U.S.A.

Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in the United States of America.

seattle

The Scenic City of Seattle

The city of Seattle is set to become one of the hottest and fastest growing US destinations in 2017, but what does it have to offer its visitors?

When thinking of your dream holiday, I’m sure a trip to the Caribbean or a relaxing South Pacific cruise comes to mind, yet studies have shown that Washington’s city of Seattle is expected to be one of the most popular travel destinations for British holidaymakers in 2017. Seattle, nicknamed the Emerald City due to all of the vibrant greenery, is a city where art and nature meet and a foodie’s fantasies come true.

Recent statistics show that 2015 saw a record number of visitors in Seattle – a figure that has been increasing through the course of this current year and is set to soar during 2017. A total of 38.1 million people visited Seattle during 2015, equating to an increase of 2.6% from the previous year. Overnight visits also increased by 2.3% to 19.7 million, helping toward an overall expenditure of 6.8 billion in the city over the course of a year – a very impressive 5.8% increase from 2015, proving that Seattle makes just as great a holiday destination as the next city.

Obviously, tourism is a large part of Seattle’s recent success rates, helping the economy by causing a 3.4% increase in travel related jobs – there were over 73,000 jobs of this kind back in 2015; a figure that is still on the up and these jobs represent almost 6% of all employment in the country (1 in 17 jobs). Although this may not sound like a striking figure and despite the fact that Seattle is the largest city in Washington, these statistics really are quite remarkable when considering the size of the US as a whole and how many states are within it.

So what is it that’s pushing Seattle further and further up the ‘hot-spot’ ladder?

Well first of all, beautiful scenery is always a bonus and although Seattle is situated in a partly built-up environment, its close proximity to the North Pacific Ocean means there are plenty of beautiful sights to see. Don’t get me wrong; urban environments can be scenic too – especially at sunset with the modernised skyscrapers sat just in front of the horizon, or just the general hustle and bustle of happiness on the streets. However, the beauty of historic landmarks such as Mount Rainier or the relaxation of ferry trips across the calm waters for a day trip to Bainbridge Island are the type of elements most enjoy.

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Snoqualmie Falls

The San Juan Islands offer a day trip and are full of opportunities for all kinds of visitors. With guided tours available, wildlife spotting, whale watching and sea kayaking are just some of the possibilities these islands have to offer. Also, the views from the top and bottom of the 270 foot Snoqualmie Falls are striking and the nearby Salish Lodge and Spa, which overlooks the falls, is the perfect place to get a pampering or grab a gourmet bite.

Seattle really does have something for everyone, whether you’re going it alone or with your family. Vertical World allows the kids to show off their wall-climbing skills on a low-elevation see-through wall, so why not leave the kids to get on with it while you enjoy one of their relaxing yoga classes? Or if wildlife is more your thing you can get up close and personal with the inhabitants of the Tropical Rain Forest at Woodland Park Zoo, allowing you to reconnect with nature and visit beautiful Malayan tigers, colourful tropical birds and cuddly-looking sloth bears – whether they are actually cuddly or not, we can’t be too sure!

THE CARLYLE, NEW YORK

The hotel opened for business in 1930 and neither the Great Depression, nor any subsequent blip, ripple or nuisance, social, political or economic, has left so much as a muddy footprint on its immaculate threshold. At a certain point, probably during the Kennedy administration, with which The Carlyle was closely associated, it morphed into something more than a mere hotel; it became a locus of myth and magic. To spin lightly off 76th Street through its unresisting revolving doors and into its black-and-gold lobby is to pass into another, lovelier world – one that’s not quite real, and all the better for it. People who call The Carlylean Art Deco hotel are either careless or have only seen it from the outside.

The Carlyle, New York

The Carlyle, New York

It actually comprises a wild jumble of styles – Orientalist flounces here, neoclassical flourishes there, cheerful twitters of Wiltshire chintz, and shouty outbursts of butch, blocky mid-century Manhattan modernity. The biggest rooms aren’t necessarily the best – there are some here the size of broom cupboards that are more charming than entire villages in Provence. The ace up The Carlyle’s sleeve is BerneImans Bar, of which every good thing you’ve ever heard is true. Though the lights are low, the murals, by Ludwig Bemelmans, author and illustrator of the Madeline books, are soul-brightening, and the superb Martinis even more so.

