The Saguaro Palm Springs

Postcard Perfect Palm Springs and The Saguaro

On Day 6 of our Spring Break Getaway we left L.A. It was Cole’s 30th birthday which began with a stop at Joshua Tree on our way to Palm Springs.

The windmills of the Coachella Valley were in Mission Impossible 3.

We drove from L.A. to Joshua Tree 127 miles via Interstate 10, passing the San Bernardino National Park and and San Gorgonio Pass windmills on our way to the Yuca Valley. You can tour the windmill farm. Info is here.

Windmills outside Palm Springs

road trip to Joshua Tree, California

Joshua Tree, California

Roadtrip from L.A. to Joshua Tree

Joshua Trees in Joshua Tree, California

We had a big lunch at Crossroads Cafe in Joshua Tree, California. Popular with locals and folks passing through, they have vegan options, a huge breakfast menu available until 1:30 PM, and local brews. Their hours were 7 AM – 9 PM (check website to be sure).

We wanted to spend more time in Joshua Tree National Park but between the 5 days in L.A. and road trip, we were ready to get to our Palm Springs hotel and relax. Ben had been to Joshua Tree before. I first heard of the place thanks to U2, but learned that Joshua trees are actually succulents. 19th-century Mormon settlers named them after Joshua in the Bible because they felt the trees’ outstretched arms were guiding them westward. The rock formations remind me of those we’d seen in Colorado Springs.

Joshua Tree California

On to Palm Springs and napping by the pool under tall palms…

Palm trees in Palm Springs California

Palm Springs is as postcard perfect as it gets. Spotless. Safe. Midcentury Modern. Beautiful. Even the airport is cool.

Locals obviously love living there — especially women of a certain age (mine and older) who I saw chilling with friends downtown. My family loved it too. However, if you stay where we did, be warned.

There’s just one problem with The Saguaro in Palm Springs…

you won’t want to leave! No, really. It isn’t an all-inclusive resort, but we so enjoyed the property, relaxed vibe, and food and drinks at great prices that we spent most of our remaining vacation time there. Even when it was over, I still didn’t want to leave.

In the Old West, settlers found a place to call home and staked a claim. I wondered … If I refuse to budge, will the Saguaro Palm Springs let me live here?

Cole’s taste in accommodations was impeccable, from the serene, white home-away-from-home rental in L.A. to this fun stay. Turns out, The Saguaro Palm Springs is the most Instagrammable place in town. The boutique hotel has been lauded by Architectural Digest, The Telegraph, CBS News, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, New York Times, Vogue, National Geographic and so many more. Prior to 2012, it was The International, then Holiday Inn. It was built the year I graduated from high school and reminded me of childhood vacations. Like the title of Chicago’s song that ended every high school dance, The Saguaro succeeds at its mission to “Color Your World.”

The 14-color palette was chosen by the Sydell Group and architects Peter Stamberg and Paul Aferiat based on the hues of local wildflowers. At first, the Palm Springs Architectural Advisory Committee rejected the departure from neutral shades, but Aferiat argued the hotel’s rainbow effect inspires optimism. Thanks to Flower Power and persistence, the architects won. Read more about the Battle of the Beige here.

Californians love The Saguaro (and the Coachella Valley which hosts the music festival). Our host in L.A. asked where we were staying in Palm Springs. When we said The Saguaro, he said he likes to stay there and we’d love it, too. If you’re headed to Coachella this year or ANY year, The Saguaro is a great option. It was the perfect way to spend the last two days of our vacation. Here you can book a stay at Saguaro Palm Springs, too.

Saguaro Pam Springs
The Saguaro Palm Springs is a destination in itself. Located downtown, it has been named one of. the most colorful hotels in. the world. Surrounded by three mountain ranges — The San Jacinto, The Santa Rosa, and The San Bernadino — guests get breath-taking views from the pool, gardens, and rooms.
The Saguaro Palm Springs
The Saguaro has two hot tubs and a poolside bar. They provide sunscreen for sunning on a poolside lounger, or you can reserve a shaded cabana.
Cabana at Saguaro Hotel Palm Springs California

When we pulled into the hotel parking lot, it was crush-at-first-sight. Cole went inside to check us in. When he came out I asked him what the reception area looked like. He grinned with a sigh and shook his head. “You’re going to go crazy.” I did.

Saguaro Reception Area Palm Springs

Cole, my son, did a great job choosing this hotel. Taylor, Ben, and I were soooo pleased. Turns out that The Saguaro is the most Instagrammable place in town.

Palm Springs is a dream town for artists. No wonder surrealist Salvador Dali loved it. Go no further than the reception area of The Saguaro and you’ll find an installation of works created at the hotel in 2016 by Anna-Alexia Basile. An Italian -American who grew up between Italy and Florida, the fashion, travel, and lifestyle photographer loves using color to explore the relationship between reality and the surreal. Her extensive client list includes Elle Decor, Apple, Disney, H&M, Vogue, Refinery29, and Banana Republic. She says The Saguaro is “the perfect place to bring my inner world to life.” Her online photography classes look amazing!

Resting and playing in such spaces is a beauty break for the soul. The natural wonders of Palm Springs fuel creativity.

Historic snowfall in Palm Springs created a surreal view from our balcony at The Saguaro Palm Springs.

I was in pink heaven. Our suite was huge. See all of the room choices on a virtual tour here.

We had a gorgeous mountain view (above). Across the street was a grocery, but we didn’t need it. El Jefe Desert Cantina has great breakfast options, poolside lunch service, and daily Happy Hour on the patio. Their Taco Tuesday and Thursday deal is amazing. They also have a 24-hour fitness center, weekend yoga, free bikes (Palm Springs is the perfect bike town), two hot tubs, and other areas to socialize in all weather. The patio has fire features. There are Adirondack chairs, hammocks, and a bocce ball court.

We missed this event by a week. It tops my Next Time list.

While my kids slept in after a late night playing pool, I took photos of the gardens, had breakfast on the patio, and met a new friend by the swimming pool. A yoga teacher, author, and for several years single mom, Erin Ford hit a milestone at Palm Springs Recording Studio. She showed me her book, Words That Rhyme and Lullabies which is available here. We talked about writing and the value of creative community (aka retreats). She wants to do my next writing retreat in Morocco. I want to do her yoga retreat in Palm Springs. She told me about hiking by a waterfall and the Thursday Night Palm Springs Village Fest. A huge bonus of travel is meeting kindred spirits.

Saguaro Pool Palm Springs
Ben checking out the Saguaro Palm Springs pool

I couldn’t leave Palm Springs without attempting a drive-by of the homes of Elvis (my first pretend boyfriend) and Frank Sinatra. Cole drove me and sent his sister a photo of me stalking Frank.

On the California Now podcast, Palm Springs Celebrity Kurt Cyr explains why the city is the epicenter of Midcentury Modern design. He explains Desert Modernism that started after World War 2 and why Palm Springs became the playground for celebrities. Note the hotel featured on the episode cover. I’d love to do his Rat Pack Tour to see homes that belonged to Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin (my grandmother loved Dino and I’ve always been obsessed with both of them), Peter Lawford, and Marilyn Monroe. It ends with Martinis at Melvyn’s, a Rat Pack hangout. How cool is Melvyn’s? Check this out.

The perfect time to be in Palm Springs is Modernism Week. Flip through the pages of the October 2022 schedule and be blown away at all there is to see. And by the way, October is just the mini-festival! The 11-day event is February 15-25, 2024. Make plans now for these events. If you go at other times of the year, fear not. You can do a self-guided tour of desert modern design or contact Kurt Cyr for a Mod Squad tour.

We’re not sure if we saw the outside of Elvis’ hideaway or not. I did stumble upon (literally) his star on a quick stop downtown and on Trixie’s Cactus Garden.

Palm Springs California

Trixie's Garden Palm Springs

BIG THANKS to Cole for planning this trip (and for donning the Cannon for a mini photo shoot). L.A. and Palm Springs provided a perfect getaway. To Cole, Taylor, and Ben I saw in the words of Bob Hope, a former resident of Palm Springs, thanks for the memories!

