Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Wilson’s Words of Wisdom: May Round Up (Day Spas in Los Angeles)

Each birthday, it’s been an ongoing tradition to treat myself to a luxurious Spa Day. So in honor of my beautiful born day, for this month’s round up, here are three top-notch spas I’ve visited over the years and have fallen in love with. Best of all, they’ve frequently had TravelZoo vouchers available, so you can indulge in a bit of extravagance at a discounted price.

Check out why I love them so much below, and don’t forget to drop your favorite spa destinations in the comments section, too!

Where to Be Merry: The Spa Le Merigot @ JW Marriott Santa Monica

Situated on prime real estate in Santa Monica, Le Merigot is a day spa that offers massage treatments, a gorgeous pool and easy access to the beach. The few times I’ve gone, it’s never been too crowded and feels like a tranquil getaway that mainly only JW Marriott hotel guests know about. The spa's actual physical space is on the smaller side, but still elegant and upscale. There’s attention to detail everywhere — in the earthy floral scent that wafts throughout the space, the comfy white robes provided for each guest and the refreshing cool towels with cucumbers available in the locker rooms, which also have a sauna and steam room. The massage treatments themselves are pretty good, too. When I went, my masseuse worked out all of my knots and focused on pressure points. I left feeling beyond relaxed!

For more information

Where to Be Merry: The Spa @ Four Seasons Hotel Westlake Village

Now onto what’s literally the granddaddy of all spas. The Spa @ Four Seasons Hotel Westlake Village is beyond massive — situated on almost an acre of land — and beyond decadent — I’m talking marble floors, fresh cut floral arrangements, Romanesque statues and Japanese-inspired artwork at every twist and turn.

While the standard spa amenities such as the whirlpools, steam rooms and changing rooms are certainly magnificent and everything you’d imagine them to be at a five-star resort, IMO the best space is a small sitting area right outside the changing rooms. The area has an indoor stream (yes, that’s right – and indoor stream) and warmed chaise lounge chairs covered by blankets, so you can recline and relax, or, like me, dose off and catch a few z’s.

Aside from the spa facilities, you can also enjoy a very large pool, along with poolside dining and libations, and tranquil Japanese gardens. It’s literally the ultimate mini-vacay experience and definitely the place to spend an entire day — and not one minute less — getting pampered!

For more information

Where to Be Merry: Mr. C Spa & Beauty @ Mr. C Beverly Hills

This quaint and secluded spa in the Beverlywood residential neighborhood is über boutique; it offers only two treatment rooms and two private changing rooms. Hands down, the completely private changing rooms are Mr. C Spa & Beauty's best selling point, though, especially when you’re looking to get some quiet alone time and don’t feel like dealing with large crowds. Each room includes a shower that doubles as a steam room, a sink and vanity area, a chair…plus slippers, a robe and a cute display of gourmet tea and bite-sized nibbles. You can lounge in here both before and after your services.

Speaking of services, my masseuse Liam hooked. it. up. Aside from giving a great massage, he explained why certain massage techniques worked, from an anatomical perspective. Ask for him, if you go!

Spa guests also have access to the outdoor pool area, where, if you book on TravelZoo, you can enjoy a complimentary Bellini (otherwise, as a heads up, you have to have order a $50 minimum food & beverage tab at the pool). With a nod to old Hollywood glam but still super low-key, Mr. C is a welcomed mini urban escape, right in the heart of L.A.

For more information

Monday, May 22, 2017

Where to Be Merry: The “Kerry James Marshall: Mastry” Exhibition @ MOCA Grand Avenue

The Merriment:
A museum exhibition featuring almost 80 fascinating works of art, created by artist Kerry James Marshall 
during his 35-year career

The Location: Downtown

The Vibes: Insightful, inspiring, sobering, thought-provoking

Good for: Alone, groups (large and small), dates, families

When-To-Go: Daily, except Tuesdays; the Mastry exhibition is currently up and running until July 3

The $$ Factor: $15 general admission; $8 - $10 for students and seniors, respectively; free for MOCA members, children (aged 12 and younger) and jurors

The Names behind the scenes: Artist Kerry James Marshall, MOCA Chief Curator Helen Molesworth, 
Associate Curator Ian Alteveer,  Guest Curator Dieter Roelstraete

The 4-1-1: Admission is also free every Thursday, 5 – 8 p.m.

