Our plan for our first full day was to spend it in Habana Vieja.
Habana Vieja is the older part of the city. This area is peppered with so many architecturally stunning buildings on narrow streets. Some research beforehand revealed that there is 500 years of history in Havana, which yielded over 900 buildings with historical significance in this one span of the city! THAT’S A LOT OF HISTORY!
We woke and opened the shutters to reveal a perfect sunny day. Wow, what a sight! We rushed to get ready, we were all starving for breakfast. There was a small cafe in Habana Vieja that we were heading towards. Our walk over to this area, the same as last night, was beautiful. The sights …of the people hanging out on the plaza, the vintage cars lined up in front of the Revolution Museum, and side streets glimmering with children playing at the local parks. It was spectacular. It felt familiar and welcoming.
If we had only gotten to Cuba earlier to experience this first!
The typical Cuban breakfast consists of coffee, juice, toasted bread, fruit, and eggs. The coffee, everywhere, is super strong! We loved it. The juices that is offered are normally of the exotic fruits available on the island, like guava or papaya. The only thing is, well, the flavor of some of these fruits was, well, not so good. Nor were some of them really considered juice. More like a gelatinous consistency-which most mornings made me want to run away. Needless to say, I ate a lot of toast and drank a ton of coffee in the mornings.
It’s just interesting how most of the fruit was strange. Except the bananas, those were great. Over the whole week we had tasted pineapple, watermelon, mango, papaya, guava and other melons, but they just had off tastes or textures. Not typical for the Caribbean. The breads they offered as toast are traditional; one is a more European style bread and the other is a soft sweeter bun. When you eat at your casa particular it is quite the experience. The base of the meal is the same but they add in so many elements, it’s like a feast! Which I will talk about when we go to our next house.
After breakfast, we took off on our walking tour of Habana Vieja. We started off checking out the Paseo del Prado to browse the artists set up in the middle of the boulevard. The vintage cars whipping by along the boulevard is something spectacular. It felt like we were stuck in time, but with a modern twist. The art scene is as eclectic as the people. There were realist painters, Afro-Cuban paintings, up-cycled artists, traditional souvenir paintings, just so much! The boulevard was beautiful, as well, with multi-colored granite bricks flanked with built in benches and urns. The Prado went from the ocean side (where our apartment building was) to Neptuno.
From there it crossed over to Paseo Marti, where we walked through their Central Park. We realized how close we were to Obispo Street where the Bar Floridita (aka El Floridita, or, Floridita) was located. The Floridita is known for their daiquiris, so it was a spot I had to check out. BUT, yes, this is also the bar Hemingway was known to hangout. Well, he loved this bar during his stay in Havana, and it is basically dedicated to the writer!! There are photographs of Hemingway and a life-sized bronze statue of him standing at the end of the bar. It’s quite the homage.
We walked over to the Floridita at the same time as what seemed to be a tour group from a cruise liner arriving… HOLY THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE! We walked in, well, shuffled in. There was a live band, who were incredible! We made it through the crowds all the way to the dining area that was roped off. This is when I took this video of all the daiquiris being made… (drool).
We wanted to chill out at the bar, but while looking around at the sea of heads filing in behind us, we realized it was just too packed. Then decided to head back later in the afternoon.
We walked back through Central Park where we checked out some vintage car tours, as we saw the Hotel Inglaterra. Our desires for daiquiris were strong, and this hotel had a lot of history that we researched beforehand, so we decided to go there for a little lunch and rum! The place was hopping. We opted to chill inside their swanky lobby until a table opened up. The interior felt like it hadn’t changed much over time. We sat on an avocado green velvet settee next to fringed lamps and old world artwork. I loved it!
The wait for a table was about five minutes. Score! We got to sit at the right end of the outdoor seating area. They also had a great band playing. The salsa music was so much fun! You can’t help but dance along wherever you go in Cuba. We stayed at this restaurant for a long bit. We got to relax looking towards the park as we ate some dishes and had a few daiquiris and mojitos. It felt so great to be there. Just like I imagined Cuba to feel. Once we got the check, we then went to explore the city some more.
