Exploring Baja California Sur with UnCruise Adventures

Exploring Baja California Sur with UnCruise Adventures

Safari Endeavor In Baja California Sur

Our Quintessential Warm Winter Getaway to Mexico’s Magical Sea of Cortes

When it’s snowing and cold during the long winter months, it’s the perfect time to plan a mid-winter escape. It was our mission to find a lesser-known paradise where you can endlessly cruise through inviting turquoise seas from cove to cove from island to island from port to port.

We were in search of authentic native culture, kayaking in glassy coves, and hiking the uninhabited brass colored desert mountains. Seeking out white sandy beaches, snorkeling with sea lions, and experience wildlife from both sea, land, and sky. The whales and a plethora of birdlife will be awaiting our arrival.

It was time to plan our warm-weather excursion down to Baja California Sur. We wanted to do a small ship adventure eco-cruise somewhere south of the border. We were looking for a winter escape to parts of the world lesser-known.

Video of the Sea of Cortes Cruise provided by UnCruise Adventures

Here is the video created by UnCruise on the Sea of Cortes Exploration on the Safari Endeavor!

Off we went in search of a journey that offered unique destinations harboring us in someplace warm and sunny, that is a bit away from the winter snowbird crowds. We were referred to Un-Cruise Adventures by several friends who happened to be repeat passengers and raved about it with huge accolades. We were intrigued and excited about their enthusiasm from their memorable experiences with Un-Cruise. We realized we had found the perfect choice as it offered just what we were in search of – “Small ships and BIG Adventures.”

Un-Cruise Adventures offers many select destinations around the world at different times of the year for their guests to discover a variety of untouched locales with off the beaten path explorations. They provide their adventurous passengers a journey over oceans, seas, bays, and rivers as a way to change the way you see the world.

In the winter months, Un-Cruise offers four different warm-weather destinations.  The Hawaiian Islands, Central America – Costa Rica & Panama, the Galapagos and Mexico’s Sea of Cortes, which was our number one choice taking us to Mexico’s inland sea, also known as the Gulf of California in Baja California Sur.

With every Un-Cruise experience, one can expect to receive unparalleled service and impeccable attention to details.  Each cruise offers relaxed and cozy accommodations, adventure and shore excursions, and an abundance of amazing food and beverages along the way.

The Map of the Cruise Route in Baja California with UnCruise Adventures

Map of the Route of the Safari Endeavor through the Sea of Cortez

Once we made our decision to book in this adventure to Mexico’s Sea of Cortes with Un-Cruise, the rest of the planning was plug-and-play! Their team of travel experts was on top of everything from the moment we arrived at Los Cabos International Airport to the day we flew back home.

Barcelo Grand Faro – First Night in Cabo Before the Cruise

When we left the chilly snow-capped mountains and arrived in warm Baja California Sur, we peeled off our winter layers of clothes into sunny warm weather attire. Our first “Ah-Ha” moment. Upon arriving, we were graciously escorted to one of their partner hotels in San Jose del Cabo, the Barcelo Grand Faro Los Cabos.

That evening we dined on local seafood, fresh salsa, and guacamole and toasted to margaritas overlooking the sunset from the hotel’s outdoor restaurant. We also had the opportunity to meet many of our future shipmates who were just as thrilled as we were to embark on our upcoming small ship adventure cruise.

Welcome Introduction to our weeklong adventure by Ellie

Day one of our Adventure – Arriving at the Port in La Paz

The next day our 8-Day/7-Night sojourn with the Un-Cruise Sea of Cortes Exploration began. In the afternoon, we boarded a bus to the docks in La Paz, where we boarded the 42-Cabin, 232-foot Safari Endeavor with our binoculars, cameras, and journals in tow. Upon stepping aboard, the week’s guests were shown to our cabins and given a tour around the different decks, the lounge salon, and the dining room. Early that evening over cocktails, and after introductions and an informative orientation by their experienced crew, our expedition set sail with the glowing sunset on our tail.

The Admiral Cabin – One of Five Different Types of Staterooms

View off of the Deck the First Evening

Just before dinner, we embarked from the port, as we gently cruised out of the harbor onto the sparkling moonlit Sea of Cortes for our week-long Island-hopping Un-Cruise Adventure. The numerous bays and islands along Mexico’s Eastern shores was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005 and also a Biosphere Reserve. We will be following the great John Steinbeck’s path into the protected waters of Cousteau’s “world aquarium.” At this moment, we knew for sure we were in store for a memorable experience and an adventure for the books!

Searching for Marine Life

Let the adventures begin!

View off the top deck of the Safari Endeavor

Daily Activities aboard the Endeavor

  • Every day you can watch the sunrise as you begin your adventure-packed day with wellness and Yoga on the 400 Sundeck at 6:45 where all levels of flexibility and experience are welcome.
  • The sumptuous breakfasts are always the perfect way to start your day at 7:30 am in the ship’s spacious dining room.
  • 9:45 am after the daily activity orientations; you can sign up for your “Fun Day” of choice from the ship, whether it be a snorkel, a ride on the skiff’s, a hike, a guided paddle on the kayaks. There are two days with off-ship excursions, whether you are visiting the historic town of Loreto or off to Magdalena Bay in search of Gray Whales.
  • Lunch on the ship is in Endeavor’s Dining room at 12:30, unless ashore on an adventure excursion.
  • Happy Hour is Daily in the Salon at 5:30, where the guests mingle and share stories about their day’s adventures at sea or on land.

    Happy Hour

  • Dinner is at 6:30 every evening in the ship’s dining room. Each evening presents delicious, specially crafted dishes created with locally sourced produce, seafood, and meats by the onboard chef. There are selections to delight in for every palate, and they can also cater to your dietary needs and food restrictions too.

    Safari Endeavor Dining Room

    One of our Evening Meals Aboard the Safari Endeavor

Our Daily Itinerary for the Week at Sea

Snorkeling Adventure UnCruise Baja California Sur

Happy Snorkeler

Sunday – Day 2 Adventures – Los Islotes

  • Daily Activity Presentations – Route Talk with Mark
  • Cruising and Los Islotes
  • “Cruising for Critters,” as they call it on board, through the rolling seas such as blue whales and pods of dolphins

    Sea Lions Galore

  • Skiff Tours to the Surrounding Islands

    Skiff Tours of the Islas

  • Snorkeling with the California Sea Lions, with a focus on interactions with juveniles, graceful, agile, playful, or known as “puppies of the sea.” All snorkel gear, wetsuits, and fins are provided onboard by Un-Cruise. Select your set-up for the week and get ready to explore a variety of marine life below the surface. There were many different schools of fish and plentiful underwater creatures.

    Snorkeling with the Sea Lions

  • The birding is sensational – We set our eyes on Blue-footed boobies, Brown Pelicans, Frigate birds, shorebirds, and Cormorants.


  • After our snorkeling expedition, upon return to the ship, we warmed up on the deck in one of the inviting hot tubs with a hot beverage.

    Time to Relax

  • In the late afternoon, we went up to the bridge with Captain Bernadette to search for marine life in the waters ahead.

Monday – Day 3 Adventures – Bahia Agua Verde

Coming Ashore for our Burro Ride on the Arroyo

  • Daily Activity Presentation – Treasure with Ellie
  • We met on deck three at 8:30 am for the shore excursion to Agua Verde – we experienced the real Baja on burro rides with the Romero family from San Cosme. This family is one of the last remaining strongholds of the Vaquero/Ranchero culture of Baja. They are horse-mounted livestock herders of tradition that originated on the Iberian Peninsula. They are traditional horseman cowboy ranchers.

    Saddling up the Burros for our Ride

  • We cruised to shore across the brilliant blue-green waters of this Bahia Agua Verde on the skiffs from the ship to the sprawling shores of the Romero property. We were saddled up with our own burro and then headed up the trails where we experienced a gentle meandering ride up and down the rolling hills and untouched shoreline.

    At the Shore from the Endeavor for our Burro Adventure

  • Along the Trails on the Burro Ride

    One of the picturesque views from the burro trail ride

    Our friendly burros had minds of their own when it came to which order they wanted to follow in along the uninhabited trails. Though when the guide stopped, we stopped, and when the guide started moving along the path again, our burros followed suit, keeping an even pace with their leader. Along the top of the ridge, we overlooked breathtaking views of the bay and learned much about the Romero family’s deep history ranching in this stunning remote desert terrain.

