Your Guide To Hawaii

If you’ve been following my adventures over the last few years, it’s no secret that Hawaii is one of my favorite places in the world. My husband and I try to visit the islands once a year because they have become our home away from home. I often get asked, “Why return to the same place every year?” The answer is simple. I have never travelled to an island where the nature makes me feel so small. We are greeted by warmth and kindness everywhere we go because “that’s the spirit of Aloha.” The food is infused with fresh, local flavors and there is never a shortage of breathtaking excursions to explore. The energy is different in Hawaii. Some say one of Earth’s chakra points is found there. It completely re-centers and refocuses me—something that everyone, especially New Yorkers stuck in the concrete jungle, can benefit from. 

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When planning your trips to Hawaii, I highly recommend visiting Maui and Kauai. Oahu is fun, but it feels more like a big city, so I prefer to get as much of the local experience as possible. In Maui, the Marriott Maui Ocean Club in Kaanapali Beach is a beautiful property. It’s located on the beach and has an open-air concept design that makes you feel as connected to nature as possible. There are plenty of ocean-front dining options in the area to choose from and, if you’re a golfer, many luxury courses to play. The water is bright blue and if you walk along the beach, you will come across Black Rock, a calm area to snorkel and swim in (about 15 minutes walking from the hotel).

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The Road to Hāna is a must-see when in Maui. Rent a jeep, and drive through the lush rainforests and towering waterfalls of the island. Everywhere you look is photo-worthy. The drive will make you feel so connected to nature, and if you follow an app on your phone (there are many to choose from), you can even get out of your car and swim in a few waterfalls, depending on the weather and water conditions. Last year we found a natural pool at the base of a waterfall to swim in and this year we discovered Black Sand Beach towards the end of our drive in Wai’anapanapa State Park. This beach was created several hundred years ago when the rough surf collided with fresh lava flow. We even got to crawl our way into a natural lava tube! Set aside a full day for this adventure - you won’t be disappointed. 

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Other note-worthy things to do in Maui are whale watching tours, zip-lining, and hiking. And let’s not forget about the delicious food! Mama’s Fish House is a staple in Maui and is one of the most romantic date-night restaurants on the island. Try the stuffed lobster Mahi Mahi, baked in a macadamia nut crust - it’s heaven! The island also has a lot of vegan-friendly restaurants, which are delicious because local vegetables and spices are incorporated into the dishes. If you have a sweet tooth, here’s a guilt-free treat you must try: vegan coconut milk ice cream. This can be found on the Road to Hanā and a few other locations throughout the island.

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Kauai is the second island we traveled to after a few days in Maui. This island has my heart. It’s more remote, lush, and tropical. The cliffs and mountains surrounding the island are so majestic that they were used as the shooting locations in Jurassic Park, King Kong, and a slew of other films. This island is a nature lover’s paradise. The Grand Hyatt Hotel in Poipu is where I recommend staying. The hotel embodies the magic of Hawaii with vibrant plant life and grand views of the ocean everywhere you walk. The property has some of the best pools I have ever experienced, including a natural salt water lagoon (where you may find me sipping some local coconut vodka, club soda and lime cocktails). The spa is ranked one of the top spas in the country and every year I book the Lomi Lomi massage, a type of healing massage special to Hawaii. The hotel also has two of the best restaurants on the island. Tidepools, a floating restaurant surrounded by a pond full of Koi fish and Stevensons, a Japanese restaurant with sushi sourced from Japan are two musts. The food is healthy and fresh on this island, and I even found kombucha made from all local ingredients at the Kauai Juice Company (like dragonfruit, guava and lilikoi)! 

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The excursions are endless in Kauai. Some of the best and most breathtaking hikes of your life will be on this island. The snorkeling is unbelievable. Poipu Beach, just minutes from the hotel, has been ranked as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, and it lives up to that title. I have never snorkeled with so many fish before that all looked so different and beautiful. When we were messing around with the camera, an Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle swam right up to us. Of course I didn’t touch the turtle, because in Hawaii you are not allowed to for the protection of them, but to see the turtle so unexpectedly and close was magical. There are plenty of waterfalls to explore and nature trails, like the Fern Grotto. We finished our time on the island with a sunset dinner boat cruise along the coast, where we saw dolphins, whales, turtles and flying barracudas (yes, they really do fly and thats the first time I learned about that)!

