Whether for a stress-relieving holiday getaway or vacation in the New Year, or for experiential gift-giving targeted to those on your “nice list,” travel is top of mind for many this time of year. With that in mind, I wanted to share acollection of my top travel picks of late in the American southwest that are all tried-and-true…by yours truly. I can personally attest that these are five locales you’re sure to love.
First, I hope you can make it over to San Diego, as America’s Finest City boasts some extraordinary properties. This most certainly includes the recently-expanded Kona Kai Resort and Spa, a Noble House resort that I recently experienced.
Located on the tip of San Diego’s Shelter Island, it offers a range of amenities and experiences unique to its beautiful waterfront location and rich history. The property has 170 luxurious guest rooms, including 41 brand new suites that feature contemporary island-inspired decor, deep soaking tubs and oversized balconies. The new suite I stayed in had an elegant and dramatic glass fireplace with lighting that can be set to the color of your choice. I love Kona Kai because it’s intimate, especially with décor touches like this, yet all-encompassing.
The resort boasts its very own private beach replete with multiple cozy gas fire pits where you can make s’mores each evening (with kits the hotel offers) as well as multiple swimming pools, waterfront restaurants, an award-winning spa, a superbly picturesque 500-slip marina and the renowned private Kona Kai club. For groups, there’s 55,000 square feet of versatile indoor and outdoor event space.
You can sip and savor at the Paloma pool and bar, Kona Kai’s new and exclusive adults-only pool area allowing guests to enjoy poolside craft cocktails and California coastal cuisine while overlooking the marina and some of the region’s most breathtaking sunsets just beyond. Take advantage of their bicycle program and take a refreshing cruise along the sparkling bay in front of the resort, which is replete with impressive sea craft.
The property is also extremely well-situated in the city, located just minutes away from San Diego International Airport, the historic downtown Gaslamp Quarter and all of the area’s top attractions. In all, Kona Kai Resort and Spa is a prime destination for both locals and visitors, and a perfect choice for families and couples looking for a convenient getaway.
Next, for fun-loving gastro travelers heading to San Diego, consider planning a night full of dinner and dancing at Parq, a venue offering an unparalleled nightlife experience in the city’s famed Gaslamp district. Its restaurant offers superb chef-driven cuisine and delectable craft cocktails in a chic and trendy dining space. After dinner, hit the adjacent Parq nightclub boasting the latest technologies and advances in entertainment, premium VIP services, and ongoing live shows featuring top artists. Plus, live DJs will have you dancing all night long!
Parq is definitely a venue like none other in San Diego, making it a stellar venue for an exciting night out on the town. It’s also the perfect locale for celebratory occasions like milestone birthdays, bachelor and bachelorette parties, as well as large guest events like receptions and other private group events seeking a customizable menu and kinetic atmosphere.
Head north a bit and land at the Luxe Rodeo Drive Hotel—the only hotel on Beverly Hills’ iconic Rodeo Drive. A blend of modern style, relaxed southern California spirit and the elegance of Beverly Hills, this boutique hotel features inspired spaces from famed designer Vicente Wolf and genuine hospitality from a dedicated staff.
Revel in unmatched access to world-class shopping, dining and entertainment even just steps from the front door. You’ll also enjoy partaking in the hotel’s exclusive Luxe Club amenities. Like a home-away-from-home, the hotel’s Luxe Club benefits include delicious breakfasts, light lunches, evening tastings with happy hour house wines and cocktails. The happy hour in particular is a fun, lively and communal atmosphere among guests, and there’s plenty of affable staffers on hand to ensure every craving and necessity is met.
This hotel also features complimentary bicycle rentals, a second floor outdoor mezzanine and a 360-degree rooftop view that provides incredible sights of the Los Angeles hills and skyline. That fresh outdoor space also hosts the fitness center and weekend “cinema under the stars” events. Luxe Rodeo Drive Hotel is certainly a premier choice for an immersive visit to Beverly Hills.
For those who love a southwest desert-chic ambiance is the legendary JW Marriott Scottsdale Camelback Inn Resort & Spa. Nestled on 125 acres, this AAA Four Diamond resort’s tranquil setting, private hiking trails, world-class amenities and dynamic interior and exterior architecture offer an authentic Arizona getaway.
It features 453 pet-friendly casita-style accommodations and suites with private patios, seven restaurants, a 32,000 square foot award-winning spa, two championship golf courses, tennis courts and sparkling pools. It even offers a myriad of outdoor hiking and biking adventures. It’s only minutes away from downtown Scottsdale, and just a 20-minute drive to both downtown Phoenix and the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
If you’re a gastro-traveler like myself, food and beverage is a downright essential part of a vacation experience and, fortunately, Camelback Inn delivers on this front as well with seven eateries at your disposal. Their signature on-site restaurant—Lincoln, a JW Steakhouse—is unequivocally one to not be missed. It offers a traditional steakhouse concept with modern touches, including decadent dishes and processes that exemplify culinary ingenuity. The resort also houses Rita’s Kitchen for fabulous breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner either indoors or al fresco, as well as Sprouts at the Spa and the pool-side Hoppin’ Jacks, which offers casual options such as pizza and sandwiches. In addition to the dining options on the main property, Acacia at Camelback Golf Club has an open-air lounge with an outdoor fireplace where patrons can partake in American style fare.
In addition to its unique setting and fabulous amenities, the resort is known for its impeccable customer service, which workers credit to the company’s philosophy that taking care of its employees will result in an enhanced ability to best care for customers. The satisfaction among staffers is exuded in every touch-point throughout a guest’s experience, throughout which smiles and “above and beyond” service abound.
For more than 82 years, this destination has maintained a legacy and standard of excellence by welcoming generations of guests, Hollywood celebrities and U.S. Presidents since its opening in 1936. It’s a favorite vacation spot for the Marriott family, and myself, to this day!
For a fun night out while in Scottsdale or Phoenix check out iPic Theaters. This premier luxury restaurant-and-theater brand, with locations throughout the U.S., is a pioneer of the dine-in theater concept. iPic Scottsdale provides chef-driven culinary and mixology offerings inside premium movie theaters as well as an artisanal Italian on-site bar and restaurant called Tanzy. Be sure to order the mozzarella appetizer prepared tableside!
At iPic, guests enjoy an elevated entertainment experience with plush, fully reclining leather chairs encapsulated within their own private viewing pod, which also come furnished with courtesy pillows, blankets and unlimited popcorn. Premium plus seating pods harness revolutionary acoustic technology for superior sound. Each pod has a swivel dining table and seat-side service call button. Relax and enjoy a movie while savoring cuisine from a signature menu designed by a three-time James Beard award-winning chef. Now that’s entertainment!
***Some or all of the accommodations(s), experience(s), item(s) and/or service(s) detailed above may have been provided or arranged at no cost to accommodate this review, but all opinions expressed are entirely those of Merilee Kern and have not been influenced in any way.***