We walked down the Boulevard de San Rafael towards the commercial shopping. The road was under construction so it was hard to walk around. There managed to be a small strip of concrete in the middle to walk, but with cars coming by and other pedestrians it was difficult. We walked about five blocks then turned up Galiano to Barcelona streets towards Il Capitolio. Their Capital. Their national capital is the most visited location in all of Havana. It was under construction at the time, but the building was still mostly visible. There is a striking resemblance to our State Building in DC!! Though this is a high traffic area and official, the area was pretty run down around it. It was surreal to see a grouping of apartment buildings with tattered exteriors. Most had laundry hanging out, literally fifty feet from Il Capitolio. Something we would never find most anywhere else.
After we walked around for these few hours, we decided it was time to make it back to El Floridita! YES! DAIQUIRIS! (Between vintage cars and daiquiris, I was pretty happy in Cuba.) We walked back into the bar to find that it had cleared out quite a bit. So much so, that we got to snag the four stools by the Hemingway statue! What a score! And what amazing drinks. Woo. Seriously. We stayed for two rounds of daiquiris, and two rounds of frozen lemonades for the chicas. The drinks came with warm fried plantains. Man, they were so crispy and salty, and goooOOood!
After hanging out at El Floridita for a while, we started on our second half of the day. We trekked back to the Prado, then down O’Reilly Street towards the lower part of Obispo and the waterfront. This half of our day was spectacularly fun! Every stop was historic. Every turn was beaming with people and color. Like this.
Walking the streets of Cuba is fun. You walk by such eclectic buildings and alleys, only to find a gem in the rough. We were walking on this obscure street then happened upon this modern meditation space and bird sanctuary where you could sit on benches, sit at a table or use the bathrooms (for free). Most bathrooms in Havana charge one CUC to use the facilities. It was a little slice of zen in a hectic place.
We left the modern space for the Plaza Vieja, Old Town Square. Plaza Vieja is so colorful in person. This square was built in 1559 for the military, later it turned into a marketplace. Now it is a trendy spot with a microbrewery, artisans, a school and a hangout for tourists. It has a big fountain in the middle of the building. A beautiful place to take a stroll. Below is a 380 degree view of the Plaza Vieja.
At this point we had been walking for some time, and took a quick stop at the al Pirata heladeria on San Ignacio Street. It was a great stop not only because the ice cream shop was pirate themed, but there was a great art store across the way that I ran to while everyone was ordering. I bought my first souvenir of the trip in there! A handmade thread wrapped necklace in a brilliant electric blue..so cool! I like to buy unusual jewelry or unique local items as souvenirs.
From this stop we walked towards the Catedral de San Cristóbal as we were finishing our ice creams; which was in a big plaza. So many architectural sights and colors. In this plaza I finally saw the Santeria women I had read about. Santeria is a uniquely Afro-Cuban religion that developed in Cuba. It is drenched in African folk roots with some aspects of Catholic beliefs. It’s like they believe in Saints and voodoo/witchcraft. The women of Santeria stand out around the city. They walk around in full on white lace ruffled dresses, head wraps and beads; even as young women. They offer services like readings, sacrifices (animal) and things like that.
From this plaza we walked towards the Plaza des Armas. This area was so vibrant with people. We walked into the park to find a large Mariachi band playing to a dancing group of people. They were great, that we all started dancing. From the band we walked towards a group of women who are know for dressing up in Carmen Miranda-like outfits waiting to take photos with the tourists. Well, we loved these girls!! They were all into us being from America, talking about what they do and kissing my husband’s face…a lot! haha We posed together, and took a cute photo. For 3 CUC, per woman, of course.
We were able to hang out in this plaza for some time. Across the street was the Castillo de la Real Fuerza, and we wanted to check it out. It was a cool fortress lined with canons, one canon was so big we couldn’t get it to fit in a photo with all of us. After a walk through, we decided to take a rest on the Malecon! This is a 5-mile stone embankment along the ocean, very popular with locals and tourists alike. Where we sat was a perfect view of the Cristo de La Habana, a replica of the Jesus Christ statue of Rio. It was a great place to take a rest. The view. The sounds of the ocean lapping as the breezes were blowing made was perfect!
The sun was starting to set as we sat along the Malecon. Since we walked around for most of the day, we decided to walk back to our apartment for a little wind down to refresh before heading out for the night. It was just what we needed. We got to soak up our view on the balcony a little while and talk to our families and friends (with the free wifi in the apartment!).