The Most Exquisite Classic Cocktail Bars Around The World

69 COLEBROOKE ROW, LONDON – With its unmarked side-street door, white-jacketed bartenders, jazz pianist and party vibe, this legendary spot is like tripping back to Fifties London. Even in the afternoon, the small, black-and-white, retro-designed room is buzzing with cocktail lov69-COLEBROOKE-ROWers. The candlelit tables are so crowded with exquisite drinks there’s barely room for the olives and mini saucisson.

Every one is innovative, including the Manhattan Steel Corp, made with maraschino liqueur and dry essence (a distillate concentrate of macerated grape seeds).

Almost too beautiful to drink, each is the creation of owner and mixologist Tony Conigliaro and his team at the Drink Factory. New comers are often surprised by their simplicity, but every cocktail is cutting edge and the changing menu has gained a cult following.

LITTLE RED DOOR, PARIS – Come here for a nightcap or five – it’s open until 3am on Saturdays – after bar-hopping around the Marais. It’s a laid-back spot with love-seat sofas, dimly lit corners and round-back chairs upholstered in a mish-mash of colourful fabrics. But to be in the thick of things, take a velvet-covered pew at the bar, where barmen with impressively high pours are dressed in denim shirts, dickie bows and aprons printed with flowers and butterflies. Bottom line: they’re having fun and the atmosphere here is super-friendly as a result. The Bartender’s Board Special changes fortnightly; original concoctions include The Hedgewitch, made with Amontillado sherry, Kamm and Sons botanical spirit, whiskey, blackberry liqueur and honey, garnished with a dehydrated blackberry. It’s a tribute to the mixologist’s mother’s favourite tipple.

LOS GALGOS, BUENOS AIRES – One of the city’s wonderful traditional bars, untouched for decades, the original Los Galgos closed its doors in 2015. But thanks to a rescue mission instigated by the savvy team behind the famous 878 bar in hip Palermo, an important slice of Buenos Aires’ Thirties history has been saved. Features such as French oak boiserie and beaten-up encaustic floor tiles keep the essence of the old Asturian tapas bar alive. And, given their taste both for nostalgia and a stiff drink, portenos have ensured that the relaunch has been an enormous success. It’s open all day, so start with a mid-morning cortado and come back for a vermouth and soda. But the cocktail that stands the test of time is the Negroni. One too many? Rib-eye seared medium-rare on the wood-burning grill will do the trick.

Los Galgos, Buenos Aires

Los Galgos, Buenos Aires

SALON DE NING, NEW YORK – Ah, the myth of Fifth. Not the most poetically named of avenues. Nor, these days, the prettiest. And yet – enchanted. Especially when seen from up high. Take the express lift, therefore, from the lobby of The Peninsula, at Fifth Avenue and 55th Street, to Salon de Ning, the hotel’s elegantly east-meets-west-styled rooftop bar. Stand as close to the edge of the terrace your sense of vertigo allows. Cast your gaze up and down the street, which suddenly seems endless, seething with life and energy, and submit to sheer skyscraper hoodoo. Then take a seat or a day bed, recline into its plump silky cushions and raise a glass of something chilled and exotic – the house riffs on classic cocktails are unfailingly catchy – to what may still be the greatest city on earth.

DRY MARTINI, BARCELONA – Just as Ferran Adria was the wunderkind of the Spanish restaurant scene in the 1990s, the debonair Javier de las Muelas was its cocktail-bar impresario. He first shimmied his way into the spotlight in 1978 with the opening of emblematic Dry Martini. Almost 40 years later, he’s still going strong. How grown-up it feels to be in his gloriously old-fashioned world of polished-teak-panelled walls, racing-green leather armchairs and marble bar tops trimmed with gold. So cultish is its appeal there are now outposts from London to Singapore. But you really can’t beat the original joint, which hawks 100 variations of the classic Martini, as well as some of De las Muelas’ more outre inventions, such as The Pipe – a lethal concoction of Glenmorangie and Lagavulin whiskies, absinthe, spice droplets and smoke. Salut!

