Merry Christmas to everyone! Wishing you and your loved ones a wonderful holiday and a happy new year. This is our first Christmas in Florida and our pups Jake and Lucy are living their best lives in the warmth and sunshine. (They actually turned 13 this year but they’ll forever be my pups.) We are thrilled to have some family in town on two separate occasions this season. We’ll be spending time at the beaches here.
New posts, best of the year roundups and giveaways to resume tomorrow! In the meantime I hope you have a wonderful Christmas! Hope Santa brought you something good!
As promised I have another travel diary to share today! We did two back to back trips to Los Angeles on the West Coast for a wedding and then flew back to the East Coast to visit Miami for Art Basel. Miami has been on my list for over a year now and I couldn’t have been more excited for our trip. This was my first time there and we spent a total of four days in South Beach. We had an amazing time although Miami was extremely packed due to the crowds of people coming into town for the art shows, parties and events. We knew this would be the case but planned a trip anyways for a few events and to plan our last getaway before the end of the year. If you’re looking for a beautiful warm place to vacation put this on your list! This post is photo heavy so grab a cup of tea or coffee before reading. I’ve recapped most of everything we did!
Where We Stayed
Since everything tends to go up in price and get booked quickly when there are large events in town, I’d recommend planning your trip at least two months in advance if you go during busy times. We found even with advance planning most of the hotel rates were more than double their normal rates. We found a few good Airbnb options that had great reviews in Coconut Grove and around Miami, but we wanted to stay in Miami Beach. Andrew booked two hotels for our four day stay at the Royal Palm South Beach Miami and the Stiles Hotel. Both are located on Collins Avenue in South Beach near tons of cute restaurants, cafes and shops. During non-busy times their rates are fairly affordable and we had a pleasant stay at both of them. With some of the boutique hotels we were a bit worried as reviews are so mixed. We were so relieved to find both had clean rooms, excellent service and had great locations.
We would definitely consider staying at the Royal Palm South Beach again. The hotel rooms were cute and beds were super comfortable. There are cute restaurants inside the hotel, there’s a beautiful pool and outdoor bar. There are organized beach chairs and cabanas right along the beach in the hotel and they have rooms with an amazing view of the water. If you want a hotel that’s right along the beach that you can walk out and lounge around this one is a great one that’s affordable.
The Stiles Hotel is more of a budget hotel in a more simplistic way. It reminded both of us of some of the European hotels we’ve stayed at with the no-frills simple kind of approach. There’s no driveway to park the cars although they do offer valet services. The elevators are tiny and on the slow side much like some of the older boutique Parisian hotels. The staff was extremely friendly and courteous. They recommended a parking garage around the corner which they told us would be significantly cheaper to use than their valet service. While there isn’t anything luxurious about this one, sometimes all you need is a clean place to sleep while traveling and if you want an affordable option this is a great pick.
Where We Went
We had a few meetings, lunches and events on our agenda and then planned to take our time exploring in between. Since our hotels were near the beaches we spent a lot of time just walking around Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue. There are lots of cute Art Deco style buildings which was fun to see.
One of our favorite things to do each time we visit a new place is go on the hop-on-hop-off bus tours. It’s a great way to see the city without having to worry about getting lost, hectic traffic and parking. Plus with the double-decker buses you can see a lot from the top. I’m not sure how we would have survived the heat if we tried this a month or two ago, but we did go on these in the heat of Europe and still had a lot of fun. Due to time restraints as we had meetings to get to we didn’t spend as much time as we would have liked on these. If you’re new to an area and don’t know exactly where you want to go these buses hit all the popular hot spots. It gives you a good idea of where everything is, then you can go back on your own later to the spots you want to spend more time at. We’ve tried a number of different ones, this time we did the Big Bus Tours.
Also on my list was the Museum of Ice Cream. Tickets had been sold out in LA and San Francisco and I had been dying to see this. We bought preview tickets before it opened to the public and it’s literally the most pink EVERYTHING that I have ever seen. I’d definitely recommend going. It does seem better suited to girls, if you have a girls trip planned it’s the perfect place for photos. Everything is perfectly designed for Instagram photos and they give you ice cream or candy in every room.
The shopping is something I’d definitely go back for. There was so much on my list but we had to save it for another trip. We did go to Aventura Mall (for Nordstrom to pick up a few things).
We had a breakfast meeting in the Brickell District and there’s a new multi-story mall there with Diptyque and Sephora. The Saks store there is what all Saks stores should be like. I feel like they’ve lost their luster over the years but this one is amazing! The shoe department is heaven.
No trip is complete for me without a stop to a Sephora!
Not really shopping but we had breakfast at EAST Miami Brickell. The hotel space is lovely, I’d really love to stay here next time we visit Miami. Plus it’s connected to the mall!
The Design District had a lot of events, pop-ups and new store openings. We went to see the new Creed Boutique and Sisley-Paris store openings – both of which I was so excited to see!
Sisley store sneak peek:
Gorgeous Louboutin Store
There were so many restaurants we wanted to try but after some bad eating habits in LA we started to gain weight and tried to limit our junk food eating while in Miami. We stopped by a few casual eating places in Miami – thank you SO MUCH to each of you who gave me recommendations! I have a solid list of 50 spots to try on our next visit when we have more time to explore. We found this cute French sandwich shop where you order and eat at the counters. They have the biggest sandwiches I’ve ever tried. We liked it a lot.
