Monday, November 14, 2022

New Experiences in Las Vegas November 5-7, 2022

Well, as everyone knows, it has been less than one year since my last trip to Las Vegas, which was in January of 2022.  Things are ever evolving in Las Vegas, and no matter how often I come, which now has been TEN times in the last 20 years, there seems to be more and more to experience.

Our friends had been planning this trip with us for at least 5 years, with the purpose of taking our daughters (who are now nearly 23) to this ultimate of adult playgrounds for their 21st birthdays, which incidentally fall a day apart.  I was back in planning mode for this one.  I mostly made suggestions,      but I was given pretty much free reign as to what we were going to do.  This can be great, but when taking someone to Vegas for the first time, it can be a lot of pressure!! 

Anyway, we had an absolutely fabulous time, chock full of brand new experiences.  These are the new things we experienced and what I thought about them.



We only saw one show while we were there, and it was hard to find a show I hadn't seen, because I've pretty much seen them all.  I chose "Shin Lim: Limitless" at the Mirage because I had never seen it, as he had only begun his long term residency at the Mirage in October of 2019.  All I knew was that Shin Lim had won America's Got Talent in 2018 and that his act was mostly magic and cards.  I was pretty nervous about delivering on my choice.

Every show I have seen in Vegas has been great.


Shin Lim was a marvel.  The 6 of us literally sat with our mouths open and our hands on our faces shaking our heads the entire show. These were card tricks that were completely unimaginable.  Shin Lim is borderline creepy and mysterious in exactly the way you need a magician to be, but then he cracks jokes and interacts with the audience.  There is a good amount of audience participation.

Shin Lim has a sidekick named Chris Cloud, who also does magic, but his line of work is more in the mind reading category.  He is a quirky Scot dressed liked a professor. Chris performs while the headliner is changing sets and preparing how to blow your mind next.  He is equally entertaining and just as mind boggling.

Listen, I don't want to say too much because you just gotta go see it.  This show is an absolute MUST!  At the Mirage theater. 90 minutes. Great seats for about 100$ including fees.

Unbelievable show!!! Not to be missed!!


I hesitated to start with Shin Lim because some of the new experiences were not nearly as impressive.


It seriously looks nothing like this..
Flyover opened on Las Vegas Blvd in September of 2021.  Its entrance is tucked between the Hard Rock Cafe and a Ross store, right across the street from the Park MGM.

There are three shows currently to choose from:  Wild Wild West, Iceland, and the newest addition, the Canadian Rockies (Windborne), which is what we rode.  

Think of Flyover as kind of a kind of Soarin' on steroids.  There is a pre preshow and then a pre show, both of which are kind of mother earthey as opposed to comic, like the famous quotable Patrick Warburton intro we are all used to.  The turns and swings in the glider are more pronounced on the FlyOver.  The ride is longer (8 1/2 minutes) and the photography is more expansive.  There's a great view no matter where you are sitting and none of the horrific "bent" photography you experience in Soarin should you not get in the best seats.

My complaint is that the "wind in your hair" generated by the ride is FREEZING and blows right into your eyes the entire ride, finally forcing me to put my hands up to shield my face.  Worse, occasionally you go through a cloud, which is actually wet, so now you are both wet and cold.  This killed it for me. I would not go again.   It was 30$ per person.  I wish I had kept my jacket on.


As I mentioned in another blog post not very long ago,  AREA 15 opened in an off strip location September of 2020.  The building houses a handful of "experiences" and other attractions, such as a hot air balloon ride, a restaurant, a bar, and an axe throwing venue.  Anyway, if you Google AREA 15, you will discover that the anchor tenant is the Meow Wolf Omega Mart which is described online as "an imaginative, immersive installation with interactive artwork, optical illusions and hidden passageways." The reviews were impressive, so despite the fact the tickets were $59 dollars, we decided to take the plunge and go.  Listen, it's Vegas, so it is probably worth it.

Okay whatever? I expected this to be much cooler than it was.  It's a contrived supermarket with a bunch of fake colorful groceries with some doors and passageways that lead to a bunch of weird areas.  There is nothing to do particularly or play with or read or discover.  It's just a bunch of lights and paint and stairs and colorful stuff.  I kept expecting something to happen.  It just never did.

The online guides will tell you to allow 2-3 hours to see the attraction.  We were out in just over an hour, wondering what all the hype was about. There is a card you can add for I guess three dollars which was supposed to add some storyline and context to the whole nonsense, but we didn't get it. Not sure if anything could have helped.


Restaurants in Las Vegas rarely disappoint.  The restaurants seem to turn over fairly quickly.  I would be inclined to say that at least half of the restaurants we have enjoyed over the last 20 years have folded, some of them quite famous, including Rao's, Spago, Circo (where we spent my 40th birthday), and Alize.