Dunton Hot Springs – Colorado, USA

The hummingbirds are practically an issue. Hundreds of tiny perfect feathered fingers pulse around the porch, furiously busy in an otherwise hazy world of plotting rivers, whispering aspens and dandelions lolling under the weight of their gargantuan heads. There’s a huge difference between hotels created for commercial enterprise and hotels as labour of love, where the owners live and invite their friends to stay. For all of Dunton’s rough-and-ready mining bones and the fact that, not so long ago, it housed a biker gang whose names are carved with knives into the bar, it has the most sophisticated swagger.

Dunton Hot Springs

Dunton Hot Springs

Underfloor heating, copper baths, beds like beautiful wet concrete looking out over rushing waterfalls and teepees. There is serious trekking and fishing for trout here, horse riding and endless plunging into the hot springs, brown as a penny, good for the soul. Dunton has a sister property opening up in Telluride imminently. Until then, head to the River Camp; the cabins at the main lodge are truly decadent, but there is a very special quiet Wild West other worldliness to living in tents at the water’s edge.

Meet The Classics: The Best 2017 Luxury Restaurants Worldwide

SEPIA – SYDNEY – It’s the little things that count here. Take the salmon ball presented as an amuse-bouche: bite into it and a filling of smoked salmon roe provokes tantalising shock-waves of intense flavour. This is what chef Martin Benn does best: create seemingly simple dishes that astonish with their complexity, combining French techniques with Japanese ingredients such as dashi jelly, wakami oil and sobacha. Spanner-crab meat is teamed with sake-vinegar jelly, pea and horseradish and folded as carefully as origami; a simple curl of squid, decorated with miso-cured egg yolk and a wasabi floweSepia, Sydneyr, calls to mind the curves of a Miro painting.

And Benn’s nine-course menus end as strongly as they begin, with puddings such as The Pearl, a pristine sphere of white chocolate and finger lime.

KEENS STEAKHOUSE, NEW YORK – Keens serves fantastic steak but became famous for its even more fantastic mutton. It opened in 1885 and in 1935 served its millionth mutton chop. Somebody played a fanfare on a bugle that had supposedly been used in the War of the Roses. The manager gave a speech and waived the bill. The great shepherd in the sky alone knows how many mutton chops Keens has sold since then. A flock of a lot. Even without the fanfare and the speech, and even if you have to pay the bill, a Keens mutton chop remains one of the glories of Midtown Manhattan. Look out for the 50,000 long-stemmed clay pipes that hang, with a peculiar elegance, from the ceiling – not that you’re likely to miss them. Lillie Langtry, JP Morgan, Teddy Roosevelt and Babe Ruth ate here. You should too.

THE WHITE ROOM, AMSTERDAM – Arctic-white walls exuberantly encrusted with gold give this venerable 19th-century building its name. There the history stops. A recent revamp has introduced funky spherical chandeliers, a classy-yet-cool tone and an invigoratingly fresh take on the food. Chef Jacob Jan Boerma is guided by three culinary fundaments – ‘citrus, spice and vegetables’ – and his dishes are delicate, full of secrets and liable to mini explosions of surprising flavours. A slice of lime gives prawn tartare a zing as it slips onto your tongue; an intense zap of lemon lurks beneath a perfectly cooked piece of trout, with green-mustard sabayon. Wasabi, curry, Indonesian spices all play cameo roles. Each plate is feat of beauty, with bold colours, odd shapes and energetic composition.

INDIAN ACCENT, NEW DELHI – India’s restaurant critics are notoriously picky, which makes the non-stop gushing that has flowed since chef Manish Mehrotra’s opened here in2009 so significant. His genius lies in splicing global ingredients into regional recipes from India’s 29 states. So the stuffing he uses in the traditional kulcha – one of the country’s 400-plus breads – is chilli hoisin duck, or applewood-smoked bacon, or wild mushrooms and truffle oil. Kofta, the delicately spiced Indian dumpling, is made herewith tofu instead of paneer and served with a wok-tossed quinoa pulao. The result is not so much fusion as synergy: inventive twists that serve to accentuate the complex flavours of Indian food, and reason enough to plan a trip to the Indian capital.