We were all looking forward to our dinner reservations this night. We made reservations at the restaurant 304 O’Reilly. This restaurant was on O’Reilly street, at number 304…I’m pointing this out because this is the way they title businesses, after their street address, in communism countries.
As far as our research on this place guided us, all we knew was it was a trendy gin bar owned by two brothers and the food was supposed to be great..and it was! It was so much more fun than we could’ve ever expected. Inside this restaurant we could escape the hustle and craziness of the Old Havana city streets to enjoy a quality meal with great service. We walked in to find the house packed to the brim. The sounds of happy people laughing and enjoying their environment is the first thing we notice.
We got seated upstairs, which was a lot of fun. The kitchen was set up upstairs with us, which we could see through the pickup windows. It was a HoPpInG! Our server was so great, spoke English beautifully and waited on us like no where else we had on this trip yet. We started off with a round of drinks..a sangria for me, a mojito for my husband, a frozen lemonade for our youngest and a virgin pina colada for our oldest. These were their drinks of choice this whole trip, FYI. The drinks were spectacular..in sight and taste. I still can’t get over the ornate decorations of the drinks. Not just ours, but at everyone’s tables. Then we ordered the three empanadas appetizer, which came with one of each: chicken, ham and olive, and crab. This was served with a sweet sauce that knocked my socks off. This was a great start to the night and our meal.
Service is slow everywhere in Cuba, that is a fact. So meals usually last anywhere from a short hour to two hours. This night we were at the restaurant for a few hours. We had so much fun; and apparently the other patrons thought so too as they were all there as long as we were, if not longer.
We proceeded to order. Funny enough, after trying to figure out what we would like, my husband, our oldest daughter and myself all ordered tacos, and our youngest got the chicken pasta. WHICH her dish was humungous and not the best choice ..being in Cuba and all. Pasta is not their strong suit. Where our daughter figured an Italian inspired dish, it was creole spiced. It was good, believe me, but it is like seeing a glass of Sprite but when you drink it the drink is actually water. Just not what you expect.
We left 304 O’Reilly full and happy. Also, walking towards the heladaria from last night. YES, ICE CREAM TWICE IN A DAY! Well, not for me, but my husband and girls. I swear to you when I say they love ice cream. I mean, I do too, but they really do! This time they tried different flavors, and we walked eating the ice creams rather than hanging out inside the shop. It was so packed this night, which was great to see.
We walked around a bit, but were spent from an entire day walking so we decided to head back to the apartment to relax ..or crash! I think this day I clocked 20K plus steps.
My review of the day.
It was a great day, overall. What I have seen of Havana thus far is complex. I am so glad we got to spend this whole day in Habana Vieja to learn some history and there is so much beauty around. At every turn I would find myself enamored by what I was seeing, but also immensely saddened. Many times walking around I would be standing alone in a place that has been lost in time, and space, wondering if there was something great coming for this beautiful city. Was I standing in the pathway of a rebirth? Or was this the destiny for Havana, to be in ruins? I am not sure, and I am hoping that I was lucky enough to see this moment in 2019 as a starting point for this city to make a great turn into the city I see it to be. A great beacon of light.
Next Cuba post will be Day 3– We move onto another area of Havana, but first make a full day trip to Viñales.
Out of all the places we have visited, this trip to Cuba is the one generating the most excitement from everyone. The number one question we have received, after being asked to bring back cigars and rum, is “Is it easy for us (US citizens) to travel there?”.
Not terribly difficult, but, US citizens do have travel restrictions.
Even though President Obama lifted trade restrictions and gave US citizens ease to travel to Cuba in 2014, President Trump enforced some additional rules in 2017. These laws are enforced by the US not Cuba, and they aren’t difficult rules to follow. BUT they are laws that you have to adhere to if you want to travel with ease and not have your trip come up in five years to haunt you. (It’s a communist country, after all.)
Here are some of the US laws you will need to adhere to for a successful Cuba trip.
✓ You must acquire a travel visa/tourist card for yourself and anyone traveling with you to enter the country. It is a paper card that must be kept with your passport till you return home. This can be obtained through your airline as you physically check in for your flight or online. Prices vary airline to airline.
