City Guides: The Essentials

If you are traveling for work or short vacations, sometimes you just want a list that will tell you where you can get a good facial, where to have drinks with a view or where the classic place to eat is. Something simple, curated. One thing I've learned in all my travels and living in a number of major U.S. cities is the important difference between PR hype and what is actually good. There is a difference. One thing you'll note about the culture recommendations is they are generally small former mansions now museums. It's an easy way to step back in time and imagine being a guest at one of these stunning spots.

Here are my favorites in some of the cities where I've lived or spent quite a bit of time visiting either for work or visiting friends. 

 

New York

Spa: One of the best no nonsense facials is Ling which has multiple locations around the city. Rescue Spa, a favorite from Philly, also has a location in the city now.

Cocktails: Beauty and Essex on the Lower East Side was a frequent gathering spot for my friends.

Tea/Coffee: The Financier has one of the best lattés ever. Delish sandwiches and European pastries. Try the macarons - you'll get a tiny Madeline with your coffee which was always my favorite part of going here.

Sweet Treats: Takahachi Bakery (Tribeca.) The matcha crepes are divine. If you are uptown, Lady M bakery for mille feuille cakes. 

Comfort Food: The burger joint at the Parker Meridian. It looks like a dive bar tucked away in back of the lobby, but it's one of the best burgers you'll ever have. Every New Yorker or former New Yorker has their own favorite pizza joint. It's usually the one close to their apartments. Mine was Steve's, which is not far from the WTC site if you are downtown.

Drinks With A View: Manahatta (downtown) or one of the bars at the mall in Columbus Circle (uptown) like the Aviary at the Mandarin Oriental or Center.

The Classics: Bemelans Bar at the Carlyle and Balthazar. The pork Milanese and steak tartare from Balthazar are my standby options. If you want a super authentic French bistro go to Tout va Bien in the 50s on the Westside. Everyone who works there is French. 

Can’t Miss Culture: The Frick. Simply stunning mansion of a former industrialist Henry Clay Frick.

Worth the Wait: Locanda Verde (Tribeca) and Balthazar (Soho). It will be impossible to get reservations if you aren't on the ball. But it's worth waiting if you can get a walk up or seat at the bar.

 

Boston

Spa: Bella Santé. They've been open since I moved to Boston initially over 20 years ago. 

Cocktails: Drink, that the name. This place opened after I moved away, but it's owned by famed Boston restauranteur Barbara Lynch who is amazing at everything she does (see: Sportello, The Butcher Shop and Menton to name a few.) I always took clients here for drinks after it opened.

Tea/Coffee/Sweet Treats: Mike Pastry for cannoli (North End). Party Favors (cupcakes) or Athans (European pastry including some of the best baklava outside of Athens) in Brookline which is just outside the city. If you are going to a Red Sox game you are going in the direction of Brookline, add in some time to stop.

Comfort Food: Pizzeria Regina (North End)

Drinks With A View: Top of the Hub for something a little upscale. But it's Boston and there are many casual bars along the Wharf. The Sail Loft is a classic and one of my favorites.

The Classic: No. 9 Park. Barbara Lynch's original restaurant on the Commons. Neptune Oyster Bar and Mike's Pastry are both in the North End and Boston favorites.

Can’t Miss Culture: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Google the pics and you'll see why. It's also the location of one of the most famous unsolved art heists in history.

Worth the Wait: Sorellina. Try to get a reservation. You'll thank me later. Gorgeous and yummy.

 

Philadelphia

Spa: Rescue Spa. They have a location in NYC too. It's great to learn about/find new skincare products. They carry a wide range and so I've found that you get a more accurate prescription of what your skin needs when a spa isn't married to one brand.

Cocktails: Continental because they serve a Tang martini. Who else serves a Tang martini?

Comfort Food: Monk's. It's a Philly classic and all the articles will tell you to order the mussels, but I always make a special trip here for the burger.

The Classic: Buddakan for the classic Steven Starr Experience (though I recommend any of his restaurants). Old school Philly Italian is La Famiglia where you will have the most amazing gnocchi in the world.

Can’t Miss Culture: The Barnes Foundation. There are several fascinating documentaries on the fight to move this amazing collection of art into the city from the suburbs. It's also the largest collection of Renoir's in the world.