If we were to do our trip over again we would have definitely picked another time to visit for our first trip together. Things during Art Basel week can get pretty hectic and busy. Traffic is pretty bad. We did go see exhibits at Art Basel although there were tons of installations and pop ups all around the city. I didn’t take any photos inside as I felt a little weird taking pictures of other people’s art – not sure why exactly, but it just didn’t feel right to me. We enjoyed a lot of people watching, walking along the beaches, enjoyed the sunshine and wished we had another week to just explore at our leisure. The good thing is we had a great last trip of the year and definitely plan on going back. We returned back home to St. Pete Beach which is a lot quieter and more laid back than Miami. If you’re looking for a warm beachy place to really kick back and relax, I’d recommend opting for the other side of Florida (our favorite Tampa Bay spots here). If you’re looking for something more cosmopolitan and energetic, Miami is the place to be.
Hope you enjoyed this Miami travel diary! I could have probably split this up into several posts. We definitely want to go back and see more. There’s a lot we didn’t get to. If you have any favorite Miami Beach spots you’ve been to let me know in the comments.
Beauty reviews coming soon on Laura Mercier, Tom Ford and NARS. I’ve been swatching away the past week and hope to have the posts up shortly.
I have two travel diaries to share as we’ve spent a few weeks traveling this holiday from coast to coast! Two weekends ago Andrew and I flew to Los Angeles for my bestie’s wedding. We spent a few extra days in town to visit some of our favorite spots and meet up with some family as well. It’s been only 10 months since we left California and I can’t believe a lot has already changed in LA! Lots of new construction, new stores and massive mall renovations. We were in town for close to 3 days. This was a short trip and I wish we had been able to stay a full week but hopefully we will be able to travel back to the West Coast in the new year. Trip highlights and photo diary below!
Where we stayed: Mr. C Beverly Hills
For this trip Andrew and I stayed at Mr. C Beverly Hills and had an amazing stay. This was our second time staying at this hotel and it couldn’t be more perfect. I’ve stayed at a number of hotels in Los Angeles before and this one has been my favorite. The hotel has beautiful rooms, excellent service, amazing views and it’s also located in a great spot in Beverly Hills. It’s clean, modern, romantic and just lovely.
His and hers Away Suitcases, these are the regular Carry-On Size (reviewed here)
Travel beauty shelfie: let me know if you want the full beauty pack list and I’ll try to do a separate travel beauty post. In the meantime you can see my Travel Beauty Cases post here. What I packed on previous trips in my Dallas Travel Diary and San Francisco Pack List. I tend to repeat a lot of items. I traveled with the Dyson Supersonic Dryer for the first time and found it was absolutely essential for me. It will definitely be going on future trips! If you buy one make sure you find a good storage case for it. The one I have came with a pouch. I think the hard case version will probably be more ideal to protect it.
We’ve both been to Los Angeles a number of times so we picked a few sightseeing spots to visit. One of our favorite things to do is to look for night-time viewpoints. Since my brother is based in LA he has been able to show us some amazing view points! Places we stopped by:
Santa Monica for the sunset and beach
Night City Views from our Hotel
View of the Hollywood Sign from Beachwood Drive. If you’re driving along this street make sure you don’t keep going straight up into the hills! Turn off before you reach the hill otherwise you’ll get stuck like we did. The streets are narrow and windy and it took us forever to find our way back down!
Where we shopped:
Westfield Century City is a newly renovated mall and it’s amazing! There are still a lot of stores under construction with “coming soon” signs but there is a lot to find there. It’s especially great if you want a central location to shop with a lot to offer. The Nordstrom there has the most amazing beauty department I’ve seen in the US – they have Tom Ford, a Space NK wall, Atelier Cologne, Frederic Mall, a Natural Beauty section and so much more.
We also stopped by a few boutiques including Penhaligon’s and Aesop. The Aesop store is just so beautiful – all of them are! The staff is genuinely friendly, helpful, non-pushy and knowledgeable.
We made a quick stop inside Barneys New York on Rodeo Drive, I love this store 🙂
One evening we had dinner in Venice Beach on Abbott Kinney. I made a quick stop inside Hourglass store to see what was new. Anxiously waiting for spring launches!
Also on Abbot Kinney is an amazing Smashbox store! They have a lipstick bar and lipstick wall, it’s incredible. I highly recommend stopping by.
Where we ate:
Unfortunately I didn’t get many good food pics as the times we ate we were in dark restaurants or in a rush and didn’t get a photo! As a junk food junkie I’ve been dreaming about In-n-Out for months. I had been dieting for weeks beforehand to be able to eat junk food on our two recent trips. We ate at In-n-Out twice, had Mr. C room service a few times which was AMAZING (best burger I’ve ever had), dinner spots included Gjelina and Marino. Gjelina is one of my favorite restaurants of all time. In the event you aren’t able to get reservations and don’t want to wait for a table (dinner can get busy) there’s a take out Gjelina right next door.
What I packed and what I wore:
I packed an Away Carry-On with a few outfits, makeup, skincare and my Dyson Supersonic Hair Dryer. I definitely over packed but didn’t quite pack the right clothing for the weather so I’ll share what I actually wore. I’ve also come to the realization that I need a wardrobe makeover for travel. Living in South Florida I’ve been living in super lightweight clothes, sandals, shorts, dresses because it is HOT here! For the rest of the country it’s really not warm enough to wear what I have right now. Funny how quick we can be to forget what real seasonal weather can be like. Although I do have to say I’ve always lived where it is sunny year round.
What I wore:
Tan leather jacket by Joie (older style, similar here, here and here)
Prosecco and chocolate strawberries courtesy of Mr. C Beverly Hills! We’ve never been treated with such a surprise before!
We had a lovely stay and it was great to be back on the West Coast. There were a few things we would have done differently if we could have a do-over on the trip.