On this trip, we tried five new eating establishments and one new bar,  The two restaurants that I'm not reviewing are Carson Kitchen, at 6th and Carson downtown, very close to the Fremont Street Experience, and the Buffet at the Wynn.  Both were excellent and come with my highest recommendation.  We had a late reservation on a Sunday night at Carson Kitchen and though we had only 30 minutes until the kitchen and bar closed, they did not rush us a bit.  The buffet had everything to eat you could imagine.  The 50$ price tag was well worth it. I also highly recommend the PRE-PAYMENT option, which gets you right up to the front of the line, which was long.


If you type "best Steakhouse in Las Vegas" into Google, Primal Steakhouse comes right up. I had never heard of this place before.  The reviews were outstanding and the pictures looked fun so I made the Saturday night reservation

Primal Steakhouse opened in January of 2021 in the unlikely location of Boulevard Mall, a shopping center on Maryland Parkway about 4 miles off the strip.  No joke, though, the medieval decor including red velvet wallpaper, swords, helmets, and candelabras dripping wax transport diners to a different time and place.  There is a specialty drink menu and a fairly good wine list.  Corkage fee is an unbelievable-for-Las-Vegas $25.  Apparently happy hour pricing last all night if you are dining at the bar. Anyway, no drink discounts for us, we were comfortably seated in our cozy booth.

The menu as the name would suggest consists of mostly steak, many of which are too big for one person to eat.  In fact, three of us shared the 32 oz Tomahawk Steak medium rare which was cut up for us on a carving board before we ate.  This steak was so delicious, my husband accepted the dare to try and gnaw on the bone for extra meat!  The meat was complimented by the usual a la carte sides: broccolini, brussel sprouts, mac and cheese and mashed potatoes.  Our share of the dinner with tax and tip for three people was about $285.  Really not too bad.  I have spent more than this for two people in Vegas.

There was some live music which was just slightly too loud for my taste, but it seemed to die down as the night went on. The restaurant has a themed little corner with some props and big chairs and the like where you can take some pictures.  This was a fun end to our time at the restaurant.

Tomahawk Chop, baby!!!

Hard to not have fun here!


This has got to be the most popular breakfast spot on the Las Vegas Strip and we found out why. I warned my friends that there was bound to be a wait and that we should get there as quickly as possible.  We left at nine and were at the restaurant at about 9:20 and we were looking at a 1 hour and 15 minute wait. Luckily the LINQ promenade is right there with its own Starbucks (also with its own very long line) so the time went pretty quickly and we were actually seated in about an hour.

What a menu!  And the portions, holy Toledo!  There are a lot of tempting drinks on the menu, but they are all about 20$ and come with a souvenir cup you are never going to use again, so we mostly opted for beer (remember we had all had coffee at the Starbucks and it had to be 5 o'clock somewhere) except our friend who got the 24 oz Johnny's Famous B.L.T. Mary.  The food was amazing and it was pretty incredible how much of it we were able to put down.  The girls got the Roasted chicken, Garlic, Onions, Asparagus and Rosemary Hash, I got Andy's Sage Fried Chicken and Eggs, and my husband got the Andy's Sage Fried Chicken Benedict. OMG.  I can't believe he did not just lay down and die after that.  I kid you not.  It was serious.

I wouldn't bother going here if you are not eating meat.  It's just pointless.

Andy's Sage Fried Chicken and Eggs

OMG!  Andy's Sage Fried Chicken Benedict


1 of 3 
This is a great little place largely because of its location in the Miracle Mile Shops so close to our hotel (Marriot Grand Chateau).  The food is not fancy, but man is it cheap, like they have steak and eggs for $12.95. I had a Florentine Benedict for like $7.99.  Breakfast service ends at like 10 or 11, so that is something to keep mind.  The place is large and cozy, and has plenty of televisions for your sports viewing pleasure.

They have a good selection of cocktails all of which are 3 for 12$ all day long.  You cannot split the special but they did not seem to have any issue with us having one at time at the table and all sipping out of it.  If you only drink one at the table, they will give you the other two to go, but we drank all three at the table.  Yes it was 830 am, but how can you pass up a special like that??


Ok well this is not a restaurant at all but it definitely is a food and beverage experience so it kind of belongs in this category. Anyway, this super classy bar is located in the front lobby of the Bellagio in full view of the front door and the glass flower ceiling.  From the moment you approach the hostess podium the space exudes class and style.  There is a certain clientele visiting this bar, and it's not the same people you see at the Fremont Street Experience or the Dueling Axes.  The chairs and sofa are crushed velvet, a soft piano plays, the lighting is low.  The average age in this bar is definitely higher than we saw at the Golden Tiki.

 I didn't really gather that you could make a reservation here, except for certain events, like afternoon English tea service, which only is available on the weekends.  If you try at a different time the reservation system will default to nothing being available, which does not mean they are full, it just means that they are not taking reservations at that time.  Anyway, we did not have a reservation.  It was a Sunday night at primo happy hour time so we waited about 20 minutes.  

