California Dreamin’

As I mentioned in my End-Of-2016 post, 2017 is already shaping up to be quite the travel year. I couldn’t be happier about it. What better way to start the year than with a trip to California? Cue my friend Sara who would always argue that “the West Coast is the best coast.” I debated with her all through grad school but being in California for 11 days and loving every second makes my argument tough to defend these days…

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On the 4th of January, I boarded a plane to LA for a work trip to the Golden Globe Awards. This is the event of the year for my team and we started planning back in July. Seriously, that’s when I booked my plane ticket (on JetBlue for super cheap I may add.) Lindt Chocolate USA is the Official Confection Sponsor of the Globes and as such, we have a variety of activations, both before and on the day of the awards show. Things like special chocolate boxes on the tables for all of the celebrities, a live sampling booth in the lounge off of the ballroom where the show is taking place, and a booth/bar at the Weinstein-Netflix After Party.

My boss, Chandra, and I rented gorgeous rose gold Badgley Mischka dresses from Rent the Runway for the event and felt right at home with the stars. Along with our two Master Chocolatiers, CEO, Lindt team members and bloggers, our chocolate was quite the hit. We chatted with celebs, sampled thousands (and thousands!) of truffles and chocolate bars and even walked the Red Carpet.

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Lindt Team in the Golden Globes ballroom lounge
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The entire Lindt Team at the Weinstein-Netflix After Party

As a longtime Pretty Little Liars fan (anyone else??), one of the major highlights of the night was working with Shay Mitchell (who plays Emily in the show). As our celebrity partner, she took photos before and during the after party and was just an all-around down-to-earth, super sweet person. She even took a Snapchat video with myself and Chandra in it (…dying) and then we took a PLL “shush” picture with her (…more dying). I managed to keep it together pretty well even though the fangirl in me was screaming on the inside.

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Shay Mitchell + Me = Instant BFFs

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After a killer showing at the Golden Globes, the Lindt team flew home on Monday morning and left me behind. Kidding! Kind of. I did stay behind and Sean flew in for a 6-day California vacation. This was the first time in our almost 5 years together that we found ourselves in Cali at the same time. I’ve gone for work twice and Sean for work 5 or 6 times but this was the first opportunity we were able to connect on the west coast. We hit the ground running just hours after Sean’s plane landed and jam-packed our week with things to do, things to see, and PLENTY of beer.

Also pertinent to note that on this trip prior to Sean flying in my team was able to do some fun things, like go to a Laker Game at the Staples Center and eat phenomenal food. We stayed at the Mondrian Hotel in West Hollywood. It was swanky and upscale, although not as fancy as some of the hotels in other parts of LA, but I loved the feel and vibe of the place. Their Skybar and Ivory on Sunset restaurant are both winners. A group of us also dined at Del Frisco’s right on the Santa Monica pier. It had a stellar wine list and delicious salmon. I’d love to spend more time in that area on my next trip to Cali.

Los Angeles

On Monday, I checked out of The Mondrian just after noon and took an Uber up to Burbank to check in our hotel, The Tangerine. This place was essentially a glorified motel but it was cute and clean, the staff was friendly, and it was definitely a good budget find at under $150 a night with tax included. Since Sean’s flight was delayed, I had time to take a quick nap. Before I knew it, he had arrived with our rental car and we were off on a 10-minute walk over to Warner Brothers Studios for their studio tour. It was an absolute blast. Being such a huge aforementioned Pretty Little Liars fan, the first part of the tour was a stroll through “Smalltown, USA” better known as Rosewood (from PLL) and Stars Hollow for you Gilmore Girls fans out there. I was pretty much having a meltdown being in both places at once from shows that I’ve been watching for years.

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Welcome to Stars Hollow AND Rosewood!
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Rosewood High School… Not freaking out, not freaking out…
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Anyone recognize this house?

Also on the tour is a walk through their gigantic prop house, as well as an archive of Marvel and Harry Potter costumes and memorabilia. The Harry Potter nerd in me was so excited to see the Triwizard Cup, Golden Snitch, the Marauder’s Map, and even the Privet Drive fireplace complete with Harry’s Hogwarts letters. There’s also an entire interactive exhibit at the end of the tour which includes a lesson on the mechanics of flying a broomstick, a display of awards trophies, and the chance to ride a broomstick or drive a bat mobile motorcycle (which we obviously did.) Needless to say, we had a blast.

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On the “Friends” Central Perk set!

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Can I keep this?

That night, we grabbed dinner at a great little sushi place called Gindi Thai right down the street from our hotel. It was some of the best sushi I’ve ever eaten. Even though it was early when we finished dinner, I was practically falling asleep at the table. When we got back to the hotel, I was passed out by 8pm and slept for 12 hours. In the morning, we checked out of our hotel and got breakfast at a super cute eatery called Olive & Thyme. The Eggs Benedict was super yummy – Sean and I both had it – and he ordered a mocha that I was seriously jealous of. Just look how pretty!