Parking Situation: Nearby metered parking and parking structures

I’ll Be Back…: Because a couple of hours simply wasn’t enough to see everything!

What's your morning work commute ritual like?

For me, during my 15-minute drive, I hastily scarf down my breakfast, expertly apply make up, methodically scroll through emails...

And of course, I tune into my favorite radio station, NPR, to get a quick fix on the latest news and to find out what’s happening in the world. 

One crisp March morning, I caught an NPR special all about Kerry James Marshall — a black artist who has dedicated his 35-year career to creating more representations of African-Americans within the art world. Born in Birmingham, Alabama and raised in South Central L.A., Marshall uses a wide range of Western art techniques along with a variety of different mediums — from paintings to prints and collages — to bring glimpses into the daily lives, dreams, tragedies and resilience of black people around the nation.

The NPR special had mentioned that after stints in Chicago and New York City, the Kerry James Marshall: Mastry exhibition featuring almost 80 art pieces had now reached L.A., where it will reside at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in DTLA until July 3.

Completely intrigued and curious to see some of these works in person, I visited the exhibit a few weeks later.

And, I was blown away! 

Multiple rooms in MOCA hold all types of artwork you could ever imagine — photographs capturing snapshots of life in the ‘70s; acrylic and oils portraying graceful men and women; even scenes on illuminated light boxes from Marshall’s graphic-novel project Rhythm Mastr (1999 – present; one scene is below), which tells the story of a superhero teenager who fights crime around Chicago with his friends.

Personally, I loved seeing scores of the big, bright murals that almost stretched from ceiling to floor. Through them, Marshall challenges social stereotypes and assumptions through the juxtaposition of images and the tiniest of details in these larger-than-life scenes. For instance, while housing projects can often be seen as dangerous and undesirable places to live, a set of these murals turns this notion on its head. Brilliantly rich colors, glorious sunbeams, palm trees and blue birds holding ribbons with different sayings make housing projects seem inviting and welcoming, such as in Watts 1963 (1995, pictured below), where children gaze back, standing and sitting sit in front of the buildings. 

Marshall’s artwork turns every day, mundane scenarios into significant moments of importance, too. In both De Style (1993) and School of Beauty, School of Culture (2012, pictured below), he vividly captures the spirit of what it's like to visit a barber shop and a beauty salon — two places that have been a cornerstone of African-American culture and tradition, for countless decades. 

His artwork also depicts the potential of dreams and future hopes. In his Vignette series such as in Untitled Vignette (2012, pictured below), modeling after 18th-century French rococo illustrations, he tenderly captures the budding romance between young adults, within the backdrop of urban landscapes and typical symbols of love, like pink and red hearts, flowers and birds.

But, all is not sunshine and roses; Marshall intentionally makes political statements and social commentary. The colors of the Pan-African flag — red, black and green — are woven throughout many of his pieces. The Lost Boys (1993, pictured below) is a sobering homage to the untimely loss of so many children’s lives to gun violence.

My favorite, hands down, is Untitled (Club Couple) (2014), which shows a young couple in love excitedly beaming at us. The lightheartedness, the thrill, the excitement — it’s all there — along with the fact that we’re in on a secret with the gentleman, a pleasant surprise that’s going to change both of their lives forever. 

I could go on and on about all the reasons why I loved the Mastry exhibition, but I’ll simply end by saying that what captivated me the most about Marshall's works is the subtle yet undeniable beauty that radiates from the characters within his art. Silent, ebony faces stare back at us — sometimes defiantly, sometimes coyly, sometimes smiling — but always with grace and strength, and always with this intense demand to be seen. Marshall has done such an amazing job of bringing a sense of importance to the multi-faceted black American experience, turning it into meaningful and long-lasting, beautiful art. 

So, the next time you're in the mood to wander through a museum to take in great art for a few hours one day, I highly recommend checking out this exhibition. Don't wait too long, though, as it's only here until early July.

See you there soon!

For more information: 

Monday, May 8, 2017

Where to Eat: Masters of Taste @ The Rose Bowl, Pasadena

Over the weekend, I had the very fun pleasure to attend the second annual Masters of Taste festival at the Rose Bowl stadium in Pasadena.