We spent more here than we spent on dinner downtown later on in the night.  There are drinks on the menu that are 40$.  Pretty intense.  There is also caviar service that can cost you over 1000$ dollars-knock yourself out-not really my thing.   I'll stick with the 30$ cheese board.  My Old Fashioned, which was likely served in Baccarat crystal, came with a craft ice cube and was made with Japanese whiskey, was smooth and delightful. Our bill was over 200 for six of us.  One drink a piece and a cheese board.  You do the math.  This was possibly the most opulent Vegas experience of my life.  I would do it again.  I would like to be a bit less rushed.

That's 30$ worth of cheese you're lookin' at!

Thank you for reading my post!  In less than a month we are off to Disneyland!  Looking forward to more experiences and more posting then!


Thursday, August 18, 2022

Sun, sand and history: The Outer Banks, North Carolina July 31-Aug 7, 2022

The circumstances surrounding our trip to the Outer Banks are rather roundabout.  Last October and November I was at least knee deep in planning a four city trip to central Europe, but near and about Christmastime 2021, the area pretty much shut down entirely.  Considering my penchant for planning, and the very real need to avoid potential COVID related cancellation expenses, we decided as a family we needed an alternate plan. We decided to go to Pennsylvania to see Craig's mom whom we hadn't seen in several years.  But to where after?  I remembered many years ago a girlfriend of mine telling me if she could choose any place in the United States to go on vacation, it would be the Outer Banks in North Carolina, so the research began.  We invited my sister in law and her family and sent them some pictures and they were literally in by the end of the night.  Off to the Carolina coast we go!

The Outer Banks is a 175 mile long thin stretch of land ranging from near the Virginia border (though you can't drive to its northmost point from VA) to the mostly uninhabited Cape Lookout National Seashore.  The land is separated from the North Carolina Mainland by a series of shallow sounds.  On a map, the area is so thin as to be barely visible.  At most given points, the distance from sound to shore is just a short walk.  

The Outer Banks are a short 2 hour drive from Norfolk International Airport.  From inland you cross the Albemarle Sound on the Wright Memorial Bridge which takes you directly to Kitty Hawk.  From here you can drive highway 12 north to the communities of Duck and Corolla, or proceed south to the more densely populated areas of Kill Devil Hills, Nag's Head and Roanoke Island, or much farther south to the remote areas of Rodanthe, Avon, and Ocracoke.  As first timers, we were advised to stay in a more bustling area, so we chose an apartment at a beachfront property in Kill Devil Hills, the Outer Banks Beach Club Resort.


Though the main attraction in this area is the wide sandy beaches and the beautiful blue water, there is a lot of history in this area which is not to be missed.

A lovely area is the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kitty Hawk.  Included in the $10 admission fee (though we were fortunate to come on a free day) are the visitor center, which chronicles with photographs and correspondence the endeavors of Orville and Wilbur Wright in their pursuit of powered flight and an outdoor area, which consists of recreations of the hangars and barracks inhabited by the Wright Brothers, four stone markers measuring the four flights that took place on December 17, 1903, and the memorial itself, completed in 1932, which is a short climb up a now stabilized sand dune.

The Fort Raleigh National Historic Site is at the northern tip of Roanoke Island, a 25 min drive south and then west from Kitty Hawk.  The site is mostly dedicated to the story of the Lost Colony of Roanoke which goes as follows.  In the year 1587, about 100 men, women and children made the nine week voyage over the Atlantic to establish a colony under the crown of Elizabeth I. The conditions, which included drought and strained relations with the natives, were not favorable to the colonists and eventually forced the return to their governor, John White, to England to organize the delivery of provisions to the perishing community in Roanoke.  Mr. White was delayed in his return as the queen's ships were all tied up in the war with Spain.  When he finally returned to the colony 3 years later, all trace of the community and its inhabitants had mysteriously vanished.  There are all sorts of theories as to what happened to the colonists, none of them conclusive.  The visitor center on the site describes how it all went down.  Admission is free.

Our crew goofing off onstage!
Also on the site is the Waterside Theatre, home to "The Lost Colony," a musical production which has been reenacting the plight of the Roanoke colonists for 85 seasons, since 1937.  The show starts at 8:30 pm Monday through Saturday and is considered a "must do" while visiting the Outer Banks.  The outdoor ampitheater is warm and comfortable despite the late hour.  Beer, wine, soda, and snacks are available.  Casual dress.  Tickets starts at about $25 or so.  The show is a bit campy and borders on being a bit Oklahoma-esque, but it made for a fun and lively conversation on the way home.  I say 'yes.' Go see it.