Cole McCain Saguaro Palm Springs

Ben, Taylor and Cole at El Jefe Desert Cantina at The Saguaro Palm Springs
Italian villa and gondola in Venice California

5 Wonderful Days in L.A. (Venice Beach, Santa Monica, Malibu, Hollywood)

I’ve been saying for years that the best gift to give your children is travel. Recently, I learned the reverse is true when my son, Cole, sent my daughter, her fiancé, and me plane tickets and booked accommodations and a rental car for a seven-day trip to L.A. and Palm Springs, California. A spring break vacation with my people was the most exciting gift I’ve ever received! Check out options here for adult family time in L.A.

Why L.A.?

Driving up California’s breezy coast — Mediterranean blue waters, cathedral rocks, mountains, and palm trees — feels like a getaway to southern Spain. Walking along Venice Beach canals is a trip to Italy. Star-gazing in Hollywood or at an NBA game… riding the Ferris wheel on Santa Monica’s Pier, or basking on the Baywatch beach is quintessential U.S.A. Los Angeles is the second most populated city in the US (New York City is first), but because Los Angeles County has such vast, diverse areas, there’s something for everyone. Beaches, parks, and a coastal drive on the Pacific Coast Highway are freeing. Celebrities — anyone really — can get lost here.

Returning to L. A. was nostalgic. We loved our 2009 vacation there. Then Cole mostly rode in the back seat of the convertible, but in our Vacation: The Sequel, it was great being with adults and having a man make plans and take the wheel.

Cole booked a beautiful home for five nights near Venice Beach just a couple of blocks from where we’d stayed before on Marina Del Ray. The neighborhood was quiet but just a couple of blocks from restaurants, groceries, shops, and the Venice Canals. We highly recommend it.

Getting away is good for our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Reconnecting with grown children is priceless. I’m forever grateful for my son’s generosity. It was a week of laughter and new adventures.

Southern California offers a great escape, and there are multiple options for adult family time in L.A. If you need a multigenerational gathering spot or want to give the ultimate Mother’s Day or Father’s Day gift, this trip is it. 

Why Stay in Venice?

It’s the “Venice of America.” On the canals, you’ll think you’re in Italy!

I, like other Americans, fell in love with Venice, Italy — the canals, gondolas, architecture, and romantic/mysterious/artistic vibe.

In the 1920s, John Ringling was so impressed with Venice that he built Ca’d’Zan. Inspired by the Doge’s Palace, the five-story Venetian Gothic Revival mansion overlooks Florida’s Sarasota Bay. 

Fifteen years earlier, millionaire John Abbot had an even grander vision. On July 4, 1905, he replicated the entire city and opened “The Venice of America.” He hoped to build a community of artists and writers who would bring a cultural renaissance to California.

After his death, the seaside resort town was annexed to Los Angeles in 1926. See what happened to Abbott’s dream in the “Lost LA” series by KCET, Southern and Central California’s Educational station/affiliate of PBS:

These Streets are Made for Boating


Venice Beach Mural that reads Like a dream I remember from an easier time

Check out the quote on the wall above. Venice has a retro, dream-like vibe that reminds me of a time not only when my kids were younger but also when I was a child, too.

Venice is Bohemian with the Bonus of a Beach.

Venice Beach, California — associated with the Beat Generation of the 50s and artists like Jim Morrison and the Doors in the 60s —is still home to an eclectic mix. It’s bohemian, much like Paris’s Montmartre or Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, but with surfers, skateboarders (the sport was invented here), and Muscle Beach where former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger flexed biceps. The area is artistic and unconventional. The quirk factor is huge, so don’t be surprised if you almost bump into someone, like I did, who is wearing nothing but blue paint. Like the rest of L.A., Venice is diverse … The City of Angels and Land Of Mystics.

Gentrification has displaced former residents. Some live in tents, or in the case of one man we saw, on a couch on the sidewalk. One-bedroom studio apartments rent for $3,000+ a month. On the canals, homes rent for $12,000 – $28,000 a month and sell for $2 – $7 million.

Venice, California is “Little Hollywood.”

Celebrities who’ve lived in Venice:

  • Julia Roberts (now lives in Malibu)
  • Nicholas Cage (moved to Malibu, then to his own island)
  • Robert Downey, Jr. (now lives in Malibu)

Hip like its namesake, Venice births and reflects trends. I’ve never seen so many French Bulldogs! Days after we returned, the American Kennel Club announced they had ousted Labrador retrievers who’d held the top spot of beloved breeds for over 30 years. Having owned two labs, I gasped! but who can compete with fame? My kids told me about Lady Gaga’s dogs being kidnapped. She and other stars — Hugh Jackman, Reese Witherspoon, the Rock — are part of the Frenchie Revolution.

Venice and the Surrounding Area are Film Locations for Movies and Series.

  • John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, Grease (1978)
  • Val Kilmer and Meg Ryan in The Doors (1991)
  • Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock in Speed (1994)
  • Californication, the Showtime series starring David Duchovny
  • Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon beach party movies (1963-66), like Beach Blanket Bingo, at Malibu Lagoon State Beach Park

I think this last one sums up why I love the Cali coast. As a kid in the 60s, I dreamed of being a teen and experiencing this…

Venice is minutes from Santa Monica and a Gorgeous Ride to Malibu via The Pacific Coast Highway. It’s Only 14 miles from Venice Beach to Hollywood via Legendary Sunset Boulevard.

Travel Tips to Make Arrival Less Stressful

  • If traveling from different locations, it’s important to coordinate flight schedules for adult family time in L.A. Cole flew from his home in Colorado and met us at the airport (LAX). He suggested using TripCase. When you get the flight confirmation email after booking, you can forward it to the app at The app imports all info and keeps you updated on delays and arrivals of members of your party. It’s also useful for picking up out-of-town family members and friends at the airport when they fly home.
  • When picking up a car at LAX, catch a free shuttle when you exit the airport because it’s too far to walk. Both times we’ve picked up a car the line has been long, but there’s a waiting area to sit in sun or shade outside the rental building and water in vending machines to hydrate after the flight.

What to Do

Day One: Venice Beach for Lunch, Food Trucks for Dinner

Tip: Typically from June – October, Venice Beach temps hover around 70 F. In the winter months, they dip to low 60s. Despite historic snow in L.A. as seen here reported the day before we arrived, we still had mostly sunny skies and temperatures around 55 degrees. Plan on wearing layers or taking a windbreaker whenever you go because it’s breezy on the Pacific.


After an early flight, rental car pickup, and getting settled in, stretching your legs on a walk through the neighborhood and relaxing over lunch is top priority. We wanted seafood — oysters in particular for Taylor and me. Pier House beside the Venice Beach pier was pricey pre-Happy Hour (especially for the small size of the oysters), but celebrating our reunion and week ahead with grilled octopus, calamari, vegan options for Cole, and drinks on the patio was worth the splurge. Also, don’t miss the skateboarding park. (See Insta post above.)

Other Seafood Options

We didn’t want to drive anywhere and it was too windy/chilly to sit on a rooftop, but these restaurants get good reviews, too:

Fishbar, located on Manhattan Beach 15 minutes by car south of Venice Beach

Across the street from Pier House is The Venice Whaler. The menu is similar to that of Pier House. They do have a rooftop area and a takeaway food window. I love that they have a Rumi quote, too.

Dinner and a Movie

When we met our host at the rental home, he told us we had arrived on a perfect day — First Friday — and that we could walk to the food trucks where locals gather monthly for dinner. We’re fans of food trucks and movies, especially when needing to relax on a travel day. I highly recommend these guys. When you find your favorite food truck at home or in LA, you can stalk it here. What’s your favorite app for finding street food? Please tell us in the comments.

Other Food Truck Options

Two neighborhoods south and north of Venice have smaller, weekly food truck events. Marina Del Ray’s Beach Eats runs from late May to early September and Food Truck Wednesdays happen at Santa Monica’s California Heritage Museum.