For the second year in a row, this uber foodie event brought together more than 90 different restaurants, bars and food trucks — from all over the state — which, in turn, offered attendees bite-sized samples of food and libations.

Not only was it a great time eating and drinking to my greedy little heart’s content, but it was also really special to know that 100 percent of proceeds — from 2,500+ ticket sales — will be donated to the Union Station Homeless Services. Homelessness has been a huge issue in L.A., one that Angelenos have been proactively trying to solve, especially with the recent passing of Measure H.

Scattered throughout the stadium, the festival featured three categories of participants: the Sweet Masters, Culinary Masters and Beverage Masters.

These Masters included everything under the sun, from longstanding, established dining destinations, like the San Antonio Winery, to recently launched bars like Mama Lion, which opened its doors for the first time last week.

There were local places like The Raymond 1886 right in Pasadena and also participants from far away, such as the Napa Valley based winery, Trinchero Family Estates.

And of course, there were so many cuisines represented, from high-end sushi to California-Mexican fusion, rich Italian and farm-to-table American continental favorites.

So because pictures are worth a thousand words, here’s a look at some of the top “Masters” I got to check out.

The Beverage Masters: 
A whopping 45 different Beverage Masters provided both non-alcoholic and alcoholic drinks:

Jardesca welcomed guests into the festival with an aperitif, meant to open up the palate. We could add different citruses, like lemons, grapefruits and oranges, and herbs like lavender, sage and mint, into the white wine blend as well.

Nekter had two different types of cold pressed juices, both that were light, refreshing and bold in flavors. My fave of the two: The Toxin Flush, comprising parsley, spinach, apple, lemon and ginger.

The line to sample items from The Raymond 1886 was painstakingly long, but bartenders went over and handed out these tropical alcoholic rum / gin slushie blends as a peace offering to waiting guests.

Kikori Whiskey gets the “Best of” award, for having one of the most creative cocktails, the Shishito Sour, an artful mix of  Shishito peppers — along with the seeds — with egg white froth, simple syrup, a dash of lemon juice and this rice-based whiskey.

The Culinary Masters: 
33 Culinary Masters wooed us with delectable dishes:

Spireworks served up the colorful Bangkok Wild Rice Bowl, a crunchy yet saucy blend of Thai coconut curry crumble, pickled red peppers and yellow curry aioli over a bed of rice.

The tastings from Ramen Tatsunoya were a warm, hearty welcome, especially as it started to pour down rain halfway through the festival. The ramen broth, marinated for 12 hours and loaded with noodles, pork belly fat and chives, was absolutely divine.

Belly Bombz Kitchen steals away the “Best of” shout out for having the crispiest, most flavorful “Korean Inspired” wings. Coming in three flavors, the skin on these bad boys was so crispy while the meat was so tender and moist. My favorite, hands down: the spicy garlic Parmesan. 

Intro in the VIP section gets an honorable mention for having one of the most inventive tastings — the Foie Gras Dime Bag. Coined as foie gras deconstructed, you literally squeezed the bag of separate ingredients into your mouth. They also featured chilled cuts of smoked salmon.

The Sweet Masters: 
In total, there were 12 “Sweet Masters,” displaying decadent desserts, ranging from ice cream to bite-sized candies:

Nothing Bundt Cakes distributed amazingly fluffy chocolate and vanilla Bundt cakes. 

Chocolate Stars USA took us around the world with rich chocolates from France and Madagascar.

Café Dulce wins the “Best of” accolade in my books for their colorful, creative donut holes. These donuts came with a sweet glaze topped with juicy bacon bites, and with Fruity Pebbles piled high on top of a mascarpone cream spread.

Choctál shared its eight ice creams made from cacao and vanilla beans from around the globe. I sampled Madagascar and Mexican vanilla ice creams, and Dominican and Costa Rican chocolate ice creams.

Unfortunately, it did start to rain — complete with thunder and lightning — at one point, but the majority of guests stuck around, huddling under the bright oranges umbrellas (it's a great way to make a new friend or two). And, the DJ played songs like Rihanna's "Umbrella" to keep the mood light.