    Burro Ride

  • We rode our mules through the arroyos of native cactus and an oasis of palms through the sand dunes and occasional streams. Sixteen of us from the ship went on the first round of trail rides. It was a good thing I had my waterproof windbreaker as we ran into an unexpected but short shower.

    My Burro

  • After lunch, we took another cruise to other islands on the skiffs. We ran into a bit of unexpected wind as the seas pick up a bit. One of the other skiffs came out to the deserted island we had landed on to escort us back to the ship.

    Cruising the Islas in the Skiffs

 Tuesday – Day 4 Adventures – Isla Danzante & Loreto

  • Daily Activity Presentation – Creatures of Culture with Lindsey
  • Isla Danzante Snorkel and Honeymoon Cove. A stroll through Steinbeck Canyon and then off to the charming historic town of Loretto for lunch.

    The Snorkel at Isla Danzante

    Isla Danzante

  • Danzante means dancer because the high mountain peaks from the peninsula look like women dancing. This part of Isla Danzante is part of the Bahia de Loreto de Parque Nacional and is home to dolphins, whales, and pelicans. The city of Loreto is backed by the Sierra de la Giganta mountain range, where trails lead to prehistoric cave paintings.

    The Small Coastal Town of Loreto

    Our Walking Tour Around Loreto

  • What a great afternoon, we had to explore the town of Loreto on our walking tour. We toured the colonial buildings and the Mision de Nuestra Senora de Loreto, a 17th-century church in the heart of town.

    Mision de Nuestra Señora de Loreto

  • Before heading back to the Safari Endeavor, we stopped for a tasty bite of regional cuisine and few yummy margaritas at one of Loreto’s favorite dining spots – Orlando’s Restaurante.

    Orlando’s Restaurante in Loreto

Wednesday – Day 5 Adventures – Magdalena Bay – Whales

Magdalena Bay Gray Whale Excursion

  • Daily Activity Presentation – Gray Whales with Mark
  • Magdalena Bay Day – Our Gray Whale Adventure – After an early breakfast, we boarded the waiting Lopez Mateos vans for our ride across the peninsula to the Pacific side to Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateos, a municipality of Comondu in Baja California Sur. It is a small fishing town located on the Magdalena Bay coast, mainly known for its whale watching operations. We boarded several waiting white panga boats and headed out to the nearby lagoon, which has calm, warm waters perfect for Gray Whale calving. The bay is protected from the Pacific Ocean by the sandy barrier islands of Isla Magdalena and Isla Santa Margarita.

    Mother and Baby Gray Whale

  • The Gray Whales are sometimes known as the “friendlies” due to their tolerance and curiosity of the cruising small panga boats with people such as us. As it was our own friendly mission to get up close and personal with these charming and docile migrating creatures of the sea.

    Baby Gray Whale coming to Say Hello

  • We had only 5 or 6 passengers and a guide in our 20-person panga for our 2-hour whale watching adventure. It was absolutely exhilarating getting so close to these fascinating and grand gray whales. We had a mother and her calf spend almost an hour flirting with all of us between the surrounding pangas. They seemed to love the attention as they came close to our boats to say hello. We all kept in observance the guidelines of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

    The Gray Whales Love to Visit

  • Our lunch after the whale watch adventure was quite fantastic. We noshed on regional langoustine, prawns, fresh-caught fish with tortillas beans and rice at one of the local outdoor restaurants, and of course, a fresh cold Cerveza.

 Thursday – Day 6 Adventures – Isla California & San Evaristo

Kayak Launch off of the Safari Endeavor

  • Daily Activity Presentation – Trivia with Marika

    Searching for Underwater Marine Life

  • Today’s excursion took us to San Evaristo and Isla California, where it is protected from the Northerlies. The water seemed a bit colder that day, so I went for extra warm with a shorty wetsuit over my long one. We had excellent fish sightings of Needlefish, Sea Cucumber, Puffer Fish, King Angelfish, colorful coral, and seastars. The visibility was excellent, around 50 feet, so we see could see an abundance of underwater marine activity.

    The Onboard Wetsuits and Underwater Gear

  • We also did a hill hike referred to as our “Bushwhack Hike,” 4.6 miles up into the arroyo through the chaparral and coastal hills. We had a fantastic view of the old salt flats, and the Safari Endeavor moored in the distance out in the bay. We passed through a tiny village of a few homes where only about 40 families still. Many of the area’s buildings appeared to be abandoned and falling down due to the hurricane damage from several years before.

    Hiking Isla California

    Hiking Isla California

    Our Expedition Guide for the Day

 Friday – Day 6 Adventures – Beach Party – Ensenada Grande

Arriving on Shore for the Beach Party

  • Daily Activity Presentation
  • It was Beach Party day in the protective cove of Ensenada Grande, which is part of Espirito Santo National Park. At 9 am, we boarded the skiffs on a short ride from the ship where we landed on a secluded, pristine white sand beach and where the staff had set up absolutely everything for us.

    Kayaks along the Beach at Espirito Santo National Park

    Food and Beverages – The Picnic

  • They had brought food and beverages, and they even set up a beach picnic and beach bar for us. Also waiting for us was the fleet of yellow kayaks to take out with one of the expedition guides or on our own at our leisure in the calm waters of the aquamarine bay. We paddled about the rim of the island and the dynamic shoreline amidst sheltering rocky walls, volcanic ridges, and abundant birdlife.

    Kayaking around the Protective Cove of Ensenada Grande

    The Beach Party Farwell

  • As a wrap up for the week, we all assembled in the ship’s dining room for our exquisitely prepared farewell dinner with our many new-found friends.
  • After dinner, they followed with a fantastic slideshow of memorable photos taken by the expedition team during our weeklong journey cruising Baja California Sur.
  • As our finale, we did some post-dinner stargazing on the top deck as we bid a melancholy farewell to the glimmering luminescence of the waters surrounding the Safari Endeavor. At the end of the evening, we all settled in with our journey’s home beginning the next morning, leaving with great experiences and memories.


The cuisine on board was an absolute delight. All of the meals presented to us were handcrafted and prepared by their experienced executive chefs. These innovative dishes are all created with local fresh, sustainable products. Their culinary program thrives upon the relationships they have built with the local farmers, local fishermen, and regional vendors. You can always expect field-to-table produce and ocean-friendly seafood direct from the waters where the Un-Cruise ships go.

Produce from Local Farmer

Un-Cruise Adventures is committed to sustainability, and they are proud to be the first cruise partner of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Program.

Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch

Other than the days where there is a unique excursion away from the ship or a picnic on the beach, all three meals are prepared and served in the ships stunning dining room. And you don’t even have to dress up for dining as it is always a casual and relaxed dining experience.

What to expect with your Dining Experience

The Dining Experience of Un-Cruises

  • Early-riser breakfasts of fresh fruit and baked-on-board pastries
  • Full breakfasts with hot and cold options
  • Lunches featuring salads, sandwiches, homemade soups, and regionally influenced dishes
  • Varied hors d’oeuvres during cocktail hour
  • Dinners come with a choice of entrees including fresh, local seafood, meats, and vegetarian dishes
  • Made from scratch desserts like tiramisu and lavender panna cotta
  • Chef selected wine pairings that complement your meal

Sample Menus

  • Breakfast
    • Smoked Marlin Frittata, portabella mushrooms, spinach, dried tomatoes
    • Omelet of the Day – Mushroom Cheese Omelet
    • Berry Pancakes with Maple Syrup
    • Breakfast Potatoes Choice of Bacon or Sausage
  • Dinner
    • Field Greens with fresh raspberries, caramelized chevre & champagne roasted shallot vinaigrette
    • Fresh -baked rosemary focaccia finished with apricot and sweet onion glaze
    • Roasted Beef Tenderloin with Beef Demi-Glace
    • Baja Lobster with Lemon Butter
    • Squash Napoleon layered with crumbled Boursin & pomegranate balsamic
    • Cinnamon poached pear with buttery puff pastry and salted caramel

Happy Crew Eager to Serve the Passengers at Happy Hour

The bar in the salon area is open for your enjoyment. There is always one of the ship’s friendly staff members waiting to pour you a glass of wine, beer, or create your favorite libation from scratch. Whatever your fancy, you will find premium and small-batch craft spirits. Their cocktails are mixed with seasonal local ingredients like a house-infused cucumber vodka. The infamous Un-Cruise Bloody Mary is a must-try and when cruising through Mexico’s Sea of Cortes, don’t miss their Margaritas, they are sensational. We can vouch for that.

