Venice Beach in Los Angeles, CA

Venice Beach, aka “Muscle” Beach is a great place to take your children (or yourself) if you feel like you have lived a sheltered life. From the homeless tents, to the different types of people, you will find it very eye-opening. It is called “Muscle” Beach because there is a section with outdoor weight lifting, basketball, hand ball, skate board park, etc… We rented bikes, and went up and down the strip.

ETIQUETTE TIP: When biking, if you are going slow, stay to the right. If you need to pass people, please do so on the left. Also, people are not aware of their surroundings, which I consider a breach of good etiquette – a lot of people were walking in the bike lane. It made it a lot harder to bike since you had to dodge pedestrians.

There are also a lot of little t-shirt type shops, and vendors set up selling unusual items. And yes, you can actually lay out on the beach and enjoy the water and sunshine.

San Diego and Mission Beach

Day 2:
Mission Beach – We headed down to Mission Beach around 10:00 am, and it was already getting crowded, since it was a Saturday. We rented bikes and enjoyed biking up and down the strip along the beach. We needed to eat lunch early since we had to get to America’s Cup boat by 12:30. One thing I noticed about San Diego is they are really into breakfast, and eat it late. We had a hard time finding a place that served lunch at 11:00. Very fun beach with a lot of activities to choose from for people of all ages.

America’s Cup – Dennis Conner is the sailor who dominated yacht racing for over a decade. A few retired men bought one of the “America Cup” boats, called Stars and Stripes. You can pay to get on the boat, and have a cool experience of being one of the crew, or just relax and enjoy sailing. Our boys thought getting to do some of the things that the crew does is cool. I was glad that they now have had a little experience sailing. They said it was “a lot more fun that they expected.”

San Diego and LaJolla California

Day 1:
USS Midway Museum – If you like World War II facts, or any kind of military experiences, then this will be a lot of fun for you and your family. I am not into either one, but I was pleasantly surprised how cool it was. It is a giant ship that has fighter planes on the deck, and like a “little city” below in the living quarters. What was interesting to me was where people actually slept, and how they lived on this ship. It has not been part of the military since the early 1990s, so you can get a docent tour, audio tour, and just walk around and read all of the interesting things about the ship and our history.

LaJolla Beach – We had every intention of going snorkeling and kayaking, however we arrived to to helicopters overhead, and everyone lined up looking in the water. There was a missing diver, and no one was permitted to participate in any water sports for the rest of the day. There are a lot of quaint boutiques and shops in the area.

Restaurants: We ate at a restaurant called The Spot, which had great service, and a variety of food such as salads, burgers, etc…

Petco Park baseball stadium – home of the San Diego Padres
We ended the day with a baseball game at Petco Park, and watched the San Diego Padres defeat the San Francisco Giants. The stadium was pretty nice, but nothing really stood out architecturally. But the fans were awesome, and the music and atmosphere was rocking. A lot of fun.

Napa, California

Napa, California is one of our favorite places on earth! Daniel compiled these notes, and I think they are great for those who are visiting the Napa area for the first time, or for the 10th. Before you go, I suggest watching the movie Bottle Shock. It will let you know the history of Napa, and how they got on the map. Cheers!

Since Napa offers such a relaxing atmosphere, we prefer to stay at a less expensive hotel versus a nicer, high end hotel. Most of our time was spent driving around to the various wineries or at restaurants, so we spent very little time in the hotel. Two that are convenient (both are right on Hwy 29) are:

Hilton Garden Inn Marriott
3585 Solano Ave. 3425 Solano Ave.
Napa, CA 94558 Napa, CA 94558
707-252-0444 707.253.8600

Car Rental
The weather in Napa can be absolutely gorgeous….therefore we prefer to rent a convertible. However, reserving a convertible is expensive. Here’s how I get around it – Get a reservation at 2 or 3 car rental agencies at the airport (we usually fly into San Francisco) for a standard or intermediate size car. Once you check in, ask the agent if they have any convertibles available….they usually do, and will typically upgrade you for only a few dollars more than for the one you reserved (and much less than if you had reserved a convertible initially).

The reason I have reservations at 2 or 3 agencies are for several reasons…..once you arrive, occasionally an agency doesn’t have a convertible available, so move to the next available agency. Secondly, the SFO airport can be extremely busy, and I’ve seen one agency with a huge line, while another had no waiting.

However, if you do not have a designated driver for the days you are doing a lot of wine tastings, I suggest parking the car at the hotel, and downloading the Uber app. The Napa police have gotten very strict about drinking and driving.

