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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

(Quick) Flights of Fancy

By Alison Bailin Batz

 

Spring Break season is upon us and whether single or attached, with kiddos or without, an opportunity for escape is often just what we need at this time of year. Travel can be transformational, but our urge to explore Mother Earth in all her beauty can be costly in more ways than one. If you’re in need of a last-minute getaway, consider these destinations that are closer to home (and offer more eco-friendly non-stop flights from Phoenix) to reduce your carbon footprint.

 

Monterey

It’s tough to outshine Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon. Yet somehow, the sweeping vistas of Monterey County managed to do it scene after scene in HBO’s critically acclaimed Big Little Lies. And while Monterey’s rugged coastal beauty, wildlife, and opulent pursuits may seem a dreamy land made up for the small screen, the region is very real and ultra-accessible from Arizona.  

Outside of its notoriety from the television series and countless John Steinbeck novels, the area is well-known for both the Monterey Bay and Monterey Bay Aquarium, as well as for its culinary prowess and golf courses.

The waters of Monterey Bay just off Fisherman’s Wharf are home to more than 34 species of marine mammals, 180 species of birds, and 525 species of fish, so an eco-tour with Princess Monterey Whale Watching is a must. Expect to see everything from blue whales and dolphins to sea lions, porpoises, and even orcas. For a deeper dive (pun intended), pair a tour with a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which boasts 35,000 creatures and more than 550 types of sea life including sea otters, sharks, seahorses, tuna, and penguins. It even has a three-story kelp forest and million-gallon Open Sea exhibit. 

Both the Wharf and Aquarium are just steps from a plethora of dining and drinking options — notably Pearl Hour, Old Fisherman’s Grotto, The Wine Experience, and Lalla Grill Oceanside — and just a short walk to Monterey Plaza Hotel and Spa. A certified green business by the Bay Area Green Business Program and a Forbes Travel Guide recommended luxury resort, the European-style stunner is located directly along the Bay shoreline, offering rooms and suites that feel as if they are floating above the water. The resort is also a particularly good option for those looking for a little pampering thanks to the 11,000-square-foot Vista Blue Spa and is fantastic for foodies given its lauded Coastal Kitchen that highlights ingredients grown within 100 miles of the restaurant.

The resort is also the perfect starting point for those who wish to traverse the area’s iconic 17-Mile-Drive. One of the most breathtaking stretches of waterfront highways ever constructed, the drive ends at Pebble Beach, home to several of the most renowned golf courses worldwide, including Pebble Beach Golf Links, Spyglass Hill Golf Course, The Links at Spanish Bay, and Del Monte Golf Course. 

For more information, visit www.seemonterey.com

 

Healdsburg

Just three hours north of Monterey via car — and just a two-hour flight from Phoenix to Santa Rosa Airport — is a hidden gem of wine country in northern California. No, not Napa. 

Healdsburg.

A devastatingly delicious American Viticultural Area (AVA) within northern Sonoma County along the famed Wine Road, Healdsburg is the ultimate destination for wine lovers, especially those enamored with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, and red blends. 

If visiting for the first time, consider a boutique lodging option, of which there are many. Of note is The Ruse, a luxury inn that seamlessly blends Victorian charm and mid-century modern flair with just 11 rooms — seven in its main mansion and four suites off the main property near the putting green and heated pool. Here, team members focus on providing an immersive, custom experience for every guest. The inn, which also boasts bocce ball, pickleball, badminton, and an indoor-outdoor entertainment pavilion, is walking distance from the entirety of downtown Healdsburg, which features more than two dozen urban tasting rooms representing many of the most fabulous vineyards in the area, including Williamson Wines, Jeff Cohn Cellars, the Alpha Omega Collective, Banshee Wines, Longboard Vineyards, Portalupi Wines, and Pezzi King Vineyards. Also notable are the many eateries that have put Sonoma County on the map, including Vallette, The Matheson, Dry Creek Kitchen, Chalkboard, Bravas Bar de Tapas, and more. 

Of course, The Ruse is also just a short drive from some of the most extraordinary full-scale vineyard experiences on earth. Among them are Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate & Gardens, Flowers Vineyards & Winery, Ferrari-Carano Vineyards and Winery, and Capo Creek Winery. 