Side note: Philly is full of amazing restaurants by Steven Starr and José Garces (Tinto is my favorite of his) any of their restaurants will be a good choice.

 

Los Angeles

Spa: Arcona. Now in Beverly Hills. They were previously in Santa Monica which was convenient when I was traveling. It's a beautiful space and the products are natural yet effective. If I have time, I find it to be a perfect respite to travel.

Sweet Treats: Randy's Donuts near LAX for something low key, classic and delicious.

Comfort Food: In-and-Out for a burger, of course (I stop at the one near LAX almost every time I fly.) I also love Aliki's for good Greek food, also near LAX. I'm very particular about Greek food coming from a Greek family, but I usually make a point to go here at least once each time I'm in L.A.

Drinks With A View: Geoffery's for an upscale experience or Moonshadows for a more low key vibe, but both are in Malibu. Because, Malibu.

The Classic: The chopped salad at La Scala in Beverly Hills.

Can’t Miss Culture: The Getty Villa for the sheer beauty of the structure.

Worth the Wait: Chateau Marmot. Who doesn't want to visit the hotel where Led Zeppelin rode their motorcycles in the lobby.

Favorite Hotel: Few cities have a favorite hotel, but The Hermosa Beach house has the most elegant yet beachy vibe. The rooms are suites, most have fire places and it has the most delicious beds. Shutters in Santa Monica is it's better known friend in the, chic yet beach vibe when it comes to hotels.

 

San Francisco

Cocktails: Honestly when I lived there I went to so many fabulous places they all ran together in a blur of yummy drinks. 

Tea/Coffee: Ritual Roasters. You always hear about Blue Bottle, but frankly I thought Ritual had better coffee. It's what I bought to make at home while I was there. If you want a cool vibe lunch and maybe a glass of wine head to Arlequin in Hayes Valley. I saw a woman in a wedding dress there on a Friday night one time.

Sweet Treats: Tartine (it's worth the hype). If you find yourself in Oakland, try La Farine for some of the best eclairs anywhere.

Comfort Food: If you can make it out to Berkley head to the Cheeseboard Collective for pizza. They only offer one type per day, it's a white pizza and vegetarian. The toppings depend on what is in season. When I lived in Berkley, I ate there twice a week at least (thankfully I was only there a couple months).

Drinks With A View: Cliffhouse. It's breathtaking. Period.

The Classics: Tony Nicks and House of Shields are old school bars in the city. Again, if you can make it out to Berkley, Chez Panisse is Alice Waters (arguable the mother of the local food movement) original restaurant.

Worth the Wait: Frances. Getting a reservation is tough, but they take walk-ins and it will be worth any time you spend waiting in line.

Grocery Shopping: I love grocery stores that have things that are hard to find and Berkley seems to excel at this. If you can make it to the organic farmers market on Shattuck (check for the days) for locally made goods like Vital Vittles bread. The Monterey Market has the most amazing selection of dried mushrooms and other unique spices. It's cook's dream. 

 

Asheville, North Carolina

Spa: Shoji Retreat. It's a Japanese style outdoor spa. You have your own private room with a salt hydro tub that has a view of the mountains. You can alternate the doing the hot-cold plunge. 

Cocktails: Battery Park Book Exchange & Champagne Bar. It's a wine/champagne bar and a bookstore with an amazing selection of vintage books. 

Comfort Food: Roman's Deli focuses on only serving locally grown items (including its drinks) and it shows. It's pure, simple deliciousness when you need a quick bite to eat downtown.

Drinks With A View: The Grove Park Inn

The Classic: Even though it's fairly new it's so good it's become a classic, Cúrate. Chef Katie Button was a science major at Cornell and has a masters in biomedical engineering. As a woman who had a very different career, I love supporting other women that made the leap to do something totally different. That it's amazing Spanish tapas is just a bonus. 

Can’t Miss Culture: Biltmore Estate. No matter what time of year it's stunning.

Books: The Last Palace on the Biltmore Estate. Devil in the White City is an interesting read about when Olmstead (who designed Central Park) was designing the grounds of the Biltmore.

Happy Travels!