For Foodies:

Restaurant Week in Santa Monica

Dine LA Restaurant Week

Organic Eating in Venice

Santa Monica has some of LA’s finest farmers markets. Cole found Erwhon, an organic grocery store just around the corner where we could eat local. Loved it. We also loved the breakfast Cole cooked for us.

pancakes with strawberries and whipped cream, bacon

Movies to Stream

  • Before exploring Griffith Observatory: See Rebel with a Cause and La La Land.
  • After driving in LA traffic: Watch Once Upon a Time in Hollywood to let off steam. (Warning 1: Tarantino isn’t for everyone — usually he’s too dark for me. This one I like because I was obsessed with Sharon Tate and the Charles Manson murders as a kid and it’s set around LA. Warning 2: You might be tempted to get back in the car to check out filming locations.)
  • For adult family time in L.A. with lots of laughts, take home movies with you on a jump drive. If you live in the Nashville area and haven’t converted home movies from videotapes to digital, I highly recommend The Transfer Lab.

Day 2: Walk of Fame, Hollywood Hills, Griffith Observatory

We drove off-interstate from Venice through Melrose to Hollywood. I always prefer the scenic route but do be aware that L.A. drivers are notorious for being aggressive and not signaling, partly because there are no protected left turns.

We had a great lunch at It’s Pho, Vietnamese and Thai Fusion, located at 1821 North Cahuenga Boulevard, LA, CA 90028.

Dish at It's Pho Vietnamese and Thai FusionHollywood LA California

Much has changed since we were in Hollywood in 2009. Then, Michael Jackson had died the week before. I was writing for Examiner and was determined to get a shot of his star despite the mass of people blocking the way. My kids still tell the story of watching me crawl on my knees, then disappear into the fray. When I crawled out, my favorite sweater that was tied around my neck was gone, never to be found again. In 2008, Heath Ledger died and The Dark Night was released. Michel Jackson and Joker impersonators were out in full force.

Hollywood 2009 Michel Jackson and Heath Ledger

This time, we were there just before The Oscars. The Red Carpet was being changed to champagne.

We couldn’t get near The Chinese Theater because of the preparations, but I found stars of celebrities Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials will recognize.

Stars on Hollywood Walk 2023

Capitol Records Hollywood LA

Hollywood isn’t just about actors. Recording artists are also aplenty there. If your people are into vinyl, adult family time in L.A. should include a stop at Amoeba Music, one of the largest indie record stores in the world. Formerly located on Sunset Boulevard/now on Hollywood Boulevard, their free live events have Stevie Nicks, Ozzy Osbourne, Elvis Costello, Nancy Sinatra, and newer artists my kids know but I don’t. 🙂 Amoeba also has shops in San Francisco and Berkeley, California.

City of Angels mural Hollywood LA

Tip: A photo opportunity with the Hollywood sign as a backdrop is on the terrace outside the food area of Target.

Day 3: Bikes, Boats, and Basketball

Marvin Brand Bike Trail (The Strand)

I love riding bikes around Denver and Boulder when visiting Cole. I’d read that the Marvin Brande Bike Trail runs for 22 miles and is a great way to see surfers, hang gliders and street performers from Venus to Santa Monica and beyond. I’d envisioned renting bikes in Santa Monica on an all-day pass. I thought we’d ride a couple of hours to get exercise and have time for photos and lunch. However, also on our agenda was walking the Venice Canals and seeing a Clippers Game. So we rented electric bikes nearby in Venice Beach for an hour instead.

In hindsight, Venice Beach rentals cost more and the bike route on a Sunday is too crowded. Families and couples stroll there to avoid the crowded Boardwalk. I was all smiles below at the start of our ride, but after breaking constantly and almost taking out a toddler whose parents allowed him to walk into oncoming bikers, I was traumatized. (The child and parents ambled on unfazed).

The Venice Canals were more romantic than I imagined. (Also see the video above made on a sunnier day). They are one of the U.S.’s best-kept secrets. They’re tucked away so well that we missed them in 2009. Thanks to scenes with Ashton Kutcher and George Lopez filmed on them in the movie Valentine’s Day released in 2010 (and scenes of the Marriott Del Ray where we stayed), I was determined to see walk the canals this time.

Whether you’re a sports fan or not, seeing the LA Clippers is fun. I enjoy the high drama of the NBA. One day we want to see The Lakers, but the ticket prices were too much when we were there.

Biking is a great option for adult family time in L.A.

A Clippers game is a great way to spend adult family time in L.A. Thanks for the tickets, Ben!

Tip: When traveling with people you love, communication (just as it is in all things relationships) is key. My kids say I’m the Energizer Bunny on vacation and need to chill. I am an early riser and love to plan. But I also like exploring with no agenda. By serendipity, we make wonderful discoveries that way.

Traveling solo and leading educational tours is very different from adult family time in L.A. We all have different interests, energy levels, and pace preferences. I enjoy finding options. I ask family members for their must-sees and must-dos so we can try to make them happen. I learned on this trip that it’s also important to discuss details — as in the case of biking (Day 3) and driving up the coast (Day 4) — how far we want to go, where we want to stop, and at what pace. This is especially important if you have an event or dinner reservation. My plan for Day 3 was probably a bit too ambitious given a late start and game tickets that night.

Day 4: Coastal Drive to Malibu and Neptune’s Net

Drive up Highway 1 (Pacific Coast Highway) from Venice Beach to Malibu for some adult family time in L.A.

California Playlist on Spotify

We debated other road trips (see below), but in the end, we took the nostalgic route to Malibu. Photo on the left: 2009. Photo on the right: 2023

We really enjoyed Neptune’s Net which was Taylor’s suggestion. The oysters are BIG. All the seafood great is great. We sat at picnic tables watching waves and talking with locals. 5 minutes down the road is Leo Carrillo Beach where Grease and Karate Kid were filmed.

We’ve changed a bit over 14 years….

But not really ….

Be Sure To Stop Where We Didn’t…

We ended up exploring past Malibu. Inland and around the US Naval Base in Ventura County we saw farmland and the largest fields of rose nurseries I’ve ever seen. We didn’t make it to the Getty Villa Museum on the way back, but it is high on the NEXT TIME list for adult family time in L.A.

Other Road Trip Options from L.A.


Solvang is a village 2 hours north of Malibu built by Danish settlers in 1911. With only 5,000 residents, it not only looks like a European village but also feels like one.

Newport Beach

Newport Beach is an hour south of Venice and a great location for whale watching. 20 minutes south of Newport is Laguna Beach featured in the reality show, Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County.

Day 5: Farewell Walk Along Venice Canals, Italian Lunch, Vintage Shopping in Santa Monica

If you’re an early riser and value morning quiet time, take a solo walk on the Venice Canals. All you’ll hear are hummingbirds chattering, bees humming, and water parting as ducks glide by. You might meet a resident walking to work, pushing a stroller, or walking a dog. But mostly, you’ll experience in solitude a beauty break for the soul. I remembered again why God created the perfect world as a garden.

The architecture and landscaping of each home on the Venice Canals are unique. If your idea of heaven on earth is gathering with friends and family in an outdoor space under blue skies … if you love the smell of citrus and colorful blooms… if you smile at succulents and palm trees twitching in the breeze … this is your place for escape and inspiration to create your own outdoor space.

Italian style vila and gondola on Venice Canals LA California

red and green succulents in a garden in Venice LA California

Outdoor living area of a home on Venice Canals in California

Foxtail fern in a garden on Venice Canals LA California

Ferns and Lavender garden Venice Canals LA California

Palm trees and lemon trees in a yard in Venice California

Home  with balconys on Venice Canals LA California

Terrace with lemon trees Venice California LA

Venice Canals California
Walking the Venice Canals is a Great Way to Spend Adult family time in L.A.
home on Venice Canals California with ivy and suuculents

European style home with cobblestone fence and flowers on Venice Canals California

Venice Book Exchange on Canals in Venice California LA

yellow Moroccan homes on Venice Canals LA California

Italian For Lunch

I loved the Malloreddus at Ospi — Beef Cheek Ragu Napoletano with thyme and Toscano. Everyone was happy with the Spicy Rigatoni, Spaghetti, and Spicy Eggplant, and Zucchini. Cocktails and a Super Tuscan Red were yummy, too.

Vintage Shopping

Taylor and Ben found some cool bargains on Santa Monica Boulevard (sing it like Sheryl Crow) at the Goodwill Southern California and Crossroads Trading on 4th. One street over is the hub of downtown retail at 3rd Street Promenade and Santa Monica Place. And if you’re not into shopping, there’s fun in the sun at Santa Monica Pier.

