Sarah Donaldson Mairs
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A Young Professional’s Guide To Adventures In San Francisco

People are always asking me for good places to check out when they travel, so I thought I’d put this together to share some recommendations for places to hit and places to miss!  My knowledge of San Francisco comes from five trips to the area.  – Sarah Donaldson


* Fisherman’s Wharf:  The obvious place that you need to stroll around.  Be sure to stroll a bit away from the water to find Ghirardelli Square and pick out something chocolate at Ghirardelli’s.  Also, clam chowder in sourdough bowls are a famous treat in this area.

* The Marina:  I love this area of restaurants and shops and can’t believe I didn’t find it till perhaps my fourth or fifth trip up to San Francisco.  No specific recommendations in this area… find your own favorite spot.  Nightlife is also popular over here.  The city guide agrees: “Union is arguably the best street in the city to window-shop the hours away on a sunny Saturday afternoon, and, a few blocks down, Chestnut has an incredible variety of high-quality restaurants catering to every palate.”  The intersection of Union Street and Filmore Street is a good place to start.  -

* Union Square:  Basically the center of the city, you’ll find the nice department stores, great dining, galleries, nightlife, and cable cars.  Worth checking out.   Use Powell Street and Market Street as an intersection to get you to the area.  -

* North Beach / Little Italy:  I was going to suggest a good Italian restaurant called Joe DiMagggio’s Italian Chophouse at 601 Union Street between Stockton Street & Columbus Avenue, but it seems to have closed in late 2011.  Nevertheless, if you use that address, it will get you to Little Italy where you can stroll around and find something good to eat.  Also, it seems the other fantastic place there is closed temporarily, Fior d’Italia.  They claim it’s the oldest Italian Restaurant in America.  The time that I dined there with a former boyfriend, they gave us a free bottle of wine as I was leaving simply because the server thought we were nice guests.  Apologies otherwise for poor suggestions in this area, but it’s a nice area to stroll around that you may not have found otherwise where you can get a great bite to eat.  - -

* San Francisco Giants Baseball at AT&T Park:  What’s more American than baseball?  Check out the website to see if there is a game when you are in town.  I’ve never been, but the stadium in San Fran looks lovely and should be easy to get to if you are a tourist.  AT&T Park, 24 Willie Mays Plaza, San Francisco, CA 94107 – www.sfgiants.com

* Haight and Asbury / The Haight:  Personally, if I could turn back time, while this is a popular area to stroll around, I would pass.  It’s vibe is too hippie for my taste.  Many people will tell you to go to that area, but I wish I knew more about it before wasting my time there.  –

* Alcatraz:  This famous prison on an island is reachable by cruise from The Fisherman’s Wharf.  I’ve never been, but always thought it would be interesting to go.  There are quite a few companies that offer cruises out there.  I’ve simply never gone as it can take up a large chunk of your day and personally I’d rather spend my money elsewhere.  You can still see it from the wharf where you can also see dozens of sea lions.  –

* Napa and Sonoma:  An hour to two hours north of San Francisco depending where you go… just go!  I once took myself up for my own personal wine tasting getaway and it was one of my favorite trips I’ve ever taken.  If you can rent a car, great.  If you can’t, get creative and see if you can find a bus tour from San Francisco up to there or find a nice friend or date to ride up with for the day.   One of my favorite wineries is V. Sattui Winery which has won repeatedly for best California winery.  – – Castello di Amorosa can’t be missed.  It’s a castle that was built only a few years ago which is breathtaking.  - – I found this link for travel between San Fran and wine country to check out as it sounds pretty amazing:

* Cable Cars:  Hitch one and have some fun!  Keep on traveling around and tell me what you found and what I need to see on my next visit!

A Young Professional’s Guide To Adventures In Las Vegas

People are always asking me for good places to check out when they travel, so I thought I’d put this together to share some recommendations for places to hit and places to miss!  My knowledge of L.V. comes from multiple visits while I lived in L.A.


* The Bellagio Fountains / Restaurants:  Can’t miss fountain shows outside of The Bellagio are best paired with a great place to dine, as well.  Mon Ami Gabi and Sugar Factory at The Paris are two of my favorite spots, as is Cabo Wabo outside of Planet Hollywood.  While it doesn’t show the fountains, another water show of sorts can be seen every hour on the half hour in the evenings at Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville.  Good places.  Good fun.