If you plan visiting LA from out of town and are going to stay mainly in the Beverly Hills area I’d recommend you Uber instead of renting a car. Any hotel in the Beverly Hills area is going to have pretty high overnight parking fees and the traffic in LA is pretty stressful no matter where or when you’re driving. Not to mention finding street parking adds more stress. I’ve driven to LA from San Diego for events and weekend trips a number of times and my brother has recommended I take the train instead and Uber around the city to save time and stress from parking. That being said a lot of things are spread out in Southern California sometimes having a car is essential.
We probably would have booked 2 more days to be able to take our time, see more places and visit more with friends/family. I think if we had 4-5 full days it would have been plenty of time.
Shopping-wise I would have planned out my stops a little better. Abbot Kinney on Venice Beach has grown so much since I’ve last been there. I would have definitely allocated more time to walk the streets and browse. There are a lot of beauty boutiques there like Aesop, Caudalie, Hourglass, Smashbox and lot of clothing stores there. I think the Century City mall is quite amazing though.
We would have probably skipped visiting Santa Monica. I think it’s great to see once, but we’ve both been there so many times seeing it again was a bit redundant and it was pretty far from everything else we wanted to see.
Take some time to just sit back and do absolutely nothing! This is something we both need to work on. When we travel we tend to travel for adventure and I pack in a lot of things. Sometimes I need to remind myself to slow down and take a break.
Hope you enjoyed this travel diary! I’m working on my Miami trip post but probably won’t have it up until the end of the week or early next week. Stay tuned for more beauty posts soon!
Do you have any favorite LA spots?
Media rate was provided by Mr. C Beverly Hills for feature.
I have my first holiday gift guide of the year! Today I’m rounding up some of the best travel beauty cases and makeup bags I love. If you’re in need of ideas for a fun unique gift, I think any of these would be great gift for the beauty lover or frequent traveler. When it comes to travel prep I’m always looking for good storage and packing solutions to organize and carry my things, especially beauty items. I’ve tried a lot of different options over the years. Many times I’ll use the freebies from gift with purchase events, but sometimes it’s nice to have something a little better quality that’s sturdier. If you’ve followed my packing travel posts you’ll probably recognize several of these bags. I’ve put each one to the test on different kinds of trips. I’m primarily a carry-on traveler so in general I’d say these bags work best for shorter trips. Quick note that all the cases come empty with the exception of the Away Mini Suitcases, but I’ve filled all of them with some of my favorite things to help show what you can fit inside. I hope this helps decide which option is best for your needs!
Mini Beauty Trunk Case
Bobbi Brown Beauty Case ($160, measures 6.406″ L x 3.844″ W x 8.609″ H) is something that has special meaning to me as Andrew gifted me a black leather case many years ago when we were in college. This was in our early dating days before he knew I was a beauty junkie! He found it at the airport in London before he flew back home one summer. It was the perfect gift and I used it for many years (I still have it!). Each year Bobbi Brown has released a new version. This year’s is a beautiful deep red. You can see everything that I fit inside the 2016 version which is nearly identical to this year’s inside.
I have actually fit this inside a carry-on suitcase in previous years, but as you can imagine it does take up a lot of room. For weekend trips it’s perfect. There have been times I just packed a weekender bag and this case. My black leather one has held up remarkably well. It can get dirty inside, especially if you store dirty brushes or have powders that spill. Mine has been relatively easy to clean with a damp cloth and canned air. Canned air works wonders to remove debris from almost anything!
This one has two levels, a top tier that can hold brushes or skinny perfumes and then a sectioned portion to hold compacts, liquids or lipsticks. The base is bigger/deeper so you can stack more inside. There is a nice gap on the top of the bottom (if that makes sense) so there’s a lot more room than you might think.
Clear Double-Sided Zip Pouch
Anya Hindmarch In-Flight Travel Case ($275, measures 8.7″D x 3.2″W x 4.7″H) is one of my most expensive makeup bag splurges. I can’t remember the exact date that I bought this but I know I’ve had it for over two years. It’s clear and has two zippered sides, one for Take-Off and one for Touch-Down. You can really put anything you want in it, but for flying it’s nice to have two sides to separate items so you don’t have to dig around your makeup bag to search for things. This bag has gone through a lot of travel and still has held up really well. It’s been through quite a bit of squishing, packing and use. Many of you have asked if I think this purchase was worth it. In this case I don’t know that I can say it’s worth the price tag because it’s soooo expensive, but it has held up a lot better than I anticipated, especially since it’s made of clear plastic and patent leather. So that being said I’m still 100% happy with this splurge because the quality has proved to be excellent.
A closer look at both sides, on the Take-Off side I can stack 3 compacts flat to fit inside. The Touch-Down side is skinny in the opening but can still hold long tubes like Chanel glosses, cream shadow sticks, etc.
Clear Flat Snap-Closure Pouch
Ouai Clear Envelope Pouch ($25) is currently sold out on their website which is the only place I could find to buy it. Right now you can buy it in their Under the Mistletoe Set. I’m hoping they restock eventually because it’s a great large flat pouch! Do note that since there is only one button clasp smaller things can be prone to falling out if you stuff it (versus a zip bag that won’t let anything spill). But for medium to larger size bottles it’s great! What I’ve fit inside below: Ouai Wave Spray, Ouai Hair Oil, Ouai Smooth Spray, Sunglasses, Byredo Hair Perfume in Mojave Ghost, Oribe Gold Lust Dry Shampoo Mini, Oribe Swept Up Powder Spray, Fresh Sugar Lip, Atelier Cologne Minis, mini L’Occitane Divine Cream. I think the world needs more clear pouch options – they’re so handy for everything!