Santa Monica Restaurants for adult family time in L.A.:

  • Masilla for food from France, Italy, Spain, and Morocco. Happy Hour is 11 AM – 6:30 PM Monday-Friday with 50% off craft cocktails and wine
  • Manchego has California-Spanish tapas and wine. During weekend brunch, they have bottomless sangria and mimosas.
  • Fig, a popular Mediterranean- inspired bistro located in the Fairmount Miramar, is a favorite local Happy Hour Spot. During Fig @ 5 – 5 to 6 pm Tuesday through Saturday — most of their menu is half price. If you want to get fancy for Mother’s Day Brunch, during DineLA Restaurant Week April 28 to May 12, or for a private event, this is the place. Georgina Jones, who built the original Miramar with her husband, was a botanist who planted the hotel’s first fig tree and dispensed herbal tonics from what is now The Potting Shed, a space for special dinner parties.

Cole spotted Coco wheeling down the street — a robot that delivers food that was created by two young men when they were students at UCLA. I can’t wait to share this with my university students who write business plans and Kickstarter and social media campaigns for their present and future business projects.

Takeaway from L.A.

I’ve been in the classroom — as a student and educator — since I was five. NOTHING inspires me to be a lifelong learner more than travel. When we expand our horizons with people we love we build stronger relationships. We’re energized by adventure, beauty, and new ideas. Travel inspires critical and creative thinking.

Abbot Kinney’s story is inspiring. He was born in New Jersey. His family moved to Washington, D.C. where they became involved in politics. At age 16 he went to Europe for his education and became fluent in six languages. While there, he visited Venice, Italy. Years later, he would create a New Venice in California with the goal of bringing a Renaissance of art, health, and education to the area. His asthma improved in California, so he wanted others to experience fresh ocean air.

No doubt Kinney enjoyed privileges many people don’t have. He made money with his brother in tobacco. But he also used his education and resources to benefit others. The man who wanted to bring a Renaissance to the Sunshine State was a Renaissance Man himself. His path to building Venice was long and not linear. First he…

  • Served as a Member of the Maryland National Guard and U.S. Geological Survey Team
  • Mapped the Sioux reservations of the Dakotas
  • Served on a survey team in Yosemite Valley
  • Traveled to Egypt, Macedonia, India, New Guinea, Australia
  • Chaired the California Board of Forestry
  • Partnered with fellow conservationist John Muir to establish the San Gabriel Timberland Reserve
  • Reported poor living conditions that led to the Mission Indian Act of 1891
  • Established the first forestry station in the U.S. in Rustic Canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains. One project was a study of eucalyptus trees that had been introduced to the region.

In 1905, a marshy area was reborn as a town of canals called “Ocean Park.” It would take him six more years to get the name officially changed to Venice. Kinney imported gondolas and gondoliers from Venice, Italy. Residents of downtown Los Angeles and Santa Monica rode trolleys to experience the Venetian-style shops, carnival rides, and an aquarium. He brought in professors and writers to deliver lectures. Sadly, few people took advantage of this free education.

Today only a remnant of the canals remain but are protected as part of the Venice Historical District. Kinney’s story reminds me of a line from a familiar quote often attributed to Mother Theresa: “What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.”

Apparently, the author was Dr. Kent Keith in 1968 while a young student leader at Harvard. It was on a poster in my classroom in Nashville for many years:

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.

Thanks, Abbot, for Venice. Thanks again, Cole, for an unforgettable time away.

Best Retreats 2022: Wilderness Road Experience with Author Angela Correll

Best Retreats 2022: Wilderness Road Experience with Author Angela Correll

All great stories start with “What if?”Author Angela Correll

After the rush of the holidays, winter is a time to slow down, to get still, to sit by a fire in a quiet place where we can listen to longings and hear our hearts speak. For many of us, this requires getting away. We need a respite to reflect, recharge, reset. And if there’s been a stirring in our souls, if we’re seeking something different, a place to consider new possibilities. A place to ask, “What if?”

In mid-December, I drove into a town that had inspired the book I was reading. It looked like the set of a Hallmark Christmas movie and the community described sounded Hallmark-close and friendly, too. I couldn’t wait to meet the author who has created a one-of-a-kind experience. I did. After the weekend I drove out of town feeling rested and inspired to take on whatever the new year brings. 

Please listen to this conversation I had with Best-selling Author Correll in this special edition of Travel People: Living Authentic Lives, Finding Kindred Spirits, Fulfilling Dreams.

In a new year when we try to focus on the positive, she inspires us to see problems as possibilities, to create something for our souls and others, to remember what matters most, and to embrace our roots and spread our wings. 

We met  in Stanford, Kentucky where she lives on a farm with her husband, Jess. The novels of her May Hollow trilogy –  Grounded, Guarded, and Granted– are based largely on life in this small town with a big heart. She and Jess are the creators of the Wilderness Road Hospitality Group that has built a stronger sense of community here. In Part 1 of the interview she explains how they went from milking goats to saving and renovating historic homes. How they built two restaurants, an Inn, and are building another. Angela talks about the importance of close community not only in Kentucky but in a Tuscan village, Montefollonico, where she and Jess have a home and are renovating rentals for retreats and vacations.

Like Annie and Jake in her trilogy, Angela and Jess have quite the love story. Their travel experiences are the stuff of fairytales, and they enjoy the best of all worlds with homes in Kentucky and Tuscany.  What I love most is that while she was still a single woman who lived in Lexington with good friends and  a job that provided amazing travel experiences, she felt a pull toward another life. She wanted to live on a farm. She knew that nature feeds her  soul. She says she knew God was turning her in a new direction, but had no idea how she’d get there. God fulfilled the desires of her heart in ways she didn’t expect.

Lisa, our mutual friend who is also a writer and Italophile, introduced us by email because she though we had a lot in common. Angela and I both went to The University of Kentucky, lived in Lexington, and lived on farms. Our grandfathers were farmers. We grew up in small Kentucky towns. For her, it was Danville. For me, Hopkinsville. She strives to write about the “good, true, and beautiful” for a mainstream audience. No matter how much we love travel and exploring other countries, we recognize our native language — SouthernSpeak.

Angela’s books have been adapted to the stage for sold-out performances at the Pioneer Playhouse, Kentucky’s oldest outdoor theater. Their themes — navigating family, romantic love, purpose and passion, our need for community— are universal. Like Thornton Wilder’s classic, Our Town or Jan Karon’s Mitford series, her books are timeless.

We’re not super easy to get to. We’re an hour south of Lexington’s small airport but we think that’s part of the charm. When you come you’re going to pull away from everything. You can let your blood pressure drop, be fully present, and receive peace. –Angela Correll

I finished Grounded while I was on her stomping ground. Spending time with her characters felt like Old Home Week (a southern church tradition of my childhood that meant dinner on the ground or potluck in the fellowship hall). I recognized some of Annie’s grandmother in both of mine – one that fried country ham, then simmered it in water to make it tender every Christmas morning. Another who watched Billy Graham specials and tucked me in under quilts.  I recognized generational struggles over the need for dishwashers, cable, and the internet. Over expressions like “You can’t expect a man to buy the cow if he is getting the milk for free.”

Her grandmother’s farmhouse with its creaking floors took me back to the homes in the country of 3 great-aunts. They, too, gathered eggs from ornery hens and didn’t lock their doors. Stripping tobacco, guns and gardens, Blue Willow China, Bluegills and the Farmers’ Almanac. “Widow Women,” “young folk,” “up North,” “down South”… all reminders of my childhood. The comfort food sent me back to Nashville on a mission to make break green beans, cook them with new potatoes, fry up some crappie, bake a chess pie, and chase it all with sweet tea. 

Her reference to Genuine Risk, the 1980 Derby winner the year I married, took me back to Lexington when I lived on a horse farm. So did this description of Wildcat Mania.

The restaurant walls were covered with black and white pictures of local celebrities. Featured prominently were the University of Kentucky basketball and football coaches, and some of the players, both past and present. Even Hollywood stars like Ashley Judd, George Clooney and Johnny Depp were proudly featured Kentuckians. The fare was fine Angus steak, grass-finished and locally grown, served in an atmosphere of dark paneled walls and white table linens.