Just steps away from the Visitor Center are the Elizabethan Gardens.  These are lovely and worth the price of $12 per person.  The ten acre garden recreates the fanciful and elaborate gardens that were designed to entertain Queen Elizabeth I during her reign.  There is a gazebo, a butterfly house, a large lawn area, fountains, and antique statuary.  There is an audio tour included which leaves you fiddling with your phone quite a bit.  Better to just stroll and take in the gardens.  The gardens opened in 1960 and are a project of the Garden Club of North Carolina.  They are located right next to the Fort Raleigh site, but are a separate private entity.  Here are a few pictures...

The Elizabeth II at night
The Roanoke Island Festival Park is walking distance from the downtown area of Manteo, the "big city" on Roanoke Island.   The Settlement site is a living history museum depicting how the colonists of 1585 would have worked and played.  Also on the site is the Elizabeth II, a recreation of a typical English merchant vessel that made the trip with the colonists.  It's open Tuesday through Saturday 9 to 5 and costs $11 for adults and $8 for kids 3-17.  Admission includes the whole site. 


Beach life in the Outer Banks is DA BOMB.  People come here every summer to enjoy sun and sand with their families, and frankly, you could come to the Outer Banks and do nothing but sit on the beach. The sun is intense however and a beach umbrella is pretty much a must.  Our beachfront apartment at the Outer Banks Beach Club Resort partnered with a business that would set up your rented chairs and green and white parasols daily for a fee of $150 for a week.  We thought that was pretty steep so we skipped it, though we did squat under the umbrellas of beach goers who had abandoned their rentals for the day.

A beach front house, hotel or condo is ideal, as there is nothing better than being two minutes from the fridge or the bathroom, but there is plenty of free public access parking all along the shoreline that does not seem to fill up until midday or so should you need to come from farther away.

The water temperature is cool but is clear and swimmable, unlike the arctic foam we are accustomed to on the west coast.  On two consecutive days while we were there, a bloom of brown jellyfish lined the shore from north to south, making the beach on those days unswimmable.  On more usual days, one does have to use caution, as the brown jellies can give you a nasty zap, which is more annoying than painful, though I wouldn't recommend it.  The water is also inhabited by clear moon jellies which do not sting and are fun to collect.

Good morning, Outer Banks!


While visiting the Outer Banks it would be unfortunate to not take advantage of some of the other attractions in the area.

About 20 minutes north of Kill Devil Hills in Powell's Point right on Highway 158 is the H2OBX water park.  This place is great for beating the heat!  The park has everything you would expect: a wave pool, a lazy river, family slides, body slides, tube slides, of course a huge kiddie area, and lots and lots and lots of stairs.  The park often runs specials on tickets.  I think we got a 4 pack for about $130.  A worthwhile add on, though somewhat of a splurge for us, was a cabana with our own server for $250.  It was great to have the reserved shade, the patio furniture, a mini fridge full of water and our own server.  We never had to get up and stand in scorching hot lines burning our feet whenever we wanted to eat.  We just hit a buzzer and ordered!  We put over 14000 steps on our feet on this day--got there at opening and shut the place down.  Man, were we wiped out!  H2OBX is open daily, varying hours but we went from 10-6 which are typical hours.

A wild Spanish Mustang

Another not to be missed activity is some type of tour to see the wild horses of Corolla. The horses are a group of feral Spanish mustangs that have inhabited the Outer Banks for 500 years, making them in fact the earliest "settlers" of the area.  It has been thought that the horses were left by a Spanish explorer.  They are now protected.  It is illegal to feed them or even to approach.  There are about 100 horses in number now.  They hang out on the beaches and dunes north of Corolla, where there are no paved roads (however many large houses).  You don't NEED a horse tour to see the horses but you do need a permit to drive on the beach, and then ya better not get stuck.  Better to pay the tour guide than the tow truck!  

There are many outfits to choose from but we went with Wild Horse Adventure Tours.  The thing that set this outfit apart is the vehicle used for the tour, an 13 passenger Hummer.  This vehicle is unique for several reasons, likely the most important being that you are in the same vehicle as the tour guide.  Most other outfits we saw were towing their passengers in a 5th wheel.  Talk about a bumpy ride.  Some seating was arranged in rows with what looked like an easy up over the passengers.  Others had a "hayride" type arrangement, where the passengers actually face each other and were seated on benches-what a mess!  Anyway, go with the Hummer.  We were arranged in three rows of four bucket seats with seat belts in ascending height front to back for optimum viewing.  

The horses are just horses.  They roam in the dunes between the houses and eat.  It's not like there are tons of them running majestically down the beach in the crashing waves, but it's neat, and I'd do it once.  I actually enjoyed looking at the houses in this remote area as much as viewing the horses, remembering that anyone living or renting for that matter out here has to drive miles on the sand to get to a grocery store!

The tours run just about every hour when it's busy and last two hours.