Large Leather Monogram Makeup Bags
The Daily Edited is a brand I discovered earlier this year. Their entire line is designed so you can have it customized and monogrammed! I ordered three items: one Black Large Cosmetic Case, one Taupe Large Cosmetic Case ($100 each, measures H 5.3″ x W 8.9″ x D 4.3″) and one of the Travel Cases ($120, measures H 5.9″ x W 9.4″ x D 3.5″). I have by initials in the blind embossed style SS. These are made of Saffiano Leather and are decent in quality, but the lining is not the best on the market. For something in the $100 range these are very good and I feel the large cosmetic cases are the best ones I’ve tried in terms of size, proportions and function. They are sturdy but the leather isn’t as thick or stiff as some other luxury brands so it’s bendable and prone to slight stretching in areas. Based on the occasions that I’ve used mine I just don’t think it’s something that will last as long as say something from Louis Vuitton. That being said, I do understand if you throw something in a suitcase packed with other items it’s bound to get smashed or worn so this isn’t a deal breaker for me. I brought one of the large bags with me on my trip to San Francisco and felt it was perfect in shape/size. It gets the job done and even though I think it could be better quality these are among my favorites for the style.
I’ve also used the Large Travel Case and it has an upper portion with compartments and leather straps with holes. This seems to be perfect for someone who wears a lot of jewelry or travels with different pieces. You can store earrings and also keep items separated. I’m a minimalist when it comes to jewelry, especially with travel as I’m always worried I’m going to lose something so this part didn’t really appeal to me. There’s a bottom portion that’s larger where you can store beauty products, compacts or other accessories. For an all around travel case it’s beautiful. For beauty I’ve found other options better suited to what I pack but it is a beautiful case and I can see many people using it for accessories, jewelry, etc.
A look inside and side view of the Large Cosmetic Case:
A look at the Large Travel Case, both tiers:
Mini Travel Cases
Away Mini Suitcases are back this year! If you remember last year they had the Grey/Asphalt color as gift card cases which were super cute. They measure 7″ x 5″ x 3″ and this is the first year they’ve offered them to the public in 10 different colors, including their winter colors Frost and Pool. Each mini is available as a stand-alone for $35 or free with the purchase of a gift card. There are also some curated sets ranging from $45 to $95 packed with some of their TSA-sized essentials. Shown below are White, Asphalt and Brick Mini Suitcases next to the Away Carry-On (the black one been well-loved by my husband, this is the original one they launched back in 2015). You can buy all of these directly from their website Away Travel or one of their stores (New York, San Francisco, LA and Austin so far).
Each one has the same interior which has a grey mesh pocket and open inside, much like the Away suitcases. Below I have a closer look at the interior and some of the fun curated options they have. You can mix and match the colors in any of the sets. Right now they are sold out of the Beauty Set and Essentials Set but I’ve been told they are going to restock soon. The pink one is going to be restocked (they hope next week!). All others are limited-edition while supplies last. I love that these come wrapped in a drawstring cloth sack – it’s an extra special touch that makes these so cute. I was gifted 3 and promptly ordered a bunch more to give as gifts this year. Cameras shown below include the Leica Sofort Instant Print Camera and Sony NEX-6 (discontinued, current model is Sony A6000 Camera). You can also see my Dyson Supersonic Hair Dryer review here (and yes I still think it’s my favorite).
So many of you have asked for a look at the inside of these cases so are more photos. They plan on restocking the sold-out sets around next week so keep an eye out for them! For now you can still buy the Individual Mini Suitcase in all the colors for $35 each (some have sold out, but pink is going to be restocked).
The Beauty Set $75 comes with mini Malin + Goetz Shampoo and Conditioner, RMS Beauty Lip Shine in Bloom, IGK Jet Lag Invisible Dry Shampoo, Herbivore Deluxe Rose Mist, Wallpaper’s City Guide to Paris
The Essential Set $45 comes with Malin + Goetz Mini Face Moisturizer, Mini Face Wash, Marvis Toothbrush, Marvis Toothpaste, Deep Sleep This Works mini pillow spray, Wallpaper City Guide for London
The Field Set $75 comes with a mini Harry’s face lotion, Malin + Goetz deoderant, Public Supply Notebook and Wallpaper City Guide for for Austin
Interior color is the same for all cases, one mesh pocket and an open interior
Clear + Leather Pouches
Truffle Clarity Jetset Cases ($85 each, measures 7 1/2” L X 5 1/4” H X 2″ W). They launched non-flat pouches this year and I was thrilled! I ordered two of the three colors for myself and really like how they are constructed. They are on the expensive side for the size but I think they’re great for throwing in your carry-on tote. I find the quality pretty good and there’s enough structure to it that it will retain its shape well. I didn’t want to love these at the price but now that I’ve purchased two I’m really glad that I did. I’ve been a fan of the flat pouches for such a long time it’s nice to see something with more depth!
Large Open Clear Zip Bags
MAC Clearly MAC Large Rectangle ($30, measures 8.5″ x 5.38″ x 5″) is one of the more affordable clear bags that I own and think it’s sturdy and well made for the price. They’ve had several variations over the year and this is the current one. They also have the Clearly MAC Rectangle ($26, measures 9.25″ x 3.5″ x 3.38″) which I’ve had on my wishlist for brushes. I’ve tried a number of brush rolls in the past and while they’re great – sometimes I just want something more basic, simple and open. View of the front, back and side – it’s pretty roomy!
On My Radar
Net-A-Porter Holiday Beauty Kit ($115) is one that I do not own but spotted it online for one of their holiday kits and it looks like a steal! If you’re budget is around the $100 mark and want to gift a little bit of everything this kit has just that. The clear case looks promising for travel as well.