A romantic, I cried and was satisfied at the end of her first book, but I appreciate that the story didn’t stop there. She wrote a trilogy as if to ask, “What if … a fairytale ending of boy gets girl isn’t the end of the story? Aren’t relationships more complicated?”

Career struggles, abandonment issues, financial troubles, gossips, family secrets, depression… it’s all here. But there’s something about this place that is so familiar and comforting that I listen to the Audible versions as bedtime stories. Maybe because I spent a weekend in the world of the novel where people care for each other, stop and talk on the street, remembered my name. Maybe because in a world of troubles and negativity, I need to stay grateful and focused on the positive this year.

The Stanford Inn includes the cottages but in the works are additional lodging spaces including more hotel rooms (larger than the current Inn rooms) on Main Street. 

If you need to finish an artistic project– book, painting, documentary–on your own or want the direction/support of a group, listen to Part 2 of the interview where Angela discusses her writing journey and options for retreats and creative community in Stanford and Italy.

Part 2 of Podcast Interview with Angela Correll on Writing and Writing Retreats

May Hollow Trilogy by Angela Correll in her Soaps and Such Store, Main Street, Stanford, Kentucky
Esther’s Wellhouse
Amy at Esther’s Wellhouse gave me a great massage. See her in video. She drives an hour from Lexington to work because she loves it here.
I grew up on Rutland’s Barbecue in Hopkinsville, KY. My dad brought it home from work. I’ve been partial to Western Kentucky Barbecue but this at the Bluebird Restaurant was AMAZING.
Sara, House Manager of Bluebird, who made me feel at home every time I dropped in.
Savannah was my sweet server at Bluebird. She lives in Pulaski County but drives to Stanford. Since the renovations of the Wilderness Road Group, the town has changed. She said there wasn’t much here when she was a kid, but now “everything is in Stanford.”
Sarah with Hot Cider at Kentucky Soaps and Such
The store was full of people of all ages gift shopping and catching up.
Many books by Kentucky authors (and many selections from Italy)
The weekend lives on… loved my coffee cup from this collection and the soaps at Kentucky Soaps and Such
I wrapped these soaps from Kentucky Soaps and Such and used them as decorations/gifts on my Christmas table. Inside each, I placed a question the recipient asked the other family members and answered. We all learned new things about each other.

Thank you Angela and Wilderness Road for incredible hospitality. As always, opinions on this blog are my own.

Creative Holiday Gifts (And Ways To Travel NOW): Online Airbnb Experiences

Creative Holiday Gifts (And Ways To Travel NOW): Online Airbnb Experiences

Photo from

Don’t know what gifts to buy for the holidays? Do you wish you could travel NOW?

My grandmother told us every year not to give her gifts. What she wanted was us at her table every Sunday for lunch. As a mom, I don’t want things from my adult children either. I want experiences with them. I’ll never forget the Christmas we spent together in London…the trip Taylor and I did to Captiva Island…the ride cross-country with Cole when he moved to Denver .

I love traveling with friends. With borders closed, we’ve been grounded. Then Sally said that she and her daughter were designing their own espadrilles in Barcelona via Airbnb experiences. She said we should meet on our birthdays this year in Italy. I was thrilled! We made limoncello on the Amalfi Coast with tour guide Rosa (my next podcast guest) on my birthday. Sally was in Virginia. I was in Nashville, and two couples Zoomed in from Canada. On Sally’s birthday we will learn about spiced wines in Naples from archaeologist Raffaele.

You can give the people in your life the world — literally — here. And make new friends who invite you into their homes. They’ll also help you plan your next trip to their cities.

What do the people in your life love to do? Do they love animalsmusic, dancing, or other artshistory and cultureyoga…fitnesscooking or wine tasting? SO MANY CHOICES. Instead of traveling to India this weekend by streaming The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel again, I’ll Dance it up in my kitchen with this Indian Chef.

Below are just a few things I’d love to do (hint). What do YOU want to do?

Fresh Pasta with Two Sicilian Farmers

Authentic Apple Crepe with a French Chef

Feed the Soul with Kat’s Yoga Brunch Club

Cook Spanish Paella with a Top Chef

Irish History, Village, Culture, and Craic

Wine Tasting in France

New Zealand Wine and Travel Experience

Cocktails Masterclass with UK Champion

GINspiration Cocktails at Home

Discover the Secrets of Sancerre Wine

And if you’re looking for a way to bond beyond one experience on one day, I have more unique ideas… they are in this month’s newsletter along with suggestions for summer entertaining, travel planning, and other May fun.

Thanks to the subscribers on the blog. Thanks to the followers on WordPress, and if any of you or anyone else reading this would like to receive the monthly newsletter, please enter your email list below. Cheers!

Success! You're on the list.
Swept Away by Captiva Island’s South Seas Island Resort

Swept Away by Captiva Island’s South Seas Island Resort

In 2021 I had two of the best Florida stays of my life. One was on Captiva Island with my daughter, and the other was on Sanibel Island with a group of amazing women at The Gift for the Sea Writing Retreat and Community Celebration. Rebuilding efforts of both are ongoing after the devastation left by Hurricane Ian. To help rebuild, the Captiva-Sanibel Chamber posted this link:

Below is the post after my stay in April 2021:

Disclosure: A huge thank you to South Seas Island Resort and The Beaches of Ft. Meyers & Sanibel for their hospitality during our sponsored stay. As always, the opinions below are my own.

Disclosure: This post contains an affiliate link to Amazon with no additional cost to the customer.

“What has made the day so perfect? To begin with, it is a pattern of freedom. Its setting has not been cramped in space or time. An island, curiously enough, gives a limitless feeling of both. Nor has the day been limited in kinds of activity. It has a natural balance of physical, intellectual and social life. It has an easy unforced rhythm.”

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea

Never underestimate the healing power of a room- with- a- view of sea and sunrises. Of island sunsets that make strangers friends. Of connecting with family after an unimaginable year. On making a wish on a seashell and feeling like a kid again.

Sunrise seen from our balcony at South Seas Island Resort

Not since we spent a month together on another island in 2016, had Taylor–my adult daughter–and I had a chance to get away together. Because she cares for the elderly, we couldn’t see each other for months in 2020. We’re both vaccinated now, but getting our school and work schedules together–as it is for most families– is a perennial problem. We needed some island time, so we took it. At the South Seas Island Resort on beautiful Captiva Island, we discovered within the U.S. borders a breathtaking part of Florida we’d never seen. Though I did work-by-day and she did school-by-night, our sharing an office with the view and exploring 330 acres of natural nirvana (and beyond) was an escape we’ll never forget. Here’s a few reasons why South Seas Island Resort was named a Top 10 North American Island by Conde Nast Traveler and families return year after year…

(Photos in Gallery Above Courtesy of South Seas Island Resort)

Nowhere else in the US have we stayed this close to the water and seen so much wildlife and sea creatures. The sanctuary has 230 species of birds, such as egrets and the white ibis, bottle-nosed dolphins, rabbits, Cuban anole lizards, and West Indian manatees.

Only in paradise would bunnies live in bushes just around the corner from the bird who lives here. (Unless otherwise noted, photos and videos by Cindy and Taylor McCain).

We loved hopping beaches and cruising shady paths. Sunny Island Adventures offers bicycle rentals for a few hours or the length of your stay to enjoy 20 miles of bike trails.

Taylor and Cindy McCain
deserted beach
Deserted beaches at South Seas Island Resort Photo Credit: Taylor McCain
Blue house and palm trees
Captiva Island Photo: Taylor McCain

This area and neighboring Sanibel Island, which since 1937 has hosted the largest and longest running Shell Fair and Show in the United States, is famous for shelling. It was the inspiration for one of my favorite books, Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea where the Gulf of Mexico delivers over 250 types of shells which you can learn more about here. Sanibel Island was featured on the April 2021 cover of Southern Living by the editors as one of The South’s Best Beach Towns. Children love the Sanibel Sea School where every day is a field trip. I eavesdropped on a group exploring the beach by my balcony and not only learned a lot but saw a boy find a starfish in the the few minutes they were there. Offerings for children and adults are here.