Our experience through JetBlue: We purchased the visas in person as we checked in for the flight. It took literally five minutes. As of February 2019, the cost of the visa through JetBlue is $50 per passenger.
✓ This coincides with the twelve acceptable categories to enter Cuba. You just have to declare your reason for your travel when you book your trip and any time someone asks you, which should fall under one of these categories
- Official business for the US government, foreign government and certain intergovernmental organizations
- Professional research
- Religious activities
- Public performances
- Support for the Cuban people (most people will fall under this)
- Humanitarian projects
- Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes
- Exportation, importation or transmission of information or informational materials
- Certain export transactions
- Educational activities and people to people travel
(obtained this list from Viahero.com)
✓ Cuban health insurance.
Our experience through JetBlue. When we booked our tickets we had paid additionally for taxes, fees and other charges that assisted us with this option. The additional costs were as follows per passenger:
- Cuban Health Insurance $25.00
- Passenger Services Airport Tax $25.00
- US Transportation tax (international) $37.20
- US Customs User Fee $5.77
- US Immigration User Fee $7.00
- US APHIS User Fee $3.96 (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service)
- US September 11 Security Fee $5.60
- US Passenger Facility Charge $4.50
✓ You have to have an actual itinerary to travel to Cuba (roughly 6-8 hours daily of interaction with the Cuban people). We are allowed to go, but no matter what the reason, we have to travel to sort of stimulate their economy by visiting/spending money in privately owned business of culture or agriculture (like a casa particular-family run B&B, paladar- family run restaurant, or farm). We are not able to stay or dine in government/state-run businesses. You don’t want to anyway, trust me.
Other points to know about Cuba…
Cubans love Americans. We found that everyone we talked with were interested to find out we were from America. Most were even ecstatic to find out we were from Boston, home of the Red Sox! Cubans LOVE baseball, and try to follow their Cuban players when they make it to the big leagues of America.
Cuban Money: You cannot use American credit cards or debit cards in Cuba, cash only. Cuba has a two currency system, Cuban Peso (CUP) and the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC). The CUP, is less valuable than the CUC. It is what the locals are paid by their government monthly; it has their government officials faces on them. The CUC is for tourist use and is printed with their national monuments on them. The best places to exchange your money are the airport when you land, or major hotels. All money has a tax to exchange it, but American money (USD) has an additional 10% tax added to the exchange. Which is high.
It’s a smart idea to exchange your money ahead of time from US Dollars to either Canadian Dollars or Euro before hopping on the airplane.
Not every Cuban hates their government. We had a few conversations that opened my eyes about how agreeable some Cuban people view their government. Even the younger generation.
WiFi: There is WiFi in Cuba, it was introduced years ago, but there are not many places to get it for free like there are in the States. There are three ways to get internet access: buy an ETECSA telecommunication card and stand in a park where they have access portals, in a casa particular or hotel. You will see a lot of people sitting or standing around the parks in Havana. It’s the only places you see the locals with their phones in their faces like home.
The internet is spotty and restricted, as it is controlled by the government, so try not to do anything that requires you to rely on its use. And remember they are a communist country and it’s their WiFi.
If you are lucky to have free WiFi at a casa particular or hotel, soak it up! We had it for the first three days of our trip, bought an ETESCA card for the rest of our time but it worked so horribly that we gave up and went off grid.
Which actually worked out great. I like disconnecting from the interwebs!
Cuban Food: Cuban food is typically simple and rustic. Its food roots are influenced by its Aboriginal, Spanish, African, and Caribbean inhabitants. At most restaurants you will find Cuban style sandwiches, entrees, drinks and cocktails. Most meals are still affected by the severe poverty that hit Cuba hard, and will consist of a protein like pork (cerdo), chicken (pollo), shrimp (camarones), fish (pescado), or beef (res); served with rice and beans or fried plantains or root vegetables. The rice and beans can be cooked separate or together (aka Moros y Cristianos- which are my personal favorite way to eat them!).
Here is an example of a menu we looked at in Varadero. You will notice a few things; this particular menu is written in Spanish and English, not always typical. The menu lists two prices (CUC/CUP). And there is a detail telling you what the dishes come with as a side (choice or rice with beans, or traditional rice and beans, and fried vegetable). And next to the menu is a photo of a typical dish (from a dfft restaurant).
