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I love to travel, which makes writing for TravelAge West a dream job for me. Over the years, I’ve grown accustomed to staying at five-star resorts, and I love every minute of it. But I also like an off-the-cuff road trip or city adventure that tosses the itinerary out of the window in favor of serendipity. Last year was filled with trips at both ends of the spectrum.
Here are some of my favorites.
MauiLast April, I flew to Maui with a companion to stay at the Grand Wailea Resort Hotel & Spa. The management pulled out all the stops to ensure that we had a superlative time. They put us in a fabulous suite with two terraces; booked us a romantic torch-lit dinner at the resort’s main restaurant, the tongue-twisting Humuhumunukunukuapuaa Restaurant; brought us into the spa after closing time for a private spa dinner and couples’ massage; and treated us to a special dinner at one of the villas across the street from the resort at Hoolei at Grand Wailea. It blew me away when the restaurant manager told us they had performed a dry run of the meal the day before, just so they would be sure to get everything right. Our stay at Grand Wailea was an amazing over-the-top experience. As posh and relaxing as the resort is, try to get out and see the rest of Maui, too. I recommend booking one of the waterfall hike tours at the front desk.www.grandwailea.com
TijuanaTijuana deserves its wild-and-wooly reputation — you definitely want to have your antennae in full operating mode once you cross the border. But I have close Mexican friends living there so my visits are relatively safe. My favorite trip this year was in October, when we celebrated a birthday with a front-yard barbecue of carne asada, with reggaeton blasting in the background. The tequila, Tecate, music and the good vibes had us dancing in the street. The next morning, it was nice to cool down with some coconut shrimp from our favorite roadside vendor and then take a whirl through the city’s swap meets where you can always find a bargain.www.visitmexico.com
I lived through the CNN reports of the U.S. invasion of Grenada in 1983 and later sympathized with the island’s plight when it was rocked by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. When I finally got the chance to visit the island this year, I was knocked out by how beautiful it is. Grenada is hilly and green and steeped in history. A pleasant surprise during the trip was a visit to a newly opened property on the north shore, Petite Anse. This place is so appealing that it has become a weekend getaway for native Grenadians. Its hillside, beachfront location and cottages are great, but the element that sets Petit Anse apart is the easy charm of its owners, Philip and Annie Clift, who fell in love with Grenada during a sailing trip in their yacht, China Town. The island impressed them so much they decided to put down anchor and make it their home.www.petiteanse.comwww.grenadagrenadines.com
Hotel Ivy guest room
What’s not to like about a five-day trip comparing the three hippest hotels in San Diego? Last fall, I stayed at the Hotel Indigo San Diego, The Ivy and the Se San Diego. Each of the three hotels had their own niche, but the needle went off the scale with The Ivy’s Premium Guestrooms, which have a 360-degree, glass-enclosed bathtub and shower that is on view to those sitting on the couch or lying in bed. In an earlier article, I described the Hotel Indigo guest as hip, young (or young at heart), outgoing and convivial and turned on by a property that goes the extra green mile; The Ivy guest is cutting-edge, sexy and sensual, wired and not afraid of something new; and The Se San Diego guest is well-traveled and sophisticated, accustomed to great service, but with a hip sense of fun. www.hotelindigo.comwww.ivyhotel.comwww.sesandiego.com
My 19 year old son is one of my favorite traveling companions. This year, we took a road trip to the Salton Sea, one of those mysterious, lost-in-time locales. The Salton Sea is located in the southeastern corner of California and was once a happening vacation spot (it’s actually not a sea — it’s the largest lake in California). After one ecological disaster after another, it morphed into a ghostly repository for lost souls. Witness the inhabitants of Slab City, a trailer camp that’s a strange mix of snowbirds and permanent runaways. Personally, I couldn’t get out of there fast enough, but we got roped into a game of Scrabble and didn’t manage to extricate ourselves for several hours. My favorite part of our Salton Sea trip was visiting the colorful art installation, Salvation Mountain, where we took a tour with its visionary, Leonard Knight. Knight has spent decades creating a 50-foot-high and 150-foot-wide mountain of adobe clay emblazoned with colorful designs and the message that “God is Love.” On impulse, I asked him if he needed any help for the day, and my son and I were soon hauling buckets of adobe up rickety ladders, with my son complaining under his breath, “Hey dad, next time ask me, ok?”www.saltonsea.ca.govwww.salvationmountain.us