We usually drive the western route through San Francisco to go over the Golden Gate Bridge and through downtown San Francisco.

This also takes us to the splitting point for roads that go to Sonoma and Napa. Our first stop is at Gloria Ferrer, a sparkling wine vineyard. Sit on the patio, enjoy the sparkling wine along with their spicy almonds. It’s a great start to your time in the wine country!

Another stop just down the road is Domaine Carneros, another sparkling wine vineyard. The grounds and building are gorgeous, and worth the stop for another drink. Hey….that’s why you are here, so drink up!

Helpful WebsitesNapa Valley Wineries – an interactive map that has links to every winery. This will allow you to plan out your tastings. It helps to have tastings in the same general area so you are not crisscrossing all over Napa.

My personal preference is red wine….specifically Cabernet and Bordeaux-style blend, so my suggestions are biased toward wineries that primarily produce these types of wine. As for white wine, my theory has always been – “The best white wine is a red wine.” ☺

Highly Recommended
Cliff Lede
Elyse – ask for Rick, and tell him the McVeigh’s sent you!
Chateau Montelena

Joseph Phelps
Nickel & Nickel
Robert Mondavi (for first timers only)

Cult wineries, go just to say you went and get a souvenir
Stag’s Leap
Silver Oak

Don’t Bother
V. Sattui
Robert Mondavi (unless this is your first time visit)

Sparkling Wine – aka, Champagne!

Highly Recommended
Gloria Ferrer

Domaine Carneros
Domain Chandon

It’s hard not to find a good/great restaurant in Napa. Some of the best chefs in the world have opened operations here, and many of the places use fresh, locally grown ingredients. With great wine must come great food. Pick your palate – French, Italian, steaks, seafood, or yes…..even burgers or an old fashioned made-to order deli sandwich.

Highly Recommended
6525 Washington St.
Yountville, CA
6534 Washington St.
Yountville, CA 94599
738 Main St.
St. Helena, CA

Gott’s Roadside (Burgers)
933 Main St.
St. Helena, CA 94574

587 St. Helena Hwy South
St. Helena, CA 94574

Oakville Grocery
7856 St. Helena Hwy (Hwy 29)
Oakville, CA 94562

Cook (St Helena)
1310 Main St.
St. Helena, CA

Martini House (closed)
1245 Spring St. (@ Oak)
St. Helena, CA 94574

Don’t Bother
-none yet

Heard good reviews, but haven’t been here
Bistro Don Giovanni
4110 Howard Lane (St. Helena Hwy)
Napa, CA 94558

The French Laundry
6640 Washington St.
Yountville, CA94599

Carpe Diem
Downtown Napa


Winery Notes (Alphabetical)
Baldacci – small, family owned winery across from an old red schoolhouse. Very friendly staff. Their IV Sons Cabernet is a great value, especially if you buy it on at close out prices (I’ve gotten it for as little as $15/bottle)

Boyd – Small winery, wine is good, kinda off the beaten path. Stan is building a good reputation for his wine, and tastings are on his front porch. He and his wife live on the winery grounds, and enjoys a good cigar if you are inclined to share one with him!

Buehler – Family owned. Page Buehler met us at the door as we arrived, and walked us around the property and had a 1-on-1 tasting with him. Since they are such a small operation (10-15 employees, including family), don’t be surprised if they cannot accommodate a tasting or tour, as they run a very lean operation. Great history of the property, and an absolutely great value wine as noted in Wine Spectator.

Chappellet – Gorgeous property at the top of Pritchard Hill, and the drive back down the mountain after the tasting is probably one of the most scenic in Napa. Great wines, and their staff is unbelievable friendly and helpful. The tasting is with a small group, and is in the storage area, so the temperature will be cool…..dont worry, they have jackets/light coats for anyone who needs warmth.

Chateau Montelena – This is the winery that put Napa on the world wine map. Historic property. Be sure to watch the movie “Bottle Shock” before going to Montelena, as it is the story of how they won the 1976 wine competition in Paris that sent shock waves around the wine world.

Cliff Lede – Beautifully landscaped property with topiaries, and a great art collection. Their covered outdoor tasting area is scenic and relaxing.

Darioush – Too over the top and commercial for me. The manse of a structure seems out of place in Napa. We signed up for a “Private Tasting with artisanal cheeses” of their reserve wines @ $50 a person, and were shocked to see that we were being joined by approximately 30 other people. We bolted and got a refund.

Elyse – One of our absolutely favorite places, and not just because my name is Elise! Small and family owned, tasting room is no frills, but they make consistent, very good wines. A great place to start your tastings as you are heading up Hwy 29.