Cocktails at the Bar Every Evening Aboard the Safari Endeavor

I forgot to mention that one of the other perks is that every passenger guest received a complimentary massage! That was a special unexpected treat especially after the long hike in the arroyo.

Weather in Baja California Sur

What’s the weather like in November through March when the Safari Endeavor takes to the waters of the Sea of Cortes?

Air temperatures are moderate and can vary from 74F to 83F degrees. Evenings can get slightly chilly with the off-shore winds.

Water temperatures vary from 66F to 77F.

What to Bring for your Adventure Cruise on the Safari Endeavor

  • Don’t forget your passport
  • Reef-safe Bio-degradable sunscreen and hats for shade
  • Mobile phones or iPad for photos and photo sharing, though there is limited or no Internet onboard
  • Cameras, Binoculars, chargers/power cords, memory card, extra batteries
  • Collapsible Suitcase to fit under your bed
  • Dress in layers throughout the day – sun protective fabric is suggested
  • Hiking attire – hiking poles, hiking shoes, daypack
  • Dry Bag for camera, binoculars, or anything that you don’t want to get wet.
  • Comfortable clothes, casual attire, beach clothes
  • Windbreaker, fleece or light jacket
  • Any medications you may need during the week

 Un-Cruise Adventures tagline “Unrushed. Uncrowded and Unbelievable”.  And you can count on that!

Goodbye for now! I can’t wait until the next time! Cheers Un-Cruise! You are the Best!

Visit their website for more details on this cruise and their other destinations.


Photo credits: Dynie Sanderson; the expedition crew aboard the Safari Endeavor; Uncruise Adventures; Jean Cusick.











Celebrate National Tequila Day with these Delicious Twists on the Margarita

Celebrate National Tequila Day with these Delicious Twists on the Margarita

National Tequila Day – July 24th

National Tequila Day July 24

Every Year around the third week of July, we have another opportunity to celebrate, rejoice, and indulge in our favorite libations from south of the border with National Tequila Day. It’s the special day to get into sipping this famous Mexican Spirit – Tequila. In honor of this day, I must wear my shirt celebrating this divine agave nectar – “Tequila – Mexican Chardonnay!” To further the celebration of the day, I must play the song by Soulrocker, Michael Franti and Spearhead, who also honors this special day with his well-known song, “My Favorite Wine is Tequila!

The Blue Agave Plant

National Tequila Day was recently established over the last 20 years in the United States and Mexico. Mexico actually celebrated their first National Tequila day on March 16, 2019. National Tequila Day in the United States began to emerge in the late 1990s and is celebrated every year on July 24 and is dedicated to the celebration and promotion of Mexico’s native drink from Jalisco.

Tequila was first produced in the 16th Century very near where it is still produced today near the surrounding areas of the city of Tequila, however, it was not officially established until 1666. This fermented beverage made from the agave plant was known as pulque and was consumed in pre-Columbian central Mexico before any European influence.

Tequila is produced in the area around the town of Tequila in the region of Jalisco, Mexico. This national drink from México is made from the blue agave plant and can only officially be called Tequila is if made in this region. There are many other variations of the beverage made in and around Mexico but cannot take on the name. Just like with sparkling wines produced around the world. The only ones that can be designated as true Champagne are those that are actually produced in Champagne, France.

Barrel-Aged Tequila

Mexican laws specifically designate that tequila can only be produced in the state of Jalisco along with limited municipalities in the states of Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas. Tequila is recognized as a product origin of Mexico in more than 40 countries and it is protected through NAFTA in Canada and the USA.

  • Blanco Tequila (“white”) is unaged Tequila and bottle and stored immediately after distillation or aged less than two months in neutral oak or stainless steel. It is the harsher of the 100% agave tequilas with the bold flavors of the distilled agave upfront.
  • Reposado (“rested”) is aged a minimum of two months buy no more than a year in oak barrels. Reposado and Anejo are smoother, more subtle, and less complex.
  • Anejo (“aged” or “Vintage”) aged a minimum of one year but less than three years in oak barrels. The more that it is aged the more the tequila takes on the flavors of the wood while the harshness of the alcohol mellows.
  • Extra Anejo (“extra aged” or “ultra-aged”) This is a newer category of Tequila and was established in 2006 – The extra Anejo is aged a minimum of three years in oak barrels

In Mexico, the most traditional way to drink Tequila is without lime and salt where outside of Mexico, a shot of Tequila is served with a slice of lime and salt, while licking the hand and putting salt on it, taking the shot of tequila quickly, licking the salt off of the hand and then biting into the lime.

There is also the Tequila Slammer which is a mixture of Tequila and a carbonated soft drink like 7up. Another variation of that is the Tequila Bang Bang which is a mixture of Tequila and Sparkling wine. This is usually done in groups or parties where everyone takes their “Slammer” or “BangBang” slams it on the table when it bubbly and frothy and then slam it down.

My personal preference is none of the above. I much prefer to sip a good Reposado or Anejo slowly to take in the lovely flavors of these ages beauties much like sipping a good Cognac.

In celebration of National Tequila Day, I like to indulge in a specialty Margarita. Here are a few of my favorite recipes to create your own specialty concoction. Happy National Tequila Day!


Margarita Recipes to Celebrate National Tequila Day

Whether it is Cinco de Mayo, National Margarita Day, National Tequila Day, National Cocktail Day, Your Birthday, or Someone else’s Birthday, just about any day is a good day for a Margarita. Here are a few Margarita Recipes to get your spirit moving!

History of the Margarita

Where did the Margarita originate? Over the years many have taken claim to the creation of the infamous tequila drink – “The Margarita.” The cocktail the “Daisy” was a similar drink made with brandy instead of Tequila. Though during prohibition people traveled over the border and picked up tequila which was substituted for the brandy. Daisy in Spanish is Margarita.

In 1937, there was a recipe for a “Picador” using the same mix of tequila, triple sec, and lime juice in a cocktail book. There are others that claim that Dallas socialite Margarita Sames created the drink for her guests at her Acapulco vacation home in 1948. The first known published recipe was in the December 1953 issue of Esquire. Though in 1945, the first importer of Jose Cuervo promoted the slogan – “Margarita: it’s more than a girl’s name.”

Nowadays, there are so many creators and mixologists of tequila drinks with different versions and flavors of the Margarita with so many variations of Margarita recipes. In essence, all of us who have concocted our own Margarita recipes can take our own five minutes of claim to fame too. Here are a few of some of my favorite twists on the colorful Margarita, some with my own input and diversions to the recipe. It’s your turn to take it and run with it!

It’s Margarita-Thirty!!

The Traditional Margarita

The Traditional Margarita

Makes 2 Margaritas – increase ingredients as needed depending on the number of Margaritas you are preparing.

  • 4 OZ Blanco tequila
  • 2 OZ Cointreau or triple sec
  • 4 OZ fresh lime juice
  • Ice
  • Slices of lime or lime wedges

Fill a Cocktail shaker with ice along with the tequila, Cointreau, and fresh lime juice. Shake well, then strain into a chilled glass or serve on the rocks.

Another Spin on the Traditional Rita – The San Antonio Margarita

San Antonio Margarita

Recipe Inspired by well-known Texan Josie Davidson whose father received this recipe from Mario Cantu, owner of Mario’s, an old-line Mexican Restaurant in San Antonio. This famed Margarita recipe was passed on to the New York Times in 2015. It’s a five-star winner with 818 five star ratings!