Setting sail on the Downeast Rover

Ok I seem to be writing quite a bit so I will chop it down a bit here and mention a few more worthwhile stops more briefly.  The North Carolina Aquarium is also on Roanoke Island. It is a worthwhile stop if for no other reason than it is air conditioned. It's $12.95 for adults and is open every day from 9 to 5.  Reservations are required but on a Wednesday at 1:30pm we were able to walk up and enter right away.  There are some interesting exhibits including those about the marine life in the local sounds and one about shipwrecks and how the Outer Banks got its moniker, "The Graveyard of the Atlantic."
  A 2 hour sunset cruise on the Downeast Rover out of Manteo Harbor is a good time-6:15pm to about 8:30pm.  The crew is lively and full of info.  You are allowed to bring drinks and snacks aboard (and we did!).  A little less exciting when you here the sound is only 4-6 feet deep.  I thought the per person price of $60 was high considering they give you nothing to eat or drink.


Well, so does everyone else on the Outer Banks.  One night we waited 75 minutes.  Getting your name in at 5 pm to eat at 7 is not unheard of. Most places do not take reservations.  Many are closed one of more nights per week (usually midweek).  We also waited about 30 minutes in a sandwich line.  It's all good.  Just plan.

Anyway, here are a few places I would recommend:

Mama Kwans BBQ and Tiki Bar, 1701 S. Croatan Highway, Kill Devil Hills:  A wide variety of tropical drinks and food in a diner setting. Okay to sit at tiki bar without eating.  Here is where we waited 75 minutes after they quoted us 1.75 hours.  Closed Wednesday.

Poor Richards Sandwich Shop, 305 Queen Elizabeth Avenue, Manteo:  Wide variety of hot and cold sandwiches on the Manteo Harbor.  Long line almost constantly.  Take out or dine in.  Inside or outdoor seating.  Closed Sunday.

Pigmans BBQ, 1606 S. Croatan Hwy, Kill Devil Hills.  Good selection of beer and BBQ dishes, including tuna.  First come first served seating.  Open everyday!  What?

Swells A'Brewin Beer Company, 1802 S. Virginia Dare Trail. Kill Devil Hills.  Brand spankin' new microbrewery with limited snacks available. Dog and child friendly.  Great upstairs deck.  Also open daily.

The rooftop deck at Swells A'Brewin
(before it rained!)

Grits Grill and Bakery, 5000 S. Croatan Hwy Nag's Head Original breakfast items.  Serving breakfast and lunch.  This is one place we did not have to wait. Open daily 6am to 2 pm.

Duck Donuts, Multiple locations.  Too bad we discovered this on the last day.  Vanilla cake donuts custom made to your order.  Maple bacon, peanut butter and chocolate, etc.  Oh soooo good!

Seriously, do not miss Duck Donuts!

Thank you for reading this post!  Where have you been this summer?  Here are a few more pictures from the Outer Banks!

A Happy Hour stroll on the beach!

Manteo Harbor

Downtown Manteo First Friday night

Inside the Currituck Lighthouse

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Wining in Carmel by the Sea and Santa Barbara February 2022

Well, this is about the time that my GoFamily and I would be taking the opportunity provided by the February break to take a little ski vacation, most commonly out of the state.  This year, however, with the two oldest having returned to in person college (no Feb break) and my second semester senior playing a full season of varsity baseball (thank God), no traveling was going to take place as a family.  I took the whole week off anyway and planned two short bookend getaways, a Sunday to Tuesday trip to Carmel-by-the-Sea with my husband and a Friday to Sunday visit to Santa Barbara with two girlfriends.  On the agenda in both destinations?  Wine!


There are plenty of wineries in the Carmel Valley and Monterey areas.  The issue here is the driving.  It is also hard to choose which wineries to visit. Well, "Visit Carmel by the Sea" makes it easy on the Carmel wine taster by offering the Carmel by the Sea Wine Walk.  The Wine walk is a stroll to 13 different tasting rooms that have been set up remotely in downtown Carmel all within a few blocks of each other.  Kind of a pub crawl if you will, but with wine.  Basically you download the app which lists the names, locations, and hours of the participating wineries and off you go!  Wine walkers pay the usual tasting room fee, but each winery has a special offer for tasters on the wine walk, ranging from an olive and salami plate to additional reserve tastings to two for one tasting.  On arriving at a winery, you check in using a special wine walk code to redeem your offer. I think this is only for the simple reason to avoid people coming back over and over and repeating their perks by saying they are on the wine walk.

Fees were typically 20 to 25 dollars for 4-7 pours.  As you might expect, there is quite a variety of generosity when it comes to pouring ranging from the 1.5 oz test tubes presented at De Tierra to the chincey pours at Blair Estate, in which I could barely see the wine in the glass.  It took us only one winery to figure out that we were going to have to pace ourselves by splitting tastings.  In this manner we were able to visit three wineries on day one and four on day two.  Tasting wine this way also cuts your tasting fees in half.  It is possible in most of the tasting rooms to waive the tasting fee with a purchase of wine, some quite a bit more than others.