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It’s always hard for me to say goodbye to Hawaii because of how deeply I connect with the islands. But the experiences in so many areas of untouched land will forever stay with me and continue to inspire me to immerse myself in nature as much as possible. As they say in Hawaii, Mahalo for reading about my adventures! 

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Adventures in New Orleans

New Orleans is a city that has so much more to offer than partying through the early hours of the morning. It is a place rich in culture, filled with some of the kindest people I’ve ever met and, surprisingly, home to a natural oasis. I teamed up with the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau to explore a side to this city many people may not know about.

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I started off the weekend with a kayaking excursion in the Maurepas Swamp, just 25 miles outside of the city. This swamp is the second largest in the country and is home to alligators, bald eagles, white-tailed deer, turtles, several species of birds, and more. Bald cypress trees line the water and can be more than 3,500 years old. The trail is picturesque with a baby blue skyline full of lush greenery. About 15 minutes in, the most incredible thing happened. An alligator jumped up out of the water and barrel-rolled in the air next to my kayak before crashing back down, soaking me with water. Our instructor, Jeff (who was the absolute best) told us that they aren’t usually aggressive with kayakers and just want to get out of the way because they don’t want to be bothered. Jeff explained that the gator probably was sleeping and got startled by the large shadow of the kayak gliding over him. What a sight!

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One sobering thing I learned from this adventure: Louisiana is losing so much land that it equals about a football field a day. Every eight months, that’s about the size of New Jersey alone. He says salt water intrusion, the leveeing of the Mississippi River, and global warming conditions are to blame. Many organizations in New Orleans work to preserve the swamps as much as possible. I am so thankful I got to spend time in Louisiana’s beautiful swamp lands, and I will never forget this experience. Who knew this city could fulfill a nature-loving boy’s fix?

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After a morning on the water, it was time to check out the food scene in New Orleans. I stopped at the award-winning Peche for lunch, a restaurant inspired by the fusion of Spanish, South America, and Gulf Coast cooking. With a glass of rosé by my side, I tried the spicy ground shrimp and noodles and the baked drum with saffron, butternut squash, and tomato in a coconut broth. Contrary to belief, not everything is fried in New Orleans. I was able to find healthy options at all the restaurants I ate at with some of the freshest local seafood around. I am still dreaming of this restaurant!

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Next up was a tour of the Garden District (an area built after the Louisiana Purchase) where the oldest historic mansions and lush gardens fill the oak-lined streets. The famous above-ground Lafayette Cemetery is also in this neighborhood and it is filled with extravagant 19th century tombs. Many television shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, American Horror Story, and even some blockbuster films were shot in this cemetery. I definitely felt a haunted energy in this area!

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So at this point you may be thinking how much more can someone do in a day? The answer is simple: so much more because there are just way too many things to see in New Orleans! The Krewe of Armeinius Costume Den was next on my radar. I love a good costume party (and often hand-make part of my Halloween costumes each year), so seeing where the artists make the ornate costumes for the LGBT Mardi Gras celebration, dating back to 1969, was fascinating. I met with famed French Quarter artist Freddie Guess who walked me through the history of costume-making for the city’s festive events. He then demonstrated the craftsmanship that goes into creating the pieces each year. The amount of passion and work that these artists puts into the pieces they create is inspiring. What was really cool to learn about was when the Krewe began these events, the safety of its members depended on secrecy. Now, its one of the largest gay historical archives of its sort in the country. The events the Krewe produces are about celebrating the LGBT community, and New Orleans is a city that very much appreciates and respects the hard work that goes into creating these events for the city.

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I ended the night with a delicious dinner at Sylvain, joined by Dustin and Jeff, an amazing couple who do a lot with local LGBT advocacy efforts. The restaurant is in a former three-story carriage house and is known for its inventive cocktails and fresh local ingredients. Sylvain is a must-try if you’re ever in New Orleans! It’s always nice to meet people making a difference in the community. Dustin focuses on bringing the local LGBT community together to help tell the authentic New Orleans story. He works closely with LGBT event leaders and allies in the hospitality industry to ensure the history of the community is never lost, and works hard to ensure that everyone from all different walks of life can merge together to be one collective community. We ended the evening at the famous carousel bar inside Hotel Monteleone for one final nightcap.

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The first day in New Orleans was jam-packed and I wouldn’t have changed a thing about it. Between getting lost in nature, sampling some local flavors and learning about the history of the city, I went to bed feeling inspired and fulfilled, and I couldn’t wait for what the rest of the trip would bring. Stay tuned for part 2! 😎