February 2013

We kind of hate to be sharing our best-kept secrets, but it’s our job, after all. So today we’re opening the vault of our favorite hidden gem hotels in California. From quaint, oft-overlooked boutiques in Los Angeles to tucked-away spots just minutes from the beaches of Carmel, we have nine picks for our favorite unknown (until today) hotels in the Golden State. Just please use some precaution when passing on the details — we don’t want to have to share these spots with just anyone.

1. Tradewinds Carmel

Surrounded by lush foilage, Tradewinds is a quiet sanctuary just a short drive from the beach.

The 28-room Tradewinds Carmel has a Zen vibe throughout the hotel — from the courtyard, complete with Buddha statues, a small waterfall, and a tranquil fire pit, to the rooms, decorated with Asian printsstalks of bamboo, and orchids. The rooms are large and feature well-decorated bathrooms with nice soaking or Jacuzzi tubs, but like many small hotels in Carmel, the Tradewinds lacks a fitness center and a spa (though in-room spa treatments are available). Still, it’s a quaint, cozy pick and is just a short drive from the beach.

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Let’s face it: Traveling can bring out the inner germaphobe in even the most adventurous of us, and for good reason. There are lots of health risks encountered in your hotel room that you won’t necessarily find at home, from mold to industrial cleaning product residue. Didn’t even cross your mind ’til now? Well, fear not — more and more hotels are offering solutions, so your next hotel stay can be cleaner and safer than ever before. Read on to find out what to be wary of — and what you can do about it.

The Orchard Hotel in San Francisco uses chemical-free cleaning products.

The Orchard Hotel in San Francisco uses chemical-free cleaning products.

The Risk: Chemical Cleaning Products

The chemicals in cleaning products used in many hotel rooms can make you sick — and routine exposure (road warriors, take note) can be life-threatening. Exposure to the carcinogens in cleaning products can increase cancer risk, while endocrine disruptors found in many pesticides, detergents, and disinfectants can confuse body hormones and cause fertility problems or even miscarriages.

The Solution: Chemical-Free Cleaning Products

Eco-friendly hotel initiatives are growing increasingly popular, and these days many hotels are being recognized for their efforts by organizations such as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). So don’t be afraid to ask hotel staff about the cleaning products they use, or check out our research here. One of our favorite LEED-certified hotels is The Orchard Hotel, which was at the forefront of this movement. Among the very first LEED-certified hotels in San Francisco, the Orchard uses chemical-free cleaning products — among many other impressive green practices.

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This week Pope Benedict XVI becomes the first pope in nearly 600 years to step down from the papacy, citing mental and physical health issues for the reasoning behind his resignation. After Thursday, he will simply hold the title of “His Holiness Benedict XVI, Roman pontiff emeritus.” But despite His Holiness’ still impressive job description, Benedict will have to relinquish many of his accouterments, including his papal ring, Swiss Guard, and his forever stylish red shoes. He plans to retire to a life of seclusion and prayer within a monastery in Vatican City that is being restored for his use.

Even though the Vatican will be welcoming Benedict back soon, as of 8 P.M. tomorrow, His Holiness will be but a visitor within its walls. Saint Peter’s Basilica — and the 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide — will have a new pope presiding over matters. (Side-note: A front-runner for the position, despite some serious controversy, is from the United States.) At least 50,000 people are expected to attend Benedict’s final public address today, and thousands more are sure to arrive as the College of Cardinals assembles to choose the next pontificate. And so, on Vatican City’s behalf, we’d like to say goodbye to ol’ Benedict with a last look around Saint Peter’s Square. Arrividerci, Pontiff!

Vatican City, a separate city-state within Rome, is the official seat of the Catholic Church.

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Balcony at the Piedra Room at Nautra Cabanas

A Hammock for Two on the Balcony of Natura Cabana's Piedra Room.

For the laid-back, eco-friendly couple, the Dominican Republic’s Natura Cabanas is an ideal boutique resort for a destination wedding or honeymoon. Located on a gorgeous private beach (one of the best on the north coast), this intimate property consists of just ten eco-sensitive bungalows located inside a safe, gated community. Wedding guests will most likely want to come a few days early in order to enjoy the excellent, fresh food, daily yoga and Pilates classes overlooking the ocean, and fabulous spa. The hotel definitely has a bit of a rustic vibe — after all, there are no TVs or ACs in the rooms [Ed. note: So no excuse for "cold feet"!] – but that’s the point at this family-run affair. Weddings can accommodate  up to 70 people and are quite affordable. Couples can opt to wed either on the beach or in the “yoga temple,” which offers great views and some relief from the Dominican sun. For food, which is always above-par at Natura Cabanas, couples can choose between an international or Dominican buffet, with various beverage options. Plus, the resort can take care of all the little details as well, from decorating the honeymoon suite with flowers and champagne to arranging hair, make-up, and mani/pedis at the spa. Check out more wedding-inspired photos of Natura Cabanas now »

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Hotel Le Bristol has a Michelin-starred restaurant.

1. FACT OR FAKEOUT? Instead of renting a home, David Beckham and his brood will be shacking up at the luxury Hotel Le Bristol during his five-month stint playing for Paris Saint-Germain.

2. FACT OR FAKEOUT? Earlier this month, two thieves (disguised as upstanding citizens — whatever that means) stole millions of dollars worth of jewels from the Four Seasons New York.