Not all the info in the app was accurate.  For instance, Talbott was not open at 11 as advertised and neither was Scheid.  Scheid did open about noon and we did take advantage of that but we never circled back to Talbott. Vino Napoli was also closed.  This was all fine because there was no way anyone could visit all the wineries anyway, seriously, you would die.

The wine is good but not excellent in my opinion.  Though we visited 7 wineries, we bought only one bottle of wine.  The guilt here is easily dispersed by the fact that now you pay a tasting fee.  Remember when it used to be free??  However, it is the experience really you are paying for.  We had excellent service at all wineries and did tip all our servers accordingly.

Of all these tasting rooms, only De Tierra had a bathroom.

So lets get a little synopsis of where we walked on our wine walk!

De Tierra (Mission between 5th and 6th):  Bar and table seating.  Great presentation of wines in a test tube rack allowed for proceeding at your own pace. Charcuterie board available.  Incredible live music from Meredith McHenry.  She managed keyboard and a guitar and had some rig that allowed her to harmonize with herself.  Dang I was impressed.

Cute presentation of tasting
 in Test tubes at De Tierra

Hahn Family Wines (Ocean and Mission in Carmel Plaza):  No food but outside food allowed.  We had to sit outside as the indoor seating was full and it got pretty wicked cold out there.

Blair Estate (also Ocean and Mission in Carmel Plaza):  Limited seating and tasting at the bar.  No food available. Good wine but really small pours, the worst pours of all the rooms we visited.

Manzoni Cellars (7th between San Carlos and Dolores in the Hampton Ct.):  Very limited seating and some bar space.  15$ charcuterie box available (which we did buy).  Pleasant unhurried service.

Scheid Vineyards (San Carlos and 7th):  Good wine and pleasant service at tabletops.  No food.  Minimal docking for not being open when the website said it would be open.

Dawn's Dream Winery (San Carlos and 7th, Plaza San Carlos) Cheerful setting with bar, tabletop, and outdoor seating.  Excellent service.  The staff at Dawn's also referred us to ...

Galante Vineyards (Dolores between Ocean and 7th, in the Der Ling Passageway).  A very cute tasting area with minimal bar and outdoor (firepit) seating tucked in the back area of the aforementioned passageway.  The young lady here was just adorable and generous with the pours and the extras.  This is the only winery where we actually purchased a bottle, a lovely dessert wine.

Thank you Galante for the display of the American flag!


Now our experience in Santa Barbara was quite a bit different.  The area around State Street and the general downtown in Santa Barbara also has a lengthy list of tasting rooms and even tasting patios that can be enjoyed simply by walking from one to the other.

Well, we didn't explore the easy route this time, but hopped in the car and drove to the wine region of the Santa Ynez Valley to visit some actual wineries. The Santa Ynez Valley can be accessed by exiting 101 onto Highway 154, also known as San Marcos Pass Road, and travelling about 35 miles north and west, which actually aims you toward the cities of Solvang and Buellton.  The area is quite undeveloped, widespread and beautiful.

As there are quite a few wineries to choose from, it was difficult to choose exactly which two wineries to visit.  Only two wineries of the 10 or so I checked out (which turned out to be the ones we visited, though I did make reservations at both) did not require reservations. Most cost about the going rate of $20 for 5-6 tastes, though one cost up to $50 I guess depending on what you tried. Most limit your tasting time to 60-90 minutes. Many wineries did not allow outside food, though some did have snacks available for purchase.

Despite the limitations and additional hassles, I would be interested in spending more time tasting wine in this region.  The wine in general was better than what we tasted in Carmel, but that's just my own expert opinion.

So lets review the wineries we chose and how it went!

Sunstone Winery (125 N Refugio Rd, Santa Ynez)  Sunstone Winery is a huge venue!  There is a huge hilltop tasting area with what looks to be about 40-50 picnic tables.  Groups of wine tasters are escorted to picnic tables appropriate to the party size.  Thereafter a server comes by and takes care of your table. Outside food is allowed, but on site there is a food truck if you forget your cheese and crackers.  The tasting fee is waived if you buy three bottles of wine (which added up minimally to about $90, so we did not take advantage of this).  The tasting time is supposed to be about one hour, but we did not feel rushed.  6 tastes for 20$.  Lovely, and worth the stop.  The only thing I would recommend to the winery is the installation of a few more bathrooms.  5 stalls was too few for so many people and there was frequently a line.