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The weather wasn’t great that morning but we took a chance and drove up to the Griffith Observatory; the same place they filmed “La La Land”. The view was all fog, but we still enjoyed walking around and just being there together. I even got Sean to do a few “La La Land” inspired dance moves so it wasn’t a total waste.

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Since we had some time to kill before heading down to Anaheim for the second part of our trip, we decided to be extra tourist-y and visit Hollywood proper for the Walk of Fame and Chinese Theater. I got to see it last year when I stayed at the Roosevelt Hotel right on the walk, but since Sean hadn’t, we spent some time walking up and down, seeing some of our favorite celebs’ stars and tracking down David Bowie and Debbie Reynolds, who surprisingly were just a few stars apart.

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There’s also a Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum . I hadn’t been to one since a family trip to London years back and Sean went to the one in Vegas. We were told that this particular museum is completely interactive so we thought, what the heck? Inside, we were like kids on a playground, taking pictures with the celebrity statues and having some seriously ridiculous fun.

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I think Betty White was the MOST convincing figure in the wax museum
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This photo wins though…

Anaheim

After we were done goofing around in LA, we figured we should probably hit the road to Anaheim to make sure we had plenty of time to find the hotel and get ready for the night. The drive was a little grey starting out but the sun eventually broke through and I made it a point to blare the “La La Land” soundtrack as we drove out of Los Angeles.

We arrived at the Cortona Inn & Suites (which wasn’t all that luxurious but was a clean, inexpensive room that we knew we wouldn’t spend much time in anyway) and immediately got ready to head right back out. The first stop on the agenda was a local brewery, Noble Ale Works. Sean, as usual, got a flight and I started with one of their lighter beers before finding my favorite in their Pistol Whip’d Pilsner.

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After the brewery, we got an Uber to get dinner before attending an Anaheim Ducks hockey game. We made reservations at J.T. Schmid’s just across the street from the Honda Center. The atmosphere here was relaxed and casual; they even had a Bruins game playing on one of the TVs. Sean had a BBQ chicken flatbread pizza (which I was jealous I didn’t order) and I had fish tacos, which were good but not nearly as good as the flatbread.

We then headed across the street to the Honda Center for the game. Sean was extra excited because it was his first time in another team’s arena. The Ducks weren’t playing the Bruins but we had fun cheering them on against the Dallas Stars and listening to their hilarious fans all night. They heckled the Stars’ goalie for the entire game, used actual duck calls (like the one Sean uses for hunting) and there was a decent amount of quacking too. The Ducks won, our seats were great and overall, it was a successful first day in Anaheim.

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DUCKS WIN!!

We got up early the next day for our first of two days at Disneyland. I don’t think either of us could’ve been more excited. There was rain in the forecast so we packed our rain jackets and stuffed my sister’s Minnie backpack with extra layers and snacks.

The included breakfast at the hotel was terrible so we opted for Starbucks in Downtown Disney before heading into the actual park. When the Uber dropped us off, we went through security and I practically skipped into Downtown I was so happy. Finally fueled by good coffee, we walked through my favorite World of Disney store before taking our tickets through the entrance of the park. I had Minnie Ears from a trip to Disney World in Florida a few years back and spent a good amount of the day trying to convince Sean to get a Mickey Ear hat to wear with me. (It didn’t happen.)

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I couldn’t get him to buy Mickey Ears, but I was satisfied with this.

Being January, we assumed that the park would be empty, and while it was much much slower than usual, I’d say the crowd was more on the moderate side. It sprinkled for a bit just as the park opened and we sprinted to Hyper Space Mountain for our first ride. And good thing too because that line got long fast. Eventually the clouds passed and the sun came out, and we spent the entire day literally running around the park getting in every single ride we wanted to, some more than once. Never in my years and years of going to Disney World in Florida was I ever able to ride Splash Mountain three times in one day, but in Disneyland in January, we could practically walk onto the ride. I let Sean take the reins in terms of the schedule and figuring out what made the most sense with our fast passes, and he made sure no second was wasted in that park. We ended the day in Downtown Disney at an open-air bar with a beer and a glass of wine. Oh, and almost 30,000 FitBit steps!

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Can’t take us anywhere…
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First Dole Whips!

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The next day, we were up early to do it all again at California Adventure! This time, however, we were in for some rain. Actually A LOT of rain. It poured on and off all day which made it challenging to get on some of the rides at first (like the California Screamin’ roller coaster.) Somehow though, it all worked out. Just like the day before, we were able to ride all of the rides we wanted multiple times and there were even fewer people in California Adventure than the previous day in the main park. Plus, California Adventure has beer, so you know we took advantage of that. Beer + a cheesy pretzel + a dry bench overlooking the harbor + your husband is not a bad way to wait out a rain storm. We did get stuck on the Cars ride in the pouring rain which was slightly terrifying when your car slows way down and you’re still riding along the outside track with very steep turns, but hey, it’s an experience, right?