We did eat at some pretty modern restaurants that offered nothing typical. I will share that in the coming posts.
Cuba is safe! A previous misconception that I had of Cuba was that I would have to be in fear for my family’s safety 24/7. I was wrong. Walking the streets, day or night, in the city, on the farm or at the beach , we never felt threatened. EVER. There is a lot of poverty throughout Cuba, especially in Havana, but even with the poverty, the people were wonderfully friendly, had pride and were immensely accommodating. Petty crimes, like pocket theft, do happen. But that happens everywhere across the globe.
FYI- be aware that the people in the city are trying hard to make money. This can come across as threatening to some tourists. They are in a constant state of what I called ‘the hustle’; meaning they will run up to tourists (friendly mannered) to convince them to dine, taxi or buy souvenirs at their or their friends’ places. If you turn them down politely they walk away.
Our Itinerary at a Glance
WHEN: February 2019; Cuba’s dry season and Winter.
The weather in Cuba’s Winter hovers around 75F-85F! Compared to Boston’s 30F-40F.
HOW LONG: 7 nights; Saturday to Saturday.
JetBlue has direct flights on Saturdays to Cuba from Boston; also, JetBlue has direct flights from most major US airports.
WHERE: We pulled together a list of what we wanted to do from all of the research (books, the internet, and travel shows).
- Take a ride in classic American cars, especially a pink convertible Cadillac!
- Visit Old Havana, the historic part of the city
- Check out the local cuisine in a paladar
- Stay in casa particulars
- Visit Revolution Square
- Bay of Pigs
- Visit the grand old hotels
- Shop the markets
- Drive to Hemingway’s house and/or bar hang out
- Go to a tobacco farm to learn how to roll cigars..and smoke’em 🙂
- Visit the Havana Club rum museum, and ..well, drink rum
- Take a horseback ride in the country
- Walk/drive the Malecon
- See the beach
Once we finalized this list, we looked at a map to figure out where to stay on the island. We chose to stay on the Western side, with hopes to go back to visit the Eastern side.
Day 1– Arrive in Havana
Day 2 – Habana Vieja (city)
Days 3 – Viñales (country)
Day 4 -Havana (city)
Day 5 -Havana (city)
Day 6 -Havana to Varadero (beach)
Day 7 – Varadero (beach)
Day 8- Varadero to Havana for departure
Next Cuba post will be an overview of our Day 1 – arrival and going out our first night.
The topic for this Top Ten Thursday is an easy one for me as we are so close to our big Winter vacation. Which is super awesome, I know, but also, a big brain drain as all I have been thinking about since our last getaway is this vacation. Being away…. Ahh, away. So …far, far…away. Sunshine. Daiquiris. Ahem, OK, let me get right to this list!
Here I thought to share some of my favorite traveling tips. The list can be used for almost all types of travel, intercontinental or international, really. So let’s go!
Valeria’s Top Ten Traveling Tips
- Copy and/or print ALL travel documents. In case you don’t have email access while away, or, anything gets lost, or, something happens to you. Have two copies of your documents. One copy stays at home in case of emergency and the other copy goes along with you, but separate from the actual documents. The documents to copy here are your passport photo page, travel visa, travel insurance, travel itinerary with hotel and car rental reservations and any pre-paid confirmations or anything else you can think of printing/copying. We like to take these along in a plastic envelope within our carry on so they are easy to grab if needed.
- Make a packing list. Let me start with I LOVE LISTS!! I like to keep organized, and lists are the best way for me to do that. A list also helps me realize what I need, and what to pick and choose, and, best of all it keeps me focused.
- Pack light. If your goal is to pack light, start with your list! Seeing all the items from your list together impacts your decision on what to bring before you take it out of your closets. It’s best to take travel sizes of anything you can, too. AND. Pre-plan your outfits. Clothes and shoes are the largest items most of us take away. My advice, pack smarter. Pull together outfits with interchangeable/repeatable pieces, lighter weighted materials and shoes, or one pieces like rompers or jumpsuits. Packing light actually worked out great for me in 2018. I gave myself a personal challenge to not check a bag, only to take a carry on and one large handbag, for every trip we took (and two of the trips were more than a week long)..and it was great. I didn’t feel like I was missing anything and yet it felt less stressful, somehow.