  • 1 cup plus a splash of tequila
  • 1 cup plus a splash of orange liquor
  • 1 cup plus a splash of freshly squeezed lime juice

Combine all of the liquids in a pitcher with 6 ounces of water and stir to combine. Place in the refrigerator to chill. Then serve over ice in glasses with salted rims. Garnish with a wedge of lime.

24 Karat Gold Margarita by Loews Miami Beach Hotel

24 Karat Margarita

It seems like ages ago, but just like yesterday that we traveled across the country to Loews Miami Beach Hotel. It was only a few months ago in February that we were invited to participate in the exquisite festivities held at the hotel for the South Beach Wine and Food Festival in South Beach. During our visit, we had the distinct pleasure of joining Steve Turk – Food and Beverage Director for Loews, Linda Villafane – Director of Public Relations for Loews Miami Beach and Contributing Food Writer for Forbes in the hotel’s spectacular lounge, Bar Collins, for a pre-celebration toast. We were all dressed to the nines, looking like royalty for the evening’s formal festivities celebrating SOBEWFF. This set the perfect stage and the perfect opportunity to toast with the bar’s famous in-house Margarita, the “24 Karat Rita.”

These brilliantly decorated tumblers arrived at our table glowing of effervescent sparkles adorning the glass rims and the floating lime wheels. Almost to pretty to drink, but feeling decadent and adventurous, we all cheered and jumped right into these jeweled libations.

Their specific recipe remains a bit of a secret. We do know it includes a generous pour of Roca Patron Silver over crushed ice, with fresh lime juice, a bit of Cointreau, adorned with edible 24k gold leaf and lime zest! Bravo Bar Collins – you definitely knocked it out of the park!

Black Grape and Chili Margarita – Courtesy Food and Wine

Black Grape and Chili Margarita

Serves – 2

  • 1 tsp Chili powder
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 oz fresh lime juice
  • Lime wedges for garnish
  • Ice
  • 4 oz Concord grape juice
  • 3 oz Reposado Tequila
  • 5 ox triple sec
  • Serrano chili pepper with seeds thinly sliced
  • Black Grapes for garnish

Mix the chili powder with the salt and sugar. Moisten the rim of the two glasses with a lime wedge and dip the glasses into the coast around the rim.

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add the grape juice, tequila, lime juice, triple sec, and 4 slices of serrano Chilies and then strain into the two glasses. Garnish with sliced serranos, lime wedges, and grapes to serve.

Blue Margarita

Blue Margarita

If you are dreaming of the Azur waters of Mexico or the Caribbean and can’t get there right now, this refreshing Blue Margarita will definitely take you there. Take a sip, close your eyes, and just imagine being there! I do it every time, and if it’s a little too chilly outside, I just turn on my favorite travel video of the beaches of Mexico and it takes me right back!

Serves 4-6

  • 1 cup of tequila, preferably Reposado
  • 1/3 cup of Curacao (Blue)
  • 1/3 Cup of Cointreau or Triple Sec (orange-flavored liquor)
  • 2/3 cup fresh lime juice (about 8 limes)
  • Limes wedges for garnish

Combine the tequila, Curacao, triple sec, and lime juice in a large pitcher with crushed ice or you can pour it on the rocks into tumbler glasses or decorative glasses for a straight-up Margarita.

According to master mixologist Dale DeGroff, a drink called the Tequila Daisy was served at Tijuana’s Agua Caliente racetrack in the 1920s. It was made with lemon juice, tequila, and a sweet ingredient—the template for a Margarita.

The Jalapeno Basil Lime Frozen Margarita

This recipe is inspired by the recipe created by the Vancouver duo – The Food Gays. I just love the Jalapeno kick and the twist with the basil added.

  • ¼ cup basil
  • ½ cup jalapeno with seeds
  • 6 oz of barrel-aged tequila – or a good Reposado
  • 3 oz triple sec
  • Juice from 4 limes
  • 2 Tablespoons of honey or agave syrup
  • 2-3 cups ice
  • Salt for the rim
  • Lime wedges for the garnish

Muddle the basil and jalapeno together, then add the tequila. Let it infuse for 24 hours in the refrigerator. The next day strain and just keep the liquid, discard the basil, and jalapeno. In a blender add the tequila mix the triple sec, the lime juice, the honey, and ice, then blend until smooth. Pour into your salt-rimmed glasses and garnish with lime wedges.

Spicy Margarita Punch

Serves 10

Spicy Margarita Punch

It’s the combination of the cucumber, jalapeno, cilantro, and mint that takes the flavors of this Margarita off the charts. This is a perfect libation to pre-make ahead of time for your Cinco de Mayo celebration.

  • 1 large or 2 medium cucumbers
  • 2 jalapenos thinly sliced – one for the mixture and one for the garnish
  • ¼ up of de-stemmed cilantro
  • ¼ cup of mint
  • One bottle of Silver Tequila – 750 mills
  • 2 cups fresh lime juice
  • 1 cup of agave nectar
  • ½ cup fresh orange juice
  • Ice, lime wedges, and salt for serving

In a large bowl or punch bowl if you intend to use one, muddle (mash) the cucumber with the jalapeno, cilantro, and mint. Add the tequila, lime juice, agave, orange juice and stir well. Refrigerate for at least an hour or you can keep if overnight if you are making it ahead of time.

Strain the liquids from the mixture and discard the solids. Keep it in the punch bowl or put the mixture into a large service pitcher along with some ice. Serve into salted rimmed glasses and garnish with thinly sliced cucumber, jalapeno slices, and limes wedges.

The Mayan Mule

The Mayan Mule Margarita

Well, what can I say about this one except you just have to try it!

Serving Size per glass 1

A South of the Border twist on the Moscow Mule

  • 5 ounces of aged gold tequila preferably a Reposado
  • ½ ounce lime juice
  • 3-4 ounces of ginger beer
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • Sliced lime into a wheel to garnish
  • Mint sprig to garnish

Combine the tequila and lime juice in a tall glass.

Add Ice.

Add the ginger beer and Angostura bitters and stir.

Garnish with the lime wheel and sprig of mint.

The “DanaRita”


A recipe created and made for many years by my husband Dana which is a Margarita that has become legendary amongst our family and friends. It is one of the most requested and popular libations when we all congregate. “Dana, can you make me one of your DanaRitas?”

Dana’s Inspiration – Simplicity – Make people smile, feel smart and witty, and dance in public.

Key observations to making a really stellar margarita – A quality margarita is not green or slushy. Look for a golden color and pour over ice cubes.

Preferences – Salt on the rim (optional but traditional for sure); any size glass but tall one is preferable. And for the tequila – Reposado is preferred which is more flavorful and has that rich golden color from the toast of the barrel aging.

  • 50/50 ratio of tequila to everything else
  • Everything Else – Orange flavor liquor (Cointreau, Grand Marnier or just fresh-squeezed oranges)
  • Fresh Squeezed Lime – Lots of it
  • Splash of Sparkling water to give it a little zest
  • Ice

Using an 8-ounce glass, salted rim or not, squeeze a whole lime into the glass, squeeze a half orange (about 2 oz juice)

Add 2 ounces tequila, then add about 1 ounce of sparkling water. Add ice then a splash of Cointreau or Grand Marnier on the top.

Mango Coconut Chili Margarita

Mango Coconut Chili Margarita

If you are lucky enough to be spending the Cinco de Mayo celebration someplace tropical you may want to make this spin on the traditional margarita. I am sure you will find plenty of fresh mangos and coconuts in abundance. Just the thought of it makes we want to beam up someplace tropical right now, sit under a palm tree listening to waves crashing, and the warm ocean breezes blowing across my body while relaxing to the soft sounds in the distance to a steel drum band. Can I go now, please?

Almost the next best thing to being in the tropics right now is indulging in this delightful tropical tequila libation.

