venice's Abbot Kinney of Japan. There is SO MUCH to explore all around the different areas of Tokyo that I think you can’t go wrong staying somewhat central like Shibuya/Ebisu. 

TOKYO FUNTIVITIES: 

Robot Show in Shinjuku: So amazing and great to get your fix of the wacky quirky Japanese culture. Super touristy but worth it. Don’t get the bento box just eat before or after the show. Get tickets online for a matinee and they’re cheaper!

Sensoji Temple in Asakusa: Sensoji Temple in Tokyo's proletarian east-end area of Asakusa is reputedly one of Tokyo's oldest temples, founded in 628. Very touristy but fun to visit if you had to go to at least one temple in the Tokyo area. Tons and tons of kitschy souvenir stores and shops around this area.

Explore Daikanyama area. It’s like the Abbot Kinney area of Japan. Super cute streets that you can wander. Head to the T-Site at the center. There’s an expensive restaurant called Ivy Place in the middle of it but it’s a really beautiful place to chill. Wander around their awesome book store, etc. 

Sumo Match: Check out a sumo match if you have some time! It’s definitely not as exciting as you would think since it’s a ton of build up and then not a lot of action.. but a great way to experience a sport that has so much tradition! General admission tickets for Ryogoku Kokugikan are sold as same-day seats on tournament days. The box office opens 8am, and competition begins at 9am and lasts into the evening. Get your hotel to help with getting tickets for this.

TOKYO EATS: 

Mutekiya Ramen in Ikebukuro: So so amazing for miso ramen. There’s always a line out front but worth it and it moves pretty fast. Definitely worth the trip if you love fatty thick pork and nice gummy noodles. 

Maisen Tonkatsu in Ometosando: There are a couple locations but the original restaurant is in Ometosando area. You can visit if you’re in the area checking out Takeshita/Harajuku street. My favorite tonkatsu place. 

Nodaiwa Unagi-ya in Ebisu: Come here for lunch for the best freshwater eel meal ever! We did the set meal since it’s affordable during lunch. Much more expensive for dinner. They started the unagi business 200 years ago and one of the few unagi-ya’s that still serve wild caught unagi from Japan (vs. buy them from China). 1 Michelin Star. 

Afuri Ramen in Ebisu:They have a couple locations but the one we went to is right next to Ebisu JR station. Really delicious and different kind of ramen with a yuzu citrus broth. Much lighter than miso or other shoyu bases. 

Nonbei Yokocho in Shibuya: Grab a drink at this secret street in Shibuya where there are a ton of little bars that only seat around 4-8 people each (like the episode of Girls where Shosh is talking to her Japanese friends!) Some don’t let you in unless you’re a regular but others are very welcoming and the bar owners are super nice. 

Ichiran Ramen in Shibuya: Fun ramen experience ordering at the machine then eating in stalls. This is a chain and they’re all over but we went to the one in Shibuya. Gotta wait in line if you’re going during prime ramen hours esp post drinking. Ramen noodles are ok, broth is pretty good but the pork was not good compared to other ramen shops out there. This is really all about the experience of eating in a stall. 

Imahan (Sukiyaki style Waygu beef) in Shinjuku: There are more locations than just Shinjuku. This place is not cheap but they have great meal sets for some of the best waygu beef! They prepare all of it for you and if you like the sukiyaki style of cooking you’ll love this. They also have shabu shabu if you don’t want sukiyaki. 

 
IMG_7041.jpg

KYOTO FUNTIVITIES: 

There is literally no shortage of TEMPLES in Kyoto. You can literally just spend days and days at these temples but then they all start blend together. We actually got sick during out trip to Kyoto so had to squeeze everything into 24hrs of eating/seeing! Here are the highlights.. 

Keep in mind, things move A LOT slower in Kyoto. It’s not even CLOSE to the convenience of Tokyo transportation. In Kyoto the train options are limited and then you’re taking taxis or buses around. Make sure to account for that time when planning your days. 

KYOTO EATS:

Honke Owariya:There are 4 different locations in Kyoto but we went to the original shop. We arrived during a semi-off meal time and didn’t have to wait at all. This is traditional soba and Kyoto sweets. We got this crazy tower of soba and it was delicious!! Definitely a great experience. 

Kaiseki: There are a TON of different Kaiseki experiences in Kyoto that i REALLY wanted to try but because we got sick we couldn’t make it. Gotta save something for our next trip. ;) 
 

 

OKINAWA EATS & FUNTIVITIES: 

Okinawa was such a fun trip! Thankful that we have friends there who were able to take us around since you absolutely need a car to get around. Because of a strong military presence, there is a lot of English signage and speakers here. Felt kinda like being in Hawaii since there are so many little sleepy beach towns. 

Pizza in the Sky: Silly name but SERIOUSLY GOOD pizza. Holy crap. They only have 1 type of pizza and that's all they need. It was insanely good and I'm so sad I didn't take a photo of it before gobbling it up.

Hamaya Soba: This is one of my FAVORITE bowls of noodles on the trip. While they call it soba, it's really more of a clear broth thick noodle bowl. It was soooo good! Imagine a delicious bone broth and these hand pulled thicker noodles. Ugh, this I definitely haven't found in LA yet. :( 

Blue Seal Ice Cream: This place feels very Western but they have their ice cream flavors down! I was in love with their Ube flavored ice cream. Perfectly creamy and not too sweet. Yum!! 

Okinawa Aquarium: This will end all aquariums you've ever been to. I find sea life so serene and beautiful. The grounds are huge and there's no shortage of stuff to see. I feel in love with their huge whale shark exhibit. The most beautiful room there. Definitely make a stop here. 

Public Parks: We went to a park called Tobaru Koen and it was like they build a slide on steroids! If you have time check out more but the one we went to had this awesome spiraling tower and this FAST roller slide that will send you flying down the hill.  

 
Tobaru Koen Park

Tobaru Koen Park

Okinawa Sunset

Okinawa Sunset