A lot of the Culinary and Sweet Masters ran out of tastings an hour before the event concluded ("We gave out 2,000 tastings in two hours," exclaimed one representative from 118 Degrees), but the bars kept pouring and the remaining attendees didn't seem to mind too much as they danced on the field. Some Masters, like 118 Degrees, even tried to make impromptu tastings on the spot to make up for running out early.

All in all, attending the Masters of Taste was such a pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon. I now have a few new bars and restaurants to add to my growing list of places to visit and I'm so glad I got to reconnect with some #WilsonsGuide faves.

See you at the next Masters of Taste in 2018!


Monday, May 1, 2017

Wilson’s Words of Wisdom: April Round Up (Outdoor places)

In honor of the gorgeous weather washing over the city, for April’s round up, I’ve highlighted some amazing outdoor places to soak in the sun — whether it’s to enjoy a glass bottle of wine or to get your exercise on.

Check out these places below and don’t forget to leave your favorite destinations in the comments section below!

Where to Eat: Beachside Brunching @ The Sidewalk Café

I love The Sidewalk Café for its biggest selling point — its exceptional location. Situated right on the Venice Beach boardwalk, there’s nothing like grabbing a seat on the outdoor patio, right up against the banister to catch a view of the glistening Pacific Ocean and to check out all of the action taking place on the walkways. I’m talking about people-watching at its absolute best. Plus, sometimes you may even be graced with free entertainment, including piano ballads, break dancers and whoever else may happen to post up in front of the café on any given day to make an extra buck or two. The eatery itself is super casual  — pretty much like a beachside dive bar — with surprisingly hearty, Mexican and American fare and potent libations.

For more information

Where to Be Merry: The Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook

After inhaling all those nachos and margaritas at The Sidewalk Café, it’s probably not a bad idea to burn off a few calories with a proper workout. So, head inland and get your exercise on at the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook. This local attraction has access to some of the best free, outdoor workouts — whether it’s running up the mile of switchback trails or climbing up a set of the steepest, most grueling 282 steps ever created. No matter how you get to the top of this mini-mountain, what awaits you are some respectable panoramic views of the city, stretching from DTLA to the east, all the way west to the Pacific Ocean. The Overlook gets packed with outdoor enthusiasts, especially on weekends, with everyone from avid runners to families with young children, college students and even photographers stopping by. It's great to see so many diverse Angelinos out and about!

For more information

Where to Be Merry: Pedal Boating @ Echo Park Lake

In one of L.A.’s oldest parks, Echo Park, there's a massive, man-made lake, surrounded by breathtaking views of DTLA, the majestic San Gabriel Mountains to the north and nearby quaint Spanish-style houses. Thanks to a $45 million renovation back in 2013, the lake has been transformed into a beautiful wetlands oasis, where wildlife — like cranes, geese and ducks — frequently congregate. Spend some quality time on the lake by renting out pedal boats from the Echo Park Pedal Boats Concession. Such a serene way to pass a weekend afternoon!

For more information

Where to Drink: Malibu Wines

You certainly don’t have to drive to Napa, Santa Barbara or Temecula to go wine tasting. In fact, you can simply drive to Malibu Wines to sample a variety of reds, whites and rosés. This outdoor wine tasting room is situated in the Santa Monica Mountains, offering sweeping views of rustic brown canyons, lush green foliage and fun wine-related artifacts, like a fountain made out of old wine barrels that spurts out "wine." Purchase Saddlerock and Semler bottles on location and bring your own blankets and food. The wine room also frequently features activities such as live bands, movie nights and even yoga classes.

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Where to Travel: The Urban Wine Trail @ Santa Barbara

And just in case you do want to travel to go wine tasting, a fairly close, notable destination is Santa Barbara, for its Urban Wine Trail. Concentrated in the downtown area of this picturesque, coastal town, more than two dozen wine tasting rooms open their doors for food and wine tastings, special events and shopping. Each room truly has its own distinct feel — whether it’s Kunin, with a sleek, modern feel, or Corks and Crowns, with over-sized, comfy chairs and a roaring fireplace. Fortunately, since they’re all within walking distance of one another, you can experience quite a few tasting rooms in a short amount of time.

For more information