2 -3 servings

  • 1 ripe mango (1 cup cubed or if you can’t find it fresh, a bag of frozen mango, or mango sorbet as a last resort)
  • 1 cup of Orange juice – fresh squeezed preferred
  • 1 cup of Fresh Coconut Water or Store-bought Coconut water
  • A few Chunks of Fresh Coconut or a small scoop coconut sorbet or coconut flavor rum – your preference
  • Several Medium-Sized Limes
  • 3 ounces of Silver Tequila or Reposado
  • 5 ounces of Cointreau or Triple Sec Orange Liqueur
  • A dash of hot sauce – your preference or not, some like it hot!
  • 1-3 Tablespoons of Agave Nectar (depending on how sweet you like it)
  • ¼ Cup Lime Juice
  • Lime Wedges for Garnish
  • Chili Powder and Sea Salt mixed for rimming the glass. I also like to use Tajin Clasico con Limon

Put all of the ingredients into a blender and mix until creamy. Be sure to taste it so that you can adjust it whether you want to add more Tequila, Orange Liqueur or Agave Nectar. If you like the spice of it, add in a bit more chili powder or hot sauce.

The Brave Bull

The Brave Bull

After a long day of Cinco de Mayo festivities or any fiesta activities, it’s time to relax before siesta in the evening with a Brave Bull. It is sometimes referred to as a Mexican Black Russian. It is a cocktail that was introduced in a 1960’s action movie and it truly lives up to its name. This is a unique and quirky combination of Kahlua and Tequila Blanco, but you can use your tequila of preference. This is my husband’s go-to late-night libation and his preference on which tequila is to use one of his favorite Reposado tequilas we usually have on hand. Sometimes we add in a little milk or cream, somewhat like a White Russian or you could call it a Brave White Bull! Buenos Noches!

The recipe is easy – it is one part Kahlua and 2 parts tequila over ice. Though you can also do 50/50 on the mixture too!


Please post your comments and photos of your own versions of the famed Margarita!











USA Today 10Best Wine Readers’ Choice Awards 2020

USA Today 10Best Wine Readers’ Choice Awards 2020

I am so thrilled to have been invited again by USA Today 10Best to be one of their Expert Panel of Wine and Wine Region Experts for their 2020 Wine Readers’ Choice Awards. Visit USA Today to vote for your Favorites!
Every Year USA Today 10Best offers a variety of contests in a variety of categories. Readers like you share their opinions every day by casting votes for their favorites. Have strong feelings about specific vacation spots? There’s a contest for that. Are you a foodie chomping at the bit to support your favorite eatery? They’ve got that too. Or perhaps you’d like to peruse the 10Best Readers’ Choice winners to guide your future travels? You can do that right there on the USA Today 10Best site.

USA Today 10Best Contest Categories

You will find all of your favorite travel categories to choose from:
This time it is all about wine regions, tasting rooms, dining, tours, wine clubs, wine festivals, and wine country hotels. You have until Monday, August 12th to vote for your favorites in each category.
Note from 10Best: Someday, we’ll all be ready to pack our suitcases again and head out on our next adventures. In the meantime, we’ll keep supporting the places that inspire us.  While California undoubtedly produces excellent wine, it’s got stiff competition these days. North America is home to more than 250 grape-growing regions. We asked a panel of wine industry experts to pick their favorite North American wine regions. Vote for your favorite out of this pool of 20 nominees once per day until voting ends on Monday, August 12 at noon ET. Read the official Readers’ Choice rules here.

Vote for your Favorite Winery or Vineyard tour





Note from 10Best: Some of these events have been canceled or postponed in 2020. Someday, we’ll all be ready to pack our suitcases again and head out on our next adventures. In the meantime, we’ll keep supporting the events that inspire us. Check each individual event website for the latest.  There’s a reason Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, is often depicted as a partier. Wine makes a good festival even better. 10Best teamed up with a panel of wine industry experts to find the best wine-centric celebrations in the U.S. Now we’re asking you to choose the winner by voting for your favorite once per day until voting ends on Monday, August 10 at noon ET. The winning festivals will be announced on 10Best on Friday, August 21. Read the official Readers’ Choice rules here.


Note from 10Best: Someday, we’ll all be ready to pack our suitcases again and head out on our next adventures. In the meantime, we’ll keep supporting the places that inspire us.  While California undoubtedly produces excellent wine, it’s got stiff competition these days. North America is home to more than 250 grape-growing regions. We asked a panel of wine industry experts to pick their favorite North American wine regions. Vote for your favorite out of this pool of 20 nominees once per day until voting ends on Monday, August 12 at noon ET. Read the official Readers’ Choice rules here.




Vote for your Favorite Wine Club Tour Operators

Vote for your favorite wine tour operator

Whether you’re tasting your way through famed California wine country, sipping wines lakeside in Michigan, or exploring the emerging wine scene in Georgia, enhance your wine tasting experience by leaving the driving to someone else. These 20 tour operators offer wine-centric tours, complete with transportation, knowledgable guides, and other extras. Now you have until Monday, August 10 at noon ET to vote daily for your favorite. The winners will be announced on 10Best.com on Friday, August 21. Read the official Readers’ Choice rules here.
Celebrate and Enjoy These Tasty Upcoming Food and Wine Festivals

Celebrate and Enjoy These Tasty Upcoming Food and Wine Festivals

Photo: Michael Troutman/www.dmtimaging.com

Your Favorite Food and Wine Festivals will be Back! It’s Time to Start Planning now for 2021!!

The offerings of food and wine festivals and auctions around the state, around the country, and around the world are plentiful. You will find everything from small intimate gatherings to the grandest of galas in all sorts of themes and flavors set in delicious destinations.

In early March of this year, many of the signature food and wine events and festivals had to make the heartfelt decision to cancel and postpone their annual soirees into 2021. They will be back for our enjoyment; they have not gone away; you can rest assured. In the meantime, we can still enjoy sipping and tasting all of our favorite wines from our favorite vintners because the wineries are still shipping wines and releasing new vintages and varietals.

These wine festivals have grown in attendance and popularity over the years. A few of the original pioneer groundbreakers of these coveted food and wine events have soared to impressive heights in their popularity like the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. Triumphing, along with them, is the Kapalua Wine and Food Festival celebrating Aloha festivities on the Island of Maui. Both festivals have celebrated almost 40 years of food and wine glory.

These food and wine festivals present a perfect opportunity to reconnect with many of your favorite winemakers and celebrity chefs throughout the year while visiting some of your favorite vacation destinations. Plan your next travel, food and wine excursion around where you want to go next and wrap it around a food and wine festival. You can just about pick any weekend anywhere around the world and find a spectacular culinary/wine enthusiast soiree happening. If you want to revel on Bourbon Street in April and eat and drink the best of the best, plan on heading to the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience. You can also get your Aloha on in Maui in June or hobnob with celebrities in Aspen.

Here are a few fantastic culinary classics coming back in 2021 where you can dish up divine delights of exceptional bites and sips throughout these multi-day culinary extravaganzas. You will also have the opportunity to partake in cooking demonstrations, wine seminars. The guest chefs will be preparing specialty lunches and dinners where you will also enjoy wines from some of your favorite vintners. It’s not just all about the wine, you will also discover regional craft brews and spirits from custom distillers.

January Events

Naples Winter Wine Festival – Naples, Florida

Naples Winter Wine Fest

The Naples Winter Wine Festival is ranked among the top 10 arts and entertainment events for successful philanthropists, wine enthusiasts, and serious foodies. This ranking by the Luxury Institute is based on exclusivity, quality, and prestige. The festival has earned the distinction of being one of the most successful charity wine auctions in the nation. An array of notable Napa Vintners will join an impressive selection of vintners worldwide to share their top wines with guests at this prestigious event. Check out the festival’s website for a full list of vintners and culinary participants. In addition, world-class items will be auctioned off at the event’s signature live auction, including tickets to the Golden Globes, collections of some of the world’s most sought-after wine, a private tour of Gettysburg with legendary filmmaker Ken Burns, and much more. Proceeds from the festival benefit the Naples Children & Education Foundation. Since its inception in 2001, the Naples Winter Wine Festival has raised more than $123 million for children in need. www.napleswinefestival.com

Annual Taos Winter Wine Festival – Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico

Wine Country comes to the historic town of Taos with Tao’s best restaurants serving signature appetizers and owners and winemakers from 36 participating wineries, including Frank Family, Merryvale, and Flora Springs. The Grand Tasting features more than 155 wines and a silent auction of rare wines. All of this while enjoying turns at Taos Ski Valley.

This 4-day wine festival of events features culinary artistry found in Taos, New Mexico. You will have the opportunity to indulge in the varietals of over 40 different national wineries partnering with over 25 of the area’s signature restaurants.