Friends enjoying the Sunstone Winery

Gainey Vineyards (3950 East Highway 246, Santa Ynez)  Gainey Vineyards does tasting on a smaller enclosed patio.  One thing I liked about Gainey was that the wine came out all at once in small flasks, allowing us to take our time.  The disadvantage to this was that both my and my friend's taste were brought in one flask, requiring us to divvy up between two glasses. Most of the time it was pretty fair, but well, you know, lots of pressure!  I believe that Gainey allows outside food in a separate picnic area but we were already pretty full and did not need to eat more, actually I think our food was gone!  Gainey also has a little gift shop and a quite nice bathroom.  Delicious pinot noir was the highlight.

Lovely presentation at Gainey Vineyards

After returning to the downtown area, we wanted to visit one of the downtown venues.  I know better than to mix, but one of my friends doesn't drink wine so we decided to go to Cutler's Artisan Spirits, just a nine minute walk from our hotel, to address some of her drinking needs.  This was a mistake.  The "London Mule" I ordered, which was a guess gin and ginger beer, was really strong, ok so like pure alcohol.  Very sadly, there is no kitchen, so the only thing you can do is order a pizza from a venue in the complex (all outside drinking patios).  Things started to go south pretty quickly and that pizza could not come fast enough and was downed in about three minutes.  Some people never learn, like me.  The place was fine, but I shoulda stuck to one thing.  I was fine, but it kind of put a damper on the rest of the night!

Lovely, but too much for me tonight!

Thank you for reading this post!  No traveling for a while!  Maybe I will find something to write about!

Monday, February 7, 2022

Las Vegas--Off Strip Discoveries January 30 thru Feb 1, 2022

Well, can you believe that only about one week after publishing my last blog post I am here back at it again. May not be as long as my last post but I am determined to keep writing!  In fact, I will be taking two more short trips in the not so distant future and my goal is to share at least something about all these adventures.

Ok, so how did we wind up in Vegas?  In about November of 2021, my dear girlfriend threw an invitation out to all her friends to come and join them in Vegas to help them celebrate their 25th anniversary for four nights in Sin City.  They had their whole itinerary planned, including where to stay, what to do during the day and where to eat lunch and dinner.  We were discouraged about the midweek plan, but with a little arranging, we were able to join them for three days and two nights.

As per the unusual..I had nothing to plan.  Every time we have been to Vegas we have stayed right in the central strip, spent the day on the Strip, went to shows on the Strip and ate dinner on the Strip.  This time we weren't spending anytime on the Strip.  We were headed to off Strip dining, off Strip drinking and off Strip play, and it did not disappoint.  So let me tell you a bit about it!


The Golden Steer is located at 308 W Sahara Avenue about a 10 minute Lyft ride from the

Park MGM (formerly the Monte Carlo).  The Golden Steer is your typical OLD Las Vegas Steakhouse.  The front is illuminated with a yellow marquis sign bragging its 1958 establishment and there are no windows on the front wall.  Indoor the theme continues, with wood paneled walls, booths upholstered in red leather, the bar front and center, and plenty of pictures of Frank Sinatra.  The restaurant has been host to the "famous and the infamous" as the website says, like Elvis Presley, Mario Andretti, Joe DiMaggio and Natalie Wood, hmm, strangely all Italian, except that Russian young lady, who probably came with an Italian.

The cocktail list is the kind that lists five different gins and ten different vodkas, as if I'm supposed to know the difference between them.  I'll have a gin and tonic with a splash of grapefruit, please. There is also an extensive wine list (I did not see a red under $100).  The order of the day is steaks and they are pricey, with the cheapest item being a $58 10 oz prime rib.  We were lucky enough to be offered a special which including a tomahawk chop with two salads (we both chose Caesar, tossed at the tableside) and two sides (we chose a loaded potato and steamed asparagus) for $210.  All three couples at the table ordered it. There are also multiple market priced surf and turf options and a few Italian specialties.  

Dinner was good, and the company fabulous.  We were there for nearly three hours. The food was not the best I have had.  My steak was fatty and the asparagus was a bit tough. Our bill was over $1100 for the 6 of us, making it close to the most I ever spent for two of us.  Worth it? Borderline for the food but the ambiance cant be beat.


Now we are talking!  Herbs and Rye is also on West Sahara Blvd at 3713.  From the outside the place looks like a block with no windows, a flat roof, a cheesy marquee, and a big red door.  But inside, gosh, it's happening.  We were there on a Monday night and at 8:30pm the place was packed.  The decor of the dimly lit dining room borders on similar to what we saw at the Golden Steer, from the leather booths to the red velvet wallpaper, but the place has a less dressy feel.  There is no dress code.

The Herbs and Rye website says that it makes "pretty good steaks and REALLY good cocktails"  They aren't kidding.  The cocktail menu is two full pages of original libations listed categorically under what "period of alcohol history" they fall into i.e The Rat Pack Era, Prohibition.  The drinks are all about $15.  I ordered a gin and lemon drink called "The Bees Knees" which was delicious.  There was a happy hour special running (at 8:30?) which offered all well drinks for $5.  Very very tempting to go for the cheap stuff but none of us could pass up the chance at one of the fun original cocktails.  The wine list is also extensive and our friend ordered two bottles whether we needed them or not. The mark up on the wine was also not nearly as severe, and we did finish it off !