* Inside The Bellagio:  A must see is the breathtaking colored glass ceiling in the lobby by artist Dale Chihuly.  In the adjacent room to the lobby, you also must see the Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Gardens where the display is changed according to the seasons.  Many casinos are gorgeous, but especially in the summer months when the pool is where you most want to be, this is the one casino interior you still can’t miss.  –

* Cirque Du Soleil:  A Vegas staple now, seeing a Cirque Du Soleil show with its spectacular sets and contortionists will take you to another world.  “O” at The Bellagio is one of the most popular shows where the performances happen in the water.  –

* Pool Parties:  For a Friday, The Palms kicks off the weekend with “Ditch Fridays.”  “Wet Republic” at the MGM Grand is the place to be seen on a Saturday.  “Rehab” is the unrivaled Sunday Funday pool party at The Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, just a little bit off of the strip.  On a Monday, “Relax” at The Hard Rock is the place to be where you can both relax and still have fun.  Encore Beach Club is another popular choice for Saturdays and Sundays while Wet Republic is also a popular Sunday spot, but I’m simply stating my preferences.  I’ve never opted to go to Tao Beach in the daytime which also throws pool parties simply because the pool there is far too small for a large crowd.  And, if you’re not in the water in Vegas in the summer, you’re going to get a bad sunburn.  Be sure to check out Tao Beach at night though.

* MGM Grand Pool:  With its lazy river, for a midweek Vegas pool day, there is no better place for relaxing.  Pure bliss.  Like all of the hotel pools, they are just for hotel guests, but be smart and say perhaps the rest of your party already went to the pool and have the room key to prove it, but no cell phones on them to be reached.  Just say something.  Figure it out.  It’s worth it.  –

* Mandalay Bay Beach:  Another nice midweek pool choice, Mandalay Bay has a wave pool and a lazy river, as well.  However, given the fast speed of the lazy river here and the set up that’s more of a water park ride than a lazy stroll, I prefer the MGM’s lazy river instead.  If you can catch a concert here though, you’ll be lucky to stand in the water, watching a show, and having a blast.

* Concerts and Shows:  The MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay Events Center, and Caesars Coliseum are the most popular places in Vegas to see headliners.  Some of the best events take place at venues like these such as the iHeart Radio Music Festival, The Billboard Music Awards, The Academy of Country Music Awards, and The American Country Awards, all events I’ve been lucky enough to have attended during my trips where I “Viva Las Vegas-ed” it!  Boxing, rodeos, wrestling, and comedians are also popular around town as are the Broadway productions and topless showgirl reviews.

* Hotels:  My best advice for getting a room in town is to get what you like that fits your budget.  That being said, my best tip is to sign up for promotions from various properties.  Given their size as two of the largest hotel resorts in the world, MGM Grand and Luxor have always seemed to be the best for rates and promotions in my opinion.  Don’t cave in to save a few bucks at The Excalibur or Circus Circus.  They are cheesy and overrun with kids.  While we’re at it, if you have kids under 21, they don’t belong in Vegas.  Take them to Disney.

* Shopping:  Every casino, everywhere, you can waste your money in non-gaming ways.   Some of the best places?  The Forum Shops at Caesars where you can even see a free show hourly.  –  Try a gourmet chocolate topped with lavender or pepper from Vosges while you are browsing around.  Fashion Show Mall is your classic mall.  –  And Crystals at City Center is the place where you will find everything designer to drool over.  –  While you are over at City Center, also be sure to browse the Dale Chihuly gallery to see incredible glass art.  You can also grab a bite at Eva Longoria’s Beso or Todd English’s Pub.  Need to get away from the craziness at The Strip for a few?  Check out Town Square for some of the locals’ favorite places to shop and dine.  –

* Red Rock Canyon / Grand Canyon / Sedona:  If you are looking for a great place to hike and enjoy the mountains nearby, be sure to check out Red Rock Canyon.  One of the easier hikes features a waterfall that you can walk around.  It ‘s the complete antithesis of The Strip. –  Have a whole day to get away?  You’ll be bombarded with advertisements for options to get out to The Grand Canyon and Sedona.  I’ve never traveled from Vegas for one of their package deals to get out to either of those places, but I have been to both of those locations more than once and you should visit both of those places at least once in your lifetime.  While The Grand Canyon is famous for it’s deep ravines plunging into the canyon, Sedona is the mountainous reverse.  One of the most fascinating features of Sedona are the vortexes where Native Americans believe you can communicate with the dead.  In a strange video I once took to capture the panoramic skyline atop a mountain referred to as having a strong vortex in Sedona, I actually had somehow picked up what sounded like tribal chanting and drumming which was not audible to the human ear otherwise.  –

* Nightclubs:  Let’s face it… this is why you probably came to Vegas if you’re not gambling.  XS at Encore is simply the most beautiful nightclub venue in America.  With its indoor/outdoor grounds including a pool, be sure to check it out on a Sunday or Monday night.  Of course, it will be busy on a Friday or Saturday, as well, but there are other places you can check out on those nights like Tao at The Venetian including Tao Beach on the roof.  Additionally, Tao boasts of a trendy Asian Fusion restaurant, as well.  Pure at Caesars is another favorite top spot with its huge dance floor downstairs, more relaxed siderooms, and fantastic view of The Strip from it’s outside roof deck upstairs.  Across The Strip at The Paris, Chateau also has both an amazing outdoor roof party as well as a cool indoor dance vibe.  Candy Shop Tuedays are simply too much fun to miss with Sugar Factory’s treats at Chateau.  Marquee at The Cosmopolitan is one of the newer hot spots that features a day club and nightclub scene.  You can party at night pool side or crowded up by the stage.