- ‘Where are we staying?‘ If you are anything like me, you may need some help remembering where you are staying after checking in. ESPECIALLY, if you are staying in an establishment that is in a neighborhood with many similar looking hotels that have similar sounding names. Which happens a lot when traveling abroad. My advice? Take a photo. Take a photo of the hotel front with the name of the hotel displayed. Take a photo of the closest cross street sign where the hotel is located. Or, take a photo of the address from one of the lobby brochures. It sounds crazy that I would need to do this, but you have no idea how many times it has saved me when we have left our paperwork in the room or my husband and I split up to go back to the room and I don’t have the info at hand to get back. ESPECIALLY, when all the roads look the same!
- Get lost! My husband and I travel a lot. In the 22 years we have been together we have gone from a couple traveling to a family of four traveling, and still to this day one of my favorite adventures is to get lost..intentionally. This all started when we went to Venice, Italy, in 2002, as newlyweds. What a beautiful city. But, the only drawback was the amount of people, namely tourists..haha. So, we decided to walk down an alleyway to another one, over a canal to another alleyway, and repeat, and repeat, till we felt disoriented and alone. We happened to find this great restaurant with local people hanging out. We got a prime table, ate some great food and drank beautiful wines, all as we were talking to our table neighbors about Venice’s history. It was from that night on we decided getting lost was our thing to do. Years have passed, we have gotten lost in some beautiful cities, and now in the era of smartphones, we can get lost but know how to get back to where we need to go with more ease.
- Talk to the locals! Take a second to learn some phrases to ask the locals about their hotspots. I am not saying to go up to complete strangers, well, I sort of am, but more like those folks you naturally will encounter along your trip.. i.e., a store clerk, front desk hotel assistant, waiter/waitress, taxi driver, patrons you sit next to at a coffee shop, etc.. They may even speak English. You would be amazed at how many people will give you great tips or advice. We have had such great experiences with people; like this one coming to mind now. A shop owner in Japan back in 2004, I asked for directions to an art gallery and he took me by the hand to walk down the street to it. We were smiling at each other while he was talking to me through my travel books. So, when he took my hand to walk me down the street, I was not surprised. He wanted to make sure I didn’t get lost..that I understood. And I was so thankful. There are some real selfless, and nice people out there. The more you talk to the locals, venture out to where they hang out, the more you learn their lifestyle.
- Always travel with cash. Travel revolves around money but it depends on where you go if you can get away with using a credit card the whole time or cash. In my experience, a lot of places are cash only, and other places I wouldn’t use a credit card. So, grab a money belt and plan on bringing enough currency to pay for anything you couldn’t book online beforehand and food/drinks.
- Plan for the unplanned. This covers so many turbulent aspects of travel. Just be flexible. Flexibility is key. Plans can cancel, people can flake or get sick, and the weather can change on a dime, just be prepared. Pack those extra underwear, grab that mini bottle of pain reliever, bring along playing cards, stash some granola bars along with your rain poncho. Also, as you are researching your destination, figure out what the area has to offer outside of what your itinerary entails in case your needs change. AND always pack these items in your carry on!
- Portable chargers, along with the cables for all of your family’s devices. I have saved myself lots of headaches from having a charger on hand. We got a set of chargers last year, that are life savers. They are by Ubio Labs, way cheaper this year than when we bought them. With one fully loaded charger it can load my iPhone four times. So you can imagine how handy they are for a family of four or when you forget to charge one overnight. They are slim and easy to charge. So slim that I normally carry both with two cables in a small-sized makeup bag in my purse.
- HAVE FUN! Take in the moments. Take in the sights right in front of you not through your camera. Watch the local kids playing in the park. Glance over at the elderly on their balconies gossiping. Sit for the local street band. Listen to the sounds that surround you. Look at the horizon. Savor the cuisine. Admire the couples. Take a minute to inhale the air, taste it, let it circulate your body. Let the beauty of travel sink in; you are somewhere special, and making sensory memories are way more important than your insta-memories.
Ah, what a fun list to pull together. But, I think I like number 10 the best. 🙂
What are some your favorite travel tips that you’d like to share? Let me know below or on FB!