We flew into Fort Meyers on Southwest Airlines at the Southwest Florida International Airport located 35 miles from the resort. I’ve been a fan of Southwest for years but because of open seating the fee for early boarding is worth it–especially during high season or if you have a connecting flight and need to get off quickly. We had a great experience with Dolphin Transportation, the largest independently owned fleet of luxury vehicles serving Fort Myers, Naples, and Bonita Springs, who picked us up in a Suburban where I met a fellow writer based in Atlanta and returned us to the airport in a Lincoln Continental. They have bus and van options as well. We didn’t need a car with the trolley and bikes, but the property is so massive–20 tennis courts, 2 community pools (and 17 private ones), 9 dining locations, and other attractions the first day or two you’ll need to use a map and/or the App (which has a Trolley Tracker).

A short drive or ride away are area attractions including J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Lighthouse Beach and the spring training facilities of the Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins. In addition, the resort is half a mile from downtown Captiva with its shops and restaurants, including the Bubble Room and Mucky Duck.

South Seas Island Resort Trolley Time Photo by Taylor McCain

There are 434 guest rooms, villas, and waterfront private homes. We stayed in one of the 30 newly renovated waterfront suites at North Pointe Village overlooking Pine Island Sound. We appreciated the huge marble bathroom with closets and mirrors– great for two women :), the espresso machine, the wood-inspired floors, comfortable bedding and seating, but forgot to turn on the huge television because we were too busy watching an even bigger world of turquoise waters…coral, blue, and pink skies…boaters, fishermen on the dock, and wildlife from our balcony.

South Seas Island Resort Credit: Taylor McCain

On the bay behind us were rooms overlooking the Yacht Harbor.

For a large family, there are vacation rentals and uber luxurious two-six bedroom Homes of Distinction. Family portraits are available and fantasy wedding venues.


Excursion to Cabbage Key

Just 10 miles south of the resort is a tiny island that is old, old Florida at its best. There are no cars or roads–just a few rental cottages where anglers and artists can get inspired. Boaters stop in for breakfast, lunch, or dinner so if alone time gets old, there are always new people to meet. The restaurant is known for its food, a famous customer, and a tradition dating back to the days when fishermen wrote their names on dollar bills and tacked them to the wall for times when they might have no luck and need credit. Behind the bar is Jimmy Buffett’s bill.

You can board the Lady Chadwick of Captiva Cruises at the Yacht Harbor for a one-hour sail to the island. I loved the 70s music and 80s music I heard as we disembarked and headed up the hill.

Dolphin Watch on Lady Chadwick of Captiva Cruises
Cabbage Key Aerial Shot Photo:
Cabbage Key, Florida
Guests have attached dollar bills to the walls of the main dinning room of the Cabbage Key Inn.
Cabbage Key Inn is hopping, so put in your name upon arrival and explore while you wait.
Loved eating on the terrace overlooking the water
Cabbage Key Inn’s Cheeseburger in Paradise
Stone Crab Claws
The Planter’s Punch, Red Snapper, Their Special of the Day, and slaw-Delicious
After lunch, I explored on my own which included climbing to the top of the tower seen here in the background. See the video above for my bird’s eye view.
Ok, when I saw the sign below I decided to take the road less traveled AFTER I went back and grabbed a couple of friends. For someone who considers herself a mermaid, I sadly also have a thing for shark and gator movies 🙂

We learned a lot on the cruise from the ship’s captain. There’s said to be $75000 on the Inn’s ceiling and the $10-$15,000 that falls off each year is donated to charity. I learned that the back bay waters are estuaries for wildlife, fish, crab, oyster beds, and stone crabs which fishermen catch, declaw, and throw them back. Their claws regenerate. I saw where Captiva was split by a hurricane in 1921, destroying farmland there. Other history pertaining to the Native Americans on the barrier islands, to English, then Spanish rule, to Cuban fisheries and cattlemen, some of which is here. I learned the namesake of our boat, the shopping center on Captiva, and some of South Seas Island Resort’s origin. The area was bought in the 1920s by Clarence and Rosamond Chadwick, inventor of the check watermarking process and an opera singer, who made it one of the most successful key lime plantations in the world. In 1961 the Captiva Island Company bought the property for $225,000.

The islands between Cabbage Key and South Seas all have a story–North Captiva which has 11 vacation homes and uses solar power, La Costa with homes run on propane and solar, Pine Island which exports palm trees and has off-the-grid art galleries, and Useppa, base for the CIA during the Bay of Pigs and once vacation escape for Theodore Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, Shirley Temple, and Mae West. Captiva Cruises offers options for exploring Useppa, other islands and types of excursions.


I LOVED doing sun salutations on the Kings Crown Lawn as bunnies bopped in and out of the bushes behind me and boats bobbed past. Ambu Yoga was the best way to start the day and warm up for kayaking later (though Taylor did most of the rowing). If you’re not into yoga, the seaside golf course looked amazing.

Warming up for the Day with Ambu Yoga


The Harborside Bar and Grill

If you didn’t see the video above, check it out. Our meal there was the event-of-the-week from the Cucumber Smash to the champagne toast to the crème brûlée served beside a fire pit glittering with sea glass. The mixes of their artisan cocktails are hand-pressed and blended, and the spirits infused in-house. A Tennessee girl born in Kentucky, I loved that their focus isn’t rum– as is the case with most island drinks–but bourbon and whiskey. The most impressive presentation I’ve seen was of the The Captain’s Smoked Old Fashioned I had to try. Our server said she did her nails especially for it. 🙂 Another surprise was that the hit of the starters was the Yacht Line Candied Bacon–torched tableside. Other delicious dishes were the Romesco Garlic Shrimp, Kung Pao Calamari, the Cuban Bread, and always my favorite–Spanish Octopus. I had the Mahi Mahi and Taylor enjoyed the Lobster Tacos.

Also the oysters and scallops at Doc Ford’s (see video) are great.


THE #1 thing to do at South Seas Island Resort is their signature Sunset Celebration at Sunset Beach. In the video above, singer songwriter Danny Morgan who has toured and played with about everyone from Jimmy Buffett to The Beach Boys, visited the area in the 80s and has been playing to multi-generational crowds since. Rather than wish upon a star, we wished upon a shell as the sun melted into the ocean.

hammock and palm trees
Sunset Beach, South Seas Island Resort Photo by Taylor McCain
Final Sunset with New Friends
Beach dinner by Tacos and Tequila followed by S’mores
Jalapeno Margarita Toast on Sunset Beach

I have only two regrets: One, that a regatta pulled the sailboats from the island. We were excited about taking our first sailing lesson.

Next time. Two, that our time at South Seas had to end.

Anne Morrow Lindberg’s Gift from the Sea

Stay tuned for the Anniversary Celebration of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s, Gift from the Sea, one of my favorite memoirs. I am excited and grateful to be one of the writers invited to work on my memoir on Sanibel Island for this event where she was inspired to write hers–a dream come true.

Success! You're on the list.

Behind-the-Scene Tour of The Ringling, Crown Jewel of Florida’s Cultural Coast

Behind-the-Scene Tour of The Ringling, Crown Jewel of Florida’s Cultural Coast

Disclosure: Thank you, and partners, for the hospitality, education, and fun. Readers, as always, the opinions here are my own.


This last feature of a 3-part series celebrating Florida’s Cultural Coast pays tribute to Sarasota’s crown jewel, The Ringling. The 66-acre complex of world-class art and circus museums, an educational center, a glass pavilion, historic theater, arboretum, gardens, and  palatial mansion is a place where lovers of all kinds can wander away from crowds. More a destination than an attraction, The Ringling alone is worth a trip to Sarasota County. It’s also a cultural center for local members and a dream venue for romance and weddings.

I took a three-hour private tour with Virginia Harshman, Ringling Public Relations Head, M.A. Harvard University in Museum Studies. She gave me a behind-the-scenes look, unlocking secret areas with keys, masterful storytelling, and passion for the property and the people who built it. I left wishing that I’d explored this hidden gem and national/global treasure a long time ago and looking forward to a future visit.

The Ringling is beautiful in any season. It’s not too late to plan  the perfect Valentine’s, Spring Break, Remote School, or Summer Getaway.