That wraps up my gift guide on favorite travel beauty cases for carry-on travelers. If you have any friends or family that already have all the beauty products and you’re stumped on what to get them, I think a makeup bag or travel case is a great alternative.
This week’s giveaway is going to be a Bobbi Brown Beauty Case + Away Mini Suitcase in Brick! I bought a Bobbi Brown case but was also sent one as a press sample, so I’m giving away my extra. I also ordered a ton of the minis to give away as gifts and I’m adding one to this giveaway. As a bonus I’ll be filling both with some makeup goodies but the picks will be customized based on the winner’s skintone, skintype and preferences. This giveaway is open internationally but you must be 18 years or older to qualify. Simply follow any of the tasks provided in the widget below.
Runs through 11/29/2017 11:45 PM EST
I’ll pick 1 winner via the Rafflecopter widget below and e-mail them within 72 hours after giveaway ends
Winner must respond to e-mail within 72 hours or another person will be picked in their place
This year has has been one of the most interesting and challenging years of my life with our move from California to Florida back in February. This month marks the seven month time period of us living on the East Coast, but with evacuating for a few days, travel, and work trips here and there we’ve really been in Tampa Bay for six. So many have asked for a Tampa Bay travel guide plus thoughts on moving from coast to coast. I know most of you come to this blog for beauty-related reviews and insights so it makes me happy to find a lot of you are interested in other parts of my life as well.
We moved from San Diego to Tampa Bay in February of this year. Both Andrew and I had lived in San Diego most of our lives and were ready for a change. We didn’t know exactly where we wanted to live, but we knew it would be somewhere sunny. The timing happened to coincide with the fact that Andrew’s parents found their dream house in Apollo Beach, Florida and decided to buy it for retirement in a year or two. They asked us if we’d consider moving and renting from them so they wouldn’t have to find strangers to rent it and we agreed. We packed up everything we owned from the modern loft we rented into a 16-foot Penske moving truck with our three fur kids and drove across country to Florida in 5 days.
Our plan was to rent their home for a year while we explored Florida to decide where to settle down. We explored things all over the place fell in love with pretty much everything. Each area has it’s own unique charm! Unfortunately things don’t always go according to plan. Long story very short, Andrew’s parents told us they were going to move/retire earlier than they expected. They changed their move date twice and by mid-July we learned they would be in Apollo Beach by August. We had to find a new place in a matter of a couple weeks. To say I had a freak out about the thought of not having a place to live would be an understatement. With pets finding a place to rent or buy isn’t an easy process and for sure isn’t something you can do quickly. Andrew, being the glass half full kind of person that he is, calmed me down and said we should look on the bright side, take advantage of not being tied down, travel month-to-month in a few vacation rentals and do some real exploring to get a sense of the different areas in Florida.
In less than 5 days we packed, found a storage unit, moved most of our belongings there and found a vacation rental that would take 3 pets. We signed up with a parcel delivery service for our mail and packages. We each packed a suitcase and a few bankers moving boxes to bring essentials with us. Finding a monthly vacation rental was easy, but finding one that would take 3 pets with a fenced yard was a bit of a challenge. We looked at Airbnb, HomeAway and VRBO and it took hours of searching. As this post is being published, we are now on Month 3 of living the nomadic life in three different areas of Tampa Bay and it’s been quite an adventure. Stressful for sure, but still we’ve managed to have a lot of fun, explore like tourists and also live like locals. We’ve learned a lot.
Now that I’ve shared my story, here are some thoughts on each place we’ve lived, a list of my top places to see and where to eat in Tampa Bay. We still have a long list of places we want to visit! Florida is such a huge place we’ve barely scratched the surface.
Where we’ve lived:
When people ask me what it’s like to live in Florida, my answer is that it really depends on where you are. Florida is a really big state, we’ve only really explored Tampa Bay which is enormous. The only thing consistent across Tampa Bay is that the weather is warm, it can be hot and humid and it rains frequently. We loved that the weather is so warm you can swim in the ocean without freezing! In the three cities we’ve lived we’ve found so much wildlife – each area has different kinds of animals that gravitate towards those areas. Some that scare me to death like snakes, geckos and lizards and some that are cute like pelicans, cranes, squirrels and dolphins.
Apollo Beach is a city south and east of Tampa. Much of the area was developed to be a waterfront community so there are a lot of man-made canals which is unlike anything I had ever seen before. My in-law’s house is located in one of the gated communities along the water where every house has a boat dock in their backyard. Manatees, dolphins, fish, birds and all kinds of wildlife surface which is really amazing. Andrew and I loved everything about our neighborhood and the house had a lot of charm: two stories, four bedrooms, huge backyard and a pool. The only downside was it was far from everything we were interested in seeing, doing or eating – most places are at least 35 minutes away to an hour drive.
St. Pete Beach is one of the best beach towns I’ve visited. If you’re looking for a great vacation spot this is such a cute area with lots of fun coffee shops, restaurants, cute hotels, beaches with cabana rentals and more. We rented a cute beach house in August, also with a pool and fenced back yard. It was the first time we had used VRBO and we had a great experience. It’s easy to navigate, search, filter (a key for us pet owners) and book. We were a bit worried it would also be too far from Tampa and it is, however there is so much to explore in the area. Treasure Island is a lot fun (they have an amazing salt water taffy store there and I don’t even like taffy, but the ones there are amazing!), Pass-A-Grille has beautiful beaches to relax, and St. Petersburg is only 30 minutes away.
Saint Petersburg was our third Florida destination to live. This area was my favorite for food. In the month we lived in St. Pete Beach we found ourselves constantly driving the 20-30 minutes to Saint Petersburg for coffee, lunch and dinner so we decided to live there for a month. This was our second experience VRBO where we rented a charming cottage.