Nothing better than hitting the slopes a few hours during the day, then head off to experience chef’s luncheons, winery, seminars, wine dinner, and reserve tastings. Grab your skis and your palate and head to this winter wonderland. www.taoswinterwinefest.com

February Events

South Beach Wine and Food Festival “SOBEWFF”– Miami Beach, Florida

Presented by the Food Network and Cooking Channel, this is a national, star-studded 5-day destination event showcasing the talents of the world’s most renowned wine and spirits producer, chefs, and culinary personalities. The festival has been taking significant strides over the years to enhance its Whole Foods Market Grand Tasting. The event hosts 200 renowned chefs and 150 wine and spirit producers to create over 50 events, including cooking demos, beer and wine seminars, golf tournaments, dinners, and lunches. A grand selection of vintners from around the US and the world will be among the many participating wineries.

MIAMI, FL – FEBRUARY 25: Andrew Zimmern prepares food during 2016 Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food Festival Presented By FOOD & WINE at Vagabond Restaurant & Bar (Photo by Dylan Rives/Getty Images for SOBEWFF®)

The festival now attracts over 65,000 guests annually, with over 100 plus events taking place over the 5-day weekend along the silver sand beaches of sunny South Florida in Miami Beach and other venues throughout Miami-Dade and Broward counties. The theme is EAT. DRINK. EDUCATE.


March Events

Florida Winefest and Auction – Sarasota, FL

—Photo by Rod Millington

The Florida Winefest and Auction features a wine tasting, brunch, and charity auction, winemaker dinners, and “Wine on the Water,” an upscale party featuring a vast selection of wines under the Winefest tent on Sarasota Bay. The event has awarded over $7.5 million in charitable grants with proceeds benefiting various children’s charities. This grand event has evolved into one of the signature Florida events over the 30 years they have been hosting this charitable extravaganza.

Visit www.floridawinefest.org or call 941-952-1109

April Events

New Orleans Wine and Food Experience – New Orleans, Louisiana – Celebrated around the first week in April.


Celebrating almost 30 years in the Big Easy, you will be treated to the flavors of hundreds of wineries and restaurants from around the region and around the world.  Indulge in delicious local Cajun cuisine and innovative creations offering deliciously diverse dishes. There will be over 1000 wines showcased during the 4-day event, which attracts over 7,000 gourmands, connoisseurs, and art and music lovers. It kicks off with select dinners around the city of New Orleans. The Grand Tasting event takes in the French Quarter and is a colorful and magical sight to behold where the energy permeates along the spectacularly adorned streets.

If you have never been to New Orleans or are looking for an excellent excuse to go back, this is the ticket. Here are just a few of your favorite Napa Valley Wines you will find during the 4-day festivities: Cakebread, Charles Krug, Domaine Chandon, Hall Wines, Longmeadow Ranch, Peju, Rombauer, St. Supery, Cliff Family, Duckhorn, Napa Wines, Grgich Hills, Robert Mondavi, Rutherford Wine Company, and Trinchero Estates.


In addition to A La Carte Tickets, you can also choose from one of three bundled packages – The Tasting Package, The Connoisseur Package, and the coveted VIP Package.

Put it on your radar for next April. It promises to be a memorable experience. Visit www.nowfe.com for details.

Annual Taste of Vail – Vail, Colorado

The Taste of Vail is the nation’s premier spring food and wine festival, held at several venues throughout the Vail Valley’s world-class resorts. Over 5,000 people are expected to attend this celebrated event experiencing the Vail Valley lifestyle tasting culinary treats from Colorado’s world-class restaurants and wines poured by winemakers and winery owners from around the globe. Activities include interactive cooking seminars, the annual Lamb Cook-Off, après ski tastings, iconic Mountaintop Picnic sensory extravaganza on the top of Vail Mountain, and the famous grand tasting. For information or to reserve tickets call 970-306-1334 or visit www.tasteofvail.com

Annual Pebble Beach Food & Wine – Pebble Beach, California

Guy Fieri at the Pebble Beach Food & Wine Festival

Pebble Beach Food and Wine presented by Food and Wine Magazine is the premier epicurean lifestyle event on the West Coast, showcasing 250 acclaimed wineries and 75 celebrity chefs to create a hedonistic four-day gastronomical event on one of the most picturesque strips of coastline in the world.

Throughout the weekend, you will enjoy intimate access to the pinnacle of culinary and wine talent at wine tastings, cooking demos, and some of the most exclusive, unique dining opportunities available around the world. Various locations throughout Pebble Beach, including Inn at Spanish Bay and Lodge at Pebble Beach. For info call 866-907-3663 or visit www.pebblebeachfoodandwine.com

New York Culinary Experience – New York, NY

Passionate food lovers enjoy an intimate weekend of hands-on masterclasses, cooking, and conversation with more than 30 of the culinary industry’s most celebrated talents. Join in for two days of sensory adventure. You will cook, taste, laugh, and learn from some of the world’s culinary giants making memories that will last a lifetime. Celebrated chefs including David Bouley, Jacques Pepin, Jean Georges Vongerichten, and more. For more information www.nymag.com or call 646-314-4413

May Events

Silicon Valley Wine Auction – Montalvo Arts Center – Saratoga, California

(Photo – Natalie N for Drew Altizer Photography)

SVWA is one of the newer festivals/auctions that launched its inaugural festivities in 2015 along with the Santa Cruz Winegrowers Educations Foundation. Last year they raised over $3.7M to support innovative programs, initiatives, and activities benefiting children in their community. Other sponsors of the event include Alaska Airlines, Wine & Spirits Magazine, Los Gatos Magazine, and edible Silicon Valley.

At this mid-May event, they will roll out the barrels for an evening of celebration and wine at the private estate of John Couch. Then on Sunday from 1-4pm, the Grand Tasting offers over 150 wines from the region’s most recognized wineries. There will also be more than 100 silent auction items, including VIP vineyard tours, unique dining experiences, magnums, rare wine releases, and more. www.siliconvalleywineauction.org

June Events

Annual Monterey Wine Festival – Monterey, California

One of the oldest Wine Festivals in California is the Monterey Wine Festival celebrating almost 45 years. This 2-day wine and food fest is set in this charming Northern California coastal town. Prior to the two-day event, the coveted VIP night at the Monterey Conference center offers the best from across the country and beyond. It is truly a luxury food and beverage experience.

On Saturday, you will get to also experience the “Chowdah Challenge and Celebration” where professional chefs from around the western region set the pace in a challenge to be the best in extraordinary chowder creation. There will be plenty of live music and lots of wines as well. The final day, Sunday offers yet another wine extravaganza along with being another seaworthy celebration, with highlights being the Kings of Calamari and the Masters of Mussels competition. And again, more wine, food, beer, spirits, and music. Don’t miss “Cocktail Camp” happening both days.

Call 360-693-6023 or visit www.montereywine.com

 Auction Napa Valley – Napa Valley, California

“The Most Celebrated Charity Wine Event”

Auction Napa Valley is one of the most iconic wine events and auctions in the country and around the world. This Napa Valley event has been hosting guests at their gala weekend-long events for almost 40 years. It is usually held the first weekend of June, with most of the auction festivities being hosted around the grounds at the magnificent Meadowood Resort in the heart of the Napa Valley in Saint Helena. The 1000 plus attendees are mega movers and shakers with deep pockets arriving ready to be one of the big winning bidders of the day. They come to strategically play the bidding wars on signature lots like luxury African Safaris or being hosted at a brilliant Tuscan villa amongst the rolling hills of the Italian countryside along with legendary vintners and their coveted signature vintages. The energy and excitement accelerate as the bidding competition heats up as the afternoon goes on and wine keeps pouring!

Katy Perry Performs at Auction Napa Valley – Photo by Alexander Rubin

Each year the creativity in the competition of creating these impressive lots gets stiffer as the vintner members seek to outdo themselves as well as their fellow vintners. It has become an annual quest on who can come up with the most majestic lot guaranteed to create a bidding frenzy under the buzzing ginormous tent. Many of these lots go well over $100,000. The excitement is intoxicating as the energy and the competition of the bidders seeking to outdo one another soars to new limits like a rocket out of the sky.