This was our day to celebrate our 17th Anniversary away, and we reserved it to do absolutely nothing but hangout at the beach and eat. Boy, was this a big day. hahaha
This is our last full day in California. We departed the 12th day.
We started off by waking up as early as we could. Trying to get our kids back on a somewhat normal schedule as they return to school a day after we land. We got ourselves ready for a fun last day. We made two reservations for this day, breakfast at Duke’s La Jolla and dinner at George’s on the Cove.
Duke’s La Jolla was so much fun. Like, apart from the beautiful view from the deck of the ocean, the atmosphere, decor, the staff, just everything was enjoyable from walking in. Duke is the reason the world surfs. The most I know of him was from what I learned before going to the restaurant. He was a multi-medal olympian, a hero, the first son of Hawaii, and just seemed like a really nice man.
We got checked in but our table wasn’t ready yet, so we decided to grab a celebratory drink at the bar. My husband ordered a Duke’s mai-tai which came in a large glass tiki head cup. For me, a mimosa, which came in a boring champagne flute.. ha! And, for the girls, two chocolate milk shakes. The bartenders we spoke with were so nice, like more than normal, and we joked about being all from the East Coast. We had noticed a lot of people from California are actually not natives. By the time we drank a few sips, we got greeted for our seats. We were given a big half round booth on the deck. The view of the cove below, as we were high up on a cliff, was gorgeous.
When we got seated, we ordered another round of drinks for the adults, my husband really liked that tiki cup, then we ordered our breakfasts. He got the Onolicious French Toast with a side of fried rice. I ordered the Hawaiian Breakfast with bacon, and the girls each got the French toast, too. Absolutely amazing. We shared bites, talked a lot, looked over the rail a few times at the ocean, and enjoyed it all thoroughly. We thought this was by far our favorite meal of the trip. That fried rice was definitely the best thing ever. I mean, THE BEST!! Everything was fresh and cooked right. Also, the place was sparkling clean, which is always a good thing. It was such a great experience.
After breakfast, I stopped at the front to buy my husband that mai-tai tiki cup. They have a small store set up on the side of the waiting area. Since he liked one at Trader Sam’s in Disneyland that they had run out of, the HippopotoMai-Tai; well, I just couldn’t resist. Now we both have a tiki cup souvenir from this trip!
Once we left we took a quick drive to look at some of the cove sights again, then grab more drinks for the day before heading back to the hotel. We were all looking forward to laze around on the beach. And laze around I did. It was a super hot day, especially in the sun. So we grabbed umbrellas with our chairs and set up camp. And, I had done something I have never done before with my kids at the beach…. SLEEP!! Yup, I have never napped on the beach with my kids around. But this day, I cared two shiz less and left my husband to solely watch them, which isn’t that big of a job as the kids are very aware of their surroundings, swim like fish and play in the sand a lot. I mean, we half ass watch them when we are chilling out on the beach, so he had to use his full ass here really. 😉 haha With them supervised, I shut my eyes then immediately drifted off into a mimosa nap for a half hour. It was the most glorious thirty minutes of my life. hahah The hot sun, warm breezes, sounds of the waves, gah, it was the perfect place to nap. Which I never do. I should change that.
After a few hours at the beach, we decided to hop to the pool and hot tub before getting ready for dinner. It was real nice but short-lived as we had to get ready for dinner. I jumped up first, because I take the longest..then I have to get the girls set up with outfits, so it’s just best I shower first.
The sun was starting to set as we headed to George’s on the Cove, on the ocean terrace upstairs, for dinner. What a gorgeous view!! HOLY MOLY! The terrace over looks the cove from a huge cliff. We were not able to get a table for four at the glass railing, but one set in. Which worked out great. The menu at George’s is very eclectic and fun. I liked it a lot.
We were greeted with a Happy Anniversary right when we checked in, and everyone we saw knew it was our anniversary too. Super sweet. Our waiter was real nice. We started off with a round of drinks and with an app of homemade chips, guacamole and salsa. We ordered our dinner at our leisure, which was super. We ordered Kalbi skirt steak for me, braised short rib for my husband, shrimp tacos for our oldest and chicken tenders for our youngest.