Garjuilo – Subtle property from the road, but opens up to a wonderful view from a small hill once you are at the house. Wines are great, and the staff is very helpful. Screaming Eagle wine is supposedly sourced from the grapes on the other side of the fence from Garjuilo.

Girard – Love their wines, but their tasting room is in town, so you don’t get the ambiance of tasting their wines on the vineyard. Great wines, good value.

Hall – Two separate properties and tasting opportunities. The main property is for the general public. The other property is at the Hall’s house and is used for small private tastings ($50). Great wine produced by a couple from Dallas.

Joseph Phelps – Icon of Napa. Wines are great, but expensive (you buy the name/reputation), the back of the property for the tasting overlooks a valley and is very scenic. Staff seemed to be a little snotty/arrogant.

Kuleto – A unique, breathtaking property at the top of the Hennessey Basin mountins. The drive up/down the mountain is not for the faint of heart – a narrow, winding road takes you up to the estate. The tour is not your typical wine tour, but of the property to see the spectacular views and hear the history and significance of the estate. The wines are very good, and the tasting is done with cheese and crackers. Staff is very energetic and knowledgeable.

Mai(s)onry – A tasting room for a consortium of wines.

Merryvale – A bit more ‘commercial’, but not too much. Tasting room people are very fun and engaging. Wine is good all across the board. I actually bought a Savignon Blanc (I RARELY buy white wine). They have a gift store with lots of wine-oriented trinkets for purchase.

Miner – On Silverado trail just north of Oakville Crossroad. I wasn’t impressed with the wine or the staff.

Peju – The tasting room guys are absolutely hilarious….Scott Neumann was our guy. Very engaging, and he even sang to us. The winery is a bit commercial and has a good-sized store trinkets. Wine is ok, but worth the ‘fun factor’ due to the tasting room guys.

Plumpjack – Small tasting room and the staff was friendly. Wines are really good.

Robert Mondavi – If you have never been to Napa, this is the best place to start, as they give one of the best tours of how wine is made from ground to glass. After that, it’s another Wal-Mart of wineries. They have some good reserve wines, but you have to fight the masses during your visit.

Silver Oak – The “Mecca” for uninformed wine people. Wine is ok, but they are still pricing it based on their past accolades. It’s a tasting factory there, as everyone wants to stop by Silver Oak, so you will be one of the masses, and there is little personal interaction with the staff, as they are too busy trying to accommodate everyone pouring into the tasting room.

Stag’s Leap – Another cult winery that has good wine, but albeit overpriced based on their past accolades. Tasting room staff were arrogant and seemed as if we were bothering them. Not worth the $25 tasting fee.

V. Sattui – The Wal-Mart of tasting rooms. They have a ton of different wines, along with a good food market, but you will be there with the masses.

Sparkling Wine Notes (Alphabetical)
Domaine Carneros – Could be your second stop from SFO to Napa just after Gloria Ferrar. It is located in a beautiful French chateau building with gorgeous landscaping. Order the sparkling wine flight on the patio, and imagine you are in France.

Domain Chandon – The most commercial of all the sparkling wineries. Tastes really good, but you are part of the masses.

Gloria Ferrer – A wonderful place to stop on your way from SFO up to Napa. The patio overlooks the beauty of the vineyard. Great staff, and their seasoned almonds are to die for!

Schramsberg – I was initially put off by the fact that we were required to take a tour in order to taste the sparkling wines…….trust me, it is worth it! Completely different than any wine tour, you go down into the caves, and see the sparkling wines in storage.

Mumm’s – A great place to end the day, as they stay open later than most. Stop by for a drink before heading off to dinner or passing out at your hotel. It has a very fun atmosphere.

Restaurant Notes (Alphabetical)
Bottega – Italian. A fun and casual atmosphere. Chef Michael Chiarello does a fantastic job with Italian fare. Great place to relax and have comfort food after a long day of wine-tasting. Relaxing outdoor patio. Located in Yountville.

Bouchon – French. Tom Keller’s elegant, white-table cloth restaurant, and a notch down from the fru-fru French Laundry cousin in town, and you’ll swear you are in Paris. Romantic. Staff was very attentive. Extensive list of French wine (along with Napa wines) as well as a long list of fromage choices. Located in Yountville.

Cook – Italian. Simple restaurant. Good, solid rich Northern Italian cuisine. Relaxed atmosphere. Located in St. Helena.