Indian Accent Restaurant

Indian Accent Restaurant

EL MERCADO, LIMA – Lima’s culinary boom may have produced fancier restaurants but none, surely, is better loved than El Mercado, the casual lunch-only affair opened in 2010 by superstar local chef Rafael Osterling. Tucked away down a Miraflores side street, the permanently packed, semi-open-air space has the informal clatter and hum of an actual market with bartenders serving superb Pisco Sours to the endlessly replenished queue. As well as a full range of top-grade ceviches, the menu also includes excellent tiraditos such as the Nikkei (yellowfin tuna sliced thin, marinated in lime and served with sesame oil and avocado aioli). Other highlights include a superlative shrimp burger and the causa original, Osterling’s upmarket take on the Peruvian staple of mashed potato terrine layered with seafood.

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Vintage Napa Valley

California’s classic wine country is always on the menu

It’s morning in California’s Napa Valley, and though most people haven’t yet poured their first cup of coffee, you’ve risen with the sun and are ready to explore. Fortunately, knowing your penchant for early starts, we have reserved something special: a coveted spot at Ehlers Estate’s intimate “Start Your Day” tasting experience. At the historic Saint Helena winery, visitors watch morning’s golden light illuminate the surround­ing mountains as winemaker Kevin Morrisey walks through the estate’s vineyards and speaks about his passion for organic winemaking. Later, in the tasting room, you sample some of Ehlers’ finest vintages, paired with flaky pastries from Thomas Keller’s French-inspired Bouchon Bakery in nearby Yountville.

Though Napa Valley will never be short on charm, having someone who understands your preferences and tastes can mean the difference between a good getaway and an extraordinary experience.

With so much in the valley to explore, our wealth of firsthand experience is key. From the town of Napa in the south to Calistoga in the north, the valley claims a chain of distinct communities, each with its own diversions and vibe, and to visit just one would be a shame. It’s not just about the wine (though that wouldn’t be a bad thing). But here, also, seasonal cuisine rules, haute hotels spoil, and activities from mud baths to hot-air balloon rides beckon. How to decide? We can help, but following are a few of our favorite ways to wine and dine your way through the valley.

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Mini Guide – Food & Drink in Austin

America’s live-music capital is the king of alternative cool and a magnet for retro diners, hidden bars and some of the best barbecue joints and Mexican cantinas in the South

Margaritas

Trudy’s Texas Star. Trudy’s is a Tex-Mex joint and the menu is consistently good, but we’ll let you in on a little secret: this place could serve nothing but beans and dirt and people would still line up for the margaritas, which might very well be the best in Austin.

Polvos. Fun, festive and just a little divey, Polvos serves central-Mexican food that always packs in a crowd. Try some of the dozen or so salsa varieties with one of the fierce margaritas. Eight different ‘top shelf ritas’ are made from tequila brands including Herradura, Chinaco and Don Julio, and a variety of fruity options are served too, from mango to coconut.

Garage. Austin has dozens of hidden bars, but this one, squirrelled away inside a parking garage in Austin’s warehouse district, is a favourite. The contrast between the mundane exterior and what lies within is stark. Its cosy, dimly lit lounge draws a hip but not overly precious Austin crowd who give high marks to the first-rate cocktails, handsomely designed space and novel location.

hawaii

The Aloha Isles

In Hawaii, aloha is more than a greeting – it’s an attitude that permeates every aspect of life. Each island has something different to discover, but the spirit of aloha unites them all

In Hawaii, ‘aloha’ is everywhere. It’s reflected in the name of the boldly patterned shirts for which the 50th state is known, and you’ll see the word in the titles of businesses, restaurants and hotels. It also pops up in greetings, offerings of thanks and declarations of love. But why is it used so much?