Places to visit:
We’re still exploring Florida and I’ll most likely create a separate page that I’ll update as we see more. In Florida I think the most frequently suggested place to visit is Orlando because of Disney World and all the other theme parks. I had been to Disneyland in California many times growing up and actually liked that one better. Our favorite places that we visited:
Clearwater Beach has the best soft white sand out of all the beaches I’ve visited. It’s a great place to stop by for a day visit. Sunsets are just so beautiful! Where we stayed in Clearwater in this post here.
St. Pete Beach is one of the most fun areas to live and explore. We stayed at the Kimpton Hotel Zamora in December which we would definitely go to again. After we moved the first time we spent a day renting beach chairs and umbrellas at The DonCesar Hotel and had an amazing time. It’s on our list to stay at for stay-cations, the property is beautiful!
Fort de Soto Park is a unique park and beach area that’s quite spread out so it’s not as dense with people as some other beaches. There is a lot to explore, you can bike, walk, or swim. There is a historic fort there as well.
Pass-A-Grille is part of St. Pete Beach past The Don Cesar hotel – it’s lined with beaches all the way to the Gulf. It’s really beautiful here. We took several day trips here when we lived at the beach to just sit and relax. You definitely need to bring some beach chairs and umbrellas with you.
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park is a little over an hour north. It has two main parts, one is Buccaneer Bay which has a mini theme park feel with water slides, mermaid show, restaurants (it closes starting October, check site for when they reopen) and the other part is the kayaking along the Weeki Wachee River which is open 365 days a year (they will shut down if there are thunder/lightening storms). It took us 4 hours to kayak 5 miles and it was the best thing we’ve done in Florida.
Anna Maria is south close to Sarasota, visiting these beaches on a clear day makes you feel like you’ve found paradise. The water is clear and the brightest blue I’ve ever seen. Something definitely worth seeing.
Hyde Park Village in Tampa is a cute shopping and restaurant area. They have Sprinkles, Sur la Table, Bartaco, Anthropologie and a cute Blue Mercury store!
Bayshore Boulevard is a long continuous sidewalk along Tampa Bay, it was unique and interesting for us because the view of the water and houses in the area is just amazing! The entire sidewalk is 4.5 miles long. We watched the fourth of July fireworks from here.
Top places to eat:
Through a process of trial and error we’ve found some really amazing food in Tampa.
Bodega – best most unique Cuban sandwiches I’ve tried, since eating here I’ve put at least a dozen other places to the test and NOTHING compares.
Bartaco – love this place for the ambiance, food, service, they have several locations in a few states like Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia – definitely check it out!
Edison Food Lab – wins for most unique menu, their menu changes every once in a while which makes it interesting.
Casita Taqueria – in Florida there really isn’t quite anything as good as the Mexican food I’ve grown accustomed to in San Diego, this place is pretty darn good though. I live for their queso!
Ted Peter’s Famous Smokehouse – they have amazing fresh fish and I’m not really a fish eating person (the only sushi I do is California Roll and I know that’s not real sushi), it’s definitely a unique spot with a very relaxed atmosphere, note that they take cash only.
Fresh Kitchen – this is a Tampa/Southern version of Chipotle, they have bowls you can mix and match to create your own combination. One of the healthier food options in town.
Better Byrd – if you like chicken sandwiches or donuts (I love both), this is a way better version of Chick-Fil-A.
Datz – another place filled with amazing food options, warning though if you are a healthy eater and don’t eat here, everything on the menu is pretty hefty, but it’s unique and I think worth trying at least once.
The Hyppo is probably the best dessert place I’ve tried. They have gourmet ice pops that come in the most unique flavors, aren’t overly sweet, and have amazing fruit blends. I think I could live off these alone. They have several locations – this place is a must visit.
Sweet Brewnette is a cute coffee shop in St Pete Beach (Madiera Beach to be exact) they have really good coffee.
Kahwa Coffee has multiple locations in Tampa and Saint Petersburg, in my top 5 coffee places of all time.
La Casa del Pane is a cute Italian Bakery with good patries, foccacia, bread, coffee and desserts.
Oxford Exchange is a cute restaurant, coffee bar, tea bar and gift shop kind of place. It stocks Aesop and Cire Trudon as well!
I’ve mapped out everything here in case you want to use it as a reference!
I hope you enjoyed this roundup! If you’ve moved cross country before I’d love to hear about it. It’s taken some time for me to adjust but we love the water, beaches, warm weather, food, people. It’s been a wonderful place to explore and my first time living in the South. The only stressful thing has been the constant moving and right now we aren’t sure how much longer we will be doing this. Part of us is ready to pick a place and settle down, other parts of us really love the exploring! We had hoped to be in New York or Miami the month of October but the pet situation has made things a bit tricky. If you travel frequently any tips or tricks on how to get used to it? We’ve moved four times this year and we get better and more efficient each time. I tried to keep this as high level as possible – there’s so much I could write about our experiences! If you have any questions about anything on VRBOs/Airbnb, traveling with pets or want to see more or anything else let me know in the comments!
I wanted to give an update on my life right now. Thank you to each of you who have messaged me and asked how we are doing. We are all ok: husband, 3 pets, myself and my in-laws. All of us packed up our cars and pets and drove north away from the predicted paths of the hurricane. I skipped my NY plans and stayed in Florida so I could be with my family as there was too much uncertainty about the hurricane and I could not leave them behind with so much unknown.