3. FACT OR FAKEOUT? In honor of the royal bun in the oven, New York’s Trump International Hotel is offering a lavish babymoon package which includes a two-night stay and a prenatal massage.

4. FACT OR FAKEOUT? Exhale Spa, known for its Pilates-esque bar classes and signature spa treatments, has now opened at the Loews Hollywood Hotel.

5. FACT OR FAKEOUT? Lindsay Lohan reportedly danced on tables and smoked cigs (which are banned) at The Savoy in London after the Brit Awards last week.

Check out the answers after the jump!

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Easily one of the most beautiful hotels in the United States — if not the entire world — the Post Ranch Inn offers a romantic, intimate stay amid the gorgeous natural surrounding of Big Sur. An eco-sensitivity is palpable throughout the property, particularly in the rooms and at the award-winning spa. The treatment menu is exhaustive (in a good way, of course), aiming to help guests relax and get in touch with both the surrounding nature and, more importantly, themselves.

Shaman Jon Rasmussen at the Post Ranch Inn. Photo Credit: Gabriel Skvor.

To aid this rediscovery, the hotel offers a variety of shamanistic services — including illumination, soul retrieval, divination, and fire and drum ceremonies — from Jon Rasmussen. A full-time shaman, adviser, and author, Rasmussen has had very active dreams and out-of-body experiences, as well as several near-death experiences at an early age, which catalyzed his interests in spiritual teachings. He spoke with us recently about his life’s work and how the Post Ranch Inn plays into his practice. Check out our full interview with him after the jump »  Read More »

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With just 30 rooms and impeccable service, Tortuga Bay feels like an upscale country club.

Designed by Oscar de la Renta, the 30-room Tortuga Bay hotel is one of the most luxe options in the Dominican Republic. Unlike the megaresorts that the D.R. is known for, Tortuga Bay has a peaceful, upscale vibe. Service is impeccable, rooms are gorgeous, and amenities are plentiful: Guests have numerous dining options, all elegant (and expensive), there is an on-site golf course, and the resort even sits on the premises of an ecological reserve, with hiking trails and swimmable lagoons. But the standout feature of this boutique hotel is its location on one of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean. So as we say every week: sit back, relax, and soak up the goodness that is Tortuga Bay.

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All-inclusive resorts are not created equally. While some offer the penultimate in luxury, others rely on quantity over quality. There are spa-centric getaways, family-friendly stays, and party-hearty atmospheres to be visited across the wide world of all-inclusives. With so many options, choosing the right resort for you and your posse can be a hassle. Luckily, Oyster has experienced all of the above and can point you toward the best of the best, no matter your style. Looking for a raucous pool scene? We’ve got it. Craving a secluded hideaway? We’ve unplugged there, too.  So sit back, relax, and prepare yourself for some fun in the sun — all while using our guide to select the all-inclusive that is right for your style:

If You Want: To Travel Like a Queen

Stay: Half Moon, Jamaica 

The luxurious Half Moon resort in Montego Bay has been a favorite of royals for decades.

Drawing everyone from Queen Elizabeth to 50 Cent, Half Moon strives for timeless, understated luxury in Jamaica’s Montego Bay. Stretching over 400 acres (including 2 miles of beach), the 230-room resort offers attentive service, quality cuisine, and seemingly limitless activities, such as golfing and horseback riding. A variety of all-inclusive packages can be purchased in advance which may include lodging, meals, alcohol, airport transfers, golf fees, and sports activities. With several levels to choose from, just about everyone can be happy. Read More »

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As we’ve said before, a vacation just isn’t a vacation without delicious food and delicious views. And when you can have both together, well, that’s a match made in culinary heaven. Back in August, we gave you a peak at five hotel restaurants with scrumptious food set against amazing backdrops — and now we add eight more restaurants to that list. Dig in!

Lounge at the La Reunion Golf Resort & Residences, Guatemala

Lounge at the La Reunion Golf Resort & Residences

It doesn’t have to be fancy to have great views – and delicious food. This luxury golf resort in Guatemala is surrounded by four volcanoes, two of them being active. While the Sky Bar and the upscale restaurant also have views of the volcanoes, we love the laid-back, al fresco lounge, where diners can grab a burger and sip on a smoothie (the lounge’s specialty). During the weekends, the lounge often hosts Guatemalan buffets and barbecues.

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When you have to take a gamble on your vacations, you better know what your odds are of hitting the jackpot. If the choice is between Las Vegas and Atlantic City, both are viable options for card sharks and those who want to play the slots. Sin City may be the epitome of a gambler’s paradise thanks to endless casinos and 24/7-nightlife, but Atlantic City rules the East Coast, with a more laid-back feel and an easy-to-get-to location. Whether you want to stroll the Strip or take to the boardwalk, these lucky locales each have a distinct approach to pleasing their clientele. So which would you choose? Take a look at the options below and then enter your answer in the comments section.

 Option 1: Getting Your Sin On in Las Vegas

Things can get a little crazy at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas

The MGM Grand is one of the Vegas’ most iconic hotels, sitting in the heart of the Strip, and offering not only dining from celeb chefs but also tons to do on-site before you head to the giant casino. The hotel even boasts one of the best pool scenes in the city at Wet Republic, and, after a recent major overhaul, the hotel got even more grand. Read More »

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