Aloha isn’t just a word, or a way to say hello and goodbye. It’s a spirit that inhabits and influences almost everything that happens here, and the locals see it as a manifesto for life. It takes in many different meanings but, broadly put, it encapsulates generosity, friendliness and an over aching mantra of ‘do no harm’. Traditional Hawaiian culture doesn’t separate humanity from the natural world; both are regarded according to the values of unity, honesty and humility that aloha represents. If you want to truly understand it, you have to experience it first-hand. Here are a few suggestions of where to start.

The Timeless Magic of Mauna Kea Hotel – Kauna’oa Bay, Hawaii

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Laurance SpelmanRockefeller (1910-2004)

In 1960, Laurance S. Rockefeller, a conservationist and hotel visionary, was invited to the undeveloped island of Hawaii. As he flew over the volcanic island, he spotted a beautiful, crescent-shaped white sand beach at the foot of the dormant volcano, Mauna Kea.

Unable to peel his eyes away, he asked to take a swim after landing. Looking up from the bay, Rockefeller dreamed of a resort that conformed to, but did not intrude upon, the location’s incredible spirit and beauty – one that inspired guests to return for generations. Here, the magic of Mauna Kea Beach Hotel began. A luxurious retreat was conceived, and the industry’s leading contractors were hired to build it.

Making its breathtaking debut in July 1965, it was the first resort hotel on the island and – at the time – the most expensive hotel ever built, at $15 million. More than 50 years later, resting on the gemlike turquoise bay of Kauna’oa, Mauna Kea Beach Hotel is a jewel of its own. It remains a legend and a tradition, offering guests a beautiful beach, the finest cuisine, championship golf and tennis, and endless aloha.

FULFILLING A DREAM

When Rockefeller found Kauna’oa Bay, there was little there: no roads, no power and no water; undoubtedly the right spot for his masterpiece.

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During the early ’60s, Kauma’oa Bay was a recreation area prefered by cowboys

He brought in every resource to transform the rocky landscape into a grand resort, including Mexican flagstones, Italian marble, ancient lava rock, black beach pebbles, concrete, steel and more than 200 varieties of plants to develop the lush, colorful landscape. One-and-a-half million man-hours went into building the “invisible” midcentury mega-structure.

THE EPITOME OF BEAUTY

A stone-stacked sign marked “Mauna Kea” and an extra-long winding drive leads guests to paradise at the resort’s entrance.

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On the inside of Mauna Kea Beach Hotel

Blue tile floors matching the waters of Kauna’oa Bay line the open lobby, capturing the view of the ocean and encouraging guests to relax immediately upon arrival. The walls and pillars conform to the color of the bay’s sand. A multistory garden with sky-scraping coconut palms fills the center.

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Kauna’oa Bay Resort and its beautiful Mauna Kea Beach Hotel

The 252 guestrooms – all with ocean or golf course views – were designed with an understated elegance in the style of an Old World mansion. Multiple sliding doors offer privacy and fresh-air cross-ventilation.

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Mauna Kea Hotel has “only” 252 rooms

Guestroom doors open to corridorless floors that float over an atrium, where gardens and sky can be seen and trade winds can freely pass through. Suspended stairways rise throughout the concrete structure, connecting the floors. Monumental lava-rock walls adorn nooks and crannies.

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Mauna Kea Beach Hotel’s Beachfront Wing

A WORK OF ART

More than 1,600 authentic Pacific and Asian artworks are displayed, giving the impression of a grandiose estate filled with fine art. With pieces from India, Southeast Asia, China, Japan, Melanesia and Polynesia, Mauna Kea has one of the most extensive collections of Asian and Oceanic arts assembled by one person.

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This buddha statue can be seen at the hotel’s lobby

It was developed as an integral feature of the resort, and includes hand-selected works like the 7th-century pink granite Buddha resting under a Bodhi tree at the top of an enormous staircase; the two golden Buddhist disciples cast of bronze, guarding the lobby entrance; and the hand-stitched Hawaiian quilts and hand- dyed kapas and tapas lining the fifth through eighth floors.

Some pieces were intentionally selected for outdoor display. Others were chosen for exhibition in lounges, corridors and alcoves to inspire and inform guests.

