Food

The Coffee (and donuts) of Venice Beach/Santa Monica, California

My heart is in SoCal (I was born and raised there). I spent a quick two days in Santa Monica, California recently and wanted to share some great coffee spots I visited. And yes, I went to four coffee shops (and one donut place that technically had coffee) in two days. Disclaimer: I didn’t take great photos so these are pulled from my Instagram story. 

Espresso Cielo

3101 Main St
Santa Monica, CA 90405

Espresso Cielo in Venice Beach

This is the first place I went in Venice for a morning cappuccino and it was perfect. Just a few blocks away from the beach, I took it to go and strolled along the sand and waves. Cute atmosphere and a friendly barista. We even met a couple puppers inside. I love how dog friendly California is!

Dogtown Coffee

2003 Main St
Santa Monica, CA 90405

Dogtown Coffee in Santa Monica

My two go-to orders at a coffee shop is either cold brew (black) or a cappuccino. But I was so intrigued by Dogtown’s signature Salty Dog Caramel Ice Coffee (cold brew sweetened with caramel and topped with sea salt infused foam). It was pretty good – the foam was interesting. I don’t think I’d get the same drink again, but it was fun to try and great for someone who likes sweetener in their coffee. I loved this place and bought a bag of whole beans to take home.

Bulletproof Coffee

3110 Main St
Santa Monica, CA 90405

Bulletproof coffee is a brand known for creating coffee with added grass-fed butter and oil to boost energy. This is their first standalone shop. It was right next to our Airbnb, so I had to stop by for an afternoon pick me up. I ordered the cold brew because I wasn’t brave enough to try the butter coffee. I’m still not sold on this idea but I know people that love it.

Modern Times Brewery (actually in Los Angeles)

832 South Olive St
Los Angeles, CA 90014

Vegan Cortado at Modern Times Brewery in Los Angeles

Yes, in California they have breweries that also make amazing coffee. I didn’t try any of their beer, but the selection sounded amazing. I ordered a chile relleno burrito from their all-vegan brunch menu and a cortado with a delicious vegan milk (hemp or oat maybe? Can’t remember) in an adorable cup. Yum! This place was super cool, I’d love to come back and try some beer.

DK’s Donuts & Bakery

1614 Santa Monica Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90404

This place is the best thing that ever happened to me. OK, not really. But after a night out, we ordered a Lyft to the one food place still open. Little did I know, it was this magical bakery of the most amazing donuts. They have fun flavors like ube, maple bacon and cookie dough; and even a giant donut you may have seen on Facebook. Honestly, you can skip all that and get the Original O-Nut. Seriously. Do it. It’s basically a croissant donut hybrid which I didn’t know is a thing. But it’s a great thing. DK’s O-Nut is covered in magical glaze. I could eat 100. Oh and they had coffee, too, but the donut shop kind.

I love visiting local coffee shops when I travel! What places did I miss in Santa Monica? Or what other cities have amazing coffee spots? Let me know in the comments below!

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10 things you need to do in La Jolla, California: scuba, tacos, coffee and more

I just finished about three weeks of travel for work. In between there, I went to Phoenix for my dad’s 60th and then extended one of the work trips for a weekend in San Diego, California. I decided to stay in La Jolla so I could squeeze in some scuba diving off the coast. Ever since I became a certified diver, swimming with seals and/or sea lions was on my bucket list. Happy to say I checked that off…

Sea Lion on California Beach - La Jolla Cove

I fell in love with the La Jolla area and hope to be back soon. Everything I did was walking distance or a <$15 Uber ride (besides the airport). Here is how I recommend making the most of a weekend trip there.

Activities

  • Dive with San Diego Snorkel and Scuba This was the highlight (and the purpose) of my trip! I did the Kelp Forest and Sea Lion scuba dive. I was the only one who showed up, so the guide and I had a great time! We saw tons of lobster, yellowtail and Garibaldi. We also ran into two horn sharks and several sea lions. I would definitely dive with this company, and the Dive Master, Rich, again! They provide everything you need for a fun, safe dive!
  • Watch the Sea Lions at the Cove – because after swimming with these playful creatures, I couldn’t get enough of the sea lions. I walked down to the Cove to watch them bark, play and nap on the beach.
  • Hike at Torrey Pines – This is an enjoyable and easy hike! It was a Saturday so it was pretty crowded, but I didn’t mind while finding quiet spots to gaze at the views of the Pacific ocean, cliffs and the rare Torrey Pines. From Windansea beach, it was about an $11 Uber drive to the Torrey Pines natural reserve. I did all the hikes that were open at the time. They are very well marked and mostly flat. It was overcast the entire time which led to me experimenting with some moody photos.
  • Beach, duh! My Airbnb was just a couple blocks away from the lovely and quiet Windansea Beach. Next time I’m thinking of signing up for surf lessons.