Farmstead – Seasonal American. You feel like you are back home in the country, with large portions, and hearty food. Most (if not all) ingredients are grown locally and organic, making everything very fresh and delicious. Lively atmosphere, can be very casual. Great outdoor seating area, and they make a very strong cocktail! ☺ Located in St. Helena.

Gott’s Roadside – Burgers. Oh. My. God. There will be a long line, and yes, it’s worth the wait. Don’t worry, the line actually goes pretty quickly. Don’t be surprised to see people having their burger with a $100 bottle of wine next to you. That’s how Napa rolls. Located in St. Helena.

Oakville Grocery – Sandwiches/refreshments. You’ll step back in time when you walk through the doors. Everything is fresh, made to order, and the proportions are usually more than you can eat in one meal. Stop by to grab a sandwich in between wine tastings, and find a picnic table at the next winery to enjoy your meal. It’s the oldest continual grocery store in the state of California. Located in St. Helena.

Press – Steak/Seafood. If you are looking for a staple, this is about as close to a Dallas steakhouse as you will get. Atmosphere can either be fun and noisy, or elegant and quiet, depending on the time/day you are there. Located in St. Helena.


No need to tip the people who pour you the wine. If you pay for a tasting, do not feel obligated to buy any if you do not like it. If you do not, then buy at least a bottle, or a trinket in the gift shop. Also do not feel obligated in any circumstance to join a vinyard’s wine club.

Kentucky Derby in Louisville, KY

A “Bucket List” item for a lot of people is The Kentucky Derby annual horse race at Churchville Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. It is always held on the first Saturday in May, and “The Oaks” is the day before. It has been on my bucket list for a while, and our 2015 trip exceeded my expectations! I would describe the atmosphere as an adult Disney Land. Everyone is happy, happy, happy! The locals are very hospitable, and all in attendance feel lucky to be there. The cocktails are flowing, the horses are racing, and the well-dressed crowd is enthused.


Must See Places

While in Louisville, there are a few places that are a must-see. The famous Seelbach (Hilton) Hotel is where Daisy – of Great Gatsby fame – wed Tom. They shot part of The Great Gatsby movie there. Seelbach Hotel

The other must-see historical hotel is the Brown Hotel, on Fourth and Broadway. They have recently had a $12 million renovation. Brown Hotel

You can get a tour of how bourbon is made, which Kentucky is known for. Go to Bourbon Tours a list of places to go.



An interesting place to eat is Proof on Main, at 702 West Main Street. The food is good, but the real appeal is that they have a fascinating modern art gallery. You can dine at this casual restaurant, have a drink at the bar, or just check out the art gallery. We went there to debrief on Sunday about the fun we had at the races, and we were drawn to all of the interesting artwork. Proof on Main

Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse is a favorite. It is hard to get into, so call way in advance to make a reservation. Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse


What to Wear

My husband Daniel and I had a lot of fun picking out our outfits and accessories for The Oaks and The Derby. The Oaks has a tradition that all in attendance wear pink to honor cancer awareness. Daniel chose a pink Ralph blazer with sear suckered pants, and brown and white buck shoes. On Derby day, he had a crazy multi-colored jacket that he borrowed, with white linen pants. Each day he had a horse race themed bowtie and belt, which we purchased at Vineyard Vines. (They have a whole line of Derby clothing and accessories. Vineyard Vines )



I found a pink hat from a local person in Dallas, and then borrowed my Derby day hat. All the local department stores in Dallas sell hats that time of year. The one I borrowed was from my friend Allison who bought in on-line. If you do not have a hat picked out by the time you arrive, do not fear! There are plenty of shops that carry hats in Louisville.



I picked out my hats, then I shopped for my outfits. Coincidentally I was going on a girl’s shopping trip to NYC the week before The Derby, so I decided to shop there. I found my pink dress at a local boutique in SoHo, and my Derby day dress at Century 21 – which is like a Marshall’s of TJ Max on steroids. Whatever you choose, make sure you will feel comfortable in it all day. You will probably get dressed by 9:00 am, and people stay in the outfits and hats after The Derby, and go to dinner as late as 9:00 pm.. This is probably because it would be a pain to fix your hair, so why not just stay in your hat and dress?



The weather for us was in the 50s for the low, and in the 70s for the high, so I brought outer-wear for the morning. Plan on choosing outer-wear (for cold or some years for rain) ahead of time, so it coordinates well with your outfits. I grabbed something from my closet to pack at the last minute, and I had to keep on taking it off for pictures.



I obsessed over my shoes and handbags more than anything because of Churchill Downs’ security.