The menu has a similar selection to the night before but is a far better value, with many options that were half off.  I had the Herb's and Rye favorite, the Pork and Figs, a lovely (and better tasting) pork chop on a bed of mashed potatoes served with sweet figs.  With this I ordered a side of Sprouts and Swine, which was roasted brussels sprouts with huge chunks of bacon sprinkled with parmesan cheese.  Heaven-seriously.  Around the table was a surf and turf, a pasta carbonara, two pasta agnolotti, and even a stab at another steak.

This restaurant hands down was my favorite of the two. Our share of the bill was literally $200 less than the night before!  Almost 50% less for what I thought was a better meal with better drinks.  Well, I guess you don't know until you try!

A cute message about ordering your steaks!!
Wish I could pass this to a few people I know!

My beautiful Pork and Figs and Sprouts and Swine
at Herbs and Rye.  So yummy!


Craig and I had some time around lunch and decided to head to Frankie's Tiki Room.  Well, the downside of this renowned establishment is the fact that there is no food served there and we were getting hungry!  So our next choice was The Golden Tiki, located at 3939 Spring Mountain Road.  

The bar is open 24 hours and serves light snacks during the day with some more substantial offerings at dinner. The outside continues with our current theme of just being a store front with a marquee sign and no windows facing the parking lot. You can make a reservation but when we arrived, which was about 12:30 pm, we could pretty much has our run of the place so we got a nice cozy booth in the corner.  

What a place!  It's part Disneyland, part Hawaii, part Vegas.  This place is decorated to the hilt with tiki paraphernalia including torches, tikis, shells, flotsam, nets, shrunken heads and the three dolls you'd find doing the hula in 'It's a Small World.'  There is a lot of borderline artwork and a fair amount of decor that is just downright naughty--thank goodness more nudity than pornography.  The bar is 21 and over, and for good reason. Welcome to Vegas.

The drink menu is two full pages-with offerings such as the Painkiller, Piranha Punch, Trial by Fire and Hemingway's Ruin.  I got the Navy Grog with a shot of 151 shot of fire included.  Craig got the Mai Tai.  All drinks can be fortified with an extra shot of rum for 3$.  And back to Disneyland, the Golden Tiki offers boozed up classic dole whip, omg.  The drinks are tasty and fun, but do have a fair amount of ice.  If you want to get lit, go for the shots.  My second drink was The Kraken and Craig had the Huka Pele.  Yep, we were feelin' it after that.

We did eat while we were there, just one appetizer, the Sticky Fingers.  It was just a bite for 15$ but was tasty and took the edge off the hunger (and the buzz)

The snacks menu 

Rocking that Dole Whip!!

The drink menu

Our yummy drinks!!!

and our second drinks!!

and the three young ladies that lost their way
from Disneyland


Now this is an interesting place!  We walked from the Golden Tiki about one mile to Area 15, which is located at 3215 S Rancho Drive.  Area 15 is the newest retail and entertainment center in Las Vegas.  I guess it is best described as an immersive adult playground, though you do not need to be 21 to get in.  There is no cover charge until ten pm on Fridays and Saturdays, at which times you will need to pay $15 to get in.  After 10pm the place also becomes 21+.  At all other times, you pay by the experience.  

Maybe the hardest part of coming to Area 15 is deciding how you want to spend your time.  The experiences are not cheap and a few hours spent here could certainly set you back several hundred dollars.  Our friends got there while we were still gawking at imbibing at the Golden Tiki, so they had already enjoyed a sub par zipline experience and had moved on to throwing axes.  We were going to have to pay full price to join them midway into their game so we decided to sit it out and just sit and watch and drink which they (meaning the establishment) did not seem to mind.  We were going to move on to a distillery tour (yes also in Area 15) but we had all had a few by then and $55 seemed like a lot to put ourselves over the edge. (So we went black light mini golfing at Bally's instead--but that is not part of this blogpost)

Anyway, back to describing some of the experiences... I got an email that they had just added "Liftoff" which is somewhat of a Hot Air Balloon ride that takes you 130 feet (that doesn't seem very high) into the air.  That's 18$ with no alcohol.  There is Meow Wolf's Omega Mart, which I can't even describe which is $49.  There is an immersive Van Gogh exhibit, general admission $35, more for the immersive experience.  The website includes these last two, our passed up distillery tour, 'Museum Fiasco' and 'Wink World' as "5 Things you can't miss at Area 15."

Listen, I'm game.  I'm going back.  At least to get my chance to throw axes.

This is supposed to be video, but you get the general idea!

Thank you for reading this post!  I am off to Carmel in a week or too.  Hopefully I am jumping back on the posting bandwagon!

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