FINE DINING WITH A VIEW

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Manta Pavillion Restaurant and Bar’s entrance

Marked by two oversize bronze Japanese koi, Manta resembles an 18th-century Buddhist temple. The open-air restaurant overlooks the bay and Manta Point, where amazingly graceful manta rays feed along the shoreline most nights.

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While dining at Manta, you’re rewarded with a landscape hard to forget

It’s home to a legendary daily breakfast buffet and an even more colossal Sunday brunch buffet. As the sun sets, the ambiance changes as guests watch executive chef Roger Bartle and his team prepare ocean-and farm-fresh fine cuisine in the restaurant’s exhibition kitchen. The Batik curry remains a staple while specials change nightly. Displayed outside are the resort’s resident Macaw parrots, Mango and Keo.

Hau Tree rests on the beach and serves fresh salads, wraps, ice cream and the resort’s famous Ovaltine froth, a perfect beachside treat. Grab-and-go breakfast, sit-down lunches and relaxed dinners around the gazebo mean guests only need to stray steps from the sand for a great meal. It’s the ideal place to enjoy a Fredrico, the signature cocktail of Mauna Kea. Spiced with velvety Jack Daniels, the “Freddy” is a modern take on the island’s Mai Tai. It was named in 1988 after a guest who desired a crisp drink to enjoy in large quantities.

The most iconic gathering place is Copper Bar. With wide floor-to-ceiling panoramas of Kauna’oa Bay and copper accents throughout, it underwent a slow and calculated renovation in 2015 to preserve the multigenerational feeling and allure of Mauna Kea. The original copper bar top was transformed into a beautiful backsplash. Marine rope that once lined the pillars was reused as a new art wall. Skylights splash the bar with light from the lobby level above. Eighteenth and 19th-century Indian temple toys, made of extravagant bronze and brass as offerings to Hindu deities, are displayed. Elegant island favorites like seared poke bowls and spicy macadamia nuts are served daily. Mixologists shake craft cocktails like the Mauna Kea mule, made with house-made ginger beer and Maui’s own Pau vodka, and served, of course, in a copper mug.

UNLIMITED ACTIVITIES

Never has a grand hotel seen such grand activity. Although the trade winds smell particularly sweet and the waters look glass-calm in the early dawn, the crescent-shaped beach is lovely any time of day. Sun worshipers can bask in year-round warm weather, while adventure seekers can snag stand-up paddleboards (and glow SUPs at night), canoes and trendy inflatables from the Beach Club.

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Mauna Kea Hotel’s private beachside

Snorkel gear is available for water enthusiasts looking to see the reef, located a few short fin kicks from shore and Manta Point.

Kids can engage in Keiki Club Adventures, a daily program filled with fun activities, while children and adults alike can enjoy cultural activities such as ukulele lessons, cast-netting, coconut weaving, lei making and more. Eleven tennis courts overlooking the ocean can be booked for private or group sessions with instruction offered daily at the Seaside Tennis Club. A weekly art tour explores some of the unique pieces in Rockefeller’s collection. The protected Ala Kahakai trail, which circled the entire island before there were roads, connects Mauna Kea Beach Hotel and sister property Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel via a rocky oceanside hike over hardened lava.

Developed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. on black lava rock, the award-winning 18-hole Mauna Kea golf course mirrors the resort in design, vision and glamour.

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18-hole Mauna Kea golf course

The elevated greens challenge players with prevailing winds and breathtaking ocean and hillside views. Some holes play right along the water, and others across it. The prized third hole draws masses all on its own with waves crashing into the rocky shoreline with each putt. Guests can carve their way through the course with a GolfBoard or get pro-style tips from new GPS-equipped golf carts.

OPPORTUNITIES FOR ROMANCE

Whether couples are renewing their vows or planning a destination wedding, Mauna Kea Beach Hotel offers stunning backdrops to make their special day one to remember. Outdoor venues include the classic Hole Number 3, located on the ocean’s edge of Mauna Kea Golf Course, while the new Kauna’oa Ballroom offers panoramic views of the bay and coastline.