We evacuated Tampa Bay on Thursday afternoon after the news reported that Hurricane Irma would be a Category 4 Hurricane headed directly towards St. Petersburg – the area where we are currently living. Earlier that week we had been actively tracking the news and alerts by county. We took note of the evacuation notices by zone so we prepared. My husband and I live on the west side of Tampa Bay in Pinellas County and since we were in a no flood zone we almost decided to stay. Our neighbors had checked in on us multiple times over the week and told us we could stay with them at their warehouse which was concrete and in a no-flood zone. They even gave us the code to their house for us to go inside in the event we had any trouble if we decided to stay.
My in-laws however lived in a mandatory evacuation zone on the other side of the bay so Andrew and I drove to their house and spent two days helping them prepare the house. We boarded the doors and windows. The previous owners of the house were so organized – they had all the boards already prepped, labeled and stored in the garage. They even had an evacuation folder they left for my husband’s parents with detailed diagrams labeled boards.
Here is a look at where my in-laws live in one of the canal areas as of Thursday. A lot of the neighborhoods around Tampa Bay look similar to this if they are on the coast or waterfront. This entire area is in Evacuation Zone A. At this time we don’t know what it currently looks like. A couple notes as some of you asked why it was a challenging decision to evacuate and also reasons why so many people stayed behind. Florida has set Evacuation Zones by county. You can see how it’s split on their website. Up until Thursday, unless you were in a mandatory Evacuation Zone (such as this one below) in your county you had little or no direction as to whether an evacuation would be necessary. Zones are primarily set to prepare for hurricane storm surge flooding – it doesn’t take into account possible damage from wind. There are a lot of areas in Florida that are not designated Zone A. Andrew and I were based in Zone D – but it didn’t mean our area could survive hurricane winds.
We left Tampa around 4:30 PM on Thursday worried about a number of things including the possibility that the news was over-reacting and that we would be evacuating for no reason, the fact that almost all the gas stations in town were out of gas, the possibility of we might get stuck on the road since news reporters were reporting gridlock traffic with people abandoning their cars on the highways and also worried if we left we might get stuck on the road with high winds. We looked for alternate routes out of the state and downloaded gas station locator apps. While my husband was researching exit routes I packed up two suitcases with essentials, prepped our 3 pets and loaded everything I could into our car. Our in-laws followed too. We all left with our pets packed with us and anything we could fit into our vehicles.
We drove along the 41 north and found there was no traffic and no gridlock like the news had reported. Most people evacuating must have been driving along the 75 instead. Gas was still something we were worried about. We must have passed at least 40 gas stations all of which were closed and out of gas, all with their pumps wrapped with clear plastic wrap. We found 2 that had gas, both of which had at least a quarter mile long wait line of cars and both were completely surrounded with police cars to ensure everything stayed orderly. Luckily we found open gas stations closer to the Florida Georgia border and we had plenty of gas to get us there. Andrew’s brother was texting from San Francisco helping us with directions to ensure we didn’t hit traffic and also gave us addresses of places to check for gas along the way.
Our kitty and Jake below, our other dog Lucy is hiding behind my car seat.
We drove to Georgia, stayed the night in Columbus and the entire hotel was filled with Florida evacuees. The next day we drove further north through Tennessee (where I had the best BBQ of my life in Nashville) and ended up in Kentucky to stay with Andrew’s sister’s family. At rest stops it was completely heartbreaking – I heard women on their phones in the bathroom stalls crying saying they were worried that they wouldn’t have a home to go back to. This morning as I’m typing this I’ve been trying to find news about Tampa Bay updates while sitting in an airport in Louisville waiting to get on a plane for conference in Santa Barbara.
Driving through Georgia:
At this point we have so many mixed feelings about the entire situation. We felt extreme sadness and guilt leaving Tampa behind worried about everyone who stayed. By now we’ve found the hurricane was downgraded to a tropical storm. We are relieved that most of Florida seems to be ok right now however at the same time both Andrew and I are completely frustrated and angry at the media and news outlets for not providing accurate information, for fixating on small portions of information and blowing them out of proportion. I believe they caused unnecessary mass panic about so many things which led to things such as drinking water shortages at grocery stores, gas shortages everywhere and even traffic jams. At the same time I understand it’s better to be safe than sorry and also know the threat was indeed to be taken seriously. Finding accurate and reliable information all week long has been a challenge. Certain areas were for sure more prone to damage from storms, flooding and winds. I am still glad we evacuated and relieved that impact of everything isn’t as catastrophic as the news had predicted. It’s been an extremely emotional week and even now there is still a lot of uncertainty about what will happen in the upcoming week. My heart goes out to each and every person in Florida.
Thanks to each of you who have messaged me with your concern. I’m touched by all of your comments and kind messages. I’ll be in California most of this week and at the moment am unsure of when I’ll be able to return to Tampa. My husband and pets are safe and sound though and I’ll keep you posted. Beauty posts I had prepared earlier to resume as soon as I can!
Today’s post is Part 2 of my San Francisco Travel Diary with a review of the Palace Hotel and my pack list with the Bigger Carry-On from Away’s new Stockholm Collection. In past years my husband and I usually stay at the Westin St. Francis on our San Francisco trips because we fell in love with the cute romantic vibe in their Landmark Building. This visit was a girls trip so I decided to try something new decided to give the Palace Hotel a try. The beautiful Garden Court is what sold me – it just looks magical! The reviews looked promising for cleanliness and comfort so I booked a room with 2 double beds. When we checked in they gave us one on the 7th floor with the New Montgomery Street View and it was just perfect. We didn’t hear any street noise and it came with one of the Toto Washlet and with heated seats. The rooms are on the small size which was expected for the city but the room was pristine with comfortable beds, amazingly soft linens, extra towels and really cute turn down service. Upon check-in I was given a small bag of Ghirardelli Chocolates as they have a store right outside the hotel. For me it was a win right from the start!