The view from the table was perfect. The ocean was our horizon line and the sun setting was golden. Gah, just made for the perfect ambience. The breeze up there was chilly, so our girls were freezing, but as soon as food arrived they stopped complaining. I think also the breezes changed direction. Our meals were fantastic. We each shared our dishes with one another, and thought no one had one dish better than the other. Even the chicken tenders were the most delicious tenders we had ever had. At the end of our meal, the waiter gave us a gift!! Can you believe that!?!?! They gave us two bottles of olive oil from our favorite organic olive oil company. Which was ironic and so awesome, and thoughtful!
After dinner we went back to the hotel. As we were driving back we decided to park the car then take a walk over to the town to grab a sundae. It was about a five-minute walk. We went by a few cute shops in that town area. Super cute area filled with quaint shops and restaurants. Perfect beach town. We ended up stopping at this cute ice cream shop, Scoops. This place is known for its natural ice cream and ingredients. They catered to a lot of dietary allergies / vegan lifestyle. Which vegan items, if you are unfamiliar, often times contain rice or nut based products, like cashew or almond as alternatives to conventional/non-vegan products like cow’s milk or eggs..just FYI. Our oldest daughter has an all nut allergy so we are constantly asking ingredient lists wherever we go. They clearly list everything vegan, however. We got some interesting flavors.. peanut butter marshmallow crunch sundae (for me), honeycomb (for my husband), salted caramel (our oldest), and, of course, chocolate (for our youngest). We had a nice time eating our ‘sundaes’ on the street seating. They had a very nice set up outside. Ok, I do have a tiny complaint about Scoops. The place was beautiful, clean, great flavors, and if I lived in the area I’d probably go back. But not for sundaes. I don’t know if you caught my quotations there around sundae. They didn’t actually serve hot fudge!! They have listed chocolate sauce, so you read that and scratch your noggin like, ‘what?’. Sundaes is about two things, not even the ice cream so much as it’s about whipped cream and hot fudge! Bahh!
Well. By the time we had finished our chocolate syrup sundaes we saw that it was real late and headed back to the hotel. We had to be at the airport by mid morning the next day, and still had a lot to pack up in the room; and by we, I mean me getting everyone packed before it was time to hit the hay.
Our last day… Day 12!
Well, this is a bummer to type out, though it was a pretty great last day.
We were all packed up, dolled up and out of the hotel early to grab a bite before heading to the airport. Luckily, we were located about 15 minutes from the airport and our plane was not taking off till early afternoon. So we had some time. Which was a huge bonus, as this meant we could literally go anywhere in the area before heading over to drop off the rental.
We had planned to eat breakfast at Richard Walker’s Pancake House. We actually went. Sat down. Ordered drinks. Got to talking with the waiter, got up and left. They use peanut oil in their pans, for every dish. We couldn’t eat there. Thankfully we asked about how they deal with food allergies because their peanut oil use was not listed on the menu. So important to ask!! So, a bit deflated we couldn’t get apple pancakes, we opted to go to a bakery we had heard about, Sugar and Scribe.
Holy wow, guys! This place was unbelievable. First, just the aesthetics, it was beautiful. Rustic, welcoming; the aroma of coffee mixing with the pastries is what I figure heaven smells like. The pastry displays were so beautiful, they challenge some of the boulangeries I had seen in Paris. That is how beautiful the pastry work appeared. We grabbed some coffees, waters, an apple turnover, a chocolate ganache cromuffin, a prosciutto cheddar croissant, and a pistachio croissant. It may have been the most delicious pastries we have eaten..and we have been around, folks! (Dear Sugar and Scribe, Please open up here in my town. TYVM, Fat Me)
We wished we could stay in that bakery all day, but we had to get going! We had a car to drop off and a plane back home to catch!
The San Diego airport was so pretty, and not hectic as I had figured. We landed in LAX, which we had been to many times, and is just crazy all day every day, especially compared to this place. We boarded on time and the flight home was seamless. Our girls sat together again on this trip home, which was a huge bonus. Well, the big bonus was that we got home almost an hour earlier!! YES AN HOUR!! Sometimes those airstreams work in your favor, girl!
We got picked up by grandma, and walkd into the house and let out that huge sigh. You know, that sigh of relief that you are finally home. Home always feels so good. 🙂