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Kauna’oa Ballroom

With Rockefeller pedigree at its foundation, Mauna Kea Beach Hotel continues to welcome guests to experience rest, relaxation, adventure, and the timeless magic of Hawaii at Kauna’oa Bay.

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Camping With Elephant Seal Pups – Channel Island, Southern California

There’s no joy in being wet and cold, especially now, when my down sleeping bag is considerably soggy. I knew what I was getting into when I decided to circumnavigate the islands of Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa, roughly 30 miles off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, in my trusty blue Necky kayak.

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The map of Channel Islands

These two isles are joined by the Santa Barbara, Anacapa and San Miguel Islands in comprising the Channel Islands National Park. It’s one of the most remote parks in North America, despite being only 60 miles west of the Los Angeles megalopolis. The islands are also known as “the Galapagos of the north” for their unique biodiversity — and they’re one of my favorite places on earth to paddle.

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Kayaking on Channel Islands National Park

One thing is certain while kayaking around the craggy chain: Gale-force winds out of the northwest are going to rear their ugly head during the journey.

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Beach of Santa Cruz island

During this particular episode, I am paddling into a rather nasty head wind on the southwest side of Santa Rosa Island. By the time I reach Sandy Point on the western tip of the island, the wind velocity has increased and I’m battling a swell in the solid 6-foot range.

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Beach of Santa Rosa island

I sneak between several knobby sea stacks cloaked in acorn barnacles, black mussels and frothy white water, when my luck runs out and several waves eject me from my kayak. The dry bag holding my sleeping bag breaks free from my kayak into the water. Fortunately, a thick canopy of giant kelp keeps it from completely sinking.

After climbing back into my kayak, I retrieve my dry bag, reattach it to the stern and continue on through unpredictable seas. When I finish the 22 miles at Arlington Canyon, my stiff legs gingerly step across a deserted, driftwood-strewn beach. I pitch my tent and open my dry bag. As I expected and to my dismay, my sleeping bag is soaked.

It’s almost dark, and the wind is picking up momentum. To keep warm, I wear every article of clothing that I brought with me, but I’m still cold while curled up on my sleeping pad inside my tent. Despite being chilled to the bone, I somehow fall asleep.

Just after midnight, something rouses my slumber. I’m initially confused because I’m pinned on my back and can’t seem to roll over on either side. Then I hear loud snorting and yelping sounds. What in the world? I quickly realize that two northern elephant seal pups outside of my tent are the reason, squeezing me on either side.

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Northern elephant seal pups

I guess even well-insulated marine mammals like them need to get out of the water to rest and warm up. I laugh out loud. My tent poles are bowing inward, but amazingly, they don’t snap.

Known as weaners, elephant seal pups are freshly separated from their mothers, and after two months of nursing, they typically weigh a robust 300 pounds. During their first year away from mum, they generally stay behind, not attempting the long, arduous journey back to the frigid Bering Strait in Northwest Alaska.

It seems I have two weaners on my right and one on my left, roughly 900 pounds of insulation to help get me through this windy, chilly evening. With the full moon, I can make out their rotund silhouettes through the white walls of my tent. At one point, the closest one presses its face into mine, only a thin layer of nylon separating me and the curious pinniped.

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Despite the tight confines, I fall back asleep and assume my new tent mates do the same. I’m thankful it’s the pups that are cuddling me instead of a full-grown 3,000-pound bull, with its floppy snout squashing me. Plus, we’re all able to keep each other warm and cozy.

Dawn breaks and I have no trouble rolling over. The weaners must have left my campsite sometime in the early morning. I unzip the front tent flap and find two of the adorable, teary-eyed weaners lying on their sides facing me.

I exit through the rear tent flap so as not to disturb them, and I’m greeted by dark, cobalt blue seas and frothy wind-whipped white water. Another wet, challenging day on the water is ahead of me, but the weaners don’t seem to mind. Dozens of them are busy frolicking in the surf without a care in the world. They jostle and posture with one another, rolling their bulbous bodies in the small surf. I, on the other hand, prepare to paddle on into heavy seas while bracing against stiff, piercing winds, leaving my newly found tent mates behind.

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