LAX at The Luxor, Haze at Aria, Lavo at The Palazzo, and The Bank at The Bellagio are all other popular Vegas options, but I tend to pass on them in the summer as they don’t offer outdoor areas as part of their clubs.  Likewise, while I haven’t been to 1Oak at The Mirage since it reopened under its new name, I was there when it was JET and it’s also an indoor club.  Tryst at the Wynn is mainly indoors with a small outdoor area and just seems like the kid sister of XS at this point, which is why I generally pass on it.  Also, while Surrender at Encore shares the outdoor area of Encore Beach Club, to actually get into the area with music and dancing, you need to wait in a second line.  Skip Surrender for the XS around the corner, too.   Vanity at The Hard Rock is also popular, but it’s very small outdoor patio also makes is one to pass on for me.  Club Nikki at The Tropicana has a lovely indoor and outdoor club, but doesn’t seem to be as popular as it was expected to be.

As for The Palms, nightlife there is always a blast.  Rain puts on the best nightclub displays hands down and things seem to rain down on you from above.  Moon allows you to see the best views of The Strip from high above from it on its two outdoor patios and the roof over the dance floor inside retracts so you can see… the moon!  The Playboy Club has Playboy Bunnies for dealers and is a nice lounge where you can actually hear the company you are with.   Pass on Ghostbar at night as it’s not the hot spot it once was, but it functions now more popularly as a day club.  I’ve never been for the daytime parties, but they are supposed to be fun.  Personally, if I’m not at a pool in the daytime, I’d rather skip the club in the afternoon in favor of waiting till nighttime.  If you are in town for The Midsummer Night’s Dream party based off of the party of the same name at The Playboy Mansion, the pool turns into an elaborate night spot and everyone is in costumes.  This is the best annual party in Vegas and if you can get a comp ticket as a VIP Palms Girl, you’ll have saved yourself $200.

Lastly, if 4am isn’t late enough for you to be at a club, Drai’s After hours at Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall & Saloon is the place to be.

Over all, don’t forget your cash wherever you go… everywhere has cover charges and pricey drinks.  Or, be savvy and find a promoter to get on the guest list before you go.  Be sure, in fact, to always call the club you plan to go to by 7 pm to make sure you are on a list.  Get there early to avoid long lines and dress to impress.  If you’re smart like I was, I networked with the promoters in town that would stand in front of the clubs in the afternoons.  I rarely paid covers, usually completely skipped the lines due to the connection, and occasionally was given complimentary drink tickets.  I consider some of these promoters my friends after four years of trips out there and would do a favor for them if they ever needed it in turn.  It also helped that I used to be an Entertainment Coordinator in Atlantic City for multiple casinos, so just be smart and network.

Vegas doesn’t need me to promote it anymore than its name promotes it, so just be sure to check local websites to find out where might be best to go if you are there midweek.  I think I’ve got you covered with my advice for everything other than a Wednesday or a Thursday night.  Oh wait… Tao is the spot on Thursdays.  So, good luck for a Wednesday. I think I might be taking a break that night myself!

* Wedding Chapels:  One last note for after the clubs… see Carrie Underwood’s song “Last Name….”

A Young Professional’s Guide To Adventures In Los Angeles

People are always asking me for good places to check out when they travel, so I thought I’d put this together to share some recommendations for places to hit and places to miss!  My knowledge of Los Angeles comes from living in the area for four and a half years.  – Sarah Donaldson


* Hollywood and Highland:  The must see.  All the stereotypical things you need to see on a LA tourist’s checklist.  Mann’s Chinese Theatre, The Hollywood Walk of Fame, and Jimmy Kimmel Live is across the street.  Avoid taking a photo with the costumed crazies… they just want your tips.  Additionally, shops and restaurants fill the complex where The Academy Awards are held every year at The Kodak Theatre. –

* Santa Monica’s 3rd Street Promenade and Santa Monica Pier:  Give yourself at least 3-4 hours to explore the shops and restaurants over here.  Barney’s Beanery or Cabo Cantina are good places to grab a bite where you can also probably find people to chat with if you are on your own.  For a splurge, The Lobster is very expensive but overlooks the ocean.  Ma’cai is great for sushi and along the water.  Bubba Gump’s is cheaper and right on the pier.   The Penthouse at The Huntley Hotel has an incredible view and has pricey dining, but can be good for a cocktail.  If you’re lucky, you may find the monkey on the promenade that shakes your hand for a dollar.  Dancers and musicians fill the promenade, too.  –