A look a the entrance:
We wanted to try the Garden Court for tea but didn’t make it this round, the lighting is just so pretty. If you look up you can see there’s another floor with a room which we assumed was reserved for special events or weddings. We tried to find the door to it but could not.
Away Bigger Carry On in Clay:
There is a pool and a nice gym on the 4th floor which we took a peek at – we didn’t get to use it though as each day we did quite a bit of walking. Enough to wear us out completely!
A look at the room we booked, cute hallways on each floor!
Double Bed Room:
View from the 7th Floor, New Montgomery Street View:
What I packed below. As mentioned in Part 1 – both Laura and I under packed for the weather. She flew in from Los Angeles and I flew in from Tampa where the weather is in the high 90s. Our clothes simply were not warm enough for what we’re used to but we made it work by layering. Since 75% of our outfits were too cold we re-wore a lot of our sweaters and pants. I brought the Away Bigger Carry-On in Clay which is the perfect warm clay pink color. It’s part of the Rashida Jones Stockholm collection with 3 limited-edition colors, Packing Cubes and a Stockholm tote (new current packing cubes here). My husband is the organized one who knows all the packing tips and tricks to make life easier so he bought me packing cubes for our Europe trip a few years ago. They do indeed help organize things but they’re not really the most aesthetically pleasing. It’s a minor detail but these Away cubes are the prettiest ones I’ve seen. I’ve already ordered a few more packs.
I didn’t have time to photograph all the outfits I packed and since I didn’t wear everything I’ll list what I fit inside the Bigger Carry-On Size. You can also see this post from spring here and here of what goes inside this size. My pack list, I’ve linked the items I packed as well in case you are curious:
2 pairs of jeans (I usually wear the Paige Verdugo Ankles because they’re good for my height) and 1 pair that I wore on the plane
2 shirts, one long sleeve button down from AG, one off-shoulder top from Rag and Bone
Before I go into my beauty pack list, here’s a look at the Bigger Carry-On next to the Stockholm Tote. The tote is made of “water-resistant nylon with vegan leather details and featuring a zip top, an exterior pocket, interior laptop sleeve, two interior snap pockets, and a removable zippered pouch that fits the really big iPhone.” I didn’t take it with me on this trip but I wish I had. One of the biggest issues I have with my larger totes is they don’t have good pockets or compartments inside (I should probably invest in an insert at some point!). The Stockholm tote is simple, streamlined and functional with enough pockets to store essentials for easy access. The depth is quite roomy so you don’t have to feel like magazines and your laptop are stuffed inside.
The Bigger Carry On measures 22.7” x 14.7” x 9.6” Weight 7.3 lbs Capacity 46L
The Tote measures 13.5” x 12” x 4.5” and can fit an 11” MacBook, cross body strap drop is 18″
A few notes if you’re shopping for luggage and missed my previous reviews on Away. I discovered them in 2015 when they only had 1 size (the Carry-On) and have used their suitcases exclusively for the past few years because of the streamlined design, sturdy exterior, charging component in carry-on and for their really good wheels. I’ve literally bought all my loved-ones suitcases as gifts and converted them all to using them as well! I’ve tried both the regular Carry-On which is best for international flights and the Bigger Carry-On which works on most US Domestic Flights. You can see a size comparison with dimensions on their website here which is really helpful – they’ve done the research to help you decide! As a carry-on traveler this really can fit a lot inside because the handles, battery and wheels don’t consume a lot of space on the inside while a lot of other brands do.
I have checked these on occasion even though I usually do carry-ons. My husband has checked his a lot too. They are prone to scuffs and scratches, but really anything you check is bound to get scratched. With mine I used it on 3 back to back flights and it didn’t get any deep scratches. For surface scuffs the team at Away recommends you use a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser and warm water to remove them and for me it works like a charm.
The makeup I brought with me (items that were press samples will be marked with a *)
My skincare lineup shown below. Believe it or not all of my liquids did indeed fit inside a single quart size bag. I had to play around with the arrangement like Tetris a few times to make everything fit as I’m a carry-on traveler. If you’ve been following this blog for years, you may remember that I actually made it through a month-long trip in Europe with a carry-on backpack.
I missed having my hair dryer, but San Francisco water is so much better than Tampa water – my hair was naturally shiny and smooth during my trip with air drying! I also packed an assortment of tools like makeup brushes, lash curler and hair brush but didn’t photograph them before unpacking. As usual I packed too much – I did use everything I brought in skincare, but makeup was a bit overdone.
One last look at the beautiful hotel:
I hope you enjoyed this review of the hotel and what I packed! We had a lovely stay at The Palace Hotel – I’d definitely consider staying here again on my next visit. If you travel to San Francisco occasionally where do you usually stay? Open to any and all recommendations!
P.S. My posting schedule has been a bit off lately as I’m living the nomadic life right now. I’ll be heading to New York, California (again) and back to Florida in September. Florida life recap post is still coming – I know many of you are curious where/why we are moving and I’ll explain more in a future post. Long story short we now get to explore different areas of Florida and it’s been quite an adventure but an unexpectedly great experience. I still cannot believe how BIG Florida is and since moving here and most of my West Coast friends don’t know how spread out everything is. I have to show them maps to explain how long it takes to drive from area to area. Beauty posts to resume soon. I’ve still been putting a lot to the test to review here!
Beauty and skincare press samples indicated with a *. Away Stockholm Collection provided for review. We paid for our room, however a media rate was extended to us by The Palace Hotel for this review. As always all opinions my own.