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When we got home that night, we were both soaked through and freezing, but for the fun we had it was worth it. I climbed into bed with a glass of wine and half of this Sprinkles cupcake – not a bad way to end two incredible days in Disney.

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Side note: I don’t care what anyone says about January being a terrible month to go to Disneyland. No the weather isn’t perfect, but I’d take rain and no lines over sunshine with packed crowds and long wait times any day!

San Diego

We let ourselves sleep in a little bit on Friday morning. We were both completely exhausted from the past two days and ready for a day of trying as much California beer as humanly possible. The drive from Anaheim to San Diego itself was smooth sailing with hardly any traffic and Sean drove the coastline so I could get my first real glimpse of the Pacific Ocean.

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Before getting into San Diego, we took a pitstop in Escondido to visit a brewery that Sean has been obsessing over for years – Stone Brewing. It was tucked into the side of an industrial building but opened up into a massive tasting room and outdoor area. It was noted many times that the breweries in California make the ones in New England look so tiny by comparison. There was over a dozen beers on tap to choose from, not including the guest taps from other Cali breweries. Sean was like a little kid in a candy store trying all of the different beers we aren’t able to get here in New Hampshire. I loved their Imperial Pilsner, which is also not available on the East Coast, so I had to have two tasters of it before we left.

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After Stone we stopped for lunch at In ‘n Out. Double double animal style with non-animal style fries, please. Seriously, I don’t understand why we don’t have this chain on the east coast and then I remember that it’s best for my waistline that we don’t. And no, I didn’t eat BOTH of these burgers; Sean ate the one too.

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When decided the best course of action for the rest of the afternoon would be to drop off our rental car at Sean’s brother’s house and Uber our way around. Our next stop was Ballast Point Brewing, another place Sean had been talking about for months. It was getting close to Happy Hour and the tasting room was filling up so we snagged a high top near the bar. This beer list was massive. I stuck with their three lightest beers and Sean went straight for their IPAs. Sean’s brother Mike joined us just a little while later and took us on the rest of our Tour de Beer.

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Photo Credit: Sean and his fancy iPhone 7 Plus

We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring three more breweries that were close by: Green Flash, AleSmith, and Saint Archer. I think my favorite beer of the three was the White Ale at Saint Archer, but all of them had impressive taps. It was a brewery marathon to say the least.

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We had just enough time before picking up my sister-in-law from the airport to take a excursion to Old Town San Diego and grab dinner at Old Town Mexican Cafe. Being just a few minutes from the Mexican border, Old Town is the place to go for the most authentic food. I could’ve eaten an entire basket of warm, freshly made tortillas (with one of the best margaritas I’ve ever had) as my dinner. I opted for street tacos – one steak, one pork – and ended up taking most of it home because the portions were huge. Highly recommended on a visit to San Diego.

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The next morning, we ventured out to the San Diego Zoo and oh-em-gee were we surprised at what we were in for. We’d heard so many wonderful things about the zoo, including that it’s possible to spend upwards of 5 or 6 hours in there. What we didn’t realize is that it’s essentially Disney World for animals. Absolutely massive. Needless to say, we were not prepared. We did have fun wandering all over the zoo, finding our favorite animals (mine was the baby panda and every single species of cats; Sean liked the giant hippos) and taking photos over the span of four hours. However, if we had really understood the size and time commitment of the zoo (aka done the research we should have done ahead of time), we probably would’ve opted out of it on this trip and spent the day at the beach or along the coast instead. After two straight days at Disney just a few days before, we were a little done with the crowds…. and the walking.

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Shortly after getting home, we quickly got ready and turned right back around for an evening at Pacific Beach. Mike and his wife, Celina, have been San Diego natives for a few years but decided to buy a house and move to her home state of Oregon so they had a going away party with a bunch of their friends at a local hotel bar, Tower 23. It was swanky while still maintaining a beachy feel and the Patriots game against Houston was on so it made for an all-around great evening.

Sadly, we had to fly home on Sunday. After a nice breakfast with Mike and Celina, we headed to the airport. I was so sad to see our trip end and definitely had some post-event/vacation blues going back to work that week. The silver lining is I have lots of travel plans coming up (I see you Nashville….) and plenty of places on my list to see.

Next up? Sean’s 31st Birthday and of course, the Boston Wine Expo both happening in February! I’ll be live-tweeting and Instagram storying (TBD on whether that’s an actual verb) from the BWE. If you’ll be there, shoot me an e-mail (chocolateandwineblog@gmail.com) and let’s meet up!

If you haven’t purchased tickets to the Expo, use code WINEDERFUL17 at checkout for 15% off Grand Tasting tickets, weekend passes, VIP lounge, and select seminars! (Code valid through 2/14 at 11:59PM.)

 

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