For more information contact www.auctionnapavalley.org

Kapalua Wine and Food Festival – Kapalua, Maui, HI

This annual Hawaiian-style food and wine festival returns to the stunning Kapalua Resort on the Island of Maui. The event celebrates 40 years of bringing together a variety of gourmands, oenophiles, and island enthusiasts to congregate under the palm trees, pleasant island trade winds and brilliant sunshine. The participating sponsors and hotels hosting guests at this 4-day tropical soiree include the Ritz Carlton Kapalua, Montage Kapalua Bay, Troon Golf/Kapalua, Maui Visitor Bureau, County of Maui, Hawaii.com, FIJI, Bacardi and Patron.

You will partake in exquisite wines from all over the world, spirits, micro-brews, and tropical libations. These are all paired with regional Hawaiian cuisine and a bounty of fresh seafood fresh from the Pacific and local Hawaiian waters. The event’s setting is breathtaking as you indulge in these delights along the beautiful shores and azure ocean views of Kapalua Bay. A few of the many highlighted events include tastings, cooking demonstrations, specialty dining, grand tastings, and so much more!

A few of your favorite Napa Valley Winemakers have been at the event sharing their signature varietals over the years of the festival. Look out for Freemont Abbey, Crocker Starr, Jackson Family Wines, Hyde Estate, Lloyd Cellars, Miner, Nellcote, Peju, Rombauer, and Tournesol.


FOOD & WINE Classic in Aspen – Aspen, Colorado

Every June in the Colorado mountain village of Aspen, many of the world’s most renowned winemakers, celebrity chefs, and culinary experts gather together in one majestic setting, the FOOD & WINE Classic Aspen, coveted as one of the nation’s premier culinary festivals. FOOD & WINE Magazine celebrate their 37th year hosting this annual fundraiser in the majestic Aspen Mountains along with celebrity chefs, to name a few – Carla Hall, Andrew Zimmern, Gail Simmons, Jacques Pepin, Martha Stewart, Rick Bayless, and our own wine country celeb – Leslie Sbrocco.

There will also be hundreds and hundreds of wine, brews, and spirits from around the world, pouring the best of the best for your indulgence. The presenting sponsoring this year is American Express, along with Lexus, Foods, and Wines from Spain, Peroni – Italia, S. Pellegrino, Tequila Patron, and Kitchen Aid. There are over one hundred events, tastings, cooking demonstrations, vintner’s seminars, and so much more during the 3-day event. Each of the three days offers a magnificent Grand Tasting under the tents.

“Come join the Party in Aspen with Celebrity Chefs, Renowned Winemakers, and Epicurean Insiders!”


August Events

Los Angeles Food and Wine Festival

In its fifth year, the Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival presented generous support from founding partners FOOD & WINE and Lexus. This four-day epicurean event showcases the finest in food and drink culture throughout Los Angeles, and culinary personalities from throughout the nation. The festival is set along one of the most iconic streets in the country and washed in cultural sophistication due to its thought-leading residents like the Walt Disney Concert Hall, The Colburn School of Music, The Music Center, Grand Park, MOCA, and the much anticipated Broad Museum.

The event spans the city and offers guests the chance to sample the cuisines and products from some of the most prominent epicurean influencers while enjoying the sights and sounds of the entertainment industry’s brightest talents. The talent coming for this weekend is second to none for a food and wine festival including celebrated chefs such as Alex Guarnascehlli, Tyler Florence, Curtis Stone, Michael Chiarello, Michelle Bernstein, Thomas Keller, Elizabeth Falkner and local favorites such as Ray Garcia, Michael Fiorelli, Neal Fraser, and David Lefevre. www.lafw.com

October Events

Hawaii Food and Wine

The Hawai’i Food & Wine Festival, operating as a non-profit organization, is the premier epicurean destination event in the Pacific. Set in the lush island paradise of Hawai’i, the festival will take place over three weekends on multiple islands. It features a roster of over 100 internationally renowned master chefs, culinary personalities, and wine and spirit producers. The Festival in Hawai’i Island, Maui, and Oahu will showcase wine tastings, cooking demonstrations, one-of-a-kind excursions, and exclusive dining opportunities with dishes highlighting the state’s local farmers, fishermen, and ranchers. www.hawaiifoodandwinefestival.com







Cast Iron Skillet Olive Bread

Cast Iron Skillet Olive Bread

Cast Iron Skillet Olive Bread – No-Knead Recipe

With so much more time at home these days and the desire for comfort food, there is nothing better than the smell of baking bread in the house. Who doesn’t just love homemade bread? When I went searching for an easy bread recipe, I found many that can be made in a cast-iron skillet that requires no kneading and only a few hours rise time. There are others that I have made that are also no-knead, but do require an overnight rise and can be cooked in a cast-iron Dutch Oven.

This delicious and simple cast iron skillet olive bread recipe requires little effort for a big tasty reward. From the recipes that I found online, I took the basics from the recipe and created my own version of the cast iron skillet olive bread.

The main ingredients are simple, and the Kalamata Olives and juice strained from the olive jar add some great flavors to the bread.

A fun thing to do when doing a barbecue on the grill, slice up the bread, smear with some butter or olive oil and toast it right on the grill. The smoky from the grill make this bread irresistible.

Calistoga’s Lincoln Avenue Downtown Eateries

Calistoga’s Lincoln Avenue Downtown Eateries

Photo Courtesy of Visit Calistoga – Downtown Calistoga’s Historic Lincoln Avenue

It’s natural to think of the Napa Valley as one ‘place.’ But the 30 north to south miles that comprise this verdant valley feature distinct towns, each with individual personalities. There’s Yountville with its chic tasting rooms and Michelin-starred cuisine, Rutherford with its concentration of Cabernet producers, and St. Helena with its quaint downtown shopping district. And to the north, Calistoga encourages its guests to slow down a bit and unwind. The small town’s official motto is ‘Relax, you’re in Calistoga,’ a directive easily followed, thanks to its famous mud baths, gracious inns and resorts, and variety of restaurants that promote a laidback vibe.

During the late 1700’s, the sole inhabitants of the area of Calistoga were populated by a large group of indigenous people called the Wappo Tribe during the Spanish colonial era. They were part of the now extinct Yukian language group who were the earlier settlers of this region. The Napa Valley name was actually derived from the word Napa meaning “plenty” in their native language.

California’s first Millionaire, Sam Brannan purchased 2000 acres in the Calistoga area in 1885 with plans to create a spa resort for the rich and famous, similar to the health and hot spring inspired retreats in Saratoga Springs, New York.

The main street in Calistoga premiered Brannan’s Hot Spring Resort which opened in 1862 and is now the current location of the Indian Springs Resort along Lincoln Avenue. In 1876 the Magnolia Hotel building burnt down and was later rebuilt as the Calistoga Hotel in 1902. In 1907, the Europa Hotel was built and then sold to Johnny Ghisolfo in 1912 which later became the Mount View Hotel. The Lincoln Avenue boom was followed by the opening of the Calistoga Inn, constructed originally in 1920 about the time when Lincoln Avenue was first paved, and more power lines were added to illuminate the bustling downtown. Brannan’s inspiration paved of the way for the growth of Calistoga to its popularity and charm today.

Many of the original buildings along historic Lincoln Avenue are now home to many of these popular downtown eateries along Calistoga’s food row.

All Season Restaurant

All Seasons

For the past 35 years, this favorite up valley restaurant has been offering creative seasonal dishes to their new and dedicated patrons both local and visitor alike. This charming bistro serves inspired food and wine, classic to contemporary. Their relaxed atmosphere, excellent service, and outstanding cuisine have made this iconic restaurant a mainstay to dine along Lincoln Avenue. Must try menu items: Ahi Tuna Carpaccio, Mary’s Organic Chicken Breast, Angus Rib Eye Steak, Seared Duck Breast.

Tuna Carpaccio

Butternut Squash Soup

1400 Lincoln Avenue, Calistoga www.allseasonsnapavalley.com 707-942-9111 Open for lunch and dinner daily except Tuesdays.