Who loves The Ringling? 

The Ringling Art Museum Courtyard

I Do! I Do! And if you’re one of these 10 Kinds of Lovers, you will, too…

1) Lovers of Love Stories & The 1920s American Dream

Even before I heard the love story of John and Mabel Ringling, American Royalty who owned the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus, I fell in love at first sight with their home. Ca’ d’Zan transported me to my favorite era, the Roaring ‘20s, and two of my favorite places on earth. Its Moorish arches took me back to Morocco 

and its overall design to Venice where I started another new year. Inspired by the Doge’s Palace on the Grand Canal, the five-story Venetian Gothic Revival mansion overlooks Sarasota Bay. 

Doge’s Palace, New Year’s Eve, 2015

Doge’s Palace

Ca’ d’Zan Photo Courtesy of The Ringling

The exterior’s stucco as well as many glass windows and bedrooms are pink hues. My favorite color,  the breathtaking property, and  John Ringling’s story reminded me of one of my favorite characters, Jay Gatsby, and his pink suit. John Ringling, like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s protagonist, had humble beginnings and both tenaciously pursued The American Dream. I could imagine Jay Gatsby’s Rolls-Royce, called a “circus wagon,” parked in the driveway beside John Ringling’s Rolls-Royce, now on exhibit in the Sarasota Classic Car Museum.

Walking the grounds, I could imagine legendary ‘20s parties around Gatsby’s and on the Ringling terrace.  John and Mabel frequently entertained celebrities, like Will Rogers who had his own guest room, movie directors, politicians, and actresses, such as Billie Burke, better known as Glenda the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz.

Jay was “The Great Gatsby”and “John was King of The Greatest Show on Earth.” Both built romantic palaces for the women they loved, but here the parallels end. Daisy rejected Jay and his new money. John and Mabel had similar values–maybe because she, too, came from a modest family. They were kindred spirits in their shared love for culture, art, and travel, as well as their desire to give back. Their legacy is now the State Art Museum of Florida administered by Florida State University. 

Though Ca’ d’Zan means “House of John” in the Venetian dialect, it has been called John’s “love letter” to Mabel. They built it together, getting ideas as they traveled the world for twenty-five years buying art and new circus acts.  She collected in an oilskin portfolio photos and sketches of architecture, gardens, and design. See the video below of my behind-the-scenes tour where I learned more about Mabel and why everyone at The Ringling adores her.

John and Mabel Ringling

2)  Lovers of Architecture and Design

In 1911, John and Mabel began spending winters in Sarasota on 20 acres of waterfront property they purchased. They continued buying real estate and at one time owned 25% of the town. In 1924 they hired architect Dwight James Baum to design and Owen Burns to build the 36,000 square-foot Mediterranean Revival of their dreams. In addition to the Doge’s Palace, Ca’ d’Oro and the Grand Hotel d’Italie Bauer-Grünwald  inspired the plans. 

Ca’ d’Oro, Venice taken New Year’s Day, 2016

The roof was made of 16th century tiles John found in Barcelona and sent home in two cargo ships. The marble bayside terrace –now used for weddings, yoga classes, and other gatherings– was used by the Ringlings for entertaining. The orchestra played for guests from their yacht, Zalophus, beside Mabel’s gondola which bobbed in the bay. Their dining room table seated 22, and cocktails were served in style at parties and in John’s Man Cave. 

Ballroom Ceiling

John’s Man Cave

Virginia gave me a look at the upper floors of the house which were closed due to Covid. I felt like I was a kid again–Nancy Drew on a snoop–when she showed me the secret Playroom. Overlooking Sarasota from the 82-foot tower is a moment I won’t forget. (See video below.)

Everywhere you look there is regal beauty. John Ringling’s bedroom

Mabel and John painted on The Playroom ceiling

Some guest rooms, such this one where Will Rogers often stayed, were closed due to Covid

Everyday feels like a holiday at Ca’ de’Zan


3) Lovers of Art and History

After Ca’ d’Zan was completed, John built a 21-gallery museum modeled from the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. In the courtyard stands a cast bronze replica of Michelangelo’s David purchased from the Chiurrazi Foundry outside of Rome, Italy.  It’s now the symbol of the City of Sarasota on Florida’s Cultural Coast.

The Ringling, Sarasota, Florida’s Cultural Coast

Ringling Courtyard Photo Courtesy of

 Inside are collections of Classical and Modern Masters. In 1931, two years after the death of Mabel, John opened the museum to the public to promote “education and art appreciation, especially for our young people.” In 1936 he left it to the state of Florida upon his death. See the video above on the Rubens Gallery, the family crest John had designed, and Modern Art exhibits, such as the photography series, A Girl and Her Room . A world-class cultural center, The Ringling Art Museum was just awarded another grant–this one from the Andy Warhol Foundation.

At the Museum of Art and Education Center budding artists,  Artists in Residence, and teachers find resources, professional development, and inspiration. 

4) Lovers of Theater/Performing Arts

The Historic Asolo Theater itself, once in the castle in Asolo, Italy of Queen Caterina Cornaro, Venetian-born widow of the King of Cyprus is a MUST-SEE.

It has been restored and moved into the John M. McKay Visitors Pavilion, designed by Yann Wemouth, architect for the Pyramide du Lovre, East Wing of the National Gallery in D.C. and the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida. See performing arts schedule here.

5) Lovers of Glass Art

Grouped by country of origin, works of art from the studio glass movement from the 1940s to the present are in the Glass Pavilion here.

5) Lovers of Gardens and Gorgeous Landscapes

In the 66-acre paradise are waterfront gardens and a Level II Arboretum with 100 different species of trees to hug. John and Mabel are buried in the Secret Garden below.

Secret Garden

6) Lovers of Cinderella Stories, Business, and Finance

The Ringling family story is fascinating. In 1927 John Ringling, one of the wealthiest men in the world, made Sarasota the winter headquarters for the circus. In addition to owning “The Greatest Show on Earth” he invested in oil, railroads, Madison Square Garden, and his community. When he died his estate appraised at $23.5 million, and he had $311 in the bank. Business Insider gives an in-depth analysis here.  

7) The Circus and Circus Movies

Ok, I admit it. I’ve saved the best for near-last.  One of my favorite movies as a child wasThe Greatest Show on Earth  which I watched again this week while writing this piece. Director Cecil B. DeMille traveled with the circus for research and John North, John Ringling’s nephew, plays himself in the film as he tries to save the show in changing times. I loved seeing Sarasota where it was filmed–especially the parade down Main Street which included locals as extras. When it was made, there was no Walt Disney World; time under the Big Top was the premiere happy place for children. The movie was the highest grossing film of the year. Though some critics didn’t agree with it winning Best Picture, I’m with  Stephen Spielberg, another fan. He said it was the first movie he ever saw and it inspired his film career.  Since my mom’s generation, kids would say, “I’m goin’ run away and join the circus!” Swinging from a trapeze in sequins and feathers still looks pretty fun to me. 

Check out Sarasota’s Circus Legacy and Circus Museum here. Don’t miss the world’s largest model circus (see video) and special exhibits, like Circus and Suffragists

9) Lovers of Visionaries, Dreamers, and Muses

John was one of eight children of a German immigrant. Mabel grew up in a small farming community in a family of eight. John began in a small circus as a clown. 

After making his fortune, he bought Saint Armand’s Key to develop it into a center for shopping, restaurants, and art. Though the Great Depression deferred his dream, it was fulfilled later by others. Today his statue overlooks Saint Armand’s Circle, a global destination. Here statues he donated to the city  transport visitors to other cultural centers, like Rome and Athens. Other plans he had for Sarasota were thwarted by the times, such as a residence for a U.S. President and a Ritz-Carlton on Longboat Key. The statues today in The Ringing Art Museum Courtyard had been purchased for the hotel.  One thing is for sure. He shared his love for mythology and was a muse and myth maker himself.

St. Armands Circle

10) Lovers of Photos Ops

If you are vacationing with teens and they aren’t convinced yet to do The Ringling, tell them it’s Instagram heaven. You can also book professional  portraits  here. 



Until you can visit in person, virtual options are here:

Valentine Celebration

Spring Break Treat April 1–my favorite artist on the Big Screen here.