* The Grove:  Another great place for shops and restaurants.  The Cheesecake Factory is a popular affordable American chain with a location there with a guaranteed long wait unless you sit in the bar area which is first come first served.  A few more expensive restaurants  surround the giant fountain in the center of The Grove such as Morels French Steakhouse & Bistro as well as La Piazza Ristorante Italiano.  Maggianno’s is adjacent to The Farmer’s Market there and is also a great choice.   But, if you’ve never tried an Umami Burger, you simply have to try one of Los Angeles’s most popular treats.  The Grove is simply a beautiful place to wander around for a bit, shop, and dine.  Of note, “Extra” hosted by Mario Lopez and Maria Menounous films there.  –

* Go see live tapings of shows!  Check out some of these websites for free tickets:

* Nightclubs:  Most of the nightclubs are near Hollywood and Highland.  Personally, I would prefer driving to Vegas for a good night out due to the hassle of parking, lines, promoters, and cover charges in Hollywood.  Some clubs to check out in Hollywood that are popular include:

Playhouse (Top 5 clubs in the U.S.) –

Drai’s Hollywood –

Supperclub –

Tru –

The Roxbury –

The Colony (by SBE) –

Anywhere by the SBE Group (also for dining) -

Anywhere by the Dolce Group (also for dining) –

* Pizzeria Mozza / Osteria Mozza:  Celebrity chefs Nancy Silverton, Mario Batali, and Joseph Bastianich have created such a popular dining destination that they can boast of being one of the top hardest to score reservations in the U.S.  The pizza bar at Pizzeria Mozza allows walk-ins though, so you can still get a great last minute bite.  Just be sure to pair your gourmet pizza with a glass of Joe Bastianich’s wine, perhaps a chianti.  – www.mozza-la.com

* Pink’s Hot Dogs:  The most famous place to get hot dogs in America.   Street dogs served up on hot carts on the street also might sound pretty unsanitary, but give a bacon-wrapped hot dog a try.

* LA Live:  The Staples Center, Nokia Theatre, and Club Nokia are the main places to see concerts in town.  Many restaurants fill the area, as well.  If nothing is going on in the area, it’s not worth heading to the area in downtown, but if there is, it will be packed and there is almost always something happening there. –

* Summer Time Concert Venues:  Be sure to check out the calendars at The Hollywood Bowl and The Greek Theatre.  Fantastic outdoor concert venues: http://www.hollywoodbowl.com

* Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach:  If you can take a little drive, you’ll love Hermosa and Manhattan.  This is where I lived.  Skip Venice beach where other people may tell you to go… it’s dirty.  Manhattan beach has blocks of adorable boutiques and good places to dine.  Hermosa has a street by the beach completely blocked off where there are good places to go out to at night and some shops, too.  A clean, relaxing place to spend a day on the beach.  Beach volleyball stars are born in this area and everyone is a beach babe.  Manhattan, Hermosa, and Redondo Beach are referred to as The South Bay. –

* Venice Beach:  This is like Haight and Asbury in San Francisco.  It’s a bit too “medical marijuana friendly” and dirty for my liking.  The shops are tacky and the sales people look unbathed.  The two times I had to go over there for day jobs were more than enough for me.  I know someone who bought a puppy there from some random people on the street and it was covered in fleas.  Muscle Beach, an outdoor gym, is famous, but it looks like it was cool back in the ‘80s.  Skip it.  –

* Baseball:  I’m a Phillies fan and while Dodgers Stadium is one of the oldest still standing ballparks, if you don’t care about either team playing, skip it.  I refer to the stadium as having the caste system.  Most baseball stadiums allow you to walk without restrictions around all of the levels of the entire park, but at Dodgers stadium, unless you know the secret stairways, good luck moving to a lower level if you’ve purchased a cheap ticket.  In a cheap seat, celebrating a Phillies homerun, I was pelted by peanuts by the rude person behind me… nuff said?  It’s also hard to get to and in not the greatest area.  Opt instead to go to the beautiful Angels Stadium in Anaheim which even features a waterfall.  Before or after a game at Angels Stadium, grab a bite to eat at J.T. Schmid’s just walking distance from the park.  –

* Disneyland:  Paradise that needs no explanation.  If you can make it to Anaheim, you’ve made it!  “It’s a Small World After All.”  Check out this link to save a few bucks when you go:  You can thank me later!

Hello, World!

People are always asking me for good places to check out when they travel, so I thought I’d put this together to share some recommendations for places to hit and places to miss!  Let’s travel together!  - Sarah Donaldson