Boskos Trattoria

Boskos Dining

Bosko’s Trattoria

Calistoga’s longest running restaurant for 36 years, continues to serve quality made fresh daily authentic Italian Cuisine offering house-made Pasta and wood-fired pizzas. Step into the old country of Italy with cuisine that brings you home-style Italian foods along with a generous selection of moderately priced California and Italian wines. Their sumptuous pastas are made from scratch daily offering you a wide variety to choose from. They also offer Antipasti, soups, and salads. Don’t miss out on their happy hour every day from 4:40 to 6:30 where all wines listed are $8 and all appetizers are half off.

Boskos Pizza

1364 Lincoln Avenue, Calistoga www.boskos.com 707-942-9088 Open 11:30am to 9:30pm

Busters Barbecue

Busters Original Southern BBQ

Busters, showcased in National Geographic, has been referred to as the “Best BBQ West of the Mississippi” and voted “Best Barbeque” by the Bohemian year after year. Busters patio is the perfect stop for authentic Southern BBQ dishes with recipes from the heart of Louisiana with pork ribs, beef ribs, pulled pork, tri-tip, BBQ chicken, savory baked beans and corn of the cob. Be sure to stop in for great jazz and blues on Sunday afternoons,

Busters BBQ

1207 Foothill Blvd., Calistoga www.busterssouthernbbq.com 707-942-6505 Dine in or take out. Open for Lunch or dinner 7 days a week.

Cafe Sarafornia

Café Sarafornia

The name of this restaurant was named after California’s first Millionaire Sam Brannan who claimed he was going to make the town the Calistoga of Sarafornia when he meant to say the Saratoga of California, hence the name of the town and the name of the diner. The owners, the Dierkhising family, have been in Napa Valley since 1976 and have owned the restaurant for nearly that long. This is a wonderful place for breakfast to start your day, offering dishes like their famed braised pork tostada, the Brannan Benedict, and the best in the valley – Huevos Rancheros. Lunch is impressive as well with classic burgers, sandwiches, and salads. Their popularity it tremendous, they serve over 91,000 people per year, that’s 250 per day. The line is worth the wait!

Cafe Sarafornia

1413 Lincoln Avenue, Calistoga www.cafesarafornia.com 707-942-0555 Open Daily from 7am – 2:30pm

Calistoga Inn, Restaurant and Brewery

Calistoga Inn Restaurant & Brewery

It’s a brewery, hotel, and restaurant on this stately historic property in the middle of downtown Calistoga. The restaurant has been one of the most popular outdoor dining venues in the Napa Valley with its patio stretching along the Napa River, and in the adjacent historic water tower, you will find their award winning micro-brewery, The Napa Valley Brewing company. It has become a popular place for sports enthusiasts as it boasts 5 large flat screen TV’s making it also the sports bar to hang out at in Calistoga during big sporting events. The weekend Brunch on their spacious patio is a must. Two lunch favorites are the Shrimp Louie Salad, the Heirloom Tomato, and Fig Salad and their Best Burger. Dinner highlights are the Country Paella or choose from one of their prime cut steaks.

Calistoga Inn Patio

Calistoga Inn

1250 Lincoln Avenue, Calistoga www.calistogainn.com 707-942-4101 Open 11:30am to 9:30pm


Checkers Interiors

Checkers Restaurant

This simple, understated café has been serving Italian classics and pizzas to Calistogan’s for several decades as an unpretentious neighborhood meeting place for a quick lunch, family dinner or a festive happy hour. The cuisine is Mediterranean inspired which includes a variety of pastas, pizzas, calzones as well as Chicken Marsala, Pan Seared Salmon and Braised Lamb Shank on their extensive menu. Don’t miss the House-Made Cheesecake with Chocolate Sauce for dessert.

1414 Lincoln Avenue, Calistoga 707-942-9300 11:30am to 9:30pm



Evangeline Patio Dining

This now locally owned French Bistro with Creole Soul invites you to join them for dinner at Evangeline.  This popular eatery in Calistoga offers you fun versions of French bistro favorites such as Coq au Vin, Croque Madame Beef Tartare and Shrimp Etouffee. Their intimate polished interior and inviting patio dining on their charming covered terrace delivers a memorable dining experience. This Solbar spinoff offers an impressive menu of New Orleans style dishes to the table along with inventive cocktails, craft beers, and an extensive wine list. They are primarily an outdoor restaurant with limited indoor seating. Reservations are not available for inside seating.

1226 Washington Street, Calistoga www.evangelinenapa.com 707-341-3131 Dinner Daily from 5:30pm to 10pm Brunch on Saturday and Sunday 9am – 2pm

Hydro Bar and Grill

Hydro Bar & Grill

Located in downtown Calistoga, the restaurant’s building dates back to 1906, just after the 1901 fire which destroyed most of the original town of Calistoga. This historic building, originally a carriage house and stable, has been home to Hydro at this location since 1996. Their sister business, All Season’s Bistro has been a Calistoga favorite since 1983. Alex and Gayle and their two dining establishments have been serving quality food, inspired drinks, and great local hospitality for almost 40 years. It is the spot as they often refer to pop in grab a bite, share a drink and have a little HYDROTHERAPY!

Hydro Bar and Grill

1403 Lincoln Avenue, Calistoga www.hydrogrillnapavalley.com 707-942-9777 8:30am – 11pm Open Every day except Thursday morning until noon for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Chef James of Johnny’s

Johnny’s in Calistoga

Johnny’s Restaurant & Bar

Johnny’s initially opened in the Mount View Hotel in 1933 by Johnny Ghisolfo who served on the Calistoga city council and later became known as “Mr. Calistoga.” The original Johnny’s closed in 1984 and then in 2016 reopened in honor of former owner John Ghisolfo. This resurrected pub and bistro offers the perfect place to enjoy good times with friends and family whether it be breakfast, lunch, dinner or happy hour (which they claim to be one of the best in town.) Their house Mud City Brews are worth stopping in for a bit of Cheers.

For breakfast try the Huevos Montelenos, for Lunch the local Fish and Chips and for Dinner Oysters on the half shell and the Jagerschnitzel. Sunday special is always a hit with their Slow Roasted Prime Rib.

Johnny’s Egg Benedict

Johnny’s Cobb Salad

1457 Lincoln Avenue, Calistoga www.johnnyscalistoga.com 707-942-5938 Brunch Daily 7:30a to 2pm; Dinner opens up at 4pm; Happy Hour 4pm to 6:30pm

Sam’s Social Club at Indian Springs

Sam’s Social Club

Sam’s named after famed resort founder Sam Brannan at the Indian Springs Resort offers a vibrant and inviting atmosphere. This new American Eatery & Bar is the place to meet for food that is seasonal, creative and thoughtfully prepared. Open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and cocktails at their stylish bar a spacious dining areas with both inside and outdoor seating. Sam’s has become a significant hangout in Calistoga offering innovative, delicious menus that are reasonably priced. Their unpretentious vibe extends to the plates such as grilled octopus endowed with a peppy Romesco sauce or a pan-seared duck. Their burgers on the homemade buns are a must try. Kids love it too, especially the mac & cheese!

Sam’s Social Club

Sam’s Social Club Specialty Drinks

1712 Lincoln Avenue, Calistoga www.samssocialclub.com 707-942-4969 7:30am – 9pm

Veraison in Calistoga


A relatively new addition to the Calistoga dining scene in late 2016, Veraison delivers French-inspired farm to table cuisine at this intimate dining establishment. As a recent recipient of the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for 2018, you can be assured that this is one to put on your list when visiting the Napa Valley. Owner Dan Kaiser and Executive Chef James Richmond took Calistoga by storm with the opening of Johnny’s in March 2016 and later transitioned Johnny’s Tableside to its own entity as Veraison. Both of Kaiser’s restaurants are a huge success.

Oysters at Veraison

Veraison Charcutterie

Must try menu items: Oysters from their Raw Bar, House-made Charcuterie & Artisan Cheeses, Chef’s Tasting Menu which changes daily with all freshly sourced ingredients.

French, Small Plates, Upscale, Cozy 1457 Lincoln Avenue, Calistoga www.veraisoncalistoga.com  707-942-5938 Opens 5pm Every Day