Lodging

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Windansea Beach

Food

  • The Taco Stand – I ate my meal so fast that I didn’t get a picture. BUT, these were some of the best tacos I’ve had in a LONG time. I think that means a lot coming from someone in Texas. I finished my meal with the churros. Highly, highly, highly recommend!
  • Promiscuous Fork – cute little spot for a craft beer and gastropub food a couple blocks from the beach! I got the mac n cheese with short rib.
  • El Pescador Fish Market – I’m not sure if I ever had a fish “sandwich” before, but WOW! Go to the counter, ask them what’s the freshest and order it as a sandwich with avocado. I had the yellowtail and it was PERFECT. 10/10 would eat again and again again. Just look at this bread…

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Coffee

  • The Living Room delicious, smooth and flavorful nitro cold brew! I also had a chorizo croissant sandwich that was amazing!
  • La Clochette du Coin – this was right across from my Airbnb, but I only went on my way to the airport. I was disappointed I didn’t check it out sooner! Delicious espresso (served with a chocolate!) and oatmeal topped with fresh fruit and almond butter.

10 Things to do in Havana, Cuba (and a day in Viñales)

I recently returned from a trip to Havana, Cuba with a good girlfriend of mine and would highly recommend it to anyone thinking about visiting the country. The architecture and beaches were colorful, the people were friendly and the food was delicious. I found Havana to be fairly walk-able and we were even able to squeeze in a day trip to Vinales.

Wondering what a trip to Havana would look like? Here’s a high-level look of what my friend and I did…

Meet some locals and stay in an Airbnb: we rented this one. It was super affordable and directly across the street from the Capitol which made for a gorgeous patio view. The hosts were extremely kind and the place itself was just what we needed – two beds, private bathroom and a/c. They even provided drinks in the mini fridge for 1-2 cucs and breakfast in the morning for a fair price. If you haven’t signed up – click here! That’s my referral link so we both get a credit to our accounts.

Walk around Habana Vieja: We had so much fun just strolling through the city and looking at all the buildings and plazas!

Try lots of different foods (it’s all affordable and delicious): I’ll admit, some places I travel to just for the food. Cuba wasn’t one of these, so I was very pleasantly surprised and some of the great meals we had at beautiful restaurants. La Lamparilla and Los Nardos (right next to our place and great atmosphere – we went twice!) stood out to me. We would also stop by a little stand on the corner next to Parque Central that sold hot and melty ham and cheese sandwiches for 50 cents. Another stand was selling fried “donuts” with guava jelly – also super cheap and delicious! On one of our walks we walked into a cafe that didn’t even have a sign – but it was one of my favorite meals – salty grilled pork with the perfect fried plantains. So have some fun exploring the different traditional foods of Cuba!

See a live music show: We went to the Havana Libre Hotel where they have a nightly live music show, El Turquino.

Visit the Hotel Nacional: We originally went to book a tour to Vinales with the concierge (see next topic!) but spent a few hours in the garden enjoying the shade, view and a few drinks.

Take a day trip to Vinales (tobacco farm): Through the Hotel Nacional, we booked a day tour to Vinales. It cost 100 cuc each which was fairly expensive compared to how affordable everything else had been. We scheduled the driver to pick us up the next day. It wasn’t what we were expecting, but ended up being a highlight of the trip. We thought we’d be getting an official “tour,” but a taxi driver shows up and asks us what we want to do! Luckily, this driver was a great guy – very friendly and knew where to take us. After a 2-3 hour drive, we went to a tobacco house where we learned the process of picking, drying and rolling tobacco. We could even purchase premium cigars for half the price than they are sold by the factory. Then we went to Cueva del Indio (with sugar cane juice and rum in hand) where we got to cool down in nature’s a/c and take a boat ride through the beautiful caves. Next stop was the Vinales Valley which was SUCH a beautiful view – it almost looks like Jurassic Park. Then we stopped by our driver’s friend’s house who was a sweet older woman who offered us coffee in her adorable pink house. It was such a fun day!

Find a roof top view: Because, why not? We ducked into Hotel Ambos Mundos to check out their roof top bar (pink hotel near the cathedral!) Unluckily for us… it started to rain as soon as we got up there!

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Ride in an American classic car: OK,  I have to say… this was one of the coolest things about Cuba visually. The gorgeous, well-kept classic cars are everywhere. Most of them are taxis, so take a ride – just make sure you agree on a price before hopping in the car.

Explore the local museums: There are quite a few museum choices in Havana! We went to the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (National Fine Arts Museum) which had all genres of arts and only by Cuban artists. I wanted to go to the Revolution Museum but we did not have a chance.

Bus to the beach: we spent a morning at Santa Maria beach. From our Airbnb, it was a 5 minute walk to Parque Central where we caught the T-3 bus that took us there. It was 5 cuc round trip. The beach itself was beautiful and relaxing. You can rent beach chairs and buy drinks. It was not crowded at all and the water was gorgeous – I got in waist deep and could still see my toes.

So, have I convinced you? I’ve also posted some general travel tips for Cuba here.