There is a lot of walking since you cannot get too close to the track on Derby day, therefore most ladies wear flat shoes or flip-flops, and then carry their high heeled shoes. When I got there, I discovered that the smartest ladies had fashionable designer flat sandals that went well with their outfits. After carrying my shoes all day, and switching off from flats to heels and back throughout the day, I decided this is the way to go. I wore some chunky heeled black shoes with bows down the front for The Oaks, and found some sheer black heels to match my Derby dress. I then wore silver ballet flats for the serious walking.



As for my handbag, the official website says that you cannot carry a bag larger that 12×12. Being the rule follower that I am, I was in Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus measuring every handbag that I considered. (Yes, I am that anal.) I ended up with a small Kate Spade pink handbag for The Oaks, and a black Tory Burch handbag for The Derby. Both are crazy small, but I had room for my phone in my plaid shoe bag. As it turns out, I saw a lot of people with larger handbags, but no one told them not to bring them in. I always say safe than sorry, but I do not think they will confiscate your bag if it is 14×14 instead of 12×12!



I am obsessed with Lauren Kate Design jewelry. Lauren Kate Design Every precious stone is one of a kind, and are dipped in 14 carat gold. The owner, Stacy Mullikin chooses high quality, beautiful chains. Lucky for me she lives in Dallas! I took my outfits over to her and she helped me pick the perfect jewelry.



I am such a light packer, but this trip was an exception! I typically bring one pair of shoes, and one set of jewelry that can go with everything, but I could not resist packing for each day. I wish I had shipped my hats to and from the hotel, to save the pain of bringing them on the plane. Also, for some reason, American Airlines from Dallas Fort Worth International Airport decided to give us a tiny plane to Louisville. This made carrying luggage on difficult. If you have valuables (such as jewelry or your Derby tickets), valet your luggage at the gate, or take them out all together and carry a small bag on. When I travel, I am fearful of lost luggage, so I at least carry my makeup, toiletries, and at least the first day’s outfit on the plane with me. If you valet your luggage – especially if you do not have a lay-over – you should not have an issue will it getting lost.



Uber to the rescue again! We found a great Uber driver who we were able to work with the whole time. He quickly found the best spots to meet us. Ask your driver to drive through the neighborhood near the track. The first day on the way there, our driver went down the main street that the track is located, and we finally hopped out after stand-still traffic, and walked several blocks to the front gate. For the way back to the hotel, our driver figured out that if we walked down just a few short blocks through the neighborhood and meet him at the shopping center, he could get us out faster.

We stayed near the Seelbach and Brown hotels, and there are a lot of shops and restaurants within walking distance.



We gave our Uber driver cash on top of the Uber tip that is included in the ride.

You also will want to tip the hard-working people serving you food and drinks. I think $1.00 every time or every other time if you go to the same person is sufficient.

Tip the washroom attendants. They keep the restrooms amazingly clean, and will hand you a towel. I would tip around .50 cents per visit.

Restaurant tips are 15-20%. I would tip on the high end, because they are crazy-busy Derby week!


Practical Tips

  • Ship your hats to and from your hotel
  • Find a driver the first day, and get his phone number
  • Consider wearing cute sandals
  • Go to the horse track gift shop on the Friday of The Oaks, or early on Derby day
  • We attended a wedding the week after the 2014 Derby, so we went to the stadium to check everything out for our 2015 Derby trip. It was blazing hot, so we knew we would want covered seating. We had perfect weather, (apparently the best in 40 years), but it has been known to rain, so another reason to want covered seating.
  • Wear sunscreen even if the high is supposed to be 70 degrees, and you have covered seating. (Like in our case!) You will want to walk around, and you will get sun exposure.
  • Go to The Infield, and walk around no matter where you are sitting. It is across a tunnel from the ticketed seats. You see a lot of characters and “costumes.”
  • Make your bets all at once at the beginning of the day. We kept on standing in line after every race. Derby Day lines can get long. Races are about every 30 minutes, and an hour and a half before the big Derby race.
  • Check out the horses in the Paddock. It is interesting to see them up close, and all of their muscles and real beauty.
  • Bring a lot of cash for alcohol. It is expensive!
  • If you would like to bring home all of the glass beverage containers that you get your drinks in, ask your hotel for a box to bring on the plane, or ship them home. The Mint Julips, Stella beer, and other speciality drinks have a special commerative glass.
  • You can call local restaurants two weeks before Derby day and order a boxed lunch. They know how to package them in clear wrappers so you are allowed to bring them in. Bring bottled water too. They are expensive and they ran out at the end of the day at the stadium.