At Kendall-Jackson, explore the extensive estate grounds, which includes seven distinct garden spaces, including both red and white wine sensory gardens, before indulging in a five-course wine pairing lunch. Like Kendall-Jackson, The Bubble Room is out to pair food and wine in a way unlike anywhere else. Rather than a full-scale vineyard tour, The Bubble Room at J Vineyards welcomes guests into a glass-enclosed dining room with bubble-themed chandeliers. The posh experience pairs J’s award-winning wines with seasonal selections from the in-house chef. Flowers offers a bit more rugged – but still opulent – experience at its House of Flowers, which is nestled so deep within lush gardens and towering redwood groves, it feels as though you’re being transported to another world. And finally, Capo Creek, which towers high on the hillside of Healdsburg’s rural countryside, offers Midwestern hospitality and a multitude of mind-bending varietals. The founders of the winery are doctors from Illinois who cultivated their own wine to pair with hearty bites based on a shared passion for wine growing, imbibing, and dining. 

Hungry for more? Other musts include Ferrari-Carano (especially for Sunday brunch), Gary Farrell, Comstock Wines, Cast Wines, and Trattore Farms. 

For more information, visit www.wineroad.com

 

Loreto

Over the past 10 years, Cabo San Lucas has become a mecca for Arizonans seeking some of the best sun, sea, and surf in Mexico. The fact that traveling to the Baja California Sur gem is only a two-hour flight from Sky Harbor International Airport certainly helps, too. As Cabo gets bigger and busier, however, many locals are seeking alternatives to the oceanfront hotspot.

Enter Loreto.

Like Cabo, Loreto is located in Baja California Sur. Loreto is also just a two-hour flight from Sky Harbor. The city is considered an official “Pueblo Magico” or “Magic City” by Mexico’s Secretariat of Tourism for its breadth and depth of beauty. Located 300 miles north of Cabo along the Sea of Cortez, it is completely safe to swim, snorkel, paddle board, and kayak from virtually anywhere along the shoreline. Anyone who has visited Cabo knows that because it straddles both the Pacific Ocean and Sea of Cortez, directly entering the water along much of the coast is prohibited due to the danger of the dueling currents.

Loreto’s swimmable waters are all the more exciting given that much of the region is also a nationally protected park and UNESCO World Heritage Site, including the entirety of the area’s most exclusive resort, Villa del Palmar at Danzante Bay. The sprawling, all-inclusive luxury resort not only boasts five pools, a fine dining steakhouse, grand Italian bistro, and oceanfront beach bar just steps from the water; it is also home to TPC Danzante Bay (Mexico’s only TPC golf course), a 39,000-square-foot spa, pickleball and tennis courts, and an adventure concierge team who can arrange everything from intimate whale watching excursions, sport fishing day tours, and ATV adventures, to historic tours of downtown, hikes on a nearby volcanic island, and pursuits of culinary exploration.  

For more, visit www.loretobcstourism.com and www.villadelpalmarloreto.com

 

Emerald Bay

Just a two-hour flight from Phoenix in the Mexican state of Sinaloa, lies Mazatlán. Those who have visited the region are likely familiar with the Zona Dorada, or Golden Zone. The main “tourist section” in the region, it’s packed with resorts of all shapes and sizes up and down the shoreline, as well as bold bars and restaurants, and lots of people nearly every day of the year. 

Many, however, are not yet familiar with Emerald Bay, widely called New Mazatlán. The pristine waterfront enclave is north of both the Golden Zone and its sister residential communities. A beachfront wonder kissed with greenery in every direction, Emerald Bay is the biggest up-and-coming “must” for visitors to the region in decades. Secluded by design, Emerald Bay’s aim is to merge Mazatlan’s rich history and neoclassical architecture with modern elegance. 

The jewel in the crown of New Mazatlán is Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay, an all-inclusive property that sprawls across 20 acres along the Pacific Ocean. When approaching Pueblo Bonito, ample gardens, towering palm trees, and natural waterways slowly come into view, as if a mirage. 

All resort guests are treated to suites, meaning even the smallest lodging option across the property is nearly 500 square feet, and each has its own balcony or terrace with ocean views. A sanctuary for the soul, the private beach is accessible via a short walk beyond the resort’s four crystal-blue pools along a serpentine trail frequented by inquisitive pink flamingos. Thanks to the talented entertainment team, everything from eco-tours and boating to kite surfing and fishing are easily arranged, as are golf, tennis, spa days, and other land-lover pursuits. The culinary offerings are many at the resort as well, including a French eatery, and a grill serving Mexican and international fare.

Guests of the resort also have exclusive access to the newly opened Gran Acuario Mazatlán, which is the largest aquarium in Latin American, and Casa 46. Famed for its authenticity and tribute to the founders of the city, Casa 46 is equal parts interactive museum, art exhibit, and vibrant mixology bar, with Michelin-level cuisine. 

For more information, visit www.pueblobonito.com

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