Florida’s Cultural Coast: Part 1

Part 2




Downton Abbey exhibit at Biltmore with blogger Cindy McCain

Downton Abbey Exhibit at Biltmore


Fans have until April 7, 2020 to still enjoy Downton Abbey: The Exhibition at Biltmore. Unlike Glamour on Board: Fashion from Titanic the Movie, costumes are not displayed throughout the mansion for context. The Exhibition is housed at  Amherst at Deerpark and The Biltmore Legacy at Antler Hill Village where you can enjoy a complimentary glass of wine at the estate’s winery. Entrance to the Exhibition is included with a daytime admission ticket or an overnight stay that includes daytime admission.  Allow extra time if you plan to tour the mansion, gardens, and two Downton Abbey exhibit locations.






History, Romance, Elegance



I’m not a romantic, but even I concede that the heart does not exist solely for the purpose to pump blood.–Dowager Countess



In my opinion, to misquote Doctor Johnson, if you’re tired of style, you are tired of life.
Carson, Downton Abbey, Season 3











Aren’t we the lucky ones to have loved.
Isobel Crawley, Downton Abbey, Season 4






The Estate, Beautiful in Any Season

My son, Cole, and daughter, Taylor, had never been to Biltmore.  We were in Asheville celebrating his birthday and made a stop at the Vanderbilt home, one of my favorite US destinations, and Cole was glad we did. Here’s a few photos from our tour. See MANY MORE from my previous visit here and here.



My favorite chimney

All I need is a book.




Biltmore His Lordship and Her Ladyship shirts
Gifts for Father’s Day and Mother’s Day

LOVE these guys and the view



Thank you, Biltmore, for another amazing visit. As always, the opinions here are my own.

48 Hours of Marrakesh Magic

48 Hours of Marrakesh Magic

Updated on May 7, 2023

Traveling in the company of those we love is home in motion.

— Leigh Hunt, English Romantic poet and critic

I adore Europe, but it turns out after living two years in Morocco,  that Africa is my second home.  I found more beauty, adventure, and relationships (especially in Marrakesh) — the three things I seek most in life —than I ever imagined.  Sharing this place with my children, my friend, Moni, and former students was a privilege I’ll never forget.  Likewise,  I was thrilled when my niece, Emily, and Andres stopped by for a couple of days after Emily’s work trip to Turkey and some time in Italy. If you’re in Europe and want a taste of Morocco, 48 hours in Marrakesh can be an unforgettable experience. 

For $45- $100 roundtrip on RyanAir, you can fly to Marrakesh from Milan, Rome, Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, London, and many other European cities.  (Arriving on a one-way ticket from one European city, then departing to another is a way to see more,  but note that you will pay for all baggage above the size of the smaller-that-standard carryon allowed for free.) If you have the time, in Marrakesh you can relax by pools at regal resorts and riads (many featured on this blog), take cooking classes, or volunteer.  You can also do excursions to  Essaouira, the Atlas Mountains, the Sahara Desert, Chefchouen, Agadir, or Casablanca.  But even if you have only two days, the trip is worth it because you will definitely experience some Marrakesh magic.

Here’s what these two did with 48 hours in Marrakesh …

Andres, Cindy, and Emily at Marrakesh airport
Andres and Emily made a quick trip from Italy to visit me in Marrakesh. For an expat, nothing is better than when family stops by!

Arrival Day

After dropping off bags at my apartment, we were joined by my artist friend, Jon, who walked with us to the medina where we had lunch at my favorite daytime restaurant with a rooftop view of the Koutoubia Mosque.

The Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech
The Koutoubia Mosque, located in Marrakesh’s Djemaa el Fna Square, is the largest mosque in Marrakesh, Morocco.

Emily is a textile designer, so our first mission was checking out intricate tile patterns and woodwork  and shopping.

The Ensemble Artisanal (see gorgeous entrance below) sets the standard for the highest authentic, quality goods made by the superior local artisans selected to work there.  Here you can see them working and teaching apprentices, and it’s a great place to check out fair pricing before bargaining in the souks.

Emily Salgado and Cindy McCain at Artisinal Ensembel Marrakesh
The entrance of the Artisianl Ensemble is a popular photo opp. Here you can find fair prices for Moroccan-made goods and know that what you buy goes to the artists.
Artisinale Ensemble
Emily and Andres Salgado
Emily is a textile designer. She has traveled to India, China, Turkey, and many other locations for inspiration, something Marrakesh is known for.
Emily Salgado, a textile designer, purchased goods at the Marrakesh Artisinale Ensemble.
The workmanship here is top quality.

El Badi Palace

Giant storks greeted us as we entered the remains of El Badi Palace.  Began in 1578 by Arab Saadian Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur, the complex, built with ransom money from the Portuguese after the Battle of the Three Kings, exhibits the architecture of the Saadian Period. For tour times and more information, go here.

storks at El Badi Palace Marrakesh
Storks make their home at El Badi Palace.
El Badi Palace
Two artists, Jon Womack, and Emily Salgoad, marvel at El Badi Palace ruins
El Badi Palace
El Badi Palace

Bahia Palace

My first official outing in Marrakesh was a tour organized by my school of the Jewish Quarter and Bahia Palace.  I never tire of its quiet, cool grandeur.

Emily Salgado takes photos at El Bahia palace
Intricate designs at El Bahia Palace
Emily Salgado at Bahia Palace
Andres Salgado takes photos of Emily.
Andres and Emily Salgado at El Bahia Palace
El Bahia Palace makes a dramatic backdrop for a beautiful couple.
souk shopping in Marrakesh
Photo by Jon Wommack
Shopping for a wedding blanket in souks of Marrakesh
We bargained later with Jon’s friend in the souks and then he served mint tea, two rites of passage.

Jemma el Fna Square

Andres Salgado at Jemma el Fna Square
Andres got a deal on a fez for his dad, and we had sodas and more mint tea while watching the snake charming below.
snake charmer at Jemma el Fna Square Marrakesh
I take my photos from the rooftop bar to avoid having a snake draped around my neck.
snake charmers at Jemma el Fna Square
Watch where you step!
snakes at El Jemma el Fna Square
Tourists and locals gather to see the snakes.
Andres and Emily Salgado at Cindy McCain's Moroccan apartment
Too tired to go out, we ordered in the first night.  Seeing these two smiling on my couch made me happy.

Full Day

On their only full day during their 48 hours in Marrakesh, they got up early for two must-sees, Jardin Marjorelle

Jardin Majorelle
Jardin Majorelle is a must-see, must-get-photos iconic landmark in Marrakesh.

and Ben Youseff Madrasa,  visual feasts,  did some more souk shopping, and had  massages and hammams, Marrakesh’s signature pleasure.   We celebrated our last night together at Pepe Nero, former palace of the “Lord of the Atlas.”

Emily and Andres Salgado at Pepe Nero
Emily and Andres Salgado at Pepe Nero
Pepe Nero
Emily took a photos from the second-story apartments at Pepe Nero.
Server pouring tea at Pepe Nero
Our server was great. Here he is pouring tea the Moroccan way at Pepe Nero.
Emily Salgado at Pepe Nero

Cindy McCain with Emily and Andres Salgado at Pepe Nero


No trip to Marrakesh is complete without hanging out with local friends at a riad, the traditional style of home in which all doors and windows open to an inner courtyard with a fountain and/or pool.   My friend, Kate, arranged a riad rooftop breakfast for us at the location she managed,  Riad Mur AKush.  The November weather was perfect for a panoramic view of the medina. Mustafa’s morning music ended their 48 hours in Marrakesh on a high note.

Breakfast at Riad Mur Akush Marrakesh
Breakfast at Riad Mur Akush Marrakesh
Mustapha plays music at Riad Mur Akush
Mustapha provides brunch music
Live music at Riad Mur Akush
Relaxing at Riad Mur Akush

Palmeraie Camel Ride

Though Emily and Andres had a 3 PM flight to catch, Ismail, my driver, hooked us up for an hour-long camel ride after breakfast in the Palmeraie on the way to the airport.   It was Andres’ first time on a camel, and he had a big time.  They felt the Marrakesh Magic, and having them there, was a double dose of magic for me, too.